She was sleeping better than she had since before Orzammar.

The deep roads had not been a restful place. It was too square, too hot in some places, too cold in others, in the thaig itself, injustice had dogged her sleep at the dwarves treatment of the casteless, and in the roads, dark spawn had been forever there, on the outskirts of her ability to sense, just enough to keep her awareness up, her teeth constantly on edge. She never rested, she dozed at opportune moments, just filling the time between the next watch, the next tunnel, the next fight, the next trap.

She wished she hadn't brought Alistair with her as the same stress took it's toll on him and they both became snappish, arguing with each other over stupid matters close to constantly, in harsh, whispered undertones in an attempt to keep the dispute just between them, but hadn't fooled anyone – when both Oghren and Sten looked uncomfortable, you knew you'd crossed a line.

And then the second they stepped foot back under the sky – the blessed, blessed sky – they'd quick marched to Denerim to meet Eamon, and the Landsmeet, and after that...

...After that, Alistair and what they had been, and the battle with the archdemon looming over them; none of it had been conducive to a good night's sleep.

She wondered if anywhere, in any of the many ballads and epics that were being composed about the entire affair, anyone mentioned exactly how sleep deprived the hero of Ferelden had been when she and her armies had come smashing down on the darkspawn infested city to vanquish modern time's greatest evil.

Probably not.

When a templar had appeared at her door that morning with a pale expression and not bothered to knock first, she'd feared the worst. Alistair was dead. Logain had had hidden allies who'd marched against them. The blight had returned. Uldred had come back from beyond the grave and laid waste to the tower...

And then when the first words out of his mouth had been "There's been an incident - Ser Cullen" she'd not even stopped to hear the rest, but instead been out the door before be could finish, only aware of the great yawning pit of terror that had opened up in the bottom of her stomach, and her terrified internal chant of 'please don't be dead, please don't be dead, I can fix most anything else, please don't be dead' as she flew down the stairs faster than she'd ever done before.

So when she'd skidded into the wing where the solitary cells were and come into sight of Cullen at the end of the corridor not only up and breathing but still standing to Maker-blessed attention she'd goggled a bit.

Thankfully, through the crowd of people and the fact that he didn't appear to be looking anywhere but straight in front of him, he didn't see that particular expression on her face.

Greagoir had caught her eye and bent down to have a quiet word in her ear.

"The apostate turned to blood magic, and Cullen killed him, but not before draining off the best part of three good-size lyrium potions."

Over Greagoir's shoulder, she could see the three empty bottles being bundled up with the ruined room and winced. One of those was enough to completely restore even her from empty, to the point where she was up and wide awake and practically bouncing with energy. Three...she had no idea anyone not a mage could hold that much. She really didn't want to know what the effects would be if Cullen tried to hold onto it long term – not good, she would guess.

Greagoir's expression was hopeful. "Would you mind...? I know he's been a pain to you, but it would seem he's still not quite over the episode we had here before and doesn't want Irving to do it."

She didn't let herself examine what that meant. That he'd asked for her over the First Enchanter. No, not thinking about it.

In much the same way as she was refusing to examine what her reaction when she was told he might be in trouble meant

She wasn't sure she could cope with that right now.

So, instead she'd nodded to Greagoir, and turned to go before he'd tugged her back for a brief second. "Word of warning – he's a little magic-drunk."

Magic-drunk? She'd heard of the condition, she thought as she headed down the corridor. She'd never seen-

He had his tongue sticking out.

She had to stop for a moment to goggle at that as well. Cullen was stood to attention with his tongue sticking out.

Not moving his head, he rolled his eyes until he was looking at her. It was possibly the oddest thing she'd ever seen, and was compounded when he made a brief grunting noise before looking slightly frustrated and then going quiet once more.

What was even odder was that she could actually feel the magical power rolling off him – the only other time she'd ever felt that was when Morrigan had shapeshifted while stood right next to her. To feel it coming off someone who was not a mage was...offputting.

"Andraste's flaming knickers," she muttered to Greagoir behind her. "How much lyrium did this guy drink?"

"He'd been kept drugged as well," was Greagoir's quiet reply. "So he probably had his own reserves full on top of that."

She ground her teeth – she didn't like this at all.

"Cullen," she said, but he still wasn't quite looking at her, so she touched his jawline with gentle fingers, trying to get his attention. "I'm going to drain you a little now – this might feel a bit odd."

It was like trying to drink the ocean. The second she opened herself to him, she was overwhelmed by a tide of power swamping her, and for a second struggled to contain it – then she gave up and just let it flow in, allowing it to overrun her defenses. It was too much for her to hold onto anyway – provided she could get it away from Cullen, that was the important thing.

And it just kept coming. Normally this was a brief exchange, a matter of seconds, from one mage to another – sometimes a healer might take power from a battle mage if the fight was over but people were hurt. Sometimes a battle mage might drain a healer if they were out of power and it was looking like unless they could kick off more spells now then there wouldn't be a later to worry about healing people.

She'd never done it to a non-mage before, and she'd never heard, even in mage-to-mage exchanges, of it lasting more than a minute – but as the seconds ticked past, there was no signs of it slowing.

Finally, three minutes and forty-seven seconds later (by her agonised count), Cullen was down to where she thought he should be approximately and she was feeling distinctly unwell.

Very unwell, actually. It was almost like nausea, only rather than fearing she might throw up food, she was worried about magic, and rather than her stomach hurting, it was somewhere altogether less tangible.

And vomit, while highly unpleasant, didn't have the added danger that it could blow people up.

"Ah, Greagoir," she said, somewhat breathlessly, struggling not to retch, either bodily or in spirit. "I think I need to blow some of this off. Now."

Greagoir was staring at her – why, she didn't know and didn't have time to work it out. "Ah, yes," he said, his tone thankfully showing he understood her urgency. "The main door to the docks should be open...might I suggest you run?"

She did, armoured footsteps behind her telling her someone was following her, but she didn't have time, time to work it out, time to wait, time even to think about what she would cast. She was already halfway through the mental set up by the time she was out of the door, and got all of two steps before the spell patterns were in her mind, through her hands and out...

The fire tornado slammed into the lake side and she almost gagged in relief as she felt the magic go out of her in a whoosh. Then narrowed her eyes as it tried to climb up the banks towards the tower.

'No,' she told it inside her head, forcing it back down the sand, along the waters edge with a gesture, the extra magic giving even her slightest whim enough force to flatten a city. 'You'll stay there.'

The fire didn't want to – it didn't like the water, couldn't burn it.

Under normal circumstances, this would have turned into a battle of wills. But she had so much power that it was almost as easy as drawing a straight line with a quill – she shepherded it across the beach, through rocks that flew out of its way or shattered beneath it, obliterating any wildlife or vegetation in its path.

She could see why the power hungry would want this – it was so easy compared to how she knew it should be, so breathlessly easy it almost felt like marshalling a dream.

The realisation that some part, some small twisted despicable part of her was enjoying this rush of power made her feel suddenly very physically nauseous. She'd seen Uldred, seen apostates, seen Flemeth and the brood mother and the black city and everything that had twisted in this world due to magic. She would not become like them. Could not. She'd die first. Mentally, she locked that part of herself away, deep and tight, and wished there was a way to throw away the key.

The fire had reached the last part of the water's edge she could see, and with a frown and the wave of a hand, she dismissed it. That it went without a whimper concerned her. That she still felt over-full was also worrying.

The trail of devastation the tornado had left in its wake was as obvious as blood on snow – fires still smouldered in parts of the undergrowth – there was a risk they might spread, and she refused to have that. The ice storm was almost shamefully easy to conjure and send sweeping up the same path the fire had.

And then, she was done – she still felt a little stretched, but nothing to how she'd felt before – now it was just like she'd had some lyrium alongside her morning coffee. She'd be buzzed for the rest of the day, but nothing serious.

She turned her head to find Cullen staring at her and her stomach dropped. Would he think her too powerful to be contained? Would he pull away from her, push for her containment?

Maker, she hoped not as they turned back to the tower, the frown still on his face.

It got deeper when they realised that everyone had been watching – in every window, she could see the outline of heads peering around each other too see, bobbling in talk or just open mouthed at the spectacle, the open doorway crowded with bodies jostling for space.

She groaned – this was not what she wanted.

What she wanted, she decided after a long, long day, was a sign that said 'leave me alone'.

Ideally one that said 'PS: No, I won't eat you.'

Because that was what she'd had all day. Everywhere she went – questions. Offers. Cajoling, flattery, outright bribery, quiet gifts with the expectation of reciprocation...from seemingly everyone.

After Cullen had stomped off with Greagoir – Andraste, please don't let it be because he was campaigning to have her made Traquil, please – the rest of the Templars had drawn back, awe and respect in their eyes. The mages had surged forward, some of them polite – reasonably – in their questions.

"Are you all right?"

"Can I get you anything?"

"Would you like some water?"

Some had been more forthright. "How did you learn to do that?"

"Is that a Grey Warden thing?"

And one lad had just asked what they all wanted. "Can you make me like you?"

"No," she'd snapped, and they'd drawn back in fear – not that she'd do something, but that they'd annoyed her, that she wouldn't give them what they wanted.

It was almost as bad as Denerim. She'd taken the opportunity to exit and locked herself in the enchanters bathroom, alone. 'You're supposed to be guarding me for if I go bad,' she wanted to scream at the Templars through the door. 'Not watching like it's a travelling circus. And you,' mentally, she'd rounded on her fellow mages. 'Do none of you grasp the horror of what it would be like if I was corrupted? Uldred was a middling mage – he never could have done what I did today. Why are you not scared of what we can do?'

But she didn't. Because then she'd be made Tranquil for sure, and if she ever got wind of that happening to her, she and Zevran had a standing arrangement that as soon as he could, ideally before the deed was done but soon after if there was no other way, he'd appear in the night and put a blade through her skull.

She hadn't needed to explain why. After a lifetime in the Crows, he hadn't asked. She could have kissed him for that.

Instead, she took an overly long bath. And then she dressed and headed to the library via the dining room, tucking some bread rolls in her sleeve to smuggle into the library by way of lunch, and settled down in the silent section, which thankfully shook all but the most determined of hangers on. Those that stayed regardless, doubtfully hoping to note which books she read and then read themselves, she decided to fuck with by choosing a tome on Elven history in the original language, and then slogging through with a dictionary.

It was boring, mindless work, and was exactly what she needed. She deliberately worked through the dinner bell, and waited as everyone else drifted away, casting anxious looks in her direction, each obviously wanting to be the one to walk with her as they headed to supper, each so desperate to grasp whatever of her power she could share.

It made her teeth itch, and her heart sink with hoplessness. How were mages ever to shake their stigma, step away from temptation and stop consorting with demons unless they learned discipline, rather than giving in to a lust for power, magical or otherwise?

She didn't know. She took another book – one that she could read without translating this time – and slipped down the backstairs to knock quietly on the servant's entrance to the kitchen. She was lucky, and a combination of puppy-dog eyes and her status got her rewarded with a bowl of thick soup and a doorstop of a sandwich, which she was free to retreat to her rooms with. Unaccompanied and undisturbed.

Even when full with hot soup, she knew sleep wouldn't come easy tonight. She idly wondered if she should find Cullen, but the memory of the look on his face when she cast put paid to any real motivation behind that. She'd scared him. She should probably give him some time before...

She didn't finish that thought. Part of her had been assuming – relying – that what they were doing would become a semi-regular thing. Because she kind of needed it to be. Because she wanted it to be.

But that would be asking something of him that she didn't know whether he'd want to give it. Afterall, if they got caught, she'd probably just have to endure pitying looks for the rest of her life, along with the destruction of her reputation. He...would be ruined. His career brought to its knees, if not finished altogether, his home taken away from him, his savings not enough to support him...

Her throat closed. It wasn't fair of her. She should stop – she was asking too much of him, something he'd never ask of her, she was sure.

She stripped and got into bed, planning to read until she fell asleep or the sun came up, but something about the sheets just didn't feel right. No matter how she plumped the cushions, or turned, or held her book, she just couldn't get comfortable.

Swearing under her breath, she levered herself out of the covers and found her dressing gown.

Would she sleep any better, she wondered wryly, tugging it on and moving her candle to her armchair in her sitting room, if she was in a bedroll under the stars, waiting for her watch to roll around so she could take over from Morrigan and spend her time listening for the dark spawn. Or maybe tucked under a tree in Frostback mountains, grateful for whatever meagre protection it's bare branches offered from the freezing rain, their rolls laid out in the hollows they'd carved out in the snow, all propriety forgotten as they slept in one tight circle in the name of not loosing toes or fingers to frostbite. The one time Sten's fingers started to darken as they approached Orzammar, and the way his face tightened with pain – but of course, he'd never breath a word of complaint – as they chafed the blood back into it within the warmth of the Hall of Heroes, all of them sighing with relief because however much they might complain of the place in the coming months, just for that moment, they were glad to be out of the cold and snow and wet and fog with ground that was forever sloping iup/i...

She read for an hour or so, feeling ever more weary but not tired, when she was roused from her study by footsteps outside her door.

She don't think she could have been more surprised when Cullen slipped in, looking like she felt.

"Hi," he managed.

She tried to say hi back, but no sound came out, for all her lips formed the word.

He was here. He was here. Did this mean...he wanted this as much as she did? That maybe she wasn't such a huge imposition on him?

Maker, she hoped so.

She stood as he crossed the room to stand in front of her. She could almost feel his presence on her skin, the warmth of him somehow radiating through his armour and the space between them in anticipation of his hands on her...

She waved a hand in an invitation to sit – he had a strange look in his eye and did so with a thump, letting his legs sprawl and his shield and sword drop by the chair.

In a flash, she recognised what it was – Fear. Cullen was afraid?

Afraid of what? Of her? Then why had he come-

Her mind stumbled. He'd never been the one to come to her before. She'd always come to him. When she had needed it, she'd been the one to approach him. This was the first time it had been the other way – he was scared she'd refuse.

She blinked thinking fast – how could she tell him she wanted it. Whatever he wanted, she wanted too. Just coming out with it was not something either of them would welcome. She needed him to know...

"Can I do anything to help you ser?" the words were out of her mouth carefully, and she wondered if she should have put more emphasis on the ser to make him understand.

From the sudden heat in his eyes, she could tell she didn't need to, and felt a rush of wetness between her legs – Maker, but this man made her hot!

"Strip." His voice was flat and brooked no argument, and she wasn't anxious to give him one, shrugging out of her dressing gown swiftly, letting it fall where it would before, on a whim, kneeling between his spread legs, just close enough that it he wanted to, he could reach out and touch her.

They stared at each other, her arousal building nicely, but the anticipation making her mouth dry. She ran her tongue over her lower lip, hoping to regain some moisture, her eyes flickering to his groin where the fabric was being pushed up. The fact that he wanted her so much turning her on more in turn.

He seemed to be deciding something, and started pulling off his gloves, deliberately, tugging on the fingertips before dragging them off his hands. "Your mouth," he said, laying the first glove to one side and starting on the second. "I want you to use it."

She had to stifle an urge to slip her fingers between her legs – she liked using her mouth. Alistair...well, it wasn't that he didn't like it. "I just don't see," she remembered him saying. "Why anyone would want to do that when I could be inside you. It's not that it's not's just that this is so much better."

As she freed Cullen's erection, it would appear he did not have the same compunction. She ran her tongue up his underside and was rewarded with a gasp as she breathed in his scent, musk and sex and something spicey and male and it was glorious.

She took him into her mouth, glorying in the way she felt him tense and jerk as she sucked – oh yes, this was the reaction she enjoyed, the one that told her she was doing this so right, the person she was doing it to couldn't hold back, would loose themselves in the sensations she was giving them. She stroked with her hands as she did with her tongue, flicking her eyes from the task in front of her and felt a lurch of arousal at the sight of his head back and his eyes-half closed, veins standing out on his neck with the effort of staying still.

She kept working, swallowing around him occasionally, bobbing back and forward as she could feel the tension building in him and her own arousal beginning to make her uncomfortable, humming with frustration-

Without warning, he gave a yelp and buried his hands in her hair, forcing her head down as he came. He was so far back in her mouth that she swallowed automatically, not even able to taste him.

He gradually ground to a stop, and she kept him in her mouth as he softened and his breathing levelled out again, and his eyes open to look down at her with an expression that she couldn't name if her life depended on it...but by Andraste she wanted to come.

For a second she thought she might when he looked right at her and said "good girl," the praise washing through her.

Somewhat unsteadily, she noted with some pride, he got to his feet. For a horrible second, she thought he was about to wish her a good night and leave, but instead he simply said "get up."

She did, and still looking at her like she was the most important thing in the world to him, he slipped one hand behind her right knee and then lifted it until it was pressed into his waist, just above his hip, and thank goodness she'd kept up those flexibility exercises Leiliana had taught her...

She nearly lost her balance at the unexpected move, and ended up grabbing his shoulders to keep herself from pitching over. He kept eye contact, that same serious intent gaze as he slipped his other hand between her legs and OH!

It was a slow rhythm, but somehow he seemed to hit all the right spots every time. She could almost feel her eyes rolling back in her head at the pleasure of it all, it was so perfect, it was just a little...too...slow.

Panting she tried to work her hips against his hand, trying to increase the sensation, but oh by the Maker, that made it better, but not quite, if she could just, could just-

She caught herself leaning back too far and brought herself upright again with a lurch, her hands going white knuckled on the shoulders of his armour, still looking him in the eye, which somehow just made this more intense, made her feel like she was open to him, had no secrets, nothing at all that could be kept from him and he knew all of it.

His fingers pressed into her again and she whimpered, rolling herself against them before she caught herself heading backwards again.

'Fuck it,' she thought, letting herself lean forward on him, her forehead pressed to his shoulder. She knew it looked like she was surrendering herself. At this point, she'd do so if it meant she got what she needed, and that blessed rhythm was still going, still sending thoughts skittering out of her head, her knees feel like they were going to give way under her, sweat slick her body as his fingers pumped in...and out...and in...and oh blessed Andraste!

She wasn't sure when she started begging. It was entirely internal at first, but Maker, he was making her lose her mind with this, please, please let her come, please ser, please ser, please ser...

She kept rolling her hips, working for it, pressing herself against him, desperate for sensation, because this was teeth grittingly good, and please ser, please let her come, please please please...

"Do you want it?"

The quiet words broke through her pleading, and she nearly laughed with disbelief – want it? Right now, she was so desperate she might just kill for it, anything at all, anything he wanted, all he'd have to do was breath it and she'd be off, anything, anything at all, just by the Maker, let her come!

Her head felt about ten times its normal weight as she looked at him, not bothering to hide the desperation in her gaze. "Yes ser," shamefully her voice shook. She couldn't find it in her to care. "Please ser..."

"Tell me."

It was like someone had opened the floodgates on a dam. "I want it so badly ser, please, please ser, I need it ser, I need you ser, please..." The words left her mouth without permission, but she wouldn't have pulled them back even if she could, it was true, and right now she didn't care about anything but those pumping excruciating fingers between her legs, but it was true and please-

The pressure she'd been missing, the Maker blessed pressure suddenly was there on her clit, and his fingers pumped in once more and she, and she-!

If she hadn't been so worried about falling over she would have screamed. As it was she could feel herself shaking uncontrollably, cries leaving her mouth unbidden, and was dimly aware that he'd dropped her leg in favour of holding her up and to him...

...All she could feel was the release. It was like being caught in a star burst, lights flashing in front of her eyes and the world exploding and when her heart stopped thundering in her ears and her breath no longer felt like she would never drag enough air into her lungs ever again, she was stood naked, pressed to a Templar who was holding her up, his fingers still buried between her legs.

He gently eased them out from between them, and muttered into her hair that they ought to get some rest.

She nodded tiredly, smiling at him, and he smiled back which made something inside her catch but she refused to examine what exactly, as he let himself out and she collapsed into bed, sleep claiming her immediately.

She had never been so glad of that night as she was over the following week, because the next afternoon, with enough fanfare that you'd think they'd stopped the Blight, the Orlesians arrived.

As a group, she disliked most of them on sight. It probably didn't help that the first things out of their mouths when they arrived was criticisms of...well, everything.

There were eighteen Templars, and fifteen mages, all of them her age and older, and none of them found anything satisfactory. The tower was too tall, too grey, too ugly, the scenery too brown, the lake too cold and unfriendly, the facilities too limited, the wind too loud, the food too bland (she thought the kitchen staff might brain the lot at that one) and the wine too lifeless, the clothes too shapeless and dull, the library too small...

The list went on, and she did her best to stay out of their way. The problem was they were quite anxious to get in hers...and not for the same reasons the others were. Rather, their Templars and mages alike seemed to see her as a challenge.

They never spoke to her – only challenged. On the first night after they arrived, a group of seven of them plunked down next to her, ignoring the fact she was (supposedly) buried nose deep in a book and everyone else had taken the polite hint that she didn't want to be disturbed.

"You are ze 'ero of Ferelden?" sneered one of them, with a shared smile to his fellows that clearly stated she was a midge beneath his notice and should she make any attempt to claim such a grand title, they would enjoy having something to mock.

"Nope, sorry," she'd answered brusquely. "She just left, you missed her."

"Eh?" He looked confused.

She shrugged and went back to her book.

He bristled for a second at the dismissal, before trying again, this time poking her in the shoulder before he spoke with a single hesitant finger as if he was afraid he'd get something on it.

"You, you are the one who defeated ze archdemon, yes?"

"Nope," she said again, still not moving her eyes from her book. "That was several armies and no fewer than three grey wardens. Try again."

Technicalities, oh how she loved them.

They frowned and conversed among themselves for a few minutes, obviously not quite prepared to deal with a 'Hero' who didn't want to claim the title and flatly refused to admit to their epic deeds.

Across the room, she could have sworn she could see Irving smirk behind his soup spoon. Well, bully for him.

They were going to give it one last go. "Were you," their leader enunciated carefully. "In ze battle at Denerim?"

She put her book down, swallowing a huff that wanted to escape – to lose her temper would just play into their hands. "Yes."

"Ah!" Their eyes lit up. "You are the grey warden, yes?"

"The grey warden?" She repeated their question back at them. "There is more than one grey warden. The most famous is King Alistair. Another one that fought the archdemon was Riordan, but he died. Or, if you want the most senior, that would be Duncan, before Ostagar at least. And as for the newest, I believe a Dwarven veteren of Denerim called Oghren has recently expressed an interest in joining." She looked at their baffled faces with a sweet smile. "Which grey warden are you interested in?"

A coughing fit broke out across the room, and she thought it would serve Irving right if he actually ended up choking on his soup covering up his giggle fit like that.

Muttering unhappily in Orlesian between them, the group retreated, and she decided now would be an excellent time to remove herself and finish her meal somewhere private.

They caught up with her the next morning as she was midway through her staff exercises in her habitual spot in the rose garden, the leader thrusting his finger at her in an accusatory manner as he spoke. "You are ze 'Ero!"

She paused in a half crouch, from which she'd been about to spring through a tumble and up with a cone of ice, but now if she did that, she'd just hit them – tempting as it was, she ought not to cause international incidents if she could help it.

"Nope," she replied bluntly – at the back of the group, she saw Cullen slide quietly into a guard position and wished she had a way she could tell him thanks for turning up at this most opportune of times.

They were now looking annoyed, on the verge of angry, so she thought she ought to throw them a bone. "I'm not officially the 'Hero of Ferelden' until the king officially signs a decree stating it. He hasn't done it yet, so I'm not."

And if she knew Alistair's hatred of paperwork, it never would get signed, so she was going to keep using that excuse.

The other mage laughed, while the others looked a lot more satisfied. "Ah, your king, he is a little lazy, eh, not to reward the person who saved 'is lands?"

She knew she shouldn't rise to it. She knew that was why they were saying what they were. She couldn't help it, she bristled anyway. "Well, given he never wanted to be king in the first place, I don't think that's so bad."

More laughter. "Well," said another man further back in the group. "You could always given Ferelden back if he doesn't want it."

"Oui, I am sure we would take it if you asked nicely," added a woman snidely.

She saw red, but suddenly Cullen – thank the Maker for Cullen – was there to the side of them, his appearance sudden enough and big enough to make most of them start in surprise. "I'm sure you're not interrupting one of our senior mages from her training just to sate your curiosity now, are you?"

His voice was halfway between a boom and a growl and to his credit, all but one of them backed up a step.

The leader though, had more balls than sense. "Training? Ah, we could train with you, eh 'Ero? We could have a match!" He laughed nastily. "Yes, a test, we shall see 'ow good you actually are, or if you are just a little better zan ze rest of ze rabble, yes?"

He seemed quite pleased with this suggestion until Cullen leaned in until his nose was but a hair from the other man's, and growled out "All duels must have written permission of the First Enchanter. Any one caught proposing a duel without it is subject to the Rite of Tranquility."

They weren't actually, they were subject to loosing privileges and if they'd done serious damage, some solitary time, but the threat had the right effect and the man went pale and retreated at speed with his fellows muttering something in their own language that she suspected was most definitely not complimentary.

When they were out of sight, Cullen looked back to her, and their eyes met.

The moment stretched between them, and she thought he was probably wondering the same thing she was – should she say something? Would it ruin it?

She said "Thanks" at exactly the same moment he said "You ok?"

They smiled ruefully at each other for a moment and then he turned to go. "Don't let them get to you," he commented over his shoulder as he went.

She'd do her best, she promised him silently.

Not letting them get to her was easier said than done. Everywhere she went, she was followed.

Mostly by the Orlesian mages, most of whom were obviously looking for an opening, any opening, to challenge her, to test themselves against her. It was as if her mere existence was an affront to them – that not only had it been a Ferelden mage that had saved all the world from the Blight, but that she was female.

"You know she didn't actually do much, it was ze King who must have saved us, and she is taking all the credit," she heard muttered around the dining table one breakfast after she'd side stepped an early morning challenge from one of them.

"It's only because she's fucking every Templar here," was that evening in the library, when they didn't know she was tucked between two stacks reading. "I bet she simply was part of ze task force in Denerim, and has persuaded them to say this."

That was annoying. But she could take it. She didn't really care about her own reputation among two dozen foreigners. The things that annoyed her were the criticisms levelled at Alistair, Irving and the circle.

"The King here must be really useless," was the comment when the Orlesians learnt that, surprisingly enough, the damage to the tower was not going to be fixed in a matter of weeks.

"Irving is so incompetant – we could do better," went whispering around when the First Enchanter had the audacity to allow them each double quarters for no other reason than they wanted the space to make it pretty.

"Demon invasion? Pft, I think it was one abomination and all these ones, they are too weak to handle it!" was the loudly proclaimed opinion of the same idiot who'd tried to interrupt her training a week later in the same garden she was currently trying to perfect her shielding spell – a low level effect, yes, but it wasn't something that came easily and now she had time to practise.

Or she'd hoped to. Now as she gripped her staff so tightly part of her worried it might crack with her rage, she knew she had a choice between kicking off and storming away. Only one of them wouldn't land her on murder charges, so she huffed inside, the snickers from their group echoing in her ears.

In her anger, she lost her sense of proprietary and went storming into Irving's office, which was thankfully only occupied by himself and Greagoir. "When are they going?" she demanded, not bothering with niceties.

The two older men shared a look. "Going?"

She was nearly spitting with rage. "The Orlesians."

They both still looked at her blankly. "Have you heard the things they've been saying?" she demanded. "Not just about me, but they've been talking about Alistair, and Irving and Uldred, and..."

She ran out of words to express her anger.

"Ah, my dear," said Irving somewhat hesitantly. "They aren't going. Not any time soon at least, not for many years."

Now she stared at him. "They aren't reinforcements my dear, they are replacements. We simply cannot manage the number of new apprentices we're taking in on the mages we already have, even if all of them were ready to step up to Enchanter, and they're not."

She was lost for words. Literally lost for words – they knew they were going to have to be spending years here? This was how they were treating somewhere that was to become their home?

"I admit," said Irving with some reluctance. "From what I have heard we do seem to be having issues with...negativity."

"Could it maybe be regret?" voiced Greagoir. "They all volunteered to come here; possibly they did not know what they were letting themselves in for."

"Hmmmm," was Irving's response. "No matter what the cause, I believe it may be possibly time to have words with our respective groups."

Greagoir seemed put out by this, but eventually huffed. "I suppose it couldn't hurt."

"Does that put you at more ease?" Irving, concilitory as always.

"Thank you," she managed to gather the grace to say.

They nodded and watched her expectantly until she bowed out, leaving them to whatever they'd been working on before.