For everything that's lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.
-Never Give All the Heart, the Chieftains
"Did you have the dream again, lethallin?"
Aeron followed her brother Aled deeper in to the ruins, further than they'd ever gone before. As they ventured past, she recognized the passages twisted off to the right, like the roots of an ancient tree. They'd explored each thoroughly, sometimes with Andra and Aoife, sometimes just the two of them. When they did so she liked to tell Aled stories of werewolves, trapped here for an eternity, that would surely leap out and tear them to shreds at any moment.
The fact that such a thing had already happened to their Clan might have made the tales cruel, but since that night the wolf had held a special power for them both. It was a creature that could destroy and a creature that could open new paths, the hulking shapes of the werewolves in the fire light offset by the white creature from their dreams. So often, the white wolf had come, leading her deeper and deeper in to this very structure. Here, it seemed to say, here is your salvation.
"I did, lethallan," she returned the favor, picking her way over a toppled stone column, the dust puffing up around her in a cloud that smelled of ancient magics. At least Aled called her by the proper title, despite her body. Thinking about her form made misery come alive in her very skin, as if her own flesh were some alien thing improperly stitched to her bones, something that ached and bled without surcease. She stopped there in the main chamber, the same place where Witherfang and Zathrian had faced one another. Now the light from above spilled over one miserable girl instead of a pact that would change the destiny of her Clan forever. She clutched her shawl close as if she could hide her breasts beneath it and stood there, frozen.
Aled came over and touched her arm.
"I can't live this way, Aled. I can't."
"Creators willing, you won't have to. Neither of us will."
She looked up at him, studying his face. He had a stubborn look, his lip curled and his posture set. Normally he would have been against this, would have cautioned her not to take risks. But what she had seen had given them both courage, though daring to hope made her eyes sting with bitter tears.
Could it truly free us?
The thought made her want to scream. If it wasn't true, if it was just a dream, she didn't think she could bear it. She thought of all the times she'd held the knife blade to her body, knowing that all she had to do was let it slope downwards and she would be rid of at least some of her most hated parts...
"If this doesn't work I will go to Falon'din and let him carry me away," she whispered. "You have heard of the Conclave the shems are planning. The Keeper will send me, or you, or the both of us. Could you face the world in the wrong body? Could you? For even one day, with all their eyes on you?"
"Don't think that way," Aled said, grabbing her and giving her a little shake. The ferocity the Keeper had always criticized her for flooded her then, and she lifted her head. Her emotions felt like distant faery lights over a bog at nighttime, glimpsed, perhaps, but always from afar. She could think then, the cold and calculating self that thought nothing of splitting shem heads when they dared come too close to camp, that took joy in the gurgle a dying man made when her dagger found his throat.
"I will do this," she said, deliberately choosing the proper words for Aled, "sister. I swear to you, I will wrench power from the hands of Mythal herself if doing so would change us."
"When you speak like that, I can't help but believe you, brother." His faith in her shimmered forth, transforming his face. She would do it for him--for her--for them both.
"Then follow me, and we will find this eluvian. I have seen it." She said, marching down the tunnel that lead in to the heart of the ruins. "I know the spell to open it. It will be done."
The approach to Skyhold wore a cloak of snow, embroidered with hoarfrost. The bridge to the main gates seemed to go on forever, his footsteps covered over with new flurries before they’d had a chance to truly leave an imprint. Gabriel could feel eyes on him; the battlements hid what had to be a full compliment of guards, bows ready.
He wondered if he would be shot down before he even made it to the gate. He couldn’t claim an impressive title or special circumstances, beyond the heavy, engraved Knight Enchanter’s blade slung across his back. He doubted wielding it would give the impression he hoped, though its presence filled him with more confidence than he would have had otherwise. Keeper Mairead's blessings went with him, even so far from home.
Someone did come out to greet him in the end, but he didn’t yet feel any relief; the man looked as if he was always faintly put out by something, and at the moment that something was him. The man moved with an air of confidence, and by his plate armor and the blade at his hip he at the very least could call himself a soldier.
By the Creators, they knew him? Could this be the Inquisitor himself? As soon as the thought came, he dismissed it. The stories said the Inquisitor belonged to a Dalish clan out of Brecilian Forest. He certainly couldn’t be called human, and Gabriel felt ashamed for making that assumption.
“Sir,” Gabriel said by way of confirmation.
The man’s manner eased, a rather endearing look softening his features. Crow’s feet crinkled at the edges of his amber eyes, his lips curving in a faint smile. The scar across his mouth hardly marred his appearance; if anything it added to it.
“I am Commander Cullen. I lead the Inquisition forces. You’re welcome to come inside.”
As if on cue the gates slid open, and Gabriel marveled at the fact that the massive structure moved without so much as a creak. Some fine engineers and craftsmen at Skyhold, then.
He could hardly believe he’d been welcomed so readily, and he said as much as Cullen lead him inside. He didn’t miss the men falling in behind him, perhaps in case he proved a danger, but nonetheless this had gone much better than he’d imagined.
“You were expecting me?”
“We were. Knight Enchanters are rare, competent ones even moreso. I believe the Inquisitor would like to test whether or not you were truly Elf trained, as well.”
Gabriel could hardly take in all of Skyhold at once. It was so much more than he had expected. A tavern carried the scent of dark ale out in to the practice ring, where even now soldiers sparred. He could smell an herb garden from here, royal elfroot, blood lotus, prophet’s laurel. The main hall pierced the grey sky, its warmly lit windows in contrast. Merchants in fancy Orlesian dress had their best blades, fabrics, and delicacies on display, their stands adding splashes of color and fragrance wherever they could fit. He could hear singing and the whinny of horses and harts.
But above it all, his eyes were drawn as by magnet to the mage tower. It stood proud and festooned in banners, the symbol of the free mages picked out in gold and red.
It’s true. There is no Circle here.
Heart full, Gabriel heard the gate close behind him, sealing him in to his new home.