It was colder here than anywhere else Dorian had ever been, and over the last couple of years he'd been in many places. But at least it wasn't snowing. In fact, the sunlight was deceptively bright this far south in the Frostback Basin. It blinded him as it glittered off Cloudcap Lake. He squinted and huddled deeper into his decidedly unattractive leather and fur coat and tried not to laugh as Theo attempted to borrow a boat from the Avvar fisherman. The Inquisitor had saved an Empress, defeated an ancient madman, and helped elect Divine Victoria…and he couldn't borrow a boat.
"That island is the Lady's Rest," the man said, but he sounded apologetic. "Lowlanders have never set foot there in our memory."
Theo had, at least, had a lot of practice with difficult diplomatic situations; he didn't get frustrated, though Dorian was sure he'd hear about it in their tent tonight. "There's evidence we might find more information about the previous Inquisitor's resting place on that island," he explained. "We mean no disrespect to your gods."
The boatman scuffed the toe of his fur-lined boots in the mud at his feet. "I wish I could help, lowlander. But I'd not risk offending the Lady. Only Avvar have been to her Rest."
Theo cocked his head to the side, and Dorian knew he was getting an idea. When they'd first met, Theo had seemed nervous, boyish and timid. He relied on others to make decisions for him. But as he'd grown into his role as Inquisitor, he'd revealed his creativity and intelligence and still surprised Dorian with his quick thinking. "Is there a way we might prove our intentions to the Avvar?" he asked.
The boatman was caught off-guard. He'd probably been expecting them to either walk away, and be done with it; or to strong-arm him into borrowing the boat. But Theo didn't operate that way. "I can do nothing. But if you were to speak to our thane, she may be able to help you where I am unable."
Dorian sighed; his breath steamed in the chill air. They were about to take a hike.
He was used to traipsing all over Thedas by now. He'd been through the rolling Hinterlands of Ferelden; the bleak deserts of the Western Approach; even the mysterious and overgrown Arbor Wilds. But here in the Frostback Basin he truly felt out of his element. Perhaps it was because, while they were technically on Inquisition business, there wasn't the same sense of urgency as there had been over a year and a half ago. Somehow they'd survived fighting Corypheus, the ancient darkspawn and former Magister. Dorian thought perhaps they'd settle down in the relative luxury of Skyhold, the Inquisition's mountain fortress. But Theo's energy was boundless, and his enthusiasm, unfortunately, contagious.
They'd slain dragons. They'd been personal guests of Divine Victoria, whom Theo still called Cassandra with a mischievous grin when no one else was around to accuse him of blasphemy. They'd explored Tevinter ruins, and made love under the blank eyes of the ancient statues and the moonlight filtering in between crumbling columns. Dorian was content to let their adventures continue on that particular trend.
But now they were assisting Bram Kenric, a professor from the University of Orlais. He and Theo had struck up a rapport immediately upon meeting. Both were Free Marchers, both sons destined for a life of Chantry service before managing to escape that life. And while Dorian knew Theo was intelligent, the relative calm after Corypheus's defeat had given him time to devote to reading and studies that had awoken a ravenous curiosity in him. When Kenric contacted the Inquisition with the hope of doing onsite research into the possibility of finding the only other Inquisitor's final resting place, Theo couldn't say no.
If finding that resting place meant hiking up the hills to Stone-Bear Hold to win over a tribe of Avvar, then that's what Theo Trevelyan would do, and Dorian would go with him. Besides, he was a bit curious as well.
The first Inquisition had led to the Seekers of Truth, Cassandra's former order, splitting into Seekers and Templars, and shortly after that, Inquisitor Ameridan had simply vanished. Unlike Chantry historians, however, Kenric couldn't leave the legend alone. It was too tempting for Theo to turn down as well. He was, after all, the first Inquisitor in nearly 800 years. The chance to learn more about his predecessor had given him a wistful, almost pained look.
"I want to learn more about him, Dorian," Theo had said before kissing him where his jaw met his neck. It drove Dorian crazy, and Theo knew it. "I want to know if I measure up."
"His Inquisition and your Inquisition are completely different Inquisitions," Dorian had said, even as he knew he was probably going to give in and accompany Theo on yet another adventure. "Formed under completely different circumstances with totally different objectives."
Another kiss on the neck, and warmth as Theo nuzzled his ear. "We have nothing better to do."
"Aside from lie around in the lap of luxury drinking wine and making love without the constant threat of death?"
"Well, yes. Aside from that."
Theo probably could have just asked nicely and Dorian would have agreed. He supposed it wasn't all that bad as they hiked up. Theo had taken the lead, and Dorian rarely tired of watching him from the back. If pressed, he might even admit that the view across the lake was lovely as well.
Theo paused and squinted out over the lake. "I think I can see the island from here," he said. "Do you think he's there? Ameridan."
Dorian stood beside him. "That would be far too simple for you, and you know it," he said.
Theo shook his windblown hair out of his face. His cheeks were rosy with the cold. "I know. But I can hope." He unconsciously flexed the fingers of his left hand, the hand marked with strange, ancient magic that had caused the Breach in the first place. Corypheus had been dead for nearly a year and a half; the Breach was reduced to a scar in the sky, like a cloud that never moved; and yet Theo's mark remained. Dorian rarely considered it, but sometimes Theo would get lost in thought and flex or clench his hand; sometimes he caught Theo staring down at the soft, constant green glow.
Dorian rested his gloved hand on Theo's shoulder. "Your mark did not make you the Inquisitor. Your choices and leadership did." He gave him a gentle squeeze. "I know you seek answers even still, but I don't want to see you disappointed."
Theo smiled slightly, but his green-eyed gaze was distant. "I'm just curious, Dor. Anything I find will be helpful."
"You're a terrible liar," Dorian said as they continued up the path. "I still love you though."
"That's a relief," Theo said with a grin, this time a real grin, one that reached his eyes.
By the time they reached the Avvar hold the boathouse was a tiny speck, and the drop down to the lake shore was dizzying. The sun had shifted in the sky; the light was more golden, heralding sunset. Dorian didn't relish the idea of trekking back to the research outpost in the dark. Scout Harding had mentioned hostile Avvar attacking Inquisition troops further north.
As they passed groups of Avvar he heard whispers of "lowlanders". Ironic, considering Skyhold was nestled deep in the peaks of the Frostbacks. No one was outright hostile, for which Dorian was grateful; but neither were they friendly. "Watch yourself, lowlander," one man said as they passed. He sat on a rock, dragging a hunting knife across a sharpening block. The blade scraped and sang out. Lovely.
Someone finally, begrudgingly pointed out the entrance to a small cave where they could find the hold's Thane. Dorian and Theo both blinked in the sudden darkness. "Welcome, lowlanders," a woman said. "I am Thane Svarah Sun-Hair. My people say you kept your weapons sheathed as you entered. You come in peace, then?"
Theo bowed slightly. "Inquisitor Trevelyan. I've joined a research expedition that leads me here. We've no quarrel with you or your people." His time with the Inquisition had made him slightly more evasive when he needed to be, but also more diplomatic. He explained the boatman situation to the Thane.
"Arvid Rolfsen barely relieves himself without first apologizing for potentially offending the gods," she said with a laugh. "Your Inquisition is welcome in this valley. Already your troops have engaged with and beaten back the Jaws of Hakkon. If you come on behalf of the Inquisition, that alone is enough for me to grant you guest-welcome in our hold."
It was growing dark, so Thane Sun-Hair insisted they remain the night as guests of the hold. The small hut was rustic but warm, especially once Dorian lit the fire pit with a casual flick of his wrist. Eventually he felt the chill seep out of his bones and peeled off his thick coat. "No way to bar the door," he pointed out.
Theo glanced over as he pulled off a heavy woolen undershirt. "I think it's supposed to be a sign of trust, or something."
Dorian wrapped his arms around Theo and kissed him. "I wasn't thinking security. I was thinking privacy."
The morning dawned bright and cold. While they both would have preferred to remain snuggled beneath the furs and beside the fire, they had a mission to accomplish. The chill wind whipped up the waters of Cloudcap Lake, rocking the boat that Rolfsen had begrudgingly lent them. Dorian had always hated water travel and he leaned against the side of the boat praying that he could keep his stomach contents down.
At last they rowed ashore on the Lady's Rest. The island was quiet but for the whistling breeze and lapping water; the sun was bright in a cloudless sky. And yet Dorian couldn't quite feel a sense of peace. He let go of Theo's arm and closed his eyes, feeling the wind on his face; but he also felt a melancholy current in Fade, a feeling made stronger by the thinness of the Veil on this island.
As a Necromancer Dorian had always been drawn to death. From a young age he could feel where the Veil was thin and spirits of sadness and fear lurked and lingered. He assisted them when he could; and in turn they helped him.
With his eyes still closed he began walking, navigating the Fade version of the island. A spirit flitted at the edge of his vision. Whenever he tried to look directly, it seemed to disappear. I must sleep; to sleep, perchance to dream, it seemed to say, a voice he felt in his mind as he drifted along the Fade currents. Why, my love? Ameridan, Vhenan, why?
Dorian stopped and struggled back to the surface of consciousness. "Well. The Avvar are certainly correct about spirits in this place," he said, shaking his head and gazing around. He stood on a grassy knoll. The Fade currents wavered around him. "Something here mentioned Ameridan, and 'my love'. But I don't know who, or what."
"An Inquisitor in love?" Theo asked with a slight smile. "What would the Chantry say about that?" He followed as Dorian trudged further inland, following the faint traces of spirits floating through the air. For all the beauty of the day, this place felt increasingly sadder with each step he took. If the last Inquisitor had faced half the obstacles Theo had faced, then the sadness was more than understandable.
They came to the remains of a house: the walls were long gone and grasses grew over and through the stone foundation. If Dorian listened closely enough he could hear the same voice mourning its lost dreams. I waited for you, she said. I dreamed for you. And now I linger alone without you.
What is your name? Dorian thought, as Theo began scouting out the humble ruins.
Telana. I came to dream of my Vhenan when he left; he never returned, never came to me again, and now I am alone.
Where is he?
She began to cry; the wind seemed to howl more mournfully through the trees and over the lake. He was here; came here, then vanished when I tried to follow him…
The sadness was all-consuming, though to Dorian's relief there didn't seem to be a despair demon behind it. Just the melancholy of someone who had lost their love. He looked to where Theo knelt in the dirt, brushing something off with his gloved hand and felt the deep pang of loss as spirit floated beside him. Vhenan; vhenan, she wept.
Most of the elves Dorian had ever known were slaves, or the poor of Orlesian cities; or the Dalish they'd seen in the Exalted Plains, clinging to remnants of a life long gone. He didn't know their language, and had never had any reason to know or care. But the word 'vhenan' sounded so sorrowful and almost… beautiful.
"Found something," Theo said. Sweat glistened on his forehead as he dug in and pulled a metal chest from the ground. He sat back on his heels and took a long drink from his water skin. He worked at the lock with his set of picks and finally the lid opened on rusted hinges. Inside he found a silverite tube that looked untouched by the many centuries. Theo wouldn't feel it, because he wasn't a mage; but Dorian felt strong fields of restorative magic preserving the tube and its contents. Theo removed his thick leather gloves and slid fragile, ancient documents out of the tube. He scanned the faded writing and then looked up at Dorian with wide green eyes. “We found him."