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Lost Halla

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Her stomach churned every time she saw another one of her people, especially of the few Dalish that had joined the Inquisition. Gone, and she could do nothing. The news had arrived by raven more than a week past, yet Inquisitor Elisara was still haunted by the contents of the missive. Clan Lavellan had been destroyed, the camp looted by bandits, aravels burned to the ground. The original message from the Duke of nearby Wycome had described the Dalish as “scattered or killed,” but the Inquisition scouts had found the ground littered with the bodies of her people. No one had been seen, though they searched the area for 2 days at her behest. She scowled. The sheer number and strength of ‘bandit’ groups that they were encountering was becoming suspicious.

Hardly anyone has spoken to me about it, she thought as she stared out over the river. She wasn’t even sure who knew, besides her advisors. Around the keep she’d recently heard it referred to as the Sky River or more rarely, the River Tarasyl. No one in her clan would ever see this ancient mountain stronghold that had once been the powerful elven fortress Tarasyl'an te'las, probably from before the rise of the Imperium. She’d devoured every fragment of information the scholars and Solas would give her on Skyhold, wishing that more of the original structure stood. So many pieces of their history - gone. So many elves that would never see another moonrise - her fault. The Inquisition scouts accompanying Josephine’s ambassador should be returning soon, and she had instructed them to bring anything left at the clan’s encampment that they feasibly could. It ached, to think that she would never hunt with them again, never see the aravel that she had slept in as a little da’lan, under her mamae’s watchful gaze.

Drawing in a ragged breath, the cold air stung her throat. A group of riders entered the riverbank from out of the western pass, and her grieving heart twisted in agony as the graceful twisting horns of a dalish halla caught her gaze.

“How is this possible?” She whispered, frozen in place. Too far away even for her keen eyes, she could tell nothing more than that it was a halla, not a hart. Ghilan'nain’s gift was treated with great honor and respect, and the horns of those halla who lived among a clan bore the work of years, reshaping and adorning them to honor the goddess. Elisara spun and stormed off of the battlements, headed toward the stable. If they had harmed one of her halla, they were going to rot in Fen’harel’s pisspot for a thousand generations.

Her heavy coat flew out behind her as she vaulted the stone lip of the final landing, dropping a few fathoms and tucking into a roll as she hit the frozen ground. It barely altered her stride, and she snatched open the stall door for her hart - one of the only ones presently at Skyhold. Terise snuffled her broad nose against her chest, and she absently stroked the hart’s grey and red neck before swinging onto her bare back. At that moment, she was glad that Terise wasn’t a particularly talkative hart. She was quiet, intelligent, and a willing partner.

“Inquisitor?” Dennet’s face poked from the next stall over as she nudged Terise forward. They broke into a long, smooth trot, heading for the main gate out of Skyhold.

“Inquisitor, is something wrong?” Blackwall’s deep voice, ringing out from the stable. “Elisara!”

“I’ll be back shortly!” was all she could manage, calling back over her shoulder. The knot in her chest was equal parts anxiety and fury.

She saw one of the Nightingale’s people sprinting across the battlements into the tower, and Terise dodged a group of soldiers headed toward the eastern guard tower. Two figures broke away from a group near the sparring rings, and she briefly registered that Krem and Dalish were headed for her. The guards on the bridge had plenty of time to see her coming, register that she was the Inquisitor, and avoid being knocked down.

“Hey boss! Where are we going?” Krem reached Terise’s flank as she turned down the wide path west of the gates.

“We are finding out why they-” she pointed angrily at the group in the distance, “have a halla.”

“Fenedhis!” Dalish spat the curse, much to Krem’s confusion.

“What’s wrong with having a halla?” Neither of them answered him.

The ground began to disappear rapidly as she asked the hart to run, her eyes fixed on her target. They were close enough that she could tell that no one was riding the halla, and that several people were on foot in addition to horsemen and a pack animal in the back. They passed several camps near the base of the waterfall, still unfrozen, and various soldiers called out in confused alarm. She ignored them all and kept at a steady, ground-eating pace. The two Chargers were a fair distance behind her, keeping their own slower speed.

Golden braid flying behind her, barrelling toward them on a hart, she must have been quite a sight to behold. The lead rider had stopped the group, the young woman staring in awe at the avenging elven goddess headed their way.

There were packs on the halla. No ropes pulled at its head though, and the deep, sonorous greeting of a bull halla rang out along the frozen River Tarasyl. She shifted her weight back, slowing their pace as Terise called out as well. Hope and confusion began to unknot the anger that had clenched her heart as she rode, but there was still not an ounce of sense to be made of the group that she approached. Humans, the halla, an elven scout that she knew grew up in Redcliffe’s alienage, the feathered cap marked Josephine’s emissary to the Duke no doubt - but she saw no explanations.

“Inquisitor! Your Worship, how may we-” the young woman began nervously, her voice cracking as she was silenced by the elf’s sharp look.

“How in Ghilan'nain’s name do you have one of our halla?” Elisara’s voice rang out clear and hard, her heart still pounding. She swung her leg over Terise’s neck and slid to the ground, pushing away from her shoulders as the hart trotted to a halt. Her strides didn’t stop, carrying her through the confused scouts to the magnificent, unharmed white halla in the middle of the group.

“We found him yesterday your Worship, in the foothills.” Tumbling, confused, the woman’s words spilled over. “He was looking for Skyhold your Worship, so he joined us. Maker forgive me, did we do something wrong? We sent the last of of Sister Nightingale’s birds two days ago, and no new ones have returned so we kept going as ordered.”

She reached toward his massive jaw, hand open and flat. He huffed loudly in acknowledgement, and spoke. Well, she understood him anyway.

{Greetings, halla friend.}

He bumped his jaw gently against her back as she ran her hands down his muscled neck, still confused. She rumbled back at him, not caring who heard her.

{Are you well? Why are you with those-who-do-not-ask, mighty one?}

Something seemed familiar about this halla, and about some of the packs on his back.

{Yes Wild-Walker, there are good leaves in my bones. I am with a Keeper, not those-who-do-not-ask.}

He knew her, must have been with her clan. But how? She stepped back from him in confusion, looking around. A voice called out from farther back in the group, and she forgot to breathe.

“Elisara? Lethallan, is that you?” A warm, gentle voice heralded the brown-skinned elf that was quickly wending his way through the humans and horses.

It couldn’t be, she thought. He was dead, all of them were dead. It couldn’t be her father’s Second walking toward her, couldn’t be someone she had known her entire life. Tears trickled down her cheeks as he hesitated in the space that had cleared around them.

{A Keeper.} The halla’s voice spoke firmly from behind her.

The elf before her gave a wry smile as he searched her eyes. A ragged breath later she nearly bowled Hallenon over in a desperate embrace.

She thought I was killed as well, he thought, and wrapped his arms around her tightly. Oh, Mythal protect us. Elisara’s face was buried in his shoulder, sobbing quietly.

Krem and Dalish caught up to them, with the elf glaring daggers at the humans surrounding the halla. “What did you do?” Dalish snapped at the luckless rider, her ‘bow with an aiming crystal’ crackling with ice.

“Nothing! The Inquisitor came flying in yelling about the halla, and now she’s hugging the elf that we found looking for Skyhold yesterday!” The woman’s voice betrayed her confusion, but her awe was still evident.

“You found an elf in the Frostbacks?” Krem wondered out loud, quickly catching his breath after the charge down the mountain.

“The elf is from Clan Lavellan, Lara,” the emissary spoke up finally, his Orlesian accent faint but noticeable. “The Inquisitor thought that they had all been killed in the bandit attack 10 days ago.”

Dalish’s hand flew to her mouth, covering a horrified gasp. “Falon’Din guide them… I did not know.”

Bless mercenaries and their sense of independence. Krem took charge, directing Lara and the rest of the group to continue onward to Skyhold. He pointed a short, strong finger at the emissary, “You will tell the next person from the keep exactly what is going on, since they just saw the Inquisitor come barrelling out here like a thunder storm.” His tone tolerated no nonsense, lips tight in disapproval.

Hallenon gently rubbed Elisara’s shoulders as she cried, soothing words to still her fears. He was barely taller than she, but broad through the chest and unusually stocky for an elf. Dalish kept glancing at them anxiously, but she spoke to the halla asking him to move out of the way for the others to pass. There was no chance he’d continue with the humans alone, and she wouldn’t have asked him to anyway.

“How? The message said everyone was dead, they found no one. The camp was burned to ash.” Her voice was raw from crying when she finally spoke, but he could tell the worst had passed. Halla, elf, owl, he had comforted many creatures at various times. “Hallenon, how are you here?”

She still had not let go of him, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Long ago ‘ma falon taught me how not to be seen and how to hunt clumsy shem’len in the dark. I owe her my life.” That got a choked laugh from her, and she loosened her grip on him finally.

She rested her hand along his jaw, pressing a gentle kiss to his cheek as she stepped back. “Tuelanen enaste, tel’ame sasha.” Her voice broke on the words, because she truly did miss her clan, even with all its flaws. Hallenon was seven years younger than her, but tough and wiry enough that he had often roamed out with children of the clan much closer to receiving their vallaslin. A good friend, and a kind young man who had often looked up to her. They had not been particularly close as adults, mostly because of his close ties to Keeper Deshanna, a manipulative elf that she would not miss at all.

“Ir abelas Elisara, I was too late to save others.” Profound sorrow filled his rich voice, making her think of dark wood crying tears of sap.

“The fault was mine Hallen, I should have acted sooner. Or more decisively, I don’t know.” She shook her head, tight lipped. Taking a deep breath and wiping half-frozen tears from her cheeks, she squared her shoulders. “There will be time to talk more. For now, I am just overjoyed to not be the only one left of our clan.”

Glancing over at Dalish, who was reverently stroking the noble halla’s graceful neck and showering him with praise in elven, she smiled ruefully. “I’m also glad that I didn’t need to rescue a halla from stupid shem’len today.”