It appears I made some mistakes at the Conclave, but for the life of me, I can't remember what they are. I hope, at least, I can still make you proud.
Your Loving Sister,
Cold ground. Stone. Dark. A dungeon, then. Something was wrong with her hands. Bound, but something more. A... pain. Green light. It hadn't done that before.
A human was shouting at her. Nevarran accent, educated. High class. Angry. No, she sounded angry, but she was scared. Terrified. Ellana was on the floor of a dungeon with a glowing, burning hand, bound and chained, and this human was afraid of... her? Her ears were ringing. She didn't respond to the questions. She was an elf in a human dungeon. She was already dead. Or worse.
A second human walked in. Calmer. Orlesian accent. The calm belied something else. Like a duck. Gliding gracefully across the water, but feet churning frantically underneath. Or so she was told. She'd never admired a duck before. Hard to kill a duck with a sword. The Orlesian was furious with a friendly tone. An angry duck.
Her hand throbbed, and it occurred to her they might not kill her. This magic was unstable. They might all die. The Nevarran unbound her, helped her up. Pulled her roughly out of the dungeon. Ellana got her feet moving, trying not to fall.
"Look," Cassandra said, gesturing at the sky. Ellana's eyes adjusted to the light, but it didn't help much. The sky was the same shade of green as her hand. Not a good sign.
Neither were the humans lining the road around them. She could feel their fear bearing down on her. She needed a weapon. Debris falling from the sky obliged. Despite the throbbing in her hand, she was able to grip the sword.
The Nevarran objected.
Ellana found her voice. "You think I ripped a hole open in the sky, and you're worried about what I might accomplish with a sword?"
Cassandra hesitated. Ellana didn't blame her. She was radiating hostility. She tried to rein it in.
"I can die closing the breach or I can die drowning in demons trying to reach it. Your choice."
She kept the sword. Fighting up ahead. She could hear the clashing, the shouting. She heard fear and death. Demons were always a welcome target. Unambiguous both in looks and motive. There was no hesitating. She cut them down, and was startled only by a stranger grabbing her wrist. For a moment, her hand calmed, relief. Then the buzzing intensified, and she felt a connection to... something. The green haze in front of her. She was part of it. And then it didn't exist. The man dropped her wrist. Her hand burned.
There was comraderie here as introductions were made. She wasn't interested. They were marching to her death. The breach hummed in the sky above her, and it existed and she existed, and if it stopped existing, she didn't think her measly left hand could contain the void.
"I am Solas, if there are to be introductions." He didn't blame her for the sky, and his fear was better hidden. A mage. She wanted him to grab her wrist again. Relief in his touch. Natural healing magic? Something else? Varric, with the crossbow, seemed oddly comfortable in the chaos. Ready to make jokes. A strategy, should she survive. Friendliness might benefit her.
"And Varric, what good fortune led you to the epicenter of the end of the world?" A piece of the Fade struck a tree next to her.
"I was dragged to the ass end of nowhere by an angry Seeker," he said, knocking back an arrow. He gestured with a nod of the head. "That angry seeker."
Cassandra snorted in irritation, and Ellana smiled "We have more in common than I thought."
"Oh yeah? Where are you from?"
Ellana wasn't going to answer that question. "The Black City, I think. I thought it was rather famous already that I fell out of the Fade."
"I think you'll be a lot more famous if people hear you didn't also fall into it."
The wreckage of the Temple of Sacred Ashes lay before them. The throbs in her hand emanated through her shoulder to the rest of her body. Her first prediction had been right. This was going to kill her. Still, at least she was dying for a good cause. And as far as she knew nobody could trace her back to her clan yet and demand retribution. This wasn't the worst possible outcome.
She threw everything she had at the demons pouring out of the rift. If this was her last stand, let them say she was a skilled warrior. Maybe the tale would drift back to the Marches, where her family could learn of her fate. Her blade found a chink in the thick hide of the demon, and she thrusted in, then ripped it out, spraying the field with bits of demon gore. The monster fell, and she smiled. A final small victory.
She raised her hand to the rift, felt the buzzing increase in intensity, and let consciousness go.
Haven is cold and full of humans. They all think I'm holy. Even the scribe writing this. Yes, write that part, too. She needs to know what I'm dealing with here. I miss you, and I keep you and everyone in my thoughts.
Waking up to a terrified elf was a disappointment. Waking up as a religious figure was a disaster. Humans that might have killed her for her mark, or realistically her face or her ears, now saluted her with respect. There was reverence. Now she was scared.
The mark made her recognizable. That was the first barrier to escape. It might be the last. The humans running the show made it clear that should she leave, she would be pursued and murdered. What they didn't say was that they had, without her knowledge or consent, connected her identity as Herald of Andraste inextricably to the Inquisition. Every faction, nobleman, and peasant with a grudge would now see her not only as a Dalish baby-eater, but as a target. Worse, while she was sleeping, they figured out who she was. Her family's fate now rested on her ability to become irrelevant.
Perhaps it was time for the people of Thedas to see her as something else. A dullard, maybe. Too ignorant to be important or useful. They already saw her fight, so being a weakling was off the table. Besides, causing a large amount of destruction might be her only solace in the coming days.
She practiced first on Cullen. Tall, sad, wounded. Unsuspicious of her. She smiled sweetly, widened her eyes and asked, "What are templars? We do not have them in our clans." She had killed one, once. He had seen her sister and she was taking no chances. The body was hidden and the clan moved that night. Cullen gladly talked about the order.
Vivienne was practically bursting to influence her with her politics. Moments of subtlety, beautifully delivered, but a deep, obvious obstinance that made her ambition plain. "Do tell me more about the Circle. What purpose do they serve? How can I help?" As if she would ever allow someone to throw her Keeper or sister in a tower to rot. As if she cared about Chantry politics beyond when and where they planned to blame and murder elves.
"What is a Grey Warden?" This particular question almost pained her. Should she ask him what the Blight was, too, or was that overkill? She had rather wanted to ask where Blackwall was when her cousin was saving Ferelden, sacrificing herself for the love of a human man, but she kept her to her cheerful, inquisitive facade.
She genuinely didn't know what a Seeker was. Those questions were easy. Cassandra was easy, too. Pious, moral, earnest, striving for a better world. She might genuinely like her, were she not human nobility who believed her holy. "And is there no room for the Maker among your gods?" She considered saying yes, allowing them to "convert" her, going through the words. "It is not our way," she responded.
Her plan was working. Good-natured but simple. Pliable. "Yes, I'll go to the Crossroads." "Yes, I'll go to Orlais." "Yes, I could use your expertise." Add in her very real episodes tripping over unseen obstacles, inability to dress herself to human standards (or Dalish, if she were honest), and failure to differentiate between any of the humans in Haven, and her reputation was set. When she asked for a scribe to help her send a letter home, the rumor even included that she was illiterate. "Do Dalish even have books?" she heard whispered. Offensive, but useful.
There was one, however, who didn't seem to be buying it. The more questions she asked, the more Solas appeared to like her. She asked dumber and dumber questions, stooping to, "Tell me about elves." And he took her seriously. Complimented her for having an open mind while insulting her family, her history, and her beliefs. The gall.
When he waxed on about spirits, he reminded her a little of an old friend of hers. Obsessed with bears. Believed he knew how to talk to them, get them to allow him to pet them. He claimed he could even ride them, so long as he only went where the bear wanted to go. Proud of his bear-befriending abilities. Claimed he preferred bears, in the end, and one day just didn't come back to camp. Her sister said he was probably eaten, but Ellana liked to think he was out there still. And she had always been a little envious. She might enjoy petting a bear. She wondered why Solas hadn't asked her to open up a door to the Fade. Everyone else seemed ready to ask for divine favors.
"You like my muscles?" She asked, batting her eyelashes back in Haven.
If she had thought to fluster him, possibly embarrass him, she failed. Solas didn't look away, didn't stutter or blush. He kept her gaze and said gently, "Yes, I do."
It was Ellana who had to hide a surprised smile. A genuine smile she didn't know she had. He's not Dalish, she reminded herself. He'll never understand. Still, there was something pleasing about his voice. It wouldn't hurt to listen to him talk now and again.
For now, the Inquisition is where I should be. And when it is time to go home, I know the way.
Ellana's whole body was a bruise. The ice-cold waterfall in the Hinterlands was looking inviting. "How deep do you suppose it is?" she asked Sera. She had trouble judging depths. Earlier that week she had been charging through the shallows of a lake when the land disappeared from beneath her. In her heavy armor, she sank like a stone and had to be fished out by the archers.
Sera was unimpressed. "Are you going for another swim? You're barmy."
Ellana dipped her sword in to try to get a feel for the bottom. It would be pointless to strip down if the water only went to her knees. "I'll take my armor off first this time."
"Mm. I'll bet you will."
"Do you see any leeches? I hate leeches."
Sera giggled, "Leeches?? Ughhh. Disgusting those. If you do find any, put them in a jar for me, will you?"
It was a dark night. Moonless. Ellana returned to the pool and stripped. She waded in, not fighting the cold that penetrated her skin. The water went just past her waist. She lowered her upper body in slowly, until just her face was above the surface, pointing at the sky. With her ears under the water and her eyes closed, she could be anywhere.
The water stopped feeling cold. It was time to get out. Through the rumbling of water splashing down rocks, she heard something else. Someone was there. She ducked down in the water. She counted the steps.
"I didn't take you for a peeping tom, Solas."
His approach abruptly halted. "Apologies. I did not realize-- but in this darkness I was unaware even of your presence."
"That's good. I wouldn't want to tell the Inquisition of your blasphemy and impure thoughts."
To her delight, he was flustered. He whipped around to keep his back toward her. "I did not-- I have no-- this is not..." Finally she had him off balance, even if she had to be naked and cold to do it. Small victories.
"What brought you out here to spy on my bath, Solas?"
His tone landed solidly on miffed. "I came to tell you that you received a letter from your clan. I am starting to regret it." She heard his footsteps walking away.
"Wait!" she called out frantically, "Do you have it there?" She splashed madly toward the river bank.
"Shall I leave it on the shore for you to read?"
"No! Don't-- just wait a moment." She sank back into the water. Better if only one person hears the letter. There were worse people to listen to. "Would you... would you read it to me?"
His back was still toward her. He hesitated. Then he conjured a magical light in one hand and began reading.
"I am so pleased to hear of your kind treatment in Haven. It is hard to believe one's sister could become a religious figure among humans. Harder still to imagine you have walked beyond the Veil. I know you are fond of swords, but given your companions, a cedar branch might serve you better. Send the word, and I will send you my oaken staff. I await your return to us with the famous patience of Dirthamen.
Ellana closed her eyes as she listened. The message was clear enough to her. Trust no one. Come home.
"Thank you, Solas. You can leave the letter with my clothes." I wish I could, sister. But for your sake...
"In Dalish lore, Falon'Din and Dirthamen are inseparable twins," he said, snuffing his magical light. Ellana cursed internally. I suppose he would have to know the tales to despise them. "It must be difficult to be so far from yours," he continued.
Ellana smiled in spite of her irritation. It was a good guess. "She's my perfect reflection. I would tear down the sky if it kept her safe." She held her glowing hand up ruefully. "And for all we know, that's exactly what happened. Now, if you'd let me get dressed, I can avoid pneumonia."
Solas put his hands behind his back, turning so she was no longer directly behind him. "She is offering you an oaken staff?"
"She's a mage like you," Ellana said delicately, "She's offering to help." Ellana moved toward the shore, hoping this would discourage the conversation.
"Herald." She did not like hearing him call her that. "At this point in time, your sister would be better served by you healing the Breach."
She kept her expression neutral, her tone light. "Of course she would, Solas. The Breach threatens us all. If you would please--"
Solas ignored her. "So you will not do as she asks in that letter, and return to your clan as soon as you are able."
Ellana inhaled sharply, "If you will not let me dress, will you at least put your magic to use and warm this water before a chill takes me and I die of a cough before being able to die healing the sky?"
Solas approached the water without looking at her and dipped his staff into it. Waves of warmth hit her. "At this point, pneumonia would take you regardless." He practically spat. "Is that what you fear? Dying at the breach?"
"My death is a foregone conclusion. The moment I--" She held up her cursed hand. "Dying at the breach, surviving at the breach, my death is certain."
"You doubt your companions? I've been able to keep the mark from killing you so far..."
The water was continuing to heat. Ellana was losing control of her temper. "You've studied our history. You should know this. Elves who get tangled up in human religion-- in human anything-- end up dead. That is not what frightens me."
Steam was rising from the pool. She moved closer to the shore, her voice rising. "When elves get trapped and used like chess pieces, their families die. Their clans are slaughtered. As long as I matter, as long as I have this cursed hand," she stepped forward to wave her hand front of his face, "They are in danger. They will kill them to retaliate against me and my decisions. Every action, every choice is a possible death sentence for them." The water was too hot, and she was livid. She stepped out of the pool, and shoved Solas's staff out of the water. "But yes, I will close the blighted Breach!"
Solas was standing quite still. He dropped his staff to his side, then deliberately turned away from her. "I will... let you dress, Herald." He quickly headed toward the path, still holding her letter.
Ellana felt the wind leave her. She was tired. Too tired to feel embarrassed. Too tired to regret her words. She pulled on her clothes slowly, headed toward camp, and was surprised to find Solas still on the path. Leaning on a boulder, arms wrapped around his staff, head bowed. He might have been sleeping.
"Am I wrong, Solas? Is there an example, a model, of an elf who... didn't lose everything?"
He shook his head without looking up. "I... do not know."
Ellana worked out her anger in the training yard. The clanging of swords and shouting of Cullen's recruits were less irritating than the incessant chanting in town. None dared bother her when her sword was out of its sheath. And she had a new sword. Shiny. Strong. As tall as she was. She wanted to hit things with it.
The news was bleak. The Inquisition went to make contact with her clan. Cullen had actually suggested sending troops. Troops. Thankfully she had at least one adviser with sense. But then Josephine had said something else, something worrying. The Inquisition wouldn't end with the Breach. Ellana hit the practice dummy, and her sword wedged into the wood. She had to brace her foot against the dummy to pull it out. She whacked it again.
Her biceps were warm. She loved this moment, when her arms felt limber, and suddenly all the power in them was available to her. She whirled with the sword and slammed it into another target. Mages or templars, mages or templars. Why, she wondered, was that decision up to a Dalish warrior. The choice mattered. The Inquisition was not ending. The repercussions would reverberate.
"I thought Dalish preferred bows."
Ellana whacked the practice target a little harder than she meant. A limb thudded to the ground. She hadn't registered the footsteps. She had effectively ignored Solas since their argument. She lifted her sword and shifted into stance. "By all means," she said without turning around, "Continue to teach me about my people, da'len. I've been away from home for over a month, and I'm starting to forget."
She swung with all of her strength, slamming the blade into the ground. The target exploded in a shower of splinters, and she listened to the quiet patter as they fluttered into the snow. She smiled.
"Remarkable." She stopped smiling. Whipping around, she aimed the sword at Solas's chest.
"The hunters did try to teach me to use a bow." She moved slowly forward, "I found this style suited me a little better. I did not hear you complaining of my swordwork in the Hinterlands. Are you no longer content to stand behind me as I fend off our enemies?"
Solas raised his hands in chagrined defeat. "On the contrary, I find your sword work more than adequate. The sheer amount of destruction you accomplish without magic is... impressive."
Ellana brought the sword down and sheathed it.
"Were you never tempted to pick up a bow?" He asked.
"I've picked up many bows. I've even picked up staves. Generally to hand them to someone who could use them." She paused thoughtfully, "Occasionally to beat someone over the head with, if nothing else was available."
Solas chuckled. "I should like to see that."
She looked pointedly at his staff. "Keep talking, and you might."
He bowed his head. "I came here to apologize. I should not have doubted your commitment to sealing the Breach. You have acted with courage and wisdom in the face of many unknown dangers."
Ellana gestured for him to walk with her, away from Cullen's troops. "Wisdom?" she asked with a laugh, "I thought it was common knowledge I was simple, pliable, and illiterate. And possibly savage and drunk."
"Yes, you've worked hard to cultivate that reputation."
Ellana held her tongue. Irritating didn't start to describe him. And what are you hiding, apostate?
She sat on a stone wall and gazed toward the Breach. This far from the demons, it was hard to understand the fuss over a green sky. She wondered idly if anyone was going to paint it. "I've heard in the south, there are different colored lights in the night sky. I wonder if they look like the Breach."
Solas stood to her side, just behind the low wall, leaning on his staff. "They do not."
She closed her eyes, wondering if she could feel the Breach from here, resonating with her hand. She wondered if she could drop a demon right on his bald head.
"Although some see your questions as an indication of ignorance and foolishness, others say you listen to your advisers and take their counsel before making important decisions. Those rumors are spreading as well. Your work in the Hinterlands helping the refugees belies your Dalish savagery. As for pretending you can't read--"
Ellana cut him off sharply. "I can't read."
Her fists clenched. "I know whether or not the Dalish are literate, Solas, but I can't read."
Solas sounded perplexed. "Surely you could be taught. There are many here who would--"
"I could not be taught to read, just as I could not be taught to aim a bow."
There was a slight pause as realization dawned. "Your eyes..."
"Don't work properly." It was her final card. A last effort to remove herself as Herald. A card she had been unwilling to play because it was true. Truth was vulnerability. Her eyesight was vulnerability. "I can see colors and shapes. Movement." Would the fanatics follow a blind elf? Would they finally discard her? "I have considered it for some time, now, and I have to wonder if my defective vision is not the cause of our situation." Their gods didn't create this mess. A cruel joke of fate did. "I imagine I walked into the wrong room, at precisely the wrong time."
Solas had been still, silent while she revealed herself. But she could sense it. Agitation under the surface. He wasn't a believer, so why did this bother him?
"There's one part I must ask about," he said finally, "Why would your clan send you to spy on the Conclave?"
"I'm a very good listener," she said flatly.
Solas seemed to consider this. Ellana clenched and unclenched her fists. He released the air in his lungs in a slow sigh. "I might be able to use my magic to help your eyes, Lavellan."
Ellana tensed. The Keeper had said years ago that it couldn't be done, and trying would be too dangerous to the sight she had yet. But Solas had magic her clan did not. And the risks-- death, blindness-- she had consigned herself to these already. Her heart raced.
"The last time you tried to help me with magic, you nearly boiled me alive."
Solas cleared his throat. An embarrassing memory. "I do apologize for that."
She closed her eyes. "You should apologize to the fish. I doubt they recovered as well as I did." She rocked back and forth on the wall where she perched. Her eyes snapped open. "Do it then, but if you blind the Herald of Andraste I imagine the templars will be merciless."
Solas stood in front of her. He discarded his staff. She looked up at him from her seated position, and he held his hands over her forehead. "Close your eyes."
She did. A wave of magic thrummed through her face. It was gentler than the ever-present buzzing in her hand. The magic pushed through her eyes and settled in the back of her skull. Then it was gone.
"You can open them now."
She cautiously opened her eyes. A sharp, involuntary breath ripped through her. Solas's face was still before her, but now it had depth. Expression. Eyelashes. And freckles across his nose. Spots of yellow in his eyes. High, angular cheekbones. A scar.
"Am I that ugly?" He said, smiling.
Her mouth was agape. She closed it. She was staring. She turned her eyes away, only to notice the cabling on his sweater. His necklace was not a stone, as she thought before. A bone? Staring at his chest was not better. She looked back at his face.
"On the contrary, Solas, you have the most remarkable face I have ever seen." Meant to sound flippant, but it came out with a gasp.
He laughed at this, throwing his head back. "There are far better faces than mine upon which to gaze. Shall we go seek them out?"
She wasn't listening. She was staring at the trees-- individual pine needles shaking in the wind. Layers in the bark. A snowflake drifted past. She was starting to feel dizzy. "I wonder what Varric looks like."
"Varric?" Solas was disapproving.
"You said something about his chest hair. I've never seen chest hair before."
This elicited another chuckle. She watched his throat as he laughed. Such subtle movements-- she could see muscles working.
"I think we can do better than that. Hand me your sword."
She complied. Even the stones she had been sitting on had color, details. Scratches and patterns and small, glinting lights. She stood up, and felt her head rush. Was she breathing too much? Was she breathing at all? She caught a snowflake in her hand and watched it melt.
Solas's feet crunched the gravel next to hers, and he thrust the point of the sword gently into the dirt in front of her. She turned to face him, but he brought his hand to her chin and softly turned her head toward the gleaming flat of the blade. Her own face reflected perfectly in the metal.
"Miri," she whispered. A hot tear rolled down her cheek, then another. Her composure faltered, and her shoulders slumped. She reached out to touch the cold metal, trace the contours of her sister's face. She had never felt so alone. She did not want him to know. She did not want him to have the satisfaction of affecting her this way.
She forced a cheerful tone, saying, "Miri always told me we were pretty." The sentence fell flat. Another tear rolled down her cheek. Her eyes betrayed her.
"Your sister was right," Solas said softly, and she turned to him in surprise. He held her gaze, smiling faintly. He gestured for her to take the hilt of the sword from him. Her fingers brushed his, and he paused before withdrawing his hand.
His demeanor changed suddenly. A cold breeze stung the tears on her face. "I should not keep you from exploring the world with your new sight," he said with a nod, and quickly turned to leave.
She watched him, puzzled. "Solas!" She called out after him, surprised by the volume of her own voice. He paused in his trek, but did not turn. "You have... what I mean to say is... This gift... Ma serranas, lethallin."
Solas continued walking. Ellana stared at her hands. Calluses. Scars. Her fingernails were dirty. She needed a quill. She could write to Miri in her own hand. "Dear Miri, something wonderful has happened. My whole world is changed..."
"If you keep peering into every reflective surface, people will start calling the Herald of Andraste vain."
The Tevinter was talking to her again. She did not care for it. She resumed polishing her sword. "And how do you know I'm not?"
"Well it's terribly rude of you. Vanity is really more of my thing. Although," he dropped his voice, "I can't say I blame you, with beautiful elven eyes like that..." Charm. Charming. A need to be liked. Were he not Tevinter, she might. She didn't.
"Would you like them? It's my understanding that Tevinters just take whatever beautiful elven things they want." She concentrated on her sword. It didn't need the polish. Her hands needed the work.
"And I've heard your eyes were blessed by Andraste herself."
No eyes could be blessed after seeing what was in the future. She had scraped her sword clean of red lyrium dust, but she could not scrape away the memories. Only a cruel god would restore her sight just to show her the end of the world. "What a prize for you to take back home, then."
Dorian stepped back and pressed his hand to his chest. An overly dramatic display. True offense, hidden by fake reactions. "I don't go enslaving every elf that I see." An invitation for an apology, a reassurance he is different from those other slave masters.
"Of course not, only the pretty ones whose eyes match your curtains or tapestries. Or whatever." She had picked that up from Sera. Whatever. She liked the way the word fit in her mouth. The way it diminished any conversation.
The vestiges of playfulness dropped out of Dorian's voice. "The mages will be ready to face the Breach tomorrow. I just thought you'd like to know."
He turned on his heel and did not acknowledge her response. "Ma serranas, da'len."
She sheathed her sword. The sun was setting. She watched the sky. It might be the last green sunset she saw.
Ellana woke with a start. Haven was quiet. There was light coming in her window. Had she overslept? She pulled on her clothes. Felt around for her boots. Something felt wrong. Why had nobody woken her?
More snow had fallen while she slept. It crunched under her feet. She hated snow. It hid every root, every ditch, every boulder over which she might stumble. Snow made her world flatter, emptier, harder to navigate. It dampened sounds. It dampened her socks. She hated it.
Her best strategy was to find footsteps in the snow and use them for herself. But if there were footsteps, she couldn't see them. There should be footsteps. There should be people. Something about the snow... it kept falling.
There was someone in Haven. Easily recognizable, even at a distance. Even with her eyes. She approached him.
Solas watched her careful approach through the snow. "Lethallan."
She looked around, puzzled. "My eyes, Solas, they're back to how they were. I can't... The world is..."
He put a hand on her shoulder. "Focus, lethallan. Remember what the world looks like. How it felt to see with acuity."
She looked toward the mountains and tried to remember. There were trees. They had branches. She stared, willing her eyes to see them. At first, nothing. Then the entire world sharpened.
Ellana woke with a startled gasp. Even in the dim light, she could make out the grain of the wood beams crossing her ceiling.
Ellana trudged toward the Breach. Her hand burned with each step closer. This had to work. And she had to survive it. She looked for Solas in the crowd.
"Are you still confident you can keep me alive when I face the Breach?"
Solas looked amused. He leaned heavily on his staff as he walked. "I am."
"If I die sealing that thing, I am returning immediately as a demon to possess your spirit-loving ass."
Solas coughed. A suppressed laugh. "That's... colorful... but not exactly how it works."
"The sky has torn open. I was blind a week ago. I was in the future earlier. Rules do not appear to apply anymore. I will become your personal demon and you will be possessed."
Solas bowed his head, smiling. "Understood, lethallan. Can I take this to mean you intend to survive? To stay?"
She frowned."I've seen what happens when I cease to exist. That future... I will do anything I can to circumvent it." Even if it means I have to be the Herald of Andraste. Even if I never go home.
She flexed her left hand. They had arrived.
The humans have not raised one of our people so high for ages beyond counting. The orb is ours. The orb is of our people. Our gods. Our pantheon.
Haven was buried in snow. Humans had sung at her. A monstrous embodiment of red lyrium had shaken her like a rag doll. An archdemon had arrived. She had walked for miles in the dark in blighted snow.
Ellana replayed the conversation in her head as she led the Inquisition north. It was expert manipulation. It was how elves talked. It was not how Solas talked. What did he want?
She asked him so many questions, and she had learned nothing. He healed her eyes, he kept her alive, kept her breathing on multiple occasions. An outsider like me. A non believer. She had started to trust him. Or at least to consider him an ally. A friend. At times. When he could be tolerated.
But now... he had tried to charm her. She could feel herself being drawn in. She wanted to be drawn in. She wanted to close her eyes and... Secure a place in their hearts. Her plans to become irrelevant had failed. Her survival ensured that. Now he wanted her to embrace the role.
She reached the top of a peak and looked behind her. Solas had a fierce expression on his face. She couldn't read it. He looked at her and smiled. She couldn't read that, either. She looked away.
If Solas couldn't be trusted, her prospects for companionship were weak. Cassandra, Blackwall, and Varric thought her holy. Iron Bull was a mercenary spy. Sera hated her. Vivienne was the most human human she had ever met. And Dorian was Tevinter.
And they were all counting on her.
She picked up her pace. One of the many benefits of good vision-- she no longer walked behind people, counting their steps, mirroring their movements. She could lead.
She couldn't outrace her thoughts.
She lost her footing in the snow, and slid backwards, down the slope. She dug her hands in, scratching, and only slowed her descent. She continued to slide. Your Herald, everyone. Solas grabbed her hand, as she passed, stopping her impromptu sledding. He pulled her up to her feet. With her free hand, she grabbed onto his shoulder to stabilize herself. She found her footing. She let go of his shoulder. He dropped her hand.
"Snow," she spat at him. Her heart raced. "Could you not have found me an abandoned fortress somewhere nice?"
"In time, perhaps. This one is available now. And it will suit your needs."
My needs. A tone shift. Deferential. Serving her in her goals. She walked in silence for a while. She didn't want to think about what any of it meant.
"You found it in the Fade?" she asked suddenly.
"As I told you before."
"Then are there any stories you can tell me of it? Memories you saw."
"I would be happy to share."
Are you out of your fucking minds? This is what she had wished to say in the courtyard. She couldn't remember what she had said. Something hopeful? Something about vengeance?
Skyhold was dark, and damp, and had more stairs than Ellana had ever seen. Or climbed. Debris was blocking the door she wanted. She picked up a hunk of fallen roof and threw it aside. The door wouldn't open. She threw her weight into it. No movement. She readied a kick.
Ellana paused, her foot in the air. "Yes, Josephine, can I help you?"
"Perhaps we could leave the remodeling to our masons?"
Ellana slowly dropped her foot. "Of course. I'll go, um, find a rift to close, shall I?"
"Very well." Josephine curtsied and left.
Ellana looked for another path to the ramparts. One that brought her into contact with the fewest number of people. She stepped through a crumbling wall onto a roof. It started to disintegrate under her. She couldn't find a handhold. The roof collapsed.
Ellana fell to the ground and rolled into the courtyard. At least a dozen people were there.
She groaned. She hated today.
"You know, after you fixed your eyesight, I thought I'd be seeing you fall flat on your ass less often."
Iron Bull held out a hand. She took it.
"So did I. It turns out I actually was just clumsy all along." She rubbed her elbow. If she didn't move, nobody would see her limp. "How did that rumor even get started?"
"What, that Andraste healed you while shoving you out of the fade? I don't know who spread that piece of bullshit around, but when I met you, you couldn't see and now you can."
Of course the spy figured it out. And said nothing. At least not to the Inquisition. "What gave me away?"
"The biggest tell was your fighting style. I knew it as soon as I saw you on the beach on the Stormcoast. Don't get me wrong, I love watching all that brute force applied in the widest arc possible. And the way you learned to draw them in closer so you don't have to risk your footing? Clever. But you almost never find the weak points in armor, or try to hit more vulnerable areas. You could be a lot more efficient."
Ellana rolled her shoulders. Secondary points of impact were making themselves known. "I find if I hit someone hard enough, regardless of where I hit them, they usually don't get up."
"And that's a good strategy if you don't mind wasting all your energy on three swings. But now that you can target your attacks better, you want some pointers?"
Ellana's head only reached the gray man's torso. His wrist had the circumference of her thigh. Her ribs hurt "Perhaps later. I think I'm going to... lie down in some snow."
"See ya later, boss."
Ellana practically jumped out of bed. That wasn't... None of that was real, was it? She hadn't really... Had she called him a sweet talker?
She hadn't planned on kissing him until she was kissing him. She had never even thought about it. She had specifically not thought about it. Then her hand moved of its own accord, turning his face toward her, leaning him closer...
Her face flushed just remembering it. Was that really the Fade? Or just... He had pulled her in with such intensity, she could feel his necklace digging into her sternum. She put her hand there, but there wasn't a trace. There wouldn't be.
She had grabbed his arms. Pulled at his tunic. Slipped one hand under it, searching for skin. She had wanted to... she would have...
And then he changed his mind. He wanted to talk about it.
There was really only one solution.
She put on her armor. Varric was in the hall. She kept her voice hushed, but cheerful. "Varric, didn't Cullen say something about kidnapped soldiers in the Fallow Mire? I think it's high time we rescue them. Grab Bianca and go tell Dorian we need him, too."
"Do you want me to get Solas, too? Or are you going to?"
"Don't be silly. Have you seen his footwear? We're going to a mire. He'd die of a chill in a minute. I'm getting Sera, and I'll meet you at the stables."
"Wait, so we're really leaving right now?"
"Hurry up!" she said, practically running out of the castle.
"I must say, I am so glad that on my first time out with part of your little adventuring crew, you invited me to such a delightful location."
The Fallow Mire was the worst place Ellana had ever been. Dorian struggled to pull one of his feet from the mud. She smiled.
"Let's make camp!" She declared with fake cheerfulness. The rocks offered marginal protection from the endless undead rising from the shallows. Nothing offered protection from the rain.
Dorian had lit a fire. They each sat around it, perfectly spaced to be as far apart from each other as possible. Cardinal directions of unfriendliness.
"Dorian, is that a flask you have there?"
Dorian hesitated. "Yes... Is there a problem?"
She hadn't had a drink since arriving in Haven. She had mistakenly believed that any part of her life was under her control. She was now thoroughly disabused of this notion. She wanted a drink. "Only if you won't share your liquor with your Inquisitor."
"Now that I'd like to see. Stuffy Dalish getting good and buttered. Pass it here when you're done." Sera scooted closer to Ellana.
Varric searched through his own bags. "I've got some spirits here, if we're all sharing."
Dorian passed her the flask. "Well I never say no to drinks, Inquisitor, but you must tell me. What's the real reason you didn't bring Solas along for this trip?"
Ellana took a long hard draught. It burned her throat. She passed it to Sera. "I told you before. With those shoes of his, he'd instantly catch a chill. I do take your strengths into account when I choose a team."
Varric passed her a cup. "So why not bring Vivienne? What gives me the honor of trudging through this shit?"
She tapped her cup to Varric's and took a swig. "Have you seen her robes? All that white on white embroidery? In this mud? It would be a crime against the Empire of Orlais."
"So I'm here because my clothes are both appropriate and expendable?" Varric downed the entire contents of his cup. "Well. Great."
Dorian wasn't done prodding. "While Solas's clothing choices are questionable, it seems to me that you take race into account when choosing a team. You seem to prefer your non-human companions."
"Oh, yes, accuse the Dalish of hating humans. How original." Her cheeks were hot.
Sera rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but you do, don't you?"
"That is... that is... I have never taken Iron Bull out with us. No one could claim that I favor him. And he's very much not human." Ellana sipped from her cup. "Incredibly not human."
"Disliking one Qunari doesn't really mean you like humans."
The image of Iron Bull's chest floated up in her memory. "He's just so... he's just so big. Like really big. And can you imagine him on a horse? He says he can ride just fine, but... the poor horse."
"That's a matter of perspective, I suppose." Dorian muttered.
Sera snorted and topped up Ellana's cup.
"For your information, Varric and Sera are very good at standing very far behind me and killing things in front of me."
"And we wear appropriate footwear." Varric added helpfully.
Ellana pointed at Varric. "With style, I might add."
She was full of drink, and words were pouring out. "Solas knows about elf things. When we go to elf places, which is everywhere, he is useful. But there's nothing elfy here. There are undead here, and that is your field, Dorian. Undead things, and proper footwear."
"If we went to Tevinter," Ellana continued, "I would bring only humans. Especially you. And Iron Bull, because fuck Tevinter. And also, I would not go."
"Of course. That makes perfect sense."
"Thank you Dorian. And if we find something elfy here, I can send for him, and he'll catch cold, and then we'll need a new elf expert." She gestured for emphasis, and drink sloshed out of her cup. Ground was already wet anyway.
"And you know, all that stuff, elven history and language and loss, that's all the Dalish care about. But he's an expert, and he's not even Dalish, and he hates the Dalish. But all he does it wander around like a... like a..."
"An apostate hobo," Dorian filled in.
"An apostate hobo, in the wilderness. Alone. What is the point of that? What is the point? How is that any different from being Dalish?" She was shouting now.
"I no longer think this is about shoes," Varric muttered to Sera. She was falling over herself laughing.
Dorian had a rapt expression on his face. Ellana continued, "There's only one right way to be an elf, and he's the only one who knows it. Well guess what?" She paused, looking at each of her companions. "I'm the leader of a radical, militant Andrastian cult! I'm the damned Inquisitor! I'm the worst elf of all time!"
Laughter broke out among all of them.
"Cheers to that, mate!" Sera cackled before downing her drink.
Varric saluted her. "To the worst elf I know."
"Do you know," Dorian smiled charmingly, "I think I may actually like you now."
"Oh, Dread Wolf take you," she said, and dissolved into giggles.
Ellana opened the flap to her tent on the third try. She was definitely still drunk. She was definitely no longer in the Fallow Mire. Solas was watching her with a bemused expression.
"This is most unusual, lethallan. How do you keep finding your way here?"
"Your'e the Fade-expert." She pressed her fingers into her forehead. "For all I know, this is just... this is just... a regular nightmare."
Solas approached her with his hands behind his back. "Are you drunk?"
Her jaw dropped in dramatic offense. She peered at him through her fingers. "Probably."
He shook his head gently. "Why did you not come see me in Skyhold?"
This was good. She would rather talk about this drunk. "Listen. Listen. I thought about that. And there were two options." She held two fingers up, and then poked him in the chest with them. They both looked down at her hand. She did not move it. "The first was that we were in the Fade and I... kissed you, and you liked it, until you didn't, and you were going to tell me that we could never do it again."
"And what was the second option?" his voice was quiet. She leaned in closer. Her hand was still on his chest, though it had flattened. She could feel his heartbeat.
"The second option was that it was a dream-dream and it didn't happen. And if I went to find you in Skyhold, you would... know what was in my mind."
"And what is in your mind?" She could feel his breath on her skin. His hand was on her waist.
"Impure thoughts," she murmured slowly. Solas leaned in. He was so close, their noses touching. She closed her eyes. She willed him to kiss her. Instead, he pressed his forehead to hers.
"You are..." he didn't finish the thought. A heavy sigh. He pulled away from her.
She turned her back to him to hide her embarrassment. She pressed her hands into her cheeks. They were hot. She was hot.
"There was a third option," he said softly. She tried to resist looking at him. She failed.
"That I'll wake up and not remember any of this, because it was a proper dream?" she asked.
He chuckled. "No. But... I need time. There are... considerations."
Even in her current state, the vagueness piqued her curiosity. Another woman, perhaps? Or just more animosity for her background? She straightened her back, closed herself off. "Of course, Solas. Whatever you need. Now... how do I get out of here?"
This is not important in the slightest, but I just feel like it needs to be known that every time Ellana said Bianca and Leliana she adds an 'r' to the end of their names. Biancar and Lelianer.
Since leaving home, I have fallen out of the fade, gained a magic mark, been declared holy, had my vision restored, saw the future, was attacked by a dark spawn magister and an archdemon, been made Inquisitor, and thrown up in a swamp.
Ellana put her quill down. She balled up the paper. She hadn't sent a letter home since arriving in Skyhold. She had written perhaps 15. She took the letter and dipped it in the flame of her candle.
A stack of unread letters waited on her desk. She scooped them up and walked the battlements. Stone walls felt like dungeons. Even when above ground. She found a deserted part of the wall and sat facing northeast. The wind whipped her cheeks. She held the papers down with a mug of tea.
In the middle of the stack was a letter from Miri. She read it hungrily, scanning over the words again and again. She became aware of a figure approaching her and folded the letter up, placing it in her inner coat pocket. She opened another letter and pretended to read it. Her thoughts were still in the Marches.
"Did you know," she said to the footsteps she had identified as Varric, "that for the first time I'm able to read and write my own correspondence. You'd think I'd be able to find a private moment to do so without prying eyes." She turned to him and smiled.
"Apologies, Inquisitor." Varric shifted uncomfortably. "I, uh, wasn't trying to spy. I didn't know you had learned to... you learned to read fast."
"I already knew how to read. I wasn't always blind. It's my penmanship that has truly suffered." She stood up. "What can I help you with, Varric?"
"My, uh, contact is here with information on Corypheus and the Grey Wardens. She's waiting over by the tower."
Ellana allowed Varric to lead her across the ramparts. A woman was leaning against the stones, looking out at the courtyard.
Varric gestured to her and announced proudly, "Inquisitor, let me introduce you to the Champion of Kirkwall, Marian Hawke."
"I don't use that title much anymore," Hawke said ruefully. She held out her hand. Ellana didn't take it. A quiet rage coursed down her spine. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears.
"My clan had a different title for you," she said slowly. "We called you The Butcher of Sundermount."
Hawke's smile froze. She slowly withdrew her hand. Her eyes grew dark, sad. Guilty. Good. Ellana had been the first to arrive after Hawke and her friends had slain clan Sabrae's Keeper and almost all of the hunters. It was senseless. It was cruel and unjust and terrifying. She continued. "I had family in that clan. The Hero of Ferelden was from that clan." Ellana paused. She needed to control the volume of her voice. "We took in the survivors after the slaughter. I suppose I should thank you for not killing the children."
Hawke looked at Varric, stricken. She stuttered, "I... I'm so--"
"State your business here." Ellana demanded.
Hawke spoke quickly, rushing to get her message out. "I have a contact in the Grey Wardens who knows where they've gone. It doesn't sound good. From my previous experience with Corypheus, I know he can influence them. Alter their minds."
"Where is your contact?"
"He is waiting for me in Crestwood."
"Thank you. Now leave." She turned away from Hawke.
Hawke bowed to Ellana's back. To Varric she said, "I will see you in Crestwood." Her footsteps echoed away.
Ellana released her breath. She hadn't realized she'd been holding it. Varric took a long draught from a bottle.
"I never understood why they called her the Hero of Ferelden," Varric said, "Ferelden got hit hardest with the Blight. She was really the Hero of Orlais and the Free Marches. I would have named her the Hero of Thedas."
Ellana said nothing. What was the point of saving the world if you could never go home. If your family wasn't saved. The letters she had been holding were crumpled in her hand. She relaxed her grip.
"Inquisitor, Hawke is--"
"Were you there that day, at Sundermount?" Ellana didn't look at Varric. She kept her gaze steady at the horizon, seeing nothing.
He hesitated. "No. I didn't go with her that day. I stayed in Kirkwall. But--"
"That will be all, Varric."
She listened to his footsteps. She pulled out Miri's letter and read it again. Her sister had taken a wife. They had wanted to have the bonding ceremony after Ellana had come home, but... But they knew what Ellana hadn't told them. She wasn't coming home. She turned her gaze to Skyhold.
So in DAII, apparently if you make some regrettable choices with Merrill's personal quest, you end up killing her entire clan. And that's how my first playthrough went.
Ellana wandered the halls of Skyhold. It was too quiet at night. She struggled to sleep. At home, there was the crackle of the fire, snoring of her family, the whispering of twins. She frowned. No, this was home now. It must be.
The rotunda was empty. She examined the paintings. She put her hands on them. Elves always seemed to think big when it came to art. Even before, with her damaged eyes, she could often make out the shapes painted over enormous boulders. It's how she had found the place, that day...
"Lethallan." He stood behind her, eyes narrowed, hands behind his back.
"Solas. It's so late. And we're headed out to Crestwood in the morning. I expected at this hour you would be..." she trailed off. Defeat overtook her. She put two fingers to her forehead in a gesture of frustration. "I'm asleep, aren't I?" It wasn't a question.
"We are," came his amused reply.
She walked around the room, trailing her fingers along the walls. "What happens when I wake up, Solas? Do I pop out of existence, or fade slowly, or does a shadow of me remain? A memory of my sleeping mind?"
Solas smiled. "You simply disappear."
"And could I call to another mind in the Fade, someone farther away, perhaps?"
"A beloved twin sister? I'm sorry, lethallan, I do not believe I could teach you to do this. I, myself, do not usually talk to others in this fashion. Our repeated encounters here are a fascinating surprise. Though not an unwelcome one."
Ellana had circled the room. She mimicked Solas's pose, hands behind her back, chest pushed forward. "Then... could I call a memory of my own, relive it? Or would I see it as an outsider? See myself doing what I did that day?"
Solas's smile grew mischievous. "Why don't you try, and find out? Close your eyes and focus on the memory. The sounds, the smells, the feeling of it."
The world around them started to ripple and change. With her eyes close, she could suddenly feel a light breeze on her cheeks, the sun on her skin. And then she heard laughter, her own laughter. She opened her eyes to a blurry world. Her younger self ran past.
"Miri! Miri put down your book! I found something! You have to see it. It's old, I'm sure of it."
"I'm not reading, I'm mending your tunic. Everything you wear is full of holes, and then you wear my clothes, and fall on your face, and get them full of holes, too." Miri huffed as she threw the mending down. "Where did you even go, anyway? You were supposed to stay in camp."
It was fascinating to see herself and her twin arguing. She ached with homesickness. She looked to Solas to see what he thought, a strange figure clearly defined in her blurry world. He had a faint smile as he wandered the scene.
"You still have holes in all of your clothes, even if your eyesight has improved," He teased.
She raised her voice in mock anger. "Well I never learned to mend, did I? And maybe if you stopped so many arrows from reaching me..." She turned to see herself sneaking off into the woods. "You better follow us," Ellana said to Solas, "We'll get left behind."
All through the woods Miri scolded her, while doing exactly as she asked. Younger Ellana finally brought them to her target, an enormous rock wall that had once been elaborately painted.
"It's elven paintings, isn't it?" she asked Miri, "Even I can tell."
"There are paintings everywhere, Ellie, these are only special because you could see them."
"No, but listen. Really listen. There's something behind that wall. There's water, can't you hear it? I know it looks like stone, but it's not. I think it's magic."
Miri grumbled, but pressed her hand to the stone. "It is magic."
"We have to get inside."
"Why this memory?" Solas asked as the girls searched.
"It was... the excitement of discovery. That feeling of sharing a secret with someone. A good secret. Something special and precious, and completely untouched by others."
Solas jerked around in surprise as a small explosion blasted rocks into the air. Ellana laughed. "Miri wields her magic in much the same way I wield my sword," she said, "Come on, we're just about inside."
Even in this blurry memory, the sight was stunning. A waterfall high above their heads spilled into a golden pool. On one side, walls, covered in elven tiles, statues displayed prominently. The pool itself was on the edge of a cliff, and the sky stretched out before them with the valley below. Water overflowed the pool and spilled down the cliff side in a precipitous drop. It felt hidden, yet grand. Younger Ellana and her sister laughed and shrieked, pushing each other into the pool. Ellana could remember how the water seemed magically warm, how the tiles were slippery under her feet.
"I've been here before," Solas said softly. The world began to shift, to sharpen as his memories added to her own. The tiles of the pool became visible, the statues clearly defined. Ellana could make out the figures in the mosaics on the wall.
"When?" she asked, spellbound, "We spent hours here and couldn't find any entrance."
"I've seen the ancient memories of this pool," he said slowly, then suddenly turned to her with intensity, asking, "Would you like to see them?"
Her chest tightened. "Yes."
The world continued to change shape. Ellana and her sister disappeared from the waters. Other elves appeared, women waiting around the edges of the room.
"This pool was made for her," Solas said, pointing at a woman. She stood out from the other elves, beautiful, bare-faced, walking with confidence, an air of nobility. "Her lover made it as a gift to her and as a secret meeting place for their trysts. She's waiting for him now."
Ellana peered into the faces of what must have been servants. They were taller than her, heads bowed. She could see their vallaslin. Being able to see the faces of ancient elves... She looked for a resemblance to herself, wanting to see herself in this time. Could one of them have been an ancestor, something recognizable...
"Here he comes," Solas said. A man wearing elaborate armor stepped out from behind the waterfall. The woman ran to him, and they embraced.
Ellana looked away, embarrassed to be watching an intimate moment between strangers. She glanced up to see Solas gazing at her. He was smiling in a way that made her heart race. A smile spread unbidden across her own face. "Did their love end happily? Or were they discovered?"
His smile faded quickly, and his face became impassive. "I presume it must have ended as all illicit affairs do. In tragedy."
The memory quickly dissolved around them, and she found herself back in Skyhold.
Solas once again stood with his hands behind his back, addressing her formally. "Thank you for showing me your memory, Lethallan. It was... beautiful."
"Ma serannas, lethallin."
Ellana woke. The sun wasn't up yet. She should prepare to leave for Crestwood. She didn't care. She had to talk to him.
Others were stirring in Skyhold, though only a few. She made her way to the rotunda. Solas was waiting for her.
"Do you sleep in those clothes?" She asked him as she walked in the door. She had expected him to still be asleep, wherever it was he slept. She had expected to find him disheveled and drooling and clutching a blanket. Her question took him off guard. "Pardon?"
"You wear them in your dreams."
"You think I should walk the Fade naked?"
Ellana smiled wickedly. "Perhaps, if you spend all your time watching illicit trysts."
"I do not--" he paused, indignant, and took a breath. "Perhaps we could speak somewhere in private."
The library was dark and empty at this hour, and Ellana doubted there was anywhere in the castle where spying ears weren't listening to her, but she smiled and said, "Lead the way."
On her balcony he asked her, "Has the mark affected you, changed you in any way? Your mind, your morals, your... spirit?"
"The mark has changed many things. My place in the world, my hopes for the future, my dreams..." She smiled at him. "But I do not believe it has changed me as a person, no."
"If the Dalish could raise someone witih a spirit like yours... have I misjudged them?"
Ellana turned away from him. She put her elbows on the banister and glared at the mountains. "What is it you said about the Dalish when we first met? 'They are children acting out stories misheard and repeated wrongly a thousand times.' I think that sounds exactly like me." This was not the conversation she thought to have. An ugly resentment burned in her belly. She was tired of defending and explaining her identity.
Solas reached out as if to touch her shoulder, but pulled away. "I did not mean to give offense--"
"Back in Haven, when you called my people stupid? Or just now, when you implied my spirit is in spite of my heritage, and not because of it? The Dalish are people, Solas. Some are petty, and cruel, and stupid, and still more are easily turned to those things by a strong will." She turned her back to him, breathing the cold air. Her thoughts churned out fury, and she tried to restrain them.
Solas followed her across the balcony. "But not you. You display a wisdom and a subtlety of action I have not seen since... since my deepest journeying into the fade."
She rolled her eyes and faced him. "Bully for me. By all means, Solas, judge an entire culture, a disparate group of clans by the actions of one elf so stupid she got herself named Inquisitor."
Solas looked stunned. He started to speak, then gently shook his head. "Ir abelas, ma vhenan. I have spoken callously. You shame me."
"I do try..." Her ears caught up with her. "I... What?"
Solas moved closer to her. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her anger was rapidly draining. "You are..." he trailed off, closing his eyes. He shook his head, and turned away from her, but she caught his jaw gently in her hand, turning him to face her.
"You never finish that thought."
He looked pained, almost afraid. His voice was soft, slow. "You are precious to me." She leaned in, tilting her face toward his, an invitation. He took it. He kissed her, gently at first. She threw her arms around him, and he pulled her in. His tongue was in her mouth, his hands on her lower back, pulling her closer. She gripped his tunic in her fists and bit his lower lip. He sighed from somewhere deep.
Then he pulled away, disentangling himself from her quickly. Too quickly. Her breath was ragged. The sun had risen. Solas turned to leave, but paused, "Ar lath ma, vhenan."
She grabbed his arm before he could exit. He didn't turn to look at her. "Say it again, Solas. Say it again while looking at me and not trying to run away."
He met her eyes. He looked afraid. She let go of his arm and instead took his hand, entwining her fingers with his. He looked at their interlocked hands, and brought them up to his lips, gently kissing her fingers.
"Ar lath ma, vhenan," he said, looking at her this time. She smiled broadly. She put her free hand on his chest, sliding it to rest over his heart. It was pounding in his chest. "Ar lath ma," she said. Her hand moved up his chest and around his neck to cradle the back of his head. She gently pulled him in for a kiss. He obliged, releasing her hand and enveloping her in his arms again. She yearned for more, and he delivered. His lips were on her neck, and she moaned, surprising herself. His hands were on her hips, on her waist, holding her against him. She couldn't bear not to feel his skin. She undid his belt, dropping it to the floor. Under his tunic, her hands gripped his back. It wasn't enough.
She pulled the fabric up to his shoulders, and Solas allowed her to pull it over his head. He finished the job, pulling his arms out of his sleeves and tossing it on his belt. He looked wild, hungry. She admired him for only a moment, then unbuttoned her own shirt. Her fingers were shaking. She tossed the shirt aside. Solas reached for her, but she stayed his hand. She undid the buttons on her breeches, and removed them with her small clothes.
She stood before him, naked, exposed. Cold feet on the stone floor. He gazed at her face, and for a moment she thought he would flee. He didn't. He came to her, embraced her, and she kissed him with renewed ferocity. His hands were on her hips, and he pulled them to his own. She bit his ear. He hiked her leg over his hip. She hopped up, wrapping her legs around his waist. Solas carried her to her bed.
She lay with her head on his chest, unable to stop smiling. The morning sun shone through her stained glass window, covering them in colors. She liked the way her dark hand looked against his pale torso. Solas ran his hand through her hair. She closed her eyes. He traced a finger down the rope-like scar that wound between her shoulder blades.
"I got that the same day I lost my vision."
"You weren't born blind?"
"You couldn't tell when you healed me?" She moved her head lean over him. He smiled at her lazily. "I wondered if scars, even invisible ones, held memories." She gently rubbed her thumb over the scar on his forehead. He caught her hand and brushed his lips over it.
"It's a fascinating idea. But no, I couldn't tell."
She put her head back on his chest. "I was a child. I don't remember any of it. I went out with my father, and I woke up back in camp, days later, blind and fatherless."
"Your keeper couldn't fix your eyes?"
"She didn't know at first. When they found me, they thought I was dead, too. It took a lot to keep me alive. And when they realized the problem with my vision was permanent, she was afraid I would lose what sight I had. When you healed me at Haven, I thought there was a chance you would blind me completely. But then I might have been able to return home. A win-win."
Solas stiffened. "I wouldn't have hurt you."
"Of course not." She kissed him slowly, lazily on the mouth. "You love me."
He chuckled. "And you have to go to Crestwood. They'll be wondering what's keeping you."
"What's keeping us," she corrected him, "You're coming, too, my elven expert. And when we leave my chambers together, I'm sure all wondering will cease and new rumors will begin. And for once, I have to say, let them talk."
Ellana swung her sword down, bludgeoning the bow out of the archer's hand. She kicked him straight in the chest. He flew off the wall. She sheathed her sword upon hearing the crunch of landing. Caer Bronach was empty of bandits. Living bandits.
"Who has a flag?" she asked the group breathlessly, "This keep is ours."
Dorian delicately picked a bit of bandit off of his arm. "Charming. A vacation home for when we tire of good weather."
"Burn the bodies, Dorian, and someone get me that flag. I'd take rain over snow any day." Adrenaline was still coursing through her blood. She raised her face to the rain and laughed.
Sera crossed her arms. "You're mad today. You even notice you're tracking blood all over your new castle?"
Ellana looked at her hand. Blood was dripping off of it. "I thought it was more rain." An arrow was lodged in her left arm. She wrenched it out and handed it to Sera. Sera let out a disgusted sound and popped it in her quiver.
Ellana struggled with the straps of her armor. It had bent in the melee. Her fingers were slippery from rain and blood. Steady hands found the buckles and removed the plate. "You should have let me remove the arrow," Solas admonished.
She smiled at him. "I didn't feel it."
He tied the ruined fabric of her shirt tightly above the wound. "That doesn't mean it's not hurting you. But I imagine by now you are accustomed to ignoring pain from your left arm." Ellana laughed. Her feet wobbled beneath her. Solas steadied her. "Right now, I'm not sure you're feeling much of anything at all."
"Battle drunk," she said. Her muscles were hot, loose. She could take on an army by herself. "Come, let's survey my new castle."
"I'd rather survey your injury and make sure the muscle heals properly." He guided her out of the rain. She sat on a staircase. Her head leaned against the banister.
"Are you ordering your holy inquisitor around?" She grinned, eyes closed. She pointed at her wound. "Even you have to agree I'm holy today."
Solas said nothing. She could feel his hands on her arm. "Sera would have laughed at that."
From miles away she heard Sera's voice. "Sorry, no."
"A staircase?" Dorian asked, "Did either of you guess a staircase?"
Ellana couldn't make sense of the question. Their voices blended into a pleasant hum.
Ellana woke up starving. It was dark out. She stood up. A blanket fell to the floor. Half of her armor was off. Her muscles were stiff. She needed food.
She followed the sounds of bickering to a campfire.
"It doesn't count. Solas cheated. It never happens that fast."
"I did no such thing."
Dorian handed Ellana a bowl and a hunk of bread without looking at her.
"What is Solas cheating at?" she asked.
"Your spymaster plans on making good use of this keep," Dorian said. She sat between him and Solas, downing half the bowl of stew.
"She's not my spymaster," Ellana said, "What game are you playing?" There were no cards or dice around. She ripped into her bread.
"Oh? She's the Inquisition's spymaster and you are the Inquisitor."
"So I've been told, Dorian. But seeing as Leliana spies on me and reveals my secrets as they suit her, I cannot say she works for me. I suppose she works for herself. Now are you purposefully preventing me from joining your game and is there more food?"
Dorian handed her another bowl he had ready. "Yes."
"Don't look at me."
He shifted uncomfortably. "I was not playing their game."
She narrowed her eyes. "But you were cheating."
He scoffed. "Sera would blame the rising sun on magic. I did not play, and I did not cheat."
She looked at the three of them in turn. They did not meet her gaze. Guilt oozed out of them.
"Ah. So it's a game at my expense."
The silence stretched. Sera fidgeted. "Solas was there when it started."
His glare was lethal. "Thank you, Sera."
Ellana turned to Solas. "Well?"
He sighed. "It started in the Hinterlands. It was... Varric's idea." Solas shifted in his seat. He stared sullenly at Sera. "You have a tendency to fall asleep rather... abruptly."
Sera snorted. "That's one word for it."
Ellana looked around nervously. "I expend a lot of energy fighting. Is there something strange about that?"
"No, Inquisitor. But... where you fall asleep is sometimes out of the ordinary."
Ellana could hear her pulse pounding in her ears. Her face was hot. She stared at the ground.
Sera burst in, "Do you honestly not know this? I mean you have to know this."
"Nobody remembers falling asleep," she said weakly.
Dorian put a hand on her shoulder. "Yes, but generally they do it in their own beds."
She put her face in her hands. "Where?"
"Most of the time, it's on Sera." She slumped further forward. Dorian kept listing. "A couple of times on a horse, half dozen times on Varric, half dozen times on Solas, once halfway into your tent, legs sticking out, did give everyone a fright. I quite thought you were dead."
"And there was that one time, no one could find you? You'd fallen asleep under a bush?"
She turned her head and peeked through her fingers at Solas. "Nobody told me?"
Sera answered. "Andraste's tits, how could you possibly not know? How did you think you were getting to your tent every night?"
She hadn't thought about it. She got tired. She woke up in her tent. It had always been that way, even at home.
"I think it's further evidence of your bias against humans." Dorian sounded miffed. "My lap is extremely comfortable, I've been told, and you've never seen fit to utilize it."
"Dread Wolf fuck me," she muttered into her hands. Next to her, Solas suffered a sudden coughing fit.
"So what's the game?" she asked the ground.
"Bets on where you'll fall asleep. Extra points if it's us."
Ellana said nothing. Cassandra must have seen her fall asleep on Varric. How, after something like that, did she make her become Inquisitor?
She didn't even want to think about how she'd fallen asleep on Solas and didn't even know it. She let out a pained sigh.
"It's all in good fun, yeah?" Sera said, "I figure, you've got that anchor thingy on you, that's got to take a lot of energy, make a person tired. Not to mention the way you swing that sword around," Sera paused, "I can think of worse people to have fall asleep on me than her Gracious Ladybits."
Solas leaned forward. "Far be it for me to comment on another's sleeping habits."
Ellana tentatively removed her face from her hands. "Just, could we talk about anything else?"
Sera's arm draped across Ellana. She was too hot. She tried to push the arm off of her. It felt wrong. Ellana rolled over. Not Sera. She sat up, heart pounding and fist clenched before processing that Solas was on the bedroll next to hers. She took deep breaths, willing her heart to settle in her chest. She smiled. He was lying on his stomach, face to the side. He mumbled something she couldn't understand.
He was wearing his sweater.
I knew it.
She laid herself back down on her bedroll, facing him. With dawning horror, she realized she had no memory of getting into her tent, preparing herself for bed. She had no memory of leaving the fireside or when she stopped listening to Dorian's stories. She had missed whatever conversation led to the switching of tentmates. She hadn't even told them that they were... they were... lovers.
Just thinking the word brought a smile to her face. She picked up his arm and put it back across her. He pulled her in. His eyes were still closed. He murmured something in Elvhen. She closed her eyes. She fell asleep.
"Why didn't we bring Blackwall?"
"Hmm?" Sera had popped out of nowhere. Trudging through the mud of Crestwood, Ellana's mind had gone empty. She had very little interest in meeting with Hawke and a Grey Warden. Now that the sun was shining, she had her eyes on the nearby pond. The sensation of floating, cool water on her skin, diving below the surface as her hair trailed behind...
"Blackwall? Big beard? Carries a shield around? Is a Grey Warden? Like the one we're here to find?"
Ellana rolled her eyes. "Have you ever spoken to Blackwall about the Grey Wardens?"
"Yeah. No. I dunno." Sera was guarded, irritated.
"Other than his high regard for them, has he told you anything you didn't already know?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Blackwall talks about what heroes they all are, but when the Blight came to Denerim, he wasn't there. He didn't fight at Ostagar, either. All the Grey Wardens in Ferelden fell to the Archdemon, but Blackwall was where? He's a seasoned Warden, and the Archdemon was felled by a raw recruit." She didn't want to think about Wardens, or blights, or the dead Hero of Ferelden. The constant fear in the pit of her stomach had started to dissipate, replaced by something better, warmer. Dangerous. The Hero of Ferelden had fallen in love, too, and in the end, she died for it.
"It's not like you were there. What do you know about it?" Sera demanded.
"Blackwall doesn't know where the Grey Wardens went," she snapped, "They didn't send for him. He can't help us."
"Whatever." Sera fell back to walk behind Ellana.
In truth, her happiness had been hiding her whiplash. Solas had kissed her, regretted kisssing her, required time to consider, and bedded her. She had expected him to be nervous. She had expected a man who spent so much time alone to be less experienced. She had assumed he would want discretion. Privacy. And unbidden, he had swapped places with Sera, sharing her tent. It was a declaration.
His confidence irked her.
"Solas," she called. He quickened his step to catch up with her. "I have some more questions about the Fade."
"I would be happy to answer them, vhenan." She rolled her eyes. She could not stop the smile spreading across her face at the pet name. She took his hand, and he laced their fingers together. Confidence. She could test that.
"Do our appearances in the Fade reflect our actual appearance in the world or how we believe ourselves to appear? If I believed I was taller, would you see me that way?"
He shook his head. "Upon seeing you, my own memories would color my perception of you."
"Could I change my appearance in the Fade on purpose?"
Solas smiled. She knew he would enjoy this conversation. "Something simple, like your hair, you could change easily enough. Take a blade to it, and it will be shorter without changing it in the waking world. But to change your facial features or become unrecognizable, that would require a strong will, years of experience, and knowledge of the Fade."
She squeezed his hand. "So you might be able to do it, but probably not me. My dreams of transforming into a dragon will have to wait." As if listening to her conversation, a dragon screeched in the distance. Another problem waiting to be solved.
"What about something simpler? What about my clothes? Could I change those?"
"That would be much easier. Find other clothes in the Fade to wear, or will your clothes to change."
They were nearing the mark on her map. Hawke was waiting. "What about your clothes. Could I change those?"
"Ah. That would be much harder. Your will would have to overcome mine, and I have considerably more experience."
Ellana smiled wickedly. She leaned toward him, dropping her voice, "So back in Haven, the Fade-Haven... which one of us was responsible for the sudden disappearance of my small clothes?"
Solas stopped walking. Ellana dropped his hand and continued forward. Her shoulders shook as she let him fall behind. She turned around once to see his ears had gone pink.
The entrance of the cave lay before her. Her smile faded. "Serrah Hawk. Let us talk with your Grey Warden."
Crestwood had fewer bandits, Grey Wardens, and undead than when they arrived, but rifts remained. Her hand would not rest.
She reached out. Her palm vibrated with the rift. Her entire arm vibrated. She clenched her teeth. The rift stopped existing and the air left her chest. She dropped her sword.
"Inquisitor?" Far behind her, her crew was watching.
Her fingers were stiff. She couldn't bend them. She yanked off her left gauntlet and undid the buckles on her plate. Her whole arm was seizing up. Her breath was shallow. With her good hand, she tore at the straps of her breast plate, letting it drop to the ground.
"Vhenan?" She didn't turn to look at him. If she spoke, she would betray her pain. Solas gently touched her arm. The muscle spasms worsened. She bit her tongue. He turned her wrist so her palm faced the sky. "Breathe, vhenan."
She obeyed. He squeezed her palm between his hands. Her teeth ground together. "Keep breathing." Magic buzzed into her hand. She gasped in discomfort, and then relief poured into her hand. Her shoulders dropped. She caught her breath. Solas worked his hands up her arm, massaging her forearm, then her bicep. She flexed her hand. It was under her control again. She dropped her head onto Solas's chest.
"It feels like..." she whispered, "It feels like... loss. Like I grow smaller each time."
He let go of her arm and pressed his lips to the top of her head. "You should drink some water," he murmured, "to help with the cramping in your arm."
She looked past him. "I have a better idea."
He followed her gaze to the pond. "A swim?"
"You know me, Solas. Never found a body of water I could resist."
The others chose not to join her. She couldn't imagine why. She dove off the pier, head first into the water. The cold water settled her. Her heartbeat slowed. Her breath slowed. She took long, powerful strokes toward the middle of the pond. Her arm felt weak but relaxed. She closed her eyes and floated on her back. The sun warmed her face.
She tried to commit this peace to memory. Stroud was sending them to the Western Approach. The lands were blighted. There wouldn't be swimming there.
"Do you think she's asleep?" Dorian's voice reverberated over the water.
"If she is, you can go rescue her," Sera replied.
She smiled. She might actually like Crestwood.
Only a day out from Skyhold, they stumbled upon a pack of Red Templars. Their predictable tactic of rushing the elf had yet to work. Heavy armor did little against the bludgeoning of her sword. One templar was left standing. She lined up a massive swing. The templar froze in ice. Her strike shattered him and his armor into pieces. She turned to smile at Solas. He always had good timing.
An arrow whooshed past her ear. She closed her eyes, listened to find the archer.
"Use your eyes, Lavellan!"
She opened her eyes and scanned the field. There, in a tree. He had another arrow knocked on his bow, aimed for her. She lifted her sword in front of her face to shield herself. The tree branch he was situated on exploded. Shards of wood sprayed in every direction, including into the archer. He fell to the ground, bleeding from one hundred cuts.
Ellana sheathed her sword and whipped around. She recognized that magic.
A woman appeared on road ahead, carrying a staff. Ellana cried out in joy and ran down the path to embrace her. She pulled her roughly into her arms and lifted her into the air. Miri laughed and protested. Ellana put her down.
"What are you doing here?" She asked breathlessly.
Miri pulled away from the hug to take a critical look at Ellana. "I'm on my way to Skyhold to rescue my sister who is obviously being held captive by the Inquisition. Otherwise, I can't imagine what possible excuse she has for not sending me a single letter after, 'oh, by the way, Miri, my vision was miraculously healed, so I can write you more letters now!'"
Ellana was stunned. Her mouth failed to form words. Miri jerked her head toward Ellana's companions, still making their way down the path. "Are those them? Your fanatic followers?"
Ellana found her voice. "I did... write letters. I just didn't... send them."
Miri rolled her eyes. "Ellana, I understand that correspondence was always a mystery to your blind ass, but even you know I have to have the physical letter to be able to read it." The earth under Miri's staff was beginning to char. Ellana couldn't smile any wider. She had missed even her sister's scolding. "Ir abelas, sister, but we can argue about this later. In private." The footsteps of her companions grew louder.
"Maker's breath, there are two of them." The others had arrived. Sera's eyes flicked between their faces and she started cackling. Dorian elbowed her in the side.
Ellana turned to her companions, nodding to each in turn. "Solas, Dorian, Sera... Let me introduce you to Miri, First of Clan Lavellan."
"Andaran atish'an, da'len," Solas greeted her. Miri responded with a raised eyebrow. She looked him up and down, then stared into his face, fierce, questioning. He did not wither under her gaze. Ellana grinned. Solas cleared his throat. "How did you find us here?"
Miri smirked at Ellana. "I was on my way to Skyhold, when I heard such a ruckus. I thought, only one person in the world can cause that much destruction."
Ellana scoffed and pointedly eyed the ruined tree. Miri followed her gaze, and both sisters broke into a fit of laughter.
"Remind me to tell you about the bridge I destroyed while I was standing on it," Ellana said, tears streaming out of her eyes. "Splinters everywhere and I fell right in the water. I almost drowned."
"We weren't laughing about it at the time."
Dorian flashed Miri a winning smile. "That tree explosion was rather dashing. Was that force magic, or was there lightning I didn't see?"
Miri twisted her staff in her hand. Cold eyes and a cold smile. "Neither. Fire magic. Anything can explode if you heat up the air inside it quick enough."
"Hm. Surprised I don't see more of that in Tevinter. Is that a Dalish trick?"
Miri was not likely to respond kindly to a Tevinter man calling their magic 'tricks.' As if the Tevinters invented it. As if they hadn't stolen all of it. Ellana wasn't fast enough to stop her. "Traditional Dalish magic looks more like this." She raised her arms, and roots ripped out of the ground to curl around Dorian's legs, his abdomen, his arms. His staff was forced out of his hand, and he was pushed into the air. "Did you know, Tevinter, that there is air in the body? In your intestines, your abdomen, your lungs, and even in the cavities of the face?"
"Miri, put him down," Ellana hissed. "He may be Tevinter, but... but he's very tolerable."
Miri looked at Ellana, questioning her. Dorian coughed and struggled, and Solas began to raise his staff, when she dropped her hands, and the roots slid back into the ground. Dorian tumbled to his knees.
"I thought the man wanted a demonstration. No harm done. I didn't use the ones with thorns."
"Much appreciated," Dorian said, rubbing his wrists. He over-enunciated in his ire. "Do you know, Inquisitor, I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said about me?"
"I meant it," Ellana said, snatching Miri's staff out of her hand. "My sister is under the impression that you three are holding me hostage and this is a rescue. I apologize for her hostility."
She bopped Miri on the back of the head with her staff. Miri glared fiercely at her, but relented. "Pardon my manners, strangers. Perhaps we could share dinner and friendly conversation."
Ellana guided her away from her companions, and behind them she heard Dorian mutter to Sera, "Are you telling me this whole time we've had the less aggressive and powerful sister?"
"I like her. She's crazy."
Ellana gulped down tea as they sat around the campfire. She did not want to lose precious moments to sleep while her sister was here. Miri sat on one side of her, Solas on the other. She pulled his arm around her and leaned against his chest.
"Why do the two of you have matching whatsits? Face tattoos?" Sera asked, "I thought they were all supposed to be different. Aren't there those twin elf gods, whoever and whatever? Shouldn't you have slapped those two on your faces?"
Ellana laughed and looked at Miri. She was surprised Sera knew that much about their traditions. "You can be Whoever. I prefer Whatever."
Miri did her best impression of Keeper Deshanna. "Yes, honoring Whoever is quite important to the People. He holds a special place in our pantheon. Charged with sacred duties such as this and that, and of course the other thing. And we never forget how he did some action in wherever, and how it changed our culture forever. That is why we honor him with whatsits."
Ellana applauded her speech. Dorian politely joined in. Sera stuck out her tongue.
"Our mother thought we should choose Falon'din and Dirthamen," Ellana said. "But Miri..."
"After spending my whole life sharing a face with someone, how could I change it to look different from her?"
Ellana snorted. "Plus, honestly, Dirthamen sounds like a prat."
Solas chuckled and pulled her closer.
"So we chose Mythal."
Ellana rolled her eyes. There was hardly a "we" about the decision. But as protectors of their clan, she could not argue the logic. Her head was heavy against Solas's chest."If you really want to honor her, sister, maybe you should blow up fewer trees."
"I am confident she would understand the need."
Ellana smiled and closed her eyes.
Solas was gently shaking her. The tea had not worked. She had fallen asleep on him. She protested his insistence.
"Wake up, vhenan. It is time to rest, and I thought you would like to spend this evening with your sister."
Her eyes shot open. She sat up. "Yes, yes. Oh, but where will you..."
He put a hand to her cheek. "I can sleep anywhere."
"Right," she said, looking around. "Where...?"
"Your sister is setting up your tent. Rather farther away than usual."
"Don't blame her." She stretched her arms. "I hated all of you when I met you, too."
Solas tensed. "It didn't show."
"I have hidden depths, Solas. And I rather thought I was going to be executed."
She stood up and found her tent. Miri was waiting. She was fuming.
"Why are you still with these people?"
Ellana shook her head. "I can't go home yet. It's not safe."
"Don't tell me it's for that flatear."
"Don't call him that," Ellana snapped.
Miri looked taken aback. She placed her hand on Ellana's arm. "If he means that much to you, bring him with. We'll paint his face and I'll call him brother."
Ellana laughed bitterly. "He would never come. He hates the Dalish."
"One of those, then." Miri sighed with disgust. "Fine to bed a Dalish while roughing it, but couldn't imagine bringing one home." She closed her eyes and sighed again. She reached out and held Ellana's face in her hands. "Then you know there's no future in it."
"Is there ever?" Ellana asked sadly. A heavy silence fell between them. "I told him I loved him."
Miri smiled, surprised. "Do you?"
"I don't know." She shook her head. Lying to Miri was useless. "Yes. Madly. In one breath I hate him and in the next I..." she covered her smile. She took a breath. "But you're right. There's no future in it."
"Is he the one who fixed your eyes?"
Miri smiled. "I'd bed him myself in gratitude."
Ellana laughed and shoved her sister. "Wouldn't your new wife have something to say about that? Why didn't Nesiri come with you?"
"She's still recovering from our bonding." They broke down in giggles.
"Nesiri and Miri. What a dreadful couple. Does she still play that lute?"
"She has improved greatly since your departure."
"It would be hard for her to get any worse." Miri shoved her.
"You won't come home."
Ellana shook her head.
"Then I'll stay."
"Good luck stopping me."
"You're the best fighter our clan has. You're First. They need you more than I do."
"You're not safe here."
"No, they're not safe with me here. But I can't go. Even if I left the Inquisition, I couldn't go home. There's a mad blighted Tevinter magister who wants me dead. Me specifically. And he would kill everyone back home to get me." She paused. "I thought if I died, it might solve the problem." Miri grabbed her arm, "but then I was granted a vision of the future in which I died. And it was worse than anything I could have imagined. So I have to stay. And the clan needs you."
Miri loosened her grip, but held her left hand and looked at the anchor. "I hate it," she said, "It makes us different. It took you from me. Does it hurt?"
"No," she lied. "Listen, Miri, I left home to get information for the clan. But my own spies read my letters now, so I can't pass on information that way. Just... don't trust the Inquisition. Trust your gut. Keep them safe."
Miri pulled Ellana in for a hug. "I can't bear the thought of you doing this alone."
"I'm not alone. I have Sera, and Solas, and even Dorian if he forgives me for your display today."
Miri snorted. "So my little sister is in love. Tell me everything."
In the morning, Ellana dragged her feet. She had not slept. She did not want to say goodbye. She grabbed her coin purse and pressed it into Miri's hands. "It's all I have with me. I wish it were more. Take my horse, too. You can sell her before you cross the sea."
Miri accepted the purse and pulled Ellana into a hug. "You will come home. I cannot live without a shadow forever."
Ellana held her voice steady. "Give Nesiri my love. Go have a million babies that look like me."
"We shall certainly try," Miri responded with a devilish grin.
"Dorian, Sera, a pleasure to meet you both. If she dies, I will be seeing you again."
She turned her attention to Solas. He held a hand out to her. "Dareth shiral." She looked at Ellana and winked. She ignored Solas's outstretched hand, instead pulling him in to an embrace and kissing him firmly on the lips.
Before Solas could respond, Ellana grabbed her sister and pulled her off of him. "Fenedhis lasa!" Profanity poured out of her mouth in both Elvhen and the common tongue and did not end until Miri was already riding away on her new horse. "May the Dread Wolf eat you and vomit your corpse up in the Free Marches where you belong!" She yelled after her. She caught her breath and looked at her companions. All three were slackjawed. She turned back to Miri. Her heart swelled at her twin's retreating silhouette. "Ar lath ma!" she called. Miri waved a hand in response.
"That was... she's like... she's you but mad," Sera eyed Ellana with a new level of respect. "Completely crazy but... wow."
"Well that's a relief. Two of you together might have brought down Skyhold." Dorian followed Sera to prepare the remaining horses.
Ellana watched Miri until she was out of sight. Solas hadn't moved. He was frowning.
"It was a gift," Ellana said.
He looked thunderstruck. "I did not ask for it."
"For me," she clarified. "It is easier to say goodbye when you are furious."
He considered this. "A warning would have been nice," He said at last.
"There was a second part to the gift," she said slowly, running her hand down his arm to lace his fingers with hers. "Now I know what it looks like when we do this." She pressed her body against him and kissed his lips. He hesitated, then melted into her. "Ar lath ma," she whispered into his ear. She was not alone. For now.
Ellana approached Dorian's reading nook in the library. Today would be a first for her. She was going to apologize. To a human. She rounded the corner, her speech ready.
"I came to say... Are you trying to set my library on fire?"
The floor was littered with charred and melted odds and ends-- Bits of wood, nails, a hairbrush, cups from the tavern, and assorted vegetables stolen from the kitchens. The smell was awful.
Dorian was slumped in his chair, holding a book. "I can't seem to get the timing and the temperature correct. I don't know how she does it."
"You were planning to explode my library?"
Dorian snapped the book shut in irritation. "Am I to be humiliated again? 10 lashes for the Tevinter for his inferior magic and morality. Or perhaps there is something more Dalish you could do? Plant a tree, tie me to it, and impale me with Halla horns."
Ellana pressed her lips together. She turned to leave. She hesitated. Facing him, she took a deep breath and said, "I came to apologize for Miri. It was... " She bowed her head. "I am sorry."
Dorian was silent. She lifted her eyes to see him studying her curiously.
"Thank you." His tone was cautious. He looked away. "Family can be... Well." He gave her a thin smile. "I can't say I know what my parents would do if I brought you home for afternoon tea."
"They'd probably have me serve it."
Dorian looked like he was going to protest, then relented. "You're probably right."
Ellana nodded to him again and turned to go.
"You said--" Dorian was hesitant. She waited.
"You said your sister has a wife."
She smiled. "Nesiri. Would you believe me if I said she was quiet and sweet?"
Dorian shook his head slowly. "Is that common among the Dalish?"
"Marriage? We call it bonding. I imagine it's as popular as everywhere else."
"No, I meant... nevermind." Dorian picked up a book and flipped it open.
Ellana pressed him. "Can elves not get married in Tevinter? How else will you get your next generation of slaves?"
Dorian ignored the barb. "Women cannot marry women in Tevinter." His eyes didn't leave the page.
"Ah. And I suppose men cannot marry men." She leaned back against the bookcase and studied him. He was tense, pretending to read. Embarrassed. Annoyed.
"We'll have to find a Dalish clan to take you in then."
He looked up from his book, half-smiling. "You'll need to teach me some of those curses you hurled at your sister. I'll want to know exactly where they tell me shove what when I stride into camp."
Ellana laughed. "Most of them invoke the Dread Wolf, Fen'Harel. Say his name enough, and everyone will know you are nettled."
He closed the book. "Teach me."
"We'll start with the basics. Fen'Harel ma halam. It's a threat. The Dread Wolf will end you. Say it after me."
Dorian repeated the curse to her.
"No, not Fen'HARel, Fen'HarEL. Say it again."
She had him repeat it until she was satisfied. "And now the the rest of it. Ma halam."
Once Ellana was satisfied with his pronunciation, she demanded he say it with feeling.
"Say it to me like you want me dead. Say it to me like I cut off your mustache in your sleep."
"Fen'Harel ma halam!" Dorian roared at her. She took a step back from him and laughed with delight.
"That was perfect. Shout that in battle and I'll think I'm back home. Now we move on to the more creative curses. Really, you just add the Dread Wolf to anything. You could mix it with your quaint Tevinter curses. 'May the Dread Wolf shit on your tongue.'"
"Ha! I like that. Cultural exchange. How about 'May the Dread Wolf cough a hairball in your soup when you're not looking."
She snorted. "That's very specific. Do wolves have hair balls?"
"Fine, then. 'May the Dread Wolf drool on all of your socks.'"
She stifled a laugh. "May you catch the Dread Wolf's fleas."
"'May the Dread Wolf catch you with your pants down and laugh.'"
They were both giggling now. Ellana suppressed her laughter long enough to proclaim, "May you lick the sweat from the Dread Wolf's balls and choke on it."
Dorian doubled over in his chair. From below, they heard a book slam on a table. He caught his breath. "I think your paramour is not thrilled with your filthy mouth."
"He liked it just fine this morning," she murmured, gaining control of herself.
Ellana crept along the floor to peek over the banister. Solas was looking down at his desk, gripping it with both hands. His back was to her. His shoulders were tense. "I'd expect such crudeness from Sera."
Ellana stifled another giggle. She rolled back on her heels, away from the railing.
Dorian arched an eyebrow. "That's the problem older men. They tend to scold."
"He's not that much older than I am. Is he?" She had little experience guessing ages. Height, stride and voice indicated adulthood, not elderly. With the exception of Cole, all of her companions fell into this category. "Solas," she called down to him, "how old are you?"
He turned his head to look up at her. "What?"
"Dorian thinks you're too old for me. Are you?"
He turned his head back to his desk. "Undoubtedly."
He was angry. She looked nervously at Dorian. He shrugged. She stood up and walked down the library stairs.
He did not turn to look at her, so she spoke to his back. "Is it the profanity or the Dalishness that offend you?" she asked quietly.
He whipped around. "Neither." His breathing was controlled, but only just. His jaw was clenched. He held his hands behind his back and began to pace the room.
One turn. Two. Three. "Apologies. My... agitation is through no fault of your own."
Ellana frowned at him. "Will you tell me what it's about?"
He narrowed his eyes. "Perhaps. Someday."
He stood there, across the room, hands behind his back. Inaccessible.
"Dareth shiral, hahren." Ellana strode out of the room and headed for the training grounds. She wanted to hit something.
Ellana stared up at the sky. The grass was wet on her back. One of the clouds looked like a rabbit.
"You aren't using your eyes, boss. You're never going to hear that move."
The Iron Bull held out a hand, and she took it. The world righted itself. She didn't remember agreeing to the lesson. It just started happening to her. He knocked her feet from under her again. She landed on her face this time.
"We have to train you out of these bad habits," he said while pulling her up again.
"I had twenty years to develop them," she groaned.
He came at her again, and she saw the attack. She dodged and whacked him with the pommel of her sword.
"Nice one," he said, kicking her legs out from under her. She stared at the sky. The rabbit had lost its ears.
"I think... I think I'm done for today, Bull."
He shook his head. "Your call."
She looked toward the tavern. Sera was watching her with a smile. Her eyes fell on the ramparts. Cullen was watching her. She sat up. Cassandra was pretending not to watch her. Even Cole was watching her. "It's not Iron Bull she wants to hit," he said.
Your Inquisitor, everyone.
She got up and trudged toward the Great Hall. She reflected not for the first time that Skyhold had more stairs than she cared for. Aravels did not have stairs. The forests of the Free Marches were stair-free. The path to her room, however, had more stairs than she had ever seen in her previous life. Her muscles complained. She reached her bed and fell face first onto it.
A clearing of the throat startled her. She jumped and rolled straight off the bed. Cold stone greeted her. She groaned low and long. Solas sat down on the bed and looked down at her.
"Leave me here. It seems fitting."
Solas released a long sigh. "So because I was cross, you let the Iron Bull drop you twenty times?"
She did her best impression of his voice. "My actions are through no fault of your own." She threw a hand over her face. "Okay, now I feel childish."
She held out her hand, and Solas pulled her up. She sat next to him on the bed. The silence stretched. She was not going to break it.
"You and your sister do not seem very pious."
A seemingly random comment. They would not address his scolding of her, his anger. She took his hand and examined it. His knuckles, the ridges of his fingers. She drew each finger to it's full length, and allowed it to curl back to relaxation. Solas watched impassively.
"Did it take you that long to notice?"
"You passionately defend your traditions, your beliefs, your gods..."
"Why pray to gods-- or whatever-- that are locked away or dead?" She flipped his hand over and traced the lines of his palm. "I defend my people. Whether or not we believe the stories, most Dalish don't believe the gods are listening. They are just rituals now."
"Then why hold them so dearly? Why put so much value in misremembered stories?"
She curled his hand into a fist. "Rebellion." He gave her a sidelong glance. "The humans took as much as they could from us, and they want more. They want our faith. They want us to be Andrastian. They want us to be just like them so long as we are under heel. We have no homes, no money, few belongings, and we still paint our faces and tell them to shove the Maker up their asses."
He was watching her face now. His lips were parted, his gaze softened. He almost smiled. She released his hand. He didn't move it.
"I won't apologize for my Dalishness," she said.
"Nor should you ever." His lips were on hers, his tongue was in her mouth. She responded with force, pushing him back, moving to straddle him. He pulled her hips into him. She moaned softly. He ran his teeth over her ear lobe, nipping her and sucking in turn.
"Forgive me, my love," he whispered in her ear.
When they had untangled their limbs and their breathing had calmed, Ellana closed her eyes and said, "tell me a story, Solas. Tell me what my people have misremembered."
Solas's fingers caressed her hair lazily. "Who shall I start with?"
"Elgar'nan. He was the first. And if he was a man and not a god, he must have been a terror."
"He was," Solas said, and he told her a story.
In the morning, Ellana walked up to Dorian's nook. She tossed a roughspun sack at him. "A gift."
He opened it cautiously. Grains fell into his hand. "Ah, just what I've always dreamed off. A sack of barley."
Ellana crossed her arms. "Barley is dry, small, and when it explodes, it often becomes a delicious snack rather than dangerous projectile. Once you have mastered this bag, you can return to trying to burn down my library."
Dorian smiled. "Thank you."
"Oh, and one other thing. You're coming with me to the Western Approach. Pack your bags."
"Inquisitor, were there reports of undead in the Western Approach?"
Two days out from Skyhold and the ground was still covered in snow. They were making good time, but it was a long ride to the Approach. Ellana didn't turn in her saddle. "Not to my knowledge, Dorian."
"Interesting. So if my magical expertise was not specifically needed, why was I invited on our jolly expedition across the entire empire?"
She turned to smile at him. "Because you make your Inquisitor laugh."
Varric raised an eyebrow. "What did you do to her, Chuckles?"
Ellana snapped her head forward. She tried to suppress her memories of the morning, of Solas's tongue between her thighs. She was glad her skin hid her blushes better than his, though nothing could hide her grin. But he was not blushing now. He was staring straight ahead. Smug.
"Guess we all know why he's here," Sera said rolling her eyes, "Ugh, it's so boring, the elf always gets with the elf."
"Well, we all know why you're here, too, Sera," Dorian replied.
She pointed to the quiver on her back. "Yeah, arrows."
"Hah! You can't be serious. That is obviously not the reason the Inquisitor keeps you by her side."
"I have to agree with Dorian on this one," Solas murmured. Ellana eyed him. He was threatening a smile.
"A vengeful homicidal elf who takes the piss out of her every chance she gets? No wonder she prefers you as her pillow of choice."
Understanding dawned on Sera. "No friggin' way. I'm nothing like that crazy Dalish mage."
Ellana held her head in her hand. "Are you all done critiquing your leader's choices?"
"Not yet, I'm afraid," Dorian said, "We have not yet determined why Varric was brought along."
Ellana closed her eyes and smiled at the breeze on her face. "Varric is here to sing for me."
"Not a chance, Herald," Varric shot at her.
"Afraid I'm rather tone deaf."
"Ir abelas, vhenan."
She tossed her head. "Well. This is a true disappointment." She leaned forward, encouraged her horse onward, and broke into a canter.
"You didn't ask me!" Sera yelled after her.
The rest were chasing her as she flew across the land. One of her braids broke loose, and she laughed as her hair streamed behind her. She raced her steed to the top of a ridge and pulled him to a halt. Her stomach turned to ice as she looked down below. The snow was red. The mountains were red. Her companions caught up to her.
"Inquisitor--" Varric's tone was plaintive.
"I see it, Varric." Red lyrium poisoned the land. Fear choked her throat. She pushed it down. "Send Leliana a missive. We need scouts. We need troops. Our enemy is entrenched. The Western Approach has to wait."
There was no laughter in the camp that night. Ellana methodically polished her sword. Sera counted her arrows and counted them again. Occasionally, a flaming grain of barley flew across camp.
In the morning, they liberated Sahrnia. A hopeless town with now aimless people. No food, no way of making a living. Another letter sent to Skyhold. Send supplies.
They fought their way toward the mines. Without backup to hold the town, there was little progress. The landscape was poison. Ellana swung her sword at the red lyrium. Breaking it into pieces just made it smaller. It didn't disappear. She remembered her vision of the future. She ground hunks of lyrium under her boots until they were dust.
A hand on her shoulder. "We should not linger here, vhenan."
"Where could we go that we would be free of this?" She remembered the lyrium in his eyes. How long did it take? Would they all be transformed? She chewed on a piece of elfroot. "Don't let me fall asleep here."
They made their camp as far from the lyrium as possible. For the first time, she struggled to sleep. In the morning, they found villagers had stolen their horses to flee. It didn't matter. They couldn't leave here until they had broken the Red Templar forces. Leliana's faster scouts began arriving.
Ellana forged ahead. She walked alone into the battlefields, her companions far behind, at range and out of danger. She took hits and dodged more. Templars fell to arrows, to fire, to ice, to her sword, their twisted, distorted faces dying in front of her. They were monsters. They were dead already. She should have felt pity. She only felt sick.
They had a choice-- take the keep or take the mines. Ellana chose to liberate the mines, giving the templars time to retreat, to fortify. The survivors were grateful, but they could not distract from the horror. A piece of lyrium tumbled to the ground in front of her and cracked in half. It was shaped like an arm. They were mining people. The fear and disgust she had been holding inside of her finally came bubbling up. She vomited. Her stomach muscles contorted, squeezed, seized. Her stomach was empty, but she continued to heave. Her hands hit the snow.
"Here, kid." Varric stood next to her with a canteen. She downed the water, trying to get the taste of bile out of her mouth.
"We'll head back to camp. Attack the keep in the morning. We've already lost the element of surprise." Ellana popped more elfroot into her mouth.
She ignored her supper. If the others noticed, they did not comment. She stared at the fire. She wanted to burn the red lyrium out of her mind. Sera counted arrows. Dorian melted barley.
Solas broke the silence. "Dorian, may I have some of your barley?" Dorian held out the bag to Solas. He took a small handful and covered it with his other hand. A series of pops emitted from his closed hands. He held out his puffed barley to Ellana. She looked from Dorian's stunned expression back to Solas. His face was impassive. Ellana took one and crunched it in her mouth.
Sera started cackling first. Varric's deep, throaty laughter followed. Ellana popped another barley in her mouth, and Solas grinned at her and ate one of his own. "Would you like one, Dorian?" He asked without taking his eyes off her. Ellana finally smiled, shaking her head at him. Dorian simply huffed.
"I see I am fulfilling my role as team jester."
Varric leaned toward Solas. "I'll get in on that," He took a few and proffered one to Sera.
"Ew, I don't want your creepy mage-grain," Sera said, wrinkling her nose, "Mage-seed. Ugh, no wonder she likes it."
"It's good," Ellana said, "Cover it in honey, freeze it a little if you can, cut it into squares..." Her stomach rumbled. She found a hunk of cheese and ate it. Solas produced some bread. She ate that, too.
In her tent, she held him close. His hands on her, the warmth of his breath--this is what she wanted to remember. This, and puffed barley. She let him drive out the memories of the day. She fell asleep in his arms. She dreamed of home.
Solas helped her tighten the straps of her armor. It took him three minutes to get ready in the morning. Ellana had to braid her hair, which he had unbraided, dress, and strap on half a dozen pieces of armor. He didn't even put on shoes. A quick wash of the face, a search for the tunic she'd hidden, an unrumpling of clothes, and if it was cold, the addition of a coat. He was often dressed before she had finished braiding her hair.
He fiddled with her vambrace. She smiled at him. "Will you do me a favor? Tell Dorian how to puff up those barley. Watching him melt them is such a waste."
Solas smirked at her. "I don't think I will."
"You're an ass."
He dropped her arm. His hand slinked around to grab her behind. "Hmm." She laughed and shoved him. Gently. He pulled her back in and let both hands slide down to her rear.
"You're incorrigible." He released her after one last squeeze.
Her armor on, she led the way to the front of the keep. Her companions were waiting, as were a number of other Inquisition soldiers. She plucked an enormous axe from a pile of confiscated weapons.
She approached Varric. "When you write the story of how I heroically liberated Emprise du Lion, you aren't going to include the part where I..." she trailed off.
"Where you puked all over the battlefield? No. Nobody wants to know about that. I wish I didn't know about that."
"Good," she said, "It can't have been good for morale."
"Well, it's a good reminder that despite everything everything, you're just a woman."
"Just a woman?" she asked. Varric winced, but she interrupted his apology. "I'll see what I can do to remedy that."
She hefted the enormous axe between her hands. She never understood how Iron Bull switched weapons so easily. The balance and weight was completely off. She preferred her sword. She walked toward the keep, axe in both hands, and swung it around. Her weight on the balls of her feet, she spun with the axe, building power and momentum, until she launched it at the keep's gate. The axe bashed through it in a shower of splinters. A gaping hole remained.
She turned to the watching eyes and slack mouths of the Inquisition. "Let's say hello, now, shall we?"
Varric laughed. "Now that is going in the book."
The fight through the keep was not easy. The giants added a new challenge, and for the first time Ellana regretted not bringing The Iron Bull with her. His height might be an advantage. Stabbing something repeatedly in the toe until it fell over made her feel stupid. Iron Bull might have at least reached a knee. The main force of Red Templars was waiting for them, in superior positions, but most of them were suffering from the effects of their poison. They were in no shape to fight. The crunching sounds they made when her blade struck disgusted her, but she kept herself together this time. Finding a demon in the center of the labyrinth of ruins was almost a relief.
"Call me Imshael," he said.
"I don't think I will," she responded and ran him through.
All was quiet in the courtyard. There was no need to burn these bodies, if they even would burn. The templar flag was removed. Sera collected arrows. Ellana sat down, throwing her gauntlets down next to her. She leaned against the flagpole and waited for the Inquisition to arrive.
A cool hand on her own startled her awake. She jumped to her feet. Two scouts shrieked in fright, but the woman in front of her didn't move. In the distance, she saw Dorian and Sera failing to stifle laughter.
"They thought you were dead," Leliana said, gesturing to the scouts.
Ellana stretched. "I've heard that before. No doubt the rumors will talk of my many resurrections, for I am indispensable to the Maker's plans."
Leliana quirked an eyebrow thoughtfully. With the Inquisitor no longer sleeping against the flagpole, the scouts were able to raise the Inquisition flag. The keep was claimed.
"With such a large force of templars so close the Skyhold, I thought to come myself. But I see my help wasn't required."
Ellana narrowed her eyes at the spy. "How did we miss this?"
"We had reports, but I didn't realize how deeply they had become entrenched. Or how quickly the red lyrium was spreading. It's good you found them when you did. We have apprehended Mistress Poulin, who sold her mine and the people over to the templars. Our agents also found some villagers fleeing in possession of Inquisition horses."
Ellana sighed. "I will judge Mistress Poulin back in Skyhold. Show her the hospitality of our cells. The others I will deal with here."
Four humans were brought before her, their hands bound by rope. None looked at her. They were poor, dirty. She could smell them from where she stood. Others from the Inquisition came to watch her judgment.
"Why take our horses?" she asked, "We came here to help you."
There was shuffling of feet. The tallest one, a man, finally muttered, "Maker wouldn't send no knife ears to help us."
Leliana stepped forward. Scolding, "The Inquisitor holds your lives in her hand. Show her some respect."
Ellana shook her head. "Leliana, what's the punishment in Orlais for stealing a horse?"
"Some might take a hand for it."
One of the villagers started weeping. Sniffling from another. Ellana took a deep breath. Her voice was low but not unkind. "You lost your homes, your livelihoods, and your families. In stealing my horses, you lost your honor, your good names, and your faith in the Maker's love. What more could I possibly take from you?" She paused to look them over. None met her gaze. "You're free to go."
Leliana unbound their hands. They practically fled the keep. "Perhaps it will be rumors of your mercy that spread next."
Not when I hang Mistress Poulin. "It was not a mercy," she said to Varric as the onlookers dispersed. "Sahrnia is done. These people won't survive the winter."
"Not necessarily. Leliana has already sent for tranquil and dwarves to clean up the lyrium. Trade could start here again. And with the keep under Inquisition control and protection... you shouldn't underestimate your power to help these people, Inquisitor."
"The Inquisition has power, Varric. I don't," she corrected him. He shook his head, but didn't press the issue.
"I have my own contacts who might be able to help with this place. Red fucking lyrium." He walked off to write some letters.
"Do you truly feel powerless?" asked a voice to her left. Solas was leaning against a pillar, twisting his staff in his hands. She tilted her head at him, and walked away from the activity in the keep, back to the labyrinth of ruins. He followed.
"Other than my mastery of the rifts, I'm not much more than a figurehead. A figurehand, really. They would probably prefer a different head. Rounder ears." She trailed her fingers idly on the ruined stones.
"What would you do if you felt you had power?" His voice was soft, probing.
"Off the top of my head?" She smiled bitterly and gestured around her. "This keep is called Suledin. It means 'endurance.' A fitting name, having withstood the fall of Elvhenan. If I were truly the Herald of Andraste, I would give it back to The People." She eyed Solas for his reaction. He frowned, but said nothing. "She promised the Elves a home, and who better than her Herald to remind Thedas of this and then deliver it? As Inquisitor, I have claimed the keep, seized the mines, and will presumably be asked to slaughter the dragons that occupy the hot springs. Clan Lavellan could live well here."
Solas shook his head. "You would start a war."
"Precisely," she spat. "I have the power to fill a keep with the right kind of people. I could rescue Celene from the arms of Corypheus himself, and she still would declare war if I gave this Elvhen keep to elves. And do you think my commander would protect it? That my ambassador could convince our allies to come to our defense?" She shook her head. "I can fix the sky. That is my only true power."
Solas stopped walking and looked at her thoughtfully. "You are very cynical for someone so young."
She smiled, turning to face him. She put her hands lightly on his waist and looked up at him. "How old do you think I am? There are fewer lines on your face than mine."
He reached down to trace a short wrinkle that ran vertically between her eyebrows. "I like this one," he said, his expression finally softening, "The way it deepens when you are angry." He let his hand drop. "You gave those villagers their lives back. And more than that, you gave them a choice of how to live their lives. Is that not power?"
She didn't want to agree with him, so she said nothing. She dropped her hands from his waist, but Solas caught one, held it in his own. "Do you always have such strategies in your head?"
She gave him a cool look. "Don't you?"
He froze. After a moment he bowed his head toward her. "At this moment I am thinking..." He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed her knuckles. "If we moved into that alcove, and I summoned a fog, would anyone see us?"
He was evading. She would allow it. She smiled. "There's really only one way to find out."
She led him to the alcove. He immediately pressed her back against the cold stone, one hand against the wall next to her face. He nuzzled her ear and gently bit down on her lobe. His leg nudged its way between her thighs. "Who could ever be displeased with your ears?"
She ground her hips against his thigh. Her hands clutched his coat, pulling him closer. She was still in her armor, layers of cloth, leather, and metal between their bodies. Getting it off would take an eternity. She kissed his exposed neck, teeth grazing his jawline. Solas pulled on the tie holding her braid, and ran his fingers through her hair.
Ellana started laughing. She leaned her head against his chest and struggled to breathe. His hand fell out of her hair and he held still, waiting.
She caught her breath and looked at him. He looked stony, annoyed, but he could not hold the expression under the force of her smile. Irritation gave way to confusion.
"Solas, I'm wearing thirty pounds of armor, and your first target is to needlessly ruin my hair?"
He narrowed his eyes. "Are you strategizing this tryst?"
She held her hand to his face and gently pulled him closer. "If you want to secretly ravage me in these ruins, then I think efficiency and attention to detail are necessary."
"Is that so?" His hand darted to her waist and he spun her around and pushed her back against the wall. She braced her hands in front of her on the stone, and pushed her body against his behind her. His hands wrapped around to find the buckle of her belt. His mouth was on her ear again. "from this vantage, I don't need to remove all of your armor."
His lips were on her neck. She closed her eyes and threw her head back. His hand reached under her tunic to unlace her breeches.
With a loud crack, a piece of stone was blasted from the wall. A barrier washed over Ellana as Solas ripped away from her. She moved to stand in front of him, and found Dorian smirking at them.
"I came to find the Inquisitor, and imagine my surprise to see her under attack by an unknown assailant. Of course, now that I realize it's just Solas, I think she could have handled the fight herself."
Solas closed his eyes and took a deep breath. A stream of quiet, angry Elvhen left his mouth. Ellana buckled her belt and tried not to laugh. She put a hand on Solas's shoulder. "You forgot the fog."
"I'm afraid you're needed," Dorian said. She trudged through the snow with him, leaving Solas to his irritation. Dorian's pace curiously grew slower and slower. He stopped. "I may have to confess something."
"I lied. I wasn't looking for you. I just happened upon you. And I wanted to ruin Solas's day." He held his hands out in an apologetic shrug, though he was grinning mercilessly. "I thought to myself, what would Miri do?"
"Dorian," Ellana said, head in her hand, "Leave me before I throw you off a wall."
"With pleasure, your worship."
Ellana returned to where she had left Solas, but he was gone. Not long after, a runner came for her with actual Inquisition business that required her attention. Or at least, someone believed it required her attention.
It was tedious. All of the things brought to her would have been accomplished in her absence. But because she was present, every task needed approval. Every decision was checked. And Leliana had brought a stack of papers from Skyhold courtesy of Josephine. It was dark by the time she finished going through it all.
"Is there a place for me to sleep? Or should I make and sign a decree for the sleeping situation of the Inquisitor?" She asked Leliana, handing her the paperwork.
"The flagpole remains vacant, if you like. But I think Solas claimed one of the rooms in the keep, rather than spend the night in a tent."
Ellana checked rooms until she found one full of fog. Her irritation with the day faded as it poured over her feet. There were magelights inside and a weak fire burning in the fireplace, but the features of the room were obscured. She walked in cautiously.
Solas was asleep on his back, a book on his chest. He had set their bed rolls side by side. She watched his chest rise and fall. He had clearly not intended to fall asleep. She closed the door behind her as softly as possible. He didn't stir. She gently placed her gauntlets on the floor, metal clinking on stone. Next she removed her vambraces, struggling with the right one. The fingers of her left hand rarely behaved recently. Solas started mumbling, but his eyes remained closed. Her pauldrons were next, then her chest plate. It clanged when she set it down, and Solas's mumbling became more insistent, but still he did not open his eyes. Last she removed her boots.
She padded over to the fire. The fog had smothered it, but there was still a low burn. She added logs and stoked it. Solas was talking now. The words were nonsense, or perhaps Elvhen. She blew on the fire, working it up to a blaze.
Solas propped himself up on his elbows. "Have you lost your hearing, or are you intent on ignoring me all night?"
Ellana leaned back on her heels and turned to look at his grumpy, questioning face. "I heard you, my love, but I could not understand a word of it."
"Ah." He looked around the room, puzzled. "Ah," he said again. He leaned back, closing his eyes. She stifled a laugh. The book was still across his chest. She walked to his side and removed it, careful not to lose the page. She set it aside. He hadn't removed his necklace. She took it off him now, gently lifting his head. He mumbled a complaint, but did not wake. She used the thong of the necklace to mark the page of his book, and placed them both to the side.
He normally did not sleep with his footwraps on, so she removed them, gently unwrapping each foot. She folded the wraps and placed them with her armor. She found their blanket and tucked it under his feet, pulling it up to his chest. He looked serious in his sleep. She could not extinguish the magelights, so she placed them in one of her boots. The room was dim and warm. She laid her head on Solas's chest, covered herself with the blanket, and went to sleep.
He was waiting for her in the fade.
"You talk in your sleep," she said.
He narrowed his eyes and looked over himself pointedly. "I know."
The smile spread slowly across her face. "Solas, was that your first joke?" He didn't quite smile. "I'll have to remember so I can tell Varric."
He took her hand. "Look around, vhenan. What do you see?"
Suledin was bustling, but she did not recognize the people or their clothing. They were not Inquisition or Orlesian. Then she realized they were all elves.
"When?" she breathed.
"The Dalish Empire, pre-Exalted Marches."
Her feet were cold. "Why is it still snowy?"
He squeezed her hand. "That is your own memory bleeding in. I believe that is also why there is a dragon overhead."
She led him through the labyrinth, gazing happily into the faces of everyone they passed. The garden was well-kept, flowers blooming despite the snow. She didn't linger, though she hadn't had a chance to admire many flowers since regaining her vision. "What happened to your immeasurable experience preventing my will from overcoming yours?"
"This is not my memory, vhenan." She pulled him, urging him to walk faster. "Though perhaps I have underestimated your will," he added as an afterthought.
She looked out at Emprise du Lion. No, the Eastern Dales. The snow did not extend beyond the keep. In the river there were boats, fisherman, traders, swimmers. There were settlements, towns. To the east there were the baths, dragon-free, not ruins. All Elven. Solas stood behind her. She leaned back into his chest. "I can see why you prefer it here."
"It could be like this again," he said softly.
She leaned her head back to look up at his chin. "I didn't peg you for an optimist."
"It's easier to see possibilities here." He shifted, guiding her shoulder back toward the keep. The landscape had changed again. The ruins crumbled, but repairs were underway. Her mirror image stood in the courtyard. She couldn't hear her words, but she was clearly giving orders. Her clothes were strange, wrong.
Ellana shook her head. She should be holding a staff. A staff appeared in the woman's hands. Her stance changed. She was leaner, stood taller. Ellana smiled. It was good to see even a fade-reflection of her sister.
"I was never meant to lead, Solas."
He stood next to her, an eyebrow quirked. "Whatever you were meant for, you are a leader now."
"Yours, perhaps. But not theirs."
"Show me how you see yourself."
She tore her eyes away from her sister and looked at him. He took her hands. A memory boiled up. The landscape collapsed around them, darkened, blurred. Walls hemmed them in. They were in an alley. It was night. The cobblestones were hexagonal. Brick on one wall, stucco on the other. Ellana knew this place. They needed to move. Solas moved as if to speak, and Ellana clapped a hand over his mouth. She held a finger to her own lips, indicated for him to be silent. She removed her hand from his mouth. She pointed at her eyes and down at her feet. Solas nodded.
She put her hand against the stucco wall, closed her eyes, and listened. She could hear Solas's breathing. She coud hear muffled voices inside the building. She did not hear the clink of a guard's armor. She dropped her hand and walked quickly through the alley. At the end of it was a sheer wall. She reached out and found the hand holds still there. She climbed silently up the wall by memory and by sheer force. Once at the top, she found the rope where she had left it, and threw it down to Solas. He took it, and she pulled him up the wall. She stashed the rope again. They padded across a roof, Ellana weaving left and right to avoid creaky or weak areas. Solas matched her steps.
They dropped down into a courtyard. Ellana heard a noise. She flattened herself against the wall, pushing Solas back as well. She could feel his heartbeat under her hand. They waited, two beats, three beats, ten, twenty. She dropped her hand. This was the most dangerous part. If she was noticed, she could not explain her companion. She took a deep breath and crossed the courtyard. There was a grate at the far end, large enough for her to fit through. She bid Solas down into the sewer. On the left there was a path of large rubble and rocks. Ellana hopped from rock to rock, avoiding the dirty water of the city. They were close now. No one down here was a threat.
She felt along the wall. There. She pulled away a bit of stone. Her supplies were waiting.
"Take off your clothes," she whispered to Solas. She was already tearing her Dalish leathers off. She stashed them and pulled out the simple spun clothes of a city elf.
Solas was hesitating. "If you want to leave the sewers and get out of the city alive, you'll need to change," she hissed. She handed him the largest shirt she had. He took off his tunic and allowed her to stash it with her own clothes. He put on the shirt. "The alienage is ahead," she whispered.
They exited the sewers in an alley. Even if someone caught them emerging, here they would say nothing. Ellana took Solas's arm and breathed a quick sigh of relief. It was a pleasant evening. She slowed their pace and smiled at passersby. A breeze stirred the leaves of the vhenadal. An old woman sat by the tree, talking to no one in particular. "If I were a much younger woman, I'd spend an evening like this at The Gull. Fine young men to be found there."
A target. Ellana picked up her pace, urging Solas along with her. "It will be curfew soon," she said, "I'd like to avoid the sewers if I can." Even wearing the local clothes, Solas looked painfully out of place. He walked wrong. He was too tall. "Try to look downtrodden. Try to look... small."
He didn't. She tried to remember why she had brought him along for this. She normally did this alone. He was a risk. She dropped his arm as they approached the entrance to the alienage. Her shoulders slumped and her eyes stared at the ground she passed the guards. They headed east, toward the sea. As they approached the harbor, the streets became more crowded. Most were drunk. Ellana moved quickly, remained out of arm's reach, and did not look up at them. She did not carry a weapon. She did not need one.
She stopped at door behind a tavern, and Ellana rapped on it twice. She waited.
A woman popped her head out. "Who's he?" she hissed, glaring at Solas.
"Don't worry about him." Ellana elbowed her way inside, not allowing any further discussion. The tavern was loud. The laughter of men spilled into the kitchens, as did the scraping of armor. Templars.
"An ale for you, and you can collect the dirty laundry out of room 3," the woman whispered. Ellana took the ale and poured a small vial into it. She headed up the stairs. The fools had only left one to guard their charge.
Ellana approached the guard and let her eyes slowly reach his face before shyly looking at the floor again. "An ale for you, Sir Knight. On the house."
"I'm not a... I'm not supposed to..."
She looked disappointed. "Oh, it's just we're all so appreciative of your protection. I don't know what I would do if there was a mage here loose in Wycome. I can't believe there is even one in this tavern. But with you here..."
The templar still hesitated to take the ale. "I could get you some tea instead, if you'd prefer?"
"No, miss, this is... thank you. One can't hurt." He took the ale and dutifully took a sip to show his appreciation.
She took a step closer to him, and let her eyes flash up to his face again. "Was this mage terribly hard to catch? Are we in danger?"
He took another drink. "It's just a transfer, miss. They move them from one circle to another. And he's shackled. He'll be no harm to anyone."
"I think it's so brave of you to be up here alone with him." She put her hand on his arm.
"Just doing my duty for the Maker, miss." His eyes were unfocused. He wobbled on his feet. He dropped the mug, and she caught it, then him as he sagged. She gently set him down on the floor.
The door to room 3 was unlocked. A Dalish mage was sitting on the bed, hands and feet bound. His voice was deep, quiet. "Aneth ara, friend. I enjoyed your performance out there. Have you come to save me?"
Ellana's stomach dropped. She knew that voice. She knew how this ended. She had done all of this before. She had forgotten where she was. She had never thought to see him again. She never dreamed about him.
"Not this memory," she whispered.
A soft voice from behind her. "Ellana?" She jumped. She had forgotten Solas was even there. This wasn't real.
"Get us out," she said.
vhenadal-- big tree found in the alienages
aneth ara-- friendly greeting between Dalish, generally
Sooo I've never written smut before. If this is really terrible and makes you cringe, I'd rather know so I can take it down. <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ellana sat up and put her head in her hands. Everyone knew what it was to be Dalish. They lived quaint lives with dead gods, no money or resources, and a fixation on the past. Knowing she was Dalish meant knowing her entire life-- she spent it taking care of halla, whittling wooden figurines, and hunting for signs of the past. And, of course, eating human children and slandering the Chantry. One look at her vallaslin, and they knew every detail. It didn't matter if they were wrong. She preferred that they were wrong. Even Solas had never thought to ask...
But then, she tiptoed around his past, as well. Living in Wycome, living with her clan, she had learned that no elf made it to adulthood without deep losses. It was kinder not to ask.
She felt Solas sit up behind her. "I'm sorry, vhenan. Asking you such a personal question in the fade was ill-considered."
She hugged her knees. "Did I answer your question? Can you see me through my eyes now?"
He answered slowly. "I felt what it was to navigate a hostile world through touch, sound, smell, and instinct. I saw a spy behind enemy lines, applying her craft. Intelligence used with practicality, and raw strength applied with competence. I cannot say if that it what you experienced."
He put his hand on her back. His praise embarrassed her. "Sweet talker," she muttered, sparing a glance behind her. He shook his head.
"It is not flattery when it is true."
She laid back down on their bed roll. Solas laid back as well, placing his arm around her. She curled into him, her head on his shoulder.
"Well," she said, "I suppose I've told you a story this evening. Could I trouble you for one?"
"What would you like to hear, vhenan?"
"Sylaise. Goddess of fire, the hearth, and home."
"You also invoke her during bonding ceremonies, do you not?"
"Have you been through it?" The question slipped out of her mouth in an instant. She had wondered before, and never forgotten her suspicions. His obvious guilt, his hesitation, his considerations... she had wondered who he was betraying by sharing her bed.
He did not respond with anger. His voice was quiet. "I am not married, vhenan. I am truly sorry you think me capable of--"
"No," she cut him off, "What I meant was... are you a widower?"
His body stiffened beneath her. He took too long to draw his next breath. His heart quickened. It was an answer. She ignored his words meant to deflect. "I have never been bonded or married by any current understandings--"
She put her hand on his chest to silence him. "The boy we saw in my memory..." She propped herself up to look in his face as she spoke, "His name was Mathalin. That memory... it was the day we met. In two years, he changed everything about my life. And then a fever took him and at the age of 20 left me a widow."
Solas said nothing. He brushed a strand of hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. She leaned into his hand, closing her eyes.
"Tell me Sylaise was a liar," she said.
"She was," he murmured.
She kissed him fiercely. Her enthusiasm caught him off guard for just a moment. His mouth opened to welcome her tongue. Her hands rushed over him, pulling at his tunic, pulling him closer to her. She bit his lip, and he shuddered. She threw her leg over his waist, straddling him. His hands instantly went to her waist, thumbs tracing her hip bones. She trailed kisses down his jaw, her hands fumbling to move his tunic to expose his torso.
"Tell me she was petty and cruel," she whispered in his ear.
He tried to sit up, but she pinned his shoulders to the bedroll. He struggled until she started grinding her hips against him. His eyes closed, he groaned low. He submitted to her.
"Tell me," she said more forcefully. She lowered her mouth to his exposed abdomen, licking and kissing the sensitive flesh.
"She was envious," he said. Ellana reached down to unlace his breeches. His breath hitched. She could feel him hard beneath her.
"Go on," she said, stroking him through the fabric.
"She couldn't receive enough attention." His words were punctuated with ragged breaths. "Her deeds were never treated with enough respect."
In one movement, Ellana pulled his breeches and smalls down to his knees. She took him in her mouth. She placed her hand at his base, and dragged her tongue up his length. She could feel the muscles of his abdomen tighten, his struggle to control his breathing. His voice was shaky, "vhenan, I--"
"Tell me of her fire," she breathed over him.
He obeyed as her tongue ran circles around the tip of his length, her hand still stroking. "She could not be satisfied. She used it to burn. And when she could not make the flames grow hotter, she burned her own followers." His words came out as gasps. His hand tangled in her hair. He tried to remain still, but tiny jerks of his hips belied his effort.
She lifted her mouth again to ask a final question. "And was she unfaithful?"
"Yes," it came out as a moan. He was close. She pumped her hand faster, sucking him hard as his hand held her hair ever tighter. "The Evanuris-- they all were..."
He suddenly rolled away from her, groaning as he shuddered, spilling his seed on the stone floor. She put her hand on his back, waiting for his spasms to end. When he had calmed, she drew him against her, and he buried his face in her shoulder. She cradled his head and smiled. "You should do all of your lectures like this."
She felt the breath of his chuckle. "I will have to consider that, vhenan."
She rolled them both back onto the bedroll, still holding Solas in her arms. "Sleep, my love. We ride west when the sun rises." Solas fell asleep quickly, but Ellana's mind kept stirring. She had never heard the word evanuris. Did he mean the gods? And were his words true, or what he thought she wanted to hear? Still, what she had done tonight with a blaspheming non-Dalish elf... if his words were true, then it felt good.
Morning found her still awake, gently rubbing Solas's back as he slept. Her mind turned to practical matters-- packing up the horses, whether they had enough coin, enough food, how much time it would take, what the terrain would be like... The embers in the fireplace dwindled down to nothing. It was time to go.
Sometimes when your marriage goes terribly wrong and you are super bitter about it you just gotta blow the Dread Wolf while he throws shade on the goddess of the hearth. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The relief at finally being out of the snow was tempered by the sheer number of rifts they encountered in the Dales. Ellana's arm was on fire. They rarely stayed on the road-- the moment one rift was closed, she could feel the next. They wandered vaguely westward, following a trail of demons.
When Ellana closed her fifth rift of the day, her arm dropped like a stone to her side. She looked at it with irritation, and then stared at the sky where the rift no longer existed. At this rate. it would take a month to reach the Approach. Her companions slowly made their way toward her, looting corpses and brushing off carnage.
"I've heard some people actually enjoy walking in the wilderness," Varric muttered. He had tripped over at least three giant tree roots that day. "They do it for fun. It's called 'hiking.'"
"Stupid people, maybe," Sera said, yanking and arrow out of the ground. "Even the Veil is bored of trees here, if it had any sense."
"Must be why the whole thing is crumbling around us. Are you sure you couldn't have invited us to a trip to the city?" Varric called to Ellana.
Solas had reached her. "Let me see your hand."
"Be my guest," Ellana said with a shrug.
He lifted it gingerly. "Can you move it at all?"
"No," she said lightly, "But I can't feel it either, so that's a relief." She watched him probe the anchor, then gently bend each finger. For a moment sensation came back. She gasped. A wave of dizziness washed over her. "Maybe I could sit down..."
Solas didn't look up. "If you sit down, you won't wake for eight hours."
"Five, maybe," she said, leaning her head into his chest. "One for each rift..." She closed her eyes as sharp pins of pain shot up her arm. Her legs felt wobbly, but Solas was steady, like the tall trees around them. She imagined him growing taller and taller, to walk among them like the giants they had seen earlier...
"Finally," Dorian's voice drifted to her. "I've been waiting for her to fall asleep standing for weeks. Pay up, Varric. I'll accept coin or spirits."
Ellana tried to tell him he was wrong, she was not sleeping, but her words were a muffled sigh against Solas's chest. Solas wrapped his free arm around her and the world fell away.
Sera's voice was too loud in Ellana's ear. She tried to swat her off, but her hand was too heavy.
"This is your fault," she was yelling.
"I fail to see how you could come to that conclusion."
Ellana was uncomfortable. Stiff. She was... moving?
"As if you didn't keep her up all night." Sera's voice pitched high, mocking, "Oooh, how exciting, some shite elven building. Better bang our elfy bits together. Glory to the Empire!"
Ellana was awake. She was on a horse, sharing it with Sera. She did not want to be part of this conversation. She kept her eyes closed.
"If our current travel arrangements bother you, the Herald can share my horse," Solas said, irritation sparking in his voice.
"What, so you can grab a quick feel? I don't think so."
Dark anger dripped from his words. "I would never--"
Ellana's eyes popped open. "Did I nod off again?" she asked innocently. She blinked widely at her companions, throwing in a yawn for good measure.
Dorian laughed. "That's one way to put it."
"Was it... did I miss anything?"
"We decided we needed to keep moving. The mages transferred you to Sera's horse for safety," Varric said. "Which... might be the first time the words 'Sera' and 'safety' ended up in the same sentence together."
Ellana was having a hard time picturing this. "They... transferred me?"
"Like a sack of glowing potatoes," Sera said from behind her. "You're welcome."
She closed her eyes, wondering which was worse. Two men carrying her together to put her limp body on the horse, or using magic to lift her into the air...
"And have we made good progress?" she asked, trying to hold onto a thread of authority.
"There's an abandoned Dalish site up ahead. We'll camp there," Solas responded.
Varric actually answered her question. "Nobody could say that closing five rifts in a day isn't progress, kid."
Her hand was buzzing again. Solas or time or sleep had managed to wake up her dead arm. "If we take a left past that statue, it will be six," she said.
"Your hand?" Dorian asked with concern.
"Probably won't fall off just yet." She stretched her fingers in her gauntlet. They were stiff, complaining, but they would move. She could probably wrap them around her sword grip. She was going to need to start training to use it one-handed.
"Don't be stupid," Sera scoffed in her ear. "The Veil will be just as wobbly in the morning."
They found the camp just before sunset. Statues of Fen'Harel guarded their path. Out of habit, Ellana stuck out her good hand and rubbed one for luck.
They were camping earlier than usual. Ellana's fault. She tried to take advantage of the sunlight to pen a note to Miri. She sorely regretted sending her sister away. She held the quill in her hand like it was a knife, her letters etching the paper. They were ill-formed, irregular, stilted. Eventually her grip snapped the quill in half. She tossed it into the fire. She really wasn't sure what to say, anyway.
Dear Miri, I captured an Elven ruin in the Dales, but it's made of poison and surrounded by dragons. I'd like to make you queen of it.
Dear Miri, I'm finally seeing all the things you dreamed of seeing and I dreamed of hearing about from you.
Dear Miri, I'm sleeping with a man who claims our gods were frauds, and I think I believe him.
"Varric," she called, "Are you planning on writing down the events of the past week?"
Varric looked up from his journal. "Eventually. I'd rather work on that than this report."
"Would you mind making me a copy? I seem to have, um, lost my quill, and Miri would flay me if I didn't tell her about the Dales."
Varric smirked. "Do you want me to include anything else for her? I've, uh, seen your penmanship."
"Oh, you can add that I love her and I miss her and that I'm making fascinating discoveries about our history."
Varric pulled out a piece of parchment, and began scritching away. Ellana passed him her inkwell and spare paper. She stretched her traitorous hands.
"Come with me, vhenan." Solas took her hand and led her out of camp.
"You've been here before," she said. He nodded. He did not offer any other information. His hand was cool, soothing on hers. "My hand always feels better when you hold it."
"I suspect the mark would be less painful, or at least less tiring, for a mage. Your body is still unused to magic, and to have a mark of such powerful magic..."
Miri would have done it better. "Perhaps you would have made a better Herald," she muttered.
He looked serious. Concerned. "The anchor is Elvhen, and I had hoped with time your body would become accustomed to it." He smoothed his facial expression. "Perhaps it still will."
They crossed red lyrium deposits as they walked. Ellana pushed down her fear. The infection was mild here, nothing like what they saw to the east. She unsheathed her sword and destroyed each crystal they walked past.
"The red templars..." she frowned. "I was thinking. They used to be people, but they've been driven mad, deformed, changed. Whatever it is they used to be, they've lost that now. Killing them is the only path. And... I find that... I find them..." She twisted her hands. Just talking about them raised her heart rate and dried her throat. "Is that how you feel when you see the demons coming out of the rifts? The tragedy, the waste of it..."
Solas stopped walking. He turned to look her full in the face. His stare was intense, his lips smiling faintly. Her breath caught. He shook his head slightly. He brought his hand to her chin, and tipped her face up. His lips pressed to hers, gently, chastely. He pulled away.
She opened her eyes, stunned. His kisses were usually passionate, uncontrolled, a burst of suppressed longing. His hand was still holding her face. He rubbed his thumb over her chin.
"Thank you," he murmured. "Though I did not know you counted templars among those you care for."
"The red lyrium doesn't just affect them," she said, her eyes darkening once more. They continued on the path. "I saw you, and Sera, Varric, Cassandra... Every minute we're near it, we're at risk of contamination. Maybe it's already started. But I wondered if that's how spirits felt about the rifts. If they can have those sorts of feelings. Can they feel fear?"
"It depends on the complexity of the spirit. Certainly they do not feel the same way we do." He squeezed her hand. "It is not wrong to feel revulsion to red lyrium."
Ellana felt more than revulsion. They crossed a small creek, and Ellana paused to dip her hand in the cold water. She sighed with relief. "Is there any chance you're bringing me to a pool to bathe in?"
He shook his head. "Not this time. But we are almost there. Come, before we lose the sunlight."
They stopped at a group of particularly impressive trees. Even growing up in forests, Ellana had never seen so much green in her life. "This is what I wanted to show you. These trees are the Vallasdahlen, the graves of the Emerald Knights who once patrolled the borders of the Dales. This one is for Mathalin." He gestured to the tree immediately in front of them.
Ellana raised her eyes skyward. "For Math... Of course." The original Mathalin, not her Mathalin.
"I thought you would want to see the final resting place of his namesake."
Ellana knelt at the base of the tree. In previous times, she might have prayed to Falon'din, god of the dead, to calm his spirit and guide his feet. Or perhaps to Mythal, for protection of her first love in the beyond. Or even to Sylaise, goddess of the hearth, to thank her for time as newlyweds and the home they built together, however brief. Now she hesitated. They were just words, they had always just been words, but they felt wrong in her mouth. Instead, she fished in her pack for a flower. She pulled out a dawn lotus, a little worse for wear, and set it at the tree.
"We never should have bonded," she said quietly. "His clan wanted him back as their First. Mine didn't really need him. And... my bonding meant the end of my usefulness."
Solas had been keeping a respectful distance. Now he knelt next to her. "How is that possible? I saw what you were capable of..."
"I was bare-faced in that memory. A child. To bond, I needed to receive my vallaslin. I could not move through the cities so easily with it." She traced one of the lines on her cheek, remembering how her sister had traced them all on her, so she would know how they looked. "It was Miri who picked Mythal. It felt like a cruel joke on her part. In getting the symbol of the protector, I was losing my ability to protect. But Miri always pointed out she was also the goddess of love." She sighed, remembering those days. Ten years of widowhood had taken the sting from it. She had been so determined to bond with him. So much arguing and change and work for a bond that lasted little more than a year. She shook her head. "We were so young. I was not a very good wife."
Ellana sat for a while longer, staring up at the leaves of the trees. "Thank you for showing me this."
Solas was gazing at the other trees. "Our people built a life here. It must have been a sight to see."
Our people. A rare phrase for Solas. She stood up, put her hands on his shoulders where he knelt, and kissed the top of his head. The sun had set, and the light was fading quickly. "We should return to camp." She held out her hand, pulled him to his feet, and they left the Vallasdahlen behind.
Solas's line about his people making a life for themselves in the Emerald Graves always struck me as pretty strange. The ruins they visit are from the Dalish Empire, not Elvhenan, so it seems like he's actually talking about the people who came after him? In any event, lines are blurring for him.
As they traveled west, the landscape had less and less lyrium in it. Ellana found herself breathing easier. She even tried to teach her crew a Dalish traveling song, though Varric was the only one who tried to learn it in earnest. Dorian was true to his word and completely tone deaf. Sera made up her own words. And her own tune. And rhythm. Solas chose not to participate. Ellana never got them past the chorus.
Having given up on music, she was forced to listen to the escalating bickering between Sera and Solas. She'd never heard so many ways of insulting someone's ears. Floppy, drooping, flaccid, slack, limp. Ellana started to wonder if her own ears bounced as she rode in front. She smoothed her hair over them.
Somewhere in the Exalted Plains, she woke to find Solas already gone. Leaving her tent, she walked straight into Dorian. He had been waiting.
"I have a present for you, Herald." He said with a crooked grin.
The Plains were bleak, full of undead and death. A cycle of misery. She wrinkled her nose. "Where did you find a present out here?"
He chuckled. He was very awake. Ellana looked to see if anyone had left out some tea for her. "Don't worry, I brought it with me from Skyhold for this very occasion."
Ellana looked at him blankly. The occasion of not having bathed in weeks? The occasion of eating stale bread and old cheese for dinner again? Had she closed her fifthieth rift? Killed her thousandth demon?
"You don't even remember, do you? Marvelous. Well this little gift, which I have carried with me all the way from your fortress, is to commemorate the first time you have fallen asleep on my shoulder."
Ellana's confusion turned to irritation. "You can't be serious."
"Oh it was a nail-biter. Your head bobbing here, bobbing there, would it be Solas, would you surprise us all and flop over on Varric, would Sera swoop in at the last second and steal my victory, but no. In the end, you fell into my eager human arms and slept quite soundly until Solas dragged you away."
Ellana rolled her eyes. "And this warrants a present?"
"Oh yes. This is quite a milestone for our blossoming friendship." He held out a small, ornately decorated box. Ellana took it. Inside was an equally ornate mirror that fit in the palm of her hand.
"For your vanity," he said. "Or, as I realized later, your homesickness. And also, as a thought, to maybe help you with your hair."
The back of the mirror was made of entwining metal leaves that formed a large L at the center. He must have had this specially made for her. She turned it over. The mirror was made of the clearest glass she'd ever seen. It was frivolous. An extravagance. She'd never owned anything like it. She looked at her own dark eyes in the glass. She could carry her reflection with her.
"Blossoming friendship?" she asked.
"Thus the vines."
She struggled to come up with a response, turning the mirror over and over in her hands. She thought of the first time she had met Dorian, when he mocked her as ignorant in the Chantry in Redcliffe. She traced the L with her finger. She didn't hate him anymore. She wasn't ready to call him friend. She was saved from responding by Sera crashing back into camp, shouting, "I bet, right? Who wants to think about stepping on dead elves?"
Solas was on her heels. He growled his response, though Ellana didn't understand it.
"Enough!" She shouted at them.
"Ooh, felt that one, didn't you?" Sera retorted, sticking out her tongue.
Ellana pocketed the mirror. "It seems everyone is quite energetic this morning. Break down camp and prepare the horses. We ride."
She broke down her tent. Another day of riding sounded like torture. Her legs felt permanently deformed. She was certain her horse hated her. She didn't blame him.
Hooves clopped in the dirt, kicking up dust. The dust was in her hair, in her mouth. Solas rode ahead, stiff and irritated. Sera stayed far behind, pouting. There had to be a better form of travel. "Do you think anyone has ever ridden a dragon?" Ellana asked to no one in particular.
Dorian answered. "Haven't you read Varric's book? Tale of the Champion?"
Ellana shook her head. She had no interest in learning about Hawke. "Must not have been popular in Wycome," she lied.
Varric snorted. "Yes, it was."
Dorian continued, "Varric claims that Hawke met an old witch back in Ferelden. She turned into a dragon and saved her entire family from the Darkspawn. Terribly unbelievable, I'm afraid."
Ellana's mood turned sour. "Hawke met Asha'bellanar?"
"You know her, too?" Varric asked.
"Only as well as I know Empress Celene. Are you saying you met her as well?"
"Hawke introduced us."
Ellana bristled. Dorian didn't seem to notice. "Didn't you call her something different in the book? Phlegm, I believe."
"Lots of people have more than one name, Sparkler. I hear the Hero of Ferelden and King Allistair were also rescued by her at that time. So that brings the total of dragon-riders up to, what, six?"
Ellana turned herself forward in the saddle again. Solas was riding just ahead of her, back straight, eyes forward, pretending not to listen. His expression was blank, bored. He liked stories. Normally he might add one of his own.
"Have you met her, Solas?" she asked.
His shoulders tensed. He didn't turn. "I try to avoid people in my travels, generally."
It wasn't an answer. "And what about dragons? Do you seek those out?"
He let out a sharp laugh. "No."
She smirked. "Do you think Asha'Bellanar would let me ride her?"
Solas choked at this. Varric guffawed.
"Now that I'd like to see," Sera said, joining the conversation.
Ellana smiled wickedly at her. She could turn this conversation around. "You know Iron Bull told me he thinks a Qunari had sex with a dragon?"
Sera's eyes widened. The shift in topic went from obscene to grotesque as Sera, Dorian, and Varric tried to figure out the mechanics of dragon sex. There was a lot of gesticulating. Dorian had very strong opinions. Wagers were made. The question of eggs stumped them all. Ellana was glad to avoid another argument. And to avoid talking about Hawke.
Lyna had been saved by Asha'Bellanar. She then went on to stop the Blight. Hawke had been saved by Asha'Bellanar. She went on to start the Mage War. Was the witch meddling in the world? Did she simply dislike Darkspawn? Lyna died, but Hawke survived. Lyna succeeded, but Hawke failed. Both lost everything.
"Do you think I will meet her?" she asked Solas. She did not need to specify who.
"Pray you do not." His jaw was tight. She did not press him further. She thought about her memory loss, her miraculous survival at the Conclave, the Darkspawn Magister, the woman pushing her out of the Fade. Perhaps she already had.
The Western Approach was cold. And windy. And sandy. The sand whipped into every hole in her armor. It blasted the dust and dirt right off Ellana's face. She could feel it in her boots almost instantly. She could feel it everywhere.
They all ended up tying whatever fabric they could find over their mouths and noses and hair. Only a slit for their eyes, and even that was more than Ellana wanted exposed. She wanted a bath. Scout Harding almost shot her with an arrow when they arrived at her camp during the day. "The wind dies down at night. It's the only time you can travel. Of course, that's when other things wake up, too. Welcome to the worst place in the world."
There was mail waiting for them. An oasis. Ellana had a letter from Miri, thanking her for sending Varric's writing instead of her own. Ellana escaped the wind into a tent, shaking out as much sand as she could. Solas joined her, beating his sand-saturated tunic. For a moment she was tempted to help him, tear it off of him, individually remove each grain of sand from him. She knew just where she'd start. She stilled herself. She wanted to read this letter. She threw off her outer layers, and settled onto the bedroll, lying on her belly. Solas joined her, choosing to lie on his back. She propped herself up on her elbows, putting the letter over his torso to read. He closed his eyes.
Finally, news we can read and enjoy. Please thank Tethras for us. Athros did a dramatic reading of it around the fire to everyone's amusement. His impression of you is surprisingly good. And with all the work you've accomplished in the Dales, sister, perhaps I'll be seeing it sooner than you think. I'm sure your spies have mentioned the unrest in Wycome. It might be time for a move.
As for the word you asked me about, I've never heard it before. Deshanna was equally clueless. I have to wonder where your Flat Ear learned so much Elvhen. Does it pain you so much to admit you don't know a word? Just ask him. By now he must have decided whether or not you're stupid.
Ellana snorted. Solas brought his hand to her hair, gently massaging her scalp. "Good letter?" he asked, without opening his eyes.
"Miri suspects you think I'm simple."
"Nothing about you is simple."
She put the letter aside. Her hands snaked up his chest and came to rest on either side of his face. She lowered her mouth to his, murmuring against his lips, "Do you think they would hear us in this sandstorm?"
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down to lie against his chest. "Yes."
She groaned in frustration. "Must I capture a keep every time I want a moment of privacy?"
His chest quaked under her as he chuckled. His grasp on her tightened, and he rolled suddenly so she was on her back. He leaned in, their noses touching, and took a deep breath. Ellana willed him to kiss her. He hovered, just out of reach. She leaned up, into him, closing the gap, and he pulled away. He threw his tunic up over his head, pulling his arms out of the sleeves and tossing it onto the floor of the tent. Her hands were immediately on him, gripping the muscles of his back, pulling him closer. But he shook his head at her, and returned to lying next to her on his back.
"You're teasing me," she muttered. She turned away from him, to rest on her side. He rolled with her, pressing his chest against her back. His arm held her against him, and she relaxed entirely in his embrace.
"Ah, yes. Because you've never teased me?" he murmured in her ear. She wiggled in annoyance in his arms. She had to concede the point.
She closed her eyes. Solas was breathing deeply into her hair. Her mind wandered. "What does 'Evanuris' mean?"
Solas started. He inhaled deeply. "Where did you hear that word?"
"You don't remember?" She rolled over to face him. He was frowning. "You said it. In Suledin."
His frown deepened. "It means..." He chose his words carefully. "It is the word I use to refer to your gods."
"But what does it mean?" she pressed.
"In my deepest journeys in the Fade, it was used as a title. Like King or Inquisitor."
He was tense, pulling away from her. His brow remained furrowed. She wanted answers. She wanted him. She kissed his brow, feeling it relax under her lips. "Can we sleep now?" he asked.
Asha'Bellanar is what the Dalish call Flemeth. Dorian calls her Phlegm, I guess.
Lyna is the Hero of Fereldan.
Ellana made a friend <3
You really only need Sera to very accurately mock what you sound like during sex once to discourage further tent sex.
Just a warning-- some smut at the end of the chapter.
The winds did die down in the evening. In the moonlight, the Western Approach looked ghostly. Lonely. Ellana couldn't stop turning her head to take it all in. They had left the horses at camp, unsure they would find enough clean water for them. Weighed down by plate, Ellana kept slipping in the sand. Not so different from snow, then, but the views of the canyons...
"It's like we're walking in a different world." Solas grabbed her hand as she scrambled up a slope. "A dead world, maybe, but... it's unlike anywhere I've ever seen. It's beautiful."
Solas kept his thoughts to himself. He had said little since waking. Behind her Dorian and Sera laughed. In preparation for their arrival, Varric was telling stories about Hawke. Her choice was to listen to him talk about a woman she hated or quicken her pace and reach Hawke faster. There was no winning. She searched for a topic, something to draw Solas out. "Why don't you tell me the truth about June this evening? Somehow I doubt your version invented aravels."
Solas didn't answer at first. He pressed his lips together. "Would you not rather hear about the history of this dead world?"
"The history of the Blight? I think..." She looked at the strange, craggy landscape, purple in the moonlight. The heroics of the Grey Wardens did not interest her. "I think I would rather be angry at dead gods, or evanuris, or whatever, then think about what is buried here."
He looked at her thoughtfully, and opened his mouth to speak. Varric interrupted him, barreling past them. Evidently his story-telling had ended.
"There's no way I'm answering 'which Inquisition mage is the best dressed.' Not for all the gold in Orzammar."
Dorian was quick to follow. "Well the Inquisitor can't answer-- she's clearly biased! And who is left to ask.. Sera?"
"It's obviously Vivienne," Ellana said. Both mages turned to look down their noses at her. "Well you couldn't possibly think it's you," she said, turning to Solas. "There are still singe marks where you lit yourself on fire last week. Yes, I noticed that."
"It did go out eventually," he muttered.
She trailed her hand on his chest, smoothing out the old tunic. "As for the best undressed mage in the Inquisition..." Dorian groaned. "Still Vivienne, I think."
She gave Solas a gentle shove. He lightly grabbed her wrist. His eyes glinted. She smiled. "By all means," she said, looking him up and down, "Try to change my mind."
Varric cleared his throat. "I just realized, I've never seen an elf with a beard."
Ellana freed her hand and continued walking.
"You haven't seen many elves then," Solas retorted.
She gave him a sidelong glance. "I've never seen an elf with a beard."
"I have," Sera cackled.
"Elves don't have chest hair, either," Ellana said, stifling a laugh. "That's a dwarf thing."
Dorian sounded miffed. "Humans have chest hair, too."
She considered this. "Do they really? Commander Cullen doesn't."
Dorian's jaw dropped. "You've seen Commander Cullen's bare chest?"
The mages were both ogling her again. Solas tilted his head as he looked at her.
Ellana's eyes darted between them. "You boys in your library. Don't you ever make it down to the training grounds?"
"I'll have to make the trip," Dorian said thoughtfully.
"Look, for chest hair, it's Blackwall. Hairiest thing at Skyhold." Sera paused to scratch her nose. "Other than the horses."
There was a pause as they all considered this. No, I don't want to know how she knows that, Ellana decided.
Varric pointed ahead. "Well, I think we've reached Hawke anyway."
"Thank the Maker," Dorian sighed, "Maybe she can settle my original question."
"Don't count on it, Sparkler. She's got a thing for elves."
Ellana clenched her fists. Her mirth turned to dust to join the blighted lands. She'd had a month to prepare to see Hawke again, and it still rankled. Cassandra had wanted her to lead the Inquisition. In that reality, Ellana had gone home, or died, or never gone to the Conclave. Her hand was not cursed and her fate was not sealed. Solas put his hand on her shoulder, and she tried to relax them. She would get through this without punching Hawke. Probably.
To Ellana's horror, Hawke was a close-quarters fighter. No sooner was Ellana whirling her blade to slam a target, then Hawke was behind it, in the impact zone. With great effort Ellana shifted her aim, sword screaming into stone beneath their feet. In the tight space in which the Wardens had chosen to slaughter each other, Ellana was useless, able to inflict more harm to her friends than to her enemies. In her frustration she threw her sword down and punched a demon in the face. It was not terribly effective. Punching a mage in the stomach was an improvement. Wrenching his staff out of his hands and kicking him in the face proved adequate.
The fight ended quickly. Hawke stared at Ellana's bloody hands and shook her head, as if it were amusing. Ellana glared at her.
"You fight like someone I know," Hawke said. Ellana said nothing. Hawke's smile faltered. "Why is it always blood magic?" she lamented.
Ellana had no answer. Up until this point blood magic hadn't really factored into her problems. Why is it always humans seemed a better fit. She crouched down, trying to clean her gauntlets on the tunic of a fallen warden.
"So we're fighting Grey Wardens now?" Sera asked, "Well that's shite."
Across the ruins, Solas was pacing, staff twisting in hand. Ellana had never seen him fidget before. "We cannot allow the Grey Wardens to go through with this plan of theirs. It is madness."
"I don't think anyone was going to suggest letting them raise a demon army, Chuckles."
"Still, the whole idea is unnerving." Solas did not fear demons. He had no love for Grey Wardens. This fear was curious. She approached him, shouldering her discarded sword.
"I'll protect you," she murmured. He huffed, shaking his head and breaking into a faint smile. Some of the tension left his stance.
"Ah, love found in the midst of the apocalypse." Hawke winked at Ellana. Ellana's face dropped. Her fist clenched. She took a step forward, but Solas caught her with an arm across the shoulders. Hawke didn't appear to notice. "Stroud and I will scout out the Grey Warden fortress." She gave Varric a peck on the cheek. "Try to stay alive."
Ellana stared at her retreating back. She suppressed an urge to spit. Solas loosened his grip on her.
Varric elbowed her. "Careful, kid. Brood any harder and Hawke will leave Fenris for you." Ellana snorted. "Hey, he disliked her at the start as much as you do."
Ellana tried to keep her voice level. "And did she murder his aunts and uncles, too, Varric? How about his favorite cousin?"
"Oh, shit." Varric sighed. He stared at his feet. "You know, Hawke tried her best. Nobody wanted that outcome."
Ellana turned away from him. "Spare me. Go with her if you must, but spare me your defense of her." She turned around, staring off the cliff's edge into the dark blighted abyss. She listened for footsteps following Hawke. None came.
She felt a hand on her shoulder. "Vhenan."
She did not turn. "Do not scold me, Solas, I am in no mood."
"I simply meant to turn your attention north." His hand traveled up to her chin, which he tilted toward the horizon. Spikes jutted out of the dunes. Tevinter. Old. Ugly. She slowly grinned.
"That looks suspiciously like a keep to me."
Even in the dark, she could see a flag whipping in the wind. The colors and patterns were lost to distance, but they had no friends out here. "I'm going to take it."
He leaned down. "Let us make haste," he murmured directly into her ear. She shivered. He did not need to say it twice.
The sun was threatening to rise. Ellana wanted to capture this keep tonight.
She looked at her crew. "Hang back. I have a plan."
She strode toward the front door of the keep, her sword sheathed. She could feel her companions shifting nervously behind her. "Venatori!" She called to the battlements. "I'm the Inquisitor, and this is my entourage. I'm afraid we're undefeated in battle, so I recommend you throw down your arms and surrender to Andraste's mercy."
Solas's barrier washed over her just as the first arrow arrived. She sighed and unsheathed her sword. "Have it your way, then," she muttered.
"That was your plan?" Varric yelled at her.
Ellana sighed and kicked the door in. "It would have saved me some energy."
The force holding the keep was not Tevinter's best. They easily dispatched their enemies just before the sun rose. Ellana wondered if people she had never met would needlessly die for her like this. It was an uncomfortable thought. Dorian removed the Venatori flag and burned it with the corpses. Varric had an Inquisition flag ready. She realized Solas was missing.
Adrenaline still pumped through her head. She opened every door she could find, certain he was as impatient as she was. She reached the last door in the corridor. A hand grabbed her wrist and pulled her into the room. Solas slammed the door behind her, pinning her against it, his hand braced near her face.
He brought his face in slowly, teasing her. His nose brushed against hers, his lips barely connecting before pulling away. He hovered over her, just out of reach. Ellana was done waiting. She clutched his back and pulled him closer. Solas briefly lost his balance, and Ellana pounced, capturing his mouth with hers. His tongue pushed into her mouth, and a wet heat spread through her.
She needed more of him, now. She tried to get her hands under his tunic and realized she was still wearing her gauntlets. She cursed as Solas trailed kisses down her neck. She tried to free her hands behind his back, but he pushed his knee between her legs. She moaned, letting her head drop back against the door. Solas seemed to realize her problem, and he removed her gauntlets for her, kissing one knuckle, then the other.
Only thirty pieces to go, she thought as her hands finally reached his skin. She dragged her thumbs over his hip bones, and he pressed closer to her, sucking on her lower lip. Then she felt... something. He had returned his hand to brace against the door, and she could feel something-- mana-- moving through him and into the door.
"I can feel your magic," she breathed. "What are you doing?"
"Warding the door. No one could find us if they tried." He gently nipped her ear lobe. "What does it feel like, vhenan?"
His breath in her ear drew a quiet moan from her. He ran his tongue around her lobe, and she ground her hips into his leg. "It feels like power."
"The veil is thin here." His free hand trailed down her side, landing on her hip. She felt a new sensation there as more magic flowed through him. "Do you know what the veil is?" he asked.
"A vibration that holds back the Fade." The words fell harshly from her mouth, punctuated by small gasps. His hand stroked her thigh. Through her breeches she felt the sensation grow, a warm, tingling sensation spreading through her leg.
"Where the veil is thin, a mage can manipulate it," he said, gripping her now, his hand stroking from one thigh to the other in one smooth movement. He paused for his thumb to tracing a circle between her legs, coaxing a moan out of her. She rocked her hips toward his hand. "He can tune it, control the frequencies, amplitudes..."
She gasped as the vibration changed, gaining intensity and dropping. Solas pushed his hand between her and his leg, his fingers poised under her folds through her breeches, his thumb sending pulses to her clit. Her stomach twisted in knots, a tension growing inside of her. She rocked on his hand, arching her back as he rained kisses on her neck. Magic poured from his fingers into her, and her moans increased in volume. She could feel her muscles tightening, the tension inside of her growing unbearable as his fingers modulated the tempo of the blissful throbs inside of her. The world was falling away.
"Come for me, vhenan," he whispered in her ear. Her toes curled and she found she had to obey. The tension inside of her shattered, sending shards of heat through to her extremities. She struggled to catch her breath. Had Solas not been supporting her, she would have collapsed. When her legs stopped shaking, she leaned forward, burying her face in Solas's chest.
"Do not consider falling asleep, vhenan. We have barely begun."
He shifted his leg and she stood on her own feet. He looked hungry. "Get this armor off of me," she said softly.
Starts a little smutty, ends with some drunk shenanigans and morbid humor. This chapter got away from me a little.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The sun was still in the sky when Ellana woke. The window was covered with thick orange canvas. The room glowed.
She sat up to look at the man next to her. He was the first lover she ever truly got to see. The others' forms she had known through touch alone. She was still eager with her hands, but admiring someone like this was a new pleasure. There were many new pleasures with Solas. She let her eyes linger, trying to remember every part of him. A darker freckle just here, above the knee. A small scar just there, on his thigh. The curvature of his muscles. The prominence of his bones.
He opened his eyes, and did not hide or shy away from her staring. His lack of modesty, once irritating, now gratified her. She finally reached out, placing a hand over his chest. He covered it with his own.
She sat in silence, looking at their entwined hands. They were so different from each other. Her skin was dark, his light. Her fingers were rough, his were smooth. Her hands were smaller than his, her fingers shorter, but entwined like this, they were perfect. "That spell you cast..."
Solas smirked lazily. "Which one?"
She returned his smile. "You know which one."
He had traced a rune on her naked back. She felt him channeling magic into it, and then she was channeling magic. She could not tell which hands were hers. It was all her. She was touching herself, she was being touched. She was kissing, she was being kissed. There was no start and no end to her. She was moaning, sighing, pulling herself further in. She was thrusting, and she was calling out her own name as pleasure crashed on her from every direction. And she was holding herself and being held. Every part of her was loved.
She laid herself back on the bedroll, her head on his chest. His free hand traced more figures on her back, but she did not feel him channel any magic into them. "I still can't figure out which feelings were yours and which were mine."
"It can be a little disorientating the first time."
"Will there be a second time, then?"
His fingers paused. "I'm afraid that spell will only work where the veil is thin."
She brought her face up to his. His eyes were half closed, his lips still smirking. She pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "Then I suggest we make the most of it."
Hunger eventually drove Ellana out of their warded sanctuary. The moon had not yet lit up the sky. She found Dorian by a campfire, going through Venatori belongings. Sera and Varric had left to find Scout Harding and get proper reinforcements for the keep. Dorian showed her the real treasure he had found-- fresh vegetables, fruits, and even eggs. There was also no small amount of Tevinter wine.
"Are you really drinking at this time of..." she looked around, suddenly completely disoriented. "Night?"
Dorian poured her a cup. "Evening is the normal time for it. And it seems we are to spend this night waiting, and I'd rather do it with wine."
He paused to take Ellana in, smirking. "Whyever did I gift you with a mirror if you clearly won't use it? What has that man done to your hair?"
Ellana reached back to feel her hair wild and tangled. A rat's nest, Miri would have said. "I'm not sure you can blame everything on Solas."
"Well. Unlike him, I have a set of combs at my disposal. Come here, let's get you sorted out."
Ellana hesitated. There was some perverse enjoyment at having a Tevinter nobleman brush her hair for her. "Very well, then."
She positioned herself with her back to the fire. Dorian shuffled through his pack. Her eyes drifted up to the stars. "I didn't see stars for over twenty years," she said. "Strange to think they were there the entire time."
Dorian started at the bottom of her hair. She pulled out her mirror and angled it to watch Dorian drag the comb through her tangles. He was clearly trying not to pull too hard. "When I am through with you, your hair will shine enough to reflect them."
She took a small sip of her wine. "Is this something you do often?"
"Only for my friends. So, no."
Friends. The word still felt strange in her mouth. "Are you sure that's what you want? With such a lavish gift as this, a proper Dalish family might take it as a proposal."
She watched in the mirror as Dorian sputtered. "Don't worry, Dorian. Such an impractical gift would merit an instant refusal."
"And if I were to ask for your hand, would it be your sister who gives final approval? Maker help the man who tries to woo you." Ellana clenched her teeth as the comb snagged a difficult snarl. She heard Solas's steps climbing the stairs. She shut the mirror and pocketed it.
"My mother yet lives, Dorian. And it's all more complicated than that. And frankly, it sounds like impressing your parents might be more difficult than mine."
"Actually, that's all rather easy if all you care about is breeding. The woman they tried to marry me off to could have set my mothers smalls on fire, and that wouldn't have deterred them at all." Dorian stepped back from her and admired his work. "Your hair is straight and untangled, my friend, and as dark and mysterious as the night sky."
Ellana turned in surprise. "Aren't you going to pin it up in some Tevinter style?"
"I'm afraid I don't know how. I've never done a woman's hair before."
"I can braid your hair, vhenan." Solas stood looking at her with his arms crossed.
Dorian and Ellana eyed him skeptically. Their eyes drifted pointedly to his bald head. Ellana cleared her throat. "That doesn't appear likely."
Solas took Dorian's spot behind her. He started sectioning off her hair. "I have not always been bald. And you told me you would return with food."
"Dorian, be a friend and find us dinner. Or... breakfast?"
Dorian poured another cup of wine and handed it to Solas. "If you're going to eat my cooking, you will need to drink more wine first."
Ellana swished her mostly full cup. "I'm not really a big drinker, Dorian."
"Yes, I do remember the Fallow Mire. The entire place was like a hangover unto itself. You were quite charming, though, as I recall."
Solas chuckled. His finger brushed her ear. Ellana's stomach tightened with embarrassment as she thought about his memories of that night.
"And what is it you find funny, Solas? You, very specifically, were not invited on that little excursion."
"I did hear about it later," Solas said. His fingers continued to work through her hair, and Ellana suddenly felt trapped. She could feel herself blushing. She drank her wine.
"Truly? Even the part where she--"
"Dorian!" She hissed. "My cup is too empty, and I think yours is too full."
Dorian came around with the wine bottle. "Please, allow me to fill the cup of the worst elf in Thedas."
Solas's hands hesitated behind her. "Hmm?"
"So she didn't tell you about the Fallow Mire. Interesting." Dorian went back to attending their breakfast.
Solas tied up the last of Ellana's hair. She moved her head experimentally. The hairstyle seemed stable. "Ma serranas." He looked at her quizzically.
"Spies shouldn't drink," she said, raising her cup. "Their secrets come pouring out."
Solas touched the brim of his cup to hers and took a sip. "And are you keeping secrets from me, vhenan?"
"Only the ones that spare my pride," she laughed.
Dorian served them up a scramble that managed to be simultaneously runny and burned. Solas took one look at the mess and downed his wine. Ellana laughed, leaning into his arm, already feeling warm and giddy on an empty stomach. She ate a particularly charred onion and laughed and laughed as Dorian dumped his plate into the fire.
"Tevinter cuisine is remarkable," she teased, as a burnt potato crunched in her mouth. "You must be so homesick."
"Oh, go chew on some barley," Dorian muttered. Other than finishing his second cup of wine, Solas did little to indicate the meal bothered him.
"Perhaps we should leave the cooking to Varric from now on."
Dorian looked at Ellana accusingly. "How is you never learned to cook around a campfire?"
Ellana laughed. "How many times must I answer 'I was blind' before people remember? If you want a halla milked, I can help you with that. I'm also very good at moving very heavy objects."
"And how exactly did a Dalish milkmaid become the Herald of Andraste?"
Ellana paused. She fished through her plate, trying to see if there was any salvageable food left there. "I've thought about that," she said slowly, "Trying to pinpoint exactly which mistake in my life led me here. And do you know what I've discovered? This was inevitable."
Solas lifted an eyebrow. "Banal nadas."
"Poetic and optimistic, my love." His fingers curled around her wrist, and he gave her gentle pull. She knew what he wanted. She stood up. He stood behind her, hands gently holding her waist.
"Well, Dorian, if the Inquisitor isn't needed--"
"Wait!" Dorian held up his hands. "There is a problem that needs your attention rather immediately."
"Very funny, Tevinter. Try it again and I'll send you home."
"No, this is an actual problem. There's a reason I cracked open the wine this morning--evening-- the water in the well is spoiled. We need to fix it or find a new source."
Ellana stared at him, then at the three empty wine bottles. She had only had two cups, and on her mostly empty stomach they were buzzing through her. Dorian looked no worse for wear, though she knew he could hold his drink. This meant Solas was holding onto her out of more than lust. She knew he'd gone too quiet.
"Dorian, your timing, as ever, is impeccable. Where is the well?"
Ellana started to lower herself into the cistern, but realized quickly she did not trust either of the mages to make it all the way down the rope. Solas's cheeks and ears were pink, and the way he kept looking at her...
"Dorian, hold onto the rope and I'll lower you down. I'll bring Solas down with me once you're at the bottom."
An echo of Tevene curses and the lighting of fire let her know he'd reached the bottom. Now it was her turn. She'd done this before, carried someone on her back. But never after drinking wine, or with someone this large, and never with someone whispering in her ear what she could feel were obscenities. Her muscles were screaming when she reached the bottom, but she managed to land on her feet. Solas stumbled, but Dorian caught him before he could take them both into the tainted water.
The problem was easily spotted. A dead body.
"Do the Tevinters not understand how water works?" Ellana muttered. She nudged it with a boot, trying to see if she could stomach moving the thing. She turned to see that Dorian was now drinking out of a flask. Drunk mages. She snatched it out of his hands.
"Right. Mages, lift the body, remove it from the water, burn it or whatever, and then boil the water."
Dorian looked at her quizzically. "What?"
"Like a giant tea kettle. Tea has never made you sick, has it?" She took a swig from his flask.
Solas grumbled out an objection. Ellana silenced him.
"Unless you know of another water cleansing spell, this will work."
Solas widened his stance and lifted his arms into the air. The corpse rose, but rather than move toward the entrance of the cistern, it crashed into a wall. Ellana cringed. She tried not to laugh. She should not be laughing at this. Dorian decided to help, but the two could not agree on a direction. The corpse bobbed to one side, then another, crashing into the wall three more times. Small pieces fell off of it. Ellana covered her mouth. This was horrible. Giggles broke through.
"Fasta vaas, Solas, cease your casting."
Solas glared at Dorian and renewed his efforts. Dorian released his hold on the corpse, which shot up and hit the ceiling. Tears streamed out of her eyes as Ellana tried to withhold her laughter. She grabbed Solas's hand, the feeling of his magic becoming familiar to her. She pointed him toward the entrance to the cistern. His focus faltered as he looked at her, and she felt the magic dissipating. Without thinking she thrust their hands out together, and they threw the corpse out the entrance. Her mark burned, and she hissed, dropping Solas's hand to cradle it to her chest. She looked up to see Solas's eyes wide, confused. Afraid. He reached down to her hand but she pulled away. The burn was already fading.
"What did I just witness?" Dorian asked.
Ellana forced a laugh. She took another swig from his flask and handed it back to him. "Other than the desecration of some poor bastard, I honestly have no idea."
Solas still looked horrifed. He wobbled ever so slightly. Ellana took his arm and led him out of the water. Perhaps he would not remember this. Perhaps nobody would remember this. Perhaps she had not just somehow affected his casting and there was nothing to remember.
When they were clear, Dorian brought the water to a roiling boil. Ellana was tempted to grab his hand, see if she could feel his magic as well. She resisted. Instead, she hauled Solas's arm over her shoulders. She walked him down the entrance to the cave, until she found where the corpse had dropped. Solas managed to burn it without lighting anything else on fire. A small blessing.
The three of them left through the cave entrance. They walked around the keep, sliding in the sand, passing the flask, holding onto each other. The front gate remained ajar from where Ellana had bashed it in the prior evening. They walked back up to the well. Dorian peered down it. "Well then. Who would like to test the purified water?"
Ellana looked at him, then Solas, then the well. She was struck by a moment of clarity. This had been one of the worst plans she'd ever executed. "No one can ever drink that water."
Dorian nodded seriously. Ellana started to giggle. Dorian's mustache twitched and Ellana laughed. She grabbed onto Solas for balance, and he stumbled. They crashed slowly onto the stone, laughing all the harder.
The clearing of a throat woke Ellana up. She didn't want to open her eyes. Solas felt weird in her arms. Smelled weird, too. His clothes were digging into her. Normally he was so soft...
Her eyes shot open. She was lying across Dorian. She tried to move, and realized her legs were trapped. Dorian started stirring as she angled her head around. Solas had his arms wrapped around her thighs. He was using her ass as a pillow.
Varric and Sera were looking at them.
"Uh, what did we miss?"
Dorian answered, "Other than Solas drinking himself into a stupor, Ellana performing magic, and the dancing of floating corpses? Not too much, I think."
"Right. Forget I asked."
I just feel like Solas would be that friend you don't even know is drunk because they are so quiet but then they fall over
Something about the Dales brought out the worst in Sera and Solas. Their bickering started anew. Sera had filled Solas's pack with lizards. Solas had briefly convinced her she had magic. Sera had drawn lewd pictures in charcoal on his head while he was sleeping. Solas spoke to her only in Elvhen for a week. But Sera knew how to win. Enough barbs about dead elves mixed with enough apathy about their fate, and Solas's temper would flare.
Ellana decided the best course of action was to split them up. She rode with Sera.
"So, is it just the head that's bald, or can't he grow hair anywhere?" Sera's voice was loud enough to carry.
Ellana rolled her eyes. "He has eyebrows."
"Her lady Viv doesn't have hair either. Is it a mage thing? Chop it off so you can't light it up?"
"Dorian has lovely hair. And I've seen you light your own hair on fire once or twice with those bottles you have."
Sera waved her hand. "That's different."
Ellana raised an eyebrow. "Hair is hair. And fire's fire. Smell is the same if it's magic fire or regular." Perhaps she could get Sera off the topic of Solas. "Maybe you should shave your head, too. Get a great big hat like Vivienne."
"You can stuff your hat. And I bet his head isn't all he shaves."
She always brought it back around. "You know I've heard that ladies in Antiva shave their legs? You should ask Josephine about it when we get back to Skyhold."
"What, their whole leg? Both of them?"
"I suppose it would look silly to just do one of them."
Sera eyed her. "How do you know about this? Been looking at Josie's legs on the side?"
Ellana laughed. "Back home I met an Antivan elf who told me all about it." Ellana paused, reflecting on the man. "Of course, he had only a passing relationship with the truth."
Sera huffed. "Ugh, more elves."
"I think you would have liked this one."
"Do you think they shave shapes into them? Little feathers and vines and things?"
"Shave their leg hair... into shapes?"
"Not just their leg hair."
"What would you do? I imagine a little bow and arrow? Or maybe just the arrow. Too obvious?"
Sera snorted. "A big old sword for you, then. Help the old man along. Aim here!"
Ellana laughed. She knew she shouldn't encourage this. She was trying to get Sera to stop talking about Solas. There was no winning. "His age doesn't bother me, Sera. I'm Dalish. We love old elfy things. The older the better. The way he leans on that staff like it's a cane... If his eyebrows turned white I'd swoon on the spot."
Sera groaned in disgust. Ellana smirked in victory. Solas turned in his saddle to glare at her.
Ellana urged her horse onward. She motioned for the others to continue on their path without them.
"Off to do something elfy?" Sera yelled after them. "Or do something elfy?"
Solas's shoulders were drawn straight back. His mouth a tight line. Funny how he still looks like he's smiling when he's angry, Ellana thought.
They were far enough away. Ellana got off her horse. If she was to be scolded, she'd rather do it while stretching her legs. Solas followed suit.
"Why do you encourage her?" he asked. His tone was quiet, annoyed.
"Is that what you heard?" She tilted her chin up. A challenge.
He studied her. He shook his head. "She is the furthest from what she is meant to be."
Ellana snorted. "It shouldn't surprise you that I enjoy her company. She's just like you."
Solas's frown became tinged with confusion. Ellana did not let him speak. "Both of you looked at our history and let it determine the entire course of your life. You wear it like a shroud of melancholy, and she discarded it and has spent her entire life running from it." He narrowed his eyes at her but did not retreat from her onslaught. "And both of you believe that you, among all elves, have found the only proper response to our tragedy." She shoved her finger into his chest. "You both feel so superior. And that's why you drive each other crazy."
Solas looked down at the finger on his chest. "Is this what you truly think of me?"
Ellana's tone softened. She wasn't done. "Neither of you can hold your drink. You both have a talent for art, if differently applied. Not to mention both of you take delight in playing tricks. Don't deny it. You screw with Dorian as often as she screws with you."
Solas's anger cracked. He chuckled, his bad mood easing. He grabbed her hand she still had pressed to his chest, and covered it, easing it flat. "I do not 'screw' with Dorian. And you can't hold your liquor, either."
"Maybe I'm a little like Sera, too." Solas grimaced at that. Ellana laughed. "After all, I didn't exactly stop her from drawing on your head... or tell you what she drew. Anyway if you really want to get under her skin, just sing that song about her from the tavern. She hates it. Possibly more than she hates you."
Solas laughed in earnest. "I'll have to keep that in mind."
"Or," Ellana said pointedly, "You could laugh at her jokes and not be so grim."
"I am grim," he muttered.
His hand was still covering hers. She slid it up and around his neck, pulling him into an embrace. Alone in the woods, their companions far ahead, she could pretend the world had disappeared. Their feet were muddy. The hems of their clothes had frayed with travel. Solas was soft and warm against her. They coud be anywhere.
A sudden chill went through her. She shivered. Her stomach tied itself in a knot. She inhaled harshly.
"Vhenan?" Solas's smile faded.
She tried to tamp down the sudden pounding of her heart, her itch to hold a blade. "It's nothing," she lied. She hadn't felt like this in a long time. She took slow, deep breaths. Her eyes searched the woods around them. Her feet were already in a fighting stance.
"It's not nothing. You're scared."
"You would laugh if I told you." He squeezed her hand, and she knew he would not laugh. Her clan had an expression for when unexplained fears made hair stand straight. Fen'Harel is hunting.
"I felt a sudden chill. That's all."
She tried to sound nonchalant. Her heart still pounded. She scanned the trees for a sign of danger, of enemies, but there was nothing. Solas put a hand on her shoulder. She jumped.
"Sorry?" He had been talking. She hadn't heard.
"We should return to the others. You will feel better when we make camp."
She didn't. Her heartbeat had slowed, but there was a strange agitation in her chest that she couldn't ignore. In her tent, she pressed herself against Solas, taking in his warmth, his steadiness, the scent of his neck, but she could not sleep.
So she didn't.
Dorian caught her slipping into camp. She was tired. Her task had taken the entire night. But she was elated.
"And where has our intrepid Inquisitor been sneaking off to? And what has you smiling like that? I can hear Solas snoring from here, so I know it can't have been anything too salacious."
Ellana held her satchel closer to her chest. She listened for sounds of stirring from the tents. Nothing. She tugged on Dorian's elbow, leading him away. "This is a secret only the two of us will share, lethallin." She gestured to her treasure. "There is a Dalish camp to the south, and I have convinced them to part with some of their cheese." She opened the bag for him to see the carefully wrapped wheels of brie.
Dorian peered at it thoughtfully. "I've never had halla cheese."
Ellana pulled out a wheel. Her fingers tenderly carressed it. She bit her lip. "If you promise not to tell the others, I will share some of mine with you."
"What, you won't even share with Solas?"
Ellana snorted. "Unless it's encrusted in sugar, he doesn't care for it. Now do you agree to my terms?"
"Only if you tell me what 'lethallin' means."
Ellana cursed. The joy of cheese, the sleep deprivation... she'd let the word slip and hadn't even thought about it. She had called a Tevinter nobleman kin. She truly was the worst elf in Thedas.
Her expression soured. "It means... cousin. Or elf that is... familiar."
Dorian looked delighted. "The word you are looking for is 'friend.'"
She narrowed her eyes. "Do you want this cheese, shem, or not?"
He laughed and accepted the offering.
For a moment, Ellana focused only on the blissful flavor of brie. If she closed her eyes, with the sounds of the Dales around her, she could almost imagine she was home. She could almost imagine she was ever going to go home again. She opened her eyes to see Dorian wrinkling his nose at the cheese. A waste.
Unpleasant thoughts continued to churn in her head. Not even precious cheese could relieve her, it seemed. "Dorian, do you know that half of the Inquisition is spies?"
Her shift in conversation puzzled him. "Well, your spymaster is very industrious."
Ellana sighed. "Yes, there are my spies, but I meant the other kind."
Dorian raised his eyebrows at her. "I should hope the number is fewer than half."
"There are the obvious ones, like Varric, Sera, The Iron Bull. They had the courtesy to tell me they were spies. It's the other ones, those whose goals I can't be sure of, that pose a problem. Like Blackwall."
Dorian barked laughter at this. "You think Blackwall is a spy?"
"Perhaps. Or he's very stupid. All the Grey Wardens go missing but one? Nobody has come looking for him, and he knows nothing? Maybe the Grey Wardens just don't like him. But he lied to me about fighting in the Blight. Somehow he missed Ostagar and now the current crisis? He could just be a coward, but why join the Inquisition? A liar is not necessarily a spy, but a spy is by necessity a liar."
Dorian stared at her. His lips parted. He wanted to say something. He didn't.
"I'm telling you this, lethallin, because this is how I think of the members of the Inquisition. I do not have friends. And because I am relatively certain you are not a spy."
His shoulders relaxed. "You are the only person who seems to think so."
"Nobody else saw what we saw in Redcliffe." The agitation was creeping up on her again. So was Solas-- she could hear his footsteps. She wrapped up the cheese and stuffed it in her bag.
"We're preparing to leave camp," Solas said. His brow furrowed as he took Ellana in. She considered how she must look-- sleep-hungry eyes, muddy armor, clutching a bag of secret cheese to her chest. Solas said nothing. She reached out to take his hand, and as he pulled her up she once more felt the thrum of his magic pulsing through him. She wasn't sure if it was the spells he had cast in the Western Approach, or her growing consciousness of the veil. She had not tried to manipulate his magic again. Dorian offered an opportunity. She stretched her hand to him, probing to see if she could feel his mana, but there was nothing. He grinned at her show of friendliness. It took months, but his charm had won out and he knew it.
There was a bit of cheese in his mustache. She didn't tell him.
Me: This chapter is almost done, but I should add in some Sera dialogue!
*a week later*
How tf does Sera talk????
there is some mild smut at the end of this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The red templar wouldn't fall. She hit him again and again, and the blows glanced off. Shards of lyrium fell from him and grew into crystals where they landed. They crunched under her feet and trapped her in this fight. Walls grew around her, and still she swung her blade. The templar grinned. His teeth were red. He raised his hand, and flung shards of lyrium at her. She blocked the attack with her sword, but some shards got through. They tore straight through her armor, and embedded in her left shoulder.
A blast of ice shattered the templar, but she was pawing at her arm. She pulled her pauldron off, and saw the lyrium burying itself in her skin. She couldn't breathe. Someone was talking to her, but the words didn't make sense. She clawed at her shoulder, drawing blood. A hand grabbed her wrist, tried to stop her, but she fought, kept digging in her own flesh to find the lyrium, to get it out.
She was pitched into blackness. She was being smothered. She couldn't breathe. She struggled to her feet. A hand was on arm. A target. She clasped her hands together and swung, knocking her attacker off his feet. He skidded across the floor and hit a wall with a thump and a groan.
She unclasped her hands, and the glow of the anchor illuminated Solas on the floor, grunting as he righted himself.
"Where am I?" she gasped, fists clenched.
Solas picked himself off the floor. "Suledin."
She looked wildly for more attackers, but found none. She saw the blood dripping off her hand. "Whose?"
She glanced once more around the room, then realized what she had done. She sat down heavily on their bed. "Ir abelas. Ir abelas."
Solas padded over to her. Embarrassment flushed over her skin. Her stomach churned. "I hurt you," she whispered.
"I knew better than to wake you up like that." He rummaged through his bag. "But you were hurting yourself."
He sat next to her and tore a piece off the ruined sleeve of her sleep shirt. He poured alcohol over it and pressed it to her still bleeding shoulder.
She hissed in pain and muttered, "Even Fen'Harel fears dogs."
Solas tilted his head. "Pardon?"
"It's something my mother used to say when I... when I was a child. After I was... attacked, I had a lot of nightmares. The world was..." She held her free hand to her head. Her breaths were ragged, burning her lungs. She didn't know how to explain the dizzy confusion and fear that choked her for months while she recovered. The waking nightmares, a home she could not recognize. "But even the Dread Wolf has fears. Dogs. And I'm not afraid of those at all."
Solas dug a healing potion out of his bag. He drank half and handed the rest to her. She threw it back. "I think I'm unfamiliar with this Dalish story," he said.
"Ma harel, hahren. But I will tell you. Fen'Harel wanted to attack a keeper. I don't remember why. But the keeper's hound was loyal and good, and he caught Fen'Harel by the tail. Fen'Harel couldn't escape, so he cut his own tail off. After that he was afraid of dogs."
Telling the story forced her breathing to slow. It was familiar, a touch point.
"Tell me another, vhenan." His hands were gentle on her shoulder. A light glow emanated from them.
"There's not... there was never..." Fear still lingered in her mind. The shards had felt real. Her hand reflexively went back to her shoulder.
Solas gently removed it. "There is no lyrium here. Tell me another story."
"There's the one where he slew a monster for a village. He shot an arrow into the sky and left. The monster killed all the adults, but the arrow fell and struck down the monster before it could kill the children."
"An allegory, like the last. This one a retelling of his most famous story."
"Locking away the Evanuris? How are these stories the same?"
"I've told you of their crimes. Locking them away was slaying the beast. But his actions were sloppy. People died. Our empire fell. And the children of Elvhenan were left unprotected and without the wisdom of their elders."
Our empire. He couldn't mean her empire. "You talk about it as if you were there."
"In a manner of speaking, I was."
Which manner? The thought arose in her head unbidden. It was nonsensical. She couldn't focus on it. She latched onto another story. "I always wondered about the story where Andruil takes him to her bed for a year. What do you suppose that could be an allegory for?"
"I suppose the other version, where he pits her against a Forgotten One and escapes makes more sense."
Solas cleared his throat. "Perhaps we have exhausted this subject."
"Ancient Elvhen lore? Aren't you going to tell me how the Dalish are wrong, and he was a great hero? Or that he never existed at all, and the Evanuris simply died or left or whatever, but my people were so grief-stricken they blamed it all on some asshole?"
"What I have tried to convey through telling you our true history is those who you call gods were people. They were deeply flawed, corrupted, and very powerful. As for Fen'Harel," Solas sighed. "He existed. Whether he flees from dogs is highly suspect, however."
They fell into silence. Solas had finished healing her shoulder. A dull ache remained.
"Vhenan, this is your fifth day of nightmares."
She leaned against him. "I know." Another strange thought occurred to her then. "Am I at risk of possession?"
"Demons are not causing your nightmares."
An answer to a different question. She flexed her cursed hand. He had said her body might adapt to the ancient magic. "I should prepare myself if... if that's a risk now."
Solas put his arm around her and pulled her close. "You share your bed with a dreamer. The demons will not possess you."
For how long? Another uncomfortable thought. "Can you dream me up something nice, then? Hot springs that aren't filled with dragons?"
Ellana straightened her back as they rode across the bridge to Skyhold. She brought her horse around to ride in front, alone. She was the Inquisitor here. Eyes were watching from all over the castle. She held the attention of everyone as they crossed the threshold into the fortress.
She dismounted at the stables. Blackwall was waiting. His fingers were twined together, like a nervous child.
"Is it true we're fighting Wardens now?"
She handed her reins off to the stableboy. "They have decided to raise a demon army using blood magic," she said lightly. "It seems we are lucky they did not call you away from the Inquisition."
"It is I who am lucky, your worship. I know you will deal with them justly."
Ellana kept her expression neutral. She did not care to speak to Blackwall. She wanted a nap. "You have such faith in me, Blackwall."
He took a step toward her. He was earnest, sincere. Annoying. "I know you could shake this world to its foundations."
Ellana decided that if she ever met Andraste, she was going to have words with her. "Hopefully that won't be necessary," she said to Blackwall before taking her leave. Dorian followed her out of the stables.
"You know, I do wonder if that man is in love with you."
"Probably," Ellana muttered.
Dorian pretended to be scandalized. "Oh? Have all the men and women of the Inquisition been throwing themselves at your feet?"
Ellana rolled her eyes. "Hardly. But many men mistake asking questions and appearing interested in the answers as courtship. Smile at them once or twice and they'll surely propose."
Dorian snorted. Ellana left him at the stairs entering the library. She considered entering the rotunda to find Solas or returning to her quarters to take a bath. A hand on her wrist decided for her.
"What you described to Dorian sounded very similar to how our own courtship began," Solas said.
Yes, and now you share my bed. Ellana suppressed a smile. Instead she looked down demurely, "Does it?" she lifted her eyes shyly to meet his, then quickly dropped them back to the floor, taking a step closer to him. "That sounds fascinating. I'd love to hear more." She once again brought her eyes up to meet his, gently biting her lip.
Solas stared at her hard, then shook his head almost imperceptibly before grabbing her by the waist and pulling her against him. "You seduced me," he growled in her ear. She laughed and let her head fall back as he kissed her neck. Her breath hitched as he pulled her hips flush with his, licking her just under her jaw. She captured his mouth with her own. Her hands crept under his tunic, searching for skin.
"We had better move this to my quarters if we don't want an audience," she said against his objecting lips. She dropped her hands from him, and he did the same. He inhaled deeply.
"Ready?" she asked. He nodded. She opened the door to the Great Hall. Her pace was quick, direct, forceful. She made eye contact with no one. Some made to approach her, then backed away. Ambassador Montilyet was not so easily dissuaded.
Ellana did not stop walking. She did not care how it looked that she was dragging her lover to her quarters, ignoring everyone in her path. "I'm sure it can wait, Josephine."
"Very well. But there are papers on your desk for you that need your attention as soon as possi--" Ellana shut the door to her quarters behind her. She locked it. Solas grabbed her by the waist again, pressing himself against her back. She leaned back, wiggling slighty against him. His grip on her strengthened. She could hear his breath quickening. She smiled and broke away, running up the steps to her room.
She allowed him to catch her in front of the fireplace. She needed his hands on her. She needed his skin under her lips. He obliged. Their clothes fell away. Their bodies pressed against each other. She entwined her fingers with his and led him to the bed. She hesitated. He dropped her hand and enveloped her, but she held back. "I didn't seduce you," she whispered. Solas smiled. He gently pushed her back onto the bed. "I know," he said. He hooked her legs over his shoulders, and buried his face in her. Her back arched. She clutched the sheets. "I love you," she called, over and over.
Ellana could not sleep. Her sudden insomnia surprised her. Sleeping had always been a strength of hers. She could do it anywhere, and often did. Now Solas slept soundly, beautifully, and she could not. She lit a candle on her desk. She rifled through the papers there, wondering what Josephine considered urgent. One of them caught her eye. She read the missive. She flipped it over to see if there was more. She read it again.
She walked outside to the balcony, looked up at the moon, and sat down on the cold stone.
Ir Abelas = I'm sorry
Ma harel = you're lying
hahren = old man (or like venerated elder, but Ellana definitely means the former)
ma nuvenin = as you wish
Next chapter we get Solas POV! Let's give poor Ellana a break, yeah?
Also, Ellana's opinions on Blackwall don't necessarily reflect my own. That goes for all of the characters, really, but poor Blackwall is getting the brunt of her crankiness it seems.
We're gonna be angsty for a few chapters =/
Solas woke to an empty spot beside him. He opened his eyes blearily, but did not see Ellana. A candle was lit by the desk. Had she fallen asleep on the floor? He got out of bed. He looked around the furniture for her sleeping figure, even checking under the desk. The door to the balcony rattled from the wind, and he realized it wasn't latched. If she fell asleep out there she could very well be dead. He ran out and saw her sitting in a robe, staring straight ahead of her. Her lips were blue. "Ellana." She didn't respond. He held out his hand to her. "Vhenan." He couldn't be sure she even heard him. He picked her up, and she did not struggle or fight.
A bath had been made for her earlier, but had been long forgotten. He brought her to it now. He put her on her feet, unsure if she would support herself. She did. He stuck his hand in the water warming it just slightly. Too warm, and the water would be painful. He helped her into the water. She did not protest. He slowly increased the temperature.
Once she was sitting in the bath, he realized she was holding something balled up her in fist. He coaxed her hand open and pulled out a piece of paper. In the dark, he struggled to make out the words on the crumpled missive. Clan Lavellan is destroyed.
Solas closed his eyes and rocked back on his heels. He dipped his hand in the bath and warmed it further. Her lips were regaining color. A deep fury grew within him.
His relationship with her had been a complication from the start. If he was honest with himself, and these days he rarely was, it was a disaster.
When Cassandra had hauled a Dalish elf into Haven and declared her a spy, he had assumed that any elf surviving that explosion and branded with his magic would have been under such suspicion. It hadn't occurred to him that she was actually a spy. She was clever, inquisitive, and charming when she chose to be. But she was illiterate, clumsy, and fought like a wild ruffalo. Who would use her as a spy?
And then, of course, he had fallen in love with her. He had tried to deny it. One more failure to add to the pile. And so he told himself, what was spending fifty or sixty years of his life with her? She didn't have to know. They could be happy. One of his thinner lies. She didn't have that long. Neither did the others.
On his more cynical days, he wondered if she couldn't be his most trusted agent. He had thought, perhaps, if he could show her how her people were wrong, relieve her of her superstition and worship of false gods, she might accept him. But every piece of information he gave her of the past led her closer to realizing the truth about him. It was what she had spent her life doing.
Ellana finally spoke. Her voice was flat, empty. "Solas, do you know any sleep spells?"
He helped her out of the tub, wrapping her in a large towel. "Yes."
She allowed him to lead her to their bed. She lied down. He covered her in blankets. "Can you put me into uthenera?"
He shook his head. Perhaps she had already figured it out.
In the morning, Solas found Dorian in the library. He spoke quietly. "This information will be known throughout Skyhold soon enough. Ellana's entire family has been murdered."
Dorian dropped the book he had been holding. Solas continued. "I had hoped you would go and comfort her in her quarters."
It took Dorian a moment to collect himself. "How in Andraste's name am I supposed to do that?"
Solas frowned. "You lost someone yourself recently, did you not? What comfort would you have liked for your mourning?"
Solas knew there was no comfort to be had. He also knew she needed to be supervised. Ellana liked Dorian. Solas could stomach him better than having Sera around.
Dorian looked as lost as he felt. "You want me to ply her with liquor until she forgets her grief?"
"If you think it would help."
The men stared at each other. "She likes it when people read to her," Solas offered. "She prefers books on magical theory and stories about elves."
Dorian blinked. "She likes books on magical theory? Why?"
"I had hoped you would be there when she wakes up this morning. If you can get her to eat, I would be grateful." He turned to leave.
"She likes that fried bread-- peasant bread, I call it, but her people have a different name. She avoids eating it in Skyhold for appearances, but..."
"Thank you, Dorian. I will put an order in with the cooks."
The commander, the spymaster, and the ambassador stood in the War Room impatiently.
"Where is the Inquisitor?" the ambassador asked.
Solas kept his face impassive. "She will not be joining us today."
The spymaster narrowed her eyes. "Is there something wrong?"
"Yes." He held out the letter to the other three. "Who was responsible for leaving this on her desk?"
He watched their eyes scan the paper. The commander's eyes widened in horror. It wasn't him. "Maker's Breath, the whole clan? And it was just sitting on her desk?"
The spymaster frowned. The ambassador looked sick. "Leliana gave me her reports from Wycome... I didn't even read it. I just knew she would want to see it and I put it with the other reports..."
The ambassador withered under Solas's gaze. He held his hands behind his back, withholding his anger. "I trust that you can plan your attack on Adamant without the Inquisitor?"
The advisers looked at each other. It was the commander who answered. "We will formulate a plan."
Solas nodded and left.
She didn't cry. Solas couldn't say if this was a good sign. She wasn't putting on a brave face. She just looked defeated and empty. He knew the feeling. Still, he needed her to be the Inquisitor. The entire world did. He guarded her dreams. Her nightmares had changed. Now he always found her as a scared child, unable to speak. Memory or metaphor, he couldn't be sure. He didn't ask.
When she asked for physical comfort, he made love to her. He touched her how he knew she liked to be touched. He had thought it could be a refuge, a reminder that she was not alone. But in the end it was a mistake. One of thousands. When they had finished she had pulled away and curled up in on herself. Alone and untouchable.
There were moments when her eyes focused on him and she spoke.
"What do you do when everything you worked against happens anyway?"
He had no answers for her. He merely cupped her face in his hand and brought his forehead against hers. When he pulled away, her eyes were distant and unfocused again.
Dorian came by with books and liquor. She did not drink, but she allowed him to read to her. It was impossible to know if she heard the words. Cassandra brought flowers. Varric had foods from all over sent in, but he did not linger. Cole became a permanent resident of the room. It was to be expected. Even Vivienne had a kind word for Ellana. Solas felt most grateful to The Iron Bull when he appeared and ordered Ellana out for training. She obeyed. Solas watched her in the yard, mechanically swinging her sword. He went to the kitchens. He was certain he could get her to eat something tonight.
Returning to their quarters, he heard Hawke talking in the hallway. He realized too late she was speaking to Ellana.
"I just wanted to say... I know we have our differences. But I also lost my family, and if you ever want to talk--"
Solas skidded into the corridor just as Ellana punched her. Blood poured from Hawke's nose, but Solas breathed a sigh of relief. If Ellana wanted her dead, Hawke would be on the floor. He waved a bit of healing magic at her, staunching the bleeding, and led Ellana out of the room.
Anger was good. Anger was something he could work with.
"You don't have to stay."
Solas frowned. He found it harder to follow Ellana's thoughts in her grief. His own early days of mourning had been spent in uthenera, centuries ago. Even then, his losses had not come all at once. He had been prepared. Mortals perished so easily, so often, he had hoped they had a better way of coping with the pain. He had read the various funerary rituals performed by the peoples of Thedas, and by now had personally witnessed some of them, but they did not seem to deliver the comfort and relief those grieving required.
Ellana stood on the balcony. Her hair was loose and whipped in the wind. She looked cold.
"I told you in Haven that I would stay."
She didn't face him. "I meant here. With me."
Ah. So she had reached the part where her pain was telling her to cast off everyone left in her life. He stood next to her, blocking the wind.
"Do you want me to go?"
She spoke slowly, as if each word was being laboriously pulled out of a well within her. "We both know this is temporary. Eventually I would go home. And you would go..." she trailed off. He let her collect her thoughts. "Elsewhere. But it's different now."
"Such is the nature of things."
"I have no home to return to. You are not beholden to me."
She was giving him an escape. How could she not? She was good at escaping. He had tailed her in Haven, watching her find every route out of the valley, even before she had eyes to see them. She listened for wind being misdirected and discovered the old mines. She followed the rams for footpaths through the mountains. She ran her hand across every stone in the dungeon, opened every secret door.
In Skyhold, she searched and searched. She ignored the warnings of her advisers and explored the broken and rotting areas of the castle. He knew she had hidden iron hooks embedded in the rock that would allow her to attach a rope to climb down and disappear into the mountains. He knew she had hidden stashes of supplies she could quickly grab when she decided to go. He knew some of them had rations enough for two.
Her memories of her life before, her life as a spy, mostly involved escaping. In every city she had city elf contacts. They fed her information on templars, crooked merchants, city sentiment. And she repaid them by liberating the missing, the taken, and the stolen. She was quiet, she was sure, and she always had a way out.
He could no more escape his love for her than she could escape her grief. He took her anchored hand and brushed his lips across her knuckles.
"I am yours as long as you will have me."
She shivered. He wrapped his arms around her. He told himself he his words were true.
"We need to leave for Adamant, Solas. We need the Inquisitor." Cassandra burst into the rotunda, interrupting his reading. He wondered when it had been decided that he was Ellana's keeper.
"And what would you have me tell her, Seeker? She has surpassed her allotted time to mourn everyone she has ever known and loved?"
Cassandra deflated for a moment. She bowed her head. "I am not unsympathetic, Solas. What happened to her family was tragic." She sighed. "But we need her. We need to leave."
Solas closed his book. Cassandra was not wrong. "I can get her on the horse," he said with a sigh, "But I don't know if she'll fight."
The forces of Skyhold had left over a week ago for Adamant. He had delayed her departure for as long as could be tolerated, but Cassandra was correct. The Inquisition needed to see their Inquisitor leading the charge. She had to be in the field.
She wasn't ready.
He thought of the letter he had found written in her child-like scrawl.
Can a person live with only half a spirit? Is she still a person?
I don't know where to send this letter.
The paper was stained with ink blots, as if she had pressed the quill down and forgotten about it numerous times. The woman who wrote this letter was not ready to command troops.
Cole appeared next to Solas. "You can't be half a spirit. A spirit is or it isn't. But there is less of her than there was. She hurts. She can't feel it."
"Did you take away her pain, Cole?"
Solas nodded. Ellana's numbness didn't seem like his doing. Eventually she would feel it, though. The spirit of compassion had been haunting their quarters uselessly. He couldn't help a pain that wasn't felt. He couldn't seem to latch onto any of Ellana's thoughts.
"We're departing for Adamant soon. Do you wish to come with us?"
"No, but I will." He left.
Ellana was standing on the balcony. She was staring at the anchor.
"Ellana," he said softly. He did not want to startle her.
She didn't look up.
He tried again. "Vhenan. It is time for us to depart for Adamant."
"You must face the Grey Wardens and prevent their ritual."
She turned then and stared at him hard. She blinked. "Blood magic," she muttered.
"We are going to Adamant to stop their ritual."
"Why?" She looked down at the anchor again. "What do I care if a demon army takes over this world?"
Solas clasped his hands behind his back. "You don't mean that."
She looked at him once more. Her eyes scanned his face. "I might."
The dark part of him, the part that was always strategizing and searching for an advantage, stirred. He thought of what form her grief might take, what form it could be nudged into, vengeance, rage, purpose, or lethargy and self-destruction. He tamped those thoughts down.
"Cassandra, Sera, and Dorian are waiting for us. I suspect Cole will be joining us as well."
He could see her wavering. He reached out to touch her face. "Come, let us prepare to ride."
She went with him.
The road was quieter this time. The soldiers had beat down the path ahead of them, and there were few enemies to fight. They all suffered for lacking Varric to cook their meals. Solas took on the role to numerous complaints. Ellana simply followed, eating little, saying less. Solas hadn't realized how much her laughter had shortened the road. Dorian tried to bait Sera into conversation that might lift Ellana's spirits, but the girl was avoiding the two elves. Instead she peppered Cassandra with questions about her home, the Divine, and her undergarments.
The soldiers who preceded them could not close the rift that lay in their path. They dismounted to dispatch the demons surrounding it. Ellana fought awkwardly. Whether from lack of focus or lack of food, her swings were unsure. She warned Cassandra to stay out of range, but Cole appearing here and there on the battlefield startled her. Solas wanted to shout, you can't hit him, but he knew she wouldn't hear or believe him. She dropped her sword. For the first time, the demons broke past her, and the mages and Sera were forced to defend themselves. Solas broke his barrier on Ellana to cover them. Cassandra ran back to pull the demons off of the mages, but by the time she arrived, they were already dead. Ellana was alone on the field, unshielded, unarmed, closing the rift.
Something was wrong.
The rift wasn't closing. A demon was trying to enter through it, but Ellana did not break her connection to the veil. She pushed harder on it, bracing her anchored hand with her other, so when the demon fell through, she was unable to block its attack. Even as it tore through her mail, she kept her connection to the veil, only weakly shoving the demon off of her when it closed.
Solas raced across the battlefield. Ellana started to stand, then toppled over. Her blood was soaking the ground. The demon had clawed straight through her mail, striking at her organs. Her hand was all that was holding them inside. He put his hands on her, trying to stop the bleeding. She gripped his wrist. Blood spilled out of her mouth. "Let me die."
He gathered his healing magic, but her grip on his wrist strengthened. He realized she was pushing his magic away. It shouldn't have been possible. It shouldn't have been possible back in the Western Approach, either. She wasn't blocking his connection to the Fade like a templar, but threading his magic back into the Fade. She was losing blood, and he didn't have time to ponder her ability to manipulate his magic. Her grip weakened as she lost consciousness. He took the opening to heal her.
"Will she live?" Cassandra asked.
"Yes. Hold up her head and pour this down her throat. Find me some lyrium." He handed her a healing potion. He was angry. Angry that she had let such a weak demon best her, angry that she would ask him for death, angry that he hadn't foreseen this. He channeled his anger into healing her torn up organs and knitting her skin back together. Her labored breaths came easier. A small amount of color returned to her. He exhausted his mana and the extra given to him by the lyrium.
"We cannot move her." Cassandra started to protest, they needed to get to Adamant, but Solas shook his head. "Her insides are being held together by magic alone." He exhaled sharply. "Give me one night, Seeker. Then I shall carry her to Adamant if need be."
They built camp around her. Solas sat by her side drinking tea to stay awake. He watched for the first sign of fever or internal bleeding. Dorian joined him, dropping all his bottles of lyrium at Solas's side. Cole faded in and out as well, though Solas kept his thoughts blocked to the spirit.
Anger continued to stew inside of him. He was angry at how weak his own traitorous body was. Angry at the old wounds he found deep inside of her that had never healed properly and never would. And he was angry that he needed her alive for the power she kept in her hand, and because he couldn't bear to lose her, and he didn't know which one of these reasons drove his desperate efforts.
"This is my fault," Cassandra said, "I shouldn't have let her fight. I should have been by her side."
"Perhaps it is my fault, for not putting up a barrier. Or Sera's fault, for not killing that demon before it could leave the rift. Had we left a day earlier, her injuries could have been avoided. Or a day later. An hour later. If it had rained today, or if Empress of Orlais had worn a different dress--"
"I take your meaning, Solas."
Ellana woke once during the night. She opened her eyes and blinked in confusion. Her hand clutched her side as her eyes found Solas. She hoarsely uttered only one word. "Harellan." And then she was asleep again. She did always win their arguments.
Solas shook his head. It was, by far, the most ridiculous reason anyone had called him that. It was the anger of a wounded, grieving woman. It was accurate for reasons she did not understand. She most likely would not remember the exchange. And it cut at him.
"Not today, vhenan."
Harellan-- traitor, rebel, blood traitor
We have like 2-3 chapters of Solas POV, and then Ellana will probably be ready to grab the reins again.
Have you ever felt like you were beating a chapter into submission? -_-
Ellana's demeanor changed as they approached their soldiers' camp. Solas saw it in the straightness of her back, the sudden sharpness of her eyes. She nodded to her soldiers, occasionally waving with her anchored hand. She had learned how to posture these past few months.
She immediately found her commander talking to Varric in the makeshift armory.
Her ruined armor clanked onto the table. "There seems to be a hole in this. Any chance there's something in my size in here?"
Cullen picked up the mail. "Maker's breath," he exhaled while turning it over in his hands.
"Would you believe me if I told you I've never broken a bone?"
Cullen looked thunderstruck. "No."
"Relax, Curly, she's trying to make a joke. The polite thing to do would be to laugh." Varric stuck his hand through the rent in her mail and whistled. "How are you still standing?"
"Best healers in Thedas have joined the Inquisition."
"Right," he said, turning to Solas. "How are you still standing?"
"By leaning heavily on this staff. Now, is there armor she can wear, or will the Inquisitor be forced to lead our charge bare-breasted like the Rivaini pirate queens of legend?"
Cullen turned a shade of pink as he sifted through armor. "I'm afraid this will have to do. I think it was meant for a human woman, not an elf."
Ellana grimaced as the mail fell past her knees. "Well. Maybe I won't look like a child if I'm sitting on a horse. Let me know when the assault is to begin, Commander. I will rally the troops."
"Maker's breath," Cullen said again as she left. He shook his head. "Is she... are you both up to this?"
Are you? Cullen looked as terrible as Solas felt. Withdrawal darkened his eyes and Solas wondered if the man ever slept. It seemed there were always people ready to sacrifice everything for a cause, including their own bodies and minds, and others ready to hold the leash.
This was not what he was doing to Ellana.
"There is little to be done if we are not." Cullen looked pained. It would not do for the commander to look afraid in front of his troops. Solas tried again. "She is strong, Commander, and has survived far worse than Grey Wardens and blood magic. Have faith."
The signal was given that it was time to march. Ellana rode in front of her troops, giving a signal to Vivienne, who started channeling a spell. "Inquisition!" Her voice was magically enhanced, reverberating to the fortress. "Tonight we make war not on the Grey Wardens, but on a dark evil that would seek to corrupt them. Like you, the Wardens have given their lives to defend Thedas. Mercy will be shown for any who wish it. But against those who have bound themselves to Corypheus, who seek to destroy our home with a demon army called forth by blood magic, we will not yield. For Thedas!"
Solas almost smiled. If she was coming up with clever ploys to convince the Wardens to throw down their arms or fight each other, they had a chance. This siege could be over in minutes. Of course, he could not have imagined the results of their assault.
Ellana pitched them into the Fade.
Solas felt it on his skin before anything else. So old and familiar and rejuvenating and sweet. He hadn't let himself think about this part-- the part where he experienced the world as it should be. He had only focused on getting there. He could not slip now. His own thoughts could betray him here.
Ellana said nothing about their surroundings. She stared at her anchor while Hawke and the Grey Warden chatted. Sera was panicking. Varric kept his teeth clenched.
The field was littered with objects designed to scare them. The red lyrium would work for both Varric and Ellana. The swampy water had Sera breaking into frantic curses every time something brushed against her. Given her current state, it honestly seemed excessive. Hawke was apparently afraid of spiders. He couldn't be certain who would be upset by the Tevinter architecture. Everyone feared the blight.
Solas thought the broken eluvian was a weak attempt to ruffle him. A dull reminder of Elvhenan and all that was lost, all that he had helped destroy. Ellana walked up to it and put her hand in the center. To her, it was simply a mirror, and she was a woman with no reflection. She turned away quietly. The demon's cruelty became clear as they encountered mirror after mirror, and Ellana silently peered into each one.
And yet, as they traveled through, she seemed stronger somehow. Perhaps she felt the Fade as he did, the anchor or her ancient blood responding to it and driving her on. Sera babbled profanity incoherently, Varric fell into stony silence, and the two humans bickered in fear. She seemed not to see the the small fear demons, instead comforting the spirits of the sleeping.
He should not have been surprised to find the demon could not locate her worst fear. Her headstone was empty. She looked at the others, lingering over Solas's before drawing her sword. She turned to her companions with a determined look, and bashed the graves to pieces. For the first time since entering the Fade, she spoke. "Fuck this demon. He doesn't know shit about us."
They retrieved her memories from the Justinia spirit, and Solas remembered what Ellana had told him in Haven. She had claimed she had stumbled into the wrong room, blind and confused. At the time, when she was just another foolish Dalish elf, ignorant of her history and her importance, that story rang true. In the Fade, her memory was dim and foggy, the but the sounds were clear enough. Ellana had heard a woman crying for help, and she had run toward danger. He loved her more for the lie.
They left Stroud in the Fade. The Grey Warden and Hawke had both offered their lives, and Solas was certain for one horrible moment that Ellana would choose to stay behind herself. She looked so drained when she quietly said, "In death, sacrifice." Stroud took his cue, and the rest of them escaped.
They tumbled back into the waking world, and Solas wanted to argue that this was the true nightmare. Surrounded by humans who welcomed the blight into their bodies, in a Tevinter fortress on deadened soil, the Fade left him and he felt the weight of his years pushing down on his frail body. And Ellana, who had started the assault almost as her old self, now whispered, "they were your brothers" before throwing the order out of Orlais.
Leaving the Fade for this veiled world was like waking up from uthenera for a second time. Ellana seemed to notice. She slung one of his arms over her shoulder.
"I'll carry you now, love," she murmured. He rested his weight on her as she wrapped an arm around his waist. He didn't remember leaving the fortress, but he woke up in her arms.
I don't know if there were bare-breasted Rivaini pirate queens, and I don't think Solas does, either.
Just a warning! There's a lot of violence and death in this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The road back from Adamant was slow. It was quieter this time, too, once Sera decided not to stick around with the wounded and exhausted elves. Solas had noticed how she had been the one person closest to Ellana who never offered condolences for her family. As far as he knew, she hadn't spoken to her at all until after they fell back out of the Fade, and then it was to complain about the fate of Blackwall.
"They killed their fellow Wardens, Sera. With blood magic. They needed to be banished." Ellana's jaw was clenched. She kept her eyes trained straight ahead.
Sera was not appeased. "And what did Blackwall have to do with any of that piss?"
"Finally catch on, did you?" Ellana asked darkly.
"Right, first Fade shite, now chucking Blackwall out. Blow this." And Sera had ridden off. Solas was glad for the reprieve.
It was not just Sera's absence, however. Everyone seemed quiet after their greatest fears had been laid bare. Even those that did not fall into the Fade could feel the nightmare pressing on them at Adamant. They emerged victorious and now had to contend with the cowardice in exposed in their hearts.
Solas was seemingly not immune from this. The camp heard his cries in the dark as a hand on his face pulled him out of his visions.
"Solas, still yourself. Be calm now."
He let the world come into focus around him. "Vhenan. I..." He sat up. Images raced across his mind.
"I thought you didn't have nightmares," she said. She handed him a canteen of water and pressed her lips to his head.
"I don't." He closed his eyes and took a long drink. Water could not cleanse his mind of what he had seen. "A friend called out to me. I had visions... my friend is bound and tortured. Please, we must lend our aid."
Ellana agreed readily, even knowing his friend was a spirit. They struck out alone, Solas sensing the fear and pain of his friend calling to him.
They reached the place of its binding quickly.
She was corrupted.
Ellana set to work breaking the bindings. His friend, once a peaceful spirit of wisdom, fought and battled, but Ellana brought her sword up only to shield herself, to deflect. She engaged the spirit, accepting blow after blow, a bulwark against its fury, until Solas finished destroying the magic that bound it.
It was Wisdom once again, and Wisdom was dying. Solas held it in his arms, and for the second time in as many weeks, someone he loved asked him for death. This time he was powerless to refuse. He watched it fade away.
"You helped her," Ellana said.
He couldn't be sure it wasn't an accusation. He realized she was crying. For herself, for Wisdom, or for him? She reached to him and pulled him into a hug. He hadn't seen her cry for her family. She did not hold him like this in her grief.They would both endure.
He became aware of the mages that murdered Wisdom still milling around. She had been thousands of years old, thousands of years of accumulated wisdom. And now she was nothing. They were nothing. They were children burning down a world they didn't deserve and couldn't hope to understand.
He advanced on them, executing the obvious leader. One of the others started to cast, and he turned his focus to her. Ellana cut her down. He inhaled sharply. She nodded to him, and he executed the third.
Solas couldn't breathe here. He couldn't stand to be in this veiled world for a minute longer. He couldn't get the sight of Wisdom dying out of his head.
There was a chance some of Clan Lavellan yet lived. Solas had met Miri, and he doubted it would be simple to defeat the mage. Ellana's memories had made it clear that Clan Lavellan knew the value of quick escapes. He might find hope in the forests of the Free Marches. Barring that, he could deliver vengeance. This is what he focused on while traveling to Wycome.
Thanks to Ellana's dreams, he knew all the routes in and out of Wycome. He wondered what she couldn't accomplish with an eluvian network. He arrived after dark, left the city, and found the burnt out remains of the Dalish camp. Wards set, he went to sleep.
The spirits here were yearning to show him what had happened. He let them.
Miri stood before him. This close, he could see the subtle differences that distinguished her from Ellana. It was dark, she was upset. She was arguing with an older woman,
"Deshanna, we have to leave. It isn't safe here for us anymore."
"Do you think it is safer elsewhere, da'len? Here we have Inquisition protection."
"We cannot depend on them. I have word that they are killing the elves in the alienage. We must leave. Please."
Deshanna leaned heavily on her staff, thinking. Miri slammed her staff into the ground. "Ir abelas, hahren, but I will not wait here to die."
Miri strode into the main camp. "Put the fires out. Prepare to leave."
He watched as the people went through well-practiced routines. Everyone knew their role-- rounding up the children, packing up supplies, getting the aravels ready to move. They were quiet, focused. And they were too late and surrounded.
Solas was detached as he watched the cruelty. He had seen this play out hundreds of times to hundreds of peoples. The soldiers from Wycome outnumbered the Dalish at least three to one. He suspected the original report was correct. It seemed unlikely anyone would survive this.
Miri was a tempest. When it became clear the aravels were lost, she stopped holding back her magic. Explosions brought down dozens of soldiers. She lit the forest ablaze. He could see her attempts to funnel the soldiers, to give her people an escape. But they had been prepared for her. Red templars emerged and focused their attacks on her. A smite brought her to her knees, her connection to the Fade blocked. The templars advanced, but she attacked with her staff with the same ferocity Solas saw in Ellana.
It took three of them to bring her down. Exhausted, depleted, she could not keep her guard up. A sword plunged through her back, and she stared down at the blade protruding from her chest. Solas watched her dying, reminding himself that this was not Ellana. Blood trickled from her mouth, and suddenly she smiled. She was looking straight at him. Solas felt the memory of her magic surge, and the resulting explosion brought down trees 20 yards away.
Solas ripped himself out of the memory, panting. He should not have watched that. She looked like Ellana, but he didn't know her. Her death meant nothing. She was not Ellana. Not yet.
But how different would it be when Ellana's body finally succumbed and could not tolerate bearing the anchor?
Or when he finally decided to take it from her?
His face was wet. He wanted to see her. He couldn't feel her dreaming. Wherever she was, she must be awake. The Fade suddenly felt empty. He woke as well.
He still had business in Wycome. If Miri had been correct, his contact there would be dead. It was of little importance, given how thoroughly he had failed his mission. He'd have to dig the information out of the Fade. He would not do it here. He could see the area where Miri died.
He moved closer to the city, near one of Ellana's hidden entrances. Once he had his information, he would need it. He ate enough to sustain him through more dreaming. He drew more wards. He entered the Fade.
This time he could feel her. He let himself be pulled into her dream. She sensed him, but did not see him. She was swimming. A pleasant dream, then. He was tempted to join her, abandon his plans for sunshine and cool water and her dark eyes.
Instead he left, directed the spirits, and got the information he needed.
He knew who called for the slaughter of her family.
Ir abelas-- I'm sorry
For some reason I thought that writing some of these chapters from Solas POV would be less angsty??? That man is a mess. He's got one more chapter to go before Ellana can steer this ship. Might even be a little half chapter. Get some fluff up in this place.
Also, sorry, Blackwall. Bye.
Also, Miri =(
Solas found Ellana in the Herald's Rest. She was sitting next to the Iron Bull and Dorian, her head in her hand. He stood at a distance, watching her. He wasn't sure how long he'd been away. Time in the Fade didn't pass the same. He wasn't even sure she'd be at Skyhold. But there she was, alive, beautiful, and probably very angry at him. He should not have left her in the Dales.
She spotted him. She didn't look surprised to see him. He approached their table, ignoring the glares coming from the men accompanying her. When he reached them, she lifted her head from her hand and wordlessly pushed her cup to him. Solas took the invitation and drained the cup. The alcohol burned. "How many of these has she had?" he coughed.
"Just two," Bull responded. Behind him, Dorian shook his head and held up three fingers.
"And do you intend to have all of Skyhold watch as the Inquisitor retches in the courtyard?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Dorian said, as Bull filled their cups again. "We have a bucket around here somewhere."
Solas drank. Ellana's eyes reached his again. "We killed a dragon," she said.
"Three, actually." Dorian corrected her.
"Do you want to see my new scars?" she asked Solas. Her eyes were dulled with alcohol, her expression neutral. She was baiting him.
"Oh shit, it was four, right? Forgot about that one in the Graves." Bull sighed happily.
Ellana lifted her left hand with some effort and dropped it on the table. Her companions suddenly looked very uncomfortable. Even wrapped up as it was in leather, he could see the glowing of the anchor had changed. She removed the coverings, and Solas felt the air leave his chest. The mark had grown, and the magic had spread into her arm like green veins. He touched her hand and she hissed. Her right hand clenched, and for a moment he thought she would hit him. Then she wavered in her chair, the color draining from her face.
Bull nudged Dorian. "Better get that bucket ready."
Ellana shook her head, standing up, swaying slightly. "Better if we do this in the fresh air."
It was a cold night. Few people were milling around outside. Ellana sat on the stone steps next to the tavern and breathed deeply.
"Other healers could have helped with this," he murmured, pushing his magic through to her seizing muscles. They relaxed under his touch, and Ellana panted with the pain of it.
"They are afraid of it. What if they prod it and I die? Or worse, what if they die?"
There was nothing to undo the spread of it. She leaned her forehead against the cold stone next to her. "Doesn't it look like a new vallaslin now?" she asked, and his stomach turned over. "Falon'din enaste, my hand of death."
Her fingers flexed under his ministrations. The growth did not happen simply because of his absence. How long had she been without full use of her hand?
"You are not afraid of me." He heard the question in it. She wanted him to reassure her, to give her comfort in this hard and empty world. She was not the reason he left. She was still just a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time whose hand didn't possess an ancient and powerful magic. But he was afraid of her. He was afraid of the change in her hand and what it meant for her future. Afraid of what he would do, or would not do, for her. Afraid of what he would be when she was gone. He released her hand.
"Perhaps I should be. You must be very angry at how I left."
There was no anger in her voice. "Did it help?"
"I went to sleep and found the place where my friend used to dwell. There is... nothing of my friend now. But there are stirrings of something new."
Her eyes shut, brow furrowed. "If I could have disappeared and slept in the Fade for weeks, I would have done the same." She lifted her eyes to the sky and murmured, "Sometimes, I think I've been asleep for months."
"Then I should escort you to your quarters, so you can sleep comfortably."
He pulled her off the step, and she took his arm. She was cold from the stone, and she leaned into him. He led her up the stairs and felt his heart grow heavy in his chest. "I missed you," he whispered, the words out before he could regret them.
In the Great Hall, he noticed a dramatic change in the Inquisitor's throne. Where once had been a rather ugly and pointy chair, now there was a seat coming out of a carved statue of Andraste burning in fire. He knew she had not suddenly converted, but something told him she did not choose it to appeal to her followers.
She followed his gaze. Her eyes filled with something dark as she stared at the throne even as her mouth turned in a half smile. She opened the door to her quarters and gestured for him to enter.
"Dorian's people used to worship dragons," she said slowly, deliberately, "And now he helps me hunt them. Apparently The Iron Bull still worships them, in his own way. He loves killing them more than anyone. And when believers depict Andraste, they love that version of her, where she is burning, and they have killed her." They reached the top of the stairs. A fire crackled in the hearth, and Ellana sat on the floor next to it. She peered into it as she continued. "I think people enjoy killing their gods. Don't the Dalish cling to theirs all the more strongly now that they are dead?"
This was the most she had said since her family had died, though her voice was still bereft of emotion. He settled himself on her sofa. "Are you worried defeating Corypheus will grant him the godhood he seeks?"
She shook her head. "He already has worshipers. I care little for his reputation after his death."
"Then it is your own worshipers you fear."
"A dead woman has no fears."
Solas slipped off the sofa and cupped her face in his hands. "You are not dead, vhenan."
She pressed her forehead against his. "I cannot be your heart. I am cold, and I am empty."
"Then so shall I be." The green vines extending from the anchor up her arm was a physical manifestation of his magic on her, growing and irrevocable, and he imagined his heart looked no different.
"I knew you would come back," she whispered.
"As long as you will have me," he affirmed. They held each other there in front of the fire, breathing slowly, deeply. For once he felt as if he had slept enough, that nothing in the Fade could draw him like the woman before him, sitting quietly in their shared grief. She fell to sleeping against his chest, and he kissed her hair lightly. It was such an easy promise to make, when, if she knew the truth, she would cast him off.
Two morbid dumbos being sad. Next chapter will be less sadness. Pretty sure Ellana is going to yell at some people.
Ellana couldn't tell Solas much about the time he was away. Five minutes after an event the memory had already dimmed, hidden behind a fog. A conversation could have happened a day ago or fifteen years ago, and they held the same clarity. She let her advisers and companions guide her from problem to problem, as though floating along a river. At times she did not recall what had caused her to become like this. Her small mirror, the gift from Dorian, weighed heavily in her pocket, and she remembered as her fingers traced the filigree. She did not look at it.
The fog was starting to lift, however, and all at once Ellana woke up standing on the stairs leading to the main hall, her hands full of papers. The sun was shining down on the courtyard, and Solas was arguing with Cole. His shoulders were hunched forward, tense, and he walked with his back toward the spirit. The spirit's hands were open, pleading, yet annoyed. She had never seen the two of them argue. The sight made her think of a father angry at his foolish son, and she laughed.
Both men ceased their arguing to stare at her. They were not the only ones. The thumping of practice swords against dummies, hammering of repairs to the fortress, and conversations across the courtyard all dwindled as eyes fell upon the laughing Inquisitor. Solas's shoulders relaxed their irritation, and he smiled.
Cole broke the silence. Ellana turned to his disappointed father for a solution, and promised to find a way to protect him. Activity in the courtyard resumed. Solas paused to smile at her, reaching out to cup her face. He shook his head just slightly, gazing at her. He looked younger when he smiled. He dropped his hand and returned to the castle.
Ellana stared at the papers in her hand, wondering where she had been heading with them. One was regarding the disappearance of Blackwall from the Wardens. Unsurprising. Another told of mysterious deaths in Wycome. Curious, but it required no action from her. The last was a letter about Dorian, and she vaguely remembered Giselle asking her to lie to him about something. She reread the letter as she walked toward the barns. Her instinct was to ignore it-- a letter to a Chantry mother asking her to implore the Inquisitor to lie to Dorian. Contrived, petty, and stupid. But it was up to Dorian to decide what to do.
He was waiting for her by the well. His hands fidgeted around his staff. Tense. Uncomfortable. Another lecture awaited her, but her training would continue. She felt it more clearly now. Her left hand had become alien to her, and she would reclaim it as her own.
Ellana was not a mage. She had not been present when her sister's abilities exploded into the world, but she learned later that it happened on the day they carried her and her father's body back to the camp for burial rites. But as Miri set the world ablaze in anger and grief, Ellana clung to life.
Her first memories after were of listening to people opine that it would have been kinder had she died. Her injuries were too severe, the violence unspeakable, the trauma too grave. Whatever life she had would not be worth living. Better for the young girl to join her father. Falon'din enaste.
Dying just didn't come easily to her.
The hardest part had been learning to talk again. Her limbs moved as if they were unfamiliar to her. She had to learn to grasp things, to move each finger just so, and her clumsiness was not helped by the blindness she could not tell anyone about. Her tongue was a stranger in her mouth, enormous and stupid. Her clan thought she was Deaf, or simple, and spoke about her as if she was not there. It took her over a year to speak as she once had, and by then she had learned to stay quiet.
It was the first time her future was torn from her. She would not follow her father's path and become a hunter. The craftsmen didn't want her for an apprentice. It seemed she would be little more than a burden for the clan and a symbol of bad luck.
Miri didn't believe any of that. She was certain Ellana's magical abilities would make their debut any minute. She insisted on teaching Ellana every lesson she learned, so she would not fall behind. Miri explained in detail what magic felt like, how to summon it forth, how to control it. She was certain they would become Keepers together, because they were not two separate people, but a soul split into two bodies. She read to her from the tomes her clan kept and quizzed her patiently on technique and theory. She put a staff in her hands and walked her through the movements until Ellana's muscles complied with her thoughts.
Ellana was not a mage, but she understood magic. Her hand thrummed in tune to the Veil that Miri had described in perfect detail so many years ago. And now, with Dorian's help, she found she could shove magic back into the Fade and warp the Veil however she desired. She could control her hand.
She put her papers to the side and smiled at Dorian. "Let's get started."
He hesitated, still scowling. "You seem... different today."
"I don't know why you are so worried, Dorian. My healer is back." She flexed her cursed hand for him. "No harm done."
He shook his head. "Yet your arm seems greener than ever. And speaking of your 'healer,' why not use him instead? Is it because he recognizes this for the madness that it is?"
"Honestly I find your magic more of a challenge than his."
"Hah! Flattery will be a cold comfort when your hand swallows us whole," he muttered. He squared his shoulders and raised his staff. She held out her hand, waiting for the attack.
Lightning bolt, fireball, fear, they had been going through the paces for weeks. First in secret, just small magic that left Ellana sweating and breathless as she pushed it out of the world. Now she urged Dorian to unleash bigger spells, snapping them back before they fully materialized, leaving him sweating and breathless as she pushed his onslaught away again and again.
"What does it feel like?" she asked in between bouts.
Dorian leaned on his staff and held his chin thoughtfully. "Like I've just opened a book I want to read, and you slam it shut in my hand."
Ellana considered this. "Have you ever felt a proper templar's smite?"
"I can't say that I have."
She had been aware of their growing audience, but she recognized the rapid footsteps approaching them now. "You may have your chance." She turned to face her adviser. "Commander Cullen. What brings you here in such a rush?"
Cullen stopped abruptly when she addressed him. His eyes took in the scorch marks around the courtyard. "One of my men informed me that Dorian was trying to assasinate the Inquisitor."
Ellana struggled not to roll her eyes. "And his instinct was to run to you rather than save me? How gallant." She pointedly glared at one of her onlookers, and the small crowd started to disperse.
"Perhaps you can help me, Commander. Do you still retain your templar's abilities?"
Cullen frowned. "I am still able to fight, if that's what you mean."
"What I mean is I would like for you to smite me."
Cullen cleared his throat. "I, uh, I'm not sure I..."
His hand was reaching for his neck, and she knew he would do it. "Must I make it an order?"
"Andraste preserve me," he muttered. His eyes darted around the courtyard nervously. There were still some observers unabashedly watching them. Ellana placed herself directly in front of him and held her arms out in invitation.
"If you would."
Cullen took a breath, and she felt the air snap around her. She stumbled and regained her footing. She felt unchanged.
"Cast something," she barked at Dorian. He lit a flame, and she doused it.
"It doesn't feel like anything," she said, shaking her head.
"Perhaps our Commander is out of practice," Dorian suggested. "Or perhaps a templar's smite isn't all it's cracked up to be."
Ellana raised an eyebrow. "Commander, smite Dorian."
"Gladly." Cullen took a step toward the mage. He edged away.
"Come on, Dorian. You just said he's weak. How bad could it be? Besides, Tevinter should know of the abilities our Southern templars have. Teach you humility."
Dorian scoffed. "Well. If it's for my edification..." he said sarcastically.
Ellana nodded, and Cullen's hands glowed white. Dorian dropped to his knees with a shout, his staff clattering out of his hands. Ellana rushed to him.
"Are you alright? What did that feel like?" She asked, helping him to stand.
"Like getting ejected from the bleeding library," he growled. "Are you done with your experiments now?"
She ignored him. Something small had changed in the air. Something important. She closed her eyes and reached for it-- a rhythm that had become dislodged and off beat. She pulled at it like a thread in her mind, and Dorian gasped next to her. She felt him summon a fire to his hand and quickly dispel it.
"How did you--"
"What are you doing?" Solas's voice rang harshly down the ramparts. The sun was behind him, but she did not need to see his face to know that he was furious. "Have you gone mad?"
Been having some health issues. Updates will probably be slower =/
I imagine Cullen lost to Dorian in poker something fierce and would like to see him knocked down a peg. I mean, really, how powerful can his smite be at this point, anyway.
Ellana woke up with a start. She was lying on the divan in the rotunda. She could not tell what time it was, but the vast progress Solas had made on his fresco indicated hours had passed since he had first invited her to help him paint. Ellana didn't know how to hold a brush, but this mattered little. He was babysitting her so she would not continue her experiments with the anchor. From time to time she snapped the Veil around him. She elicited only exasperated sighs.
They were specifically not talking about their argument.
"You would scold the Inquisitor in front of the entire castle? What happened to 'posturing is necessary?'" She demanded as soon as they were alone.
"Posturing is not important when you take your life in your hand."
Her fists clenched at her side. "It is my life, Solas. It is my hand!"
"It is not yours!" he shouted. He took a step back, inhaled. Collected himself. Chose his words. "Your life is not just your own. The fate of Thedas depends on you."
Her hand dropped to her pocket. She felt the familiar weight of the mirror. She turned away from him. "The only thing I owe Thedas is my spite." She closed her eyes. "You will need a better reason for me to stop."
He put a hand gently on her shoulder. "Please, vhenan. I cannot bear to lose you to this."
"Would losing me to something else be easier?"
He did not answer.
The library and rookery were quiet. She must have slept into the night. Solas continued working, and Ellana watched the muscles in his arms and shoulders. She had not appreciated how physical painting was.
"I hate your tunic," she said. His brush paused in the air, but he did not turn around.
"Or sweater, or whatever you call it. I hate it."
"Hmm." He resumed painting. "And do my other clothes offend you?"
She stood up and walked over to his table. She leaned against it, careful not topple his piles of books, and studied him. "I have no complaints about your breeches. And I've long been used to your dirty feet."
"My feet are not dirty," he muttered.
"But that tunic..." Her eyes traveled from the frayed bottom swaying between his legs to his upstretched arm. "It's ugly."
Solas put down his paint brush and picked another. "You have been spending too much time with Dorian."
She crossed her arms. "And whose fault is that?"
He ignored this, adding details to the scene. The Wardens' crest appeared before her, and she sighed.
"I can't understand why you belt it. It is tight enough already."
Solas slowly set his paintbrushes down and unwound the belt from his waist. He walked over to where she leaned against the desk and thumped the belt down next to her.
"Better?" He stood directly in front of her, his hand still resting on the table. She had to tilt her head up to look at his face.
"Hardly." The corner of his mouth threatened a smile. Her eyes drifted down to the offending garment. She reached out to smooth it over his shoulders, her fingers tracing the cabling. "The color doesn't suit you. You would look better in black."
He put his hand over hers and brought them to his chest. Magic seeped into his tunic, dark tendrils spreading under their hands. Solas didn't turn his gaze from her until the entire tunic had transformed in color. "Better?"
She straightened her shoulders, bringing herself up to her full height. She was a breath away from him. "No."
His eyes narrowed and he dropped her hand. He pulled the tunic over his head, balling it in his fist. He stood before her, bare-chested. She inhaled sharply, but kept her hands by her sides. He opened his mouth to speak, and she tore her eyes from his chest.
"And now, vhenan? Is this better?"
His lips were close enough that with the smallest movement she would be pressed upon them. She swayed gently, resisting. "Yes," she conceded.
He leaned past her face, his lips grazing her ear as he breathed, "I thought so."
He pulled away abruptly and sauntered back to his painting.
Ellana slumped and brought her hand to her forehead. The tunic hit her lightly in the face. She pulled it from her eyes and saw Solas had already turned back to his painting, brush in hand.
The view was aggravating. She tossed the tunic across the room, strode over to Solas, and threw her arm around his neck, pulling his mouth to hers. His paintbrush clattered to the floor as he wrapped his arms around her. His tongue was in her mouth and she instinctively hitched her leg over his hip. Solas's hand dropped to her leg, pulling her closer, his fingers digging into the flesh of her inner thigh.
As quickly as it began, he pulled away, steadied himself with a breath. "Not here."
She dug her nails into her palms. His self control, his ability to pull away would be impressive if it weren't so infuriating. "Shall I take you to Val Royeaux?" she panted, "Denerim, perhaps?"
Solas smiled. "Your quarters will be fine."
She practically dragged him the entire way.
For the first time in recent memory, Ellana woke up without feeling a massive weight on her chest. For a few blissful moments, she couldn't remember why this was strange. Reality sunk in slowly, but perhaps less painfully than before. She thought about traveling to the Free Marches and planting an entire forest. The bodies of her family had surely been moved or burned or scavenged by now, but the ground was soaked in their blood, and the trees would grow.
Solas interrupted her thoughts. "For a blind woman who runs around Skyhold in gold pajamas, your feelings on fashion are quite... passionate."
She snorted and turned to face him. "Even when you were just a beige blob with a shiny head, I found your dress curious. Anyway, I didn't choose the pajamas. Take it up with Josephine. Tell her there are too many buttons."
He chuckled softly. "I think that's a discussion best left to you."
Ellana rolled to the edge of the bed, dropping her feet to the floor with a sigh. "The Inquisitor's work is never done." She rummaged in her drawers for fresh clothing. "With any luck, a servant found your tunic, thought it was an old rag, and threw it away."
Solas pulled on his breeches. "And what shall I wear in the future?"
Ellana opened a new drawer. She pulled out an ancient robe, sleeveless and floor length, and tossed it to Solas. "Found this in a ruin. Thought you might like it."
He picked up the robe and frowned. "Traditionally there was a shirt that went under the robe, vhenan."
"Was there?" Ellana said, closing the drawer containing the accompanying shirt. "The robe itself seems to be enchanted."
The robe had no closures and hung open on his chest. He held his bare arms out. "And how will this protect me in battle?"
Ellana pulled on her boots. "That's what I'm for."
"Although your skill with the blade is remarkable to watch, not even you can block every projectile from our enemies."
She smirked. With a gesture, the Veil warped into a hardened bubble around him. He shook his head, and she chucked one of her boots at him. It bounced harmlessly off her shield.
"Vhenan--" his voice took an angry edge, and she could feel their argument reemerging. Fortunately, they were interrupted by a voice on the stair.
"Ellana! Wake up! I've made up my mind." Dorian reached the top of the staircase and paused to take in the scene-- Ellana wearing only one boot, and Solas, half dressed, standing angrily in a green bubble.
"What in the name of-- no, don't tell me, I don't want to know what elf nonsense happens in here."
Ellana released the Veil around Solas. "Why are you here so early, Dorian?"
"Right." He shook his head and faced Ellana. "First of all, love birds, it's nearly noon. But more importantly, I have made a decision regarding the letter you gave me. Let us go to Redcliffe and face this retainer my father is paying."
Ellana nodded. "As you wish."
Dorian returned to the stairs, but paused to eye Solas once more. "You know, Solas, that robe looks very nice on you."
Ellana didn't turn around. She was heading to see Harrit about some armor repairs and a new training blade. She had not steeled herself to speak with Josephine this afternoon. "Ambassador. Dorian and I will be heading to Redcliffe tomorow. I expect two or three others will find excuses to join us."
"Impossible!" Josephine spurted, almost jogging to catch up.
Ellana clenched her jaw but kept walking. "Well, then I suppose Dorian and I will just have to go alone."
Josephine increased her pace to step in front of Ellana and block her path. "No, apologies, your worship, what I mean is you cannot leave the castle just now."
A muscle in her jaw began to throb. She unclenched her fists and sharply nodded to the woman to continue.
Josephine took a deep breath. "We need to make preparations for your visit to Halamshiral."
Ellana's brow furrowed, and she concentrated on smoothing it. It was becoming more difficult to find a reason to be pleasant, compliant. "My visit? You mean my stopping an assassination attempt? My weapons are in good shape, I'm sure I'll be fine."
She made to push past Josephine, but a voice caught her from behind. "It won't be just fighting." Leliana appeared out of nowhere. "You are going to the ball. We need to train you in the Game, Inquisitor."
Ellana's eyes passed between the two women. "You expect me to be a guest at the Winter Palace? Me?"
Josephine explained her plan, but Ellana found herself staring at the tapestries on the walls. Had she chosen them? There were snakes on them. Did the Orlesians like snakes? Or the Rivaini... Were there snakes in Ferelden? In all her traveling she couldn't remember seeing one. A pity, they were delicious in soup. She remembered her mother taking her hand and running them over the skins they had saved... she snapped back to attention as Josephine mentioned "fittings."
"Fitting me for what, exactly?" she asked. Soft, quiet boots, some poison, a mask, her hands. This would be enough to thwart an assassination. Or attempt one. If her advisers had thought this through, they would have had her installed as a servant. She'd done that enough times.
"Don't worry, Inquisitor. We will not encumber you with Orlesian fashion." Leliana smiled. "We are having uniforms made up for everyone."
"Everyone? Have we even been invited?"
"Leave that up to me," Josephine said, "For now, I need you in your quarters so the tailor can get to work."
Ellana allowed herself to be herded to her own bedroom, where she was poked and measured and talked about as if she were not present.
"Very large arms for an elf. Thick waist, too."
"I'm sure we can do something to make her shoulders less imposing."
"Different small clothes would probably help with showing off her figure."
Her mind wandered again, and she remembered. Tevinter. She had chosen the drapes to piss off Mother Giselle.
She supposed she should change them.
When she finally escaped, she found Solas in the rotunda. He was back in his usual clothes in their usual colors. The room smelled strongly of freshly mixed paint and plaster. She leaned back on an unpainted wall and watched him mix pigments together.
Solas picked up a tool Ellana hadn't seen him use and start to scrape the plaster off the wall. She moved to intercept him. "What are you doing?"
Solas pulled his hand away and sighed. "The work needs to be completed all at once, or it is ruined. This panel must be redone."
Ellana stared at the panel. The fortress and the Gray Warden crest, the beginnings of a demon in the sky. He had worked for hours on them. "Can't it be saved? You spent so much time on it."
"No. The structure is irreparably flawed by my negligence. I must remove it and start again."
Her eyes fell on the completed panels. He had done them while she was in the Fallow Mire. It felt like a lifetime ago. "I should not have distracted you."
Solas took her hand. "It is only plaster, vhenan. I do not regret the distraction."
She let her hand fall away and let him continue his destruction. It all seemed so wasteful. "Sometimes I forget you weren't ever Dalish," she murmured. If he heard her, he did not react. She turned to leave.
"I know you won't believe me," she called over her shoulder, "but the tailor wasn't my idea."
When they finally set off for Redcliffe a week later, it was with the promise that Ellana would practice her dancing with Dorian.
"Do you actually know the Orlesian dances?" she asked him.
"Not at all. But I know something better."
She rolled her eyes. "Tevinter dances?"
"Yes," he replied patiently, "But more importantly, how to lead and follow. It's my understanding Orlais makes their women do both."
"So you've heard the rumors about the Empress then." Varric winked. He had insisted on accompanying Cole. She couldn't remember why Cole wanted to go to Redcliffe, or even where he was. Had she ever seen him on a horse?
The roads to Redcliffe were safe and the Veil was steady. Traveling was simply a matter of following the path and occasionally waving her glowing hand to the people who gawked at her.
When not besieged by her advisers, she had spent her time in Skyhold practicing with her sword until she was too tired to think and recovering on the rotunda while Solas told her stories about dwarves and Qunari. The fog in her mind had lifted, but her emotions came fast and sharp, and she quieted them with constant distraction.
There was little to occupy her on the road. Their horses plodded on, and she tried to imagine the life of a Qunari baker. She first felt the weight on her head of carrying horns, shifting this way and that end feeling how they would move with her. She focused on her duty, her task, her life's work: baking bread. Ellana had never baked before, but she had heard the slapping of dough and smelled flour in the air. She imagined her hand in the sack of sugar, grains slipping through her fingers.
Solas's voice cut through her thoughts. He and Varric had been debating for hours, or maybe just minutes, over how to survive a tragedy. Ellana let her horse fall slower and slower until their voices blended with the breeze.
She imagined the smell of fresh baked bread and wondered if the Qunari had shops, or people whose job it was to deliver bread all day long, or if there were orderly queues. She imagined walking the streets of Par Vollen and satisfaction at watching her people eat her bread every day. She imagined secretly feeding the scraps to stray dogs and scratching their ears.
Dorian slowed his horse to walk beside her. She concentrated on the sound of the ocean and the calls of sea birds.
"Are we ever going to talk about your terrible taste in men?" he asked.
She opened her eyes. "Only if we also discuss yours."
"I don't know who you could be talking about. But if I were to take a lover, he wouldn't be the kind of person to disappear for a month with no word."
Ellana shifted in her saddle. Her heart was too empty to hold anger at Solas for leaving. She knew she should feel something, but she didn't. "The Iron Bull is a Qunari spy, Dorian. One word from his superiors and he would kill all of us and never even feel bad about it. If Solas murdered me, he'd feel terrible. Probably mourn me for the rest of his life."
"I... that's... I don't know what to say to that." Dorian was quiet for several seconds. "I thought you liked the Iron Bull."
"Yes, well, nobody has ordered him to kill me yet."
In camp, Dorian kept his word to Josephine and forced her to practice dancing. With Varric, Solas, and Cole watching, she could feel all of her muscles tensing up.
There will be more eyes on you in Halamshiral, she reminded herself.
"Dancing with you is remarkably like dancing with a stone wall, Inquisitor."
Ellana clenched her jaw as she focused on trying to move with Dorian, rather than against him. Every time he tried to pull her in one direction, her first instinct was to push in the opposite. "Yes, well that's always been the point, hasn't it?"
"May I?" Solas asked. Dorian released Ellana and bowed to Solas. Solas placed his hand on her back and arranged her arm on top of his before taking her other hand.
"Close your eyes," he murmured, "Ignore the steps. Focus only on my hand here--" he gently squeezed her back. He led her around the fire without the fancy footwork, making sharp turns and forcing her to come with him. With her eyes closed, she found it easier to trust him.
"I've done this before," she said suddenly, her eyes snapping open.
Cole spoke. "Bloody knees, bruises everywhere. Dark, unfamiliar ground. She takes me by the elbow. She won't let me fall."
Solas smiled. "Yes, I imagine it's very much like how she led you around. Now we can add the steps."
Ellana immediately tensed up. "Focus only on where my arm is telling you to go. The steps will follow."
By the end of the night, if she cleared her mind of all thought, Ellana was able to be led around the campfire with her eyes open, her feet mostly hitting their marks. The men dutifully clapped for her, and Solas fell into a deep bow. She rolled her eyes and resisted bumping him off balance.
"We better find something to hit with a sword tomorrow," she muttered.
Author's note: I took a screenshot of Ellana and thought you might want to see it (although you are welcome to imagine her however you want). Also, this chapter got a little long, so I split it into two.
Once in Redcliffe, Ellana left Cole to Solas and Varric. Dorian needed her.
The tavern was dark and empty. Had Pavus paid off the inn-keep, or was a magister enough to scare the villagers away? She respected that he had come to Redcliffe himself. It was the only thing she respected about him. As Dorian explained the circumstances of his leaving Tevinter, Ellana felt a deep bitterness grasp her heart. Her parents dead, and this monster living?
Ellana looked down at her hands, and realized her fingernails had drawn blood from her clenched fists. She needed to cut them. She needed to get out of this room. She stood up and snapped the Veil around Halward to grab his attention. His eyes widened in alarm as he took in her raised glowing hand.
"You stupid fucking Tevinter," she spat, "Dorian is your son. He's you, but better. He's probably the only good thing you have ever had a hand in, and then you tried to ruin him. No wonder you assholes blighted the fucking world." She turned to her friend. "Dorian, forgive him, kill him, it's your choice. You will always have a place with me. I will be waiting for you outside."
She reached the door, but couldn't stop herself. She turned to the magister once more. "Those robes are the stupidest fucking things I've ever seen in my life. You stole everything from my people, and now you want our ears? Shit in the Maker's fucking mouth."
The door slammed behind her. She could feel the fog creeping into her brain. Shouting at Dorian's father probably wasn't why he brought her there. She couldn't imagine how she could have helped.
Outside things appeared just as tense. Cole looked determined, hands on his daggers. Solas had retreated into his tightest pose, hands behind his back, chin out. Varric looked exasperated. Fathers and sons, she thought.
"We cannot let Cole kill that man!" Solas shouted.
"I don't think anyone was suggesting that, Chuckles."
"Why not?" Ellana asked. Both men looked at her incredulously. "He's a templar who let the original Cole starve to death. Do you think he has no other crimes?"
Solas frowned at her. "Vhenan--"
She threw her hands up. "You had no problem killing the mages who killed your friend. He wants revenge for his friend. Is this different?"
His voice was firm. "Yes. Cole is a spirit. He needs to learn to forgive."
Varric rolled his eyes. "You don't forgive someone for your own death."
Solas was adamant, almost petulant. "If Cole does not forgive, his nature will become twisted."
"He will become a demon," Ellana stated. She wanted to say that it was his choice. Cole knew his purpose, and if he wanted to turn from it, he was free to do so. Could she ask him to do something she was incapable of?
She could never forgive those who slaughtered her family. She had yet to forgive Josephine for allowing it to happen. Was her spirit twisted? She had helped Solas cut down those defenseless mages. Was his?
"Or he could work out his anger and become more like a person."
She searched her heart for a shred of forgiveness, but it felt like stone, immovable. Cole was a spirit. She would not assimilate him.
"I'm sorry, Varric, but he's not a person."
Solas took Cole by the arm to find the templar. Ellana sat heavily on the stone steps outside the tavern. Dorian was still inside. She couldn't imagine him forgiving his father, but killing him wouldn't have taken this long. She supposed there might be a third alternative.
The griffon statue lay before her to honor the Hero of Ferelden. She knew she had spent time in Redcliffe, saved the village from more than one threat. They must remember her. She wondered if a griffon statue was preferable to a statue of an elf or if they preferred the legend to the woman.
"If you could forget every wrong done to you, wouldn't you want to?" she asked Varric.
"No." His answer was quick. "No, I like my stories. I couldn't give them up."
She propped her head on her hand. "I don't think I'm a forgiving person."
Varric came to sit next to her. "You had the chance to send Hawke to her death, but you didn't. That seemed like growth."
"I didn't forgive her," she said flatly.
"Yeah, but you didn't kill her, either. That counts for something."
Dorian came out of the tavern, the door banging behind him. He had a bottle in each hand, and he tossed one to Ellana.
"Cole?" he asked.
Ellana gestured vaguely toward the lake. "Solas is teaching him to forgive."
Dorian barked a laugh. "Were no other teachers available?"
"Not today, Sparkler."
Ellana got to her feet. "Need us to clean up in there?"
Dorian smiled bitterly. "Magister Halward will live to see another day. Let us be far away from here."
Ellana nodded, and gestured for the men to follow her. She led them to the docks and sat at the far end of a pier. The men followed suit. She handed her bottle to Varric, and they drank in silence for a while. Ellana pulled her boots off and let her feet hang in the water. It wasn't quite warm enough to swim, but she was still tempted to slide right off the pier and submerge herself for a spell.
Dorian had made great progress on his bottle before speaking. "Did you mean what you said before?"
She leaned back on her hands and looked at the sky. "To your father? Probably. It's a bit of a haze."
"No," he said darkly, "About our lovers murdering us."
Varric turned to look at her, and she frowned. Was he trying to make a bad day worse? She took a breath. "The Iron Bull could take me in a fight, but then he'd have the entire Inquisition to fend off," she said lightly, "He could probably get to me in my sleep, but he'd have to kill Solas, too. Otherwise Solas would find him eventually. It wouldn't be easy."
"That's not what I--"
"Now Solas couldn't take me in a fight, especially now that I can nullify his magic. He could easily poison me or cut my throat while I was sleeping and disappear before anyone noticed."
"You know what I am asking you."
She took the bottle from Varric and sipped. "Sera I think could and would murder me under the right circumstances. She'd probably burn Skyhold to the ground for good measure."
"Yeah, she would," Varric laughed, "And I wouldn't bet against her in a fight with Solas. Can you imagine the profanity?"
She laughed. She could imagine that battle vividly.
"If I asked, I think Cassandra would attack Dorian. And if he keeps drinking like this, she would definitely win. But she's honorable, and she would allow you to surrender."
"Cheers." Dorian raised his bottle to the sky before taking another swig.
"Hey," Varric elbowed him lightly, "She's already attacked me. It wasn't that bad."
Ellana snorted. "I'm not sure I'd say there was a winner in that fight. I think we all lost."
Silence descended between them again. Ellana considered if there were any fights she could imagine Varric winning. Only those involving cards, she decided. "Have there been bets placed on one on one fights between us all?" she asked Varric.
"Only on whether you are ever going to stop letting Bull kick your ass in the practice yard."
Varric chuckled, but Dorian sighed. They were not improving his mood at all. She decided to answer his original question. "I don't know what Bull would do if he were ordered to betray us. Varric knows the Qunari better than I do..."
Varric sighed. "I also know what it's like to have a friend stab you in the back. It's not something you are ever really prepared for."
Ellana blinked. "Even knowing Anders was an abomination, it came as a surprise?"
Varric nodded and took a long pull from the bottle. "He wasn't trying to get us killed, but I also think at that point he wouldn't have cared if he did." He shook his head. "Turns out Hawke isn't too forgiving, either."
The sun was starting to set over the lake. Varric and Dorian were drunk, and Ellana wasn't certain how she would get both of them off of the pier. She pulled her boots back on and walked over to Dorian. He was slumped, cradling the empty bottle between his legs. He looked miserable.
"Lethallin, I'm sorry for what I said about Bull. It was a stupid thing to say, and you shouldn't think about it."
He raised his head to look her in the eyes. "But you're right. He hates the Tal-Vashoth. 'Nothing more than savages.' He would follow his orders."
She held her hand out to him. "Yes, but it would ruin him. He would no longer be the man we know. He would go in for reeducation, and he would come out a stranger." Dorian took her hand, and she pulled him up, slinging him awkwardly over her shoulder. She was too short to do this effectively.
"Sounds like what we did to Cole today," Varric muttered, a sudden edge in his voice. Ellana shifted uncomfortably. Perhaps she should just heave him over her back. He'd carried her often enough. She looked to the end of the pier and saw Solas. She smiled, and he strode out to meet them.
"Ma serranas," she murmured as she transferred Dorian to him. Dorian slowly turned his head to Solas and groaned.
"If you kill her..." Dorian didn't appear to be planning on finishing the sentence. Solas looked at Ellana quizzically, but she shook her head. He slowly walked Dorian down the pier.
"I will be unhappy," she heard him finish. Varric was in much better condition, and she simply held a hand on his shoulder to ensure he didn't list too far to either side. She got him to dry land and let him free. Solas was struggling with Dorian, and she came to his rescue. Dorian was rambling in Tevene, and she didn't need to understand the language to know he was chewing Solas out. Solas bowed his head and responded in Tevene. Her eyes darted between the men as she took the bulk of Dorian's weight again.
"Come on, lethallin," she said, leading him to camp, "You'll feel better tomorrow. Well, the day after tomorrow probably."
They returned to camp slowly. Ellana put Dorian to bed, taking off his boots and his outer armor. Surprising herself as well as him, she hugged him. "You do care," he said as she let him go. She rolled her eyes. He wouldn't remember this in the morning.
"What did he say to you?" she asked Solas.
"Nothing that wasn't true." Ellana shook her head. Nobody was having a pleasant evening. As if he read her thoughts, he held a hand out to her face and cupped her cheek. "Ar lath ma, vhenan."
She smiled. "I know."
You know, I didn't start this fic planning on being really mean to Dorian, and I feel pretty bad about it. Poor guy. He'll sleep it off.
Also, I totally think Varric could take Blackwall, but he's gone at this point =/
(also, can you imagine how amazing a Vivienne/Sera fight would be?)
On the way home from Redcliffe, Ellana learned to lead on the dance floor, or more acurately, the cold, hard ground of the Frostbacks.
"This is ridiculous. I should have just been doing this the entire time," she said, moving Dorian into a spin. Facing forward, not waiting for actions to be done to her but choosing which actions to take, she suddenly found it easy to keep time with her feet. She had no use for following.
"There is something to be said for relinquishing control and allowing someone to direct you from time to time," Dorian said, and Ellana suddenly felt she knew far too much about his relationship with The Iron Bull. She released him and bowed. He returned the courtesy.
She turned to Varric and bowed with a ridiculous flourish of her arms. "May I have this dance?"
"We don't dance like that in Kirkwall."
"Teach me a Kirkwall dance, then."
"I should rephrase. I don't dance anywhere."
Ellana shook her head. A sudden thought struck her like a punch to the gut. She never learned the dances of her home, of Clan Lavellan. She enjoyed the music, learned the songs, but no one taught her the steps. And now they were gone. She took a breath and tried to recover.
These moments of pain were coming quicker, harder. Halfway through a meal and a sound or a smell reminded her of someone now dead, and she couldn't finish. She was starting to miss the fog she had lived in, where everything felt dreamlike and far away. If she kept herself busy, if she kept her body tired, the memories were less frequent, less overpowering. But they still came.
Even more painful were the sudden unpredictable flashes of hope. Maybe someone survived. Maybe she was not the last one.
Solas took her hand and placed it on the small of his back. To her amusement, he seemed less comfortable following than leading. He kept trying to move his hands back into the leader's position, though he was better at the footwork than she. She led him into a turn, then another, before he had his hands back where he wanted, moving her. She allowed it for a moment, then stepped forward, away from his leading arm. Their connection was broken, and Ellana quickly shifted directions, her arm finding Solas's back and scooping him along with. She gambled and led him into a dip, a move that could only work if the follower released control completely. Solas tumbled to the ground.
"What is the plan for when you drop the empress on her head?" Varric asked.
"I could always seduce her," Ellana said darkly. "I hear she has a thing for elves."
The road back to Skyhold was as peaceful as their trip out. Ellana was growing itchy. She was convinced she was losing muscle by the day. None of her companions made suitable sparring partners. The noodle-armed mages would only get injured, and she couldn't bait Varric into trying. Cole spent the entire return trip incorporeal, which was alarming in its own way. By the time she got to Skyhold, she was antsy and irritable. She made her way straight to the practice grounds, not even pausing for a bath, but Josephine interrupted her.
Ellana cleared her face of any emotion at seeing the ambassador. She knew being openly hostile to her would only cause problems. The woman was beloved and respected. And ignorant, irresponsible, and--
"I have important matters for you to address, Inquisitor. The first is that the people of Jader have started a rumor that Andraste spoke to you in the Fade. They demand to know what she said."
Ellana looked at her impassively. "She said, 'Return to the elves what I promised.'"
Josephine's mouth dropped open in shock, but she recovered quickly. "That will certainly cause a stir. The second matter is more personal."
Josephine took her time explaining her predicament to Ellana. If Ellana had been agitated at the beginning of the conversation, by the end of it she wanted to tear her own hair out. Josephine paced and gesticulated with emotion about how her family had money, but they could have more. Ellana kept waiting for the tragedy to make itself apparent, a kidnapped sister, an ill parent, but that was the entire story.
"Just to be clear, Josephine. You want me to help your family become more wealthy? And to do this I need to eat lunch in Val Royeaux?"
Josephine paused. "That is a very succinct way of putting it."
"It is done," Ellana said, turning her back on the woman and walking as fast as her feet would take her. Cassandra was in the yard, whacking at a dummy. Ellana strode up to her, snatched the sword out of her hand, and beheaded the thing in one swing. It jarred her arm, sending painful reverberations straight through her body.
"Thank you, Cassandra," she huffed, holding the sword out to her.
"I will have to get that sharpened now, you know. I think you dented it. And the quartermaster complains at how quickly I destroy the dummies."
Ellana studied Cassandra. "You must have been forced to go to parties," she said slowly, "As Right Hand of the Divine. As royalty."
Cassandra pursed her lips at the memories. "I was. Though I went as a guard, not a representative."
"Still," Ellana said thoughtfully, "You're still alive."
The corner of Cassandra's mouth twitched. "Quite."
Ellana nodded. The game was more forgiving than Leliana would have her believe.
"On the chance that I manage to piss off every noble in that room, could any of them take me?"
Cassandra smiled, then laughed. "We are trying to stop the chaos, not sow it. But no, you are unmatched in Orlais."
"I think I'm going to quit my dancing lessons. Thank you, Seeker."
Ellana wandered into the tavern. Val Royeaux would also lack things for her to hit. She needed something to keep her distracted. She climbed the stairs and followed her feet to Sera's room. The woman was lying across her bench, reading something.
"Would you like to come to Val Royeaux with me?"
Sera flipped a page. "Not going anywhere with you."
Ellana racked her brain for how she might have offended her recently, but came up with nothing. She couldn't remember interacting with the woman at all. When was the last time she had even seen her?
"Oh," she said lamely.
"Last time I went somewhere with you, I ended up in dreamland with a pissload of demons. Here's fine, thanks."
Sera continued her reading. Ellana leaned against the door frame and watched her. Now that she was in this room, it occurred to her how much she had missed her. She wanted to talk about something stupid and set up mad plans and not worry about consequences. She wanted to dump water over Josephine's head and release bees in the war room. "Where have you been?" she asked.
Sera didn't look up. "Here."
Ellana nodded, giving up. Whatever friendship they'd had appeared to be over. Ellana didn't know when or why, but isn't that how things happened? They just happened. Another thought struck her as she wandered through the tavern. "Cole?" she whispered.
The spirit appeared in front of her. "Would you like to go to Val Royeaux?"
Ellana gave one last disappointed look at Sera's door. Cole followed her gaze.
"She thinks I'm like someone else, someone I'll never be. Dead now, and I won't replace her. That's not me."
Ellana's breath caught at his admission. She took deep, staggering breaths until she was steady. "Thank you Cole. That is... good to know. But she... she could never be replaced."
Ellana was frankly relieved when lunch with a "noble" ended in murder. She had considered making detours on the road to Val Royeaux to find dragons. Stabbing a man to death in an ornate flat wasn't quite the same, but it did help her expend some energy, particularly since she had not brought her longsword and was forced to kill him with the knife she kept on her belt.
She left Josephine with the mess.
She had wanted to talk to Cole alone. Solas seemingly sensed this, as he disappeared into the crowd as soon as they were on the street. Ellana led Cole to a little cafe as she tried to organize her thoughts.
"Are you happier now that you are more of a spirit?"
"I can help better. I like helping."
It wasn't an answer, but as if to demonstrate, Cole ran through the cafe whispering in ears, giving suggestions to people. She had never seen him move so quickly at Skyhold. Perhaps she had forgotten.
"Have you helped me?"
"Yes. Sometimes. I have tried."
She pondered this. She couldn't remember much that he'd said to her. She had just spent a week with him in the Hinterlands, but she had barely seen him at all. He had once told her that he wouldn't make her forget, but that was before they had changed him. Before he made himself forget. Did he even remember the promise? "Did you make me forget something, Cole?"
"It didn't help."
"What did you make me forget?"
He shifted uncomfortably. "The words didn't help, so I took them back."
"Tell them to me now."
He shifted again, but then nodded. "Soldiers come, not a raid, but a slaughter. They didn't blame you. Her last thought was, 'At least Ellana still lives.'"
Ellana's body went numb. It was the last thought her sister would ever have. It was the last piece of love she would ever have for her. "Don't... don't take the words back," she choked out before sobs racked her chest. The tears she had been holding in for over a month started pouring out of her. She slammed her hand on the table, trying to regain some control of herself, but she couldn't. She couldn't see. She just felt the tears, the muscle spasms of another sob coming up. There was movement around her, confusion, but she couldn't make sense of the words.
"The Herald needs a private room where she can commune with the Maker."
Someone was touching her, and she couldn't pull away. Her body was lifted, coaxed, dragged elsewhere. Sobs were still racking her body, and they were starting to hurt. She didn't have enough air. The world went quieter. She was being held tightly, almost squeezed. She didn't fight. The spasms in her body became less violent. She regained some control.
She recognized him by his smell. Solas held her. He was talking to her, had been talking to her.
"I can't," she gasped. "I can't." She didn't understand. He was murmuring something into her hair.
"They're all gone," she sobbed, "All of them."
"I know," he said, stroking her hair, "I know."
"You don't know!" She struggled ineffectually in his arms. "You can't... you can't know."
"I do. I do know. Vhenan I... I do know."
She felt the loss in his voice. The complete defeat. She stopped struggling. Her body went limp and her knees gave way. Solas lowered them both to the floor. Her breathing slowed as he held her, controlled and steady even as tears continued to roll down her cheeks. She pulled herself out of his embrace, supporting herself.
"I can't... I can't be the last one." Her voice was hoarse, dropping off to a whisper. "I can't do this alone."
Solas took her hand and pressed it to his chest. "You are not alone, vhenan. You have me. You will always have me."
"Ma harel," she whispered, her arm stretched out listlessly in front of her. Solas winced, but did not let go. "You're a dreamer. Dreams can't be pinned down or held. They slip away." She looked directly into his face. "You've already left once."
Solas exhaled harshly. He lowered her hand, but kept his fingers entwined with hers. "You're right." He raised her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss over her knuckles. "But I can promise that I will always come back for you."
Ellana shook her head weakly. He reached for her face forcing her to look at him. "I will always come back." His eyes were serious, his voice low, striking her deep in the chest. His hand was warm on her face. She believed him.
She leaned her forehead against his and inhaled deeply. Her head was starting to throb and her eyes burned. Her heart ached for home. But for now she was not alone.
Grief isn't always a linear process.
Also, I hate dips, and I especially hate when someone I've never danced with before tries to dip me. I definitely got dropped when a dude half my height thought it would be fun. Blech.
Anyway, let's get these sad sacks to the Winter Palace.
As a warning, there is some smut in this chapter. If you want to skip it, when it starts, you can skip to ~~~
Ellana opened her eyes to an overly ornate ceiling. The chipped paint depicted demons threatening a village in a truly ugly motif. Her head throbbed. Someone had set a pitcher of water next to the bed.
"I suspect you lost half the water in your body yesterday," Solas said from across the room.
Ellana was not in the mood for jokes. She drained her glass and then another. Solas handed her a small vial, and she drained that, too. Elfroot. The headache subsided.
She barely remembered getting the room. Josephine must have set it up. Solas never would have picked a place so... soft. And close to a chantry. She could hear the chanting outside her window, and it seemed to be getting louder. Was it a holiday? She stared at the closed curtains and struggled to remember what season it was.
Solas held out a hand to help her up from the bed and escorted her to the window. "They have gathered to see the Maker's Chosen after your... incident yesterday."
She peered through the curtains. The chanting was not coming from a chantry, but from crowds on the street. It was growing. The chant faltered as they noticed the fluttering of the curtain, and she closed it firmly as an excited murmur rippled through the crowd.
She turned accusingly to Solas. "Sobbing in public has made me more popular? Or do they fear for my health?"
Solas grinned coldly. "It was suggested that a vision from the Maker overwhelmed you with emotion. The cafe where it occurred has been happy to spread this interpretation."
"The Maker speaks to me now? Soon they will simply call me 'Andraste' and drop the 'Herald' bit."
She got back in bed. Going out into that crowd was not an option. She lived in this ugly room now. She beckoned Solas over and pulled him down next to her. When he was comfortable, she rested her head on his chest. The beating of his heart was calming, lulling.
"Tell me an elven story. One I haven't heard. Tell me about..." His stories never had happy endings. She wanted to harden herself. To distance herself from her loss and her pain. To tear down her weakness. "Tell me about Dirthamen."
Solas ran his fingers through her hair. "No. The twins are... I know you and your sister felt kinship with them. I will not tarnish your memories of her. But I will tell you about June."
She closed her eyes as he described the inventor who closed himself off to the world. He demanded more and more of his subordinates. requiring them to harvest dangerous reagents and uncaringly replacing workers when they died under his leadership. Over time, his crafts benefited fewer and fewer, until it was decreed only the Evanuris could enjoy the fruit of his labor, and the labor of countless others who died under the cruel conditions of his workshops. His people grew poor as June hoarded all of the resources for his own use and claimed it was for the betterment of all. Eventually they had no choice but to work for him slaves and hope to survive day to day.
"Slaves?" Ellana asked. "June had slaves?"
"The Evanuris all had slaves."
Her chest tightened as she digested that information. The silence stretched and wrapped around her even as the Chant continued outside. She had to break it. "So Tevinter stole even that from us," she sighed. Solas laughed bitterly.
She tried to imagine it. She had grown up envisioning ancient elves as powerful, masters of magic, time, and their own fates. But if they were slaves, the many in service of the few, their lives could be just as pitiful as modern elves. Worse, even, if some called themselves gods. If the people believed it so hard the myth persisted until today.
But then, the people outside were halfway to calling her a god. She wondered what the ancient elves sounded like while praising the Evanuris.
It could not be half as annoying as these people.
There were parts of her fate no gods or worshipers could control. There was sacrilege she could perform. There was freedom in this room.
Her hand crept from Solas’s chest down toward his breeches. There was one way to drown out the voices. She heard his sharp inhale of surprise as he stiffened under her. His hand reached for her face and he brought her to his lips. She gladly met his tongue with her own, pressing more of her body against his.
She leisurely removed his clothes. Solas let her take her time, leaning back, breathing slowly, but the tightness of his muscles exposed how alert and eager he was. Sharp exhalations when she kissed each of his thighs. A trembling under her fingers as she dragged her teeth across his abdomen. The way his fingers clutched her when she straddled him.
Everyone out there wanted her succor, her holiness, her martyrdom. Solas just wanted her, her touch, her love. Their love was louder than the Chant, and she would make sure of it. She rode him, hard, moaning as waves of pleasure erupted from within her. His own voice, lower, softer, echoed her as she increased her speed. She closed her eyes, focusing on his voice, his hands, the friction of their rhythm buzzing straight to her core. When he started to buck erratically beneath her, she reached down to stroke her clit, once, twice, and called out loud enough to shake the Veil loose as she came.
As the glow wore off her skin, the chanting began to penetrate her awareness again. She rolled out of bed and grabbed Solas’s tunic off the floor. She pulled it on, smiling when it almost reached the floor. She took a deep breath to prepare herself to be the Inquisitor and opened the curtains.
She beamed a smile at the people in the street, and the Chant was broken in surprised waves through the crowd. “People of Val Royeaux,” she said, trying to emanate friendliness and love, “I have heard your Chant. It has moved me.”
Solas choked on a laugh in the bed. Ignoring him, she paused to take in the crowd. Only a few snickered. Most were watching her with bald-faced devotion, and she tried not to let it unnerve her. She focused on her beatific smile and continued. “Now it is time for the rest of the world to hear you. Please, bring your message to the people.”
She waved her cursed hand at them, crackling the magic in it for extra effect, and closed the curtains. Some of them started chanting again, but she could hear them moving away down the streets, to bother other people elsewhere. She flopped back on the bed, and Solas pulled her onto his chest.
“That was masterful,” he said, chuckling.
“Which part?” she asked. He squeezed her ass in response. “I can’t wait to hear whatever euphemism Josephine comes up with to explain the next rumor. ‘The Inquisitor was brought to… spiritual ecstasy by the Chant.’”
“I would be careful. If the Maker takes another bride, how long before the people do, too? You could shift an entire culture.”
She traced her finger over his freckles. “The only fucking the Maker does with elves is fucking them over.” The cultural shift would not come from her, but misperceptions of her. She thought about what he had said about June and his slaves. Maybe that was the only role elves were ever going to play. Expendable pawns for the powerful. Her power was illusory, and it was dangerous.
Indulging the people in the fantasies of her holiness brought her feet one step closer to the fire.
Ellana wandered her way through the alienage. She got stares, but it was hard to know if they were for her vallaslin or her cursed hand. She had hoped to blend in, to be reminded of her time in the Free Marches pretending to be a city elf. But the accents here were all wrong, the cobblestones unfamiliar, the smell of foods alien. Only the gutters and the suffering felt familiar. Dalish clans rarely came to Val Royeaux, and she was noticed. She meandered through the market stalls, telling herself she was just browsing, hoping something would catch her eye.
She was really looking for a gift.
For months, Ellana had believed that Solas had grown up among the Dalish. His clothes, his knowledge, his choice of traveling through the wilderness and studying history all spoke of a similar upbringing to her own. She assumed his clan was backwards or cruel, and he had left them behind before adulthood, swearing off his own people. Or perhaps it was that he was a Dreamer, and simply could not be held down by family or blood. She had pitied him for whatever experience had provoked him to abandon his home.
She did not believe this anymore.
He told her he knew, he knew what it was like to lose everyone.
Whoever his people were, he did not leave them behind by choice.
She found what she was looking for in a small stall minded by a tired looking woman. Everyone looked tired in the alienage. Ellana realized more than her face and her hand, her clothes gave her away as an outsider. She wore no jewelry, her clothes had no fancy adornments, but the leather of her boots was the finest she had ever felt. Her clothes were clean, new, never been mended nor patched. She herself looked and smelled healthy and clean.
She knew in past life she would never trust such a well-dressed elf.
Ellana picked up the ring that had drawn her attention and ran her finger over it. It was old, slightly bent out of shape. The carvings around the band were simple, like branches crossing each other, and time had smoothed their sharpness. It was Dalish, blessed by some Keeper in an unknown clan. She wondered how it ended up here, so deep in a city. A chill swept through her as she imagined her family’s possessions were now being displayed in some bazaar, being sold to strangers for pennies.
“It was my grandmother’s.”
Ellana looked up at the woman who was now watching her with a friendly smile. Not stolen off a corpse, then.
“She was Dalish, like you. Tattooed face and everything. Fell in love with a city elf, poor woman. Told me all the stories, though. Tried to teach me some of the language. Aneth ara, all that.”
“Aneth ara, lethallan,” Ellana replied. She tried to imagine this woman who left everything behind for a man in a dusty city. There was probably more to the story. There always was. Still, even without knowing more, there was a certain symmetry to their paths.
“You’ll be wanting it for a sweetheart, then. I know what those promise rings mean. Would have passed it on myself, if I’d ever had occasion.”
Solas had made her a promise. He would always come back. He might not understand the significance of the ring, but she would give him this promise in return.
“How much?” she asked.
She found Solas sitting in the sunlight, a sticky bun in front of him and a book in his hands. She trailed her hand across his shoulder before sitting across from him.
“How was your walk?”
“Successful,” she said before tearing off a piece of his bun and shoving it in her mouth. He rolled his eyes but did not attempt to maneuver the sweet away from her.
“Josephine has secured our invitation to the Winter Palace,” he said, “We will meet the rest of the Inquisition there.”
Ellana closed her eyes and focused on the feeling of the sunlight on her skin. This is not what she had hoped to talk about. “When are we leaving?”
“Tomorrow.” He hesitated before adding, “We will be traveling by carriage.”
Ellana dropped her face into her hands. “I should have brought Varric for this trip,” she sighed. “How many books do you have?”
“Not enough. Perhaps you can help me select some this afternoon.”
Ellana was not very helpful in the book store. It was cramped, claustrophobic. She ran her fingers of the covers of books but did not bother reading the titles. She kept flipping the ring over and over in her hand. It was an old, dented thing, a tradition from a people he hated. Foolish.
Solas was turning the pages of a large book, frowning.
“What color were your mother’s eyes?” she asked, thumbing the ridges in the band.
He blinked and slowly closed the book. “Blue,” he said, frowning at the floor, “They were blue, like mine.”
“Her hair? Was that like yours?”
He shook his head. “Red. She wore it long, in braids. As did I, once.”
She hadn’t been certain he would tell her even this much. She pressed on. “How old were you when you grew taller than her?”
“I don’t remember.”
His jaw was clenched. His posture was straightening. In a moment he would hold his hands behind his back and stick his chin out. He did not like this line of questioning. Ellana leaned against a bookshelf. “She would remember. I think it must be a strange feeling, the day your child outgrows you. Wonderful but… scary. Miri and I never got taller than our mother.”
His hands stayed at his side.
“I have something for you. You don’t have to wear it, but I’d like for you to keep it.”
She dropped the ring into his hand and studied his face as he examined it. Confusion, hesitation. “Ma serannas, vhenan.”
“No, you don’t—” she clenched and unclenched her fists. She did not want to explain this to him. “It’s not the kind of gift you thank someone for. You either accept it or you don’t.”
He considered her words for only a moment. “Then I accept.”
He slipped the ring over his middle finger, and she felt a strange mixture of relief and embarrassment. His thumb grazed her chin, and he tilted her head up to look at him. “Ar lath ma,” she said, and he smiled.
The story Solas read to her had far too many humans in it. The tale was supposed to be about a casteless dwarf, but apparently her only friends were surface-dwellers, and none of them dwarves. It seemed highly unrealistic. She fidgeted as the carriage bounced over a poorly maintained road. She had asked to stretch her legs only an hour ago. It was too soon to stop again.
Solas closed the book. “Should I try a different story?”
She shook her head. “I’ve been thinking about June,” she said, “What you said about his inventions, his cruelty. Slavery. I wonder if elves were always destined for poverty and subjugation.”
“Societies will always find scapegoats for the ills of the world. It is easier to keep the majority peaceful if they have someone to both pity and hate.”
“For June to have been considered a god for his inventions… surely he must have had merit? Surely he must have been a genius?”
“The ruling powers would like the people to believe that true genius is always recognized, and individuals of merit can be raised up above their station. The truth is far bleaker. There are some, through fortunate circumstances, who are able to overcome the obstacles of poverty. It is far more common for the yoke of drudgery to remain firm on their necks. The exceptions are turned into stories told by the powerful and meek alike. Framed as inspiration, they convince the downtrodden that true merit is always rewarded, and any defect in their position is a personal failure. There was a time when Fen’Harel was used as such a story.” Solas sighed deeply. “June may have been a genius, but I have no doubt that many others languished toiling for the Evanuris, their talents wasted in service to powers who did not care for them.”
“My own life could easily become such a story,” she said quietly. “A savage Dalish raised to lead the faithful. But I feel as if I have been sinking, not rising.”
“Often those who defeat the odds in such a way are the harshest critics of their former comrades. Because they were able to succeed, they mistakenly believe that all have the same opportunities afforded to them. This belief can cause them to be crueler, more callous toward the less fortunate. Such was the case with Ghilan’nain. After her ascension by Andruil, she became convinced of her own superiority and worthiness and of the people’s inferiority.”
The Mother of Halla had always seemed a kind, welcoming image to Ellana. To love and create the animals of the world and turn to despise your own people...
“And Fen’Harel? You said he was also raised up.”
“What do you think?”
“He locked away the gods. It could mean he considered himself above even them.” She thought of what she might do to the powers that be. She was on her way to save Celene, but if she had a chance to dethrone her? To give back lands or power or wealth to the elves? “Or perhaps he was a revolutionary.”
Solas wrapped his arm around her shoulder, and she leaned back into his chest.
Ellana slapped the glass out of Dorian’s hand. “Did you see the vintage they tried to serve you? It’s an insult.”
Dorian raised an eyebrow at her, and she lowered her voice. The nobility at the Winter Palace were relentless in their eavesdropping. “I can’t afford to have two drunk mages setting fire to the furnishings, and Solas beat you to it. I think he stole a hat off someone. I need you to watch him while I climb a trellis.”
Dorian’s expression changed from miffed to incredulous to amused. “I want it written down in the records the sacrifices I made tonight.”
“Take it up with Varric. Tell him anything you want.”
It seemed ridiculous she had bothered to dress up as the Inquisitor at all. She spent most of the night spying on people, creeping through hidden rooms, and killing Venatori. Her absence was noted, which would not have been a problem if her presence hadn’t been. Her companions were disasters, even Dorian, who she thought could charm the human nobility, was apparently the wrong kind of human nobility. Solas seemed happy enough to get drunk in a corner, and Varric just left. In the end, her advisers didn’t even seem to want her to save the damn empress, even though that was their entire reason for coming. She saved her anyway, reuniting her with her lover, for the good that would do, because for all his claims to be a chevalier, Gaspard believed mercenaries were the same as loyal troops.
She let the empress execute him, and she took his mercenaries, too.
She stood alone on the balcony, staring at her hand and trying to summon a fire to burn the palace down. Ugly clothes expensive enough to feed a family, drunk humans changing the course of history because of imagined insults, the bones of her people underneath it all. Celene, who had purged an alienage to assuage her pride, remained empress. Briala, for all her talk, went back to her. The palace was still called it Halamshiral. Elven culture and history was fashionable. Elves were not.
Solas met her on the balcony, still sporting the hat and a good mood.
“Dance with me,” he said, holding out his hand.
She shook her head. “Just take me home.”
She had never felt like dancing less in her life. She had never been to a place she hated more than Halamshiral.
“Blow the blighted signal horn!”
Bull stared at her, horn in hand, dumbfounded. Ellana looked across the beach where Venatori were preparing for an attack. The Chargers couldn’t see them.
“Do I really have to tell you twice?” she growled. Her hand got itchy as magic gathered down below. She was too far away to help them. With an angry sigh, she hurled herself over the cliff, her plate armor scraping against rock as she slid down toward the shore.
Her landing was graceless, but she hauled herself up and unsheathed her sword. Behind her the signal horn blew, Bull evidently making up his mind. She advanced toward the beach, alone, and felt the Veil crackle around her. Four mages at once and three archers besides. She couldn’t stop the arrows, but she could save that Qunari ship.
Sweat beaded on her forehead as she shoved the magic across the Veil. Her hand burned, blocking her other senses. She had a vague awareness of arrows hitting her armor, the sensation of a barrier being placed on her, but that was pushed back across the Veil as well. Four mages casting at once was too many. Her vision was turning green. An arrow struck her hand, causing only a minor wound through her glove, but the pain was explosive. She stumbled and fell, the weight of her pain pinning her to the ground. She tried to regain control of the Veil, but spells broke through. She felt the magic in the air and waited for the hit, but nothing came. She lifted her head at a thunderous detonation from the Qunari ship. In seconds, it was gone.
A hand on her shoulder, an arrow whooshing past her ear. Her comrades had taken the slow path down the cliff and now joined her. It little mattered now. She had failed. They easily cut down the now exhausted mages. When it was done, the Iron Bull threw down his axe and walked away.
“What happened?” she asked Dorian.
“The Qunari elf is dead, and Bull is Tal-Vashoth.”
In the distance, Ellana heard him yell, “Tal Va-fucking-shoth!”
Solas was fussing over her hand, his face stony, and she knew another argument was on the way. All that effort, all that pain, and for what? A blighted disaster. She started unbuckling her armor and threw her chestplate to the ground.
“Well that went tits up in a hurry,” Krem said, the rest of the Chargers trailing behind him.
“Loot the bodies,” Ellana ordered, yanking her hand away from Solas, “And let the Iron Bull cool off.”
She stomped down the beach in the opposite direction as Bull. As expected, Solas followed. When she was certain they were far enough away that the roar of the spray would cover their voices, she whipped around to face him.
“Just say what you are going to say.”
“Take off your shirt.”
Ellana blinked. That was not what she was expecting. The surprise momentarily displaced her anger, and she started to undo the buttons one-handed. A loud huff came from Solas. “Let me,” he sighed. He pushed the shirt off her shoulder and sighed again. Almost her entire arm was the wrong color now, the green tendrils extending toward her shoulder. He placed a finger on one, and she felt a flash of pain that made her hiss. Solas shook his head and simply stared at the anchor.
“Aren’t you going to tell me to stop?” she asked. “Aren’t you going to scold me like I’m a child playing with forces I can’t hope to understand?”
“There are only so many ways for me to tell you that you are dying, vhenan. Your impulsive actions only hasten the inevitable.”
Ellana wrenched her arm out of his hands. “Impulsive? There were one hundred Qunari on that ship.”
“Then you should not have urged the Iron Bull to signal the retreat.”
She turned on her heel and paced the beach. “Why is it even up to me? Let five members of the Inquisition die so a hundred strangers can live? These are the choices I’m meant to be making? Because some ancient asshole left his shit lying around and now it’s poisoning me? I couldn’t tell the Iron Bull to watch Krem die. They are family, even if he doesn’t know it.”
Solas’s voice softened. “I agree with your decision, vhenan. Strategically, it was correct. It is unlikely the Qunari meant to honor their alliance with the Inquisition. The Iron Bull is a better ally to us as a free man.”
Ellana shouldered her shirt back on but didn’t bother trying to rebutton it.
“How did the elf die?” she demanded.
“There was a… misunderstanding. Dorian thought he was going to attack.”
“So he killed him?”
“No. The Iron Bull slayed him.”
Ellana rubbed her temples. This entire operation was a complete disaster. The ship was destroyed by the Venatori—a risk of the battle that would have been bad enough. But the Inquisition murdering their representative? That was grounds for more than a failed alliance—there would likely be war.
Ellana sat heavily on the rocks and began to unbuckle her greaves. It took time and concentration to steady her hand enough to get them off. The laces of her boots were even harder. Finally, her feet free, she went to stand in the surf. She closed her eyes as the wind beat her face and thought about how home was just across that sea. If Solas was right, she would never see it again.
“How long?” she asked, holding out her hand and turning to him, “How long before I am reunited with my sister?”
“Maybe a year. Maybe two.”
She turned back to the wind, back toward home. “I can close a lot of rifts in a year.”
“As long as Corypheus retains his orb, he will be able to open another breach in the sky. And… it’s possible if we retrieve it, the mark could be removed.”
It felt like a lie, but a kind one. One last goal, one last hope. A reason to keep fighting. Her feet were starting to numb in the freezing waves, but she did not retreat just yet.
“I suppose it’s time to listen to my ‘arcane adviser’ then.”
She explained how Celene had gifted her a human mage. Ellana had been successfully ignoring the woman. But if she had to hunt down Corypheus before she died, she supposed it was time to take her advice and venture into the Arbor Wilds.
She would have to collect the Iron Bull first.
She found him punching a tree, his knuckles bloodied for the effort. “I’m sorry,” she called to him. He paused in hitting the tree. “I could hit you with a stick again if it will help.”
“Not this time, boss.”
Ellana sat on the rocky hill and patted the ground next to her, inviting Bull to join her. “Does much really change for you now? Don’t you just keep doing what you’ve been doing? Only now you can stop doing it, if you want.”
“The Qun gives order. Purpose. Qunari without the Qun go savage.”
Ellana stared out at the waves and reflected she no longer had to worry about him assassinating her. Savage seemed to be a relative term. “I’d never considered how similar Circle mages and Qunari were before.” Bull frowned at her. “You’re taught from birth that you are dangerous without tight control. Like you were born with a demon already inside of you. At least the Qun lets you breathe some fresh air.”
“Yeah, well, plenty abominations around, so that’s a comforting thought.”
“You’ve always been in control of your actions, Bull. Now you are in control of your fate.”
He picked up a rock and chucked it into the ocean. “What would you do?”
“I’d take Dorian and run. Go somewhere that smells nice, like spices or the ocean. There was this one street in Ostwick that always smelled like chocolate. Never had enough money to find out what they were selling. Always liked walking that street, though.”
“You think I’m leaving the Inquisition before this thing is over?”
“No. And I don’t think you’d leave the Chargers behind. I didn’t make you blow the horn today, Bull, but I’m glad you did.”
“Yeah. Thanks, boss. I think.”
In the end, turning down the Well of Sorrows was easier than Ellana would have expected. She had never turned down an opportunity to swim in her life. A pool like that, golden, ancient, calling to her—by all rights she should have waded right in.
After talking with Abelas, she couldn’t. The scorn he had, the dismissal. The legacy of her ancestors lay before her, and they found her worthless. She would not have a geas to that. Let the human bear the cost. Her ancestors did not even care if she knew the truth of their world. They denied her as their descendant.
As she watched Solas paint it on the wall, she wondered when the well had been named for sorrows. Had Mythal always considered the knowledge of her priests to be sorrowful? Did it become sorrow after she was murdered? Was sorrow just the Elvhen lot in life?
“I thought you’d be asleep by now.” He had set down his brushes, his paint, and was wiping his hands with a cloth.
“I’m not certain I made the right choice.”
“You did.” His answer was firm. Final. “The cost was too high.”
The cost. She was already under a geas. Her cursed hand had locked her into the position of Inquisitor. Cursed to be bound to Andraste. She clenched her fists.
“I wear Mythal’s vallaslin. What is a geas to someone I already honor?”
“It is done.”
Ellana wasn’t done. She stood up and paced the room. He had painted her deeds on the walls, and they caged her all the same. She loved and hated this room. “The knowledge would have died with me. Sooner rather than later. Isn’t that what Abelas wanted?”
Solas stiffened. His eyes flickered to her arm. She stopped pacing. Even with her gloves on, the glow was visible from her hand. She hadn’t made it worse since the Storm Coast, but Solas had an expression she was growing familiar with. A stony face with a vague sadness. He was closing up. Preparing for the inevitable.
“What Abelas wanted was new purpose. I believe he will find it.”
“With Elvhen like you?”
She let the words hang in the air. She hadn’t missed Abelas’s meaning. Solas was not an elf like her. He was some other kind of elf. She’d had time while he painted. Time to consider who he was. An elf who knew history better than any other, who had mastered ancient magics, and who spoke Elvhen perfectly and then pretended not to in a crumbling temple. An elf who painted frescoes in the ancient style on the walls of an ancient castle forgotten by all but him.
She wasn’t stupid. She’d known he was different. He was… wrong. Unfamiliar and foreign. Not city elf, not Dalish. Well-educated but with no education. A traveler, and wanderer, an apostate and a scholar. A man who loved court and dancing and political intrigue and spent his time dreaming in ruins. And he could not be all of these things here and now. People like him didn’t exist.
“What Abelas meant—”
She crossed the room to him. “You’ve told me what you are in a thousand ways. Even the first time we met—you couldn’t stop yourself from calling my people children. Had you said it in Elvhen, a language you speak perfectly even in your sleep, I might have caught it sooner. It did not require Abelas repeating your words for me to know what you are.”
Solas looked down at her hand resting on his arm, then lifted his piercing gaze to her face, a muscle in his jaw twitching. Ellana felt her heart beating in her chest. She pulled her hand away. If he lied to her, would she accept it? Could she pretend like she didn’t know?
He held out his hand. “Come with me, vhenan.”
She followed him into the hall. The keep was deserted at this hour, but she knew that spies’ ears never slept. She watched him hesitating in the Great Hall, his feet angled to the courtyard but his eyes staring at the doors. A man who lied easily and frequently, was he a spy, too? But a spy for whom? He went with his feet, and he led her to the room with the eluvian. He had decided to tell the truth, then. They were not going to pretend.
The relief she felt was short-lived. As she stepped through the mirror, it gave way to anger. Her heart was hammering in her chest, her face was burning. She was furious.
He knew his way around.
The Crossroads were eerie and silent. Her bare feet were cold on the ground that wasn’t ground. She drew in air that tasted foreign and tried to quiet the pulsing in her ears. She walked past the forgotten relics of a crumbling world, his world, and she seethed. She broke her hand away from Solas’s.
“Do all ancient elves share contempt for us?” she asked, “or is it just the ones I’ve met?”
He looked hurt at her outburst, blinking in surprise. He shook his head. “It is not that simple.” He gestured for her to enter an eluvian.
She barely registered the change in scenery. Didn’t bother to figure out where she was. The real world, judging by the squishy grass under her feet. When she opened her mouth, she wasn’t even sure what she was going to say. It came out louder than intended. “What I don’t understand is how you despise us. We are your descendants. You created us.”
And now we crumble. Forgotten. Erased. She recognized a statue behind him. They were in Crestwood. Ruins by a waterfall. Everything Elvhen was always ruins. Her feet were cold.
She continued, “Even before I learned what happened at the temple, when I thought it was Tevinter who destroyed us—I thought our ancestors would be proud that we have survived, that we have defined our own existence. But you destroyed us, and you hate us for what you made.”
He swallowed hard, but he didn’t turn away from her. His shoulders were slumped. He mounted no defense. He didn’t deny it. “It can be difficult to face mistakes. To see our culture reduced to shadows…”
“You fucked this mistake, Solas. You shared a bed with a shadow.”
He was already shaking his head, trying to take the words back. Her hand started to ache. “You are not—”
“And you know the worst part? You were the only person who made me feel like a person. Not a symbol or a tool to be used on a fucking crusade.”
“No,” he shook his head, and she saw the light glint on his cheek. Tears. “No, I—you changed my perspective, Ellana. You made me realize I was wrong. You challenged everything I believed.” He tentatively held his hand to her cheek. “I made love to you because I love you.”
She wanted to believe him. She wanted to bury her sudden fury and pretend she didn’t know. Love him without qualifications or suspicion or pain. Be loved. It would be easier. Simpler.
She turned away from him.
She had to think. The throbbing in her hand, the look on Solas’s face—it made it hard. She had to organize her information. Quell her anger. Make decisions.
“Why are you here? Why did you join the Inquisition?”
“The Breach threatened us all. I had knowledge to help.”
She tried to think back to Haven. He did help. But he kept his information. He manipulated her. Probably others. She let him. He was kind, and beautiful, and less foreign than everyone else. A humble elf with good stories and a sharp wit. No affiliations, and if he had them, what danger would they be to her?
He didn’t follow her as she walked around the pond. She had no target in mind, and it did not take long to reach the rocky cliff that hemmed them in. It was dark, but she could still make out the ancient paintings on them. Once again penned in by painted walls. Remnants of a people who covered everything with their mark. She traced her fingers over the outlines of elves on halla.
Everything in this world must remind him of what he lost.
She realized her anger was more about these fucking ruins than it was about Solas. He misled her, but who hadn’t? He was old, but he was alone, like her. Grieving, like her. She felt these things in him, and she knew they were true. He hid his true self, and he did not.
Her real anger was for unjustness of it all. The Dalish were disappointments to the ancients, but then the ancients must be even bigger disappointments to the Dalish. The cruelty of the Evanuris, the destruction of their own home and culture, their inability to recognize their descendants. If they knew, if her family had known…
But they were gone. And that was unjust, too. Solas was her family now. She had made a promise to him. And she trusted him. She felt that in her bones. Her information was incomplete, but as long as he held the missing pieces, she knew she would not go astray.
She slowly walked back to him. He hadn’t moved. The world was a graveyard, but there was something he still wanted from it. She would help him.
“You’re after the orb.”
He took a breath. Planned his words. There was no need. She’d already made her decision. “It is ancient, and it should not be in the hands of someone who would use it for destruction.”
“You said before that the orb belonged to one of our pantheon. Who?”
His eyes seemed to glow with the word. She’d never gotten his true feelings on the Dread Wolf. But from the stories, it seemed fitting that he would be the one to curse her hand and tear open the sky.
“What do you plan to do with it?”
He no longer looked slumped. His shoulders were straight, his jaw set. But in the past, where he might have turned away from her and deflected the question, he now gazed at her earnestly. “I will fix his mistakes.”
She took a step closer to him. “I will help you.”
He blinked, surprised. “I would not ask you that. You have enough—”
She did not hear how he ended the sentence. A sudden flare in her arm doubled her over in pain. She fell to her knees, and Solas was by her side, soothing her, pouring magic into her. The throbbing subsided and she dropped her head onto his shoulder.
“Ir abelas,” she whispered.
“But I am a shadow,” she conceded quietly. She put a hand on his cheek. He leaned into it, closing his eyes. “I’ll be dead in a year. I’ll have only lived thirty. Compared to you… Our time together will be just passing shadow on your life.”
He gripped the hand holding hers. “Stop. You are not a shadow. You are more real than anything else to me. You have turned my attention from the Fade and changed my understanding of this world. You…”
This time she stopped him with her lips. She kissed him tentatively, sorrowfully, and he responded ferociously.
They made love. Ellana undressed him with anger, with need. She kissed him with desperation and fear. And it was heartache she felt in every thrust. Regret for what was and what could not be. Grief for a future she couldn’t have. But when her pleasure gave way around him, it was love that she felt. And as he held her to him, gratitude filled her for the short time they had together. It wasn’t enough, it could never be enough, but it was good even when it hurt and it was hers. “Ar lath ma,” she whispered, and after a time, Solas wept. Heaving sobs that racked his whole body against hers. She held him, stroked his head, murmured small words of comfort.
They stayed like that until morning, sleeping in fits and bouts, saying little. The sun rose on them, and Ellana knew she had to go back to Skyhold. She had to use the well of knowledge that lived in a human vessel, slay an ancient monster, and then face a short future.
Solas lingered. “I still might save you with the orb.”
“Am I the Dread Wolf’s mistake, too?” she said, intending levity. She was rewarded with a grimace.
“Then we should hurry back to Skyhold.”
“There is one other thing I should tell you.”
He told her of the origins of the vallaslin. It had been a mark of slavery and cruelty. He offered her the choice to remove it.
She thought of her face. A reflection she couldn’t stand, growing older and changing in ways that her sister’s never would. She thought of her family and their traditions and what she had lost. Receiving her vallaslin had marked a pivotal change in her life, from child to adult, from spy to wife. A Dalish with no clan was not Dalish. Removing it would end that chapter for her.
She walked back to Skyhold barefaced and looking forward.
Apparently I last updated this three days before my dissertation defense XD Anyway, I'm not done with it, but I did find this a challenging chapter. And we are so close to the end!