Their Inquisitor is a slip of a girl, really. She almost reminds Dorian of some of the family slaves from Qarinus; Not in the way she holds herself, not that at all, but in the gleaming bronze skin, the hard steel eyes, the burnished copper hair. It takes him weeks to make the connection, really, because her stride is steeped in quiet confidence and her vallaslin is very good at distorting whatever memories he's trying to dredge up from half a life ago.
They're camping in the shadows of one of the many crumbling Elvhen ruins in the Exalted Plains when Dorian asks, "Have you ever been here before, Inquisitor?"
Nymphaea, pale grey eyes wide with surprise, arches an eyebrow. "No, I can't say I've set foot in Orlais before," she replies. "I can't remember Clan Lavellan ever leaving the Marches, though I don't know their history before I joined them."
Although they try not to show it, Cassandra and Blackwall are now listening intently. Dorian's had practice spotting eavesdroppers, and neither of the two warriors are every subtle.
"You weren't born into your clan?" Dorian asks carefully. Although he certainly wasn't any expert on elven culture, Nymph had always seemed like the most Dalish of any elves. Sera, for instance, certainly considered her "too elfy".
Nymph answered easily, "No, I wasn't. My parents and I joined the clan when I was very young."
"That sounds like quite the story, if you're in the mood for sharing," says Dorian. He's walking on eggshells now; he doesn't want to pry, but he is dreadfully curious. One of his great weaknesses, Felix would tease, although it wasn't until now that Dorian really understood how true that could be.
Nymph has a troubled look on her face now, lips pursed into a thin line. If Cole were here, Dorian doesn't doubt that surely he'd be muttering something cleverly cryptic about whatever memories are playing in her mind right now.
"I want to tell you," she says after a long moment, "but I'm not quite sure how." She doesn't make eye contact with him, and it feels as if she's talking to all three of them, now.
Surprisingly enough, it's Blackwall—Blackwall, whom Dorian still hadn't forgiven for sending their dear Inquisitor into a sulk—who says, "You don't have to say anything until you're ready to, Nymph."
Nymphaea glances up at her Warden, and suddenly Dorian feels almost like he's intruding on something. The reflection of fire in her pale eyes makes them shine. However, she only utters her thanks for their patience, and retreats into her tent.
It's not until they—the same party of Cassandra, Blackwall, Nymph and himself—are halfway back to Skyhold after the dreadful day at the Gull and Lantern that the topic arises once more. Night is just beginning to fall, and Dorian hasn't said a word to Nymph since she let Dorian and his father have a few words to themselves.
One part of him, small and bitter as a cacao bean, is still stinging at the fact that Nymphaea took him there without warning, had tricked him into seeing his father, but the surprise on her face had been genuine, which meant that she hadn't expected to see Halward Pavus, either. Her quiet, small voice as she insisted that she was only trying to help also tugged at Dorian's heartstrings quite a bit, and he knew that if she were to ask for his forgiveness right that moment, he'd give it.
He's just gotten the campfire roaring to life when Nymph sits next to him and begins talking with no preamble.
"We escaped from somewhere before we met Clan Lavellan. I don't remember where exactly."
The two short sentences make him freeze, and from the sudden lack of wood chopping and tent-rustling, Blackwall and Cassandra heard as well. If Nymphaea noticed, she simply continued to stare into the bright fire.
"We were kept in dormitories full of other elves, but Mum and Da knew the way out. We gathered what little belongings we had and left one night. Mum knew how to sneak out of the gates and Da knew the guard rotation, and we were out of the house in under an hour."
As if by some twisted kind of future-sight, it suddenly dawned on Dorian what she was telling him. He almost wanted her to stop, but he understood what she was doing, now. She was apologising. Having seen the reveal of one of Dorian's darkest memories, she was exchanging her own in return, as recompense for tricking him.
he continued on, "We didn't even know where the Free Marches were, but I could feel it when we'd crossed the border. It was silly, but it felt as if even the grass was greener once we left Tevinter."
The name of his country made him flinch, and it was only then that she looked up at him. Dorian remembered angry words they had both said in snowy Haven months before, how Nymph stepped out of the argument with a blank steel glare, but acted as if it hadn't ever happened the next day. He'd been wrong in his assumption: she knew what slavery was like, more than he could say.
The only words that he could form were, "I'm so sorry, Nymphaea."
A soft, tender smile turned her lips, and she placed a hand on his arm. "Thank you, lethallin."
The elven word shocked Dorian so badly, he'd have fallen to his knees, if he weren't already sitting down. He murmured, incredulous, "You'd call me kinsman? I can't even imagine what you think of me, after...everything."
His recognition of her language pleased her, as she clutched his hand tightly, and declared, "I think you're very brave. It takes courage to walk your own path, lethallin. You've denied the past you were raised with, and that's no small feat either."
Every word he wished he could say closed his throat up, so he simply enveloped Nymph in his arms in an attempt to hide his blotchy face. He'd never been a pretty crier, after all.