Actions

Work Header

Exile

Chapter Text

Ellana admired the bow that had served her for well over a hundred years. It was fashioned from a solid piece of bone, cut from a dragon’s rib. She ran a finger over the handhold between its two gargantuan spurs, each shaped like a dragon’s tooth. It was the only place on the entire bow that was wrapped in leather. The string too was fashioned from a material that was rare and difficult to find.

Ellana doubted there’d be dragon-webbing where she was going. Solas had tried to dissuade her from leaving Thedas. He would try again before he allowed her step through an Eluvian into the unknown. The man was as proud as he was possessive. Ellana doubted he’d let her go without an argument.

It’d taken her months to convince him to exile her to another world. And he had spent those same months trying to convince her to stay where she belonged. At his side, among her own people. Ellana hated the idea. She knew Solas intended to persuade her otherwise, with force if necessary.

He had loved her in Skyhold, and afterwards throughout the war. He loved her now with a passion Ellana was hard-pressed to return. Solas’ betrayal had left her world in ashes. Her refusal to see him as a tyrant rather than a saviour had made her a pariah. Ellana clung to her Dalish roots with a stubbornness that infuriated the elves of the new world.

Thedas and its people had changed, but she hadn’t.

Ellana was fastidious in the checking of her quiver. It was fashioned from dragon-hide, though the buckles were silverite. She picked through its contents, examining the arrows from arrowhead to fletching. She nodded in satisfaction, glad she’d done the work herself. Solas’ reluctance to allow her access to the armoury had sent her foraging for supplies.

She’d sworn the cook to secrecy. It was better that Solas didn’t know why there was a surplus of roasted swan on his table. His soldiers weren’t complaining, but Solas would if he learned who’d culled the flock at his favourite pond. Ellana set aside the quiver bristling with white-fletched arrows. She gazed at the last of her personal arsenal – a pair of silverite daggers.

Each lay atop the coverlet of her bed, beside a pair of dragon-hide sheaths. Ellana gave the hilts a cursory look, though she concentrated on the blades. The daggers were dwarven-made with a pearl-like runestone inlaid into the crossguard. Ellana tapped each runestone with the tip of a finger, testing the magic. The first sent a burst of heat across her skin, while the second raised gooseflesh in a blast of icy-cold air.

The fire and frost runes were as resilient as ever. The magic infused into them (enhanced with lyrium) was as inexhaustible as their maker. Ellana’s smile was bittersweet when she thought of Dagna. The smith, a dwarf out of Orzammar, had studied in the Circle of Magi alongside a handful of Tranquil. Ellana’s daggers were the last weapons she’d crafted in the forges of Skyhold.

Dagna’s greatest feat of smithcraft served a more mundane purpose. It was the length of Ellana’s forearm, wrought from silverite, and warded by magic. It was lighter than steel, but had the strength of dragon-bone. Ellana rolled the ball-joint in the wrist testing for flexibility. The noise-dampening spell inscribed into the plates worked as well now as it had a century ago.

She barely heard the whir of gears as she wiggled her mechanical fingers. She paused when she saw the gauntlet’s silver palm, stamped with the sigil of the Inquisition. The eye with lashes like rays of sunlight atop the blade of a sword. It was an eerie reminder of the past, of her failures, and Solas’ many successes. The war was over, tens of thousands were dead but Thedas was as it had once been.

A world full of magic.

“A place, I can’t live in”, lamented Ellana. “Maker forgive me. All that’s happened is my fault. I should have killed him when I had the chance. I didn’t and all because of some stupid sense of sentimentality”.

She scowled when she heard the lock rattle. A key unlocked the door to her cell, a warded room deep inside the heart of Solas’ fortress. She was somewhere in the mountains, for the air was thin, though saturated with magic. Ellana didn’t bother to check who had come to keep her company for the night. Only one elf ever brought her food and conversation.

The door swung closed as he hooked the keys to his belt. He knew better than to leave it lying about. He was a thief and a rogue too. A profession they shared though Ellana had trained as an assassin rather than a ranger. Solas had permitted her a companion over the years, though she doubted it was for her comfort alone.

This elf, like her, was one of the last Dalish left in Thedas.

“Mahariel”.

He smiled at her with a flash of white teeth. “Lavellan. Haven’t we known each other long enough to quit with formalities?”

Ellana snorted. “Hardly. Why are you here?”

He presented her a platter laden with food. Ellana frowned at the fare he’d brought. A bowl of stew steamed beside a plate of bread. She saw two pitchers and cups too. She grimaced, nose wrinkling when Mahariel set the platter down atop the only seat in the room.

A rustic wooden stool served as a makeshift table. Mahariel sank onto her bed with a smile. He claimed a cup for himself, then gestured to each pitcher. Ellana smelt the cloying stink of fermented fruit wafting from the first. She shook her head, nodding to the second. Mahariel chuckled as he filled his own cup, and her’s with water.

“It upsets him when you turn down the wine”.

Ellana snorted. “I’d rather not drink myself into a stupor”.

“I would if I were you”, teased Mahariel. “Fen’Harel has done little in recent years to endear himself to the people. The flat-ears call him our liberator, but the elven Viddathari are less complimentary. They’ve not forgiven him for storming Seheron, or for taking Par Vollen out from under the salasari. They think Solas is a warmonger not a peacemaker”.

Ellana accepted the bowl of stew. She took the spoon Mahariel offered as he helped himself to a hunk of bread. She ate as he regaled her about the latest upsets in Solas’ campaign. Three decades since the end of the war hadn’t slowed him down. Ellana heard about the riots in Seheron, Tevinter, and Orlais before Mahariel got to the point.

She was halfway through her stew when the offer was made.

“Fen’Harel could use your help”.

“He made mistakes. He can bear the consequences”, grumbled Ellana. “I won’t be his pawn. He should know that my by now and so should you. My answer is the same as always”.

Mahariel snickered. “A resounding – No?”

“What do you think?”

Mahariel pursed his lips, whistling. He was impressed by her continued refusal to involve herself in Solas’ affairs. Although he’d never understood her reluctance. Thedas had changed. To a Dalish outcast, everything Solas had done was for the betterment of the elves.

His crimes were forgiveable.

Ellana thought him a fool.

“He needs you”, wheedled Mahariel. “Fen’Harel has the power to reshape Thedas a thousand times over, but you and I both know he’s shit at diplomacy. He alienated the elven Viddathari when he called the teachings of Koslun barbaric. He had about as much success with the elves in Tevinter and Orlais when he said their precious Maker was a fable. He was furious when they accused him of committing sacrilege”.

“By capturing and imprisoning Andraste’s Herald?” taunted Ellana.

Mahariel shrugged his shoulders. “It was more akin to murder, but you get the idea. The elves of Thedas think you're dead”.

“No thanks to, Solas”.

“As I recall. You volunteered to become his prisoner”.

Ellana picked up a slab of bread and threw it at him. Mahariel caught it before he was struck in the face, and scolded her for wasting food.

“Now, ma falon. Bread is for eating not throwing”.

“You know, I didn’t have a choice!” snapped Ellana. “Solas threatened to burn Skyhold to the ground if I didn’t yield!”

“And you believed him”.

“He can turn people to stone with a glance. And he created the Veil, that sundered the waking world from the sleeping. Of course, I believed him when he said he would raze Skyhold to the ground. It saved my people, Mahariel. Even if I had to rot in a dungeon for thirty years”.

Mahariel gestured to the walls of her room. “This is hardly a dungeon. You’re not fettered hand and foot. You have a roof over your head, regular meals. It could be worse”.

Ellana gazed about the room that had been her prison for three decades. The walls were mortared stone, bare of decoration. The roof was the timber floor of the room above. Her own floor was a thick slab of granite covered by rugs. Some were the hides of animals – bears and druffalo, whiles others were handwoven likely on a loom.

The blues, reds, and yellows brightened the room’s bland greys. The two windows, little more than narrow slits let in the sun and breeze. Ellana was glad for the hearth, without it she would’ve lived inside a tomb rather than a prison. The fire thawed the chill in the air as she considered the point Mahariel made. Solas had kept her comfortable, even if he’d always confined her to her room in the evenings.

She had a bed large enough to fit three, a small desk, a wooden stool, and a bookcase full of scrolls. She had access to parchment and ink, though she was forbidden to correspond with anyone.  Mahariel, alone, served as her messenger to Solas. The rookery had been moved after her first breakout. She’d been relocated several times after she’d tried to memorise the fortress’ layout too.

Now her door was locked at night, the windows of her room too small to wriggle through. The walls, floor, and ceiling were warded within and without to contain her mischief. Ellana snorted when she spied the runes carved into the beams overhead. The mortared stones in each wall bore more inscriptions, all in ancient elvish. The rugs on the floor concealed the wards against fire, flood, and every misfortune she’d ever created.

She was bound in every way except by hand and foot. Mahariel was spy and gaoler, keeping an eye on her as well as bringing her meals. Ellana supposed Solas had learned his lesson after the last one. The man, a city elf from Kirkwall, had belittled the Dalish once too often within her hearing. One night, she’d garotted him with the collar of his own gambeson.

He’d survived – barely. And from that day onwards, a Dalish elf had served in his place. Mahariel had been her gaoler for nigh on twenty-seven years. Pleasant company though he was, Ellana still thought him a turncoat. She tolerated his presence, though she knew better than to trust him. Mahariel would report every word she said to Solas.

This was a game for him, as much as it was for her.

“A cage is still a cage with or without bars”, retorted Ellana. She regarded Mahariel with suspicion, eyes narrowing when he frowned. “Solas had best keep his word. I want out of this place for good. I’m ready to see the sky again, to breath the air, even if it’s on another world”.

Mahariel’s smile was gone, his voice grave. “You would be alone without friends or allies”.

“I’ll take the chance”.

“You could be killed, even die there. No one would mourn your passing”.

Ellana arched an eyebrow, and gave him a long hard look. “The people of Thedas have thought me dead for thirty years. If Solas exiles me to another world. They’ll never know otherwise. His lie will stand with no one to contradict it”.

“You’ll be vulnerable, without protection”.

“I can look after myself. Besides”, said Ellana as she gestured to the bow, quiver, and daggers on the bed. “I’ll not be going unarmed. Solas insisted I take my weapons with me. I’ll forage for whatever else I need when I get there”.

“Your life would be difficult, with few comforts”.

Ellana frowned. “All I hear are excuses for me to stay. Why do you care, Mahariel? It’s not as if you’ve ever liked me. Last I heard, you were telling Solas to be rid of me”.

He blushed, cheeks reddening. “A mistake”.

“I doubt that”.

Mahariel set his cup down on the platter. He returned her scrutiny with a weariness she’d never seen in him. His eyes were dark and full of sorrow as he gave voice to a fear he’d long harboured. It was sobering to hear him speak of something so simple yet profound. They weren’t friends, or clanmates even if they shared the same culture.

“If you leave. I will be the last Dalish elf in Thedas”.

Ellana exhaled a weary breath. “Mahariel”. She gasped when he grabbed her hand. His fingers were tight around her wrist. His thumb digging into her skin hard enough to hurt. She tried to pull away, but Mahariel held firm.

“You could stay”.

“I don’t want too! Now let me go!”

“Maker’s balls, Ellana. Don’t make me beg”.

She tore her hand free, head shaking when Mahariel tried to grab her again. She reached behind her, fingers crawling over her blankets. She snatched up the first thing she touched. It twirled in the palm of her hand, spinning like a top until she grasped the hilt. Ellana pressed the blade to Mahariel’s throat, stopping him cold.

And still he had one thing on his mind.

“Stay”.

“Never!”

Mahariel pressed forward till the blade bit into his skin. A thin line of red seeped from the cut, the droplets staining Ellana’s fingertips. She stared when he admitted something she didn’t expect. His face was earnest, his tone sincere. Mahariel offered her the last piece of his heart.

“Fen’Harel isn’t the only man who cares for you”.

Ellana trembled whilst Mahariel bled for her. “Get out”.

“If you won’t stay for him. Stay for me”.

“Get out!”

Mahariel withdrew when he heard a commotion in the hall outside. Ellana’s shout had roused the guards. They were noisy as they swore, stomped their feet, and rattled their keys. The door to her room was yanked open. Mahariel pressed her hand down into the bed to conceal her blade amidst the folds of her blankets. He pulled the collar of his gambeson high to cover the cut in his neck.

It bled into his undershirt, staining the fabric red. He pressed a finger to his lips when Ellana’s gaze shifted from him to to the guards beyond. Mahariel acted as if nothing were amiss. He took the half-empty bowl of stew from her lap along with her spoon. He returned both to the platter atop the stool.

“Master Mahariel! Is everything all right? We heard her scream”.

“Everything is fine. Return to your post”.

Mahariel fetched Ellana’s cup. He offered it to her with a nod. She accepted, brows furrowing. She stilled when his fingers brushed hers, the contact brief but electrifying. Ellana was perturbed when he pressed the cup to her lips.

The look he gave her was expectant. She sipped the water, tasting nothing as the guard was joined by another. Both were elves loyal to Solas. Ellana shared a look with Mahariel, swallowing. He smiled, mouth tight, the line of his jaw tensing.

“Goodnight”, he told her. “Fen’Harel will await you at first light”.

Ellana watched him rise from her bed with a casualness that belied the tension between them. She glanced from him to the guards beyond. The two men bowed their heads when Mahariel crossed the floor. He dismissed them both with a wave of his hand. He paused on the threshold when Ellana called.

“Does he mean to discuss my exile?”

The question startled Mahariel. He looked over his shoulder, eyes wide. Ellana saw fear reflected in there, as well as a sadness so deep it left her shaken. Mahariel’s voice was soft, though she heard his disappointment. His smile was gone too.

“Yes. You’ve had a day to prepare. Fen’Harel will make his final decision tomorrow. Eat, Ellana. Tonight might be the last you spend with us”.

He left her with the guards in tow. The door closed behind him with a click, and clank of a keys as the deadbolt slid home. She was locked inside again – alone. Ellana set her cup down on the platter, fingers shaking. She glared at the dagger in her blankets, the silverite blade stained red.

“Fenedhis”, she swore. “What was he thinking?”

She gripped the hilt, turning the blade against her thigh. She wiped it clean on her hose, the wool dark enough to hide the red. Ellana grimaced when the stink of iron filled her nose. She sheathed the dagger with more force than necessary. The crossguard slammed home with a bang. She cursed, catching her breath, heart hammering in her chest.

Ellana was shocked by what had transpired. She knew better than to trust Mahariel. He was one of Solas’ most trusted agents. She was suspicious of his motives. In twenty-seven years he’d never let on that he felt more than pity for her.

“It must be a lie meant to rattle me”, she told herself. “Solas is as clever as he is manipulative”. Ellana exhaled a shaky breath, her eyes closing tight. “Blessed Andraste, if you have any love left for me. Get me out of this cage”.

Chapter Text

Ellana spent most of the night awake, too bewildered to sleep. Her last conversation with Mahariel had left her dreading the coming day. She’d dozed off a handful of hours before dawn, exhausted in mind and body. She woke at first light to the rattle of keys. She roused, yawning, as the door to her room was unlocked.

The door swung open to reveal Mahariel. He stood on the threshold with a bucket in hand, and a pile of clothing slung over his shoulder. He was quiet as he invited himself inside her room. He had neither pleasantries nor a smile for her this morning. His mouth was tight, his expression grim.

“On your feet”.

Ellana curbed her tongue. She didn’t like his tone, though she did as he asked. It would do her little good to alienate him. Mahariel had been her constant companion for two decades. He’d overseen her meals, her excursions around the fortress, and her lessons with Solas.

She’d been especially grateful for the latter. Being around Solas for any length of time always made her uncomfortable. Now after years of camaraderie, things were awkward between them. Ellana sighed when Mahariel crossed the floor. The door to her cell locked behind him with a clink of steel.

The guards returned to their posts outside, whilst Mahariel set the bucket on the floor. He grasped the clothing at his shoulder, tossing it on the bed. Ellana gaped at the assortment he’d brought. He had everything from small-clothes to breeches, though the gloves were a surprise. One was short and fingerless, while the other was longer – meant to cover from wrist to elbow. Ellana reached for the second glove, the digits of her left hand bright against the black leather.

“You’ve thought of everything”.

Mahariel nodded. “I didn’t think you’d want anyone to see your arm. It could raise awkward questions about your past and origins. No one has seen an elf with a silverite hand outside this fortress. Fewer still would know that elf carried a fortune in dwarven craftsmanship on them too”.

“If they did”, said Ellana. “It’d increase my chances of being lynched”.

“Or killed. People do terrible things for the smallest of rewards”.

“Still trying to convince me to stay?”

Mahariel shook his head. “No. You’ve made your decision. I don’t blame you for wanting to be rid of Solas. A life of imprisonment no matter how pleasant the cage isn’t a life at all”.

“It’s survival”.

“And mere existence”, finished Mahariel. “I understand better than you think”.

He frowned as something odd occurred to him. He had wondered for years if Lavellan had resented him after she’d yielded Skyhold. Fen’Harel’s siege of the fortress had lasted four days, though little blood had been spilled. The Herald of Andraste had kept her word, going to the Dread Wolf as his prisoner. Her surrender had been absolute, though she’d hardly been an accommodating captive.

“Ellana”.

“Yes?”

“Do you hate me?”

She arched an eyebrow. “For what?”

“For being a turncoat”, said Mahariel. “For aiding Solas against you. For being your gaoler and his spy. Need I say more? I’m afraid you think badly of me”.

Ellana flexed the fingers of her mechanical hand, the gears inside whirring. She gazed at the length of her forearm, admiring the transition from silverite to flesh. The gauntlet was fused to her left arm below the elbow. The skin and flesh beneath was scarred where Solas had severed her hand with magic. The cut had been clean, the wound cauterised – though Ellana would never forget the pain.

“No, Mahariel. I don’t hate you. I’ve been angry with you for a great many years, but I don’t think badly of you. I think you’re a fool for treating with Solas, for agreeing to serve him. Yet, I’m glad you did”.

He gaped at her, thinking she might be ready to admit something important. “What? Why?” He was disappointed when Ellana smiled. Her teasing tone told him exactly what she meant.

“Otherwise. I’d be stuck with that flat-eared twit from Kirkwall”.

Mahariel groaned, eyes rolling in exasperation. “I’d hoped you’d make a confession of true love”.

“Not today”.

“Pity”.

Ellana snorted as she threw the covers back. She set her bare toes on the floor, glad of the rugs. She saw Mahariel’s ears turn pink when he gazed first at her feet, then her ankles. He was staring at her shins next, brows arching when the edge of her shift rode above her knees. He pursed his lips, whistling when he glimpsed her bare thighs. Ellana was as discomforted by his leering as she was his honesty.

“Fenedhis. You’re beautiful”.

She took umbrage when Mahariel made his move. He went for her knees, fingers wiggling. Ellana bristled, bracing herself to kick him. She scowled when Mahariel snickered. The sly glint in his eye betraying his rotten sense of humour.

He bypassed her knees for the bucket at her feet. A wave of his hand above it and what was icy-cold now steamed. He smirked as he gestured to the hot water. His intention was clear when he offered her a cloth, and a bar of soap. Ellana snatched both away before he got any ideas.

“Ass. I thought you were going to grope me!”

“Do you want me too?”

“No!”

Mahariel pouted. “After all these years. You’re still as easy to rile as the first day we met. You’re predictable, Lavellan”.

“That won’t matter for much longer”, she taunted. “If all goes well. You won’t have to put up with me anymore. I’ll be free of you too. It’ll be a wonderful change for both of us”.

His smirk disappeared as did the twinkle in his eye. Mahariel regarded her with that same forlorn look from the previous night. Ellana tensed when he lifted a hand. She flinched when his knuckles grazed her cheek with unabashed tenderness. He saw the apprehension, the mistrust in her eyes, though he leaned inward regardless.

His breath was warm against her lips. “I’ll miss you”.

“That’s enough”, warned Ellana, her teeth gritted. “You’re already walking a dangerous line. Don’t cross it. You know how possessive Solas is. I’d rather not give him a reason to hurt you”.

“I’ll take the risk”.

“Mahariel!”

“Allow me this small comfort”, he implored. “I might never see you again. Be kind to me, Ellana. This once. Haven’t I been kind to you these many years?”

He was crowding her space, putting himself between her and the edge of the bed. Ellana’s hand was on his chest when he moved closer. She flinched when her clasped her hand, sliding it across his gambeson until it rested over his heart. Ellana felt it beat through the leather and velvet like a drum. She tried to push him away, to put distance between them, when Mahariel asked for the impossible.

“Grant me one kiss to remember you by”.

“No!”

“Please”.

Ellana gripped the collar of his gambeson, intending to shove him away. She paused when she glimpsed the skin beneath, not quite believing what she saw. She slipped her fingers beneath his collar, running them over the slope of his throat. She waited for a hiss of pain or a whimper of discomfort. She looked up in disbelief, taking in Mahariel’s square chin, angular cheeks, and the sharp bridge of his nose.

She gazed into the eyes beneath his black brows. She saw green with flecks of gold so bright it was as if the sun were reflected there. Ellana was lost in the moment when something warm pressed against her mouth. She groaned, lips parting as Mahariel took advantage. His tongue slid home, running over her gums, then her teeth.

She responded on reflex, mouth opening wider. He was wet, warm, and tasted sweet with an edge of sourness she attributed to wine. He did have a fondness for the finer vintages Solas stocked in the cellar. The weight of his hands on her hips was grounding, the press of his chest against her belly exciting. Ellana moaned when his fingers slid into her hair.

She would’ve prolonged the kiss if she hadn’t noticed something strange. A swipe of her tongue over his incisors was startling. She did it again, brows furrowing when she felt a sharp point. She broke the kiss, suspicious when Mahariel allowed her to retreat without complaint. He said nothing when she stared at his mouth. He was calm as she ran a thumb across his lower-lip, pressing down to reveal the gums beneath.

She stared when she saw the point of a canine. It was long and sharp like the fang of a cat or dog. Ellana turned her thumb against his upper-lip to expose more of his teeth. She gaped when she saw another canine tooth. It was larger and longer than the one below.

She tensed when Mahariel licked the underside of her thumb. A gentle bite on the nail made her gasp. She snatched her hand back, perturbed when his lips peeled away from his teeth. A soft inhuman growl made her tremble. Mahariel exposed his pointed incisors and sharp wolf-like fangs.

His eyes glinted when Ellana paled. She glanced from him to the door beyond that led out into the hall. One scream and she could summon the guards. Mahariel arched an eyebrow as if in challenge. Ellana swallowed, suddenly nervous.

Her gaze fell on the slope of his throat. She tensed when Mahariel yanked open the collar of his gambeson. She expected to see a thin pink line of mended skin. She gawked, incredulous when she didn’t see evidence of a wound or the flushed skin of a recent healing spell. Mahariel was unhurt which meant one of two things.

Either he wasn’t who he presented himself to be.

Or.

“Maker’s breath!” hissed Ellana. “You’re a spirit!”

“Not a demon?” asked Mahariel.

“Solas would never permit one to walk his halls, let alone interact with his people. You’d be a danger to all the elves waking or sleeping. Solas is arrogant not a fool. I know the wards he’s set about the fortress do more than conceal. This place is a safe-haven for good reason”.

Mahariel nodded in approval. “You’ve taken his lessons seriously”.

Ellana scowled. “Not by choice”.

“You’re still sour about that”.

“I never volunteered to be taught the Vir Thenerasan”.

“A necessity”.

She grimaced. “So you say. That still doesn’t explain what you are”.

Mahariel’s eyes rolled in exasperation. “We’ve spent years together. You know what I am. Who I am. You’ve always known”.

“I know you as Mahariel, the Hero of Fereldan not a spirit wearing his face”.

He grinned wolfishly. “Good of you to notice. It only took twenty-seven years”. He glanced at the silverite gauntlet fused to her left arm. He reached forward, plucking at the mechanical fingers digging into her thigh.

“What’re you doing?”

“I need something from you”.

“Like what?”

He chuckled. “Not sex if that’s why you’re worried. You have something else that interests me”.

Ellana trembled when he turned her hand over, exposing the stamp of the Inquisition. He ran his fingers over the metal to the eye at the centre of her palm. He tapped that eye twice and like flint to steel it sent up a shower of emerald sparks. He stilled when five silver digits clamped tight around his hand.

Her grip was like a vice, hard, unyielding, and strong enough to break bone.

“Do you remember me now, da’len?” he asked, tone mocking.

Ellana nodded dazedly.

“Who am I?” he demanded, green eyes narrowing.

“The Anchor”.

Mahariel snorted. “Try again”.

Ellana whispered the most reviled name in Dalish folklore. “Fen’Harel”.

He smiled from ear to ear, revealing a smile full of jagged teeth. “Better”. He tutted when she opened her mouth again. He knew she’d have a thousand questions to ask him. “Not now, da’len. All will be revealed in good time. For now, you will do my brother’s bidding. You will bathe, dress, and together we will go and meet with him”.

“But”.

The spirit that wore Mahariel’s face silenced her with a disapproving cluck of his tongue. “Later. Solas isn’t the most patient of men. Do as I ask. And when we win free of this accursed place. I will tell you everything”.

Chapter Text

Mahariel left her with a nod, a smile, and a twinkle in his eye. Ellana watched the door to her cell close with a clank of iron. A key rattled in the lock, turning until the deadbolt slid home again. She flinched at the sound with sudden dread. She’d heard that noise a thousand times, it’d never unsettled her until now.

She’d be in the same space as Solas in less than an hour. He’d decide her fate. Ellana was far from excited by the prospect of leaving his company. She expected the man who loved her to tighten her leash until she choked. He’d imprisoned her for three decades.

Why not a few more?

Although she was filled with trepidation, it wasn’t difficult to remember what to do. Mahariel’s instructions had been clear. Ellana took a fortifying breath, steeling her nerves. Her fingers trembled when she reached for the cloth in her lap. It was as soft as the bar of soap was hard, a stark reminder of Solas’ absolute control of her life.

She clutched both with shaking hands, more terrified than aware of what she was doing. Her movements were mechanical when she tossed the soap and cloth onto the bed. She got to her feet, blinking blearily as she turned around. It was more out of habit than conscious thought when she lifted the sleeping shift over her head. Her back bare to the light revealed the bony curve of her spine, the blades of her shoulders.

Ellana had long lost her sense of self-consciousness. The scars were soft and pale against the tan of her skin. A mixture of cuts, burns, and gashes that should’ve killed her had been healed by an expert hand. Solas was as good with regenerative spells as he was with fireballs and lightning. Ellana folded her sleeping shift with care, before laying it atop the bed. She paused on seeing the silver digits of her left-hand flex, the prosthesis a work of art in motion.

She turned the gauntlet over till the palm was exposed. There in the centre was the sigil of the Inquisition, as bold as it was mocking. The open unblinking eye that saw everything and nothing. Ellana’s silver fingers closed tight around it. She took a moment to remember those she’d loved and lost.

“My parents. My clan. My friends”, she whispered. “All dead thanks to Solas. I owe him nothing”.

A tear slid down her cheek when she thought of her parents, clanmates, and Keeper Deshanna. She shed another tear for Dorian, the Iron Bull, Cole, and Varric. She was sniffling, sight blurry when she stripped off the last of her clothing. She was naked when she collected the cloth and soap again. She bent over the bucket, uncaring that the water inside had cooled.

She dipped the cloth till it was sopping, lathered it with soap, and washed herself from head to toe. She shivered at each stroke, blinking back tears that prickled at the corners of her eyes. A few more escaped her pale silver-white lashes to splash onto her bare legs. Ellana continued to lather, wash, and rinse until her skin smarted. A long and miserable half-hour later, the water was cloudy.

The cloth on the bucket’s rim was wet but drying. She’d let the bar of soap fall to the bottom of the bucket out of spite. Solas had servants aplenty to churn lye and lard to make more. Ellana dressed with a heavy heart, the tears dried though the bitterness remained. She pulled on the gloves last, first the right then the left.

The black leather was oily on the outside, but soft like suede on the inside. Ellana flexed her fingers, surprised by the suppleness. Solas had taken care in providing her with adequate clothing. She looked down at herself with a critical eye noting the subtleties of her wardrobe. Her shirt was a soft forest-green beneath a studded gambeson.

Her breeches were an earthy-brown tucked into the cuffs of thigh-high boots. Ellana was unsurprised when she didn’t feel the cool morning air on her skin. Solas had forgone the dalish design for an open-toe. Her boots were uncut at the ball of the foot, her toes encased by a layer of soft suede. Ellana wiggled her toes inside that warm cocoon wondering if this was her gaoler’s influence.

Had Mahariel pleaded for so simple a change in anticipation of Solas keeping his word?

The flush of elation made her nervous. If Solas had allowed a change to her footwear than perhaps he was willing to grant her freedom. Boots with closed toes were better in winter, water, mud, and warfare. Ellana had hated crossing a battlefield during the war in her open-toed dalish boots. She recalled the stink of blood, shit, and entrails as she’d squelched through a quagmire of the dead and dying.

She’d come away each time with feet stained red from heel to toe. She thought of water fouled by rotting corpses, of trees with branches full of crows. She remembered the beady eyes, the black beaks, and the cawing from a thousand throats. Ellana shuddered at the memory of the crows tearing into the dead.

An eyeball popped here, a tongue torn out there.

She was shaking when the door to her room swung open. She didn’t hear the click of the deadbolt, the squeal of the hinges. She was ashen-faced, breathing hard when Mahariel slipped inside. He was silent as a shadow, making not a sound until he called her name. Once, twice, and a third time till she jumped when he touched her shoulder.

Her first instinct was to fight, elbow bending to jab him in the gut. She turned on the balls of her feet with the nimbleness of a dancer. The fingers of her left hand curling into a fist, the heel of her right thrusting forward. She brought her knee up hard and swift when the first blow went wide whilst the second was blocked. Her knee connected and poor Mahariel near bit his tongue in two to stop himself from screaming.

He hit the ground with a pained groaned, jagged teeth clenched. “Creators, woman!” he whined, high and shrill. “You’ve damned near gelded me!”

“Mahariel?” cried Ellana. Her shock turned to horror when she saw him slumped over on the floor. “Oh! Mahariel!” She dropped to her knees before him, gloved hands flying to his face. She slapped him twice by mistake in her desperation to help him.

Mahariel yelped, cheeks smarting. “Argh! Da’len! Venavis!”

Ellana snatched her hands back with an apology. “Ir abelas! You gave me a fright!”

Mahariel exhaled a slow painful breath, whimpering when she reached for him again. Ellana flinched, aghast until he grinned from ear to ear. Two sets of fangs glistened when he chuckled at the bewildered expression on her face. A glance from that agonised smirk to his crotch made her brows furrow. She gaped when he lifted his hands away to expose the codpiece stitched into his breeches.

It was shaped like a cone with rounded edges all in brown hose.

“Like what you see?” teased Mahariel.

Ellana blushed to the pointed tips of her ears. “Um”.

“You can stop staring at my balls, da’len”, he assured her. “You didn’t hurt me. I’m fine. But if it sates your curiosity. It’s padded on the inside and hard on the outside, providing protection against a kick in the pills”.

“B-But you’re a spirit!” she stammered, more intrigued than repulsed.

He snorted. “That resembles a male elf. I still have balls along with the rest of the associated anatomical bits”.

“You do?”

“I don’t mind showing you”.

Ellana was horrified by Mahariel’s nonchalant shrug. He arched an eyebrow, glanced from her to the belt around his waist, and reached for the buckle. She gasped when he started to loosen it. “No! Wait!” she cried, grabbing hold of his hands. She reddened at the suggestive waggle of Mahariel’s eyebrows.

“Prude”.

“I am not!”

“Why stop me from taking off my belt then?”

“I have the sneaking suspicion”, replied Ellana with a straight face. “That you were looking for an excuse to toss the rest of your kit too”.

“Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn’t”, quipped Mahariel. “You’ll never find out now. We’ve got an appointment to keep. I suppose you’ll be hungry too. Solas has prepared a meal to go along with the audience this morning”.

“I’ll be breakfasting with him?”

“Yes”.

“Why?”

Mahariel heard the reluctance in her voice. He saw the naked panic too in the widening of her eyes, the arching of her brows. The way she gaped at him as if she were unsure if he were telling the truth revealed the depth of her fear. Mahariel tried to reassure her as best he could. Solas’ motives while entirely his own, were often transparent when it came to the woman he loved.

“A courtesy”.

“I don’t want his courtesy!” snapped Ellana. “I want out of this fucking fortress!”

“Then indulge him this once”, advised Mahariel. “You’ve refused to share a meal with him since you arrived here. Twenty seven years is a long time to wait to break bread with the one you love”. Ellana flinched as if he’d struck her, shoulders hunching. “I know it’s a lot to ask”.

“I don’t want to eat with him!”

“You must, da’len”.

“He’s never cared about where I ate before”, she argued. She gestured to the warded walls of her room. “I’ve taken my meals here for years. It’s never mattered until now. You’d better have a damned good reason for asking me to accept that kind of change”.

“In your routine?” finished Mahariel.

“Yes!”

“If you want out of this fucking fortress”, he replied, reiterating her own words. “You’ll have to play along. If you refuse to breakfast with him. Solas will delay your release for another year. He must see you with his own eyes at his table this morning, in order to consider fulfilling his promise”.

“That bastard!”

“Solas won’t accept your excuses this time. He wants to see you. It’s a condition of your release. Will you come with me?”

“I don’t have a choice!”

“No”, lamented Mahariel. “You don’t”.

Ellana dropped his hands as if she’d been burned. She looked away too, mouth thinning at the reminder of the summons. She swallowed the bile in her throat, grimacing. It was impossible to hide her distaste for Solas from Mahariel. He knew her too well after almost three decades guarding and observing her.

“Ellana”, he soothed. “When we go before him. I will be with you as I have always been”.

She scowled, seething. “That doesn’t make it any better!”

“I know, da’len”. Mahariel exhaled a weary breath. “Forgive me. I’d thought to lighten the mood before we left. I’ve made things worse instead”.

“Yes”, agreed Ellana. “You have”. She shrugged off his hands when he tried to help her to her feet. She said nothing when he murmured an apology. Mahariel sighed, contrite when he spied the bucket at the foot of her bed filled with soapy water.

He looked her over, appraising her from head to toe. She was still as lovely as the day he’d seen her for the first time. Her hair had grown from a ragged bob into a curtain of silver that fell across her shoulders in shining waves. He smiled despite himself, pleased that she hadn’t tamed it into a braid. Few elves were crowned in silver, even amongst Solas’ people.

Fewer still were as dark as newly turned earth, their eyes a bright and piercing green.

Mahariel was amused when she glared at him. The furrow between her silver brows deepening when he smiled. His news had made her angry, which was better than despondence. Mahariel wanted her feisty not disheartened when he brought her to Solas. Let his brother see the strength in the woman he loved and know that she was a force to be reckoned with.

If she made Solas’s ears burn too, he’d be duly satisfied as well.

Ellana saw through him. “You’re enjoying this”.

Mahariel grinned from ear to ear, showing her his jagged wolf-like fangs. “Of course I am. Solas deserves his comeuppance. Who better to deliver it than you?” He gestured to her with a flick of his fingers. “You’ve forgotten something”.

“What?”

He pointed to the weapons arrayed on the blankets atop her bed. “Arm yourself, da’len. We won’t be returning to this room again. Bring your daggers, bow, and quiver. Solas’ guards will protest of course, but I’ll take care of them”.

Ellana was hesitant to comply. “I’ve never been permitted to carry weapons in his presence”. She was suspicious when Mahariel shrugged. “What are you up too?” He winked at her, green eyes glinting as if he were planning something sneaky.

“Nothing. I am delivering you to Solas as ordered”.

She ventured near the bed, testing him as she ran a brown finger down the curved length of her bow. Mahariel didn’t bat an eyelid when she flicked the bowstring. The answering metallic twang made him nod in encouragement. Ellana frowned with uncertainty, unsure of what to do. She paused when Mahariel gave her a piece of sound advice.

“Wouldn’t you feel safer armed?”

“That won’t make a difference. Solas could turn me to stone with a look. I’d be a garden statue before I could unsheathe a dagger or pluck an arrow from my quiver. I’m helpless against that kind of magic. Solas has the advantage in his choice of personal guards too”.

“Abelas”.

“Yes”.

“Are you afraid, da’len?”

Ellana snorted, eyes rolling at his thinly veiled accusation. “Caution isn’t cowardice. I’m not about to give Abelas a reason to slit my throat”. She gave Mahariel a stern look. “You’ll carry my weapons for me. Solas could hardly protest my gaoler making certain I wasn’t breaking any rules”.

Mahariel chuckled. “You’d make me a mule? How rude”.

“Hush and come here”.

He did as he was bid with a fond smile. He was patient whilst Ellana buckled her quiver across his chest. It pressed against his back with an awkward weight until he rolled his shoulders. It was more comfortable when Ellana made adjustments. The bow came next, its curve tapering to a sharp point high above his left shoulder.

Mahariel admired it for a moment till a sharp pinch made him yelp. He cursed when Ellana buckled the belt around his waist a little too tight. It was snug enough to crush his liver until she let it out a few notches. He was annoyed when she added the weight of her daggers. One at each hip, the sheaths angled forward to bring the hilts within reach of his fingers.

“Comfortable?” called Ellana.

“Fenedhis!” he complained. “You did that on purpose!”

“You weren’t paying attention”.

Mahariel was certain she was teasing him. He mulled over the idea for several moments until his ward did something unexpected. A sound smack on the arse made him stumble. He gasped when her fingers slid from his backside to his hip. A tug on the belt took him by surprise.

“You groped me!”

“No I didn’t”, snorted Ellana as she adjusted a dagger in its sheath. “You’re imagining things”.

“You smacked my arse!”

“You stuck your tongue in my mouth last night. I’d say we’re even”.

Mahariel seethed in silence whilst she did one last check-over. Ellana took a step back to admire her work. “Now you look like a proper Dalish hunter”. She didn’t resist when Mahariel grabbed her hand. A gentle squeeze of her fingers was enough to convey what he felt.

“I suppose, I deserved that for the kiss. It was impulsive”.

She was quiet, staring at him with those big green eyes.

“Ellana?”

“It’s nothing”, she lied, remembering a kiss in the snow under the winter sun in Haven. She slipped her fingers out from under his own with more haste than was polite. Mahariel saw how she rubbed her gloved hands together as if she were upset about something. The way she smiled, jaw tight was as false as the façade of camaraderie between them. The tense silence that followed turned awkward when Ellana reminded him of why he was there.

“We should go”.

“Yes”, concluded Mahariel. “We should”. She turned away, glancing at the warded door to her room. He followed her line of sight, nodding. He took the lead, crossing the floor to the door that he soon unlocked with a clink of silver keys.

A whispered incantation dispelled the wards.

“Garas ma, da’len”.

Ellana followed meek as a lamb when Mahariel pushed the door open. It swung out into the hall with a screech of iron hinges. The guards were bewildered when Mahariel emerged armed to the teeth. They recognised the longbow, a unique arc of death as spiny as it was intimidating. The quiver with it’s multitude of white-fletched arrows made them nervous.

“Fenedhis!” cursed one guardsman when he spied the twin hilts fashioned from halla antler. “You cannot go before Lord Fen’Harel thus armed! It is forbidden even for you!” The guard bit his tongue when Ellana followed Mahariel into the hall. The bright wave of her hair contrasting against the darkness of her skin flustered him.

He blushed when she regarded him with a pair of twinkling emerald eyes.

“Is there a problem?”

“N-Nae”.

Ellana glanced from Mahariel to the guard, a silver brow arching. “Are you certain? I was summoned by Lord Fen’Harel. Mahariel advised that I should take my weapons with me lest I not return. He thought it wisest to carry them in my stead for your Lord’s protection until my release was confirmed”.

The guard, elbowed by his comrade, bowed his head in contrition. “It is wise”, he acknowledged with a grimace. “Forgive me, Master Mahariel. I spoke out of turn. If Lord Fen’Harel has summoned Fen’Asha, it is not for us to question her comings and goings”.

Ellana rolled her eyes at the moniker. The rumour mill had churned for years about her place in Solas’ esteem. Some of his followers had assumed she was a prisoner of war whilst others believed she’d spent her nights in his bed. Fen’Asha, the Shewolf – consort of Fen’Harel. Ellana glowered at the guardsman, knowing like always that he’d assumed the rumours were true.

“Remember that the next time you dare stop me from doing my duty”, advised Mahariel. He beckoned to Ellana without a backward glance. “Garas”, he commanded with an air of self-confidence. He settled back into his role as her gaoler with an ease that was unsettling. Gone was the affable soul she’d shared a kiss with the previous night.

A stranger was in his place, as staid and reserved as Solas.

Ellana scowled when Mahariel gestured to the hall ahead of him. “You know the way”. She took her cue, taking her place in front of him. A stern push between the blades of her shoulders got her moving. She walked with exaggerated slowness, taking one tardy step after another.

Her reluctance plain to see.

The guards hung back, content to watch Mahariel usher her forwards. A sheepdog herding a stray, cut from the flock. Ellana hated how privileged Solas made her feel. All eyes were on her, some gazes envious, and others admiring. She passed down the hall, turning at one corner and then another.

Mahariel trailed behind her, keeping pace as she walked the path from memory.

The walls were bare of furnishings, the floors scoured clean. Ellana saw not a flagstone or stairwell covered in a single speck of dirt or dust. The mortar between the bricks in the walls was as even as the bricks were symmetrical. Each a perfect rectangle as if sliced from a slab of granite in one stroke. Ellana hated the neatness, the orderly nature of things that Solas demanded.

The bricks in the walls to the paving stones in the floor were in precise rows that ran in straight lines. The mortar was as white as fallen snow. The stone a drab nondescript grey that blended each corridor into the next. Ellana would’ve lost all sense of direction if she hadn’t known the route by heart. There were no tapestries, furniture, or paintings hung on the walls.

No landmarks by which to orient oneself amidst the never-ending sea of grey.

Solas’ fortress was as much a labyrinth as it was a base of operations. Ellana saw the subtlety in his meticulousness when she came to the first checkpoint. Two elves, armed, and armoured in shades of brown controlled a warded section of the fortress. The corridor ended at an archway on a dais, flanked by two statues. The wolves were wrought in that same dull granite-grey.

Ellana saw a wolf at rest, forelegs stretched outward flat against the ground. The hindquarters tucked close to the body beneath the elegant curve of a wedge-like tail. The pricked ears and subtle turn of that lupine head suggested alertness as if it were listening. It might’ve been an ordinary wolf, even a hound waiting at the foot of its master’s bed if not for its bearing. The posture gave the beast away, carved out of wood or stone Solas’ pride was unmistakeable.

The eyes unnerved Ellana the most. A rune-stone was inlaid beneath each granite brow-ridge. Two rubies, the size of a hen’s egg glowed like balls of fire in the head of each wolf. The pair, a perfect reflection of each other – protected the passage to Solas. Ellana tensed the moment the elven guardsman took notice of her in Mahariel’s company.

Their eyes lingered upon the silver hair that fell in shining waves about her shoulders. It caught the light, dazzling them as she tucked several strands behind a pointed elven ear. Her self-consciousness made one guard redden. The other blushed a lurid pink when she looked his way. Together they ducked their heads, ignoring her in favour of her escort.

Mahariel noted their discomfort when they saw the weapons he carried. A brief argument, a stern reprimand, and a direct command soon resolved the stand-off. The guardsmen muttered to themselves as they activated the archway with an incantation. The obsidian-black glass turned milk-pale than a shimmering silver-blue. Waves of light danced across that smooth mirror-like surface.

Mahariel gave her another push.

“Go”.

Ellana climbed the stairs of the dais till she stood before the first Eluvian of many. It was quite a trip into the innermost sanctum of Solas’s fortress. She took a fortifying breath, as she readied herself to step through. Mahariel was close on her heels, though he said not a word about her tardiness. Ellana bit her lip, grimacing when the palm of his hand settled between the blades of her shoulders.

“Da’len”, he reminded her. “We are expected”.

She took a second breath, nodding in understanding. A whispered apology was on her lips moments before she took that first step. Ellana entered the Eluvian, stomach churning when she felt that sharp hook in her gut. The teleportation was instantaneous, the magic raking her raw from the inside out.

She was transported from one Eluvian to another elsewhere in the fortress. She exited that radiant pool of magic shaking down to her toes. She was still trembling when Mahariel emerged, fingers quivering like a plucked bowstring. She was glad when he grasped her shoulders with steady hands, mooring her like an anchor in a storm. Ellana nodded at his whispered encouragement, taking several deep breaths to centre herself.

“Breathe, da’len. I know you hate the Eluvians, but we must pass through several more”.

She was grateful when Mahariel barked at the guardsmen on this side of the Eluvian. He sent them scrambling with a glare when they stared at her longer than was polite. Ellana was sufficiently recovered when Mahariel enquired. She nodded, shrugging off his hands when he gestured to the path before them again. She crossed the dais, descending the stairs till she was in another long stone corridor.

“Are you ready?” called Mahariel.

“Yes”, replied Ellana.

“Then let’s go”.

They resumed the trek to Solas. It took time to navigate the ever twisting paths to each checkpoint and the Eluvian beyond. They were stopped several times more by the curious and the bold. Mahariel ignored the inquiries of each guard posted along their route. A firm reminder of their summons by Lord Fen’Harel was enough to quiet most.

It didn’t work on the final obstacle in their way. They emerged from the last Eluvian leading to Solas’ private wing. They met a golden-eyed sentinel, resplendent in the gilded armour of the ancient elves. He had their pride too in the way he looked down his patrician nose at them. He scrutinised Mahariel, noting the daggers, bow, and quiver.

“You are not permitted to carry weapons here”.

Ellana was worried when Mahariel shrugged his shoulders with his usual nonchalance. She watched him stride across the dais, confidence in every step. He descended the stairs at his leisure with an occasional pause to test Abelas’ patience. The sentinel’s jaw was tight, his face hard when Mahariel finally reached the bottom. The way he swaggered as he crossed the floor infuriated Abelas.

Mahariel walked right up to him, stopping when they were inches apart. Nose to nose with Solas’s personal guard, his head cocked as if in challenge. He looked the sentinel in the eye as he spread his arms wide. His smile was mocking when Ellana darted down the stairs. She took two at a time whilst Abelas’ lip curled with indignation.

“You dare!”

“Always”, retorted Mahariel. “You make it ever so easy”.

Ellana ran across the floor, intervening before their confrontation could turn violent. “Venavis!” she cried, shoving hard at Mahariel’s chest. Her gaoler took a step backward, granting her just enough space to slip between him and Abelas. The sentinel was harder to move, rooted on the spot he glowered at Mahariel. He forgot his anger when soft brown fingers cupped his cheek.

Abelas gaped like a startled rabbit when Ellana implored him.

“Venavis”.

He frowned when he saw her dark countenance. Large leaf-green eyes glistened like wet emeralds. Silver brows arched beneath a waterfall of silver hair finer than the gossamer threads of a spider’s web. Abelas was discomforted the moment he realised she was touching him. Ellana saw the way he glanced at the fingers on his cheek. He sucked in a breath, jerking away from her with an abruptness that troubled Ellana.

He raised his gauntleted hand, warding her off when she tried to follow him. The brisk shake of his head stopped her in her tracks. “You walk a line more dangerous than Mahariel”, declared Abelas. “Be cautious to whom you show compassion. Fen’Harel does not take kindly to those he believes seek to steal from him”.

“I’m not Solas’ possession!” snarled Ellana with righteous fury. She let her right-hand fall to her side, brown fingers curling into a fist. The leather of her fingerless glove scrunched like silk, creasing along the edges of her palm. She scowled when Abelas corrected her, the certainty in his tone unmistakeable. He thought with genuine conviction that she belonged to Solas.

“You are his heart. A heart he guards more jealously than a dragon hoarding gold. To have your favour is a mark of death. I must live to protect the last of my order in service to Mythal. Fen’Harel bears her soul, but even my mistress with all her wisdom and power is nothing next to you”.

Ellana flinched when Mahariel gripped her shoulders. “He’s right. Solas is a dangerous enemy to have. You must be more careful. He has eyes everywhere”.

And in a puff of smoke a figure emerged out of thin air. Ellana gasped when she saw a patchy shirt, brown pants, and a pair of scuffed shoes. He was tall, thin as a twig, and wore a matching floppy brown hat. Ellana gawked in recognition when she spied his pale face, lank blonde hair, and sad blue eyes. Only one person in all the Inquisition had ever borrowed the shape of a deceased mage apprentice.

Ellana would have cried out his name if Mahariel hadn’t hissed in her ear. “Venavis!” He nodded to Abelas, watching her like a hawk. The sentinel turned in the direction she was looking, brows furrowing when he saw nothing but air. Cole pressed a slender finger to his lips in a plea for silence.

Ellana acquiesced with a stiff nod.

Mahariel interrupted Abelas before he could open his mouth. “Take us to Solas”. The sentinel gazed at Ellana, seeming to consider her for several moments. He didn’t like Mahariel’s tone, but he was loathe to argue with him. He beckoned them with a flick of his gauntleted fingers.

“You will keep your weapons sheathed”.

“Of course”, agreed Mahariel. He gave Ellana’s shoulders a gentle squeeze. “Follow him”, he instructed when Cole pointed to Abelas. Her eyes were on him not the sentinel when Abelas turned on his heel. Cole beckoned her with a wave of his hand as he turned to follow.

Ellana was too astonished to protest. She trailed Cole through a maze of corridors, tight corners, and myriad empty rooms. It was surreal to be sharing a journey with a friend she’d not seen since the war. She had a thousand questions buzzing like a nest of hornets beneath her skin. Although she wanted to scream, to cry, and fly into Cole’s arms.

She knew better. Their reunion would have to wait for a time when they didn’t have an audience. Ellana caught the glint of gold in the firelight. Sconces were embedded in the bare stone walls at regular intervals. Each torch glowed with the ghoulish emerald flames of veilfire.

Of course Solas wouldn’t risk burning down his own fortress. Veilfire required neither air nor fuel. A safer bet than wood or oil. Ellana had often wished Solas was less cautious. But he was too old, cunning, and perceptive to risk so simple an oversight.

He trusted magic not people or their loyalty no matter how feigned.

Ellana squinted when she saw that flash of gold again. She looked passed Cole to the broad shoulders of Abelas. The sentinel wore the same gilded armour of his order. He had the same hooded surcoat beneath his breastplate, and pauldrons too. His hood was down this time, a ring of soft material around the nape of his neck. Ellana was discomforted by the long silver tail of his hair, tamed into a tight braid.

She tossed her head, sending a wash of silver over her shoulder like a wave on the sea. Mahariel made an appreciative noise. She flushed, self-conscious. Silver hair was something of an exotic trait among their people. A rarity she happened to share with one other in Solas’ court.

A broody, distrustful sentinel named for sorrow in the tongue of her ancestors. The similarity between them made Ellana uneasy. She didn’t like having something in common with Abelas. Their shared association with Solas already made her stomach churn. The thought that he might share her ancestry was even worse.

Ellana brooded on her genealogy when they arrived in a large central chamber. Here the walls were decorated by mosaics, the floor by pelts and brightly coloured rugs. Ellana saw glazed tiles on the walls in silver and gold inside frames of green, black, and blue. The largest were of an elven woman in armour with webbed wings. The least were of an elven man in the guise of a wolf with eyes like rubies.

A large oval table stood at the centre of the chamber, along with several chairs. Ellana saw platters of meat and roasted vegetables, and myriad bowls of condiments. She hesitated when Cole glanced over his shoulder. He raised a hand, indicating for her to stop. Ellana was alarmed when he gestured to the person seated at the head of that table.

A fair-faced elven man with a mane of black hair smiled at her. His grey eyes shone with an affection that made her uncomfortable. Ellana was wary when he called her by an endearment she’d not heard since that Fade-dreamt kiss in Haven. It didn’t matter that Abelas turned aside, or that Cole watched her with concern. It was even less reassuring with Mahariel guarding her back.

She was afraid to breathe when Solas called to her again.

“Vhenan”.