Sunlight spilled across the valley, thin and watery in the early morning. The sky was clear but for the maelstrom of the Breach. Zirael took the crisp, frigid air deep into her lungs. She relished the quiet. Here, in the snow-covered clearing, she could almost forget the clanging of sparring initiates and the tense discussions of the war room. Almost.
She knelt beside the elfroot, delicately working her spade around the frost-bitten soil. She could just pluck the leaves, yes, but the roots were just as useful and it would be a shame to waste them. Besides, she found the manual work meditative. Concentrating on removing the plant from the earth without damaging it, her spirit seemed to calm.
Zirael knew she would have to return to Haven before long. They were due to set off for the Hinterlands that day. She thought of the conflict between the mages and templars with a shudder. The reports they had received from Scout Harding had detailed appalling brutality from both sides. Zirael thought of her clan and, not for the first time, offered a silent prayer to the gods. Her heart twisted with homesickness. She had heard from Keeper Deshanna and knew that for the moment her family and friends were safe. Zirael could only pray they remained so.
‘Got it,’ she murmured to herself, carefully lifting the elfroot from the snow. It somehow felt like an important victory. She would take it to Adan before they left. The alchemist had been taking stock of his supplies, complaining that his intake of materials could not match the Inquisition’s rate of growth unless he received more assistance. Zirael thought of his gruff nature with a smile. Despite his harshness, she knew his belief in the Inquisition’s cause was genuine. As, she hoped, was hers.
Her feelings about the Inquisition were mixed. She was determined to close the Breach. Of that, there was no question. The world would quite literally end if she failed. She believed in the Inquisition’s mission to restore order and facilitate peace in the wake of the Breach. But would she have still chosen to fight for their cause if she did not carry her mark? Would she have been able to bear fighting for a world the shemlen had made so hostile for her people? Zirael had no answer.
She was gazing at the elfroot absently, lost in thought, when a voice broke her reverie.
Zirael whipped around. The apostate, Solas, stood at the fringe of the clearing. He regarded her with his usual detached politeness, hands clasped behind his back.
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you. I believe the others are preparing for the journey. Cassandra intends to leave within the hour.”
“Did she send you to find me?” Zirael asked, irritated. She was not some errant child to be summoned at the Seeker’s will.
“No,” Solas said quickly. She thought she detected a hint of sheepishness in his tone, though she could never be sure. He was very difficult to read, and the few conversations Zirael had had with him had always been cut short when she had asked a question he was, for whatever reason, unwilling to answer.
“I thought I might come and alert you myself. Varric did not see you around Haven and I considered you may have lost track of time. I, too, often find comfort in the quiet of uninhabited places. It is easy to surrender oneself to one’s thoughts here,” Solas said. He stepped a few more paces into the clearing. His high cheekbones were flushed red from the cold and a thick travelling coat covered his usual tunic and breeches.
“How did you know to find me here?”
Solas hesitated for a moment. “Leliana,” he admitted.
“I suppose I should have suspected as much,” Zirael muttered, frowning.
“You are displeased.” It was not a question.
His grey eyes shone in the morning light, studying her with a light openness. Zirael met his gaze unflinchingly, considering whether or not to divulge her thoughts. Solas had certainly made no efforts to be particularly open with her. They were both elves, but she did not let that fool her into imagining a sense of companionship between them both. Despite her misgivings, Zirael sensed something in him that could be trusted.
“It’s… frustrating,” she began slowly, finding the words. “I have the mark; only I can close the rifts. I understand that. But I could have left. It would have been a stupid choice, but I could have left. I want to feel that my choice to remain with the Inquisition means something. I want to be trusted. I want to be treated like an equal. Instead, I feel like one of Empress Celene’s hounds; allowed to roam around the grounds, for a time, but always watched by the kennel master should I run astray, or shit on the lawn. The illusion of freedom makes me uncomfortable. I would rather know that I am a prisoner, than be under a delusion that I am not.”
Silence followed Zirael’s speech. Solas’ expression was inscrutable, his eyes never leaving her face.
“That is more than understandable, Zirael,” he finally said. The gentleness in his tone surprised her. “It is easy for some to ignore the magnitude of the burden that has been thrust upon you. The events at the Conclave… they have changed the world forever. People are frightened. The Inquisition is pursuing the most immediate means to the end of this chaos. In such circumstances, you have come to be considered a tool as opposed to a person. For that, I am truly sorry.”
They stood, a few paces apart, breaths forming frosty clouds in the air between them. They both seemed surprised by the sudden depth of their conversation.
“Thank you, Solas,” she said after a moment, smiling softly.
“It is my pleasure,” he replied. His eyes crinkled pleasantly as he returned her smile.
Zirael huffed. Silence fell between them once more. She chewed her lip, unsure of what to say.
“Supplies for Adan?” Solas asked casually, gesturing to the elfroot.
“Yes,” she said. “I figured I could make myself useful while I was out here.”
Solas hummed. Zirael cleared her throat.
“You asked Varric and Leliana where I was. Were you really so concerned that I would delay our journey to the Hinterlands?”
The tips of his ears coloured slightly.
“That is not the only reason I sought you out, no,” Solas said slowly, appearing to choose his words carefully. “In the midst of all this… madness, it is easy to feel isolated. But we do not have to be. I appreciate that you may have come here to be alone, and I apologise for my intrusion. I simply want you to know that, should you ever need it, you have a friend in me.”
Zirael grinned. “So we’re friends now?”
He chuckled. The sound carried over the empty clearing, warm and melodic. Zirael felt oddly pleased to have caused it.
“If you would like to be,” Solas said, smiling.
“I would,” she replied.
The day’s first snowflakes began to fall about them. Zirael looked up, eyes drawn to the pulsing Breach.
“Shall we head back to Haven?” she asked.
“Let’s,” Solas said.
Zirael closed the distance between them. They set off together, speaking easily about mindless things, indulging the pleasure of simple conversation before they returned to the controlled havoc of the Inquisition.