Muiri Lavellan rode ahead of her companion, kicking her Fereldan stallion until he whined in protest at being asked to run any faster. She dug her heels in and twisted the reins tighter over her hands. She trusted the horse to guide her, to be her eyes, as her own clouded with tears. How could she have been so blind?
He’d done nothing but pull away since the first time they kissed, dancing just on the edge of her grasp, speaking in riddles. Solas’s affection was never given freely, only reserved for the confines of her room at Skyhold. When he danced with her at Halamshiral, he insisted it was merely a kindness to anyone who glanced their way. Even earlier tonight, when they found the grove only a few miles from the castle, what she took for tenderness as he traced the feathery tendrils of her vallaslin only turned out to be another tale of how the Dalish were just children, one final hurt before pushing her away for good. Even as he broke her heart, he told her how beautiful and wonderful she was. But not enough to keep.
Her cheeks stung where Solas had removed the vallaslin, though it hadn’t hurt in the moment. She clenched her eyes shut, both to quell the pain and brace them against the strong wind that frequently cut across the bridge into Skyhold, the cold mountain air finding a path at any cost.
A porter was at the door, and she jumped off the horse, throwing the reins at the boy and turning her face away, allowing her red curls to cover where her vallaslin once cut dark lines across her fair skin. There would be questions, and she wasn’t ready to answer them yet.
“Vhenan,” Solas called softly as she cut through the castle yard. It was little more than a whisper, an afterthought.
Muiri circled the outer walls of the castle, taking the longest and least obvious route to her chambers, the one with the least chance of being seen. The hour was late, and most of the crowds populating the courtyard and gardens had moved indoors.
“Though all before me is shadow, yet shall the Maker be my guide,” a voice drifted out towards the empty garden. Muiri stopped outside the castle’s makeshift chantry, her eyes adjusting to the dim candlelight within.
Cullen knelt before the statue of Andraste, one of the few artefacts the Chargers were able to rescue from Haven. Muiri winced at the sight, reminded again of the pain of their loss.
“I shall not be left to wander the drifting roads of the Beyond, for there is no darkness in the Maker’s light, and nothing that He has wrought shall be lost.”
Muiri lingered in the doorway. She was intruding on something private, personal. These prayers, chants to another unhearing, uncaring god were foreign to her, felt as futile as the entreaties to the silent Evanuris, and yet so many believed. Cullen, even after the hardships she’d put him through, still believed, still found himself here.
“A prayer for you?” Muiri asked as he moved to stand. She cautiously stepped further into the chantry, pushing her hair away from her face, feeling the tangles catch on her fingers. Her curls were unruly on the best of days, and mad sprints through mountain winds did nothing to improve the situation.
“For those we have lost,” Cullen said, touching his hand to the base of the statue. “And…those I am afraid to lose.”
She hesitated. There had always been a casual flirtation between them, but Cullen always pulled back, claiming he’d heard rumors of her involvement with someone else. “I’m glad you haven’t lost your faith,” she said finally.
Cullen rose, brushing the dust from his knees. “I’ve questioned it at times, but I’ve found comfort in faith when life offered little. Corypheus will retaliate, it’s only a matter of time. We must draw strength wherever we can.” He turned to face her. Concern was etched across his features, though a question flashed through his eyes.
Cullen headed for the door, stopping to touch her shoulder. “When the time comes, you will be thrown into his path again.”
“Cullen,” Muiri whispered. She raised her hand to cover his. It felt warm and rough, so different from Solas’s slender fingers, smooth and delicate as porcelain. Cullen’s were worn, with years of swordsmanship wearing them down.
He sighed deeply, shutting his eyes. “Andraste preserve me, I must send you to him.”
She pulled away. “There’s nothing to worry about. If you ask Varric, I have divinely bad luck on my side.”
“That’s not as comforting as you might think,” Cullen said, trying to suppress a chuckled. He dropped his hand, fishing in his pocket. When he pulled it out again, a Ferelden-stamped silver coin was resting on his palm. “I’ve carried this with me for luck since I left for Templar training. You should have it.”
“I don’t want your luck to run out,” Muiri said, pushing his hand away.
Cullen clasped his free hand over hers, pulling her palm to his. “You’ll need it more in the coming days than I will. Return it to me when we win. If you have it, whatever happens, you will come back.”
Muiri drew the coin up into her fist. She needed to focus on Corypheus, on the looming battle ahead, but all she could think of was the pain coursing through her soul from this night, twisting through her organs like a million tiny cuts from her daggers. She hadn’t planned to make this detour, and she feared what she’d do if she stayed.
“I certainly hope so,” she said, following Cullen out into the night. The moon glowed full over the garden, casting a pale shine on the numerous herbs that kept her armies in fighting health. To be standing out here with the commander.
No, she told herself, fighting an urge to shake her head. You’re hurting. These feelings aren’t real. You just want arms to hold you, lips to touch your own. Muiri needed space, and she needed it now.
“It looks like someone is waiting for you,” Cullen said softly, tilting his head towards the far end of the garden. Half-cloaked in shadow, Solas was seated in one of the castle arches, idly flipping through a book, as though the events of the previous hours hadn’t occurred, or if they had, meant nothing.
“Thank you, Cullen,” Muiri said, tucking the coin into a pocket along the waist of her leggings. The metal circle was warm from being clenched in their hands and its solid pressure felt strangely reassuring against her hip, reminding her of a time before the Inquisition when she’d simply shove daggers in her belt.
She watched his armored form cross the garden and slip through the doorway into the main courtyard. A smirk crossed her face as she entertained the memory of the Inquisition’s commander without the armor, the result of several misjudged bets in a game of Wicked Grace. She’d looked away then. She wasn’t so sure she’d be able to now.
Solas looked up from his book as she approached him. “Are you having a pleasant evening, Inquisitor?” He plucked a sprig of vandal aria from the pot beneath him and marked his page, closing the volume with a soft thud. “I was not aware that you had taken up Andrastianism.”
Muiri scowled, feeling the sting return to her cheeks. “I haven’t. I heard Cullen praying, that’s all.”
“Prayer is good,” the bald elf said, swinging his legs away from her, towards the stone floor. “Any ritual that prepares us mentally for the challenges ahead is a worthy pursuit. You should prepare as well, Inquisitor.”
Rage built up inside her. She thought she was going to be fine, but the last thing she needed was Solas acting like this. “Don’t act like you care how this ends for me,” she spat.
Solas stopped and turned. His eyes were cold. “What happens to you happens to all of Thedas. I did not lie when I said I cared for you, and I am not lying now. Do not allow your emotions, whatever resentment you harbor towards me, to affect your mission. I distracted you from your purpose for too long, and I can see that I am still. Good night, Inquisitor.”
If he could, Solas would have stalked away, but Muiri had never known him to make a sound while moving. He was a wolf, silently slipping through the woods around a camp, waiting for the moment to strike. The kind her clan had always warded against.
Muiri climbed the stairs along the outer walls of the castle and pulled herself up onto the balcony below her own chambers. From this room she could sneak through the tower undetected. She didn’t want to see anyone else this night.