The Graves are a bittersweet place to dream.
There is peace to be found here, among the endless verdant fields, in the rushing of the silver streams and beneath the shade of trees with foliage so thick it blots out the sky.
Those very trees are marked as the final resting place of the lost heroes of the Dales. They have borne witness to enough conflict to last three lifetimes. The bloodshed, the ivy-wreathed ruins, the region’s grim moniker are all sharp reminders of how far the People have fallen.
A place steeped in beauty and sorrow. Both words are accurate descriptors for the history of the Elvhen.
But Adalina remains blissfully indifferent.
No, this is incorrect. To call her that would be doing her a disservice. “Misguided” is a more appropriate term.
“We were everywhere,” she had whispered in awe when they entered Din’an Hanin. “We still are. But I think we forget sometimes.”
“What do you mean?” he had asked before he could stop himself.
“That we look back more often than we look ahead.” Melancholy and frustration both had colored her voice.
“Such devastating loss is not something you simply forget and move on from,” he had countered, more tersely than he had intended.
“I didn’t say we should forget. Only that we can make new history.”
Again with that “we” she is so fond of. What does he have in common with the shadows that call themselves Elvhen aside from the points of their ears? Even their language has lost the lilt of the melodious original.
Solas catches sight of his reflection on the river’s rippling surface. This world could not be further removed from what it was supposed to be. It is dull, almost colorless, a cruel mockery of the tragedy he alone carries the burden of. He has no place in it, no ties to those inhabiting it, only…
“You’re up early.”
Thalia plops down beside him, eager to dip her feet in the gurgling water. Indeed, the little warrior is the spitting image of her sister, down to the way she tosses back her mane of black curls to bask in the golden sun.
But there are times an unbecoming harshness mars her soft features. He suspects his presence might be the reason behind her sourness.
“Good morning,” he says cordially. “Where is Sera?”
“Finishing up her breakfast. You like our cookies, don’t you?”
He stifles a snort at her smug tone. “The ones with the chocolate chips, yes.”
“Hm.” She puckers her lips. “They’re Ada’s favorite too.”
She kicks up an arc of glistening droplets. Beads of water stream down the sides of his face, the sensation pleasant in the summer heat.
In this moment, for the briefest of seconds, he is a man from a different time, another life. A man with little care for anyone but himself and whose blood ran hot in his veins. That man would have dived headfirst into the river and let the currents carry him all the way to the ocean.
The ghost of that man laughs. He throws his head back and laughs, a rumbling sound from deep within his chest. His body, his entire being, feels light, released from the shackles of a self-imposed punishment. For an insignificant moment, he is Solas.
Thalia watches him, amber eyes narrowed. “You’re a strange man, Solas.” There’s no rancor in her voice, only confusion and badly concealed amusement.
“Yes.” Heat still burns his cheeks. “So I’ve been told.”
The rich aroma of honeyed apples wafts from the slope they had made camp for the night.
“Tadwinks!” Sera’s voice carries loud and jovial across the clearing.
Thalia’s answering grin brightens her entire face. Another striking similarity to her sister.
He averts his gaze to grant them an illusion of privacy. Sera might take great pleasure in prodding him about his relationship with the Inquisitor, but intimacy is a sacred thing. He knows after being deprived of it for so long.
“Was that you laughing, Elfy?” Sera has settled on Thalia’s lap. “Loud and snorty?”
“It was,” Thalia confirms with a nod.
The corners of his lips twitch imperceptibly. “It has been known to happen on occasion.”
“Thought that’d wake Inky up but she’s still all passed out.”
“I could see to that,” he offers.
It was a well-meaning suggestion, clear in its intent. Though perhaps he should have seen Thalia’s reaction coming.
“You sure could!” she hisses, shoulders tensing. Her fierce glare is almost comical coming from this slip of a girl. By all accounts a worthy follower of Elgar’nan.
His tone is neutral. “You are free to come along, if you wish.”
“Don’t have to.”
Sera threads her fingers through her hair. “He’s her love, Tadwinks.” The mellowness of her expression is an unfamiliar sight to him. “Mornings with your love are always best mornings.”
Her intervention is as much of a surprise to him as it is to Thalia. Suspicion softens into understanding as a meaningful look passes between the two, the kind of look that conveys more than a thousand words could.
Sera turns to him, blinking. “Stop looking at me weird!” She scrunches up her nose. “I did it for Inky!”
A short huff escapes him. “Nevertheless, the gesture is appreciated.”
His eyes drift to Thalia, who regards him in silence, cheek pressed on her lover’s arm. She sighs in resignation and sticks her tongue out, a cue that permission has been granted.
They both know her approval is not needed. Yet he indulges her every time, if only to alleviate the sharp pang of guilt in his gut that proves her distrust is not misplaced.
The peal of their laughter follows him all the way back to camp. He envies them both. For their youth, their carefree attitude, the innocence that comes with ignorance.
Adalina will pay the price for his failings, but he envies her most. He will see this through, with her. He owes her that much.
The inside of her tent is cool and dim, a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat. He treads carefully around the scattered papers (pages taken from her journal, he realizes upon closer inspection) and her discarded clothes. The rumpled cloak she uses in place of a blanket has been kicked aside, though she hardly needs it. Her unruly mass of hair, freed in sleep from its customary ponytail, serves just as well.
His hands are clammy as he kneels by her bedroll. Trembling fingers brush a black lock from her forehead. Her pink lips are parted, chest rising and falling gently with every breath.
How vulnerable she looks.
He is no stranger to the sting of regret. It was pity at first, a condescending sort of sympathy felt for a lesser creature fumbling in the dark. But soon he learned she has a name, a face, a soul that reached into the deepest recesses of his heart and touched his, and now his regret has a different shape.
Once again, he was proven wrong. The knowledge of what will come next is a knife he twists inside himself.
Slowly, he tilts her to the side. His thumb swipes along her rosy cheek and he leans forward to plant a kiss on the corner of her mouth.
Her eyes fly open with a gasp. A hand closes around his wrist, its grip much tighter than he would have expected.
Adalina jolts up and fixes her disoriented lilac gaze on him.
“Peace, vhenan.” He lifts his free hand in an attempt to calm her. “It is only I.”
“Solas!” she exclaims, releasing him. Strands of hair stick up in every direction. “What happened?”
“I was sent to wake you,” He chuckles. “Though it seems I went about it the wrong way.”
She stretches her arms over her head with a drawn-out yawn. How is it that such simple displays of humanity leave the most lasting impression on him?
“You didn’t…” Another yawn. “You didn’t. I think I was dreaming.”
He rubs a soothing arm down her back. “An interesting dream?”
“Oh…” Her eyebrows are knitted tightly together in contemplation. “I can’t remember!” Her features twist in a disappointed pout. “But I’m pretty sure someone was playing the bagpipes.”
“Well. That is certainly original.”
Adalina beams at him. Her hands slide from his stomach to his chest, reaching to cup his face. He wraps an arm loosely around her waist and pulls her closer. The subtle, fruity scent of her hair tickles his nostrils.
Her nose brushes against his cheek. “Good morning, Solas.”
“Good morning, my heart,” he breathes and kisses her again.
Perhaps his dreams will be sweeter tonight.