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Sule Tael Tasalal - Until We Meet Again

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She could feel his presence before his feet made any sound. It was a kindness to her that he even allowed for that. The Keeper was known for being more silent than still air when he had a desire. Making his presence known in such a subtle way allowed her the chance to accept or dismiss him without insult. She stretched her legs before her and lifted her gaze to show him a soft smile. He took a seat beside her and waited.

“The stars are beautiful tonight.”

Her comment drew her to look back up to the bright spots in the dark sky above her head. Through all the years they shifted but never truly changed. It was one of the few comforts she had left. Keeper Hawen held his silence. That was another comfort. He gave her time she needed in this quick moving world.

“I hope I have not interrupted your night, Keeper. I have been troubled of late and meant you nor the clan any worry.” Her shoulders shifted, discomfort radiating from her posture. “You have been most kind to me in a way that I might never understand. And still I feel a burden on my heart.”

Hawen looked up to the stars, only watching her from the corner of his eye. “You are no burden, ha'hren. The lessons and stories you share with us are worth far more than the healing and company you require.”

She laughed softly at the title and shook her head. “Teasing me will not let you win this battle, lethal'lin. I may be your elder in years, but you are certainly my elder in experience. I have learned so much of this world from you. To elevate me beyond my measure is nonsense.” Her mirth faded. “It’s been a long time, old friend. I have watched the children of your clan from birth to adulthood. They are kin to my heart as much as any other could claim. And yet-”

Her silence spoke volumes. With a nod, he set a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t need to continue. “We care about you and for you as one of our own. You are one of us. When this war passes, as all eventually do, we will move on. We will keep looking. If you survived, then others must have.”

Lifting a hand to rest atop his, she held it tight. “Ma melava halani, Hawen.”

Ara melava son’ganem, Ara’lan.” His sincere smile melted the edges of her dark mood. “Olafin sent word that he saw Inquisition banners. It’s said their Herald is one of the People even if he travels with the shemlen. Perhaps he will bring good news.”

It was the same speech he gave before each Arlathvhen. Her hopes were strained but she still tried. “You always find something good to see where others would fail. It saved my life once. Perhaps you will be right again.”

“I am always right,” he teased. The smile he held turned wistful. “When Taven returns, he will be old enough to take my place. I think it’s time.”

Surprise lifted her brow and she turned to study his face. They had talked at length for many years about such a moment as a dream of someday. “Are you sure? Would you not rather remain?”

He shook his head. “The clan has grown up and there are no children left. They will need new eyes and young minds now. One like me will be left behind in spirit if not in flesh. I would rather go. That is, if you’re still willing to travel with an old, cranky elf like me.”

She laughed and hugged him. “Of course I am willing! When you tire, we will rest. When I flounder, you will guide me. It has always been our way and I would embark on no great journey without you.” It warmed her heart in ways she couldn’t describe. “The only way to find the lost corners of the world is to look. If my brothers and sisters are out there still, that is where they will be.”

~ ~

It took three days for rumor to become reality. In that time, tensions within the clan had shifted more dramatically than she had ever witnessed. Ithiren had lost the golden halla. Valorin had run off to Creators know where. Emalien got lost twice trying to chase after him. Nissa lost half the supplies in a fire along with her aravel. Loranil was desperate to prove himself but he only managed to get Emalien more lost when she ran away. The arrival of the Inquisition was the easiest thing she currently faced. Still, they were outsiders. She kept herself busy with the halla when they arrived, content to listen and stay outside of notice.

The Herald that lead the small group was so young. She could see only the beginnings of adulthood on his face as he addressed Hawen. He wore his vallaslin with pride, but she doubted it had been more than two season since he earned it. His companions were a smart choice. A human woman, stern and sure, a dwarven male, all smiles and confidence, and a young human male who hid himself under a ridiculously large hat. She watched them from the edges of camp and waited to see what would come of their arrival.

“Don’t worry, he’s trying to help.”

She gasped and turned, caught completely off-guard for the first time in more years than she could count. The young male was beside her, speaking in such a gentle tone that her animal company barely turned their ears. Angered at his uninvited approach, she huffed.

“Yes, because having a companion that travels as you do is sure to bring a vote of confidence from me.” Her manners were as foul as her mood but she couldn’t find the resolve to care. “Why do you trouble me, human?”

He bobbed his head in a quick apology but caught her eye with an intensity that held her tongue. His eyes were not as human-looking as the rest of him. They pulled at her heart and reminded her of a home long lost.

“You thought you were alone and it made you sad. Alone in the temple. Alone in the dark. But you’re not. You have a family here even if you feel separate sometimes.” He smiled. “And you have me. I am glad we found you.”

To hear one of her deepest fears spoken with such flat tone and odd reverence took her breath away. Who was this man? How could he know? How could he claim her so easily? Her eyes narrowed as she studied him. Something felt off about his mannerisms. A familiarity tickled the back of her mind. She had to know the truth.

“Who are you? How do you know such things?”

Ir abelas, lethal'lin. Cole has a way of sneaking up on people.” The Herald smiled through his apology. She was so wrapped up in her confusion she had not heard his approach. “Please don’t mind him. He’s only trying to help.”

“Yes,” said Cole. “I’m here to help. You inspire, a vessel of hope from long ago. The dark didn’t take you and you woke up. You’re not alone.”

Tears came to her eyes unbidden. She extended her senses towards the young man, desperate to find something she could recognize. Hidden deep within was a spark. It called to her true nature. He was a spirit! Blinking back the memories, she grinned and cupped his face in her hands, pressing her forehead to his in greeting.

“Thank you, dear one. I needed that.”

“I helped?”

“Yes,” she laughed lightly and released him. “You did.”

“You will come with us.”

“Only if it is permitted.” She turned to the Herald with a silly smile still on her face. “Tel'abelas, Herald. Compassion is always right on time. I am called Ara’lan and I would follow your company if you would have me.”

The Herald’s posture shifted from easy to stern in a blink. She could appreciate that. Knowing when to be kind and when to be serious was a life saving trait in times like these. “Mahanon, if you please. Herald is a title I never wished to carry. What sort of skills do you bring? Why wouldn’t your clan need you more than we do?”

Before she could answer, she saw Hawen approach. The sadness within him radiated so sharply she could feel it. He took her hands in his and squeezed them tight. In return for all the time he gave her, she waited. He took a few deep breaths before speaking, unable to lift his eyes from their clasped hands. Every day of his age showed in the words that broke both their hearts.

“He’s gone. Taven and the others. They're all gone. The Venatori found them. They will need to be brought back home for their rites.”

Fury tore her face into a sharp grimace. Of course it would be them. She'd heard enough of the poisonous forces from Tevinter to be wary but had presumed them only looking to fight other humans. She hated being wrong when safety was in question. They hadn't just killed a few elves. They had taken the hope of the clan’s future. Nearly every young member of the clan had gone with Taven on his adventure. A growl settled in her chest but he wasn’t done speaking.

“Follow your path, lethal'lan. If not because I ask it, but for Taven’s memory. Find what you seek and come back one day to tell me the stories again.”

Her grip tightened. “Old friend, I made you a promise.” This was too much too quickly. In a world that moved so fast she always needed more time.

“And I release you from it. I know you have stayed far too long because of me. Please. Go and promise to return one day. Only then will my heart find peace.”

She drew him close as she had done earlier with Cole and pressed her forehead to his, dropping her voice to a whisper. “I stayed out of kinship, not obligation. I will carry you in my heart, isa'ma'lin. Now and always.”

Clouded mind and clear eyes, she turned to the Herald. Her hands clasped Hawen’s still for her comfort as much as his.

“I am not of this clan, Mahanon, though its Keeper saved my life once. I have lived a very long time and slept far longer. Though I know little of the world as it is, I know much of how it was. Your history was my daily life. I was raised in the ranks of Mythal’s finest and learned by the side of her Sentinels. My magic wanes but my memory is as fresh as ever. Could you have use of that?”

His face held stern under the gaze of his companions, all of which had followed Hawen to observe. She could see the sparkle in his eyes, though. It was the same with all youth. They hungered for a taste of their lost history.

“Is there a price for your knowledge? We’re funded well enough to pay advisors and consultants. It won’t be much but it will be something.”

It was to be a bargain then. “A place to sleep, supplies should you require me in the field, and meals are all I require. I would ask as a favor the viewing of your maps. I have traveled with this clan for some time but would like to see what the rest of the world has to offer. It has changed much since I last explored in person.”

“I say that’s fair.” He nodded and finally broke a smile. “Welcome to the Inquisition, ha'hren.

Chapter Text

Preparing to leave the clan should have been harder. They had been born, taken their first steps, and come of age since her arrival. Yet all she felt was an ache for those that stayed behind. The loss of their First, his small company, and even rebellious Valorin was enough to put them in danger. With luck, the Arlathvhen would bring in new members. It was only a few months away. They could petition for assistance or stay with another clan through the winter and be safe. She packed in silence, respectful of their mourning. For all her years in their care, she had little possessions to claim of her own.

The human woman with Mahanon had returned to their camp and the other two lingered by his side. She watched as he effortlessly stepped in to help where he could: comfort for Emalien, sharing supplies with Nissa, helping Ithiren soothe Hanal'ghilan, polite praise for Taniel’s work. It was clear he took to his role in both a clan and as an advocate for the People with respect. She felt a knot of tension within her chest ease. He might not try to abuse his knowledge of her after all. His remaining companions did what they could to help, as awkward as they turned out to be.

Bags quickly packed, she tied herself into her armor. The enchanted leather and cloth were no match for what she wore when she was young, but this was made with care by the clan. She wore it with pride. The clasp holding her hood in place was all that remained of her old set. Leaving the hood loose about her neck, she tucked her dagger into its sheath on her thigh. There was one more thing to do. Catching Hawen’s eye, she stood by the central fire and waited.

“I will miss your cooking most of all.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Luckily for the clan, a Keeper’s duty doesn’t include preparing many meals. I might have to find someone else to cover for me.”

Her smile was forced but present. “Everyone knows I cooked in your place for a reason. They will not ask you again.” She sighed, releasing a bit of tension. “Anyone else would have left me for dead or treated me foul. You took me in, called me sister, and saved me from more than just death. I have nothing else to leave with you but a piece of myself in exchange for the parts of you that have been given to me.”

“It is my honor to call you family now and always. Sal sura.” If his voice shook, they both ignored it.

She took him into her arms and hugged him quickly. “I will miss you. Please send word if there is any way I can help. Sule melan'an, falon.

That was enough of a goodbye for them both. She went for her bags and found more than she expected. Gifts from the clan, clearly. Dried meats and bread from their scant supplies and a bow she knew wasn’t hers sat ready to leave. She looked about to see who had gifted her the items but they were all unable to meet her eyes. In their kindness they shook loose the tension in her chest. She would miss them, too. Ara’lan met with Mahanon and his companions by the river’s edge. From the look each of them were giving her, she knew there would be questions. It was only fair. Before she could begin, the young elf drew her attention.

“It’s probably best if you don’t tell everyone who you are.” He hurried through his explanation at the shocked look on her face. “Not that we’re saying you should keep it secret. Not completely. It’s just the humans might not take it well to know that you’re from a time before Andraste when we’re dealing with an ancient, crazy mage from Tevinter trying to destroy the world.”

“Let them fill in the gaps of your story,” added the dwarf. “Most of them will see your ears and tattoos and think you’re Dalish anyway. Why argue with that? They call Snowflake here their Herald whether he asks for it or not.”

She lifted her eyebrows at the moniker and smiled. “Snowflake? I thought you said your name was Mahanon.”

“Varric likes to give us all nicknames. It keeps us humble.” He grinned and opened his palm. A small crystal of ice formed quickly from his magic before he crushed it between his fingers. “That’s how I got mine.”

“And because you’re always telling people how special you are,” Varric teased. “Still, truth is what you make of it. Let people you can trust know and let everyone else figure it out. You already told us so we’re safe. I’d probably not say too much in front of Cassandra, though. She can be touchy.”

“Confused, questioning. Did I make the right choice? Would she be pleased? Is my faith enough?” Cole appeared by her side. “They are my friends.”

“I will trust in your judgement and experience. My contact with humans has been limited, as you might imagine. A quiet Dalish hunter shall be what they see. Nothing more and nothing less.” The word of the spirit was good enough for her. She nodded her consent. “In the interest of a timely departure, I will answer any questions you have of me at nightfall. Until then have my promise that no harm will come to you or yours while I travel within your company.”

Mahanon clasped her forearm in agreement and they left behind all she had known of the modern world. It was a short walk to the forward camp. From there they picked up a larger company of mostly humans. The woman from before, Cassandra she presumed, eyed her curiously but said nothing. A young man with far too much flair in his mannerisms grinned every time she caught his eye. That one would be trouble. She kept her mind busy with mundane tasks. Checking her gear, brushing out the horse she would need to ride, counting the arrows she was allotted, checking their fletching and correcting as needed were all things to keep her focused on the now and not the impossible future. Her friends would be safe. They had to be. Her new companions would keep watch on their safety and needs until they could depart for the Arlathven. Before she knew it, night had fallen and the noises of the camp began to settle for watches and rest.

“So, where do you want to start?”

Varric took a seat by her side, offering a bowl of stew in trade for her company. She took it with a soft word of thanks. This is what she had agreed to so now it was time to deliver. He seemed kind enough to hear her words for what they were. She could only hope the others would feel the same.

“I’ve been waiting so patiently all day. Dorian Pavus, by the way. It’s truly a pleasure to meet you.”

The loud man at least had a gentle smile. He sat across from her. Mahanon took a spot at his side with a grin of his own. He was content to not be the center of attention for once. She took a few bites of her food before answering. The hearty stew would taste terrible cold. The silence lay thick between them, only interrupted but the tap of spoons against bowls and the crackle of fire. A calm settled over the rest of the camp and she knew it could be put off no longer.

“Where shall I begin? At my birth? At the end of the world as I knew it? At my awakening here? I slept for a very long time and can not fill in those gaps of knowledge, unfortunately.” She smiled, a glint of trouble in her own eyes. “Or shall I regale you with my list of favorite foods and afternoon activities? Perhaps detailed hair care routines?”

That got a laugh from everyone, drawing the tension out of the air. “How about you start with how you claim to have learned from Mythal’s sentinels?” Mahanon leaned forward, eagerly awaiting her answer.

“Allow me to start with a history lesson you likely have not heard before.” Scraping the last of her food from the bowl, she set it aside and took a deep breath. “In the time before the world as it is now, spirits were close friends and companions to the Ehlven. They lived and learned in the same world, sharing their memories and experiences with each other. More importantly, they lived in peace with each other and the world around them.”

“But what of demons?” Dorian’s excitement was nearly drawing him from his seat.

She nodded solemnly. “A demon is a spirit corrupted beyond its purpose. Spirits could grow and change, but to be turned so sharply against their original goals tore them apart. Demons did exist, but they were less than you might imagine. Instead spirits expanded. They grew. What is creativity? A joining of curiosity and knowledge. How about compassion? Why, that is patience and kindness. They were not corrupted. Just changed. They became more. There were also spirits who chose to take on physical forms of flesh and bone.”

The log beside her shifted, announcing the presence of Cole. She smiled in his direction before continuing. “When they desired to change, when they desired to take a flesh form, they could petition to the Ehlven for assistance. It was not a possession as you understand it today. It was like being born. A body was made and the spirit entered it. A spark of life made the union permanent. The spirit would begin to think and feel as all living beings do. It was a tremendous experience for any to undertake and never one approached lightly. Only the highest of Ehlven had the strength and ability to work this special magic. The Creators earned their titles. They would ask a boon in exchange for this gift. Some would ask for secrets. Others would ask for blessings. Others still, companionship. Each one had their own price. Mythal asked for service. One thousand years of loyal service and training under the watchful eye of her most loyal was an easy price to pay for any who sought her blessing.”

She paused, letting the idea sink in. Cole laid a hand gently on hers in encouragement. “That was the price I paid. At the time it seemed easy. The Ehlven empire was in its golden age. Peace and prosperity thrived. The Durgen’len, dwarves, had recently made themselves known and trade talks were beginning. I wanted to know more. To see and help in all the reaches of the world that grew steadily larger by the day. So I petitioned Mythal and she answered. “I learned so much from her people. More than I could have ever hoped to learn as a spirit. She granted me the marks I now bear and wear with pride.”

It had been a long time since she had told any part of her story. Only when she stopped did she notice that none of her companions had bothered to interrupt. She slowly lifted her eyes to gauge their reactions. Finding mixed results, her fingers tightened reflexively in her lap. This would be the moment they decided her fate.

Cole was the only one who seemed comforted by her story. His smile was genuine and soft. There was no doubt he could feel the weight lifting from her shoulders as she spun her tale. Varric gaped. It was hard for her to tell if he didn’t believe or if he was just unable to find his words. The shock washed from him over Dorian. That man stared deeply into the fire. She could see the ideas streaming across his face as he murmured to himself and wrinkled his brow. It was Mahanon that worried her the most. He was completely blank. She waited for his thoughts as patiently as she could.

“You knew Mythal.”

It wasn’t the question she expected, but it was something. His words were sharp and confusing. She nodded. “Yes.”

“The Creators are real.”

“They lived once. I know not if they remain. They have not revealed themselves to me or our clan since I awoke.”

“Mythal gave you your vallaslin.”

“Yes.”

“You say you slept. Were you trying to enter Uthenera? How long have you been awake? Why did you wake up?”

“It was only a sleep, not an ending. I was to be awoken by my companions and friends when it was safe to walk the world again. Instead I awoke when blighted creatures broke through the floors of our temple. I am told the year was 9:3 Dragon. Hawen’s clan was near enough to find me when I ran for safety. I have been with his clan ever since.”

He let out a long breath and scrubbed his face with both hands. “Okay. We really need to keep this story to ourselves. I’m sure we’ll have more questions later but I think that’s enough for one night.”

“I couldn’t make up something that wild.” Varric still seemed in awe. She presumed that was a good thing.

Dorian had shifted from staring into the fire to staring into her face. The studious look he wore was unsettling. She chose not to meet his eye nor to ask him to explain himself. She had told enough of a story for now.

“They won’t hurt you.” Cole was still smiling.

“No we won’t.” The shift in Mahanon was quick. Relaxed shoulders and manners rolled into duty and command. He would lead and the others would follow. “I think we all need to sleep on this. Tomorrow we head for Skyhold. It’s not a long journey. We can discuss more of this when we arrive.”

Chapter Text

It was unsurprising that the others treated her with a measure of distance as they traveled. They weren’t impolite. She knew that it would take time for them to understand the information she had already given. In a world that moved so fast, their minds sometimes moved so slow. Cole was her near constant companion. His insistence on being around her helped keep them from worrying too deeply. Conversation wasn’t that important. She was used to gentle silence and routine.

Riding a horse was another matter. The expected travel time back to their home was longer than a day or two journey. The humans, and even more so the dwarf, would not fare well on foot. It was not a skill she used frequently with the clan. More than learning to ride in their saddles, she found a mare that no one else had claimed. After gentle negotiations with bits of fruit and only a hint of magic, they had an accord. Her mount would not throw her off and she would not force the animal to do anything. It drew a few odd looks from the soldiers when she neglected to lift the reins. When her horse fell into step with the group they shook their heads and muttered something about elves but she heard nothing more.

“I promised I wouldn’t pester you with questions until we got back to Skyhold but there is one thing I must know.”

She smiled. Of course it would be him. Cassandra didn’t know her story. Varric was busy trying to take notes while not falling off his horse. Mahanon was clearly in command and kept giving her odd looks, like he was trying to sort out a puzzle. Dorian was the one that broke the silence first as she had expected he would. The glimmer in his eyes told her more than anything that his curiosity ran deep.

“Only one?”

He laughed. “Fair point. I will certainly have far more questions for you later. My most important one is about your magic. You say you were a spirit once. That you were given a body by an Elven goddess. And that your magic wanes. Your word exactly.”

“That does not sound like a question.” They were far enough back from the body of the group that she felt comfortable having this conversation. Still, she couldn’t resist a little tease. She wasn’t made of stone.

Rolling his eyes, he turned to face her fully. His horse slowed to match her pace. “And here I keep wondering if you’re going to be dull. Alright then. What do you mean about your magic? Either you are a magic user or you’re not. Right?”

“Yes and no.” She had witnessed a few instances of his magic use. He was flamboyant at times and dismissive at others. It was part of him that he relied heavily on, even expected to always be there. With a soft sigh, it reminded her of many lost friends. “When I was young magic was everywhere. It was a part of life that you expected to feel as you expect to have air to draw into your lungs with each breath. When I awoke the world was still. Like a raging river being cut down to a stream so thin you barely have to step across. It is not gone. I can still draw warmth to my skin in the cold or help heal small wounds, but it is an effort now. And I can do no more.”

““So the magic before was stronger? Or was it simply easier to access?””

“Both. The world as it was existed part in the Fade and part in this realm. It was how spirits could come and go as they pleased without fear of corruption. Now there is a barrier. It keeps the Fade separate from the waking world. That is how some people are born without magic. It is how I am also limited. I learned some from the clan, but even they could only teach so much.”

His eyes narrowed in thought. “With proper instruction, say from someone who was born in this time and can use magic easily, you could be stronger?”

“It is possible.” She shrugged and looked away from his intense gaze. The party ahead was slowing so their conversation would have to be cut short. “It would still not be the same as it was. And I would need a guide. I have nothing to trade for my lessons now. With the clan I could hunt, cook, or help with the herd.”

“Nonsense! I would be happy to teach you in exchange for your knowledge.”
“What kind of knowledge?” The idea had merit but she was wary. Kind as he seemed, trust didn’t come easy.

“Few accounts of ancient times survived. Even less of them carry any facts of merit. You saw the world then. You lived it. Even with all the years you were asleep, you carry within you the experience of lifetimes. I would be happy to trade lessons for just a glimpse of the world you saw.” His smile was bright under her scrutiny. “Even if it’s just gossip, it’s worth knowing.”

Though he might not have guessed, this was ideal to her. Knowledge for knowledge was her favorite trade. All lessons came with a price. She learned that long before she had feet with which to walk. A fair trade was always the goal. In this her nature couldn’t be denied.

“Then we have an accord, dinathe'dirthelan.”

Confusion twisted his grin and she laughed. “First information for the grace of your offer. By your skills with the spirits and flesh of the dead, that is the title you would bear in my time. It is not an insult, I assure you. No one was simply called a mage. It would be akin to calling me 'elf' all the time. Magic was part of our nature. What specialties we chose defined us.”

The call to make camp rolled back from the forward party. She said no more as they slowed and joined the ranks once more. Out of the corner of her eye she could see him trying to sound out the word to fit his human tongue. It was a bit like watching a child. She was happy with her choice and a little proud of him already.

~ ~

Trusting in Dorian had the side benefit of calming Mahanon. Over the week of travel she spent many afternoons conversing with the mage. The Herald joined in when he could find time away. She could see something brewing between them though neither was ready to admit it. A shy glance or a quiet smile were enough. Courting patterns changed little through the ages. Being trusted by one slowly eased the mind of the other. That would be helpful if she was going to progress with her plan.

On the morning of the eighth day they exited the final mountain pass. A narrow road lead straight to the castle gates. And it was as much of a castle as this world had shown her. Stone pillars, gates of metal bars and chains; everything about the place shouted strength and fortification. The closer they got, she also began to feel a tingle on her skin. Magic in the air and around them was closer than anywhere she had known since awakening. It was as if the barrier between the Fade and the waking world was stretched thin. No one else made note of it so she kept her thoughts close.

Once inside they were beset with chaos. Humans appeared from what seemed like the very cracks in the stone. Some to take the horses to the stables. Others insisted on handling their bags. She managed to secure the bow to her person to avoid its capture but the rest of her possessions were whisked away. Mahanon was corralled by three humans and dragged away as well. She stood stock still in the middle of it all, unsure of what to do next. Cole, as timely as ever, appeared by her side.

“Scurrying about like bugs in the dirt. They move so fast. So much noise. It’s alright. They are doing their duties. Like the servants in the great halls, all have purpose and pride. But they chose this. They want to be here.”

She let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. “Thank you, falon. It has been some time.”

“Don’t worry, my dear. Our Herald hasn’t found a single soul to follow him that hasn’t chosen to be here.” Dorian flanked her other side. His presence was a familiar comfort. “By his patience, I’m sure your belongings will next be found in whatever quarters our friend is negotiating for you. He will be with his advisors for some time. I would be happy to entertain you until then.”

“That is quite gracious of you but I have nothing else to trade.”

“Nonsense! You would be doing me a favor. I have a delightfully aged wine waiting for me and it would be a absolute crime to drink it alone.”

“If you insist.”

“I most certainly do.”

Her smile caught into shock as her gaze passed over his shoulder. The being approaching them was very tall and solid, much like the walls that now surrounded them. He caught her eye with his singular one and grinned. Dorian groaned slightly under his breath and turned almost to block the path before her.

“No.”

The creature’s smile fell, not unlike a chastised child. “I was only going to say hello.”

“You absolutely were not. She’s had a long journey and needs a rest before being accosted by the likes of you.” Dorian sighed and raised a hand to gesture a passive greeting. “Ara’lan, The Iron Bull. Iron Bull, Ara’lan. There. Now be on your way.”

The Iron Bull, as he was named, nearly growled as he tried to get a better look at her through the body of her current guard. “A pleasure. Or it could be. I’ll be in the tavern if you want to get a drink later. Can’t miss me.”

When he left Dorian heaved a dramatic sigh of relief. “That Qunari is a lech with a special interest in females with red hair like yourself. He isn’t known for being aggressive, just persistent. Consider yourself warned.” A shake of his head and he was all smiles again. “Shall we?”
Through the exchange she hadn’t noticed when Cole left. Now that it was quiet she felt the loss. He could be anywhere or nowhere. She was floundering in a strange place but held confidence he would return if she had need again. It was his nature to help.

“Lead the way.”

An impromptu guided tour brought her through the courtyard and into the main hall. Dorian pointed out the landmarks along the way. It was clear the fortress had suffered much over the years of neglect but they were already in full force on the repairs. Not for the first time, she marveled at the speed at which they lived and worked. Waving to Varric at his post by the fire, they passed through a set of doors into a circular room. The magic in that space was stronger than anywhere else. It brought her to pause her steps and look around.

The table covered in books was negligible. Clearly someone was drawn to this space for study. Looking up, she saw the library and heard more than saw the birds roosting near the peak. Dorian watched her closely. She hadn’t shown any more than passive interest in the rest of the tour and she couldn’t hide her feelings now. The art on the walls stole her breath and some color from her cheeks.

“Who did this?” The awe in her words was plain.

“I did.”

From the top of a scaffold came her answer. Shortly following, an elf climbed down the ladder to meet them. He was taller than she expected and had neither hair nor vallaslin. His eyes were sharp and judgemental as they studied her.

“Do try to turn down the intimidating stare just a little. She’s new.” Dorian to the rescue again. She was grateful for his social skills. “Ara’lan, please do forgive Solas. He’s been in the foulest of moods lately. Our resident apostate, artist, and fade walker.”

Solas was unmoved. His posture radiated a need for focus and control in ways she couldn’t possibly grasp. With the thin air around them, she was able to nudge her magic through enough to boost the soothing nature of her words and mannerisms.

“I mean no offense. They are beautiful in a way I can not possibly find words to express. Ir abelas, i've'an'virelan.

His eyes widened slightly and he immediately backed down. She felt it more than saw. There was something odd about him. It wouldn’t be wise to pursue it yet, but she would remember.

“The fault is mine,” he demurred and his gaze drifted to Dorian slightly. “Most who pass through the rotunda are either simply passing through and disturb my studies or are looking to start an argument. It is not your fault that I presumed.”

Her urge to protect her new friend was unsettling and undeniable. She quickly moved to draw his attention back to her. “Ma serannas. I will do my best to provide you with no disturbances in the future. I am Ara’lan, recently arrived from the Dirth. It is nice to meet you.”

It worked. He looked the same as they all did upon meeting her: full of questions. What she didn't expect was a sharpness to his stare. “It is my pleasure, Ara’lan. I am Solas. When I have the time available I am lining these walls with the story of the Herald and the Inquisition. It seemed fitting if this is to be their new home. Should you care to see my work in the future, you would be welcome.”

A dismissal, polite as it seemed, was still a dismissal. She accepted it with slight nod of her head and they climbed the staircase to Dorian’s refuge in the library.

“That could have gone worse,” he muttered by her side.

She said nothing. The elf was something different. Whether he was a danger or an asset, she would need time to figure out. Luckily there was plenty of that to spare.

Chapter Text

The rest of her day proved far less eventful. Without the crowd or duties of a traveling camp, spending time with Dorian was pleasant. He wasn’t bragging about the wine or the selection of books in the library. All the oldest tomes were found in his claimed nook. From the slightly fearful looks of anyone passing by, she knew he protected them well. She respected that more than she would say. It was good to spend time among her first friends and one of her newest. Only the soft sounds of birds and agents above and scraping of plaster and paint below broke through their bubble of privacy.

When the Herald appeared around the corner, she knew it was time to find somewhere else to be. Drained from the travel and meeting, his vulnerable expression and posture wasn’t for her. The mage’s demeanor changed immediately from casual to caring. This was a private moment she didn’t need to invade. She made some polite goodbyes to them both with a promise to see Dorian again soon. However Mahanon chose to interpret her place in the growing world wasn’t hers to push. She would be available when he was ready and not a moment before.

It was sheer luck that she found a servant in her quest for assistance. Wandering about and looking lost would only get her so far. The woman was clearly in the middle of many tasks but she still stopped long enough to guide Ara’lan to her room. Before she could offer either apologies or gratitude, her guide was gone. She would have to find her again later to make amends. Logging that for later, she was amazed at the space she was given.

Her room was probably one of the smallest guest rooms but it was more than enough for her needs. Memories of open air homes and palaces scoffed at her small joy. She ignored them. The room was more than twice the size of the aravel she’d shared with the clan. A real bed, with a feather pillow and soft blankets took up most of the space. Her bags lay on top, placed there with no small measure of care. She shut the door and marveled at the privacy before unpacking her things. A small wooden figure had been tucked away in her clothing. It brought a tear and a smile to her face. The halla, carved with great care and worn soft around the edges from being handled, still felt warm.

Nuvenan na amahn, falon,” she murmured, tracing a finger along the woven antler shapes. “Sathan ethas na.

A knock on her door startled her out of the reverie. Unsure of what she might find, she clutched the token in one hand tightly and opened the door a crack with the other.

“Pardon, miss. We’ve brought you your evening meal and some water for washing.” The young woman had two others with her. All of them were carrying heavy loads. “If you’d want for us to come back later, we can.”

This was more than unusual and left her with a foul taste in her mouth. She didn’t need servants. But she also didn’t know where to find the resources they were providing. With a soft sigh, she opened the door and waved them inside.

“I am unused to being served. Please accept my apologies. Your assistance is most welcome.”

The youngest one laughed but they quickly went to work. Warm water went into a basin at the foot of her bed. A tray of food selections including a small bowl of soup, some mixed meats, and a hefty piece of bread took up most of the small table. She did her best to stay out of their way. The ladies moved about quickly and with such precision. It was much like watching a dance. When they finished, they disappeared back out the door. The one who had spoke at first paused in the doorway.

“We’ll be back in the morning, miss. If you leave everything outside the door when you’re finished, someone will be by to pick it up.”

Her eyebrows lifted sharply in surprise. “I am no noble to need such care.”

“Lady Josephine told us you’re to be treated as an honored guest. It’s no trouble to us. We’d rather be here than scrubbing dusty, old walls.”

“If you insist I will have to accept. Is there anything I can offer in trade for your services?”

The woman laughed then, clearly amused. “You’re right. You’re not a noble. They don’t even see us, never mind worry about what we need. It’s no bother. The Inquisition makes sure we’re all paid.” She waved a hand dismissing any further talk about it. “Don’t you worry. My girls are taken care of. You need anything special, you just ask for Mary. That’s me. Have a good night, miss.”

Just like that she was alone again. In the silence she realized how late it was. Aches from the ride in and sitting in a corner caught up with her. She set her wooden prize on the sil of her multi-colored window and tucked into her meal. As she ate, she let her mind wander. There were still so many people to meet and understand. Making a priority of seeking out the elves and the ones that ranged further than the clan was top of her list. She would not be beholden to anyone, though. Having something to trade for their information was important. Perhaps she could find a way to earn some coin. Asking Mary when she returned in the morning could help. And she would need to see when Dorian would want to begin his instruction. New routines had to be established and she looked forward to the adventure.

A twinge of guilt tried to settle within her as she placed the empty dishes outside her door. She did her best to let it pass. This was part of the new world she was in and she had to accept there were some things that would be strange. The water in her basin was cool by the time she got to it. She scrubbed quickly, twisted up the length of her hair to prevent it from being tangled in her sleep, and changed into her nightdress. In the morning things would change again. Tucking into her blankets away from the chill of the air sleep came easier than expected.

~ ~

The grass tickled beneath her bare feet as she ran. Soft, green light danced in the sky above her, keeping pace. Magic tingled along her skin in memory. Never in the waking world did she feel so free. Only in her dreams could she reach something like the being she once was. She was ever grateful that she didn’t lose her contact with the Fade upon waking.

A shape flickered into existence at the edge of her view and she stopped. It solidified into something familiar but came no closer. She lifted a hand in greeting and softened the borders of her dream. This was no demon.

An'eth'ara, elgar’falon!

The blonde boy shuffled forward carefully. Once he was within the boundaries of her small world he relaxed. “You were worried. Burdens, duties carried from a lifetime before. Can not be alone. Must not be alone. But you are happy here. The hurt is less.”

“Yes. It feels more like home here. Not quite the same but close enough to ease my heart. Do you also feel it, friend?”

“Probably? I am real, became real to help. To heal the hurting. They see me more out there. They don’t see me here, watching, helping. But you did.”

She nodded. “I felt you out there, waiting. Then I looked and there you were. I was like you once.”

“You helped.”

“Yes.”

He smiled. The face with eyes older than time still looked so much like a young man. “I told him you were nice. You were here to help, to make not destroy. That you wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

She frowned slightly. “Thank you. Who needed such comfort? Was it the Herald? I can answer him straight away if that is the case.”

“The Herald is confused, worried of what you know, what you don’t know. Scared and excited of what you might tell him. You knew them, were touched by them, but they are only stories.” He shook his head. “It’s hard to listen to him. He’s too bright. He thinks you’re pretty. Not as pretty as Dorian, but still nice.”

She laughed, the tension broken. “Well I am glad of that. But if not him, then who?”

An answering sound, a plaintive howl echoed beyond her barriers. With a snap she tightened the protections she had left down after Cole’s arrival. Angry spirits were always lingering and negligence even once could be fatal. The sound faded away to her relief. Whatever spirit had drawn near would hopefully find something else of interest. She turned a confused look of her own on her friend, hoping he would give her more.

“I told him you are safe. You inspire, push others to create, know the unknown, answer questions no one thinks to ask. You want to help, like me.”

“Yes. I did that and so much more once. Who worries of me? Please tell me so I may soothe their concern.”

“He’s afraid of your questions and your answers. What you might bring, might know. You use words that are dead and forgotten, remind him of a time that was once shining.” He squared up his shoulders. “I told him to ask you himself. That he was wrong to fear you.”

“Thank you, friend. You are correct. I do not wish anyone harm. I am here to help where I can. The only thing I want for myself is to look for my old friends.”

“Dead, dying, all I have left in this world. Where will I go? Where did he go? Have you abandoned us for good?” He shook off the thoughts drawn from her memories. If it were anyone else she might find offence. Cole was always forgiven. She understood his nature.

“You should tell him. He wants to help too.” Cole’s eyes glazed over slightly and she knew the moment was over. “I should go.” She blinked and he was gone.

The sensation of not being alone lingered. Whether the presence was friend or foe she was unsure. The safest decision was to wake up and leave the Fade behind. With a soft sigh of regret, she did just that. Her eyes fluttered open with a thought and she tucked away the sensation of loss that accompanied each waking.

Running her hands across her cheeks, she looked out the window. The sky was beginning to lighten. At least she had rested long enough. The ladies would probably be arriving soon to help her with her morning. She dressed quickly and was most of the way through caring for her hair when the soft knock on her door broke the silence. Fingers working by way of memory, she twisted the series of braids back into place and slid open the door. It wasn’t Mary at all. The woman was taller and held a stronger stature. Her short, red hair brushed against the collar of a heavy hood. The symbol of the Inquisition sat high on her chest.

“Good morning,” she stammered, making a polite bow. “I apologize for being unprepared. I was expecting someone else.”

The woman laughed lightly, and stepped back with her hands loose at her sides. “I was hoping to catch you before you were whisked off for your day. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ara’lan. My name is Leliana and I think we have quite a bit to discuss.”

Chapter Text

The path they took was familiar, if quieter than the last time she passed. The rotunda was empty. In the early morning light shadows still danced along the walls, giving a bit of life to the scenes still under construction. She didn’t have time to stare. Keeping pace with Leliana was enough of a challenge. The woman moved with the confidence of someone who never faltered or slowed for any challenge. It was as inspiring as her silence was worrying. At the pinnacle of the stairs, surrounded by the birds and soft voices of scouts beginning their day, her guide stopped. She gestured to a chair by one of the small windows.

“Please have a seat.”

Ara’lan sat and laid her hands lightly in her lap. She kept her mind clear and her breaths calm. Varric had warned her about this woman. Leliana was the keyholder of secrets. Whole kingdoms trembled when she turned her eyes their way. Nothing escaped her notice. The men and women in her service were her eyes and ears. The moved without being heard or seen. Nothing escaped her notice. The dwarf had been clear about all the facts regarding the woman who stood before her now. He had missed that she was also beautiful. A minor detail to be sure, but still a truth. Even with all of his story, she betrayed no fear.

“Your clan speaks so highly of you,” she began with a casual air. “Keeper Hawen even says he would trust you with his life. That’s more than just a kinship between you, isn’t it?”

“Yes. He saved my life when I didn’t believe it was worth saving. He has been my truest friend ever since.”

“I heard of this. It was before he was Keeper, no?”

“Yes. He was being trained to be First of his clan still.”

“So he must have been very young.” A statement, not a question. “Were you only a child then? That must have been frightening.”

“I was not a child. I was as you see me now.” Ara’lan smiled. “I might have a new scar or two, though.”

Leliana paused, looking for her next question. She carried the body language of someone always used to being in control, in knowing the unknown. This was different. Rather than let her choose to play a game or go on the attack, Ara’lan chose the third option. Mahanon had told her that he wouldn’t share her story. It was hers to tell. This was as good a place as any to start.

“I am not here for duplicitous reasons so I have nothing to hide from you. In truth, I do not know how old I am. When I was ordered to sleep it was year 6725 since the founding of Arlathan. I had lived many years by then. When I awoke it was 9:3 Dragon. I do not know how many years passed between. I only know that the world I knew was barely more than a memory.”

Her demeanor didn’t change but her face paled slightly. Of all things that Leliana could have expected, this seemed to not be one. Still, she continued with her story. It was a list of facts, nothing more.

“Hawen and Ithiren found me unconscious and bleeding outside a burning temple. Darkspawn had broken through from underneath and tore it apart level by level. I barely got out alive. None of my compatriots were so lucky. This they told me as it took weeks in their care to bring me back from the edge of death. Hawen took pity on me and claimed me as his sister so I would have a home. We are more than friends. We are family. I watched the clan grow strong. I watched him take his place as their Keeper with pride. Now that their numbers are thin, they are better without me.”

Leliana’s eyes narrowed. “Why is that?”

“The story I just told you is the same story I told at the first Arlathven after my awakening. The Elders were not as welcoming as the clan. I never spoke before them again.” Her shoulders sagged as her voice broke on the memory. This needed to be said if this woman was to trust her. “Without my presence they will no longer be shunned. They will be able to ask for aid or take in new members without fear of reprisal.”

“But why would Hawen send you to us?”

"Hawen trusts Mahanon as one of the People though he is hesitant to trust so many humans at his side. He knows that if anything were to happen to me that he would be notified. I am not here as a representative of the clan, Spymaster. I am here as myself. Where I can help, I will. Where I can learn, I will. All I desire is to see what the world looks like now and perhaps have the opportunity to seek what has been lost.”

“What has been lost?”

Ara’lan nodded. “Yes. There were other temples in other lands. If any of my people still linger, I wish to find them. If they are all gone and I am the last, I would find their resting places and perform the rites myself. Their stories can not be lost.”

Leliana frowned and paced, thinking on all she was given. It was unclear if she believed what she had been told but there was enough to keep her mind spinning. Waiting patiently was the only option.

“Say I don’t believe you. How would you prove your story?”

“If you do not believe me, then believe the word of the clan. Any of the members of age can verify that I have been with them for the last 38 years. Ask Hawen and Ithiren and give them my permission. Tell them you have the word of asa’ma’lin. They will tell you where and how I was found. You can see the location yourself.”

“I will do that.” Leliana stopped before her and nodded. “Until I can verify your story you are not to leave the grounds of the fortress. You will be watched in all you do to make sure you don’t pose a threat. You will also be watched to make sure no one tries to harm you. Do you understand?”

Ara’lan nodded. “Yes. I understand and consent. Thank you for your consideration.”

She offered a hand, which Ara’lan rose to clasp firmly. This wasn’t over by any means but it was a place to begin. It was expected the Spymaster would still keep a close watch on her actions. She wouldn’t be any good at her job if she took someone at only their word. Having her digging into the past might actually be helpful and having someone watching out for her safety was a benefit she appreciated.

A scout shifted into view and their hands fell apart. Outside of their interlude, the rest of the fortress had stirred. The sun had finished rising and the day had begun.

“Thank you for your candor, Ara’lan. Your story, true or not, is an interesting one. I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to talk again soon.”

Accepting the dismissal, she offered a slight bow of respect and left. It was still early enough to find some food in the kitchens. She felt bad that Mary had meant to help her this day but relieved to be on her own. Being looked after wasn’t a sensation that sat well on her shoulders or in her mind. She found herself wandering until she ended at the rotunda again.

Magic still tingled slightly in the air. Alone this time, she took the chance to enjoy it. She wasn’t so hungry that she couldn’t spare the time. Her eyes slid closed and she breathed deeply. The tingle became something warm, soaking into her skin and soothing a tightness in her chest. In a world so devoid of magical places, she was sipping from a tender oasis with gratitude.

“I did not expect you to return so soon.”

The voice startled her out of her thoughts. Eyes flying open, she turned to find the elf a few feet away. She should have heard his approach, even lost as she was in her mind. It was still a respectful distance and the smirk on his face read well that he knew he sneaked up on her.

“I was invited, was I not?”

“Of course. I only presumed that you would have far better things to do and more interesting company to keep than half finished walls. Are the Herald and the Tevinter tiresome already?”

She laughed and shook her head, the slight tension broken by his teasing. His tone was flat but she could see him baiting her in the glimmer in his eyes. He was subtle, she had to give him that credit. It was a welcome change from her earlier confrontation.

“Not at all. The Herald has duties that come first and I fear this might be too early in the day for Dorian. He is never one to lose an opportunity to sleep in. The Spymaster desired my company early and I came here to enjoy the quiet after.”

She turned and raised a hand at the painting in front of her. It wasn’t finished, he was right, but it was begun. The lines and bold colors were taking shape in abstract forms. “This is going to be stunning. I can see your ideas coming to life already. Where did you learn such a technique?”

He clasped his hands behind his back and nearly strutted closer. The pride in his stature and tone ran thick in the air. “There are memories deep within the Fade that hold a great amount of knowledge. I have been lucky enough to find one in an old, forgotten city. Ancient elves lived there once. They lined the walls of their communal buildings with the stories of their people. It seemed a fitting tribute, if a bit old fashioned.”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “You sleep in ruins and lost places? I am glad to see the stories of you are true, i've'an'virelan.

“Oh? Who has been telling you stories?”

“Varric. He had a lot of time on our trip back to tell me about a good number of the people here. I was warned about the Spymaster and the Seeker first. They would be the most resistant to my arrival. Then The Iron Bull because of my hair.” She toyed with the shorter, red strands that escaped her braids. “He is quite imposing. The humans and Sera would have no desire to discuss history, especially about my People. You, however, would be most receptive to such a discussion. He said that you sleep in ruins surrounded by spiders and all sorts of danger just to catch a glimpse of what might have been.”

Solas laughed, a deep, honest sound. “He would make it so poetic. It’s dark and dank and sometimes fruitless but always worth the effort.”

Her agreement rolled easily from her bright smile. “He is quite the storyteller to be sure. Many of his tales are bold exaggerations or completely false. Still, I am glad he was right about you. The old ways should not be forgotten. Even if they only live in memory, they still live. A piece of something is better than none at all.”

He stilled and turned from her. It was difficult to read him then and she scrambled for where she may have misstepped. The pressure in the air around them shifted and turned cold. Her magic was far too weak to do such a thing. It had to have been coming from him.

Ir abelas. If I have offended-”

“The Dalish are quick to cobble together any scraps they find from their history, no matter how right or wrong it may be. It is not your failing. I should not expect you to understand.”

She bristled at the insult and insinuation. To be judged by humans was one thing. To be judged and dismissed by one of her own was something completely different. His words were more bitter than true. Her temper flared but before she could open her mouth, she felt a soothing presence lurking over her shoulder.

“You should tell him,” he whispered. “He will understand.”

“Perhaps you are right, falon.” Her voice trembled in an attempt at control. She would not be ruled by her emotions, especially in his presence. A few deep breaths took away the edges of her anger. “I will try.”

Solas turned back to her, his face a blank mask. It only shifted when he saw Cole lingering over her shoulder. Then he softened but still kept his distance. It would have to be enough. The way he questioned her was different than the Spymaster. It dug deeper into her heart. He wouldn't be satisfied by simple facts.

“I have lived among the Dalish for nearly four decades.” Her tone held calm and steady between them. “They have healed my wounds, taught me to speak the Common tongue, and given me a place to live and sleep in safety. They are young, yes. They make mistakes, yes. Our People have fallen so far from who they once were. Please do not begrudge them their attempts to cling to a past so easily. They have known more at the hand of bitterness than they could ever remember at the feet of glory.” Ara’lan sighed and her gaze fell. “But not all are so stubborn. I am one of them because a few have accepted me. Only a few. I am not of them.”

He frowned, his anger and stoicism fading. “Were you born in a city then?”

“Of a sort. It is rubble and dust now.”

Solas was silent at that. He looked upon her as an object of study, not a person. It was unsettling and held her tongue from continuing.

Cole plucked at her sleeve and caught her gaze. “Worry. The Elders cast you out. Alone. Adrift. So many question. So many looking, seeing, not seeing, they won’t understand. They couldn’t possibly know how it feels.” His eyes glimmered and she felt the embrace of his nature. “It wasn’t your fault they were scared. This is somewhere different. You can be you here if you want it.”

The knot in her chest eased once more. She smiled. “Ma serannas, falon. Ma melava halani.

Cole grinned back at her and released his grip. She blinked and he was gone but the strength he had given her remained. His gift was still so strong in this broken world. With renewed confidence she looked back at Solas. He had witnessed the exchange quietly though his expression gave nothing away.

“There is a ruin two days south east of the Dalish camp where I was found. It is buried in overgrowth now but you can find it if you follow the river. Clan markers will lead you to where the temple doors once stood. Sleep there, i've'an'virelan. Then you might know more of my story.”

The door to the rotunda swung open and banged hard against the wall. It startled her to gasp and broke their stand-off. Mary strode through, nearly running to grab at Ara’lan’s hand. Her grip was firm in her excitement. She tugged her towards the door through which she just entered.

“There you are! Come quickly, miss. They’re naming the Herald as Inquisitor! Everyone is there! You don’t want to miss it!”

Chapter Text

It only took a few weeks for her to settle into a routine. Being a guest of the Inquisition left her far too idle. She rose early out of habit and worked her way into the graces of the kitchens. Mostly she needed dough or stirred pots but it was a job that needed to be done. The people she grew to know relaxed easily around her. Mary came and went like a blur, checking in often to make sure she really wanted to work. After the third day she was chased out by a short tempered, ladle wielding Grace. The head cook had no patience for interruptions. By early afternoon she could be found in the library. Whether it was to read a new book, talk with the Tranquil who always found their way between the rows of books, or debate magic with Dorian, it was her favorite place to be. She found the Tevinter deeper than he seemed. He absorbed knowledge with a hunger she hadn’t witnessed in ages. Another comfort. Though the world that raised him treated spirits as mere tools, fuel for use and not living beings, he was more flexible. Evenings were spent in the garden or in the upper rafters of the tavern, both sometimes with Cole. The plants still grew wild in patches but there was an elegance to even that. The young man was great company in either place. They were helping.

Magic was somewhat of a different experience. Dorian tried his best. In stuttering stops and starts she began to understand how things worked for him. That didn’t mean they would work that way for her. He wasn’t the most patient teacher but he was enthusiastic.

“Alright, let’s try this one more time. Hands in your lap, palms up.”

She sighed and rolled the stiffness out of her shoulders. Even sitting in the peace of the garden carried an unpleasant weight after the many hours they spent training. Following his instructions, she closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. Focus returned. She nodded.

Dorian held his hands above hers and watched her face carefully. The space between each set of palms began to glow. It started as a soft white light and gently grew brighter. “Feel it,” he murmured. “It flows between the Fade and our hands. Follow it back to the source.”

Her other senses dimmed as she reached. The touch of his magic was warm and sharp. It reminded her of storm clouds thick in the air, the rumble of thunder and promise of lighting, wild and fierce. She could almost taste the spark wanting to be born. Essence of the Fade rolled together with his will. She felt for the core and did as instructed.

The Veil hindered her path as it always did. Her eyebrows tightened in concentration and effort. If he could find a way, she could follow it. She could find it. Sweat beaded on the back of her neck as she fought for the pathway.

“Breathe, Ara’lan. You’re almost there. You can do it this time.”

Relaxing her jaw and letting out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding, she caught the trail. The light before them began to grow. It flickered with purpose and intent.

“Good! See? I knew you could do it. Now. Feed it slowly. I’m taking my hands away again. It’s all yours. Remember. Slowly.”

The globe flickered sharply as he moved back but it didn’t go out as it had for the past few hours. She could feel it still shifting in a sluggish rotation above her palms. Victory brought a slight smile to her lips. Holding tight to the window into the Fade, she pulled. Like taking a deep breath, the energy did as she asked. The orb above her hands brightened. It started to spin just a little faster.

Dorian grinned at her triumph. Her excitement was contagious. “Yes! Now what shall you do with it, hmm?” He stepped back and lifted his hands from his sides, activating a barrier around them. “Are you feeling ready to let the light show free?”

She nodded and slowly opened her eyes. Her hands lifted, shaking slightly under the strain of an invisible weight. The energy suddenly flexed above her hands. It took an oblong shape and turned green.

“Let it go!” Dorian ran back to her side and clasped her wrists. He pushed the orb up and away just as it lost stability and erupted. An echoing crack sounded in the air. They both dropped flat on the ground from the force of it. The globe cracked open from all sides and threw enough sparks into the air to cause alarm outside the garden walls. Luckily they were just light. As they fell among the flowers and plants, they dimmed away to nothing.

Ara’lan groaned and stayed where she fell. Hands scrubbed at her face in frustration and shame, she could hear others arriving to inspect the damage. From behind one of the pillars stepped an elven woman. Her eyes threw a warning in their direction.

“Watch it mage.” The woman brushed debris from the shoulders of her scout coat and hair. “You better not be teaching her anything dangerous."

“Everything’s fine. Go on and report back to your overseer that I have it all well in hand.” Dorian called as he rose and dusted himself off. His voice lifted to reach any others as they arrived. “Thank you all for rushing to our aid. However there’s nothing to see here. Go on about your duties.” To her, he offered a hand. “Come on, my dear. I think we’re finished for today.”

“You are right.” She took his hand and lifted herself carefully. There was an ache in her back from the fall but otherwise she seemed unharmed. “Thank you for helping. I did not mean to put anyone in danger.”

“Naturally. And you’re most welcome. I haven’t seen such a display in quite some time. Reminds me of my early years.” He smiled encouragingly. “Try not to be too hard on yourself. You did much better today. And you’ll have plenty of time to practice while I’m gone.”

“Oh? Another adventure?”

“Yes. The Inquisitor has been called to assist with some Orlesian mess and he has called all of us to accompany him. He’s always trying to help out the little people in life. We leave in two days.”

She grinned. “You would not abide him leaving you behind.”

“I wouldn’t wish to deprive him of my luminous presence of course,” he laughed. “Though he did ask me to go.”

“How is he?”

She hadn’t seen much of Mahanon since she arrived. He was likely kept busy with his advisors and meetings and the general goings-on of the organization. She hoped that he would have time to talk with her soon. They had much to discuss when he was ready.

“About as well as you could imagine. Though he carries it well.” His eyes softened. “The shackles of power on a man like him seem to not be so tight as to diminish his spirit.”

She squeezed his hand briefly. “Good. Having people like you by his side can only help.”

He huffed. “I am quite generous. Thank you for noticing. Which reminds me. We’ll be passing through where we found your friends. Do you have a letter or message you would like us to deliver while we’re nearby?”

The offer was kind. She hadn’t sent anything since her arrival in hopes that they had already moved on. They would need to travel soon, she knew. If the Inquisition was still in the area it was possible they were able to trade for goods to last a little longer. No message she sent could say everything she wanted.

“Please just let Hawen know I am safe if you see him. He will worry.”

~ ~

The fanfare of their return weeks later filtered throughout the fortress, reaching her in the back corner of the garden. She smiled. It sounded successful. That would ease many minds. Turning the next page of her book, she let the ambient noise disappear again. Having been warned against practicing without supervision, it was easy to fill the time with research instead. Recent arrivals to the archives were hinting at the presence of Ehlven artifacts and locations. That was exactly what she wanted. The distraction was strong enough to prevent her from hearing the approaching footsteps until it was too late.

A hand appeared across the page and quickly plucked the book from her hands. She growled in displeasure to find the source of interruption. Her anger quickly fell away.

“Loranil! What are you doing here? Why are you not with the clan?”

He nearly danced with excitement but remembered to give her the book back. “Keeper Hawen said I could join the Inquisition. Isn’t that great? The Herald is amazing! He cleared out the demons at Var Bellanaris, helped Ithiren bring Halan'ghilan back again, and even resupplied what we lost in the flood.”

“That is a lot.”

“Yes! The Keeper said that he showed he remembered the People so the shems can’t be all bad.” His cheeks colored slightly. “And he said that since you were still here I wouldn’t be alone.”

Ara’lan smiled and shook her head. Of course he would. Loranil was one of the youngest hunters in the clan and the one most likely to get into a fight he couldn’t win. The young man itched for an adventure. Now he could have what he wanted while Hawen could be appeased that he would be watched.

“Then I am glad to see a familiar face, da’len. Tell me, is the clan still moving on?”

“Yes. They were planning to leave shortly after I did. The shems have stopped fighting for now so it’s a good time. They will send word after the Arlathvhen but hopes are high.”

She sighed lightly in relief. It would put more distance between herself and her old friends but their safety was the most important thing. If war was to begin again, or winter was to be harsh, the clan wouldn’t survive. Her worries were drowned out as he continued to babble on about the exciting things he saw and the practices of the soldiers. This environment would be good for him.

Over his shoulder she saw someone less excited. Hovering in the entrance to her hidden corner was the apostate elf. A far call from the overconfidence of their last conversation, he seemed drained and raw. Something had happened. For him to seek her out of all people was a wonder but she would respect it. She wanted to help anyone she could.

“Loranil, you should go find your quarters and meet me in the tavern later. I am sure there are plenty more exciting things to find within these walls.”

He accepted her suggestion with a quick hug and brushed past the mage without a second thought. The young moved so fast in this world and he was very young. She watched him go with a trace of tenderness. Her heart had been that light once.

In the silence that fell after his departure, she rose from her seat to close the distance. Her fingers picked at the edges of the book’s bindings out of habit. Solas didn’t move either away or towards her.

Savhalla, i've'an'virelan. Ea son?

He searched her face with such intensity she almost took a step back. “Din. Vinan mar dhru'an.

Uneras?

Vin.

Whatever was unsettling him solidified behind his admission but she still couldn’t see what it meant. He chose his next words carefully.

Teleolasan. Ehn ane?

Ara’lan. Unelitha ara melin.

Ahnsul?

His line of questions cracked her stare. Her eyes dropped her eyes to the stones beneath their feet. She shifted out of the old speech to answer him. It carried too many memories. “Because it was time. If you slept there then you saw what happened. You saw what woke me from my slumber and destroyed what safety I knew. Did you see what came before? Why I slept?”

His silence drew her attention back up. This time it was his turn to look away. She couldn’t mistake the mark of shame in his eyes. “Vin. Da’lam.

“What troubles you, Solas?”

He paused to gather his composure. It wasn’t as steady as he had been in the past, but it was stronger. “Ir abelas, lethal'lan. I lost a very old friend recently. It has unsettled me and I have forgotten myself.”

Lanast’rasa. Do you wish to discuss it?”

“If it will not trouble you, I would.”

“If it troubled me, I would not offer.”

He nodded and finally entered the garden properly. It took time for him to speak again, time she readily gave. Loss was never easy and she had suffered much of her own. It wasn’t a straight path he took but more of a wandering track through the plants and grass. His feet never crushed a leaf or petal. She followed, respecting his need for silence. Eventually he broke it gently though he kept his back to her.

“I have overheard your conversations with Dorian. Do you truly believe what you say about spirits?”

“Yes.”

“My friend was a spirit of Wisdom.”

Her heart broke for him. A true spirit of Wisdom was a rare, special creature to find in the old world, never mind the changed one. That he had befriended one spoke highly of his character. It earned a measure of her trust. She couldn’t resist reaching out to brush her fingers against his shoulder.

“Solas, I am so sorry.”

He softened at her words and touch, turning to face her. The sorrow tore across his face. With his pride broken, so raw and exposed, he seemed so painfully young.

“They were summoned by felasil humans to protect themselves from bandits,” he spat out and took a step closer. “Corrupted them from their purpose.”

She bristled at the knowledge, anger rising to match his bitterness. Curses ran through her mind but she held her tongue. Instead she took one of his hands in both of hers and held it tight. Her strength for him to finish his story.

“We freed the bindings but it was too late. They were too far gone to save. I-” He choked on his words and she squeezed his hand.

“You set them free.”

Vin.

“And what of the mages? Are they to be held accountable for their actions?”

“They have been dealt with,” he growled.

“Good.”

She tugged him over to a bench and gestured for him to sit by her. He more collapsed than sat but it would be good enough. His grip within her hands softened but didn’t let go. There were so many things she could say but she didn’t know him enough to pretend familiarity. What she could offer was hope. It warmed her heart enough to feel right.

“They live in your heart and memory now. One day a part of them might return. They will live on in a new form and make new memories. You will endure. But a piece of them will live on within you forever, falon’elgar.

Her hands lit with a soft glow, startling them both. Her magic was erratic as ever but this fed from her emotions and felt steady. Not quite healing but a balm of sorts, she let out a deep breath and caught his awed gaze. The thoughts and feelings she allowed to pass between them drew from her oldest nature. Only in a place where the Veil ran so thin, a time when she had been reaching through its bonds with such effort, for someone who called so deeply, could it be possible. It was an old, fleeting magic. Tears came to her eyes as she passed her hope to him.

“Wisdom saw something special in you. Something that needed to be. Should you ever need the reminder or counsel, seek me out. I was Innovation once. As a boon to one cut from nearly the same design as I, please accept my gift.” She smiled, the glow rising to her eyes. A soft echo underscored her voice. “Ma’melin Era’las. Lanas sul’eman en'an'sal'in.

His eyes widened as he leaned in closer, finally breaking away from her gaze to rest his head against her shoulder.

Ma nuvenin,” he whispered, voice cracking at the last.

Chapter Text

She awoke with a start in her bed. Her head throbbed enough to pull her eyes shut tight. Sitting up quickly did her no favors. Remembering how she got back to her room wasn’t as important as managing the pain. With a soft groan she slid back down and rested her head against her pillow.

“You’re awake.”

Opening her eyes just enough to find the face that matched the voice, she hummed a confirmation.

“You’re hurting. They said you would wake up when you were better. I waited.” Cole paused, tilting his head to study her. Perched on the end of her bed with such a look on his face, he could have been an owl. It made her smile.

“I heard you. He was hurting, aching, empty inside. You felt it once too when the world was young and words meant different things. But it was too much, too hard to pull it through. Lanas sul'eman en'an'sal'in. The world is too heavy for magic like that. You’re too real. You were like me but you changed.” The awe in his voice sent a chill to her heart. “I will be back.”

Witnessing him blink out sent another wave of pain through her eyes. She closed them again, this time pulling the edges of her blanket over her face for good measure.There was going to be a lot to explain and she wasn’t sure she was ready for any of it yet. Her friend was likely going to find himself someone to heal or, she hoped a little selfishly, some fresh water to clear the dry scratch of her throat. Either way, her privacy would be short lived now that he knew she was awake.

While he was gone, she could do a better assessment of her own condition. Her shoes were off but she still wore the same dress. Whomever had brought her here left her with that dignity. All her limbs moved readily, if a bit slow. The more she moved, the more tired she became. Her mind felt buried in a cloud. Thoughts were even slower to process. Physically she was whole but her energy had been severely depleted. Something would have to be done about that. Time and rest would be preferable.

There was a knock of warning at the door and it swung open slowly. It couldn’t have been Cole back so quick. He wouldn’t have knocked. The person who opened the door was still a pleasant sight and relief. Mary carried a heavy basket inside, keeping it tucked securely against her hip so she could close the door behind her. The worried wrinkles on her forehead didn’t match the smile on her face. She set her burden on the floor and first removed a cup and decanter of water. Pouring a bit in, she set the prize on the bedside table.

“Do you need help sitting up?”

“No, I can manage. Just give me a moment.”

Her voice crackled around the edges, dry throat and discomfort playing with her volume. Still, she sat up again, this time more slowly. She was thankful the room didn’t tilt this time. Taking the cup in both hands she allowed a small sip to pass her lips and soothe her throat.

“Thank you.”

Mary nodded and removed a few other articles from her basket. She found a hearty wedge of bread, some dried meats, and a small wheel of cheese. With the food were a few other loose bottles. Ara’lan recognized the one with the swirling blue liquid immediately. She pointed at it and did her best to control her tone.

“Why would I need that?”

“This? It’s lyrium,” she said with a hint of amusement. “Master Pavus said that you had used too much magic so I brought you some to help. Had to trade one of the mages a bottle of brandy for it but since the healers did everything they could I thought it wouldn’t hurt.”

The sentiment in such an easily delivered statement hit her hard. Perhaps she had more than one friend already. “I am sorry. I cannot.”

“Why not? It won’t cost you anything, I promise. I wanted to get this for you.”

“Mary, thank you. Truly. I just-”

“It’s alright. I know you’re trying to keep your magic stuff a secret. I didn’t tell him who it was for.”

“True as that may be, that is not the problem.” Ara’lan paused to take another sip of water. It would calm her throat and buy her a moment to gather her thoughts. She didn’t want to lie but no one needed to carry her whole story. “Whatever it cost you to acquire, I will find a way to compensate you. I cannot take the lyrium because it does not work for me. I become ill.”

“Oh.”

“I do appreciate the gesture. It was never my intent to become a burden to anyone, least of all you.”

Mary scoffed and buried the offending bottle in the bottom of the basket. “Never you mind all that. I’ll just trade it away for some fresh fruits and no harm done. There’s a supply caravan coming in a few days. Should have plenty to choose from by then.”

“Thank you, Mary. You are too kind.” She picked at the food, easing herself into taking small bites. Her body needed the nourishment even if she didn’t have the appetite.

“You deserve it. You’ve been nothing but nice to me, to all of us, since you got here. You’re one of the ones that sees us for people, not just the shadows others think make all the things happen when they’re not looking.” Her smile fell. “I’ve also not really told you why I’m always hanging about. The Spymaster asked me to watch you, too. She knew we were getting on so well so she just asked me in that creepy way she’s got to tell her if anything strange happened.”

Ara’lan tensed slightly but nodded. This was what she agreed to when they spoke. “Thank you for telling me. I understand your need to secrecy and hold no ill will towards you for it.”

“Now who’s being too kind?” She sighed in relief. “I’ll need to tell her something about what happened in the garden. What should I tell her?”

Setting the crust of bread back down, she took the full weight of that question. Having a choice in what the Spymaster, and in turn the Inquisition, knew would give her control. Also a thing to consider was the potential for being caught in a lie. The redheaded woman had already proven her skill at detection more times than she could count. The solution, though a bit bland, was to tell the truth. A version of it, anway.

“I’m not sure what happened. I had not practiced any magic since the party left with the Inquisitor as we agreed. Solas and I were talking and I must have fainted. I am unsure what came over me. I woke in my bed as you see me just a few moments ago. Cole was here. He comforted me and left.”

“I will tell her that. And make sure no one tries to give you any lyrium.” Mary shrugged. “Just in case. Rest well, miss. I’m sure you’ll be back on your feet again soon.”

She left nearly as quietly as she arrived, making sure to point out the rest of the supplies in the basket. With the quiet restored, Ara’lan breathed easier. Privacy was a rare thing among the clan but she always had the right to keep her own thoughts. The people here always asked questions. While she agreed to this at first, she didn’t quite understand how taxing it could be. Everyone wanted answers quickly. Taking time to think things through was perhaps a luxury she no longer had.

It took longer to wash and change her clothes than normal but she still managed. Finishing the small meal and water between steps helped her energy come back closer to normal. Between that and the rest, she still felt the exhausted ache in her limbs but she was moving. Holding her arms up to braid the length of her hair was a harder job than usual, though. She found it easier to simply brush out and braid a single crown around her head, letting the bulk of the copper waves fall down her back. It had grown so much since she last cut it that it fell nearly past the sash at her waist. Taking a deep breath for courage, she opened the door and stepped out to the balcony that overlooked the garden. It was time for more questions.

~ ~

It was no surprise that she found both the people she sought in the same location. She could hear the heat of their argument from the stairway. The sound was so familiar she didn’t bother to pause before entering the rotunda. Bickering about magical theory was their version of polite conversation. She knew Dorian and Solas equally loved the challenge though they might be loathe to admit it when the other was present. They stopped immediately once they realized she was there.

Dorian’s face lit up with a relieved grin. He opened his arms and quickly wrapped her up in a warm, gentle hug. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again, you hear? We agreed you wouldn’t do anything foolish while I wasn’t there to help you see it through and I’ll not have you breaking your promise.”

His words were scolding but his tone held an undercurrent of actual concern. She laughed softly when he released her and did her best to look chagrined. “I am sorry to have worried you, Dorian. I am still a bit tired but otherwise I seem fit and fine.”

He frowned and nodded, appeased. “Let’s keep it that way, hmm? I can’t bear to add more worry lines to this face. Any more than two days of worry and I need to visit the spa.”

She gaped, her eyes nearly as wide as her mouth. “I was asleep for two days?”

“Yes,” he said with a measured tone. “Did no one tell you? Cole said he was going to stay with you until you awoke. He would help.” Turning his judgement on Solas, Dorian’s voice dipped. “I thought you said that spirit creature was trustworthy? How could he abandon her like that? What if things had gotten worse?”

Solas stood tall and crossed his arms behind his back, saying nothing. The only mark of concern on his face was his ability to not meet her eyes. The desk, the floor, even over Dorian’s shoulder was more interesting than her. It shouldn’t have hurt but it did.

“Dorian, I am fine. Cole was there when I woke. He soothed my thoughts and sent Mary to help. I was not alone, I promise you that.”

Ruffled but placated for the moment, he accepted her words. “He still should have told you. Or come get one of us to make sure you’re actually alright. Lucky for both of you, I have other matters that need my attention.” He caught her gaze with a deep look of concern. “When you’re ready, we should talk about this. Mahanon has been worried, too, though he’s been too busy to do anything about it. You should see him soon. He might even appreciate an interruption. They’re getting too smart to let me rescue him from their clutches much anymore.”

With another quick hug, he left the two elves alone. She wasn’t sure where she stood with the apostate again. It was unsettling and she wanted no part of that mystery any longer than needed. He gave nothing away, still standing at his desk with his hands tucked out of sight. Had her senses not been dulled by her recent overuse she could have used her magic to reach out to him. Now she had to guess.

Nuvenan ma son. Tel’untuan neum?

She asked him the question carefully and moved forward. If she had done him some offense she wanted to make it right. This back and forth dance of wounded pride they seemed to be in was tiring and she wanted no further part of it. Either they made amends now and for good or she would walk away and leave him his peace.

He didn’t answer with words but she could see the turmoil in his face and shoulders. He finally lifted his eyes from the floor to hers and she saw what he was holding in. It was enough to halt her steps. She opened her mouth to apologize again but even that was halted. This time it was his arms wrapping around her, holding her close and secure against his chest.

Ame te'son mala.

His answer was muffled by the press of his face against the curve of her skin where her shoulder and neck met. The heat of his breath and raw emotion in his voice sent a shiver down her spine. She worked her arms out from his grasp enough to curl them around him in return. This was a better reaction that she’d hoped.

Ir abelas. Tel’nuven sul’eman geal,” she whispered and relaxed into his embrace. “Te’silan ra’sua.

Tel’abelas.” He eased his grip on her enough to look her in the eyes. “Tel’gonathe druas. Rahn druas sul’em, ar-

At that he stepped away. Her arms fell to her sides, cooler now for the lack of his presence. The way he paced before her, hands clenching at his sides and brow furrowed with thought, brought to mind a caged, irritated beast. She had no idea where these feelings came from within him so she hoped he might explain. Holding her tongue seemed the smartest choice.

He stopped just as suddenly as he started and faced her. She watched the mask of calm slide over his face with a fraction of regret. “Tel’silas nulaman mar’en’an’sal. Sul’aman myathashis. Nuvenan melana sila suleval. Thu ra’sua.” He lifted his hand to brush her cheek so lightly, as if he was afraid she would shatter at his touch. “Ahn ela’him’athe.

Vindurthan. Amas ga’melana nuvenas.

She answered him with more than words. Her hand held his steadily against her skin in comfort. He didn’t pull away. Instead his eyes closed and he returned the gesture. He sighed softly, either in relief or regret she wasn’t sure, and released her once more. The mask was still in place but she could see where it cracked. She had a lot to sort out too.

Ma serannas, Era’las. Ane bel’tundra.

That made her laugh, breaking the tension in the air. It surprised her to know the sound of her old name in the air didn’t hurt when he said it. Her response drew a hint of a smile to his lips despite his growing melancholy. “Unharthan ra bel’melana min’vir."

His smile curled at her teasing but she went no further. The serious nature of her weakness wasn’t a joke to either of them. He clearly hadn’t said anything of what transpired to Dorian. She wasn’t sure she was ready to share the details with anyone else either. That would be for sorting out later. What she needed to do now was finish her visits and get back to rest. A small meal and water wasn’t going to last her much longer.

With a light squeeze of his hand, she released him and left him to his thoughts. He would get the time and respect he desired. It was about time she caught up with Mahanon anyway. If her luck was good, she could do as Dorian recommended and offer him some measure of advice or knowledge. If it was better, then she might cross paths with Cole again. He said he would be back, after all. Hopes high, she went for the council room first.

Chapter Text

“I said no and that’s my final word on it. It’s barbaric and I won’t have it done under my watch.”

Mahanon’s voice was pitched angry enough to carry through both sets of thick, wooden doors and the narrow hallway that separated her from the meeting. She had only stopped to collect her courage and breath but now she wondered if she should continue or turn away. Listening in on even a shouted conversation was generally unwelcome. The decision was made for her. His voice drew closer, still angry but not as loud. He threw the door open in a huff, his advisors hot on his heels.

“Inquisitor, if you would, please consider-” The dark-haired, genteel woman offering her opinion could only be his ambassador. Her smile was painted on over clenched teeth.

“No! Absolutely not!” Mahanon let out a growl of frustration and stopped. His eyes flashed over to Ara’lan standing by the other door, giving her a slight nod of greeting before he continued. “We are not the Chantry nor are we any Circle to support such a practice. If I were the kind of person to allow that, we would not only lose the alliance of all the mages within our care but I would lose a part of myself with it. My People don’t require such radical nonsense! Never have and never will. Anyone who wants to argue with me about it is free to leave!”

The blonde man behind them stood gaping at the scene. From the guilt radiating off his shuffling feet and creased brow, he shouldered most of the blame. Leliana hovered in the doorway, arms crossed at her chest and a sly smile on her face.

“It’s good to see you, Ara’lan. You’ve become quite popular lately.” The redhead’s gaze took her full measure. “I’m glad to see you’re feeling better.”

“Thank you, Mistress Leliana. I appreciate your concern.” She dipped a gentle curtsy to them all. Her time in the wilds hadn’t robbed her of all her graces. “Your healers are gifted. If I caused any undue strain, I do apologize.”

The blonde human frowned deeper. “If you would do us the favor of explaining what happened before you collapsed, it might ease a few minds.”

A sharp look from Mahanon kept him from going any further but she read the meaning well enough. This was no less than expected. Humans had a habit of choosing fear first when they didn’t understand. She had explained far more complex subjects to far simpler minds. A wave of her hand and a nod to the Inquisitor was all she needed to hold his temper.

“I will do my best, though introductions are generally first in order.” She pinched the corner of her mouth between her teeth to keep from laughing at his embarrassed blush. “It is a pleasure to meet you, ser. I am Ara’lan, formerly of Dirthavaren, and currently a guest of the Inquisition.”
“Cullen Rutherford at your service, my lady. I am Commander of the Inquisition’s forces and in charge of the safety of all we take into our care.”

“I see. Then let me ease your mind, Commander.” She squared her shoulders and chose her words with great care. She would not lie. Not outright at least. “I was sitting in the garden with a few friend where he confided in me his pains of losing a dear friend. I have lost many friends in my time and some in similar fashion. As I am not truly a mage, my connection to magic is weak. Not untrained, just weak. In my emotional state I must have mistakenly tried to heal him and drained myself in the process.”

She smiled sweetly, though the cynicism in her eyes burned. Her gaze took in everyone in the room except Mahanon. The quieter woman with dark hair had to be the ambassador. She seemed sweet but her eyes held just as sharp as the others. If she was to be put to questioning by these humans, she wanted them all to pay attention. “I have been trying to learn the limits of my magical abilities under the direct supervision of Dorian as was agreed. I have been watched closely in all I do and say since I arrived at Skyhold by the people answering to your Spymaster. Also as agreed. If you have any further questions I would like to answer them myself, thank you, and not be discussed behind closed doors.” Her posture straightened, matching the call for respect her words laid out. “Any harm I might do to others would not come from magic, I assure you.”

Leliana caught the eye of each advisor in turn. The three of them had a wordless conversation that left Cullen placated and Josephine if not smiling, at least amenable. If this was another of her tests, Ara’lan wasn’t amused.

“Make sure you get some rest, Ara’lan,” Leliana said finally. “Don’t overdo it again anytime soon.”

“I will do my best to be more careful in the future. Thank you.”

With a gesture, the Inquisitor bade her to follow him out of the room. She watched for each turn as they moved, careful to remember passages that would avoid the audience halls and rooms of human nobles. Wherever he needed to take her, it was high up in the fortress. He remained silent as they walked. The only sound made was the shuffle of his boots against the stone floors and the heavy breaths he used to calm himself along the way. She was thankful for the comfortable silence.

One last doorway opened and they were outside. A back corner of some forgotten rampart stood quietly gazing out into the unforgiving mountains. The bite of cold in the air was buffered by the towers nearby. It had the added benefit of containing most sounds. The only ones that would overhear were the mountains. Sentries paced their duties below, but no other people were to be seen or heard. They made a point not to look to hard at their leader. Another benefit. Leaning heavily on the outer wall, he took a few moments to find his voice.

“I’m sorry about all that.”

“Humans fear first and think later,” she answered with a shrug. “They will do better next time.”

“I hope so.” He turned to face her, all business. “If not, please let me know at once. I’ll not have them treating you poorly.”

Atish’an, lethal'lin. Their words have done me no harm. You are their leader and guide. No matter how hard it is for them to break old thoughts and patterns, they have committed to following you. They will do as you decree. It is no different than any other courtly matter.”

She took a deep breath of her own and looked out to the sky. The clouds matched the snow topped stone so well. Exhausted as her energies were, she could still feel the slight hint of magic that filtered through the keep. It was in the air they breathed, the stone they stood on, and even the ground in which the plants grew. Outside was eternal winter, unforgiving. But inside life held on. Trees refused to lose their leaves. Small plants grew in the garden. Grass sprouted around paths. It felt more like home than anywhere she had known in this numb world.

“I know your clan told you a great many things about who our People were.Every clan carries a piece of that history within them. It may change in small parts each time it is passed on, but at the heart it remains the same.”

“We’ve shared many stories, yes. I was First of my clan so I carry them with me.” He turned to study her, a curious look on her face. “Why do you ask?”

“You have the tales of Halamshiral, then? The Long Walk and the land that was promised? All clans carry that weight. But do you know of what came before? Of when our People shone brighter than stars?”

“Elvhenan.” The awe in his voice softened the word to a whisper.

“Yes. Arlathan was the epicenter of all things in the empire. You can romanticize it as much as you wish, but a city is still a city. Bread is still baked. Streets are still swept. Goods are still bought and sold. Elvhen of political power still sat in committees to make decisions for those under their care.” She smiled and turned away from the snowy world outside. “I have heard shouting and threats of things far more dangerous than a test of magical acumen. Luckily for your humans the world has changed too much. And so have I.”

“What does that mean?”

“When our People were at their height, no one could challenge them. Humans seemed creatures of dirt and toil to beings such as us. Simple things. We were Elvhen. Magic hummed in the air we breathed, the buildings we erected, the food we ate, the blood in our veins. We were things of magic nearly as much as we were things of flesh.” She laughed wistfully at the memory. “The stories some clans tell would have you believe that no one ever worked a single day of their lives. Even the gods themselves were not so great to avoid some form of labor. What they and their councils did was different in some ways from the baker or the vendors at the market, but no less a service to the People.”

Her thin fingers gestured at the markings on his face. “You chose the lines of the Crafter. Remember, lethal'lin, that he was not just the builder. He was a thinker, too. He was patient and steady with his tasks, no matter how long a project took. Those were the traits of his chosen, too. I spent some time among their ranks and saw the wonders they created with little more than an idea and the passion to see it through. They would have been proud to know you.” The mirth in her eyes dimmed. “Before everything changed, June had works of beauty and function in every major part of the city and every walk of life. His crafters knew no equal.”

“Then Tevinter took it all away. I can imagine.”

“No. Tevinter was inevitable but not the cause. When an empire rises beyond its own reach it can only fall. The Elvhen warred amongst themselves long before they were conquered. By the time humans came for our People our glory was little more than a wistful thought. The magic that sustained us was only a story.” She sighed, an ache in her back reminding of her current limits. “I saw how great we were. I saw how low we fell. Pray to whomever you wish. Believe what you wish. But do not let fear rule your heart. Be brave as those before you were brave. It is easy to hold a sword and swear against all challenges. It is harder to choose wisely and with proper consideration for the days when battle is done. If you can do that, those that follow you will do the same.”

Mahanon nodded, expression clouded with thoughts. She had given him a point of view not commonly held by the Dalish but it was close enough to the accepted lore that he would be able to make the connections. She knew better than to tell him more before he was ready. Patience she asked of him, and patience she would have.

Ma serannas, hahren. I will try to remember your lesson.”

“You do that, da’len,” she teased. “But first help an old woman find her room again. I think I need to follow your Spymaster’s advice for once.”

He smiled, returning the gesture with a dramatic bow. “Happy to help my elders, of course. Can you walk or shall I carry you there? Can’t have you break a hip on the steps.”

At that she laughed easier, swatting his arm for good measure. “Did anyone not teach you to hold your wit when your elders are present?”

“Never quite learned that one, no matter how hard Keeper Deshanna tried.” He paused. “If you’re feeling better soon, I would like you to come with us on our next outing. We found an ancient Elven temple and I could use your knowledge. The scouts are going ahead to clear any danger so it should be relatively safe.”

Her heart thudded in her chest, hope of her own rising. There was no telling how old the temple was, but if it carried a trail she could follow it would be worth any risk. “It has been requested that I remain within the grounds of Skyhold until I am deemed a safe companion by your Spymaster. She is looking after your interests as best she may.”

“I’ll speak with her. You signed on to help and explore and I’ll have that honored.” He grinned again before offering a hand to guide her down the steps. “Maybe use a bit of that steadiness you spoke of. Just be ready to pack up when you get word. I won’t leave for this one without you.”

She took his offer with grace.“Never misjudge the quiet ones, da’len. Her eyes and ears miss nothing. If she grants permission, I would be more than happy to help. Whatever we learn there is sure to be exciting.”

Chapter Text

As her eyes slid shut in the waking world, they slowly opened in the Dreaming. It was unchanged and she was grateful. The grass beneath her bare feet remained as she had made it, as did the trees at her vision’s edge and the sky above. She had been denied access to the Fade during her weakened state. Returning to a place of such safety and familiarity healed better than any potion or balm ever could.

Testing the boundaries and finding them strong as ever, she allowed herself to change. The trappings of the world outside fell away. Her soft cotton dress faded into shimmering silks of silver and blue, flowing from her waist to the tops of her toes. The skirt rippled faintly as if moved by a breeze. Her hair slipped from its tight knots. She sighed gently at the freeing sensation. It shone bright as flame all the way to the backs of her knees.Her arms lifted from the folds of her sleeves to raise her hands above her head. Even her skin shone with a soft light, brightest at her core and heart. Connecting in the waking world with the magic of her youth had been draining beyond measure but here it set her free.

A song lifted from the magic in the air around her, bringing a smile to her lips. It was an old tune, likely pulled from the same memory as her dress. She found herself unable to resist the urge to hum along as her hips began to sway. With a laugh, she gave in and began to dance. Without a partner it was harder to execute the spins and dips but she managed well enough. Her ease and joy drew attention from gentle, nearby spirits. She could feel them watching from the edges of her dream. Their excitement and wonder fed her own.

On a whim, she waved her hand and let the barrier weaken. The first to find its way through was a spirit of Joy. It curled around her waist and tickled at her hair. She laughed and spun faster, adding a flourish to her step for their amusement. The spirit thrummed against her skin in reward.

“Share?” The spirit whispered the request to her mind.

She was intimately familiar with what the spirit asked of her. Her smile brightened and she nodded, allowing the scenery around them to shift. From a soft glade in the woods a grand ballroom was born. Golden pillars traced with flecks of silver ran from the smooth stone floors to the ceiling sparkling with lights to imitate the night sky. Faint shadows, the impression of other people, shifted around them. They murmured softly, sipped from crystal glasses, or spun in slow circles about the floor. What had been a soft song before now filled the air. It strengthened with instruments and voices from a time long past. Above it all loomed the high dias, seats of power and influence for the Lords and Ladys that ruled the realms. Most of the seats were empty this time. Only Mythal and Sylaise remained, poised as ever and engaged in their own conversation. Enough of their followers lingered near but most mingled among others. It was clear the gathering had been going for some time.

 

She paused in the middle of it all, lightly tracing an idle finger against the coil of the spirit around her waist. Emotions filled the air, too. It was just another part of the life she once knew that had been cut short in the now quiet magics of the Waking world. Rather than bring regret, this time her heart felt light. It was no doubt the influence of her current companion.

Lost in her reverie, she nearly jumped to feel a touch at her shoulder. She spun around to see an amused grin on a very familiar face. The rest of him was dressed more suited to the event, robes colored in the gold and silver patterns of Mythal’s people. Her cheeks flushed quickly in surprise and interest.

Thu?

His grin widened as he offered a hand and a slight bow. “Elasan alas’niral?

Joy clenched tight around her body for a moment but with a sigh of reluctance released her. It didn’t wander far and she was glad of it. Curiosity tickled at the back of her mind. She smiled.

Vindurthan.

One hand fit comfortably against her waist and the other holding hers, he spun her back into the dance. Her shoulders relaxed as she let him lead her into the steps, spins, and intricate movements. He knew them all with a level of confidence that shone in his eyes. She couldn’t help staring. Feeling more than a little bold, she slipped her hand from his waist to the center of his back, drawing him closer.

Elas bel’el’u eol, i've'an'virelan,” she murmured.

His laugh rumbled in his chest, easy and free as she felt. “Dhruas vin?

Vin. Unvenas ara’era tel’elas.

Ir abelas, ir tel’an? Melahn eremahan mar’elgar irlahn em.

Tel’abelas. Elas bellanaris.

Ma nuvenin.” Solas spun her away to her fingertips then drew her quickly against his chest. He held her there for a moment, wrapped in his arms, catching her gaze with a glimmer of mischief in his own. “Silemahan.

Enastan.” She blushed again, smiling brightly. “Thu elas eolas alasnira? Uneras ra?

He began to move them again, this time much slower. “Din,” his voice caught in a hint of unease. “Ar’dea an melahn'an. Tel’eral. Vunathe.

She froze in his grasp, eyes widening. Shock tinted the joy she poured out into the air. Looking up at him and seeing the honesty of his expression, feeling the truth in the air, she couldn’t find a single word to say.

His smile fell. Unease slithered its way across his skin as he began to draw his hands away and take a step back. “Ir abelas, tel’sulevan nua’ma.

Ara’lan clenched her fingers around his bicep, refusing to allow him any further away. She shook her head in sharp denial and grinned. Her ecstatic joy burned in the air so sharply the spirit of Joy still lingering near bloomed a bright pink. It curled tendrils around her legs, drinking in the essence of the feelings pouring through the air.

Ame tel’nua,” she laughed “Ame tel’nua!” Happy tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. Joy reached up and flicked them away. She didn’t notice. Her only focus was the relief in the bright blue eyes of her friend. The mystery of him still needed to be unraveled but this was more than she had hoped.

Ar nuvenem te’sasha. Venas em? Venan na? Solas, ar-

He relaxed at her admission, allowing her to step closer again. A smiles danced across his lips. The magic around them shifted slightly. Impressions of other people faded away, leaving them to dream in privacy. The music still played softly, a new tune that felt more of hope than joy.

She cupped his face in her hands, staring deeply into his eyes. Joy took the chance to loop around them both. They moved slowly, lazily, as if too full for quick motions. “Lethal'lin, Sul’amas esh’ala? Thu rosas? Elan bel’av’ahnala!

His eyes shifted closed and he leaned into her touch. Ever so gently he nudged the interloping spirit away. The air around them thickened. Everything else faded away.

Tel’sul’amem. Tel’nuvenes. Nere in’melana.” He nuzzled against her hand, pressing his lips to her palm. “Unsilan inan’sasha in tiralas’suin. Melahn'an vhellem’ma. Himas garahnen.

The intimacy of his touch and revelation hummed through her and warmed the air around them. She could feel his emotions sharpen. More than joy, more than hope, he shared something richer. Desire traced down her spine, heating her skin beneath her gown. She gasped, her fingers tensing against his cheeks. He pulled her fully against him, letting his lips slide down to her wrist.

“Solas,” she breathed his name, letting a trace of her own rising need free into the heady blend surrounding them. “Ahn sulev?

He didn’t answer with words but with touch. Arms stronger than they looked made her feel safe. Eyes so deep she could drown held her attention as they darkened. Lips she was still learning could be so soft drew closer. Under his touch her skin glowed much like it had the day in the garden. This time she felt strong. This time she was in her element.

Sulev garahnen,” he murmured less than a breath away from her lips. There he paused and waited for her permission.

Vin. Garahnen.” she answered and closed the distance, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her lips to his softly. They were warm and soft at first, tasting faintly of magic and dreaming.

He pulled her in with a hunger she didn’t expect. Either she was spinning or the Fade was shifting again but he still held her tight. Eyes closed, all she could feel was his heat, his kiss, the demanding press of his tongue against hers. The light within her filled the space around them, flowing outward with their combined pleasure. Breathless, he released her lips only for a moment. Studying every inch of her flushed, happy face, he growled and captured her again and again.

After an immeasurable time, he finally relented. Pressing his forehead to hers, the desire between them ebbed but didn’t fade completely. She clung to him as desperately as he did to her.

Melanir,” he panted, voice raw and thick with restraint. “Te’min’an.

She hummed her agreement, still trembling in his arms. “Vin, te’min’an. Mahn?

He grinned, finding tenuous control. “Sul’amir dirth’sulan. Man. Melana thenas.

Her eyes fluttered open and she sat up with a gasp. Sweat still beaded at her hairline. Her lips were tender as if having been kissed senseless. She shook her head slightly and laughed. Only in a weakened state would he have been able to push her so easily from the Fade. As the sun was bright in the sky, she had probably overslept anyway. Skin still tingling from his touch, she washed up and got ready for her day.

~ ~

Mahanon was true to his word. It only took a few days to arrange the crew for travel and she was among them. She was well enough for travel, even if Mary had fussed a little while she packed. They arranged for her to have a proper horse of her own this time, instead of one more used to carrying packs than people. A Dalish All-Bred, they called the mare. She was mild mannered as she was beautiful. Ara’lan rode her bareback, much to the surprise of the company. It amused her more than a little to see how fragile they expected her to be.

She traveled in near silence for the first few days, taking the time to learn more about the others and how they worked together. The Inquisitor was their leader but he was more relaxed outside the fortress walls. He laughed easier. Freedom even only in appearance helped him near as much as sharing a tent with his lover. Both he and Dorian needed and used their time well. Varric always had a story to give or was writing one down. Every night by the fire she heard the scratching of ink to paper long past others had gone to bed. The sparkle in his eye whenever she caught his gaze meant she was still on his list of curiosities. Cassandra was blunt but fair. The soldiers that traveled alongside them were kept in line with a mere look from her. If they didn’t share a tent, Ara’lan would have thought she was perfect. Strong and in control as she was, Cassandra snored. It wasn’t endearing. The Iron Bull spent most of his time among the soldiers, too. His rolling voice could be heard starting up songs or taunting a bit of competitive practice. He and the few Chargers that joined them kept spirits high. Solas watched her more closely than she watched the others. She could feel his gaze on her often. When she caught him, he simply smiled and busied himself with some simple task. Neither he nor she had discussed the dream yet. Patience was a virtue she carried well.

“We should arrive just before dusk. Are you excited yet?”

Caught in her reveries, she didn’t hear Mahanon approach. Her steed huffed in disapproval when she shifted too quickly. A warm hand down the muscles of her neck placated her enough to keep moving forward.

“I am. The land we covered is unfamiliar to me. I hope whatever we find to be worth the time and travel.” She grinned. “Even a worn stone could have stories to tell.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Are you sure you never met my Keeper? Or is dramatic ways of explaining things just part of a handbook you get when you become an elder?”

The retort she had on the tip of her tongue died the moment she saw a stone figure hidden behind some overgrowth as they passed. If she hadn’t been looking at him, she wouldn’t have noticed it at all. Just the edge of stone poked out from under the leaves. Without a word, she nudged her horse to stop and slid to the ground. She heard voices calling for a halt but paid them no mind. In the protective shade of the trees, the stone should have been cool. In all the years that had passed, the carvings should have been weathered. Prying away the vines and branches, she found neither to be true. The figure was shaped in the classic style meant to represent the Evanuris of old. Unlike Mythal’s dragons, this one had feathered wings and a sharp beak. Writing at the base confirmed her suspicion. It tingled warm beneath her fingers when she touched it.

“What does it say?” Mahanon loomed over her shoulder, squinting at the fine script.

A faint movement at the corner of her eye drew her attention to the elven mage as he approached. She looked to him, not the young elf by her side as she spoke.

“Venas son vir el'las'in. It means tread carefully on the path of great secrets.” She sighed, nerves getting the better of her for a moment. “We are likely approaching a temple devoted to Dirthamen, Lord of Secrets. Keep your wits about you, lethal'lin. If any of his people still linger here, they will be dangerous.”

Chapter Text

“What were they like?”

The fire crackled in the silence that followed Mahanon’s question. She knew he would ask. This was part of her agreement to join them, the sharing of her stories. She just hoped that he wouldn’t be disappointed or angry at what she knew. Her eyes lifted from the flames at the center of camp to focus on him.

“Who? The ancient elves?”

“Yes. There are so many stories but I want to know the truth.”

He leaned forward, interested in studying her reaction. The Tevinter at his side shifted as well. With the late hour enough of the accompanying troops had already retired so the pair were more comfortable letting others see how close they had grown. Having the attention of both their deeply curious minds brought her pause.

“The truth may not be easy to hear. Are you sure?”

Varric rumbled from his seat as well. His smile was encouraging. “If it’s as wild as the story you’ve already shared with us, then it’s got to be told.”

She looked at each of them in turn for agreement. Mahanon and Dorian nodded. Varric grinned. Cassandra frowned but Ara’lan knew it a gesture of thought instead of aggression by now. Solas was the only one she couldn’t read clearly. His body language showed no more than casual interest but his eyes flashed. Excitement or warning within them, she wasn’t sure. Still, a bargain was a bargain and she couldn’t back down without great cost.

“They were elves. They lived in cities and wilds, most toiling to make something of life worth value. It was no different to most than the world you know now except for the presence of spirits and magic. Gifts were not shunned or feared as they are now. Anyone with the desire to learn how to use those gifts spent years in study.”

“Now there’s a dream,” interjected Dorian. “Though I can’t imagine it was nearly as simple as you make it sound.”

“It was not,” she agreed. “Some desired power. There were elves that would give or take anything in the pursuit of gaining it. No cost was too high.”

“What kind of cost?”

Ara’lan swallowed hard. Even after all this time, it didn’t come easily. “The Dalish have a romantic idea of what life was like. That everyone lived in peace and harmony and all life was respected. I only wish that were the case. Kindness and prosperity did exist. So did abuse of power and slavery.”

Mahanon gasped. “Slaves?”

“Yes, lethal'lin. Our people kept slaves.”

He rose from his seat, pacing with sharp, quick steps before the flames. “That can’t be right. Why would they do that? How could they do that?”

“Easily, I am afraid,” she offered gently. “Ir abelas, lethal’lin. All the gods and their nobles had slaves. Some were treated better than others, but they all had them. That was not the influence of humans or dwarves or any other peoples. The Evanuris set an example, the nobles and priests then commanded it, and so it was done.”

The Inquisitor sat heavily by Dorian’s side. “But why?”

“That is a question far too big for one night of answers. The simple answer would be because they could and they were not as perfect and shining as the tales wish them to be. After magic was parted from this world it got worse.”

His furrowed brow and dark gaze refused to look at her again. It hurt her to watch him struggle like that. Dorian wrapped an arm around his waist and offered a faint smile of understanding. She would speak no more of it until he was ready. Wrapping her arms around her waist, she watched the fire dance and waited.

“Surely there were people that objected to this system?”

“Of course,” she answered Dorian without looking up. “Many did. Some nobles attempted bloodless coups. Slaves rebelled or ran. But the world was sundered. There was nowhere for them to go. By the time I was sent to uthenera the world I knew and loved was little more than a memory.”

“So it wasn’t Tevinter’s fault? Now there’s a handy surprise.”

Dorian’s commentary earned him only a huff from the elf at his side. This was too deep of a revelation to wipe away so easily. He seemed to acknowledge that and let the topic fade. Mahanon eased a little, leaning into his side. It was enough.

Silent as ever, Cole took a seat by her side. She could feel his presence before she saw him. He said nothing. Words weren’t needed. His nature had drawn him to her and she breathed easier for the companionship.

“What can we expect in this temple?”

Ara’lan was never more grateful for the dwarf’s curiosity. “It is hard to say. The followers of Dirthamen were as varied as any other. To have markers call this place the path of great secrets implies a higher ranking follower was residing here. Likely a priest and a great following. What remains of them and their tests, I can not be certain.”

“Tests?” Cassandra finally joined the conversation. Awe tinged with fear sat in her expression. “Are they like the Gauntlet that lead the Hero of Ferelden to the ashes of Andraste? Tests of faith and strength? How are we to pass them?”

“Every temple is different, Seeker. As this one is dedicated to the god of Secrets, it is likely we will find valuable information inside. His followers devoted themselves to gaining knowledge of all kinds. The more rare, the better.”

“I sense a but coming.”

She nodded at Varric, somber again. “Yes. We must use caution. The priests of Secrets were not known for being the most kind. Some were so devoted to not sharing what they knew that they disfigured their devotees and supplicants alike. An elf without a tongue can not speak, one with deafened ears can not hear secrets, and one without hands can write no messages. It took a devoted or especially foolish person to enter the sacred spaces. Even after death they were not released.” Her voice softened in respect. “Their blood powered rituals. Spirits and souls were contained within the walls. The full sacrifice.”

“Well, shit.”

No one had anything else to add to that. Slowly they began to move apart and find their tents for the night. Cassandra gave her a confused look before walking away. It would not be easy to share a space with the Seeker again, she knew. History was the burden she carried. Telling a small piece would only lead to more questions. The looks from her new-found companions weren’t unfamiliar or unexpected. Just like the first Arlathven, she was left wondering if she should have told them anything at all.

“He’s scared you might be right. But he’s not mad. He asked for the truth and you gave it to him when the Keeper wouldn’t. That’s important. He wants to see the world how it is. He wants to believe you but it’s hard.”

“Thank you, Cole.”

The young man was gone by the time she looked up. It was just as well. He had done what he needed and moved on. She wouldn’t be selfish with his gifts. In his place, she saw the elven mage.

“Are you alright?” He moved closer, a sympathetic lilt to his words.

She shrugged and rose from her seat. “I will be. This was not the worst reaction I have gotten by far.”

“The Dalish were not kind to me when I tried to share my thoughts with them. I can only imagine what you faced in trying to live among them.”

“I was lucky to find the clan I did.”

He took her hand between his and squeezed it gently. “Give him time. He will come around.”

Her cheeks colored faintly at the contact and sincerity of his words. “I am sure you are correct.”

On nydha, Ara’lan.”

On nydha, Solas.”

She released his hand and headed for her tent. The sun would rise when it meant to, regardless of what she felt. Excitement and fear tugged at her heart. They could find anything or nothing in the morning. She wasn’t sure which would be worse. Looking back just once, she saw Varric stopping Solas at the entrance of their tent. Words passed between them softly enough for her to miss their sound but not their meaning. The dwarf grinned at her, waved, then disappeared inside.

Muttering to herself she kept her voice and movements as quiet as possible. It wasn’t until she was settled into her bed roll that Cassandra broke the silence carefully.

“Faith is a hard thing for everyone it seems.”

“It can be.”

“Do you believe in the elven gods?”

“I believe they existed because I know it as fact. Did I ever believe they were truly gods? Perhaps once. No creature, divine or otherwise, is without flaws.”

“I suppose you are right.”

“I try,” she yawned, the veil of sleep finally starting to take hold. “I am no authority on what is good or right in the world. I can only try.”

“Perhaps that is enough.”

“Perhaps it is.”

“Good night, Ara’lan.”

“Rest well, Seeker.”

~ ~

The entrance was just a hole in a wall. No gates, no promenade, and certainly no statues. The worn marker they stumbled on the day before was the only sign that anything besides overgrowth and forest lived in this place. It didn’t matter how unassuming the outside looked. As soon as she stepped through the gap she felt the difference. She heard the whispers. Caught off-guard, she stumbled on the worn steps and fell forward. She collided with Solas’ back but he was steady enough to not lose his own footing.

Ir abelas,” she muttered, shaking her head. It didn’t clear the noise but it helped her focus a little.

He frowned in concern, having turned to help her down the last few stairs. Though he said nothing, she could see the questions in his eyes. It was the same look on everyone else’s face, except Cole. The spirit nodded and looked away, lost in his own pursuits.

“The Veil is thin here. I would advise caution to everyone.” His hands squeezed her shoulders gently, much as they had her hand the night before. A show of compassion and strength she needed.

“It’s worse here than at Skyhold,” Dorian grumbled. “Makes my skin crawl.”

Finding the steel to push the whispers aside, Ara’lan nodded. “This is an ancient place. You can feel it in the stones. The magic that holds it together still resonates strong. Guard yourself well, dinathe'dirthelan. Not all the dead sleep soundly.”

“They whisper. Secrets. Truths. He couldn’t take them away. They wouldn't give them up. Deep in the shadows where he sent them, they wait for ears to hear. To warn. To keep.”

Cole’s warning held close to her heart, she followed them down into the depths of the dark temple. This was why she came. To learn, to help, to hope; no knowledge was worth sacrificing. If the priests and disciples were gone, she would learn how and why. The whispers grew louder the further they walked. Many voices speaking all at once, too many to sort out words or meaning, at least got their intent across. They were insistent.

The noise rose sharply when Mahanon activated the first rune. She gasped and fell to her knees. Her companions started but she waved them off.

“I am well. Just, just give me a moment.” She rose slowly and rubbed her face. “The whispers in this place are very strong. They want you to learn their story.”

Mahanon nodded, worry still etched on his face but accepting her word. “I hear them, too. If it becomes too much-”

“I will bear it.”

He nodded again and moved on. The statue he found next held whispers they could all hear. In its cupped hands was a head, devoid of eyes, ears, and tongue, but bearing the mark of Dirthamen. Whatever had mangled this creature had left enough magic behind to preserve the flesh completely. She could feel the venom that dripped from it at a distance. It soured her stomach and chilled her skin.

The Inquisitor gestured towards the others with one hand, the other holding the veilfire torch high. “Anyone have a cloth I can borrow? I’m not touching that bare handed.”

Varric tossed one his way, equally disgusted at the notion. As soon as the torch got near the altar, it flared. The head fell neatly into the cloth. Before it could be neatly tucked into a pack, the groans rose from the floor. Undead, grisly skeletons shuffled towards them, the rusted remains of armor clinging to their frames. Swords older than time swung out for battle.

Jumping back to safety, Ara’lan drew her bow with shaking hands. They all flew into action, quickly returning the spirits to sleep. She managed to hold her own, only getting a small scratch on her cheek. Solas healed it without a word. Bones clattered to the floor. She clutched her bow to her chest, breathing hard. The whispers began to laugh.

So it was through the rest of the temple. They found a rune, she was crushed beneath the weight of secrets, they found another part of who they soon learned was the main priest of the temple, undead rose to fight, she did her best to survive, and they moved on. By the time they had collected all the pieces, she was struggling to walk.
“Please, just a moment,” she gasped and slid to the floor. A set of hands laid lightly on her shoulders. Her eyes squeezed shut against the cacophony in her head. She forced herself to breathe.

“They are very angry.”

“Yes, Cole. They are.”

Soothing magic flowed through her skin with familiarity. It was more than healing this time. Solas nudged at the voices enough to help her clear her mind. They weren’t gone, just quieter. It was enough for her to get her bearings again. Ara’lan looked up at him in relief.

’Ma serannas, i've'an'virelan.

'Ma neral, lethal'lan. I believe we are almost finished here.”

Mahanon nodded, a trace of guilt lingering. “I’m sorry, Ara’lan. If I knew what would happen I wouldn’t have dragged you along.”

She shook her head and stood again, using Solas’ offered arm for balance. “Nonsense. I wanted to be here. Had you known the danger I still would have come.” She smiled at him. “I am quite persuasive.”

Her friend laughed at that, tense but letting the topic pass. They still had work to do. At the bottom of the steps, past the pool, laid the altar. Unwrapping each piece with care, Mahanon set the parts of the priest on the pedestals. With every addition, more magic flared within the pool. She could taste the danger in the air as much as hear the whispers thrash in their temper. At the last piece, the heart of the creature, the voices stopped. It was a jarring feeling that left her more worried than all their anger.

“Be careful, lethal’lin. Please.”

The Inquisitor nodded and approached the focus slowly. Everyone drew their weapons, poised for action. Ara’lan put the stone tablet at the center of the altar to her back and knocked an arrow. She would make every last one count. Staff in one hand, he reached out with the other and pressed a palm to the glowing relic.

The room erupted with magic and energy. A deafening roar beginning at the orb spread out to the walls. It pulled at the spirits in the walls and the magic beneath their feet; a wind of its own creation. More undead rose to answer the call. Through the haze of green she more felt than saw the essence of the creature they had returned to semblance of life.

The Highest One screamed.
She had not been in true battle before this moment. Skirmishes leading up to this had hardened her mind to the fight but she still felt it. Her skin crawled, touched by the essence of death in their attackers and the very air she fought to breathe. Magic from her companions flew with wild abandon. Skeletons fell apart and reassembled before they hit the ground, still glowing faintly from the attacks that took them down. Her focus stayed on the ones she could finish off. The rest of the company needed to be clear.

Her arms ached with every pull of the string but still she fought on. The creatures surrounding them had thinned. She reached for another arrow and came up empty. With a hiss, she dove into the fray after her lost ammunition. If she could at least grab one or two she could keep up. One fletching stood out two paces away, neatly embedded in a skeleton. Taking the chance, she ran as hard as her legs could carry her. Fingers clenching on the shaft in victory, she felt something grab her by her chest.

She screamed in surprise and agony, folding in on herself.

Tel’judinan!

The decaying spirit of the priest shrieked in frustration. His hand tightened into a fist and pointed directly for her. Eyes burning with rage and power he pulled his arm back.

Ma! Ne mathan!

From within her chest a spark flew forward. She could feel the creature pulling not just at the trace of magic within her, but the essence of her spirit too. Ara’lan screamed again, this time with fear. She clawed at her chest, pressing in desperation to hold back the intangible strands of her energy.

“Era’las, no!”

Her eyes watered, breaths coming too fast. She could hear him call her by that old name but it wasn’t clear. A fog washed over her mind. Panic faded. Her hands still flailed against the attack in vain but she sagged weakly to her knees.

Just as Solas reached her side, the whispers returned. No longer still or soft, they screamed in rage. The voices ripped through her mind, throwing off the priest’s attack. A sound rolled from within her, deep and menacing. It poured out her lips as a piercing shriek, echoing through the confines of the room.

Harellan!

The power of the disciples poured into her veins, lighting up her dimmed magic and echoing in a cacophony with her voice. She rose from the ground, this time with a cold fire in her eyes. Each step she took closer to the priest pulled more and more from the magic of the temple. Her skin began to glow though she felt nothing. Brilliant blue sparks danced behind her steps. The spirits trapped within these walls moved her to action. Their will could not be denied. She would be their vessel of judgement. She would set them free.

Dinas!

Her voice was not her voice. She spoke with the echoes of the souls that moved her hand. A wave of her fingers and the struggling form of the priest flew apart. Nothing but ash remained. It fell to the floor in waves, still fluttering in the breeze left behind by his destruction.

She blinked and the magic feeding her was gone. Ripped away so quickly, she staggered on her feet. The last thing she saw was the startled faces of her companions before the darkness of unconsciousness took her away.

Chapter Text

The tingle on her skin was so familiar she didn’t need to open her eyes. She didn’t need eyes to see. Comforted by it, embraced in it, she drifted gently in the Fade and let herself forget. Pain was something that happened to solid creatures. Confusion or doubt were gifts of mundane life. Here, in her true home, she was untroubled and free.

“You miss this.”

The voice wrapped around her like just another comfort, warm and careful not to disturb her rest.

“Yes,” she hummed in answer. The sound came from where her lips would be if she desired to remember them. In truth, she did not.

“Forgetting doesn’t make it go away.”

Her form flashed brightly in frustration. The light spread out enough for her to see a young human sitting nearby. His hat and hair concealed his face. With effort, she remembered him.

“Compassion.”

“Yes.” His answer lilted like a question. “I want to help.”

“I am tired, friend.”

“Lingering, stretching, caught between letting go and holding on. Forget his face, forget my promise, forget forget forget and just let go.” He shook his head. “That isn’t what you want.”

She shimmered and moved closer. “Why not? I am tired. I will rest now and everything will be fine.”

“But it won’t. If you die here you will never leave. Dark, heavy walls holding you in forever and always. Never feeling the sun, never finding your purpose, forgetting your promise.”

“What?”

“The priest is dead. You burned him away. Ash, drifting in the wind. His magic lives in the stone. It’s very hungry. You set the others free. It will starve and die but if you stay it will live on. I don’t think you will like it here.”

Reaching out, she noticed she had hands. She looked down, startled, to find herself once more encased in a body. It felt real and not all at once. “What is happening?”

“Burning red hot, flashing, flaring, you were too much. Not like the garden. More. You were yourself again but then you forgot.”

Ara’lan wrapped her arms around her middle and crouched down to look into his eyes. Her feet found purchase with something solid beneath them both. The Fade around them solidified more as she did, flexing to her awareness and will.

“I forgot?”

“Like after the temple, you forgot. You can be both you then and you now. It’s not like before.” His voice softened, drawing from her memories. “You forgot when the world died. They were scared of everything about you; not aging while they withered, magic easy as breathing when they fought and trained and still failed, so you forgot. You made yourself more real for them. To stop their hurting, swallow their fear down deep where it can’t hurt them, where you can’t hurt them anymore. They can’t grow, can’t learn if they’re afraid. Then again when Hawen found you. Young, so young, short little lives that need gentle care and understanding. Too much and they will run forever. I don’t want to be alone again. But it made you thick. Too real. The magic in you is part of you and it wants to come out. Needs to come out. You need to remember so you can be more you and less afraid.”

Her head throbbed with effort. Memories she knew were real, locked behind a wall of her own creation, itched to come forward. He spoke the truth. He couldn’t do otherwise. “How do I undo this? How can I make them understand that I’m safe? How do I make me understand? How can I be me?” She shuddered and wrapped her arms across her stomach as if to hold herself in her own body. “Cole, I’m afraid.”

“Yes. I can help.” He never truly smiled but the hope in his voice soothed the edges of her fears. His nature embraced her and gave her strength. “They aren’t afraid of you. They’re afraid for you. Too soon, too much, too selfish. Didn’t believe you were more until they saw. Now they know. Now they believe.” He tilted his head, listening to something she couldn’t hear. “They think you will die. It makes them sad. The lone wolf cries at the moon for a loss he doesn't want to feel again.”

She accepted the puzzle for solving later. Clinging to hope, she fought for her will. “I do not want to die. Not yet. Can you help me?”

“Yes.” He seemed excited as he reached a hand out to her. “I will show you the way.”

~ ~

Slowly her awareness returned. Every inch of her body, now quite real, ached. She took in a deep breath and felt relief in her chest. It was tight but not piercing. Her fingers and toes obeyed her commands, flexing slightly under the heavy blankets that kept her warm. Sounds a slight distance away filtered to her ears. The training of soldiers, metal clashing and grunts of effort, weren’t too far. Closer still were two voices, hissing away at each other. She recognized the anger before she understood the words. The sudden shift of noise by her side drew her attention. Ara’lan opened her eyes.

Cole sat in a chair by her side, staring at her face. His gaze bore no weight. He was waiting. She smiled slowly in greeting.

“You are awake.”

“Yes.”

Her throat itched, raw. Memories returned with reluctance; screaming at the horror that was pulling at her spirit, trying to devour her whole.

“Do you remember?”

“Some. How long?”

“A whole night and day.”

“Better than before.” she groaned and tried to sit up. Severe vertigo made her head spin, revolting against the motion, and she gave up quickly.

“It will pass faster if you don’t fight it. You have more to remember. To relearn. I will help.”

“‘Ma serannas, falon.

The longer she spoke with him, the more of herself returned. She knew where she was and how she got there, at least. The temple, the magic, the whispers of long dead sacrifices, and the final battle were only a day behind them. So much had happened in so little time but her memories were intact. Her mind fogged with stress, but it was to be expected. Deeper exploration of her inner self would have to wait until she recovered more. Her thoughts were interrupted by a raise in pitch from the voices outside her tent. They were either getting more angry or closer.

“They will have many questions.”

“Yes, they will.”

Cole rose from the chair and lifted his voice to call beyond the thick walls of the tent. “Solas.”

The argument ended abruptly enough for her to assume he was one of the parties. She had never heard him so furious before. The cloth opening parted in an instant for the elf. Ara’lan could see enough beyond him to know it was past nightfall and from a glimpse of brilliant white hair, Manahon. Everything about Solas from his slouched posture to his trembling hands, furrowed brow, and wide eyes, radiated tension and alarm. He looked to Cole, who simply pointed.

“She’s awake.”

He shifted focus with such speed and intensity, she gasped to meet his eyes. The wounded sound he let out as he closed the distance between them said more about his worries than any words could convey. He fell to his knees beside her cot, draped his arms across her torso, and buried his face in the loose strands of her hair by her face.

Ir abelas, falon,” she murmured, shifting enough to lift an arm out of the blankets. She cupped the back of his head steadily to press her cheek against his skin. “I forgot too much and had to be brought back. Cole saved me.”

He lifted his head to stare into her eyes. Her hand released its grip, trailing her fingers across his cheek. Still so close, she could see the tremble in his lips. “Tel’elan eolas ahn jutuan dinem’ma.

Tel’jutuan-

Their moment was interrupted by the loud clearing of a throat. With a heavy sigh, Solas rocked back on his heels and looked up at their intruder. Mahanon stood at the entrance to the tent, arms crossed and expression guarded. Giving her loose hand a gentle squeeze, the apostate stood but stayed by her side. His shoulders rolled back, presenting himself as a guardian for her still weak body.

“She is awake, Inquisitor, but will still need rest.”

“I’m aware of that, Solas. We also need answers.”

“She needs her rest first. Her health is of utmost-”

Ara’lan groaned slightly to interrupt him and tried once more to sit up. This time she moved slower and was more successful. Her head throbbed and her throat burned, but she could at least look them both in the eye.

Atishan, lethal’len. Please. I will answer what I can.”

The younger elf nodded, accepting her response. With stiff, still frustrated motions he poured her a cup of water. Solas took it from him without a word and held it to her lips. She drank carefully at first, testing what her body could handle. Finding her thirst great and her stomach strong, she drank the whole cup down. The discomfort in her throat reduced to a tickle, she nodded and he took the cup away.

Ara’lan shifted again, letting her legs slide out from under the blankets. Her feet settled on the floor easily enough but she knew she would need help.

“If you two would please assist me, I would leave this tent and address everyone at once.”

“You need your rest,” Solas held his ground. “They can wait.”

“They could,” she offered with a tender smile. “The longer they wait, the more time they have to find their own answers. I would rather them have the truth.”

His shoulders sagged slightly as he sighed. That he wouldn’t force the issue was good. “Ma nuvenin.”

Between the two of them, she steadied herself to her feet. Given enough patience she could have done it herself, but helping gave them both things to do besides hover. Mahanon draped her cloak over her shoulders and held the tent flap open. Solas tucked her hand in the bend of his elbow, steadying her gait as she walked.

The camp stilled at her appearance, everyone pausing in their task or conversation to try and see what was happening. Flanked by the two elven men, she kept her eyes forward. Trying to read the expressions of others would only cause her doubt or worry. Soon enough they came to a stop at the communal fire. Taking a seat on an impromptu bench, Ara’lan took a deep slow breath in and out. The Inquisitor moved to Dorian’s side as he always did but Solas sat with her this time. His confirmation of support was much appreciated.

“So,” Varric began, his hands clenched with nervous tension, “I had a friend once that had let a spirit possess him. Seemed like a good idea when he started. Ended up corrupting them both. Messy business. But he had a neat little trick like you did in the temple so I’ve gotta ask. Are you possessed too? Or have a spirit inside of you that’s just waiting to blow something up?”

She shook her head. “No, Varric. I am not possessed or sharing a host body with a spirit. I am a spirit that changed willingly.”

Cassandra made a sound of ill ease. “What does that mean? Are you like Cole then?”

“Cole is someone new, Seeker. He is more spirit than I because of how he made himself. In this world, he exists closer to the Fade than either of us. I am not like him as he is now, though he and I were very similar once.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I will try to explain.” She sighed and looked into the fire to avoid the woman’s gaze. A hand on her wrist squeezed gently in encouragement. “A long time ago, before the world was changed, the spirits and Elvhen shared lands. If a spirit wished to become a physical being, they could petition one of the great houses for sponsorship. Blessings would be given by the Evanuris of choice to those they deemed worthy and a form would be created by their will. The spirit would then enter the empty vessel and become whole. In essence, that is how I was born to this world.”

Reactions differed around the fire. Cassandra frowned but held her tongue. Varric muttered a few unintelligible words and rubbed at his face. Mahanon stared at his hands in his lap. Dorian grinned, eagerness to learn more pouring from his stature. The Iron Bull watched her closely, unreadable as stone. Solas held his unassuming presence as always but she could see a glimmer of support in his eyes.

“So the display in the temple?” The Seeker found her voice first.

“The corrupted spirit of the elder priest tried to pull me from my body.” She shifted in her seat, still uncomfortable with the whole idea. “He would have killed me, Cassandra. Devoured my soul, as you understand it. I do not wish to die. Because of the heightened magic in that place, I was able to manifest enough energy to overpower him. The spirits trapped within the stone aided me. As you witnessed, it worked, but was not an easy action to take. I was lucky to survive.”

“Fascinating!” Dorian couldn’t contain himself any longer. “These Evanuris, were they gods or mages? How did they create such forms? Could you become corrupted like an ordinary spirit? I’ll have to reconsider everything about our magical training, dear. We’ve been going about it as if you were a beginner when clearly that’s far from the case.”

“Training?”

Ara’lan turned to Solas’ question and nodded slightly. She phrased her answer with care, not wanting to cause insult to his pride or their connection. “Master Pavus has offered to help me learn more of magic as it works in this world in exchange for some of my knowledge of times past. It was a bargain struck before I entered Tarasyl'an Te'las.”

He hummed an acceptance and they all fell into an uneasy silence. There would be no ground gained by rushing their acceptance. She could only hope that they wouldn’t abandon her so far from everyone she knew, without means to return to the clan or gain resources to afford a safe journey. She didn’t want to leave.

“Boss, I don’t like this,” grumbled the Qunari. “Sounds like more demon crap.”

Mahanon had been quiet through the whole of her story so far. His deep frown was one of thought, not anger. “This is what you meant,” he said quietly. “I thought it was a bit fanciful, to be honest. That you were one of those Creators devotees. Touched in the head a little or something. But the story you told me when we met wasn't just a fairy tale, was it? It was true.”

“Yes. I did not lie.”

“Can you be corrupted or possessed?” He lifted his eyes to catch hers. So many questions boiled in his mind it watered his eyes and put a faint tremble in his lips. “If you are in any danger, if I have put you in harm’s way-”

She shook her head adamantly. “No, lethal’lin. Not in the way you think. I was a spirit and now I am a person. Though I may have been born differently than you, my morals, my thoughts and feelings, they are my own. I am not unlike a mage that could be tempted by a demon or spirit, but I can not give up this form nor could I give my body to another. I would simply die. My spirit self has become what you would call a soul. Because of who I was in my life before, demons of Despair like the priest cause me greater danger. I will not age as you do because I was born before the world was torn in two. It is a blessing and a curse, truly. I am not in special danger to travel with you nor am I a risk to you or any of your company. Should that change, I would alert you immediately. I will not cause undo harm.”

“You knew?” Cassandra turned her confusion on the Inquisitor. The Seeker's quick temper flared. “You knew she was like this and you didn’t tell anyone? Why?! You must have realized the risks!”

“I told him I was once a direct servant of Mythal,” she interjected, hoping to placate the Seeker’s anger as it rose. “That I had lived before the Fall of Arlathan and been asleep for a very long time and that some elves were born of spirit form and not of flesh. I did not directly tell him until this moment that I was not born of flesh and blood. He had no reason to think otherwise and I can only hope he forgives the omission. Superstitions run high even among the People and I did not wish to cause any concerns. But I am no less flesh and blood than you now. My heart beats, my mind thinks, my skin bleeds, and my hands work of my will. I can’t even properly use my magic, as you have witnessed, and any attempts cause me a great deal of pain. I shouldn’t exert myself in this way save if I have to protect my own life. Not at least until I can command my abilities as I should. Dorian has been trying to help.”

Ara’lan sagged slightly in her seat and rubbed at the back of her neck. The tension between them wasn’t doing her any favors. It had been a long time since she had to defend herself to anyone and finding the right words through the headache that was returning got harder with each moment. This was exhausting. She dearly missed Hawen and the clan. They would have been able to help her explain things better.

“She will have my help as well. Once she is healed and rested.”

Hope lifted her tired shoulders and pressed a weak smile to her face. Solas caught her gaze and mirrored the sentiment before he looked at the Seeker seated on the other side of the ebbing flames. His confident tone left no room for doubt. His belief in her was the greatest comfort.

Mahanon nodded, breaking any other sense of argument the others might have had. “Agreed. We’ll talk more later. I need to think on this. And we need to figure out what to tell everyone now that people have seen what you did. Just try not to-” He gestured broadly, much like an explosion. “Do that thing again soon?”

She tilted her head in consent. “Ma nuvenin, lethal’lin.

Chapter Text

The changes started the next morning. Subtle at first, she noticed them still. From her tent to collect food, Varric had a story he had to tell her that took the entire trip. Then Dorian insisted on asking her advice on magical method and theory as they packed. When the sights or sounds were too much to bear or her head started to hurt again, Cole was by her side. He whispered gently of things that gave her joy and quieted her mind. Solas helped her secure everything to her horse and assured her of the security of the path they were to take back to Skyhold. On the road they insisted she ride in the front of the troops by the Inquisitor’s side. Flanked by Mahanon and Solas, she felt safe from the sidelong glances she still got from a few of the troops. This was her friend making a direct point to the humans in his entourage. Odd looks turned to no looks at all.

The point being made, that she was a trusted companion, was clear enough to the soldiers. It was in Ara’lan’s mind that it remained clouded. No one had addressed her attack, nor her story since she shared it. The ominous feeling it held over her only increased by the day. She appreciated how much they wanted to continue acting as if nothing was wrong, but she very much needed to know where she stood. Uncertainty made her head hurt and her stomach unsettled.

A few days into their trip, they were to turn away from the river. Camping early in the evening to make the best use of daylight and resupply fresh water helped everyone. She collected her things and found a quiet place to wash. Alone with her thoughts she could breathe a bit easier. By the time she was finished, the rest of camp was settling in for the evening. Shaking out a blanket, she curled up on it by the fire. Her hair hung loose over her shoulder as she combed out the last of the water. The coals warmed her skin and would dry her hair soon enough.

Lost in thought, she didn’t hear anyone approach. She released a wholly undignified squeak as Mahanon sat heavily by her side. He grinned and gave her a little nudge to make room on the blanket. She obliged him with a faint smile.

“I had no idea how long your hair was. Do you ever just leave it down?”

She blushed faintly and shrugged. The ends of her hair were just long enough to touch her crossed thighs. “Not in a long time. It tangles too easily in branches or being blown in the wind, and it is a nightmare to manage when hunting. It is just easier to twist or braid it up out of the way.”

“Would you ever cut it?”

“Never more than take off the ends should they become damaged.” Her blush paled instantly. “I have no cause to take drastic measures and the braids are easy to maintain. It may be old fashioned but it is one of the practices I will not give up.”

His apologetic look shifted to one of curiosity. “What do you mean?”

“The Dalish do not keep with the practice any longer. I can understand why as their lifestyle is harder than that of their ancestors.” She paused while he settled in more comfortably. When he was ready, she continued. “In times long past, hair was seen as more than a mere vanity. How you styled it was a sign of both your stature and your job or place in society. Nobles and scholars, or those of great stature, kept their hair in complicated braids or twists. The more ornate, the more important they were. Artisans always had streaks of colors in their braids. The combination of colors could represent the swing of their moods or season of their age. Even those with labor jobs, even slaves, had plaits that marked them for their lords as much as the ink on their faces. When you cut your hair it was a sign of great distress or grief. The loss of a loved one or being cast out from your God’s favor. Then others would know of their suffering at a glance. It was not always shameful. Sometimes it gave others the chance to help.”

He grumbled and shifted in his seat. “I still can't believe they had slaves.”

She pursed her lips, regretting the slip of her tongue. It wasn’t a topic many Dalish accepted easily, if at all. They had such an idyllic view of their ancestors. The truth made some very aggressive. The Arlathvens of her past inspired the fear that held her still. Even though he held onto some of the old ways, the Inquisitor showed he wasn't trapped by them. If she approached the topic more carefully this time, he might not be so upset.

“Seems I showed up just in time for the good part.” The dwarf winked at Ara’lan and took a seat nearby. Acting unaware of the tension that he couldn’t have missed, he took a long sip from a small bottle before securing it back to his belt. “As the nearly official Inquisition storyteller, I insist you share your tale only when I’m present. If I hear it first then I can make sure everyone else hears the best version it could be.”

Ara’lan smiled, feeling her shoulders relax. He was very good at putting her at ease. “Thank you, Varric.” She returned her attention to Mahanon, resting her fingers gently on his knee. “I know, lethal’lin. You would not have been alone in your thinking.”

“You still never explained why.”

“Why does anyone of power subject others to their will? Because they can. It took me a long time to understand their plight. Anyone of rank had them. From what I knew, some were treated well while others were not so fortunate.”

He shook his head, whether to deny her words or try to sort them out, she wasn’t sure. “But that’s insane!”

“Yes. It's why many disagreed with the practice. Rebellions happened with variable success. Slaves ran from their masters. Some escaped. Others were set free. Though some lives were improved, others were cut short.” Her eyes fell to her lap as her voice lowered. “Those that were recaptured were killed. I would rather not discuss the methods, if you do not mind.”

In the silence that fell between them, she refused to lift her face. Staring at her hands as they idly toyed with the ends of her hair, she waited for his decision. The quiet presences of their mage companions caught the edge of her perception as they arrived. Dorian sat by the Inquisitor’s side, as was his habit. Solas took the empty spot by her right. One of his hands slipped under the wall of her hair and clasped hers with a gentle squeeze. When he didn’t retract his touch, she looked up slowly. He caught her gaze and held it, a rush of deep empathy shining in his blue-grey stare.

“You can’t start a story at the middle like that!”

She was ever grateful for the redirection from Varric again. That dwarf had a knack for keeping people from letting their minds dwell in dark places. Ara’lan began to understand better how he was such a well-loved author. Living a life and telling about one were two different things. He had found a way to do both. She returned Solas’ gesture of comfort and he took his hand back slowly. Rather than retract his touch completely, he left it to rest on the blanket between them. It was an unusually candid posture for him and a small comfort she would accept. He knew more of what was asked than the others, after all.
“Then where shall I begin? Once, long ago?”

He laughed and shook his head. “If it suits.”

Mahanon shifted and she dared to glance over. His eyes were clouded in thought, but his curiosity won whatever debate he was having with himself. He sighed softly and nodded, taking the liberty to lean into Dorian’s side far enough to rest the back of his head against the Tevinter’s shoulder. Dorian sighed in return, making a point to roll his eyes but he still looped an arm around the elf’s waist to hold him close. He smiled at her and nodded his agreement.

“So be it. Once, long ago, there were People.Today you call them the Elvhen. They existed in a state of constant change between spirit and physical realms. What you call the Fade, they knew as sky. What you call the Waking World, they knew as land. For time beyond measure, the People were content to live in the sky. They built cities, took on physical forms, bore children from unions of bodies as well as promises with spirits, and lived generations without aging. Arlathan became their glory, the greatest of all cities and the home of the People’s mightiest champions. They learned and grew as all kinds must. Champions became Kings and Queens, and then Gods. The favored of the People were given marks to wear on their faces and bodies for all to see.”

“The valasllin? Keeper Deshanna always told us the marks were to honor the gods.”

Ara’lan tensed slightly, unable to meet the Inquisitor’s eye. She looked to the fire instead and let out a slow breath. “Yes and no. To some the marks were an earned right. Great accomplishments of creation, devotion, martial prowess, or any other skill could attract the attention of the Gods. They would claim you as their own and become somewhat of a patron. As long as your success continued, so did their support. To others, it was a badge of shame. A branding. They were slaves or servants, some captured from other lands in territory disputes. They did not choose. They could not benefit.” She sighed again, the depth of the memory burning in her heart. “Advanced magic was denied to them. Should any show an aptitude for anything more than simple measures, they were quietly removed and never spoken of again. It was the ugly secret everyone knew. To those high enough in rank, it was simply how things were done. To those in lesser places, it was spoken of in whispers of fear.”

“Well, shit.”

Varric’s sentiment found a few grumbled noises of agreement on her left. Solas was utterly silent.

“This was the world as I first found it. Spirits and People still shared a world. I did not know of the darker side of things at first. I was so innocent then. I lived mostly within libraries and workshops, helping those whom created instead of destroyed. A word here, a question there. I was happy at my purpose and seen as a valuable muse. Others were not as lucky or were too valuable to be allowed their freedom. Some less charitable priests bound spirits the same way they bound People. Their energies were contained forever as a prize for all to see or broken and used to power a ritual or design.” She paused again, closing her eyes tight. The losses were generations past but they still ached.

“Not so different after all.”

The resignation in Dorian’s voice drew her attention finally to look up again. For all his posturing, the soft way he looked at her showed more kinship than anything else. She nodded, accepting his words and sentiment.

Mahanon grumbled, his face a contortion of confusion, anger, sadness, and a few other emotions she couldn’t quite read. It reminded her of the many times she spoke before Hawen and his clan. Most ended up not wanting to hear her story in the end. They were content to live with the broken knowledge of history that most Dalish knew. She waited to see where he would side.

“So the valasllin are what, slave markings?" He hissed. "A hold-over from when our People were no better than Tevinter?”

“That was only one of their purposes, lethal’lin.” She knew to choose her words carefully now. “To some it was a mark of shame. To others it was a mark of glory. What the Dalish choose to remember is not the whole truth but neither is it completely wrong. When slaves fought for their freedom and earned it, or when People fled lives of devotion or service, some kept their marks and others had them taken away. One God refused to possess his followers in that way but he would not force anyone who followed him to give up the marks they bore from the lives they left behind. His priests could remove a brand only if someone desired it so.”

“But all the Gods have valasllin.”

Her lips curled in a timid smile. “Think, lethal’lin. Not all.”

“You can’t mean-”

“I do.”

“But he-” This time he cut himself off and rose to his feet. Agitation and confusion rolled off his shoulders in equal measure. “I thank you for your story, lethal’lan, but I think I’ve heard enough for one night.” Without another word, he strode off towards his tent.

“Give him some time, dear. He’ll come around. It’s not everyday you hear a piece of your history is a bit of a lie. Or an uncomfortable truth.” Dorian gave her shoulder a squeeze before following after Mahanon.

“So are you going to tell the dwarf what he missed or do I have to guess?” Varric was quite content to keep listening.

Ara’lan shrugged a half-hearted consent. He hopefully wouldn’t carry the same prejudice as the elves. “The Dalish view their Gods, their Creators, as beings beyond reproach. They don’t remember that they were once People, too. They hear the stories of generous Mythal and vengeful Elgar’nan, how Falon’Din guided the dead and Dirthamen kept secrets, Andruil the great huntress and Ghilan’nain her devoted lover, Sylaise of hearth and home, June of creation, and the Wolf that betrayed them all. But they don’t want to believe that they had faults or flaws. It is why I am never permitted to speak at an Arlathven. Most Dalish do not want to hear what I saw. They as a whole want to hold their version of the truth too tight. More than anything else, they want to believe that the Wolf was an enemy.”

“Wolf? You mean the Dread Wolf? Daisy cursed his name fairly often.”

“Yes, Varric. The Dread Wolf, Fen’Harel, is known among the Dalish as the betrayer of the Creators.”

He sat forward, eager for a new side to the story. “Who was he really then?”

“I never met him personally,” she demurred. “I only know what his People said of him and what was whispered among Mythal’s courts. Once an honored general at Mythal’s side, he saw how slaves struggled and it hurt him deeply. When he was lifted to the Pantheon he refused to design a valasllin of his own, instead choosing to make a goal to set slaves free. It was said that he walked the paths between the Gods and Forgotten Ones because he had a way with words beyond even Mythal's reckoning. But that didn't last. As he changed a system that did not desire change, he became an enemy. Even his name was perverted in time. Fen means wolf, true, but harellan once meant only rebel, not trickster or traitor as it is used now.”

She fell silent again. The idea of sharing her story should have lifted a weight from her shoulders but the reality of it made it heavier instead. It felt like the judgment of the other clans' keepers all over again. Testing the faith of someone she desperately wished to call kin and friend wasn’t her goal. She was hurting Mahanon and she hated it, but he had to decide on his own. If she forced his hand she might push him too far.

Varric asked nothing else of her and she was glad. It was easier to share the story with him because he carried no clan prejudice. He finished his drink, thanked her for telling him, bid her goodnight, and found his way to his tent quietly. A movement by her side startled her in his absence. Solas had been so still throughout her story and she so deep in memories, she had almost forgotten he was still there.

He moved the strands of hair from her face so he could study her clearly. Tucking them behind her ear, his touch traced lightly down the shell of it and along her jaw. She couldn’t guess the turmoil of emotions rolling in his eyes but his touch was warm and soothing. A shiver rolled up her spine and warmed her cheeks. The contact was intentional. She smiled, curious at his intent, and watched it mirror in a faint smile of his own. The clouds of doubt in his eyes cleared.

Silas re tune’ala,” he said softly. “Fenathe tel’venirast.

She lifted an eyebrow in mock challenge. “Vindurthan din. Unesayas sul'ama halani. Bel tath unsila amem.

The corners of his lips twitched. “Ma dirth’in.

Finally releasing her chin, he took up one of her hands from her lap. Without breaking his stare he lifted her hand to his lips. The touch against her knuckles was courtly polite but the look in his eyes spoke heated volumes. For all his appearances, there was something bold in him that she finally saw. Her jaw fell open in a soft gasp. The fingers he held so lightly clenched against his hand, holding on tight. She could feel the rumble of his muted laugh against her skin before he returned her hand to her lap. Something flashed in his eyes too quick for her to register it fully.

On nydha, Era’las. Era son.

The swagger in his step as he walked away only made her shake her head and laugh to herself. A flush had spread across her cheeks and down her neck. She could feel it and it was all his fault. From his stride, he knew what he had done. Every encounter with the apostate left her with more questions than answers but she couldn't find it in herself to be troubled. This was a dance she hadn’t done in ages. She would enjoy the steps in her own turn. Promising herself to catch him in his own game soon, she twisted her hair up in a loose plait and shook out her blanket. Sleep was the furthest thing from her mind as she settled in her tent for the night. Memories of gilded cities and mischievous smiles lead her off to the Fade.

Chapter Text

Days on the road blurred together and she longed for a resolution with the Inquisitor that wouldn’t come. Much like every other time she had left him unsettled, Mahanon turned inward and shut her out. He was still polite, and he still kept her by his side as they traveled, but his body language was stiff and cold. He asked her no more questions about the past. When she sat by the fire at night, he retired early. It hurt but it was a small hurt. Everything that sat on his shoulders was so heavy. Her worries couldn’t be one more thing. She wouldn’t let that be the thing that broke him.

She took a measure of comfort in knowing he wouldn’t be alone. Between the rest of his close friends he had shoulders to help carry himself so he could carry the world. It wasn’t until she was on the road with them that it became clear. Everyone had a purpose and everyone shared in his care in their quiet ways. Varric could make him laugh and forget his troubles. Cassandra held the faith, keeping others from questioning his own. Bull would find small tasks that were easily conquered to bolster his confidence. Solas guided his learning of the rifts and the Veil so he would be better prepared. Cole soothed minds and hearts where Mahanon could not, lifting even small burdens away so healing could begin. Dorian was there to catch him at the end. The pair of them were as complimentary as any two souls could be. Ara’lan didn’t know where she would fit in all this but she couldn’t give up hope yet.

And so she endured. Head held high, she made herself as useful. She could help mend a torn tunic when someone slipped and fell into brambles. Her ointment worked for their scratches. She knew what herbs they collected would best work in the stews and which were toxic. Dried meat only went so far. The soldiers relaxed a little as the days wore on. Her attack in the temple faded from their memories in the light of her smiles and kindness. Not once did she use or try any magic in front of them. She spoke to them in the common tongue for their comfort. They forgot to be afraid, at least when she was looking. That would be enough.

Nights by the fire, after nearly everyone else had turned in or left for their watch, she took time to center herself amidst the chaos. They would be back in Skyhold soon. Only a few days left, if she measured correctly. She had more questions than when she began and she would have to answer to a few inquiries herself when they returned. Likely the Spymaster wouldn’t be pleased. It was enough to sit and breathe, focusing on the flow of her breath and beat of her heart. Her mind reached outward, having cleared since leaving the temple. Though her attempts to strengthen her magic seemed futile, she tried. The world was too heavy for her delicate touch. The Veil was too thick.

Eyes closed in concentration, she heard him approach before she saw him. The weight of his steps gave him away. A happy smile spread across her lips. They had both been far too preoccupied to talk privately since her waking after the attack. It was a pleasant surprise to see him standing there when she finally opened her eyes. She gestured to the empty space on her blanket in welcome.

"On dhea'lam, i've'an'virelan."

He smiled in return and took the offered seat by her side.

“On dhea'lam. Nuvenan tel’nuas.”

“Far from it. You are welcome to interrupt me anytime.”

That drew a quick laugh from him. It was always a surprise when his polite mask cracked enough to let his true feelings shine through. His joy was contagious enough to widen her smile and draw a little color to her cheeks.

“You may regret such an open invitation.” The light of the flames flickered quickly in his eyes, teasing and brief. “How are you feeling?”

“I am recovering faster than expected.”

“Good.” He shifted his position to face her. “You said that Dorian was helping you with your magical abilities. Have you made any progress?”

“Not so much.” She sighed lightly, her disappointment clear. “He is a patient enough teacher. The fault is mine. I do not understand his ways.”

“I could help as well.” His hopeful smile lit up his face. The timbre of his voice dipped, running straight up her spine. “If you would permit me, of course. Your magic is as much a part of you as your heart in your chest. That is not something a person can learn by rote. I might have some insight from my explorations of the Fade that our Tevinter friend does not.”

Her eyebrows lifted as she studied his face. The implication was made for the benefit of the ears around them, she was sure. But the glint in his eyes that remained, the one that held her breath, was only for her. She had not given away his secret yet. He reinforced his knowledge of that with a subtlety she could appreciate.

“I would like that very much.” She smiled and nodded. Her fingers picked idly at the blanket between them. “So long as it does not trouble you.”

He laid his hand atop hers, squeezing it ever so lightly. “It does not, or else I would not make the offer. Come with me. I know a place nearby where we could begin.”

“Ma nuven'in.”

He rose, taking her to her feet with him. Threading his fingers between hers, he guided her away from the light and sounds of the settling camp. His hand was warm in hers, holding just tight enough to support her balance over roots and leaves as they walked. It was an unnecessary gesture, he must have known. She indulged it, regardless. Her heart raced, equally excited at the possibility of learning something new and the time away from judging eyes. Alone with him.

When the earth beneath her feet became stone and the trees parted into a sudden clearing, he stopped. Solas turned to face her, his smile bright and eager on his lips. “Ane eth’an.”

Her jaw hung open at what lay before her. The pathway beneath her feet was overgrown with plantlife, flowers and grasses poking between the stones. Pillars that once stood proud and strong now crumbled halfway to their missing ceiling. Stars shone overhead where gilded arches once were. More than the decay of time that her eyes could see, it was the hum of ages that her mind and soul could feel that took her breath away. This place was impossibly old. It was familiar. Had he not brought her here on purpose, they would have passed it by completely and missed something so important. Happy tears gathered in the corners of her eyes.

“Ra is ina'lan'ehn. Aron ath’arla.”

“Unsildearan sou’shan ar’an shiem,” he murmured, shifting his hand in hers up her arm to rest at her elbow. His fingers toyed with her sleeve restlessly. The roll of his voice danced across her skin. “Da’sou, silaimast mith’laim annala. Elvhen derash bel’an. Tiralas unhim, din unsilaim.”

He raised his free hand and she felt the tingle of his magic spread out around them. A barrier stretched out, encompassing the entire clearing. It shimmered at the edges with a soft blue light. No one would see or hear them unless he wished it. Only then did she let out a sigh of relief. The prying eyes and judging looks were a weight she was glad to set aside. Casting her fears away, she looked up to catch his eye, to thank him, and was stunned to silence.

The stoic veneer he always wore, the mild-mannered apostate, was nowhere to be found. His posture straight as an arrow, eyes blown wide and gleaming in the moonlight, the Elvhen fadewalker smiled. He took her hand and held it to the center of his chest. His other rested lightly on her hip. She could feel his heart quicken when she looked him in the eyes. The blush on her cheeks spread down her neck and up her ears but she felt no shame.

“Silderaras ara’sou?”

The same sensation she felt when he cast out buzzed through her fingers. In a Veil-thin place such as this she took the risk. She stretched out with her senses, soft tendrils brushing against the cold fire that burned within him. Ara’lan shivered. He was so much stronger than he let on.

“Vin,” she whispered.

He tilted his head in a slight nod. “Mar’en’an’sal rosal ina’em. Brithas.”

She didn’t know that would happen. Not in such a limited world. Opening her mouth to explain, to apologize, he shook his head and silenced her fears.

“Brithas.”

Taking a long, slow breath in and out, she did. Her senses flared as she reached deeper into the energy surrounding him. It responded by curling around her in waves, almost strong enough to make her forget her own limits. Beneath it she found what she was looking for. A shimmer of gold amongst the blues and greens of his magical signature that she recognized in an instant. With a light touch of her senses, she caressed it.

His reaction, a faint hiss caught between his lips teeth and flare in his energy, drew her attention back. The clench of his jaw, tension in his grip on her, and skip in his heart told her more than words could ever say. Lifting an eyebrow, she smirked at him and repeated the magical gesture with a stronger will.

“Era’las- ”

He growled her name out from behind clenched teeth. This time she hushed him with a near silent purse of her lips. One hand flat against his chest, the other lifted to trace the line of his jaw. She couldn’t deny that she found him attractive. His outer shell was rough and protective but beneath his guard he was so much more than another survivor of time. He was intelligent and caring towards others in ways most people ignored. His regular trips to aid healing stations after battles were as well-known as his hand in stocking the libraries. Had they met long ago, she would have eagerly sought him as a lover.

Focus returned slowly. Her whole body flashed and flared, wanting to indulge a notion she had ignored for far too long. Magic was why he brought her here, so magic would have to come first. Instead of locking her desire away, she fed it. Ara’lan leaned into his chest, pinning her other hand between them. His breathing stuttered. Her heart raced. Though his magic was cold, his body and breath were hot against her skin. Seeing with her mind’s eye the place where he kept her blessing within him, she followed it up and out. Like roots clinging to the Fade from which she was born, the paths were steady and strong. They carried her further than she’d been before.

The light within became the light without in a flash. Squeezing her eyes shut against the sudden brightness, she gasped. The power that flooded her was almost too much to handle. Fear itched at her mind. He pulled her back in, grounded her. The overflow of energy surged into him, then back out to the source. In their connection she could feel his joy. After a few long, deep breaths she opened her eyes. The golden glow wasn’t just in her mind. It danced along her arms and body. She felt more like herself than she had since waking. Most importantly, she wasn’t faint or drained.

“Solas, ame gasha!”Tears flooded down her cheeks. Her voice trembled with barely contained emotion. Even if this was a fleeting moment in her life she would cherish it always as the gift he gave her. “Nuvas ema ir’enastela!”

“'Ma neral.”He laughed, a deeper sound this time. Arms stronger than most suspected pulled her closer. “Ane ina'lan'ehn.”

Still connected so intimately with his energy, she could feel the cracks in his control widen. It would take very little to push him over the edge. Caution was more important than ever. Her abilities were faded from disuse but not forgotten. Cupping his face in her hands, she pressed her forehead to his and let their magic dance around them. The array of colors blended and wove in slow patterns of their own creation, feeding back into both of them as much as they shifted away. Her own desire spiked, straining at the edges of her will.

“Dhava em,”she whispered, relenting at last. “Sathan.”

It was not a tender embrace. The growl in his chest surged forward as he pulled her flush against his chest. His lips were hungry and demanding, giving just as much as they took. She threw her arms around his neck, holding on desperately as her body writhed beneath his hands. The scent of him, the taste of his lips and tongue, were enough to drown in. She whimpered and begged for more.

He sunk a hand into the mass of braids on her head, shaking them loose. As the red waves caved to his demands, he laced his fingers between the strands and tugged. She gasped, arching her back and breaking their kiss. He took the invitation to nip and suckle his way down her neck to her collar bone. Her fingers clenched against the back of his neck, the edges of his shirt, anything she could hold. So unrestrained, soft sparks flew around them. Golden stars he drew from her skin shimmered all the way to the ground beneath their feet.

“Solas,” she whined, her need thrumming beneath her skin and curling deep between her legs. She could feel his echo of desire, too. It was too much to hold back.“Isalan hima sa i’na.”

His lips stilled even as his grip tightened. She could feel the heat of his breath against the side of her neck as he fought to regain control of his actions. Once he did, he looked deep into her eyes.

“Isalan dera na aron tuelan.” His words, the breathy growl of his voice, ran luxurious and heavy along her skin, drawing another gasp from her kiss-tendered lips. “Tel’amahn. Joshores shan’sou em’an. Juvenas melahn surir Tarasyl'an Te'las. Isalas, judalan nar.”
He was right. She swallowed hard and nodded her consent of his terms. Indulgence was one thing but there were other things to consider. Her future and plans couldn’t be thrown to the winds for the sake of a dalliance. He was at risk, too.

“Vin. Dhava em sule souveras. Dhava em sule ena'vun.”

The grin that lit up his face competed with the light under her skin for strength. He chuckled happily.“Ma nuven’in.”

Chapter Text

“You know, princess, a smile like that is strong enough to hurt a man.”

Ara’lan shook her head, clearing the fog of her thoughts at the sound of Varric’s voice. Her forehead wrinkled in confusion as she turned to face him. She touched her cheeks gingerly, feeling the lift of a bright smile she didn’t even realize she wore.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

The dwarf chuckled as he climbed down from his horse, shaking some dust from his long coat. When he looked up at her, he covered his eyes and averted his gaze for a moment, mock blinded. His posture was immediately placating when her smile turned to a deep frown.

“I mean that if you catch a man’s eye with that kind of wistful look on your face, he might find it irresistible to fight a dragon for your honor.” He patted her arm amicably. “Lucky for you, I’m a committed man. Bianca’s the only one for me. But if you wanted to give a hint about what, or maybe who, has got you grinning and sighing like that, I wouldn’t mind.”

She flushed a bright red, feeling the warmth of it climb across her cheeks and down her neck. It didn’t help that his smile only grew wider. While neither had broached the subject directly, she and Solas had fallen into the public roles of friends. Nothing outward had changed. Perhaps he stood a bit closer when they spoke or laughed a little easier, but that was all. During the day they went about their activities as they had throughout the journey already. The nights, however, were for them alone. Whispered conversations between kisses and the warmth of being wrapped up in his arms weren’t things she neither needed nor desired to share openly. Her silence told Varric more than any story she could create to dissuade him.

“I bet I could guess, though. It’s not like either of you are trying very hard to keep it a secret. Chuckles and I share a tent and I know he isn’t on watch duty every night.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “From the lovely shades you’re turning I can assume you knew that.”

He was teasing her, she knew. What surprised her was her own reaction. She had never been shy in her past. Taking a lover was nothing to be afraid of, nor was she so inexperienced to be a blushing maiden in the face of accusations of such. But the intimacy of what they shared in the past few nights was more than just sex. She closed her eyes and let out a breath, near desperately willing her blush to fade.

Of course the elf himself would appear before she could compose herself. His smile faded to confusion as he took the measure of Ara’lan and Varric and the hanging silence. She shrugged, a passive smile on her lips. In moments he seemed to understand. To her frustration, he even seemed amused. The swagger in his step as he approached nearly had her rolling her eyes.

“I hope all is well?”

The calm manner with which he spoke helped more than she expected. With a lift of her chin, she nodded and took a deep breath to soothe her nerves.

“As well as can be expected, thank you. Varric was just asking after your health. He thinks you are neglecting your rest these past few nights and I might know why.”

“I see.”

He was trying to contain a laugh. She could see it in his eyes as much as she could hear it in the tremor of his voice. He lifted his eyebrows and tilted his head in her direction; a simple request for consent. Ara’lan smiled brightly and nodded again. There was nothing to hide, after all.

Solas took her hand in his and lightly pressed his lips to the back of her knuckles. Reminiscent of a touch that started them down this path, the memory lifted the beat of her heart. When he spoke again, his amusement was clear to them both.

“I was unaware that my actions were under such scrutiny. Regardless, we should be within sight of Skyhold tomorrow. Your concern is appreciated, Varric, but unnecessary.” He released her hand and stepped back, the hint of a grin still glowing in his eyes. “I am nowhere near exhausting myself.”

The look on Varric’s face when Solas walked away was something she would remember for a long time. Somewhere between victorious and incredulous, he hovered there long enough for her to regain her composure. She cleared her throat and drew his attention back quickly.

“Does that answer your question well enough?”

He laughed and shook his head. “Suppose I earned that one, princess.”

“Why do you call me that?” She knew his quirk of giving people nicknames but this choice eluded her.

“The humans have many stories about princesses.” He settled into his storyteller voice so easily. “Some are locked away in towers, others sleep for hundreds of years or have an wicked queen that poisons them. Things like that. While you weren’t rescued by true love’s kiss or a valiant knight, your story is shaping to be just as dramatic.”

“I am not a figment of stories, Varric.”

He grinned, neither a confirmation or denial. “Come on. Chuckles was right about one thing at least. We’ll be back in Skyhold soon and the drinks are running low. If we’re too late to collect our portion, the rest of this trip is going to feel much longer.”

The supply wagon was opened when they halted midday. It was always the same. Portions of dried meats and bread were passed around, drinks were had, and the riders stretched their limbs before they moved on. This time Ara’lan noticed something different. As she and Varric drew closer, she could hear the lift of angered voices. It sounded like Mahanon and Cassandra. Worry quickened both their strides.

“I said no, Seeker! Try to force my hand one more time and I swear I will leave and never come back!” Mahanon was quaking with controlled rage. “Of all people, I thought you would be the one to understand. Guess all you humans are really the same. Why don’t you go pray to your Maker or something and leave the knife-ear out of it for once?!”

He turned on a heel and stormed right towards Ara'lan. Eyes wide, she tried to step back and clear a path for him but he stopped short. Forcing out a breath, he looked her in the eyes. She was surprised to find concern there and not rage. “Walk with me,” he muttered. “Please.”

A quick look over his shoulder met with the angered posture of Cassandra, blank stares from a few soldiers not smart enough to make themselves scarce, and a brief nod from Varric. If the Inquisitor was going to turn his temper on her next, at least it would be known where she went.

“Of course,” she answered quietly.

Mahanon turned sharply again and headed straight off the road into the woods. It took some effort to keep up with his angered steps. Luckily he was making no effort to be quiet. She could follow the sound of his stomping when he passed out of view behind a tree or through a bush. It wasn’t long before he ran out of energy and simply stopped. She hesitated just out of arm's reach. Many questions flew through her mind but she bit them back. He would speak when he was ready.

“I’m no prophet,” he began. His anger had melted away and left his voice broken and raw. “I barely understand the gods I was raised with, nevermind speaking or acting for one I barely even heard of before I was cursed with this damned thing.”

The mark in his hand flared as if sensing his attention. Perhaps it did. She wasn’t sure how his magic affected it. All thoughts of fear left her. Sympathy settled in her heart and she reached out, resting a hand on his shoulder.

Lethal’lin, if there’s anything I-”

“No,” he cut her off softly, turning to face her. “Please. Let me finish.”

She nodded and took her hand back, clasping it with her other in front of her waist. Whatever story he had to share was important and deserved her full attention.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said before. And I’ve decided I’m not angry. Not at you, anyway. It’s not your fault the Dalish grab ahold of anything they can from the past and glorify it without question. This was just another thing we got wrong and never doubted.” His shoulders sagged. “And you weren’t trying to be cruel. So I guess I’m trying to say I’m sorry I acted like such a child.”

Her heart was conflicted. It was a relief to know that he had considered her words and found an inkling of truth in them. She knew how hard it was for the young to hear the stories she carried. He wasn’t the first person to be upset by them and she was certain he wouldn’t be the last. What worried her was why he brought it up now. Unable to resist the question in her own mind, she asked him outright.

“Apology accepted. Stories are always easier to believe than a hard truth. The marks were given for the wrong reasons a long time ago, but the People made them worth so much more. If I may ask, why are we discussing this now? Is this about your argument with the Seeker?”

He nodded sharply. “She sent word back to Skyhold about what happened in the temple.”

It was the expected result but it still hit hard. What kind of reception would she expect from the council, especially the Spymaster, once she returned? Before her fears took over completely, he continued.

“I asked her not to and she did it anyway. I wanted to be the one to talk with them about all this in person.” He stepped forward and laid his unmarked palm against her bicep. An unexpected strength filled his voice. The Inquisitor stood tall. “I told her they are not allowed to interrogate you in any way and if they have any questions to ask, they are only allowed to do it in my presence. She told me what Leliana has put you through already and I’m tired of them pushing me about like a pawn on a chessboard. They either let me have a voice for my People, and treat us all as equals, or I will walk away.”

Her lips slowly turned up into a smile. “You do the People proud, lethal’lin.

He grinned back, relaxing at last. “Just don’t tell anybody. I’ve got a reputation to keep.”

She laughed easily. “Oh, I would not worry too much about that. Keeper Deshanna still leads clan Lavellan, correct? The stories about her antics as a youth were quite well known.”

His eyes widened in surprise. “What?! The one and only Deshanna Istimaethoriel, a wild spirit? Now this is a story you’ve got to share.”

Nodding in agreement, she was happy to oblige. “Well, you see there is a reason the young adults of the clans are not permitted by the drinking tents at the Arlathven anymore…”

By the time they returned to the group, their conversation and mood had grown light and almost cheery. She was glad to help even if she felt a bit responsible for another burden Mahanon had to carry. Everyone seemed to be waiting a little less than patiently for their arrival. The Inquisitor said nothing to anyone. He climbed onto his horse, winked at Dorian, and looked back to Ara’lan.

“Ready?”

She smiled and nodded, climbing onto the back of her own horse. The mare tossed her head happily, just as eager to be on the way.

“Good.” Mahanon grinned and looked about suspiciously. “Last one across the bridge is a filthy nug!”

He whooped and nudged his horse into a flat run. His laugh trailed back to taunt her. While the rest of their company bustled about to make way, she grinned and climbed onto her own horse. This mare was a far better listener than any she had met in a long time. She gripped the mane tight with both hands and leaned flat against the strong neck and back.

Josir,” she whispered, letting her senses reach out to touch the mind of her horse.

The horse whinnied in reply, rearing up onto her back legs and tearing at the air before them with both front legs. Sounds of surprise echoed around her but she paid them no mind. She gripped tight with her legs and hands. As soon as all four hooves were back on the ground, they were off as fast as the creature could move. Trees blurred by. Ara’lan trusted the strength and skill of her mount. She was lighter and the horse was more nimble. He would be caught soon enough.

~ ~

Pulling up short at the end of the bridge, she looked back and smiled. She was as out of breath as her mount but she had beat him fair. Only a few strides behind her, he was still laughing. Their game had left behind most of their retinue but brought them back to Skyhold hours ahead of schedule. The sun was just beginning to disappear behind the mountains.

“I don’t know what you did, but I promise it was cheating.” He struggled to catch his breath too but couldn’t resist teasing her.

“Perhaps you just need to bond with your horse a little better,” she shot back, “or lose a bit of weight to make his stride smoother.”

“Ouch! How dare you! I’ll have you know this is all muscle.”

She laughed and conceded easily. “I am sure it is, lethal’lin. You are always on the move.”

They passed through the gates quipping back and forth like true companions. It wasn’t until they both saw what awaited them that the mood fell. Josephine, Leliana, and Cullen all waited by the stables. Their faces were a perfect matched set of displeasure. Ara’lan slowed her horse to a walk, uneasy. Mahanon caught it too and sidestepped his horse to the front. He dismounted with a leap and captured the trio with open arms and a loud story.

“Oh, good! I was afraid you wouldn’t expect me this early. I have to tell you all what you missed. The reports couldn’t have been enough.”

Leliana shot her a dark look but all three followed their Inquisitor up the steps into the main hall. She held her breath until the door shut behind them, just in case. There would be questions still, but putting it off was easier for now. Dismounting carefully, she patted her horse on the side of her neck. A stable hand came forward to collect her for the night. She was glad to be relieved of that duty too.

“You’re back!”

The voice registered in her ears mere moments before she was wrapped up in a hug and lifted off her feet. Startled, she gasped and tensed immediately. After a beat, she realized it was Loranil. Clearly some word of her adventure had been spread if the worry in his tone was genuine. She sputtered a few attempts at speaking, causing him to flush brilliantly in the fading light. He set her back down.

“Sorry! I’m just so glad to see you! They said something terrible had happened at the temple and I knew you were there so I was worried and -”

She lifted a hand and smiled. “Atisha, Loranil. Thank you for your concern. There was some trouble, yes, but everything turned out just fine in the end.” She nearly willed her words to ring true.

“Are you sure? I could come with you next time, maybe. These shems don’t know how to protect you like I could. Hawen would want me to -”

Again she interrupted his torrent of speech with a gesture. The sounds of others arriving through the gates hit her sensitive ears. Some of them must have given chase. She could only hope that Cassandra wasn’t among them. She needed time.

“Hawen would want you safe, too. I do happen to be able to care for myself in most situations, if you recall. I cared for you more than once, did I not?”
He flushed again, looking at his feet. “Yes, ha’hren.” He sounded properly chastised.

“I presume you won the race?”

The voice over her shoulder this time made her squeak. Had she not been so distracted with Loranil, she would have heard Solas approach. As it was, he stood quite close behind her. She turned quickly to grin at him, having to look up slightly into his playful smile.

“Naturally.”

“Varric made the mistake of betting against you. I will be happy to collect my prize from him later.”

She laughed brightly. “You would think he might learn not to bet against you.”

He bowed slightly, leaning close to her ear to lower his voice. “I hope you have not exhausted yourself too soon.”

Her grin twisted coy as she made to answer him. The thought was interrupted by a disgusted sound before them. She looked over and caught a sneer on Loranil’s lips.

“Watch how familiar you are with her, flat ear. She’s not for your kind.

The air pressure around them immediately dipped. She could feel the tension rolling off Solas in waves. He pinched his lips together tightly, anger boiling under his skin.

“Loranil!”

Ara’lan snapped at the youth, shifting herself between the two of them. He was too young and foolish to understand what he had done and she neither needed nor wanted a champion. That was also no excuse for how he spoke. Her words growled their way between clenched teeth.

Ane abelas su ha’el! Mala!”

He froze, jaw falling slack. She could see the fear in his eyes but stood her ground. All his life he had been coddled or allowed to run his mouth. In this instance, she was putting her foot down and keeping it there. Hawen had sent him to her and she would see him take responsibility for himself.

Mala!”

Loranil shifted quickly under her cold stare and bowed to Solas. His voice trembled but he did as he was told. “Ir abelas, ha’hren. I have overstepped. It will not happen again.”

Solas nodded his acceptance, watching Ara’lan carefully. Her gaze shifted from one to the other, watching and waiting to make sure this would be the end of it. When neither moved to taunt the other, she let out a breath of relief. There had been far too many of those for the day. Stretching out her fingers to lightly touch one of Solas’ hands, he quickly gave them a gentle squeeze of comfort.

“Loranil,” she chose her words carefully, “what did Hawen teach you?”

He sighed and recited words he had clearly heard many times before. “An insult to any one of the People is an insult to us all.”

“Exactly so. If I catch you saying such things to any of the elves here, especially our i've'an'virelan, I will make sure you are returned to the clan without delay. Are we clear?”

“Yes, ha’hren."

“Good. Now unless you have some other duties to attend, I am sure the rest of the returning company could use help unloading gear. You might catch a story or two from them.”

He bowed again at her dismissal and disappeared into the crowd. She watched him go, hopeful that he would find enough of a distraction to keep him from asking her too many questions soon. There was a lot still on her mind.

“”Min'nydha tekam rahn?" His murmur over her shoulder was warm, running a shiver down her spine.

Min'nydha re venirast,” she nearly purred. “Sul'emas hyn.

Chapter Text

Mary fussed and hovered enough to set her nerves on edge. She found everything to need adjusting; pillows weren’t soft enough, blankets weren’t heavy enough, the fire wasn’t warm enough. The woman was clearly troubled by the story of events that had filtered back to Skyhold. She made it clear as glass by repeating herself time and again about Ara’lan needing healing and rest and no wild trips into uncharted danger. Having never experienced the pressures of an overprotective caregiver to this degree, Ara'lan could suddenly sympathize with all the tired looks others wore during moments like this.

“Mary, please.” Her voice strained against her throat, desperately trying not to yell. “I was well cared for on the road and suffer no ill effects. If I did, I would be with the healers now and not here.”

“Well if you’re going to be stubborn like that, it’s not like I can make you see reason.” The woman huffed, clearly not believing it. “At least let me draw you a bath? That I know you couldn’t have on the road.”

“Fine. A bath and then some peace. Please.”

As soon as the door shut behind Mary, Ara’lan let out a groan of frustration. So many things were happening so fast and she didn’t have the time to wrap her mind around any of it to her liking. Taking a seat on the edge of her bed, she started to unravel the braids in her hair and line up her own thoughts. Mahanon had forgiven her. At least he had come to understand her point of view. This time it would likely stick and she was glad. Exalted as he was by the people surrounding him, he was still so young. She was proud to be one he let see that side of him. It was a trust she would cherish. Varric had also come to be a valued companion. For all his deflection, the dwarf was fiercely protective of people he cared about. Somewhere along their journeys, he had added her to that number. The nickname was silly but endearing. Cassandra was still an unknown variable. Her faith kept her strong but her anger often overpowered her judgement. She would need to be cautious. There was still the mix of advisors, Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana, who clearly didn’t trust her, Dorian who did, and so many others who she had yet to meet. It was a lot to sort out for so few people.

The one person she didn’t worry about was the fadewalker. Solas had been standoffish from the start, bordering on rude. Having learned a bit of his past and seen a bit of how humans and even other elves treated him, she no longer doubted the attitude was anything more than a measure of defense. Where she had been lucky to find ones that were open to change, he had not. He still gave her his secret and trusted her to keep it. She would honor that, holding it close to her heart. No matter what happened, she wasn’t alone. He let her see beneath that protective mask. His passion for learning and joy towards all things related to the Fade and the past, their past, were beautiful. She smiled, remembering the warm press of his lips on hers and words murmured against her skin. He was passionate about other things, too.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Mary entered silently with a few other women. While the others carried steaming buckets of water for her bath, Mary carried a tray. It held bread, cuts of meat, selections of fruit, and likely a bit of everything she could find in the kitchens. The women moved efficiently and steadily under Mary’s hard gaze. Soon enough the tub was filled and they filed out with their tools in hand.

“We will collect things in the morning, miss.” Her tone was all business but her eyes were soft with concern. “Do try to get some rest.”

“I will do my very best. Thank you for your troubles.”

A tiny smile caught Mary’s face. She nodded. “Good night, miss.”

“Good night, Mary.”

Peace finally restored, she peeled the layers of clothing from her skin. Her outer leathers would have to be cleaned and oiled. The tunic and leggings were a bit grimy but held up through the journey well. She would have to compliment the tailors. A slight tear in her footwraps would have to be mended. Ara’lan let all those concerns fall to the floor with the pile of clothing. It was nothing that couldn’t wait. She set her bath oils, soap, and washing cloths on the floor within reach. Her bare toes brushed the hot waters and drew a hiss from between her teeth. She climbed in slowly, letting herself adjust to the temperature. Once in, she flexed out her toes and barely touched the other side of the tub. What she had originally called a wasteful luxury rated high in her blessings now. She scrubbed her skin clean before the bath had a chance to try and cool. Her hair received a similar treatment with quick wash, rinse, and preservative oil. Once clean and dry, she wrapped herself in the dressing gown the ladies had left for her.

Another knock at her door distracted her from the task of combing out her long hair. The sun had completely fallen from the sky. She was glad to know her tasks had eaten away at the time she waited for her guest. Excitement fluttered in her heart though she swallowed hard against it to control her voice.

“Who is it?”

Sul’eman hyn.

Garas.

As promised, he had a bottle of wine in his hands. In the hours since they had parted, he had also found the time to clean himself up. She very much approved of the change. The daily attire she was used to seeing, threadbare tunic and nondescript leggings, were gone. His shirt looked softer and finer made. The rich green material and shaped cut complimented him well. Belted at his waist simply, his dark leggings and footwraps were a perfect match. Only the leather cord and jawbone around his neck was the same. She made no attempt to hide her assessment, earning a light, happy noise from him. As good as he looked, it was his smile that drew her attention most. He rarely smiled with his lips. The corners of his eyes wrinkled and the sharp lines of his face softened, but that was all. Any other time it would have been a ploy to look the part of a mild-mannered apostate. Like shedding the clothing, he left the full act behind. The smile he granted her lit up his entire face. He was beautiful.

Iselenan felelan?

Din.” She couldn’t resist a little laugh. Her own smile turned coy as she gestured at her light robe. “Nuas?

He had been looking her over in a similar way. A shiver ran down her back when she realized it. The dressing gown covered her just as well as any ordinary garment she wore, but under his study it felt much thinner. She could see his hunger.

Din. Ame var o nuem.,” he offered with a wicked grin.

She couldn’t help the blush that crawled across her cheeks and down her neck. Distracting her own thoughts, she closed the door behind him, letting the latch fall into place. No one would interrupt them or call them away this time. A wave of magic surprised her, brushing against her body like a gentle caress. She could feel it stretch to fill the entirety of the room. The latch on her door clicked into place. Looking back up to him, he laughed under his breath.

Edhthe.” The word danced along his tongue, heavy and light at the same time. “Sulevas vera mana ela’nar.

She hummed in agreement, returning his playful game of words. “Amas ga’melana nuvenas.

He set the bottle of wine down on the table, bumping it slightly against the tray of food Mary delivered earlier. A drifting thought passed through the back of her mind; she had forgotten to eat any of it. Her mind stilled when his now empty hand caught around the curve of her elbow. She looked from his long, graceful fingers up to his face once more.

His eyes, wide with wonder, scanned every inch of her face as if he was trying to memorize it. The open tenderness from him startling in the best possible way.

“Solas,” she breathed his name, reaching out to lay her hand against his chest. His heart raced. It made hers nearly skip in response.

Ane ir tu.

The way his voice wavered shook her to her core. Her fingers clenched against the material of his shirt, pulling a strand of the leather corded necklace into her fist. His other hand settled at her waist, drawing her into his arms.

Unthenan,” he continued, running his arms up her back and leaning in to press a kiss gently to her cheek, "in tiralas’suin. Unsala dea sasha.

His words and touch traveled down the side of her neck. She trembled in anticipation, leaning into the strength of his embrace and the heat of his body.

Melahn’an unvenn’ma.

Solas, ar -

Her soft words were curled into a gasp by his kiss at the junction of her neck and shoulder. Lips, tongue and teeth left their mark against her skin. Not a true pain, just a promise. By the time she reacted, he moved on. The collar and sleeve of her dressing gown relented easily to his insistence. Shoulder bared, he traced a branch of her valasllin with the tip of his tongue. She sighed out her pleasure, her free hand reaching up to caress the back of his neck.

Isalan emith’ma,” he murmured and tugged at her robe once more.

The garment fell away, pooling at the floor by her feet. The chill in the air threatened to press against her skin but the heat in his gaze won the battle without question. He stepped back enough to look her over without losing his hold. Tracing every curve with his eyes, following the lines of Mythal’s craft around her breasts, down her stomach, and past her thighs, she felt no shame. He studied her in the same way a man appreciated a fine work of art, slightly open mouth and gaping eyes, wonder radiating from his entire being. Her skin flushed at the adoring attention, brightening his smile.

Ane ina'lan'ehnaan.

He licked his lips, a motion that drew her attention immediately. Her body responded, tingling anticipation across her limbs and nestling with a delicious warmth between her legs. His breath caught in his chest with an edged growl. Her reactions weren’t going unnoticed. She took a step back towards the bed, crooking a finger to bid him follow.

Elanas julathe’ala,” she teased.

He chuckled again, a rich, hungry sound that wrapped around her in place of his arms. She would do anything to hear that sound over and over again. As she back up, he followed. The hunter pursued his desire. He peeled off his own layers as he creeped closer, necklace first was set on the table. Then he pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it, forgotten the moment it hit the floor, by her robe. He toyed with the laces of his leggings at first, waiting for her gaze to follow his hands, before sliding them to the floor as well.

Ara’lan stopped when the back of her thighs hit the edge of her bed. The fully bared elf before her was so beautiful he stole her breath. Having spent time in his embrace, she still wasn’t prepared for who he truly was under all his trappings and disguises. Lean yet pronounced muscles defined his arms and chest. He hadn’t always been a scholar. The few, faint scars he carried were old, likely from a time only the two of them remembered. His legs were more defined, likely from his travels, and no less beautiful. She smirked, unabashedly lingering her look between his legs. Rising prominent under her attentive stare, he was gifted in many ways.

Amused, he set his hands on his hips and waited. Satisfied with her initial assessment, she reached out to him, beckoning with both hands.

Garas, aman na'mis.

He took her invitation without a second thought. They fell together back to the bed, him above her. With soft whispers and heated kisses down her neck and chest, he praised every inch of her skin, word from her lips, act of her body. She answered with quick breaths and moans, arching into his hunger and grasping alternatively at his skin and the blankets when he was out of reach. He settled between her legs with a soft kiss to her thigh. She looked down her body at him and smiled.

Isalan dera na aron tuelan,” he growled against her heated skin. “Sule irlahnas ara’melin.

Vin,” she panted, already feeling the touch of his breath, anticipating much in his promise. “Sathan.”

A soft moan gave a hint of his restraint but that was all he allowed. Her eyes slammed shut when his tongue parted her lower lips. The contact was hot and tender at the same time. As promised, he took his time. He lifted her up to the edge of the abyss quickly with laps at her hardening nub. Her back arched, whimpers and gasps falling from her lips. He paused when he felt her thighs tense under his grasp, moving slow and languid with tongue and lips. The same precision and care he brought to their captured nights of kisses on the road, he devoted to his more intimate touches.

He took his time. Whenever she crept higher, edged on the precipice of crashing over the wall of desire, he backed down. Her whole body thrummed and ached for the one thing he denied her time and again. Every blessing or encouragement she could grasp poured from her lips with ease and enthusiasm. His fingers parted her gently at first, then more insistent as he toyed with her limits. Hips arching again and again, she begged with her whole body for completion.

“Solas,” she begged, finally crying out in desperation. Tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, her whole body aching, she needed him. “Sathan! Pala em! Sathan!

He nipped at her thigh and growled deep. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he crawled up her trembling body to press a kiss to her lips. She could still taste herself on his tongue as she kissed him hungrily. Ara'lan wrapped her arms around the back of his neck and her legs around his hips, arching up against his body and begging with every fiber of her being. He trembled too, control cracking at the edges.

Juveran na su tarasyl,” he groaned and nipped at the side of her neck one more time.

When he slid into her they gasped in unison. She rocked her hips slightly, adjusting to his size and relishing the sensation. Every bit of him fit inside and around her perfectly.Looking up, she caught the wonder returning to his eyes. Their breathing slowed, matching in between the racing beats of their hearts. A soft smile played across her lips again, breaking the tension in the air. She saw the same wordless feelings echo in his face. He drew back slowly and entered her core again, staring deeply into her eyes the whole time. She could only gasp and shudder around his length. With her sound his last measure of control broke.

Tenderness gave way to heat one last time. Rising and falling, their bodies moved together, answering each other’s needs. Nails digging into his back, she finally hit the edge and flew over, crying out supplications and his name with fervor. He followed quickly after, grunting and panting into her shoulder and pulling her tight against him. Her name grew new meaning as he cried out to her in return.

The weight of his body on hers was a comfort to her shaking limbs. Simply breathing, regaining their senses in the aftermath of passion, time lost all meaning. Her body sank into the bed. He wrapped his arms and legs around her, near clinging. She didn’t mind, humming softly against his neck. Running her fingers in circles against his back was all the motion she had strength to muster. When he shifted, she panicked, eyes wide and tensing her body against him.

Tel’vara. Sathan.

He chuckled softly, the unease in his face and shoulders falling away. Solas pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Ma nuven’in, ma’fenor.

It was a tricky thing to for him move the blankets on the bed without her getting up. She pouted playfully, still giddy. He swatted at her and laughed, lighthearted and free. He never looked so beautiful to her than in that moment. She clapped her hand over her mouth, stifling a laugh. He glanced at her with a smirk, curious.

Unsilaimir hyn.

He laughed fully then, shaking his head and finally winning the battle to tuck them both under the covers. Wrapping her up in his arms, he kissed her cheek. “Eras, vana rahn. Nean venas in erathe’e.

Chapter Text

She woke slowly, reluctant to leave the welcome embrace of the Fade. Arms tightened around her body and soft murmurs pressed to the top of her head. She hummed in reply and curled in tighter against his warm torso. It was too early to venture out of bed when she had such company.

On dhea,” she whispered, blindly reaching with her own lips to seal a kiss to the side of his neck.

On’ala dhea,” he countered huskily and rolled to his side, pulling her flush against his chest to kiss her properly.

He had stayed. Her heart soared with the knowledge. All the back and forth dancing they had done over the weeks and months leading up to the moment he entered her room and he had stayed. He was real. Whatever they had between them was real. She sighed against the languid touch of his lips and tongue. Relief and hope danced in her heart. Maybe it could be more than just a night of whispers and heat. It had been a very long time since she allowed thoughts like that to take hold of her mind.

Before the rest of the world woke, it was just the two of them. Early morning light drifted through her window, painting warm blotches of color on the drab stone walls. It danced across his cheek, highlighting him in a way that turned her heart another loop. Pressed against his body, skin to skin, she let the desire heating her skin take hold. She nipped at his bottom lip and pressed her pelvis forward, earning a groan for her efforts. His eyes opened slowly, brighter and more awake than she thought he would be. He grinned against her lips, taking the bait.

Lam’nydha te’sathas?

His voice still held the grit that lingered when one wasn’t fully awake. It was a beautiful sound. It also wasn’t a complaint. His hands that held her so close began to wander, trailing light touches up and down her back and cupping the curve of her ass to pull her close. He lifted one of her thighs over his hip to angle against her better. The motion was enough to illustrate his agreement. Contact with his hard length, near rutting against her tender flesh, drew a hiss from between her teeth.

Vin,” she panted, tensing her leg around him to chase the sensation, “Sathan ir.

Ara’lan gasped when he rolled her to her back. He moved with a confident grace that didn’t match his sleepy voice. When he caught her eye, she could see how awake he truly was. Teasing, he rubbed the tip of his penis at her entrance but moved no closer. Her heart raced, pupils blown wide. She was happily at his mercy.

Ma’asha bel’isalash.

He dragged out the words to match the roll of his hips. She whimpered, lifting her hips to chase after him. Staring into her eyes, devouring her reactions, he relented, entering her slowly. Her body, warm, wet, and ready, welcomed him. He didn’t stop until he was fully hilted inside. The night before had been of hunger and desperation, cracking of defenses and breaking down walls. The morning was for tenderness and patience. Looking deep into his eyes, matching breath for breath, they rocked each other gently to completion.

Resting comfortably back in his arms, body still trembling, her worries were gone. She could feel the slow pace of his heart beneath her hand on his chest. In the still early hours of day they could pretend the rest of the world couldn’t touch their peace. A soft sigh of contentment from him confirmed he was thinking somewhat the same.

A knock on her door broke the silence. Ara’lan groaned faintly and tightened her grip around her lover. If she ignored it, maybe whoever it was would go away.

“Miss, are you awake?”

Her hopes faded quickly. Mary wasn’t one to simply accept silence as an answer. Rolling her eyes in a decidedly childish way, she turned her head enough to throw her voice at her visitor.

“Yes,” she said bitterly. “I would rather not be disturbed quite yet, please.”

“I’m sorry, miss. Lady Nightingale is looking for you and I don’t think I make her wait any longer.”

“Tell her I will go to her presently,” she sighed, defeated. It wasn’t up to Mary to deflect that situation. She would face whatever demands the Spymaster had herself.

“Thank you, miss. I'll tell her.” The shuffling of feet didn’t move away from the door. “Please also let Ser Solas know that the book he requested should arrive this afternoon. If you don’t mind?”

She laughed to herself and shook her head. Of course the agent posted to watch nearly her every move would know she had a visitor. Solas caught her eye but his face was an unreadable mask. It unsettled her to see that look back in place so quickly.

“I will do that. Thank you, Mary.”

At that, the woman outside her room finally moved away. Ara’lan sat up, curling her knees up to her chest and clutching at the blankets still covering her legs. The world would have its way after all. Without a sound, Solas kissed her shoulder and climbed out of bed. She watched him find his discarded clothing from the night before. His silence worried her.

“Solas,” she asked quietly, “Ea son?

He pulled his shirt over his head and draped his necklace around his shoulders, not looking at her. The way his brow and lips curled and contorted, she knew he was grappling with a thought. She let him find his words, waiting patiently against the tension building in her heart.

Nere,” he answered quietly, staring at the floor. “Emas sil’rahnen.

Her heart clenched, her voice dipped, but she asked the question she feared the most. “Re sasha palelan?

His hands fisted at his sides and he finally looked up. “Din,” he said, his voice tighter. “Nuvenan melava sila. Sathan.

The knot within her eased but didn’t release. It wasn’t the answer she wanted but it wasn’t the one she dreaded either. It would have to be enough. Taking him into her bed had been a heated idea, one they both rushed into. While it wouldn’t be outlandish to think they were attracted to each other physically, or in the relief of finding one of their own in the world, somewhere along the way she had grown attached to the stoic elf. He revealed himself in small ways she found endearing. If he needed more time, she could give him that. Shielding her heart, she nodded and gave him a small smile.

He finished dressing in silence while she watched. Leggings then footwraps and finally his belt encased him back into something of his normal appearance. She enjoyed it while she could, fully expecting him to change back into his ordinary attire later. The outfit had been for her and for their night, not the others. Solas kissed her softly on the lips and left without another word.

Staring at the closed door gave her no new answers. Resolving to worry about only what she could affect in the moment, Ara’lan rose from bed and faced the day. The bath water was cold but still clean enough to refresh her skin. The bites of food left from the night before hadn’t soured so she picked at them as she dressed. Stomach sated, body clean and dressed, hair twisted back into place, her confidence solidified. Heart matters could wait. Leliana would not.

~ ~

“A little bird of yours said you were looking to speak with me.”

She could see the smile on Leliana’s face before the woman looked up from the stack of notes on her desk. It was one of amusement, not anger, she was relieved to see. Knowing what Ara'lan did of her, it was an intentional reveal.

“Yes I am. Please have a seat.”

Ara’lan sat in the chair on the other side of the desk and waited. A few runners dropped parchements or slips of notes on the desk as they passed by, oblivious to her presence. Things started early for the people who collected information and the morning hours had long been burning. It was interesting to watch them scurry about so quickly. Practiced steps kept them from tripping over each other.

Before long they were alone again with only the few remaining birds above making soft noises in the background. Poised and calm, Leliana finally turned her attention on her guest.
“I have read the reports sent back from the temple. And I have spoken with the Inquisitor to confirm them. He insists that everything is fine but we must never send anyone back to that place. That is is better to let it fall to dust.”

“He is not wrong,” she offered, keeping her guard high. This didn’t sound like an interrogation but she couldn’t risk anything just yet. It was unusual for Leliana to be so open.

“There has to be more to it than that. You were there. My agents said that you nearly died. That Solas carried you out and it took you a full day to regain consciousness.” She tensed. “I have been informed, in great detail, that you are not to blame for anything that happened nor are you to be persuaded to give up any more information than you feel is necessary.”

Ara’lan couldn’t resist a smile at that. Mahanon had kept his word. As dangerous as that could be, she was glad to have him on her side.

“This is all true. What more do you need to know?”

The spymaster sighed and pulled her hood back to ruffle her fingers through her short red hair. When she looked up there was a sheen of honest wonder in her eyes.

“One of my agents said she saw a bright light, like a beacon, coming from inside the temple right before you were carried out. That the woods around them screamed out once and even the birds flew away. The Inquisitor said nothing of this, only that an evil demon was dispatched and you barely survived.” She paused and laid her open hands palm up on the table. “Please. What really happened?”

She sighed gently and gathered her strength. To have answers squeezed out of her was a challenge she could face. Being asked so plainly, however, she couldn’t resist telling the truth. There was little worth hiding at any rate. If she kept things simple then she might be able to avoid any other questions.

“There was a corrupted priest inside the temple. He kept himself alive through a dark magic even after his followers had torn his body apart. Their spirits were trapped within the stones. His last revenge.” She huffed a bitter laugh. “The artifact the Inquisitor sought rested behind a sealed door. No manner of magic or skill could break it. The only way was to reassemble the priest and return his spirit to this world.”

Leliana nodded along, recognizing the story she already knew. She gestured lightly for Ara’lan to continue. Swallowing against her nerves, she did.

“The same magic that bound him trapped his people. It was their life energy that kept him alive after all this time. When he knew it was to end, when he knew his battle would not be easy, he tried to use them to grow strong. They were already too weak. So he tried to draw from me instead.”

“What does that mean?” Leliana started, eyes wide.

“It means in truth, that he tried to kill me. He sensed that I was not like the others and attacked my very essence. The spirits were not strong enough to support or fight him on their own but through me he was destroyed.”

“So you did what, channeled them?”

Ara’lan shrugged a shoulder in answer. “I suppose. I do not remember exactly what happened. Just that I was going to die and they gave me strength. It drained me completely. Only by luck did I wake at all, never mind in such a short time.”

Though she was glazing over the fine details, giving voice at all to the event was a daunting task. Her fingers clenched in her lap, tense but refusing to give in to shaking.

“I see.” The deceptive smile slid back into place on Leliana’s face. “Thank you for your honesty, Ara’lan. I will not pressure you any further.”

They both stood and parted ways, one with a mind of questions and the other with relief. Ara’lan found her way quickly out of the rookery without looking back. Without a true goal in mind, she pointed herself in the direction of the library. If anyone else wanted to bother her about upsetting things, she would make them do it in a place that made her more comfortable.

A hand grabbed her by the elbow, making her squeak in surprise. It released immediately and she followed the arm up to a smiling face. She grinned and slapped at his arm lightly, a warning for being startled.

“I need your help.”

The wicked glint in Dorian’s eye meant mischief. After the heavy morning events, she was thankful for the distraction.

“Whatever you need, yes.” She laughed, cutting off his probably well-thought out negotiation attempts.

“Well,” he puffed, a hint of disappointment fading quickly. He offered her an arm that she gladly took. “At least one of us has a bit of sense. You don’t by any chance know how to dance, do you? Our Inquisitor is being a most unruly student. I thought you might help me persuade him.”

Chapter Text

His silence left her slightly worried. After confirming that she did know how to dance, he grinned wide, tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow, and guided her away from her refuge. It wasn’t the mischief sparkling in his eyes nor the conspiratorial laugh that made her uneasy. It was his refusal to discuss it further. She trusted Dorian completely, but she wasn’t quite sure what exactly he had planned. Even so, she went along. Anything was better than brooding.

Down the stairs they went. He didn’t pause a beat as they turned through a corner of the rotunda. Solas was, predictably, back in his muted attire and buried in a book. She could feel his eyes on her as they exited but she didn’t have time to offer him much more than a smile. Her companion kept a quick, confident pace even as they entered the main hall. This was a part she dreaded. The humans mingling about were nobles of some variety or another. She had done her best to avoid them and their stares and questions. The hand securing her to Dorian’s arm gave a slight squeeze. He knew. She squeezed back in gratitude and lifted her chin. They were nothing to fear.

Once past the crowd and through another doorway, she sighed in relief. It was then she noticed the music. A simple tune played on strings faintly echoed down the hallway towards her. She lifted her eyebrows at Dorian who only laughed under his breath. Of course they would need music for dancing. The excitement drowned out any anxiety brewing in her heart. No longer needing to be lead, she went eagerly.

“Worry not, friends. I have found another victim for your game.” Dorian announced their arrival with a flourish of his hand and a low bow to Ara’lan.

Everyone in the room turned their attention on her while she studied the area. This was the grand room they reserved for banquets and large dinners. She hadn’t seen such a large, open space in anywhere in the castle so far. It was perfect for carrying music. Maryden, the musician from the tavern, sat in a chair in the near corner. Her lyre rested in her lap with fingers poised between notes. Josephine stood nearby, her smile tight and body tense. The candle on her parchment board was halfway spent. They had likely been at this for some time already. Grouped off in pairs through the room she saw some of Mahanon’s more frequent travel companions, a few ladies from the staff she recognized, and the Inquisitor himself. Everyone had some level of frustration or amusement on their face. It was an odd mix to be sure. The exception was Vivienne. Ara’lan knew her only by reputation, but the way she carried herself, that air of nobility and strength, proved that to be more than just rumor. Cullen, her dance partner, made up for it. His deep frown and flushed cheeks were anything but serene. She almost felt bad for him. Then she remembered what he last said to her and all sympathy vanished.

“Victim?” She turned her surprised stare on Dorian. His choice of words didn’t sit well. Especially with all of them staring.

“Excuse me, dear. Just having a bit of fun.” He bowed an apology. “I meant volunteer. Some of these wonderful assistants have had their feet trod on enough by our lumbering oafs and I was hoping you could step in for them.”

“Speak for yourself,” a gruff man muttered.

“Warden Blackwall, you stand as an exception,” Dorian corrected with a grin.

Mahanon stepped forward to interrupt them with a sheepish grin of his own. He looked every bit the young man he was in that moment. “We have a ball coming up and they’re making me take lessons. Dancing around the campfire didn’t exactly prepare me for court. Please help. Or help me escape. Either would be good right about now.”

She couldn’t resist him when he put it that way. A soft laugh escaped her and she nodded her consent. “You would not get far if you were to run, but I would be happy to help with the dancing, lethal’lin.

Josephine perked up, surprised, at her admission. “You have been to court before?”

There was little harm in telling a piece of the truth. Leliana must have kept her information closer than she presumed. “Yes, Ambassador. I did not always live a rustic life. Dancing was one of the first lessons I had. While I may not know the modern steps by name, I believe my feet still nimble enough to understand the ideas.”

Relief washed over the ambassador’s face. With a wave of her hand, she dismissed the giggling woman who had been Mahanon’s partner. Ara’lan stepped into her place and waited for instruction. Josephine motioned for Maryden to begin playing again.

Vivienne and Blackwall stepped forward to demonstrate, leaving the commander to happily step aside. Blackwall took the lead, holding one of the enchanter’s hands in his while his other perched lightly at her waist. She was surprised to see the warrior move with such grace. Most soldiers didn’t know a thing about courtly manners. Musing on that quietly, she turned her focus on their steps and movement. The dance itself was simple and left room for much embellishment. It was familiar, thankfully.

She turned to face Mahanon with an encouraging smile. “You remember the story of the fox and the hare?”

He laughed at that and settled his hands in the right position. “I was usually drunk by the time they got to that story.”

Taking her place in his arms, she shook her head. “Just chase my steps,lethal’lin. I’ll do my best to make you look good.”

She started slowly, moving back and turning to the side. He stepped with her awkwardly, but in the right direction. Guiding him with the way she shifted her weight or nodded to initiate a turn, he eventually picked up his pace. Soon enough they were swaying and spinning to the beat. It wasn’t as clean a movement as Vivienne and Blackwall had done, but it was a decent effort. He was an observant student and only stepped on her toes twice. She was thankful neither of them were wearing boots. At the end of the song, he bowed over her hand politely.

“You have a gift!” Dorian exclaimed, clapping happily. “Three hours today with no progress and in less than twenty minutes you have him looking like he was made for it.”

Mahanon rolled his eyes and set a hand on his hip. “I’m not a complete savage.” It earned him a sheepish grin and shrug from Dorian.

“Oh yes. That was magnificent! Both of you!” Josephine nearly bubbled out of her skin. She quickly took control of the room again. “How about a quick step next?”

Hours flew by. She and Vivienne danced with each of the men in turn with varying degrees of success. Blackwall was stiff in his movements, very proper and intent on maintaining his distance. Cullen counted the paces under his breath. Every time he stumbled he lost count and cursed softly. Dorian nearly floated along. His moves were effortless to the point of looking bored until he caught her eye and winked. Mahanon turned the whole event into a game. Each time she was passed back to him he whispered snarky comments in her ear until she laughed and lost her footing. It made sure his turn was shorter than the others.

When her feet began aching, she finally begged for a rest. Josephine seemed disappointed that they had to stop but Ara’lan had caught her scribbling away on her board the entire time. She wondered what the ambassador might be planning. Hopefully she had helped enough to get her friend on the road to a presentable performance. Someone behind her cleared their throat, interrupting her thought. She turned to find a pleasant surprise.

“Oh, good! You got my message after all.” Josephine greeted Solas happily. “Thank you for coming. I don’t imagine there will be much need for you to dance at this event, but we must cover all our options. Being caught unprepared in the Winter Palace wouldn’t be wise.”

Solas smiled gently, his hands clasped behind his back. “Of course, ambassador. I am happy to help where I may.”

“Ladies, do you think you have the time for one more?”

Vivienne shook her head. “Unfortunately I must decline, Josephine dear. I have an appointment I truly must keep.”

"I thank you for your time, Lady Vivienne." Josephine inclined her head in deference.

Ara’lan let the sound of their pleasantries and Vivienne's departure fade to background noise. She instead watched Solas carefully, trying to puzzle him out. He stood at the ready, not meeting her eye though from the slight lift at the corner of his mouth she knew she had been caught staring. She couldn't help it. She remembered their dance in the Fade. Whether he chose to hold back in this as he did other things, especially in front of others, would be interesting to see.

“I think I can manage a little longer,” Ara'lan said.

“Splendid, splendid!” Josephine gestured for Maryden to begin again. “Whenever you are both ready.”

Solas bowed before her and offered a hand. The sparkle in his eyes brought a flush to her cheeks. Courtly manners in place, she bent her head in acceptance and rested her fingers on his open palm. With ease, he took the lead. The dance he chose was one from their shared past. It was close enough to what the humans had performed to suit their needs, but she knew the difference. With him in the lead, she never had to look down or worry about either of their steps. Ara’lan trusted him to guide her safely here, the same way he had in the Fade. The music fell to the back of her mind with each turn and sway. All she saw was his true smile. It lit up his whole face instead of just pulling at his lips. He caught her again and winked.

They finished with a flourish, him dipping her far enough back to brush the floor with the mass of braids on the back of her head. She was breathless from more than the movement. Grinning like a fool, it took a few moments for her to realize that the room was completely silent. Her blush was deep by the time he lifted her back to her feet and stepped back.

Each member of their impromptu audience had a different reaction. Josephine’s mouth hung slack in amazement. Mahanon grinned so hard he looked ready to burst. Dorian had a suspiciously knowing lift to his eyebrows. Even Cullen and Blackwall looked on with open appreciation.

Dorian was the first to speak. “Had I any flowers nearby, I’m certain they would have bloomed beautifully from that display. No moonlight required.”

“I have witnessed many events in my travels through the Fade. Not all the lessons I learned were of battles or spirits.” Solas gestured towards her with a smile. “It helps to have such a gifted partner with which to practice.”

Flattered, she smiled in return. She felt his sidestep as much as she heard it. He didn’t lie, not outright, but they didn’t look for his misdirection. It was no wonder he had been able to keep his secret for so long.

“She truly is. Perhaps you might want to come with us?” The ambassador barely held onto her excitement.

“Where exactly are you going?”

“The Winter Palace in Orlais.” Mahanon answered. “Nothing complicated. A little dancing, a little drinking, wearing fancy clothes, stopping the assassination of an empress, pretending to be polite to humans who see your ears before your face. But at least there will be cake.”

Ara’lan’s eyes widened. “Why would you need someone like me? I am not anyone of note.”

“The Inquisition is for all.”

A new, familiar voice added its weight to the conversation. The spymaster entered the room with measured steps. She nodded to Josephine with a smile. The calculating measure of her gaze made Ara’lan very uncomfortable. Something had changed since they spoke. A decision had been made.

“Our Inquisitor is an elf standing for Thedas. He proclaimed it when he accepted the role. Why should we shy away from including elves in all our duties? Especially ones with a manner no one would expect?”

Ara’lan frowned. “So, what, you wish to put me on display for the court? An example of how different things are here than anywhere else humans reign?”

Leliana’s smile no longer looked gentle. “I would have you play a part in the Game. Not just as a showpiece, but as a decoy. Let them think you inferior while you listen and watch. Provide a distraction, if needed, for other machinations to happen out of the public’s eye. Our Inquisitor will need to be many places besides the ballroom floor that night.”

Her skin crawled with the idea. She knew nothing of the people or dynamics of a modern court. The game Leliana mentioned felt like it was a bigger event than the name would imply. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Mahanon frown.

“I fear I might be in over my head in such an environment.”

“Nonsense,” the redhead dismissed her concerns easily. Her answer had been expected. “There is plenty of time to prepare. And you will have the best tutors available.”

“Are you sure this is wise?” Cullen shook his head. “With everything she’s been through and her magic still unstable, wouldn’t we all be safer if she remained here? We have enough numbers already.”

Solas stiffened at her side but said nothing.

“The Winter Palace doesn’t have the same kind of danger as a lost temple in the wilderness.” Josephine interjected in defense of the plan. The woman nodded as she worked out her thoughts. “Actually, your presence could be a great asset to our cause. Orlesians in particular, unfortunately, sees the elven people as a lesser race. Most are either in service or living in poverty. To have one at their level, one that could play the Game with poise like yours, would prove how we are different. It might also garner some favor with Ambassador Briala.”

Ara’lan frowned. “You are not disproving my point, Ambassador. If you have a desire to pad your numbers at a party with elves for the sake of our ears, then you can do well enough without me.”

“We have need to pad our numbers with people the Inquisitor can trust.” The less innocent of the two women, Leliana looked very like a predator with her sharp smile. “You are able to ingratiate yourself to many people easily. You can dance and have experience at court. You are an unknown to them. As an elf they will discount your intelligence. We will use that to our advantage. With the proper guidance you could be a strong piece in the Game.”

Frustrated as she was with the whole situation, Ara’lan found herself left with little choice. They knew it, too. She bristled under their scrutiny. There was only one answer to give but she would have her price for it.

“I will consent only if you grant me information in exchange. I wish to have access to your maps.”

“Why would you need that?” Cullen resisted.

“Why would you need me in your courts for something you call a game that I can see it is far more complicated?” Her eyes narrowed. “I care not for your troop movements or strengths, commander. I just want to see the layout of the land. The map you have in your meeting room is the only one I know of that can show me how the world has changed.”

“Agreed. If there is not trust on both sides, then we will not have a true accord. I want us to work together, Ara’lan. Regardless of what has come in the past.” Josephine had earned her title for a reason.

Comforting as Josephine was trying to be, Ara’lan hesitated to trust the situation. Her gaze caught Mahanon, smiling and hopeful, Dorian, confident and assured, and Solas. His nod was so slight she imagined no one else would see. If the humans moving all of them about like pieces in a game weren’t looking after her safety, she at least had these three on her side.

“Then I am at your mercy. I will consent to aid the Inquisitor in this venture.”

“Excellent!” Josephine scratched away at her parchment, rattling off a list of thoughts. “While the others head to Crestwood, you should start with the librarian. He will get you caught up on Orlesian lineage and protocol. Then Enchanter Vivienne can help you learn the social hierarchy and balance of power. She still has many valuable connections with the nobility. Oh! And we will need to call in the seamstress again! I wonder if she will have time to take measurements for more than one gown.”

Lost in her thoughts, the ambassador left, trailed closely by an aide. Leliana followed shortly after, not even sparing Ara’lan a look. Leliana had won. She didn’t need to gloat. Ara’lan watched them leave, a nervous knot tangling in her chest. The pressure of a hand on her shoulder interrupted her thoughts.

Nane ethem,” Solas said quietly. His eyes shone with conviction. “Ara dirtha'vhen'an.”

Chapter Text

Ara’lan was awake but not yet out of bed when the usual knock on her door signalled the start of her day. The routine was the same each morning now. Mary came in with a selection from the kitchens, insisted on helping her tidy up or get her clothes together, and they chatted until Ara’lan was ready to head off to the library and get lost in an ever growing mountain of Orlesian history books. Trying to convince Mary that she could care for herself was an amicable battle she lost each time, but it was important. Ara’lan didn’t want servants. Mary was her friend, regardless of any presumed social differences.

Their routine was rarely broken. Until now. Mary was early. Ara’lan stretched and got out of bed reluctantly. The floor was cold under her bare feet. Shaking out her arms to warm them, she added a few pieces of wood to the fireplace. The coals were still warm enough to catch. One less thing for Mary to do.

“Come in,” she called from her place crouched on the floor, busy with stoking the fire back to life.

The door opened and quietly closed. Mary was never quiet, especially in the mornings. She always had some gossip from the kitchens to share or story to tell. Ara’lan turned her head to ask Mary what was wrong and her worry faded away.

On dhea, i've'an'virelan.” She smiled and rose to her feet, brushing the dirt and soot from her hands.

Oh dhea,” he answered with a smile soft enough to make her melt. “Nuvenan te’nuas. Ar nuvenem i’ve varir.”

“Crestwood.” She nodded, understanding. So wrapped up in her studies Ara’lan had lost track of days. She smiled.“Ame sha ane min. Na sul'emem dhea’math.”

Vin,” he laughed at her teasing.

Solas set the tray he was carrying on the table in the corner. Ara’lan finished her work with the fire quickly to investigate. He had brought an interesting assortment of bread, cheese, and fruits, including sweet buns still warm from the oven. The smell of them found her first, making her hum in appreciation. She lifted the lid on the small kettle to find her tea already steeping. It was more than Mary ever brought, so he had to have done some of the organizing himself.

Tel'dhru'gonathe, falon.” She gestured to one of the chairs. “Sathan avas i’em.”

Vindurthan.”

Solas picked up one of the sweet rolls before he even sat. Grinning at his choice, Ara’lan poured herself a cup of tea and started on the fruits. The warmer months were still far off but the trade routes flowed into Skyhold with all manner of goods. She would enjoy the bounty while it lasted. Solas clearly preferred the sweeter items.

They ate in companionable silence for a short while, content to just be in each other’s company. More than once Ara’lan looked up to see a thoughtful look on his face. Once her tea was finished she could wait no longer.

“Solas,” she asked, reaching out to rest her fingers on his arm, “Ahn nuas?

He looked down at her touch and sighed, but didn’t pull away. Instead, he rested a hand on top of hers and squeezed it gently.

Banal.

Ara’lan saw through the lie with ease. Patience was the virtue of hers he would test most. “Tel’banal,” she offered softly. “Melahn elas dirth’em, nea harthan.

Solas nodded and looked back up at her, a tight smile on his face. “Serannasan ma.”

Nuva lasa su ma enaste,” she replied.

Her returning smile seemed to ease his strain.

The sound of a horn broke through any further conversation they might have tried. She knew what that meant. The Inquisitor was ready to venture out. Their morning break was over. Reluctantly, she rose to her feet and led him to the door.

Dar’eth shiral, Solas.”

Juvegaran sul’em,” he whispered, sealing his promise with a chaste kiss.

Ara’lan watched him leave for as long as she could. Even after he disappeared from her line of sight, she stood in her doorway thinking. They still needed to talk about where they stood with each other. If what he said at his departure meant anything, he was coming to a decision. She held onto a thread of hope. When they were both young it had been common for relationships to take decades to develop into a friendship, never mind into something far more intimate. Her heart clenched faintly at the memories that came to mind. Bittersweet as they were, times had changed. Who knew if Solas had changed with them?

The sound of a cough by her shoulder startled her to gasp. Mary stood by her side, a lifted eyebrow and bright grin on her face.

“So, he found you before they left, after all?”

Ara’lan grinned and nodded. “He did.”

“That’s twice now, isn’t it?” Mary nudged Ara’lan out of the way and entered the room. She started cleaning up the remains of breakfast as she chatted away. “I hardly ever see him anywhere besides buried in a book or working on his walls but now I’ve caught him twice leaving your room and you having that grin on your face.”

Swatting at her friend, Ara’lan laughed. “That can not be true.”

“You can’t deny it while you’re still smiling!” Mary teased just as happily. “We thought he’d be grumpy forever. There were bets and everything! Matter of fact, I owe the Bull two silvers now, thanks so much for that.”

Ara’lan gaped. “You bet on me?” She frowned, catching up. “You bet against me?”

Mary laughed and hefted the now reloaded tray on a hip. “I bet he’d stay another night before they left, actually. Now hurry up, miss. You’re going to be late for your lessons. Madame de Fer wouldn’t like that.”

Blushing faintly, Ara’lan thanked her friend and hurried off. She had nearly forgotten about her appointment. It was good to have people who cared. She was lucky she still did.

~ ~

“I thank you for agreeing to help me, Lady Vivienne.”

Vivienne smiled politely and inclined her head. “But of course. You will be a representative of the Inquisition while in attendance at the Winter Palace. We can’t have you show poorly, nor would I throw you to the wolves of Court empty handed. Please have a seat and we will begin.”

Vivienne gestured for her to sit in a large chair while she placed herself on the chaise opposite it. The Enchanter leaned against the arm of the chaise with an air of casual confidence. Ara’lan took her offered seat quietly. It was firmer than it looked. She was glad to not sink completely into the cushions.

“You are a mage, a woman, and an elf. The Court will see you as your labels first and as an intelligent person last. You must work harder and present better than all of them before they will see you as anything like an equal. Carry yourself as if they respect you already. Demand it with your poise and way with words. Don’t ask for permission. ”

She smiled slightly at the sharp praise. There was a great deal of wisdom in Vivienne’s advice. “Orlais is a complicated web, Lady Vivienne. Pretending to understand it is not an option.”

Deference and respect for titles would get her far with this woman. She was right, though. It had been a lifetime since Ara’lan been presented at a court of any kind. When she last attended she was a respected guest by reputation already. This would be starting from somewhere new.

“We will be attending as welcome guests of Grand Duke Gaspard,” Vivienne continued, “so it’s best to familiarize yourself with his allies first. I trust you know who those are?”

“Yes, milady.” Ara’lan nodded, feeling confident in her answer. “While the Ghislain family is tied to him through marriage, they have been a voice of support for Empress Celene throughout the years. Duke Germain de Chalon dotes on his niece, the Grand Duchess Florianne. She is an unwavering supporter of her brother, the Grand Duke, so gaining favor with either her retinue or that of Duke Germain is important. Grand Duke Gaspard is also a chevalier, so we would do well to respect others of that rank.” She frowned, thinking harder. “I believe Duchess Blanchard and Lord Malecot will be at the Ball.”

“You have put a remarkable effort into your studies, Ara’lan. I’m glad to see you are taking this as seriously as you should.” Vivienne seemed at least a little impressed. “Duke Bastien de Ghislain has allowed the Inquisition the use of his estate within the city while the Ball takes place. While he is, unfortunately, unable to attend himself, this will display his support of our cause.”

Ara’lan nodded with a measure of relief. There was one series of name she wouldn’t need to remember.

“You will not have an armed escort.” Vivienne warned carefully. “So be mindful of where our guards and representatives are at all times. Some of the lesser lords are known for their lecherous interest in elven women. They are likely to be offended by how welcoming our Inquisitor is to elves of all walks of life. A few too many drinks and they can become dangerous.”

She had forgotten about that. Ara’lan took the additional advice to heart. Being surrounded by people who showed her respect as a woman and as an elf was a luxury the rest of the world didn’t give. It had been foolish of her to discount it. Cold as she was on the outside, Lady Vivienne was helping far more than Ara’lan expected.

“Have you put any thought into your story, my dear?” Vivienne smiled, gently changing the topic. “To the world at large you are a great unknown. The only people who have an inkling of your capabilities and dangers are within these walls. Would you be a creature to inspire fear with presence or whispers? I have an idea of what our Nightingale desires. Just for my curiosity, which would you prefer?”

She had spent so much effort into her studies of the complicated human society, Ara’lan had no real answer. There were many even within Skyhold that didn’t know the truth of her history. She couldn’t walk into the Ball, full of short-sighted humans, and explain herself as one of the People from ancient times. Especially with the threat the Inquisition currently faced. But she was also neither Dalish, not truly, nor was she born of the impoverished city life. The silence stretched as she grappled for the words.

“I, I find myself at a loss, milady. I am neither Dalish nor alienage born,” she chose honestly. “I can claim no heritage that I did not earn.”

“Perhaps I can help.”

Ara’lan sighed and turned to face the sound of the voice. She was growing to expect the Spymaster to make the most dramatic entrances possible. This was no disappointment. Leliana smiled at Vivienne and lifted her eyebrows in question. Vivienne looked towards Ara’lan, studying her for a moment before returning the Spymaster’s smile. The more the two of them exchanged without speaking, the less comfort Ara’lan felt.

Vivienne grinned and rose, a decision seemingly made. “I will speak with my seamstress. She’s an absolute marvel. Perhaps an appointment for measurements in two days time?”

“That sounds perfect.” Leliana agreed happily. “Please send my thanks to Élodie. And my congratulations. Her eldest has made a fine match.”

Vivienne departed with a light laugh. That left Ara’lan alone with Leliana. Outside the rookery the Spymaster was no less intimidating. Swallowing her nerves, Ara’lan held her voice steady.

“May I ask what that was about?”

“Of course!” Leliana agreed happily. “Lady Vivienne is right. You are doing far better than most to learn so many names and connections so quickly. There are many things you must learn that can’t be found in books about lineages.”

“That was not what I meant.”

“I know.” Leliana was being entirely too pleased with her for Ara’lan’s comfort. “It was half an answer. You can expect to get many of those while playing the Game. But since we need to be allies I will tell you the rest. No one knows who you are. Not truly. Rumors paint you as many things. Some think you are a Dalish spy. Others an elf who ran from her alienage as a child, chasing after bedtime stories. Even some believe you are a lost elven princess from ancient times.”

Ara’lan fought not to roll her eyes. “I believe I know which dwarven author started that last one.”

“Indeed! He is quite proud of it.” Leliana laughed. “But we must not discount even that story. It may be our most useful angle. When you appear before the Court, rumors will precede you. We will need to appeal to Orlesian nobility and the elves that serve. Something that would draw the attention of both, yes? Everyone at the Winter Palace will be wearing masks besides the ones on their faces. You should, too.”

“I suppose you have a point,” Ara’lan conceded. “I will carry no weapons and cannot use my magic. I will know more about courtly intrigues than I know about the People’s history since the Fall of Arlathan. Playing your princess would be the safest option.”

“It would. The Inquisitor can’t be in two places at once. While he looks into the trouble surrounding Empress Celene, you can distract the Court by simply being present. We will let the rumors about you grow in the meanwhile. There’s nothing Orlais loves more than a mystery.”

Solas’ words sat heavily in her memory. He would be there, as would most of Mahanon’s closest allies. Worried as she was, they meant to protect her if she needed it.

“Whatever you think of my methods, Ara’lan, they are effective. There is some risk, yes. We are all at risk and I will not pretend otherwise. The Game is played to the death.” Something softer flickered in her eyes. “It’s just a role you play. The fancy words, the frilly dresses, the smiles. They are your tools. They are not who you are.”

The crack in her demeanor was intentional then, but not insincere. Ara’lan took it to heart with a soft smile. “Thank you, Leliana. I will do my best to remember that.”

Chapter Text

Early the next morning, Ara’lan perched on the edge of the chair in Vivienne’s receiving room again. This time her nerves danced for a different reason. Having passed through the initial scrutiny of Leliana and Vivienne, she now waited on the arrival of the unknown. Her first fitting with the seamstress was meant to be an easy affair. This was instead another reminder of a life she thought was behind her. A cool breeze from the open balcony helped her keep calm.

A flurry of activity could be heard coming up the stairs before it was seen. Vivienne stood to greet the oncoming chaos, a bright smile on her face.

“Élodie! It’s so good of you to travel all this way. I hope the journey wasn’t too hard on you?”

A half dozen humans came into view. Nearly all of them had their arms full of equipment of one kind or another. They moved with quick, efficient steps to set things up. A screen was set up by the men to provide privacy. Within its walls a platform went down, two pieces secured together with the click of latches. As soon as they finished, the men left again.

The remaining women laid out a selection of cloth pieces on the lounge. The mix of textures and colors drew Ara’lan’s attention quickly. An elven woman, the only one in the group, followed after, checking things off on a board much like the one Josephine carried everywhere. She turned to catch up with a shorter, older woman as she scratched out her notes on the parchment. Ara’lan presumed the stocky woman mumbling as she surveyed the area was the seamstress. She was quickly proven correct.

“Madame De Fer. A pleasure as always. You always bring me such interesting challenges.” She shook hands with Vivienne and turned her appraising eye on Ara’lan. “Come here, girl.”

Ara’lan did as she was told. Élodie set her fists on her wide hips and slowly walked in a circle around her. She took a deep breath to steady herself, fighting the urge to turn her head. The only noise she heard for a long while was more muttering from the seamstress and scratching of quill on paper. It was unnerving, but she held as still as possible.

Completing the circuit, the seamstress gestured for Ara’lan to lean forward. A strong, wrinkled hand grasped her chin and turned her face from side to side. Élodie grunted softly and released her, nodding to herself. She made her way to the piles of material and started tossing them aside with varying levels of disinterest.

“Élodie is a genius, darling. Don’t fret. She’ll know exactly what you need.”

Vivienne patted Ara’lan gently on the arm, a small comfort. All she could do was nod and swallow hard. Memories stirred. She shoved them down as best she could. They weren’t something she could handle while under such a mindful gaze. Finally Élodie seemed to find the object of her search. She tapped a finger on her selection.

C'est possible, oui.”

“Madame are you certain?” Her assistant gaped, voice trembling softly. “La Fée Reine?”

“Yes, Katia.” A smile rippled across the older woman’s face. It lifted the years from her eyes and showed how beautiful she truly was. Age took nothing from the sparkle in her eyes. “She will be my greatest triumph.”

“Élodie, don’t keep us in suspense. What are you plotting?”

Ara’lan was relieved to hear the curiosity she felt in Vivienne’s question. She was glad to not be the only one feeling left in the dark this once.

Élodie turned her smile on Ara’lan. In the sparkle of those aged eyes, Ara’lan found herself relaxing further. Releasing a breath, she allowed a trace of her senses to expand. It was a faint sensation, but the joy in the woman was true. For all her gruffness the seamstress was a creative soul.

“It will be my surprise. Mine and yours, dear girl. We will turn the Game on its head.” Her accent lifted and sank like music. In a blink she was back to work. “Now we measure, yes? Use the screens. You may keep your sous-vêtements. Everything else must go.”

Ara’lan didn’t need a guide to understand that statement. She nodded and stepped into the privacy of the screens. Dalish clan practices had broken most of her concerns for modesty but it was a kind gesture she wouldn’t pass up. Luckily someone did her the favor of closing the balcony doors as she removed her clothing. It left her feeling a little confined but afforded a block to the wind. The heat from the fires below would replace the chill.

“I am ready,” she said quietly.

The seamstress stepped within the screens. With a clinical eye, she looked Ara’lan over from head to toe.

“I thought Dalish tattoos were only on the face.”

Ara’lan smiled. In this, as with all other things so far, the seamstress proved herself blunt but effective. “Most are, yes,” she replied. “Mine are different.”

“Show me.”

Indulgently, Ara’lan turned in a slow spin to show her. The branches across her cheeks were subtle and all most people saw. The ink tracing below her collar bone, down the center of her chest, and blooming across her hips was mirrored across her shoulder blades, spine, and lower back. The Mother had decorated her personally and she was proud of those delicate lines.

Élodie only nodded in thought when she was finished with her turn. The seamstress went immediately to work. Behind her, Katia, the assistant, stood poised to take her notes. Élodie lifted a measuring tape from the depths of one of her many pockets. She called numbers back to Katia as she moved. By the time she was finished, Ara’lan was certain nearly every part of her body had been catalogued twice. It was more than overwhelming.

Élodie grinned. “Good. Dress. Now you dance. I need to see you move.”

Vivienne clapped her hands, likely to summon one of the servants. “Fetch the Commander, please. He could use the practice.”

Ara’lan winced at the choice. She knew nearly everyone else was out in the field with Mahanon. She also knew that Cullen meant well but he had no sense of rhythm. Her feet were going to regret this.

~ ~

In the weeks while the Inquisitor was away her days became a steady blur, the edges all blending together. Studies in the library from sunrise to midday. Small meal then more measurements under the attention of Katia. Some measurements were taken while she danced, much to the chagrin of Commander Cullen. He was the only one ever found to play her partner. At least that was what Katia told him.

Vivienne and Leliana took turns testing her knowledge each day. She needed to know what one lord favored in a game hunt or what another lady wore to the summer gala. Who wore what mask to which event was just as crucial. The proper curtsy for the Orlesian court was different than she knew. Each noble rank required a different level of deference. End of day meal was not left out free of dangers. She knew this was Josephine’s world of expertise. Place settings became more and more elaborate by the day. Even the food she was served changed. Gone were the simple stew and bread she loved. In its place was whatever delicacy Orlais decided was the height of fashion in that moment.

The days belonged to the Inquisition and the efforts for the Winter Palace. Her nights, however, were hers. The exhaustion of activity and mind strain found blissful relief in the peace of the Fade. Each night she fell into her refuge and left the strain of the mundane world behind. Some nights she was lucky enough to receive a visit from Cole. He always knew when the worst days had tested her the most.

One especially late night, she barely made it out of her day clothes before she collapsed into her blankets and drifted off to peaceful memories. Within the space of the Fade she opened her eyes and took a deep breath. She was back in the Dirth. Her toes sank into the soft sand by the river. The sun sat low in the horizon. Camp sounds drifted behind her gently. She could hear Hawen reciting thanks to the gods for another day safe and done. Simple pleasures.

“You miss it.”

Ara’lan smiled and turned her head. Cole stood by her side, looking into the water. He never took too much advantage of her open invitation. With nearly all the others gone, she was glad he had stayed. It was good to have a friend near.

“Sometimes,” she admitted.

Asa'ma'lin. Take my dreams with you in your heart. Where you go, I go.” He blinked and looked up at her for a moment. “He was sad and happy, all tangled up together. I couldn’t pull it loose.”

“He was right, falon. Sometimes things can make us happy and sad at the same time.” She sighed softly. “It is sad that he could not follow our dream with me. The clan needs him. They come first. He is happy to look after them.”

The memory played out behind them the same way it had in the waking world. Prayers ended and faded into soft conversations. Ara’lan watched the clan settle in for the night as she had done so many times before. Valorin and Emalien teased each other mercilessly over who was on cleanup duty. Nissa, as always, broke up the argument and tasked them both with the job. Olafin left with a handful of hunters to stand watch. Ithiren hummed a tune as he guided the halla back into their den. Everything about them radiated peace, routine, and confidence. They knew what each day would bring. They trusted their gods.

“He is my brother and I will carry him in my heart.”

A wolf howled in the distance, interrupting her observation. The hunters of the clan didn’t respond. She frowned in confusion. This was different. The wolves of the Dirth usually stayed a respectable distance from the clan. When they didn’t, Olafin was quick to respond. He took his job as protector seriously. Instead of seeking out the danger, he laughed and joked with others. Somehow her memory had been changed. Squinting against the fading light, she searched for the source of the trouble. Across the river and down the bank, she saw it. The wolf was still quite far away. Had it not moved, she might have mistaken it for a part of the stones. Sitting on the high, rocky outcropping, it tilted its head as if it caught her staring.

“He’s a nice wolf.”

Cole knelt to play with the small fish flitting in the shallows of the river. True to his nature, he offered no explanation. Ara’lan let out a breath and stretched her senses. In the Fade they answered faster than they ever would again in the waking world. This was not a part of her memory. She felt no malice from the creature, only curiosity. With relief she retracted back into herself. Her barriers were holding. A passive spirit could easily make its way through her dreams and out again.

“He is alone?”

“He was.”

She squinted again, searching for other wolves. Aside from the elves and halla in camp and the spirit by her side, the wolf was the only creature she could see. “Was? Where is his pack?”

Cole shrugged, not lifting his attention from the fish now nibbling on the ends of his fingers. “Scattered. Lost. Some found. They wait and listen for his call.” He laughed. “The fish know I’m not food. They like to play.”

She smiled down at him, her mind settled by his simplicity. “Yes they do.”

The wolf howled one more time. Ara’lan looked up sharply. She was in time to catch him jumping down from the rocks and disappearing out of sight. She stepped forward without thinking. Whatever kind of spirit had wandered into her memory, she wanted to know.

“Wolves like to play, too.” Cole’s words drifted softly. “He would play with you if you wanted.”

“What about you, falon?”

He laughed again, an innocent sound. “I want to play with the fish. They are like the children were once. Before they grew up and forgot. The wolf needs you now.”

If her curiosity wasn’t already tugging at her mind, Cole’s cryptic answer set it to doing so. She could keep the memory active for him. Turning towards the last place she saw the wolf, she broke into a run. Her feet were light and left little trace in the waking world. In the Fade, in her corner of it, she nearly flew. Travel was a state of mind more than it was actual distance. She closed on the rocks swiftly. There was no trace of the wolf.

Another howl, off to her right. He stood on another perch. Lashing his tail, he jumped down and disappeared again. She grinned and gave chase. Back and forth across the Dirth they danced. The wolf kept ahead, always disappearing just in time for her to miss. She didn’t mind. It was a game and she would play. Exhaustion was for her physical form, not her spirit. Instead she laughed.

When he drew her back to the river bank where everything started, she finally stopped, feeling the edges of daylight tugging at her mind. Time ran too quickly in the world. Ara’lan sat beside where she had left her spirit friend. Cole was still occupied with the fish. She curled up one leg to rest a cheek on her knee.

“I almost caught him that time.”

“No you didn’t.”

She laughed. “Right as always, dear friend.”

“He wants to let you catch him.”

“Then why does he run so fast, hmm?” Ara’lan let out a breath she didn’t need to take in her dream world.

Cole frowned and looked past her. “It was part of the game.”

She turned to follow his gaze. Nearly within arms reach was the creature she had been chasing. Twice her size and covered in a dense, shining black fur, he laid on his belly and tossed his tail. Ara’lan lifted a hand slowly in his direction, her open palm turned up for his inspection.

An’daran atish’an, falon.”

The wolf brushed her fingers with the end of his nose and lifted his face to look directly at her. He was finally close enough for her to look into his eyes. She was surprised to see him staring back at her just as openly. His eyes looked unlike any wolf she had ever met; not gold or amber of the wild creatures, nor green as the fade-touched were. These eyes were blue, the soft undertones of a sky about ready to break with rain.

Ehn ane, elgar?”

Her quiet question was answered with a simple yip and a flick of his tail. Before she could ask any more, she heard the knock on her door from the waking world. It was enough to call her away. Faint regret in her heart, she released the memory. Maybe her new friend would be patient enough to return soon.

Chapter Text

“I have a surprise for you today, miss.”

The closer they got to the Inquisitor’s expected return, the more hectic things had become. The days of simple measuring were done. Instead, Madame Élodie was sending pieces of the costumes she was creating for all of them from her shop in Orlais as she constructed them. Katia remained in Skyhold as her eyes and ears. Now Ara’lan was standing, sitting, stretching, climbing stairs, and spinning in new layers of skirts, draped material, and shoes each time. The arches of her feet were still sore from their trials. Never before had she understood what a blessing simple footwraps could be. None of this was Katia’s fault, however, and Ara’lan offered her a tired smile.

“I hope it is a better surprise than the heels you brought me yesterday.”

“Not shoes today,” Katia agreed with a laugh. “Madame has sent a full dress for you to try. It arrived today. It’s a bit simple compared to the final product, but it should give you a more clear idea of her vision.”

Ara’lan nodded and rose from the table. She had nearly read all the tomes even remotely connected to the current Orlesian nobility twice. The librarian had exhausted his contacts and resources. Her memory was better than most students either he, Vivienne, or Leliana had worked with in the past so she didn’t need any further review. The comfort of the library had waned as it became a place of work rather than sanctuary. She was glad for the opportunity of a change in scenery.

“Now, I presume?”

“Yes please. Madame doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I need to send her a raven tonight to let her know how it fits.”

Katia led the way. Ara’lan was familiar with it by now. Down the stairs, cutting through a corner of the rotunda, where she felt Solas’ absence keenly. The room itself seemed incomplete without him, like it was frozen in time and waiting for his return. Soon, Leliana had promised, and soon Ara’lan hoped it would be. The two elves crossed the main hall without notice. All the way down to the banquet room they were blissfully uninterrupted.

The screens were set up in the corner as they had been every other day: a small area of privacy for her to change into whatever contraption came next. This time there was a full dress hung on the corner. Though it was draped in protective fabric, the size of the skirt was imposing.

“I will help you, miss.”

“Thank you, Katia.”

For once Ara’lan didn’t try to dismiss the assistance. Getting out of her simple tunic, leggings, and footwraps was the easy part. Katia uncovered the dress and piled it gently by her feet. The layers of faintly blue-tinted silver material pooled out wider than Ara’lan thought would be comfortable. It was easier to step in than lift over her head, so that’s what she did. Katia lifted the bodice into place. It sat low enough on her chest to display a slight amount of cleavage while still maintaining her modesty. As Katia buttoned up the back, Ara’lan sighed in relief. She had nearly begged Madame Élodie to not make her wear the rigid corset that was the current rage in Orlais. While still feeling stiff, the bodice allowed her to move and breathe without difficulty. The skirt was also a bit of an illusion. It flowed out from her waist like an inverted flower, hinting at a train in the back, but it had little weight.

“It is beautiful, Katia.”

“It will be. This is only une réserve. Madame made this to test. The final dress won’t be seen by anyone but her until the Ball.” Katia grinned. “She’s very protective of her secrets.”

Katia offered her a pair of simple slippers that she put on gratefully. Ara’lan came out from behind the screen with careful movements. The dress was unlike anything she had tried on so far and she didn’t want to step on the hem. A few test steps revealed she could walk normally but running would probably mean lifting the skirt. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to test that theory.

“You look marvelous, my dear.”

Vivienne had arrived quietly while they got Ara’lan into the dress. The Enchanter looked Ara’lan over like she was a thing to be studied. Perhaps she was, as Vivienne had worked diligently to help craft an image for her. Her critical eye missed nothing. The two of them had found an amicable truce over these weeks and Ara’lan was glad. She didn’t enjoy animosity of any kind. Agreeing to disagree on a lot of points saved her a lot of headaches.

As with every other afternoon, Maryden trailed behind Vivienne. This time she had someone with her that Ara’lan had never met. The man wore ordinary clothes but she could tell from how he moved that he was a soldier used to wearing heavy armour. He froze in place and flushed slightly when he saw her.

“The Commander was unfortunately otherwise engaged,” Vivienne explained. “Cremisius is a bit shorter but he will make a good stand in today.”

“Pleased to meet you, miss.” He bowed and offered her his hand.

Ara’lan took it with a smile. “Please to meet you, Cremisius. I hope this does not interrupt your day.”

He grinned. “Nah. We’re mostly just doing drills and patrols until the Inquisitor gets back. The Iron Bull will understand.”

“Oh? Are you one of his soldiers then?” She had heard of Bull’s mercenary group but not had the chance to meet any of them yet.

“I’m his lieutenant, miss. When the big guy’s out he leaves me in charge.” He shrugged.

Ara’lan laughed softly. “I am glad you could help me today, Cremisius. Please call me Ara’lan.”

“Yes miss, uh, Ara’lan,” he stammered softly. “And you can call me Krem if you want.”

Vivienne clapped her hands to get their attention. “Shall we begin?”

Krem was far better at keeping time than Cullen. Experience with dancing would do that. He led with a quiet confidence and didn't need to count his steps. Ara’lan could relax a bit and focus on her skirts, letting the muscle memory she developed over the past weeks take over. The dress swirled and swayed gracefully behind her. It didn’t weigh her down or catch under her feet.

As the music rose, Krem caught her eye. He winked and tilted his head, asking a silent question. Ara’lan smirked in reply, nodding slightly. She trusted him. Krem broke the pattern of the dance, lifting her by the waist. When he set her down, he spun her away. Instead of gripping her hand, he let go. Ara’lan laughed and carried out the turn a few paces away. Her motion was halted suddenly when she collided with someone.

Lifting her gaze to apologize she was surprised to see a new face. The woman seemed more amused than offended if the grin on her face was any type of guide. She winked at Ara’lan playfully.

“If I had known beautiful women were going to throw themselves at me, I would have been here days ago.”

Heat crawled across her cheeks and down her neck as Ara’lan took a step back. The woman didn’t chase after her and she was glad for the space to gather herself. The human was wearing mostly leather armour and leggings. A sharp, metal plate sat high on her chest. Ara’lan was thankful to have missed that when she bumped her. Her short, dark hair barely passed her ears. From the dirt on her boots and the staff strapped to her back, it was a good guess this was a newly arrived mage. Her smirk softened the overall feeling of utility her appearance suggested.

“Ara’lan, please allow me to introduce you to Miriam Hawke.” Varric stepped through the doorway, doing a poor job of hiding a laugh. “She’s a terrible flirt and cheats at cards, but she’s one of my best friends. Oh, and happens to also be the Champion of Kirkwall.”

The woman rolled her eyes and set a hand on her hip. “I don’t use that title much anymore. And I don’t cheat.” She shrugged and laughed. “Much.”

“Is that her?” said a lilting voice.

This last arrival brought the dancing to a complete standstill. Vivienne huffed softly but allowed it. Ara’lan turned to find an elven woman far closer than she expected, staring her directly in the face. She stepped back quickly, alarmed. Much like Hawke, this elf had no sense of personal space.

Ara’lan caught Varric staring at her with the same look she had given Katia when Ara’lan pleaded her case about the corsets before he turned to this last newcomer.

“Calm down, Daisy. You’ll scare her right out of her skin,” he said. “Yeah, that’s her.”

“Oh! Sorry!”

She backed up as well, worrying her hands in front of her stomach. A quick assessment showed her to be Dalish. She wore a familiar type of keeper’s armour but her valasllin was styled like none Ara’lan had ever seen.

“I’m just so excited to meet you!” The woman’s voice bubbled, making the truth of that clear. “Varric told me so many stories about you. Are you really a lost princess? Are you Dalish? Your valasllin is so pretty! Did a curse make you sleep for thousands of years?”

Ara’lan frowned, turning a sharp eye on Varric. He shrugged. “I might have embellished your story a little.”

“A little?” she echoed with a sigh. It would help the story they were crafting for Orlais, but she didn’t have to like the tale spreading within Skyhold. Ara’lan shook her head and tried to smile towards the elf. She listed her answers to the rapid fire questions as best she could.

“I am not a princess no matter how many times Varric may say it. Thank you, I am happy to carry them. I did sleep for a very long time, yes, but it was not a curse.” Gathering her thoughts, her smile became less forced. “I am Ara’lan. Pleased to meet you...” she paused at the odd choice of name, “Daisy?”

“That’s just Varric’s name for her,” Hawke laughed and interjected. “I call her Merrill. Or sweetheart, if she’s being especially adorable.”

The elven woman gaped at Ara’lan, completely missing the endearment that made Varric groan. “Are you Dalish or from a city? How did you get your valasllin? I lived in the alienage in Kirkwall for a while. It was so exciting, if a bit damp. Was yours like that? Why did you leave?”

Feeling distinctly the amount of humans in the room and the true weight of so many questions, Ara’lan caught Katia’s eye. “If we are finished with this test, I would love to continue this conversation with a meal. Is that agreeable to everyone?”

Vivienne stepped forward, taking charge once more. “Yes,I think that will do. We’re quite finished for today. I will send the update to Élodie myself, Katia. There are a few things I have been meaning to ask her as well.”

“We’ll meet you at the tavern, Princess,” Varric called back as he ushered his friends away. “First round is on me.”

With a quick wave and word of thanks to Krem, Ara’lan moved behind the screens again. Katia helped her back out of the dress and brushed it smooth. Once back in her own clothing, Ara’lan felt more like facing a crowd. Her armour wouldn’t hold back a sword but it made her feel steadier in her own skin. It was only as she finished tying her footwraps that she remembered something important. If Varric was back, then the Inquisitor had returned. That meant Solas was back, too.

She hurried across the hall and straight into the rotunda. If anyone tried to catch her attention, she ignored them. Coming to an abrupt halt inside the room, her heart fell. It was just as quiet as when she passed through earlier. The candles had burned down some but his books were untouched. The chair was not moved. His paints were still stacked in the corner. He wasn’t here.

A scout was cutting through the room on his way up. Ara’lan turned and waved to get his attention.

“Excuse me. Did Solas come back with the Inquisitor? Might you know where I could find him?”

The scout pressed a fist to his shoulder and bowed. “Yes, miss. Everyone came back safe and sound. He’s with the Inquisitor in the war room. Should I fetch him for you?”

She shook her head. “No. Thank you. I will see him when he is finished.”

Her desire to see the proof of his safety warred with her need for patience. The world she lived in was rubbing off on her slowly but surely.

Ara’lan could wait. Having a distraction, like a very curious elf and a dwarf willing to buy her a drink, would help.

~ ~

“So I told him ‘Fine! Next time you ask the horse yourself!’”

The first sound that hit her as she opened the door was Varric’s voice. The climax of his story was answered by a round of thunderous applause and laughter. There were more people crammed into the small building than she expected. The heat from the roaring fire, the roll of many conversations , and the enclosed smells of people from all walks of life were a lot to take in all at once. Ara’lan paused in the doorway, beginning to rethink this whole venture. She waited just a moment too long.

“You got here just in time!”

The crowd parted, allowing her to see the dwarf gesture for her to join them at the table. Varric grinned, motioning to the others. An empty seat appeared. There was no turning back now. Ara’lan smiled nervously and let the door close behind her. She crossed the room, feeling eyes of all kinds on her but not looking up to see who they were. Many things had changed in her life since taking her first steps away from the clan in the Dirth. This was just another such change. If she couldn’t stand being seen by the friendly crowd in the Herald’s Rest, then how would she survive the scrutiny of Orlesian court?

She lifted her chin and relaxed her shoulders. She could do this. By the time she made it to the table, a drink had been set out for her and Varric’s audience had thinned. He was working on sending the last few faces she didn’t know on their way. Ara’lan nodded in his direction with relief.

The only ones who remained at the table were Varric, Hawke, and Merrill. The dwarf settled back in his seat. Hawke was stretched out in her chair as much as she could be while still technically sitting. From the flush of her cheeks, Ara’lan could tell Hawke was quite far into her cups. Merrill grinned, nearly bursting with the same enthusiasm as when they met.

“Now that business is settled, we can talk,” said Varric.

She frowned. “How do you have a private conversation in a place like this?”

Varric laughed. “You would be surprised, Princess. Finding a private corner is harder and more likely to be snooped. Here is safer.”

Ara’lan shrugged and took a sip of her drink. The ale was slightly warm but not unpleasant. “I will trust your judgement, Varric.”

“Then I will be careful not to break your trust.” His smile softened. “I didn’t tell them anything yet. Figured that was your story to tell.”

She nodded again. Her trust hadn’t been misplaced. “Thank you.”

Merrill squeaked, unable to contain herself any longer. “I promise I can keep a secret! Is it a big secret?”

Ara’lan couldn’t resist laughing. The elven woman was so young and vibrant. “You remind me of a friend I had when I was young, Merrill. They were always asking me so many questions, too. But that was to be expected of Curiosity. They were a strong spirit.”

Merrill’s eyes widened. “You were friends with a spirit? How?”

“I had a great number of spirit friends once. There was a time when they were not so far away as they are now. Elves and spirits shared a great many things, including long lasting friendships. That was a long time ago.”

Ara’lan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The reservations within her heart still held even in the face of all the support her new friends gave. She would not let fear hold her back. It didn’t mean it was easy to overcome. Not drawing it out seemed like a better idea.

“Merrill, I am not Dalish nor have I ever lived in an alienage.” Ara’lan spoke softly and clearly, keeping the tone of her voice lower than the chatter in the room so it wouldn’t travel far. “I was given my valasllin by the Mother herself when she crafted this body for me. I served her will until Arlathan fell. Then I slept. An attack by darkspawn destroyed the temple where I rested. I was the only survivor. The clan that saved me was from the Dirth, though they likely have moved on since I left them. They found me in 9:3 Dragon.”

Looking up from her mug, Ara’lan saw differing reactions around the table. Varric, who knew most of this story already, was calm. Merrill gaped. Her eyes were wide and shining, her lower jaw hung open loosely. The stunned look on her face made Ara’lan nervous.

“I should know by now to never take a bet from you, Varric.” Hawke grinned and slapped her hand on the table, leaving two silver coins behind. “A story big enough to make Merrill speechless, he said. Never thought I’d see the day.”

“I aim to please,” Ara’lan said dryly, turning her full attention to her drink.

Varric laughed and took his winnings politely. “It wasn’t my idea! Besides, Daisy will just have a ton more questions once she figures out where to start.”

Conversation turned lighter after that. Merrill still couldn’t find her voice but Hawke was more than able to fill in the space. She and Varric bantered back and forth, catching up from years apart. Ara’lan was content to listen, watch, and nurse her drink. They made sure to include her in their stories, adding in details that made her openly laugh or nearly cry at times. They had many stories to tell and kept getting lost in playful arguments along the way. It was clear how close the two of them were and how genuinely nice they could both be through all their snark and sass.

After a time, Merrill reached across the table and stopped just short of Ara’lan’s hand. She trembled slightly, like she was afraid to touch her. Merril was smiling though. None of her shock from earlier had worn away.

“Did you see Arlathan? Was it as beautiful as they say?” Her voice was low with wonder. “What was Mythal like? Did you meet any of the other Creators? I can’t believe I’m talking to you right now!”

“It was beautiful beyond measure.” Ara’lan smiled back, finally letting the last of her guard down. “It was also a city, teeming with life of many kinds, and Mythal was Mother to us all.”

The door opened behind them, letting a trace of the chilled air from outside in. It danced along Ara’lan’s back and made her shiver. People had come and gone many times since her arrival already, but no other time had the breeze found its way to her. She turned her head in time to catch Varric looking over her shoulder with a knowing smile. Curious, she followed his stare.

It was no soldier in the doorway this time. It was Solas and he was looking at her like there was no one else in the tavern. When he saw her attention, the corners of his eyes folded in a hint of a smile. It was enough to make her grin and blush lightly.

Varric cleared his throat roughly, making Hawke and Merrill laugh. Ara’lan didn’t acknowledge their antics. She could only imagine what would be said later.

“We’ll see you around, Princess. Thanks for coming out with us tonight. It’s been great.”

Ara’lan was grateful to Varric for the opening to leave. She turned a quick smile his way as she stood. “It truly has. Thank you all for such an interesting evening. I hope to see you again soon.”

Her feet couldn’t move fast enough. The space of two breaths felt like forever but she eventually found her way to his side. Solas stepped back and held the door for them both to leave. Once outside of the noise and chaos of the tavern she could breathe easier.

On dhea’lam, i've'an'virelan. Ea son?

Solas took one of her hands in both of his and held it tight. “Ame son, emma serannas.” He smiled openly at her. “Eman rahn ithas. Garas?

Vin.” She replied without a second thought, catching some of his excitement.

He shifted his grip to one hand, letting his long fingers lace between hers. Anchored by his touch, she felt more alive than she had in days. Back across the courtyard and up the steep steps he took her. The hall was quiet now. Only the occasional servant moved in the shadowed space. He didn’t pause. They went straight for his rotunda. Nubs of candles cast a faint light around the room. Solas looked back once in question. Ara’lan nodded, agreeing to whatever he desired.

Slowing his stride, Solas took her through a doorway she had never used before. It led not to another part of the fortress, but to a small room. The magic present in the space crawled across her skin. She could almost feel it in the air when she breathed. A desk covered in books took up more space than the bed or wash stand. Utility and study were all she saw. Everything around her had a trace of his influence. Even the scents she associated with him, old books, elfroot, and the distinct tang of his brand of magic, were stronger here than anywhere else. . This had to be his room.

Slowing his stride, Solas took her through a new door. It led not to another part of the fortress, but to a small room. The magic present in the space crawled across her skin. She could almost feel it in the air when she breathed. A desk covered in books took up more space than the bed or wash stand. Utility and study were all she saw. Everything around her screamed of his touch. This had to be his room.

Mar’an,” she teased. “Da’an’in.

He laughed and shook his head. “Te’rahn. Ithas.

A light touch to a stone in the upper corner of a wall caused a chain reaction. The wall itself responded, glowing faintly gold then fading away. Behind it was his surprise. Ara’lan gasped and covered her mouth with a trembling hand. The mirror barely fit into the alcove he revealed but it was there. It had been years beyond counting since she saw an eluvian intact and functional. A piece of the world she thought was completely lost woke slowly under Solas’ attention. The glass of the traveling mirror shimmered a soft blue. It waited for their instruction.

Solas, thu? Emas eluvian? Unsilan varem!

A light of joy danced in his eyes. Her surprise seemed to please him greatly. He lifted their joined hands to his lips and gently kissed her fingers. “Garas. Venas’i’em. Eman bel’rahn dirtha su’ma.

Heart racing in her chest, Ara’lan followed him through the eluvian.

Chapter Text

Eyes wide open, she held her breath as she passed through the magic of the Eluvian. Thousands of years of sleep and nearly a mortal lifetime in a world with so little magic didn’t change the familiarity of sensation. The magic of the Eluvian was alive as no other magic was, coursing with energy and power. It brushed her cheeks and arms with a warm caress. It was also over too soon.

When they exited the mirror, it was dark. Only the sensitivity of her eyes and the moonlight sneaking through cracks in the roof far above allowed her to see anything at all. They were in the ruins of a stone tower. The light of the portal they had taken blinked out quickly. On this side, the mirror was tarnished and old. It nearly disappeared into the overgrowth that climbed the walls. Ara’lan opened her mouth to ask a question, but Solas pressed a finger to her lips and shook his head. Indulgently, she smiled and waited. It took a moment only for her to hear the reason for his silence.

Through the archway across the room that once held a door, she heard the echoing screech of a dragon. The ground beneath her feet shook when it moved and a gust of wind tickled her cheeks. It was a great beast, if she could guess, and it was close. It paced, agitated, just beyond their exit path.

Solas took her into his arms and whispered in her ear. “It is not far now. Hold on.”

Amused, Ara’lan looped her arms around his neck and nodded her consent. In the time it took to exhale, the world around her changed. His magic permeated every sense as the scenery around them blurred. The dragon sniffed after them, leaving a sharp tang of its electric bite in the air, but they moved too fast for it to attack. She had witnessed Solas moving this way in battle but never knew it could feel so overwhelming and invigorating at once.

He stopped just outside a small glade. It was enclosed on nearly all sides, safe from unexpected arrivals. Releasing her from his arms, he slid his grip to her hand and tugged it in encouragement to follow. Ara’lan obliged, walking easily at his side, and staring up into the starlight sky. She saw two statues ahead of them, halla figures straight out of a time long gone. Their stones had aged poorly at the base, weathered and soft, but their faces were as regal and proud as the day they were carved. No amount of wind or rain could change their stature. Solas pulled her closer to his side with a smile.

“The Veil is thin here. Can you feel it?”

Ara’lan nodded happily. The air around them hummed with life and magic. It was stronger than the feather-light touches she felt within Skyhold. “Yes. Where are we?”

“This glen was dedicated to Ghilan’nain once. Some of the old magic still remains.” His smile faded. “Our People used it for refuge before the Fall.”

Before he could get caught up in the tale, Ara’lan hummed her understanding. She could feel the traces of magic lingering in the air and dancing across her skin.

“Is this my surprise? It is beautiful.”

“No, there is more.” Solas chuckled softly. “I was, trying to determine a way to show you what you mean to me.”

The warmth that flushed her cheeks brightened her smile. He had been thinking while he was away. Ara’lan held her hope high for an answer to their lingering questions. She reached up to cup his cheek in a hand.

“Please,” she beckoned just as softly. “Tell me.”

“The best gift I can offer you is the truth.” He sighed and leaned into her touch. “I did not dare hope that many of our People still lived. Of those, I never imagined a survivor with such a rare and marvelous spirit as yours. You have become important to me. More important than I could have imagined.”

Heart thudding in her chest, Ara’lan moved closer. He curled his arms around her waist and held her close but she could feel the slight tremble in his hands. This wasn’t easy for him.

“Solas.” She breathed his name, a plea and offer of strength, against the side of his neck. “‘Ma’lath.”

At the endearment Solas sighed again. His embrace tightened. He pressed a timid kiss to her cheek. Reluctantly, he took a step back.

“Before we go any further, before I cannot-” He grimaced against an idea she didn’t understand. “There is more. Please let me show you.”

Ara’lan followed his guidance once more to a section of wall fully draped in vines and growth. With a wave of his hand, the plants parted. They had concealed a small entrance. She glanced at him for a hint of what to expect. Solas only nodded, his face pale and expression blank. He gestured for her to keep going.

She entered the small space with great care, running her hands along the walls for balance. The sparse light from the stars didn’t shine past more than a few steps in and she didn’t want to fall. Ara’lan could hear Solas following her. The light behind her dimmed around his silhouette. She moved a few hesitant steps forward by feel alone.

A green light ahead of them flared to life. The magical flame burned cold and bright in a sconce mounted to the wall. Just ahead of her, the path opened to a circular space larger than she had thought possible. Remnants of life long gone remained on the floors and walls: broken pottery, the stone circle from an old fire pit, and paintings covering the walls. The artwork drew her attention over everything else. Ara’lan released a breath she didn’t know she was holding to approach one in particular.

Her fingers traced above the old, elvhen bodies without making contact. She was afraid to touch it and destroy a precious artifact as this. Other scenes were daily actions, battles, or hunts. Small pictures drawn by all different styles of hand. This scene was different. It was laid on the wall with bold colors and strokes that even in age didn’t fade. This was a ritual of some kind. Some elves stood before a cloaked figure with their heads bowed. Their faces held all manner of valasllin. The ones behind the figure were smiling, bare faced, and raising their arms in joy. Overseeing it all was a great, dark wolf. His head lifted as if caught mid-howl. He was beautiful.

“Fen’Harel.” The name fell from her lips as an awed whisper. “He led them out of bondage. He set them free.”

Ara’lan turned to look at Solas with a tender smile. He remembered what she said about the Wolf. Otherwise he wouldn’t have shown her this. She was sure of it. Her happiness stuttered when she saw the tension he carried. His lips pulled taut, arms now safely folded behind his back, he radiated unease. He refused to meet her eyes. She began to worry.

“Solas?”

He lifted a hand towards the painting, gesturing blindly. “Please,” he begged her. “Look again.”

Concerned enough to make her shiver, she did as he wished. By the feet of the wolf she saw the small trace of a rune. It shimmered brightly in the magical light. This old magic held, too. Fingers shaking, she reached out and touched the sigil. In an instant, they were enveloped in the memory. Elvhen men, women, and children filled the secret cave. Some cooked, some cleaned, some slept. Ara’lan could smell the sweat of those who toiled, mixed with the smoke of a cook fire. A lilting, wordless song faded in and out around her. It was a day in the life of those who once called this place home.

A new person, the hooded figure from the painting, stepped into the crowd. Everything slowly stopped. Like a spreading ripple in a pool, attention all around turned their focus on the arrival. The hooded elf moved through the group, murmuring to some, clasping hands with others. In all cases, the elves smiled brighter after contact with him. He eased their troubles.

The elf stopped and knelt by a wounded elven man. A short conversation was whispered between them. She couldn’t hear the words. They weren’t part of the memory. Ara’lan saw the blue light of a spell dance over the wounded elf’s face and gasped in understanding. When the hooded elf moved away, the old warrior smiled in relief. His face was bare. The hooded figure left him with a nod to sit by the fire, leaning hands out for warmth.

She couldn’t resist. The memory wasn’t hers and she couldn’t speak with any of the people. They were long gone. But she could move between them. She walked slowly, careful not to break the scene apart. Ara’lan knelt across the fire from the hooded elf to see what, or who, was hiding under the folds of the hood.

Her jaw fell open in surprise. It was a male elf, lean of face and figure. Coils of dark auburn hair fell over his right shoulder, most of the length caught in the hood of his cloak. Age didn’t touch his sharp features but his expression was still heavy with burden. His shoulders sagged under the weight. An impulse made her look closer. There was something familiar about his face. The longer she looked, the more she began to recognize: the scar on his forehead, his bare face, the dusting of freckles across his cheeks. He opened his sad eyes and she knew she was right.

“You?!”

Ara’lan looked up at Solas in time to see him flinch away from her voice. Abandoning the vision, she rushed to his side. He kept his posture tense and his eyes on his feet, waiting for her chastisement. She captured his cheeks in her hands and coaxed him gently until he looked up at her.

“I knew you were a rebel.” She smiled kindly. “You have no valasllin and survived the ages. I assumed you were allied with the Wolf. With your talents it makes perfect sense you were a priest of his. Why does this trouble you to show me?”

“Fen’Harel had no priests.” His words cracked around the edges.

The memory, having run its course, faded away into silence. Solas closed his eyes. When they opened again, they weren’t the same color she loved so dearly. They were a swirling silver.

“I was Solas first. Fen’Harel was an insult I took as a badge of pride. It gave hope to my friends and fear to my enemies.” He smiled bitterly. “The People needed me, but what I became-”

The power behind his stare stole the air from her lungs and caused her heart to race. The first thought in Ara’lan’s mind was to run. Fighting against it, she bit her lip. He was not like Mythal. Her power, fire and pain and command, had felt different. Solas, Fen’Harel, felt like clarity. He needed her to understand.

“Atishan, Fen’Harel.” Her lips shook but her voice held steady.

Ara’lan slowly gathered her nerve. He wasn’t the Mother. He wouldn’t hurt her. She brushed a thumb across his cheek, encouraging him to continue. Closing his eyes once more, he let out a breath. They were storm grey again when he opened them. His voice broke under the weight of his shame.

“And now you know. Everything I hoped, everything I tried to do for our People, it all went so horribly wrong.”

Ara’lan pressed her forehead to his and sighed. “I see you, Fen’Harel. I see you and I am not afraid.”

His eyes widened, searching her face for meaning. A tremble rolled through Ara’lan, settling under her toes. She felt the urge to run for a different reason. Her own memories stirred. In this place she could almost feel the edges of the Fade, close enough to grasp. She wished she could show him as he had shown her. But her magic was too weak. She would have to hope her voice was strong enough.

“I see you and I am not afraid. Believe me. Please.”

Ara’lan repeated herself, willing him to feel her conviction. Everything between them hung in the balance. He had taken a great risk in giving her his truth. She had to do the same.

“I knew your people well. They filled my home with your songs of hope. I wanted to help. I was born to help. They needed rest, healing, caring. I could give that to them. They called me asha’ladara. Every time they asked me to follow them. Every time I stayed. More would come and need me.” Tears coursed down her cheeks but she held his gaze. It had to be said. He needed to know. “I waited too long. One of Mythal’s nobles found out what I was doing. Hunters came and claimed the ones too weak to run. The only reason I lived was the will of Mythal. She saved me but she would not save the others. She bound me to her will. Commanded that I not interfere. Then she sent me away.”

Something within Solas crumbled. A tormented noise broke in his throat. It never made it past his clenched teeth. His posture softened. He moved quickly to wrap his arms around her again, holding her tight. Ara’lan buried her face in his shoulder, holding him just as tight.

“No one will harm you again.” He whispered his promise with steady conviction and kissed the top of her head. “I swear it. When this is over, if we live, I will see you be free.”

“I have time. She has not called for me yet. Ages have passed without her touch.” Ara’lan relaxed in his arms. “I know I am safe with you.”

He made a soft noise of bewildered acceptance and rubbed her back gently. The tension eased out of them both one shared breath at a time.

“Solas.” She murmured his name against his skin, heart racing in her chest. “Bound or free, I am yours as long as you will have me.”

He eased his grip enough to look at her face. Ara’lan saw a decision solidify in his eyes. “As I am yours, vhenan.” He pressed his lips softly to hers, sealing his promise with a true kiss. “As I am yours.”

Chapter Text

After they returned from Crestwood, things began to change between them. Subtle at first, like the fresh flowers on the table by her bed each morning and the sweet roll with her breakfast, then growing more bold, him taking her by the hand when they walked in the garden or escorting her to her room each night. Solas was choosing to court her in his own, subtle way. Amidst the strain of her lessons and fittings, the chaos of others buzzing about what Orlais needed, wanted, and expected, and the looming darkness of why they were all together, this was something sweet she could keep for herself.

Things around them changed quickly. Barely a week after their return, Katia, finished with her observations and tests, returned to Jader and Madame Élodie. They would bring the final dress to the Ghislain estate near Halamshiral where everyone would be getting ready before attending the Ball. Vivienne, satisfied that Ara’lan had learned enough to not make a fool of herself at court, left around the same time. The Duke and his family were not attending the Ball so the estate needed to be opened for their arrival. Mahanon was in meeting after meeting. The few times she saw him was in passing when he staggered off to his room, exhausted.

Free to spend her time as she wished during the day, Ara’lan dove back into helping around the fortress. There were always things to be mended or carried or baked. It garnered her a few odd looks at first but once they realized she really enjoyed helping, it was easier. The kitchen staff especially were appreciative. Mary thought she was ridiculous and told her often.

“You really don’t have to do this, miss.” Mary shook her head and lifted a crate of vegetables to rest on her hip. “Someone of your importance has to have better things to do than getting their hands dirty in the kitchen.”

Ara’lan shook a dirty spoon in Mary’s direction, a few drops of soap flying through the air. “No one is too important to carry their weight. Especially since a good number of the kitchen staff have been sent ahead with Enchanter Vivienne.”

“You’re impossible. You know that, right?” Mary laughed, her voice lowering conspiratorially. “Will I need to bring you dinner tonight or will you be out late again?”

The way Mary teased her brought a shy smile to Ara’lan’s face. “I will be out, thank you. Solas is finishing a panel of the wall tonight and I wanted to watch.”

A knowing grin was the only answer Mary gave before she disappeared through the doorway with her delivery. Mary had grown to be a dear friend through everything. Being worried over and fussed at like she did was much nicer than simply being spied upon.

Ara’lan wasn’t the only one hard at work. Research into the tears in the Fade waited for no one, especially not Orlais and the Great Game. Hawke and Merrill had left to find the Wardens but the information they had brought was enough to begin work. She could hear Solas arguing with Dorian and himself, from the upper levels of the library as she worked. They debated in circles around theory after theory. The once peaceful rotunda turned into a hub of activity during the day with all the messengers the pair sent out. It was a stark contrast to the mundane concerns about a Ball.

Once the sun set and candles lit for evening, she interfered. Neither Dorian nor Solas would remember to eat while they worked so she often brought them a meal. Ever grateful for gossip, Dorian would quiz her for stories while they ate. It only took a few nights for him to turn the questions in her direction.

“What about you, hmm?” Dorian gave Ara’lan a meaningful look, shifting his eyes in Solas’ direction. “Has our princess fallen for the hobo apostate after all?”

It wasn’t the first time anyone had asked. Ara’lan preferred to smile and shrug most of the questions away. Their budding relationship didn’t need to be shouted from the ramparts to be special to her. Before she could give Dorian the same deflection, Solas surprised her. He stepped to her side and rested his hand on her hip. The gentleness of his touch matched with the smile on his lips and she blushed. Lost for words, she nodded.

“I can’t imagine what you see in him, my dear, but if you’re happy then I will be happy for you.”

Solas stiffened slightly at the insult. Ara’lan leaned into his side and gave her answer to him as much as her friend. “I am very happy, Dorian. More than I have been in quite some time.”

“Good. Well.” Placated, Dorian backed down. “Should that change, you know how to find me.”

After eating, she curled up on a sofa and quietly watched them work late into the night, pacing out frustrations or hunched over tomes and scrolls. When they hit a dead end or became too frustrated to think, Dorian would retire for the evening. Once he was gone, Solas would collapse onto the sofa with her. Arms wrapped tight around her body, face pressed into the side of her neck, she would hold him close. Soft murmurs of encouragement soothed him as much as the physical contact.

For all the Dalish feared the Wolf, she knew better. He was powerful, yes. They called him a peer of their Gods for good reason. He was also a person who felt and lived like any other. After the revelations they shared in the dark cave in Crestwood, he had let his guard stay down around her. Then he was her peer instead. It freed them both.

This night he was alone. Dorian had found another refuge for the evening. Briefly she hoped Mahanon was benefiting a visit from his favorite mage. Solas smiled when she entered, not looking up from stirring a small jar of color. Ara’lan didn’t want to interrupt since he had already begun. The murals were being put together in the old way so his focus was intense on the act. She kissed him quickly on the cheek and took up her spot on the sofa.

Seeing Solas this way, paint flecks on his bare arms, worn sweater sleeves rolled up to the elbows, forehead creased in a deep frown of concentration, made her heart beat just a little faster. He was too busy to catch her staring. She loved watching the art take shape on the wall. It was his gift to the Inquisition as much as it was an homage to their past. The artist was just as beautiful in her eyes as the creation. He grumbled and hummed to himself as he moved in an improvised kind of dance that had more grace than the steps Vivienne made her learn.

The soft scratch of his brush and tools as the time passed lulled her into a blissful state halfway between asleep and awake. Ara’lan’s thoughts drifted, feeling the ebb and flow of muted magic in the room. It drew from deep within the earth below them like a breath. In and out. Back and forth. It felt like safety and surety. The magic would linger long after the stones were dust.

Her mind was brought back to the world by a light kiss to her lips. She smiled, feeling his energy and warmth around her, and kissed him back before opening her eyes.When she finally did, she found him hovering over her, a sparkle of mischief in his eyes. The candles had burned down to stubs and it was very late.

Ara’lan turned her head to see the newest panel was complete. It would dry and set by morning but hold all the bold colors he used for ages. This scene was a depiction of the razing of Haven and arrival of their foe. The chaos and miracle that gave Mahanon his newest title seemed so simple in art form. It held all of the severity of the act with none of the burden her friend now carried.

“It’s beautiful, ‘ma’lath.”

He made a soft noise in his throat in answer. With a nudge against her cheek with his nose, he drew her attention back to his face. This time his kiss was more demanding. The heat of it pulled a faint whimper from her throat and tingled all the way down to her toes. It was a surprising and welcome change of pace from his recent actions. She couldn’t help but lean into his kiss. Tongues and lips danced in rhythm until her breath stuttered in her chest and she had to release him for air. Her cheeks flushed and pupils blown wide, she was an open book of desire. Solas smirked, quite satisfied with himself and her reaction.

“We will have little time to ourselves before leaving for Orlais. If you allow it, I would like to spend the night with you.” He paused and cleared his throat. A hint of color touched the tips of his ears and brushed across his cheeks. “Please.”

Ara’lan grinned and her heart soared. He made it her choice. She knew what it meant to him to give up any control. Her permission was important to him. Idly running her fingers along the back of his neck, she felt him suppress a shiver.

“I will allow it,” she teased. “But only if you stay. My mornings are better started in your arms.”

He half laughed, half growled at her. “‘Ma’arasha, it would be easier to keep the sun from rising than to deny you.”

She flushed happily. “Come to bed then. While we still have time.”

Taking her by the hand, he helped her up from her seat. His grin held so much promise it kept her heart racing. Their fingers laced together naturally as they left the rotunda behind. In such a late hour the halls were mostly quiet. Guards held their posts, simply nodding as they passed. Messengers were few, more concern for their errands than anything else. A few paces away from her door, Ara’lan stopped short. Solas looked over her shoulder to see a woman he didn’t recognize quietly exiting their current destination.

“Oh!” Mary grinned and flushed, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you, miss. Just leaving a note.”

Ara’lan nodded, squeezing Solas’ hand briefly. “It is fine, Mary. What did you need?”

“Lady Josephine says everyone that’s going to Halamshiral is leaving tomorrow and, well, I was hoping you’d let me come with you.” Mary’s eyes fell to the floor as she stammered. “I’ve never seen anything as fancy as all that. Mistress Nightingale said I could, but only if I can go with you.”

“Of course she did.” Ara’lan sighed. The Spymaster was being more clear in her methods for a change. “And of course you can come with me. Just do try to let me sleep in a little in the morning please?”

Mary looked up, excited. She finally noticed the elven apostate standing behind her friend. She giggled and nodded furiously, blushing again. “As late as you like, miss! Thank you so much! You have a great night! You too, ser Solas.”

The woman ran from them both, too happy to contain herself to simply walking. Solas chuckled and shook his head. He pressed a quick kiss to Ara’lan’s cheek.

“You are remarkable,” he whispered softly.

Ara’lan turned and caught his lips briefly with her own before he could back away. “We can discuss my manners later, ‘ma’lath.”

Solas hummed his agreement and pulled her close, chasing her lips for a deeper kiss. She melted into his embrace, looping her arms around his neck and pressing flush against his chest. Her breath stuttered against his lips in anticipation. He growled and nipped at her bottom lip.

“I know of many things we can discuss later, vhenan.” His grip tightened, fingers tracing a heated path down her spine. “First, I want to hear you cry out my name.”

He loosened his grip enough that Ara’lan could step back. Her hand trembled but she grasped a fistful of his sweater, backing the rest of the way to her door. She nudged it open with her hip, not wishing to look away from the hungry set of his eyes. The lock clicked in place behind them, shutting out the rest of the world for just a little while longer.

Chapter Text

The door clicked shut behind him and his magic flared. It was the same spell as he used last time. She could tell by how it tingled against her skin and left a trace of his scent in the air. This time it was more than a privacy spell. It felt more like the magical whisper within his rotunda, leaving her senses heightened slightly. This was a gift from him. She smiled at the sentimental gesture. A nudge with one of his hands brought the fireplace back to life, bathing them both in its light. A few paces further back into the room, Ara’lan stopped.

I have missed you, ‘ma’lath.

Solas hummed deep in his throat and reached up to cup her face in his hands. Warm and soft, his hands were still so strong. Ara’lan smiled warmly and settled her hands on his hips. She felt his presence surround her with comfort. Whether a trick of his magic or an amplification of her own senses, she wasn’t sure. It hardly mattered. He revealed a warmth and power in private that he kept hidden in public. She loved that he trusted her with this side of himself. He leaned closer, the sensation of his breath below her ear as he whispered making her shiver.

If I have neglected you in any way, tell me now so I may correct it.”

His tone, mostly teasing, held a heat and rumble that caused a jump in her pulse. He angled her jaw up gently with his thumbs and kissed a slow path down the side of her neck. Her hands tensed against him, clutching at the fabric of his tunic and belt. While his lips moved against her skin, she couldn’t find words to answer his request. Her silence made him stop and look her in the eyes.

“Tell me, ‘ma’arasha. Please.”

Ara’lan flushed to the roots of her amber hair. Staring back at him in mock challenge, she pulled at her bottom lip with her teeth. For all his teasing, it caught his attention. That was enough to buy her time to focus.

“You have let me want for nothing, ‘ma’lath.”

Solas rewarded her with a grin. His hands released her face to explore more of her body. From the tender pulse at the side of her neck to the hint of collarbone revealed by the neckline of her tunic to the soft curve of the side of her breasts, he mapped her torso over her clothes with achingly slow movements. Ara’lan held as still as possible, letting the feel of his hands wipe away any worries that lingered.

“Then how could you have missed me?”

She grinned, laughing softly. This was a game she could play with him. “Flowers are beautiful in the morning. The snacks with my tea are as sweet as your thoughts for me.” Ara’lan hummed, the heat of his touch distracting her. “They will never please me as much as waking in your arms.”

That was the right answer. Solas grinned and tugged at the edges of her tunic. His nimble fingers slipped around the fabric to brush against her skin. Ara’lan lifted her arms to grant permission and he lifted the garment over her head and dropped it on the floor. His kisses and murmured affections continued on across Mythal’s branches below her collar bone and down the center of her chest. His hands kept moving, too. Warming and soothing her nerves, he gently massaged the muscles in her lower back.

“I stand corrected.” Still faintly teasing, she could see his breath catch in his chest and feel his fingers tensing against her skin. His need matched her own. “You distract me in ways I never thought possible. The one shining star left in all the world and you chose me to be by your side.”

Her heart thudded in her chest. She couldn’t hold still any longer. Fingers clenching tight against the fabric of his sweater, she gave him a little shake.

“Solas.”

He lifted his gaze at the sound of his name. The look of awe in his eyes took her breath away. All the reasons she could have given him for her affection sat at the tip of her tongue. He was creative and stubborn, thoughtful and belligerent, a god and flesh and blood. Ara’lan smiled. Only one reason mattered.

“I chose you because I love you.”

He captured her lips in a heated kiss. The game was over. Solas only released her long enough to roughly tug his sweater and tunic over his head, dropping it to the floor. The rest of their clothes were removed with the same impatient ardor. His tongue danced with hers as his hands found more of her skin to caress and press against his own. She panted hard when they paused for breath, her nails scratching lightly against his back, stomach, arms, and anywhere she could reach. Once fully undressed he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to bed.

Laid out against the sheets, him settling between her legs, he paused. Almost reverent in his affection, he left soft kisses between her breasts, just over her heart. “‘Ma’ arasha, ‘ma’asha, ‘ma vhenan.”

“Then love me,” she whispered, hips lifting to accentuate her point. Her breath caught in her throat, drawing out a moan. “Love me and claim me as yours for I will have no other.”

~ ~

Morning came too soon. Tucking her head under the sheets, Ara’lan buried her face against Solas’ chest to hide from the light. He chuckled, already awake. His arms wrapped tighter around her, holding her close. She pressed a warm kiss to his skin, taking in a deep breath of his scent to commit it to memory.

“When this Game is finished I would have the others know of my choice should you agree.”

Solas hummed in agreement and ran his fingers through her hair. In her relaxed state it was enough to send shivers down her spine and nearly curl her toes. She almost didn’t hear him murmur his reply.

“As you wish, my love.”

Her grin blossomed across her face and she peeked from her hiding place to look at him. He was smiling, too. The strength and youth still in his heart was clearly written on face and glimmered in his eyes. Years of worry and strain were gone from his expression and he was more beautiful than she had ever seen. Her heart ached to know it wouldn’t last.

A knock on her door shattered the remains of their fantasy. Mary’s soft voice on the other side reminded Ara’lan that this was to be a momentously busy day ahead for everyone. Making her friend wait on her selfishness would only cause others distress. Solas seemed to agree. He kissed her tenderly before rolling out of her bed to find his clothes.

“Just a moment, Mary,” Ara’lan called. “I will be right there.”

She curled up in the warm space Solas left in her bed to watch him dress. He caught her eye only once and she met his gaze without shame. He chuckled but kept moving. Each layer of clothing was also him putting back on the humble apostate facade. If it weren’t for the mirth in his eyes and his relaxed stature, anyone might never have known how he spent his evening. He kissed her once more, lingering long enough for her to know he wasn’t leaving her side easily, before he went to open the door.

Mary smiled, nodding in greeting as her hands were full with the breakfast tray. “Good morning, ser. Will you be joining Miss for breakfast? I could go get another mug for the tea.”

He grimaced, making Ara’lan laugh. She knew how he felt about it. “Thank you, no. I have things I should see to before we leave.” His expression softened when he looked back to look at her, still curled up in the sheets he helped to wrinkle. “If the days ahead keep us apart, then I will see you in your dreams.”

“I would welcome you there as eagerly as I do to my bed,” she replied with a sly grin.

Solas laughed easily in agreement and left with a wave. Mary stared after him, mouth gaping and confusion folding her brow in knots.

“Do I even want to know what that was about?”

“Likely not anything worse than what you might say to a lover of yours,” Ara’lan laughed and gave up on her cocoon of blankets. “Now if this day is going to be as stressful as I expect, I would enjoy your company while it begins. Join me for breakfast please and I will hear your advice for my trials ahead.”

~ ~

It took very little time to prepare after Mary left. In the previous days, Leliana and Mary had selected the few books she would need on the journey and smuggled them away. The Lady Ambassador insisted that Ara’lan have an entire wardrobe for their time in Orlais so those clothes were already packed, too. Her small pack held the few items she wouldn’t dare to leave behind or part with: simple toiletries, the carved halla gifted by Hawen, a dagger from Olafin, extra footwraps, and her favorite tunic.She draped her cloak over her shoulders, pinning the clasp.

The armor so lovingly gifted by the clan before her departure sat in its place on the stand in the corner of the room. Ara’lan paused a moment to trace her fingers over the lacings and decorations. There would be no place for such things on this journey. As comforted as she was by the presence of her new friends, and her lover, she couldn’t forget how she ended up in such a place. By luck or by chance, she owed everything to the little Dalish clan and its Keeper.

“The heart of the Dales gave me this chance,” she whispered to the leathers. “I will be grateful for all my days.”

Turning from the memory, she shouldered her pack and opened the door. Ara’lan gasped, surprised to see an Inquisition soldier on the other side, one hand raised as if to knock. He stumbled back a step and bowed his head low. Lifting his helmet from his head, she relaxed when she recognized him.

“Loranil,” she scolded with a grin, “You startled me!”

The young elf blushed but grinned right back. “Sorry! I was meaning to surprise you but not scare you. Commander Cullen said my training was going so well that I could go with you to Orlais as your personal honor guard. Isn’t that amazing?”

Ara’lan sighed, trying not to take offense. It was the plan that she was playing the part of an honored adviser to the Inquisitor. She had hoped to avoid much of the dramatics until later. He just looked so proud of himself that she didn’t have the heart to correct him.

“Then I am certain I will be protected well.”

She waved her hand to move him a bit further so she could close the door behind her. Another safe space she would leave behind. Turning her back on it to face the future, she nodded to her new guard.

“Lead on then, my honorable soldier.”

Shoulders squared and steps proud, Loranil did as she bade him. He lead her down the steps, through the great hall, and out to the courtyard where the others were assembling. It was a busy place but everyone moved with efficiency. Ara’lan briefly saw Dorian among them. He caught her eye for a moment and waved her over before shifting back his attention to a conversation he was finishing. By the time she made it to his side, whatever had passed between him and Mahanon was finished.

“I will see you tonight,” Mahanon murmured. He smiled at Ara’lan, his attitude changing before her eyes. “Glad you could make it! If I were you, I would have run at first light and never looked back.”

She laughed. “And leave you to this mess alone, lethal’lin? I am not so cruel.”

“I’ll remember you said that later when you’ve changed your mind.” Mahanon gave her a quick hug and whispered in her ear. “Keep an eye on my mage, lethal’lan. I need him safe.”

Ara’lan hugged him tightly. “I will. I promise. You are stronger than all this nonsense, lethal’lin. Never forget who you are.”

He stepped back and bowed to them both with a soft smile. The Inquisitor walked away, calling out commands and smart jibes as he went. Ara’lan watched him go with equal parts worry and pride in her heart. He was so young for the burden he carried. The magic in his hand and the faith on his shoulders, she feared for a day he might break under the strain.

An embellished carriage stopped by their side. It bore two crests, one of the Inquisition and one of what she recognized as the Ghislain crest. Dorian opened the door and bowed to her with a great flourish. This was unexpected.

“The valued members of the Inquisition are required to travel in style, I’m afraid.” Dorian grinned, not bothered in the least by this development. “Luckily you’ll have my company to keep you distracted from all this unnecessary frivolity.”

Ara’lan looked out to the crowd, seeing the others being herded into carriages of their own. Solas and Varric were in the one behind them. She caught the elf’s eye and saw a flash of a grin before he disappeared into the enclosure. Her cheeks flushed warmly.

“Come, my dear. The sooner we’re off, the sooner we’re done with all this ridiculousness.” Dorian patted her arm, sympathy in his eyes. “Our men will have to do without the great pleasure of our company for a time. The illustrious Madame de Fer arranged it this way, I suspect. We might as well make the best of it.”

She smiled at the gesture and gave his hand a squeeze. “Yes we will. I couldn’t ask for a better traveling companion or friend.” Ara’lan tossed her pack onto the floor and climbed in to take her seat.

“Naturally!” He laughed and followed her inside. “Now that I have you all to myself, I have so many questions!”

Ara’lan groaned, still grinning. Orlais and the Great Game lay ahead of her and she wasn’t alone. They would survive. Whether they won or lost would be determined by their actions but they would stand together either way.

Chapter Text

The journey didn’t feel as long as she feared. Ara’lan credited that to the quality of her company and the few bottles of wine Dorian had secreted into the carriage. He truly had an army of questions to ask her. Some were easy, focusing on her understanding of human politics and trends. Eventually his questions grew heavier.

“Now that I don’t have anyone else to interrupt me, I was hoping to ask you about something more personal.” Dorian smiled warmly. “Specifically about your history, if you don’t mind.”

Ara’lan nodded. She remembered her initial bargain with him. That they were becoming close friends made it easier. With fewer ears to overhear her answers this time, she felt comfortable enough to give him free reign. “Of course. I will do my best to explain whatever you need to know.”

Dorian grinned. “Excellent! You said you were a spirit once. Did you know what kind? What were you called? Did spirits have names like people do or were they more like titles? How did you see the world?”

Swallowing a sip of her wine, Ara’lan grinned to match. His enthusiasm was amazing. It was easy and a bit of a relief to tell him her truth. Dorian would understand.

“My first thoughts in the world were as a spirit,” she began. “I was born from the ambient energy within a great library of Arlathan. At first I didn’t have a name. I only had questions. A spirit of Wisdom found me and gave me my first name. To spirits names and titles are the same thing. Spirits then, and even now, embodied the essence of ideals. I was Innovation. I saw the world as a puzzle to be solved, a thing to be improved. By asking the right questions at the right times, I helped others see the world the same.”
“Fascinating!” Dorian laughed. “I could have used a spirit like you in my younger years. Perhaps that’s why we get along so well! Had you ever possessed anyone? Or felt tempted to do so?”

“Possession was not unheard of in ancient times. But it was different. If someone agreed, they would welcome a spirit into their body. Experiences and knowledge would be shared for a time. Then when both parties agreed, it would end and they would become two separate beings again. No one was harmed.” Ara’lan paused to choose her next words carefully. As open-minded as the Tevinter mage seemed, there was a limit to everyone. She hoped she wouldn’t meet his soon. “It did not always work out as intended. Some wished to never release the bond. Spirits could still be corrupted or consumed. Elvhen could lie and abuse them or be overwhelmed by their power and lose control.”

“So for all the glamour of ancient times, people were still people. Can’t say that I’m surprised though it’s comforting to know that Tevinter didn’t do it first.” Dorian hummed in understanding. “What made you change? I couldn’t imagine giving up such a variety of possibilities was an easy decision.”

“The world was changing and I wanted to help.” Ara’lan shrugged, faintly uncomfortable at the memory. “The Evanuris had begun to fight among themselves and people were turning to war instead of creation. I had hoped that I could change that. Being a spirit thrust into such a volatile predicament as that would have corrupted me from my purpose. I petitioned the Council of Elders for a chance to be given a permanent form of my own. It was Mythal herself that answered. Her price was one thousand years of service in her name. It seemed like a trifle then.”

Dorian took her hands in his and squeezed them gently in comfort. “You used that word before. Evanuris? Who were they?”

“Leaders. The Dalish call them the Creators or Gods now but they were once the rulers of Elvhenan. More like kings and queens but still just as powerful as you could imagine. Immortality and magic were part of being Elvhen. They were just the strongest of us all.”

Ara’lan used the warmth of his hands around hers to ground her mood. The Evanuris were gone. Their direct influence hadn’t been felt in millenia. She was safe enough as long as she didn’t focus too hard on the reasons for this journey. A broken sky, fanatical magister, and the threat of world-ending danger was easier to tolerate than her past.

“Carrying all that history inside you when the world doesn’t want it to be true can be a burden to anyone, never mind someone with a heart as soft as you. It takes a lot to not cave under the pressure. Even I would have given up hope a long time ago.” Dorian’s tone was gentle. “Thank you for trusting me with this. I know it can’t be easy.”

“It is not,” she admitted. “But I am grateful to have someone like you to trust.”

He squeezed her hands again and smiled. “Perhaps it’s odd to say, but I think of you as a friend, Ara’lan. I have precious few friends. For your trust in me, I can offer you little else. No matter the challenge, I will stand with you.”

Ara’lan’s heart swelled and she smiled back at him. “You are a good man, Dorian. And a better friend than you think.”

“Well. Thank you. But that’s enough of that. I can’t stand confessions.” He cleared his throat and looked away, clearly uncomfortable with the honest sentiment. “In more pressing matters, how are things with you and our apostate, hmm? He’s not looking over my shoulder so you can tell me the truth.”

She flushed across her cheeks and up her ears, caught off-guard by the shift in conversation. “Things are, well,” she stammered for a moment, finally breaking into a laugh. “Things are amazing. Truly. How are you and Mahanon? Able to find time for each other well enough?”

“Our beloved Inquisitor is childish, arrogant, and an utter bore. I have no idea how I put up with him.” Dorian squared his shoulders and looked down his nose but the sparkle in his eyes gave away his joy. “Somehow I get by.”

Their conversation quickly turned to gossip and lighter fare. By the time they ran out of topics and wine, the sun was setting and the carriage had come to a stop. Per arrangements made by the Ambassador, the entourage was going to spend the few nights on the road in the comfort of inns along the way. It was a gesture of openness and a display of the Inquisition’s success, she had said. While it was nice to have a bed and a bath, Ara’lan missed the privacy afforded by camping in tents. Mary buzzed in excitement by her side, clearly adoring the adventure. Loranil followed in her shadow, proud of his position as her personal guard. The pretense sat heavily on her shoulders. Ara’lan did her best to bear it with grace. It wasn’t their fault she was used to doing things on her own.

Aside from a few heated looks across the table at meals, she saw very little of Solas. He and the rest of the Inquisitor’s closest companions were kept busy planning for what was ahead. While she had been learning about Orlais, dancing, and playing the Game, they had been working on a plan to save the Empress. She could only watch from her side of the room and feel the divide between them. Everyone had a job to do and they only had a few days to finish the details.

In the morning Mary woke her, helped her get dressed, shared a quick meal, and they loaded back into the carriage. Such was the pattern for their trip. The Inquisition moved through towns and villages with great efficiency. It was a shorter trip for the use of carriages but it still took almost a week. The days began to blur together quite quickly.

On the last night of their journey, her routine was interrupted by a pleasant surprise. Solas was waiting by her door. Mary muttered something about getting her bath ready and went inside. It wasn’t quite privacy but it was better than nothing.

Ara’lan smiled warmly and kept her voice low. “Tomorrow it begins.”

He nodded and took her hands in his. His thumbs ran along her knuckles tenderly. “It does, vhenan. Are you ready for the challenges ahead?”

“As ready as I can be, yes. It has been some time since I was last at court.”

His grip tightened and resolve flashed in his eyes. “You will excel. I know it. They have never met anyone as capable and beautiful as you.”

Ara’lan blushed happily at his praise. “Flatterer.”

A cough at the end of the hall interrupted their moment. Ara’lan turned to find the incredibly uncomfortable appearance of her guard and charge, Loranil. He looked every bit as unhappy to interrupt them as she felt.

“Sorry, ha’hren.” The young elf turned a shade of pink. “I was just wanting to say goodnight. I can come back later.”

“There is no need. I should not linger much longer or else I might never leave at all.”

Solas laughed softly under his breath, relieving the tension and drawing her attention back to him. He lifted one of her hands to his lips and kissed the inside of her wrist lightly. A chilled trace of magic rolled up her arm. Ara’lan gasped and blushed.

“Rest well, ‘ma’asha, and never forget my promise.” From the mischief in his eyes, that was the reaction he wanted. “Tomorrow Orlais will fall at your feet.”

With a swagger in his step, he left her side and nodded as he passed Loranil. The young elf gaped after him then nearly tripped over his feet to get to the door before Ara’lan could open it herself. He pulled it open and bowed.

“Pleasant rest, ha’hren.” He looked everywhere except at her face, showing his shy innocence for just a brief moment. “I will escort you to your carriage in the morning. The earlier we start tomorrow, the sooner we’ll arrive.”

“Thank you, Loranil,” she answered, swallowing a small laugh. It wasn’t his fault that he was so flustered by romance. “I will see you then.”

~ ~

Arriving at the Ghislain estate within Halamshiral was uneventful on the surface. Opulence was the flavor of Orlais and a city like this wasn’t one to be lacking. From her studies, Ara’lan knew this was the winter home for the royal family. Houses large enough to compare to memories of Arlathan towered overhead. The carriages made a quick path from the city gates to their destination. It was almost too quick for her to stare.

Exiting the carriage, Ara’lan felt overwhelmed. There were so many people and things moving about. Servants from the house collected their belongings. Stable hands, no less fantastically dressed, collected the animals. Dorian was whisked away before she could wave goodbye. Ara’lan stood still, awkwardly waiting for instruction or a clear path.

As she watched, she noticed a singular fact. Nearly all the servants were elves. Skyhold had a mix of elves and humans wandering the grounds at all times. Rank was determined at a glance by either form of dress or what a person carried, such as a sword, platter of food, crates, or papers. This was another thing Orlais did differently. Only a few humans stood out among the staff and they were doing more directing of actions than actual work.

Mary drew her from her thoughts, startling her with a light touch at her elbow. “Come along, miss. Let’s get you cleaned up and changed. We arrived with little time to spare.”

“Of course.” Ara’lan sighed. She was glad to have a guide in this. Studying all the books and stories wasn’t the same as being immersed in the lifestyle. “Thank you, Mary. You are a great help.”

Waving off the compliment with a happy grin, Mary steered Ara’lan towards the mansion. “I don’t have to worry about too much while we’re here. The sooner you get to the party, the sooner I can explore.”

Her room was bigger than the one in Skyhold and more elaborately designed than she had ever seen. More gold touches shined everywhere she turned. Heavy blue and gold curtains draped around the windows, each bearing the Ghislain crest in repeating patterns. Her toes sank into a soft, red carpet. Everything else was shades of white and cream. A lovely space for nobility, she was sure.

A dress form in one corner of the room stood out for its lack of flair. It was covered in a sheet but she could tell the garment underneath had at least a full skirt. Ara’lan wanted to investigate but Mary interrupted. Curiosity could be sated later. She brought over a basin to wash herself up quickly, then dug into the trunk for clothing. At a knock, more people arrived. Two Elven girls, young ladies wearing simple masks marking them as members of the Ghislain household, preceded Katia and Madame Élodie. The older woman muttered a greeting and pulled the sheet from the dress form.

Under the cover was a wide skirted, silverite dress. The neckline dropped low enough to reveal the valasllin below her collar bones. Sleeveless, it would be daring enough just for that. The stiff bodice would hug her slight curves enough to compliment her lean frame. Ara’lan liked the style but was confused at the simplicity. Orlesian fashion was all about ruffles, gems, and embellishments. This dress, while beautiful in its own way with a soft shimmer giving the color depth, had none to be seen. She raised an eyebrow at Élodie who only shook her head. It was still her secret, it seemed.

“Let us make me a princess then,” Ara’lan chirped, doing her best to stay positive. Mary and the other younger women giggled at her words. Even Élodie smiled. It broke the tension enough that they could all relax.

As a team they worked to get Ara’lan ready. She was glad to have the help with such a task. Silk stockings, blue slippers, a dreaded corset, and light underskirt came first. The dress went over her head and settled around her feet in waves. Katia buttoned up the back while Élodie circled them all, watching carefully. Once dressed, they lifted the skirts around a stool so she could sit. Her hair was lifted off her neck much like the way she normally wore it but more intricate braids held the weight in place. Khol applied to her eyes, rouge to her lips and cheeks, the elven girls were precise in how they decorated her face. A silver mask fit around her eyes, branches in its surface echoing Mythal’s marks on her skin. Ara’lan noted happily that her valasllin and ears were left uncovered. She would still be herself under all their dressing.

Katia and Mary were fussing with the length of her skirt when a knock at the door told them time was up. It opened to reveal her escort for the evening. Loranil bowed low but not before Ara’lan saw the bright flush of color on his cheeks. He wore the Inquisition dress uniform of red and gold jacket with blue sash.

“The carriage is ready, ha’hren. It’s time to go to the Ball.” He looked nervous but stood tall and offered her an arm.

One last glance back to everyone lifted her confidence. Their matching smiles and encouragements would keep her strong through the evening, she was sure. All her studying and aching feet led her to this moment. She wouldn’t disappoint herself or the people that supported her.

“Have fun and tell me everything when you return!” Mary grinned brightly and waved her on.

Ara’lan wrapped her arm around Loranil’s elbow and gave him a reassuring smile. “I am ready, lethal’lin.”

Chapter Text

Exiting the carriage carefully, Ara’lan thanked Leiana silently. The Spymaster insisted she wear a hooded cloak as they left the Ghislain Estate. At first it seemed odd but the closer they got to the Winter Palace, the more Ara’lan saw it as a kind of armour. The weighted blue material surrounded her on nearly all fronts. It wouldn’t last all night but it would allow her some privacy until she got her bearings.

Loranil appeared at her side and bowed, his elbow extended for her to take up again. Ara’lan drew back the hood and settled it over her shoulders before resting a hand on his arm. She would show no fear. Under her touch, Loranil trembled slightly.

“Remember, lethal’lin,” she murmured so no one else would hear. “You are Dalish. You are a soldier of the Inquisition. They have no hold over you.”

He swallowed hard but nodded, his shoulders straightening with feigned confidence. They walked together through the crowd, heads held high. If a whisper of ‘rabbit’ or ‘knife ear’ made it to their ears they didn’t acknowledge it. Much like any other sight she had seen in Orlais so far, Ara’lan noted an overwhelming presence of humans dressed in finery and elves dressed as servants. More than the insults muttered behind hands or thrown casually at her feet, this caused her to clench her teeth in frustration. Clear voices cut through the quiet chatter.

“Is that the Inquisitor?”

“An elf savage? Maker forbid.”

“This is Gaspard’s idea of a joke.”

Ara’lan stopped and scanned the crowd. It was easy to spot Mahanon as he spoke with a human she presumed was Grand Duke Gaspard. She grinned, safe from sight behind her hood and mask. He must have known this would be the reaction he faced as he had chosen to wear formal Dalish robes and left his face bare. If they were going to gawk at him, he was going to put on a show. She was proud of him.

Mahanon looked over Gaspard’s shoulder to see her staring. He inclined his head slightly, beckoning her near. Loranil guided her along quietly. His nerves held his tongue. It was probably for the best. The people around them were more dangerous than they seemed. Arriving at Mahanon’s side, Ara’lan waited to see what he needed.

“Duke Gaspard, may I please introduce one of my closest advisors. Lady Ara’lan of Arlathan.”

Mahanon spoke clearly and with intent. It was the first time Ara’lan had heard how she was to be addressed at this event. Her eyebrows lifted in surprise and she looked quickly to Mahanon for confirmation. He only smiled and nodded. Her mask hid her expression well enough. Turning to face the Grand Duke, Ara’lan curtsied. Vivienne would have been proud of her form.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Your Highness.”

The Grand Duke was an impressive looking man. Unlike the others present, he looked like he was dressed for battle instead of dancing. From the sharp edges of his armour to the exotic leather protecting his chest, he was a warrior. Ara’lan knew his story from her studies. In person he nearly matched her expectations. His chis was more square than in paintings.

“It seems I’m not the only one with surprises in store for tonight.” Gaspard chuckled and offered a nod in return. “I will see you inside, Inquisitor.”

After he left, Ara’lan let out a breath. He was only one of many she needed to face that night. She nudged Mahanon slightly with her elbow to get his attention.

“Lady of Arlathan?”

“Oh, yes. Haven’t you read Varric’s story? It’s riveting.” He grinned. “A lost lady of the court, sleeping for generations, wakes to find the world changed. Is she a princess or a courtesan? No one knows for sure. Only the pure of heart can earn her trust and blessing.”

“Seriously?” She made an effort not to roll her eyes.

Mahanon bowed before her, low and dramatic. “I would never have the heart to lie to a lady as gracious as yourself.”

Ara’lan laughed despite herself. If this was the act, then she would play her part to her best ability. “Is this why no one would tell me anything about why I am needed here?”

“Surprise?” His grin lit up his face even as his voice dropped in volume. “It was the only way we could be assured a distraction while I explore. Leliana said Orlais loves a novelty and you’d be perfect. I hope you’re not mad.”

“No,” she answered softly. “I am not angry with you. And I understand. I just wish I had been told before now. No matter. I will do my best, lethal’lin.”

“I have no doubts you will succeed.”

Taking Loranil’s arm once more, Ara’lan followed the Inquisitor forward. The missing pieces of information fell into place in her mind, completing the picture of her duties. All the studying, all the dancing, and they had left out one vital detail. Now she knew and could use it to her advantage. If they were expecting an Elvhen princess, she would deliver one.

Josephine met them inside the gates before they entered the Palace. She, much like the rest of the advisors, were dressed in the same colors as Loranil. A show of solidarity, perhaps. The ambassador was just as formidable in the uniform as she ever was within the walls of Skyhold. A few whispered words between her and Mahanon, a slight smile for Ara’lan, and she was gone again.

Once inside, a servant appeared at her elbow and bowed. He was another elf, older than her escort and dressed simply in clothes with another mask bearing the Chalon family design. “Your cloak, miss.”

“Of course.”

Loranil stood back to allow her to release the clasp around her neck. Like peeling off a true armour of her own, she lifted the heavy garment from her shoulders and folded it gently. When she handed it to the servant, she noticed the look of boredom on his face had changed to something of awe.

“Ha’hren,” Loranil gasped, “Your dress. It, it glows!”

Startled, Ara’lan looked down and saw he was right. The lighting inside the Palace was softer than even at the Ghislain estate. What had appeared as a mild silver-white color before now glowed a soft blue. She brushed her hands over the skirts gently and tried to reach out with her senses. In a place like this is was difficult but she caught a faint essence. There was lyrium in some of the threads. It wasn’t enough to make her ill or affect her in any way, but it was there. She smiled and spared a thought of thanks for Élodie.

“So it does, lethal’lin. So it does.”

The servant stood and gaped, nearly frozen in place as he took in the sight of her gown. When she turned to face him he quickly bowed even deeper than before. Her cloak clutched in his trembling hands nearly brushed the carpet at his feet.

“Wel-welcome to the Winter Palace, Princesse.”

Ara’lan reached out to him, taking both his hands in hers, bidding him gently to rise. “Please rise, friend. Orlais may ask you to grovel at her feet but I will not.”

Years peeled off his face when she looked him in the eye. She could almost hear the riot of thoughts passing through his mind. It wasn’t until he stood straight and tall that she released him from her grasp and nodded approvingly.

“You do the People proud, friend. Never forget that.”

Leaving the servant nearly glowing with praise, she returned her hand to Loranil’s arm. “This is going to be an interesting evening.”

~ ~

“And accompanying him, Lord Inquisitor Lavellan.”

Ara’lan arrived just in time to see Mahanon take his formal entrance. Bowing before the Empress, he made his way slowly across the ballroom floor. The court herald listed off his accomplishments and titles with a flat level of disinterest. It didn’t deter the whispers that followed in his wake.

In turn each of the Inquisition’s advisors were given their due. Some titles and names, especially the Seeker’s, were quite lengthy. Others were simple. Sera’s was ridiculous. Solas’ would have been an insult had she known any less about him. Each and every one of them took their place, made their genuflections, and walked the short distance to accept a gracious nod from Empress Celene. Finally it was her turn. Loranil stayed behind, his duty different than hers for the event. She would parade herself before them alone. Head held high, Ara’lan took her place for all to see.

“Lady Ara’lan of Arlathan. Memorialist of the Ancient Age and Elvhen advisor to the Inquisition.”

The glow of her dress seemed to brighten as she moved across the floor. It swayed gently around her legs, presenting the image of floating more than walking. All the trials and fittings were proving their worth now. Keeping her gaze forward she felt more than saw as eyes turned to study her sharply. This was a den of vipers. From everything she read and everything she’d experienced so far, there was nothing the nobility of Orlais loved more than a mystery or a potential power play. It was the essence of the Game, after all. She was a new piece. If she heard insults muttered as much as questions, she registered no reaction.

Finally at the steps before the Empress, Ara’lan curtsied deeply. The full skirt billowed around her and made a great show of a simple movement. Though she knelt as she knew was expected, she didn’t avert her gaze. The bold choice look the Empress directly in the eye earned her a twitch at the corner of the stoic ruler’s lips. An almost smile was enough. She pushed her limits no further and rose, leaving the pressure of the social gauntlet behind.

Leliana and Loranil met with her quickly. The latter near bursting with glee while the former was far more thoughtful. Ara’lan nodded to them both and waited for instructions. She might have passed one test, but the night had just begun.

“The Inquisitor needs a distraction,” the Spymaster murmured softly. “Time to show off what you’ve learned.”

With a graceful nod, Ara’lan stepped into her role. She moved casually from corner of the room to another. At first they called her rabbit and sniffed down their noses. It didn’t take long for her to find familiar, and more importantly friendly, faces. Representatives that had been to Skyhold were kinder to her.

“Lady Ara’lan, I must thank you for your assistance. You truly were a lifesaver.”

Taking in the mask and the woman’s slight sniffle, Ara’lan knew her to be the Marquise Hedinelle. This woman had a long list of allergies, one of which caught her by surprise while visiting Skyhold. Ara’lan had been working the kitchens that day and was able to create a mixture to counteract the reaction. She smiled and nodded in greeting. “It was my pleasure of course, Your Grace. It was a blessing of fortune that we had lotus roots on hand. I am so glad to see you well again.”

The Marquise giggled behind a gloved hand. “Better than ever! Should you find yourself staying in Orlais much after the festivities, please do come visit. My physician would love to compare notes.”

She promised she would try and they parted ways again. Ara’lan knew Loranil followed a pace behind her, but she felt the attention shift. People were noticing. Watching her tone, she continued to make small talk with the few nobles she recognized and others she didn’t when they spoke first. Out of the corner of her eye she watched the servants, too. Nearly all elves, they watched her with differing levels of fascination. Some, like the nobles they served, sneered at the nerve of her presence. Others, like the one she met when she arrived, barely contained their awe. What mattered was everyone talking. If they were watching her, they weren’t watching for Mahanon.

Loranil captured her a glass of sparkling wine from a passing tray. She sipped at it gratefully, using the pause to catch her thoughts. Protecting the interests of the Inquisition was no small task. Not only did she need to make sure no one noticed the missing Inquisitor, but alternately other members of their party disappeared for missions of their own as well. Only Vivienne, Varric, and Ara’lan were left to mingle. She was doing her best to carry her portion of the evening. The bubbles in the drink tickled her nose distractedly, lifting the scent of roses and sugar from the glass.

“Lady Ara’lan,” a man bowed before her, “would you do me the pleasure of a dance?”

He rose and she took in his details like a list. Dressed in fine silks and shimmering cloths, he was clearly someone of note. His ornate mask sparkled in the soft light. His hair was perfectly oiled and not a single hair was out of place. Unlike most of the men in attendance, he didn’t wear a hat or other embellishments to show off his status. This was the Marquis Etienne de Chavin.

Passing the glass back to Loranil, Ara’lan curtsied and offered him a hand. “I would, Your Grace.”

If she didn’t have the attention of the court yet, she gained it with one single step on the dance floor. The song was one she had practiced with many times in Skyhold and her partner was fairly skilled. Twists and turns, dips and sways, she let him control their path along the floor. They moved between other couples without missing a step. Her dress rippled and flowed behind her, moving more gently than any of the stiff shapes the Orlesian women wore. Before too long, they were the only ones left to be seen. Out of the corner of her eye Ara’lan saw how many were staring. Leliana would be proud.

The music came to an end and they parted, him with a polite bow and she with a deep curtsy. The Marquise lifted her hand to his lips, gently kissing her knuckles.

“You have given me a moment to cherish, my lady,” he murmured and lowered her hand but didn’t release it from his grip. “An otherwise dull evening shines for your presence.”

Ara’lan smiled and looked away, playing the coy courtier to her utmost ability. “Your Grace, such things you say. Surely others of more import will want for your attention tonight.”

He laughed and finally took his hand away, bowing to her once more. “Perhaps. But none with such manners and grace as yourself. Enjoy the evening, Lady Ara’lan. Should we meet again, I very much would enjoy another dance.”

“Should I be so lucky, Your Grace, I would enjoy that as well.”

She curtsied and turned off the dance floor, her skirts swaying in her wake. Vivienne met her as soon as she was free. A bright smile lit up her face. “Darling that was brilliant! I couldn’t be more pleased with your performance.”

“I am glad it pleases you.” Ara’lan returned the compliment easily. “Your tutelage was instrumental in my confidence tonight.”

“Of course it was! Big things lie ahead, dear. Keep your wits about you and you’ll come out on top.” Waving to someone across the room, the Enchantress moved along and left her alone.

Ara’lan took a deep breath and looked for Loranil. They were supposed to stick together but she’d lost track of him while dancing. Distracted, she didn’t notice as a glass was slipped into her open hand. Looking up to the elven servant who delivered the drink, she caught the girl’s eye with a questioning look.

“Ambassador Briala wishes to see you, miss.” The girl barely spoke above a whisper. “Second balcony past the guards.”

“Of course. Thank you.”

As the girl faded into the movements of others around her, Loranil appeared at her side. Ara’lan was relieved to see him. From the worried look on his face, he must have been searching for some time.

“There you are! It’s getting crowded in here. Do they really drink and dance all night?”

“I think they might, yes.” She gave his hand a squeeze and passed over her glass. “Sip this carefully. It’s stronger than you think. I have an invitation to meet with Briala privately and I will find you after. If you get overwhelmed, go find Commander Cullen. I think I saw him on the other side of the room. He might need a friend.”

Loranil nodded and sipped as she instructed, blinking rapidly in response to the bubbles. “Okay. Be safe, ha’hren. I promised I’d look after you.”

“You did, lethal’lin, and you are doing a fine job.”

She followed the instructions and found the Ambassador waiting patiently. Her dress for the evening mirrored the servants more than the nobility. Surely it was intentional. Ara’lan knew the Ambassador had been a favored servant of the Empress and carried a title that held no weight. Beneath the lines of her gilded mask, Briala smiled.

“Lady Ara’lan. What a pleasure to finally meet face to face.” Her words sang sweetly but Ara’lan felt the bite hiding underneath. “I have read the dwarf’s stories but I must admit I didn’t imagine them to be true. Yet here you are.”

Ara’lan laughed gently. “I am here, Ambassador, though I am no creature of fiction. Varric spins tales of his own will.”

“So he does. Then tell me something then. My people have been watching you closely all night and I find you an interesting puzzle. You bear the marks of the People while dancing at the whims of the Court. You’re polite to the servants and placating to the nobility. I have never met an elf quite like you.”

“That is not a question, Ambassador.”

Briala turned, a frown drawing across her face. “You’re right. It’s not. Simply, who are you? Why are you here?”

“I am here to help a friend, Ambassador, because he needs me. And I am Ara’lan. Nothing more and nothing less.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” a male voice interrupted.

Ara’lan turned quickly to see someone step out of the shadows in the corner of the balcony. He was tall and lean beneath his hooded cloak. He moved into the light, revealing his simple attire. It would have fit in perfectly among any clan. Nearly everything about him was plain and simple.

“And you would know differently, because?” Ara’lan challenged him, resting a fist on her hip.

He chuckled. “Because I know you, Asha’ladara.”

Ara’lan froze, her heart racing. “How, how do you know that name?”

Briala laughed softly. “So I was right?”

“Yes, da’len.” He lifted his hood then, revealing his face. “She could be a creature of legend, but she is who she says.”

Ara’lan gaped. His hair was much longer than she remembered. The ink branches across his face were still as bold as the day they were placed. A number of Mythal’s servants had passed through her care while she carried that name. So many she could hardly recall them all by name. No others had brilliant purple eyes. Tears leaked from beneath her mask, tripping in the curve of her growing smile.

“Felassan! You live!” Ara’lan breathed with relief. “I had hoped but I did not-”

“It takes more than a few Sentinels to take me down.” Without preamble he wrapped his arms around her in a warm hug. His voice lowered to a faint whisper. “Caution, sweet lady. She doesn’t know everything. The Wolf sends his regards.”

~ ~

Without futher ado, the dress, heavily influenced by Claire Danes at the Met Gala 2016 as depicted by the talented Zoe Geare:

the dress

Chapter Text

Ara’lan looked over his shoulder and caught the calculating eye of Briala. She hummed her wordless acknowledgement. There was no way to answer him properly, not with her watching. He seemed to understand and released her gently.

“How do you know her, ha’hren?”

“She saved my life no less than twice.” Felassan smiled. “I haven’t always been the cautious elf I am now. Should have kicked me out of her good graces after the first time, but I think I charmed her.”

Ara’lan bit down a laugh at the memory. Her own smile lit up her face. “You did. Though things have changed for me, I am glad to see you are still the rogue I know.”

“I am aware of your changes, Asha’ladara, or else I might try again.”

Though they spoke with ease as friends long parted, she knew he understood her meaning. To ask how, to understand better, would have to wait. He cautioned her against speaking freely in front of Briala and she wouldn’t overstep. Patience, as ever, was her best virtue.

Briala looked between the pair of them, frowning. For all her posturing and power in the Game, she wasn’t completely broken by its machinations. Something of the gentle youth still clung to her. Whether jealous or simply uncomfortable with being at a loss, it was unclear to Ara’lan. Briala opened her mouth to ask another question but Felassan stopped her with a sad shake of his head.

“A story for another time, da’len. You know I can’t linger here. But you’ll see me again soon, don’t doubt.” His eyes flashed. “As will you, Asha’ladara. Now that I know where to find you, I won’t be a stranger.”

He stepped back into the shadows at the corner of the balcony and leaped without a sound over the ledge. Ara’lan watched him go with a tinge of regret in her heart. She hoped she would see him again soon. Time was far too short for anything in the world.

Briala shifted closer, drawing her attention back to the matter at hand. The Ambassador’s countenance felt far more friendly than it did when they first met.

“Your Inquisitor has been all over the palace this evening. My people have watched him closely, too. More than a few of them owe him their lives for a timely intervention outside the dangers of the ballroom. I will believe Felassan when he speaks on your behalf but I must know from your own lips. Why are you here?”

Ara’lan nodded. This was part of Leliana’s plan. In truth, it was the only plan for the night that she felt any measure of comfort completing. She looked Briala directly in the eyes and told her answer.

“I want to help you. I have watched how our people have been treated since the moment I arrived in this city and it sickens me. Always in the shadows, always serving, never equal.” Her fingers clenched against her skirts. “They are slaves in all but name and it is wrong.”

“Our people?” Briala’s eyes narrowed and her words turned sharp. “Are you sure you care about the elves within my city? Aren’t the Dalish the only true elves left?”

“Of course I care,” Ara’lan challenged back. “We are all elves, Ambassador. Being raised in a city surrounded by humanity does not make someone less deserving of their freedom. The Dalish are foolish to discount you for that.”

“Don’t you count yourself among them?”

“I am Elvhen, Ambassador.” Ara’lan nearly stomped her foot to make her point. She knew what Briala was trying to make her say. It brought back memories of arguments held around campfire after campfire. “The marks on my skin are older than the walls of this city. I have spent many years among the Dalish clans but I am not of them.”

Briala held her tongue, looking thoughtful. Ara’lan hoped it was enough. If Varric’s story about her was spreading, they would already suspect her history. Confirming even a piece of it to the Ambassador was a calculated risk she was willing to take. Briala cared for the well-being of the elves in Orlais. Reaching across the known divide was the only way to appeal to her heart.

“You paint an interesting picture, I’ll give you that.” Briala found her voice, quieter than before. “Perhaps I misjudged you, Lady Ara’lan. Orlais is my home but only a small part of my plans for our people.”

Their conversation was ended by the appearance of an elven servant, likely one of Briala’s agents. She hesitated by the doorway, unsure if she should speak out of turn. Ara’lan took the opportunity quickly.

“I will interrupt your evening no longer, Ambassador. Please feel free to call on me at your leisure.” She lowered her head as a measure of respect. “Thank you for your time.”

Ara’lan brushed her hands across the folds of her skirt and crossed the threshold back into the ballroom. She stared out across the sea of people and met the penetrating gaze of the Spymaster. Her head tilted in a slight nod, receiving one in return. Leliana would know whom she had been speaking with and hopefully understand the nature of their conversation. For now, it would be enough.

Focusing on putting some distance between herself and the growing chaos of revelry, she headed for the large doors that led to the vestibule. Some air would easily clear her head of all the thoughts running so quickly through it. She was almost clear when someone caught her elbow and nearly made her stumble.

Eyes wide, she turned to see she was being held by a stranger. The man was stocky of build, with a large moustache of gold attached to the lower part of his mask. His cheeks burned a bright red and he swayed slightly on his feet. Ara’lan didn’t recognize the pattern of his mask. He must have been from one of the lesser houses. Doing her best to maintain her calm, she smiled carefully.

“I beg your pardon, Your Lordship. I was just-”

He cut her off by tightening his grip. “What’s the hurry, pretty rabbit? Don’t you have time to dance with me, too?”

Biting back her temper, Ara’lan took a step back. She didn’t want this drunk, deplorable man anywhere near her, never mind dancing with him. The way he clung to her arm and the possessive look in his eyes were enough for her to know the dangers he would present, drunk or not.

“Your Lordship,” she tried to twist her arm out of his grip slowly as she spoke, “Perhaps if you were to sit for a moment, I could help you find-”

He sneered and pulled her closer. The alcohol on his breath was strong enough to water her eyes. “You don’t get to refuse me, Lady. Do you know who I am? Grand Duke Gaspard will make your Inquisition bend and I will have my reward.”

In that revelation, Ara’lan froze. It wasn’t just about the drink making this man act in such a manner. He was part of something uglier, something darker, for people like her. Skyhold was a different world than Orlais and her ears marked her as less in their eyes. She had nearly forgotten that fact from the good graces of her friends. For a brief moment she wished she had her magic long enough to make him feel the pain he wished her to know. But wishing wouldn’t stop him. And making a scene in the corner of a ballroom, deep in the heart of Orlais, wouldn’t save her. Unarmed and alone, she didn’t know what to do.

She saw the drink tray before he did. It slipped out of a passing servant’s hand, coating the back of the noble’s jacket in syrupy drinks and startling him enough to release her arm. Ara’lan looked once to the servant in thanks, receiving a slight smile in return. The girl had saved her. She wouldn't forget this. Not wishing to test her luck, she turned on a heel and walked away as fast as she could.

Out to the vestibule she went. Her shaking legs carried her down the hall towards the gardens. The further she got from the ballroom, the softer the music became, the more she breathed easier. A tight smile pasted to her lips, she had nowhere to truly hide. In a glowing dress she couldn’t exactly seek the shadows. Everyone she passed wanted to say a few words to her or to pass along to Mahanon on their behalf. If she could only take a moment to gather herself, she could try to put her act back on.

Someone touched her arm again and she whimpered. Pulling her arm tight against her side, she spun, eyes wide and frightened. This time it wasn’t a courtier. It was Solas. She released a trembling breath and shifted closer to him.

I am so glad I found you. Please, do not make me go back in there. Not yet.

Solas started at her expression, a wave of confusion and anger flashing across his face. He said nothing, just nodded and offered her his arm. Ara’lan took it gratefully. He led her away from the noise, deeper into the gardens. Past the open display and minstrel they went, through a series of doors, and finally stopped in a small area with a trellis of sweet scented roses. He took her hands in his.

Look at me,” he implored. “Please.

Ara’lan lifted her gaze from their joined hands slowly. She focused on taking deep, calming breaths. He would keep her safe. He had his secrets, yes. So did she. That didn’t matter. Not yet. All that mattered was how certain she felt that he above all others would keep her safe. She looked him in the eyes and found it easier to breathe under his tender stare.

Are you alright? Do you want to tell me what happened?

The worry in his voice had an edge to it. His eyes were kind and soft but his jaw clenched while he waited for her answer. A subtle thing, it would easily be overlooked by anyone else. He was getting angry. It wasn’t directed at her, she knew that, but the reason for her discomfort. For a moment she let her mind wander over the possibility of telling him exactly what happened; Let that noble feel the wrath of someone he would never suspect. The idea of revenge felt sour.

I will be fine, ma’lath.” She chose peace. “Drink makes fools of men. One of Briala’s people intervened in time. I was not harmed.

He nodded, tense but accepting her explanation at face value. “Where was your escort?”

I told Loranil to attend the Commander. Briala wished to speak with me privately and he is far too young for such matters.” Taking another deep, calming breath, she changed the subject. “Briala is young, too, though she cares deeply for her charges. She would have made for an eager ally in times before.

Solas frowned in thought. He couldn’t have missed her meaning. His thumbs idly traced over the back of her hands, soothing her racing heart.

So I have been told.

Ara’lan took the choice of words as an admission. He was always careful in how he spoke. This was an invitation she couldn’t let pass.

Your Arrow guides her well,” she offered gently. “It was good to see him again.

I wondered how long it would take him to seek you out.” Solas huffed a soft laugh. “He has never been patient.

Her laugh floated light in the air, melting away the rest of her tension. In the quiet of the small garden with him, the world felt so much smaller. Since leaving the safety and isolation of Hawen’s clan, the world had been opened up to her in such a dramatic way. Her initial task, finding more of her kin, was proving fruitful in the best of ways. An old friend and a new lover eased her heart. Between the three of them, hope could grow.

No, he has not.” Ara’lan smiled, finding it much easier than when they began. “Thank you, ma’lath. I do not know if I would have been able to calm myself alone.

Solas stepped closer, shifting his hands up her arms to settle on her waist. “I regret I had not found you sooner. The dangers tonight are more than dealings and knives in the dark.

Ara’lan sighed. It had been the same in court before. She had just been away from it long enough to tuck away some of the darker memories. Much as she believed in her own strengths, he had a point she was out of her element in Orlais.

It is not your fault. You had other duties.

Perhaps,” he said with a growing smile, “I would still wish to correct the error if you would allow it.

Her cheeks colored faintly at the thought. Surely she had done everything that was expected already. “Do you not still have obligations to the Inquisitor?

He shook his head. “I am one of many, vhenan. The others can carry on without my aid safely for the rest of the night. I would prefer to linger at your side.

You are always welcome at my side.” She sealed her consent with a tender kiss to his lips. “Always.

~ ~

The rest of the evening he did just that. Either with her arm wrapped lightly around his or his hand pressed gently to her lower back, he stuck to her side. Ara’lan was grateful for the support. The few men and women, emboldened by their drink or social status, that might have tested her boundaries found the support of a dark stare from her companion enough to deter their more lurid ideas. She smiled as she battled them with words and politely declined all other dances, knowing the night was slowly coming to an end.

“We owe the court one more show, Your Grace.”

Mahanon’s voice broke through the hum of activity, sending a wave of startled sounds through the crowd. The music came to a halt with a sharp, discordant note. Ara’lan looked to Solas, who nodded slightly. This was the end then. She moved her way through the crowd to see what was happening and he followed. His arm curled protectively around her waist, anchoring her with his confidence.

The display was short but final. Grand Duchess Florianne was the infiltrator and when faced with the telling of her actions in front of everyone, she crumbled. Her own brother turned from her with disgust as she was taken away by Inquisition guards. A rousing speech followed, showing the Empress, Mahanon, and Briala unified against the dangers of the future. It brought an easy smile to her lips. Ara’lan was so proud of him.

“Dance with me.” Solas whispered in her ear, his breath warm enough to send a shiver down the side of her neck.

“In front of everyone?” Ara’lan smirked and leaned slightly into his embrace. “What will people say?”

“Let them talk, vhenan. Let them see the vision of you in the arms of someone who knows your true worth.” His voice rumbled in his chest, making her heart skip. “I have watched you dance to their tune all night. Before it is over, I wish to have you dance to mine.”

“Yes.”

If anyone watched them dance, she didn’t care. Their whispers were their own concern. Worries about the Inquisition faded away, too. In his arms, in her glowing dress, she felt more like a princess from ages past than any story could ever begin to capture. His smile was worth it all.

Chapter Text

Three days. That had been the message from Ambassador Josephine she found upon waking. In the aftermath of the events at the Ball, the Inquisition would be required to linger in Halamshiral for a few days to cement alliances and posture. While she was glad to be exempt from such activity, Ara’lan felt a twinge of sympathy for Mahanon. He wouldn’t enjoy it any more than she would have. Still, this left her with an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

Ara’lan smiled as she ran her fingers through her still damp hair. Though Halamshiral was small in comparison to other cities in Orlais, there was still much to see. Books had told her that the city was populated mostly by elves and unlike other cities the humans lived behind the safety of walls instead of enclosing the elves in alienages. This was a great chance to see how they truly lived. The only thing she needed was a guide.

Luck was on her side for a change. A note from Briala had also arrived while she slept. It seemed the Ambassador wanted to speak with her personally. Leaving before she could ask more questions the night before had worked in Ara’lan’s favor and spiked the other’s curiosity. If Briala wanted to talk, then maybe she would be willing to trade knowledge for knowledge.

A hand settled on her shoulder, brushing a few loose strands of hair aside and drawing her thoughts back to the present. She turned and smiled up at Solas. Since returning from the Palace something about him had changed. Before he always carried a measure of tension in his shoulders and the hint of a waiting frown. He’d done his best to mask it when she was looking, but Ara’lan wasn’t blind. She knew something was troubling him. Now those worries appeared to be mostly gone. Last night she could have pointed at the drinks that never seemed to end but in the late morning light he was still at ease.

Last night was a resounding success for the Inquisition.

Not just the Inquisition, ma’lath. You should be proud of your own victory, too.” Solas offered his praise with a sly smile. He let his fingers slide through the length of her hair. “If I may indulge in a bit of frivolity?

She nodded happily and turned in her seat. He drew all of her hair behind her back, running the brush through a few times before beginning to twist and plait. Ara’lan closed her eyes, humming softly. It had been a long time since anyone besides herself had styled her hair. Her scalp tingled as she felt each single hair shift in his grasp. His fingers were strong and moved with a surety of purpose. By the time he finished and kissed the top of her head, she had relaxed beyond measure. The crooked smile she offered him in thanks made him laugh.

Looking in the mirror, she was stunned at the beauty of his efforts. Her customary simple braids were replaced with an elaborate weaving of small braids around the crown of her head. They cascaded down her back and wrapped the length of her hair in a gentle twist. It was a perfect imitation of something she would have worn in another life and another court. Nostalgia tugged her heart in two different directions.

It is beautiful. Thank you.

Yes you are.

Solas smiled and bent lower to kiss her lips. The tender contact warmed her cheeks and washed away her worries. When he rose again, his smile held but his eyes seemed leagues away. It was a quick look but it was still there. Reaching out to him, she laced her fingers with his.

What troubles you? Tell me. Please.

He looked away but squeezed her hand in his for reassurance. “I would not burden you with this, vhenan.

Ara’lan squared her shoulders. Wanting to keep her safe was one thing. Shutting her out was something else. She needed him to know the difference. “I appreciate your concern though it is unnecessary. You are my heart. Your burdens are mine as mine are yours.

Solas sighed. He lifted their joined hands to press a kiss to her fingers. “There is an Elvhen artifact in this city. I can feel it. While we have the time here, Felassan will show me what he has learned. Acquiring control of it may not be an easy thing.

Then let me help you.” Her smile brightened. This would align perfectly with her plans. “Briala has requested my presence today. She has eyes and ears everywhere and a desire to know more of my story. Should the opportunity present itself, I could see if she knows anything about your item.

Use caution, if you must. I would not endanger your safety on my behalf.” His expression softened. “You are too important to me.

Ara’lan rose from her seat to kiss him properly. “As you are to me.

~ ~

It had been easy enough to find someone to take her back to the Winter Palace. Getting to spend a few moments with Mahanon before he was whisked away to his own meetings had been nice. He was still riding the confidence from the night before. Ara’lan hoped it would carry him through their entire stay. He had so much weighing on his shoulders already.

An elven servant had escorted her to a seating area by the guest rooms and told her to wait. Unlike the rest of the Palace, and the Ghislain Estate for that matter, this room was decorated with a lighter touch. Gold gilt touched the mantles and woodwork at every turn, but the seats looked and felt as if they were for using instead of admiring from afar. Softer cushions and more muted colors kept it feeling comfortable.

“Thank you for coming so soon. Your Inquisition certainly doesn’t waste any time.”

Briala emerged from a doorway across the room. From her dress and mask, she would have easily fit in with any of the servants that moved about the Palace grounds. It wasn’t too different from how Ara’lan saw her the night before. She smiled and closed the distance between them with easy grace.

“Your note said you wished to continue our conversation. I did not think you would want to wait.”

Ara’lan smiled politely in return and rose to greet her. She was thankful to have a more simple outfit of her own to wear. Josephine had insisted on packing on her behalf and there was no resisting the Ambassador. Deep below the dresses and finery she had found something slightly familiar. The tunic was brushed silk and the trousers a softer cloth than she had seen in nearly a lifetime, but it was more comfortable than a dress. The boots were light enough that she almost didn’t miss her wraps. It would have to do.

“You would be right,” Briala laughed softly and gestured for her to sit back down. She settled into the chair by her side. “I will admit to doing a little research about you. It’s not every day a person is presented at Court as a living legend.”

“I had never intended anything so grand.” Ara’lan admitted, frowning slightly and folding her hands into her lap. “It was decided that I should represent a time long forgotten by most. The elegance and machinations of Arlathan were not so different from Orlais, Your Grace.”

Her eyes lit up through the silver curves of her mask. “Then you admit it?”

“Admit what?”

“That you claim to be an elf from ancient times.”

“I claim to be myself.” Ara’lan relaxed at the sight of Briala’s excitement. “I was young when Elvhen ruled the known world. Through my own actions and a bit of luck I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Court and learn manners that still seem effective today. Many elves of this world think it was a glorious time of peace and prosperity for all. To some, it was. To more, it was not.”

“How do you mean?”

“Look around you, Your Grace. People in power live well, do they not? For every noble that walks these halls there is a small army of servants that moves about, unseen. For every piece of land they claim, a small army of soldiers can live or die to defend it against their neighbor. And these are the lucky ones. The unlucky live in less fortuitous circumstances, yes? Clinging to the opportunity to keep themselves fed and clothed, they have no time for such games. Their lives are short and hard.” Ara’lan sighed. “It was no different in Arlathan or any of the other cities. The only difference was that servant, slave, and master all had pointed ears.”

Briala studied her quietly after she finished. Ara’lan could only imagine what she was thinking. She calmly watched and waited. The new Marquise may be young but her mind was quick enough to not only survive, but thrive in the noble world. She would have done well in times long gone, too. At least until she became a liability.

“What does asha’ladara mean?” Briala shifted in her seat slightly but gave away no other signs of where her mind wandered. “Why does he call you that?”

“Names have weight, Your Grace. Even now. That was the name I was given by the ones to whom I provided great care. It roughly means ‘woman who soothes’ though to say it in such small words does not do it justice.”

The memories from that time were bittersweet. Some things weren’t meant to be shared but Ara’lan could give some insight. Felassan’s warning sat in the back of her mind as she spun her tale.

“As with all empires, the ones in power reach higher and the ones who serve suffer at their whim. Orlais or Arlathan, it is the same. For countless years that was how things progressed. Our People knew nothing of the passage of time. But under the gilded manors, something stirred. A rebellion of sorts began. It was a quiet thing at first. Movements in shadows, whispers of hope where there was none. Servants and slaves disappeared, fading into the night, never to return. A network of allies worked together to help them. People of like minds that wanted change. I was one such ally. My home was far enough from the eyes and ears of courts that I could keep many safe. I fed and healed their bodies, soothed their hearts, and sent them on their way. Some lingered, wishing to help rather than flee. Others sought my counsel for my magic was born of the desire to inspire others to grow. They are the ones who gave me my name. For a time it worked. Hope thrived.” Ara’lan sighed. “Until it did not.”

“Your magic? Then you are a mage, too?”

“No, Your Grace.” Her chest tightened around the pain that voicing such a truth caused. “Not as you understand it. Once magic was a natural part of our world. It flowed through all things and bent to a single thought. The world has changed too much since. It is too heavy for me to manipulate as I once did.”

“I see.” Briala nodded, coming to a visible decision. “You are not quite what I expected. But you might be just what I need. If nothing else, you are of a like mind on important matters and come highly recommended.”

“I would like to help if I can.” Ara’lan smiled, finding the right time for her idea. “And if I might request your assistance, I was hoping to see more of the city before we leave.”

“Of course. I will show you myself.” Briala rose from her seat and began to untie her mask. “We will both need to blend in better. I can help.”

 

Tugging the hood of the borrowed cape a little closer around her head, Ara’lan stepped over a puddle and quickened her pace to keep up with Briala. Once outside of the Palace, it was easy for the two of them to blend in. No one suspected an elven face to be of worth. Through the merchant stalls of the High Market they kept to the shadows and edges of sight. Nobles moved about with the air of unquestioned authority and slow gait of people that knew their commands would be followed without question. Ara’lan saw the haggard looks most of their elven servants wore. Her heart hurt for them.

As they exited the parts of the city that were kept clean and bright for the humans, they could move more openly. The contrast between wealth and poverty was as sharp as an invisible line in the streets. Elves were everywhere but they didn’t walk proudly. Heads hung low, eyes never met another unless to frown and look away. Happy sounds were few and far between and the only humans she saw now wore the uniform of the guard. The deeper into the city they walked, the more she could feel the air thicken. It wasn’t just an impression from their faces or the tired looks of buildings as they passed. The pain was a real, palpable thing itching at the back of her mind. Ara’lan reached out to touch Briala’s arm and draw her attention.

“What has happened here?” She frowned against the growing ache in her head. “The sorrow lingers in the air.”

“A little over a year ago, the elves of this city were brutalized.” Briala tensed faintly and gestured for Ara’lan to follow her around a turn. She kept her voice low and eyes forward as she spoke. “A tradesman by the name of Lemet was murdered for the crime of throwing a rock at the guardsman of the wrong noble. It was the spark in the dry tinder of unrest. The elves rose up and began to attack humans on sight. You can imagine how things went for them. Though the noble was killed for his action, the city bears more scars.”

Ara’lan nodded. Even if she had never lived within a city like this, she knew the story. It was commonly told by elves that fled alienages to try their hands at a life in the wild. A few had joined with Hawen’s clan during her time. Most didn’t make it through the first winter though. That they preferred to die of illness in the cold over returning to a city like this, spoke volumes. The air was thick with old pain that only increased as they walked deeper into the slums.

“Here we are.”

Looking around, Ara’lan saw they were in a tightly packed quarter. Some of the buildings were darkened with soot of old fires. Others were smaller and looked to be rebuilt from a mix of very old, burnt wood and pieces that were far too new. A few elves wandered the open square. Even the children seemed to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders with every step. Her gaze caught on something in the center. It sent a chill down her spine. Her feet carried her forward without a thought. The gnarled skeleton of an old tree called to her.

“This is the oldest part of the city,” Briala explained by her side. “Elves have always lived here. This tree was old even when Orlais was young. Or that’s what the stories say. When this quarter burned, so did the vhenadahl. It doesn’t grow but it won’t fall.”

Close enough to touch it, Ara’lan reached out and brushed her fingers against the blacked wood. Faint shifts in the color told her that it had once been painted but any trace of the colors were long gone.

“Briala. Why are you here?”

Ara’lan tore her attention away from the tree long enough to glance at the man who spoke. Outwardly he seemed young but his eyes were tired and old. He had lived through too much in his years.

“Still yourself, Ghestlin.” Briala’s words were gentle, as if calming a wild animal. “I sent word last night, remember? Today I have brought a guest. She wanted to see how our people are treated.”

Ghestlin turned his frown on Ara’lan. It burned so sharp she took a step back. “If you think we’re going to dance for you, stranger, you better just head right on back the way you came.”

“I mean you no harm.” She lifted her hands slowly, not wanting to startle him any further. “I only wished to see how you are made to live in this place.”

As she drew back her hood to show her face, his expression shifted. She waited patiently as he raked his eyes over the braids in her hair, the quality of her clothes, and finally across the ink that stained her cheeks. His jaw hung slack for the few breaths it took him to gain his composure. With a quick shift of his shoulders, he bowed.

“I, I didn’t know, ha’hren. Forgive me.” Ghestlin’s voice stammered roughly over the elvhen word, grating her ears with his unpracticed accent. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It is not your fault, lethal’lin.” She smiled slowly. “You did not know and I am not offended.”

People began to trickle out from the buildings while they spoke. It became clear that they had been watching for some time. Ara’lan felt their emotions in waves; fear, awe, and hope crashed against her senses. The Veil was thin where tragedy struck and many had died in this place. She swallowed hard and focused on her breathing to maintain control. Though none of them spoke, she could almost hear their questions on the breeze.

“Excuse me, miss.”

A young girl tugged at the edge of her cape. Her bright eyes still so young and innocent even if her dress was torn and dirty. She grinned at Ara’lan with such joy and excitement that she couldn’t help but smile back.

“Are you here to bless us, miss? ‘Cause my mum said that the Dalish are good people who know lots of stuff and you’ve got those things on your face so you must know tons.” The girl nodded, happy with her statement. “So that means you can help us, right? Give us a blessing or something that will help make things better?”

A woman reached forward, likely the girl’s mother. She looked close to panicking. Ara’lan smiled at her and raised a hand in dismissal. Kneeling to meet the girl’s eyes, she reached deep within herself for answers.

“What is your name, da’len?”

“Beatris, miss.”

“I would like to help, Beatris, but that is not the job of just one person. Is it?” She looked up quickly to catch an approving look from Briala before she continued. “And a blessing would be nice but I am no priest. The best I can offer you is a song. Would that be good enough?”

Beatris nodded again, this time with enthusiasm. “Yes please!”

Kneeling in the dirty common of the elven slums, Ara’lan closed her eyes and took a breath to center herself. The air around her hummed with energy. Allowing her senses to reach out the same way she did in Skyhold, she pulled some of that energy into herself. It was a safe act to use it to project her voice. Unlike the experiments with Dorian, there was no way for the energy to backfire. Her voice, clear and soft, lifted to everyone in the quarter as she sang to a pair of warm brown eyes.

Melava inan enasal
Ir su aravel tu elvaral
U na emma abelas
In elgar sa vir mana
In tu setheneran din emma na
Lath sulevin
Lath aravel ena
Arala ven tu vir mahvir
Melana ‘nehn
Enasal ir sa lethalin

As the last note of her song faded away, she felt a tear roll down her cheek. Beatris was beaming with joy. She threw herself into Ara’lan’s arms, wrapping a tight hug around her neck.

“Thank you, miss! That was beautiful!”

The crowd that had gathered murmured and whispered amongst themselves. The fear she had felt before was fading. If nothing else, she had helped them remember what it meant to hope. They didn't need to understand all the words to feel what the song represented. Returning Beatris’ hug gently, she pried herself out of the young girl’s arms and rose to her feet.

Briala stepped closer, her face nearly as guarded as when they began. “We should go before they get any more ideas. And I have something you should see.”

Chapter Text

Briala took her to a warehouse in the back corner of the slums. Everything on the outside felt like the building itself was one strong breeze away from falling to pieces. The inside wasn’t much different. Rows of crates built a maze through the main storage area. Most of them were old and smelled like their contents had rotted away years ago. Ara’lan followed slowly, mindful of where she stepped.

In the far back of the warehouse there was a small room. Briala pushed open the heavy door and gestured for Ara’lan to go first. Curiosity piqued, she did as the Marquise requested. The room was dark. The one window was covered in paper from the inside and only let through the day’s light around the edges. Unlike the cramped main area, this room was nearly empty. All she could see was something against the wall. It was almost as tall as the room, rounded at the top, and covered in a sheet. If it weren’t for the hum of magic she felt it radiate, Ara’lan would have guessed any number of things. But she knew this feeling deep within her bones. Eyes wide and mouth gaping, she couldn’t tear her eyes away.

“Is that-” She cut herself off, almost afraid to say it out loud and be wrong. “How did you find this?”

“Would you believe this mirror once sat in the same room that Celene ate her breakfast? Day in and day out for years of her life, she was within arms reach of one of the greatest objects of our past.” Briala grinned. “She called it tacky.”

Briala gave the edge of the sheet a tug and it slid to the floor. The mirror’s gilded frame showed some age but the glass shone as bright as ever. Once revealed, the aura it was projecting grew. It called to her. Ara’lan took a few steps forward and reached out. Her fingers lightly traced the swirls and dips in the decorative frame.

“There was a time when these were everywhere.” Ara’lan spoke just above a whisper, still struggling to believe her eyes. “When the Veil changed the world, the one in my refuge shattered. I did not know that any had survived. Hoped, yes, but it seemed futile.”

“Elves still travel the old roads, Lady Ara’lan. My elves with my passphrase travel far and wide to spread my message. The nobility of Orlais dine under our noses and talk as if we’re not there but we are everywhere.”

She was right. Ara’lan saw it as soon as they arrived within the city. Humans thought they held the power through their titles and wealth. Their servants watched, listened, and waited. It was likely how the rebellions of old began, too. She had finally lived long enough to watch the cycle begin again. This time she wasn’t joining at the end. Maybe this time she could help.

“Old roads and old secrets, quiet since the world changed, helping the People survive once more.” Ara’lan smiled. “I am glad to see one of our tools in the hands of someone who can use them wisely.”

“I would agree with that.”

Both women turned towards the new voice, Ara’lan with surprise and Briala with a grin. Felassan leaned against the doorway, posturing as if he was already bored with the discussion. The sparkle in his eyes told a different story.

“It’s good to see you again so soon, ha’hren.”

He laughed and stepped across the threshold, nudging the door shut behind him. When Briala opened it, it had seemed heavy but he barely exerted any effort at all. Ara’lan pinched her bottom lip between her teeth to hold in the question that almost broke free. If he wanted to show off in front of his charge, that was his choice.

“Are you taking her through or not? It would be a shame to bring her all the way here after passing your test and not let her see what’s on the other side.”

“Of course.”

Briala nodded, confirming Ara’lan’s suspicion. She leaned forward, almost touching her lips to the frame, and spoke so softly Ara’lan couldn’t hear the words. The glass rippled to life, increasing the aura of magic it put out so much that she felt it brush against her skin. It was warm and felt a bit like being welcomed home. The glow that remained bathed them all in a soft, blue light.

“Follow me.” Briala went through first.

As soon as she disappeared, Ara’lan turned her attention to Felassan. Questions rolled through her mind, tripping over each other in their rush to all be first from her lips. Her confusion earned her a crooked smile from him.

Later, asha’ladara. You will lose her trust if you dally.

He was right. There would be time for questions later. Maybe by then she would know which to ask first. She took a deep breath and stepped forward through the glowing glass. In the space between here and there, Ara’lan felt the magic wrap around her. It welcomed her home like a long lost friend or lover and struck her heart with a crippling sense of longing. A part of her wished she could linger in the liminal space, taking in the essence of a world she thought lost for the rest of her days. She wished it so hard it stole her breath from her lungs. It was an impossible wish. She exited the other side of the mirror and felt a tear slide down her cheek.

Before her was another heart wrenching sight. The walls of the great courtyard were still standing, if only just. Large gaps told a sad story of destruction. Broken stone pathways ran in long, loping lines. Trees of metal and stone stood tall and proud, defiant against the passage of time that stained their branches and trunk. Even some plants still tried desperately to grow at their feet. Most were bent and twisted, dying or dead. A spare few clung to life. Their leaves were thin and pale, flowers small and weak.

She could remember how this should have looked. Elves would have been traveling, trading, or gossiping, heedless of how soon things would end. Spirits should have been drifting through the air around them, pausing only when someone or something caught their attention. When she closed her eyes to catch her breath, Ara’lan noticed something else. The old magic still lingered. It was weak, like her own, but it was still there. She took in a deep breath and felt the warmth of it flow through her.

The mirror rippled once more when Felassan stepped through. He paused at her side, catching her eyes with a worried look. No words passed between them but he knew the pain she was feeling. A shadow of it lingered in his eyes, too. So much of their world was gone. What remained was falling to dust.

“Places like this would have been loud and busy. Some would linger between their travels for trade or news from other lands. Time had no hold on the People then.” Ara’lan sighed and faced Briala’s calculating stare. “It is good to see it still has a use in this world.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer a relic as important as this in the hands of the Dalish?”

“No.” Ara’lan shook her head. “The clans mean well but they cling to a dream that changed throughout the ages. While they may be descendants of the elves who fought for their freedom and refused to submit, they have forgotten what it took to earn that right. They would more likely squabble over who would claim an opportunity like this for generations than see it as a chance for something bigger for them all.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself, asha’ladara.” Felassan’s praise had an edge to it, one that twisted the corners of his smile. “What do you think, da’len? Are you quite finished with this little game?”

Briala laughed and nodded, moving closer to Ara’lan and offering an open hand. “The elves of Halamshiral and Orlais would welcome you to the cause. All we want is to be treated fairly, as equals to the humans with a home of our own. Your Inquisitor has helped us take the first step. With my new title and Celene’s trust I can begin to retake the Dales for the elves. Get back the home we were promised.”

“I came to this city to see how our people lived. I needed to understand if it truly was as bad as they say.” Ara’lan clasped Briala’s hand firmly. “To see it with my own eyes, I still find it difficult to believe. They deserve to be free. All our People deserve to be free. I will help in whatever way I can.”

Briala smiled and released her hand. “Thank you, asha’ladara. These roads are the paths to freedom for all elves who seek it. Some need to travel far beyond the reaches of Orlais. The Inquisition has earned quite the renown for its treatment of elves. A place far from the Game and war to heal. So I will send them to you. Do as you once did. Help them heal and find their way. Even without magic, we need hope and kindness.”

It was an easy enough request. “I would be happy to do so. How will I know which people are yours?”

“Anyone under my care will have the pass code to activate these mirrors. I don’t have the option of escorting them all personally. Especially now that Celene sees me as her ally.” Briala leaned in closer to drop her voice. “Even in such a place as this, one might find unfriendly ears. Our friends will know to say Fen’Harel enasal.

Ara’lan couldn’t help her surprise but she bit it down as hard as she could. She didn’t dare look at Felassan. This was what he meant when he said Briala didn’t know everything. It had to be. Solas said he wanted to keep his secret and she trusted that hadn’t changed. He might even appreciate Briala's choice.

“I will remember.”

Felassan cleared his throat to draw their attention. “As fun as this has been, you are needed elsewhere, da’len. Your Empress is looking for you.”

“For how long?” Briala frowned.

He shrugged. “I didn’t ask. But I can take our asha’ladara back for you, if you’re in a hurry.”

“I should go then, yes. Thank you. Both of you.” She nodded quickly to him and Ara’lan before stepping back through the mirror.

Ara’lan let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. Without the Marquise to critique her every action, she could look closer at her surroundings. Many of the mirrors around them were shattered beyond repair. Others were dark, closed, and locked. A few held promise. She could feel the magic within them at a distance.

So much has been lost, old friend.” Her voice broke with sadness. “If I had known, I would have fought harder to stay.

You can’t change the past. You can only shape the future.” Felassan smiled and offered his arm for her to take. “A wise lady once told me that.

And you hardly ever listened.

Ara’lan laughed softly and looped her arm through his. Throwing her own words back at her was one of his favorite tactics to get what he wanted. It was nice to see some things didn’t change. Instead of going back through the same mirror, he guided her down one of the overgrown paths. The mirrors they passed were still a sight to behold. Mythal’s dragon on one, Dirthamen’s birds on another; the markers around the frames held true even after the glass was gone.

I was worried when you disappeared.” Felassan said softly. “No one knew where you were. The house was reduced to rubble. I even tried asking-

No. Do not say his name.

Ara’lan glared daggers at the ground. She remembered that day clearer than any day she had ever lived. The cries of those she lost still echoed in her darkest dreams. Time had lessened the hurt but it still throbbed in her heart and mind. It likely would for the rest of her days.

Mythal came for me.” Ara’lan clenched her free hand into a fist at her side. The memory washed over her, spilling out in a sharp staccato, echoing her pain. “She was not as supportive of the rebellion as she made it seem when it was her own slaves seeking freedom. Her soldiers broke down my doors. Whoever did not escape before her arrival was put to the sword. I was still marked as her creature so I could not disobey. She commanded that I watch and not intervene. When it was done I was sent away. He did not feel I was more important than duty. That is all.

Felassan cursed under his breath and drew her into his arms. She hugged him back tightly, grounding herself in the warmth of his body and the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.

I would have gone to find you, if I had known.” His grip tightened for a moment and he cursed again. “I would have gone after him, too. You didn’t deserve that.

Ara’lan looked up from the safety of his embrace to see the deep worry in his face. She smiled in acceptance though her heart ached. She shook her head slowly. “They would have killed you, too. I am glad they did not have that chance.

Felassan huffed a bitter laugh and kissed her forehead. “Did you forget about me so soon, ma’falon? I can’t be killed. Not after you blessed me. Their blades would just bounce off.

Ara’lan laughed despite her heartache. He always knew how to lighten a mood. “Let us not test that theory soon, shaderelan.

There you are.” He grinned, unabashed by her words. “Let’s get you back to your Wolf before he thinks I’ve stolen you away. He at least would chase after us.

Chapter Text

Ara’lan had not spared him a second thought since the temple doors closed at her back more than a mortal lifetime ago. Not once had she lingered on what had once been and would never be again in her struggles through trying to understand the world as it changed around her. Neither had she attempted to reconcile his decision or compare it against her forced sleep or the many days since her waking. His name and the life they might have lived were best left in the past. Her mind reached ever forward and never back. She was content to leave the past to die in the dust. But then Felassan lived despite all odds. Her friend came back and with him stirred the memories.

The whole way back to the Ghislain villa, first through the eluvian courtyard with Felassan and then through the streets of Halamshiral with his agents, her mind wandered. The similarities between then and now were striking. Here she was again, drawn into the machinations of rebels and spies. Again, with people depending on her for care and aid. Again, burdened with secrets that weren’t hers to tell. Again, with a powerful lover by her side. She could only hope that this time things would turn out differently.

Vhenan, what troubles you?

Solas frowned in concern and the cloud of her thoughts parted. Her eyes softened to see him approach though her heart was heavy. Still, she managed a smile. The weight of the past wasn’t his burden to carry. Rising from the overstuffed chair, she stepped into his waiting embrace.

Just lost in the shadow of a memory, ma’lath. I would not trouble you with it.

He chuckled softly and kissed her forehead. “Your burdens are mine as mine are yours.

Ara’lan snorted at her own words coming back to haunt her. Of course he would remember them. He had spoken them softly, though. A kindness and not a judgement eased her mind to let him in to some of her worries.

I was a refuge to the People who longed to be free once. For your people and any who crossed my path.” She buried the side of her face in his shoulder, letting the warmth of his skin ground her in the present. “Helping Briala and her people is very much the same. I just worry where all this will lead. Last time was not a good ending for me. I do not want to lose what I have found.

His grip around her tightened even as she felt his breath catch. Had she not been so close she wouldn’t have noticed at all. Lifting her face to look at him, she saw his jaw clenched tight and his deep set frown. This wasn’t what she wanted.

They are children playing at a game. One they think is easily won, but has existed for ages beyond their reckoning.” He sighed, frustration lacing through his words. “I allow it to continue at Felassan’s request. Should it endanger you in any way I-

They do not endanger me any more than I already endanger myself. My actions in the ballroom were worse than today.

She drew his focus back with a gentle nudge. The dark mood slowly melted away from his face. He sighed and relaxed, relenting with a slight shrug.

You are my heart. Your safety matters to me.

I love you for it.

She kissed him softly, sealing her admission between them. He accepted her readily, parting her lips with his tongue. His kiss warmed and loosened her thoughts and heart. Entwined in their private moment, neither relented until breaths were short, cheeks were flushed, and they both smiled. She needed to tell him about her adventure.

We did not just talk. Briala took me to see how the elves live in this city. She showed me their pain and their joy. She showed me her eluvian network as well. Being in that place, seeing how the remains of our world has changed, brought back memories I did not expect. That is all.

Solas nodded, accepting her explanation and, as she hoped, perhaps understanding. There were so few places in the world that remained as they once were. He would remember and mourn the loss with her like few others could because he had also seen its glory.

Felassan predicted as much. I presumed she would guard her secrets more.” He tilted his head slightly, a gentle nod of praise. “You have a kindness to you. It garners trust and understanding from others with such an easy grace. Even someone like her can see it and feel its influence. Well done.

Ara’lan blushed faintly at the compliment. She didn’t offer to help anyone for the recognition. It was about bettering things for them and setting them on the path for growth. But beneath her joy, her mind caught on his phrasing. Solas never said anything without purpose. His words were always precise.

Someone like her? What do you mean, ma’lath?

Confusion folded her smile into a frown. She leaned back from his tight embrace to try and read his expression. Ara’lan looked at Briala and saw a woman after her own heart. The new Marquise had achieved so much for herself and her people. Against the odds of all of Orlais she stood tall and proud. She was a protector. If anything, part of Ara’lan admired Briala for her tenacity and courage.

She is a child, vhenan,” he explained, still smiling softly. “She and her followers play at rebellion and conquest but in the end they will never be anything more than petty games. They aren’t Elvhen. Not like us. They will never truly understand.

Ara’lan’s heart stilled. He couldn’t mean that. These young elves lived shorter lives, that was true, but that wasn’t their fault. The world around them had changed irrevocably. She could still remember the look on the faces of the sentinels and priests in her old temple when they realized they were growing old. Their fear burned fresh in her memories. Her arms fell to her sides, still held close by his but no longer clinging to him for comfort.

I am the one that does not understand. They are children, yes. It is our responsibility to guide and protect them.” She swallowed, nerves fluttering in her belly. “Is it not?

His sweet smile faded away. Something in his eyes changed and he stepped back. Whether he was confused or angry, she couldn’t tell. For the first time in a long time she couldn’t read a single emotion from him. It worried her enough to catch a knot in her throat.

This world is broken. Wrong. I thought you, of all people, would understand that.

I do.” She kept her voice as even as possible, though her worry increased.

They are not like us, vhenan.” He clasped his hands behind his back in his best lecturing pose. “The elves of this world are mere shadows of the People. Most have lost their conscious connection to the Fade. They cling to legends built on lies. While this world may not be their fault, it does not change the fact that they are little more than simple creatures hoping for understanding in a world that will always be beyond their grasp.

There it was. Her jaw hung loose in shock. The way he spoke about them was crude and unexpected to be sure, but it implied something that sent a shiver down her spine. Her eyes widened in an incredulous stare. This couldn’t be the same man she fell in love with. Could it?

They are not even people to you, are they?

When Mythal was slain, I fought back. In the end, nothing I did could prevent the inevitable solution.” Solas sighed then, letting a hint of sadness show through finally. “I laid in dark and dreaming sleep while countless wars and ages passed. When I awoke, I was heartbroken to find things so altered. It was like walking around in a world of Tranquil. Our People were gone. Only these shadows claiming to be descended from Elvhenan were left. Simple creatures that do not understand the truth. Our truth. Offer them kindness when possible, of course, but they do not understand. They can not. They are without that capacity.

Ara’lan’s jaw snapped shut. Her shoulders tensed, hands clenched at her sides in fists, and a lump caught in her throat. She bit back the rising words she wanted to fling in anger. With one brief statement he had shown more of himself than any trick of magic ever could. In giving him her trust, her heart, and her body, she had forgotten a simple fact that could no longer be denied though she wished it with all her being.

A rebel of the Evanuris was still an Evanuris. He wasn't too different from the Mother after all.

One hot tear built in the corner of her eye. She squeezed her eyes shut, refusing to let it free. He would not see her cry. Not because of this.

It was once said that the slaves found freedom and absolution in the service of Fen’Harel because he asked so little of them,” Ara’lan said,pushing her words through gritted teeth, knowing he would hear the bite in them and not sparing a second thought for his reaction. “That he did not want slaves of his own. He wanted them to be free to guide themselves.

She couldn’t see his confusion but it traced a strained path through his voice. “Those legends were correct. I wanted to free the People from their bonds. Restore their ability to choose.

Were they not people to you, too?

A choked sound came from his direction, prompting her to open her eyes and look. They burned but she did not cry. She still had control. Solas stood before her, eyes wide, jaw loose, his body frozen in a perfect match to the confusion she had held moments before.

Of course they were.” he struggled within himself to find an answer. “What had befallen them was not their fault. They were still Elvhen.

Her fists clenched tighter at her sides, nails digging into soft palms that once held him close. It was agony to feel walls coming up around her heart again after letting them fall so easily. She felt foolish and young all over again. Stone by stone of that wall, she wished him to prove her wrong.

And what of the ones that came later? After the Veil changed everything forever? I saw what happened to our People, Solas. You did not. Many of us went numb. Cut from the Fade so sharply drove some to madness. Others fled for the silence of Uthenera. The youngest felt the touch of age and turned their anger upon those of us that came before. I was only coerced into sleep to avoid their wrath.

Ara’lan let out a tense breath to steady her heart. One more chance for him to change his mind lingered on her tongue, a question begging to be free. She swallowed it back. If he answered how she expected, then she could never forgive him and her heart would break again. She didn't want to give up hope just yet.

I see no difference in the children of our People then and the ones you call shadows now. One is no less deserving than the other. If you can not see that, then maybe you do not understand me at all.

His reply was stunned silence. It was all she could take.

Excuse me.” Her voice cracked again, holding back the drowning wave of emotion she didn’t want him to see. “I, I need some air.

It was cowardly, she knew, but she still turned and fled. It didn’t matter where. Out of a space she felt turning cold when it had become warm with their love more than once, and into the hall that lead a dozen different directions. She didn’t stop when soft voices called her name, or when she nearly ran into a servant carrying a meal tray. Throwing an apology over her shoulder, she turned down a different hall but kept moving. Turns were taken blindly until she couldn’t see anything more than the colors of the walls and carpet beneath her feet from the tears building in her eyes. Her lungs and chest ached not for breath but for a simple release.

Eventually she found her way outside. The open sky above her head helped. She stared up into the changing colors of early evening and let the tears finally fall. Silent and clean, they ran down her upturned cheeks and landed among the grass at her feet. Though her body shook as the tension within released its grip, she made no sound. Privacy was hard enough to come by in a bustling estate. The sounds of life were just a few feet behind her. A thick wooden door and force of will kept it out of her thoughts.

The earth beneath her feet had already cooled. She could feel it between her toes, grounding her in the world. Focusing on the comfort of the soft earth and the sound of her breathing, Ara’lan was startled by a close voice.

“Raised voices, confusion. Calling for answers to questions that don’t exist. Swords clash, doors slam shut. They wanted you to help but you didn’t know how.”

Ara’lan turned to see the young man kneeling in the dirt. He was speaking to her though his attention was on a small bird in his palm. She knelt by his side to get a closer look. It was a fledgling, barely fully feathered. Likely the young thing had fallen from a nearby nest in an attempt at first flight. It opened its mouth wide and loosed a hearty cry at her approach.

“Seeing, learning, moving beyond barriers. You were made to help them do more. To be better. You can’t see them all as anything but people. They live, love, laugh, bleed. Like before.” He smiled up at her. “You just want to help.”

“Yes.”

She smiled, feeling the now drying tear tracks on her cheeks tug at her skin. Of course Compassion would find her when she needed him most. That was his purpose, after all. He was a gift in any form he chose and she was thankful beyond words. He was kin to her spirit and she would always have room in her heart for him.

“Walls around your heart, blocking out the hurt, confused, scared. Not quite solid. Was it a mistake? You just wanted to help, wanted to see. Wanted to be understood. A pearl of pain soft around the edges. It hurts but there’s hope.”

He lifted his hand and the bird flew free. It dipped and swayed in the attempt, but it found its way to the trees at the edge of the small garden just the same. He watched it go.

“There is always hope,” he continued, speaking a part of her thoughts out loud. “Wishful thinking, a dream brought to life. You helped and set them free. Set you free. But then halam’shivanas. Purpose didn’t want to listen.”

Ara’lan scooted closer. “Leave that be, lethal’lin. It is too deep."

"Pride could be different."

"That is not my decision to make, is it?" She leaned her head against his sharp shoulder and looked up. "Just sit with me awhile, please. That would help me greatly.”

They sat on the cool earth of the gardens as the sky continued to change. From bold blues that fought to linger, to the soft peach and orange tones as the sun began to reach beyond the horizon, to the first glimmer of the first star in the budding night sky, no one noticed them. Peace settled in her heart with each lazy cloud that took its slow path through her line of sight. It wasn’t until the door creaked open behind them that either moved. Ara’lan turned her head enough to see who approached this time. From his tense and tired shoulders to his wrinkled tunic to his bare toes peeking out of their wraps, Mahanon was a welcome sight. She smiled and patted Cole’s arm before standing. By the time she brushed the dirt from her bottom, the young man was gone.

“I heard you might be hiding.” Mahanon grinned, looking a bit sheepish. “I’ll have to remember this place if they look for me later. It wasn’t easy to find.”

She laughed for the first time in hours. It tugged at her throat but didn’t sound pained. Compassion had helped.

“Not hiding, lethal’lin. Not really. Just needed some open air.”

"I know the feeling." His grin faltered. “Then I really feel bad about what I was going to ask.”

Ara’lan raised a curious brow. “Oh? Why is that.”

“There’s a mage that’s been pestering me to introduce you. She’s being sent back with us by royal decree like a present from Celene.” He grimaced at the idea. “She’s not too bad, honestly. But she’s nuts for anything about relating to ancient elves and I could use a break from her lectures.”

“Why me?”

“Because you are the perfect amount of kindness to educate her properly and put her in her place without insulting her or the Empress. I could count on no one else as much as you.”

Mahanon knew he was laying the compliments on thick as he bowed dramatically and offered her a crooked arm. “May I have the pleasure of escorting you to dinner with our new advisor? Please?”

Chapter Text

Ara’lan entered the room, her arm looped loosely through Mahanon’s grasp. The smile on her lips froze when she saw where he led her. It’s not just a dinner. Everyone before her was dressed, if not as remarkably as the Ball,still fancier than their daily garb. Sera and Bull were nowhere to be seen, likely hiding from the dramatics. She felt all eyes turn on her at once. Somehow she knew they were seeing the slight dampness left on her knees from the garden or a blade of grass stuck in her hair. In just a light tunic and leggings, without even shoes, she remembered sharply, she knew she looked incredibly out of place.

“Sorry,” Mahanon muttered soft enough that only she could hear. “I forgot this was going to be fancy. Do you want to go change? I can keep them distracted.”

She weighed the judgement of the handful of nobles in attendance and the hint of disapproval from Vivienne against the bright smiles from her friends. Dorian, a blush delicately painting his cheeks, raised a half emptied goblet in greeting. The woman by his side paused halfway through speaking to narrow her golden eyes. Cassandra offered a little bow before returning to her conversation with Leliana. The Spymaster didn’t even look. She knew enough from the reaction in the room to smile softly. Even with the trappings of Orlais, they were all still the same.

Varric and Solas were the last of her friends to catch her eye. The two were chatting apart from everyone else. Varric nodded his hello, a slightly worried look pulling at his face. Of course he knew. Her heart clenched to see Solas again so soon. Everything about him looked strained. He would not meet her gaze, instead shifting his attention to the floor when she studied him for too long. It’s likely no one else would notice the tension in his shoulders or the tight way his lips pulled back in an attempt to force a smile. She did. Still, he didn’t approach or turn completely away. The distance hurt them both but she knew going to him now wouldn’t prove her point. Unable to watch longer, she turned away.

The servants were watching her, too. It wasn’t as plain to see as her friends, but Ara’lan noticed. Every one of them were elves and every one of them was smiling. Some were busy with placing trays of heavy food while others were serving drinks or carrying around small bites to entertain the party. Every time one looked at her, they smiled. It seemed word traveled fast in Orlais. She wondered slightly how much of that was aided by the eluvians. The thought was too deep to explore in the moment. For them, she chose to be brave.

“No, lethal’lin,” Ara’lan answered just as softly, her mind made up. “I am not afraid of them.”

Ara’lan went to work straightening herself as quickly and politely as possible. The few strands of her hair that had fallen in her face were easily convinced back into a small braid to hang down the side of her neck. That not only cleared her vision, but also prominently displayed her ears and valasllin. No one would doubt her pride in being an elf in Orlais. Having friends by her side helped her feel confident. Knowing the servants, the oppressed children of Elvhenan, were watching made her want to be brave. Smoothing a hand down her tunic, she grasped Mahanon by the hand and smiled once more.

“Let us see what they have in store.”

The conversations dimmed as everyone settled into their seats. Mahanon guided Ara’lan to take a seat at his right while Dorian took the one by his left. Solas ended up at the far side of the table with Varric. It was awkward at first to know he was out of reach. A little thing, but one she felt keenly. Cassandra took his usual place at her right, offering a slight smile. The Seeker held a questioning look but was respectful enough not to ask in front of everyone. Across from them sat the dark haired woman Dorian had been speaking with earlier.

“Ara’lan,” the Inquisitor began, “I’d like to introduce you to Lady Morrigan.”

The formality was for show. Mahanon’s demeanor cracked enough to give her a sheepish, almost apologetic smile. This was why she agreed to leave her reflective space. The woman he gestured towards smiled differently. Through the loose strands of her dark hair shone golden bright eyes. Her smile didn’t carry up to the rest of her face. If anything, it all made this woman look more like a predator.

“Pleased to meet you, Morrigan.” Ara’lan tilted her head politely in greeting. “I have heard you will be joining us upon our return to Skyhold.”

“As Empress Celene wishes it so, yes.” As sharp as her words could have cut, Morrigan’s voice rolled gently across the table. Her smile held firm. “Your Inquisitor has been gracious enough to accept. Though I must admit a measure of curiosity of my own.”

They were interrupted by the arrival of the first course. Wide, gilded bowls were laid out before everyone. Each was filled carefully with a warm cream soup. Bits of vegetables gave it a splash of color and Ara’lan could smell herbs similar to the ones frequently used in Skyhold. It was a blend of fanciful and rustic styles. She lifted her spoon to try a taste.

Fen’harel enasal, asha’ladara.

The words, barely a whisper, came from the retreating servant doling out soup. Spoon half raised to her lips, Ara’lan watched the elven girl from the corner of her eye continue down the table with her task as if nothing had passed between them. The girl seemed to be just like all the other servants. If it weren’t for the confident way she held her body, so unlike the ones she saw on the streets or in the palace who hunched their shoulders and never made eye contact with the humans they served, she never would have noticed. It was a subtle difference until she focused on it. She glanced around the room and noticed most of the other servants watching her closely. Her lips curled up into a soft smile. What she did here mattered to them.

Ara’lan completed the action with her spoon, lifting it to her lips for a taste. The soup was delicious, hearty enough to remind her it had been hours since she last ate. Lingering in the garden had soothed her spirit, not her body. Taking a breath to remain poised under the group’s scrutiny, she turned her attention back to the woman across the table.

“What intrigues you most, Lady Morrigan?”

“ ‘Tis said that you fight against a being that wishes to claim godhood. But can this be true? If so, then how would he accomplish such a thing? What truly were the Old God he so idolizes and worships? Should I wish to learn the whole of it for myself, I would not be able to do so by staying here.” She lifted her chin, pride lighting her eyes to a near glow. “And I am not without knowledge to trade.”

“Oh?” Ara’lan felt her own interest rise. “What kind of knowledge?”

“In all my studies and exploration, I have gained knowledge that falls beyond the realm of most mages. ‘Tis what drew the Empress’ curiosity at first. The Inquisition might have many mages to assist their cause,” she paused to nod in Dorian’s direction, “I suspect none have been brave or foolish enough to obtain my knowledge. Soldiers can fight battles, Lady Ara’lan, and nobles can pay for it all, but magic alone will be necessary to close the rift in the sky.”

“That is knowledge worth having, Lady Morrigan.”

“Yes it is, though it is most gracious of you to recognize it.” Her smile softened. “And, should you continue to feel so gracious, I have a request for you as well.”

“What could I tell you that you do not already know?”

“There are many stories circling about you, Lady Ara’lan. Some say you are a lost princess from ancient times, awoken in our time of need. Others say you are an elf savage, dressed up for show, come to conquer the human lands and give Halamshiral back to the elves. Others still say you are simply a pretender. A child born in the slums of a city, crawling your way out of the mire with a story enough to fool most.” Morrigan laughed. “I would like to know which of these, if any, are true.”

“If you have knowledge to trade, then so do I.” Ara’lan smiled and nodded in agreement. “If you have the time tomorrow or after, I would be happy to discuss it with you further.”

Ara’lan saw Mahanon relax slightly as they spoke. The conversations around them turned to more mundane things and they followed suit. Morrigan was a sharp woman, speaking her mind without apology, but not without her own wit and charm. She was a refreshing break from the pretension and verbal dances prevalent in Orlais.

After the meal was finished, the drinks kept flowing. Conversations rose in pitch and enthusiasm. A hearty laugh broke through the air, not even making any other banter pause. In truth, Ara’lan was exhausted. Spirit eased, stomach sated, she could feel the weight of the day bearing on her shoulders and eyelids. She made a soft apology to Mahanon and a final promise to Morrigan to speak later, then rose from her seat. She was met by one of the servants, the same one who had whispered earlier in the evening, who bowed and smiled.

“Please allow me to escort you to your room, miss.”

Though she despised the idea of being waited on, she was too tired to argue. “Thank you, da’len. Lead the way.”

Friends waved or called their farewells as she passed, but didn’t wait for her answer. It was just as well. She didn’t have anything left in her for them.

Good night, Era’las.

He didn’t raise his voice but he used her old name. It twisted the ache in her chest back to life in an instant. She couldn’t look at him, not yet. Eyes on the back of the servant’s head, she let out a breath to steady her voice and answered him.

Sleep well, Solas.

The walk back to her room went by in a daze. She learned the servant, Aria, grew up in the Ghislain estate. That elves were treated reasonably well here but education wasn’t encouraged. It was insightful to both the Duke and Vivienne’s stance on the plight of elves. She also learned the woman who ran the kitchens and the head chambermaid bickered constantly but shared the same bed and the gardener was hiding kittens in his work shed. Aria was an endless source of words once she began speaking. She had probably been told to be quiet too many times before.

“Oh! We’re here, miss.”

Aria opened the door to let Ara’lan enter and followed her inside, her chatter fading away. She headed for the fireplace, drawing a thin stick from the pockets in her skirt. It was dark enough to need to candles.

“Don’t worry about that, girl. I’ve got it.”

A familiar male voice called out from the shadows, making Aria squeak in surprise. Ara’lan huffed slightly and shook her head. The fire swelled back to life and all the candles lit up at once. She turned and crossed her arms over her chest but she wasn’t truly angry. Her voice lifted, trying to hold back the annoyance she felt.

“Must you?”

Felassan stepped away from the wall and grinned, unashamed of his actions. He wiggled his fingers at Aria, who paled as he approached.

“Run along now. Tell Briala her ha’hren said so. She’ll understand.”

In a swish of skirts and click of a closing door, the servant was gone. That left the two of them alone for the first time in more years than she could count. Ara’lan took the time to truly study him. He had changed only a little since then. The luck, or curse, of their kind was their near immortal lifespan but age and stress happened to them all. The corners of his eyes, once dotted with little lines from all his laughter, had softened. Lines traced across his forehead and cheeks instead, cutting across Mythal’s marks. Those dark branches hadn’t lightened at all. His dark hair, once kept quite short for the time, had grown out. He still kept it pulled back, though it cascaded down his back to rest between his shoulders. Those same shoulders, and any other muscles she could easily see, were just as toned as they ever were. Cocky and self-assured as he projected, she could see how weary he truly was.

Are you here for his intent?” Ara’lan asked him cautiously. “Because I am too tired to argue with you, as well.

No, da’asha.” Felassan smiled and lifted his arms, offering them openly to her. “I am here for you.

That was all the confirmation she needed. Ara’lan half ran, half fell into his embrace. Her arms curled around his back, holding on tight. She buried her face in the curve of his neck and squeezed her eyes shut. To his credit, he said nothing. Felassan wrapped his arms around her in return, pulling her tightly to his chest. Connected to him this way, trusting in their bond and history, the tension in Ara’lan began to uncurl. She breathed slowly, letting the scents of wild woods, musk, and magic that clung to his skin drown out everything in her mind that threatened to overtake her control.

A pop from the fire broke the spell. Ara’lan gasped and whipped her head up to glare the flames for their interruption. Felassan laughed, a thick sound that rumbled his chest and got caught in his throat. When she looked back to him, he was smiling sadly back at her. She sighed and leaned forward, pressing their foreheads together, and closing her eyes.

It is starting again, falon. I want to help them. I need to. My heart is not strong enough to do this all on my own.

Felassan gave her a quick squeeze and rubbed a hand in comforting, soft circles along her lower back. “You are not alone, da’asha. You will always have me.

You said that once before,” Ara’lan muttered bitterly. “Then you ran.

You once told me you would draw down the stars,” he countered lightly at first. His tone deepened quickly after. “I have choices now that I did not have then. I am free. Give me your trust once more, da’asha. Please.

She pulled back and studied his face again. The worry lines were deeper than before but his intentions seemed clear. Without magic she would have to trust her instincts. His pulse beat steady in his neck and chest. His eyes never once looked away from her. If anything they pleaded with her to listen.

Yes, of course.” She conceded with a tired nod. “It was never truly in doubt. I apologize. Today has been far too long.

Relief flooded his body, softening his face and set of his shoulders. It pained her to think what he might have expected. Any worries about that fled when he smiled and kissed her tenderly on the forehead.

You are a blessing I am fortunate to know.” He winked, looking playful once more. “You get into bed and tell me all about it. I have been too long without your company.

Chapter Text

Ara’lan changed out of her clothes from the day and into a short thin shift to sleep. It wasn’t her tunic’s fault for the dramatics of the day, but she was glad to rid herself of the reminder of how much had happened, even if it was something so insignificant. Removing the braids from her hair was something else. The offending garment was tossed roughly to the floor in a heap with her leggings. Still somewhat twisted up in the designs woven by Solas that morning, it tugged at her heart to undo his work. A silly notion, she knew, but it still hurt because she loved him and it was a gift from a happy moment.

Solving the problem of his mindset was too big a project to sort out in one night. As the braids came undone and her hair loosened into gentle waves, she wrapped up her worries about Solas and tucked them into a corner of her mind. They wouldn’t be forgotten. He wouldn’t be forgotten. She scrubbed her face and teeth quickly and stepped out of the washroom with a sigh.

Felassan had made himself quite comfortable in her absence. Stripped down to his own leggings, he had at least pulled the blankets back before he sprawled out on her bed. When he caught sight of her he grinned and patted the space by his side.

The styling is over the top but they certainly know how to make a comfortable mattress. Do you know how long it has been since I’ve been able to indulge like this? I may have to stay a few nights just to be sure.

She laughed at him and shook her head. The years had been long but he hadn’t changed much at all. Every little reminder he could give her was a balm to her heart. She climbed into bed beside him, tugged the soft blankets up around them both, and was gently drawn against his chest. His hands rubbed soothing circles against her back while his legs shifted enough to wrap around hers lightly. The steady beat of his heart thudded against her cheek and she closed her eyes. For all his playing around, he knew exactly what she needed most.

He freed me, da’asha.

Felassan spoke softly, barely a whisper of lips against the top of her head. Though he had asked her for her story, it seemed he had to clear his mind first. She hugged him, encouraging him to continue.

Fen’Harel freed me from her service. I kept her marks so I could continue to work as a spy, but it was my choice. Not his. I kept meaning to come back, to check on you or bring you those flowers I promised but I never did. I didn’t know what had happened to you until it was too late. No one knew where you were. I had thought-

Ara’lan shushed him softly, pressing a kiss to his chest. His arms around her tightened for a moment, releasing when he let out his breath in a shuddering sigh.

I’m glad my fears were wrong,” he breathed.

You were not far from the truth. Be it Mythal’s hand or another.

Ara’lan closed her eyes, relieved to let another truth free. It was impossible to talk about her past with anyone. Hawen had tried his best to understand but even he was easily overwhelmed by the scope of her understanding. So she had stopped trying long ago. Part of her hope in finding others of her time was in the simple kinship she shared with her old friend. Luck or circumstance, she was glad it was him.

Do you want to tell me?

His question picked at her thoughts with precision. She wanted to tell him so many things, now that she was free to do so. It would take years to tell him everything that needed to be said. With so much in mind, she didn’t know where to begin. Floundering, she opened her mouth a few times before giving up.

Where should I begin?

He tensed. She could feel a tremor in his arms against her skin. “Where did you go?

One of Mythal’s temples in the south.” Her voice cracked around the goddess’ name and she swallowed hard to continue. “As far from Arlathan as he could send me.

He cursed and kissed the top of her head. “He? But why?

She knew I was helping. I thought she supported the cause.” Ara’lan slid closer to his steadying presence. Her words snapped and growled behind her clenched teeth. “She changed her mind. She changed. So did he. Her perfect soldier.

But what about-

She shook her head sharply. “He did nothing.

Felassan growled, the sound echoing in his chest. His temper was quick to come to her defense. Ara’lan said nothing to calm him. She couldn’t. She shook slightly in his arms, anger, hurt, and fear dancing within the memories like freshly opened wounds. It stole her breath.

Show me.

The heat in his voice immediately stilled her tremors. She tilted her head to look up at him. His clenched jaw and a deep frown pulled his eyes tight in the corners. Muttering silently, he stared off beyond the confines of the bed, into a dark place only he could picture. Seeing the ferocity in his face gave her courage.

Are you sure, lethal’lin?

He swallowed hard and nodded. Collecting himself, Felassan was calmer by the time he looked down into her waiting stare.

I am, da’asha. Take me to where it went wrong. Please.

Ara’lan nodded in agreement and tucked herself back against her chest, closing her eyes. He shifted around her slightly though never released her from his grasp. Soon enough their breathing evened out and slowed as they slipped through sleep and into the Fade.

The sounds came to life first. She heard clapping hands and a sing-song melody from the children outside in the garden, playing while the light was still new in the sky. A bustle of activity echoed in the kitchen, broken only by laughter and enthusiastic conversations. Keeping her eyes shut for a moment, Ara’lan let the old memory fill in the world around her. If she didn’t look, didn’t see their faces, she could pretend that it was going to last.

The hands held tight in hers flexed and drew her away from imagining. She opened her eyes to see Felassan studying her face. His violet eyes and tight smile reminded her why she was dusting off this old memory. She frowned, focusing on the events he needed to see. The world around them solidified until they stood in the common room of her old home.

Activity bloomed around them. Elves of all ages, shapes, and sizes wandered about. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. She could remember each and every name. Telhana crouched by the fire, telling a story with gestures of her hands. Aridhel, her far too serious audience and gentle suitor, watched her eyes as much her hands. Melothari shuffled in, arms filled with wood for the fire. His bowed back and dull, white hair told the story of his past suffering but he still smiled. Maelle came from the kitchen, a streak of flour on her cheek. She waved Melothari past her and whistled, a shrill noise that brought everything in the garden to a halt. All ten of the children whooped in joy and galloped like a small herd of wild beasts to answer her call. They ran straight for the kitchen, narrowly dodging between Melothari’s feet and legs.

Never a dull moment in this house.” Felassan huffed a laugh. “They were always the first to the food.

"They were," she agreed sadly.

This had been more than a place of healing and refuge. It was her home. Since waking in the world after the Fall, she hadn’t allowed herself to look back on it. Things had changed too much while she slept. The pain still burned fresh, even after all the time that had passed. For all the joy around her, for the hearts and souls that had taken time to heal under her roof, she felt the tears slide down her cheeks. None of them knew what would come.

Felassan pulled her to his side, murmuring small noises of comfort at her open display of distress. His smile was gone.

I’m here, da’asha. Stay with me.

An echo of herself followed in the wake of the children. Her hair was mussed, falling in uneven braids down her back. The children’s work. She adjusted the equally heartfelt and slapdash flower crown on her head, laughing at their retreating forms. Maelle waved to her, pulling a small bundle out of her apron with a bright grin. Unwrapping the cloth, she revealed a small loaf of sweet bread.

I saved one for you, asha’ladara. It’s still warm if you want it now.

Ara’lan watched herself take it and make a happy noise. Her own hands shook, feeling the tension build. This was part of the memory, nothing more. She took a steadying breath and leaned into Felassan. Releasing the grasp of his hands, she instead wrapped her arms around his waist. Everything was about to change.

Heavy footfalls came first. The shift of metal, plates of armour brushing against each other, and a methodical stride carried in the new arrival. His armour shone bright as the sun in the sky. A long, white, tightly woven plait hung down his back. He narrowed his golden eyes, wrinkling the green branches across his cheeks. He stood out in harsh contrast against the peaceful environment. Ara’lan of the memory spun quickly, a bright smile on her lips. She rushed to close the distance between them, throwing her arms around his neck and nearly leaping into his arms. The roll fell away from her grip, forgotten.

Ma’sa’lath, you came back early!” Her voice rang with joy. “I did not expect you for a few more days.

Yes I did.

His answer, though sincere, fell flat against her enthusiasm. He embraced her tightly, tucking his face against the side of her neck to kiss it. Carrying her across the room, he turned to trap her between himself and the wall.

Ir abelas, ‘ma’sal’shiral,” he whispered.

The real Ara’lan shivered against Felassan, watching the mirror of herself not understand. Looking back always had a price. The memory of herself leaned easily against the wall, her brows folded in confusion. She laughed, trying to dismiss his worry.

For what?” She still smiled. “I am certain we can work out whatever has happened. I am very good at solving riddles, you know.

Not this time.

The peace around them shattered all at once. Soldiers, all wearing the same armour as her lover, flowed in like water. Startled voices turned to cries of fear and alarm. Wet sounds of metal meeting flesh, screams of pain and frustration, pounding feet of people trying to escape and soldiers running after them filled the home. Ara’lan watched herself try to squirm away from the arms that held her in place. She had begged, pleaded, screamed, and cried for him to explain or let her go but he stood still as a statue and held her.

Eventually the sounds stopped. A cold stillness filled the home. The sentinel took a step back and let his captive slide to the floor. She wrapped her arms around her torso and rocked back and forth, sobbing and staring at his blank expression.

Why, ma’sa’lath?!” She gasped, her voice, ragged and raw, tore through the silence. “What did they do? What have I done? They were innocent!

No, child. They were not.

Her love turned his back on her and bowed low, folding to rest on one knee. The new voice sent tremors through both Ara’lans. Felassan hissed, barely containing his rage. Whether for her sake or his own, he held his tongue. The woman who entered after the chaos commanded respect from her very presence. Dark, scaled armour encased her body, leaving sharp edges at her shoulders and elbows. Her hair, blindingly white, coiled back from her bare face like the horns of her greatest form. Mythal didn’t simply enter. She enveloped the room.

Sathan, Mother,” the Ara’lan watched herself crawl and beg for an explanation. “What have they done wrong? I thought you approved. Sathan! There were children!

They were mine!” Mythal looked down at the woman on the floor, sneering in disgust. “I have allowed this little game to play out because it did not trouble me to indulge you. To indulge all of you. As of now, that ends. War is upon us, girl. It is time to grow up and put aside childish things.

Mythal, Mother, sathan!” The Ara’lan in the moment folded into her misery, curling into a ball at the feet of the warrior goddess. “I do not understand.

I owe you no explanation, Era’las. Or do you forget? You also belong to me. I made you.

Mythal snapped her fingers and Ara’lan of the past cried out in pain. Writhing on the floor, her valasllin lit up. Bright blue light flickered and burned the tender skin of her cheeks and chest. Turning her back to it, Mythal clicked her tongue. Other sentinels filtered in from the far corners of the house at her call. Some of them still had fresh blood on their armour. The copper scent hung heavy in the air. In turn, they all knelt before their queen. She let her sharp gaze pass over each of them slowly. A wicked smile pulled at her lips.

Take her away from here, Amelanen.” Mythal waved a hand and the torment stopped, leaving Ara’lan’s former self gasping with soft sobs. “She will live, as I promised. But make sure she is not able to return. I will not spare her twice, oath or no.

He rose quickly, pressing a fist to his shoulder in salute before moving to scoop the limp woman from the floor. Her head tucked against his chest, the only movement she could manage. The flower crown she had cherished fell to the floor and crumbled apart.

Why, ma’sa’lath?” She croaked. “What have you done?

His answer carried in the air as the dream began to fade away. “Halamshivanas, ‘ma’sal’shiral. You will live. That is all that matters.

Chapter Text

Ara’lan turned her back on the fading scene and pressed her face into Felassan’s chest. Breathing wasn’t required in the Fade, but she still felt as if she had finally let out a breath she had been holding for far too long. It left her light-headed enough to need to cling to his shirt to keep her balance. It hurt to see it again. It burned through a scar in her heart and mind that had healed over long ago. But it was freeing, too. She could finally tell someone the truth and know it would be believed instead of questioned.

Felassan ran his fingers through her hair but otherwise didn’t move at all. When she was able to look up at his face, it was twisted in confusion, horror, and anger. He closed his eyes for a few seconds. When he opened them again, his calm had returned at least on the surface. She could see a good number of ideas still flashing in his eyes.

I never would have imagined he could-

His words stopped with a grumble of disgust in his throat. Hugging her tight was a comfort to them both.

That wasn’t the end of it.

It wasn’t a question. Ara’lan answered him just the same with a slow shake of her head.

No.” Her voice flowed lighter than the memories that lingered. “He made me sleep while we traveled away from that place. To heal, he said. Though it hid how far we went as well. I did not know when or where we stopped. Just that when I awoke again, I was in a temple dedicated to Mythal.

Show me the rest, da’asha.” Felassan kissed her on the forehead. “Only if you can bear it.

For him, she would try. Nodding in agreement, Ara’lan lifted a hand, waving at the empty space that had held her last memory. She wrapped her arms around Felassan’s waist to watch the new scene play out. Another story to tell. Another truth set free. He would be strong enough to help her carry it.

Another room solidified into being. Where the previous location had been full of warm colors, light, and happy noises, this one was cold, harsh, and quiet. Precisely carved stone replaced uneven wood slatted walls. Veilfire torches flickered in their sconces on the walls, deepening the blues and golds of the tapestries and paintings. An overly large bed was the only furniture in the room. Tucked neatly under the rich sheets and covers, lay her sleeping form. Her brilliant red hair splayed out across the pillow, contrasting almost painfully against the muted silver sheets. Kneeling by her side, was her guardian and captor. He held one of her hands within both of his, finally bared of their gauntlets.

She stirred in the bed, making a soft noise. As the spell wore off, her body still responded slowly. Her eyes fluttered open and upon seeing him, narrowed.

Where have you taken me?

He didn’t answer, just lifted her hand to his lips. She yanked free of his grasp and looked away, voice and demeanor hardening.

What will become of me now?

Outwardly he seemed unmoved by her reaction, only offering a calm acceptance in return. He didn’t try to touch her again.

You will be safe, ‘ma’sal’shiral. That is all that matters.

Growling deep within her chest, Ara’lan’s past self pulled her legs up to her chest, drawing as far from him physically as the bed would allow. A sneer took over her face and she turned it against him.

No. That is not all that matters! Those were my friends. My people! They trusted me! You knew them!” Her voice cracked but she carried on. “If you ever loved me, Amelanen, tell me why. Tell me the truth.

The use of his name drew a reaction from him that her anger couldn’t. His shoulders sagged as much as his sharp armour would allow. His open palms lay on the mattress between them in supplication. His eyes remained sharp in their study of her. His explanation fell from his lips like heavy drops of rain.

I needed you safe. This was the only way.” He sighed heavily. “When I last left your side it was with a promise to return. Mythal still has need of me and I must serve. Her children lust for power beyond their reckoning and will bring disaster to us all. I must serve. I must protect our People. When they are brought to heel, then we will be together again.

Ara’lan hissed at him, turning her back on him. Her body still responded sluggishly, though her face showed it was likely from pain rather than a lingering sleep spell. She stretched her legs out over the side of the bed, reaching for the floor.

Those are her words. Not yours.

Feet on the floor, she slid from the bed slowly, pinching her lips between her teeth to hold back any noises of discomfort. Her anger with Amelanen pushed her to forgo rest. She had to get away from him.

There are spies everywhere, my love. Eyes and ears of the enemy. They were in your home. I could not allow that risk to remain. You must understand.

Ara’lan stopped and lifted her face to stare at him. Her mouth opened a few times but no sound came out. Eyes wide, trembling fingers clenched tight in the sheets, she struggled to find her words.

I must nothing! Who told you such lies?

He blinked, unphased by the tension in her body or voice. “Mythal does not lie. Her wisdom led me to save you before the unthinkable could come to pass.

She cried out in frustration. The lighting in the room dimmed slightly from the magical backlash of her emotional torrent. Shadows deepened between them.

Those people, my friends, were free. They served no one but themselves! Or did you forget why I started helping them when you fell to your knees so eagerly before the Mother once more?

You are alive because she wills it,” he pleaded. “I gave her my word that you were not an infiltrator to her cause. That all your years of loyal service were worth her trust and she believed me. Do not speak against her now. Her mercy is great.

She is just like the rest of them,” Ara’lan spat back at him, full of vitriol. “Mercy at the end of a sword is not mercy! They were innocent and she had them cut down like they were nothing! Their lives, their freedom, had more value than that! I thought you knew it, too. Clearly I was mistaken.

He rose, strapped his gauntlets back in place, and brushed an imagined speck of dust from his pauldron. “We will discuss this later, ‘ma’sal’shiral. Take this time to rest, think, and be thankful. When my battle is done I will return to your side.

She fumed, unable to form words strong enough to voice her anger. The building silence between them was broken when the only doors to the room swung open and two elves entered. One carried a tray of fruit and bread. The other held a bowl and towel. They ignored Ara’lan and bowed deeply before Amelanen.

Keep my Era’las safe,” he commanded them. “She is protected by Mythal herself and will need time to heal. Guard her well and keep her within your halls until I return.

Amelanen nodded in Ara’lan’s direction and left, offering her no other explanation. The two elves that remained approached her with soothing voices and motions. Shoving them away and crying out in rage, the memory of Ara’lan collapsed to the floor and took the remains of the vision with her.

The real Ara’lan sagged against Felassan’s side, exhausted and emotionally spent. He slid to a sitting position and took her into his lap. With a thought, the emptiness of the Fade around them changed once more. This time they were surrounded by swaying grasses and rolling fields. The sun shone brightly above them, bathing them both in a soothing warmth.

It’s no wonder I couldn’t find you, da’asha,” Felassan murmured against her hair. “His people were loyal to the end.

Ara’lan sighed, comforted by the pulse of his magic under his skin and timbre of his voice. The pain of watching her memories still felt as fresh as the day she lived them but having a true friend by her side made it easier to bear. He knew her truth and accepted it. More importantly, he still accepted her.

I was locked in that temple when the world fell.” She continued her tale with words, finding them easier than another projection. “The Great War, they called it. But it did not go as planned. By the time we heard of Mythal’s murder, the Veil had already lifted and severed us from our true home forever. He never returned. They never let me leave. It was decided that I should sleep. In uthenera I would find my purpose again.

Ara’lan shrugged. “I did not have the will left to argue. Where else would I go? At least I would feel free again. But I was called back to my body when the darkspawn came. They tore open the chamber where I slept. I know not why I woke and the others did not, but something decided I should survive.

And I will be thankful you did.

Felassan lifted her chin to look her in the eyes. Despite the conflict she saw in the fold of his brow, he smiled. He watched her carefully, waiting for her to relax. Just as she did, he winked and his smile widened to a bold grin. Unable to resist him, she huffed a soft laugh and rolled her eyes.

Thank you, ma'falon. I have missed you very much.

Then you will be happy to know that when you return to your fortress away from home, I will accompany you.

Ara’lan grinned and hugged him tight. “Good. I do not want to lose you again so soon.

~ ~

When Ara’lan woke, she was alone. The bed by her side was still warm so she knew he had remained throughout the night. Sunlight was just beginning to break through the window. Tucking deeper into her covers, Ara’lan tried to deny the start of her day for a few minutes longer. It wasn’t meant to last. A soft knock on her door interrupted her sleepy thoughts, bringing her fully awake.

“Come in,” she called.

A small elven woman entered with a breakfast tray and bucket of water. Squinting slightly as she sat up, Ara’lan recognized her from the night before.

“Aria?”

The young woman grinned brightly, a deep blush coloring her cheeks. “You remembered? Oh thank you, miss! I had wondered if you’d remember me at all. You meet so many people, so many more important people than me, truly. I just-”

Ara’lan waved for Aria to stop, smiling in return. So much enthusiasm was a lot to face so early in the morning. She would certainly have her hands full with this one. Climbing out of bed and crossing the chill floor helped wake her up the rest of the way. Ara’lan took a small piece of fruit from the tray and a sealed letter that had been tucked gently behind the bread.

“It’s from Lady Josephine,” Aria explained, setting down her burdens. “She told me you’re going to be really busy for the rest of your time here and I could stay and help you. If you would approve.”

Ara’lan cracked the seal on the letter and found Aria’s words true. Skimming the contents, she could see that the Ambassador and Spymaster had planned out nearly every minute for the last two days of their stay. It detailed out who she would be meeting, what to discuss, and even what to wear. The names given were lower ranking nobles, likely ones they needed her to distract while Mahanon got real business done. A note Leliana added at the bottom explained how Aria’s enthusiasm might make her a valuable asset in the future. Implied heavily enough, Ara’lan knew what she wanted.

“I would like that very much,” she said with a smile. “But only if it will cause you no trouble. I will not have you reprimanded for falling behind in other tasks.”

Aria giggled and clapped her hands happily. “Oh no, miss! It won’t be any trouble. Lady Briala has already gotten someone to do my work. She said you’d probably say yes and then I could learn to-”

The woman flushed again, clasping a hand quickly over her mouth. Ara’lan coughed softly to contain her laugh.

“There is no worry, Aria. The Marquise has said she trusts me and I expect no less of her than to have someone watching my actions as well as watching over me.”

Aria nodded, her shoulders sagging in remorse. Her hands fell away from her face. “Yes, miss. She said you were smart and I would learn a lot from you.”

“Yes, da’len. She was right about that, too.” Ara’lan laughed then, nodding happily. “Now let us get this day started before the Ambassador scolds me for running her entire schedule behind.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t long before Ara’lan realized how true Aria’s warning had been. The list Josephine had left her was itemized, and detailed to the minute, in the Ambassador’s neat handwriting. Each meeting she was scheduled for had a small note about who it was with, what she should discuss, and what to absolutely not mention at all. Josephine’s effort made all the difference for her day. There was no way she would have had enough time to learn this all by memory alone before the Ball.

Whisked away to the Palace once more, she quickly learned it wasn’t what she said that mattered to the people who had requested her attention. The nobles were all ladies of great standing in both title and the Game. They proudly displayed their wealth within the confines of their guest rooms. Each one started with polite greetings and tea or wine in the overstuffed chairs of a sitting room. Nearly all of their appointments looked exactly the same, though each would point out one or two things she had to politely compliment or acknowledge as special. Even their elven servants wore the same expression of sad resignation when they thought no one was looking. Otherwise it was a lot of sitting, nodding at the right times, and promising to bring concerns to the attention of the Inquisitor when she was able.

Aria had the luck of being completely ignored by the nobles. Instead, she spoke with their servants. Hushed voices whispered softer than the humans could hear but Ara’lan knew what was happening. Briala’s agent was recruiting to the cause just as easily as Ara’lan was placating the nobility. The innocent act Aria projected was exactly that, though her enthusiasm for life seemed to be genuine. They made a good team, Ara’lan could acknowledge. Perhaps bringing Aria back to Skyhold would be a good idea after all.

By the end of the first day, they were both exhausted. Returning to Ara’lan’s room at the Ghislain estate, she was looking forward to the quiet and privacy it afforded her. When she opened the door, she was surprised to find the Spymaster sitting in a chair by the window. She smiled at both of them and waved a welcome.

“Looks like you’ve had a long day.”

Ara’lan huffed a bitter laugh and nodded. There was no use pretending to be poised. Leliana would know the truth quickly and she didn’t have the energy to fight with her. Instead she raised a hand towards Aria, who produced the notes they had taken from a pocket in her skirts.

“Yes. We learned much. Do you wish to discuss it now?”

“If you’re feeling able, it would be best to speak while your mind is fresh.”

Ara’lan nodded and sat in the other chair. She looked up at Aria to invite her to stay, but paused when she realized how much the young woman was fidgeting. Leliana was an intimidating person, especially if you were someone else’s spy. Unwilling to let the girl suffer, Ara’lan offered her a way out.

“I think I would rather eat here tonight instead of joining everyone. Could you please let the kitchen know, Aria? I can come and collect a plate later.”

Aria nodded eagerly. “Yes, miss. I’ll just go and tell them. And I can bring your food up later, too. No need to worry yourself about that.”

She nearly ran out of the room, pausing only to shut the door quietly behind her. Leliana watched her exit with a knowing grin. It was clear to at least Ara’lan the woman was proud of the reputation she had cultivated.

Ara’lan passed the stack of notes over to Leliana. It would be easier to let her read than to explain each one. The Spymaster hummed her appreciation as she read, giving each page an honest amount of consideration.

“This will be quite useful in the days ahead,” she mused. “If they only knew how much they gave away easily. Listening to what is not said is sometimes more important. You’ve done good work here, Ara’lan. Perhaps you could be a real agent of mine one day.”

Ara’lan shook her head. “Thank you, but I must decline. Helping here, now, I will do this because Mahanon needs it. My friend needs me to help him. The Inquisition must present as a united front or he will lose all he has gained. Once we return I would be most happy to go stepping back out of the spotlight.”

“That may not be possible. There is certainly someone who has more than a little interest in you.” Leliana’s smile widened. “Word travels fast in an alienage and Briala isn’t the only one with agents in the city. Singing for the children was poetic. I couldn’t have arranged for a better opportunity myself.”

“I did not intend for it-”

Leliana cut her off with a slight wave of her hand. “I know. You are the perfect person to reach out to her for that exact reason. She will trust your interests with her and her people. There’s nothing to doubt when you can’t lie.”

There was a hard truth. Ara’lan knew herself well enough to admit it. Avoiding a topic was one thing. Lying was another. She never mastered the art and had no desire to learn. Nodding in agreement, she kept the rest of her opinion to herself.

“There’s also someone else who desires your attention, isn’t there? I saw you dancing at the end of the Ball. The pair of you seemed to be lost in a world of your own.”

The faint tilt of Leilana’s head and the slant of her smile was enough to bring some color to Ara’lan’s cheeks. She remembered the dancing a little too well.

“Perhaps so.”

Ara’lan didn’t want to get into that conversation. Not yet. She knew her small admission wouldn’t sate Leliana’s curiosity. She also knew that it was likely Mary told Leliana plenty already. Either way, it didn’t matter. Ara’lan only knew she cared for him deeply but she couldn’t reconcile his attitude towards the modern elves. That would be something only she and Solas could resolve, if at all. These weren’t troubles to air to the Spymaster of the Inquisition.

Leliana accepted her answer with a lift of her eyebrows. For all her invasive questioning she subjected Ara’lan to so far, there was something softer in her now. Sympathy, perhaps? Ara’lan could only hope and wonder. The Spymaster didn’t give away her own secrets. She gathered up Ara’lan’s notes and rose from her seat.

“I’ll be sure to share these with Josephine. We’ll make sure your efforts aren’t wasted. And tomorrow will be an easier day for you,” she explained. “Our stay here has been cut short. The Inquisitor is needed back as Skyhold sooner than planned.”

“Oh?” Ara’lan sat up, grabbing at the easy distraction from her clouded thoughts with all her hope. “How much sooner?”

“Before midday tomorrow if everything goes to plan.” Leliana laughed softly. “I’ll let everyone know you’d rather not be disturbed until then.”

“Thank you, yes.”

Leliana left quietly. The silence that remained was a relief from all the chatter she’d been subjected to over the course of the day. It also left her alone with her thoughts. Troublesome things that they were, she didn’t have the strength to argue with herself either. Instead she turned her attention to the practiced task of letting down her hair. Releasing the braids one by one allowed her scalp to relax and helped the rest of her body follow.

She didn’t move to look when the door opened and shut again gently. No one except Aria would enter without knocking, not even Solas. It wasn’t until she noticed the lack of her chatter that she looked up and saw she was mistaken. One of the Ghislain servants stood at attention just inside the door. He wore the house uniform and mask that all the higher ranking servants claimed but she didn’t recognize him. Once he had her attention he smiled and bowed.

Ara’lan smiled in return, though a bit tired of keeping up appearances. “Hello. I am sorry, I was not expecting anyone. May I help you?”

The elf shook his head and stepped forward. He reached up to lose the ties of his mask and lift it from his face. Beneath it were the well-known branches of Mythal and a pair of sparkling violet eyes. Once revealed, his whole body relaxed into an easier posture.

“You would think after all this time that you’d be able to recognize me through any disguise. I’m disappointed, da’asha.” He winked, playing up his wounded act until he made her smile. “I thought I was special to you.

Ara’lan laughed and shook her head, reaching out to pull him into a warm embrace. He hugged her back tightly, lifting her off her feet and spinning her slowly before setting her back on the ground.

You are special to me, ma’falon. I just did not expect you back so soon.

Felassan slid into the chair Leliana had vacated, tossing his mask on the table. The smile on his face fell, leaving behind a slight frown. It took him a few moments to find his answer. The longer he waited, the more she began to worry.

I don’t know what you told him, but it affected him deeply.” He stared at his hands, laying open in his lap. Muted as he was, she knew this was a serious concern. “I didn’t ask and he won’t say. But he is quieter now. He spends more time thinking and muttering than before. I believe you have wounded his pride.

Good.

Ara’lan earned a sharp look of confusion for her reply. She finished unwinding her braids and pulled her fingers roughly through the waves they left behind in her hair. Frustration flared in her mind, making her tug on the strands more than she usually would. The twinge of her scalp kept her grounded and helped her focus and gather her thoughts.

He and I disagree about the value of modern elves. They are not at fault for the world being what it is nor for their part in it. When he called them shadows it startled me. I may have been hasty in my choice of words to him, but I will take none of it back.

Her voice was calmer than she felt. Thinking about it, talking about it, brought her deeper fears and worries to the surface again. Her heart and mind didn’t agree on what to do next. Logically she should walk away. He proved easily and readily that some lives were more valuable than others. Their kin weren’t real. That should be that. Her heart, however, still ached for the sound of his voice and touch of his hands. Sharing the secret of his past and the kinship of age meant more than she could put to words. She had let him into her life and heart and it would hurt even more to cast him out.

How am I so different from those children? My magic in this world is gone. Only in the Fade am I my complete self. I still wear my oath of service on my skin and soul. Only by luck was I made when time had not quickened us.” Her voice cracked, barely above a whisper. “If he sees them as less than people, then how can he claim to love me? How could I still love him?

Felassan rose quickly from his seat to pull her against his chest. He hummed softly, kissing the top of her head and running his fingers through her hair. The soothing sounds of his voice and gentle touch were enough to push her over the edge of control. Burying her face in his neck, fists clenched tight to the sides of his jacket, she let herself fall apart.

Tears poured down her cheeks to soak the lapels of his jacket. Her broken sobs muffled against the thick material. She didn’t care. She needed this. Holding together, staying calm through everything, it had a price to be paid. Felassan held her close and kept whispering soft words until she was empty and her head throbbed. When she worked her way to silence, he scooped her up in his arms and crouched down to the floor so he could hold her in his lap.

Do you remember when I asked you to run away with me?

Ara’lan looked up to see him watching her. The smile that pulled at his lips was different than before. Neither sharp nor lewd, instead there was a softness to him that reached out to her so easily that it warmed her heart and face. She smiled back through the faint traces of tears that remained.

Which time?

Felassan laughed and kissed her forehead. “The first time. The last time. Any of the times between.

Yes,” she answered simply. “Yes I do.

The first time we met, you scolded me for running straight into trouble.” He sighed wistfully and twisted a few strands of her hair between his fingers. “Told me a rebellion lived and died with the strength of the people that brought others hope and that I needed to take better care of myself so I could take care of them. You said I was lucky to make it into your care in time and you almost wanted to let me suffer a little longer to think about what I’d done.

Ara’lan huffed a laugh and shifted in his lap to snuggle closer. She remembered that day, too. He had come in with a handful of refugees. All were broken, bloody, and starving but it was all from old wounds. He had a broken wrist, more cuts than she could count, and two broken ribs but he still lead them with a grin. They had stayed safe because he protected them.

I did,” she agreed quietly. “You were quite the valiant hero, ma’falon, even if you were foolish.

I was,” he agreed with a sheepish grin. “You were right, of course. And then you were so charming after it all that I had to find ways to keep coming back and see you. Ways that didn’t always involve me getting injured.

Ara’lan felt a heat crawl up the back of her neck as she smiled. He had always been so charming, even in the direst of circumstances. She was selfishly glad he hadn't lost that part of himself.

Of course you would lecture me every time I had even a little scratch.” Felassan continued telling his story, only pausing for a moment to glance down and catch her reaction. “You have always been beautiful, da’asha. Not just for your appearance or your skill, but for your heart. Era’las truly was hope and love embodied. Now you are yourself. You have control of your future and your heart still shines through. Anyone who spends time around you can feel it.

Felassan brushed a thumb across the swell of her cheek, cupping her chin in his hand. Ara’lan sighed, her breath catching in her throat, and looked up to find him staring intently into her eyes. The sheer focus of his attention and gentle reverence in his touch sent a shiver down her spine.

You don’t need magic, power, or followers for anyone to love you. All you have to do is smile.” His voice dipped, gaining a roughness she didn't expect. “If that isn’t enough for the Wolf, that’s his loss. I know it was enough for me.

Her eyes widened at his admission. He had always flirted and teased her, but she never presumed it was more than a game. Even the many times he begged her to run away with him had been played off with a laugh. Maybe she had overlooked it in her own cloud of dreams. They were all playing heroes then. She and Felassan were no exception. So many young elves joined the rebellion for the thrill of danger and the altruistic goal of making a brighter world. Looking back, she could see how blind they were. Perhaps it was good to change, too. She looked back at him with a deeper understanding.

Truly?

He nodded. “Truly, da’asha. I loved you then and I love you still. I can’t be thankful enough to have a chance to stand by your side again.

Ara’lan opened her mouth and found herself at a loss for words. Instead she reached up and captured his face in both of her hands. He closed his eyes at the touch, sighing deeply. With a slight tilt of his head, he pressed a kiss to her palm. She could feel the warmth of his lips on her skin after he turned back to catch her eye.

Felassan,” she whispered his name and pulled him close enough to feel his breath on her cheek. Thoughts rushed through her mind, tripping over themselves and catching in her throat. She needed to say something. “I have-

A knock at the door echoed through the room and broke the spell. For a moment Ara’lan couldn’t grasp who might want or need to call on her at that time of night. Slowly but surely, clarity returned.

“Miss, I have your food if you want it.” Aria sounded nervous. “Can I come in?”

Ara’lan caught a glimmer of humor in Felassan’s face. Rolling her eyes at him, she tapped him on the nose before crawling out of his lap. Her head still throbbed faintly from crying but she felt better for having released the tension in a safe way. Felassan rose to stand beside her and ran a hand over the top of her head. The tingle of magic washed over her body, taking her discomfort away. He still had a soppy grin on his face and she couldn’t help but laugh and swat at his chest.

“Of course,” she called out to Aria. “The Spymaster has left. It is safe.”

By the time Aria entered and Ara’lan turned back to check on him, Felassan had put back on both his mask and his stiff posture. Aria startled for a moment to see him but it passed over her quickly. She set a tray of small portions of food down on the table and flopped into an empty chair. Ara’lan smiled at her relaxed posture. It was good to see her finally able to not stand on ceremony. Felassan bowed to her, hiding a smirk from Aria.

“Thank you for your time, Lady Ara’lan.” His voice held steady but his eyes glimmered. “It has been most illuminating. I will see you again at Skyhold.”

With that, he left. Ara’lan watched him go, her heart still pounding in her chest. It would take time for her to process what he said and what it could mean for her future. For all their futures. Aria clicked her tongue, drawing Ara’lan back to the present. She was watching Felassan leave too. The unashamed appreciation on her face made Ara’lan laugh.

“What? He’s cute. ” Aria shrugged and stuffed a piece of cheese into her mouth with a grin. “I’m glad he’s coming with us.”

Ara’lan rolled her eyes and settled into the other chair, picking up a piece of her own. The cheese tasted sharp on her tongue and did nothing for her nerves.

“So am I, lethal’lan. So am I.”

Chapter Text

Leaving the Ghislain estate took less time than arriving. Whether that was from the urgency of Mahanon’s next mission or having more people able to help, Ara’lan didn’t care. She was simply happy to put Orlais behind her. Luckily her traveling companion seemed to agree. Dorian eagerly traded gossip and shared his wine, making the trip seem much shorter than it might have been otherwise. They rode hard back to Skyhold, only stopping long enough to change horses and attend few personal needs. There would be no quiet taverns or group dinners this time.

Each time they stopped, Ara’lan took the chance to look around. The advisors hovered around Mahanon, hands full of documents and voices too low for even her ears to pick up. Something was clearly wrong and they were trying to keep it quiet. She did her best not to stare at them. If it was important to her, she would be told. That was enough. Instead she turned her focus to the others. Vivienne had stayed behind. The Iron Bull, Blackwall, and Sera rode in front with the soldiers. It was a small group but from the laughter and noise in their general direction, spirits were high. Ara’lan smiled, knowing Loranil was with them. This was a great adventure for him and she was glad he could enjoy it. Aria and Mary had become fast allies. The two women worked as a team so well it was hard to imagine they had only met a day before. Varric bounced from one conversation to another, probably gathering as many bits of gossip as coin along the way. Everyone seemed to have found their place.

Ara’lan kept catching Felassan out of the corner of her eye as he helped with errands as he could. From the smile on his face, he was relishing the novelty of it all. Still wearing the house colors and mask of Ghislain, no one thought twice about another elf running supplies or tying down a bag. Every time he caught her looking he gave her a little wave. At least one of them was having fun.

Solas was nearly the counterpoint to everyone. Aloof and quiet, he was content to keep his own company. Ara’lan couldn’t give him too much of her attention. The one time he noticed her looking his way, the calm mask he wore cracked long enough for her to see his concern. He didn’t approach, nor did he ask the questions that hid tucked behind his tight smile. He was respecting her need for space even if it pained him. He acknowledged her gaze, inclined his head in greeting, and turned away. It was hard for her to know if his silence was worse than a confrontation.

“You are planning to talk to him eventually, aren’t you?”

She had wondered how long it would take Dorian to bring up the topic. He watched her, watching the others quietly for hours. At their third stop his curiosity got the better of him. Though his question was phrased gently, it still felt heavy on her heart.

“Yes.” Ara’lan looked down at her hands, fingers picking at the hem of her tunic. “I just need some time to think.”

He nodded. “If you need to talk about it, whatever it is, I am always willing to listen.”

She looked up at him, torn over what to say. For all his reputation for dramatics, she knew he could keep good counsel. He was one of her dearest friends. She was also a terrible liar. With a sigh, she resolved to say very little at all.

“Thank you, Dorian. I will remember that.”

Dorian leaned closer and smiled. “As you should. Brooding isn’t a good look on you, dear. I much prefer you smiling and if I can help that happen in any way, just say the word.”

She offered him a faint smile and said nothing more. It wasn’t long before they were on the road again. Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t have the focus to keep up with conversation. Dorian noticed and instead chose to doze in his seat. Ara’lan watched out the window as fields changed to mountains and things became covered in snow.

Quicker than she realized, Skyhold was in sight. The turrets and walls looked welcoming and beautiful in the fading evening. Ara’lan stretched and gave Dorian a gentle nudge to wake him. The happy cries from the soldiers ahead roused their spirits. Everyone was glad to be returning home.

Home, she thought with a soft smile, was a word she never expected to use again. She wasn’t sure when Skyhold had stopped being the fortress in the mountains to her and started being something more. The people she met within its walls were kinder and more accepting than she had met in her time with the Dalish, excepting Hawen and his clan. Hope that he was doing as well as she drowned out any melancholy that lingered.

A crowd had gathered in the courtyard to meet them. The chorus of greetings and shouts helped her shake any weariness from her mind. It was just too loud for her to be sleepy. Aria and Mary shoved their way through the swarm of bodies to meet her as she exited the carriage. They both wore wide grins. Ara’lan was immediately suspicious. Smiling and narrowing her eyes, she waited for one to speak.

“So Mary and I were talking.” Aria broke first, nearly running all her words together in her excitement. “She’s going to get your stuff and I’m going to go see the tavern. If that’s alright with you, of course.”

Mary nodded in agreement, winking at Ara’lan. “I know those miscreants more than she does. Poor girl needs a bit of fun in her life, don’t you think?”

Breaking her stare to laugh, she had to agree with them both. Aria was so tightly wound from her time in Orlais that the fun at the tavern would be a good change of pace. More importantly, she would be safer when surrounded by friends. Dorian muttered something about wild elves before chasing after the sound of Mahanon’s voice.

“I think that is a wonderful idea.” Ara’lan consented. “And I think I will join you.”

Arm in arm, they wound their way through the crowd to the tavern. It was already bustling with activity. Aria’s eyes grew wider than her smile. She nearly bounced on her toes, excited at the desire to go explore. With a soft smile, Ara’lan nodded and released her. Aria headed straight for the bar without a second glance. Ara’lan intended to climb to the second floor where it was quieter but Varric waved her over to his table in the corner instead. The company around him seemed familiar enough so she redirected herself. Time with friends was probably better than alone.

“I thought they’d never let you free, Princess.” Varric grinned and pulled back a chair for her to sit in with a dramatic bow. “Welcome back to the land of commoners.”

Ara’lan rolled her eyes at him and curtsied politely before taking the seat. It was good to be with people that didn’t ask her to be anything besides herself for a time.

“Not quite so common as the nobility would suspect, ser dwarf,” she teased. “You had quite the following there, if I recall.”

“Need to have a few words with my publisher about that,” he grumbled. “The first one will be ‘you’ and the second one will be ‘bastard.’ There’s no way he’s getting away with lying about my sales now.”

He took a seat next to her just as everyone else got settled. Greetings made their way around the table. Blackwall and Sera had arrived a bit earlier with the soldiers and were already deep into their cups and having a rowdy debate. Ara’lan was pleasantly surprised to see Merrill and Hawke with them. The pair had been lucky to escape the trip to Orlais and she wasn’t sure if she’d see them again. Hawke lifted her mug in greeting and took a deep gulp of drink, diving back into a conversation with Bull.

“Oh, hello again!” Merrill waved happily. “Did you have fun at the Ball? Everyone was so excited when you left and we were too busy to ask before. Was it anything like the Elvhen cities used to be?”

“The Ball was quite eventful for myself and the Inquisition. I have never seen the inside of a human palace before.” Ara’lan grinned, choosing her words carefully. “The noble homes in Arlathan were much bigger.”

“I heard you saw more than just the Palace,” Varric added almost too casually. When she narrowed her eyes at him he shrugged unrepentantly. “Word travels fast.”

“Yes I did,” Ara’lan admitted. “I had the chance to see how the elves in Halamshiral live. It was quite different.”

“Do they have an alienage there?” Merrill leaned forward, ignoring all other noise around her. “What was it like?”

Varric slid his mug in front of Ara’lan and leaned back in his seat. His grin confirmed that he knew exactly what he had started. She stared at him long enough for him to squirm a little under her attention. Much as she needed the distraction, she didn’t appreciate him being sneaky about it. Ara’lan took a sip from the mug before beginning. This story would take some careful crafting and the sharp bite of his drink was enough to loosen her tongue.

“Halamshiral is unlike other cities, I am told. The humans all live behind the walls instead of enclosing the elves. You would think that having greater numbers would mean they were treated with respect.” Ara’lan sighed softly. “You would be wrong. The difference between how they live and how humans live is vast. Poverty is great. Their homes are falling apart and they have so little. Even so, there is beauty to be found amongst the despair. Somehow they hold onto their ability to hope. Their past fuels their desire for a better future.”

“Pbbth,” Sera interrupted. “You elfy-elves are all the same. Talking about how things were instead of seeing how things are. Hope doesn’t put food on the table.”

“True,” Ara’lan replied gently. “Hope does not replace food and drink. It can still be a thing that helps people survive during harder times. It is what drew all of us here, is it not?”

“I guess. But you still need to eat.” Sera frowned. “You’re weird. One minute I think you’re alright and the next you’re being all elfy. Why can’t you just be normal?”

This was the first time more than two words had passed between them. Ara’lan had been certain Sera was ignoring her on purpose but now she wasn’t sure. The archer was well-known for her opinions and lack of refinement. Intrigued and curious at hearing Sera’s point of view, she smiled.

“This is normal for me, Sera. I like to help people where I can. Sometimes that means listening to troubles and reminding of hope while other times it means kneading dough and stirring pots so someone can rest.” Ara’lan’s lips twisted in discomfort. “And sometimes you have to put on a beautiful dress and smile at people that do not deserve it so others can help instead.”

“Right. I get all that. Helping is good and all. People were saying nice things about you. How you were helping everyone and you're not afraid to get your hands dirty or anything. But you ruined it! Now you spend all your time mooning about with Elven Glory and kissing arse with nobles.” Sera grumbled. “Bet you think you’re too good for regular people anymore.”

“I will never be too important to help those in need.”

Ara’lan held Sera’s gaze with steady determination. If there was anything she and Sera could agree on, it was the importance of ordinary people. Being above their concerns was never someone she wanted to become. Their companions fell silent.

“Even people people, not just elves?” Sera squinted at Ara’lan in disbelief. “I’ll just have to keep an eye on you for now. You get too big for your breeches or start talking like Creepy and you’ll have more to worry about than a few lizards in your bed.”

Ara’lan nodded. Sera’s reputation preceded her. “I will remember that.”

Sera muttered a few words that were lost when she brought her mug to her lips. She tossed it back, not satisfied until it hit the table with an empty thud. Not looking back once, she strode off into the crowd and quickly disappeared.

Ara’lan sighed in relief. That could have gone worse but she would need to be careful going forward. Having others notice her or seeing her as important carried a weight she still didn’t feel was right. She didn’t want to be important. Her goals of using the Inquisition as a means to find her lost brethren felt further away than when she was stuck in the Dirth. Her shoulders sagged at the realization. She was in over her head again. Memories and dark thoughts tugged at the bright mood she was trying to build.

Varric noticed the change in her demeanor and opened his mouth to speak but stopped and looked over her shoulder. His lips curled into a grin. “Is there something you’re not telling us, Princess?”

Ara’lan frowned in confusion and followed his line of sight. She was barely quick enough to see Felassan darting away from their table. Now clad in Inquisition colors, his face free of its mask, she could clearly see the glimmer of happiness in his eyes. He winked and disappeared into the crowd easier than Sera had done. He'd left a glass of chilled wine and a bright, red rose on the table without her even noticing. She shook her head and smiled at the sentimental gesture. He still knew her well.

“Whatever do you mean, Varric?”

Ara’lan feigned innocence and tucked the flower into the braids wrapped around her head. It tingled faintly like magic, leaving her to wonder what Felassan did to it. More likely than not, it was a simple preservative. She would have to ask him about it later. He would certainly find her again.

Varric pointed directly at the rose then tilted his head in the direction Felassan had melted back into the throng of bar patrons. “Is that why Chuckles is so broody lately? Has our leading lady moved on?”

Her heart thudded hard in her chest, stealing the smile from her lips. The dwarf had cut deeper than he realized. “Not, not exactly,” she hedged, her fingers picking at the hem of her sleeves. “He and I had a disagreement, is all. It is not easy to explain.”

“Two suitors sounds like a plot from one of your stories, Varric.” Merrill giggled, finally breaking her silence. “The flower is very pretty.”

“You know, Daisy, you might have something there.” Varric grinned. “Two suitors vie for the hand of the mysterious princess. Against all odds, they each hope to best the other in a race to gain her favor.”

“Varric!”

Ara’lan was halfway to taking a sip of her wine and nearly choked for laughing. His way with words was enough to turn her emotions on their head, especially if he was being overtly ridiculous. She pouted through her laughter, teasing him back. Hawke and Bull overheard enough to join in, each giving the flower an appreciative look. Her cheeks heated under their scrutiny. Once she caught her breath, she was able to continue.

“Who said they have to compete? It was fairly common practice in times gone by to take on more than one lover.” Ara’lan shrugged. “The notion of spending your entire life with only one person by your side and in your bed was unusual when your lifetime spanned centuries.”

“Truly? That’s so beautiful!” Merrill sighed happily.

“Love could fade or grow as it willed,” Ara’lan continued. “Even the Creators themselves held that practice. Mythal and Elgar’nan were bonded and ruled together but each had other lovers that they claimed openly. Their bond was seen as a partnership of equals built on love, yes, but defined by their works for the People, not romance.”

Merrill’s eyes widened. “Oh. That’s a bit different.”

“Come on, sweetheart. You can ask her about more stories tomorrow.” Hawke leaned in to kiss Merrill softly on the cheek. “There’s a lovely view of the stars I want to share with you before the night is over.”

Blushing to the tips of her ears, Merrill said her goodbyes and the pair left quickly. Everyone else started to wander after them and soon enough it was just Ara’lan and Varric left at the table. The dwarf finally let his smile fall.

“Not that it’s any of my business, but if you’re going to talk to your elf, you should do it soon.” He sighed and drained his own mug. “We’re leaving in the morning and if what I hear is even half true, we’re walking into some heavy shit.”

Ara’lan frowned. “What do you mean?”

“While you were off having tea and cakes with Orlesian nobility, we finally got word back about the Wardens,” he explained quietly. “Blood magic rituals and demons. It’s ugly stuff, princess. Hawke’s contact is already on his way with soldiers to a fortress out in the middle of nowhere. Could take weeks. It’s why we came back so early. The Inquisitor decided Solas needs to go with us and he agreed.”

When she said she needed air, alluded to needing time, she didn’t expect a development like that. The world moved so fast when she wasn’t looking. Ara’lan had almost forgotten. If he was walking into danger, she should at least wish him luck of a sort.

“I am unsure of what to say,” she admitted.

“It’s not easy to say important things when you’re hurt. Trust me, I know.” Varric’s voice cracked, a vulnerability she never saw him show peeking out. “I’m not expecting you to reconcile overnight. That’s not how real life works. Just thought you’d want to know, is all.”

She finished her wine quickly, drawing a soft boost of confidence from the sweet drink. “Thank you for telling me, Varric. I think I know what I need to do.”

Chapter Text

The whole walk from the tavern to the main hall, Ara’lan knew she was doing the right thing. Crossing through the room where few people still lingered, she was unafraid. Once through the door and standing in the light cast from the rotunda, her confidence fled. She hovered by the doorway, fingers picking at the edges of her sleeves, and couldn’t make herself take one more step forward.

Solas stood with his back to her, leaning on the edge of his desk. Stacks of books were piled across the entire surface with one large tome laying open under his attention. Warm torchlight danced around the edges of the rotunda, bathing the space in a comforting glow. Peaceful study reigned in his space and she was loathe to break it. Ara’lan worried her bottom lip between her teeth, watching him quietly as her nerves built. She didn’t want to say anything she might regret.

“Ara’lan.” He spoke her name so gently it took her breath away. “Please come in if you wish.

Of course he knew she was there. Scolding herself mentally, she crossed the threshold into his rotunda. The ambient magic greeted her first. Everything in Skyhold hummed with a hint of it but it was still strongest in the rotunda. Nervous as she first was, the touch of magic made it easier to breathe and loosen her emotions. She wasn’t afraid of him, not really. She only feared the thought of causing either of them further pain. He kept his back to her, leaving her to guess at his reaction to her presence. Taking a deep breath for strength, she said the first thing that came to mind.

Ir abelas, Solas,” she said softly. “I did not intend to make you think I was ignoring you.

Only then did he turn to face her. His movements were slow, cautious in his own right, as if he was afraid to send her fleeing from his presence. She watched his hands release their grip on the desk to hang limply at his side. He looked exhausted.

I did not think that.” He sighed. “Ir abelas, vhenan. I did not mean to hurt you.

The distance between them felt more like leagues than a few paces. Blind as she was to his feelings, he still called her his heart. In that, she found hope. She could do this. She started at the beginning.

You startled me. The pain I felt did not begin with you or your words. I should explain my outburst. You recall that I asked you to sleep in the temple where I was found when we first met.

Yes.

There you learned the truth of my claims of origin and how the temple was defiled and left to ruin, but not how I ended up there or who I was before. If you would hear it, I would like to tell you more.

He inclined his head to signal his consent, waiting patiently for her story. It was easier to approach this with logic than with emotions. As long as she focused on that, she could tuck away other worries. Solas would at least appreciate the knowledge, even if he didn’t understand how it all made her feel. Having ripped at the seams of her emotional scars earlier with Felassan by her side, she felt strong enough to say the words.

I told you that I was a healer of the People. Their Asha’ladara. I loved that part of my life. Even after it was over I still remember their names and faces. They gave me a purpose and taught me about love amidst sacrifice and strife.” She smiled sadly. “Even before that, I was a happy spirit. I could wander the libraries of Elvhenan and learn as the People and their Spirits learned. My first thoughts were there, with them. They gave me my first name. Innovation. We celebrated together all the great, new things the world could provide.

Solas relaxed as she spoke, looking almost wistful in his absorption of her story. Nostalgia radiated through him and echoed within her heart. Her beginning had been beautiful and innocent. If she could keep this a happy tale, she would. But it would be a lie and she had neither the skill nor the desire for falsehoods.

I was noticed before long by ones who wanted to control me and my gifts. First the supplicants of June tried to trap me. They built ever more complicated mazes for me to solve in hope that one would contain me permanently. Then the supplicants of Andruil chased me in a hunt, seeing my creative escapes as a challenge. Dirthamen’s devotees wanted to force me to give what secrets I shared freely, but only to them. Out of desperation I turned to the priests and followers of Mythal. They gave me sanctuary and respite for a time.

Ara’lan let out a shaky breath, lifting her face to catch the light. She released her grip on her sleeve and touched her cheek lightly, just below the dark branches etched into her skin.

“But there was a price for their kindness, too. Handed down by the Mother herself, I was given an offer I could not refuse. One age of service, bear her marks, obey her will and whim, and I would be free to live as I pleased.”

A geas?” Solas tensed. “You said you were bound to her will. I believed you meant as a devotee, or servant perhaps, not, not that.

I wished she had asked for something so simple.” Ara’lan sighed. “Mythal knew she had the upper hand. I agreed because I had no other way to survive. She created a physical form, I bound myself to it, and she bound me to her.

His fingers clenched at his sides, showing through his discomfort even if he maintained a blank mask of emotion on his face. Of course he was discomfited by compelled service. It was the battle against such possession that defined him and his followers once. She didn’t doubt its importance to him still.

His newer desires were something else she recognized. From the way he fidgeted, so unlike him, she knew he wished to touch her. Her own urge to fall into his arms for comfort was palatable. But she couldn’t. Not yet. Maybe never again. If she was going to find a way to keep him close, he needed to understand first.

Years passed without worry. I traveled freely once more, hidden in a body under her protection. I trusted her word, the word of her people, and helped them whenever they called. I reveled in my new life. Without the fear of corruption I was able to experience things fully instead of through the borrowed memories of others.

Her hand fell back down to her side. Cautious now of being overheard, Ara’lan lowered her voice. Not speaking the Common tongue was enough to limit most people from understanding her true meaning but most was not the same as all. She would protect his secret as best she could. Clenching her fists to fight back her emotions, she carried on.

My magic was strongest for healing. In times of strife and rebellion, I was needed most. I could help. My reputation for compassion and discretion drew certain People to my door. Through them I grew stronger in so many ways. I earned a new name. But it did not last. The Mother did not forget about me and her punishment for my involvement was swift and brutal. You already know how that turned out.

Solas paled at the reminder. His lips pinched into a tight, thin line. His restraint cracked further, leaking through as magic into the room.The air around them chilled noticeably, lifting goosebumps over her arms. For all his restraint, she could see and feel the anger boiling in his eyes as they glimmered a faint silver.

Ara’lan couldn’t decide what to do with her hands. Fidgeting at her sleeves or tunic no longer satisfied her need. She clasped her hands in front of her, fingertips digging into knuckles and clinging for purchase against the strain of memories.

The elves of this age saved me. You saw it. The Darkspawn destroyed everything. Elves, quick ones, taught me how to survive in this world. They took me in as one of their own and kept me safe for decades. In that time they showed me the heart of our People lives on. Diminished in power, yes, but not in spirit.

She took an unsteady step towards him, searching his face for any kind of reaction. “They love and live in a world that would crush them at a thought and never look back. No, they are not always right. No, they are not who they should be. But they are. Elvhenan fell to machinations of the highest degree. That is not their fault. So long as I have breath and blood to spare, I will try to help them. They are my responsibility.

Solas let out a breath she didn’t know he was holding and began to pace. He looked every bit like a caged animal. Ara’lan held as still as possible to keep from startling him. Lost in thoughts as he was, she knew he wouldn’t harm her. He finally stopped before her, just close enough to touch. He lifted a hand and cast a barrier above them. She felt it wrap around their space like a warm blanket. Mutters and nonsense was all others would hear. When he finally spoke it was still barely above a whisper.

After everything fell apart, I slept. But uthenera was denied to me. I laid in dark and dreaming sleep while countless wars and ages passed. I woke, still weak, a year before the Conclave.” He sighed. “It was like walking around in a world of tranquil and it was my fault. I created the Veil to trap the Evanuris forever. In so doing I condemned our People to this world. Had I known the price, had I any other way, then maybe I could have -

His voice cut out with a growl and he threw his hands to the side in frustration. A cough by the door to the stairway startled them both to turn hard looks at their intruder. Mahanon flinched under their joined critical stare. He offered a feeble wave and entered the room but only by a single step.

“Sorry to interrupt. I can catch you a bit later if it’s easier.”

Ara’lan glanced at Solas, seeing his mask of indifference already firmly in place. The barrier around them melted away as quickly as it had formed. She sighed. No answers would come from him now. With a revelation of his own, they both had things to think about for the future. She sighed and made the attempt to smile.

“How may I help you, lethal’lin?”

The Inquisitor physically relaxed at her kind tone. “I know you’ve been running around doing all sorts of favors for me lately and I wanted to thank you for it by giving you a vacation.”

“Oh?”

Ara’lan lifted an eyebrow and waited. Mahanon grinned wider, determined to not wilt. She gave him credit for his enthusiasm at least.

“Absolutely,” he continued with a strained happiness. “I need to go into the desert and deal with a mess so you should enjoy it for both of us. The Emerald Graves is lovely this time of year.”

Her jaw fell open in surprise. This was more of a gift than she expected. She knew the stories. The Dalish told tales of their glory days as often as they lauded the Creators. It wasn’t quite ancient ruins of Elvhenan, but it was close enough and she had never seen them before. The urge to pursue knowledge outweighed her hesitancy. Of course he would know the right thing to offer.

“You would trust this to me? I am honored.”

“Well I may be in charge here but I’m not blind. I’ve watched you open up since you arrived. Not just to me, but to all our people. At first I wondered if you even knew how to laugh at all.” He shrugged, unrepentant. “So you proved me wrong and for all you’ve done, I wanted to treat you to something nice. Please say yes. I’ve already planned everything.”

“Yes,” she said with a laugh.

“Good. Great. I won’t be sending you alone, naturally. Bull and the Chargers volunteered to travel with you and Cullen and Leliana have already sent ahead a few troops and scouts to keep the camps clear. Cole will follow, I think. And Merrill nearly begged to go with you, too. She’s very excited to see what remains of that time. You’ll be free to explore to your heart’s content and I’ll come find you when I’m finished.”

Traveling with such a motley crew would be an easy excuse for distraction. She knew so little of them outside their reputation for drinking, revelry, and strength as a unit. Much as she might bristle for the supervision, she didn’t want to fight. Any life she took she felt in her soul. Merrill would be a lovely surprise. She imagined it would be hard to keep from answering far too many questions.

“Can you truly spare them? I would not put you at risk for this indulgence.”

He nodded and gestured to Solas, who had been silent the entire time. “So long as you don’t mind being away from our apostate for a time, everything will be fine. I’m going into battle armed with my best, ha’hren. The rest of them, anyway. No need to concern yourself. We’ll all be together again before you know it.”

Ara’lan knew he was reassuring her for both their sakes. The worry pulled his smile too tight and stretched his voice too thin. It was an act. The faint color in his cheeks told her he’d already been to the tavern. Of course she would worry but she could pretend a bit, too.

“I think Solas can decide for himself,” she teased lightly, giving the apostate another quick glance. “We will all enjoy it when you return and take my best wishes for a safe journey with you. Ma serannas, lethal’lin. There is so much I would like to see.”

“Excellent plan. Good. We must depart tomorrow morning but you can leave at your leisure.” Mahanon bowed and swept his arm out low before him. “I’ll interrupt your evening no longer.”

Once his footsteps were out of hearing, she turned back to Solas. He was silent as ever, now with his arms tucked neatly behind his back. Ara’lan sighed softly and waited. The path forward for them was unclear and she needed his reassurance. With his guard up, there was nothing else she could do. He stared at the wall across the room but she knew he wasn’t seeing it.

I will need time to think over your words, vhenan. As I imagine will you for mine.” Solas blinked and looked over to her. His expression softened. “Please.

She nodded. He was right. Time was not on their side but it was necessary. Fast as the world around them moved, especially with the new dangers of rifts and demons, they were beings of another era. In truth, he had given her something immense to think about. If the Veil was his creation then more questions than answers waited for her scrutiny.

He relaxed a bit at her consent, letting his arms loose to hang again by his sides. Ara’lan couldn’t bear the distance any longer. Answer or no answer, she cared for him too much. She reached out and gently squeezed his arm. Solas took a sharp breath in, surprised that she had crossed the invisible barrier between them, before leaning slightly into her touch.

Come back safe,” she whispered, meaning so much more than she said. “We can talk more when you return.

Yes. I will do my best.

Solas lifted his gaze to meet her stare briefly before studying every detail of her face like he was committing it to memory. Before she could ask what dangers he would face, he froze. He looked just over her shoulder and huffed a soft laugh. Confused, Ara’lan turned. Spread across the sofa behind her was Felassan. He appeared at complete ease and if she could guess, a little bored.

I’m going with her.

He spoke so casually but Ara’lan heard the declaration. Felassan was Solas’ man and one of her dearest friends. He was also something else they had yet to define. Having them both in the same room with her and so many things unsettled between them spiked her nerves again. She swallowed hard to keep her emotions contained.

Naturally.” Solas smiled, to her relief. “I would expect nothing less.

Felassan grinned in return and hopped from his seat to approach them with quick confident strides. He bowed before Ara’lan much as Mahanon had done, though with a bit more grace. When he rose, his gaze lingered on the flower still tucked safely in her hair. He winked, his grin growing brighter.

Unless of course da’asha would rather I stay?

Ara’lan smiled at him, finally feeling at ease. Traveling with strangers in a beautiful place full of elven history would have been fun but with someone that knew her so well it would be a great adventure. They could find time to finish their last conversation at least.

Come with me. Please.

Ma nuven’in, da’asha.

Chapter Text

The morning chaos began well before sunrise. It was likely that many of the staff hadn’t even slept to be ready in time. Ara’lan jumped into the activity, running food from the kitchens to supply crates loading into carts. She was happy to help and not above any task. Mary and Aria danced around her with errands of their own, calling out updates as they passed. Everyone found a way to help out.

By the time the sun was fully in the sky, it was time for them to depart. Mahanon and Dorian had each scooped her up into a hug and promised to be back safe and soon. It didn’t take much effort to see how they were hiding their worries behind bright smiles. She knew them too well by now. Still, they were making a concerted effort and she wouldn’t undo their mood. Instead she kissed them each on the cheek and teased them lightly to not have too much fun in the desert. Ara’lan didn’t see Solas until just before they left. His parting words felt cold in their formality even if he smiled.

Ara’lan sat in her favorite corner of the garden after her goodbyes were said. It was one of the few places in Skyhold where quiet could be expected. After her overexposure in Orlais, it was nice to have somewhere to just be no one again. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the cool stone wall, content to breathe and let her thoughts drift from anxiety over Mahanon’s journey to excitement over her own.

Her peace was broken when she felt someone staring. Slowly opening her eyes, Ara’lan saw someone new. A young boy, likely just past his first decade of age, with dark hair and pristine, Orlesian clothing stood a few paces away. He smiled when he noticed her looking.

“You’re the Princess from the story.”

Smiling with a soft sigh of resignation, Ara’lan sat up and smiled back. “That is what they call me in Orlais, yes.”

“I thought you would be older. Mother says you are very old.”

She couldn’t help but laugh at that. For all her years, she was still blessed with a much slower aging than her modern kin. She much preferred the plain honesty of children. Mind games and machinations were still beyond their reach. Now that practically all of Orlais knew some version of her story, she felt it useless to keep the truth from him.

“Your Mother is right, da’len.” Ara’lan smiled. “Age does not show on me like it does my kin. Who is your mother, to know all my secrets?”

“Mother is the inheritor, she who awaits the next age.”

Ara’lan felt a chill crawl up her spine. Those were not words normally spoken by a young boy, especially with such confidence. Her smile faded into a slight frown of concern.

“What is that supposed to mean?” She was careful to keep her question gentle. “What do you know of the next age?”

The boy showed no fear, giving Ara’lan only a small measure of comfort. He actually seemed excited to have a willing listener.

“They sleep too deep to dream but their songs still call.” He tilted his head, studying her. “You can’t see it yet.”

Ara’lan was struck dumb. This boy in so few words left her struggling with far too many questions and thoughts all at once. Not even Cole could confuse and frighten her in such a way. She swallowed hard and did her best to try and maintain her composure for his sake. Whatever spoke through him or moved him couldn’t possibly be his fault. He was just a boy.

“What, what is your name, da’len?”

“Kieran,” he said happily and stuck out his hand.

“Pleased to meet you, young sir. I am Ara’lan.”

Ara’lan reached out as well, marveling at his poise as he took her hand in his grasp gently and bowed at the waist. His courtly manners matched his attire at least.

“You are.” He frowned. “But you were more. It must be hard.”

“Kieran, are you bothering Lady Ara’lan?”

The female voice, though familiar, caught Ara’lan off-guard and broke the building tension in her mind. She looked up to see Morrigan crossing the path towards them. The woman wore a much softer smile and far more casual dress than she had at the dinner.

“No, Mother.” Kieran dropped Ara’lan’s hand politely. “I was just saying hello.”

“Time to return to your studies, little man.”

The deep sigh and slouch of shoulders Kieran offered in answer was more typical of his apparent age than any other moment she had spent with the boy. Ara’lan relaxed slightly and watch him drag his feet the whole way but follow his mother’s direction.

“I hope my son has not troubled you.” Morrigan huffed a laugh, watching him go. “He is a curious boy and never where you expect him.”

“He has not troubled me. Though he has made me wonder about a great many things.”

Ara’lan pulled her gaze away from the now empty path to look at Morrigan, confusion folding her brows. She knew so little of the pair and how they fit into everything that surrounded both the Inquisition and Orlais. It made it difficult for her to choose where to begin. Morrigan saved her the effort.

“He goes where I go. To most in the Imperial Court, he is simply a quiet and well-spoken lad. Perhaps the heir of some distant family. I suspect he has shown you to be otherwise?”

“In a sense,” Ara’lan agreed carefully. “He is well-spoken and polite. He also sees things others might not.”

Morrigan narrowed her eyes slightly, looking for a challenge. “He is a very special boy.”

“He truly is.” Ara’lan back down, seeing the warning for what it was. “How may I help you today, Lady Morrigan?”

Seemingly, pleased at the turn of topic, Morrigan took a seat on the bench by her side. Ara’lan would remember to be careful of the boy in the future. Whether or not he would be a helpful source of information didn’t matter if his mother was as protective as she appeared. She could and would respect Morrigan’s decisions.

“The Inquisitor has left with most of his company yet you remain. If you are one of his closest companions, do you not desire to assist him in the fight?”

“No. The field of battle is not where I belong.” Ara’lan shook her head, remembering clearly what happened in Dirthamen’s temple. “The last time I went with him into uncharted lands it did not turn out as well as we had wished. I will go elsewhere soon.”

“Off on your own secret mission then? Or have you found a tower to linger in, watching wistfully for your rescue?”

Ara’lan laughed. “No towers, thank you. The princess story is just that; A story. Before the Inquisitor found me, I lived a simple and happy life with the Dalish.”

“And before that?”

“I slept while the world changed. It would be over nine hundred years until the Divine Age.”

Ara’lan sighed. She had spent so much time with her memories and the edges of them still made her sore. It would be rude to take that out on Morrigan and she remembered their agreement.

“Some of the stories of me are true. I am sure that our Spymaster has a lengthy record of life by now, should you choose to ask her. She has been looking into my past since the moment I arrived. If you would rather discuss things with me now, I have time.”

Morrigan smiled again, this time letting her calculating thoughts show. “Oh, I will see those records in time, have no doubt. Still, ‘tis good of you to offer. I am curious to know how a supposed ancient elf could find herself happy in the company of a small, Dalish clan.”

“They saved me in every sense possible.” It was easier to tell a piece of the new story that had become her life. “I was awoken from years of sleep by darkspawn and the clan took me in. They healed my wounds, soothed my fears, taught me the common language, and in time came to call me family. What they asked of me was not so different from the life I knew that I bore insult or injury.”

“Was temple life so simple?” Her eyebrows lifted in disbelief. “Or did a life of contemplation and study not suit you? Your part at court was passable enough to convince some you might have been born to it.”

Ara’lan shrugged at the implied insult. She held no illusions of herself. “For some it was perfect, I suppose. Not I. My time with the dedicants and priests was short and different than you would expect. I was not there by choice. My skills were not required. Only my obedience.”

“You were a prisoner? In your own goddess’ temple?”

“Mythal issued a command. As I wear her marks, I could not disobey and leave.” She frowned. “That did not mean I had to play along.”

“What was Mythal? Was she even a single entity? The accounts of her actions are varied, to say the least.”

“She was real as I am real.” Ara’lan clenched her hands into tight fists. “And mercurial of spirit, yes. I do not wish to speak of her further.”

Morrigan nodded, accepting her spoken boundary. She looked up at the branches above them and out to the walls beyond. “This fortress, Tarasyl'an Te'las, did you know of it before you arrived?”

“No. There were a great many wonders in time of my People and I did not get to explore them all.”

Ara’lan was thankful for the change in topic. She opened her fists to sink her fingers into the grass by her side. Grounded, she found a sliver of peace.

“The magic here is a comfort, even so.”

“Stories say this fortress was built on a site sacred to the ancient Elves. It is said that from here, they reached up to the heavens to bring them down to rest.”

Ara’lan smiled at the thought. Even if it were true, such a romantic story brought back happier memories. She could focus on the good her People did and what pieces of such beauty still remained in a world that nearly forgot them completely.

“Then it is no wonder that the magic still lingers, gently whispering against the dark.”

“Indeed! From the ancient elves and the humans that came after, magic has seeped into the very stones.” Morrigan turned her gaze back, studying Ara’lan carefully. “Does it pain you? To feel that which you can not truly touch?”

That was a new question worth a bit of thought. Everyone wanted to know where she was from, or when. The few times she discussed her magic, or lack thereof, were fleeting moments of passing interest to others. In truth, it was an old pain she had grown to live with; the deepest of scars.

“Sometimes,” she admitted. “Magic was part of everyday life once. As simple as remembering to breathe, manipulating the world with a thought came naturally. When I dream I am whole but I can not sleep my life away. Not anymore.”

The soft sound of whistling floated through the air. It wasn’t a call like the soldiers made to each other, nor was it a song she recognized or a bird of any kind. As it grew louder and closer, she waited with a patient smile. The tone felt familiar.

“The Dalish believe when their gods were locked away, they lost favor and since have been denied such luxury. Praytell, do you believe that to be true?”

Felassan strode around the corner, continuing to whistle his gentle tune. When he saw them talking he bowed and turned his attention to the flowers. Ara’lan shook her head and rose from the earth. If he was seeking her, then she couldn’t resist the escape.

“I believe many things, Lady Morrigan. But I know the favor of the Gods had nothing to do with the lot of my People. Elvhenan was at war with itself long before the Dalish memories begin.” She tilted her head politely. “If it does not trouble you, we may continue at a later time.”

“What interesting thoughts you have given me.” Morrigan stood, a knowing smile on her lips. “We shall speak again. Good day, Lady Ara’lan.”

Morrigan left at the same slow, measured pace with which she had arrived. Ara’lan waited for her to leave, realizing at the last minute how much she had said and how little she had learned. She smiled. Morrigan had gotten the better part of the conversation with little effort at all. She respected the woman’s skill.

Turning her attention to Felassan, she relaxed. He was finally out of costume. Not dressed as an Orlesian servant or an Inquisition scout, he wore a simple tunic and leggings. He was himself, nothing more or less. Ara’lan moved quickly to wrap her arms around his waist and press her cheek against the space between his shoulders. He chuckled, clasping her hands in his against his stomach.

“Had I known you would miss me so much, da’asha, I would have come sooner.”

Ara’lan laughed and gave him a squeeze before stepping to his side. He kept one of her hands loosely clasped in his. Sweet as the gesture was, she was grateful for the steadiness of his presence.

“Yet you left me alone last night,” she teased. “Hoping I would pine for you, perhaps?”

Felassan’s smile folded and he looked away. His grip on her hand tightened enough for her to know she had spoken in error. Opening her mouth to make amends, Ara’lan was stopped by a slight shake of his head. Instead she leaned closer, curling her arm behind his and resting her head against his shoulder.

“I had work to do, da’asha. For the Wolf and Briala. Nothing less could keep me from your arms.” Felassan turned back, his smile returning the longer he looked into her eyes. “And now that it’s done, nothing will.”

“Good.”

His confession still buzzed in her mind. They hadn’t been able to speak about it since and she had finally found her answer. Before anything else got in the way, she had to give him her answer. It burned on the tip of her tongue. Ara’lan reached up with her free hand to touch his cheek. He melted into her touch with a sigh, his eyes sliding closed.

“When I was young,” she began, her voice thick and low, “I knew this elf. He was cocky and overconfident, always running headlong into danger. I suspected he enjoyed the thrill of coming close enough to death to nearly touch. That any cause was a good cause, regardless of who would benefit.”

Felassan grinned and huffed a laugh, pulling her closer. This time he made to speak and she silenced him with a gentle touch of her thumb to his lips. Boldly, he pressed against the touch, the lightest of kisses. Ara’lan felt her cheeks warm in response. It took a moment to pull her thoughts away from where else she wished he would put his lips. Clicking her tongue in a half-hearted attempt to scold him, she continued.

“But he always helped. Wild as he was, it was the children that loved him the most. Sometimes it was toys, other times it was music. Whenever he appeared he had a gift of some kind for them to remind them of times when they did not suffer.” Ara’lan swallowed against the lump that was forming in her throat. “It was his voice I missed the most when I was taken away. His laughter was the song no one else could sing to soothe my heart.”

Felassan opened his eyes at that, staring at her with such intensity and wonder it made her shiver. It had been ages since she took any lover and her last choice still left her unsettled. Felassan was different. He was bold and unashamed. If she was going to let him in, she needed to embrace everything he offered and return it without reservation. She wouldn’t let anyone else decide for them. In his eyes she saw his heart laid bare for her to see. All her pretty words faded away. Ara’lan smiled.

“Ara’vun, I have missed you too long. I would very much like to learn how to love you.”

He needed no further encouragement. Felassan scooped her up in his arms, holding her close and layering kisses against the side of her neck. Her heart raced as she clung to him. Nothing in her life since waking in despair felt as right as that moment in his embrace.

“Da’asha,” he murmured against her skin, making her shiver once more, “it would be my honor.”

 


 

 I was blessed by a dear friend to be allowed the chance to commission her for a piece of art to compliment my story. She is huntedwitch-art on tumblr and huntedwitch_art on twitter.

Please see below our lovers: Felassan, Ara'lan, and Solas. 

Felassan, Ara'lan, and Solas

Chapter Text

In the weeks it took to prepare for their departure, Ara’lan threw herself into helping wherever and whenever she could. It wasn’t much more than another set of hands in some tasks but she felt better knowing that she was doing something. It also helped give her time to think about Felassan. He followed after her most days with an amused smile on his lips and his manners fully intact.

It made her happy to be able to watch him again, too. Felassan was in his element when he could inspire others to acts of bravery or deeper thought. The children were most amused by his magic tricks, a dancing ball of light they could chase or a wisp of a fennec that could play and dance with them better than a real one. Ara’lan felt her heart soften day by day. He was still the same after all this time.

One of her favorite tasks, and one of the most demanding, was working in the kitchens. Bread was a staple of their diet, especially with feeding so many. There was always a need for help in the kitchens. This time she found Mary already working, sleeves rolled up to her elbows and sweat highlighting her brow. She joined her happily, chatting over nothing of importance. The hours flew by.

“Someone’s staring again, miss.”

“Is he now?” Ara’lan cheeks flushed as her grin widened. “I had not noticed the last five times you mentioned it.”

Mary laughed softly, nudged Ara’lan with a flour dusted elbow, and tilted her head towards the corner of the kitchen. Ara’lan followed her line of attention and saw her friend was right. From the corner of the kitchen Felassan was watching her. Again. Confined to the corner and out of the path of her workers, the cook had been insistent that he not touch anything or interrupt them in any way. Kind-hearted as she was, Rosemary was a strict ruler of her kitchen and she wouldn’t have anyone undermine her authority. So he leaned against the wall, crossed his arms over his chest, and smiled amicably to anyone who walked by.

When he noticed her looking he turned on a brilliant smile and winked. Ara’lan dropped her eyes back to the counter in a poor attempt to hide her own smile. Mary shook her head at them both and dug back into the dough she was kneading.

“I don’t know how you manage it, miss.”

“Manage what, Mary?” Ara’lan frowned slightly in confusion.

Mary paused and looked down. Her whole demeanor softened, making her look even younger than she normally did. Her gaze seemed so much further away than the table beneath her palms. After a moment she shrugged and smiled faintly.

“When my Daniel started courting me I walked around in a daze for weeks.” Her voice was softer, too, hinting at a tender memory. “I was so happy that I kept stumbling over everything. Even burned my thumb baking! I forgot a pan was hot and grabbed it with my bare hands.”

Ara’lan smiled at the shared story. It was sweet and sentimental, something she knew was very personal for Mary to share. Though they were becoming good friends neither had really discussed their lives before the Inquisition. Ara’lan felt honored by the gesture.

“But here you are, with not one but two suitors chasing after you, and you’re not fumbling one bit.” Mary shook her head and wiped at the corners of her eyes for the tears that had begun to gather. “You’re a more focused person than me, that’s all.”

“Mary, I assure you, there are things I forget and miss quite easily. I do not need the distraction of men for that.” Ara’lan spoke softly and reached out to her, laying a hand gently on Mary’s arm. “Where is Daniel now? Did he come to Skyhold with you?”

“He didn’t.” Mary shook her head, turning back to work her troubles out on the dough. “I went to Haven first and he was supposed to join me. Following in Seeker Cassandra’s footsteps like he always did. But he never made it. He sent a letter that he had a chance for promotion. That the Lord Seeker needed his aid and then, and then he-”

When her voice cracked, Ara’lan knew. She didn’t need to hear the details. Everyone in Skyhold had some measure of personal loss and her friend was no different. Dragging the pain out of her would only make things worse. Thinking of Cole, Ara’lan chose her words very carefully.

“I am sorry, Mary. He must have been very brave and kind for you to love him so much.” Wary of disrespecting Mary’s feelings, she turned the conversation away. Hopefully this wouldn’t be as dark of a memory. “What of your sister? You have never mentioned her before. Is she well?”

Mary laughed, a short, sad sound, and rubbed the tears from her eyes. “Oh, she’s grand. Back home in Ostwick with all her babies. She’s probably had her fifth by now. Her husband keeps books for the Teryn. I get letters telling me all about them. They’re happy and safe. When this is over I’m going to have a long visit and hug all my nieces and nephews. Been ages since I’ve seen them all.”

“Then I hope you are able to see them soon.”

“Me too, miss. Me too.”

Ara’lan looked up and caught Felassan’s eye. His playful smile had fallen to a look of concern while she spoke with her friend but he hadn’t interrupted. With a tilt of her head, she let him know she was leaving. He nodded and stepped away from the wall, letting her lead. If any of the women in the kitchen whispered behind them as they left, Ara’lan pretended not to notice.

Instead of going out to the garden or off to her room, her usual places to find comfort, Ara’lan headed up to the battlement walls. The air at this height was cold and crisp off the mountains. It helped clear her thoughts. She wrapped her arms across her abdomen and stared out to the white, unforgiving landscape painted with the soft colors of an early evening sky and sighed. For all the people around her that bustled with purpose and smiled so freely, they all kept a pain inside. It was no wonder a spirit of Compassion had found purpose here.

Felassan stepped close behind her, shielding some of the wind with his own body. He wrapped his arms around her waist and nudged her gently to back up to his chest. His magic danced in the air, cutting out the edge of the chill. Ara’lan smiled softly and leaned her head back against his shoulder, earning a soft kiss to her temple.

What troubles you, da’asha?” Felassan kept his voice low, nearly whispering in her ear. “I can see your heavy heart through your eyes.

She is my friend and her heart aches. It is an old pain for her. I just wish I knew how to help ease it.

He hummed and hugged her a bit tighter. She didn’t feel constrained in his arms, only safe. If she asked, he would release her without question and only a mild complaint. Ara’lan shifted in his embrace enough to look up at him. The unfettered adoration in his eyes took her breath away.

You haven’t changed one bit.” His voice trembled with barely restrained emotion. “Have you?”

Not so much,” she admitted with a smile. “Neither have you.

Reaching up to lightly touch his cheek, Ara’lan felt his breath catch in his chest. His eyes fluttered closed as he leaned into her touch. The way he freely expressed himself to her was a comfort she didn’t know she needed. Her body reacted keenly, sending a flush she could feel across her skin. She took his face in her hand more firmly, running a thumb below his eye until he opened it.

Ara’vun.” The name she gave him tumbled from her lips with a warm promise. “I have watched you watching me. You are still the same rebel you always were. Same heart. You have been polite and kind. You have given me time to see that.”

Felassan opened his eyes just enough to connect with hers. The brilliant violet she expected to see had thinned to a ring around the dark centers. This time it was her breath that caught. Ara’lan trembled in his arms, anticipation and desire stealing her voice.

“What do you need, da’asha?

He leaned forward, breathing his words against her lips. Close enough to tease but not enough to actually touch, it took a deep measure of her control to not break the distance. Ara’lan let out a breath, feeling it pass more as a sigh. The rumble in his throat that answered didn’t help her focus.

You.

Ma nuvenin.


There was no hesitation in her now. Ara’lan tilted her head and found his lips to be as warm and soft as she imagined. The way they answered her touch, returned her tenderness and drew a faint noise from deep in his chest, burned straight to her core. Felassan curled his arms around her, sinking fingers into her hair and pressing a palm flat against her lower back. She sank into his full embrace, slipping her arms around his neck to press every part of herself against him. He nipped at her lips and chased after the sting with his tongue. She caught it with a light touch of her own, testing at first, then with confidence at his welcome.

It was more than a kiss. His lips, his hands, his body, all the strength within him changed. He was tender for her alone. Parting lips only to catch their breath and whisper soft noises of desire and promise, she knew she would never lose him again. The reality of that made her heart race. Ara’lan leaned her head back to take in a deep breath of cool air. He took the opportunity to shift his attention to her cheek, then nip at the skin beneath her ear before tracing his way down the side of her neck with lips and tongue.

Gasping and clinging to him, Ara'lan let out a soft moan that stilled his lips. They both stopped to collect themselves then. She took in a few more unsteady breaths and she could tell from the look in his eyes that she must look as flustered as she felt. He struggled a bit more with regaining composure than she did though he seemed to not care. He licked his lips and she shuddered, feeling the touch as much as she saw it.

“Not here,” she whispered with a grin and one light kiss to his forehead. “Not where anyone can interrupt us.

His look of adoration and desire tightened into conviction. Nodding slightly, he kissed her again, a gentle touch of his lips to hers. “Then let’s find some privacy.

Taking him by the hand, she led him away from the open battlement walls. It was easy enough to navigate the back passages and hallways now. Few people traveled them this late in the day. The few they passed were servants and staff with jobs of their own. Ara’lan paid them no mind, intent on her destination. His grip on her hand held just as firmly as it had to her body before. She could still feel the warmth of his touch on her skin through the layers of her soft dress.

Her door flung itself open before she was close enough to touch. Startling but undaunted, she felt the trace of his magic and crossed the threshold without breaking stride. It closed and locked behind them and she spun around to throw herself back into his arms.

Felassan welcomed her with open arms, scooping her up to encourage her to wrap her legs around his waist. As he walked her to the bed, she left a trail of kisses across his face, neck, and ears, pulling the tip of one between her lips. His steps faltered as he hissed, the sensation sending a shiver through his body.

Da’asha,” he groaned thickly, “you will undo me before I’ve given my all.

A giggle bubbled its way out from between her lips. She nipped at his neck instead, soothing it with a long swipe of her tongue. He was moving again, quicker this time, and nearly fell into her bed. She nudged him to roll and he eagerly obliged, keeping his hands on her hips to help settle her atop his waist. Ara’lan shook her head at him with a sly grin and slid back. When she felt the length of his erection beneath her, she rocked against it slowly, drawing a hiss from between his lips. His fingers dug into her sides almost painfully and his eyes slid closed.

Look at me, ara’vun,” she pleaded and rolled her hips against him again. “See what you desire.

His eyes flew open and he licked his lips, waiting. Only when she knew she had his full attention did she move again. Smiling sweetly, Ara’lan lifted the edges of her dress. Just as slowly as her hips moved against his body, she pulled it over her head and tossed the garment away. His eyes widened, watching her every move. She could feel their path just as acutely as she felt his hands on her hips. Plucking at the ties to her breast band, that went next onto the floor. No other garments blocked his view of her body and she relished in the touch of air to her skin. His body beneath her twitched, lifting her up slightly. She clicked her tongue at him and grinned, teasingly shaking a finger.

Patience, ma’lath.

Felassan grumbled but stilled, watching intently. Ara’lan ran her fingers through her hair, loosening the braids that kept it out of her face. It fell in deep red waves down her back and she chased it with her hands, running them down her neck and chest to settle on the warmth of his stomach. It also twitched beneath her touch. She looked him in the eyes, holding his gaze with a heat of her own.

“Give me your hands.”

He did as she asked with an open-mouthed stare but without hesitation. She pressed her lips to each of his fingers in turn, taking one between her lips to caress it with her tongue. He hissed again but this time kept mostly still. Unable to fully obey his mind, his cock beneath her twitched. She rewarded him with another roll of her hips. The groan he made then shivered its way across her skin, resulting in a soft gasp of her own. The way he lived and loved with his whole being, she couldn’t return in half measures. Moving his hands to her body, she pressed his palms across her cheeks, down the sides of her neck, over her shoulders, and cupped one of her breasts in each of his hands. Only then did she release him to his own will.

Control returned, he traced a thumb over each of her hardening nipples, making her hiss and rock against him once more. He moved with her, watching her face for the reactions he brought to light. His hands were confident and gentle, tracing a light touch around the curve of each breast. He held her there, rolling a nipple between two fingers to make her sigh again.

With her own hands free, she started working on his tunic. The buttons were small and hard to focus on while he touched her. The heat of his hands alone made her want to close her eyes and lose herself in sensations. Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth to concentrate, she heard him growl low. Ara’lan looked up just enough to catch him staring at her mouth. The unabashed hunger in his stare shook her to the core. She rocked her hips against him again, breaking his attention and earning a light pinch to the underside of her breast.

He sat up and helped her slide the shirt from his shoulders once she finished, adding it to the growing pile on the floor. Kissing her again, sliding his tongue past her lips and pressing it to hers, she closed her eyes and let him take control. Only when her thoughts were gone and her lungs begged for a deep breath did he release her, gasping for air, clinging to his broad shoulders, so he could work a path down her neck to her chest. His kisses, sealed with muttered adoring words against her flushed skin, tingled faintly of magic. It hummed across her skin, lifting her sensations higher. When he wrapped his lips and tongue around a nipple she cried out in pleasure.

“Da’asha, sathan,” he whispered, his raspy voice making her whimper.

Blinking furiously to bring back her focus, she saw him staring up at her, lips still ghosting over her breast. One of his hands cupped her other breast, the pad of his thumb rolling maddening circles around and over her nipple. The other moved lower. Following the curve of her waist down to the soft plane of her belly, he slid one finger lower to dip into the space between them. She rocked against his hand this time, pressing the bundle of nerves against his fingertip and letting him feel how wet she had become. A slight shock of magic pulsed deep into her tender flesh and she cried out again, shaking against the aftermath.

“Da’asha,” he repeated, near begging, his eyes burning with intensity. “Sathan, da’asha.

“Ma nuvenin,” she gasped.

With a grace she couldn’t define, he flipped her onto her back. Ara’lan grabbed a fistful of his hair and pulled him up to meet her lips in a ferocious kiss. Teeth and tongues, possession and desire washing away the gentility of their start. The finger between her legs was joined by another. He pressed the heel of his hand to her clit, rubbing in steady circles so his fingers could slip between her slick walls. When he added a third and curled them just enough to hit the sensitive spot inside, she cried out again, arching her back and pressing hard against his hand. Tension built quickly within her, but she fought to hold off cresting over the edge just yet. She wanted more.

“Ara’vun” she panted, grasping at his shoulders, the sheets, the pillow beneath her head, and anything she could hold onto. “I want you inside of me. I need, I need -”

He silenced her with a kiss, slowly drawing his hand away. She mewled against his lips, sad and thankful at the same time. Her whole body trembled. For everything she wanted to do to him, he had plucked at her strings like a master magician instead. He watched her breath, enraptured by the desperate look in her eyes. Taking his fingers into his mouth to lick them clean, he groaned and closed his eyes.

It was a moment’s work for him to tug off his leggings and settled between her legs. Felassan kissed her gently, almost reverently as he slid his cock against her wet folds. She stared up at him, arms wrapped securely around his neck as her legs around his waist. He touched her face lightly, shifting a strand of brilliant red hair from her sweat-slicked forehead.

Ar lath ma, da’asha,” he whispered, suddenly tender enough to steal her breath. “Ar lath ma belannaris.”

Ara’lan gasped as he moved, losing all thought in the feeling of him sheathing himself in her with agonizingly slow movements. His eyes devoured every twitch of her face as if he was studying her, gauging her reactions and storing them forever in his memory. Squirming under him, she lifted her hips quickly, trying to urge him on. Blissfully, he relented, joining with her to the hilt in one swift thrust. He rocked against her, sliding in and out with deliciously smooth motions. Ara’lan lifted her hips in answer, taking him as deep as she could each time. Their voices sang softly together, moans answering sighs, turning to gasps and growls once more.

He kissed her lips, face, and neck, leaving behind a tingling heat and the scent of his magic. She cried out, clinging to his body above her and clenching against his length inside of her when he pulled at the soft skin of her neck with his teeth. He hissed, soothing the bite with the flat of his tongue.

“Felassan, I, I, -”

Her peak was within reach. She could feel it coiling low in her belly, sparking and burning for release. He held her tighter, moving faster within her to chase his own release. Her nails dug into his back as she wailed out his name and crested over the edge. Light flashing before her eyes, her whole body feeling everything and too much at once. He followed shortly after, spilling within her and keeping her nerves on edge with each roll of his hips.

He sank into her arms as they both fought to catch their breaths. Ara’lan pressed sloppy, uncoordinated kisses to the entirety of his face. He clung to her still, hissing softly with each twitch of her walls still around him. Once he slipped from within her, he pulled her into his arms. In the aftermath of their fire, he was soothing and soft. His hands traced over her skin, a light healing glow dancing from his fingertips over the bite mark he’d left behind.

“Ar lath ma, Felassan,” she sighed happily. “I never want to lose you again.”

“You never will, da’asha,” he promised, kissing her once more. “I am yours.”

She was safe. She was loved. Ara’lan sighed happily and snuggled up against his chest, letting herself relax completely in his care. She traced idle circles along his chest and upper arms, making him shiver and laugh deep within his chest. Whispers between them grew fewer and softer as they both drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

A light touch traced down her side and Ara’lan stirred. She opened one eye slowly to see a pair of violet eyes staring back at her. Early morning light from the window made them seem to glow. They crinkled at the edges and she knew he was smiling. She smiled back and snuggled closer, burying her face in his chest and closing her eyes once more.

“It is too early.”

Felassan hummed softly and ran his hand down her side once more. “I’ll be sure to tell the sun you wish to sleep in today.”

Ara’lan laughed, her voice still thick from sleep, and hugged him tighter. His fingers on her skin grew more confident, swirling circles against her back and lightly tugging at the ends of her hair. He made no attempt to convince her to release him. If anything Felassan seemed quite content to stay exactly where she kept him. Her arms around his waist, legs tucked between his, and an ear pressed against his chest listening to the steady beat of his heart was all she needed. The rest of the world would wait just a few moments longer.

Just as sleep began to claim her again, Ara’lan heard a knock on the door.

“Miss? I’ve brought breakfast.” Mary’s happy voice was muffled by the wood between them but she seemed in much better spirits than the last time they spoke. “Quartermaster said you’d be leaving early today so I wanted to make sure you got a sweet roll while it was still warm.”

The mention of her favorite pastry did what the sun and obligation could not. Ara’lan sighed, pressed a kiss to Felassan’s chest, and sat up. She stretched her arms out, rolling her shoulders and head to stretch her neck. Felassan leaned back into her pillows and made an appreciative noise. She pursed her lips at him in feigned annoyance, only making him smile wider.

“Just a moment, Mary.”

Reaching over Felassan and the edge of the bed, Ara’lan fumbled for her tunic. It was wrinkled but hung low enough to maintain a measure of modesty for her friend. Her feet hit the chilled floor and woke her up quickly.

“Should I hide then?” Felassan asked softly, a laugh still in his voice. “I might fit under the bed or behind the tub.”

“There is no need.”

Playful as he sounded, there was a question in his eyes. His smile wasn’t as bright. Ara’lan cupped his cheek in her hand and pressed a tender kiss to his lips.

“Stay,” she whispered, trailing her lips across his cheek in feather-light touches. “Stay.”

He hummed and reached out for her but she danced away, grinning as he pouted. Her point was made and he tucked himself well into her blankets with a sated smile of his own. Arms folded under his head, he was as beautiful in repose as he ever had been in action. Ara’lan unlocked the door, begrudgingly welcoming the outside world.

Mary entered and near stumbled over her own feet when she realized Ara’lan wasn’t alone. Her cheeks flushed bright red and she looked away quickly, setting a plate on the table. It had the promised sweet roll, a few bits of cheese, and an apple brighter than Mary’s blush.

“Thank you, Mary,” Ara’lan picked up the roll eagerly and pulled off a bite. “I will miss these on the road.”

“We’ll miss you while you’re gone, too.” Mary laughed, her shoulders sagging as she relaxed. “I was just getting used to having an extra set of hands around here.”

“Oh? Who do you mean?”

“Aria. She’s been eager to help wherever she can and she told me this morning she’s got leave to go with you. It’ll be quieter without her but I’m glad she’s got the chance to have an adventure. ” Mary looked a little sad through her smile. “Just make sure she takes care of herself, will you?”

“I will.” Ara’lan pulled her friend in for a quick hug. “I promise, Mary. This is going to be as safe a trip as we can manage. We are bringing the Chargers with us for protection.”

“I’ll be there, too,” Felassan piped up with a grin, stretching out in Ara’lan’s blankets. “Watching out for our princess’ safety day and night along the way.”

Mary’s blush deepened as she shook a warning finger at him. “You better or else you’ll be hearing from me about it.”

She left them with a laugh, closing the door behind her. Ara’lan looked over to Felassan. Her shoulders sagged and her hands gestured between him and the door in her silent, yet smiling, complaint.

If the castle wasn’t whispering about us before, they certainly will now.” He blew her a shameless kiss. “Which means you can come back to bed and waste a bit more time. If we’re late, we’re late.”

Shaking her head, she laughed and tossed him the apple. “There will be plenty of time for that on the road, ara’vun. We should begin the day. Others will be waiting.”


“I think we’re almost there. Look!”

“Miss, I see it too!”

Ara’lan smiled at Merrill and Aria’s enthusiasm. Since they left Skyhold the pair had bubbled with excitement over anything and everything new. She expected it to wane on the mostly dull trip but they proved her wrong. They shared stories, too, and it warmed her heart. Aria had lived her whole life in the confines of Orlesian households and Merrill carried with her the knowledge of a First. Watching the pair become friends was everything Ara’lan hoped. This was the future she wanted for them.

In truth, their mix of companions got along better than she’d imagined. Cole rode with her when he was interested in being noticed. His questions reminded her so much of her youth, just beginning to understand the world of people as one of them instead of an observer. The presence of his spirit self was a balm to her soul. In contrast to his gentility, the Chargers were a loud, amicable crew. Instead of separating themselves each night like most soldiers did, they were the first at the fire to share their drinks and stories. They laughed and bickered like comfortable family and invited everyone in. Loranil fit well with them. Ara’lan had worried at first that he would be upset to not go with the main force but he easily swept away those fears in the first night. His clan stories were welcomed with open arms by all, especially Dalish, whose flirty teasing turned him all shades of red.

Felassan was different once they crossed into the lush growth of the Dales. She didn’t notice it at first but once she did, it was hard to ignore. He had been as superficially carefree as ever when they began. Now he answered when spoken to and bantered just as easily as anyone else, but he didn’t brag as easily. He demurred instead of throwing back quips of his own. The playful rogue was subdued. One night, in the privacy of their tent, curled up in his arms, she had to ask.

“Ara’vun, are you well?”

"These woods have a memory, da’asha. I’m wary of their attention.” He kissed her forehead and hummed. “The Bull sees it too but he doesn’t have your attention the way I do. I’m honored.”

She rolled her eyes and smiled. “Are we safe?”

“I’m here,” he answered softly. “You’re safe.”

Ara’lan shook off the memories and nudged her horse forward. Over the next hill she found what they were shouting about. Aria and Merrill were already far ahead, racing towards their prize. Old walls, half crumbled and overgrown with wildlife, and broken steps did nothing to take away from the grandeur of the ancient ruins. Proud and tall spires climbed into the sunset colored sky. The wilds were reclaiming the stone as they always did but it hadn’t succeeded yet. Ara’lan felt something in the air, too. More than the soft trill of birds and branches bending in the wind, it lingered just beyond the reach of her senses. It was a bit like the sensation in Skyhold but much softer. Something within this place remembered its past.

“Din'an Hanin.”

The name, whispered with deep reverence and sorrow, drew her attention to Loranil. His grip on the reins tightened. She could see his hands shake even as he stared down the broken edifice with narrowed eyes. He remembered. This was the place that drew Taven away from clan, safety, and finally his life. The clan had taken away the bodies of their friends and the destroyed aravel but scorch marks on the stones remained. The stones would remember long after they were gone.

“Loranil,” she called him gently, drawing his attention back to the present. “If it is too much-”

He shook his head, said nothing, and turned to rejoin the group behind them. When he was ready, he would be able to share his feelings out loud. Ara’lan had watched them all grow up, not just Loranil. Though they respected her as one of their own, she wasn’t true family. He had been a brother to them. His pain ran deeper.

“Itching, sweat running down the back of my neck, waiting for the hare to make the first move. Stillness, he always said. Let the eye and mind decide when it’s time, not the gut. But he wasn’t fast enough. None of them were. I should have been there.” Cole whispered from his perch on the back of her horse, watching Loranil leave. “He’s hurting. I want to help.”

Ara’lan took one of Cole’s hands in her own and squeezed it gently. “We will, falon. Tonight I will help him gain some peace. It would honor me to have you at my side.”

Making camp with this group had been awkward at first but now it moved smoothly. They picked a spot just out of sight from the fortress remains, well under the cover of trees. She knew their stories but had never seen it with her own eyes. The oldest of the trees, the ones planted for the brave souls of the March, were immense. Wider around than she could reach at least twice, they stood watch over everyone as their Knights once did. The ones near camp were smaller, though still well grown. Children of the greater wooden sentinels, she could imagine.

Everyone gathered around the fire to eat like they did every night. Felassan by her side, she watched Loranil and waited. He tried to joke and laugh with his new friends but Ara’lan could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Eventually he gave up and sat alone.

“Ara’vun, I need your help,” she said softly, wishing only Felassan to hear. “If I had my own magic I would not-”

"Say no more." He stopped her with a touch of his hand. Felassan looked from her to Loranil and nodded. “Whatever you need, da’asha. I am yours.”

Cole appeared on her other side, looking up at her expectantly. “I’m here to help.”

Ara’lan rose to her feet and stepped forward. Conversations around them slowly died down until there was a patient silence surrounding them. She waited until she had their full attention before offering a smile.

“I would like to tell a story tonight if you would permit it.”

“This is your show,” Bull laughed.

“Oh, yes please!” Merrill called, nearly squirming in her seat in excitement. “Varric will hate that he missed this. I’ll have to tell him when we get back.”

“Please do!” Aria agreed eagerly. Her wide eyes glowed in the firelight.

The rest of the Chargers added their own words of encouragement. Loranil remained silent but he nodded along with everyone else. It was enough of a consent. Ara’lan smiled and took a deep breath. She felt a gentle, familiar caress of magic before she began. It left her skin with a faint golden glow. She smiled fondly, happy to see he remembered her at her best. It wasn’t enough for her to channel but it would give her the confidence she needed.

“This place was once home to our People. When a warrior was chosen to stand for us all, a tree was planted in their honour. The Emerald Knights of valour We are now surrounded by those trees and not those brave souls. Even in loss, they will be remembered.”

Ara’lan paused and lifted her eyes to the sky above. Through the branches she could see the stars. They were the one thing that didn’t change, no matter how ages passed. She was no Keeper or lore expert so she would tell this the best way she could. It would have to be enough.

“The Dalish clans sing their tales and share their names. Emerald Knights of the Dales rest here, in this place. Once guardians of the People, now they rest and we are still here in this world to remember. Andrale. Briathos. Calmar. Elandrin. Elnora. Ilan. Lindiranae. Mahariel. Mathalin. Nomaris. Ralaferin. Rin. Siona. Soran. Sulan. Talas. Talim. Tanaleth. Vaharel. They will never be forgotten for their bravery, sacrifice, and devotion.”

She looked back down to see Loranil staring at his hands. His head hung low, shoulders slumped, toes dug into the grass and earth; if he could have crawled away he would have. She could see it. Out of the corner of her eye, Ara’lan caught Cole flitting between the companions. He was helping in his own way. She smiled sadly.

“Doshiel. Shyael. Taven.”

Loranil looked up at her, confusion furrowing his brow. She kept her smile in place. The hum across her skin grew warm. Ara’lan didn’t need to look to know she was glowing brighter. The soft gasp that circulated told her enough.

“Brave souls of the Rasdheas clan left their home and safety to find what was lost. Within them burned a question that would not rest until they found the answer. Their Keeper warned them against the dangers with a heavy heart. He knew the fire that drove them as he had felt it once himself. Though they may not return, he gave his blessing. The road was long, as they expected. The journey was fraught with dangers, as the Keeper warned. Humans, demons, creatures great and small, even the skies above seemed against them. It mattered not. They carried on. Their aravel carved a path across the desolate lands of the Dirth and into the lush growth of the Dales until they found their prize.”

Ara’lan gestured behind them, towards the crumbling stone walls just out of sight. “Din'an Hanin. The resting place. Within those walls were secrets kept for ages. Doshiel wished to find glory. Shyael wished to find history. Taven wished to find truth.” Tears gathered in her eyes and she ignored them. “Doshiel wished to be more than a hunter. Stories of our ancient heroes stirred in his heart. He trained harder and smarter than anyone else in the clan. When he returned he was to take Olafin’s place as scout and guardian. Shyael was most herself when telling the tales. Legends passed from clan to clan, she was the first one to venture off at Arlathven. Trading stories and methods with them, she could have been a Keeper for all her knowledge. This journey was about what she could learn. She wished to bring it back and petition the Elder Council for training. Taven would have lead them all. He was First not because he had the gift of magic or a way with words, but because he listened when it was needed and spoke when his words would have the most effect. His Keeper, his clan, loved him. With this journey, he would return something to them in exchange for the kindness and support they gave. He would lead them forward while remembering from whence they came.”

She paused again to look around. Every set of eyes was fixed on her. The elves knew of the Knights but not of the clan members she and Loranil had lost. Even in rumors their names were left out. Ara’lan clenched her jaw and stretched out her arms, palms up to the sky. No matter what the world did, she would remember them for as long as she lived.

Lethal’lin, na melana sahlin. Emma ir abelas. Souver'inan isala hamin. Vhenan him dor'felas.” She sighed. “Vir sulahn'nehn. Vir dirthera. Vir samahl la numin. Vir lath sa'vunin. In uthenera na revas.

Loranil nodded and stood, imitating her posture. His shoulders squared against his own flood of memories, tears sliding down his cheeks, he lifted a cracked voice to match her own. “Vir lath sa'vunin. In uthenera na revas.

“He knows it wasn’t his fault. We helped.” Cole whispered softly behind her.

Yes, falon,” she whispered back, feeling the magic slide off her skin and the respectful silence settle around them. “Yes we did.

A stirring at the edge of camp broke the stillness. It was an Inquisition scout. He looked haggard and breathed hard, as if he had been running far longer than his endurance would allow. In his fist he held a parchment. It was crumpled some from travel but not too badly damaged. He headed straight for Ara’lan and offered it to her, his hand shaking with exhaustion. She took it from him, worry lacing its way into her heart.

The scout flopped to the ground at her feet and was handed a skin of water that he gratefully took.

“Go straight there, she said. Don’t stop unless you have to, she said.” He struggled to catch his breath between words and sips of water. “Could have sent a raven, I said. Not to her face, of course. I’m not that stupid. It’d be faster than my feet but no, she didn’t trust it to not be shot down.”

“What are you on about, soldier?” Ara’lan frowning. “Who sent you?”

“The Spymaster, miss. She told me to bring this to you and I wasn’t to stop until I got here.”

She popped open the seal without further questions. If it was that important it needed to be read. The message was short and more honest than she would expect from Leliana. It cut deep enough to draw all the blood from her face.

 

 

                                        A-

Adamant has been taken at great cost. The Inquisitor and his party are lost to us. A large rift keeps our main force here but everyone else is being recalled. Don’t stay in the field longer than you must. We can not protect you.

-L

 

She read the note twice more, looking for something, anything that could give her a shred of hope and came up empty. Her whole body began to shake. She felt Felassan take her into his arms but her mind was leagues away. Mahanon was lost. So young, so full of promise, to be snuffed out so easily and with so few words. Their friends had no future. And Solas…

He’s gone, Felassan,” she murmured against his shoulder, letting the tears flow freely. “They’re all gone. What, what are we to do?”

His arms tightened around her as her words hit him hard. “Endure, da’ashsa,” he stammered, his voice thick with restrained emotion. “We endure. It's what he would have wanted.”

Chapter Text

The scout had little else to add. After the news rippled through their small company, and the cries of shock and fear that followed, The Iron Bull took charge. Curled up in Felassan’s arms, his fingers twisting in her hair for his own comfort, Ara’lan sat by the fire and watched Bull prove to be the leader he truly was. He was quite impressive. She saw him give everyone something to do in a firm yet kind way. He wasn’t ordering them about but there was no room to question his word. The Chargers scattered, taking Aria and Loranil with them. Bull waited until everyone else was far enough away or too busy to eavesdrop before he turned his attention on the scout.

With a forced smile and plenty of ale, Bull pulled the tale out of the man. His name was James, Jim to his friends. Things at Adamant had gone exactly as planned. Some lives were lost but the Inquisitor saved whomever he could, including a good amount of the Wardens. But then a tainted dragon had appeared, a large rift opened, the Inquisitor and his companions gave chase, there was a bright, green flash, the dragon flew off, and the Inquisitor was gone. There was no sign of him nor any of his company. When Jim was sent with his message they had begun searching the rubble but with demons still spilling out of the rift it wasn’t an easy or fast task.

Ara’lan heard it all. The words floated through her perception without finding purchase. She didn’t quite care. All that mattered was the emptiness eating away at her heart and mind. Selfishly, she focused on her personal loss. Her new friends, Mahanon that could have been her brother, were gone before their time. Being at their side for so long, she had almost forgotten how short their lives could be. Now they were over before they’d hardly begun.

Merrill folded in on herself. It was the first time Ara’lan had seen her quiet. She sat by Ara’lan’s side, knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped tightly around them, and wide eyes staring off without seeing. Hawke had been with them. Jim didn’t have word of the Champion at all. It was likely she suffered the same fate as the Inquisitor.

“She promised.”

Merrill’s voice sounded so small and afraid. It broke Ara’lan’s attention on the crew buzzing around them. She reached out to the young woman and was rewarded with a tight clasp of her hand.

“She promised,” Merrill repeated, her voice wavering on the edge of bursting into tears. “I should have known she’d do something reckless. I should have gone with her. I could’ve helped. Or at least, at least I could be with her now.”

Ara’lan had no words for her new friend’s misery. Merrill pressed her face into her knees and shook with silent tears. If only she could break down that way, too. Allowing herself to feel that pain would be accepting that it was true. She couldn’t settle her thoughts on losing Solas. Not yet. All their unanswered questions, how cold she had been when they said goodbye, the tension that pushed them apart, all of it hung over her like a heavy cloud waiting to break with rain.

Cole flitted around them all. The sweet spirit was doing his best but it was too much. As the fire burnt down and people slowly ran out of tasks and found their tents, he stood by himself and looked lost. Wringing his hands and muttering to himself, he shuffled from one foot to the other. Never before did she see him appear so much like the young man everyone else saw.

“Cole,” she called out to him with rough and scratchy words, still swallowing back her own turmoil. “Come sit by me please.”

He did, sitting awkwardly by her free side. His eyes shifted from tent to tent, body to body, as if he still wanted to chase everyone down. There was no easy way for him to help their pain, confusion, and fear. Not yet anyway. With gentle words and slow movements, she convinced him to take off his hat and lay his head in her lap. Smoothing out the unruly, thin strands of wheat-blonde hair falling into his face, she did her best to focus on the sounds of the darkening woods around them instead of her own grief.

“Should have been there. Hands shake, fingers clumsy with knots. This is why they left me behind. Just an observer. Underfoot and useless. What now? Where do we go? How do we stop the world ending? Heart hammering, can not let them see. Have to be strong. He is her Herald. He can’t be gone.”

Trying to soothe him didn’t stop the influx of thoughts and feelings he heard. Without stepping into the Fade and blocking them out, which she bitterly remembered she couldn't even do without her magic, this small act was all she had. He continued to mutter as she hummed a soft tune and wished for something better for them both.

“Directionless, adrift, wavering, lost in the wind. Too full of words, deeds. Secrets spilling over, how do I hold them all in? What would he want of me? Who will lead us now? The slow arrow still flies. It must. Do it for her.” He flinched. “It’s too loud. I can’t, I-”

Felassan kissed her temple and released his grip on her enough to free a hand. With a twist of his fingers, he cast a ward around them. It felt like the touch of a spring breeze, light and clear and full of promise. Cole sighed and gradually stopped twitching. His mutterings faded away until he rested peacefully by her side. Even Merrill seemed to calm slightly from its touch.

“Thank you, ara’vun.”

He hummed a soft reply and buried his face in her hair. In a deep part of her mind she realized Cole’s words touched on them both. It didn’t matter yet. The burden of Briala’s people, the search for more Elvhen, and the power struggles of the known world were for later. Whatever secrets Felassan carried wouldn’t harm her. She trusted him enough for that. If she needed to know, he would tell her. They all deserved this small pocket of time to simply be. In the comfort surrounding them, Ara’lan felt her eyelids grow heavy. She didn’t want to sleep, fearful of both what her mind would create and the demons that would hear their misery. Fighting back a yawn, she felt more than heard Felassan’s sigh.

“You are safe with me, da’asha. I will keep watch. Rest.”

 

The next morning the sun rose bright and warm in the sky but she didn’t feel it. Ara’lan remembered falling asleep in Felassan’s arms but woke in her tent alone. She found him sitting by the now cold remains of the fire. From the dark circles under his eyes and the sharp pinch of his lips, she knew he hadn't slept at all. He had kept his word at great cost. As the rest of their company began to stir, she took a seat by his side.

“I’m not going back to Skyhold.”

His statement, though delivered with gentle tones, pitched a cold stone of fear into her gut. Reaching for his hands, she clenched them in hers and studied his face for some amount of understanding. She couldn’t lose him. Not now, not after all his promises.

“What does that mean? Where will you go? I can not lose -”

He quieted her words but not her worry when he turned to look at her. Felassan lifted their joined hands and kissed hers with soft reverence.

“You will never lose me again, da’asha. I promised and I will never break that so long as I have breath in my body. I didn't mean to worry you. I only mean I can't go back yet. I can’t return until I see what happened with my own eyes. There are People who will need to know. Obligations I must meet. So I have to go to Adamant first. There is an eluvian near here that will save me time on the journey. After needs are met, I will be back by your side.”

“No.” Ara’lan squared her shoulders and frowned at him. She left no room for argument. He had the presence of mind to look surprised instead of offended. “You are not leaving me with someone else to watch over my safety like I am a thing to me kept. Not now. If you are going to Adamant, then so am I.”

“Da’asha, please.” He tried to soften his argument with the hint of a smile. “I need to know you’ll be safe. The Chargers will protect you in my absence..”

“No. I am coming with you." Ara’lan clenched her teeth and shook her head. She would not be placated. "The pathways are safer than the roads. I will not need to fight there. The Chargers can travel faster without me. If you try to leave me here I will only follow. The eluvians in Orlais will obey my requests even if you do not.”

Felassan lowered his gaze to their hands. She was tired of fighting against people who thought the way to protect her was to tuck her away in a safe place. It was one of the things she regretted most about her past. Ara’lan was not about to relive that mistake. Not with him and not when she had a chance to choose a different path.

“What was that about an eluvian?”

Merrill’s voice cracked their silent stand-off. She, much like Felassan, looked as if she hadn’t slept at all. Hair tousled, clothes rumpled, cheeks sunken and dark, she alternated between wringing her hands and shuffling her feet. Something in her eyes lit up with a hint of her usual curiosity. It was enough to tug at Ara'lan's heart.

“Sorry.” She wilted slightly under their stare. “I wasn’t trying to butt in. Or be rude. I can just, I’ll go find something to do.”

“You did not interrupt, Merrill.” Ara’lan waved off any concern. “Yes, we were speaking of an eluvian. Why do you ask?”

Merrill sighed in relief and moved closer. “What were they for? How can they help us now?”

Ara’lan pulled her lips between her teeth, thinking of how to answer. It was a simple thing for Merrill to ask but to explain it fully would give away so much. Some knowledge wasn’t hers to share. Felassan saved her from the decision.

“They are how our People once traveled, da’len. Doorways between places, bound by old magic. You could cover leagues in a day instead of weeks. Made things much easier once.” He lifted his head and smiled faintly at Ara’lan. “And they’re how we will journey to Adamant while everyone else goes back to Skyhold.”

“Can I come?”

Merrill’s request startled Felassan but not Ara’lan. She saw the hope building in her young friend’s face. They all needed answers.

“I promise I won’t be any trouble. I can fight if we need to. I just need to see it. I need to know if she’s truly gone.”

The hard edge of resolve took over Merrill’s posture. Ara’lan saw the spirit of a First in her and she was proud.

Felassan shrugged. “Get your things, da’len. Pack only what you can carry. We’ll not be taking the horses.”

His consent gained, Ara’lan went to tell the others. Bull was easy enough to find. Her confidence wavered the closer she got to him. As easy-going as he seemed, she still hadn’t spent enough time in his company to call him a close friend. She had no idea how he would take the news.

“How long will I need to stall them?”

Bull’s question startled her, bringing her thought process to a complete halt. She opened her mouth a few times before finding the right words. “What do you mean?”

He chuckled and gestured with a tilt of his head towards Loranil and Aria. The pair were talking by the horses as they collected their things. He’d kept his voice low enough that even sensitive elven ears wouldn’t pick up more than a murmur of sound at that distance.

“I mean the two you’re leaving behind. How long do I need to stall them before they realize you’ve left without them?” At her continued blank stare, he smiled. “You look at me and see all this muscle and power, I know. I’d be impressed if I were you, too. I’m very good at reading people, too. And you’re wearing a look that tells me you’re trying to find a lie I’ll believe.”

“Yes,” she begrudgingly admitted. “I am not a good liar, Iron Bull. We need to take a different path. I will be safe. Please at least believe that.”

“Oh, I believe it. That elf of yours is one hell of a warrior. He has nearly everyone else convinced but not me.” He grunted. “He moves like a swordsman, not a mage.”

Ara’lan could only nod her agreement. Anything she would say out loud could be too much. Bull turned to face her, nearly looming over her with his height. The light attitude of earlier was gone. In its place he wore a calm, if faintly stern, acceptance. He extended a massive hand towards her.

“I can buy you an hour, tops. Make it count and and come back before the Spymaster starts asking me questions. If the Inquisitor is really gone, then we’re all in deep shit.”

“Thank you, Iron Bull. I will do my best.”


The three of them packed swiftly and disappeared into the woods. Felassan led the way. None of them spoke, each lost in their own thoughts. It took very little time to gain distance from the camp. With their light steps and speed, they wouldn’t be found easily. Any other time Ara’lan would have enjoyed the setting. So like the forests of ancient times, few places like this still existed in the world.

Through an opening in one of the rock Felassan took them down a small set of stairs and into a singular room. The paint on the walls was old and flaking away but Ara’lan saw the faint images of figures in repose. It was the same style as the place Solas showed her in Crestwood. Her breath caught in her lungs when she realized it. Wordlessly, she caught his eye. He tilted his his slightly, acknowledging her thoughts.

Sunlight didn’t reach far into the room. With a wave of his hand, a torch on the wall burst to life. The flame danced around the walls, bringing what was left of the artwork to some semblance of life. Merrill whispered softly, losing setting aside some of her turmoil in wonder at what they had found. Ara’lan couldn’t look at it for long without increasing her distress. Luckily something at the opposite wall drew her attention.

The frame was simple, clearly not designed for use by nobility. Vines and weeds poked their way up through the floor beneath their feet but not around the mirror. Someone had cleared it recently. Ara’lan approached it quietly and set her palm against the clouded glass.

“Care to do the honors, da’asha?”

Felassan’s remark brought Merrill’s attention as well. The pair flanked her, sharing their strength. She nodded and leaned her head forward to whisper.

“Fen’harel enasal.”

Chapter Text

The path on the other side of the eluvian was clear. The new room was larger than the one they left behind. The floor was clear and clean. The mosaics were so bright they looked as if they were just laid. Stone statues of Elvhen warriors in their glory flanked each arch of the roof overhead. Ornate bathing tubs sat against the far wall. Everything glittered and shone as if it was just waiting for the People to return. The only sign that anything was amiss were the empty pallets. Five on each long wall, the shelves above them lined with bottles of oils and ointments, they waited, too. Ara’lan approached one slowly. Her fingers brushed against the smooth stone. She closed her eyes and forced back a wave of memories.

Merrill stepped through next, gasping in surprise. Her eyes widened in wonder as she tried to take in everything at once. This room was just a taste of everything the Dalish had lost and barely remembered. Ara’lan almost envied her in that moment. Her young friend didn’t know what elegance had once cost. She flinched, seeing all of Merrill’s questions just waiting to be voiced.

Before either of them could speak, the eluvian flared and Felassan stepped through. He didn’t pause to take in the sights. The light that danced in his eyes was gone. He slid his hood back and sighed. She saw the pain and duty he carried on his shoulders. Their eyes connected and she felt it, too. The ambient magic in this place brought all her senses to bear, or good and ill. He shook his head slightly and pursed his lips. He would share only when he was ready.

“Wait!”

The voice called sharply as the eluvian brightened again. Felassan drew magic into his hands on instinct but paused when he recognized the arrival. Of course it was Cole. With a wave of his hand, the energy crackling around him dissipated and the eluvian winked out, closed behind them. No further surprises would be coming from that direction. The final member of their crew straightened his hat and headed directly for Ara’lan. She could see a faint glow in his eyes that hadn’t been present before.

“I want to help,” Cole insisted. “He feeds on their fears. Makes them forget but it’s wrong. He’s wrong. He makes them less. Keeps their fears so he can grow.”

“It will be dangerous, falon. There are rumors the Wardens were summoning demons. Are you certain? I would not see you risk yourself needlessly.”

“You need me. I can help. Hear the hurt, follow the trail. I can’t feel them from here. Neither can you. Must get closer. So bright, and then gone. Not dead. Just gone.” He shook his head at Ara’lan’s worries. “You will keep me safe. You won’t let them bind me. If it’s too much, if I forget, you’ll kill me.”

Some of his words didn’t make sense. In time Ara’lan knew she would find the truth of it. That was his way. What caught her most was his confidence in her action. He knew without a doubt that if he were corrupted, he would have to be killed. Knowing he was right sat like a stone in her stomach, turning the taste in her mouth sour.

“Let us hope it does not come to that.”

“So eluvians are doorways?” Merrill finally found the question she wanted to ask and it broke like a floodgate against a deluge. “Do they all lead to places like this? Where are we? Did our People live here?”

Felassan huffed a laugh and shook his head. He smiled gently at Ara’lan and waved his hand. The torches on the walls flared brighter for a moment, catching in flashes on the gold and shimmering stones of the mosaics.

“Yes, no, that’s complicated, and no.” He grinned at Merrill’s sharp attention. “Pardon my manners. I haven’t had a student ask me questions in some time. Suppose I’ve missed it.”

“I have an eluvian. Back in Kirkwall. I was trying to repair it but I couldn’t make it work.” Merrill bounced on the balls of her feet. “Maybe, when this is over I mean, could you come look at it? I have an Arulin'Holm. You know so much more about them. Please?”

“If we live through all this I’d be glad to take a look at it with you. Perhaps you just don’t have the key.”

“There are keys to the eluvians? But this one worked when Ara’lan spoke.”

Felassan smiled. “You’re correct. But can you recall what she said?”

Merrill frowned in concentration, her lips moving silently. She gave up with a sigh. “No! I know she said something but I can’t remember the words.”

“That’s my fault, actually. Bit of a dirty trick, but it's for your own safety. What she said was the pass phrase. The key for this eluvian. There are many different kinds of keys in this world and we have to keep some secrets."

Ara’lan sighed, letting go some of her tension. Giving Cole’s hand a squeeze for her own comfort, she waved Felassan on. He did always enjoy showing off. There was no harm in dallying for a few minutes to help the young elf learn a truth.

Merrill looked between them, her brow furrowed in thought. Ara’lan knew that look. She watched as her friend worked out a puzzle in her head. In a flash Merrill’s curiosity switched to understanding. Her happy giggle rang through the room.

“We? Oh! You too? I thought your accent sounded strange, but I’ve never met a Dalish from Orlais before. But you know too much and oh! It all makes sense! By the Creators, I never thought I’d meet one, never mind two!” She bowed her head towards Felassan, arms outstretched by her sides. “Please, ha’hren. The People know so little of our past. I would be honored to learn what you’re willing to teach.”

"Yes, yes." He clicked his tongue and twisted his nose in disgust. “Just, don't. Don’t do that. I don’t want it. Not from you or anybody else.”

Blushing softly and apologizing, Merrill straightened herself. Ara’lan held her tongue and watched her friend fidget in faint embarrassment. Luckily, Felassan didn’t leave her to suffer long. He cleared his throat and returned to the topic.

“Eluvians are how the Elvhen traveled from place to place. Step through one, come out somewhere else, and follow the road like you do anywhere else. Just much faster and only elves enjoy the travel. Gives humans quite the headache. They were a marvel, really. At least before the Veil changed the world. Now some places are more on one side than the other and the middle is a bit of a mess.”

“This was a burial chamber of sorts,” Ara’lan added, feeling her memories stir again. “Our People would be brought here to be prepared for their final rest. Those who sought uthenera would be cared for gently until they no longer needed anything from this world at all. So long as the physical world caused them no pain or interruption, they would rest for ages. It was meant to be a peaceful transition beyond the body, not just a funeral.”

“Then was this one never used?” Merrill wandered the room as she listened. Her fingers hovered over everything, either fearful or too reverent to touch anything with more than her gaze. “It’s so beautiful.”

“No, da’len. This room was used. Each pallet had someone special laid to rest. Light and music filled the chambers above as family and friends paid their respects. The warriors that line the walls were guardians for those at rest, made to look remarkably like their Elvhen charges.”

“Then where are they?”

“Ah,” Felassan clapped his hands twice. “You’re quick. I think I’ll like having you around after all.”

Ara’lan looked up at him sharply, her mind still muddled by thoughts of her own past. “She makes a good point, ara’vun. Where are our kin?”

“Awake, da’asha. Awake and safe.” His smile softened and fell away. “For now.”

Ara’lan gasped, stepping back in her shock. This is what she wanted for so long and now it was within her grasp. Meeting Solas gave her hope Having Felassan back as well had felt like a second chance. Knowing others still lived, that at least ten Elvhen souls drew breath and remained in this world was so overwhelming she felt lightheaded. Cole was at her side in an instant. He murmured quiet words to her but they passed through her mind without understanding.

“Come, da’asha,” Felassan whispered, having appeared in Cole’s place while she was distracted. He took her arm and looped it through his. “We shouldn’t linger here.”

Up the stairs and through the equally ornate passages, Merrill continued to riddle Felassan with questions. He answered most, as was his way, with an undertone of mirth or a question of his own in equal measure. At any other time Ara’lan would have joined them. She would have laughed at his snarky jokes or applauded Merrill for her growing confidence. Instead she felt too much and not enough at once. Her feet followed after them but her mind was leagues away.

“You don’t have to feel guilty.”

Cole startled her out of her thoughts. She shrugged in answer. “About what, falon?”

“You’re not forgetting the hurt. You can’t help but hope. It’s who you are. Era’las. Hope’s dream come to life.”

“Hope for Solas, our People, or me?” she muttered.

“Yes,” Cole answered simply.

The found the entrance hall at last. Here the building finally started to show its age. The ceiling was broken in places, letting in the faintly gray light she saw last in the courtyard area in Orlais. The floor was worn, either from use, age, or neglect. Ara’lan wasn’t sure. Most of the statues were weathered. Hard edges softened beyond their artists design. The most unsettling thing about the whole room was the lone elf sitting by the doorway. Clad in a long, green hooded cape, they rose to their feet as soon as they saw the small group approaching. They took a knee at Felassan’s feet.

“An’daran atish’an, rajelan,” he said. When he rose, Ara’lan could see his face. It, unlike the other elves present, was free of tattoos. “We stand ready and await your orders.”

Ara’lan felt Felassan withdraw into himself. He had been bleeding his emotions slowly into the air around them as they moved but at this greeting they snapped back to him in an instant. He squared his shoulders and nodded. She was more confused than ever.

“We travel to Adamant, esayelan, at the Wolf’s command. Send word back quickly. Without either of us present, it may be tricky to get in or out of the fortress for a while.”

The scout bowed his head and pressed a fist to his shoulder. It looked very similar to how soldiers obeyed around Mahanon. He even nodded to Ara’lan before he left. Every sense she held felt on edge. This was not what she expected at all. Breath tight in her chest, she waited.

“Suppose you’ll need an explanation for that.”

"Please."

Felassan approached her slowly, taking her hands in his. He breathed out, letting his control slip again. She could feel his nerves, his honest concern for her opinion buzz in her mind.

“You know I still work for the Wolf, da’asha. I have since our world fell apart. Things haven’t stopped, they’ve just changed. I promise you, I’ll explain everything. Just not here.”

Merrill stared at them both, her eyes growing wider by the moment. She was quick enough to catch most of what Felassan said. The Dalish didn’t know everything about the ancient language but Ara’lan heard her gasp when she recognized the mention of the Wolf. Ara’lan tucked that worry aside. She trusted Felassan more than anyone alive. He wouldn’t put her in harm’s way and he would tell her the truth when less ears could hear too much.

“Ma nuven'in, ara’vun.” She kissed his hands softly. “I trust you.”

“'Ma Serannas,” he sighed, relaxing visibly at her acceptance. “Let’s get moving then. We should only have to stop once along the way.”

“Wolf?” Merrill couldn’t contain her question or her nerves. “As in Dread Wolf? He’s here? Are we in danger? I can fight, you know.”

Ara’lan smiled and shook her head. “The Wolf is not your enemy, lethal’lan. I can tell this story as we go.”