Chapter 1: Lady of the Veil
Ellana watched him turn away. He moved towards the second Eluvian, purpose in every step. He would escape through it, disappearing for years until he surfaced again. Ready to execute his final plan to tear down the Veil. Thedas would burn to ashes, its people doomed to perish in the conflagration he ignited.
“I will never forget you”, he told her with an air of sadness that sounded more like resignation.
Ellana exhaled a weary breath, curling the fingers of her left-hand inward. She calmed the wild magic of the Anchor, knuckles flexing. It glowed bright like a star then subsided with a thunderous crack. Solas flinched – stopping, turned around, and looked back. She said nothing when he saw the Anchor recede into the gauntleted palm of her hand.
It flickered beneath the leather and steel, still present but subdued. The agony abated with a thought, leaving her hand hale and whole. She turned it left then right, testing her strength. She wiggled her fingers, the silverite plates clinking. Solas gasped when she made a fist without grimacing.
He stared when she flexed her knees, eyes widening in alarm when she got to her feet without complaint. There was no cry of anguish, no pained hiss of breath. Ellana was calm and composed despite the agony she’d suffered. She returned his startled gaze, brows waggling as she smiled. She saw him glance from her left-hand to her face, the shock as raw as it was unexpected.
She turned away when his mouth fell open to ask a question she wasn’t ready to answer. She took two steps when the grass at her feet turned to stone. She moved around the swards, their myriad thin blade-like leaves stiff, dead, and grey. She managed a few feet more until Solas petrified a patch of shrubs, then a tree when she dared to keep going. His command was like a clap of thunder, loud enough to be heard the next valley over.
Ellana ignored him, slipping passed the frozen Viddasala. The Ben-Hassrath agent’s baleful expression filled her with pity. The Viddasala’s faith in the Qun had meant nothing in the face of Solas’ wrath. She’d been petrified alongside those under her command. Defiant to the last.
Ellana was halfway across the meadow when Solas flung a spell. A bolt of lightning struck the ground, scorching the flagstones black. She’d made it to the landing of the staircase that led down into the avenue of petrified Qunari. An Eluvian stood in the sun, its glassy surface rippling like water. Escape lay that way, through a path of death that by the moment grew more perilous.
She paused, glancing over her shoulder. Solas remained before the Eluvian, resplendent in his gilded armour. He was a glittering pillar of bewilderment, outrage, and disbelief. His grey eyes were hard and flinty beneath his furrowed brows. The bridge of his nose was wrinkled like the snout of a snarling wolf. The line of his jaw was tight, his lips were peeled back to reveal gritted teeth.
He glowered, face like thunder when she tutted. The disapproving cluck of her tongue made a muscle in his cheek jump. She raised a hand, putting two fingers against her lips. She blew him a kiss moments before she vanished from sight. She slid into that space between light and darkness, cloaking herself in shadow.
She ran for the Eluvian, taking the stairs two at a time. Solas neither saw nor heard her passage. He hated the stealthiness of rogues. Her ability to slip away unnoticed, to hide in plain sight infuriated him. Ellana would’ve laughed if she’d seen him scowl, huff, and glare at the very air. She felt the burn of his gaze, a point of heat on her back as he searched for that tell-tale sign of a rogue in-stealth.
She had to make it down the staircase, then across the courtyard to reach the first Eluvian. It would’ve been a clean run if not for the statues of petrified Qunari in the way. Solas was still searching for that glistening distortion in the air. She would be given away the instant he managed to spot her. She wove between the stony Qunari axes, shields, and swords hoping to avoid being cut by a razor-sharp edge.
She would’ve leapt through the Eluvian to safety if not for a thread of silver hair glinting in the sun. It had caught on the hard edge of a Karashok’s petrified pauldron. Solas saw it fluttering in the breeze like the gossamer thread of a spider’s web. A frantic search and he soon spotted that watery reflection of light inches in front of the Karashok. He sucked in an angry breath when he spotted Ellana, several feet from the Eluvian.
He hissed a second incantation, waving a gauntleted hand in the air. The spell came alive in a frigid burst of ice-magic. Ellana spat an elvish curse when a gleaming wall of ice erupted from the ground. It encased the Eluvian in a coat of ice that would never melt unless Solas wanted it too. She sighed, going still, and let the cloak of stealth fall away.
She shimmered into existence, a ghost standing before that icy wall. She glowered at the mirror, frowning when its icy shell steamed in the sun. She reached out to touch it, the tips of her gauntleted fingers crusting with frost. She snatched her hand back when she felt the bite of cold through the leather of her gloves. She shook her hand, sending a shower of icy crystals over the toes of her boots.
She paused when she heard the thud of Solas’ steel-shod feet on the flagstones. She turned around, suspicious the moment she saw him descend the staircase. He came down, taking each step in stride till he reached the bottom. He crept across the courtyard, cautious and watchful lest she turn on him with bow and blade. Ellana neither knocked an arrow to the bowstring, nor drew a dagger when Solas approached.
He paused by the shoulder of the petrified Karashok, holding a shield aloft. He reached for the lower edge of the Qunari’s pauldron, plucking off that thread of silver hair. He twined it about a gauntleted finger, admiring its shine against the gilding of his armour. Ellana arched an eyebrow when he regarded her with an uncharacteristic wariness. Her eyes rolled in exasperation when he gawked at her like a fool.
She jabbed a gauntleted finger at the frozen Eluvian.
“Shatter the ice wall!”
Solas sucked in an angry breath. His eyes narrowed at her tone. It hadn’t been a request but a demand. His reply was a single word, a statement of denial as cold it was brief. His outright refusal annoyed her.
He glanced at her left arm, more confused than afraid. “I severed your hand with magic. The Anchor was killing you. It should have worked. You should be maimed but you are not”.
Ellana lifted her hand in response, turning it left and right again. She wiggled her fingers, seeing Solas flinch as if he expected her hand to fall off and leave a stump behind. She was almost sorry to disappoint him. It would’ve been amusing to see how high he’d jump if she’d thrown that dismembered hand at him. She wondered if he’d have screamed after she’d left a bloody smear across his gilded breastplate.
“My hand is fine. I’m fine”, she replied with exaggerated sweetness. Her voice dropped several octaves till it was as frigid as his ice-wall. “Now shatter the ice around the Eluvian. I’ve got an appointment to keep in Halamshiral”.
Solas took umbrage at her audacity. “No!”
“What do you mean – No?” countered Ellana. She flapped her hand at the staircase behind him. She could see the second Eluvian beyond, shimmering in the sun. It was active and waiting for him to step through it into the unknown. She couldn’t fathom why he was wasting time fraternising with her when he could’ve been reshaping Thedas.
“Don’t you plan to tear down the Veil?”
“All in good time”.
“Not today?” goaded Ellana. “Or right now?” She made a shooing motion. “You could get an early start. I’m sure your agents are waiting for you somewhere else in Thedas”.
“They will be fine without me”.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes”, affirmed Solas.
“You don’t want to contact them at all? Or even better. Make a personal appearance instead? It’d be convenient for me. Now be a dear and shatter the ice-wall around the Eluvian before you go”.
“I am not leaving”.
Ellana smiled, cheeks dimpling. “Why not?” she asked, voice tinged with sarcasm. “I thought you were getting ready to conquer the world. Did something not go according to plan?”
“Stop trying to provoke me”.
“You chased me across a meadow, down a flight of steps, and through a courtyard”. She gestured to the Eluvian encased in ice. “You even froze my escape route, out of spite when you could’ve let me go. I’m not trying to provoke you, Solas. I’m mocking you for being an arse and killing a bunch of defenceless plants”.
She pointed at the petrified grass, shrubs, and the conifer with its stiff and spiny fronds.
Solas scowled. “I told you to stop running!”
“Are you serious?” retorted Ellana. She waved a gauntleted hand at the nearest petrified Qunari. “You turned the Viddasala’s henchmen, then her to stone with a look. Did you honestly believe I was going to stand around and speak to you after seeing you do that with my own eyes? I’m not still alive after being Inquisitor for four years because I’m stupid”.
Solas stared at her, horrified. “You think I would have done the same to you”.
“You were willing enough to cut off my hand with magic”.
“To save your life!”
Ellana wiggled the fingers of her left-hand. “So says Fen’Harel, the Trickster. Dalish legend states you’re a liar by nature. So how am I supposed to believe anything you say? For all I know you’re here to kill me”.
“I am not!”
She waved that hand at the stone stairway behind him again. “Then leave me alone. Go back to whatever part of Thedas you’ve been lurking in these past two years. And forget what you’ve seen. I don’t feel inclined to share my secrets today”.
Solas’ lip curled in indignation. He didn’t like the casual dismissal, or the impatient flap of her hand. The arrogance of the gesture reminded him of an Orlesian noble waving away an elven servant. He pocketed the silver strand of her hair, slipping it inside the collar of his hooded surcoat. He would later use it for a binding spell.
“I cannot”, he growled like an irritable mabari. “The danger you represent is real. No one but I could control the Anchor. Or so I thought until you showed me otherwise. Which means that you are more than you appear and that I am not the only liar here”.
Ellana waggled her brows. “Stings doesn’t it? When all your plans are ruined by one tiny detail you overlooked”. She laughed when he glared at her. “The expression of fury on your face right now is priceless”.
“You were never cruel!” hissed Solas.
“I had a good teacher”.
The tension between them was palpable. A tangled chain of memory and emotion bound them together. Solas recalled the kiss in the Fade under a winter sun in Haven. He recalled the kiss on the chilly balcony overlooking the Frostback mountains too. And the confession of love that’d come after, though Ellana had never said the same words to him.
His heart was in his throat when he asked. “You know I love you. I always will. Tell me. Did you ever love me in return?”
“Why does it matter now?” asked Ellana. “It didn’t matter before”.
“It has always mattered!” cried Solas. “Answer me!”
“Why should I?”
“Why, Solas?” she demanded. “You say it matters but it never did in Tarasyl’an Te’las, or that afternoon in Crestwood. Why today? Why now? What has changed?”
“Everything has changed!” he declared. “Today did not go as I intended. Tomorrow might not as well. I need to understand your reasons for revealing yourself to me. You could have returned to Halamshiral, the Dalish huntress I always thought you to be”.
Ellana recognised the stubborn glint in his eyes. “We all have our secrets. Ir abelas. Some things take priority. I need to attend the Exalted Council”.
Solas shook his head, his brows furrowing. “We are not finished here. Only I could have wielded the power of the Anchor without dying”, he stated with certainty. “Or so I had assumed. Who are you, vhenan?”
Ellana’s disdainful snort gave him pause. She raised her left hand high, palm outward. The magic of the Anchor crackled as she willed it to rise in her defence. It glowed, radiant like a star between her splayed fingers. Her warning was frank.
“Shatter the ice around the Eluvian. Or I’ll open a rift and rain demons down on your big bald head”.
Solas contemplated the sincerity of her threat. He was conflicted, unsure of where the lines of loyalty lay between them. They had travelled together as companions for more than a year in the Inquisition. United in their goal to close the Breach, to defeat Corypheus before he brought about the end of the world. Now they were on opposing sides, foes instead of friends.
Adversaries instead of allies.
“Is that how it is to be between us?”
“You made it that way”, she replied without an ounce of haughtiness. It was a cold and simple truth. “You drew a line in the sand. You said I couldn’t change your mind. If you’re so determined to walk the Dinan’shiral alone, then I’ll have to hasten that journey”.
“By endangering us both?” cried Solas.
“I wouldn’t have too”, reasoned Ellana. “If you’d shatter the ice-wall, turn around, and climb up those stairs again. There’s an Eluvian waiting on the hillock above. I know you intended to leave me here, stranded, and in agony after that magical amputation. Yet you linger, indecisive. Why?”
“You know why”.
“Oh, yes. That’s right. Something happened that you didn’t expect”. She smiled, wiggling her fingers again. “Ironic isn’t it? How things don’t always go according to plan”.
Solas frowned when Ellana lifted her chin and looked down her nose at him. There was pride in her bearing and an unmistakable candidness he recognised. The humble Dalish maid he’d loved, so amiable, soft-spoken, and kind was gone. The Inquisitor stood in her place, as hard as granite, and as sharp as an assassin’s blade. She resembled Ellana with her dark skin, silver hair, and leaf-green eyes.
But she was colder, cannier, and more pragmatic.
A true Dalish huntress.
“So what’s it to be? A shattered ice-wall or a horde of demons?”
Solas had little choice but to fall back on what leverage he still had. It was a simple thing to draw on the ragged remnants of their relationship. A series of happy memories soured by a love unrequited. Ellana had taken the rejection – badly. Solas remembered the rage that’d followed, and the bitter disappointment.
The tension between them, an explosive mixture of anger and doubt had festered for days. Ellana hadn’t spoken to him for weeks afterwards. Now Solas reaped the rewards of his dishonesty. The respect she’d held for him was gone. Only distrust remained.
“Vhenan”, pleaded Solas. “Be reasonable”.
“You were a selfish arse not reasonable”, she challenged. “Do you remember? You gave your foci to Corypheus. You handed him the key to the Fade. The existence of the Breach was your fault”.
She was right, though it stung to hear it from the one he loved. He’d had the last known location of his foci relayed to Corypheus, months before they’d met. Too weak to unlock it himself, he’d intended for the magister to die in the attempt. Corypheus had perished in the explosion that’d destroyed the Temple of Sacred Ashes. So had countless others, all innocents summoned there by the late Divine Justinia.
“Hundreds died on that mountainside”, said Ellana. “Templars, mages, priests, chancellors, revered mothers, and cloistered chantry sisters. I almost died with them. Thousands more would be imperilled because of the Breach. Corypheus was the least of our problems when it came to the rifts, the demons, and the risk of possession”.
Solas’ lip curled with indignation. “I made amends”.
“By joining the Inquisition as an apostate mage. How duplicitous of you”.
“It was the right thing to do”.
“Fenedhis”, swore Ellana. “You didn’t side with Cassandra under the guise of an apostate to help resolve the catastrophe you caused. You joined her fledgling Inquisition in hopes that she’d lead you to the foci you lost. If Cassandra died along the way, all the better. You wouldn’t have had to kill her to regain control of it if she’d expired of natural causes”.
Solas was astonished by her skills of deduction. Had he underestimated her? He couldn’t be sure. Few elves in Thedas shared his confidence. Fewer still had deduced his plans for the orb of Fen’Harel, Cassandra, and the Inquisition.
“That is insightful of you”.
“Darling”, cooed Ellana. “I’ve been playing this game longer than you’ve been alive or asleep if we count the centuries you spent in Uthenera. It’s been aeons since I’ve had to intervene in anything outside the Fade. I’d still be in the distant outermost fringes, tucked into a shadowy corner if not for that bastard Sigfrost. I’d have been content to pass the next millennium in complete and utter ignorance of your doings in Thedas”.
She lowered her left-hand, willing the Anchor to calm with a thought. It dimmed to a pinprick of light that sparkled like a diamond beneath her gloved fingers.
“But I can’t”, she complained. “All because of you”.
“Me?” replied Solas, his grey eyes wide with incredulity. He had no idea what she was talking about. “I do not understand”. He stared when he saw the woman he loved not a spirit from the Fade. “Are you like Cole? Did you take mortal form to hide among the shemlen?”
Ellana gaped at him, brows arching in amazement. “You never noticed I was different from the average Dalish elf. Now that’s a surprise considering you’re somniari. Spirits are your constant companions in the Fade”. She licked her lips, snickering when Solas blushed. “Which means you didn’t notice the hints I gave away either”.
She pressed a gauntleted finger against the bridge of her nose, tapping a nostril once, then twice. “That would be too easy. You’re normally observant. Think back on our time together before you left the Inquisition. The clues are there”.
“Who are you?” called Solas with growing trepidation. Everything had gone according to plan except this. The woman he loved. The woman he’d thought he’d known inside and out was finally showing her hand in this game of Wicked Grace. She was calling his bluff with a twinkle in her eye.
“I’ll make you a deal”, she declared, offering Solas an opportunity like it was a pearl plucked from the heart of an oyster.
Ellana jabbed a thumb over her shoulder at the magic wall of ice, silver-white and cold enough to rival a glacier. “You shatter the ice around the Eluvian, let me return to Halamshiral, and I’ll meet you later in a place of your choosing. I’ll even come alone without an escort”.
“Why should I believe you?”
“You said we needed to talk. You were right”.
Solas was unsure of her sincerity. “Will we?”
“Maybe but you might have other ideas”, teased Ellana. “I hope so. You left me all alone in Crestwood after our little spat. I made do with my hands of course, but yours would’ve been better. It was a pity you didn’t stay around long enough to witness how frustrated I was”.
Her lascivious grin left him flustered. It was hard to focus once he imagined the love of his life naked, on a bed of grass. He envisaged her panting beneath the sun, doing pleasurable things with her fingers. His mouth was dry, his blood stirring. Solas hated himself for being so fallible, so easily led astray by his own base desires.
He had to master himself, to remember what was important. He took several deep breaths when he heard Ellana giggle. She delighted in his suffering, the knowing glint in her eye making him bristle. Solas glowered at her. He didn’t like being reminded of the one thing he’d denied himself since Mythal’s demise.
“You will answer what questions I have”.
She shrugged her shoulders with a nonchalance that annoyed him. “Perhaps I will, perhaps I won’t. You’re not my master, Solas. You’re not even my friend. You could’ve been my lover if you hadn’t run away like a craven, tail tucked between your legs”.
“I did not run away!”
“That’s not what it looked like from where I was standing”, said Ellana. “You lied to me in Crestwood, broke my heart, and left me behind to fume in silence. I don’t take it personally, Solas. I understand why you did it. I was a complication you didn’t need, a distraction from your duty to the Elvhen”.
He grimaced at her wording. He recalled the conversation that’d ended their relationship. Ellana was turning the tables, giving him a taste of his own medicine. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Solas was insulted by her callousness.
“That is not what I meant!”
“Isn’t it?” she countered. “That’s what I was led to believe. I was a dalliance at best and at worst a convenient outlet for your desires. Not quite a clandestine lover or a concubine sharing your bed. I’d have enjoyed both roles, if you’d been brave enough to try”.
Solas sucked in a scandalised breath. “What are you suggesting?”
“That depends on what you think I’m suggesting”.
It was difficult to keep his mind out of the gutter. “Many things”.
“Be specific. Go on”, she encouraged. “You can do it”.
Solas shook his head, suddenly worried. “I cannot”.
“Cannot or will not?”, challenged Ellana. “You’re delightfully stubborn when you set your mind to something. I’d love to corrupt you, but I promised Sigfrost I’d behave. He doesn’t approve of my fascination with the Elvhen. We’re supposed to help your kind not be enamoured by you”.
“I fascinate you?”
“You’re an enigma wrapped in a promise with roots sown in the foundations of Thedas, thousands of years ago. A walking contradiction, a living memory of an age long past. If we had the luxury of time. I’d have loved to unravel your secrets, Solas. Layer by layer over several centuries, even millennia if you had no particular place you needed to be”.
“Except in your bed?”
“Our bed. What’s mine would’ve been yours for the asking. If you’d had the courage, but you didn’t. A pity. We would’ve been good together”.
Solas’ heart beat like a drum against his ribs. He couldn’t believe what she was implying. A chance for happiness. An opportunity to indulge in a love he’d denied himself. The promise of reciprocation, of exclusivity ignited a yearning in him.
She flapped her hand at him again in a gesture of dismissal. “We have more important things to discuss. Matters of the heart are inconsequential next to the fate of the world. You have business to attend too. While I should return to the Winter Palace”.
Solas was bewildered by her flippancy. She spoke of intimate things then dismissed them without a thought. It was selfish, rude, and inconsiderate. He was offended by her presumptuousness until something occurred to him. He recalled what’d happened in Crestwood, their parting, and his final words to the woman he loved.
The years they’d spent apart hadn’t lessened the sting of her disappointment.
“You cannot leave yet”, insisted Solas. “We have things to discuss”.
“You’ll have to wait”, corrected Ellana. “I have to go back. Josephine can’t placate the Orlesian and Fereldan nobility forever. She needs me. The fate of the Inquisition will be decided today”.
Solas was hesitant to comply. Ellana saw the indecision on his face, the longer he gawked at her like a startled rabbit. He didn’t quite know what to say. Ellana saw his gaze shift from her to the wall of ice around the Eluvian and back again. Moments passed in a tense silence until he made up his mind.
“You will come to me after the Exalted Council”.
“It could take weeks, even months to resolve this mess with the Inquisition”.
Solas was exasperated by her excuses. “Promise me!”
“You will come to me”, he stated with certainty. “Or I will set Halamshiral ablaze”.
Ellana rolled her eyes. “Let me guess. You plan to turn Empress Celene and her court into a bunch of garden statues”. She nodded to the petrified Qunari around them. “How original”.
He was offended by her sarcasm. “I do not make idle threats. Halamshiral will burn if you refuse. I will have answers”.
“Of course you will”. She considered his point, shrugging her shoulders. “Fine. I’ll meet you after the Exalted Council at a designated time and place. I wouldn’t want all the work I did to stabilise Orlais to be undone by an ancient elven arsehole named Fen’Harel”.
Solas ignored the insult. “How would you find me?”
She ignored his question. “So you’ve chosen a place”. She winked when Solas eyed her as if she might disappear, or burst into flame. “Don’t fret. You have something that belongs to me. Something, I can hear beat no matter where you are in Thedas”.
Ellana laid a gauntleted hand on her bosom, inches above her own heart. She nodded when Solas gasped. “Love has a certain ring to it. Your’s runs deep like a river underground. You’ve loved so little since the fall of Arlathan that I got the lion’s share of your heart. Not even your beloved Mythal means as much to you as I do”.
She smiled, cheeks dimpling. “Does she, Solas?”
He almost choked on his own flustered pride. Ellana was pleased when Solas curled his gauntleted fingers into a fist. His grey eyes glowed a fiery blue. A thunderous crack, a gust of frosty air, and she was showered in snowflakes. The ice-wall shattered into a thousand glittering silver-white pieces. She gave Solas a nod of approval.
The fiery glow faded from his eyes. He regarded her with apprehension, doubtful that she would keep her word. He grew more anxious when she appraised him from head to toe. A casual nod, a smirk of satisfaction, and she grinned at him with a flash of white teeth. She lifted her left hand in a wave of farewell. The parting gesture was as mocking as it was sincere.
“Until we meet again”.
Ellana turned on her heel with a wink and a smile. She paused when he called to her, voice even though she heard the uncertainty. It was almost imperceptible from the normal timbre of his voice. A natural baritone, Solas lacked the Iron Bull’s rumbling bass. His tone was softer, almost velvety when he implored Ellana to wait.
She paused, silver brows arching as she glanced over her shoulder. “Yes?”
Solas frowned, still unsure. “The peak overlooking the Temple of Mythal. I would meet you there where the Vir’abelasan lies in a courtyard of stone. The Eluvian is sealed. There is no way to reach the temple from Skyhold unless I open the way”.
“No. You will find another way to reach me”.
Ellana laughed. “Of course I will. Ma nuvenin, Solas. I will be there in three days”.
“You will keep your promise?”
“To come alone?”
“Of course, I will. My word is my bond. I hold all oaths sacred until they’re broken”. She snorted when Solas’ eyes widened. “Until then”.
She blew him a kiss in farewell, turning around with the swift grace he’d come to expect from her. Ellana was gone in two bounds, leaping into the Eluvian that would lead her back to her companions. Solas was left shaken by the encounter, his plans in disarray. Everything had been fine until Ellana had played her trump card. He stumbled through the petrified Qunari, vision a blur as tears prickled at the corners of his eyes.
He fell against the stony shoulder of the Karashok that’d plucked a strand of Ellana’s silver hair. Solas was breathing hard, chest heaving beneath the gilded plates of his cuirass. He laid a gauntleted hand against the Karashok’s bent arm that held a shield aloft. The Qunari had died facing an enemy he couldn’t have hoped to overcome by physical force alone. Solas gazed into that granite-grey face preserved in imperishable stone.
The Karashok’s eyes were narrowed beneath a pair of thick furrowed brows. His hooked nose was wrinkled in disdain, the curve of his mouth a thin grim line. He looked grave, determined, and ready to face his foe with a focus that seemed unnatural. The prospect of death hadn’t deterred this Karashok from doing his duty. He was petrified like his fellows, another statue in the sun as resilient a perch for the birds as the rest.
Solas pushed away from the Karashok, uneasy as his gaze shifted to the other Qunari. He’d turned them all to stone, one after another without a thought. Now he found their collective silence, their unblinking stares almost unbearable. He ignored them, squaring his shoulders. He lifted his chin, eyes on the horizon, and wove his way between them as Ellana had.
He reached the stairs, confidence in his stride. He didn’t once look back as he climbed his way to the top of the hill. He reached the upper courtyard, when he saw the Viddasala with her spear thrust skyward. Petrified mid-cast, she was as ready for combat as that unfortunate Karashok. The Viddasala didn’t make Solas nervous, but the creature perched on the tip of her spear did.
It was round, grey-feathered, and had a pair of luminous yellow eyes. The owl was as large as a cat and horned like a Qunari with two tufts of feathers on its head. It blinked at him with the languid grace of a nocturnal hunter, head rolling on a short stump-like neck. The owl opened a black beak wreathed in feathers. It hooted at him once, then twice before its head turned on its feathered shoulders.
Solas crept around the Viddasala, the hairs rising on the back of his neck. He reached the Eluvian without mishap though something didn’t feel quite right. He looked back, glancing over his shoulder. He was perturbed when the owl watched him. It squawked, black beak snapping at the air with a sudden viciousness that made him flinch.
Solas turned away, feeling the weight of the owl’s gaze boring into his back. He stepped through the Eluvian believing the bird’s presence was more than a coincidence. He could still hear the owl hooting when he emerged on the other side. The next three days couldn’t pass swift enough.
Abelas and a group of sentinel elves met him deep inside the Temple of Mythal. Solas muttered an incantation, hand waving in the air to activate the spell. The Eluvian darkened behind him, its rippling water-like glass turning black. He crossed the dais to the first step leading down to the landing. He sank onto it with a heavy sigh, head shaking.
The sentinels were unsettled by the sight of their leader so agitated. They’d never heard him swear, or seen him glare at the floor as if it’d offended him. They exchanged worried glances when the Vir’abelasan whispered of trouble unforeseen. Abelas addressed Solas with trepidation, discomforted himself. Something had gone wrong.
Solas was too engrossed thinking about what’d happened in Orlais to notice Abelas. He muttered to himself in ancient elvish, irritated by his own carelessness. He was diligent by nature, perceptive, and meticulous in his studies. Yet Ellana had duped him, concealing her true nature beneath the mask of an elven face. He’d found her odd when they’d first met, then surprising after she’d expressed an interest in him.
She’d found his perspective on the Fade intriguing enough to build a rapport with him too. Their tentative friendship had grown in the weeks afterwards. Solas was as fond of those memories as he was disquieted by them. If Ellana had concealed her nature. What else had she hidden from him?
He wondered if his love had been reciprocated after all.
She could’ve strung him along on purpose.
Their most recent encounter unnerved him. Solas thought on their interaction after the Viddasala’s petrification. Ellana had seen the power he’d possessed. The relentless way in which he wielded the magic of Mythal. She’d not shown the slightest hint of fear despite what she’d witnessed.
Had it been Dalish pride or something worse?
Solas was jolted out of his thoughts. He gawked at the leader of the sentinel elves, brows arched, and mouth agape. He flushed, cheeks pink. The sentinel’s eyes narrowed. Solas was relieved when Abelas ordered his brethren to leave them alone.
He didn’t feel composed enough to address their concerns.
The sentinel elves protested aloud, their voices as discordant as their opinions. Solas watched Abelas contain the hubbub with astonishment. The leader of Mythal’s personal guard barked an order. “Venavis!” The sentinel elves quietened with an immediacy that was comical.
They glowered at Abelas in their silence, sullen as a pack of stray mabari. The tension between them was like a leash pulled taught enough to strangle. Solas felt it tremble at first with fear then with anger. Apologies would need to be made to soothe bruised egos. The sentinel elves wouldn’t be appeased until their concerns were laid to rest.
That was for later when tempers weren’t flaring hot enough to burst into flame. Abelas was infuriated when one stubborn sentinel dared to open his mouth. A muscle in his cheek twitched when the elf in question demanded answers. Abelas’s golden eyes were hard till the sentinel was elbowed in the ribs. Abelas heard his grunt of pain, and saw him turn around to yell at the twit responsible.
The sentinel shut his mouth when he saw an elven woman scowl at him.
“Venavis!” she hissed. “It is not your place to question! Only to obey!” She looked passed him to Abelas. “Forgive my husband! Ilcen does not know when to shut his mouth!”
“Vhenan!” called her embittered spouse. “We deserve an explanation! Something is not right! Fen’Harel is upset! The spirit of Mythal could be at risk!”
Abelas rolled his eyes when Valoya took her husband by the arm. She yanked him from the crowd, uncaring if their brethren saw. She dragged him to the door of the antechamber, growling all the while in ancient elvish. Abelas arched an eyebrow, giving the rest of those gathered a pointed look. The sentinels dispersed, though not one of them was glad about it.
They shuffled from the room, muttering to themselves. Abelas heard the curses, the grumbling, and the rebukes whispered by the spirits of the Well. The dismissal would sour many, and make even more of them resentful. Abelas was aware of the rising dissension, the growing lack of confidence in him. The tether of his leadership was close to snapping.
Abelas ran a tired hand down his face, more ashamed than annoyed. He aired his frustrations to Solas.
“My people are embittered by your refusal. We guided and guarded Mythal. We gave her counsel and served as her protectors. I had once thought we would resume those duties upon your return to us. Was I mistaken?”
“Was I?” pressed the sentinel. “Your continued avoidance of this issue has caused a rift among my people. I must have an answer, Solas. Will we stand beside you when you tear down the Veil? Or will you set us aside when the Evanuris wake in the void and return?”
Solas closed his eyes, brows furrowing as he considered what Abelas asked. He knew that those sworn to Mythal’s service desired vengeance for her death. A grudge was a terrible thing to carry into Uthenera. Solas didn’t doubt the spirits of the Well of Sorrows had whispered of revenge since the fall of Arlathan. Five thousand years was time enough to entrench an idea into the minds of the sleeping.
Neither Abelas nor those of his order would be swayed by words alone. Solas knew he couldn’t undo centuries of conditioning. The broken chains of the Evanuris were still strong enough to bind the last of the Elvhen. Solas opened his eyes to find Abelas awaiting an answer that would decide the course of his life. The sentinel gave him an expectant look, hopeful until Solas returned his scrutiny.
He was silent as the grave.
Abelas broke the stalemate, head shaking in disappointment. “I knew you would do this. I knew yet I tried to convince them otherwise. Fenedhis lasa. You cannot fight the Evanuris on your own”.
“I can”, replied Solas with a certainty that upset him. “I will”.
“So that not another of the Elvhen dies?”
Abelas countered with a stern argument.
“What of the shadows wearing vallaslin residing in the forests? The nomads wandering the wastes without land or property of their own. Or their bare-faced cousins living in the shemlen cities? The poor and the wretched segregated from society because of the shape of their ears. They are not Elvhen, but they are still elves”.
Solas didn’t like where this was going. He eyed Abelas with suspicion. “How do you know about that?” he demanded. “Not one of the sentinel elves has left the Temple of Mythal in centuries. From whom did you learn of the Dalish and the City elves?”
Abelas regarded him with a quiet sense of self-confidence. “From whom do you think? I am certain you saw her today. I know that she was the likeliest cause of your distress”. He smiled when Solas gaped at him in amazement.
“You know of Ellana?”
“I have always known, as have the rest of the sentinel elves”.
Solas was alarmed by the news. “How?”
“The Evanuris were the gods of the nobility. The small folk had their own gods. Did you not once tell Ellana inside the Winter Palace that servants have their own society?” Abelas nodded when Solas gasped. “I know of your comings and goings across Thedas, of your goals as far as she is concerned”.
“I did not disagree with them until you decided the fate of my people”. He took umbrage, golden eyes glinting. “If you will not allow us to avenge Mythal’s murder. Set us free. We are nothing without our mistress, but perhaps with Ellana we can settle the score”.
Abelas noted Solas’ bewilderment. “You are surprised. A novel experience, I am certain for someone of your calibre. It matters not. I have my answer”.
Abelas nodded out of politeness, before turning on his heel.
“Where are you going?” cried Solas.
“To prepare”, he stated, walking away. “I must inform my people of your decision. Our days inside this temple are numbered. If you have forsaken us then Ellana is our last resort. The Lady of the Veil will have a plan of her own to deal with the Evanuris”.
Chapter 2: A Witch inside a Raven
Ellana is visited by an unexpected guest whilst preparing to leave Halamshiral on the third day after meeting Solas.
Edited version 4 - Final. Added extra dialogue and scenes. Changing words, and tightening sentences. Adjusted dialogue for Morrigan.
“Ellana! You can’t leave the city like this! You’re the Inquisitor!”
“Former Inquisitor”, she replied. “I abdicated three days ago. You should remember what happened at the Exalted Council. You were there alongside half of Orlais, a third of Fereldan, and everyone else in attendance. The Inquisition is Cassandra’s responsibility”.
She continued to pack her meagre belongings into her satchel. She’d already spent two days placating a furious empress Celene. Divine Victoria had taken up most of the morning on the third day. Sir Delrin Barris, the Knight Commander of the new Templar Order had demanded an audience at noon. The discussion that’d followed had gone late into the afternoon until Delrin had bid her adieu.
It was a handful of hours from dusk, and she had another appointment to keep. She’d have left Orlais already if not for a persistent bee buzzing in her ear. He’d grown more confident in the last few months, braver too in his attempts to woo her. Ellana would’ve found his clumsy flirting sweet if she’d been in less of a hurry. She didn’t mind that he was shemlen, when his smile stretched that delightful scar on his upper-lip.
He was gorgeous, but timing was everything.
“Cassandra isn’t the Herald of Andraste!” argued Cullen. “You are!”
“She’s better than a Herald”, countered Ellana. “She’s the new Divine”.
“She doesn’t have the same authority! Cassandra is an arse on a seat in a white robe fringed in gold! She’s not the mouthpiece of Andraste! It’s not the same! Compared to you she’s a woman with a fancy hat!”
“That’s sacrilegious talk”.
“It’s true”, insisted Cullen. He thought about the Divine’s hat that sat like a tower on her head. “Maker’s balls. That hat is hideous. Don’t tell Cassandra I said that”.
“I won’t”, promised Ellana. “She’ll be fine. You worry too much”.
“You don’t worry enough. You know what she’s like”.
“Cassandra served two Divines. She can handle herself. If anyone is stupid enough to get uppity with her in the Chantry. She’ll punch them in the throat. It’s better than going toe to toe with her with a sword. They might actually survive the encounter”.
“Maker’s breath”, swore Cullen. “You’re making me feel worse about her being Divine not better”.
“I closed the Breach, defeated Corypheus, and stopped the Qunari from invading. I solve problems, I don’t grant wishes”, stated Ellana. “I can’t pull miracles out of my arse. If you don’t want Cassandra assaulting anyone. Tell the Chantry clerics not to piss her off”.
“It’s not that simple!”
“Sure it is. Have a little faith in her”.
“Don’t put it like that”, pleaded Cullen.
“I’m not questioning the Maker’s will!”
Ellana squinted at him in suspicion, brows furrowed. “You sound awfully upset about Cassandra being the new Divine. I’m Andraste’s Herald. I have this weird spiritual connection to the Maker and his bride. I could put in a good word if you wanted Leliana to take over instead”.
Cullen was appalled by her suggestion. He looked first left than right, wondering if someone otherworldly was eavesdropping. He wasn’t sure if Ellana was joking or being serious. He decided to err on the side of caution.
“No. That’s unnecessary”.
“Are you sure?”
“I suppose, I understand”, said Ellana. “Leliana is scarier than Cassandra with that weird spying thing she does. The Chantry would bleed within a year if she were Divine. At least with Cassandra you’d see the punch coming. You’d never see Leliana’s dagger until it was cutting your throat”.
“When you put it like that”, grumbled Cullen. “Cassandra is the better candidate. I have every confidence in Leliana as our Spymaster, but as the Divine with real power. She’d be an absolute terror”.
“Of course she would. Which is why I chose Cassandra. Thedas is more likely to survive her reign as Divine. She’s capable of defending herself if she gets into trouble. Having a strong shield arm and the strength to swing a sword will put off the most determined assassins”.
Cullen still wasn’t convinced.
“That’s what worries me. Cassandra likes to hit things. She has no patience with people. The Orlesians will eat her alive. I’m afraid she’ll assault some noble that was stupid enough to make her angry”.
“Cassandra does have quite the temper”, agreed Ellana. “It could make for sticky situations if she were ever stuck in the middle of Orlesian politics. The Grand Game is a dangerous mix of murder, sex, and scandal. But she has held her own for the two years she’s been on the Sunburst throne. Maybe you’re right to be worried though, Cassandra isn’t one for finesse”.
“Which is why you can’t leave Orlais! She needs you! The Inquisition needs you! You’ve got the cooler head! Cassandra could use your guidance in dealing with the Orlesian court now more than ever!”
“There’s always Vivienne”.
Cullen was displeased by the mere suggestion of relying on Madame de Fer. “Lady Vivienne has her own agenda”.
“Of course she does”.
He gave her a hard look. “You’re needed”.
Ellana shrugged her shoulders. “I couldn’t stay if I wanted too”.
“Empress Celene and I had something of a disagreement. She isn’t too happy with me. I don’t take orders like a proper servant. I’m not intimidated by her in the slightest. It’s hard to find her frightening after I’ve fought dragons”.
Cullen was suspicious now too. “Is that why you were marched out of her council chamber under guard?”
“What? I wasn’t going to let her bully me into being her lapdog. I’m Dalish not a flat-eared city-elf she can keep on a leash. My people never submitted to Orlesian rule. I may have lost my vallaslin, but I’ve still got my backbone”.
“I bet the Empress wouldn’t mind beating you with it”, concluded Cullen. He knew what Ellana was capable of when backed into a corner.
“Oh, she tried too. But she forgot. Even a lapdog still has teeth”.
“Did you bite her?”
“Oh, good. I was scared for a moment there”.
“Fair point”, agreed Ellana. “I do tend to stab things that upset me”.
“With knives and arrows that explode”.
Ellana folded her last tunic, added a clean breastband, and a couple pairs of knickers. She was amused when Cullen blushed. He cleared his throat with a hoarse cough, looking away. Ellana giggled when he refused to turn around. His eyes were closed when she tucked her small-clothes away.
“It’s all clear. My lady’s things are in my satchel”.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to be seeing something I shouldn’t”.
Ellana resisted the urge to tease him. Cullen was still a boy in many ways, even if he was a man grown. He had little foibles that weren’t due to his Templar training. He loved peaches, disliked spiders, and loathed politics. Give him a sword, a shield, and an order and he was raring to fight.
Give him a breastband, a pair of knickers, and a half-naked woman in his bed and he didn’t know what to do with himself.
His naivety was as sweet as it was tragic.
“It’s quite all right”, called Ellana. “You can open your eyes now”.
Cullen opened one eye wide enough to check his surroundings. He looked left than right when Ellana giggled. He reddened when he spotted her near the bed, looping the strap of her satchel through a leather buckle. She gave it a tug till the prong slid through a hole, sealing away the feminine under-things she’d tucked inside. All was clear as far as she was concerned, though Cullen had other ideas.
“You’re not planning to embarrass me are you?”
“Not today”, promised Ellana. “I’ve not the time for it. I’m sorry to say. I need to be out of Halamshiral by nightfall. Empress Celene was adamant that I make myself scarce as soon as possible”.
“Cassandra was right. The negotiations didn’t go well”.
It wasn’t accurate, but the lie would stand. Ellana was pleased she’d been able to sever her ties to the Inquisition. The Empress of Orlais was unhappy about her abdication, but she’d keep her throne until she lost her head. Gaspard and Briala would betray her given time. Ambition and murder often went hand in hand when it came to ruling an empire.
“Unfortunately not. I tried to convince the Empress that the Inquisition was best left in the capable hands of the new Divine. She didn’t like it one bit”. Ellana giggled when Cullen closed his eyelid, counted aloud to five, then opened both eyes at once. He reddened when she gave him a measure of reassurance.
“Don’t worry. My breast-bands are packed away too”.
“Yes, well. I had to be sure. You have a terrible sense of humour”.
“Don’t you mean scandalous?”
“I do”, chuckled Cullen. “I’m glad you spared my dignity. Arl Teagan Guerrin is still upset about the vial of oil you offered him after the Exalted Council. The court is convinced he’s having a clandestine affair with a member of the Orlesian nobility. They’re uncertain if it’s a Lord, a Lady, or both”.
“Excellent”, replied Ellana with a sly smirk.
“You’re a dangerous woman to cross”.
“Of course I am. When the Arl said what he had to say during the Exalted Council. I was kind enough not to stab him in the eye. I never said I wouldn’t kick him in the balls. He’ll be famous in Orlais for his pursuits in the bedroom, not his position as the Fereldan ambassador”.
“Oh, you’re cruel”.
“The word is spiteful”.
The scar on Cullen’s upper-lip stretched when he smiled. Those honey-brown eyes glinted with boyish innocence. He was handsome, kind, and too sweet to despoil. The truth would hurt him if he knew what she really was. Ellana had to be careful with so fragile a human heart.
Demons had scarred him already.
She didn’t want to add to the bad memories.
“Thank you for staying with me until the end”, she said with sincerity. “I’m grateful for your kindness. It’s been an exhausting few days. I’m relieved the Exalted Council is over. I can finally return to my clan in the Free Marches”.
Cullen’s enthusiasm waned. “You intend to go to Wycome”. The lines of his face hardened, the corners of his mouth turning down. He was unhappy when Ellana revealed her plans. He'd suspected she'd want to leave the city, but the return to Wycome was a punch in the gut.
“It’s long passed time I went home”.
Cullen made the offer, though he knew it would be rejected. Ellana was too much a free-spirit to be tied down for long. “I could organise an escort”.
“Thank you, but no. I’ll be fine”.
“An anonymous elf on the road alone could still fall prey to bandits”.
Ellana didn’t intend to travel by road. “I won’t be alone”.
Cullen was relieved. “Oh. Will you have company?”
“An old friend. It’s been years since we’ve seen each other. He was overjoyed to hear that I’d be going home. He offered to go with me. I’ll be safe with him”.
“An old friend. Have I met him?”
“I wouldn’t think so. He isn’t fond of lowlanders”.
“City-folk like you, so it’s best I meet with him alone. I mean no offense. But you’re not Dalish. My friend might take affront to that. He has a good heart, but he can be a tad possessive when it comes to me”.
“Possessive”, reiterated Cullen. “What kind of friend is he?”
Ellana arched an eyebrow, and have him a hard look. “You’re being awfully nosy”.
He blushed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t – I mean – Oh, Maker’s arse. Please. Forget I said anything”.
“If you’re sure”.
Cullen took the news better than the Ellana thought he would. He was quiet and respectful, though Ellana saw the unhappiness tug at the corners of his mouth. The sparkle left his eyes too, that warm honey-brown darkening to a cool muddy grey. His bow was stiff and formal when he said farewell. He didn’t dare touch her, though he did give her one last look of longing.
It was a single glance no longer than a heartbeat. Ellana saw the naked vulnerability, the adoration that had nothing to do with piety. It was gone the instant Cullen turned to face the door of her chamber. He crossed the floor in four strides, putting his hand on the latch. He pulled it open, pausing on the threshold.
He looked back over his shoulder, a question on his lips. “Do you know how I feel about you?”
“I do. I also knew that of all the members of the Inquisition. It would be you that tried to convince me to stay in the city”.
Cullen swallowed his pride, adam’s apple bobbing with sudden nervousness. “Did Cassandra tell you?”
“She said that we needed to talk. She didn’t say why. I figured out that part on my own after you spent an hour arguing with me”. Ellana exhaled a weary breath, brows arching in contrition. “I’m sorry, Cullen. I have to go”.
He tried one last time. “I could escort you to Wycome”.
“Empress Celene ordered me to leave the city not you”.
“You could still stay”, wheedled Cullen. “I could hide you. Somehow”.
“You can’t carry me around in your pocket”.
“We could return to Skyhold”, he suggested. “We’d be safe there. Your friend would be welcomed too”.
“Skyhold lies on the border between Orlais and Fereldan”, reasoned Ellana. “We’d be safe there for a little while until Arl Teagan whined by raven to King Alistair. I bet he’d whine to Empress Celene too. If his death wouldn’t have started a war with Fereldan. I’d have put a dagger in his kidney today”.
Cullen chuckled. “I’m glad you didn’t”.
Ellana frowned. “He’s an arrogant prick”.
“I know he is. But he’s also King Alistair’s uncle”.
She shuddered, grimacing. “Maker’s arse. The poor bastard. Who needs enemies when you have family like that? I almost feel sorry for him”.
“A little bit”. She smirked, head shaking. “All right. I don’t feel sorry for him at all. King Alistair can keep his crown and his arse of an uncle”.
Cullen smiled though it was bitter-sweet. “The offer still stands. I could smuggle you out of Halamshiral under cover of darkness. We’d make good time on horseback across Orlais until we reached the Frostback mountains. It’d be a week or two until we actually made it to Skyhold but we would arrive well before the onset of autumn”.
“You’re sweet and kind to suggest it”, acknowledged Ellana. “But I can’t allow you to take that kind of risk for me. You’re a good man, Cullen. I won’t tarnish your reputation. I’ll leave Halamshiral on my own, meet with my friend, and together we’ll make the trip to Wycome”.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s for the best”.
Ellana knew it would be unwise to accept Cullen’s offer. Solas had been adamant. She was to leave Halamshiral or risk the city being burned to ash. Ellana didn’t care for Celene or her pit of vipers but she had more to think of than herself. The city elves would burn as readily as the humans if the city were razed.
It was easy to lie.
“I rather like the sun”, she remarked. “And being warm again. It’ll soon be summer in Wycome”.
Cullen gave in with a weary sigh. He knew Ellana wouldn’t budge. If she wanted to leave Orlais than she would no matter what he said. She’d been stubborn as the Inquisitor too. Dalish woman – he’d learned – were independent creatures.
“I’d forgotten about the snow. The mountains and the sleet”. He gave her one last wistful look. “I had to try even though Cassandra told me you’d refuse”. He bit his lip and asked her an earnest question.
“It’s not because I’m human?”
Ellana waggled her eyebrows. “You’re gorgeous when you smile, especially when that scar on your lip stretches. Maker’s breath. I almost wet myself the first time you spoke to me on the battlements in Skyhold. I know you were being kind at the time because I wasn’t used to being around so many people. I was still besotted with you for weeks after that little jaunt around the fortress”.
Cullen was surprised. “Truly?”
“Yes”, gushed Ellana. “If I hadn’t had a soft-spot for bookish know-it-alls. Things would’ve taken a different turn. Solas dazzled me with his knowledge, and beguiled me with his charms. He told me things about my people I’d never thought possible”.
“Because you’re Dalish”.
“Elven history of any kind, no matter how tragic is considered a treasure. Solas used his knowledge as bait. I listened to him, believed his lies, and lost my heart like a fool”. She shrugged her shoulders. “I appreciate your concern, Cullen but I’m not ready for any kind of relationship”.
She lifted her left hand high enough for him to see her bare brown skin. The cuff of her shirt slipped down to her elbow, exposing the jagged scar running the length of her wrist.
“Solas tore the magic of the Anchor out of me. I screamed in agony. I begged for him to stop”. Ellana flexed her fingers, grimacing at the stiffness in her joints. “I trusted him. I loved him and he still hurt me”.
“He could’ve killed you”, growled Cullen. That charming smile vanished. He scowled, the line of his jaw tensing. “Don’t make excuses for him, Ellana. Solas was never an ally or a friend”.
“He wanted the Anchor and it’s power not my life”.
“He wanted you far from the safety and security of the Inquisition. He attacked you while you were chasing the Qunari. The Viddasala was a decoy. Solas wanted you to be alone, vulnerable, and without the aid of your allies. All he did had one purpose – to regain the magic of the Anchor”.
“I know. I do, but I can’t help it. I still love him”.
“Solas betrayed you”.
“I said I was a fool”.
“You’re not!” hissed Cullen. “You’re hurting!”
“I know. And you can’t help me”.
She sniffled, blinking back the tears. She wiped at her eyes when Cullen made a noise of sympathy. “You should go”, she told him, voice strained. “Divine Victoria will be expecting you. It’d be best not to keep her waiting”.
“I can’t leave you like this!”
She swallowed the lump in her throat, averting her eyes. “It’s for the best. Go. Please, before I start crying. You don’t need to see me bawling”.
“Will you be all right?”
“In time. I hope”.
Cullen shook his head, heavy of heart. “Why do you always make goodbyes so hard, Ellana?”
She gave him a wobbly smile. “It’s part of my natural charm. Now go on. It’s time you were on your way. Don’t keep Cassandra waiting”.
Cullen was torn between his love for her and his loyalty to the new Divine. The indecision lasted a moment until he nodded, remembering his duty. He stepped out into the hall without a backward glance. The door to her chambers closed behind him with a soft click. Ellana heard the thud of his footsteps fading into the distance as he walked out of her life.
“It’s best that he leaves me now than later”, she reminded herself when she felt that first sharp sting of regret. “He’s a good man. He deserves better than I could give him”. It was hard to convince herself of that fact when she knew it was a lie. She could have granted his every wish, and made his wildest dreams come true.
“A pity. He would’ve been fun to seduce. Ah, Solas. You’ve ruined me. Why toy with a shemlen when I could have you for an eternity?”
Ellana wiped away the sticky residue of her tears with deft fingers. Feigning grief and upset always made her uncomfortable. Grief was a mortal concept even if loss itself was something she understood all too well. Ellana doubted Cullen would understand the enormity of what she’d sacrificed. He was human, a retired Templar, and a recovering lyrium addict.
She’d already seen the worst of his addiction for herself. Complications of the mortal heart were best avoided.
“Magic was meant as a gift not a curse”, she murmured to herself. “Or so I’d thought until I met Cullen”. She was perturbed by what she’d learned in the scant few years she’d posed as a mortal. “The mage-born, the Templars, and the dwarves have paid too high a price. Was I wrong to involve myself in mortal affairs?”
Ellana heard a sharp rapping, the pecking of a beak on glass. She turned, seeing the large black bird perching on the windowsill outside her room. A flick of her fingers and the steel latch unfastened. The window swung inwards, opening wide. The bird squawked, taking wing. Ellana was pleased when it’s feathered shadow fell across the floor.
The clack of a black beak wreathed in feathers made her smile. She snapped her fingers, summoning a gust of wind. The window closed with a rattle of glass, the latch refastening with a clink of steel. The shadow floating on silent wings above the floor of her bedchamber lengthened. The raven shed it’s feathered cape, and two booted human feet settled upon the floorboards.
Ellana admired those fine black boots, the long legs in patchwork breeches. A tasselled leather skirt hung from broad hips. She arched an eyebrow when she saw the bare stomach, the fair unblemished skin. A flimsy scrap of purple fabric scarcely covered that tiny string of a breastband. Orlesian courtesans’ were more modest.
Ellana’s gaze settled on the pale column of a throat. She saw a pair of necklaces wrought in brass. She smirked when she spied the barbarian finery, a glimpse of Chasind wealth. The first necklace was a string of discs, while the second was a collar of thin plates. Ellana knew whom had come to visit her in the guise of a raven.
She studied the pointed chin, the angular cheeks, and the thin bridge of a pale nose. She looked into weary golden eyes beneath a fringe of sweaty black hair. Beads of perspiration trickled down a face drawn with fatigue. Dark ruby-red lips were pursed, sucking in breath after breath into a heaving bosom. Her guest while uninvited was not unexpected.
“Morrigan”, called Ellana. “Sit”.
She gestured to the chair beside the bed covered in brocade blankets. She’d not slept under that embroidered velvet, or the matching silk sheets. Someone had died in that bed even if the sheets had been washed, the blankets changed. She could still smell the faint stink of iron that’d sunk into the floorboards. The assassination had been quick, clean, and clinical.
Ellana had heard the whispers about the court. She’d seen the sidelong glances among the elven servants. They’d shuffled away, avoiding her gaze when she’d been given the bedchamber in the Winter Palace’s west-wing. The view of the palace gardens from the third-floor was spectacular. Not one elf in Halamshiral had warned her about the room’s significance.
Ellana was relieved when Morrigan dropped into the chair with an audible thump. She was quiet whilst Morrigan glanced about the room with narrowed eyes. Her tone was sharp, even accusing. Ellana wondered what Empress Celene had done to incur her wrath. The Witch of the Korcari Wilds hissed like a pit viper.
“What are you doing here? This was the room of the Rivaini Ambassador at court until he voiced support for Gaspard”. Morrigan scowled. “He was found dead in his bed the day after with a six inch blade in his belly. An elven servant was charged with his murder. A crime of passion it was said, though it was whispered that Empress Celene used the servant as a scapegoat”.
“I’m aware the ambassador was murdered for treason”, said Ellana. “I’m also aware that the Empress gave me this room in particular to serve as a warning. I’ve left the Inquisition and turned it over to the new Divine. I’m powerless, a wolf without fangs but Celene still thinks I have value as the Herald of Andraste. If I were to turn against her in the future, if I pose a problem than it would mean my life and that of anyone linked to me”.
She gestured to the luxurious furnishings in the room. The ornate four-poster bed with its silk canopy. The fine oak furniture, the large paintings on the walls. The hardwood floors covered in plush animal pelts and thick handwoven rugs. The room with its single bay window and privacy was meant for foreign dignitaries.
For three days it’d been the home of a Dalish peasant.
“Fenedhis!” hissed Morrigan. “Are you mad? To antagonise Celene is to draw a murder of crows to your doorstep! She’s dangerous! You can’t die at the hands of her assassins!”
“Sweetling”, cooed Ellana. “I defeated an ancient darkspawn magister and his army of red templars. I’m not afraid of the Empress of Orlais. She’s the least of my concerns if Solas has been meddling. You’re here when you shouldn’t be, which means that he’s been a naughty boy”.
Morrigan panted like a mabari fresh from the hunt. Strands of slick black hair were plastered to her forehead. The clothes clinging to her skin were streaked with grime. Her boots were crusted with mud from toe to heel. She was exhausted in body and spirit.
Morrigan gripped the arms of her chair, fingers digging like claws into the plush velvet. She doubled-over, nose to kneecap with an anguished cry. She took a fortifying breath to steel her nerves. She failed at first to articulate her distress, too overcome with panic then grief. Her eyes turned watery as she fought to hold onto what composure she had left.
Ellana didn’t push or prod her again. Morrigan sucked in a ragged breath, trembling. Her mouth turned down in misery, the tears leaking out the corners of her eyes.
“He has my son!” she cried, aghast. “My Kieran! He ordered me to hand him over to force my cooperation! I didn’t want too! I tried to defy him, but the power of the Well overwhelmed me!”
Morrigan pleaded with Ellana, hoping to find a modicum of compassion. “He sent me to find you! To bring you back! To make sure that you kept your promise! You must return with me to the Temple of Mythal!”
She closed her eyes, breath hitching. “The voices of the Well say that Solas will hurt him if I fail!” Morrigan reached for her in desperation. “I have never begged for anything in my life!” she cried, distraught. “My son is all I have!”
“Please! Halani ma!”
Ellana took pity on her with an immediacy that surprised Morrigan. She was wide-eyed, even fearful when the retired Inquisitor crossed the floor. Ellana knelt before her with a compassionate smile. Morrigan gasped when calloused brown hands cupped her face. “Hush”. She tensed when gentle fingers wiped away the briny tracks of her tears. “All will be well”.
Ellana’s touch was warm and reassuring. Morrigan wanted to cry. She was overwhelmed with relief when Ellana said the one thing she wanted to hear.
“I’ll go back with you. We’ll get Kieran out of Solas’ hands together”.
“Will you come now? I’ve flown for two days from the Arbor Wilds. I’m tired, but I can shapeshift again, and be ready to go in a moment”. Morrigan tried to rise from the chair, to push herself up onto her aching legs. “We could make good time if we left as soon as possible”.
Ellana resisted, pressing down hard on her shoulders. A shake of her head was enough to shock Morrigan. Hadn’t she heard a word she’s said? Morrigan slapped her hands when Ellana refused to withdraw. Her reply was calm, collected, and enraging.
“I can’t return with you now. You must be patient”.
“Solas has my son!”
“I know, but this is out of my hands. I can’t leave Halamshiral clutched inside a dragon’s claws. I must be seen leaving the city gates at sunset of my own volition”. Ellana offered Morrigan a swift compromise. “Wait here, rest, and catch your breath while I prepare. In two hours meet me a mile outside Halamshiral in a hut off the east-end of the Imperial Highway”.
Morrigan gaped at her. “You can’t be serious!” Her lower-lip wobbled again, the tears prickled at the corners of her eyes. “I’ve flown from dawn to dusk to get here! Solas gave you three days to come to the Temple of Mythal!”
Morrigan grasped Ellana’s hands hard enough to bruise. “Today is the third day! We’re out of time!” She gazed into her eyes with an earnestness that amused Ellana. Morrigan was infuriated by her lack of concern. That carefree smile made her blood boil.
“Why are you so quiet?” she demanded. “This is serious!”
She was outraged by Ellana’s amusement. She was a mother desperate to save her only child. And all Ellana Lavellan could do was grin at her like a fool. Morrigan raised a hand in frustration, the flat of her palm was a blur of motion. She would smack that fool smile off Ellana’s face.
Morrigan gasped when brown fingers caught her wrist in a vice-like grip. She tensed, horrified when Ellana’s eyes glowed like twin torches of veilfire. Those fingers squeezed hard in warning. Morrigan felt the bones of her knuckles click and grind underneath her skin. She hissed in pain, though the pressure didn’t lessen.
“Venavis”, barked Ellana, voice frigid. “I know you’re upset about Kieran. I know you’re tired and frustrated. I sympathise, but I won’t be smacked like an errant child. Don’t try it again”.
Ellana opened her fingers. Morrigan snatched her hands back as if burned, wrists crossing as she pulled them tight to her chest. She stared at Ellana, eyes wide with fear. She’d seen that kind of power twice before. A mark of inhumanness that’d set first Solas and then her mother apart from ordinary mages. The eyes aglow like two points of light inside a human face was the stuff of nightmares.
Morrigan had seen the same thing in the Fade, on the shoulders of demons with skulls wreathed in flame.
“He was right!” she cried. “You’re not an elf! You’re something worse!” She tensed when that ghoulish light faded from Ellana’s eyes. Morrigan glanced first at her hands, then her fingers with trepidation.
“Checking to see if you’re turning to stone?” teased Ellana. “I’m not in the habit of making garden statues out of people. Even those that irritate me. I’m not an arsehole, Morrigan. Solas sits on that pedestal all by himself”.
“You hurt me!”
“You tried to slap me”.
“I was angry!”
“Right”, snorted Ellana. “You didn’t think that one through. I’m a rogue by profession. I know how to use lock-picks, a bow, and knives. I’m armed to the teeth with every conceivable blade I can hide on my person without looking conspicuous”.
Ellana turned her wrist over to expose the underside of her right-hand. A small blade was concealed in the cuff of her sleeve, strapped to a leather bracelet. She lifted the edge of her skirt to expose her legs. The black hose beneath concealed two more blades, each strapped to the outside of her thighs. Morrigan was alarmed when Ellana pointed to her boots.
“I’ve got two more strapped to my calves. That’s six that don’t include my usual weapons”. She let her skirt fall back over her legs, covering the blades she kept hidden. “Never slap a Dalish rogue, sweetling. I won’t knife you because we’re friends, but another rogue wouldn’t think twice about it”.
“Because I’m shemlem?” spat Morrigan.
“Humans have persecuted elves for centuries. The hatred of your kind runs deep. It wouldn’t take much to spark a rebellion the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a thousand years. After Corypheus and the Breach. Your people are woefully unprepared for war”.
“You’re saying Solas intends to start one?”
“He already has. The die is cast. The board set. All he’s doing now is making a play. I can slow him down, perhaps even stop him but not when my hands are tied”.
Morrigan couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What do you mean?”
“Thousands will die unless I choose a side”.
“I don’t understand!”
Ellana shrugged, head shaking. “I’m untethered and unclaimed. A thing unheard of for one such as I. We’re usually bound in some way, shape, or form. Hobbled to a specific purpose, a duty that’s often prescribed by the people we choose”.
“Choose for what?”
“To guide and protect”.
Morrigan grew more worried the longer she listened. Ellana was speaking in riddles. Morrigan didn’t understand much of what she’d said, but parts of it made an eerie sort of sense. She’d met gods that walked in the skin of mortals. Solas and then her mother Flemeth, bearing the soul of Mythal through the ages.
“You’re untethered? But you belong to the Inquisition”.
“I belonged to the Inquisition. I don’t anymore”, corrected Ellana. “That’s also not what I meant. You know it too though you’re terrified of what it might mean for you, Kieran, and poor lost Mahariel. Thedas can burn for all you care as long as your family is safe”.
The statement cut deep, the sting of it sweet agony. Morrigan lifted her chin high, pride in her bearing. She didn’t deny it. Her family meant more to her than life, a fact that Ellana acknowledged with an understanding nod. Morrigan was startled by her lack of condemnation.
“Good. You share my sentiment. It’ll make what’s to come next easier on both of us”.
Morrigan was wary when Ellana released her, rocking back on her heels. She watched Ellana flex her knees, and roll to her feet in one graceful motion. She flinched when Ellana arched an eyebrow. They exchanged a tense look that lasted several moments.
“Still proud even when you’re scared”, remarked Ellana. “I commend your spirit, Morrigan”.
She crossed the floor without a backward glance, pausing by the windowsill. She undid the latch, pushing the window open. A gust of wind ruffled her hair. Ellana beckoned with a smile on her lips.
“Garas ma. I’ve something to show you”.
“Am I supposed to trust you after what I saw?” hissed Morrigan. “Your eyes glowed like those of a demon! Solas uses that trick to turn people to stone! I’m not stupid enough to think for a moment that you wouldn’t do the same! You’re just like him!”
“I’m offended by that comparison. Solas is an arse and I’m not”. Ellana turned around, silver brows arched in contrition. Her face was soft, kind, and understanding. “But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for frightening you. Alas it couldn’t be avoided”.
She gestured to her eyes with a casual flick of her fingers.
“It’s one of the least terrible ways to reveal myself. Unfortunately it makes me akin to Solas in the worst of ways”. Ellana rolled her eyes, now a clear and dark emerald green. “It makes ordinary folk like yourself wary of me. After all only spirits, demons, and maleficar have glowing eyes in and out of the Fade”.
“Are you a maleficar?”
“It’s a reasonable assumption. But I haven’t attacked you. I’m not spewing vitriol, spitting taunts, or trying to coerce you into doing what I want. Maleficar don’t ask for things, they take them. I’m asking, Morrigan”.
“Asking for what?”
Ellana gestured to the window. “For you to come and see what I have to show you. I’m not going to hurt you. It’s the opposite in fact. I’m trying to help”.
“You’re trying to distract me”.
“Fear is as useful as it is crippling. Will your fear of me rule you, Morrigan? Or will you overcome that fear. Only you can decide”.
Morrigan contemplated a decision for several long moments. She was still nervous, but curiosity soon overcame her apprehension. She set her booted heels on the floor, knees knocking. She was wobbly at first when she got to her feet, still exhausted from her frantic flight. She doggedly placed one foot in front of the other.
Morrigan kept one hand on the back of her chair as she moved around the room. That hand ran across the wall, then along the windowsill until she was within feet of Ellana. She refused to move closer, to put herself anymore at risk. She could see outside the window. She thought it was enough of a compromise until Ellana offered her a helping hand.
“Don’t touch me”.
“I can stand on my own”.
“I don’t want your help”.
Ellana frowned. “Were you a stubborn child?”
“So my mother always said”.
“I bet she did”.
Ellana’s cheeks dimpled. She gave Morrigan a cheeky wink and a toothy smile. She nodded to the world outside her window, saying nothing when Morrigan chanced a look. She watched the witch’s face, pleased when she saw her eyes go wide with delight.
“It’s beautiful! The butterflies! The flowers! Is that a Vhenadahl?”
Ellana turned to look out that same window. In the garden below there grew a single tree. It was lush, tall, and green. Its boughs were laden with thousands of tiny silver-white flowers. A plethora of wild-flowers bloomed about it’s gnarled roots in shades of gold, red, purple, and blue. Butterflies flitted, fat bumblebees droned, and somewhere a nightingale warbled.
“Once, long ago, the gardens of Arlathan were beautiful too”.
Morrigan had lost some of her fear but none of her wariness. She kept a watchful eye on Ellana, careful to keep her at arm’s length too. “Once?”
“Once”, affirmed Ellana. “Before the Elvhen grew arrogant enough to think they’d the right to control and influence all things. Living and dead. The Evanuris like Mythal thought herself above the natural order. I would’ve dealt with them before Elvhenan fell to ruin if not for a promise I made to my brother”.
“You have a brother?”
“Once I had many. Now I have one. He’s awfully old fashioned”.
Morrigan was unnerved by the news. “Brothers. There was more than one of you. Which means you had a family”.
“It can’t be that surprising. All beings have family of some sort. I had a multitude of siblings”.
“It doesn’t quite work like that for someone like me”.
“Wait. No sex?”
“Oh, we have sex”, teased Ellana. “But it’s more orgiastic, less exclusive pairings. Or it was until I was born. The gaggle of beings that created me got protective when they discovered I wasn’t like my brothers. I’m the only female of my line, something of a surprise after a slew of sons”.
“It was for my brothers. They didn’t know what to do with me. I wasn’t as strong as them or as powerful. My talents were subtler, more finesse than brute force. But I had the worst temper, the least control, and the greater propensity for destruction”.
“What were you?” demanded Morrigan.
“A naked flame in a field of grass after a long, hot, and dry summer”.
“A spark to tinder”.
“A disaster waiting to happen”, elaborated Ellana. “My eldest brother had more patience than the rest. He took me under his wing, doling out advice, and lectures in equal measure. He was never unkind or too strict, but he was full of expectation. I hated disappointing him, so I always strove to do my best for him”.
“You respect him”.
“I adore him. I still do”.
“You made him a promise?” asked Morrigan.
“What kind of promise?”
“Never to set Thedas ablaze. I’m not patient or forgiving”, admitted Ellana. “I’m vengeful. I abhor liars, even if I am one. I avoid commitment too, even though I’m an incorrigible flirt”.
“That sounds like Zevran Arainai”.
“I know. Ironic isn’t it?”
“Is he your brother?”
“More like a descendant, several thousand years down the line”.
Morrigan was appalled by the news. “You’re his grandmother?”
“Several thousandth greatest actually. Of all my descendants he’s the most like me with a thick Antivan accent. Don’t think too badly of him. It’s not Zevran’s fault that he’s the way he is. My descendants tend to be untrustworthy, selfish, and prone to scandalousness”.
Ellana smirked. “I’m a rogue by nature”.
“So is Zevran”, declared Morrigan. “He’s terrible”. She shuddered, grimacing. “And he killed the woman he loved. Did you kill your brothers?”
“Family means quite a bit more to me than that. No. It was something that happens to all beings. My brothers thirsted for adventure. And I was too young to follow them”.
Ellana went quiet, the corners of her mouth turning down. Morrigan was surprised when she saw that hollow look of loss in her eyes. The light of hope was gone, the spark extinguished. Morrigan had seen that same devastation on Mahariel’s face once he’d learned the fate of his clan. He’d crumpled the letter from Merrill in his hands, torn it to shreds, and left her side without saying a word.
She’d found him two weeks later bruised and bloody, surrounded by dead maleficar.
“My brothers grew up, found mates, and had families of their own”, explained Ellana. “They changed, becoming more while I stayed the same. One by one I lost them all to a life I couldn’t comprehend or understand. Only the eldest stayed with me throughout my youth. Until the day came when he wanted the same thing our brothers had wanted”.
“He abandoned you?” assumed Morrigan.
“It was the other way around. He wanted to follow our brothers. He begged me to go with him. I refused. He left me behind, as they had when he realised I wouldn’t change my mind. I could’ve gone with him, but at the time I was reluctant”.
“I didn’t want to die”.
“I’m not mortal but even my existence can end”.
“Are you Elvhen?” demanded Morrigan.
“But you are old, and you look like an elf”.
“Yes and yes”, replied Ellana. “Although why must someone be old and an elf? You already know that appearances can be deceiving. That things are not always what we think them to be. You’ve met spirits, demons, and all myriad of strange beings in and out of the Fade”.
“How do you know that?”
“How do you think I know?”.
“I’m almost afraid to ask”.
Morrigan was quiet for several moments, studying Ellana’s face. The curves of her cheeks, the hard line of her jaw, and the triangular point of her chin. She saw shades of Mahariel in her thick Dalish brows, wide nose, and big elven eyes. Morrigan knew the similarities between them were superficial. Ellana had a wildness about her that was as beautiful as it was unsettling.
She was so discomforted that she unwittingly asked the same question Solas had.
“What are you?”
“Someone that misses her brothers”.
“That’s not an answer”.
“It’s the best you’ll get for now”.
“You’re frustrating”, grumbled Morrigan.
“My brother says that too”.
“Who is this brother you keep talking about?”
“Sigfrost”, said Ellana. “I’m sure you’ve heard of him. Most mages have”.
Morrigan only knew of one being so named. “You can’t mean the Sigfrost from Avvar myth”.
“He’s the Avvar god of wisdom that happens to be a gigantic mystical bear”.
“And that’s strange because?”
“Ellana!” hissed Morrigan. “Sigfrost is a god!” She blanched after she realised what she’d said aloud. “Which would make you a goddess”. She gawked when Ellana waggled her eyebrows.
“Don’t be silly. I’m a Dalish elf”.
“In this form, assuming that’s your real face”.
Ellana’s eyes narrowed, her demeanour changing in a heartbeat. Morrigan was uneasy when the corners of her mouth curved upward. The mischievous twinkle in Ellana’s eye was gone and in it’s place was a fox-like slyness that made her skin crawl. There was a sharpness in her gaze too, an intelligence that was as cunning as it was perceptive. Morrigan took a step backward though she resisted the urge to turn tail and run.
She was apprehensive when Ellana smiled, lips peeling back from her teeth. She trembled when she saw the protruding fangs, the jagged line of her incisors. Her skin took on a pearlescent sheen, as if a faint rainbow of light were reflecting off a series of tiny scales. Morrigan took a shuddering breath when Ellana’s shadow fell across the floor. It was amorphous, a cloud of smoke though she saw what looked like tongues of black flame.
Heat suffused the air in a wash of brimstone. Morrigan’s nose wrinkled at the stink of sulphur. Her skin prickled, goose-flesh rising. Ellana giggled, the sound sending a chill of foreboding down Morrigan’s spine. She was perturbed when Ellana spoke to her again.
That gruff Fereldan accent had a rasp that reminded Morrigan of steel grinding on stone.
“Clever girl. You’re more astute than Solas. He’s the somniari, the dream-walker yet he hadn’t a clue about what I was. We didn’t get this far in our little game of intrigue”.
Morrigan tried to keep her voice steady, but there was an unmistakable waver of fear. “I’m not surprised”.
Ellana smiled wide again to reveal her sharp teeth. She winked, the black pupils of her eyes slitted like those of a cat. Morrigan flinched with a thick pink tongue slid out from between her lips. It was large, long, and forked like the tongue of a snake. It lashed left, than right scenting the air until Ellana rolled it back behind her teeth.
“You’re right. This isn’t my real face. It’s one I use from time to time when I wander the world. I have other forms, but this is my favourite. My true form is a challenge to the uninitiated”.
“You stink like a dragon”, complained Morrigan. “It’s most unpleasant”.
“Fire is my element”, stated Ellana. “The smell is the least of what you’d find unpleasant about me. The worst would leave you cooked alive inside your own skin. It explains my irascibility, mulishness, and my tendency for vengefulness too. Dragons and I have that much in common”.
“Only that much?”
“We all have our flaws. It’s taken me aeons to learn subtlety, the finesse came after I learned not to burn down forests in a fit of rage. Patience was never my strong suit, neither was politics though I learned out of necessity. Sigfrost helped as best he could. I managed the rest on my own until he questioned my self-control”.
Ellana flapped her hand in dismissal. “There was the incident with the ice giant, and the nest of orphaned dragonlings I adopted. Their mother had been slain by Korth for hunting too close to mount Belenas. I couldn’t leave them alone on a mountainside covered in snow, so I became a dragoness for a handful of centuries. I suppose that’s why I still stink of brimstone in my natural form, the scales, and the teeth stayed too”.
“You were a mother to dragons?” asked Morrigan.
“For a time. I didn’t actually breed with any drakes or lay eggs like a chicken. I kept the nest safe and secure until the dragonlings were old and strong enough to fend for themselves. The experience was beneficial. I learned how to love beings lesser than myself. Lucky for you”.
“If I hadn’t. You’d be a pile of ash”.
Ellana clucked her forked tongue, grinning, and blinked her cat-like eyes. Her slitted pupils shrank inwards until they were small and round again. The shadow on the floor receded, softening around the edges. Morrigan soon saw the silhouette of an elf with pointed ears and a mop of short shaggy hair. She looked up to find the myriad pearlescent scales were gone.
Ellana’s skin was smooth and brown again.
The heat faded too, leaving a chill in air that made Morrigan shiver.
She’d long forgotten about the garden in the courtyard below. She was studying Ellana again, more curious than afraid of that pretty brown face. The green eyes beneath a pair of silver brows were warm and kind again. That grinning mouth had a distinct lack of sharp teeth. Morrigan was unnerved when Ellana winked at her like a mischievous woodland sprite.
“He was right”, she mused aloud. “You’re not what you appear to be”.
“Is that what Solas told you?”
“It was Kieran”, corrected Morrigan. “When he first met you in Skyhold”.
“He always was a gifted child with or without the soul of Urthemiel”.
“You know about that too?”
“I know a lot of things”.
“How?” demanded Morrigan.
Ellana waved away her question as if it were unimportant. “It’s a long story that’d take several centuries to tell. We don’t have that kind of time. Let’s say that I know a great deal about a great many things. Although I do wonder about one thing”.
“What else did your son tell you that day in the gardens in Skyhold?”
“That you felt old like the mountains, but were warmer and kinder than ice or snow”. Morrigan remembered her son’s odd little moments of insight. “I thought it was a bit of whimsy. A child’s observation of someone he’d met for the first time. The only other elf he’d ever known growing up was his father Mahariel”.
“You were someone new”, explained Morrigan. “Someone I’d thought harmless until Solas ordered me to hand over my son two days ago. He has Kieran imprisoned under guard in the Temple of Mythal. I didn’t want to leave him, but that bastard used the magic of the Vir’abelasan against me. I am bound to the will of Mythal like Abelas and the sentinel elves”.
“Solas is in possession of her soul”, declared Ellana. “His orders would be her’s under the right circumstances”.
“Unfortunately, I was foolish enough to drink from the Vir’abelasan”.
“That you were”.
Morrigan eyed her with suspicion. “You knew what would happen”.
“Of course I did”.
“You didn’t try to stop me”.
“Abelas warned you. You still drank from the Well of your own volition”.
“You could have warned me”.
Ellana looked her in the eye. “Would you have listened?”
Morrigan reddened, going quiet. She’d waited for years to get her hands on magic powerful enough to use against her mother. Flemeth’s grimoire had been useful, but incomplete. More a diary than a book of spells. Morrigan in fearing for herself and her son had done her best to stay one step ahead of her mother no matter the cost.
“I didn’t think so”, finished Ellana. “Which is why Solas rooted you out from hiding. Took your son hostage, put a boot to your arse, and sent you flying from the Temple of Mythal. All in hopes that you’d bring me back as soon as possible”.
“You don’t sound surprised”, accused Morrigan.
“I’m not. Solas is playing with fire, and he’s not sure if he’ll get burned. He’s trying to find a way to overcome me even now. He took a strand of my hair, and he’s planning to use it in a binding spell. Which would work if I were less than what I am”.
“Kieran and I are bait”.
“Of course you are”, agreed Ellana. “My bleeding heart and all. Solas knows I’d never turn away a friend in need. He’s counting on my compassionate nature ruling my head. You and Kieran are the flies in his web, and he’s the spider”.
Ellana arched an eyebrow, the corners of her mouth curving upward. A cheeky wink, a smile, and she still soothed the worst of Morrigan’s fears.
“Worry not. I’m still going back with you”.
“It’s a trap”.
“What makes you think Solas is the one that planned it this way?”
“You don’t care if he did”.
“Am I that obvious?”
“Ellana. He’s powerful”.
“He thinks he is”.
Morrigan shook her head, frowning. “You know what he is. Who he is. You’ve seen what he can do with my mother’s magic. Solas is old, powerful, and a self-proclaimed elven god. And despite all that you’re still planning to return with me to the Temple of Mythal”.
Ellana gave her a long, hard look. “Would you prefer I didn’t?”
“Kieran is a child, Morrigan. Solas took him away from you. It wasn’t the smartest way to get my attention. Children are innocents. If he hurts the boy, even a little than he’ll pay for every drop of Kieran’s blood shed tenfold”.
“You’d kill him?”
“I don’t intend too, but Solas can make the simplest of things difficult”. Morrigan was wary when Ellana smiled like a cat that’d caught a mouse. “If he’s running scared. He won’t know what to expect. I still have the advantage in our little game of Wicked Grace”.
For a brief moment Morrigan saw her eyes flash like emerald fire again. It was gone an instant later quick as the flick of a butterfly’s wing. It still left her shaken, though Ellana cooed an apology like a turtle-dove. It was soft, sweet, and tinged with that selfsame maternal kindness that’d first made Morrigan want to cry. She could feel the tears prickling at the corners of her eyes again.
“Ir abelas. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine”, sniffled Morrigan. “Stop worrying about me”.
Ellana’s playfulness ebbed. She gave Morrigan a look of concern. “I can’t do that”.
“I’m sorry, Morrigan. But I won’t leave you to fend for yourself alone. Solas is dangerous, I agree. He tried to kill Felassan. He’ll do the same to you given the chance”.
Morrigan gaped at her in disbelief. “Felassan is dead. Solas murdered him because he failed to take the Eluvian network from Briala”.
“Is that what the spirits of the Well have told you?”
Ellana snorted, nose wrinkling in disdain. “They’ve been stuck in a pond of water, growing stagnant for five thousand years. The most they’ve seen in that time is how many tadpoles a frog could cram up their noses. They’re dead, sweetling. They lie too, so don’t believe a word they say”.
“Do you lie?”
“Of course I do. At least I’m honest about it. The spirits of the Vir’abelasan are arrogant shits that lived and died before the Fall of Arlathan. They served Mythal until she was assassinated by the Evanuris. They whined about her death for centuries afterwards, stewing in their own misery”.
Ellana rolled her eyes. “I’ve seen Fade sprites with more backbone. The spirits of the Well have nothing but disdain for mortals. Why would you listen to them? They think you’re little better than the weeds growing on the bottom of their sad little spirit-pond”.
“Even if that’s true”, hissed Morrigan. “Why in the world would I believe anything you say?”
“You don’t need too. Felassan will explain everything in due course”.
“So says Solas”.
“You mean he’s not. How?”
“Because, sweetling”, said Ellana. “I saved him. You needn’t worry. He’s in a safe place. He doesn’t think so of course, but then again he is an incessant whiner”.
Morrigan needed a few moments to absorb that titbit. “He whines?”
“Like a puppy. Hush now. I need a moment to think”.
Ellana ruminated on all that had happened since her return to Halamshiral. The Qunari – Dragon’s breath plot had gone awry. Solas’ plans had stalled long enough to give her a narrow window of opportunity. It wasn’t as neat as she’d like, but it would do until Korth’s first-born son tracked her down. Sigfrost’s warning hadn’t fallen on deaf ears.
She’d taken his advice to heart.
Ellana wondered if she truly had frightened Solas. “How twitchy is the great Fen’Harel?”
“He was unsettled enough to reach halfway across Thedas to find me”, answered Morrigan. “He combed the Eluvian network from the Korcari Wilds to the Anderfels searching for me. Once he’d found where I was hiding. He dragged me to the Temple of Mythal by the scruff of my neck. Kieran came after he ordered me to tell him where I’d stowed my son”.
“Where were you squatting?”
“In a small village off the west-coast of the Colean sea”.
“So close to Seheron?”
“They were simple fisher-folk not Qunari”.
“I suppose you were smart enough not to use magic in plain sight?”
Morrigan huffed, golden eyes rolling. “I’m an apostate not a fool”.
“Smart girl”. Ellana brought her hands together with a sharp clap. Morrigan flinched at the sound, still anxious after their encounter. She glared when Ellana grinned from ear to ear with a flash of white teeth. “Which brings us back to where we started”.
“I can’t give you more time”, warned Morrigan. “It took me two days to get here. It could take us just as long to return to the Arbor Wilds”. Her shoulders sagged with fatigue. “Even if I shifted into dragon-form, I’d fall out of the sky before we cleared the city”.
“So rest”, advised Ellana. “Then find me in two hours. Do you remember where?”
Morrigan gritted her teeth in a fierce snarl. “Didn’t you hear a thing I said? We’re out of time!”
Ellana raised her left hand, pulling the cuff of her sleeve back to reveal the jagged scar on her wrist. Morrigan grimaced at the sight of the puckered pink skin. Ellana muttered an incantation. She watched Morrigan’s face as the scar disappeared in a wisp of smoke. The witch gawked when the emerald light of the Anchor flickered like fire beneath her skin.
“You still have the mark”.
“Of course I do. It’s magic never belonged to Solas”.
Morrigan sucked in a startled breath. “It’s yours. Did Solas know?”
“Of course not. He was too naive to believe Mythal was ever anything but trustworthy. She’s not as you well know. Flemeth wasn’t much better. A pity, really. She was a talented mage until Mythal crawled under her skin”.
Ellana shrugged her shoulders with a nonchalance that perturbed Morrigan.
“Yet another mess I have to clean up. Sigfrost will be ecstatic”. Ellana reached into the shaggy curls of her silver hair. She tweaked the lobe of her pointed ear. “I’ll have to stay a Dalish elf awhile longer”.
“That’s horseshit”, hissed Morrigan. “You’re not a simple Dalish anything”.
“You should be proud. Kieran was right”.
“You still haven’t told me what you are”.
“You’ve guessed more of my true nature than most”, countered Ellana.
“That’s not an explanation!”
“I’ve denied nothing. Lest you’ve forgotten. But we haven’t the time to argue. I have to prepare. So take a seat, catch your breath, and rest. In an hour I’ll leave Halamshiral through the city-gates”.
“And an hour after that?”
“You’ll meet me a mile outside Halamshiral in a hut off the east-end of the Imperial Highway. It’s concealed from the roadside by a thicket of trees. A small white dog will be guarding the front door. When you arrive, tell him you’re expected. He’ll let you in”.
“A dog will let me in?” repeated Morrigan. “And does this dog have a name?”
“It means slow arrow in elvish”.
“Felassan!” cried Morrigan. “You turned him into a guard dog!”
“Of a kind”.
“Solas could find him!”
“He won’t”, Ellana assured her. “The dreams of beasts are simple and mundane. Solas tends to ignore them. He wouldn’t deign to sift through the memories of a slumbering mabari. He’s too prideful, and he thinks wolves are superior. Felassan as such is safer as a dog than an elf”.
“Is it permanent?”
“He thinks it is”.
“Solas said that too”.
Ellana whispered an incantation. The light of the Anchor went out like a guttered candle-flame, slipping beneath her skin again. The ugly puckered scar curled its way like a vine from the palm of her hand to the crook of her elbow. The glamour settled back into place. The simple spell impressed Morrigan.
“Are you always this deceptive?”
“Not by choice, but when one such as I walks among mortals. Disguises are necessary”.
Morrigan’s mouth thinned, her jaw tightening. “Are you like Solas?”
Ellana pulled the cuff of her sleeve down over the wrist of her left hand. “What exactly are you asking?”
“You know what I’m asking”.
“I don’t. Be specific”.
Morrigan bit her lip, unsure lest she entangle herself in something unpleasant.
Ellana coaxed her with unexpected gentleness. “A question can be asked in a thousand different ways. Think before you put that thought into words if you want a truthful answer. I tend to lie more often than I tell the truth. A bad habit. So you’ll have to be frank about what you want to know”.
“Fine”, grumbled Morrigan. “I played word games with my mother when I was a child. I can play them with you too”. She lifted her chin, looking down her nose at Ellana. “Were you a member of the Evanuris like Solas?”
“But you can make plants bloom, bees, and butterflies appear. Even birds sing”.
“Yes, I can”.
“That ability isn’t associated with any god from the Elven or Avvar pantheon”.
“No it’s not”.
“But what I saw”, reasoned Morrigan. “It was as if spring had come early”.
“Among the Avvar”, said Ellana. “My legend-mark is First-Thaw. I am the time when the ice breaks and new spring comes to give life to the world. Fire can burn out of control or it can banish the chill of winter. Svarah Sunhair saw more in me than I thought she would. Her Augur did too much to my surprise”.
“It’s not the worst name I’ve been given on two legs or four”.
Morrigan frowned, sensing something change between them. Ellana was watching her with feline-like curiosity. Those eyes of hers gleamed so bright that Morrigan was reminded of a feral cat she’d had as a child. It’d been black from head to toe, a streak of midnight with piercing emerald-green eyes. She gasped when Ellana smirked.
Her smugness terrified Morrigan.
Ellana winked at her. “I wondered if you’d recognise me in this form. Your mother never did like cats. They’re too independent. Flemeth preferred obedience to free will. But you’ve always had a tendency to break rules. Haven’t you?”
Morrigan swallowed with sudden anxiety. “Who are you?”
“A friend”, declared Ellana. “I didn’t watch you for the better part of a decade to see you inherit the yoke of Mythal’s ambitions. I wanted you to be free to make your own decisions, to live your own life. You’re doing that. I couldn’t be more proud”.
“You’re not making this easy”.
“It’ll have to do for now. Didn’t you say we were out of time?”
Morrigan’s exasperated groan made her smile.
“I’d forgotten how delightful it is to frustrate mortals. Your people can run a gamut of emotion from sadness and fear to irritation in a heartbeat. It’s entertaining”. She winked when Morrigan scowled. “Do cheer up, sweetling. Things aren’t as horrible as you think they are”.
“You’d better help me rescue my son!”
“I’ve already agreed”.
Her enthusiasm disgusted Morrigan.
“I can’t help it! This is exciting!”
“Ugh. You’re infuriating!”
Chapter 3: An Owl in the Window
Morrigan strikes a bargain with an owl. And beneath the boughs of Ellana's Vhenadahl a new adversary watches from the shadows.
Final draft, with minor additions of dialogue and minor corrections.
Ellana felt the weight of Morrigan’s gaze as she drew the strap over her shoulder. The satchel bounced against her back, a comfortable addition to the weight of her bow and quiver. The twin daggers she’d carried in the Inquisition were strapped to her belt. The twin sheaths with their Halla antler hafts crossed at the small of her back. She was armed, cloaked from head to toe in brown, and ready to leave Halamshiral.
Morrigan huffed, rolling her eyes. “Fine”.
“Meet me in two hours. Do you remember where?”
“Yes”. She flapped her hand at Ellana. “Go. I’ll find you there”.
“Good. I suppose I’ll see you soon then”.
Ellana left her with a wink and a smile, crossing the room to the door. She put her hand on the latch, pulling the door open, and stepped out into the hall. She looked back once, smiling wide again. She said nothing to Morrigan as she pressed two fingers to her lips. She blew her a kiss and declared aloud.
“At long last”. Ellana exhaled a weary breath, shoulders sagging as if in relief. “It’s time for me to go home. Finally, after all these years. I won’t be alone anymore”.
Morrigan saw the weariness etched into the lines of Ellana’s face. Her eyes were dark beneath her lashes, a splash of forest-green against the brown of her skin. She turned away, head shaking as if she were contemplating coming to the end of a long and lonely road. Her smile was one of relief, but a touch of melancholy curved the corners of her mouth. Morrigan wondered if a god could understand grief, even loss for Ellana had that look in her eyes again.
The hollowness of a soul that’d lost innumerable loved ones.
A shiver of foreboding ran down her spine. Morrigan remembered finding her beloved inside a circle of dead Maleficar. Mahariel's red-rimmed eyes had been as wet and warm as the blood splattered on his cheeks. He’d said nothing when she’d glanced at the blades in his hands. A pair of silverite daggers slick and dripping with gore.
Ellana didn’t weep as he had in frustrated silence. She turned away with a sigh, that melancholic smile softening at the edges. The door closed behind her with a soft click. Morrigan heard her footsteps fade into the distance, that dull thud a comfort until it was gone. She was alone again, her skin prickling with unease.
Could all gods inspire such feelings?
Solas had often filled her with fear, even frustration at her own helplessness. Ellana did too though there was something odd about her. Morrigan thought about what’d happened earlier that same day. Their conversations hadn’t been one-sided like her arguments with Solas. He gave orders. She obeyed albeit with great reluctance.
“Ellana listened to me”, Morrigan mused aloud. “How odd. Since when do gods real or imagined converse with mortals themselves? She doesn’t use an intermediary like the Maker uses the Divine and the Chantry. She addresses things herself, which I doubt for someone like her is considered normal”.
She remembered the firm brown fingers pressing hard on her wrist.
“Thus the necessity for disguises”. She rolled her eyes, realising the irony in the conclusion she’d come too. “How typical of a rogue. It can only be deliberate that she took the guise of a Dalish huntress to join the Inquisition. Perhaps not to deal with Corypheus at all, the Breach, or the rifts in the Veil but to befriend Solas”.
She was lost in her thoughts for a moment, trying to figure out Ellana’s plans when the floorboards creaked. Morrigan stiffened, tense as a drawn bowstring. A frantic glance at the door and the thin gap of light beneath it revealed nothing. There was no shadow in the hall outside, no servant come to check and clean the vacated suite. Had Ellana timed her departure to coincide with staff and guard rotations?
Like those often scheduled throughout the day in the Winter Palace.
“I’ve not been discovered yet. How convenient. Two hours it’ll be then till I’m on my way. Mahariel would’ve planned our liaison like that too. Only he has the decency to be an actual Dalish elf and not a pretender”.
She calmed till the noise of the wind rattling the glass made her twitch. Morrigan exhaled a shaky breath, perturbed despite the quiet. Ellana’s presence had given her a sense of security. Now she was gone. Morrigan felt like a boat unhitched from its mooring. She was cast adrift in a sea of anxiety, the future uncertain despite Ellana’s reassurances.
A sharp bang made her flinch. Morrigan turned around, eyes wide when she saw the still open window. The pane of glass inside its iron-wrought frame slammed against the sill again. The wind had picked up, whistling across the glass in a blast of cold air. Morrigan, shivering, crossed the floor with hurried steps.
She looked out the window, pausing lest she be seen. She stared when she spied a shadow in the garden below. It was late afternoon, the sun hung low on the horizon. The stars were faint specks of light in the sky. The moon was a silvered disc against the burgundy clouds.
Morrigan saw that shadow become two figures then three. She spied two men and a woman beneath the boughs of Ellana’s silver-white Vhenadahl. All were dressed in a servant’s drab browns and greys. The leaves rustled in the wind, the tree’s tiny star-like flowers quivering. Morrigan saw the pointed tips of their ears peaking through the strands of their hair.
The men were of differing ages. The first was older with greying red-brown hair, the second younger with a mop of blond curls. The elder laid a wizened hand on the trunk of the tree. Morrigan heard him suck in a pained breath. His head bowed and his shoulders sagged as if he were bearing a great burden.
“What magic is this?” gasped the old man. “I see a gift unlooked for in the gardens of Halamshiral. A Vhenadahl. How can it be? No oak planted by elven hands has grown and flowered here in seven hundred years”.
The only woman in their group, a brunette turned around. Morrigan tensed the instant she gazed upward, her dark eyes fixating on that open window. Morrigan fell back from view, shuffling sideways with her shoulders against the wall. Once out of sight, she waited with bated breath – hoping she hadn’t been seen. The still open window creaked on its iron-wrought hinges.
Morrigan exhaled a weary breath when she heard two of the elves converse in hushed tones. The first voice was young, brusque, and full of suspicion. The second was softer, feminine, and full of fervent conviction.
“A Vhenadahl! Here? How is that even possible?”
“It’s a gift from Inquisitor Lavellan!”
“How do you know?”
“Up there. That’s her room. Only she could’ve done this”.
“I don’t believe it. This isn’t magic, but a trick of some kind. We all know she’s a rogue not a mage. Rogues are liars, thieves, and murderers. She’s no better than the crows feeding on the corpses hanging from the gibbet in the city square”.
Morrigan grimaced when she heard a sharp smack and a startled cry. They were arguing much to her consternation. They didn’t seem to care if they were overheard too.
“You shouldn’t say such vile things! Ellana Lavellan is the the Herald of Andraste, bride of the Maker! Her path to glory is a holy one! The Vhenadahl in this garden is a sign of her favour! Inquisitor Lavellan remembers her city-born kin!”
“So you say”, grumbled her companion. “You didn’t have to slap me”.
“Oh, yes I did. I’ve told you not to badmouth Lavellan in front of me. That goes for the Warden too. They’re heroes, deserving of your respect. Next time pull your head out of your arse before you open that gaping chasm in your face”.
Morrigan’s heart was in her throat when the old man rebuked them. Every word was delivered with the weight of authority. He had to be a leader of some kind, even a respected elder. The city-elves and the Dalish were known to share some of the same traditions. The command in the old man’s voice was undeniable.
“Be quiet before your raised voices draw unwanted attention!”
“But, Hahren!” whined Shenna. “You said it yourself! A Vhenadahl hasn’t been seen in Halamshiral since the time of the Dales!”
Morrigan noted how the old man’s tone was subdued. He didn’t seem to think Ellana’s tree was a miracle. He was too pragmatic to believe the plight of the elves mattered to the Maker and his bride. He might’ve been an Andrastean, even sang the Chant of Light. He wasn’t fool enough to put the entirety of his faith in a god that’d slain Shartan.
“It’s a simple tree, child. As lovely as the rest in Empress Celene’s garden this time of year. I should know. I’ve been weeding the gardens in Halamshiral since I was a lad. You’re seeing more than a tree here because you want it to be more than it is”.
Shenna’s friend was inclined to agree with him. “He’s right. Even if Lavellan made this tree and the flowers around it bloom. It doesn’t change a thing. You know as well as I do that Empress Celene ordered her to leave the city”.
“She’ll come back, Enro”.
“You don’t know that”.
“Says you”, hissed Shenna. “I have more brains between my ears than you do under that blonde mop you call hair”.
“Stop being childish!” groused Enro.
“Stop acting like an arsehole, then I’ll stop thinking you are one”.
“Hahren! Shenna’s poking her tongue at me!”
“Maker’s breath!” cried the old man. “Be quiet both of you! Shenna! Put that tongue back behind your teeth! Enro! Stop baiting her!”
“But she started it!”
“That’s enough! I’d expect this kind of behaviour from children not a pair of young adults! Maker’s breath! You’re too old to be snapping at each other like two dogs in the street! Show some maturity!”
“Ir abelas, Hahren” apologised Shenna.
“All right. Fine”, complained Enro. “Ir abelas. I’ll behave”.
“Thanks be to Andraste”, finished the old man. “Now let’s talk about what actually matters”.
Morrigan snickered. It was hilarious to think that two full grown elves could bicker like children. She wondered if Shenna and Enro had grown up together. The way they quarrelled would account for a childhood rivalry. Morrigan didn’t doubt they’d have been pulling faces at each other the moment the old man turned his back on them.
Fortunately, he was wiser than that.
“Shenna. You’re not to tell anyone about this tree. Or how you think it came to be here. I don’t want to hear anymore out of you about Ellana Lavellan being the Herald of Andraste. The same goes for you, Enro”.
“Not another word. Do you understand me?”
Morrigan was certain Shenna would start spitting flames. She was a fervent admirer of the retired Inquisitor.
“But, Hahren! The Vhenadahl is a sign from Andraste!”
“Enough! Promise me you won’t speak of it again!”
Even Enro was puzzled. “If the other palace servants come to the garden. They’ll soon see it for themselves. Why the secrecy, Hahren? I’d never thought you’d be reluctant to give our people hope in times like this”.
Morrigan had to agree with the old man when it came to having a lick of common-sense.
“What do you think the Empress will do if she learns of the Vhenadahl? She’ll have it cut down and burned like she did to our homes in the slums. How many more need to die before you realise that we can’t trust anyone anymore? Celene has her spies among our own people. So does this fabled Fen’Harel”.
Enro was quiet when the old man reminded them of the loved ones he’d lost.
“Lemet was my nephew. Thren my son-in-law. Don’t think for a moment that I’ve forgotten how they died or why. No one hates what’s happened more than I do since that fool boy threw a rock at Lord Mainserai’s carriage. I understand his anger, even his grief but many died for his little show of vengefulness”.
Morrigan was unsurprised when Shenna leapt to the child’s defence.
“That shemlen dog murdered his mother!”
The old man was less than forgiving. “She pilfered from the larder of an Orlesian noble. Worse, she was caught doing it. It’s a miracle Lord Mainserai thought she’d acted alone. If not for her son’s stupidity Lemet, Thren, and many others would still be alive”.
Morrigan could almost taste the old man’s bitterness. The silence that followed his statement was fraught with tension. Morrigan expected Shenna to protest but it was Enro that turned on them. He was livid, spitting invectives in elvish. Had the old man always suspected where his loyalties lay?
“Ma banal las halamshir var vhen! You stupid, old fool! Lemet’s death was an injustice! Thren recognised that and took action! That little boy was the spark that set the tinder alight! He made Thren’s revolution possible!”
Morrigan was wary when the old man countered with the calmness of a seasoned player of the Grand Game.
“What revolution? Thren died. So did thousands of elves when Empress Celene razed the slums. My daughter is a widow. Her children are fatherless because Thren abandoned his family. He started a fight he couldn't win”.
Enro bit back with equal animosity. "He did what was right!"
"You're as short-sighted as he was", replied the old man. "I know you’ve been talking to Briala's agents in the city. I may be old, boy but I’m not deaf or blind. You’re a fool if you believe they’re trustworthy. Don't think for a moment that the whispers about Fen'Harel are any better".
“How would you know?”
“I knew Briala’s parents, both of them were able players of the Game. Briala is too. She can and will sacrifice you to further her own ambitions. Why do you think Thren died? He was a pawn that’d outlived his usefulness”.
“Am I?” countered the old man. “Perhaps the lie is more comforting than the truth you’ve always known. Your life means nothing to Briala. She wants your ears and your eyes not your questions. Think on that when next she asks you to spy for her”.
Morrigan heard Shenna gasp in shock. “Enro! Is it true?”
The boy was mulish, though his tone softened at her question.
“Like Thren, I did what I thought was right. Briala holds sway over Empress Celene. She could help all the elves in Orlais including those here in Halamshiral. If she fails to make our lives better than we could still make the pilgrimage to join Fen’Harel in the Arbor Wilds. It’s better than staying in this cesspit of a city waiting for Ellana Lavellan to give a damn about us”.
Morrigan rolled her eyes when she heard Shenna's fervent praise of Andraste’s Herald. Ellana had gone on her merry way, but she’d made quite the impression. Morrigan didn't doubt Shenna would kiss the ground Ellana walked on given the chance. Her loyalty was more than piety. Her belief that the retired Inquisitor was a Maker-blessed miracle was absolute.
"Briala isn't Andraste's Herald!" cried Shenna. “Ellana Lavellan alone has the ear of the Maker’s bride!”
"Andraste didn't save Lavellan in the Fade!" spat Enro.
“How do you know she didn’t?”
“It’s too fantastical to be true!”
“We’re you there?”
“What kind of question is that?” sputtered Enro. “Of course I wasn’t there! Neither were you!”
Morrigan admired Shenna's spunk.
"Then how did Ellana survive the explosion at the Temple of Sacred Ashes? Or the attack on Haven? I suppose the Maker didn't have her appointed as leader of the Inquisition over a shemlen noble. Or intend that she stop the Mage-Templar war, unite the Templar Order, and stabilise Orlais. Let’s not forget that she closed the Breach, and defeated Corypheus”.
Shenna paused for emphasis. “Oh, yes. She stopped the Qunari invasion of southern Thedas not three days ago too. You might’ve missed the bodies of the dead Karashok piling up outside the Winter Palace. I’m sure the rest of the Orlesian court saw them bleeding all over the marble tiles”.
Morrigan was suspicious when Shenna's voice dropped several octaves, turning icy-cold.
“Ellana Lavellan has done more for elven kind than Briala ever did. She’s trustworthy, kind, and compassionate. She doesn't hide in the shadows or lie to get what she wants. She doesn't wear a mask like Briala or work through agents like this fabled Fen’Harel. She walks among us bare-faced, accepting all elves whether they be city or forest-born”.
Shenna's loyalty made Morrigan suspect something else was going on. Had Ellana been doing more as Inquisitor than plucking heartstrings across Thedas?
"She’s guiding us towards a better life", said Shenna. "I don't care if you don’t believe me. I know in my heart that it's true. Ellana Lavellan hasn't forgotten us. She's preparing the way as she always has".
Even the old man was astonished by her claims.
"What way? What’re you talking about?"
Morrigan could almost see the smile on Shenna’s face, even as she heard it in her words.
"I won't tell a soul about the tree, Hahren. I promise with all my heart. An oath is sacred once sworn. I doubt Briala or Fen'Harel would have the honour to keep a vow like that. I know I do”.
Morrigan frowned with sudden anxiety. She recalled the promise Ellana had made to her supposed brother Sigfrost. If she’d sworn not to set Thedas ablaze than was saving its people a compromise? If Solas intended to tear down the Veil, releasing the Evanuris from the void. It would be disastrous for all Thedosians regardless of race or creed.
Was that why Ellana had made her promises?
First to Sigfrost, then to a city-elf in Halamshiral, and an exiled witch from the Korcari Wilds.
Morrigan wasn’t sure if it was wise or foolish. She continued listening to the elves converse, hoping to glean something useful. If Ellana had plans for the city-elves of Halamshiral. Perhaps she was playing for higher stakes. She was the sort to take risks, no matter how ruinous the consequences if she failed.
Had her defeat of Corypheus been fate, blind luck, or planned with meticulous care?
Morrigan wasn’t sure. She set her musings aside for the moment. Shenna was still talking to Enro, her tone polite though she inferred that he was making a mistake. A common theme of the evening. Morrigan couldn’t help but wonder if the lad was a fool or plain gullible.
"It’s your choice to believe what you want”, stated Shenna. “It’s mine too. When the time comes. I hope you’ll change your mind before it’s too late. If not then I hope Briala values your life more than she did Thren’s”.
The old man was unnerved by what she’d said. Morrigan heard the worry in his voice when he called her name.
“Shenna. You’re frightening me”.
“It’s going to be all right, Hahren. You’ll see”.
Enro was unsettled too. “Shenna. What do you know?"
“My faith will see me through what’s to come”, she replied with unnerving certainty. “Will yours?”
Morrigan knew Enro’s loyalties had been tested and found wanting. The boy was fool enough to think his life mattered to someone like Briala. Elves they might’ve been, but their race was all they had in common. Morrigan had heard of the Spymaster’s past during her time at court. Briala hadn’t grown up in an Alienage like other city-elves.
She’d been raised in the Valmont household, the child of parents sworn to serve Prince Reynaud. The father of the current Empress of Orlais. Briala hadn’t experienced the poverty and strife of being on the lowest rung of Orlesian society. She’d been a servant but not a slave. A distinction Morrigan had learned was the difference between life and death for an elf.
She was unsurprised when one elven woman questioned her own future.
"Shenna!" cried Enro with sudden alarm. “Don’t look at me like that!”
“Like you’re disappointed!”
"You've made your choice, Enro. Now, go. Make your report to Briala, or to Fen'Harel, or to whomever pulls your strings. To think I once thought, I could trust you. I'm glad to be corrected before I made the worst mistake of my life”.
"It doesn’t have to be like this!”
“You’ve drawn the line in the sand. We were once friends, Enro. In a few weeks we could've been something more. Ir abelas. I can’t marry someone, I can’t trust”.
"Shenna! Don’t! Your father will disown you!”
“I can live with that. Can you? Go. I’ll tell my father to call off the engagement. You can tell yours”.
“We can reconcile!” pleaded Enro. “I’ll stop spying for Briala!”
“It’s too late for that. You should’ve trusted me. You should’ve trusted our Hahren”.
“My future isn’t a game. It’s my life. I don’t want to be embroiled in Orlesian politics. I don’t want to play a part in Briala’s schemes. I’m a person not a pawn on a chessboard”.
“I’m sorry, Enro. I can’t be your wife”.
Morrigan expected them to quarrel. Betrothals were a sticky business when arranged between families. If Orlesian city-elves were anything like their Fereldan cousins. An unfulfilled pledge of marriage would tear their families apart. Shenna was sacrificing more than reputation, she was casting aside her own future.
Morrigan grimaced when she heard several elvish expletives. Enro's outrage made her blood run cold. He continued to swear in elvish, the grass crunching under his heels as he stomped away. She was relieved to still hear two voices beneath the window. Enro’s tantrum hadn’t intimidated Shenna, or frightened the old man.
If anything, Shenna sounded somewhat relieved that her betrothed was gone.
"I'm sorry, Hahren”, she apologised. “I suspected Enro was spying on us but I wasn't sure".
The old man heaved a sigh. “I know, child. Enro's bitterness over Lemet's death deepened when Thren died. His choice was clear when he spoke of Briala. I know what happened to Anira was a tragedy, but if not for her son. My daughter wouldn’t be a widow, and her children wouldn't have to live their lives without their father”.
“He’s a boy. He’s still mourning his mother’s loss”.
“I know but I can’t forgive him, Shenna. I’ve tried a thousand times to convince myself that he’s blameless. I know he is but my heart is broken. All I can see is what his recklessness cost my family. Now all I want to do is leave Halamshiral and the bad memories behind”.
Morrigan was perturbed when Shenna reassured him.
“You’ll have that chance, Hahren. So will I once my Papae learns I’ve decided not to marry Enro”.
“He’ll be furious. You were betrothed to each other at birth”.
“We could've been happy too”, acknowledged Shenna. “Papae will cast me out onto the street to save face with Enro’s family. No one will take me in once the news spreads. The Herald warned me of what would happen if I broke my own betrothal. She said the city-elves in Orlais and Fereldan cling to tradition tighter than a limit to a rock at low-tide”.
Morrigan could imagine the old man narrowing his eyes.
“Does she now?”
“The Dalish are the same too”.
“How do you know that?”
“Ellana told me”, replied Shenna.
“You call the Herald of Andraste by her first name?” demanded the old man.
“When did you meet her?”
“During the Ball at the Winter Palace, two years ago. I was assigned as her chambermaid. I served her again during her stay in Halamshiral these last few weeks. We became good friends. She even helped me realise that I could do more with my life than settle down and have a family with Enro in the slums”.
Morrigan bit her lip, frowning. Shenna was either brilliant or a fool. She didn’t have the guile to lie, a useless talent in a spy. She was outspoken too, a trait that would’ve gotten her into trouble at court. Servants were meant to be seen not heard.
Had Ellana saved her pretty neck from a noose at the gibbet?
The old man seemed to think so.
“Shenna. Do you realise what you’ve done?”
“Enro wasn’t exaggerating”.
“You’ll be disowned for refusing to marry him”.
“I know that too”, declared Shenna. “I’m fine with it”.
The old man was getting worried. “Why? Because Ellana Lavellan said you’d be all right? You won’t. You’ll be homeless on the street, little better than a vagabond”.
“Oh, is that what you’re getting twitchy about?”
“Of course it is!”
Shenna laughed. “Don’t worry. I’ll be all right, Hahren. I’ll be apprenticing to Charter. You know the skinny redhead that worked for the Inquisition?”
“The Fereldan city-elf?”
“That’s her. She offered to mentor me”.
Morrigan smiled, cheeks dimpling when she heard the old man squawk in disbelief.
“The Nightingale’s right-hand?”
“She’s a terror!”
“I know. Which is why I asked her to teach me her tricks. Ellana thought it’d be a good idea too. I need to be prepared when the time comes. So you needn’t worry. I’ll have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my belly”.
The old man was as surprised as Morrigan. Finally a nugget of information.
“Wait a moment! What did you mean you have to prepare?”
“To leave Orlais”.
“Where would you go?”
“I’d go with Ellana”, answered Shenna. “I’m not sure where exactly. She said it was best I focus on my training with Charter in the meantime. I can’t lie, I’m too outspoken, and I’m about as coordinated as a drunk sailor in a fight. I’d be pretty useless on an actual life or death mission at the moment thus the need for training”.
The old man was horrified. So was Morrigan.
“The Herald’s mad”.
“She's mostly sane”, Shenna assured him.
“She’s been in the Fade, twice while alive. Only spirits are supposed to make that journey. Being in the world of the dreams even for a handful of moments would scar anyone. So she's a little mad, and even more eccentric. A tad ironic considering what she's been through in the last four years".
“The Herald of Andraste is only a little mad?”
“Fine, Hahren. You win. Ellana Lavellan is crazier than a chantry full of nugs. Despite losing most of her marbles, she’s still a deft hand at Wicked Grace. I've never seen anyone play with such focus or intensity".
“She does, but only ever in fun. Fancy a game?” suggested Shenna. “Ellana gave me a new deck of cards. They’re all dragon-themed. It was a gift from some quirky draconologist called Frederic”.
“Why do you have them then?” asked the old man.
“Ellana found the deck a little disturbing. Each card is backed in real dragon-scale leather. The illustrations are naked too. It's a little too risqué for the esteemed former Inquisitor. Some bullshit about maintaining appearances, so Ellana gave them to me".
“I know. She did say this Frederic had something of an unhealthy obsession".
"And wyverns. He's got something of a kink".
"I know, Hahren. I know".
Morrigan heard the grass crunch underfoot as they left the garden. Their feet soon fell on marble with a dull continuous thud that faded into the distance. Their voices grew faint till the wind snatched their words away. Morrigan heard the Vhenadahl’s leaves rustle in the quiet. The bees were gone, though somewhere not too far away. The nightingale still warbled.
Morrigan’s stomach churned with fear. The voices of the Well had been silent since she’d fled the Temple of Mythal. She wondered what Ellana had meant by choosing a side. Thousands would die unless she tied herself to something, or someone. Had she meant a person, a people, or a pantheon?
“Is it one or all three?” she mused aloud. “Fenedhis lasa. What have I gotten myself into?”
She flinched when she heard the click of claws on steel. She whipped around to face her foe with a spell on her lips. Lightning crackled on the tips of her fingers in blue-white sparks. Morrigan gaped when she saw a fat grey owl perched on the windowsill. It regarded her with a pair of enormous yellow eyes.
The lightning fizzled out. The spell was soon forgotten. Morrigan blushed when the owl snapped it’s black beak as if in rebuke for her terrible manners. She slid down the wall whilst the bird stared at her with those unblinking yellow eyes. Her arse hit the floor along with the rest of her tattered pride.
“Fenedhis”, cursed Morrigan. “Things can’t possibly get worse”.
The owl screeched, hoping from one clawed foot to the other like an excitable dog. Morrigan’s eyes narrowed when its feathered head rocked from left to right. Its bright eyes were always on her face as if it were scrutinising her every move. The bird screeched, beak clacking when she rolled her eyes. She was quick to amend her statement.
“I stand corrected by a bird. How tactful of a supposed god”.
Morrigan gazed at the room’s grey ceiling with its exposed beams, and ornate crown moulding. She imagined looking through it to the tiled roof, then the clouds above in the open sky. The sun would be setting soon, the advent of dusk a certainty. Morrigan hoped Ellana was working alone rather than acting on the wishes of a third party. It would’ve been worse than ironic if she were collaborating with Thedas’ greatest deity.
It seemed too convenient when Morrigan considered the species of her visitor.
“The Maker doesn’t use birds or beasts as messengers. So”, she said to the owl. “You must’ve been sent by someone else”. The bird hooted in seeming agreement. “Possibly”, deducted Morrigan. “Someone non-human”.
“Yet”, she stated. “You could be the escaped exotic pet of an Orlesian noble. Or part of a merchant’s lost cargo that happens to contain a menagerie of animals. Owls are mysterious creatures, not sought after, but with a definable worth in coin. Which would explain your presence in the window of this particular room in the Winter Palace”.
The owl squawked, its feathered head shaking as if it disputed her claim.
“If not for one glaring fact”, elaborated Morrigan. “You seem far more intelligent than an ordinary owl. If I were not mistaken it would seem that you even understand the common-tongue”. The owl bobbed its feathered head, beak snapping at the air in seeming satisfaction. “Which implies that you’re a mage with knowledge of shape-shifting magic" she deduced. “Or that you're an actual messenger from a god unrelated to the elven pantheon”.
She knew a little of Avvar mythology. The principle gods, their roles, and spheres of influence had come from the Alamarri. The first human tribe to settle in the south of Thedas. Modern Avvar beliefs had changed little in a thousand years. Chasind legends were similar though Morrigan knew of one difference.
The Chasind had whispered of a benign entity residing in the Fereldan forests. A spirit that healed the sick, gave succour to the destitute, and guidance to the lost. Morrigan remembered her mother's warnings about wandering into the woods alone. One day during her mother's absence from home she'd left their hut to explore the Korcari Wilds on her own. She'd been lost in an hour, in tears after tripping over a tree root.
She’d soon discovered that her bawling had attracted the most peculiar thing.
"A black cat in the middle of nowhere", recalled Morrigan. "Sitting calm as can be amidst the roots of that blasted tree, staring at me with her big green eyes. I was so frightened. She purred, curled about my ankles, and stayed with me until I stopped crying. Moments later she was leading me out of the woods, always pausing long enough to look back and make sure I followed".
“If Ellana is the woodland spirit from Chasind legend. She might’ve been in Fereldan for decades, even centuries if she was spying on my mother. Is that why she resided in the Korcari Wilds? It would explain why she disguised herself as a cat. Mother would’ve been less inclined to deprive me of a companion if it were a pet rather than a person”.
The owl hooted, ruffling its feathers as if in agreement.
Morrigan groaned. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with a bird”. She glared at her avian guest, golden eyes narrowing when the owl blinked first one eye than the other. “If the Avvar god of wisdom is Ellana’s brother. I suppose you’re a messenger from the one Avvar goddess that uses birds as her messengers. The Lady of the Skies”.
She rolled her eyes when the owl bobbed its feathered head as if in understanding.
“If that’s true”, proposed Morrigan. “What does the reigning matriarch of the Avvar pantheon want from me?”
The owl hooted, lifting a wing, and ducked it’s feathered head beneath its own pinion.
Morrigan was bewildered when the owl (as if by magic) withdrew something large and pale. She’d expected to see a feather clutched in its beak. She frowned when the owl opened it’s beak, letting the object fall onto the floor. It hit the rug with a dull plink, rolling like a marble. Morrigan was intrigued when it struck the edge of her forefinger, toppling over the tip of her nail.
It was larger than she’d expected, shaped like a triangle, and had rounded edges. She caught it between her fore and index fingers. A nimble turn of her wrist sent it falling into the palm of her hand. The owl was quiet while Morrigan examined the token it’d brought from the Lady. It was harder than she’d expected, rounded on one side, and flat on the other.
It was rough like sand too with an odd colouration.
“White slashed with bands of black and brown”, murmured Morrigan. “The Avvar colours of earth and sky”. She glanced at the owl, eyes widening in alarm. “This is a scale from a High Dragon”. She trembled when the bird hooted as if in affirmation.
“I know Ellana fought such a creature on the shores of the Frostback basin. A frost-breather rumoured to contain the trapped soul of an Avvar god”.
The owl snapped its beak again, feathers ruffling as it fanned its wings.
Morrigan blanched. “Is this scale from that dragon?” She was horrified when the owl hooted. “The first-born son of Korth, the Avvar god of winter and warfare. What in the world did Ellana do to antagonise him?”
Morrigan had one terrible thought. She gaped at the owl with sudden dread. “Is she the reason he was imprisoned for eight hundred years in the flesh of a High Dragon?” Morrigan rolled her eyes when the owl hooted again. “And I suppose I’m to deliver this scale to her when we meet again later tonight”.
The owl bobbed its feathered head again, the horny tufts on its head perking like a dog’s ears.
“I’m a ball being batted about by a bunch of arsehole deities from different pantheons”. Morrigan thought her fate maligned if she were a plaything of the gods. “I’m sure mother would find this amusing if she were still alive”. Morrigan’s disdainful snort showed how much she cared about Flemeth’s judgement. “I’ll deliver your dragon scale to Ellana on one condition”.
The owl puffed up in agitation, its feathers a ball of fluff around its thick grey neck. It screeched at her as if in remonstration.
“I don’t care if you take offense. I’m sick of being stuck in the middle of this shit. First Solas takes my son, Ellana reveals that she’s a goddess, and then you drop a dragon scale into my lap. I’m done playing messenger. If you want my help than you’ll have to do something for me”.
The owl eyed her with scornful admiration.
Morrigan brandished the scale like it was a gold sovereign coin. “If you don’t agree. I’ll throw it out the window. Your message from the Lady of the Skies will be mulch for Empress Celene’s garden. So what will it be?”
The bird picked its way across the windowsill until it was within a foot of her. It looked down at her with an imperiousness that rivalled a king. Morrigan bristled when the owl hooted long and low as if it were conferring a favour on her. Morrigan didn’t like the way it cocked its feathered head, its yellows eyes focusing on her face. The owl opened its beak, throat throbbing as it panted like a dog.
Morrigan considered that her luck might soon run out. She said nothing at first, more suspicious than wary. She watched the owl like a hawk, half expecting it to take wing and tear her to pieces with its beak and claws. Moments passed in a tense silence that grew awkward the longer Morrigan hesitated. The owl continued to perch on the windowsill placid as a cat on a cushion.
Was it waiting to hear her out?
Morrigan hoped so. She glanced from the bird to the scale in her hand, the corners of her mouth turning down. She was starting to hate being Solas’ lapdog. If not for Kieran she’d have shape-shifted long ago, taken wing, and flown back to their hut beside the Colean sea. Morrigan plucked the dragon scale up between her fingers again, turning it left and right.
“If you want my help”, she told the owl. “I want safe passage for my son and myself out of the Temple of Mythal. I don’t care what business the Lady of the Skies has with Ellana Lavellan. I won’t interfere if that’s your concern. If things go wrong with Solas, I want a safe way out of the Arbor Wilds”.
Morrigan regarded the owl with a sense of trepidation. She wasn’t used to bargaining with third parties. Now she had little choice, her hands were tied thanks to the magic of the Vir’abelasan. She could neither escape Solas nor hope to overthrow him. The magic of Mythal was still formidable thousands of years after the fall of Arlathan.
Sometimes alliances were necessary.
The owl’s clawed feet gripped the edge of the windowsill. It screeched like a cat, raising the hairs on the back of Morrigan’s neck. It’s head bobbed up and down as if in excitement. It seemed they’d reached an accord. Morrigan watched the bird turn and flick the thick wedge of its banded tail.
The owl picked its way with that selfsame care back across that windowsill. It stopped at the open window, the wind ruffling its feathers. Its head swivelled like a ball on a stick till Morrigan saw the yellow of its eyes. The owl squawked, batting first one eyelid than the other. A moment later it took flight out the open window.
The bargain was struck.
Or so Morrigan hoped as she sagged against the wall. It took a while for her heart to stop beating like a drum inside her chest. And even longer for her to stop panting for breath as if she’d run a mile. Her blood cooled, the perspiration drying on her skin. Although weary she stayed alert out of anxiety for her son.
Solas had turned her life upside down in a matter of days. Ellana was about to do the same in a matter of hours. Morrigan clenched her teeth, her golden eyes narrowing. She needed to sleep, but the knowledge that her son was still in danger was too infuriating. Kieran was all that mattered.
She would rest when he was safe not before.
Things couldn’t get much worse.
Morrigan felt like a pile of dragon shit steaming in the sun. After a furtive sniff here and there she came to a startling conclusion. She smelt like one too thanks to Solas. The bastard. If cleanliness was next to godliness, Morrigan hoped to bathe before she saw her son again.
Even pissed off, sweaty, and exhausted, she would set a good example for Kieran.
She was still his mother.
Morrigan’s gaze returned to the hand that held the dragon scale. It was as large as her thumb, and half as thick as if it’d come from a dragon’s flank. She’d seen scales of its size and larger on the back of the Archdemon during the Fifth Blight. Morrigan wondered what kind of trouble Ellana had gotten herself into this time. Perhaps she would finally endure the consequences of her many good deeds.
“Fenedhis”, cursed Morrigan. “The next two hours can’t pass fast enough”.
Morrigan kept her word, leaving Ellana’s assigned room exactly two hours after she’d arrived. She left the same way she’d come in. A raven flew out the window of a room in the west-wing of the third floor in the Winter Palace. Unbeknownst to Morrigan, an owl perched in the branches of the Vhenadahl in the palace garden. It watched her soar overhead, black wings invisible against the indigo sky.
It was dusk, the stars twinkled, and the moon was high.
Morrigan never noticed the owl take flight, or the shadow beneath the tree. Her passage was marked by a pair of elven eyes. A woman smiling under her cowl, saw the darkness of her winged shape against the moon. The owl was inconspicuous, its banded grey plumage blending in with the play of light and shadow. She neither saw nor heard it pass overhead though she’d seen it enter the window above the garden, two hours ago.
“Well played, Ellana”, she murmured. “You’ve made an ally of Flemeth’s daughter. Morrigan is sure to side with you over Mythal for the sake of her son. It was a risky move, but a clever one. I approve”.
She grinned with a flash of white teeth.
“You’ll make a fine addition to our pantheon”.
Chapter 4: A Dog at the Door
Morrigan finds Ellana's hut and a mabari guarding her front-door.
Morrigan flew over the open road, following the line of the Imperial Highway. She turned off the east end when she came upon a copse of trees. She alighted upon a branch thick with leaves, picking her way across the gnarled bark. She peered through a gap in the foliage, surprised to see the hut exactly where Ellana had said it would be. It was small, fashioned from wood and stone, and had a porch out front.
It wrapped around the hut like a snake, several feet beneath the eaves of the roof. Lanterns wrought in iron and glass hung from sconces above the door. Each shed a warm amber light across the porch, illuminating the pale fur of Ellana’s guard dog. It lounged at the foot of the front door, its considerable bulk stretched out across the deck. The dog was white, full-grown, and large enough to rival a pony.
It was the opposite of small, either a gross oversight from Ellana or a deliberate joke.
Morrigan hated her shitty sense of humour. She wondered if the beast was Felassan, a former agent of Fen'Harel. She had little choice but to believe Ellana. Felassan the mabari, lay between her and the door of the hut. Morrigan swallowed her anxiety, taking a leap of faith. She descended the tree in a flurry of black wings, alighting upon the ground.
Morrigan shed the guise of a raven in a swirl of smoke, planting the heels of her boots in the dirt.
She was unsure if her reception would be welcome. She preferred cats to dogs after Ellana’s decade-long jaunt as her childhood pet. Mabari were big, loud, and smelly enough to rival a sewer. They had a formidable bite-strength too. If the hound took an immediate dislike to her, she’d have to shapeshift and return to the trees for safety.
Not a positive thought considering how tired she was. It’d be humiliating to lose half her arse to an irate mabari’s jaws, so Morrigan was careful. She didn’t dare take a step closer when the dog opened an eye. She was surprised when she didn’t see that typical canine-brown iris. Its eye was the soft violet of an amethyst, a trait she’d seen in grey-skinned Qunari but never a dog.
She waited when the mabari lifted its great box-like head. It didn’t growl or snap at her like a proper guard dog. It stared at her as if it were waiting for her to say something. Morrigan remembered her encounter with the owl. They'd shared a one-sided conversation with a few hoots and squawks.
She wasn't sure about talking to a dog, even an elf turned into a dog. How would she know if that was indeed the real Felassan? It could be an actual mabari that slobbered, barked, and smelt like the arse-end of a darkspawn. She didn’t smell much better after a hectic flight across the Arbor Wilds, and two full days without a bath. She took a discreet sniff, grimacing when she smelt the stink of her own sweat and fatigue.
Morrigan was offended when the dog barked. “Quiet”, she hissed. “I smell like arse. So what? I’m sure you’ve stuck your snout in worse”. She lifted her nose in the air with a haughty sniff, uncaring if the mabari found her rather fragrant.
“Balls”, she cursed. “I can’t believe I'm doing this again”.
She gazed at the mabari with distaste, nose wrinkling as if she found him abhorrent. No ordinary dog had a snowy pelt or eyes like jewels. If he was an apostate inside a mabari then it wasn’t bizarre to converse with him. Right? She damned well hoped so.
She’d felt foolish enough trying to talk to an owl. Now she had to talk to a dog. If this was Felassan in disguise then he had to understand the common-tongue. She knew all about his adventures with Briala in Orlais. It was a slight comfort that he had four legs and fur instead of wings and feathers.
That owl had looked down its beak at her with its big condescending yellow eyes.
The mabari cocked its head, tongue lolling as it panted.
Morrigan got the distinct impression that it was waiting for her to make up her mind. She gave in with a sigh of resignation, reminded of her days travelling with Mahariel. And the smelly fleabag that had followed him everywhere. She took a fortifying breath, knowing that real mabari understood human speech. She wasn’t sure about this mabari, but she had little choice but to play along.
She introduced herself, though the salutation came off a little flat.
“Greetings. My name is Morrigan”.
The mabari woofed, a brief rumble of sound that wasn’t quite a bark or a howl.
“Right”, declared Morrigan. “At least you’re not trying to bite me. I can work with that”. She gestured to the hut and its closed door. “I don’t suppose you know if Ellana is home? She asked me to come here. I’m expected”.
The dog woofed again, the stub of its docked tail wagging.
“Wonderful. Would you mind letting me in?”
Morrigan stilled the instant Ellana’s mabari wriggled like an ungainly sausage. Its slab-like shoulders rolled underneath its pale moon-white fur. Its hindquarters followed as it pushed itself upright onto four gargantuan paws. She saw that stubby tail wag again in slow strokes from left to right. Morrigan stilled when it charged forward like a rampaging druffalo.
She was expecting to be trampled when the mabari came to a stop. It paused a foot in front of her, its black nose quivering as it took a cautious sniff. Morrigan knew it was best not to make any hasty movements. She'd had enough experience with the smelly bundle of fuzz owned by her beloved to know to be patient. The dog would warm to her if given the chance.
He was as tall as she'd expected, but leaner than most mabari she’d encountered. He looked almost half-starved, the coat thin around his ribcage as if it were too tight. Morrigan saw the lines of his ribs stick out and even the knobs of his spine along the curve of his back. If he were an ordinary mabari in poor condition, lice-ridden, and stricken with mange. She would’ve been worried, but he was the picture of health and vitality.
His coat was shiny, his eyes bright, and his stub of a tail wagged back and forth. Morrigan was reassured by his relaxed posture and perked ears. She stayed still when the dog came forward, never reaching over to pet him. The dog paused again, inches from touching her, and looked up at her with those exquisite eyes. She arched an eyebrow with that selfsame sense of curiosity.
“I’d prefer that you keep your distance”, stated Morrigan. “Dogs have an excellent sense of smell”. She snorted when the mabari whined. “I know you’re quite able to scent me from there without sticking your snout where it’s not wanted”. She was adamant when he barked, pawing at the ground.
“Not a chance. If you’re the Felassan that once served Solas. I’d rather not get involved with you any more than is necessary. I smell of your former Hahren, but I’m in no way a willing participant in his schemes. I was ordered to come to Orlais to find our mutual friend”.
For the first time since she’d arrived. That pale dog with its amethyst eyes grew agitated. His posture tensed, hackles rising. His pointed, triangular ears flattened against his snow-white skull. His snout wrinkled as his jagged teeth gnashed.
They eyed each other like two adversaries on a battlefield.
Morrigan recalled the owl had been offended by her bluntness too. “I’m sorry”, she apologised with a weary exhale, her shoulders slumping. “I’ve been travelling for two days without respite. As such I’m not the best company at the moment. If you won’t let me in, would you please go and find Ellana?”
The mabari ceased to snarl, its pale ears perking again. It cocked its head, whining as if it didn’t quite understand what’d happened. Morrigan thought the poor thing was quite bewildered. The dog stared at her with its vivid violet eyes, continuing to whine. Morrigan implored him with a sad and exhausted – “Please, Felassan”.
He turned then without encouragement, retreating to the hut. He bounded up and over the porch, sinking down on his haunches in front of the door. He gave Morrigan a speculative glance, head tilting to the side. He whined like a puppy as he laid a pale paw on the door. His head fell back, and he howled shrill enough to set Morrigan’s eardrums ringing.
The ghastly noise soon roused the hut’s sole occupant.
The front door opened. A shadow fell across the porch, blocking out the lantern’s light. Ellana paused on the threshold, her silver brows arching. “Maker’s balls!” she cried. “What’re you howling about now?”
Felassan barked at her, the stub of his tail wagging.
“Oh, all right. I’ll take a look”. Ellana turned, peering into the darkness beyond. She smiled when she saw Morrigan in the moonlight. “Well”, she called loud enough to quiet Felassan. “I see you’ve arrived at last”.
The barking ceased with an abruptness that troubled Morrigan. She would’ve thought the mabari well-trained if not for the guttural rumble in the pit of its belly. It was low, irritable, and sounded like a shovel full of coal being thrown into a fire. The rattle of pebbles on steel, the hiss of coal dust igniting. Morrigan heard the promise of pain, of lacerated flesh, and broken bones.
She wasn’t sure if that ominous threat was directed at her.
“Oh, don’t worry”, said Ellana. “He doesn’t mean you, sweetling. He can smell Solas on you. Felassan isn’t too fond of him. Betrayal is a terrible thing when it’s a trusted ally that stabs you in the back”.
“It is”, grumbled Morrigan. She thought of Flemeth, grimacing as if she’d sucked on a lemon. “I can attest to that”.
“Of course you could. A mother’s betrayal is the worst of all”. Ellana took a good look at her and said the first thing that came to mind. “Maker’s arse. You look terrible”.
Morrigan shivered when the wind picked up, her skin prickling in the cold. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stay warm. Solas hadn’t given her time to don a cloak during her frantic flight from the Temple of Mythal. She was bedraggled, tired, and hungry. She clenched her teeth to stop them from chattering.
She was a in a sorry state, but too proud to admit it. She glared at Ellana, lifting her chin, and refused to ask for help. She still had spirit enough to give her host a disgruntled reply. Ellana had asked to meet her in the middle of nowhere. Here Morrigan was on the third night of the third day Ellana was supposed to meet Solas.
“You asked me to come”, Morrigan reminded her. “Here I am”. She nodded to Ellana’s still growling mabari. “Call him off, or send him away. I’ve a promise to keep”.
“No. I had a visitor not long after we parted in Halamshiral”.
Ellana seemed to sense that something was amiss. “And I suppose you struck a bargain too. So be it”. She gazed at the trees about the hut, smiling when she heard the distant hooting of an owl. “You’ll have a gift for me then. I should receive it like a proper host”.
Morrigan was glad when Ellana stepped down onto the porch. She reached out with a gentle hand, running her fingers down the mabari’s pale ruff. He calmed at her touch, going quiet much to Morrigan’s relief. A dog or an apostate in the shape of a beast, Felassan was perturbing enough to make her wary. She was uncertain of Ellana’s intentions when she made a request of him.
“A moment if you please. I must speak with Morrigan”. Ellana gestured to the hut’s open door with her scarred left-hand. “If you would give us some privacy. I will attend to our guest”.
Felassan snorted, black nostrils quivering. He eyed Morrigan as if he didn’t trust her. Ellana persuaded him with a gentle pat upon the pale crown of his head. She stepped aside, gesturing again to the hut’s open door. Felassan turned with a frustrated growl, nosing her hand as he brushed passed.
He padded inside, leaving them alone.
“At least he didn’t bite you”, said Ellana. “Felassan isn’t fond of humans. Although from the way he howled. He finds you somewhat unusual, even a little confusing. He’s never gone out of his way like this for any visitor I’ve had”.
“What do you mean?” asked Morrigan.
“He’s a guard dog. He usually chases them off, but he let you stay. He likes solitude, and keeping me to himself. He’s a little obsessive, a habit learned from his former Hahren. Solas doesn’t like to share and neither does he”.
“You said to tell him that I was expected”.
Ellana smirked. “That doesn’t mean he would’ve listened to you. I ask him to guard the house. I don’t order him to do it. Felassan chooses to do what he wants to even if I tell him about the odd guest coming to visit”.
“You mean he would’ve chased me away if he hadn’t liked me?”
Ellana nodded. “Mabari are excellent judges of character”.
“No mabari has eyes the violet of gemstones. There’s a mage inside that dog. You can lie about everything else, but you can’t lie to me about that. I know shape-shifting magic when I see it”.
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t. It was one of Flemeth’s more useful lessons. Good for spying if you’ve the skill. Bad if you choose to slip into the skin of the wrong animal around the wrong people. I once knew a Dalish First that took the shape of a wolf, only to find himself spitted on the end of a Dalish spear”.
Morrigan was unnerved. “Did he die?”
“No, but he did give the Huntsmaster a fright. He also had a nice new scar and a cautionary tale to share with the children of his clan”. Ellana beckoned with a flick of her fingers. “I’ll tell you the gory details another time. Tell me of this promise you’ve made”.
Morrigan moved towards the porch. She slipped off her boots, not wanting to tread mud and dirt inside. They were crusted from toe to heel. She shivered when she stepped onto the porch, the flagstones were cold underfoot. Morrigan hissed when she felt a burst of ice magic against her hip.
“Fenedhis!” she cursed, fumbling for the pocket of her skirt. She slipped her hand inside, fishing around for the thing near freezing her innards. The chill intensified when her fingers closed around it. Morrigan tore it from her pocket, flinching when she saw her nails turn blue. She’d lost all sensation of heat and pressure in the tips of her fingers.
Ellana grasped her wrist with an immediacy that startled her.
“Twine your fingers with mine”, she instructed when Morrigan sucked in a pained breath. The blue deepened to the purple of a bruise when Ellana pressed their palms together. “Before the frostbite sets in. A mage needs their fingers to twirl a staff. You’ll want to keep yours”.
Morrigan exhaled a mouthful of mist, nostrils flaring as the temperature dropped. She was soon trembling, her golden eyes wide with fear. Morrigan grasped Ellana’s hand, her pale fingers sliding through Ellana’s brown ones. She hissed, teeth gritting when that glacial cold crept toward the joints of her fingers. Morrigan was shaking down to her toes, bosom heaving with each agonising breath.
“I know”, acknowledged Ellana. “Give me a moment. The pain will stop. You’ll soon feel a burst of sensation. I need to warm your blood again”.
Morrigan was alarmed when Ellana’s hand grew hot. The brown of her skin gleamed like burnished bronze in the lantern-light. She thought for a panicked second that she might be burned, but all she felt was the tingling of pins and needles. Morrigan gasped when Ellana dispelled the chill. Wisps of steam rose from her skin like fog.
A glance at her purpling fingers and nails revealed an unusual change.
The purple was fast receding, the tinges of blue lightening to a rosy pink. Morrigan was astonished when Ellana released her hand. That bronzed sheen faded until her skin was soft and brown again. Morrigan turned her wrist to expose her hand. She wiggled her fingers, brows furrowing when she pinched the tip of each.
Her nails were pale, pink, and hale again. The skin and flesh beneath prickling with each pulse of her heart, the blood in her veins running hot. She gazed at her saviour, noticing Ellana’s distraction. Morrigan stepped closer, looking over the line of Ellana’s thumb. She saw the brown, black, and white striped dragon scale in the palm of her hand.
Ellana didn’t once take her eyes off it. “Who gave this to you?”
“An eagle owl”, replied Morrigan. “Grey with black banded feathers”.
“Where did it find you?”
“In your room at the Winter Palace not long after you’d left”.
“Sigfrost warned me”, declared Ellana, her fingers closing around it. “I thought she’d give me a wide berth considering what happened last time. She’s persistent. Admirable considering all she stands to gain or lose”.
Morrigan had an inkling about who she meant. “The Lady of the Skies”. She was anxious when Ellana’s focus shifted. Those jade eyes were scrutinising her face and soon narrowing beneath a pair of silver brows. Morrigan wrung her hands.
“How do you know that?”
“You told me that Sigfrost was your brother. Is it so unusual that I would know something about the Avvar pantheon? The Lady of the Skies uses birds as messengers. I knew that owl wasn’t ordinary when it plucked a dragon scale out from under its own wing”.
“You always were observant. Clever too”, praised Ellana. “You still shouldn’t have trusted that confounded bird. Promise or none. It would’ve been better if you’d fried him with a bolt of lightning”.
“Are you mad?” cried Morrigan. “He was a messenger from the Lady of the Skies! I wasn’t about to antagonise her by attacking one of her birds! I’m already mired in this cesspit of a trouble you’re stirring with Solas! I want to save my son not get him killed!”
“Kieran will be fine. The bargain you struck – whatever it is – will be honoured. The Lady will see to that. The owl you saw wasn’t an ordinary bird. He’s a spy and an arrogant one at that”.
“I’d thought as much”, said Morrigan. She exhaled a weary breath, running a tired hand down her face. “It seemed to understand the common-tongue. It had an attitude too. I remember how looked down its beak at me as if I were a slack-jawed peasant begging for alms”.
“I’m not surprised. He’s a temperamental shit and more besides. But he can wait, let’s see what you’ve brought to me. I don’t often receive gifts, even if I do recognise whose arse this came from. This is a dragon scale”.
Ellana waggled her eyebrows when Morrigan complained. “Must you be so vulgar?”
“The word is funny, sweetling. Don’t you have a sense of humour?”
“Not when Solas still has my son”. Morrigan gave her a flat judgemental look.
“Patience. We’ll rescue him”.
“Now would be best”.
She looked Morrigan in the eye, a silver brow arching. “You could always make the two-day flight back to the Temple of Mythal on your own. You’ll get there by the end of the week. You’ll be half dead from exhaustion by the time you arrive of course. I’m sure Solas will appreciate you being two days late if he hasn’t fed Kieran to Mythal’s pet-dragon by then”.
Morrigan paled. “Mythal has a pet dragon?”
Ellana’s eyes twinkled. She smiled, soft, dark, and sly. “One of the hatchlings I fostered on the slopes of mount Belenas. Golden scaled, feisty, and fiery enough to set your knickers ablaze. My poor girl was collared by Mythal to serve as a glorified hound guarding that elven shithole of a temple”.
She smirked when Morrigan tried and failed not to smile. “I thought you didn’t have a sense of humour?”
Morrigan snorted, rolling her eyes. “You said you’d help me”.
“I will in my own time. Don’t worry. Kieran is quite safe for the moment. Solas is a prat, but he’s not a complete bastard. The boy is more useful to him alive than dead”.
She raised a single stern finger to quiet Morrigan when she tried to protest.
“And if Kieran dies then the Lady will have broken her end of the bargain. Gods do not lightly swear a promise, sweetling. It costs us more to break our oaths than a mortal. What is a string of words to you is a shackle to us until the oath is fulfilled. Even in absentia an oath sworn in our names holds power and is as binding as a rite of marriage”.
Ellana nodded. “Truly. My word is my bond as it were. I’ll help you rescue, Kieran. But first we prepare. It won’t be easy trying to tear him out of Solas’ hands in one piece”.
“Good. I have a gift to appreciate first after all. Let's see what you’ve brought me”.
Ellana brushed a finger across that striped dragon scale. She turned, allowing Morrigan to see it too. In the palm of her hand, the black and brown bands flaked away like dried mud. The scale was pale and shining like a pearl until it split in two like a seed. It sprouted a tendril that swelled, producing tiny heart-shaped leaves and a large bud.
It opened with a flourish, curling wide in Ellana’s hand in a spray of blue petals. A single rose, dripping with dew-like crystals sparkled in the lantern-light. It was beautiful. Ellana didn’t react with delight. She gawked at the rose, brows arching as if its existence had come as a surprise.
“That’s deceptive”, remarked Morrigan. “A rose hidden inside a dragon scale. Even if it’s pretty, those petals might conceal thorns. Have you pricked yourself yet?”
“This roses don’t have barbs”.
“It’s still unusual. I’ve never seen a blue rose before. Red and pink, but never blue”.
Ellana nodded. “Of course you haven’t”.
“No flower such as this grows in any Thedosian wood or garden. This rose and others like it aren’t tended by mortal hands. It grows wild on the slopes of Mount Belenas, high above the clouds in the realm of the Lady of the Skies. I know these roses because I planted them there to blossom all year round, even in the deepest winter. These flowers were my gift to Sigfrost, to mark the day I forgave him for siding with Korth”.
“The Mountain Father”, said Morrigan. “You’ve had dealings with him?”
Ellana deflected the question with a statement. “So you know of the Lady’s husband too. Flemeth was more thorough in her lessons than I’d expected”.
Morrigan’s lip curled with indignation. “Fine be secretive”. She was annoyed by Ellana’s continued reluctance to elaborate about her past. “I didn’t come all the way from Halamshiral to bring you presents”, she groused. “It’s a rose. If you’re not going to tell me who it’s from, I can guess”.
“Is that so? Then tell me, sweetling. Who would send me the seed of a rose concealed inside a dragon’s scale?”
“You fought an ice-dragon on the shores of the Frostback Basin. A dragon that housed the soul of an Avvar god. A god that was ensnared by the Jaws of Hakkon, a rogue Avvar tribe dating back more than eight hundred years. That scale was from its flank, white striped with bands of black and brown. The Avvar colours of earth, sky, and winter often attributed to one entity”.
Morrigan was confident. “Hakkon Wintersbreath, the Avvar god of winter and warfare”.
“Astute”, conceded Ellana. “He’s not well known after being away from the Avvar pantheon for so long. Some Avvar have forgotten him. Other tribes that linger in the remotest corners of Thedas still remember his name. You do too which says much about what Flemeth taught you”.
“I may have found my mother's lessons boring, but I still listened".
“That’s a bold assumption on both counts. I remember you drooling like a toddler, half asleep with your mouth open whilst Flemeth droned on and on. A cat remembers everything, even the tiniest details. I posed as one for almost a decade. I should know”.
“That’s perturbing”. Morrigan’s eyes narrowed. “You’re trying to distract me”.
“Am I?” teased Ellana. She batted her eyelashes, feigning innocence. “It’s a reflex. I’d apologise, but I’d be lying. We both know that”.
“Are you ever sincere?”
“Sometimes. It depends on my mood. And how much I like the person I’m talking too”.
Morrigan didn’t take the bait. “Stop it. I already know you were involved in Hakkon’s imprisonment. If not directly than through the Jaws of Hakkon. That owl you spoke of confirmed as much when I asked”.
“Did he accuse me in actual words?” demanded Ellana.
“Not exactly. I was able to glean as much from his enraged squawking”.
“He always was overly dramatic. I’ve never liked the Lady’s winged spies. Nuisances, the lot of them. That owl is the worst. He can see through any geas, is immune to most spells, and immortal because he’s the first of his kind”.
“And you wanted me to use a lightening spell on him?”
“He’d have survived albeit with a few charred feathers”.
Morrigan grimaced. “You’re horrible”.
“I’m vengeful, sweetling. You try getting up to mischief with a constant spy on your heels. I’ve often had to behave myself or risk remonstration”.
“From the Lady?”
“No”, said Ellana. “From Sigfrost. The owl tattles on me”.
“It’s not that amusing”.
“Yes it is!”
“That’s why I’ve never liked him”, grumbled Ellana. “He’s an excellent tracker too. He’s near impossible to elude in the mortal world unless I go underground, underwater, or into the Fade. Since I’m disinclined to fight Darkspawn, become fish bait, or be trackable by Solas. I have to make do even if it means that feathered nuisance is following me”.
“So he’s a tracker, a spy, and an emissary for the Lady of the Skies”, concluded Morrigan. “What does that owl have to do with your rose?”
“It’s not a gift, sweetling. It’s an invitation disguised as a peace offering. A gesture of forgiveness for my supposed betrayal of Hakkon. There will be a price to pay if I accept. Although that will depend on the Lady’s son”.
“What do you mean?”
Ellana tapped a glistening blue rose petal. It’s petals unfurled revealing something glittering at its heart. Ellana reached inside with unexpected gentleness. She plucked that shining thing out with the deftness of a thief picking pockets. It was clasped between her thumb and forefinger when she presented it to Morrigan.
“It’s a ring”.
“A shackle”, corrected Ellana. “I’ve never been inclined to wear it”.
It was a simple band, fashioned from a silver-white piece of ice that glistened like a diamond. It glowed with an unearthly sheen when it was turned in the lantern- light. Morrigan was reminded of the honed edge of a blade. A ring that would bind as well as a cut in a union between deities of opposing natures. Ellana shrugged when Morrigan’s eyes widened with sudden realisation.
“You’re betrothed to Hakkon Wintersbreath”.
“That would be the likely assumption”.
Ellana sighed, her brows furrowing. “You must understand. I adore my brother, but I sometimes disagree with his judgements. I have never been particularly fond of this one. Would you have been happy with an arranged marriage?”
Morrigan thought of Mahariel and their precious son. Her reply was instantaneous. “If I had. I’d never have met my husband, or had Kieran. Was your betrothal Sigfrost’s idea?”
“A necessity, I’m afraid. Sigfrost was trying to placate Korth, reassure his Lady wife, and keep their wild son in check. Hakkon can be something of a berserker when roused to anger. If he ever lost his temper, Thedas could be locked in an eternal winter. As his natural foil, Sigfrost thought I’d be best able to unfreeze the world if Hakkon ever went mad with rage”.
“You told me that fire is your element”.
“It is”, affirmed Ellana. “I’m his opposite in nature and temperament. A perfect match”. Her nose wrinkled in disdain. “It’s horseshit. We’ve never gotten along”.
Morrigan was surprised that a goddess would have trouble courting. “Why not?”
“Hakkon is boring”.
“Yes”, insisted Ellana. “He’s too damned honourable. I couldn’t play a prank or make a jest in Korth’s presence without him frowning. He always had plenty to say about my terrible manners at his father’s table too. And right in front of Sigfrost”.
“Did he speak up for you?”
“Always, but he’d still give me that judgemental look”. Ellana flattened her brows, lips pursing as if she were puckering up for a kiss. Her angry fish-face made Morrigan giggle. “The arse. If he wasn’t my brother, I’d have kicked him in the balls”.
“But you forgave him”, assumed a smiling Morrigan. She gestured to the rose in the palm of Ellana’s hand. “Even after he sided with Korth. He’s part of the Avvar pantheon. So he tried to have you join them too”.
Ellana snorted, rolling her eyes. “He did not that it was a good idea. I’ve refused to this day. If I accept this rose. That would change”.
“And you’d be bound to Hakkon. So that’s what you meant by choosing a side”.
“It is, sweetling. Thousands upon thousands of lives would change because I made a simple choice. It’s not easy being a god. We have the power to create and destroy worlds, but with that comes a terrible responsibility. A million threads to consider in a tapestry of a world older than time itself”.
“Fenedhis”, cursed Morrigan. “If you ever made a mistake”.
“Indeed”, agreed Ellana. “I am the weaver. Let us hope I haven’t snipped any threads too short. Or strung others across my loom with haste. Care must be taken now, and all things considered with due diligence”.
“Even a marriage to Hakkon Wintersbreath?”
“To prevent a future age of ice. Yes”.
“He’s formidable”, Morrigan mused aloud. “You got a taste of his temper in the Frostback Basin. It was rather nasty from what I’d heard from Scout Harding. And that was while he was imprisoned inside the flesh of a dragon. I can only imagine how much worse it would’ve been if he’d been at full strength”.
“It was a mere swat on the knuckles”, corrected Ellana. “A true unleashing of Hakkon’s fury would consume Thedas. He’s the primordial god of winter, and warfare. A terrible combination for a deity with a fractious disposition. Fortunately he has a high degree of self-control, and follows a stringent code of honour”.
Morrigan found the combination unsettling. “But he’s easily infuriated?”
“He’s never hurt anyone, sweetling”.
“But he could”.
“Indeed he could with devastating results”, agreed Ellana. “The world would be a wasteland, buried in snow from mountain to mountain. The land and sea frozen in ice from shore to shore. All Thedas would die. Even the dwarves deep in the stone would perish, the roots of the mountains would become their tombs”.
“And the Darkspawn?” asked Morrigan.
“As dead as everything else. Plants, beasts, and every single bird and fish gone alongside the insects great and small. Humans would die, elves, and the horned giants of Seheron too. The world would be devoid of life save for the dragons, the spirits of the Fade, and the gods alone. The dragons would hibernate if they didn’t starve to death first”.
“What of the spirits?”
“They would retreat to the Fade in fear. The death of the mortal world would flood into their own. Many would succumb to despair, others to grief, and some to rage. The Fade would soon become the domain of demons. Their suffering would be eternal, a perpetual cycle of torment”.
Morrigan swallowed nervously. “And the gods?”
“Would hunt Hakkon until his head was torn from his shoulders”, revealed Ellana. “They would murder him with the hope that his death would end the winter. It wouldn’t. Only fire can melt ice, but in doing so. All Thedas would burn”.
Morrigan felt the fear clench in her guts. “You’d break your promise to Sigfrost?”
“It wouldn’t be much of a promise then. Thedas would be dead, a world full of ghosts. What would the gods have to watch over but a graveyard? Any ending even a conflagration of flame would be welcomed. Thedas would be ashes, but it could be reshaped, remade, and reborn into something new”.
Ellana beamed when Morrigan gaped at her in amazement. “You’re frightened again. I was a tad overzealous”. She gestured to the still open door of the hut. “Go on inside. It’s cold out. I’ve had a bath prepared for you, and clean clothes laid out. You’ll find the tub in the back room, the clothes on a chair beside it”.
Morrigan nodded, too shocked to protest. She walked to the still open door, crossing the threshold as she stepped inside. She looked back once, her hand on the door’s latch as she turned to close it. Ellana was still on the porch, glancing from the ring between her fingers to the rose in the palm of her hand. She was aware she had an audience.
Morrigan started, flinching when Ellana spoke again.
“Close the door”.
She hesitated, still unsure.
“It’s all right”, soothed Ellana. “Go. We’ll talk again after your bath”.
Morrigan closed the door, shivering in the sudden burst of heat. She turned around in what was a large front room. A fire burned in the hearth at its centre on a slab of stone. The mantle was a thick slab of oak sitting atop an arch of mortared bricks. The chimney was brick too, extending upwards into the rafters. The roof was wood as far as Morrigan could see, the walls too though the floor was made up of flagstones.
Rugs covered it in an array of dull reds, soft oranges, and pale yellows.
Morrigan rubbed her bare arms, glad to be warm again. She moved towards the hearth, lifting her hands to the fire. There was a stack of wood piled to one side, a small table with two chairs, and a shelf full of crockery. Morrigan eyed the cast-iron pot, the kettle, and the series of wooden cups on the table. She would’ve helped herself if there was time to prepare tea and a hot meal.
She doubted Ellana would’ve minded. The thought of food made her stomach rumble. The knife of hunger, twisting in her guts abated when she thought about Solas. Cold fear replaced what desire she had for eating. Morrigan sucked in a pained breath, her lower-lip trembling.
She sniffed, tensing at the slap of bare feet on stone. She turned, looking down, and saw long pale toes. The arch of the foot was bound in a lattice of brown leather. The pattern continued up a muscular shin to a knee shrouded in black hose. She had company.
She looked upwards, spying an elf bearing the vallaslin of Mythal. She studied the face of the man glowering at her with contempt. He was tall and handsome though several shades fairer than her Dalish beloved. There was an odd fragility about him too, as if he were an elven figurine fashioned from pale spun glass. Although he looked Dalish, Morrigan sensed something wasn’t quite right about him.
His features were more refined than Mahariel’s roguishness. He had a thinner nose, higher cheekbones, and a squarer chin. His hair was black, thick, and longer than a Dalish elf would’ve worn it. The silky mane cascaded over his shoulders and down his back in a wave of darkness. Morrigan might’ve believed he was Dalish if not for the colour of his eyes.
No Dalish elf she’d ever met had irises the violet of amethysts. They also weren’t as scornful of humans as the ancient elves of Elvhenan. This elf’s gaze was haughty and condescending as if he were a King beholding his court. Morrigan didn't doubt that if she were a bug, he’d have crushed her under his heel. She was perturbed when the spirits of the Vir'abelasan stirred.
They whispered of a violet-eyed servant of Fen'Harel.
“Felassan”, said Morrigan. “You’re not a mabari”.
He snorted, unamused. “Surprised?”
Morrigan fidgeted under his gaze, wringing her hands. “I was unsure if you were an actual dog or an apostate masquerading as a dog”. She reddened when he blinked slowly as if she were a fool. “Ellana implied that she’d cast a spell on you. I had assumed you weren’t a shape-shifter, but under a geas to elude Solas”.
“Does it matter?”
Felassan considered her for a moment, his amethyst eyes twinkling. “You thought Ellana kept me here by force. How typical of a shemlen to assume the worst”. He looked down his nose at her as if she were a speck of dirt he’d failed to scour away. “She told me that you’d not trust a word she’d said no matter how honest”.
Morrigan didn’t like his tone. “Ellana lies”.
“That’s a matter of perspective, daughter of Flemeth”.
“You know of me?”
He nodded, nose wrinkling. “I know enough. Ellana made certain I was aware of your arrival this evening”. He grimaced as if he found the task distasteful. “She asked that I help you prepare for your departure to the Temple of Mythal in the Arbor Wilds”.
He turned away, beckoning with a flick of his fingers. “Garas ma. There is a bath waiting for you in the back room. Your clothes are laid out. It isn’t much but I have made up a small platter of food. You will be hungry”.
Felassan was astonished when he heard a phrase in elvish. He looked back over his shoulder with curiosity. The phrase had been short, simple, and blunt enough to give him pause. He seemed unsure if she had been sincere. Morrigan exhaled a weary breath, knowing that to come from a shemlen it meant very little. Felassan like most of his people had a healthy distrust of humans.
“You apologised to me again”.
“Yes”, affirmed Morrigan.
“Why?” challenged Felassan, the tone of his voice tinged with suspicion. “It’s not in the nature of your kind to feel sorry for an elf. Your people hate mine. Is that not true?”
Morrigan felt the frayed edges of her temper ignite. She was tired, upset, and worried about her son. Felassan’s arrogance was enough to make her teeth clench beneath her lips. She wanted to snap at at him until she saw that he had that knowing look in his eye. He was waiting for her to lose her temper, and scold him like an errant child.
“You’re baiting me”, she deduced. She compared him to another elf she knew. “On purpose”, she accused. “Solas does that too. It’s infuriating”.
Felassan arched an eyebrow, assessing her with a look of cool indifference. “Of course it is. He was my Hahren for centuries. It’s natural that I would share some of his less endearing qualities. As such some of his habits have become mine”.
“A case of inheritance?”
“Are you as arrogant as he is?”
“On occasion. Are you always this hostile?”
“That depends. Do you make a habit of kidnapping children?”
Felassan's mouth turned down. He regarded her with genuine concern for the first time since they’d met. “I don’t”, he answered with a sincerity that Morrigan didn’t believe. He’d known and served Solas. How could she trust the word of an apostate once involved with the infamous Fen'Harel?
Morrigan waited for him to ask questions but Felassan turned away instead.
“Come”, he urged as he walked through a second doorway into another room.
Morrigan hesitated at first, unsure if she could trust him. She rolled her eyes, shoulders slumping when Felassan disappeared around the corner. She heard water sloshing, and the muttered words of a fire-spell. She steeled herself, taking a fortifying breath. Morrigan followed him after a few moments, passing through the door.
She paused when she saw Felassan leaning over a tub. It was circular, fashioned from slats of wood, and bound by two thick bands of iron. It looked like a large bucket with sloping sides until Morrigan saw something odd. She rose on her tip-toes, trying to get a better look at the steaming water. One side of the bath was raised, the other lower.
Morrigan saw the semi-circular ring of a seat submerged beneath the surface. The rest of the tub was deeper, as if one was meant to sit first to wash then dunk to rinse. She looked from Felassan to the seat beside the tub. It was a plain wooden stool covered in a small pile of folded clothes. Morrigan moved towards it, curious despite herself.
She reached out to touch it only to have her hand smacked.
“Bathe first then dress”, instructed Felassan. He turned around with something in his hands, offering Morrigan a wooden platter. “Take this”. He gave her a hard look when she lifted her nose in the air. Morrigan refused to comply, her lip curling when he snorted.
“Fine. Have it your way”. He set the platter atop her clothes, gesturing to its contents. There was a thick bar of soap, a comb, and a crock of something with a cork in it. “All you need to wash yourself with. The crock contains a special kind of soap for your hair”.
He straightened with a nod, turning away again. Felassan strode out, leaving Morrigan alone. She heard him rummaging around in the parlour. The fire hissing as he tossed another log into the hearth. He was quiet even with his footsteps muffled by the rugs on the parlour floor.
Morrigan listened for a little while, suspicious lest he return. Several moments passed in a tense quiet that went undisturbed. She exhaled a weary breath, golden eyes rolling as she pulled at her clothes. She took them off one at a time, grimacing at the stink of stale sweat. Morrigan stepped out of the clothes pooled about her bare feet.
She swung first one leg than the other over the rim of the rub. She groaned, sinking into the hot water that was several degrees off scalding. “Fenedhis”, she swore, reaching for the platter atop the stool beside it. Morrigan sat on the seat in the tub, hearing the wood creak as she grabbed the soap. She set to work washing off two days worth of fear and grime.
Morrigan knew the moment Ellana returned to the hut. The front door opened and closed with a thud, the tread of her feet muffled when she came inside. Morrigan pulled her shirt down over her breeches, when she heard Felassan bark in elvish. The dialect was too old and obscure for Morrigan to understand, even with the geas of the Vir’abelasan. She was startled when Ellana replied in the same tongue.
Her tone was gentle, though whatever she said didn’t allay Felassan’s concerns. His voice escalated in volume. Morrigan wondered what Ellana had said when she stepped around the tub. The water was cold, her own dirty clothes still in a pile on the floor. She moved towards the door, peering through it into the parlour.
She saw them arguing.
Felassan puffed up like an angry bullfrog when Ellana disagreed. He gasped in outrage at the stern shake of her head. He snarled several elvish expletives, clearly put out by what sounded like a rebuttal. Ellana said something else in that lyrical elvish tongue to soothe his ire. He sucked in an outraged breath, glowering as if she’d said something offensive.
He turned, spying Morrigan out the corner of his eye.
He caught her staring as if he’d just remembered she was there. He jabbed a finger at her, spitting a sentence in that odd elvish dialect. Morrigan felt the burn of his words even if she didn’t understand them. The way he growled, hissed, and barked was reminiscent of the mabari he’d once been. His agitation doubled when Ellana replied in the negative.
He gestured to Morrigan with frenzied flap of a pale hand. Ellana’s response was the same. Felassan seethed, spewing more elvish epithets. He reiterated his desire with a determined stomp of his feet. He thrust a thumb at his own chest, snarling in elvish to make his point.
Morrigan watched the exchange continue with raised eyebrows. She was curious when Felassan gestured to her again. He made another argument, asserting himself when Ellana tried to dissuade him. She groaned, weary, and frustrated but complied when he nodded. Ellana reacted with a solemnity that belied her playful nature.
She was the Inquisitor again in that moment. Shrewd, cold, and calculating. She was unenthusiastic about Felassan’s idea. The hairs rose on the back of Morrigan’s neck when Ellana expressed her displeasure. She growled like a wolf baring its fangs.
“Sweetling. Felassan wants to come with us to the Temple of Mythal”.
Morrigan wondered what she’d lose if she agreed. She chose the path of least resistance. It was best to navigate this course with care. It was obvious that Ellana was opposed to the idea. She kept glaring at Felassan as if he’d offered her a poisoned apple.
“Why?” she asked.
Ellana’s eyes narrowed. “He doesn’t trust Solas”. Her lip curled when Felassan snapped at her. She modified her statement, nose wrinkling in annoyance. “He also wants to keep an eye on me while we’re there”.
Morrigan stared at her. “What?” she asked with a sharpness that made Ellana grimace. “Why? You implied that you were a match for Solas. Was that a lie too?”
Ellana ignored the question much to Felassan’s consternation. He scowled when he heard her explanation. While true it didn’t sit quite right with Morrigan. She sensed something amiss. The way Felassan kept trading barbs with Ellana was as suspicious as it was unnerving.
“Power cannot be abused. I will do what is necessary to help you retrieve Kieran. You will leave Solas to me”.
Morrigan glanced at Felassan. He was pacing on a thin strip of the floor. Back and forth he went muttering to himself in that odd elvish dialect. He paused now and again, shooting dark looks at Ellana. He came to a stop when Morrigan addressed him, his mouth hardening into a thin grim line.
“Solas won’t be happy to see you alive”.
“That is hardly your concern”.
“I doubt that”, contested Morrigan. “I don’t care if you have a grudge to settle. We’re going to the Temple of Mythal to rescue my son. If you undermine that goal. You’ll have more than an enraged elven god ready to roast your arse over an open fire”.
The corner of Felassan’s mouth curved upward. He smirked, violet eyes glinting with a slyness that set Morrigan’s teeth on edge. “You’re more honest than your mother”. She was suspicious the instant Ellana’s face hardened. She heard the frustration in her voice when she snapped at him too.
A muscle jumped in Felassan’s cheek. He returned Ellana’s scrutiny with a sulkiness that reminded Morrigan of Mahariel. Her husband dug his heels in when he was angry too. This was more than a simple struggle for power. Morrigan had lived long enough in the Orlesian court to recognise rebellion when she saw it.
She could make a suggestion that allowed Felassan to do what he wanted. Ellana wouldn’t like it of course, but she was an advocate of free will. If Felassan was to choose his own fate. Who was she to stop him? Morrigan was confident that even if she opposed the idea, Ellana wouldn’t deny him what he wanted.
“If you intend to come with us”, she called, ignoring Ellana’s reproachful look. “You’ll be risking your life. My priority is to rescue my son. Whatever happens, he’ll be my first concern. If Solas kills you this time around, I won’t mourn your passing”.
Felassan nodded. “I wouldn’t mourn your death either, witch”.
“Then we’re agreed”.
“You know the danger. If you’re still game. Come with us”.
Felassan was quick to turn the situation to his advantage. He spoke to Ellana, knowing she couldn't refuse without offending Morrigan.
“The witch wants me there".
“Solas thinks you’re dead", Ellana reminded him. "It’s better to keep it that way”.
Felassan shrugged his shoulders. “Than I’ll go in disguise. You taught me the spell to shapeshift. I’ll take on the form I’ve worn these past four years. Solas will see a mabari not an elf when I set foot inside the temple grounds”.
Ellana gave him a flat look, unamused by his scheming. “Am I supposed to introduce you as my pet?”
“If you like”.
“This is a stupid idea”.
“It’s settled, Hahren”, countered Felassan. “I’m going with you”.
Chapter 5: Through the mouth of a Serpent
Ellana and her companions join Solas and the sentinel elves at the Temple of Mythal.
Morrigan was furious when Ellana delayed their departure. Although refreshed after her bath and clad in warm clothes. She was frustrated by Ellana’s insistence that she return to the Temple of Mythal at full strength. She was tired, but there hadn’t been time for a nap. Morrigan fumed for an hour as she washed down a meal of cold venison, bread, and cheese with a cup of mead.
It was honey-sweet and delicately spiced, but difficult to enjoy without Kieran. Felassan hadn't protested the delay when she glared at Ellana over the rim of her cup. Morrigan swallowed the dregs with a mouthful of half-chewed meat. She refused when Ellana offered to refill it from a wooden ewer, placing her hand over the top. The meal concluded when she slammed that cup down beside her empty plate.
She burped when Ellana cooed.
Morrigan pushed the plate aside, the cup toppling over to spill the last drops of mead she hadn’t drunk. Beads of moisture glistened on the tabletop like pearls. The firelight painted them in shades of amber, ruby-red, and an ominous black. Morrigan was reminded of the eyes of a dead fish. She hoped Solas had an ounce of honour in his withered elven heart.
Her boy was all she had left with Mahariel far from home, seeking a cure for the Blight. She prayed that Kieran was all right.
“Much”, grumbled Morrigan. “Now can we leave?”
Ellana smiled. “Of course”. She glanced at Felassan, arching a silver brow. “Are you coming with us?” she goaded, a hint of remonstration in her voice. She didn’t deny his right to choose his own path even if she disagreed with his decision.
Felassan rose from his seat, shoulders straightening. “Are you going to try and leave me behind?”
“I would if I could”, admitted Ellana. “But you’ve made that damned near impossible for me to get out of without insulting our guest”. She nodded to the witch in their midst. “So you’ll be tagging along then much to my disapproval. Remember, it’ll be your arse over the fire if things take a bad turn”.
“I’m willing to take the risk”.
“I know, da’len”.
“Then stop trying to keep me out of trouble”.
“Force of habit”, admitted Ellana. “I led the Inquisition. It was part of my job to keep the shems out of trouble”.
“I’m one of the Elvhen not a shemlen”, stated Felassan. “There’s a difference”.
“It’s all the same to me. Apples and oranges as it were”.
“I’m not a quickling”, he insisted, scowling as if the word were offensive. “I’m immortal”.
“You’re still made of flesh, blood, and bone. You’re still soft and squishy. You’re still capable of dying. Being immortal doesn’t make you any less likely to perish by tragedy or circumstance. You can still die like everyone else”.
“Do you think I can’t look after myself?”
Ellana frowned. “Sometimes. I worry for a reason, Felassan. I care about you. It’s been a long time since any of the Elvhen have trusted me like you do”.
He was quiet for several moments. It was poignant until Ellana shrugged her shoulders as if it meant nothing at all. She flapped her hand at Felassan, her blatant disregard upsetting him. He didn’t gripe, but Morrigan noticed the skin tightening at the corners of his eyes. His mouth thinned too, the line of his jaw tensing.
“You’re free to do what you want”, said Ellana. “I’ve argued, given you an alternative, but you’re still determined to face Solas. You’ve been warned, Felassan. I hope you have the strength to deal with the consequences”.
“Do you?” he challenged, his reply tinged with annoyance.
And just like that Ellana’s mood changed. She thrived on conflict. Morrigan was wary the moment her lips peeled back from her teeth. Her smile was menacing. Morrigan saw the jagged line of her incisors, the needle-sharp points of her canines. Ellana’s fangs glinted in the firelight.
“We’ll soon see if I do”, she purred, soft as silk. “Don’t antagonise Solas enough to kill you. I didn’t spend the better part of four years keeping you safe for nothing. You’re to stay alive. No matter what happens”.
“Do you intend to engage him in battle?” snapped Felassan.
It sounded more like an accusation than a question to Morrigan.
“If I must to protect you”, replied Ellana with perturbing levity. “Don’t try to stand between us. You don’t have the strength to fight him. I do. If things go sour then you’re to leave me and get Morrigan and her son out of there”.
Morrigan was as startled as Felassan. He gaped at Ellana in wide-eyed disbelief, appalled that she’d suggest such a thing. It plucked a chord in him, rousing an old deep-rooted fear. Morrigan tensed the instant Felassan refused. He took umbrage, dashing Ellana’s hopes to pieces with a vehement denial.
“Nae! I won’t abandon you!”
Ellana’s face softened. “You’ve chosen to face Solas. If he finds out you’re alive then you won’t be safe anywhere in Thedas. He will hunt you to the ends of the world to ensure your silence. I will be forced to counter his efforts, even to slay his agents out of necessity”.
“You would kill them?”
Her slow nod of ascent frightened Morrigan too. “If he sends them after you. I’ll have little choice. You’re my ward, and my responsibility. I disagree with your decision, but that doesn’t absolve me from doing my duty”.
“Da’len”, she soothed. “Our path is set. There’s no turning back now. This is the price you must pay if fate demands it. Your safety means more to me than my own”.
Felassan’s expression was pained as if she’d asked him to cut off his own hand. “If things go wrong at the Temple of Mythal! I won’t leave you alone with Solas even if it means my life!” he exclaimed, adamant despite the slow shaking of Ellana’s head. He glowered at her as if she’d said something abhorrent. “I don’t care if the witch and her brat have to fend for themselves!”
“I can’t do it! You’re too important! To lose you a second time would devastate my people! We’ve already lost so much! Don’t ask me to sacrifice our future!”
“I’m not Mythal”.
“Nae”, agreed Felassan. “You’re so much more”.
“I won’t change my mind”.
Ellana sighed. “You’re being unreasonable”.
“So are you”.
The silence that followed was fraught with tension.
Morrigan wondered what Felassan had meant. She regarded Ellana with curiosity, though her stomach churned with dread. She saw an elven maid as pretty as a flower. Morrigan might’ve thought her Antivan by the bronze of her skin. The silver of her hair wasn’t that unusual, not even when combined with the green of her eyes.
It was the brightness that burned there like a flame inside a lantern that set Ellana apart. Morrigan might’ve thought it ambition if she hadn’t known better. Ellana had abdicated her position as the Inquisitor. A seat of power that had once brought the Empress of Orlais to her knees. Ellana was an ordinary elven woman again with as much clout as an Orlesian chambermaid.
She would always be respected, even feared but her name didn't have the political weight it once had. She was plain old Ellana now, a Dalish elf without vallaslin. A wanderer and a vagrant, not belonging to anything or anyone. Morrigan had never thought that it might be an intentional disguise. She thought of the black cat that had looked at her with those selfsame jade-green eyes.
No elf had ever returned her scrutiny with that bold feline wildness. There had always been a kindness there too, an empathy that had often made her feel small, young, and helpless. And for a moment it was as if she were that little girl again, lost, and crying in the woods all alone. Morrigan shook off the nostalgia with difficulty, her skin goosepimpling in shame. She felt her face heat when Ellana glanced her way.
“Are you all right?” she asked with an earnestness that made Morrigan feel self-conscious.
“You don’t look fine”.
“I’m not the one you should be worried about”, replied Morrigan with more sharpness than she’d intended. It did the trick. Ellana wasn’t offended, though she did frown as if she wasn’t quite convinced. Morrigan was relieved when the weight of her gaze eased. Ellana’s attention shifted to Felassan quicker than a bird fluttering its wings.
“You’re right of course. Some things must be a compromise despite my own misgivings. I might be a goddess, but I don’t always get what I want. How infuriating. And here I’d been under the impression that a celestial being could do anything they bloody well wanted too”.
Felassan was grim. “You could force me to do what you wanted”.
Ellana snorted. “And where would be the fun in that?” she teased. “You know I like a good argument. But you’ve made your point, da’len. I concede. I don’t like it, but I can accept your decision with grace”.
Morrigan was surprised by Ellana’s willing capitulation. Her reply was still a little stiff even if she’d acknowledged Felassan’s opposition to the idea. He wouldn’t budge even with the shadow of Solas looming over them. The danger was real, but something about Ellana made this ancient elven recluse want to risk his life. The significance of Felassan’s gesture intrigued and puzzled Morrigan.
“So be it”, said Ellana with unexpected sadness. “Garas ma”, she declared, beckoning to them. “Let’s be on our way”. Ellana turned away from the table, moving towards the hearth. She paused near the mantle, knees bending as she crouched down before the grate.
She ignored Morrigan’s fearful hiss when she reached inside barehanded.
Flames licked her skin, the embers popping when her fingers closed around them. Ellana withdrew a fistful of glowing red-hot coals. She blew on them as if they were the fluffy-white seed heads of dandelions. The coals ignited in a swirling flurry of yellow sparks. Ellana invoked a spell in a language Morrigan didn’t recognise.
It wasn't harsh like the common-tongue or lyrical like the elven language. It was more akin to the roar of frothing white-waves crashing onto a beach. Less pronounceable vowels, syllables, and consonants and more a rush of sound. Morrigan thought her ears might bleed when she heard the grinding of steel on stone. She gaped in astonishment when the bricks of the hearth rolled backward.
A hole appeared in the chimney’s rear wall, growing larger by the moment. Morrigan rose from her seat when that hole became an archway. The stones stilled in their shifting, settling into a new configuration. It took Morrigan’s breath away when the fire licking about Ellana’s fingers froze. Each tongue of flame grew long and jagged like a piece of stained glass in an iron-wrought frame.
Morrigan stared, crossing the floor to investigate. She gasped when Felassan grabbed her by the arm. She studied the pale fingers digging like claws into the sleeve of her shirt. She felt the callouses on his skin through the thin fabric. The heat of his hand, the wiry strength of it reminded her of Mahariel.
Morrigan blushed. She wasn’t offended by Felassan’s forwardness. She was a married woman but she didn’t mind his attention. She was loathe to admit that Felassan reminded her of Mahariel. The husband she loved, and missed with all her heart.
Felassan’s concern was almost too painful to bear.
“Not a step closer. You’ll be cut to pieces”.
Morrigan yanked her hand free. “Don’t touch me”, she grumbled, more furious with herself than with Felassan. She gave him a dirty look until he stepped away, his hands raised to pacify her. Morrigan’s indignation was an adequate disguise for her embarrassment. She eyed Felassan as if he were some kind of pervert intent on flipping her skirts.
His apology irked her.
Felassan reddened when Ellana glanced over her shoulder, interceding on his behalf. Her explanation was crude. Morrigan couldn’t believe her audacity. Ellana's honesty suggested Felassan had done something wrong. A fact that flustered more than it infuriated him. Morrigan was appalled when he didn’t deny that he found her attractive.
“She’s married, Da’len”, called Ellana. “If you want a bedmate, go and fish in someone else’s sea”.
“She’s pretty for a shemlen I agree”, replied Felassan. “But I wasn’t taking advantage of her. I was preventing her from stomping into the hearth after you. The fire is frozen, but not contained. It’s better that she doesn’t set herself alight”.
“You don’t think so?”
“She’s a mage and so are you”, declared Ellana. “Throwing fire-spells is something mages do on a daily basis. Setting oneself on-fire isn’t recommended, but it happens with more frequency than you’d think. Solas did it on more than one occasion on the battlefield. Vivienne used to take the piss out of him every time she saw the tails of his coat burning”.
Felassan was dumbstruck by the news. “Really?”
“He’s an arsehole, but he’s not fireproof”.
Ellana paused, going quiet again. She eyed Felassan in the slow considerate way of a predator sizing up its prey. She snapped her fangs, grinning when he flinched. She chortled when he cursed in elvish, delighting in his discomfort. Her smile was wicked as she turned to the hearth.
Felassan sulked in silence, glaring at the back of her silver head.
Each tongue of frozen flame was as long as Ellana’s forearm, and transparent like a piece of stained glass. Morrigan saw shades of yellow, vermillion, scarlet, and a rusty burgundy. She was intrigued when Ellana flicked one with a thumb, the sound high and sweet like the tinkling of a silver bell. Morrigan was fascinated when her fingers unfurled to reveal the hot coals still in her hand. Ellana cast them at the flames, whispering in a language softer than silk.
The flames shattered into a thousand red-gold shards that scattered without falling. Morrigan was amazed when each fragment hung in mid-air as if suspended inside a spider’s web of magic. She couldn’t see the shining threads, but she felt the thrum of power pulsing like a beating heart. It lasted a single glorious moment until Ellana waved her hand.
The shards flew into the darkness like shooting stars. Their blazing trails illuminating the cavernous hall beyond. Morrigan glimpsed a sandy floor with sheer rocky walls. Ellana flicked her fingers as if she were directing a choir. The shards shot upward like meteors to reveal a plethora of crystals embedded in stone.
Light reflected across a thousand facets in dazzling flashes of silver and gold. It was as if the hall’s high ceiling was covered in a sea of mirrors. Crystals protruded from the stone like horns. Some were sharp and pointed, while others were flat and rounded. Morrigan gaped when Ellana snapped her fingers.
And one by one each of those glassy shards of flame entered the gleaming facets of the largest crystal. It was gargantuan, thrusting downward from the cavern roof like a Chantry steeple. All about it grew smaller clusters of crystals, each of varying shades and colours. Morrigan didn’t see Ellana’s eyes aglow like twin furnaces in her bronzed face.
She did see that enormous crystal burst into flame like a lantern with a heart of fire. Light flooded the stone corridor. Morrigan squinted in the brightness, near blinded until her eyes adjusted. She heard the ruffle of fabric, the spitting of sparks as if someone were trying to strike a flame to tinder. Morrigan watched Ellana rise to her feet.
She stepped over the hearth’s iron grate, kicking up ash. The heels of her boots crunched the still smouldering coals underfoot. Ellana didn’t pause or look back. She kept moving forwards, uncaring if Morrigan and Felassan were hesitant to follow. She goaded them with a simple question.
“Are you two coming or staying behind?”
Felassan rolled his eyes when Morrigan proved reluctant.
“The coals are still hot!” she cried. “Not everyone can walk through fire without getting burned!”
“Not everything is as it appears to be”, cooed Ellana. “You’ll have to show her, Felassan. I did tell you that she doesn’t trust me. Be kind. It’s been a decade since Morrigan has had to rely on anyone other than Mahariel”.
Felassan snorted. “I’m not holding her hand”. He shouldered passed Morrigan, his head shaking as if he thought her a fool. He moved towards the hearth, lifted a leg, and stepped over the iron grate. He ignored Morrigan’s pained hiss when he planted a bare foot in the blazing coals.
Morrigan expected to hear a cry of agony, and to smell the stink of charred skin, hair, and leather. Felassan walked through the fire, the coals rolling away beneath his bare feet. He ambled down what appeared to be a lengthy hallway, completely unaffected. He had neither screamed in pain nor found himself set aflame. His faith in Ellana was frightening.
Morrigan scowled when she heard his taunting.
“I thought you wanted to rescue your son? You won’t do a damned thing standing there”.
Morrigan watched him grow smaller as he walked into the distance. He soon joined Ellana at the end of that hall, speaking with her in hushed tones. Morrigan couldn’t hear what was said. She suspected that they were conversing in that obscure elvish dialect. What better way to hide a secret out in the open?
She was still unsure when Ellana turned around. Morrigan saw her raise a single stern finger to silence Felassan. She said nothing as she looked back. There were no encouraging words, or the hasty beckoning of her hand. Ellana peered at her as if she were gazing through a window.
Morrigan continued to tarry, still indecisive until Ellana mouthed a name. Kieran. Her feet were moving before she could stop herself. The heels of her boots clicking until she came upon the hearth’s iron grate. It was sooty and stunk of ash.
Morrigan swallowed her fear, stepping over that grate into the unknown. She braced herself for the wash of heat through the soles of her boots. She paused, feeling nothing, and glanced down at her feet. There was no stink of burning leather. No flames crawling up her calves.
Morrigan bent her knees and crouched inside the hearth. She reached into the coals, frowning when her fingers closed around them. They were warm to the touch, not hot as she’d expected. The coals were hard, gritty, and large and small in size. Morrigan opened her hand, fingers splaying wide.
Grey sand trickled away to reveal a fine dust and a handful of translucent red and yellow pebbles. Each was the size of a fingernail, hard, and rounded like a piece of broken glass with its edges ground smooth. Each pebble glowed as if it were aflame. She studied the supposed ash beneath her feet too. Morrigan sniffed, bewildered when she smelt the briny tang of salt on the air. She cocked her head when she heard the distant rumble of thunder.
She was likely somewhere high enough to overlook the sea. Morrigan felt as if she were out of place. She looked from the sandy floor to the walls, wondering if a mortal had ever set foot here. Stone rose all about her high and steep, its surface ground smooth like the pebbles. There wasn’t a line of mortar, or a stack of bricks, or a mound of rounded river stones in sight.
These walls hadn’t been erected by elf or man. They rose into a narrow arch high above her head, forming a natural channel of carved stone. Morrigan saw what years of flooding and near constant erosion had done in an enclosed space. The hall was wide enough for ten men to march abreast. The ceiling over forty feet up to its narrowest point and thirty feet across at its widest.
It’d been underwater at some point, submerged in a sea of brine for years if not centuries. It should’ve been daunting, even terrifying but it wasn’t. The stony walls had an odd beauty when Morrigan considered how they were lit. That gigantic central crystal high overhead blazed in shades of amber and scarlet. The hall was better lit than a dungeon by firelight.
Morrigan looked behind herself. She saw the iron grate, the stone hearth, and the candlelit parlour beyond. The transition from mortared stone to sheer rock was seamless. The coals glowing in the hearth were little more than bright sun-kissed pebbles. The steaming ash was grey sand flecked with black.
Nothing was as it’d appeared to be.
“It’s a façade”, whispered Morrigan. “A lie within a lie”. She recalled what Ellana had told her earlier that same day. It made an eerie sort of sense considering her circumstances. She was promised to a deity of the Avvar pantheon, and the beloved of an apostate that’d posed as a god.
When one such as I walks among mortals. Disguises are necessary.
Ellana must’ve found the irony delightful.
“No wonder she likes Solas”, muttered Morrigan. “They’re the same”.
She was discomforted by that notion, grimacing as she rose to her feet. She cast the glowing pebbles back into the sand, wondering if Ellana could be trusted. Felassan seemed to think so, though Morrigan thought him biased. If Ellana were as important to the elves as he’d declared than the argument in the parlour hadn’t been about her at all. It’d been about something Ellana was trying to hide.
Had Felassan been sworn to silence?
Morrigan dusted off her hands, head shaking as she peered down at her clothes. She wore her own ragged black boots, though her skirt, breeches, belt, shirt, and mantle were new. Morrigan had always preferred dark colours. Her wardrobe reflected that in shades of black and burgundy. She might’ve thought Ellana’s choices were too reserved if not for the way the fabric shimmered when she moved.
It was subtle, maybe even a trick of the light but Morrigan noticed the faint iridescence. Whether black or that deep earthy red, her clothes had the faint sheen of a rainbow in a pool of oil. It was beautiful if subtler than Morrigan was used too. There was no plunging neckline, no bare midriff, or the chill of cold air down her back. Ellana had her covered from neck to navel.
Morrigan wasn’t sure if it was an exercise in modesty or a critique of her wardrobe.
Knowing Ellana it was likely both.
Morrigan steeled her nerves, and walked down that stone corridor. She soon rejoined her host and Felassan, noting how the sandy floor gave way to bedrock. A stairway was hewn into the stone, leading down into a pool filled with something dark and viscous. Morrigan was wary when she saw what stood at the foot of those stairs. It was broad and deep, with a rim that extended outward in a broad circle.
Morrigan was reminded of the Vir’abelasan, though this pool made her skin prickle with unease. She wasn’t sure if it was water, so she ventured closer to take a better look. She was surprised when Felassan grabbed her arm again – his fingers tight about her wrist. His warning was immediate.
“Not another step”.
“I was curious”.
“Enough to die?”
Morrigan was anxious when he shook his head, slow and deliberate as if he were sharing a terrible secret.
“The creature that guards this cave is old, hungry, and vengeful. It only abides our presence because Ellana is with us. Don’t tempt fate, witch. You and I would be torn to pieces if the Watcher had its way. Its lair is Ellana’s abode not ours”.
Felassan yanked on her arm, dragging her back from the stairs. Morrigan pursed her lips, intent on protesting until Ellana echoed Felassan’s warning.
“Heed him. This isn’t the Vir’abelasan filled with the souls of Mythal’s deceased acolytes. This pool is the pathway between worlds. While I can traverse it safely, you cannot without my help. The Watcher is ravenous enough to swallow you whole. Let’s not tempt it more than we already are. Stay away from the water until it’s safe”.
Ellana left them and made her way down the stairway. She reached the lower landing, and walked to the water’s edge. Its tar-like surface rolled and washed about the toes of her boots as if in anticipation. Morrigan was nervous when Ellana stepped into that pool. She was fully clothed from neck to toe, garbed in green, black, and brown.
The weight of her clothing, once saturated would’ve made staying afloat impossible. Morrigan remembered the hidden knives, the weight of steel on Ellana's person. She was sure to have drowned in the sea, a lagoon, or a river. Morrigan wondered if her fate would be the same here too. She was intrigued when Ellana didn't sink into the murk.
Something rose out of the water, solidifying beneath the soles of her boots. Her footfalls were muffled as if she were walking on something soft and spongy. Morrigan recoiled when she glimpsed raw-red sinew strung between struts of black bone. Felassan slapped his hand over her mouth. He hissed in her ear, voice tinged with alarm.
“Don’t scream. Whatever you see”.
It was long, thick, and sturdier than anything fashioned by the hands of men. Morrigan trembled when the thing Ellana walked on lifted her clear of the water. It was bone, but colossal in size, each vertebrae locked to the next by coils of muscle. It bled that viscous blackness like water though Morrigan didn't see a wound. There wasn’t skin, but a moving lattice of sinew, bone, and muscle that contracted to bear Ellana aloft.
Morrigan panted, chest heaving when she heard something strange. It was soft at first, a dull repetitive sound like rain pelting a rooftop. It grew louder with each breath she took as if it were approaching from a great distance. She stared at Ellana’s back, the silver strands of her hair fluttering about her shoulders. They were inside a cavern, surrounded by stone on all sides yet Ellana was being buffeted by the wind.
Morrigan gave Felassan a fearful glance, the whites of her eyes rolling.
"Don't move, or speak", he cautioned. "You don't want to draw its attention. Let Ellana deal with the Watcher. It adores her but it would sooner devour us given the chance. Be calm, be quiet, and trust her to keep us safe".
Morrigan nodded when she saw how pale Felassan was. There was a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead too. His eyes were thin slits beneath his furrowed brows. He kept his hand clamped tight over her mouth. Morrigan was keenly aware of the strength in his fingers, and the warmth, weight, and smell of him.
Felassan had pressed himself tight to her side. The sharp point of his elbow dug into her belly. Morrigan might've blushed like a maiden if she hadn't felt the bones of his wrist jammed into her cleavage. She nudged Felassan in the ribs trying to get his attention. He ignored her in favour of watching Ellana.
Morrigan bit his thumb in retaliation.
Felassan endured the pain. He didn’t dare raise his voice whilst there was a mass of moving muscle and sinew beneath Ellana’s feet. It expanded and contracted like blood pumping through an artery. The thick oily blackness poured from it like water. The grotesqueness might've been easier to stomach if not for that wretched noise.
It was steady, rhythmic, and repetitive.
Morrigan went still when the pool rippled. Felassan heard her sharp intake of breath when something breached the surface. He felt her go still against his arm, her jaw slackening in his grip. He swallowed his own trepidation, bracing himself lest she scream. He was relieved when Morrigan froze instead. He kept a firm hold on her whilst a gigantic dragon-like skull emerged with a wet gurgle.
It was fashioned from that same oozing black bone. A lattice of muscle and sinew criss-crossed its vertebrae like wire. Felassan trembled when its jaw unhinged to expose two rows of jagged black teeth. A slick red tongue lashed at the air as it inhaled a deep breath as if it were alive. The enormous skull turned, its neck coiling as if to strike. Felassan saw the flash of green in the bony hollows of its eye-sockets, though he didn’t see any fleshy white orbs.
There burned instead twin balls of emerald flame. The creature had eyes of Veilfire, a magic as ancient as it was volatile. Felassan didn’t blame Morrigan in the least when she drew back in fright. She kept still, neither batting an eyelid, nor shuffling her feet. She was quiet as a mouse too.
Felassan lifted his hand from her mouth, pressing a calloused finger to her lips. He shared a single look with her, asking for her continued silence without words. Morrigan nodded when she heard the stretch and twang of sinew. A drum-like beat filled the air, thrumming like a living thing. Felassan gave her a stricken look, bracing himself to face the beast Ellana had roused.
Morrigan glimpsed fear in the violet depths of his eyes. He took a fortifying breath. In a rare moment of camaraderie, they were both afraid of what lay before them. They shared a companionable nod, and as one they faced the horror. Morrigan saw a ribcage of black bone, and inside it a heart as red as fresh blood. It glistened in the light shed by the crystals high above, wet, warm, and full of unnatural life.
Morrigan at first thought it a nightmarish example of necromancy. A fell creature fashioned from reanimated flesh by dark magic. Yet there was a notable absence of that foul stench of death. She couldn't smell rotting meat, or see any tell-tale signs of decay. The creature's bones, muscle, sinew, and its giant beating heart were hale. These were no fresh pickings from a corpse, but something more perturbing.
Morrigan gaped when Ellana lifted her hand as if to pet it. The creature purred with a guttural rumble like steel grinding on stone. The vertebrae of its neck was a sinuous curve arching high over that pool of black water. That gargantuan skull swayed back and forth as Ellana waved her hand from side to side. Morrigan heard the click of its black bones, the twang of its sinewy muscle, and the pulsations of its heart.
It made for a hypnotic if macabre lullaby.
There was visceral twist of wrongness in her gut when Ellana called to the beast. The timbre of her voice was soft and sibilant like the hissing of a serpent. There were words, though none Morrigan could understand. The creature’s veilfire eyes smouldered like torches insides its skull. That same intelligence she’d seen reflected in Ellana’s gaze was present there too.
Morrigan tensed when Ellana’s hand stilled. The creature paused, its neck outstretched until she called out again. The beast was docile as a lamb as it lowered its great black skull, the vertebrae of its neck bending with it. Ellana went quiet when its jaw unhinged like that of a snake, exposing the fleshy insides of its mouth. Rows of serrated teeth became bony black stairs that flattened for an easy climb.
The thick scarlet mass of its tongue became a glistening red carpet. Its gargantuan canines, dripping gore framed the doorway of its open mouth. The fibrous walls of its jaws, oozing oily saliva were still as stone. The hollow of its throat that should have led down into a dark abyss was pale instead. Morrigan glimpsed daylight in that arch of flesh and black bone.
She saw the familiar gilded rim of a pool filled with water.
It was the Vir'abelasan, surrounded by yellow paving stones crusted with lichen.
Morrigan couldn't believe it when the creature’s lower mandible sat atop the bony bridge of its spine. She was bewildered when Ellana moved forwards not once looking back. It had to be another test of their fortitude as she climbed those black steps alone. Morrigan saw how Felassan hesitated for a moment as if he were unsure. It didn’t last long, and he too soon left her side.
He inhaled a shaky breath as he climbed down those stone stairs. He came to the pool’s edge, took another deep breath, and braced himself. He placed first one bare foot and then another atop that bridge of black bone. He paused at first as if to check if the Watcher had moved. The beast was still as stone, its maw open wide, and its jagged teeth as flat as wooden planks.
Morrigan’s heart was in her throat as she watched him cross the bridge. He was soon climbing into the Watcher’s mouth, his bare feet slapping on those bony steps. He followed Ellana without once looking back to check if Morrigan would do the same. His ascent was slow and measured as if taking each step took every ounce of his will. He was being braver than Morrigan thought she would be.
And as Felassan climbed, she was left on her own. A hairsbreadth away from running, she considered her options. She could retreat to the hut or follow Ellana up those grisly stairs. She thought of Kieran, left alone at the mercy of Solas. She gazed at the Watcher and its enormous mouth. The decision was easy even if summoning the courage was difficult.
Morrigan followed Felassan’s example, though every step was agony.
Her feet dragged as she forced herself down that first flight of stairs. It seemed to take an eternity to reach that pool of rippling black water. She ignored the visceral twist of fear in her guts when she set a booted foot atop that bridge of bone. She took one step, than another, and in a blur of motion ran across it until she reached the Watcher’s mouth.
Her worst fear had come alive in a matter of moments. She was about to be devoured by a nightmare as large and vicious as an ogre. Morrigan placed a booted foot on the stairs made from the Watcher’s own teeth. Each was as large as a boulder and flat as a paving stone. They were thick like the trunk of a tree though Morrigan didn’t stick around to count growth rings.
She flew up that bony stairway as if a fire had been lit under her arse. It might’ve taken a second or an eternity for her to ascend it. Morrigan’s only concern was to keep going, not to think about where she'd placed her feet. She would've kept climbing if a gentle hand hadn't clasped her shoulder. She stiffened, head snapping upwards.
She was startled when a pair of jade-green eyes regarded her with concern. It was Ellana rather than Felassan that met her on the bony landing between the Watcher’s jaws. Morrigan trembled whilst Ellana gauged her reaction. She was glad to be reunited with them. It still wasn’t any less frightening to be inside the Watcher’s mouth.
But it was a relief to be in Ellana’s company again.
She felt immensely safer.
Morrigan nodded, careful to keep her silence. She followed when Ellana beckoned, climbing one last set of stairs onto a dais. It was there that Felassan stood, facing an archway of flesh fused with bone. Its surface was like that of an active Eluvian, rippling like water as if it were ruffled by the wind. Ellana and Morrigan joined him there to watch the scene unfolding at the Temple of Mythal.
Solas, a contingent of sentinel elves, and Kieran were gathered about the Vir'abelasan. Although it was not what Morrigan had expected. Abelas and Solas were arguing whilst the sentinel elves surrounded Kieran. Morrigan had expected to see them keeping her son under guard, but they were not. They had arrayed themselves about Kieran in a wall of gilded armour, their eyes not on the boy but on Solas.
“They’re protecting him”, said Felassan. “A shemlen child. How unlike them”.
Morrigan was horrified. Weren’t they supposed to be quiet lest the Watcher hear them?
“It’s all right, sweetling”, soothed Ellana. “The danger is passed. The Watcher will sleep until I release it from my spell. It’s quite safe for us to converse as we watch them through the Eluvian overlooking the Vir'abelasan. On Solas’ side the Eluvian is inactive, its glass black but on this side it's quite different".
“How is that possible?” asked Morrigan with trepidation. She didn’t believe that the Watcher was asleep. The thing still had ears didn’t it? She glanced upwards, painfully aware of the powerful jaws open above their heads. She wasn’t about to take any unnecessary risks no matter what Ellana said.
“All Eluvians are interconnected like the roots of a plant spread across Thedas. Where one leads, another can be found not far away”. She gestured to the archway lodged inside the Watcher’s gargantuan throat. “Is this not an Eluvian too?”
“Does it matter?”
“It matters to me!” she hissed. “I like being alive!”
“Maker’s breath”, swore Ellana. “Rousing the Watcher was the quickest way to get us to where we needed to be. The how we got here isn’t as important as the reason why. We’re going to rescue your boy or have you changed your mind?”
“Of course not!”, hissed Morrigan, her voice escalating. “Rescuing Kieran is still our priority! But I will not be led around by the nose! Tell me what’s going on! I’m not being unreasonable!”
“That’s a matter of perspective”.
Felassan was quick to take sides.
“She isn’t being unreasonable at all”, he stated with certainty. “You’re leading her blindly from one place to another. How is the witch supposed to trust anything you say? You’ve led her on a merry chase across Orlais, through a hearth full of fire, and down the gullet of a giant serpent. An intelligent person would’ve asked questions before they’d followed you this far”.
Morrigan gave him a dirty look. She’d appreciated Felassan’s support until that last backhanded compliment. She folded her arms across her chest with a surly glare. She wasn’t about to let Ellana charm her way out of this one. Felassan had baited the hook, now she intended to land the fish.
“What he said, but without the smartass comment that implies I’m an idiot”. Morrigan scowled when Felassan grinned from ear to ear. He was wicked, gorgeous, and downright rude not that he cared one wit if he’d caused offense. “Stop smirking you, twit!”
He laughed at her expense, unrepentant.
“How interesting”, remarked Ellana. “Felassan likes you, and he doesn’t much like anyone”. She gave Morrigan an appraising look. “It’s strange how things can change, yet somehow stay the same. World after world, aeon after aeon. It’s more reassuring than you know”.
“What’re you talking about?” demanded Morrigan.
“You wouldn’t understand”.
“Because I’m mortal?”
“It has nothing to do with your mortality”, clarified Ellana. She raised a hand to quieten Morrigan when she tried to argue. “It involves fate, reincarnation, and all sorts of predestined bullshit I’d rather not get into. That’s why you wouldn’t understand, and neither would Felassan. I’m older than either of you could imagine, with a memory dating beyond the first incarnation of Thedas”.
That got Felassan’s attention. “That’s impossible”.
“How would you know?” challenged Morrigan.
“Because, witch. Ellana would be older than the world at the dawn of time. She can’t have lived before the creation of Thedas”, he insisted. “Nothing was alive. There was only darkness in the void. And it was empty”.
“Of course I can’t be older than dirt”, lamented Ellana with an air of sarcasm. “I suppose Thedas began because Elgar’nan shat himself into existence alongside Mythal. Then they fornicated for millennia until Mythal fell pregnant. After a suitable period of gestation, she then spat out the rest of those twats in the elven pantheon. Then together they created the sun, the moon, and the stars thereby enkindling the void with life”.
“Well that is what the ancient legends state”, claimed Felassan. “Albeit with more poetry and less crudeness”.
Ellana rolled her eyes. “How gullible are you? The stories about the first creation are utter bullshit. Elgar’nan and Mythal were born thousands of aeons later, along with the rest of the elven pantheon. Solas wasn't wrong when he claimed the Evanuris were false gods”.
Felassan stared at her, his violet eyes wide with incredulity. “You know about the rebellion he led against them?”
“Of course I do”, revealed Ellana as if the event were an insignificant footnote in the lengthy annals of her life. “I was in Arlathan posing as a servant in Mythal’s court when the rioting started. I helped Abelas evacuate the acolytes in the city to the temple in the Arbor Wilds. He and his fellow sentinels remember me because I’ve kept the same face”.
“You mean that you look the same now as you did then?”
“My hair is shorter, and I don’t wear dresses these days if I can help it. It’s damned near impossible to fight in a robe and not trip over my own feet. It’s even worse trying to avoid being set on fire whilst I’m running away from a dragon. Burnt hair smells like arse, but charred wool stinks like rotten eggs. I don’t know if it’s the fabric or the dye”.
“It’s the fabric”, asserted Morrigan. She was gawking at Ellana as if she couldn't believe what she’d heard. “If you were born before Thedas existed, before even Mythal, and the Evanuris came into being. Then all that Solas believes is a lie. The theology of ancient Elvhenan is a fabrication”.
“I was never able to convince anyone otherwise”, complained Ellana. “Mythal was a convincing liar. It was easy for the Elvhen to believe her stories when she wielded considerable power. Fear held them in check as surely as envy and awe over all she could do. Taming dragons, swaying Elgar’nan to peace over war, and subduing the titans of the earth”.
“Why didn’t you do anything?” demanded Felassan. “You’re a goddess. You could’ve prevented the fall of Arlathan. You might even have curbed the rebellion of the Evanuris against Mythal. If you’d helped than Solas wouldn’t have made the choice he did!”
Ellana gave him a sad look, her face softening with regret. “I did what I could”.
“It wasn’t enough!”
Solas’ former violet-eyed accomplice blanched. He gaped at Ellana as if he were seeing her for the first time. “Ir abelas!” he cried. “I didn’t mean that! Hahren, you must forgive me!”
Morrigan saw the way he cowered. She didn’t doubt that he would’ve fallen to his knees if Ellana had allowed it. He went still when she spoke to him. Her voice was gentle, her tone bereft of anger though Felassan had anticipated her fury. He was shaking when she explained why she hadn’t intervened when Solas had raised the Veil.
“There is nothing to forgive, Felassan. Don’t be afraid. I understand your frustration, but there is a good reason why I didn’t interfere. It’s dangerous for one such as I to exercise my power without restraint. If I had helped Solas act against the Evanuris. I could’ve set half the world aflame with the flick of a finger”.
“Thousands more would’ve died”, concluded Morrigan. “So you chose not to take sides”.
“Yes”, confirmed Ellana. “I helped Abelas evacuate those he could from Arlathan when Solas raised the Veil. The city was torn apart. And Elvhenan fell to ruin. If I had stopped Solas than no one would’ve survived”.
“How do you know that, Hahren?” begged Felassan.
“I know the devastation my power can wreak if left unchecked. Arlathan would've been a city of ghosts. Be glad that the memory of it survives today. The city elves and the Dalish don’t know what they’ve lost. But at least they’re alive, child. It counts for something”.
Felassan wasn’t convinced. “Even if what you’ve said is true. I was part of Mythal’s retinue, serving under Solas. I don’t recall seeing you in Arlathan at all. If I didn’t recognise you than I doubt he did either”.
Ellana shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, he didn’t. For good reason too”.
“What do you mean?”
“How many women serving food and drink do you remember from the banquets in Arlathan?” She nodded when Felassan blushed. “Not a single face, which is why I posed as a servant whilst I was there. The greater chance for anonymity. Servants are seen, but not heard, and aren’t fussed over if they disappear”.
“Clever”, said Morrigan. “Have you always gone amongst the peoples of Thedas that way?”
“In the past. In recent years. I’ve had to become more direct in my dealings with them”.
“Because of Solas?” prompted Felassan.
“Is that why you joined the Inquisition?”
“I’d only intended to steal the Anchor from Corypheus at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. I didn’t expect Solas’ foci to explode. I still can’t believe he didn’t put a containment charm on it. It’s a necessary precaution when dealing with an artefact that can absorb magic. For a talented mage he’s awfully foolish”.
Felassan snorted. “He can’t always be brilliant”.
Ellana smirked. “He’s not fireproof”.
Morrigan flapped a hand to get her attention. “How do the Avvar pantheon fit into your schemes? I doubt Hakkon Wintersbreath forgave your betrayal. He was imprisoned in the flesh of an ice dragon alongside Ameridan for eight hundred years. I’m surprised he hasn’t sought revenge. Or is that but another part of your elaborate plan that has yet to come to fruition?”
Ellana smiled. “You’ll have to wait and see. I’m afraid that we’ve got more important things to do”.
She gestured to the Watcher’s mirror before them, and the occupants within it. Solas arguing with Abelas. The sentinel elves and their circle of gilded steel around Kieran. A snap of her fingers and they were still as if frozen in time. Solas’ lips were peeled back from his teeth as if he were snapping at the air like a wolf baring its fangs. His grey eyes were gleaming in the afternoon sunlight like silver coins.
He glowered at Abelas as if he were an enemy. Morrigan saw the furrow between his brows, the wrinkles in the bridge of his nose. The air in front of his mouth was distorted as if he were in the midst of exhaling a blistering elvish tirade. Solas was enraged by the sentinel’s interference. A glance at Abelas revealed something Morrigan didn’t expect.
His golden eyes were cold as ice beneath his silver brows. There was not an ounce of warmth reflected there as he met Solas’ gaze. His jaw was tight, the line of his mouth grim. He was so furious that he’d intervened on Kieran’s behalf. Morrigan wondered if Abelas was responsible for the sentinel elves protecting her son.
Had Solas suggested something that’d offended him?
And then she came to a startling realisation. Solas, Abelas, the sentinel elves, and Kieran weren’t moving. They were stiff as statues though their eyes held the light and warmth of life. It was as strange as it was disturbing to see them rooted on the spot like trees. Sunlight glinted off gilded shields, armour, and the grim faces of the sentinel elves.
“You can control time”, gasped Morrigan.
“Not in the way you’re thinking”, corrected Ellana. “I can traverse the space between worlds, times, and dimensions. It’s a latent skill more instinctive than exact. Through the Watcher I can pinpoint a specific time and place in the past, present, or future that I can travel too. It’s safest if the period of time is within a few hours to a few days of the present. The road gets a little rockier when it’s not”.
“What do you mean?”
Felassan spoke up before Ellana could elaborate. “What she means. Is that for mortals there are inherent risks to using the Watcher’s Mirror. If you were to use it to travel more than a few hours or days forwards or backwards in time. You’d age rapidly, or even die once you reached your destination”.
Morrigan blanched. “What?”
“It’s why the Watcher was hidden from your kind. Mortals aren’t meant to venture into its lair without protection”. Felassan hurriedly explained when Ellana clucked her tongue. “It’s also why so few of the Elvhen knew of its existence. I’m the first of my people Ellana’s brought here in thousands of years”.
“Of course you are. I’d wondered if you were Elvhen”, said Morrigan. “You’re certainly arrogant enough to be one of them even if you could pass for Dalish. You don’t carry yourself like they do. Too much pride I expect”.
“Solas’ influence”, offered Ellana. “Felassan can’t help what he is”.
The elf in question was the disgruntled source of their discussion. “I can hear you”, he groused. “Stop talking about me like I’m not here”.
Morrigan ignored him. “Did Mythal know about the Watcher and its capabilities?”
“It wouldn’t have mattered if she had known”, grumbled Felassan. “Only Ellana can control it. The beast would devour anyone that entered its domain without her to safeguard them. The Watcher is ever ravenous, often trying to devour itself to sate its own hunger. That’s why it has no eyes, skin or scales, and is only flesh, sinew, and black bone”.
Morrigan grimaced. “How does it survive?”
“Through sheer spite”, explained Ellana. “It’s existence is a constant torment. Whatever it devours of itself regenerates in the pool of its own blood”. She turned, pointing to the inky waters far below the dais they stood upon. “That pool is bottomless, so don’t fall into it. You’ll die of poisoning long before you drown”.
“The Watcher’s blood is toxic?”
“Not to me, but to a mortal or one of the Elvhen”. Ellana gave Felassan a pointed look. “It’s as deadly as it is corrosive. So don’t touch it, drink it, or try to steal a sample of it. Your skin and flesh would melt off your bones like wax in a candle-flame. If that isn't enough to scare you. The moment you tried anything, the Watcher would wake from my spell".
“And gobble us up”, finished Felassan. “Since I’d rather avoid being slowly digested over a thousand years. Try to contain your enthusiasm for ancient draconic poisons. And don’t touch a damned thing inside the Watcher’s cavern, let alone its mouth. If I can keep my hands out of Ellana’s toy-chest of horrors, so can you”.
“Wonderful”, replied Morrigan. She gave their host a wary look. “Do you have anything else that could eat me lurking in a dark corner somewhere?”
She was annoyed by Ellana’s nonchalant shrug.
“Does Solas count?”
Morrigan flushed a lurid red. "No!"
"Why not?" she teased. "I hear he's got quite the talented tongue".
Even Felassan was flustered. "The witch wasn't talking about sex!"
“Neither was I”, stated Ellana. “I meant Solas’ tendency towards bookishness. He’s an ass, but I always liked listening to his stories in Skyhold. He could tell an excellent tale when he wasn’t being arrogant, stubborn, or feeling sorry for himself. He was better than Varric with his turn of phrase. Although there was never enough naughtiness to please me”.
The innocence of her smile belied the mischievous twinkle in her eye.
“That’s why I adore Varric’s prose. He knows how to spin a tale of love and tragedy. I’m convinced he’s using Hawke as a living muse. Or he’s too observant to the misfortune of his friends. He did promise to write a book about me with copious amounts of sex, dragons, and political intrigues”.
And in that moment, Morrigan learned something about Ellana that made her uncomfortable.
“You’re a hedonist”.
“Sweetling”, she cooed. “I’m tens of thousands of years old. I'm a goddess, but it’s not as if I have a harem of gorgeous lads at my beck and call. If I did I wouldn’t have bothered trying to strip Solas out of his pants while he was part of the Inquisition. For all his faults he has a great arse, of course I wanted to grab two handfuls of it”.
Morrigan turned a little green. “Ugh!”
“Liar. I know you detest him. Solas is hardly the kind of loveable chap a girl would be proud to bring home to meet her parents. He’s drowning so deep in the mire of his own guilt that he’s about as cheerful as a wet sock. I wouldn’t have looked twice at him if not for that brilliant mind of his”.
Ellana’s lips parted as she ran the tip of her tongue across her teeth. Felassan shuddered when she arched her brows. Her girlish smile of delight made him nauseous. It turned his stomach to think that Ellana fancied his former Hahren. Solas hadn’t (to his knowledge) taken a lover since the days before the fall of Arlathan.
“Are you toying with him?” he asked apprehensively. “For our sakes, I hope you’re not”. It would spell disaster for them if Ellana was playing another of her games. He’d known she’d had mortal lovers in the past. She’d even had children with some of them though it’d been centuries since she’d last been a mother.
Ellana’s cat-like smile didn’t reassure him. “A little”, she acknowledged with more honesty than Felassan had expected. “But I’m not deceiving him at all. I care about Solas, and I’d return his affection if he weren’t adamant about pushing me away. Even if I tied myself to Hakkon by marriage, I’d still take an earthly consort”.
Ellana astonished Felassan and Morrigan with her candidness. “If I’m to maintain my ties to the peoples of Thedas. I’d need someone to represent their interests after I became part of the Avvar pantheon. If that person can’t be Solas than I’d have to choose from among the remaining Elvhen”. She flapped her hand at Felassan in a gesture of dismissal.
“You’re my ward. I can’t have you sharing my bed. It’d be a violation of the trust between a mentor and her student. Since I intend to undermine Mythal, the Evanuris, and their ilk that yet remain in Thedas. I’d choose an immortal consort. Abelas or one of the sentinel elves would do if they’re willing”.
Felassan was scandalised. “You’d bed one of Mythal’s acolytes?”
Ellana arched a silver brow, and gave him a dry look. “What better way to jab her in the ribs? She'd feel their every pleasure, and hear their cries of ecstasy as if they were her own. The sentinel bond would make certain of that in the most delicious way possible. Oh, Felassan don't look so shocked. You know I'm a vengeful creature by nature”.
He swallowed a tad nervous. “That's a fine plan, but there's a major fault with it”.
“And that is?”
“Solas”, finished Morrigan with an air of finality. “He’s in love with you, obsessive, and vengeful enough to destroy entire civilisations. If he learns the truth about your betrothal to Hakkon Wintersbreath. He’s going to think you’re using him. He’ll demand recompense, even if it means your pretty head on a silver platter”.
“Oh. I know”.
Felassan was astounded by her audacity. “You knew he might try to kill you and you don’t care?”
“You’re missing the point”, said Ellana. “It’s a crucial one”.
Morrigan gawked at her owlishly. She had a terrifying epiphany. “You haven’t strung him along at all. You’re in love with him. And you’re trying to save him from himself. That’s why you revealed yourself to him in Orlais”.
Her face softened with such compassion that Morrigan was moved to tears. She hated Solas, yet she couldn’t help the dread lodging in her chest. Or ignore the weight of uncertainty settling in the pit of her stomach like a stone. Ellana loved Solas with a sincerity that was as honest and true as her own love for Mahariel. Morrigan was worried for one of her dearest friends.
“Don’t be a fool”.
“The heart wants what it wants”, avowed Ellana. “There is no rhyme or reason to it, sweetling. Love in its purest form is the sweetest of all things. I’ve had dalliances aplenty over the course of my life to know that with certainty. I’d show Solas the merits of being loved if he didn’t find me abhorrent”.
She exhaled a weary breath, sighing in disappointment. “I don’t have much choice but to settle for Hakkon. He’s not what I want, but our union would prevent a war with the Avvar pantheon. Thedas wouldn’t become a frozen ice-ball for an eternity. And I’d get shagged out of my brain for the first time in almost five thousand years”.
There was a long uncomfortable pause.
“But?” urged Morrigan. “What is it?”
“Nothing at all”, said Ellana with a sense of finality. She gestured to the mirror before them that was more a window into another world than a doorway. Solas, Abelas, the sentinel elves, and Kieran awaited them in the Temple of Mythal. “We should go. There’s no time like the present”.
“Speaking of time”, called Morrigan. “It’s daylight out there. I left Halamshiral at dusk and arrived at your hut when the sky was dark, the moon high, and the stars were shining. Why isn’t it night at the Temple of Mythal? And how will we arrive there if this mirror isn’t an Eluvian?”
She gestured to the the image of Solas and Abelas still locked in a heated argument. Their tempers were flaring hot enough to burst into flame. Morrigan read the fury in Abelas’ usually stoic expression. He was ready to react with violence though she wondered if that was for his own sake or for Kieran. A look at his opponent made her blood run cold.
Solas' eyes were the dreary grey of thunderclouds ready to burst. He was enraged by Abelas' intervention, though he didn't once acknowledge Morrigan's son. Kieran might as well have been a gnat for all the attention Solas paid him. Morrigan was glad for the reprieve though she ached to reunite with her son. She dared not step through that mirror to confront Solas without Ellana at her side.
What if things went wrong?
Morrigan heard her name. "Y-yes?"
“Let’s rescue your boy”.
“All right, but how do we get there?”
Ellana smirked. “Why we walk through the Watcher’s mirror. It was after all the very thing the first Eluvians built by the elves were based on. They made adjustments of course, but then June always was innovative. It’s a pity he tuned out to be little more than Mythal’s lackey. He was such a bright boy”.
“You said it wasn’t an Eluvian!” accused Morrigan.
“I lied”, revealed Ellana. “And now it’s time to kick the Dread Wolf in the balls”. She smirked with a fox-like slyness. “I’m going to enjoy this”. She giggled with a spine-tingling eeriness that reminded Morrigan of dark dangerous things.
“Leave Solas to me”, she instructed. “Sweetling, stay behind me. Don your fur, Felassan. I want you guarding our flank. Even Solas will think twice about engaging a hound with jaws strong enough to break bone”.
“At once”, replied Felassan. “I suppose you have a plan?”
“Of course I do”.
She raised her left hand, brown fingers brushing the fringe from her face. Morrigan spied the pale icicle of Hakkon’s engagement ring in the lobe of her ear. It sparkled like a diamond amidst the silver of her hair. Ellana smiled when Morrigan saw something blue twinkling on her ring finger. She gaped at the simple band with a floret of sapphires in the shape of a rose.
"Let’s go”, declared Ellana. "I’ve an oath to fulfil".
Felassan shifted shape from an elf into a dog, donning his fur. Morrigan was glad to see the pale mabari again, even when he nosed her fingers. She petted the pale crown of his head, scratching between his ears. Ellana saw the odd moment of camaraderie. She didn't comment on it though the broad smile on her face exasperated Morrigan.
“I like dogs”.
“No you don't”.
Ellana gave her a wink and a smile, beckoning to them with a flick of her fingers. “Garas ma”, she called as she strode to the Watcher’s mirror. Its glassy surface revealed the paved square, and the pool of the Vir'abelasan that lay beyond. Ellana bared her teeth in a savage grin, her green eyes glittered beneath her silver brows. She shivered with excitement when Morrigan warily brought up the rear.
Felassan was right beside her, leaning against her hip in a gesture of comfort.
“Ma serannas”, she whispered, sinking her fingers into the ruff of pale fur around his shoulders. The warmth and solidity of his presence grounded her in the moment. Her skin prickled with unease whilst her stomach churned with nervousness. Morrigan swallowed the bile crawling up her throat. It left the sourness of bitter fear on the back of her tongue.
“Remember”, reminded Ellana. “Leave Solas to me”.
She snapped her fingers, and there was a sudden noise like the tinkling of silver bells. All commotion resumed on the far side of the Watcher's mirror. Morrigan saw Solas' mouth hang open when he saw something unimaginable. Abelas stiffened like a drawn bowstring, his head turning towards the Vir'abelasan. He and Solas saw the black glass of an inactive Eluvian turn silver.
Abelas barked a command in elvish.
The sentinel elves surrounding Kieran pivoted on the balls of their steel-shod feet. Swords and knifes were unsheathed. Spears were aimed like javelins over the sturdy rims of gilded shields. They bristled when three figures emerged from the Eluvian. Elven eyes blue, brown, amber, grey, and gold widened with incredulity.
It was a stern red-haired sentinel that bellowed her name.
“Who else would bother visiting a sourpuss like you?” she replied. She gestured to his companions, ready to slice her into teeny tiny pieces. “Be a sweetheart would you, Ilcen. Ask them to lower their weapons for me. I’ve brought a few friends along that I’d prefer weren’t in danger of being mortally wounded”.
“Indeed”, she confirmed when Morrigan and Felassan the mabari joined her.
Ilcen raised a gauntleted hand, his fingers dropping in a wave of dismissal. The sentinel elves lowered their weapons. Shields were lowered. Spears were thrust skyward. Swords were sheathed. Axes were returned to gilded harnesses across many a broad set of shoulders.
Ellana saw Solas’ eyes go wide when he saw her companions. He stared at Morrigan as if he couldn’t believe that she’d returned. Ellana took the initiative when he tried to speak to her newest charge. He was stunned when she stepped forward, putting herself between them. Ellana clucked her tongue, the brisk shake of her head silencing him.
“If you wanted her back then you shouldn’t have sent her to me. I tend to keep lost things when I find them”. Ellana arched a silver brow when Solas frowned, the grey of his eyes darkening at her statement. “Oh”, she cooed. “Don’t fret. She’s in good hands. Although by involving a third party you’ve changed the rules of our arrangement”.
Morrigan put on a brave face, swallowing her fear when Solas looked her way again. She shied, skittish under the intensity of his gaze. She felt the anger smouldering beneath his skin, the steady thrum of it making her nervous. Solas gave nothing away, his expression neutral though Morrigan sensed otherwise. The magical leash she shared with the sentinel elves amplified Solas' displeasure tenfold.
She drew sympathetic looks from Ilcen, Valoya, and even the ever stern Abelas. Although it wasn't any easier being the sole recipient of Solas' scrutiny. Morrigan tensed, her heart leaping into her throat when Kieran spotted her too. Her darling boy called out in a voice filled with worry and relief. She knew he would've run to her if he'd been able too.
Morrigan said nothing in response, though her eyes shifted from Solas to him. Kieran was a thin strip of black, brown, and burgundy next to the gilded splendour of the sentinel elves. He was short and skinny in the way of an elven child though he lacked their most distinguishing features. Kieran's eyes were small, his face soft and cherubic, and his ears were rounded. Morrigan saw more of herself in the boy than Mahariel.
Kieran was fair as a snowflake, and his irises were a cool amber rather than a vivid sky-blue. He might've looked like her, but Morrigan knew that he was more like his father in mood and temperament. Kieran was quiet, thoughtful, and reserved around those he didn't know well. But he was sly and mischievous when around friends and family. Morrigan hoped that his spirit hadn't been crushed whilst he'd been Solas’ prisoner.
Morrigan pressed a thin finger to her lips when Kieran opened his mouth again. A hasty shake of her head was enough to quiet him. He nodded anxious and afraid, holding his tongue. Morrigan lifted her chin, the bile rising in the back of her throat again. She swallowed it with difficulty, ignoring the acrid taste of her own fear.
She’d done what Solas had asked.
Ellana was here at the Temple of Mythal, although she’d brought along a friend. Morrigan saw Solas go still, the grim line of his mouth falling open in astonishment. He gawked like a fool when a small mountain of soft pale fur pressed against her side. A mabari curled around her legs like a gigantic white cat. A large box-like head sat atop a thick neck, and broad slab-like shoulders.
The hound’s violet eyes shone like amethysts in the sunlight.
Kieran beamed with delight when the beast spotted Solas. Small triangular ears perked with an immediacy that was comical. Even the Dread Wolf was taken aback when the dog’s lips peeled back from its jagged fangs. The soft fur of its muzzle wrinkled as it bared its teeth at him. It growled in warning, the guttural rumble raising the hairs on the back of Morrigan’s neck.
“Solas”, reproved Ellana. “Do stop baiting my mabari. He likes Morrigan, and you’re making her nervous. He’ll take a chunk out of you if you persist on being a poor host. You did invite me out here after all”.
She spread her arms, gesturing to the paved square surrounding the Vir'abelasan.
“I’ve arrived on time. Well within the three days we agreed upon”.
Solas’ rounded on her with a viciousness that surprised even the sentinel elves. Abelas blanched when he spat his accusations with the petulance of a child. The mild-mannered, even-tempered trickster of the elven pantheon was gone. And in his place was a peeved wolf snapping his fangs at the unwelcome vagrant entering his domain.
“You were to come alone!”
Ellana took his accusations in stride. "I would have if you hadn't sent a welcoming party. Morrigan was exhausted when she found me at the Winter Palace in Halamshiral. She hadn't rested, eaten, or slept in two days. She still hasn't because she's been worried sick over the son you kidnapped".
Solas glared at her. "It was a necessary precaution. How was I to trust your word after what I saw in the ruins of the fortress outside Halamshiral?"
He didn't elaborate, though Morrigan got the gist of things. Whatever Ellana had done in the meadow where the Viddasala had died had frightened Solas. She felt the threads of apprehension at the edges of the sentinel bond. He was trying to hold things together, to be courageous but underneath the bluster he was scared. The revelation that even the Dread Wolf could feel fear was as startling as it was unthinkable.
And Ellana had scented that fear like a fox hunting in the under-brush. Morrigan saw how she smiled at Solas. She was enjoying their little spat as if it were a game of wit and will. Not once did Ellana back down, or give ground. She was determined to court the most villainous member of the elven pantheon.
What he wanted didn’t matter at all.
The heart wants what it wants.
“Oh”, Morrigan murmured to herself whilst they argued. “You poor bastard”.
Felassan in his fur-coat agreed with a nervous woof.
“I know. Fenedhis. He doesn’t stand a chance”.