Turning the corner, Lyssa hesitated as she saw Solas. He looked up at the Breach, that big, swirling, green vortex in the sky. His sharp, elegant features seemed nearly timeless in the way he stood unmoving, hands clasped behind his back, the green shimmer deepening the shadows and edges of his figure. There was a nearly ethereal beauty to his face, but what made her stop was the look of longing and sadness she could read in his eyes. It was as if he was trying to look beyond the Breach to whatever lay behind the borders of their reality. It was not that she couldn’t understand it, she felt the lure of the hole in the sky as well. But her heart went out for him at the vulnerability and intensity of the feelings she could read in his features. So far, she had seen only glimpses of this version of him in the few days that they knew each other. Small moments of warmth or genuine amusement, of a sudden intensity in his eyes that spoke of more than the reclusive, quiet apostate he normally appeared to be.
She quietly stepped up to him, following his eyes. “It is mesmerizing, isn’t it?” she asked softly. He blinked, barely suppressing the surprise at her sudden appearance, and quickly schooled his face into his usual calm and detached mask.
Lyssa gave him a small smile. “My apologies,” she said. “I did not mean to startle you.”
Solas cleared his throat as if to overplay his embarrassment at having been caught by surprise and turned towards her. “Herald,” he said by way of greeting and Lyssa flinched.
“Please don’t call me that. Not unless you honestly believe in it,” she pleaded, and he couldn’t hide a small smile at that.
“Very well. What would you like me to call you?” he asked.
Lyssa shook her head at him. “My name will be fine, thank you.” Her eyes went back to the Breach, a thoughtful expression crossing her features as she tilted her head. “I avoid looking too long at it,” she mused after a moment, “for it makes my mind wander to things I cannot change. It makes you forget where you are if you look too long into it. As if that vortex draws you in more and more…” The green swirl seemed to grow as she stared at it, and she quickly blinked and looked back at Solas, shaking off the weird feeling the Breach always caused. He watched her with a curious, thoughtful expression and when he met her eyes, straightened slightly.
“Hera- Lyssa,” he corrected himself quickly. “What can I do for you?”
Lyssa smiled slightly at his attempt to change the subject. “I wanted to ask you if you would care to accompany me on a walk.”
Solas cocked his head, clearly surprised at the question, and asked carefully, “Do they allow you to wander outside alone now?”
She shrugged. “I wouldn’t be unaccompanied after all. But yes. Since they decided their Maker sent me instead of accusing me of being a criminal, they have given me more freedom. I suppose it makes no difference. I am surrounded by watchful eyes at all times anyway.”
Solas let his gaze wander, marking the looks they got from passing people, some curious, some reverent, some quickly averting their eyes when they met his. When he looked back at Lyssa, he found her watching him, still waiting for an answer.
“I… There was something I wanted to talk to you about specifically,” she added, “But I would prefer to do it not in earshot of…”
“Other people?” he asked as she trailed off, but she shook her head.
“Humans,” she clarified very quietly. His eyebrows went up at that, but still, he hesitated. When he didn’t answer, Lyssa couldn’t hide the disappointment at the way he so obviously tried to distance himself from her. More than anyone else she had met since she had woken after her unintentional trip into the Fade, he had woken her interest with his quiet, unobtrusive support and offered knowledge. But it looked like it was not a mutual interest. Or maybe he was just taken aback, either because of his bad experience with the Dalish or because of her status. She took a step backward, casting her eyes down. “Oh. I… understand. My apologies. I will leave you alone.”
Lyssa turned to leave, but Solas quickly held up a hand. “Lyssa,” he said, and she paused, looking back at him. “It is I who has to apologize. Your question took me by surprise. That is why I hesitated. I would be honored to accompany you.”
For a moment her eyes darted over his face, but she couldn’t see any sign of deception, and when he offered her a smile, she returned it, turning slightly in invitation. Together, they walked toward the main gate, passing the watchful eyes of the guards. Cassandra perked up from where she trained when she saw them but did not approach them as they went into the small woods surrounding Haven.
Lyssa took a deep breath as soon as they were out of sight, pausing for a second to look into the snow-covered treetops swaying in the wind. This was what she missed most: the silence of the woods, the feeling of peace she only found here. While she was no longer treated as a prisoner since she had helped seal the Breach, the reverence she got instead wasn’t much better in terms of being watched. It meant that she was still always under scrutiny and had people seek her out all the time. Even more, the mark and the ability to close the rifts that came with it had put her in the middle of everything the new-founded Inquisition did. She was the focus of the Chantry, of every supporter and every opposer, of tactical decisions and of political plays she barely understood. Too rare were the moments where she could be undisturbed in a quiet, calm place. Solas waited patiently until she continued to walk, not pressing her to talk. She appreciated the space he gave her, his presence unobtrusive, and after another few minutes of silence, she said, “Thank you for joining me.”
He returned her smile. “Of course. I must confess you have made me curious. The topic must be a sensitive one if you cannot discuss it in Haven.”
She shrugged and nodded slightly. “In a way, yes. It is not strictly confidential, but I am not comfortable enough around humans to volunteer any information to them. Not about our people at least.”
“Ah,” Solas said, and the tone of his voice made her look up to him. He met her gaze levelly as he asked, “But you trust me with such information?”
“I do,” she confirmed, and something in his features softened.
The question made her pause, and Lyssa thought for a moment before she answered. “It might be because you saved my life. And you are an elven apostate as well a healer, too, and I know what that is like. But mainly because…” She hesitated for a second, thinking about how to summarize all the little things she had noticed about him. The subtle humor he showed in teasing Varric or Cassandra without malice, the way he offered to help with the injured, the joy he found in sharing knowledge. All of it painted a picture of a thoughtful, warm person that stood in stark contrast to the calm, detached and often cool demeanor he tended to show. He was not unfriendly, but appeared detached and sometimes even prideful. She didn’t blame him, considering their still precarious situation, but the warmth she saw behind this mask was part of why she hoped to find a way to connect with him. He watched her somewhat bemusedly while she scrunched up her nose in thought. Finally, she settled on, “Because you care. You care about what happens to everyone, so much so that you offered your help to people that might just as well have killed you as accepted you.”
For a moment, Solas was silent as he looked at her. “I… thank you.”
“Well, and as I said, it is not strictly confidential,” she amended, and he chuckled.
“Fair enough. So it is about the Dalish?”
Lyssa nodded. “I couldn’t stop thinking about what you said about them, how they attacked you without reason. And if you would like, I could try to explain.”
He inclined his head after a short pause, indicating for her to continue.
“You are not one of the People,” she started quietly but stopped when she saw the little twitch in the corner of his lips. “This amuses you,” she said curiously. “Why?”
He raised his eyebrows at her, his eyes slightly narrowed as if he was trying to decipher what she had just said.
“My apologies,” he finally answered somewhat hesitatingly, “I did not mean to offend.”
“I’m not offended,” Lyssa said, drawing her brows together the tiniest bit. “I was just curious why you would be amused by me saying that you’re not one of the People.”
“I…” he started, then shook his head, smiling slightly. “It is nothing. You are correct. I am not one of your people.”
This time, it was Lyssa who shook her head. “No, that is not what I said. I said you’re not of the People. You are not Dalish. But we are of the same people nonetheless.”
His gaze grew more intense as she spoke. “The Dalish I met felt differently on the subject,” he said carefully, and she nodded.
“Yes, there are clans who would disagree with me, who set themselves apart so far from those not born to them that they actively reject everyone else. They say that elves not born to the Dalish are so far apart from Arlathan that they are lost to the People already. Some wouldn’t even talk to me when the clans meet at the Arlathven. But that is not the Dalish per se.”
Solas furrowed his brow slightly. “Why wouldn’t they talk to you?”
“Well, I was not born to the Dalish either. I grew up in the Denerim alienage and came to the Dalish when I was 15. My clan is one of those who does not shy away from sheltering those in need. And more than that, we are willing to learn from those who offer knowledge. You would have been welcome with us.”
“I see,” came the thoughtful answer and for a few steps, there was nothing but the sound of their feet breaking through the harsh, frozen surface of the snow as they wandered beneath the winter trees. The branches creaked in the wind that carried with it the smell of more snow. After a moment of waiting if Solas would say anything else, Lyssa stopped, turning towards him. He looked down at her in surprise as she laid a hand on his arm, her touch light but warm. “What I am trying to say,” she said, looking at him seriously, “is that I would make right the disservice the other clan has done to you. You say you have walked the Fade, seen what we have been trying to piece together from memories and stories and searching ruins. I would gladly share what knowledge I have and learn what you have seen, hahren.”
He paused at the honorary title and something softened in his features as he indicated his head to her. “Ma serannas, da’len.” When she smiled at the official response, he laid his hand upon hers where it still rested upon his arm, squeezing her fingers and added, “If I can offer any understanding, you have but to ask.”
She surprised him with a rare laugh, delight lighting up her whole face and chasing away the haunted, guarded look she usually wore. “Oh, Solas. I am not sure you know what you just did.”
Solas couldn’t help but smile at the open joy that was visible in her features but still, he shook his head in confusion, not quite understanding what she meant. “Why, what…”
Lyssa laughed again. “You just gave me free rein to ask you questions. I am a Keeper. Or, will be a Keeper one day, when I return,” she amended, taking her hand off his arm and starting to walk again, her smile fading as she thought, ‘ if I return.’ Then she collected herself again, looking up at Solas as he kept pace beside her. “In any case, I am one of those who preserve what knowledge we have and add to it whatever we can. In short, I am curious. So you will have to be prepared for a lot of questions. I apologize in advance.”
Solas looked at her for a long moment, and Lyssa was pleasantly surprised to detect genuine delight in his face. In the few days she now knew him, he had mostly been guarded and drawn back. But she could see none of that in his face now, only open joy and warmth and for the first time, she felt a connection between the two of them as he turned towards her.
“Never apologize for the willingness to learn,” he said and gave her an honest and open smile that she returned with delight. It was rare that she met someone who acknowledged or even matched her enthusiasm for learning and knowledge.
“Can I ask you something?” Solas asked as they turned back towards Haven again, and Lyssa nodded. “Of course.”
“You are wearing the vallaslin of Sylaise, are you not?”
She looked at him curiously, but the carefully guarded mask had come back on. For someone not part of the Dalish, he had quite the eye for details. And indeed more knowledge about her culture she had ever seen someone display who was not one of the People. After a moment she confirmed, “I am. Why are you asking?”
“I was wondering why.”
Lyssa blinked. “Why?” she repeated, unsure what he meant.
“Yes. Why her? Why not some other… god?” He was not looking at her as he posed the question, but despite his carefully arranged neutral face, she could see the small, involuntary twitch in his face that showed he was not quite as detached as he wanted to seem. She watched him for a moment, pondering the question, before she answered, “We choose the God we want to honor with our vallaslin ourselves. I chose Sylaise because… well, because she is the protector of the hearth, the healer and wielder of fire. We honor her when we built a home, when we light a fire. She is the one who taught us how to heal with herbs and magic. It is what I found with my clan: a home. It is where I learned to heal. And fire magic, her magic, is the element that comes most naturally to me.” She held out her palm and summoned a small flame, turning it into the blue-white healing light that by now was as second nature to her as her fire, swirling softly before it burst into a thousand little sparks that sank into the snow as she closed her fingers above it. “She stands for peace and protection. By wearing her vallaslin, I honor that.”
Solas nodded, his guarded mask having softened to a thoughtful expression. “I see.” After a small pause, he continued, “Judging from the way you talk about your clan… you must miss them. If I may ask - why are you still here?”
“I do miss them. Very much.” Lyssa looked down at her hands and bit her lip to keep the sudden pain that welled up in her at bay. “But I don’t have much choice, do I? I am the only one who can close the rifts, who can do something to save all of us. And if I didn’t do it voluntarily, they would come for my clan and force me to.”
Solas cocked his head. “You could always disappear. As a Dalish, you must be schooled in the ways of not being seen.”
“I am, but I really couldn’t. And if you knew me better, you wouldn’t have asked.” She smiled wistfully. “Thia, my best friend, calls me dalathin. It means…”
“Little heart,” he translated in a soft voice. “One who cares a lot about others, who feels the plight of others as their own.”
For a long moment, she looked at him. “Yes,” she finally confirmed quietly.
He nodded thoughtfully and another silence fell between them before he took the conversation up again.
“When I cared for you back when you first stumbled out of the Fade, you mumbled a name while you lay unconscious. Nelos. Is that someone from your clan as well?”
Lyssa took a deep breath, shaken by the suddenness of hearing his name. And by someone who hadn’t known him.
Solas looked at her and when he saw her eyes, stopped immediately and put a careful hand on her arm. “I upset you with my question. Ir abelas, Lyssa. Please don’t feel compelled to answer if you don’t want to. I did not mean to cause you pain.”
“I know,” she murmured and gave him a tiny smile. “And it’s alright. I just wasn’t expecting anyone here to talk about him. Nelos was my husband. He was killed by humans in an attack on the clan a few years ago.”
She could hear Solas’ sharply draw in some air at her words and his voice was very soft as he said, “I am sorry. I know how it is to lose loved ones. I should not have asked.”
As she looked up at him, Lyssa could see that he indeed spoke from experience, and her heart eased somewhat at the shared emotion.
“It really is all right, Solas,” she assured him, “I was just surprised. I have buried and mourned him long ago and carry his memory with me.”
She gave his hand a little squeeze, and he seemed relieved not to have caused her grief.
“Ma serannas,” he said earnestly. “For sharing all this with me.”
Lyssa inclined her head with a smile, and they continued their way in silence, turning back out of the woods and onto the path towards Haven. It was not an uncomfortable silence, though. For the first time since her waking, Lyssa felt like she had made a real connection with someone here and started to build true, mutual trust. That alone was worth more than she had thought it would be.
When they approached the main gate, Cullen caught sight of them just as he stepped out. Without hesitation, he turned towards them and approached them with quick, decisive steps. Immediately, Lyssa slowed down. She did not notice the curious look Solas gave her as she stopped before Cullen had even reached them, withdrawing into herself as if to make herself invisible.
It was still hard for her not to instinctively lash out at the human who so eerily reminded her of the man who had killed Nelos. Cullen had the same hair and beard stubble, the same height and coloring and even their features were so similar they could be brothers. She kept expecting an attack, even though Cullen hadn’t been anything but polite towards her. Lyssa knew it wasn’t fair towards him and kept her thoughts to herself, but she couldn’t suppress the feeling of instinctive fear he invoked. It was something she was working on.
“Commander,” she greeted him in an effort to be friendly, and he nodded at them both, seemingly not noticing her defensive posture.
“There is something we need to discuss, Herald,” he said. “We got word of a Chantry mother in the Hinterlands who might be able to aid us.”
“Of course,” she nodded and turned to Solas, giving him a tentative smile. “Thank you for the walk.”
He inclined his head at her, returning the smile. “Any time.” He wore a thoughtful expression as he followed Lyssa with his eyes as she walked away with Cullen, always a careful step behind the Commander.