The Golden Halla
‘Would you go with me?’ Ellana asks Solas one evening.
She is planning a diplomatic visit with the Dalish clan in the Exalted Plains. Now that order was restored to the region it was possible for the Inquisition to forge lasting relationships. If the organization was lucky, peace for more than a season between the humans and Dalish was possible. Cassandra and Varric would meet with the Orlesian forces, leaving Solas and Ellana to parlay with Keeper Hawen. Her intention was to stay a week or more and build trust before initiating a treaty.
Ellana is quick to note that she isn’t asking Solas because he is also an elf. No, it was because she noticed that the tribe required the attention of a healer and he ‘would be good at that.’ If Solas suspected otherwise he knew better than to mention it. Doing so would risk another argument about the purity of elven history and rituals.
Solas and Ellana were sharing a tent in the Plains. The first night was happenstance. Another night followed, and then another. He initially thought Cassandra or Varric might protest to him privately about the arrangement. At least, since he thought it was obvious he couldn’t stop himself. Neither seemed to pay any mind.
Half-a-year ago, a kiss in the Fade had confirmed Ellana’s feelings for him. Admittedly, Solas had been pining. Badly. It was difficult, but the morning after, he cautioned her that any further entanglement would be unwise. She concurred. Really, he wanted to lay her down on the table and reprise where they left off in the dream world.
Solas might have been able to refuse the request to visit the Dalish if they weren’t in bed. Ellana was staring up at him in the tent, a pleading expression on her usually opaque face. She was lying flat on her back, and he’s an arm’s length away, listening to her propped up on his elbow. The two are in separate bedrolls and never touch. Solas tries to hold on to whatever ineffable force is keeping him from kissing Ellana again.
It’s hanging on by a single thread--thin and fragile like spider silk.
For the first time in this strange world, Solas doesn’t rush into the respite of the Fade. Instead, he looks forward to this time at night where he and Ellana reflect on the day--strategizing about what might come next. Sometimes he reads to her.
“I know you don’t hold the Dalish in high regard,” Ellana continues in the whisper she reserves for their nightly conversations. “We need to enforce that peace is to remain here after we leave. The clan is to winter here, and the Orlesian forces will offer protection.”
If Elllana knew who he really was, Solas was certain she would hate him more for this kind of intimacy than if he lifted up the blanket and invited her to join him. Often, he thinks about revealing to her the entirety of it and what is really at stake . Only, what then?
“I will endeavor,” he responds to her request. The answer isn’t exactly a yes. Definitely not an enthusiastic one.
Besides, it is too late for lengthy discussions, Solas pulls his tunic up over his head, and leaves his leggings on for decency, before crawling inside his blankets and asking, “When do we leave?”
“Tomorrow,” she breathes in a sing-song voice. An Inquisition soldier walks by their tent and the light of the lantern they are carrying passes through the thin red fabric to illuminate Ellana’s smile at his acceptance.
It is an expression Solas has rarely seen on her face. Certainly, not since she became the Inquisitor. He’s learning in these nightly conversations that under Ellana’s somber exterior she’s tender. It comes out in the edges of her words with him in the tent, but she keeps it hidden away during the day when she is forced to make any number of ruthless choices.
Solas begins to suspect leadership is taking a toll on her. She isn’t jaded yet, but she’s close to it. Sometimes, a darkness rises to her voice.
He remembers how surprised he was in Haven when the Inquisition agents fished her out of the rubble of the Conclave. Ellana is waifish in looks and body. He didn’t expect much when he was treating her in the aftermath, she was after all a wisp of a girl, slightly underfed with a mess of white-blonde hair falling past her shoulders.
Solas learned what a fool he was the first time he witnessed Ellana ram a staff blade through the throat of a corrupted Templar. Another time he watched in awe as Ellana jumped across a table to strangle a warlord refusing to bend the knee, her fingers buzzing with electric lightning until he submitted.
In the time since the Inquisition settled in Skyhold, she’d filled out a bit, her vallaslin are no longer fresh, raised lines Solas reflects more on how Ellana has changed. She was a little more lighthearted in the early days, singing along with Varric in the tavern or joking around with Dorian. Now, she only wears armor in public and it's usually covered in blood and ichor.
Looking at her face in the tent, Solas wonders what it will be like to see her amongst the Dalish. If the experience might soften her a bit, even if just a few days.
Ellana whispers good night as he thinks silently to himself, turning over on her other side to face away from him. Solas admires the slope of her back. She’s covered except for one pale arm over the blanket. Underneath, she’s wearing a cotton slip, the strap of which has fallen over her bicep. He doesn’t know what possesses him to slip it back into place, but when he does Ellana releases a surprised exhale of air. He feels her hand jerk to cover her mouth to repress it.
Solas is paralyzed by the sound. His hand lingers over her arm. He hasn’t touched Ellana outside of a sickbed, or the Fade, and he can’t help but move a single finger to trace along the edge of her shoulder blade.
It doesn’t surprise him when Ellana flips back over. The darkness makes it difficult to know for sure, but he feels the intensity of her eyes upon his face. She’s uncertain, but the way her nose teases over his, makes it clear she’s interested. The light touch is so different from their kiss in the Fade, concrete and warm. He can feel himself grow instantly hard as Ellana pushes up flush against him. It is his turn to stifle a moan.
Her mouth parts slightly against his and Solas is about to tear off the blanket between their bare skin when Ellana unexpectedly pulls away.
“The others can hear,” she says in Elvhen. She uses the language whenever she says something private. “I-I’m not sure--”
Her doubt brings Solas back to the present moment.
“That was ill-considered of me,” Solas mutters in a not-quite apology, his voice huskier than is appropriate. He dares to brush a strand of escaped hair away from Ellana’s face, and she reaches to squeeze his hand, before he draws it back to his chest.
He’s relieved, even if her rejection stings a bit, that she put a stop to things.
Solas doesn’t fall asleep until right before they leave. Instead, he stares up at the ceiling of the tent at the point where the two poles cross over one another. When he does manage to dream, it is of Ellana smiling
There isn’t adequate time on their short walk over to the Dalish Encampment for Ellana to go into all the intricacies of Dalish etiquette, but she tries her best. Solas and her are weighted down with large baskets packed with elfroot, blood lotus, and other herbs both rare and common. A pack horse dutifully plods alongside them carrying jugs of fermented spirits, packages of flour, and other tools.
More gifts would follow throughout the week, but Ellana informs Solas that the first are the most vital. It is especially important that Solas makes a personal offering to Keeper Hawen to acknowledge that he recognizes the man’s authority over his own.
She says the last bit forcefully. He understands that the subtext of her lecture is that he does not argue too much on the visit. The Inquisitor has reminded him several times how important this mission is. After all, it is personal to her.
When they arrive he recites the words Ellana taught him, his hands turned upwards, paying obeisance to the hahren. In this strange world, he’s a flat-ear apostate in nothing but dusty robes who must submit rather than receive worship. He wanders what Hawen would say knowing that the gesture of respect comes to him from one of his gods. A hated one, but a god nonetheless.
He half expects Hawen to pretend that his Elvhen is incorrect, or to ignore him. Only the Keeper gruffly accepts him, patting him on the back and gesturing for one of the hunters to pick up the baskets before thanking the two of them for their generosity. The responses are traditional and polite, but underneath Solas can sense a genuine appreciation.
“We’ll pour out a drink later,” Hawen says to Solas, his eyes widening, picking up a glass jug full of gin that Solas handed him upon arrival.
“I’d like that,” he responds awkwardly as Ellana pointedly stares at him to answer.
The day goes by quickly. Ellana is right, and he spends most of the morning and afternoon looking at wounds new and old with Keeper Hawen. Hawen surprises him again with his curiosity, asking about why Solas makes this or that choice to treat a wound. He takes down notes in a worn leather notebook tucked into his jacket about herb ratios as the two brew potions.
Hawen confides to Solas he’s not a natural healer, but he does his best. The Keeper laments the fact that his First, a youngling he inherited from a disbanded tribe, was the one who had the real talent for medicine. He left shortly after arriving in the Exalted Plains and Hawen has no idea where the man went. along with his best hunters.
The clan is vulnerable and he worries about winter. Solas recognizes he has a difficult choice ahead, without Inquisition aid, the clan might not make it through. Elliana has already told about the waning number of Dalish, how many had given up wandering for farming--or split up into tinier enclaves to evade human notice.
By the start of the evening, Solas and Hawen are friends. Solas learns about the clan. for a few hours. Solas is no one but a good-natured apostate consulting on folk remedies. The air of late spring is warm and the background sounds of the clan readying for the evening are welcoming. He forgets his qualms about the Dalish.
When the dinner bell rings, Solas realizes he hasn’t seen Ellana since the morning. She was helping the tribe secure the surrounding area, placing wards and organizing workers to fix the aravels He knows it is customary for those not helping to prepare the meal to go as a group, separated by a preferred gender, to bathe before the evening meal. Vaguely, he remembers hearing a few women walking outside of the camp and assumes she went along.
Following Hawen, Solas sits on a thick woolen blanket surrounding the fire with a gathering of taciturn hunters. They take turns spooning stew out of an earthenware pot in the center on loaves of unleavened bread.
He’s surprised when he sees Ellana walk past. Her hair is loose and falls down in soft ringlets down her back, still damp from swimming. She’s not wearing armor, but a soft pair of black pants and an embroidered shirt that cleverly wraps around her slim waist. She is invited by a family to sit with them, and she joins them. As she walks past, he notes she has discarded her shoes, red leather bindings tie up her ankles.
Solas marvels that this is the first time he has seen her, not as the Herald of Andraste, or the Inquisitor, but herself: Ellana, First to Clan Lavellan. The role is easy for her. She takes a special interest in getting to know everyone gathered around the fire. She has a gift for it, finding the right words to put others at ease and before long, she’s embraced by everyone in the group, helping the hearth keepers clean and mend a stack of leather armor.
Unlike Ellana, Solas hangs back from the main gathering. A few members of the clan approach him. His conversations are awkward, especially with the storyteller. Not because Solas disagrees with their interpretations of elven lore, but because he can’t stop watching Ellana. At one point a child approaches her to show her a wooden doll. As the night draws to an end, the young girl, no more than three, falls asleep in her arms, twirling the ends of Ellana’s hair in their fingers.
How old is Ellana? Solas wonders. He has a hard time comprehending how age works. He knows she is young, no more than twenty-three or twenty-four. Amongst the Dalish however, that is old enough to be married, and even have a child, if not two. Did she want children? Judging by the wistful look on her face, she does. The look also makes Solas understand what she’s lost.
What he’s taken from her.
The first night Solas was unsure where to sleep. The aravels house a few families, and others set up a tent outside the encampment The area is safe with hunters, now joined by Inquisition soldiers, taking shifts to patrol the area. Grabbing his pack, a bedroll tied on the top, he thinks it will be nice to doze underneath the open sky.
He’s surprised when Ellana grabs his arm, and points to a tent made out of stretched druffalo hides. It's close enough to be convenient but far enough away from the encampment to give the occupants privacy from other members of the clan. A few gnarled trees separate the campsite further. He can hear the rustling of leaves overhead.
“Keeper Hawen had a tent set up for us.” In the light of the fire he can see she is blushing. “He thought we are bondmates. I-I corrected him, but I didn’t want to trouble the clan--”
“Would you prefer me to sleep with you?” Solas asks. He regrets the question almost immediately after asking it, realizing the subtext might make Ellana uncomfortable. His only intention was to clarify what she would be most comfortable with.
“I’ll find a spot outside,” he corrects himself.
“No--I would appreciate--being able to talk in private as the trip goes on.” She says, the red on her face deepening, before leaning in to whisper. “Only, the clan will consider us a couple then. I-I know that is. I mean, I understand that’s not the case.”
“Ellana,” Solas replies. He rarely addresses her by name. “I will do whatever you ask of me.”
She pauses for a moment before answering. Solas is aware of a dozen or so eyes watching them all with great interest as she bites her lower lip.
“We should share a tent. I should want you, however, that the Dalish, unlike the shemlin , have no qualms about asking about what happens in bed between two people.”
It's the first time Solas hears Ellana use the word. The catch-all term to refer to anyone that was not Dalish, even elves. Her employment of the term overwhelms her warning. From her perspective, he is a shem.
“I’ll bear that in mind,” he replies coolly. He knows she doesn’t mean the term to belittle him, but it does. He needs a few moments to gather himself and picks up his pack to go clean off in the river, muttering to Ellana “I’ll be to bed soon.”
He walks down to the water's edge, down towards the waterfall. He scrubs himself with a bar of soap, afterward floating on his back in the water for a bit to look up at the ancient statute of Fen’Harel staring out from the center. He wonders what the Dalish clan would say knowing that the god in question was walking among them.
He expects it would not be kind.
When he returns to the tent, he finds Ellana sitting on top of her sleeping roll brushing out her hair. She’s wearing a slip, a pretty thing that’s made out of lavender silk. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination. He thinks that is why she freezes when he enters the tent. Only, when he sees the tears silently streaming down her cheeks does Solas realizes what’s embarrassing her.
Solas had never seen Ellana cry. Not when she relayed the terrible story of the Redcliffe that never was oor even when they once walked the streets of Val Royeaux and a man spit on her face and called her knife-ear. Not even when he pulled arrows lodged deeply into her shoulder and cauterized the skin.
“I forgot what it was like.” She explains self-consciously, brushing away at her cheeks.
“To live amongst the Dalish?” he asks, crouching down to listen. He wants to reach out a hand to comfort her, but thinks better of it.
“Not that,” she laughs. It is a mournful sound. “You might think me foolish, but at Skyhold everyone is frightened of me. Or in awe of me. No one touches me. I’m not real to them.”
Solas can feel Ellana’s gaze follow him when he moves to sit behind her. Wordlessly, he takes the brush from her hand and begins to smooth her hair. The gesture means more than any words he can say to reassure her. He’s pleased when she leans back just a bit towards him.
In actuality, Solas thinks he might be a coward not to tell Ellana how much he relates to her current dilemma. He remembers when he waged war in ancient Arlathan as a walking legend. His entire life revolved around power and greed. Underneath it all, he too had been lonely.
His reminiscing is interrupted sometime later when Ellana gently pushes his hand away, and dips her head to efficiently braid her hair. As she winds the plait around the crown of her head and pins it into place, Solas takes off his tunic, and lays down on the bedroll next to her.
Ellana flashes him a look somewhere between bemusement and lust. It is a new expression.
Picking up the blanket covering him, he holds it open, an invitation. He’s delighted when she crawls in beside him. The Inquisition sleeping rolls are roomy. Even if he is tall, he drowns in the fabric. He appreciates the extra space as as Ellana wraps her arms around his neck. Her whole body is soft and warm. The two switch positions a few times to try and find a comfortable configuration, landing with Ellana laying in his arms, her back pressed to his chest. Her head tucked right under his chin.
“You’re real to me,” he murmurs to her while she falls asleep.
The truth in the statement cuts him like a knife in the gut.
Solas enjoys living amongst the Dalish. In actuality, he likes watching Ellana flourish. She makes quick work of helping the tribe put things into order. Hawen teaches them about some mysteries in the area. He’s a scholar, at heart, and sends them to find glyphs hidden amongst the elven ruins. The task takes them through most of the Exalted Plains, and they briefly rendezvous with Varric and Cassandra. The Orleasians, now converted to the Inquisition, rather like the Dalish. So far things are promising.
Initially, Solas resisted learning each clansman’s name. Now each one comes ready to his lips. He can see how the remnants of ancient Arlathan filiated throughout time. Occasionally a song the clan sings, or a story told around the campfire bear resemblance to the world he came from.
He’s not sure what to make of it.
Or the first time he observes the women of the clan try to gauge if Ellana’s pregnant. Children are important to the Dalish, a large family is considered a blessing. At one evening meal, a group tries to trick her to stand to see if she has the outline of a bump. Ellana bears the interrogation in good humor, doling out witty retorts when some of the older women give her advice to hasten the process.
He tries not to listen, some of the advice is rather crude. Or perhaps, too close to some of the thoughts he’s had to chase out of his head as Ellana sleeps next to him.
“So you two aren’t bonded?” Keeper Hawen asked Solas one night as they shared a glass of Dalish wine. The stuff is green and tart. He liked it more than the ale that the humans drank, but not by much.
“No, we are not.”
“Do you think you're too old?” The man continued. “A widow?”
Solas was choosing his words carefully. As more time passed, he wanted to become the simple apostate that everyone assumed him to be. His life as Fen’Harel was distant. Still, he owed it to the People. As much as he wished it possible, a long-term future with Ellana was impossible.
It was a small comfort that he could answer Hawen, in this instance, with some honestly.
“I have not been married. Nor, is it age. Even if we were to have feelings for each other, our lives in the Inquisition are complicated.”
Ellana has tried to explain to him a few times that while Keeper Hawen’s tribe is more closely tied to the world than most other clans, that their comprehension of the Breach and Corypheus was fragmented. There were only two types of violence to the Dalish: the violence shems did to one another, and the kind shems did to the Dalish. The Inquisition was decisively shem.
“You should speak for her. She’s in love with you.”
“How did you come to that conclusion, hahren?”
“It’s ridiculous! You two think your feelings are a secret--even from each other. --I think she’d say yes if you asked.”
Solas started wondering if Keeper Hawen might be right.
“Besides, you could always quit the Inquisition, stay among us.”
Solas considers the offer.
On one of the last nights with the tribe, Solas watched as Ellana traded horn combs for a fishing net made out of a fine mesh. At the fire, sitting with the women who mended and gossiped, she took a hook to unwind the top, reweaving the strings to fashion a type of long reel.
“What were you doing with that net?” Solas later asks curiously in their tent. Her cheek is pressed to his chest. The two were still sharing a bedroll. Sometimes a lustful touch passes between them, but not often. Solas senses Ellana is reticent, he makes sure to take her lead and make it clear there is no expectation on his part for anything more.
“Ithrien, the halla Keeper, claimed he saw a hanal’ghilan a few weeks ago. He was worried it might have been killed by the Freemen for its hide. I thought I might try and save it.”
Solas smiled at the whimsy of it, more than anything. A hanal’ghilan, or Golden Halla, was said to appear when a Dalish clan was in great need. It was a superstition more than a legend.
“That doesn’t explain the fishing net.”
“It's a lure, I’ll fill it with wild strawberries and then--”
“Wouldn’t a horse be preferable to corral such a fickle beast?”
“Don’t be an amateur,” she replies, into his ear, in mock outrage. Her breath vibrates against his skin. “All one needs is wild strawberries--which I happened to see near the old baths over the river.”
“I stand corrected,” Solas laughs, he’s trying to ignore Ellana wrapping one of her legs around him. She smells like rose oil mixed with elfroot. A wild look is on her face.
“Do you wish to join me?” she asks.
“Certainly,” Solas said. This time his response is in earnest.
The two left shortly after the morning meal. Although it was early, the air was starting to sizzle with heat. Summer will arrive soon. Ellana is carrying a basket, a halla bridle tied around her shoulders like a sash. Solas attempts to grab the basket from her and carry it, but the heated glare he receives makes it clear that such gestures are unwanted.
“Did you want to bring your staff?” He asks nervously. He’s gripping the hawthorn weapon he always has at the ready. The area is mostly safe, but the last time they explored the baths a few of the freemen attacked.
“I think we’ll be fine--I suspect that Dalish and Inquisition Scouts are watching us with great attention.”
He’s unsure if there is a warning between her words. That watchful eyes followed them wherever they go. He was more than aware.
“Come,” Ellana demands heatedly. It’s the voice of the Inquisitor who wastes no time. He obediently follows behind her, plodding through the river, the mud slick underneath his feet as they cross over to the other side. The two walk in companionable silence towards the ruins.
“ Fenedhis !” Ellana curses after their third circuit around the ruin for the elusive berries. “I’m sure I saw strawberries when we were here searching for the glyphs.”
Solas runs his eyes again over the expanse of basalt stone. A few sprigs of elfroot poked out among the weeds. There are decisively no strawberries.
“Are you sure you do not want to try using a mount?”
“That’s not going to work,” Ellana shakes her head, “everyone knows that halla can’t resist strawberries.”
Solas is unsure about her theory. Most of his interactions with the creatures are in the context of war.
“Is that so, nua’lin ?” Nua’lin. Troublemaker. It's a new nickname he has for her. “I do not believe that is something I’ve ever personally heard or witnessed.”
“Not even in the Fade? You seem to learn about everything in the Fade.”
Solas realizes that she’s poking at his history again. He suspects she doesn’t wholly accept his story of wandering around the wilderness learning from spirits. It's not uncommon for those in the Inquisition to have sordid histories and among the organization, it's impolite to ask too many questions.
Actually, he thinks Ellana would much rather figure things out for herself. Sometimes at dinner, he overhears her and Iron Bull gossiping about his fighting style and where he might actually be from.
It’s another puzzle for her to tease out.
“Hush,” Solas admonishes. His voice hitches when the sunlight illuminates Ellana’s creamy skin. It's smooth and unmarked except for a scar along her temple. Her mouth is full and pink--and her eyes are large and a rich brown. She’s wearing green leggings, and a hide jacket from Denerim. Runes are sewed in the lining to ward off danger.
Ellana appears so unassuming of how beautiful she is. Only then she catches the glint in his eyes and preens a bit.
“I don’t think you comprehend how important this quest is,” she replies in mock outrage, and tucks her hands behind her back, laughing. She walks up close to him, he can smell roses and elf root, looking away and then back up again like she did in the Fade.
Does he dare?
Solas creeps up to her, seemingly to whisper, planting a soft peck on her cheek. It’s a polite kiss, really. Just a taste. It doesn’t last long. They are both aware that scouts follow them wherever they go, watching from the edges of the trees. It would be unseemly to linger.
The touch cuts the final string.
Ellana steps back, wobbling a bit as if she is drunk, grinning brightly at him.
“Do you know what the Fade reveals here?” Solas asks his lips twist into an impish grin. He’s careful to speak at a low volume so that if any scouts are watching, none can at least hear.
“Tell me,” she responds, glancing around to make sure they weren’t caught, before watching him--her pupils are dilated and her mouth is open, just a bit.
“I wouldn’t want our concealed chaperones to hear such indecent things. After all, half of them can understand what I might say in the language of the ‘People.’ “
“None of those activities have anything to do with strawberries, Solas” she groans, picking up her basket again. Solas can see she wants to focus on the mission at hand.
“Follow me” Solas shook his head, clucking his tongue as if to scold her. “I think I know where to find what you’re looking for.”
Solas leads Ellana up the road, over to the hills wedged between the Orlesian forts, dotted with ruined houses. On the way they’d occasionally pass by a contingent of Celine or Gaspard’s forces, strolling the area. He’s amazed to see them stop and salute two elves. There really isn’t a line between the two factions anymore, and most have committed themselves to the Inquisition. Solas enjoys that the soldiers seem happy to freely fraternize with one another and wander the bucolic countryside.
Old stone vineyards had once dotted the landscape, painted in bright pastel colors. Although much of the grapevines had been burned away, some crops remained and invading wildflowers gave the landscape some renewed cheer.
They arrive at one of the most complete of the dwellings. It's a former summer kitchen built separately from the main house. The hand-painted ceramic tiles laid down in a checkered pattern from the floor were left intact. Solas chuckles under his breath when he hears Ellana tapping out an incoherent rhythm on the hard surface while he searches the garden.
“Aha!” he cheers, holding out a handful of small berries for her to inspect. The surface of the fruit was ruby red, spotted with green. The berry was pitiful. It might entice a hungry halla but only if it is starving.
“I suppose these will do,” Ellana sighs, picking one of the paltry fruits.
“You know the old superstition,” Solas replies, “the ground has soaked up too much blood to grow a bountiful harvest. It has to give largesse to the dead that fell on its surface.”
It's a little hyperbolic of him to say such a thing. Ellana ignores him as she often does when he gives into poetry, walking over to the edge of the hill. It's not very high, but most of the land surrounding them is flat, and one can see far out into the distance to the edge of the forest that the Dalish camp is amongst.
“It was once a beautiful place to be,” Ellana muses, putting a hand over her eyes to keep the hot sun at bay. “It wouldn’t be a terrible life, winemaking--would it?”
“Would you prefer that to your life as the Inquisitor?” Solas dubiously asked.
“Empires fall,” She responds churlishly. “Wine? Varric would tell me it's always good business.”
Solas laughs, waving Ellana over to help him pick the remaining crop of berries.
“Maybe I’ll become a vintner when I retire from the Inquisition.” She makes the off-hand comment in such a way that Solas can’t tell if she’s joking.
“You wouldn’t go back to your clan?” He’s not sure what to say. The subject of what might come after the Inquisition makes him bristle. Inevitably, if they are successful he will leave and walk the dinan’shiral. In Ellana’s version of the story, he is alive. The inescapable outcome, however, is that he is the walking dead, quite like the ones that rose from the forts a stone's throw away.
“I’ve changed too much,” Ellana says absently, plucking a fruit from the stem. “It doesn’t feel right to only consider myself Dalish anymore..”
Solas doesn’t readily respond. Ellana rises, looking out again along the barren fields. Her stance is authoritative, arms akimbo. She’s the heir apparent to Thedas again, not because anyone handed her a crown, but because she’s repaired so many edges of it with her bare hands. Literally.
“It would be nice,” she says wistfully. Not really to Solas, but to a phantom audience. “To work the fields by day and sit outside at night listening to nothing but bugs.”
“I know you are stubborn.” Solas chastises Ellana while standing on a precarious rock formation “Although, perhaps I underestimated how stubborn for you to think this will work.”
Ellana spotted the hanal’ghilan lapping at the edge of the river. Its tawny hair catches the light like a piece of rich jewelry. Solas noted the rest of the herd avoided it. Most likely out of concern for its difference, but part of him likes to think it's out of reverence. No matter, its solitary nature will make it easier to capture and bring it back to the Clan for Ithien to care for.
Somehow Ellana convinced him to climb up and hold the lure over the edge to entice the halla over. When it ate the berries, Ellana would jump on top of it with the bridle.
The heat is unbearable when they wait. Remorsefully, Solas can feel the skin on the top of his head begin to burn. The feeling becomes insufferable. He’s about to tell Ellana that this idea is foolish, when he spots the Golden Halla placidly stomping over, stopping with a snort to chew at the berries with aplomb.
Ellana gestures to him, drawing up a finger to her lips before angling the opening of the bridle. She’s almost successful in slipping the leather cord over the beast’s antlers, and for a short distance, she’s able to hold on as she’s dragged forward along the ground. When the halla jumps over a rock, however, she’s thrown with an exasperated cry.
Convinced she might have broken several bones, Solas runs over to her. He’s surprised to find Ellana laughing, clearly delighted, the wet sludge from the ground coating her. She sits up and runs a hand through her hair to find it completely embedded in mud.
“I must concede,” Solas admits when he determines she’s alright,“ I am amazed that attempt was almost successful.”
“Creators!” Solas exclaims on their second attempt as the hanal’ghilan lazily walks up, its tongue wagging in the wind. “You can’t tell me this creature is so daft!”
Ellana watches in exasperation as the Golden Halla gallops away, vaulting over the upturned clumps of mud from where it had dragged her earlier. Her hands clench when she tersely reprimands him: “Was that necessary?”
The third time, Ellana waited too long to jump, falling down with a loud thump to the hard ground, face first. Solas leaps after her, helping her to sit down. Red torrents of blood gush over her face, until a wave of blue mana from his fingertips stills the tide.
Ellana panted on the dirty ground, clutching the fishing net with the last of the strawberries to her chest. Solas was reclining next to her. Both were caked in mud. He was about to turn to Ellana and ask if they might try the next day.
He sees a flash of yellow, thinking for a moment it might be the feather of a freeman’s helmet, when two coal-black eyes stare back at him.
Ellana really is a woman out of legend.
Grabbing one of the berries from the net, she holds the fruit out in her hand for the hanal’ghilan. Solas can hear the content snort of the animal as it takes the berry into its mouth, and laughs at the mournful bleat it makes when it realizes that Ellana has buckled the harness around its neck.
The hanal’ghilan makes to run off again, but Ellana uses her entire body to anchor it down as she wraps another buckle underneath its belly.
“Well done,” Solas claps as the beast stops struggling, yielding to Ellana.
“I feel a bit guilty,” Ellana confesses as they drag the halla back to the Dalish camp.
Sometimes the hanal’ghilan refuses to move, for a while, Solas stands with a strawberry in his hand to coax the creature forward, but eventually, they run out of strawberries.
Its objection evaporates when they reach the camp, and Ithrien offers it a type of cracker made out of oat flour to eat.
“This is such a relief,” Hawen congratulates Ellana as the clan gathers stare at the hanal’ghilan. It's stabled with the rest of the herd in a cave, amongst the pristine white coats of the other halla, its golden hair pops out even more.
Ellana returns from cleaning off in the river with the women shortly after Solas is back from bathing with the men. He’s sitting near one of the bonfires, sorting through Hawen’s medical instruments and potions making a list of what the Inquisition should send when he felt Ellana sit next to him with a huff.
“I have to apologize for not believing you could catch a halla with nothing more than strawberries.”
He’s surprised when a pink blush rises to her cheeks. She mutters something about what one of the women told her in the river after Ellana explained how she managed to lure the hanal’ghilan.
“I don’t know if it was the strawberries,” she mutters. Solas doesn’t understand why she is so embarrassed.
“Why? Who is to say halla don’t love strawberries? There isn’t much source material on the matter. The only other tale about a hanal’ghilan is the Golden Halla and the maiden--” Solas stops himself, suddenly Ellana’s past skittishness makes sense. “Oh, I--”
“Yes, oh .” She grimly replies, “I suppose this will mean the women won’t ask me every morning if I am with child.”
Solas watches Ellana stand, shaking her shoulders as if throwing aside the conversation. A group of children run after her. In the past, he would have thought the image sweet, but in the context of their conversation, he finds the symbol of fecundity a cruel irony.
Solas goes to bed after Ellana. He finds her curled up in her own bedroll again, her hand covering her face. For a moment he considers sleeping outside, giving Ellana some peace for the evening. Instead, he stretched out on top of his own bed roll, placing his hands on his chest.
“I didn’t think.” He admits out loud with hope, he wants to make his intentions as clear as he possibly can. “I don’t know what I can promise you in terms of a future, but I care for you, deeply.”
An uncomfortable silence fills the tent, and for a few moments, he considers fleeing again before he hears Ellana sit straight up and look down at him. He’s careful not to make direct eye contact, keeping his gaze directed up at the ceiling.
“It’s not entirely that--it’s been painful to be here,” she acknowledges. Her voice is raw. Even in the context of the Ellana he’s come to know in their tent, it is the most vulnerable he’s heard her. ‘It's not homesickness--just more of a realization. If I were still with my clan--I’d be married, hopefully with a babe. The Inquisition kept me away from such thoughts--”
“All thoughts?” Solas interrupts, turning his head a bit to flash Ellana a grin. It's an old grin from when he was an impatient and wild young man. He snaps his fingers so globes of gold mage light fill the tent-like fireflies. It's an adolescent trick, one he knows will not dazzle Ellana, but her skepticism is part of what he loves about her.
Love, it really is, isn't it?
“Not all thoughts.” Ellana smiles at him. She’s wearing the silk slip and in the light, Solas can make out the soft curves of her body underneath. When she stands he notices it barely goes to her mid-thigh and he’s even more delighted when she leans in front of him, the neckline dipping forward in a way he’s sure Ellana isn’t fully conscious of.
It’s unseemly, he knows, to gawk at her this way.
He’s lost, however, in her beauty.
It's hard to push away the inevitable, brutal end as Ellana tentatively kisses his lips. Somehow, he manages. He parts his mouth, enjoying the taste of her, mirroring her gradual tempo with enthusiasm. It isn’t long before she’s straddling him, her hands pushing up underneath his tunic and then over the length of his torso, and then back over his arms.
He’s running a single finger underneath the delicate strap, about to untie it, when he pauses to say, “If I ever--you can always tell me to stop.”
“I know,” Ellana places a finger on his lips before sucking on his earlobe. Her efforts earn a thundering groan.
“I want to be with you for however long,” she whispers, moving her mouth along his throat, It's the last thing she says before his name twists on her lips, echoing out somewhere between a moan and a song.
“Ar lath ma, vhenan,” he murmurs to her sometime before morning. The next night they make love under starlight.
After his escape from the Inquisition, Solas wandered Thedas as a bard when Leliana’s agents grew too close. Sometimes for months at a time. It was shallow, but unlike the years he had spent impersonating an apostate, he enjoyed donning the velvet jackets and silk breeches. Every so often, he’d discard his costume and fashion another.
Orlesian bards were the easiest to pass as given the ornate wigs and masks he could choose from. It was a convincing masquerade.
Solas had been in Val Royeaux wandering the merchant stalls after singing in one of the small cafes that lined the streets when he came across a copy of Varric Tethras’ book, All This Shit Is Weird. He overpaid the merchant and took the most direct route back to the moldy tavern he was staying at for the week.
Opening the cover he skimmed the pages for any inkling of Ellana. He thinks of her often, mostly before he falls asleep at night. He’s tempted to seek her out in the Fade, but his mission is more important. At least, he made his choice and must now commit to it. The hum of Mythal’s magic rings in his ears and the wolf bears its teeth in his dreams.
He notes how Varric describes him as a pedantic scholar. On one occasion he even likens his shaved head to an egg. Solas supposes he deserves it.
An awkward scene in the last half of the book makes Solas cringe. It takes place on the balcony of Ellana’s room in Skyhold. There’s a stiff monologue where Solas asks her about growing up among the Dalish. It ends with Solas confessing his love before scurrying off like a frightened beetle.
Some of the words are correct, but the circumstances are all so wrong.
He slams the book shut with a thud, throwing it over the wooden floorboards.
Grabbing his stolen mandolin, he walks out along the harbor. He will go earn some coin this evening, his baritone voice singing whatever song moves him. He avoids the love songs mostly as he considers it poor taste to wallow. Instead, he strums out tunes about drunken sailors and old jigs that people dance to.
Mournfully, he watches as fishermen bring in their boats, and the lights along the brick streets are lit one-by-one. His heart is in the forest, at the edge of a Dalish encampment that is no longer there.
Solas hates how much he loves this present world.