Actions

Work Header

What Secrets Await

Chapter Text

The day the Temple of Sacred Ashes exploded, the day the Breach appeared in the sky, all Maeva could hear from her small home in the Hinterlands was a long rumbling sound carried and echoed through the mountains into the valley. That night, her mother related the gossip she’d heard in the Crossroads village; about the temple blowing up and a strange green vortex appearing and growing in the sky, all this in the high mountains far west of them. It seemed that they were safe from whatever the danger was. That is until two days later when the threat reached them...

The smell of smoke reached her nose, the breeze carrying it from the south, towards home. Her head turned in its direction, tapered ears aimed to listen. The late afternoon sky was almost to the point of erupting into her favorite colors, except for a stream of black smoke that rose over the distant trees and rocky hill. Then another, bigger trail of smoke lifted up from the southwest, towards the river. She saw more and darker black clouds begin to rise as they progressed to the east, towards the West Road, exactly where her home was.

She realized she’d already dropped the fennec pelt from her hand and had taken a few steps forward, while her other hand had tucked her skinning knife into its little sheath at her hip. Now she sprang up onto the side of a large granite outcropping and deftly climbed up the smooth slope. She knew the area like the back of her hand, and that she could spot the roof of the tavern where her mother cooked from exactly the top of this particular large rock at the edge of Witchwood.

Reaching the top of the rock, she pulled her dark chestnut hair from the wind and aimed her eyes directly at the tavern rooftop. It was on fire: at first just a small corner, but she then witnessed a great blossoming of it and her mouth dropped open. More smoke and fire lay beyond trees-- the inn was on fire as well. Every fiber of her being tensed immediately. Her focus shifted from her eyes to her body, and she was on the ground and running towards home within a moment.

She followed the waving path as she began to hear panicked shouts ahead of her. And behind her, she realized. What had just happened? She’d seen that there were mages congregating in the cave area north of where she’d just collected that last fennec, but she’d sensed nothing alarming until the smoke caught her nose.

These and other thoughts raced through her mind as she came upon the clearing within seconds. A scene of chaos painted the valley ahead of her. Fire rose from both buildings as well as the various trade carts that usually occupied the road that day of the week. Dozens of armed men patrolled the wooden carnage and fires as they headed further east towards the Crossroads. She saw a few dark heaps in their wake that she shuddered to think might be bodies, but it was far away and she hoped she was wrong.

Fear reclaimed her and she ran towards the tavern, towards her mother. The roof was aflame as well as the walls all along the street-side of the building. A whole corner of the tavern had fallen away. As she arrived at the edge of the fire its angry heat slammed into her face and she ducked down with her head under her arms.

Mamae! Are you there?” she shouted through her arms over the crackling blaze. The tables and small kitchen counters were burned beyond recognition save that she knew where they had stood.

She squeezed between the rear of the building and rock wall that backed it, arriving at the other side of the tavern without nearing the large fires at the front door. Landing smoothly upon green grass just beyond the tavern, she immediately recognized her mother laying prone on the wide stone foundation wall. The sight of her creator in such a weakened state squeezed her gut harshly and transformed her into a terrified child.

Mamae!” she cried, rushing to her side, eyes already hot with tears.

“Maeva,” Anthena sighed in relief as she cupped her daughter’s face.

Upon contact of their skin they could both feel their bond manifest; they needed not speak words for several moments as they each looked the other over protectively. A deep scratch ran crosswise over Anthena’s forehead, cutting through her vallaslin tattoo of Ghilan’nain. Maeva saw the large dark blood stain on her mother’s stomach, soaking through her tunic. She suspected her arm over the side of her waist hid a far more terrifying truth, and she then asked her mother silently, eyes pleading. Anthena shook her head in reply.

Maeva’s world slowed to a crawl at the realization of her mother’s impending death. The fire and shouts and chaos faded away; only she and her mother remained.

“Tenth brick from our cornerstone. Say it!” Anthena said urgently.

Maeva furrowed her brow. “What?”

Say it!

Tenth brick from our cornerstone,” repeated Maeva, voicing confusion over the first word.

“Yes! Go there when it is safe.”

Dark blood appeared at the edge of Anthena’s mouth and her eyes became clouded. Time and sound caught up with them again; behind Anthena, Maeva could see men in templar armor with sharp swords approaching the stoop, archers rallied from further behind them.

Anthena caught Maeva’s hand and squeezed it tightly while she held her gaze. “I love you, sweet Maeva. Stay true to yourself.” Then her eyes shut with new tears, and her voice darkened. “Now, get out of here! Do whatever you must to stay safe!”

Maeva’s face contorted in protest, but the shout of a rebel templar made her skin jump.

“Go now!” pressed her mother, but Maeva persisted and kept her hand in hers. A moment later Anthena died; her hand and body went limp, bending to death in a sighing release.

Maeva gasped and her vision blurred in shock, but the connection was not yet finished. Pulses of magic spread from Anthena’s hand into her own, and time held still as wave after wave of power reverberated through their hands into Maeva. Nothing else existed to her; she watched and felt her mother’s spirit pass through her and fade out as it expanded then evaporated.

The sharp clang of a metal arrowhead ricocheted against the stone slabs; in a flash Maeva’s reflexes had her several paces away, running toward the cobblestone gate to the Crossroads center.

She heard screams of other villagers running and soon found herself in a cluster of humans that she mostly recognized from market day, heading into the gated tunnel that passed through the ridge that bordered the village. The ground flew under her feet, terror urging her forward and faster. Another arrow landed where she had just lifted her foot, making her twist back instinctively to see two men with swords charging at her group.

As Maeva entered the tunnel she felt more comfortable, at home in its familiar darkness, turns, and hiding places. This was one of her favorite places to hide in the shadows whilst hearing the gossip of passersby. She also kept her daggers and leather jerkin in a bundle behind the two rocks on the left of the passage; their presence nagged at her but she had to run past. There was no time now to move the rocks, not when she could sense the enemy so close upon her heels. Running the gauntlet of the dark tunnel while pursued and unarmed made her feel nervous in a place where she normally felt safe.

An elderly woman she recognized from one of the farms stumbled near her; Maeva caught her arm and helped her continue. The tunnel let out into a clearing, the cobblestone path descending into the Crossroads. The homes and buildings were yet untouched here, she was relieved to see, but everyone was running, yet more people joining them from the rise to the south, all of them heading east away from the chaos.

She and the older woman approached the main junction of roads, significantly behind the others now. She knew the woman was slower and this raised their risk of danger, but Maeva was determined to hold on to her-- to not have another person die in her hands, not again so soon after her mother. She gritted her teeth and cursed again for not having her daggers, and continued forward as quickly as she could carry them.

The woman’s knees gave out and they sank to the ground next to a pile of crates and burlap sacks. A moment later, a sword slashed into the woman’s back and she dropped dead with a final cry. Maeva barely had time to dive away as the sword swung at her next; she felt the wind of it on her cheek. She scrambled to her feet facing her enemy. He charged at her, shouting a battlecry. She saw the blade glint in the fading daylight, reflecting the colors she loved so much, as it came closer and closer to her eyes…

Ice took over the warrior in a sudden snap of heavy, freezing air. Her breath stopped short as she saw the warrior’s momentum grind to a halt, his blade suspended above her head within her arm’s reach. Suddenly he shattered like glass and fell to the ground in a pile of red chunks that she quickly looked away from, grimacing.

When she opened her eyes next, it was to a face that she immediately loved. Blue-gray eyes held her gaze. A tall elven man stood before her, his mage staff spinning between them as he completed an elaborate spell maneuver. As the end of the staff crunched straight down into the ground his eyes flashed with light, and a flock of icy orbs flew from the rod, curving around her to make contact with another enemy behind her, whom she hadn’t even noticed.

The curve of the elf’s bald head partly reflected the light and colors from the spells and flaming arrows that flew by in the battle surrounding them. His soft pink lips hinted a small, secretive smile. His eyes suggested calm and peace, perhaps even amusement, despite the chaos that framed him. She felt herself pause and fall into those eyes as if there were an affinity between her and this unknown elven mage, here on the worst day of her life.

His eyes blinked, slowly at first while time seemed suspended, then the pace of her heartbeat returned loudly into her head as his eyes finally looked away. She realized he’d been standing several paces away from her, though she’d felt such proximity.

Maeva’s focus pulled her back through to the now, just in time to duck an oncoming arrow. She rolled and scampered away from the main path of the road, heading toward a hiding place near the trees.

Huddling to her smallest possible size, she folded and scooted between the rock wall and a large tree, then dragged a nearby barrel in toward herself, to conceal her in the corner of it: she now sat atop one of her stashes of tanned leathers. She cursed how long and big her body was getting; it had been so much easier to hide in this spot when she was smaller and younger only a few years prior.

She had a good view of two angles, but saw no fighting. The head and raised sword and arm of the statue of Tyrdda Avaar Mother could be seen over the top of the barrel and between the tree branches. It sounded like the fighting was going on directly between her sights, where should could not see. A moment later she saw the same elven man step into her view. She watched him dance his elegant staff movements on light feet, with a look upon his profile of satisfied concentration.

The clash of swords suddenly died down; the battle had ended. Maeva slowly rose and peered over the barrel top. He was walking directly towards her but was still far away. She tried to catch his eyes but realized he was looking past her. Out of her peripheral view, a mage woman walked by, her passing barrier encompassing and prickling Maeva’s skin, especially upon a burn on her arm she’d been unaware of until the magic stung it.

She flinched and eased back down into the shadows, watching the new person. She was a tall elven woman in a short leather and silk robe and leggings, with a gnarled wooden staff pulsing with green power hitched to a shoulder brace. Hair the color of sunlit wheat fields was plaited and twisted up the back of her head. Maeva saw the slightest shape of her profile and Dalish tattoos on her face, but then the woman’s back was to her fully, and her eyes dropped back to the elven man.

She saw again the twinkle in his eyes and hint of a smug smile of his lips, but those same details that had calmed her and kissed her heart before he now gave a hundred fold to this other woman. She realized that he probably hadn’t even noticed her when their gazes had crossed earlier, when he saved her life. That memory was empty now compared to the emotion she could read on his face, though she did notice how well he kept it disguised.

His voice broke her reverie: he spoke to the woman he coveted, saying he can sense that threat remained to the north and west. This was true, Maeva knew, because that’s where she’d come from. Other voices rose; they mentioned recruiting for a group… an inquisition? The group then moved off hurriedly to the west.

Maeva stayed put, knees to her chin and huddled in the corner behind the barrel. The sky had darkened considerably. Sounds around her calmed. She heard birds chirping again, and voices far in the distance responding to cries for help. Fires were being put out. The threat here was over.

She released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding since… minutes ago at least. This surrendered her to the shock and sobs that now tumbled out of her. Her mind became awash with visions of her mother dying, of the corpses in the field, a red glare from the searing pain in her arm, and the serenity of that man’s enthralling blue eyes. She wrapped her arms around her legs and lost herself to tears.

 

__________

 

An unknown time later, she could only count as per the weight of her puffy eyelids and exhausted lungs, the barrel was pulled away from her gently, spilling light onto her. An armored hand reached down slowly.

“Miss, are you alright? The danger’s long since over,” came a gentle manly voice.

Maeva looked up to see a human man in large furry pauldrons, heavy armor, and blonde hair, all shining in the light of a torch held in his other hand. His face was mostly hidden in shadow, but she caught a glimpse of kindness in his eyes.

Nonetheless, she gave him an uncertain look. A human hand had been offered to her once before and things did not go well. Despite living close to so many humans here in the Hinterlands, she’d always kept to herself.

She tried to wave him off, but too late realized she’d reflexively used her wounded arm, and she winced at the motion.

“Are you injured?” he asked, bending over with the torch to get a better look.

“I’m fine! Just this burn. It’s not a big deal,” she said defensively, glancing at the angry pain on her arm. She saw the shape of the man lean closer to her. “Hey, back off!”

She jumped to her feet but still felt trapped in the little corner between rock and tree, deeply regretting not having her daggers yet again. The man raised his hands and took a large step back. “I-- we mean you no harm. I’m with the Inquisition and we’re just here to restore order.”

With her good arm she did her best to quickly wipe the tears from her face. She said nothing while she looked around. The street lights were becoming lit, the ruins of the fires still smoked lightly, and the stretchers she recognized from the healer’s hut were in use.

“We have healers coming in the morning,” the man continued. “For now, I think I saw someone treating wounds down by the water. Perhaps you should have a look.” He gestured in that direction and began to turn away.

“Thank you, ser knight,” she stammered quickly.

He paused and looked back as if to say something, but changed his mind and continued on. Her burned arm sensed the heat of the torch as it departed from her.

That night, as she lay wrapped carefully in a thin blanket in midst a group of other survivors around a campfire, her tears finally withdrew for good. Her burn hummed insistently with a mix of heat and the cooling elfroot ointment that a healer had applied. Her eyes watched the twinkles of stars in the distant sky far, far away and she pushed her grief out there with them.

“Tenth brick from our cornerstone,” she whispered, and then gave herself to sleep at last.

 

__________

 

Her dreams that night would not let her find peace.

Her mother’s eyes were the first to appear, up close and filling her view. Then she drew back and saw her mother’s face contorted in a scream. Next, her mother’s eyes were angry and telling her to go, then back to tenderness as they said goodbye. She felt a warm surge of love and bond. Blue-gray eyes then replaced the mother’s; these eyes laughed at her, twinkling with mischief, taunting her. Somehow the taunting felt… exciting. A distant part of her waking mind was surprised at this while the sensation continued.

The feeling of her home and her mother colored an abstract scene in her mind, but it was shrouded in foreign elements she could not recognize. She found herself laughing back at the eyes-- his eyes, then mother’s eyes, then his eyes again-- with a voice other than her own, somehow knowing that she should would get the last laugh. Finally, a new vision took over her dream’s gaze: shining green eyes sparkled mischeviously and her ears heard whispered voices all around. She felt suffocated, crushed, drowning in the layers upon layers of voices. As the volume increased she felt her head shake and swell from within, as her own voice screamed out, “I choose death!

Maeva awoke gasping and sat straight up. Sweat drenched her undershirt and she peeled off her leather tunic and loosened the damp fabric from her chest. She rubbed her face and quickly glanced around. Had she not screamed? The others were sleeping still. The fire was low but embers glowing vividly. She took a deep, calming breath and shook her head as she let it out slowly. The stars above had moved in the dead of the night. A few more hours and the morning birds would wake up the small town as per usual.

Once her heartbeat steadied she bundled into her makeshift bed again and guided herself back to sleep. Her mother’s face invaded her thoughts and she fought to drive it away. Best that she regain her strength, as she knew the new day would present challenges she did not feel ready for.

Chapter Text

Skylarks and bush sparrows chirped loudly in the trees around the valley as she swam out of the heavy embrace of sleep. Her burned arm was aglow with warmth but its tenderness was improved since yesterday. She heard human voices speaking not far from her, saying that supplies were coming and everyone was safe now, that the Inquisition protected them.

Opening one eye from her position on her side, she saw the morning light hitting the topmost juts of rock that surrounded the valley. For a few moments she couldn't remember where, when, or even who she was, until the memories came rushing back in the form of eyes and faces, screams and sobs, and then stars.

All that really did happen, she told herself.

She sucked in a long breath and forced herself up to her feet, stretching out soreness from her legs while she looked around. Ten times the survivors she’d seen yesterday had seemingly come out of the woodwork. The little township of the Crossroads was a bustle of activity; people unloading supplies from carts, hammering and sawing to repair the small buildings.

Her stomach growled at its emptiness. Eager to move about and avoid thinking of sadness, she set off to find food. A quarter hour later her belly was contented by a meager breakfast of bread and military rations. Determined, Maeva headed down the western path toward the tunnel.

The place had truly transformed overnight; some people stood talking along the road as if it were any other day but others were still in shock. She passed multiple Inquisition banners draped from pikes. The insignia’s sunburst and sword reminded her of an armored hand in torchlight, a gentle face, and blue eyes.

As she passed by townsfolk, she overheard tears and anger as well as enthusiastic chatter on the story of the Inquisition. Since the temple's destruction, the continued rebellion between Circle mages and renegade templars escalated dramatically, and continued beyond the recent fight at the Crossroads. The Herald of Andraste had survived the explosion and had the power to close rifts.“The Inquisition saved us!” they said.

Not fast enough, thought Maeva. And, what are rifts?

She approached the dark tunnel with relief and slipped into its shadows, putting her mind back to business. The familiar glint of the metal chest near a sconce on the right caught her eye, just like it would of anyone that passed through the tunnel. At this sign, she turned and walked to the left wall instead. She sat down on a rock as if to adjust her boots, although she was confident the shadows hid her movements well enough and there was no one around. She reached into the darkness behind the rock and her hand returned with a pair of long iron daggers in twin leather sheaths. Another quick pinch from the shadows retrieved her hardened leather jerkin and pocketbelt.

While watching the tunnel entrance she slipped the jerkin overhead and tightened it around her torso, embedded straps securing the sheaths to her back, and the pocketbelt holding trap makings and poison waxes around her waist. Within less than a minute she was continuing an unhurried walk through the darkness of the tunnel.

She rounded the corner to the exit and her sight immediately landed on the spot where her mother died, hundreds of paces away. She stopped without leaving the tunnel. Near the dreaded spot a few people stood around a wagon that carried the unrecognizable bodies of victims. A chantry sister spoke rites at them, a couple wept as they listened. She hesitated a few moments, then turned away. There was nothing left for her there.

Tenth brick from our cornerstone, she repeated. That was her only mission now.

She returned to the Crossroads and moved quickly up the north road towards Redcliffe. She had one more stop to make along the way, to grab her backpack and sleeping roll from her final stash near Witchwood. The Inquisition had already cleared this place out; evidence of magical fighting peppered areas of the ground and rocks. However, Maeva could only hear the familiar calls of the birds as a fennec dashed into the underbrush not far from her.

At least this part of life is unharmed.

Grief and anger of her mother’s death so nearly within the Inquisition’s timing washed over her again, but the desire and hope for answers pulled her ever forward.

As she approached the north gate, a boom of sound and bright green light erupted over the top of the wall, followed by the sounds of fighting and shouting, and otherworldly cries of terror that made her cringe. Directly through the gate she saw demons spewing out of a crystalline rift that hung in mid air. She could not pass through this way.

The dilapidated gate wall held a tower at each end where the road passed between two rocky hills. The left tower was lower and accessible by a ladder from the rampart, near a rock in front of Maeva. She looked carefully at the rocks and the tower, then ran up and launched herself up to it. Within a minute she was swinging her legs over the top of the tower wall and landed on the rampart. She crouched down and peered over the northern edge of the wall.

Battle cries, missiles both magical and wooden flew in the air ahead of her as she watched four brave people fight against the terrifying creatures. A woman in armor with short dark hair charged at a rage demon twice her size with not an ounce of fear in her eyes. A dwarven man with an ornate crossbow pelted a wraith with a volley of bolts, and further beyond him two elven mages cast frost and fire spells. Maeva recognized the blue-eyed man from earlier, and the apparent Herald of Andraste, before looking back at the dwarf.

That's Varric! What’s he doing here? He really does know everyone important, she added to herself with a chuckle.

The Herald suddenly rushed toward the rift, holding up her left hand at it. Maeva was confused as to why she’d ever want to get closer to that thing, until blazing ropes of green magic streamed from her hand like lightning into the nexus of the rift. A loud strumming sound filled the air, reaching a climax as the rift imploded with a snap and the green magic vanished. The demons were gone and no disturbance remained. Maeva stared awestruck at the volume of air where the rift had been; now she understood what the townsfolk had been saying.

The people below her chatted briefly before continuing north. She considered jumping down and waving to Varric, but this didn’t seem like a good time for random introductions. As they were going in the same direction as she was, she decided to follow them at a distance for now, and she jumped to the ground at the wall's gate.

She’d hoped to not attract any attention but the elven man turned at the sound. Their eyes met and she felt her breath catch in her throat. He gave a small smile and her cheeks filled with blood, then he turned back to the group and walked away, after the Herald. Feeling flustered and suddenly foolish, she waited until they were out of sight before she followed.

 

_________

 

Less than an hour later, the Inquisition closed another rift that blocked the path through the gate to Redcliffe. She was happy to see that the gate here was undamaged and after the threat was eliminated it opened to release a throng of relieved traders and peasants that didn't have a scratch on them.

She trudged forward against the flow of the swarming crowd. As soon as her eyes found the lake she felt happier.

Lake Calenhad was massive, most of it curving out of sight around the signature red cliffs that formed the northeastern border of the Hinterlands. Redcliffe stood at the end of a tapered inlet of the lake, terracing up the slope of the cliffs. From the southern side, toward the valley, multiple cascades fell from above and then disappeared into wells they’d burrowed over centuries. The water now fed mostly into underground rivulets that flowed into the lake, except for the one above-ground waterfall that powered the town’s mill on its way into the lake.

The whole area was dense with granite boulders which long ago had been carved into slabs that built the town, now forming the port’s quay and the retainer walls. At the upper levels, cobblestone streets and wooden stairs and buildings made the town, flush with benches and gardens. The fresh water cascades built thriving trees and greenery from rich soil between the stone, providing a home for birds and insects that chirped all day and night.

Maeva always enjoyed coming here and admiring the lake and the cliffs, the fresh smell of the fish market and the thousands of sounds and voices and stories. But today when she inhaled the watery air her mouth allowed her only half a smile, before vanishing entirely as she then saw the whole place differently than ever before, now that… Now that mother is gone.

She paused for a few moments, then shook herself and proceeded into the village. She saw no sign of the Herald’s group, but she no longer cared; she had other plans to attend to, so she headed down the main stairs toward the quay.

The curve of the port was dotted with posts holding banners of Redcliffe, each post based in a large cornerstone that was raised from the rest of the stone slabs forming the quay. Standing in front of the westernmost one closest to the mill’s little waterfall, she remembered the day she’d arrived in Redcliffe.

It had been the end of a long and arduous journey from Kirkwall, across the Waking Sea to West Hill, then walking in a caravan of travelers to the north of Lake Calenhad, and then half a day’s sail to the south, finally arriving here in the pre-dawn hours. They’d sat in front of their hiding place as the sun rose.

Maeva was fourteen then. She’d cried most of the way, partly from her misery of being seasick on the boats, but mainly for the life she’d left behind in Kirkwall. To soothe her daughter, Anthena made her the gift of a secret that only the two of them would ever know. It was a hiding place, right here in the port of Redcliffe, where they would collect enough money to buy them passage back to Kirkwall, or wherever else they wanted to go next.

“Always remember, Maeva. ‘Third brick from the cornerstone.’”

Over the years since then, Maeva had visited the stash only twice to add money, and mostly forgot about it after the last time. Even then she felt the stash was better defined as a general savings for the future. Her mother had never mentioned if they’d reached the price of the boat fares back to Kirkwall or not, and frankly Maeva didn't care anymore.

She approached the cornerstone now, then stepped onto the first slab next to it. She counted absently to the third one where a large tree and shrub provided some privacy. She sat down with her feet hanging over the side, just like she and her mother had done.

Reaching behind her into a dark nook between thick tree roots and smaller rocks, she pulled out a small metal box with a halla head carved into the lid, its antlers creating a beveled texture. She brushed off the dirt and opened it, glancing at her reflection in the small mirror on the inside of the lid.

She found seven gold pieces and twenty-three silvers. Surprised, she counted it again. This was far more than she expected her mother to ever have saved. These thoughts drew questions from deep in her mind, but no answers came.

After a few minutes she tucked the box into a belt pocket and got up. She went back to the cornerstone, looking at the stone slabs.

There are only four bricks on this side, so she must mean the tenth starting on the other side, she thought to herself. She took large strides to count the wide bricks one by one along the water’s edge. The ninth brick marked the rise of the next cornerstone along the quay.

Making the tenth brick… right here?

It would be the base of the flag post. Maeva looked up to see a carved dog head, it’s muzzle right at her eye level. Tall stones like this one were all around town, each with the Dogs of Ferelden carved into it on opposite sides. She saw nothing unusual about this one.

Confused, she looked on the ground around it, and on the top where the wooden post rose, and at the other dog head on the other side, this one in full sunlight. Nothing. There were townsfolk nearby and she felt like she must look strange examining the stone this way in broad daylight.

Then she saw it-- a shape in the crevice of the darkened dog’s outline was not just shadow. With a casual motion, she ran her fingers along it and gave it a tug but the object did not budge. It felt like a leather tube, a definite hardened disc at one end.

Her curiosity egged her on but her fingers could not pry it loose. She felt like someone was watching her. Slowly, she abandoned her quest and ran her hand around the large stone as if she were merely walking around it out of boredom, soon interested by a piece of moss that grew on another spot. Out of the corner of her eye she tried to scan the crowd of people along the market road. She could find no one that stood out but she did not feel comfortable staying longer. Finally she ventured away from the quay, resolved to return later when there were less people.

While waiting she explored the village. Most of the times she came here she stayed on the market road to trade, but now she headed up the terraced levels, arriving at a large open space with a griffon statue at the center, surrounded by shop buildings.

There, Maeva recognized the dwarf with the crossbow again, Varric, lounging next to the open door to the weapons shop. She spied the other three members of the party inside looking at the goods.

She wasn't yet sure if she wanted to speak to him, if they had anything to discuss at all, if he’d even recognize her after all these years. But as if he’d heard her thoughts, he suddenly called to her.

“Is that little Maeva?” he asked with a grin, already sure it was her and walking over.

She grinned sheepishly. “Varric, hello!”

He reached up to give her a quick but sincere hug. “What’s it been, five years? Look at you, all grown up.”

When she’d last seen Varric in Kirkwall she was only a little taller than him, but now she was a good head above.

“What are you doing in Ferelden?” she asked.

“Heh, well… After, you know, Kirkwall, I was… recruited by the Inquisition. But, turns out it’s pretty action-packed.”

“Just like your stories, then.”

He laughed. “Yes, indeed! Seriously, I've seen stuff I don’t even know if I can describe. But it’s all about kicking bad people in the ass, so you know I couldn't miss it. Anyway, what about you? C'mon, let’s chat-- they’ll be in there a while.”

He gestured that they sit on the nearby fence wall of the square. She glanced through the door a last time before sitting down.

“Who are they, in there?” she asked, pointing through the door.

“There’s Cassandra in the armor and shield," he started, following her eyes. "Solas is the broody elven apostate, and that blond lady talking to the merchant is Ellana Lavellan, the Herald of Andraste. She’s a Dalish girl that survived the temple. Did you hear about that?”

“A bit. Temple explodes, Breach opens, chaos descends upon Thedas.”

He nodded and laughed. “All that and some people see this vision of Andraste when Lavellan is found, hence the 'herald' part. And she can close rifts with her hand!”

“Oh yeah, I got to see that earlier!”

The Herald and her followers left the weapon shop. She waved to Varric as they headed over to the next merchant, Solas and Cassandra looking elsewhere. She met Maeva’s eyes before she turned away.

She couldn't be even ten years older than me, Maeva though. Yet she suddenly holds such power… Her curiosity about the group continued to grow, but Varric interrupted her reverie.

“So what about you? How’s Anthena?” Her face suddenly darkened and he understood immediately. “Oh no, I’m so sorry, kid. When…?”

“Yesterday,” she forced out. “I haven’t… You’re the first person I've told!” This realization pulled blood to her face and tears to her eyes. She stood up and tried to shake it away, not ready to unleash her emotions here in a busy public square.

Varric shut his eyes and shook his head solemnly. “What are you going to do now?” he asked carefully.

Maeva scoffed upon realizing she had no idea. “I honestly don’t know. I’m a refugee again, mother’s gone, home’s gone, burnt to the ground. I guess I could go live in the woods and hunt for food, but I don’t know where it’s safe anymore.”

He put a hand on her shoulder, turning her toward him. “Come with me to Haven! It’s where the Inquisition is holed up.”

She looked at him, uncertain she’d heard him right. “Haven, but isn't that where the Breach is? Are all the refugees going there?”

“No, not really. It’s a safe distance away from the Breach, and most of the people there are involved with the Inquisition in some way or another. Are you still tanning leathers?” he asked, a hand scruffing his chin.

She nodded. “For market day, yes, but I also started making leather sheaths and armor a couple years ago.”

“That’s perfect! You’ll fit right in. Your can report to Harritt, I’m sure he’ll have need for your skills, and there’s plenty of cots in warm little cabins. What do you say?” He held his palms up and arms open, a big grin on his face.

Maeva was shocked and honored at the invitation, but also wondered if he was doing this mainly out of a sympathy that would eventually die out.

What if he regrets this someday, what if they all do. What if I can’t earn my keep? No, that I can do. This could be good, whether I want it in my life right now or not. How can I say this?

Her mouth seemed to dictate her words as they formed in her, like bubbles reaching the surface of water. “I’ll do it!” Smile. “And I will earn my keep. I’m not that little girl catching nugs in sewers anymore.”

Part of her felt these words were too brash, that she shouldn't voice conditions to a superior and childhood friend that had just offered her a home and purpose, but the words had left her mouth before her volition could catch them.

You won’t regret this. No, don’t promise that.

“You won’t regret this,” he said with a wink.

Her face tilted slightly at his words, but then smiled, because now something fit in her world.

“Thank you so much,” she added. This came from a different, warmer part of her.

He smiled back at her, not saying anything this time, and offered his hand, which she shook happily.

“I’ll meet you in Haven later, I’ll be at the campfire on the middle level. To get there, go back to Crossroads, then you can probably get a ride there when the afternoon supply caravan heads back. I think it leaves in a couple hours.”

She nodded while thinking of the tenth brick and its mysterious treasure.

“I’d better get moving them.” It was barely noon. “Got some stuff to grab,” she said while pointing in a random direction.

“Take your time,” he said, shrugging, always smiling. “I’ll see you later.”

They waved goodbye, then she spun around and took off with a purposeful stride in the opposite direction. She realized too late she was aimed towards the other staircase that lead to a different part of the quay, but she kept walking until she arrived there.

The quayside market was at its busiest at this time of day. The smell of cooked fish and fried root vegetables, and the loud chatter and tumble of activity filled in the air. She stood on the last two steps of the stairs, finding her cornerstone beyond the throng of humans and elves, market stalls, and porters and fishers unloading boats.

I can either wait around for hours, or not care so much that anyone see me pulling something out of the stone. As long as I retrieve it, there will be nothing left for anyone to find there.

Maeva squared her jaw and ferreted her way expertly into the crowd, weaving through the gaps between people as they opened and closed. From within, despite that she was tall for an eighteen year old elf girl, she could only see shoulders and faces in front of her. She navigated by the flag posts above her, arriving at her cornerstone short minutes later.

A human man dressed like a fisherman was leaning directly on the flat of the stone next to the side her dog head carving was on. She was only partly surprised by what she decided to do.

“Excuse me,” she started as she approached him. “The fishmonger at the other end was asking to talk to you.” He looked at her, confused. “I don’t know why, was just told to give you the message,” she added, shrugging her arms then walked off.

A short distance away she turned and made a large circle, arriving back at the water’s edge. The man’s head bobbed in the crowd as he headed away. She locked her eyes on her target in the shadowed carving. As she closed the gap between them with determination she withdrew a short knife from her belt, quickly driving it home at the top of the hidden tube and her other hand to the bottom, fingertips wedging into the crevice.

She pried at it gently at first, but when it wouldn't give she applied more force. The bottom half was more pliable, she realized as she tugged at it and tried to grip the end between her thumb and index finger. The roughness of the stone scratched at her knuckles but she didn't care.

Adjusting the blade of the dagger, she asserted stronger force. Suddenly there was loud snap and the tube popped out as she gasped.

She immediately pocketed the knife and the tube and walked away, quickly dissolving into the crowd and heading up the stairs to the town’s gate. Her mind panicked at the thought of that sound, which she was sure was of something breaking inside the tube, but she kept her eyes aimed straight ahead despite not truly looking at anything. She felt an anxious sweat on her forehead, cooling and sending a shiver down her spine. Her stomach began to twist with worry.

A few minutes later she was out of Redcliffe, still walking at a fast pace. Then she left the traveled path and headed straight into the trees. She continued until she no longer heard any voices behind her, then hopped up one of the many rocky little hills that rolled the land. Finally in adequate privacy she sat on a lower rock next to a tree and carefully took out the tube.

It was a thin somewhat hardened leather square rolled into a cylinder with the edges tucked in at each end, secured by a cord. Her mother had kept some of these from time to time, she remembered. She undid the knot and gently unrolled the leather, her hands smoothing and flattening it against the tops of her thighs. In all the square of the leather and parchment inside was small and her hands covered it entirely.

Inside there was a message written on the parchment, and two halves of a broken dark crystal ring. Her eyes darted to the ring with dismay, then began to read:

“My sweet Maeva, it is time that you learn the truth. This ring is made of dwarven memory crystal; I bought it at great cost in Denerim after you were born. Wear it and you will hear my voice, and the story of your birth. I fear you may one day be in great danger, and if you are reading this, that I can no longer protect you. You must stay safe, I know you can do it. I love you always.”

Her eyes lingered on the signature: “Mother, Anthena”

Tears bubbled up from within her. She collected the ring halves in the palm of one hand and the parchment in the other, letting the leather coil up and fall away. Then she closed her fists slowly as she touched her head to her knees and let the storm of emotions come.

Chapter Text

Hours later found Maeva hiking up the foothills of the Frostback Mountains. She’d been offered a seat on the druffalo-pulled cart but had refused, preferring the long walk and weight of her backpack as if it would atone her. The ring halves seemed to call at her from their new home, stowed inside the halla box buried deep in her backpack to keep her mind and worried fingers from them.

Stopping to turn around often, she watched as Lake Calenhad disappeared from view behind her progress through the mountains and trees. The sun was nearly set and the glorious colors of the sky’s pink-orange clouds reflected off its waters. The last glimpse of the lake vanished and she turned back to the road. The ground was now covered in snow instead of greenery; the forest thinned, becoming mostly conifers that grew shorter as they climbed higher.

The chill of altitude and darkness made Maeva shiver, and she pulled her bear pelt blanket from her bag to wrap around her shoulders. Though she had on leggings and layers of tunic and jerkin, her neck and face stung in the icy wind, and her thin boots were far from adequate for the cold climate.

No more hunting in the sun for me. I’d better make myself some heavy boots, she thought as she watched her shoes darken in the wetness of the snow. The cold bit at her toes through the thin material.

Before long night set in and she could no longer make out the difference between the dark mountain peaks, the trees, and the sky. Finally the weak light of two torches appeared along the road illuminating a tall carved wall and gate. They passed through it and finally Maeva saw the Breach. Mouth agape, she stopped in her tracks and stared at it.

A vortex lay open in the clouds overtop mountains far away, filling the valley before her with eerie green light. At its center, large rocks rolled in the air, suspended by whatever strange magic that had caused the temple’s explosion. Even at this distance she felt dwarfed by the size of the thing. It crackled and rumbled, sending erratic waves of green light across the blanket of clouds that covered the whole sky.

Once she could tear her eyes away, Maeva saw that she was behind the caravan now, and she hurried to catch up with the others. The Breach seemed too far removed to be a direct threat, but it easily commanded the eyes and thoughts of everyone there. They would glance up at it to see that it was still there, frown, and keep moving.

The village of Haven appeared before her as they rounded a bend. First she saw a series of large tents staked into the ground on either side of the path, clearly home to the small military force of the Inquisition. Now, the caravan’s wagon halted and people began unloading it while others continued up steps through a gated wall.

The smell of hot coals and the familiar sounds of blacksmithing came from a sheltered area ahead, and she wondered if this Harritt person was over there. To her left she saw more torch-lit stairs through the gate and remembered where Varric said she could find him, and headed that way.

Haven was busy for its small size. Torches and campfires lit cozy corners, cabins glowed through their windows. Now she smelled stew in the air, and her stomach grumbled. As she walked through, she recognized chantry sisters, Inquisition's scouts, and civilians in Fereldan garb. Not many elves, she noticed.

Varric sat by a campfire reading a book. Beyond him were more tents, a few wooden cabins, and the large chantry building made of stone bricks, sitting at the top of the hill that made the village. She cleared her throat as she approached.

“Hey, there you are,” he said, putting down the book and standing to greet her. “Welcome to Haven! How was the trip? Have you eaten? Are you tired?”

The warmth of the campfire beckoned to her, and she squatted near it and rubbed her hands together.

“I’m fine, really. Thanks again for all this, Varric,” she smiled at him but felt awkward again.

He smiled back, as always, then sighed and sat down next to her and the fire.

“This must all be pretty weird for you,” he said slowly, looking at the fire and hanging his hands loose from over his knees. She stared at it with him and held still while the fire heated her hands and feet.

Though she only remembered a few conversations with him from her years in Kirkwall, Maeva was always impressed at how he was able to read her so well. She decided that it was because he was a writer.

“I’m not trying to force you to talk about any of it, not until you want to. I just... I feel for ya, kid, really.”

She felt that guilty pang again from the responsibility of meriting his sympathy and generosity.

“You shouldn't have to deal with all this,” he continued, “all the death, and the rifts, and the fucking Breach,” he gestured angrily at the tear in the sky. He was clearly upset beneath his thick facade, the tone of his voice betraying him.

“But, shit happens,” he muttered, and stopped there.

Maeva still felt self-conscious, but was now more worried about him. She watched him silently as the fire danced on his thoughtful eyes, and small, scarce expressions twitched his brow and cheeks.

“Are you okay?” she asked gently.

He was still for another moment, then gave a laugh and a sigh before looking at her. “We’ll both be okay.”

She returned his smile warmly. “I think you’re right.”

He slapped his hands to his knees and stood up. “Well, let’s get you settled! I figured you’d prefer to sleep with a roof over your head than the snow and stars,” he said with a chuckle, leading her down a path along the inner wall of the village. “So I asked around for a spare cot and found you one next to a fireplace in one of the cabins up here. A warm one,” he added.

She grinned at him in thanks but then realized he was referring to her chattering teeth and huddled posture. She forced her jaw to remain still and took a deep breath of the cold air.

“I’ve never actually been anywhere cold,” she said. “It’s sunny in the Hinterlands, it was sunny in Kirkwall… Doesn’t it bother you?”

“Nah, not much. But you’ll get used to it fast.”

They passed a tavern, song and sounds of cheer within, then she followed Varric up some stone steps that were carved into a rocky hillside. At the top, three cabins converged upon the path.

As Maeva reached the last step she saw the elf named Solas standing still next to the western cabin. His back to the Breach, he stared off into green-lit clouds above Haven, one arm’s elbow resting across his other arm hooked at his waist, fingers absently rubbing at the air.

She hesitated in her step until she felt like she was staring at him the way she had at the Breach. He then shifted and caught her gaze briefly before turning and entering his cabin.

Varric led her into the opposite building, where she found a stone fireplace built against one wall of the square room. A double bed was nestled into one end of the room, and three cots and hay scattered about made up the rest.

Before she had a chance to compose her thoughts, Varric pointed to the cot closest to the window. “This is you!” he said with enthusiasm.

Maeva smiled brightly, and dropped her backpack and bear pelt onto her bed.

“Are you hungry?” he asked.

She glanced at her cot, desperately wanting to bury herself in blankets and shut the world out. But her stomach protested, and nodded eagerly.

“Yes, very. But Varric, I’m worried I cannot thank you enough for this. You’re seriously saving me here; if it weren’t for you--”

He shook his hands and head. “No, no, don’t thank me too much. Not yet,” he added with a laugh. “Let’s just get you fed and to bed for tonight, then tomorrow we can put you to work.”

She smiled again and hugged him suddenly. He chuckled and patted her back, then took her hand and they left the cabin.

An hour later Maeva returned alone, her tummy warm from hearty stew. The noises of Haven had quieted as most of the people were retiring for the night. She heard voices now as she ascended the stairs, the Herald and Solas talking together outside his cabin. Maeva continued to her cabin at a natural pace, wishing she were invisible. Just inside, she let the door shut most of the way while she pressed herself to the wall and peeked through the gap that remained.

“... Cassandra has been accommodating, but you understand my caution,” said Solas. Maeva could see his face, half lit by a torch on his cabin, over the back of the Herald’s shoulder.

His graceful voice had reached something deep down inside of Maeva, then Lavellan’s velvety voice had pulled the feeling straight back out of her.

“You came here to help, Solas. I won’t let them use that against you,” she said, shaking her head.

“How would you stop them?” he asked pointedly.

“However I had to,” she replied simply. Maeva could hear the smile on her face.

He hesitated before answering, eyes holding her gaze and a small amount of awe. “Thank you.” He said it with measured sincerity, then changed his tone back to business. “For now, let us hope either the mages or the templars have the power to seal the Breach.”

She nodded goodbye to him and headed down the stairs. Solas watched her go, eyes following her until she was out of sight, then he turned and entered his cabin.

Maeva remained still until his door shut, then she slowly closed her door the rest of the way. The others beds in the cabin were now full of quiet shapes in the dark, neighbors she hadn't had a chance to meet yet. She undressed down to her smallclothes then curled into the bedroll with her bear pelt over top. She was no longer cold, but she still wished to shut out the world and her thoughts.

Her mind swam with thoughts of the day’s events, of the ring halves in their box, and of her gratitude towards Varric. Crystal clear memories of each of the three times that Solas had looked at her, and of his face and voice as he talked to Lavellan all her played through her mind over and over until she eventually drifted into sleep.

Chapter Text

Awareness sparked into her mind, percolating whispered thoughts. She was in absolute darkness but she knew she was not alone. Then the feeling of cloth brushing up over her cheeks, her tunic being removed.

This is not the Fade, said a woman’s voice in her head.

Then that voice and Maeva's asked in unison, is this a dream?

The last threads of the tunic reached her chin and a warm hand collect the weight of her head, lifting it slightly. The cloth swept away and her arms slipped out onto a furry pelt, warm from her body. She smiled at the touch and snuggled further into comfort. Part of her recognized that this was not her cot in Haven.

Where am I, whose hands are these, and why can’t I feel my mana? asked the other voice.

The last thought proved to Maeva that this was indeed a dream, as she was no mage. Satisfied with this answer, she let herself drift with it, enjoying the vivid sensations it tickled her with.

The brush of skin upon her bare waist: fingers claiming the top of her leggings, pulling them gently over the curve of her hips and off her legs. Now the mysterious fingers started at the knot of her bodywrap, and a tonal squirm escaped her lips. The movement stopped, one hand departed her hips and landed softly upon her cheek, cupping her face.

“You will become a mother of gods, emma lath,” said a man’s whispered voice.

She sighed back, her mind weaving questions around the words. She did not truly know why his voice calmed her so, but she protested no further as the cloth was unwound and delicately pulled from her body.

He sat her up and guided her face to his shoulder where she gratefully rested, his breath steady and soothing above her. Moments later a soft cloth brushed over her back and was pulled around her shoulders and fastened below her neck. He lifted her with one strong arm around her ribs. More cloth-- it was a cloak, she realized-- was scooped under her legs. He carefully freed her long hair and laid her back down, then the hands were gone.

A moment later light exploded around her and she was being carried in his arms. She opened her eyes, the moon big and low in the sky over a rocky horizon. Her ears filled with sounds of rain upon water, frogs and insect life relishing the wet air, and his footsteps upon the ground.

His strong, broad chest was warm through his cloth robe and she sighed happily. She wanted to look up and see his face but she could not move. The sound of chanting increased as the man carried her forward.

They passed under an archway of stacked stone monoliths. More arches beyond it, forming a circle. He came to a halt when they reached the center.

The happiness of his warmth left her suddenly as she was deposited atop a hard, wet stone slab. His hands guided her gently to lay down on her back, legs hanging over the edge. The periphery of her vision was lined by the circle of stones arches interspersed by torches and figures in dark hooded robes.

She realized too late that her wrists and ankles were being strapped into bindings. In that moment panic erupted in her core like a wildfire, until his face appeared above her, upside down and encased in a dark hood. His pale skin shone bright from reflected moonlight, his hazel eyes were locked on hers. Though he did not speak, she heard him.

Calm, sweet thing.

Tuning into his gaze, her inner rebellion and fight diffused soundlessly in a flood of other sensations. His hands pressed carefully but firmly upon her shoulders through the velvet cloak. She could not understand her surrender, but the eyes captivated her and she yielded.

The chanting increased around them, pointing focus at another person standing at her knees. She reluctantly looked away from her gentle handler’s face, curious to see what was going on.

A naked elven man stood at the edge of the altar, face downcast in shadows, his demeanor wobbling as if he were in a trance. Without seeing, his hands moved forward and swept open her cloak to expose her body. She sent a look of fear to her handler; he returned her gaze serenely as his mouth parted to speak.

“Keep your eyes closed.”

She heard the tenderness and caring in his quiet voice but disobeyed.

Words in ancient Elvish dripped from the other man’s mouth as he began a chant that dominated all other sounds. She only recognized of few of his words yet did not hear them; only the melody of the chant tugged at her mind.

A blue light emanated from a goblet that he raised over his head, all while the chanting and the circle's recanting continued. He drank deeply from the goblet, then it was passed to her handler who in turn lowered it to her mouth as he lifted her head.

The goblet touched her lips and the glowing liquid slid into her mouth. It was lyrium. The sensation of his fingertips brushing the skin of her neck was the only thing that held her back from objection.

Her dream self had tasted lyrium before, but this was far more concentrated. Her tongue seemed to freeze as the minerally liquid slipped down her throat.

The empty goblet was returned to the ritual leader who now revealed a long shining dagger which he dragged down the inside of his arm. Dark blood emerged and was collected into the goblet. A sharp, burning pain screamed on her thigh as she felt him bleed her as well. He drank from the cup again, then it was returned to her lips. Her mind hesitated but her body obeyed and the metallic taste of quickly cooling blood filled her mouth and throat.

Pressure and pain now slammed against the entrance to her body between her legs. Fear and defiance screamed in her mind as her body tensed.

Her protector’s fingertips moved along her neck to her shoulders. Such a small touch, but it was enough to return her mind to a better place. She ignored the wrong that was going on below her waist, choosing to concentrate on the loving eyes instead. The upside-down face was seeing through her, into her, looking at her mind, at her heart.

Her gut tightened in protest as waves of nausea met waves of desire in confusion. The lyrium and blood curdled in her stomach as pulses of magic were shoved into her core with every thrust. Under the gaze of her sweet protector the rhythm bucking into her reached a new intensity. The pain faded out completely as a new flame of heat snaked through her body. The sensation sent vine-like tendrils up her chest, through her breasts and up the skin of her throat like a blush of blood. A gasp of pain mixed with pleasure escaped her lips, lighting a fire behind her eyes as she looked at her handler’s face.

It should be you, she told him silently.

His gaze reflected her arousal and deepened it, setting her whole body afire with lust. She felt like she was on fire despite the cold wind and rain whipping at her body.

Yes, look at me, come with me, she beckoned with a smile.

Though his eyes were dark with equal desire he pleaded with her: “Close your eyes!”

“Never,” she breathed.

In that instant orgasm took over her body and she saw herself through his eyes; her face sweetly contorted in the thrall of pleasure, lips parted and eyelids fluttering as her back arched. She felt her own presence emanating from her skin into his hand and mind like a fever, pushing him to climax as well.

The final series of erratic thrusts by the ritual leader was largely ignored by the lovers, until the bloodied dagger appeared again in his hand, glinting angrily in the moonlight. Her happiness evaporated and she accepted that she was about to die as her eyes followed the blade into the air.

Do not fear; you shall live. The words came from her protector as his fingertips brushed her face to calm her again.

Shimmering with rain, sweat, blood, and lyrium, the man still inside of her completed his chant triumphantly then rammed the dagger home into his own heart. Life left his body and he slipped out of her as he collapsed to the ground. She felt his death like thunder echoing into her belly, her heart, and her mind. She opened her mouth to scream.


__________

 

Maeva awoke sitting straight up in her cot, mouth wide and gasping as she looked around in panic. The hearth crackled dimly in the dark room, her blankets were on the floor, her underclothes were drenched in sweat, again.

Her heart pounded and refused to calm itself. The enclosed darkness of the cabin encroached upon her, hinting at suffocation.

Have to get out of here, was all she could think.

She rose to her feet and grabbed only the bear pelt as she rushed out of the cabin as quietly as possible.

Outside, her hot feet plunged into a thin layer of freshly fallen snow and she looked up at the sky as she caught her breath. The Breach glimmered in the distance over Solas's cabin, sucking thick clouds from half the sky.

Maeva stepped around the buildings to look east. She saw the moon and stars there, and suddenly felt happy.

Have to get closer.

She skipped down the steps, mildly surprised that her bare feet were not cold from the snow. She felt comfortable, even. Her cozy bear pelt was large and covered her front and back from her shoulders to just above her knees. Sweat-matted hair misted in the icy air.

Haven was fast asleep; barely a sound other than the distant hum of the Breach. She smiled devilishly as she hurried through the village. The guard at the gate dozed and she passed silently.

The valley was pristine and sparkling in the icy night, one side cast in green light from the Breach, and the other in white from the moon. Stepping quietly past the military tents she followed the path away from town towards the wooded hills nearby.

She hummed a tune quietly, a smile upon her lips, eyes wandering and eating up the night. The stars twinkled but she could not make out constellations for the moon’s bright light. She watched the sky as she walked: ripples of green floated from the Breach to the edge of the clouds and vanished before the stars.

The loud crunch of snow beneath her feet caught her attention, and she found herself off the path and headed into the trees. She continued, still humming until she came to a clearing where deep snow mounded at the center, dotted with tunnels that elfroot saplings had burrowed out from the ground below.

Have to get in.

Impulse overtook her suddenly: grinning, she dropped the bear pelt and jumped into the snow, rolling against it on all sides of her body. She squealed in delight as the snow touched her skin. Laughter bubbled out of her as she lay back on the snow and rubbed it in handfuls against her legs and arms and head.

Clean. Fresh. Alive. These words floated through her mind but yet she felt like she wasn't thinking at all, just feeling.

She sighed and propped herself up on her hands, her underclothes now soaked with melted snow instead of sweat. The moon and stars seemed to throb as she stared at them. She hadn’t felt this good in--

“Are you fevered?”

She jumped at the words and her head swung in direction of the voice. It was the man in armor and fur pauldrons she remembered from the Hinterlands. He stood at the edge of the clearing, where her footprints had led him.

She smiled at him as if drunk. “What?” Her reverie began to fragment as she slowly became aware of her strange state of being.

“Do you have a fever?” he asked again, trying to read her strange smile. “I can think of no other reason to be rolling around in the snow in one’s smallclothes in the middle of the night.”

There was both amusement and concern in his voice. He glanced down then looked away.

Maeva felt dizzy now. “I just wanted to cool off,” she heard herself mumble. Her eyelids shut with new exhaustion and she dropped back into the snow.

“Miss? Miss!” He was next to her now, one hand on her forehead. “You’re burning up!”

She was aware of her bear pelt covering her body and him lifting her and being carried against his chest. The dream came rushing back into her mind.

“Is this a dream?” she asked, touching her fingers to the fur of his pauldrons.

“No, it’s not a dream, you’re just ill. I’m taking you to the healer now.” His voice was kind but tired.

The rhythm of his walking rocked her in his arms. She felt the warmth of his breath above her.

“Thank you, ser knight,” she breathed quietly.

She felt him look down at her in the moonlight, but he said nothing, and she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Maeva smelled morning air and elfroot salve. She opened her eyes and found herself lying in a cot in the infirmary, fresh linens between her skin and the bear pelt. A middle-aged human woman saw her wake and came over to sit on the side of the bed, placing a hand on Maeva's forehead. She wore a white robe and long healer's apron.

“Good morning, how are you feeling?”

Her voice carried a northern accent and spoke quickly, as if being tired and irritated were her constants. The woman withdrew her hand and Maeva sat up in bed, pulling her fur to her chest.

“Alright, I think. How… Did I…?” A yawn interrupted her.

“Middle of the night, Commander Cullen wakes me up bringing you in here, shivering and fevered. In nothing but your smalls and that blanket, I might add.” She looked closely at Maeva, judging her reaction. “He said he found you in the snow and trees outside the walls. That true?”

Fragmented memories of last night came back to her as the woman explained.

“Yes, I remember,” Maeva started slowly. “I woke from a dream, and I was burning hot, so I went outside… Then there were stars and the moon, and snow. After that, I’m not sure.”

The nurse raised an eyebrow at her curiously then stood and busied herself around the infirmary while she spoke. “Right, then. Anyway, soon as the commander puts you down and tries to leave, you start thrashing and kicking.”

What?

The woman nodded, a smirk tugging at one side of her mouth. “You kept pushing me away and trying to get up and walk out. Maker knows I tried to keep you down, but you’re stronger than you look! The commander had to restrain you until I could get a potion down your throat.”

“I don’t remember any of that...”

“Your fever last night was hotter than any I’d seen all year, but short, too-- it broke only a few hours later. You've been sleeping since. You seem alright now so you can leave, but eat something soon and don’t exert yourself. I think the tavern’s still got some breakfast porridge.”

Maeva got up with haste and wrapped the pelt around her as conservatively as possible.

“Oh, and master Varric stopped by earlier when he heard you were ill, said he had to leave for the day, hopes you feel better, that stuff,” the nurse said, trailing off.

Maeva stopped at the door. “Thank you for everything.” The woman wiggled a hand in reply without looking up.

Outside the morning sun was low over the mountain peaks but she still felt its warmth on her cheeks. She hurried along the dirt path, mildly irritated at her feet getting cold and dirty as she dashed into her cabin.

What in the world was I doing outside in my smalls, and rolling in the snow? I remember being hot, but, gods...

Her entire body felt weak, not just from the fever but guilt and embarrassment as well. Resolved to make amends, she dressed into her leggings, leather tunic, and boots, then shouldered her backpack and left, leaving the bear pelt on her bed.

Outside, she noticed Solas was not around and she figured he was off adventuring somewhere with Varric and the Herald.

Inside the mostly empty tavern, the bartender was a woman named Flissa that Varric had introduced her to the night before. Maeva asked after the porridge and was served a bowl without comment. She thanked her and ate hungrily. A few minutes later when the bowl was empty and her stomach settled enough to be suited for work she left and headed towards the village gate.

The blacksmithing area was nestled against the outer wall of the village and on one side of a cabin, the building’s roof extending over to cover the coal and fire pits. Half a dozen human men of varying ages tinkered away loudly at the anvils and workbenches. She stopped at the entrance of the little fence that sectioned off the area from the path.

“Is there a Harritt here?” she asked, raising her voice over the noise.

A tall human man, bald but with a generous rust-colored mustache and beard approached her. “That’s me,” he said.

“Hello,” she said, trying to smile. “My name is Maeva. Varric told me to--”

“Right. Been waiting for you. Feeling better?”

“Yes,” she sighed.

“So, Varric says you work leathers.” He led them to the side of the building and he leaned against it. “Can you elaborate on that?”

She’d expected this, and lifted her backpack to the top of a nearby crate, then withdrew her roll of leatherworking tools and opened it for him.

He nodded at it. “Crude, but you've got the essentials. What have you made?”

Next she laid out her leather jerkin. Harritt reached over and tested the corded seams along the sides, then rolled some of the material through his fingers and gave an approving grunt.

“And these,” she said, pulling out her sheathed daggers.

Harritt picked one up with interest, holding it close to his face as he turned it over with both hands. “Good binding, here,” he said, then tossed it onto the crate. “Very well! We've got plenty of work for you. Bring your tools and follow me.”

She collected her items and hurried after him towards the small frozen lake lay in the center of the valley.

“I've been doing most of the tanning for the last month, but you’re going to take that over now, that way I can concentrate on special requests,” he explained as they walked.

They passed alongside of the large open area of dirt and snow in front of the lake, the other side home to the military and their tents and training dummies.

“Do we outfit the military?” she asked.

“No, thank the Maker. We're only manufacturing weapons and armor for the Herald and her retinue. Mages, rogues, warriors, pretty much every last one of them requires leather in some way or another.”

At the top of the rise, three oblong tanning racks were propped up next to a tall pile of animal hides.

“These here are what the Herald herself hunted yesterday,” he said with some pride as he gestured at the pile. “The kitchen gets the kills first, they skin ‘em and rub on some salt, then the hides are hauled over here for tanning. Keep the thickness consistent as much as possible, but you can go thinner on the fennecs since that’s mostly just used for gloves.”

Maeva stared at the pile and wondered how long it’d taken the Herald to kill them all.

“Got it?” he asked when she didn't say anything.

She forced a big smile. “You bet!”

He left without another word. She sat down cross-legged on a sun-warmed spot in front of the pile and racks and got started.

 

__________

 

Hours flew by while she was busy with her work. Half the hides were now tied and stretched across the tanning racks and had all been scraped and worked as instructed. She wiped her knife clean and put it away at last, then arranged the racks so that the skins could catch the tilt of the sun’s path for the rest of the day.

Finally she stood up and looked around the valley while taking a deep breath. To the west, the Breach glowed and rumbled as per usual-- she realized she’d forgotten it was there, and its constant hum seemed quiet to her now. To the east, the clang of sparring soldiers chimed near their tents, and a persistent wind blew from the north, swaying the tall pine trees beyond.

The blonde hair of Commander Cullen’s head caught her sight as he made his way through the soldiers and tents to the open area. Several stacked bundles of large wooden slats, probably for building walls, she guessed, were piled at one end of the space. He walked around these and sat down on a low stack, facing the lake.

I’d better thank him for rescuing me last night...

She found herself hopping down the hill and walking over to him.

Wait, how do I say this? The man saw me frolicking in the snow wearing nothing but my smalls!

Her consternation halted her mid-stride. He looked up and recognized her after a moment then started to smile, until he glanced down at her clothes, blushed and looked away. She felt her cheeks heat as well, but it was too late to escape now.

“Excuse me, ser, I just wanted to thank you for saving me last night,” she blurted out quickly.

He cleared his throat and gave her a small smile as he fussed with something in the deep pockets of his cloak. “It was no trouble, miss. I’m glad you’re, ah, feeling better now.”

“Yes, I am, thank you,” she said politely.

“You’re welcome. Want an apple?”

“Sorry?”

His armored hand withdrew from his cloak and held a small reddish apple at her. “It’s important to stay well fed after a fever.”

“No, really, I’m fine,” she insisted.

“I don’t believe you,” he said with a half laugh.

He tossed the apple at her and she caught it reflexively. A second apple was pulled from his cloak pocket and he took a bite of it as he looked across the lake. At the sound of the fruit in his mouth, Maeva impulsively took a bite of her own apple, and the tart sweetness of it surprised her.

He made fast work of the little fruit while her eyes were drawn to his fur pauldrons; she hadn't noticed before that some parts of it had been treated with a reddish dye, and she couldn't help but smile.

“That’s a nice fur. Bear, right?” she asked between chews.

He turned and looked at her curiously, then nodded. “Yes, it is.”

“Shame you dyed it.”

Her words surprised her as much as they did he, but it was too late, and she froze with her eyes wide and her mouth a small ‘o’. He tilted his head at her slightly, then a loud laugh erupted from him.

Maeva blushed profusely. “Sorry, I-- I didn't mean--”

“No, no, don’t try to apologize. The truth is already out there,” he said with another chuckle.

To avoid saying anything else she took another big bite of the apple.

Sounds of commotion drifted to them from behind the military tents and they both turned to look: the Herald and her retinue had returned. Maeva watched the four of them on horseback as they stopped in front of the village gate and dismounted, then conferred briefly as stablehands led the horses away. Now they split up and the Herald headed toward the tents, clearly looking for the commander.

“Back to work,” he said with a sigh as he got up, his voice tired but contented.

He flicked the core of his apple into an ashy sconce on his way toward the Herald, his other hand resting on the pommel of the hilted sword at his hip. Maeva sat down and took another bite of her apple as she watched them overtop the bundles of wooden planks, noticing the mid-length leather jerkin their leader wore.

“Ah, Commander!” said the Herald when she saw him from halfway across the field. “Let’s assemble at the war table, we have news!” She smiled and turned back toward the village and the commander followed.

Maeva saw Varric in front of the blacksmithing area and realized he was probably looking for her. She got to her feet and called to him, waving above her head. He waved back and they started to walk to each other when Maeva stopped suddenly, looking past him. As Varric approached her she held out a trembling hand and pointed.

“What’s a Qunari doing here?” she asked, her voice shaking.

Varric followed her sight then whipped around and grasped Maeva's extended hand in both of his.

“No, no, Maeva, it’s okay! He’s an ally, and he has nothing to do with Kirkwall!” he explained quickly, patting the back of her hand comfortingly.

A sound of relief slipped from her but she still could not tear her eyes from the great hulk of man and his huge ox-like horns.

“His name is ‘the Iron Bull.’ Gotta love the name, right?" His laugh was somewhat forced, and part of her realized he was almost pleading with her. "He runs the mercenary company called Bull’s Chargers. See-- that’s his group with him. We just recruited them from the Storm Coast this morning.”

Maeva saw six other people standing around the Qunari, none of them taller than his shoulder. She recognized two elves among them, and relaxed further, slowly letting out a breath and looking away at last.

“Thanks, Varric. I’m alright,” she said, smiling at him and gently retrieving her hand.

He smiled back at her. “So, how are things with Harritt? Did he get you started on leatherworking?”

“Yep, I've got loads of tanning work to do but the racks are full for now.”

“Well, good, ‘cause I’m thirsty. Come with me to the tavern?” He gestured toward the village and they started walking. “I have a feeling the Herald will be whisking us off again soon, but I wanted to check in on you. How are you feeling? You look better...”

“Yes, I am better, really. I worked on the skins all morning and got to meet Commander Cullen. But can’t you tell me what you've been up to instead? I’m sure it’s much more interesting.”

“Stretching animal hides and talking to Curly? You’re right, my day is more interesting,” he said with a laugh. “Well, let’s see, first we went to the Storm Coast and saw the Chargers in action. The weather was awful, rain blowing in from all sides, slippery rocks... yuck. But apparently it’s always like that there,” he added with a sigh.

“After that, we went back to Redcliffe to meet up with Grand Enchanter Fiona who we thought had invited us there in person.

His storytelling voice began to take over, and Maeva wondered if she was getting the first edition of one of his future novels. They arrived at the tavern and sat at the end of a table and bench. Flissa brought over Varric's custom stein, brimming with ale, before he even had time to put his crossbow down.

“Thanks, Flissa, you read my mind,” he said, gratefully taking a long swig of ale then continued the story.

Apparently, a Magister Alexius of Tevinter now controlled the former Circle mages as well as Redcliffe Castle, and was extremely interested in the magic on the Herald’s hand. In addition, the magister's own son secretly warned them about dangers within the castle and his father’s plans.

A scout popped his head through the door. “Master Varric, the Herald is calling for you.”

“Told ya so,” he winked at Maeva and downed the rest of his ale.

She followed him outside as he hitched his crossbow to his back harness. In front of the chantry, the Herald spoke with Commander Cullen and two others while Solas and Cassandra stood by the requisitions table, refilling their potion belts.

“So, Herald, are you sure you're ready for this?” Varric asked as he approached her.

“Ready to spring a trap? Always,” she said with a devilish smile.

Cullen smirked at this, and behind him, so did Solas.

Chapter Text

Less than an hour later, Maeva watched the Herald and her retinue mount horses from the stables outside the village walls. Varric and Cassandra were already mounted while the Herald spoke with Solas and another mage, flamboyantly dressed with a waxed moustache. Then Solas nodded politely at the Herald and walked away, disappearing through the village gate. The Herald and the other one, Dorian, she’d heard him called, mounted and adjusted their mage staves over the back of the saddles, then set off with their companions.

Once they’d left the little valley, Maeva checked on her tanning leathers then returned to the blacksmith’s. The Qunari was there, testing the metal of a broadaxe by flicking his nails on its sharp edge. She hesitated before approaching further and he looked up, quickly looking her over. Feeling awkward under the giant’s gaze, she locked her eyes the leather of his boots.

“Don’t worry, little girl, I’m a friendly Qunari,” he said, his deep voice betraying a jocose poise that made her wonder how old he was.

“I’m not little,” she spat out before she could stop herself.

The Iron Bull laughed heartily at this and straightened his posture fully, and his point needed no further proving. She watched his thumb press against the curve of the blade, then frowned and resumed her search for Harritt, avoiding the Qunari’s gaze at all costs.

Against the front of the blacksmith’s cabin lounged another man she hadn’t seen before, wearing thick padded armor, dark like his thick hair and beard. He looked out at the white clouds on the sunny side of the sky and seemed to not notice or care for anyone around him, and was content about it.

“If you’re looking for Harritt, I believe he’s up by the requisitions table,” offered the Iron Bull, and she realized he’d been watching her this whole time.

She mumbled a shy thank you and left promptly, hurrying through the village gates as she tried to hide herself from him behind the bulk of her backpack. She’d seen the requisitions table in front of the chantry earlier, and she headed there quickly. A small group of villagers stood around a campfire warming their hands, and as Maeva passed by she overheard two robed chantry sisters discussing a Madame Vivienne de Fer, the elegant and besilked Circle mage that had arrived that day.

“There you are.” Harritt’s voice snapped her attention, and she turned to see him thumbing through a log book on the table. “How’s the tanning coming along?”

“Good, Mister Harritt. Six are tanning now. If there are empty racks somewhere, I can start on more,” she replied.

He shook his head without looking up. “We only have those three. If you know how to make more, do it. Oh, wait--” He reached into a box at his feet. “The Herald gave me this to try to fix. She said it was a gift, from her clan, I think. See what you can do with it. That can hold priority over the racks.”

A small satchel of white leather was tossed to her lightly, its long strap severed and flying behind it like a kitetail. She caught it, her hands curious at the touch of an elaborate design carved into the buckled flap. All other concerns flew from her mind as her fingers pried the soft but firm leather, and she skipped off toward her cabin while examining the item.

The top flap covered over half the size of the satchel’s shape and depicted Ghilan’nain, the Mother Halla. The deer-like creature’s triangular head was carved into the thick of the leather just where its mouth met the copper buckle, the carvings of its broad and tangled antlers spreading across the surface all the way to the edges.

The sight of the halla engraving pulled Maeva’s thoughts back to her mother’s vallaslin that had graced her brow and the top of her chin. She stopped walking, standing unawares between a pathway wall and the side of her cabin as she puzzled at the emotions it drew from her. Having no tattoo of her own to be proud of, she pressed the beveled texture hard against her forehead as if she could imprint herself with it. A wave of emotion rolled through her but was gone just as fast, leaving no more than half a tear at the corner of her eye, quickly dried.

She reached the top of the stairs by her cabin and sat in the sunlight to open the satchel, carefully emptying its contents onto the stone ground next to her. Two large clusters of elfroot leaves cinched by thin cords rolled out. From a pocket against the flat of the satchel’s back she retrieved layers of linen squares and found embrium flowers folded into them. She recognized the delicate touch of an herbalist in how the flower’s petals were gently protected in the wrap.

The herb bundles carefully placed at her side, she inspected the satchel further. The white leather of the sack was worn soft from age, but the strap was newer, judging from its blunt edges, and of a different, darker hide, possibly druffalo.

The engravings of the halla antlers on the front of the flap were unharmed, she was happy to see. The damage was predominantly to one side, where a short but deep slash cut straight through the strap, severing it just above the fastening. The damage continued past the strap and through the cords that were laced through the corner edges, frayed tips dark with dried blood.

Her mind wandered in a few different directions: guessing that this was the Herald’s blood and wondering what kind of wound she’d sustained, and thinking of new cords she could make from this morning’s scrapings, and wondering if there was any halla leather in the blacksmith's cabin.

Still eyeing the satchel, she got to her feet and found Solas standing in front of her. He met her gaze briefly, then she watched his eyes move to the satchel in her hands, a small smile playing on his lips.

“That is a Dalish Keeper’s pouch,” he commented casually.

As his melodic voice washed over her she realized this was the first time he ever spoke to her, and she froze.

“I’m… fixing it,” she muttered.

“But you are no Dalish,” he said, his eyes upon her face now, which would otherwise have a vallaslin.

His voice held no aggression but she felt like the statement was almost an accusation, and she looked away. He was correct, though, and she could only shake her head at him.

Hands behind his back, he strode toward her slowly, eyes on the satchel again. “Do you know how to fix it without destroying its enchantment?” he asked, an edge of concern in his honeyed voice.

She noticed his own face was bare of tattoos. “Do you?”

A quick furrowed glance caught her before he glided past and answered: “I know how they would do it.”

The way he moved, with a lazy but graceful stride, and how he took on a lecturing tone when he spoke to her, reminded her of the hahren in the Kirkwall Alienage, albeit the latter was wrinkled and grayed with age.

Solas stalked slowly past her again, and a part of her shuddered and sweated nervously, still in awe at his very presence.

She focused back to the leatherwork like it was an anchor, turning it and pointing as she spoke. “I’m going to replace the strap, cover the cut with a sewn patch-- of the same leather and color if I can find it-- and make some new cords to replace these,” she explained, holding up the severed cords for him to see.

Solas let his approval show in his nod. “It sounds like you know what you’re doing,” he said, then his tone changed slightly. “I am eager to see this item restored to the Herald intact. Therefore, if I may, da'len…”

Her eyes flicked up to his face at the last word. His hands came around from behind his back and reached toward her gracefully. Maeva's breath caught in her throat as she watched his fingertips glide and join as they pressed along the wound in the leather, covering the cut and the cords.

“The leather used in making this pouch was enchanted, and I do believe I can provide an adequate replacement for the… skin… of the strap.”

Her eyes helplessly locked on his, she felt his finger brush against her hand as he slowly withdrew them from the satchel. At the back of Maeva's mind, a tiny part of her crumbled and an inner shell sprang defensively.

“That would be wonderful!” Good, her voice was calm enough.

He gave a curt nod and smile as she stepped back. Eager to divert his intimidating gaze, she swiftly collected the herb bundles and thrust them into his loose hands. “Um, these were inside, perhaps you can keep them for her? Thank you, hahren!” And she was off down the steps before he could say anything, her backpack bouncing and the precious satchel clutched to her chest. Finally around the corner and out of his sight, she let out a long breath and relaxed at last.

The sounds of merriment exuded from the tavern, and Maeva considered entering and seeking solace in the crowd and perhaps finding some bread to eat. But then she heard a sharp, loud voice preaching about shooting nobles full arrows in their bits, and decided against it. She contented her curiosity by peering through the tavern doorway until she saw the source of the voice: a skinny elven woman, possibly Maeva's age, with short blonde hair and a scowl upon her young face, stood upon a chair as she orated to a laughing audience. Maeva raised an eyebrow at this sight and walked away; the tavern sounded like the opposite of solace now anyway.

 

__________

 

The sun had lowered in the sky considerably when the Inquisition returned. Maeva looked up from her spot at the blacksmith’s workbench where she was making cords and watched them come up the path. Beyond the Herald and her retinue slowly trotting on horseback, a long procession of robed mages stretched out of sight. Absently, she pondered at how much time had passed while she watched the bobbing heads of the mages' staves.

Haven to the Crossroads Waystone, then to Redcliffe, then the Redcliffe Waystone to the castle, and back again… They couldn’t have been at the castle longer than an hour...

Maeve put away her work and shouldered her bag as she stepped onto the path to watch the group arrive, intending to approach the Herald and ask about the enchantment, if she wasn’t busy.

But the Herald seemed distressed as she dismounted in front of the gate. While she smiled gratefully at the welcome she received, her eyes glinted with worry as she rushed into the village. Clearly, asking about the enchantment would have to wait.

On the top level of the village she watched the Herald enter the chantry building with her advisors, so Maeva headed toward her cabin instead. She saw Solas leaning against the back of it, looking down the path at the chantry door where the Herald had just disappeared. He didn’t seem to notice Maeva as she continued around the cabin and through the door.

Now that the day was fading, she retrieved her bear pelt and draped it over one shoulder, securing it about her waist with an extra belt. She stowed her halla box back into the bottom of her backpack and hid it under the bed. Not that she didn’t want to trust the other villagers and the Inquisition, but the box and its contents, as well as the Herald’s satchel, were precious cargo she felt entrusted with, and she didn’t want to fail.

A few minutes later, raised voices sounded outside, and she heard Commander Cullen’s barking orders in the distance. Curious, she headed for the door but stopped short in front of the open window a few paces ahead of her. Through it she could hear other voices coming up the path around the cabin. It was Solas and the Herald.

“... tonight, with the help of the mages,” the Herald was saying.

“So we have gained the mages, excellent. They should be able to seal the Breach.”

A few moments of silence as Maeva sensed they’d adjusted their pace in order to walk side by side.

“You are certain you experienced time travel?” he asked. “Could it have been an illusion, a trick of the Fade?”

“I’ve been to the Fade before; I’d know it,” replied the Herald, just as they stepped past the window.

“Point taken. What an amazing gift,” he said, slowing his words as he imagined it. “It is vital the Inquisition succeed, to avoid the future you witnessed.”

They were at Solas's usual spot in front of his cabin now, their voices were much quieter but still clear.

“Most people have trouble wrapping their head around the idea,” said the Herald.

“I’m not most people,” he quipped. His voice was honeyed again, like when he’d spoken to Maeva earlier.

“I appreciate you talking with me about it. And… not being most people.” She was smiling now.

He replied with humor in his voice: “if you wish me to speak of Orlesian fashion, I may be at a loss. Magical surprises I can handle. Speaking of, you should ready yourself.” And then Solas was back to business.

“For?”

“This Elder One. You have now interfered with his plans twice: once at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, and now again at Redcliffe. A being who aspires to godhood is unlikely to ignore such an affront.”

The word godhood perked Maeva's ears especially.

“Indeed, and I shall,” said the Herald, then fell quiet for a few moments. “About what I saw in that horrible future, I just want to--”

“Don’t,” he interrupted in a quieter and comforting voice. Maeva believed he’d stepped closer to the Herald.

A long moment of silence, then steps sounded upon the stone at the top of the stairs.

“I’m glad that I didn't have to see you there, hahren” she said, both sadness and sweetness in her voice, then she pattered down the steps and away.

Chapter Text

Once Maeva saw Solas walk past her window again and another minute passed she finally allowed herself to move and leave the cabin. Haven’s atmosphere tingled with excitement in the chilly evening air, raised voices over lots of chatter from around every corner. As she rounded her cabin and stepped into the open area in front of the chantry she overheard that the Inquisition and the mages would march to the Breach tonight.

The chantry doors were open and robed sisters filed out of it carrying small crates towards the requisitions table. Though Maeva had not seen Lady Vivienne yet, there was no mistaking her when she saw the tall, straight-backed woman with dark, glowing skin in elegant Orlesian enchanter robes. Even from a distance, the silver threading at the edges of her clothes shimmered in the evening skylight, completing her entitled look of strict but graceful poise. The woman was daintily opening a vial of lyrium and giving it a quick sniff before raising a disappointed eyebrow. She replaced the capped vial into the crate of the chantry sister that stood next to her, and gave a nod with her face saying this will have to do.

Solas was at the table speaking with Cassandra, she who now pointed at a few crates with the Dalish insignia painted upon them. “These are what the Herald’s Dalish contacts were able to get us on short notice,” Cassandra was saying as Maeva approached. “Along with the chantry supply, we should have enough to provide for the mages tonight. I’ll have these taken down to the gates and loaded for the journey to the Temple. We should be ready to leave in ten minutes. Will you inform the Herald?”

Maeva marveled at the woman’s voice. She’d heard a Nevarran accent once before, from a young man in Kirkwall, but Cassandra’s was far different, almost enchanting.

“Yes, Seeker, I’ll tell her. We shall meet you outside the gates.”

He stepped away down the stairs toward the Herald’s cabin near the gate to the village walls. Maeva found herself following him, until she heard Cassandra’s voice again.

“You there, recruit!”

Maeva stopped, confused and turning around. Is she talking to me? Am I a recruit now?

“Yes, you,” Cassandra said. She was talking to her. “Take this message to Commander Cullen. Do you know where he is?” A folded square of parchment was put into her hand before she was done speaking.

Maeva nodded and accepted without a word, skipping off toward the gates.

At the bottom stairs, just before the edge of the walls, she stopped and observed the Herald and Solas outside her cabin to the south. Maeva couldn't help but admire the intricate detail in the edging of the Herald’s long tan leather jerkin. Glimmering blue ring velvet made up the tunic and sleeves beneath, and a white leather belt cinched it all at the waist, holding a small bound spellbook and slots of healing and mana potions. Upright pauldrons fashioned of shining blue vitrol metal adorned her shoulders, the same metal upon her arms and elbows, and secured to the front of her shins. Beneath these, her feet were protected inside of tall dark leather boots.

That the Herald wore boots of leather, covered in metal nonetheless, made Solas's footwraps and bare toes apparent to Maeva, though she hadn't noticed them before. She watched him rub the big toe of one foot against the icy ground beneath him, as if he were tasting the dirt. He did this absently while he watched the Herald speak to him, though Maeva could not hear the words from her spot down the path.

Although Solas and the Herald had shared a rather intimate conversation not ten minutes before, there was no sign of it on either of them anymore. He spoke now, probably relating the lyrium situation to her. She nodded in reply and gestured that they leave, then they both started down the path. Maeva hopped down the stairs quickly, resuming her task and hoping she wasn't caught staring.

Just outside the village gates, the open area was packed with mages along the path, and siege equipment and supplies beyond. Maeva ferreted into the crowd, heading toward where she expected to find Commander Cullen. Sure enough, he was at his usual spot in front of the military tents. Instead of soldiers training and sparring, however, these men and women were working hard at loading siege supplies along Haven’s periphery.

Do they expect the fight to come here?, Maeva wondered worriedly.

“Ser? Messere?” she tried. He did not hear her over the clamor of activity. She approached closer and caught his attention when he turned. “Ser Knight!”

“What? You should not address me as-- Oh, it’s you.”

“Message for you from Cassandra,” Maeva said, holding out the letter.

He took it and thanked her automatically, far too busy to pay her any more attention. She moved back against one of the tents to stay out of the way of others while still watching the excitement.

A short while later, the Herald and her retinue left with a small detachment of soldiers and all the mages following. Maeva moved away from the town and toward the edge of the frozen lake. The area where Commander Cullen had given her an apple just hours earlier was now crowded with more bundles of wooden planks, crates, and large clay pots, lidded and tied with rope. She made her way through the objects and people, and climbed onto some planks at the edge of the lake. From there, looking west, she could see the filament of mages climb the mountain path and trail out of sight. Others around her had been watching as well, and now that they were out of sight Maeva felt them all withdraw their attention from the far west, and return to whatever work they could do. She, and some others, stayed put and sat on the crates and planks like she was, watching and waiting.

It was nearly an hour later when the Breach’s rumbling increased drastically and its green lightning began to spasm faster, like it knew the Herald was there. Suddenly, thick ropes of green lightning pierced straight into its center from the ground directly below it.

Maeva remembered watching the Herald close two rifts in the Hinterlands previously, but the scale and caliber of the Breach made this particular sight more terrifying and exhilarating than anything she’d ever seen before. Around her, the very air she and the others breathed seemed to crackle with its own conflict between hope and fear, like how the Breach fired through the clouds.

A sharp reverberating sound arose and grew at a frightening pace. A new light, brighter than any other around, sparked at the center of the Breach. Within moments it expanded and erupted into a blinding flash, forcing Maeva to shield her eyes. When she looked back, green lightning and clouds were being sucked into a dwindling point in the sky before snapping harshly out of existence and releasing the sky around it. A second later its sonic boom sounded, several waves of it echoing through the valley like thunder.

Silence, true silence finally returned to the valley for the first time since the grumbling Breach had opened, and lasted only one precious second before it surrendered to cheers of triumph. Maeva found herself jumping and clapping and cheering with the people of Haven.

 

 

Later, after the sun had set, what remained of the Breach was a crater in the clouds illuminated by faded green light, but there was no more rumbling, swirling vortex nor floating rocks. That the clouds hadn't fully dispersed their eerie green light made some of the villagers nervous, but the tranquility of it did allow for some peace and celebration.

In the meantime, bonfires had been erected and lit, ale and wine barrels rolled out, mugs and steins and bags of breads and fruit were set up around the village. The smell of roasted lamb wafted through the air, and Maeva realized it’d been long hours since she’d eaten.

A procession of torchlights trickled down the mountain path in the distance and along the bridge over the small waterfall at the mouth of the lake. At last the Herald and her Inquisition appeared around the bend of the path, and now the thrill and happiness were contagious.

The smile of the Herald’s face was big and bright. She dismounted at the stables and began shaking hands with some of the military leaders. Commander Cullen approached through the crowd after a few minutes and engaged her in conversation while he guided her toward the gates and into town. Behind her, Cassandra and Varric walked, arguing about something as if able to ignore the merriment surrounding them. Solas followed, turning around frequently to look at the scarred sky.

Barely half an hour later, Maeva was sitting next to Varric and others inside the tavern, hastily eating a crusty piece of bread and sipping ale for the first time in her life. The growing flush in her cheeks threatened her attention, but she was determined to hear the dwarf’s tale of the events inside Redcliffe Castle, as he orated before an eager crowd.

“I tell you, that was one of the most unwelcoming traps I've ever walked into, but it was probably the boldest I've seen,” he laughed. “So there we are, standing in the great hall, somewhat surrounded by guards and being preached to by Magister Alexius. Apparently he plans for mages to rule over Thedas, for the Tevinter Imperium to spread here!” Some of the listeners gasped at this. “Can you imagine?” He wasn't truly asking.

“But,” he continued deviously while waggling a finger in the air. “What he didn't know was that our brave scouts had infiltrated the castle! We’d distracted the Magister long enough, and now, we struck! The scouts jumped from the shadows and dispatched the guards!” Varric carved the air with his hands in a display of fake dagger work.

The crowd around the table cheered, but he reclaimed them quickly. “Just when we think we've got the Magister surrounded, he holds up an amulet glowing with bright green light-- the same green as the Herald’s hand and the Breach! He’s about to do something magical with it, when suddenly Dorian zaps a bolt of lightning at him! A bright flash of light later, he and the Herald had vanished without a trace!” The crowd gasped again.

The heat in her cheeks had increased and she considered shedding her bear pelt, but a dizziness came onto her now and she forced herself up and out of the tavern, leaving behind a half-empty mug of ale.

Surely it’s not the last time Varric tells this story, she mused with a smile.

The sounds of merriment permeated from all corners of Haven, but she sought peace and quiet. Her vision was blurry, and she turned a corner here and around a wall there before plopping into freshly fallen snow behind one of the cabins. The moon was big and bright, high in the starry night sky. The snow crunched beneath her hands, her breath steamed in the frosty air and she felt her illness fade.

A chuckle was heard from the path around the cabin. “You train your will to control magic and withstand possession. Your indomitable focus is an enjoyable side benefit.”

A small laugh told her that the Herald was with him.

Gods, not again! Maeva was amazed that she was now unintentionally eavesdropping on yet another conversation between Solas and the Herald. She felt awkward but was helpless to it, and so she sat there in silence.

“You have chosen a path,” Solas continued, “whose steps you do not dislike because it leads to a destination you enjoy. As have I.”

“Indomitable focus?” quoted the Herald, with a possible touch of alcohol in her voice.

“Presumably, I have yet to see it dominated. I imagine that the sight would be… Fascinating.”

Maeva felt a tingle go through her body at his words dripping with nuances. She could imagine so many reactions from the Herald, and wondered how she would respond. But the Herald simply murmured a loud and drawn out hmm, and then there was silence for a few moments.

“That is,” said Solas, his voice quiet and chiding, “unless you've not already been dominated by alcohol.”

The Herald gave a surprised laugh, and cleared her throat, audibly straightening her composure. “Well, anyway… I’m glad you stayed.” The smile and interest in her voice was still clear, but she’d withdrawn significantly. “Have a good evening,” she said, walking away.

Maeva heard the door to Solas's cabin, and was grateful to realize she’d not ended up behind it. A few minutes later she emerged from behind the alchemist’s cabin, when an alarm bell sounded from across the little valley. Within seconds, cries of panic filled the air: Haven was under attack.

Chapter Text

The alarm bell rang frantically over raised voices around her as Maeva rushed to the front of the chantry where she could see out over the valley. Around her, mugs of ale had been dropped to the ground as the villagers and mages, who were dancing together not minutes before, fearfully peered into the night. To the north and east, hundreds of distant torches speckled the dark mountainsides, descending upon the valley.

Mages picked up their staves and filed down the village thoroughfare before lining up along the inside of the wall. Varric appeared from the other side of the tavern and ran up to his tent by the campfire, just below the foundation wall where Maeva stood.

Knew it was too sodding good to be true,” he mumbled loudly as he withdrew Bianca and hitched the beautiful crossbow to his back. He caught sight of Maeva and gave her a smile and a wink. “Just stay back and be careful,” he said, then jogged off toward the gates.

Down there she saw Commander Cullen speaking to the Herald and the advisors. Some sort of commotion arose just outside the gates, and the doors were opened to let the Herald and her group outside. Maeva lost sight of them there, the village wall obstructing her view. Just down the hill was a small bit of scaffolding and a ladder, standing against one of the inner walls. She rushed to it and scrambled up to a higher view.

The distant torches had grown in number as they continued to pour over the northern mountain passes, and the closest ones from the east were just reaching the valley. Beyond the village gate, she could just barely make out the Herald who spoke to someone in a hat so large it hid their head entirely.

Around her, she saw that most villagers had fled into the safety of homes and cabins, while others who deemed themselves brave enough stayed outside in the streets, armed with pitchforks and hearth pokers. Now the gates shut, with the Herald and her group on the outside and Commander Cullen on the inside. He patrolled the inner wall, shouting instructions at the mages.

Suddenly, trebuchets from outside the village walls fired, launching flaming balls of oil toward the invaders, and Maeva now knew what those clay pots had been for. The roar of the invading soldiers consumed the air around her, interrupted harshly by erratic fire from the trebuchets. From inside the walls, bolts of fire, ice and lightning curved into the sky before crashing down upon the enemy. She sank to her knees while clutching the post of the scaffolding as she watched the chaos ensue.

One of the trebuchets had turned and fired at the side of a mountain before Maeva could understand why. Then a rumble, louder than thunder and even the Breach, resonated over the valley, and she saw the snowy mountainside shift. Her mouth dropped open as she watched an avalanche roll down the mountain, eating trees and rocks in its path before swallowing a large portion of the torches that lit the nightscape. The noise and wind of it hit her cheek like a slap but she cheered and whooped at this victory.

The joy was cut short by a shrill animalistic cry that pierced the air, far louder and closer than the avalanche. She looked up in time to see the large moon obscured by the silhouette of a flying… dragon?

Maeva had never seen a dragon before, and she watched in awe as it flew over the small village, dwarfing it. The black dragon circled high in the sky and then swooped down at incredible speed, spitting a stream of crackling red lightning upon the trebuchet that had caused the avalanche, shattering it to fiery bits. Another blast landed onto a cabin inside the village walls with a loud crash and flash of fire.

At this sight, Maeva snapped into survival mode and she jumped down from the scaffolding and headed straight for her cabin. Sounds of the dragon’s shrieks and blasts shook the buildings inside and out as she pulled her backpack from under her bed and shouldered it, then ran back to the open area in front of the chantry.

The Herald had returned and spoke with Commander Cullen by the gates, then she ran off toward some of the burning buildings in the lower village. The commander barred the doors and ran up the stairs toward the chantry, followed closely by the mages that had been fighting from over the wall.

“Get everyone into the chantry!” he yelled.

Around him, villagers and scouts and chantry devotees scrambled in fear towards the large stone building.

Maeva hadn’t entered this chantry before, and it was only the second chantry she’d been in ever, so she couldn’t help but look up curiously at its vaulted ceiling and through the wide rounded columns that lined the aisle. There were no effigies or pews, and few chairs or pieces of furniture, but this made for plenty of space as the crowd filled the large room.

“Move back, make more room in the front,” shouted Commander Cullen. “And stay calm, this is the safest building in Haven!”

The Iron Bull’s large silhouette stood at the back of the hall, hand impatient upon his greataxe, and she saw Lady Vivienne enter a side room. The rest of the villagers sought out far corners to claim while they rested or regrouped, or cried.

Maeva chose the shadows behind a column and sat down, the weight of her backpack resting upon the ground behind her. Drawing her knees up to her chin and wrapping her arms around them securely, she watched the door while sounds of destruction, war, and fighting seeped through the walls.

Over long minutes, more villagers, mages and survivors continued to trickle into the chantry. The main room was filling, but one of the soldiers pointed out it might be safer from the siege in the underground chambers, and about half of the people went through a door to the stairs.

Commander Cullen shut the doors and peeked out through the crack between them. “I see the Herald!” he said, talking to the scouts around him. “They’re alright, but there’s a fight just outside. Stand ready in case they attack the door!”

Battlecries and the clash of metal sounded beyond the door and walls. Maeva guessed the Herald must be alright, given that the commander seemed calm enough as he watched through the door.

At last, the Herald rushed in with Solas, Varric, and Cassandra. Commander Cullen spoke with the Herald as the man in the large hat helped one of the chantry's people enter, and the doors shut behind them. She saw Solas move into the shadows along the wall, where he could watch the doorway and the Herald.

Maeva could not hear all of the discussion but caught mention of a final trebuchet at the far end of town. Then Cullen said “at least we can choose how to die,” and her eyes went big.

Another avalanche, to bury Haven!

The chantry man was greatly wounded, she noticed as he spoke up. His withered voice was too faint to hear but then she saw him pointing weakly to the back of the chantry.

A few moments of silence, and she watched the Herald’s face consider their options. The red vallaslin of Sylaise the Hearthkeeper seemed to dim as her face saddened for a moment before speaking.

Whatever the Herald said made Solas react negatively: his eyes betrayed the frown that his mouth didn't, as well as his shifted stance and the tightened grip on his staff. The same words had made Cullen take a small step back and his head rocked slightly in some kind of sad realization.

The Herald left again with her three brave fighters. As she watched Commander Cullen look at the shut door a few seconds longer before turning away, Maeva understood what was happening, and was on her feet in a flash.

“Soldier! Assist Chancellor Roderick,” he started as Maeva rushed toward the door behind him. He reached over with one arm and effortlessly gripped a strap of her backpack as she ran by him, halting her in her tracks. “He’ll guide us out the back door. Bring torches!” he continued, not even looking at her.

She slipped out of the bag’s straps with ease and pressed herself against the flat of the door, eye peering through the crack. Only a small glimpse of magic and a breath of Varric's laugh were gained before she was pulled around by a strong hand on her shoulder.

“We have to go now!

His eyes and face were stern.

Solas! “But, Varric, and the others!” she protested, looking at the door and then away as her face felt the onset of grief.

He recognized the signs on her half-hidden face, but the urgency of the moment reclaimed him quickly. “Look, we don’t have time for this,” he said harshly. His armored hand was still holding her backpack from its upper straps, and he thrust it to her arms. “Don’t make me force you,” he warned as he pointed down the hall.

Maeva obeyed, her mind buzzing with worry as she swung her bag onto her back. Ahead of her, villagers, mages and Inquisition members filed through the doorway at the end of the hall. It was slow going as the crowd thickened, and all Maeva could see in midst the heads and shoulders packed around her was the vaulted ceiling of the large room. She then passed a large table on one side, and she saw one of the advisors, a dark-haired woman in a golden ruffled shirt, rolling up a large map of southern Thedas.

She emerged from the building into a small garden that smelled of herbs and was yet unharmed from the battle. Thirty or so paces from the door, the steep facade of the mountainside walled in the little garden, funneling into a cave that bounced with light and shadows from torches deep inside.

Two small statues of Andraste flanked the entrance as she passed them by, and the screech of the dragon and the sounds of destruction faded. From there on it was mostly darkness and erratic light; Maeva focused on the back of the mage in front of her and followed, pressed by others close behind.

After several minutes, the tunnel opened into a large cavern with a high ceiling. Another statue of Andraste stood here, indicating a pilgrimage route. Torches were lit and held high to light the space. Most people continued forward into the next tunnel, but a few stopped to catch their breath. Maeva slid against the wall next to the tunnel they’d come from, watching the survivors as they passed by, listening to the rounded echoes of hundreds of footsteps and intermittent chatter.

Come on, Varric.

Commander Cullen appeared now and moved off to the same side as he assessed the room and the traffic of survivors. He spoke to a passing soldier for a few moments, who then nodded and progressed into the tunnel.

After another minute the line of people ended and there was nothing in the anterior tunnel but darkness and silence. At this sight, the commander approached swiftly and stood at the mouth just as Maeva stepped from the wall to look down tunnel as well. Others in the cavern slowly filed into the next tunnel until there remained only one soldier holding a torch.

Please don’t tell me to leave this time, she hoped as she expected to hear his stern command again. But he didn't; he crossed his arms and they stood watching the silent tunnel for another minute.

“How do you know Varric?” he then asked.

The informality of this ordinary question almost made her laugh. “From when I lived in Kirkwall, years ago. Then again yesterday,” she said, her last words drifting apart from each other.

She saw him glance at her out of the corner of her eye.

“Do you know him well?”

Do I? “I suppose so, but… He’s also the only person I know anymore,” she uttered, realizing it as she said it.

He started to say something when a loud tremor rose all around them. The rock that surrounded them was still, but the air vibrated for long seconds.

“That’s the avalanche!” he shouted over the noise.

A rush of wind blasted out of the tunnel at them and she jumped to the side before he could push her there, himself stepping quickly to the other side. The light from the single torch flickered wildly before the soldier protected it with his body, all but engulfing them in darkness.

The air calmed and the torchlight returned, all three souls in the cavern peering earnestly into the darkened tunnel. A cool light began to grow against the tunnel wall at the last curve of it, then suddenly a small shining ball floated swiftly around the corner, quickly followed by the illuminated head of Solas.

“Thank the Maker,” breathed the soldier next to her.

They made room and she watched Solas rush in followed by Cassandra, and then Varric. Maeva exhaled a gasp of relief at his sight and pulled him into a hug. He patted her back to release her and knelt down to catch his breath.

“Where’s the Herald?” Commander Cullen demanded.

Cassandra looked up and shook her head. The expression on his face was noticeable even in the dim lights, and Maeva felt her own face drop as she looked questioningly to Varric.

“We fought the trebuchet clear and aimed it,” Cassandra recounted as she regained air. “Then the dragon began to dive toward us, and…”

“And the Herald said to go, so we did,” Varric finished, his voice gruff. “Last I saw her, that Elder One and the dragon were right next to her…”

A long, tense moment of silence passed in flickering shadows.

“Is the tunnel--” Commander Cullen started.

Cassandra shook her head again. “We barely made it into the tunnel before the avalanche hit.”

No one wanted to add anything to this.

“I suggest we move on,” said Solas, and they did so solemnly.

Chapter Text

The survivors of Haven marched through the freezing mountain tunnel for hours. Torches and light orbs lit the way as they followed their owners, their light harsh upon the ceiling but scarce upon the ground for how close together the procession walked in single file. Each person’s shadow was cast twice or more as they jittered across every curve and turn of the walls.

Thick frost covered the small rocks that lined the tunnel path, occasionally broken up by larger rocks, stalagmites, or long dripping icicles that almost touched the ground. Incessant footsteps echoed irregularly against the changing shapes, but after the first hour the clatter of it had faded into the background of Maeva's mind. She walked behind Varric, occasionally watching the lights glint upon Bianca’s beautiful gold accents embedded in dark wood and metal.

They’d been ascending the tunnel’s path for a long time, and now she passed the mouth of a connecting tunnel. She glimpsed the torchlight of a soldier at the end, looking around the bend of its path, before she was ushered to move along by those behind her. Varric had paused to see the other tunnel as well.

“Do you think she might have made it into another tunnel somewhere?” asked Maeva.

“Hard to tell, kid. I didn't even know this mine existed until tonight.”

I wonder if the Herald is in a similar place right now, worming her way through a mountain, hopefully the same mountain... Or if she is dead? I suppose the Herald had accepted that she might die, perhaps everyone else accepted it too. But if she is dead, what in the world can be done to stop the rifts now?

“I hope she makes it,” Maeva breathed quietly, unable to hide the tremble of fear in her voice.

Varric turned to look back. His eyes were sincere, tired, and warm. “Me, too, kid,” he said with half of a sad smile.

Another hour later, the path flattened and was now covered by wooden planks, footsteps sounding upon them as a cacophony of dull thuds. Ahead, Maeva could barely see over the shoulders of others in front of her, but icicles hanging from the raised ceiling were illuminated by… Light! Moonlight, at last!

The procession spilled into a large open area. A man-made stone archway covered a final short tunnel to the exit. Villagers and mages lined the walls as the room filled, while the Inquisition’s soldiers and scouts gathered in the middle as they discussed exit strategies, she guessed. Outside, a blizzard roared and whistled by the tunnel’s mouth, moonlight creating a hazy glow speckled by flying snow.

Maeva followed Varric to stand next to the Iron Bull and a group of mages that were speaking to some of the Chargers in hushed voices. Across the clearing, she saw the woman known as Sera speaking quietly with one of the villagers, an old man, as they sat together on the ground. The top of Solas's bald head could be seen over the hoods of some of the mages near the exit.

Lady Vivienne entered, followed by two elven servants, one carrying a crate and large backpack and the other a large ornate chest with a flat top and gilded handles. She looked about the cavern and flicked a finger to an empty area on one side. Immediately, the servant with the chest rushed over and put it down gently on the ground, then pulled a large red velvet pillow from inside it and placed it on the closed lid before backing away in a huddled bow. Lady Vivienne sat down on the cushion and straightened her robes, eyeing the grime that had dusted the bottom hem. She fought a shiver and cast a fire glyph onto the ground before her, adjusting the intensity with a bend of her slender wrist. One of the villagers near her felt the heat and turned to give her a polite nod of thanks. The Lady gave a tight smile and curt nod before returning her attention to her clothes.

I bet she doesn't even care about the other people here.

Seeing the spell of warmth, a few of the mages cast similar glyphs onto the cavern ceiling, and Maeva watched the relieved faces of villagers and mages tilt up to warm their cheeks. She was happy to see so many survivors, and estimated their number at around seventy.

“Careful to not let those get too hot, we don’t want to cause melting,” said Commander Cullen as he entered the space, bringing up the rear of the procession. It was almost a casual comment in passing; he did not bother to look at the mages or glyphs again as he headed straight for the group of scouts at the exit. “Report!”

Maeva couldn't hear what was spoken, but it was clear that they were intending to emerge from the cave into the roaring blizzard beyond. She swiftly knelt to the ground with her bag in front of her and withdrew her jerkin, then donned the hardened leather and wrapped the bear pelt tightly around her torso.

Varric snickered at her.

“Well, it’s going to be cold!” she insisted as she shouldered her bag.

“Like it isn't already! At least you have something warm!”

He wore a red cloth tunic embroidered with gold thread, his orangey chest hair curling out of it’s deep V-neck. She was suddenly very aware of how bulky she must look in all her gear, and felt guilty compared to his limited layers. “Do you want to wear this?” she asked, holding out an edge of the pelt.

He laughed loudly and shook his head. “No, no, it looks like you need it much more than I do. Heh, you’re such a Marcher.”

She frowned at him and how he still teased her like a child, but it also made her laugh. Doesn't he know I’m not from the Free Marches originally? She pondered if she’d told him that before or not, but either way now didn't seem like the time for that discussion.

Quiet chatter from the survivors continued for another minute. Some faces were sad and crying, but most were neutral. A rare few were smiling, and she remembered they should all feel thankful just to be alive.

“Do you feel that?” a mage near her asked to another. “We've attracted a spirit of hope.”

A spirit of hope? She puzzled at the idea, knowing very little about magic or spirits.

Curiosity bade her ask questions, but now she saw a trio of scouts depart the cave and Commander Cullen moved to the center of the room and clear his throat.

“We know of a place to camp about half a league from here. As you can see, there’s a blizzard outside. I know we are all very tired now, but we’ll make it through,” he announced, raising his timbre at the end to add encouragement to his words. “Mages, each of you will provide a barrier around yourself and three others and move as a unit. Stay together and follow the group in front of you as closely as possible. We have a long walk ahead but it is the last leg of travel tonight.”

Many people roused and readied at his words, but others stayed put against the walls or sitting on the cold ground as they eyed the exit uneasily.

Varric looked at her and nodded his chin toward the exit, and she agreed silently. Let’s do this. They shuffled into the forming line and were gradually ushered and parse by soldiers on the way out, becoming randomly paired with a mage and another soldier.

Wind whipped into the mouth the cave and stung her cheeks before they’d even set foot in the snow. The mage guided them forward and cast a large spherical barrier with a quick motion of her staff, then began moving forward after the group ahead of them.

Maeva had seen barrier spells-- translucent orbs of blue-green light that moved like a bubble around the caster-- but she’d never been inside one before. The howl of the wind was lessened inside it, and she saw the flying snow batter against the upwind side before slipping around it and falling. It moved through the ground as if it weren’t there at all, its nadir somewhere below their feet. She found herself following absently while watching the blue-green wall of it swirl around them like soap in water. But the cold was still there, reaching up through the ground and creeping into her bones. She shuddered from it and was suddenly very grateful for what shelter the barrier provided.

What was one hour felt like three as they slowly progressed through the deep snow, around jagged rocks and up snowdrifts. They were high in the mountains, she could tell by the darkened peaks looming high against the low gray clouds. Holes in the stratus hinted at some kind of light from the sky-- is that moonlight on high clouds, or dawn?

They passed clusters of pine trees from time to time but they afforded no shelter from the biting wind. At one point they reached a hill top and a campfire had been lit alongside the path.

“In case the Herald sees it,” its tending scout explained to another as she passed.

Long minutes later they’d come over the top of an even higher hill and passed a second campfire. Now the towering mountain peaks were directly around them, sheer walls of stone. They rounded a corner of one such wall and were surprised to find themselves in the lee of the wind: they had reached the campsite.

The mage deactivated the barrier and they all breathed a sigh of relief as they took in the scene. The wind howled still over the clifftop above them and rustled the trees that curled around a large protected area. Soldiers carried crates of supplies from a stash in the trees, and tents were already being staked and raised in orderly fashion.

The resourcefulness of the Inquisition is truly impressive, she mused.

The soldiers and scouts needed no instructions, and the villagers and mages that trickled into the little valley helped where they could without question. Soon, campfires were started to heat pots of stew and tea. In the center of the camp a large burlap pavilion made from long cut logs and staked ropes rose higher than the tents and bore a flag of the Inquisition’s insignia.

Food was distributed slowly for lack of bowls or cups, but soon enough everyone had some warmth in their belly. Varric ate quickly before retiring to a tent near the pavilion, saying he needed to write down some notes before he passed out.

The efficiency of the Inquisition continued further as they systematically directed the people into tents so that everyone could have a sheltered place to sleep, and even supplied bedrolls and blankets to those that had none.

“Do you have family here?” asked a soldier as she approached.

“No,” she said after a moment.

“Alone, then?”

She nodded. He paused as he looked at her face, and then leaned in closer. “Boy or girl?”

What? Her face furrowed, confused.

“Are you a boy or a girl?” he asked again.

“Girl,” she said at last.

He pointed to a row of tents on the right, close to where they’d rounded the cliff wall. “There’s room for one more in the third tent down.”

As she walked away she wondered at his last question. Is it that hard to tell? She tilted her face down to look at herself: leather leggings and boots were covered in snow or the dark from its melt, the bear pelt fluffed large around her neck and shoulders. It was impossible to see the shape of her slender hips or small breasts under the jerkin. She reached up and felt her hair: it was stiff with ice from melted snow and sweat, the shorter layers in front were matted to her skin and the small bun in the back felt like a frozen knot. Her ears were freezing and painful to the touch.

She looked up from her thoughts to see Solas at the end of the path, eyes in her direction. Or is he looking behind me? His bedroll was on the ground at the treeline behind him. Is he going to sleep outside? She almost scoffed out loud at the thought but then he met her gaze, right as her hand was fighting a snarl in the front of her hair.

Embarrassed to be caught fussing over hair she tried to hide her face as ducked into her assigned tent.

Inside, a sconce burned in the middle, its mild smoke drifting through the small vent in the tent’s pitched ceiling. Three occupied bedrolls laid around the sconce, as close to the heat as possible while still leaving room for a fourth. Her tentmates huddled under their blankets, and she heard faint sobbing from one of them and a snore from another.

She rested her backpack on the ground and unpacked her bedroll. Sitting down cross-legged atop it she reached further into her bag and felt for the box, giving it a gentle shake. The quiet rattle of its contents reassured her, and she lay down to sleep.

The weight of her tired body against the ground pulled at her, magnifying her exhaustion. Her eyelids fluttered shut and she began to feel herself slip away, but it was too fast, too steep… At the onset of a nightmare she twitched awake again, unsure how much time had passed, if any at all.

Maeva sat up and shook her head. There were fewer voices outside now, and a loud snore from another tent somewhere. The sconce crackled pleasantly but its flickering light made the canvas ceiling seem to reach down toward her.

Have to get out.

Solas was gone, his bedroll untouched beneath a layer of snow that had covered the little camp. No footprints were on the paths except her own as she walked through the tents toward the pavilion. Commander Cullen stood by a sconce at the mouth of the valley, just outside of the harsh wind. He stared into the night, waiting.

The Herald still hasn't returned.

At the pavilion, a kitchen mess had been set up offering bread, cheese and fruit. Nearby the Iron Bull slept sitting up against the large central post of the tent, his horns conveniently fitting around it. Several cots filled the little shelter, some occupied with wounded survivors, including the chantry man that had told them about the escape route. Cassandra patrolled around the camp, looking frequently to the valley’s entrance where the commander waited.

On a whim, she took some pieces of fruit and returned the way she’d come. She approached Commander Cullen stood beside him, facing the portal to the windy night around the corner of the wall. Without turning her head she extended her arm toward him, an apple in her hand. Long seconds went by and she wondered if perhaps he didn't see it, but then she heard the rustle of cloth and clink of his armor as he moved to accept the little fruit. No words passed between them as he took a bite from it and she from hers.

A wolf howled in the distance, breaking the monotony of the roaring wind.

“I don’t know your name,” he said.

She smiled without looking at him. I bet there are a lot of names you don’t know, yet we all know yours. “Maeva,” she replied finally.

Another wolf howl sounded, louder and closer this time. Cullen shifted uneasily at this.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “it’s probably not hunting her.”

“How do you know?”

“Wolves don’t howl when they hunt.”

He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment.

A third wolf howl now, much closer and louder. It sounds like the same wolf, but that would mean it’s coming straight for us!

Cassandra walked up to them from behind. “Do you see wolves out there?”

“No,” said Commander Cullen. “But apparently howling wolves shouldn't be a threat to us, nor to the Herald if she’s out there…”

In the distance ahead of them a small dark figure moved, barely distinguishable from the rocks in the snow.

Is it the wolf? wondered Maeva. “Do you see that?”

There, it’s her!” shouted the commander suddenly as he ran to help the Herald.

Thank the Maker!” Cassandra breathed as she followed him.

A few soldiers and scouts that were nearby rushed to help. Commander Cullen returned less than a minute later with the Herald in his arms. The group moved to the pavilion quickly and placed her gently on a cot.

A small crowd was gathering around them but Maeva stayed back, knowing she couldn't offer them any assistance. She picked up the commander’s discarded apple core from the snow and tossed it into the sconce along with hers while she watched them.

The commander removed the gauntlet from one hand so that he could touch skin with the Herald’s forehead, and Maeva had a vague memory of him doing that to her once. My gods, that was only yesterday night! But his hand lingered on the Herald’s face, and Maeva could see that nothing else existed to him in that moment.

Exhaustion pestered Maeva's body now, and she understood it was time to sleep. Now that the Herald is safe. She turned and left, walking down the path toward her tent.

Solas ran past her in the opposite direction. Where did he come from? she puzzled as she watched him go by. He, too, approached the Herald closely and touched her skin, holding her hand as he set to casting healing magic. For him, too, nothing else existed but the Herald in that moment.

Maeva tried to shut it all out as she crawled into her bedroll to sleep at last.

 

__________

 

The dream began peacefully.

She was in a green forest, sunlight shining through the thick canopy high above. Dalish elves greeted her amicably, and hallas ate from her hand. Happiness mixed with purpose in contented hardship of their lifestyle roaming the wild.

But there was something wrong with her. She did not know what it was until the dream shifted, and she looked down to see her hands over her abdomen. Something terrifying grew inside of her.

Now, the hallas and elves treated her the same but the forest was cast in a darker light, foreboding.

Shadows fall…

She hugged them all goodbye without their knowledge as they slept that night.

And hope has fled…

The darkened forest path bade her leave them behind, and she walked it with her staff at her side, sinking into the rich soil with each step.

Steel your heart…

Maeva's eyes snapped open.

“A dawn will come,” a voice sung from outside the tent.

Singing, here? She puzzled at this as she got up and left the tent.

At the pavilion, a chantry mother sang as other survivors left their tents to approach and join in the chant. The Herald was on her feet and seemed unharmed, but an expression of disbelief and surprise grew on her face as the people began to kneel before her.

Maeva found herself drawn forward as well, though she did not know the words to the song. She wondered if she should kneel-- some that stood further away from the Herald did not, but all those that wanted to came close and sank to their knees happily, looking upon the Herald with reverence and hope.

I think I understand how there was a spirit of hope earlier, she realized.

Slowly, she lowered herself into kneeling, knowing that her any indecision was masked by the unity of the crowd.

Very well, let us see where this takes me, she decided.

 

__________

 

The morning presented a clear blue sky and milder wind, leading to a great many smiles from the survivors as they broke bread and sipped hot tea before packing up camp. The commander had announced that the Herald would be guiding them to a place of refuge, high in the mountains to the north.

The journey took more days than originally suggested, but in that time the Inquisition had built a reliable routine that kept them moving all day long and camped safely at night. Mountain passages were found thanks to the Herald’s scouting, and the group faced no further dangers other than the biting cold at night and smaller rations. Finally, in the evening of the fourth day, Commander Cullen gathered everyone around the pavilion.

“It’s believed we should reach our destination tomorrow day,” he announced. “It’s possible there will not be any provisions or supplies there, so we must gather and hunt what we can from these parts before the journey. If anyone here is an herbalist, trap-maker, or archer, your assistance in this matter is crucial. If you can help, come forward to the pavilion now. The rest of you are dismissed.”

He speaks to us all like soldiers, Maeva mused with a smirk. I’d better help out though...

She approached him at the pavilion and waited for two archers to leave before it was her turn to speak to him. “I have traps. I can set them up inside that treeline,” she said, pointing to a cluster of trees that started nearby and continued down a steep, snowy hill beyond the camp.

Commander Cullen raised a curious eyebrow before nodding. “Be careful.”

That night, Maeva set about preparing her traps, hoping to capture some of the fennecs or wolves she’d seen during their journey. Her snare traps were crude, consisting mostly of ropes and knots that would lasso the creature’s leg or neck after it tried to nab the red meat inside the catch. With these, she’d kept herself and her mother well-fed for years past.

She placed the last piece of meat-- a sinewy lump from yesterday’s catch-- into the bait clasp, pulling the ropes taut. Now she moved away several places and sat on the snowy ground against a tree.

The night was very quiet, the snow still and sparkling under the moonlight. The sounds of the camp were faint at this distance.

She waited silently, her steamy breath the only movement in her sight. Soon, the sound of the furthest trap springing called her to it. She found there a rather small wolf, fighting helplessly against the knot around its throat. Using the thickness of her bear pelt she swaddled the creature as she wrestled it to abandon, her arms tight about it. The wolf was female with beautiful gray and black fur and a white snout. Careful to restrain the powerful wolf, Maeva managed to reach her killing knife and bring it to its neck.

“Wait, da'mi.

She froze and spun her head to the sound. It was Solas, standing ten paces away. He wasn't looking at her, but just beyond, over her shoulder. She turned to see a young wolf pup several paces away, watching the scene. He sat perfectly still and did not make a sound, but its big eyes watched her with intent as if it could understand what was about to happen.

The face of Anthena took over Maeva's thoughts in that moment, and she gasped a small sob. No, no more dead mothers.

In a swift motion she released the wolf from the trap and backed away, ready to defend herself. But the wolf ignored Maeva entirely, her atonement having been made evident. Instead it headed toward Solas. Time slowed to a crawl as she watched it skip eagerly across the snow. He did not flinch as it approached, in fact he smiled slightly and held open his hand as if they were friends, completely contradicting the danger of the moment.

Suddenly a bright burst of fire immolated the creature in mid stride, fur burned to ash and flesh charred within a second, then its corpse fell limply onto the snowy ground.

Shock was plain upon Solas's face as he saw the creature die, and Maeva gasped as she felt her face fall and tears sting her eyes. Far away, at the border of the camp tents, the Herald brought her staff to a halt against the ground.

“Are you sure you don’t need any help hunting?” she called loudly, mirth and smiles in her voice.

Solas turned to look at the Herald incredulously but she was too far away to see it. Now he and Maeva both looked at the wolf pup: it stood on all fours and cowered with a whimper, uncertain if it should fight or flee, before jetting away into a thicket.

Solas's blue-gray eyes were a storm of sadness even in the darkness of the night. He opened his mouth to speak to the Herald, anger and hurt flowing from him. A small squeak from Maeva stopped him and he hesitated, looking at her.

Maeva shook her head as tears slipped from her eyes. “She doesn't need to know.”

Chapter Text

The Frostback Mountains divided southern Thedas, separating eastern Ferelden from western Orlais (the former considered inferior by the latter). The only passages between them lay along the northern coast of the Waking Sea where it pierced Thedas into half, straight across the middle from the east, and ending where Orlais curved around it to the north. Therefore, the thought that there was a place of refuge large enough for such a group as the Inquisition in the middle of the treacherous and frozen mountain range did seem… improbable, but that oddity only inspired Maeva and the survivors even further in following the Herald.

The air grew thin and her steps fell a little shorter over the hours that they moved forward across sunlit mountaintops. It’s as if we’re walking into the sky itself, she thought, feeling lighter than ever before. Most of the journey so far had been relatively easy while they passed over the backs of mountains and across valleys between, but for the past hours they’d climbed the broad slope of a mountain so large that Maeva did not recognize its size until they’d reached the top.

They stood at the ceiling of southern Thedas, the world around them a frozen clash between the earth and the sky. The jagged horizon was all mountains as far as the eye could see. The bright sun shone through atmospheric haze and painted the sky a luxurious mix of pink, purple and blue, tinting shadowed slopes with its colors.

Maeva kept to herself even more now, the memories of her mother and the wolf mother having haunted her dreams last night and her thoughts all day long. The other survivors knew each other better but yet talked rarely. The mages stuck together in a flock of obsolete Circle robes. There was no work to be done so no need to talk to Harritt.

Varric was usually busy speaking with the other members of the Inquisition, developing a laughing friendship with the Iron Bull and the mage Dorian. Cullen discussed business with the other advisors, Leliana and Josephine. Chantry folk followed by behind Mother Giselle, who’d led them in song the first night. She saw Cassandra often attempt to engage Blackwall in conversation about the Grey Wardens’ current status, but he deflected these attempts with a thick melancholy that drove her away. He was content enough to speak of battle strategy, though, and this sometimes kept them talking for hours.

Everyone is on hold, waiting, and following our leaders.

At the head of the procession Solas and the Herald walked together, sometimes talking all day long but otherwise silent and absorbed in their own thoughts. The people followed their backs with unquestioned trust.

Two elves leading the pack.

The thought of it when applied to her own elvish race did affect Maeva somehow, but she wasn't sure how yet, other than it making her smile.

 

__________

 

The sun was high in the sky There remained only one more small rise still ahead of them. Far to the front Maeva saw Solas and the Herald reach the top of the rise and stop, looking ahead. Slowly, others joined them at the top and took turns to stop and look before moving on. Maeva reached the top at last and beheld Skyhold.

A half circle of the highest mountain curved to make up one side of the view. It descended sharply until meeting a lower peak that rebelled out of the rest of the mountain, as if insisting to reach for the stars on its own. Atop it a massive stone fortress stood, walls high with large gray bricks and crenelated towers. An arched bridge spanned a deep plummet to another small peak where a final tower made for the gate to the fortress.

From within the walls a large stone building with a broad wooden roof (with a few holes in it) rose into the air, and a last, tallest tower stood just beyond it. The hint of orangey leaves of a tree suggested an inner courtyard even at this distance.

The procession continued down a stone staircase to the left, and Maeva realized that she, that they all, were following an ancient path. The road was paved with blocky stones, low walls protecting their charges from sheer drops over little bridges. The stairs continued down a smooth slope that ran between the mountains themselves, hiding Skyhold from them. After half an hour of descending the path turned a vertical corner that held a small-- if compared to the mountain, anyway-- stone tower built on the edge of the mountain, she beheld the fortress once again. The path now ascended gradually, snaking its way over snow drifts and then rocky hillside up to the gate tower of Skyhold itself. Ahead of her, already halfway to the gate, Maeva spotted the bright heads of Solas and the Herald.

When was Skyhold built, she wondered, and how long has it been since Skyhold saw visitors. This monumental fortress clearly withstood the test of time and ages beyond. Its architecture was nondescript other than old, and yet no one had ever heard of this place.

The castle’s indeterminate style nagged at her, but she knew she was no scholar. From the lack of conversation about it around her, she judged it was either not recognized or not of interest to others, and so she continued on.

Twenty minutes later she passed through the gate of the first tower and began to cross the bridge into Skyhold actual. Wind rushed over and through the bridge’s high arches. Birds flew here, and chirping nests sounded from the top of the tower she’d passed under. A second, larger portcullis and tower made the entrance through the walls of Skyhold, and then she was in a courtyard.

The internal stone building with the long wooden roof was massive, at least six stories high. Maeva had seen buildings this high in Kirkwall, but this one was nobler, it seemed. It was built distinctly from the cliff rocks that it perched upon, its natural stone mingling with bricks of the same dark gray. Plants coiled out from cracks between stones, trees of many kinds and grasses springing from the moss-covered cobblestone ground, its grayness peppered with colors of life.

In the lower courtyard at the gate level she saw the makeshift infirmary taking shape along the north wall. A wide staircase scaled the northeast wall unto the archway of another bent staircase that went into the castle proper. Debris covered many areas, and an entire stone bridge was collapsed, breaching passage between the castle and a strategically-placed wall tower.

The survivors conglomerated here at the center of the lower courtyard, staring in awe or resting for several minutes before dispersing into groups. Mages gathered at one end and seemed to be receiving lectures from their elders about something that looked important. Inquisition soldiers and scouts seemed to have their hands full, systematically exploring rooms and doors in the fortress and unloading supplies or clearing debris. Commander Cullen stood next to the stairs at a meager wooden table made from boards and crates, already swamped with work.

Maeva recognized most of Haven’s villagers and artisans to be merely wandering about, exploring. She realized then how inviting Skyhold felt to them all, and she set about to explore with them.

She heard someone mention the name Harritt, and she listened her way past the stairs to the upper courtyard. Here there were two more stone buildings, each three stories high with wooden roofs, just low enough to be under level of the tops of the walls. The large open area of the cobblestone courtyard held many people and a few makeshift pavilions and collections of supplies in the form of barrels and crates. Most of the refugees stood outside, letting the Inquisition forces do their efficient work.

One of the large buildings held two dove-cote windows in its top floor and a wide chimney boasted from its roof. Clearly there was a forge inside, and Maeva knew to enter.

Sure enough, two furnaces for blacksmithing were built into the stone walls, and anvils, grinding stones and cooling troughs stood upon grates over hot coals a metre beneath them. Maeva puzzled at that-- the heat beneath those grates is coming from the mountain!

Again she marveled at the mystery of Skyhold and the great many questions it posed. And here I’d thought that Darktown was an adventure…

She laughed to herself. As little she could understand of this unexpected place for the Inquisition to land, it all felt good and right.

Whatever comes, I want to stay here.

Grinning, she walked towards Harritt once she’d spotted him and offered her assistance in whatever needed doing.

 

__________

 

Inside the armory, as it was soon named, Maeva fast found a sense of home, and it made all the work and her situation much more enjoyable. She’d helped carry away the debris of a wooden balcony that had collapsed within the building, and pile bags of coal under the inner stairs, and group barrels of salt and furniture to other respective corners.

Her body was sore and aching at the end of a harsh hour of this exertion, but it felt good and adrenaline coursed through her. She’d eyed a cozy-looking corner on the second floor balcony and planned to make it hers, her bag and bedroll already claiming the spot.

She considered taking some time to rest there when a soldier walked in and spoke to Harritt briefly before leaving again.

“Everyone, you’re going to want to see this. Get into the lower courtyard quickly,” Harritt instructed.

Curious and excited, they filed out of the far door, past the other large courtyard building (which appeared to have been a tavern once; a sign swung from a metal bar above its door, the wood so weather-worn that its writing was unreadable) and down a narrow staircase that zigzagged along the keep’s wall.

Back in the lower courtyard they joined a growing crowd of soldiers, scouts, mages, and villagers. In the thick of their shoulders they all looked upwards toward the main castle building and the staircase that bent up to its entrance. A landing halfway up the stairs made for a dais, backlit against the bright late-afternoon sky. The silhouettes of Cassandra, Leliana, and the Herald-- three utterly powerful women in this strange time and place of survival-- stood, presenting.

Maeva watched while standing among the survivors and recruited mages and believers, in whatever empowered the Herald, our savior.

When she’d lived in the Kirkwall Alienage, her proximity to elves of a common semi-Dalish background, who grasped at the roots of their people amidst their everyday struggles, had given her childhood a sense of unity and camaraderie. In the Hinterlands, elves and humans coexisted easily enough in respective farms and markets, but everyone kept to themselves, and kept secrets.

But here and now, in this forgotten fortress in the mountains, the atmosphere was a thick mix of hope overpowering trepidation, and Maeva felt it strum through her being, lifting and carrying her across it. The soldiers and villagers that surrounded her all shared a common experience and perspective, unified by the effort of the Inquisition and the tragedy of Haven. Bonded through their losses yet prevailing to stand here today and join a greater cause to save the world, the people truly merged.

Even if we aren't the Herald, even if we can’t close rifts, we are the backbone that those powers stand upon.

Maeva was now a part of something bigger than anything ever before… The Herald was offered a sword fit for a king (or queen), and Cassandra called down to the crowd. “Have our people been told?”

Josephine, the woman with the gold ruffled shirt, replied in her thick Antivan accent: “Yes, and soon the world!”

“Commander, will they follow?” Cassandra asked.

Commander Cullen stepped forward at these words, and Maeva realized he’d been standing only a few people ahead to her right. He turned to face the crowd she stood in and raised his voice.

“Inquisition, will you follow?” The crowd cheered. “Will you fight? Will we triumph?” More cheers. “Your leader, your Herald…” He drew his sword and aimed it toward Lavellan, as if charging an army of support in her direction. “Your Inquisitor!”

The Herald held the sword upright in her hand, looking at it and pondering what it meant. “An elf for Thedas,” she declared, and thrust her sword high in the air.

Cheers, whoops and claps erupted around Maeva and from her own mouth and hands as well. She jumped with joy and thorough excitement, swept away by the intensity of this moment that she shared with all these other souls.

‘An elf for Thedas,’ what rubbish,” Sera said rather loudly, though mostly unheard from the roar of the crowd.

Maeva turned to look at the elven woman in shemlen clothing that stood a few paces behind her. While doing so she noticed Cullen and Josephine both look over at Sera as well.

The scowl on Sera’s face was evident but it was a common sight. It was far less interesting than Solas's expression; the normally neutral-faced apostate stood near Sera regarding her with a look of utmost disgust and disdain, a rarity of expression in his every pore.

Elvhen ma tel, len'alas lath'din,” he said to her, the bitterness of his words contorting his face into a grimace.

Maeva recognized some of the words but failed to understand their meaning, yet the speakers’ microexpressions spoke volumes. Sera had clearly understood the elvish Solas had spoken, and she suddenly lashed forward and slapped his cheek hard, the sting of it sounding through the air.

The few spectators gasped quietly amidst the cheers of the crowd that ignored the scene. Solas leaned back, cradling his cheek as he looked at her with utter hatred. Snowflakes and blue ice clustered in his other hand, and he deliberately held it behind his back to control his anger. The Iron Bull stepped between them and his height ruled the two elves out of the equation entirely, and the conflict was diffused.

Maeva looked back at Cullen, who caught her gaze at that moment. He’d just shrugged at Josephine, and now he shrugged at her too, but added for Maeva a small gesture that seemed to ask her if she understood what the problem had been.

Oh, what, because I’m an elf too? she thought to herself in reply, and she gave him a defensive and dismissive shrug before turning her back to the drama. This is supposed to be a happy day, she grumbled in her mind.

Chapter Text

From a dwindling corner of attention Solas and Sera distanced themselves from each other, and the conflict was quick forgotten by most everyone. Feelings of anger toward Sera bubbled up inside of Maeva while her eyes followed Solas until he disappeared around a corner.

Meanwhile the enthusiasm from the alluded coronation literally overflowed into the doors and halls of the castle and its structures. People flowed freely in and out of the buildings as efforts to clear its rooms and repair its rooftops doubled voluntarily.

The Herald and her advisors made somewhat of a ceremony in opening the great doors to the main hall building, and Maeva was among the followers close at their heels. More than anything, she was highly curious about the fortress they explored, and especially about those who had lived in it, and fallen from it last.

The great hall was vast: high vaulted ceilings dotted with weathered holes through which the sun shone against in the inner wall and floor. The long hall ended at the northern wall of the building which was lined with three long windows of colorful stained glass mosaics, surprisingly undamaged. It drew pictures in radial symmetry of rosés and diamonds, reds and blues and golds all swirling in harmony. Two of three large iron chandeliers hung from the ceiling, the third having collapsed onto the hall floor.

The corridor gradually ascended up terraced platforms and ended up a raised dais just below the stained glass windows. A throne sat upon it, a metal chair-base with an elaborated high back aburst with sword-like spikes, the shape of it fit the Inquisition’s sunburst insignia perfectly.

The Herald and advisors departed into a side-room. Maeva stood in the front half of the great hall, listening to their steps echo against the high walls, stone balconies, and half destroyed roof. The floor was littered with planks and debris, forsaken furniture and ages of dust.

To her right a large hearth formed the base of the wall, a forlorn table and chairs sun-bleached by piercing daylight standing before it. A column of vines had sprouted out from cracks in the stones in the corner, the lushest leaves mapping the regular path of the sun’s light from a hole in the roof far above.

These will be gone once the repairs are finished, Maeva realized as she beheld the plant’s tendrils.

Swiftly, she moved past the table and chairs toward the corner while pulling a short dagger from her belt. A vivaciously green vine stood out from the rest, reaching away from the wall and boasting a bright yellow flower that aimed directly at the sunlight. She selected it for preservation and snipped it deftly at the joint, decoupling the flower and a trail of leaves from the rest of the vine.

She pocketed her knife and carefully coiled the plant into her tunic, when a small square of reflected light caught her gaze from the dark ashy center of the fireplace. A corner of parchment emerged from the ashes. Immediately she fished it out and held it close for examination.

The parchment was mostly blank, only a few abstract scratches of black ink against the burnt edge, and scrawls of a larger image-- or letters, perhaps-- adorned a small portion of the corner, as if they were notes written on the side of a printed text. Most of all, the quality of the parchment was remarkable: thick and almost glossy with a... resin, tree sap? Some sort of hardened coating preserved it, thus shrouding its age in further mystery.

Finding no more parchment pieces in the fireplace, she rolled and tucked the piece into her bag’s straps. To be cataloged later, she promised herself as she returned her attention to the hall.

The high ceiling boasted suspended rods that held long curtains all the way to the ground floor, gathered loosely by thick ropes. The cloth was long since faded by the sun and weather, leaving only a suggestion of pattern in the darkened imprints of its own shadow on the lower folds.

Maeva approached the lowest, darkest cluster of curtain bottoms and held them out to light for the first time in… Gods only know how long. The lush folds of the curtain were a thick velvet tapestry; Maeva recognized a few shapes from it’s patterns-- roses, elfroot leaves, stars that could be part of a constellation.

A few paces away she could hear instructions being given to tear down all the rotten parts of the hall, “as well as those filthy curtains-- put up canvas if you have to, just something consistent.

This will be gone soon, she understood. The Inquisition will overwrite such things.

Impulsively, Maeva pulled one of her daggers from her backpack and cut a long rectangle from the lowest meter of cloth, consuming a good portion of its hidden pattern and hemwork. This she rolled into her bedroll and swiftly concealed it into the rest of her backpack, resuming her business of exploring.

Just past the cold hearth she went through a wooden door curiously. A few arches made for a short hallway leading into a large round room. The rotunda rose three stories above her, a perfect cylinder of tall plaster walls meeting an inset balcony level and then a rookery, where the wooden ceiling of the turret was dotted with bird cages above it all.

Nearby, a pendant sconce hung from scaffolding built against the plaster wall, cracking with a blue-white flame Maeva had never seen before. Solas stood in the middle of the room tending to documents and books on large table. He did not look up but shifted his stance with his back to her, reading documents as he leaned overtop them. She remembered the slap his cheek had sustained not an hour prior but there were no signs of distress upon him now. She was alone in the room with him, and suddenly she felt as though she were interrupting. A blocked door was to the room’s right side, and a staircase entrance was to her left, so she exited to the left promptly, eager to remove herself from his potential burden.

At the top of the curved stairway she emerged into a balcony that rounded the cylinder, lined intermittently with stone pockets containing pairs of tall bookcases. She saw several people unloading books from crates and filling empty shelves, but it was unclear how many of these books had already been here.

She paused at the edge of the balcony, her hand on the wooden rail. Here, Solas could be seen in the rotunda below. From here she could gaze at him from a distance, and he seemed so much less… intimidating? The change of the angle lent her new perspectives of his handsome elven form.

She was absorbed in admiring his broad shoulders when she sensed she was being watched from the left. Dorian stood in a nook that he’d clearly claimed as his own. He looked at her plainly, an expression in itself accentuated by his hands flipping through a book he was not paying attention to. His expression was pointed at her in a particular way that told her he knew who she was looking at, and she blushed and turned away in embarrassment.

Why is he looking at me like that?

There was no escaping the balcony level save to go back down the curved stairwell she’d entered from, and she dashed to it swiftly. Happily in the shadows once more she scurried down the stairs and slipped through Solas's room to the main hall and then left the building entirely.

She emerged from the main hall and looked around. At the base of the stairs stood Harritt, speaking to two of the armorers she recognized from the Haven smithy. He spotted her in mid conversation and beckoned to her so she hopped down to him two stairs at a time. The assistant he’d been speaking to scurried off and Harritt led them at a slow pace toward the armory.

“Whenever the Herald is awake in Skyhold I’ll be reporting to the Undercroft to assist in armor and weapon crafting. We've got loads of new recruits already, so I’m having some of them take over the tanning responsibilities. We've got new Inquisition members as well, soon we’ll be dealing with demands for weapons and outfitting by nearly two dozen people, and new schematics have arrived in the Undercroft-- we've big shoes to fill now.”

He continued casually about her assignments, giving her a hurried lesson in the skills of managing a large group versus a small force, and she was attentive to every last word. They’d reached the door to the armory and he started enter it. “Oh, of course though your biggest priority is still the Herald’s bag. What’s its status?”

“It’s a Dalish Keeper’s pouch, ser,” she offered with a smile, but he didn't seem interested. “I've worked on it every night,” she continued, “The cording is mostly fixed except for the tricky bit around the top, and I've a patch ready to be sewn in, then to get a new strap.”

“Good, good,” he huffed. “The Herald has-- oh, I suppose I should be saying Inquisitor now, eh?” he laughed suddenly. “She asked about it this morning. Finish it as soon as possible.”

Now he looked at her directly with a skewed eyebrow. “Also, that skin of yours will be tanned tomorrow along with the rest from the voyage.” He was clearly referring to the charred skin of the wolf mother.

Last night after her tears had dried or frozen, she’d transported the wolf mother’s corpse back to camp to pull what resources they could from it. To make her death worthwhile. The Herald and Solas were long gone and it was quiet in the camp. In the kitchen tent a sleepy middle-aged man she recognized as a chef appraised the meat at her request and declared it no good. She then spent an hour carefully scraping the burnt meat from the skin, having observed that its potential leather remained sturdy despite its death by fire.

Harritt's face held the same expression now as when she’d presented the corpse wrapped within several skins the next morning when packing in the voyage. Now, she gave him a thoughtful nod so that he knew she’d take care of it, but offered no further comment or explanation. He seemed satisfied and disappeared into the armory without another word.

The pouch was tucked away in her backpack inside the armory. Around her the afternoon sun was still high in the sky but would soon be eclipsed by the surrounding mountains. Eager to explore in daylight while she could, she headed to the same zigzagging staircase she’d taken down earlier for the celebration, and she ascended onto the ramparts and peered over the outer walls.

The gate tower and bridge stretched out before her, and she recognized the path they’d taken from the southern mountains. She saw another path now, leading down the western valley. More towers, she realized, dotted the path into the horizon.

A frozen river filled the passage between the mountains, fragments of ice broken and frozen over again and again until the entire floor of the valley was a still mosaic of whites and blues. Atop it, dozens of tents were pitched along the edges, and even from this distance Maeva could recognize the shapes of the robed mages and their staves, and training grounds with soldiers.

On a whim she entered the tower to her right. A damaged upper corner made for a hole in the wooden ceiling, its bricks collapsed into the tower room. Going through the opposite door she continued along the rampart, coming to a staircase. Varric was walking down it and he waved to her.

“What are you up to?” she asked him, smiling.

“Oh, I had to… come hang out over here for a while.”

“What do you mean?” she asked as she looked at where he’d come from.

The staircase behind him led up to the corner tower and connected to a large balcony overlooking the courtyard. Two people stood upon it: the Herald stood calmly with her hands behind her back and the sun upon her blonde head as spoke to a woman with bright red hair, and Maeva immediately recognized the Champion of Kirkwall.

“Wait,” she said to Varric, touching fingertips to his low shoulder, “I thought you said you didn't know where she was…”

He held his up, palms open to her as if swearing he was innocent of everything, and she giggled. “I had to say that, for… certain reasons,” he said slowly, gesturing to the courtyard below. Maeva peered over the edge of the balcony and saw Cassandra sparring against a training dummy just below them.

The audacity of meeting with the Champion of Kirkwall so close to Cassandra without her knowing! Maeva had to laugh at this. “Varric, you’re terrible!

“I know, I know,” he laughed as looked out into the courtyard, then gave a slow, heavy sigh.

Maeva leaned against the wall. “Do you miss Kirkwall?”

He scoffed. “Every damn day. I know it’s a mess now, but…” He stepped up to the rampart walls and laid his hands onto the thick stones. Maeva knew same as he did that Skyhold's cold, rough stones felt far different from the smooth sun-warmed white limestone of Kirkwall. “It’s more home than anywhere else, even if repairs will take years… But,” he interjected with a big grin, breaking himself from his reverie. “I’m staying right here where the stories are.”

 

__________

 

The armory was warm and cozy, and had attracted more than a few sleepers. Cassandra occupied the top balcony level, Maeva her small dead-end balcony in the mid-level, and on the ground level the two smithies and Harritt rested upon long benches or bedrolls around the constant hearths.

Maeva laid on her back in her bedroll, head propped high on her backpack so she could examine the pouch and cording she worked on. The damaging cut traversed what was actually a structurally worn area in the pouch’s edges along the side-seam by the top. Cords retying it would provide support for a while but would eventually weaken as well. The cords needed additional support, and she thought to what items she had with her.

After a few moments of thought she pulled the coiled vine from her tunic and unraveled it. The little strain of plant was indeed strong and wiry. The yellow flower and lush leaves appealed to her, but she felt it was a worthy sacrifice, and she carefully picked them off and stowed them inside the pouch for safekeeping.

Her fingers deftly rolled the vine into the cord she’d made, massaging them and making them one as much as possible. Next, with the help of a curved bone needle, she sewed the reinforced cord into the edging of the pouch and up to the part where the flap would flex.

A few minutes later she tied off the cord and tucked the ends of it into themselves. She held the pouch in front of her and turned it from side to side, comparing her work with the original cording on the other side. The helpful little vine was concealed but she recognized its rigor strengthening the damaged side more.

Now all that’s left is the strap and the patch. And that means I get to talk to Solas again.

She smiled to herself as she carefully put the pouch away and curled under her warm bear pelt blanket. As Maeva snuggled up to sleep, she wondered at how few dreams she’d had lately. During the journey from Haven she'd only dreamt of a forest, the same one she’d seen in the dream of the elves and halla. These dreams showed her only endless greenery and overgrown paths, no souls but her own seeing eyes.

Chapter Text

Repairs to Skyhold progressed quickly. Maeva awoke early the next morning to the sounds of hammering and voices. The stone bridgeway between the castle and the front-facing tower was partly repaired, it’s tumbled stones cleared from the ground below. This gave access to the southern courtyard that now housed the stables, a barn, and merchants. Additional doorways were cleared out of the rotunda’s ground and balcony levels, and a basement complex was discovered beneath the main hall.

The new constructions silently invited Maeva to explore them. Beyond the rotunda’s outer door where the courtyard bridge had been repair, two temporary scaffolding towers had been erected to its height above the main courtyard. She looked at them from her position on the bridge over the passage; the wood-slatted flooring was not three meters away. With an upward jump she found herself lightly perched upon the absolute edge of the wall, and half a second later she landed onto the top of the scaffolding tower with a surprisingly quiet thud.

Almost two stories below her the main stairs fed into the lower courtyard next to Commander Cullen’s makeshift table. Currently the commander was speaking to the Inquisitor, and judging by their body language they were being rather sentimental. Impulsively Maeva laid down on her side and focused her hearing upon them, one eye watching their top-viewed faces from over the edge of the wooden slats.

“How many were lost?” asked the Inquisitor. She looked small at this angle.

Most of our people made it to Skyhold,” Cullen explained to her.

They conferred briefly outside of Maeva's hearing, then she heard him say “we needed a leader; you have proven yourself.”

Despite not seeing the Inquisitor’s face, Maeva could tell she responded emotionally at his words.

“Thank you, Cullen,” the Inquisitor said slowly. A complex of feelings pooled between them. Her next words were less composed: “Our escape from Haven-- it was... close. I’m relieved that you-- that so many made it out.”

It was almost a confession, and the commander had heard it clearly. Even at this angle the warmth he exuded in the woman’s presence was obvious.

“As am I,” said Cullen, his voice soft and honest.

Moments of silence stretched on in unspoken communication. The Inquisitor began to back away, perhaps overwhelmed from it, Maeva wondered.

“You stayed behind,” he said, and she turned to look at him again. “You could've--! I will not allow the events at Haven to happen again!” he promised. “You have my word.”

His stood only inches from her now, strong and composed, and Maeva imagined the Inquisitor could feel his breath on her face. There was an undeniable connection between the two souls then, flashes of vulnerability and acceptance.

But in the same instant the woman relinquished intimacy and became the Inquisitor again; devotedly practical and unwittingly graceful. She smiled to him in a deep nod and ascended the stairs past him with measured rhythm, her hands at her back and a serene aura about her. Maeva and the commander were both helpless to watching her leave sight.

Alone once again, Commander Cullen resumed his attentions to documents. Maeva climbed down the scaffolding and they exchanged a casual glance and wave before she scurried into the newly-cleared southern courtyard.

Passage under the archway fed past several merchants, including Bonny Sims, an Orlesian woman complete with embroidered mask and gilded coat. Earlier that morning Maeva couldn't have help but notice the woman when she’d arrived with a plethora of wares from Orlais.

The stable occupied the back of the fortress wall, housing mounts for the Inquisitor and her retinue. A large barn that filled the courtyard’s corner had apparently been claimed as home by Blackwall.

Beyond the barn and stables, an exterior staircase curved up the side of the rotunda tower. A wooden door entered the castle there, and she followed it to discover a kitchen, busy with servants and thick with smells of food.

The lower complex of the building was a small network of hallways. Stonework was recent in some places, hinting at additional, hidden areas. The style of the craftsmanship persisted throughout, however.

Up a tunneling stairway and through a door and she was in the main hall. The room was truly born again. Though scaffolding towered up to the rafters along many walls, and stacks of bricks filled in the gaps, large braziers were lit along the corridor to the throne and new curtains hung from high rafters, chasing away any doubt that the Inquisition ruled here.

Two guards stood flanking the throne itself at the top of the dais, and Maeva wondered to their purpose briefly. Several other people populated the hall, nobles from Ferelden and Orlais that were new to Skyhold.

At the other end of the hall, Varric stood by the hearth speaking with the Inquisitor. A cheerful fire set a glowing warmth onto the newly-replaced table and chairs. The holes in the roof were repaired and the plants were gone, and Maeva thought to her vine’s new home in the coils of the Inquisitor’s pouch.

“Heroes are everywhere, I've seen that,” Varric was saying. “But the hole in the sky? That's beyond heroes. We're going to need a miracle!

The Inquisitor gave a short laugh and agreed with a nod. She then looked Maeva, noticing her listening from the other end of the table. Maeva's eyes opened wide in surprise and her breath caught in her throat, but the woman looked away.

“I’ll talk to you later, Varric,” the Inquisitor smiled and walked off.

Your Worship,” a noble woman said as she passed by. The honorific came with a respectful curtsy all in the space of two strides of the Inquisitor’s boots. The latter nodded politely before continuing about business down the hall.

“Glad you stopped by,” Varric said to Maeva as she approached him. “I need to ask a favor. I’ll be gone for a few days but have a delivery coming. Think you could collect it for me?”

She nodded in reply, and he handed her a small bound envelope clinking with coins.

“Look for an old bearded guy, he’ll have a Kirkwall banner on his cart. Just give him this envelope.”

“Not a problem. Where are you going?”

“In a couple hours we’re off to Crestwood to meet Hawke and another warden.”

“Crestwood, the village that was flooded during the last Blight?”

“That’s the one.”

Maeva’s eyes were distant for a long moment, caught in a memory that triggered a small laugh. “I passed through there once and vomited.

Varric laughed outright. “What now?

She laughed as well, enjoying that she could tell him a story for once. He motioned her to a chair and they sat down together.

“It was after Kirkwall,” she continued. “On the boat to West Hill I was seasick and by the time we’d landed ashore Ferelden I’d not kept food down in three days. After half a day’s hike we finally got to Crestwood Village and I was absolutely starving.

“Mother saw I was feeling better on land so she asked around the village for the best food we could afford. It was a potato and carrot pie with thick gravy and a half pheasant.” She shut her eyes and smiled as she remembered. “I don’t even like carrots, but after three days it was the best meal I’d ever had.”

Varric had produced a stein of ale from somewhere and took a sip.

“Then,” she sighed, “we left the village and headed west toward Lake Calenhad, which means we had to pass the Crestwood lake. I saw all the water and waves and... I got sick again! Threw up all that good food not an hour later! It made me so sad.”

Maeva laughed from it now, and Varric joined in gently.

“My mother said it was probably for the better anyways. At sunset we boarded another boat on the way to Redcliffe and I couldn't help but heave my empty stomach there as well.”

Varric chuckled and shook his head. “Well, whatever you do, don't come to the Stormcoast!”

She smiled at him and nodded soberly. “I can do that.”

 

__________

 

Late that afternoon she was on the ramparts again exploring the tops of the towers. She wondered about the hole in the roof of the tower that connected to the tavern and she wondered about the hole in its roof she’d seen yesterday.

I wonder if I can get up there...

A gap a bit bigger than she was tall lay between the inner rampart’s edge and the tavern roof and she crossed it with a quick hop and scrambled to the roof’s apex where it joined with the stone tower. The roof’s shingles provided some grip on her soles, but the steep angle proved to be challenging. The tower's top layer of wood was dilapidated and unsafe, she decided after giving the nearest floorboards a hard wiggle, so she returned whence she came.

She partly stood and prepared to make the leap across. Right as she sprung away a shingle beneath her foot came loose and skewed her jump; her hands landed on the edge of the rampart wall, her body hanging below her.

She tilted her head down toward her feet to assess a possible landing. Directly below her was small wooden floor, boxed between the walls of the tower and the building, and the U-turn of the wall’s staircase zigzagging into the courtyard. The drop couldn’t be more than four meters, she judged.

Adjusting her grip on the rampart edge she balanced her stance by planting her toes against the side of the wall, and she released herself from all four limbs at once. It had always surprised her how it felt to fall for multiple seconds. A second too long later her feet touched upon the wooden slats and her weight continued past her as she eased herself into the landing.

Maeva heard a stone rattle in the adjoining wall, reverberating from her impact through the wooden flooring. Her attention was immediately drawn, tapered ears listening carefully as she stomped upon the boards again with one foot. She honed in on the sound and knelt into the shadowy corner.

Such an abstract place…

With one finger she traced the mortared outlines of the bricks and stones, applying some force. As her fingertip passed over the edge of a large stone the mortar crumbled around it, and she eagerly dug the dust from it. The space around the stone was nearly hollowed out, and with a series of tugs and shakes she withdrew it from the wall.

The stone and its fitted hole were about the size of a head. Probing the dark space with her hand she recognized the familiar feeling she’d get when stowing or retrieving items from one of her and Anthena’s stashes in Ferelden, or in Kirkwall.

She looked around to assess the possibility of making this a new stash location. The wall and the rampart stairs dominated most of the view, yet she could easily peek around and see the upper courtyard and the stairs entering the main hall. A passerby likely wouldn’t see her here in this strange little place unless they were using the stairs.

Satisfied, she replaced the stone gently and departed casually.

In the lower courtyard Maeva easily identified the new tanning apprentices as they pulled a small wagon full of sun-warmed leathers through Skyhold’s gate. She followed them to the armory to help them unload.

“You must be Maeva, right?” a young apprentice asked her, his hands upon a one of the last skins in the pile.

“Yes, that’s me,” she replied.

He handed her the dried and worked leather of the wolf mother, and Maeva froze in surprise as she held it. The skin of the creature’s extremities and back was a thin shell of crusty black that crumpled at her touch. The remaining skin, however, had transformed into a soft, thin material of varied hues of light and dark. She headed back to the armory as she examined it.

A single spot of pure white shone from inside a fading circle of gray and black. From its placement on the wolf’s skin she understood it had been the tender flesh inside the hip, protected in folds between the leg and the hip at the moment of immolation simply because the creature was mid-stride. The resulting leather was supple and fascinating; Maeva had never seen anything like it come from a wolf kill.

That such beauty could come from such sadness…

 

__________

 

In her slumber she returned to the familiar forests she’d dreamt of every past night since Haven’s end.

But tonight the green forest ended and the overgrown path became a worn cobblestone road. Then, gray stone walls ascended amid small wooden buildings, and an immense castle lay beyond. A gateway with metal teeth swallowed her into its labyrinth, and she found herself in a city marketplace.

Being around other people again she became more self-conscious, and aware of how obvious her round belly was. It was a blessing, however. Less reason for them to bother me. A large scarf covered her ears and most of her face, and she blended in with the crowd easily.

Though she felt safe in her anonymity even in this dense populace, she feared that her spawn may threaten them all.

At last she crossed a gated bridge into an isolated community of fellow elves, and she saw a large tree with a painted base. She’d heard of this, that City Elves have only one vhenadahl. It rose thick and tall, but its colors and life force were muted, so much dimmer than those in the forest. The elves lived there in squalor: shoed feet dirtied by muddied roads, crude linens layered in Fereldan fashion, ramshackle cabins stacked against the back walls of the city.

She felt the urge to walk forward and press her open hand against the tree’s painted bark, her other palm upon her belly. At the touch a connection was established, and she said a prayer to Ghilan’nain.

She rose to her feet to be greeted silently by an old woman with a long scar across her face. She was a healer and exuded a sense of kindness and wisdom, though she carried no staff. For a moment the dreamer realized she was not carrying a staff either. And then she was walking again, leaving the city, passing the outer village as night descended and rumbling clouds collided in the sky above her.

Her trek continued until she was sufficiently alone, and then she left the path to climb a gentle wooded hill. A glen spread before her at the top of the rise just as the last patch of clear sky was covered by coming storm. A small stone-lined well dropped into the ground nearby, and a shallow firepit marked the center of the space, already stocked with wood.

With a flick of her hand she set the fire. The old woman appeared then and fetched a bucket of water from the well while the dreamer laid on her back by the fire, her long cloak covering the ground beneath her.

In the sky the first sounds of thunder came, and her child-birthing labor began. Her hands crackled with electricity, magic flaring uncontrollably from the pain. Her trembling legs spread as she fought to control her will.

Her eyes watched the glowing clouds above the tree tops. The air was thick and humid, and lightning flashed in the distance.

Within short time the baby pushed out of her body. The sky seemed to rip in two as lightning gushed down toward the ground. Tops of the trees roasted in the crackling air. Matter and molecule seemed half suspended in slow motion as branches of light blossomed around them, her skin tickled by invisible tendrils.

The old woman held a dagger but kept it guarded behind her while she and the mother examined the baby. The mother smiled and shook her head, reassuring the old woman who in turn put away her dagger. The infant girl cried loudly, challenging the volume of the electrical storm.

Lightning flashed once more and a loud clap of thunder shocked Maeva awake from the dream. She stood alone in Skyhold's upper courtyard in the dead of night, groggy and confused.

Chapter Text

The sky was pitch black when lightning wasn’t illuminating its massive cloud cover. Shapes of Skyhold’s towers and doors were anchored by torchlight, and the silhouettes of the courtyard’s trees loomed over her.

How… What… Why am I here?

She stood barefoot on the cold cobblestone of the courtyard, on a particularly overgrown part flush with grass that she felt between her toes. Her thin leggings and tunic provided little warmth against the cold of the night.

A deafening clap of thunder exploded above her and resonated off the buildings. Within seconds rain sounded and she inhaled sudden humidity as freezing water pelted down. She turned around and dashed back into the armory hugging her goosebumped arms.

The forges glowed cozily and the sleeping smithies didn’t stir at the sound of the shutting door, nor that of the storm and downpour of rain outside. Already dripping on the floor, Maeva ascended the stairs and returned to bed, eager to find warmth.

Things will make more sense when I wake up, she promised herself.

Despite this reassurance, her mind kept aiming back at the dream, the mother and child, and the lightning storm in her mind. Minutes later the rain’s white noise lulled her into a dreamless sleep.

What felt like half an hour was four, and Maeva rose that morning with great hunger driven by the tantalizing aroma of food that drifted through the window. After a deep breath and stretch she rose and went outside.

Seeing the courtyard reminded her of the dream, and was still confused by it and her sleepwalking. At least this time I didn’t wake up half naked in the snow with Cullen rescuing me…

She decided to shrug it off and continue about her day. The rain had left large puddles but the sky was now clear and the sun warmed her skin. Shielding her eyes from the sun, she headed for the tavern.

The Inquisitor had ordered Skyhold’s kitchen to serve meals for everyone sleeping within its walls, at least until regular trade routes were established. Similarly, the inhabitants of the castle itself all dined within its walls, in a large candlelit hall, according to a helper she’d overheard last night. All the other residents of Skyhold dined in the tavern, the Herald’s Rest, where food was brought from the kitchen three times daily.

The tavern was half full. People sat eating and talking at tables arranged around a central hearth, its chimney climbing through balconied levels all the way up to the roof. The bar itself was set up at one end, comprising of bottles on shelves, kegs on stands, and a massive keg that filled an entire corner. A long row of tables and stools separated the patrons from the bartender, a gruff-looking dwarf with dark facial tattoos. He was evidently displeased with the added duty of serving breakfast.

She waited in a short line before being handed a spoon and a serving of spiced oatmeal in a clay bowl, then looked around for a place to sit.

Sera occupied a nearby table. Maeva felt a flash of anger toward her, the memory of Solas being slapped fresh in her mind. The feeling diminished quickly though, replaced by strong curiosity, and she walked over to her.

“Can I sit here?” she asked, nodding at the chair across from Sera.

“‘Course,” Sera replied automatically, glancing up at her while she finished her breakfast.

Maeva took a seat and eagerly ate a spoonful of oatmeal. It was thick and wonderful, and a minute went by as she consumed half the bowl. Her belly warm, she sat back and looked at Sera. The young woman sat back in her chair and picked at her nails with a metal arrowhead.

I don’t even know how to start talking to her… Maeva realized as multiple opening words came to and were dismissed by her mind.

Sera sensed the eyes on her, however, and filled in the gap. “You need something?”

“Why did you slap Solas?” The question was out of Maeva’s mouth blunt and unannounced before she could stop it.

Sera scowled. “None o’ your business.”

Maeva looked down in shame. “I know, ‘sorry… I didn’t understand what he said in elvish.”

This lightened Sera’s face, Maeva was surprised to see.

“Neither did I, not all of it,” Sera began. “I do know the last part was a blatant insult.” Her face darkened then. “I’ve heard it before.”

“Why did he insult you?”

The scowl returned. “Didn’t you hear what the Herald said? ‘An elf for Thedas.’ It is rubbish, like I said.”

Maeva didn’t follow up with a question, but the confused look on her face bade Sera continue.

“Being the Inquisitor has nothing to do with her being elfy. Even she doesn’t believe she’s Andraste’s chosen, says it was all happenstance. A dwarf or even a Qunari could have been at the same place and time just as easily. The more focus put on race, the less people will see past it.”

An interesting thought.

“Doesn’t matter who you are, an arrow in the heart will kill ya just the same,” Sera continued, curling lower in her chair with a frustrated look on her face. “But now the whole Inquisition is going to focus on elf ears.

“She also said the Inquisition was for all,” said Maeva after swallowing the last of her food.

Sera’s cheek twitched but she said nothing. Maeva glowered at her, still upset that Solas was physically attacked.

“Are you going to apologize to him?” She said it lightly enough that her harbored resentment remained unknown.

“Shite, no!”

“What if he wants revenge?”

Sera didn’t look up from the arrowhead in her hand, deep in thought as she pried the metal tip with her thumb. Now her eyes darted to Maeva. “Do ya think he’d do something?”

Maeva shrugged, careful to hide the laughter inside her. “It’s possible, he is a powerful mage.” Sera’s eyes widened a bit at the reference to his magic powers, then looked down again, growing worried. “And you did piss him off,” Maeva added.

I was furious! It was a-- reflex!” Sera exclaimed, then was quiet for a few moments. “Shite!” With a dragging sigh she shifted in her seat and plopped her chin on a hand, supported by her elbow. “You’re right,” she admitted. “Ugh, that means I have to go talk to him…”

“It might be enough to pass along the message,” Maeva offered. “I could tell him you apologize and see if he’s still mad.”

Sera looked at her directly now and raised an eyebrow. “Why do you want to do that?” she asked slowly.

Maeva shrugged. “I have to go talk to him anyway about some leatherwork.”

Sera’s eyebrow turned skeptical but then she changed her mind and sighed. “Alright...”

Maeva allowed herself a smile; she was happy for another excuse to talk to Solas.

“Speaking of creepy guys,” Sera said in a low voice.

Maeva followed her eyes to see a man in dark leathers and an oversized floppy hat walking along the second-floor balcony. She recognized him from the night of Haven’s end.

“I dunno what that guy is,” said Sera as they looked at him from across the room and down a level until he disappeared out of sight. “I don’t think he’s a mage, but, he does magicky things…” She looked at Maeva now with a raised eyebrow. “You’re not a mage, are you?”

“No, oh, no,” Maeva said with a laugh.

“Alright, your turn. What’s your story?”

Maeva wasn’t sure where to start. “I know Varric. I do leather work for Harritt.”

A horn sounded from outside the tavern, and Maeva used this excuse to bade Sera a quick goodbye and left the tavern.

It had fast become customary to announce the Inquisitor’s return by blaring a horn. They arrived in Skyhold via the waystone in the main hall-- an event that surprised anyone nearby the object when Lady Lavellan and company would apparate without a moment’s notice. As such, the place was watched day and night, and when they returned the loud announcement also served to summon a welcoming crew of helpers and messengers.

She dashed across the courtyard and up the stairs, arriving in the main hall in time to see a cluster of people dispersing near the waystone at the other end.

Evidence of ongoing repairs cluttered the hall, forcing people to squeeze past each other in some places. As she moved toward them she was passed by two squires carrying towels. The party members were soaking wet, she realized once she saw them. They were unloading the last of their armor and weapons to helpers who took it into the Undercroft.

The Inquisitor conversed with Blackwall while she headed for a side door, the crowd opening to let her through. Solas dismissed the attendant offering him a towel and walked straight past Maeva in a beeline for the rotunda door. As he glided past her she tried to assess his mood but could draw nothing other than him clearly wanting to leave the crowded hall.

Varric was the last member at the waystone. He kindly thanked an attendant for the use of a towel, and thanked another helper much more for bringing him a stein of ale. This made Maeva giggle as she approached him. He waved at her while drinking deeply, then returned the empty stein and gestured to Maeva that they walk together.

“How was Crestwood?” she asked.

“Better now,” he laughed, nodding at his departing stein. “But really, not that bad other than the constant rain and undead.”

“I thought you’d be gone longer.”

“So did I. Turns out we were just meeting Hawke’s friend and talking to the mayor.”

They reached the space he’d claimed as his own: the table and chairs and cozy hearth near the passage to the courtyard. He sat in his chair with a happy sigh, feet propped up near the fire.

“Well, your package hasn’t arrived, of course. Want your envelope back?”

“Yeah, may as well. I think we’ll be staying for a day or two, but I’ll check with the Inquisitor in a bit.”

Varric shut his eyes and looked like he wanted to take a nap, so she decided to take her leave. “Alright, I’ll get that envelope to you soon.”

“Swell,” he said, fighting a yawn. “I’m just gonna... relax for a bit.”

She smiled and left him, stepping away toward the rotunda door.

Now to talk to Solas…

After a deep breath she went through the door and paused just inside the last archway before the room opened before her.

A fresco was forming upon the curved wall, a single section already complete and colorful. It was the Breach raining terror upon southern Thedas, depicted by a swirling mass of eyes and circles at the top, pouring their colors into rays and pointed flecks going down the wall toward patterns at the bottom that represented mountains, land and sea.

Maeva had never seen artwork of its equal. When and where did he learn this skill?

Solas stood on low scaffolding as he painted nearly invisible shapes onto the plaster wall, mapping out the next section of the fresco. His back to her, she watched silently as he traced a wolf’s profile amid a larger weave of straight lines, which in turn framed the top-center image of a sunburst and sword.

It’s the founding of the Inquisition, she realized. This is to tell our story...

She marveled at the idea of it, and at him even more so, for having the insight and skill to accomplish it.

Maeva took a deep breath and moved forward, sure to make her footsteps loud enough to alert him. “Excuse me, Mister Solas?”

“You may call me Solas,” he said without turning around.

She stopped at the edge of the table in the center of the room. Long seconds passed while he continued painting, leaving her standing uncertain. “Sorry to interrupt-- I know you just got back. I can come back later.”

“Stay,” he said, putting down his brush and cup. He grabbed a small cloth to wipe his hands and turned to face her. “It’s good you came; the replacement strap is ready.” His face was serene and his voice light: he was in a good mood.

She nodded at him politely, unsure of what else to say. While he climbed down she noticed a curious item on his desk: it was large stone tablet, carved and lumpy with the skull of a person embedded in the front. The whole thing shimmered with veins of light blue magic, like it was breathing.

“How go the other repairs to the pouch,” he asked casually as he headed toward another table against the wall.

“The cord work is finished, and I’ll sew the strap and patch on next,” she replied.

From a small drawer he withdrew a coiled dark gray strap and brought it to her.

“This is from a similar pouch that I used to carry,” he explained as he unravelled the long piece of leather and presented it on open palms.

She looked at the balance of the color tone and skin patterns, and at its thickness against the rough-cut edge. “Thank you,” she remembered to say as she collected it from him.

“Thank you for fixing the pouch. I’m sure the Inquisitor will be happy to see it restored.” His hands behind his back, he stood straight and graceful.

“So, what is a Dalish Keeper’s pouch, exactly?” she asked, still exploring the new strap with prodding fingers.

“Other than an herb pouch that belongs to a Keeper? Perhaps you should ask the Inquisitor herself.”

“I mean, what’s the enchantment about?”

It was easier to look at him now, easier to talk to him. His face and eyes were soft and friendly thanks to his good mood. He even wore a small, proud smile.

“It’s a simple protection spell upon the bearer; the antlers of Ghilan’nain, the Mother Halla.”

“And this has the same magic on it?”

“Yes, in fact I enhanced it further.”

Maeva realized she expected to feel the magic in it somehow, but was disappointed. Or is it normal that I don’t?

“Will I need the same magic on the patch?” she asked.

“No; the spell on the strap should be sufficient, as the patch will be small, I imagine.”

She nodded absently, satisfied with his response but now wondering at the leather type. “What kind of animal was this? It’s not druffalo like the old one, and it’s not--”

“It’s from a wolf,” he answered quietly.

A wolf, again. Is this to be a regular theme between us, I wonder. Her eyes darted to the ghostly wolf on the wall. Or maybe it’s just him...

“What made you choose this for a replacement?” she asked, eyes back on the leather.

He didn’t answer right away, and she glanced up to see him looking at her with mild interest. “Why so curious?”

Maeva felt her eyes round in surprise, realizing she didn’t know how to answer him. “I… I just wanted to know because… I’m wondering what to use for the patch,” she uttered finally.

“I see. You have already pointed out it should be of the same color. Beyond that, I would suggest using something that you feel an affinity toward.”

“Do you feel affinity toward this strap?”

“Yes,” he said casually, “but primarily I offered it for the enchantment.”

She nodded and began coiling the strap around her hand. “Can I ask you something else?”

He raised an eyebrow curiously and this was sufficient agreement.

“I know it’s none of my business, but… What did you say to Sera, when she slapped you?”

She’d deliberately timed the awkward question to when she could look away while tucking the strap into her pocket, afraid to look him in the eyes as she asked. Out of the corner of her eye she watched his posture stiffened slightly.

“It was a foolish outburst, as was her reaction,” he said, calm and composed once again.

“But what did you say?” He seemed to be sizing her up. When he still didn’t answer, she added with a sigh: “I don’t understand elvish.”

This reasoning satisfied him, as she predicted. “Simply put, I told Sera that she is not one of the Elvhen People,” he explained unabashedly.

“That’s it? She slapped you for that?”

“And, that no one likes her,” he admitted, now his turn to hang his head low in implied shame.

A surprised laugh escaped Maeva, but it was more at his candor than the translation. Solas’s face betrayed some amusement at her reaction.

Why did you say that?”

Now his face darkened slightly. “The acceptance ceremony was pivotal in the future of our success. Sera blatantly insulted the Inquisitor’s speech, and publicly…” His tone was harsher now but he caught himself.

The corner of Maeva’s mouth almost twitched into a smirk at his choice of words.

He took a calming breath and stood taller now. “But as I said, it was brash, and I should not have reacted so.”

The silence between then became awkward, and she wondered if he was waiting for her to leave.

“Well, thanks again for the strap. Oh, and…” she paused in the archway, almost to the door. “Sera apologizes for slapping you. I was asked to tell you that.”

She left it at that and shut the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Maeva stepped into the sunlight outside of the main hall. Her mind was flooded by thoughts of her conversation with Solas but the fresh air anchored her in the present. She was soberly aware of his effect: his passive demeanor drew an impulsive aspect from her. The discovery made her nervous, but that was hardly surprising given the past week of tumult in her life. And yet she loved it all, for her blood felt cold otherwise.

Enjoying her good mood, she trotted across the courtyard and into the armory to retrieve the Inquisitor’s pouch. A few minutes of rummaging through boxes of tools rewarded her with a straight needle and a spool of strong but thin thread. Components in hand, she looked around for a place to sit and work. Upon realizing that she needn't sew the strap on here, she left the armory with a sly smile on her face.

Back in the main hall she entered the next door after the rotunda’s, which led up a cave-like stairwell. The passage let out onto Vivienne’s balcony on the right, but she went left into the library-balcony level, across from where the other rotunda stairs ended.

The library’s renovation was finished now. The shelves were full of books and scrolls, and the candlelit alcoves harbored scribes, chantry historians, and mages-- she judged from their respective robe-styles-- as they browsed the library with interest.

Conveniently, the stairs had let out exactly behind Solas’s position in the room below, and she was happy to be able to watch him paint while she could settle down and sew. Under the light of a nearby torch she sat down with her lap open and prepared for leather-working.

A small part of her felt odd to be sitting here, somewhat in the passageway along the balcony rail. But few people moved about and she got a sense that everyone around was self-involved enough to let her do her own thing as well. I’d be curious to why they might say I should leave… Then again, I might just look like a kid to them-- perhaps they won’t bother me because of it.

Solas stood upon the scaffolding, completely focused on his painting once again. Settled in, Maeva pointed her focus to the combining of the strap and the pouch. Minutes stretched into mediation for a while, and she felt affinity toward him while they both worked on their skilled endeavors.

Some time later the Inquisitor entered the rotunda. She saw the same view of Solas that Maeva had: his back to the door and his mind on the fresco. She looked around most of the room, but not as far as Maeva in the shadows behind them.

She watched him paint in silence for a few minutes as she admired the fresco. Finally Solas heard her steps and turned to look.

“I finally got to drop by,” she offered. “I've been so busy since we arrived at Skyhold, I haven’t gotten to visit you here yet.”

He smiled at her as he climbed down from the scaffolding. “We just spent a day together in Crestwood.”

Her smile diminished slightly from his deflection. “I meant without others hearing our every word.” She referred to their usual four-person parties as well as the other souls in the library, and Maeva was glad she hadn't been noticed.

“Is there something particular you would like to talk about?”

“I’m interested in what you told me of yourself and your studies. If you have the time, I’d like to hear more.”

“You continue to surprise me,” he said happily. “Alright, let us talk.... preferably somewhere more interesting than this.” With that he led her into the main hall.

Swiftly but casually, Maeva got to her feet and went through the door to the stairwell, emerging onto Vivienne’s balcony just inside the main hall. Below her, Solas and the Inquisitor walked up the hall as they spoke.

“Show me where you sleep,” she caught him saying, the rest of it lost in the hall’s ambient chatter.

They continued up the hall and disappeared through the door to the Inquisitor’s chambers. Maeva skewed an eyebrow at this, wondering what their leader’s chambers were like, and why Solas would guide them there in the middle of the day ‘to talk somewhere interesting.’

With a disappointed snort she returned to the library, this time pulling a heavy wooden chair to the torchlight by the balcony, using the excuse of lighting her work for planting herself in the pathway.

And to be here for when he returns...

Several minutes went by as she was absorbed in her sewing. She sewed the strap to the undamaged side first, following the indentations of the previous strap. The sturdy thread tugged the skin into a tight bond, pulling the gray wolf leather into oneness with the halla’s tender side.

To her surprise, Solas re-entered the rotunda nary a quarter hour later. Instead of returning to the fresco, however, he lay down gracefully upon the sofa and shut his eyes to sleep.

But it’s the middle of the day! And why did he separate from the Inquisitor so fast?

A few minutes later, sure enough, Solas appeared to sleeping. He was perfectly still, his brow relaxed and his eyes moving from beneath.

What does he dream of, I wonder. Anything strange, like mine?

Nearly an hour passed like this, with Maeva carefully sewing the strap onto the pouch, and watching over sleeping Solas like a protector, occasionally stealing glances at his handsome face.

At one point Maeva looked over at him and realized he was waking. He opened his eyes and breathed deeply, his mind already occupied by focused thoughts. He rose and stretched, his face almost forgotten except for his mouth that betrayed a smile that he fought to contain.

What is he thinking about? What did he dream of, that he smiles so?

He contented himself by walking about the rounded room and looking at the walls, focusing his attention on his art instead of the dream.

A few minutes later the Inquisitor re-entered the rotunda, and he turned to her, unsurprised at her arrival.

“Sleep well?” he asked teasingly.

“I've never done anything like that before, on a number of levels,” she said,

He laughed. “I apologize. The kiss was impulsive and ill considered, and I should not have encouraged it.”

Maeva's ears perked immediately. The kiss, what kiss? He was here the whole time!

“You did kiss me back. If I’m pressuring you--”

“No, you’re not. I am perhaps pressuring myself,” he sighed. “Things have always been… easier for me in the Fade.” He regarded her with a stronger face now. “I am not certain this is the best idea; it could lead to trouble.”

They met in their dreams? Maeva had never heard of this before.

“I’m willing to take that chance, if you are.”

“I… Maybe-- yes. If… I could take a little time to think. There are… considerations.”

“Take all the time you need,” the Inquisitor said simply, her voice warm with satisfaction.

“Thank you. I am not often thrown by things that happen in dreams.” He cleared his throat and took a half-step back. “But I am reasonably certain we are awake now, and if you wish to discuss anything, I would enjoy talking.”

The Inquisitor sighed. “Actually, I must return to business, again…” She bared her disappointment through her face, eyes large and longing to stay. “I’ll see you later,” she uttered, with some hesitation at the end.

Maeva watched their leader leave the rotunda, and Solas return to his fresco. Brooding about the puzzling exchange she’d witness, she sank back into the chair and examined her handiwork. The project was nearly finished: the combining of the strap and the pouch was sturdy, and only the patch remained.

She rose and made her way back into the great hall. Varric was not at his usual spot, and Maeva overheard that the Inquisitor had just asked after him.

Outside, the afternoon cast shadows over most of the courtyard. She returned to the dark warmth of the armory, and to her comfortable bedroll on the second-level balcony. She sat upon her bed, leaning against the hard wood of wall, her rolled up bear pelt serving as extra cushion.

Her hands rummaged through her backpack for various leathers she’d collected as potential patches. The corners of the halla box brushed against her fingertips, and thoughts of the broken crystal ring invaded her mind for the first time in… over a week! Time is passing so differently than before…

She heard the door to the armory open, and the unmistakable steps of Cassandra crossed the ground floor. She climbed the stairs, then her dark, short hair came into view, followed by her Inquisition-sunburst armor and fists clenched in aggressive anger. Her face was a mask of quiet fuming about to erupt. Maeva felt her own eyes open wide in sheer awe of the woman’s natural power.

My gods, I don’t think I've ever seen a woman so mad before!

Cassandra reached her personal area at the top of the armory, and Maeva heard a loud stomp on the floor that was her ceiling.

What in the world pissed her off this much?!

As if in response, new footsteps sounded on the stairs from the ground level, and Maeva recognized Varric’s gait.

She was already smiling when his eyes found hers upon reaching the second level. She proudly held up the leatherwork she tended, and he gestured to the balcony level above them with a trepadacious look on his face. They exchanged encouraging nods, then he disappeared into the top level.

“You son of a bitch!” It was Cassandra, her rich accent disgraced by her angry words just as the Inquisitor ascended the last steps.

Maeva quickly cast aside her leathers as the sound of a scuffle erupted above her. Suddenly the Inquisitor herself appeared on the stairs and raced around to the next flight, her head and attention focused on the rukus above.

“You knew where Hawke was all along!”

“You’re damned right I did!” said Varric.

“You conniving little shit!” Cassandra’s words dripped of hatred.

You kidnapped me! You interrogated me! What did you expect?”

“Hey! Enough!” shouted the Inquisitor.

“He’s a liar, Inquisitor. A snake. Even after the Conclave, when we needed Hawke most, Varric kept him secret.”

“Hawke’s with us now. We’re on the same side!”

“We all know who’s side you’re on, Varric. It will never be the Inquisition’s.”

“Attacking him now won’t help us, Cassandra,” said the Inquisitor.

Cassandra’s sigh was slow and tired. “Go, Varric. Just… go.”

Varric sighed. “I understand.”

“I must not think of what could have been. We have so much at stake.”

Maeva recognized his footsteps near the top of the stairs.

“You know what I think?” he said, not truly asking. “If Hawke had been at the temple, he’d be dead, too. You people have done enough to him.”

Varric descended the stairs now; Maeva sat up from her bedroll at the first glimpse of his boots. She searched his face in sympathy but she only shook his head at her silently and continued his way downstairs. Worried, she followed him, leaving the now-softened voices of Cassandra and the Inquisitor behind her.

Outside he headed toward the edge of the upper courtyard, where it looked down upon the entrance and southern Skyhold. Night was nearly upon them; the sky was a deep purple-blue, and the brightest stars were just announced.

“Are you alright?” she asked, approaching slowly as he steadied a foot against the low wall and looked off into the night.

“Yeah.” He let out a heavy sigh. “Or I will be. Did you… hear all that?”

Maeva nodded with a half-smile. A moment of silence.

“She’ll calm down eventually,” he continued, reprising his constant smile. “It won’t even matter by the end of the Inquisition.”

“The end?” quoted Maeva.

“Yeah, you know, when Corypheus is defeated and peace restored.” He looked at her expectantly. “I’m going to head back to Kirkwall and write a few books,” he said with a proud smile. “What will you do?”

Maeva scoffed, realizing she’d not thought about it before, but then her mind aimed back to the ring halves and her mother’s message. “I suppose I’d look for a way to fix-- Say, Varric, do you know what dwarven memory crystal is?”

The question surprised him and for a split second he eyed her suspiciously. “I’ve heard of it.”

“Do you think it can be fixed, if it’s broken?” she pleaded. He said nothing so she continued, pouring out her sad story. “Mamae told me about a stash before she... died.” The last word was still difficult for her to say. “It was in Redcliffe, and I went to it the same day that you and I met again. It was embedded in the crevice of a stone pillar, but when I pulled it out it snapped!” Her hands gestured in memory of holding the ring halves, dismay plain upon her face. “So now all I have is a broken dwarven memory crystal ring!”

He caught her hand in his, a happy smile on his face. “Oh sweetie,” he said dotingly, “don’t you know that those can be fixed?” Maeva gaped at him as he continued: “In fact, we just recently heard about an arcanist that’s going to join the Inquisition-- she can help with exactly this kind of thing!”

Maeva’s eyes and heart flooded with happy tears, and she lunged into a tight hug around the dwarf’s stocky shoulders.

 

__________

 

She knew it was a dream because she was back in Haven when it was intact. No one was there except for herself and Solas. He looked at her while they walked up the town’s stairs and into the chantry. His lips moved: he was speaking to her, but she could hear nothing. The dream continued, ignoring the silence in her ears, and soon she forgot that she was deaf.

They now stood in the dark basement of the chantry, empty manacles in the center of the floor. He spoke to her again and she could sense the essence of the exchange: he was recounting a memory. Her dream-self replied, said something that made him laugh, and the warmth between them grew.

They left the basement and were soon outside the front gates, overlooking the frozen valley. He gestured at the Breach that still glowed green in the sky.

He spoke to her again, his face soft and eyes matching the blue-gray in the sky beyond.

She became aware of her body then. His silent words had lit a fiery yearning inside her chest, and she drank it in like water. The presence of thought manifest and sought out a feeling he had expressed.

She spoke to him mutely as her hand went to her hip and she tilted her head.

A play on words, a slip of admission, a figure of speech.

He tried to brush it off, conceal it, but she’d caught him and she wanted more.

He stood only a few paces from her. She stepped forward while they exchanged more words.

He admitted the attraction now; cryptic and vague, but a sweet confession nonetheless. His eyes searched her face and his lips parted. She couldn’t help but stare, feeling a strong urge to touch that soft pink flesh.

She spoke silently then looked away, bashful for only a moment. He looked away too, projecting a sense of resolute solitude with just a glimmer of hope shining through.

She bit her lip and wondered if she’d dare...

Impulse overtook her and she reached over to grasp his cleft chin between her thumb and fingers. Swiftly but gently she turned his face towards hers and stood up on her toes. She looked directly into his blue eyes, showing him hers, baring herself to him.

Her mouth drifted to his and her eyelids fell shut. The contact was sweeter and softer than she’d ever imagined. But she dared not kiss him longer than a second, lest he have wished it not so. It was more than a mere peck yet left volumes untasted as she pulled away, bashful once again.

He was not having it, though-- her invitation had been served and accepted. His eyes were hungry and the corners of his lips curled in pleasure as he grasped her firmly by the waist and easily pulled her back to his mouth. His lips pressed warm against hers and he gave a sucking kiss as he breathed her in. Thrilled at this response she folded to his lead. His lips parted, gently drawing hers open. Then the sweetest, softest surprise: the tip of his tongue brushed past hers, drawing a visceral sound from his throat.

She inhaled through her nose as she reached up to cup his jaw in her hand, and the Anchor tickled at the touch of his skin. Their tongues met again and they kissed tenderly for precious long seconds. She felt both swallowed and engorged at the same time, yet stabilized by his presence and his strong arms around her.

The kiss ended naturally and she opened her eyes to see him looking at her. She sensed he was about to pull away, but instead he fixed his eyes on her lips and shook his head as he leaned into to capture her mouth once again. This kiss was more desperate, an insistent message. In reply, her own mind, mouth, and body echoed his desire, but then he shut it off and pulled away.

Hearing sound wasn't necessary for her to understand him saying ‘no.’

She expressed confusion and he replied to her mutely. She looked around the little valley again, remembering, and seeing past it.

His gaze claimed her eyes again, a small smile playing on his mouth. He uttered short words and the world vanished.

She snapped awake and sat up. The large room was quiet and familiar, sunlight angling in through the large latticed doors that opened onto the stone balcony.

Wait, that’s not right…

She snapped awake and sat up. The armory’s fires crackled distantly beneath the floor grates below, and the moonlight shone through the window above her bedroll.

This is right, but… Was that really a dream?

Chapter Text

“You fixed it, you return it. It’ll be good for ya,” Harritt had said.

Thus he directed Maeva to Josephine about returning the Keeper’s pouch to its owner. Already brimming with good mood thanks the romantic dream she’d had of Solas last night, as well as the thought of fixing her mother’s ring, Maeva was thrilled that she’d get to meet the Inquisitor today. Now she stood in a large room, cozy thanks to a fireplace that glowed warmly over rugs, tapestries and wooden rafters against gray brick, waiting her turn to approach.

Lady Josephine Montilyet of Antiva City represented the Inquisition’s diplomatic and structural aspects. The golden-ruffled woman sat behind a desk so large than it seemed a fortress around her. The intimidation it presented was softened by shimmering beams of light that poured through latticed windows; a living metaphor of the woman’s links to the outside and the inside of the Inquisition. The insignia was carved into the wood of the large chair she sat it, above her head before giving way to a padded leather back. Beyond her a row of tall bookshelves overflowed with leather bound tomes of family lineages, detailed laws and etiquette.

A tall man in mage robes that was speaking to her presently gave a final nod and turned to leave. It was Maeva’s turn.

Anxiety returned as she approached the golden woman and her mighty desk.

How do I speak to her? Should I curtsey?

“Hello, Lady Montilyet. I am here to return the Inquisitor’s pouch-- it’s repaired now.”

She displayed the prize in her hands. The Lady looked at the item and smiled despite not seeming to recognize it.

“Ah, that’s wonderful news. But I believe all equipment matters are handled by Master Harritt, no? How is it that you have the Inquisitor’s pouch?” Her disarming smile quieted any sense of accusation her words might have had.

The tune and richness of her voice was a benevolent anchor and Maeva felt no threat from this woman’s perception. She watched her hands moved deftly about efficient tasks as if of their own volition, writing notes and sorting papers into neat stacks.

“I report to Master Harritt; he gave me the pouch to fix. I’ve repaired it now and he told me to talk to you next,” Maeva explained.

Josephine’s smile shifted.

Say something more. “It’s a Dalish Keeper’s pouch.”

“I see,” she said, smiling bigger at the familiar words. “Then I imagine Lady Lavellan will want to receive the item personally. I can arrange for you to be called for when she next receives visitors. After her return to Skyhold, that is; Her Worship is currently in the Western Approach. What is your name?”

“Maeva.”

Lady Josephine scribbled a note on a small piece of paper and added it to a collection of the little things at one corner of the desk.

“Very well, Miss Maeva,” she said with a smile and a tone that indicated farewell. “We’ll call for you then.”

Maeva awkwardly attempted a curtsey but it was more like a stumble. She blushed and walked away stiffly.

Just before the door to the main hall-- which was currently filled with early-rising nobles eager for court favor-- she spied a stairwell she didn’t recognize and followed it. She found herself on a sub-level of the castle building, in large room that was carved the dark stone into two orderly rows of thick columns, creating a wide center aisle and lit with candelabras. It was the Inquisition’s rumored dining hall, she saw from the long table, chairs and place settings.

The place was empty, but her ears and nose guided her to a door in the far corner that led to the kitchen. Inside, two attendants swept the floor while gossiping about the absent cook. Large ornate ovens lined one wall and Maeva suspected the aroma was coming from there.

The attendants glanced at her briefly as she moved past them, heading for the next door without stopping. On the way out she nabbed a couple of apples from a nearby bowl.

Outside in the sunshine she found herself descending a curved staircase that followed the rotunda’s external wall into the southern courtyard. Upon reaching the ground she noticed Commander Cullen climbing the zigzagging staircase onto the ramparts. Curiously she followed him up it.

He disappeared into his tower office before she reached midway. Outside the sun-warmed wooden door she heard his voice beyond it, thick and serious with business and orders. Then, the sound of footsteps at another door; soldiers leaving and solitude remaining.

Now. She yanked the door open and strode in.

The Commander barely had time to recognize her and the apple she tossed him before he caught it reflexively.

“Hello, Ser Knight,” she said, an amused smirk on her face as the door fell shut behind her.

Cullen shut his eyes and sighed dramatically. “Don’t call me that.”

“Why not?” she asked, taking a bite of her apple.

Her eyes wandered as she waited for him to reply. The Commander’s new quarters were austerely combined-- three of four directions pierced doors into the walls of his tower, a slice of window representing the fourth side. Any sense of privacy and disengagement that he might find at night was compartmentalized into the bedroom loft above, separated by a mere ladder, and bleeding into the sky past a half-ruined tower roof.

“It’s not my title anymore; no one should call me that.” He looked at his apple thoughtfully then took an eager bite. “Thanks for this,” he said, waggling the fruit at her as he sat heavily upon his chair.

Maeva hopped onto a clean space on the desk and sat sideways to partly face him, one leg swinging over the edge. “So what should I call you?”

“Commander Cullen,” he said reflexively.

She scoffed. “You’re not my Commander. I just work leathers for Harritt.”

He laughed while chewing a new bite and raised his eyebrows in understanding. Compared to his usual stern and focused expressions when dealing with business, she recognized how he shifted into a different persona when talking to her.

“Just Cullen, then,” he said. Half a moment’s thought crossed his mind. “Have I mentioned that you remind me of my sister Mia?”

“Why’s that?”

He looked at the half-eaten fruit in his hand and smiled thoughtfully. “She and I would gather apples from the orchard near home, back when we were young,” he added with a sigh.

Maeva looked over the skin of his face. “You’re still young,” she pointed out while trying to imagine him with wrinkles and age.

“Not as young as you!” he retorted.

She said nothing to this, only furrowed her brow at him, and made the last bite of her apple as loud as possible. A chuckle caught him before he looked away, and a long minute passed while they ate in comfortable silence, developing affable rapport.

Her food swallowed, she looked at the door and thought about leaving, but a question came to mind. “The night you rescued me, was I sleepwalking?”

He looked up curiously. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

A half-laugh bubbled out of her. “I really don’t know,” she said sincerely.

“I suppose you might have been, but-- Actually no, you were… out of sorts that night, to say the least.”

He found me in the snowy woods in the middle of the night… She looked at him. “And why were you up and about that night?”

“That's what I'm asking you,” he pointed out with a smirk.

Instead of responding she stared him down plainly, waiting him out. He stalled by fussing about disposing of the apple core.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he said finally. “Or rather, I was avoiding nightmares…” Cullen settled for balancing the apple core upright on the nearest corner of his desk, most of his mind lost in th ought. “Walking around at night helps me,” he mumbled. “Or it did… It’s different here in Skyhold.”

“Well, lucky for me that you were avoiding nightmares that night,” she said.

He chuckled but soon his focus was grabbed by the piled papers on his desk and he picked some up in his hand. Cullen was a legitimately busy man, after all, and the gears in his mind were already grinding away. As she watched him reabsorb his work her eyes drifted to the muscles of his neck and the scruff of hair on his chin, the apple of his throat bobbing absently. His flesh disappeared past the rim of his armor, the rest of him lost in metal and fur.

Lucky me indeed.

She blushed at the audacity of her own thoughts and looked away while most of her mind drifted back to Solas, and subsequently the leather pouch.

The rhythmic jumble of several armored feet upon stone alerted them that a group of Inquisition soldiers were reporting back to the Commander’s office.

Maeva stood from the desk and waved a goodbye to him, heading for a side door.

A loud rap on the other door. “Commander Cullen, ser; troop Crestwood Three reporting back. We’ve located the Mayor.”

Cullen stood up quickly, mind immediately focused on the news. “Enter!”

Maeva let the door shut slowly behind her.

“Mayor Gregory Dedrick has been captured and brought to Skyhold, ser,” the soldier said as he lead a small detachment into the office. The door shut before she could hear the Commander’s response.

 

__________

 

Hours later Maeva stood idly in the armory watching the smiths work glowing metal with hammers and fire. She’d offered Harritt help while she waited to return the pouch, but he said that with the influx of refugees and tradesmen there was no work that she needed to do. And so she waited.

At last the horn sounded announcing the Inquisitor’s return. She collected the pouch and carefully tucked it into her jerkin, then skipped away toward the castle.

In main hall her eyes found Solas immediately and the memory of the dream rushed to her mind. Now that she saw the Inquisitor at his side, the confusion of it finally found her as well. It was a fleeting thought, something that eluded her the more she sought it out.

But there was no time to think on it now: they were about to walk past her when the Inquisitor stopped to bid Solas goodbye, and Maeva was just in range to hear her say, “dreams tonight.” The woman smiled and turned away just as swiftly as Solas nodded farewell and headed for the rotunda. Maeva spied the curl of a smile on his lips as he glided past her.

Varric caught her gaze as he handed the delicate Bianca to an Undercroft attendant. “Maeva, perfect timing! I just got word about the arcanist,” he said. “She should arrive in a week. I know that seems long, but it’s actually good timing, seeing as we need to face Adamant soon.”

“What? Who’s adamant?”

He tossed his head back in a loud laugh. “Adamant is a place-- a fortress in the Western Approach.” Then his face darkened. “The Grey Wardens have sort of joined a cult and are summoning a demon army,” he chuckled dryly, the droop of his shoulders making clear the rest of how he felt about it. “Looks like we’ll have to make siege upon it soon.” His face darkened even more. He almost spoke again then changed his mind, finally settling for, “we’ll figure that out in due time,” as he found his usual smile.

They arrived at his hearth-side station and he sat heavily into his chair.

“The Grey Wardens… Is this about Hawke’s friend, Stroud?” she asked, plopping into the other large chair.

He sighed. “Yup! Wait-- where’d you hear about Stroud?”

She laughed. “People talk, and I have ears.”

He nodded in approval and summoned a stein of ale, and for her a tea. His assigned attendant, a human boy far younger than Maeva but just as eager to contribute, scurried off at his request.

Varric relaxed by the fire while recounting the Western Approach’s desert setting and its strange hints at past occupations by both ancient dwarves and the Tevinter Imperium. A dragon was there, he told her, one that would soon be hunted thanks to the studies of an Orlesian noble they hadn’t expected to find in the area. His tale reminded her of a similar story she’d heard him tell back in Kirkwall, of a dragon in a place called the Bone Pit.

Perhaps an hour had passed while she sat listening to the dwarf’s intriguing stories about the desert, their quests, and the occasional lamented memories of Kirkwall. He’d amassed a small audience in the hall, always happy to hear his tales. One of the armory attendants sat next to her after introducing himself to Varric via Maeva’s acquaintance, clearly seeing him as a celebrity.

From the corner of her eye Maeva saw the golden-ruffled woman emerge from her office into the hall and look around purposefully. Having caught sight of her she made way past the scaffolding and nobles toward them.

“Miss Maeva? The Inquisitor will see you now.”

She shot to her feet anxiously, suddenly more nervous than she’d felt all day, and she followed the ruffles up the hall to the last left-side door of the dais, leaving a flutter of whispers by the hearth. Lady Josephine guided them up a short staircase to an exterior balcony that overlooked the western mountains.

“Lady Lavellan does not normally see guests or petitioners in her chambers, but she was very happy about the Dalish Keeper’s pouch, and assured me that you would forgive us for the state of the tower's repairs.”

Maeva smiled and blushed at the diplomat’s gracious etiquette, and she reminded herself she should not expect mistreatment just because she was young, elven, and of no title.

At the end of the passage the tower loomed over them, silhouetted by afternoon shadow, and she bade Maeva enter alone. “Just keep to the stairs,” she said as the door clicked shut behind her.

Wooden stairs and scaffolding climbed up into the tower's void, lit partly by a hole in the corner of one wall. The stairs and balconies switched between stone and wood, crossed here and turned there, torches and carpets warming the place where they could. With every step Maeva marveled at everything she knew about the Inquisitor, and her changing perception of the woman over time.

The first time she saw her was immediately after the turmoil that had changed Maeva’s world forever. Not yet two weeks had passed that Anthena had died in the chaos that swept the Hinterlands during the Mage-Templar Rebellion.

She remembered how the woman’s magical aura had seared the burn on her arm that day, how her light had captured Solas’s attention, how she closed the rifts one by one and survived Haven's end, and how she’d been proclaimed their leader with songs and cheers. All this, and all the public and spied conversations Maeva could remember seemed to amount to nothing but hypotheses as to who was the real woman beneath.

But the thing about it that really surprised Maeva was that it made her feel all the more vindictive. Had the Inquisition arrived not twenty minutes earlier, Mamae could have been saved. Even the wolf-mother’s flesh had crisped to protect her youngling, and the Inquisitor was blind to it all.

She had reached the end of the path: the door to Lady Lavellan’s private chambers.

Shaking the thoughts from her mind Maeva cycled a ragged breath before attempting to rap upon the door with purpose.

“Enter,” she heard the Inquisitor’s voice call.

Beyond the door a final flight of stone stairs ascended into the tower room. As she reached the top and took in the scene any remaining anger in her was replaced with awe.

Sunlight beamed in through latticed windows and stained-glass sunbursts, bouncing off the floor and walls to light the vaulted ceiling that pitched per the roof’s angles. Carpets saved bare feet from the cold stone, and a crackling fireplace warmed the room. A wide Fereldan style bed in the center. A far corner was a dedicated office formed by full bookcases and a cluttered writing desk. Artwork adorned some walls and surfaces, paintings and trinkets from all parts of southern Thedas. The afternoon sky and mountains could be seen past stone balconies that emerged from two sides, accessible via opened latticed doors.

Maeva suddenly felt a heavy sense of déjà vu and swooned slightly before the crisp afternoon air revived her senses.

The Inquisitor emerged from a back chamber whilst fussing with her newly wet hair. Flushed from the heat of a bath, her skin glowed bright and rosy down to the low collar of a snowy cotton robe bound at her waist.

“You must be Maeva!” she said with a welcoming smile. “Please forgive my appearance-- it was a long and sandy time in the Western Approach and I desperately wanted a bath after debriefing.” She held eye contact as she walked up to three polite paces from Maeva while combing her damp tresses. “But I am also eager to see my dear Keeper’s pouch. Please, approach. There’s no need for formality between us.”

Her tone was candid and honest. Breathe, be calm.

The woman glided across the floor to sit upon the edge of a large sofa alongside the balustrade and beckoned to Maeva with a look of friendly encouragement.

She stepped forward and sat at the very edge of the cushion while fumbling into her jerkin to retrieve the pouch. Under the Inquisitor’s serene gaze she did her best to quickly unroll it and present it on flat palms. It was surely a trick of the light, but Maeva suspected the white leather gleamed brighter once it reached its owner’s hands.

The woman’s green eyes poured over the item as she fondled its mends, a comforted smile on her face. “Oh, wonderful work, and it feels sturdier than before,” she said, testing the strap. “I was so worried when that rage demon sliced it right off of me! So much for its protection spell!”

The comment pulled Maeva from her thoughts. “Ah, I was wondering… How is it enchanted?”

“It’s just a blessing of sorts, a tradition. It doesn’t truly protect me-- or the pouch itself obviously,” she added with a laugh. Then she sighed and eyed it tenderly. “This herb pouch is dear to me because it was my grandmother’s, before it was passed to Deshanna when she became Keeper. And she gave it to me for good luck,” she laughed quietly, lost in memories.

Maeva’s eyes followed the twists and turns of Sylaise’s curling flames over the woman’s soft face. She’d seen Dalish elves a few times in alienages but she’d never before had the opportunity to examine the hallowed inkwork so closely. It was difficult but just possible to see past the vallaslin, to see her face as it truly was.

“Will you tell me how you fixed it?” the Inquisitor asked. “I see the strap is new...”

“Ah, uh, yes!” Maeva’s mind swarmed, all related words eluding her suddenly, but then her response poured from her lips unchecked: “I stitched the cut and sewed a patch of white leather over it, then attached the new strap. Oh, and I replaced the cording-- just here,” she pointed, “and strengthened it with a sturdy little vine I found growing in Skyhold when we first arrived. I thought the vine might also serve as a... keepsake? Or… something.” Her voice had at least found a briefly confident quality before unraveling.

“Really? How very interesting!” The Inquisitor examined the vine and tested the cords with a few squeezes, then looked up and caught Maeva’s eyes. “Thank you so much for fixing this, Maeva!” she said sincerely.

Maeva blushed, happy and beaming inside but unsure how big to smile. “You’re welcome, Inquisi-- er, your Worship.”

“Please, call me Ellana,” she said serenely as she rose to carry the pouch to a dressing table across the room. Then she caught herself and half-turned. “Oh! But only in private, I’m afraid; Josie tells me I need to maintain decorum otherwise.” Her tone mimicked the diplomat’s accent. “This is my last chance to be informal for the rest of the day,” she sighed while tenderly setting down the pouch, then turned and looked at Maeva. “And I would enjoy chatting with you. Will you stay with me a while? Care for a bite to eat?”

Maeva felt her eyes go big. Me, stay and chat with the Inquisitor, with Ellana? “Of course,” she breathed, trying to relax and smile.

Ellana collected a gleaming tray offering fruit, cheese and bread, and returned to the sofa where she laid it between them. “Here, try these; they’re my favorite from the Free Marches,” she said while dropping bright purple berries into her hand.

The vallaslin still put Maeva on edge. "Wouldn’t you rather speak to a Dalish elf?" She popped a berry into her mouth and bit down to discover sweet juices that reminded her of Kirkwall.

"Not really,” started Ellana as she broke off a piece of dry cheese, then sighed. “I suppose I don’t feel all that Dalish anymore. I'm the Inquisitor now, all because of this,” she said, holding up her left hand where the Anchor glowed faintly just under her skin. “But with someone like you I feel like I don't have to fit into any particular role," she said with a smile, directing herself toward more cheerful thoughts.

Someone like me? Does she talk to Skyhold’s other elves like this?

“Anyway, you remind me of someone,” she added with a private smile. “So, where are you from?” Ellana then asked, drawing one leg to her lap and turning to face Maeva and the food tray more comfortably.

Maeva was already sitting awkwardly, half twisted but keeping her back straight and knees together like she’d seen the ladies do in Kirkwall. Compared to the Inquisitor’s casual posture she felt unable to relax, especially as the answer formed in her mind. “Hinterlands, near the Crossroads.”

Ellana nodded whilst chewing, and pointed at her mouthful with a guilty smile. The flame tattoos on her face seemed appropriate: they reminded Maeva of burning buildings, and she felt anger flare deep inside.

“Sorry! I was famished and dinner isn’t for hours yet. You were saying, you're from the Crossroads?”

“And Kirkwall, years ago-- that’s where I met Varric,” Maeva continued before eating another berry.

Ellana's head tilted curiously. “I didn’t realize you know Varric! So, you’re a Marcher, then?”

Maeva shook her head. “I was born in Denerim.”

“Ah, Fereldan.”

She shrugged in response, unsure how to label herself.

Ellana rose to pour a cup of water. “And how do you like Skyhold?”

“I love it!” Maeva said automatically but then thought about it more. “But I do miss the woods, and hunting.”

Ellana’s eyes sparkled at these words as she returned to the sofa. “Is that so? Do you have any combat skills?”

She furrowed her brow while thinking on the question. She hadn’t actually fought a person or creature of serious threat ever; only once wrestled with a ram as she claimed it from her trap and slit its throat, and earned bruised legs by it. “Well, I have daggers but haven’t used them in… combat.”

“Would you be interested in an adventure?” asked Ellana, her voice matching the last word.

Maeva nodded uncertainly and the woman’s eyes glittered brighter.

“We’ll be needing volunteers in the Western Approach. And you’ll be trained. I think you’d love it!”

From Varric’s tales the desert region far to the west was no longer treacherous per se, but it sounded like the siege on Adamant Fortress would require a great battle, and she felt the blood drain from her face. “Do I have to fight?”

“No, no! The volunteers would be watching over our existing camps in the area while our experienced forces--” She stopped short and shook her head lightly. “Nevermind for now, you’ll get all the details when we announce it to Skyhold tomorrow. For the rest of today, though,” she sighed while her smile changed to a slant, “we need to plan.”

Maeva could see her mind was now recaptured by work as Ellana mussed her hair, checking to see if it was dry yet. Satisfied, she began dividing it for braiding as she stood up. “I’m afraid I must return to business now.” The overlay of the Inquisitor sank back into her features but she kept a warm smile as she looked at her. “Thank you again for fixing my pouch.”

Sensing the preamble of departure Maeva rose to her feet and tried to mimic her smile.

“Watch for the announcement tomorrow, alright? Oh, and would you please tell Josie that I’ll be down in ten minutes?”

“Of course, your Wor-- Ellana! Goodbye!”

The soft soles of Maeva boots tapped rhythmically down the steps as she escaped and shut the heavy wooden door behind her. A pause and a breath later, she began descending the tower while basking in the wonder that it was to meet the Inquisitor.

How could anyone not be drawn to her?

 

__________

 

After supper in the tavern Maeva crawled into her bedroll in the armory, snuffing the nearby candlelight and looking forward to sleep.

‘Dreams tonight,’ she remembered from earlier. I wonder if I will dream of Solas again.

A smile crept across her face as she turned over and snuggled into her bed. But an object was causing a lump under her bedroll, and she fumbled in the dark to retrieve it.

It was the crisped dark leather of the wolf mother. She felt around and found the cut she’d made right where the soft white skin had been, a cut just the size of the patch on the Inquisitor’s pouch.

Maeva suddenly remembered what she’d told the Inquisitor about fixing the pouch, and consequently what she hadn’t told her. Though she’d previously decided not to expound the source of the patch’s leather, she was surprised she hadn’t mentioned that the strap came from Solas.

Well, I suppose that’s his story to tell more than mine. Still, that I didn’t even mention it...

And then another realization hit her. The Inquisitor’s chambers, the latticed Orlesian doors, that’s where I-- where she awoke!

Chapter Text

Her dreamless sleep ended and she awoke with sleepy disappointment. She grumbled to herself as she dressed and made her way toward the tavern for breakfast. But outside her mind found a far better subject of thought: a bright poster was tacked to a new wooden pillar in the center of the courtyard.

‘This mid-morning: the Judgment of Gregory Dedrick, former mayor of Crestwood,’ it read at the top in large elegant lettering. Below, in smaller font: ‘Recruiting able-bodied adults for temporary volunteer work beyond Skyhold. Find Seeker Cassandra afterward.’

The tavern was abuzz with chatter and gossip about the announcements. When the hour arrived the great hall opened its doors and soon became full. Maeva saw Cole sitting high on one of the scaffolding towers and she copied him, climbing up a different tower to see over the crowd to the front of the room.

The Inquisition throne suited Ellana: her head of golden braided hair and fiery red vallaslin aligned with the center of the chair’s sunburst insignia and extended sunray spikes. The transformation between Ellana and the Inquisitor was remarkable, but now that Maeva had met her privately she could recognize her amid the many stately layers.

Not far away in the audience, Solas watched her from his place leaning against the wall. It was no coincidence that Maeva could see him as well from her perch.

The proceedings left a bitter taste in her mouth. Those troublesome waters contained drowned innocents! Her memories of the area seemed darker now with this new truth overlayed. Exile seemed acceptable despite the severity of the mayor's crimes, and the hall hummed mostly in sounds of agreement.

As the man was unbound and escorted away under the populace’s eyes, Maeva saw Solas subtly indicated his approval to Ellana, and the woman’s eyes warmed and twinkled in response. At that moment Maeva realized there was a new connection between them, something deeper than before. Again she thought on her uneventful slumber, perplexed.

On her way out of the great hall afterward Maeva realized just how large the Inquisition and its followers had grown. People had emerged from the stone walls and woodwork, hundreds of them. Skyhold is truly a pilgrimage now.

In the upper courtyard the gathering of would-be volunteers near Cassandra was unmistakable, and she went to join them. Once arrivals ended the warrior woman began explaining the volunteer program while Maeva counted their number with darting eyes. Nearly fifty!

She'd already deduced the need for the program from Varric’s stories: the Inquisition would soon march upon Adamant Fortress in the Western Approach in order to stabilize the threat posed by corrupted Grey Wardens. All of their experienced forces west of the Frostbacks would be required, leaving established camps empty. Thus they requested volunteers from Skyhold to occupy those camps during the whole military effort, roughly a week.

A week, Varric said.

“Understand that you are not expected to be in any danger at all,” Cassandra continued. “The places you will be are in safe areas. Nonetheless the Inquisition would not send you into the wilderness unprepared.” She paced in front of the group slowly, elaborate armor of Nevarran nobility glinting purple in the sunlight. “Therefore volunteers will be assessed and trained for the rest of the day in basic combat arts of the weapon of your choice. We leave early tomorrow morning.” A pause as she looked over their faces and watched the facts sink in. “Now, then! If any of you are mages, find Lady Vivienne in front of the portcullis. The rest of you, choose a weapon from the armory or use your own. Leliana and I will await you by the dummies behind the tavern.”

With that the crowd dispersed, several people in robes heading toward the stairs and the others filing into the nearby armory building. A few remained behind, uncertain or perhaps completely inexperienced. Maeva glimpsed Cassandra talking to them before she passed through the door.

A few minutes later she stood in line by the training dummies wearing her jerkin, daggers strapped to her back. She watched the archers fire arrows at straw targets for Leliana, idly waiting her turn for melee assessment. It was then that anxiety hit her.

I don’t have any combat skills! And all I know of wilderness is the gentle Hinterlands!

The presence of the daggers on her back was normally a comfort to her. One was a balanced blade with a skewed point and hook at the tip, salvaged from an abandoned camp high in the western hills, the resident skeleton not needing it anymore. The other was far more captivating: a symmetrical blade that curved to a tapered point, with a patterned grip carved from bronto horn. It was given to her in Kirkwall by a traveling rogue, partly as trade for her fashioning him a custom belt. It seemed a strange thing at the time, but once she’d grown it fit her hand well and she used it often.

Now she felt ashamed that she didn’t know how to use them in a fight. She desperately recalled memories of spying on the Crossroads’ armorsmith training his son two summers ago. They sparred, sword and shield for the father and daggers for the teenager who barely filled his father’s chainmail. Every second longer in the line was precious to her as she shut her eyes and concentrated, her hands absently gesturing as she re-enacted the moves.

All too soon the volunteer in front of her began his assessment. The man was tall and thin but lanced his claymore with confidence. He landed a noticeable cut onto the wooden frame before turning to swing momentum into a low hit on the opposite side.

“Good. Defense!” instructed Cassandra.

An Inquisition soldier equipped with a blunted two-handed axe moved forward. A few swings and parries later the evaluation was complete.

“Next!” called an assistant holding a scribeboard. “Name?”

“Meh-Maeva,” she stuttered, instantly feeling stiff and awkward. She drew her daggers from their sheaths and tried to keep her hands from shaking as she approached the dummy. She stopped two paces from it and straightened herself, taking a deep breath.

Though she knew not the names of the moves, she’d abbreviated them into commands she silently shouted at herself while her focus remained poised. Then she lunged, leaning low onto her forward leg and bringing the other dagger slicing across imaginary thighs.

Now evade, strafe, spin and cut the throat.

Her footwork fumbled when she ducked under the dummy’s arm and tried to turn around for the final move but she recovered quickly.

“Good,” Cassandra declared loudly. “Now defend.”

Maeva’s eyes grew big and she sucked in a nervous breath as the axe wielder approached. She lowered herself into a fighting stance, watching him carefully. They circled each other slowly for a few seconds, then he slashed at her. She dodged it with a sidestep, taking the opportunity to spin her daggers forward, carefully slowing to clack one dagger tip to his armor. Next she dropped to one knee to evade a purposely-slow-moving pommel hit counter attack as she pretended to plunge the other dagger into the back of his leg.

“That’s enough,” said Cassandra, and nodded to the scribe to indicate passing grade.

Maeva barely heard her over the thumping of blood through her head and heart. She exhaled to relax only to discover there was no more breath in her lungs. Drawing in air slowly she stood on shaky legs, daggers suddenly sweaty in her palms. Cassandra was walking over to her.

“Very good,” said Cassandra, softly enough for only them to hear. “Have you been in combat before?”

It was an honest, simple question and the woman’s stern but beautiful face indicated no prejudice. Nevertheless Maeva heated in shame as she said “no.”

“It’s alright; if this were a real fight I think you’d live,” Cassandra said with half a smirk, then dismissed her with a curt nod.

Maeva left the main field and joined the other melee volunteers in the central courtyard where a makeshift sparring ring was being built. Her composure returned, she smiled merrily and offered her help.

The next hours flew by rich with knowledge and improvement. First, the various weapon types’ attack and defense motions were demonstrated by a half-dozen Inquisition soldiers. Cullen joined to observed them all, and even commented on sword technique. She caught his sight at one point; he did not break his facade to acknowledge her but she nodded greeting anyway.

The lesson moved to evasion and tactics, guided by Leliana, her sweet bard voice laced with Orlesian accent. Subterfuge was recommended to most fighters, but it ranged from acrobatically tumbling away, to actual stealth, and the use of cover and shadows.

As the afternoon wore on their trainers announced it was time for a meal break. From Skyhold’s kitchen several pots of hearty stew were summoned especially for the volunteers. Even the head chef helped serve them, if only to teasingly mutter about his relief that there’d be fewer mouths with them gone.

At last the sun reached the mountains and training was declared finished for the day. The Volunteers of Skyhold were to report to the stables at sunrise.

Back in the armory, Maeva dropped the daggers and jerkin to the floor and collapsed atop her bedroll. She would have fallen asleep immediately were it not for every muscle in her body burning sore. Her addled mind tumbled awash with all the new information and the thrills therein.

Eventually she worked her boots from her feet and wiggled out of her leathers all without getting up, then rolled herself into bed. As exhilaration wound down the world became small around her: curled up on her side under bear fur, head on her arm, breath warming her face as she exhaled deeply, relaxing.

Did I really witness Ellana’s dream, of being in a dream with Solas? Or was all that my own dream?

The questions did naught but pester her and hound off sleep, so she shifted her mind to something simpler, a memory.

His blue-gray eyes. How his mage’s staff twirled in his hands and channeled his icy magic aura the day he rescued her. His pink lips. His face so close. The kiss...

Present sensations around her slowly vanished, like distant candles snuffed one at a time. Thoughts were slower but the lips lingered. At last even they faded as her mind drifted quietly and unawares to sleep.

Some time later a pull became noticeable. A faint glimmer sparked in the black: a green flare amid gray fog. The green became a shape, edges became defined. A small concentration of curved lines wove trails like worms in wood, the green light shining from within them.

The pattern glowed from the center of her palm. Her other thumb brushed over it slowly and she watched the mark flutter in its wake.

“Here you are.”

She looked up to see Solas, and Ellana remembered herself. “Did I just get here? Were you waiting long?” she asked him.

He shook his head as he approached, a small familiar smile on his pink lips. “Not long. Once you entered the Fade I could sense the Anchor and knew how to find you.”

She nodded, listening carefully, always learning.

Solas looked around. “Memory of yours?”

She looked around as well. A rocky hillside overlooked a shallow swampy valley that curved out of sight beyond hills. The red sails of aravels peeked through the mossy trees not far away, bright against the dark green of the trees and the gray of the skies.

“Sort of, I wasn’t really paying attention.”

He sat down next to her on a large rock while her gaze returned to the Anchor and she prodded it with magic.

“You’ve been doing that a lot lately,” he observed.

He was close to her now, she could feel his warmth on her arm. She wanted to get closer but she knew to hold back, to give him time.

“Did you know that there’s already a school of study for rift magic? They sent one of the mage specialists I’ve been talking to. She tells me they’ve been experimenting with rifts since they first appeared, just like you did,” she said, eyes on his face again. “It’s all quite fascinating; I’m thinking I might choose that path myself. But also I plan to study this mark like they do,” she added, holding up her left hand, “by experimenting.”

”Are you sure that’s wise?” he chided.

“Even you said it’s the key to our salvation. I’m certain it can to do more than close rifts. I want to do more with it.

Solas smirked. “I can imagine how you feel.”

”Want to see something I learned to do?” she asked him devilishly.

He nodded and watched her as she poured lyrium from a vial into the palm of her hand, covering the Anchor with blue liquid. She focused her concentration and gently pumped her own magic into the Anchor. The little pool began to boil as some of it was seemingly sucked into her very skin. The bubbles turned black and the characteristics of a rift began to take form. Little green crystal shards grew out of it at a surprising pace, dancing over each other until they disintegrated only for their dust to be sucked back into the bubbling mass. As the last of the lyrium was absorbed the little rift dwindled to a point and imploded with a loud pop and tiny curl of smoke.

She laughed, pleased with herself as she calmed the light in her hand.

“You are indeed learning to control it,” Solas nodded with a polite smile.

She knew he was holding back his full opinion, as usual, but she was beginning to find it endearing. “Anyway, what is it you wanted to show me?”

He stood and straightened, a courteous serenity about his face. “Come with me,” he said, taking her hands in his.

It was a plutonic gesture but it sent excitement tingling up her arms as she got to her feet. “Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.”

They disappeared and the green light and scenery dissolved quickly, darkness rising like water in a well. The sleeper’s hold on the dream lost, oblivion swallowed her.

Chapter Text

Maeva awoke to the sound of the portcullis chains grinding rhythmically around massive gears.

The rooster has not yet crowed, why are they raising the gate?

The thought bade her eyes open as she took in a breath of the chilly dawn air. The degrees of light and smell from the open window overhead foretold the sunrise nearly arrived. She sat up and inched her way to the window, keeping her legs cozy in her bedroll, still dazed with sleep as her mind tried to recall if she’d dreamt during the night.

Her peek out the window was futile-- one couldn’t see the ground of the lower courtyard from here-- until she spotted Varric emerging from the great hall with his eyes on the gate.

Curiosity got her to her feet and dressed, including the bear pelt for warmth. She ran her hands through her sleep-mussed hair as she left the armory as quietly as possible. There was no sign of Varric in the courtyard.

Skyhold was in a thick fog, obscuring the sky and top of the castle. Her breath hung in the air as she pulled her bear fur tighter around her shoulders. It was yet early in the year and her shoed feet crunched on frosted patches of grass as she crossed the upper courtyard to see over the edge into the entrance area.

There he is. Varric stood at the bottom of the main stairs, a look of amiable recognition on his face. The arrival was a cloaked man on a horse pulling a small wagon. Maeva recognized his Kirkwall attire. He dismounted and dropped his hood to reveal a head of thick gray hair and long beard to match. The two men embraced like old friends, heavy pats on the other’s back.

Beyond them Maeva could see the southern courtyard already with busy with preparations for the Volunteers’ march. Her view through the scaffolding of the tower bridge’s arch showed the stables were full of horses. We get to ride horses? Maeva’s jaw dropped in excitement. The question of how they were getting to the Western Approach had not occurred to her. The Inquisitor and her retinue used teleportation via the waypoint in the great hall, but obviously cavalry and dozens of volunteers were expected to travel across physical ground.

Varric stood by chatting while the old man rummaged in the wagon, withdrawing at last a rectangular object wrapped in cloth. Knowing Varric, it was a book. The envelope was handed in exchange with a big grin, and Maeva was thankful she’d remembered to return his coins a few days prior.

Bringing some money might be a good idea, she thought, and stepped back from the edge to look around. No one else in sight. She silently walked to her stash and disappeared in the shadows, then emerged a minute later carefully preventing the gold coins from making any sound.

The rooster crowed not five minutes later when she was already finished packing her things in the armory. It felt strange to leave her little balcony corner empty, but she yet owned nothing she afforded to leave behind. Brow furrowed she headed out, her bear pelt wrapped around her and tucked by her backpack, same as when she’d hiked to Haven, and then later to Skyhold. Leaving again… A flash of sadness was quickly soothed by a rush of excitement, and she grinned happily as she skipped to the stables.

The Volunteers of Skyhold assembled in the southern courtyard at sunrise-- and the half hour past it, some stragglers rushing in half-dressed or heavy with yawns. Having already been there some time she enjoyed watching the arrivals and guessing who they were. Mostly young or seasoned men and women holding choice weapons with confidence, a handful of former apostates (judging by their mage staves) newly emerged from hiding once they’d heard of the Inquisitor’s favor to them, and finally a varied few less likely-looking people.

Cassandra stood in front of the stables looking over the list of volunteers. Behind her Sera leaned against the barn wall talking to Dorian who fussed with an elegant satchel attached to his mount. The stable’s pens were open and dozens of horses of varying colors and patterns stood munching on breakfast from feedsacks while stablehands equipped them with blankets and saddles.

Once satisfied with attendance Cassandra spoke up and explained the coming journey. They’d be taking the Imperial Highway all the way west. Volunteers would be divided among the camps needing guardians in the Western Approach, the Exalted Plains, and the Forbidden Oasis, and would be evenly selected among their abilities and skills. Maeva was assigned to Griffon Wing Keep in the Western Approach, due to her leatherworking skills. The news was a relief to hear as she felt far more confident with that skill than fearing she’d have to fight danger for the first time ever, despite that the Volunteers were assured there would likely be no combat necessary.

They were given black and red sashes bearing the Inquisition insignia, and asked to wear them at all times. “For protection,” Cassandra said.

Next it was time to mount the horses. She’d ridden a few times before but never for long; this was going to be an all-new experience. After waiting in a short line she was led to mount a Fereldan Forder, a mare of chestnut body color, black legs and mane, and a pronounced white streak on its snout. As she ascended onto the back of the tall beast her view rose high above the heads of others. She was certainly not the only person on horseback, but the new perspective provided her with additional observations.

For one, Skyhold’s kitchens were just now delivering packed meals to the mounted volunteers as they filed into the gate area once ready to leave. The chef presided over it all from the top the outer rotunda stairs, his back leaning on the wall next to the kitchen door, a smug and contented smile on his face. Maeva accepted her distributed parcel with thanks to the kitchen helper.

As she advanced her mount toward the portcullis she saw Varric and Cassandra talking on the bottom steps. He had a grin on his face, enjoying something humorous, but the twinkle in his eyes and Cassandra’s flustered reaction indicated he was teasing her. He chuckled as he handed her the wrapped parcel he’d received from the traveller at dawn. The book! I wonder what about it bothers her so...

At last the Volunteers and company left Skyhold in a long procession. The road wound north through the snowy Frostback peaks until reaching the Imperial Highway Pass. Here they turned west and began the long descent into the Dales.

It was late morning when the mountains parted to reveal the lush land of Orlais, chateaux and white-walled estates dotting the green and gold landscape. When they reached the borders of the first pastures the road turned to laid stone. Chatter about the view arose among the Volunteers, and by listening Maeva gathered that about half of them had never left Ferelden before. Over the next hours she engaged in conversation with some of them, asking about their weapon of choice and which camp they were assigned, trying to get to know better her siblings-in-arms.

While passing Halamshiral she rode next to Dorian and listened to his stories about the Orlesian court. The gilded turrets and ivy-laced walls seemed as much to keep the masked nobles in as to keep the riffraff out, and Maeva’s curiosity kept her head turned toward the mighty chateau until it was out of sight.

Finally when the sun was low in the sky it was announced that they would make camp for the night, just off the road outside of Lydes. Thanks to the Inquisitor having been involved in choosing a successor to the government of Lydes, a nearby inn and stable provided feed for the horses and additional food and wine for the Volunteers.

Just as night set in and dinner was finished, Maeva decided to set in motion a plan she’d been concocting all day.

“Sera!” she called in a loud whisper. She jogged over to blonde elven woman with a mischievous grin, and Sera was immediately intrigued. “Did you know that Cassandra has a secret book? Varric gave it to her this morning and she looked really embarrassed!

A peal of high-pitched laughter erupted from Sera. “It’s gotta be smut, I just know it!” Then she gasped. “I’m gonna go get it! Meet ya back here!”

Maeva grinned and laughed as Sera hopped away, weaving around the carts and bustle before disappearing.

“It was in her bedroll!” squealed Sera as she appeared around the tent corner a few minutes later. She carried a red book with large stylized lettering and a picture of a woman with a sword covering the whole front.

The two of them plopped down next to a torch and opened the book, causing the spine to snap and creak in its newness. Sera skimmed the pages hungrily, skipping over conversation and looking for the smutty parts. Maeva blushed as Sera read some of the passages aloud, and blushed even more when certain terms had to be explained to her. At least now I know what a ‘quim’ is. Her curiosity sated and Sera’s mischief satisfied, the book was placed back among Cassandra’s things (though Sera insisted it go into her backpack instead of her bedroll, to add extra discomfort to its owner).

At last Maeva settled into her bedroll to sleep. The lower climate was warm like the Hinterlands, and she was happy to sleep beneath the stars. As she relaxed toward slumber and surrounding senses faded, she felt she was being watched by someone or something other than the souls filling the camp. It was surprisingly comforting.

Her mind quieted and an abstract dream manifest. No place, no shapes, no motions, but a presence was there. It was calm and steady, somewhere nearby, and quite aware of her awareness of it. They stayed like this for a while, glowing like two candles in the dark, then the presence disconnected gradually and she fell into a deep sleep.

 

__________

 

The Volunteers passed through Lydes early, before the morning market opened. Maeva’s stomach grumbled as the aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through the yawning town, but another of the Inquisitor’s influential local treatises provided them with apples and pears to break their fast.

The day dragged on as the procession followed the busy Imperial Highway southwest past estates, vineyards and orchards. As they passed Verchiel she overheard Sera’s story about Inquisitor Lavellan assisting her in taking the local nobility down a notch so that they wouldn’t attack ‘the normal folk.’ Maeva puzzled at this; influence from nobles across Southern Thedas helped fuel the Inquisition, but empowering underdogs was also a part of Lavellan’s reputation, and she marveled at its successful balance.

Later when they passed Montsimmard a third of the Volunteers split off to head for the newly-established camps in the Exalted Plains. Their numbers reduced, Maeva was able to get a better impression of those Volunteers that would go to the Western Approach or Forbidden Oasis with her. Among them stood out a stern-faced older woman with stark white hair and a dark metal bow on her back, and twin adolescent boys with bright red hair equipped with poisonous throwing daggers.

The rest of them continued to follow the road southwest toward Lake Celestine. The lake was the last gulp of the Waking Sea’s spill across the continent, almost half the size of Lake Calenhad. Rounding its southern dip consumed half a day.

”I can understand the good it will do the mages to be allied with the Inquisition during our missions,” said Cassandra to Maeva while they rode side by side for a while. “I imagine they will suffer less prosecution in the future. After all, not everyone can choose who they are.” Maeva followed Cassandra’s gaze to see her looking at a Tranquil that had been recruited in Redcliffe. “Nor what becomes of them,” she added.

Maeva recalled seeing Tranquils in Kirkwall; mages forsaken of their magic through a secretive ritual that-- when performed by the chantry-- left a sunburst emblem branded onto their forehead. They stood out from a crowd for obvious reasons, yet also seemed able to drift through the city unhindered. Once she’d witnessed a couple of rowdy drunks toying with a Tranquil woman in a dirty Lowtown street. “Please note that I have the ability to defend myself in physical combat if necessary,” said the Tranquil without a lick of expression on her face. The men laughed heartily at this (so did Maeva) and let her go.

“Do you believe they are truly tranquil?” Maeva asked. “I mean-- at peace?

Cassandra sighed. “The Tranquil themselves say so, but it is difficult to know if they can evaluate themselves in that aspect anymore.”

Hours later when the sun was low the procession came upon the town of Val Firmin and they were called to halt and camp for the night. Over dinner Cassandra spoke to the remaining group, explaining the final day’s journey ahead of them, and also taking the opportunity to summarize teamwork defense tactics.

Different birds and wildlife lived this far south and as Maeva curled into her bedroll around the fire she fell asleep to unfamiliar sounds.

She walked down a hallway alone. Gold-framed paintings hung on the walls, some statues and benches lined the hall’s carpet runner. She was profoundly alone, footsteps reverberating in the endless hallway. Her eyes were locked on the event horizon, trying to discern an end to it, half struggling to quiet the whispers of images she passed while trudging forth through the eeriness of sleep.

Something touched her arm and she jumped away as she turned to look. Whatever extension had touched her was now vanished; she saw only her face and her shape in a large full-length mirror. But it wasn’t reflecting accurately: it failed to wave when she did, it moved when she didn’t. It wasn’t quite her but it was kindred.

There was a light within that was looking at her.

 

__________

 

On the third day the Imperial Highway turned north. Here they rendezvoused with other Inquisition forces: several mounted troops escorting two trebuchets, and together the large group moved off of the laid stone road. This was the first time since the Frostbacks that their passage was not engulfed by the constant rhythmic clicking of hooves. Now the hooves hit dirt and grass and the cavernous quiet unwound a tension Maeva didn’t know she'd had.

The hulking, creaking trebuchets were a wonder to look at as she rode beside them. She’d seen the ones in Haven, but never packed up in giant layers of bound wood and on the move. A plethora of new faces under Inquisition helmets flooded her eyes. Suddenly she remembered the paramounce of the Adamant war effort, and the immensity of it throttled her with refreshed excitement.

She guided her steed up the line until she could see no trebuchets or soldiers before her, only Cassandra and Dorian and other Volunteers, and most importantly the greenery of the landscape. She’d forgotten how much she missed the wilderness: barely a week at Skyhold and the lack of having any proper forest nearby had sparked a longing in her that she didn’t recognize until now.

The road led past long pastures and succulent vineyards, around distant estate mansions fortified by high shimmering walls. Hours passed like this, piercing the countryside westward. Gardens and chateaux eventually gave way to lush emerald woods. The ground rose, the trees diminished. The foothills were thick with large spiny bushes until the grass turned to dirt and sand, and plant life decreased drastically. The horses moved forward in a long line up to four thick.

It was now her turn to reach the apex of the highest hilltop yet. When she got there the sun flashed against her skin and she had to shield her eyes to see. Ahead of her the landscape was barren but for varying crags of rocks and the few green growths that sprung from their shadows.

Here they continued on foot, leaving the horses to follow the military forces and siege equipment that headed for Adamant Fortress via a northwestern road that skirted the desert. The Volunteers of Skyhold went southwest, following a worn path down a long slope into a canyon valley, lined with an old wooden fence to protect passersby from the drop. The sun set in their eyes amid the high towers of rock far ahead of them. Their number was only thirty or so now, including the last food and supply carts.

Below them the Lost Spring Canyon Camp‘s central fire was a beacon in the little glen nestled against the curving walls. Cassandra greeted the attending Inquisition forces, whom, after camp guardianship had been diplomatically transferred, left to rendezvous at Adamant.

At their departing backs Cassandra declared this would be camp for the night, and the group dispersed around the little valley to claim spots for their bedrolls and belongings whilst the carts were unloaded. Maeva scanned the area then chose a spot under a tree, rather far from center camp but at the edge of gurgling water, knowing it would lull her to sleep easily later.

It had become customary to train and exercise after dismounting, and before bed she had to remind herself that this was the last night of her journey: real duty began tomorrow, somewhere in this desert. Despite the excitement she fell asleep quickly.

This time the mirror showed a figure that was absolutely not her-- not her shape, not her movements-- but it had no face. She sensed it was trying to talk to her, to communicate somehow. It lifted its hand and touched the mirror’s surface. Maeva moved toward it, eyes locked on the missing face. She heard whispers coming from the reflection but they were incoherent and faded the more she strained to hear better.

Her fingertips reached for the mirror’s surface. The reflection’s hand moved to meet hers when the scene shifted. Now their hands were at their sides and there was no mirror: the surface between them was gone. The faceless figure was looking at her intently, whispering, gesturing. They both reached out slowly until their fingers touched. Her breath caught in her throat and suddenly she felt suffocated, extinguished, evaporated.

Maeva awoke with a start to find herself rolled almost face down and breathing with difficulty. Her arm was splayed out at her side, fingertips just breaking the surface tension of the water nearby. Fingers withdrawn she looked around: the camp slept silently, the fire crackled not far away, tended by one Volunteer while another patrolled.

I didn’t sleepwalk this time, but I did move to… the water, I touched it like it was the mirror. Is that what woke me?

Chapter Text

Maeva was unable to sleep for the rest of the night. The remaining hours of darkness were spent watching the stars while clenching her arms and hands in the dark with confusion over her dreams. Though she was surrounded by other sleeping souls she felt more alone than ever.

Memories of Anthena flooded her mind. Big changes were nothing new to Maeva’s life but her mother had always been at her side for them, until now.

Why am I here?

Why? Because mamae is dead, and I ran into Varric, and joined the Inquisition. This brought me to Haven and then to Skyhold, and now here to the mouth of the desert. I’m about to march closer to battle, fighting-- or at least crafting-- for a peaceful future.

Who is left to care about?

Her mind hung onto visions of Anthena while she cried, the grief of her loss denying all other possibilities. But as her tears finally ceased she thought of Varric. Her friend Varric, watching over her since she was a kid in Kirkwall, buying her nugskins even when he didn’t need them, steady smile and easy laugh ever-present to make her day better. He was now the person she’d known the longest.

Varric is the closest thing I have to family now. I am thankful I found him after she died.

And Solas, because he saved me, because I think of him every day even if it is futile to pursue him. There’s also Cullen, who is like a brother I never had. And of course Ellana, to whom I am grateful for making all of this possible. I may have only had brief exchanges with these people, but I can see them becoming my whole world if I wish it.

Despite these thoughts and her attempts to console herself, the loneliness traveled deep and was twisted with speculations. But then came the memory of Anthena’s dying revelations.

The ring! Her message, the secret. That-- yes, that!-- is enough, for now at least. Hold fast, you, she told herself, the message in the ring awaits.

At last she rose quietly and washed her face in the water, a brief thought back to her latest dream. As dawn crept into the sky she busied herself by collecting elfroot and washing dishes in the little stream until the waking hour arrived.

Once risen, Cassandra briefed the Volunteers that were to remain at this camp while the others packed up bedrolls and the kitchen workspace. Next she addressed the other Volunteers to explain their assignments: Maeva was assigned to Griffon Wing Keep for her leatherworking skills, along with Gwenyn, the white-haired archer woman that was also a tailor, and a middle-aged gentle-looking man named Oliric who’d only held weapons when he crafted them. In sight of this, Cassandra assured them that they wouldn’t be in any danger at the keep despite its proximity to the Adamant assault. On any other day Maeva would have been disappointed that she couldn’t go to a more adventurous location and hunt instead of being a crafter in an established keep, until she learned the keep was in sight of Adamant Fortress. At this news she grinned, looking forward to witnessing the battle.

Together the departing group of them followed the road west through a wide canyon. Sun lit the yellow-orange sand and stones in every tone against a dusty azure sky. Wiry green clumps of dry grass spurted from the ground in dips along the rocks. They passed a quarry built against a high wall of the canyon, sheltered by a wooden roof and scaffold, and boasting an Inquisition flag.

Though it was still before midday the sun glared upon the travellers harshly, and Maeva winced as she hid her face behind her arm’s shadow. The milder suns of the Hinterlands and even summery Kirkwall were no match for the desert’s even if combined twofold. Meanwhile the burning sand chewed at her boot soles and snuck in through cracks to scratch her swollen toes.

They continued into an open space at the upper edge of a deep canyon that led down to green water far below. In the distance a spiky Tevinter ritual tower focused the horizon amid rocky mountains even further away. The canyon yawned before them, tapering along an upward trail at one end, and a massive stone bridge arched over the steepest part of the ascending path. Just on the other side of the gap a ruined tower rose in the foreground and another spiky Trevinter fortress peeked over the horizon just beyond it.

Here Dorian and the Volunteers destined for southern camps separated while Maeva’s group took a northwesterly path. Their route took them along the canyon, under the arch and into a valley stinking of sulfur. They came to a wooden boardwalk built across terraced springs of the poisonous stuff. In order to cross the flats safely the Inquisition had built chimneys around the most pronounced sources, and the path snaked through them toward the fortress. Maeva felt queasy but she attributed it to the awful smell and figured it would pass.

The sun on her skin was painful and she knew she was getting sunburnt. She would have used her bear pelt for cover were it not so hot and sweaty. I’m clearly not well equipped for the desert.

Griffon Wing Keep arose along the horizon as they progressed across the sulfur flats. The fortress was built around a rocky protrusion from which was carved a massive snarling lion with a regal mane, in Orlesian fashion after their ages-old conquering of most of the region. High-walled courtyards circled up the back of the small mountain. The outermost walls were rimmed with metal spike rims and stood over three levels tall, designed to withstand Darkspawn and other blighting threats that rose from the Abyssal Reach just beyond.

Their trek through the sand ended as she stepped on hard stone and realized how much her feet hurt. One foot was definitely blistered along the bottom of her heel, and she discovered the outer toes of her other foot had almost bored through a weakened part of her sole. The straps of her backpack chaffed her skin even under her undershirt and leather tunic.

The massive gate was flanked on the top by two majestic griffons, representing the Grey Wardens’ historical residence in the keep after Orlais’s. At last the small group headed by Cassandra walked into the lowest courtyard. This level was open to the public, and merchant booths were set up around the keep’s central well. In the shadow of the hulking lion, the walls of the highest keep levels were carved from the same stone and adorned with more large metal spikes. Below, the mountain’s natural shapes formed the backdrop to a set of trees that swayed constantly in the breeze that ruffled the market courtyard.

The Volunteers unloaded the final supplies from the cart and carried as much as they could as they followed Cassandra through the market. Crossing the square Maeva stepped into lasting shadow for the first time in hours, but the wind was still hot and dusty and tormented her skin. She followed them into a stairwell that tunneled up to the next courtyard. The stone was cool around them and Maeva shivered. A sweat broke out on her face and neck as she climbed the stairs carrying a crate of tubers and a large sack of beans. By the time she reached the top she felt light-headed, and was quick to put down her cargo.

Here was a large tent tucked into the corner of the courtyard, containing bedrolls, tables and benches, all surrounded by supply crates. After a few minutes’ rest Cassandra took Maeva to an area where hyena pelts were strung to tan on the keep’s sun-flooded inner wall. Cassandra pointed to a large pile of leather armor, boots, and gloves of varying thickness. Their persistent stylistic design was foreign to her but they were all the same: these pieces of armor came from an entire troop.

“As you are a leatherworker I was hoping you could salvage materials from the damaged pieces,” explained Cassandra.

“Where did all these come from?” Maeva asked.

Cassandra raised an eyebrow at her and answered after a moment’s hesitation: “this keep was guarded by Venatori until the Inquisitor reclaimed it.”

Ellana killed them all? Despite her curiosity she nodded in understanding and was left alone to her duties.

Over the next hours Maeva was able to find a place to sit in the shade on a small jut of balcony overlooking the market courtyard. Her fingers were a blur as she unravelled stitching from leather armor with a narrow hooked tool from her set which lay unrolled next to her. On her other side were small piles of the different leather shapes and sizes she’d salvaged. The unfinished ones were a diminishing pile behind her, next to her ruined boots.

Leggings rolled up to above her knees, her bare legs and feet dangled over the edge, embracing the feel of the cool stone against her skin. Even her blistered and swollen feet could enjoy some relief from their suffering. The queasiness persisted, however, leaving her dizzy with nausea and want of sleep since she’d sat down hours ago. But her concentration on the cords and hook anchored her, and her worries continuously lost her ear to the chatter from the merchants below.

Short stories and comments about present conditions and the Adamant situation rambled from the local merchants and now-meager Inquisition presence. Corypheus’s dragon and the supposed Calling that the Grey Wardens felt (and acted upon now in defending Adamant) all pointed to a Blight, and yet the Inquisitor continued restoring order and stability successfully, easing the worries of all of Southern Thedas.

Is this then a time of hope, or of ruin? Maeva was not the only person unsure what to think of it all.

There was also news from nearby Thedas regions and the capital of Orlais, Halamshiral. Duke Gaspard had invited the Inquisitor and company to the upcoming ball at the Winter Palace, to help sway her favor in his hopes for the throne.

In midst it all Maeva sat tired and thirsty, her lips cracked and chapped and her sticky tongue unable to help them. Her fingers hurt and the waves of sickness returned regularly, but she wanted to finish this particular pile at least before dinner. If it weren’t for the oppressive heat she would surely have been done by now.

The portcullis gate grinded open. Comments from merchants below looking through the passage indicated that a caravan was approaching. Maeva whittled away absently at the cords and leathers in her hands while she watched. With much clamor men and women and donkey-pulled carts entered the keep, the local merchants already greeting them with interest. For a few minutes the groups mingled and blended as the last arrivals passed through the gate. As they finally dispersed from the market square, one person that didn’t meld with the others stood apart in her eyes.

A staff of dark twisted metal in one hand, the other on a large side-carried satchel. Body definition was concealed under a tawny leather doublet cinched with a belt, face hidden behind an off-white hood. The same white continued in a long tunic to just below the knees, revealing elven-wrapped feet, the toes and metatarsals bare to the ground.

He stopped walking and her eyes followed his body back to his head. He was slowly looking around, scanning the courtyard, and stopped when he saw her looking at him. Only then did she realize she’d been staring.

At this angle the sun cast light on his face from the nose down, the shadows above lit only by a faint glimmer of reflection from the metal staff in his hand. He stilled as he looked at her and reached up to pull back his hood. Black hair slid loose around his face and pointed ears, the rest of it twisted back in a knot. Deep-set eyes were lost to shadows under his tattooed brow.

The hand that left the hood moved forward and waved at her. Agog she waved back.

Have to get closer.

She rose to her feet. While she moved toward the ladder at her left she kept sight of him; he moved toward her as well. There was no hurry to it, but she and her body knew this had to happen.

Why am I drawn to him like this? Who is he? What color are his eyes? Her questions were but a faint voice in her mind while her actions continued automatically, obeying some purpose she did not know.

And then she was on the ground and turning to face him as he approached slowly. He stopped at arm’s reach before her, standing straight with a small smile, looking at her plainly and directly. Though he was not a large person he stood half a head taller than her, his chest and shoulders broader with masculine girth. His skin was tanned, blurring the elaborate vallaslin that covered his forehead, and accentuating his darkly sparkling eyes.

Her lips hurt as she opened them to speak. “Do I know you?”

He looked at her curiously. “We have never met,” he said gently.

Have to touch.

She extended her arm, hand open toward him, and looked him straight in the eyes. “My name is Maeva, and I’d like to meet you.”

For long moments his eyes looked over her as if he were appreciating a painting. “My name is Eranan. We meet, lethallin.

Their eyes were locked as he clasped her hand. Her palm felt clammy and his electric. The contact tingled her skin, pulsed through her arm, made her swoon. Too much. She saw red and felt her knees weaken. She was just beginning to think she needed to sit down when everything went black.

At first, at length there was nothing. Much later she felt present in some small way, surrounded by darkness and mesmerized by the light of a tiny window far, far away. She floated like this for a while, sometimes hearing her own train of thought, its voice small and quiet in the thick blackness that surrounded her.

Gradually her world intensified and grew. The light was closer, there was movement inside it.

A notion that something that had just happened poked at her mind, but she did not know what it was; she couldn’t remember. This basic realization led to higher thoughts: time’s existence, meaning she was in a place, and time was progressing, just past that window up ahead.

The world of light grew larger around her, as if she were rising to the surface of water.

Now I remember.

She realized she was awake, that her eyes were open and she’d been watching warmly diluted sunlight on a quivering canvas drape for quite some time. It was above her and she was laying down somewhere cool and breezy on a soft cot. There was someone next to her, leaning over her from the side.

Him.

“You are not well,” said his soft-looking lips. “Drink this water and this tea. Then you must rest.” A mostly faded scar crossed the corner of his mouth and continued halfway across his jaw. Another reached into his cheek from above his ear, and yet another curled along the side of his nose, all on the same side of his face.

She began to sit up, propping herself on one elbow as she took the waterskin he offered and drank from it greedily. The skin was then traded for a metal cup of lukewarm tea. She sniffed in the aroma of the tea and sipped it: hot spices and cool herbs. She concentrated on his eyes while she took a long drink.

Brown? No. Olive green, gold in the middle.

“More,” he instructed.

She obeyed him and drank the rest of it. Her eyelids fluttered as the potent tea trickled through her body. The cup was removed, then she was being eased back down against the soft material. The sounds of him tinkering with objects, and of the bustle of the fortress beyond their haven swam over her while she drifted into dreamless sleep.

Later, a sensation of something soft and waxy-- fingers against her tender lips-- wafted through her mind. She stirred enough to open her eyes and saw him hovered over her, sweeping stray hairs from her face as he whispered calming words in Elvish she couldn’t decipher. Still later when she shivered from cold wind and felt her bear fur being placed on top of her, she smiled as she fell back to sleep.

Hours later when her temperature was balanced and she recognized the smells of approaching dusk, she awoke from a peaceful sleep. Without opening her eyes she listened and learned that he was nearby, flipping through the pages of a book, and that she was lying on her side already facing him. The tones of voices from the keep’s other occupants suggested the battle was not yet started.

She opened her eyes little by little, giving herself time to adjust and focus. The sun no longer shone atop the canvas shelter; their entire corner was shrouded in the shade of the keep’s inner walls and the cool of impending night. Her protector did not notice her waking, deeply absorbed in the book he read, and she took the opportunity to study him.

He sat cross-legged on the ground not far from her, his feet tucked beneath his meager robe and his head turned down to read the book in his lap. Short locks of dark hair hid of half his face. What she could see of it was soft and relaxed skin, a small curve of perpetual smile on the corners of his mouth, and his lashes darting as he read. Dalish tattoos of dark blue laced thin lines and curves across his forehead, stemming from a central axis that ran from his hairline to his nose. The rest of his face was bare: a graceful jawline and strong chin.

“What vallaslin is that?” she asked, breaking the silence of their little sanctuary.

She surprised him but he was immediately pleased to see her awake. He shut the book and shifted to face her properly.

“It is the vallaslin of Dirthamen.”

The Keeper of Secrets, she recalled from her elven lessons. Her interest was peaked but she knew it would have to wait.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

“Better, I think.” She tried to sit up but her head swooned from the movement so she rested upon her elbows. She remembered her thoughts upon waking, but still she asked, “what happened?”

“You fainted,” he said simply. “It’s lucky I was close enough to catch you; your skull almost hit the ground hard.”

She looked around and pieced together exactly where they were. He’d brought her to the upper level of the market courtyard.

He carried me here?

Several jars, a mortar and pestle, and his satchel sat on the ground next to him. Her eyes looked forward to her bear pelt and backpack at the foot of the cot, and opened wide.

“How did my things get here?”

“Seeker Cassandra found us earlier,” he said casually. Us. “I explained that you were heat-sick, and she said health is more important than leather.”

Maeva blushed. “Oh, no… How embarrassing!” she muttered as she dropped her chin to her chest and winced.

He laughed. “It’s not embarrassing-- just the natural affliction of being in such a harsh environment,” he offered lightly. “But truly, you must have more rest and more water.” He handed her the waterskin, now refilled. “I take it this is your first visit to a desert?”

She chuckled wearily. “Yes, it is.” The waterskin made contact with her lips and she realized they didn’t hurt anymore. “Do... Do I remember you touching my mouth?”

“Ah, yes,” he said, looking away for the first time since she woke. Is he blushing? “I saw that your-- mouth was damaged... from the sun, so I applied a salve,” he said smoothly, returning to her face.

She rubbed her lips together slowly as he watched, whatever shyness he’d vanished. She licked them impulsively. The slippery stuff tasted like beeswax and honey.

“You have fair skin-- you should be careful in this climate,” he continued, reaching into his open satchel. “I also have an ointment to protect your skin from sunburn, but… You can apply that later,” he added with a hint of humor as he handed her a small leather tube.

His voice had a soft melodic quality to it, with a dash of mystery and untraceable accent. She wanted to hear more. She looked at the item, and at his bag and other paraphernalia. “How do you have all these things?”

“I’m an apothecary,” he grinned, as if it were a preposterous question. His teeth were bright white against tan skin and pale pink lips. “Though a rather low-supplied one. I don’t carry a large selection, just the essentials.”

“What was in that tea?”

“Elfroot, gingembre, mint, a few other herbs, healing things-- my own mix.” The last bit was accentuated by a jovial perk in his eyebrows.

She nodded, still furrowed with questions as she assessed how she felt. Her lightheadedness was gone and she felt ready to stand, but a glance at his wares again made her uncertain.

“Must I pay you... for--?”

“Oh, no!” he laughed. “Please don’t think of it like that.”

“Then why are you taking care of me?”

His disarming smile reassured her even before he answered. “You fainted just as we met-- I could hardly abandon you then and there.”

“After I’ve imposed on you for hours, do you still wish to meet me?” She’d meant it to sound coy but it came out arrogant to her ears.

“I’d like to meet someone here, and seeing as you’ve imposed on me already, it may as well be you,” he teased back.

Maeva couldn’t help but smile and she hid it behind the waterskin as she took another drink. “Why are you here at Griffon Wing Keep?”

He raised his knee and propped an arm on it, the hem of his tunic rising enough to reveal calves swathed in Dalish wrappings down to his long and surprisingly clean bare feet.

“Well, I was in Val Fermin when I saw Inquisition banners go by. I’d heard there was a market in this keep, so I followed. Eventually I came across a group of travelling merchants, also following the Inquisition, and I journeyed with them. Now, here I am.” His hanging arm gestured at the walls around them.

She nodded absently, thinking about it while her fingers toyed with the edge of the waterskin.

“And why are you here?” he asked when she didn’t say anything.

“I’m with the Inquisition,” she answered proudly. “Some of us are volunteers from Skyhold, and I’m here to help with leatherworking.”

Suddenly she remembered her unfinished work with a pang of guilt. “I should go.”

He was surprised by this. “Are you sure you feel alright?” he asked as she stood slowly and returned the waterskin to his hands.

She felt like a lot had just happened and she felt overwhelmed from the sensations. Though she craved solitude to collect her thoughts, she was strong enough to answer clearly. “Yes, actually, I feel much better now. Thank you."

He quickly got to his feet. “You are welcome, lethallin.

That word sent shivers up her spine to the tips of her ears. She stepped away then stopped and turned around. “Will I see you later?”

He nodded, black locks swaying around his jaw, and a calm look in his dark eyes. “I imagine that we could watch the battle from a rampart together.”

Together. She grinned at him then escaped around the corner and up the stairs.

Eager to give her new acquaintance (and herself) some time for thought after their interaction, she pulled her leather workings back to the tanning area and set to finish them there. Nary a few minutes later a call sounded from the guards, announcing the Inquisitor’s arrival via the waypoint. Maeva rose with anticipation and headed towards the upper courtyard.

Ellana made her way down the stairs, Knight-Captain Rylen close on her heels while reciting reports and updates. She wore a dark gray leather and silk robe under lazurite chest armor, mail pauldrons, bracers and boots, all emblazoned with the sunburst insignia wherever possible. The fading sunlight shimmered on the azure metal, marvelling Maeva’s eyes.

Behind her, Solas, Blackwall and Varric descended the steps, following their leader until they all stopped in front of the tent while Ellana spoke to Rylen. Maeva stood at the top of other stairs, leaning against a wall and listening idly. They were heading straight for Adamant, to rejoin Commander Cullen and the Inquisition forces on the battlefield, and begin the assault at sundown.

Still discussing business, the Inquisitor turned and made way for the next stairs while Maeva overheard another guard call for their horses to be prepared. On her way past, Ellana saw her and waved with a big smile, just as quickly lost back to concentration on her responsibilities.

In her wake Solas followed next, the foot of his staff tapping upon the hard stone with each step, steady like a heartbeat. Just before he passed through the wide doorway Maeva stood near his eyes crossed hers, and she felt her heart soar reflexively. Next, Blackwall sauntered past, unaware of her and seemingly brooding, but this did not deter her joy.

Last, Varric approached, recognizing her immediately and rushing up to hug her. Maeva returned the hug gratefully, remembering her thoughts and silent promise from the morning. She told him to be careful, and though he tried to brush it off he was clearly touched by her caring, and tears threatened her insecure eyes.

She followed the group down the stairs and through the market along with other believers, revelling in the sense of purpose and confidence that their leader inspired. While standing by the well she looked around for Eranan, but he was nowhere to be seen; his staff and his bag were gone from their shady corner. To try to dampen the little hurt that discovery had caused, she turned her eyes to Ellana again, just in time to see Solas help her onto her mount while they exchanged profound looks.

Maeva’s heart sank a little further than that morning, and she turned her back on it all, retreating to her place.

Chapter Text

Maeva’s immersion into her work was a welcome distraction but its mechanical characteristics did not require enough attention for her to escape darker thoughts. Her stomach grumbled while the piles of leather shapes rose steadily; she tried to pacify it by promising herself dinner as soon as she’s done.

All this while her favorite thoughts were of him. The dark but colorful eyes, escaped locks of black hair, his talent, skills and practices, his scars, and the strange pull she felt toward him.

We meet, lethallin. The phrase played on repeat in her mind.

Finally the unworked armor was depleted and she delivered the last of it into the Inquisition’s stores. It was dusk and the courtyards were dark with long shadows and dancing torchlight. The aromas of newly lit fires and the makings of dinner wafted on the evening breeze. She was about to seek out something to eat when her ears perked.

The regular cacophony of sounds had changed: the assault had begun. She followed the small rush of bystanders to the top courtyard level and peeked over the walls. Even Seeker Cassandra and Knight-Captain Rylen spectated eagerly.

Adamant Fortress glimmered in twilight across a long swath of Blight that smoked like tar fields. Despite the distance Maeva could see that it was a massive fort hanging precariously over the precipice of the Abyssal Reach. The only access route to its tall gate was around a large hill that connected the land to the rest of the desert. Inquisition trebuchets, which seemed tiny from here, fired upon it from the flat top of the hill. The fact that it took a full second for the sound of impact to reach her ears teased her sense of space.

Rounding the hill’s base the foot soldiers and cavalry moved in a darkly shining mass. Inquisition banners could just barely be spotted amid the riders, and the populace of Griffon Wing Keep cheered loudly.

It was an odd thing, to be excited about spectating a battle, she thought. She wanted to smile and cheer but the notion that people were dying and she was unable to help them made her want to look away. In Haven it was easier; the red templars were an unearthly evil, and the protection of the village was paramount. Here they were all helpless bystanders, and to support their troops from afar seemed like the proper thing to do, so they did.

Unsure what to think about it, she left the rampart to look for Eranan, and her spot was quickly filled by the shallow layer of people clamoring for a good view.

Where is he? He did suggest that we watch it together. Or am I being foolish?

Trying to be casual about her search she stopped by the camp kitchen first and claimed a large half-loaf of crusty bread. She was just about start down the stairs to the market when she heard her name called.

Eranan waved to her from the base of a ladder to the upper battlements. Behind him was a passage to a damaged outer balcony, access obstructed by scaffolding and storage clutter.

“I’ve found us a good place to watch from,” he said with a sly smile as she approached. In the Keep's light high contrast shadows accentuated the dark outlines of his vallaslin, curved eyebrows, and the rings around his irises.

Tearing her eyes away Maeva examined the ladder instead. “Up there?”

He glanced up where she was looking then pointed at the passage behind him. “What? No, back here-- you can see the fortress from the end there.” With that he slipped into the darkened passageway.

“I don’t think we’re meant to be back there,” she started with hesitation.

He chuckled from the shadows, a faint outline of darker on dark. “Anyone could get back here-- it’s not like it's a secret!”

She checked the courtyard and people around her: all eyes were pointed away, so she went in.

When they came out the other side she gestured at the balcony’s missing end-wall-- the result of a siege weapon long ago. The stars were still scarce in the early night but the full moon hung large and bright overhead. She could see the Keep’s structure was thick with layered bricks, but at the end of the balcony some looked nonetheless loose.

“Is it safe?”

He strolled up to the very edge. “Seems fine to me. ” With a shrug he sat down, legs hanging over the side.

With furrowed brow she advanced slowly and looked around at the wall they’d passed through. This outer side of the keep had not yet been repaired since an age-old battle; the top battlements were pulverized, shabby wooden walkways making up for it. As such the view was less accessible and far less appealing for spectators. They were alone.

Eranan fussed with something from his bag while she sat next to him. Sure enough, Adamant Fortress was in plain sight if she turned her head to the left just a bit. The moonlight lit the stronghold perfectly. Even the swath of Blight between the two keeps almost seemed pleasant.

She stifled a laugh at this and shifted her gaze down. The ground was not hurtfully far from their dangling feet. She noticed how small her swollen feet were next to his long ones.

How does the desert sand not burn his feet in those flimsy wraps?

“That’s better, but…,” he muttered to himself as he peered through a spyglass. Disappointed, he handed it to her. “Can’t see much from here anyway.”

She took up the apparatus eagerly. The large-brick walls and metal framework of the fortress were in clear detail but the people warring about it were yet vague and there were far too many of them clustered together to make out logistics.

“So, what’s this battle about exactly?” he asked.

She retired the spyglass in order to give him an incredulous look. “You don’t know?"

“The people I've asked only knew it was between the Grey Wardens and the Inquisition.”

“You’re right, that doesn’t help much,” she interjected, thrusting the item at him with smug humor.

“Oh, and something about a demon army!” He voiced it like a complaint about the weather, absently reclaiming the spyglass and putting it away. “So, I figured I’d come and learn what’s going on myself.”

Maeva recalled the stories and gossip she’d overheard earlier and was eager to tell a tale with her own tongue. “Shall I tell you what I’ve heard?”

He smiled at her warmly. “Ma serannas.”

Is it the Elvish that’s making me tingle, or his use of it?

To evade blushing thoughts she delved into her knowledge. “The Grey Wardens are joining a Tevinter magister named Erimond,” she said, trying to take up a storytelling voice like Varric. “They’re building a demon army in order to kill the Old Gods in the Deep Roads, thus preventing any future Blight. In theory, anyway.”

He nodded, eating it up thoughtfully. “How do you know all this?”

She smirked nervously. “I have ears and I listen.”

Eranan’s expression faded into something distant for just a moment, attached to a thought about what she'd said.

What is it? she asked him mentally.

No reply but the corners of his lips twitched into a growing smile as he returned to himself. He lightly shook his head and blinked, his visage renewed. “Please, continue.”

“I overheard stories about the Grey Wardens riding griffons into battle hundreds of years ago. Griffons are extinct now, but can you imagine? A mage or an archer firing from atop a huge armored bird-lion!"

“That does sound rather amazing,” he agreed, but she could tell he was now distracted with other thoughts. Then he looked at her with consideration. “Do you want to get closer?”

“Sorry?” she bristled, hoping her sudden blush was desaturated by the moonlight.

“To Adamant,” he said simply, pointing lazily at the distant fortress with a flick of his hand.

Acutely aware of her bare feet hanging over the same great span that lay between them and the battle, she scoffed: “closer than this?”

He shifted to kneeling and he pointed ahead, guiding her sight by leaning in close. “Do you see that hill that the trebuchets are firing from? I bet there’s a fantastic view from the other side of it.”

“And just how do you propose we get there?” she asked.

He stood, deftly hooking his satchel across his chest, then stilled and looked at her. His face was serene but for eyes and mouth that smiled roguishly. “Will you trust me?”

The question made her suck in a little gasp, and when he offered her his broad hand she shut her mouth entirely.

Do I trust him? The man that caught me when I fainted, that cared for me while I slept…?

She nodded without another thought and let him help her up. Once standing she sought to reclaim her hand but he held on. His other hand slid halfway around her waist and gently began tugging her closer. Herded by his arms she finally beheld him face to face and he paused, letting her look at him. His eyes were large and deep even in the darkness, perfectly framed by his symmetrical vallaslin and the loose strands of black hair around his face. Her gaze floated to a halt at his lips and she felt her jaw clench.

He stopped his approach at the sign of tension on her face. His lips moved silently. Trust me.

Her eyes flitted to his and helped her recognize she was resisting him slightly. Upon that understanding she yielded with an exhalation. He slowly drew her against him, both hands in polite places on her spine, until their chests were flush. He was taller, and from her place at his neck she couldn’t help but glance down the neckline of his tunic. Tan skin faded to pale deeper down. Impulsively she breathed him in: he smelled of herbs and cooling sweat.

His mouth glided to a stop next to her ear. “Hold on,” he whispered.

Her arms positioned halfway around his ribs, she clutched him and touched her cheek tentatively to his shoulder, and then it happened.

For half a second she thought he’d tripped and they were falling but all at once they stood upright on different ground. She flinched, tender feet upon sandy rock while she tip-toed to look over his shoulder: Griffon Wing Keep was behind them.

They were stopped for mere seconds while he glanced at her and then ahead. He nudged her arms further around his back and squeezed his tighter before they jolted forward again.

The shift happened thrice more in quick succession. Each time she felt she was being dragged through a forceful river that would sweep her away were it not for him pinning her against the current. When he stopped she could tell from his body language that they weren’t done yet: he was looking around, plotting.

Unexpectedly their bubble of darkness bloomed with light as a fearsome pot of burning oil flew over their heads in a blinding streak, and she felt the heat of it.

“Almost there,” he promised before she could express shock.

One jump later they were somewhere dark and cool, the sounds of battle faded but still loud. He was newly out of breath; panting through his nose as his chest rose and fell. When he loosened his arms and she did not relinquish her grip on him, he carefully locked them around her for a few more moments.

“We have arrived. We are safe here,” he said quietly before drawing back. With an encouraging nod he released her fully.

She took in a deep breath and shifted her weight shift on her bare feet, the new ground hard and gritty. They stood in shadows while the source of light was Adamant Fortress itself, enormous next to them, bathed in moonlight. The surface they stood on was a relatively wide ledge on the abyss-side of the hill that the siege weapons fired from.

“Mind the edge,” he said lightly when she looked into the chasm. “If heights bother you stay by the wall.”

“How did we get here?” she asked, bewildered.

He sat down against the rock wall that formed the back of the ledge, legs in front of him and satchel on his lap, hands searching through it again.

“I believe you know it as fade stepping,” he replied. “It’s a spell that moves one through the Fade, generally to escape from danger, but in this case to arrive at a place that was far and out of reach.”

She joined him while taking in the scene and thinking on what he said. Their field of vision stretched from the left where a small gap between the gate-side and the hill showed the frontal assault, to the right where the structure clung to the rocky outcropping to support a high platform that hung dangerously over the abyss.

“If you can do that-- cover distance quickly, why don’t you do it all the time? Like instead of walking across the desert to get to Griffon Wing?”

“Fade stepping uses a lot of mana-- all those jumps drained me.”

Are we stuck here?" Her eyes grew big in shock. There was no access to the rest of the hill short of scaling an impossibly steep wall.

Eranan withdrew a vial of glowing blue lyrium and wiggled it at her. “I’ll be recharged soon enough, don’t worry,” he said with a disarming smile, then swallowed the liquid down.

She watched his profile in the dim light, her mind fretting on the newness of her predicament. I’m trapped here until he takes me back to the Keep! Suddenly she felt extremely vulnerable, here on an unreachable ledge with a mysterious but capable young man she’d just met. Is he dangerous to me? Am I being foolish to assume he likes me? He doesn’t seem like a threat…

He produced a wrap of cloth containing something small and sweet-smelling, and a wine bladder. “These help with recharging as well,” he explained. “Bought this from the grocer earlier, and the wine was traded to me for spindleweed tonic.”

With a laugh she reached into her tunic and revealed the bread she’d taken from the kitchen. “Looks like we have a picnic,” she said cheerfully, her worries dismissed for the time being.

He smiled and placed the cloth between them then set to uncorking the wine. She unwrapped the bundle to find a large amount of honeyed meat jerky, and she spread out the fabric make room for the bread which she tore into smaller pieces. With a contented smile she admired their strange little feast in an absurd situation.

After taking a swig of wine he handed her the skin and she paused with it at her lips, wondering if it was a good idea to attempt alcohol again. The last time was in Haven and she recalled feeling woozy, but it was fast gone. She sipped it a few times to accustom herself to the flavor. It was fruity and mercifully thin with a minerally aftertaste.

From the narrow view they had of the frontal assault, ladders could be seen docking against the high walls, ready with brandishing soldiers that hopped over the edge to swing their swords at Grey Wardens and demons alike. The nook that Maeva and Eranan watched from was a ways up the hillside, allowing them to see most of the rampart tops, though from this angle it’s bridges and bulwarks overlapped confusingly.

In the gap a battering ram approached, pushed by dozens of soldiers that marched protected by shielded allies at their sides. The huge metal-tipped ram swung forward even as rocks and arrows pelted down from the battlements above. The shields went up for shelter while the great spiked log was reeled back and bashed with force against the gate again and again.

The sound of it reverberated between Adamant’s walls and the hillside before dying around them. It startled Maeva when it hit her ears at first, then she saw a Grey Warden be pushed by a demon into the abyss. She heard nothing but his falling scream until it faded forever. She never heard him land but her stomach knotted itself as if she had.

“I’m not sure I can eat,” she said slowly.

“Best not get emotional about it,” he said while chewing a piece of jerky.

She knitted her brow in distaste. “Doesn't watching death happen bother you?”

Even in the darkness she recognized a momentary look of sadness before he paused thoughtfully. “It is not a bad thing to spare yourself grief over something you cannot alter. Yes, witnessing terrors can be horrifying, but you must remind yourself that you are no more responsible for what happens in this battle than the people watching from Griffon Wing, nor those in Orlais or in Ferelden. This is beyond you. You gain nothing by worrying about it. Allow yourself to concentrate on something else.” In that moment his voice sounded hauntingly like that of the Alienage's hahren in Kirkwall.

With that he returned his attention to Adamant somewhat brusquely. At first she sulked at his advice, formulating potential retorts while she drank more wine. Then she observed him as he watched the battle, telltale fascination in his eyes and twitching eartips. The rest of him maintained a facade of calm.

Concentrate on something else? Alright, then… “Why did you leave your clan?”

He didn’t answer, just glanced down in a sort of sigh.

Oops. “I’m sorry,” she uttered in a small voice of immediate regret. “That’s quite pers--

“It’s alright,” he cut in, making clear that he was not offended. “I just realized that no one has asked me that in a very long time,” he said slowly, then took a few moments to eat a piece of bread while they watched the battle. “I left for lots of reasons. For one, I had no family among them. I was born already an orphan; my father was not of our clan, and my mother died during my birth.” Quieter: “she was very young, and I her only child.”

Her face twitched in tandem with his as they thought on his words. Thank the Creators for letting mamae be in my life for as long as she was.

He cleared his throat. “My clan raised me without objection, at first. For many years I made myself useful however I could: gathering, hunting small game, watching and teaching the younger children.

“Then at thirteen my magic manifested. This upset the balance with my clanmates. You see, the one remaining position for mage in our clan was meant for the Keeper’s future child. His bloodline ran strong with magic, and his wife was pregnant. So, I left.”

In the middle of gulping wine she almost spat it out. “At thirteen?"

He shrugged. “Or rather, they left-- for the Nevarran forests, after the child was born. I stayed behind.”

Gods, I don’t know what I would have done without mamae there at that age!

He resumed the posture he’d had earlier that day, leaning back on one hand with the other arm balanced on a raised knee, wrist sometimes gesticulating unconsciously to help explain a point.

Confident, she mused. Perhaps a bit smug. Nonetheless she felt a smile creep into her face.

“But I’m glad I stayed-- personally I find the southern lands quite charming. Blights always keep things interesting, don’t they?” he joked lightly.

Maeva giggled, waving the wine bladder at him like she was toasting. As if on cue, the battering ram broke through Adamant’s gate with a great, splintering crash, and she recognized the Inquisitor’s colors in the narrow view.

“There! See the blue armor? That’s Ellana!” she called, half jumping up as she pointed excitedly. “And the dwarf is my friend Varric-- they’re going into the fortress! And look there, behind her-- that’s Cullen, the Commander of the Inquisition forces!”

Eranan leaned close to see down the line of her extended arm for precious few moments before the blue armor was out of sight. His hair brushed against her skin and she was struck by a curious mix of longing and uncertainty.

With a loud yell another Inquisition soldier was pushed over the edge and vanished to his death, and she recoiled her arm. Cullen emerged from the gate and began signalling commands, turning frequently to eye the tops of the walls, then he was gone too. The trebuchets continued to fire, beating against the demons on the battlements.

“What did you do after you left?” she asked, trying to keep focus on their conversation. The wine seemed to have caught fire inside of her and she handed it to him.

“I suppose I was an apostate then, so I lived in the woods mostly, kept to myself,” he said, taking the wine without interruption. “When I needed to trade in a village I’d dress as a City Elf or a servant to blend in, cover up the vallaslin. But ever since the mage rebellion it’s been easier to enjoy cities without needing as much disguise.”

As much? She decided not to voice that thought, hiding her smirk on the side of her profile that he couldn’t see. And a loner, and alone, like me. It made her want to smile and frown at the same time.

She concentrated on eating a piece of bread while they watched the glittering battle atop the timeless structure. Ellana became visible again amid the outer bulwarks, and Maeva watched enrapt for a while, tracking her progress by sight of blue armor and trails of magic blasts.

“My mother is dead as well,” she said in a small voice, “and I don’t know who my father was either.”

He looked at her, expression indecipherable by her sideways glance at his reaction. “Is there anyone alive that you… care for?” he asked gently.

“Yes, but… It’s a different kind of caring than for a blood relative,” she found herself saying. She drew her knees to her chin and wrapped arms around her legs, staring past the fighting. “I’ll never miss anyone the way I miss my mam. I have a friend, possibly others. I feel useful to them, and this is a good cause to support, for now anyways.”

She sought his face again and gave a small but genuine smile. He nodded in sympathy and agreement, and subsequently indicating he had nothing more to say about it. He gave her the wine and she took a long chug, happier than ever for the drink’s easing favor.

From this angle the lines and swirls on his forehead almost looked like wings, and she noticed the tattoo was stretched over the skin by his temple. He had grown since he’d received it at a young age.

“Why does your vallaslin have stretch marks?” she asked loudly, purposely trying to drown out the battle sounds.

He chuckled. “You know, Maeva, you could stand to be slightly more subtle.”

“Oh, and your candor is so elusive.” It was outspoken; she blamed the wine.

His lips tightened to prevent a laugh. It was faint but she saw it. Then he looked away and shifted into a more reclined position. “Forgive me. I only meant it in observation of a minor flaw.” His voice was back to the inspired tone that cradled his confidence.

“So what, will you to teach me to correct it?” She recognized that she was flirting now, surprising herself with each breath. These sensations reminded her of distant Kirkwall memories.

“In time,” he replied, drawing it out the innuendo, “you’ll learn that asking questions in a subtle manner can be highly rewarding.”

Teach me, then. But she refused to say it aloud. Instead: “You were clearly with your clan long enough to receive the vallaslin, but I thought that rite of passage occurred later.”

“That was part of the deal,” he explained with lilt in his voice. “I would depart graciously if they bestowed the vallaslin upon me first. I… was indeed the youngest to ever receive it in that clan,” he added after a moment’s pause.

A few minutes passed as they watched the ever-continuing battle.

“Why Dirthamen, the Keeper of Secrets?”

“The Keeper of Knowledge, I prefer,” he corrected. “I chose him because I like to learn, to teach.” He shook his head. “This wasn’t accepted by the clan either, which is actually rather amusing in the end,” he added with a sly half-grin. “You see, their regard to magic was tightly structured around Mythal, and they worshipped her supremely. There was also Andruil for the hunters and warriors, and Sylaise and June for the crafters. But none of them… suited me. Only Dirthamen. The Keeper of Knowledge teaches us the truth.”

For some reason these words made her grin widely. They gazed at each other in the reflected moonlight for several seconds.

“How does that... shape represent it?” she asked, eyeing his tattoo.

“It’s an open book, you see?”

He pressed a fingertip against the tattoo’s base between his brows and pushed it upward along the book’s inner spine. A lewd interpretation of the motion flashed across her mind but she swiftly smothered it through attention to his digit’s path. His fingers then split to follow the parallel curves of the book’s extending pages on one side, and she felt a swooning gasp forming on her lips. Before she uttered a sound she stifled herself with the mouth of the wine bladder, but did not partake.

Fortunately that tenuous moment quickly evaporated when a cheer erupted from the battlements. Thanks to the Inquisition's efforts the soldiers on ladders were able to gain foothold.

“It seems some of the Wardens have allied them,” he remarked, pointing to a far corner of the ramparts.

Sure enough, silver scale mail shone next to Ellana's blue and the varied glinting metals of her retinue. The blue armor and company then descended a staircase in the center of the fortress and were out of sight.

Maeva and Eranan sat in silence, waiting while the battle raged on. Remnants of her sunburn tingled on her cheeks and nose, enhanced by the drink’s effect. All of a sudden she felt strange, tired, heavy. Perhaps it's malaise from the food, or dizziness from the wine?

A few minutes later the unmistakable green light of a rift blossomed from an interior space, framed between lit-up towers. Her attention summoned, Maeva kept her eyes alert for any telltale signs as to the courtyard’s events.

That instant her focus was sliced open by a heart-stopping screech. A dragon swooped down and projected a smothering blaze of red lightning along the ground below, tendrils crackling into pink and white before evaporating.

“Holy shit!”

“Fenedhis!”

They both recoiled in shock as the wind from its batting wings and the heat of its blast battered against them even at their range at the edge of the battle.

With a blood-curdling sound the dragon launched itself back into the air to swoop down again in an accelerating arc. It smashed talons-first into the roof of a watchtower, crumbling it skillfully with fearsome claws. Maeva was stupefied mid-breath while watching the large bricks fall into the abyss.

She glanced at Eranan and saw him watching hungrily, the corners of his mouth sometimes forming a ‘wow,’ his brow lifting in wonder.

Shoving its weight into gargantuan thigh muscles the dragon took off. Mesmerized, she watched it fly across the sky before realizing it was circling back down to the courtyard where the rift magic was happening.

“It’s the same dragon as from Haven!” she uttered absently.

“What? You recognize this dragon?” he asked with a laugh of absurdity.

The dragon landed atop an inner building, keeping its wings drawn, poised dauntingly. Its steely eyes focused tightly on its target and gave a menacing roar.

“Yes, it destroyed the town. Well, not just the dragon, but Corypheus and red templars also. Most of us escaped through an underground passage.”

A bolt of lightning caught the beast off-guard and its front legs collapsed. The rift-light, which was already very bright, now exploded brighter: a rift had opened in the courtyard and the terrifying howls of creature-spawn echoed off the surrounding structures.

“Look!” he said. “The dragon’s following someone through the fort.”

A few minutes later the chase reached the high platform that hung over the precipice, and people appeared in her line of sight at last. A Warden mage, a woman with no hair-- or perhaps short light hair, appeared and fought against a... magister?

Oh! That must be the Tevinter magister,” she decided aloud.

”How do you know that?”

A terrifying green shard in the form of a fist shot out of the Warden’s staff and knocked down the man down. He replied with fire, but the Warden marched toward him steadfast, forcing him into the deadend.

”His clothes, they’re of Tevinter design, or at least I think so. Someone in the market today had found a jacket in a cleared Tevinter camp and was trying to sell it. Also, that man is the only one that doesn’t fit in with the Grey Wardens and the Inquisition, so it must be him.”

She then recognized Ellana’s armor, Solas’s bald head, Hawke’s silhouette, and other allies. The pursuit continued as the Warden faced the magister at the precipice, the Inquisition not far behind.

The dragon swooped down mouth-first, gobbling up the Warden woman and then grounding its force through talons in the fortress-end of the brick platform, eyes already hungrily sizing up the front line of opposition. It ungraciously spat out the dying woman who landed face down under its gullet.

The beast then unleashed itself and stalked toward the Inquisitor. Ellana and her party backed up ever-closer to the edge of the platform. Just then purple lightning crackled fiercely around the nexus of the dragon’s chest. The spell set off a shockwave around it, shaking the structure that hung over the precipice.

The platform began to disintegrate, bleeding bricks that seemed to come apart like puzzle pieces. The dragon itself fell victim to loss of steady ground: its mighty form tumbled for long seconds before straightening its wings and catching an upward draft.

The blue armor was one of many to scramble away as the platform continued to disintegrate. Ellana gained solid ground but someone, Stroud had fallen behind and she spun around to save him.

Meanwhile Varric struggled more with re-harnessing Bianca than clamoring upward on his squat legs. Blackwall and Hawke were even further fallen. Within a second of Ellana’s hopeful rescue the collapse escalated, and she tumbled into the abyss with a half dozen other souls.

Solas was the last to drop; having deftly lept up the trail of stone chunks early on he was almost to safety when he saw that Ellana was already gone. Immediately he caught his footing and bolted in the opposite direction, diving after her.

Maeva’s jaw fell open as she helplessly watched her loved ones plummet into the great chasm. None of them screamed.

The feel of the air changed drastically over mere seconds. In a flash of green light a new rift was torn into being between the Inquisition and the blighted rocks far below. It swallowed them and then itself, snapping shut with a magical boom.

Its shockwave seized Maeva with intent; it beckoned and scared her, prodded at her heart and mind. Sight blurred, ears buzzed loudly, even her heart trembled. As the waves rode over her it awoke a torrent of half-buried thoughts. A maddening hunger for knowledge stemmed in the middle of her brain and pushed into her from the edges of her skin, pulling more into her than she felt her body could hold. Just as she became panicked and overwhelmed it ended, settling the power into her and fading until Maeva returned to herself.

Her head nodded forward involuntarily while her mind spiraled away in daydreams. The atmosphere still throbbed with magic. Or is that my heartbeat?

In an instant Maeva remembered the rift and she gasped, eyes trying to focus.

We have to do something, tell someone! Is there anything we can do help? Her mouth open she tried to speak but made no sound.

Her head began to fall forward and as she pulled it up the dimming world spun around her.

What-- what is happening? Eranan, I need help!

She heard herself squeak in alarm but for the life of her she could not find her way back into her own eyes. Mustering all her force she made one last push of strength and hastily stood on her knees, turning toward where she knew Eranan was. Immediate regret: blood rushed up her torso toward her head. Her knees weakened, red tendrils began to creep into her vision. The buzzing returned and her mind seemed to push against her skull.

Oh Gods, no, not now of all times!

Eranan was in front of her, close and filling her view. She struggled to maintain focus on his face while her body caved. There was kindness in his eyes, the same that had always been there, but there something more now, another layer to it. His lips moved; she watched the small shadows of his scars dance and she wanted to touch them.

“Maeva, Maeva! …. Just take it easy, just…. relax.” His voice was loud but distant at the same. Was that really him talking? “You’ll get through this.”

His eyes, then face, then everything faded. Her body went limp and her mind left it, flying through the air like a cannonball, and she lost herself to darkness.

Chapter Text

“The Fade is shaped by intent and emotion,” Solas explained as they started forward. “Remain focused and it will tell you where to go.”

Some nods and grunts from the rest of the group ahead of them. They walked silently toward the giant rift in the sky, each of them privately awestruck by their personal experience. She remembered falling then opening a rift out of reflex, a desperate action on the way to death. She never expected this.

Apparently all that isn’t strange enough, Ellana mused, now here we are physically inside the Fade!

Solas’s words resonated around them, egging them to ponder their individual drives. His expertise on the Fade was unparalleled and she was profoundly thankful that she brought him on this particular mission, happy that he could lead where she couldn't. Not like I'd go anywhere without him. As often as she visited the Fade-- almost daily-- this was far, far different. And he was different here also.

She watched him on her left. They’d walked side by side through most of her adventures thus far, but here he was transfixed and subsequently more expressive than ever. A subtly bemused subtle smile on his lips, eyes sparkling and darting hungrily about the scenery.

“Not the area of the Fade I would have chosen, of course,” he said to her after a while, “but this is fascinating.” His manner made her smile despite the current events. Clarel was dead, the fighting continued, there was still a rift in Adamant’s central courtyard, and the dragon lived on, likely killing Inquisition soldiers and Grey Wardens alike even now. And here she was, materially stuck in a sickened corner of the Fade.

Their journey brought them to a massive stony staircase, entry marked by two torch-adorned pillars carved as birds with green flames licking the beaks from firebowls at their breasts.

At least the stairs will get us out of this mucky fog. Not to encourage the reality of smells during my passage, but sweet Sylaising fuck this place stinks! Though she was well acquainted with her own brand of sanity-maintaining humor, an oddly foreign part of her chuckled heartily at her crass.

The atmosphere was thick like molten matter flowing around them, oblivious to gravity. Ancient memories and essences drifted like slag stirred in the wake of curious spirits. Through it all nothing surprised her as much as him. Fear-realm or not, the bare-faced elven mage was enthralled as he ascended the steps, pulling a smile from his face the likes of which she’d never seen. It was small and subtle, of course-- others might not recognize it-- but she knew it was a rare fullness of expression on his part.

They encountered battle at last, some lesser shades and wraiths. Firing flame bolts, pulling any spell from the ephemeral murk here was surreal. Spirits would be hit by her fire blast before she saw it actually reach them. Some spells were accompanied by melodies and chords that bounced off the stone walls around them. Others threatened to suck the very power from her staff and her arms into unpredictable energy. She could feel the magic coursing through her body like electricity. When a despair demon’s ice blast paralyzed her and sapped her mana Solas’s dispel and rejuvenation spells felt so glorious that she almost moaned aloud from pleasure.

After they’d faced their first combat his usual disposition returned, his face a mask of serene concentration. “The demon that resides in this area is very strong and very old,” he said to the group. “Some variety of Fear demon, I would guess. I suggest you remain weary of its manipulations.”

As the group moved on she and Solas kept some distance from the others. She’d recognized the small cue he gave her and fell into step with him.

”Da’len,” he started, indicating this was going to be a lesson, and she listened reverently. “Steel yourself and your memories, shut them off from yourself while we journey. What reflections and fears you do see manifest, remember that they are perversions of the truth. What you see and hear is only real if you let it be.”

That he felt the need to remind her these things both aggravated and amused her. He often treated her as a child, an inferior, yet it was also touching. She knew he could teach her new things; that was the initial attraction. Her actions were under constant scrutiny as Inquisitor, and despite the hours each day she’d spend training herself to fit the role, his view of her was crucially importantly.

As a result she battled with her own pride and bit her tongue often instead of speaking. He’d look over at her as if he could hear her inner voices. When she looked back his eyes swirled with machinations of his own, blatantly hidden from her.

Does he mean to appear so cold? Am I being as transparent as he is in this world?

After a series of questioning looks Solas approached her anew and she hardened herself, expecting another lesson.

“I know,” he started slowly, “that you are well-versed in the more neutral parts of the Fade. Only a fool would undermine your skill, da’len.”

At this she softened considerably, and his voice chimed in with all her favorite memories of the Inquisition thus far, which were all of him alone.

“I only mean to prepare you as best I can,” he continued. “We are in a uniquely dangerous place, one that even I am unfamiliar with.” Smug, Solas. Sexy but smug.

Sensing her wavering attention he paused in his step and grasped her wrist, halting her as well. “But you must be careful,” he said sincerely, his face close to hers. “Fear is an emotion that predates most others-- Anger, Pride, Envy…” His middle finger slid down the crux of her palm against the mark of the Anchor. “Except perhaps Desire,” he breathed quietly, then drifted away and released her hand.

Ellana was immediately both aroused and frustrated. Her mind sharpened in contention and suddenly she understood that he’d purposely triggered exactly this response from her. She regarded him with what was surely a shocked look on her face, and he returned the gaze simply, without challenge nor rejection. He granted her a thin smile.

How does he know me so well?

She gave a dismissive nod and returned her focus to the dangers around them.

 

__________

 

Hours passed with constant lightning bolts, fire traps, and shield charges against endless demons and wraiths of familiar emotions gone awry. She fought with the reality of it, guarding herself from anything she felt influence from. Especially when they encountered Divine Justinia.

She and her allies listened attentively to the spirit’s story. Four wraiths appeared and the fighting continued, but these creatures left behind her missing memories. Her interruption of Corypheus’s blood magic ritual allowed the Divine to knock the Orb from his hand. She picked it up and unwittingly bound herself to the Anchor mark and subsequently opening a rift that blew up the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Then running in the Fade, chased by giant spiders, heading for the massive rift at the top of a spiked mountain. The Divine was there and then she wasn’t, as Ellana fell back through the rift and the connection was severed.

At last their presence in the Fade caused a reaction. The guttural, snarling voice of Corypheus-- borrowed by the Fear demon-- boomed over the persistent thrum and echo of the place. “Some silly little girl has come to save the day. You think pain will make you stronger.”

He said it like an accusation and she saw through it immediately. “Your words cannot scare me,” she replied evenly.

But she knew that Fear worked in more ways than words. Buds of it coiled into being out of her deepest thoughts. She recognized what was happening; she’d faced a fear demon before, and more importantly she faced herself daily. For years she’d examined her fears in order to tell them apart from distortion.

Massive spiders crawled toward them by the dozens. Time seemed to slow as she watched them approach, then suddenly their image flickered as the lighting around them inverted at an increasing pace. They weren’t spiders anymore, but fearsome wolves with multiple eyes smattered across their spiky-furred heads. One of them lunged at her, suddenly ten paces closer than it was a moment ago. She could not suppress her fear quickly enough this time: she flinched and stepped back, just as the beast was struck dead by a flame blast she didn’t remember casting.

Don’t worry.

Ellana gasped quietly and paused in her actions while the others fought on. This voice was different. It was neither her voice nor Corypheus’s; it was coming from inside her mind.

The lighting strobed again and the swarm of creatures morphed back into spiders. They seemed so small and harmless now. Perplexed, Ellana took a deep breath, pretending it was normal to hear strange thoughts in your head, especially while traversing a Fear realm in the raw Fade.

After the spiders were defeated and the group marched onward Solas stole to her side again. They walked like this for long minutes, neither saying anything, while he studied her carefully.

“What happened back there? Is there something amiss?”

She repressed scoffing at his words. He thinks I was freaked out by the spiders, or whatever was seen… Is he not hearing voices like I am?

Dirth ma, harellan,” the Fear-voice boomed. Tell me, traitor.

Ignore it, she told herself. Speaking to me in elvish makes no difference.

Ma banal enasalin,” it continued, “mar solas ena dar din.Victory is nothing. Are you proud of your dead?

Her mind darkened at his words and she was about to reply when:

Banal nadas,” said Solas. Nothing is inevitable.

When she understood the demon was talking to Solas-- not to her-- she was thankful for having missed the near blunder.

I wonder how that taunt could apply to him... Still, the Fear attacks us all however it can.

Resolute, she progressed forward, doing her best to ignore the confusing thoughts and voices in her head. The ground was swampy, peppered with skulls and bones. Red lyrium shards were present too, sprouting tall from rocky crevices to create crystals columns they were forced to walk around in some places.

The terrain of the marsh they traversed presently was coiled with spiral trenches. The pattern nagged at her mind, she did not know why. This thought and others then flew from importance when she laid eyes on the graveyard.

Dozens of tombstones of varying shapes and sizes laid in rows.

She and most of the party couldn’t help but look. Varric probably did it because he was a writer. Blackwall did it to face the fear. Hawke did it because he refused to leave a place without exploring it thoroughly. Only Stroud and Solas remained outside the little fence, deliberately looking away while staying alert should the graves suddenly erupt with monsters.

Varric: Became His Parents. She heard the dwarf grumble behind her.

Blackwall: Himself. She avoided looking at him as he read it. What could he have done to hate himself so?

At a far side, Solas: Dying Alone. She paused in puzzlement, avoiding his gaze too as he stared at it thoughtfully. Hundreds of thoughts sprang to her mind, among them wondering why he tried so hard to be alone if this was what he feared, and if he had any idea how much she wanted to be closer. Each thought simultaneously tied itself into a knot and argued itself away until a single word remained.Considerations.

She wasn’t prepared when her eyes landed on her own name and subsequently the fear written beneath it.

Ellana: Failed Jolan.

The staff suddenly weighed heavy in her hand. No, NO! Not Jolan! Despite her fretting thoughts she held her ground, kept still and did not betray her reaction to the daunting threat.

Who’s Jolan? the voice inside her asked.

Now she jumped, looked up and around as a fearful whimper escaped her throat. Solas approached her and she felt his aura touch her shoulder gently. He read the tombstone and looked at her with questions on his lips.

Creators, are you going to ask that too?

Mercifully he did not, only searched her face, no doubt ready to listen if she spoke. She did not, could not, not yet, lest it break her resolve.

“We should move on,” he advised, turning to the others.

Leaving the haunting graveyard behind they fought and journeyed deeper into Fear’s realm. Compared to when they’d entered the Fade hours ago she felt like a quivering mess of doubt and trepidation. But the evils were being defeated, progress was being made, and so far only Solas seemed to notice her inner turmoil.

Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, it’s all just figments of your worst nightmares, she told herself. So much easier to sound convincing when I’m saying these kinds of things to Jolan.

See past it. See through it.

The words that were not hers chimed with her own thoughts sympathetically. Her aura rippled then, around her hand. She walked on, keeping pace, but now it felt like she was holding hands with someone next to her.

I sense nothing but… it must be a spirit. Perhaps warped and muted by the pulls of this fearful place? I’ve never felt anything like this.

She observed with surprise that the sensation was on her right hand instead of the left hand where the Anchor was. In all the time since she’d been marked at the Temple, her left hand was likely the most popular left hand in all of Thedas and beyond the Veil.

This spirit is actually interested in… me? Just me. Why is it holding my hand? She felt nothing else; no blips detected in her immediate manasphere.

A long while later it became obvious they were approaching the Fear’s nexus of power, and she decided it best to inform Solas of this particular oddity before the final battle.

She fell into step next to Solas and walked with as meditative a calm as she could muster. With a breath and a smile to drive away her uneasiness she began. “Solas, when you said things here are only real if I let them be, would that include voices in one’s head?”

The beat of their steps remained steady but his head turned to seek her face. After a few long moments: ”what do you hear?”

She had to think on it; finding words for… not words was difficult. “Comments, reassurances. At--,” she swallowed thickly, “at first I thought it a distortion of myself, but… Then came the questions. The thoughts are not mine.

He pondered her words for but a moment. “I sense nothing, but... Perhaps a spiritual wisp has taken a liking to you,” he offered gently and looked pointedly at her left hand.

“I thought the same but I do not sense a spirit either. Also, it is giving attention to my right hand, not the Anchor.”

He leaned in, his mouth gliding forth next to her cheek. She sucked in a short but (thankfully) silent gasp. He sniffed her then pulled back and looked at her intently. “You--” he hesitated then started again. “It is true there is a change about you here.”

She caught his gaze and gave a wry half-smile. “Might say the same of you.”

A flicker on his brow and hint of a smirk. “I imagine we are all affected by this place.”

Then his mask was on again, if his eyes on hers did feel slightly warmer now. She tried to avoid those paths of thought. Another part of her was faring far better through disassociation, and the rest of her fell in with it.

They proceeded in relative silence for a while, fighting demons with ears muted to the terror of battle, concentrating, focusing utmost. Ghostly spirits of lighter essences lived in the strange realm, and over the long hours of journey through the Fade they’d helped now five of the them find peace.

As the wispy stuffed nug toy was delivered to the bedtime boy’s spirit Ellana expressed an audible sigh of relief and completion. She felt watched now, by Solas-- the others were already heading away. He regarded her deeply and thoroughly, a warmth emanating from him.

At last the end was in sight. The Breach was high above them, and just beyond the dark cavern where she received a gift from the ghosts she’d helped, a battleground could be seen just past the exit. Here, the group stopped to prepare for a few minutes.

While adjusting the potions in her belt, Solas approached until her view of the others was all but eclipsed by his broad shoulders.

Ma serannas, lethallin,” he said, “for helping those spirits. When we spoke of your concerns earlier I had no advice to offer, but here and now as we prepare for battle I would say that you needn’t fear anything. Your kindness lights the way and you inspire devoted followers, myself included.”

His eyes distracted her then. They glowed, reflected in the dark of the cavern. It was faint but distinct to her. Her pause was only momentary. With a nod and blushing smile she shooed his dwindling concerns, forcing herself to step away. “Thank you for your kind words, as ever… Hahren,” she added, stealing at last searching look at his bright eyes. She could swear they twinkled at her word choice.

You shouldn’t be surprised that he wants you.

“Inquisitor,” called Blackwall. “Are you ready?”

Solas had drawn away from her before she could even register it. The three humans and dwarf by the cavern’s exit looked to her, waiting on her order before proceeding into battle. It was time. She walked forward automatically while sucking in a steeling breath. Shells grew and hardened around her mind and focus.

“Ready,” she said clearly as the group tightened at the passageway. It was not just a response; it was a command, and she set it off with a final nod at Blackwall.

With a loud call he rallied their small force and charged them forth through the gate. At the back the mages and ranged fighters spread out in cautious circles while the warriors aimed straight for the shrine. The Fear demon loomed at the center of it. Multiple arms curled from its back, demon face hidden beneath a metal archmage helm.

Suddenly they all paused as they realized there was a massive creature just beyond the demon: the strange structures thought to be pillars were actually the legs of a hundred-eyed spider that towered above them and blotted out half the sky. The Inquisition stood agape and some of them backed up defensively.

The spirit of the Divine appeared from thick air and floated up toward the gigantic spider, gaining light and strength as she approached. “Tell Leliana, I am sorry too.”

With a blast of light she was gone and the spider receded beyond sight over the horizon with a haunting wail.

Now, the Fear demon reigned foremost once more. It summoned its Fearlings, more spiders (if one chose to see them that way, she reminded herself). Ellana concentrated on mass spells and fire traps over clusters of spiders around Blackwall and Hawke, trying to keep a constant fire zap on the demon as it shifted and faded in and out around them. Not far away Solas cycled barriers over her and others, slowing the Fearlings where possible.

At last the demon was slain, but the battle was not yet over: the Nightmare creature returned. Within a short minute a portal had been summoned but a fatal decision had somehow been made, and Stroud remained to attack while the others fled. Solas was just ahead of her but it was Hawke that pulled her by the wrist and toward the rift. As she stepped through the shimmery green field of light she wished it could cleanse her, that it could make her forget. It did not, could not. But it did end the their connection.

 

__________

 

The ring was in the palm of her hand, a circle of opaque blue-gray. Then it was on her middle finger and shone bright blue. A hand reached out and grabbed it, trying to yank it off her finger. She was fast enough to bend her fingers to catch it before it passed her knuckle.

Sight followed the intruding hand up the arm. It emerged from a hard surface that had been a mirror. It was glass now, though it reflected almost-her. A Maeva with glowing green eyes and a menacing contorted sneer stared back at her, challenging. Fighting for the ring, she swung her other arm forward but it was to no avail; it limply clambered against the glass.

The Other laughed. She glared back at it defiantly. Catching her offguard it tugged the ring forward again, this time smashing it apart against the surface. The ring exploded into dozens of tiny pieces, at the same moment the Other’s hand disappeared.

With a gasp of horror she sank to her knees to reach for the pieces on the ground. She could not pick them up. It was hopelessly beyond repair. Her fingertips brushed against the pieces and they disintegrated at her touch.

She sobbed and wailed while hardening herself in a mantle of wrath. Ready to fight for vengeance she looked up to face her adversary. But the mirror showed the true Maeva this time, herself, and her tear-streaked cheeks were far from fierce-looking. The mirror shattered, fracturing her face into thousands of glaring pieces.

She awoke at last, her eyes snapping open as she gasped in the night air loudly.

Thank the Creators, you’re awake!” Eranan’s face appeared in view framed by the clifftop and stars.

She tried to sit up and reorient herself but he grasped her shoulders in both hands.

“Take it easy!” he said while trying to settle her back down.

She fought back, the nightmare still clinging to her mind.

“Uhmm.. perhaps if-- whoa!” He dodged her flailing fist and caught her by the wrist.

Her thoughts whirlpooled into the sadness that lingered at the loss of the ring. She tried to speak but all that came out was a loud sob, and tears fell swiftly from the corners of her eyes. Eranan saw the change and softened his demeanor immediately.

“Hey there, calm now, it’s just a nightmare.” He placed a firm palm on her sternum directly between her breasts and guided her to lie down as his gaze commanded hers. “You mustn’t fear me; I can help you.” She looked him straight in the eyes and tried to find deceit but they were clear and warmly beckoning. “Besides, the last time you tried to stand up you fainted,” he added with a smirk.

Both sobered and ashamed she complied and rested back onto the hard ground. After a few deep breaths her heart rate slowed to normal while she slowly took in the place and situation. They were still on the ledge by Adamant. The sounds of battle were gone but the clatter of armored feet and siege equipment came from somewhere out of sight. The moon’s path had progressed significantly, leaving them deeper and darker in the cliff’s shadows.

She rubbed her face and realized she was wiping away tears. “Was I crying?”

He was looking away, reaching for something. "At first you were yelling, shouting out, having a nightmare. Then you shifted to stillness for a while until another nightmare arose and... Yes, you began crying,” he explained slowly in a soothing voice of scholarly detachment.

He returned to her face and held out a piece of meat jerky. Her hand found its life and took it to her mouth for a bite. "How long have I been out?” she asked between chews.

He pulled away to sit upright with a long sigh, evidently relieved that she was coherent. “A few hours. It happened just after the Inquisition party fell through a rift-- after they fell from the fortress. Do you remember that? A few hours later the rift in the courtyard closed and I heard cheering, so I assume that at least the Inquisitor has returned safely. That... is also when your dream shifted.”

But I just saw all of them in the Fade. Was that my dream, or...? She blinked in confusion but said nothing as he continued.

“The battle is over now. The forces have mostly retreated but there's a substantial group of soldiers occupying the fortress. I overheard someone say that supplies would be sent later this morning.”

Morning? The sky was still utterly dark. “How soon is dawn?”

He peered at the steep horizon and took a purposeful sniff at the air, at which Maeva smiled privately.

“Roughly two hours away. We should return to Griffon Wing once you feel ready. I’ll pack up.”

He turned away and began to wrap up the food. She recognized the wine bladder laying flat nearby, empty of its sweet poisons.

“This is the second time that I’ve fainted and you’ve watched over me,” she said as she sat up. He slowed in tucking the items into his satchel but he said nothing. Since he was clearly listening she decided to apologize now. “I’m very sorry for imposing on you like this. I-- I want you to know that I hope to repay you.” Her voice cracked slightly at the end. “I don’t know how I’ll--

“No,” he interrupted and quickly looked at her intently. “You are neither a burden nor indebted to me. Please do not see it as such.”

A melodic quality about his voice let her know that he accepted her, them, and this, whatever it was, without question, and before she knew it she was completely at peace. Her eyes settled on his lips. When they’d almost lingered too long he spoke again.

“Now then. If you can stand I can hold you up.”

She nodded with a chuckle and summoned her strength. Once on her feet he grasped her with strong arms under hers, lifting her straighter and closer. It was almost a repeat of their motions earlier that night but this time it was bloodrush that pressed her cheek against his shoulder, and additional kinds of needs that kept her arms tight around him. His jaw pressed against the side of her head and she rose with his chest in deep breath. Contact everywhere wove warm tendrils through her body and mind. She'd never felt so comfortable this close to anyone but tonight, here with him, she needn’t be that girl anymore. She clasped her hands on his back, the doublet’s leather soft under her fingers.

“Are you ready?” he asked with breath at the top of her ear.

Unable to find words she murmured assent and nodded as an excuse to sneak her face closer to his neck until brushing her nose. His chest swelled again as he jumped them into the Fade.

The current was smoother this time, peaceful. Or perhaps it was that they were going with the flow, if there was such a thing.

That makes twice that I’ve passed through the Fade tonight, she mused while peering across his chest and shoulder, watching the landscape flicker by. Who knew the Volunteers to be such an adventure!

Eranan stopped when they were not far from the walls of Griffon Wing. “Where have you made bed in the Keep? I will take you there,” he said breathlessly.

“I think I left my bedroll by the tent in the middle level,” she recited from the back of her mind.

He raised an eyebrow in amusement. “You think?” He chuckled then looked around at their dark corner of the desert. “It appears the forces have only just now arrived at Griffon Wing’s gates. Everyone’s attention is probably on them, so our ruined balcony should be quite empty. That alright with you?” He spoke the last bit in a lilted voice.

With a final fade step they arrived on the deserted balcony. Sounds of commotion came from beyond the walls; cheery shouts and the steps of crowds of people indicated their presence was yet unknown.

He released her and stepped back but she kept one of his hands between both of hers and waited until she had his full attention. “Why are you taking care of me so well?” She asked it differently this time, an edge of worry in her voice.

“Are you going to ask me that every time you faint?” When she didn’t laugh he continued in a more bashful tone. “You… seem like someone worth caring for.”

Maeva could not have expected to hear that, nor to feel what she did by it. A plethora of emotions were triggered by it, and she felt utterly inexperienced to it all.

“Indebted or not, I would do the same for you,” she said slowly after a few moments.

He smiled but kept his facade. “Ma serannas, but I hope salvation will never be necessary."

“I know what you mean,” she grumbled, looking away in embarrassment.

With a dark chuckle he stole his hand away from hers and landed it gently on her cheek, summoning her eyes back to his. His face was too far away to make the exchange overly tempting, but she decided it was completely natural to want to kiss him right then. He must have read her mind; an awkward look came over him and he withdrew his hand.

“Listen, I--” Clearing his throat he shifted and busied himself by reaching into his satchel. “I have something that might help you, um… Sleep, without dreaming.” He produced a tiny vial, the cork of which was almost the size of the bottle. “After all the nightmares you had earlier I thought you might like some quiet sleep for a change. You needn’t take much; it will last you a few nights.”

She looked at the vial in his hand thoughtfully as his words changed her bearing. “Yes, I suppose deep sleep would be good, now that the battle is over. Thank you.” The thoughts sobered her as she took the item and stepped back. “Will I see you in the morning, before departure?”

“Yes, I will see you then, lethallin,” he said softly.

She gave a satisfied smile and nod then turned to walk away, trying to be steady and graceful while slipping past the scaffolding of the darkened passageway. When she found an excuse to look back he was already gone. Swallowing thickly she ushered her worries away and moled through the shadows.

A crowd of Inquisition soldiers, scouts and attendants filled the Keep, some still cheering and toasting mugs of ale, most of them making bed in cots or rolls where they could find space on the ground. Picking her way across the crowded courtyard she retrieved her backpack and bedroll from the crafting area. From her earlier perch she saw the market area was thick with revelers so she headed for the upper levels to make bed for the night.

“Maeva,” called a familiarly stern voice.

She froze and turned to see Cassandra approaching.

“Where have you been? The last I saw you was before the battle.”

“I-- well… I’d finished my work so I went to watch the battle with Eranan.”

She raised an eyebrow at her. “The boy from this afternoon.” She gave her a quick lookover, eyes lingering on Maeva's dirty, bare feet and decided against asking more. “It is late, you should sleep.”

Maeva nodded with lifted eyebrows. “I’m looking for a spot right now,” she explained, trying to be cheerful.

“Come with me,” the woman said, and began ascending the stairs.

Maeva followed and found herself entering a higher courtyard she hadn’t seen yet. The space was emptier of soldiers except those that were obviously on guard. Two large tents no doubt berthed the Inquisitor’s inner circle.

She was relieved to see that Solas was there, and Varric further down, waving goodnight to Ellana. The Inquisitor was clearly very tired but maintained a smile until retiring to a nearby tower room. Maeva caught sight of Cullen watching from the ramparts above.

Cassandra showed her an open space next to a tent side near a warmly glowing brazier. Maeva grinned in thanks as she unrolled her thin mattress and blanket on the ground. The woman nodded curtly and headed into her tent with a satisfied yawn.

Once she was out of sight Maeva wasted no time in taking a sip from the vial and lying down. She curled up with her bear pelt, its familiar touch and smell guiding her toward comfort and sleep. Minutes later she fell unconscious.

The serenity was shattered not long after by a scream and the sound of running feet. Her eyes snapped open and followed the action, head swooning with the weight of the sleep drug. The screams were Ellana’s.

Cullen’s sabotons clanged against the stone as he rushed toward the Inquisitor’s door, just in time to see Solas appear from the shadows and enter before he could get there. The screams faded; Solas’s faint voice uttered soothing Elvish words. Cullen halted and turned away to head back to the ramparts. Maeva spied a mix of sad feelings on his face before her heavy eyelids pulled her back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Morning cast pale colors and long shadows across the desert and mountains. Under the backdrop of a small Tevinter tower glittering from the sun’s first light atop a purple-orange ridge the Inquisition forces marched out of the desert in a slowly snaking cavalcade. The Volunteers joined the tail end of the massive eastward exodus. Cassandra surveyed the packing of the last cart of their supplies while the other members prepared their horses.

Maeva was the last to leave. She stood by her hitched mare at a pillar some distance from the Keep’s gate. It was the best location from which to keep an eye on the Volunteers, due to leave any minute now, and the gate where she waited to see Eranan. But he had not appeared yet.

She watched the gate like a hawk while nervously digging her toes into the cool sand, her bare feet experiencing the grit and variations of ground like never before. Her damaged boots hung fastened to her mount. She planned to fix them during the journey back to Skyhold, but until then she relished the feel of reality under her soles. Her thoughts returned again and again to yesterday’s events, and to Eranan’s whirlwind interjection to her strange life.

I fainted twice yesterday. By the Creators, what is wrong with me? And yet today I feel just fine. If he doesn’t show up before I leave-- what if he left already? I could hardly blame him; who would want to care for an ailing waif with nothing to offer him in return? What if--

Eranan then appeared at the gate and her world of thoughts shifted around until he was the focal point and everything else was background noise. Elation spread through her and she grinned widely while waving to him.

He worked his way through the busy gate area, eyes never leaving her. In the morning light he looked rather different than yesterday, even after she’d spent her mid-sleep hours recalling his face.

Is it possible that he’s even more gorgeous today?

His black hair was pulled back tighter than before but a few loose strands bounced slightly from his gait. Her joy was quickly tainted with self-consciousness and she stopped her waving hand to help straighten her sleep-mussed hair.

“Good morning!” she said warmly when he came within a few paces.

“Good morning, Maeva. I’m glad I caught you before you left.”

At the mere sound of his voice she was lost again, recognizing that she was hopelessly attracted to every single detail and fact about him. She was falling for him hard, and knew that this brand new feeling had very poor timing.

“Come, let us sit. I have some things for you,” he continued, holding up a handful of long canvas strips while his free hand gestured to a toppled column.

She walked over to sit, confused at what the cloth was for. She was even more perplexed when he didn’t sit but knelt before her with the strips arranged over his raised leg.

“I never learned the fate of your shoes, but I can see that you are not accustomed to going barefoot.”

He held her gaze serenely as he collected her left foot and rested the heel on his knee. Next he picked up a cloth strip with both hands and began wrapping it around the ball of her foot, weaving it up her leg. She laughed inwardly when she understood what he was doing, and relaxed to let herself enjoy the sensation of cloth slipping over her skin.

“I thought we might dress your feet like mine,” he explained cheerfully. “In the midterm anyway, should you plan on new shoes later. Or, perhaps you will come to like the wrappings.”

Curiosity drew her forward as she eyed his grounded foot below hers. “I’d meant to ask about yours… Don’t your toes get cut up on rocks? What about the hot sand, or snow?”

His face downcast, cheeks swelled in a grin. “Best avoid sharp rocks, especially as a beginner.” Maeva pouted at the appellation. “But toes are meant to be free, same as fingers. They will acclimate in time, and you’ll see how natural it feels to wear your feet this way.”

A minute later one leg was finished and he motioned for her to switch. She happily obliged then rolled her bound ankle in wonder. Tight but flexible and comfortable… Is this what Solas’s feet feel like?

“Do you still have the sunbane ointment?" he asked. "Be sure to apply it on your feet, at least for the first few months.”

Months…? Still, to have foot dressings like his is tempting…

The idea of matching him made her giddy and she watched him eagerly as he tied off the last wrap then stood. With an absent bite on her lip she remembered something.

“Of course, I’ll use the ointment, but it cannot protect my lips, can it?” she asked, innocently enough.

In a blink he retrieved a palm-sized metal jar from his satchel. He turned the oddly shaped lid until it sprang open, then held it out to her. She grinned at the strange little jar and used her index finger to scoop out some balm.

“I never did see this yesterday,” she said.

Her comment surprised them both, each suddenly accosted with the memory of his fingers touching her lips while she slept yesterday. She was immediately mortified by the combination of his stunned expression, her ill-chosen words echoing in her head, and the overly pleasant sensation of pushing her finger into soft stuff against the counterweight of his outstretched hand.

Oh shit, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned this. He probably has no idea I desire him! He’s been nothing but amazing in the short time I’ve known him but now I’ve gone and made it awkward...

She roughly retracted her hand, and he his, the jar snapping shut in transit to the satchel. She was sure he blushed, though certainly not as hard as she did. Still, she tried to brave through it, dabbing the balm along her lips while she watched him recover from his own evasion.

Definitely blushing, she decided. This contented her immensely though she could not understand why.

She looked away before he’d catch her staring, eyes finding the twinkling Tevinter tower on the distant ridge. Her slick lips rubbed together while the silence grew comfortable and she tasted the bits of flavor that slipped into her mouth. From the corner of her eye she could see he was still standing awkwardly, looking around and unsure what to do.

Then he caught himself: “almost forgot, I have one more thing for you! Come, stand.”

He dove through his bag of tricks again, this time retrieving a simple shape of light gray velvet and began unfolding it. Holding it up between fingertips she recognized it to be a hooded cowl with modest embroidery around the face opening.

“I got it just this morning, traded with a nice old lady for some mana potions. It’s for you.

Maeva’s jaw fell open in astonishment as he approached her. A gift, for me? On top of the foot wraps and sunbane and all his caring-- after all this mess?! “You-- you think of everything! It’s not been day since we met and already you spoil me with kindness!”

He ignored her worries and set about fitting the hood around her head, so she fell to silence and lovingly watched him concentrate on the task. After he loosed the cowl over her shoulders she claimed his hand unexpectedly.

Eranan, thank you so much!” she said, savoring his name on her tongue.

His hand and eyes did not shy away but seemed to evade her gratitude. “To be honest, when we met and you fell ill right away I felt… rather guilty.” A glance at her creased brow. “We’d gripped hands just as you collapsed-- as if I’d done something to you,” he said, looking at their hands touching presently.

“Don’t you do realize that I’ve been a terrible burden?” she asked with surprised laugh.

“No, no! It seems that you are indeed... afflicted somehow, but surely it is not your fault.” He tugged gently at her fingers and smiled. “At first I just wanted to make certain you were alright, and then… everything after that just made sense along the way.”

Her heart fluttered at his words and she felt the urge to kiss him suddenly. He offered no reaffirming signs that he’d receive it, so she remained still.

“If it bothers you so much,” he continued with a grin, “you can promise me a gift next time.”

Worries flew from her mind as her eyes grew big. “You believe we’ll see each other again?”

“I hope so,” he replied warmly.

She teetered forward, feeling happier from head to bare toes than ever before as they smiled at each other. Noises around them told the same tale of packing and mounts and departure. Peripherally Maeva saw Cassandra on the horizon. Beyond that she saw the reality of impending farewell catching up with them.

”Would you join the Inquisition? Come back with me to Skyhold?” she asked abruptly.

He was caught offguard by her question and looked at her curiously.

“It’s really fun and interesting, and I’m sure they could use someone of your skill!” she implored.

He swallowed hard and almost frowned. “Alas, I cannot join you. I... have some business to attend to in Halamshiral soon.”

Halamshiral? Will you be there for the ball with Duke Gaspard?” she asked, mouth agape.

He shrugged, face blank. “I don’t know about any ball, but my contact has arranged business with a party at the Winter Palace.”

A bewildered grin spread upon her face. “You know, the Inquisition’s going to be there for the ball.”

His eyes brightened immediately. “Truly? Perhaps we can meet there!”

Hope and joy erupted from her heart to her cheeks. A moment later she realized they stood much closer together than before. His eyes wandered over her face until his jaw closed and smile tensed. Her gaze moved from his eyes to his mouth then back again. He bit the inside of his bottom lip, she saw from how the skin pulled in slightly. In that moment she wanted nothing more than to taste him.

“Maeva!” they heard from afar and both turned to look, partly grateful for the interruption. Cassandra waved from a distance, signaling that it was time to leave.

She spun back to face Eranan and opened her arms stiffly. “Alright, well, hug me goodbye,” she pled, avoiding his gaze lest it trigger tears.

He chuckled and pulled her into an encompassing hug, one arm under hers and the other wrapped around her shoulders. She happily pressed the side of her face to his neck and clasped her arms around his torso. They squeezed each other tightly for a few seconds before he loosened to a simple hug, and she did the same but slower.

“I do hope to meet you again,” she said, face buried in his doublet.

“As do I, falon,” he said breathily at her forehead. She knew from the tilt of his head that he was looking down and if she looked up she would be so, so close to his mouth, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She only clutched him and wished the moment would never end.

“Dareth shiral,” he offered finally, and released her.

“Dareth shiral,” she repeated, voice small as they drew apart.

She bravely regarded his eyes and face now in urgent need to etch his every detail into memory: the exact shape of his lips, the way his scar danced as smiled, how the winding blue vallaslin brought out the green and gold color in his eyes.

All too soon Eranan gave a closing nod that was almost a bow and began to move away. After a few steps he turned his head and pulled up his hood, severing eye contact at last. She shifted nervously on her feet while watching his retreating form.

No, not like this!

Lethallin,” she called out, springing toward him.

By the time he’d turned around she was already nearing his face with determination. She didn’t dare look at him directly, only continued to draw their heads closer together. Rising onto the balls of her feet and lightly touching his shoulder for balance, the edges of their hoods joined and enclosed them in the tiniest privacy.

She stole half a moment’s glance at his entranced expression then shut her eyes and pressed her lips fully upon his. They fit around each other perfectly. The point of contact felt like a gravity well, sucking them to a magnetic point that cast all other realities into haze. He was warm and solid and real.

Triumph swept over her as she projected to him, yes, yes, and thank you so much!

No other parts of them touched or moved for precious seconds until she felt his fingertips on the underside of her chin like a bloom of energy. The thrill of it almost unhinge her, and she tightened her grip on his arm in response.

Her lips parted slightly, nudging his with them until their tongues greeted and carefully grazed each other in most delightful contact. His breath on her face reminded her to breathe, and she sighed in relief but kept their mouths sealed a few seconds longer.

Finally she pulled back, and time caught up then. Noises and thoughts flooded her head anew as morning air rushed into her nose. She opened her eyes and stepped back with a broad smile.

His face was peppered by a multitude of emotions. As subtle as each flinch was she saw it all; shock dominated, and she suddenly feared regret. She tried to express a silent apology for her boldness but his face remained frozen. The impulse to say something struck her but she refused to start the inevitable goodbye-cycle yet again, so she tore her gaze from him and turned away without another word.

A few steps later she risked a look back at him and was unexpectedly rewarded: he flashed a grin from under his hood, one he was sure she would see, before turning around and walking away. That was the last she saw of his face.

The exchange completed she spun back around and skipped toward her mount with elation. I kissed him, I kissed him! I can’t believe I did that!

The next minutes went by automatically; her heart pounded in her chest and her mind swarmed with intensely fresh memories while her mare’s trot fell in with Cassandra’s. The warrior woman raised an intrigued eyebrow at her but Maeva chose to say nothing about it, and she obligingly did not ask.

That was definitely the best kiss of my life! Oh sweet Eranan, if only we didn’t have to part…

They were separating across southern Thedas, with vague plans to meet at an elaborate event in the not-so-distant future. Hope seemed utterly reckless in such slim conditions, but it was already fueling her heart with courage.

All too soon her part of the caravan was about to round a turn that would cut off sight of the fortress. Her heart was calmed sufficiently to allow a final look at the place where it had all happened. She turned in her saddle and stared back at the receding structure’s silhouette, wondering if she’d ever be here again, and if she’d truly ever see him again.

The rest of the day passed with the landscape, yet her mind overlaid the scenery with images and notions of Eranan. The gifted hood shielded her head from the harsh sun and circled the breezes it swallowed. Stirruped feet hugging her mare, she wiggled her bare toes against its short hairs and enjoyed the bristly velvet. Boosted by happiness, Maeva found a serenity that enveloped her throughout the day’s ride and into pleasant sleep that night.

Chapter Text

Being back on the road was a familiar ordeal. After breakfast the Volunteers and Inquisition forces packed up camp and the procession continued. Whereas the voyage westward from Skyhold was one of discovery and novelty, the return trip was predestined to be a tedious trek, albeit offset by beautiful scenery.

Maeva enjoyed a calm sleep without Eranan’s potion, and she wondered if her disturbing dreams were finally over. Truly she did feel changed after her strange experiences at Adamant, though she did not yet understand how nor why.

During the lunch break past Val Firmin she assembled some traps to lay out that night, in the hopes of catching some skins for boot repairs. Though she enjoyed the elven footwraps, the prospect of Skyhold’s snowy-mountain climate bade her seek warmer coverings.

While her hands deftly whittled and bent the wood, Cassandra approached and sat on a nearby rock where she began sharpening her sword with a whetstone.

“Maeva, may I ask you something?” The Nevarran accent couldn’t hide the concern in her voice.

“Alright...”

“What did that young man want with you?”

Maeva hesitated, expecting a more imposing question. “Eranan took care of me after I fainted, you saw that. It was good of him to do so. Then we met again later and watched the battle, so… I suppose we both just wanted some company.”

Long minutes passed with the sound of Cassandra’s whetstone skimming along the blade. Maeva’s own fingers ceased treating the wood and now switched to pulling cords and leather scraps from a supply pouch, when the woman spoke up again.

“You were gone all night, then I saw you embrace each other the next morning. You seemed happy. Therefore I assume he did not mistreat you. Is that correct?”

Maeva almost laughed-- the very concept of mistreatment seemed absurd in face of the kinship she felt for Eranan. Nonetheless, the words summoned a dark memory from her distant past, choking the laugh in her throat. She suppressed a shiver and shook her head lightly to ward off the thoughts.

Cassandra doesn’t understand, but I am grateful that she’s so protective of me.

“Yes, he treated me very well,” she replied through a disarming smile. “We talked, shared food and drink. He even gave me gifts, like this hood and footwraps!”

The whetstone paused while the items were appraised, along with Maeva’s face, and at last Cassandra relaxed. With a graceful smile she explained herself: “You are a capable young woman, and I do not doubt that you can defend yourself from danger if needed. That said, I’ve learned that everyone in this world wants something, and will likely do anything to get it. It might be good to consider what he wants from you, should you see him again.”

With that the warrior woman rose to her feet and walked away. Maeva watched her leave, perplexed at the lack of faith and insistent doubt.

 

__________

 

During the journey Maeva passed so much of her time in daydreams that they were getting pretty good. That afternoon while watching the hypnotic rhythm of the horses and riders in front of her she focused on an idea from yesterday. She remembered her goodbye with Eranan outside Griffon Wing Keep. Instead of letting him leave and barely stealing a kiss she should instead have asked that he fade-step them to the sparkling Tevinter tower on the ridge.

He would put his arms around her waist and pull her close with possessive intent. “Hold on,” he’d whisper, breath hot on her ear. And then they’d arrive at a perch on the tower, far away from their lives. They’d sit on the edge admiring the view, talking, sharing, and laughing. Eventually he’d sneak his hand over hers and she’d welcome it. His face so close to hers, his eyes would watch her, sucking her in and making her feel so real and wanted.

Then he leans in to kiss me. Eyes shut, lips pressing solidly. Trying to explore through blind touch, lips gliding over each other. Hand moves up arm and cups face. Mouths open, tongues winding together wanting more...

A snickering giggle snapped her eyes open. It was Sera, two horses away.

Oh shit, my mouth was open in a fake kiss...

With a gentle jab she sped her mare to a trot and hastily retreated up the line. Sera gave a disappointed (and far too loud) moan but thankfully did not follow.

A few minutes later Maeva slowed alongside a covered wagon, comforted by having a makeshift wall to hide behind in case Sera came looking for her. Whether the woman meant to tease or pry about her obvious fantasizing or not, Maeva dreaded the idea of talking about it.

Her mind pondered this into an absent calm whilst listening to the beat of hooves and huffs of oxen that pulled the cart.

“Oh, stop already, and this can be over before you know it.” Sera had found her and now rode nearby. “It’s obvious you’ve got a crush, ‘cuz you weren’t like this on the way down ‘ere. Now c’mon,” she urged with increasing volume, “tell me about it, yeah?”

Maeva hesitated a moment as she considered the situation before surrendering with a laugh. Happy to see the response, Sera recomposed herself and softened her tone so much that Maeva couldn’t have imagined her capable of it. “So he kissed you, right?”

“Oh, um-- no, I-- I kissed him-- as in surprised him by it,” she explained sheepishly. “It was nice but short, and we parted ways right after. He smiled from it..."

“Aaaoohhhh, I see,” Sera intoned as she looked Maeva up and down, then boldly asked, “have you had sex before?”

Oh no, not this conversation… Maeva’s eyelids fell shut in resignation.

Sera already couldn’t stand the silence. “Oh c’mon! You can tell me, yeah?”

This triggered another laugh from Maeva. "Have you?” she asked instead, pointedly trying to turn the conversation around.

Sera accepted the bait without a blink. “Well-- yeah!

Maeva smirked then looked down bashfully. “Tell me about it?” Her tone was softer now, implying an answer instead of saying it.

Sera’s eyebrows lifted in a surprisingly innocent way. “Oh! Well, erhm…” She giggled then, her snarky side returning. “The best thing is light touch, ya see…”

She talked on and on, and Maeva let her, figuring it might at least lessen the odds that she’d become riotous again. As the lesson on sensitive spots continued she realized Sera might not be referring to male anatomy.

“Wait, I-- I’m confused. Where’s the… cock?

Sera burst into squealing laughter, drawing more than a few glances from the caravan’s perimeter. Face growing red, Maeva drooped her chin to her chest and bit her tongue.

“Of course I wasn’t talking about men! Who needs 'email? Women can be lovers too, right! The sex is really not all that different.”

Maeva blushed profusely and huddled her head down, eyes locked on the road passing beneath her horse.

Silence stretched further until Sera blurted out, “you’ve touched yourself before, right?”

The crass question was unsurprising but Maeva only shut her eyes in resigned amazement and sighed then nodded. May as well appease her...

“Good! It’s healthy, and important! Women need know their own bodies, ya know? How else will you learn what you like and want?”

To Maeva’s relief Sera seemed uninterested in prodding her for further details, and instead returned to describing the art of touching quims (one’s own or others') in great detail. The clattering of hooves on the stone road was loud enough to drown out the most graphic words, but Maeva hoped nonetheless that no one else could hear them.

The vaginal monologue went on for a solid hour, and she learned a great deal about technique and what kind of touching many women (mostly Sera) enjoyed overall. Finally they parted and Maeva rode the rest of the day thinking on what she’d learned. Thoughts of touching, kissing, loving, showing affection, exploring their bodies…

The sensation of arousal began to percolate in her abdomen, teased by the sway of the horse’s rhythm. Though Maeva was no stranger to masturbation she realized months had passed since the last time she partook.

And the time of her last kiss before yesterday was… years ago! Her mind tipped briefly toward the unpleasant memory. Rather, it had been a pleasant experience at first, before the lad’s true intentions were revealed in her vulnerable state. The thought of it made her bristle, and she buried it away for umpteenth time.

But Eranan and his kiss are everything I’ve ever wanted.

 

__________

 

After the procession halted and made camp for the night she set up traps along treeline. Upon returning she found Cassandra’s romance novella tucked inside her bedroll. A quick glance around told her that Sera was thankfully long gone and most everyone else was quietly tucking away or snoring, leaving only a few lanterns and campfires to light the area.

A few moments of hesitation were followed by the swift collection of a lantern and rustling into her bed with the book curled around the light. Perusing smut while giggling with Sera was one thing, but devoting herself to it privately would be an entirely different experience. Happily shameless, Maeva flipped through the book straight to the saucy bits.

The story’s declaration of love was a passionate one. The elegant maiden was near fainting from the intense confession by the dashing rogue she’d met nary a day prior. Barely by clasping hands did she swoon into his arms. He easily swept up and carried her inside the castle. A nearby chaise served as her new resting place, and she lay back, eyes closed and seemingly asleep. Watching her like this, the man reaffirmed his adoration for her beauty and purity.

Maeva snorted but continued reading.

The maiden stirred alert to his words and reciprocated the attraction. They kissed more passionately than written word could satisfy. She licked his earlobe while he kissed down her neck, the gentlest nibbles causing her to gasp in wondruous surprise. He nudged her dress from her shoulders so that his hot lips could travel further. His rough but warm fingers explored down her bare chest and cupped a breast. She giggled at his light touch as if tickled and sat up, partly pushing him off.

It was no longer the eyes of a maiden that found his, but those of desire and love itself. While they twinkled lustfully she deftly undid the corset lacings he’d been struggling with, the bodice falling to the floor. His eyes were drawn to the loose cotton of her underdress and the curvy form beneath. A smile crept over her plump lips as she shrugged another bare shoulder into the light. With a thick gulp he quickly discarded his own shirt then reached forward to envelope her in his arms once again and claim her mouth eagerly.

While their tongues caressed and tousled he pulled her astride his lap so he could grind his hot hardness against her. She released his mouth to moan and he took the opportunity to wrap his lips around her nipple while rubbing the other firmly with his hand. The woman felt an ache grow between her legs, a wanting ache greater than any desire she’d ever experienced.

Maeva realized she was scarce of breath and took a forced inhale. While straightening in her bedroll she was surprised to feel hot wetness between her own legs. Another quick check at the surrounding company; the snores remained steady and the sleeping silhouettes were still in the dark night, her lantern one of few still lit. With a private smirk she poured her attention back into the novella and finished the smutty chapter with eager eyes. The moment she was done she shut the book and put out the lantern, then snuggled deeper into her bedroll and wiggled out of her leggings.

Despite the added chill of the Frostback foothills she kept her mind warm with anecdotes from the story, and added thoughts of Eranan on top. His warm lips firm but soft against hers, fingertips pulling her chin into a passionate kiss...

Now his fingers travelled down her chest and slipped between her legs, mimicking hers, following the heat that grew there. Her fingertips planed in formation across her labia and clit, dipping into the astounding wetness of her libido, coating them in hot desire. She pulled them up and over the shapes of her folds, exploring in slow circles, sometimes changing direction or diving deep between the swollen mounds.

Her breathing was faster now and she exhaled strongly through her nose, keeping her face aimed under the covers for warmth and silence. While increasing her rhythm and spreading her legs as far as the narrow bedroll allowed she moved her other hand to grasp her breast like she’d want him to.

He’s here, touching me, kissing me, grinding against my body… Hands everywhere, his delicious smell in my nose, his breath in my ears…

Her hands sped up and swirled liberally while teasing her taut nipple. Breathing became panting and she had to tilt her head up for fresh air, only half a thought to the sounds she made.

He’s on me, inside me, moving and being moved in ecstasy… He moans sweetly, rocks harder, reaches deeper…!

Sensation became hyper-acute as her focus narrowed upon targeted pleasure. Everything tightened and clenched like a collapsing sun while she begged her concentration to keep her fingers going, skating frantically across her sensitive flesh. Ever chasing her desire, thoughts of Eranan’s lips and strong shoulders and firm body tangled around her imagination.

Finally the pleasure eclipsed her will, sucking all the inert energy of her fantasies through a pinpoint that reversed and exploded into sweet release. Her fingers danced on as long as she could manage, driving waves of pleasure through her body. At last she released the effort with happy abandon and lay still.

Her breath slowed and the calm of night returned her to the present. Cool air and distant sounds of sleep told her she’d caused no disturbance. Her mind felt utterly awake and at the same time heavy with want of sleep.

Once relaxed she pulled up her hand and decided the best she could do to clean her hand without getting up was to lick the musk from her fingers. Then she slipped her leggings back on and hugged the blankets around her. Minutes later she fell into sleep with a smile on her face.

The dream came quickly.

She stood facing Eranan on the ledge near Adamant. This time instead of drinking that blasted wine and fainting, she tried to kiss him then and there. It had no effect; the replay of him prevailed and he was blind to her entreaty while mouthing silent words from their conversations. So she tried to simply embrace him and thank him-- praise him.

But the dream changed and now he grinned at her brightly from several yards away. She projected to him that she wished they were closer, even if only to hug for a moment. He seemed to understand her this time, she saw by the sparkle in his eyes and widened smile.

There was little control of the dream, not when constrained by her want of detail that only concentrated memory could provide. So she relaxed, loosed her grip on it and let it wash over her.

Counter-intuitively the dream then yielded and gave her what she wanted; Eranan’s smile was suddenly right before her face. She reached out to touch the side of his cheek. In return he cupped hers in his hand, the electric touch of his fingertips setting her body aspark.

Everything was warm, almost hot. Eranan, I--

The vision of him darkened, burned to ash. He nearly vanished against a dark background.

I wish you were here, she said anyway.

The grin flashed in the darkness. I am here. I can feel you here, too. It was he!

With a gasp of elation she lunged forward and encircled her arms around where she imagined him to be. Though blind she found his body and hugged him close. Breath on her cheek told her his face was near and she pressed her lips to his with tears in her eyes.

A spark-- a spark truly erupted right then as they touched each other in mirrored fashion. It was not a spark of illumination but rather of utter connection of their minds. He was in her mind, and she in his, the edges of themselves blurred and overlapping.

Eranan, are you truly here? How-- how is this possible?

But the dream shattered then and she awoke to find herself sitting up in her bedroll, drawing in a breath of cold air. She was quiet alone save the nearby sleeping Volunteers.

What a strange dream… Of all the ones I’ve had lately, he-- it really felt like he was here.

Maeva slowly settled back into bed, perplexed.

It felt so real, too real. As if he reverberated in my mind.

 

__________

 

The next day took the caravan into the first of the Frostback mountain passes. The Inquisition forces had left earlier, making their way to the camp in the river valley below Skyhold, accessed by a different route for their horse and wagons. The remaining procession was thinned to just the Volunteers and a few other Skyhold inhabitants. Chatter rose among them, happily reflecting on their respective adventures and excited to be near home. Even the familiar chill of the mountain was welcome as she wrapped her bear pelt around her shoulders.

Despite the familiar faces she kept to herself, consumed by thoughts of Eranan and the latest dream.

I would do anything to see him again, kiss him again. But that doesn’t matter anymore; he is gone. The Winter Palace is but a tempting fantasy. I doubt I’ll see him again; that would be far too kind for my luck. Anyway, what would he think if he knew how I tickled my fancy at the thought of him last night… He must think me nothing more than a burden, or worse the impulsive tomboy that I am.

Seeking solace in her fantasies, she returned to thoughts of the kiss, but now these were tainted with her worries and pestered her with dissatisfaction. At last she halted all thoughts of him, and the recognition of her yearning sobered her.

Come what may, he is an unknown factor. I mustn’t let such worries me too much, not when I have a role to perform for the Inquisition, and a quest to find my mother's story.

The slopes of the mountains rose in earnest now, forcing the sun behind the peaks and causing an early dusk. Nearing their destination, the procession sped up to beat the impending darkness.

While moving her horse up the line she spied the Inquisition’s Commander near the front. On a whim she swiped up a couple of pears from a food cart, as there were no apples to be seen.

As she approached she realized he looked distant and sad beneath his usually stern face. She rode next to him for a while, slowly warming up to conversation.

“Hey, there,” she quipped lightly, offering a half smile. “How’ve you been?”

He raised his eyebrows in contemplation but said nothing, so she extended her arm, pear in hand. This perked his demeanor a bit and he took the fruit with a nod of thanks. He straightened in his saddle and glanced around to check the proximity of other ears. It rather amused Maeva to be privy to his confidence; the Commander of the Inquisition did have a certain visage to maintain, yet honored her with informal friendship.

“I’ve been well enough. And yourself?” he asked, tone half-empty.

Maeva nodded curtly but left it at that. If he won’t offer to talk about what’s bugging him, I’m not going to force him.

She bit loudly into the pear, finding herself to enjoy it more than any other meals in past days, and added a contented sound. Cullen reacted slightly to her joyous eating and took a bite of his.

“So… I met someone at Griffon Wing,” she started, then a laugh escaped her. “I fainted and he caught me, then took care of me until I woke. Desert heat and exhaustion, apparently. Anyway, we watched the battle together and then… This morning I-- I kissed him goodbye,” she confessed, already surprised at the story tumbling from her mouth. “I’ve never done anything so bold before! And now I don’t know that I’ll ever see him again! I feel… weird, and confused.”

He looked at her curiously with a small smile in the corner of his mouth, on the side where the scar cut his lip. She found herself eyeing the scar and thinking of Eranan’s scars for long seconds before she realized it was the first smile she’d seen on Cullen in a long time.

“I don’t know what to do, what to think…” she continued. “For all I know I’ll never see him again. I don’t even know if he feels the same!”

Cullen’s smile faded suddenly as his brow furrowed. She let the silence sit between them for a while, biding her time and waiting for him to speak again. A heaviness seemed to emanate from him, his mind and heart consumed by something sad and hopeless. At last he heaved a long sigh and she knew he would finally open up.

“It’s never easy, to feel that way about someone,” he said slowly, looking glumly ahead. “Someone you cannot be close to, for whatever reasons…”

“You mean Ellana?” she asked quietly with a sneaky smile.

He looked at her immediately in surprise, then started to glance around before controlling himself. “Is it that obvious?” he half-whispered.

“To me, yes,” she admitted.

“Is it obvious to others?”

“I don’t think so.”

They rounded a bend and saw the first Inquisition banners lining the road, signaling that they approached Skyhold at last. His personal side dismissed, the Commander said a quick goodbye and trotted to the front where the other officers prepared for arrival.

While the procession stirred at their arrival she realized that while the return trip was effectively a reversal of the journey to the Western Approach, she felt significantly changed from when she last crossed the same stones beneath her. In that little time her hopes and fears had transformed.

The line progressed around a steep mountain wall and then she beheld the sight of Skyhold piercing the sky atop a mountain of its own. Maeva rode across the drawbridge and through the yawning gate with a large grin on her face, happy to be home.

She was delighted to see Varric coming down the stairs to greet her. “Welcome back, little Maeva! How was your adventure?” he asked as she dismounted.

She snared him in a tight hug, overjoyed to see her old friend again. “It was an adventure indeed! I’ll tell you all about it, but first, has the Arcanist arrived? Can we see about the ring?”

Varric nodded. “Yes, Dagna got here yesterday, but she will have to attend some... official tasks before we can see her about your ring.” He squeezed her shoulder sympathetically. "I promise we'll get you into her schedule as soon as possible." Maeva shrugged and smiled, masking her disappointment.

The castle's main hall rose behind him, darkened in the encroaching twilight, and beyond it the tallest tower rose with flickering lights. Maeva peered up it and saw that a silhouette stood on the highest balcony, framed in torchlight. It was Ellana. Not in any official presence-- too far away for that-- but Maeva could see she was watchful of the goings-on below. Despite the distance she sensed the Inquisitor was tense and upset.

Varric saw where she was looking. “I don’t suppose you saw Solas on the way up from Orlais, did you?”

She regarded him curiously. “No, why?”

He sighed heavily. “He’s been missing for two days.”

Chapter Text

Maeva hefted her backpack and scurried up the steps toward the armory while she pondered on the missing elven mage. After some minutes she decided this news upset her only slightly less than that of the ring’s repair being delayed. She shooed the thoughts aside as she entered the upper courtyard and stopped in amazement.

What had been a mess of weeds, cracked cobblestones, and muddy puddles was now a fenced sparring arena, complete with makeshift seating for onlookers. Now that she looked around at the rest of Skyhold’s towers and ramparts, lots of its structure seemed cleaner and stronger than how they’d found it. Beyond it, the armory windows glowed as she approached the tall building.

Inside, the familiar smell of heat and forges was damped by the fact that the place was rather crowded. On a disconcerted notion she went up the stairs two at a time, her backpack suddenly very heavy. To her dismay the little balcony corner she’d slept in before was now home to two bedrolls, one already occupied by a snoozing soot-faced worker.

Well, I suppose this figures, what with how fast the Inquisition is growing… But where will I sleep?

She stared at the space a while longer, mind racing through other potential locations, but she could think of none save asking if she could camp in a courtyard.

Night was falling fast as she made her way to the Great Hall. She found Varric at his usual station by the hearth, scribbling in a ledger with a wry smile on his face.

“Ah, there you are,” he said, then noticed her backpack and bundle of pelts. “Why are you still carrying all that?”

She propped her items against the table leg and shrugged. “My old bed spot was taken.”

“You don’t have a place to sleep tonight?”

“I’m well accustomed to sleeping outside,” she replied simply.

Outside? We’re surrounded by snowy mountains!” He shook his head and gestured her closer. “Have you seen the size of this place? I’ll talk to Josephine, and I’m sure she can find you a free bed somewhere. C’mon, they’re serving a late dinner downstairs.”

Varric guided her to a stairwell in a short passage off the main hall. A stone brick tunnel burrowed underground to bright candlelights flickering at the bottom.

“So, what’s this about Solas disappearing?” she asked.

“After we returned from Adamant, Chuckles asked for help regarding a friend of his in the Exalted Plains. I didn’t even know he had any friends!” he laughed, then thought better and cleared his throat. “So Inqy, Solas, Cole and Blackwall went to the rescue. When they got back later that day, Solas wasn’t with them. Inqy went straight to the tower and hasn’t been down since, other than for some meetings in the War Room.”

They emerged downstairs into a large dining hall lined with columns and an arched stone ceiling. Kitchen smells emanated from a doorway across the room beyond a long table and chairs, and Maeva felt a grumble in her stomach.

“I asked Cole what had happened out there,” continued Varric. “He says they were too late but Solas got to say goodbye.”

Maeva winced. “Who was the friend?”

“A spirit of Wisdom that he’d known and cared for during his travels in the Fade.” Varric’s tone implied he could no more explain those words than understand them.

“Poor Solas…” she murmured. Solas was friends with a spirit! A spirit of a feeling, of an essence as pure as wisdom itself-- how fascinating! Can all mages can befriend spirits?

Varric sat down at the table with a stein of ale while she took food from a table offering an assortment of dishes. Thrilled by the various edible delights, Maeva happily filled her bowl with at least one bite of everything.

Joining him at the table, she asked, “why is Ellana taking it so hard?”

“Ah, you know how he’s always in her retinue whenever they go adventuring. She says it’s because his knowledge and intuition make him indispensable, but…” A twinkle in his eye suggested he knew of a deeper connection between the two elven mages, but he forsook continuation with a sigh to other thoughts. “But I suspect she’s also shook up about Adamant still.”

Adamant. I have some memories of Adamant...

“I heard a lot of strange things happened there,” she said casually. “Did you… see anything interesting while in the Fade?”

He shrugged, happy that she took the subject change. "You know that dwarves don’t really understand magic, but we sure do see some crazy shit! Because that part of the Fade was ruled by a Fear demon, we were each assaulted by illusions of our worst ideas. I’ve been to the Fade before, of course-- while fighting for Hawke in Kirkwall. I know what kinds of thought to avoid. Still, it wasn’t easy...”

She smiled at him, mouth full of food. “I’ve always been impressed at how you deal with everything,” she admitted around chews. “Even in Kirkwall during the Qunari attack, you kept your mind and got us to safety while everything burned down around us.”

He chuckled but remained looking serious. “That was a hard time for all of us.”

Silence fell between them as they remembered other times of fire and terror. The food was simple but delicious, and Maeva enjoyed a few minutes of putting a warm dinner in her belly. Varric enjoyed his ale while idly listening to conversations of other diners.

After a long drink of water she asked him, “what was the strangest thing you ever saw in the Fade?”

“This, uh, last time around, we came across the Divine Justinia. She helped us.”

Maeva’s memory jogged her with a vision of the elderly Chantry leader guiding them through a twisted green hell.

So I did see what they’ve seen! I’ve suspected for some time that my dreams are not my own, but… Whose journey am I witnessing?

The thrill of the mystery excited her more than worry, rousing an intense desire to keep the knowledge a secret. It seemed harmless, after all, but in order to learn more she had to phrase her future questions carefully.

“How would anyone see her spirit there in the Western Approach, if the Divine was killed in the Temple of the Sacred Ashes by Haven?”

“I’d wondered about that too, but I understand that the Fade doesn’t follow the same laws of physics as the real world. Just like how a dream’s setting can take place anywhere, in the same sense spirits can manifest everywhere, in anyone’s head, including the strange world made by the demon in the Fade.” Varric shifted in his chair, bothered by his thoughts. Then he stood and brushed at his tunic before turning to Maeva with his automatic warm smile. “I should see to some things before sleep, including a bed for you. I’ll find you later.” And with that the dwarf left.

After finishing her dinner, Maeva went back upstairs and decided to visit the rotunda, thinking of absent Solas. The frescoes he’d painted on the curved walls displayed the Inquisition’s victories and decisions made along the way. Without his presence the room felt exceptionally large and hollow.

His recent tragedy stirred feelings deep inside her. How he’d saved her that fateful day in the Hinterlands, their secret experience when the wolf mother died, his gift of a leather strap used to repair Ellana’s pouch. The allure of his confidence and smooth voice, and how he differed from all others in the Inquisition, the slate blue eyes... Maeva felt no small amount of attraction for him, but after her connection with Eranan all interest in Solas paled by comparison.

While she stood admiring the paintings, the sound of voices drifted down from the top floor-- the unmistakable voices of Leliana and the Inquisitor. Intrigued, Maeva padded quickly up the rounded stairs and moved along the balcony wall until she glimpsed the two women conversing on the top level across the void of the rotunda chamber.

“I’m not sure I understand what that means,” the Nightingale said helplessly. “Did she say anything else? Anything at all? Please, if you remember…”

“I’m sorry, Leliana, that was it,” said Ellana. There was sympathy in her voice but not regret. It was a weary tone and Maeva wondered if she’d already spent all her regrets.

Wood creaked as Leliana stepped toward a small Chantry alcove illuminated by candles. “There are no answers in the Fade. Only illusions-- a warped mirror.” The statuette of Andraste stared back at Leliana in stoney stillness. “Justinia has never failed me. I was her Left Hand. Now she’s dead. I failed her.”

Silence hung for a few minutes until Ellana turned toward the stairs, leaving the spymaster to grieve. The Inquisitor’s footsteps stopped when Leliana added, “about Solas, my sources have not seen him yet, but we continue to search.” There was no reply, only more footsteps.

Maeva stepped carefully into the shadows around a deep bookcase until the Inquisitor passed her by and left through a door to the Great Hall. She patiently waited a few long minutes before heading to the other door exiting the rotunda. A tingling sensation on her shoulders bade her look back. Leliana had spotted her from above, eyes twinkling from her stance at the balcony rail where she observed in silence.

Does she know I was here this whole time?

With a hesitant but polite nod Maeva left, hoping she wouldn’t get into trouble for eavesdropping.


__________


The Pride demon roared as the final summoning pillar was destroyed. At the center of the circle the demon was weakened to the edge of death. Solas approached it fearlessly. As they made eye contact the demon’s thorned scales evaporated, followed by it’s claws, fangs, and burning red eyes. In its place sat a phantom with elven-pointed ears and eyes of glowing green that recognized Solas.

Lethallin, ir abelas, said Solas, kneeling before the spirit.

Don’t be sorry, you helped me, it replied in elvish. Now you must endure. Guide me into death.

The sadness on Solas’s face was profound, but he nodded and gently caressed it with a spell. The fading spirit was absorbed into air, then it was gone.

I’m sorry, she offered as he stood.

Don’t be. We gave it a moment’s peace before the end. That’s more than it might have had.

He glared at the foolish mages that had summoned the creature. She nodded permission, and with a blast of his fiery vengeance they dropped dead.

Then he looked at her, eyes heavy with grief. Damn them all. I need some time alone. Then he was gone as well.

His absence stung her like icy wind, accumulated and stronger for every day that he did not return. She knew he was in mourning, and she knew that solitude was his custom, but that did not ease the storm of abandonment that whipped at her heart.

Maeva knew it was at dream, and she recognized that she had some extent of control over the shapes formed by thoughts. She marveled at this but the scene changed before she could grasp the reins.

The next place the dream took her was no happier: the Fade graveyard at Adamant. Failed Jolan, said the nearest tombstone, the writing brighter and more insistent than before. Her slender fingers caressed the engraved name.

Jolan, ma lath, I will not fail you. I mustn’t!

His visage apparated before her: a young elven man, barely out of childhood but already with wisdom in his eyes. His short crop of hair was like golden sunlight, contrasted by the backdrop of shadowy green trees behind him. The expression on his face was from her saddest memory, the day she’d left him.

Maeva knew the sensation well, and thoughts of her mother bubbled into her mind.

The vision of Jolan vanished, replaced by the abstract of shattered metal fragments. A pang of sadness stabbed her heart as all other thoughts fell away. The scene around her tumbled into fire framing the imploring face of Anthena. She opened her mouth to shout.

Suddenly she was awake, sitting up in the soft Fereldan sheets and seeing the familiar fireplace of the tower room.

Is this right, or am I still dreaming?

She felt awake and yet tugged at by that sleepbound uncertainty that she wasn’t. Sensations were everything in that moment, from miniscule hints that her mind was not her own, to the heavy vertigo feeling of being in two places at once.

Right here, right now, she realized through the dizziness, I have one foot in each world.

Maeva’s eyes snapped open, immediately swayed by confusion. Above her was not a tower ceiling nor smoky armory but a flat ceiling of stone bricks, nearly lost in the darkness. Then she remembered:

Guest room. Skyhold. Night.

With a deep breath and slow exhale she calmed her pounding heart.

Just another dream. No, not just a dream. It is reality and memories and presence of thoughts, just not all my own.

She rose from the bed and looked around. Indirect moonlight glowed through a latticed window on the wall next to a door. Mechanically, she rose and stepped outside while tugging her bear pelt tighter around her shoulders.

Here she stood on a cold balcony rampart viewing an overgrown garden courtyard that was newly accessed. The night was cold but still and she breathed in the icy air slowly. High clouds smeared the sky but for patches; she watched one slide over the moon, dimming the light around her considerably.

She looked around at the starry night sky until the high tower can into view, nearly straight overhead. The outline of its balcony was lit by a flickering torch on the wall. Then there was movement, and Maeva realized part of the shadows was Ellana, now returning indoors.

They must have been her dreams, I’m certain of that now. I wonder if they trouble her as much as I...

Short minutes later found her ascending the tower staircase to the Inquisitor’s room while worrying that this was a bad idea. The light from the door to her destination gave her pause.

Last chance to leave.

But unease from the nightmare shook her again, and she resolved herself to at least check on the Inquisitor’s well-being. With a deep breath, she rapped on the door.

“Your Worship-- Ellana? It’s Maeva…”

Long moments of silence were followed by footsteps on the inner stairs, then the door opened halfway and Maeva squinted at the bright silhouette of the Inquisitor.

“Maeva, are you alright?” asked Ellana.

“Uh... I had a nightmare so I stepped outside, and I saw the tower lights moving and that you were awake too, so I thought....” Maeva trailed off, unsure if Ellana was annoyed to see her. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have bothered you--”

“Please, come in,” said the Inquisitor, opening the door wider. “Indeed, I cannot return to sleep quite yet either.”

Maeva followed her to a nest of pillows and furs on the floor upstairs. She tried not to look at the fireplace and ceiling too long now that she recognized them definitively. She mimicked the woman by pulling a blanket over her legs while the warmth of the fire reached her.

“Do you want to tell me about your nightmare?” Ellana asked. “It’s said that sharing a dream can release its burden.”

Oh, we’ve shared some dreams alright...

Maeva hid a laugh under a sheepish smile. She did not want to reveal the dream’s contents lest it lead to suspicion when she barely had any understanding to begin with, but she did want to apply the same question to Ellana. Just like with Varric, she understood that her spoken words must be carefully chosen.

“That’s alright, I can’t really-- it’s hard to describe. But, at least I’m awake now.”

Ellana gave a warm smile, satisfied with her answer, as dumb as it was. Maeva waited patiently for a few moments while they both watched the fireplace crackle and pop.

“Were you awoken by a nightmare as well?” asked Maeva.

Ellana stared at the fire a while long before answering slowly. Her voice spoke from a more distant, lonely place than Maeva ever imagined the Inquisitor had known.

“Every night I’m back in the Raw Fade at Adamant, in the Nightmare’s lair. It was different than anything I’ve ever seen. The whole world there is dead. The Fear demon even grew a graveyard there filled with the tombstones of our loved ones. We knew to move along, and that the demon was playing on the culmination of fears in each of us. But it’s hard to get past knowing that some of it is true. For it showed me all the souls I couldn’t save.”

All of them? wondered Maeva. And my mother?

“We moved on but the place got stranger. Some elements were completely new. I saw faces I didn’t recognize, a Dalish woman in fire, some metal shards, a broken mirror... The face in the mirror wasn’t mine either.”

I recognized them.

“Normally I know my dreams,” Ellana continued, still under the spell of her traumatic memory. “This is the first time I can’t recognize them. It’s like I’m losing my mind, and now I find myself questioning everything I think I know. Even that realization almost feels like the Fear still poisons me, haunts me.”

She was visibly upset now, drawing her knees up and tears welling in her eyes. “On top of that,” she added with a dry laugh. “I don’t think Solas is coming back!”

Any bitterness Maeva felt halted upon seeing Ellana so sad and vulnerable. The change choked inside her mind, anger stifled forcefully by the present mood. After long moments Maeva scooted a little closer to the woman and summoned a sympathetic voice. “I am sad for your pain while he is gone,” she said, looking at Ellana with wide-open eyes. “I believe he will return soon.”

It was a lie, but Maeva sold it well and felt better for it. The woman acknowledged the kindness with a fake smile, then resolved herself with a new, deep breath and pulled her mind together.

“He asked for my help,” Ellana started, proud of those words, “on the morning after we returned from Adamant. I’ve never seen him so agitated-- he’d heard a cry for help in his sleep, a friend in need. So of course I helped, right away! But when we found his friend in the Exalted Plains it was too late.”

Too late.

“Too late?” Maeva prompted when Ellana said nothing more.

“The summoning stones were destroyed but the spirit’s energy was already dying. He spoke to it, to her… I could tell that he cared a great deal for this... spirit of Wisdom.”

Maeva reached over carefully to touch Ellana’s hand, like her mother used to. “I believe he cares a great deal for you too.”

Ellana regarded her, a slight blush on her cheeks. ““It took him weeks to get used to me being the primary healer in combat,” she said giddily. “Finally, he trusted me. And after arriving at Skyhold we spent more and more time together, not just while on missions. We’d work on magic skills and research glyphs, share stories from Fade… While we practised runes one night at camp I really felt like we were peers. He sometimes comes off as an arrogant hedge maze, but if you show him something better than his skills he’s quite fascinated and kind.”

It struck Maeva as odd just then that the Inquisitor confided so much in a lowly peasant such as herself. She then remembered the woman’s previous expression of appreciation that Maeva was of no station and therefore required no formality in their exchanges. Given the newly discovered dual dreams, it seemed the relationship could be highly beneficial if nurtured properly. So, she decided to tell Ellana something personal.

While the Inquisitor gazed at the fire with a gentle smile, worries momentarily subsided, Maeva’s thoughts immediately turned to her highest priority. “I was curious about the Arcanist that arrived,” she started once a few minutes had elapsed.

Ellana tilted her head and smiled. “Do you know Dagna?”

“Oh no, I haven’t met her, but I was hoping she could help me. I have this ring-- well, it’s broken now, but... You see, my mother died and--” she realized that speaking these details was not getting any easier as time passed.

As if it turn for sympathy, Ellana waited patiently while Maeva took some breaths and found her speech again. “She left me a dwarven crystal memory ring but it is broken. Varric says Dagna knows how to fix it.”

Ellana smiled sincerely. “I’ll see what I can do,” she promised.

As trifle as the words seemed, Maeva knew this was a woman who could move Thedas with a command, and she felt validation and relief sweep over her like warm fleece. She didn’t mean to fall asleep on the Inquisitor’s soft cushions half an hour later.

Chapter Text

Maeva felt embarrassed and ashamed as she handed the ring pieces to Josephine.

Embarrassed, because she’d just been summoned to the front of the line of Orlesian and Fereldan nobles. They and other petitioners sought counsel with the golden diplomat and were visibly unhappy that a knife-ear whelp got attention first. The fact that the Inquisitor was herself a knife-ear kept them in check.

Ashamed, because Arcanist Dagna had arrived at Skyhold nary two days ago and was already awash in requisitions for enchanted weapons and armor for the Inquisitor’s elite retinue-- the people that went with Ellana into dangerous regions to fight the worldly threat itself! But now Dagna’s latest and highest priority was the repair of Maeva’s ring.

As soon as Varric had greeted her that morning it was clear that he was waiting for her to come out so that he could pass on the Inquisitor’s request. Maeva tried to not add the shame of falling asleep in the tower room to her self loathing.

The little metal pieces looked absurdly trivial at the center of the ambassador’s crowded bureau. The whole room was silent while Josephine looked at them quizzically, then without further hesitation she scooped them into a square of parchment and folded it expertly.

“There, it is safe,” she said to Maeva, with no lack of politeness in her voice. “This will be delivered to Arcanist Dagna immediately. You will be contacted when it is repaired.”

Josephine jotted a note with one hand while summoning an assistant with the other. Maeva was dismissed. Eager to escape, she left the room quickly with her head down to avoid blatant glares.

What makes her problems so damn special? she felt them say.

Ellana had told other people about little Maeva’s problems. And look at the mess it had caused! Josephine was tasked with pausing the whole diplomatic entity of the Inquisition just to collect these silly little metal pieces. As if Josephine were doing a favor for the Inquisitor who was doing a favor for Maeva-- in totality it felt so absurd!

Finally alone, Maeva slipped through another doorway and turned right down a tunnel of stairs. She didn’t know where she was headed but wherever it was, it was away from other people! And for the fifth time that morning she regretted having gotten the Inquisitor unwittingly involved in a quest that honestly didn’t matter when compared to the apocalypse.

Yes-- what is the big deal? she wondered, the real effect of the question finally dawning on her.

She absently reached a hand into the inner pocket of the leather jerkin, the place where she’d pulled the ring fragments from. The little parchment note teased her fingertips.

I lived simply, just like mamae raised me. Nothing more important than the parts that keep you alive, she’d say.

Sure, there had been the terror of the Qunari infiltration of Kirkwall. And before that no less than the archdemon in Denerim, and the Blight across Ferelden. A measured infiltration by a foreign force, in the midst of a civil war between the mage and templar orders. As if that’s anything new!

And so they’d fled. Maeva recalled their escape from the burning city. They clutched each other and a bag each of food and meager belongings. The little boat they stood on was clustered with other refugees, pushing out through Slaver’s Bay to the night-dark waters of the Waking Sea. In the silhouette of a city aflame, Maeva caught sight one last time of Varric in the next boat behind them.

The memories of her years in Kirkwall flooded her mind for days during the nauseating sea voyage. After a blur of warehouses, docks, and ship holds, she and Anthena were on a final boat ride that would deliver them to Southern Thedas.

It took weeks to travel inland from the coast via wagon rides and walking. Mother seemed to have a destination in mind though she did not talk about it. At last they arrived in the lush Hinterlands valleys.

Here we will stay and live peacefully, Anthena said. And so they did.

The next years were calm yet thrilling. Maeva hunted in the true wilderness for the first time and killed her first animal larger than a Darktown nug. It was a ram, and she remembered how different and tougher its skin was to peel and work into leather. Anthena found work in the kitchen of a tavern frequented by local farmers, so much nicer than the rabble in Kirkwall.

Life had been so normal then. And now mamae was dead by senseless violence they were innocent to.

Too much. Not now, not yet.

It hurt too much to think back on the day mother died. The memories of fear and fire were too much, so she stopped. But now… Now it was finally going to happen!

Deep in thought Maeva emerged into sunlight by the stables and climbed the stairs to a high rampart where rows of newly dried and stiffened pelts awaited her harvesting. Few people came this far out on the castle walls other than the guard routine. Even Harritt’s usual crew of tanners used a different space. This little corner was all her own, for now.

She collected several pelts that were destined to become paulders and bracers for the warriors in the group. She knew this only because of Harritt’s specific instructions that they be treated with spindleweed ointment to offend from magical attributes. Though she had little experience in alchemy, Maeva was happy to have a task.

Once the leathers were stacked and fastened into a bundle over her back, she followed the ramparts toward the armory. From her pocket the ring’s accompanying parchment message tugged at her mind. She avoided it a bit longer while delivering the skins to the armory. But finally, standing empty-handed purposeless in the sunlit sparring courtyard, there were no excuses left.

Aiming for a shady spot between the stairs to the Great Hall and the courtyard divider wall, Maeva dug the tiny roll of parchment from her jerkin. She sat down on the flat stone edge and unrolled the message with weary hands.

My sweet Maeva, It is time you learn the truth
This ring is made of dwarven memory crystal
I bought it at great cost in Denerim after you were born
Wear it and you will hear my voice, and the story of your birth
I fear you may one day be in great danger
If you are reading this, that I can no longer protect you
You must stay safe, I know you can do it
I love you always

Maeva’s hands trembled. Her eyes read over the message again, then three more times, before finally closing it with a heavy sigh. She tucked it away and leaned back, supported by the side of the stone stairs. Her mind idled while she let her mother’s words settle.

The last time she’d read it was soon after Anthena had died. Memories of that day flooded back to Maeva’s heart. This time she dismissed the emotional reaction readily and focused on the details. While the shock of the experience her mother’s death was certainly still sore, the ring’s imminent repair allowed for further analysis of the event.

The smoke, the fires, burnt wood crashing heavily to the stone floors in the middle of an otherwise peaceful Hinterlands valley.

Anthena’s face, the tears, the blood, the words!

Tenth brick from our cornerstone. Not the third brick. How long had mamae been planning that?

Pulses of magic spread from Anthena’s hand into her own, and time held still as wave after wave of power reverberated through their hands into Maeva. Nothing else existed to her; she watched and felt her mother’s spirit pass through her and fade out as it expanded then evaporated.

It is time you learn the truth-- Maeva repeated in her mind, what truth?

The story of your birth-- I already know my birth! Don’t I?

You cannot protect me-- from what? Stay safe from what?

And what’s this about the ring being made at a great cost? I am already guilty of its breaking, and now there’s a mysterious price on it too?!

The questions spun around her mind for long minutes while she idly watched the happenings of Skyhold from her perch. She remembered other notes her mother had written her over the years. There were usually lists for deliveries, harvesting, or shopping. The occasional message with instructions or alerts of brief absence. This one though was far different. It didn’t sound like something she’d normally write to her daughter.

I need more information. I must have more information.

Despite her frustration, Maeva knew that answers were coming, even if they might be as confusing as the present ones. All she could do for now, again, was wait.

Absently huffing aloud, Maeva pushed herself up from the edgewall and started toward the tavern to find any distraction. It was then that Solas returned.

The tall elf walked through the portcullis as if he’d been on no mission more important than a daytime stroll, but she could tell from the slope of his shoulders that sadness weighed upon him still.

Ellana appeared at the bottom of the steps. How long had she been there? Maeva moved forward to crouch by the edgewall to catch their words.

“Inquisitor,” said Solas, stopping at arm’s length from Ellana.

Thank you, Solas-- for coming back,” said Ellana. Her tone implied that she was both concerned and offended that he had left her. The rest of her body language told of celebrated empathy and relief.

“You were a true friend. You did everything you could to help. I could hardly abandon you now.”

“How are you?” she asked, smiling a little.

“It hurts. It always does, but I will survive,” said Solas. His voice lacked its usual conviction.

Ellana edged closer to him. “The next time you have to mourn, you don’t need to be alone.”

Maeva thought it somewhat incredulous that the Inquisitor would work in a flirt at a time like this, but Solas’s demeanor relax significantly. “It’s been so long since... I could trust someone.”

“I know,” said Ellana with a sympathetic smile.

The warmth between them grew as he tilted his face toward hers and returned the smile. “I’ll work on it. And thank you.”

Solas cleared his throat and straightened his back, the conversation over. The two of them unwittingly adopted the same posture, hands clasped loosely behind their backs, and they separated in different directions.

At a notion Maeva glanced at the opposite bridge that ran between the Rotunda and the Commander’s office. Cullen had watched the entire exchange.

Chapter Text

With no work assignment to focus her mind away from the agony of waiting for the ring to be repaired, the afternoon found Maeva wandering Skyhold. As more and more of the fortress was excavated and repaired there were new doors and hallways in lots of unexpected places. Off the Great Hall there was now access to the garden area below her temporary room, and so she went there.

The yard was wide and lined on three sides by covered walkways connecting in turn to the ramparts or the castle proper. The overgrown brush was cut back to reveal flat ground and patches of grass between worn cobblestone paths. An ancient well, a brick pavilion, and stone-ringed planters framed the center of the garden. Plantlife was not flush but not barren either. As little as it grew, Maeva was happy to see so much green close-up in the mountain fortress. It was clear that the previous tenants of Skyhold had built the place with care.

The populace of Skyhold had already discovered the little oasis. Nobles and courtiers from Orlais and Ferelden populated the walkways and shaded alcoves as if trying to claim little kingdoms of their own. Chantry sisters grouped around a freshly cleaned obelisk, one of a few stone shapes that dotted the garden. Servants and other workers tended the plants, assembled piles of compost, or aerated the soil where possible.

Across the yard Maeva spied a familiar glint of armor. Commander Cullen sat beneath the pavilion with Dorian playing a game of chess. She approached slowly, pretending not to notice. Dorian suffered defeat, uttered a sassy quip then left. Seizing the moment, she headed for Cullen so that he saw her.

“Oh, hello there. I was thinking I should return to my duties...” She looked at the chessboard and pieces with unabashed interest. “Unless you would care for a game?”

Maeva grinned. “Prepare the board,” she commanded, and happily plopped into the vacant seat.

“Do you know how to play?” he asked quizzically.

“Of course I do!”

Truthfully she’d only played a handful of times, in taverns in Kirkwall and the Hinterlands. But she remembered the names of the pieces and their rules, and therefore felt confident enough to lose.

He arched a brow to see if she’d offer more, but when she didn’t he began resetting the board, giving her the white pieces.

“As a child, I played this with my sister,” he said. “She would get this stuck-up grin whenever she won-- which was all the time.

Maeva smiled at this. Cullen seemed much more at ease than when she’d spied him earlier that day. “Mia, right?”

Cullen smirked and shot her a look. “Right. I see that you’re just as sharp as her.”

“Well, you did tell me about her before. Or don’t you remember?”

For some reason Maeva felt her confidence soar when she was around him. Like he was already discerned in full and she could see right through him, in a good way.

“I remember. But what you don’t know is that I have two sisters, and two brothers. Therefore how would you have known who I was talking about?”

“Because you only ever talk about Mia.” It was actually a guess.

He nodded admission. “Again, you do remind me of her.”

The board was set. Cullen nodded for her to take the first move. Maeva knew this was trap of sorts; a drastic opening move could prove overconfidence or else obvious inexperience.

She moved forward a knight-side pawn by two squares. Cullen replied by moving a middle-board pawn two squares forward.

“Have you never won at chess?” she asked.

“I just beat Dorian! He’s not the gentlest of losers.”

“I mean, have you beat Mia at chess.”

He chuckled while looking over the board. “One winter, my brother and I practiced together for weeks. Oh, the look on her face the day I finally won…” He scooted forward another pawn near its companion then leaned back with sigh. “You know, between serving with the Templars and the Inquisition, I haven’t seen them in years. I wonder if she still plays.”

The played in silence a while as the major pieces began to take position. He brought a knight into the field while she worked on getting her rook and bishop into good positions.

In a way, the maneuvering of designated roles into play across a battlefield felt familiar. But her handicapped games with Varric and other contenders at the Hanged Man did not match this particular game. The feeling that arose while watching the current battle play out seemed an analogy of certain events that affected herself, Cullen, and the Inquisition as a whole.

It was easy to designate Ellana as a queen, as it was the most powerful piece in the game. Though which queen-- black or white-- was not clear. The armored rook; Cullen? And Solas, a fade-stepping bishop. Or perhaps one of them was a knight?

But who was she, Maeva, in all of this? A pawn, she decided.

A few minutes later she was amused to see that Cullen had protected his queen’s access points with a combination of rook and knight. It made her think of the budding romance between Solas and Ellana.

“So, how are you?” she asked in a prodding tone.

He raised an eyebrow while capturing a pawn that she hadn’t backed up with an ally, but did not say anything.

“Solas has returned,” she added, and scooted a tardy ally up to threaten him anew.

He did his best to conceal any reaction. “It is good that he’s back. The Inquisition benefits greatly from his expertise.” The words reeked of rehearsal.

“That’s not what I asked.”

He smirked. “True. However I believe you know that I have nothing else to say about it.”

She did know. The recognition of the helpless emotion resurfaced her own plight and subsequent resignation.

Will I ever see Eranan again? I knew him for less than a full day. It was magical and exhilarating, and yet… Was that short span of time worth holding onto so tightly? The thought of never seeing him again makes me sad. I am sad, and I will continue to be sad from this. Cullen is very sad. Will I appear as sad as Cullen?

“Are you sad, or… Do you feel you get by okay?” She felt strange asking such a cluttered question.

Cullen didn’t blink an eye, keeping his ponderings on the chess board. Having so many siblings may have dulled the sensitivity of reaction to such a question, whereas it was a novel expression to Maeva.

He parted his lips to speak but instead gave a long sigh. “Love, when unrequited or distant, is not easy on the soul. It is not the first time I’ve felt it. While it does not get easier to bear, I am familiar with the sensation, and I believe it will pass.”

The last words sounds less confident than the first. Maeva said nothing. She nodded absently, pushing forward another counteraction to his chess move. What he said did not resolve her feelings for Eranan at all.

Her expression must have soured, for Cullen became more animated upon her reaction.

“I’ve heard of your acquaintance with a certain young man, while in the Western Approach. I dare imagine that I understand what you are feeling. It might seem impossible to see them again. For all we know, it’s possible they could return one day, but ‘maybe’ is hardly a comforting thought.”

Wow, spot on, Cullen! She raised a dubious eyebrow at his intuition and how transparent she must be. Again she had nothing to say. He seemed to understand her reluctance and changed the subject.

“Though waiting is hard, I imagine that getting answers can be just as daunting.”

She looked up at him, confused. “Answers about Eranan?”

He paused. “About the ring.” Oh.

For the umpteenth time that day she repeated her mantra, this time aloud. “Obsessing over it won’t help.” With that, her queen took his forward rook.

His smirk returned. It wasn’t belittling or even teasing, it was just Cullen. “That’s how I feel about a lot of things these days.”

The conversation dwindled as the game transitioned into defensive sparring between three major pieces and the edges of the board.

“You know, I’ve won at chess before,” she said defiantly.

“Oh?”

“Varric let me win.”

They both grinned while she toppled her king piece with the tip of her finger, letting Cullen win.

 

 

__________

 

 

The last bits of daylight touched the sky and snowy mountaintops.

“It means I have not forgotten the kiss,” said Solas, standing backlit on the tower balcony.

Ellana smiled and approached him, hands behind her back so that she didn’t fidget with them. “Good,” she said.

The little word seemed sufficient, for warmth and attraction filled her view as he gazed at her.

Then it slipped, again, and Solas turned away, again.

“Don’t go,” she said, catching his elbow.

He stopped but did not turn around, letting her hand stay on his arm.

“Solas, I don’t believe I am wrong when I say that we share a strong attraction. I care for you, deeply. I think you know this, and I sense that you feel it as well.”

He looked at her with an unreadable expression. He said nothing, but he was still here. She took a hesitant step forward, hoping to not scare him off.

Her courage buckled as she forced herself to speak the next words, her voice a trembling whisper. “If you do not want me-- please tell me.

He spun around surprised and immediately softened. “Ma’lath, but I do want you,” he said gently. His blue-gray eyes seemed sad yet his face remained stoic. He sighed, “but with the world in this state… To follow our primal desires seems… selfish.”

She shook her head at the rejection and tightened her lips, holding back tears. Breathe, don’t crumble. He admitted he wants you, now stay strong.

With a deep breath she approached him, clasping his hands in her own. “No. You see it is exactly for that reason, because of the evils we fight, that we must cultivate the good in life.” Let me love you, she willed in her mind.

Solas regarded her for long moments, calculating her logic, then stepped closer and cupped her jaw in both hands.

“I do so admire your bright mind, vhenan,” he said with a small smile. His thumb traced over her chin stopped before her lips. “It would be kinder in the long run to avoid intimacy, but…” Without another word he pressed his mouth against hers.

Ellana melted into the kiss, letting him steal her breath. His warm arms encircled her slender frame. She slid a hand up his firm chest and around his neck, as if to keep him from pulling away. His lips explored hers, massaging, caressing. She opened hers and he took the invitation, sliding his tongue inside. A muffled moan escaped her as their tongues danced. She felt her legs shaking and clung to his shoulders. He responded by pulling her tight against him, one hand under her shoulders and the other at her hip.

Finally their mouths parted, still holding each other tight and short of breath.

His loving gaze raked over her face. “Ar lath ma, vhenan.

Ar lath ma,” she echoed, brushing the tip of her nose against his.

Solas took her by the hand, tilted high like a noble lady’s, and guided her indoors. Without taking his eyes off her they stepped to the middle of the room. She felt elated, soaring with each step. He stopped and glided his hands up her neck then reached back, fondling her hair and pulling free the metal pins that held it. Golden braids dropped and unraveled around her hips. He ran his fingers through her tresses with a look of marvel upon his face.

“You are so beautiful,” he said softly.

While he caressed her hair she gripped his shoulders and leaned in to cover his neck in kisses, working her way up to his ear.

She caught his soft earlobe between her lips and flicked it with the tip of her tongue. It was a move she remembered being thoroughly rewarded for in past romantic encounters. Sure enough, a low growl emerged from Solas. It was a primal sound, animalistic, and it stoked her own internal fire.

They were still standing, swaying in the middle of her room. Ellana broke the kiss to guide him back toward the bed. Solas followed at first, eyes dark and hungry. Halfway to the bed he stopped, halting her with him, and pulled her against his chest. He led them to the nearby divan instead of the bed, and she repressed her disappointment.

They sat side by side, turned toward each other and still connected by hands and arms. He could not tear his gaze from her face and long golden hair. Without further hesitation he cupped her face again and kissed her fervently. This kiss was the strongest so far, and she imagined there was something boiling in his thoughts right then. She refused to use her mouth for words, so she abandoned her questioning and returned the kiss equally.

At the surrender on both their behalves she was overjoyed. Finally Solas was giving in to her flirtations and romantic invitations. Weeks of enlightening conversations, dramatic combat shared side by side as mages, and quests full of difficult decisions, so many emotions swirled constantly through her mind and heart… In the middle of it all, he— this elusive, mysterious and fascinating man— shone brighter and brighter like the day star. After all their shared adventures she pined for him harder every day but forced herself to stay at a distance and mirror his neutrality.

They embraced and kissed for long minutes. Slowly at first, taking their time to meet each other closer. But soon her carnal hunger pressed and she moved to straddle him over the divan. Fingers found the smooth skin just under the collar of his tunic at the back of his neck while she pulled him against her mouth. The kiss quickly escalated, the tonguing caresses becoming harsher, and hands soon followed the new pace. His smoothed up and down from shoulders to waist but shied away from her chest, and refused to hold her tightly. She couldn’t help but press her hips down, grinding her core against him, aching for more.

He chuckled at her enthusiasm but thankfully did not reject it. His hand lifted to her face to hold her jaw and she released his mouth and catch his thumb between her lips and suck on it gently. He sucked in a sharp breath at the sensation and his other hand squeezed her hip tighter.

When she opened her eyes next they were dilated with lust. His was almost at the same point but not quite. She knew better than to push him too fast, lest the elusive man flee. So she settled for kissing him more, caressing her hands up and down his torso, inhaling his scent, and hoping he would yield soon.

Her patience was rewarded not long after as she felt his manhood strain against the clothing between their legs. Reflexively she rubbed herself along the length of it and he hissed, tossing his head back. Oh, how she loved seeing him react from her touch.

When he raised his head next his eyes were much darker, and she relished his face right then, mouth open with wet lips and short breath. “Vhenan,” he started.

No. Ellana silenced him with her mouth and tongue. She knew he what he was about to do; withdraw and stop the romantic interaction. Not yet, please.

Solas responded to the new kiss, letting her smother him in it. But again her hunger overtook her actions and she grinded against him again. This time he pulled back and pressed his hands against her shoulders, preventing her approach.

Ellana! Please,” he said, catching his breath. “This is… Much to take in. And our union is young.”

Knowing she would not win this argument, Ellana relented, doing her best to stifle her frustration. They both breathed deeply for a while, reclaiming their senses. She stayed sitting overtop him but looked away and withdrew her hands from his body.

She wanted to avoid overreaction on both their parts, so she tried to stay neutral, if evasive. Just like him, she muttered in her mind.

He must have read her feelings to some degree, for he gently clasped her chin between his fingertips and drew her regard toward his again. He was back to being calm and collected again, despite the hardness she still felt beneath her flustered core. Solas always looked rather smug when he smiled in his natural state. While other times she found it sexy, at the moment she was slightly angry from it.

“Not yet,” he said softly. “Though we’ve known each other for some time we are new to sharing this level of intimacy.” His voice was sympathetic without being dismissive.

She wanted to pretend it didn’t bother her so much, that she wasn’t head over heels mad for him already. But as usual, there were no secrets to be kept from Solas, for he could read her like an open tome.

 

 

__________

 

 

Maeva awoke with a start. The sheets beneath her were moist from sweat and she found herself panting. The heavy breathing was not from fear but arousal. She understood its origin was from the scene witnessed through her dreams, but there was another layer to it. The feelings that had coursed through Ellana were similar— no, resonating, doubled even— in Maeva’s feelings for Eranan.

She took long breaths, lying in the dark and quiet of her room, to let the experience settle over her psyche. Though she was no stranger to odd dreams, there was an attraction to Ellana’s mind and sight that burned like a spark in the night. But she did not know what it meant, nor what to do with it.