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Rebel Heart

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Varric wasn’t sure when it happened, but one day he realised that Aevalle Lavellan had become his friend.

                He knew when he liked her—the first thing she’d said to him was to compliment Bianca. Even before she turned back to Solas and then simply never stopped looking at him. He knew he respected her when, at the wreckage that had been the Temple of Sacred Ashes, she had seen a lone Dalish bow sticking out of the mass of skeletons, had fallen to her knees, and even as Leliana’s forces arrived she sang with a voice low and sweet and wracked with pain.

                “I have led the songs for all my fallen clansmen since my father died,” she said at the end, still on her knees. “At every funeral.”

                He pitied her when she emerged from her shack at Haven to a crowd of people calling her the Herald of Andraste—there was panic in her eyes, and the way her fingers clutched at the scarf at her neck said but I don’t believe in the Maker, see, I’m Dalish. Even more when, as Haven fell apart around them and Varric was walking out the Chantry doors, he heard her ask Solas, “Will you come back when it’s safe, and sing the songs for me? It doesn’t—matter what songs, mine or yours or—”

                Solas had hushed her. “I will, Lethallan.”

                Then she’d bowed her head and said, softly, “I just wanted to go home,” and Varric remembered how young she was.

                He had felt awful leaving her there to face something worse than a demon. Had hated himself as she yelled for them to run—at twenty five, she was barely older than a child. Nothing like Merrill but the way she said his name was the same, and as they fled the mountain he heard it ringing in his ears.

                Varric knew he believed everything they said about her when she appeared out of thin air, frozen near to death and clinging to that sentimental Dalish scarf like it was a lifeline, some elven song on her lips. He remembered that she wasn’t just the Inquisitor when some Dalish hunters came to Skyhold to see what all the fuss was about, and she’d sung what was apparently an immensely popular and equally scandalous Dalish drinking song about dancing all night with the Dread Wolf and then returning safely to the clan in the morning.

                (It could be heard whistled all throughout Skyhold for weeks after, and Varric had resigned himself to the fact that he was never going to get it out of his head.)

                But the longer he thought about it, he couldn’t quite pinpoint when all the approval and the pity and respect had turned into introducing her to his closest friend, then to the other Bianca, inviting her to play wicked grace, worrying when she and Solas went off somewhere without telling anyone but still covering for her anyway because the girl needed a break, and finding the best spots where he could listen to her singing from her various haunts around Skyhold because he liked to hear her sounding happy for a change.

                Checking up on her after everything that had happened at the Winter Palace, and smiling when he saw her dancing with Solas on the balcony, laughing. Or lingering in the hall outside Solas’ study, where she strummed absently on a gitar she’d won in a bet and hummed along, usually while Solas painted. Once he peeked in, and Solas was taking the instrument from her hands, kissing her forehead to wake her up. “You can’t sleep on my couch every night, ma vhenan.”

                “My bed is so far away,” she’d complained, stretching. Looking up at Solas with an expression that Varric knew was trouble.

                Oh, he worried. Worried his way all through her unlikely friendship with Dorian and her rocky—whatever it was—with Vivienne, when Blackwall stood on the gallows and proclaimed himself a murderer, when Sera got her tipsy and then convinced her to prank people, with Cole, with Bull, with Josephine and Cassandra—

                All the way through the Temple of Mythal, he worried. She sang a song as she walked the steps to open the way forward, something low and holy that she said she could hear—couldn’t he? No, he couldn’t, neither could Morrigan or Cassandra. Solas never said, so maybe he could and it was an elf thing. Varric tried to pretend it was an elf thing, but that didn’t work when their guide through the temple reached out to touch Lavellan’s face, the vallaslin on her cheek, and mimed for her to sing.

                He thanked Andraste seventeen different ways every morning that she hadn’t drank from the well. For once, she had the good sense to just let something be someone else’s problem.

                He was really looking forward to having a solid day of not worrying about anything at all when Solas and Aevalle left, hand in hand, and Solas returned alone. When Aevalle returned, it was to be cornered by Sera, and they fought about what had happened in the Temple of Mythal for half of the Inquisition to see before she went up to her room and did not come back out.

                He put a good show of pretending he wasn’t worried. But the next evening, Josephine cornered him in a hallway and said, “I’m running out of excuses and people are beginning to suspect.” There was a rope tied to the balcony in her room that went down to the war room, where she must have snuck out in the night. On her desk was a note that said, I’m coming back, I promise.

                Reading that note, he knew that this Inquisition thing hadn’t just been business for a long time. So he sighed and said, “Alright, Kid, where is she?”

                “He didn’t say the right thing,” Cole said, suddenly behind him. “Hand on her face, she’s so warm and alive, she’s everything he wants to save and nothing he deserves. There was another meaning where his touch lingered, but the Dalish are good at making something beautiful out of suffering and they’re familiar in the mirror so she kept them.”

                “Kid.”

                “She saw his fear on a stone in the fade but she never told him, why does he keep trying to make it happen? He fears it because he chose it and he knows it is coming.”

                “Cole,” said Varric. “I don’t want to know all this, just tell me where she is.”

                “She doesn’t want to be found.” Cole almost sounded sullen.

                “Either you come with me or I freeze to death trying to find her.”

                When they found her she had built a fire on the edge of a river, butchered an August Ram and was cooking the meat over it. In the shadows he saw someone move, and he reached for Bianca. But the firelight flared up, and Varric saw their figure as they left. Elven, small, cloaked, armour shining impossibly close to the skin. A sentinel from the Temple of Mythal, vanishing into the night.

                “Okay,” he said. “Again with the weird shit.”

                She laughed at that, just a little, and Varric felt a touch of the heaviness lift from his shoulders. She still wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, but she stood to greet them. “Hope you’re hungry for ram,” she said. “It’s all I’ve got.”

                “That’s it?” Varric exhaled. “Shit, you scared me half to death, you know that right? And why are those ancient elves following you around?”

                “They asked her to sing in the Temple, he wanted to know if she was what they said. If a relic from their rebellion still lived on. He was helping her unravel the songs her father wanted her to sing,” Cole said, softly. “They’re all jumbled with his blood in the clearing, the heat of the sun through the trees and the eyes of the wolf that watched from the shadows.”

                “Kid.” Varric sighed. “Look, I’ve told you before, I don’t really want to know everyone’s dark secrets.”

                “I can’t tell you if the wolf was real, if it was the wolf or just a wolf,” Cole said, to the Inquisitor this time. She watched him with a sharp expression Varric hadn’t seen before. “It was the same one on the frozen lake. He showed you where the bubbles made the ice too thin. He left because your keeper was angry and scared of what she’d dreamed. She didn’t know it’s like the statues in the woods; you feel safe around them.”

                They stared at each other for a long time.

                “It’s not because you kept them,” Cole said. “He meant what he said.”

                She said no more of running away. Not a damn thing about Solas, or the elf who had been there. Or her footprints that lead to the river, the long and deep cracks that all spread from one point. They made their way back to Skyhold in the dark, Varric trying to forget everything Cole said and wishing he had a ball of twine to follow his way back out of this mess.

 

She had teasingly loaned Solas the scarf as they scouted ahead of Haven’s masses. He was blowing air into his hands to warm them, and it had seemed the thing to do at the time.

                “You’ll catch your death, Lethallin,” she said. She wasn’t sure she was imagining the blush on his cheeks when her hands bumped into his. She tried not to be delighted as he put the scarf on—had liked seeing him wear it from time to time, on the coldest nights in Skyhold.

                Two months after he’d left, she found it in a drawer of his desk, wrapped around a book.

                She was going through Solas’ things, sparse as they were, because Cole complained the room was lonely and Dorian told her it was time. She was leaving the next day to visit her clan, and her nerves were all over the place about it—she had left them as one of them, and was returning to them as Inquisitor, and worse, Herald of Andraste. She wanted to keep busy, but had little to pack and for once the day was quiet. Even Josephine and Cullen had nothing to do, so instead they were there, arguing about the best use of the space. More bookshelves? Would cover up the murals. Greeting room? The murals were too elven, it unnerved their noble guests.

                Removing the murals had been stricken off the table. No one had argued, but Aevalle hated that she’d even had to say it.

                The scarf had been too Dalish. Never mind that she could close her eyes and still smell the halla when she brought it up to her face, the herbs the keeper used. In the early days of the inquisition, that had kept her sane. At the end of the day, when she hid in her little shack from everyone calling her the Herald of Andraste, she would smell the scarf and pretend she wasn’t there. That she was singing songs with the other hunters, that someone teased her about that Fen’harel song within earshot of the Keeper and she was getting an earful for it all over again.

                Never mind that she wanted to leave and never come back. The scarf was too Dalish, and the Inqisition’s allies were unnerved by such things—after what Solas had told her about the orb, she knew she had to play the part. Giving it to Solas had been a way of keeping all the things that were precious to her in one place, safe.

                She removed the scarf from the book and, crouched behind the desk where no one could see her, she smelled it. It no longer smelled of the forests and plains where clan Lavellan roamed. It smelled like Solas—like his sweat and a bit of musk she could never really place and it drove her mad, the smell of the fade (to her, the nettle tea her mother used to make, the hint of an oncoming storm in the air), the tang of his paints and charcoal and his smile appeared in her mind.

                The book was hand-bound expertly, and the first page was a charcoal sketch of the breach, prior to its closing. On the next, sketches of her hand, the mark there. Notes on its growth—she had to squint there. His writing was atrocious. There was a strand of her hair tucked between the pages—that was a bit weird. Notes on the plants he guessed (correctly) she used for her hair dye. Then there were sketches of the Temple of Sacred Ashes, destroyed. One of her kneeling in the debris, from behind.

                She settled into the chair and kept flipping through. There were drawings of what she could only assume was the Fade—places she had never seen, places that could never be. Figures that were twisted and warped but overwhelmingly beautiful. Then, drawings of Haven, the architecture, some of the crowds but no details on the faces.

                Then there was a drawing of her, in the tavern, her head bowed over a lyre she’d borrowed. Then one of her seated—in a spot in Haven she tended to hide—leaning against a building and looking off at the breach. He had paid such attention to the hook of her nose, the particular curve of her valaslin against her cheekbones, precisely where her head was shaved and where she kept her hair long and it fell across her face.

                There was a bandage on one of her arms, and she knew which day this was. More and more of the Inquisition’s flock was arriving—she had just come back from scouting with Varric, had hurt herself falling off a ledge and was embarrassed about it. He teased her like the older hunters used to, which at once had made it better and worse. Some nobleman had instructed her to run a message for him and there had been an argument when she refused. Some mystery woman had appeared and seemed to be resolving the matter—this person she would find out was Josephine—when she took off, angry and barely able to stop herself from telling that nobleman where he could stick it. She was hiding and looking pensive, and a little melancholy if the drawing was to be believed.

                “Even I have heard rumours of clan Levallan’s famous Songbird,” Solas had said, coming up behind her. “But I had not expected she would be sent to the Conclave. I assume you were part of the escort for your Keeper’s First?”

                She turned to look at him, startled. Then she remembered the song at the temple, and said, “Oh,” stupidly, because he had a warm smile and he was not asking her to put away luggage, and she remembered his hand on her arm when she closed that rift.

                “May I?” he asked, and she shifted over so he could sit beside her. He settled next to her easily, leaning against the building. Not quite touching, but very close. “This is an excellent hiding spot,” he said. “You can see most of the camp from here, but it is difficult to be seen by observers.”

                She couldn’t help but feel embarrassed, and didn’t know what to say.

                He continued, gently, “If you wouldn’t mind, I would like to make use of it myself. I have had some trouble avoiding menial labour, although pretending my staff is for walking seems to have worked a bit.”

                She laughed, then, and it wasn’t the laugh when she’d tumbled off the hill, a deflection for pain. It felt real. “Tell me about yourself, Solas,” she said, smiling up at him.

                They used to spend hours there, talking about the Fade and the things he had seen there. She felt deflated when he called her da’len, encouraged when that changed to lethallan. 

                She kept turning the pages. More and more the drawings were of her. Some were of Varric, usually with some vague marks instead of any real attention paid to his chest hair, one was of Sera but it had been horribly defaced and another attempt had not been made. Vivienne appeared once or twice with a sour expression, Josephine with a pleasant smile and Leliana in a moment where her face was soft, feeding one of her ravens. Bull and Cassandra locking weapons in the practice yard—Cassandra kneeling in prayer.

                There were so many of herself—as the book went on, Solas seemed to draw little else. There were drawings of her asleep on the couch, an instrument falling from her hands, and Spirits swirled above her head, inspecting her dreams. One of her on the balcony at the Winter Palace, turning and smiling. Her and Cole under one of the great wolf statues in the Emerald Graves, sleeping, their heads resting against each other. At the Temple of Mythal, with their guide who had asked her to sing.

                There was nothing else after that. She flipped through the few empty pages left in the book until the last, where a note had been tucked in. Frowning, she pulled it out.

                Ma vhenan, it started.

                “Well what do you think, Inquisitor?”

                Aevalle slammed the book shut, startled. Cullen and Josephine were frowning at her, and they tried to hide it but there was concern on their features.

                “I’m sure you’ll both come to the correct conclusion,” she said, trying her best to smile. She left them there, retreating to her room without speaking to anyone, the book and the scarf and that letter clutched to her chest.

 

“I didn’t know you get seasick,” Varric said to the Inquisitor as she leaned over the railing for the fifth time that morning.

                “I didn’t even eat carrots,” she grumbled. She wiped her mouth with the back of a shaking hand.

                “It turns round all funny when she thinks they’ll call her Inquisitor.” Cole said behind them. “Or worse things.”

                Aevalle sent him a sour look, but said nothing.

                “You’re wearing your scarf again,” said Cole. “But that’s not the smell it used to have.”

                “Kid,” said Varric, “she’s not feeling too great right now, maybe later, hey?”

               “It’s not going to get better just sitting on it,” Cole said, like a sullen child, but then he was next to one of the sailors, saying, “She does love you but she’s scared, she’s never loved another woman before, she wants you to promise you’ll protect her.”

                Varric exhaled. The Inquisitor put her back to the railing and sank down until she was sitting on the deck, her eyes closed. He was still unused to seeing her in anything but that grey hunter coat she’d worn for so long—after the Temple of Mythal, she’d taken all that dragon skin and had proper Dalish scout armour made. Cole said it was because her faith and her culture had taken a beating and she was angry, but she wasn’t sure at whom.

                Varric had thought about asking her why she was wearing all that armour on a nice trip home, but then he supposed Cole had answered that for him. Even ill as she obviously was, she was all blue vallaslin against dark skin, dyed red hair and that moss green scarf she had never let go in Haven; undeniably Dalish. The sharp lines of her nose, her jaw, the intensity of her eyes, cutting a proud profile. Half her hair long, half of it shaved to expose an ear and where the vallaslin ran through her hairline, and to make no apologies for it.

                He sat next to her, ignoring the looks the crew were giving them. “So,” he said, “am I going to have the pleasure of learning any new Dalish drinking songs while I’m visiting? I liked that one you sang in the tavern that one time, are they all that catchy?”

                She grimaced, but it was followed with a laugh. “My Keeper hates that song,” she said, smiling.

                “What? A song about dallying with the Dread Wolf? I can’t imagine why.”

                Aevalle was still smiling, looking a little embarrassed. “Well,” she said. “She hates it because I wrote it.”

                Varric couldn’t help it. “What?” he exclaimed, and pulled her back down when she tried to stand up. “Oh no, you can’t just tease me with that, there’s a story and I want to hear it.”

                She laughed again. “I was sixteen,” she said, “and we had come across another clan in our travels. And—oh, there was this hunter in the other clan, and she had the prettiest hair. White like a halla. Eyes like leaves in the sunshine. Painfully shy. So I wrote this stupid little song and I made my friend sing it with me around the fire.”

                “Wooing a fine lady with song. I may write that book about you yet, Inquisitor.”

                “Oh, no,” she said. “She was horribly scandalized by the whole thing. That was apparently the last thing I could have possibly done to impress her, and she made sure to tell me that. And her Keeper. Who told my Keeper—and the worst part is, everyone else loved it, thought it was... edgy, and it spread to every single clan within a year and I didn’t even think it was that good? And every time someone even brings it up I get a new lecture from my Keeper about propriety.”

                Varric was crowing. “Can’t write this shit,” he said.

                She was looking at him strangely. “Varric,” she said, “why did you come with me?”

                “It’s on my way,” he said, which was less of a lie than he pretended it was. There had been many more direct ships, and many perfectly acceptable times to call it quits and go back to Kirkwall. But since the end of it all—since Solas had left—she had seemed so lonely. If one could be lonely with a spirit of compassion hovering over their shoulder, trying to make it better.

                When she looked like she didn’t believe him, he said, “Hey the least I could do is escort you home, after everything.”

                She smiled at that, at a shred of honesty, and said, “Thank you, Varric.”

                “You should come visit me in Kirkwall when you’re done,” he said. “Maybe without your, uh, lovely entourage.”

                They both peered around the mast at the gathering of Inquisition soldiers in question. Cullen had picked the most no-nonsense looking soldiers Varric had ever seen, and that was saying something.

                “I don’t think they’ll be up for any detours,” she said. “But I think I can ditch them. They don’t look like they’ve ever chased a Dalish hunter through the woods.”

                “That’s my girl,” Varric said, patting her knee. “Oh look, Cole’s asking a few too many questions, let’s go steer him away from the captain, hm?”

                “You go ahead,” she said, “I don’t trust myself to stand up ever again at this rate.”

                Varric managed to pry Cole away from a very baffled ship captain—Cole someone needs to steer the ship we can’t fix her childhood trauma right now—and sent one more look toward his seasick friend. She hadn’t moved, true to her word, but she had pulled a many-times-folded letter out of her armour and was reading it for what must have been the hundredth time since they got on the ship, her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed.

                “Yes,” said Cole.

                “What?”

                “You were going to ask if the letter is from Solas.”

                From the look on her face, Varric knew it didn’t answer any of her questions.

               

One minute, Solas was rubbing paint off his hands with a wet rag, contemplating his depiction of the destruction of Haven. The next, Dorian had him by the arm and was dragging him across Skyhold’s courtyard to the tavern.

                “This is ridiculous,” Solas said. “I don’t even drink.”

                “You’re right,” said Dorian, “this is ridiculous. You’re no fun at a party and I have no idea why Aevalle wanted you to come so badly.”

                Solas ignored Dorian’s significant eyebrow waggling. He never understood the Inquisitor’s friendship with the Tevinter mage—he’d heard them arguing about slavery one minute, then chatting about which material she should use for her armour the next. Solas was grateful for the air at least, and the chill of the grass on his toes as they walked. He did feel himself growing nervous as they grew closer to the tavern—he could hear that godawful song about Sera carrying through the open windows, and cursing in elven.

                “Who is that?” he asked.

                “Oh,” Dorian said, “some hunters from some Dalish clan came to visit—where are you going?”

                Solas had turned on his heel and slipped out of Dorian’s grasp. Dorian caught up to him again and tried to gently turn Solas around again.

                “No, that won’t do, our dear Inquisitor specifically asked me to drag you down here when you were finished.” Dorian still somehow managed to sound both scolding and perfectly amicable at the same time. “Begged me, practically. In fact, I am not allowed to attend this soiree without you.”

                “Then she will be disappointed on two fronts,” Solas said, but Dorian would not allow him to turn around.

                “Look,” said Dorian, “just make a show of being there. Stick around for a drink and a song, and you’re still happy in bed or wherever you sleep at a decent hour. And our Inquisitor is happy. Everybody wins.”

                The interior of the tavern rank of ale, sex and vomit. The lighting was dim and the music loud—although it was less accompaniment and more shouting than true music. But he picked out the rich, sweet sound of the Inquisitor’s voice carrying over them all, perfectly in tune, and he saw her at a collection of tables pulled together at the center of the room. She was surrounded by a handful of Dalish hunters in various states of inebriation, seated next to Sera who was doing her best to look grumpy but seemed to be enjoying herself regardless.

                “She’s a rogue and a thief and she’ll tempt your fate!”

                The crowd erupted in laughter as they finished the song. Sera was flushing bright red.

                “Yeah yeah,” she said, “you’re all hilarious. And you!” She pointed a finger at the Inquisitor’s face—leaning in very close and then leaning back. “You know I’ve heard that song a million times. It’s still not funny.”

                Aevalle grinned at Sera and took a swig of her ale. The Dalish man across from her was playing something like an Antivan gitar, but even in the poor lighting Solas could make out a particular shine on the strings. Ironbark for sure, he thought, and from Aevalle’s expression when she looked at the thing he knew she wanted it.

                Aevalle’s eyes shifted to the door, and her expression brightened immediately. “Solas! Dorian! You made it!”

                Sera seemed to take advantage of Aevalle’s distraction and vacate the table—Solas didn’t even see her leave she managed it so fast. He saw her sitting at a corner table with Blackwall, where the Grey Warden seemed to be teasing her. Dorian was cramming Solas onto the chair beside Aevalle’s while she attempted to give him a whirlwind of names he didn’t bother to remember.

                “And everyone... Solas.” She leaned close to him, and he could smell the alcohol on her breath—and right after it the smell of the sweat on her neck in the heat of the room.

                “Thank you for coming,” she said softly. “I know this isn’t your thing.”

                Solas couldn’t help but smile. He knew she had some measure of affection for him, and that didn’t help the knots twisting in his stomach. He was trying to figure out what in the fade would compare to the colour of her eyes as he said, “It is my pleasure, Lethallan. It is a welcome change from routine.”

                 Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dorian’s dramatic eye roll as he went to sit at a table with Varric and Cole.

                “Your instrument is fascinating,” Solas said to the man across the table, deciding to be polite. “The strings are ironbark, I presume?”

                “A good eye for one not of a clan,” the man said, and instantly Solas didn’t like him. His fingers strummed the instrument absently, and the sound was pleasing to the ears—louder, brighter than what Solas was familiar with. “It took some convincing, but now even our crafter is pleased. I may yet convince her to help me make another one.”

                “Would you consider parting with it Rennan?” Aevalle asked. She leaned forward and sent Solas a conspiratorial glance, but he had no idea what she was thinking.

                He seemed to consider, giving Aevalle a long look up and down that Solas didn’t like. He felt suddenly possessive, and then embarrassed about it because she was not his to claim possession.

                “So you’re a mage, Solas?” a Dalish girl asked, and his attention was diverted while Aevalle and Rennan debated the benefits of giving it to her. “Were you raised in the Circles?”

                A large figure leaned over his shoulder and he saw the Iron Bull wink at him (or possibly just blink, how would anyone know) as he placed a large tankard of ale on the table in front of him.

                Solas should have known then that the night would not end with him happily in bed, but instead he took the great tankard in his hands and had a long, surprisingly pleasant discussion with the girl next to him.

                It turned out the hunters were on their way to visit an Orlesian clan because the girl—her name was Nimae—had an older sister she’d never met. The sister had shown magical promise, and the only clan who could take her at the time was halfway across the world. She had many questions about magic and the Fade—claiming her sister would not answer them in her letters. He found he enjoyed talking with her. She was quite young for such a journey, her vallaslin dark and fresh on her face, and she seemed eager to listen to what he had to say.  

                They were in the midst of discussing what corrupted Spirits and turned them to Demons when Rennan slammed his hands on the table and shouted, “It’s a bet!” He stood and began to strum some simple melodies, smiling coyly at Aevalle. “I will go first, dear Inquisitor, so you may see how it’s done.”

                Solas looked at Nimae.

                “Yeah,” she said, “he’s always an ass.”

                Solas chuckled.

                “Name the song, and I will do my best to outshine you,” he said. “And though I have much skill for playing, I doubt my voice can compare to clan Lavellan’s famous Songbird. I would be delighted if you would accompany me.”

                Aevalle leaned back in her chair, making a great show of how much serious thought she was giving it. Solas knew from the look in her eye that she was really considering the best way to knock him down a peg. It was the same look she gave anyone who challenged her in battle—slightly amused, with an intense focus on the chinks in her opponent’s armour.

                She opened her mouth and her voice rang out, sweet and rich like an iced cider.

                “I am young, headstrong and many things
                but wise and shrewd I cannot be.
                I cannot hunt or craft or clean
                I’ve no magic to be of use to me,
                Oh Keeper do not worry for me
                for my heart does wander freely!”

                Rennan picked up the tune almost instantly as there was a lull in the chatter from the rest of the bar, and all around him Solas could see heads turning. The song picked up beat instantly, and Aevale sang about a Dalish youth without a clue in his head who left his clan to seek his fortune. The other Dalish in the room picked it up immediately—and the rest of the tavern’s patrons quickly figured out when the appropriate time to yell or to drink was.

                The song was pleasant, and in spite of his dislike for the man Solas had to admit he gave a skilled performance. He bowed for a smattering of applause when the song ended, and Aevalle stood to accept the instrument from him—a little too quickly, Solas thought. She was excited to hold it. As she slipped the strap over her shoulders, he knew she would be loathe to let it go.

                She strummed it once, twice, and then her fingers flew up and down its neck in a series of chords and notes that made Solas’ eyebrows rise. Someone in the back whistled. “It’s been a while,” she said with a laugh when one of her fingers slipped. “Any requests?” she asked, looking at Solas.

                He held up his hands. “You will find me vastly unacquainted with Dalish drinking songs.”

                She smiled at him, her fingers still flying through a number of scales. “I didn’t say it had to be Dalish. You must have something you’d like to hear,” she said. Her voice was low, and she still looked only at him. “You can’t tell me there are no songs in the Fade.”

                “Oh!” Nimae exclaimed. “The one about the shy halla!”

                “Nimae,” someone warned, “that’s hardly a song for polite company.”

                There was something about Aevalle’s expression that Solas thought odd—she looked almost embarrassed, but a little pleased at the same time. He was suddenly very curious what sort of song this was.

                Nimae pouted. “But she would sing it so well! And it’s my favourite.”

                “I can’t resist such a sweet request.” Aevalle quickly changed the tuning of the strings, her head bowed over the instrument. “Although I believe the song is a duet. Do you know the words, Solas?”

                “I have no idea what song you’re talking about,” he said, and took a drink of his ale so no one would argue with him about it. He could not say the flavour was improving, but the more of it he drank the less of it he could taste.

                He couldn’t read Aevalle’s expression, but he had a suspicion she was secretly pleased with something he’d said.

                She finished tuning and began to play the song—it was bright and quick and airy, and her fingers flew across the instrument’s strings with practiced ease. She sang as sweetly as before, watching Solas with hooded eyes as she did.

                “Ma vhenan, love and darling sweet
                how kindly you do shelter me
                but shelter’s only good for sleep
                and I long for you to dance with me.

                For all I love you sweet and shy
                and there is no one else for me
                I hear a song that summons me
                to the veilfire lit in the deepest night.”

                Rennan joined in then, his tenor a good match for Aevalle but clearly outshined by her. He made a good show of approaching her from around the table, and Solas had the impression this song was frequently acted out around a bonfire.

                “Your love is truly kind and sweet
                but timid like the halla you keep!
                So leave him sleeping with the sun
                a better match waits in the deepest night

                Will you dance all night
                in Fen’harel’s arms
                and not return til daylight?
                And will you come along with me?
                For the Dread Wolf wants you dearly.”

                Solas had chosen a very inopportune moment to take a drink from his tankard. It was pretty much all Solas could do not to spit his drink all over the table. He looked around quickly to see if anyone had noticed.

                Aevalle seemed to have, because her lips turned up slightly in a secretive smile. She broke his gaze to play the part and continue the song. She and Rennan began to circle one another slowly, their pace picking up with the song’s rhythm.

                “Your arms are warm and broad and strong
                Your smile so wild and daring!
                The fire is bright but the stars can’t shine
                as brightly as his gleaming eyes.

                An offer more tempting
                could never have been made to me!
                But the Dread Wolf is a fool to think
                I’d leave my halla sweetling.

                I will dance all night
                in Fen’harel’s arms
                and not return til daylight!
                But no further will I go with he,
                for I love my halla dearly!”

                The song kept speeding up as Aevalle and Rennan danced around each other, Rennan pushing the rhythm faster when he was singing to make her fingers fly ever faster along the strings. Aevalle matched his pace with ease, and she played as beautifully as she sang.

                The song ended with the singer returning to her lover, and Fen’harel letting her go with a smile and no sadness between them. Rennan collapsed onto a nearby bench and exclaimed, breathless, “Inquisitor! You have outplayed me.”

                She seated herself onto the chair beside Solas again, equally breathless but looking smug.

                “I don’t suppose,” he said, leaning forward in his seat, “you might be willing to consider that kiss even though I lost?”

                Solas bristled, but Aevalle only laughed and shook her head, strumming a pleasant little tune on the instrument.

                “Don’t be a sore loser Rennan,” Nimae said. “Inquisitor, that was the best I’ve ever heard! Thank you so much!”

                “My pleasure, Da’len,” she said, her voice breathy. Solas found he liked the sound of it, liked the brightness of her eyes and the satisfaction in the smile that lingered on her lips. He couldn’t stop staring.

                Solas could hear someone across the room humming the song.

                “Great,” Rennan grumbled, “I’m going to have that stuck in my head for weeks now.”

                The conversation went on, and Solas found an opportunity to quietly excuse himself and head outside. The air was bitterly cold, and he shrugged his clothes closer to him, feeling the heat of the alcohol in his stomach and in his cheeks. He found a nearby fence and gripped it with both hands, leaning against it. He could feel it creak under his weight—it was makeshift at best, to keep people away from fallen rubble.

                “Seriously though.”

                He turned. Aevalle had the instrument in her hand and was closing the tavern door behind her. “What kind of idiot bets a kiss against a treasure like this?”

                “If you were any other woman I might be inclined to agree with you,” Solas said as she approached.

                “Oh?”

                “I’ve said before, none among our people have been raised so high by the humans, Lethallan.”

                She stopped a respectable distance away from him, frowning. “Did the song upset you, Solas?”

                He wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that. “I just needed some air,” he said softly. “Do not concern yourself with me.”

                “Lethallin.” She perched herself on the fence beside him and set the instrument on the ground. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to upset you. I know you’re uneasy around us, and your dealings with the Dalish have not always gone well. I just thought that maybe if some of the people got to know you a bit...”

                He almost scoffed. “I am not as shy as you seem to think I am.”

                She laughed, suddenly. “Solas! Is that what this is about?”

                He stared at her. “What?”

                She hopped off the fence, grinning. “You—It’s just a song, Solas. I don’t think you’re some timid halla.”

                He opened his mouth to explain to her that he was not taking offence to the song in any way, it was the alcohol and that he couldn’t sort out how he felt about the possibility of her kissing that Dalish man, or why he was so distressed by it when he had no right to be, or how the smell of her sweat and the alcohol had made him feel, but she took his hands from the fence and pulled him away from it, swaying back and forth as she began to sing.

                “I will dance all night in Fen’Harel’s arms.” Her voice was slightly hoarse from alcohol and use, and the sound of it made his heart quicken its beat.

                The sudden movement and the warmth of her hands were making his cheeks warm. “Lethallan,” he said, softly.

                “And not return til daylight.”

                “You’re drunk,” he said, his own breath hot with the burning of alcohol that lingered in his throat and his proximity to her.

                “Oh, very!” She giggled. She began to maneuver them back towards the fence, and she continued singing. “But I’d like to take him home with me.”

                Solas felt the fence on the back of his legs, and stopped. She pressed forward and stood on her toes, the only points of contact between them their hands.

                 “For I love this Dread Wolf dearly,” she sang, her voice rich and breathy as she leaned in, and Solas realised she was going to kiss him.

                Many things happened at once. His breath caught in his throat and he forgot everything but the fact that she was drunk and could not possibly want this, his heart hammering as he realised that he very much did, and he tried to take a step back but the fence was there, and the weight of the two of them caused it to break and they went tumbling down with it.

                She landed on top of him, their foreheads banging together.

                “Fenedhis!” she swore, laughing, and she immediately sat up and scrambled off him. “Solas, are you alright?”

                “I am unharmed,” he said, because he was feeling a thousand things and not one of them alright.

                He took her offered hand and she helped him up as she laughed.

                “I am so happy no one saw that,” she said, and she put her hands to her cheeks as if trying to cool them. “I’m starting to think my Keeper was right, that song is plain bad luck.”

                He busied himself with brushing off his clothes. “What do you mean?”

                She looked at him wide-eyed. “Did I say that out loud?”

                Solas couldn’t help but smile. “I think we’ve both had enough,” he said. “Let’s get you to bed, hm?”

                “But it’s so far away—can I sleep on your couch? It’s so comfy.”