"I got you something," Dagna said. "Well, made you something, really."
"You know you didn’t have to."
"Of course not, if I’d had to it would hardly be a gift. More like… payment? Tribute? Bribery? Anyway, it’s not that, it’s a gift. Here.” She took Harding by the wrist and towed her over to the workbench. “I just finished it.”
It took Harding’s stunned mind a few minutes to process what she was looking at. It was armor, beautifully made, dwarf-sized, displayed on a mannequin and complete with boots and gloves. Clearly designed for an archer, with bracers that wouldn’t interfere with her draw and gloves cut to protect her hands while still giving her sensitivity in her fingers and a cut to the breastplate that would make it easy to reload from her quiver while on the move. The knee-boots had a clean design, with no extra buckles or straps to catch on the underbrush.
She was so taken with the design that it took her a moment to realize that the odd shimmer it had was because it was made entirely from dragon scales. She very nearly choked.
"Do you like it?" Dagna asked, almost shyly, as if the armor wasn’t so singular that it could’ve bought Harding’s father’s farm several times over. Many times over.
"It’s—it’s—incredible," she said, for lack of any other words or, for that matter, thoughts.
"I know you like your armor light and flexible so you can move fast and quiet in it, and it was a trick to accomplish that with dragon scales, but I think I managed—oh! And there’s fade-touched silverite worked into the edging and the capping, see—?" Harding forgot to breathe again. "—that will protect you if you get unlucky and something hits you. I know it probably would make more sense to give you something that’d make your arrows hit harder or give you better vision or something, but I was feeling a little selfish and I do worry about you out there sometimes."
"Dagna," Harding said. Wheezed.
"And I remember you said you never have enough pockets or pouches, so here, look," Dagna was pointing now at a series of small reinforced loops. "You can use jump rings to connect pouches to these loops, use as many as you want and take them off to lighten the load if you don’t need them. Oh! It’s got the Inquisition arms on it on the front, of course, you want everyone to know who you’re with, but here, see—" She pulls the mannequin around to one side, as casually as if she isn’t handling an absurdly expensive piece of armor. "—on the shoulder I put a symbol, see, it’s a raven holding an arrow with an embrium blossom in the background. I thought that was appropriate for you. You know, ravens for the messages you send and also the way you travel across the landscape, and an arrow because—I guess that’s obvious—and embrium because…." And here, finally, Dagna’s ears turned a little pink. "Because embrium is so pretty and it glows in wild places and it’s the same color as your hair and it reminds me of you. Well. When it’s dried. It’s too red when it’s fresh to really look like your hair."
"Dagna," Harding said again.
"Do you like it?"
"It’s amazing," Harding said. "It’s like something I’d imagine the King of Orzammar would wear."
"Oh no," Dagna said. "He might have dragon scale but not like this. I don’t think there’s anyone but me who knows how to work fade-touched silverite." She said it with absolutely no arrogance, as if she was simply stating the truth, which, Harding supposed, she was. "And he’d have all kind of gold frippery all over it, useless stuff. No, this is nicer." She gave Harding a hopeful look.
"It’s wonderful," Harding said. "I can’t—I can’t possibly accept it." Dagna’s face fell. Harding winced and went on: "It’s not that it’s not fantastic. It’s perfect, Dagna. But it’s worth a fortune. An actual fortune, you could probably buy a small castle with this."
"I wanted to make you something nice," Dagna said. "That was the point."
"And I’m good at making things, I mean, I make masterworks for all kinds of people who I don’t like half so much as you, so why not for you? I paid for the materials, don’t worry, I didn’t get them out of Inquisition stores—well, I did, but only the things the Inquisitor didn’t already have plans for and I paid for them. I paid better than market value. They’re paying me a lot of money, like, really a lot. And except for grimoires I hardly ever buy anything because I like to travel light and I’ve bought most of the grimoires that there are already, so I don’t have much to spend it on.” Her fingers were slipping back and forth over the toe of one of the boots. Nervously, Harding realized, and she suddenly felt awful.
"I just—it’s not the kind of thing someone like me would wear," she said. "It’s fit for a noble or a champion. Nobles and champions would fight over who got to wear this.”
"It’s probably the best armor in the world," Dagna said, without even the slightest trace of bragging, "but I didn’t make it for a noble or a champion. I made it for you. I get bored sometimes when you’re away. It was nice to, you know.” Dagna’s voice dropped off a little. “Work on this and think about you. Thinking about making something really nice for you, nicer than I’ve ever made before.”
Harding did not for a single second believe that Dagna had actually gotten bored. Dagna never got bored. Dagna could occupy herself (and possibly also cause small explosions) when shut up alone in a bare room. What she was actually trying to say, Harding realized, was that she got lonely.
She reached out and took Dagna’s hand. They both had scars and calluses on their hands, although very different ones: Harding’s from archery, from handling Sister Leliana’s sometimes-temperamental messenger birds, and from the general roughness of the road; Dagna’s the ridges and burn-marks of a smith, plus stranger scars and stains (including one that Harding hadn’t quite got up the nerve to ask about that glowed in the dark). ”I miss you when I’m gone, too,” she said. It was true. Dagna was the most vibrant, the most exciting person she ever met, and she managed to be so vibrant and exciting even though she almost never even left her workshop. Next to her, even dragons faded a little.
Dagna smiled down at their joined hands, her ears going pink again.
"I’m just not sure I should be wearing armor nicer than the Inquisitor has, you know?"
"Oh," Dagna said, and brightened. "If that’s the problem, I can make her some too."
Harding couldn’t stop herself laughing. “Dagna—”
"—although that’s a little unfair, she doesn’t need it as much as you, she has Seeker Pentaghast to stand in front of her when she meets a dragon by accident."
"You know that has nothing to do with why I can’t wear nicer armor than the Inquisitor," Harding said, but she was laughing.
(Dagna always made Harding laugh, made her feel light, even when she was back from some trip where she’d been chased by undead or barely avoided—yes, Dagna wasn’t wrong—having her head fried off by a sudden surprise dragon. Dagna was the strangest dwarf she’d ever met; it was strange to think that she was actually older than Harding, and even stranger to think that she was Orzammaran-born and smith caste to boot, could have been a serious respectable real dwarf unlike Harding, who was considered hardly a dwarf at all by most of dwarven society. Because Dagna was possibly the least serious-respectable dwarf Harding had ever met, maybe even less so than Tethras, who at least had an appropriately dwarfy lack of interest in magic. Dagna wasn’t just the weirdest dwarf Harding had ever met, she was possibly the weirdest person Harding had ever met. So it was an equally weird kind of miracle that they fit so well together, as if the world had created in Dagna this one strange puzzle-piece exactly to fit with her own strange puzzle-piece.)
"Try it on," Dagna said. "Please. For me?"
She couldn’t resist that face. “All right,” she said, and then a thought occurred to her. “Wait—you didn’t make the armor I wear now, you’ve never taken my measurements. How did you know it would fit?”
"I took your armor while you were asleep and made measurements off that, then replaced it. I know you’ve had it adjusted a few times so I figured the fit is probably pretty good," Dagna said. She gave Harding a slightly concerned look. "Is that creepy?"
"…a little," Harding said. "But it’s all right."
The Undercroft had a private alcove, for fittings and trying on new armor. Harding went there, stripped down to her underarmor, and then put on the new dragon scale set.
And oh. Oh, it fit like the Maker’s grace, light and strong and flexible. She arched up on her toes, feeling the way it didn’t bind across the small of her back; mimed pulling an arrow from her quiver and drawing it, smooth as butter, no jerking or tension in her shoulders or her arms. The boot soles were thick enough to keep the soles of her feet safe from thorns and sharp rocks while still giving her a sense of the ground beneath her, that earth-sense that humans attributed to her dwarf nature and that underground dwarves insisted she didn’t have at all. She turned, studying herself in the cracked mirror that neither Dagna nor Harritt could ever be bothered to replace. The dark opal-y shimmer of the dragon scales suited her, she had to admit, if you looked past the fact that they were far too stupidly expensive to make any sense on her. And there, the sigil on the shoulder that was clearly specifically for her, the arrow and the bird and the embrium. (She colored at that thought. The embrium was renowned for its beauty. Dagna was flattering her, surely. Surely?)
She pushed the curtain aside and stepped out, feeling suddenly, oddly, shy.
It was hard to feel too shy when she saw Dagna’s face light up. “You look even better in it than I’d imagined,” she said, catching Harding’s hands and pulling her out into the light. (The gloves, though tough enough to protect her hands, were still sensitive enough that Harding could feel the pressure of Dagna’s fingers clear as anything.) “Oh, it really suits you! Does it fit all right? Nothing too tight or too loose or anything?”
"It fits like… like magic," Harding said, choosing the word deliberately, and smiled back at Dagna’s answering grin of delight.
"So you’ll wear it?" Dagna said. "You’ll keep it, Lace?" Dagna used her given name so rarely, it made Harding’s heart tighten. "I’d just—it’s not that I worry about you exactly, I know you’re good at what you do, but, well, I’m good at what I do too, and if I can help you then I’d… like to.”
Harding was still well aware of all the reasons she probably should not keep the armor. There was no reason under the Maker’s sun that a scout leader should have not only the finest armor in the Inquisition but possibly the finest armor in all the world. The resources involved and Dagna’s time could have been better spent on any number of other projects—almost anything other than ‘make Harding the most stupidly overkill armor the world has ever seen, with extra pockets.’
And yet… and yet…
"What the hell," she said. "Yes, I’ll keep it. And I can’t possibly thank you enough, Dagna, this is the nicest thing anyone’s ever—"
She broke off, staggering a little, when Dagna launched herself at her for a kiss. Well, she was hardly going to argue with that either.
Some hazy time later, when they’d finally stopped kissing, Dagna said, “I did tell you about the fade-touched silverite? If you want to try it out, we could go down and get that Bull person to hit you with a hammer, that’d be a pretty good test—”
"I suppose that’d be overkill, wouldn’t it? Oh, well, you’ll just have to tell me how it holds up in the field. Oh! I almost forgot! I made you a bow, too."
Harding put her gloved hands over her face and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.