The Inquisitor stopped by to say hello whenever Harding was in Skyhold, which was flattering—Maker knew the Inquisitor had plenty of demands on her time and didn't need to chitchat with the scout lead. She asked Harding's opinion of things, even, and seemed to genuinely listen, or shared bits of news.
(Harding wondered, sometimes, whether the Inquisitor felt as out of her depth as Harding sometimes did, and then felt faintly blasphemous for wondering.)
Today, what she said was, "There's a new dwarf in Skyhold. Thought you might want to know."
Harding bit her tongue against an exasperated sigh. Everyone seemed to want to point out dwarves to her—asking if she'd met Varric Tethras, or that crazy explosion-maker on the Chargers, or that dwarf doing the restoration work on the main hall, and so on and so on. It was kindly meant, she knew, and certainly a lot of the others (elves and dwarves... hard to tell with qunari, since there was just the Bull) seemed to take some comfort from sticking close to their own kind, especially with Skyhold so full of humans. It was just hard to politely point out that Tethras was a wealthy merchant from the big city who owned whole businesses and she was a farm girl from the back end of nowhere who hadn't even owned her own sheep. And that was before you even got to Orzammaran-born dwarves, many of who—despite being casteless now themselves, technically—seemed to consider her more like a short human than a dwarf of any kind. She'd grown up around humans, and had a thousand times more in common with a human farmboy-turned-recruit among Cullen's soldiers than with an underground-born dwarf of any stripe.
But the Inquisitor was trying to be nice, so she just said, "Oh?"
"Name of Dagna. Bit of an... odd one, but very friendly."
Harding could feel her eyebrows rise. "Odd how?"
"She studies magic." Harding must've made quite the incredulous face, because the Inquisitor laughed. "Yes, really. Yes, despite being a dwarf."
"You're right, that is odd."
"Extremely. But like I said, very friendly."
Despite this... encouraging... opening, Harding didn't seek Dagna out, or at least not until after Dagna found her. It was two days before the next expedition was due to leave, and she was ticking down all the (many, many) items on her to-do list in her head as she walked across the courtyard when she heard someone calling, "Harding? Scout Harding?"
She looked around, saw no one.
"Harding?" said the voice again, and this time she thought to look up, and there she was, up on tiptoe leaning over a stair rail: a dwarf woman, dark-eyed, with hair a remarkable and eyecatching shade of very deep red-brown. The other woman broke into a grin. "Oh, good, it is you! I wasn't sure, but there aren't that many dwarves in Skyhold so I thought it was a good bet."
Harding hazarded a guess: "Dagna?"
"That's right." Dagna raced down the stairs. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I was hoping to catch you before you left again."
"There's another day and a half yet," Harding said.
"Good! Because I have some things to add to your requisition list." She held out a bit of paper. Harding had the oddest sense that it might explode if she took it. Nevertheless, she took it. "Don't worry, I asked the Inquisitor and she approved it. Well. She said, 'sure, whatever,' but she was in a hurry, so I'm pretty sure that was approval. Anyway, it's just some things, if your scouts see them, to keep an eye out for."
Harding felt as though she had been trapped by an extremely cheerful whirlwind. "I—all right," she said, scanning over the list. Paragon's luster, dawnstone, stormheart... "I don't think I can do the wyvern scales," she said. "At least I hope not. And I don't even know what lightning essence is."
"That's fine. Just whatever you see. Or mark it on your map and maybe the Inquisitor will bring some back for me."
"And... dragon heart is a joke, right?"
"Well, of course I don't expect the scouts to kill a dragon or anything, that would be silly. But I thought, if you happen to stumble across a dragon corpse you might manage it."
"Well, they're animals, they must die of things, right? Disease, or killed by something bigger—I hear there are giants showing up in some parts these days, it's very exciting—so it's possible."
"I'll keep an eye out for the minerals," Harding said. "But I have to tell you, I think the rest of this is unlikely."
"I don't expect it really," Dagna said, rocking back on her heels as if she had so much energy inside her she just couldn't hold still. "But if I ask there's maybe a tiny chance, and if I don't ask, there's no chance, so...."
"I can't argue with that," Harding said. "Certainly most of what the Inquisition has done is highly improbable."
"Exactly! I'm so glad you understand. And thank you, I appreciate it, really."
"You're welcome," Harding said, rather dazedly, even though she hadn't done anything yet.
She didn't find the dragon heart. Or the lightning essence, whatever that was. But they did find paragon's luster and dawnstone, and, to her considerable surprise, wyvern scales, although thankfully not by actually fighting a wyvern. (The advance scouts had found one dead, half-buried under a rockslide, and thankfully Rulia knew how to butcher one for the useful parts without poisoning yourself.) When Harding helped load up the pack animals, pinning the identifying scrips to each sack or crate for easier unloading in Skyhold, she thought of Dagna as she made one out to say 'wyvern scales.'
She thought of Dagna more than she'd expected, and the truth was half of it was because Dagna was so blessed weird. She knew she was pretty weird too, a dwarf who felt antsy when indoors for too long (never mind underground), who had only the vaguest idea what the Stone even was, who was more comfortable with humans than with most other dwarves. But at least she was just weird for a dwarf, not weird overall. Dagna was almost as odd as that kid with the big hat and the chickens, although in a more in-your-face way and less in a creeping-around way.
And even more than that, even more, she thought about how Dagna didn't seem to have any problem being weird. She wasn't just up front about it, she was downright gleeful.
It bore thinking about.
So she thought about it, more than she expected to.
When they got back to Skyhold, she did what she always did. First, she bathed with strong soap and pumice stone until all the travel grit had sloughed off, along with at least one layer of skin. Then she slept for half a day in a real bed. And then she went down to the tavern for a real meal that consisted of something other than road rations or half-burnt game animal.
She was deep into her chicken pie—with its tender meat, its flaky crust, its potatoes swimming in rich gravy, it was unimaginably wonderful after weeks of dried meat and waybread—when Dagna plopped down beside her on the bench.
(Her deep-red hair was even more remarkable under the tavern's lantern-lights and up close.)
"You're already eating," she said. "I was hoping to be able to bribe the cook to make you something especially nice, to thank you."
Of all the questions Harding could have had in response to that statement, the first one that popped into her mind was, "Bribe the cook how? She's a dragon."
"Oh, runes," Dagna said. "She likes frost runes for keeping food fresh, and fire runes—well, they're specialized fire runes—anyway, fire runes for keeping the ovens under control, so things don't get burnt."
"Oh," Harding said. Her mother had kept food fresh in the root cellar, and kept the hearth under control by constant watching. The idea of having magic to do that was almost unfathomable. "Well, you don't need to thank me, anyway. I'm just doing my job."
"You found me wyvern scales."
"The wyvern was already dead and half-buried."
"Yes, but still. Anyway. I wanted to thank you. Isn't there something you most especially like that the cook could make you?" Dagna's eyes were so big and so brown and so imploring that Harding couldn't help but smile.
"All right," she said. "There's a kind of spice cake, they pour them out into little craggy lumps before baking—they call them hill cakes in Redcliffe. I miss those. If—?"
"All right," Dagna said, bounding to her feet, a woman on a mission. Harding watched her go with bemusement, then turned back to her pie.
"Arcanist's got a thing for you," Charter said, from where she was drinking ale halfway down the table.
"No, she doesn't. She's just really friendly."
"Ehh," Charter said, smiling behind her tankard. "Suit yourself."
And before Harding left on her next mission, she found a little muslin bag sitting on top of her kit, tied closed with a bit of ribbon with her name on it. As soon as she picked it up and smelled the familiar aroma of ginger and cinnamon, she knew what it was, and smiled.
After that, Harding thought about Dagna even more on her next trip out. Surely Charter was wrong, after all. Surely? Dagna was just... very enthusiastic. Extremely enthusiastic. And no little bit dangerous, if the murmurings she'd heard around Skyhold was any indication.
Harding knew that, as a dwarf, the kind of strange things that Dagna got into ought to have sent her screaming for the hills.
But then, as a dwarf—according to all the stereotypes, and all the rules of proper underground dwarves—her whole life was the kind of thing that ought to make a dwarf run away screaming. (Not 'for the hills,' probably, come to think of it. For the tunnels? Or something like that?) Not just life under the open sky, but life where she slept outside more days than not—and where too many days inside made her feel a little anxious. She loved the sun on her face, even though it made her freckles pop out in even greater numbers than usual. She loved finding a deerpath, feeling the texture of the earth beneath her boots, listening for running water, breathing the clean wind. She loved breaking new ground.
So maybe that was why the idea of Dagna being interested in her wasn't as much terrifying as it was... exciting? And flattering, certainly.
(Assuming that Charter wasn't just messing with her, that was. It was always a possibility.)
She got her answer the next time they were back in Skyhold. And... okay, she usually didn't spend much of any time in the great hall, but there were certainly plausible reasons this time. She wanted to let Tethras know about some new deposits of red lyrium they'd found on the Storm Coast. And Solas had asked to talk to her about keeping an eye out for certain phenomena while scouting, and while she didn't have to do that right away, she certainly didn't need to wait, either, did she? And the mosaic on the wall had gained some pieces since she'd been here last.
All right, so it was possible she was hanging around to see if Dagna might emerge from the Undercroft.
Her idling paid off, although not before Tethras gave her a very amused look.
"Scout Harding," Dagna said. "I heard you'd returned! Can I talk to you for a moment? Maybe in the gardens?"
"Of course," Harding said.
The gardens always surprised Harding with their pleasantness. Even in midsummer, Skyhold could be quite cool, but the space had been designed to shelter from the sometimes-brutal mountain winds while still letting in plenty of warm sunlight. The elfroot was in bloom, its tiny white flowers with their bladelike petals opening up in the sun, and the embrium had produced heavy red buds nearly ready to open.
"Harritt always says I should get more fresh air, which doesn't make a lot of sense because I spent the first twenty years of my life in caves, so a few days at a time in one is really no problem at all. I think sometimes he just wants me out of his hair, though."
Harding couldn't think of anything polite to say to that, so she made a noncommittal noise and tried not to look too amused.
"Anyway," Dagna said. "I wanted to see, did you like the cakes?"
"Oh. Yes, thank you." She'd shared them out with the crew—they all did, when they had some treat, to break up the monotony of travel food—and she had to admit, they were nearly as good as the ones her mother had always made. "They reminded me of home."
"In a good way, I hope?"
"Yes, in a very good way."
"Good, I'm glad. Because... I was thinking, well, I was thinking we could spend some more time together. You know, when you're in Skyhold, which isn't that often, and when I'm not busy—which isn't that often, but you know, I could make some time—well, not literally make some time, although I suppose with the right application of lyrium it might be theoretically possible to make time in a literal sense, but Sister Leliana made me a list of things not to mess with while actually inside Skyhold and time magic was on it, so—"
"Dagna," Harding asked slowly. "Are you... asking me out?"
"Maybe? Yes?" Dagna gave her a look that was so sweetly hopeful that Harding could feel her chest expand. "Would you like me to?"
"I... yes," Harding said, and realized as she said it that it was true. "Yes, I would, actually."
"Okay. Good. Great!" She was nearly bouncing on the balls of her feet, which was so flattering that Harding didn't know quite what to say. "Great. Do you want to go to the tavern? They've got dwarven ale there. I've never really liked dwarven ale, but maybe you do, and—"
"Not really. I'm more a white wine kind of girl."
"Oh, well, they have that too," Dagna said. "We could go now! Or, unless that's too fast? That's too fast, I'm sorry."
Harding was torn between wanting to laugh and wondering what, exactly, she'd gotten herself into. "No, it's fine, actually. I haven't eaten."
It was only when they were halfway to the tavern that she realized how public the tavern was. But, no, it was all right. A couple of dwarves having dinner together wasn't anything unusual, was it? ...But once she'd started thinking, she couldn't stop. What was she going to talk about? Should she have put it off so she could... what, dress nicer? (In exactly what clothes?)
Maker. It wasn't like she'd done this much—she'd been rather shyly courted for a few months by a farmboy back home, but that hadn't gone anywhere, and she suspected part of the reason was because he'd been a human and his parents weren't thrilled with him seeing a dwarf. Her own parents hadn't been all that thrilled either, but she thought they probably knew that there just weren't that many dwarves in Redcliffe.
(She wondered how they'd feel about Dagna. Dagna was a nice dwarf girl, they'd approve of that. She wondered whether that would be enough to make up for the fact that Dagna was a nice dwarf girl who meddled with arcane and unearthly powers.)
After they'd gotten drinks and food, they sat at one of the little tables, and there was a brief period of slightly awkward silence before Harding said, "So, what are you working on?"
Dagna brightened up, and there was something breathtaking about that, the way she seemed to just light from the inside, as bright as if she had a small sun somewhere inside her. "Well," she said, and launched in.
Harding understood maybe two words in three. But there was no denying that Dagna's enthusiasm was infectious. She was doing something, some kind of research with Fade... something, that had to do with... something else... that the Inquisitor collected called "essences," and that may or may not have something to do with something else the Inquisitor collected, materials somehow touched or affected by the Fade. And as she spoke, she drew on the table using the condensation from their glasses as ink, sometimes symbols that looked like runes, sometimes diagrams, sometimes patterns like frost or ferns.
Harding didn't even have the minimal understanding necessary to ask intelligent questions, but she made interested noises and asked the occasional stupid question, and Dagna was kind enough to back up and attempt to explain in simpler words—not always successfully, but Harding appreciated the effort. And there was something just... compelling, magnetic, in the way Dagna glowed in her enthusiasm, her dark eyes somehow starry-bright.
After she'd gone on for a while, Dagna stretched out her hand, obliterating the patterns of water, and said, "I'm sorry, I could talk all day about this if someone lets me. You should tell me about yourself? Tell me about your last trip."
"Oh," Harding said, "it's not very... interesting. Not compared to what you do, I'm sure."
"Oh, I don't believe that at all," Dagna said. "I hear you stumbled on a Fade rift. That must have been exciting. I wish I could see one, but..." She shrugged. “Sister Leliana doesn't like the idea of me leaving Skyhold. Actually, I think she'd prefer I never left the Undercroft at all, but she can't really keep me cooped up there all the time." A briefly worried look crossed her face. "At least, I don't think she can."
Harding laughed. "Well..." she said. “A Fade rift, it's more 'terrifying' than 'exciting,' at least to me. We can't close them, not without the Inquisitor. So when we came up over the ridge and saw the rift in the bottom of the next valley, we turned tail and ran like we had bears on our heels. But by that time, it had spat out some spirits and they came up after us. We didn't want to trail them back behind us across the farmland so we took cover behind some boulders. Fortunately, we had an Inquisition mage with us...."
"You're back," Dagna said, flying down the long stairs from the great hall so fast that Harding feared she would trip—but miraculously she did not, and she reached the newly-arrived scout party just as Harding was dismounting from her cob.
"I'm back," she agreed, and Dagna smiled her brilliant smile and leaned forward to kiss her.
It was a very gentle kiss, chaste, and not the first. (The first had been before she'd left, when they'd been saying goodbye in Harding's room above the requisition office. That kiss had been as exuberant as it was clearly unplanned, leaving Harding at once giddy and oddly grateful that she wasn't the only one who was a bit clumsy with both enthusiasm and inexperience.) But it was the first one in public—not that they'd been exactly hiding the time they'd spent together, but when Dagna leaned back Harding caught Charter giving her a knowing look and flushed hot across the back of her neck.
Dagna helped with the unloading of the pack animals, handing off parcels and sacks to the porters and runners who would direct them to the proper stores. At first Harding was a little worried about that, but Dagna had the impressive muscles of a smith and an almost terrifyingly helpful disposition, and hauled pallets of ore and cords of wood with the best of them. When that was all done and Harding had picked up her personal satchel, Dagna took her by the wrist and tugged her toward the great hall. "Come with me for a few minutes? I want to show you something."
Harding allowed herself to be towed along, through the hall (she could swear she could see Sister Leliana watching her with amusement, and decided firmly that she didn't care), and then down to the undercroft. Master Harritt was nowhere to be found—he was, Dagna presumed, overseeing the sorting and organizing of stones and metals in the storerooms.
"Here," Dagna said. "I wanted to show you this. It's a pair of daggers I made for the Inquisitor. Well—not for the inquisitor, really it's for Cole, but she's the one who asked me to make them. One with a master fire rune and one with a master frost rune, that's a little bit of a cliché, the fire and ice blades, but some things are a cliché for a reason, right? Anyway, I wanted to show them to you because they're the first masterworks I made with things you brought me, and I thought you might like... to see."
Harding reached out and then hesitated, but Dagna picked up one of the blades—she couldn't tell by sight which was which—and pressed it into her hand. As soon as her fingers closed around the hilt, she knew that it was the fire dagger by the unmistakable whisper of power that surged up it into her arm, strong enough to overcome even her dwarf-born resistance. She wasn't a knife fighter by any stretch of the imagination, but even she could feel how potent it was, combined with the perfect balance of it in her hand. "It's beautiful," she said.
Dagna looked as delighted as if she'd complimented one of her children, which, Harding supposed, she sort of had. "Thank you," she said.
Harding used a polishing cloth to take her grimy fingerprints off the hilt, then studied her fingernails with dismay. "I should probably clean up," she said.
"Oh, you can wash up here, if you like," Dagna said. "I don't have much, but there's hot water and soap. And it's more private than the scout quarters."
Harding laughed. "We always end up arguing over the water basin after a long trip. I could pull rank, I suppose, but I hate to do it."
Dagna disappeared into the back and returned with a basin, a stack of towels, a pumice stone, and a bar of soap. "If there's anything that makes people nearly as filthy as travel, it's forge work," she said cheerfully. "Especially if I'm making a masterwork and it needs a dragon heart or a bile duct or something."
Harding would need a proper bath soon, but the opportunity to wash her face in fresh hot water, to scrub her hands and wipe down her dusty arms, made her feel almost fresh as new. "Do you mind if I take my hair down? I need to wash it soon, but for now it'd be enough to get the leaf bits out."
"Oh," Dagna said, and for some reason her ears turned pink. "Sure, please go ahead."
Harding pulled over a stool and sat, then dug into her pack for the wrapped cloth bundle that contained her comb and her hairpins. (She never came back with as many hairpins as she went out with. It was a sad fact of life. Sometimes she thought that people could probably track her across Thedas by the trail of shed hairpins.) Her fingers knew where all the pins were by instinct and she carefully removed each one, hooking them over the edge of the cloth to keep them secure. She'd need to order more soon, she thought, but not quite yet.
"I didn't know it was that long," Dagna said. Harding was a little startled—but then, when did she ever take her hair all the way down in public? Almost never. And it was long, she supposed, when it was down, falling halfway to her waist. "It isn't a nuisance in the field?"
"Shorter is actually worse. You have to keep it trimmed properly or it gets to an inconvenient length where you can't tie it back and it gets in your face. This long, I can just put it up and leave it up for days and a time and I don't have to think about it. When I'm traveling I pretty much only take it down when I'm going to wash it, which on the field isn't that often anyway."
"Doesn't it hurt to sleep on the pins?"
"I sleep on my stomach," Harding said, working loose the last strategically-located pin. The rope of her hair fell down her back, and she pulled it over her shoulder to untie the ties and carefully unweave it, picking out bits of leaf and twig. Sometimes she suspected that her hair had a magnetic attraction to leaves and bark and burrs of all kinds.
"I used to try to grow my hair out, but it kept catching fire," Dagna said, touching the short knot of hair at the back of her head.
Harding laughed. "That sounds like a really good reason to keep it shorter." She made sure that all her pins and ties were carefully put away, then removed the wide-toothed comb from its pocket in the cloth and started on the tangles.
"...could I do that?" Dagna asked, sounding almost... shy? "Comb your hair out, I mean? It's okay if you don't want me to."
"Sure," Harding said, surprised. "It's probably really knotty, though."
"I don't mind," Dagna said, and Harding passed her the comb.
Dagna's fingers were deft and gentle as she separated her hair carefully into sections, fingertips soft but firm against her scalp. They were more so than Harding might've expected from someone as... impetuous as Dagna. But then, she realized, that wasn't fair. Dagna's work required precise care and expertise and intense attention to detail.
It was just surprising and humbling to feel that intensity of focus fixed on her.
Dagna worked in silence for a while, carefully working the comb through the snarls in her hair without pulling. "I like your hair," she said. "It's such a pretty color. Especially when it's down. I hadn't ever seen it down."
That surprised her. Dagna's hair was red, too, and a much more eye-catching and vibrant shade—red like fire magic, like blood and earth. "Thank you. But you should see it when it's clean," she said wryly. And then, after another moment, and more softly, "You know, you could call me by my first name. Lace."
"Lace," Dagna repeated. "That's pretty. I'd like that." To Harding's relief, she didn't ask why 'Lace.' "But nobody knows you by that name that I know of, so maybe... I could just call you that when it's the two of us?"
Harding felt an unexpected flush of warmth in her chest. "That would be nice," she said.
"I don't have any other names to give you," Dagna said, after a moment. "I used to have a clan name, but I gave that up ten years ago. It's just Dagna, now."
The air of wistfulness in her voice was very slight, very faint, but even that tiniest hint of melancholy was so unusual in Dagna's manner that it stood out. Before she could even think whether it was a good idea or not, Harding found herself asking, "Do you miss it? Orzammar."
"No," Dagna said, immediately and with a fierceness that Harding had never heard from her, as startlingly unexpected as the wistfulness had been. "If I'd stayed, if I was lucky, I'd be making swords and shields for the warrior and noble castes. Not like Cole's daggers, not interesting masterworks to be put to a good use, but show swords for them to use to kill each other in pointless political scrabbles." The comb moved easily through Harding's hair now, coaxing it into long smooth waves even unwashed as it was. "If I was unlucky, I'd be married off to someone who expected me to spend all my time raising the next generation of smiths. The only way to be myself was to leave. Sometimes I... wonder how my father is. But I don't miss it, not for a minute."
The thought of Dagna, brilliant and passionate as she was, stuck in either of those roles made Harding's stomach hurt. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Dagna said, laying the comb aside and using her hands to smooth and settle her hair. "I'm happy here. I get to study the things I want to study and make the things I want to make. I'm getting paid a lot to do exactly all the things I love, and the Inquisition keeps bringing me new exciting things to research. I've never been happier."
Harding reached up over her shoulder to catch Dagna's hand, folding their fingers together. "I'm glad, then," she said.
"Me too," Dagna said. "What about you? Do you miss your farm?"
"I miss my parents. I miss my dog." Harding gigged. "Sometimes I even miss the sheep. But I don't miss the farm particularly. This is so much more interesting, and I like that I'm doing good and helping people. And I write to my parents, so it's not so bad—my da's not much good with letters but my mother writes a lot. If things ever settle down I'd like to go back and see them, though."
"That sounds nice," Dagna said, reaching over Harding's shoulder to pull a ribbon out of her hair kit. So close, Harding could smell the clean soap-and-lyrium of her skin. "Maybe I could go with you."
Harding laughed. "You'd find it very boring, I'm afraid," she said as Dagna's fingers moved quickly to braid her hair into a long single plait and tied it off with the ribbon. She pulled it over her shoulder to look at it—it looked far better than it ought, given that she hadn't yet had a chance to wash it—and then got to her feet.
"Oh, no," Dagna said, very solemnly but with eyes dancing, "I've never seen a sheep. I'm sure it'd be very, very exciting."
—and suddenly Harding realized that, yes, strange arcanist or not, her parents would like Dagna, would see the cheerful, smart, hardworking, sweet dwarf that Harding did, not the terrifying arcanist that everyone else did. (In her mind's eye she could see Dagna exclaiming over the sheep, studying their wool and eyes and teeth with the same insatiable curiosity she brought to everything, coming up with some way to make lanolin and sheepsmilk cheese into masterworks.)
She took Dagna's hands and leaned in and kissed her, not a rushed goodbye kiss or a quick kiss for the courtyard, but a gentle kiss with meaning. And when she pulled back, Dagna chased her forward for another kiss, and she found herself trying to grin and kiss back at the same time.
Sister Leliana permitted me to enclose this letter with her missive to you as long as it included some, as she put it, 'actual Inquisition business.' So therefore, I will tell you that I will happily accept any nevarrite you find. I am to make a mace for Iron Bull and it would be extremely useful. Especially if you can find any that's Fade-touched, as he has requested 'a mace that does that explodey thing.' Your mages may be able to recognize it? I'm not sure. I can recognize it, and I'm not a mage, but I know I'm unusual.
Also, should you encounter any dragons, please send me back everything. Except the intestines. I have experimented every way I can think of and there does not appear to be any use for dragon intestines. Also Harritt pleaed with me most piteously that I not do anything else with intestines in the Undercroft.
Now that that's out of the way... I miss you. Are you terribly cold? How silly, of course you're terribly cold, it's the Emprise. Are you bundling up well? Every time I put more coal in the forge I think about you and hope you're warm enough. I have enclosed a fire rune and some socks. I made the fire rune. Krem made the socks. Did you know he can knit? He can knit. I traded him a lightning rune for the socks. Only he said that one lightning rune is worth way more than two pairs of socks, which isn't true for me because I can't knit and I can make lightning runes, but he says he's going to make me more socks and a sweater and a stuffed nug.
I'll show you the rest of it when you get home, if it's done by then. I hope you're not gone so long that it's all done by then, though. That's a lot of knitting.
I miss you. I guess I said that.
I miss you too. And yes, it is very cold. Very, very cold. Thank you for the fire rune and the socks. I am wearing the socks right now. We tried to use the fire rune to warm the camp at night but there was a minor explosion. No one was hurt, but the tents were somewhat scorched. We were, however, plenty warm at the time.
I believe you will have to ask the Inquisitor about the dragons. But if we happen to find one mysteriously dead, I will send you the parts.
I think about you a lot. Actually, I sent a letter to my mother (we were holed up all day during a snowstorm, so I had nothing much to do but catch up my letter-writing) and told her all about you, and she insists that we come see her as soon as we can. I know that may not be soon, but you mentioned you wanted to see the farm, so I wanted to tell you. She will probably ask you a thousand questions, I should warn you.
I hope all is well at Skyhold, and that the Inquisitor isn't keeping you too busy.
What happened to prompt the explosion? Did you take notes? If there are any rune fragments remaining, please send them to me.
I would love to meet your family as soon as we can, and I don't mind answering questions. I like questions and answers. And no, the Inquisitor isn't keeping me too busy—I like being busy, too. She keeps bringing me bits of dead spirit. (Is 'dead' the right word to use for spirits? I must ask Cole, he could provide a definitive answer. ...Unless that would be insensitive?)
The Inquisitor returned from the Emerald Graves with all sorts of interesting giant parts. You can help me sort them when you get back!
Yours in perpetuity,
I adore you, but I'm not helping you sort giant viscera.
It was worth a shot.
Yours ever after,
P.S. Please remember to bring me dragon parts if you see them. (There, Sister Leliana, is that sufficient Inquisition business?)
"So," Charter said, one evening in the tavern, when Harding was just minding her own business and trying to have dinner, "you've been promising these dancing lessons for months."
Harding looked up from her lamb stew. "I really did mean to do them," she said, once she'd had a chance to swallow. "But the Inquisitor keeps sending me off again right when I think I have time."
Charter leaned back in her chair, one arm looped over the back. "I don't know," she said. (Oh, she was a menace. She'd learned it from the Nightingale, no doubt.) "It looks like you have time now."
Harding was aware that the other scouts at the table had fallen quiet, and that the quiet was rippling outward. Had people actually been so interested? "Well," she said, "I haven't had time to prepare, but... I suppose I could."
"Go on, then," Charter said, with her biggest, evilest grin. "I'm sure your girlfriend wants to learn."
Harding was surprised by how unembarrassed she was. She glanced at Dagna, who gave her a cheerful nod. "All right," she said decisively, pushing aside the bowl of stew and getting to her feet. "We're going to start with a Redcliffe reel. Maryden, I assume you know—?"
"Of course." Maryden played a few bars of The Maid of the West Hills and gave her a questioning look.
"Perfect. I need... let's see, hands up volunteers. Okay, Krem, Viterre, Dalish—no, Dalish, you can't volunteer Skinner too, I want actual volunteers—Desmond, Alia... Lady Montilyet, are you sure? I'm positive you know more about dancing than I do."
"I know a great many dances, yes. But not a single Fereldan reel. And I am always interested in expanding my repertoire," Lady Montilyet said, eyes crinkling with her smile.
"I guess those aren't done much at big Orlesian to-dos, huh? All right, sure. And Dagna, and I'll make the eighth. The rest of you can try next, we don't have a lot of room in here. Okay. Line up, and Dagna and I will show you how to start."
It started slow, with much laughter and fumbling and foot-stepping and at one point Dalish crashed headlong into Lady Montilyet (who was, of course, very gracious about it). And even when everyone started to get the hang of it, it was not very much like the barn dances where she'd first learned, where everyone turned out in their nicest, or at least best-mended, clothes: here, Krem's travel leathers and Lady Montilyet's cloth-of-gold and Dalish's bare feet (poor Dalish probably got the worst of the foot-stepping, come to think of it) and the breastplate Dagna had forgotten to remove all combined to make them a motley group indeed. And Sera sitting on the balcony rail wolf-whistling certainly gave the whole thing a certain ambience.
But still, once they began to get the feel of it (Krem swinging Dalish around with such enthusiasm that her feet nearly left the ground; Lady Montilyet's skirts a glittering whirl), Maryden began to sing the lyrics that went with the tune, and Harding felt her heart lift, just a little. A taste of home.
Maryden brought them to a close and Harding said, "All right. Thank you, brave volunteers. Hands up another set?"
And before she left the floor, Dagna pulled her in for a kiss on the cheek, bright with laughter.
It was probably dangerous as hell, sitting on the edge of the Undercroft's dropoff overlooking the waterfall, but the beauty of the view—and the sheer exhilaration of it, the icy spray a soft mist on her face and the air clear for miles—made up for the risk. Harding was pretty sure that was a good metaphor for being Dagna's girlfriend.
Not that Dagna seemed all that dangerous at this precise moment, leaning as she was against Harding's shoulder, arm wrapped around her waist. This close, she smelled really nice, that combination of the strong soap she used to scrub her hands after working, the faint aroma of the rosemary she used to wash her hair, and the elusive but undeniable, nose-stinging scent of lyrium.
"Why me?" Harding asked, after a moment.
"Why did you decide to ask me out?" she clarified. "Of all people."
Dagna sat up to look at her. "I like you."
"Well, but, I would've thought you'd like someone—well—someone exciting. Actually, I would've guessed that only someone extremely exciting would have been able to drag your attention from your studies for more than ten minutes."
Dagna giggled. Then she said, "You saw something you wanted and you went for it. And you were good at it without ever apologizing for being good at it. And also, you didn't stomp around with your head up your bum, or wallow around like you were knee-deep in your own tragedy all the time. Do you know how rare that is? And—" Her ears turned warmly pink, which was one of Harding's favorite things about her, the way she blushed easily but only on her ears. "I like your smile. And your freckles. You're really pretty."
Harding could feel herself start to blush, too. "Oh."
"I wanted to see what you looked like with your hair down," Dagna went on, dreamily. "You have such pretty hair." She rested her cheek back against Harding's shoulder. After a quiet moment, she said, "What about me? Why me? Why'd you say yes when I asked?"
Harding reached over to take her hand, and paused for a moment, seeking the right words. "When I lived in Redcliffe, I thought that that was all my life would be. Sheep and sheep and more sheep. If I was lucky, maybe sheep of my own someday instead of other peoples' sheep. Then the Inquisition came, and when I found out how much more interesting life could be, well, I couldn't go back. And someday maybe the Inquisition won't need me, or I'll get laid up or something and won't be able to go back. But you..." She kissed the back of Dagna's hand, right on that long scar that Dagna had explained away breezily as 'oh, concentrated wyvern spit, burns like crazy.' "You are the most interesting person I have ever met, ever. If I'm with you, my life is never going to be boring." Dagna's ears were nearly incandescent now. Harding went on, "And you have pretty eyes. And dimples. I love your dimples."
Dagna smiled, then, the huge thrilled smile that she usually reserved for interesting Fade artifacts.
"There," Harding said, "those dimples," and laughed as Dagna leaned forward to kiss her.