Not in all the years since Arlathan, since his beloved city died, had the sunlight that fell on a place felt so cold. He had returned here to ply his secrets under the eye-piercing glare of the snow, while the banners of a pierced eye at every tower mocked his affront. He had never intended to return—he had brought danger. It was fortunate those who welcomed him didn't know it was the Wolf they invited in.
"More pilgrims?" asked the man at the gate. "We don't care what shape your ears are. But if you want to see the Herald, your best bet is to wait for petitions. They let anybody into the hall for that. Great view if you arrive early!"
"I thank you for the information," he said. "And what if I also wish to petition the Inquisitor?"
The guard gaped at his impertinence, a mere elf. "You want to do what?"
The two companions at his side stirred with irritation. He cast them a stern glance. Arlasan stood mute, as was his preference. Ilgarla, ever the more impatient, cast down her fennec-fur hood with a sharp gesture.
The human faltered for a moment under her baleful eyes. "Most who arrive for such things send messages well in advance. I don't rightly know how it might be arranged." He looked over his shoulder and hailed another human. "Here, Lysette. These elves want to petition her Worship."
But when Lysette saw his face her expression lifted in recognition and surprise. She somehow remembered him—it was not mutual.
"Solas? Messere Solas, I mean? You wish to see the Inquisitor?"
"I'm sure she'll be very happy to see an old friend."
He thought that very unlikely, but did not say so.
"Is it important to speak with her today?"
He had a matter of some urgency to discuss. Could it be arranged?
He asked if they might rest until it was time, and so his small party passed beneath the gate, finding purchase between patches of drifted snow and smooth refrozen ice. The cold cut into their cloaks as they crossed the bridge, but then the wind in the mountains near Tarasyl'an Te'las had always held a fierce song. The Avvar believed the mountains had a heart. Their king had hidden it in the Frostbacks for safekeeping, only to turn cold and cruel in its absence. According to the tale, a man became a tyrant without his heart.
He forced his thoughts away from the story. They followed Lysette to a room above the inner gate house. There they found small beer and a basin of fresh water for washing, which he was happy to accept after their journey.
His companions cast off their traveling cloaks. They were all glad of the warmth and the opportunity to rest. Arlasan downed his tankard in a single draught, splashed his face with water, then left to see about the wards.
Ilgarla closed the door after him. "I thought the humans might have forgotten you, ruan'in."
"Never use that word again," he snapped.
Her proud expression didn't alter. "Ara seranna-ma. But has not it been several years? Do not the quick-blooded forget after so much time?"
"It is not so very long, even for them. I am still known here, as you observed. She will remember."
"You have not told me much about this Herald of yours, this Inquisitor. Is it a high post? Does she command these quicklings?"
"She rules over them like a priestess or a queen of your time. If I have not blundered so very badly, she will be a priceless ally."
"You have a high opinion of her."
"I do. It is merited."
Ilgarla sipped her beer. Her expression said puzzled/amused. "A queen of quicklings. She would view herself as kin to us, to you."
"Tu din banal'lethallin! Do not make the mistake of thinking them lower. They have forgotten, that is all."
Ilgarla gazed at her tankard and fell silent. And he was glad of it.
Arlasan rejoined them and they waited in silence. He had no desire for conversation, and his companions respected his wish. The Veil here was placid, slow with the weight of unhurried years. There was not much change in it since he had left near five years before, then a trusted companion of Inquisitor Evin Lavellan, when he ventured forth with her to battle a twisted creature raised high by a device of his own creation.
He had not spoken to her since that final day, nor had he seen her anywhere but memory. Yet in the Veil all around him he could now sense her presence. It resurrected pain which for him was all too fresh. And yet... and yet, he had been correct to leave. He had never doubted.
A few hours passed, which he judged by the waning of the small fire the guards had lit in the room to ward off the cold. He caught snatches of the humans' conversation in the courtyard outside. A recent foray into the Hinterlands. Darkspawn. A new blacksmith recruited. Something about the Inquisitor's son.
He closed his eyes, overwhelmed with sheer relief. And he savagely fought back the pain. Serannas, ma serannas! He had made the right decision. She had built a life here after all.
Was it Cullen's child? Or some other elvhen she had met? She must be happy, then. Good. He would thank any deity responsible, but he supposed he must award the honor to the nearest available being, and smiled.
They could meet freely, he could face her without apprehension, knowing she had given her heart to someone else.
The noon sun had just passed its zenith when a party collected them. When they reached the Main Hall he didn't look for faces he recognized. He didn't look for changes he knew must exist. He didn't look through the opened door to the right, to the frescos painted in the tower chamber where they'd courted. He didn't listen for the few voices which, recognizing him, murmured what they thought was his name.
Her voice surrounded him: familiar, resonant steel. The educated accent, so rare among the Dalish. She was questioning someone.
There were nobles and traders gathered here. There were guards posted at the doors, the familiar scent of wood-fires, incense and tallow. Her throne, back-lit by soaring windows of sky-blue painted glass, the primitive beauty of this age. He drew closer to the throne. The Inquisitor was pronouncing a judgment.
He never understood how she always knew what her audience needed to hear. She somehow found the exact words to command their loyalty or penance, the wisdom to make the decision best suited to the accused and the community they'd offended. It would have been remarkable in elvhen of ages past. In her it was astonishing. Truly she had solidified her rule here as much as with the Anchor. It had made her the Inquisitor, a leader her people would live, die, and kill for.
The years since they had parted had not taught her better posture. The oversized throne dwarfed her narrow frame, and she slouched in it exactly as he remembered. She was entirely unchanged—her hair was longer. His bare-faced, brilliant star. He felt such fierce pride, as proud as his name.
And she had moved on. He wished her happy.
The prisoner was led away. He barely noticed, so absorbed was he by her shimmering echo in the Veil.
"Solas." The Inquisitor smiled. He read it as polite friendship/interest/wary. "Andaran atish'an, ma falon."
"Ma serannas, Inquisitor. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me so quickly."
"Of course." Her voice grew wry. "I was a little worried you might disappear again."
"I hope I am not unwelcome."
"Why would you be unwelcome? They tell me you wish to make a petition. What is it you want of the Inquisition, Solas?"
"Before that... I must tell you I was likely followed. I wish you would close the gate. Alert your forces, if you would."
Her hand lifted. "Captain, make the necessary preparations."
A guard saluted and left. The onlookers began to murmur.
"Forgive me," he said. "I know I have no right. Is it possible to speak with you alone?"
She paused before answering, seeming to ponder the presence of the two elvhen. Her eyes returned to his, and her smile became more like the one he remembered. "Let's have lunch. Will my quarters do?"
She slept in the highest tower in the place, what had been a rookery before the time of Garahel. His companions followed them up the stair but made no move to enter the room.
She nodded at them. "Are these your friends, Solas?"
"The matter concerns them, but they will wait outside."
"I recognize you," Evin said to Ilgarla. "You're the one who told me to stop poking about at the Temple of Mythal."
Ilgarla folded her arms. "I remember you also."
"It was a bit rude. I like poking about," Evin said.
Ilgarla said nothing.
After considering the elvhen woman for another moment, Evin preceded him up the short stair to the chamber proper. He had been there once or twice before. The bed had hangings now, he noticed. The doors to the balcony were closed. Brightly colored cloth was woven between the railings. The pattern was Dalish.
She bade him sit across from her at the table, already laid for a meal, and poured wine into a goblet, which she offered him. "Why am I not surprised to see you in their company, Solas? I assume the world is about to end or else you wouldn't be here."
"That does seem to be the usual occasion for our meetings," he said.
"So you are in danger. What's wrong?"
"My concern is for you. There is a chance I was followed, hence the need for caution."
She wasn't eating. She was watching him, considering, weighing his lies. He couldn't read her. He needed desperately to win her support, to bring forth his arguments, but in reality he was consumed by his personal desires. It was exactly as he had feared.
He must prove that he could equal her composure. He must move past this.
"I learned you have a child," he said. "I wish you much felicity."
For a moment her stillness confused him. Then she nodded. "Would you like to meet him?"
Surely she did not mean her mate? He fought to maintain his expression. "Your son?"
"Your son, Solas."
And he tried to speak, but couldn't.