It starts after Adamant. Except, that’s not precisely true. Lavellan’s nightmares started with the Conclave, with vague memories of being chased by spiders, and then there had been the field of bodies they had walked through to reach the breach, the smell- Redcliffe had provided its fair share, as had the attack on Haven. Crestwood. Everywhere she goes now seems to yield some new terror to haunt her, but she’d been handling it. Really.
Except now it feels so much worse. It’s like any time she closes her eyes- Like now that she’s met a nightmare, it is determined to give her no rest. Like it has devoured the sacrifice she’d made to buy more time and only hungers for more. Like it was in vain.
Now- The second time she wakes in a cold sweat, her enormous room, giant bed, soft blankets, all become stifling. In the light of the moons, she puts on pants and a jacket, enough to be “decent” and keep warm in the mountain air. She means to wander the grounds, the keep, to settle and clear her head. She doesn’t make it very far. She never makes it far. It’s a problem.
Force of habit takes her through the great hall, down the rows of tables and past unnecessarily fanciful tapestries the likes of which she’d never seen before this all started. She spares a warm smile and a nod for the on-duty guards who startle from their game of wicked grace, into fumbling salutes, as she passes; absently trails her fingers across the table Varric has claimed as his own sort of pseudo-office; passes through the side door.
Whether she stands there, studying the frescos for ten minutes or two hours, Lavellan honestly doesn’t know. They- entrance her. This is her story, these beautiful images chronicle the things that have happened to her and the choices she has had to make; for better or worse. The feelings, though. She studies the scene from Adamant, the greens and blues, the glow around the black city. There’s a touch of sadness about it, of darkness, but there’s also a sense of wonder and… almost pride, that she’s never felt herself. Adamant was a matter of mitigating losses. It was a battle ended, but never truly won.
And yet here was a sort of victory. How-
“Vhenan?” By the time she snaps out of it, he’s already at her side. “Is everything alright?”
“Dar’banal,” she says, though it comes out barely above a whisper. “I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I thought I’d wander a while, burn some energy.”
“I see that plan is proceeding well,” he teases, though the look of concern remains.
“It’s not my fault you paint so beautifully. I had a nightmare, ma lath. That’s all. Your paintings soothed me.” She leans against him as she turns back to the fresco for another moment, and the arm he wraps around her feels more like an anchor. His touch tells her she’s here. She’s past that moment in the Fade; past all the events that mark these walls.
And she really had wanted to explore the stronghold. “You’ve been to Skyhold before,” she says suddenly. “Before we came, it’s how you knew it was here.”
“Yes?” he agrees bemusedly.
“So you’ve explored it before. You know where things are.”
“To an extent, I suppose, though the Inquisition’s occupation has changed many things. I do hope you’re not thinking of pawning some foreign dignitary on me for a tour. I imagine our ambassador would not appreciate the results.” She laughs at the thought and makes a mental note to bring it up the next time Josephine wants her to spend time with some huffy Orlesian noble or other.
“Not even this technically foreign dignitary? I spend so much time away that I haven’t had much chance to-” She pulls away from him and executes a bow Josephine would probably execute her for if she saw. “Monsieur Solas,” she says in her absolute worst Orlesian accent, “I would be delighted to receive a tour of this elven- hm, relic from the Inquisition’s,” she sniffs haughtily, ”expert on such matters. Indulge me?”
Solas shakes his head slightly. She’s come to love that gesture; it’s one of many tics she isn’t sure he knows he has. This one means fondness. She also loves that little reluctant smile that follows.
“Well, with such a charming request, how can I possibly refuse?” He offers her his arm.
“Excellent! Do we have any secret passages?”
Skyhold is huge. Lavellan has known this, on some level, since she first saw it from a distance, but she hadn’t realized just how great a scale it was until now. Solas leads her first through passages that are vaguely familiar, moderately lit, ones she may have passed once on her own, or maybe they just looked like all the others. There are places here that he stops, points out bits of brick, of architecture, that are different than the rest if one looks. Remnants of the Tarasyl’an Te’las that came before.
They steal some candied fruits and wine from the kitchen and break in a spare room nearby that would be just perfect for all those bottles of specialty alcohol she keeps finding. Dark, out of the way, hopefully beyond the temptation of anyone to drink them. Aqua Magus? Garbolg's Backcountry Reserve? Dragon Piss? Some bottles are better left unopened. Or, you know, hoarded. For bad days.
Solas summons a wisp to light their way as they continue down hallways with empty sconces. There’s a small library hidden away with books from floor to skylight. Everything is so old she’s afraid to touch, but Solas moves with practiced ease. He shows her volumes that are still holding together, tomes in languages she can’t identify. Scrolls in Elven.
Solas has known about this the whole time. She’ll keep his secret for now, but she can just imagine the look on Dorian’s face if he finds out. Priceless.
Further in, the walls are less brick and more as if they were simply carved from the mountain. There are faint etchings, the hint of colors from murals that used to be. Up again, to the top of a lesser tower with as wonderful a view of the range around them as she has from her balcony. Better, perhaps, since she can look all the way around, admire how the stars flow across the sky. Solas is not looking at the stars. She can tell.
“It’s still late,” she comments.
“Or very early,” he agrees.
“I know why I’m awake. But what has you wasting prime Fade time?” He shuffles beside her. He’s looking at the stars now.
“Ah.” That’s the tic for embarrassment. “I was asleep but- Forgive me, we have not discussed it. I simply thought, since you have shared time with me in the Fade, perhaps I could- Except you were-”
“Not asleep.” Solas nods. “So you woke up just to find me?”
“I was- concerned.” He’s obviously unsure how she’ll react. She pulls him in for a kiss.
“Maybe next time.”
A small courtyard lies untouched somewhere towards the back of the castle. A lesser garden, now overgrown, but still blooming. It isn’t wild, not like the forests or even grasslands that she knows from a lifetime without walls, but it’s also not ordered. There’s a familiarity in that. A very reassuring familiarity that has otherwise been missing from this place she’s taken to calling home. They sit at the top of a staircase whose railing seems to be partially made from the trees that stand tall at the bottom and watch a hint of the sunrise lighten the horizon.
“This area is one of the most similar to the original Tarasyl’an Te’las,” he says in that melodic “storytime” voice he has. “Smaller, but in every iteration a garden has always dwelt here. In the time of Elvhenan, it was essentially a hothouse, to pick the least inadequate term. Spells were lain to keep the temperature warm, to bring rain when none could make it over the peaks. There was some maintenance, but mostly the garden was left to grow as it would. Trees and blossoms thrived here that no longer exist in this world. Colors shone, brilliant beyond imagining, for which no language now spoken has words. At night, young spirits of wonder, beauty, nature, peace, would gather here, lighting paths and reveling with any who cared to join.”
Solas’s shoulder slumps beneath her resting head, his voice gone low and thick. Sadness, longing.
“It sounds amazing,” she says.
“It was,” he agrees and seems to get even smaller as she stands, even when she offers him a hand up.
“I think I can get away with a few more hours on my own before Josephine physically drags me out of bed to handle my “duties,”” she tells him, pulling him back down hallways and wondering how long it will be before he realizes she has no idea where she’s going and takes the lead. “Show me?”
He stills for barely a moment. She can hear the smile, warmth, fondness in his voice when he responds. “Ma nuvenin, vhenan. With pleasure, whenever you wish.” He kisses her again, and leads them back to bed.