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Under Good Regulation

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“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride -- where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.” - Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen



~~~


Elizabeth Trevelyan eyed her father over the top of her book of Orlesian poetry, wondering what he was so cheerful about. Lord Trevelyan often joined his wife and daughters in the parlor after dinner, but he rarely displayed such good humor while doing so. Even when the young servant, Doris, handed him a report on the fighting--which was, by all accounts, getting much too close for comfort--all he did was smile.

“I daresay Ferelden is officially the center of the war now. This war, anyhow.” He turned to his wife with a gleam in his eye. “Out of the pot and into the fire, wouldn’t you agree, my dear?” he asked.  

“Oh Lord Trevelyan!” she exclaimed. “I don’t know how you can make jokes at a time like this. Why did we ever come to Ferelden? If only you had listened to me, we’d still be safe in Ostwick. Instead we’ll be murdered by templars or apostates or worse, Orlesians, in the middle of nowhere.” Elizabeth and her elder sister Jane shared an amused look.

“That isn’t true, Mama,” said Mary, the middle of the five Trevelyan daughters. “The real fighting won’t come this far west for a while yet.”

Lady Trevelyan scoffed. “Well, I don’t believe a word of that.”

“It’s what Blackwall told me,” Mary insisted.

The two youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia, laughed. “Oh, Blackwall, of course!” Lydia said. “Tell me, Mary, when we’re your bridesmaids, will we have to wear grey?”

“Hush,” Elizabeth warned them. Recently, Mary had been training with a man called Blackwall, a Grey Warden recruiter. He was helping some of the younger people in town learn to fight, provided that they would consider joining the Wardens once he left. Like most things in life, Mary had thrown herself into the training completely, and most of her stories now revolved around Blackwall or Grey Warden history. She was as religious as she was serious, and Elizabeth had always thought she might join the Templar Order one day, but that option was currently off the table. 

Mary shot a glare at her sisters before continuing. “He says that the fighting is just as bad up in the Free Marches.”

“Do you think you could convince Blackwall to come stay at the house?” Lydia teased. “I'd so like to meet him. And it would be fun to have our own guard, wouldn't it? Then we wouldn’t have to worry about some templar coming to kill poor Lizzie.”

Elizabeth snapped her book shut, letting out her breath. “Poor Lizzie is sitting right here, and is quite capable of defending herself,” she told Lydia. She considered adding that most templars she knew would not kill an enchanter who wasn’t even part of the rebellion, but the thought of discussing Circle politics with her family made her head ache. Instead, she turned to her mother. “Mama, I thought you were the one who wanted to move here in the first place.” Lady Trevelyan’s family was from Ferelden, and according to the letters Jane had written Elizabeth, she had insisted they leave Ostwick immediately after the disaster at Kirkwall, declaring the Free Marches no longer safe. Elizabeth joined them at Longbourn sometime later, after the White Spire fell and the war began in earnest.

“Nonsense!” Lady Trevelyan scoffed. “I would never suggest such a thing. I was determined to stay in Ostwick.”

“Well, my dear,” Lord Trevelyan said, “if that’s the way you feel, I suppose we should give up our lease and return to Ostwick immediately. Packing up the place and saying our goodbyes should take -- well, let’s see. What would you say, Doris? Two weeks? Three?”

Elizabeth could tell he was teasing, but somehow, after nearly thirty years of marriage, their mother missed it.

“Well!” she said, flustered. “I--That is to say, that seems rather hasty.”

“No, no,” Lord Trevelyan continued, “you are right. It is time that we return home.” He gave another mock sigh, but was unable to keep his eyes from smiling when they met Elizabeth's. “What a shame it is that we will be so far away. I suppose we won’t be able to send one of the girls to the Conclave after all.”

Half a second passed before anyone reacted. Even the eldest two were caught off guard. Then Lady Trevelyan shrieked happily, drowning out excited questions from Jane and Mary. Elizabeth, however, froze and remained silent.

“Our girls? The Conclave? Why Lord Trevelyan, you can’t mean--!” His wife was breathless.

“Ah yes, how careless. It must have slipped my mind!” he said. He began flipping through the letters in front of him. Finally he found a folded parchment and held it up to her. “Here we are. A note. The Chantry has asked us to send a representative from our family to Haven at our earliest convenience.”

“Divine Justinia herself will be there!” Mary exclaimed.

“Chantry nonsense,” Lydia muttered.

“Oh girls!” Lady Trevelyan said as she grabbed the invite. “What excellent news! Why, think of all the important nobles who will be there!”

“Some of the not important ones, too, I imagine.” Lord Trevelyan said wryly. “After all, we are invited.”

She ignored his remark. “We must send Jane, of course. She is the eldest, and by far the prettiest.” Lady Trevelyan had always shown a preference for Jane and Lydia, for while all five girls had inherited their mother's golden hair, only those two daughters had inherited her large, blue eyes. 

Lord Trevelyan's eyebrow twitched in amusement. “I did not realize that prettiness would be a factor. Why is that, my dear? Will the mages and Templars see Jane and be so overcome with admiration that the war will end?”

“Maker, Lord Trevelyan! Don’t be silly. There will be all sorts of nobles there. I’m thinking of her meeting a husband, of course!”

“How ignorant of me,” he agreed. “Of course the Divine’s intent in organizing a war truce is Jane’s marital status. Very well, if your only requirement is that the daughter we send be single, then I would prefer to send Lizzie.”

"Lizzie!" her mother exclaimed. "But, Lord Trevelyan, you know as well as I do that she could never marry anyone in the South, and--"

Elizabeth had not yet moved, but she interrupted her mother before the conversation could go further. “I’d prefer to stay at home.”

Her father seemed surprised. “But wouldn’t you know people from your Circle there?” he asked.

Elizabeth paused before answering. “I’m not sure that they would be pleased to see me,” she said finally. After her circle fell, Elizabeth had decided not to join the mage rebellion, instead returning to live with her family. 

“Then Jane it is,” their mother said triumphantly, as Jane sent Elizabeth a sympathetic look.

Lord Trevelyan’s eyes lingered on Elizabeth. When he faced his wife again, he smiled. “As you wish. Though I suspect that Lizzie would have brought back a far more interesting report for me.”

“Lord Trevelyan!” his wife chastised, though she still was grinning. 

“Oh, Jane will be attentive, I admit,” he said. “But she is far too generous, you know. The Divine will be the kindest creature, the food will the most delectable, and the mages and templars will be the nicest people she's ever met.” He stood, taking the invitation from his wife and inserting it into his book. “It seems, my dear, that we will have to put off returning to Ostwick until after the Conclave.” He bid his daughters goodnight and left for his library.

Elizabeth frowned after him. She could see the jealous pout on Mary's face, who had not been considered by either parent, despite being the most religious of all the sisters. Another time, she may have tried to comfort her sister, but her mind was already elsewhere. She stood and followed her father.





~~~




“Enter,” his voice echoed from behind the door as she knocked. He looked pleased to see her when she slipped in the door. “Ah! Good evening again, Lizzie. Have you reconsidered? Jane will be upset, but I daresay she’ll recover.”

“No,” she said. "I haven't." At times, it was difficult to remember that her family had no true concept of how brutal the war had become. “Father… I do not think you should send any of us to the Conclave.”

“What?” Her father’s brow tightened, and he stood, placing his book on his desk. “And why not?”

“A gathering that large of templars and mages right now…” she shook her head. “Violence could break out.”

Her father scoffed at that. “What, in front of the Divine? No one would dare.”

“This whole thing started at a chantry,” she reminded him.

“A chantry in Kirkwall,” he replied, speaking the last word as if the town’s name had a bitter taste.

“Please, Father. I... I don't think it's safe."

His eyes softened and he sighed. “Lizzie, I know things must have been difficult for you in the circle. But that's all over now. This is a chance for peace. Besides, a girl like Jane needs to go out and meet people. This war has kept her at home too long. It will be good for her, you must know that.”

“Father--," she began.

He sat back down and opened his book again, interrupting her. “I'm afraid I've made my decision, Lizzie.”

“Father, I truly think that you--”

“This discussion is over. Goodnight.”

She sighed, shutting her eyes. As she left, she closed the door behind her. 




~~~

 


Later that evening, she went to Jane’s room. Her sister greeted her and Elizabeth slipped under the covers for warmth, wondering if she should mention her concerns. If she revealed the extent of how she felt, Jane would stay home out of respect for her, and while she hated the thought of Jane alone in a room of mages and templars, she didn't want to sway her sister against going, if that was what she truly wanted to do. 

“Why do you even want to go?” she asked instead.

Jane smiled. “I would love to meet the Divine. You know how much I respect her. And it would be nice to be around other people for a change.” She played with the end of her braid thoughtfully.

“And…?”

“And… I would like to meet some of them,” she admitted slowly. “The mages and the templars, I mean.”

Elizabeth gave a short laugh at that. “Denny and I left that good of an impression?” Denny Barris was Kitty’s childhood friend who'd joined the Order.

“No, not like you two, you’re both so reasonable,” Jane explained.

“So … you want to meet unreasonable mages and templars,” Elizabeth said, confused.

“Well…,” Jane hesitated. “I thought if I could just talk to them. Maybe get them to talk to each other….”

It clicked and Elizabeth began to laugh, covering her mouth. “Jane. You want to go so you can personally end the war, all through the power of love and kindness.”

Jane blushed furiously. “No! I mean… well… not end the war, but maybe make a few of them see.” She looked abashed. “Oh, it does sound silly, doesn't it?”

Elizabeth shook her head . “No. Most people are going with a dozen ulterior motives, and here, you just want to try and save the world.” She sighed, fondly leaning her head on her sister's shoulder. “You really put the rest of us to shame. They should make you Divine.”

“Lizzie!” Jane shoved her, trying to look offended, but she couldn’t hide her laughter. “You’re too much like Father, you know,” she said. They sat in silence for a few moments, Elizabeth on the verge of speaking, but finally she changed her mind.

“I’ll let you get some rest," she said. She kissed her sister on the forehead and climbed out of bed. At the door she paused, but she decided her father was right. She should not let fear rule her life any longer.



~~~



Three weeks later, Lady Trevelyan clutched her handkerchief to her brow, shaking her head. “I told Jane not to go to the Conclave. I begged her! She refused to listen! And now… she’s dead.” Her chest shook with sobs.

Elizabeth bit back her first reply. Arguing with Lady Trevelyan about what she had or hadn't said was useless. “We don’t know that she’s dead,” she insisted instead.

“Doris said ‘no survivors’,” Lydia said, her eyes wide. Kitty was behind her, weeping quietly. “And the explosion… that thing in the sky…”

“Doris wasn’t at the Conclave, was she?” Elizabeth said firmly, while trying to ignore the eerie green sheen that colored the room. They had all felt the ground shake and heard the windows shudder when the giant hole had appeared. “If there were no survivors, then how would we even know what happened in the first place?”

That thought quieted her younger sisters, but not her mother, who wailed again into her arm.

“Where is your father?” she exclaimed, lifting her head. “He should be here for me, that cruel, cruel man. This is as much his fault as hers! He wanted her to go. My sweetest, darling baby!”

Elizabeth hesitated, and then lied. “I don’t know where he is.”

When her mother realized that her grief was not going to get her husband’s attention, her wails began to cease. “I suppose we’ll have to arrange a funeral,” she said between her lingering sniffs. Her mother seemed to perk up at that thought, to Elizabeth’s horror. “And I suppose no one would refuse an invitation. Even our cousins the Dalrymples would not dare.”

Elizabeth felt a ball of anger in her throat and swallowed it, burning her chest and stomach as she did. She stood and took a deep breath.

“Lydia, stay with Mama for a moment,” she said and she left the room before her sister could reply.



~~~

 


She found her father on the stone bench by the river, as she knew she would. He was carving a stick into a point with a dagger and he paused, glancing sideways but not up at her. She could see the sorrow in his slumped posture.

“I’m sorry about Mama being… herself,” she said.

Her father shook his head, not speaking.

“We still haven’t heard for sure,” she said. “Until she’s found…”

“That could take months. Years,” Lord Trevelyan replied in a broken voice, staring at the sky. “The amount of destruction that this caused…." He sighed. "I find it very difficult to believe anyone could survive that.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “We don’t even know where she was for sure. Surely there were people in the villages, too.” 

“Where? Haven? According to Doris, the place is being overrun by demons,” he said, finally meeting her eyes. Elizabeth felt her buried grief lurch at the sight of him. He'd aged ten years since that morning. 

“Doris wasn’t there.”

“I should have listened to you,” her father said. “This is my fault.”

“Don’t say that,” she insisted.

“You warned me…”

“Father,” Elizabeth said softly. Something in the sky caught her eye. She saw a raven swooping towards them. It passed the river and glided lower, aiming for the house, near enough now for Elizabeth to see the note firmly tied to its leg.

Before she could even speak, she was running, following it. When it did land near the gate, she grabbed it, careful not to injure its wings. With trembling hands, she undid the note.

“Lizzie?” her father asked. He was right behind her.

Elizabeth did not reply, scanning the letter, and then she let out a startled laugh that turned into a sob, caught in her throat. For a moment she thought her legs would give out beneath her. “Jane’s alive,” she said. But she kept reading, her joy giving way to confusion. “But she’s injured. And they… oh, Father!” She met his eyes, panicked. “Father, they think she’s responsible!”

“What?” her father asked.

“She’s a prisoner,” she explained, her eyes returning to the letter. After a moment, she handed it to him. “I have to go to her.”

“No,” he said.

“Yes.”

"Lizzie," he said, sternly. 

Elizabeth stared him down. “She’s wounded, unconscious, and surrounded by strangers.” When her father opened his mouth to argue, she held up her hand and produced a small flame. “I’ll go without your leave if I must. You know you won’t be able to stop me.” His lips thinned, but he didn’t argue further. After a moment, he turned back to the river, hiding the expression on his face.

"Go then," he said.



~~~

 



An hour later, Elizabeth was on her horse and making her way to Haven, a Circle staff strapped firmly on her back. She leaned down, urging the animal to move faster. Normally, the journey would take a week, as it had for Jane, and would require two stops to change horses. However, she used gentle magic to maintain a faster pace than usual, and planned to take a more direct, if less convenient, route.

Using her magic so freely felt strange. Lady Trevelyan and Mary were distrustful of mages, so she’d used it at little as possible at home, only using it to read in bed from time to time, or curl her hair. But with Jane in danger, she threw caution to the wind. At first the power flowed slowly, like a riverbed that had been dry too long, but soon the horse seemed to fly as he galloped towards the gaping hole in the sky.

Several hours later, she realized that she was very out of practice. The Veil seemed to tug at her, and not just because it was weakened. She was drinking from a well that could and would run dry if she let it, so she eased back. Immediately, the horse slowed, now constrained by the physical world, and she cursed.  While she’d hoped to make the journey in two days on this road, she reconsidered now and concluded it would take at least three, perhaps four. The horse would need to rest, and she would need to allow her mana to replenish in the evenings. Disappointed, she pressed on.

On the second day, something strange happened and she heard another distant explosion. At first, she panicked, assuming that things had gotten worse, but then she realized her magic was flowing more easily and she chanced a glance up at the massive tear. The lightning had stopped and the swirling clouds looked less like a tempest, more gentle, like the rest of the sky. She breathed, not daring to feel relief. Even if it was safer here, that did not mean it was safer at Haven, and her mind was still on her sister.

 


~~~

 

By the fourth morning, she was exhausted. She packed up her tent and bedroll and rejoiced to think that she would be at Haven within a few short hours. She only hoped that her sister was being treated fairly. If she were too late--

They may have executed her already.  

The thought caught her off guard. A distinct chill in the air made her head jerk up. She spotted movement behind the trees. A Terror, and it had already seen her. For a moment, she worried she was in the Fade, but then she remembered Doris saying that the Breach had brought demons with it.

It hunched its back and shrieked at her. She drew her staff with one hand, then slammed it down, tugging on her weakened mana to make fire. Though the demon tried to step away, its gangly legs were too slow and it burned, crying out in agony. She didn’t relent, pushing harder and gritting her teeth as her mana whined at her, begging her to pull back. The demon leapt towards her and she was too slow to move away. She yelped, pain shooting through her chest where its talons hit her. She gripped her staff tighter and whacked its head, scrambling away when it toppled over. Swinging the staff toward it, she brought a new wave of fire, this one brighter than the last, and watched it twist in the blaze and then collapse. This time, it didn’t get up and she took in a deep breath.

The fight scared off her horse. With her adrenaline no longer keeping her steady, the pain from her injuries was excruciating. She tried to reach out to him with her magic, but there was nothing left inside her, and she ended up limping around her camp in circles before she could finally find him. With a scratched voice, she spoke soothing words until he let her place her pack on his back and climb up herself. She did not even try to heal. When the horse broke into a trot, the pain doubled, so she reluctantly slowed him to a walk, slumping forward to support herself on his neck.

Those few short hours that she had estimated that morning became the whole day. The magnitude of her injuries seemed to cork her mana. She wondered, with a shudder, if she was subconsciously keeping herself alive.

As the light faded on the Frostbacks, she came upon the gates of Haven. She knew that she would not be able to get off the horse. It was difficult to even sit up straight.

A guard was posted, and he looked over the wall, surprised. The guard called out to her; she tried to compose herself and reply, but all she could do was cough wetly.

“Stefan!” the guard exclaimed, turning his head back to someone Elizabeth couldn’t see. “Get the Seeker!” Then he disappeared from view.

How long the Seeker took to arrive, Elizabeth could not say. She knew who it must be--the Right Hand of the late Divine, Cassandra Pentaghast, a Seeker of Truth and, according to the letter, the person who had imprisoned her sister.

The gate eventually groaned open and a figure strode out with a firm hand on her pommel, but her sword sheathed, much to Elizabeth’s relief.

“Who are you?” the woman demanded in a heavy accent.

She composed herself as much as possible. “Elizabeth Trevelyan,” she managed to say. The woman relaxed slightly when she heard her family name. She was followed by the first guard, who carried a torch in his hand; Elizabeth heard his sharp intake of breath when the light fell on her bloody tunic. The effort to talk weakened her, and she felt herself slip from the horse.

The ground was frozen solid and provided a sharp reminder exactly where and how deep her injuries were. Darkness swirled at the edge of her eyes. Stupid girl, she thought to herself. It would do Jane no good if she died. She heard the Right Hand barking orders and after a short time, felt herself being lifted by strong arms. Dazed, she opened her eyes to see a human man with a beard looking down at her with concern.

“Take her to the Herald’s hut,” she heard someone say. Herald? she wondered vaguely. The hole in sky was very close here and she focused on it, trying to keep herself from passing out.

A door opened, and then she was inside.

“What is it?” a new voice said. The chest she was pressed against rumbled in response and she was placed on the floor, on a carpet. Her last name was spoken at least once, and then a new face appeared above her, an elven man with cold blue eyes. He knelt to touch her. As his fingers touched her face, she felt the reassuring pressure of healing magic surround her. It was cold, like fresh mountain water. She closed her eyes. The healing magic was followed by a brush against her mana.

“You are a mage,” she heard the voice say with some surprise. She opened her eyes again to see the blue eyes looking at her with confusion. "Do you have no healing skills whatsoever?" She couldn't reply. He turned to the other man and said something.

She struggled to speak but choked. He brushed her empty mana again and understanding came to his eyes.

“Ah,” he said.

“My sister,” she was able to choke out. “Jane.”

The bearded man stepped into view.

“She’s going to be alright,” the other man said. All the tension in her left, and she finally let the darkness overtake her.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth awoke to shouting. It took her a moment to piece together bits of memory, but then she recognized her surroundings. She was in a hut at Haven, the one that someone had called the Herald’s hut. There was gold light coming in from the windows now, and someone had placed her on the bed, next to --

She turned her head sharply and breathed a deep sigh of relief at the sight of Jane. Her sister was still unconscious, but the pink of her cheeks and the steady rising of her chest were good signs. Not to mention the lack of chains, she thought. Either the Chantry treated suspected terrorists with an unreasonable amount of kindness, or her sister was no longer under suspicion.

Gingerly, she placed her feet on the floor, touching her chest and her cheek as she did. She could barely feel pain from her injuries, though the lingering effects of a healing potion and some sort of strong sedative made her head hurt a little, and the shouting outside didn’t help. How much time has passed? she wondered. Looking down, she saw she was no longer wearing her tunic. Instead, she wore a silk leisure outfit, something a noble person might wear around the house when they weren’t expecting important guests.

The shouting ceased, and a moment later, the door to the hut opened. Two figures she did not recognize entered: A bearded man muttering curses under his breath, and a dwarf with copper hair and a crossbow in hand. They both stopped in surprise when they saw her.

“Good to see you're awake,” the bearded man said.

“Sorry you had to hear all that,” the dwarf added. “I’m pretty sure that’s the last of them. The rest left for Val Royeaux this morning.”

Elizabeth swallowed the dryness in her throat. “I actually didn’t hear anything specific,” she said. “Just loud words.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose, trying to think more clearly. “What exactly is going on?”

“Some men were trying to kill the Herald,” the bearded man explained. “But don’t worry, they're not welcome in the Inquisition. The Seeker made that clear enough.”

Elizabeth wasn’t sure if the sedative they gave her was stronger than she thought, or if she was missing context. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she finally admitted. 

“Yeah, we should probably start at the beginning,” the dwarf said, putting the crossbow on his back. “I’m Varric. This is Adan. Welcome back to the land of the living. Adan here is an apothecary, and also the main reason you and your sister are still breathing. Well,” he added, quickly, “one of two reasons. I’ll introduce you to the other one later.”

“In that case, you have my thanks,” she said, standing unsteadily.

Varric noticed. “How’re you feeling?” he asked.

“A little groggy, but not badly, all things considered,” she said. She glanced at her sister. “How's Jane?”

Adan shrugged. “Sleeping. She's been out two days now. But the apostate says it's expected, after what happened with the--.” He broke off, spotting the growing confusion on Elizabeth's face. “She'll live, m'lady," he settled on.

She wanted to question him further, but her stomach grumbled loudly. Varric heard, and gave her a sympathetic look. “You've been out most of a day yourself. You must be starving.” He gestured toward the door.  “Listen. There's a tavern right near here. How about I fill you in about what’s been going on over dinner? And maybe some ale?” He turned to the other man. “Does anything you gave her react badly to beer?”

“No," Adan said. "Frankly, it might help. We're, ah, low on elfroot."

Varric grinned at her. “Apothecary’s orders."

She gave a final glance at Jane. “Are you sure she's alright?”

“Sure as I can be,” Adan said.

Elizabeth frowned. She hated to leave her sister, but did need to eat, and they seemed safe where they were. She relented, turning back to Varric. “Lead the way.”


~~~

 

Haven was small and reminded her of Longbourn village in some ways, now that she saw it in the fading sunlight. Thanks to the Conclave, though, it was stuffed to the brim with people. Not just people, Elizabeth noted, but people staring at her.

“Is that her?” a woman asked breathlessly to her side. 

“Maker, no, that’s the sister,” a man replied.

It was not the only conversation that Elizabeth heard of that nature. By the time they entered the tavern, she had a thousand questions. She was relieved to see it empty, with only a bard and a bartender in sight. The bartender’s eyes widened when she saw Elizabeth’s face.

“It’s her sister, Flissa,” Varric said.

To her credit, Flissa did not look disappointed. “Still an honor. First drink is on the house, my lady,” she said.

“Are you serious?” Varric complained, crossing his arms. “I was actually there when the Herald closed that rift, you know, and I’ve had to pay for all my drinks.”

“Running up a tab is not the same as paying, Varric,” Flissa replied.

“I have the money, just not on me,” he said. “But, hey, speaking of my tab.” Flissa made an annoyed sound, and Varric grinned. “Can we get some supper and a pitcher of ale?”  Flissa rolled her eyes, but she turned toward her counter, apparently preparing the requested items. He faced Elizabeth. “Turns out being imprisoned is detrimental to your wallet.”

“You were a prisoner?” she asked, interested. “Were you at the Conclave? With my sister?”

“No,” he replied, grabbing them a table by the fireplace. Elizabeth sat across from him. “At least, I wasn’t there when… it happened. Your sister is the only person alive with that distinction.”

Fortunately, Varric was a natural storyteller, and Elizabeth didn’t have to ask her questions for him to launch into the tale. He explained that Divine Justinia had been planning to start an Inquisition to stop the war, but obviously, things had not gone according to plan. The Right and Left Hands of the Divine were still planning to launch the organization, this time to with the intent to close the Breach and find whoever was responsible for it in the first place. After the explosion, a group of soldiers went up to see the damage, and while they were approaching, Jane fell through the Breach. A woman appeared behind her. Some people thought this might be Andraste herself, saving Jane’s life.

“Ah,” Elizabeth said, nodding. “Hence this whole Herald of Andraste thing.”

“Well… partly. There’s more,” Varric said. Flissa came by at this point and placed two bowls of druffalo stew in front of them, as well as two mugs and a pitcher. They thanked her and she left before Varric continued. “Did you notice the glowing scar on your sister’s hand?”

“I-- no,” Elizabeth replied, confused. “Sorry, did you say glowing?”

“Yeah,” Varric sighed, uneasily. He told her about how, at first, they thought it was a weapon--which is how she ended up a suspect--but the apostate who helped heal her had theorized that it could seal the Breach. Two days ago, Jane woke up briefly and Cassandra put that theory to the test.

“Right after she woke up?” Elizabeth interrupted, outraged. “That could have killed her!”

“You weren’t here,” Varric said. “There were demons everywhere. If we waited, she might have died anyway. And it worked - well, sort of. The Breach is stable now. The apostate who healed her thinks that if we get enough mages to support her, she might be able to seal it for good.”

Elizabeth had just retrieved her spoon and taken another bite, so she paused to chew before speaking. “What was all the shouting about?”

Varric shrugged. “Not everyone is thrilled that your sister is being lauded as some sort of religious figure. There was a pretty vocal group that wanted to cart her off to Val Royeaux for a trial. Or an execution.” He winced. “Or just, you know, kill her right here.”

“People still think she did it,” she stated.

“No one at Haven, not anymore,” he said. “You heard the last of them, and Cullen personally kicked those guys out afterwards. Unfortunately, outside these walls? Yeah. The Chantry believes she’s involved and has denounced the Inquisition.”

“So what you’re saying is that we have no Chantry support, the Breach to seal, and need to ask the rebel mages, of all people, for help,” Elizabeth said. “And Jane is irrevocably tied up in all of this.”

“That’s about right, yeah,” he said.

“Lovely,” she sighed as she took a deep swig of ale.

 

~~~

 

After they finished eating, Varric offered to show her around the village and introduce her to everyone, but with a full stomach of stew and ale, the grogginess had become sleepiness, and she declined with a yawn. He pointed her in the direction of Adan’s hut as she left, suggesting she pick up medicinal supplies before returning to her hut.

Adan wasn’t in his hut. She decided to grab a potion anyway and was in the process of rifling through his shelf for bottles when she heard voices outside. At first she couldn’t make out anything, but she recognized the speakers as Lady Cassandra and the elven mage who’d healed her the night before--an apostate named Solas, Varric had said.

“--appreciate that you stayed, and I will do what’s in my power to protect you. But you should know that I would not hold it against you if you left,” Cassandra was saying.

“I understand,” Solas said. “And I will stay. At least until the Herald wakes.”

“You realize that I am saying--” she began.

“You’re saying that I could end up in a Circle,” he interrupted. “Yes. Fortunately for me, the Grand Enchanter has made that an impossibility for now. If and when the Circles are re-established, I’ll reconsider. In the meantime, I am here of my own volition.”

“Then... thank you,” Cassandra said. After a moment, she added, “Varric told me the sister is awake. You must be pleased that she is here, at least.”

There was a pause. “And why would I be pleased?” Solas asked, genuine confusion in his voice.

“Because she is a mage,” she said. “Leliana told me that you have been asking to take another mage along for when we visit Mother Giselle, but that she cannot spare them. With the sister here--”

He let out a breath that could have been a laugh. “Oh. No. I did not mean a Circle mage without any notable training or talent.”

Elizabeth’s jaw clenched.

“If her lack of training is the main concern, surely you could train her,” Cassandra suggested. “The Herald is not a skilled warrior, but she has promise and the Commander has agreed to instruct her.”

“No,” Solas said, firmly. “The sister shows no promise. And from what I saw of her arrival, she has as little judgment as she does power. Even if she could be trained, I’m afraid she would do as much harm as good. Knowledge and ability without wisdom can be worse than ignorance, if history teaches us anything.” There was the sound of a door opening.

“I see,” the woman replied in a doubtful tone.

“I will see you tomorrow, Seeker,” he said. “Good night.”

“Good night,” she replied. A door shut, and Cassandra’s receding footsteps crunched in the snow.

Elizabeth stayed perfectly still for a minute, concerned she would be caught by one or the other, but all she could hear was the wildlife of the Frostbacks and the distant sound of villagers chatting. She finally made her way to the door and slipped through, foregoing the potions entirely. Adan could bring them to her in the morning.

Her face still felt warm in the freezing air as she considered what she had overheard. Elizabeth had never found her magic anything to boast about--few mages in this part of Thedas would--but it was still a slap in the face to be considered so inadequate. The only complaint her trainers had ever had about her ability  was her penchant for using the Veil to copy spells--a bad habit she'd picked up in her youth and almost paid dearly for. But Solas couldn’t know about that particular flaw at this point.

It was ridiculous, she decided. He probably looked down on Circle mages as a rule. That he found her fatigued at the end of a particularly arduous journey should have been expected, not presented as some sort of critique of her ability. And who gave him the right to decide she lacked wisdom and judgment? They had not spoken more than a few words to one another!

Jane was still asleep when Elizabeth entered the hut, and despite the adrenaline that her eavesdropping had produced, the sight of the bed looked appealing. There were some sleeping elixirs laid out neatly on the desk, and she hoped that they would be strong enough to make up for the lack of a healing potion. She downed one, crawled beneath the sheets next to her sister, and was asleep within moments.

 

~~~

 

In the morning, she woke to find the other side of the bed empty. A wave of panic swept over her and she stumbled out of bed, her chest injury throbbing slightly with the effort. A folded piece of paper with her name on it was propped on the desk, and she relaxed slightly when she recognized Jane’s handwriting.

 

 

Lizzie,

I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was to wake up this morning and see you! I would never have asked you to come, but I admit that I’m relieved you’re here. I am sorry to leave you alone so soon. Lady Cassandra Pentaghast is here and she requested I meet her at the Chantry as soon as possible. I didn’t want to wake you.

                                                                                                                                                                     Love, Jane

 

 

Elizabeth smiled. Her sister was awake and sounded like herself. She folded the letter and put it back on the desk, and then looked around, considering what she should do while she waited. For a moment, she was torn between staying in the cabin and going out to find Varric. The village was small enough that Jane would be able to track her down once her business with Cassandra was over, after all.

Then she realized that neither she nor her sister had written to her family yet. Bent on that task, she sat down and began to write to her father, assuring him that they were both alive and would remain in Haven for the time being. After hearing Solas so casually dismiss her last night, she wasn’t sure whether she would be a welcome addition to the Inquisition, but she suspected there were certain benefits to being the Herald’s sister, if the townspeople’s reaction was accurate. And Jane would not want her to go home. Perhaps she could even find ways to help around the village.

With the letter done, she left the hut and asked around until she found someone who could send a message. She gave them the letter.

Varric was difficult to find; it was too early for the tavern, and there was only a group of Chantry sisters near the open fire that she’d found him near the evening before. An idea occurred to her, and she headed to Adan’s hut. He was there this time, hanging a few herbs to dry.

“My lady,” he greeted her when she entered. “You’re looking well. I hear the Herald is up and about.”

“She is,” Elizabeth said with a nod. “Thank you again.”

“What can I help you with?” he asked. “Sorry to say we’re still low on healing potions.”

“Actually, I’m hoping I can help you.” Elizabeth eyed the potion tables. “At the Circle, we were assigned tasks,” she told him. She reconsidered the phrasing. “Hobbies, really. Sometimes they were useful for daily life, but the real purpose was to keep our hands busy. As if we would all run off and start practicing blood magic if left to our own devices.”

“I’m sure that fear doubled after Kirkwall, thanks to Varric,” he replied with a shake of his head.

She was confused for a moment. “Varric? What do you mean?”

“Oh,” he said. “Varric wrote a book about it. About Kirkwall, I mean. He was there, and--”

“Oh! Varric is Varric Tethras,” she realized out loud. Of course. It fit with his disposition, his manner of speaking, his ability at storytelling. And his name. She mentally slapped herself. If she had not been drugged and injured so recently, she might have realized it last night.

“Yes. I imagine his book didn’t calm down any templars,” he said. “Or mages, for that matter.”

“You’d be surprised.” The book had made an impact on her Circle, but not one as negative as Adan assumed. She picked up a potion and looked at it carefully before continuing. “One of my hobbies was studying plants. I was wondering if there was any way that could be useful to the Inquisition?”

“You were an herbalist?” Adan asked, now looking at her with interest. She nodded. “Well, uh, yes, that would be helpful. I could spend more time here instead of scouring the fields. All I have right now is a scout who doesn’t know plants from shit -- I mean, ah, from--" He grimaced and shook his head. "Maker.”

She laughed. “No need to apologize, Adan. My grandfather said worse around me when I was a child.” She put the potion back on the shelf. “Give me a list of what you need, and I'll see what I can do. I believe you said something about elfroot?”

“Yes,” he said eagerly. “Honestly, anything you can find. Although--” he paused, looking her over. “I don’t want you putting yourself in any danger.”

“I can defend myself,” she replied. He looked doubtful, and she realized with annoyance that he’d spent two days healing her with Solas by his side. She crossed her arms. “Yes, true, I did not do so well against a Terror by myself, after four days of eating little more than dried meat and berries, but I assure you I’m not inept.”

“A Terror?” he asked, surprised, and then he looked grim. “Of course. I should have known it was a demon by the claw marks. We thought maybe a deepstalker got to you.” He held up his hands. “You’ll get no more grief about it from me. And thank you for the help.”

She bid him farewell and turned to leave.

“Oh,” he said. When she faced him, he continued. “What were your other hobbies at the Circle?”

“I played the lute,” she said. “I was also a seamstress. Not exactly the sort of thing you need when establishing an army.”

He shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. If you find the time, head down to Harritt. He’s the smith. A good man. Being a seamstress, you might be able to help with the armor.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to contradict him, but reconsidered. Frankly, the more ways to be useful to the Inquisition, the better. “Thank you, Adan,” she said with a smile.

 

~~~

 

With that done, she checked the fire again and saw that her copper-haired friend had returned.

“Hey! Glad to see you’re awake,” he said, cheerfully.

“So. You’re Varric Tethras,” she replied. “I apologize for not catching that last night. I’m a huge fan.”

He looked pleased. “The Viper's Nest? Hard in Hightown? Tale of the Champion?” he asked. “Probably not Swords & Shields, but I’m not picky about good reviews.”

Tale of the Champion, mainly. Everyone in my Circle loved it,” she said. She lowered her voice. “Despite the fact that it was banned.”

“Banned! You’re kidding!” Varric looked absolutely delighted.

“Of course I'm not. Blood magic. Crazed templars. A mage willingly becoming an abomination. An apostate heroine. But don’t worry, it was popular among all members of the Circle. In fact, the only reason I don’t have a copy for you to sign is because I loaned mine to a templar right before the Circle fell.”

“Really?” Varric asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “ And she’d already read it twice. Her original copy was confiscated by the Knight-Commander.”

“This is the best thing I’ve heard all week,” Varric laughed before glancing at the Breach and sobering. “And, uh, not just because it’s been a shitty week.”

Before she could reply, the doors of the chantry opened.  Cassandra and a woman who Elizabeth guessed was the Left Hand of the Divine walked out, followed by Jane.

“Jane!” she said under her breath. She glanced at Varric. “Sorry--I'll be right back.” 

“I get it,” Varric said with a rueful grin. “Do what you need to do.” 

She ran up the stairs that led to the chantry and flung herself at her sister so swiftly that it made Jane laugh.

“Lizzie,” she replied, her eyes shining. The sisters looked at each other, at a loss for words. There were too many things to discuss and too many people around. Finally, Jane stepped back, and beckoned her sister to the other two women. “Lizzie, I’d like you to meet Cassandra Pentaghast, the Right Hand of the Divine, and Leliana, the Left Hand of the Divine. Cassandra, Leliana, this is my sister, Elizabeth Trevelyan.”

“We met briefly,” Cassandra said with a slight incline of her head. “I doubt you remember much of it, though.”

“I remember enough to know that I’m in your debt,” Elizabeth replied. She turned to Leliana. “And I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for your letter.”

“Of course,” Leliana said, shaking her hand, “though perhaps if I had known the reaction would be so intense, I would have been less forthcoming with the… particular details.”

“Well, I’m here now,” she said, and before Cassandra could suggest sending her away, she added, “and I hope I’m welcome to stay at Haven for the time being. I already spoke to Adan and he said my help with obtaining herbs would be useful for his work.”

“Lizzie,” Jane said, turning back to face her sister. Her voice lowered. “They’re sending me to the Crossroads. There’s a Chantry mother who is willing to speak with us. I know what you’ll say, but--”

“The Crossroads?” Elizabeth replied. “But that’s where the fighting is.”

“I know,” Jane repeated. “We can’t miss this opportunity. If we could just get the Chantry to listen to us, we may be able to convince the mages or the templars to help us.”

There was a pause as Elizabeth thought about sending her sister into danger, alone, with strangers, and so soon after the Conclave. That was impossible. She straightened. “Well, I suppose there are herbs there, too.” Cassandra’s lips thinned, but Jane’s smile widened.

“Of course. You’re very welcome to come along,” her sister replied.

 

Chapter Text

 

It was decided that they would leave for the Hinterlands in one week’s time. The intervening days were dedicated to preparing for the journey. Thanks to her new religious title, Jane’s recovery and training were the Inquisition’s highest priorities, and as much as Elizabeth detested letting Jane out of her sight, she ended up passing most of the day alone. She found herself wandering the woods for herbs, building up her magic’s strength, and learning to build armor with Harritt.

The smith was grateful for the help. He was a practical man with a rough demeanor, and an excellent teacher.

“Frankly, there’s not much sewing and this have in common,” he told her during their first lesson. “But being good with your hands is important, and we have more soldiers to outfit than smiths to outfit them.”

By her third day, she had finished a pair of not-quite-symmetrical gloves for herself, the left one a little too tight and the right one a little too loose. Harritt assured her that the leather would adjust to her hands, and was pleased enough with her work that he suggested she add weapon making to her schedule when she returned. “You seem a quick enough learner. We’re understaffed and it’s not like we need the Sulevin Blade for every soldier around here.”

“I’d be happy to help,” she replied.

That evening, Varric made good on his promise and introduced her to Solas, who was as cold and arrogant as she had expected. When she told him that she would be joining them in the Hinterlands, a flicker of disapproval passed over his face. No matter how many times she reminded herself that she and Jane were in his debt, she could not quite raise her opinion of him. Fortunately, once she had profusely thanked him on both accounts, he seemed to consider the matter at an end, and acted as disinterested in striking up an acquaintance as she was. Besides nodding at each other when they passed, they did not interact.

 

~~~

 

The night before they left, as Elizabeth wrote a second, more detailed letter to their father in their hut, Jane appeared beside her. Elizabeth noticed she was fidgeting with her braid and looked up.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“Lizzie, do you--,” Jane began. She paused. “What do you think of the Commander?”

Elizabeth knew her sister well enough that this was all it took for an astonished smile to spread over her face.

“It’s not like that!” Jane insisted, blushing in a way that made Elizabeth think it very much was like that.

“He’s a good man,” she said.

“He is,” Jane agreed.

“And handsome, too,” Elizabeth said.

Jane’s blush deepened.  “He’s very good at what he does, but still kind.”

Elizabeth had not spoken to him much, but what she had seen supported her sister’s opinion. She'd particularly noticed because he was so different than the man Varric had portrayed in his book. Then again, she assumed that Varric had exaggerated quite a few things about Kirkwall.

She put her quill down, unable to keep the grin off her face. “Then I give you my full permission to fall in love.”

“Don’t tease me, Lizzie. I’ve only known him a week,” Jane said, exasperated. “You’re so much like Father sometimes!”

“Given our choice of role models, I’ll take that as a compliment,” she replied. “But when did this start? You have to tell me everything!”

“There’s nothing to tell,” Jane said as she sat on the edge of the bed. “He’s quiet when he’s not talking about the troops. I mean, he’s training me in fighting, of course.”

“That must produce some conversation.”

Jane shook her head. “Less than you would think. It was easier at first, before I-- before…”

“Before you started liking him,” Elizabeth supplied helpfully, and she nodded. “Have you flirted with him? Has he flirted with you ?”

“Not really,” she said. “Yesterday, I made a joke, and his smile lingered in a way that made me think-- well, I don’t know. And afterwards, he seemed flustered.”

“Flustered how?”

Jane looked down and twirled her braid. “His cheeks were red and he stammered a little.”

“Oh, Jane, he’s already half in love with you!” Elizabeth exclaimed at this.

Her sister scoffed. “That’s impossible.”

“It’s impossible that he’s not,” she said. She joined her sister on the bed.  

“You said that about Lord Musgrove last summer,” Jane accused.

Elizabeth threw her hands up. “How was I supposed to predict that he preferred men? And besides, you two became intimate friends, didn’t you? If he could have fallen in love with you, I still believe he would have.” She grabbed her sister’s hand. “Jane, you need to try and flirt with him.”

“You know I can’t!” Jane exclaimed, aghast.

“Just try,” Elizabeth replied. “For me?”

“I’m not very good at it.”

“He doesn’t need to be charmed if he’s stammering at you already,” Elizabeth argued. “All he needs is encouragement.”

Jane sighed, and then laughed lightly. “The world is ending, and here I am, fretting over how a man feels about me.” She shook her head. “I have the worst timing.”

“One, the world is not ending, because you’re going to save it,” Elizabeth said, “And two, this is the perfect time for love. You need comfort and support and to be cared for. Not to mention the pleasure seeing you in love would bring me .” She looked at her sister intently, and finally Jane relented.

“Fine, I will try to flirt with him.”

“That’s all I ask,” Elizabeth said, satisfied she had made her point. She turned back to her desk.  “Now help me with this letter to Father. I want him to tell Mother that we joined something ridiculous, but I can’t decide what. The Qun? The Imperium?” she said. She tapped her quill twice. “Maybe I’ll say we’ve become Dalish…”

“You’re terrible,” Jane said with a giggle, climbing into bed.

 

~~~

 

In the morning, Elizabeth went to Leliana’s tent. Early on, the spymaster had been able to produce a record of the noblemen and Chantry members who’d died at the Conclave, as they required invitations to enter the Temple of Sacred Ashes. The templars and mages, however, were invited by the Divine en masse . Besides a few important names from either faction, no one in the Inquisition had been able to establish who was and wasn’t there, and unfortunately, neither organization seemed eager to help provide names. “We believe they are concerned that one of their own will be implicated,” Cassandra explained when Elizabeth asked why.

As information trickled in, Leliana kept a running list of confirmed names for the two groups in her tent, and Elizabeth tended to linger whenever she saw that new entries had been added. Her decision not to join the rebellion had severed many ties between her and the other mages in her Circle, so she had very little current information about them, and that doubled for the templars she knew.

Elizabeth was not the only one who sought out the list regularly; she often saw Cullen leaving as she was entering, or vice versa.

On that particular morning, two new names were familiar to her:  A couple of enchanters from Ostwick. Neither of them were close friends, and she had suspected that they would be at the Conclave, since they had both been Libertarians, but seeing their names in ink still affected her. She was overcome enough to close her eyes while she gathered her thoughts.

“Someone you knew?” a voice asked from behind her, and she turned to see the Commander.

“Yes, two people from my Circle,” she replied. “And you?”

“There’ve been a few,” he admitted. They stood in awkward silence for a moment. “I hear you’ll be leaving soon. May I walk you to the stables?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied. As they set off, she asked, “You don’t think they did it, do you? The mages or the templars I mean.”

“No,” Cullen said, shaking his head. “Far too many lives were lost on both sides. Whoever did this used the chaos of the war to further their own ends-- to what, I cannot say.” He sighed. “I had hoped reasonable people would prevail at the Conclave.”

“Yes,” she agreed sadly, “but they may not have, even without the explosion. The war has made some reasonable people I know do terrible things.”

“That much is true,” Cullen muttered. They were nearing the horses where Cassandra and Jane were waiting and he looked over towards them with a pained expression on his face.

“Cullen,” Elizabeth said, softly. “I’ll bring her back safely. I promise.”

Cullen looked startled and then flushed. “Uh, I…” he replied, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yes. See that you do. Lady Trevelyan is very important.” His flush deepened. “To the Inquisition, I mean. And to you, I’m sure.” He nodded to her and walked toward her sister to bid her farewell.

Her mind was still preoccupied, but she couldn’t help a small smile from touching her lips. It seemed that she had been correct in her estimation of the Commander’s feelings. With bittersweet emotions--and a little difficulty--Elizabeth pulled on her new gloves and mounted her horse.

 

~~~

 

The first leg of their journey went quickly. The Frostbacks were barren, but in a beautiful sort of way, and Elizabeth was able to explore a little with the excuse of looking for herbs. Varric scouted ahead, joining them at midday and in the evenings, and guided them around hostile Avvar holds and bandits. After a few days, they began to see civilization, and with civilization came evidence of combat. They had not yet reached the Hinterlands, but the instability of the war spread beyond the touch of the mages and the templars.

At one point, they passed just twenty miles south of Longbourn, and Jane remarked to her sister that they should visit on their way back.

The look Elizabeth gave her sister could have forged steel.

“I am not sure this would be a good time for you to visit home, Herald,” Cassandra said from a few feet ahead. “There is still much work to do, and the sight of your mother may make you homesick.”

Elizabeth snorted. When she glanced up, she sobered under the glare of the Seeker. “Sorry. You just clearly haven’t met Mama.”

 

~~~

 

As they neared the Crossroads, they rode through villages that were empty, or even entirely destroyed. With abandoned villages, of course, came the men who scared the villagers off. Varric’s reports contained more and more bandit camps to avoid. For several days, they were successful in doing so, but they couldn’t stay lucky forever. One day’s ride from Scout Harding’s camp, they were ambushed.

“Bandits!” Cassandra cried out when the first arrow neatly caught Jane’s horse in the neck.

Elizabeth leapt down from her horse, a few yards behind her sister, staff in hand. Before she could even turn, she felt the chill of Solas’ now familiar magic pass her. Without thinking, she raised her mana to her eyes and she saw the world glow. Now she could see the barrier that Solas had placed on Jane. Unlike the dome-shaped barriers she’d been taught at the Circle, this one clung to her sister like fabric, effectively following her movements for several moments before beginning to melt. An arrow bounced harmlessly off Jane’s side. Neat trick, she thought, impressed despite herself.

Jane’s training with the Commander showed, and she quickly fended off an attacker, but it was Lady Cassandra who demanded Elizabeth’s attention. The woman was a force of nature. As Elizabeth pooled her mana in one hand and held her attack with her staff in the other, she saw Cassandra slice through three bandits almost instantaneously. With a tug of the Veil, Elizabeth ignited the magic in her palm and shot fire forward, sending another bandit tumbling backwards into her sister’s sword. She stepped back several feet as she did so, arranging herself so she could watch Solas as he laid another barrier, this one on Cassandra. She held her fire steady on the bandit as she studied the glow of Solas’s movements, her eyes following the Veil as it followed him.

A movement in the corner of her eye alerted her to a fifth bandit, a woman rushing at her sister from behind. There wasn’t enough time to call out. Praying to the Maker that she had seen enough, she tried to replicate his spell. With a clumsy thud, it landed right before the attack. Her barrier was nowhere near as strong as his, and it melted into the air much faster, but it was enough to throw back the bandit’s sword. Solas saw it, and he glanced back at her with an alarmed expression. The distraction almost allowed a sixth man’s sword to lace his arm, but with surprising agility, he Fade-stepped away and then hit the man with a wall of ice.

When she looked back, the bandits lay dead, Cassandra was examining an injury on her leg, and Jane was looking a little pale. Elizabeth strapped her staff to her back and went to speak with her sister, only to feel someone grab her arm. She looked up at Solas, surprised.

“What was that?” he asked. The alarm had not left his face.

“A bandit attack,” she replied coolly.

Solas’s jaw clenched. “No. Where did you learn that barrier spell?” he said.

Elizabeth dropped her eyes for a moment before looking back up. She told him the truth. “I copied yours. Is that a problem?”

Solas let go of her arm, but continued to stare at her, his eyes dark. She opened her mouth, an explanation on her tongue, and then closed it again.

She had hoped that an apostate would not care so much about the unusual way that she practiced magic. Over the years, people had warned her about the irresponsibility of replicating spells on sight, but they’d all been in the Circle. It had almost prevented her from becoming an enchanter at all. Magic was meant to be studied, the senior enchanters had all claimed; it was to be taught and researched by people much more experienced than her. Using her magic to watch how another interacted with the Veil was lazy, and even dangerous. It required pushing her mana close to the Veil, and that left her vulnerable to demons.

She had received the lecture often enough to recite it from memory and did not want to hear it from Solas. Especially since she doubted the Seeker or the former templar back at Haven would approve.

“I know, it’s not by the book,” she said in a lower voice, folding her arms. “I’ll try not to do it in the future. Please, don’t tell Cassandra.”

His eyebrows drew together and the expression on his face relaxed into confusion. “I was not planning to.”

“Good,” she said, and she stepped around him and went to Jane.

 

~~~

 

Cassandra was only slightly injured, but it was already near evening, so they decided to camp early. Varric tracked them down an hour later. When they told him what happened, he sighed heavily.

“Sorry,” he said, gruffly. “There’s just too many of them here.”

“It’s not your fault, Varric,” the Seeker said, the kindest words Elizabeth had heard her speak to him all journey. “While we are this close to the fighting, we should stick closer together.”  

They only had potatoes left, which they boiled and salted. The Seeker went to lie down after supper. Elizabeth glanced continually at her sister, noting that the color had returned to Jane’s face soon after the battle and that she still seemed to have an appetite.

Occupied as she was with Jane’s welfare, Elizabeth did not notice that Solas’ eyes were following her with renewed interest. At first, he’d dismissed her when he'd discovered that her shallow pool of mana was too weak to withstand a single fight; however, there was a certain uniqueness to her magic, as minimal as it was. In particular, her ability to duplicate spells from mere observation showed a rare level of talent. He’d caught a glimpse at how she did, too; indeed, he could not have missed it, as the effect on her eyes had rendered her face striking. Solas knew that the woman they called the Herald of Andraste was beautiful in a general way, and that many eyes followed her around Haven for that very reason, though his own stayed only on her hand. It occurred to him suddenly that some of the humans would also find the Herald's sister quite pretty as well. 

Eventually, Elizabeth had to look away from her sister when Jane went to lay out the bedrolls, and as she did, she met his eyes, surprised to find them sharp and focused on her. He blinked and looked away, to her confusion.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“No,” he replied, standing. He placed his empty bowl next to the fire and went to his tent without saying another word to her or Varric.

Elizabeth stared at the fire for a moment before bidding Varric goodnight and heading back to the tent she shared with Jane.

“Solas was scowling at me just now,” she whispered as she climbed into her bedroll.

“Was he?” Jane asked, amused. Elizabeth had told her sister about what she overheard at Haven, though of course Jane had interpreted Solas’ comments as concern for Elizabeth’s safety. “Maybe he’s impressed with your fighting skills.”

“I doubt that ; he’s a much better mage than I am,” Elizabeth replied. “I believe he’s offended I stole his spell.” She pulled the blankets up to her chin against the cold Hinterlands air. “And if that’s the case, I must make sure to steal several more of them.”

 

Chapter Text

 

At Harding’s camp, they were briefed on the fighting in the Crossroads, and then rested for the night. Solas continued to heal the wound on Cassandra’s leg. He had initially suggested that Elizabeth help him, but when Cassandra complained that the tent felt too crowded, she hastily agreed and added that the wound was not severe. She escaped to her own tent before he could argue.

“He probably wanted to criticize my healing magic,” she grumbled to Jane as she pulled on a sleeping shirt.

“Or he just wanted to work more quickly,” her sister replied from her bedroll. “Honestly, Lizzie, I don’t think he’s half as bad as you say he is.”

“Didn’t you hear what he said to Varric?” she asked. “About dwarves being ‘the severed arm of a once mighty hero, lying in a pool of blood’? He’s obnoxious.”

“So far, he’s been very nice to me,” Jane said.

Elizabeth had, in fact, noticed that Solas was more tolerant towards her sister than he was toward most of the other members of the Inquisition. He patiently answered her questions about his background and the Fade, and even encouraged her to ask more. Perhaps he believes that if the Herald of Andraste counts him as an ally, the Chantry will not force him into a Circle after the war, she thought. She felt something akin to pity if he were that naive.

“Lizzie, I wanted to tell you something,” Jane said.

Elizabeth sat on her own bedroll and faced her sister. The fire outside barely outlined their faces in the tent. “Is something wrong?”

“No! Not at all,” Jane rushed to say. “It’s silly, actually. I would have told you earlier, but you seemed distant before. Distracted.”

Elizabeth realized that she meant since they had left Haven. “Yes,” she admitted. “Right before we left, Leliana confirmed that two people I knew from Ostwick were at the Conclave.”

“Oh,” Jane said softly. “I’m sorry.”

“It wasn’t too much of a surprise,” she replied. There was a long pause before she spoke again. “What did you want to tell me?”

“It was foolish,” Jane said. “Forget I said anything.”

Elizabeth lay down and rolled to her side. “Well, now I’ll have to bother you until you tell me, and neither of us will get any sleep.”

“I… fine.” Jane propped herself up with her arm. “The morning we left, I… I tried flirting. With Cullen.”

“You did?” Elizabeth asked, pleased. “Why didn’t you say anything? How did it go?”

“It went horribly! I told you I’m terrible at flirting. Lizzie, I…” she hesitated, drawing her blanket up to cover part of her face in embarrassment. “I asked him if he was celibate.”

“You what?”

“Well… you said sometimes templars are… and I thought…” Jane trailed off.

Elizabeth stared at her sister’s face in shock for a moment, then began laughing uncontrollably, sinking her face into her bedroll to keep herself quiet.

“It’s not funny!” Jane said. “I think I ruined everything.”

“Oh, Jane. I don’t think you did,” Elizabeth replied as she recovered. She related her last exchange with Cullen before they left Haven, including how he’d flushed and called Jane important.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Jane replied, but Elizabeth could see her sister relax a little. “Cassandra calls me important, too.”

“Believe me, if she turned as red as Cullen did when she said it,” Elizabeth replied, “I’d probably think our dashing Seeker was smitten with you too.”

 

~~~

 

The noises of the campsite woke Elizabeth in the morning, and she realized she was alone in her tent. The smell of cooked meat wafted through the air. After pulling on her clothes and grabbing her staff, she went out to get breakfast. The late spring air was brisk and she shivered slightly as she pulled on the boots she’d left just outside the flap of the tent.

At the campfire, Harding handed her a steel mug of oats and a rasher of bacon.

“The Herald and Lady Cassandra went toward the meadow to practice, if you’re looking for them,” she told her, nodding her head toward the north.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, gratefully accepting both items. The steel mug warmed her hands as she walked towards the sound of clashing metal.

Varric was already there, his own mug balanced precariously on his knee as he watched the two women spar. He glanced up as she sat next to him.

“Hey Blaze,” he greeted. “Your sister’s not half-bad at fighting.” He looked back towards the field. “I mean, she’s getting obliterated by the Seeker, but most people would be liquid by now. Count me impressed.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “Was that a bona fide Varric Tethras nickname I just heard?”

Varric grinned, but then nodded back to Jane again. “Seriously, though. I can tell you worry about her. You shouldn’t,” he said. “As I think I mentioned, an hour after I first met her, she killed a Pride Demon. And those things are awful.”

“Yes, you did mention,” Elizabeth replied, her own smile fading. “And then she fainted and remained unconscious for three full days.”

“But she’s still alive, right?” he said. “You’re not going to be able to protect her forever. And you won't have to.”

She didn’t reply. They watched some more of the fighting, and Elizabeth began to see what Varric meant. Her sister's form and confidence were good, and her command of her weapon seemed natural. Cassandra was a hurricane of motion, but Jane was defending herself well.

“I might worry too much,” she admitted.

“She’s gonna be alright,” Varric told her. He considered Elizabeth for a moment, and added, “By the way, she’s not the only Trevelyan who could use some training.”

“I know,” Elizabeth said, sighing. “Believe it or not, most of my time at the Circle was not spent learning how to kill people. Quite the opposite, in fact.” She swallowed some of the oats. “I’ve been practicing.”

“By yourself,” Varric said, and for a moment she thought he was going to offer to spar with her. Instead, he looked over her shoulder. “Come on, Chuckles, you’re our resident apostate. Want to help corrupt a local Circle mage?”

Surprised, Elizabeth followed his gaze. Solas was standing a few feet away. He met her eyes first, then turned to Varric.

“I'd be happy to train--” he started to say, but she was already standing.

“Varric, that is an excellent idea,” she said, “but I really need to -- gather some herbs. Before we leave. So maybe another time?” The excuse sounded weak to even her own ears. Solas took it in stride and nodded, facing back towards Cassandra and Jane, but Varric gave her a curious look.

“Alright. Just remember, Harding said not to go more than a half mile in any direction,” he told her as she gathered her things.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said as she left, waving at the two men.

 

~~~

 

The Hinterlands were hilly, with twisting paths cutting through rock and stone. It made it difficult to see more than ten feet in some places, but elfroot was abundant enough that she didn’t have to see far. She had almost filled the basket that Harding had leant her when she heard noises and froze, ready to grab her staff. There was a path in front of her that led into the mountains and she fixed her eyes on it, waiting.

A bush to her right shook, and a fennec fox leapt towards her, squealing as it passed. She let out her breath, almost laughing, and began to relax.

Then the templars rounded the corner.

There were two of them, both young and clean shaven. Their shields had smudges of soot and blood, and when their eyes met hers, they looked as startled as she felt. For a giddy moment, she wondered if they could all just turn around and pretend this never happened.

Then the one on the left gave a yell and reached for his sword.

Solas’s barrier, she thought to herself, and with a flick of her hands it landed. It was still clumsy, but she was able to make it stronger this time. Her right hand reached for her staff as her left pooled mana, and she mentally catalogued her spells for one that might be a good offense against people in full armor. The charging templar was almost at her side.

By the time her staff was in her hand, the templar on the right had cast Silence and she felt the Veil slip through her fingers, leaving her empty.

Shit.

The other templar’s sword hit her barrier. She was unharmed, but the force of blow threw her to the ground. She swung her staff at him and knocked him in the cheek, making him fall back.

Elizabeth scrambled to her feet and tried to run, but the templar who had used Silence tackled her and she yelped as she hit the ground again, kicking. Her teeth connected with her lip, and the taste of blood filled her mouth as she struggled. Her foot hit something soft and she heard the man’s “oof” as his grip loosened, giving her a chance to crawl away. The other templar had recovered, though, and she looked up to see him swing his blade up. Her barrier wouldn’t survive this one, and she brought up her staff as she closed her eyes, knowing it wouldn’t be enough to save her.

The blow never came. Instead, a familiar chill passed over her and she opened her eyes to see the man’s frozen face. She snapped her head around to see Solas swinging his staff around at the other templar, a wall of ice appearing. It tore the second man apart.

She could feel the Veil returning to her, and she swung her own staff at the frozen man, flicking energy at him. He went straight from ice to fire, and he collapsed, burning, a strangled cry echoing as he fell. He did not get up.

In the silence that followed, she caught her breath and touched the cut on her lip.

“You're injured,” Solas said. Before she could respond, Varric appeared behind him.

“Damn it, Blaze, I said no more than half a mile!” he said, angrily. “The Inquisition soldiers couldn’t see you over here.”

“This is less than half a mile from the camp,” Elizabeth replied. She paused. “Isn’t it?’

Solas raised an eyebrow as he approached her. “Perhaps being confined to a single building for most of your life has made it difficult to gauge distance. We are well over half a mile from the camp.”

“You’re lucky Chuckles suggested we check up on you,” Varric said. Elizabeth turned her eyes towards Solas, who brought up his hand, hesitated, and then healed her lip with a light touch before stepping back.

“Thank you,” she told him sincerely. “Now I owe you twice over.” Maybe Jane was correct and she was being far too harsh on the man.

He bowed his head in recognition and then considered the two bodies. “It was simple. It must've been some time since the renegade templars faced a mage of any real talent.”

Ah, she thought to herself with a wry smile, there it is.

~~~

 

“No more solo expeditions!” Cassandra said, her fury etched in her face, which was uncomfortably close to Elizabeth’s own. Varric had made her tell Cassandra what had happened as soon as they returned to the training field. “From now on, you stick with us. You do not wander off. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” Elizabeth replied. She glanced worriedly at her sister, who was staring at her with a pale, haunted look on her face. Jane’s reaction to the story was more damning than anything the Seeker could say.

“Those templars must have thought you were a rebel mage,” the Seeker continued as she turned and began pacing. “I can think of no other reason they would attack you without provocation.”

“Can you not?” Solas murmured, looking at the ground. Cassandra glared at him, then looked away, continuing to pace.

“We should avoid killing members of either side at all costs,” she said. “If we are to gain them as allies, we must treat them as worthy of the alliance.”

“Seeker,” Varric interjected, “I don’t know if you’ve been listening to a word Harding has said, but it doesn’t sound like it’ll be easy to avoid fighting. They don’t seem to care who they hurt.”

She waved her hand dismissively. “I am not surprised that they would attack our scouts on sight,” she said. “Leliana has told me that there is propaganda in each camp, painting us as champions of the other side.” She stopped and clasped her hands behind her back. “However, I hope that when they see Lady Trevelyan and me, they will react more rationally.”

“What, just because you’re the Right Hand and she’s the Herald?” Varric asked.

“Yes,” Cassandra said. “And also because I was a Seeker. It is my belief that the templars you encountered would not have attacked if I had been with you.” She turned to face Elizabeth. “Nor will the rebel mages attack you or Solas. Together, as a group, we should be able to communicate with both sides.”

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth was not surprised when Cassandra was proven spectacularly wrong in her assumptions the moment they reached the Crossroads.

“We are not rebel mages!” she cried, keeping her shield up. Her hesitation in harming the templars was obvious at first, but when one of them hit Varric’s arm and drew blood, she growled and struck the man down.

“I do not think they care, Seeker,” Solas shouted in response, his voice raised over the din of the fight. Harding had warned them that the Crossroads would be dangerous, but even prepared, it was brutal. The refugees were huddled away from the fighting, trying to defend the meager supplies that remained, and the mages and templars barely discriminated between foe and bystander.

Inquisition soldiers were prevailing, however. While neither the templars nor the mages were impressed by the sight of Jane, their own forces took pride in her presence and seemed to fight twice as hard.

Elizabeth stayed behind Solas and Varric this time, and she carefully avoided using her mana to watch Solas or the mages. She focused on directing her fire away from the trees and huts, which made it weaker but more contained. Varric was right, she admitted to herself: She would need training if she was to continue fighting with them.

Luckily, her four companions and the soldiers seemed to have things under control for now. Since he had just saved her life, she initially avoided using Solas’ barrier spell out of respect, until he turned to her, mid-shot. “The barrier!” he demanded.

With a mental shrug, she landed one on Jane and Cassandra immediately. It was much better than her first two and it lasted long enough for them to finish off the final wave of templars.

As the fighting ended, Cassandra sheathed her sword and began guiding Jane towards the infirmary to find Mother Giselle. Elizabeth hung back with Varric and Solas, the latter of whom bent to help an injured villager.

“Thank you, serrah,” the man said as Solas healed him.

“Think nothing of it,” he replied. When he finished, he looked the man in the eyes. “Do you know where the rebel mages have been taking your supplies?”

The man shook his head. “No, serrah. But there’s a mage -- a peaceful mage like yourself -- up the hill, by the old shrine. She’s been here a week or two. She might know.”

“Thank you,” Solas replied. As he stood, Jane came back into view.

“Well?” Elizabeth asked.

“Mother Giselle wants me to go to Val Royeaux and speak with the Revered Mothers,” Jane replied.

“No. Absolutely not,” Elizabeth said.

“It may be our only chance to convince the Chantry,” Cassandra said.

“I mean, I can see Blaze’s point, though,” Varric said. “Val Royeaux? The place Roderick wanted to take her for execution?”

“This is not Elizabeth’s choice to make,” Cassandra replied. “We will talk about it with the War Council when we return to Haven, after we find the horsemaster.”

“What about the refugees?” Jane asked. “We came all this way…” She looked around helplessly.

“Our forces will continue to help the refugees,” Cassandra promised. “You, however, have more important things to deal with.”

“Having the Herald herself help may be a good idea,” Solas interjected. Cassandra looked confused. “The Chantry has heard the same propaganda that the templars have, I assume, and perhaps even more from Roderick. They believe the Inquisition to be, at best, a weakling organization prone to corruption, and, at worst, behind the death of the Divine. If we help the refugees, our reputation may improve.”

Cassandra thought this over. “Fine. We will stay for one week, but no longer.”

“Great,” Varric said. “Now let’s go write Curly a letter that we secured the Crossroads. He’ll be pleased to hear it.”

“Jane can write it,” Elizabeth suggested. Her sister’s eyes widened at her and Elizabeth offered her an innocent smile. “I happen to know from my years in the Circle that she’s an excellent correspondent.”

Varric shot Jane an amused look and then shrugged. “Suits me,” he said.

Chapter Text

The mage at the shrine looked familiar from a distance, but Elizabeth kept her expectations in check. The likelihood that her friend would be in the middle of the Crossroads, of all places, was slim. Practical people did not just wander into war zones, and Ellendra was, in most respects, a practical woman.

But as they neared the shrine, Jane grabbed her elbow. “Is that…?” she asked, her voice trailing off as they drew closer.

“Ellendra?” Elizabeth asked tentatively. The woman turned, surprised.

“Eliza!” she exclaimed. The two women embraced tightly. When they disentangled, they kept their arms clasped. “You’re alive! I thought you were at the Conclave. When I heard Jane was the only survivor, I thought your whole family must have gone.”

“No,” Elizabeth replied, shaking her head. “Just Jane.”

“Thank the Maker for that,” Ellendra said, shaking her head. “I feel like I’ve heard only bad news lately.”

That made Elizabeth hesitate before asking her next question. “How is Mattrin?”

Ellendra tensed and then slipped her arms away, folding them. “I’m not sure. I know he wasn’t at the Conclave, but I haven’t had a letter from him since before the whole White Spire fiasco.” She lowered her voice to a murmur. “...when he stopped taking lyrium.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “He stopped--?”

Jane coughed politely behind them, and Elizabeth became aware of their audience. She turned towards them, grateful for Jane’s interruption. “My apologies. This is my good friend, Ellendra Lucas.”

“Former enchanter of the Ostwick Circle and member of the College of Aequitarians,” Ellendra said with a slight bow of the head. “Current… well.” She smiled at Elizabeth. “Current apostate, I suppose.”

“You already know Jane,” Elizabeth said. Her sister had been a frequent visitor of Ostwick Circle over the years. “The others are Cassandra, Varric, and Solas. We’re with the Inquisition.”

Ellendra nodded to all of them, though her eyes lingered on Cassandra.

Jane stepped forward with a genuine smile. “It’s been too long.”

“Lady Trevelyan,” Ellendra replied. “Though I hear you go by a new title now.” Her eyes drifted towards Jane’s left hand. Jane clenched it into a fist, uneasily. “So, tell me, is it true you can close Fade rifts with that?”

Elizabeth almost laughed. Ellendra had never been subtle.

“I-- yes,” Jane said.

“And you never exhibited any talent at magic before?” Ellendra asked. Jane shook her head, and the mage let out a thoughtful hum. “How intriguing.” She turned to Elizabeth. “Do you know how she does it?”

“I haven’t seen her close one yet,” Elizabeth said. “Solas is an expert on the Fade, so the study has mainly fallen to him.”

“An expert on the Fade?” she asked, turning to the other mage. “Well. Your Harrowing must have been interesting, to say the least.”

“I did not train in a Circle,” Solas replied.

Ellendra lifted her eyebrows. She glanced at Cassandra, as if gauging the woman’s reaction, before looking back at Solas. “And yet you’re with the Inquisition?”

“I am,” he confirmed with a neutral expression.

Ellendra turned to Elizabeth with a chuckle. “I am all astonishment. Truly, we live in interesting times.”

“The Inquisition has the distinction of being the only organization that is trying to close the hole in the sky,” Elizabeth replied with a smile. “I believe that helps broaden the appeal.”

“Speaking of which,” Jane said, “Would you be interested in joining us? We’re trying to find mages to help us close the Breach.”

Ellendra shook her head. “Unfortunately, I have personal business here,” she said. “I’m looking for someone.”

“When you do find him, would you reconsider?” Elizabeth asked.

"If I find him,” Ellendra corrected. She touched her chin, considering the question. “Perhaps. Since the Conclave, I’ve been weighing my options. I believe the war will be over soon.” She gave Elizabeth a significant look that her friend could not quite read. “I’m … I have been considering joining the Loyalists.”

Elizabeth was surprised. “The Loyalists?”

Ellendra eyed Elizabeth’s companions for a moment. “Though the Inquisition may prove a valuable option as well,” she admitted thoughtfully. She turned back to face the shrine. “It’s becoming clear what will happen once a new Divine is elected.” She lowered her voice. “And I, for one, intend to be well placed when it happens.”

 

~~~

 

“I hope your friend finds her mage,” Cassandra said with more sincerity than Elizabeth anticipated. They had moved on from the Crossroads. After some debate, Jane had convinced Cassandra to put off speaking with Dennet until the afternoon, wanting to handle the more pressing matter of the bandits to the north.

“Thank you, but Mattrin is not a mage.” Cassandra gave her a quizzical look, so Elizabeth spelled it out more clearly. “He’s a templar.”

“A templar!” Cassandra exclaimed. “I see. Was that… was that common at Ostwick then?”

“No,” Elizabeth replied with a smile. “Ellendra … well, she always had a thing for templars. She said she liked the ones with the sad eyes.”

Varric laughed. “Oh, we’ve got to introduce her to Curly.”

Elizabeth stole a glance at Jane, whose cheeks had become pink. “Well, she hardly needs two of them,” she replied dryly. “And Cullen doesn’t count, not really. He left the order.”

“Not that you could tell that by looking at him,” Varric said.

“The appeal would be gone,” Elizabeth insisted. “I think she enjoyed wanting something she could not have.” Varric snorted and she looked up with a smirk. “What, the storyteller doesn’t approve of star-crossed lovers?”

“Sure, star-crossed makes for a great bestseller,” he said. “But it’s never as much fun in the real world. Trust me, I’ve seen en--”

At that moment, a loud crack filled the air, like a lightning strike. Elizabeth grabbed her staff, dropping into a fighting stance.

Up ahead, her sister and Cassandra were charging forward, and their action drew her attention to the bright light in the air-- a Fade rift. Around it, several Shades appeared, rising up toward Jane. Elizabeth began to move her hand, but Solas laid the barrier first, so she switched tactics and whipped fire at them with her staff.

“Stay behind me, Blaze,” Varric warned, and she fell back accordingly, striking several of the demons with fire as Cassandra grunted, striking one down.

She watched curiously as Solas made some sort of glyph from a distance, but didn’t dare bring her mana to her eyes after his reaction the other day. The glyph exploded in frozen spikes, destroying the last Shade, and then the rift began to hum with energy. A throb of magic coursed through Elizabeth’s veins and a few seconds later, five wraiths appeared.

“How many waves are there usually?” she shouted to Varric, pouring her energy through her staff at the wraiths. Jane stabbed one and then another, fighting with more vitality than Elizabeth had seen from her before.

“This’ll be the last one,” he yelled back.

Sure enough, once the demons were dead, the rift seemed to soften, as if tension had left it. Jane raised her hand and a pulse of Fade energy shot out, connecting her to the rift. Elizabeth once again fought the urge to raise her mana, but the magic was so bright, she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to see anything anyway. With a clap, the rift closed, and Jane stumbled as the connection broke. Elizabeth moved forward to catch her by the arm, and Jane leaned against her.

“So. That’s interesting,” Elizabeth said. Jane laughed a little breathlessly. “Does it hurt to close them?”

Jane shook her head, still panting. Elizabeth unhooked the waterskin from her belt, handing it to her sister, and Jane gratefully took a gulp before speaking. “It did at first, but not anymore. Solas stabilized it back at Haven.”

“Temporarily,” Solas added as he approached them, a touch of warning in his tone. “If it begins to pain you again, please let me know.” Jane thanked him as Elizabeth held and examined her sister’s hand.

“You stabilized it with magic?” she asked. The mark had been trembling, but it seemed to be relaxing now.  

“Yes,” Solas replied.

She glanced up at him. “Could you teach me how?”

Solas met her gaze. “Probably not.”

Varric winced and Elizabeth let out a short laugh. Solas looked startled, as if just realizing what he had said. “I ... suppose I could try to--” he began, but Elizabeth waved a hand, cutting him off.

“No point wasting everyone’s time,” she replied wryly. She patted Jane on the back. “Excellent job with those demons. You’re getting good at this.”

“Thank you,” Jane said.

“Your sister is right,” Cassandra said. “You fought well.” She looked up at the sky. “But we should continue if we want to reach the bandits before noon.”

 

~~~

 

An Inquisition scout named Bellette confirmed that they were on the right path, but warned them that the bandits were unusually well-armed. Evidently, the scouts were beginning to suspect that these were not simple bandits, but mercenaries with a benefactor.

Bellette’s directions led them under a crumbling archway into a wooded area with scattered ancient ruins. Solas stopped quite suddenly, touching Jane’s elbow.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I believe there is Elvhen magic nearby,” he said, tilting his head. Elizabeth couldn’t feel anything, but she knew sometimes elves were more sensitive to magic. “My people created artifacts that could help prevent tears in ancient times. I suspect that is what I am sensing. We may be able to activate it.”

Jane and Cassandra exchanged a glance, as if silently debating.

“That means fewer Fade rifts, right?” Varric asked.

“That is the intent, yes,” Solas said.

Varric held out his hands. “Then I say lead the way.”

Jane shrugged her assent, and Solas focused a moment more before guiding them deeper into the overgrown ruins.

They had not gone far when they saw a figure with a staff on her back between two pillars. Cassandra drew her sword, and Elizabeth her staff. As they neared, the figure touched her staff and turned, revealing herself to be a small Dalish elf. She drew her hand away from her weapon.

“Peace, stranger,” the woman said in a lilting Dalish accent. “I mean you no harm. My name is Mihris.” She glanced at Cassandra’s sword and smiled. “By your weapons, I see you come ready for battle. There are demons in these woods. We may face a common enemy.”

Jane glanced around the clearing. “Are you fighting the demons on your own?”

“Fighting the demons is pointless. There will always be more as long as there are rifts,” Mihris replied. “But I have heard of Elvhen artifacts that prevent tears in the first place. I believe one is nearby.”

“We’re looking for it too!” Jane exclaimed. “Our friend here was able to sense its location. Maybe we could find it together.” Elizabeth saw Solas press his lips together at Jane’s words.

“Thank you,” Mihris said. She pointed behind them with her staff. “That way, I believe. It shouldn’t be too much farther ahead.” Cassandra and Elizabeth put away their weapons, and the group followed Mihris up the rocky path.

“What brings you to the Hinterlands?” Jane asked.

“I was--am--First of Clan Virnehn,” Mihris replied easily. “I left in service of my clan and saw that great tear in the Veil on my journey. I know more of magic and the Veil than any shemlen, so I hoped to help.”

Ma harel, da’len.”

They both looked up at Solas, startled, and Mihris stilled, her face growing pale beneath her vallaslin. “I...,” the mage began. She swallowed and looked away from him shakily. “We should keep moving.” The elves walked ahead, but Jane took a moment, watching them with a confused expression.

Elizabeth stepped closer to her. “Well, he just makes friends everywhere he goes, doesn’t he,” she remarked in a low voice. Jane shot her a warning look.

They reached the mountainside and Solas leaned forward, examining the parts where the formation was particularly rocky. Finally he paused and straightened, stepping back. Elizabeth followed his gaze and realized she could make out something that used to be an entrance, hidden behind an old cave-in. He tapped the middle part with his staff.

“We’ll need to get by,” Mihris agreed, looking at rocks. She spread her hands and Elizabeth felt warmth in the air. The rocks trembled without rising, so Elizabeth stepped forward to help, bringing up her own hands. Together, they were able to clear the entryway. As the dark cave became clear, Solas and Mihris armed themselves.

“Demons!” he warned. Cassandra ran forward with a cry. As Elizabeth’s eyes adjusted, she saw three wraiths attacking the warrior. These were weak, nowhere near as aggressive as the ones from the Fade rift or near the Breach. With Mihris’ help, they were able to make short work of them.

When the demons lay dead, Elizabeth looked around the chamber. Just inside was a torch that shone with a blue-green flame. She had heard of Veilfire, but never seen it. She wished she could catch a glimpse of it through the Veil, but when she looked up, Solas was watching her, so she refrained.

He looked away and took the torch before heading towards the stairs, indicating with a nod that the rest should follow. As she descended, Elizabeth could feel the rustling of old magic on her skin, like walking on dead leaves with bare feet. There was something familiar about it, but she could not quite place it. The hair on her arms stood up and she shivered.

“There,” Mihris murmured, approaching the altar of the lower room. Elizabeth followed her gaze to see a globe on a pedestal in the center. Jane reached it first and, after glancing at Solas as if for permission, touched it. The object lit up and began humming with electric pulses. The paper thin magic on Elizabeth’s skin was swept away instantly.

“That will help strengthen the Veil,” Solas told her sister, his eyes drifting to the elf next to her. Mihris had been kneeling by the artifact. She stood, her hands clutching something, freezing when she saw Solas step towards her.

“It seems the Ancestors left something for me as well,” she said.

He stopped in front of her. “ Ma halani, ma glandival, ” he replied. “ Vir enasalin .”

“I…,” Mihris began warily, but then she shrugged. “Perhaps you are right. Here. Take it. Go with Mythal’s blessing.” He took it, then turned back to the altar. She headed towards the stairs, but Jane stopped her.

“We’re with the Inquisition,” she said. “And we’re looking for mages to join, to help close the Breach in the sky. Would you like to come back with us?”

Mihris raised her eyebrows. “Me?”

Jane smiled. “It’s your sky, too.”

Mihris did not return the smile. She hesitated and then looked at the floor. “I am sorry, but I have other things I must be doing,” she said. “For my clan. But good luck to you, and safe travels.” She nodded briefly to them and then climbed the stairs. As Jane watched her leave, Elizabeth joined Varric in searching the room for valuables.

“It is for the best,” Cassandra told Jane. “I doubt a Dalish mage would feel very comfortable among Chantry soldiers.”

“I know,” Jane sighed. “But I thought maybe she could go to the other clans and gather their mages. Then we wouldn’t even need the rebels’ help to seal the Breach.”

Varric burst out laughing. “Bringing a bunch of Dalish mages to the smoking ruins of the Temple of Sacred Ashes? While the Chantry still thinks you killed the last Divine?” He shook his head, wiping his hands on his pants as he finished with his side of the room. “The good news is that you’d get the Revered Mothers to agree on something. The bad news is that it’d be an Exalted March on Haven.”

Solas turned away from the altar. “Not to mention that many clans may not even respond to one of their own,” he added. “The Dalish are as unified as they are educated -- which is to say, not much of either. I’m not sure which would be the bigger problem.”

Elizabeth frowned, wiping her own hands, and then joined the others as they climbed the stairs. Jane and Cassandra debated whether they’d still be able to deal with the bandits before noon as they left the cave, and Elizabeth slowed her pace to fall in line with Solas and Varric.

“I’m not sure you’re being entirely fair to the Dalish,” Elizabeth told him as they walked.

Solas looked at her with mild amusement. “Is that so?” he asked. “I’m curious to hear what a noble human would say in defense of them.”

“I knew a few Dalish-born mages at my Circle, and they weren’t uneducated,” she replied. “Or at least, they seemed very knowledgeable of Elven culture.”

“Of the Dalish interpretation of it,” Solas corrected her. “The clans have been separated for so long that children’s tales have become legends, legends have become fact, and the facts have been forgotten. Their people are a fraction of what they once were. And of what they could be.”

“Could be?” Elizabeth asked. “What, if they send their children to alienages instead? Or worse, Tevinter? Elves are oppressed everywhere. That’s hardly the fault of the Dalish.”

Solas frowned. “I did not say it was.”

“Well, not directly,” Elizabeth replied. “But it did sound like you meant to insult them,” she said.

“I did not,” Solas said. “They insult themselves.”

Elizabeth scoffed.

“That’s a little callous, Chuckles,” Varric interjected.

“It’s realistic,” Solas maintained. “Remember, I have walked the memories of the Fade. I have seen the history the Dalish imitate.”

“So what did you say to Mihris?” Elizabeth asked sharply. “Something realistic about the Dalish?”

Solas looked up, surprised at her question. “No,” he said. “I called her a liar.” His lips thinned as he looked ahead. “The clan she claimed is dead, destroyed by a demon their own Keeper had deliberately summoned. Not the first I have heard of such a thing, nor will it be the last. Based on that, I suspected that Mihris was not of Clan Virnehn.” He paused. “Or, perhaps even worse, she was. In either event, her reaction spoke for itself.” He turned to Elizabeth and raised his eyebrows. “Do you still think I am being unfair in my opinion of the Dalish?”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply, but she was interrupted by Varric, who apparently hadn’t heard the sarcasm that she had in Solas’s last question.

“You know,” Varric began, “I was friends with a Dalish elf back in Kirkwall and, weirdly enough, her Keeper--.” He caught Elizabeth’s warning look and seemed to reconsider. “Actually, you know what? Never mind. Sweet kid, though.”

“What were you going to say?” Solas asked Elizabeth.

“Nothing important,” she replied calmly, having had a moment to recover. Solas began to say he’d like to hear her response anyway, but she spoke over him. “It seems we are at an impasse. I prefer to judge each person on their actions, not on the actions of their people.” She smiled politely. “ You can offer as many anecdotes as you have of terrible Dalish, and in response, I can offer as many anecdotes as I have of kind Dalish, and then we’ll be no closer to agreeing than when we started. We may as well skip to the end, where we agree to disagree.”

Excusing herself, she quickened her steps and joined the two warriors ahead.

~~~

 

Solas was initially disappointed at her departure, but then he realized it had been for the best. A human defending the Dalish -- it was such a curious concept that he had found himself wanting to hear more, despite the fact that he’d resolved to show Elizabeth Trevelyan no more attention than any of the other companions.

Sometime during the previous two days, he had made the discovery that even without magic, her small, dark eyes were particularly charming. To his mortification, he realized soon after that "charming" might in fact mean "pretty". Solas had seen attractive features in others since his waking--these shadows that walked the land beyond his Veil could look unnervingly like the People sometimes. A human, though--that was different. At least it meant he was not in any particular danger. But he did not want to give the impression of interest where none could form. He was not so foolish, not anymore. 

“You know, Cassandra was asking when you’re going to start training her,” Varric said, interrupting his thoughts.

Ah, yes. And then there was that small complication. The Seeker had insisted that if Elizabeth were to stay, she would need battle training, and as Solas was the only mage present, he would need to help. As long as Elizabeth continued to turn him down as she had that morning, it could still come to nothing. 

“She is more talented than I anticipated,” Solas admitted. “It may not be necessary.”

“She’s not as good as you, Chuckles, which means she’s still going to need it,” Varric replied. Solas didn’t respond, and the dwarf sighed. “Or you can be the one who gets to talk to the Herald when her beloved sister gets crushed by templars.”

Solas was quiet for a moment, and then he turned to Varric, changing the subject. “Tell me, Master Tethras,” he asked. “How did you and the Seeker get from Kirkwall to Haven so quickly? It seems quite a distance, particularly during wartime.”

Varric nodded with a laugh. “That it was,” he began, and launched into a detailed explanation. Solas was sure the tale would be long and embellished, and that it would take his mind off his current predicament. After all, dwelling on the subject would not help.

Chapter Text

 

Cassandra knelt to examine the ground next to an abandoned cart, something she had been doing periodically since they left the cave. The bandits may have been better equipped than the average outlaw, but according to the Seeker, they’d made no effort to hide their tracks. Whether this was because they lacked the training or because they did not think it was necessary in a warzone was unclear.

“How many of them are there?” Jane asked.

“Ten, perhaps,” Cassandra replied in a low voice, clapping her hands free of dirt as she stood. “Or less. I believe we are getting close.” She glanced at Varric, who had bent over to look at the prints himself. He nodded in agreement. The Seeker pulled her sword from its sheath and motioned for Jane to do the same. “We should make as little noise as possible this close to the encampment.”

They continued in silence until they reached a crack in the mountain that led to a ravine. Cassandra motioned at Varric with her shield. He went forward, keeping himself flat against the rock. As they waited, Elizabeth began to feel a prickling sensation on the nape of her neck, as if someone was watching her, but when she turned her head, both Solas and Jane were watching for Varric.

He returned a moment later, gripping Bianca tightly. He held up his left hand once and then held up two fingers. Cassandra accepted this with a nod. She made a gesture for Elizabeth and Solas to fall behind Varric, then beckoned Jane to follow her.

As they moved forward, a clearing with several tents became visible. It was obvious to Elizabeth why the men had chosen this spot for their camp: The ravine walls were high on either side, and , if Cassandra had not been searching, they would never have seen these tents from the road. The entrance was thin enough that even a small army would become bottle-necked and unable to attack. Fortunately, the location left the bandits vulnerable to a small ambush, which is exactly what Cassandra had planned.

The bandits were eating their midday meal, another stroke of luck. They did not hear anything until Jane and Cassandra shouted battle cries, and then they all leapt up at once, disorganized and confused.

Elizabeth stayed back with Varric and Solas, maintaining a steady distance from the fight. Watching as Solas raised his staff to attack, she spread her hand out and laid barriers on the warriors, then reached again for her mana.

Every time she used her magic, she felt it move a little more easily through her. Plunging into battle multiple times a day was certainly one way to make up for lost time. It had been painful the first day, but now the sensation almost felt pleasant, like stretching after a bad night’s sleep. She dug down into the new depths of her mana, creating a massive fireball, and shot it at one archer.

To her alarm, it went too low, barrelling towards the Seeker. Elizabeth’s eyes widened in horror. She let out her breath when it only skimmed by Cassandra’s head before hitting its target. The archer yelped as he stumbled backwards, burning, and the Seeker looked up at her, startled.

“Careful!” she shouted, narrowing her eyes.

“Sorry!” Elizabeth called back. She didn’t dig quite as deep for the next attack.

Soon, there were just two bandits left. One was a young swordsman, and the other was a beast of a man who did not seem to relent no matter how many times he was hit. His warhammer alone was Elizabeth’s height, at least. Cassandra left the swordsman for Jane while using herself as bait to bring the brute closer to Varric and the mages. Elizabeth grit her teeth as she maintained a steady barrier around the Seeker.

“What in the Void is your sister doing?” Varric shouted, breaking her focus. Elizabeth snapped her head around to see Jane fighting with the swordsman. He lunged at her, and she swung her shield at his weapon, hitting it away. The impact made him stagger backwards, leaving an opening for Jane--but to Elizabeth’s surprise, her sister didn’t take it. The swordsman recovered and thrust forward a second time. Again, Jane parried his blow once without following up with a strike. Cursing, Elizabeth laid a thick barrier on the Seeker and then moved away, trying to position herself closer to Jane.

“Hit him!” she yelled. Jane seemed to move forward at her sister’s command, but then withdrew into a defensive stance once again. Elizabeth growled and dug deep into her mana, forming another fireball. She shot it just as she heard Jane cry out, “No!”

The swordsman fell into a mass of flames, and Jane stared at his burning body, horrified. Elizabeth could still hear the clangs of the Seeker’s sword behind her and hesitated before spinning around to lay another barrier. As she did, the brute fell to one knee. Cassandra raised her sword to make the killing blow, but Varric’s arrow got the man’s eye first. The bandit sagged to the ground, dead.

In a heartbeat, Elizabeth rushed to her sister’s side. Jane had fallen to her knees beside the burnt corpse. Elizabeth knelt next to her, confused, and placed her hand on one of Jane’s shaking shoulders.

“Did you know him?” Elizabeth asked.

“No,” Jane replied in a high voice, her eyes not moving from his body. “But he was so young. He couldn’t have been older than Lydia.”

Elizabeth sighed and squeezed her sister’s shoulder. “Jane, he would have killed you,” she said. Jane continued to tremble, staring at the body, until her sister drew her into a tight embrace.

“All this killing, Lizzie,” Jane murmured into her sister, choking back a sob. “I don’t know if I can do it.” Elizabeth stroked her hair without saying anything. Jane’s voice took on a bitter tone. “‘Herald of Andraste’. Why would Andraste want me to do this ?”

“Andraste was a warrior, too,” Elizabeth reminded her.  “She fought a war because it was the right thing to do. I’m sure… I’m sure it wasn’t always easy for her, right?” She paused here, and Jane's shaking seemed to lessen. “But it helped people, didn’t it? You’re helping people, too, Jane, and that’s what’s important. That’s all you can do.”

Elizabeth held her sister for a few minutes as she began to breathe normally again. She glanced back behind them. Solas and Varric were pointedly discussing something a few yards away, their backs turned, and Cassandra was checking the dead for weapons. When she felt Elizabeth’s gaze, she looked up with sympathetic eyes.

“You’re right,” Jane said into Elizabeth’s shoulder. Then she pulled away, rubbing her forehead and taking a shaky breath. “You’re right.” She shook her head. “I’m okay now. Thank you, Lizzie.” Elizabeth watched her warily as Jane stood and examined their surroundings, her eyes still bright with tears. Her focus seemed to return. “We should tell Harding about this place. It’d be a good spot for a camp of our own.”

Elizabeth pushed herself into a standing position as well. “With the addition of two guards at the ravine entrance, perhaps,” she added.

“Of course,” Jane agreed, a small smile crossing her lips. She studied the campsite until her eyes rested on the Seeker. “I’ll help Cassandra with the weapons--”

“No,” Elizabeth interrupted. The last thing Jane needed was more time near the young bandit’s corpse. “I’ll do that. Why don’t you grab Varric and Solas and explore the other end of the ravine? It looks like there’s a passage there.”

Jane nodded and went off to speak with the others. As the three of them began to stroll towards the passage, Elizabeth joined Cassandra, who was kneeling by two piles of weapons she’d pulled from the corpses.

“That was well-handled,” Cassandra said as she approached. “I know this is not easy for her.”

Elizabeth avoided the compliment and looked over the swords. “How are you sorting them?” she asked finally. Cassandra looked back towards the ground.

“These,” she replied, waving to one pile, “are the ones that we can discard. And these,” she waved at the second pile, “are the ones that are decent enough to keep.”

Elizabeth examined the two piles carefully. “How can you tell? They look the same.”

Cassandra nodded. “Yes. The pommels and grips match. That is unusual for bandits. I suspect that Bellette is correct and that these men are being paid by someone. They were able to upgrade their weapons with their reward, it would seem.” She held up one blade from the second pile, inspecting it. “However, the blanks vary in quality.”

“The blanks?”

“The blade itself.” Cassandra touched the metal edge of the sword she was holding in demonstration. “A blank fits into a pommel and becomes a sword. There are different levels of… well. I will show you.” She put down the sword and replaced it with one from the rejected pile. “Here, hold out your hand.” Elizabeth knelt next to the Seeker and held out a gloved hand, accepting the sword into her palm. She began to automatically grasp, but Cassandra shook her head as she let go. “Just let it rest.”

Elizabeth stared at the sword, which immediately dipped forward and fell out of her hand, landing on its side with a dull noise. “See,” the Seeker said. “That is not balanced correctly. It would take more muscle to make an effective strike, and it would be easy to lose grip in battle.” She placed the sword back in the rejection pile . “Now try this one,” she said. Elizabeth held her palm out again. Cassandra placed a sword from the decent pile in it carefully. This time, the sword wavered for a few seconds before sliding off with a thunk.

“So… they’re both terrible,” Elizabeth said after a beat, and to her surprise, Cassandra laughed.

“Yes, that is true,” she agreed, still chuckling as she turned back to the second pile. “But these are less terrible. The Inquisition needs weapons. Many of our resources were lost at the Conclave.”

“If we’re that desperate, I can see why Harritt wants me making weapons,” Elizabeth said with a frown.

Before Cassandra could reply, a thunderous roar filled the air and both women jumped up, startled. The sound echoed off the walls of the ravine, followed by the steady sound of short gusts of wind, paced out like heartbeats. Elizabeth’s staff was in her hand before she could even process what she’d heard.

“What was that?” she exclaimed.

Cassandra looked around with bright, tense eyes. “I believe that was a dragon.”

Elizabeth stared at her. “Maker’s breath,” she muttered, glancing towards the passageway.

Before she could move toward the sound, three figures came bolting toward the camp. Elizabeth almost dropped her staff in relief. Varric, Solas, and Jane slowed to a jog, with Jane throwing a backward glance at the narrow passage, as if to make sure nothing had followed them. As they reached Cassandra’s two piles, they stopped. Varric placed his hands on his knees, breathing hard.

“So, uh,” he said, looking up. “We probably don’t want to go that way.”

 


~~~

 

Despite the various delays, they still reached Dennet’s farm by sunset, much to Cassandra’s relief. A few of Charter’s new scouts were setting up camp by a lake when they arrived. After one of the scouts implied that Dennet might have a thing against mages, Cassandra, Varric, and Jane went to negotiate with the horsemaster. Meanwhile, Solas met with an officer regarding Fade rift sightings and Elizabeth dealt with the rams she and Jane had killed along the way. Elizabeth was hoping Harritt could teach her to make leather from the skins, and Jane wanted to send food back to the refugees.

Elizabeth cleaned and separated meat from skin at a nearby river, rinsing her hands between each ram.  The work was slow and bloody, and she had no experience dealing with dead animals. Soon she was wishing that she had spent more time in the Circle kitchens. When she finished, her tunic was more red than gray, and her hands were dotted with stubborn flecks of drying blood. She used a simple ice spell to keep the meat and skin cool, and then climbed the hill back to the camp.

Solas was standing on the edge of the lake, intently studying a map. When he saw her approach, he glanced up, and then jerked his head up at the sight of her.

“I know,” she said in response. “It’s not what it looks like. I was skinning the rams.”

His brow furrowed. “You did not drain the animals first?” he asked.

She paused. “Ah, no. Was I supposed to?” He chuckled as his eyes returned to his map, and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Right. I should probably get some clean clothes before Jane sees me and faints.” She began to move toward the tents and then paused. “Oh, Solas?” He glanced back up. “There’s a Fade rift by the river.”

“So I heard,” he said, nodding. “The scouts say it is quite violent when active, but it appears to be stable when left alone.” He looked back at his map. “I plan to study it in the morning.”

Elizabeth suspected that this was a dismissal, so she turned back towards the tents. She’d only gone a few steps when she heard Cassandra call her name.

“I was looking for-- oh!” Cassandra exclaimed, her eyes trailing down Elizabeth’s robes.

“It’s only ram’s blood,” she explained. “I was just about to change.”

“You must not have drained the blood properly,” Cassandra observed.

“Yes, I suppose it slipped my mind,” Elizabeth said dryly, glancing over her shoulder. Solas was still looking at the maps, but she was annoyed to see the corner of his lip twitch upward.

Cassandra recovered herself and held out a small stack of parchment. “The horsemaster had a few old weapon schematics that he offered the Inquisition,” she said. “I thought you could keep track of them, since you will be working with Harritt.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied, taking the papers. She glanced through them, though she couldn’t understand any of the diagrams yet. “That’s very kind of you.”

“Yes, well. Please let me know in the future if you need help skinning something,” Cassandra said, frowning again at the blood.  

Focused on reading the schematics, Elizabeth almost ran into one of the officers right outside her and Jane’s tent. The woman began to apologize and then looked at her in horror.

“Ram’s blood,” she said before the officer could say anything. As she opened the flap to her tent, the woman started to reply.

“Oh! You didn’t drain--”

Elizabeth grit her teeth, hoping that Solas was out of earshot now. “Going forward, I will be fastidious about draining them first, I assure you,” she replied as she entered her tent and shut the flap behind her.

 


~~~

 

After she had changed into fresh clothes, Elizabeth took a cloth and returned to the river to wash up before dinner. It was quiet by the water, only the distant murmurings of the camp and the rumbling of the waterfall disturbing the night air. She used the rough side of a rock to remove the dried blood around her fingernails and then ran her fingers through the cold river. The sun had already set, so she had to squint to see her hands in the moonlight.

As she rinsed, she became aware of a third sound--a quiet humming--and she looked toward the waterfall. The softly glowing Fade rift hung in the air above it, bathing the river in a pale green light.

An idea began to form in her mind. Tilting her head, she tried to estimate how far away the rift really was. Even if it did become active, she decided she was at a safe enough distance to call out to the camp before demons could come through. She stood, glancing uphill to make sure no one was nearby, and then she looked up at the sky, raising her mana to her eyes.

Around her, the empty air came alive. The soft light from the moons became distorted through the layers that whipped playfully around her. The Veil was thin here, she noted, more like silk than velvet, trembling in the breeze.

She turned her gaze towards the rift, studying it through the Veil. It was like an open wound, festering, but instead of skin, it was surrounded by frayed threads of green light. Black matter poured down from the other side like blood. She focused her eyes, trying to look deeper into the wound. The tremor of an image stared back at her, a thousand eyes blinking at once, and then the eyes morphed into an endless pit, a depth that seemed to call for her. She did not move, but her stomach pulled violently forward, as if she were falling.

Suddenly, she felt a cold brush of air on her neck. She pulled her mana down and turned her head, startled. Solas stood at the crest of the hill above the river, the camp’s fire illuminating him from behind. In the darkness, she could not see his face, though she could tell he was facing her. For a moment, she didn’t breathe.

“Your sister wanted me to inform you that dinner is ready,” he said evenly, as if he had not just caught her practicing questionable magic for the second time in less than a week, this time next to an unstable tear in the Veil.

She inhaled sharply. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll be there in a moment.”

He stood a moment longer, then turned to leave. She watched him before squatting beside the river. With shaking hands, she splashed cold water on her face, muttering a string of curses as she did. Afterwards, she rushed back to camp, praying to the Maker that Solas would once again remain discreet, and wondering what in the Void she’d been thinking.

 

Chapter Text

Whatever schedule the Seeker had put together was hopelessly thrown off by the horsemaster. It was anticipated that Dennet would ask for their help in exchange for his horses, but they had expected something manageable, such as a vanguard or a personal escort to Haven. Instead, he asked for three permanent watchtowers near his farm, plus the help of their team in clearing out a nearby den of particularly vicious wolves. They lost a whole afternoon recovering when it turned out the pack had been taken over by a demon-- a turn of events Varric described as “typical”. Cassandra had not banked on the delay and vented her frustration to anyone willing to listen, which, by dinnertime, was only Jane.

Finding locations for the watchtowers seemed like it would be the more straightforward task, but thanks to the bears, skirmishes, and Fade rifts, each one took nearly half a day.

In the end, they spent four days at the farm, which was four days too long, in Elizabeth’s opinion. Dennet, it turned out, had a talent for putting his foot in his mouth at any given opportunity. On the first day, he managed to call Varric a mule-rider and insult the entire Trevelyan family to Jane’s face. Elizabeth would admit to being delighted when Dennet visited the camp on the second day and referred to Solas as “the Dalish one”, but she couldn’t forgive the man for putting the rest of the camp in a foul mood.

To Elizabeth’s relief, Solas seemed just as discreet on the subject of her use of the Veil to watch things as he’d been previously, though it was clear that what he’d seen had disturbed him. Aside from giving her a stack of clean wolfskins the day after they cleared out the den--which, she assumed, he did to demonstrate that one could skin animals without looking like one had walked out of a bloodbath--he spoke no more than ten words to her. Twice, she even caught him staring at her with a hard glint of disapproval in his eyes.

Besides Solas all but shunning her, the main highlight for Elizabeth was that Jane received two letters from Cullen, one on their first day there and one on their last. Technically, they were official reports, but Elizabeth thought she could detect a certain subtext behind his words. Jane, on the other hand, believed them to be strictly professional.

“It’s a report , Lizzie, not a poem,” Jane insisted when her sister started to analyze the second letter.

Elizabeth ignored her. “Look! Three times in two letters, he writes that he anxiously awaits your return,” she pointed out to her sister. She looked up from the letter she was reviewing and gave Jane a meaningful look. “ Anxiously.

“In this one, he uses ‘we’, though,” Jane replied, holding the first letter. “‘ We anxiously await your return,’ you see. He’s talking about the council.” She flipped the paper in her hand over. “And at least in this case, he goes on to mention Cassandra, so I think he means the plural ‘you’.”

“How about this, then? He hopes that the camp food is better than Flissa’s vegetable soup?” Elizabeth raised her eyebrow.

Jane looked away, pink rising to her cheeks. “We had lunch at the tavern once, and--”

“Yes, yes, I can guess the particulars,” Elizabeth said, waving her hand. “I’m more interested in your explanation as to how an inside joke belongs in an official report.”

“He has a good sense of humor,” Jane replied.

Elizabeth laughed, shaking her head. “You’re impossible,” she said. “Come on, then, let me see your response so far.” Jane stood and went to her knapsack, pulling out a rolled parchment. She handed it to Elizabeth, who read the first line and frowned. “You’re still addressing him as ‘Commander’? Not ‘Cullen’?”

Jane crossed her arms. “They are reports, Lizzie.”

“Fair enough,” Elizabeth said. “And you never know, maybe he likes you calling him ‘Commander’. Some people are into that sort of--”

Elizabeth ,” Jane said, turning bright red.

At that moment, the Seeker called their names from outside the tent. Jane hastily put away the letters while Elizabeth stood and poked her head out of the flap. “Yes?”

“Varric has returned,” she said. “We will be heading to Winterwatch Tower as soon as you are ready.” One of the scouts had informed them that a sizeable cult resided in the old tower, and Jane was hoping to turn their efforts towards the refugees. Varric had left that morning to scout ahead.

“Thank the Maker,” Elizabeth muttered.

Cassandra let out a huff of air. “My sentiments exactly.” She glanced deeper into the tent, her brow tightening, and lowered her voice to a whisper. “It is almost the end of the week, and we have spent most of it here. Do you think that the Herald will want to delay our return to Haven?”

Elizabeth grimaced at the idea of spending more time in the Hinterlands. She was eager to get back to Harritt’s lessons and a real bed. “If she does, I’ll personally tie her up and throw her on the back of my horse,” she whispered back.

A voice came from within the tent. “I can hear both of you!”

“Then consider that your only warning!” Elizabeth called back. She smiled at Cassandra politely. “We’ll be ready in just a moment.”

 

~~~

 

As they left the farm, Elizabeth had to practically drag Jane away from a ‘Lost Druffalo’ sign. They ended up running back to tell an Inquisition scout that the Herald wanted them to look for the animal, though Elizabeth declined to add Jane’s qualifier of “urgently”.

You need to focus,” she told her sister as they left for the second time. “If the Maker really did put that mark on your hand for a reason, I don’t think He had missing pets in mind.”

“It’s not a pet,” Jane replied. “Druffalo are an important part of agricultural stability.” The sincerity in her voice made Elizabeth laugh, which, in turn, made Jane’s frown more pronounced.

Elizabeth tried, and failed, to straighten her face. “I didn’t realize that the Maker was such a druffalo fan,” she said. “I must have missed that verse in the Chant. Tell me, is it before or after Threnodies?”

Jane shook her head. “You’re lucky Mama isn’t here.”

“In so many ways,” Elizabeth agreed. “But seriously, Jane, the Breach must be our focus right now. You can run around Ferelden saving druffalo to your heart’s content when it’s sealed.”

“I’d be careful,” Varric said from ahead. Elizabeth looked up, surprised. She hadn’t realized the others were close enough to hear their conversation. “That sounds like it ends with Jane bringing home every abandoned druffalo in Thedas.”

Jane looked at him with wide eyes. “Do people really abandon them?”

Varric smirked and glanced back at Elizabeth. “See? Good luck getting the smell out of your clothes.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Jane can do as she chooses. I won’t be at…” she began to reply, then frowned, swallowing the words ‘ Longbourn much longer’ as quickly as she could. When her sister looked at her curiously, she smiled and recovered. “I won’t be… at all bothered by the smell. If we continue to visit such fragrant campgrounds, I’ll be quite used to it.”

Varric said something in response, and she let Jane reply, hardly listening. She was already lost in thought.

Since she’d learned of Justinia’s death, a flutter of panic appeared in Elizabeth’s stomach whenever she thought about the future beyond the Breach. She could not imagine the next Divine being quite as lax on mages. The average person in Thedas would want someone to blame for the war, and she doubted the Chantry would hang the templars out to dry unless public opinion forced them to, which seemed unlikely. A general fear of magic made the mages too convenient a target.

The flutter grew. Where would she be in one year’s time? The safest option would be returning to a Circle quietly. It was tempting, but a growing part of her did not like that she would willingly submit herself for stability’s sake. Once she was behind those walls, it would become much harder to object to anything, and she would slowly become used to things again, to rights being chipped away around her. What could she do from inside a Circle if the abuses became worse? Ostwick had been bad enough toward the end, with rising tensions on both sides and leadership turning a blind eye. But what if it became like Kirkwall? What if she were caught using the Veil to observe magic in a place like that? She knew she would be safer than some of her brethren, as a human with a noble name, but she did not want to stand idly by and let others suffer. There had to be a limit to what she would accept.

But then, what other choices would she have? Become an Isolationist? An apostate? A younger Elizabeth would have found the idea idiotic, would remind her of the risks involved, and would swear to her that the Circles could be reformed from within. But now she was not so sure.

There was, of course, a darker option, one that she hated to consider, but it was something she could not bring herself to do to Jane, or the rest of her family. She had long ago told herself that she would only consider it if she were under immediate threat of facing the Rite of Tranquility, and she did not mean to break that promise.

Lost in her thoughts, Elizabeth followed the group, half-listening as Jane tried to teach the others conversational Orlesian. Eventually, she took her own advice and decided to put her own feelings aside until the Breach could be closed and her sister could safely return home. It would not do to dwell on things she could not change.

 

~~~



There was another Inquisition camp near Winterwatch, and the five of them stopped there to eat their midday meal and get information from the scouts before approaching the cult.

“They’re nice enough, for cultists,” Scout Weldon told them. “As long as you keep them from trying to convert you. Then they can get a bit pushy, with all the Maker’s Breach talk.”

“I suppose it is natural that people would start worshipping the Breach,” Solas said thoughtfully as Cassandra passed him a sack of berries.

“Won’t that make me unpopular with them?” Jane asked. “If they worship the thing I’m trying to close, won’t they see me as a threat?”

“Ritts says they’ll be impressed that you can control the rifts,” the scout told her. “They have one in the tower. It’s one of the reasons they live there.”

Cassandra stopped chewing to stare at him. “They purposely live near a Fade rift?” she asked.

“Yes, my lady,” Weldon confirmed. “But they’re not all a bad sort,” he added, seeing the horrified expression on the Seeker’s face. “They take in everyone. Elves, dwarves, rebel mages, runaway templars… you name it.”

“As long as you join the cult, I assume,” Elizabeth added dryly.

“Well, yes,” the scout said. He nodded at Jane. “After you’re all done eating, Ritts can walk you up herself. She’s made a few points of contact in the building, which should get you through the door.”

 

~~~

 

Ritts introduced them to Speaker Anais, the leader of the cultists, who regarded Jane with open suspicion, but agreed to let them try to close the Fade rift. She guided them into the fortress, chatting amicably with the scout.

Winterwatch had once been an elegant fortress, Elizabeth could tell. It reminded her of the old Trevelyan estate, where their uncle still lived outside Ostwick. As children, the girls would visit with her grandfather, Lord Trevelyan’s father, and he’d let Jane, Elizabeth and Mary walk the ramparts.

But this fortress was not so well kept. By its decrepit state, it must have spent decades, maybe even centuries, without an owner, or perhaps with one too poor to care for it. The cultists were fortunate that the foundation still held as strongly as it did.

As they entered the courtyard, people leaned over balconies and stared down at them, curious. Elizabeth shivered, feeling the hairs on her arm stand up in a familiar way, and she was not surprised when Solas mentioned he could feel another artifact nearby. When the Speaker gave them leave to explore the tower, he, Varric, and Jane went to investigate.

As they left, Cassandra turned to the Speaker. “We are told that you have welcomed both mages and templars. Would we be able to speak with any of them?”

Anais glanced at the staff on Elizabeth’s back before she answered. “Unfortunately, the war is not kind to either side. Even with our protection, we’ve lost the few who have found us.” She gave Ritts a look of pity. “Your scout was close with one of the mages. What was her name, my child?”

“Eldredda,” Ritts said, looking more guilty than sad. “Templars killed her right outside the gates two weeks ago.”

“Yes,” Anais sighed. “And then, a few days ago, we lost a man from the Order. He had such terrible nightmares.”

Ritts looked surprised. “The one from Ostwick?” she asked, as Elizabeth froze. “He’s dead?”

“Yes, child,” Anais said, shaking her head. “Such a tragedy. He took his own life.”

Somehow, Elizabeth found her voice. “This man-- his name wasn’t Mattrin, was it?” she asked.

Anais took in her expression. “Oh, dear. You knew him, didn't you?” she asked, sadly. Elizabeth managed to confirm she did, closing her eyes. She felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Ellendra’s templar?” Cassandra asked. Elizabeth met her gaze and nodded. The Seeker’s lips thinned grimly and she sighed. “We will have to inform her.”

“He’s with Andraste now,” Anais said, her eyes drifting skyward. After a pause, she turned back to them. “He left some personal items. A vial, and a-- a letter. If you knew him-- if you would be so kind?”

“Of course,” Elizabeth said.

Jane returned a moment later, and Cassandra informed her of what they had learned.  Elizabeth had to talk her sister out of leaving for the Crossroads immediately, much as it pained her to prioritize the Inquisition over her friend. She insisted they stick to their plan, which would have them in the Crossroads by the next day, both to return the supplies they’d found for Recruit Whittle, and to check in with Harding before they left for Haven.

Elizabeth rose the next day, sore and quiet, feeling like she’d never slept, and could not stomach much for breakfast. They left at dawn.

~~~

 

“I am so, so sorry,” Elizabeth said. She had brought Ellendra to an abandoned apothecary hut to talk while Jane and the others checked in with Whittle.

Ellendra did not respond. She stared at her phylactery on the table before them with unseeing eyes. Her hand twitched towards it and then stopped. After a moment, Elizabeth reached out to touch her.

Her friend looked up then, her eyes focusing. “I thought he was dead, you know. After the White Spire. I adjusted. I moved on. For so long, I truly thought...” Her voice trailed off, and she shook her head. “When I first heard that he might be alive, I didn’t dare hope it was true. I told myself I was prepared. That I knew he was already lost to me. I think I believed it myself.” She closed her eyes, though no tears spilled out. “But, you know, I’ve always been such a good liar.”

They sat in silence for several minutes, Elizabeth stroking Ellendra’s hand. Finally, Ellendra stood, pulling away from her friend’s grasp. She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with the corner of her sleeve.

“Very well,” she said in a cool voice. “I shall join your Inquisition.”

Elizabeth paused, surprised by the shift in subject and tone. “Oh, Ellendra. You don’t have to decide that now.”

“I’m afraid I do, actually,” she replied.

“No,” Elizabeth said. “Ellendra, please. You should take the time to mourn.”

Ellendra traced the edge of the table with a finger. “Time,” she said softly. “Time was a luxury Mattrin and I could not afford.” She folded her arms and lifted her chin as she walked to the window of the hut, watching the villagers below. “Change is coming. This war is all but over. Don’t you feel it in the air?”

The familiar flutter of panic danced in Elizabeth’s stomach, and she swallowed thickly before speaking. “Of course I do.”

“We are mages, Eliza,” Ellendra said. “The clock is ticking. The moment the Chantry is able to place itself upright, it will crush those of us who are not careful. Justinia was the only barrier between us and them before, and now she is dead.” She turned her head and offered her friend a smile that did not reach her eyes. “ You have already done the wisest thing.”

“I have?”

“Yes. You joined them,” Ellendra said, looking back out the window.

“Joined the Chantry?” Elizabeth said, astonished. She stuttered over her words. “Me? That’s not what the Inquisition is at all. The-- the Chantry has denounced us!”

“Who? Do you mean the collection of Revered Mothers bickering in Val Royeaux?” Ellendra asked. “The so-called Chantry is currently a coop of powerless, nameless hens. They cluck at the dogs that guard them, thinking they see foxes. The only reason they’re allowed to grandstand in this manner is because everyone with enough power or influence to silence them died at the Conclave.” She turned back to Elizabeth and raised an eyebrow. “Well. That is,  almost everyone.”

Realization dawned in Elizabeth’s mind. “The Right and the Left Hand,” she said. “Cassandra and Leliana. You think one of them will be the next Divine.”

“If your sister is successful, yes,” Ellendra agreed. “And if not, well.” She shrugged, turning away again. “Then I suppose that this whole discussion will be rendered moot.”

Elizabeth frowned. “That’s the reason you were considering the Loyalists, isn’t it? So you could work with the new Divine.” She tilted her head. “But why? To promote Circle reforms? I doubt the Loyalists would let you.”

Ellendra laughed shortly. “Eliza, Andraste herself could swoop down from the Maker’s side and tell the Chantry to treat mages better, and they still would not listen,” she replied. “And it does not help that the mages insist on responding like wild animals. All these rebels have done is create an argument for stronger fences and more restrictions, and it's the same every time, isn't it?" Ellendra's expression turned sour. "I have no doubt that the future of the Circle will be dark, much darker than anything you or I have seen, I’m sure.” She paused and placed her hands on the window sill. “But the new Circle of Magi does not have to be the future of every mage. There will continue to be positions for those in good standing with the Order. In Circles or at court, I imagine, especially for those who help the Divine rebuild. Positions with more freedom and safety. It is something we both should consider.”

“Leadership? As Loyalists?” Elizabeth looked at her friend in shock. “So you suggest that we swear Chantry fealty and advocate for the Order? Become lackey First Enchanters, denounce every part of the rebellion? Toe the line and keep the peace, regardless of what is asked of us?” She shook her head in frustration. “Is that what you plan to do?”

A beat of silence passed. “Essentially,” Ellendra admitted with a shrug.

“It is not sound, Ellendra. You know it is not sound. You will be safe, but the rest of us will not be. Would you really abandon your own people?”

“My own people?” Ellendra said sharply. “Am I required to stand for their actions now, when we have seen what those actions lead to?”

“The actions of some mages, as well as the actions of some of the templars,” Elizabeth replied. “But all of the mages will be punished, won’t we? Unless we become Chantry watchdogs.” She shook her head in disgust. “Would you even try to reform?”

“And make myself a target? Why, so I can be on record for supporting something that will never happen?”

“When you were my instructor, you taught  me reform was possible,” Elizabeth argued. “That it was necessary.”

“Yes,” Ellendra replied, her voice quieting. She looked at the vial on the table then, and her eyes became sorrowful. “And since then, I’ve come to believe there is something to be said for the status quo.” The anger melted from Elizabeth’s chest as quickly as it had risen, replaced by a stab of shame.

“Oh, Ellendra, I apologize,” she said, softly. “I didn’t mean to argue with you. Especially not right now.”

Ellendra stared for another moment, and then gave Elizabeth a sad smile. “Of course. We are both emotional. I am sorry, too.” She opened her arms, and Elizabeth moved forward to hug her tightly. When they broke apart, Ellendra’s face was once again impassive. “Leave me, then. I promise you, I will come to Haven as soon as I have written to Mattrin’s family and closed out my affairs here.” She pocketed the vial and patted Elizabeth on the arm, sighing heavily. “I realize I have disappointed you, Eliza.” Elizabeth tried to speak, and Ellendra raised a hand to stop her. “But regardless, I am truly glad we will be in the same place again. I've missed you.” She pulled her hand away and turned to gaze at the window again. “I hope that we can put this behind us when we next meet.”

"Of course we can," Elizabeth said, pushing aside her lingering concerns. "I'll be glad to have you, too."

 

~~~

 

Try as she might to be present, Elizabeth was plagued by dark thoughts for the rest of the day. Fortunately, her companions avoided her, letting her hang back as they spoke to the villagers. The only exception was Jane, who frequently reached out to squeeze her hand or touch her back. They all assumed she was mourning Mattrin, which in part was true, and gave her space. She did not correct them, which left the lingering taste of guilt in her mouth.

By the time they finally got to Harding’s camp, she felt emotionally exhausted, and she tried to skip the evening meal again. Jane forced her to eat some dried meat before she retired, and so she sat by the fire, chewing methodically and staring at the flames, as Cassandra read part of a letter from Leliana out loud. As soon as Jane was satisfied, she slipped into their tent and climbed onto her bedroll, not even changing out of her tunic.

The Fade took her back to the Circle that night, to a day several years before her own Harrowing. She was making lotuses out of cloth for two homesick apprentices. One of the children grabbed her arm and tugged, and it took Elizabeth a moment to realize the movement was happening on the other side of the Fade.

“Lizzie,” a familiar voice said, low and worried, too old to be an apprentice. “Oh, Lizzie.”

“Jane?” Elizabeth murmured as she came to. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re going to kill me,” Jane whispered.

Elizabeth blinked as Jane’s silhouette became clear in the dim light. She could just make out that Jane’s hands were playing with her braid. “Why?”

“I may have done something bad,” Jane explained. She swallowed before explaining. “Leliana … in that letter, she said that the Grey Wardens have disappeared, and she’s worried it has something to do with the explosion.”

“What do you mean, they’ve disappeared?” Elizabeth asked, confused.

“They’re gone,” Jane said simply.

“All of them?” Elizabeth said. “How could they…? When did this happen?”

“Several weeks before the Conclave,” Jane said.

“Several weeks before…?” Elizabeth began. That did not make sense. She rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hand. “What about Blackwall? Isn’t he still in Longbourn village?”

“That’s exactly what I said,” Jane said, sounding a little relieved. She paused for a moment, as if hoping Elizabeth would be able to guess the next part, but Elizabeth shook her head, not understanding. Jane took a deep breath. “That’s what I said to Cassandra,” she explained, slowly. “And then she said Leliana would want one of us to speak with him in person. So she suggested--”

“Oh,” Elizabeth breathed, sitting up as she realized. She was very awake now.

“She suggested that we find him.”

“Oh no,” Elizabeth said . “Oh Maker,” she moaned, placing her head in her hands at the thought of their companions meeting her family, of them meeting her mother . Of her mother speaking to Cassandra, to Solas, about anything . “Oh no, Jane, don’t tell me--”

Her sister grasped her hand. “I’m so sorry, Lizzie. In the morning, we’re leaving for Longbourn.”

Chapter Text

“There must be another option,” Elizabeth insisted as she followed Cassandra through the camp, past the requisition table. Cassandra placed a bag on one of their packhorses, securing it tightly with a leather strap. It was dawn, and they were scheduled to leave for Longbourn within the hour. “What if Jane and I go alone?”

Cassandra rolled her eyes. She’d answered Elizabeth’s concerns with measured restraint while the five of them had eaten breakfast, but now Elizabeth could tell her patience was wearing thin. “Your fighting skills have improved, but I am not about to let the Herald run off without better protection,” she said. “Besides, Leliana will want me to speak with Warden Blackwall personally.”

Elizabeth folded her arms. “Fine. Then the three of us can go, and Varric and Solas can head back to Haven,” she suggested. She was not particularly eager to see Cassandra interact with her mother, but perhaps it would minimize the damage. There was always an off-chance that the sheer number of titles the Seeker held would shock her mother into silence.

“Solas is our only accomplished healer, and Varric is staying with me until we are able to track down Marianne Hawke,” Cassandra said.

“Oh, come on, Seeker,” Varric complained, looking up from the pony he was brushing. “I like to at least pretend that I’m here voluntarily. It happens to help me sleep at night.” Cassandra ignored him, opening a half-packed sack near her own tent.

Elizabeth ran a hand over her face as she watched the Seeker layer dried meat into the bag. “Okay, what if you go by yourself, and---”

“Elizabeth,” Cassandra said, exasperated, as she turned to face her. “I realize that your relationship with your mother is … well, complicated--”

“On the contrary, it sounds rather straightforward,” Solas said, sounding amused. Varric barked out a laugh at that.

Cassandra shot them both a glare before returning her gaze to Elizabeth. “--but we will only be there for two nights. I believe we will all survive.”

Elizabeth wanted to reply, but she could only let out a frustrated noise as the Seeker turned back to packing.

“I don’t get it, Blaze,” Varric said as he walked towards her. “You lived there since Ostwick Circle fell, right? Going back for two nights should be easy.”

She hesitated, thinking back on some of her mother’s more choice rants. Several involving elves came to mind, and she forced herself not to glance at Solas. “Mama has a lot of opinions about… things,” she replied. “And I’m also terrified to see how she’s reacting to Jane being proclaimed the Herald of Andraste. My father keeps joking that she’s trying to marry her off to Duke Gaspard.” Elizabeth mouth dropped open as an awful thought struck her. “Maker’s breath. I hope he’s joking.” Then her expression relaxed again. “No, wait. Mama hates Orlesians.”

“Right, she’s Fereldan, huh?” Varric asked. He shrugged. “I guess I can’t blame her for holding a grudge.”

“No, it’s not because of the occupation,” Elizabeth said. “She actually used to love the idea of Orlais. Father is half Orlesian himself, on his mother’s side. His second cousin is Duke Bastien de Ghislain, and before I went to the Circle, she’d make us all speak Orlesian at the dinner table. But then Mama tried to use Father’s family connection to make a match for Jane at the Orlesian court, and well…” She winced. “She was not very good at the Game.”

Varric smiled. “Just for research purposes, which subject would get a bigger reaction from her? The Civil War or growing elven tensions in Halamshiral?” Elizabeth gave him a hard look, and he laughed. “Relax, I was kidding. I’m not going to make you uncomfortable in front of your family. Not on purpose, anyway. You know I have about a hundred stories I can tell instead.” He crossed his arms and frowned. “So, uh, completely unrelated question. How does she feel about Kirkwall?”

Elizabeth groaned and looked up at the sky. “This is going to be a disaster.”

 

 

~~~

 

Once Elizabeth accepted that the Seeker could not be dissuaded from her plan, packing did not take long. There were reports of aggressive bandits to the north, so they ended up on the more southern route, avoiding the Imperial Highway and, more importantly, Redcliffe, much to her relief. With Jane needing the help of a large group of mages, Elizabeth knew that she would most likely be seeing the rebellion sooner or later, but all things considered, ‘later’ sounded preferable. Her thoughts since the Conclave had become more sympathetic towards the rebellion than they had been previously. However, she still believed that the timing was terrible. Kirkwall was still a smoking ruin, and in the wake of that catastrophe, focusing on templar abuses was a mistake. The Order was only the hand that held the key. It did not create the mages’ cells, nor did it have the power to destroy them. That distinction belonged to the Chantry alone.

The southern path was rougher and barely wide enough for two horses, but with the positive feature of being almost entirely devoid of bandits. While Varric scouted and Jane spoke with Solas about his journeys, Elizabeth found herself falling in line with Cassandra. The Seeker did not speak at all, which was fine with Elizabeth. She found herself lost in her own worried thoughts, barely listening to the conversation ahead. 

On the morning of the day they were to arrive at Longbourn, Elizabeth pulled aside her sister while the others packed up the campsite.

“Do you think we should warn Solas?” she asked in a low voice.

Jane looked at her blankly. “About what?”

“You know,” Elizabeth said. “About Mama.” Jane’s brow furrowed and Elizabeth fought the urge to roll her eyes. “About Mama and elves .”

“Oh!” Jane exclaimed, placing a hand on her own cheek. “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. You… you don’t think she’ll say something awful, do you?”

Elizabeth stared at her sister for a moment, wondering briefly what sort of alternate version of their family she’d grown up in. “Of course she’ll say something awful, Jane. That’s what Mama does.”

“I’m sure she won’t,” Jane replied, not sounding sure at all. Her eyes widened. “Oh! We’ll tell her how he saved our lives. Then she wouldn’t dare say anything.”

Elizabeth snorted. “With spirit magic? That will go over well.” Magic was another touchy subject with Lady Trevelyan.

Jane let her hand fall. “Well, Father would stop her before she did anything stupid, wouldn’t he?”

“Are you willing to bet on that?” Elizabeth asked. Jane chewed on her lip without replying. “I just think you should talk to him before we arrive.”

“If you’re so sure, why don’t you talk to him about it?”

“Because he doesn’t like me,” Elizabeth said. “He’ll take you more seriously.”

Jane gave her sister a look. “You mean you don’t like him .”

Elizabeth crossed her arms. “Those aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, you know.”

“Well, if you don’t like him, why do you even care what she says?” Jane asked.

Elizabeth sighed. “If Mama wanted to insult Solas because he’s Solas , she and I would miraculously agree on something,” she replied. “But, no, she’ll want to insult him because he’s an elf. And it’s not right, Jane. You know it isn’t.”

“Lizzie, I just--” Jane began, but her voice trailed off as Varric approached them. They both fell silent.

“Sorry to break up this top secret Trevelyan meeting, but the Seeker says we’re ready to go,” he said.

“We’ll be over in a moment,” Elizabeth said. She glanced back at Jane before retreating to her horse. “Just think about saying something, okay?”

 

~~~

 

That there was no runner at the gate to announce their arrival was the first sign that something might be amiss. Elizabeth and Jane exchanged confused glances; usually their father sent out Doris when visitors were expected. It was unlike him, but Elizabeth thought that perhaps with family he did not want to stand on occasion.

The second was that she counted only four blonde heads coming out the front door to greet them on the gravel. She counted her mother, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia-- and no one followed.

“That’s strange,” she said to Jane under her breath.

“Jane!” Lady Trevelyan cried out cheerfully as they approached. “Oh, I’m so glad to have you safe and home at last.”

"Temporarily ,” Elizabeth added.

“Of course, of course,” her mother replied, sounding a little giddy as she helped her eldest daughter from her horse. She glanced up at her second daughter. “And Lizzie, it’s so nice to see you too!” She turned back to Jane. “Oh, dear Jane. We have been in such a state!” She hugged her tightly as Elizabeth and the others descended from their own mounts.

The sisters greeted their family and introduced their companions. Elizabeth made sure to introduce Solas as the healer who saved Jane’s life, even though her mother was barely paying attention.

“But Mama,” Elizabeth said evenly, after the niceties were over. “Where is Father? He’s not ill, is he?”

“Oh, not at all! He’s away,” Lady Trevelyan said, waving her hand.

“Away where?” Jane asked.

“Visiting,” Lady Trevelyan said vaguely. Elizabeth looked at her curiously. It was not like their mother to be reserved.

“He’s visiting his cousin,” Mary finally said, and the glare that earned her from Lady Trevelyan did not go unnoticed by Elizabeth, who raised her eyebrows.

“He went back to Ostwick?”

“No, no,” her mother replied, looking toward the house with a forced casual air. “He’s gone to Val Royeaux.”

Elizabeth exchanged a shocked look with Jane. “Val Royeaux?” she asked her mother. “You don’t mean that he’s visiting Duke Bastien, do you?”

“Oh well, yes, I suppose I do!” Her mother twisted her hands. “What does it matter, Lizzie? People visit their cousins all the time!”

“But I thought we didn’t acknowledge that side of the family,” Elizabeth said.

Lady Trevelyan laughed nervously with a glance at their guests. “‘Didn’t acknowledge that side’! What a strange sense of humor you have. Why would we not acknowledge our Orlesian cousins? The very idea! Well, then, let me get you all inside. Doris, could you lead our guests’ horses to the stables? Oh, perhaps there are a few too many. Could you-- Solas was it? Could you help her?”

Solas began to step forward to do so, not realizing what her mother was implying, and Elizabeth stopped him hastily. “Oh, no, allow me,” she said to him and her mother. “Mary and I can get the horses. Doris can help you with the guest rooms.” She gave her younger sister a significant look, grabbing the reins of two of the horses before her mother could protest. Mary joined her and they began to walk away.

Once they were out of earshot, Elizabeth stepped closer to her sister. “Why is Father visiting Duke Bastien all of a sudden?”

“He didn’t tell you in his letters?” Mary asked with some surprise. “Mama is trying to marry Jane off to Duke Gaspard. I mean, Emperor Gaspard.” She looked behind them nervously. “Don’t call him Duke in front of her.”

“Maker’s breath,” Elizabeth muttered. “I didn’t think he was serious! Why would he agree to that ? And why would she want to? I thought Mama hated everything about Orlais!”

“Yes, she did, back when they were all snubbing her,” Mary explained. “But Jane is all anyone in Val Royeaux can talk about. We’ve been getting invitations to these elegant parties, and Mama keeps telling us times have changed.” She paused as they reached the stables, tying one of the horse’s reins to a post within reach of the trough.

“She hasn’t made him any promises, has she?” Elizabeth asked. For a chilling moment, she could only imagine trying to explain to Cassandra and Leliana that her mother had haplessly thrown the Inquisition’s support behind the losing faction of the Orlesian civil war.

“No, I don’t believe so,” Mary said. “Though Father wrote to her that he’s bringing a surprise guest with him. Mama is convinced it’s Gaspard. She’s hoping that they will get here before Jane leaves, but they haven’t reached the mountains yet.”

“Well, that's a relief. He’ll almost certainly miss us then,” Elizabeth replied, patting her horse firmly.

 

~~~

 

The halls of Longbourn were empty when the sisters returned from the stables. Elizabeth went up to her room, dropping her sack in the corner, planning to repack it with better supplies before leaving. It was strange to be back, to see her bedroom so untouched by the events of the past month.

She went to her armoire and opened it, letting her gaze drift over the tunics, robes, and dresses within. Most of them were not fit for substantial travel, let alone fighting. She was on the verge of giving up when her eyes landed on the Circle robes she’d worn when she returned home, which at least had an enchantment for protection, though it was not strong enough to act as armor. She supposed it would be counter-productive for the Chantry to give mages robes that could properly defend them against templars.

She pressed the thin cloth between two fingers, feeling the material. It wasn’t exactly made for the outdoors, but perhaps with Harritt’s help, she could create some light armor from it. The idea of repurposing something from the Circle for fighting sent a rebellious thrill through Elizabeth’s veins, and before she could think better of it, she’d laid the deep blue outfit out on the bed to pack.

A knock at the door made her start. “My lady?” Doris asked from the other side.

“Come in,” she replied. Doris entered, carrying two buckets of water, followed by the cook’s son, who carried two more. As she watched, confused, they pulled the big washing basin from her wall to the center of the room and began pouring their water in. “Thank you, Doris, but I didn’t call for a bath,” she said.

“No, but Lady Trevelyan said that you and Lady Jane were to receive baths first thing,” Doris replied.

“Of course she did,” Elizabeth said. Still, this was one proclivity she could forgive. The streams in the Hinterlands had been icy and far too large for her magic to warm them, making bathing quick and uncomfortable, and the baths at the Circle had been public and awkward. In the time she'd spent living at home, she’d come to appreciate a hot bath. She let them fill up the basin without further complaint.

Doris stood as she finished and nodded at her. “We’ll be back with the coals in a moment, my Lady.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Elizabeth replied. She stepped towards the tub and moved her hand over it, casting fire lightly in the steel bottom until the water was steaming and then curling her fingers to kill the spell. The servants exchanged distinctly uncomfortable glances as they left, and Elizabeth felt a little guilty as she barred the door. She was tired of hiding her magic at home, though. The shadow of the Circle’s return loomed over her more each day, and it was bringing out a defiant side of herself that she did not even know existed.

After a moment’s consideration, she went to her bag and retrieved a handful of dried Elfroot leaves, knowing she could spare that much. Steeping them in the water would relax her muscles, and she also enjoyed their herbal, piney scent. She stirred them in and stripped her clothes. As the scent floated through the room, she stepped gingerly into the tub, letting the steam rise around her. Sliding down and leaning back, she had to admit to herself that this small luxury might be worth the trip to Longbourn, provided that nothing else went wrong.

In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to knock on wood after such a thought.

“Lizzie?” someone said on the other side of her door.

She recognized Mary’s voice and frowned. “I’m bathing, Mary.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. But...” her sister trailed off and then cleared her throat. “Lizzie, it’s Mama.”

Elizabeth sighed, sinking further into the warm water. “Can’t it wait?”

“I don’t think so,” Mary replied, nervously. “She, um.” There was a pause. “The elf you arrived with. She’s… she’s put him in the servant’s quarters.”

Elizabeth froze, gripping the side of the basin. The servant’s quarters at Longbourn were abysmal rooms, small and dank and not at all set up for guests. Even Doris and the cook’s family lived in two large huts outside the property. “She didn’t.

“I told her that you and Jane would be upset, but she said there wasn’t enough room for everyone, and as an apostate, he couldn’t be used to much better accommodations.” As Mary explained, Elizabeth climbed out of the bath so quickly that at least a bucket's worth of water splashed on the floor.

“Bullshit,” Elizabeth growled, grabbing the Circle robes from her bed and tugging them over her head with some difficulty. “What about the attic?” she asked in a muffled voice, the fabric resisting her damp skin.

“Mama is saving it for Father’s guest.”

“But they’re not even here yet!”

“Yes, but you know Mama,” Mary replied.

Elizabeth did. Pulling her arms down, she finally won the war against the now damp Circle robes and opened the door.

“Oh!” Mary exclaimed, looking her over.

“Where is she?”

“Last I saw, she was downstairs, by the fireplace. But you’re …” Mary choked on the next word, glancing at Elizabeth’s chest nervously, “...soaking wet.” Elizabeth glanced down, noting that, once damp, the robes were very thin, making them cling to her chest in a revealing manner. She pulled at the fabric awkwardly, which actually seemed to make things worse, and then gave up with a huff.

“Maker’s breath,” she muttered. “Never mind. It’s fine.” She pushed past Mary and headed for the stairs, hearing Mary whisper something about Andraste and perseverance behind her.

Her mother was indeed at a small writing desk by the fireplace. When Elizabeth stormed into the room, she jumped to her feet.

“Lizzie!” she exclaimed, staring at her in horror. “What in the world are you wearing ? We have strangers in the house!”

Elizabeth crossed her arms, feeling the water drip from her hair. “Did you give Solas a room in the servant’s quarters?” she asked.

“I-- well, that is--,” Lady Trevelyan stuttered. “I gave him the only free room left,” she said innocently. “That it happened to be in the servant’s quarters--”

“What about the attic?” Elizabeth said.  

“Oh, well, we’re saving that room for your father’s guest,” Lady Trevelyan said, her eyes brightening.  “I don’t suppose Mary told you about--”

“Mama, we’ll be long gone by the time they arrive,” Elizabeth said. “You can use it for Solas now, and the guest later.”

“I know that’s the plan ,” Lady Trevelyan said, tittering. She sat back at her desk. “But you never know how these things work out, do you? Now, Lizzie, you really should go change--”

“We are only here for two nights . You know that. We were very clear in our letter,” she said.

“Well, we don’t know when your father is arriving,” Lady Trevelyan argued. “It may be before that, or it may be after. Doris might not have enough time--”

Elizabeth squeezed the bridge of her nose and grit her teeth. By her estimation, they’d been at Longbourn for less than an hour, and she already wanted to set the whole damn place on fire. “Fine. Fine,” she said tightly, removing her hand. “Solas can have my room. Jane and I will share.”

“Have your room!” Lady Trevelyan cried. “A stranger and an elf! I don’t think that’s appropriate--”

“I don’t care what you think,” Elizabeth snapped. “And if I even hear Doris whisper that you tried to move him back, I will tell Father about the time you tried to marry me off to the son of a Tevinter magister.” Lady Trevelyan closed her mouth tightly, having no response, and Elizabeth spun on her heels, heading towards the servant’s quarters.

 

~~~

 

Solas was seated on a hay mattress on the floor when Elizabeth entered. The tiny room was dusty and cold, and Elizabeth scowled, feeling the weight of her mother’s insult anew. He stood as he saw her, his eyes widening as they travelled up her body before he looked away sharply. She crossed her arms over her chest, feeling her cheeks flush, and reminded herself that he’d healed her chest injury at Haven.

“I apologize,” Elizabeth said evenly. “I was in the bath when I was alerted to my mother’s… behavior.”

“Ah,” Solas said simply.

“Gather your things,” she said. “I’m bringing you to a new room.”

He turned to meet her gaze, pointedly keeping his eyes above her chin. “I appreciate the offer, but there’s no need to trouble yourself,” he replied. “I am an apostate. I have dealt with much worse conditions than this.”

“I don’t care if you slept with wild dogs before Haven,” Elizabeth replied heatedly. “I’m not going to let Mama treat a member of the Inquisition like this.” Solas paused, but after studying her face, he seemed to accept that this was not up for debate. He put the few items he’d unpacked back in his bag and grabbed his staff, following her out of the room.

They climbed to the second floor in silence before Solas spoke. “Your mother told me that there were no other rooms available.”

“Well, we had a sudden vacancy,” Elizabeth said dryly as they reached her door. She opened it and stepped in, the scent of elfroot swirling out of the still warm bath. Solas looked at the bath and then at her damp hair and robes in surprise.

“This is your room,” he realized.

She smiled archly. “Well spotted, Donnen Brennokovic.”

His brow drew together in confusion. “But where will you sleep?”

“In Jane’s room,” she replied. When he began to protest, she shook her head and interrupted. “Honestly, we prefer it that way.”

Solas looked at the bath and the bed, then let his gaze drop to the floor. “That is … very generous of you,” he said. “Though it is not necessary.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Solas, you’re a member of the Inquisition. You came to help, knowing what the risks were. I’m a mage, too, you know. I’m not blind to the dangers you’ve put yourself in.” She pushed some of her damp hair away from her face. “I won’t let my mother--or anyone else-- treat you poorly.” It was a slippery slope, one she’d seen play out at the Circle. At first, people allowed minor transgressions to go by without comment, and eventually the offenses became more and more severe. She didn’t like Solas, but she had no wish to see him made Tranquil or forced into a Circle.

“How would you stop them?” Solas asked in a rhetorical voice, his eyes still on the ground.

Elizabeth huffed. Of course Solas couldn’t let this go without a dig at her magic. “I may not be as powerful as you, but I’m stubborn,” she replied. “I’d stop them.” Solas looked up, and she was confused when she saw the familiar glint of disapproval in his eyes. She wasn’t sure what she’d said wrong, and was about to apologize when he turned away, facing the windows.

“Thank you,” he said, softly.

An awkward silence followed. “Well,” Elizabeth said. “I suppose I’ll let you get settled in.” She began to move towards the door. “Oh, feel free to use the bath. I barely got to.” Solas continued to look out the windows without replying. She closed the door behind her and exhaled as she leaned against it, wondering how she was supposed to make it through the next two days.

Chapter Text

As they dressed for dinner, Jane assured her sister that she was satisfied with their new sleeping arrangements--particularly after Elizabeth gave her the full backstory. Their mother’s treatment of Solas appalled her, but the subject could only receive a few sharp exclamations before Elizabeth was able to shift the conversation to a matter she found much more pressing.

“I found out why Father is visiting his cousin,” she said. Jane eased herself onto the bed and cocked her head curiously. “Mama wants to marry you off to Duke Gaspard. He’s trying to set up a match.”

Jane’s eyebrows shot up. “Gaspard? Gaspard de Chalons?”

“Yes.”

To Elizabeth’s surprise, Jane smiled. “Mama wants me to marry Gaspard, so she sent Father to Duke Bastien?” Elizabeth nodded. Jane’s hand came up to her mouth and she began to laugh.  “Oh Lizzie! That is--” She tried to speak, but folded over as she laughed even harder.

“I believe she’s quite serious about it,” Elizabeth said, startled.

After a moment, Jane ran her fingers under her eyes, clearing away tears. “Oh, Lizzie, you don’t know, do you,” she said. “Didn’t you ever discuss politics in that Circle of yours?”

“Of course we did,” Elizabeth said defensively, though she privately acknowledged that most political discussions were about mages, templars, and the Circle itself. “Well, the basics, I mean. Who’s in charge, who’s at war-- that sort of thing.” She crossed her arms and sat next to her sister. “Why? What don’t I know?”

“Gaspard and Bastien hate each other. They were once--well, it’s messy--but suffice it to say, they have good reason. Le Grand Jeu and all that. Besides, Bastien’s mistress has direct ties to Celene.” Another chuckle escaped her and she shook her head. “Thank the Maker that Mama has no patience for the Game. She couldn’t have picked a worse person to ask.”

Elizabeth stared at her, her own face breaking into an astonished smile. “And I suppose Father would be entirely aware of all this,” she said.

Jane nodded. “Oh, he’s going to be the death of that poor woman.”

“Who can the surprise guest be then?” Elizabeth wondered aloud, looking at the floor.

“The what?” Jane asked.

“Father wrote ahead that he’s bringing back a surprise guest,” Elizabeth replied. “If it’s not Gaspard…” She trailed off, shrugging.

“Knowing Father, it’ll be that Mabari Lydia always wanted,” Jane said. “Can you imagine the look on her face?”

Elizabeth could imagine it very well. “If he does, we could name it Gaspard,” she suggested, and they both burst out laughing.

Once they had recovered, Elizabeth stood and shook her head. “Well, we still need to convince Mama to call off this ridiculous plan of hers.”

“We shouldn’t bother,” Jane replied, sitting up. “You know how Mama is. If I tell her I’m against it, she’ll only become more determined. It’s better to just let her grow tired of it.”

Elizabeth frowned. “But what if she actually manages to reach him and he gets the wrong idea? You’re the Herald now. I’m sure a dozen men would line up to claim your hand tomorrow, if Mama was offering.”

“Father will keep her in line,” Jane said. “Honestly, it’s probably for the best. At least with her mind on Gaspard, she won’t be offering my hand to every bachelor with noble blood between the ages of sixteen and ninety.”

“I suppose so,” Elizabeth said doubtfully.

Jane stood, walking over to the vanity to check her braid. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll speak with Josephine when we return and have her spread the word that I am not spoken for, and that if anyone wishes to make any offers, they need to go through the Inquisition, not my family.”

Elizabeth relented. “That would make me feel better,” she admitted. “Although it may result in--”

A knock on the door interrupted her, and Doris poked her head in. “My ladies? Your presence is requested in the dining room.”

“Thank you, Doris,” Jane said, straightening. She offered her sister a smile. “Shall we?”

 

~~~

 

Dinner was not as painful as Elizabeth had anticipated. Kitty and Lydia were visiting a friend in the village, so it was just the five Inquisition members, Lady Trevelyan, and Mary. Elizabeth’s mother only mentioned Gaspard’s eligibility a handful of times before Varric noticed the sisters’ discomfort and began telling stories about the Champion of Kirkwall. Solas remained completely silent. Elizabeth tried to steer the conversation toward Nevarran nobility early on, knowing that it would keep her mother entertained for the better part of an hour; Cassandra, however, was tight-lipped about her upbringing, so Elizabeth satisfied herself with listening and drinking.

“Thank the Maker for Varric Tethras,” she said two hours later, leaning heavily against Jane’s bedroom door. “And for wine .”

Jane scoffed as she removed her dress. “You won’t be thankful for that come morning.”

“You don’t think I can handle a few glasses of wine without a hangover?” Elizabeth asked, placing a hand over her heart. “You wound me, Herald of Andraste.”

Jane winced. “Don’t call me that.”

“As the lady wishes,” Elizabeth replied, stretching with a yawn. She picked up her nightgown from where it was folded on the dresser. “I must admit, it will be nice to sleep in a bed again.” They both finished dressing, and then Jane burrowed beneath the blankets as Elizabeth blew out the candles. She summoned a tiny flame in her hand to guide herself to the bed.

“You’ve been doing that more frequently,” Jane said quietly, pulling the blanket beneath her chin as she watched it burn.

“What, magic?” Elizabeth asked, extinguishing the flame and climbing into the bed. “I should hope so. You’ve been trying to get yourself killed more often. It’s the least I can do.”

“But even outside of fighting, I mean.”

Elizabeth made a noncommittal noise in response. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to discuss her sudden rebellious streak with Jane, knowing it would just make her sister worry, and she certainly didn’t want Jane knowing beforehand if she was planning to become a full-on apostate once the Circles returned.

A flutter of panic rose in her chest, but before she could follow that train of thought, she heard her sister say her name. She rolled on her side to face Jane in the darkness.

“I have a question,” Jane whispered. There was a moment of silence.

Elizabeth felt her lips curl into a fond smile. “Are you going to ask it?”

“It’s a little personal,” her sister explained. Elizabeth couldn’t see anything, but she knew from the silence that Jane was playing with her braid. “I don’t want to upset you.”

“Jane, you can ask me anything.”

The bed creaked as Jane shifted. “It’s about Mattrin. If it’s too soon...”

Elizabeth’s smile faded, but she kept her voice neutral. “No, I don’t mind. What’s your question?”

“Ellendra said that he stopped taking lyrium,” Jane said. “Is that how he died?”

“No,” Elizabeth replied, then hesitated. “I mean, yes, in a manner of speaking.” She sighed. “Mattrin was still going through withdrawal. He took his own life.”

“That’s awful,” Jane whispered. “But then why would he--?” There was a short pause. “Lizzie, what happens to people who take lyrium?”

Elizabeth stared into the darkness, trying to make out the glint of her sister’s eyes.

Jane didn’t know.

Of course Jane didn’t know. Knowing about templar habits would be useless to someone outside the Circle, as useless as it was for her to know which Orlesian nobles were on speaking terms.

“Oh,” said Elizabeth. She realized now that Jane was not asking about Mattrin, not really. Her mouth felt very dry as she searched her mind for a place to begin, wishing she had not drunk so much wine at dinner. “I don’t know everything, but it gives the templars powers. It’s how they control us.”

“So he didn’t want to be a danger to Ellendra?” Jane guessed.

Elizabeth swallowed. “There are… other concerns,” she admitted. “Eventually, the lyrium eats away at them. Older templars forget things and are easily confused. They become paranoid. Sometimes they become… cruel.” She paused. “In the end, it kills them.

Her sister inhaled sharply. “Oh.”

“I’m so sorry, Jane,” Elizabeth said. “I thought you knew.”

She felt Jane pull the blankets around her tightly. “How long does it take?”

“For templars in the Order, it takes decades. You see some old templars around a Circle, but never one over sixty or so. Those who leave the Order...” Elizabeth hesitated. “I think the Chantry controls the dosage for templars, so that they never take too much or too little, but ex-templars tend to… well, overdo it. Many of them begin losing their memories within a few years. Or they try to quit.”

“And those who try to quit…” Jane began, her voice trailing off.

“Stopping can be very dangerous,” Elizabeth explained after a moment. “People have terrible nightmares. They go mad, or they become despondent. Sometimes they fall ill. A few die.”

She counted her heartbeats, waiting for her sister’s reaction, until she heard Jane sigh. “Poor Cullen.”

“Cullen has Cassandra,” Elizabeth reminded her. “I’m sure his doses are the same as what he’d be taking in the Order.”

“You don’t think he’s stopped, then?” Jane asked.

“No,” Elizabeth replied. She reconsidered for a moment. “Well, maybe. But I’ve seen him train you. He doesn’t fight like a man going through withdrawal. I… I really am sorry.”

Jane sighed again. “Stop apologizing, Lizzie.”

“I should have told you. I pushed you to like him, and you had no idea. I’m sorry that--”

“I already liked him,” Jane replied firmly. “And don’t make this about me.”

“Still,” Elizabeth began. “If you’d known--”

“No. I know now and I still like him. I’m not going to treat him any differently,” Jane insisted. “I just… I didn’t realize.”

The sisters lay in silence after that. Despite the lump in her throat, the wine soon lulled Elizabeth into a deep sleep. Jane, however, stayed awake for several hours, staring past the shadows in her room.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth awoke to the sound of rain drumming against Jane’s window. To her annoyance, her sister had not been entirely wrong about the hangover, though she suspected her headache was as much from stress as it was from wine. She was surprised to see Jane was still asleep beside her. Usually, Jane was up at dawn, while Elizabeth could be left in bed until mid-morning if no one bothered her.

Then she recalled the previous night’s conversation, and she looked at Jane sadly, knowing she must stayed awake half the night worrying about Cullen. She slipped out of bed to dress.

All of her clean clothing was back in her own room, so she pulled something out of her sister’s closet instead. Jane was a similar size to Elizabeth, but several inches taller, and she had to hitch the skirt to ensure it didn’t drag on the floor.

Voices floated up from the parlor, where the family often took their morning meal, and she was alarmed to hear that one of them belonged to Lady Trevelyan. She hurried down to find her mother and their three guests at the table, with Mary standing by the window with a cup of tea.

“Lizzie!” Lady Trevelyan exclaimed. “We were just discussing waking you. Your friends are very eager to get to Longbourn village this morning.”

Elizabeth glanced out the window, frowning. The village was a three mile walk away and in this weather, it would hardly be a pleasant trip.

“The Herald is still asleep?” Cassandra asked.

“‘The Herald!’” Lady Trevelyan trilled cheerfully, clapping her hands together. Silence fell around the table, and it appeared Varric was only barely containing his laughter. He coughed noisily into his hand.

“She is,” Elizabeth said, feeling her cheeks flush. “I don’t think she slept very well last night.” She looked at Cassandra. “Should I go wake her?”

Her mother looked horrified by the idea. “No, Lizzie! Jane’s been so busy lately. Surely she can sleep in if she needs it.”

Cassandra’s lips thinned. “My lady, as I have mentioned, multiple times, our business with Warden Blackwall is urgent. Leliana will expect a raven by this afternoon. We cannot delay ourselves--”

“Oh, don’t let Jane stop you!” Lady Trevelyan said, waving her hand. “She can rest here while you and the others go down to Longbourn village to meet with the Warden.” She shook her head dramatically. “You know, it would probably be safer for Jane that way, the poor dear. Kitty and Lydia tell me that some people in the village agree with the Chantry about her new title, and quite violently at that! I wouldn’t want her to have to deal with them .”

Elizabeth found herself agreeing with her mother, knowing as she did that Jane was probably exhausted. She looked around the table, wondering if anyone would object.

“But Blackwall said he wanted to speak to Jane personally ,” Mary said, turning from the window with a frown. Elizabeth heard the hard edge of a whine in her voice and grimaced. Mary was usually the most tolerable of her younger sisters, but she was prone to childish moods, and of course it would be Elizabeth’s luck that today would produce one of them.

Lady Trevelyan hummed to herself thoughtfully. “Then perhaps you can invite him here for dinner tonight. Cook is making fish, and I’m sure there will be enough for ten.”

The others exchanged a few glances and Solas shrugged at Cassandra.

“I suppose the Herald should sleep while she can,” Cassandra admitted slowly. “Very well. We will depart for the village as soon as possible.”

 

~~~

 

“This weather is dreadful,” Mary complained to Elizabeth as they waited for the others under Longbourn’s overhang. Sheets of rain made patterns in the air around them, vaguely reminding Elizabeth of the Veil. “We’re going to get soaked.”

“No, we won’t,” Elizabeth said, speaking loudly to be heard over the rain. She stepped out and raised a dome barrier with a smile. The water trickled and bounced off it. “You’ve got two mages with you, remember?”

Mary grunted, eyeing the barrier warily. “Don’t remind me.”

Elizabeth stepped back under the roof and dropped the barrier with a smirk. “Really, Mary, I thought you’d be happy to see ‘magic serving man’ and all that,” she said, a note of teasing in her voice. Her sister made another noise, staring off in the distance and Elizabeth sighed, giving up on improving her mood.

The others appeared shortly thereafter. She raised the barrier again--ignoring Mary’s pursed lips--and they set off. She wasn’t surprised when her sister began to ask Cassandra about Divine Justinia as they exited the estate, though over the sound of the rain, she could barely hear what they were saying.

“That is a waste of mana,” Solas told her as he fell into step with her and Varric. She raised an eyebrow at him, and he lifted his own hand, creating an invisible flat surface several feet above them. His barrier was smaller than hers and looked easier to control, but still covered the whole party.

Elizabeth stuck her chin in the air and waved away her dome. “Very well, apostate. You win this round.”

Solas chuckled. “What do they teach you in the Circle, anyway?”

She gave him a sidelong glance. “Oh, many things. Music, singing, drawing, dancing…”

“I meant in the study of magic,” Solas said dryly.

“Magic?” Elizabeth said, feigning innocence. “I assure you, we do extensive reading on the subject.”

Solas narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re not being serious,” he realized.

Elizabeth dropped the act and smiled. “The alternative seemed to be getting into a heated debate about Circle politics in front of my devout sister and a Seeker of Truth. I’ll pass.”

“What am I, chopped liver?” Varric asked.

You hung out with a blood mage for years,” she said, twisting her head toward him. “I’m not worried about losing your good opinion.”

Solas looked at them both with some surprise. “A blood mage?”

“One of the mages in Kirkwall,” Elizabeth said.

“All of the mages in Kirkwall,” Varric muttered.

Elizabeth laughed. “True. I guess by the end the Champion was the only mage you knew in Kirkwall who didn’t use blood magic.”

“Actually, that honor goes to Anders,” Varric said in a manner that implied he’d already thought of this. “Proof that the universe has a weird sense of humor.” Elizabeth looked at him curiously, and under the weight of her gaze, his expression shifted. After a beat, he smiled at her. “And yeah, Hawke, of course. But that goes without saying.”

Up ahead, Mary and Cassandra had slowed down enough that she could hear part of their conversation. Elizabeth tore her eyes from Varric’s face, making a mental note to talk to him later.

“So, you are training to become a Grey Warden?” Cassandra asked.

Mary scowled. “I wish,” she replied. “Father is making me 'consider the idea' for a whole year before he lets me join.”

“Honestly, it’s not bad advice, Mary,” Elizabeth said. “Not many people join the Wardens by choice. There’s a reason for that.”

Blackwall did,” Mary replied bitterly. “And I’m a grown woman. I could run off and join now if I wanted to. He’s just lucky I’d prefer to do it with his blessing.”

“I’m sure your father wants to make sure you do not have regrets later,” Cassandra said.

Mary rolled her eyes. “I’d be a hero. What’s there to regret?”

“Many things,” Solas replied. “Your life would never be yours again, not truly. The Wardens give up everything to stop the Blight. It’s commendable, but it is also dangerous.”

“Well, at least someone does something to stop the Blight,” Mary said.

“Yes,” Solas said. “A pity they do it so badly.”

Mary stopped short, opening her mouth in outrage. Elizabeth rubbed her temples as her headache returned with a vengeance. She found herself wishing she’d gotten into that heated debate about Circle politics.

“Maybe not the time, Chuckles,” Varric said in a sing-song voice.

Mary looked at her sister incredulously. “Forget it,” she said. “I’m not bringing someone who talks about the Grey Wardens like that to Blackwall.”

“Solas won’t say anything to him,” Elizabeth said, wishing she felt as sure about that as she sounded. “And Blackwall isn’t twelve, Mary. Even if Solas did say something, I’m sure he could handle it.”

“I’m not twelve either,” Mary retorted, crossing her arms.

Elizabeth sighed. “I know that.”

“As it happens, I have great respect for Warden Blackwall,” Solas interjected. “I may not approve of his organization, but his actions have proven him to be a fair and honorable man. I would not insult such a person.” Mary continued to glower at him.

“If you would like, Solas can wait outside,” Cassandra suggested finally.

Solas frowned, but after half a second, he nodded. “Very well.”

“See?” Elizabeth said to her sister, relief evident in her voice. She linked arms with Mary and began pulling her along the path again. “Now come on.”

The group walked in silence for a moment.

Mary looked back at Solas. “How are you so familiar with the Warden anyway?”

Solas answered without hesitation. “I’ve come across echoes of his actions while walking the Fade.”

Mary froze again, her face becoming pale as she stared at him, horrified. “Walking the Fade?” she sputtered.

“He meant while he sleeps,” Elizabeth said, though that did not seem to comfort her sister at all. She tugged on Mary’s stiff arm and they began to move forward again. “Come on, Mary, we’re almost at the village.”

 

~~~

 

Blackwall lived in a rented room off the local tavern and inn, an old building called The Merry Hart. Elizabeth had never been inside, but she’d heard about it from her youngest sisters. In the years she’d lived at Longbourn, there had been a near-weekly argument between Lydia and her parents about whether or not she was old enough to visit the tavern on her own.

Under Mary’s glare, Solas began to retreat to a small table in the back corner.

Varric glanced at the stairs and then back at the table. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you company, Chuckles.”

“With only the purest of intentions, I assume,” Solas replied.

Varric grinned. “I wouldn’t say no to an ale, if that’s what you’re suggesting.” Cassandra rolled her eyes.

Mary led the rest of them up the stairs to the row of rooms on the second floor. She knocked at the first door and waited. It opened a moment later, a bearded man in a gray doublet emerging. He leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms.

“Lady Mary,” Blackwall said with a curt nod. “Good to see you.” He looked at Cassandra. “Seeker Pentaghast.” Then his gaze slid to Elizabeth, glancing at her hair before falling to her left hand. “And the Herald of Andraste, I presume?”

Elizabeth started. “Oh! No. Sorry, Jane wasn’t able to make it. I’m Elizabeth. One of Mary’s other sisters.”

Blackwall chuckled. “Yes, I could tell by the hair that you’re a Trevelyan.” He straightened. and waved his hand toward his room. “Come in.” The three women filed in and he shut the door.

Cassandra rounded to face him. “We are searching for any information we can find about your fellow Grey Wardens.”

“So Mary mentioned,” Blackwall said, sitting on his bed. There were two chairs facing him, and Elizabeth and Mary each took one, while Cassandra leaned against the windowsill, crossing her arms. “I’m afraid I don’t have much in the way of news for you.” He shrugged. “After Ostagar, we’re all a little wary of all staying in the same place, as you can imagine.”

“Do you have people you could contact?” Cassandra asked.

“Aye,” Blackwall said. “And I’ve contacted them. But I haven’t received a response.”

“I see,” Cassandra said. She looked at him intently. “Before their disappearance, did you notice anything strange or unusual about your fellow Wardens’ behavior?”

Blackwall gave her a wary frown. “Strange how?”

“Anything that would seem out of order. Any signs of-- corruption, or possession, or magical influence.”

He stared at her for a moment, confused. “What exactly do you think we did?” he asked.

Cassandra shifted. “We are concerned that the Grey Wardens may have been involved with the death of the Divine.”

“What?” Mary exclaimed angrily.

“Maker’s balls,” Blackwall muttered, covering his face with his hand. He dropped it immediately. “Pardon the language.”

“The timing of their disappearance is very suspicious,” Cassandra said.

Mary glared at her sister. “You didn’t tell me about this.”

“We’re not making accusations, Mary, we’re just asking questions,” Elizabeth replied. “ Someone caused the explosion, and we have to follow up on every lead, or--”

“No,” Mary replied, shaking her head. She stood. “This is ridiculous. I’m leaving.”

“Mary, it’s alright,” Blackwall replied, but she’d already left, slamming the door behind her. He stood as well, facing the Seeker. “Look, I don’t know where the Wardens are, but that isn’t unusual. Blight’s over, everyone goes their separate ways.” He shook his head, one hand stroking his beard. “But I’ll tell you one thing: No Warden killed the Divine. Our purpose isn’t political.”

Cassandra narrowed her eyes. “And I am supposed to believe a man with your rank and background is unable find his own organization?”

“Believe what you want,” Blackwall replied in a hard voice, folding his arms. “But with this war on, I can barely find ten people who know how to fight in this village, let alone another bloody Warden.” His gaze darkened. “And I wouldn’t throw stones in glass houses, Seeker. Last I heard, your whole peacekeeping organization was up in Rivain. Seems like a strange time to skip town, if you ask me.”

To Elizabeth’s surprise, Cassandra sighed and her shoulders relaxed. “I… do not disagree. I have wondered about that myself.” Blackwall mirrored her, the tension in the room fading. She gave him a grim look. “I did not mean to offend you. Please understand that we must look into every lead. No matter how unlikely.”

“I understand,” he replied. “And I promise to let you know if I hear anything about the Wardens.” Cassandra stared at him for a moment before she opened the door and left. Blackwall kept his arms folded and turned partially away from Elizabeth, lost in thought. She stood, watching him.

“I apologize for how that went,” she said finally. “For what it’s worth, Cassandra accused the Herald of causing the explosion the first time they met, as well.”

Blackwall snorted, turning. He studied her face. “You’re really not her?”

“No,” Elizabeth replied, holding up her left hand. “No mark, I’m afraid.”

“Right,” Blackwall replied, nodding. “I’ve just heard the stories, so when Mary brought in a beautiful woman with blonde hair, I thought-- well, you know.”

Elizabeth blinked in surprise. “Beautiful?”

Blackwall’s face fell. He dropped his gaze to the floor, looking like he desperately wanted to retreat. “I apologize, my lady. That was forward of me.”

“I don’t mind forward,” Elizabeth replied, realizing a second too late that a flirtatious note had crept into her voice. Blackwall caught it and looked back up. She swallowed. “Mary said you wanted to meet Jane. If that’s still the case, you’re welcome to dinner tonight. At Longbourn, I mean.”

Blackwall raised his eyebrows. “I would not turn down a chance to have dinner with you, my lady.”

Elizabeth’s lips twitched, a playful reply rising to them.

Then she remembered that she was a mage, and that this man was not, and that an uncertain future loomed before her, filled with templars and Circles and vials of blood.

She bit her tongue. The moment faded in the silence that followed, and several seconds passed before Blackwall cleared his throat and spoke again. “Though I’m not sure I have anything appropriate to wear to Longbourn estate.”

She smiled. “We’re Marchers. I assure you, what you’re wearing is fine.”

“If you’re certain,” Blackwall said. She turned to leave. “Wait.” She stopped and he sighed, running a hand over his beard. “When your sister first mentioned the Inquisition was looking for me, I didn’t expect--whatever this is. I thought you might need a Warden to help set things right. I told her I was planning to join you.” He shrugged. “And with the rest of us missing, maybe you still need a Warden.” He bowed his head slightly. “Tell the Herald that if that’s the case, my blade is hers.”

Elizabeth wasn’t sure what sort of authority she held within the Inquisition, but she felt confident as she replied. “Then welcome to the Inquisition, Warden Blackwall. We’re heading back to Haven in the morning.”  Their eyes met, and his crinkled as he returned her smile.

Chapter Text

The others were waiting by the table in the back when Elizabeth came downstairs. She noted with disappointment that neither the force of the rain nor the annoyed look on Mary’s face had diminished in her absence.

“Warden Blackwall has accepted our invitation,” she told them as she approached. Cassandra looked mildly surprised and Mary’s scowl deepened.

“After that ?” Mary said.

Ignoring her sister, she continued. “He was also planning to join the Inquisition. I took the liberty of accepting his offer. He’ll be leaving for Haven with us tomorrow.”

“Leliana will be pleased,” Cassandra said.

“Hopefully Leliana has better manners,” Mary said in a cold voice. She turned to her sister. “If we’re done here, I’m going home.”

The Seeker watched her walk towards the tavern door, a touch of guilt in her expression. “I… will apologize to him tonight. To both of them. I realize I may have come across as overly harsh.”

Varric jerked his head back. “You? Apologize for being overly harsh? Since when?”

Cassandra’s eyes sharpened as she looked back towards him. “I would not describe my interactions with you as overly harsh given the circumstances, Varric.”

Varric spread his hands. “You interrogated me. You stabbed a book! I’d call that overly harsh.”

They continued to bicker as the four of them left the tavern. Solas made a new barrier, making sure to also cover Mary, who had stepped out into the rain a few seconds ahead of the others. They weren’t yet fully out of town when Elizabeth saw two familiar figures walking ahead, huddled under their coats.

“Kitty! Lydia!” she called out. The two girls turned.

“Hullo Lizzie!” Lydia called back as the group walked toward them.

Kitty shivered against her sister. “Hurry up, we’re drowning out here.”

“Maker, where did all this rain come from?” Lydia said. Then she spotted their dry clothes and looked up to see the barrier. Her eyes landed on Solas’s raised hand. “Look at that!” She stared in awe for a moment. “Lizzie, can you do that?”

“Not that exact barrier, but yes, I can do something like it,” she replied.

Lydia looked amazed. “That’s so useful! How come you never do that? I’d do it all the time if I were a mage.” She didn’t wait for Elizabeth to answer before she joined them under the barrier, dragging Kitty with her. “Why do they have to lock you all up in Circles, anyway?”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Because mages are dangerous , Lydia. Everyone knows that.”

“Well, Lizzie’s not,” Lydia said fondly, linking her free arm with Elizabeth’s as she said so. “I’ll miss you when you’re back there, you know.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Only when it rains, apparently,” she said. “We’re heading back to the house. Are you?”

“Yes, we’ll walk with you!” Lydia said. She glanced at the others. “But why isn’t Jane with you?”

“She slept poorly last night,” Cassandra explained. “We left her to rest.”

“And Mama mentioned that some of the villagers weren’t fans of the whole Herald of Andraste thing,” Elizabeth said.

Kitty and Lydia exchanged a glance. “Weren’t fans!” Kitty exclaimed. “What gave her that idea?”

Lydia agreed. “They all think she’s wonderful.”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows drew together. “Mama said you two told her that.”

“Well, we most certainly did not,” Lydia said. “But come on, let’s go. Cook always makes onion soup on rainy days and we missed lunch. I’m starving!”

Elizabeth followed them, suspicions about her mother’s intentions forming in her mind. She desperately wanted to share her thoughts with the Seeker, but with so large a party, no opportunity presented itself. Kitty and Lydia took over the journey back sharing idle gossip. She resigned herself to worrying silently.

 

~~~

 

As soon as they entered the house, Elizabeth made her way to the drawing room. There she found Lady Trevelyan, alone, at the small writing desk. She folded her arms across her chest.

“Where’s Jane?” she asked.

“Oh, Lizzie! Welcome back,” her mother replied, standing. She looked around the room nervously, not meeting her daughter’s eyes.

“Where is Jane?” Elizabeth repeated, this time more firmly.

Her mother began tapping the edge of her desk. “Well, she wasn’t quite feeling herself after lunch, so I told her she should head back to bed. I know you all need her at her best and--”

“What do you mean she wasn’t quite feeling herself?”

“A little stomach ache, I suppose.” Lady Trevelyan’s voice wavered a little. “Something she ate must have, ah, disagreed with her.” Elizabeth stared at her as she processed what her mother was saying. The clock on the fireplace ticked loudly in the silence. She narrowed her eyes at her mother.

“Something she ate?” she asked, heat creeping into her voice. “Something you gave her?”

“Lizzie!” Lady Trevelyan exclaimed, finally meeting her eyes.

“And I suppose if Jane is still mysteriously under the weather in the morning, we will find ourselves delayed an additional day or two,” Elizabeth said. “Just in time for Father to arrive. How convenient.”

“Convenient! I--,” her mother began.

“Don’t,” Elizabeth said. She slammed her palm on the wall, and her mother jerked back as if she’d been slapped. “Mama, are you insane? You can see the Breach from this room.” She waved a furious hand at the window. “Jane is the only person in all of Thedas who can fix it, and you’ve purposely made her ill, for what? A chance to find out whether Duke Gaspard even wants to be your son-in-law?”

It took a second for Lady Trevelyan to find her voice. “Emperor,” she said weakly.

For a moment, Elizabeth stood, staring at her, believing very truthfully that if this had been her Harrowing, she’d be Tranquil or dead by now.

Shaking her head, she left her mother standing there and tracked down her companions in the parlor, discovering that her sisters had abandoned them to find lunch. For once she was relieved by her family’s rudeness.

“Is everything alright?” Cassandra asked in a concerned voice, standing as Elizabeth entered the room.

“Not really,” Elizabeth sighed. She breathed in deeply before speaking again. “Solas. Can healing magic deal with poison?” He and the Seeker exchanged an alarmed glance. "I'm afraid it's something I haven't had to deal with in the past."

“Possibly," he said. "It would depend on the substance."

“I have a feeling we won’t be able to find out,” Elizabeth said. She explained the situation shortly to the others, keeping her gaze averted to avoid seeing the growing horror in their expressions.

“Holy shit, Blaze,” Varric said when she finished. “Your mom’s taking this Orlesian business pretty seriously.”

“You suspect your mother poisoned the Herald?” Cassandra exclaimed. “Her own daughter? Just to stop her from leaving?”

“Lightly poisoned,” Elizabeth said, after a moment of hesitation.

Cassandra crossed her arms. “Could it have been accidental?”

Elizabeth’s lips twisted into a frown at the memory of her mother’s reaction. “I doubt it.” She looked back at Solas. “I need to go check on her. Would you-- will you examine her?”

“Of course,” Solas said.

Elizabeth looked back at Varric and Cassandra. “In the meantime, don’t eat anything.”

"Not a problem," Varric replied. 

As she and Solas left the room, she sighed again. “I don’t know how bad this is going to be. I’m sure I can treat some of the symptoms with the supplies I’ve gathered, but my training was in herbs, not in making potions. Thank the Maker I picked up some spindleweed. Between that and the healing, we may still be able to leave in the morning.”

Solas shook his head. “No. If you’re certain that your mother, ah.” He paused, searching for a more delicate way to word the situation before he gave up and continued. “That she poisoned the Herald, then we should not move her for at least a full day. New symptoms may appear, and it would be best if that did not happen while travelling.” He saw her grit her teeth and looked at her grimly. “I realize that you would like to disrupt whatever your mother is attempting, but unfortunately, it may be too late for that. At this point, we can only deal with the consequences.”

Elizabeth winced at the implication that she could have prevented this if she’d acted sooner. The words hit close to home. In their mutual concern for her sister, she’d forgotten that this was Solas, but she supposed she deserved the sharp reminder. She remained silent for the rest of the walk.

 

~~~

 

Solas examined the patient and was able to ease some of the symptoms. He shared his belief with Elizabeth that her mother had slipped something into a stew she had convinced Jane to try. This belief was supported by the fact that no one else in the household could remember having stew in the past month.

Elizabeth did her best with a spindleweed-elfroot mixture, but insisted on sending Doris to the local apothecary, who agreed to drop by in the late evening. Jane was looking much improved by dinner, but Cassandra and Solas agreed on postponing their departure an additional day to be sure. To Lady Trevelyan’s delight--and Elizabeth’s annoyance--they received a letter from Lord Trevelyan in the mid-afternoon saying that he and his guest were making excellent time and that they would be there by dinner the following day. The two parties would indeed overlap.

Despite feeling better, Jane was not well enough to come down for dinner. Elizabeth considered staying with her, but then recalled that Warden Blackwall would be in attendance. The thought of abandoning the poor man to her family and Solas was unconscionable, so once the sun began to slip below the horizon, she forced herself to leave her sister’s bedside and dress. She borrowed another one of Jane’s gowns, a deep green one that flattered both the sisters.

Her sister watched her from the bed as she did her hair at the vanity. “You look very nice tonight, Lizzie,” she said weakly, a touch of suspicion in her voice.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied, focusing on the mirror.

Jane paused. “I’m curious. . . Is there anything in particular I missed by not going down to the village today?”

Elizabeth glanced over at the bed. “What do you mean?”

Jane shrugged, a smile tugging at her lips. “You usually don’t put so much effort into dressing for dinner at home,” she responded teasingly. “It makes me wonder what sort of man this Warden Blackwall is.”

Elizabeth turned her head back to the mirror. “One who offers to join the Inquisition immediately after being yelled at by Cassandra. So you’ll have that much in common.”

Jane let out a little laugh, and then paused. “You like him, don’t you?”

“I only just met him today, Jane,” she said.

“But…?” Jane said, raising her eyebrows.

Elizabeth sighed, her hands dropping to her lap. She stared at them for a moment before she spoke again. “I’m sorry,” she said. “From what I can tell, he’s a very good man. But I’m a mage, Jane.”

Jane’s smile faltered. “Oh.”

An awkward silence followed while Elizabeth finished her hair. She stood but hesitated by the door, looking back at her sister.

“He did call me beautiful,” she admitted, and she watched Jane’s smile return before she left.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth heard the Warden’s voice coming up from the hallway, although it was still rather early. She went down the stairs to find him conversing with Mary by the entrance.

“Elizabeth,” he said, nodding his head. He glanced up the stairs behind her, one corner of his mouth rising. “Still no sign of the mysterious Herald, I see.”

“The Herald won’t be joining us for dinner tonight, unfortunately,” Elizabeth replied.

He raised his eyebrows. “Is that so? This doesn’t exactly disprove my theory that you’re actually her, you know.” He leaned forward, dropping his voice to a mock whisper. “I promise you, my lady, your secret’s safe with me.” Elizabeth felt a flush rise to her face.

“Jane fell ill this afternoon,” Mary said, glancing between Blackwall and her sister.

He bowed his head and stepped back, his expression replaced by one of genuine embarrassment. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “I hope it’s nothing serious.”

As Elizabeth explained their new schedule for leaving, the sisters brought the Warden into the parlor. Cassandra and Varric had not finished preparing for dinner, so only Solas was there, reading a book from Lord Trevelyan’s library. He closed it and stood in greeting.

“Ah,” he said. “This must be the apothecary.” Elizabeth tilted her head at him, confused.

“No, this is Warden Blackwall,” her sister said, sounding equally surprised. “I thought you’d seen him before?”

Solas stiffened, an unreadable expression on his face. Elizabeth looked at him curiously before looking at Blackwall, whose own expression had become wary.

The moment was short-lived. After a second, Solas seemed to become aware of the sisters’ presence and clasped his hands in front of him. “Of course. Only from echoes in the Fade, however, which are not always accurate. And it has been many years.” He cleared his throat. “I am not sure you had the beard at the time.”

Blackwall’s face remained cautious, but his tone was casual. “Seemed like the proper thing to do here. Fereldan winters get cold.”

“Indeed,” Solas replied.

Elizabeth considered each man. She could sense that there was more at play here, but could not for the life of her imagine what. Another awkward moment passed in silence before Cassandra entered the room.

“Warden Blackwall,” she said as she spotted him. “Allow me to apologize for my earlier behavior.”

“There’s no need to apologize, my lady,” Blackwall replied. “Frankly, I should’ve expected the questions.” Mary’s disagreement was written plainly on her face.

“Come,” Elizabeth said before her sister could speak. “Let me show you to the dining room.”

 

~~~

 

Once again, Varric was able to deftly lead the conversation at dinner. Elizabeth avoided having as much wine as she’d had the night before, though every time she remembered what her mother had done to Jane, she felt like drinking it directly from the bottle. Blackwall was almost entirely silent, though he glanced at Solas every so often. If Elizabeth was not sure enough in her estimation of him to find that strange, then Mary’s concerned gaze on him confirmed that this was not his normal behavior. He declined to stay for dessert or a nightcap.

Goodbyes were exchanged by the front door, and he assured them that he would return in two days time, when they were meant to leave for Haven. Afterwards, Elizabeth stood in the hallway for a moment, turning over the earlier exchange between Blackwall and Solas in her mind, but she could not make sense of it. Sighing, Elizabeth climbed the stairs to Jane’s room, where she found her sister asleep.

Not wanting to wake Jane until the apothecary came, she summoned a little flame and went to the window to light a candle instead of a lamp. As she glanced out the window, she was surprised to see two figures near the fence, about forty feet from the house. She peered out, recognizing one of them as Solas before realizing the other must be Blackwall. They appeared to be arguing in low voices.

“Oh Maker,” she muttered to herself. “Mary’s going to kill me.” She hurried out of the room and flew down the stairs toward the front door.

The two men were facing each other, with Solas’ back toward her. Elizabeth could just make out Blackwall’s intense glare in the dark. As she left the house, his eyes shifted toward her and she could see them widen. She crossed the path in wide strides to reach them quickly.

“...even a Grey Warden?” Solas was saying in an icy whisper as she got near enough to hear them. Blackwall cleared his throat and jerked his head in her direction, alerting the other man to her presence. Solas turned sharply. His face softened and he took a step back from Blackwall.

“My lady,” Blackwall said after a pause.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,” Elizabeth said, clearly hoping the exact opposite. Solas and Blackwall exchanged a glance.

“No,” Solas replied evenly. “Not at all. I was about to head back in. Goodnight.” He nodded and left, and Elizabeth turned to face the Warden.

“I--I should go.” He bowed. “Thank you again for the invitation. It was a lovely evening.”

“Let me walk you to the barn,” she offered. Blackwall didn’t reply, so she smiled dryly. “The least I can do is make sure you don’t get verbally assaulted by a third member of the Inquisition.”

Blackwall huffed humorlessly. “Very well,” he agreed.

Once they’d put some distance between themselves and the fence, Elizabeth examined Blackwall’s expression curiously. “I assume Solas was bothering you about your involvement with the Grey Wardens.”

Blackwall hesitated for so long that she wasn’t sure he would actually answer. “Something like that,” he finally replied.

Elizabeth shook her head. “I knew it. Don’t take it personally. He’s like that with everyone.”

“Is he?” Blackwall asked, still sounding distracted.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s obnoxious. He harasses Varric about dwarves, Cassandra about the Chantry, me about the…” She trailed off, realizing that she wasn’t sure whether Blackwall knew she was a mage or not. They had reached the barn, and he did not question what she’d been about to say, looking to be deep in thought himself. She looked down, shifting her weight. It wasn’t quite the time to divulge that particular piece of information.

“You really haven’t found any other Grey Wardens?” he asked suddenly.

She raised her eyebrows, confused by his question. “Not that I know of,” she replied. “You can ask Leliana about it once we get to Haven.”

At the town’s name, he looked up at the Breach in the distance. Her gaze followed his and they stared at it together. “It’s an eerie thing, isn’t it?” he said.

Elizabeth’s gaze flicked back to his face. It felt like she was only privy to half the conversation they were having.

“It is,” she confirmed. He continued to stare at the sky for a moment, and then turned back.

“Good night, my lady,” he said in a melancholy voice. Elizabeth watched him head into the barn and then retraced her steps to the house.

Chapter Text

 

The apothecary supplied them with several potions, including a strong sleeping draught, which allowed Jane a full night’s rest. She woke with an alertness about her eyes that she did not have the night before, and Elizabeth was pleased when she asked Doris for a cup of weak tea and some toast. The clouds had finally disappeared overnight, and Elizabeth opened the curtains and windows, determined to chase the heavy air and scent of a sickroom out.

Despite her obligations to the guests below, she remained in her sister’s room for the full morning, reading to her from The Rise and Fall of the Tevinter Imperium. It was a massive tome from their father’s library that Jane had begun at Solas's recommendation. After she finished reading a chapter, Elizabeth skimmed through the remaining thousand pages with a frown.

“And to think I was wondering how he entered the Fade at will,” she said.

“Lizzie,” Jane admonished gently. “I’m enjoying it. We learn so little about the history of Tevinter, you know.”

“I am beginning to see why,” Elizabeth replied, trying to find her spot again. She sighed. “Well, I suppose I should just be thankful it’s not about the Fade.”

 

~~~

 

Around noon, Elizabeth finally went downstairs to search for their companions. She found all three of them holed up in her father’s library, much to her amusement. It was the one place in the house that Lady Trevelyan never went, and she wondered which of them had figured it out first, or if they’d all discovered the fact independently.

Varric and Solas were reading in the two chairs by the fireplace while Cassandra paced the floor like a caged mabari. They all looked up as she entered and Cassandra paused, her rigid posture relaxing.

“There you are,” she said, clasping her hands in front of her. “How is the Herald?”

“She’s much improved, thank you,” Elizabeth said. “She still shouldn’t leave her bed, but the potions are helping. I believe we’ll be able to stick to the new schedule.”

“That is good to hear,” Cassandra replied. She took a deep breath and shook her head, her gaze falling to the ground. “Two days lost,” she muttered.

Elizabeth crossed the room and flopped into her father’s desk chair. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I should have done more to prevent this.”

Cassandra looked up and stared at her. “You!” she exclaimed. “Elizabeth, do not blame yourself. You tried to talk us out of coming here.”

“Yeah, Blaze, give yourself some credit,” Varric added.

“I didn’t think she would go this far,” Elizabeth replied bitterly. She pushed herself up, straightening her back with a sigh. “Anyway, while we’re here, we may as well be productive. Cassandra, you should check the armory. Father has quite a collection, and I’m sure he’d be willing to lend the Inquisition as many weapons as we need.”

The Seeker nodded, looking grateful to have a task.

“Solas, you can go through these books and see if anything is worth taking.” Elizabeth said, motioning towards the walls of the library. “I’m afraid you’ll find little on the arcane, but perhaps there will be something useful.” She gave him a look. “And while you’re at it, surely you can find something a little more relevant for my sister to read than The Rise And Fall of the Tevinter Imperium.”

“I will try,” he replied slowly.

“Varric, I can give you the report on our household’s inventory. I’d help, but I’m afraid math is not my strong suit. Talk to Doris about when and how we get shipments. Anything we have in surplus, we can donate to the Inquisition.”

“You got it,” Varric said.

Elizabeth sighed. “I just wish there was something I could do while we’re stuck here.”

After a moment, Varric’s eyes lit up and he turned to Solas. “Hey, Chuckles, weren’t you gonna start training her?” Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest, but Cassandra spoke before she could begin.

“That is an excellent idea. I had been meaning to broach the subject again once we got to Haven, farther from the rogue templars, but I have seen no signs of the war here. You should be quite safe.”

“Are you sure it's necessary?” Elizabeth said. “My fighting has already gotten much better.”

“We’re stuck here for another day,” Varric replied with a shrug. “It’s not like it’d be a waste of time.”

“And you would improve much faster with an instructor,” Solas added, to her surprise.

Cassandra nodded. “You’ve shown yourself to be dedicated to the Herald,” she said. “You learn quickly, and you have good command of your magic. We should use these things to our advantage. If there should be an ambush on our camp, or--” She paused, glancing toward the door to the rest of the house before speaking more quietly. “If there should be further unforeseen events, I would like you to be able to help her.”

“The barrier that you-- that I taught you has already saved the Herald twice,” Solas pointed out when Elizabeth continued to hesitate.

She stared at the fire, thinking. She was not eager to spend more time with Solas, particularly after his confrontation with Blackwall, but the thought of Jane facing more danger and her not being able to help made her shudder.

“Fine,” she said. 

“Good,” Cassandra said, standing. She glanced out the window. “I would suggest you find someplace inconspicuous. I do not anticipate templars this far west, but it is better to be discrete.” Varric chuckled, and she turned around, glaring. “Is something amusing to you?”

“Oh, nothing,” he said, holding up his hands. “Just the Seeker of Truth reminding two apostates to hide while they practice killing people.” Cassandra rolled her eyes at him and he went back to reading his book.

 

~~~

After their midday meal, Elizabeth changed into a tunic and brought Solas toward the river.

“I trust that you will tell me if there is anything I can do to make the Herald more comfortable,” he said after they’d left the house.

“Of course,” she replied coolly, still thinking of Blackwall.

He heard the note in her voice. “Oh,” he said, his eyes widening. “Forgive my manners. Your sister is ill. You will be wanting your room back.”

“No,” Elizabeth said. “Keep it.”

“Really, I should have offered yesterday when--”

“Solas, it’s fine,” she said. “Someone needs to keep an eye on Jane.”

He looked uncertain, but he let the matter drop as they reached the water. They walked upstream to her father’s favorite spot. It was within an easy distance of Longbourn, but it was downslope from the house and heavily wooded, effectively hiding it from view. Lord Trevelyan had built a bench here when the family first arrived, and many times over the past year, Elizabeth had found him hiding from her mother or one of her sisters.

Solas inspected the area. “The trees will not be a problem for you?” he asked.

“I’ll cast toward the river,” she replied. He nodded, satisfied with her answer. He was silent as he walked several feet away from her, pulling his staff from his back. He rotated it once in his hand as he turned to face her and then stopped, planting it firmly on the ground.

Elizabeth waited for him to begin, but he remained silent.  The rushing sound of the river seemed to swell, and she found herself growing impatient.

Finally, she placed a hand on her hip. “I know you are self-taught, but for the rest of us, learning a spell usually involves some sort of instruction.”

“Is that how you learned at the Circle?” he asked.

“It was.”

“Hm,” Solas said, as if this eliminated the idea from consideration.

“Or perhaps you’d rather provide me with the theory behind the spell first?” she suggested. “Some instructors found that valuable.” The more academic ones at least, which she supposed he would be.

“A waste of time,” he replied. “We both know there is a far easier way for you to learn magic.”

Elizabeth stared at him in disbelief. “Are you joking?”

“I am not,” he said.

“You’re suggesting…?” she began without finishing her thought. 

“I am suggesting we use the most direct approach, yes,” he replied. “Did you not learn my barrier spell simply by watching?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And then you yelled at me.”

Solas bowed his head in acknowledgement. “My apologies. It was unexpected.”

She narrowed her eyes as she thought over her options. She did agree that it was the best method. Back when she’d been a new apprentice, the enchanters had considered her quite talented. Then, the year she’d turned thirteen, they had caught her using the Veil to watch her instructors, and she’d been whisked off by the templars. The Knight Commander had considered an array of punishments, the Rite of Tranquility included. Fortunately, her instructor, Senior Enchanter Lydia, had stepped in and protected her. She received two weeks of solitary confinement instead.

With the advantage of age, she now knew it was unlikely that she’d have been made Tranquil for a first offense at so young an age, but at the time, she’d been terrified. That was when she stopped using the Veil regularly. In the following years, she went from being considered talented to being considered adequate, but she was never threatened with the Rite again. Young Elizabeth had considered it a fair trade.

Now, she found his offer tempting. There was a part of her that had already considered using the Veil to watch him secretly anyway--the same part of her that kept remembering that her phylactery was gone, shattered with the rest of the ones at the White Spire. The only thing that had held her back so far was the memory of his reaction.

At that thought, she spoke.

“You aren’t worried that I would be putting us in danger?”

“Danger?” he asked.

“From possession,” she explained.

He gave her a peculiar look. “I have no such concerns.”

“And you wouldn’t tell Cassandra?” It was one thing to actively engage in what some people considered forbidden arts in front of a hedge mage who considered blood magic harmless; it was another thing entirely to risk the Seeker knowing. “Ever?”

“I’m not sure I could even explain your ability to her,” he admitted. “And were I as anxious to tell her as you seem to believe I am, I could have mentioned it any time over the past several weeks.”

That much was certainly true. Elizabeth nodded, still wary but satisfied for now. She took a deep breath and lifted her mana to her eyes, the air around her igniting. The rush of the river faded into a murmur as blood rushed to her ears, and the leaves shivered in the trees, their bright shadows swaying gently through the thickness of the Veil.

She looked at Solas, who was now surrounded by a halo of mana, measuring his reaction. He watched her, his jaw clenching and a hard look forming in his eye. She breathed out and let her mana drop. The world came back into focus.

“If it makes you uncomfortable, I can train the normal way,” she told him, irritation creeping into her voice. He blinked, cleared his throat, and looked away.

“I am fine,” he said. “Please, begin again.”

She studied him for a moment before lifting her mana again. This time, his expression was firm, but neutral. Gripping his staff with both hands, he pivoted it, and she could see the Veil billowing in response. The point of his staff dragged along the fabric, displacing light like dark dye in a vat of water.

Then the dye exploded and shifted, forming solid matter. The Veil snapped shut as it let go. She shivered and let her eyes return to normal. A wall of ice had materialized beside her.

He gave her a nod, indicating it was her turn. She held up her staff and focused her mind on what she had seen, copying his motions, though with far less grace. When she released the Veil, it fumbled shut, and a weak line of flames erupted from the ground, melting part of his wall.

“Good,” he said. That seemed a little generous, she thought. Still, the intense look had left his eyes and she was beginning to believe this might work. She lifted her staff to try again.

 

~~~

 

They practiced for well over an hour, the shadows around them growing taller as the sun moved across the sky. While summoning a glyph, Elizabeth whipped her staff too quickly and burned her forearm. Solas took the opportunity to teach her a restorative spell, and she watched carefully as he pressed magic into her skin, soothing the burn. When he finished, they both glanced up, his hand still on her arm, and his eyes met hers through the Veil. He dropped her arm and took a step back, averting his gaze, but not before she could see the flash of discomfort. She frowned, and he recovered himself.

“I apologize,” he said.

“You still find it unsettling."

Solas shook his head. “No, I--”

She turned toward the house with a sigh. “We should return.”

“I am simply unused to seeing someone interact with the Veil in such a manner. It is surprising,” he said quickly as he followed her. She did not reply. “Elizabeth, if I have offended you in any manner….” His voice trailed off.

She began to brush him off again, but then considered his words and stopped, irritated. He came around to face her.

“You have, actually,” she said. “Blackwall. I explicitly asked you not to say anything, and yet you couldn’t help yourself, could you?” Solas’s shoulders stiffened and his lips curled into a scowl. “I thought you said you respected him.” He stared at her for a moment.

“I do,” he said finally. “My respect for Warden Blackwall has not changed. And I hope that for the Inquisition’s sake he lives up to his reputation.”

Elizabeth laughed darkly. “Well, in that case, I’m relieved I don’t have your respect,” she said.

Solas blinked, and his frown softened a little before he glanced away from her. Elizabeth turned back to continue on to Longbourn, and he followed in silence.

 

~~~

Elizabeth retreated to Jane’s room for the rest of the day. She sent word to her mother that she would remain there for dinner, a pang of guilt running through her as she thought of her companions. Varric seemed skilled enough at handling Lady Trevelyan, however, and she’d much rather read about ancient Tevinter magisters than listen to one more word about Orlais--which was saying something.

Jane ate a bowl of soup and took a sleeping potion, and Elizabeth resisted taking one herself. She slept uneasily in her sister’s bed, her mind occupied by her father’s arrival and the guest that he would bring.

When she awoke, Jane was already up--actually up--reading in a chair by the window instead of the bed. She told her sister cheerfully that she expected to join the rest of the household that evening, though Elizabeth was quick to remind her that there would probably be little to look forward to.

Elizabeth spent the majority of the day preparing for their departure. She packed clothing for Jane and for herself, organized the supplies that Varric had set aside with Doris, and made sure Cassandra was happy with the weapons they’d be taking. With Jane continuing to improve at a steady pace, they were on track to leave in the morning, and Elizabeth intended to see to it that “morning” meant dawn.

While she was helping Cook finish up some flatbread in the mid-afternoon, she heard Lydia give an excited shout about a carriage. She wiped her flour-covered hands on her apron before removing it and hanging it on the kitchen door. She went to join her mother and three sisters outside; Jane remained in her room, and Elizabeth had encouraged the other Inquisition members to remain scarce until dinner.

Lord Trevelyan’s carriage came to a stop at the curve of the lane. He left the carriage first and then turned around to offer his hand to whomever was within.

“A lady, then!” Lydia exclaimed.

“Hush,” Elizabeth said, glancing at her mother. Lady Trevelyan looked rather confused by this turn of events.

The guest exited the carriage gracefully, studying Longbourn with an indifferent smile on her lips. She was a beautiful woman with dark skin, elegantly dressed in a dangerously low-cut silk gown. On her head, she wore an elaborate hat that extended out into two curved horns.

Elizabeth did not need Jane’s knowledge of Orlesian court to recognize her.

Lord Trevelyan offered the woman his arm and began to escort her toward his baffled wife. His eyes passed over his children and he winked when he met Elizabeth’s gaze.

“My lady,” he said as he reached Lady Trevelyan. If her mother had been capable of speaking, Elizabeth was sure she would have barraged him with a string of questions, but as it was she only stared. “Allow me to introduce Madame de Fer of the Orlesian Court, my cousin’s mistress and the First Enchanter of the Montsimmard Circle.”

“M-mistress?” Lady Trevelyan managed to sputter. Elizabeth supposed it was comforting that her mother found that more objectionable than the fact that the woman was a mage.

“Oh, don’t be like that, my dear,” he said, a wide smile on his face. “You know how the Orlesians are. Mistresses are part of the family. Why, I’m practically Vivienne’s uncle.”

That earned him a laugh from the First Enchanter. “Uncle Trevelyan,” she said. “Yes, I rather like that.” She released his arm and bowed her head at Elizabeth’s mother. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Trevelyan.”

Lady Trevelyan did not return the gesture and Elizabeth felt her face grow warm at her mother’s lack of propriety. Fortunately, with Jane absent, she was able to act as the eldest and compensate.

“Welcome to Longbourn, my lady,” she said, stepping forward with a nod. “Your reputation precedes you.”

Madame de Fer’s eyes trailed over her. “The Herald of Andraste, I presume?”

“Oh no,” Lord Trevelyan corrected her. “This is my daughter, Elizabeth.”

“Ah,” the First Enchanter replied, pleasantly. “Your father speaks well of you. I hear you were at Ostwick Circle before this wretched rebellion began. The fact that you are here and not at Redcliffe does you credit.” She tilted her head. “Tell me, were you at all acquainted with Senior Enchanter Lydia?”

Elizabeth’s smile faltered. “Yes,” she said. “I knew her well. She was my instructor for several years and a friend for many more.”

“I’ve never met a kinder soul,” Madame de Fer said, placing a sympathetic hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder. “I apologize for dredging up sad memories.”

“It would be difficult to discuss the Circle without doing so, my lady,” Elizabeth replied.

The woman smiled. “Please. You must call me Vivienne.” She raised an eyebrow archly. “Or perhaps Cousin Vivienne? After all, as your father says, we’re very nearly family.” Out of the corner of her eye, Elizabeth could see Lady Trevelyan’s face twitch unnaturally. Elizabeth bit her cheek, amused, and Vivienne laughed again, retaking Lord Trevelyan’s offered arm.

“Come, First Enchanter,” he said. “Allow me to give you a tour of Longbourn.”

Elizabeth had to nudge her mother to follow, and they trailed Lord Trevelyan and his guest into the estate.

“What a charming hall. Very Fereldan,” she could hear the First Enchanter say up ahead. “All this wood and hanging fur! It was very in style right after the Blight.” Vivienne paused. “My, that’s nearly ten years ago now, isn’t it?” Elizabeth watched her mother’s face shifted from one of astonishment to outrage.

However, Lady Trevelyan did not speak. Apparently, her husband had achieved the impossible and shocked her into silence.

For the first time since they arrived at Longbourn, Elizabeth was looking forward to dinner.

 

Chapter Text

As the two eldest women at Longbourn, Jane and Lady Trevelyan, were suffering from a recent poisoning and now a suspiciously-timed migraine respectively, the duty fell to Elizabeth to take Vivienne to her room after her father’s tour. Elizabeth had not seen the attic since she had returned, and was impressed to see the effort her mother had gone through to make the place presentable for Gaspard’s convenience. It was newly painted white, and had a delicate carpet on the floor that reminded her of the First Enchanter’s office at Ostwick Circle.

That the benefactor was not, in fact, Gaspard amused Elizabeth greatly. Doris placed Vivienne’s trunk on the bed and then actually bowed before she left . Elizabeth could only assume that this, too, had been intended to impress the Grand Duke. Once Vivienne had turned to examine her quarters, Doris threw Elizabeth a wink as she left the room.

As soon as the door was closed, she turned to face the First Enchanter.

“Vivienne, I must apologize profusely for my mother’s behavior,” she said.

Vivienne looked at her as if she’d said something charming. “Darling, that was not half as bad as I’d been expecting it to be.”

Elizabeth relaxed. “So my father warned you?”

“Yes, but he hardly needed to,” Vivienne replied. “I’m afraid your mother managed to get quite the reputation when she visited Orlais.”

“So I’ve heard,” Elizabeth admitted, leaning against the dresser. Lady Trevelyan had at one point been intent on gaining Orlesian husbands for her daughters, but she had never quite mastered--or even become casually acquainted with--the Game. The particulars were not known to Elizabeth, who was in the Circle at the time, but the resulting damage suggested that it had been a very bad month indeed. Bastien refused to bring her mother back to court, which had been the original cause of the two families becoming estranged.

Elizabeth had never pressed Jane about what had happened, as she could tell her sister was embarrassed by the whole ordeal. It was the same reason she avoided the subject of her near-betrothal to the son of a Tevinter magister.

“And anyway, I am not here to meet your mother,” Vivienne continued. She took off her hat and ran a hand over her cropped hair. “Speaking of which: If at all possible, I would very much like to have a private audience with the Herald.”

“Certainly,” Elizabeth replied. “She’s been under the weather, but I believe she is well enough for visitors now. I’ll bring you to her room directly.”

“Excellent,” Vivienne replied, putting her hat on the bedside table. “That will give the servants time to unpack my trunk before dinner.” She considered her elegant silk dress with a sigh. “I will need to change into something more presentable. Travelling does no favors to one’s wardrobe, I’m afraid.”

“Ah-- yes, of course,” Elizabeth replied, frowning. Unpacking was not normally a task the Trevelyans received assistance with. Doris would be helping Cook with dinner now, and they only had one servant for the house of seven. She considered telling the First Enchanter this, but after her mother’s behavior, she’d rather not take a chance at offending her sensibilities. “I’ll bring you to Jane’s room.”

Vivienne smiled. “Lead the way, my dear.”

 

~~~

 

Jane was delighted to receive Vivienne, who apparently had a reputation as a leader of haute couture among the nobility. Elizabeth deposited the First Enchanter with a quick introduction, and then hurried back to the attic to unpack Vivienne’s things. She had brought a remarkable number of fine gowns, and Elizabeth wasn’t sure if a servant would unpack items for one night or the entire trunk in this case. She decided to go with the latter.

The silk was thin and threatened to slip through her fingers whenever she tried to hang something, and she ended up dropping each dress at least once. She eventually won the battle and the trunk was dealt with. She’d have to ask Doris to re-pack it in the morning, and could only hope that everything was up to Vivienne’s standards.  

Afterwards, she returned to her room and knocked on the door, waiting to hear if Solas was there. The seconds ticked by with no answer, so she slipped in and grabbed a few things from the armoire, intending to pack them for Haven. By the time she got back to Jane’s room, her sister and Vivienne had left, and she finished her own packing, only leaving when Doris rang the bell for dinner.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth met Jane, Vivienne, and the members of the Inquisition in the hall.  Vivienne and Cassandra seemed to be having a deep discussion.

“There you are, Blaze,” Varric said cheerfully as he approached her. “We were wondering where you’d gotten off to.”

“I was packing,” Elizabeth said. “My own trunk,” she added, after a beat.

Varric’s brow furrowed. “As opposed to…?”

“Never mind.” She looked over the rest of them. “I see you’ve all met Lady Vivienne.”

“Oh, she’s great,” Varric said. “We need to bring her when we go back to Dennet’s farm. I want to see her glare him down.” Elizabeth shot him a curious glance, and he grinned. “Madame de Fer has decided to join the Inquisition,” he explained.

Vivienne’s conversation with Cassandra had ended and she looked up at Elizabeth. “I thought it only proper that the leader of the Loyalists do what she can to help,” she said.

“I meant to ask,” Varric said, “do you mean Loyalist as in loyal to Celene or…?”

“Circle politics,” Elizabeth explained. “Mages who are loyal to the Chantry.”

“Mages who are loyal to the people of Thedas,” Vivienne corrected with a frown, her gaze wandering to the man behind her. “We have not forgotten the commandment, as some of our brethren have, that ‘magic exists to serve man.’” Her eyes left Solas and she looked at Elizabeth curiously as they continued on towards the dining room. “Were you not a Loyalist, my dear?”

“I was a member of the College of Aequitarians,” she replied.

Vivienne raised her eyebrows. “I am surprised,” she said. “Many that I knew in that group had far deeper sympathies for the rebels than I had anticipated.” She tilted her head, considering Elizabeth for a moment. “But you appear not to. It will do. The Aequitarians have always been seen as a moderate faction by the public, both by those who sympathize with the mages and by those who do not. In the new order of things, such an association could be seen as a middle ground, perhaps.”

“I’m surprised you’re so concerned over my fraternity,” Elizabeth said, confused.

Vivienne smiled at her. “Perhaps this is a discussion for another day,” she replied, as they reached the dining room. “Shall we?”

 

~~~

 

The supper that Lady Trevelyan had ordered was lavish, but it was not exactly what Elizabeth had heard Cook describing that morning. It appeared that her mother had taken the time to downgrade their meal after Vivienne’s arrival. The druffalo was roasted, but not stuffed in pastry, and while they had a salad of greens, she noticed that the promised fruit was mysteriously missing.

The first part of the dinner was as entertaining as she thought it would be, with Vivienne and her father chatting amicably while her mother quietly seethed. When Lydia asked what exactly a professional mistress did, Lady Trevelyan was forced out of her silence to mention the weather, causing Varric and Elizabeth to exchange an amused glance. Elizabeth hoped that he was taking notes.

Halfway through dinner, however, Vivienne turned to Lady Trevelyan and broached a topic Elizabeth had been very much hoping to avoid.

“I understand you are trying to arrange a marriage between my dear Bastien’s former son-in-law and your eldest daughter,” she said, her fork paused mid-air. Elizabeth had been taking a sip of wine and began coughing, grabbing her napkin to cover her mouth. She glanced at her sister, who had gone still.

“Why, yes,” Lady Trevelyan replied. This was a subject she could warm to, even in Vivienne’s presence. “It would be a most advantageous match for Jane, don’t you think?”

“Indeed,” Vivienne said dryly. “A sixty-five year old widower who is embroiled in a civil war with his own family. Young women must dream of such a match.”

“Well!” Lady Trevelyan said, frowning. “If my daughter had any problem with the idea, I’m quite sure she’d tell me. Isn’t that right, Jane?” She turned to her daughter expectantly and Jane’s eyes went wide. Elizabeth watched, willing her sister to say how strongly she objected.

“I…” Jane said softly, her cheeks turning pink and then red in the silence that followed.

After a beat, Elizabeth spoke on her behalf. “I am sure Jane is too focused on closing the Breach right now to be much concerned with marriage.” Lady Trevelyan looked displeased, but Jane threw her a grateful glance.

Vivienne shifted topics easily. “I was just telling Cassandra that the templars have returned to Val Royeaux. Perhaps you’ll be able to make contact with them while you’re in town, Herald.” From across the table, Elizabeth saw Kitty’s expression sharpen with interest. “I realize that you’ve indicated a preference for working with the rebel mages, but I do hope you’ll reconsider. More magic is rarely the answer to anything.”

“Do you think Denny will be there?” Kitty asked.

“I doubt it,” Mary said with a sniff. “He’s only a knight.” Kitty shot her a look.

“And who,” Vivienne asked, raising one eyebrow, “is Denny?”

“Ser Delrin Barris,” Lord Trevelyan replied. “An old friend of the girls’. He was the ward of a neighboring family up in Ostwick after the Blight, until his father sent him to serve the Order.”

“And he’s Kitty’s boyfriend,” Lydia added helpfully.

“Lydia!” Kitty exclaimed, flushing. “That’s not true.”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “Fine. Ex -boyfriend. They haven’t talked in ages.” She turned back to Vivienne before Kitty could protest. “There’s a chapbook about him, you know! It’s--”

“The Barrises are a well-respected noble family in Ferelden,” Elizabeth interjected, trying to politely drag the conversation away from boyfriends and chapbooks before Lydia got a firmer grip on either subject.

“Yes,” Vivienne said. “I am familiar with the name. Many years ago, Alarra Barris drove my dear Bastien out of their city during the occupation. I believe she got quite close to killing him, in fact.”

Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open, and she could see Lydia send her a smug smile out of the corner of her eye.

“Oh, don’t be so shocked, my dear,” Vivienne said with a laugh. “If I resented every family that had attempted to kill Bastien over the past forty years, I’d have absolutely no social life.”

Elizabeth was not quite sure how to respond to that, so she merely nodded and took a deep gulp from her wine glass. Jane gave her a pointed look, and Elizabeth reluctantly put the glass back down. A long silence followed, which was only interrupted by the sound of a knock at the servant’s door. Deliveries came at all times for Doris, so it was ignored.

Finally, Lydia perked up her head.

“So what exactly does one do to become a professional mistress?” she asked.

“Lydia!” Lady Trevelyan exclaimed.

“Actually, I’m curious, too,” Varric said. “Also, does it come with a retirement plan?”

Doris came in quietly and murmured something to Lord Trevelyan. He nodded once and she left with an apologetic bow.

“Jane,” he said looking up at his eldest daughter. “It appears you have an urgent message. Addressed to the Herald, I take it. Inquisition business.”

Jane was already standing when he finished and politely excused herself. Lord Trevelyan and Vivienne began to discuss some of the recent changes to Celene’s court, and Elizabeth listened attentively until her sister poked her head back around the door.

“Lizzie,” she said. “Could you come here a moment?”

Elizabeth glanced at Cassandra, who was looking back at her with a questioning gaze, and shrugged. She rose and followed Jane through the open door.

“I thought you’d want to see this,” her sister said, holding a piece of parchment out to her. Elizabeth took it and began to read. Once she comprehended the intent of the letter, she had to re-read the first two sentences again.

She swallowed. “Blackwall’s not coming?”

“No. It appears urgent business arose,” Jane replied. “He’ll be out of the country for a few weeks. He said he’ll join us at Haven as soon as he can.”

“Of course he will,” Elizabeth said, trying to keep the dark tone from her voice. Urgent business , she thought to herself bitterly. Her jaw clenched as she wondered what exactly that damned apostate had said to him.

“Mary will want to know as well,” Jane said.

“I’ll tell her after we’ve finished eating,” she said. “We can hardly pull half of our family out of supper with our guest present.” She sighed, re-reading the letter once again. “I should have expected this.”

Jane touched her arm. “I’m sorry, Lizzie.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “It’s fine,” she said. “It’d be ridiculous to be too disappointed. I’ve only met the man twice.”

Still, as they re-entered the dining room, Elizabeth could not help but think of the journey back to Haven, one she’d been so looking forward to, and feel a wave of annoyance at the mage sitting silently across the table.

 

~~~

 

At dawn, the party prepared to depart, and Elizabeth bid her family a bittersweet goodbye. Eager as she was to leave, she still realized upon hugging her father that she might never return to this home, nor to their one at Ostwick. Her father’s mind seemed to be in the same place. When she told him that he shouldn’t fear too much for them, he patted her cheek gently.

“My dear Lizzie,” he said. “You cannot know what it is to fear until you have a child.” Startled, Elizabeth blinked back a few unexpected tears.

Mary had recovered from her mood; perhaps Blackwall leaving Elizabeth and her sister in a lurch had lessened her annoyance at them. She gave Elizabeth a sincere hug and asked them both to stay safe.

Travelling with Vivienne was slower going than it had been without her, even with Varric scouting ahead. Due to Jane’s illness, they were already behind schedule, and Cassandra made it clear that she did not appreciate further delays--though she was cautious not to directly implicate the First Enchanter.

On the third day into their journey, Solas approached Cassandra warily.

“Seeker,” he said. “I believe there is another Elvhen artifact nearby.” As Cassandra glared at him, Elizabeth stilled and tried to sense the chill she’d felt the other times, but the air did not feel different.

“We do not have time,” the Seeker said.

Solas bowed his head. “It will take but a moment,” he said. “And anything we can do to strengthen the Veil at this time--”

Cassandra let out a frustrated grunt. “Fine,” she said. The five of them dismounted and followed Solas into the woods. Soon, the paper-thin magic began to crawl across Elizabeth’s skin. They found the artifact near a single pillar, the only remnant of a forgotten ruin. Elizabeth hung back as Jane approached it, and then, judging her distance from Vivienne and Cassandra to be safe, placed herself behind a tree from their angle and raised the Veil to her eyes.

When Jane touched the object, Elizabeth’s eyes hurt from the burst of brightness. The orb was illuminated in a sea of green for a moment, and then the light broke into thick threads. The billowing folds around her began to calm, as if they’d been swaying freely and now had an anchor.

The object shimmered. As it whirred, thick green light tightly wrapped around the it, woven together like a dwarven braid. The magic stilled, and Jane moved away from the orb. Elizabeth was about to drop the Veil from her sight.

But then she glanced at Jane, and her eyes were drawn to the mark.

“Oh,” she said softly.

Elizabeth had not thought to look at her sister’s mark through the Veil. It's magic was visible to the naked eye, and she had assumed that it would look similar with her sight raised, if a bit brighter.

But it did not look similar. Thick vines of green light grew into Jane’s palm, the exact deep green as the orb’s magic, and those strands were interlocked into an identical tight braid. Next to each other, the light from Jane’s hand and the light from the orb was near indistinguishable.

The magic was the same.

“Oh, you rat bastard,” Elizabeth muttered under her breath. Solas was standing near enough to hear her voice, and he snapped his head up. She dropped the Veil from her eyes as he did.

“I’m sorry?” he asked. She glared back at him for a long moment before turning around to walk back to the horses, ignoring the baffled stare she felt at her back.

So that explains it , she thought to herself. One mystery for the ages, solved. Why Solas, an agnostic elven apostate, had decided to help the Inquisition, a Chantry-run organization led by a Seeker of Truth. Why he had saved her sister’s life. And why he continued to follow Jane, despite his clear disapproval of her companions.

It was not because he was the compassionate apostate that Jane believed him to be. It was because the magic in Jane’s hand was elven. No, not just that. What had he called the artifacts? The mark was Elvhen. He had to know--it explained his actions too perfectly for him not to.

When the others returned, Elizabeth was already on her horse. Solas paused at her side, watching her with a note of caution in his eyes.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” she replied in a tone that even Cassandra would call icy. “We should get moving.” Solas considered her for another moment and then went to his own horse, as Elizabeth watched him with narrowed eyes.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth and the others returned to find Haven teeming with new people. Josephine and Leliana met the six of them at the gate and led them through the crowd, explaining that tales of the Herald of Andraste’s feats were attracting pilgrims from all over Thedas.

“We’ve done what we can to encourage it,” the ambassador explained cheerfully, holding a hand above her eyes to protect them from the setting sun. “Some of our new guests are quite notable.”

Leliana had a small smile. “Others, less so.”

“True,” Josephine agreed. She turned back to Jane. “I will introduce you to the appropriate parties tomorrow.”

“You’d think people would run away from the giant hole in the sky,” Varric said.

“You’re still here,” Elizabeth pointed out.

“Yeah, but one day, I can write a lucrative book series about all this. Assuming we’re alive. Also, I’m pretty sure that the Seeker would kill me if I tried to leave.”

Cassandra rolled her eyes. “I would not kill you.”

“But you would lock me in the dungeon,” he said.

Cassandra grunted, looking away. “You are not planning on leaving, so I do not see how this discussion is relevant.”

Varric smiled back at Elizabeth. “That’s a yes.”

They reached the chantry, where the Commander was waiting outside, his eyes bright as he watched them approach.

“Herald,” he said. “I’m glad to see you’re safe.” He swallowed. “Ah, to see that you’re all still safe.” Elizabeth very much doubted that the pinkness of his skin was from the cold Frostback air.

“It’s good to see you too, Cullen,” Jane replied. Cullen cleared his throat as he examined his boots, and Leliana watched them both with an amused smile.

“Perhaps we can discuss the particulars of our journey over dinner…” Elizabeth began, but Cassandra interrupted.

“The council needs to discuss the Herald’s next steps in the War Room. We will request dinner be brought there.” She turned to the First Enchanter. “Vivienne. You should join us.”

“Yes,” Leliana agreed. “Any additional information you can give us on the current situation in Val Royeaux would be very valuable.”

“Of course,” Vivienne said with a nod.

Jane looked at her sister, frowning. “I’m sorry, Lizzie. I’ll see you back at the hut.” She followed the others into the chantry, leaving Elizabeth with Solas and Varric.

“Well, I’m starving,” Varric said. “Do you guys want to go get some food at Flissa’s? I think Thursday’s fish night.”

“I would be happy to join, thank you,” Solas said. Elizabeth shrugged, about to reply in the affirmative, when she heard a familiar voice.

“Eliza!”

Elizabeth turned and smiled at the tall redhead who was approaching. “Ellendra! You made it.” She glanced back at Varric. “You two go ahead without me. Maker knows you’ve both earned a night free of Trevelyans.”

“Ah,” Ellendra said, coming to a halt. She studied Varric and Solas. “I’m not interrupting, am I?”

“Not at all,” Varric said.

“Come on,” Elizabeth said, linking her arm with Ellendra’s. “Let me take you to supper.”

Ellendra’s eyes lingered on her two companions a second longer before she looked back down at Elizabeth. “Are you certain? I wouldn’t want your friends to be disappointed.”

Elizabeth laughed. “We just spent a month together. If anything, I’m sure they’re eager to be rid of me.” She tugged her friend’s arm and they began to walk toward the village. “I’m very excited to hear your thoughts on Haven. When did you arrive?”


~~~

 

The council met for longer than Elizabeth had expected. She and Ellendra took their time chatting over baked trout, and she half-expected Jane to be waiting at their hut when she returned, but the room was dark and empty. She lit a lantern and wrote a letter to their father, informing him of their safe arrival, and then, having nothing else to do, began to read a copy of the Chant that she found in one of the desk drawers. No one could accuse Elizabeth of being particularly religious, but she’d often found that the tale of Andraste was a rather compelling one--though she sometimes wondered at the Maker’s understanding of pacing.

Several hours after the sun set, a weary Jane finally entered their room and collapsed on their bed. Elizabeth put the Chant down.

“Are you alright?” she asked, worried.

“Of course,” Jane replied weakly.

“That took a while,” Elizabeth observed. Jane let out a short laugh. “What happened?”

“There was… a very intense debate,” Jane replied slowly. “I’m not really cut out for those. I’ll tell you about it in the morning.” She turned her head and gave her sister a tired smile. “It’s fine, Lizzie.” Her expression became concerned. “Oh. Wasn’t there something you wanted to discuss with me?” Elizabeth turned back to the desk. A fear of being overheard had kept her from sharing what she learned about Jane’s mark on the road, but she wasn’t sure this was the right time to discuss it.

“That can wait. You’re exhausted.”

Jane sighed. “If you say so,” she said, twisting to lie on her stomach. “But I warn you, if Cassandra gets her way, I’m going to be in meetings like that until I leave for Val Royeaux.”


~~~

 

The council’s debate stretched out over a week, and Elizabeth found herself very curious as to what was actually being discussed. Despite assuring her that she'd tell her eventually, Jane was evasive about the topic, and neither Solas nor Varric had any idea. It seemed as if Ellendra had a theory, but she only offered her secretive smile whenever questioned. 

Elizabeth spent most of the next week smithing with Harritt. At first, he had her make supplies for the new recruits--basic daggers, swords, and shields--and soon, he was satisfied enough with her work that he recommended she try her hand at making specialized weapons. These were successful as often as they were not, but Cullen seemed to like the results. While she enjoyed manipulating the raw metal into something solid and real, her favorite part of the process was decorating the completed products with etchings. This was not technically required, but it allowed her to flex the creative muscles she’d not used since Ostwick Circle fell. Metal was harder to use than pencils or cloth--her favored materials back at the Circle--but she was quickly coming to appreciate engravings. They had a depth to them that drawings did not. Harritt, a man to whom practicality was second in importance only to Andraste herself, would watch Elizabeth with befuddled amusement, chuckling and shaking his head.

Ellendra visited around lunch every day and propped herself on one of the work tables near the forge while Elizabeth worked. She brought food for both of them and shared the latest gossip from the chantry. As it turned out, the Lucases had a family connection with the Montilyets, a fact that delighted both the ambassador and Ellendra. With Jane so busy training and meeting with the council, sometimes Elizabeth got the impression that Ellendra knew more about what Jane was up to than she did. She began to worry over the dark circles under Jane’s eyes and the tense way her sister held her head now when she entered their hut near midnight, but Ellendra told her that the council was pleased that Jane was beginning to act more decisively. 

Several times, Solas asked if Elizabeth would be interested in resuming their training, but she apologized and explained that smithing was taking all of her time. He seemed to accept this answer as true, whether or not that was the case.


~~~

 

Toward the end of their first week back, Jane managed to leave a meeting early, and she asked Elizabeth to share with her what she learned on the road.

“It won’t take your mind off things,” Elizabeth warned, but Jane shrugged in her tired way.

“Nothing seems to nowadays,” she replied.

Elizabeth sat next to her sister on their bed. She explained as briefly as she could about what she’d seen with the orb and the mark--while carefully avoiding the subject of how she’d seen it--and how she suspected Solas might know more than he was letting on. Her sister let her speak without interruption. Once she was finished, Jane stared at the mark with mild interest.

“So it’s elven, is it?” Jane asked.

“As far as I can tell,” Elizabeth replied. “How you want to handle Solas is up to you, but I--”

Jane dismissed her with a shrug. “Oh, I’m not worried about Solas. I trust him.”

Elizabeth looked at her, baffled. “What good reason would he have for not telling you?”

“Perhaps he doesn’t know for sure,” Jane suggested, standing. She began to change her clothes for bed and took her long hair out of its bun. “And even if he does know, even if he does wish to study it, why should that matter? He wants to close the Breach. His actions prove that. He taught me to control the mark, and he’s saved both of our lives multiple times so far. His reasoning behind why he’s here--”

“--is suspect!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“--does not matter,” Jane said firmly. She had changed into her nightclothes and began to weave her hair into its nightly braid. “As long as the Breach is a threat, we need as much help as possible, regardless of why it is being offered. Would you have come to Haven and joined if I hadn’t survived?”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply, and then hesitated.

Jane continued. “I’ve spent the last five days listening to Madame De Fer talk about Orlesian politics, and I’m nearly positive she joined to gain influence at court. Varric isn’t even here voluntarily. Would you have me accuse him of lying next?”

Elizabeth felt herself deflate. “Of course not.”

“And yet, I trust him. I trust Vivienne.” Jane dropped her hands from her hair. “I trust Solas.” She sat down on the bed, and stared at the floor, thinking.

“Jane…” Elizabeth began, but faltered.

Jane looked back up at her sister. “Lizzie, I love you, and you’re my best friend. You being here is the most important thing in the world for me. In these meetings, I kept telling myself to be more confident--more like you. When I’m fighting, I remind myself to be brave as you are. But I need you to trust me.” She held out her fist and unfurled her fingers, watching the mark glitter, and Elizabeth followed her gaze. “In the end, I’m the one who has to close the Breach, and I need you to be by my side. It’s hard enough in there, with all the infighting. I can’t have you be a part of that.” Jane closed her fingers back into a fist. “I swear, once this is all over, you can go back to being cynical about everyone and everything, but for now, please. Trust me.”

Elizabeth looked back up at her sister’s face. This was the sort of strength that she’d been praying Jane would find in the Hinterlands, but now that she had found it, Elizabeth couldn’t help but feel a pang of remorse, missing her sister's easy smile. She hoped that the Breach closing would bring that back, too.

“Alright,” she finally replied. “I trust you.”

Jane hesitated. “Even if…” She paused so long Elizabeth wasn’t sure she’d continue.

“Even if?”

Jane closed her eyes. “Maker, I wasn’t going to tell you this tonight.” She sighed, rubbing her temples. “Even if I ask the templars for help.”

Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open. “What?”

“They’re already in Val Royeaux,” Jane explained. “Lizzie, if we can get them to help us, we could close the Breach in two months. Maybe less.”

Elizabeth tried to respond, but for a moment, all she could think of was how difficult it would be to run if she were surrounded by templars. She forced herself to remember how little she had been looking forward to seeing the rebel mages, and how sincerely she wanted to be there for her sister. She reached out to touch Jane’s shoulder.

“I support you, whatever you do,” she said. Jane smiled at her and then drew her into a big hug. Elizabeth hugged back, until a thought at the corner of her mind made her withdraw. She looked into Jane’s eyes. “Is this what the big council debate is about? Whether to talk to the templars, or go to Redcliffe?”


Jane huffed. “Maker’s breath, now I know how you feel. I’ll be happy if I never hear a word about mages or templars again.” Elizabeth laughed and pulled her back in for another hug.


~~~

 

In the morning, she awoke to see Jane gathering her armor.

“Training with the Commander?” she asked lightly as she swung her feet off the bed, running a hand through her hair.

“Yes,” Jane said absently. She paused. “And Cassandra.”

Elizabeth’s hand stopped. “Cassandra?” she asked, surprised.

“She told me last night that she’s going to start joining us,” Jane explained, fastening her breastplate over her tunic. “It’ll be helpful, having two instructors. I think I’ll learn much more quickly.” Jane didn’t sound entirely convinced, and there was a defensive quality in the way she wouldn’t meet her sister’s eyes. Elizabeth wanted to question the new arrangement, but then she remembered that she’d just agreed to keep her cynical nature in check.

“I see,” she said, after a beat. As she watched her sister finish and leave, she wondered if Cassandra could truly be that socially blind, or if there was another element at play. Did the Seeker think that her sister’s attraction to Cullen was distracting her from training properly? At least they would be at Haven for the time being, and training was not the only way for Jane and Cullen to see more of each other.


~~~

 

At the end of the week, a shipment of serpentstone came in from the Storm Coast, and Elizabeth asked Harritt if she could use some of it to make something for her sister.

“For the Herald?” he said, tugging one end of his moustache. “Aye. Of course. Good thought. Serpentstone’s underrated, but it’s a strong metal for a warrior. You’re making a shield?” She replied that she was, and he gave her an appraising nod. “Well chosen.” She managed to smile at him, and then walked away, deciding not to share the fact that she’d picked serpentstone because green was Jane’s favorite color.

Elizabeth took her time with the shield, spending most of the morning shaping it on the anvil, and then heating and cooling the front to make it as smooth as possible for her design. When Ellendra visited at lunch, she took a short break, her face red and her hair sweaty from the forge.

“This is going to take a long time,” she said apologetically. “I’m not sure I’ll make it to dinner.” Jane was dining with the council again, and she’d suggested to Ellendra that they eat together.

“Perhaps I’ll bring some food down here,” Ellendra said. “It can be like those picnics we had at Ostwick.”

Elizabeth smiled. “Hopefully with better food,” she said.

“I would not hold my breath,” Ellendra replied with a scoff.

The afternoon passed quickly, and before she had even realized how much time had passed, Harritt was tapping her on the shoulder and telling her that he and Bale--the other smith--were heading home for the night. The sun hung low over the lake, bathing the air in a golden light. The hardest, hottest part of the work was long over, but the chill in the early evening air was still a relief on Elizabeth’s warm cheeks. As the light from the sky dimmed, Elizabeth lit three lanterns around her work table and began etching the front of the shield.

Ellendra arrived just after sunset, carrying a basket of bread and cheese. She told Elizabeth that she’d managed to scrounge up a bottle of Orlesian red, but Elizabeth declined, pointing to the sharp tools and explaining that she quite liked having all her fingers. Still, she ate and chatted for a bit while Ellendra looked over her progress. When she returned to work, Ellendra stayed, watching her friend.

Some time had passed following dinner, and Elizabeth became entirely absorbed in her design. She was startled when she heard Ellendra speak.

“Engrossing, isn’t it?”

Elizabeth looked up, surprised to see that they had company. Solas was standing by the fence of the forge, though for how long, she was not sure.

“Indeed,” he said, stepping forward. “It has been some time since I’ve seen a weapon decorated in such a manner.”

Ellendra arched her eyebrow. “Does a wandering hedge mage see much smithing?”

He smiled. “More than one in a Circle, I would imagine.” He glanced at Elizabeth. “May I?” he asked, gesturing toward the table. She put down her tools and nodded, moving back to allow him better access.

Solas’s eyes scanned over the shield as he clasped his hands behind his back. Having a second person view her work made her suddenly aware of several flaws that she hadn’t noticed before.

“I’ve found metal to be a bit unforgiving,” Elizabeth found herself explaining.

“You are accustomed to working with a different material?” Solas asked, still examining her etching.

“She used to sew and draw at the Circle,” Ellendra explained over her friend.

Solas glanced up, raising his eyebrows. “You draw?”

“Very poorly, I’m afraid,” she said.

“Stop being so modest,” Ellendra said, hopping down from her table. “I still have one of those rose drawings you did for me. You have a natural eye for things.”

“And absolutely no patience for practice,” Elizabeth replied with a laugh. “It’s a poor student that relies on only the tools they’re born with.”

Solas had turned back to the shield. “Why a horse, may I ask?” Elizabeth leaned over, surprised he could tell what the design was becoming. She had barely finished the outline of the head and the back, and she had just been worrying that it was looking more like a dog than anything else.

“It’s for Jane,” she explained. “The Trevelyan coat of arms is a horse with a crown on his head. Though we never actually had a crown, as far as I know.” She smiled a little derisively at herself. “I know, symbols are a bit simplistic, but Jane has always been fond of heraldry.”

“How fitting,” Ellendra said wryly.

Solas straightened and moved away from the table. “In my experience, art is seldom simplistic, especially when it appears to be.”

“Is that so?” Elizabeth asked. She tilted her head, amused. “And what deeper meaning do you think is hidden behind my Trevelyan steed?”

“Nothing behind the horse,” he said. “The deeper meaning is evident in what you chose not to include. There is no room on your shield for a sword, or flames, or the eye of the Maker.” He leveled a stare at her. “You are making this for Jane Trevelyan, and not for the Herald of Andraste.”

Elizabeth’s smile faded. “That would be strange of me,” she replied, as she slid back into her seat, “as they are the same person.”

Solas raised an eyebrow. “Are they?” he asked. “You are the only person in Haven who would know. Too often, a person in her position would let the title define them after a while.”

“Jane wouldn’t do that,” Elizabeth replied, but then hesitated. “Well, if she does change, then it will be due to the mantle of responsibility. Not the title.”

“Of course,” Solas agreed. “I do not doubt it. Your sister is... a rare soul.” He glanced back at the shield. “I am sure she will appreciate the gift. And your friend is correct. You have a natural eye.”

Ellendra broke in with a small smile. “Perhaps Eliza can be pressed upon to make something for you someday.”

“Oh, we don’t have schematics for staffs,” Elizabeth said quickly.

“What a shame,” Ellendra said, her eyes still watching Solas.

He took a step back and nodded. “Forgive me. I’ve taken enough of your time.” He turned and left, the snow crunching under his feet as he walked back toward the village. Elizabeth watched him with a shiver, suddenly aware that the night had become uncomfortably cold.

“Well,” Ellendra said as they watched him leave. “How interesting.”

Chapter Text

Jane left for Val Royeaux three days later--with a new green shield strapped to her back--while Elizabeth stayed in Haven. She was initially upset to learn that she would not be joining her sister, but Jane explained that her work with Harritt was becoming an actual asset to the Inquisition, and that the council thought she should continue. Instead, Jane took Cassandra, Varric, and Solas.

During the month that her sister was gone, Elizabeth fell into an easy routine. She spent the mornings with Harritt making weapons, and then the afternoons practicing magic, either alone or with Vivienne or Ellendra. She dropped by Adan’s a few times and helped him organize herbs, though he had a proper assistant now and her visits grew more seldom as time went by. In the evenings, she ate with Ellendra at the tavern. Josephine and Vivienne sometimes joined them.

“You know, I hear so many rumors about our dear Herald,” Ellendra said one night when they were dining alone. “Jane and Duke Gaspard. Jane and the Commander. Jane and the Prince of Starkhaven.”

Elizabeth nearly choked on her ale. “Jane and the Prince of Starkhaven?” she asked. “ That’s a new one. Maker’s breath, I hope that’s not my mother’s doing.” She shook her head. “Well, at least Jane spoke to Josephine before she left.” The Ambassador had promised to put out a notice to the courts, demanding that any and all marriage offers come through her and not the Trevelyans.

“My point is,” Ellendra continued firmly, her owlish eyes fixed on Elizabeth, “I hear no rumors about you. Why is that, I wonder?”

“Probably because there’s nothing to talk about,” Elizabeth said.

Ellendra considered her for a moment. “And out of curiosity, how long has there been… nothing to talk about?”

“Ellendra,” Elizabeth said, putting down her fork. “This isn’t the Circle. And I’m no longer a naive apprentice who needs help navigating her love life.” Ellendra only stared at her expectantly, and finally Elizabeth sighed. “Ok. Fine. It’s been since Ostwick.”

Ellendra blinked in mild disbelief. “You don’t mean Dawson,” she said.

“It hasn’t been on my list of priorities,” Elizabeth replied with a shrug.

“But surely you’ve had options.”

“Options?” Elizabeth asked, amused. “Where? On the boat across the Waking Sea? At Longbourn with my family?”

“No, but….” Ellendra paused, and she seemed to be suppressing a smile. “Well. Someone within the Inquisition, perhaps.” Elizabeth gave her friend a curious look. Her mind flicked to Blackwall, but there was no possible way for Ellendra to know about him, so she pushed the thought aside and picked her fork back up to resume eating.

“Not for me,” she replied. “You said it yourself, Ellendra. The Circles are returning soon. There would be no point in getting involved.” Especially if I run, she thought to herself. The food in her mouth suddenly felt too dry and she took another sip of her ale.

“Hm. You weren’t exactly celibate at the Circle.”

“It’s different with other mages,” Elizabeth said. “Everyone’s aware of the risks involved.”

“Well,” Ellendra said, cocking her eyebrow. “You are not the only mage at Haven.”

“Why, Enchanter,” Elizabeth said, placing a hand over her chest demurely. “Are you propositioning me?”

Ellendra snorted. “Please. You haven’t taken nearly enough vows for my taste.” She tapped the table with her fingers. “I just worry about you, Eliza.”

Elizabeth laughed, shaking her head. “You mean you’re bored. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m not interested. Go find someone else to play matchmaker with.” She gave Ellendra a stern look. “And not Jane. I have plans for her.”

“You little hypocrite,” Ellendra accused, chuckling. “Well? What plans? Don’t keep me in suspense.”

Elizabeth glanced around before leaning forward. “One of your guesses,” she said. “The Commander.”

Ellendra’s eyes sparkled with interest. “Is that so?” she murmured. “An ex-templar. Well. Good for Jane.”

“I knew you’d approve,” Elizabeth said with a smile.

Ellendra leaned back from the table, folding her arms against her chest. “Though she’ll have to do something about that cloak.”

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth was putting the finishing touches on a shield for Cassandra when Harritt came to her a week later. It had all the Inquisition symbolism that Jane’s shield had lacked, and she was certain that her choice of design said something bothersome about her feelings toward the Seeker, or the Maker, or her childhood in the Circle. Fortunately, Solas was not there to offer his analysis.

“Look what I tracked down!” Harritt said as he approached, waving a schematic at her. Elizabeth looked up from her work table with a smile.

“What is it?” She took the paper from him and looked over it, inhaling sharply when she realized what it was. “Oh, Harritt. This is--” she began, her eyes wide.

“Figured it was about time you made yourself something useful,” he said, tugging at his moustache. “Sorry it took so long. Never had to make a staff before. But that’s no reason for you lot to go without proper weapons when you’re on our side.” He crossed his arms and looked at the schematic over her shoulder, clearly pleased with himself.

“Thank you,” she said earnestly. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am.” She looked up from the schematic. “How did you find it?”

“That elf who works with all the Tranquil,” he replied. “Minaeve. She gave me some names and I followed up on them.” He grinned, his eyes crinkling. “Come on, then, why don’t you give it a try?”

 

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth spent the rest of that evening and most of the following day working on the staff, using drakestone and oak as the two main components. While the drakestone cooled from being forged into a more reasonable shape and size, she used a carving knife to etch a horse into the wood.

Ellendra appeared at noon, just as Elizabeth was finishing up. “You’ve made a staff,” she observed, eyeing the weapon. She set down her basket of food.

“Or, more likely, I’ve made a very expensive walking stick,” Elizabeth replied. “Harritt doesn’t know how to make staffs, so I’ve had absolutely no instruction.”

Ellendra looked at it more closely. “Well, the carving is impressive,” she said.

“Thank you. I was going to test it by the cabin, if you’d like to join,” Elizabeth said, referring to a clearing in the woods that was well-hidden from Haven. Everyone knew there were mages present--and most people knew who they were--but Vivienne, Ellendra, and Elizabeth had decided that with all the panic in the air, there was no reason to subject the townspeople to fireballs and lightning strikes.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Ellendra said with a grin.

“Don’t get too excited,” Elizabeth warned. She took the cool drakestone and secured it to the wood, wrapping ram leather around it. “It may not work at all. Then all I’ll have is a pretty stick to wave at my enemies.”

“Hm,” Ellendra said. “That does seem to work on initiates and clerics.”

Elizabeth chuckled as they left the forge.  On the way to the cabin, she fiddled with the staff, tightening the leather and adjusting the metal at the top. She twirled it a few times, ensuring that the stone was secure and that the balance felt right.

When they got to the clearing, she held it out and Ellendra took a few generous steps back.

“Here goes nothing,” Elizabeth said in a low voice. She slammed the staff into the ground hard, focusing a strong pulse of energy through it. To her and Ellendra’s shock, a ball of fire four feet wide erupted from the tip and barrelled into the woods, towards a tall pine.

Shit !” Elizabeth exclaimed, covering her mouth as she watched it explode on the tree. While the trunk was too wet from the snow to catch fire, a few of the smaller branches went up in flames. Elizabeth scrambled to get her hands in the air, but Ellendra was already moving, sending a smooth wave of ice to extinguish the fire. They stared at the blackened branches for a few seconds before Ellendra crossed her arms again, chuckling.

“Well,” she said. “It works.”

Elizabeth’s heart was still beating too fast, and she swallowed as she turned to her friend. “I’m so sorry. I just didn’t expect-- “

“Oh, don’t apologize,” Ellendra said, waving a hand. “That brought back some very fond memories. It’s been at least ten years since I’ve had to put out one of your fires.” She paused. “A literal one, anyway.” She raised an eyebrow. “May I give it a try?”

 

~~~

 

They tested it out for half an hour; Elizabeth was thrilled with the results. The staff drew in mana like a needle through cotton, and she found she did not have to push as hard as she did with her Circle staff.

By the time they had finished, there were multiple scorch marks decorating the ground, and Ellendra had been required to summon ice three more times. The other mage studied the marks before joining her friend to walk back to Haven.

“I’ll make you an ice one, if you’d like,” Elizabeth told her as they set out. “We have plenty of iron.”

“I’d like that very much,” Ellendra said.

Elizabeth thought about their other supplies. “Do you know what kind Vivienne prefers?”

Ellendra smirked. “She doesn’t favor any particular element. And don’t tell her that you do. I already made that mistake.” She gave Elizabeth a haughty look and raised her voice by a note. “‘You only use one? But that's charming! I didn't take you for a sentimentalist, darling.’”

Elizabeth laughed. “Duly noted. Then she’ll be getting an ice one, too.”

Ellendra studied her friend’s face. “Will you make one for the apostate?”

“Solas?” Elizabeth asked, blinking. “I suppose so. He’s a member of the Inquisition.” And Jane trusts him , she reminded herself firmly.

“Good,” Ellendra said. Elizabeth narrowed her eyes, but before she could speak, Ellendra continued. “You know, you’ll be very popular at the Circle if you keep this up.”

“Oh, I doubt the Knight-Commander would let me make staffs,” Elizabeth said, feeling her pulse quicken. “Though it probably depends on where I end up.”

Ellendra tilted her head at Elizabeth, confused. “You’ll be at Ostwick, of course,” she said. “Why would you not be?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “I assumed we’d be relocated to the nearest Circle once the war ended,” she said casually. She was eager to escape this topic. “But I could request Ostwick if you’d like.”

“There’s no need,” Ellendra said, stopping. “They have your phylactery.”

The blood in Elizabeth’s veins turned to ice and she froze next to her friend. “The phylacteries were crushed at the White Spire."

“No,” Ellendra said, shaking her head. “You didn’t know? Ostwick didn't send theirs to Val Royeaux.” She gave her friend a sad smile. “How do you think Mattrin got mine?”

Time stopped moving around Elizabeth as she stared at the ground, her lips parted and a heavy weight pressing on her chest. They had her blood. The flutter of panic in her stomach grew, and in her mind, she saw a long corridor of doors. All of them were closed.

After a moment, she became dimly aware that Ellendra was still watching her. The reminder that she was not alone dragged her back to reality, slowly, like waking from the Fade, and she looked up. Their argument at the Crossroads flashed through her head, and she realized with a pang that she would need to be particularly careful around her old friend. Ellendra could read people like books and she could not afford to be conspicuous. Closing her mouth, she placed her feelings in a small box and shoved it away to examine later.

“Do you not want to go back?” Ellendra asked, a line of confusion appearing on her brow.

No, Elizabeth thought desperately, but that was not what Ellendra meant.

“Of course I do,” she lied. Her friend continued to watch her with doubt in her eyes.

The best lies have a hint of truth about them , Elizabeth reminded herself. Ellendra had been the one to teach her that.

“Ostwick Circle was difficult after you left,” she said, this time honestly. Ellendra had been one of five enchanters that Ostwick sent to Val Royeaux before the White Spire collapsed. When the war began in earnest, she’d escaped to Andoral's Reach, while Elizabeth was still stuck at the Circle. Elizabeth swallowed, allowing a little of her pain to show in her face. “So many of our friends supported the rebellion. Those of who did not were ostracized, or worse. Enchanter Lydia--” She stopped, hoping that would be enough.

It worked. The doubt left Ellendra’s eyes, and she looked at Elizabeth sympathetically.

“You wanted a fresh start,” she said warmly. Elizabeth nodded, and Ellendra touched her arm. “Of course you did.” After a moment, she sighed. “Well, you may get your way yet, Eliza. You’ve made some important friends, and people with important friends are taken very seriously.” She took Elizabeth’s arm and began to lead her back to the village.

“Leliana and Cassandra? I don’t know them very well at all.”

“Oh,” Ellendra said. “No. I was thinking more of Vivienne.”

“Vivienne?” Elizabeth asked, surprised. “What, do you think she could get me transferred to Montsimmard?”

Ellendra hummed. “Something like that.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Jane returned one afternoon with much fanfare, but with no templars. Elizabeth met her and the other companions at the gate with Leliana.

“How was your journey?” the spymaster asked.

“A total waste of time,” Cassandra complained as she dismounted. “Seeker Lucius was acting… very strangely. The templars have become more arrogant than ever, and the Chantry continues to treat the Herald as their greatest threat.”

“It wasn’t a total waste of time,” Jane disagreed. “We were able to make contact with Grand Enchanter Fiona.” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. Apparently the mages were back on the list of potential allies. Just in time, she thought bitterly, thinking of her phylactery. “And we recruited a new member. She’ll be arriving tomorrow.” She turned to Elizabeth. “She reminds me of Lydia, a bit.”

Elizabeth stared at her, incredulous. “You met someone who reminds of Lydia, and you recruited them?” she asked.

“You’ll like her,” Jane insisted. Behind her, Varric shook his head at Elizabeth.

“I’m sure,” Elizabeth replied.

Cassandra stripped off her gloves. “Herald, the council will want a full report. We should head to the chantry and meet with them.”

“This involves more than the council,” Jane argued, firmly. Elizabeth watched this with interest. “I’d like all of our top members to be present.”

To Elizabeth’s surprise, Cassandra did not hesitate before nodding in agreement. “As you wish.” She began to walk to the chantry, and Leliana and Jane fell in step with her. When they reached the chantry, Elizabeth went to Vivienne’s suite to retrieve her, and they crowded into the room at the back.

Jane, and not Cassandra, explained what had happened in Val Royeaux. She shot a worried glance at Elizabeth when she mentioned Ser Barris being present, but otherwise remained professional and collected as she went over the outrageous behavior of the templars, and the invitation from Fiona.

“I’d like to at least hear what the mages have to say,” she said at the end of her summary. “My plan is to take Cassandra, Sera, and Varric with me. We’ll leave for Redcliffe by the end of the week.” She paused and looked around the room. “Any input is most welcome.”

“You won’t be bringing any mages?” Elizabeth asked.

Jane looked at her sister. “It isn’t… ” she began, and then hesitated.

Leliana took over. “I think it is a wise move. There are surely mages at Redcliffe who will wonder why none of you joined the rebellion. I hope that Fiona is not among them, but we cannot bank on it.”

“Indeed,” Vivienne said. “Fiona cannot be trusted to act reasonably. That much is clear.”

“There’s still a chance that some of the templars disagree with the Lord Seeker and could help us,” Cullen insisted, shifting his weight. “We shouldn’t discount them. Not yet.”

“There’s a chance ,” Jane agreed. “But we have an actual, formal invitation from the mages. It makes more sense to visit them first.” She looked at Cullen with a silent plea. “After I close the Breach, I promise we’ll try to help those who do not support Lucius.”

Cullen didn’t seem fully satisfied, but he nodded grimly.

“In other news,” Leliana said, pulling a parchment out of her sleeve, “I have further information about the missing Grey Wardens. My people say that they were searching for someone or something on the Storm Coast. I think it would be valuable to investigate.”

“Pretty sure that someone or something is going to turn out to be darkspawn,” Varric muttered.

Cullen gave Leliana a hard glare. “If we don’t have time to investigate whatever is going on with the templars, then surely this can wait as well.”

“I agree,” Solas said. “Closing the Breach must remain the Herald’s top priority.”

“If the Grey Wardens are in any way involved with the death of the Divine, then no, it cannot wait,” Leliana replied, glancing between them both. “Wardens started disappearing right before the Conclave. The timing is too coincidental to ignore.”

Cassandra nodded. “We will need to figure out who or what caused this mess eventually. What if we close the Breach and whoever is responsible opens a second one?” She looked at Jane. “We should investigate.”

Josephine leaned forward. “Speaking of the Storm Coast, we have also received word from a group of mercenaries who are camped there,” she added.  “The Chargers. Their chief is a Qunari who calls himself the Iron Bull. They have an excellent reputation and are quite affordable for their worth.”

Cullen snorted. “Mercenaries led by an active member of the Qun?” he said. “What could go possibly wrong?”

“Yeah, I’m with Curly on this one,” Varric said.

Josephine ignored them, looking down at the map. “The Storm Coast is in the same direction as Redcliffe, Herald. Perhaps you can make a short detour and see for yourself whether they would be a good fit. While you are there, Scout Harding can show you what Leliana’s people have discovered.” In the silence that followed, Jane looked a little lost, but then she nodded.

“Very well,” she said, exhaling. She leaned over the map, placing her marked hand on the table as her eyes traced over Ferelden. “We’ll stop by the Storm Coast first, briefly , and then head to Redcliffe.” She glanced up. “Is that all?”

Josephine cleared her throat. “Actually, Herald, we have a number of letters from potential allies that need your attention. There is also a note from your mother regarding an alliance with Duke Gaspard--”

Jane sighed, and Elizabeth saw Cassandra stiffen out of the corner of her eye. “Can they wait?” her sister asked. “At least until after dinner?”

The Ambassador nodded curtly. “Of course. After dinner will work.”

 

 

~~~

 

Jane told the others she would be eating with Elizabeth, and one of the perks of her newfound confidence was that people listened. It was a quick dinner, but they were able to speak more privately about the templars and Val Royeaux. Jane shared that Denny looked horrified by Seeker Lucius’s behavior, and Elizabeth promised to reach out to Kitty to ask if she’d heard from him. Toward the end of their meal, Ellendra dropped by their table and Elizabeth got to hear Jane’s account of Val Royeaux a second time. Eventually, Jane stood, sighing.

“Well, I’ll see you around midnight,” she said a little wryly before heading to the chantry. Elizabeth left next, explaining that she had to write a letter to Longbourn.

She was already dressed for bed and seated at her desk when she heard a knock at the door. Thinking perhaps that Ellendra had forgotten something, she pulled on a robe and went to the door.

She was not expecting see Solas waiting on the other side. After a moment, her manners returned to her.

“Please, come in,” she said.

“Elizabeth,” he said, stepping forward. “Ellendra said that you wanted to see me?”

Elizabeth scanned her mind for why she would want to see Solas, and then remembered his staff. “Oh yes,” she said. “Of course.” She frowned as she closed the door and turned away, walking to the chest where she kept her smithing tools and related items.

Solas picked up on some of her annoyance. “I apologize for intruding so late. She implied that it was quite urgent.”

“Did she?” Elizabeth asked over her shoulder, confused.

“I could come back in the morning if that is more convenient.”

“No, it’s fine,” Elizabeth said. “You’re here now.” She found the staff and brought it over to him. “We finally got a schematic.”

Solas looked at the staff in surprise.

“You made this,” he said, his tone partway between a question and a statement.

“I did,” she said.

He swallowed. “I couldn’t possibly accept…” he began.

“I insist,” Elizabeth said. “The better armed you are, the safer my sister is.” Solas hesitated for a second longer and then took it from her. He examined it carefully, a strange look on his face, and she continued. “It’s made with iron and elm. I know you prefer ice, and apparently elm works best with that. Ellendra tested it out. I had to guess at the measurements, but…”

Solas’s expression shifted, a hard look in his eye appearing so fast that Elizabeth stopped talking. “What is this?” he asked sharply. Elizabeth followed his eyes to the carving at the top of his staff.

“Oh,” she said. “I thought it was fitting, since I used the skins you gave me.” She shrugged. “Maybe I got carried away with the theme.”

“Fitting,” Solas repeated, his eyes moving to hers.

“Well yes,” she said. He stared at her for a moment. “The leather. It’s from the wolves you skinned for me in the Hinterlands.” He blinked and some of the tension left his face. “I can change it if you don’t like wolves,” she offered.

“Ah, no,” he said. “This will be fine.”

She had to laugh at that. “Your gratitude is overwhelming.”

He closed his eyes. “I apologize,” he said. “That is not what I intended to express.” He opened them, looking back at her intently. “Thank you. The craftsmanship is excellent. Your generosity continues to surprise me.”

“A much better attempt,” she said, amused. “We’ll make a proper gentleman out of you yet, Solas.” As she spoke, she moved toward the door and held it open. “I don’t mean to be a bad host, but it is rather late, and I have a letter to write.”

“Of course,” Solas said, still gripping the staff. He nodded to her. “Goodnight, Elizabeth. And thank you again.”

She watched him as he left for a moment before closing the door, and wondered to herself what could have led Ellendra to think that the staff was so urgent.

 

Chapter Text

One positive side effect of Jane becoming more aggressive in her decision making--a change to which Elizabeth was still slowly adjusting--was that she had fewer meetings. She was only in Haven for a few days this time, but her spare time increased tenfold. She started joining Elizabeth and Ellendra for lunch by the forge, and finally got a chance to write a letter to Longbourn herself.

Cullen also seemed to benefit from the new arrangement. Besides the daily training sessions--which now included Cassandra as a fixture--he met with Jane for dinner three nights running.

“How was it?” Elizabeth asked Jane eagerly when she returned after the first night. “Very romantic, I assume.”

Jane laughed. “As if Flissa’s could ever be described as romantic,” she replied. “It’s just dinner , Lizzie.”

Elizabeth put the book she was reading down and gave her sister a look. “I swear, Cullen could get down on one knee and serenade you in front of the entire Inquisition, and you’d tell me, ‘It’s just singing, Lizzie!’” She shook her head. “Are you meeting with him again tomorrow?”

“Yes, we are,” Jane said, pleased.

Unfortunately, Cassandra continued to baffle Elizabeth, and on the second night, her sister returned from the tavern only to tell her that the Seeker had shown up just as they were sitting down to eat.

“She joined you?” Elizabeth asked, incredulous.

“It was fine,” Jane replied, though she looked a little disappointed. “We discussed the watchtowers Cullen’s men are building in the Hinterlands. They should be finished by the time I get to Redcliffe.” She smiled. “Don’t worry, Lizzie. Cullen invited me back tomorrow.”

Elizabeth made a suspicious hum. She would not be surprised at all if Cullen’s new shadow planned to show up again as well. As it happened, however, the Seeker was not the only one who could strategize.

 

~~~

 

The next night, Elizabeth slipped into her chair at Flissa’s just moments after Jane and Cullen had sat down by the fireplace. Across the table from her, Ellendra took a sip of her wine.

“Well?” Elizabeth asked her.

Maker, by Your will, all things are done ,” Ellendra intoned with a smirk.

Elizabeth huffed. “Don’t go all Chantry on me now, Ellendra.”

Ellendra chuckled and then her gaze shifted. She nodded toward the door, her smile sharpening. Elizabeth turned a little in her seat so she could watch without being too conspicuous.

Cassandra had entered and was looking about the tavern, her eyes finally resting on Cullen and Jane. She began to make her way to their table, pushing through the crowd, when suddenly Josephine appeared, as if out of nowhere.

“Lady Pentaghast,” Elizabeth heard the ambassador chirp from across the room.

Cassandra looked annoyed. “I have told you to call me Cassandra .”

Josephine ignored her with a cheerful smile. “I have some questions about which members of your family would be most suitable to consider for allies.” She looked down at her board, tapping it with her quill. “Now, I already have a note here that says not to contact your uncle Vestalus or any of his immediate relatives, but I wonder, does this extend to his wife’s brother?”

“No,” Cassandra replied firmly. She moved to step around the ambassador, but Josephine sidestepped in the same direction.

“Ah, forgive me, Lady Pentaghast. I should have been more specific. Which one?”

Cassandra grimaced at her title being used again. “Which one? My aunt only had one brother.”

“Which wife?” Josephine corrected. “He has remarried twice since your aunt’s death, has he not?”

Cassandra sighed, bringing a hand to her forehead. “How many Pentaghast contacts are you considering?” she asked.

“Let me see here….” Josephine’s eyes scanned over the page on her board. “57.”

“And this cannot wait?” Cassandra said.

Josephine shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. You leave tomorrow morning with the Herald. This is the most ideal time.”

“Is it?” Cassandra asked in a dry tone. “We are in a crowded tavern, Ambassador.”

Josephine's eyes brightened. “An excellent point. Shall we reconvene in the chantry? I believe it will be quite empty at this hour.” The Seeker grunted, frustrated, but let Josephine guide her to the door. As they left, Josephine glanced back at Ellendra and winked.

“That,” Elizabeth said, turning back to face her friend, “was inspired.”

Ellendra laughed and held up her cup. “Well. Never underestimate the power of bureaucracy.”

 

~~~

 

As she left the tavern several hours later, Elizabeth felt more relaxed than she had in days; she had been on edge since Ellendra had told her about the phylacteries. She did not have the disposition to stay bitter for long, and she knew it was time to accept the facts. Her future was decided. Perhaps her friend was right, and she could go to a new Circle, one with fewer restrictions and memories. Or maybe she could even be part of the reforms she so desperately wished to see. In the past, she’d avoided getting too heavily involved with politics, but the longer she spent outside the Circle, the more she felt sure that the system was wrong and something should be done. She would miss Jane, but they’d been apart before, and if her sister’s relationship with Cullen continued to progress, then perhaps Jane would not be at Longbourn next year either.

She was crossing by the large gate that led out to the training yard when she heard her sister’s laugh echo across the ice. She turned her head, looking out toward the lake. Jane and Cullen had left the tavern an hour earlier, and one of the reasons Elizabeth let Ellendra talk her into another round was to potentially give them privacy.

At the edge of the dock, Jane and Cullen stood, close enough that their arms brushed when they moved to face each other. The moonlight reflected on the snow and ice, illuminating the night. After a moment, Jane reached out her marked hand to touch Cullen’s cheek. Elizabeth felt her face grow warm, and suddenly realized that the scene was far too intimate to watch. She turned around to head back to their hut. What she saw made her stop in her tracks.

Cassandra stood ten paces away, her arms crossed over her chest. She was staring out at the lake with hard, unflinching eyes. Her gaze shifted down to Elizabeth’s, and their eyes locked for a moment before Cassandra spun on her heel and walked back to the chantry.

Elizabeth exhaled a breath she had not realized she was holding and hurried back to her hut.

 

~~~

 

The next day, Jane left for the Storm Coast. Elizabeth received a letter from Longbourn that afternoon, this time in Kitty’s hand. Her sister said that she’d heard nothing from Denny, but she was desperate to hear more--his whereabouts, his health, his views on the war. Elizabeth could only provide her scant details. She asked Leliana for any available information about the rogue templars, thinking she might be able to at least give her sister a location. Eventually, she even went to Ellendra, who levelled her with a hard stare.

“And why would I know anything?” Ellendra asked.

Elizabeth immediately knew this was a mistake. “I thought perhaps you’d heard from your sister.”

Ellendra folded her arms across her chest and looked away. “No. I have not.” Knight-Captain Maria of the Ansburg Circle and Ellendra had been on bad terms for several years, even before Maria had joined the Order. Right after the war began, Maria’s open support of making Harrowed mages who rebelled Tranquil had severed any remaining ties between them.

“I apologize for asking,” Elizabeth said sincerely.

Ellendra sighed. “It’s fine,” she said. She looked down at Elizabeth, her eyes still tense. “I promise, in the unlikely event that I hear anything, you will be the first to know.”

Elizabeth nodded. She began to walk away.

“Eliza?”

She turned. Ellendra was watching her with an unreadable expression.

“If you hear anything...” she said, letting her voice trail off.

Elizabeth gave her a sad smile. “Of course.”

 

~~~

 

The days grew into four weeks without Jane. Harritt had Elizabeth back on swords and daggers, now that all the mages had staffs. The idea of any of them having more than one seemed to unnerve the smith. Elizabeth was gradually becoming aware that while he treated her like any other person, he had a strong aversion to magic. One day, she found a flaw in a sword she’d just finished and she used her fire to even out the metal. He looked at her as if she’d done blood magic in a chantry.

When Elizabeth was not smithing, she continued to spend much of her time with Ellendra. They trained with Vivienne and had dinner with Josephine almost every day.

Leliana gave them scant details regarding Jane’s whereabouts, so Elizabeth went to Cullen for her information. She’d told Jane not to write to her and encouraged her to correspond with the council members instead, citing that she herself had no official position within their organization. If Elizabeth had an ulterior motive in doing so, she did not share it with her sister.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth was preparing to leave for the forge one morning when a messenger knocked at her door. He handed her a folded parchment with her name elegantly written on the front in Orlesian script. She thanked him and opened it, unsurprised to see it was from Vivienne, who was requesting to speak with her privately that afternoon in the comfort of her suite.

A few minutes before the time provided on the invitation, Elizabeth bid Harritt goodbye and went up to the chantry. She’d spent much of the day wondering what Vivienne would want to discuss with her without Ellendra. When she reached the suite, she knocked and a second later, Vivienne appeared, clad in blue silk.

The First Enchanter ushered Elizabeth in, greeting her with a warm, “Welcome, darling.” She led Elizabeth to the couch in front of the fireplace, where she had laid out tea for them to share.

“I’m so glad you could make it on such short notice,” she said. Elizabeth sat down, wondering what sort of busy schedule Vivienne imagined she had. The First Enchanter poured her some tea as she spoke. “Rivaini spiced tea. A favorite of Empress Celene’s. It costs a fortune to ship it here, but one does need something to remind one of home.” She joined Elizabeth on the couch and smiled. “You must be wondering why I wished to speak with you.”

“I am,” Elizabeth admitted. She took a tentative sip of tea. It was delicious-- warm and sweet with a touch of cinnamon.

Vivienne studied her face for a moment before placing her own cup on the table. “Once your sister returns with the mages and closes the Breach, I’m sure you’re aware that the Chantry will have no choice but to accept her as the Herald of Andraste, and thus acknowledge the Inquisition as legitimate. It would be madness for them not to.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “You’re so certain of her success?”

“My dear, I shudder to think of the alternative,” Vivienne said darkly. She continued. “A legitimate Inquisition poses quite a problem for our Chantry, however. It’s an organization that was re-established by the beloved Divine Justinia--that aided Andraste’s chosen one in saving Thedas--that is helmed by the Left and Right Hand of the former Divine.” She cocked an eyebrow. “You can see how the next Divine could feel a little-- well, inadequate, by comparison.”

“That hadn’t occurred to me,” Elizabeth said, honestly.

“Understanding how these things play out is an acquired skill, my dear, not an innate one,” Vivienne said in a forgiving tone, as if Elizabeth had apologized. “But fortunately for the Chantry, there is a solution. I believe they will draw their next Divine from within the Inquisition.”

Elizabeth had heard this speech before. Her mind drifted to Ellendra and her desire for the “status quo”. The thought still disquieted her, but it would make sense that an ambitious Loyalist mage in the Orlesian court would want to be similarly close to the Chantry.

“And your plan is to work with that Divine.” she guessed.

Vivienne’s smile became coy. “No, darling,” she said, her eyes sparkling. “My plan is to be that Divine.”

Elizabeth heard the words and understood them individually, but it took her a moment to process them together. Vivienne watched her patiently.

You ?”

“Just so.”

“But--” Elizabeth began. “But you’re a mage.”

Vivienne laughed. “So I am,” she said wryly. “Tell me, who better than a mage to reinstate the Circles? As a Loyalist, I’ll have the support of the Order and the Chantry, and clearly, I can find common ground with the mages.”

Unlikely, Elizabeth thought, her eyes drifting to the fire. She’d heard Vivienne’s severe views on what a return to the Circle would look like. Few mages she knew would support them.

“What about Leliana and Cassandra?” she asked.

Vivienne paused. “Apparently I underestimated your powers of observation. Yes, I think it’s likely that the Chantry will look to the Right and Left Hands first. However, neither of them are particularly eager to lead. They would only accept the position out of a sense of duty.” She stood, pacing toward the fireplace. “Cassandra prefers following orders to giving them, and Leliana has always enjoyed lurking in the shadows.” She turned her head to glance at Elizabeth. “I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that we are currently an Inquisition with no Inquisitor. If either of them had any desire to lead, that would not be the case.” Vivienne shook her head with a sigh. “No, they would find no joy in becoming the Divine.”

“But you would,” Elizabeth said. She tensed, realizing there was a bite of accusation to her tone.

“Yes,” the First Enchanter said. “I would. Thedas needs someone intent on restoring what has been lost. I’d relish the opportunity to rebuild the Circle with my own hands.” Vivienne let out a low, musical chuckle. “In both a literal and figurative sense. That’s where you come in, darling.”

Elizabeth’s eyes moved to Vivienne’s, confused. “What do you mean?”

The First Enchanter stood in front of the fireplace and placed a hand on her hip. The light burned around her, and for a moment, Elizabeth could almost see her on the Sunburst Throne, adorned in white and surrounded by the Chantry faithful.

“I have a proposal for you,” Vivienne said. “I’m well aware that I’ll need to solidify my support among the mages and the templars, of course. That should be relatively easy at first.”

“Easy?” Elizabeth could not help but say, raising an eyebrow.

Vivienne tilted her head. “Oh, I don’t mistake acceptance for popularity. I am not Celene. The mages would prefer Leliana, no doubt, and the templars, Cassandra. But I do anticipate being a sensible second choice to both sides. It’s what comes after that will be hard. Restoring order is one thing. Maintaining it is quite another.” She returned to the couch and sat next to Elizabeth. “Which is why I will need to show them that I represent each side equally. My intention is to install a new Knight-Vigilant as my Right Hand, and… a new Grand Enchanter as my Left.”

Vivienne paused, staring at her. Elizabeth realized with a start what she was suggesting. Her mouth fell open. She put her teacup down on the table with a forceful bang.

“Vivienne…” she began.

“Just imagine,” Vivienne interrupted, leaning back, “if that Left Hand were not just the Grand Enchanter, but also sister to the Herald of Andraste: the woman who united the mages and closed the hole in the sky.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Vivienne, I’m not even a senior enchanter. My Harrowing was just ten years ago!”

Vivienne waved a hand dismissively. “Those are minor details. This war has thrown everything into flux. Once the Circles are reinstated, I’m sure half the First Enchanters will be even younger than you are.”

“That Chantry would never recognize--”

“Ah,” Vivienne said, amused. “Perhaps not normally. But, darling, I’d be the Chantry.”

Elizabeth stared at her, speechless for a moment. Then she was shaking her head again, searching for the words to say.

“I can’t accept this,” she tried.

“I know it’s overwhelming, but this is the time to capitalize on your connections. If you wait too long, I’m afraid you’ll quite miss your opportunity.”

Elizabeth shut her eyes tightly. Of course, her connections. She knew why Vivienne would pick her. The First Enchanter wanted her reign to be tied to the Inquisition and the Herald to appease the mages, and Elizabeth would be an obvious symbol of Vivienne’s proximity to Jane.

“No,” Elizabeth said. “I can’t.”

“If you won’t accept it for yourself, then accept it for the Circle. After all, you are their best chance at stability.”

“I’m flattered you think so,” Elizabeth said. “But I still can’t accept.”

Vivienne looked amused. “I suppose this is all very sudden for you. I should give you some time to consider. Once your sister returns with the mages, we can discuss it further.”

“Vivienne,” Elizabeth said firmly, letting some of her anger into her voice. “My answer is no. I refuse. I will not join you. Not ever.”

After a beat of silence, the smile slid off Vivienne’s face. She stared at Elizabeth, astonished, and then her eyes became hard.

“I see,” Vivienne said coolly. “I cannot say I’m not surprised. I had thought--” She narrowed her eyes slightly and Elizabeth felt a chill go down her spine. “Tell me, darling, do you even support the return of the Circle?” Panic fluttered in Elizabeth’s stomach and she pushed it down. She considered lying. It would be the prudent thing to do--and she’d been doing it implicitly this whole time. With her phylactery still with the Chantry, why risk her dutiful reputation? It’s not like she had a plan, or even a solid understanding of her growing rebellious side. She knew she should lie.

But she did not.

“No,” she said.

Vivienne looked at her for a moment, and then sighed. “How disappointing.” She stood. “Well, my dear, I entirely misjudged you. It seems that you are more like your mother than I'd expected.” She walked over to the door and held it open as Elizabeth struggled to maintain a neutral expression. “I appreciate your honesty , but you really should get going. I have several things I must handle before dinner.”

Elizabeth took the hint and stood. “Thank you for the tea,” she managed to say as she exited the room.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth walked quickly through Haven, feeling like she could hardly breathe until she was behind the door of her hut. The adrenaline had worn off, and the panic that she’d been able to hold back in front of the First Enchanter was now rushing through her veins. Why had she not said she supported the Circle? She could have played off her refusal as modesty, or shyness, or a desire to remain as obscure as possible. But now the First Enchanter--and possibly the next Divine, if Vivienne was correct--knew that she had doubts.

She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the cool wood of the door. Ostwick had her blood, and now it felt like Vivienne had her soul.

It took her nearly an hour to calm herself down. She wished desperately that Jane were there. Once she had collected herself to an acceptable degree, she decided to seek out Ellendra. While she could not share everything with her friend until she knew what Vivienne would do, she could at least tell her about Vivienne wanting to be Divine. She went to Ellendra’s hut, but no one was there. When Elizabeth went to the tavern for dinner at their usual time, she was surprised to see that Ellendra was not there either-- though to her relief, neither was the First Enchanter.

She ended up sitting with Solas and Leliana, and, upset as she was, it escaped her notice that her two companions went quiet when she sat down and remained distracted for the rest of the time she was there. 

 

~~~

 

She did not see Ellendra until lunch the next day. It was snowing, and Elizabeth had been concerned that Ellendra would not come as she sometimes did when the weather was bad, but she spotted her approaching about noon. Her friend was uncharacteristically serious as she came by the forge. Elizabeth stood, thankful at the sight of her.

“There you are!” she said. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

Ellendra watched her, a guarded look in her eye, and put her basket of food on Elizabeth’s work table. “Do you mind if we go someplace to… talk?” she asked.

Elizabeth nodded. “I was going to suggest the same thing. Hang on-- Harritt,” she said over her shoulder. “I’m going to go for a walk. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Aye,” he said without looking up.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go to the cabin. ” Ellendra did not reply, and they walked in silence out of the village. They were halfway through the woods when she spoke again. “I have so much to tell you,” she admitted. “I hardly know where to begin. Yesterday, Vivienne invited me to her suite, and you’ll never guess what she told me.” Ellendra continued to look ahead without speaking. “ She plans to be the next Divine!”

“I know,” Ellendra replied. She stopped walking.  Elizabeth turned to face her friend and noticed that there were lines of conflict between Ellendra’s eyes.

“Vivienne told you?” she asked.

“Yes,” Ellendra said quietly, and the snow seemed to swallow the word. She hugged her arms around herself. “Eliza. I need to tell you something.” She hesitated. “The offer you turned down… I have accepted it.”

Elizabeth stared at her in disbelief. “What?” she cried.

“I know this must surprise you.”

“You’ve accepted it?” Elizabeth asked. She stood with her mouth opened for a moment, her breath making clouds in the air. “That’s not possible.”

“I assure you it is,” Ellendra replied.

“But you...,” Elizabeth began. She shook her head. “You don’t agree with her, do you? You can’t agree with her.”

Ellendra sighed, the lines in her face growing deeper. “Perhaps I do. Some of what she says makes sense.”

“Sense?” Eliza asked, her voice rising. “She blames the rebellion on Divine Justinia. I thought you loved what Justinia did for mages.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” Ellendra said. “She looks at the beginning of the war and sees... many people who erred. That the Divine is one of them is not surprising.”

“People who erred,” Elizabeth repeated, the words bitter in her mouth. “The rebellion began in Kirkwall, not Val Royeaux. Other Circles were already falling by then, because the templars had too much power and the Circles were too restricted. And she wants to make them more restrictive.”

Ellendra glanced away, frowning. “Well, of course she is aware that the Order will need to be regulated as well. Both sides have to answer for their crimes. This war will not end without compromise. That much is obvious.” She looked back at Elizabeth. “She’ll work for the mages. She would be the first mage Divine, Eliza. That alone would be revolutionary. They will have unprecedented power within her Chantry.”

“Only if they tie themselves to it!” Elizabeth argued. “Only if they agree to work against their fellow mages.” She let out an incredulous noise. “You can’t really believe mages would benefit under her.”

We all will benefit,” Ellendra replied. “Thedas needs stability. Vivienne knows the Game, and she knows the Circle. She has the tools to restore order.”

“No,” Elizabeth said. “Vivienne was climbing a ladder and it crumbled before she could reach the top. Do you think she cares about stability? She just wants her ladder back. You do see that, don’t you?” Ellendra was silent, and Elizabeth scoffed. “You do. And you just choose to ignore it?”

“Eliza,” Ellendra said, her eyes boring into Elizabeth’s. “You knew my views. I laid them out quite clearly.”

“I knew you would follow marching orders, not that you would give them!” she exclaimed, flinging her hand in front of her. “I knew that you anticipated a dark future for the Circle, not that you’d have a hand in creating it.”

Ellendra stepped forward. “Eliza…”

Elizabeth interrupted, her voice rising to a yell. “I knew that you wanted protection, not that you were so power hungry that you were willing to join forces with an arrogant, dangerous autocrat!”

Ellendra flushed and her eyes grew sharp. “Power is protection,” she said. “You of all people should know this. Forgive me if I cannot go around telling people whatever I like because I am not related to the blessed Herald of Andraste.”

The barb stung, and Elizabeth’s face tightened. “That’s what you think?” she asked. “I was honest with Vivienne because I’m trying to be loyal to my principles!”

“Well,” Ellendra said in an icy tone. “What a relief. And I was beginning to suspect you had no loyalty at all.”

Elizabeth sucked in a breath. The two mages stared at each other for a long moment, their backs rigid and the snow swirling around them. Ellendra’s gaze broke away first and she turned to stare at the forest, her chin high.

“Eliza,” she said. “You must know what will happen if the next Divine does not end the war, through whatever means necessary.” Elizabeth opened her mouth, but Ellendra continued. “We would remain vulnerable to our enemies to the north. Tevinter. The Qun. And if they chose to attack?” Ellendra shook her head. “Chaos. Utter chaos. Beyond the violence at the Crossroads. Beyond even the Orlesian civil war. That is the future if the Circles do not return. Resurrecting the old system is our only chance at some semblance of order.” She stepped around to face Elizabeth again. “Surely you can understand that.”

“That system failed , Ellendra. If you bring it back, it’s just going to fail again.” They were silent another moment. Finally Elizabeth took in a deep breath and let it out. “I should get back to the forge.” Ellendra didn’t reply. “By your leave, Grand Enchanter ,” she said, emphasizing the two final words, and she saw Ellendra flinch before she walked away.

Chapter Text

The last seven days that Elizabeth spent waiting for Jane to return felt longer than the previous four weeks combined. She and Ellendra were not on speaking terms, and while Vivienne inquired after her health when they saw each other, her voice lacked any of its previous warmth or timbre. The two enchanters were often in each other’s company, and Elizabeth felt a deep ache in her chest whenever she saw them pass by the forge.

Without the constant presence of her friend, she felt her sister’s absence more than ever--and even that of Varric’s. Her selection of companionship at Haven was slim. Harritt would only talk about smithing, and shied away whenever she said or did something that reminded him that she was a mage. Adan had only become more irritable as Haven’s population grew. Josephine seemed to understand that there was some sort of complicated tension between Ellendra and Elizabeth, and her growing friendship with Ellendra made her take a diplomatic but neutral stance toward Elizabeth. There was Leliana, but she ran hot and then cold, friendly at times but still working through her grief from the loss of the Divine. And for some reason, Cullen had grown increasingly surly recently, going so far as to snap at her when she began to tease him about writing to Jane. So Elizabeth spent most of her time alone.

She keenly felt the loss of Vivienne and Ellendra as sparring partners as well. She could practice by herself, but she knew she was not improving as quickly, and, truth be told, the solitude was getting to her. By the end of the week, she caved and sought out Solas to continue their training. He accepted, clearly surprised. She introduced him to the clearing that she’d been using as a training area, and upon arrival, he considered the burnt tree.

“Some difficulty with the new staff?” he guessed, amused.

She glared at him, but he wasn’t facing her to see. “Only that it worked too well,” she replied.

Solas chuckled. “Yes, I can see that.” He turned around and they began.

 

~~~

 

“Is there a reason that you are no longer practicing with Ellendra and Vivienne?” he asked as they walked back to the village.

“We had a disagreement,” she said simply.

“Regarding?” he asked. For a moment, she considered telling him. The apostate would probably understand her thoughts on the matter more than most. That said, she was loathe to give anyone else more information that could one day be used against her, particularly Solas. Reading the look on her face, he backed off. “Ah. Forgive me. I should not have pried.”

“I’d forgotten what a relief it is to train with someone who doesn’t mind me using the Veil,” she admitted to him, changing the subject.

“You are not the only one with a unique ability that the Circle does not entirely condone,” Solas said. She gave him a curious look and he smiled thinly. “The official Chantry stance on walking the Fade is not exactly receptive. Ironic, given that knowledge I gained there is what allowed me to help save Andraste’s Herald.”

“Is that where your magic style comes from as well?” Elizabeth asked.

“My magic style?” he asked.

“The way you cast,” she said. “I’ve noticed it’s very different from anything I’d seen in the Circle, even from the Dalish-born or the older apostates that came in.”

Solas considered her question for a moment before answering. “Yes. I relied on a combination of techniques--”

“Lady Trevelyan?” a woman’s voice said. They’d come into view of the training yard and one soldier had paused in battering a dummy to approach them.  “Your sister was looking for you.”

Elizabeth felt a slow grin spread across her face. “Jane’s back?” she asked. “When did she return?”

“Not half an hour ago, m’lady,” the soldier said. “I believe she went to the village.” The woman nodded again and then returned to her practices.

“Please excuse me, Solas,” she said. “We’ll continue this discussion later.” She turned to walk toward the gate.

“Of course,” he replied, with a small smile she did not see.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth entered their hut and saw Jane sitting on the bed with her head down. There was a stack of papers in her hands.

“Jane!” she exclaimed excitedly. “I’m glad you’re back. I have so much to--”

Elizabeth stopped, noticing her sister’s posture--the slight slump on her shoulders, the way her arms turned inward as if to make herself smaller, the curl of her back as she leaned forward. She went to her sister’s side.

“Is everything alright?” she asked, kneeling next to the bed. From this angle, she could see the pain etched in her sister’s face. She touched Jane’s hand. “Are you injured?”

Jane turned her head away. “No,” she said. “I’m sorry. This is silly. It’s just-- oh, Lizzie, it’s much worse than I thought.”

“What is?” Elizabeth asked, lost.

Jane took a deep breath and looked back at the papers in her hands. “I was looking for you,” she said slowly. “I ran into Leliana outside the chantry. She said-- she said that Cullen wanted to give these back to me.” Elizabeth’s eyes fell to the papers and she realized that they were letters, written in Jane’s hand. “I should have known. I knew that he was put off by my behavior, I just thought-- I thought we could still be friends.”

Elizabeth tried to process what she was hearing. “Cullen? Put off by your behavior?”

Jane shook her head, closing her eyes. “I don’t know what to make of it,” she said sadly.

“Jane, if you could just tell me what happened--” Elizabeth began.

“Here,” Jane said suddenly, pushing the letters into her sister’s hands. She looked up. “The ones that he wrote me are still in my bag. Read them. Read them and tell me what you think.”

Then she pushed herself onto the bed, laying down. She rolled over to face the wall. Elizabeth stayed kneeling for a moment, the stack of letters in her hands. Then she stood and moved toward Jane’s bag, pulling out a bundle of paper she found at the bottom.

She sat at the desk, sorting through them until she got to the first letter from the Storm Coast.

 

~~~

 

Cullen,

 

I know I promised to write you a letter on the first day I arrived, so I’m sorry that I’m already behind schedule. The Storm Coast lives up to its name, it seems, and soon after we arrived, all of our parchment was soaked through by a squall that came out of nowhere. We had to wait until Harding got a new shipment. I did send Leliana an official report before the storm, so I hope that you were not overly concerned.

While the winds are not quite as violent as they were last week, the rain has continued. It has made exploring the area very difficult, particularly given the mountains and cliffs that go straight up to the shore. We were able to find evidence that the Wardens were here recently, but not whether they are still here, nor what they were seeking. I’m afraid that this will be slow going.

We did end up recruiting the Iron Bull and his Chargers. I know you were apprehensive, but my first impression was that he’s very unusual for a Qunari. I myself have had a limited experience with their people, but Varric confirms my suspicions and says that the Iron Bull is unlike any Qunari--or Tal Vashoth--he has ever seen. My understanding is that you both saw a lot of them in Kirkwall, so I take his assessment seriously.

Leliana has probably shared with you by now that there is more to Bull than meets the eye. I know this will be a topic of discussion when I return. We sent the Chargers back to Haven, and they should arrive shortly after this letter. If you have any immediate questions regarding Bull’s loyalties, I would recommend speaking with his lieutenant, Cremisius Aclassi.

In other news, there is a High Dragon lurking somewhere. We saw it upon arriving, but haven’t spotted it since. Bull seems to know quite a bit about these beasts and assures us that we will not have trouble from it unless we approach it. Though he does seem very eager to do just that.

I hope that everything at Haven is going well, and that the Breach remains stable. Solas has assured me in the past that if anything were to happen to it, I would probably know, but was vague on what exactly would happen, so please keep me informed.

Please send Lizzie my love. She has forbade me from writing letters directly to her, saying that she has no official capacity within the Inquisition and sending her any information would be a waste of my precious time.

Please stay safe.

Sincerely,

Jane

 

~~~

 

Jane,

 

I must admit that it’s strange seeing you tell me to stay safe. Last I checked, you’re the one who is climbing over slippery cliffs, recruiting Qunari mercenaries, and casually mentioning that you spotted a high dragon. However, at your insistence, I’ll be sure to watch where I step, lest I twist my ankle.

The news of another dragon is certainly something. Eight years ago, I, along with most of Thedas, thought they were all extinct. The Champion was kind enough to inform us all otherwise by killing one. Meredith believed it to be a joke, but the Champion dragged its head all the way back from the Wounded Coast when she learned that people were questioning the veracity of the story. Not the skull, mind you, but the head, with the skin and scales still on.

The Champion was not a fan of being questioned.

I don’t know what became of the damn thing after. I think I heard that she gifted it to the Arishok in an attempt to quell rising tensions, but obviously that didn’t work. Perhaps the others took it back to Par Vollen? The Iron Bull might know.

Speaking of which, please inform the Iron Bull that he is not to approach the dragon under any circumstances,  You can let him know that this is a direct order from the Inquisition’s Commander. Titles seem to be something the Qunari take quite seriously. I’d also be curious in hearing why Varric believes he is different from the Qunari we met in Kirkwall. It may at least help me sleep better at night, knowing more about the character of a warrior who is at your back.

I would send you more of news, but not much has changed since Leliana last sent you a report. Her agents have successfully quieted the loudest of the remaining Chantry detractors. As it was explained to me, several of them had badly-hidden stains on their honor. She told me that there is a reason these clerics were not at the Conclave.

I passed your love on to your sister. She seemed very pleased that you asked me to do so. She returns the sentiment, and says she’ll feel much better when you’re back at Haven (as will I). She must be eager for you to hear that, because she spent the past week hounding me about sending this letter.

Stay safe. That is an order.

Sincerely,

Cullen

 

~~~

 

Cullen,

 

I’m sorry to hear that worrying about me is keeping you up late. I assure you, regardless of their other loyalties, I trust all my companions. At the very least, I hope you believe that everyone we’ve met so far wants to close the Breach. As long I have the mark on my hand, I’m too much of an asset to betray.

On the subject of Bull being different from other Qunari: Varric says, “He laughs, he jokes, and I haven’t heard him say Parshaara once. I think that’ll tide Curly over until we get back.”

On the subject of not attacking dragons: Bull says he’ll take your suggestion under strong consideration. He asked me to mention that he suspects Sera is about as likely to cause a dragon-related incident as he, but added that she appears to do the direct opposite of what she is told to do. (For the record, I do not think Sera actually wishes to approach a dragon. She was quite interested in seeing one fight a giant when we stumbled across them on the shore, but has not mentioned the subject since.)

I’ve closed two rifts in the area. There are reports of another one being further inland, but I am not sure I’ll be able to get to it before we head south. The search for the Wardens has been fruitless so far, and I keep worrying that the Breach will become unstable without me there. If the next two days go by without new information, my next letter will be from Redcliffe.

Tell Lizzie I’ll be back soon enough, and that if I’m forbidden from writing her letters, she’s forbidden from hounding you about yours.

And please, don’t disregard my request that you stay safe so lightly. I realize Haven has been relatively unharmed since the Conclave, but it is not a fortress, and even the safest places are at risk these days.

If anything were to

Please stay safe.

Sincerely,

Jane

 

~~~

 

Jane,

 

Maker’s breath, a giant fighting a high dragon? And you just slip it into the middle of your letter like it’s nothing. I am no fan of Redcliffe, or the mage rebellion, but it will be a comfort to know that you’re away from that wretched shore. If you’re worried about me losing sleep, then do try to avoid further run-ins with dragons.

To be honest, while fear for your safety has kept me up on occasion, the thought of your return has brought me a sense of comfort. I’ve had trouble in general sleeping since I left the Kirkwall, and sometimes, after a particularly bad nightmare, I think of that night by the lake, when you touched my cheek. I know that it must have been just a passing moment to you. But to me, it was the safest I have felt in years.

I apologize, I’m sure that was inappropriate. I’ll move on.

I have a few updates from Leliana for you.

We’ve had word from Ostwick about your relatives. Apparently, many are taking you denouncing them in stride, but your cousin Lord Albrecht has managed to stir up a bit of trouble. He got into an altercation with a few of my men, and had to be stopped by the cook of a nearby establishment that he’d been visiting earlier. A night in jail seems to have done him a world of good, and I hope that we will not hear anything further.

We’ve pieced together and examined the Warden journal entries you’ve sent, and one of the Tranquil has confirmed that they appear to be several months old. It is clear from our end that the Wardens have moved on from the Storm Coast, but a new mystery arises: Who are they hunting and why? The man in question seems to be a Warden himself. Could it be Blackwall?

Your sister once again sends her love.

Sincerely,

Cullen

 

~~~

 

Cullen,

 

I just received your letter today. As predicted, I am writing from Redcliffe. Right now, we’re stuck outside the gates. There is some odd magic at work here. Time seems to move differently. I’m not sure how else to describe it.

It’s very late here. There is a strange, powerful rift outside the village, unlike any of the others we’ve seen. I will be trying to close it in the morning, and I do not know what will happen when I do. Earlier tonight, I was beginning to panic. Then I remembered what you said. I thought of returning to you, and the thought made me feel better. Safer.

Cullen, reading your last two letters has made me begin to believe that you might care for me the same way I do for you. I hope that isn’t too inappropriate. If I have misread your intentions, say the word, and neither of us will speak of this again. But the more that I think back on that night by the lake, the more I believe that I should have just kissed you, as I had wished to.

Sincerely,

Jane

 

~~~

 

Cullen,

 

Having not heard back from you, I assume that my previous correspondence was not as welcome as I had hoped. Allow me to apologize. Believing that one may be doing something fatal in the morning has a tendency to make one a little dramatic, as it turns out. I promise you that when I return to Haven, I will remain your loyal friend, and patient student, and will not discuss the aforementioned correspondence again.

Fortunately, the rift closed just like any other Fade rift, and there was nothing to worry about in the first place. At least, there was nothing to worry about outside the village. Once we entered, things began to go poorly.

Fiona has made a deal with Tevinter. She has signed herself and the rest of the rebellion over to a magister by the name of Alexius. I know this is shocking, but it gets worse. His son, Felix, and a family friend, Dorian, have told me that Alexius is working on the behalf of a cult called the Venatori. There’s more to it, but I’ll be putting it in my report to Leliana.

I know you are no fan of me picking potentially dangerous allies, so let me warn you in advance that I will be bringing Dorian back with me. He is also from Tevinter, but his knowledge of Alexius’s work should prove valuable.

Sincerely,

Jane

 

~~~


Cullen,

 

I am writing from the road to further emphasize how sorry I am that I misread the situation between us. I beg that you at least let me know that you are alright.

Sincerely,

Jane

 

~~~

 

Herald,

 

The Commander is fine. We look forward to your arrival.

Safe travels.

Sincerely,

Leliana

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth stared at Leliana’s letter for a long time before she put it down. She stood and went to lay on the bed, scooting herself closer to Jane. Her arms encircled her sister from the back.

“You misread nothing,” she said firmly.

Jane took a shaky breath. “Then why…?”

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth admitted. She sighed. “I’ve suspected for some time that Cassandra was trying to seperate you and Cullen. It could be that she succeeded.”

“Cassandra?” her sister asked. “But she has no reason to.” She shook her head, rustling the pillow. “Besides, she had no opportunity. She was with me the whole trip.”

“I know,” Elizabeth said. She paused. “Maybe she wrote him a letter?”

Jane was silent for a long moment before she spoke again. “Well, even if you’re right, his feelings mustn’t have been very strong in the first place if he was dissuaded so easily.”

Elizabeth could think of no reply to that.

 

Chapter Text

After a little while, Jane’s breathing became even and Elizabeth pulled away. She stayed deep in thought for a time, wondering what exactly had happened between Leliana and Cassandra, and what they’d managed to convince the Commander. As far as Elizabeth could tell, the last time Jane had been at Haven, the spymaster had been more amused by Jane and Cullen’s burgeoning relationship than anything else. Clearly Cassandra had spoken with her.

Elizabeth sighed and picked up her book from the table beside the bed, hoping the subject would be academic enough to distract her. It was a recent translation of Garnier’s Au-delà de l'Accord, a rather pedantic Orlesian account of the establishment of the Circles following the signing of the Nevarran Accord. She was sure all four of her sisters would be able to read the original--Mary probably already had, in fact--but thanks to a lack of practice at Ostwick, Elizabeth suspected her Orlesian was not up for its florid sentences, such as:

 

 

 

It is not without significance, however, that the secular restrictions previously established at the behest of the Empire were flouted by the mage population, and that before the Second Blight, even Lothaire Hardouin is said to have participated in acts of maleficarum.

 

As the sun set, Elizabeth gestured at the lamp and the fireplace, illuminating the room. She had reached the death of Emperor Drakon I when a knock at the door startled her. Rising from the bed slowly, as to not wake Jane, she felt a little anger brew in her chest, suspecting that the person knocking would call Jane away for a Council meeting. She opened the door.

“Yes?” she said curtly to the scout who was waiting.

“Reports for the Herald,” the scout replied, handing Elizabeth a stack of papers. Elizabeth blinked and then took them, relieved. The scout bowed and turned to leave.

“Wait,” Elizabeth said. “Could you send someone with food? The Herald is… unwell, and I don’t think she will want to leave the hut tonight.” The scout’s eyes widened in terror, and Elizabeth winced, reminding herself that she probably shouldn’t go around telling people that the last hope for the survival of Thedas was sick. “She’ll be fine,” she added. “She just needs a little rest.”

“Of course, ser,” the scout said, relaxing. He scuttled off.

A servant brought bread and cheese soon after, and Elizabeth gently touched her sister’s shoulder. Jane rolled over and opened her eyes.

“You should eat,” she said. Jane nodded and rose, rubbing her nose. “I got us some food. I didn’t think you’d want to go to the tavern.”

“No,” Jane agreed. “Not tonight.” She looked up at her sister. “Oh, but you should go, Lizzie. You don’t have to be locked up with me over something so foolish.”

“It’s not foolish, and I’m not locked up,” Elizabeth replied. She sat next to the basket of food, which she’d placed in front of their fireplace. “I’m right where I want to be.”

Jane smiled wanly as she joined her. “Ellendra won’t mind you skipping dinner?” Elizabeth felt a twinge at the name and couldn’t stop it from showing on her face. She looked away. Jane tilted her head, concerned. “Lizzie?”

“Ellendra and I…” Elizabeth said. “We had a falling out. I haven’t spoken to her in a week.”

“What?” Jane exclaimed, her blue eyes wide. “What happened?”

Elizabeth explained the situation with Vivienne and Ellendra as best she could, while keeping her own political feelings a little vague. If she were honest with Jane about how she felt, she suspected her sister would try and use her status as Herald to make a statement, and the last thing she wanted was for Jane to get involved with the current turmoil surrounding the Circles. Her sister and the Inquisition would be in even more danger than they were currently.

Jane took in the whole thing with an expressive face, becoming increasingly shocked as the story continued.

“But I can’t believe it!” Jane said at the end. “Vivienne, Divine! And Ellendra as her Left Hand. Two thirds of the top of the Chantry would be mages!”

“I know,” Elizabeth said, grateful that her sister did not linger on her turning the offer of Left Hand down. Even thinking the words made her head hurt. “Would the Orlesian court accept it?”

“Well, there’d be outrage from some corners, certainly,” Jane replied, staring at the fire. “I’m not sure. If anyone could pull it off, it’d be Vivienne.” She looked back at her sister. “But you should have told me sooner. I’ve only known Cullen a few months. You’ve known Ellendra for years!”

“I’m not sure I ever really knew Ellendra,” Elizabeth replied, pulling up her leg. She placed her chin on her knee and sighed.

Jane touched her arm. “You can disagree with her and still be friends,” she said. “Mary’s vastly  worse on the subject of magic.”

“Mary’s our sister,” Elizabeth replied. “I can’t exactly change anything about that. My expectations for Ellendra were much higher.” She sighed, shaking her head. “And anyway, Mary’s not in charge of anything.”

“Neither is Ellendra,” Jane said.

“Not yet,” Elizabeth said in a grave tone. “Even if their little plan doesn’t succeed, Ellendra is Vivienne’s lackey now. Whatever happens, Vivienne intends to wind up somewhere near the top, and I don’t think Ellendra will be far behind.”

 

~~~

 

The next day, Elizabeth woke to hear the now familiar sound of armor clanging. Jane paused in putting it on to look over to the bed.

“Sorry,” she said. “I was trying to be quiet.”

Elizabeth raised herself on her elbows. “You’re still training?” she asked, surprised.

“I just got a note from Cassandra,” Jane said, a pained expression flickering on her face before she masked it. “She said Cullen asked her to take over training me.”

Elizabeth sat up fully, frowning. “More like she asked Cullen if she could take over,” she said, angrily, beginning to climb out of bed. “Maybe I’ll come with you and have a word with the Seeker--”

The pained expression returned to Jane’s face. “Lizzie, don’t.”

“But--”

“Whatever she did or didn’t say to him, it’s over, all right? Either he came to this conclusion himself, or she said something, and he wasn’t as attached as I was.” She gave her sister a pointed stare. “And don’t go hounding Cullen about it, either.”

Elizabeth sighed, looking down. “I’m sorry,” she said. She stood to hug her sister. “I just hate to see you unhappy.” Jane rested against her for a moment and then withdrew.

“I should get to the yard,” she said. Her eyebrows came together and she exhaled. “Maker, I hope Cullen isn’t there.”

Elizabeth had a feeling the Seeker would make sure he was not.

 

~~~

 

After her sister left, Elizabeth went to seek out Varric. He wasn’t near the open fire, so she went to his hut and knocked.

“Just a second!” he replied from within. When he opened the door, he broke into a delighted grin. “Blaze! I was hoping you’d drop by.”

She followed Varric in while he launched into telling her about the Storm Coast and Redcliffe. They settled into two chairs in front of his fire and she learned more about the topics she’d seen mentioned in Jane’s letters. The news that Fiona had given the rebellion to a Tevinter magister had been shared with her by Leliana several days before, but she still could not believe its veracity.

“She’s an elf,” Elizabeth said in confusion.

Varric shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you,” he replied. “The weirdest part is that she didn’t even remember seeing us in Val Royeaux.”

“That’s very strange,” Elizabeth agreed. She paused a moment before changing the subject. “So what are our new members like? The Tevinter and the Qunari?” Elizabeth shook her head. “You must think my sister is insane.”

Varric chuckled, gazing at the fire. “Oh, I don’t know about that. I have a pretty high bar. Come get me when she recruits an angry elf with lyrium tattoos who can reach into people's’ chests.” Elizabeth laughed. “But seriously, Bull’s alright. Sure, I don’t trust the guy entirely, but he’s good in a fight and the Qun wants to close the Breach just as much as we do. In my experience, Qunari only become a problem when you get in their way.”

Elizabeth shifted to look directly at Varric. “How’s he around mages?”

“He seems fine,” Varric said. “At the very least, he’s not going to sew your mouth shut. I mean, Hawke was a mage and the Arishok didn’t really mind that, and Bull’s a lot less…” Varric deepened his voice and growled something in Qunlat. “The Tevinter one is a bit pompous, but if that’s the worst thing I can say about a Vint, then he’s probably okay. And on the bright side, this one doesn’t do blood magic.”

“Not that that’s a problem for you.”

“I’m not the biggest fan,” he admitted.

Elizabeth grinned. “I’m surprised to hear that, given your companions in Kirkwall.”

Varric gave her a look. “Look, Daisy was the exception, not the rule.”

Elizabeth let her smile sharpen a little, studying him carefully. “Oh? And what about Hawke?”

Varric looked askance at her. “Hawke wasn’t a blood mage .”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m sure!” he said, tugging on his earring. “That’s ridiculous. Where in the world did you come up with that ?”

“From you, actually,” Elizabeth replied, leaning back. “When we were walking to Longbourn village last month, you said the only mage you knew who didn’t turn to blood magic in Kirkwall was Anders.”

“And Hawke!” Varric said. “I added Hawke.”

“Hm,” Elizabeth said. “There was a very long pause, Varric.”

“I must have... forgotten to mention her for a moment,” he replied with a shrug.

Elizabeth laughed. “You forgot to mention the Champion of Kirkwall, one of the most famous modern heroes, a woman about whom you’ve written an entire book and who you consider one of your best friends.” She gave him an amused look. “Come on, Varric. You’re not getting out of this one.”

Varric looked at her, his jaw tight, and then exhaled. “Well, shit,” he said. “Hawke’s gonna kill me.”

“Oh, I’m not going to tell anyone,” Elizabeth said. “Don’t worry.”

Varric looked a little relieved . “She didn’t do it often,” he added. “Just a few times, and never with anyone’s blood but her own.” He shook his head. “I mean, yeah, it was still idiotic , but at the time, it almost seemed reasonable, compared to everything else we saw. And she stopped doing it after Orsino. Said there was too much at stake.” He sighed again. “Shit. I always thought Isabela would be the one to let the cat out of the bag.”

“Don’t think of it like that,” Elizabeth insisted. “Honestly, I won’t even tell Jane. It’s more like… the bag has an extra cat now.”

Varric glanced around the room. “Pretty sure it’s two extra cats,” he said. “If Leliana doesn’t know within the next ten minutes, I’d be shocked.”

“Five gold says Leliana already knew,” Elizabeth said with a smirk.

Varric chuckled. “Good point.”

 

~~~

 

Varric invited her and Jane to meet him at the tavern later for a drink, and she accepted. When she got back to her hut, however, Jane informed her that she’d be in a council meeting that evening. Elizabeth detested the thought of Jane standing between Cassandra and Cullen for an hour--almost as much as she detested the sight of Vivienne and Ellendra heading toward the chantry together at lunchtime--but with the Breach still in the sky, there was nothing to be done about it. The Trevelyan sisters would have to tolerate Haven a little longer.

Elizabeth went to the tavern alone. It was not too crowded that evening, and she easily spotted Varric sitting in the corner with Solas and a mustached man she did not recognize. By his high collar and bare shoulder, she assumed he was the Tevinter mage that Varric had mentioned.

Varric raised his tankard in greeting as she walked over, and the man turned to look at her. He gave her a crooked grin.

“Ah! The infamous Elizabeth Trevelyan, I presume,” the man said, standing up.

She smiled back. “And you must be Dorian.”

“A pleasure. We were just talking about you. All good things, I assure you.”

“Then all from Varric, I take it,” she said with an arch glance at Solas. His eyebrows raised slightly as Varric ordered her an ale.

“But wait, you must settle a debate for me,” Dorian said as he sat back down, throwing one elbow over his chair. “Weren’t we engaged to be married at one point? The Herald and Varric said it must have been another Elizabeth Trevelyan. I’m told that Elizabeth is a family name and that there are at least seven branches of your house in the Free Marches alone.”

Elizabeth was already laughing as he finished, and brought a hand up to her mouth. “Maker’s breath,” she said, astonished. “Your father is Magister Pavus?”

“I knew it!” Dorian said, snapping his fingers. He pointed at Varric. “You owe me ten gold.”

Varric looked stunned and then he darted his eyes between the two of them, gawking. “What ? He was right about that?” he asked. “How in Andraste’s name did that even happen ?”

Elizabeth slid into the empty seat next to Solas, who was watching her with mild surprise. “I believe you have met my mother,” she said.

Varric snorted. “Wow. And I thought poisoning her own daughter was the craziest thing she’d ever done.”

“Well,” Dorian said, raising his eyebrows, “that sounds like a story. I’m pleased to hear that my almost-wife’s family would have fit in surprisingly well, had our marriage ever come to pass.”

“Why did it not?” Solas asked, as Flissa placed a mug of ale in front of Elizabeth.

“Ah yes, that would be my doing, actually,” Dorian said, his tone darkening slightly.

Solas looked at Elizabeth curiously. “Then you would have gone through with it?”

“Andraste, no,” Elizabeth said. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Dorian replied, folding his arms and leaning back in his chair.

Elizabeth looked back at Solas. “The Chantry punishes people who smuggle mages to Tevinter, so I couldn’t just turn Mama in to the Knight-Commander. The only thing I could come up with was letting myself get caught in a fake escape attempt. I’d have gotten a month or two of solitary and a mark on my record, but at least those rooms are high security and Mama wouldn’t have been able to get me out.” She grimaced. “I was trying to come up with a better plan when the arrangement fell through.”

“So what, your mom’s plan was to break into the Circle and whisk you away under the cover of darkness to Tevinter?” Varric asked.

“That almost sounds like something out of one of your books,” Dorian said.

Varric turned to Dorian. “You’ve read my books?”

“Yes,” Dorian confirmed. “That one about the apostate is very popular in the Imperium. Makes us feel very smug about our Circles.”

“Did you buy it or borrow it?” Varric asked.

“Bought it, of course,” Dorian said.

Varric groaned. “I’ve got to talk to my publisher.”

Solas was still focused on Elizabeth. “You did not wish to leave the Circle?” he asked.

Elizabeth hesitated. “Yes and no. Regardless, at the end of the day, who’d want to live in--” She stopped herself, glancing worriedly at Dorian.

“It’s alright,” he said. “I’m quite aware of my country’s reputation in the South. Most of it is even earned.”

“Whatever you did, thank you,” Elizabeth said. “I owe you.”

“Really?” Dorian said, leaning forward with a grin. “That’s excellent news. As it happens, I already have a favor to ask you.”

“Is that so?” Elizabeth said, laughing. “What is it?”

“Would you do me the honor of making me a staff?” he asked. “I hear your work is exquisite .”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Elizabeth said. “I only started a few months ago.” She tilted her head. “And what do you mean, hear? Haven’t you seen Jane’s shield?”

Dorian raised his eyebrows. “That one’s yours? So you make other weapons as well. Fascinating. I’ve never met someone noble-born who smiths.”

Solas chuckled. “Elizabeth is not opposed to getting her hands dirty.” Elizabeth flushed and shot him a look, knowing he was referring to the ram skins.

“So do we have a deal?” Dorian said to her. “One ruined betrothal for one handmade staff?”

“Yes, we have a deal,” Elizabeth agreed. “Do you have a preference in what kind?”

“Fire, if you would,” Dorian replied. 

At that moment, the door to the tavern opened. Elizabeth glanced up, freezing when she saw Cassandra and Cullen entering. Cassandra immediately took a seat on the other side of the room, but to Elizabeth’s horror, Cullen spotted her and started to walk toward their table. He greeted everyone with measured civility before looking at her.

“I’m sure that--,” he dropped his gaze, “the Herald will tell you tonight, but I wanted to share this with you personally. I know you’ve been asking for more news of the rogue templars. We have tracked them down to an old Seeker fortress called Therinfal Redoubt.”

Elizabeth felt herself relax a little. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll write to Kitty tonight.”

Having completed his task, Cullen seemed at a loss and stood for a moment, silent. Then he gave the group a nod and retreated to Cassandra’s table.

“What’s up with Curly?” Varric asked, confused.

Elizabeth shook her head as she watched him leave. “I wish I knew.”

 

~~~

 

Knowing that the Council meeting had ended, Elizabeth only stayed for one drink. She enjoyed herself more than she expected, finding particularly the new acquaintance of Dorian a welcome relief following the solitude and drama of the past week. After assuring him that she wouldn’t mind if he swung by the next day to see her work on the staff, she bid them all goodnight and left.

Jane was sitting cross-legged on the bed, reading a report and playing with her braid when she entered. Elizabeth stepped in and then leaned against the wall, crossing her arms.

“How’d it go?” she asked gently.

Jane looked up. “It wasn’t too bad,” she said. Elizabeth looked at her doubtfully and Jane gave her a sad smile. “I survived.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. “You’re getting good at that.” She pushed herself up and headed toward the desk, intent on writing a letter to Kitty.

 

Chapter Text

Harritt was not at all pleased when he learned that Elizabeth would be making a new staff, this time for a mage from Tevinter.

“If I’d known you’d use that schematic to make a weapon for some Magister who’s not even part of the Inquisition…” he said, scowling.

“He’s not a Magister, Harritt,” she said with a smile. “And he is aiding the Inquisition, even if he’s not a member.” Harritt did not look mollified. “Come now, I’ve already made one for an apostate. This can’t be much worse.”

He grunted with a wave of his hand. He spent the rest of the morning sending dark glances her way before he finally moved on, becoming annoyed instead with how many young recruits wanted to upgrade their perfectly acceptable armor.

Dorian arrived mid-afternoon, as promised. She was delighted to show him her progress so far, and asked what sort of etching she should do at the top. After some spirited debate, she agreed to make a coiled dragon--as long as he didn’t go around calling it the Tevinter insignia.

“You needn’t wait here while I do this,” she told him as she began to carefully etch the wings into the oak. “I’m sure you have more important things to do.”

“I have a meeting with your sister and the Council in a bit, but until then, I’m all yours.”

“No prior social engagements?” she asked.

“Not really,” Dorian said. “Shockingly, not everyone in the South is lining up to associate themselves with a Tevinter mage. Can’t imagine why.”

She glanced up from her work. “It sounds like you’re not a fan of the Imperium, either.”

Dorian shifted his weight. “It’s a bit more complicated than that. It is my homeland, after all.”

“Hm. I’ll admit I’ve never actually been there, but most of what I hear is… bad.”

Dorian looked uncomfortable. “Well, there are layers to these things. No issue is entirely black and white, you know.”

“Oh, I disagree,” Elizabeth replied, with no bite to her words. “Some issues very much are.”

Dorian’s gaze shifted to Cullen and Cassandra, who were heading from the training yard to the chantry. “Ah, that’s my cue. I’m off to discuss saving the world.” He smiled dryly. “Shouldn’t take too long. I’ll try to find you later.”

Elizabeth returned his smile. “I look forward to it.”

 

 

~~~

 

She finished the coiled dragon in under an hour and then began to shape the drakestone. When she glanced up at one point, she was surprised to see Solas entering by the fence. What was even more unexpected was that he went directly to her table and greeted her. She returned the greeting, and he stood near her table, apparently content to watch her in silence for a little while.

“If you’re trying to intimidate me by staring, you should have come by earlier, when I was etching,” she said after a few minutes had passed. “This part is much easier.”

Solas raised his eyebrows. “Are you suggesting that you find my presence intimidating?”

She continued to heat the ore, leaning forward to look inside the forge. “Not at all. I’m just trying to account for your presence in the first place.”

“I was interested to see a staff being made,” he replied. “I was in Val Royeaux when you made mine.”

“There aren’t memories of staff-making in the Fade?” she teased, moving to secure the drakestone with tongs and bringing it to her table. “Perhaps you should check. I’m not sure I can live up to the smiths of Ancient Arlathan.”

Solas fell into thought for a moment. “There were no staffs in Arlathan,” he replied. “The magic was inherent, and the People could adapt to it like breathing. Some objects were created to enhance or focus energy, but those were formed by force of will entirely. There was no need for construction. What you’re doing is quite different.”

Elizabeth had been shaping the ore and stopped at the end of his comment, looking at him curiously. “I can hardly imagine that,” she said. She stood, wiping her fingers with an oilcloth from her work table. Solas watched her hands silently. He did not seem likely to reply, so she changed the subject. “I hear Jane has asked you to join the party to Redcliffe.

“Yes,” Solas said, breaking from his reverie. “I am to see if I can provide additional insight into the magic surrounding the place.”

“Dorian must be thrilled with that,” she said with a laugh. “I believe he considers himself quite the expert.”

“Indeed,” Solas said, studying her. “I’m curious, what do you make of him?”

When Elizabeth looked behind him, she realized the topic of their conversation was returning. She nodded forward, and Solas turned, following her gaze.

“That was quick for a meeting involving Cassandra,” she said as Dorian reached her work table. 

“Yes, well,” Dorian replied, sounding a little cross. “I was encouraged to leave, after providing valuable information about my friends, family, and country. I must admit, I thought that essentially defecting meant I’d be received a little more gratefully.”

“You were kicked out?” Elizabeth asked, amused.

“Evidently, not everyone is as appreciative of my efforts as your sister has been,” he said.  “And yet the Qunari has been welcomed with open arms. I believe they’re even paying him. It’s an outrage, really. You’re all very lucky I’m so understanding.” He perched himself on the fence. “Anyway, apparently we’ll be leaving for Redcliffe first thing in the morning.” He focused somewhere behind Elizabeth, ducking his head a little. “Out of curiosity, is there a reason your smith is staring daggers at us right now?”

“Oh,” Elizabeth said, turning around. “Right. I think we may have just exceeded his mage-per-forge limit.”

Dorian snorted. “What is he, a Dalish keeper?” He shrugged, beginning to hop down. “Well, his forge, his rules, I suppose. I can come by later.”

“Do not trouble yourself,” Solas said. “I was about to leave. I will need to prepare for tomorrow's journey.” He said his goodbyes and walked away.

Dorian watched him as he disappeared into Haven. “That Solas fellow is an interesting character, isn’t he?”

Elizabeth scoffed. “Fascinating,” she said dryly.

Dorian looked surprised. “I was under the impression that you two were friends.”

“That’s Jane’s doing,” she said. “She’s told me in the past that she wants no infighting, so I’m behaving.” She pursed her lips as she began to bind the wood with a strip of ram leather.

Dorian straightened, eyeing the staff with concern. “Have a care to make the wrappings at least look even,” he said.

She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t make me kick you out too.”

Dorian huffed, leaning back. “So what’s your issue with him?”

Elizabeth knotted the leather at the end. “Besides him being, overall, one of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever met?” she asked. “I don’t trust that he has the Inquisition’s best interests at heart.”

Dorian laughed. “You mean the agnostic apostate isn’t bending over backwards to help the Southern Chantry? How unexpected.”

“We’re not the Ch--” Elizabeth broke off with a frustrated noise. “You know what I mean.”

“Well, Cassandra certainly trusts him. He did some big favor for her while we were traveling, I believe. Something to do with the Commander.”

Elizabeth looked up at him sharply. “What favor?”

“I don’t know exactly. I heard her thanking him when we returned.”

“What exactly did they say?” she asked.

Dorian touched his chin, his gaze floating for a moment as he tried to remember the wording. “Well, I think she asked him how Cullen was handling things, and Solas replied, ‘Better than expected.’ And then she said, ‘Good. I was worried their attachment had gone too far already. Thank you for speaking with him.’” Dorian shrugged. “Something like that anyway.”

Elizabeth stared at him in astonishment. “They didn’t say anything else?”

“No,” Dorian said, confused. “Then Josephine came over and they changed the subject.” He looked at her. “Elizabeth, are you alright?”

For a moment, she couldn’t reply, but then she forced herself to nod. “Yes, of course,” she said. “I was just realizing-- I apologize. I should really focus on working if I’m to finish your staff before you leave.”

Dorian smiled ruefully. “Kicking me out anyway?” he asked. “And I was being so good.” She began to apologize again, and he put up his hands. “No, no. It’s fine. I would prefer a staff that works properly. Perhaps I’ll see you at dinner?”

Elizabeth shook her head, still distracted. “No, I think I’ll just eat here.” She knew she would not touch a bite of food that evening. 

“Understood. Well, I suppose I’ll go find Varric, since I’ve run out of Trevelyans to bother.”

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth said goodbye to Jane privately in the morning, deciding not to see the rest of the party off to Redcliffe. She felt she could not trust herself to be around Cassandra and Solas in her current state, and she wasn’t eager to tell Jane anything about what she’d heard until after the Breach was closed.

Over the next few days, she threw herself into forging and reading as distractions. She’d finished Au-delà de l'Accord and moved on to Letrec's Precursors to the Chantry . At first, she felt bad turning down Varric’s offers to grab a drink, but he was sociable enough that he often found someone else to meet with, be it Bull and his Chargers, Sera, or even Harding and Charter when they were around.

A week after Jane left, she woke in the dead of night to hear someone tapping at the door. Still groggy with sleep, Elizabeth wrapped a robe around her body and walked over, opening it.

“Lady Trevelyan,” the messenger said. “An urgent message from your sister.”

Elizabeth’s mind cleared in alarm. “The Herald?”

The messenger shook his head. “The note says it’s from a… Lady Catherine,” he said.

“Kitty?” she asked, confused. Elizabeth took the note, and he bowed before leaving. She tore it open and began scanning it. It was only two paragraphs long. Before she even finished the first one, she was moving, striding across Haven toward a hut she’d once visited often. She banged frantically on the door until it opened.

Ellendra stood on the other side of the door in her nightgown, a startled look on her face. She quickly recovered, turning stoic.

“Elizabeth,” she said, coolly.

“May I come in?” Elizabeth asked. The enchanter hesitated. “It’s an emergency.”

Some of Ellendra’s mask slipped. “Of course,” she said, opening the door further with a worried look. Elizabeth walked in as the enchanter shut the door behind her. “What’s the matter? Is it Jane?”

“No,” she said. She pushed the paper in her hand forward. “I just received this from Kitty. It’s the templars.”  

Ellendra read, her concern quickly giving way to shock. “Red lyrium?” she sputtered. “Are they mad?”

“They must be,” Elizabeth replied.

Ellendra continued to read, and Elizabeth watched as her face fell. “This… says all the officers.”

“I know,” Elizabeth said quietly.

Ellendra shook her head, a soft noise escaping from her throat. She closed her eyes and breathed in. After a moment, her eyes rose and she was once again composed.

“This cannot stand. We must do something.”

“I agree,” Elizabeth replied. They looked at each other.

“Vivienne will want to be involved,” Ellendra said, almost apologetically.

Elizabeth had expected that. “Go wake her and the advisers. I’ll get Varric. I suspect he’ll want to know about anything regarding red lyrium. We’ll meet in the war room.”

 

~~~

 

The others were already waiting when Elizabeth and Varric entered. Leliana and Cassandra were en route to Redcliffe, so only Cullen and Josephine stood on the far end of the table, while Ellendra and Vivienne were together, off to the side. Elizabeth felt a twist in her gut, but averted her eyes. There were more important things to focus on.

“Elizabeth,” Cullen greeted her. Somehow he’d managed to get into full armor, while the rest of them were still in nightclothes. She wondered idly if he’d been wearing it already. “You have the note?”

Elizabeth nodded and handed it to him. He almost looked disappointed as he took it, and she realized that he must have been hoping there was some sort of mistake. He read it, sighing deeply, and then handed it to Josephine, whose bright eyes took it in silently.

“Denny Barris finally got a note to my sister,” Elizabeth explained for Varric and Vivienne’s sake. “He had to have it smuggled out. The officers at Therinfal Redoubt are forcing the others to take red lyrium.” Varric had been blinking sleepily, but at her last two words, his attention snapped to her. “Those who refuse to take the new lyrium are killed. Denny says he and thirty or so other templars want to defect, but they’re being watched. For now, they are are accepting it and stashing it.” She hugged her robe tighter around her body, frowning. “But they can’t keep it up forever. The officers will notice that their powers haven’t changed eventually.”

“I’m afraid they won’t even last that long,” Cullen said darkly. “He also mentions they’re not being given the normal stuff.” He met Elizabeth’s gaze. “That means they’re all going through withdrawal.”

“Well, shit,” Varric said.

“We’ll need some sort of distraction if we want to get them out,” Cullen said, placing one hand on his pommel. “That should be our priority for now. Once the Herald closes the Breach, we can return to deal with the officers. But these men won’t last until then.”

“Is there anything that the Lord Seeker wants?” Ellendra asked. “If we could bait him with something, maybe we could slip in someone to help Barris.”

Josephine gave the note back to Elizabeth. “We did receive a letter from the Lord Seeker inviting the Herald to Therinfal Redoubt to negotiate.”

“And Leliana suspected that it could be a trap,” Cullen replied. “I believe that’s even more likely, given our new information.”

“Still,” Josephine said, turning to look at him, “if the Herald sprung the trap herself and then called a retreat, we may be able to cause enough confusion for an escape.”

“What do you mean, sprung the trap?” Elizabeth asked.

“If the Herald showed up unannounced, then the officers would need to prepare inside the fortress, causing confusion. But then, instead of entering the fortress, the party would retreat after making contact.” Josephine shrugged. “It may give the recruits time to escape.”

Cullen shook his head. “It’s risky. Besides, we have no time. The Herald will not be returning to Haven for several weeks, and then her focus will need to be on the Breach.” Elizabeth stared at the table, an idea forming in her mind.

Varric stroked his chin. “If we knew where they were getting the red lyrium from, we could cut them off.”

“But we don’t,” Cullen said shortly.

“What if we had Mother Giselle reach out to the Lord Seeker and urge him to hand over the others?” Josephine asked. “She is well respected within the Chantry.”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna work, Ruffles,” Varric said, folding his arms across his chest. “You didn’t see the Lord Seeker in Val Royeaux. Doesn’t seem like he thinks much of the Chantry.”

Josephine sighed, shaking her head. “If only there were a Divine….” She brightened. “Is there a Grand Cleric nearby?”

“I doubt that very much,” Vivienne said. Her nightgown looked, if possible, more elegant than her day clothes, a rich patterned silk decorated with Orlesian lilies. “Most of them died at the Conclave.”

“Pardon me, but the fewer Grand Clerics we get involved in this, the better,” Cullen said with a glare at the ambassador.

“Wait,” Elizabeth said, hesitantly. Cullen and Josephine looked up at her. “We… may have dismissed that first idea a little too quickly. Springing the trap, I mean.”

“We don’t have time to wait for your sister,” Cullen said with a hint of exasperation. “As long as we have no Herald, there’s nothing to discuss.”

Elizabeth looked at him, and then held up her left hand, focusing her magic. A few seconds later, the image of a green-lit scar began to emanate from her palm. She raised an eyebrow at him.

Cullen looked dumbstruck. “You don’t mean…” He stopped.

Ellendra chuckled, giving Elizabeth an appraising look. “Well. Perhaps we do have a Herald after all.”

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth and the others spent the next two hours devising a plan, while Threnn put together supplies for the road. After much debate, it was decided that Cullen, Vivienne, Ellendra, and Varric would accompany her. While Varric was eager to help, he was unhappy with the party, and strongly recommended bringing Sera and the Iron Bull.

“They’re not exactly inconspicuous,” Elizabeth said.

“Everyone in Thedas knows your sister’s recruited a pretty diverse group,” Varric replied. “I don’t think anyone would bat an eye at you bringing along an elf or a Qunari.”

“Not to mention Bull’s training may come in useful,” Josephine added.

“His training?” Elizabeth asked, confused.

Cullen shot a glance at Josephine before replying. “The Iron Bull is Ben-Hassrath.”

Elizabeth let out a startled laugh with no humor in it. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

Vivienne broke in. “Bringing an experienced spy along on a covert operation is not a terrible thought, my dear.”

“Fine,” Elizabeth said. “But not Sera. She’ll stand out like a sore thumb.” She’d so far found that Jane was correct in comparing the archer to Lydia, and that was something that made her uneasy.

Varric sighed. “Okay,” he said. “Your call. I just don’t like the idea of bringing a three-mage party to the front door of a templar stronghold.”

Cullen straightened. “We don’t exactly have much of a choice. We need a small, discrete team and we need to leave as soon as possible.” He looked at the others. “Everyone should go pack and prepare. I’ll go debrief the Iron Bull. The rest of you, meet at the stables in one hour.” They began to file out of the war room.  

“Don’t worry, darling,” Vivienne said, patting Varric on the arm. “I can handle templars, I assure you.”

“Yeah,” Varric said. “The normal kind.”

 

~~~

 

There was still an hour left before dawn when Elizabeth arrived at the stables. She was dressed in heavy armor that a very grumpy Harritt had found that almost fit her, and she’d pulled her usual ponytail into a tight bun, the kind Jane used when fighting. They’d all agreed that she should practice dressing as her sister as much as possible, so that she looked comfortable by the time they reached Therinfal Redoubt.

There wasn’t much she could do about some of the differences--she was four inches shorter, had dark eyes, and her lips were much thinner than her sister’s. Otherwise, she and Jane looked fairly similar. They both had medium builds, heart-shaped faces and golden hair. The official plan had her arriving in the evening, and she hoped that the darkness would blur her features enough for the few templars who’d caught a short glimpse of Jane weeks ago in Val Royeaux. Knight-Captain Maria Lucas hadn’t seen her in ten years, and had never met Jane. All of the Ostwick templars who had not died at the White Spire or left the Order had relocated to Hasmal Circle at the start of the war.

Cullen looked about as uncomfortable as she felt, clad in his old templar armor. She didn’t comment on the change, instead placing her pack on her horse and securing it tightly.

When she turned back around, she started at the figure looming over her.

“Nervous?” Bull asked, offering her a hand to help her onto her horse. She took it and stepped up. As she settled back into the saddle, she met his gaze.

“Terrified,” she admitted.

Bull nodded. “Good,” he said. “That means you’re paying attention.” He paused. “For the record, we’re doing the right thing.”

Elizabeth gave him a tight smile, and the five of them left just as the morning mist was beginning to dissapate.

 

~~~

 

Traveling on the road gave her time to process what was happening. The concept of the Order being compromised was so surreal that it was only by the fourth or fifth day that she realized how bad the situation had become. Even if they succeeded, they were only saving a fraction of the Order. While she felt it keenly herself, she knew it was even worse for Cullen--who, she guessed, knew many of the men--and for Varric, who took anything involving red lyrium very personally. On the other hand, Vivienne seemed, if anything, more pleasant than usual. Elizabeth suspected that she rather liked the idea of having even a small part of the Order indebted to her.

In the evenings, when they set up camp, Cullen instructed Elizabeth in sword and shield so that she could impersonate a warrior. She was surprised when one of the first things he showed her to do was walk.

“We aren’t going to start with combat?” she asked.

“You should rely on your magic if there’s any fighting, but hopefully we’ll be able to avoid that,” he said. “You’ll be around trained soldiers. It’s more important than you look like someone with proper training rather than actually be one.”

It was easier said than done. Life as a mage had left Elizabeth unused to the additional pounds of metal. After twenty attempts to mimic the way he maintained his rigid posture as he moved, she became frustrated.

“Oh for Andraste’s sake, not all warriors walk like this,” she snapped finally.

“Most do,” Cullen countered.

Jane doesn’t walk like this,” she said.

Cullen flushed, looking away, and she realized with a start that he was probably trying not to think about how Jane did or didn’t walk. “Well, the Herald is not trying to hide the fact that she’s a bloody mage while surrounded by templars, is she?” he replied sharply.

Elizabeth softened. “You’re right. I’m sorry. We’re all a little tense right now.”

Cullen sighed. "No, I'm sorry," he said. "I know you realize what's at stake here. I have to prepare you as much as I possibly can. If Jane--if the Herald knew what we were doing.... What you are doing...” He trailed off, shaking his head.

Elizabeth looked down. It was a thought she also had been avoiding.

"Let's continue," Cullen said. 

 

~~~

 

They were less than a day’s ride from Therinfal when Elizabeth felt a shudder in the air. She could taste a hint of sulphur, and she glanced around.

“What was that?” she asked Varric.

“What was what?” he asked, confused.

Vivienne was slowing her mount ahead. “Magic,” she guessed, looking sharply behind her. The party began to slow to a walk. “Something very strong. I felt it as well.”

“Oh,” Bull said. “Great. That’s great.”

The shudder repeated itself and all three mages turned to look west.

“It came from that direction,” Ellendra said. A vague sense of foreboding came over Elizabeth, and she turned to look at Cullen. Despite not being familiar with this part of Ferelden, she knew the answer before she asked her question.

“What’s that way?”

He looked shaken. “Ah-- Redcliffe. It’s two days’ ride.”

After a beat of silence, Vivienne cleared her throat. “The Herald will be fine. She is a capable woman, accompanied by Seeker Pentaghast and two very competent mages. We must focus on our own agenda.”

Vivienne did not give compliments easily, and Elizabeth knew that the First Enchanter was right: She had to trust Jane to defend herself. She grit her teeth and spurred her horse forward, trying to put the magic out of her mind.

 

~~~

 

Solas stared at the space where the Herald had been just a second before. The acrid scent of the magic that had sucked her and the Tevinter into nothingness was still lingering in the air. The shock of it had left the whole room silent.

Gone , he thought. Somewhere behind him, he heard a woman let out a choked sob. The wave of terror and guilt that he typically kept at bay began to rise in his chest as he considered the implications. The Breach. Corypheus. The spread of the tainted lyrium.

But that was as far as he got before the air snapped again, a forceful clap filling the chamber. Two figures tumbled onto the raised platform. There was the Herald, covered in blood and clutching the side of the Tevinter. They both looked disheveled, but they were alive.

Solas felt the wave recede. He’d underestimated her once again. Letting out a breath, he placed the end of his staff on the floor and leaned forward, relief filling his veins.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” Dorian said to Alexius. The magister fell to his knees. Dorian moved to step forward, crossing his arms, and the Herald let go of him, looking frantically around the room.

“You won,” Alexius said. “There is no point in extending this charade.” He turned to look at his son. “Felix…” Solas watched as the younger man kneeled and said something a low tone, while Jane jogged over to him and Cassandra, her eyes wide and her face pale.

“Well done, Herald,” Cassandra said. “We will speak with Fiona regarding--”

“Just tell them to send as many mages as they can to Haven,” she replied sternly. Solas studied her with a hint of surprise. The tone she had used was harsh and out of character, and the frantic look had not left her eyes. “I’ll meet you there.”

“What do you mean, you’ll meet us there?” Cassandra said, crossing her arms.

Jane shook her head, anguish crashing across her face. “My sister--,” she began, apparently too overwhelmed to continue.

Solas gripped his staff more tightly. With practiced restraint, he did not otherwise react. His attraction to Elizabeth Trevelyan had only grown over the past few months, much to his dismay. At this point, he’d been forced to accept its existence and label it as such-- an attraction that baffled him, but one he had no intention of pursuing. Regardless of how often he found himself drawn toward her or how regularly he caught himself reflecting on something she’d said or done, the entire idea was ridiculous. Elizabeth was a symptom, not a person. She was human, and of this world. She would be, at worst, dangerous, should his feelings become more misguided, and at best, a waste of time. He could not let it distract him.

Bringing his focus back to the Herald, he reminded himself that Elizabeth was at Haven anyway. Perhaps she meant one of the younger ones.

Suddenly the footsteps of armed men echoed against the walls. Soldiers entered in formation, accompanied by a noblewoman.

“And here we go again,” Dorian said from the platform.

“Grand Enchanter,” the woman said. “Am I to understand that you’ve given Redcliffe Castle to a Tevinter magister?”

“Queen Anora,” Fiona said, bowing slightly. “I assure you, I never intended--”

“Good intentions are no longer enough,” the Queen said. “You and your followers are no longer welcome in Ferelden. If you do not leave peacefully, we will make you leave.”

“But we have hundreds who need protection,” Fiona said. “Where will we go?”

“Haven,” Jane said to her. “You can come to Haven, as allies of the Inquisition. We still need your help closing the Breach.”

“As our allies?” Cassandra said to Jane. “I am not sure that--”

“Cassandra, I don’t have time to debate this,” Jane snapped, more upset than angry. “Lizzie could be dead already.”

No, was all that Solas could think as he heard the Seeker ask, “What ?”

“We were sent to the future,” Jane explained to Cassandra, her voice breaking. “Apparently Lizzie went to Therinfal Redoubt right after we left for Haven. She was injured. She died on the journey back, right around the time I disappeared. I have to try and save her.” She shook her head, blinking back tears. “But the timing…. Maker, it may be too late.” She looked at Solas. “You have to help me.”

Solas stared through the Herald. Elizabeth could not be dead. Unbidden, her sharp brown eyes and impish smile came to his mind. For a moment, it seemed as if he had just seen her, as if she’d just exited this very room, laughing brightly, her graceful, calloused fingers brushing against the doorway as she slipped through.

Surely something like her could not be extinguished so quickly, with so little warning.

But then he thought of the determined way she entered both battle and conversation, even when completely unprepared. How quick she was to act. He saw her bleeding on the rug that first night. Looking furious at Longbourn with wet hair and wet robes. Using an ability she believed to be dangerous to study a rift she knew was unstable.

He remembered the last time he’d trained her, when she had forgotten to counter one of his spells. If this had been a real fight, you would be dead, he’d warned. But it wasn’t, she’d said simply.

Solas realized Jane was still looking at him and that he had not yet moved. “Who told you this?” he finally asked, his voice steady.

“You did,” Jane replied, desperately. “In the future. You told me to recruit the mages, and then you and I could take the West Road until we found her. You promised….” Her brows pulled together in a silent plea.

He realized that she’d taken his silence as hesitation. She thought that he would say no, that he would tell her the Breach was their top priority.

He had not even considered that as an option, and the thought did not alarm him as much as it should have. Because the Breach is stable , he told himself firmly. Because the Herald will not be focused enough if her sister dies.

He took in a breath, maintaining a neutral expression. “Then we should leave at once.”

 

Chapter Text

Elizabeth and the others waited a few miles from the fortress until the sun had completely disappeared beneath the horizon. They all mounted their horses, and then Cullen turned his mare to face them.

“Stay on your guard,” he said firmly. “Under no circumstances are you to go inside. There are over a hundred trained soldiers taking red lyrium in there. Entering that fortress is a death sentence.”

“Understood,” Elizabeth replied.

Cullen continued. “If, at any point, they seem about to attack or like they suspect something, retreat immediately . Do not worry about me or the recruits.  We are here to save people, not risk lives. Above all, try to avoid a direct fight.” He put on his helmet--one that was a little older than the current templar style, but hid his face--and adjusted it. “Remember, the only element we have in our favor is surprise. They have reinforcements just behind that wall.”

“And you’re sure they’re all at dinner right now?” Varric asked. The plan was for them to show up, unannounced, and cause just enough confusion for Cullen to sneak in and ferret the thirty-odd rogue recruits out of the mess hall. Elizabeth studied him, confident that his part in the deception would work. In the darkness, he looked like half the templars she’d known at Ostwick. “I mean, you haven’t been a templar for a couple of years now. Maybe they switched up the schedules.”

“I’m sure,” Cullen said, with confidence. “These men are so accustomed to routine that they’ve followed orders straight into their own graves.”

He nodded once. “Good luck.” Then he was off, riding toward the back stables, where the old blueprints Josephine had been able to find indicated he could slip in through a servant’s door.

Elizabeth raised an Inquisition banner above her head, attaching it to her saddle, and focused a touch of magic on her hand. The fake scar flickered to life. Beside her, Ellendra began to pulse gentle energy, making it seem like any magical residue that the templars might feel was coming from her.

“Remember, Blaze,” Varric murmured to her. “Keep your back straight.” She nodded, rolling her shoulders under the armor, and they rode forward.

As they approached, the two guards at the top of the ramparts spotted them. They drew together under a torch and began having an animated debate before one disappeared below.

“Stop here,” Bull said from behind her, “or we’ll be in range of their archers.” Elizabeth pulled her horse to a halt as her eyes flicked up to the ramparts. She saw the remaining guard looking down, but it was too dark for her to make out whether there were more soldiers up there.

The portcullis began to rise, and she took a deep breath, steeling her nerves. A young man whose armor signified him as a Knight-Commander came out on a black stallion, flanked by four Knight-Captains. To Elizabeth’s eye, the man seemed too young for a Knight-Commander, but perhaps his promotion had come during the war. As the templars drew nearer, their eerily calm faces became clear, as did their wild eyes. Some of them even appeared to be glowing. Next to her, Varric began to fidget.

“Uh, you might want to call that retreat,” he suggested in a low voice.

“Two more minutes,” she whispered back. “I doubt Cullen’s even reached the stables yet.”

Varric licked his lips, looking at the templars nervously. “Yeah, I don’t think you understand. I’m getting major flashbacks.”

“We’ve got to give him more time,” she insisted.

“Blaze…” he muttered to her, the beginning of a warning, but then the Knight-Commander spoke.

“Herald of Andraste,” he called out. The two groups stood ten yards from each other. Even in the flickering torchlight, she could tell the man’s face was unnaturally pale, and she thought she could see odd-looking scars beneath his eyes.

“Knight-Commander,” she replied. “I’ve come by invitation to negotiate with Lord Seeker Lucius.”

The man smiled thinly. “Indeed. Sadly, circumstances have changed since the Lord Seeker made his offer,” he said. “There will be no negotiations.” He made a motion to the men behind him, a flick of his left hand. “Take the Herald to the Lord Seeker and kill the others.”

“Retreat!” Elizabeth cried out. She yanked her horse’s reins. Suddenly a blinding burst of red light appeared in front of her. Her horse reared up, throwing her to the ground. She landed on her leg and heard it crack beneath her.

“Grab the Herald!” the Knight-Commander shouted. Another man rounded her on horseback. He reached down and jerked her up by the crook of her arm, galloping back toward the portcullis. Her legs dragged uselessly, her good one kicking to try and slow her approach, and the broken one bumping painfully against the ground. Panic rose in her throat. No, no, no , she thought to herself hopelessly. She heard Bull roaring, and when she looked up, she saw the remaining guard on the ramparts take one of Varric’s arrows to the eye before falling over the wall.

Elizabeth felt the familiar chill of Ellendra’s magic pass her head, and she slammed to the ground as the man’s grip disappeared from her arm. She scrambled up on her good leg. Immediately, another hand grabbed her arm. She struggled to break away.

“Eliza, it’s me,” Ellendra exclaimed over the fighting. Elizabeth felt a wave of relief, and hurriedly climbed onto the back of the enchanter’s horse. She looked back just in time to see a Knight-Captain with his hand raised.

“Ellendra!” she cried out, as she let go of Ellendra’s waist to throw fire at the man, knowing he was about to suspect she was a mage anyway. Ellendra followed her gaze and tried to land a barrier, but they were both too slow. The smite slammed into them. She was thrown again, her head landing on the hard ground with a thud. Her thoughts scattered. Her blurred vision landed on her left hand, and she watched the fake scar flicker, then disappear.

Another Knight-Captain grabbed her, this one on foot. Her head throbbed as the woman pulled her toward the fortress. Her mind was still clearing, and all she could do was hang limply. The panic felt miles away now.

When she saw the walls above her, she heard Cullen’s words echoing. Entering that fortress is a death sentence. She grunted and used the last of her strength to kick the ground, trying to dig her heels in, but it was useless. The portcullis appeared above her, and then she saw the sky again.

She was inside.

“Close the gate!” the woman said to another person, and Elizabeth heard the grinding of metal gears under the fighting that was still happening outside. Why are they still fighting ? she wondered vaguely. She was as good as dead already.

“Where’s the mark?” a man’s voice asked. Elizabeth turned her head carefully, her neck complaining as she did, and saw that two of the Knight-Captains had come in with her, a man and a woman. He had finished pulling the gate down and joined the woman next to Elizabeth. They were in the front stables, she realized, nestled between the defensive walls and the fortress itself, and they were alone.

It took Elizabeth a moment to realize why she was staring at the woman’s bright red hair. Maria Lucas . Had Ellendra noticed? She must have.

“Where’s the mark?” the man repeated, this time angrier.

“What?” Maria asked.

“The mark.” The man pulled up Elizabeth’s left hand with a painful jerk and she heard herself yelp. “It’s gone.” He looked at Elizabeth, outraged. “This isn’t the Herald. We can’t bring her in there. They’d laugh us out of the Order.” Maria gazed at her, narrowing her glowing eyes in thought, and Elizabeth realized with a sick twist in her stomach that the red lines on her face were not scars. They were veins.

Then Maria laughed. “Well,” she said. “Eliza Trevelyan, if I’m not mistaken.” She blinked slowly. “That was a clever trick.” She tilted her head, looking uncannily like a very ill version of her sister. “But what was the purpose, I wonder?”

Eliza Trevelyan?” the other Knight-Captain said. The fighting outside faded, and Elizabeth assumed with relief that they’d finally counted her as lost. At least she would be the only casualty.

“The Herald’s sister,” Maria said without looking at him.

The other Knight-Captain shook his head. “Fuck. The Lord Seeker will not be pleased.” Then he drew his sword and raised it above his head. Elizabeth struggled to move out of the way, frantically clawing at the ground.

What are you doing ?” Maria asked, grabbing his arm.

He looked at her, confused. “She’s not the Herald.”

Maria clenched her teeth, growling at him like a feral cat. “We can still use her, you idiot.”

Elizabeth realized that her magic had been slowly returning to her as they spoke. She pooled her mana tightly and then shot out a wall of fire at the man, grateful for a moment for Solas’s training. She kept it sustained as long as she could, knowing what would come next.

Maria’s smite hit her and the fire dried up. As Elizabeth recovered, she watched the woman glance down at the other Knight-Captain’s burning corpse. She turned to face Elizabeth, anger on her face, pulling a jagged knife from her belt.

That was not a wise decision,” she said. “Now I have no choice.” She lunged at Elizabeth with the knife, and Elizabeth rolled to the side, grabbing Maria by the wrist and pulling her down. They tumbled, Elizabeth ending up on top. She tried to force Maria’s own hand back toward her, but the Knight-Captain overpowered her easily, rolling her back toward the ground. She wrenched her wrist from Elizabeth’s hand with superhuman strength, and then stabbed the knife into Elizabeth’s side, between the plates of her armor.

Elizabeth’s vision went black. She heard herself make a choked sound.

A second later, Maria pulled it out, and Elizabeth’s eyes watered. It was all she could do to keep herself breathing. She felt--rather than saw--the Knight-Captain move herself away to stand. Her vision began to clear.

Maria Lucas was staring down at her with a mixture of fury and guilt. The woman spat on the ground.

“Well,” she said. “What a waste. At least this loss will weaken your sister significantly.” At the mention of her sister, Elizabeth blinked rapidly, feeling the tears that had gathered escape. She had failed Jane. Jane, who she didn’t deserve, and who had never failed anyone.

Maria sighed, and turned away. Elizabeth felt a jolt of surprise as a figure was revealed behind her. The boy was dressed not in armor, but in oversized clothing and a large hat, and he had two daggers drawn. As Elizabeth watched, he leapt at Maria silently and slit her throat in an instant.

Blood sprayed out as Maria gurgled and fell, her body landing with a thud on the other templar’s corpse. The boy turned back To Elizabeth.

“I’m sorry,” he said in a whisper. “I didn’t know, or I would have helped sooner. You were in disguise. I couldn’t hear you.” Elizabeth tried to speak, feeling her life bleed out of her through her side. “No, it’s alright. I can hear you now. But we have to leave. The other templars are coming back, and they won’t be happy.” He leaned down and threw Elizabeth’s arm over his shoulder, pulling her to her feet. Moving at all made her dizzy and she swallowed back the taste of bile. She looked down at the large pool of her own blood with dazed eyes, wondering how she was even still alive.

“You help yourself,” the boy explained. “You stop the hurt, healing.” He looked at her apologetically. “You aren’t as strong as you need to be.” He paused. “But they’re coming to help you.”

She could barely focus on his words. She realized they had been moving, slowly but surely, toward the side of the stables, and that she could not even feel the pain in her broken leg anymore. The boy brought her through the guard door, and instinctively she looked up, wondering if the guards had seen anything.

“They’re dead,” he said simply, and Elizabeth turned her head toward him, startled. How could he possibly know that? “Your friends aren’t far,” he continued. “They didn’t want to leave you, but they had to take the templars away.”

Walking took all of Elizabeth’s focus. Whether they walked for ten minutes or an hour, she could not say.  She did notice when it started to drizzle, but the boy did not seem to react to the change in weather. He was patient and slow, for which Elizabeth was grateful. He seemed to anticipate her pain, slowing down when she felt a particularly sharp ache, and speeding up when the shock overcame her. They entered the woods and went deep into an area thick with trees.

Soon she heard voices arguing--voices she recognized--and the boy let go of her arm. When she turned to ask why, no one was there. Confused, she took a few steps and dropped to her knees, feeling the light mist of water sprinkle on her skin. At the sound of branches being disturbed, the voices stopped. She heard footsteps on leaves and sticks coming toward her, and then a gasp.

Eliza ,” a voice said. “She’s here!” Ellendra was squatting next to her in an instant. “Eliza, are you alright? What happened? How did you get out of there?”

“Injured,” Elizabeth managed to say between clenched teeth. She was clutching her wound, and she patted the area lightly to draw attention to it. Ellendra pulled Elizabeth’s hand away and sucked in her breath at the sight of the blood. She summoned a ball of light to her palm.

“She’s wounded,” the enchanter told the others. “Badly. We need to get her out of this armor and treat her.”

“We need to get the hell out of here,” Bull said. “This whole mission has gone tits up.”

Ellendra shook her head, her eyes still on Elizabeth’s side. “No. We can’t move her yet.”

Elizabeth was still staring at the enchanter. “Ellendra,” she wheezed. Ellendra looked up. “Your sister…”

Ellendra’s worried face became hard. “She did this?” Elizabeth nodded.

“And she’s--” she began, but the pain overwhelmed her for a moment, and her blood loss made it difficult to think. She leaned forward, crying out. When she opened her eyes, Varric, Bull, and Vivienne had joined Ellendra by her side, and Ellendra was removing the outer plates of her armor.

“Shit,” Bull said, staring at Elizabeth’s side. “You weren’t kidding. That’s a lot of blood.” Elizabeth realized that they hadn’t even seen the pool of blood back at the stables. Bull glanced between Vivienne and Ellendra. “You guys any good at healing spells? I’ve got some poultices and potions with me, and I can try to stitch her up, but it doesn’t look like that’ll be enough.”

“I only know a few,” Ellendra said as she tugged the plates off. She started on the damp tunic next, and Elizabeth was too lightheaded to be worried about being in front of them all in only her breastband. “Enough to heal cuts and bruises for apprentices. Nothing like this. Eliza was always the better healer.” She shook her head. “We may have to rely on Vivienne.”

Vivienne looked concerned at that prospect. “I’m no healer, but I’ll do what I can.”

Varric sighed. “Well, we better do it fast. Cullen’s going to be at the rendezvous point in -- oh.” Ellendra had succeeded in taking off her bloody tunic. “That doesn’t look good. What even does that?”

“Some sort of dagger with a serrated edge?” Bull guessed. He looked closer. “Probably iron. Fereldan-made.”

Varric looked up at him, taken aback. “That was rhetorical,” he said. “And how can you even tell in this light?” Bull shrugged.

Ellendra let go of Elizabeth’s arm, and Elizabeth fell to the side, no longer able to keep herself upright.

“Get the poultices,” Ellendra said in a panicked voice. She rolled Elizabeth over, her face fraught with concern.

Elizabeth took in a shaky breath that hurt almost as much as the stab wound, watching the stars spin behind Ellendra’s head. “Tell Jane--”

“No,” Ellendra said, desperately. “Don’t. Don’t you dare.”

“--it’s not,” Elizabeth said, drawing in another painful breath, “her fault.”

The last thing she heard was Ellendra saying her name.

 

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth came to in total darkness. Her eyes adjusted and she decided that she was in a tent. It smelled like damp earth, grass, and blood--probably her own.

Not dead , she realized. That was promising.

Eight? ” she heard Ellendra’s voice ask outside, loud. Vivienne shushed her, and then Cullen replied in a much lower voice. She felt relief at the tenor of his voice, realizing they’d made the rendezvous somehow. She wondered vaguely if he’d saved the templars. More broken bits of conversation floated toward her.

“...can’t let her…”, “the Herald will…”, “...necessary….”

She blinked and the world faded away.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth opened her eyes again. The sun was high in the sky. She shivered and wondered how that had happened. Her side throbbed with pain, and she watched branches pass over her head as if they were marching. They were on the road, she guessed, and they’d made something to carry her. She struggled to sit up, but the burning in her side became worse, so she stopped.

“She’s awake,” she heard Varric say. The branches stopped. A moment later, Ellendra’s pale face appeared above her with tense eyes.

“Eliza,” Ellendra said, her voice surprisingly calm. “Can you hear us?”

Elizabeth swallowed and tried to nod, apparently succeeding enough to appease her friend, who looked relieved.

“You need to heal yourself, darling,” Vivienne said, appearing next to the enchanter. “Can you do that for us?”

Elizabeth tried to reach deep inside herself, but she couldn’t find the well of mana within her. She panicked, trying to go deeper. A nudge of tightly coiled magic brushed against her, like a snake moving against her leg, and she jolted, staring up at the two other mages.

“Shh, it’s alright,” Vivienne said, smoothing her hair back. She turned to Ellendra and dropped her voice lower. “She’s completely depleted still.”

“That’s weird,” Bull said from someplace faraway. “I mean, that’s weird, right?”

“Very,” Vivienne said.

“She was hit by several smites. Do you think that did something?” she heard Cullen asked.

Ellendra broke in. “No. I think she is healing herself. It’s just--” She stopped and her throat bobbed once.

Not enough , Elizabeth finished weakly in her mind.

“We need to let her rest,” Varric said. “Travelling in this makeshift cart is just going to make the wound worse.”

“We need to get her to the healers at Redcliffe,” Cullen countered. “She’ll die without their help.”

Both of those things are true , Elizabeth thought. At this point, she knew she was dying. It was only a matter of when and where. Varric and Cullen argued while Vivienne continued to brush her hair back and Ellendra stared down at her with a tight jaw. She tried to speak again, but breathing in enough to do so was excruciating, so she stopped. She stared back at Ellendra, a thousand thoughts running through her mind.

Elizabeth began to close her eyes again when another sensation brushed against her magic, a very distant chill. She opened her eyes wide, realizing that the feeling was what had woken her in the first place. It felt familiar, almost like--

Solas? she wondered, but that was impossible. He was with her sister. She was imagining things.

“What was that?” Vivienne murmured at Ellendra. Cullen and Varric were still arguing.

Ellendra looked confused. “I didn’t hear anything.”

“No, not a sound…” Vivienne began quietly. Elizabeth felt another chill, this one stronger, and Ellendra’s eyes snapped to Vivienne, who raised an eyebrow. “Yes. That.”

A second later, the sound of hooves beating furiously made Cullen, Bull, and Varric fall silent and draw their weapons. Vivienne followed suit with her staff, while Ellendra remained crouched over Elizabeth defensively.

Elizabeth couldn’t see anything, but she saw the tension leave Ellendra’s body as the horse got closer.

“Herald?” Cullen asked, astonished. Elizabeth’s eyes got bigger and she struggled to sit up. Ellendra pushed her back, murmuring assurances at her.

“How is she?” her sister’s voice asked.

“How--,” Cullen began, sounding confused.

“She’s in bad shape,” Varric said.

A second voice joined them. “When did it happen?” So Solas was there after all.

“It’s been twelve hours, at least,” Vivienne replied. Soon Jane and Solas appeared next to Ellendra, both exhausted looking.

“Oh, Lizzie,” Jane said, looking crestfallen. “She’s so pale.” She looked up at Solas. “Can you help her?”

“I will try,” Solas said, kneeling.

“How did you know?” Cullen finally asked.

Jane glanced back at him as Elizabeth felt Solas’s magic reach into her body to examine her. “I-- I’ll explain later,” she said.

“The wound is deep,” Solas said, his eyebrows knotted in concern. “It’s remarkable that she has not bled to death already. Who has been healing her?”

Ellendra and Vivienne glanced at each other. “I performed a few spells,” Vivienne explained. “However, healing is not my forte.”

“We think she’s been healing herself,” Ellendra added. “To the best of her ability, anyway.”

Solas brushed against her empty mana and his face became even. “Ah,” he said, a little surprised. “Of course. She has done this before.” He paused. “Although I did not recognize it at the time.” He closed his eyes, and Elizabeth felt the magic fill her, focusing on the wound in her side. The pain began to lessen, and soon she could breathe in without her body aching. She took a few deep, grateful breaths.

Solas opened his eyes and looked at her before glancing up at Jane. “I will be able to sustain her for the journey back to Haven,” he said. “Then she will need to rest. But she’ll live.” Jane let out a noise of relief, grabbing Elizabeth’s hand. To Elizabeth’s surprise, Solas closed his eyes again and she felt another wave of strong healing magic course through her body. The pain sharpened, then lessened, as the wound stitched itself together. She looked at Solas, a curious expression on her face. She’d known Solas was a talented healer, but the first wave would have exhausted most mages she knew.

He opened his eyes and studied her expression. He turned to Vivienne. “This… may be easier if she’s asleep,” he said. “Do we have any sleeping potions?”

“I have some,” Cullen replied. He jogged to his horse and grabbed two, tossing them to Bull, who handed them to Solas. He uncorked one and placed it against her lips. Elizabeth drank, then hacked against its floral, soapy taste. Her dizziness became more pronounced and she began to slip away again.

But not before she felt a third wave of healing begin.

 

~~~

 

The journey back to Haven would be a blur for Elizabeth for years to come. She regained consciousness intermittently, never sure if an hour or a day had passed since she’d last been awake. She had ghosts of memories of Jane and Ellendra--and sometimes even Solas--speaking to her in soft tones while she slept. Her constant state of being barely awake seemed to be due to a mix of her own body’s exhaustion and Cullen’s seemingly endless supply of sleeping potions.

When they returned to Haven, Solas stopped insisting on keeping her sedated. It was there that she learned what her sister and Dorian had dealt with at Redcliffe--the time travel, the dark future, the ominous-sounding Elder One. It was also there that she learned, with a heavy heart, that Cullen had only found eight rogue recruits left out of the original thirty Denny wrote about in his letter. Fortunately, Denny himself was among them. They were still en route, having let Cullen lead a smaller party ahead when they learned about Elizabeth’s injury. The weeks without lyrium had apparently left all eight templars in a weakened state.

Eight ?” Elizabeth said from the cot in Adan’s hut. The apothecary had insisted on keeping her close until she was fully recovered, and Solas had agreed with his assessment.

Ellendra nodded sadly. “The others--” she said. “Well. They were either killed or they gave up and began taking the lyrium.” Elizabeth stared at her, speechless.

Once she was able to speak again, she told Ellendra the whole story of her escape, including the strange boy who’d killed Maria and saved her life. If Ellendra found the concept ridiculous, she did not mention it, and she did not seem to be surprised to hear her sister was dead.

“Once I knew she had been the one to stab you,” Ellendra explained, sitting on the edge of the cot, “I figured you must have killed her to escape. It is a relief to know--” She broke off with a sigh. “I am glad her blood is not on your hands, Eliza.” She smoothed her robes, and did not meet Elizabeth’s eyes. “I suppose I’ll have to write to my mother.”

Despite her partial recovery, Elizabeth’s mana remained largely depleted. Solas predicted it would remain that way until her wound was fully healed, and Elizabeth could only hope that day would come soon.

 

~~~

 

Dorian visited her the morning after she returned. It was a relief to talk with someone who did not believe that she would roll over and die if they made her laugh too hard. Even Varric hadn't been able to meet her eye since they'd returned. Dorian mostly avoided talking about Redcliffe, and she did the same about her experience at Therinfal. He flicked through the letters next to her bed as they chatted.

“Two from the same person, I see,” Dorian said with some surprise. “In the same day? Is there something I don’t know?”

“They’re from my younger sister,” Elizabeth explained, snatching the stack of letters out of his hand.

“I suppose I can understand. She must be overwhelmed with gratitude at your gallant efforts to save her templar.”

“Barris is not her templar,” Elizabeth replied. “And these aren’t from Kitty, they’re from my other sister, Mary.” At Dorian’s confused glance, she sighed. “Apparently, the Grey Warden we found never returned to Longbourn. He’s completely disappeared, just like the other Wardens. She’s asking me to look into it.” Elizabeth winced as she said it. Asking was putting it lightly.

“Ah,” Dorian said. “This is something of a hobby of yours, then? Tracking down missing military operations?”

Elizabeth laughed, touching her wound lightly as it complained. “Why, has someone kidnapped the Tevinter legion?”

Dorian scoffed. “We should be so lucky.” He eyed her, a little more concerned. “You’re not going to get caught up in this Grey Warden business, now, are you?”

Elizabeth hesitated. If she were honest with herself, she still felt a little responsible for Blackwall’s mysterious disappearance, though she knew the true blame laid with Solas.

“No,” she said finally. “I’m not.”

 

~~~

 

Two days after they arrived back at Haven, Jane knocked on Adan’s door and came in. She looked nervous, and Elizabeth was sure that if she’d been dressed for bed, she would be playing with her braid. Jane started with the usual pleasantries and asked how her sister was feeling, and whether there was anything she could get her, before she paused, looking at the floor.

“What’s wrong?” Elizabeth asked finally.

Jane licked her lips. “Lizzie…” she began, stopping to look up at her sister. “The last of the mages arrived this morning.”

“Have they?” Elizabeth asked, a small smile playing on her lips. “I thought Cassandra looked particularly aggravated when she came in for a healing potion earlier, but, you know, it’s so hard to tell with her.” Jane didn’t laugh or reply, her gaze dropping again, and Elizabeth became concerned. “Is there some sort of problem?”

“No!” Jane said. “Well, not with the mages.” She sighed and sat on the edge of her sister’s cot. “Lizzie, we’re-- I’m going to be closing the Breach tomorrow.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “So soon?”

“There’s nothing else stopping me,” Jane replied. “I spoke about it with the Council, and they think--”

“Oh. I won’t be able to help you,” Elizabeth interrupted, speaking the words as she realized them. Jane winced, and Elizabeth pushed herself into a sitting position. “Jane, you can’t wait? Even a week--”

“No,” Jane said, shaking her head. “Every minute it’s still in the sky is another minute it could become worse. We have the mages. I have to do it now.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth said, nodding. “I can’t help, but I’ll come with you. I can--”

No ,” Jane said firmly. “You have to stay here and rest. You’re still injured. You almost died .”

“But you need--”

“I need to know you’ll be alright,” Jane pleaded, searching her sister’s face. “I need to know that you’re safe. If anything goes wrong--”

“Don’t say that,” Elizabeth said sharply.

“--I don’t want you up there.” She gave her sister an earnest look. “I can defend myself, Lizzie. You can’t.”

Elizabeth blinked, a lump in her throat. “But Jane, I can’t just lie here while you close it,” she said.

Jane grasped her hand firmly. “You have to,” she said. “Please. I’ll be fine. After it’s closed, I’ll come back, and we’ll discuss--what happens next. Alright?” Elizabeth didn’t speak. “Lizzie, please.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Alright,” she said dully. Jane shifted closer and threw her arms around her sister.

“It’s going to be okay,” she murmured into Elizabeth’s shoulder, and Elizabeth felt like her heart was breaking. She should be the one saying that to Jane, but here she was, crippled by her own weakness.

Jane let go and stood. “I should go,” she said. “I have a lot to do.” She moved away, then paused in the doorway, turning back with half a grin. “Just think-- by this time tomorrow, it will all be over.”

Elizabeth managed to give her a sad smile, but the moment Jane left the room, it disappeared. She stared out the window at the sky, willing her body to heal more quickly.

Chapter Text

In the early, dark hours of the next morning, Elizabeth lay wide awake on the cot in Adan’s hut. After a week relying on sleeping potions, she’d found herself suffering from insomnia the past few nights. The apothecary himself had slipped out an hour or so ago while she feigned sleep. She’d heard his hushed whispers and a quiet, giggling reply outside the door before his footsteps retreated, and she’d realized with some amusement that perhaps Adan was not put off by all forms of company at Haven.

But it had not taken long for her thoughts to turn dark again. She could feel a large knot of guilt in her chest, one that Jane’s assurances had not eased, and her sister’s words from months ago echoed in her head. I’m the one who has to close the Breach, and I need you to be by my side .

Elizabeth closed her eyes tightly, trying to drown out the words with other thoughts, but she could not stop herself from returning again and again to the truth: In the morning, Jane would be closing the Breach, and Elizabeth would be nowhere near her side.

If I could just get enough mana to finish healing myself, she thought desperately. If I could only get that much . Solas’s warning not to overextend herself floated in her mind, but if she had some lyrium….

Her eyes flew open at the thought. She knew where Adan kept lyrium. When she’d helped him organize potions a few weeks ago, she’d seen him open a small chest by his desk. Inside were bottles that gave off a familiar blue-white glow. Adan always claimed that they didn’t have much, but there were rows and rows of it. Surely he would never miss one bottle.

Slowly, carefully, she placed her feet on the floor and grit her teeth. Her wound complained as she stood, but she ignored it as best she could. Focusing on the chest, she limped across the room and lifted the heavy lid.

Sure enough, there was the lyrium. The glass bottles were tall and thin, a sort she hadn’t seen before, but the color was unmistakable. She leaned against the wall for a moment, resting, before she reached down and grabbed one of them. She pulled out the cork and gulped down the liquid inside.

Maker ,” she hissed, sputtering as the metallic tang filled her mouth. It was strong -- far stronger than the stuff they’d had in the Circle. Her stomach lurched and she sucked in a breath of air, leaning back against the wall. Her legs suddenly disagreed with her decision to stay upright, and she slid down, landing with her knees folded toward her chest. The empty bottle landed beside her with a musical clang before rolling away. She shut her eyes and waited for her body to adjust. With lyrium this potent, she assumed it would not take long.

A surge of energy hummed in her chest and she inhaled. She could feel the magic returning to her, the Veil wrapping around her like a child’s quilt. Immediately, she began to focus on healing. The ache in her wound began to dull, and then--

Elizabeth cried out, her stomach contracting. Without warning, her veins began to burn. The lyrium continued to sing in her blood, but the rush in her ears became too loud and she felt like she was drowning in sound.

A strange, somehow familiar feeling hit her, making her head swim and the world tilt away.

My Harrowing , she realized dimly. That’s what this feels like . The thought barely had time to register before she was thrust into the Fade.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth opened her eyes with a start and stared up at a sickly green sky. She lifted herself up onto her elbows.

“You idiot ,” she said aloud, her voice sounding muted. In her eagerness to heal, she’d overdosed on lyrium. The bottle must have been for a templar of at least a decade, she now realized, not for a mage simply trying to refill her mana. She let out a quiet curse. Why did Adan even have templar-grade lyrium? Most knights she knew either kept their own or got a weekly supply from their commanding officer, not from an apothecary.

She began to move gingerly, but felt no pain. Confused, she touched her wound and realized that it did not exist in the Fade.

She stood, brushing a layer of dust off the plain tunic she found herself wearing, and gazed around. There were no demons that she could see, nor spirits. Part of her thought she should feel worried, but aside from a vague annoyance at her situation, she felt calm. It was strange; the last time she’d entered the Fade, she’d been out of her mind with terror.

At that thought, the memory burned brightly in front of her and she could hear a younger version of herself screaming. She blinked and the vision vanished, leaving only a trace of her old fear in the air, twisting around her body. The emotion made her pulse jump, but she pushed it away as much as she could. She’d forgotten how reactive the Fade could be.

Her eyes landed on a door that was only a few yards away, a structure that stood out in the landscape. The rest of her surroundings seemed naturalistic, alleys formed out of rock and stone, hills that rose and dipped out of water.

Elizabeth looked around. Her Circle training told her that opening the door was probably not a good idea, but her instincts said there was no danger. There was a familiar quality to the structure, like she knew where it led or why it was built. She walked forward slowly and touched the wood, pausing before she let her hand drift down to the handle.

It creaked as it opened. A stone staircase was revealed to her. She climbed it with cautious steps, rising into a large loft decorated in blue and white. There was a bed in the middle of the room, draped with thick furs. The sickly green of the rest of the Fade was replaced here by golden light streaming in through the tall windows, and outside she could make out the tips of pink mountains peeking above clouds. The two sides of the room furthest from her opened onto balconies. As she reached the top of the stairs, the door below snapped shut.

The noise reverberated, shivering in the air, and in response, a figure moved in from one of the balconies. She froze, expecting a demon or spirit, but then relaxed as she recognized Solas’s silhouette of against the sunlight. She recalled that he had the ability to walk the Fade. As he moved into the room, he looked startled to see her.

“Elizabeth,” he said. Then his face relaxed into one of understanding. “Of course.” He began to step toward her slowly, and the Fade seemed to emphasize his movements, layering them with shadows of where he’d been a second before. He murmured something as he approached, something she couldn’t understand.

“Solas,” she began. She’d have to tell him that she’d disregarded his instructions and overdosed on lyrium in an attempt to heal. He wouldn’t be pleased. She glanced at the ground, trying to think of where to begin.

Then Solas reached out a hand to touch her cheek, rubbing a smooth thumb over her skin. She felt herself jump, her gaze snapping up to his blue gray eyes. Before she could react, he leaned forward, pressing his mouth to hers, and her mind went blank with shock. The Fade seemed to burst, filling her chest with warmth as he kissed her. When he caught her bottom lip gently between his teeth, she felt a spark of desire burn in her stomach and her eyes fell shut.

The spark flared as he leaned forward, his hand sliding to the back of her head. He placed his other hand at the small of her back, drawing her toward him, and deepened the kiss, tasting her. The warmth from her chest purred in her blood, like a softer, more pleasant echo of the lyrium. Suddenly, a wave of relief stole the air from her lungs and she drew a sharp breath before she found herself kissing him back, reaching forward to grab his arms.

After a moment, his grip loosened and he drew away. When her eyes opened, she was almost surprised to see that it was still Solas standing there, staring at her.

Sathan vara, falon ,” he murmured. “Sal tel’sura.

Elizabeth did not move. “What?” she asked, unsteadily, as her mind began to work again. The strange sensations--the warmth, the desire-- were melting away, and she looked at him, baffled.

He blinked, a line of doubt forming between his eyes. Then he let go, jerking his hands away from her arms as if she’d burned him. His face twisted in horror and he stepped backward.

“Elizabeth,” he rasped, a pause following. “You’re... here.”

“What just happened ?” Elizabeth asked.

Solas backed away further, his hands coming up as if to surrender. “A mistake,” he replied. His eyes became earnest. “A foolish mistake. Allow me to apologize. I did not think it was you.”

She furrowed her brow. “But you said my name.”

“Only in recognition of your form,” he explained quickly. “I believed you to be a spirit. A construct of the Fade.” Elizabeth felt a wave of panic. She could could tell from the way it rippled around her that it wasn’t her own, that it was rolling off Solas’s skin.

“Why would it take my form?” she asked, her voice rising as his panic filled her. Her heart began to beat faster. “And why would you--” She stopped, her jaw dropping open in disbelief. Solas broke his gaze away from hers, wincing.

His panic was filling her.

That meant it had been his warmth she’d felt. His relief. His desire.

“Maker’s breath,” she said softly. “You have feelings for me.”  

She half-expected him to deny the charge, but he only let his hands fall to his side.

“How…?” She swallowed back a sudden rush of adrenaline, a hundred questions rising to her lips. It was so hard to think here. “You’ve never given me any reason to suspect anything of the sort.”

“Of course not,” Solas said, his tone hardening. “On the contrary. I have done everything in my power to prevent you from knowing this.” He let out a huff, his eyes still fixed on the ground. “Apparently, that too was in vain.”

Elizabeth gawked. “Why?”

He touched a hand to his forehead. “Because it’s an ill-advised infatuation. One best left alone. You are a human.” He grit his teeth at the word. “A mor-” He paused, glancing up at her. “A more than loyal Circle mage. You show no curiosity, no interest in the source or strength of your magic, beyond what the Chantry allows. Worse, you are a noble, raised in the comfort that your status would protect you, and you chose to hide in the safety of that life when your people rebelled.”

Elizabeth didn’t dare speak, the emotion on her skin changing from shock to anger. Her silence seemed to spur him on, and he looked away.

“Pursuing you would go against everything that I stand for. It would put what little I have left at risk. I cannot allow that to happen. Maybe in another life, in another world….” He broke off, shaking his head. “But no. Here and now, whatever I feel, you would not be worth it.”

Elizabeth could feel her heart beating in her throat. Her jaw clenched.

“Then I am sorry you’ve suffered so needlessly,” she said, shoving her anger toward him so he could feel it. Two could play that game. “Pursue away. You are safe from me. There is no possible world in which you would succeed.”

Solas turned his head toward her, his eyes flashing. His face turned contemptuous. “Ah, yes. Of course. I am an elf, and an apostate.” He straightened. “Forgive me. I had almost forgotten how close-minded your people can be.”

“My opinion of you is not based on that,” Elizabeth replied hotly. “And how dare you call me closed-minded. Even when confessing your-- your attraction to me, you chose to insult my race, my status, and the fact that I was forced into confinement as a child. Apparently, that’s enough for me to go against everything you stand for.”

The contempt faded a little from Solas’s face, but when his own words were thrown back at him, his eyes grew dark.

“Do you think my loyalty to the Circle is voluntary?” she asked, clenching her hands into fists. “Until two years ago, it did not even occur to me that I could have a choice. They’ve had my blood since I was nine years old, and regardless of how you believe the Circles work, my name would not protect me if I ran.” She breathed in deeply, her anger now flowing freely from her skin. “And any fool could see the rebellion would not last. No matter how righteous their cause, to align it with the Kirkwall disaster was short-sighted and ridiculous. Need I remind you that they were helmed by a woman who eventually sold them to Tevinter? Do you think this was the first sign of her reasoning skills? That’s the sort of leadership you’d have me follow.” She stepped forward, and he moved back, edging toward the balcony. “But apparently, even if I had run, even if I had rebelled, I’d still be too human to be worthy of you.” She narrowed her eyes. “If I’d previously thought well of you, then I’m sure I would have been devastated by your remarks. Fortunately, I have never liked you, and despite what you may believe, my dislike is the result of your own words and actions.” She paused, searching his face for what she’d felt earlier, but she only saw her own anger reflected back in his eyes. It steeled her. “How could I forgive the man who, for no apparent reason or motivation, had a hand in breaking my sister’s heart?”

Solas blinked, confusion joining the anger in the air. “I beg your pardon?”

“You convinced Cullen to avoid Jane.” She stared at him. “Do you deny it?”

“That was--,” he began. His face became stern. “That was Cassandra. I merely--” He stopped again.

“You merely?” she said coolly.

Solas lowered his chin defensively. “I merely shared Cassandra’s observations with him,” he said. “Observations only I could verify. It was a measure that the Seeker thought necessary to ensure that the Inquisition remains stable after the Breach is closed. I was trying to help the council. Any action the Commander has taken since I spoke with him has been his own.”

“Then what a coincidence that his actions were the exact ones you and Cassandra were aiming for,” Elizabeth said, crossing her arms. “And tell me, whose observations did you share with Warden Blackwall?”

Solas looked astonished. “Blackwall!”

“How could you possibly defend scaring him away?” she continued. “Was that for the good of the Inquisition, too? Your personal views regarding the Grey Wardens have kept the only one we could find away. Does the council know how much you helped them there?”

“That man’s cowardice is what keeps him away from the Inquisition,” he snapped.

Elizabeth looked at him in disgust. “Only you would call a man who was once awarded the Silverite Wings of Valor a coward.” She shook her head. “But of course you’d defend your actions by blaming others. I shouldn’t be surprised. From what I have seen in the months I have known you, you are an arrogant, judgmental, hypocritical, selfish man with absolutely no self-awareness. That is my opinion of you, Solas.”

Solas turned his head, his eyes studying her. To her surprise, she felt his anger receding, like a wave pulling back into the ocean. His face had softened a fraction, but his eyes were still dark.

“I see,” he said finally. “I will admit, I imagined that you would feel differently about the person responsible for saving your life. Not to mention the person responsible for your sister’s survival following the Conclave. Clearly I was mistaken.”

“Oh, was it my sister you were trying to save?” she asked sharply. “Or was it that elven mark on her left hand?”

Solas looked as though she’d struck him and she felt the hint of anger still in the air freeze. His lips parted slightly, but he did not speak.

“I saw it through the Veil,” she explained. “I’m sure that’s the reason you’re even here in the first place. You recognized the magic as elven immediately, didn’t you?”  

Solas looked away, his jaw working, and then met her eyes again. “Yes,” he said. “I did.”

“And yet you told no one,” she said, sneering.

He clasped his hands behind his back, staring at her for a long moment with an unreadable expression before his eyes became cool and his shoulders relaxed. “Very well. I now understand you. Thank you for explaining so fully.” He paused. “We should end this discussion. The Fade will only fuel our emotions further. I apologize profusely for the kiss, and realize that it was particularly unwelcome, coming from a person you dislike so… passionately. My actions were careless. I will make no further mention of that indiscretion. Or my feelings.” He turned half away from her, taking two slow steps back onto the balcony. “Your sister will be closing the Breach tomorrow, and after that, I am planning to leave Haven. You will not be troubled with my presence much longer.” He glanced at her over his shoulder. “ Wake up .”

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth gasped as she came to against the cold wall of Adan’s hut. For a moment, she couldn’t move or think, except to take in deep gulps of air. The lyrium overdose had made her sweat through her night clothes, and her blonde hair stuck to her neck in matted clumps.

She turned her head to the window. The sun was rising over the Frostbacks.

Suddenly, everything came back to her.

Her mind raced. Solas had kissed her. Solas had feelings for her. She could not help but feel flattered on some level, that she’d somehow aroused such an intense desire in a person she’d until now considered stoic and dispassionate. Her eyes closed as she recalled the warmth curling through her veins. Indeed, the kiss had been anything but dispassionate.

How was she to reconcile that with what came next? He’d listed every flaw that he could perceive in her, including that she was human. She almost laughed. How like him, to even need to insult her when he was admitting that he didn't hate her. Some of his words, she admitted now in the light of a new day, hit close to home--it had not sat well with with her for months now that she’d so far remained loyal to the Circle, nor that she had not joined the rebellion. But for Solas to make those judgments when he himself had never been in a Circle was absurd. 

Not that she had been much kinder. This was a man who had saved her life only days before, and she was only just realizing with a crush of shame how her words must have affected him. Then she remembered how easily he’d admitted to interfering with Cullen and Jane, and how quick he’d been to call Blackwall a coward. She thought of the Hinterlands, where she'd first seen his arrogance and incivility. No, this was not a man who deserved her pity. Regardless of whatever misguided attraction he seemed to have formed toward her, he was still the same obnoxious, judgmental man. He just--

The headache from the overdose was making it difficult to think, and she pressed a finger between her brows. Shivering, half from the lyrium and half from the frigid morning air, she pulled herself up. Her mind was racing and her mouth felt like cotton, but she managed to limp back toward her cot to crawl beneath the blankets. Despite the negative side effects, the lyrium seemed to have restored some of her mana, so she began to warm and heal herself lightly.

Elizabeth’s frantic eyes fell on the glass bottle that had rolled beneath Adan’s table, realizing she would need to put it away before he got back. She decided to give herself a moment to rest, and glanced up toward the window instead, watching the Breach. The steady swirls calmed her racing heart and she began to breathe more easily. If all went well, this would be the last morning she’d see it. She realized she had no idea what Haven looked like without the heavens torn apart. She tried to imagine it--the sky whole and healthy, and the Frostback mountains surging up behind the chantry--but she only felt a wave of panic in her chest, made stronger by the lyrium. She squeezed her eyes shut, pushing out the anxiety, and counted her breaths. Soon, she began to relax, and she hardly noticed when her head began to droop forward.

 

Chapter Text

Elizabeth opened her eyes and blinked as her vision cleared. Her mouth was not as dry as it had been, but somehow her headache had gotten worse. It took her a moment to notice that the light outside had shifted-- two hours or so had passed, she guessed. She must have dozed off. It would not be long before her sister closed the Breach now, and she glanced toward the window at that thought. A new movement out of the corner of her eye sent a jolt of adrenaline through her veins and she spun her head.

She exhaled. It was only Adan. The lyrium was still affecting her nerves, making her hyper-aware.

He was standing by his desk, a grave look on his face. In his hand was the empty lyrium bottle. She struggled into a sitting position, and the sound of her blankets and body shifting made him turn.

“You’re up,” he said, putting the bottle down. He approached the cot. “You’re looking a bit pale this morning. How’s the wound?”

“Better, actually,” she replied, touching her side. She hesitated, glancing back toward his desk. “I’ve been healing. I… took a lyrium potion last night. From the chest next to your desk.”

Adan stared at her. “Did you, now?”

“I didn’t realize how much lyrium was in it was until I’d already drank it,” she explained. “It’s very strong.”

A flash of relief crossed his face, then quickly turned to concern as he looked her over. “Of course. Right. Strong’s an understatement.”

“Why do you even have it? It must be worth a fortune.”

Adan hesitated. “Long story,” he said. “You must feel like-- well, you must feel terrible. Do you need something for the pain?”

“Please,” she agreed, leaning back onto her pillow. “I have a headache like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Elfroot, then,” Adan said to himself as he stood. “Maybe some sort of lotus....” He went to the potion cupboard and shuffled through some bottles. “Any other symptoms? Your stomach alright?”

Elizabeth swallowed. “I think so. I’ve been a little jumpy.”

Adan snorted. “I bet.” He returned to the cot with two bottles and removed the cap of one, handing it to her. She sniffed it before bringing the potion to her lips. “But you slept fine last night?”

Elizabeth choked mid-gulp. “Yes,” she lied. Oh, Maker, she thought. She’d almost been able to block out the Fade. Her head throbbed as she tried to push the memories away again.

Adan frowned at her. “I’m guessing you learned your lesson, and I don’t have to lecture you on the dangers of taking potions without checking with me first,” he said. “I have enough on my plate here without having to come home to the Herald of Andraste’s dead sister in the morning.”

Elizabeth’s lips twitched at his bluntness, and she swallowed the rest of the potion before speaking. “Oh, yes, I was going to ask. Coming home from where exactly? When I woke, you were nowhere to be found. I didn’t realize our apothecary made house calls.”

Adan crossed his arms, a flush appearing beneath his beard. “Don’t change the subject.”

Elizabeth tried to smirk, and then grimaced at the effort. “Yes, lesson learned,” she agreed, touching her temple. “Though I’m still curious how you ended up with enough lyrium to fund Orzammar for a week. Does Jane know we have that?”

“No,” Adan said firmly. “And don’t you go telling her. It’s--” He stumbled over a word. “It’s a private matter.”

“Private?” she asked. She became stock-still as she watched him. “Adan. You’re not smuggling lyrium, are you?”

“Of course not!” he said, but before he could continue, someone knocked at the door and he sighed. He went to open it.

“Hello,” Elizabeth heard Ellendra say in a cheerful voice before she appeared herself, carrying some folded parchment and followed by two soldiers in templar garb. “I’ve brought a couple of visitors for your patient.” Elizabeth sat up slowly, thankful that the potion was already beginning to work.

“Lucky me,” Adan said dryly. “Maker knows I’ve always wanted to run an inn.”

Ellendra smiled toward the cot, ignoring him. “Good morning, Eliza.” She tilted her head. “Are you alright? You look awful.”

“We had a bit of a potion mishap,” Adan explained. “All fine now.”

“My fault,” Elizabeth broke in before Ellendra could make assumptions. As it was, the enchanter just raised her eyebrows at Adan. Then she nodded her head toward the door meaningfully, and he rolled his eyes.

“I guess I’ll give you folks some space,” Adan said finally, with a touch of his trademark surliness. “In my hut. Without me.” He left and closed the door behind him.

Elizabeth turned her attention to the two templars, a man and a woman who flanked Ellendra stiffly, presumably out of habit. The man was tall with a broad face and high cheekbones, his green eyes looking bright against his dark skin. The woman was short and thin, with even darker skin and short, curly hair.

“Hello,” she said to them both. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

The man chuckled. “Oh, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the possibility,” he said, and as he spoke, his features and accent became familiar.

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Denny!” she exclaimed, moving to stand and hug him. Her body rejected that idea soundly and she sat back in the bed. Then she corrected herself with a weak smile. “Oh. Ser Barris.”

“Denny’s fine,” he told her, smiling. “I mean, unless you mind the lack of manners. I think I already shocked your diplomat by referring to you as Lizzie before we came in here.”

Elizabeth looked him over, mentally reminding herself to congratulate Kitty. “Maker, you’ve grown. When’s the last time I saw you? Before you joined the Order, I think.”

“Well before,” he confirmed with a nod. “It was when you visited for your grandfather’s funeral. You were still an apprentice at the time.” He gave her a lopsided grin. “I did request Ostwick when I enlisted, but the Order rarely puts you where you might know the mages, of course.”

“Well, that’s probably for the best,” Elizabeth replied.

“Hm,” Ellendra interjected quietly from the side, her eyes still on Barris, and Elizabeth shot her a glare.

Denny glanced at his companion. “This is Ser Caitlin, by the way. She was with me at Therinfal. Caitlin, this is Elizabeth Trevelyan.”

“Pleased to meet you, my lady,” Ser Caitlin said with a bow. “We’re told we have you to thank for our rescue.”

“Oh, just my information,” Elizabeth said. “It was more of a group effort. Ser Barris deserves some share of the gratitude. He wrote to my sister for help, and I was able to put something into action. There were also several other Inquisition members involved.”

“Yes,” Ellendra added with a thin smile, crossing her arms, “it was only your information, your plan, your risk, and very nearly your life.” She leaned against Adan’s desk. “Give yourself a little credit, my dear.”

Something tugged in Elizabeth’s chest at the the endearment--one Ellendra had never used before--but she ignored it. She and Ellendra had avoided discussing the subject of their fight since they began talking again, neither of them eager to test how far their reconciliation went, but this was not the time to focus on that particular bronto in the room. Elizabeth’s attention shifted as she realized Denny was talking again.

“Well, whatever you did, people seem to be crediting you with the end result,” he said. “And for that, we’re truly grateful. You’ve given us a chance for a new start.” He paused, his smile fading a bit. “Those of us remaining, I mean.”

“Especially, if I may say, because you’re a mage,” Caitlin said. She paused when Denny looked at her as if she’d said something wrong. “Oh. I don’t mean to be offensive, my lady. My sister was at Jainen Circle before the war. Too many templars out there are blaming every mage, you know. There’s healing to be done. To have you save us,” she paused, throwing a glance at Ellendra, “with two other mages by your side--well, it can only lead to good things.”

One of those mages being Vivienne, she thought a little darkly, but she smiled anyway. “I hope you’re right.” 

A pause followed. “We should probably head to the chantry,” Denny said. “We only arrived this morning, and your spymaster wants to question us before she heads up to the Breach with Jane.” Caitlin shot him a shocked look and he made a face at his slip. “With the Herald, I mean.”

Elizabeth chuckled. She winced as the movement made her head ache again. “And I should probably get some more rest. We’ll speak more once I’ve recovered.”

“I’d like that,” Denny said.

"And you'd better write Kitty that you're safe," Elizabeth added. "She's been worried sick about you."

"He already wrote her twice from the road," Ser Caitlin informed them with some amusement, and Denny flushed a little. 

"Well, it was only right to thank her," he explained. 

"Very right, ser."

Denny gave her a pointed glare. "Come on, let's go."

The two templars nodded at her and left, Ellendra’s sharp eyes trailing after them.

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at her. “Aren’t they a little young for you to sink your claws into?”

Ellendra moved her eyes without shifting. “My claws are firmly retracted,” she replied sharply. “Besides, I was younger than that when Mattrin and I started sleeping together.”

“True. But how old was Mattrin?”

Ellendra chuckled. “Fair enough,” she said. She smiled sadly at the floor, then let out a sigh. “Well. Perhaps I am not quite ready, anyway.” She looked back toward Elizabeth, pushing herself up from the desk. “But I do have a letter from an admirer of yours .” She handed Elizabeth the paper she was holding, and Elizabeth studied the front. Her name was written in a neat, unfamiliar hand.

“An admirer of mine?” she asked.

“Solas,” Ellendra said, and Elizabeth felt her stomach lurch. The enchanter smirked. “I had not realized things had progressed to the point of correspondence.”

Elizabeth was still staring at her name, her face growing cold. “What do you-- oh.” She glanced up, realization dawning. Suddenly, several of Ellendra’s more confusing actions of the past few months made sense. “You knew. You knew he had feelings for me.”

“Well, I guessed that he wanted you,” Ellendra said. “And I thought a little intrigue would do you good.” She cocked her head. “So. Have you...?”

No ,” Elizabeth said, closing her eyes tightly. She felt dizzy for a moment. “I don’t-- it’s not like that.”

“Does he know that?” Ellendra asked, Elizabeth opened her eyes to see the enchanter staring at the letter. She let out a breath and looked toward her bedside table for the other healing potion.

“Yes,” she said, not finding it. “He does.”

“Well. Perhaps you can work something more casual out,” Ellendra said. “He is handsome, you know.”

“And an apostate,” Elizabeth replied with a glare. “I thought you’d recommend someone more Chantry-compliant.”

Ellendra’s eyes flicked toward the door. “Hm. You know me. All’s fair in love and war.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Elizabeth said firmly, eager to move on from this subject. “I can’t stand him, anyway. If you heard him-- if you heard some of the things he’s said, you’d understand. Honestly, the things that come out of his mouth--” Elizabeth broke off as she found the potion.

Ellendra shrugged. “Then gag him first.” She sighed, brushing imaginary dust from her robe. “Anyway, read the letter at least. He seemed quite serious about it.” The chantry bell rang twice and Ellendra cocked her head. “Ah. I must go, I’m afraid.”

“Of course,” Elizabeth said. She looked back at the sky through the window. Ellendra would be needed at the Temple with the other mages. “Tell Jane… good luck for me.”

“I will,” Ellendra replied before slipping through the door.

After she left, Elizabeth stared at the letter in her hand thoughtfully. For a moment, she considered leaving it--or better yet, burning it--but her curiosity overwhelmed her. What could he have to say that he had not said last night? She tore the wax seal open and began to read.

 

~~~

 

ELIZABETH,

 

First, allow me to assure you that my plans have not changed. Once your sister has closed the Breach, I will be leaving Haven, and I have no intention of returning. It would appear that our brief acquaintance has come to an end, which you are undoubtedly relieved to hear.

There are a few matters you mentioned last night that I feel I should address before I leave. In particular, I hope to clarify my actions regarding the Commander, Warden Blackwall, and your sister’s mark. I am not seeking to defend or redeem myself in writing this letter, as there would be no point. I only wish to best communicate the facts behind what you have seen before I depart. Consider it a point of pride. It is likely that you will accept some of my explanations more readily than you will accept others, but know that I am providing as frank and honest an account as I can offer at this time.  

Before we left for the Hinterlands, the Herald began to show a distinct fondness for the Commander, one that he returned. Even if their feelings had not been obvious, the Seeker and I would have soon known about it, as Varric enjoyed discussing their relationship whenever Jane received a report. At the time, Cassandra seemed neutral to the attachment--even supportive of it at times--and in no way interested in involving herself.

During this time, I later found out that the Commander had approached the Seeker to resign from his position within the Inquisition. He told her that he had stopped taking lyrium, and that the withdrawal symptoms were beginning to interfere with his daily routine. He felt that he was at the point where he either needed to return to his regular doses or leave his post entirely, and he was not prepared to resume taking lyrium. The Seeker convinced him that he was doing an admirable job and persuaded him to remain for another few months. He agreed, provided that she keep an eye on him and let him know if she saw anything concerning.

When we visited your family at Longbourn, a conflict of interest arose. Cassandra noticed--as did Varric and I--that your mother was intent on marrying your sister off to someone of noble blood. While she made it clear to Cassandra that she would be open to many candidates--even those from Nevarra--it was no secret that she would not accept a son-in-law without status, and that her main prospect for Jane was Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons. On one occasion while you were tending to your sister upstairs, your mother told us with certainty that they would be engaged by Harvestmere, if not sooner. Based on what you said to me last night, it is possible that the Herald never meant to encourage her behavior, but from what I observed of your family, I find it difficult to believe she would not yield to your mother’s demands eventually. Despite numerous opportunities, she did not speak out against the suggestion, nor did your sisters or father. You were the only one who appeared uncomfortable with the topic of her assumed future husband, and even then, your concern appeared to be focused on your mother’s methods, not her choice of match.

Once we returned to Haven, Cassandra observed the interactions between your sister and the Commander more closely, and became apprehensive as their relationship progressed past friendship. It was her belief that your sister was, at worst, initiating a casual dalliance before she moved on to married life, or at best, unaware that her mother’s nature and her own would result in her being persuaded to marry for status rather than love. Cullen, on the other hand, expected more. The Seeker was concerned that if your sister left to marry Gaspard after closing the Breach, the Commander would become despondent. While I do not presume to know any of the council well, it is my understanding that the Commander has not always dealt with disappointment well. She thought it likely that he would quit the Inquisition, return to lyrium, or perhaps both.

She first went to Leliana for help, but the spymaster told her that she was being paranoid. Having not witnessed Jane and Lady Trevelyan’s behavior at Longbourn, Leliana could not see the flirtations between Cullen and your sister as anything but mutual. This is how I became involved. Cassandra asked for my help in conveying to Leliana how unlikely a lasting match between the Commander and the Herald would be. I was able to verify that all of the Seeker’s concerns about Lady Trevelyan were well-founded, and add some of my own. At first, I was only meant to provide corroboration, but when she left for the Storm Coast, Cassandra asked me to speak with the Commander about the expected betrothal between the Herald and Gaspard if Leliana found it necessary. I agreed to do so. While I would normally not involve myself in something of this nature, I have always been aware that my presence within the Inquisition is at the Seeker’s discretion. I also believed the Seeker to be correct, and did not wish to see the Commander or your sister suffer needlessly. Four weeks later, Leliana told me that my assistance would be required.

The Commander was indeed very attached to your sister. Were it not for his own self-doubt, I do not know if I would have been successful in persuading him to end things. As it was, his relative low opinion of himself and high opinion of the Herald made my task simple. I will also say that I do not mean this to be a criticism of your sister. She is a compassionate woman with a tolerant mind and open heart. That she is fond of her family despite their flaws is not a trait I can disparage. I have been consistently caught off guard by her grace and wisdom, and I am not surprised that the people have accepted her as the Herald of Andraste with such fervor.

If you have further questions on this subject, speak with Leliana or Cassandra. I can add little else. I will say, I later discovered that Leliana had monitored the correspondence between your sister and the Commander and withheld some of Jane’s letters. That, perhaps, was a step too far, as well as a waste of resources.

As an aside, this was not the first time I have questioned Leliana’s actions as spymaster. She certainly has connections , and her handling of assassinations and blackmailing has been proficient, but running a network of assassins and blackmailers is not the same as running a network of spies. Her reputation precedes her in most of Thedas; a true spymaster should have no reputation at all. She has a tendency to kill rather than question. I suspect her ruthless handling of several situations has already lost the Inquisition valuable intelligence, and I do not think it is a coincidence that our knowledge regarding the Venatori came from Dorian, that our knowledge regarding the Red Templars came from you, or that we still do not have much information on the missing Grey Wardens.

Which brings me to Warden Blackwall. The facts I will share with you here will no doubt surprise you greatly, and you will wonder why I did not bring them to you or your sister’s attention earlier. I had my reasons at the time, which I will detail further down.

The man you met at Longbourn is not Warden Blackwall. Upon seeing him, I knew instantly he was not the Blackwall I saw in the Fade, but I restrained myself from commenting further. The Fade can be deceptive at times, and I have been misled before. At dinner, he mentioned he’d been in Ferelden during the Blight, which seemed unlikely, as Leliana had previously mentioned to me that she spent the Blight travelling with the only two known Grey Wardens in the kingdom, and she had not mentioned meeting Blackwall. With this detail in mind, I confronted him after our dinner, and his reaction told me enough that I was certain my initial conclusion was correct. In fact, I suspect he is not even a true Grey Warden, which would explain why he did not disappear with the others.

Still, on the off-chance that I was incorrect, I reached out to an archivist who’d worked with the Grey Wardens in the past. I heard back just last week. They were able to provide me with a log that had a very interesting notation - Warden Blackwall was listed as “Missing, Presumed Dead” as recently as 9:37 Dragon, but then re-appeared in Ferelden a year later. He wrote to the Wardens, alerting them that he would be sending new recruits their way, but he never returned to any official Grey Warden fortress, even when his presence was requested a year ago. No other Grey Warden had seen him in four years at the time of their disappearance.

My reasons for not mentioning this at the time were twofold. First, I was not confident that my information would be trusted or taken seriously. Recall for a moment that I had just been asked to wait downstairs when you met the man earlier that day. Even without voicing my suspicions, it was assumed that I held bias against him based on my disagreements with the Grey Wardens. Despite your own generosity, the rest of your family--in particular, your mother--made it clear that my invitation to stay at Longbourn was tenuous at best, and I felt it prudent not to further offend your younger sister. Secondly, I thought it likely that either the man would take my warning and leave, or that I could approach the council upon his arrival. I thought there was even a chance that Leliana would gather further information on Blackwall and discover the inconsistencies in his background--though this did not happen. As it was, the man we met did not appear. That alone should verify most of the above, but if you need further assurance, I am leaving the note I received from the archivist in my desk and encourage you to read it once I am gone.

Then there is the mark. In this matter, I have no defense. I can only provide you with the logic behind my actions, poor as it may be to your eye. It is true that I withheld information from the Inquisition regarding the mark the Herald carries. As you inferred from your observations, I knew that the magic behind the explosion and the mark was Elvhen the moment I saw it. I also knew that my experience and expertise would be vital in fixing what was done. It was with this knowledge that I approached Haven and volunteered my services to the Inquisition, as apprehensive as the idea made me. Bear in mind that I am an apostate, that mages were still under suspicion, and that I am an elf myself. I have been through no Harrowing, and Haven contained many templars. If they knew that the magic involved in the explosion was of my people, they would undoubtedly view me with greater suspicion than they already did. Even without providing this information, Cassandra threatened to have me executed if your sister did not wake. Perhaps once the Herald had recovered and I felt more secure in my position, I should have shared more information with her.

I considered explaining some or all of the above last night, but the anger that was affecting both of us would not have constructed a suitable atmosphere. I hope you understand. While I trust your judgment in sharing the last two subjects as you see fit, I urge you to remember that the information regarding Cullen is confidential. Few people know about his difficulties, and he is concerned that if the Inquisition at large knew, they would question his position. Whether this means informing the Herald or not, I leave to you.

I wish you the best for the future, and hope that the Inquisition continues to provide a place for you and your sister.

Good luck.

 

SOLAS

 

Chapter Text

Despite the fact that Elizabeth had no expectations when opening the letter, it still managed to leave her surprised. At first, she read quickly, outraged at Solas’s gall. Somehow he seemed to believe that his behavior could be explained, or that his actions could be justified. She did feel shock and sympathy at learning that Cullen was going through lyrium withdrawal, but had Cassandra and Solas not met Jane? Her sister was one of the kindest, gentlest people she knew. Not only would she have been an excellent source of support, but she would also never knowingly hurt someone. It was simply not in her nature. Elizabeth could only assume that Cassandra was being oversensitive, protective of her growing Inquisition, and that Solas, despite his protest against “things of this nature”, was far too pleased at being asked for help. She scoffed at his supposed praise of Jane and how closely it followed his confession of what he’d done. Were she not so angry, she would have laughed out loud at his aside regarding Leliana--of course, she thought wryly, even now Solas could not help but share his unsolicited opinion about something entirely unrelated to the subject at hand.

But when she got to the topic of Blackwall, she had to pause. Solas was correct about Blackwall’s claim that he’d been in Ferelden during the Blight; Mary had mentioned the same thing several times, and surely her sister had gotten the information from the man himself. Unlike Solas, Elizabeth realized suddenly that she did not need to speak with Leliana to know how implausible this was. She had been eighteen when the Blight ended, and books about the Hero of Ferelden were very popular at Ostwick Circle for the next few years.

As far as Elizabeth could recall, all of them were clear on one thing: The Hero and the Warden Alistair had been the only two Grey Wardens in Ferelden after the others died at Ostagar. 

She put down the letter for a moment, staring into space. Ferelden was large, to be sure, but the Hero and Alistair’s journey covered much of it, and for someone as well-known as Blackwall to have avoided them for such a long period of time seemed unlikely. That she’d never picked up on this discrepancy before--that Mary had not picked up on it, nor Jane, nor her father-- amazed her. It made her start the section over, this time reading more slowly and stopping entirely at points to recall specific moments and conversations to the best of her ability.

She tried desperately to think of another situation that would explain Blackwall’s absence from Haven, but the more she considered it, the less sense it made that a decorated hero would be scared away by one conversation with an apostate. In fact, it had been a ridiculous assumption for her to make, one she now had to acknowledge was brought on by her established dislike of Solas.

Dislike based on his callous treatment of others, she tried to remind herself, but the thought made her pause. True, he was opinionated and vocal, often to the point of rudeness, but as far as she could tell, he had at no point let his opinions interfere with the Inquisition or their goals. He did not bully those who disagreed with him, or stop them from questioning his beliefs. If anything, he seemed to enjoy the debate. The people she’d heard him argue with did not walk away annoyed--Varric even seemed to appreciate the back-and-forth as much as he did. Blackwall had been her only example of him harassing someone maliciously, and she no longer trusted her own interpretation of those circumstances.

While his manner certainly left something to be desired, in actions Solas had so far been more than cooperative. He'd been the first to help the refugees when they’d arrived in the Hinterlands, and he continued to volunteer his services to the Inquisition, despite clearly disagreeing with much of the Chantry. She herself had been the benefactor of his healing skills multiple times, and despite her resistance, he still offered to train her. He’d even been tactful about her ability with the Veil.

Dislike based on a comment about you, she told herself honestly. She’d been in this very room when she’d heard him casually belittle her magic, and it had colored her every interaction with him since. Had that one moment hurt her pride so badly?

By the time Elizabeth had moved on to the next part of the letter, she was feeling less cynical, despite her sister’s mark being the one point that Solas more or less conceded. She had not been at Haven during those first few days after the explosion, but she had heard about the chaos. There was no doubt that his reception would have been less than welcoming. Months after her arrival, she still met awkward stares around the village, particularly when she happened to be speaking with another mage. Even Harritt--a man who prized her as an apprentice and knew she was Jane’s sister--had to go to great lengths to hide his discomfort whenever she used or discussed magic. If she, a human Circle mage raised in the shadow of the Chantry, faced such suspicion and prejudice, then of course Solas would have felt it wise to use discretion.

Elizabeth returned to the beginning of the letter with a more open mind, and read the first page slowly, taking into account the idea that Solas might be telling the truth. Was it possible that Jane had given off the impression that she would marry Gaspard? She thought back to their visit, to Jane’s actions during it. Mostly, her sister had been upstairs. Where your mother wanted her, she reminded herself uneasily. Where your mother got her. And Jane barely said a word about being poisoned. Had she really been the only one to confront her mother about that? She tried to remember Mary or her father saying something, but she couldn’t.

Was the truth even worse than she thought? Did her family surrender to Lady Trevelyan’s wishes by rule?

It occurred to Elizabeth for the first time that Jane might be more firmly under her mother's thumb than she'd believed.

“Maker’s breath,” she whispered. “No. I know Jane better than that.”

Did she? It was an easy thing to say, but for most of her life, Jane had been a beloved but distant figure, a visitor and a correspondent. They told each other everything, but chiefly through weekly letters, and that meant events at home were portrayed through Jane’s rose-colored glasses. Elizabeth had been shocked when she moved home to discover how ridiculous her mother had gotten, at how wild Kitty and Lydia could be at times, and how often all three of them went completely unchecked by her father or other sisters. Jane’s letters had not properly prepared her.

And it was strange that her sister was unmarried at twenty-nine. Jane would mention wanting a family from time to time, and she was their father’s heir, so she had the assurance of a home and a living. Elizabeth had assumed it was Jane’s choice not to marry young, but now she wondered. She thought about Jane’s two past lovers, men only known to Elizabeth by their first names and a few scant details. There was Adam, the farmer, and then a traveling merchant from Starkhaven named Finlay. Two lowborn men that Jane described as humble and kind. What had happened to them? She’d assumed they’d simply gone their separate ways naturally, as couples sometimes do. Was it possible that Lady Trevelyan had had a hand in the fact that Jane did not marry them? The Trevelyans’ status as the family of a Bann’s second son had not previously gained the attention of any prominent nobles--particularly after Lady Trevelyan fumbled their most prominent highborn connection in Val Royeaux--but that never stopped her mother from scheming. Had she gone out of her way to sabotage any match she found unsuitable?

As she was reading the letter a second time, she heard a crack in the distance, like lightning striking. She snapped her head up to the window just in time to see the Breach grow blindingly bright. It expanded for a moment, then collapsed into itself, disappearing entirely. Elizabeth stared in disbelief at the clouds that swirled in its absence.

Jane had done it.

Outside the window, she could hear people cheering and whooping. She sucked in a breath. Elizabeth knew she would not feel relieved until she saw Jane for herself, alive and well. Stabilizing the Breach had knocked her sister out cold for three days-- who knew what closing it might do?

Still, this was one triumph. She couldn’t deny that.

Elizabeth put the letter aside and exhaled in a sigh. She’d need to talk to Jane about it eventually, but not today. Tomorrow, she thought to herself. She wondered if it was possible to salvage whatever relationship still existed between her sister and the Commander, but she would not risk interfering before she spoke to Jane.

A few minutes later, Adan entered, carrying a bundle of items under his arm and gripping a bucket of water in his other hand. Elizabeth sat up, composing herself.

“Aha,” Adan said with a grin. “I see her majesty is gone.” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “Oh, don’t give me grief. I’ve saved your life too many times for that now. Besides, did you see? Your sister did it!" He waved at the window with his bucket. "The Breach is closed!"

“I saw,” Elizabeth said, amused by his sudden cheerfulness.

“And,” he continued, approaching the cot, “I come bearing gifts!” He placed the bucket by her bed and pulled a cloth down from his shoulder. “A bath.” With his now free hand, he took one piece of the bundle and put it at her feet. She saw it was a grey tunic, brown leggings, and a brown belt. “Fresh clothes. And a special present.” He held out the last item--some sort of small staff.

Elizabeth took it from him, noticing it curved at the top, and smiled. “A cane?” she asked, surprised.

“A cane!” Adan confirmed. “Harritt made it for you. He apologizes that it’s not more decorative. Oh, and he says you’re not to shoot fire out of it under any circumstances.” He went to the cabinet as she examined the wood, running a hand over the smooth handle. “I figure you can take half a sleeping potion and if you’re feeling up to it after a nap, you can go down the village this evening. The ambassador has a whole celebration planned.”

“Of course she does,” Elizabeth said, laughing weakly. She put the cane down. “Thank you, Adan. This is really sweet.”

“Don’t forget to thank Harritt, too,” he replied as he brought the potion. He pointed at her. “Only half of that, now, you understand? I don’t want you sleeping through the party.”

“Apothecary's orders,” she said before uncorking the potion.

 

~~~

The sun had set by the time they joined the celebration. Elizabeth--refreshed from a nap and wrapped in a thick blanket--was given a seat by the fire and a mug of warm mulled wine. Elizabeth savored the smell of the spices as she looked around, searching for a face she knew besides Adan. A passing servant had mentioned that Jane and the rest of the Inner Circle were in the war room, debriefing. The woman had added that the Herald looked well, much to Elizabeth’s relief.

“You can have two,” Adan said, nodding at the mug.

“You don’t need to babysit me all night, you know,” Elizabeth replied.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Adan said. He hesitated. “Actually, uh.” He rubbed the back of his head. “I might head back to the hut for a bit, if you’re all set here?” Elizabeth looked at him, confused, and then started to laugh. He looked offended. “What?”

“Is a certain admirer returning your home visit from last night?” Elizabeth said, teasingly.

“Maker,” Adan muttered, dropping his hand. “This is what I get for helping people.”

“You know, in the Circle, we’d hang a red scarf on the door to warn the others away when we had company,” she said.

Adan looked away. “Hmph. So I’ve heard.”

“It’s fine,” she told him. “Go on. In fact, if Jane’s alright with it, I might sleep in her hut tonight. As long as you give me potions, I should be fine.” That would make it easier to discuss the contents of Solas’s letter in the morning. She patted her side. “I can rewrap my own bandages at this point.”

Adan nodded slowly. “That’s not a bad idea,” he said. “Alright. I’ll go grab your potions. Don’t move.”

Elizabeth waved a hand at her cane with a laugh. “Where am I going to go?”

He left her staring at the fire and returned a minute or two later, handing her three vials. “Here you go. One sleeping, two healing.” He gave her a pointed look. “ No lyrium.”

Elizabeth knew he was joking, but she felt her smile slip slightly as she realized that the templar grade lyrium she’d found must be Cullen’s. Of course. He wouldn’t want to throw it away, but it was safer with the apothecary. That would explain why Adan was so worried when he saw a bottle missing.

Adan was still speaking. “Take one of each tonight, and another healing in the morning. I’ll bring you more around lunch. And here, I grabbed your papers, too.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said sincerely, pocketing the vials and letters. She gave him a grin. “You should get back, or your friend will get jealous.” She tilted her head. “Or are they not the jealous type?”

Adan narrowed his eyes. “None of your business, is the type she is.”

“She?” Elizabeth exclaimed, cheerfully. “Oh, now we're getting somewhere.”

Goodnight, Elizabeth,” Adan said, turning to walk back to his hut.

“I’ll figure out who it is sooner or later!” Elizabeth promised loudly, but he ignored her. She chuckled to herself as she leaned against the stone wall.

For a while, she watched the other villagers dance and drink, nursing her mulled wine. Eventually, familiar figures trickled out of the chantry. Elizabeth saw Jane speaking with Dorian in the flickering light and broke into a smile. Her sister was healthy and standing, looking for all the world like she’d just returned from training rather than from closing a hole in the sky.

Dozens of people swarmed around Jane at once, stealing her from Elizabeth's view, but she didn’t mind. Now that she’d seen her sister, she could relax. She glanced up as Cullen sat down beside her.

“Commander,” she greeted. “Congratulations.”

Cullen gave a short laugh. “For what? That was all the Herald’s doing.”

“Still, it’s a victory for your Inquisition, at least,” Elizabeth said.

“I suppose,” he said. He leaned back against the wall, and she let her eyes wander over the lines of his face. She hadn’t known him long enough to say whether he looked tired or not. He looked back, furrowing his brow. “What?”

“Nothing,” Elizabeth said. She took a sip of her wine as she relaxed beside him. “Have you seen any of the new templars yet? They arrived this morning.”

“Yes,” Cullen said. “I spoke with Barris before heading up. It sounds like they’re adjusting.” He gave her a wry smile. “Now if I could only get them to stop calling me Knight-Commander.”

She smiled back. “Well, old habits are hard to break,” she said, without thinking. Then she winced, mentally slapping herself. Cullen didn’t seem to pick up on the double meaning, and she tried to move on before he could. “I believe I was at home a whole month before I realized I could just walk downstairs to the library to read at night. I’d been using a candle and reading under my covers like I still lived in a dormitory.” Cullen chuckled and she looked at him, curiously. “Do you miss it?”

Cullen blinked. “The Order?” She nodded, and he paused. “Ah, no. That’s not to say…well.” He trailed off, thinking. “There is a part of the Order I miss, but not the way you mean." He looked away. "Perhaps I miss what I thought it was going to be. When I was young.”

“And what was that?”

He gazed out beyond the villagers. “A calling.” Elizabeth watched him silently. After a moment, he continued. “A Knight-Captain I knew--my mentor, really--once told me that a true templar is fearless, because his soul is armored by his faith, just as his body is protected by his steel. There was a time I believed that. There was a time I believed I could be that. Before--well, before the Blight, certainly. Those are the days I miss.” He glanced back at her. “And you? Do you miss the Circle?”

“No,” Elizabeth said sharply. “Especially not toward the end.” She looked down at her mug, the dark wine reflecting bits of firelight, wondering how to phrase her feelings. “Ostwick wasn’t--" Kirkwall, she thought, but she wouldn't dare say that. "It wasn't always bad. I worked in the garden some days. And I taught the younger apprentices. My magic wasn’t advanced enough to teach the older ones.” She sighed. “But even then, with apprentices, I’d try not to get attached….” She trailed off.

“Because they hadn’t passed their Harrowing,” Cullen finished for her, nodding.

“Exactly,” she said. “I remember the first time they made one of my old students Tranquil. Alyssa. She was a timid thing, and she requested it. I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d done something wrong.” Elizabeth offered Cullen a half-smile. “Depressing subject. Sorry. I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens next.” She shrugged. “Maybe the new Divine will change things, and the Circle will be better this time around.”

“Maybe,” Cullen said. “You’re going back then?”

“You know as well as I do that I don’t exactly have a choice.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” he replied. “I imagine there are benefits to being the Herald’s sister, you know. You could sign on with the Inquisition permanently.”

Elizabeth studied him. “You think so?”

He nodded. “They let Grey Wardens leave the Circle. Why not the Inquisition? It will depend on the next Divine, of course.” He gave her a small smile. “Now that the Herald has sealed the Breach, I doubt we’ll be quite as unpopular in Val Royeaux.” Elizabeth hummed and leaned back. “Something to think about anyway.” He stood, looking somewhere past her head. “Ah. Please excuse me. I promised Josephine I’d try the cakes she ordered from Orlais, and apparently she’s coming to collect me.”

Elizabeth watched him head toward the ambassador as she finished the last of her wine, her mind on the possibility that Cullen had mentioned. She wasn’t sure if Jane was planning on staying now that the Breach was closed. She’d assumed they would leave, but perhaps the council knew something she did not. Normally, thinking of the future so directly made her panic, but the flicker of the fire and the warm wine in her stomach lulled her, and she closed her eyes, thinking comfortably about being able to stay by Jane’s side a little longer.

A loud clanging broke her reverie. Elizabeth’s eyes shot open. The chantry bells were ringing.

She turned her head toward the chantry. Her sister and Cassandra were already running down toward the gate together, and Cullen was shouting something at a group of soldiers.

Elizabeth realized he was calling his men to arms, and her heart began racing. She grabbed her cane and struggled to her feet. Villagers around her began to move, some dazed and others hurried, panicking. She tried to limp forward and find Jane, but was nearly knocked over by a man and his wife as they ran in the opposite direction. She took two uneasy steps back and froze, watching the hysteria unfold around her.

A firm hand grasped her arm, and she spun to see Denny.

“Come on,” he said, flinging her arm around his neck and scooping her up. “Let’s get you out of here.”

“What...?” she asked as she grasped his neck dizzily.

“I’m returning a favor,” he replied. He moved quickly for a man carrying so much weight, jogging toward the chantry as if he were only in his armor. She heard metal clashing toward the gate.

“What’s happening?” she managed to ask over the noise, twisting her neck to look at the mountains. At first, she thought that the trees were swaying oddly. Then she felt a surge of alarm as she realized each of the hundreds of trees was a soldier, marching.

“We’re under attack,” Denny replied. “I don’t know the details.” He looked grim. “Someone said something about red templars, though. Once I get you indoors, I’ll go find out more.”

Denny was not the only one who had decided the chantry would be the best place to seek refuge, and he shifted through the myriads of people inside until he could place Elizabeth with her back against the wall.

“Stay here,” Denny said.

After he left, she heard garbled bits of conversation from other villagers and some of the Inquisition members. According to a conversation she heard between Josephine and a woman she did not recognize, the attackers were the remaining soldiers in the Order--those who had been taking the red lyrium. With so much focus on the Breach, the Elder One--the would-be god from Jane’s bleak future--had managed to hide a massive army in the mountains, and now had caught the people of Haven unaware. It was difficult for anyone to say who was winning. She watched the chaos, helpless with her injury, thinking of when Ostwick Circle fell.

Suddenly, the shouts and clangs outside were accompanied by a deep roar above and a shudder of wood from the ceiling. Instantly, the room fell silent. Everyone looked up and stared. Something was on the roof.

Elizabeth felt a shiver run up her back as the terrible roar sounded again. The ceiling shook and then shuddered again as whatever it was let go. The door flew open a moment later, and Chancellor Roderick was helped into the chantry by a familiar looking boy in a large hat. Elizabeth peered past them at the glimpse of Haven that appeared.

The village was burning. It lit up the night sky in brilliant orange, and she could dimly make out the silhouette of--

No , she thought, horrified.

Jane was still out there. She gripped her cane tightly as the dragon disappeared from view.

Cullen stormed in next, still shouting orders, and crowds trickled in from the village. The chantry had turned into their official refuge, the only thing that wouldn’t burn to the ground in seconds. Between the time Elizabeth first saw the dragon and the moment Jane appeared a few minutes later, Elizabeth could scarcely be sure she breathed at all. But then her sister came through in the entryway, tugging in Threnn by the crook of her arm, followed by Cassandra, Solas, and Varric.

Jane rushed over to Cullen and Roderick, appearing to argue with them in low tones. Varric spotted Elizabeth and made his way through the crowds to check on her.

“Blaze,” he said, relief in his eyes. “You’re okay. We didn’t see you out there and I assumed the worst.”

“How bad is it?” she asked.

“Bad,” he said, gravely. He shook his head. “People are dropping like flies.” Elizabeth was afraid to ask the next question, but Varric read it in her eyes anyway. He paused, hesitating. “That we know? They locked Segritt in your sister's hut, and burned the whole thing down. Adan, and Minaeve. They were... it looks like they were caught off guard. We… couldn’t get to them in time.”

Adan was dead then. Elizabeth’s throat tightened and she clutched the blanket he'd given her less than two hours ago tighter around her shoulders. With one hand she touched the vials in her pocket, as if doubting they were there. Minaeve. Elizabeth’s own words echoed in her head. I’ll figure out who it is sooner or later. She stared at the ground with unseeing eyes as Varric stroked her back.

“We’re overrun, aren’t we?” she asked when she found her voice.

Varric sighed. “Yeah.”

She looked up as Jane and Cullen moved apart, the Commander hurrying to the back of the chantry. Her sister touched her forehead for a moment, then said something to Cassandra. As the Seeker nodded, Jane turned and jogged over to where Elizabeth and Varric were.

“Go get Bull,” Jane said to Varric. He stood without complaint and left. Jane knelt next to her sister, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Lizzie.”

Elizabeth reached up and stroked her sister’s cheek. “I know,” she said sadly. “It’s over.” She tried to smile. “At least we put up a fight, right?”

Jane dropped her gaze. “There’s… a path,” she said in a thick voice. “Behind the chantry. Roderick knew about it. It leads up to the mountains.” She met Elizabeth’s gaze again, her head still dipped forward. “I’m going to try to give the rest of you time. To get away.”

Elizabeth’s hand froze. “What?”

“I might survive,” Jane said, but there was no hope in her tone and they both knew it. She sighed. “It’s the Elder One. That monster that Dorian and I saw in the future. We’re going to try and bury him. One of the trebuchets is still working, and--”

Jane ,” Elizabeth said.

“He wants me,” Jane insisted. “Which is why I have to be the one who stays.”

Elizabeth shook her head as the delicate lines of her sister’s face began to blur together. “No .

“If I go with the rest of you, we’d all be targets. At least this way, some of us live. The Inquisition lives.”

“You can’t--”

“Lizzie, please ,” Jane said.

Elizabeth stared. She heard herself make a high noise, her hand dropping from Jane’s face to cover her mouth. She tried to gasp in air, but her lungs would not cooperate. “But you--” she tried to say. “You can’t .” Then she curled into her sister with a sob.

“I know.” Jane caught her, wrapping her arms around her frame, squeezing. Her voice became a murmur in Elizabeth’s ear. “I know, and I am so, so sorry. I already lived through a future where you were dead, and I know. But Redcliffe was wrong in so many ways. That’s why I have to do this.” She pulled back again, ducking her head to meet Elizabeth’s eyes. “Listen to me. Listen to me . Without the Inquisition, that future might become a reality. Alright? And that cannot happen . Do you understand?”

“But you can’t,” Elizabeth repeated in a broken voice. “You can’t. They need you. You’re the Herald . They need you.” That was the one thing that had kept Elizabeth sane when Jane was away, that the Inquisition would save her sister no matter what, because of who she was.

“They needed me,” Jane replied softly. “But now the Breach is closed.” Elizabeth let out another sob, her head falling almost into her lap. “Please, Lizzie. We don’t have much time.” Jane stroked Elizabeth’s hair with her marked hand as Elizabeth wept. “I need to know you’ll be okay. Please, tell me you understand.”

Elizabeth found she could not get enough air to speak. She forced herself to nod. Her sister was going to die, and she would never be able to forgive herself if she could not give Jane this one final peace. Jane leaned forward and embraced her again.

“I love you,” Elizabeth whispered in a cracked voice, her face against Jane’s shoulder.

Jane’s grip tightened. “I love you, too.”

For the smallest moment, Elizabeth could almost breathe and her shaking stopped. She closed her eyes and wished she could stop time from moving forward.

“Boss?” a rough voice said, and the cold air rushed around Elizabeth as Jane let go.

“Bull. Can you carry her uphill?”

“Sure thing, boss,” Bull replied without hesitating. Elizabeth felt strong, bare arms scoop her up, and she rolled against a large chest. “Hey. Good luck out there.”

“Come on, Herald, ” Varric’s tired voice said from somewhere behind him. “Let’s go.”

Elizabeth opened her eyes. So Jane’s companions would at least be by her side. She watched her sister and Varric approach the chantry door, joining Solas and Cassandra. Bull turned to follow Cullen through the back too quickly for Elizabeth to see them leave, but as she stared at the beams of the ceiling, she heard the chantry door open. The roars and cries outside became twice as loud for three heartbeats, and then the door slammed shut again, this time with Jane on the other side.

Elizabeth curled against Bull’s chest and choked, her tears beginning again.

“Hey,” he said softly. “I got you, kid. I got you.”

 

Chapter Text

Jane had succeeded in burying Haven, and the Elder One had fled. Elizabeth knew that much. She was silent during their escape through the mountains, her eyes closed and her head leaning against Bull’s chest, but that did not mean she was deaf. She could hear the murmurs around her as information made its way through the crowd, and she listened.

Bull was aware of it, she noticed. Whenever someone started talking about Jane’s death too much, he’d shift their position, bringing them forward or slowing down to let the offenders pass. She wanted to tell him not to bother, but she was too tired. It was all speculation anyway--rumors and tall tales meant to raise her sister’s sacrifice into martyrdom. At least the villagers’ stories made Jane sound strong and brave to the last, like Andraste on the pyre. Anything Elizabeth’s mind could conjure was far worse.

Villagers . Were they villagers without a village? No, Elizabeth thought, probably not. They were refugees and pilgrims, and nobles, and even high ranking members of the Inquisition, drawn to Haven by word of Jane’s heroism. They were people--people that Jane had given her life to save. A selfish part of her would give every last one of them to have her sister back, but that was unkind. It was a thought not worthy of the sister to Andraste’s Herald. These people were all she had left of her sister. They were Jane’s legacy.

Her Inquisition.

 

~~~

 

They did not set up tents that night, though they did stop to rest. Their enemies were still out there; everyone knew there was a chance they’d have to run again. Elizabeth was surprised to learn that they even had tents, but apparently Jane had cleared Haven long enough for Threnn to access their emergency supplies and pack several brontos. Another debt that the Inquisition could never repay.

Bull laid out two bedrolls and they sat on those. He offered her dried meat and berries, but she refused, feeling ill. Elizabeth saw Dorian approaching as he ate and her shoulders tensed.

“What’s wrong?” Bull asked. Then he saw the other mage. “Not in the mood for company?”

“No,” she replied. “Not right now.”

“Okay,” Bull said. He put down his food and wiped his hands on his pants. “I’ll handle it. Any exceptions?”

Elizabeth thought for a moment. “Just you.”

Bull’s one eye became soft with surprise. Elizabeth was surprised herself, but it was true. She hadn’t spent a lot of time around him at Haven, but she appreciated that he was quiet and did not try to comfort her. He stood to walk over to Dorian, holding up his palms as he did.

“Flowers,” a voice said next to Elizabeth, and she jumped, startled. She turned to see the boy that she’d seen in the chantry, his face half-hidden by the brim of his hat. “Fake, cut from fabric, petals formed from felt. Colors fading. You find them in a book in her room. Fingers trace the edges, touching the memory of making them, of giving them to her. Because you bring me real ones, you told her once. She kept them. She kept them all.” He looked at her with pale eyes. “It… helped before. Why does it hurt now?”

“What?” Elizabeth said, dizzy. That was impossible. “How did you--?” She paused. “You. You’re the one who saved me at Therinfal.”

“You don’t have to miss her. She’s not afraid now. But it’s dark.” He looked thoughtful. “She’s…very cold.” Elizabeth was speechless, and he frowned. “Oh. I’m sorry.” He tilted his head down again. “This isn’t helping.” To her shock, he vanished into the air.

Bull returned as she stared at the place the boy had been. He picked up his food as he sat and then glanced at her.

“Don't worry,” he said. “Dorian understands.” Elizabeth blinked and then murmured her thanks. She wondered briefly if she was losing her mind.

After she recovered, Elizabeth lay down on her bedroll, wrapping Adan’s blanket around her. She touched the vials still in her pocket, but taking them would make everything real, so she didn’t. It would make her side worse in the morning, but she could not bring herself to care.

The weight of the day sank into her bones. She rolled her face into her pillow and wept, her shoulders shaking from the effort of staying silent. Eventually, her exhaustion took over and she drifted into the Fade.

 

~~~

 

She’d been worried she would dream about Haven--or even the Circle falling--but she didn’t. Instead she dreamed that she was in a marble pavilion on a green hill, staring out at the sunset. Jane was seated behind her in a chair of stone, and she was cross-legged at her sister’s feet. The two of them had braids in their hair. For a moment, they sat together in comfortable silence, basking in the warmth of the sun. Elizabeth tilted her head, stretching to see her sister’s face.

“Jane,” she said, and her sister bowed her head to look at her. “I’m sorry.”

Jane let out a laugh, low and musical, her face illuminated by the light. “For what?”

Elizabeth paused. “I don’t know,” she replied honestly.

 

~~~

 

It was still dark when Bull shook her awake. She squinted at him, her eyes swollen from her tears. The camp around her was quiet, and she sat up, confused.

“Are we leaving?” she asked. Her voice was hoarse. Bull offered her a water skin. She took it and drank gratefully.

“No,” he said. He seemed to consider his next words carefully. “Varric, Solas, and Cassandra showed up about an hour ago.”

“They did?” she said. As she handed him back the skin, she realized what he wasn’t saying. “Ah. No sign of Jane, though.” He shook his head and she sighed. “Are they okay?”

“Yeah. Couple of cuts and bruises. Nothing we can’t handle.”

“That’s good,” she replied flatly, wincing at her own tone. She was relieved to hear they survived, but her heart was still too heavy to feel much other than grief. She laid back down and adjusted her blanket. “Thanks, Bull.”

“I’ll be here if you need me,” he said as he laid down next to her.

 

~~~

 

They stopped a second time the following day, when the sun was high in the sky. The Council said they wouldn’t be staying long, just two hours or so. It was an opportunity for them to plan their next steps and for everyone else to take stock. Now that they were certain they’d not been followed, their plans for immediate survival were evolving into something more long-term. This time, the Council and the healers erected two makeshift tents for privacy--cloth hung taut over a few poles--while the others took an account of their supplies.

Elizabeth drank one of the healing potions. She wasn’t typically religious, but she still said a quick prayer for Adan before she took it. Bull stayed quiet as he helped her sit on a log by one of fires, only asking if she wanted food and offering her more water before walking away to check in with the Chargers. Elizabeth thanked him, and wished she could express more of her gratitude. None of the others had approached her all day, not even the Council members, and she had a sneaking suspicion that somehow he’d discouraged them from trying. She would have to talk to them eventually, but she wasn’t ready yet.

Elizabeth stared at the fire for a few minutes. Her fingers brushed against the two remaining vials in her pocket and the letters beside them. She was dimly aware of the other people moving around her, helping the wounded or organizing their resources. Some of them had lost loved ones, too, she realized, but there was work to be done. An Inquisition to rebuild.

Jane’s Inquisition.

She closed her eyes. Enough, she told herself, using her cane to stand.

She made her way to the healing tent, her progress hindered by the snow and her cane, and made a mental note to practice walking with it more. As long as they were wandering the mountains, she’d have to rely on it until she recovered.

Several of the healers looked up as she lifted the tent’s flap. She was surprised to see Solas among them already, given how early he’d arrived that morning. Varric was also there, having some sort of salve applied to a cut on his chin. Elizabeth didn’t meet their eyes, instead making her way to the head surgeon, who was cleaning her hands with a cloth in the back.

“What do you need?” she asked in a curt tone as Elizabeth approached. Then her eyes widened. “Oh! You’re… you’re the Herald’s sister.” The surgeon gave Elizabeth a sympathetic look that curdled her stomach. “I’m so sorry. Can I help you? How’s the injury?”

“I was hoping I could help you, actually,” Elizabeth replied, recovering. “I’m a mage, and I have some experience with healing spells. It’s not much, just what I picked up in the Circle, but I thought it might be useful.”

Before the surgeon could respond, Elizabeth heard a voice behind her.

“What are you doing here?” She turned to see that Solas had approached, and that Varric was watching them curiously from across the tent. The letter suddenly felt warm in her pocket, but she pushed it out of her mind. That involved a clump of emotions that she currently lacked the fortitude to handle.

“I’m offering my assistance,” she explained.

“No,” Solas said firmly. The surgeon apparently decided she didn’t want to get involved in whatever mage dramatics were about to occur and squeezed past them with an apologetic look. Solas continued in a softer voice. “That is not necessary, Elizabeth. No one here would ask that of you.”

“No one has,” she replied. “That’s why it’s an offer.”

Solas paused. “I believe it would be unwise for you to help right now.”

“Unwise?” she asked. “Why?”

“Because you have a tendency to overextend yourself. One I assume is compounded by the fact that you are grieving.” She gaped at him, and he exhaled, glancing away. “Besides, there is your injury. Your mana is--”

“It’s fully recovered, actually,” she interrupted. He looked confused, and she realized he didn’t even know how she’d entered the Fade. “I took a lyrium potion two nights ago. A strong one.”

If he made the connection, it did not show on his face. “Then focus on healing yourself,” he suggested as Varric joined them, crossing his arms. “Or reserve your energy.”

“I’m with Chuckles,” Varric said. “Let’s leave the healing to people who are already healed, okay?” He waved his hand back at the group of surgeons and mages behind him. “It’s not like they’re understaffed.”

Elizabeth chewed her lip for a moment. “Fine. Where’s Elan?”

“Who?” Varric asked.

“Elan,” she repeated. “The herbalist. Adan’s assistant. If I can’t use my magic, at least I can help her organize whatever herbs and potions we have left. And I know for a fact she is understaffed.” Varric and Solas exchanged a concerned glance. That morning, she’d thought herself entirely out of tears, but a new well sprung up inside her in sudden frustration at the two of them. “I need,” she began in a high, broken voice. She shut her eyes and swallowed, willing the bubble in her chest down. “I need,” she said more calmly as she opened her eyes, “to do something. Please.”

Varric shrugged his shoulders at Solas, whose lips remained thin. "Okay, Blaze," he sighed in defeat. “I think she’s by the other tent. Near Threnn.”

“Thank you,” she said, and turned to walk away as evenly as the cane would allow.

~~~

 

They stopped a third time in a valley when night fell. This time, the Council officially made camp. By the time Bull and the Chargers had finished setting up a handful of tents, Elizabeth had settled near the supply carts with the herbs Elan had given her and was stripping vandal aria. The leaves were sharp, and soon her hands were covered in tiny cuts, red lines against her pale skin. She barely noticed.

Bull stopped a few feet away and crossed his arms. She didn’t look up, and for a moment he didn’t speak. She found herself once again thankful for his stoicism. The looks of pity and sympathy she kept receiving were infuriating.

She ripped another leaf from the stalk violently at the thought.

“Tent’s ready,” he said finally. “You coming?” She didn’t reply or pause, her fingers working over the plant. He shifted his weight. “It’s getting pretty late.”

She stopped then, taking in a deep breath. “Sorry,” she said, putting the plant back in one of the sacks. “Yes. Let's go.” Bull offered her an arm instead of picking her up, a change that she’d requested when they’d arrived. Her side was feeling better, but she was fairly sure she’d need to take the last two potions tonight, even though she didn’t want to. For some reason, the thought of losing the weight of them in her pocket made her chest ache.

They were halfway to their tents when Bull glanced over the camp at the mountain pass, confusion flickering across his face in the dim light.

Elizabeth followed his gaze up, but she couldn’t see anything. “What?” she asked, but he only held up a finger to silence her, his eye still focused. Then she heard the shouts herself and saw torches coming down the hill.

“The Herald!” someone was calling out. Elizabeth whipped her head to look at Bull with wide eyes. The voice continued. “They’ve got the Herald! She’s alive!”

Elizabeth stiffened before she let out a noise that was part sob, part laugh. She felt herself stumble against Bull in shock. He scooped her up, abandoning her plan on walking, and began making for the entrance to the camp. People poured out of their tents to see what was happening, blocking their way, but Bull maneuvered around them.

Leliana and Josephine were already waiting when they arrived. The ambassador looked as shocked as Elizabeth felt, her mouth curved into a wordless “oh”. Leliana simply watched the torches approach with glittering eyes.

Three guardsmen arrived first. They were followed by Cassandra and Cullen. As Cullen came into the light, Elizabeth could see a bundle folded in his arms, blonde hair escaping near his shoulder. She felt her heart leap and placed a hand over her mouth.

“Is she conscious?” Leliana asked.

“We need to get her to the healer’s tent,” was all Cullen said in response. Leliana stepped aside, and he strode through the camp, Cassandra at his heels. The rest of them followed. As shouts and whispers spread around them, a crowd began to form.

The surgeon had apparently been alerted. She was standing tall outside the healer’s tent, holding the flap open. She let in Cullen and then blocked Cassandra from entering.

“The fewer people, the better, for now,” she explained. Cassandra fell back and did not argue. The surgeon gazed over the crowd, her eyes landing on Leliana. “Go get the apostate,” she demanded. Then she disappeared within.

The crowd milled about, waiting. Eventually, Bull placed Elizabeth on the ground across from the tent before lowering himself beside her. Varric and Sera joined them next, and the four of them held a silent vigil together. Solas arrived and exchanged a few words with Cassandra before entering the tent.

After an hour had passed, Varric looked out over the crowd, some of whom had bowed their heads in prayer. “They’re going to call this a miracle,” he realized suddenly.

Elizabeth did not look away from the tent. “It is one,” she replied.

~~~

 

She slept intermittently that night, leaning against a crate. Bull and Varric took the other sides, and Sera curled up on the ground. Cullen left the tent at one point, and after he and Cassandra spoke, he went back to the Council tent. The next time Elizabeth woke, she noticed the crowd was thinning as the night went on, people leaving as they realized the Herald would not appear again tonight. Dorian, Vivienne, and Ellendra were still awake, standing around a small fire on the other side of the camp. At one point, she saw Cassandra exiting the tent, a grim look on her face. The Seeker approached Leliana, who was standing with her arms crossed a few paces away.

“Any news?” Leliana asked softly.

“She is awake,” Cassandra replied. “They say it was very nearly hypothermia, but that we found her in time.”

“Good,” Leliana said. She slid her gaze back to the tent, her eyes sharp. “The people will worship her after this, you know.”

“Perhaps,” Cassandra said, but her tone remained dark.

“It could be an opportunity,” Leliana said. “For the Inquisition. And for her.” She paused, studying the Seeker. “Is something wrong?”

Cassandra sighed. “Solas. He is still in there, healing. I do not think he has slept since we arrived.” She paused. “Since we closed the Breach, in fact. I told him that he needs rest, but he will not listen.”

Leliana hummed. “Well, he was the same way at Haven after the Conclave. You were just less concerned about whether either of them survived.”

Cassandra thought for a beat. “That is true,” she admitted reluctantly.

They moved away, still talking, and Elizabeth let out a rough breath. She could not help but picture her sister, unconscious on the floor of Haven’s prison, with one rigid figure beside her, struggling to keep her alive. She placed a hand on her throat, as if she could calm the shame that had thickened beneath her skin with a touch.

 

~~~

 

Dawn broke before the surgeon and Solas came out of the tent. Solas looked pale. He immediately headed toward the other tents, and Elizabeth’s eyes followed him as he left. The surgeon walked toward Josephine, who had replaced Leliana a few hours ago. Elizabeth could not help but be impressed at how composed she looked. They were camped in the wild, fleeing a razed village, and still the ambassador would not look out of place at court.

“The Herald is much improved,” the surgeon told Josephine. “Her wounds were untreated for too long, but they were not severe. I was able to bleed out the risk of infection, and the mage eased any symptoms of hypothermia.” She glanced to the side. “She’s asking to see her sister and the Council.”

Elizabeth struggled to her feet as quickly as her wound and cane would let her.

“You head in,” Josephine said with a smile. “I'll go get the others.” The surgeon motioned toward the tent. Elizabeth opened the flap and entered.

Jane was sitting in a chair. Dark circles ringed her eyes, but otherwise, she looked healthy. When she saw Elizabeth enter, her face lit up and she stood, more steadily than Elizabeth expected.

“Lizzie!” she exclaimed. Elizabeth all but threw herself at her sister, and Jane caught her with a laugh. “Oh, Maker, it’s good to see you.” Elizabeth tried to reply, but when she opened her mouth, she was suddenly crying, clutching Jane’s shoulder. “It’s alright,” Jane whispered into her hair. “I’m here.” They held each other for a moment, and then Elizabeth pulled away, sniffling, her free hand still tangled in her sister’s clothes.

She studied Jane’s face for a moment, taking a shaky breath. “What happened?” she asked. “How did you escape?”

Jane shook her head. “I’ll explain later,” she said. “With everyone there. It’s-- I only want to tell the story once. I’m calling the rest of the members to the Council tent for a meeting.”

“Are you well enough?” Elizabeth asked.

Jane smiled sadly. “I think I’m in better shape than you at this point,” she said, nodding at the cane. “I can rest after.”

The flap opened again, and Josephine, Leliana, and Cullen entered. Jane greeted and hugged each of them, hesitating for only a brief second before embracing Cullen last, pressing her cheek against his broad chest. He froze, then shut his eyes as one hand rose to touch her back, a conflicted expression on his face. Elizabeth had to look away until they broke apart. Later , she told herself, the letter once more burning in her pocket.

“Come,” Josephine said with a bright smile. “Cassandra is waiting for us. We have much to discuss.” Jane and Elizabeth went to the flap together, but Leliana stopped them.

“Wait,” she said. “You should head out first, Herald. Alone.”

Jane gave her a curious look. “Why?”

Leliana clasped her hands behind her back. “The people. You saved their lives. They will want to see you.”

“They’ll be able to see me just fine with all of you there, too,” Jane replied, confused.

“It would not be the same,” Leliana said, and Josephine nodded in agreement.

“Just a moment alone,” the ambassador suggested. “Then we’ll join you.” Jane glanced back at her sister.

“It’s fine,” Elizabeth told her. “I’ll be right behind you, I promise.”

Jane shrugged. “Alright,” she said. She lifted the flap and went out. Elizabeth heard the noise around the tent fall silent and waited. The spymaster tilted her head to look at Elizabeth.

“The Herald of Andraste is thrice-blessed now,” she said.

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.

“Andraste saved her from the Fade,” Leliana said, stepping nearer to the tent’s entrance, “then she used her mark to close the Breach, and now-- now she has survived against an Archdemon and impossible odds.” Leliana raised an eyebrow. “I hope your sister is prepared.”

“For?” Elizabeth asked.

Leliana gave her a furtive smile and opened the flap. Elizabeth peered out at the growing crowd, blinded slightly by the rising sun over the mountains. Dozens and dozens of people were kneeling before Jane. Her sister took cautious steps forward, a little stunned, as others appeared from their tents and knelt as well, dipping their heads in reverence. Elizabeth stared.

“For that,” Leliana said simply.

 

Chapter Text

 

Elizabeth trailed behind her sister, slowed by her cane. More and more people joined those kneeling as they walked through the encampment. Jane made no attempt to hide her bewilderment, staring around with wide, confused eyes. By the time they reached the Council tent, her expression had shifted and she looked distressed. A guard held up the tent’s flap as they entered. It looked larger on the inside, bigger than even the war room at Haven had been. Her sister stopped at the center, where a temporary version of the war table had been set up.

Elizabeth went to her side and placed her free hand on her arm. “Are you alright?”

“All those people,” Jane said, her voice frail and her eyes drifting over the table. “They think I’m going to save them.”

“You already have,” Elizabeth reminded her gently.

Jane let out a breath, shaking her head. “That’s not what I meant,” she said. She hugged her arms around herself, staring into space. “And I haven’t. This isn’t safe, not really. Haven is gone. We have no place to go. Half our men are dead.” She swallowed. “Corypheus escaped with the dragon.”

“Corypheus?” Leliana asked from behind them.

Jane jerked her head up, as if surprised to remember that she and Elizabeth were not alone. “The Elder One,” Jane replied. “He calls himself Corypheus. He--”

Jane paused. She exhaled, closing her eyes, and held still for a moment. Then she straightened. Elizabeth dropped her hand away as her sister grew more solid, her eyes sharper once they opened. “Commander,” she said in a firm voice, facing the Council. “Would you please gather the others? I’m afraid this is part of a larger discussion.”

“Of course,” Cullen replied with a nod, moving to leave.

“Sera and Dorian as well,” she added. Cullen thinned his lips but nodded silently.

Jane turned as he left. “Josie. How long can we stay where we are?”

“Cullen believes the area is fairly secure,” Josephine replied. “And we have enough supplies for a week, comfortably. Two weeks if we are economical. Maybe more, if--” She stopped.

“If some of the wounded do not survive,” Leliana finished.

Tension appeared on Jane’s face, but she buried it before she asked her next question. “Do we have any allies nearby?”

Josephine shook her head. “None, unfortunately. Other than perhaps a few of the Avvar, this area is deserted.”

“And how far do we have to go until that changes?” Jane asked.

Josephine walked over to the table and picked up her board. “If we continue to the northeast, we may be able to reach the Imperial Highway in less than a week. That opens up our options.”

“A week with the wounded? Or without?” Jane asked. Elizabeth had been watching Jane lead the discussion with mild surprise, but now shifted her weight, becoming very aware of her cane.

“Without,” Josephine admitted.

Jane chewed on her lip. “That’s not ideal. Besides, I doubt Queen Anora would be happy to see the rebel mages come that close to Redcliffe again.” She thought for a moment. “What else are we near?”

Josephine examined her papers. “Orzammar,” she said. “It’s due north, but there are mountains in the way. We’d have to find a path around them. Once there, we would gain entry to Gherlen's Pass, which would bring us to the border of Orlais.”

Leliana moved forward, placing her hands behind her back. “The passage itself is not safe, and taking it would leave us vulnerable for at least two days. We would also have to leave the wounded behind indefinitely.”

“Not to mention that we have no alliances in Orzammar,” Josephine added. “They may consider our approach hostile. We could try to send word ahead, but the dwarves have become even more reclusive since the Conclave. It will not be easy.”

The corner of Leliana’s lip turned slightly. “I may be of some assistance if we do need to contact the Assembly,” she said. “Though I still believe we should look for another option.”

“What would we do if we got to Orlais?” Elizabeth broke in, curious. “I assume the Inquisition has friends there, but would any of them actually take us in?”

“Perhaps,” Josephine said. “The Herald has succeeded in closing the Breach. The Chantry will probably embrace us now. That might strengthen some of the connections we've made.”

Leliana’s eyes flicked up to her. “Yes. Probably. Might. But are these things likely enough that we should stake our lives on them occurring?”

Josephine shrugged. “What is the alternative? As the Herald observed, Anora is unlikely to embrace us.”

“With the threat of this Corypheus looming, perhaps she--”

The flap shifted as Cullen held it open. As the others entered, Elizabeth realized that the parameters of Jane’s inner circle were becoming increasingly clear. Vivienne, for example, had been invited; Ellendra had not. Bull, Dorian, Sera, Cassandra, and Varric followed after. The choices seemed to be largely based on who had travelled with Jane in the past, which Elizabeth supposed made sense. Her sister had spent so much time away from Haven--and locked up in the war room when she was around--that it would be difficult to form a deep sense of companionship with those who’d remained at the village.

Jane’s companions did not look well. Elizabeth realized she herself must look similar, if not worse. Many of them were in the same clothes they’d been wearing when Haven was attacked, and it appeared none of them had slept much. Now that she saw Bull standing next to the others in the light, she was struck by how normal he looked by comparison.

Those of them who had not seen Jane yet went to greet her. Cassandra joined Leliana at the far end up the table, and a wan Solas hung back patiently near the tent’s entrance.  Sera pushed Varric and Vivienne out of the way to hug Jane first, and Bull gave her a firm clasp on the shoulder. Eventually, her sister quieted everyone down and gathered them around the war table, placing herself at the head. Her eyes traced the table in front of her. It was covered in overlapping maps from various scouts and guides, some hand-drawn. The intact war map, Elizabeth realized, was buried beneath Haven.

Jane looked up with determined eyes, her face still shockingly pale. “Right,” she said. “I’ll start at the beginning.”

 

~~~

 

Half an hour later, Jane had finished her story, and a stony silence had fallen around the tent as everyone took it in. Elizabeth had been too absorbed to notice any reactions while Jane was speaking, but now she looked to her left and saw Dorian’s stance had tightened, his arms crossed defensively. He thinks he’ll be under suspicion, she realized, and she did not blame him. Her eyes automatically went to where Cassandra stood, but to her surprise, the Seeker’s eyes were not fixed on Dorian.

“Well?” Cassandra said, her tone harsh. “Was it Corypheus?” Jane looked startled, and everyone followed the Seeker’s gaze across the table.

Varric was looking to the side, a wary expression on his face. “I don’t know,” he said finally.

Jane raised her eyebrows. “You… know Corypheus?”

“No,” he said, meeting her gaze. “Hawke knows Corypheus. Well, she knew a Corypheus. One who should be dead. She killed him. I wasn’t there, but I talked to everyone who was, and they were all pretty clear on that fact. And her Corypheus didn’t have a dragon, or Archdemon, or whatever.” He rubbed the cut on his chin, looking deflated. “But what he said to you does sound kind of familiar. Shit.”

“What is he?” Jane asked, placing her hands on the table. “Assuming this is the same one.”

“I don’t know,” Varric repeated. He winced at Cassandra’s glare and continued. “He’s definitely a darkspawn. The Wardens told Hawke that much. But he’s also-- well, he thinks he’s one of the magisters who went through the Veil. You know, like in the old Chantry tale.”

Jane stared down at the map, concerned. “Some of what he said--” She shook her head. “It fits. I think this Corypheus thinks the same thing.”

“He believes himself to have breached the Golden City?” Vivienne asked both of them in disbelief.

“Yeah,” Varric said.

“Horseshit,” Sera said, her voice a little hysterical. “It is horseshit, right? I mean, if he did, he’d be a thousand years old or somethin', and that’s just nonsense.” Varric shrugged.

“So,” Bull said in a low voice from Elizabeth’s side, “if he’s right, then he’s an ancient magister darkspawn.”

Varric nodded. “And, uh, Hawke thought that he might be right on that account,” he added.

Dorian blew out air and pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head. “Wonderful,” he muttered.

“She thought the Wardens locked him up to use him for something,” Varric added. “She was trying to figure out what, but he was dead, so we didn’t think it was that important.” He shifted his stance. “But maybe it’s worse. Maybe they locked him up because he can’t be killed.”

“And are we sure,” Cullen said, choosing his words carefully, “that Hawke is telling the truth about killing him?”

Varric jerked his head to glare at the Commander. “Hey,” he said, offended. “Hawke isn't a liar. Besides, Aveline was there, too. You wanna call her word into question next?”

“No,” Cullen said, flustered. “I was just-- never mind.”

“What about the orb?” Jane asked.

Varric shrugged. “No idea. Sorry. Hawke never mentioned an orb. Or the dragon. And believe me, she would've mentioned the dragon.”

“Who else was--” Jane began, still leaning on the table. Her eyes fluttered, and she seemed to slip forward a little before catching herself. Elizabeth was too far away to touch her, but she still felt herself jerk toward her, as if she could help. Josephine touched Jane’s back lightly.

“Sorry,” Jane muttered. “I’m fine. Just a little tired.”

“Herald,” Cullen said, looking at her with concern. “You’ve given us more than enough information for now. You should rest. Please.”

Jane looked like she wanted to argue, but stopped herself. “Alright,” she said. She looked around. “We’ll take a break. I’m sure you all desperately need it as well. The Council believes we are fairly safe where we are, so we can at least camp here until tomorrow to recuperate. We… we need a plan before we move on, anyway.”

The Council and Cassandra stayed at the table while the others left. Elizabeth glanced at the flap, unsure which category she fell into, but Jane came beside her and touched her arm.

“There are cots at the back where you can sleep,” Josephine told them, waving her hand. “Both of you.”

“You’re not going to rest?” Jane asked.

Josephine smiled. “We took turns sleeping last night. And we have some matters to discuss, but will do so quietly. I do not believe we will disturb you. If we do, please let us know at once.”

“Thank you,” Jane said. The two of them made their way toward the back, Elizabeth leaning on her cane and Jane’s hand still on Elizabeth’s arm. As they reached the cots, Jane squeezed it before letting go. She sat down with a sigh, and whatever had been holding her up seemed to fall away. Her shoulders collapsed forward.

“Jane?” Elizabeth asked in a whisper. The murmurs of the Council began behind her, barely audible. Lines of worry had re-appeared on her sister’s face. Elizabeth sat across from her, trying to meet her eye. “What can I do?”

Jane placed her hand on her forehead, leaning forward. After a moment, she looked up. “Would you pray with me?” she asked.

Elizabeth blinked in surprise. Jane had always been more religious than her, but she’d never known her to pray outside of services. Only Mary had done that at home. Then again, these were not normal times.

“Of course,” Elizabeth replied. Jane went to one knee, and Elizabeth followed her, clasping her sister’s hands in a twist. She glanced at the war table. Cullen was looking back at them, his eyebrows knit tight together, but he averted his gaze when he saw Elizabeth.

Jane began the Canticle of Trials in a low voice, squeezing her eyes shut, gripping Elizabeth’s hand tightly. Elizabeth bowed her head and joined her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maker, my enemies are abundant.
Many are those who rise up against me.
But my faith sustains me; I shall not fear the legion,
Should they set themselves against me.

In the long hours of the night
When hope has abandoned me,
I will see the stars and know
Your Light remains.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth took her two remaining potions before falling asleep. They worked well, and when she woke some hours later, she felt more refreshed than she had since Haven had fallen. She silently thanked Adan for that one final kindness, and rose to see that Jane had left her cot. The Council tent was empty. Elizabeth pushed down the automatic wave of panic she felt at her sister’s absence, knowing that she’d have been woken if anything dangerous had happened. From the gnawing of her stomach, she guessed that she’d missed lunch now as well as breakfast.

She considered her options. Elan would have food, and probably a list of chores for her. She made her way to the supply carts on the other side of the encampment, where Elan had set up a work space.

Together, she and Elan ate some flatbread and dried berries. She told Elan about the two possible paths forward, but didn’t share anything about Corypheus. Then Elizabeth prepped elfroot while Elan used a cooking pot and a campfire to make basic healing potions. By the time a scout came by to take potions back to the surgeon, they’d filled two crates and were working on a third.

The hours passed. Elizabeth’s fingers began to grow tired, and her abdomen complained. Her wound had mostly healed, becoming a scar, but it still ached when she stood for too long. The sun was low in the sky and the air was golden when Jane found her. Elizabeth almost felt like she could cry again at the sight of her, but she fought the urge.

“May I borrow my sister for a moment?” Jane said. Elan appeared flabbergasted at being asked for permission.

“Of course, Your Worship,” the herbalist stuttered, bowing her head low.

Jane brought Elizabeth a bit away from the encampment. Elizabeth had become adept enough with her cane that she was almost up to a normal walking speed. Jane lowered her voice. “Sorry I had to leave you,” she said. “Leliana wanted me to go see the wounded, and then Josephine had me send out messages to some allies to see if we can get more supplies.”

“You don’t need to apologize,” Elizabeth said.

Jane gave her a tight smile. “How are you doing?”

Elizabeth almost laughed. “How am I doing?” she exclaimed. “I’m fine. You’re the one who just survived an avalanche and some sort of darkspawn creature trying to kill you.”

Jane gave her an exasperated look. “And you’re living in the mountains, after surviving a stab wound that should have been fatal less than a week ago,” she reminded her. “I’m allowed to be a little worried.”

“True,” Elizabeth replied, touching her stomach. “Maybe the two of us should stop almost dying.”

Jane laughed darkly. “That sounds like you think we should start actually dying,” she said.

“Maker, no!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “We can’t in good conscience leave Father with just Mama and the others. The poor man would go insane.”

“Lizzie, you’re terrible,” Jane laughed, but it wasn’t as dark this time, and Elizabeth was pleased to see her smile linger. They reached a ridge with a log and Jane stopped, moving to sit on it. She gestured at the space next to her. “Sit with me?” Elizabeth complied, placing her cane on the ground next to her as she sat. For a moment, they simply watched the camp. Elizabeth considered bringing up the letter, but she still had doubts about whether Lady Trevelyan held sway over Jane, and that thought held her tongue. After a few moments, Jane spoke.

“Lizzie.”

Elizabeth turned her head. Jane was unfolding the fingers of her left hand and looking at the mark.

“Do you believe that Andraste saved me at the Conclave?”

Elizabeth’s lips parted, and she paused before speaking. “I know everyone saw a woman behind you in the Breach. Someone was there. But to save you, and not stop the Breach from forming in the first place seems… arbitrary. So I don't know.” It was a little more neutral than her actual thoughts. But she wasn’t about to admit to her sister that she believed Andraste had merely been an impressive woman with a good heart, and that she’d never gone to the Maker’s side, not when an ancient Tevinter magister had just attacked them. She looked at her sister. “What do you think?”

“I didn’t believe it, before,” she said. “Not really. But now… ” She trailed off, biting her bottom lip. “If Corypheus is who he claims to be, then he has torn the Veil before. His sin--his magic--poisoned the Golden City. It’s-- it’s almost too much, isn’t it?” Elizabeth was silent, and she watched as Jane squeezed her marked hand into a fist. “Andraste championed our people to the Maker before. Maybe she wants to help again.” She closed her eyes, a self-deprecating smile appearing on her face. “I probably sound half mad.”

Elizabeth scooted closer to her sister and put a hand on her back. “You sound like someone who saw their whole world flipped around,” she assured her.

Jane sighed, her gaze shifting to the camp, and Elizabeth followed her gaze. “Either way, I have to try and save them.” As the sun set, the people at the camp began to light the torches. “Cassandra said that I give them hope.”

“You do,” Elizabeth replied. “You give all of us hope.” She rubbed her sister’s back.


Jane turned her head. “I want to make sure that’s based on something, Lizzie. If Andraste saved me, she did it for a reason. I don’t think it was just to seal the Breach.” She sighed. “And if she didn’t save me, then I still want to help. I still want to stop Corypheus, and his dragon.” She looked down, digging a toe into the snow. “A part of me hopes that she saved me. Going up against that thing would feel a lot easier if I knew I had the Maker on my side.”

An image of Jane standing alone in front of a huge dragon appeared in Elizabeth’s mind and she shivered. This was supposed to end when the Breach closed, she thought, her chest aching. She screwed her eyes shut as the feeling subsided, and then looked up at Jane.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter if Andraste saved you,” she said. “You’re still Jane. You look at every person here and see something worthwhile, just as you always have.” Her lips twitched. “I bet you’ve even tried to sympathize with Corypheus.”

Jane looked down, a reluctant grin appearing on her face. “Well, I do think he’s very sad. It probably is disconcerting to wake up and find that everything familiar just--”

“Yes, yes, you’ve made my point for me,” Elizabeth interrupted, shoving her sister fondly with her shoulder. She became serious again and motioned toward the camp. “Each of these people, you think they’re just as important as the Queen, the Empress, or the Divine. You think they’re just as important as me or you.”

“Because they are,” Jane said, her eyes drifting back to the camp. The torches were all lit now, and the sun was low enough that it made the valley look alive with stars.

“Maybe that’s what they sense in you,” Elizabeth said. “You make them feel significant. And that’s what gives them hope.”

Jane stared for another beat. “Maybe,” she agreed quietly. For some time after, they sat in silence, Elizabeth tracing circles on her sister’s back.

 

~~~

 

The valley was dark when the two of them returned. As they reached the edge of the camp, Solas approached them as if he had been waiting, looking better rested than he had that morning.

“Herald,” he said to Jane. “A word?”

“Of course,” she agreed. “I actually wanted to speak with you as well.”

Solas’s eyes flicked to Elizabeth. “In private?” he asked.

Jane crossed her arms. “I’d prefer if Lizzie came with us,” she replied. Solas’s eyes stayed on Jane for a moment, and then he nodded. Elizabeth wanted to protest that her presence wasn’t entirely necessary, but her desire to be near Jane outstripped her desire to avoid Solas. She sent him a mental apology as they followed her sister back out into the darkness.

Some distance from the encampment, they reached an unlit torch. Solas gestured toward it, summoning Veilfire. Despite the direness of their current situation--and her growing guilt at verbally assaulting him in the Fade--Elizabeth found herself hiding a small smile at the unnecessarily elegant choice in lighting. She hung back from them, remaining a little more in the shadows, trying to give Solas some distance.

“You are looking well,” he noted after a moment.

“Due to your efforts,” Jane replied. “Thank you for that.”

Solas bowed his head. “Healing you was only possible because you had already escaped,” he said. “That you faced Corypheus-- that you survived--those are feats that must be credited to you alone.” He paused, looking out into the night, the sharp angles of his face caught by the Veilfire. “The orb Corypheus carries. The power he used against you. It is Elvhen. Corypheus used the orb to open the Breach. Unlocking it must have caused the explosion that destroyed the Conclave.”

Jane looked down at her hand, squeezing her fingers shut. “I guessed as much,” she said. “It’s connected to the mark somehow.” Solas looked up sharply, and then glanced back at Elizabeth, a silent question on his face.

“I told her that the mark was Elvhen,” she admitted. “Not recently. Months ago, back when I first realized.”

Solas turned back to Jane, a hint of surprise on his face. “You never approached me,” he said.

“No,” Jane said. “I assumed you either didn’t know, or that you had your reasons.”

Solas didn’t respond for a moment, the confusion on his face turning into something deeper. He nodded. “I see. Thank you. I… can only hope that my information will repay some of that trust.” He straightened, his eyes still on Jane. “The orb is a foci. There were many of them once. Each was dedicated to a specific member of the Elvhen pantheon.”

“A foci?” Jane asked. He nodded, and Jane looked thoughtful. “You’re sure about this?”

“Yes,” Solas replied. “I have seen such artifacts before. In the Fade.”

Jane stared at the Veilfire. “How did Corypheus get one?”

Solas tilted his head forward. “That, I cannot say.”

She looked away, her eyes tense, then glanced back up at him. “Why didn’t you mention this during the meeting?” she asked, curious.

Solas hesitated. “I am not certain how people will react once they learn of the orb’s origin,” he explained.

“What do you mean?” she asked. He seemed to consider his wording.

“He means he’s an elf,” Elizabeth said for him after a moment. He didn’t look back at her, but his shoulders softened slightly.

“Oh,” Jane breathed. “You don’t think--” She stopped. “Of course. I apologize.”

Solas moved on without comment. “There is more. The Inquisition is shaping around you, but it will need room to grow. By attacking the Inquisition, Corypheus has changed it. Has changed you.” He paused, dipping his head to study the ground, and then looked back up at Jane. “I know of a place nearby where the Inquisition can build, grow. A fortress, abandoned for many years. It is called Skyhold.”

Elizabeth stared at him in shock, and Jane’s mouth fell open. “A fortress?” Jane asked. “Near here? How far?”

“Two days, maybe three, by horseback,” Solas said.

“And you’re certain it’s abandoned?”

“I am,” he confirmed. “I dreamed there, many years ago. I consulted spirits in the Fade earlier today. We should be safe there.”

Jane continued to stare, and then let out a laugh of relief. “Just like that?” she said. “A whole fortress?” She shook her head, smiling. “Solas, that’s amazing. And you can take us there?”

“No,” Solas said firmly. “I will give you what information I have on its location, but the leadership must fall to you. These are your people now.” A line of confusion appeared between Jane’s eyes. “Scout to the north. You must be their guide.”

Jane tilted her head, then nodded. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll put together a forward party in the morning. I hope you’ll at least join that.”

“As you wish,” Solas said as Elizabeth clutched her cane. So she and Jane would need to be separated again. She wasn’t surprised, knowing that she was included with the wounded, but it hurt just the same. “Then we should return to the camp. We will need to rest.”

“Oh,” Jane said. “Wait. There’s something you should see. Both of you.” She glanced at the tents behind them. “We’ll… we’ll need to be further out.”

Jane began to move away, and Elizabeth hesitated as Solas took the Veilfire torch. He held out a hand forward, gesturing for her to go first, but did not meet her eye. The cool politeness brought to mind her own words in the Fade, and she felt a surge of embarrassment. She turned away, moving to follow her sister.

Soon Jane spotted a cave and seemed to decide on that as their destination. Once they were all inside, Elizabeth lit a flame as well, bathing the stone walls in a mixture of pale blue and golden light.

Jane turned her eyes to them. “I didn’t mention it this morning,” she said softly. “I wasn’t sure-- I’m still not sure how everyone will take it.” She licked her lips. “My mark. The anchor, Corypheus called it. It’s… changed.”

“Changed?” Elizabeth asked, worried. “How?”

Jane held out her left hand, staring at her palm. “I can… make rifts now. There were some demons under Haven. I tried to fight them, but I was very weak. Right when I thought they’d kill me, I felt a build-up of power in my arm and…” She trailed off. “A rift appeared. It killed them, and then it closed.”

Solas was looking at the anchor with a spark of interest in his eyes. “Do you think you can replicate it?”

Jane squeezed her hand shut. “I’ll try. That’s why I wanted to be far away from the camp.” Solas nodded, and then stepped behind Jane, indicating to Elizabeth that she should do the same. Jane reached her hand forward, and at the last moment, Elizabeth raised the Veil to her eyes. The tendrils in Jane’s hand were trembling, and they snapped forward as if her sister had used several whips at once, each vine connecting with the swaying folds of the Veil. They tugged, and the world exploded in green light.

The rift that Elizabeth had seen in the Hinterlands had been hideous, torn open like a wound with strips of flesh or fabric hanging around it's oozing center. This one was quieter. The Veil split without complaint, and Elizabeth saw again the thousand blinking eyes that were there, and yet weren’t. The black matter in the center was controlled. Elizabeth got the sense that anything standing closer to the rift than Jane would be drained by its presence. The tendrils twisted for a moment, holding the rift open, and then they jerked the Veil back together, pulling it tightly. It folded shut like a door.

Elizabeth was confused. Even without her sight, the last time that she’d seen Jane close a rift, the Veil had fused the broken edges together, like a wave re-joining the ocean. This felt more like it was being healed, more like stitching up a wound. Still, a moment later, the Veil was whole, and her sister dropped her arm.

Solas stepped forward and took her sister’s hand. He studied it, then held his own palm over hers and produced some sort of energy. Elizabeth watched as the tendrils braided together and then retreated into Jane’s skin. She dropped the Veil from her eyes as he finished.

“Well?” Jane asked. “Is it dangerous?”

Solas glanced up and offered a small smile. “To your enemies, most certainly. But not to you, no. The anchor is stable for now.”

“What do you think did this?” Elizabeth asked, not sure who she was directing the question to.

Jane answered first. “Corypheus tried to take it from me using the orb,” she explained. “It felt like it something came loose.”

“I suspect that something did, in a manner of speaking,” Solas said. He examined Jane’s palm a moment longer before releasing her hand. “It is my belief that the anchor is supposed to grant its owner a wide range of abilities, provided that the owner is powerful enough.”

“And I’m not,” Jane guessed.

“No,” Solas agreed with a shake of his head. “Had the anchor manifested fully when the Breach opened, it would have consumed you. However, recognizing that its host was a mortal with no magic, I suspect the anchor reverted to its simplest form. Many of its abilities remain dormant. Somehow, using the orb, Corypheus woke one.”

Elizabeth looked up in alarm. “Does that mean Jane could die?”

“Not from this change. As I said, it appears stable.” He turned to Jane. “But if anything else happens, please let me know.” Jane nodded. “Come. We should head back to the camp if we are to leave in the morning.”

 

~~~

 

More than half of Jane’s inner circle went ahead with her. The Council did not go, as each member had too many plates spinning in the air and the encampment would probably collapse if they left for even a day. Bull stayed as well, claiming he wanted to be near the Chargers, though Elizabeth suspected that Jane had ordered him to keep an eye on her. Varric was open about the fact that he’d hung back solely to avoid Cassandra. Elizabeth thought that his fears were exaggerated. The Seeker had not confronted him since that first meeting, and did not seem likely to, but Varric fretted over it worse than her mother did over her sisters.

If his general attitude had not made her wonder whether he was up to something, then the conversation she overheard two days after Jane left would. She was on her way between the healing tent and Elan’s workspace when she noticed Varric and Harding arguing in low tones off behind one of the tents. She slowed as she came into hearing range.

“--get in a lot of trouble,” Harding was saying. “Not just with Charter, but with Leliana. Have you ever been in trouble with Leliana? It’s terrifying .”

“It’s in code anyway,” Varric said. “You guys aren’t even gonna be able to break it. Come on, Harding. Please? It’s really important.”

“More important than the security of the Inquisition?” Harding replied.

“It’s not a--” Varric broke off and sighed. “Fine. Okay. I think it’s pretty obvious by now that I’m going to write a book about all this. If you help me out here, I can make sure you’re in it.”

Harding snorted. “You know I’m going to be in it anyway.”

“No, I mean I’ll make you really featured,” Varric said. “I’ll put you at every outpost. You’ll have all the best sidekick lines.” Harding didn’t reply, but Elizabeth could tell from her silence that she was tempted. “You’ll be a fan favorite. I’ll even make sure the Herald flirts with you. People will be clamoring for a sequel all about Lace Harding.” Harding was silent an extra moment. “Please?”

“Fine,” Harding said, snatching the letter out of Varric’s hand. “But I’d better sparkle with personality, okay?”

“You got it,” Varric said, relieved. Harding walked away, and Varric turned to walk around the tent. He spotted Elizabeth and froze. “Blaze,” he said, a little nervous. “Hi. How long have you been standing there?”

She held up a hand, slightly amused. “Just a few seconds,” she said. “Don’t worry, I didn’t hear anything.” Varric looked uncertain. “And if I did, I’m sure all it would take for me to forget it is knowing that one day, in Varric Tethras’s Tale of the Herald, I’ll be presented as Jane's wonderful, intelligent, beautiful, heroic younger sister.” She tilted her head in thought. “Oh, and add in that bit with the templars. I’m sure that will come in useful back at Ostwick Circle.”

Varric relaxed, but he gave her an irritated look. “You do realize I need to work Jane into this thing somehow, right?”

Elizabeth waved her hand dismissively. “You lucked out with Jane,” she said. “She’s perfect. That part will practically write itself.” She gave him a lopsided smile. “And you can spend all your extra time wondering how you let a mage with a cane sneak up on you.”

Varric shook his head as he walked away. “Well, you keep a dwarf humble, that’s for sure.”

 

~~~

 

It was only four days before one of the scouts returned, confirming that Jane and the forward party had found Skyhold. The remaining Inquisition packed up their camp and went north, slowly. Unlike the first group, they had brontos, the wounded, and almost no horses, so the journey took almost two weeks.

Elizabeth worked with Elan when they rested, helping her restore some semblance of a potion supply. In the evenings, she played cards with Ellendra, Bull, and Varric. The other enchanter was still wary of Bull, but she put up with him as long as she had coin in the game. Sometimes, Elizabeth would catch her staring at him like they used to stare at Ser Lucas at Ostwick Circle. The templar had been a sweet older man in Elizabeth’s youth, but lyrium had eaten parts of his brain, and by the time she’d passed her Harrowing, he would become sporadically enraged and paranoid.

One evening, they made camp just below the crest of a mountain. Elizabeth was eating with Bull when Ellendra came up to them, her eyes shining.

“You’ve got to come see this,” she said. Bull and Elizabeth abandoned their dinners, and followed her up the hill.

“Need me to carry you?” Bull asked when the incline got steep.

“Thank you, but I think I can handle it,” she replied with a smile. She hadn’t used her cane in a week.

Ellendra paused at the top, looking north, and the sunset hit the stone behind her in a way that lit up her auburn hair. She smiled back, folding her arms. “Josephine showed me,” she said. Bull got there first, and stilled as he stood next to the enchanter. He let out a low whistle.

“Look at that,” he said as Elizabeth finally crested the peak.

She stared ahead. A castle rose out of the mountains, surrounded by cliffs. It was a large, handsome stone building. A long bridge with curving arches connected its entrance to the fort itself. It was huge--at least as twice as large as the whole village of Haven--and for a moment she could not believe that this could be theirs.

“Is that--?” she asked softly.

Ellendra nodded. “Skyhold,” she said.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth arrived at Skyhold the following morning with the Council, slightly ahead of the rest of their party. She was still overwhelmed by the castle’s size and presence. She found herself staring up at it as they crossed the long bridge to the entrance. Jane met them there, throwing her arms around her shoulders before greeting the Council members warmly.

“It’s beautiful,” Elizabeth said in a breath. “Who built this place?”

Jane shrugged, crossing her arms as she looked at the walls with a half smile on her face. “Solas says the original owners’ names are lost to time,” she explained.

“Where is Solas?” Leliana asked, her eyes flicking over the people who’d gathered to welcome them.

Jane turned back to look at her. “Away. He and Cassandra took a party west to learn more about these shards,” she explained. “Now that we know what Corypheus can do with ancient magic, I want to know more about what he thinks he’ll find at Solasan.”

Elizabeth relaxed a fraction. She hadn’t been able to avoid Solas in the Frostbacks, but a hundred other issues took precedence and saved her from having to think about the Fade argument, or the letter. She’d been dreading what their interactions would be like now that they had a moment to breathe.

Then she caught Jane’s words, and studied her sister’s face. ‘I want to know more ’, she’d said, not ‘ We want to know more’ . Jane hadn’t waited for the council to act, but they did not seem upset.

Leliana even gave her a small smile. “Varric will pleased to hear that Cassandra is away,” she observed.

Cullen looked at the spymaster, his brows lowered. “I imagine so. You don’t happen to know what he’s up to, do you?”

“No,” she replied innocently, her eyes still on Jane. “Herald, would you be so kind as to give us a tour?”

 

~~~

 

Jane showed them the grounds first, which were green and fertile. There was more space between the walls and the castle itself than there had been in all of Haven. As she led them up to the main structure, Elizabeth paused in the doorway and looked back, admiring the view. She’d never seen a castle quite as naturally situated, its thick walls growing out of the Frostbacks as if it had always been there, and protected by miles of rocks and mountain. She felt a wave of disbelief at the fact that just a few weeks ago, they’d been camped out in the snow, uncertain if they would ever find a way to survive. Now, they were saved.

Skyhold was just as stunning inside, but in desperate need of repairs. Rafters hung from the ceiling, half-eaten by years of mold. The windows were filled with cracked panes--or missing their glass entirely. There was an upper section that Jane had not even seen yet, accessible only by a door at the top of a crumbling staircase. Elizabeth peered at the door, feeling a strange sense of deja vu tug at the corner of her mind, but whatever it reminded her of slipped away before she could grasp it.

She was delighted to find Harritt already organizing the forge, which was in much better shape than the rest of the fortress. It opened to a waterfall, which produced a cool breeze to combat the heat from the forge. The previous tenants had left some outdated but still workable tools, and Harritt said he could start working straight away. She agreed to come visit as soon as she could.

As the tour came to an end, Jane brought them toward the new War Room. They passed through a study that Josephine eyed with interest, and then a long hallway with a gaping hole down one side.

“Well, it’s clear that Solas was right about it being abandoned,” Cullen said as they passed.

“I’m rather fond of this view, actually,” Jane confessed, opening the heavy door. Elizabeth agreed, once again catching a glimpse of the sharp peaks of the mountains before she followed the others in. The War Room was enormous, and a large wooden table had already been placed in the center. Elizabeth looked up at the full glass windows in surprise. Something had obviously shielded these from damage.

“Gorgeous,” said Josephine.

“No map yet,” Jane said apologetically. “But one’s on its way from Val Royeaux.” She made a face. “Honestly, I’m not a fan of Orlesian maps. They tend to draw Ferelden all wrong.”

“And the markers?” Cullen asked in a hopeful tone.

Jane looked at him fondly, her lips twitching into a smile. “And the markers,” she assured him. Cullen met her gaze, then jerked his head down and frowned, rubbing his neck. Jane sighed, looking away. After a pause, she chuckled. “Oh. I should mention that Cassandra… slipped last week, so I already know the plan.”

“Slipped?” Josephine asked, puzzled. “What do you mean?”

Jane was unable to hide her grin as she met the ambassador’s eyes. “She called me Inquisitor,” she explained. Josephine laughed, Cullen snorted at the floor, and Leliana groaned, touching her fingers to the spot between her eyes.

Inquisitor. Elizabeth was surprised, but then after a moment, realized she should not be. As Herald, Jane had already taken over the organization in all but name, and Vivienne had pointed out months ago that neither Leliana nor Cassandra seemed eager to lead. For a moment, she thought she should be worried by her sister taking on such a role, but somehow it fit. The position would satisfy Jane’s need to help people. And hopefully being important will cut down on her urge to sacrifice herself if things go wrong, she thought darkly.

“It’s fine,” Jane continued. “It gave me a few days to get used to the idea.” She smiled. “I graciously accept.”

“We’ll need an official ceremony still,” Josephine said.

“Of course,” Jane nodded. “As soon as possible. Preferably in the next few hours.”

“Today!” Josephine exclaimed, her eyes widening. She gaped at Jane. “That’s… impossible. We have no supplies to organize a banquet! No time to invite any allies!”

“It can be a simple ceremony,” Jane suggested with a shrug.

“But we can’t--” Josephine stuttered.

“You’ll have to make it work, Josie,” Jane said, walking to the other side of the table. “I leave for the Fallow Mire at noon.”

“Already?” Elizabeth asked, a pang running through her chest.

Jane gave her a pained look. “I’m sorry, Lizzie. Some of our men have been taken hostage and I need to get them back.” She turned back to the others. “I’m planning to take Vivienne, Sera, and Bull, if they’re up for it.”

“I will let them know,” Cullen said with a nod.

“Since we are apparently short on time,” Josephine said as she recovered, walking toward the war table herself, “Perhaps it would be prudent to discuss the other matters at hand now? Such as the assassination attempt on Celene?”

The corner of Jane’s mouth rose. “Should we wait for you to get your clipboard?”

Josephine pursed her lips. “I believe I can survive one meeting without it.”

“Then let us begin,” Jane said, placing her hands on the table and leaning forward.

“Should I…?” Elizabeth interrupted, pointing at the door.

“No, stay,” Jane said, dismissing the thought with a wave of her hand. She turned to Leliana. “Have you heard anything further from Orlais?”

Leliana shook her head. “Unfortunately, my agents have been unable to root out any information about a plot,” she said. “And given what we have learned about Corypheus, I am not sure we would have much success infiltrating the Venatori. I would assume he is using powerful magic to subdue them.”

“We have tried to send a word of warning to Halamshiral,” Josephine said. “But we have heard no response.”

Jane chewed on her lip. “Would it help if I spoke to Celene in person?”

Josephine gave a curt nod. “That was my thought as well. Unfortunately, she is a difficult lady to approach, for the obvious reasons. Even moreso due to the current political climate of Orlais.”

“I don’t know why you say current,” Cullen complained, crossing his arms. “Orlais is pretty much constantly like this.”

“True,” Josephine said. “But it is not always at war.”

“Not openly,” Cullen muttered, looking back down at the table.

Josephine gave him a pointed look before moving on. “Anyway, we have learned that Celene will be holding a ball in the fall, with the intention of peace talks between herself and Gaspard.”

Leliana turned her head. “Briala will be there as well,” she added.

“Who’s Briala?” Elizabeth interjected.

“For several years, she was the spymaster of Celene’s court,” Josephine explained.

“And potentially Celene’s secret lover,” Leliana said.

Josephine allowed this with a slight nod. “Rumors indicated as much, yes, though nothing was ever confirmed. Since then, they have… parted ways. It is believed that she is responsible for the recent alienage uprising.” After a moment, she added, “She is an elf herself.”

Jane shook her head as if to clear it. “So the ball. The plan is for me to get an invite as the Herald of Andraste, I presume?”

Josephine hesitated. “Not exactly. Your mother has written us. Several times, in fact. She is in correspondence with Gaspard.” Elizabeth blinked, and could not help but glance at Cullen, whose arms were still folded across his chest. He was staring fixedly at the table, his eyebrows drawn together.

Jane frowned. “And you believe Gaspard would invite us.”

“We believe he would invite you,” Josephine said. “From what your mother has said, he is not averse to an alliance with the Inquisition.” The black look on Cullen’s face indicated this was not the only alliance Lady Trevelyan had mentioned.

“Your presence would also… well, ruffle Celene’s feathers, shall we say,” Leliana said. “Which he would enjoy. Thus we believe he would extend you a courtesy if you ask, at the very least.”

“Very well,” Jane said. “Have her reach out to him.”

No,” Elizabeth heard herself say, and all four heads snapped up to stare at her. She faltered under their gaze. “I mean-- surely there is another way? Some… other contact we could rely on?”

Josephine looked confused. “None so direct,” she told her. Elizabeth opened and then closed her mouth.

“Mama is in contact with him,” Jane said after a moment. “We should make use of that, shouldn't we?”

Elizabeth squeezed her hands into fists for a second before replying. “Of course. Of course we should. I am,” she paused, searching for the words, “simply concerned that Mama will give the Duke the wrong impression.” Josephine and Jane looked at each other, baffled. Cullen glanced between her and Jane, confused. “If we give her official leeway, I mean. She has been known to be… less than subtle in the past.”

“Oh. I see,” Jane said, realizing. She glanced at the others. “It’s true, Mama may try to negotiate for us. And she's terrible at the Game.” She looked up thoughtfully. “Perhaps I should reach out to Gaspard directly.”

Relief ran through Elizabeth’s veins. “That would probably be better.” She stepped back, sending a silent apology to Cullen, who’d clenched his jaw and gone back to staring at the table. She could tell that he found the idea of direct contact between Gaspard and Jane distressing, but he had no idea how close her sister had just come to an accidental betrothal.

“Good,” Josephine said, her hands clasped together in front of her, where her clipboard would normally be. “Then let us move on."

Jane nodded. “Commander, you mentioned having to postpone certain tasks, after the losses we suffered at Haven. Have you figured out which ones we should prioritize?”

Cullen straightened and placed a hand on his pommel as he began to answer.

 

~~~

 

The near-disaster in the war room made Elizabeth eager to talk to Jane about the letter as soon as possible. She still wasn't sure if her sister could be swayed to marry Gaspard, but at this point, it was unfair not to tell her everything. After the Council finished, Jane stayed behind and spoke with Leliana for some time, while Elizabeth waited patiently in the decrepit study. Finally, the two of them exited together, and she went straight to Jane.

“I need to speak with you.”

“Thank you, Her-- Inquisitor. I will find you later,” Leliana promised Jane, walking ahead. Jane took Elizabeth’s arm as they slowly strolled to the main room, carefully stepping over fallen wood.

“I hope you don’t mind that I accepted becoming Inquisitor,” Jane said. “It sounded like the right thing to do.”

“I think it was,” Elizabeth said. She was eager to move on to the next topic, but the title Inquisitor was a weighty one, and she didn’t want to make Jane think otherwise.

“It feels more real than Herald of Andraste, at least,” her sister said in a wistful tone. “Maybe because I feel like I earned this one.” They had nearly reached the arch at the front of the castle, and she looked down at her sister brightly. “Anyway, what was it you wanted to tell me?”

Elizabeth licked her lips as they stepped into the doorway. “Jane, the night before you closed the Breach--”

“Herald!”

Elizabeth glanced down the stairs to the courtyard. The others had arrived, and a large crowd had gathered by the entrance. At the highest landing, Josephine was standing next to Cullen, a smile plastered on her face and a large sword in her hands.

“Oh,” Jane said in a low voice, surprised. “That was quick.” She laughed, squeezing Elizabeth’s arm. “I have to get used to people following my orders, I suppose.”

Elizabeth grit her teeth as Jane climbed down the stairs, taking the sword from Josephine. She blew out a breath and stepped backwards, out of the sunlight, to watch the ceremony.

 

~~~

 

To Elizabeth’s dismay, she did not get another moment alone with Jane before her sister left for the Fallow Mire. She was there to see her off at noon, and hugged her tightly before she climbed onto her horse, but she could not think of a way to summarize what she wanted to say. Besides, the Council and several other people were present.

After her sister left, Elizabeth set up a desk for herself in the forge, returning to work with Harritt. They made a good team, and soon were replacing many of the weapons lost at Haven. A few days after Jane’s departure, a scout came in, followed by two soldiers carrying the new apothecary’s desk.

“What’s this?” Harritt asked.

The scout blinked up at them. “The ambassador said we can’t keep this in the garden any longer. We had to find a spot for it.” The soldiers put it down against one of the walls, and all three men left. For few seconds, Harritt stared at it miserably.

Elizabeth placed a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry about Adan,” she said. “I miss him, too, but I know you were close.”

“He was a good man,” Harritt said gruffly. “A smart man, too. He knew every Divine back to Drakon’s day. Taught me the Orlesian names for all the stone we work with. Which saved me a whole bunch of time on requisitions, mind you, back before we had a translator.” Harritt paused, and the only other sound was the waterfall. He dropped his voice lower. “Can’t help but wish I’d taught him how to hold a sword.” He let out a breath, averting his eyes. “Well. The Light shall lead him safely, and all that.”

He walked away, toward the counter where he’d laid out blanks in need of pommels, and after a moment, Elizabeth followed.


~~~

 

Josephine asked for her help in organizing sleeping arrangements, and Elizabeth did so to the best of her ability. At first, they used the tents they’d brought through the Frostbacks while the ambassador brought in a crew of men from Val Royeaux to fix up the place. Once it was in better shape, she asked Elizabeth to assign rooms based on where Jane would want them, and then they’d figure the rest out from there.

Elizabeth looked at the map on Josephine’s desk. “Where will Jane sleep?”

Josephine’s eyes lit up. “Oh! You have not seen it yet. They just finished the stairs to her room yesterday.” She leapt to her feet, grinning. “Come. I will show you.”

Elizabeth followed her through the throne room and walked up the rickety staircase. As she reached the door, the feeling of deja vu returned. Josephine opened it, and Elizabeth touched the wood as she passed.

She was almost in the room itself when she realized. She froze two steps from the top.

“This is…” she began, unable to continue.

It was the room from the Fade. The one where Solas had kissed her and where she had called him selfish. Unbidden, her mind corrected her with the exact phrasing. ‘ An arrogant, judgmental, hypocritical, selfish man with absolutely no self-awareness’ . Her chest tightened as an image came to mind, one of him leaving Jane’s tent in the early morning, pale and weak.

A mixture of shame and astonishment burned through her veins, and she almost shuddered. She took the last two steps; the room came into focus and her realities seemed to blur. The memory of the kiss itself resurfaced--the emotions amplified by the Fade, passion and hunger, and the shadow of Solas’s blue eyes when he broke away. She grasped the top of the banister tightly, desperate to hold on to something real.

I dreamed there, many years ago,’ he’d said. Of course. He had been here before, and walked the memories of this very room.

Josephine turned, her face falling at Elizabeth’s expression. “Well,” she said, placing her hands on her hips, a hint of doubt in her eyes, “it is a bit of a mess right now. But with a little work, I believe it will be quite beautiful.”

Elizabeth forced herself back into the moment. “I agree,” she said in a soft voice. “It already is beautiful, Josie. I apologize. I’m just… overwhelmed.” She let go of the banister. “Jane will love it.”

The pleased look returned to the ambassador’s eye, and she clasped her hands. “I hope so.” She grinned, her eyes dancing around the room. “Would you like to see the balcony? There is another one, over there, but it is still boarded up.”

“Of course,” Elizabeth replied, still a little dazed as she followed Josephine out. As the ambassador detailed her plans for the room, Elizabeth gazed at at the Frostbacks. Her eyes drifted to the west.

 

~~~

 

Besides the more official tasks, Elizabeth was also working on a project of her own. She put in a requisition with the new quartermaster, Ser Morris, for as many kinds of fabric as he could spare, and to let her know when new kinds arrived.

“Plaideweave, silk brocade, everknit wool,” Ser Morris listed, ticking off his fingers. He paused. “We’ve only got a small piece of Avvar cotton right now, but I doubt anyone would miss it.”

“That would be fine,” Elizabeth said. “I don’t need much.”

He shrugged and shuffled through a wooden chest, handing her the fabrics as he found them. She returned to the forge with her stock. Dorian found her there an hour later, tearing each piece and looking at it closely before putting it down on her desk.

“You do have the most fascinating hobbies,” Dorian said, as Harritt eyed him warily. He leaned against her desk. “Tell me, is there a purpose to all this, or is it just for fun?”

“There’s a purpose,” she replied. She tore a piece of silk brocade in a particularly vicious manner, and Dorian practically jumped.

“Remind me not to let you near my wardrobe,” Dorian said dryly. He waited impatiently. “Well? Aren’t you going to tell me what you’re up to?” Elizabeth hesitated, glancing back at Harritt. She sighed, putting down the the silk brocade.

“Let’s take a walk,” she said, standing. Harritt crossed his arms, watching them suspiciously. “I’ll be back in a bit,” she told him.

“Aye,” the smith said darkly as she led Dorian through the forge door.

Dorian let out a laugh when the door closed. “Honestly, that man and magic,” he said. “He probably thinks you’re trying to tear another hole in the Veil.” Elizabeth looked away guiltily. Dorian’s eyes went wide. “What's that look for? You don’t mean-- Vishante kaffas , Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth shushed him. “I can explain. Come on, let’s go to the library.” They walked in silence to the rotunda, and she began to talk softly as they climbed the stairs. “Jane’s mark. It has a new ability now. She can make rifts. But the new rifts don’t open and close like the ones everywhere else.”

Dorian narrowed his eyes. “How do you mean?”

She ducked into the first nook when they reached the second floor, and pulled him to the window by his elbow. “When they open, they aren’t as harsh,” she explained quietly. “They look… smaller. Less violent. They’re still dangerous, but they aren’t as wild. And I thought….” She shrugged, trailing off.

Dorian glared. “Please tell me that sentence was meant to go, ‘And I thought, that’s interesting, and then I went on my happy way, not at all curious about creating my own rifts in the Veil ’.”

“Dorian,” Elizabeth said. “She used this ability to kill demons.”

“Oh!” Dorian said, throwing his hands up in the air. “Wonderful! Deadly rifts in the Veil. Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

“Deadly to enemies,” she insisted. “Look, I’m not great at the whole fighting thing. I thought that if I could use some sort of rift… magic, I might be able to fight. Then I could travel more with Jane.”

“Of course,” Dorian said angrily. “Bending magical rules in the name of power. That never ends poorly. Today, we play tug-of-war with the Veil. Tomorrow, let’s try to breach the Black City! I hear it’s lovely this time of year.”

“That’s a pretty high horse to sit on, Necromancer,” Elizabeth replied, crossing her arms. Dorian rolled his eyes, and she lowered her voice again. “Look, there’s no need for hysterics. I’m only on the theoretical stage so far. If it doesn’t look like it’ll work, then I’ll stop.” She raised her eyebrows. “Aren’t you at least a little interested in hearing about it?”

He sighed, pausing for a long moment. “Fine. Yes. A little.” He scowled. “But if anyone else finds out about this, I know nothing, do you understand? Somehow I don’t think Cassandra would be too keen on a Tevinter mage poking holes in the Veil.”

“My lips are sealed,” Elizabeth assured him.

Dorian relaxed a little. “Well, then. What’s the fabric for?”

Elizabeth considered where to begin. “I have… the ability to see the Veil a little more clearly than most people,” she said. “I can watch how people interact with the Fade.”

“Ah! You’re an aspecturus ?” She looked at him blankly. “You can see with the Veil.” She almost laughed as she nodded. Of course there was a Tevene word for it. She now was curious about how her ability was treated in Tevinter, but she held back her questions for later. Dorian touched his chin, thinking. “So you can see the rifts more clearly.”

“Yes,” she said. She thought carefully. “Do you ever sew?”

Dorian looked taken aback by the question. “Of course not,” he said. “Do you?”

“Yes, I was a seamstress at my Circle.”

“So, not only do you smith and make potions, you also sew.” He shook his head, amazed. “Honestly, you’re the strangest highborn lady I’ve ever met. What do you even use servants for?”

“The Circles make you give up your title down here. You know that. And anyway ,” she said, giving him a pointed look, “when a piece of clothing tears--”

“A tragedy.”

“--there are two ways to fix it. One is done if it’s knitted or made with thick threads, and that’s darning. You knit the tear by pulling each thread together, as if you’re creating it for the first time. You remake the fabric itself. That’s what Jane’s mark usually does. The second way is that you fold the two sides over, to get rid of all the threads, and sew it together. It makes a new seam. That’s what Jane’s mark did last time. It’s… it’s a lot easier, but the tear has to be smaller, and you need to take the kind of fabric into account to do it.” She shrugged. “I think I could do something like it. I could make tiny tears, control or absorb the energy from the Fade, and then repair them.” She laid her hands flat. “But only if I knew how the Veil tore. If I could replicate what I saw with a real piece of fabric…”

“Oh,” Dorian said, understanding coming to his eyes. “Oh.” Then he began to chuckle. “Elizabeth Trevelyan. You absolute madwoman. You’re trying to find out what the Veil is made of.”

She smiled. “More or less,” she said. “Have I put your mind at ease?”

“Absolutely not,” he replied cheerfully. “The entire concept is terrifying. But as you were kind enough to point out, so is re-animating corpses, and that’s worked out well enough for me so far.” He crossed his arms, leaning against the wall. “Well, good luck. Try not to get yourself killed.”

 

~~~

 

She returned to the forge. Harritt was still acting strange, so she put away the fabrics and began to work on a new staff for herself. Her own had been lost when Haven fell. Varric came just before dinner, and she greeted him with a smile. The news that Cassandra was away from Skyhold indefinitely had made the dwarf less anxious, but he still looked a little worried as he climbed down the stairs, glancing around. Harritt was taking inventory to Ser Morris, so they were alone.

“I need a favor,” he said by way of greeting.

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “Of course,” she said. When he hesitated before continuing, she added, “If we’re burying a body, I can think of at least three places that would work.”

Varric huffed a laugh, but he didn’t smile. “You might want to keep those in mind in case--” he began darkly. He blew out a breath. “Never mind. You’re helping Josephine with the rooms, right?”

“I am,” she confirmed. “What’s the matter? Don’t like yours?”

“No, mine’s fine,” he replied. “But I, uh, need a second one.”

Elizabeth smirked. “Bianca grew tired of your snoring?”

Varric ignored the joke. “It’s for a friend. And I’d prefer not to go through Josephine.” Elizabeth waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t. She stood up, her hand touching the scar on her abdomen as she moved, and motioned for him to follow her toward the map she kept at her desk. As she flipped to the second page, she pulled out a quill from its holder.

“I can’t promise anything fancy,” she said, tapping the paper. “Most of the spare rooms are here, around the courtyard, or here, above the kitchen. The ones with X’s are taken.”

Varric looked over the choices, crossing his arms. “And, ah, where exactly is the Commander staying?”

Elizabeth looked at him, confused. “Cullen? Above his office. Why?”

“No reason,” Varric said quickly, his eyes still on the map. A mage then, Elizabeth thought. She promised herself that she’d have a word with them when they arrived about Cullen not being the average former member of the Order. There was no reason to treat the Commander poorly, or with suspicion. Eventually Varric pointed to a room near her own. “This one would work.” She marked it with an X, and Varric gave her a curt nod. “Thanks, Blaze.”

“Not a problem,” she said. “Why be in charge of something if you can’t do unauthorized favors for your friends based on no information?” She smiled wryly as she left her desk. “I know, I know. You’re thinking that they made the right Trevelyan the Inquisitor. It’s true, I’d be a disaster.” Varric didn’t even laugh, and she gave him a curious look. “So when’s your friend arriving?”

“Sometime in the next two weeks,” he said.

“Is this a personal visit, or…?” She rolled her hand, asking for more details, as they moved back toward the center of the forge. Varric was silent, and she laughed. “Who is this friend anyway? You’re more tight-lipped than Leliana when the Blight comes up.” He tugged his earring. 

Suddenly it clicked. She stopped walking and her mouth fell open.

“No!” she said, astonished.

Varric sighed. “Yeah,” he replied. “But, uh, don’t go blabbing it to everyone, okay?”

“Hawke’s coming here?” she exclaimed, delighted.

Varric scowled at her. “Hey,” he said. “Say it a little louder, Blaze. I don’t think they heard you in the War Room.”

“Maker’s breath!” she said in a gasp. She felt a little giddy, and reminded herself that she was probably too old to giggle. Her eyes drifted back to Varric’s face. “But… how did you find her?” He looked down, and her mouth fell back into an ‘oh’. “Maker, Varric. You knew where she was the whole time.” Suddenly, his reluctance to see the Seeker made sense.

“On a scale of one to ten, how badly is the Herald going to take this?” Varric asked.

“Jane?” Elizabeth asked. “Oh, you don’t have to worry about Jane. She’ll forgive you almost instantly. Cassandra on the other hand…” She trailed off.

Varric’s grim look returned. “Yep,” he agreed. “Cassandra on the other hand.”

They began to walk back toward the door, slowly, both deep in thought. “On the bright side, she probably won’t be back for at least a month,” Elizabeth offered.

“And thank the Maker for that,” Varric muttered. As they reached the door, he opened it and then paused, turning to look at her. “Oh, Blaze? You know that saying about meeting your heroes? And how you should never do it? You, uh, might want to keep that in mind.”

She gave him a confused look, but he simply left, the door creaking shut behind him.

Chapter Text

More than a week passed before Hawke arrived at Skyhold. Elizabeth spent most of the time in the forge, working on her various projects. With the inclusion of the rebel mages, her social group became more varied than it had been at Haven. Her evenings were split evenly between the remaining members of Jane’s inner circle, and people from her Circle --including Ellendra occassionally. A few times, she helped Elan in the courtyard, weeding out a space for an herb garden. Despite being surrounded by snowy wastes--and being situated at a much higher altitude than the frozen lake by Haven--the atmosphere around Skyhold always seemed warm. Elizabeth assumed the previous owners had used some sort of magic to achieve this, though she couldn’t sense anything when she tried to identify it. She wondered if Solas might know. Finding out would mean having to speak with him when he returned, which still made her uneasy. Perhaps Jane could ask him.

Varric had promised that he’d introduce her to Hawke once she arrived, as long as she kept her mouth shut, so she did. The thought of actually meeting the Champion thrilled her. Each morning, she glanced down the strip of balcony outside her room toward Hawke’s door, as if she could sense whether someone was lurking behind it. She tried to remind herself she was a grown woman, one with a sister who was now arguably as famous as Hawke herself. She shouldn't act like a child. 

Still, when Varric came by the forge one afternoon looking a bit fidgety, she couldn’t help but break into a wide grin.

“That, uh, shipment that you wanted came in,” he said, glancing at Harritt. “You wanna come take a look?”

Yes,” she said. He jerked his head toward the door with a smirk, and she followed.

When they got to Hawke’s door, Elizabeth was surprised to hear voices inside. She’d assumed the Champion would come alone. She raised an eyebrow at Varric, but he looked just as confused as she was, his lips pulled down into a frown. Pausing outside, he leaned forward to listen.

“--reflections in the water. His blood turns black on my blade. Behind us, buildings, burning hot and bright. A city on fire, a monstrous mouth with one tooth missing--”

“Ah, shit,” Varric said under his breath. After a quick glance over his shoulder, he opened the door, pushing Elizabeth in first, and slamming it behind them.

Marianne Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall, was standing in the middle of the room in full armor, her muscled arms folded across her chest. She was taller than Elizabeth had expected, with broad shoulders that one did not find often in mages. The tell-tale swipe of blood was smeared across her nose, and more decorated her bare bicep, mapping out something that looked like a glyph. Elizabeth followed her bewildered gaze to the desk in the corner. There sat the boy who’d saved her at Therinfal, perched like a bird on the edge. Hawke turned when she heard them enter. Her eyes slid past Elizabeth and landed on Varric. She made a wild gesture toward the boy with her left hand.

“What the fuck is this?” she asked.

“Kid,” Varric said to the boy. “What did I say about digging around in other people’s heads?”

The boy hung his head. “I’m sorry. I thought I could help.”

“I know,” Varric said, holding up his hands as he approached him, “but not everyone needs you to--.” Before he could finish his sentence, the boy vanished into thin air.

So the boy did have the ability to disappear. At least I’m not crazy, Elizabeth thought, a little relieved. Hawke blinked at the desk, then looked at Varric. “He just appeared right after you left and started babbling about Kirkwall. He’s lucky I didn’t set him on fire.” She frowned at him. “I’m assuming you have some sort of reasonable explanation?”

“That would be Cole,” Varric said. “He’s a member of the Inquisition.”

Elizabeth jerked her gaze away from Hawke. “Is he?” she asked.

“Yeah, the Herald recruited him before we got here,” Varric said. “I’ve been helping keep an eye on him.”

“I haven’t seen him around,” Elizabeth said.

Varric rubbed his neck. “He, uh… keeps a low profile. He’s--and don’t freak out, now--he’s actually a spirit of compassion.”

Hawke’s lips went flat. “An abomination.”

“Jane recruited an abomination?” Elizabeth asked at the same time.

Varric rushed to correct them. “No, no, not an abomination. He’s just a spirit, one who made his own human body. I know it sounds weird, but he’s not possessing anyone. He’s just… him. Chuckles vouches for him, apparently. One of our mages,” he clarified to Hawke.

“Charming,” Hawke said as she relaxed slightly. “I hope your Herald knows what she’s doing.  Not that I’m in a position to throw stones.” She turned to Elizabeth, and her bright blue eyes trailed up from her feet to her face. “So, you must be the sister.”

A smile snuck back onto Elizabeth’s face. “Elizabeth Trevelyan. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Varric nodded his head toward her. “Blaze here is a big fan of your book.”

Hawke rolled her eyes. “I wish you’d stop calling it my book. You won’t even pay me royalties.”

“You have enough money,” Varric said. “Besides, if I paid you royalties, I’d have to pay everyone royalties”

“That's a terrible excuse,” Hawke said. “It isn't called ‘Tale of Everyone Else I Knew In Kirkwall’, is it?"

Varric leaned back against the desk as he crossed his arms. “Hey, that’s not a bad idea. Tales from the Hanged Man.”

“You’re welcome,” Hawke said dryly. “How you wrote anything before we met, I'll never know.” She turned to Elizabeth and raised her eyebrow. “So how’s the book? Did Varric capture my radiant beauty?”

“You… haven’t read it?” Elizabeth asked, surprised.

Hawke gave a bitter laugh. “No. I’m afraid once was enough for me. Knowing the ending can completely ruin a story, you know. Particularly if the ending is a graphic depiction of you stabbing your own lover in the back. But I’m sure it’s just riveting.” Elizabeth flushed and opened her mouth, but Hawke waved away her apology, her mouth twisting into a scowl. “I shouldn’t make fun of you. It is nice to meet a fan. Fewer and fewer of them, after the Conclave.” She shrugged, her armor emphasizing the movement. “Though I don’t know what people expected. I am literally famous for failing to prevent an explosion.”

“Hawke,” Varric warned. “Don’t brood.”

“It’s what you get for leaving me with Fenris,” she shot back, but when Varric laughed, her stance relaxed and she grinned. She studied Elizabeth. “So, Elizabeth Trevelyan. Tethras said you’d want to hear some stories. Let me buy you a drink. I hear there’s a tavern somewhere around here.”

“Not a chance,” Varric said. “We’re doing this my way. You stay in this room, you meet the Herald when she gets back, you tell her what you know about Corypheus, and then you go back to…” He caught himself and glanced at Elizabeth. “Somewhere.”

“Why?” Hawke complained as she made her way toward the desk. She leaned next to him, mirroring his folded arms. “The Divine is dead. The war is over. Well, the one I get credit for, anyhow. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the only group powerful enough to send some sort of Exalted March my way now is the Inquisition.” She shoved his shoulder fondly with her elbow. “And don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got a guy on the inside.” Varric snorted, smiling despite himself. “Besides, I have more than just Corypheus up my sleeve.”

“Is that right?” he asked, curious.

Hawke grinned. “I found a Warden.”

Varric raised his eyebrows, while Elizabeth restrained herself from asking Hawke if she was certain her Warden was a real one. “How’d you manage that?” he asked.

Hawke examined her fingernails. “A mutual friend is working with him on an unrelated project. I'm the only one who knows where the two of them are, and the location is highly classified.” She drew her eyebrows together in mock sympathy as she looked down at Varric. “I’m afraid your Herald will be in need of my services if she wants to meet him.”

“Then you can draw her a map,” Varric replied. “Listen, if Blue knew I dragged you out of hiding to prance around Thedas with the Chantry, she’d have my head on a platter.”

“We're not the Chan--,” Elizabeth began to say, but she was ignored as Hawke’s smile sharpened.

“Oh, Ellie already knows,” she told Varric. “She's the one waiting with our Warden friend.”

Varric’s eyes became dark. “What?” he asked angrily. He pushed himself up from the desk. “You got her involved in this mess?”

“She got herself involved. Don’t worry, Tethras. She can take care of herself.”

“Who’s Ellie?” Elizabeth interrupted.

Hawke turned to her. “My sister.”

Elizabeth gave her a quizzical look. “But I thought your sister was--” She broke off, remembering that she’d already put her foot in her mouth once this conversation.

“My older sister,” Hawke clarified. “Elinor Hawke.” Elizabeth tried to remember the name, and Hawke smiled, looking back at Varric. “No, you wouldn’t know of her. Ellie didn’t make the final draft of Tale.”

“She,” Varric hesitated, his lips still in a line, “doesn’t exactly have Hawke’s flair for the dramatic.”

“Indeed,” Hawke agreed. “And there are some stories Varric Tethras never tells.” Varric started to respond to that, but Hawke spoke over him. “Look, the sooner we get out there to meet this Warden, the sooner Ellie can go back to wherever she was before. She’ll be safe and sound. And once we return, I’m planning to offer my services as an official member of the Inquisition.”

Varric groaned again, gripping the bridge of his nose. “Maker. If you do that, the Seeker’s gonna skin me alive.”

When I do that. It’s a done deal, Tethras. I even brought my lute.” She grinned at Elizabeth. “So. Now that that’s settled, let’s get back to me buying you a drink.” She cocked her eyebrow and looked down at Varric. “You look like you could use one, too.”

Varric blew out a breath. “You’re not wrong,” he admitted, glancing up at her. “But you’re gonna have to wash your face and change into a tunic.” She pouted, and he shook his head. “No. I’m sure you had some sort of grand entrance planned, but I’d rather not attract the attention of the Commander before the Herald gets back.”

Hawke burst into laughter, throwing her head back. “Oh, Maker’s balls, that’s right. I forgot all about Rutherford. Where is he? Maybe I can swing by for a visit first.” Varric glared at her and she held up her hands. “Alright, alright. I'll change. Give me five minutes.”


~~~

 

Josephine had named the tavern The Herald’s Rest, which made it sound a lot loftier than it smelled. The place had only been open two days before the Chargers laid claim to it, and their preference for sleeping in tents--combined with their lack of interest in personal hygiene--had permeated the place with the scent of sweat and beer. Still, Skyhold was a fortress, and they were at war. Elizabeth couldn’t begrudge them for acting like soldiers.

The plan to get a drink turned into several drinks and dinner. For every round of ale Varric and Elizabeth drank, Hawke had two. As the the afternoon turned into evening, she told Elizabeth animated stories about Kirkwall, with frequent interjections or corrections from Varric. Elizabeth could not have been more delighted, which, in turn, seemed to please Hawke immensely. Occasionally, she would fall into the same bitter humor she’d displayed earlier, and Varric would have to snap her out of it. Not that Elizabeth was surprised. In fact, she was more surprised that Hawke seemed in such good spirits the rest of the time.

Unfortunately, one topic Elizabeth was wildly curious about was off the table. She knew from Varric that at one point, Hawke had been a blood mage. She’d met a few people who had turned to blood magic in the Circle. More often than not, they were weak apprentices, worried about passing their Harrowing, and in every case, they’d been made Tranquil, or worse. She’d never met a powerful mage who’d felt that the risk of possession or being labeled a maleficar could be worth it. What had swayed Hawke to make that choice? Was it just how things worked in Kirkwall? Still, she bit her tongue, knowing it would get Varric in trouble with his friend. She was happy to at least be able to learn about some of the more amusing anecdotes that had not made the book.

Hawke and Varric were in the middle of trying to impersonate a particularly haughty Revered Mother they’d known when Cole appeared on the table. They all started, Hawke reaching for a staff that wasn't there.

“Marks on his mouth, scars too old to heal. Wounded as the coast we stand on. A mage, like me. There’s a rush in my chest as I tell him he’s free, but then--” Cole broke off, looking a little lost. “He didn’t want that kind of freedom.”

“Ah!” Hawke said with a smirk, relaxing. “And so our friend returns.”

“Kid,” Varric began in a cautious tone.

Hawke shushed him. “He’s fine, let him speak. I’m curious.”

Cole turned to her. “It wasn’t your fault. He’d been in a cage so long that he changed. The sight of the sky scared him. You couldn’t have done anything.”

Hawke watched him as he spoke, her eyes a little glassy from the ale. “Good to know.” Hawke placed her chin in her hands, her elbows on the table. “Tell me… Compassion, was it?”  Cole stared at her blankly.

“He just goes by Cole,” Varric told her.

Hawke smiled. “Tell me, Cole. What exactly are you trying to accomplish?”

“I want to stop the hurt. Helping, healing. I make the pain go away.”

Hawke tilted her head, confused. “If you’re trying to heal me, then why do you do that poetry bit at the beginning? You must realize those are some very painful memories.”

“I need to find the pain to heal it,” Cole explained.

“I see,” Hawke said. “And when you do that, does it… help people? Or does it hurt them?”

Cole was silent for a moment. “It hurts them,” he admitted slowly. “I used to be able to make them forget. But I can’t always, not anymore.” His head tipped forward, and his hat obscured his face. “Sometimes I can make it better with words, but it’s harder now. I… can’t always make them understand.”

“Maybe you need practice,” Hawke suggested, leaning back. She picked up her mug. “Going straight to the big stuff must be overwhelming. Why don’t you start with little hurts? The kind that won’t make people so sad. You’ll still be helping.”

Cole nodded slowly. “I… could do that. Yes. Healing the cuts and bruises, lifting the lesser pains until I am stronger.” He looked up, his eyes wide. “Thank you.”

Before Hawke could reply, he disappeared again. She snorted into her ale and shook her head.

“Do you really think that will work?” Elizabeth asked.

Hawke shrugged as she took a sip. “Maybe for a little while,” she said, glancing around the tavern. “But it won’t last. Spirits have a tendency to bite off more than they can chew. When they’re in our world, at least.” She took a deeper swig, then turned to Varric, a wicked grin appearing on her face. “I have an idea. Let’s go bother Rutherford.”

Varric glared at her. “No.”

“Come on, it’ll be like old times,” she insisted.

Hawke ,” Varric said.

“What?” she asked innocently. “We parted on good terms.” At Varric’s scoff, she scrunched up her face. “Comparatively good terms. Sort of. I mean, if you squinted and tilted your head.” She shrugged her shoulders. “He did let me leave the city, didn’t he?”

“I think that had more to do with the whole ‘the Divine is gonna send an Exalted March to wherever Hawke is’ rumor than any sudden fondness on his end.” Varric gestured at Elizabeth. “Besides, as we both can confirm, Curly’s a changed man.”

Hawke made a face. “Curly ?” She shook her head. “Ugh. Will wonders never cease.”

“Was Cullen very different in Kirkwall?” Elizabeth asked Varric, curiously.

He furrowed his brow. “You read the book.”

“I did,” Elizabeth said. “After we met, I assumed you'd exaggerated some of his flaws for the sake of the plot.” She blinked, surprised. “You… didn't?”

“Nope, that was pretty much Curly back then,” Varric said. “He wasn’t a bad guy, just…”

“An asshole,” Hawke supplied.

“Not mage-friendly,” Varric finished over her.

“Unless they had a sunburst tattoo,” Hawke said, hazily moving her hand to her forehead. She glanced at Elizabeth. “Tethras says you were an enchanter at a Circle before the war. Where?”

“Ostwick,” Elizabeth replied, an uneasy feeling in her stomach. “Why?”

“Just thank the Maker it wasn't Kirkwall,” Hawke said. “Enchanter or no, your Commander might have branded you himself.”

Elizabeth couldn’t have heard her right. “Are you saying that Cullen performed the Rite on Harrowed mages?” she asked, horrified.

Varric glanced between them, realization dawning in his eyes. “Maybe Blaze has heard enough about Kirkwall for one--”

“Two that we knew of,” Hawke interrupted. Elizabeth dropped her gaze to the table. Suddenly the stew was disagreeing with her stomach. A dark tone entered Hawke’s voice. “But he must have overseen others. Knight-Captain duties, you know.”

“That was then,” Varric said, and Elizabeth heard him as if from a distance. “This is now. He’s changed. After all the shit he did for Kirkwall after you left, Hawke, he at least deserves a second chance. The city would have fallen apart without him. It’s not like--” He continued speaking, but the words blurred together into a vague hum. Elizabeth was unable to stop herself from picturing Cullen in the templar armor he’d worn to Therinfal, standing over a kneeling figure.

“Blaze?” Varric asked, finally.

Elizabeth jerked up her head, realizing he’d asked her a question. “What?”

“I said, Curly’s never mistreated any of the mages here, right?”

Elizabeth paused, then shook her head, but her gaze slid back down to the table.

“I still can't get over this Curly thing,” Hawke said, amused. Her voice was beginning to sound a little slurred. “It’s like calling a a hurlock Snookums. Tell me, are we going to give a nickname to Corypheus as well? Blighty perhaps ? ” Her smile twisted, turning slightly sour. “Though I suppose you did give one to Anders, so it’s not like your standards are--”

Suddenly the tavern felt too warm, and Elizabeth realized she was in actual danger of losing her dinner. She stood up, feeling a little dizzy from the ale. “I should go,” she told them.

Varric stood as well, looking concerned. “Blaze,” he said in an earnest tone. “Listen, the Commander and Hawke didn’t get along in Kirkwall, so take what she says with a grain of salt, okay? He did a lot of good, too, especially when the city went to shit. We worked on the same team a few times. He fought against Meredith, and he basically ran the city until Cassandra showed up.” He held out his hands. “Do you think I would be okay with him otherwise?”

Hawke’s face became serious as she studied Elizabeth’s. “Oh,” she said. “Is she friends with him?”

Varric looked annoyed. “Now you ask.”

“It’s fine,” Elizabeth said, looking up. “Really. I’m just tired.”

Varric didn’t look like he believed her, but he relaxed. “At least let us walk you back,” he said. Elizabeth gave him a reluctant nod. Hawke pushed herself up from the table, swaying slightly, and they headed to the tavern door.

 

~~~

 

The three of them climbed the stone stairs to the main building, with Varric gripping Hawke by the elbow and Elizabeth following. Hawke frowned down at the courtyard. “Shouldn’t this have some sort of railing? It’s a death trap as it is.”

“Most people who use it haven’t had six ales, Hawke,” Varric said.

“The tavern’s right there. If I’m staying, we’re definitely going to need a railing.” A giggle escaped from her lips. “Can you imagine the gravestone? Marianne Hawke. Champion of Kirkwall. Defeater of the mighty Arishok. Killed by stairs.” 

Elizabeth was still lost in her own thoughts, but the fresh air helped. She was in the middle of taking another deep breath when she almost ran into Varric’s back. He and Hawke had stopped just inside the castle doorway, staring straight ahead at the three figures talking by the fireplace. Elizabeth peered forward. She recognized the Council, and she felt her stomach drop. Varric muttered a curse under his breath.

“--and regardless, the Inquisitor insists that our ability to manipulate the Duchy is not a factor in making this decision,” Josephine was saying.

Cullen began to respond as he glanced toward the door. “I hate to belabor a point, but there are other reasons--” He froze, a flicker of confusion in his eyes as they locked on Hawke. Then the color began to drain from his face.

Hawke straightened, pulling her elbow out of Varric’s hand. “Hullo, Rutherford,” she said pleasantly. Cullen blinked in disbelief and stared for a long moment without responding. “Or is it Curly now? I’ve heard rumors.”

He recovered, crossing his arms in a manner that made Elizabeth stiffen. “Champion,” he said in a cold tone. “I did not realize you were at Skyhold.” Josephine’s eyebrows shot up and her mouth formed an ‘oh’, while Leliana looked doubtful.

“Well,” Hawke said, throwing her hands up, “surprise! Here I am.” There was another pause. Cullen looked at Varric, who was grimacing at the floor. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends?”

“Ah--yes,” Cullen said, shaking his head to clear it as he moved forward. Elizabeth flinched, taking a step back. He gave her a brief look of confusion, then turned back to Hawke. “This is Josephine Montilyet, Ambassador to the Inquisition, and, Leliana, Left Hand of the former Divine.” He glanced at the other Council members. “Allow me to present the Champion of Kirkwall, Marianne Hawke.”

“Just Hawke’s fine,” she said.

Leliana bowed her head slightly. “We’ve… met before,” she said in a puzzled tone. “Twice. Supposedly. But the more I look at you, the more sure I am that it was another woman.”

“Oh,” Hawke replied with a laugh. “That would’ve been my sister. She played me whenever we thought my apostate status might be a problem.” She smirked. “For example, when I needed to meet a high ranking member of the Chantry.” Leliana raised her eyebrows. “Don’t feel bad. It took Rutherford here three whole years to catch on.”

Cullen’s lips twitched down. “To be fair, you were not that well-known at the time.” Hawke scoffed, swaying dramatically. He narrowed his eyes. “Are you drunk?”

Elizabeth’s stomach lurched. She knew it was not what he meant, but the sudden memory of a furious templar lecturing apprentices about the dangers of mages drinking came to her mind. She felt she couldn’t stay a moment longer and mumbled an ‘excuse me ’ under her breath as she pushed past Varric, feeling gazes on her back.

“Elizabeth?” Josephine called after her. “Are you alright?”

She didn’t respond. She walked toward the door to the garden. She needed to be outside, needed to breathe.

“She’ll be fine,” she heard Hawke say as she pushed the door open. “I was just telling her about Kirkwall. She was particularly interested in hearing about you, Rutherford--”

Hawke’s voice was cut off as the door slammed behind her.

 

~~~

 

Once Elizabeth calmed down and felt a little more sober, she returned to her room. She felt a little ashamed that she’d run out on them, but the shame was overwhelmed by her other emotions. Sitting on her bed, she wished desperately for Jane, but then realized she wasn’t even sure what she would say to her sister.

You’d tell me the truth, an imaginary Jane told her. You’d tell me the truth, and I would say…

Elizabeth paused, wondering what her sister would say. She was fairly sure Jane was still in love with Cullen, which at first made her think she’d defend him. But then she realized that her sister would defend him anyway, for who he had been since they’d met him. Jane’s words from Haven came to mind, from when Elizabeth had told her about the mark’s origins. From when she’d suspected that Solas meant to harm her sister. The shame in her stomach tried to surge, but she quelled it as she focused on remembering.

He wants to close the Breach. His actions prove that.

Elizabeth had treated Solas in good faith only out of sisterly love after that, but in the end, Jane had been right. She often was. If Elizabeth had only looked at Solas’s actions, or asked him about his treatment of Blackwall, or stopped interpreting his every word as offensive, she would have noticed that he was a good person, despite his flaws. Instead, she’d let herself assume the worst.

She stood. After all he’d done for her sister and the Inquisition, Cullen at least deserved to be heard. Varric seemed to believe he was a changed man, or at least believed he’d earned the right to try. It had only been an hour since they’d seen him in the hallway, and she assumed he would still be awake.

She splashed some water on her face and left, making her way to his office.

 

~~~

 

Cullen was in his chair, leaning over his desk when she knocked and entered. He had his head pressed against his hand and his eyes closed.

“Did the report come through already?” he said in a tired voice.

“It’s me,” she replied.

Cullen looked up, startled. “Elizabeth.”

She took a deep breath, stalling. “I wanted to ask you something,” she said finally. He waited, a look of grim acceptance on his face. “Hawke said that you personally performed the Rite of Tranquility on two enchanters in Kirkwall. Is that true?”

Cullen watched her for beat. “There were four, actually,” he replied, his voice dropping an octave. “They were suspected of blood magic.” The word ‘suspected’  hung heavy in the air. “It was standard procedure for maleficar. Meredith wanted them executed. At the time, I thought another option was a mercy, though I understand now that perhaps I was wrong.” He tilted his head forward, searching the papers on his desk, and then met her eyes again. “My views were… severe. And my awakening came far too late. I regret that deeply now. But I never broke Chantry law.” His jaw tensed. “Not that that would be much of a comfort to you, I realize.”

Elizabeth did not relax. “Did you see other people break Chantry law?”

Cullen’s lips grew drawn. “Yes.”

“People below your rank?”

He exhaled, breaking eye contact. “Yes.”

“And you didn’t try to stop them?” she asked.

“Not often enough,” he admitted. He pushed his chair away from the desk and stood, moving to stand in front of it. Elizabeth tried to hold back an urge to flinch again as he came closer, but he saw it and stopped, a sad look in his eyes. “I had orders of my own. Meredith had persuaded me that such measures were necessary. And there were maleficarum in Kirkwall. Sometimes the sheer number of apostates who turned to blood magic seemed unthinkable.” He broke his gaze away. Elizabeth remembered Varric mentioning the same thing, and reminded herself that even Hawke had turned to it at some point. “She used those crimes to justify taking action against disobedient enchanters within the Gallows. Anyone who tried to interfere was told to stand down, per her express orders.”

“Sometimes by you,” Elizabeth guessed.

“Sometimes by me,” he acquiesced. “Though other times, I was the one who needed to be told. There were templars who were more extreme than I was. Hearing their views allowed me to consider my own moderate. And so I remained blind to the fact that I had led myself astray for… a long time. Too long.” He looked back at her. “When I first arrived, Meredith was still considered the savior of the city. Less than a decade had passed since she’d killed a Viscount that many considered a tyrant, saving Kirkwall from falling into chaos. Even the mages called her a hero. Before Hawke won her title, Meredith was the champion of Kirkwall in all but name. We trusted her fully when she told us that certain actions, left unchecked, would lead to blood magic. Or worse.” He stepped around to face his window. “I was… not quite in a state of mind to think otherwise.”

Elizabeth watched him warily without speaking. She’d read enough about the Hero of Ferelden to know what had happened at Kinloch, but it was no justification. If she had been at Kirkwall at fourteen-- if she’d been caught using the Veil to see--then she might very well be Tranquil by now, by Cullen’s own men.

He continued, as if he’d read her thoughts. “I am not looking to excuse my actions,” he explained. “There is no apology strong enough for my hand in what happened to the city, or to the mages who suffered--people entrusted to my care. But I did vow that I would not let myself go so far again. That I would do everything in my power to become a better person. When I left Kirkwall…” He turned back to look at her, his lips thin. “When I left Kirkwall, I stopped taking lyrium.”

Elizabeth did not have feign her surprise at his confession. She had not thought he would tell her, as he had to know that she would tell Jane. She felt her shoulders lose some of their tension.

“It doesn’t just give templars powers, you know,” he said. “It helps them forget things--which makes them easier to control. It heightens their awareness, but at the price of… paranoia.” He swallowed. “I was… perhaps taking too much in Kirkwall.” He fell silent and stared at the ground.

Elizabeth considered this, studying his face. She remembered the powerful strength of the lyrium she’d taken at Haven--his lyrium. She thought of Ser Barris and Ser Caitlin, stationed at Therinfal Redoubt, oblivious to the corruption among their ranks until it was too late. She thought of the kinder templars at Ostwick, and how quickly they’d turned steely toward her in the days before her Harrowing.

“You should tell Jane,” Elizabeth said suddenly. Cullen’s head jerked up.

“What?” he asked.

“You should tell Jane about the lyrium,” Elizabeth clarified. “As Inquisitor, she has a right to know.”

His face eased in understanding. “You… aren’t going to tell her,” he said slowly.

Elizabeth shook her head. “It’s not my place. You can decide. Same with Kirkwall. Though with Hawke here, it might be a good idea.”

Cullen bowed his head. “Very well.” For a long moment, neither of them spoke.

“I should let you get back to work,” Elizabeth said.

She’d already begun to open the door when he spoke again. “Elizabeth, I am… very sorry to disappoint you.”

Elizabeth paused, looking back at him with a sigh. “For whatever it’s worth, the reason I’m disappointed is because you’ve succeeded,” she said. “You’ve become a better person. The man I met at Haven-- I wouldn’t think him capable of such cruelty.” Cullen dropped his gaze, his brow knotted. In a lower voice, she added, “And perhaps he is not.”

Cullen’s mouth tightened as he glanced back up, an unreadable expression passing across his face. He nodded once and then picked up a piece of parchment from his desk.  As he began to read, Elizabeth walked out onto the ramparts, feeling the cool air brush against her face.

Chapter Text

Despite sleeping fitfully, Elizabeth woke early with a nervous energy thrumming through her veins. She splashed water on her face from the washbasin on her desk, feeling eager to do something with her hands--anything to keep her mind from Circles and templars.

She still hadn’t figured out what to carve on her new staff. The last one had the Trevelyan crest--a horse with a crown on its head--but somehow it felt wrong to bear arms for a title she no longer held. Besides, Harritt would give her one of his infamous looks of disdain if he caught her etching a staff when he was still working hard to equip unarmed men. New soldiers had been pouring in since they’d arrived at Skyhold, and Harritt was struggling to keep up with the recruitment rate. She assumed he’d want her on blanks for the day.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. Tugging a tunic over her head, she went to open it. To her surprise, Hawke was on the other side, dressed in a fresh shirt and leaning on the frame.

“You haven’t seen Tethras, have you?” she asked, by way of greeting.

“Good morning,” Elizabeth said. “I haven’t, no.”

Hawke brushed into the room. Elizabeth stood for a moment, blinking, then closed the door. “I can’t find him anywhere,” Hawke told her, sitting backwards on the desk chair. She folded her arms across the back and placed her chin on them. “I’m starting to think he’s mad at me.”

“Why would he be mad at you?” Elizabeth asked, picking up her discarded clothes from the ground. Hawke didn’t seem to notice the mess, shrugging as she stared into space. Elizabeth pushed them into a drawer, sliding it shut with her hip. “It’s early. Maybe he’s still asleep.”

Hawke shook her head. “I checked his room.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at that. “I see,” she replied. “Well, he could be with the Council. I’m sure they have a thousand questions for him.”

“Could be,” Hawke said. She started chewing on a nail. “I thought they’d want me present for that conversation.”

Elizabeth gave her a half-smile as she leaned against the windowsill. “After your friendly reunion with the Commander last night? Maybe not.”

Hawke stopped chewing her nail, her lips turning down at the edge. “If Rutherford has an issue with me, then he can say it to my face.”

“I actually don’t think he does,” Elizabeth said. “I spoke with him last night.”

Hawke looked at her, and Elizabeth realized that perhaps that had been the wrong thing to say. “Is that so?” she asked, her tone cooler.

“Yes,” Elizabeth replied carefully. “You didn’t come up, though. We cleared the air. Or at least, I hope we did.” She dropped her gaze. “Mostly he talked about Kirkwall and why he left the Order.” She paused, not wanting to betray his confidence. “About his choices. And… regrets.”

Hawke snorted, relaxing. “So a bunch of bullshit, basically,” she replied.

Elizabeth looked back up, frowning. “He sounded sincere,” she said.

Hawke gave her an amused look of disbelief, then turned her head away as she stood. “Right,” she said. “Of course he did.” She made her way to the door, glancing back at Elizabeth as she opened it. “Anyway, if you do see Tethras, tell him I’m looking for him. And… that I’m sorry.”

“I will,” Elizabeth said, watching after Hawke in confusion. She finished dressing and headed down to the forge.

 

 ~~~

 

Harritt did indeed want her on blanks. Usually, she preferred to work on more complicated weapons, but she was preoccupied and grateful for the repetitive work. She worried briefly that she should have been more supportive in her conversation with Cullen the night before; he was clearly still struggling with what he was attempting to do. On the other hand, she felt it would be too easy for her to say something inappropriate, given her own experiences. Her hope was that when her sister returned, she would be able to encourage him; Maker knew that Jane had been a pillar of strength for her often enough.

The conversation with Hawke also bothered her, though she could not put her finger on why. She turned it over in her head a few times, as if examining it for cracks or missing pieces, but couldn’t suss out a reason for her concern.

Unfortunately, distractions and smithing were not a good mix, and when she came into the main hall around lunchtime, she was holding an icy rag to a new burn on the back of her hand. Since she’d entered that morning, scaffolding had been erected. Men were busy at work, fixing beams and patching up worn areas on the walls. Though it was still too early to see it, she knew from dining with the Council that Josephine had decided on an Orlesian style. The majority of their connections were now in Orlais, and the ambassador wanted visiting nobles to feel as comfortable as possible. Their Ferelden members were not exactly pleased with the decision, but given that Jane was from Ostwick, everyone agreed it was better than bird statues.

Elizabeth spotted Varric by the fireplace and began to make her way over.

“Renovations are moving quickly, aren’t they?” she said as she approached.

Varric looked up from his book and smiled. “I guess Ruffles wasn’t kidding around when she said she had plans.” He studied her face. “How’re you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” she said.

“You sure?” he asked. “Last night got a little awkward. I know there’s bad blood between Hawke and Curly, in both directions, but I don’t want you to think--”

“Relax,” Elizabeth interrupted, waving a hand. “Cullen and I talked.” She sat in the chair across from him and curled her legs up under her. “I agree with you, for the record. He’s trying. And I did read the book. I don’t know why I was surprised.” She pressed a new wave of ice and healing into her hand, wincing. “Well, I shouldn’t say that. I was surprised because he’s doing a good job at trying. Hearing about it all just… caught me off guard.”

“Did you tell him that?” Varric asked. Elizabeth nodded, and he leaned back, reassured. “Good. I think he was a little thrown off, too.”

“I could tell,” Elizabeth agreed. “My plan is to give him some space until Jane gets back. Both for his sake and for mine. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant conversation.”

“I bet,” Varric said. He tapped his book cover thoughtfully. “When’s she back again?”

“The end of this week, according to Leliana.” Elizabeth glanced around and then lowered her voice, dipping her head forward. “By the way, Hawke’s looking for you,” she said.

Varric chuckled. “The Council sent letters out to the Seeker and the Herald this morning,” he said in a normal voice. “I think we can drop the cloak and dagger bit.”

Elizabeth leaned back. “Well, she said to tell you she’s sorry.”

Varric’s smile faded. “She did?” he asked. “For what? Telling you about Curly?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “She didn’t specify. She seems to think you’re mad at her.” Varric suddenly looked concerned. He exhaled, glancing at the fireplace and she looked at him, curious. “ Are you?”

“Nah,” he said, standing. “She just--- never mind, it’s not important. I should go find her.” He gave her a wave with his book. “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll see you around, Blaze.”

 

~~~

 

Whatever had worried Hawke evaporated in the following days. Elizabeth would admit to feeling relieved when she next saw the Champion and Varric together, seeming to be at perfect ease with each other. For the next few nights, she found them up on the ramparts, passing a bottle of brown liquor back and forth.

Hawke continued to warm to Elizabeth, throwing an arm around her neck when they ran into each other during the day, and demanding to be introduced to various people around the castle. She even asked if Elizabeth would like to spar, mage-on-mage, a suggestion that Elizabeth found equally hilarious and terrifying. She explained to Hawke that the only people who’d get any practice out of that arrangement would be the healers.

Being singled out as a friend by the Champion was flattering, and all the moreso when Hawke approached her in front of Ellendra or her other Ostwick acquaintances. She found that she liked Hawke and could soon return her overtures at friendship with genuine affection. Hawke was lively and quick-witted, and very well-read.

Elizabeth did notice, however, that she was determined in her opinions. Either her feelings were more extreme than most peoples’, or she had little experience in moderation when sharing them.

She assumed Hawke’s geniality was the result of Varric’s friendship--as well as her own relationship to Jane--though she also suspected that perhaps her obvious appreciation played a factor. It was clear that Hawke burned brightest when people praised her. Fortunately, most of Skyhold was happy to help.

But if all the talk about the Champion of Kirkwall made Hawke shine, then it had the exact opposite effect on the Commander. Elizabeth took giving him space seriously--she’d stopped eating dinner with the Council and tried to give his office a wide berth. Still, it was impossible to avoid him entirely, and what she did see worried her. His face had always had a drawn quality to it, but by the end of Hawke’s first week, grey circles appeared beneath his eyes and the stiffness of his shoulders began to look painful. Elizabeth considered speaking to him again, but decided against it, certain anything she could say to him would only make things worse.

She only hoped Jane would be able to do more.

 

~~~

 

The evening her sister returned, Elizabeth and Dorian joined Hawke and Varric on the ramparts to watch the party arrive. Hawke seemed to enjoy Dorian’s company despite herself. It helped, of course, that he was a huge fan of the book--and that he found her apostate upbringing in Ferelden fascinating, offering many opportunities for Hawke to talk about herself. Elizabeth still caught Hawke looking at him like she was trying to figure out a particularly difficult riddle sometimes, but overall, they remained friendly.

“Aha!” Hawke exclaimed as she leaned over the edge of the parapet, her eyes on Skyhold’s bridge. “Here they come now.” Elizabeth and Varric were seated on a bench against the wall on the other side of the platform, sipping the spiced Ferelden dandelion wine that Hawke had brought with her, while Dorian stood beside them. “Do you think I’ll be able to see the mark from here?”

“I doubt it,” Varric replied.

After a pause, Hawke leaned further forward. “Oh, I see the Qunari.”

“Yes, he rather stands out, doesn’t he?” Dorian said with a grimace, swirling the liquid in his glass. Varric, Hawke, and Elizabeth were taking turns with the bottle, but he’d insisted on bringing his own cup, much to Hawke’s amusement. “He’s like a small horse.”

Hawke hummed as she looked down. “The Arishok was bigger,” she said, her voice purposely casual. Varric snorted, and she shot him an amused look. “Oh, shut it. I’m sure in the book, the Arishok is twenty feet tall with fists the size of druffalo and eyes the color of molten gold.”

“So you have read it!” Varric exclaimed.

Hawke pursed her lips, turning back. “Wait, who’s the other one with horns?” She looked concerned. “You don’t have two Qunari, do you?”

Dorian moved to stand next to Hawke, looking down. “Ah,” he said with a chuckle. “No. That would be a hat. The owner is Madame de Fer, the distinguished First Enchanter of… hmm. Well, one of your Southern Circles.”

“Montsimmard,” Elizabeth supplied.

“Yes,” Dorian said. “Thank you.”

Hawke peered closer. “It’s a hat?” she asked, raising her eyebrows. “Oh, that is sharp.” She smirked, darting a glance toward the bench. “Nice to know some Circle mages manage to learn about fashion while locked away from polite society.”

It took a second for Elizabeth to feel the blow. “What!” she exclaimed, outraged, as Dorian burst out laughing. He sat down beside her, patting her arm. She placed a delicate hand on her chest. “I happen to have excellent taste.”

“Please,” Hawke said without turning. “You wear a plaideweave scarf. Voluntarily.”

“Yellow suits me,” Elizabeth replied, settling against the wall. She fought back a smile. “It brings out the gold in my hair.”

“Plaideweave suits no one ,” Dorian said from her side.

Elizabeth rolled her head to give him a wounded look. “Thanks, Maferath,” she said. She turned her head to her other side. “Varric? A little help?”

Hawke chuckled. “If you’re trying to prove you understand fashion, probably don’t go straight to the dwarf who thinks chest hair is an accessory.”

“Hey!” Varric said, holding up his hands. “I wasn’t planning to get involved.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “But just remember, I’m not the one who ran around in those flimsy orange robes for a year straight.”

“Now there’s an image,” Dorian said to Elizabeth, who covered her laugh with her hand.

Hawke rolled her eyes before looking back at the bridge. “Speaking of plaideweave, I assume that poorly-dressed elf is the Red Jenny?” Varric made an affirmative hum, and Hawke leaned down, placing her chin on her hand. “Well. Quite a diverse crowd the Inquisitor has going.” She frowned. “And they all seem so civil .”

“Indeed,” Dorian said dryly. “ Civil . Why, it’s been at least two weeks since anyone’s accused me of being a spy.”

“Believe me, that is civil,” Hawke replied. “Relatively civil, at least. Civil-ish. I haven’t gotten the impression that any of you are literally going to kill each other the moment I turn my back. It’s refreshing, actually.”

Varric sighed, grabbing the bottle from Elizabeth. “Don’t hold your breath. There’ll be plenty of death threats to go around once the Seeker gets back. You might even be on the receiving end this time.”

“Fair enough,” Hawke said. “I'd probably deserve it.” She squinted at the bridge. “Who’s the beard?”

Varric took a sip of the wine then dragged his wrist across his mouth. “The what?” he asked.

Hawke gestured at her face. “The beard,” she said. “Right behind the Herald. I don’t think you mentioned him.” Varric handed Elizabeth the bottle before he stood, peering between the gap in the parapet. He blinked in surprise, and then laughed.

“Well, I’ll be a nug’s uncle,” he said, turning around. “Looks like the Herald found your Warden, Blaze.”

Elizabeth felt every muscle in her body freeze. “ What ?” she asked.

“Blackwall,” Varric clarified. She stood to join them and looked down at the bridge, recognizing the man who called himself Blackwall instantly. Varric crossed his arms. “Guess he decided to join the party after all.”

“That’s Blackwall?” Hawke said, suddenly interested. She paused, studying him. The group had reached the courtyard by then, and Elizabeth moved herself to be slightly less visible. “He looks younger than I expected.”

Varric gave her a smug smirk. “Guess the Herald won’t be needing Blue’s Warden after all,” he said.

“Oh, yes, she will,” Elizabeth replied darkly. At Varric’s confused look, she added, “He didn’t have any information at Longbourn. If he’s not in hiding yet, he probably hasn’t learned anything new.”

“Maybe,” Varric admitted. “You gonna go greet your sister?”

Elizabeth watched the man behind Jane a moment longer and then nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I should do that.” She gave Hawke the bottle and made for the stairs.

“Let the Inquisitor know that we await her command,” Hawke said loftily before taking a deep swig.

 

~~~

 

 

Elizabeth passed Bull and Vivienne on the stairs, sparing a brief nod for both of them. A couple of scouts were greeting Jane and the rest of the party. Her sister gave her a brilliant smile as she handed her horse’s rein off to one of them.

“Lizzie!” she exclaimed, hugging her. “I missed you.”

“I missed you, too,” Elizabeth replied, holding her for a moment. They disentangled, and she forced her gaze to stay on her sister’s face. “How was the Fallow Mire?”

The corners of Jane’s eyes became a little tight. “It was… interesting,” she said, as if reluctantly.

“Pfft,” Sera said from behind her. She got off her horse. “Interesting if you like dead things. And rain. And mud . In places .”

“We did go to the Hinterlands afterward,” Jane said.

“Not better,” Sera insisted, shaking her head. “You’d think, but it wasn’t. Bit of a let down, really. Buncha bears and… oxy-whats-its. Creepy skull thingies.”

“Ocularum,” Jane explained to her sister.

Sera made a face, shuddering.  “Anyway. You’re lucky you’re fun to ride behind, Lady Herald .” Jane blushed, laughing. “But next time, let’s go someplace warm, yeah?”

Jane smiled. “From Cassandra’s reports, you might not like ‘warm’ much either. Unless sand and scorpions appeal to you.”

“Ugh,” Sera said, leading her horse off toward the stables. “No, thank you. Stupid nature, ruining everything .”

Jane glanced after Sera for a moment as the other scouts left, and the figure behind her stepped forward.

“My lady,” the man who called himself Blackwall said with a dip of his head. His smile echoed her sister’s, his handsome brown eyes crinkling at the edges.

Elizabeth felt her back tense. “Warden Blackwall,” she said finally. “I didn't expect to see you here.”

Jane turned back, looking delighted. “Are you surprised?” she asked, her eyes darting between them.

“Astonished,” Elizabeth managed to say quietly. Something in the tone must have betrayed her. The man stiffened. He read her face, and his eyes became sad.

Jane continued, oblivious to the unspoken communication that had flashed between the two of them. “He was training villagers again. I told him he was still very welcome to join the Inquisition, if he could spare the time. I thought--”

A voice interrupted. “Inquisitor!” Josephine called, waving from the steps. “If you have a moment?”

Jane waved back with a sigh. “I should go. We’ll talk later, Lizzie. I have a few things to handle before dinner.” She gave Elizabeth a coy smile. “And I’m sure you both have a lot to catch up on.” That drew a huff from Blackwall, who looked away as Jane left.

After a moment of them standing alone by the gate, the man sighed. “He told you,” he said without looking up, resignation in his voice. Any lingering doubts that Elizabeth had about Solas’s letter vanished.

“Yes,” she replied. There was a long pause, and she glanced around to make sure no one could hear them. She stepped forward, lowering her voice. “Who are you, really? Why are you travelling under his name?” The man didn’t reply after several seconds, so she tried another route. “Is the real Blackwall still alive?”

“No,” the man replied. Elizabeth must have looked alarmed, because he added, “But he’s not dead by my hand.”

Elizabeth looked over his stooped shoulders and doleful face, his eyes tired and worn. “Why did you even come here?” she asked, her voice almost silent.

The man licked his lips. “When I heard about Haven, I thought--,” he began. “It felt wrong. Like I should’ve been there. Like I could’ve helped, if I were. I’ve handled surprise attacks before. Every night, I lay there, thinking, wondering how many innocent people are dead because I was too much of a coward to show up.” His brow drew tight. “Then the Herald of Andraste comes along and offers me a second chance.” He ran a hand over his beard, shaking his head. “No one at the camps looked suspicious. Two weeks ago, I got a letter from your younger sister, and she didn’t mention anything. I thought maybe the elf had second thoughts, or that you’d all decided--” He broke off again, looking up. “It doesn’t matter, in the end, does it? You’ll tell her, I suppose.” Elizabeth nodded, and he sighed. “Well. I won’t get too comfortable, then.”

He turned away, leading his horse to the barn. Elizabeth stared after him and felt her pulse return to normal.

“Fuck,” she said quietly. It felt like every choice she’d made since she’d received Kitty’s letter had been the wrong one. She squeezed her eyes shut tight and reminded herself that she could make some of them right.

 

 

Chapter Text

Elizabeth’s first impulse as she left the courtyard was to find Jane immediately. She was halfway up the stairs to the castle before she realized that might not be the best idea. As impatient as she was to tell Jane about Blackwall, she couldn’t very well interrupt Inquisition business without giving the Council a good reason. Unless she wanted to burst into the war room and tell several of the best connected people she knew in Southern Thedas about the time an elven apostate had kissed her in the Fade, she’d have to wait a little longer.

Then there was the matter of Cullen. On the one hand, if she were to relate part of the letter to Jane, she felt she should relate the whole of it--or even let her read the letter herself. On the other, she wanted to give Cullen time to tell her sister about the lyrium himself. Also, Jane still had to meet with Hawke. Any business regarding Corypheus was clearly more important than whatever game the man who called himself Blackwall was playing.

She pressed her fingers to her forehead, squeezing her eyes shut. Say what you will about the Circle , she thought to herself wryly, but things never got this complicated there. Once again, the nervous energy surged through her veins.

“Blanks,” she said aloud, startling a guard who was passing by. She managed an apologetic smile before heading toward the forge.

 

~~~

 

Harritt kicked her out just before dinnertime, after she’d burned herself for the fifth time.

“You can’t kill yourself over a few swords,” he said. “Soon as I’m finished here, I’m closing up anyway.”

“But the new recruits--” she began as she looked up from healing the burn on her forearm.

“They’ll be fine,” he said sternly. He secured a rope around the dozen blanks she’d made and began to move them to his own work table. “Half of them are barely fifteen anyway. The Commander won’t be taking them out any time soon. They can make do with wooden sticks in the meantime.” He shook his head, pulling on a thick apron. “Sometimes I think you forget you’re noble born.”

Elizabeth’s lips parted in surprise before she responded. “I lost my title when I was nine, Harritt,” she said.

He snorted as he tested the grip of one of the pommels, before attaching it to a blade. “Don’t mean to be rude, but that makes no difference to those of us who never had a title in the first place. Doubt your lord father will care much either way about the technicalities if he sees you injured.” He sniffed. “Besides, you’ve got yourself a new title.”

“Have I?” she asked.

He glanced up. “Inquisitor’s sister,” he said, as if it were obvious.

She pursed her lips. “That’s hardly official,” she said.

He shrugged, turning back to his work. “Official or not, it’s the truth. Look, I can’t stop you if you’re set on getting yourself some new scars, Elizabeth. But for the love of the Maker, please do it well away from my forge.”

“Fine,” she relented. She gathered the Chant of Light from her desk and a handful of the fabrics. “But I’ll be back tomorrow.” She shot him one last look of annoyance.  “To work on staffs .”

“Aye,” Harritt said without looking up.

 

~~~

 

Hammering echoed loudly in the main hall, as Orlesian workers were busy transforming Skyhold into something that met the ambassador’s approval. Beneath the scaffolds, men and women in noble dress stood, mingling. Their less wealthy counterparts would be at the tavern, Elizabeth assumed. The empty chair by the fireplace meant that Varric was still with Hawke on the ramparts. She considered joining them while she waited for Jane, but they’d expect her to be chatty and cheerful, so she decided against it.

As she was thinking over her options, she saw one of the workers stumble slightly, a misjudged step throwing him toward the edge of the platform. He was able to recover himself, but at the loss of his hammer. It plummeted down toward the head of a nobleman in a black mask. Elizabeth reacted automatically, raising a large dome barrier with a whoosh , and the hammer clinked against it, landing harmlessly on the ground instead.

A dozen masked faces turned to look at her in horror, the entire hall falling silent. The workers--even the one at fault--stared as well. Elizabeth let her arms drop. She became awkwardly aware of the soot still on her clothes and the half-healed welts on her hands and wrists. Finally, one figure disentangled herself from the crowd, heading toward her. The First Enchanter’s eyes were sharp beneath her mask.

“What excellent timing, darling,” Vivienne said warmly, her voice pitched high for eavesdroppers. “Come, I’m sure the Count is eager to meet his savior.” She led her to the man in black, her thick lips curved into a smile. “Elizabeth, this is Count Arsène. Monsieur le comte, may I present my good friend, Lady Elizabeth Trevelyan, the Inquisitor’s younger sister.”

At the words, the crowd visibly relaxed. Many of the other groups turned back to their own conversations.

“Pleased to meet you,” Elizabeth replied.

Tout le plaisir était pour moi,” he replied pleasantly. “I’m most indebted to you. It seems the urge to save those in need runs in the family, hm?”

“Indeed,” Vivienne said.

The Count’s female companion tilted her head. “I had not heard that the Inquisitor had a mage sister,” she said. She smiled at the Count. “That does explain her very strange choice in allies, yes? We’d been most curious about why she would invite so very many mages to stay here. They have quite overtaken the place.” The Count hmphed his agreement. Vivienne tightened her grip on Elizabeth’s arm, making her realize she’d probably had reacted visibly to that remark. Suddenly she had a bit more sympathy for her mother.

“You were on your way to speak with Varric, I assume?” Vivienne said to her.

“I’m waiting for Jane, actually,” Elizabeth replied.

“Ah,” Vivienne said with a smile. “Such sisterly affection. She’s speaking with the Commander right now. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable waiting in her chambers. Have you seen them since Lady Montilyet finished renovating?” Elizabeth shook her head. “They’re very elegant. Allow me.” She excused herself from the others and began to lead Elizabeth to Jane’s room, slowly.

Vivienne lowered her voice to a murmur as they walked. “I understand that you have not had the pleasure of being at court much, darling,” she said, the warmth in her tone fading. “However, surely even you can understand the importance of subtlety. It is not wise to show the extent of your power so publicly.”

Elizabeth gave her an incredulous look.  “You think I should have let it go?” she asked. “He could have died.”

“Oh, not at all,” Vivienne said. “But next time, perhaps a gentle push in the right direction would suffice. A barrier fifteen feet wide was completely unnecessary.” She paused. “It reminds people that the only thing keeping them safe is your… benevolence.”

Elizabeth could not hold back her laugh. Vivienne’s mask made her eyes difficult to see, but Elizabeth thought she could detect a hint of ice. “I apologize,” Elizabeth said, the smile lingering on her lips. “You are… not exactly what I picture when I think of benevolence.”

To her surprise, Vivienne let out a low chuckle herself. “Oh yes. It works both ways, my dear. I find that some people need a reminder from time to time.” They reached the door and the First Enchanter let go of her arm. “Please let the Inquisitor know that there are some introductions I’d like make on her behalf. I’m aware she’s very busy tonight, but perhaps she could stop by tomorrow afternoon?”

“I’ll tell her,” she said. For a moment she considered thanking Vivienne for her advice, but they both knew it wouldn’t be sincere. She offered her a smile instead. “Good evening, Vivienne.”

The eyes behind the mask were once again unreadable. “Bonsoir, my dear.”

 

~~~

 

Josephine had truly outdone herself with the bedroom. The doors to both balconies were open, letting in the brisk night air. The windows throughout the room were decorated in an Orlesian style, which was very different than the version Elizabeth had seen in the Fade. She stilled at the top of the stairs, taking in the sight. Jane’s things were laid out on the bed, indicating she’d already been by.

It was hard to see this version and not think of the other, despite the differences. Here, there was a couch, and the bed had four posts, whereas the other room had been decorated more simply. Both had shades of blue to compliment the cool gray of the stone. At least the mountains weren’t visible in the darkness.

Elizabeth took a seat on the couch, opening the Chant. The letter was in her pocket, where it always was. She considered reading it over once more, but forced herself to focus on the Chant instead, knowing it was important to the Inquisition--and thus to Jane. It was an edition of the New Cumberland Chant of Light, the final nail Divine Justinia had been able to drive into the more traditional side of the Chantry before the war began in earnest. She’d published it three years before her death, much to the chagrin of the Grand Clerics. Several of the most famous dissonant verses were included.

She opened to the Canticle of Silence, which she’d already read three times. If Varric was right, then these unofficial verses dealt with Corypheus himself, referred to by the author only as ‘The Conductor of the Choir of Silence’ . The thought that Jane could be directly affected by this ancient creature raised the hairs on the back of her head.

Jane came in some time later, looking exhausted. Elizabeth set her book aside.

“Lizzie!” her sister said, relieved. “Oh, I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to talk to you.” She sat on the couch and grasped her sister’s hands. Elizabeth considered interrupting, but Jane spoke before she could. “I spoke to Cullen.” Elizabeth waited for her sister to continue, unsure of how much he’d shared. “He said you already know about the lyrium. And about….” Jane looked into her eyes, distressed. “About Kirkwall. Are you alright?”

“Me?” Elizabeth asked, surprised. “Yes, of course. Why?”

Jane looked down at their hands. “What you heard must have affected you deeply.”

“It did at first,” Elizabeth admitted. “But I believe him. I think he’s doing everything he can to rectify things. He’s proven that much.” She did not add that she’d seen templars do far worse things and not repent at all.

Jane glanced back up. “He thinks you’re afraid of him now.”

Elizabeth felt a pinch of shame, picturing his tired eyes over the past week. “Oh.” She refocused her gaze. “No, I’m not. I’ll speak with him.” Her sister looked doubtful, and Elizabeth gripped her hands more tightly. “Jane, even if I hadn’t known him for these past few months, the fact that he’s stopping the lyrium suggests how serious he is. And of his own volition! It’s… unheard of in the Circle.”

“I know,” Jane said. “I wish I knew what to expect.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “Have you ever known someone going through withdrawal?”

“No,” Elizabeth said. “I only know the rumors.” She thought back to her days at Ostwick Circle. “I have seen people forced out of the Order, but then I never saw them again, of course.” She shrugged. “For all I know, they ended up buying it illegally anyway.”

Jane hesitated. “Do you think,” she said, halting before she continued, “that the lyrium is why he… cut things off between us?”

Elizabeth didn’t reply, pulling her hands away. “Jane,” she said after a pause. Her sister’s big blue eyes looked back at her curiously. “There’s something I need to tell you. I ask that you let me tell it fully, without interruptions. There are… many parts, and several of them will surprise you greatly.”

“Alright,” Jane agreed.

Elizabeth took in a deep breath. “The night before you sealed the Breach--” she began, then shook her head. “No. Let me start with Dorian.”

 

~~~

 

Jane could not keep her promise for very long. As Elizabeth told her story, her sister let out several exclamations of shock and surprise. At one early point she questioned out loud why Cassandra and Solas would do such a thing to her and Cullen, but then added that they must have some good reason and begged that her sister continue. When Elizabeth got to the end of the dream in the Fade, Jane gave up the pretense of even trying.

“I can’t believe it,” she exclaimed. “He kissed you?”

“I know,” Elizabeth said. “And after I’d always been so rude to him!”

Jane shook her head firmly. “Oh, not that. I can easily believe his attraction to you.” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “But to actually kiss you.”

“He didn’t think it was me,” she said.

“He always struck me as so impassive,” Jane went on, looking away. “I can’t really imagine him kissing anyone.”

Elizabeth felt her face grow warm. “Well, I can,” she said. Vividly, her mind added unhelpfully. “Fortunately, I don’t think his attraction could have survived the rest of it.” Jane looked uncertain, and Elizabeth shook her head, adding, “No. I was very rude. You would have been so disappointed.”

“Would I? You didn’t say anything untrue,” Jane said.

Elizabeth hesitated. “Oh, Jane,” she said, hearing the thickness of her own voice. Sighing, she stood, pulling the letter out of her pocket. “There’s more.” She held the folded parchment in front of her, staring at her neatly written name, while Jane watched in silence, lines of concern on her forehead. Eventually, she handed her the paper. “You should read this yourself.”

Jane accepted the letter slowly, her eyes still on her sister’s face. Elizabeth went to the fireplace, placing a hand on the mantle and fixing her gaze on the fire. At first she was determined not to watch as Jane read the letter, but when she heard Jane inhale sharply after a few minutes, she had to turn. Jane had two fingers pressed to her lips, her eyes widening. She looked up.

Gaspard? ” she exclaimed.

“I know,” Elizabeth replied. “Keep reading.” Jane looked back down, her hand still floating near her face as a series of emotions came over her features. After another pause, she made a noise and pressed the back of her hand to her lips.

“Then he--,” Jane murmured in a strangled voice. Elizabeth watched sympathetically.

When Jane’s eyes began to blink rapidly a moment later, Elizabeth had to turn back to the fireplace, her own chest feeling tight. She suspected her sister had reached the part where Solas detailed Cullen’s attachment to Jane. She heard her sister take in a deep breath and let it out slowly. She expected Jane would re-read the first part of the letter straightaway. Indeed, it was several minutes before she heard anything else.

No,” Jane said after a time. Elizabeth didn’t bother responding. She went back to the couch and sat next to her sister, knowing the more private part of the letter was over. As she placed a hand on Jane’s back, her sister glanced up, genuine confusion writ on her face, but she went back to the letter instantly.

When she finished, she let the hand holding the paper fall into her lap. Elizabeth continued to press circles into her back.

Finally Jane spoke. “Could there be some reasonable explanation?” she asked, her voice steadier than Elizabeth expected. “Perhaps whatever happened to the rest of the Wardens is so terrible that this man went into hiding.”

“Under another Warden’s name? How would that help him?”

She frowned. “He must be hiding from something else, then. Perhaps he’s in grave danger and the true Blackwall gave him permission.”

“I spoke with him in the courtyard today,” Elizabeth said. “Blackwall is dead, and the way that this man reacted, I believe whatever he is hiding is far worse than simply taking another person’s name.”

“But perhaps--”

“Jane,” Elizabeth said gently. “Whatever he has done, the guilt was written plain on his face.” Jane looked resigned. “We will have to ask him to leave at once.”

“Leave!” she exclaimed, looking up. “No. He'll stay with us.”

Why ?” Elizabeth asked.

“Because he can help,” Jane explained. “He’s an excellent fighter, and regardless of what he’s done, we could use him against Corypheus.”

Elizabeth looked at her, astonished. “But we don’t even know what happened!”

“Exactly,” Jane said. “Maybe all he needs is a second chance.” Elizabeth opened her mouth, the warmth of objection rising to her lips, but Jane remained firm. “I’m serious, Lizzie. You said that you believe in Cullen, didn’t you? Because he proved himself to you. Would you have given him the time to do so if you’d known about his past from the beginning?” Elizabeth gaped, but could find no answer. “And now you’d have me take that chance away from another man?”

Elizabeth dropped her gaze, shaking her head. “Not everyone in Thedas deserves your good faith. There are genuinely bad people out there, you know.”

Jane sighed. “I know,” she admitted. “But I would rather assume the best than the worst. Sometimes trust is all someone needs to do the right thing.”

Elizabeth almost laughed darkly as she imagined the look on the Council member’s faces when her sister told them that. “The others won’t be pleased.”

Jane considered that before replying. “Then we won’t tell them.” Elizabeth felt her mouth drop open in surprise, but Jane met her gaze with pleading eyes.  “They’d insist on punishing him for crimes he may or may not have committed. I see no benefit in that. To everyone else, Blackwall will remain Blackwall. As long as he needs to be.” Her eyes became even more earnest. “Please, Lizzie.”

“Alright,” Elizabeth said, still wary. “I think you’re mad, but you’re the Inquisitor now. I’ll leave his judgement to you.” Her gaze softened. “What about--” she began, pausing. “What about the first part of the letter?”

Jane clasped her hands in her lap. “I am… pleased to know that I was not so mistaken about Cullen’s feelings. But I can’t imagine why they thought I would actually marry Gaspard.” Elizabeth’s eyes fell to the floor, a touch of shame making her flush. Jane saw and raised her eyebrows. “Lizzie. You don’t mean you thought…?”

“After I read the letter, I considered it a possibility,” Elizabeth admitted. “You always seem so eager to please Mama. And no one ever checks her behavior anymore, not even Father.” She fidgeted with the edge of her tunic. “I thought that even if you did not wish to marry a nobleman, Mama might be able to persuade you to turn away from someone like Cullen.”

“But what would make you think that?”

“Well… Finlay,” Elizabeth replied, haltingly. “And Adam. I still don’t know what happened between you and them. I thought perhaps Cassandra was correct and that Mama had…  influenced you in some way.”

Jane’s expression became horrified. She pressed a hand to her forehead. “Oh. Maker.” Her eyes closed and she swallowed.  “I’m such a fool.”

“Did she?” Elizabeth asked. Her sister was silent, and Elizabeth felt a lump in her throat. “Oh, Jane.” They sat together for a long while, the only noise in the room the quiet crackling of the fire. Elizabeth placed a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Well, whatever’s happened, at least you can fix things with Cullen now.”

“No,” Jane said mournfully. “It’s too late for that.”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked. “You do still have feelings for him, don’t you?”

Jane dropped her hand. “I do. Of course I do. He’s….” She shook her head, a tremor running through her. “It doesn’t matter. I’m the Inquisitor. His superior. The power balance… it wouldn’t be healthy. Surely that’s obvious.”

It wasn’t to Elizabeth, but life in the Circle didn’t exactly give her the opportunity to see relationships based on normal power structures. The healthiest relationship she could think of off the top of her head was Ellendra and Mattrin, which in and of itself was telling.

“But both of you were interested long before you became Inquisitor,” she said aloud.

“Yes, but that was months ago,” Jane said. “I don’t want him to feel… obligated. Or make things awkward.”

“At the very least, you could fix this thing with Gaspard, and see what Cullen does about it. If he makes the first move….” She trailed off. “Then you’ll know.”

Jane nodded slowly. “I could do that.” The fire had become low, and her eyes trailed over to it. “It’s late.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth agreed. She stood. “We can discuss this again in the morning. You should get some sleep. Do you need anything before I leave?”

Jane looked up. “Will you stay? Just for tonight.”

Elizabeth smiled. “Of course.”

“Thank you,” Jane said in a low voice. She got up and went to her desk. “You lie down. I need to… do something first.” Elizabeth obliged, going to the bed and crawling under the covers. Her chest was lighter than it had been in weeks, despite the lingering sadness of knowing that Jane now carried the same burden. Still, the bed was comfortable, and she was asleep within moments, almost too quickly to hear the scratching of her sister’s quill.


~~~

 

When the bright sunlight woke her in the morning, Jane was still asleep. She stretched and looked around, pausing when her eyes fell on the balcony. The pink mountains were there now, and she felt a tug in her chest. Pushing the thoughts away, she walked over to her sister’s desk, where Jane had placed the New Cumberland Chant. As she picked it up, the top sheet of paper caught her eye. She read the first paragraph before she caught herself.

 

Monsieur le duc,

 

Nous vous remercions de votre lettre d'invitation. Vous m'avez fait la courtoisie de m'écrire dans ma langue maternelle. Je m'efforce de rendre la faveur. Je préférerais éviter la mauvaise communication, d'autant plus qu'il semble que vous avez déjà été induit en erreur au sujet de mes intentions.

  

“Good morning,” Jane said from the bed, startling her.

“Sorry!” she exclaimed, jumping back guiltily. “I didn’t mean-- I was just grabbing my book.”

Jane smiled. “I was going to ask you to read it over anyway. You’ve always been better at telling people no.”

“I’m not sure that’s true anymore,” Elizabeth said, walking to the bed. She sat down on the side. “And it was never true in Orlesian.”

Jane played with the edge of her braid with her left hand, her fingers tugging on the strands. “I’m bringing it to today’s Council meeting,” she said nervously. “It’s the best way to… clear up the confusion, I imagine.” She chuckled without warmth. “ I’m surprised I got any sleep at all. Would you come with me?”

“To the meeting? Of course.” Elizabeth tilted her head. “Will they be fine with me coming?”

Jane looked confused. “Why wouldn’t they be?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “I don’t know. If something classified comes up. What else will be on the table?”

“Nothing is too classified for you,” Jane replied. She began to get out of bed. “I expect we’ll talk about Crestwood.”

“Crestwood?” Elizabeth asked.

“A village in Ferelden,” Jane explained as she took out her braid. She picked up a comb from her dresser and ran it through her hair as she spoke. “Hawke’s sister is hiding there with a Grey Warden.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth exclaimed, delighted. “So you met Hawke. How did that go?”

Jane paused, studying her sister’s face. “Well enough,” she said in a careful tone. “Varric mentioned that you two have become close.”

“I wouldn’t say close,” Elizabeth replied. “But yes, I’ve been spending time with them, when I have it.”

Jane looked uneasy. “I… get the feeling she doesn’t like me very much.”

“Really?” Elizabeth asked. She was surprised. “Maybe she was in one of her moods. She can get a little dark from time to time. I’m sure you’ll like her better when you get to know her.” Jane didn’t reply, and Elizabeth gave her an arch smile. “Anyway,  let’s hope this Grey Warden is the real thing.”

Jane gave her a look. “Lizzie,” she said in a warning tone.

“We can’t joke about it?” Elizabeth said, disappointed. “Very well. At least tell me I can still make fun of Solas. I admit to misjudging him completely, but he’s still too smug for his own good.”

Jane put down her comb and took a stack of clothing to the changing room around the corner. “You can’t have been so light-hearted about the matter when you first read the letter,” she observed. “Help yourself to a set of clothes, by the way.”

Elizabeth opened a drawer, looking over her options. “Who picked these out?” she asked.

“Leliana,” Jane replied through the door. “She was the only one who gave me anything functional. Josie tried to give me a uniform so stiff I could barely move my arms. Cullen wanted me in armor.”

I bet he did , Elizabeth thought to herself, choosing a vest and shirt before she shut the drawer. She kept the thought to herself, knowing jokes about that matter were definitely off the table.

 

~~~

 

Hawke and Varric were waiting outside the war room when they arrived.

“Inquisitor,” Hawke greeted, crossing her arms. Immediately, Elizabeth saw what Jane had meant. There was an alertness about Hawke’s eyes that made them sharper than usual. She was leaning on the wall with her foot flat against it, but somehow, she managed to look tense. She turned to Elizabeth and nodded. “Trevelyan.”

“Won’t that nickname get confusing now that Jane’s here?” Elizabeth asked with a smile, hoping to lighten the mood.

Hawke’s lips twitched. “I’m not sure,” she said. “You’ll have to ask Ellie when you meet her.”

“Meet her?” Varric asked, turning to look at Hawke. He narrowed his eyes. “You’re not bringing her here, are you? You said she’d be safe and sound after all this.”

“Of course not,” Hawke replied. “I haven’t forgotten my part of the bargain. Besides, I doubt Ellie would want to join up with some stuffy religious organization.” She glanced at Jane. “No offense.” She pushed herself into a standing position. “Trevelyan’s coming to Crestwood, of course.”

“She is?” Varric asked, turning to Jane.

Elizabeth blinked. “I am?”

“Oh, I wasn’t planning to bring her,” Jane explained to Hawke. “Lizzie doesn’t really go on missions.”

Hawke gave her a cool look. “Well, Lizzie is going on this one. I want at least one person I trust there.”

Varric winced. “Ouch .”

“I love you,” Hawke said to him. “That doesn’t mean I trust you. You tricked me into taking a babysitter with me when I left Kirkwall. One with strict instructions to make me lay low. I haven’t forgotten that.” She stuck her chin in the air. “I’m not going back to Tev--” Varric tried to shush her, but she raised her voice, “-- Tevinter just because you’ve decided keeping me alive is your personal responsibility. Besides, it can’t just be the three of us, can it? Why couldn’t our fourth be her?”

“Lizzie’s combat skills--” Jane began, then paused.

“I’m not very well trained,” Elizabeth finished for her. “The last time I had to fight someone, I was almost killed.”

“Is that all?” Hawke said with a shrug. “I nearly died once a week, back when I was fighting on a regular basis.”

“Yeah, but--” Varric said. He seemed to waffle. “Well, the situation’s changed.”

Hawke looked at him for a moment before realization dawned on her face. “Oh. Right. No gifted healer this time around.” She ran an annoyed hand through her short hair. “Fine. I can train her on the way, and we’ll bring extra potions and protection in case we run into anything too dangerous. She can hang back when we face actual combat. Though I doubt we’ll see that much. This is Ferelden we’re talking about. The war there’s over.”

Jane looked concerned, hesitating. “I’m still not sure it’s a good idea.”

“Why don’t we ask the lady herself?” Hawke suggested, studying Elizabeth’s face. Jane turned to look at her as well, and Elizabeth dropped her gaze to the floor, thinking. On the one hand, she hadn’t planned on joining Jane in the field again, not until she’d figured out how to manipulate the Veil. Therinfal was still fresh in her mind. On the other, she would always take the chance to be near her sister, especially after almost losing her. Hawke tilted her head, impatiently. “Well?”

“I’ll come,” Elizabeth said, looking up. “If that’s alright.”

“Of course it is,” Hawke said, giving her a genuine smile. “See? That wasn’t so hard.” She turned back to Jane, who was looking at Elizabeth with a worried expression, and jerked her head toward the war room.  “You two should get in there. Your advisers are waiting.”

 

~~~

 

The Council accepted Elizabeth joining them without complaint. They planned out the mission to Crestwood first. She listened attentively, now having a vested interest in the details. There was some debate when Jane suggested they take Cole with them, but she was able to override their concerns by agreeing to also take Bull. Cullen showed some surprise that Elizabeth would be going along. Jane explained that it had been Hawke’s personal request. Cullen glanced between them, clearly not trusting the idea, but he didn’t object further.

“And then there is the matter of Gaspard,” Jane said, pulling her letter out of her pocket. She swallowed, looking a little less composed for a moment, but recovered quickly as she handed the letter to Josephine. “I believe this will suffice.”

Josephine opened it and began to read. Her eyebrows raised slightly. “In Orlesian?” she asked, surprised.

“I wanted to leave no room for inaccuracies,” Jane explained.

Leliana stepped around to stand behind Josephine, reading over her shoulder with interested eyes. Cullen adopted the same awkward yet subtle stance he always did when the subject of Gaspard came up, his jaw set and his eyes on the table. It was a few moments before two women finished.

“Well,” Josephine said, looking up.

Leliana studied Jane with a hint of a question in her eyes. “You realize this will make any alliance beyond the invitation to the Winter Palace impossible.” That drew Cullen’s attention. He snapped his eyes to Leliana, his eyebrows drawing together. “By which I mean, anything that might benefit you personally. Beyond your role as Inquisitor.”

“I’m aware,” Jane said firmly. “He won’t retract the invite, will he?”

“No,” Josephine said. “He’s a chevalier. He will keep his word, even if he feels privately disappointed.” She considered the letter again, as Cullen slowly turned to stare at Jane, confused. “This may not just affect your… chances with the Grand Duke, you should know. It is Orlais. Gaspard may use this information if he finds it beneficial to his cause.”

“Yes,” Leliana agreed. “Even if he does not, such letters are often intercepted and copied, particularly ones between people such as you and the Grand Duke. This may be interpreted as a rejection of all such alliances.”

“Good,” Jane said. “It is.” All three Council members seemed surprised, and she lost a bit of her steadiness. She exhaled. “I’ll be honest with you. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to play the Game, so at first, I did not understand the implications here. That is the only reason I continued to encourage the idea of an alliance . But I never intended to have my hand available for negotiation.” She looked quickly between Leliana and Josephine. Apparently reaching the third Council member’s face was too difficult for her. “I will not marry before Corypheus is dead. If I find myself alive then, and I do wish to marry, it will not be for the the Inquisition, or for a title, or for the good of my family name. It will be for me.”

Josephine looked flabbergasted. Leliana looked surprised, but then the hint of a smile appeared on her lips. She folded her arms across her chest. She glanced quickly to her left, so quickly that Elizabeth would have missed it, were she not watching for it. “And may I ask what your personal requirements for a spouse would be, Inquisitor?”  she asked.

Jane flushed a little, looking back down. “Love,” she said quietly. “I suppose.” There was a short silence. Elizabeth snuck another look at Cullen. His throat bobbed, and his wide, expressive eyes were fixed on her sister. Finally, Jane cleared her throat, and looked back up at Leliana. “If that’s all clear, then I think we can conclude this meeting.”

Leliana bowed her head, still smiling. “Perfectly clear, Inquisitor.”

“Good,” Jane said. “Good.” She turned to the door and began walking away quickly. Elizabeth barely had time to bid the Council farewell before she rushed out after her. They passed Varric and Hawke, who both looked up sharply.

“That went well,” Elizabeth said as she caught up.

Jane continued to look ahead, taking a deep breath. “I need a drink.”

Chapter Text

Elizabeth wasn’t certain that the Herald drinking before noon was the sort of idea the ambassador would endorse, so she suggested that she bring brandy to Jane’s room a little later in the day. In the meantime, they could both prepare for the next day’s trip to Crestwood.

Her still-undecorated staff was waiting on her desk, so after Jane went up to her room to pack, she went to the forge to retrieve it. In her preoccupied state, she made it down the steps and into the room itself before she noticed that they had a visitor. A red-headed dwarf was speaking with Harritt, holding a large box that made Elizabeth’s skin tingle. Whatever was inside had to be quite powerful.

Harritt looked up as she entered, a frown on his face, and that caused the dwarf to turn.

“Oh!” she said cheerfully, putting down the box she was holding. “Hello. I’m Dagna. The new arcanist. I was just telling Garrett that I’m moving in down here.”

“Harritt,” he corrected, clearly not in good humor.

“Right!” Dagna said. “Harritt. Sorry.”

Elizabeth hadn’t been aware they were getting an arcanist. It looked like Harritt was similarly surprised.

“Pleased to meet you,” she said. “Elizabeth Trevelyan,”

Dagna’s eyes widened. “You’re the Inquisitor’s sister! The mage who smiths, right?” She looked her over with sparkling eyes. “They told me about you. I was supposed to be a smith, too, back in Orzammar. Not that smithing up here is anything like it is down there.” She clapped her hands together. “So I have a question for you. Honestly, I’ve never met a mage who could smith before. I’m very interested in seeing you work.” She leaned forward a little. “Have you ever forged something using your own fire? I mean, produced fire with your magic, and then used it to melt down the steel for a new weapon. ”

Elizabeth blinked, surprised by the question. “I… can’t say that I have,” she replied. She’d evened out mistakes that way, but she’d never full-on forged something. Even hearing Dagna suggest it made her glance worriedly at Harritt, as if he’d keel over dead at the thought.

He was glowering.

Dagna’s smile barely wavered. “Would you be willing to give it a try? I mean, I wonder if it would come out like a Fade-touched weapon, or just a regular one. Or maybe something in between? Because the fire would be coming directly from the Fade. My guess is that it’d be normal, but hey, worth a shot, right?” She paused for less than half a second before rushing to clarify herself. “This is assuming you even use fire. I know some mages are picky. I used to live in a Circle.”

“You did?” Elizabeth asked. “Doing what?”

“Studying magic, making enchantments,” she explained. “Don’t worry, the Inquisition is in good hands. I’m not really connected to the Fade, so I’m completely unbiased. I can study it like no one else.” She considered this. “Well, there is one other dwarf I know of, he used to work for the Empress, but he’s a little wonky. He doesn’t really talk much.”

“Lucky Empress,” Harritt said dryly.

Dagna either didn’t notice the comment or didn’t care. “So, forging. Would you be up to it? It doesn’t have to be big--could just be a dagger, or a bow.” Her eyes lit up. “Or a staff--”

“Now hold on--,” Harritt said, putting a hand in the air, but Elizabeth interrupted them.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t today,” she said. “Jane’s leaving Skyhold tomorrow, and I’m going with her. We’ll be gone for a couple of weeks, at least.”

“Darn it!” Dagna said, clearly disappointed. “Well, when you come back, then. You know where to find me.” She picked up the box, her smile returning. “Good luck with your mission! It was nice to meet both of you. I’ll just get settled in over there.” She headed to one of the free work tables on the far side of the forge.

Harritt raised an eyebrow at Elizabeth. “They're sending you out?” he said. “After Therinfal and all that?”

“I'll be with Jane this time,” she replied.

He glanced at Dagna, then looked back at her with a sigh. “Well, that just figures.”

Elizabeth laughed. “I thought you’d be pleased that I couldn’t participate in her little experiment.”

Harritt grunted. “It’s not the only experiment she’s interested in,” he complained. He shook his head. “A sodding arcanist. And I’m to work with her. Sometimes I think I should have stayed in Redcliffe.”

“Surely you’ve worked with enchanters before?”

“Only when forced,” he replied. “As far as I’m concerned, my weapons speak for themselves.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t put up a fight, then,” she observed with a smirk. “Awfully generous of you to share your space.”

Harritt exhaled, some of the tension leaving his shoulders. “Well,” he said slowly. “D’you know why she’s at Skyhold?”

“Why?” Elizabeth asked, still amused.

Harritt looked dark. “Red lyrium,” he said, and that made the smile drop off Elizabeth’s face. “Apparently the templar bastard that led the attack on Haven has armor made of the stuff, with all sorts of runes and enchantments.”

Elizabeth stared at him, shocked. “What?” she exclaimed. “That’s… he's a madman.”

He nodded his agreement. “Right. She’s to see if we can break it. So that information put me in a generous mood, as you might imagine.” He picked his hammer off a table and gave it a glare. “I won't pretend to be pleased, but I’ll do what I can for her research. If it helped take this Elder One and his army down, I’d work with the Mad Emperor himself.” He huffed. “And the way your sister’s been going, might be I have to before we’re done.”

 

~~~

 

Once she’d finished packing up her things, Elizabeth went down to the tavern to buy a bottle of brandy. She spotted Cullen with the newest recruits on the way back, and paused at the edge of the training grounds, waiting to speak with him. When he noticed her, she waved. He gave a few short orders to the man next to him, one of the templars who hadn’t been at Therinfal. Then he approached.

“Elizabeth,” he said. “Can I help you?”

“I was wondering if you had a moment to talk,” she replied. He looked back at the soldiers, then nodded. They walked toward a wall that overlooked the courtyard. Elizabeth hesitated, feeling a little awkward. “Jane mentioned that you thought I might be scared of you.” He looked down at her sharply, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “I wanted to let you know that I’m not. I realize my conduct over the past week could give that impression, but I was just trying to give you space.”

Cullen took a moment to respond. “I appreciate that,” he said finally. “I wasn’t sure-- well, if you had been nervous around me, I wouldn’t have been surprised.”

Elizabeth paused. “I thought I made it clear that I don’t think you’re that same person.”

“You did,” Cullen admitted, turning to face her fully. “It’s just-- It can’t have been pleasant, when your Circle fell. I don’t know the particulars, of course, but I’m… familiar with how fear works, after such an experience. It’s not formed deliberately.”

She almost told him that it wasn’t only the templars who made the experience unpleasant, but for both their sakes, she didn’t. For a moment, they stood in silence.

“How have you been?” she asked finally. “With the-- symptoms and such.” She glanced back at the soldiers, training. “Unless you need to get back.”

Cullen turned, crossing his arms. “Rylen can handle them for a moment,” he said. He slid his gaze back to her. “I’m feeling better. Today. The pain comes and goes.” Sighing, he rubbed his neck. “Sometimes, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I’d been considering--” He broke off. “Well. Our enemy is a mage, after all. ”

Elizabeth felt her eyes widen. “Oh.”

“I’d prefer not to,” he explained quickly, dropping his arm. “But when I consider what’s at stake, it worries me.” He huffed, one side of his mouth rising into a dark smile. “Cassandra recruited me for a very different position, you know. I was to organize the military wing of a peacekeeping organization. Not lead an army of the faithful against-- whatever this Corypheus is. I worry that whatever I’m doing, it’s not enough.” He looked down. “I spoke with your sister, however. As I’m sure you know. She encouraged me to… continue. She was very supportive.”

Elizabeth smiled softly. “Jane’s good at that.”

“Yes,” Cullen said. He cleared his throat. “I should get back to my duties. Good luck in Crestwood, Elizabeth.”

“Thank you,” she replied. He nodded once and walked away.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth ate at the tavern, fielding a series of questions from a grim Ellendra, who clearly did not like the idea of her friend being out in the field so soon after Therinfal. After she finished, she took her nightclothes and the brandy to her sister’s room. Her sister was curiously absent, so Elizabeth placed the brandy on the table and then went out to find her.

To her surprise, she found Jane in the garden, playing chess with Cullen. He was looking more relaxed than he had been that morning, a genuine smile playing on his lips as he finished moving one piece.

He leaned back. “Your move, White,” she could hear him say from a distance.

Neither of them had noticed her. Elizabeth backed toward the doorway, slipping back into the hall. She smiled to herself as she went to the forge, deciding she’d work a little before going back to Jane’s room. Maybe she'd even be able to make Dagna that staff.

Things were looking up indeed.

 

~~~

 

It was early evening when Elizabeth returned. Jane was reading a report at her desk and rose cheerfully when she saw her sister. Someone had placed two chairs on the far balcony, so Jane grabbed a couple of small glasses and brought them outside. The sun had just begun to touch the tips of the mountains.

Elizabeth told her sister about the conversation with Cullen as she accepted a glass of brandy. “Honestly, Jane,” she said, after she’d finished, “between that and the display in the war room, you can’t still doubt he cares for you, can you?”

Jane didn’t meet her eye, sitting in her own seat. “Could we talk about something else?”

Elizabeth stopped, embarrassed. “Of course. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to press.”

“It’s not your fault,” Jane said. “Just… I’d rather not think about it right now.” She frowned. “And I don't want to talk about Corypheus, either. Or about the Wardens, or red lyrium, or the Chantry. Or Hawke.” She sighed heavily. “Let’s talk about something from before the Conclave.”

Elizabeth took a sip of her brandy and thought for a few seconds. “We could talk about Grandfather.” It wasn’t her first choice of topic, but he and Jane had been very close, and she knew her sister had many fond memories of him. If she were honest with herself, she’d had fond memories, too. Right up until her magic manifested.

Jane paused, then smiled widely. “Poor Grandfather. He would have loved Skyhold. Do you remember when he’d walk the ramparts of his castle with us?”

“I do,” Elizabeth said. “He even let me shoot arrows off them once. Mama was so furious.”

Lady Trevelyan had maintained a difficult relationship with her father-in-law. Then again, Elizabeth supposed, difficult relationships were her forte.

“And then there was the time he taught Lydia to climb up the lattice with one hand, scaring Mama half to death,” Jane said, chuckling. Elizabeth didn’t reply, looking out at the mountains. She saw Jane give her a sad look out of the corner of her eye. “Oh, but you were in the Circle by then.”

Elizabeth neatly sidestepped the remark. “Do you remember the horse he tried to give Father for Satinalia?”

Jane snorted loudly, clutching Elizabeth’s arm. “Oh, I do,” she said through her giggles. “Lady! And then when Father said that was too common of a name for a mare, he said it was short for Lady Trevelyan.”

Elizabeth couldn’t keep back a smile. “He tried to insist that it was a compliment,” she remembered. “That it was based on our heraldry, and that the ‘ astonishing resemblance’ was just a coincidence.”

They burst out laughing together. Once they’d recovered, Jane held out her brandy glass.

“To Grandfather, then.”

“To Grandfather,” Elizabeth agreed. They both drank.

 

~~~

 

The sky grew dark, and Jane grew flushed as they continued sharing family stories. Skyhold became chilly at night, so they moved inside and changed for bed. Elizabeth lit a fire, and Jane moved the couch to face it.

“--because it was the only thing Lydia knew how to say in Antivan,” Jane was in the middle of saying as Elizabeth sat down. “It was a disaster! They escorted us all out of the opera house. Aunt Danvers didn’t speak with us for three whole months.”

“Oh, that’s fantastic,” Elizabeth laughed, wiping a tear from under her eye. “You know, I may give Lydia too little credit. And Kitty. When I first came back, I thought they were just immature.” She made a face. “Which they are. Don’t get me wrong.”

Jane’s smile turned a little sad. “I’m so glad you’ve gotten to know them better.”

“Me, too,” Elizabeth said. She held up her glass. “A toast to our sisters! May they someday endeavor to read something that isn’t a chapbook.”

“Well, that’s not fair,” Jane said. “That only applies to two of them.” She held up her own glass, spilling a little. “To our sisters, including Mary! The…” Jane thought hard, then looked triumphant. “The bravest Trevelyan.”

“I’d say you hold that title now,” Elizabeth replied. “Mary hasn’t gone running off into the night to fight an archdemon by herself, has she?”

“Not yet,” Jane said, her lips twitching down. “But she wants to. The only thing stopping her is Father’s disapproval.”

Elizabeth winced. The Grey Wardens. She’d almost forgotten.

“Fine,” she said. “Then to all of our sisters. May they be behaving in our absence.”

“And to Father,” Jane added. “For… putting up with us Trevelyan women.”

“For better or worse,” Elizabeth agreed. They drank together. She placed her empty glass on the floor.“No toast for Mama?”

“No,” Jane said darkly, looking at the fire. “Not today.” Her eyes looked a little glazed, and it occurred to Elizabeth that Jane did not have her tolerance, since she drank so rarely.  She wasn’t even sure her sister had eaten.

“Maybe we should go to bed,” she suggested. “We have an early start tomorrow.”

Jane stared for another moment, then rose and nodded. “Yes,” she said. “ That is a very good idea.”

Jane was a little unsteady as she walked to her bed, climbing under the covers. Elizabeth waved at the fire, and the light in the room faded to a soft glow. She got in the other side of the bed. When she rolled onto her hip, she realized that her sister was staring at her with sad, glassy eyes.

“What is it?”

Jane looked at her for another moment before she spoke. “Do you promise to stay?” she asked softly.

Elizabeth smiled. “Of course,” she said. She gestured to her nightclothes. “Do you think I’d run through the halls of Skyhold like this? Josephine would banish me from the castle.”

“No,” Jane said, her voice thick. “I mean-- when this is over.” She paused, her eyebrows drawing together. “Don’t go back to the Circle, Lizzie. Please. Stay with me.”

Elizabeth froze. She stared at her sister, thinking of her phylactery. “I can’t make that promise,” she said. “You know I can’t.”

“Promise me you’ll try , then,” Jane said, reaching out her palm.

Elizabeth caught it. “I’ll try.”

Jane looked satisfied with that answer. She squeezed Elizabeth’s hand, then rolled over, pulling up her blankets. A few minutes passed, and her breathing became even.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, remained awake for a long time.

 

~~~

 

In the morning, Jane went to speak with Blackwall, while Elizabeth finished preparing. She went to the stables, where Bull and Varric were already saddling the mounts. Hawke seemed to be showing Cole how to get his horse to eat sugar out of his hand. She placed her bags down and went to help Bull.

Jane joined them soon after. They left just after sunrise. They rode through the mountains first, the ice crunching beneath their horses’ feet. The farther they got from Skyhold, the more obvious it was that the fortress’s warm atmosphere was not natural. Elizabeth offered Bull some heating magic, unable to look at his bare chest without feeling pain herself, but he turned her down.

On the second afternoon, they stopped for lunch near a river. Elizabeth, Cole, and Hawke sat on a log and began to rifle through their food supplies. Varric was scouting ahead, and Bull went to go get water for the horses.

After a moment, Jane came over from the horses, bringing a map to Hawke.

“Have you been to Crestwood before?” she asked, smoothing out the paper on the ground with both hands.

“I have,” Hawke said simply, gnawing on a piece of jerky without looking down.

“It looks like there’s a northbound route and a southbound route to get to the nearest camp, here. Which do you recommend?”

Hawke glanced down, studying the map for a second. She seemed to bristle, her eyes flicking to Jane’s face.

“The northbound works better for us,” she said in a cool tone. “That’s obvious to anyone who can read a map. And I assume your advisers can read a map.” Jane’s hands stilled. Hawke popped her last piece of food into her mouth and brushed her palms on her pants, standing. “I’d wager that you had a route picked out before we left, Inquisitor. But you, what? Wanted me to feel involved? Throw the Mabari a bone?” Elizabeth blinked, surprised, and her sister flushed a deep red.

“Stop it,” Cole said in a low voice, not looking up. “You both want to help.”

Hawke glanced at him, her eyes softening. After a moment, she sighed, looking back at Jane.

“I apologize,” she said, sounding sincere. “That was badly done.”

“No,” Jane said. “Don’t. I should have realized it would come across as condescending. I just… wanted you to know that your help is greatly appreciated. Champion.”

Hawke dropped her gaze. “Thank you, Inquisitor.” There was an awkward pause before she added, “For what it’s worth, the northbound route does have my ringing endorsement.” Then she gave them both a nod and headed back to her horse.

 

~~~

 

Every evening, while Jane and Bull cooked dinner, Hawke trained Elizabeth. She turned out to be an excellent teacher. It was very different from working with Vivienne, who saw magic as something that needed to be tamed, or Solas, who relied almost entirely on her ability to use the Veil. Hawke was apparently unconcerned about safety, and she was very vocal in instruction.

“It’s like running, or building a muscle,” she explained, after criticizing Elizabeth’s weak attempt at a lightning strike on the first night. “You need to really push to get any lasting result. Do you think your sister taps her sword on the practice dummies when she’s training?”

“I don’t want to lose control,” Elizabeth explained. She didn’t feel comfortable using electricity, but Hawke had insisted she at least try to learn all the elements. “What if I burn the whole field down?”

Hawke laughed. “If you could burn the whole field down with that spell, then I’d send you straight to Corypheus because apparently you’re our best secret weapon.”

“You know what I mean,” Elizabeth replied. “What if it hits you?”

“Weren’t you a teacher in the Circle?” Hawke asked.

Elizabeth shrugged. “I taught ten-year-olds. Not exactly relevant to learning combat.”

“If you hurt me, I’ll heal myself,” Hawke said. “Or I’ll make you heal me. It’s all a part of the training.” She caught Elizabeth’s unsure frown. “I promise you, I’ll be fine. In the unlikely event that you do actually kill me, keep in mind that I probably deserved it. I give you my blessing to collect the reward. The Carta' s offer is still valid, I believe. Be sure to split it with Varric, will you?”

The first two evenings, a part of Elizabeth was tempted to bring up the Veil, both her ability and the research she was attempting to do. This was especially true when she had difficulty mastering a spell. As an apostate who dabbled in blood magic, Hawke wouldn’t be too judgmental about questionable magic.

Hopefully.

And while Hawke’s experience with Jane’s mark was limited at best, both she and Cullen had mentioned that Kirkwall had a very thin Veil. Elizabeth wondered if she’d ever tried to study it while there.

On the third night, as they were walking back, Hawke tilted her head, giving Elizabeth a sidelong glance. “You know, you’re improving, but sometimes I get the impression that there’s something else making you hold back.”

Elizabeth stopped walking, and Hawke paused beside her, an expectant look on her face. “Actually,” she said. She remembered Dorian’s horror at her mentioning the project and hesitated. “I do have a question. It’s about a subject that’s… not exactly Chantry compliant.”

Hawke waited a moment, then crossed her arms. “Do I look like a Revered Mother? Spit it out.”

Elizabeth exhaled. “I’ve been trying to replicate Jane’s ability, but without the mark,” she explained, slowly. Hawke did not look too alarmed at the idea, so she continued, speaking more quickly. “I think it might be possible to thin out or make tiny tears in the Veil, using our own magic.”

“To better access the Fade?” Hawke asked, looking intrigued.

“More or less,” Elizabeth said.

“Interesting,” Hawke said. “Though you realize that might be a little risky.”

“That’s the point,” Elizabeth explained. “Whatever energy Jane is able to summon can injure or kill things. I was hoping to do something similar, on a smaller scale, during combat.”

“Hm,” Hawke said, pressing her fingers to her chin. Her gaze floated somewhere beyond Elizabeth’s head for a moment. “That’s not going to be easy. You’ll have to figure out how to close the rifts before you even start, or the first one could kill you. But without the mark…” She trailed off, shaking her head. “You’d have to really know how it happens. I’m not sure how you’d go about it, to be honest.”

Elizabeth paused, studying Hawke’s face. “You were in Tevinter for a while?”

“I was,” Hawke replied. One corner of her mouth turned upward. “About a thousand years too late to see any magisters tearing open the Veil, if that’s what you're after. You’d have better luck asking Corypheus next time we see him.”

“No!” Elizabeth said, her eyes widening. “Oh, I don’t mean that. I meant-- have you ever heard of the term aspecturus ?”

Hawke nodded. “Yes. Sort of a Tevinter mage prodigy thing, isn’t it? Like playing music by ear.”

Elizabeth stammered, almost laughing. “That’s… one way of looking at it, I suppose,” she said. For a moment, she couldn’t help but imagine a world where she’d been considered a prodigy, not a menace. Then she remembered that world was the Imperium and threw out the thought. She continued, “The Southern Chantry seems to find us… less impressive.”

HJawke raised her eyebrows, letting out a huff. “I see. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I try to be discrete,” Elizabeth explained. “As I said, it’s frowned upon. If I go back to Ostwick Circle, I’d prefer--”

“If  you go back?” Hawke interrupted, shocked. “Are you actually considering that? Voluntarily?”

Elizabeth hesitated. “It depends on how things play out,” she explained. “I’d like to stay on but--- well, they still have my phylactery.”

Hawke made a flat line with her lips. She placed a hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Phylacteries,” she said, shaking her head. “Nasty business. I’m sorry to hear that.” She dropped her hand. “Well, anyway, I’m guessing you can see the Inquisitor’s anchor at work, then.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth confirmed.

“That does simplify things for your research,” Hawke said. She thought hard, chewing her lip. “You’d still need help, though. Unless you’re willing to do years and years of experimentation by yourself, and of course, you don’t have time for that.” She snapped her fingers. “Oh, I know! The Mages' Collective. This sort of thing is right up their alley. And I have a contact I can reach out to.”

“The Mages' Collective?” Elizabeth asked, surprised. “Aren’t they dangerous?”

Hawke chuckled. “They’re mages, Trevelyan,” she said, clapping Elizabeth on the back as they started to walk again. “Of course they are.”

 

~~~

 

The party arrived at night, one week after they left Skyhold. Harding was unusually grave when she greeted them. She led them to the edge of the lake, over a rough path. The distant rumblings of thunder and the humid feeling in the air warned them that rain was on its way.

“Maker’s breath,” Elizabeth heard Jane say. She followed her sister’s gaze across the water. A green glow emerged from the middle of the lake. Apparently, a rift had somehow opened under the surface.

“Yeah,” Harding said, a frown tugging at her lips. “It’s… doing some weird stuff, too. There was a flood here, during the Blight, and a lot of people died. Their… uh. Well, their corpses are attacking the villagers.”

“Great,” Bull said grumpily. “More undead.” He made a noise between a sigh and a groan. “You ever go anywhere normal, boss?”

“Show me somewhere normal, and I’ll happily take you there,” Jane replied, her eyes still on the rift. She turned to Harding. “Anything else?”

“No,” Harding said. “Oh, wait. Yes.” She took a rolled up parchment out of her sleeve. “This arrived for you this morning. Just a letter. From the Commander.”

Jane’s lips parted slightly and she stared at Harding’s hand for a moment.  She reached out to take the letter, her lips curling into an astonished smile. The others were moving back toward the tents, Bull still grumbling about undead, but Elizabeth hung back, watching her sister’s face.

Jane looked up and met her eyes.

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “Your move, White,” she said with a grin.

 

 

Chapter Text

The lake was gone.

Elizabeth stood by herself on the edge of the camp, her eyes on the line where the shore had been. Jane and the others had left for Crestwood village the night before, only resting an hour before they moved out. There was a brief debate about whether Elizabeth should join them, but she’d decided to wait behind. Her training with Hawke had been helpful so far--particularly now that Hawke knew about her ability to use the Veil--but Crestwood was unfamiliar territory. With the rift in the lake and the undead walking, she was too nervous about testing her new skills. The last thing she wanted was to be a liability.

Heavy rain and thunder had kept her from sleeping soundly. Each time she’d awoken, she’d glanced at her sister’s untouched bedroll and the knot of worry in her stomach had grown. The last time, sunlight had made her eyes open, the brightness muted slightly by the tent’s fabric. She opened the flap to see that the only evidence left of the storm was the damp grass and the moisture in the air. The clouds had parted and the sun beat down on the fertile Ferelden soil.

And the lake was gone.

“Tea?” Harding offered, stepping up to Elizabeth’s side. She accepted the steel mug gratefully. Harding handed her a note as well. “One of the scouts brought this by. A few men are taking supplies to Caer Bronach, and the Inquisitor wants you to join them.”

“Caer Bronach?” Elizabeth asked, taking a tentative sip. She had a vague memory of the fort being mentioned during the Council meeting. “Why there?”

Harding grinned up at her. “It’s ours now. The Inquisitor captured it last night.”

Elizabeth’s hand froze, the mug an inch from her face. “Jane captured a fort?” she asked.

“That’s what they tell me,” Harding said.

Elizabeth fumbled with the letter using her free hand, reading Jane’s writing quickly. All it said was that she should come as soon as possible. The fort wasn’t mentioned.

“Why?” she asked, baffled.

“Well, apparently it was the only way to reach the controls to the dam,” Harding replied, gesturing toward the new valley in front of them. “She had to drain the lake to close that rift. But now we have a base further east in Ferelden. So win-win, right?” She shook her head, chuckling. “Your sister is efficient, that’s for sure.”

Elizabeth stared at the valley, listening to the birds chirping around her.

“Will Anora even let her keep it?” she asked, but there was no answer. She tore her eyes away to see that Harding had walked away. Elizabeth threw one last glance, and then followed the scout back to the camp.

~~~

 

Caer Bronach had been built during the Orlesian occupation. Elizabeth knew this because a scout had told her on the way over, but she would have been able to guess the moment she saw it. During the second half of the Blessed Age, Fereldan architecture had gravitated toward a simple, no frills style, eschewing pillars and gilding in favor of forts that looked more like a series of rectangles forced to merge. It was as if they believed they could offend the Orlesians out of their kingdom through drabness alone.

Still, it was an efficient building, with strong walls and a good foundation. She was relieved to hear that the previous tenants had been bandits, ones that had remained in possession of the place for over a year. That made it unlikely that there would be an immediate reaction from the crown.

When Elizabeth arrived, she was told that the others were resting and would wake for the midday meal. For the first time in months, she met with Charter, who’d been setting up a camp closer to the rendezvous point. Jane had told Charter to take command of the fort, something the agent seemed quite pleased with. She gave Elizabeth a quick tour.

The bandits had left behind some supplies, enough to support a skeleton crew while they waited for word to reach Skyhold. There was also an impressive whiskey collection in one of the cellars, according to one scout.

“So we’re just going to keep it?” Elizabeth asked, her eyes trailing over the stone walls as they climbed back down from the ramparts to the courtyard. The structure was impressive, but most forts now paled in her mind compared to Skyhold.

“As opposed to?” Charter asked, accepting a missive from a passing scout.

“Giving it to the Queen,” she explained. “You don’t think she’ll try to get it back?”

Charter raised her eyebrows, looking up from the paper. “Anora?” she said, humor in her voice. “No. She’d be mad to go up against the Inquisitor.”

Elizabeth fixed her eyes on the stone beside her, trying to process the idea that the Queen of Ferelden could possibly find Jane intimidating.

“Besides,” Charter continued, flipping the paper over as she looked back down, “Caer Bronach was all but abandoned. Ferelden owes us. Not only did the Inquisitor stop the Mage-Templar war--she also uncovered a Tevinter plot on Ferelden soil. I’d guess Anora is particularly eager to look grateful for that, given her father’s history.” A little venom snuck into her voice at the mention of Loghain. Her focus shifted entirely to her note. “Damn. Undead in the Exalted Plains now.” She paused, shaking her head. “This was bad enough, with the victims of the flood. But the dead rising in the middle of a war?” She sighed. “I’m sorry to abandon you, but I have to deal with this straightaway. Do you need anything before I go?”

Elizabeth touched the cool stone in front of her, distracted, before turning to face Charter. “Actually, is there anything I can do around the fort? To help?”

Charter hesitated, shoving the missive into one of her pockets. “Well,” she said. “If it doesn’t turn your stomach, we do have the bodies.”

“The bodies,” Elizabeth repeated slowly.

“The bandits,” Charter clarified. “They need to be burned, so they don’t… get up again. Problem is, they’re damp from the rain. Our men had a hard time getting anything to catch. We were going to leave them to dry for a few hours, but the smell is becoming a bit of a nuisance. Maybe with a little….” She trailed off, waving a hand in a weak imitation of a mage performing a spell. “They’d stay lit.” Elizabeth didn’t reply, and Charter looked a little abashed, crossing her arms. “Never mind. It’s fine, my lady. We can deal with the smell till they’re dry.”

“No, I’ll do it,” Elizabeth said, giving her a small smile. “I was just expecting something more along the lines of ‘setting up tents’ or ‘collecting elfroot’ .”

Charter snorted. “If you want normal tasks, ask Wood,” she said, jerking her head at the woman lingering by the requisition table. “work for Leliana.”

“Noted,” Elizabeth said.

“The bodies are out front and to the east. You can’t miss them.” Charter made a face. “No, really, you can’t miss them.”

 

~~~

 

Charter was more than right about that. The smell wasn’t as offensive as it could have been, but then, most of the bodies had only been there since the night before.

What did surprise Elizabeth was the number.

She’d expected a dozen men or so. Instead, she found three piles, each with more than twenty muddied corpses. No one had bothered to shut their eyes, so some of them still stared into nothing, looking almost lucid. As she approached, Elizabeth felt her stomach lurch.

“Maker,” she whispered.

She knew the men had been bandits. Property stolen, livestock slaughtered, villagers killed; Charter had told her all about them terrorizing Crestwood. They never would have let her sister and the others pass through without a fight. Still, it was shocking to realize that her sister had killed five times as many people in one night than had died during the two days it took her Circle to fall.

She took a deep breath and steeled herself. As she held one hand out, she focused her fire, forcing the flames to rise against the damp cloth of their clothes.

Soon, there were three large pyres burning beneath the walls of Caer Bronach. She stepped back and watched them flicker in the morning light, her thoughts drifting.

In the back of her mind, she’d been aware that Jane had gone from barely surviving battles to crushing her enemies. Haven had been some sort of turning point, but with Jane’s near-death, Elizabeth had barely taken the time to dwell on the implications. Since then, she’d heard the tales at Skyhold, legends of the Inquisitor’s bravery and fortitude. Somehow she hadn’t managed to reconcile the fact that this was her sister-- that Jane was a major military force now, one almost independent of the organization she led. The Inquisition had grown into a substantial power in Southern Thedas. Its foundation may have been built by the remnants of the late Divine, but it was Jane who led it now, and anything it gained, it owed to her.

Elizabeth looked away. She realized that Charter was right: Anora would not try to take Caer Bronach. Not while her sister held it.

A moment from over half a year ago came to her mind, a time when Jane had broken down and wept in her arms. She’d been unable to strike down one young bandit, and looked horrified when Elizabeth burned him for her.

Elizabeth took a shallow breath as the scent in the air turned sweet.

How far Jane had come.

 

~~~

 

By the time she returned, fruit and bread had been laid out under one awning, and a group of people were serving themselves stew from a pot on the fire. Elizabeth spotted Bull and Hawke among the crowd. Cole squatted on the ground nearby, watching them curiously. Her sister was sitting with her legs dangling on a small stone wall. She was staring at her hand, opening and closing it.

Elizabeth went to her first. “I believe congratulations are in order.”

Jane looked up, then smiled. “Lizzie!” she exclaimed, sliding down into a standing position. She embraced her sister tightly. “I’m so glad you’re safe.”

Elizabeth pulled back, rolling her eyes. “Yes, the sunlit morning walk here was absolutely treacherous,” she replied.

Jane laughed. “Charter said she showed you around,” she said. “I would have offered myself, but we--” The anchor sparked, and she broke off with a wince, clenching a fist.

“Are you alright?” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“I’m fine,” Jane said, a little strained. She stared at her palm. “The rift beneath the lake was stronger than usual. The mark… didn’t like that.”

Elizabeth watched the anchor sputter a little erratically. She recalled how Solas had braided the tendrils.

“I saw what Solas did last time,” she said. “Do you want me to try and help?”

Jane looked up, surprised. “You think you could?” Elizabeth hesitated, making Jane shake her head. “No, let’s not try anything now. Usually it calms itself down. I don’t want you to… provoke it or something.” She paused. “Maybe next time he and you are both at Skyhold, he can show you--” Jane broke off at Elizabeth’s expression, realizing. “Oh. Or perhaps I can ask him to write it down.” She gave her hand one last squeeze, then placed it behind her back, trying to look cheerful. “You'd best get ready. After lunch, we’re going to go meet the Warden.”

Elizabeth glanced around the yard. “Where’s Varric?”

“He left already,” Jane explained. “Hawke suggested he scout ahead.”

“Really?” Elizabeth asked. When she’d been with her sister in the Hinterlands, they usually only sent Varric out when they were on the road.

Jane shrugged. “She said there might be red templars in the area,” she said. She looked over toward the tent. “I’m going to grab some stew before we leave. Do you want anything?”

Elizabeth still felt a bit queasy from the bodies, and shook her head. “I’m fine for now. Come get me when you're done.”

She watched her sister walk away, still holding her fist tightly behind her back.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth and the others were halfway to the Warden when the air crackled with energy and Jane’s mark flared. A bright spark of green light appeared.

“Rift!” Jane cried out, drawing her sword. She charged forward, Bull and Hawke at her heels, and Elizabeth stepped to the side, laying a barrier on all three of them. Cole disappeared beside her.

Shades poured out from the Fade. Around them, corpses rose, some of them stumbling forward to fight. One limped toward Elizabeth on brittle legs. She grimaced at the sight. She slammed it with fire, then a lightning bolt, and it went down. She made a note to thank Hawke later, and jogged into a better position, landing a second barrier on the group.

Jane was faster than the last time they’d fought together, almost matching Cassandra for ferocity. There was still a sort of elegance to the way she moved, as if Lady Trevelyan’s dancing lessons couldn’t help but shine through whenever Jane did something physical. She dove into a group of three shades, stabbing one, then spinning to decapitate the other two. Her shield came up to catch an arrow from an undead archer without pausing, and she slammed the shield into a rage demon just a second later. Every motion flowed as if it were choreographed.

But it was Hawke who commanded the most attention. Elizabeth was initially surprised to see that the woman had gone straight for the center of the battle. Most mages stuck with ranged attacks, and that was how Hawke had been training her so far. She’d assumed it would be Hawke’s fighting style. But now, in a storm of sparks and flames, she could see that the Champion used the blade on her staff to swipe at shades and corpses as often as her magic, darting through enemies like a fish through water. She slashed a shade in half with one hand while her other threw ice at a demon who had been about to strike Bull. It froze. Cole appeared behind it, and he dug his daggers deep into its side. Elizabeth rushed forward and pushed flames toward it for good measure.

As the fight wound down, Jane stepped back and held up her hand. Elizabeth threw the Veil up to her eyes. The glowing, shredded bits of the veil seemed to float toward each other, intertwining and then locking together firmly. Jane’s tether forced them to touch until the two sides were whole. The connection broke with a snap, and she was thrown back.

Catching her breath in the silence that followed, Jane looked at her sister.  “Was that your lightning?” she asked. Elizabeth handed her a waterskin. She took a deep swig.

“Hawke has me working with all the elements,” Elizabeth explained.

Jane wiped her mouth and turned to Hawke. “Excellent work. Thank you.”

Hawke studied her for a moment, weighing the compliment, then gave her a small smile. “It’s no trouble, Inquisitor,” she said.

“Hey, Boss!” Bull called over from where the rift had been. “You gonna help me with these demon parts or what?” Jane gave them an apologetic smile and went over to help him.

As she walked away, Hawke turned to Elizabeth, chuckling. “If she thinks this was impressive, your other instructors must have been terrible. No offense.” She grimaced. “Vivienne especially. Demon this, demon that.” She shook her head. “I swear, that woman sleeps hanging upside down from the rafters.”

“She doesn’t,” Cole said, who was nearby, cleaning one of his knives with a rag. “She likes her bed. It’s very soft.”

Hawke tried to hold back a smile. “That was a joke, Cole,” she said.

“Oh,” he said, looking confused.

She turned back to Elizabeth. “And who was the other one? The apostate. He taught you the barrier, right?” She shrugged. “I suppose that one’s adequate.”

“It’s more than adequate,” Elizabeth protested.

Hawke looked at her, then raised an interested eyebrow. “Of course,” she said, the corner of her lip twitching.

Elizabeth realized what that had sounded like, and tried to backtrack. “I just mean it’s saved Jane’s life several times,” she said. “And my own.” After a pause, she added, lamely, “We didn’t train often.”

“Ah,” Hawke said, mock serious. “You didn’t train often. That explains the deficiency in offensive spells, then.”

“She doesn’t think you’re being fair,” Cole said, looking up.

“She doesn't?” Hawke asked, as Elizabeth tried to form words to stop him from speaking. 

“She doesn’t think she was being fair, either, before he kissed her.”

Hawke’s eyebrows shot up, her smile widening, as Elizabeth felt her face flush scarlet.  

“That’s enough, Cole,” she said sharply.

“Indeed,” Hawke said, amused. “Well, then. Never mind, Trevelyan. Your More-Than-Adequate apostate is safe from me.”

“Are you coming?” Jane called back before Elizabeth could respond. She and Bull had finished and looked ready to move on.

Hawke glanced between Cole and Elizabeth, amusement dancing her eyes. “Come on, we shouldn’t keep them waiting.”

 

~~~

 

After the crest of the next hill, a cave came into view. Varric sat near it, his back against the stone wall. A few feet away from him was another figure, a woman with black hair tied loosely back from her face, a few strands escaping. Elinor Hawke, Elizabeth guessed.

Hawke lit up when she saw her. “Ellie!” she exclaimed, breaking into a run. Elinor stood, and they embraced. Elizabeth and the others reached them as they were disentangling. Hawke had questions about various people in Kirkwall, and Elinor tried to answer them as quickly as they were asked.

Elizabeth studied the two of them together. Elinor looked similar to Hawke, tall with broad shoulders. They both stood a bit taller than Jane, which gave them at least six inches on Elizabeth. Where Hawke had muscle in her long arms and legs, Elinor was rail thin. She looked a few years older, with crow’s feet around the corners of her pale blue eyes. She held herself straighter than her sister,  but there was something familiar in the unspent energy that seemed bound tightly inside her.

Elizabeth noticed that Varric stood a little farther off, his manner uncharacteristically serious. She tried to catch his eye, but he kept his gaze on the cave.

“Ellie, allow me to introduce the Inquisitor,” Hawke said finally, turning back to Jane. “Inquisitor Trevelyan, this is my sister, Elinor Hawke.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Jane said.

“Inquisitor,” Elinor greeted with a nod. She offered her a smile. “Varric speaks very highly of you.”

“And this time, he's not lying,” Hawke quipped.

Elizabeth thought she saw Elinor’s smile flicker for a moment. “We shouldn’t keep my friend waiting,” she said. She glanced over Elizabeth, Bull, and Cole, her eyes lingering on the Qunari. “He’s a little wary of company right now. Maybe your companions should wait outside.”

“They’re fine,” Hawke said, pushing a strand of hair out of her eyes. “That one’s the Inquisitor’s sister, and from what I’ve seen of these two,” she waved a hand at Cole and Bull, “they probably already know more about whoever you have in there than you do.” Neither the boy nor the Qunari corrected her. Elinor hesitated a moment longer. Hawke rolled her eyes, adding, “Oh Maker’s balls, Ellie. You would never have let the whole ‘wait outside ’ thing fly if it were me.”

Elinor’s lips tightened, but seemed to accept that as true. She turned to lead them into the cave. Elizabeth trailed after her, noticing Varric hung back, still quiet.

“The Warden is on edge,” Elinor said, as if apologizing. Her low voice echoed on the damp cave walls. “Just keep that in mind if he gets a little… testy. He isn't thrilled to be breaking his vows, but he….” She broke off, frowning. “You’ll see. He’ll be able to explain better than I can.”

Hawke’s eyes narrowed. “This better not be Margaret.”

Elinor let her head fall forward with a small laugh. “Hawke,” she scolded without turning, her tone warm. “You know he hates when you call him that. And Maker’s breath, you're both over thirty.”

“It's not my fault he acts twelve,” Hawke retorted. She gave her sister a nervous glance. “It isn’t him, is it?”

“No,” Elinor replied. “I wouldn’t bring him this close to Orlais. I asked Aveline to keep an eye on him.”

Hawke looked relieved, then snorted. “Maker, what a pair. Maybe they can compare the length of the sticks up their asses.”

“Hawke,” Elinor said again, this time more stern. Hawke fell silent.

They reached a rickety door at the back of the cave and Elinor opened it, letting Jane enter first. From within, there was the whine of a sword being pulled from its scabbard, and Elizabeth tensed.

“Wait,” Elinor said quickly, following Jane into the cavern. Elizabeth filed in after Hawke, feeling the others at her back. In the center of the open space stood a handsome man with dark blonde hair, his sword raised toward Jane. His eyes were bright, but sallow bags hung under them, making his age difficult to guess. Elinor walked forward, one hand up to halt him. “It’s just us. I brought the Inquisitor. And my sister.”

The Warden’s gaze floated on Elinor for a moment. “Ah,” he said, his eyes going back to Jane. He seemed to come back to himself. “Hello. Sorry about that. Can’t be too careful these days.” He resheathed his sword, his shoulders drooping slightly. “It’s an honor to meet you, Inquisitor. I am Alistair.”

Elizabeth felt a jolt of surprise at the name, one that was reflected on Jane’s face. “Not the Alistair?” Jane asked. “The one who travelled with the Hero of Ferelden?”

Alistair chuckled. “I need to change my name,” he murmured, turning away. “Yes, that would be me. War, betrayal, darkspawn. All loads of fun and made for excellent stories, I’m sure. But no one cares about that anymore. Now I’m just Warden Alistair. I report to Warden-Commander Clarel now, like everyone else.” His eyes flicked over the rest of them. “Varric,” he said when he saw the dwarf.

“Warden,” Varric replied.

Alistair spotted Hawke. “Good to see you, Hawke. Or… Champion, isn’t it? You didn’t have the title last time we met.”

Hawke crossed her arms. “No. You missed it by two hours.”

“I did hear things got rather exciting after we left,” he said.

Hawke raised an eyebrow. “Things probably could have been less exciting if I’d had some help,” she said. “Maybe from, say, I don’t know, a group of wandering Grey Wardens who happened to be in the city.” Elinor shot her a pointed glare, and she rolled her eyes, shifting her weight. “But I digress. Water under the bridge. Bygones, as they say. It worked out in the end. Sort of. Temporarily.” She cleared her throat. “Anyway, we’re not here to talk about Kirkwall.”

Jane took the opportunity to speak, watching Alistair. “Hawke said you might be able to tell us about the Grey Wardens. We’ve had no word of them since their disappearance.”

“You did find Blackwall,” Hawke reminded her.

Jane’s eyes drifted to Elizabeth, her mouth twisting. “He… has offered less information than we had hoped,” she said truthfully.

Bitter lines tightened around Alistair’s mouth before he shook his head. “Keeping his vows, then, is he?”

Elinor touched his arm. “Alistair. You don't owe allegiance to an Order that wants you dead.”

Alistair made a doubtful sound, looking at the floor. “I know,” he muttered. He sighed, a resigned expression on his face. “Well. The Wardens. I’m afraid it’s not exactly good news.” He began pacing toward the back of the cavern. “A junior Warden under my command was with Hawke when she found Corypheus. Based on what he told me, I feared that Corypheus could still be alive. His ability to communicate with those who carry the taint is… well, it’s not that different from what an archdemon does, during a Blight. It made me wonder what other tricks he could’ve picked up.” He stopped at a table, half-hidden in the shadows, folding his arms across his chest. “But before I could look into it further, things got… worse. As they tend to, whenever the blight’s involved. In the course of this last year, every Warden in Orlais started hearing the Calling.”

“What!” Hawke exclaimed, alarmed. “All of you?”

Alistair looked at her over his shoulder, a curious expression on his face. “Yes,” he said.

“And what exactly is the Calling?” Jane asked.

Alistair hesitated, looking back down at the table, the lines reappearing around his mouth. “The Wardens and the darkspawn… we have a special connection. Eventually that connection poisons you. We all get the bad dreams, that’s just part of the job. But after a while--twenty, maybe thirty years--you start to hear music . It… calls to you.” His voice became hushed. To Elizabeth, it felt as if the cave had grown a few degrees colder. “It’s quiet at first, like a whisper. Then it begins to grow, louder and louder, until you can’t even bear it. Your thoughts become scattered. Not your own.” He shifted to face them again. Their expressions seemed to amuse him and he offered a crooked smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Oh, I’m not quite there yet. Don’t worry. I can ignore it. Well, most of the time. It just gets bad when I’m, uh, alone.” The smile faded as he spoke. “Anyway, at that point, you’re supposed to say goodbye to your friends and walk into the Deep Roads to die fighting. ‘In Death, Sacrifice’, as they say.”

Jane stared at him. “So every Warden in the Order thinks they’re dying.”

“Yes,” Alistair said. “The ones in Orlais, anyhow. Of course, the next logical question was, ‘If we all die, who will stop the next Blight ?’” He smiled sadly. “Well, for most people. Unless you’re me. My question was, ‘Do you think maybe this might have something to do with that Corypheus fellow ?’ And, apparently, the answer was, ‘ Shut up, Alistair, and if you say that one more time, we’re sending guards with pointy sticks after you. ’”

“I think I can guess what happened next,” Hawke said dryly.

Alistair chuckled. “Ye-es, well. Shutting up was never one of my strong suits.” He looked back at Jane. “Since I left, I’ve tried to keep an eye on things. What I’ve seen worries me. There are groups of Wardens that don’t seem to be operating under the Warden-Commander.”

“Could they be working for Corypheus?” Jane asked.

“It’s crossed my mind,” Alistair agreed. “I’ve tracked one group down to somewhere near the Western Approach. Elinor and I need to leave Crestwood soon anyway. Somehow, I've been tracked here. We can head west to investigate. Once I’ve found them, I’ll send word back. I could use your help confronting them.”

“Anything you need,” Jane replied. She paused, thinking. “Is the Hero of Ferelden caught up in all this?”

Alistair looked away. “No. She left before any of this began. A mission of her own. Personal business.” He glanced at Hawke before contining. “When we killed the Archdemon, we learned that it's possible that this whole Calling business might be… unnecessary. Even when it's not going all crazy because of Corypheus. So she's looking for a cure.”

“A cure for being a Warden?” Hawke asked, shocked. Some of the wry bitterness had left her face. “Is that even possible?” 

Alistair shrugged.  “Grand Enchanter Fiona is at Skyhold, yes? Somehow she had the taint completely cleared out of her. And there was a Warden named Avernus--.” He cut himself off, grimacing. “Never mind. The short answer is maybe. You don't need to hear about all that ancient Warden history. I've spilled enough secrets for one day, thank you.”

“Thank you for doing this, Alistair,” Jane said sincerely. “I realize it wasn’t easy to talk to us.”

Alistair’s lips twitched down and he nodded in response.

Elinor bowed her head slightly. “We’ll see you in the West, Inquisitor. Safe travels.”

“Likewise,” Jane replied.

Hawke touched Jane’s arm. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay and speak with my sister in private.”

“Of course,” Jane said. “We’ll see you back at the Caer Bronach.”

Alistair stepped forward, opening the door for them. “Goodbye for now, Inquisitor. And, ah-- if you would, tell Warden Blackwall that a student of Duncan’s sends his regards.”

Jane blinked. “Certainly.” Her eyes darted away awkwardly as she left the cave, Elizabeth and the others following.

 

~~~

 

By the time they got back to Caer Bronach, Elizabeth was exhausted. Her stomach made it clear that she wouldn’t be getting any sleep without dinner, so she helped herself to the druffalo and leek stew that was still on the fire. She brought it over to where the rest of them were, almost inhaling it while standing as she half-listened to Jane tell Charter about their plans, without betraying Alistair’s confidence. Charter then told Jane about the undead in the Exalted Plains, adding that the scout had also seen a number of rifts in the area.

Jane read the letter she’d been handed. “I should go in person, then. To help get things back to normal.”

“You do realize ‘normal ’ out there is Orlesians hacking each other to pieces, right?” Varric said. Elizabeth glanced over at him. It was the first time he'd spoken more than two words since the cave.

Bull shrugged. “As long as they stay hacked to pieces and don’t get up, I’ll be happy.”

Jane folded the letter and put it away. “I’d like to stop back at Skyhold first. Just for a day or two. If nothing else, I need to meet with the Council and tell them what the Warden said.”

Elizabeth looked at the ground, hiding a small smile. She suspected that Jane’s desire to visit Skyhold instead of simply sending a letter did, in fact, have something to do with seeing the Council. Or at least the tallest, blondest third of it.

“As you wish,” Charter said. “I’ll write to Seeker Pentaghast and tell her to expect you.”

Varric’s head snapped up. “The Seeker? She’s at Skyhold?”

Charter nodded. “She’s the one who learned about the trouble in the Plains.”

Elizabeth felt her heart jump as her own gaze focused on Varric. If Cassandra was back at Skyhold, then Solas was back at Skyhold. Her jaw clenched as she thought over her options. Of course she knew she’d have to deal with him one day, but she’d been hoping that it wouldn’t be so soon.

“You know,” Varric said, turning to Jane, who gave him an amused look, as if she knew what was coming. “Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to go ahead to the Plains. Then I could get the lay of the land, let you know where the rifts are, try to make contact with both armies. An extended scouting trip. Something to think about.”

Jane let out a laugh and shook her head. “Nice try, Varric.”

He held up his hands. “Hey, now. Do I want to avoid the Seeker? Sure. But just because I get something out of this doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.”

Jane cocked an eyebrow. “Are you sure about that? I would think ‘fighting the undead alone in a foreign combat zone ’ would rank pretty high on a list of bad ideas.”

Varric tugged his earring with a grin. “You haven’t heard all my ideas.” He dropped his hand. “I’m serious. We already have other scouts out there, don't we? Imagine if I could get a few camps up and running while you handle your Council business. Wouldn't that be easier than how you usually do it?”

Jane narrowed her eyes, thinking. “I don’t know.”

“I could go, too,” Elizabeth added, placing her empty bowl on a table. Jane looked at her, drawing her eyebrows together. “And we could bring Hawke. My training is going well. You said so yourself.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re ready to go alone,” Jane replied.

“I wouldn't be alone,” Elizabeth said. “I need more practice, and I'm more likely to get it out here than back at Skyhold. The roads in Orlais aren’t bad. And you’ve seen Hawke fight. I can hang back if we face any real trouble.”

“You’d only be a week or two behind us,” Varric added.

Elizabeth watched her sister consider. “Please, Jane,” she said. “I think it would be good for me to be… out in the field a little longer.”

Jane seemed to realize why her sister wanted to avoid Skyhold, her face smoothing in understanding. She studied them both, chewing on her lip, and then she nodded. “Alright,” she said, though she still sounded doubtful. Varric glanced at Elizabeth, obviously surprised at their victory. “If you really want to. We’ll discuss the details in the morning.” She gave her sister a stern look. “But you have to be careful, alright?”

“I promise,” Elizabeth said, relieved. She hugged her sister. With the brief rush of adrenaline out of her veins and her stomach full of stew, she felt the weariness settle back into her bones and pulled back with a yawn.

Jane pushed her fondly. “Go on, get to bed before you collapse,” she said. “I'll be in soon.” Elizabeth threw her one last grin, and then walked away.

She didn’t realize Varric was following her toward the tents until he spoke.

“So do I owe you a favor, or is there a specific reason you’re just as eager to avoid the Seeker as I am?”

She exhaled half a laugh, glancing back at him. “Neither.”

Varric studied her, his eyes slightly narrowed. They reached her tent and she stopped, facing him. “I feel like I’m missing a story here,” he said.

And I feel like I missed a story back at the cave , Elizabeth said to herself, thinking of his silence. Aloud, she only said, “We're going to the Plains, aren't we? Maybe you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Varric chuckled, a little sadly. “Maybe.”

She rolled her eyes and crawled into her tent. “Goodnight, Varric.”

“Goodnight, Blaze,” his voice floated from behind the flap.

Elizabeth fell asleep within moments of her head hitting her pillow.

 

Chapter Text

Hawke wholeheartedly supported the plan to head straight to the Exalted Plains with Varric and Elizabeth. Jane decided that the two groups would travel together to the Frostbacks, then split at Gherlen’s pass. Charter was clearly capable of setting up Caer Bronach without their help. They left the next day.

During the first leg of their journey, Elizabeth began to have a nagging suspicion as to why Hawke was so eager to split from the rest of their party. While the Champion and the Inquisitor were on better terms than they used to be, she got the impression that Hawke had to force herself to be civil, and that Jane wasn’t entirely ignorant of that fact. The fewer enemies they faced on the road, the tenser the party seemed to become at night. Elizabeth and Cole tried to distract the two of them whenever the situation got close to escalating. Bull, on the other hand, ignored them, and Varric got in the habit of making himself scarce.

“For someone with no connection to the Fade, you’ve certainly mastered the art of disappearing at will,” Elizabeth said dryly to Varric one morning as they ate breakfast. She’d spent the last evening telling Jane for the twentieth time that being overly nice to Hawke did not produce the desired effect, and begging her to stop trying.

“Thanks,” Varric replied cheerfully. “It comes standard issue with the Merchant Guild membership.” She made an annoyed noise, and he gave her a sidelong glance. “You know what they say about pots and kettles, right? I’m a little hazy on the details, but I can tell when a person’s running away from their problems.”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she said, suddenly very focused on her mug.

Varric laughed. “I know you like me, Blaze, but come on. You’re not walking into a war zone filled with demons just to keep me company.”

Elizabeth conceded the point, sighing. “In my defense, the ability to run away from a problem is a bit of a novelty for me. Back at the Circle, there were only so many rooms.”

“Must be a pretty serious problem,” Varric said. “Normally we have to hold you back by the shirt.” Elizabeth twirled her spoon into her oats a few times instead of replying. He finished his breakfast and stood to clean his bowl.

He wasn’t wrong. She preferred confrontation, but something about the business with Solas made her uneasy. There was a tight mess of emotions surrounding the thought of him, like a ball of tangled twine that she found increasingly difficult to unravel. There had always been shame and anger after the Fade, but, as time went on, she felt other things, too. Regret, when she looked the faded scars on her chest and her stomach. Vindication, when she remembered what he’d said to her in the Fade, or how proud and unpleasant he could actually be. A mixture of guilt and gratitude, when she thought of Jane or Skyhold.

It was difficult to plan a confrontation when one wasn’t sure what one was confronting.

The other question was how he’d react if she did try to speak with him. What were his feelings toward her now? Disdain, she had to assume. He’d been kind to her when they were fleeing Haven, but then, Jane had been presumed dead at the time. What sort of person would be cruel to a grieving sister?

-- an arrogant, judgmental, hypocritical, selfish man with absolutely no self-awareness --

Elizabeth winced.

Yes, disdain seemed likely.

 

~~~

 

When they parted from the main group, her sister gave her a tight hug and told her again to be careful. The roads became colder as they climbed toward the pass. Elizabeth and Varric began wrapping themselves in their blankets as they rode, while Hawke teased them about their delicate Marcher sensitivities. Once they were properly in Orlais, the weather turned warm again, and they made better time. Hawke continued to work with Elizabeth once they were clear of the snow, who was pleased to realize she could actually feel her mana becoming stronger.

They stuck to the main road, not having to plan around sighted rifts without Jane. This meant they were also able to spend two blessed nights at inns along the way. The ale, baths, and beds were a welcome change from their usual evenings. Neither Hawke nor Varric knew any Orlesian, so Elizabeth found herself appointed translator, and was pleased to find she’d forgotten less than she thought. She was sure any of her sisters would have done a better job, though--especially when one innkeeper burst out laughing after Elizabeth tried to order dinner.

Si vous voulez mon mari, prenez-le ,” the innkeeper said. “ Il est en haut. ” 

Elizabeth was taken aback. "Excusez-moi?” 

The innkeeper just shook her head, chuckling as she left their table.

Okay, what was that?” Varric asked, leaning forward.

Elizabeth glanced his way, eyes wide. “I’m not sure. She just… offered me her husband?”

“Well!” Hawke exclaimed with delight, turning to Varric. “Look at that. Turns out Isabela wasn’t completely bluffing about Orlesians.”

“Ah, excuse me,” a woman with a heavy Antivan accent said from the table next to them. “I believe I can help. I speak Orlesian.” She gestured to the ducks roasting over the fire at the back of the room. “You wanted to ask for those, no?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said. She motioned at Varric and Hawke, who were watching curiously. “Le connard. For me and my friends.”

The woman chuckled, amused. “ Le canard ,” she corrected gently.   “Not connard . You asked for a -- mmm. A very rude word. Un capullo. How would one say it in Common?” The woman shook her head, her tongue clucking. “An asshole. A shithead? Something like this.”

Elizabeth grimaced while Varric and Hawke began to howl with laughter behind her. “Oh. I see,” she said. “Thank you for clarifying.” The woman nodded, still smiling, and turned back to her meal. Elizabeth pointed a finger at Varric. “This doesn’t go in the book.”

He ran his thumb under his eye, collecting a tear. “Aw, but Blaze…”

“I said no,” she told him.

Varric held up his hands in surrender. “Alright, alright,” he said.

“I, for one, found this highly educational,” Hawke said. “Connard, was it? Charming.” She grinned and leaned back in her chair, taking a sip of her ale. “That should come in handy. Mother always did want me to learn some Orlesian.”

 

~~~

 

According to the map Charter gave Varric, the camp wasn’t far from the road. It was adjacent to the abandoned ramparts that Gaspard’s men had built several months ago. The front line of the war was six miles to the west now. According to Cassandra’s letter, Gaspard’s men had disappeared from those as well in the wake of the dead walking.

The sun was setting as they came down the hill toward the camp. The dust of the plains made fingers of light stretch out in the air, and Elizabeth had to squint against the brightness. Beneath ancient broken pillars, she could see the outline of a camp--the silhouettes of tents and four officers. Two of them were at the far side of the camp, chatting. One stood near the entrance, watching their approach with crossed arms. The last one was bent over the requisition table, studying what appeared to be a map.

Elizabeth had ridden a bit ahead, as Varric and Hawke were distracted by a debate. It had started with him complaining about the dust, and ended with them trying to figure out the worst place they’d ever traveled together (“ Together , Hawke. Which means Tevinter’s disqualified,” Varric said, to her cry of outrage). When Elizabeth was twenty yards away, the man leaning on the table rose, straightening his back.

Her stomach dropped as she recognized him. She stopped her horse dead in its tracks.

Solas had been in the process of rolling up a parchment, but he froze as he stared back at her. The pattern of light behind him was in her eyes, making his face difficult to read. Elizabeth was sure her own had gone pale, and was quickly growing red. Those first few seconds ticked by slowly, until she heard Hawke laugh sharply at something Varric said. The sound broke her reverie.

She shook herself, blinking, then dismounted. That seemed to spur Solas into motion. He hastily finished rolling the parchment into a cylinder and stepped around the table.

“Halt,” the other officer said as she approached. “This area is under the protection of the Inquisition. State your business.”

Solas appeared beside him before she could reply. Elizabeth saw his face more clearly now. If he’d been unsettled, he hid it well, his blue eyes calm and his expression smooth.

“Balfe,” he said to the officer. “Thank you, but that is not necessary. She’s a member of the Inquisition.”

The officer--Balfe, apparently--nodded, losing the wary look in his eye. “Apologies, ser,” he said to her as he offered to take her horse. She handed him the reins. “Welcome to the Plains.”

Solas glanced behind her before looking back at Balfe.  “We may need additional accommodations. Would you assemble the other tent?”

“Of course, ser.”

Solas watched him walk away, then turned toward her. He stared for three heartbeats before speaking. She could see the glimmer of a question in his eyes.

“Elizabeth.”

“Hello,” she replied, instantly regretting the intimacy of the greeting. At least her voice sounded unaffected.

There was a pause before he spoke again. “We… were not told that you would be arriving. I believed you to be at Skyhold.”

“No,” she said carefully. “I went with Jane to Crestwood, and then….” Her voice trailed off. “I didn’t realize that you would be here, or I--”

She stopped, becoming aware that Varric and Hawke had caught up, and both were giving her puzzled looks. Balfe returned and took Hawke and Varric’s horse and pony as they dismounted, murmuring another greeting before he disappeared again.

Elizabeth took a deep breath and turned back to Solas. “This was all very last minute,” she explained, trying to sound more professional. “The Inquisitor had to return to Skyhold. She’ll be joining us sometime in the next week. Cassandra’s letter said the situation here was urgent.”

“Ah,” Solas said, glancing over his shoulder at the Plains. “Yes. The undead.” He turned back. “And how is the Inquisitor?”

“She’s fine,” she replied. “I mean, she had an incident. The anchor seemed to be bothering her a little bit in Crestwood. But she’s fine now.”

“I see,” Solas said. “I will be sure to examine it when she arrives.” His eyes lingered on her before they moved to her right. “Master Tethras.”

Varric eased himself back on his heels. “Hey, Chuckles,” he said. “Good to see you.”

“I trust you are well.”

“Sure.” He gestured at their surroundings. “You know, besides the dust, the flies, the sun, and the Orlesians.”

Hawke snorted. “And I thought you’d be happy to escape the druffalo, the rain, and the Fereldans,” she said.

“There’s no escaping Fereldans,” Varric told her mournfully. “You imprint on people like little lost Mabari and then follow them halfway across Thedas, begging for scraps.”

“Hey, you invited me to Skyhold,” Hawke replied, jabbing a finger at him and then herself. “Which, may I remind you, is in Ferelden."

“Wait, what?" Varric asked, looking genuinely confused. "Isn't it in Orlais?”

Hawke ignored him. “And begging for scraps? Please. Do I look like my uncle?” She grimaced. “Actually, don’t answer that. On the off-chance that I do, I’d rather die not knowing.”

Solas studied her with mild surprise. “The Champion of Kirkwall, I presume.”

“Just Hawke’s fine,” Hawke said, crossing her long arms. The corner of her lip rose slightly. “And you must be Solas the More-Than-Adequate.”

His eyebrows drew together in confusion, and Elizabeth fought the urge to ball her fists. Maker’s breath, Hawke, she thought to herself. And she'd almost gotten her blush under control.

“The Inquisitor sent us ahead to scout the area,” Hawke continued before Solas and Varric could say anything. Elizabeth thanked the Maker for that small mercy. “Well, Tethras and myself, at least. We’re here for business.” Hawke tilted her head, looking amused. “Apparently, Trevelyan’s here for pleasure.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes, changing her mind. The Maker had no mercy.

Varric came to her rescue, changing the topic . “So what’s going on with the undead? The Seeker said it almost looked organized.”

“That was her conclusion, yes,” Solas said, his expression returning to something like neutral. “Both armies have retreated. We found an officer who was able to give us the location of Gaspard’s men, somewhere to the north. Unfortunately, my own research has led me in the opposite direction. I have--” He stopped himself from saying more, shaking his head. “We should discuss this later, after you have rested.” He gestured toward the tents, and the four of them began walking together. “I should warn you that our supplies are limited. Varric, I can offer you a place in my tent. Elizabeth, you and the Champion will have to share.”

Hawke’s eyes sharpened. “Actually, Tethras and I would pref--,” she began, then let out a startled noise. When Elizabeth glanced over, Hawke was rubbing her arm and glaring at Varric. She cleared her throat. “Tethras and I would prefer nothing. That arrangement sounds fine. Perfectly acceptable.”

Solas gave her an odd look. “Very well,” he said. “I apologize, but I’m afraid you caught me in the middle of something that still needs my attention. And I’m sure you’re eager to unpack. Dinner should be ready in an hour or so. Please, feel free to ask Balfe if you need anything.” With that, he took his leave.

Varric watched him retreat before turning. “Hawke,” he said. “We need to talk. Alone.” Hawke pouted at him, but he gave her a strict look. “Now .”

Hawke rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said, with an exaggerated shrug. She walked away, back toward the entrance of the camp, clearly expecting Varric to follow. He turned to Elizabeth and he sighed.

“I know you’re new at this, Blaze, but word of advice?” he said. “Next time you want to run away from a problem, try and make sure you know where it is first.”

“Right,” she said dryly. “Thanks for that.” He gave her a tight smile and walked away.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth offered to help Balfe finish with the tent, but he told her he had it well under control. She ended up waiting by the requisition table. A report on Veil strength caught her eye. As she glanced it over, she noticed Solas was the author. By the time Balfe was done, she was halfway through the report, and wishing she had a quill and paper. She decided to borrow it for the night.

The dust had worked itself into her skin, clinging to the areas that had sweated under the afternoon sun. After setting down her pack in the tent, she rinsed her hands and face with a splash from her waterskin. She’d just settled back down with the report again when she heard Hawke come in through the flap behind her. Sighing, she prepared for another joke about Solas at her expense.

Instead, she heard cloth and metal shifting, Hawke removing her outer armor. Then a series of loud thuds as various items were thrown to the ground with a good amount of force. Hawke started muttering under her breath, though Elizabeth couldn’t make out any of the words.

She turned to look over her shoulder. “Hawke?” she asked.

The Champion was staring at the ground with a glower. “What ?”

Whatever Elizabeth had thought to ask died on her lips. Clearly the conversation between her and Varric had not gone well. “I’m… heading out to dinner.”

“Fine,” Hawke said. “Let the others know I’m not feeling hungry tonight.”

“Certainly,” Elizabeth said, putting the report in her pack. She’d be fifteen minutes early, but the air in the tent already tasted like a thunderstorm. She wasn’t sure if it was just tension or if Hawke really was going to zap the next thing that moved, and she didn’t plan on finding out.

Outside, the sun had fully dipped below the horizon. A deep blue glow had settled over the camp in the dusk. Two fires were lit. The officers stood by one, laughing. She hesitated, but didn’t want to break up their camaraderie, so she turned to the other, where only one figure sat. Given her luck so far, she was hardly surprised to see that the figure was Solas, his head lowered.

He had his map spread across his lap, and glanced up as she approached. His eyes flashed with something like discomfort, though she couldn’t work out if it was bitter or not. The question returned, his brow faintly crinkled as he watched her.

She sat on the log adjacent to his, folding her arms on her knees. The fire crackled in front of them. She tried to think of something to break the silence.

“I apologize again for the camp--,” he said finally, just as she asked, “Is that a map of--?”

“Oh,” Elizabeth said, as he insisted, “Please, go on.”

She looked away. “The camp is fine. Though I realize now we should have written ahead.” Truer words were never spoken.

“Perhaps,” he said. “I’m not certain Leliana would agree.” She felt him studying her, but couldn’t raise her eyes to meet his. Eventually, he cleared his throat, looking down. “This is a map of the area, yes. I’ve been taking note of the ruins to the west, along the river.” He rose halfway, offering her the map, and she took it. She flattened it over her knee, using the firelight to see. “Cassandra and I found an ancient Elvhen glyph in one of the ruins. I suspect there may be more. They’re connected to something powerful--a temple, if I’m not mistaken. With enough glyphs, I should be able to uncover the location.” Elizabeth stole a glance at him. He was staring at the fire, his pale eyes reflecting bits of light. “Perhaps the Inquisition could make use of what we find there. Perhaps not. In any case, we should investigate before Corypheus does.”

Elizabeth went back to examining the map. “There are a lot of ruins here,” she observed.

Solas didn’t move. “Yes,” he said quietly. She’d found their camp on the map and was measuring the distance to the nearest marker when she saw him shift his head peripherally. “I must admit, I’m surprised the Inquisitor sent you away from Skyhold.”

Elizabeth hesitated as she traced a blue ink trail with her finger, hearing the unsaid addition of, ‘after Therinfal’ .

“Jane wasn’t a fan of the idea,” she admitted. “Maybe it’s more fair to say I sent myself away.”

“Ah,” he murmured. “That is… less surprising.” She was startled by his tone, and looked up to find him watching her, a small smile on his face. The ball of twine in her chest tightened as she stared back, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Slowly, the amusement faded from his eyes. He turned his face away, the sharp angles of his profile softened by the night. She couldn’t help but notice that his pale skin seemed immune to the dust--though maybe that was a trick of the firelight.

Her eyes fell back to the map.

By the time one officer announced dinner was ready, the crickets were beginning to chirp. Varric emerged from his tent, stretching. The three of them went to get mugs of vegetable soup and chunks of almost-stale bread. Elizabeth waited for everyone to help themselves, then grabbed a second chunk and some cheese. She wrapped them in a handkerchief to bring to Hawke later.

Solas was in the middle of explaining the glyphs to Varric when she returned. She settled into a spot to Varric’s left and began to eat, dipping her bread into the broth.

“Where’s Hawke?” Varric asked, once Solas had finished.

“She said she wasn’t feeling hungry,” Elizabeth told him. Varric sighed, rubbing the scar on his nose, and turned back to his meal. Elizabeth looked at Solas. “So, have you had a chance to explore any of the ruins?”

“No,” he replied. “Before Cassandra left, we helped set up a second camp by the river. It’s closer to several sites I’d like to inspect. I’d planned to return there, but our scouts have warned me that the area has become more hostile. Travelling alone is inadvisable, and the officers here are necessary to maintain our hold on the approach.”

“Problems with the undead?” Varric guessed.

“Among others,” Solas said. “Bandits. Venatori. There is also a group that calls themselves the Freemen of the Dales. They seem to be largely made up of rogue chevaliers.” He gave Varric a grim smile. “I doubt their views on a lone elven apostate wandering the Plains would be favorable.” He set down his mug, glancing between them. “In fact… if it does not interfere with your scouting, I was hoping you might be able to accompany me.”

Varric and Elizabeth exchanged a look. He shrugged at her. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think the Inquisitor gave you more information about our plans, Blaze. How flexible are we, exactly?”

Elizabeth felt a twinge of gratitude as she realized that Varric was handing her the choice to turn Solas down. It was tempting. She wasn’t eager to spend more time trapped between Hawke and Solas--or given the Champion’s current attitude, even Hawke and Varric--but apparently, Solas was, at the very least, not furious with her. Not to mention that if they didn’t escort him, they’d all be stuck at this camp together anyway.

“We were just told to explore and observe,” Elizabeth said, straightening her back. “As long as we’re able to report what we find back to Jane, then we’d be happy to help.”

“Excellent,” Solas said, relaxing. “My recommendation would be to leave first thing in the morning.”

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth didn’t stay long after that. Back in their tent, Hawke was asleep, or at least pretending to be. She placed the food next to Hawke’s bedroll and slipped into her own. When she woke in the morning, her handkerchief was folded neatly on her pack, and Hawke’s bedroll was empty.

The morning light was just turning from grey to pink as the four of them set out. Elizabeth had hoped the night would bring dew or moisture, but the dust in the air was still persistent. She rinsed her face before leaving her tent, and within fifteen minutes, she felt grimy again. She found it difficult to believe there was a river anywhere near them, despite what Solas’s map had said. Varric voiced her thoughts, complaining several times that the air quality was going to interfere with Bianca’s gears.

Hawke was still in a quiet, bitter mood, but at least she wasn’t making comments about ‘ more than adequate apostates’ . Elizabeth didn’t like seeing her this upset, but she wasn’t sure she’d prefer a cheerful Hawke as long as Solas was around.

They passed a burnt forest, and then the ramparts that Cassandra and Solas had begun to clear several weeks ago. Solas guided them into a thin ravine flanked by ancient arcades, their arches and columns only partially intact. He pointed out the area where he and Cassandra had found the first glyph as they walked by.

They’d only gone a quarter mile when Solas drew his staff.

“Fighting ahead,” he warned, in a low voice. The others armed themselves as they moved forward, and Elizabeth’s ears began to pick up on roars and shouts. She turned a corner to find a group of Dalish elves battling two rage demons and several corpses.

Elizabeth immediately landed ice on one of the rage demons, her spell landing a second after Solas’s. She felt his surprised glance more than saw it. Hawke charged forward, spinning her staff. She swung the blade end at two corpses, releasing her left hand as she did to form a fist. Lightning danced over them as she cut their bellies, and they fell, sparking.

Varric disappeared from Elizabeth’s side. She heard a solid thwack sound and saw another corpse fall. A Dalish archer landed an arrow between the eyes of one of the rage demons, and Hawke all but threw her staff into its belly. The other rage demon raised its arms at her as the first one fell. Elizabeth landed a barrier on Hawke just before it struck, as a Dalish warrior leapt onto its back and stabbed it.

In a swirl of flames, it collapsed.

Elizabeth readied another pool of fire before she realized the battle was over. She let it fizzle into the air. One of the Dalish archers approached them.

Aneth ara , Solas,” he said, to her surprise. The two elves clasped hands. “Ma serannas. We’re lucky you came along when you did.” He clucked his tongue at the corpses. “What a mess. The dead should stay dead, don’t you think?”

Solas released the man’s hand. “I did not think to find you this far north, Olafin.”

“The Keeper’s eager to get moving while the Lions rest,” Olafin replied. “I’m trying to find safe passage, and food. No luck so far, but it’s early yet.” He nodded back toward the south. “If you happen to come across the clan, could you tell Hawen that you saw us?”

“Of course,” Solas replied.

Olafin glanced behind him at Elizabeth and Hawke, frowning. “He, ah, mightn’t take well to the shems here.”

Solas smiled. “As I recall, he was not fond of me at first, either.”

Olafin chuckled. “True enough, friend.”

“These are members of the Inquistion,” Solas said, stepping aside. “Elizabeth Trevelyan, Varric Tethras, and M--”

“Marielle,” Hawke interrupted. Elizabeth saw her own confusion reflected in Solas’s face, but he smoothed it out quickly.

“And… Marielle,” Solas added.

Olafin gave them a polite nod. “Good to meet you all. Best of luck with the Keeper. We should get on with the hunt,” he said. “Dareth shiral , Solas.”

Dareth shiral ,” he replied.

The elves were out of sight when Elizabeth turned to Hawke.

“Marielle?” she asked.

Hawke’s eyes were still glued to the path the Dalish had taken. “If you want to chase them down and tell them I’m the woman who wiped out clan Sabrae, be my guest. But at least give me a running start.”

Varric scratched his neck. “Hawtke… doesn’t exactly have the best reputation with the Dalish.”

“And whose fault is that?” she said angrily. Varric looked like he had more than one response ready, his eyes narrowing. Something made him blow out a breath instead. Shaking his head, he looked at the ground.

“I thought you killed them in self-defense?” Elizabeth asked, trying to remember what exactly had happened to Merrill’s clan in Tale .

“I did,” Hawke said defensively. “But as it turns out, there’s a long history of humans killing off clans and then claiming the elves attacked first. They have little reason to trust it was any different with me.” Her eyes darted to Solas. “Anyway. I’d appreciate it if we could avoid them.”

Solas’s lips tightened. “I’m afraid that might be difficult,” he said. “They’ve been helping me in my search for the glyphs, on the understanding that I will share with them what I find.”

Hawke looked unhappy. “Fine. But that means that whenever they’re around, I’m Lady Marielle, okay? No ‘Hawke’, no ‘Champion’, and no ‘Marianne’.” Gripping a fistful of her short hair in her fingers, she began to proceed along the ravine again.

Varric followed her. “We really need to get you a new pseudonym,” Elizabeth heard him say, his voice low. “Someone’s going to recognize that one.”

“Another thing that’s decidedly your fault,” Hawke replied, though there was less bite to the accusation.

“Hey, you’re the one who wanted a cameo,” Varric said.

Elizabeth fell into step with Solas, several paces behind them. “So, working with the Dalish,” she said, interested. “I seem to recall you weren’t a fan. I take it your views have changed?”

Solas clasped his hands behind his back as they walked. “I would not go so far as that,” he replied. “The Dalish cling to their misinterpretations of history, and reject anything that could paint their ancestors as less than infallible. Even indisputable facts. They have limitations. But,” he said, glancing at her with a rueful smile, “someone once told me that this attitude may not be entirely their fault.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “Really?” she asked.

“Indeed,” he said, his gaze turning forward once more. “I’ve found that the Dalish are quite useful allies, provided you share a common goal. And this clan has been more welcoming than most.” He paused. “Or perhaps I have made more of an effort,” he admitted.

Elizabeth found herself at a loss for words. This was the opposite of the reaction she’d expected. They walked in silence, Hawke and Varric’s half-sincere argument floating back to them.

“I hear that Warden Blackwall has joined the Inquisition,” Solas said at length, his tone conversational.

“Oh,” she said, cautiously. “Well. Yes.” She stopped walking under the looming statue of an elven archer with his bow drawn and glanced ahead at their companions. Solas took another two steps, then turned to look at her. “The… man we saw at Longbourn--the one who calls himself Blackwall. He joined the Inquisition. I did warn Jane about what you told me, but she’s letting him stay.”

A flicker of surprise passed over his face. “Ah. You read the letter.”

Elizabeth blinked. Realization dawned, and she finally placed the question she kept seeing in his eyes.

“You thought I didn’t.”

“I couldn’t be sure,” he explained. “Haven fell only hours later. When I heard that Blackwall was at Skyhold, I assumed that it had been lost in the battle, without you ever seeing it.”

“Of course,” Elizabeth said, her gaze drifting away in thought. “Of course. I apologize, I hadn’t even considered….” She trailed off.

“There’s no need to apologize,” he told her. “If anything, I feel that I should. I did not expect to stay when I wrote it, and my state of mind-- I hope it did not offend you.”

“No!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Not at all. On the contrary. I found it… very informative.”

Solas inclined his head. “Well. At the very least, I am pleased to hear that the Inquisitor knows to be wary around Blackwall.”

Elizabeth frowned. “If only,” she said, darkly. He gave her a curious look. “Jane is convinced that he’s trying to redeem himself from whatever he’s done. She’s determined to trust him until he gives her reason not to.”

Solas studied her, his expression turning serious. “A dangerous perspective,” he observed.

Elizabeth sighed, rubbing the dust off her neck. “I know. That’s my sister, though. She’d let the man stab her in the back if she thought it would help him.”

Solas said nothing. A slight line appeared between his eyes, and he turned his face west, toward Hawke and Varric, who were almost out of sight.

“We should catch up with the others,” he said finally. “The Plains themselves are just ahead, and they provide far less cover.” Elizabeth nodded her agreement, and they moved forward, Solas leading the way.

 

~~~

 

The scouts’ warnings about the Plains were proven three times over before they even reached the camp. First, there was a group of Freemen who panicked at the sight of three mages together and were defeated easily. Then, a pack of bandits, weakened by a lack of food, with no soldiers from whom to steal. The last fight was with two Tevinter mages --Venatori, Elizabeth was told. Members of the cult that had attacked her sister at Redcliffe.

That final fight had been the hardest for her. She was not used to battling other mages, and faltered as they drained her mana. Fortunately, her three companions had the situation under control. She could tell that Hawke took note of her inability to protect herself, and she suspected, with a hint of dread in her stomach, that their next training session would involve sparring. Hawke did not seem like the type of person who held back in the ring, especially in her current state.

Elizabeth was not good at directions, but she had the impression that they’d made a giant U . She knew they’d gone west, then south, and the afternoon sun suggested they were now heading north. Her suspicions were confirmed when they passed another set of ramparts, these ones facing in the opposite direction. They’d gone around the whole front line, likely avoiding the largest mass of undead.

The Exalted Plains must have once been beautiful--a fertile, green valley with colorful houses and majestic hills and cliffs. Now, it stunk with death. The houses they passed were burning or already ash, some with just one wall left standing. The ground was strewn with skeletons and burnt bodies. Elizabeth had been horrified by the Hinterlands, but now she realized that that had been a fresh war. These were the remains of a long war, stale and rotting.

Elizabeth thought of the report in her pack as she counted the bones, and recalled that this was not the first brutal war the Dales had seen.

It was no surprise that the Veil was thin.

 

~~~

 

There were two officers at the second camp, as well as a new recruit, a Dalish elf called Loranil. He greeted Solas with enthusiasm and introduced himself to the others. Hawke awkwardly gave her name as Lady Marielle, throwing a panicked look toward Solas, who didn’t quite meet her eye.

“Lady Marielle?” Loranil asked, his eyes wide. “Really? Like Hard in Hightown?”

“Exactly like that,” Hawke replied with a weak smile. “What are the chances.”

It became quickly clear that he idolized the Inquisitor, and he began pushing Elizabeth for as much information as possible. She confirmed a few quick details about Jane’s life, then excused herself to head to the river.

She splashed cool water on her face and neck, relieved to wash off some of the day. The riverbank was a two foot drop from the Plains, and she stripped her boots off, sitting with her bare feet skimming the water. Dust notwithstanding, it was nice to take a moment in the sun. Laying back on the grass, she dug out the Veil report from her pack and continued reading.

A half hour passed. The sunlight began to slant toward her, making the report harder to read. She was just about to roll over when soft footsteps alerted her that she was not alone. Without sitting up, she adjusted her head to look up behind her, and saw Solas approaching. She propped herself up on her elbows as he drew nearer.

“You were eager to escape,” Solas said, amused. It occurred to her that this was the most comfortable she’d ever seen him, even counting their interactions before the Fade. On Solas, relaxation still seemed taut and rooted, perhaps with a touch more grace than austerity. The change was subtle enough that she realized perhaps it was her perception of him that had changed.

“It’s this dust,” she said, holding out her hands. “It’s relentless. I think I might hate it more than Varric.”

“Impossible,” Solas said dryly, and she found herself laughing in response. He stood beside her, facing the river, his hands clasped behind his back.

“You can sit down, if you’d like,” she offered. He considered for a moment, then eased down next to her, crossing his legs.

“You’ve been practicing,” he said. She tilted her head, giving him a sidelong glance. “You used several new spells when we were fighting, none of which you learned from me.”

“Hawke’s been training me,” she explained.

Solas hummed. “She must be a very capable instructor.”

“So she tells me,” Elizabeth said, her lips twitching. “And anyone else who’ll listen.” She looked down at the report. “Oh, while I have you here. I… was wondering if you’ve written anything else like this?”

His eyes followed hers. “You’re reading my report?”

“Yes,” she said. “It’s very interesting.”

He gave her a skeptical look. “Few would agree.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” she said. “It might be a little controversial, but there’s not much of a Chantry to complain right now, is there?” She grinned. “Your approach is very unusual. Using primal and transmutation together to study Veil density, I mean. I’ve been using spirit, but that means I have to take into account whatever’s on the other side.” She waved a hand at the report. “Transmutation would solve that problem. It’s a genius way to test it.” She paused, narrowing her eyes as she considered him. “Actually, you might be able to help me.”

He raised an eyebrow. “How?”

She explained her theory on creating a form of Rift magic as quickly as she could, drawing on the way Jane closed rifts and created small ones of her own. She added that Hawke had been helping her and that they were putting together some information to send over to the Mages' Collective. Solas grew rapt with attention as she continued, his eyes intense with thought. He stopped her only once to ask a few clarifications on the two different rifts and how they appeared with her sight.

“Do you think it could work?” she asked finally.

“Possibly,” he told her, now studying her with interest. “Either way, I am more than happy to tell you what I know.”

“So you think your research could help?”

He nodded. “I believe so. I could write a summary to send off with your letter, if you wish.”

“I’d appreciate that,” she said. “Thank you.”

They both looked out over the water, the gentle current catching light and color as it moved. Unlike the previous night, the silence felt pleasant, and Elizabeth leaned further back, letting the sun warm her face.

“Are you settling into Skyhold well?” Solas asked.

“I am,” she said, shading her eyes to look at him. “It’s magnificent. I’ve been working in the forge and the garden quite a bit.”

“I’m pleased to hear it,” he replied.

After another moment, she bit back a grin, looking away. “Though recognizing the master bedroom was a bit of a shock.”

Solas blinked, startled, then let out a chuckle that ended in a snort.

“Yes,” he said, a smile lingering. “I, ah, imagine it would have been.” He hung his head forward, light slipping over his pale skin. Her eyes were drawn to the hard angles of his face as they caught shadows. He looked as if he’d been carved out of stone, like the Frostbacks or the statue of the archer in the Plains.

Her eyes fell to his lips, remembering their softness. A flutter of warmth spread in her chest as she found herself wondering how they’d feel outside the Fade.

She froze. Oh, no.

Cold panic washed over her as she jerked her gaze back to the river, every muscle in her body aware of how close he was. Solas seemed to notice the air change around them. He misread her discomfort, a knot of concern forming on his brow.

“My apologies,” he said. He stood and clapped the dirt from his hands. “You were in search of privacy and I intruded. I should let you get back to reading.”

She forced herself to nod without looking up. “See you at the camp.”

His footsteps receded, the sound of dry grass shifting under bare feet. When he was gone, she let out her breath. She flopped onto her back and began rubbing her forehead with one hand.

“Perfect,” she muttered to herself.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth lay by the river, her hand over her face. The report sat forgotten by her side. She could still feel the rush of panic pulsing in her veins.

Panic. Panic was good. It was proof that her old defense mechanisms still functioned, even if she hadn’t seen a templar in over a month. All it took was a flutter, and her brain knew to shut everything down before someone got hurt.

Casual sex had been common enough at Ostwick Circle, but few dared to dabble in anything that could result in something deeper. Those who did were punished, one way or another. Half the time, the situation resolved itself before the Knight-Commander even knew. The stress of trying to maintain a secret affair in the Circle meant most relationships would collapse under their own weight. But when the templars did get involved, well--that was always worse. A decade of watching her friends’ affairs end in either heartbreak or tragedy had made Elizabeth wary, and that wariness had served her well.

The fact that it was Solas who’d triggered her defenses after all this time was amusing. More amusing than disturbing, at least. She wondered if it was even real. Perhaps it was a lingering effect of the Fade, a memory of what he’d felt there. That was comforting, at least, though the end result was the same. In the moment, she’d wanted to cup the back of his neck and pull his mouth down to hers. If he kissed on this side of the Veil like he did in the Fade--

No, she thought. It didn’t matter. She might be an apostate by definition, but as long as the Chantry had her phylactery, she was a Circle mage. Thankfully, Solas was a man of opinions, and he’d already done her the favor of making his views on the matter clear.

An ill-advised infatuation. One best left alone.

Pursuing you would go against everything that I stand for.

You would not be worth it.

The memory stung, but at least it simplified things. There was no point in pining over a man who was apparently offended by the fact that he'd at one point found her attractive. She was not Ellendra Lucas.

Elizabeth sighed. That  thought made her wish her friend was there. Ellendra would act smug and insufferable, of course, but within minutes they’d be mocking him, and the moment would start to feel smaller. Or perhaps she wanted Jane, who’d take it all so seriously that Elizabeth would have to laugh at herself. Alas, both Jane and Ellendra were back at Skyhold, and Elizabeth’s choice of confidants was limited to a woman who apparently had the emotional stability of a drunk adolescent, and a man famous for cataloging his closest friends’ private lives and selling them to the general public.

What a mess.

Elizabeth sat up, squeezing the bridge of her nose. Dwelling was futile. Regardless of the source of her attraction, it would need to be rooted out before it became a danger. There was only one thing to do in this situation, and that was detach herself as much as possible. In tight quarters, that would be difficult, but not impossible.

After all, she'd been trained in a Circle.

 

~~~

 

Dinner was already laid out by the time she returned to the camp. They had dried meat, fruit, and some roasted fish that one of the officers had caught. Varric and Solas were discussing something as they helped themselves to the food, and so focused was she on not looking at them that she jumped, startled, when someone grabbed her shoulder. She turned to see Hawke staring down at her.

“What happened out there with the Venatori?”

Elizabeth took a moment to follow the train of thought. The Venatori, she remembered. The mages, the ones who’d left her defenseless.

“I’m, ah, not sure,” she said, lamely.

Hawke made a face. “Yes, you are. A couple of Dispels, and you froze.”  She tightened her grip on Elizabeth’s shoulder, and began leading them toward the food. Elizabeth seized and then relaxed as Solas and Varric moved away, toward the campfire. “You need to get more comfortable with combat, Trevelyan,” Hawke was saying. “And we both know what that means.”

She sighed, not wanting to have this argument again. “I don’t want to fight you, Hawke. You know I’d end up a pile of ashes.”

Lady Marielle, ” Hawke replied in a low voice, her eyes darting back to Loranil. He hadn’t heard them. “And I’m not taking no for an answer. Besides, we wouldn’t be using magic . You were doing fine until you couldn’t cast, weren’t you? It’s a classic mage problem. Your mana dries up and you panic.” Elizabeth hesitated, and Hawke gave her a sympathetic look. “Look. There are a lot of templars out there.” She paused before adding, “And a lot of not-so-nice mages. We just need to make sure you can hold your own against them.”

“I told Jane that I wouldn’t get caught in the fray.”

Hawke gave her a pointed look. “That’s all well and good until the fray gets caught up in you .”

“What if I just carry more lyrium?”

“No,” Hawke said. “First off, the stuff’s addictive. Even if it weren’t, some things cut you off from the Fade. Lyrium won’t help.” She lowered her voice. “There’s only one kind of magic that works without the Fade. And somehow I doubt you’re interested in doing that . Though if you are, I do have a friend who--”

“No,” Elizabeth said quickly. She was fairly sure Hawke was just goading her, but blood magic was not a topic she was eager to broach in public. Especially knowing Hawke’s history. “Fine. Alright. I’ll spar with you.”

“Excellent,” Hawke said, grinning. “Then we’ll start at dawn.” She let go of Elizabeth’s shoulder, patting it twice. As they reached the table, she grabbed an apple, tossing it in the air. “Don’t look so glum, Trevelyan. This will be fun. Maker knows I’m in the mood to hit something.”

Elizabeth huffed. “Oh, wonderful,” she said, picking up some dried meat and fish for herself. As they went to sit down by the fire, she saw Solas look up at her from the corner of her eye and felt her stomach contract. She blinked. “Actually, now that you mention it, hitting something does sound good.”

“Now, that’s the spirit,” Hawke told her cheerfully.

 

~~~

 

The thought of sparring really did seem to put Hawke in a good mood for the rest of the evening. She and Varric were once again on better terms, exchanging stories around the campfire, though they carefully kept up the lie of Hawke being a noblewoman from Kirkwall. Which, Elizabeth supposed, was true.

Hawke seemed so entertained by maintaining her fake identity with Varric that she hardly paid any attention to the two other mages. That was fortunate. Elizabeth was sure she’d rather sleep on the battlefield with the undead than hear one more word about Solas’s adequacy, particularly with her newfound problem.

Over supper, Solas and Varric shared the schedule they’d drawn up for the next day. There was a ruin due south from the camp, one that Solas thought was likely to contain a glyph. The route was straightforward enough, and if they left mid-morning, they’d be back by the late afternoon.

Solas tried to speak with her a few times while Hawke and Varric were chatting, but she gave short answers and let the conversation fall silent. After dinner, Elizabeth claimed exhaustion. She was still sharing a tent with Hawke, which had her a little concerned, but as they dressed for bed, Hawke behaved herself. She did smirk a little and waggle her eyebrows when she suggested Elizabeth needed her beauty sleep, but otherwise, they hardly spoke before settling in for the night.

 

~~~

 

In the morning, an already-armored Hawke shook Elizabeth awake just before dawn. They found relatively flat terrain within sight of the camp, on the safer side, down toward the river where there were no corpses. Dust still clung to the air, but it was better by the water. Hawke marked out a border. Then she wrapped the blade end of her staff in thick, protective leathers before taking a defensive position.

“Ready,” Hawke said, crouching, and Elizabeth attacked.

The first few times, she missed completely. She flew by when Hawke lunged left or right, losing her balance and landing with her palm in the dirt.

“Come on, Trevelyan,” Hawke demanded eventually. “I know you can do better than that. It's like you're not even trying to hit me.” She tilted her head. “Didn’t you learn how to spar when you were a child? I would have thought that’d be one of the perks of growing up in a noble household.”

“To be fair, I wasn’t there for long,” Elizabeth said, getting back into position.

“Still, you must have had some training,” Hawke said. “How old were you when they took you?”

Elizabeth had been planning her attack, but paused. “Nine.”

“Did the templars have to track you down, or... ?” Hawke let the question end there.

She knew what Hawke was asking. Did your family hide you? She brushed away memories of a damp cellar and the echoes of shouting behind a locked door.

“Does it matter?” she asked, her voice colder than she'd intended.

Hawke studied her. “I suppose not.”

Elizabeth realized that she’d answered Hawke’s question without meaning to. She clenched her jaw, focusing her attention on her opponent.

Hawke stood as she always did when fighting, her right flank unprotected. Elizabeth was learning that she did that by design. It drew attacks to her stronger side.

The moment they were both in position, Elizabeth sprung forward. This time, she brought her staff down hard, aiming for Hawke’s shoulder. Hawke met it and twisted, but Elizabeth held her ground, grabbing the other end of her staff and trapping Hawke’s. They were locked. Hawke looked down, her eyebrow twitching in challenge. Elizabeth shoved as hard as she could, placing a foot behind Hawke’s ankle as she released her grip. Hawke stumbled and fell backward. She landed with an ‘ oof ’, then propped herself up.

“Nicely done,” she said. She stood, brushing off her elbow. “Do that about ten more times, and you’ll be halfway decent.” She looked up, a playful smirk on her lips. “Sure you don’t want to try a life of apostasy with me in sunny Tevinter when this is all over? Killing magisters, of course.”

“The Chantry has--”

“Your phylactery,” Hawke finished. “So you mentioned. Ah, well. It’s just a shame that you’ll be wasted on the Circle, after all this training.”

“Actually,” Elizabeth said, her voice halting, “I’m… hoping I might be able to stay at Skyhold. With Jane. Maybe the Inquisition can keep some of us on, as fighters. Like the Grey Wardens.” She almost mentioned that the idea had been Cullen’s, but thought better of it.

Hawke looked doubtful. “Maybe,” she said. “But I'd be careful. After a few years, that could backfire worse than the phylactery if she falls out of favor. Well, when she falls out of favor. You might as well put up a sign: Beloved mage sister, right here for the taking .”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “When she falls out of favor?”

“Of course. It’s inevitable.”

She felt her face flush and opened her mouth to reply. 

Hawke held up a hand, chuckling. “Whoa. Easy, girl. It has nothing to do with your sister’s dazzling personality--though if she’s looking for advice, the whole ‘sweet and nice and Holier-than-Andraste ’ act does get a little old after a while--”

“It’s not an act,” Elizabeth exclaimed.

Hawke gave her a thin smile before continuing. “Look. The only thing people enjoy more than putting someone on a pedestal is ripping them off it.” She made a face. “The safest heroes are the dead ones, sadly. And Herald of Andraste--that’s quite a pedestal. If the people turn against her and you’re still an apostate…. Well. You’ll need to be made an example of. They might even make you Tranquil. I’m afraid your best choices for freedom will be backwoods living, the Imperium, or the Grey Wardens.” Hawke gave her a once-over. “You’re not claustrophobic, are you?”

“What?” Elizabeth asked. Her heart had all but stopped at the word Tranquil . “I--. No, I--.” She shook her head, clearing it. “Jane wouldn’t let that happen.”

“She won’t have a choice,” Hawke said.

“She wouldn’t let it get to that point,” Elizabeth insisted, stepping forward.

Hawke’s lip curled. “Oh, she will,” she said. “And it’ll all be in the name of law and order. I can spot someone who believes in a system a mile away. The Inquisitor wants stability. Fairness. Balance, above all else. She wants everyone’s voice to be heard, and everyone’s issues to be addressed.”

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “And that’s such a sin?”

Balance is an illusion, Trevelyan. She wants to find the middle ground. But sometimes there isn’t one, is there?” Hawke’s face grew hard. “What about when half the world tells her mages are people, and the other half says they aren’t? What do you think happens then?”

“Don’t presume that you can tell me--,” Elizabeth began.

Hawke’s voice rose over Elizabeth’s, sharper. “She says, ‘Well, I suppose they’re half-people .’ We end up with the fucking Circles again, that’s what happens. That is the middle ground. It’s the same as the alienages. Outright oppression, courtesy of the misguided belief that everyone is acting in good faith.”

Elizabeth’s grip on her staff tightened. “So you think that if Jane can’t stop centuries of oppression, it’s her fault.”

“‘A system that does not stop or punish the cruelty of those within its ranks is as corrupt as those it enables ’,” Hawke said. Elizabeth could tell she was quoting something, her tone as hollow as a Chanter’s, but she didn’t recognize it. “The Chantry has always thought a little oppression is the price we all should pay for safety.”

“Jane can’t fix the Chantry ,” Elizabeth argued.

Hawke glared. “Right now? She is the Chantry.” She shook her head. “I hope you're ready. When the templars come to lock you up, she'll give them the key.”

Something inside Elizabeth snapped. Before she could stop herself, she leapt at Hawke, her staff above her head. Hawke’s eyes widened a fraction, and she jerked into position, catching it in her left hand.

Elizabeth rammed herself forward, knocking them both to the ground. Hawke landed on her back, Elizabeth on top of her. Her hand clutched the staff as it dug into the dirt, vaulting it upward.

There was a crack as Hawke’s knuckles met Elizabeth’s face, and she saw stars.

She fell onto her back, a strangled cry escaping her throat.

Vishante kaffas !” she heard Hawke gasp beside her. “Trevelyan?”

Elizabeth groaned and squinted, her vision blurred. Her upper lip felt heavy. She brought her hand up to touch it. When she looked down, her fingers were red.

“Shit,” she heard Hawke whisper. “Maker, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I think I broke your nose. Shit, shit, shit .”

Elizabeth licked her lips, tasting the metallic tang of blood. The skin under her eyes felt hot and began to pulse. She forced herself into a sitting position, then sat dumbly for a moment, blinking.

“Here, let me help you,” Hawke said, grabbing her arm.

Elizabeth let herself be pulled up, dropping her staff in the process. Hawke half dragged her forward, toward the camp. As the shock wore off, Elizabeth found she could walk more steadily, but the pain was worsening, an ache that throbbed when each foot hit the ground. She placed a shaky hand over her face, her fingers just tracing her cheeks, and began to heal. Hawke babbled out a series of apologies next to her as she lightly touched Elizabeth, pulsing a spell of her own, something that seemed to ease the pain.

“Little help here!” Hawke cried out, as they reached the camp.

Loranil’s shocked face came into Elizabeth’s view first, and she felt him touch her other elbow, leading her forward. “ Elgar'nan ! What happened?”

“It’s her nose,” Hawke explained. They reached a log, and the two of them helped Elizabeth sit down. “I think it’s broken.”

Her vision began to clear, the healing helping. Looking down, she realized the whole front of her leather vest was soaked in blood. She heard more exclamations as Varric and the other officers rushed over. She felt a little overwhelmed at the sudden attention.

“Alright, she’s okay,” Varric said to the others, sensing her discomfort. “It’s just blood, guys. Give her some room.” Loranil and the two officers hung back, then finally dispersed when Hawke muttered something rude at them. Someone else approached, crouching at her side.

“You’re a healer, right?” she heard Hawke ask.

“I am,” Solas replied.

Elizabeth drew up her head. He was bending to kneel in front of her. There was a slight note of concern in his blue eyes, but otherwise his expression was calm. He gently took her wrist with one hand to move it away. As he placed his fingers on the bridge of her nose, she felt his magic wash over her, locating the injury. She shivered and closed her eyes, noticing that he hadn’t let go of her wrist.

“What happened?” Varric asked.

“We were sparring,” Hawke said. “And I… uh, I hit her.”

Elizabeth felt Solas’s fingers tense and her eyes flew open. “It was an accident,” she clarified, twisting to see Varric. Solas let go of her wrist, placing three fingers on her jaw. He turned her face back toward him, meeting her eyes.

“Stay still,” he ordered quietly, his other hand still on her nose. Another wave pushed through, this time healing. The pain ebbed away. As it faded, Solas’s fingers began to move. He brushed down, his touch feather-light, mending the bone. Goosebumps rose at the nape of her neck.

Don’t, she told herself.

“Maker’s breath,” Varric said behind her. “What’s the Inquisitor gonna say?”

“Shit,” Hawke muttered again.

“It was an accident,” Elizabeth insisted without looking, this time more forcefully.

“Somehow I don’t think your sister will care when she finds out,” Varric said.

“I’ll go west,” Hawke offered. “I’m sure I can find Ellie.”

“No,” Elizabeth said. “Don’t be ridiculous. Jane won’t be mad, she’ll just--.” She stopped. Jane wouldn’t do anything to Hawke, but Elizabeth realized that her sister would send her back to Skyhold in a heartbeat if she heard. “Oh. Or… maybe we don’t tell her what happened. It’ll be healed by the time she gets here, right?”

Varric looked at her in disbelief. “Putting aside the fact that doing that would entail lying to your sister, which I’m not even sure you’re capable of, I doubt those three officers are just gonna conveniently forget what they saw.”

“Maker,” she said, wincing. “I forgot about them.” She chewed her lip. “Can’t you play it down for me? Tell them we don’t want to worry Jane? You’re the storyteller.”

“What, we’re supposed to act like you waltzing into camp, covered in your own blood, is a normal occurrence?”

Elizabeth gave a light laugh. “You never know,” she said. “It could’ve been ram’s blood.”

Solas glanced up, surprised. The ghost of smile appeared on his lips, but then it was gone, his face serious and his focus back on her nose.

Hawke stepped into view behind him. “You don’t have to protect me.”

“It’s not just that,” Elizabeth said, keeping her head still. “If she thinks I can’t defend myself, she’ll never let me leave Skyhold again.”

Varric came around to face her as well. “No offense, maybe that wouldn’t be the worst idea.”

“I’m improving,” Elizabeth insisted. Varric looked doubtful. “I am. This was a fluke.” She gave Hawke a pleading look.

“She’s right,” Hawke admitted. “There were… extenuating circumstances. I may have provoked her. A little.”

“Hawke,” Varric said in a warning tone.

Marielle ,” Hawke reminded him.

“Varric, it’s okay,” Elizabeth interrupted them. “I attacked her. If anything, this is my own fault.”

Varric lowered his brow, his eyes glancing between them. He looked at Solas. “What do you think, Chuckles?”

Solas stopped, considering the question. He turned to Varric. “The choice should be hers,” he decided. “This is a matter between two sisters.”

“One of whom is the Inquisitor,” Varric said.

Solas tilted his head in acknowledgement. “But it is not a decision that she would be making as Inquisitor.”

Varric scoffed. “And that makes it okay that the rest of us would be lying?”

“Only by omission,” Solas pointed out.

“A lie’s a lie, Chuckles.”

Elizabeth replied before Solas could. “I’m surprised you’re so against withholding information from the Inquisition, all of a sudden,” she said dryly. 

Hawke looked a little amused. “She has you there, Tethras." Varric gave Hawke a hard look. 

“Moreover,” Solas added in a low tone, turning back to focus on her nose, “given past events, keeping Elizabeth near a healer would probably be wise.”

She let out an offended noise.

He looked up, raising an eyebrow. “The fact that I am once again healing a wound of yours is only remarkable because, in this instance, it would not have otherwise been fatal.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth, then shut it again. She couldn't argue with that. 

“Fine,” Varric said with a sigh. “I’ll tell the others you tripped or something, and it’s not as bad as it looks. But if Nightengale finds out and tells the Inquisitor anyway, you three are on your own.” He walked away, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like “mages ” under his breath.

Hawke gave Elizabeth an apologetic look, her eyebrows drawing together. “For what it’s worth, I am so sorry,” she said. “I never should have said--”

Elizabeth waved her hand, not wanting to think about their argument. “No. I’m sorry, too. I lost my temper. Maker’s breath.”

Hawke looked her over. “I’ll go get a rag and some water. Your face is a mess.” She turned away, taking wide strides toward their tent.

Elizabeth waited silently as Solas finished, trying to focus on anything but how close he was. Her eyes kept drifting back to his face. She could see freckles on his pale skin, something she’d never noticed before. It made him look younger, somehow.

He finally moved back, releasing her and studying his work. She touched her nose as if to test it. The pain was gone, and she could only feel a little of the swelling at the bridge. Solas reached into his pocket, pulling out a vial.

“Here,” he said. “For the bruising. The break is mended, but I will need to leave the swelling. It’s necessary to protect the bone until it sets.” Elizabeth nodded, taking the vial and swallowing the contents. “I would also recommend resting for at least today and tomorrow.”

She coughed at the strength of the potion. “What about the glyph?” she rasped.

“A team of three should be sufficient,” he said. Her mouth opened, but he continued, giving her a stern look. “Healing requires time. The bone will be vulnerable for several days. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you break it a second time, it could leave permanent damage, beyond my capabilities.”

Elizabeth frowned. That would be more difficult to explain to Jane. He went to rise, and her hand twitched in an effort to stop him. She felt the loss of his nearness in her chest. The panic returned. She wanted to thank him, but her muscles wouldn’t cooperate, her tongue heavy in her mouth.

“I should go prepare,” he said above her. Elizabeth nodded mutely, and watched as he walked away.

 

~~~

 

Once the others left, Elizabeth cleaned herself off the best that she could with a rag and bucket. She spent the rest of her morning helping Loranil set up a few more tents for when Jane arrived. The day grew hot after lunch. A mixture of the temperature and the fading adrenaline from her injury made Elizabeth feel a little dizzy, and she decided to lie down.

She realized she’d fallen asleep when she woke to the sound of Hawke’s laughter floating in from outside. The tent was dark. Hours had passed, at least. She blinked, wishing she’d asked one of the officers to check on her. She’d have a much harder time falling asleep that night, she knew.

As she left her tent, she took in the moonlight and the single campfire. Hawke was seated on the requisition table, chatting with Loranil, but Varric and Solas were nowhere to be found. Elizabeth made her way over, noticing that the dry heat of the afternoon was still in the air.

“Trevelyan,” Hawke greeted, as she approached. She gave her a wary look, but her shoulders relaxed when Elizabeth offered her a smile. Elizabeth hadn’t forgotten the subject of the fight itself, but she was ready to put it aside as long as Hawke was. She knew her sister, and while she couldn't blame Hawke for being jaded, she trusted Jane. “How’s the nose?”

“Much better,” Elizabeth replied.

“Glad to hear it,” Hawke said. She seemed like she wanted to add something, but glanced at the man beside her instead. “I was just telling Loranil about the Deep Roads.”

“They sound terrifying,” Loranil said, delighted.

“Really?” Elizabeth said, cocking an eyebrow. Hawke wasn’t being very subtle. “Do you… happen to know a lot about them, Marielle?”

Hawke laughed, clapping Loranil on the back. “Turns out Loranil here knew who I was. Figured it out last night. He’s read the book. Varric was stunned. And he’s a big fan. Well, a biggish fan. A fan of Merrill, at least.”

“Hawke promised to introduce me,” he explained with a wide grin.

“Promise is a strong word,” Hawke told him. “I said I’d try.”

Loranil still looked thrilled by the prospect. “What will I even say to her?”

Hawke patted him lightly before dropping her hand. “I wouldn't worry about it. There’s at least half a chance it’ll go straight over her head anyway.” She looked back at Elizabeth, giving her a once over. “That vest’s seen better days.”

Elizabeth glanced down. There were still bits of blood splattered across the front. She rubbed at one stubborn spot. “Damn. I thought I got it all off this morning.”

Hawke leaned back on her hands. “Maybe you should go change before a templar sees you and gets the wrong idea.”

“It’s not that bad,” Elizabeth said.

“You look like a Tevinter ritual gone wrong,” Hawke replied dryly.

“Alright, alright. I’ll go wash it,” Elizabeth said, rolling her eyes. She headed toward the river. Hawke returned to her story, describing a particularly vicious ogre, as Loranil listened eagerly.

Elizabeth lit a flame in her hand to guide her the short distance to the water. The banks were steep. She focused on her steps, looking down, remembering she had to be careful due to her injury. Despite the heat, the night sky was clear enough that the moonlight was bright, painting the grass and ground blue.

As she approached, she heard splashes, and she glanced up at the water.

Her eyes widened and her flame went out.

Solas had just broken through the surface. He was still waist deep, and shirtless, though a peek of cloth showed he wore his leggings. His skin seemed to glow against the darkness of the water, close to silver under the moon. He brushed the water off his face as she stared, frozen.

She'd always known him to be tall for an elf, which she thought gave him a lanky appearance--particularly when he hunched over as he often did, his arms hidden behind his back. But now she could see that was deceptive. His chest was wide, and shoulders broader than they appeared under his clothes. The muscles in his arms moved as his hands swept over his eyes.

There was something, Maker help her, beautiful about him in the light, and she knew at that moment it wasn't a lingering impression from the Fade. Her face grew hot, even as the panic began to thud in her chest.

Detach, she tried to remind herself.

He brought his hands down, which brought her back to the present. She turned to retreat, trying to keep her steps as quiet as possible.

“Elizabeth?”

She stopped, closing her eyes in defeat.

“Sorry,” she called out without turning. “I didn't mean to intrude.”

There was the sound of water moving behind her, of him rising from the river. “It's no intrusion, I assure you. Allow me to-- ah, there it is.” There was a pause before he spoke again, this time sounding amused. “You can turn now.”

She did. He’d put on a shirt. She struggled not to eye his shoulders, remembering the sight of them bare, and failed.

“You didn't need to stop on my account,” she said, forcing her eyes to his face. “Maker knows it's hard enough to find a bath on the road. I just came down to clean my vest.”

“I had been planning to return to the camp anyway,” Solas replied. His expression became more serious. “How are you feeling?”

Elizabeth touched her nose. “Fine, actually,” she said.

“May I?” he asked, holding out one hand. She nodded, and took in a breath as he touched her face. Again, his magic sunk into her skin, his eyes tracing over her. She thought of all the other times he'd healed her and wondered how she'd never notice that while his magic was cool, his hands were warm.

A moment passed, and then he moved back, letting her breathe again. “It’s healing well.”

“That’s good,” she said after a beat, for want of a response.

They both stood in awkward silence.

“Well,” he said. “I should head back.” He began to turn.

“Wait,” she managed to say. He stopped. “I wanted to thank you.” He raised an eyebrow. “I should have said that earlier.”

Solas looked surprised. “I’m sure you were still in shock.”

She swallowed, her tongue feeling thick. “No, not just earlier today. It’s…. Thank you. You’ve saved my life. And Jane’s life. I know I’ve said things that….” She trailed off. “I’ve said things that were ungrateful. And I’m sorry for that. Very sorry.”

Understanding came over Solas’s face. “Ah. You mean the Fade.”

“Yes,” she said.

“There is no need to apologize. If anything, the fault was mine.” He seemed to weigh his words. “The Fade will often amplify the feelings of its occupants. I should have been aware of my surroundings.”

She remembered how emotions seemed to crash over her when she was there, inescapable. “I can't believe you do that voluntarily, on a regular basis,” she said, causing him to chuckle softly. “Isn't it exhausting?”

“No,” Solas said. “Not normally. It is a matter of control. I am… not often thrown by things that happen in dreams. With enough focus, it is simple enough to shape the Fade to your liking, rather than letting it shape you.” He offered her a small smile. “And I find the experience rewarding.”

Elizabeth looked toward the river. “Have you dreamed here?”

He glanced down, a flicker of something dark behind his eyes. “I have walked the Fade in the Plains, yes. The memories here are grim.”

“From the war,” Elizabeth guessed.

“In part,” Solas replied. “But many things have happened here. The Dalish call this place Dirthavaren. The promise. It is where their dream of Halamshiral--their efforts against the Orlesian Empire--finally fell.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth said. “I see. You must find that painful.”

Solas looked at her with an unreadable expression. “No more so than the darker memories at Haven, or in the West. I claim no kinship with the Dalish. Halamshiral was only a fumbling attempt to recreate a forgotten empire.” He hesitated. “But there are other memories here.”

She expected him to go on, but he fell silent. “It sounds fascinating,” she said finally. “The ability to experience those things… I mean, I was taught to fear the Fade.” She gave him a wry smile. “Now I'm beginning to think it’s a shame that the only two times I’ve been there consciously, I fought a demon and then an apostate.”

Solas let out a short laugh. “Yes,” he agreed. Something seemed to occur to him. He looked at her intently, his smile fading. “Does that mean you-- that is, do you have any interest in visiting the Fade under… better circumstances?”

“I’m afraid the aftereffects of a lyrium overdose are quite enough to scare me off from ever attempting that again.”

“I did not mean through lyrium,” he said. His eyes flicked between hers. “I may be able to guide you. Through the Fade, I mean. As you sleep.”

“Really?” she asked.

“Perhaps,” he said. “It is not something I have done before, but I believe it could be possible. I would not normally suggest something of this nature. However--.” He paused, watching her. “There is someone there who wishes to make your acquaintance.”

She blinked. “What? In the Fade?”

“Yes.”

For a moment, she was confused. Then she realized. “A spirit?”

Solas nodded. “A spirit of Wisdom, in fact,” he said. “An old friend.”

She felt her lips part in surprise. Whatever interest this spirit had in her, she assumed it came from Solas. It had been a relief to know he didn't hate her, but to realize that he might actually think that well of her--after everything he'd said, and everything she'd done--came as a shock.

Detach , a distant part of her repeated.

When she did not immediately respond, he added, “Of course, if you do not wish to--”

“No,” she interrupted, a sudden impulse pushing down the parts of her that objected. “I’d love to. I was just caught off guard.”

He smiled. “Very well. I shall see what I can do.” He turned his head, frowning. “However, I would not recommend this as a location. The Veil is thin.” She could see thoughts move behind his eyes. “Skyhold would be better,” he decided, looking back at her.

“When we return, then,” she said.

“When we return,” he agreed, looking pleased. “I will leave you to your vest. Good night.” He turned to walk away. After a moment, she knelt, her fingers at the buttons in her chest. She ran the conversation over in her mind, shaking her head.

She'd been out of a Circle for too long.

 

Chapter Text

The next four days passed slowly. Elizabeth stayed at the camp, struggling not to lose patience with Loranil’s sunny enthusiasm. She learned more about Dalish customs over that time than she could possibly want to know. He meant well, though, so she smiled and nodded as they set up tents and she shredded whatever fabrics they could find for her research.

In the evenings, she read and reread her letter to the Mages' Collective, summing up all of the Veil research she’d been able to collect so far. Solas, true to his word, wrote up an overview of his own findings, which she attached. After some consideration, she decided not to include an invitation to Skyhold when she finally sent it. The Collective had garnered a controversial reputation before the war. There were quiet murmurs--always denied--that they studied blood magic, but they never hid that they let apostates into their ranks. Despite the fact that Skyhold now harbored more apostates than the Collective ever had, Elizabeth had a feeling that Cassandra would still disapprove.   

Solas found two more of his glyphs with the help of Hawke and Varric. One was too close to a Fade rift for him to examine. Indeed, the rifts were proving to be quite a problem for the three of them. Without Jane to close them, several areas they tried to reach were completely cut off. Varric suggested that they wait for the Inquisitor to do anything to the south. They instead cleared out the closer ramparts, learning from a dying soldier that Celene’s men had fled across the river.

Elizabeth noticed one afternoon that there was a growing pile of bloodstone next to the requisition table, one that Loranil had marked for Skyhold. When she mentioned it, he explained that it was belonged to Hawke.

That night, in their tent, Elizabeth asked about it. Hawke was sitting cross-legged on her bedroll. Solas had taught her how to summon Veilfire earlier, and she was practicing. She looked up from a flame in her palm, her face blue-green in the light.

“I owe you a proper apology,” she explained. “Not just for hitting you, but for…” She trailed off, making a round gesture with her free hand. “All of it.”

Elizabeth watched the fire twist, confused. “So you got me bloodstone.”

“No. Or, sort of. I have an idea.”

She waited for Hawke to go on, but that appeared to be the full thought. “Which is…?” she prompted.

“It’s only partial at the moment,” Hawke admitted, letting the flame go out with a wave. As she settled down, Elizabeth’s eyes began to adjust the darkness. “In progress, so to speak. I need to check--ah, something with someone first.” She shifted, getting under her blanket. “I’d tell you more, but it’s a matter that requires a bit of… discretion.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows, though Hawke couldn’t see her in the dark. “Discretion.”

“Oh, don’t worry, it’s perfectly legal.” There was a pause. “Well. Mostly.”

“Mostly,” she said in a flat tone. “Well. This is sounding better and better.”

“Anyway,” Hawke said, ignoring her comment, “I think you’ll appreciate it, if it all works out. Have a little faith, Trevelyan.” She rolled over, turning onto her other side. “Goodnight.”

Elizabeth lay awake in the dark, wondering if she should be worried.

 

~~~

 

On the fifth morning, Solas proclaimed her healed enough to return to training. Hawke suggested he join them, and he agreed. Elizabeth must have visibly reacted to the news, because Hawke clapped her on the back as he walked away to retrieve his staff.

“Chin up, Trevelyan,” she said. “You’ll enjoy it.” Elizabeth gave her a look, and Hawke laughed. “Learning, I mean.”

“I’m sure,” Elizabeth said dryly. Clearly, the more cheerful Hawke had come back. Hawke shrugged as Solas returned, and they began to make their way toward the river. Elizabeth collected her thoughts as they walked.

This is fine, she told herself. They’d been spending time together anyway, and it wasn’t like she wanted to avoid him. It was that she wanted-- well, that was the question. What did she want? She knew what she should want--the willpower to put distance between them. Instead, she found herself seeking him out. Each night, they’d been the last ones around the campfire, discussing his journeys in the Fade, or their companions. It felt like the first night, down by the river--comfortable and quiet. None of the conversations were particularly long, and yet somehow she found them engrossing enough to break her own rules, time and time again.

Apparently, the rebellious streak she’d formed was like an infection, spreading through her faster than a Blight. It was terrifying.

This was all complicated by the matter of how Solas felt about her. Whatever else, it was obvious that he welcomed her company as much as she welcomed his. He treated her more gently than he had before. But the words ‘ you would not be worth it’ still hung heavy in her mind. He may have desired her once, but he’d never wanted her. No matter how he acted, she couldn’t be sure if that was still true, or if he even still felt anything for her.

Like everything else in her life, she felt as though she were straddling a thin line, half of her free, and the other half still regulated by Chantry law. It was as if her whole world hung in balance. Leaning one way or the other just once would drag everything down--would push her through that door or close it, forever.

So she stood at the edge of the cliff, courting disaster, yet unable to take the final steps.

She was jerked from her thoughts as they reached the training grounds. Hawke and Solas had been debating which spell to show her. They’d settled on an attack Solas knew, something that used Fade magic to knock out enemies. He told her that it would be particularly relevant to her research, then walked a good distance from them for safety.

She watched as Solas began to cast. He brought up his arms. Her eyes went to his shoulders as they rolled. He’d forgone his vest, only wearing a simple tunic, which made it all the easier for her to picture them bare.

A confusing mixture of desire and unease played in her stomach.

“Trevelyan?”

She blinked. Her face flushed as she realized she hadn’t been watching the spell at all. She hadn’t even raised the Veil to her eyes. Hawke was smirking at her. She rubbed the spot between her eyes, scowling.

“Mind doing that one again?” she heard Hawke call out to Solas. “Facing us this time. I don’t think our view was quite… adequate.”

“Very well,” he said, and thank the Maker he didn’t seem to catch the reference.

“I’m going to kill you,” Elizabeth muttered as Solas changed stances, bringing up his arms again.

“I’d probably deserve it,” Hawke admitted in a whisper, sounding amused. “But don’t forget--Varric gets half the reward.”

 

~~~

 

That afternoon, Elizabeth joined the others when they left to explore a new area. On Solas’s map, Cassandra had circled it and added the words “ dangerous templar ”, which had Varric muttering that they should wait for Jane. However, the only passage they could find that led there was blocked by fallen rocks.

“Can’t you guys blast it or something?” Varric asked.

Solas lay one hand against one side of the wall, then shook his head. “It appears that the debris goes too deep for that. It would need to be removed manually.”

“Do you think it’s something we can handle?” Elizabeth asked.

“That would depend on what you mean by ‘ we’ ,” Solas replied, dropping his hand. “The Inquisition should be able to. But the four of us cannot.”

“Fuck,” Hawke said, annoyed. She tugged at her hair. “Let me guess. The Inquisitor would have to order it.”

“Yes,” Solas said, glancing behind him. “Come. We may be able to reach Celene’s men, at least.”

They retraced their steps, heading back through the open plains. On the way, they met with a pack of wolves. It was difficult to feel impressive next to Hawke, but Elizabeth was at least beginning to feel competent . At one point, she even froze a wolf that was seconds away from sinking its teeth into Varric. He gave her a nod of thanks, and she grinned to herself once the fight was finished.

She half-listened to Varric and Solas discuss Hard in Hightown , which apparently Solas was now reading. Elizabeth was lost in thought when Hawke burst out laughing, and she looked up. They’d reached the bridge.

It had collapsed.

“Well, that just figures,” Hawke said, crossing her arms. “Another thing we need the great and mighty Inquisitor for.” She blew out a long breath before turning to Elizabeth. “So, Trevelyan. When does she get here?”

“Soon,” Elizabeth said, looking at the far shore. “I hope.”

 

~~~

 

Even Hawke was relieved the day that Jane actually arrived. She, Dorian, and Bull were already at the camp when Elizabeth and the others returned from exploring the north. She hugged Jane tightly and they exchanged a look that they both knew meant they’d talk in private later. Elizabeth was anxious to hear whatever news there was from Skyhold. She greeted Dorian and Bull warmly, too, pleased to see them.

Hawke anticipated the sisters’ wish for privacy, and offered to swap tents, an offer that was quickly accepted. After hearing about the issues that plagued the Plains, Jane decided that the rift near the Dalish should take top priority.

“Just remember--if we meet the elves, hang back and let Solas do all the talking,” Hawke said as they left together. Varric, Dorian, and Bull followed them, chatting. Apparently, Varric had lost some bet and was eager to collect.

“The clan may be more friendly to the Inquisitor than they were to you,” Solas said. “Particularly if she is able to close the rift.”

“The clan, maybe,” Hawke said. “They were fine. But the Keeper? If that’s how much of an asshole he is when there’s only one human in the party, I have a feeling he’s going to be even worse with three of us.”

Jane glanced between Elizabeth and Hawke, confused. “Only one human?”

There was a beat before Varric spoke. “Blaze decided to stay at the camp that day. We weren’t sure how bad the situation was down there. She said you’d told her to hang back if things looked dicey.”

Jane broke into a smile. “You listened!” she exclaimed, delighted. Elizabeth opened her mouth, then shut it, a wave of guilt rolling in her chest. “Oh, Lizzie, I owe you an apology. I was half-convinced you’d get into some kind of trouble.”

Elizabeth ignored a flat look from Varric and managed a smile. “No,” she said. “No trouble here.”

 

~~~

 

When they returned that evening, Jane and Elizabeth left the others to dinner and ducked into their tent. As soon as the flap was closed, Jane grabbed Elizabeth’s hands.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, her eyes wide. “I had no idea!”

“What?” Elizabeth said, confused.

“I didn’t realize Solas was here,” Jane explained. “When they told me, I felt awful. You, going all the way out to Orlais--and for nothing!” She gripped Elizabeth’s fingers tighter. “Worse than nothing. Stuck with the person you were trying to avoid! If you’d like to go back to Skyhold tomorrow, I understand. I could send Bull and Dorian with you, now that--”

“No,” Elizabeth interrupted. “It’s fine. Solas and I--”

She trailed off, trying to think of what to even say. Over the past few days, she’d considered whether or not she’d tell everything to Jane, but now, standing in front of her sister, she felt she couldn’t. Saying it all out loud would make everything real, and real would make things harder.  

“We’re on better terms now,” she settled on. Jane looked uncertain. “We are. He’s even helping me train again.”

Jane relaxed a little at that. “Really?”

“Yes,” she said. “And I’d prefer to stay with you, if I can. You know that.”

Her sister let out a breath, releasing her hands. “Of course,” she said, sounding relieved. “As long as you’re sure.”

“I am.” Elizabeth moved away, going to get her nightclothes. If only you knew, she thought. “But tell me, how was Skyhold?”

Jane paused, then settled down cross-legged on her bedroll. “It was fine,” she said, frowning. “More reports of rifts are pouring in.” She let her hair out of its bun.

“How long were you there?”

“Just two nights,” Jane said. She turned her back to Elizabeth as she sectioned off her hair and began to braid.

“And…?”

Jane glanced over her shoulder. “And what?”

“You know,” Elizabeth said with a coy smile. “Did anything happen between you and the Commander?” A shadow passed over Jane’s face, and Elizabeth felt her smile fade. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” Jane said, sighing. “At least, I hope it’s nothing. Cullen-- the withdrawal is much worse than I thought.” She swallowed. “He almost started taking it again.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth said sadly. “But… he didn’t, did he?” Jane shook her head. Elizabeth went to the bedroll, settling beside her. She put a hand on her back. “And he’s not stepping down?”

“No,” Jane said. “He wanted to, but Cassandra said that was ridiculous.” She stroked her fingers through one section of her braid, untangling a knot, her brow tight with worry. “I think she’s concerned that if he lost his position, he’d turn back to lyrium. Besides, his duties aren’t being neglected. He’s the most capable man for the job. I told him all that. I just hope… I hope it’s enough.”

Elizabeth hoped it was, too. They sat in silence for a moment, Jane braiding her hair, her sister tracing circles below her shoulders.

“Is he still writing to you?” Elizabeth finally asked.

That cheered Jane up, and she straightened. “Yes,” she said with a small grin. “I’ve had one since I left. He sounded… much better. I just wrote back yesterday.”

“That’s good, at least,” she said. “I’m sure it helps.”

Jane finished her braid and turned, facing her sister. “So besides training with Solas, what have you been up to?”

Elizabeth hesitated, looking down. A half dozen things rose to her mind--her argument with Hawke, her broken nose, her agreement to walk with Solas in the Fade. How every day, it was getting more difficult to keep him at arm’s length. She thought of the letter she’d sent off to the Mages' Collective, and her research in trying to twist or tear the Veil.

She met her sister’s gaze and swallowed. “Not much,” she said, while thinking, far too much.

 

~~~

 

With Jane there, the party became busy, their time split between closing rifts and helping soldiers. She was quite pleased with her sister’s new set of skills, and seemed more relaxed about having Elizabeth in the field. While Elizabeth still felt guilty, she couldn’t help but feel she’d made the right decision in hiding what had happened between her and Hawke.

But Jane being there also meant an end to the quiet conversations with Solas. Dinners grew longer. Hawke, Bull, and Dorian liked to chat and laugh late into the night. Elizabeth found herself missing their time together, but she did not want Jane to suspect any attachment between them. As a result, she was more careful. They only spoke to each other a few times, and always in a group.

On Jane’s third night there, she happened to be the first to sit by the campfire. She had put her plate on her knee, but it was poorly balanced, and when she shifted, a plum rolled off into the dirt.

“Shit,” she murmured, picking it up. She’d already taken a bite of it, so the exposed side was ruined.

A hand appeared beside her, offering her a second plum. She looked up to see Solas, his own plate in his hand.

Her mouth opened to reply, but it took her a second to actually speak. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly--”

“I insist,” Solas said. “I believe you’re quite fond of them.”

She stilled at that. She reached up her hand, and their fingers brushed. For a moment, neither moved. The flames flickered, making shadows dart over his face. His eyes were gray in the firelight. It struck her that whatever held her gaze was holding his as well.

That thought alone seemed more dangerous than all their conversations combined.

“Hey, Little Boss.”

Elizabeth turned her head sharply, snatching the plum away. Bull was sitting down on the log on her other side. Her heart was still thudding, but she managed to return his smile.

“Little Boss?” she asked. “Is that my name now?”

Bull shrugged. “It was that or Boss Junior,” he said. “But Hawke banned that one.”

“Junior belongs to Carver,” Hawke explained as she sat down on Bull’s other side. It sounded like she may have dipped into Varric’s flask already. “You can’t just go around calling two different people Junior .”

Bull chuckled. “You wouldn’t last a day under the Qun.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you very much,” Hawke said with a sniff.

Elizabeth moved her eyes back to her other side, but Solas had walked away, sitting on the log across from them. She watched for a moment, taking in the way the flames played on the edge of his jaw.

This changes nothing, she told herself, only half-believing it.

 

~~~

 

The days felt shorter, full as they were. A week passed in no time at all. Jane was beginning to accept that she would need to return a second time, as inconvenient as it was. She had requested that the council fix the bridge and clear the passage, but it would be a month before either project was completed. In the meantime, she would return to Skyhold.

The night before they left, they had their last meal of fish, dried meat, and fruit at the camp.

“You know, Halamshiral was not on my list of top places to visit,” Dorian said, studying his fish with distrust, “but I must admit, I’m certainly looking forward to the food .”

“Orlesians make pretty good wine, too,” Bull added.

“It’s passable,” Dorian conceded. “For the South.”

Bull made a rude noise with his lips. “You’re not trying to say Tevinter wine is better, are you?”

“Oh, please, what do you know about wine ?” Dorian replied as Loranil appeared by Jane’s side.

“Your worship,” he said. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but an urgent letter came for you.”

Jane took the letter, her forehead wrinkling. Elizabeth watched her unroll it as Hawke began to argue that Antivan wine was the most superior. Her sister’s eyes scanned the paper.

“Oh!” Jane exclaimed softly. The others went silent, and she looked up, her face turning pink.

“Is something wrong?” Elizabeth asked.

“No,” Jane said, blinking. “No, it’s… I need to--” She cut herself off, looking flustered. “It’s a personal matter. Everything is fine. I-- should retire. I’ll see you all in the morning.”

She took a lantern from the requisition table and crossed the camp. The others went back to arguing about wine, but Elizabeth couldn’t look away from their tent. After fifteen minutes, she gave up, and she excused herself.

Jane was seated inside, on her bedroll. She looked up when the flap opened, and Elizabeth saw the shine of tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, concerned.

“Wrong!” Jane exclaimed, a slightly hysterical noise following the word. She smiled, one hand fluttering up to her throat. “Nothing! Oh. Lizzie, nothing except I don’t deserve this. Any of this! I can hardly believe it. I-- here!” She held out the parchment to her sister, who took it. Elizabeth had seen enough of Cullen’s letters in the Hinterlands to recognize his handwriting.

When she'd read the first few lines, Elizabeth looked up, her eyebrows high. “I don’t think--. This isn’t for me to read, Jane.”

“Please,” Jane said. A hitch in her throat made her voice crack. “Read it. Read it and tell me it’s real.”

Elizabeth looked at her sister for a long moment. Her curiosity won over her objections and she looked down, beginning to read once more.

 

 

Inquisitor Trevelyan Inqu Jane,

I apologize. I’ve started this letter five times now. Josephine has warned me that this is the last parchment she can spare tonight, so please forgive me any errors.

I was speaking with Cassandra, who told me

New information has

You cannot possibly imagine

Maker's breath, you must think so poorly of me.

I’ve just been made aware of a letter you wrote me from Redcliffe. You will surely know the one I mean. As it was returned to you with the others, I do not know the exact contents, but Cassandra has conveyed to me its general message. She assures me she’s being as accurate as possible.

What you must have thought when you received no reply! Or when you returned to Haven. I could barely look at you. My behavior toward you since-- Andraste preserve me, Jane. I’ve treated you so coldly.

I did not know, could not have known

Please know that I never received that letter. There were circumstances--I will spare you the details--but suffice it to say that a well-intentioned mistake was made, one with serious consequences. The same mistake led me to believe the opposite of what you confessed. That what I desired was impossible.

You asked me something then. Believe me, if I’d only known--if I’d been made aware--I would have answered yes . I care for you. Deeply. How could I not? The grace, courage, and quiet compassion you carry--you've awoken something in me that I long thought dead. I’ve lived through Fereldan winters, and I’ve never felt anything colder than your absence.

That is what I would have told you then.

In the time since, I’ve come to put it more succinctly: I love you. Maker’s breath, Jane, it must sound foolish, but I do. I’ve thought those words so many times over these past few months. They were always in my heart when I saw you, or heard you, or read your letters. They have been since we fled Haven. It took nearly losing you for me to realize, but I believe it’s been true for longer than I should admit.

Your own feelings may very well have changed. I have no right nor reason to expect otherwise. But Cassandra is convinced that they have not, and her confidence has given me new hope. Please--I beg you--I don’t deserve to make demands of you, but, Maker, tell me if she’s right.

If she is not and my reply comes too late, then let me say only that I am sorry. It was never my intention to cause you pain.

 

Yours,

Cullen

 

 

Elizabeth looked up as she finished, meeting her sister’s big, hopeful eyes. She couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s real,” she said through her smile.

Jane covered her face with shaking hands and took an uneven breath. Then she stood and hugged her sister tightly, squeezing Elizabeth’s ribs.

“Oh, Maker. I’m so happy, I can’t stand it,” she cried. She untangled herself, her eyes going wide. “Oh! But I should reply.”

“This instant!” Elizabeth agreed, the laugh still in her throat. “Go on, Jane. Put that poor man out of his misery.”

Jane made a noise, the sound almost a sob, as if her emotions were overflowing. She bent to riffle through her bag for writing supplies.

Elizabeth went to the flap, wanting to give her sister some space. “I’ll be back later,” she said before going out to join the others. Dorian glanced up as she sat beside him. She was lost in thought, a ridiculous grin on her face, when she realized Dorian was saying her name.

“Yes?” she said, turning her head.  

“Ah,” Dorian said, crossing his arms. “I was worried we’d lost you for a moment. When do you think we’ll return to Skyhold, then?”

Elizabeth tried to keep a neutral expression, but could feel her lips turning upwards again. “Soon, I should imagine,” she said. “Very soon.”

Chapter Text

Jane’s path back to Skyhold followed a line of rifts that she hadn’t been able to close on the way there. That meant the return journey included no inns. Elizabeth was a little disappointed--she would have liked a bath and a real dinner--but watching her sister’s nervous energy was almost as enjoyable. Jane was distracted, sometimes losing track of conversations in the middle of a sentence, or forgetting to respond to her title. She even volunteered to scout ahead, much to Varric’s confusion. Elizabeth had to fight back a grin on a regular basis.

Bull and Dorian had apparently paired off together, to Elizabeth’s surprise. She’d seen no hint of it in the Plains--though they had shared a tent, when she thought back to it. She mingled with them a few times over the journey--at one point, Bull taught her a Qunari coin trick, while Dorian dryly observed that Elizabeth could make the coin actually disappear if she wanted--but their quick, flirtatious banter tended to make her feel like a third wheel. She by no means wanted to interfere, so she left them to their own devices most of the time.

Not far from Skyhold, there was a hilly area where the road forced them to break off into trios or pairs. There she caught up with Solas.

“Gherlen’s pass already,” she said. “We’ve made good time.”

Solas looked ahead. “Indeed. Your sister seems quite eager to return to Skyhold.” He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Am I correct in assuming that it has something to do with the urgent note she received?”

“Yes,” she said, pleased. She grinned. “One of the… matters that you mentioned in your letter has been resolved.”

“Ah,” Solas said, settling back in his saddle. “I suspected as much. Favorably?”

“Very much so,” she said. “It seems Cassandra changed her mind. She talked to Cullen.” She caught a quirk of his lip that he tried to restrain. She narrowed her eyes. “Wait. You didn’t speak with her, did you?”

He didn’t answer immediately, studying the road. “The subject may have arisen while we were by the Oasis,” he admitted.

Elizabeth laughed. “Well. I would never have taken you two for a pair of romantics.”

“Romantics?” he objected, looking amused. “My intention was to right a wrong. Hardly a fanciful goal.” He glanced at her with smiling eyes, and her stomach fluttered. “Though I do believe in the importance of respite in dark times. The Inquisitor deserves some happiness.”

Elizabeth darted a glance at him. Maybe it was an aftereffect of Cullen’s letter, but she suddenly felt very sure of what she wanted. She took a breath of courage.

“Only the Inquisitor?” she began to say, but then the road curved in a way that placed them just below another path. A conversation began to float down, though they could not see the speakers. She pressed her lips closed, her face feeling warm.

“Andruil?” Loranil’s voice said. From the corner of her eye, she saw Solas jerk his head up. “Does it look like there’s an upward arrow on her forehead?”

“No, not exactly,” was the response from Hawke. “But she does have pointy things there, and there.”

“Are they horns? Like mine?”

“Mmm--no. They’re more curved. And then it gets…sort of wavy in the middle.”

“Could be Mythal’s,” Loranil said, thoughtfully. “Do the waves look like branches?”

“More like a rope. Or a vine? Tethras, help me out. You’re the wordsmith.”

“Believe it or not, Hawke, my many talents do not include accurately describing Daisy’s tattoos.”

There was a pause before Hawke spoke again. “Maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Who were Merrill’s favorite gods?”

Varric chuckled. “What, you think I sat around discussing religion with her?”

“You discuss religion with me,” Hawke said.

“Only when forced.”

Another pause, some mumbling, and then Hawke exclaimed, “Oh, that’s right! She loved that ring I gave her, the one with the Dread Wolf on it. What’s his valla-what’s-it like?”

“Fen’Harel does not have vallaslin,” Loranil replied, clearly offended. “These are marks of honor.”

“Right,” Hawke said. “Sorry. My mistake. Who else is there, then?”

“Well, there's Sylaise, Ghilan’nain, June, Falon’Din--”

Varric broke in. “She brought up Elgar’nan a lot.”

“Elgar’nan!” Loranil said. “Oh, his is wavy! And it goes across the cheeks, like you said. I bet it’s that.”

“Eldar--how did you even remember that name?” Hawke asked.

“How’d you think? I was taking notes.”

By the time that they’d established a likely candidate for Merrill’s vallaslin, the road had changed. The three of them moved away, their discussion growing more distant. Elizabeth found herself recovered enough to steal a glance at Solas. She was curious if he’d caught what she’d said.

“You know--” she began, but the look on his face stopped her. It was drawn, his lips thin. His eyes were fixed on the back of his mount’s head, not turned her way.

“Forgive me,” he said without looking up. “I meant to--I should ride ahead.” Then he clucked at his horse, urging it faster.

Oh, she thought to herself, her heart falling. She had thought--well, it didn’t matter. As her own horse ambled forward without her prompting, she promised herself that she would not make that mistake again.

 

~~~

 

They reached the summit at dusk, two days later. Normally, they would wait overnight to climb the tower to Skyhold, but Jane insisted on going immediately. Elizabeth alone accompanied her, providing a flame as they ascended. If she were honest with herself, she’d agreed to go only partially out of concern for her sister (who oscillated between looking serene and shaking like a leaf). Her own interest in seeing Cullen and Jane reunite was the real motivator.

She didn’t take the time to feel bad about her reasons. If her feeble attempt at a love life was destined for failure, she might as well live vicariously through her sister.  

Two slouched scouts scrambled into position when they saw Jane, quite literally caught off guard. One was able to inform them that the council could be found in the war room.  The sisters made their way through Skyhold, until a noble stopped Jane in the main hall to discuss the hostilities in the Plains. Elizabeth grit her teeth impatiently. As soon as politeness would allow, she tugged at her sister’s arm and told him that the council was waiting for them.

When the door swung open, three heads snapped up in surprise. After a beat, two turned to look at the third. Cullen didn’t even seem to notice. His eyes were fixed on Jane, who appeared to have stopped breathing, her face going pink.

Leliana spoke first, looking at Jane. Her lips began to curl. “Welcome back, Inquisitor. We were not expecting you tonight.”

Jane’s chest rose as her breath returned. “Thank you. We, ah, rode ahead.” Her eyes went down, then back to Cullen. He was staring at her with wide brown eyes, as if she were Andraste herself, returned from the Maker’s side.

“You will want to discuss your trip, of course,” Leliana said easily. “But… unfortunately, I have an urgent meeting with one of my top agents tonight.” She glanced at the ambassador. “Josie. I believe you mentioned something about dinner with Ellendra, didn’t you?”

“Hm?” Josephine said. “Oh. Indeed. In the tavern.”

“You should not keep her waiting,” Leliana said. “And I’m sure Elizabeth would appreciate the chance to see her friend, after all this time away. Perhaps the Inquisitor can debrief with the Commander.”

A short laugh escaped Josephine.She schooled her expression with a sharp cough into her fist. “I agree.” She raised her eyebrows. “Ah--as long as he is willing?”

Cullen seemed to come back to himself. He blinked, looking for all the world like he’d forgotten other people were in the room. His face began to grow red. “Of course,” he said. He cleared his throat, rubbing the back of his neck. “Of course.”

Leliana bowed her head. “Then by your leave, Inquisitor.” They made for the hallway, Josephine taking Elizabeth’s arm as they left. Elizabeth looked back as the door closed behind them, catching a glimpse of Cullen. His mouth had twisted into a crooked grin.

“‘Debrief’ ,” Josephine said once the door had shut. She tittered, a hand covering her mouth. “I hope you realize that you are terrible.”

“Me?” Leliana said, outraged. The curve of her lips sharpened. “I am not the one who made him speak, Josie.” She looked at Elizabeth, her eyes bright. “I hope she has been as entertaining as the Commander these past few days.”

“Oh, yes,” Elizabeth replied with a smile. “Perhaps even more so.”

“No,” Leliana said. “That is quite impossible.”

Josephine’s eyes lit up. “But we must go tell Cassandra.”

Leliana laughed, a light, tinkling sound. “We will need to bring someone with strong arms if we do. I’m afraid there is half of a chance that the Seeker will swoon.”

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth had never been so pleased to see so little of her sister. She spent most of her time in the Undercroft, working with Harritt, or trying to do more research before she heard back from the Mages’ Collective. She saw quite a bit of Varric, and Hawke--who continued to threaten her with a mysterious apology gift. It seemed at least like Varric knew what it was and approved, so she felt a little less concerned than she had in the Plains.

She’d had a breakthrough when she learned ring velvet was the material that tore most like the Veil. She told Hawke, who immediately wrote to the Collective with the news. Then she started on the next step, tearing pieces of the cloth and sewing them back together with strings and needles of various sizes.

A part of her wanted to tell Solas about her discovery, but she’d been avoiding him since they returned. Again. She wasn’t quite prepared to deal with the mortification of what she’d said to him. Her only solace was that, with a comment so vague, there was no certainty that he’d caught on to her meaning.

But given his reaction, she was sure he did.

It was a shame, she thought. She would have liked to meet his friend.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth woke in her apprentice dormitory, listening to screams. Fire licked at the curtains behind her bed. She scrambled up, still in her nightclothes. The other children were already escaping, rushing through the double door at the front of the room. She went to follow. Just as the boy in front of her cleared the threshold, the beams above her collapsed. She turned her face away as the wood crashed against the floor, a wave of gold sparks and heat erupting toward her.

She was trapped. She began to panic. She raised her arms, calling on her ice, and--

Suddenly, the flames began to lower, as if they were dying. A shiver of vibration went through her, like a bell had been rung right beside her. She looked up.

Solas was walking toward her, one hand out at hip level, aimed toward the fire.

“What… what are you doing here?” she asked, baffled.

He lowered his hand, then twisted it. The flames died entirely. “There,” he said. “That solves one problem.” He raised an eyebrow. “And my answer to your question depends on what you mean by ‘ here’ .”

She looked at him. A thought dawned. “We're in the Fade,” she realized, feeling dumb as soon as she said the words. Of course they were. Why would Solas be at Ostwick Circle?

“Indeed,” he said. “I hope you haven't forgotten our agreement?”

“No,” she said. The hope blooming in her chest had absolutely no business being there, she told herself firmly.

Solas examined the room. “This may not be the most ideal place for a meeting,” he said. “Would you mind if I brought us elsewhere?”

“Not at all.”

He smiled. “Then allow me.” The world around them melted, then reformed. Elizabeth recognized the room, surprised.

“The Undercroft?”

“Someplace familiar to both of us,” he explained. He walked toward the waterfall, his hands clasped behind his back, and looked out into the sky. “Our guest should arrive soon.”

Like the last time, he seemed more relaxed here, though there was still a certain grace to his movements. She noticed it more strongly now, and her eyes traced his shoulders as he turned toward her--

Oh. Suddenly the flaws of this plan hit her in full force. His desire--last time, she’d felt it in waves. And now the tables were turned.

Elizabeth managed to subdue her panic.

“Here she is,” he said in a clear tone, breaking her thoughts.

Sure enough, behind the water, there was a flutter of movement. A second later, a swan appeared, its large wings flapping as it landed. It shifted, transforming into a shadow of a person--an elven woman with glittering blue orbs for eyes. The change rippled through the Fade. There was a sensation on Elizabeth’s skin, the feel of downy feathers brushing ever so slightly.

The woman turned to Solas. She said something in Elven.

Solas bowed his head, and then turned back to Elizabeth. “I can translate for you,” he offered.

“No,” the woman said, her voice quiet. “I can speak her tongue.”

Solas blinked, his eyes becoming guarded. “Ah,” he said. The prospect did not seem to appeal to him.

The woman approached her. “Elizabeth Trevelyan,” she said, the name sounding like one word in her mouth. The feathers seemed to return to Elizabeth’s skin. “Hello.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Elizabeth said.

There was a faint echo to the room now, as if the spirit had brought something ethereal with her. Otherwise, Elizabeth realized, this area felt more solid than the Fade usually did. It was easier to focus, and she had better control of her emotions.

She wondered if Solas had done something to make her more comfortable, after what had happened last time. If so, she was grateful. Her panic began to fade.

“What should I call you?” she asked the spirit, bringing herself back to the present.

Solas stepped forward and said something low in Elven, and the woman replied.

“You may call her Wisdom,” Solas said.

The spirit looked around. “This is--different. What have you rendered here, Pride?”

The corner of Solas’s lip twitched down, a quick frown. “Not Pride. Solas.”

The spirit gazed at him a moment, then continued her examination of the room. “What have you rendered here, Solas ?”

Again, his response was in Elven. As the spirit wandered the room, Elizabeth tilted her head at him, a silent question. He hesitated.

“A mistranslation,” he explained. “She has little experience with Common. My name is the Elven word for Pride.” He frowned at the ground, apparently irritated that he'd been forced to share this fact.

“So this is a… place of creation?” the spirit asked, stopping by Elizabeth’s worktable. Elizabeth turned around to face her.

“I make things here, yes.”

“But not in the sense you mean,” she heard Solas say behind her. “Those on the other side of the Veil create using physical force--with their hands, or tools. It is more like--.” He considered. “It is more like some of the memories I have seen from Arlathan,” he said. Apparently unsatisfied with this answer, he began to speak in Elven.

Wisdom cocked her head, her eyes returning to Elizabeth. “Would you make something for me? It has been a long time since I have watched a person create something… new in such a way.”

Elizabeth smiled at that. “Yes. Your friend generally takes an interest in older things, doesn’t he?”

Wisdom laughed. “That is true,” she said. She regarded Elizabeth. “Though you are new.”

Elizabeth felt a rush of heat in her chest, her cheeks flushing. She looked down at her feet. Even in this more solid area, it took everything in her to keep the sensation tight to her body. She did not dare turn around. When she looked up at the spirit again, it was watching her expectantly.

“I--,” she said. “I’ll need materials.”

She walked to the chest by the door as she considered what to make. A weapon would probably be a poor choice, for a spirit of Wisdom. She settled on the flowers she made in the Circle. She riffled through the chest for fabric and leather. Behind her, Solas and Wisdom were conversing in Elven. He spoke rapidly, his voice low, and Wisdom replied in murmurs.

She picked ring velvet as the fabric--that seemed particularly fitting, given her recent discovery--and came back to them, trying not to stand too close to Solas. “I can’t promise this will work,” she warned the spirit. “I’ve never made anything in the Fade. Not knowingly, anyway.”

“I am pleased you are willing to try,” Wisdom said.

Elizabeth sat at the table and began to work. She could feel Wisdom watch her. It brought back a memory of the days at Haven, when Solas had expressed interest in her work. Thinking of those days now--knowing where that interest had led--made the heat return, so she pointedly focused her mind on her task.

The little flowers were simple. She cut seven pieces of the velvet, then folded them into petals. A button served as the eye, and a strip of hardened leather was the stem.

She suddenly felt a little ridiculous, making something so juvenile for an ancient spirit, but it was too late to change her mind. When she was done, she held the flower up. Wisdom accepted it. As she plucked it from Elizabeth’s hand, she laughed, delighted. Somehow, the sound brought back the feather touch on Elizabeth’s skin.

“Beautiful,” Wisdom said.

“It’s nothing, really,” Elizabeth replied.

The spirit pulled closer to her, her iris-less eyes glowing.  “When I was young--new--the tradition was to exchange gifts. You have given me one; I will give one to you, if you would like.”

Elizabeth glanced back at Solas, who gave Wisdom a curious look, then inclined his head slightly.

“I would like that very much,” she said.

Wisdom reached out a hand, and touched Elizabeth’s cheek. Suddenly, the world dissolved again, as if it were liquid, stirred by an unseen hand. Elizabeth took in a breath.

When she let it out, she was in the courtyard at Ostwick Circle. Heavy snow fell from the sky--thick, wet flakes that stuck together and twirled as they fell. It was a rare sight. Stone walls rose around her, tall enough that they faded into a white sky.

Were they really that tall? she wondered as she looked up.

This felt more like the Fade she knew. Her emotions were curling now, nerves and excitement, and a touch of fear. She snapped her head to look toward Solas, worried about what he’d feel from her.

But Wisdom and Solas were gone. Across the yard, there was a young woman and a child instead. They were kneeling, their backs to her, long gray cloaks bundled around them.

With a start, she recognized the color and style of the young woman's hair. A teenager, really.

Me, she thought. 

There had only been one snowstorm in her memory before the war, during the winter of 9:32 Dragon. Usually Ostwick winters were too mild for snow. The apprentices had been thrilled. For years afterwards, Ellendra would use her ice magic to imitate snow for them.

9:32 Dragon. She placed the memory. The girl was Alyssa, one of the first apprentices Elizabeth had worked with after her Harrowing. She wasn’t well liked by the other children--immature and needy for her age--and she often required the attention of an older mage.

It was a sad story. Alyssa had been the youngest of eight children to a poor couple. They’d tried to hide her. The loneliness of the Circle made the girl yearn for her family all the more. When she was thirteen, she escaped for a full week with her brother’s help. They locked her in solitary for a month after they found her. It was harsh for a first offense, though not unheard of. Several of the enchanters--Elizabeth included--argued against it. The First Enchanter sanctioned it anyway.

Younger apprentices had withstood longer periods of time without apparent damage, but Alyssa had always been soft. She came out a changed girl. At first, she was shaken--pale and thin, with wide eyes. She drove away the few friends she had with violent mood swings. Then, as the months went by, she turned into a timid thing, frightened of her own shadow.

When she turned fifteen, Alyssa requested the Rite. It was approved.

And five years later, when the First Enchanter went to the Conclave, Alyssa had gone with him.

Elizabeth stepped toward herself, filled with a sense of strangeness. Her own mannerisms fascinated her. Young Elizabeth suggested something to Alyssa, touching her hand. Elizabeth stared, seeing a bit of Kitty in the movement.

There was a structure in front of them, a tall, thin castle made of snow. As she got closer she could hear them speaking, though it was still muffled.

“--need to make a roof for it,” Alyssa was saying. Her eyes were bright with excitement, her full cheeks ruddy from the cold.

Oh, Maker , Elizabeth thought, her heart breaking. This was before solitary. She couldn’t be more than eleven, a bright and eager flame, burning in the snow. Elizabeth had almost forgotten what the true Alyssa was like, a memory buried beneath a broken girl, a Tranquil, and a ghost.

“Should I find another leaf?” young Elizabeth asked. There was something uncanny about hearing her own voice.

“No,” Alyssa said. “A stone this time.”

Young Elizabeth climbed to her feet. She went to the north side of the courtyard, where an overhang protected some of the ground. While she searched, Alyssa added more snow to the castle’s base. The girl began to hum to herself, a song about the end of the Blight.  A popular one, back then.

She looked… happy. Normal. Elizabeth’s throat began to close. She brought a hand up to her mouth.

Young Elizabeth returned with a stone.

“This one’s too small,” Alyssa objected, turning it over in her hand.

“Anything bigger might be too heavy,” young Elizabeth warned her.

Alyssa ignored that, getting to her feet. She went to the overhang herself.  She squatted, then stood, running back. Her cloak flew out behind her, whipping in the cold, winter air. Elizabeth took in the lankiness of her limbs, the hint that she’d one day be a tall woman.

And she had been. Tall, and blank, and soulless.

“Here,” Alyssa said, slightly out of breath. She put the large, flat rock on top of the tower, but just as young Elizabeth had predicted, it was too much for the snow. The whole structure crumbled to the side.

“Shit!” Alyssa exclaimed.

“Alyssa!” young Elizabeth exclaimed, her expression caught between shock and amusement. “You know you shouldn’t say that. What if Enchanter Lydia heard you?”

Alyssa pouted. “You say it all the time.” Young Elizabeth seemed to have no reply to that. Alyssa knelt, sighing at the snow. “I should have made it wider.”

“You can make another,” young Elizabeth told her.

“But it didn't work.”

Young Elizabeth smiled. “And now we know why. We can use that to build a better one.”

Alyssa pouted in thought, then seemed mollified. “You’ll help me?”

“Of course I'll help.”

Whatever happened next was lost in a swirl as Elizabeth felt the air change, the same vibrating feeling as when Solas had entered her dream. The world blurred and then became firm again. She turned to see him walking toward her, alone. He surveyed the scene.

“What did she choose to show you?” he called out as he approached.

“A memory,” she replied through the thickness of her mouth. She shook her head. “I thought you said she was a spirit of Wisdom.”

“So she is.”

Elizabeth folded her arms across her chest, fighting to keep the sorrow from her voice. “She showed me something I already knew.”

Solas chuckled. “Ah. I did not say she was a spirit of Knowledge, did I?” he asked. She could hear the smile in his voice. “Perhaps you are meant to apply it.” His footsteps crushed through the snow until he was at her side. Elizabeth looked up at him. His smile faded as he saw the tears in her eyes. “Are you alright?”

At least the wave of grief she felt at those words hid anything else she was feeling, she thought. “I will be,” she said.

Solas took in young Elizabeth and the child as they built their new castle, a faint line between his brows. “The memory was not a pleasant one?”

“The memory was fine,” she told him. “It’s the girl. She’s dead now.” She breathed in deep, and let out the next words in a shuddered breath. “The Conclave.”

Solas watched Alyssa pat the snow together for a long moment. When he looked down again, there was pain in his eyes. “Elizabeth,” he said softly. “I’m sorry.”

Elizabeth shut her eyes, the tears spilling over. After a brief hesitation, Solas wrapped an arm around her, and she curled against his chest. She wept into his shirt, feeling the warmth of him around her. His sympathy rippled through her skin, engulfing her.

She had always wondered why, after the Conclave, she’d never felt more grief for Alyssa. They were not close when the Circle fell, but of all the mages lost, Alyssa was the one Elizabeth knew best. She thought it was the shock, or her relief at Jane’s survival. But here--here was the answer.

Alyssa had been gone already.

The Circle was built on the broken backs of weaker mages. The Viviennes survived, the Ellendras survived, the Elizabeths even survived, but the Alyssas did not. They were not meant to. Even in a sedate Circle like Ostwick, they were not meant to. And Elizabeth had complained, yes, but that was all. In the end, she’d just watched. In the end, this was normal to her. It was one story among too many.

She realized she was speaking out loud, half-sentences and words muffled by his chest. Telling him about Alyssa, about the Rite, about how she had done nothing. There was no way he could hear more than half of what she was saying, but then again, it was the Fade. She knew he could sense the intent behind the words, the story she was telling. He was silent as she spoke, only stroking her hair.

When she’d quieted, he still held her. As she became aware of herself, she realized she was in his arms, and a bit of the old panic flared in her chest. She pulled back, sniffing.

“I’m alright now,” she said, not risking a glance at his face.

Solas let her go and took a measured step back, putting distance between them. “Allow me to apologize on Wisdom’s behalf,” he said in a deep tone.  “I’m afraid her gift was not as she intended.”

“I’m sure she meant well,” Elizabeth said.

“As am I,” Solas agreed. “Still.”

Elizabeth nodded at the snow. “I appreciate it.”

There was an awkward pause, broken only by the sound of Alyssa’s laugh.

Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut again, so many parts of her collapsing, like the castle in the snow. “I… think I’d like to wake up now.”

Solas bowed his head. “Very well, ” he said, his voice still sad. “Wake up.”

 

~~~

 

The words were still ringing in her ears when she sat up in her bed. Moonlight poured in through the window.

Perhaps you are meant to apply it.

The realization slammed into her, like a punch to the gut. She thought she might be sick. Suddenly, the shadows on her walls looked towering, menacing, and nothing in the world was more important than her being outside .

She scrambled out of bed. Throwing open the door, she escaped onto the thin strip of wooden balcony outside her room, gulping in the cold night air.

Maker, forgive me, she thought, desperately. I’m never going back. I'm never going back. I'd kill myself first.

She stood, shivering, sucking in short, staccato breaths.

Behind her, the door creaked shut.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth did not sleep again that night. She couldn’t go back to her room immediately, the impulse to remain outside still strong in her veins. It was early in the morning, and the grass was wet with cold dew. She sat on a bench, shivering, her eyes closed, calming the storm in her mind.

She ran over the dream again, looking at it with a cooler--if not untroubled--eye. At the end, she reached the same conclusion.

I won’t return. I can’t.

The words still rattled her. The Circle had been a prison, she could see that now. But for many years, it was the only home she knew. There was a place for her there. Even with what she’d told Vivienne, she knew she could recover her standing. As the Inquisitor’s sister, she would become ranked in no time--Senior Enchanter, maybe even First. How could she leave that behind?

But Wisdom had shown her what she’d forgotten. Or worse, what she’d never seen.

With new resolution, she returned to her room and dressed. Her first priority would be finding a way to survive. Survive. Even the word made fear jump in her chest. Using it meant that there was an alternative. 

For now, she knew she could stay with the Inquisition. Until a new Divine was chosen, she was safest near Jane. But if they succeeded against Corypheus--after, when the Circle returned--she would need a new strategy. They had her phylactery, which made almost every idea she could summon suicidal. She would need to be careful.

Sighing, she put her chin on her knee and curled her arms around her legs. She stared at the wall, planning, as her room became bright around her.

 

~~~

 

When it was bright enough that she was sure others must be awake, she decided she should speak with Solas. She’d sensed his guilt in the Fade, and wanted to reassure him that things were fine. Part of her also wondered if she could broach the subject of becoming an apostate. Surely he, of all people, would understand.

Her intention was to go straight to the rotunda and speak with him, but when she walked in, the sight of the room made her pause, her eyes going wide. A portion of the wall had been decorated with large frescos, their style unlike anything she’d seen in the Circle. The image of a green orb made it clear what they were depicting. She took a hesitant step forward. Jane had mentioned that Solas had taken to decorating the walls, but she had not expected this.

She was studying the third one when she heard him clear his throat behind her. She looked back over her shoulder.

“These are amazing,” she said, sincerely.

“Thank you,” Solas said. His tone sounded off, and she paused before turning. 

“I came to tell you how much I appreciated meeting your friend. I… think I understand what she was trying to show me now.”

Solas’s expression remained neutral. “I am glad to hear it,” he said.

This time, Elizabeth was certain the cold note was intentional. She tilted her head, confused. “Are you alright?”

Solas placed a hand on his desk, looking down. “I am well,” he said. “However, there is much to do. If there’s nothing else…?”

Elizabeth felt herself deflate. Of course. Outside the Fade, things were still uneasy between them. Or perhaps she’d made things worse by confessing how little she’d done for mages like Alyssa at the Circle. She knew her passivity during the war had always been a point of contention for him.

“No,” she said, recovering herself. “Nothing else. I’m sorry to have troubled you.”

He didn’t reply, his head still down. But as she turned and left, she almost swore she could feel his eyes following her.

 

~~~

 

Jane went west again--this time to the Emerald Graves and Emprise du Lion. Thankfully, she took Solas with her, which saved Elizabeth the trouble of avoiding him. The night they left, she returned to the rotunda to admire the walls in peace. She held a flame in one hand and ran her fingers over the grooves and peaks of the paint.

During the month and a half her sister was gone, she spent most days in the Undercroft. Hawke and Ellendra would visit her intermittently. The few times that the two women would run into each other, they’d observe each other warily, like two mabari war hounds who hadn’t found an excuse to fight yet. But overall, Hawke visited most often in the morning, and Ellendra in the evening, and Elizabeth could ignore that tension entirely.

She was concerned that it would be difficult to keep her thoughts from becoming obvious to Ellendra and eventually Jane. They both knew her too well. While she’d been more restrained with both women recently, she was sure that they’d notice a change in heart this massive, just by looking at her.

But lying proved to be easier than she’d expected. After so much uncertainty, the effect of having chosen put her at ease. There were a thousand new questions burning in her heart and mind, of course, but the one she’d balanced on for nearly a year now was answered. That was enough for now.

“You know, I was worried about you for a few months there,” Ellendra said one night, when they were alone. Elizabeth sat at her desk with a quill, taking stock of how many tents they needed to order from Val Royeaux. Josephine had given her the number of new recruits who would be returning with Jane.

“Were you?” Elizabeth asked, surprised.

“Yes,” Ellendra said, inspecting the sheet over Elizabeth’s shoulder. “You were so flighty and morose. Not yourself at all. I’m pleased to see you’ve recovered these past three weeks.”

Elizabeth paused. It had been three weeks since she met with Wisdom. Three weeks since she’d decided she would become an apostate, when this was all over.

She looked up with a smile. “I think I was just worried about Jane. Seeing her so happy with Cullen has been such a relief.”

“I can only imagine,” Ellendra said, giving her a fond look. “Maker knows the Inquisitor has earned it.” She’d taken to calling Jane by her title, a change Elizabeth still found strange. “Well. You shouldn’t worry over her so much, Eliza. She has a council for that now.”

“Old habits die hard,” she mused, returning to her list. That was only half a lie, she told herself firmly.

Jane came back a few weeks later. When Elizabeth asked her about Cullen one night, while they were on Jane’s balcony, she lit up like the mark on her hand.

“It’s been wonderful,” she admitted. “I think this is the happiest I’ve been in a long time. Even with the Inquisition--even with Corypheus. It makes everything seem worth it.”

“And have you…?” Elizabeth asked with a smirk, letting her voice trail off, raising an eyebrow.

“Elizabeth!” Jane exclaimed.

“I’m just curious!”

Jane tried to glare at her sister, but ended up laughing. “Maybe,” she said coyly. “But that’s all you’re getting out of me.” She regarded her sister, a curious look on her face. “What about you? What’s changed? You’re so relaxed now.”

Elizabeth grinned, shaking her head. “You’re not the first to say that,” she admitted. “I suppose I was still upset over my argument with Ellendra. But we’ve made up. We still disagree, but at least we can stay friends, I’m sure.”

“Oh, I’m so glad,” Jane said, clasping Elizabeth’s hand in her own. “I know you two were close in the Circle.”

Elizabeth looked out into the night, forcing her smile to linger. Another half lie , she knew. She wondered briefly if two half lies added up to a full one, and then pushed the thought from her mind.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth redoubled her efforts in researching the Veil, knowing the Mages’ Collective had a reputation for harboring apostates. A favorable connection with them could help her in the long run, though she still had to keep her work secret while she was at Skyhold. She wasn’t sure if they’d harbor someone with a phylactery, but perhaps they at least would have advice.

She was deep in concentration with a needle and some ring velvet when Dorian found her in the Undercroft. He leaned against her desk with a frown.

“Still trying to meddle with the Veil, then?”

She spun her head, shushing him. “Dorian! Discretion, please.”

“Relax,” he said, gesturing around the empty room. “No one else is here. Besides, if you told that one,” he jerked his head toward Dagna’s work area, “I’m fairly sure she’d hand you at least eight books on the subject.”

She tilted her head thoughtfully, looking at Dagna’s work area. The arcanist did seem to be fond of unusual magic.

“Oh, no,” Dorian said to himself. “I’ve given her an idea.”

“Where’s Bull?” she asked, her attention returning to her needle.

He rolled his eyes. “Why is that the first question anyone asks me anymore? We’re not inseparable.” When she just smirked, he relented, adding, “He’s training with the Chargers. But I was coming to see you anyway. Come to the tavern for a drink?”

She laughed. “Dorian. It’s barely noon.”

“Not in Minrathous,” he said.

“No,” she agreed. “It’s eleven there.”

“But aren’t you dying to tell someone about your Veil research?” he said. “And look! Here I am, willing listener, ready to hear whatever dark, depraved ritual you’re attempting next.”

“I do have other friends, you know,” Elizabeth teased. “Maybe I have a willing listener who didn’t immediately question my sanity when I told them about my work.”

Dorian raised an eyebrow. “Really?” he said. He narrowed his eyes. “I’d pretend to be wounded, but I’m mostly just curious. Who in Thedas would--oh. Never mind.” He waved a hand, dismissing his own question. “It’s odd, it’s dangerous, and it involves the Fade. Solas.”

“Yes,” she said, her smile faltering over her needle. She’d only spoken to him in passing since their shared dream. “Though Hawke is the person I meant.”

“You told Hawke?” he asked, incredulous. “And you’re worried about my discretion? Vishante, Elizabeth, why don’t you just post it on the chantry board? You do realize that I’m from Tevinter.

“You may have mentioned it once or twice, in passing,” Elizabeth said dryly.

“I meant that if the council catches wind, I’ll probably be blamed for it.”

“Hawke’s not going to tell anyone,” Elizabeth said, tying off one end of the string. She had reason to believe Hawke was more cautious than she seemed, especially when it came to magic. As far as she knew, no one but Varric and a select few knew Hawke had used blood magic at some point.

“Hm,” he hummed, unconvinced. “Well, don’t come running to me if she does. But, tell me. What’s a normal time to have a drink in Ostwick? One? Two?”

“Five,” she said. “At the earliest.”

Dorian pushed himself off the desk. “Fine. Five, then. See you at the tavern.”

“I look forward to it.” She watched him retreat before adding, “And you’d better not be going straight there now!”

“Oh, for-- I’m heading to the library,” he called back, offended. Elizabeth laughed as the door closed behind him.

 

~~~

 

Dorian and Elizabeth were on their second round, and she was trying to explain the difference between the southern fraternities. She was describing the Lucrosians (“In Tevinter, we just call them Magisters,” Dorian joked) when Varric clapped her on the back and joined them, placing a mug next to hers.

“Little early for you, isn’t it, Blaze?” he asked. Usually, she came by the tavern for dinner at seven or eight, while Hawke and Varric met every day at six.

“I may have been persuaded to pop in,” she said, shooting a smile across the table.

“Sparkler!” Varric said, as if just noticing him. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.”

“You saw me this morning,” Dorian said.

“Yeah, but you were hiding behind that big o--”

Dorian interrupted, holding up a hand. “If you say oxman one more time, I’m telling Bull,” he threatened. “I don’t care how fine it was in Kirkwall.”

“--that big oaf with horns?” Varric tried, cowed.

“He is, at that,” Dorian admitted. He leaned forward, his eyes sharpening. “While you’re here, maybe you can settle a dispute for us. How good is Hawke at keeping secrets?”

“Oh, please, not this again,” Elizabeth complained, leaning on her elbow.

“Yes, this again,” Dorian insisted. He turned back to Varric. “Well?”

“Depends,” Varric replied with a shrug. “She’s loyal to a fault, but she has a big mouth. She’ll try to take it to her grave, but… sometimes things just slip out.”

Dorian raised his eyebrows at Elizabeth, who suddenly felt a little nervous.

“Even if it could get someone in trouble?” she asked.

“What kind of trouble?” Varric asked.

Elizabeth hesitated. “… mage trouble?”

“Oh, you’re fine,” he said, and Elizabeth relaxed. “It’s really just the little stuff she doesn’t think about. You know, she says what’s on her mind.” He gave Elizabeth a shrewd look. “Why do you ask?”

Before she could respond, the lady in question sat down next to Dorian herself.

“Varric!” she exclaimed, cheerfully. “You found two people I can actually stand. It’s a miracle.”

Varric laughed. “See? Big mouth.”

“See what?” Hawke asked, more amused than offended, before taking a long pull of her ale.

“They were asking me how good you are at keeping secrets,” Varric explained.

Hawke made a rude noise with her mouth, turning back to them. “You’re asking Varric? The man who wrote a book about my life without even asking my permission?”

“Hey, I was correcting the narrative,” Varric argued. “The Chantry wasn’t putting out the most pleasant image of you, you know.”

Correcting the narrative,” Hawke said, scoffing. “Yes, all the sex and drinking must've been completely necessary for that.” She looked at him in fond exasperation. “And you were planning to write that thing for years. You told me so yourself.”

“Little of column A, little of column B,” he admitted. “I was planning to ask you, though.” A servant came over as he was speaking and handed him a note. This wasn’t unusual for Varric, who was somehow still conducting Guild business, despite having been away from Kirkwall for more than a year. He kept speaking as he accepted it, then looked down, reading it. “You can’t tell me that your reputation has….” His voice trailed off as he was reading. He blinked, his face going flat.

“Something wrong?” Hawke asked.

“No,” he said, though his voice sounded distant. He crumpled up the note and shoved it into his pocket. When he looked up, he seemed himself, picking up the thread of his sentence again. “As I was saying, your reputation has improved right?”

Hawke narrowed her eyes at him. “I suppose,” she said.

“The book’s done marvels for you in Tevinter,” Dorian added. “Well, it did when I was there, anyway.”

“The Vints I meet don’t seem to like me much,” she replied.

“You kill the Vints you meet,” Elizabeth pointed out.

“Fair,” Hawke said with a nod.

They moved on to talking about the Western Approach, where Hawke, Varric, and Dorian would all be going in the next week with the Inquisitor. Alistair had succeeded in tracking down a group of Wardens. None of them had been that far west before, and they were all quite curious about the area. Varric had heard it was hotter than the Imperium, while Dorian had read the beasts there had scales, like snakes or dragons. Elizabeth knew only what Solas had told her about the area around the Oasis.

After another round, Elizabeth decided she’d better get back to her research. She bid them all goodnight and headed toward the main building. She’d only made it twenty steps or so when she heard Varric calling after her.

“Just wanted to ask--how we doing on rooms?” he asked when he caught up.

Elizabeth tilted her head, curious. “We still have vacancies,” she told him. “I... assume this question isn’t entirely hypothetical?” He didn’t deny it, rubbing the back of his neck. “What do you need?”

He winced. “A friend of mine is coming,” he said. “Says she might have a lead on something that’ll interest us. She won’t stay long.”

Another mysterious guest?” Elizabeth asked, amused.

“What can I say?” Varric said, though he still looked uneasy. “I’ve got a lot of friends.”

She crossed her arms, smirking. “So who’s this one? Donnen Brennokovic?”

Varric gave her a look. “Can we accommodate her or not?”

“I’ll figure something out,” she assured him. There were still a handful of rooms above the kitchen. They weren’t in the best shape, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“Thanks, Blaze,” he said. “I owe you.”

“Twice over now,” Elizabeth agreed. “But who’s counting?”

As she returned to the Undercroft, she thought back on Hawke with a bit of concern. She trusted Hawke, but the woman did have a tendency to just blurt things out. And if Vivienne or Cassandra got wind of her little project, there would be hell to pay.

She tried to settle her worries by reminding herself that the only people who’d care about her Veil research--the templars and the Loyalists--were the two groups that Hawke avoided at all costs.

Still, as she moved all her Veil research into a drawer that locked, she couldn’t quite shake the nagging feeling that something could go horribly wrong.

 

~~~

 

In the end, it was not Hawke that broke her cover.

The day before her sister was due to leave for the Western Approach, Ellendra stormed into the Undercroft, the door banging hard against the wall. Dagna jumped, and Elizabeth spun around, her eyes wide. Harritt looked up from his work, his brow low.

“Ellendra!” she said, surprised.

Ellendra went to her desk, her hands in tight fists. “Do you want to tell me what a representative from the Mages’ Collective is doing in the war room right now?”

What?”

“Because she is claiming she’s here at your invitation, but I know that would be ridiculous.”

Elizabeth gaped at her without replying. She could see Harritt cross his arms in the corner of her eye. Leaping up from her desk, she hurried to leave, Ellendra at her heels.

“The Mages’ Collective?” Dagna asked as they passed, sounding intrigued.

Not now, Dagna,” Elizabeth said without turning. She went through the door and began to climb the stairs.

“So you do know what she’s talking about,” Ellendra said. “Eliza, are you insane?”

“I didn’t invite anyone anywhere,” Elizabeth replied, defensively. “I only contacted them for… research.” She grit her teeth, hoping that the woman had not yet shared what exactly she was researching.

“On what, blood magic?” Ellendra said. “Maker preserve us. In the Circle, this would get your reprimanded, you know.”

“Good thing we aren’t in a Circle, then,” Elizabeth snapped back, gripping the banister as she took the stairs two at a time.

Ellendra took a breath before replying. “I don’t understand you. Do you believe that you're above the law? That the Chantry will let the Inquisitor’s sister run amok after the war? Because I can assure you, they will not. If anything, they’ll be eager to make an example of you, and anyone else who doesn’t follow the rules. You must know that.”

The rules,” Elizabeth said, her tone bitter. The words echoed with their footsteps. She spared a glance back at her friend. “You’re not even concerned that I’m doing anything dangerous, are you? You’re just worried I’m not following the Chantry’s precious regulations.”

“You are doing something dangerous!” Ellendra replied. “It’s bad enough that you told Vivienne you don’t support the Circle. And she remembers. You must know that she remembers. I doubt I need remind you what kind of influence she has. There’s a chance she’ll even succeed in her designs to become Divine, and then you’ve really made yourself a target.”

Elizabeth pursed her lips. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t know.”

“I’m serious, Eliza,” Ellendra said sternly. “If you’re not careful, you’re going to get yourself made Tranquil.”

“No,” Elizabeth said, darkly. “I’m not.”

Ellendra grabbed her arm and pulled her around, one step below her. Her eyes were honed on Elizabeth’s face, the anger fading into shocked concern.

“Eliza,” she said. “You’re….” Her voice trailed off.

Elizabeth tugged her arm out of Ellendra’s grasp, looking away. “I need to speak with Jane,” she said.

They were silent the rest of the way to the war room, Ellendra darting worried glances her way. She couldn’t find it within herself to care.

When they entered, Josephine was speaking, but she fell silent. There was a woman to the side with gray hair who regarded everything with a blank smile. The representative, Elizabeth assumed. Vivienne had also joined, standing next to Leliana. She stared at Elizabeth, a dangerous glint in her eyes.

“Ah,” she said, crossing her arms, her chin rising. “And here she is.”

Elizabeth looked to Jane, whose eyebrows were drawn together in concern. Then she took in the others. The general sense of the room was confusion, at least, which was better than Ellendra’s fury, or Vivienne’s predatory glare.

“You are Elizabeth Trevelyan,” the woman with gray hair said. It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes. And you are…?” Elizabeth asked.

“I’m your trainer,” the woman told her.

Cullen let out a frustrated noise. “That’s all she’ll call herself,” he explained, extending a hand. “Elizabeth, did you invite this woman here?”

“No,” she said emphatically. At Cullen’s sigh of relief, she held up a hand. “But I did reach out to the Collective. For some help with my research.”

“Yes,” the woman said cheerfully. “On rift magic. We’ve been studying it. And now I’m here to train you!”

“What in Andraste’s name is rift magic?” Vivienne said, sounding horrified. Elizabeth winced. So that particular cat was out of the bag.

“Magic designed by the careful study of rifts,” the woman explained, in a musical voice. Her eyes shone as she looked from Vivienne to Elizabeth. “It means we can use the sheer force of the Fade through the Veil, or tear it, or twist it, or reduce it to its rawest form, or bolster our mana with it, or drag--”

“I think they get the point,” Elizabeth interrupted hastily. The cat was very out of the bag.

Vivienne placed a hand on her hip. “She’s speaking nonsense. And not just nonsense, dangerous nonsense. Tearing the Veil? Are we no better than Corypheus?”

“Oh, just little tears,” the woman rushed to explain. “A little tear, a little Fade. Then we sew it right back up. That’s all.”

Vivienne narrowed her eyes. “Well. Clearly this woman has lost her mind. We must send the apostate back to her Collective.”

Elizabeth’s mind was whirring. She spoke without thinking.  

“Or… maybe she could stay?”

Vivienne narrowed her eyes. “For what purpose?”

“To train me,” Elizabeth replied slowly. “That’s what she came here to do, isn’t it?”

Vivienne blinked, then turned to the council. “Surely you all realize this is madness.”

“It should be perfectly safe,” Elizabeth said, now looking at Leliana and Josephine, with more conviction than she actually felt. She felt her sister watching her, but she couldn't quite bring herself to look her way. “And if it works, it’ll be a useful technique against our enemies. Even the Venatori don’t have anything like it.”

“It does work,” the woman added. “That's why I’m here to train you.”

Cullen rubbed his cheek. “Yes. So we’ve heard.”

Vivienne gave Elizabeth a dark look. “This is bordering on maleficarum,” she said. “Playing with the Veil? Pulling magic straight from the Fade?”

“Isn’t that where all our magic comes from?” Elizabeth argued. “I’d just be using a more direct route.”

“Well, I think the idea sounds fascinating,” Leliana interjected smoothly. “If Elizabeth is confident we can use this against our enemies, including Corypheus, then perhaps we should let her continue her research with….” Leliana paused, looking at the gray-headed woman. “Her trainer.” Cullen glared across the table.

Vivienne turned to the spymaster, her face softening a fraction. “With all due respect, darling, you are not a mage. You cannot possibly understand the implications.”

The corner of Leliana’s lip twitched. “I was not aware one needed to be a mage to have an opinion on such things.”

“In a matter like this, I’m afraid so,” Vivienne said. “The intricacies are quite beyond your grasp.”

Leliana smiled. “I see. Then there is only one thing to be done. We will need to fetch Solas and Dorian. I am certain they will be able to provide more insight. As mages.”

Vivienne stared at Leliana, her face barely changing. Leliana stared back. Elizabeth realized that the enchanter had been outplayed.

“An excellent idea,” Josephine said. “Ellendra, would you be so kind as to bring them here? I believe you will find both men in the library.”

The group waited in tense silence as Ellendra slipped out the door. Elizabeth only risked one glance toward Jane, who was looking at the windows, a confused expression on her face.

Ellendra returned with the other two mages in tow. Solas looked as neutral as ever, but Dorian shot her a displeased look that she returned with a guilty cringe. She knew the last thing he wanted was to be associated with any of this.

“Thank you for joining us on such short notice,” Josephine said. “A representative from the Mages’ Collective arrived today. We are trying to determine what should be done with our… unexpected guest.” The gray haired woman looked completely at ease with this description. “Elizabeth has been studying a new form of magic, and apparently there has been some confusion over whether she extended an invitation to our guest, who would like to help with the research. Vivienne is of the opinion that we should send the woman away, and that Elizabeth should cease her studies immediately. Elizabeth would prefer to continue, with the representative’s aid.” She turned to the woman. “If you would be so kind, could you explain your school of study?”

Elizabeth listened as the woman tried to sum up what the Rift magic would entail. Her eyes met Dorian’s grim stare, and then Solas’s unreadable gaze. Neither were easy to see. She ended up looking at the floor.

Once the woman was done, Solas spoke first, his gaze still on her. “Elizabeth has taken the proper precautions in this matter. The magic itself is not inherently dangerous. In fact, it is not dissimilar from my own technique. The Inquisition would benefit from the knowledge.” He turned to Jane. “In my opinion, the representative should stay.”

“And how exactly can you be so sure she’s taken proper precautions?” Vivienne said coolly.

There was a pause. “She came to me for advice when she was first researching. I encouraged her to continue.”

Cullen, Jane, and Josephine all looked a little pacified by this, but it had the opposite effect on Vivienne, whose eyes became fiery.

Jane spoke for the first time. “Thank you, Solas. Dorian?”

Dorian took a deep breath and let it out. “I was also told about this… rift… magic,” he said slowly. “And I…well, I also encouraged your sister to continue.”

Elizabeth snapped her eyes up to him at the lie. He shrugged almost imperceptibly as Josephine began to reply.

“Well! That is helpful. If Vivienne is the only one with concerns, then perhaps we can reach a compromise,” she said. “The trainer can work with Elizabeth. Either Solas or Dorian will join them. Once a month, they can provide a report on their progress to Vivienne, showing that proper precautions are still being adhered to.”

Jane nodded. “That sounds fair to me.”

Elizabeth looked at Vivienne, who looked as if she'd swallowed something strong and bitter. “I suppose that will do,” the First Enchanter said, sounding far calmer than she looked. She met Elizabeth’s gaze with an icy stare as she said, “Thank you for your time, Inquisitor.”

She left the room, her silk dress fluttering behind her. Ellendra followed.

“Well,” Josephine said, breathing a sigh. “That was quite enough excitement for one afternoon, don’t you think? Inquisitor, you should finish preparing for the Western Approach. We will let you know if we need anything.”

Jane nodded. “Thank you, Josie,” she said. “Lizzie--walk with me.” She strode out of the room, and Elizabeth followed without a backward glance.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” her sister asked in an angry tone, once they were clear in the hallway. 

“I wasn’t sure if I could explain it,” Elizabeth said. “It was easier to talk to the other mages.” She looked at Jane’s hurt face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it would cause so much trouble.”

Jane sighed, softening. "I just--you can tell me anything, you know. I realize I have all sorts of responsibilities now, and I’ve been spending so much time with Cullen, but that hasn't changed. You're still my sister. You don't need to keep things from me.”

Elizabeth touched Jane’s shoulder, stopping them both. “I know that,” she said. “Jane, I’m here for you, too. But… I don’t expect you to tell me everything. There’s so much going on. Surely there are things you do in the field, or talk about with Cullen--things that you don’t tell me.”

Jane looked down. “I suppose you’re right.” She paused, chewing her lip, then glanced back up. "So many things are changing, so quickly. But I want you to know that I love you.”

“And I love you,” Elizabeth replied, embracing her sister. When they pulled back, she dusted a hair from Jane’s shoulder. “Now go on, you really do need to get ready.” She smiled. “I could come by this evening, if you’d like? We still have brandy left.”

Jane flushed, looking away. “Oh, I’d love to but--,” she stammered, stopping her sentence.

Elizabeth caught her meaning. “Ah. Cullen. Of course.” Jane looked flustered, and she laughed. “No, don’t worry, I understand. I’ll meet Varric at the tavern and see you off in the morning.”

Jane gave her a grateful look and went to her room.

Elizabeth was still smiling when she reached the door to the Undercroft. She was surprised to see Ellendra waiting outside, her arms crossed and her face dark.

“I hope you realize that was a very bad idea,” she said in a cool tone. Elizabeth didn’t reply. After a moment, Ellendra stalked away, and Elizabeth watched her, knowing this time, the bridge between them could not be mended.

 

~~~

 

The next morning, when Elizabeth entered the Undercroft, Hawke was there. She sat astride a huge chest that hadn’t been there the day before, reading one of Elizabeth’s Veil reports.

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for the Western Approach?” Elizabeth asked, raising an eyebrow.

Hawke stood, grinning. “Ah! There you are. I wanted to show you this first. My apology gift came through.”

Elizabeth looked down. “A chest?”

Hawke glanced at Harritt, then back to Elizabeth. “Yes. I thought you could use it to store some of your specialized weapons. Then the Commander can make sure the right people get the right tools.” Elizabeth blinked. She wasn’t sure she’d ever heard Hawke call Cullen ‘the Commander’ in a manner that wasn’t sarcastic. “Come on, walk with me. I want to check on something.”

Elizabeth followed Hawke up the stairs in confusion. Once they got to the hall, Hawke dragged her into Josephine’s empty office, smirking.

“Alright, so you probably picked up on that being bullshit,” she said. “Here’s the plan. When I’m in the field, I’ll collect a personal store of materials for you. Tethras is in on it, too. I’ve already put some bloodstone and ring velvet in the chest. You can use it all to make weapons, or armor. Whatever you think would be most valuable.

“Once you’ve put something in, Tethras will use his Guild contacts to get the goods to my sister, in Kirkwall. Ellie runs a business there and she can sell swords, bows, staffs, axes--anything you make.

“Meanwhile, she’ll open up an account for you with the Guild. In your name. Not the Inquisition's name, not your sister’s name-- your name. Anything she makes from selling your product--minus the cost of transportation, of course, we don’t want poor Tethras to lose money here--she’ll put into that account.”

Hawke stopped, looking delighted. Elizabeth furrowed her brow as she caught up.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “You're... starting a business for me? Why?”

Hawke put a hand on her shoulder. “Think about it, Trevelyan. What’s the toughest part of being an apostate?” Elizabeth stilled, her eyes going wide, and Hawke waved a hand. “Oh, I know. You still think you’re going back to that damned Circle of yours. But look, think of this as a back-up plan. You never know what’ll happen. And anyway, the answer is money . The toughest part of being an apostate is money. Why do you think I went down to the Deep Roads in the first place?” She tilted her head. “I’d say we have another year or two before they really crack down on the Circles. And there are very few weapon makers that have our broad range of metals and leathers. Not to mention you’re paying nothing for materials.” She broke back into a grin. “You’re going to make a lot of coin.”

“I….” Elizabeth found herself speechless.

Hawke continued, misunderstanding. “Well. It’s just a backup plan, you know? And if you do end up back in the Circle, you can always give it back to your sister, or the Inquisition, or whatever you want to do with it.” She quirked an eyebrow. “Maybe give it to your apostate friend. Maker knows how he’s been living without.”

Elizabeth felt a lump in her throat and tears prickled the edge of her eyes. “Hawke,” she said, roughly. “This is-- I don’t know how I can ever thank you enough.” She threw her arms around Hawke’s neck.

Hawke chuckled, returning the embrace. “Look at that,” she said, amused. “Maybe you’re not as Circle-bound as I thought.” Elizabeth made to reply, and Hawke just patted her back. “Oh, don’t worry, Trevelyan. Your secret’s safe with me.” She pulled back, still grinning. “Well, I've got some Wardens to save. Or kill. Hard to tell the difference sometimes.” She ruffled Elizabeth’s hair a bit, the way an older brother might. “See you by the stables later.”

She walked off cheerfully, slipping through the door to the hallway. Elizabeth stayed behind a moment longer, dizzy from the electricity inside her. 

She had a way to survive. 

Chapter Text

Later that morning, Elizabeth went looking for Jane. She found her in the little chantry that Leliana had set up near the garden. Her sister was praying, head bent low and hands clasped in front of her. Elizabeth leaned against the doorway to wait. Jane had already donned her armor--a silver set with touches of burgundy that Harritt had made. Light streamed through the windows, dancing patterns on her sister’s back.

Elizabeth smiled. She was reminded of the art at her grandfather’s estate, old Orlesian paintings from her grandmother’s side of the family. She hadn’t seen the castle in years, but she could still picture their stoic faces staring down at her, their hands tight on the pommels of their swords--Andraste, Kordillus Drakon, Ser Aveline, Ameridan.

Her smile faded. She realized that if Jane defeated Corypheus, then in a hundred years, Jane’s face, stern and austere, could be among the others in a nobleman’s room somewhere, the tales of her Inquisition summarized in history books and told to children as a bedtime story. Jane the warrior. Jane the savior.

A shiver ran up her spine. Hopefully, not Jane the martyr.

She found herself wondering if there would be a footnote in history about the Inquisitor’s apostate sister who disappeared into the night, her whereabouts unknown. Or perhaps her own epilogue would be much darker. The families of the holy rarely fared well.

By the time Jane stood, the slants of light had shifted, and she was cast in shadows. She spotted her sister and approached with a smile.

“You look a thousand miles away,” she said. She touched Elizabeth’s elbow. “What are you thinking about?”

Elizabeth chose honesty. “Halliserre,” she said.

Jane let out a startled laugh. “Andraste’s sister?” she said. “And here I thought you never even read the Chant. What about her has you so pensive?”

Elizabeth forced herself into the present. “Nothing important,” she said. She changed the subject. “When do you leave for the Approach?”

“Soon,” Jane replied. “Before midday, I hope. Walk me to the library? There’s a book about the Second Blight that Dorian mentioned. I’d like to take it with me.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Of course.”

Jane linked their arms together as they left. “I should warn you. An Orlesian tailor is on his way. He’ll be making uniforms for the ball.” She tilted her head at her sister. “I told Josephine they could use you for my fitting. You don’t mind, do you?”

“I’m much shorter than you,” Elizabeth said.

“Not by much,” Jane said. “They’ll take your height into account. You borrowed my dresses at Longbourn often enough.”

“Only the ones Lydia didn’t steal,” Elizabeth teased. Jane laughed. “But, no, I don’t mind.”

“Good,” Jane said. “They’ll need you for your uniform, anyway.”

“My uniform?” Elizabeth exclaimed, surprised. “You mean I’m going to Halamshiral?”

“Of course you are,” Jane said. “You don’t expect me to suffer it alone, do you?”

“No, but I thought--” Elizabeth paused. “Won’t Cullen be there?”

Jane sighed. “Josephine said we mustn’t be too open about--well, the nature of our relationship. The fact that he’s the Commander of the Inquisition forces could create a scandal.” Jane cringed. “Especially as I’ll be there as Gaspard’s particular guest.”

“Oh, Cullen must love that,” Elizabeth said dryly.

“He’s handling it,” Jane said, uncertainly. She ran her free hand across her head, flattening her hair back. “When do you start your training?”

Elizabeth hadn’t expected Jane to broach the topic of her rift magic so soon. “I’m not sure,” she said. “My… trainer left a note on my desk. I’ll have to see when Dorian is free.”

“You mean Solas,” Jane corrected her. “Dorian is coming west with me.”

Shit, Elizabeth thought. She’d forgotten about that. “Solas, then,” she said, as casually as she could manage.

Jane hesitated, then stopped walking. Elizabeth followed suit, confused.

“Lizzie, I’m sorry I was upset yesterday.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “What?”

Jane spoke quickly. “I’ve been thinking, and really, it’s wonderful you’re doing something for yourself. Cullen pointed out last night that your life has revolved around me for months now.” She fidgeted with the wine-colored sash of her armor. “Maybe I take it for granted.”

“Oh, Jane, no!” Elizabeth cried, gripping her sister’s arm tight. “You don’t. Besides, you’re the Inquisitor. I’m serving the Inquisition. Of course most of what I do ends up being for you.”

“I know,” Jane said. “But that won’t be true forever. It’s good you have work of your own.” Her eyes became a little sad. “Are things going to be alright with Ellendra?”

Elizabeth glanced back toward the garden. “I’m not sure.”

“I’ll be sorry if they aren’t.”

“Me, too,” she said. They started to walk again, and Elizabeth returned to the topic of her sister’s trip. “Varric is going as well, isn’t he?” She gave Jane a smile. “Are you sure he’ll be able to put up with the sand?”

Her sister relaxed, laughing. “Well, Cassandra won’t be there, so I think he’ll be fine.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth said. “You never told me how that went. Did she find him?”

“Yes,” Jane said, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “And it was a disaster.” As she launched into the story, they made their way inside and up the stairs.

 

~~~

 

After she saw Jane off, Elizabeth swallowed her pride and went to the rotunda. Solas was seated at his desk, his head bent over a book. He was deep in thought, one hand clasped in a fist at his lips. It was oddly reminiscent of Jane praying, though the light here was muted and tinted by the flicker of Veilfire. Were it anyone else, she would have found the choice of lighting dramatic--but she was beginning to suspect Solas genuinely found Veilfire more convenient, as baffling as that seemed.

She stepped in further and he raised his eyes.

“Elizabeth,” he greeted. He leaned away from the desk, threading his fingers together in front of him. “Can I help you?”

“I’m hoping to work out a training schedule with the woman from the Collective.” She smiled a little wryly. “And as I am apparently in need of supervision, I’m afraid that will involve you joining us.”

“Ah,” Solas said, looking down. “Yes. Well, I am available tomorrow afternoon, if the time suits.”

“That would work,” Elizabeth replied.

There was a stiff pause. She turned to make her escape, and he asked, “Do you have a location in mind?”

Elizabeth blinked. “Not exactly. We’ll need a lot of space, won’t we?” She considered her options. “There’s the large room near the kitchen.”

Solas looked amused for half a second, then his expression went carefully blank. “The cooks here are Orlesian. I’d wager they distrust anything involving magic.” He darted a glance up at the second floor before adding, “Given yesterday’s events, I'd recommend discretion.”

“Where, then?” Elizabeth asked. “I can’t exactly use the training yard. The templars train there.”

“That would not be ideal,” he agreed.

She thought for a moment. “Maybe we should go down to the summit.”

Solas nodded. “Very well,” he said, returning to his book. “I will be by the gate at three.” Elizabeth took this as a dismissal and made to leave, thanking the Maker that the conversation had been so short.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth sent off a note to the trainer. She took her dinner to the Undercroft, rather than risk the awkwardness of the tavern. Hawke, Varric, Dorian, and Bull had all gone with Jane. The remaining members of her inner circle tended to fall in with Vivienne or Blackwall--with one obvious exception. The thought of spending time with either of them made her physically ill, and the exception had shut her out.

Cole was… difficult to find. There was Denny, but she had a feeling that the arrival of the Mages’ Collective representative wasn't a secret. The group of templars he usually ate with would be even less welcoming than Ellendra. So instead, she read at her desk, picking at a plate of roasted fowl. Her mind wandered, her eyes travelled to the waterfall, and she suddenly longed for the nights she had spent on the Plains. She missed Varric and Hawke laughing over the fire, and then as it died, Solas and her speaking softly as they watched the embers.

She sighed, turning back to her book.

 

~~~

 

The next day, she made a sword with some of the materials Hawke provided. Even though Harritt had been persuaded that there was nothing sinister at play, she waited until the room was empty to slip it into the chest. She did not want to risk losing the rope that Hawke had thrown her.

A little before three, she went down to the gate, expecting to be the first one there. She slowed her steps when she saw Solas waiting.

“Hello,” she called out.

Solas turned. “Good afternoon.”

She stopped by his side. “I hope you haven’t been waiting long.”

“No,” he replied. They fell into silence for a few minutes. Eventually he asked, casually, “Has your research been proceeding well?”

“Yes,” she replied, grateful for a neutral topic. “I had a breakthrough last week. I--here, one moment.” She dug into her pocket and pulled out a swatch of ring velvet. She’d brought several of them with her to demonstrate her discovery. “This is approximately what the Veil looks like. To me, at least. Especially the way it tears. It’s not exact , but it’s the closest I can get.”

Solas shifted, his expression growing interested as he looked at the fabric. He reached for it tentatively. She was careful not to have their hands brush when he took it from her.

“I’ve been ripping pieces and sewing them back up,” she said, distantly aware that she was a sentence or two away from babbling. “To see if I can do the same thing with the Veil. I think it could help with trying tear or twist it--”

“You’re certain?” Solas interrupted. Elizabeth blinked, her mouth still open. He glanced away from the fabric to study her. “You are positive that this is most similar?”

“Yes,” she said. “When it isn’t thinned, at least.” She shrugged. “Though I assume that if I thinned the ring velvet, it would have the same effect.”

“Ring velvet?” he repeated, and she realized she hadn’t even told him the name.

“Yes,” she said.

He looked at it again, running the cloth between his fingers, then looked around them as if a thought had only just occurred to him. “Is this what the Veil looks like here? At Skyhold? Have you checked?”

She shook her head. “No. Do you think it would be different here?”

“Possibly,” he said, handing her back the fabric. She put it in her pocket with the others. “The magic is very old. I would be… interested to hear what you see.”

She glanced behind him. They were in full view of the merchants, and a templar--Ser Caitlin, in fact, a friend of Denny’s--was bartering at one of the stands. Elizabeth hesitated. Solas’s eyes followed hers, and he seemed to understand the situation.

“Come,” he said, taking her by the arm. He guided her toward the portcullis, nearly onto the bridge. Elizabeth had only begun to process what was happening when she realized they were alone in the tunnel between the gate and the outside world. He faced her with sharp interest.

“Should I…?” she asked, trailing off.

“If you would,” he replied.

She looked away, taking a tentative step toward the bridge. With a breath, she pulled the Veil up to her eyes. The dark room exploded in light--so much brighter than she was used to, green and blue and white. They swirled, the movement barely visible, shifting against each other.

“Oh,” she breathed, startled. The Veil shimmered, waving gently, rising and falling as though tumbled by the breeze. Without a rift, it took her a moment to judge the size and weight of it.

Ring velvet, she decided. That was the same, then. The difference seemed to be not the Veil itself, but rather the strength of whatever was behind it. The Fade.

“You were right,” she said in a quiet voice. “It’s different. It looks… incredible. And the Fade seems brighter, somehow.” She licked her lips, moving her eyes over the bridge. “But the fabric--the fabric is the same.”

There was no response. She dropped her vision and turned her head to see him. He was staring at her, a dark intensity burning behind his eyes. Her mouth suddenly felt dry. There was only a step between them. She had to remind herself that it was only academic interest she was seeing. That his face was not an invitation, no matter how strong the urge was.

“The Veil,” he said, his voice low enough to plant doubt in her mind. “You find it beautiful here.”

She swallowed. “I do.”

His eyes scanned her face. She thought they might have lingered on her lips--but surely, surely that was her imagination. Her pulse thudded in her ears.

“There you are!” a voice called out from the yard. Elizabeth spun her head quickly. She felt Solas move away beside her. The trainer was approaching, using her staff as a walking stick. “My apologies. I misunderstood. I thought we would meet outside the door.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. She tried to tame the flaming of her cheeks to no avail. “It’s fine,” she said, weakly.

“I also forgot that it wasn’t yesterday anymore,” the woman admitted. “Time is such a silly thing, isn’t it? Shall we?”

Elizabeth shook her head to clear it and began to make her way toward the tower that led to the valley.

“I’ve never trained two students together before,” the woman said, cheerfully. “We have a lot of material to cover. I hope you’re both ready to practice.”

“We are,” she said, trying desperately not to think about the fact that she'd be watching Solas cast after whatever that was. “We appreciate you coming all the way out here to teach us.” Solas didn’t speak, and she risked a glance back at him. His mask had returned. He was looking at the ground with a calm expression, as if the last ten minutes had never happened.

“The most important thing to remember about the Fade,” the trainer was saying, bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet as she walked, “is that it’s malleable. That means that whatever you want, you need to think about to summon.”

Elizabeth listened with only half her mind as they descended.

The trainer was determined to talk the whole way down. That was just as well, as Elizabeth could only manage a few words, and Solas did not speak at all.

 

~~~

 

The training went well--better than Elizabeth expected, if she were honest with herself. For all her oddities, her trainer really had mastered Rift Magic. To Elizabeth’s horror, she implied that several of the other would-be practitioners had died while trying to learn it. Fortunately, this was after Elizabeth had already formed a Fade rock and drawn it across the Veil. Otherwise she may have been wary of even trying.

Solas was talkative during the lesson, both with her and with her trainer. He had many questions. Several of them were theoretical, and Elizabeth could answer when her trainer could not, having done much of the background research.

“How does this work without leaving a tear?” he asked at one point, his hands raised in front of him. He’d summoned a rock of his own and was attempting to aim it at a tree. Elizabeth watched, trying to keep her staring clinical.

“It does leave a tear,” she replied. “But then you close the tear. It… opens and closes.”

Solas frowned. “As a door would?”

“More like a wound,” Elizabeth said.

“One that heals quickly,” the trainer added, her eyes on the rock, “with our help.”

Solas nodded his understanding, then released the rock. It smashed into its target, the tree’s branches shaking at the impact. “Fascinating,” he said.

Later, as they headed back to Skyhold, he fell into step with Elizabeth and continued to ask about her research, mainly focusing on how the opening and closing occurred. Her trainer bid them goodbye, heading toward the stable.

“The way Jane does it, it’s more like water,” Elizabeth explained in the courtyard. “You can take a jug of water and pour it into two glasses. When you pour it back into the jug, it takes on its previous shape. But as I said, without the mark, the tears are more like cuts in flesh. The magic she’s teaching us can pierce the Veil. That means it can be a knife, and then a needle, when we need to stitch it back up.” She looked up at him. “Is that clear?”

“Perfectly,” Solas replied. “And I assume the liquid would appear thicker or thinner depending on the state of the Veil? Does this mean that the places where it tears easily, it also heals easily?”

Elizabeth began to reply in the affirmative. They were crossing into the main courtyard now. Ellendra and another mage from Ostwick happened to be walking by. Elizabeth stopped as she and Ellendra made eye contact. The other enchanter looked pointedly away, and Elizabeth felt her face go flat.

Solas had stopped beside her and watched the whole exchange with curious eyes. As Ellendra walked away, he asked, “Your friends do not approve of your new studies?”

Elizabeth blinked, turning to look at him. “No,” she admitted. “And I’m not sure ‘friends’ is an accurate word right now.”

“I see,” Solas said. They began to walk again, in silence this time. When they reached the tavern, he asked, “Are you taking dinner here tonight?”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” she said. “As you saw, I’m not exactly the most popular person right now.” She saw something like pity in his eyes, and tried to wave it off. “It’s fine,” she said. “It’s just until Jane comes back.”

His eyes went to the ground, considering, before he looked up again. “You are always welcome to come speak with me. I realize I’ve been… distracted as of late, but I do value our discussions.”

She felt her eyebrows raise. “I appreciate that,” she said slowly, a little confused by the turnaround. They began to walk again.

 

~~~

 

Elizabeth fell into a steady routine, where she worked on weapons in the mornings, trained in the afternoons, and ate dinner alone while reading about either the early Chantry or about research regarding the Veil.