A/N: I apologize for the delay. Life just gets in the way of writing.
"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius
The sensation of a wet sticky appendage on my face jolted me awake, and the tongue of a nug kept licking insistently until I pushed it away. I stood up shakily, trying to take stock of my surroundings. I was inside a dark and dilapidated building, and the rift I'd called up earlier had ripped a hole through the roof, revealing an overcast sky.
I exited the premises, struggling to overcome the fatigue that came with overuse of magic. My left hand was again in unbearable agony; it felt as if there were flames licking their way up my arm, leaving an unrelenting burn in its wake.
Ignore it. Bury it.
It was difficult to pinpoint where I was on such a stormy night with even the Breach eclipsed, but the flora and fauna indicated I was still near the Hinterlands.
I closed my eyes and tried to find Cassandra's glyph to Fade-step to and she wasn't far. I used too much mana as I landed, a thunderous bang echoing.
A cacophony of shouts filled the area, and the sound of weapons being drawn rang through the air. Then there was only one word,
"It's the Herald!"
I was in Redcliffe Castle and seated before me on the throne was King Alistair and Queen Anora. On my left stood the soldiers of the Inquisition, Cassandra included, kneeling before them. On the right was Grand Enchanter Fiona and her chief apprentices, their heads hanging low.
"Enough! Order. Order!" Queen Anora faced me as the crowd quietened, "Identify yourself."
"Erelani of Clan Arwen, an agent of the Inquisition."
"She is the Herald of Andraste, your Worship," Cassandra added, "She's the only one capable of closing the Breach."
"I was under the impression she was dead. Wasn't that what your agent was saying?"
As I opened my mouth to respond, another voice cut through the room, "It isn't her! It can't be her! She is an imposter!"
Maxwell stepped away from the crowd, dragging Dorian forcibly with him, "Tell them! She had no way of coming back!"
Dorian was guarded as the attention of the room fell upon him, "Your Majesty, it's not impossible that the Herald survived, only highly improbable."
"She survived the Conclave! She's done the impossible at every turn! Why should this be any different?" Cassandra argued, "The Maker guides us, has been with us at every turn. What more can the Maker do to show that he's with us?"
Dorian nodded cautiously before retreating back into the crowd, but Maxwell wasn't so easily dissuaded, "I know Erelani better than everyone else in this room. Prove to me that you're her! Prove to us that you aren't a demon in disguise!"
The room fell into a dead quiet as everyone waited for me to respond. Due to the resonance of the Mark, every mage in this room knew I was who I said I was, yet none of them said a word. Something was up, and I had no idea what.
The Mark pulsed, and I shuddered, unable to hide the agony coursing through my body. It pulsed again, beating like a heartbeat, and I clamped my mouth shut, unwilling to show any other sign of weakness in front of human nobility.
My eyes tracked every face in the room before falling on Solas who stood at the back, hiding amongst the shadows. My feet turned towards him, and as I walked, the crowd parted for me.
"Erelani. Erelani! Answer me!"
I came to a stop before Solas and held out my hand, "Think I need you again."
He stared at me for a moment, before reaching out slowly, "What do you-," He frowned deeply, "It's gotten worse." Blue light shone from his hands before fading, "This is just a temporary fix. I can do more once we're alone."
I nodded, trying to get rid of the pins and needles sensation his healing left behind, "Thanks anyway."
I closed my eyes, trying to summon the strength and patience to deal with the situation behind me. After what had happened in the Fade, I could admit that I knew nothing. Moreover, I didn't have the knowledge or training to deal with human nobility. I didn't know how to address them, and I took pride in this. I didn't want to pander to nobility. They didn't deserve it.
But what would that achieve? It would be best if I kept my mouth shut.
I opened my eyes, "Seeker Cassandra, please report. Where is Magister Alexius?"
Queen Anora coughed delicately, "I believe Ser Trevelyan has a valid concern. I think there are a few of us who doubt your claim of being the Herald."
The silence persisted and a roil of hatred seared into me; she'd seen me interacting with my companions, yet she'd persisted with Maxwell's claim. There was definitely an undercurrent that I was missing, but I didn't want to deal with it. "Seeker Cassandra, may I leave this with you? I'm needed elsewhere."
She paled and her expression twisted into horrified embarrassment as if I'd made a grave error.
Queen Anora let out a quiet condescending laugh, "Where is more important than here, my dear? You were wrong, dearest husband, the Dalish are ignorant to the ways of the world."
Anger filled every bone in my body, and it took phenomenal effort to calm myself. As if I'd give her the satisfaction of a response, "I'll be off, Seeker. Call me when you need me."
"Erelani, stop!" Maxwell strode forward and caught me in a tight grip, "Those two are the King and Queen of Ferelden!"
"Ser Trevelyan, are you sure that is the Herald?" Queen Anora's eyes swung between me and him.
Maxwell bowed while maintaining his grip, "Yes, your Worship. The Herald has a unique manner that is impossible to replicate."
Maxwell held his bow for a moment longer before turning to me, "Erelani, how in Maker's name did you get out?"
I finally stopped ignoring him, unable to find a reason to continue doing so, "I had help."
His face cycled through too many emotions to recognise, but before he could voice his thoughts, I interrupted, "Where is Magister Alexius?"
He straightened, his shoulders proud, "The moment Dorian and I got back, we told everyone what happened. He was executed immediately."
I felt the blood draining from my face. As much as the news should have relieved me, something about this situation only made my unease grow.
"King Alistair and Queen Anora have exiled the Southern mages from Ferelden. Dorian has agreed to take them to Tevinter in Magister Alexius's stead."
My face twisted in horrified confusion, "What?"
King Alistair finally spoke, "Redcliffe belongs to Arl Teagan; the mages have committed treason by letting a Tevinter Magister into Ferelden."
I turned to him, "Alright, then the Inquisition would be happy to take them off your hands."
Maxwell squeezed my arm tightly, "No, we aren't. We don't have the capacity to hold that many prisoners."
I jerked his arm off me, "Prisoners?! We need to close the Breach! There are hundreds of mages in front of us who can help, why the hell would we say no?!"
"They're mages! We can't guarantee the safety of the people with them so close to the Breach!"
"Which won't be a problem once they close it!"
"No," Maxwell bellowed, his forcefulness drowning my outrage, "Every single thing that has gone wrong is because of magic. The thousands that died in that future, because of magic. That Mark on your hand, the Conclave, magic. The Fade, rifts, spirits, magic. No more. I cannot ignore this any longer. The Chantry has it right, magic is evil. Magic poisons the heart, mind and soul. It must be removed. If not, the future is doomed."
Suddenly, it dawned on me why Dorian had offered to take the Southern mages to Tevinter in Alexius's stead.
Every mage here was mute because their voices had been robbed.
"You have lost your mind, Max."
"Have I?" He swivelled emphatically around the room, "Ask anyone in this room! If magic was gone, there would be no abominations, no deaths, and no acts against nature! Things would be normal! People wouldn't have to be afraid! Everyone would be equal!"
I couldn't help it, I started laughing. The problem was what it always was; people. Magic was a force of nature, uncontrollable and ever present. Blaming magic was like blaming the sea for storms and floods; both the beauty and destruction caused by nature was inevitable.
"Erelani, pull yourself together!"
I couldn't stop, getting hysterical. I could see no resolution. Explaining magic to a non-mage was like describing an ocean to a blind person; they'd never understand, and every description would only sound terrifying.
"It seems the Herald has lost control of her facilities. I suggest finding her a place to rest." Queen Anora rose to leave, and King Alistair joined her.
"Wait, wait. I apologise," I gasped loudly, trying to quell the last fits of laughter, "It's not often that Max sounds this stupid. It's hilarious."
Queen Anora's voice was flat, "Is that so? His words sound sensible to me."
I slapped my hand over my head, unable to restrain the helpless laugh that escaped, "You see, magic is normal. Even your religion says so, some line about the magic and the Maker," I tapped the ground with my feet, "The ground you're standing on, the water you drink, the air you breathe, they all have magic. What're you going to do, stop breathing?"
"We can certainly limit the amount of damage it does," Queen Anora raised her eyebrows, "You cannot deny that mages are a danger to everyone, even themselves."
"Alright, I can admit it," I sneered, "You've also got to admit, nobles kill a lot more people than mages. Their reasons aren't as desperate either. What shall we do with them?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"How many people did your father kill for a kingdom? How many have died in the Dales because of Empress Celene and Duke Gaspard? Then, please, count for me the number that have died because of mages."
A small roar rose in the back at my words which I ignored. Queen Anora however, was bolstered by them, "It seems you have a problem with generations of tradition and culture," her gaze swept the room, "You are certainly no saviour of the people, nor do you value human traditions. How could you? You were raised in the wild, amongst an uncivilised society, and therefore you hold no understanding of us," She raised her right hand magnanimously, "But I understand that; I understand your limitations. You need to understand them too; why don't you try taking the mages, and leading them? Then you'll comprehend the difficulties of nobility."
Maxwell strode forward, "Your worship, please-,"
"Enchanter Fiona," my voice cut over him and the rest of the room, "The Inquisition proposes an alliance with the Southern mages to close the Breach."
Fiona startled out of her reverie, her voice shaking, "What would such an alliance entail?"
"We would be honoured if you would fight by the Inquisition's side as allies. You've already been punished by the King of Ferelden; I see no reason to punish you twice."
Her eyes widened, "Will the rest of the Inquisition honour such a generous offer?"
"The Breach threatens all of Thedas, we cannot afford to be divided now. We cannot do this without you, and any chance of success requires your full support."
"We accept. It would be madness not to. I will gather the people and prepare them for the journey to Haven."
Maxwell grabbed my arm and squeezed tightly, "You're making an enemy of Ferelden royalty!"
Cassandra stormed towards me, "What was that? Have you no understanding of how to conduct yourself?"
I smiled, feeling unhinged, "Of course I don't, I'm an uncivilised Dalish elf. What can you do?"
Cassandra's lips turned down, "Setting the matter of the mages aside, we cannot afford to alienate the King and Queen of Ferelden. Fix this, now."
The instinct to refuse rose, but a look at Cassandra's furious expression doused my indignation. The gravity of my actions caught up to me. As the King and Queen made their way across the room, I yelled after them, "Hey, Alistair, wait up!" Cassandra and Maxwell cringed in embarrassment.
Alistair froze for a second, before coming to a halt. Queen Anora frowned disapprovingly, "That is no way to address the King of Ferelden."
I placed a casual hand on his shoulder, "So, remember the time you abandoned me to die in a crypt and then conscripted my clan, only for all of them to die in the Blight?"
He blinked rapidly, before taking a longer look at me, "You're that Dalish brat, then? You survived?"
"Against all odds."
"You really do seem to have the Maker by your side. Not unlike someone else I know."
"You call it an act of god; I call it bullheadedness." I shrugged, "I need to close the Breach, and I need the mages for that. No hard feelings?"
Alistair gave me a deep calculating look, and I wondered if I'd made a terrible mistake. Such a candid approach would have worked on the Alistair I had once known, but he was different now.
"I understand necessity better than most, so I'll let it go. But I suggest you learn how to communicate with nobility. Not many will be as forgiving or understanding."
Shame and outrage swirled inside me at his admonition, but I swallowed my pride, "Queen Anora had it right, I'm Dalish and so I don't understand your customs. Please accept my apologies. If you hear of a rift or red lyrium, please do not hesitate in contacting me. I will always help."
They both nodded and walked away, and I stood there, uncertain if I'd made a difference. It didn't feel like it. Cassandra's glare as she followed them reinforced the belief, Maxwell close behind her heels.
When I woke up from heal induced sleep, my companions were in the room bristling with tension.
"Alright, let me have it."
No one said a word. I waited, but it was futile.
A knock sounded at the door, before the door opened, "I know this is the fifth time, but has she woken up yet?"
"Oh, so you do remember me! I did wonder."
I blinked, surprised that he was here. The rest of the room seemed to be waiting for something, but I ignored it, "Did you need something?"
He grabbed a cushion nearby before dropping down to it, "I do want to know how you managed to escape. We were trapped in that terrible future and you were blind. The odds were not in your favour."
"They never are," I wiggled my left hand, "Magic." I could never tell the truth. It would have to be hidden, like so many other countless things I buried.
"How very illuminating," He leaned back, a smug smile on his face, "You know, everyone assured me you wouldn't talk to me. I'm from Tevinter, a noble and human, three things that apparently inspire great hatred in you."
I blinked, a little thrown by his comment. They were right. By all reason, I should detest him.
I lifted my shoulders, "You're odd, and this Inquisition is home to oddballs."
"Me, odd? Wherever did you get that idea?"
"You're here, aren't you?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"An Altus who left his cosy lifestyle and travelled to the far South, where he'd be hated. Which part of that sounds normal?"
"I could have dastardly evil plans."
"Tch, I'm too important to do anything with a small-minded place like Ferelden. What would I attain, piss tasting ale, and the smell of shit around every corner?"
"Spoken like a true noble. I can almost see the blue blood."
"That's a relief! No one shall ever mistake me for a Ferelden!"
I shook my head, amused despite myself, and caught the shocked expressions on everyone's face.
"So, humour me, will you? Do you know what that thing on your hand is?"
I shrugged, "Your guess is as good as mine. Solas may have a better idea."
"Solas? Right, that one," he waved with fake cheer, "How do you do, fair elf?"
Solas had a severe expression on his face, "Hmm."
"Oh, you're one of those then." Dorian rose from his cushion, dusting his clothes, "Well, Herald, I came to see if you wanted my help. I know that our people have had a tumultuous history, but no one should be judged for where they come from, don't you agree? So, what do you say? Have room for a dashing mage from terrible Tevinter?"
I could see the instinctive reactions a few in the room had to his words, particularly Vivienne and Bull, but before any of them could speak, I stood up. "Only if you don't run scared at the sight of a wild uncivilised Dalish."
"Oh, my dear, if you're not Tevinter, you're not civilized. I've gotten used to savages ever since I began my journey South."
I couldn't help the laugh that escaped, "Then welcome to the Inquisition, home to savages, outcasts and general riffraff led by an abomination. Just remember, you asked for this."
We shook hands and as he turned to leave, I placed a hand on his shoulder, "Thank you, Dorian. For everything since the rift."
His face twisted with discomfort at my sincerity, "Of course, Herald. Now, I'll get going before we start braiding each other's hair."
The silence left in his wake was deafening. I waited to see if anyone would speak up but not even Varric succumbed to the silence. I contemplated leaving the room, before realizing I had no wish to do so. I lay back down, staring at the ceiling as I continued to ignore all of them. I drifted off into the Fade, bothered by my ignorance of the events in Redcliffe during my absence. The memories wafted by and as I watched, a rare but welcome spirit joined me.
"Knowledge, it's been a while. How've you been?"
"Striving and seeking, as always. How's the Breach coming along?"
"You want me to close it? I'm surprised."
"The Breach isn't natural. It's hurting both the Waking and the Dreaming."
I gave it a calculating look; Knowledge had been around for a long time, but in no way was it an ancient spirit. All it did was seek knowledge for knowledge's sake and cared little for morality or ethics. For this reason, I enjoyed Knowledge's company and even valued its opinion more than any other spirit. Once I won Knowledge's favour, it spared no effort in educating me. But that did not mean I could reciprocate; Knowledge thought I was young and in need of a thorough education, and therefore that I had little expertise to contribute.
"Wisdom likes to monologue about how the Dreaming and the Waking were once the same. Maybe the world's going back to the way it's supposed to be."
"That may be true, but there is a method to everything. The rifts are harmful because it suctions the spirits from one realm to another, traumatising the younger spirits. The Veil needs a delicate touch if it is to be removed. There's a difference between poking a hole in fabric and having no fabric at all."
"That makes no sense."
"Then you should learn! What have you been doing?" Knowledge snapped, waving at my Mark, "Do you even know what this is?!"
"No, not yet."
"Then why are you looking at…" Knowledge watched the memory of the rift at Redcliffe playing in front of us, "Oh, you are learning what it is! You just don't know what it is yet!"
I stared, stupefied, "What are you seeing? I'm only gathering information."
Knowledge nodded knowingly, "Yes, that's very resourceful. In time, you will learn what it is. But what about you? Do you ever watch yourself?"
"What? Why would I do that? That's a waste of time. I know what happens to me, I lived it."
"It takes great strength of character to step outside of yourself, and see your actions reflected in the Fade. It lets you see what others see, helps you remember things that you've forgotten, and highlights things that you thought weren't important."
I squirmed, discomfited by the idea of viewing and obsessing over every little thing I did. If I took the time to think about how everyone would react to me then I would never get anything done. Saying so only made Knowledge shake its head, "Are you telling me you never consider others when you act?"
"No, that's not-,"
"If nothing else, then to be a good leader, you must see the impact of your decisions. Come, let's review the past few days together," Knowledge shook its head disapprovingly as it viewed my memories. Seeing myself reflected in the Fade and observing the others react to me was extremely disconcerting.
But despite Knowledge's disapproval, things weren't as bad as I thought.
Cassandra was furious about my behaviour with the King and Queen of Ferelden, but she thought it was born of ignorance and not malice. She thought I was the real thing; a voice of the Maker, one dissatisfied with the state of the world, but still kind enough to help others.
Varric could see me clearer. He didn't know what to think; he didn't understand why I showed kindness to people I clearly despised. He was unnerved by my obsession with magic but was comforted by my excessive generosity. He was being swayed by the grandiose posturing into believing I was divine, but he couldn't erase my flaws from his mind. He could see I was struggling, and he didn't like the anger he could see brimming beneath the surface.
The others were cautious; they had no idea what to think of me with the little time they had spent with me and were mostly unnerved that I was an abomination.
Solas was inscrutable.
I turned to Knowledge, "Why are certain people harder to ascertain in the Fade than others? I can barely tell what Solas is feeling."
There was a pulse, then a massive suction and suddenly I could sense a presence behind me.
Heat engulfed my face as I realised what I'd done; I summoned Solas to the Fade by saying his name. I covered my face, eager to cover my embarrassment as I tucked my aura back in quickly. The memories dissipated back into the Fade.
"Why did you stop?" Knowledge shook its head again, "Summoning another like that is clumsy, but I expect nothing else from you."
I cringed, trying to refrain from snapping. No matter how condescending Knowledge was, it was just trying to be helpful.
"Is there a lesson going on, Knowledge?"
"Of course! What use is knowledge if it isn't shared?" Knowledge pointed emphatically at me, "And the young ones! They need it the most!"
"Sometimes knowledge should be kept hidden. Or shared when the time is right."
Knowledge looked rebellious for a second, before glancing away in defeat. "Knowledge is always shared in stages, and never all at once. That is the only way to learn."
Solas gave Knowledge a very deliberate look and I thought it best to intervene, "This isn't suspicious at all. Really. This exchange is very innocuous."
Knowledge snapped out of it first, "He's the type to parrot everything Wisdom says. He doesn't value knowledge for knowledge's sake at all."
"Knowledge is relevant because it has use. If it has use, it has the potential for misuse."
"I see what you mean, Knowledge, it does sound like something Wisdom would say."
"Then perhaps you should listen."
I laughed, "Who, me? Never."
"And that's why I like you," Knowledge was smug, "Always striving, always seeking. That's my Erelani!"
Solas shook his head, a small smile at the edge of his mouth, "Very well then, I'll leave you to your lesson."
As accidental as his summoning had been, it was the first time since that terrible incident with Desire and Thranduil that another cohabited my dream. It was so very different, sharing a dream with a Dreamer, so visceral, almost real.
"Solas!" I didn't want him to go, "You can join us, if you want."
He tilted his head, "If you didn't summon me, I can only assume that you were discussing me. Are you sure you want me to stay?"
I waved him over, and he obliged, "I wondered how spirits reflected people in the Fade."
"Ah, I see."
Knowledge made a face before nodding to Solas, "You take this one, and be sure to teach her properly! I'll come by later to make sure you learned something, Erelani." After giving me a stern look, it disappeared. A little unsettled by Knowledge's abrupt departure, I turned to stare expectantly at Solas who stared back patiently.
I cut off at the same moment he did, and I fidgeted, feeling awkward.
"What don't you understand?"
My heart stuttered at his gentle tone, and I couldn't bring myself to look him in the eyes, afraid that he'd see through me. I didn't want to tell him that I had been trying to find out what he thought of me, so I changed the subject. I stared at his collar, "Spirits reflect memories and emotions they perceive in the Waking onto the Dreaming. That implies that they can construct their own dream if they gather enough information from the Waking, right?"
"That would depend on the spirit in question. But yes, spirits can construct their own dreams."
"Then if a spirit were old enough, could its rendition of the future be true?"
Solas gave me a long look, "You didn't travel to the future but to a dream in the Fade."
I stiffened in surprise, not expecting him to piece together the truth of Redcliffe with the little I had said. A weight fell onto my stomach; I couldn't confirm or deny any of it; it would be impossible to convince the Inquisition of the upcoming future if the truth got out.
"I never said that."
"You didn't have to." He frowned, "You are a Dreamer. You should be familiar with how the Fade operates. You cannot assume the dream you saw was an indication of the future."
I closed my eyes, trying to find an argument that would derail his disbelief because he was right. The Fade reflected everything, even nonsense, "The dream was aimed at the Tevinter magister."
Solas stared hard at me, the intensity of his stare growing until it suddenly tapered, replaced with a calm expression, "Then the spirit didn't create its own dream; it merely constructed a dream around the expectations of its dreamers. The older a spirit is, the more difficult it is to differentiate dream from reality."
An odd tension suddenly hung between us, and I clenched my fists, "Empress Celene is a target and there is a demon army; these are facts that were pulled from the Magister's mind. You cannot tell anyone what you learned. You saw how the humans reacted; telling them the truth will only make it harder to help them."
"How confident are you about these facts?"
He was quiet for a long moment. "Very well," He nodded, "I understand the need for discretion. Telling the truth will serve no purpose and only delay what needs to be done." His words sent a frisson of unease through me and for a moment, his profile was cold and distant, before he turned to me with a sad smile, "You have my word."
I nodded, still unable to shake off my unease. The subtext in his words couldn't be clearer, but none of this was a surprise, was it? Solas wanted his orb and mark back, and the Inquisition was his best chance at it.
"You know," I said, eager to change the subject, "You were missing from the dream that the spirit spun."
He tilted his head, "Really? Perhaps the magister didn't find me worth remembering."
"On the contrary, everyone said that you somehow managed to escape Redcliffe Castle and alert Commander Cullen so he could send reinforcements."
Solas's arms moved towards his back as he straightened, "Then that's how the spirit envisioned me in its dream."
I smiled at his evasiveness, "So can you or can you not escape from a fortress full of Tevinter mages harvesting and consuming red lyrium?"
"I'm an elven apostate who has survived the Mage-Templar War and countless other conflicts. I even dream in forgotten ruins. What do you think?"
I laughed, "Never a straight answer from you."
"Why do you want to know?" Solas stiffened, defensive.
"I've promised you my protection, but I know almost nothing about you." I shrugged carelessly, "And you're a Dreamer, like me. I was only curious."
He sighed, "Forgive me, with so much fear in the air… what do you want to know?"
I observed his expressions and knew he was feeling cautious, "Where did you learn to play that instrument? What is it even called?"
His eyes widened, clearly caught off guard, "It's a sylcitaryl. I found it one of the ruins I visited, and a spirit taught me to play."
I smiled, enjoying his surprise, "Can you show me the instrument?"
He blinked again, before the instrument formed in the Fade, an exact replica of the one he owned. I reached out, looking at him for permission, and he nodded. Feeling a small thrill, I strummed the strings, caressing the wooden body before reaching the drum like surface below. I gave it a gentle tap and the drum reverberated into the ether, and I couldn't help the childish glee that lit up my face.
"What else do you do? Do you have any other interests?"
He fidgeted, "As you know, I dream of ancient battles and lost civilizations and to do that, I travel to ruins, guided by spirits who once resided there."
I tilted my head, "So you search for lost knowledge? Why?"
He clammed up hard, his eyes stormy. His reticence had me rushing to fill the silence, "Don't tell me if you don't want to," I shrugged, "The Dalish search for any fragments of the lost Elvhen empire, so I understand."
"Do you have an interest in it too?"
The personal question took me off guard, "No, unfortunately. I had a pretty bad time in a ruin once, and it put me off forever. I enjoy teaching actually and building things. And studying! Not with books though, just doing experiments and writing it down. So, maybe I write books too?"
I clamped my mouth shut as I realised that I'd been babbling and tried to play it off, "So what about you?"
The small smile on the edge of his mouth told me that I hadn't been as smooth as I hoped, "I paint. Some memories resonate deeply within me and I find myself giving it form across the Veil."
My smile split my face again, "You paint too?" I couldn't help the impressed tone, "That's…that's pretty great."
His smile grew, "Thank you."
I looked at the sylcitaryl, trying to hide the way his smile affected me. I felt triumphant, my heart so lifted that I forgot everything else. I ran my hand through the strings again, plucking random notes.
"Would you like to learn how to play the sylcitaryl?"
My heart jumped in delight at the offer and I smiled like an idiot at the instrument, before tamping it down and turning to him.
"At least a little?"
"How very Dalish of you."
I froze, "What?"
"Why learn a little when I'm offering to teach you properly?"
My lips turned down, "What's your problem with the Dalish?"
"They are like children, acting out stories misheard and repeated a thousand times. They pass on stories, mangling details and preserve little of the truth. Just a little. They only ever want to know a little."
I could not let that stand, "My people come from the elves who refused to surrender when humans broke their treaty and destroyed the Dales. They are trying to restore elven history."
"Your Keeper was not wrong about that, at least. We must mark the occasion of the Dalish remembering something correctly. Perhaps we should plant a tree."
"Stop." He was going too far, "You're insulting my people."
"They insult themselves. Remember, I have walked the memories of the Fade. I have seen the history the Dalish imitate."
"So what? Memories fade, and people forget. Why does it bother you so much?"
His jaw clenched tight, "Because when someone offers the truth, the whole unblemished truth, all they hear is blasphemy. Tell me, would your clan listen to what I had learned in my studies? In my travels? Or would they mock the flat-ear and his stories, and go back to their ruins?"
Emotion roiled inside of me. Why should I care that he was hated by them? The Dalish raised me, embraced me when no one else would. So what if he suffered at their hands?
Unbidden, Maxwell's defense of Colen rang through my head. He had hated it when I spoke about Colen, accusing me of disparaging a good man. All that mattered to Maxwell was that Colen had been his childhood friend and died a hero's death. The suffering that Kaari and I had been through was meaningless to him. Irrelevant.
Solas was reviled by the Dalish but he'd continued to reach out to them before finally giving up.
Just because Colen saved a few people, didn't mean that Kaari and I didn't suffer at his hands.
Just because I benefited from the love of the Dalish, didn't mean that Solas hadn't suffered at their hands.
All I had ever wanted from Maxwell, was for him to acknowledge that my pain was real, and that what happened was not okay. It wouldn't mend anything between us, but the burning hatred I held for him would ease.
Solas had eased that terrible chasm in my heart with the smallest of kindnesses. I knew he hadn't thought about it, had no design behind it. But that was why it worked; because it was real. While his words about the Dalish deeply offended me, I couldn't pretend that his pain wasn't real.
I held my hands over my face and inhaled deeply, "You're right, my people would not listen to you," I dropped my hands and looked him in the eyes, "Ir abelas, Solas. If the Dalish have done you a disservice, I would make that right."
The tension between us dissipated and Solas's surprise filled the Fade before a solemn sigh escaped from him, "The fault is mine, for expecting something the Dalish could never truly accomplish. Ir abelas. If you are still willing to learn the sylcitaryl, you have but to ask."
My eyes drifted to the instrument, but the desire to play it had cooled with the idea that Solas would associate every little mistake I made while learning to the competency of the Dalish. In fact, I didn't think I could ever stomach Solas as a Hahren for this very reason.
"I think more than anything else, I'd like to hear it played. It's very beautiful."
"Perhaps when the Breach has been closed, I'll play it again."
I gave him a tentative smile, relieved he hadn't taken offense to my refusal. There was still a distance between us that I wanted to bridge, "If I may," I held out my arms in a silent request to touch him. Solas looked bewildered but I took his silence as permission and placed my hands over his, "We are of the same people, Solas. I apologize if my kinsmen acted otherwise. The Dalish are distrusting out of necessity, but that does not mean they have not committed excesses. If there is anything I can do to make it right, please tell me."
"It is not so easy," He slipped one of his hands out and patted mine, "But it matters that you asked. That is something."
He let my hands go, "I think it's time that we wake up."
His words pulled me out of the Fade, and my eyes jolted open, thrown by the sudden transition. The bustle of packing surrounded me and I rose out of bed, finding my companions getting ready for travel. I sneaked a peek at Solas, only to find him packing his sleeping gear away.
Cassandra approached me with a sour face, "We must leave by daybreak today. The mages will be travelling with our party, so travel will extend up to three weeks."
I nodded, "What about provisions?"
"Maxwell conversed with the King and Queen and made some arrangements. We should be good for the journey as well as have extra for Haven."
My eyes widened, impressed despite myself. It said a lot about Maxwell's capability that he received so much despite my disastrous meeting with Ferelden royalty.
Suddenly the Halani rune for help burned. Ellana needed me.
The Halani rune burned again. Thranduil needed me.
I spent so much mana reaching Thranduil that I fainted upon arriving at Therinfal Redoubt. Once I recovered from mana exhaustion, Knight Barris and Thranduil debriefed me on the situation: Knight Captain Denam attacked them on arrival, frustrated at my absence as it upset Seeker Lucius's plans. They'd discovered that the resident Templars were being forcefully injected with red lyrium and those immune to its effects were being executed.
Thranduil already had four battle plans to rescue the Templar Order. He'd also arranged for reinforcements from Eldric and sent the Inquistion an update. He only needed me to close rifts.
I could finally breathe.
The Halani rune burned again, persistently. Ellana needed me.
Three days later, we were climbing down the hill after claiming Therinfal Redoubt.
Thranduil was miraculous. Awe-inspiring. Absolutely brilliant.
Envy had been overwhelmingly powerful but Thranduil won Cole's allegiance and overthrew the Envy demon control, while also coordinating a battle against the Red Templars.
Kaari even coaxed Eldric and his crew into cleansing the fortress of red lyrium, so now, half a dozen Valo-kas mercenaries were staying behind to help rebuild the ruined fortress.
All I had needed to do was close the rifts and kill the Envy demon.
I had forgotten what it was like to be part of a team rather than lead one; to completely trust the person you had at your back. I didn't have to question their intentions and analyse their thoughts. They were home.
The Halani rune burned again.
My heart constricted and it became hard to breathe as realization finally dawned. Ellana needed me. But even with Fade-step, it would take three days to cross the Waking Sea to reach the Free Marches. I couldn't go, not when the attack on Haven was imminent.
The Halani rune burned over and over. It did not stop.
Sylcitaryl: Imaginary instrument that the ancient elves play. It looks like a mandolin with a drum attached at the non-string end, but capable of a larger array of musical notes.
A/N: If there are any edits or feedback, please feel free to let me know.
I need to warn you, my beloved readers, the story only gets darker from here. Again, this story is not a tragedy, nor an indulgence in depravity and nihilism, but I want to stick with what I perceive this world will do to the characters I've constructed.