A Long Hunt: Chapter 1
Solas and our Dalish Inquisitor, Elisara Tarael, are at Haven shortly after closing the rift. They don’t really have a good feel for each other yet, and clashes were probably inevitable.
Rating: Teen and up, NSFW potential: Mild
He was always standing there, staring off into the distance. Why? She certainly had no idea. Solas was a challenge, an annoyance, and an invaluable resource all rolled into one. “The Chosen of Andraste,” he had called her after they closed the first rift in the sky… as if he believed in the Maker and Andraste. Elisara gave a mental snort at the likelihood of that idea. How much of what he said was sincere? How much was dripping with sarcasm and pity for a simple dalish elf that didn’t walk the Fade?
Elisara saw both wariness and curiosity on the lean elf’s face as he taunted her with knowledge that he thought she knew nothing of.
“I’ve watched as hosts of spirits clashed to reenact the bloody past, in ancient wars both famous and forgotten.” She saw the corners of his mouth turn up in a tiny smile as he lilted his way through his lecture.
In her mind she heard her father’s voice whispering to her from the past instead, deeper and rougher than Solas’s rolling tones.
“You have a gift da’len, knowing the People’s language and history the way you do. Not even all of the Dalish are so privileged with their start in life, and no city elf will ever know the elven ways as you do.” Revas had understood her temper, but always tried to show her wiser paths than fighting. It worked, eventually.
She had been young at the time, and frustrated with the ignorance of visitors from Clan Virnehn. They had mocked her vallaslin, recently acquired branches of green that arched across her brow and cheeks.
“Aren’t you brave enough to take the markings of your clan’s own patron, Dirthamen?” Scorn and amusement dripped from the older elf’s voice. “She’s pitiful, isn’t she? Probably took Mythal’s markings because she still misses her mother.”
She’d wanted to shoot them for their stupidity and rudeness to the daughter of the Keeper, but they clearly knew who she was… and didn’t care. Her mother, Tarael, had been killed nearly a decade earlier, while trying to negotiate an argument between the two clans over hunting rights. Stupid conflicts, more worthy of short-sighted shemlen than of the People. Well, Elisara had been stupid for punching the Virnehn elf too.
Neither she nor Revas had never ventured into the Fade too much, preferring to focus more on their history, but she knew enough to see that her father would view Solas as ha’ren on this topic. Elisara’s mouth quirked to one side in a wry smile of appreciation at the dedication of the oddly tattered looking elf in front of her.
“I’ve never heard of someone going so far into the Fade. That’s extraordinary.”
“Thank you.” Solas’s eyebrows lifted slightly in surprise at the unexpected compliment. “It is not a common field of study, for obvious reasons. Not so flashy as throwing fire or lightning. The thrill of finding the remnants of a thousand year-old dream? I would not trade it for anything.”
Blue. His eyes were a soft blue-grey, like a stormy sky. Why was he staring at her so intently?
At least this dalish has enough wit and learning to listen to me, Solas thought to himself. He saw her chin lift slightly, perhaps in challenge, as she matched his gaze. “I will stay then,” he said. No wonder she had chosen green for her vallaslin, rare as it might be, with eyes the color of new spring leaves. He broke eye contact first, looking back out over the snow-covered river. “At least until the breach has been closed.”
“Was that in doubt?” The words came out with a disapproving tone, and Elisara inwardly winced.
His tone was sharp in return, and she again felt lectured. “I am an apostate mage, surrounded by Chantry forces in the middle of a mage rebellion. Cassandra has been accommodating, but you can understand my caution.”
“You came here to help, Solas. I won’t let them use that against you.” She shifted her weight as she spoke, arms crossing over her chest… here we go again, she thought. Why do I always try to help everyone?
“How would you stop them?” Now he was curious.
“However I had to.” The words snapped out on instinct, the emotion in her voice surprising both of them a bit. Well, he had saved her life after the explosion at the Conclave. She owed him for that, at the very least.
Solas found himself searching her face for signs of deceit or manipulation as his eyebrows rose in surprise. Her fiery tone brooked no nonsense, and he had not expected such a defense from the young elf. Why then had she done so? A moment of silence stretched between them like a hand that might be pulled away at any moment. Resolve and passion were what he saw, tinged with surprise. She had no reason to manipulate a random hedge mage, he realized… but neither did she necessarily need to stand in his defense.
“Thank you.” When he finally spoke, with a graceful nod of acceptance, Elisara heard sincere appreciation and warmth in his voice. It reminded her of when she first met him, of his amusement at Varric’s verbal sparring with the stern Seeker Pentaghast after they closed the first rift.
His cool demeanor quickly returned as he redirected their focus to the breach in the Veil, and she shook her thoughts into place. Too much was going on to focus on one enigmatic elf, however curious she was. They must have stood there for near an hour, discussing his ideas on the veil, and she was not surprised to find him again presenting ideas about spirits that her father would have found intriguing. “Insatiable,” her father had once said. “Your curiosity is insatiable, da’len!” She remembered how much he used to laugh, challenging her with problems that she now realized that even another Keeper or First would have found difficult.
There was a glint in Solas’s eyes when Elisara finally wore out their current topic of conversation, and she felt his gaze on her as she agilely followed the top of the snow-covered wall heading back toward the Chantry.
That was… unexpected, Solas thought as the “Herald” left. He had been genuinely impressed by her intelligence and general lack of the arrogant judgmentalism that he had come to associate with the Dalish. And that fierce, unrelenting spirit reminded him of… well, more of himself as a young elvhen warrior, if he was honest. He frowned slightly, a narrow crease forming between his brows as he rested his chin in his long fingers. The snow crunched beneath his bare feet as he shifted his weight. She should not intrigue him so. She was just another lost dalish elf, wandering in a world that she ill understood.
His eyes lost focus as he pictured her in his mind, blonde hair bleached pale by the sun and coiled practically in braids that wrapped elegantly around her head. Most of her belongings had been badly damaged in the explosion, and she had quickly found the best longbow in the encampment. The elf held herself with a quiet confidence that spoke of privilege and respect, but she bristled like a mountain cat when challenged or insulted. Not only were her bright green eyes startling in their intensity, they were infinitely expressive, flaring in anger or flickering as she leapt through a series of conclusions as they spoke. She occasionally stood on one foot, arms crossed over her stomach, balancing gracefully and seeming entirely unconscious of her odd stance…
He shook his head, chiding himself for musing on her so much. This da’len was a scant few decades old and not even a mage. She should not draw forth memories of sages debating philosophy for weeks, months, even years, all while challenging each other to feats of strength and agility. Certainly he should not be imagining her standing nude in the river near Vir Dirthara, face upturned to the sun, muscles flexing as she balanced on a rock in the rushing waters… The mage ran a hand over his smooth head and down his face, sighing in complete exasperation. Void take him, why had he thought of that? One swift step and he swung over the wall to land in an easy lope. Running always took his mind off of things. He could just focus on the ground flowing beneath his feet like a river… he sighed again.
Gods above she had only suspected that such political machinations even existed, and she knew that this was only the beginning of the landslide that would come if this Inquisition of Cassandra’s persisted. She had avoided dealing with clan politics as much as was feasible after her father died, as she and Keeper Ismathoriel had not always had the best of relations. Sighing, she chided herself for thinking ill of any member of Clan Lavellan, but the Keeper’s scheming was so different from Revas’s open-handed teachings that it was a challenge. “Dirthamen may be a keeper of secrets little lavellan, but he does not keep them all to himself.” Not all had agreed with her father’s ideas, nor her mother’s love of peace.
In the past 2 weeks she had found that the Inqusition was not only short on horses, but that there were apparently starving refugees from the mage-templar fighting, and that somehow the Wardens had disappeared… among half a dozen other problems. As usual, she took it all in stride and started trying to help with everything, which Seeker Cassandra, Lady Montilyet, and… what was Leliana was called… Sister Nightingale? Elisara sighed again as she finally started stripping off her armor and clothing back at Haven. They all seemed to let her take the lead whenever she showed the slightest inclination of doing so. Out in the Hinterlands Solas had been as quiet as Varric was chatty, and Cassandra’s continued scepticism about the both of them grated on her nerves. It was exhausting.
A light knock sounded on the door to the small cabin just as she started to pull the sweat-stained shirt over her head, and she let out a groan. Tugging it back down mussed her hair even further, and she snapped the door open sharply. Of course it was him. Solas stood there, hands clasped neatly behind his back, remarkably less disheveled-looking than herself. She raised one eyebrow at him questioningly, without a word.
“Ah.” Well, that was eloquent, Solas thought to himself. “Apologies Herald, I did not mean to disturb your rest.”
“What rest? Solas, I’ve not even had time to get something to eat, what do you need?” Damn, she was snappy when hungry, and she inwardly winced. None of this was his fault, certainly. Some unreadable emotion crossed his face at her words, but perhaps it was just exhaustion clouding her mind.
He paused before answering, feeling a strange empathy with her at that moment. “I think it might be wiser to return with meals for the two of us.”
As she stared blankly at him, he turned sharply and jogged swiftly in the general direction of the building currently serving as a kitchen. Elisara closed the door and continued undressing, trying to process what had just happened. She shouldn’t be this tired by a few weeks out in the wilds of the Hinterlands, she’d spent months on her own before. Although there weren’t demons then… and she wasn’t in a war zone…
The last of her clothing off, itchy woolen socks, she kicked it all into a corner and stretched luxuriously. A glance down at herself made her wince. No wonder her hip was so sore, the bruise there was a deep purple and extended halfway down her thigh. A cool breeze under the door caught her feet and made her start, still standing naked in the middle of the cabin. Sighing, she pulled a pair of loose knee-length pants out of a chest by her bed, also grabbing a shirt that probably belonged to a burly farmer at some point. They were clean and comfortable, and the shemlen servants wouldn’t panic at finding her naked in bed again. Chuckling wryly despite herself, she shook her head at the memory of Josephine sighing in exasperation at the “habits of wild elves and peasants… no offense intended of course, Herald.”
Her hair was down and barely half undone when a light knock sounded at her door again. The absurdly loud growl that her stomach made as she smelled food could probably be heard on the other side of the door. Decorum be damned. She snatched open the door, trying to somehow avoid being rude as she pointed at the small table and stepped out of Solas’s path. Nearly on his heels, she felt like a starving wildcat and was seated at the table almost before he had settled the plates. Feet tucked beneath her, she tore the bread roll apart, devouring it without even sparing him a glance. The stew was more than half eaten as well before she paused to gauge his reaction. She expected censure, disapproval. What she saw instead was compassion, shot through with amusement as he held out half of his own bread roll toward her. Taking a deep breath, as well as the roll, she realized that his own meal was quickly disappearing as well. She swallowed the vegetable she had been chewing, which she was fairly certain to be some type of tuber.
“Ir abelas, Solas. Please forgive my rudeness.”
That small smile made his eyes sparkle in the lantern light, and he tipped his head in acknowledgement as he scooped up another bite of food. They spent several minutes in comfortable silence as they continued eating, until Elisara realized that there was also a large mug of hot cider on the table as well. He noticed her gaze, searching for a second mug, as he spoke for the first time since knocking on her door.
“It is yours if you would like it. The cider is quite delicious, but it did not seem prudent to carry two mugs and two plates all at one time.”
He was trying to keep his expression neutral, polite and distant despite the intimacy of the setting. It was doubtful that she had any idea how she looked at this moment, as the enormous shirt she wore was falling off of one shoulder, and she had shoved the sleeves up to her elbows while she ate. Despite how quickly she was eating she still sat tall on the stool, apparently as confident as if perfectly dressed. A long, messy braid lay over her shoulder as well, reaching down at least to her waist. It reminded him of a imprisoned human queen he had seen on his journeys in the Fade, who had escaped from her captors by winning over the servants and jailor who she saw each day. She had strode regally out into the courtyard in a disheveled underdress, commanding the castle in a few hours time.
Elisara was staring at him thoughtfully, having yet to touch the cider. His eyes flicked to the steaming mug, which smelled divine.
“We are both fond of this cider, as you well know,” she spoke softly, and there was a hint of uncertainty in her voice as she continued. “I will gladly share it with you, if you wish.” They were both nearly finished with their food, and she paused completely as she awaited his response.
Why did I just say that? She thought, as Solas stared inscrutably back at her. I probably have an extra mug in my pack, why did I not just go get it? Now she could not, without looking the fool. It would not have been strange at all for her to share a mug with a close companion in her clan, but with Solas? He was often aloof toward nearly everyone, including herself. She felt her neck starting to turn red in embarrassment and glanced down at her plate, trying to figure out how to salvage the situation.
“Ma serannas, lavellan… I did not expect that you would wish to do so.” Her eyes snapped back to his at the words, and a relieved smile quickly erased her chagrin. Chuckling as he wrapped his hands around the warm cider, he shook his head slightly as he thought of how much had just come from one simple moment. He closed his eyes in contentment as he took a long drink, the spices and sweet fruit relaxing him after this long, tense, day.
There was a genuine, happy, smile on the other elf’s face as he extended the mug to her, and she paused to simply breathe in the spiced aroma before drinking deeply, much the same as he had.
After finishing their food in short order, Elisara took another sip of the cider before passing it back to him. She felt much more functional now, if still tired and sore, and her mind turned back to the knocking at her door.
“Why did you seek me out tonight, Solas? Though, I should assume it was for the company, since you’re quite the social, outgoing type.” Back to my normal self, she thought with a mental chuckle. And there it was again, that small smile she had come to expect from him, the corners of his mouth turning up above the rim of the mug. I’ll get a real smile from him yet, she thought.
He finished taking a drink of the cider, and his voice was warm when he spoke. “You are correct, although it has been a far more pleasant evening than I expected. One of the refugees we saw yesterday mentioned an elf searching for artifacts near their village before they fled the fighting. Last night I sought out the area in the Fade, and believe that there is likely something there worth investigating. These artifacts feel connected to the Veil, although I am not yet certain of their exact purpose. If you think it worth the time, I would like to search the area on our return.” Curiosity again, he thought, as he held the mug out toward her.
She took it, looking thoughtful. “Of course. The more we know, the better. Who knows what might help us to close the breach.” Her brow furrowed slightly as she sipped contentedly on the cider, though she was apparently still unconcerned about her state of dishevelment. “I suppose it makes sense for it to be elven, nearly anything powerful enough to interact with the veil would be from our people or from the Tevinter Imperium.”
Sliding back from the table, Solas crossed one long leg over the opposite knee and tucked his toes behind the leg of the stool. He watched her take another sip and glance into the mug before passing it back to him.
“The last is yours, and I thank you again for sharing a meal with me tonight, Solas.” Her eyes traced the long lines of his body as he leaned forward to take the cider. She had seen him so many times over the past few weeks, but never thought about the fact that he seemed incredibly fit and athletic. Rarely had she seen him out of breath as they ran, as Varric often was, and casting evocation spells was physically and mentally demanding as well. He mostly spoke of traveling in the Fade, dreaming, yet she knew he could easily match her pace even in mountainous terrain. She unconsciously held onto the mug too long, as her perspective shifted and she saw the lean, toned elf before her. Seated as he was emphasized his muscular thighs, and his shirt pulled tight across his biceps and chest as he leaned toward her.
Such grace in a simple gesture, he thought, reaching for the handle extended toward him. She was balanced somewhat precariously on the stool, he knew, yet seemed at ease leaning far across the table. From the line of her lean, muscled forearm sticking out of the coarse shirt, he unconsciously followed the graceful line of her neck and across her collarbone and exposed shoulder. His eyes roamed deeper into the shirt, caressing the curve of her breast and finding himself wondering just how well-toned the rest of her body was. It had been a long time since he had run with another elf, but the two of them had quickly found their strides together out in the Hinterlands. He had no reason to push himself to the limit, but they were constantly traveling one direction or another in addition to the unending fighting with the rebels. Those long legs of hers were out of sight beneath the table at the moment, and he should not be imagining what they looked like without the ill-fitting pants she wore. He quickly drew his eyes back to her own from where they’d settled on her stomach, and she only seemed slightly relieved as he finally took the mug of cider.
They each sat in their private moments of awkwardness as he finished the cider. He thought again of how willingly she accepted his statement that he was close friends with spirits, and seemed to still consider his views even when she didn’t initially agree with him. Was she just easily influenced? It did not seem likely. Perhaps she truly meant what she had said, “You have an interesting way of looking at the world, Solas.” He had been certain that he would find no one to call ‘friend’ in this pale imitation of the world that he remembered… yet here he sat, musing on the curiosity and grace of this dalish elf.
Elisara’s fingers instinctively started unbraiding her hair as she sat, trying to watch him without seeming to stare. He seemed lost in his own thoughts, long fingers tracing the shape of the empty mug as it sat on his thigh. Just as she was about to break the silence, she realized that he was staring at her curiously, head tilted slightly to the side, which highlighted the sharp angles of his jaw and ears in the light of the lantern. She met his gaze, confused.
“What is it, Solas?”
The bald elf only chuckled and shook his head, glancing away. “It is nothing,” he said, but that small, amused smile remained.
She huffed out a small sigh and retrieved a comb from the still open chest, since he showed no signs of leaving… though she knew not why. His eyes tracked her movements, following her back to the chair where she sat. Fine, she thought. Two can play this game. She started working from the bottom of her hair up, with the whole mess pulled over her shoulder. Quickly deciding that it was a bad idea to just stare back at him, as she had almost immediately started thinking about how it might feel to have those long fingers caressing her instead of the ceramic mug, she gave in.
“I’d be interested in hearing your opinions on elven culture.” It was a mundane question really, although she was truly interested in why he had chosen a life apart from the clans. What she got was far more than she’d bargained for.
“Oh? I thought you’d be more interested in sharing your opinions on elven culture. You are Dalish, are you not?” Bitterness filled his voice, and his eyes were flat and disapproving when she met his gaze.
“What’s your problem with the Dalish? Allergic to Halla?” She snapped back at him on reflex, bristling at the implied insult. Glaring, her comb was momentarily forgotten.
“They are children acting out stories misheard and repeated wrongly a thousand times.” He sighed at her predictable reaction, defensive and sharp. If she truly were a mountain cat, she would be nearly growling, her ears laid back.
His disdain for the Dalish set her on edge. “Oh, but you know the truth, right?” She was on her feet now, openly angry.
“Yes! While they pass on stories, mangling details, I walk the Fade. I have seen things they have not.” His whole body was tense, and he leaned toward her as he spoke. A frustrated growl escaped his lips, and he shook his head. He had been a fool to think her any wiser than the other dalish elves that he had met
“The Dalish do not hear me when I speak.” His voice grew colder as he stood, turning away from her and pacing a long stride across the small cabin.
Elisara’s hands were planted on her hips, shoulders thrown back in defiance. “Have you even tried? Or do you simply disregard us as have so many others for hundreds of years?”
He gestured sharply, dismissively, at her words, and she found herself pacing slowly toward him in frustration. Such arrogance from someone who seemed to know so much should not be surprising, but he truly saw her people not at all if this was what he thought.
“Would your clan listen to what I have learned in my study? My travels?” He spun toward her as she approached, and there suddenly seemed to be a real threat in his blue eyes, like a cornered wolf at bay.
“Or would they mock the flat-ear and his stories, and go back to their ruins.” The words rolled out in a rich, angry growl. Bitter memories of repeated disappointment flashed through his mind again, the months that had passed mattering little. Two clans had actually chased him away, threatening him when he had tried too adamantly to convince them to listen. Frustration had boiled in his veins as he stalked out of the last encampment, feeling the acute irony as he passed howling statues of Fen’harel.
They were both breathing hard, two shabbily dressed elves glaring at each other, only a few feet apart. To the Void with her! He thought angrily, She is just like them! Not one of them listen to a word I speak.
“My father was Keeper of our clan, and he would have listened.” Her voice was hard, still defiant, but there was less anger in it now, and their eyes locked as he noted the change. “I would have listened.”
“Truly? Or would you only have listened if my words matched stories that you already knew.” Fenedhis! Why was she challenging him over… his eyes narrowed slightly, searching. She truly was, he realized. Challenging him in a way that no one had done in a very long time…
Emotions were flaring across his face in rapid succession, with the crease between his eyes deepening suddenly as he continued to rail at her. It took all of her self-control to hold her tongue for a few more heartbeats, but she was glad that she did. His eyes searched her expression probingly, then locked with hers again as some revelation dawned, transforming his face. Slowly his features started to soften, but he still stared at her intently. The words she spoke next would have made her father proud.
“Ir abelas, ha’hren.” Her voice cracked with the raw sorrow she felt, knowing how poorly some of the clans would have treated him. Intense and sincere, she continued softly. “If the Dalish have done you a disservice, I would make that right.”
She had stepped forward as she spoke, closing the distance and placing a hand lightly on his shoulder. Little difference in height separated them, and he could not help but notice that she still had dirt smudged on her forehead. Drawing in a slow, ragged breath, Solas tilted his head so that his brow rested against Elisara’s and closed his eyes.
“You are right, of course. The fault is mine.” He sighed, eyes still closed. “For expecting what the Dalish could never truly accomplish. Ir abelas, da’len.”
A knot in her throat stole her breath, and she closed her eyes as his forehead touched hers. She would never have expected such humility from the proud elf, and his profound regret for it all, past and present, was evident. Hearing him take another deep, calming breath, she opened her eyes. His hand came up to rest on her shoulder as well, their arms forming another physical link between them. As they both stood there, held in the moment, she found herself studying his face intently, in a way that she did not remember having done with anyone ever before. Such sharp, striking features were part of what made his face so expressive, and yet… faint freckles were scattered like tiny footprints across his nose and cheeks. She might have never known, and it made her smile softly. He returned the smile, and her eyes darted back to his, which were now studying her, too.
“If I can offer any understanding, you have but to ask,” his voice was smooth and warm again. Courage and humility, he thought. I have always been in need of friends like her.
“What course would you set for them that is better than what they know now?” All would be well, she thought as they released each other. If he can still smile like that, then all would be well.
Updates will likely be unpredictable, but will happen. All 13 chapters are planned, with notes/outlines written.
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Chapter Index: A Long Hunt
Next Chapter: “No real god need prove himself.”