They were traipsing through the Storm Coast when Solas discovered how woeful the Herald's grasp of her birthright language truly was.
The rocks were slick with rain and the scree made for treacherous footing as they slipped and slid their way down one ravine to get to the next. Iron Bull's broad back before him totally obscured the Herald's lithe form, and behind him he could hear Varric grumbling as he futilely tried to shelter Bianca from the rain.
It was getting late, and they were all tired and looking forward to making camp. Long shadows had started to obscure their path, making the way even more dangerous. Ceaseless rain and endless hiking had, by this time, made them all a little careless and more than a little grumpy. Tempers were starting to fray, just little things, but they were adding up.
The Herald had forged on ahead as usual, and not even Bull was fast enough to catch her when her luck ran out for the day. She was sliding down the path in a more or less controlled plummet when her unstable footing was totally lost and she plummeted for real, scraping and bumping downward at least a hundred feet to the base of the path.
"Shit," said Bull, and took off after her.
"Shit," said Varric, who gave up cosseting his crossbow in favour of clambering down after them.
"Fenedhis," said Solas, and followed them, bare toes clinging to the stone.
If the steady stream of invective that wafted up from the base of the ravine was any indication, the Herald appeared to have survived her fall more or less intact.
Bull was helping her up; scraped, dishevelled, bleeding in more than a few places, and obviously favouring her left ankle, but relatively fine.
"Shit!" she swore creatively. "Shit! Ow! Bloody rain! Bloody rocks! Bloody boots!" She kicked one of the offending boots against a boulder and swore again as she jammed her toes and jarred her twisted ankle. "Augh! Fuck! Fenedhis!" Waving her arms about for balance, she slid on wet rocks and fell heavily on her rump. Her staff, still in her hand, followed its natural momentum and clocked her on the forehead with an echoing thwack. Her eyes glazed, there was a resounding silence for a second, and then: "Ar alas da'tiesen lin!" she shouted.
Solas let out a short, sharp bark of laughter, quickly stifled to a little snort. The Herald's neck swivelled like a bird of prey sighting a rabbit.
"What," she hissed, eyes dangerously narrowed, "is so funny?"
"Nothing," he soothed, but she was having nothing of it.
"You laughed," she said. "You never laugh. What was so funny?"
"It was nothing, Herald, I'm sorry."
She raised herself to her feet and limped in his direction, hissing again as her weight landed on her injured ankle. She leant on her staff and looked up at him, brows drawn, rain and blood streaming down her wet face.
"What. Were. You. Laughing at."
"Er," he hedged, eyes flicking to their companions.
Bull grinned at him, flicking water from his forehead with one huge meaty hand. "Don't look at me. You did laugh. We all heard you."
Varric chuckled. "Just get it over with, Solas, so we can all go get dry."
Solas sighed and turned back to the Herald. "It was... your words," he said, reluctantly.
She blinked. "My words? What was wrong with my words?"
"Nothing, nothing," he hastened to say. "Just... do you know what it was you said?"
"In Elvish?" he added when she looked at him blankly.
"No, not that. The other."
" Ar alas da'tiesen lin?"
He smothered a smile before it could begin. "Yes, that. Do you know what it means?"
She flushed a little and cleared her throat evasively. "Er, yes. Well, mostly."
He looked at her, waiting, and her flush deepened. "It's just a swear phrase," she said grumpily. "I learnt it from a hunter from the Sabrae clan."
"And did he not tell you what it meant?" Solas asked gently.
"She, and she said it was a curse about blood and earth... something..." She refused to meet his eyes.
Solas blinked, and wiped his hand over his face, tiredly. Truly the elves had lost so much since the fall of Arlathan.
"Da'len," he said gently, "blood is involved, yes, but what you said was not really a curse."
She shifted her weight on her staff and looked at him crossly. "Well, what did I say then, messere I-am-an-expert-on-everything-thanks-to-the-Fade?"
He bit the inside of his lip, ignoring Bull's low laugh, uncertain of her reaction. "Perhaps now is not the best time to be discussing the vocabulary of an ancient language," he temporised.
"No," she replied, obstinate. "Tell me."
"It's raining," he reasoned, "perhaps when we get to camp and get dry..."
"Solas, I swear to Elgar'nan, if you don't tell me now..."
Varric sighed. "For the love of the ancestors, Chuckles, just tell her. It can't be that bad."
Solas hefted a sigh. "Very well," he said. "Da'len, what you said, it means..." He directed his gaze up to the low, unfeeling clouds hovering above them. "It means... 'I am a dirty blood biscuit.'"
There was dead silence for all of ten seconds and then simultaneously both Bull and Varric started howling with laughter as the Herald screeched at him, "What!?"
"I am a..." Solas began solemnly, and she screeched at him again.
"I heard what you said and that is not what I said!"
"I'm sorry, da'len, but it truly is."
He tried to inject some reason into his tone. "Da'len. It is."
Her voice rose several octaves and decibels. "Is. Not!"
"Please, da'len. It truly is."
"I," she shouted into the air, waving her staff around menacingly, "am not a dirty biscuit!"
Varric had, by this point, lost the battle with his dignity and was leaning against Bull's solid bulk, clutching at his stomach as he wheezed with laughter. Bull had thrown his head back and was guffawing loudly into the sky. At the sight of their unfettered humour, Solas' mouth twitched in sympathy and he coughed to cover his amusement.
Unfortunately, the Herald was looking straight at him and the sight of her stoic and unflappable hahren's amusement, at her expense no less, proved too much for her. She fairly screamed up into the sky, and thumped her staff on the ground, releasing a wave of pent up anger, frustration, and embarrassment as magical energy.
They staggered as it washed over them, forcing them back from her. Their laughter stopped suddenly, and a bolt of lightning leapt from the clouds directly above and hit a nearby tree, shattering it and raining fiery splinters down on them all.
Varric jumped. Bull shouted "Whoa!" and reached towards the Herald, recoiling as electricity sparked from her shoulder to his hand. "Solas," he muttered urgently, "do something!"
Solas was studying the Herald, measuring her strength and reserves. Static flickered over her, making valiant attempts at raising her hair despite the wet, licking out to anything nearby in an remarkable display. She was showing an amazing reservoir of power and despite himself he was impressed. Perhaps he should take a closer hand in directing, moulding this strength...
He shrugged, stepped forward, and with a gesture released a cloying, muffling blanket of negating energy, quieting the wild sparks that played around the Herald's form. Silence settled around them and she sagged, spent magically and emotionally, and slid down her staff to her knees.
He knelt beside her and gently took the staff from her unresisting grip. She was crying, he realised with a surge of shame, her shoulders shaking as she sought to muffle her sobs. He hadn't truly realised how young she actually was until this moment. Moved to sympathy, he put a hand on her shoulder. Falling ashes mixed with the rain to leave black streaks on everything in the immediate vicinity.
"Ir abelas, da'len," he said as gently as possible. "If you like, I can teach you some more Elven words, their usage, correct grammar... maybe a swear word or two?"
She sniffed, head hanging low. "Thank you, hahren. I would like that." Her voice was muffled and subdued.
"Come," he said kindly, "let's get to camp." He held out his hand and she took it, slowly rising and wincing when she reached her feet.
Bull scooped her up immediately, rumbling when she tried to protest, and they set off in the direction of their camp. Solas trailed behind, carrying her staff, while Varric took the rear, muttering to himself.
"Hey, Bull?" he said.
"Yeah?" Bull called back.
"Do you guys have a word for little sweet cakes?"
The Herald groaned. "Varric..."
"No, no, no, hear me out," Varric grinned.
Bull chuckled. "Cookies? No, not in Qunlat, we have no such thing in our lands."
"Cookies!" Varric exclaimed gleefully. "That's it! Herald, from now on, Cookie it is."
"No," she said flatly. "You are not calling me that."
"Whatever you say, Cookie," replied Varric agreeably, and she groaned again.
"Varric..." she said, warningly.
"Yes Cookie?" he smirked at her.
"Anything you say, Cookie."
"I mean it, Varric."
"Of course you do." A beat. "Cookie."
"Augh! The Void take you!"
Varric just grinned and kept walking, while Solas chuckled ever so softly to himself.
They reached camp without any further incident. Bull deposited the Herald inside her tent and left to find firewood so she could change out of her wet and stained robes. Solas busied himself making something for dinner, while Varric wiped Bianca down and cooed over her.
It was only after they'd eaten that the Herald spoke to them again. "Gentlemen," she said, fixing each of them with a steely eye. "We shall never speak of this again. Is that understood?"
Naturally they all replied that it was.
Varric never did stop calling her Cookie, even though it made her snap at him. Then again, it may have just been the difficulties of attempting to learn a horribly complicated all but dead language. Not only did she have to learn new words, but Solas had to figure out what words she already knew and how badly they had been mistranslated. It was probably lucky he did not actually have any hair as he would have been tearing it out in handfuls in short order.
As it was, the Coast resounded with the sound of Solas and the Herald arguing over subjects, prepositions, possessive nouns, and agglutinations, until they were all heartily sick of it - but could all spout at least one Elvish curse phrase that did not involve baked goods, and several that did.
There is no word for "cake" or "biscuit" in the Elvish lexicon we have at present so I borrowed from Welsh for that, purely because of the Welsh accent the game has the Dalish speak in.
Ar alas da'tiesen lin means literally "I dirt small cake (in Welsh) blood".
Fenedhis is a common Elvish swear word.
Da'len means child, little one.
Hahren means Elder, a term of respect.
Ir abelas means I'm very sorry.