A/N: I apologize for the bad news ahead of even delivering it but due to my previous illness and moving into a new house and now my original book is officially on an editing deadline, yadda yadda, anyway, I am falling behind myself here. That means I don't have much of a lead on what I post, and that makes me uncomfortable. So, as I'm not able to write as much as previous, I have to slow down the posting. So, from now on, I will post once every two weeks, on Saturdays or Fridays. I do hope eventually to change that back to weekly, but for now, I just need to get a lead on you guys by a few more chapters! Thank you for your patience!
Daughter of the Creators
By midday Solas had long since tired of playing the role of hostage and he had decided he was going to kill Sahren. Slowly.
And yet, through his mounting irritation and outrage, he could not help but find this situation hilarious in its own way. The Dalish were blaming the attack on the Dread Wolf, or some fool serving the evil god. Whatever the truth of it, Solas didn't know, but it was hard not to chuckle at the ironic twist of circumstance. None of the Dalish expected to capture the Dread Wolf himself and hold him accountable—but they had done exactly that. Trouble was, of all the wrongdoings and crimes Solas was indeed guilty of, this…was not one of them.
Clan Tillahnenn's Keeper, First, and Second were some of the first to come by and Solas learned from overhearing them the particulars of the so-called "attack." No one had been harmed, but the clan's Second, a pretty girl who was barely into her teens, had been knocked out. She appeared shaken, pale and trembling when the Keepers escorted her to where they'd tied Solas to a tall, sturdy oak and laid down mana-sapping wards to ensure he could not simply burn through his bindings and escape.
The girl clung to her Keeper with one hand as she stared at Solas, biting her lip. Solas met her stare impassively, though when she said nothing for a long time he eventually arched one brow at her expectantly. Finally the girl sucked in a breath and turned to her Keeper. "I…I don't know. It was dark. He had a cape. I…I thought I met him earlier in the day. He came to trade."
"You met him earlier in the day?" the Keeper asked. Sahren stood behind them, arms crossed and his expression gloating.
"I….I don't know," she said, shaking her head in consternation. "I can't tell. We traded with a man who wore a cape and had Mythal's vallaslin in the daytime. Then last night I saw the man who attacked me and stole the circlet. They might have been the same? But…I don't know."
"But was it this man?" her Keeper pressed, gesturing at Solas. "Please, Lytha. Try to remember."
The girl looked to Solas again and bit her lip as she closed her eyes. Her brow knit with concentration. Behind her, Sahren, losing patience, sighed and yelled at one of the warriors downhill. "Someone fetch a black cape."
And so began the first humiliation of his tenure as the Dalish demanded that he stand, dragging his wrists along the harsh bark of the tree he'd been tied to, and slung a cape that stank of sweat and filthy, unwashed bodies over him. Sahren sneered as he tugged the hood up over Solas' face, putting him into shadow. The girl's expression warped with fear now as she beheld him.
"It…could have been him," she pronounced.
"Bring the hearth keeper," Sahren ordered as the Keeper ushered Lytha away, downhill.
Solas watched as an older man came up next, grunting as he climbed the slope. He glared at Solas, lips pressed tightly together and surveyed him for a time, then moved closer as hate twisted his features. He leaned nearer to Solas than Lytha had, daring even to step over the line of mana-sapping wards, and then spat into his face. Solas flinched, jerking his head away and biting his tongue to keep from cursing violently. He shook his head, trying to clear the spittle from his eyes and then, straining his neck, tried to wipe his face off using one crooked shoulder. The old man snarled, "Filthy flat-eared thief!"
Sahren's voice was gleeful as he stepped forward. "This is the man you saw? The monster that robbed your clan last night?"
"Aye," the old man said. "Without a doubt. Didn't see the bastard too good but he had the same height and build. Bowled me over, he did. Trampled me and howled like a demon."
"Like a wolf, you said?" Sahren asked.
Solas, having managed to clean the spittle from his face as much as possible without the use of his hands, now glared at the Keeper and the hearth keeper. "I did not attack your clan, nor do I know who did."
"Both witnesses agree it was you," Sahren said, grinning.
"The child said the attacker bore vallaslin," Solas said. "I do not have any such markings."
"Yes," the hearth keeper snarled. "Because you are a worthless piece of shite flat-ear."
Solas clenched his jaw and said nothing, but he willed both men dead with his eyes. You have no idea.
When Sahren and the old man had gone for a time, leaving Solas under the watchful eye of four warriors who stood or sat along the grassy slope or on some of the less craggy rock outcroppings, he plotted escape. They had taken him to their meeting spot, in the rocky slopes of a formation of pale stones that rose above the copse of woods below them. Behind Solas, to the south, he had seen the mixture of tawny and green that marked the Dales open grassland. It had yet to dry out with the fullness of summer, making it a fertile place that would easily sustain this large gathering of elves for several days.
The outcropping and its surrounding slope had only a few tall trees dotting it and the Dalish had tied him to one sturdy specimen with the corresponding wards to sap his mana. Solas had watched them lay down the spell and grudgingly applauded them their technique. It was nothing new to him and he knew that although they warded it to draw his mana down to zero as soon as he tried to cast, he also knew that this particular ward would not be enough to contain him—even in his present comparatively weakened state. In fact, this ward was probably not enough to hold even a mage as strong as Rosa or Felassan. He had watched Rosa break out from just such a ward circle in Hasmal during her Harrowing.
Escape, therefore, would not be a problem. But he needed to give Rosa time to escape with the others. So, he waited.
At midmorning Sahren returned, his expression warped with that depraved, malevolent smile. His eyes danced, delighting in holding power over his captive. It reminded Solas far too much of the look that had come over some of the freed slaves who served him and, in his name, committed atrocities upon others. They were twisted by untold years of dissatisfaction and frustration at their own places in the world. Sahren, like the freed slaves who so readily took up arms for their "god," was eager to exact punishment from anyone he could see as feasibly "beneath" him, or who he could blame for his suffering. For the ex-slaves it was the villages who'd served the "gods" who'd enslaved them, even if those men and women had no choice in it themselves. For Sahren it was a "flat-ear" who had submitted to shemlen rule. It was men and women like Sahren who'd slaughtered Solas' parents, unknowingly, as enemies of the Dread Wolf.
Sahren circled outside the wards, hands behind his back and shoulders hunched with a tension that Solas read to be excitement.
"So," he began. "Flat-ear. Based upon your display with the so-called Inquisitor, I believe I can safely surmise you are the current wretch she has chosen to warm her at night." Solas glowered at the other man but said nothing. He knew his role in this questionably termed "conversation" was to simply listen. "It would appear her tastes are increasingly outside of the People. First it is flat-ears such as yourself. Next it will be children of the stone or shemlen." He guffawed, leering at Solas over one shoulder. "Perhaps even a Qunari barbarian."
"Is there a point to this discussion?" Solas asked, not bothering to hide his annoyance. "If you hope to turn me against the Inquisitor you are a greater fool than I initially believed."
"Perhaps you do not realize," Sahren snapped, wheeling about to stomp his way toward the edge of the wards. "But that little bitch has no strong bonds to any but that sniveling bastard boy of Enasa's. She will leave you to die in his place without a second thought. Do you know how I know this?"
"I find it doubtful that you know anything about the Inquisitor," Solas retorted, curling one lip with revulsion. "Considering you have spent almost no time in her company and used what little time you did have with her to insult her."
"Shut up," Sahren growled, baring his teeth in a snarl. "I know enough. I know that when she was a girl and we banished her heretic father she leapt to the bastard boy's defense over her own mother's wishes. I know she has no respect for authority. And because she has already chosen her bastard brother over her own people and her own mother, she will certainly do the same with you. But I cannot blame you for bedding her." His snarl changed to a leer. "After all, as repulsive as her behavior is, she is a beauty." He paused a moment, eyes flicking over Solas, reading him. Then, still leering, he ran his tongue along his upper lip. Slowly. "Perhaps I will offer her a deal. I've always enjoyed seeing defiant creatures brought low, put in their place, after all."
"Touch her," Solas growled. "And I will end you."
The Keeper scoffed and laughed derisively, gesturing at Solas' current position in the ward circle, tied to the tree. "And how exactly would you hope to do that, boy?"
Boy? Solas snorted and then laughed before he could stifle the reaction. The Keeper bristled and then, pulling out his stave, used it as a club to knock Solas across the temples. Stars shot across Solas' vision and cut his laughter short as pain made him snap taut and hiss through his teeth.
"You do not laugh at your betters, flat-ear," Sahren bellowed at him. He struck again and Solas braced for it, even as his mana boiled over, ready to strike with instinctual self-defense. He held the instinct in check, embracing the pain as it echoed through his skull. This time he felt liquid heat dribble down one side of his face.
Blinking away the blood, Solas glared at the Keeper. For a moment he simply imagined all the delicious and creative ways he could kill this man. Before he could stop himself Solas was speaking some of it aloud in a low, deep voice that was as cold and merciless as a blizzard. "You are a little child, playing at authority. Strike me again and I will crush your bones with a Veilstrike. I will use lightning to burn out your eyes and cook your tongue while you yet live. I will burn away the flesh of your face and the tips of your ears. And if you lay a hand on Rosa I will ensure you remain alive to die slowly from your injuries."
The Keeper seemed stunned at the quiet, dangerous speech. He had blanched and his eyes were wide. But a second later he went red faced and laughed. "You remind me of that ass Felassan. He was an eloquent blowhard too. And now he's dead." He leaned closer, whispering. "And you will soon join him, flat-ear. The Keepers assembled here have already voted and found you guilty. But I am certain you did not work alone. Take comfort in knowing that that wretch brother of the Inquisitor's will die as well."
Sahren swung his stave back and Solas steeled himself for the blow. He heard the resounding crack of it echoing off his skull and then the pain brought a rush of blackness. He went limp as his mind flew to the Fade.
"Don't do this," Halesta begged from just behind Rosa. "Please. I beg you, ashalan. The People need you and you will lose them if you do this."
"You told me the People wouldn't listen," Rosa growled, staring ahead through the trees and underbrush to where the slope rose sharply and little pale rocks protruded from the grass. This was where the Keepers gathered. Scouts and warriors lingered about the tree line, vigilant. Rosa grinned darkly, knowing she would soon give them a very memorable spectacle.
"I must agree with Keeper Halesta," Deshanna said, her voice wary. "I cannot foresee this ending well."
Rosa flexed her left hand, feeling the dormant magic of the Anchor there. She clenched her fist and squared her shoulders, feeling the cold steel of her resolve. "With respect, hahren," she said to Deshanna. "I will not run away. Even if Solas is perfectly capable of escaping on his own, I refuse to let this go on. Sahren has made a mockery of this gathering more than the thief ever could and it's exactly the men and women like him that I need to put in their place."
"But you cannot tell them that nonsense about being divine," Deshanna insisted, her tone plaintive and desperate. "Please, da'len. They will banish you."
"Will you?" Rosa asked, glancing at the woman over her shoulder speculatively. "Will you think I'm a raving heretic too and denounce me?"
Deshanna met her gaze for a long time, her expression somber and pained. Her brown eyes softened then and her shoulders sank. "No. You and your Inquisition saved clan Lavellan from annihilation. Of that I have no doubt. The so-called bandits attacking us would have slaughtered us if not for your Commander's aid."
Rosa nodded to the other woman, smiling warmly. "Thank you, hahren." Turning to her mother, she asked, "What about you?"
Halesta's pained frown and dark blue eyes were steady on her for a long time before she sighed. "I will never vote to banish you from the People. Not for any foolish words." She paused a moment and Rosa had to bite her lip to keep from adding that Halesta had already banished her once, but it was from her clan and it was somewhat justified. "I will vouch for you, whatever you say. Even in this—but I fear they will react with violence and we will all pay for your stupidity with our lives."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, mamae." She rolled her eyes and then nodded to herself with satisfaction. That was as good of an answer as she could expect from these two leaders. "Tell me again about the thing that was stolen from clan Tillahnenn."
"It is a circlet," Deshanna said. "That is all I know."
"I know more," Halesta said in a begrudging tone.
"Well?" Rosa asked, arching one brow expectantly.
Her mother sighed and shook her head. "This is madness." When Rosa was silent, continuing stubbornly to wait, Halesta finally broke. "Fine. The circlet was uncovered by another clan in the Brecilian that lived there in the time of my grandfather." She dipped her head to Rosa. "Your great-grandfather kept very thorough notes that you would have been allowed to read had you still been my First. The other clan showed this circlet to him during an Arlathvhen at the time, perhaps an age ago. It is a simple circlet, made of metal that appears to be both silver and bronze. It responds to mages but gives off a disturbing aura when touched. The other clan Keeper described it as belonging to Falon'Din because the temple ruins had murals and writing devoted to him. The circlet was deep within, clearly a prized possession."
"And what does it do?" Rosa asked, frowning with interest as well as confusion. Falon'Din? A shiver ran through her, though she tried to stifle it. Unbidden, she recalled Tal at the Solasan temple laying his hands over the sealed doors and seeing them open for him effortlessly. The key was in his very blood. Who else would have taken the damned thing if not Tal? But even thinking that made her feel queasy.
Halesta shrugged. "No one could uncover that. The circlet had immense power of its own. My grandfather recorded that he could feel its power inside, but it was impossible to stir it."
"Well, good to know." Rosa faced forward again and sucked in a long breath to steady herself. "I think Tal will have had enough time to swing around the back. It's time to get moving."
Rising from her spot hunkered behind some brush, Rosa strode out into the open, her spine straight and her shoulders squared with as much pride and authority as she could muster. The hunters and warriors standing guard stiffened with attention as they registered her approach. She was armed and armored, as were the two Keepers behind her. They walked through the dappled lights and darks of the forest canopy, fearless as they neared the guards.
Finally one of them called out, "Stop." Rosa obeyed, though she thrust out her chin in defiance and glowered. This man was a warrior, slim but muscular, and he sported a spear on his back and a sword at his waist. "Who are you three?" he asked, though by the way his eyes narrowed Rosa thought he already knew.
"I am Inquisitor Rosa Naseral, First to clan Lavellan," she replied sharply and then waited as both her mother and Deshanna introduced themselves with formal titles.
"And why have you come?" the man asked, though again she saw the knowing gleam in his gaze—especially as he took in the fact that she had not brought anyone else with her.
"To confess my guilt for the attack and theft from clan Tillahnenn last night."
Now the man's jaw fell open. The others within earshot also gawked. A few of them even took steps backward, as though Rosa had threatened them. Long seconds passed and Rosa could only hear the drumming of her heart in her ears. Sweat dribbled down her back. A prickling itch tickled in her left palm where the Anchor waited.
Finally the man recomposed himself and nodded. "Follow me."
Doing as she'd been bidden, Rosa tailed the man through the last scraggly saplings that marked the tree line and into the clearing where the Keepers and elders waited. As with the clearing below them the Keepers had segregated into clans. Some wore cloaks or banners with their clan's sigil on display. Others simply sat among the boulders, long grass, and scree. They had been chatting together or playing dice games with pieces made of bones, but now all eyes were on Rosa. A few younger Keepers were perched atop boulders, gawking down at her. Others leered or glared with arms crossed over their chests. One old woman jeered down at her: "Harellan!" And then another, much younger man catcalled: "Nice ass, Naseral!"
This isn't going to work, a little panicked voice shouted inside her. She stamped on it, hard. The People were as impressionable as the humans. The tales of her had reached even here, though they were dim. Still, it left her with a foundation to influence. If she could just convince enough of them that she was Dalish more than anything and had never abandoned them they would turn on Sahren and rally around her.
They rounded a rise, circling about a rock formation and then moved to the true hill that led up to the crag of boulders piled one atop the other. There, bound to a tree and encircled by mana-sapping wards, Rosa spotted Solas. He was awake and standing, arms trussed behind the tree and still shirtless, although someone had sloppily tucked a cape over him. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw the red-brown of blood that had dried on one side of his face. She swallowed the sudden bulge of rage building in her throat and clenched her fists tightly. Damn you, Sahren.
A half dozen Keepers stood about the slope beneath where Solas had been tied. Word must have been sent ahead as they were tense and at the ready, staring down at Rosa as she drew nearer with Halesta and Deshanna at her back. Like her these Keepers were armed, as were most of the others around her. More and more of them swarmed to gather around the boulders and grasses, clamoring like hungry children hurrying in to a meal. Or like vultures who'd smelled blood.
"Stop right there," Sahren shouted from upslope, long before Rosa was within striking distance. The guard guiding Rosa and her entourage halted in place. The rocks and grasses around them rustled as the other Keepers, Firsts, Seconds, and a smattering of clan elders, warriors, and hunters all edged closer to see the confrontation. Rosa glanced up the ridge and saw that Solas gazed down at her with a pained expression. Knowing him as she did, Rosa was certain it wasn't the injury to his head that prompted that look.
"She says she's come to confess to the attack," the guard said, lifting his voice loudly for all assembled to hear. A collective gasp echoed off the rocks, the boulders, and the sky. Tied to his tree above them, Solas grimaced and shook his head, as if imploring her to flee. Rosa pointedly looked away from him, focusing on Sahren and then the Keeper at his side—Tillahnenn's, she guessed. He was middle-aged, about the same age as Sahren. She hoped they weren't close friends.
"Is that so?" Sahren asked, arching his brow.
"You're lying," Tillahnenn's Keeper interjected, frowning. "The attacker was a man." He slashed a hand dismissively at her. "Why are you throwing yourself on your own stave for this flat-ear?"
Rosa bared her teeth at him, savagely. "Do we say that the bow fells the stag? Or is it the hunter? Does a knife have a will of its own? Or is it the hand that wields it to blame when it is used to take a life?"
"You're saying you orchestrated the theft and the attack on my clan?" Tillahnenn's Keeper demanded.
"I am," Rosa said, puffing out her chest to sell the lie. "Solas is completely innocent."
"Nugshit," Sahren raged. "You think that claiming responsibility will spare the flat-ear or you? Or that slimy brother of yours?" He let out a hard, humorless laugh. "Fine. If you wish to be outcast for this crime, so be it."
"No," Rosa rejoined, waving one hand at him and the other Keepers above her. "I've come to take responsibility and free the innocent man you've wrongly taken hostage to force my hand. Then I am going to walk out of this gathering and return to my Inquisition to save the world from the Darkspawn Magister Corypheus." She paused a moment and then added, "And I will be using the circlet I took from clan Tillahnenn to do it."
"Nugshit," another Keeper shouted. Others gasped and murmured, unsure what to make of this latest revelation.
"You have no right to steal from my clan," Tillahnenn's Keeper said with a snarl. "If you had asked for the relic I would have given it freely. You have as much right to it as any."
"Would you?" Rosa retorted and then scoffed, shaking her head. "Since I have returned to the People I have faced nothing but doubt and condescension." Spreading her arms wide, as though to embrace them all, she shouted, "This is the thanks I get for fighting to save Thedas."
"You fight for the shemlen," a woman's voice challenged her from the right.
Turning in that direction, Rosa glared. "I am fighting for everyone. Do you not realize that the wildernesses we call home are part of Thedas? Have you heard nothing of the outside world?"
"I have heard you serve the shemlen's prophetess," another voice called out—an old man, one of the elders. "The witch they burned at the stake."
"So the shems believe," Rosa called, pivoting to face that man now. "Just as they believe they have ground us into dust. Just as they believe our Creators are heathen lies. You know the shems are wrong about those things. Why is what they believe about me any different?" She paused a moment, reading their faces and seeing interest. Consideration. So she plunged onward. "I have never once accepted their claims. I have never believed I was touched by their prophetess or their Maker. No—because I know the truth."
Out of the corner of her eye, up on the hill and still bound to his tree, Rosa saw Solas squirming, shaking his head. Sorry, vhenan, she thought at him and deliberately avoided looking at him again.
"I was never touched by the shemlen's goddess or their Maker. I was chosen by our Creators. It is their power that has allowed me to close rifts and then the breach itself. It is their power that allowed me to defeat an army of demons at Adamant Fortress and to survive the destruction at the Conclave and the avalanche that destroyed Haven. It is their power that allows me to walk in the Fade and survive." She ignored the shocked stares and gasps in favor of glaring out her challenge to those who were red faced with outrage at her claims. These were the people who were her threat. One of them, of course, was Sahren. But, encouragingly, most of the Keepers and others assembled here were simply stunned.
Drawing in a breath that amazingly didn't quaver with her galloping heart, Rosa said, "The Creators' power runs in my blood. I came to you, to this gathering, to reveal this to you, and to tell you it is time that we fight once more."
"Lies," someone shouted. Another hissed and cursed her. Whispers made a constant rustle through the crowd. "Blasphemy," someone else added.
Sahren was snarling and now he too shouted at her. "Heretic! You are as insane as your sire, that wretch Felassan." This drew more murmuring from the Keepers and additional frowns and angry looks. It also drew trepidation or confusion. There were plenty of Keepers here who hadn't realized Rosa was his daughter.
Grinning hard at Sahren, Rosa faced him. "I will prove it, Keeper. Let me show you the power of our Creators that only I can wield." Squaring her stance, Rosa lifted her left hand and shouted at Sahren and the other Keepers. "Clear the ground where you stand!"
They stumbled and shambled out of her way, gawking or glaring defiance—but at least they obeyed. Sahren was slowest, snarling with hate as he backed away to the sidelines and clearing a path in front of Rosa all the way to Solas' tree. She did not look at Solas, certain she would not like what she saw and instead reached inward to coax the Anchor to life. It flared with a shocking heat and she grimaced, struggling to hide it as the pain tore through her palm.
Taking aim at the hillside, Rosa felt the Veil connect with her, just as the Fade did in dreams and when she had walked in it. Clenching her fist, she cried out as she yanked down hard. A slick boom rang out and a white-green light flashed as a small rift opened. It hissed and roared, groaning in the way of the Fade, and sucked at loose grass, dirt, and pebbles nearby it. White lightning flickered and filled the air with the scent of ozone.
The entire group around her gasped and cried out with alarm and shock. They backed away and drew their weapons, ready to fight, but Rosa had opened a rift too small to allow demons through. She sensed Halesta and Deshanna behind her, struggling to hold their ground in the face of this strangeness. Even Sahren had lost all sign of hate in his face and simply gawped with a mixture of horror and awe.
With the Anchor still flickering green-white in her hand, Rosa gritted her teeth through the pain and lifted her voice again. "I have been chosen by our Creators to fight an enemy who believes himself a god and would destroy our world. And I needed a relic from our people. I could not risk that you would deny me that right. The circlet is mine, but I will return it when my task is finished."
Voices rang out, rife with shock and disbelief and awe.
"What manner of magic is this?" "How is this possible?" "This is blasphemy!" "What if she speaks the truth?" "She is Shartan of the Dragon Age." "She has lost her mind."
Shouting over them, Rosa raised her left palm again to the rift. "I control the Veil," she said and, with but a thought, sent a white rivulet out to the rift, connecting to it. With another jerk of her closed fist when she felt the rift was ready, Rosa slammed it shut. Green fade ether dribbled out, splattering the rocks and grass and then vanishing into mist.
In the heavy, astounded silence that followed Rosa shouted, "I am a Dreamer, a daughter of Arlathan. I am one of you and I will see the People rise again!" A few hoots and cheers rang out in response and Rosa felt her stomach flip-flop with the realization that most of the angry faces had become confused or just stunned. She hurried to strike home her point by whipping round to stab a finger at Solas, still pinned to his tree. "I call on you to release him. Now."
The Keepers seemed to flinch, fidgeting and looking to one another, hesitating at her command. A First like Rosa would not normally have such authority.
"Release him," Rosa yelled, letting anger darken her voice. "You have seen the power I wield. D not force me to use it, for I can and will bring Elgar'nan's wrath with me."
This worked. A dozen Keepers and Firsts sprang for Solas' tree. One of them dispelled the wards with a wave of her hand. Another moved behind Solas and blasted the bonds holding him in place with well-aimed fire. Rosa clenched and unclenched her hands as she watched the Elvhen man stagger away, clearly unsteady after the blows he'd taken to the head. He paused a moment and lifted one hand up to his temple. White magic glowed as he healed himself.
The Keepers and Firsts who'd freed him lingered in place nearby, as though they anticipated having to cart him over to Rosa to satisfy her. But Solas managed the walk on his own a moment later, moving with a slow, stately grace that did nothing to disguise the rigidness of his posture to Rosa's eye. He wasn't happy. She'd saved him and he wasn't happy about it. She resisted the desire to sigh with frustration. The show must go on.
"Thank you," she called out as Solas rejoined her, moving to stand beside her mother. She opened her mouth to apologize for the attack on Tillahnenn, for its supposed necessity to her fight against Corypheus, but pushed that impulse aside. Would a goddess apologize? No. Instead she shouted, "Ready your clans. Pray to our Creators. Prepare yourselves for the fight to come." She let the Anchor crackle and fade before saying, "I will return when it is time and rally you."
Spinning on her heel, she motioned at Halesta, Deshanna, and Solas to start heading down the slope. They did it without word, but Solas shot her a scathing look. He was red faced and muscles in his jaw flared. His blue eyes appeared pained.
Well, she thought. Damn.
Behind her the Keepers clamored and chattered. Some of them called after her, but none were brave enough to chase after her or try to stop her. Rosa buried the desire to glance back to find Sahren. She was determined to be above him, aloof and untouchable. A woman touched by the divine would be that confident. She would not feel fear gripping her heart in icy fingers, or sweat pouring down her back and pooling under her breasts. Rosa willed herself to be that woman, serene, confident, and untouched by worry as she kept walking.
They met up with Tal and Mahanon in the hills outside the Arlathvhen. It seemed that Rosa had sent Sera off to the Inquisition camp with Keeper Nola of Manaria while Tal and Mahanon went around the back of the Keepers' meeting place in case her first plan failed and she needed rescuing alongside Solas. Of course, Solas couldn't help but frown to himself knowing that he hadn't needed rescuing to begin with. If Rosa had simply trusted him to save himself…
Solas watched impassively as Rosa parted ways with the other Dalish. She was pleasant with both Keepers and Mahanon, smiling and thanking them for their help. But before the two Keepers left her, Lavellan's Keeper laughingly asked when she should tell the other clans to rally for the "Daughter of the Creators" to return.
Solas tried not to seethe, his blood running scaldingly hot as Rosa chuckled and waved off Deshanna's comment with: "Just tell them to be ready for when I need them."
This was just recruiting for her, he thought, trying to rationalize it and ease his own boiling rage. She had done it to help him and wouldn't have done it otherwise—except…he had a hazy memory from the previous night of her saying something like this. Had she threatened to reveal him? Solas glared at Rosa's back as they set off again, alternatively confused and then outraged. He had believed her above such temptations. She had allowed others to believe her divine only very rarely to achieve her means with the shemlen. Now, with her own people, she had chosen the most despicable, abusive…
"Fenedhis," he snarled to himself a touch too loudly as Tal, trotting nearby to keep up with the swift pace Rosa set for the group, apparently overheard.
"Problem, hahren?" the youth asked, arching one brow.
Now Solas turned his glare on Tal. "Yes," he said, his tone scathing. "Tell me, why did you steal an artifact from clan Tillahnenn?"
Tal's doe-like eyes widened. "Whoa," he said, lifting his hands in a defensive gesture, as if he feared Solas would spring for his neck and try to tear it out like a rabid dog. Or a wolf. "Chill, Solas. That's a huge accusation. And it's wrong. Seriously."
"The thief wore a cape and had Mythal's vallaslin," Solas said, regurgitating what he had learned during his time as a captive with the Keepers. "He used a knockout bomb on a child and stole an artifact."
"And you think that means it had to be me?" Tal asked, scoffing. "Look, Solas, do you know how many Dalish choose Mythal's vallaslin? Hundreds. Thousands. Her vallaslin has a million variations, more than the others. The Mother is very popular. So are capes. And knockout bombs." He shrugged and grinned. "Instead of accusing me of something like that, why don't you ask what I was really doing last night?"
"There is no need," Solas snarled. "I already know you were the thief. Whatever else you did last night is inconsequential."
"You don't know shit," Tal rejoined with his own snarl. Nostrils flaring and eyes narrowed, he stopped and stood his ground, stiff-legged and seemingly ready to fight.
"I know Rosa would not have condoned your actions," Solas growled, edging closer to the younger elf with his slight height-advantage. "Yet I know that she must believe you are the thief. That is why she has accepted responsibility, though the crime is not hers." A good leader would do that and Rosa had proven herself to be that many times over.
Tal rolled his eyes. "You're so arrogant, hahren. You think you know everything. Well, did it ever occur to you that maybe that asshole Sahren did all this?" He spread his arms wide to indicate the grasslands around them, as if he would blame Sahren for the Chantry retaking the Dales as well.
"No," Solas snarled—but his mind was already spinning the possibility as intriguing. Could Sahren really have been clever enough to implicate Tal like this? The man seemed too dull for such a plot, but Solas knew appearances could be very deceiving.
"Well," Tal said, scowling with real hurt in his eyes. "It should. Because it's just the sort of shit that monster pulled all through my childhood." He tugged his sleeves back, revealing faded scars that ran over his wrists in straight lines that interconnected in ugly Xs. "He loved to hit me for imagined crimes and to make sure he left a mark. The crime has just gotten bigger over time." Tal pulled his sleeves down again, hiding the scars.
Solas said nothing, merely glowered with the remaining certainty that Tal was lying. Sahren was not behind this, no matter how badly Tal wanted everyone to believe that. The man was not clever enough for it while Tal was…
Tal was Felassan's son, grandson of Dirthamen and great-grandson of Falon'Din, Mythal, and Elgar'nan. Having known the Evanuris as he had, Solas was certain he had chronically underestimated Tal's cunning. A chill ran through him, tempering his rage as again he saw Tal with eyes trained by Arlathan's cutthroat court and saw the uncanny likeness Tal had to many of Falon'Din's courtiers. How often now had he suspected the youth was duplicitous? How often had he wondered if a seemingly genuine emotion was actually feigned with the talent of a master actor?
Felassan might have abhorred the Evanuris, but he had clearly learned from them. He had hidden his true heritage from Solas for centuries, after all. Was it any wonder his children could be accomplished liars as well?
"What I actually spent my night doing," Tal went on, tension leaving his body despite the fact Solas still faced off with him, emanating silent fury. "Was drinking with Sera and then reconnecting with my clan."
Rosa, from atop a hill some meters ahead, had finally noticed they were lagging behind. "Solas," she yelled. "Tal. Hurry up. I want to be walking for Skyhold before the sun sets."
Tal spun back toward his sister and started walking forward. Solas sighed, still shaking with unspent rage, and marched after the siblings.
When they reached the Inquisition camp Rosa was surprised to see Keeper Nola had apparently left the Arlathvhen with her entire retinue of warriors and hunters when they escorted the very much hung-over Sera to safety hours previously. Now the camp was crowded with Dalish elves, but they had come prepared with foodstuffs and a little cider to share. As a result Rosa returned to find Blackwall, Iron Bull, and the clan's war chief sitting about the fire trading fighting stories while Cassandra was listening to Keeper Nola talk about something with a skeptical look on her face. Other hunters were preparing a meal and still a few more were standing watch.
"Welcome back, Boss!" Iron Bull shouted to her, lifting a mug that was too small for him as Rosa jogged into the camp.
"Thank you, Bull," she said, smiling. She spotted Sera curled near the fire and groaning with a chamber pot beside her head for retching into and smirked to herself, remembering the way Mahanon and Halesta had said they'd found the archer that morning. Apparently, while drunk off her ass, Sera had wound up having sex with one of the Dalish hunters—a rogue that had escorted them into the Arlathvhen astride her halla.
"Inquisitor," Cassandra called to her, breaking away with obvious relief from whatever conversation she'd been engaged in with Nola. "I must speak with you."
"Well," Rosa said with a shrug. "You got me. What is it?"
Cassandra twisted at the neck to look back toward the tents where Nola still stood—but now the Keeper was grinning as Tal rushed to embrace her in a bear hug. The Seeker made a face that Rosa couldn't quite puzzle out as she took in the scene. Then, as Tal started kissing Nola and the elven woman returned it, the Seeker made her signature disgusted noise and faced Rosa again, her nose wrinkled with distaste. "It is…regarding these…elves," she finally said, fidgeting.
"What about them?" Rosa asked, shrugging again, trying to hide her tension as she feared Cassandra was about to protest them or show herself to be a bigot in a way Rosa hadn't expected.
"They brought Sera back to us but..." Cassandra broke off, huffing. "Now I am informed they intend to travel with us."
Now Rosa's mouth fell open. "To Skyhold?"
"No," Cassandra said with a shake of her head. "At least, I don't believe so. Their leader—" she halfway gestured behind her to where Tal and Nola were still entwined and kissing, but now with Iron Bull whistling at them mischievously and Blackwall laughing. "—has told me they will accompany us through the Frostbacks on their way to the Free Marches."
Rosa grunted with surprise and then nodded her understanding. "I think that's a marvelous idea. Clan Manaria's presence will ensure any other Dalish we encounter won't feel we're a threat. And they're excellent hunters and fighters so if we do run into trouble we'll be safer." She smirked at the Seeker as she shook her head with confusion as she saw the other woman was still fidgeting and, oddly, had begun blushing furiously. "I don't understand why you've got a problem with this."
"I do not," Cassandra replied hurriedly. "I approve. But…" She frowned, still red-faced with embarrassment, and spoke in a quieter voice now. "It is none of my business, I suppose, but their leader says she is betrothed to Tal."
Leaning slightly to one side, Rosa spotted her brother standing with Nola. His hand was holding hers and there was a broad grin over his lips that matched Nola's shier, innocent expression. They had every appearance of a couple in love and the Seeker's words rang with truth that echoed inside Rosa like a gong. Nola had never struck her as a liar or a woman of fanciful chatter. She was as pragmatic as Halesta and Deshanna. She would not say such a thing—especially to an outsider like Cassandra—if it wasn't true.
"You did not know?" Cassandra asked, her tone surprised.
"No," Rosa admitted, frowning. "Tal doesn't always tell me everything. He…" She swallowed at the sudden tightness in her throat. "He had some kind of trouble with his clan. I thought they had ostracized him. Clearly that has changed, if it was ever true in the first place."
"But what of Dorian?" Cassandra blurted and then seemed to grimace at her own words. "Forgive me. This is none of my business. And none of yours, I suppose. I just thought…"
"Yeah," Rosa said, nodding. "I think this is one of those things that isn't our business. We'll make sure Dorian knows but Tal always said they were just friends."
Cassandra scoffed and started to say something only to cut herself off. She was blushing furiously all over again. "Forgive me, Inquisitor," she said then and stiffened into the formal Seeker again. "I should not have brought this up."
Rosa waved away the other woman's apology. "No worries—but if that's all I'd like to break down camp and start marching for Skyhold."
"This late in the day?" Cassandra asked, arching one sculpted brow. "We won't make it very far before we must stop and make camp again."
"I know," Rosa said. "But let's just say I didn't leave the gathering traditionally. I might have made some claims that some of my people might have found offensive enough to hunt us down." She chuckled tightly at Cassandra's look of horror. "Nothing to worry about," she reassured, still laughing as she strolled past the Seeker to begin breaking her tent down. "But we should get a move on."
As she hurriedly packed her tent and the others moved to do the same, Rosa caught Solas glaring at her out of her peripheral vision. When she twisted to stare at him fully, however, the Elvhen man had already refocused on his own tent. Rosa's stomach clenched at the residual stormy anger on his face. What was his problem?
"You know Tal was the thief," Solas snarled. It wasn't a question.
"I strongly suspect," Rosa admitted, biting out the words. "And before you ask, no. I don't know why. I intend to find out for sure before I—"
"Do you know what you reminded me of today?" Solas asked suddenly, interrupting her. His voice shook with the quiet rage she had seen brewing in him all day.
Rosa sighed. "What? Was it a woman worried sick about her lover and trying to save her brother from his own stupidity? Because that's what it should have looked like."
Endnote: Naughty, naughty Tal. But he has his reasons. I felt ilke I was taking such a risk with this route, but I couldn't resist having Rosa disappoint Solas. Her intentions were pure, but he's not going to sit quietly and let her get away with it without a tongue lashing. Oh, speaking of tongue-lashings, LOL, next chapter is NSFW! Make up sex!
Cookie, thank you for reviewing! Yes, as much as Solas sees in Tal off and on the makings of one of Falon'Din's spies, Tal was never trained for that. He definitely makes errors. He's much better acting in front of Solas here but to Rosa his game's a little off. Siblings, man.
Frobutton, thank you for reviewing as well! Yes, I adore Tal too and it warms my cold little writer's heart to hear you love him too! I'm also thrilled you enjoyed him reuniting with Nola. I was just sitting here thinking about how, in some AU Tal could be Inky if Rosa never lost her Little Arrow. I was imagining how comical it'd be because he'd be constantly trying to weasel out of authority. Cass would be like, "Be our Inquisitor" and he'd be like, "Gee, love to, but I'm like so late for, uh...my father's funeral? Yeah! Yeah, that. And I need to go see my Mom again. So, I'm really sorry but I have to pass...thanks though..."
So, expect my next update a little less than two weeks from now! There's some faffing about to do before the Winter Palace, but after my plans for that...well, shit will hit the fan, as they say.