"It is not a painting, but a fresco, pure pigment on plaster." Solas knew it was petty, but with Fen'lath gone from Skyhold with Dorian on a personal matter, he had little patience for his contemplations and studies being disturbed. However, Warden Blackwall wasn't normally the sort to come up into the keep proper, and the surprised look on his face made Solas check himself. "Forgive me, Blackwall, my shortness was unwarranted. Is there something I can help with? You rarely come up to the keep."
"Er-right. Well, it's quieter in the stables with the horses and whatnot gone with Lady Fen'lath and Dorian, Bull and his lot are too loud for my taste and that one-eyed hulk always looks at me like he's trying to solve a puzzle. Sera's chasing one of the laundry girls, I don't feel comfortable socializing with most of the rest, 'specially the poncy clingers in the Great Hall, so… I was wondering if you wouldn't mind playing a few hands of cards to pass the evening?"
The Grey Warden crossed his arms over his gambeson and tugged at one of the forks of his beard, looking rather uncomfortable now that the offer had been laid out.
Solas blinked. "You want to play cards. With me."
Blackwall shrugged. "Heard you tell Varric you don't gamble much anymore. Don't have to jaw my ear off like you would with him, and I prefer Diamondback to Wicked Grace. It's more relaxed and better with only two people. More strategy."
Oh, really? He stroked his chin in consideration. "I do not know the game, but if you would teach me, I would be willing to try."
Blackwall's beard split in a wide grin. "Of course! I'll fetch a deck while you clear the table, and we'll get started."
Blackwall leaned back in his chair, relaxed in the warmth of the rotunda. A serving maid had brought them ale and a platter of tasty something-or-others while he was teaching Solas the rules, and he had just handily beaten the elf in their first real go at the game.
Coiling the leather belt Solas had lost in his hand, he slapped it in the middle of the table. "Double or nothing, what do you say?"
Solas smiled, something sharper than Blackwall was used to cutting the edge of his grin. He made a 'bring it' gesture with his hand. "Agreed. Deal the cards."
"So eager to lose again? You're good, Solas, but even you can't master a card game like Diamondback that quickly." The trash talk slid out with good humor, neither of them had been serious during the first match either.
"No, I can not. But as they say, practice makes familiar. Deal the cards, if you will."
Blackwall chuckled, flicking the cards with a skill he thought left behind in his youth. Solas watched the waxed paperboard fly through the air, keen eyes taking in Maker-knew-what details, then carefully picked them up and arranged them in his hand just so. Taking up his own hand, he looked at his cards and kept his face carefully neutral. His hand wasn't the best, but a bluff or two, or a good draw would do wonders for it.
"Well, Solas, what do you say? I'll make it easy and let you draw first blood this time."
Blackwall didn't know he had three tells. When a drawn card improved his hand, the right side of his mustache and beard would twitch, just once, as he settled the card into place. Someone whose life had not depended on things like catching the flicker of an eyelid from across a garden in Arlathan would have missed it in the bigger motion, but Solas did not. Likewise, the tense of his lips when the draw was bad. If he was going to bluff, his eyes would flick to the leftmost card, then center, then leftmost again as he named his bet.
The game itself was similar to one he had watched soldiers playing in the Fade, and with only one deck of cards in play, counting them was simple. He scanned the cards already in play, and Solas checked his hand, then set down his cards, "Call."
"Makers's swinging balls!" Blackwall slapped down his losing hand, and muttered as he wrestled out of his shirt. It joined his belt, gambeson, and boots in the 'loot' pile on Solas's side of the table. The human man huffed out a frustrated breath, then gathered up the cards and began dealing again. "Lucky hand. I'll get you this time."
Solas raised his eyebrow just enough to taunt Blackwall, "Lucky hand five times in a row?"
"Exactly. Your luck's just about to run out." He took a deep quaff from his tankard, then thunked it down, leaving a rime of ale froth on his mustache. "Now, are you surrendering, or are you up for the challenge?"
Laughing, he felt one of the knots that had lived between his shoulders since the Conclave had exploded loosen. Fen'lath had rid him of a few, but this, the camaraderie between two men who were fighting in a war but taking respite where they could, was a different kind of relaxation. He lifted his chin and smirked. "Challenge accepted."
The cards flew again and shushed across the wooden desk.
He was glad the Great Hall had cleared out before their game had finished. As it was, a few of the scullery maids had been giggling behind their hands as he made a mad dash for the stables in his armored smalls, the ones the Chevaliers called a 'bucket for your bits'. Solas had at least been merciful enough to leave him those. Maker's balls, he'd just taught the man Diamondback, how in the world had he managed to clean him out in one night?
The elf was like a statue! Blackwall had watched, sweated, and mentally sworn as his face had remained placid and still through every bet, every draw, every discard, and every call. Still, it had been a good night, and when he hadn't been cursing Solas's blighted Diamondback face, the stories and recommendations had been good. As he pulled another shirt over his head and laced on a new pair of breeches, he chuckled over the dry delivery of advice on fighting demons.
"Do you have any advice for fighting demons, Solas?" He discarded a card and drew a new one. Aha, improvement!
"Survive the first thirty heartbeats, and you'll have already won." He held, waving off the chance to discard.
Blackwall gave him a flat look over his hand. "So I should try not to die? Helpful."
"I mean that demons are rarely intelligent enough to change their tactics. If you focus on defending yourself, you will see the full range of their abilities within the first thirty heartbeats. By then, you should be able to find a weakness and exploit it." He spoke as he scanned over the cards laid out in the diamond, then laid down a card to fill in an empty spot and drew.
"Ahh, that is helpful! I will try to remember that." He laid down two cards to fill in the last empty spots in the diamond, then gestured to call.
Solas smirked as Blackwall swore at yet another loss, "Also, try not to die."
Cleaning up and arranging his parchments and books back on his desk, Solas found himself frowning over Blackwall's effects. They were in fair condition, but certainly not the condition they should be for a man representing an organisation such as the Grey Wardens, much less the Inquisition. The patching on his gambeson was middling, the work of one doing it from necessity, but not trained to it with skill. The shirt, breeches, even his socks and shoes showed signs of wear and patching that would not hold up under heavy use against Corypheus's forces, nor keep him warm long-term in Skyhold.
Grabbing three scraps of parchment, he penned three quick notes. There was much Blackwall had given away with their talk over the cards, mostly that he was not drawing on the pay the Inquisition was giving to him for himself. It was going to wood to craft toys for the children of soldiers and the like. He remembered from his time leading the rebellions that it was the duty of the leaders to make sure their followers were properly outfitted, and seeing that Fen, through no fault of her own, was not aware of what that entailed, he would assist her in this case.
Gathering notes and equipment, Solas strode through the darkened halls of the keep. In the Undercroft, he left Blackwall's boots and gambeson with the note for Master Harritt. Quickly across the hall and down into the scullery, he left the shirt, breeches, and socks with a note. Back into the Great Hall, and he moved silently into Lady Montilyet's office. She shrieked in surprise when he walked up to her desk and murmured "Lady Montilyet."
"Solas! Maker's breath, but you should make some noise when you move!" Fluttering hands rested against the poufs of her blouse, then she swore in Antivan when she realized she had dripped ink from her quill onto the silk. "What can I help you with at this time of night?"
"I have a note for you regarding the pay the Inquisition has seen fit to give to me for my services. I need your assistance in the dispensation of some of the funds and proper acquisition of materials with it. Of course, that can wait until you have gotten some rest, Lady Montilyet."
Two weeks after their card game, Blackwall climbed into the loft of the stables, grunting and stretching before pulling off his helmet and setting it on the armor rack Cullen had installed for him. Helping train the recruits felt good, it was… familiar, but for a good cause this time, instead of how it was in his other life, before.
He turned to his chest to grab a set of clothes to take to the baths, and stopped. On the blanket-covered hay bales that served as his bed, there sat five new gambesons, a sack of brand new shirts, a stack of new breeches, several pairs of snowy woollen socks, and lined along the side were pairs of boots. In a neat stack at the end, in better condition than they'd been in years, were the clothes he'd lost to Solas with a note in neat, spidery script.
"The best we can do is ensure the world still stands when this fight ends.
Remember, trynot to die."