Chapter 8: The Lies
In the late afternoon light of Solona's chamber, Alistair smiled faintly as he played with the white ribbon tied around his wrist. He should have taken it off days ago - as soon as their little sham of a ceremony had finished. Instead, like a sentimental fool, he kept the ribbon hidden beneath the sleeves of his ever-increasing wardrobe. He knew he would have to remove it soon, lest the delicate fabric become ruined with wear, but for now, he allowed himself the indulgence of keeping some connection to Solona, his now, almost sort-of, wife.
There had been some question of whether Leliana, a mere lay sister, was even qualified to perform a moritisk vindalle. But it had never truly been about the legitimacy of the rite, only Alistair's willingness to go through with it. In exchange for his eternal oaths to Andraste and the Maker, Leliana would lie for him: she would swear, when the time was right, that he and Solona had been married by the Revered Mother of Lothering a year ago.
Leliana had glared at him throughout the ceremony, daring him to renege - to stumble or balk as the oaths became more and more demanding. Yet he did not. Alistair had said all the vows - of eternal loyalty, fidelity and love, and he had meant every word of it. He would remain loyal to Solona through this life and beyond. Should she succumb before him, he would remain alone and yearning until he joined her at the Maker's side. He would know no other woman.
Wynne, as Solona's default guardian, had only to vouch to Solona's loyalty to Alistair.
And then the white ribbon that had bound Solona's hand to his during the vows was cut into two, leaving a band upon each of their wrists. Only he, Leliana and Wynne would ever know ... and her dog ... and probably, somehow, Zevran. Alistair was fairly certain Eamon would abandon him - wash his hands of Alistair and leave Denerim - if he ever found out. He admonished himself; he had to be more careful. A deathbed wedding was rare enough, but even one observant Chanter could spoil their carefully hidden plans.
Although it was not a typical part of a moritisk vindalle, Alistair had slipped a ring onto Solona's finger anyways. He had had it for months now, a secret impulse purchase from the Dalish craftsman in the Brecilian Forest. It was a simple ironbark band, carved into a twisting braid, with absolutely no magical properties. He had intended to get the ring enchanted before he gave it to her; he had even spoken to Bodahn about what materials Sandal would require to place some warding rune upon it. But then, the Landsmeet had come and Alistair had buried the ring deep within his satchel, wanting to forget it, but unable to bring himself to throw it away.
Back, a thousand or so lifetimes ago before they marched to the Landsmeet, everything had been much clearer to Alistair. Together, he and Solona would rally the forces of Ferelden, defeat the Archdemon, and then live happily together as Grey Wardens. The would travel the Thedas hand-in-hand, righting the world's wrongs. Now, Alistair found his vision of the future changed by the day, if not the hour.
The sun's light dipped beneath the windowsill, reminding Alistair of the rapidly passing hours. He had dallied here too long. With a sigh, he stood.
"Happy Three Day Anniversary, love," he said, kissing his sleeping lover lightly upon her forehead.
Ready to return to the constant drain of politics and planning, Alistair reached for the door, and then froze as he heard a gasp. Spinning back around, he watched in disbelief as Solona shot upright in the bed.
Her eyes tore open. Unfocussed, they darted madly about, her pupils like pin pricks.
"Solona," he said, reaching his hand towards her. She looked at Alistair. She looked through Alistair.
She shrieked, doubling-over as her hands flew to clutch blindly at her head. Magic pulsed from her, colliding into a chaotic spell, bursting down from the ceiling and into her like a hammer striking a nail.
The force of the spell sent Alistair flying to his back upon the floor. As he scrambled back to his feet, Solona groaned and rocked upon the bed, her hands still grasping at her head. The air grew thick with magic; a taste of burnt copper filled the room. As her magic surged and seethed, clouds began to form and a gusting wind swirled around them. Electricity crackled as brilliant white sparks formed and died. The furniture began to shake.
Before he could stop himself, Alistair cleansed the room of magics, dissipating the clouds back into the aether. Without lyrium, his wards would normally be too weak for her, but now, with Solona frantic, weak and confused, his feeble skills were enough to block her.
He once vowed to never use his Templar training upon Solona; he hoped she would forgive him.
Alistair dove onto the bed, subduing Solona's arms back to her sides before she managed to rip out her own hair. For a woman a month abed, she fought him well. She thrashed wildly in his embrace, scrambling madly to free herself.
"Calm down, love," Alistair urged, his breath against her matted hair. "It's me - it's Alistair. You're safe now."
With a clatter, Wynne and Petra burst into the room.
Wynne gave a quick survey of the room, wasting no time. "Petra!" she commanded the girl with a nod.
Hesitant but obedient, Petra raised her hands, a faint green glow coiling about them. Within moments, Solona went limp in Alistair's arms.
"Sol..?," Alistair said, tapping at her cheek. When it was clear she would not be waking, he turned back over his shoulder to Wynne.
"What are you doing?!" he shouted. "She just bloody woke up."
Wynne ignored him, instead issuing hasty instructions to her apprentice. "Go," she ordered Petra. "Just like we discussed - and make sure the way is clear."
The girl nodded silently before scurrying off.
Only then did Wynne acknowledge Alistair's frantic questions. "She's out of the Fade," she explained. "Get up - we have to move her now, before she wakes up again."
Alistair sat dumb in the silent room, not understanding.
Wynne huffed in exasperation. "We can save, Alistair. We can save them both."
Consciousness drifted to Solona in slow stages. Drowsily lifting an eyelid, she blinked into the soft light a few times become letting her eyes slide back closed. It was night, she thought. Candlelight flickered across stone walls as cool air brushed against her cheek. The soft patter of footsteps paced back and forth nearby.
She forced her eyes open once more. They stung as the air scratched like sand against them. She blinked a few times, willing moisture to build and relieve the dry ache. As she waited for her vision to adjust, Solona gave a small sigh. For all that she had just awoken, she was tired. So very, very tired.
Her sight finally came to focus, allowing her to spot the source of the footsteps: Alistair. He looked strange to her. His usual armor was gone and replaced with a fine linen shirt and trousers; his sword was missing. The stubble on his chin seemed thicker than she could remember. His brow was in a constant crease, and bags hung heavy beneath his eyes. He looked as tired as she felt.
With fuzzy thoughts, Solona wondered why he was not abed with her at this late hour.
"Alistair," she whispered, calling him back to her.
Alistair paused, turning back to look at her. He stared hard and hopeful for a moment, before scrambling towards her. And then, in an awkward stumble, he was beside her, crouched down at the edge of the bed. The candlelight caught in his hair, glowing bright and golden as a halo about him. He beamed down at her, eyes shining.
"Hello, my love. How are you feeling?" he asked.
In truth, she had never felt so exhausted in her life. She tried to raise a hand to touch his cheek. It puzzled her, but she found she needed to touch him - ensure that he was real. Her hand shook as she raised it a few inches from the bed. Her wrist felt impossibly heavy, her arms impossibly weak. She let it fall back among the soft covers.
A dull ache began at the top of her head and washed down to the tip of her toes. Sparks of a sharper pain struck now and then behind her eyes. Her chest was heavy and her limbs weak. Her throat was unbearably dry as she tried to speak again.
"I ... hurt," she summarized.
Alistair gave a sad smile. "I know, love." He stroked a stray lock of hair back from her brow. "You've been through a lot."
What exactly had she been through? Solona wondered. She could not even recall how or when she had arrived in this room. She struggled to focus. She must have overexerted herself something awful to be this dazed. She winced as a jagged shutter of pain erupted across her forehead. There was something - something very, very important that she should remember, yet she could not clear her mind long enough to recall it.
It was then that she noticed the moisture pooling at the corner of her lover's eyes. For all that he smiled down at her, there were tears in Alistair's eyes.
"You're crying," she breathed.
Solona rallied her strength and lifted her hand up to cup at his cheek. Her hand still quivering, she smoothed her thumb beneath his eye, wiping away the bright liquid that gathered there. Alistair's hand rose to cover her own and hold it against his cheek. She watched, silent, as he blinked back his tears.
"I love you, Sol," he said, clutching tighter at her hand against his cheek. "You need to remember that - no matter what happens - I love you more than you could possibly know."
Solona tried her best to smile back at him. She did not know why he was doting upon her so, but she was enjoying this tenderness. "I love you too," she promised, voice quiet but true.
And then his lips were upon hers, firm and urgent - insistent, desperate, but without the usual hunger. She felt his fingers slide into her hair; his other hand still clutched tight on her own. She felt the moisture of his cheeks press damp against hers. She felt dizzy from it, ready to fall into the endless pit of dreams or love or something else. She let herself become lost in the heady moment until another bolt of burning pain raked sharp claws through her mind. She pulled away, scrunching closed her eyes and moaning softly in her suffering.
"Here," said Alistair, producing a small red bottle from a forgotten side table. "Wynne left this for you - it should help with the pain."
With one arm beneath her shoulders and the other lifting the small bottle to her lips, he helped her drink down the red concoction.
The warm liquid was thick and bitter against her tongue. It tasted different from any potion of Wynne's she consumed before.
A few moments later, the taste was forgotten as a cloudy haze drifted into her mind. If it had been difficult to focus before, now it was surely impossible. Both the sharp, jagged pains that tore through her head and the general nagging soreness in her limbs seemed to float off far away from Solona. She could feel Sleep's call.
"Tired..." she mumbled, her eyes falling closed.
His lips pressed soft against her forehead.
"Just rest now, my love."
Alistair watched as his lover settled back into a deep and dreamless sleep. Wynne had promised ten hours or more of oblivion from the red potion. It would be late into the evening before his lover awoke.
Wynne had been cautious in her explanations. She had convinced Alistair to keep the news of their union and, most importantly the child, away from Solona. She had warned of shock and anger and all the thousands of confused emotions Solona would undoubtedly harbour upon her awakening. They removed her wedding ring and ribbon. He had been told that Solona may behave irrationally and desperate as her lyrium withdrawal progressed; he would see the very worst of his lover before she was cured.
Yet, seeing Solona awake and hearing her promise of love had revitalized Alistair. He could do this - he could have happiness after all. He had helped end a Blight and save the whole damn Thedas, surely he could figure out how to keep his lover and their child at his side.
He smiled as Solona turned to curl up onto her aside, still fast asleep. This was how she usually slept, not the unmoving death posture upon her back that she had held these last weeks. Alistair resisted the urge to join her bed - wrap himself about her as they used to.
No, he had work to do. With Solona pregnant, their remaining obstacles stemmed from magic and nobility. They were substantial ones, but surely not impassable. Standing, Alistair smoothed the blankets around Solona once more. Then, with a final kiss upon her forehead, he turned and departed the dark cavern of the palace dungeons, leaping up the stairs two at a time.
With an energy he had not felt in months, he threw open the doors to the office Eamon had claimed. The doors clattered upon their hinges, shaking dust into the beams of the midmorning sunlight.
The arl looked up from the mass of papers scattered about his desk. Around him, a handful of harried pages quickly smothered their shock.
"Alistair - " the arl began, surprised.
Alistair managed to smile.
"Let's plan that coronation."
The third time Solona awoke, she did so with some clarity. As her eyes opened into the quiet, candlelit room, she found that she remembered. She remember everything - well... mostly everything. She remembered the Landsmeet and the broken, stabbing pain that echoed in her heart after Alistair's crushing rejection. She remembered the burning scent of Denerim and the oily black smoke that curled up from it. She remembered the Archdemon's screeching wails as she plunged Alistair's sword into its neck. Most importantly, she remembered that she should be dead - but yet, as the tight pain in her chest attested, she was still very much alive.
She scrunched tight her eyes once more, trying to clear the remaining fog. She had some broken memories of the Fade - fleeting grey flashes of demons and light. But like most dreams, the memories were quick to scatter.
Solona felt tired and weak even now. She supposed it was to be expected, having outrun Death itself. She was uncertain if she could find the strength to rise from the bed. She frowned. Besides, where would she go?
She shivered, burying herself deep within the silken sheets. The linens were unusually fine, and the bed softer than she had ever known. Even the grand lodgings Eamon had offered in both Denerim and Redcliffe paled to the comfort Solona now leisured in.
With the covers pulled up to her nose, she peaked out into the dark room. Where was she? The walls climbed high above her in towering stone. In the darkness, she could spot no windows.
A miscellany of fine tapestries were hung upon the walls, punctuation with the occasional painting, too distant in the dim room for Solona to see clearly. A bookcase stood a few steps from the bed, brimming with unfamiliar tomes. A plain but serviceable desk stood against a wall and a scattering of unmatched chairs littered the rest of the room. A thick blue curtain shuddered gently against the far wall, presumably hiding a door. In a corner, an ornate screen had been set-up, behind which she guessed was a chamber pot.
Yet it all seemed strange, like nothing quite fit together as it should.
With a deep breath, Solona began to summon her Wisp; if nothing else, it would offer some extra light in the dim room. When it did not appear, she swallowed hard and tried again, only to be met once more with failure. Solona's breath became short in panic. This was an easy spell - a simple one taught to junior apprentices before they managed to tie their own shoes. She tried again to summon even the faintest spark of light to her fingertips. Nothing.
Panic took hold of her. She grasped madly for any trace of the Veil and found none. The air tasted hollow here and a scent of stale ice wafted about her. She choked. It felt like the Tower basement where she had once triumphantly smashed Jowan's phylactery upon the aging stones. Fade-lock. She was in a Fade-locked room.
It was then that she truly noticed her surroundings. This was not some innocuous guest quarter with poorly matched decor. The stone of the walls was jagged and unfinished. There was no light from the windows because there were no windows. Along the bottom of an adjacent wall she spotted a small and ugly drainage grate, secured firm with thick iron bars. The floor had been covered in a beautifully patterned rug, but around its edges, traces of stained concrete glared back at Solona.
It was a cell - a carefully disguised cell - but a cell, nonetheless.
She was trapped in another tower.
Solona shuddered, trying to reason who could have locked her here. Templars were the obvious answer. It had to be Templars. They must have hunted her down after she slew the Archdemon and drug her back to a Circle. Or maybe it was some ally of Howe or Loghain, intent upon exacting revenge. Cauthrien? Should have stabbed the bitch...
But then why the lavish furnishing? Why go through the effort and expense of ensuring her comfort?
Solona drew a few deep breaths for strength. Either way - any way - it did not matter: she had to get out. Trembling in cold and panic, she pushed back the covers. She wore a fine white night-rail, its long length offering little protection against the chilled air. She tried not to think about who had dressed her in it.
She made a few stumbling steps towards the curtain before her legs gave way, and she landed gracelessly upon the floor, the fall knocking away what little breath she had. The room spun and tilted about her. Shivering, Solona collapsed from her hands and knees down to curl upon the floor. Through the fine fabric of the carpet, she felt the cold ache of the stone floor creep into her and drag her down. Her vision split and faded, shuttering in and out of blackness. She would surely pass out again soon, and then, if no one came to check, she would die of hypothermia upon the carpet she was coming to detest. It was far from the escape she had hoped.
Far off, she heard the clattering of iron and the dull swish of fabric. Her name echoed out to her. Harried footsteps followed.
The black void of her vision cleared just long enough for Solona to see a familiar figure sprinting towards her: Alistair, her knight, her fool lover who broke her heart in two. Thank the Maker, he had come to save her.
She breathed a weak sigh of relief as he lifted her into his arms ... and deposited her back into the same bed.
He spoke to her, endless sounds that made no sense through the fog of her mind. A blanket was wrapped around her, and calloused hands ran fast up and down her arms. She shivered through it.
When a bottle was brought to her lips, she drank from it, too stunned to protest. It was sweet with a gentle effervescence: a standard rejuvenation tonic. Within a few minutes, the horizon stilled once more. Solona's vision began to clear and random sounds gave way to words. She saw Alistair peering down to her, speaking soft words of affection, while his hands stroked gently at her hair.
It should have been a comfort, but Solona's returning strength brought a renewed panic. Why was she still in the cell? Why hadn't Alistair helped her to freedom? How had he waltzed so easily through the iron door? Where were the guards?
Realization struck at her like cold lightning to her heart. She gasped and stiffened in his arms.
"Shh, my love, it's alright," Alistair murmured to deaf ears, rocking her gently in his embrace.
"You..." Solona choked, trying to pull away, "You put me in a dungeon?!"
Alistair stilled his rocking. Whatever he had been expecting from her, it was certainly not that accusation. His hold upon her loosened, and Solona slid back fully onto the bed.
Solona watched him in silence. His Adam's apple dipped low as he swallowed. His eyes blinked down and then back to her. Solona knew her lover well enough to recognize the guilt painted across his features.
Her fear turned to anger.
"Why am I here?" she bit.
He reached for her. "Sol-"
"Why am I here?" she asked again, voice low and cold.
It was then that Wynne and Leliana appeared, a quick scuffle of footsteps from beyond the drapery heralding their arrival. Solona lurched towards the sound in time to see the pair step through. She managed the briefest glimpse beyond the shroud before it settled: behind it, a wrought iron cell door was quickly closed by two guards. The long, torch-lit passage beyond ended into a dark armored door.
As soon as she cleared the curtain, Leliana rushed to Solona, pushing Alistair aside. Leaping onto the bed, she wrapped her arms tight around Solona and pressed a kiss upon her cheek.
"Oh, mon petit chou, I have worried so for you," she said.
Solona still glared hard at Alistair, Leliana's words lost to her.
As always, Wynne was much more reserved. "Ah, my dear, you're looking much better," she said, standing a respectful distance from the bed.
Solona gaped at them. Did they fail to notice that they were in a dungeon?
"Get me out of here," she begged them.
Both women frowned and looked away. In their silence, the roar of the candles' flames grew deafening.
"What the hell is going on?" Solona exclaimed, exasperation thick in her voice.
"We ... cannot," Leliana lamented at last.
Her three companions looked back and forth to one another, waiting for someone else to explain.
Solona swallowed, trying to be reasonable through her confusion and fatigue.
"Is the Blight over?" she asked finally, teeth ground tight together.
The three seemed to sigh in relief at Solona's distraction.
Alistair gave an encouraging smile. "Yes, love, you did it. You killed the Archdemon. The Blight is over." His hand came up to cup her cheek. "You're the great 'Hero of Ferelden' now."
She pulled from his touch, frowning. With the Archdemon dead, and she still alive, it only led to more questions.
"Everyone else .. ?" she asked, trailing off in fear of the worst.
Leliana smiled. "Everyone is fine, ma cherie," she promised.
"Morrigan?" Solona asked, suddenly irrationally hopeful.
Alistair shook his head. "Not since Redcliffe."
Solona nodded cautiously. "And we are in ... Fort Draken...?," she guessed.
"No, love, the palace."
Her throat felt dry. "Tower?" she whispered.
Alistair bit a his lip. "... basement," he answered. Dungeon, he meant.
Solona drew a deep breath, counting to ten. When she finished and found was no more satisfied with their answers than before, she spoke again. "So then, will someone kindly tell me what in burning Andraste's name is going on?" she spat a little louder than intended.
Wynne stepped forward, crossing her arms before. "This is an intervention, Solona," she explained in her very best authoritarian voice. "You have become too dependent upon the lyrium and now you must purge it from your system."
Solona glanced about the room. So, that explained the Fade-locked cell. What it failed to illuminate was why her so-called companions thought it reasonable to force this upon her. Wynne had always nagged on about the lyrium, so she was unsurprising. Perhaps his newly acquired status had gone to Alistair's head, letting him believe that could order her about. Solona shot him a scowl.
That left only one.
"Leliana?" she questioned.
The bard would not meet her gaze, remaining silent in her shame.
"Okay, okay," Solona admitted, raising her hands in defeat. "I get it - I'll cut back on the lyrium, alright? Please, just help me out of here."
No one moved to aid her.
"This is absurd," Solona muttered, pushing back the blankets once more. She managed to get both feet onto the ground and halfway to standing before Alistair lifted her once again and placed her back into the center of the bed. With a scoff and a glare, she tried again, only to have him repeat the process, this time not releasing her. Too stunned and too weak to fight, she let him draw her head down to cradle against his chest. His nose pressed into her hair as his hand rubbed comforting circles in the small of her back.
"Please, Sol, just stop it. Please, don't make this hard," he sighed.
She pushed once more at his shoulders until he released her.
Solona glanced back and forth between her so-called companions. "I am not staying down here," she said, a hard punctuation on each word. "You cannot force this upon me. You cannot keep me here."
Wynne sighed. "I'm afraid you must, my dear. At the rate you consume, the lyrium will kill you."
Solona gave a cold laugh. "The Taint will have me in a few years anyways."
Her words scratched at Alistair's heart. Clearing his throat, he asked, "Could you give us a second?" Leliana looked ready to object, but Wynne pulled hard at her arm
"We'll be just outside," the enchanter promised, pulling Leliana firmly behind her.
With the details of the duration and nature of her confinement becoming clear to Solona, the terror of being so powerless - so helpless - crashed in upon her. She could be trapped down here for weeks.
"Please, don't take my magic," she whispered, the hot burn in the corner of her eyes threatening tears.
Before she could protest, Alistair's arms were back around her.
"Just a few weeks resting here," he promised. "Please, love, just a few, quiet, relaxing weeks." He gestured at the bookshelves. "You'll have books and visitors and anything you want," he promised. His lips pressed soft against her temple. "I can spend each night with you," he murmured in promise. "I'll make love to you in a feather bed." He worked his way along her hairline, kissing around her ear and down the back of her neck. "The days will fly by. Just a few weeks to get the lyrium out of your system, and then..." he trailed off. "And then," he began again, pausing and drawing a deep breath. "And then, we can be together."
The words struck cold upon her. Solona ducked from his embrace. "Be together?" she hissed, shaking once more. "Be together?!" The tears that once threatened were dried with fury. "I begged to stay at your side," she spat. "I begged to stand back and watch you marry another and raise her child and you swore even that was impossible."
"I was wrong," he whispered with shame. "Forgive me, Sol. I was wrong. "
"You gave up the crown...?" she tried vainly to rationalize it.
Alistair shook his head. "I can't."
"Dead," he replied. "She convinced her guard to flee when the Archdemon arrived. The darkspawn never even made it to the palace. If she had just stayed in the damn tower..." He pulled back from his digression. "I love you, Sol. Maker's breath, I love you. We can be together, I promise. Just you and me."
His words cut at her. Oh, how she had longed for those words. To Solona, it had been just days since she had begged him to say those words - to mean those words. To swear of love and vow to fight tooth and nail that they might be together.
And now, as he leaned towards her, they sounded hollow and vile.
She turned away from his kiss.
Alistair faltered. He had known that news of her confinement would not play well with Solona, but, against all past evidence, he hoped that she might come to accept it.
"Get. Out." she spat again.
Alistair could find no words. She had begged, cried, and shouted at him. But he loved her. Oh Maker, how he loved her.
"Wynne! Leliana!" she shouted. "Get him out of here." She gave him a hard stare. "I want him gone."
The curtain drew back as the pair of women returned. Leliana practically ran, stopping just short of the bed, waiting impatiently for him to leave.
As he stood, Alistair tried once more. "Please Solona," he tried.
"Go be king," she screeched back at him. "Go find a fucking wife."
At the bars, Alistair paused to look back at the woman he loved. She was furious. She hated him more now than ever. But - his gaze fell lower - she was going to have his child. This was the right thing to do, for everyone's well-being.
It was too soon to judge anything. Solona had just been through hell and back, only to awaken imprisoned by those she loved and trusted; she was allowed to be mad.
Alistair breathed one last "I love you" before closing the gate behind him.
Things would get better.
AN: An update! Shocking, I know... I have these grand plans for this story that keep getting pushed back with set-up. Hopefully one day, in 2019 or so, we'll actually get to the main plot.
My horrific writing pace is further complicated by the release of new DA games and books and so on. I planned this story out in 2009 before even DA: Awakenings. Every time a new game comes out, there are some elements (and characters!) that I really want to incorporate into my story and some things that will completely contradict my plans. For example, I was going to use the Origins epilogue with Cullen going crazy and killing a bunch of Apprentices ... but now he's the lovey-dovey charming Commander in Inquisition.
Likewise, Solona's parentage was going to be a huge part of my story, but now I find that I really want to incorporate the Hawkes, which of course will mess that up that entire arc. As a reader, would it bother you if I pick and choose what I want from the later games? Or should I go "all or nothing" with them?
And now some pandering: for more on The Maker's Gifts, please read my latest Amell/Cullen prequel one-shot, Stone.
Thanks for reading and reviewing!