Chapter 1: A Kiss of Relief
When Solas returned to the small campsite, he was nothing short of alarmed when he saw how rather destroyed it was. There were large claw marks carved into the bark of the trees, small craters peppered the ground where he knew Aravae’s lightning had struck, their tent had been torn down - though it didn’t look entirely ruined -, and Aravae was nowhere to be found. He set the fish he’d caught down on the ground and immediately swept out with his aura, searching for hers.
He couldn’t sense her. He knew she could take care of herself, but the fact that he did not see her standing over a carcass with a scowl at the fallen beast gave him a worried feeling. She had to have gone some distance for him to not be able to sense her. “Aravae?” he called, turning in a circle, trying to decide which way he should go.
He didn’t hear a response. He narrowed his eyes and shifted them towards the ground, searching for tracks. He could barely make out her light footprints, but luckily for him, bears weigh much, much more and this on left rather clear tracks as to the direction they went. He gripped his staff and headed after them.
Thankfully, it was still during afternoon hours, so he didn’t need to worry about running out of daylight to see with. He hurried through the forest, following the tracks while also keeping an eye on his surroundings. He kept throwing his aura out in waves, searching for any sign of Aravae. At last, after maybe ten minutes or so of tracking, he felt a pulse of her aura at nearly the same moment as he saw a flash of purple lightning above the treeline. He picked up the pace, rushing towards the area where he’d seen it strike down towards the ground.
He spotted the carcass before he saw Aravae. Steam was rising from the motionless, monster of a bear. He peered at it for several long seconds, making sure it wasn’t shifting or drawing breath. Once he was satisfied, he glanced around, still looking for Aravae.
“I’m up here,” he heard her breathless voice call.
He looked upwards and barely managed to see her through the thick greenery and multitude of branches. Aravae was rested back against the body of a tree, her legs dangling over the sides, her staff resting horizontally across her lap, and breathing deeply. She leaned her head back and loosed a heavy sigh, though it sounded like she had a slight growl mixed in with it. “Bears and I clearly...don’t get along well.” She gestured wearily to the body. “It charged into camp and chased me before I was able to get the upper hand.”
He stepped closed to the tree, craning his neck to look up at her. “Are you okay?” His mind instantly went to their last less than favorable bear encounter, where she’d received new scars across her forearm.
“I am fine. I’m not sure if it destroyed everything in camp, though.”
“I think the tent was in one piece.” He looked at the bear once more, then back up at her. “Would you like to come down now?”
She nodded silently at first. After another moment of catching her breath, she took her staff and dropped it towards the ground, away from Solas. The blade at the end stuck in the ground. She shifted around and climbed down the tree slowly, as though she was worried her limbs may not hold her weight. The moment she touched down on the ground, Solas wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, pressing his lips against her. She made a small noise of startlement, but she quickly relaxed and tilted her head, allowing their lips to lock. When Solas pulled away, he kept his forehead close, resting it against hers. “What was that for?” she asked softly.
“Forgive me,” he replied, just as quiet. “I was just concerned.”
She smiled softly at him and leaned back just enough to where she could give him a small peck on his brow. “I’m safe. Shall we go back to camp?”
Chapter 2: A Shoulder to Lean On
Aravae x Rienmar
This entire situation was just completely insane, in Rienmar’s mind. From the explosion at the Conclave, to learning that Solas’s orb was the cause of it, to discovering that the mark in Athelas’s hand came from the orb, and to the creation of this so-called Inquisition… Now there was even some crazed magister and time travel magic??
It was all insane. How did he and Aravae even get wrapped up in this? He wasn’t even quite sure anymore. Then again, he probably shouldn’t let his mind wander while they were in the Hinterlands, area of the large bear population. At least Estelar was safe with Josephine back at Haven. Out of all the shemlens, she was the one Rienmar trusted above the others to watch over his daughter. She seemed like a genuinely kind woman.
Their journey was thick with tension and lingering silence. Athelas was leading the way and Rienmar was able to see the rigidness in her body language. They had just won a victory - having the mages join the Inquisition to help close the Breach - but she was acting as though they had just lost everything. Something had happened in those few seconds it seemed she and that man named Dorian had disappeared.
Aravae, who Rienmar could tell was trying to befriend Athelas - likely her motherly/sisterly instincts kicking in - tried once or twice to ask her softly what had happened, but he assumed nothing had come of it, judging by the look on his wife’s face. He didn’t want to push, but maybe Rienmar would give it a shot on his own when they made camp for the night.
He was nothing if not observant. When the group had come to a stop for the evening, they worked on tending to their horses. He saw the quick glances that Athelas was sending in Solas’s direction, but they didn’t last long. Likely at any point it seemed as if someone was going to see her, her eyes flickered back towards her task at hand. Her expression didn’t betray too much, but he could see the conflict and sadness in her eyes.
For the tasks for the evening, Aravae and Solas had been charged with setting up the tents. Athelas’s looks shifted a little, but Rienmar couldn’t fully place his finger on what he thought that look meant. He saw his chance when Cassandra offered to gather firewood with Athelas. He spoke up, insisting that he go along, if they were both okay with it. Cassandra didn’t seem offended by it and Athelas gave a nod of her head. However, when that left Cassandra to gather water with Varric, Rienmar feared she may change her mind, so he suggested that he and Athelas go ahead and head out before it got too dark.
They walked off into the trees, Rienmar catching her glimpsing one last time towards Solas and Aravae before looking forward. He took a deep breath, trying to piece his thoughts together. He could tell that she was like a frightened animal. If he pushed too hard, she could close off and deflect. He needed to be patient and gentle. How would Aravae normally do it? She was typically better at those sorts of things.
He needed to break the ice somehow. He tilted his head towards her and asked softly, “Are you okay?”
She looked up towards him, but didn’t maintain eye contact with him for long before looking back towards the ground. “Yes, I’m fine.”
Naturally. What else would she respond with? He hummed with thought and reached at his waist, unsheathing a dagger. “Let me try again. Do you want to spar?”
She frowned with confusion. “...Come again?”
“It doesn’t take a genius to see you’re upset about something, Athelas. I’m not going to push you if you don’t want to talk. But if you need some way to work through your feelings, then… Well, my fight style is a little more similar to yours than Varric’s is.”
She glanced at the daggers on his belt. “I thought you fought with a bow?”
“I can do well enough with daggers. Better to be prepared for close combat than to have to try and put space between you and your opponent, wouldn’t you say?”
She scoffed lightly. “This may be the most you’ve ever spoken to me.”
“I’m a man of few words. So is that a yes?”
Her lips pursed together as she thought. Her hands then reached over her shoulders and pulled out her daggers. He gave her a small smile and nod of encouragement as he unsheathed a second dagger of his own. He took a few steps back and settled into a fighting stance, waiting for her to engage and make the first move.
That she did. She lunged at him with a quick stabbing motion that he blocked before she twisted around lightly on her feet. He ducked and made a slice towards her leg, but she jumped back quickly before momentarily vanishing from his sight. He stood upright and shifted quickly to look behind him, where she was suddenly charging from.
It took him some time to get back into the swing of using his daggers, but it came back to him quickly enough. Though he was technically much older than Athelas, he didn’t use the daggers frequently for all his life. Her skills were much higher than his. She was always in complete control of her movements. When he didn’t block quickly enough, she had always left enough space to draw herself back or to just complete stop her attack, giving him an opportunity to recover before she switched her strategy around. He could see with each blow that she was relieving her stress of whatever it was that she was carrying around. More than once, on an attack she could see that Rienmar was certain to block, she put much more force into it, grunting at the effort with narrowed eyes. They continued on until they were both panting. Athelas was the first to relax her stance and dab at her forehead with her sleeve.
“Thank you, Rienmar. I...really needed that.”
“Of course. Anytime you need to vent, I am here.” He tucked his blades back away, Athelas following suit. He wiped his own sweat away before inquiring, “Still don’t want to talk about it?”
She winced, a grim expression overcoming her. Rienmar mentally kicked himself. She’d almost been close to even breaking out into a small smile and he had just gone and put her right back where she had been. However, it didn’t remain too long. “I...don’t think I’m ready to talk about all of it… Not just yet.”
He nodded silently, waiting to see if she would say more.
“There was just...a lot to process. Things that had happened, the way the world was, and...all of you were there. In order for Dorian and I to get back, there were...too many sacrifices.”
He knew he shouldn’t say anything, but before he could stop himself, he asked, “Solas included?”
Her entire body tensed and her eyes darted up to meet his in a quick moment of panic. She averted her gaze again, but surprised him by replying, “...Yes.”
Ah. So that was what that look had been directed at Aravae and Solas. Now things were starting to completely make sense to him. He arched a brow at her. “May I ask you a question?”
She didn’t say yes, but she did look back at him, waiting.
“You do know that Aravae and I are married, right?”
She blinked, apparently not having expected that particular question. “Yes…?”
“And that we are monogamous?”
“I would...expect so? Where are you going with this?”
He chuckled softly. “Meaning that you have nothing to worry about. There is a sort of...strange kinship, I think, that is between Aravae and Solas, but there is nothing more.” He paused, letting that linger. When she didn’t say anything, he added, “Also meaning that there is nothing but yourself stopping you from speaking to him.”
She turned her head quickly, but he could have sworn he’d seen a light flush on her cheeks.
Sensing he’d done enough and that he didn’t want to push anymore, he said casually, “I just wanted to say that. Come on, let’s grab some firewood and head back to camp. We’ve been gone long enough.”
He spotted a few small branches laying on the ground that he went to go and pick up. “Rienmar,” Athelas called softly.
“Hmm?” He glanced back at her. She hadn’t yet moved, her back was still to him.
He smiled at her back, hoping she could feel it in his tone. “I’m here whenever you need me.”
Chapter 3: A Silent World
Samahl x Solas
Samahl hadn’t been around much cold before, but she had to admit...she didn’t much care for it. She didn’t mind bundling up in warmer clothing just for comforts sake, but when she was shuddering when she wasn’t moving, she didn’t find it too enjoyable. She had looked up at the sky, gaping with awe at both the magnificence of the Frostbacks and at the heavy snowfall. She raised her feet up and pressed it down meticulously in the snow, smiling somewhat childishly at how it felt beneath her weight. She made a mental note to ask Solas later if he could show her snow in the Fade so that she could hear what sort of a sound it made.
However, when they pressed on into the mountains, Solas took the lead to forge a path through the snow and make it easier on her. She watched with a stinging guilt as he lifted his legs high, shoving his way through with some effort. She walked carefully just behind him, keeping her cloak wrapped tightly around her. She watched the vapor cloud that formed from her mouth every time she exhaled. There was something about this cold that seemed magical, despite the fact she didn’t like...well, the cold itself.
When she lifted her head and looked around, she felt almost at peace. The way the white snow blanketed the mountains and how it kept falling, landing on her, on Solas, even on her lashes...for her, with there being no sound, it seemed almost perfect. It was a far from from any bustling city or even a humble village. They’d been traveling for quite some time now, but even on the trails through forests and fields, she figured there was still plenty of noise to be heard. Here, though… Maybe there was a soft noise the snow made as it touched the ground, but she couldn’t imagine what it could be.
Once the sun started setting, Solas turned to her and made familiar motions with his hands. Since they’d started traveling together, they’d started moving past just passing notes on Samahl’s precious parchment. She taught him the signs she used with her hands that she and her parents had communicated with, along with ones she had come up with over the years, though she’d never gotten to use them in real conversations before. Solas told her they needed to stop and make camp. She nodded in agreement, eager to give him a helping hand now. They’d bought a tent in preparation for their journey through the mountains. She’d practiced the last few nights setting it up. It had...quite close quarters, which made her nervous, but she felt like she was starting to get control of her pounding heart.
Solas found a good shelter for them up against some large boulders that would help break the wind that was starting to pick up. As she was unrolling the tent, she saw Solas’s lips moving, but she couldn’t catch if he was trying to speak to her or if he was just talking to himself - something she’d learned he did quite a bit of. He noticed her stare and his eyebrow ticked. He made the quick motion for sorry . She shook her head in response. It wasn’t like she wasn’t used to it.
He faced her and signed wood . She nodded while mouthing ‘ah’. They did need a fire to help keep warm tonight. She looked to the tent, laying flat on the ground, not yet assembled, then looked back to him. I can go get it.
Solas frowned with concern.
I won’t go far, she promised. She wanted to be of help. He had a long day, pushing through the snow and keeping an eye out for danger. She was careful, trying to find ways to be alert and watch their surroundings while making sure not to fall behind. She had at least gotten better with her bow - she’d been able to get a couple of rabbits so far, but she hadn’t had to do any actual fighting yet. Normally, when they ran across trouble, Solas either veered them off the path or he was able to handle it himself. She was tired of feeling useless.
He frowned, staring at her analytically. She nearly stuck out her bottom lip in a pout, but thankfully, Solas sighed and nodded in agreement before she resorted to such a silly and childish method. She beamed and promised quickly once more that she wouldn’t wander far away from camp and that she would be careful. Solas passed her a torch, lighting it with a spark of his magic. She gave him a reassuring look as she turned her back and headed away from camp. She recalled where she had seen some trees not too far back. Perhaps there would be some wood she could pick up there.
She kept the torch held high as she marched through the snow, huffing with effort. Solas had made plowing through the shin-deep snow look much easier than it felt to her. Perhaps he aided himself with a little magic. Who knows. She certainly had no idea how magic worked.
There! The trees she remembered having seen. She leaned over and shifted some snow around where she saw strange lumps. She managed to find some thick branches. Shaking the snow off as best she could, she started forming a pile. She would figure out how to carry it back once she decided she’d collected enough. She could always come back later if they ended up needing more. Right now, a warm fire sounded positively delightful. Especially if she spent it sitting next to Solas…
Stop it, stop it, she scolded herself with a frown. You don’t need to fall head over heels for the first man that shows you a great kindness.
Once she finished picking up the branches she could find in her immediate area, she glanced around and spotted another few clumps on the ground that could potentially be more wood. When something suddenly touched down on her shoulder, she felt the strangled yelp get stuck in her throat as she jumped away and spun around. It had just been a pile of snow, falling from an overhead branch. It had landed on her shoulder. She sighed, shaking her head at her own jumpiness, then brushed the snow from her shoulder.
When the ground shifted underneath her, her eyes widened. As she slipped downward, the torch fell from her hands.
Solas had gotten the camp set up and he’d managed to melt the snow in the immediate area, giving them a dry place to sleep and to start a fire. But speaking of fire, he needed wood and Samahl had not yet returned. She had promised not to go far, but...what if she had run into trouble? She shouldn’t have, he’d been keeping an eye out all day and setting wards around them as they traveled so that he would know if anyone was nearby. The only thing he’d noticed were several small animals. Not even bears or wolves.
He paced around the camp, keeping his hands clasped behind his back in a fruitless effort to remain calm. It could be likely he’d missed something. Someone could have maybe snuck up on her. If she hadn’t gone far, she would likely have screamed for him. He had heard nothing. What if she hadn’t even had the chance to scream?
“She’s fine,” he muttered with irritation to himself. She was a strong young woman and he had noticed that she tended to keep an eye on her surroundings more than a normal person, but yet he still managed to spook her from time to time since she couldn’t hear him coming. Perhaps she let her guard down around him. “She’s just taking some time to get enough wood.”
Another agonizing ten minutes passed by before he couldn’t take it anymore. He grabbed his staff and set out, tracking after her path she’d left in the snow. She had backtracked a little the way they’d come, but he saw why. They had passed by a collection of lone trees. Judging by the pile he saw sitting atop the snow, she had found some wood…
But where was she?
He glanced around, but saw her nowhere. He looked around, trying to pick out which way she’d gone. When he looked over and saw the collapsed snow drift, his heart clenched. She must not have seen the drop not far away or perhaps she had gone too close to the edge, causing the snow to give way under her.
He hurried over to the small cliff, sticking his staff down in the ground before him, letting him know where solid footing was. When his staff went down too far, he knew there was no further he could go. He knelt down and leaned over the edge, squinting and searching for any sign of Samahl. He couldn’t spot her, but when he focused on the area around where she could have landed, there was a surprisingly large flattened path of snow leading away from there. It couldn’t have been caused by one small person. It was almost like it had been an entire group. He couldn’t tell what prints there were from where he was.
He needed to get down there. He couldn’t risk sliding down. It was easily a thirty foot drop. Then again...perhaps he could use his magic somehow. He wasn’t at his full strength, not like how he used to be, but...he could get creative.
First, he melted more snow so that he could clearly see the cliffside. It was terribly rocky. He hoped Samahl hadn’t hit her head. She could be in serious trouble if she did. Or perhaps she was in even more danger right now. He needed to focus. He then thought for a moment, then tried casting a spell. He created a spear of ice jutting out from the cliff. He slowly set his foot upon it and applied pressure. It held. He carefully slid out onto it until his full weight was on it. It still remained. He could use this and make a set of icy steps leading to the bottom.
He did so carefully and more slowly than he would like, but if he fell from too high as well and broke something or knocked himself unconscious, then he would be in an even worse situation than before and perhaps not even find Samahl. He wanted to get to her, but he needed to be smart about it. Step by step, he made his way down to the bottom of the cliff. To save time, when he was certain he knew where the bottom was, after sending a fireball down to melt the snow, he jumped when he was certain he wouldn’t hurt himself. He grunted softly as he touched down. His attention then turned to where Samahl had been.
The large path through the snow had been made by humans. Or at least, some humanoid race. It hadn’t been beasts. However, when he saw the bright crimson bloodstain in the snow, his blood boiled. She was hurt. Had she hurt herself in the fall, or had these people hurt her? His nostrils flared and his stormy eyes focused on the path that led into a forest of snow-covered trees. With a white-knuckled grip on his staff, he hurried down it.
His mind was racing with possibilities: what sort of condition she was in, what sort of people she was with, what he was going to have to do to get her back… With every scenario in his head, he grew angrier and angrier.
He wasn’t even entirely certain as to why.
There! He spotted smoke rising above the treeline in the distance, not too far away. That had to be them. When he grew close enough to see the light of the fire and hear voices, he crouched low and stealthily slipped from tree to tree until he could get close enough to see what was going on. He counted seven people, all dressed in warm, thick furs for the cold. They appeared to be rather tall humans. Perhaps they were the Avvar he had heard about.
Samahl was laying on the ground atop some furs and even had some draped over her. Her eyes were closed and there was a bandage wrapped around her head. She looked to be unconscious.
Solas saw red. Without fear or any thoughts of consequence, he stepped out from behind the tree, his magic crackling and burning around him. He was spotted almost immediately. One of the men shouted and weapons were drawn. Solas took long stride towards them and raised a barrier around both himself and Samahl. With his eyes shining with rage, he snapped, “Move away from her.”
“Whoa, now. Just wait a-”
“I said move ,” he interrupted with a snarl.
The men all shifted nervously, but one of them kept his composure. He set his sword down and held his hands up calmly. “Now, listen. Are you-?”
Fire erupted around Solas for a few quick seconds, thoroughly warming the area and melting the snow. He was not interested in listening. In the back of his mind, he was even wondering why he was acting so hot-blooded. He hadn’t been like this in...quite some time.
When he saw Samahl shift and open her eyes, a cool, soothing wave of relief rushed over him. However, in the next instant, her eyes widened and she sat up from the furs. The man that was closest to her dropped his weapon and held out his hands, as if about to grab her. Solas, with incredible accuracy, raised an ice wall between Samahl and the man, who cried out and cursed as he jumped backwards. Solas then realized that Samahl, though she seemed unsteady on her feet, was waving her hands back and forth and shaking her head. She wanted him to stop? Why?
The men let her pass by them until she came to stand before Solas. He could see the cloudy expression in her eyes. She seemed frustrated as she tried to make signs for him. He managed to catch good, help, and okay.
You are hurt , he signed quickly, gesturing to her head.
From fall , she replied. She waved her hand at the men. They helped. They’re good.
He felt the heat of embarrassment color his cheeks for a split second before he regained his composure. He cleared his throat and nodded to Samahl. He glanced over her and relaxed. “I...apologize. I overreacted.”
The first man’s tension melted away first. He even chuckled as he picked up his sword, sheathing it once more. “It’s what any man would’ve done. Perhaps you should stick closer to her, hmm? Not being able to hear in the wilderness could end up worse than her not being able to hear the ground giving way under her.”
Solas sighed. “Indeed, I likely will. She hit her head when she fell?”
“Aye, we saw the snow collapse and saw a torch just before it was extinguished. We came to look and found her, bleeding.”
“I thank you for helping her.”
“Of course, no need to thank us. Would you like to come sit around the fire?”
“I am in no position to refuse.” Solas wrapped an arm around Samahl’s shoulders to steady her and they walked together back towards the fire, sitting among the Avvar. He sighed softly, feeling her under his touch, knowing she was okay. What was it about her that made him react so quickly and so irrationally?
Chapter 4: "Am I not good enough?"
Ena x Bull
After noticing how Ena had been withdrawn and moping around Skyhold for the majority of the day, Aravae finally managed to corner her somewhere private, demanding to know what was wrong. Ena looked up to her, dazed and a bit worried at being interrogated. Aravae crossed her arms, patiently waiting for an answer as she stared her friend down.
Ena finally sighed, hanging her head and sagging her shoulders. “I’m...not sure. It could be nothing.”
When she didn’t elaborate further, Aravae urged, “What could be nothing?”
“I’ve just… The last couple of days, I’ve seen Bull talking to other women, including ones that I know he’s…” She made a quiet, strangled noise, the rest of her words dying.
A fire immediately lit inside Aravae. Small sparks of lightning crawled along her skin. “He’s been what ?”
“It could be nothing!” Ena repeated with urgency, holding her hands up, trying to placate her now-furious friend. “I trust him, but I just...don’t know what to think or how to ask him without seeming like I don’t trust him…”
Aravae exhaled sharply, uncrossing her arms. “How are you not angry about this? I thought for sure with something like this that you would knock him flat on his arse and demand answers.”
Ena averted her gaze awkwardly, her fingers fidgeting anxiously. “I guess I’m just a bit unprepared for something like this? I told you before, I don’t know how to act in...relationship situations.” She glanced back upwards and her eyes widened, looking past Aravae’s shoulder.
Aravae spun around and saw The Iron Bull approaching them, a rather large grin on his face. Aravae started to step forward, but Ena reached out and caught her by her wrist, whispering, “Don’t!”
“Hey, E- Boss! Hey, Saar.” He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you two look all serious over here by yourselves. Something up?”
“As a matter of fact-”
“It’s nothing urgent!” Ena interjected with a wavering smile that was not reassuring anyone. Aravae shot Ena a stern look. “Did you need something, Bull?”
“Yeah, I was, uhh…” Bull tilted his head, his eye trained on Aravae. “Why do you look like you want to kill me?”
“No reason,” she muttered through grit teeth.
“Uh huhhh…,” he droned, unconvinced. “Anyways, Boss, I was wondering if I could have a word with you? Now, if possible?”
Aravae felt the small flinch Ena reacted with from the contact of the redhead still holding her by her wrist. She slowly released Aravae and said, “Umm...yeah, sure.” She followed after Bull, casting a pleading look over her shoulder for Aravae not to do anything drastic. Though she still looked livid, Aravae gave her a displeased nod.
Bull led Ena out behind the tavern, in a space between it and a nearby section of the wall. Somewhere where they couldn’t be easily spotted. Ena felt dread welling up inside of her, but didn’t speak first, even when Bull came to a halt and turned to face her. Noticing her distress, Bull inquired gently, “Ena? What’s wrong?”
“Am I not good enough?” she blurted, struggling to get the words out past the knot in her throat. “For you? I’ve seen you, talking to the other girls-”
“Let me just stop you right there.” He set his large hands on her delicate shoulders, squeezing her. “Don’t let your imagination run wild. I was merely telling them that if they wanted anything more from me, they weren’t getting it. I am with you , Ena. I won’t even so much as eye another woman while I’m with you.” He gave her a small kiss to her forehead. “How could you say you aren’t good enough for me? Hell, you’re an amazing woman that I’m lucky to have. Why would I try and screw that up?”
Relief washed through Ena at his words, bubbling up in the form of tears. She blinked rapidly, determined not to seem like some weak, emotional wreck. “I’m sorry,” she gasped. “I jumped to conclusions. I shouldn’t have. I trust you, I really do, I just-”
“It’s alright,” he assured her with a chuckle. “Let’s just forget about that, huh? Let me get to the reason why I brought you over here.”
She fell silent, now anxious with anticipation on what he was going to say.
He chuckled again and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I’ve never really done this...being-together-for-a-long-period-of-time thing, so… I wanted to ask where you would like to go on a date.”
Ena couldn’t help but smile at Bull’s awkwardness. “Shouldn’t a Ben-Hassrath know what I would want?”
“I have several ideas, but the women also told me it would be polite to ask, too.”
Ena laughed and threw herself at Bull in a tight hug, the qunari wrapping his arms around her and holding her protectively.
Chapter 5: Anything but a Hindrance
Samahl x Solas
The moment the last foe’s body hit the ground, Samahl watched in slow motion as Solas’s knees shook under him and he fell to the ground, a hand gripping his side. She gazed at him for a moment with terror, a cold sweat breaking out on her brow. In the next instant, when she drew a painful gasp of a breath, she dropped her bow and went running to him. Her hands shook as she raised them, trying to figure out what to do. She only glimpsed quickly at his face, which was contorted with pain, his lip curled up in a snarl as he pressed his hand to his wound. Her eyes trailed down, where she saw the blood oozing out from between his fingers. A shiver ran up her spine.
This was her fault.
“What do I do?!” she signed at him with urgency, though her hands still trembled something awful.
“It’s alright,” he told her as he set his staff down, giving him a free hand to communicate with. He immediately seemed to try and cover up his pain a little, his expression shifting to try and convey something akin to reassuring. “There are bandages and gauze in my bag.”
She glanced around and saw where Solas had discarded his bag before the fight had broken out. She rushed over towards it, her mind racing as she fumbled, shifting things around to look for the items she needed.
It was her fault. Her fault. Her fault.
She had been on watch duty while Solas had been sleeping. She was usually so alert, constantly shifting around to watch all directions since someone could easily sneak up on her. Tonight, she’d been a little more tired than normal. She’d spent so long practicing with a bow and they’d traveled a great distance during the day. Her feet ached and her leg muscles were exhausted. When she sat, her body sagged with relaxation, eventually spreading to her eyes, which began to droop. At one point, she had turned and saw a shadow moving through her heavy lids, but it was not Solas. She’d reached for her bow and a scream ripped from her throat. Thankfully, it had been loud enough, because it jerked Solas out of his sleep immediately. He leapt to his feet and grabbed his staff, but he was not quick enough to raise a barrier. When Samahl saw the bandit’s sword come down at his side, blood flying through the air, it felt like a powerful force had slammed into her, knocking all the air from her body. The rest after that was a blur. She was fairly certain she had killed a man or two, but she was just terrified that Solas was going to collapse and not get up. If only she’d given him more warning…
Her fingers wrapped around the things she needed and she raced back to him. From here, she took a few breaths, trying to calm herself. They didn’t have any medicine to apply to his wound at the moment, but the blood. He needed to stop bleeding, or else they would have bigger problems to deal with. He took the bandage from her and she carefully peeled his shirt up, pausing when he flinched with pain. For perhaps the first time in her life, she was thankful for her silent world. If she could hear his grunts and hisses of pain...she wasn’t sure what she would do.
She choked back a slight gag. There was so much blood. She couldn’t tell how deep it was, but the gash itself looked to be around four inches long. The bandage Solas was pressing to it with his paling hand wasn’t quite large enough to cover it, but it would certainly help. He held it in place and pressed. Samahl had been so focused on watching his hand that she nearly forgot what she should be doing. She started to unwrap the gauze and placed the beginning on the bandage. Solas lifted his fingers just enough to hold it there for her and she leaned forward, nearly pressing flush against his body, reaching her arms around carefully to wrap the gauze around and around. His blood warmed her fingers and she froze when he winced.
Her fault. Her damn fault.
When she tied it off, she grew worried that she had maybe done something wrong. His blood was already starting to show through the bandages. Her hands. Her hands were warm and slick and-
Her eyes landed on the dead bodies, two of which had arrows sticking out of them.
Solas looked as though he may have been about to address her, but she couldn’t hold it any longer. She jerked up and ran over to the nearest bush she could see and retched, heaving up anything in her stomach. She coughed and gasped for air and spit out the remains of the bile in her mouth. Her knees were shaking and she wasn’t sure how much longer she could remain standing.
When a hand touched her back, she jumped, her heart still pounding. For a moment, she thought there was another bandit - Solas usually touched her on her arm first, to get her attention. Thankfully, it was Solas, but he was frowning at her with concern. She shook her head and started to tell him that she was fine, but he directed her to turn back around. Puzzled, but too exhausted to argue, she shifted back. His hand touched her again, high on her back, and she shied away with pain. Had she been hit somewhere? She couldn’t recall. Everything had been such a blur.
Solas tugged at her shoulder and she faced him. “You’re hurt.”
“It’s nothing,” she insisted quickly. He had no reason to be worrying about her, after she got him so badly injured. If anything, her wound was well deserved.
He walked back to his bag, favoring his right side, then returned to her. He took her hand and led her away from the bodies and vomit. His hand, though slick and warm with his own blood, was comforting to her, though it also didn’t help her to calm down much. It was his blood. His blood.
It was her fault.
He took her to the stream they’d made camp by. He knelt down on the bank, gesturing for her to do the same. He rinsed his hands off in it, then dropped a rag in it. Once it submerged, he pulled it out and wrung it. His eyes flickered over to her and saw that she hadn’t moved, so he reiterated, “Clean up. It’ll help.”
Right. She dipped her hands into the cool water and scrubbed slowly, watching the red wash off and be carried away downstream. She likely rubbed them harder than necessary since the blood was fresh and not dried, but she couldn’t help but feel like it was still caking her skin. She didn’t want to see his blood like that ever again. When she completed the simple task he’d given her, she looked back to him. “Lift up your shirt so I can bandage it,” he told her.
Though she still couldn’t feel it much, thanks to the blood pumping so heavily in her veins, she held her breath for a moment. If it was where he had touched her, that was a spot just below her breast bindings. It would be in an awkward spot for her to hold her shirt up high without just needing to take it off. Still, it wasn’t like he was telling her to remove her clothing for nefarious reasons. The worry swimming in his eyes was enough to feel like her own arrows were piercing her heart.
Because it was her fault, not his.
She turned her back to him and lifted her shirt, going ahead and pulling it off over her head. She waited patiently for the sting to come. His clean, now cold hand, touched her on the middle of her back first, as a warning that he was about to proceed. She braced for it. He lifted the cold, wet rag to her cut and dabbed at it gently, so gently. It only stung, causing her little discomfort. It was nothing compared to what he likely felt. She bit her bottom lip and waited patiently for him to finish. Once he’d set the bandage and taped it there, he tapped on her back, letting her know he was finished. She slid her shirt back on after a shudder ran through her thanks to the chilly night air.
What now? How could she look him in the eye? She couldn’t. It was plain and simple. She just couldn’t. She shifted around, still on her knees. Her head hung low, focused on the ground. A large knot formed in her throat and she brought a hand up, made a fist and propped her thumb on the outside of it. She brought it to her chest and rubbed it in circles, again and again, feeling the tears welling up. With each circle, she felt guiltier and guiltier. Apologizing wasn’t enough, but it was all she could do. There was nothing she could do to make this better.
Solas hands went up to her arms, squeezing lightly. It wasn’t enough to make her stop until he gave her a light shake. Her eyes came up to meet his, which only made her want to break down into thick sobs. “What are you apologizing for?” he asked, his brows furrowed.
It took a moment to get her hands to cooperate. “I didn’t warn you in time. If I could just fucking hear, I would have known they were coming sooner and you wouldn’t have been injured!” Solas looked like he was about to protest, but she kept going. “It isn’t just this time, but other times. We’ve been snuck up on and I can’t give well enough warning. I don’t understand how you can trust me and leave me to something so risky that could get us killed! I’m nothing but dead weight, even though,” her tears began to spill over her cheeks, “you were kind enough to bring me along. I just...can’t do anything to help you and I don’t want to get you killed because I just can’t... do things! At the next town, you should just leave me there and continue on your own so that-”
Solas reached out and grabbed her hands, silencing her. She blinked several times and realized just how much she was shaking in his calm grasp. What was that expression on his face? She hadn’t...seen him make that one before.
He waited several moments before releasing her. “You have absolutely nothing to apologize for and I am not leaving you behind.”
“But it was my fault and-!”
“No, it wasn’t. Even on my own, they could have snuck up on me. Without your help, I may not have survived at all. You are not dead weight.”
She fought to get a breath through the knot in her throat. “How can you say something like that?”
His lips pulled up into a small smile. His hands did not falter. “Because I love you, Samahl.”
She froze, her heart seizing in her chest painfully. Her lips parted with surprise. The only part of her that felt like it was still functioning was the tears that still protruded from her eyes.
“I love you and all of you,” he continued. “There is not a single thing about you that I would change. I love you as you are and I don’t want anything to happen to you. So...I want you to stay by my side, where I can protect you as best I can, if you’ll allow me.”
She still felt confused. Surely she had read all of his signs wrong. “You...love me?”
“I do, very much.”
Was that what that expression was? That was love?
She...had never experienced something like this before. What...what was she supposed to do?
He leaned forward slightly. “If you wouldn’t mind...I would very much like to kiss you.”
If she wouldn’t mind? How long had she imagined the feeling of his lips upon hers? The touch of his hands across her body? His taste? How long?
However long it had been since they met and she locked eyes with him, she supposed.
But what right did she have to kiss him? She’d just gotten his side slashed and…
But he didn’t blame her. Not even a little bit. He didn’t see her as a hindrance. He saw her as help. As a woman who carried her own weight. As an ally. As...what else? What else did he see through his eyes when he looked at her?
Before succumbing too much to her thoughts, she nodded, licking her lips that had gone dry. He leaned in slowly, as if giving her a last opportunity to change her mind and back away from him.
Back away from him? Never.
The last coherent thought she had as his lips pressed against hers was that it felt even better than she could have even imagined.
Chapter 6: Aravae as a Child
After several hours of tossing and turning in her bed, Aravae sat up, pushing her messy hair back out of her face. She huffed and tossed the blankets off of her and set her bare feet on the chilly stone floor. Her nightgown was loose and flowing, silky to the touch. When she heard a groan from the bed across from her, she stilled. Her younger brother, Nuvian, slowly sat up in bed, rubbing his weary light brown eyes. “Aravae? What are you doing?”
She shushed him and went over to his bedside, smirking at his own messy hair, an identical shade of mahogany to hers. “I can’t sleep. I’m going to the library.”
Having heard this many, many times before, Nuvian sighed and shook his head. “Lord Falon’din will get cross with you if he catches you in there again at this time of night. He gave you a specific order to not leave the room and bother the librarians.”
“I won’t bother them,” she insisted. “I’ll sneak around them and find a book to read, then I’ll bring it back here. I’ll take it back tomorrow morning.”
“So you’ll just keep me up all night with your candles?”
She grinned and tussled his hair. “Of course not! You’re use to them by now.”
“Not by my choice,” he grumbled, then swatted at her hand indignantly. “Stop that!”
She giggled, but withdrew her hand. “Besides, we’re the only young ones in Arlathan. It’s not like we can’t sneak around. The others aren’t accustomed to seeing us.”
“Or it’ll just make you more obvious,” he drawled. He slunk back down into his covers, curling up. “Do as you want. Don’t come crying to me when you get in trouble.”
She scoffed, making her way towards the door. “I won’t, because I won’t get caught.”
Nuvian just made a noise of disbelief, then fell silent. Aravae focused on her task at hand and opened the door to their bedroom as quietly as she could. She tiptoed out into the hallway, lit with braziers, then spun around to slowly close the door behind her.
She squeaked in surprise, her entire body jolting. She immediately spun around to face the owner of the voice, knowing right away who it was. She fell into a deep bow and stuttered, “L-l-Lord F-Falon’din…”
The elvhen god stood before her, hands clasped behind his back, an amused light twinkling in his eyes. “Where do you think you are going this time of night, da’len?”
Her shoulders sagged heavily. She knew there was no lying to him. “The…library, Lord Falon’din.”
“Even after I told you quite clearly to not?”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “But…there’s so much I haven’t learned and so much I want to read about. I couldn’t sleep, so…I thought I’d just grab a book and come back…”
A soft, affectionate chuckle came from Falon’din. “You have all the time in the world, da’len. Why can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
“Because I can’t sleep,” she insisted.
He inquired with honest curiosity, “And what were you going to get a book on?”
She hummed with thought. “I’m not sure. I was thinking maybe…one about shape-shifting magic?”
“Well, then.” Falon’din approached Aravae and set a hand on her shoulder. Any lower and the tall man would have to bend over. “Let’s go find one, shall we?”
Though Aravae didn’t want to argue or question it, she couldn’t help herself. “You…aren’t going to punish me, My Lord?”
“It seems I cannot keep you from your thirst of knowledge, Aravae. Perhaps from now on, we’ll just ensure that you have a couple of extra books in your room at all times?”
“I…did have some,” she admitted sheepishly. “I finished them all.”
“Then we’ll get a few more. Come now, let’s be on our way.”
Chapter 7: Aravae Reading to Solas
Aravae x Solas
What Aravae reads is a snippet from The Lord of the Rings
With the relative peace that was finally in the world and with Aravae’s belly swelling larger with each passing day (or so it felt), she was able to grab a large pile of books and sit either with Dorian in the library or with Solas down in the rotunda, spending her days reading and studying things about the Veil. She went outside of Skyhold’s walls with her love to conduct experiments to try and build a foundation on their theories on how to safely remove the Veil.
Day after day and book after book, Aravae was beginning to grow just a little weary. She was reading through dense, boring reads. She couldn’t even say that she was learning much, because most things revolving around the Veil were all pure theories or some sort of religious creation. Modern mages did not understand the old magic like the ancient elvhen did. Solas had his agents out searching for any clues that may assist them. Even Abelas and Felassan were working on finding any sorts of leads, but they weren’t expecting them to uncover anything for some time.
“Do you ever read something more interesting?” Dorian asked one evening with a dry droan to his voice.
Aravae peered around the pages of her book and arched an eyebrow at his own thick tome. “You’re one to talk. More books on Tevinter?”
“Well, since both you and Ser Painter down there have pointed out how many things from Tevinter - or at least that I believe are from Tevinter - are actually elvhen, I’m going back through and just...digging around a bit.” He marked his place by sticking his thumb in the pages, but then closed the book as much as he could, resting it in his lap. “Still, you didn’t answer my question. At least I still read other things, both more thrilling and fun.”
“Like Varric’s novels?” she inquired with a smirk.
Dorian cleared his throat. “While his writings are a fun read, that isn’t entirely what I mean. Here, come on.” He set the book aside on his small table and pulled Aravae’s book from her hands, resting it on his seat as he stood. He offered a hand to help her up. “I’m going to let you peruse my personal collection. There will undoubtedly be something that isn’t one of these dry reads that you will like. I know you’re a fast reader, so there’s no hurry, but since that’s all you’re doing these days…”
Aravae huffed lightly, pressing a hand to her belly after she stood. She exhaled sharply and gave a shrug of her shoulders. “Excuse me for being incredibly pregnant. Oof. I’m much larger this time than I was before. It isn’t exactly comfortable, you know.”
Dorian gave her a thoughtful look, looping her arm with his and he slowly led them towards his room. “Perhaps twins?”
“Most likely. I’ve felt kicks from different areas at the same time, so…” She sighed, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I am just ready for them to be out at this point.”
He patted her hand sympathetically. “I really do not envy you.”
“Thanks,” she drawled, giving him a sideways glare.
Once they got to his room, Aravae was actually a little surprised. His collection of books was spilling from the shelves he had in his room and stacks were on the floor. One had to maneuver quite carefully, or else they would be in danger of knocking on of the stacks over. He stood proudly in the center of the room with his arms crossed before sweeping the room with a wide gesture. “Take your pick! What sort of genre should we go for?”
After much deliberation, Aravae at last selected a book and thanked Dorian, holding onto it carefully as she made her way back towards her room. It was getting late, so Solas should soon be wrapping up what he was working on before retiring for the evening. She changed into her nightgown and made herself comfortable in the bed. With a flick of the wrist, she lit the candles on her bedside table, providing her with light so that she could begin to read the book. Dorian’s synopsis of it is what caught her attention, but she was just curious about what it held between its pages.
She had just been making a hum of approval when Solas had finally dragged himself through the doorway. He looked positively exhausted, half asleep on his feet. Aravae tilted the book down. “Are you okay?” she asked softly.
“Just tired, forgive me.” He rubbed his eyes and quickly discarded his shirt before crawling into bed beside of her, kissing her on her cheek. “I took longer than I meant. I got caught up…” He trailed off, his eyes trying to focus to read the name of the book on its spine. “What is that one?”
“Ah, it’s one of Dorian’s. He’s letting me borrow it to help break the mundane reading I’ve been doing.” She gave a small nod. “He was right. I needed to read something fictional and more for fun, rather than all of this research that we’ve been doing for months.”
“Is it good?” he asked sleepily, settling in under the covers. “I heard you making a noise when I came in.”
“I was just admiring the flowery way that it’s written with its poems and whatnot. Would you like to hear some of it?”
Aravae picked the section that she had just been reading through and cleared her throat. “The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.”
Solas made a low hum, which made Aravae come to a halt. “What is it? Do you like it?”
His heavy eyelids slid closed, but he nodded. “Such few words, but it paints a lovely image. It sounds even better with you reading it.”
Aravae smiled gently at him, then felt a light kick from inside her belly, as if one of her children were agreeing. She took a breath and continued reading, even after she began to hear the long, deep breaths from Solas, indicating that he’d fallen asleep.
“There Beren came from mountains cold,
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled.
He walked along and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following…”
Chapter 8: "Asking for help doesn't make you weak."
Aravae x Rienmar
That sick, nagging, heavy feeling in her stomach wouldn’t leave. It had been with her for days now and it had caused her to hang her head when she walked, her eyes staring distantly at the ground. This wasn’t what she wanted. This was never her intention in all her years of studying and learning and training. Her upper arm was still sore and bruised in the shape of fingers...Falon’din’s fingers. When Aravae had dared speak out about the pure insanity in his desire to start a war just to gain more followers, he’d instantly ordered everyone out of the room. The moment they were alone, the self-proclaimed god lunged at her and grabbed her with intense force on her left arm, shoving her up against the wall. The murderous gleam in his eye was not the Falon’din she remembered. When he whispered so lowly and dangerously that she needed to watch her tongue and never question him, she agreed with a shaking voice.
She no longer recognized the man she followed. He had twisted, warped...just like the rest of the Evanuris had slowly been. But she had been clinging to hope beyond hope that he would not change. Futilely, apparently.
Rienmar. She so desperately wanted to see him. She needed to see him. The sounds of screaming, battle cries, magic raging around her still pounded in her ears. Her mind was a thunderous storm and she needed to see the one man who could calm it. She needed to feel his arms around her, but...she feared what he may say or do when he saw her arm. In a feeble attempt to hide it, she made sure to pick out a dress today that had sleeves that covered just what she needed.
She was already on her way to see him at their meeting place. They had finally managed to get away from duties so that they could meet for the first time in… Well, she wasn’t even sure how long it had been. Too long. Since it had been so long, she didn’t want to sour their time together by being melancholy and out of it. She wanted it to be enjoyable. She didn’t want to see him concerned about her.
Yes. She needed to pull it together.
There was no ridding herself of the pit in her stomach, but she still paused in her walk to try and compose herself as best she could. She took deep breaths and exhaled slowly and tried to practice her smile. What did she normally smile like? How did she speak? Where did her hands rest?
No. She didn’t need to overthink this. She at least managed to force the slight tremble in her hands away and calm her pulse. Deeming that success enough, she continued on her way. When she heard the light rumble of the waterfall, her heart fluttered in her chest, knowing she was about to see Rienmar again.
As it usually seemed to happen, he was already there and waiting for her in the small cavern behind the waterfall. The moment she saw him, her natural movements and reactions took over. She felt a surge of calm wash over her. Her tense shoulders relaxed, nearly sagging forward. Her lips curled upwards and if she could have seen her own reflection, she would have seen how her eyes lit up. It was nearly identical to the way that Rienmar’s deep blue eyes twinkled upon spotting her. His own smile was broad, flashing a few teeth as he took long strides towards her, quickly closing the distance between them. He leaned over, wrapped his arms around her waist, and crushed his lips against hers. Simultaneously, she’d reached up with her arms, locking them behind his neck, and returned his kiss, her smile not fading. They gave multiple, smaller kisses before Rienmar lifted her off of the ground for a moment, making her squeal with surprise. He chuckled at her and set her back down, releasing her. She swatted at him lightly.
He shook his head at her and examined her face, his expression softening. As he brushed his fingers along her cheek, tucking her bangs behind her ear, he whispered, “I missed you.”
“I missed you too,” she replied within a heartbeat, her voice thick with emotion.
“I am honored, my beautiful lady.” Rienmar slipped his hand into hers, pressing a kiss to the back of hers. “Shall we take a walk?”
She couldn’t stop her smile from spreading. “Sure.”
They walked with Aravae’s hand tucked into the crook of Rienmar’s arm, their steps slow. Rienmar asked Aravae how she had been, but she quickly deflected, requesting he tell her any new stories first. Though he gave her a quick glance out of the corner of his eye, he obliged. He told her of the lull he had had between hunts. Since there was not much going on for Andruil at the moment, he was ‘stuck’ - he emphasized - with her brother and a few others of their usual hunting group. He was all too happy to get away for not only some quiet time, but time to see her. Normally, he would have given her more details, but he wrapped up his updates quickly.
“Aravae. Truly, tell me. How are you?”
The depth of his words slammed her with great force. Of course he knew. Everyone had to know about what Falon’din had begun. There was no hiding it, but… She saw several sets of eyes flash before her, the light leaving them, all bearing different emotions. Fear, shock, pain, horror, desperation…
A shudder went through her as hot tears sprang to her eyes. That brought Rienmar to an immediate halt. “Vhenan…” He set gentle hands on her arms, squeezing lightly. When she winced, he immediately withdrew his hands before his eyes darkened. “Aravae. Please. Talk to me.”
“I’m sorry,” she choked out first, bringing her hand up to lightly cradle her pained arm. “I… I don’t know what to say, Rienmar… I just...thought I could manage to...keep it together, or…”
He contemplated for a moment, then wrapped an arm around her waist and set a hand to her head, pulling her close towards him. She listened to his beating heart for several beats, feeling his warmth around her. His warmth...far unlike the cold, desolate place she normally would be found. She slowly reached her hands up and clutched at his fur cloak, holding on so tightly that her knuckles hurt. She took a trembling breath. “He...made me kill, Rienmar. He forced me to...to take command, and… I had to go out and...slaughter innocents that refused to-to follow him…”
His grip on her tightened, his hand beginning to stroke her hair.
“I tried...to tell him no, but he...he hurt me…”
She felt his entire body tense up before he slowly pulled away. She looked up at him with her watering gaze, watching as he pieced it together. He looked at her arms and reached out, tugging the sleeves up. He didn’t have to pull far before seeing the ugly green, purple, and blue bruises. He opened up his hand, matching up the splotches to his fingers, but he was careful not to touch them. He then balled it up into a fist and clenched his jaw. “He...did that to you?”
She swallowed thickly and nodded.
He growled quietly and took a step away from her, swinging the side of his fist into a tree with a large amount of force. He cursed softly, his brows furrowing. Aravae gazed at him with concern. When he didn’t move, she stepped over to him and pried his hand away from the tree, tsking softly when she saw how red it was, bits of bark sticking to his skin. She brushed them off and saw a few spots of blood. Since they were small, she hovered her hand over it, pouring what little healing magic she knew into it to stitch the thin layer of skin back together. She knew he watched with a conflicted look, but he didn’t stop her. When she raised his hand to kiss where he’d injured it, he made a soft, strangled noise. “Why didn’t you heal yourself?”
“I...tried,” she admitted meekly. “I am not as talented with healing magic. I wasn’t able to make them heal. I didn’t want to go to anyone else because...well, there’s too many people that look at me as a symbol of strength.”
Rienmar shook his head and hooked his index finger and thumb around her chin, forcing her to look up at him. She wasn’t sure why, but the sudden movement made her tears begin to flow. “Aravae...asking for help doesn’t make you weak. Please, don’t torture yourself. Don’t hold this in, either.” He pressed a gentle kiss to her brow, then rested his forehead against hers. “You are a kind and gentle soul. You did not want to do that. You do not wish to kill. Please...please, don’t hold this in. Please cry. You are safe here with me.”
His warm words cracked the wall around her heart and she buried her face into his shoulder, sobbing. He held her tightly, not letting her go until she was ready.
Chapter 9: Banal'ras the Shapeshifter
Aravae had always thought Banal’ras had been a strange creature. So attentive with watchful eyes, as though he could look right through you and completely understand the human tongues. Which was ridiculous, wasn’t it? Animals could be intuitive and seem almost like people. Even when she was thinking things like that, there were other quirks he had that reminded her that he wasn’t tame.
While he was protective and almost clingy towards her, he was standoffish and extremely wary of strangers. Actually, he was that way with even members of the inner circle. He was even cold occasionally to Solas. It seemed to depend on the day. At the same time, he would befriend others - even a random guard here and there, though the person who’d been chosen looked terrified as the black panther approached them silently.
However, Aravae never really had to care for him once he’d been healed. He had the nasty scar that remained on his side from his close encounter with death, but other than that, he fended for himself. He hunted, he ventured off, he would return at some point or another. She never deigned to call him anything like a pet - he was a wild animal who’d just happened to have grown fond of her, likely because she saved his life. Likewise, she had become attached to him and felt a strange worry if she hadn’t seen him for an extended period of time.
The strangest thing was his first encounter with Morrigan.
When they’d spotted each other briefly at the Winter Palace during their stressful evening with the ball and assassins, Aravae noticed that the raven-haired woman had made an interesting face when glancing at the panther. She had furrowed her brows and looked puzzled, yet...slightly impressed? At the time, she thought nothing of it. She’d received countless looks that evening, the whispers of The Witch of Storms and her familiar reaching her ear.
Once Morrigan arrived at Skyhold, Aravae did not have much contact with her for several days. That is, until, one day when she was sitting in the gardens reading, Banal’ras curled up at her feet, Morrigan approached her. “Era’tarasyl’nin. May I have a word?”
Aravae noted in the back of her mind how fluidly she pronounced the elvhen word, unlike many humans that were unfamiliar with the language had attempted. She closed her book and glanced up at her, Banal’ras rising to a sitting position. “You may. How can I help you?”
“I’m afraid this location is not quite private enough.” Morrigan peered about the garden, eyeing at the many staff and visitors that were currently occupying it. “May we move up to the battlements?”
“If you wish a private conversation, we can go to my tower.” She stood and tucked the book under her arm, leading the way to the steps that would take them up the battlements. Banal’ras walked along at her side, occasionally giving Morrigan a little bit of side-eye looks as she followed along after them.
They walked by Cullen, who was speaking with a couple of recruits. He paused to greet them, though he gave a silent, inquiring expression to Aravae, who returned it with slightly raised eyebrows and a twist of her lips. She had no idea what the supposed called Witch of the Wilds wanted. They entered her tower and went up, through Aravae’s room and to the top of the tower. They were slightly visible, but with a flick of Aravae’s wrist, she cast a barrier to keep their sound away from others’ ears. “There. You may speak freely.”
“‘Tis about your beast.” Morrigan gestured to Banal’ras. “Why does he remain?”
Aravae arched a brow. “I’m not sure. He was almost killed and we saved him. He has stayed with me ever since.”
“That is not-...” Morrigan stopped herself, then narrowed her eyes. “You do not realize.”
Something about her tone told Aravae that she should feel insulted. “Realize...what?”
Morrigan seemed a little perplexed, struggling for words. “Your beast is not...truly a beast.”
Aravae noted how Banal’ras snapped his head to look up at Morrigan, eyes sharp. “What do you…” Scenarios and memories ran through her mind, and somehow, things began to click. Things began to make sense. Then, dread built up in her. “Wait. You’re telling me that Banal’ras is a shapeshifter ?”
She silently nodded.
Aravae couldn’t contain her startled expression as she looked down at the panther. “Wh… Why haven’t you ever changed back?”
He blinked and tilted his head, as if he didn’t understand.
“‘Tis possible he cannot,” Morrigan said gravely. “He is young. He perhaps performed magic too advanced for him and he cannot undo it. Shapeshifting is dangerous magic. The longer one holds a form, the more their mind melds to the animal’s instincts. He has possibly been this way for years.”
Aravae bit the inside of her lip. She had never studied shapeshifting magic, or else she may have been able to detect it as Morrigan so easily had. Leliana had told Aravae that she knew who Morrigan was and briefly told her if she saw a mysterious raven hanging about to let her know. Aravae quickly put those pieces together, but… Banal’ras. For some reason, the thought had never crossed her mind. She knelt down, being eye to eye with him, and stroked his fur slowly. “Is it too late?” she asked the human. “Can we change him back?”
“I do believe so. Give me a little time to analyze him.” Morrigan settled down on her knees and held up her hands, a warm glow of magic engulfing them. She closed her eyes for concentration, Banal’ras looking back and forth between the women.
“I am so sorry, young one,” she whispered in elvhen. “If I had noticed, perhaps I could have done something. You would not have been stuck like this.”
He did not respond in any way.
Aravae let silence fall as Morrigan focused. To her surprise, it didn’t take much time for her to speak. “Yes, I can undo it. Will you grab a blanket or cloak for him?”
The elvhen woman nodded and went back into her room, grabbing a dark grey cloak and hurrying back up to the top of the tower. Morrigan was already weaving a spell in the air, Banal’ras watching her intently with his dark brown eyes. Aravae waited tensely, gazing at the workings of the spell and watching as Banal’ras began to glow faintly with a green light.
There was a sudden crack in the air and a flash of the green light, which was over as quickly as it began. Aravae hurriedly wrapped the cloak around the human body that fell to the cobblestone. He was not entirely naked, but what clothing was left was ragged, torn, and filthy. Aravae could see the gashing scar on his side, just where the bear had cleaved into him in his other form. With Morrigan’s assistance, they rolled him over and Aravae propped him up. He was not a young child, but he was perhaps in his teenage years. He had dark-toned skin, short, messy black hair, a pair of elongated ears, and cloudy and confused brown eyes. “Banal’ras, dalen. Are you okay? Can you hear me?” Aravae thought in the spur of the moment that she didn’t even know his true name, but she didn’t know what else to call him.
He groaned softly, blinking his eyes slowly. They seemed to finally focus in on the women hovering above him. “Ar… Aravae?” he mumbled, his voice thick and heavy. His voice was only a slightly lower alto tone.
“Tell me, child, do you know where you are?” Morrigan inquired, surprisingly gently.
He glanced around, blinking a little more. “The top of your tower… Skyhold.”
“Good. And you know who we are?”
“Can you tell us what happened? How were you stuck in that form?”
He tried sitting forward, Aravae propping a hand on his back to steady him, since he seemed a little wobbly. “I...I remember.” He pulled the cloak tight around him. “I lived with my father up in Rivain, in Llomerryn. We were safe there, no one bothered us, but then...a man came one day. He stayed at an inn nearby and for several days, he was a raging drunk… He… My father tried to get him to leave some women alone and…” His voice cracked. “The man hit him in the head…”
Aravae rubbed her hand in circles on the young man’s back. Just as she was about to tell him that he didn’t need to speak anymore, he continued.
“I had come into my magic years before then, but Father and I kept it quiet, just in case… Mages are treated much differently in Rivain, but...he said just in case. When I finally got home again, I started trying to think of ways…” He took a shuddering breath and hung his head. “I wanted to kill that man. I thought that changing into a beast would be the easiest way without revealing that it was me. But then…”
“You couldn’t change back,” Morrigan supplied quietly.
He shook his head and cleared his throat right after he sniffled. “I got scared. I didn’t even go after the man, I just tried to find help. But people got scared and then others started chasing me to hurt me. So I ran out of Llomerryn...but eventually, they caught me.”
“And you ended up at the Emerald Graves?” Aravae inquired.
He nodded and shifting, bringing his gaze to hers. His eyes still seemed exactly the same. “If you hadn’t saved me, I would have died. You didn’t seem scared of me, so...I didn’t know where else to go.”
“I’m glad you chose to.” Aravae squeezed his shoulder gently. “But what now? Do you...want to return to Rivain?”
He was quick to shake his head. “There’s no home there for me. I have no other family.” He shyly glanced down, eyes focusing on the fabric of the cloak. “Can I...stay here? With you?”
“Of course you can.” She gave him a warm smile. “But first, tell me. What is your true name?”
Chapter 10: Begins to Tapdance
As the dancers on the stage began to move and stomp their feet, strange clacking noises coming from them, Ena slowly turned her head to look at Vivienne. “What in the Creator’s name is this ?”
Vivienne tutted her. “My dear, give them your attention, be polite. This is the newest form of dance Orlais has to offer. My, they’ve truly gone above and beyond with this arrangement. Look at their clothes! And those masks …”
Ena fidgeted with her own silver mask that Vivienne insisted she wear. Vivienne herself was wearing the mask she’d first adorned when the two met. Madame de Fer was sitting tall and poised in her seat, her hands folded in her lap. Ena glanced over to Josephine, in a gold mask, and Leliana on the far side, in a black mask, both women imitating Vivienne’s posture. Ena struggled to do the same, but she was so uncomfortable. She didn’t care for Orlais’ style between the masks and the fancy clothes the women had managed to wrangle her into. She had no idea how Aravae managed to worm her way out of not coming along with them. Vivienne was insistent on bringing the women to Val Royeaux and giving them a relaxing day. Cassandra had politely, but fervently, declined. Though entirely reluctant to extend an offer to Sera, Vivienne did so, to which the rogue girl stared in horror before bursting out into laughter. Needless to say, Sera was not with them.
Ena turned her attention back towards the...strange dancing that was occurring on stage. She didn’t understand the neither bizarre shoes on the feet of the dancers nor the odd sounds coming from them. While it was foreign to her ears, there was something about it that was...intriguing. Ena herself loved to dance and learn new ones. Perhaps that was why Vivienne had suggested this. Ena could do wonderful Dalish dances, she’d learned ballroom dancing for the Winter Palace, Josephine taught her some rather suggestive Antivan dances - which Ena was startled that the modest Ambassador knew. She forgot that at one point, Josephine was a bard. Leliana shared both more Orlesian dances, as well as some from Ferelden. Ena had seen things from the strange belly dances (though those interested her) to strange, chaotic line dances that made no sense to her, but...this?
The longer she watched, the more entranced she became. She notated how they stomped their feet, moved fluidly on the stage with well practiced precision, and slapped their hands on their legs and shoes as they brought their feet up to knee level. The music the band played along with them was lively, making Ena’s toe tap on the floor. She began to ponder if she could incorporate some of their moves into dances of her own...though it likely wouldn’t have the same effect as those shoes. Would they work on the grass, or did they need a hard surface to make those noises?
Vivienne turned to look at Ena at one point during the program and saw how enraptured she was by the performance. On the other side, Josephine and Leliana leaned forward with victorious grins. Vivienne sat back in her seat, her own pleased smile dancing across her lips. Looks like after all that fussing every step of the way, Ena was enjoying herself after all.
Chapter 11: Both Injured, Waking up Beside Each Other
Aravae x Rienmar
Swirling dreams of being chased by shadows, ragged lightning bolts, flying arrows, and slashing swords were the last thing Aravae remembered. She felt like she’d been dreaming that again and again. She felt like she’d been dreaming for days and days. When was the last time she woke?
Clearly, now. Something felt like it shifted incredibly quickly and caused her senses to slam into her much too fast. Just as she’d been taking a deep breath, realizing she’d slipped out of the Fade and into reality, discomfort registered. There was a nauseous pit in her stomach and a mild headache drumming in her skull. Her mouth was dry. Before even opening her eyes, she tested her limbs, all of which were movable, but incredibly sore. Her arms, she noted, were a little worse off than her legs. It felt like she had been sparring for an entire day without taking a break. The soreness was close to being called real pain. Whatever she was laying on was not her usual bed. It felt much less comfortable, which probably contributed to the knot in her back.
With her eyes still closed, she saw a quick flash of an arrow flying towards-
She inhaled sharply and jerked as she opened her eyes, trying to sit up. Thankfully, her eyes were not too offended. It seemed to be dark outside, so the only lights that made her wince were from torches and braziers. However, trying to sit up was clearly out of the question. The room began to spin and her headache intensified tenfold and her nausea spiked. She groaned softly and fell back down onto what appeared to be just a blanket lying on the ground. She heard a startled gasp from somewhere in the room and soft voices, but couldn’t see the source of who it was.
Rienmar. Estelar. Where were they? She needed them. She needed to see them. She had to know they were okay. That was the last thing she remembered - seeing an arrow loosed and flying towards her husband and daughter. Why couldn’t she remember anything more?! Hot tears stung at her eyes. They had to be okay. They were okay. They were okay.
Up above her was a very tall, stone ceiling. She didn’t recognize it at all. Had they been captured? Wherever she was seemed a little nice for a prison. Why hadn’t they just been killed?
She tilted her head to the side, wincing at the headache, which seemed to pound a little harder each time she moved her head, and felt her breath catch in her throat. Laying there, just beside her, was Rienmar, but he looked terrible. He had bandages on his head, shoulder, right arm, and torso. There was movement fluttering behind his eyelids. When she looked closer, it didn’t seem like the bandages had been soaked through with blood. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? Her hand slid across the distance between them and found his, gripping it tightly. She frowned with worry. His hand was chilled.
The sound of approaching footsteps reached her ears. She didn’t want to look away from her husband, but she did, involuntarily flinching at her headache. Hovering above her was a woman with blue eyes and long golden hair. She held her hands out soothingly. “You aren’t in danger. You’re safe here. Our people found you and brought you here.”
“Where is my daughter?” Aravae demanded hoarsely. Other questions could come after.
“She is safe, completely unharmed. She is being watched with other children at the moment. Your own condition, along with this gentleman, were much more dire. How do you feel?”
“Has he woken up?” she inquired.
The woman’s eyes passed between Aravae and Rienmar. “He appears to be stirring, but no, he has not shown consciousness yet. Now please, my lady, I know you’re worried, but I do need to know how you are.”
Aravae blinked slowly, then started to repeat her symptoms that she felt to the golden haired woman, who listened and nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, the majority of it all sounds normal. Do you remember what happened?”
“Perhaps he will when he wakes. Your daughter won’t speak of it and no one that was nearby clearly understood. I will bring you some soup and some water and we’ll try to get you to sit up. We will also have your daughter brought to you, okay?”
Though she still didn’t know where she was, Aravae could see that this woman meant them no harm. She murmured a soft thanks to her as she stood and hurried off. Aravae had her suspicions, though. She was bare faced, not marked with vallaslin. Only people that Fen’harel had freed had no vallaslin. Then again, even if they were within a safe area of Fen’harel’s...there wouldn’t be any open conflict where they were. It could be a small blessing.
A quiet moan came from her left side and she turned her head. Rienmar’s hand started to grip hers as his eyes fluttered open, his brows furrowing. A wave of relief washed over Aravae at seeing his eyes open. He seemed to be also looking at their immediate area and possibly seeing what condition his body was in. His own head slowly shifted, his electric blue eyes locking onto her. He whispered her name, “Aravae.”
“Rienmar,” she returned softly, squeezing his hand.
He gripped it with a little more force. “I’m glad you’re okay. I was worried that you’d...pushed yourself too hard. Wait-” he tensed, panic flashing in his eyes, “-Estelar?”
“She’s fine, apparently. She’ll be here shortly.”
He breathed a sigh of relief, his entire body relaxing.
“Do you know what happened?” Aravae asked him gently. “I don’t remember.”
His eyes broke away from hers and shifted around, as if digging through his memories. “I remember an arrow coming towards us. I was shielding Estelar, but then there was an explosion. I-...” He hesitated, his gaze falling down to the bandaged arm.
She urged, “What?”
“I just remember that there was some burning on my skin, but I think I sheltered Estelar from it. Before I knew it, all the others were dead. You collapsed first and I remember trying to walk towards you, but then...nothing.”
Aravae’s heart seized. Burning on his skin. Those bandages. She had done that to him. Her. She had hurt him. Without realizing it, her vision became blurred with tears. Rienmar released his grip on her hand and brought his fingers up to graze across her cheek, wiping away the tears that were already falling. “Don’t even think about it,” he said sternly. “If it weren’t for you, we would be dead. I can heal. You saved us, ma lath.”
A knot formed in her throat, making it hard for her to breathe. She took a shuddering breath and pressed the palm of her hand to the back of his, holding his hand in place against her cheek. She leaned into his touch and choked, “I just… I don’t know what I would do without you…”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” he murmured, “because I am here. And I’m not going anywhere.”
Chapter 12: Celebratory Kisses
Aravae x Rienmar
“There. Finished.” Nuvian took a step back, examining his work. “You should be thankful that you forced me to learn how to braid your hair when we were younger,” he added rather smugly.
Aravae turned and swatted at her younger brother before lifting a hand mirror to reflect it in the larger mirror behind her, giving her a view of the braid Nuvian had successfully done for her. It looked lovely. He’d taken her bangs and pulled them back, twisting them into the braid that started on the right side of her head, then straightened out and hung down along her back. He’d delicately placed flowers of multiple colors in the weaves of the braid and set one - a white one - just above her right ear. With a little bit of assistance, she’d painted her lips a dark red and gave a dark outline to her top eyelids. She set the mirror down and wrapped her arms around Nuvian. “Thank you so much.”
Nuvian chuckled softly and returned her hug. “You’re welcome. Rienmar is incredibly lucky, you know.”
She pulled away slightly, laughing gently. “No, it’s me who is the lucky one.”
“Ugh, you’re both lucky, you lovesick da’lens.” He gave a good-natured roll of his eyes. “Here, be careful. I don’t want to knock any of the flowers out.”
“Yes, yes.” Aravae gently released him and took a step back. “I wouldn’t want to ruin your hard work.”
“It is hard work, I’m glad you agree.” He arched an eyebrow at the dress she was wearing, giving an appreciative nod. “Just like that piece of work. I hope you thanked whoever made that for you.”
“It was Adahla. She wouldn’t let me help. You know how she is.” Aravae glance back in the floor-length mirror, admiring the dress one of her instructors had made for her in honor of this day. It was a halter top, fitting snugly around her neck. It had a low back to it. The silky material shimmered as she moved, the white and gold trim a lovely contrast. It didn’t hug her curves too tightly, giving her room to move. The pleated skirt stopped just above her ankles, revealing her feet that were covered in dark silver wrappings. She had dangling green earrings in the piercings of her ears, which complimented her eyes and vallaslin. Two spiraling golden armbands adorned her upper arms and she also had a golden bracelet upon her right wrist. She let out a shaking breath. “I don’t even recognize myself.”
“I’ll say. -Don’t hit me,” Nuvian quickly added with a laugh. “You should let yourself look nicer every once in a while.”
“It takes too much work,” she insisted without missing a beat. “How long have we been at this?”
“...You have a point. Still, it’s for a special day.” Nuvian clasped his hands on her shoulders, squeezing gently. “Are you ready?”
She smiled at him through the mirror. “I’ve been ready.”
“Glad to hear it. Well, I’ll go out there, then. Come on out whenever you’re ready.” He stepped around and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Love you, Aravae.”
She felt the stinging of tears at her eyes, but she managed to blink them back. She embraced her brother once more. “I love you, Nuvian. I’ll be out shortly.”
“Take your time,” he assured her, making his way out of the small room that they’d been occupying in order to get her ready.
Aravae looked back at her reflection, staring into the green of her eyes. Her hands were shaking. Why were they shaking? She wasn’t nervous or afraid or regretful. Perhaps it was excitement. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, repeating it a couple of times. The shaking didn’t go entirely away, but it helped some. She glanced over her appearance once more, checking to see if there was anything she’d forgotten. No, she needed to stop nitpicking. Her hair was perfect, thanks to her brother. Her dress was magnificent, thanks to Adahla, who had also helped with her small applications of makeup. She’d picked out her jewelry and thought it all went together well.
She just needed to go out there and stop delaying.
Her heart started pounding painfully in her chest as she turned away from the mirror. She picked up the bouquet of flowers she’d made, picking every assortment of colored wildflower she could find and binding them together. She gripped them tightly and paused just before the door, taking one more breath.
She set her free hand on the knob and exited the room.
She went down the hall and weaved through only a couple of turns before exiting the temple and walking out into the forest. She didn’t have far to go before she spotted the backs of the first few people that were there to watch the ceremony. She and Rienmar had agreed they wanted to keep it as small as possible - a few close friends that were under Aravae’s command and a few of Rienmar’s good hunters. One of them had spotted her and a murmur went throughout the small group. They all turned, looking at her with happy and encouraging expressions. She felt her face flush, not used to being looked at in such a way. She felt her feet momentarily freeze to the ground.
However, it only took one more step to see her beloved. Rienmar, who had been sharing a couple of words with Nuvian that was standing beside him, caught her movement from out of the corner of his eye and turned to look at her, his mouth freezing mid-word. As their eyes locked, Aravae felt her shaking and nerves melt away. She knew that a broad smile had broken out on her face as she looked at her vhenan. His hair had been drawn back in a rather nice ponytail, his bangs still hanging in his eyes. He wore a black outfit with golden trim that hugged his frame quite nicely, the backside having coattails. She watched as his eyes lit up and he flashed her a toothy smile. She felt like bursting into tears of joy at that very moment.
She held herself together and cleared her throat as she made her way towards him with long, but slow and elegant steps. Her dress rustled lightly with each step and the murmuring had died away, leaving only the sounds of the forest around them. The birds were singing and rays of sunshine were breaking through the canopy. As Aravae drew nearer, she saw that Rienmar’s eyes had a shiny glint to them, which tugged at her heartstrings. She came to stand at his side, the two exchanging a loving look, eyes lingering before they brought their attention to the elder that was marrying them. The wrinkled woman glanced at the two of them, giving them a warm expression before clearing her throat. “Are you ready to get started?”
“I think we’ve been ready,” Rienmar said first, breathlessly.
Aravae felt as though she was never going to stop smiling.
The elder kept her words short and sweet, reminding the two of the sacred nature of marriage between two individuals and how they needed to support one another. At one point, Rienmar’s hand wandered over to Aravae’s and laced his fingers with hers, squeezing. She squeezed back, feeling comfort at the warmth of his hold. She was so focused on just feeling his hand on hers that she nearly spaced out, caught slightly off guard when Rienmar shifted and released her hand to go into his pocket and pull forth the rings he’d crafted for them, made out of halla horn. She beamed at the familiar little objects. He’d had her try it on beforehand, just to make sure it fit her well. Since then, he’d apparently stained hers silver and his black. They looked beautiful.
She passed her bouquet to one of the women she knew that was standing closest, then turned back to face Rienmar. At the elder’s word, he took her left hand and slipped the ring on her middle finger. She took his and took his right hand, also placing it on his middle finger. They then laced their fingers of both hands together and took a breath, saying the vows that they’d decided upon and practiced.
“Today I promise you that though the world may change and though we may change with it, I will always love you, I will always treasure you, and I will share all that I am with you. From this day forward, you will never be alone, for I will be there to love and support you in all that you do, no matter what may come. I will be there through both the good times and the bad and I will be with you until my last breath.”
“See that you do,” the elder said softly, her eyes shining. “You may now kiss, husband and wife. Rienmar and Aravae.”
Aravae heard the rushing exhale as Rienmar pulled her towards him and cupped her face, tilting it up and capturing her lips with his. She wrapped her arms around his neck, keeping them there for a few seconds before breaking away. The group clapped and cheered, Nuvian being the loudest. Rienmar laughed softly, his breath tickling her skin as he pressed his forehead to hers. She saw a tear slip from the corner of his eye. “I love you so much, my wife.”
“I love you more, my husband.”
They kissed once more.
Chapter 13: Chess Tournament at Skyhold
It had been a relatively relaxing day within Skyhold’s walls. Aravae had gotten plenty of reading and studying on the Veil done alongside Solas and, surprisingly, Vivienne, who had offered to assist where she could. She was fascinated by the theories they had come up with in order to bring it down safely and was curious to see where it was going to go. Dalish had come barging into the library, drawing forth many glares in her direction, but she demanded for everyone’s presence in the tavern later.
A smooth sounding drink did sound relaxing to Aravae, so she agreed. Once she, Solas, and Vivienne had finished up, two of the three headed for the tavern. Vivienne shook her head and with a knowing smirk, said, “I don’t want to be caught up in whatever rambunctious plans they have going on tonight.”
Probably a smart idea, the elvhen woman thought dryly to herself. Still, she was making an effort to spend a little more time with everyone now that things had calmed down somewhat.
Perhaps she’d spent more time with them than she thought. Nearly the moment she and Solas walked in, there were cheers and Bull ran up with two separate mugs filled to the brim with their preferred alcoholic choices. As they walked to the far side, where the Chargers always claimed, there was quite the gathering. As they soon found out, it was Diamondback night. Solas’s eyes dragged over and met Blackwall’s, who proceeded to glare piercing daggers at him. Solas actually could not help himself and barked a few short laughs. Aravae swatted him lightly on the arm and told him to play nice.
The two sat out for a time until they managed to wrangle Solas in. The moment he joined, Blackwall hopped out and stood by Aravae, watching carefully to study how Solas played it. Once he’d picked up a few tricks, he made a side comment to Aravae without looking at her, “So I take it you’ll be in that tournament tomorrow?”
Aravae frowned and slowly tilted her head towards him. “...Tournament?”
He finished his sip of his ale and nodded. “Yeah. Tournament. The chess games? Josephine said something about needing to have something more ‘lighthearted’ going on in Skyhold to perk everyone up. Apparently the Commander plays chess and made a comment annnd here we are.”
“I was aware he played, but…” Aravae arched an eyebrow and gave an impressed look, lifting her mug for a moment as if toasting the Commander, who was not present in the tavern. “I didn’t think he’d dare speak up about it.”
“Dorian was saying something about playing, too. I’ve heard chatter among the recruits, so I think it’s actually turning out to be a pretty big ordeal.”
Loud groans erupted from the card players and the two didn’t even have to give their full attention to glance at the table to see Solas raking in money and a few articles of clothing. “Unless we have more than one chessboard floating around, I think that it could possibly take longer than just a day,” Aravae commented.
“There have been some scoured up. At least four, so several matches can go on at once.”
“I see. Well, I would hate to ruin the fun by crushing everyone.”
Blackwall snorted into his mug and coughed to clear his throat, beating on his chest with his free hand, though his face was twisted with an amused grin. “That confident, my Lady?”
“Considering I have countless more years experience, yes.”
“Remind me not to be in the nearby vicinity should you meet your match.”
“Hmmph. I can admit defeat with grace to someone who beat me fairly.”
“Still…” He leaned back against a pillar. “You can have a temper.”
“Did you scoff ?”
“I guess it’s just a rare night for you to see this slightly more relaxed version of myself.”
The night ended surprisingly early, for the crowd that was gathered. They would normally go on through the night and pass out in the wee hours of the morning. However, many people - Bull included - turned in at a reasonable time. Now that she knew about it, Aravae could hear the excited chatter about the chess tournament that was coming up the following day. She passed the information along to the slightly intoxicated Solas, whose eyes twinkled with challenge. She shook her head at him and laughed, the two turning in for the night.
Damn the dedicated chess players. Damn them. The sun had barely risen (she blamed it on Cullen’s tightly run ship) when she heard commotion drift up to her tower, effectively pulling her out of sleep. She glanced out the window that faced the garden area and saw that a group had already formed. People were already winning and losing and being cheered on or taunted. Solas apparently didn’t appreciate it either, judging by the disgruntled groans he made as he rolled over in bed.
With any hopes of falling back asleep dashed, Aravae went ahead and dressed, Solas dragging along behind her. They made their way down to the gardens, where the matches were now well underway. They stayed back a little ways, just wanting to watch for the time being. As they saw it, they would let the weaklings weed themselves out before they stepped in. If they were going to. Perhaps if and when other members of the inner circle or war council were going to join.
Remembering the original reason why this was being held, Aravae did glance around. Though the majority of participants at the moment were human, there were several elves in the mix, elbowing and joking with the humans. She spotted a couple of dwarves snorting rather unceremoniously at something amusing they’d just seen or heard. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, smiling, laughing, jesting, and competing relatively friendly. Some good natured curses flew around in the air as people made bad moves or lost, but everyone shook hands or gave a joking punch in the arm.
“Ah, you’ve graced us with your presence,” a familiar voice said from just behind them.
“I could say the same to you, Dorian.” Solas arched his brows. “Are you certain you got enough beauty rest to be up this early?”
“Pah.” The Tevene scoffed. “I went to bed far earlier than you ruffians in the tavern. I am bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to defeat a good handful of people.”
“Only a handful?” Aravae inquired with amusement.
“If you’re participating, I know I can’t win, so I may as well get some good ones in while I can. I can hold my own for quite a while.”
“By all means,” Solas gestured to a table that had just opened up for a new challenger, “good luck to you, Mr. Pavus.”
“Such kind words, Mr. Hobo.” Dorian smirked and hurried to claim the seat, Solas nearly rolling his eyes at the comment. Nearly.
As Dorian proclaimed, he went on quite a winning streak to the point where some recruits were refusing to play him, waiting to see if they could beat some of the others set up at the other boards. As the morning wore on, however, more people emerged from their rooms, coming to join in. Cullen finally appeared, apparently still tending to morning routines and patrols. Bull was like an eager child, pouncing into the free chair across from Dorian. From the way his shoulders sagged, Aravae assumed that the Altus figured his streak was about to end. To his credit, it at least ended up being a very intense match to where a couple other ones had been put on hold so that they could see how it would play out. Eventually, a loud grumble of, “Vishante kaffas,” reached their ears and Dorian stood abruptly.
Bull roared with laughter. “Maybe next time, Vint!”
Solas took a step forward. “I suppose that’s my cue.”
“Enjoy it,” Aravae called after him as he made his way to the table. Bull squared his shoulders and grew serious.
Dorian returned to stand by Aravae as other players went back to their match while Solas and Bull began theirs. Ena suddenly appeared, asking for a quick update. Dorian begrudgingly admitted his recent loss, but made sure to give her the accurate number of his wins. She flashed him a smile and clapped him on the shoulder, praising him for doing well. Aravae asked, “Are you going to join?”
She laughed weakly. “Unfortunately, while I comprehend it thanks to Bull teaching me, I am not a very strong player yet. Ironically. Are you?” She suddenly sounded a little more excited.
“That’s what everyone keeps asking me,” she replied ominously.
“That tells me nothing.”
“She’ll do it,” Dorian retorted with certainty. “She isn’t one to back down from a challenge.”
Aravae reached over and touched a finger to his arm, jolting him with very weak electricity. He jumped and rubbed his offended limb.
While they stood there, chatting idly, Solas and Bull had four stalemates before Bull emerged the victor, to many people’s surprise. The tal-vashoth puffed his chest and announced he had ‘figured out some of Solas’s tricks’ from previous matches they’d played. Almost like a spirit, Blackwall appeared from out of nowhere and commented, “So much for centuries of practice, huh?”
“Ah, there she goes! There she goes! I knew it! Thank you, Blackwall, you were the one to push her over the edge!” Dorian cheered as Aravae stalked over to claim Solas’s spot against Bull.
Solas did not look ired at his loss. Rather, when he saw Aravae making his way towards them, he smiled, stood, let her sit, pushed the chair in, and bobbed his head towards Bull. “You have my condolences, Iron Bull.”
“Ha!” he barked. “Condolences. We’ll see. Bring it on, saar!”
She would admit that Bull gave her quite a good challenge, but when she made her final move and declared checkmate, he narrowed his eye at the board, as if trying to see if there were some move he missed or that she was mistaken. He growled quietly and set his hands on top of the table. “Well played,” he grumbled.
“Thank you,” she replied perhaps a little too cheerily. Perhaps she had enjoyed that victory just a bit too much.
She stood up just as Bull did, but he shook his head at her and pointed to the chair. “Ah, ah. Didn’t you hear the rules? You won. You have to stay until you lose.”
There was an affirmation from the recruits standing about the board, though many looked nervous, none quite wanting to challenge her. She huffed lightly and sank back into her seat. “Very well. Let’s do this.”
The morning dragged into afternoon, the crowd never quite disappearing because most who played, even if they lost, hung around to see who the ultimate winner was going to be. There were even cheers from soldiers up above on the battlements. It had turned into quite an ordeal. Many went on a major food and drink run, helping the kitchen staff bring it up and pass it out. Aravae continued defeating one opponent after another. Cullen was also winning quite often on a different board. The other two had soldiers, one human and one dwarf, that were effectively beating their competition. It must have hit mid-afternoon before they ran out of challengers. The crowd cheered for who they wanted the final four to face off against. It ended up being Aravae and the dwarven woman and Cullen against the human man.
Aravae still handed it to the dwarf. She played a bold and confident game, but in the end, Aravae was victorious. It wasn’t much longer after that Cullen snagged his victory - surprisingly narrowly. As the Commander stood across from Era’tarasyl’nin, bets started getting shouted, people hollered, and several clapped with excitement.
“I do not believe I’ve ever played against you before, Commander.”
“No, I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure, my Lady.” He tilted his head at her. “May the better player win.”
“Agreed. Shall we?”
One of the recruits flipped a coin to see who would go first. Cullen won the toss and sat down on the appropriate side. Aravae settled into her seat after a stretch. She took a breath and focused. When had she gotten so into this?
She analyzed each of his moves carefully, moving her pieces in accordance to block moves as well as to advance. She glanced at his face before and after each of her moves. Though he occasionally frowned or slightly raised a brow, he managed to hide his expressions quite well for the most part. More than once, she caught him doing the same to her, trying to read her face. Unfortunately for him, she had a much better straight face than he did.
Many pawns were taken. A rook here, a knight there. Both battled aggressively with their queens. At one point, Aravae made the decision to sacrifice hers for a move, something Cullen seemed confused by and it was a move that riled the crowd. Cullen studied the board, trying to see what her plan was. She could tell he didn’t want to fall for it, but in his position, it would have been a grand thing to have her queen out of play. She was currently guarding her king with a lone rook and bishop. She’d had to change her strategy many times to counter his moves, but she was certain now that as long as he took her queen, she would secure victory.
It took much debating and he seemed to kick himself for it, but Cullen caved. He took the queen with his bishop. From there, it took about five more turns each before Cullen sat back in his chair, nodding appreciatively. “I see,” he murmured under his breath.
Two more turns and Aravae declared checkmate. The two shook hands, satisfied with their match. The crowd erupted with cheers of all kinds. Coins passed between hands. When it grew a little quieter, Aravae gave a lopsided grin. “Does the winner get a boon?”
“I suppose I don’t see why not, after all those matches you won.”
“Then I say that the soldiers have tomorrow off!”
Before he even confirmed or denied it, the soldiers went crazy, cheering for the Witch of Storms and declaring her a chess master. Cullen’s shoulders sagged and though his head shook, his lips were curved up in a smirk. “I suppose I can’t very well deny your boon, can I?”
Chapter 14: Constellations
The eluvian resting on the edge of the forest flashed with light, illuminating the dark area around it. Aravae stepped through, Estelar resting on her hip. Once they were through, Aravae closed the door and set her daughter down on the ground next to her, keeping their hands together. Estelar gazed around the dark forest with wide eyes. “Mamae, what are we doing out here?”
“I thought you wanted to see the stars?” Aravae smiled and tugged her along, away from the eluvian. It took only a few steps for them to leave the trees and stand out in a wide open, grassy field. Several animals in the distance were grazing, though they quickly snapped their heads up to see what was approaching them.
“Ooh, yes! Stars!” Estelar jumped a few times, squealing with excitement. She tilted her head upwards to take in the sight before her, gasping with awe. “Mamae, look!!”
Aravae looked up to the sky with her, her breath hitching for a moment. The stars were beyond beautiful and bright. They danced in the sky, twinkling with life, some different colors, some looking like they were riding in a far off cloud. Aravae and Rienmar had come here before to stargaze, away from the forest, where the canopy hindered their sight. “It’s very lovely, isn’t it, da’enansal?”
Estelar bobbed her head up and down, giggling with glee. She looked up to her mother with a broad smile. Aravae smiled back and let her daughter’s hand go, though she warned her not to go too far. The child laughed and ran on ahead, practically gliding through the grass, her eyes turned towards the sky and not the ground. Aravae hoped she wouldn’t trip.
To the contrary, her little girl was quite graceful in all that she did. She watched with adoration swelling in her chest as Estelar ran, her long, dark curls flying out behind her. She took slow strides to follow after her. She wasn’t worried about Estelar getting out of her sight, but she was worried she may spook the herd of hart that was nearby. Thankfully, apparently deciding she’d found a good place to stop, Estelar spun around, shouting, “Hurry up, Mamae!”
“I’m coming,” she assured her. Estelar made some impatient, whining noise, to which Aravae could only laugh at. Once she finally caught up to her, she sunk down in the grass and Estelar plopped herself down in Aravae’s lap.
They gazed silently for a short period before Estelar asked, “Can you tell me about the stars, Mamae?”
Aravae hummed, thinking about where to begin. She pointed upwards and said, “Well, if you look closely, you can make shapes out of some of the stars. Those are called constellations.”
Estelar frowned, her face twisted with concentration. “Con… Constell...ations?”
“Yes! Very good, Estelar.” Aravae gave her a quick peck to the top of her head. “Now, let’s see… Ah, here, Tenebrium. We can start with that one. See it here?” She slowly traced along with her finger, making sure Estelar was watching. “It looks like an owl. Can you see it?”
It took several moments of the little girl tilting her head this way and that, trying to see what Aravae was talking about. Then, her eyes lit up and she bounced in her mother’s lap. “I see it!”
“Good! Now, do you know what an owl stands for?”
“Falon’din!” she answered proudly.
“Ah, so you do listen when your Papae talks.”
“I told you!”
Aravae smirked and looked around for another one Estelar may be able to figure out. “How about this one? Solium. Can you tell what it is?”
“Mmm…” She did her head tilting again, tracing along where Aravae had with one eye closed, as if it helped her to see it better. She exclaimed when she saw it. “The sun!”
“Excellent, da’enansal! You’re so smart.”
Estelar giggled bashfully. She tugged at her curls. “The sun is…Elgar’nan?”
Aravae made a humming confirmation in her throat, making Estelar cheer. She leaned back against Aravae’s chest, still gazing with wonder upwards. “I wish Papae was here.”
“I do, too. But he is busy on a hunt and you know how important that is.” Aravae patted Estelar’s belly. “We’ll just have to have such a good time that he will have no choice but to come with us next time, right? And then you can tell him about all the constellations you learn about.”
“Yeah!” She smiled broadly, dimples on her cheeks. “Teach me another one, Mamae!”
“Okay… Let’s look at… This one. Fervenial…”
Chapter 15: "Dance with me."
Samahl x Solas
Samahl still couldn’t get over it. Every night in the Fade, Solas would come to her and the rush of noises would flood into her ears. Sometimes it got to be too much and he would have to manipulate their surroundings so that they were be somewhere quiet in order for her to calm down and get her bearings. He was patient with her, teaching her how to enunciate her words and how to speak more easily again - both in the King’s Tongue and in Ancient Elvhen. When she got frustrated and embarrassed, he only praised her, telling her how well she was doing and how far she’d come. She couldn’t remain upset for long. She would do just about anything to listen to Solas speak, much less praise her.
Tonight, he had assured her that he had a special treat for her. She had been excited as they’d traveled that day. She wasn’t entirely sure of where they were going, but she didn’t really care. She was with him, out of Denerim, having an adventure. They’d purchased her a bow and arrows. He had been doing his best to try and help instruct her with it, but since he was a mage, he wasn’t necessarily the best tutor for the job. However, Samahl wasn’t going to allow herself to be dead weight. When they stopped in the evenings, before they lost the last bit of light, she would practice shooting at trees. Thankfully, because of what she did for a living, she already had well defined muscles, so pulling the bowstring back wasn’t too difficult. It was the aiming she was struggling with. She was getting better, at least.
When she rolled out her bedroll on the other side of the fire from Solas, she smiled with excitement at him before laying down and closing her eyes. She’d seen his eyes shift up slightly with a smile of his own, as though he found her childish excitement endearing.
Samahl opened her eyes and looked around with curiosity. She was standing in a grand room, sparkling with gold, decorated with elaborate tapestries, and many windows with colored glass surrounding three-fourths of the circular room. It was completely empty, save her and, as she saw when she turned, Solas. He was dressed much differently than she’d seen him so far. He was wearing long dress robes of shimmering gold and white, which fluttered with his movements as he walked towards her.
Samahl was momentarily pulled out of her entranced stare as she looked around the room. She could hear his footsteps, but they were then repeating, the sound bouncing off the walls and fading just a little each time. Solas chuckled lowly with a small smile, which caused the same effect. “A room like this results in quite an echo.”
“Yes,” she breathed so quietly that it didn’t reverberate in her ears. “I’m sorry, I-”
“What did we say about your unnecessary apologies?”
“I cannot help it,” she murmured, some of her words slurring together slightly. Her fingers fidgeted. “I keep waiting for you to grow tired of me and regret bringing me along.”
“I can assure you I won’t.” He tilted his head at her. “How could I grow cross with you when you are just so excited to discover new things in life? On the contrary, it brings me joy.”
She felt her cheeks warm at his words. Shifting the subject, she commented, “Those are quite fancy clothes.”
He gestured to her with a twinkle of amusement. “As are yours.”
She glanced down and jerked with surprise. Her own clothing was different than what she was normally wearing. How had she not even noticed?! In place of her rough traveling clothes was an elegant gown. It had a modest v-neck dip in the neckline, the shoulders of the dress having two layers; The underlying was white and perhaps silk and the outer was a golden sheen, shifting with each movement. The dress cinched in slightly at her waist, where a golden sash lay. The skirt of the dress was identical to the shoulders, stopping just at the top of her feet. She twisted in position, watching the flowing movements of the gown. She closed her eyes, listening to the shifting of the fabric. It was quite an interesting, delicate sound.
“Now, then.” Solas’s voice pulled her back to the present. “Are you ready?”
She nodded, unable to contain her enthusiasm. Solas waved his hand and against the wall, near some of the windows, several elves appeared, each bearing an instrument. Samahl gasped, her hand flying to her mouth.
She was going to listen to music.
A bow pulled across the strings of a violin and a sweet sound filled the room. Samahl felt it in her very being. A chill ran across her skin as she drank in the sound of the violin, being played so slow and sweet. She had no words to describe how it felt, but she did feel...overwhelmed by it, though not in a bad way. A few other instruments joined in, building on top of the violin. The music swelled and softened and Samahl felt her head shifting from side to side as it did. She fought to breathe past the knot in her throat.
It was beautiful. It was beyond how she’d imagined.
She turned to Solas, ready to thank him, but froze when she saw him holding out a hand to her. She frowned, asking a silent question. He gestured to the room around them. “Dance with me.”
Solas shushed her and took her hand. “I will teach you. This is a dream I- I’ve seen in the Fade before. The elvhen used to dance like this. Here, put your hand here…”
He rested her hand on his shoulder and took the other in one of his. He settled his other hand on her waist, gripping it firmly, but not too firmly. Her heart fluttered in her chest, both from his touch and her nerves. She hadn’t the slightest idea of how to dance. They were standing so close together, her mind raced in two separate directions at once. She could feel his breath tickling her skin and she was more than certain that she was going to step on his feet. There was no way that she wouldn’t.
He spoke softly, explaining to her how they would be moving, but he kept insisting to her to just let him lead. He told her to relax her body and trust him to guide them. With each word, her stomach did another little flutter. She couldn’t look him in the eyes at the moment, but she was listening to what he was saying. When he asked her if she was ready, she made some awkward whimpering noise.
He took it as a yes. He shifted, taking a step towards her. Just before their bodies collided, Samahl remembered to take a step back, mirroring his actions in the opposite manner. When he stepped to the side, she nearly stumbled, but his hold on her was strong, not letting her fall. She watched his feet, trying to anticipate the next move, but it was only confusing her more and more. She could hardly hear the music anymore because of the blood pumping so loudly in her ears, her frustration rising. Her movements were stiff and jerky, whereas his were effortlessly flowing, like water in a small creek.
“Samahl. Look at me.”
Unable to refuse, she lifted her eyes to his, panic rising. If she wasn’t looking, how was she going to make sure she didn’t-?
“I’m sorry,” she squeaked immediately after stepping on his foot.
He merely shook his head and continued moving. “Don’t worry about it. Stop thinking about it so much. Just let your body...feel the music. Close your eyes.”
Her shoulders sagged a little. “But…”
“Just give it a try.”
Well, he hadn’t led her wrong yet. She took a breath and held it, closing her eyes. The music swelled again powerfully, nearly roaring in her ears as she focused on it again. It wasn’t quite overbearing her yet, but she was starting to get there. Without her eyes looking at other things, all she could do was hear the music and feel the burning touch of Solas’s hands on her. However...even with her eyes closed, the movements now didn’t feel quite as forced. It almost felt...natural.
She didn’t fight as Solas shifted them around and around. She only stumbled a couple of times, her feet bumping into his, but he quickly corrected them and continued on. She was starting to enjoy it. She was dancing! Although, from going round in so many circles, on top of the loud music, she began to feel a little dizzy. She swayed and opened her eyes, her brows furrowing. Solas immediately came to a halt and the music stopped.
The silence pounded in her ears, but it was somewhat welcome. The headache she felt herself having started to get was fading already. “Are you okay?” Solas asked softly.
“Yes,” she answered after a moment. “I was just… It was a lot.” She raised her eyes up to look at him quickly. “But I enjoyed it! Really, I did. Thank you so much, Solas.”
“You would do it again, another night?”
“Yes. Please. May we?”
Chapter 16: Double Date Night
Aravae x Rienmar
Athelas x Solas
(Athelas belongs to Hansaera)
Aravae squeezed Rienmar’s shoulders from behind and said with a hint of excitement, “Come on. Go get ready.”
“Ready?” Rienmar blinked with confusion, turning around and wrapping his arms around Aravae. He gazed at her with furrowed brows for a moment, but then it clicked. His eyes widened and he nodded slowly. “Right, tonight was the thing with Athelas?”
“The thing ,” she echoed with exasperation. “A date is not just a- You know what, forget it. Just...go get ready.”
He glanced at his watch. “It’s only three.”
“We’re going over to her place so that I can help her get ready.”
He kissed her on her forehead and pulled away from her, heading towards their bedroom. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand why it takes women so long for things like this.”
“It isn’t just a thing! ” she shouted after him.
“Whatever you say.”
Aravae sighed heavily and shook her head, pulling out her phone to text her best friend that they would be on the way soon. She was thrilled that she had found a man she was interested enough in to go out on a date with. However, she was a little unsure about meeting him alone, so she’d asked Aravae and Rienmar to accompany them for a double date. Apparently, the man, Solas, had no qualms with it. Aravae agreed almost instantly. She wasn’t going to let just anyone date her friend, after all.
Athelas had just texted back almost immediately that she had already a few outfits picked out and ready to be critiqued. That alone told Aravae that she was nervous - mainly just the fact that she responded immediately. She could just imagine her brunette friend pacing around in her bedroom, eyeing the clothes and potential accessories spread out on her bed. Aravae typically wasn’t one to dress up either, but she at least had an eye for what looked good and what didn’t. It was a nice spring day, so they were finally able to shed all of their heavy jackets and layers. She knew Athelas was enjoying it.
Aravae herself was going in a white camisole with a dark teal, long-sleeved cardigan, dark blue jeans, and a pair of grey sandals. She threw on a few longer silver necklaces for accent and put on just two plain stud earrings in each elongated ear and called it a day. This was already about as nice as she liked to clean up. However, when she arrived at Athelas’s, she wouldn’t be surprised if her friend would put some dark lipstick on her.
Aravae met Rienmar in the living room, where he was wearing a plain black t-shirt (that fit him rather nice if she did say so herself), blue jeans, and black boots. He had his hair tied up in a ponytail, but his bangs were left where they were. She examined his wardrobe and gave him an amused smirk. “What?” he demanded.
He dressed up even less frequently than she did, so seeing him in clothing that wasn’t permanently filthy-looking or horribly worn was a miracle in and of itself. He worked hard outdoors, after all. He saw no point in getting all fancy except maybe once or twice a year. However, it didn’t take much convincing when Athelas was concerned. He would get asked once by Aravae and he would give her a pondering look, then agree. If he didn’t comply, both women would pester him until he agreed. He had just learned to agree and go with their flow. “Nothing. You ready?”
He gave her a look that didn’t seem entirely convinced as to her response, but he grabbed his keys from the small table by the front door. “Mmhmm.”
The drive to Athelas’s place wasn’t long, perhaps just around ten minutes or so. Aravae just knocked on the door for courtesy’s sake, but opened the door on her own and let the two of them in. “We’re here,” she called.
Athelas peeked her head out from her bedroom. “I’m in here. Hey, Rienmar. You can help yourself to whatever, okay?”
“Thanks.” He nodded at her and made a line for the couch, likely going to pass the time by watching some television while he waited on the women to get finished getting ready. Aravae set down her small purse on the counter and headed for Athelas’s room, which her friend had vanished into again.
Four outfits were sprawled out on her bed. Athelas had her hair up in a messy ponytail for the moment and she looked a little flustered. Aravae smirked slightly at her. “Are you going to make it? I don’t know if I have ever seen you like this.”
She groaned lightly, swatting at Aravae. “I will . I’ve never really liked a guy before him, you know?”
“How did you even meet? This seems rather sudden. You’ve barely mentioned him to me at all.” Aravae made a pouty face. “You don’t love me anymore, do you?”
Athelas rolled her eyes. “It was at that little cafe spot I like. You know, the one right beside the local library? He was sitting at one of the outdoor spots where I typically sit and...well...I kind of couldn’t help but notice him. He was reading and had just a drink he was sipping on occasion. He seemed really intrigued by his book and I noticed that I had read it before, so…”
Aravae’s eyebrows raised. “You spoke to him first?”
“It was a passing comment!” she insisted quickly, her cheeks reddening ever so slightly. “I just said that it was a good read and he invited me to sit with him and talk about it!”
Aravae hummed thoughtfully. “So he’s pretty forward?”
She pondered for a moment. “He didn’t make any passes at me, if that’s what you mean. We really did just sit and talk about the book - up until the part he’d gotten to, anyways. I saw him again about a week after that and he’d finished it, so he asked if I wanted to finish our discussion. I’ve seen him a couple of more times since then and then...he asked me out. I didn’t really tell you because I didn’t think it would actually go anywhere.”
“Does he have a name?”
She arched an eyebrow. “Interesting. But wait. You said he asked you out, but we’re...only going to the same cafe?”
“We both apparently like it, so… What?” she demanded, narrowing her eyes at Aravae’s grin.
“Nothing! I think it’s rather cute. Now, let’s look at these outfits…”
Athelas shot her an unamused look at her not-so-subtle change in the subject, but agreed that they needed to move on. It didn’t take too long for the women to decide on the clothing. Athelas changed into a dark red dress that extended to just past her knees. It had thick straps on the top, a flattering form-figuring bodice, and a layer of chiffon over the skirt. She paired it with a black pair of ankle boots that had heels on them. She then let her hair down and let Aravae brush it and tie half of it up. It was how she normally like to wear it. She thought it looked rather nice. She then set her ever-present golden choker on her neck and stepped into her bathroom to set a little bit of makeup on. As she put on her red lipstick, she held out a dark maroon tube to Aravae. She laughed and shook her head before taking the tube and putting the dark lipstick on. She knew. She just knew Athelas would try to doll her up a little more.
As she finished getting ready, Athelas informed Aravae, “He’ll be meeting us here soon.”
“Soon? Wait. Here?” Aravae arched an eyebrow. “You aren’t worried about him being a crazy stalker once he knows where you live?”
“I...don’t really see him as being the type. I think it’s okay. Besides,” she made a wide gesture, “there’s plenty of sharp objects in this place. I can handle things like that.”
“True. You do like your knives.”
“I’m not the only one.” Athelas raised her voice. “Rienmar, what do you think about knives?”
“They rock,” he called back from the living room without missing a beat.
“I never said they didn’t!” Aravae nearly rolled her eyes. “Anyways. What time will he be here?”
Aravae glanced at the clock in Athelas’s bedroom. “Oh, that’s pretty soon. In just about ten to fifteen minutes.”
The slightly nervous and panicked look came across Athelas’s face again. “Really? That soon?”
“Calm down,” Aravae said soothingly. “You’ve already had plenty of talks with him, yeah? It’s no different. Just now Rienmar and I will be there staring the guy down with glares so that he knows not to get any ideas.”
“I think that might scare him off.”
“If he can’t brave the protective friends, he doesn’t deserve you anyways.”
Athelas smiled gently. “Thank you, Aravae.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” Aravae gave her a quick hug.
The women joined Rienmar in the living room as he watched a little bit of the afternoon news. He nodded at both of them. “I was starting to think you’d gotten lost in all of the clothes. I don’t know if I could have rescued you.”
“There weren’t that many,” Aravae retorted quickly, pinching him lightly on his arm.
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t venture into that world.”
“It’s probably for the better,” Athelas replied dryly.
He grunted in agreement, then glanced at Aravae. “So, are we supposed to be intimidating or friendly?”
“See? He knows.” Aravae gave a smirk to Athelas. “A mixture. I’ll say a mixture.”
“That’s probably the best I’ll get out of you, isn’t it?”
When the knock came at the door, all heads turned to look at it. Aravae gave Athelas an impressed look. “Early. I like it.”
“Are we heading straight out?” Rienmar inquired, turning the television off.
“Y-yes,” Athelas stuttered, clearing her throat before grabbing her purse.
Aravae went over to her and squeezed lightly on one of her shoulders. “Hey. Breathe. You’re going to have a great time. You aren’t going to mess anything up.”
Though Athelas didn’t look entirely convinced, she exhaled slowly and nodded, getting herself a little more under control. Rienmar passed Aravae her purse and with a silent, collective agreement, they were all ready. Athelas went over and opened the door.
Standing on the other side was a tall elf with a shaved head. He wore a green button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. It was tucked into a pair of beige pants that he held up with a simple belt. His shoes were a simple, but nice, dark brown. He looked at Athelas and Aravae saw how his steely blue eyes seemed to light up a little bit. He then realized the other two standing behind her and glanced at them.
“Hi,” Athelas greeted in a slightly shy voice.
“Hello, Athelas. You look...quite lovely,” he replied with a warm smile. “I assume these are the friends who you spoke of?”
“Yes!” Athelas stepped out of the doorway and gestured to them. “This is Aravae and her fiance, Rienmar. Aravae, Rienmar, this is Solas.”
Rienmar, who was actually an inch or two taller than Solas, stepped forward and offered a hand. The men shook and greeted each other. Aravae then went up to him and held out her own hand. Solas nodded at her and shook her hand. “Athelas has mentioned you two to me a couple of times. Aravae, I understand you are a reader as well?”
“Very much so, yes.”
“You should see our bookshelves,” Rienmar added with a slight chuckle. “There isn’t enough room anymore. Some of the books are just laying on top of each other.”
“It just means we need more shelves,” Aravae mumbled rather defensively.
“That doesn’t sound so different from my own collection.” Solas gave off a quiet chuckle. “There’s too many books and not enough time, nor space to put them all.”
Aravae perked up. “I can most definitely agree with that. I’ve been to the library that’s right beside the cafe plenty of times. Actually...I’m pretty certain I could name all of the employees who work there.”
Rienmar shook his head and spoke up, “Well, I imagine a conversation of books, shelving room, and libraries can go on for quite a while, so should we maybe start walking to the cafe?”
Athelas and Solas made a quick glance at each other when the former nodded. “Right. Let me grab my bag and we can go.” She stepped inside and collected her small leather bag with straps. She set it onto her back and locked her place up as everyone stepped out of it. She then walked up beside of Solas, who offered her an arm. Her cheeks warmed ever so slightly before she looped her hand in on the crook of his elbow. They began walking in the lead. Aravae and Rienmar exchanged a small smile before lacing their fingers together and following after them.
The four engaged in friendly conversation. The normal, polite rounds were made. What did they all do for a living? How long had they lived in their respective city? What sorts of things did they like? All in all, the answers Solas was providing was making Aravae like him more and more, but there was still a part of her that was skeptical. She was rather protective over her close friend and did not want to see her hurt. She had only partially been joking when she said that she would sit and glare at him so that he would get the hint.
When they arrived at the cafe, more than one of the employees greeted Athelas and Solas by name, which they both smiled and returned. They all unlatched from one another and made their way to the counter, ordering their drinks and meals. With their little plaque determining their number with their orders, they picked a table just outside, nearby the open door, which was letting fresh air into the interior of the cafe. Solas pulled a chair out for Athelas and offered for her to sit first. She sat down, her cheeks lightly flushed. Once he slid it in, he took the seat across from her.
Rienmar pulled out the chair beside Athelas for Aravae, giving her a rather sly grin. “My lady.”
Aravae gawked at him before sitting down. She gave an exaggerated shiver.
Athelas laughed. “Don’t mind them. They actually really like each other.”
“There’s quite an air of comfortability with the two of you,” Solas commented. “You’ve been together a long time, then?”
“Yes, several years now. Back when we were all in school together.” Aravae grinned. “There’s been a lot of adventures since then.”
“I can only imagine.” A grin pulled at Solas’s lips. “There’s plenty of embarrassing stories, I gather.”
Just as Athelas looked like she was about to scold him for saying that, Aravae pursed her lips together. “Actually, she has as much dirt on me as I have on her. Then the two of us have just as much dirt on Rienmar. So I think we’ll save storytelling for later.”
“That’s for the best,” Rienmar agreed quickly.
Solas leaned back in his chair a little. “I must admit, now I am even more intrigued.”
“Maybe one day, Solas,” Athelas said quickly.
Rienmar glanced up at the blue sky peppered with white cirrus clouds. “Spring finally came. It took it long enough.”
“We’re doing the cliched discussion of weather?” Aravae inquired dryly.
“ Someone had to change the subject.”
“It is a nice day out,” Athelas agreed. The sun warmed their skin, though not too much. A gentle breeze blew every once in a while. Lined up throughout the streets, the trees were in bloom, dropping blossoms. It was almost as if they were in a movie scene.
There were murmured agreements as a comfortable silence fell between the group. It didn’t last before too long before Solas spoke up. “Rienmar, forgive me, I don’t know if I heard what it is you do for work?”
Rienmar enlightened him, telling him details of what his outdoorsman job entailed, Solas listening intently and asking questions. While the men talked, Athelas leaned towards Aravae and whispered in her ear, “What do you think?”
“Hmm...so far, not bad.” She glanced at the two men and her gaze softened as she looked at her other half. “I can tell that Rienmar likes him well enough.”
“It’s hard for Rienmar not to like anyone,” Athelas pointed out.
“That’s true. He’s a much bigger people person than I am.”
“He can’t help that he’s just a big teddy bear.”
The friends giggled quietly, though it was enough to pull at the attention of Solas and Rienmar. The black-haired man arched an eyebrow. “What are you two scheming?”
“Us? Scheme? I’m hurt, Rienmar.” Athelas held a hand over her chest. “I do not scheme.”
“We plan.” Aravae crossed her arms around her stomach and nodded decisively.
“ That was convincing.”
“Uh oh. Rienmar’s being sarcastic. We need food to occupy him before he becomes sassy next.”
“ Sassy -?”
“Hello, there!” One of the waitresses balancing a tray came up at the opportune moment. “I believe I have everyone’s orders here. Let me pass them out and we’ll see if you need anything else, okay?”
Hands were raised as she announced which plate she needed to hand out next. Once everyone had their food and drinks, they examined their meals to see if they needed anything else. When no one spoke up, the waitress smiled. “Great. I’ll be back by in a while to check on you. Please enjoy!” She sauntered off with the tray tucked under her arm.
All conversation ceased as everyone began to eat. However, it didn’t take long for Aravae to glance around and give a slight frown. “Oh, she forgot to give us napkins.”
“I can go grab some,” Rienmar offered.
“I can get them.” Athelas slid her chair out and stood. “I’m closest. I’ll get us a small stack. I’ll be right back.”
Nearly the moment she disappeared into the cafe, Aravae turned her gaze towards Solas. “What do you think of her, Solas?”
Seemingly a little caught off guard by her question, he took a sip of his drink and cleared his throat before answering. “I’m sorry?”
“What do you think of her?” she repeated. “What do you like about her?”
He only paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. “She is a very kind person. She is open-minded and willing to discuss things. She seems very driven and strong-willed. Not to mention, she is a very lovely woman.”
Aravae nodded slowly. “What are you looking for in a possible relationship with her?”
“That seems to be a rather personal question to ask, don’t you think?” he replied, slightly defensively.
“I ask because I am her closest friend. I can’t remember a time when we weren’t friends. I have seen her go through many painful things. She doesn’t open up to many people, so the fact that she has, even just a little, to you, is a big deal. She likes you, but I don’t want you taking advantage of that fact.” Aravae’s gaze hardened. Rienmar looked slowly between the two. “I won’t sit by and let someone toy with her feelings and hurt her even more. You don’t seem like the type to just waltz into a relationship for the hell of it, but it’s kind of hard to tell these days.”
That information seemed to break through Solas’s defenses. He gave her an intense expression in return. “I can assure you that I have no intention of treating her poorly. I would not go into a relationship lightheartedly.”
She looked at him for another minute or two, then relaxed slightly. She could tell he meant what he said. “That’s good. Because I am warning you now that if you hurt her, we,” she gestured to Rienmar, “will bring all the wrath of hell down on you.”
Rather than seeming intimidated by the threat, Solas smiled. “She is lucky to have friends like you.”
There was the sound of a clearing throat and Athelas came through the open doorway. “I got some. Sorry, they were busy at the counter.”
“Don’t worry about that. Thank you.” Aravae smiled and claimed one once they hit the table. “I can tell I may make a little bit of a mess with mine.”
“The messier, the better. Isn’t that how it goes?” Solas lifted his sub to take a bite.
“That it is.”
The rest of their evening seemed to go by in a flash. Even when they finished their meal, the waitress kept bringing them refills on their drinks and they sat and talked. They talked until the sun went down and the glow of the streetlamps filled the air. It took quite some time before anyone made a move to get up and leave. Since Rienmar’s vehicle was left at Athelas’s place, they all walked together slowly in the same direction once they left the cafe.
Once they arrived, Athelas raised her eyebrows. “Oh, Aravae. I forgot to mention earlier - I finished one of the books you lent me. Here, come in and I’ll grab it.”
“We’ll wait out here,” Rienmar announced without missing a beat. The women gave him a grateful look. He could pick up on their cues so easily. Once she unlocked the door, they slipped inside, leaving Rienmar and Solas outside to continue a discussion they’d been having.
Aravae hovered near the door as Athelas went to her room and fetched the book. However, instead of handing it to her right away, she set it on the counter, then wrapped her arms tightly around Aravae, who was a little stunned as to the sudden affection. She returned the hug and asked softly, “What is it?”
“I heard what you said earlier, at the cafe,” she murmured. “Thank you, Aravae. I really don’t know what I’d do without you. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have you as my friend.”
“I could say the same, Athelas.” Aravae gave her a squeeze, then the two separated. “He seems like a good guy. But still, you know that all you have to do is say the word and I will find some way to hurt him.”
She couldn’t help but laugh, wiping away a tear that had slipped from her eye. She sniffed and nodded. “Yes, I know. Thank you.”