The plains weren’t an easy place to scout. Lace Harding had the usual troubles of nearly everything trying to kill her, but there was a sense of complete unrest about the area.
A heaviness had weighed on her shoulders as she had scouted through the southern areas of the plains, and it doubled at the sight of every corpse she encountered. She knew the history of the Exalted Plains as well as anyone, and with every step Harding took, she couldn’t help but wonder how many dead she was walking over.
It was worse that there were battles still being fought on the plains. The human armies really held such little reverence for the burial sites of elves, and in the face of such violence, it was no great surprise when Harding and her team had to fight through demons as well as men.
They decided to set up camp just south from one of the barracks that had been decidedly civil to the Inquisition’s presence. Harding had had them pegged as Gaspard’s men and had been careful to avoid the topic of the recent peace talks, as it might have spoiled their welcomed civility.
The Inquisitor arrived at nightfall, team weary and looking somewhat worse for wear. Ellana Lavellan was the image of cold composure, face expressionless as she and her companions assisted in the set-up of their camp.
It was cruel for her to have to be here, Harding knew.
After most had retired to tents to sleep and only the night owls and guards remained, Harding found her sitting by one of the chantry statues. She smiled at the dwarf’s approach.
“Not tired?” Ellana asked.
“Hard to be, in this place,” Harding replied, settling down beside her.
The elf was silent for a moment, glancing up at the statue above her. She didn’t even know why it was there. She didn’t really care.
“I think this place was supposed to be beautiful once,” she said quietly, looking in the distance and seeing the great wolf statue. “So much of it is gone, and all that remains is no longer ours.”
Harding thought for a moment. This Dalish woman was not looking for sympathies, meaningless apologies or even hatred for humans. This was wistfulness, she thought, some sort of longing for a life that will never exist.
“You know, I’ve heard people say that the Deep Roads are like this,” she replied, looking up at the elf opposite her.
Ellana opened her mouth, reflexively preparing to berate another stranger who was trying to make themselves feel better by comparing their people’s hardships to her own, when she froze.
“You’re right,” she muttered, remembering darkspawn and the thrumming of corrupted lyrium. “You’re absolutely right.”
The Dalish clan was amicable enough. Understandably wary of strangers, they had taken time to warm to the Inquisition, but were now willing to trade and accept them into the camp. Not wanting to push the boundaries of civility, Harding had suggested they camp further down the river, to which the Inquisitor agreed.
They were, however, invited to a splendid evening of stories and dinner with the Dalish. Harding was happily seated by the fire, munching down on some cooked ram, and was the object of much wonder by the small children who had never seen a dwarf before.
Ellana watched with amusement as they poked at Harding’s bare face, marvelling at her round cheeks and freckled skin. The dwarf giggled, and batted at their playful hands. One inquisitive child frowned at the scout.
“Do dwarves have vallaslin?” He asked, half sprawled over the log by the fire. Another Dalish child spoke up before Harding had a chance to reply.
“I’ve heard they have tattoos of darkspawn blood,” he added, mesmerised by the idea. This comment was immediately followed by eager nods and multiple children agreeing with the idea.
Harding couldn’t contain the grin at their not-so-novel idea of having darkspawn blood splattered all over your face.
“If tattoos were made from darkspawn blood, I don’t think there’d be any dwarves left.” Harding giggled. “I know some dwarves have tattoos but I don’t know too much about them…” She trailed off, and felt a bit downcast at the lack of knowledge of her own people.
Luckily, Ellana interrupted.
“No, da’len,” she said to the children. “Vallaslin honours our elven gods. The dwarves’ tattoos mean something else.”
Harding gave the disappointed children a bashful smile, and now suddenly bored, they scurried over towards the Inquisitor’s qunari companion to try and get him to lift them up. Now bereft of company, Ellana saw fit to join Harding by the fire.
“The clan has been stuck in the plains since just before the war started,” she explained, gesturing to the set camp around them. “Chances are the children haven’t met a dwarf before.”
Harding glanced towards the Iron Bull, who was now roaring loudly and hefting squealing children up to his horns.
“Or a qunari, I’d say,” she added, giggling.
Ellana watched as Sera came running up behind the giant mercenary and began to throw small beans at his riders. She’d been surprised that her mischievous friend had associated with the children at all, but when asked, she’d simply replied with ‘they’re not elfy yet.’ Ellana frowned as that memory brought on another train of thought.
She glanced across at Harding curiously, watching as the content dwarf picked at her meat.
“You don’t know much about your own people, do you?” She asked, thinking about earlier. Harding lowered her plate to her lap and sighed.
“I know a bit about castes,” the dwarf replied, with a somewhat sheepish tone to her voice. “I know the darkspawn took over most of the Deep Roads…and I’ve heard the palace is really pretty.”
Ellana was dumbfounded. Why would someone not want to know as much as possible about their own people? When the knowledge was available, why would anyone deny themselves of it?
“You’re not in the least bit curious?” She asked, frowning.
The dwarf shrugged.
“From what I know of Orzammar, I wouldn’t be allowed in,” she answered, sadly. “Surfacers have no caste, even though my family left generations ago. I’ve heard that your caste is everything; who you are, what you do and who you marry.” She looked across at the group of playing children. “With everything I have now, why would I ever want to know more about being a dwarf?”
Ellana also looked towards the children and her companions entertaining them.
“Sera’s like that, you know,” she admitted, sighing heavily. “I pity her. All of her worst experiences in life have been caused by her being an elf. It’s no wonder she’s completely disassociated herself from the People.” Her hand went to trace her skin, brushing over the deep green vallaslin stretching across the back of her hand. “But she doesn’t realise the importance of remembrance.”
She glanced up and over towards the ever-watchful wolf on the cliff-side, stone face illuminated by the rich moonlight.
“My people have suffered greatly across the ages,” Ellana gravely said, “and everyone turns a blind eye to it. In the city, we are told to work, but nobody wants an elf as a worker. In our clans, we are called barbarians, but we live in the wild because our home was stolen from us and we refuse to submit.”
Harding faced her and saw the solemn expression on her face, and felt something sharp pang inside her chest. The pity for the elves that she had always felt was resonating stronger with her, but she couldn’t quite tell why.
“We remember what we have suffered,” Ellana said quietly, “because nobody else will.”
It was during her visit to the Inquisitor in the Western Approach that she met the creature.
At first, she thought it was a baby giant, but as she got closer, it became apparent that the looming structure stomping around the reserve to the south of Griffon Keep was something else entirely. Lace Harding didn’t know a lot about dwarven culture, but even she knew a golem when she saw one.
She stopped dead in her tracks and watched, frozen, as a creature she had heard had been extinct for a very long time kicked at the sand and deathroot tree beside it. She suddenly spotted a dead varghest lying by the waterside, and quickly surmised what had happened.
Taking careful steps, she gingerly approached the golem. As she got closer, she began to hear it muttering to itself.
“Filthy, squishy thing,” it grumbled, violently rubbing its leg against the root of the tree. “Bleeding on me. No manners at all.”
Scout Harding realised, belatedly, that it was trying to clean itself. The thought was so…bizarre, that she couldn’t contain a giggle.
Immediately, she snapped a hand over her mouth in horror, but it was too late. The creature had heard her and rotated its rocky head to watch her.
“What are you doing, lurking over there?” It asked her, surprisingly calm for a creature that looked as though it had just stomped a varghest to death with a single blow. “Is it another squishy thief, come to steal my crystals?”
Harding gulped, and emerged from the shadows, gripping her bow tightly.
“I’m just visiting the Keep, I promise!” She answered, trying to act as though she wasn’t as intimidated as she was. It was silent for a moment, clearly wondering if she was lying. Harding couldn’t help but stare in curiosity at the golem, having heard great stories of them from her grandmother, and how they had helped save the dwarves, but the last had vanished ages ago.
The creature gave a laboured ‘hmm’ sound, but promptly turned around and continued on its way without a word of farewell. Harding was dumbfounded.
That was it?
“Wait!” She called out, stepping forward and began to follow it. The sensible part of her brain was screaming at her that she should leave it alone. It was miraculous that it had spared her at all, why was she poking a sleeping dragon? She caught up to it and glanced up to it in awe. “Are you really a golem? Like…a real golem?”
“It has eyes, does it not?” The golem replied, rather tartly. “A redeeming quality for one so squishy.” It finally deigned to look down at her properly. “It is a dwarf, yes? It is so hard to tell its kind apart.”
Harding forced herself not to give a smart reply to that comment, and instead nodded eagerly.
“Yes, I’m a dwarf,” she said, beginning to babble. “But my family hasn’t lived underground for generations. My mother said our family was exiled, but I don’t know why. I don’t really care. They seem so strict down there, I don’t know why anyone would want to go there. Were you made by a dwarf?”
It suffered her babbling with heavy stomps.
“I was a dwarf,” it corrected her, “before I became a golem. But I am looking for a dwarf, though.” The creature proceeded to give a longwinded explanation about a specific female dwarf who, according to the golem, took ridiculously long baths, preferred to eat far too much garlic and sang like a rage demon.
“I don’t know anyone like that,” Harding hesitantly admitted, privately wondering if anyone could match that description with a real person.
“A pity,” the creature sighed. “It is a Warden dwarf. I heard Adamant held Grey Wardens, I thought its brethren might tell me where it is.”
Tensing up immediately at the mention of Wardens, Harding quickly relayed the recent news of blood magic among the Grey Wardens, and warned the golem from visiting Adamant just yet.
“The Inquisitor has a Warden with her at the Griffon Keep, though,” Harding remembered. “He might know your friend. What’s his name again? Alistair!”
The golem gave a low hum.
“Yes, I remember that one,” it answered. It stopped suddenly, and gestured with its rock arm. “Take me to this Keep then, and let us hope that the Warden makes no horrendous jokes.”
Harding blinked for a moment, surprised at the golem’s sudden change in attitude, but then shrugged. She was supposed to try and bring in allies during her scouting missions, so who would question this one?
“I’m Scout Lace Harding,” she said as they ambled along back the way they had come. “Pleased to meet you, I think.”
“It may call me Shale,” it replied. “Lace. It has a fitting name.”
It had taken one whispered word of advice from Alistair, and Harding had seen to it that all of the ravens had been kept to a smaller alcove, where Shale could not spot them.
The reunion between the two had been rather anti-climactic, to say the least. Alistair had tried to be happy, but a few thinly-veiled insults later and he was sighing in exasperation. Ellana had not stopped frowning at the creature and had later confessed to Harding that she couldn’t help but get a strong sense of wrongness from the creature.
“It isn’t dead, but it doesn’t feel alive, either,” she had marvelled. “I wonder what Solas would think.” Harding had raised her eyebrows at her, and then Ellana had started to giggle. “I’m sorry for being so serious. This is great! Something…dwarfy for you.”
Their relationship had greatly improved since their conversations in the Exalted Plains, and they had progressed into flirting and the occasional stolen kiss. There was something about Ellana that just inspired a great reverence for her own kind in her. Together, Ellana had been helping her learn about dwarven culture, or at least the parts she was interested in.
She’d discovered that she was absolutely fascinated by the idea of the Shaperate. How much knowledge must be stored in those carvings was amazing to consider. If there was anything she would ever want to see, it was that.
“It doesn’t consider itself a dwarf, though,” Harding had replied. “It probably won’t be able to tell me much.”
Still, when everyone had retired to their own quarters, she found that the golem remained alert and stood by the edge of the lookout, surveying the Blighted abyss beneath them.
“The Warden has not been seen for some time,” it said by way of greeting as Harding approached it. “The other Warden fears it may have gone into the Deep Roads. A pity. I would not want to go there again.”
“You’ve been in the Deep Roads before?” Harding asked before she could think. Of course a golem would have been in the Deep Roads. Where else would it have fought?
“Oh yes,” the golem replied, unfazed by her stupid question. “Darkspawn are such filthy vermin. I took great pleasure in squashing them.”
Harding giggled at the thought of this golem stepping on an orge. It was physically unlikely, but the image was still amusing.
Shale was silent for a moment longer, clearly thinking something over.
“It said its family was exiled,” Shale asked, with what may have been hesitance. “What was its family name?”
Harding frowned, unable to recall from the top of her head. She bit her lip and tried to delve through her memories of sitting on her grandmother’s knee and hearing old tales of their long-ago-split family when they lived underground.
“Let me think.” Her brow furrowed, as a name started to come to her. “Cad…um…Clashed…Cadash!”
The golem turned to look at her. Harding had the strangest sensation that she was being tested.
“My name as a dwarf was Shayle of House Cadash,” Shale answered. “It seems it came from that line. Perhaps that explains why it is less fragile than the other creatures.”
Harding struggled to understand. She came from the same family as the golem? Logically, she knew that her family line was likely so far disconnected from Shale’s that she would barely qualify as a descendant, but it was the thought.
She had a tangible link to her family’s past. Someone to remind them of who they once were, something which Ellana had taught her to cherish.
The thought of the Inquisitor made Harding look in the direction of her tent, hardly able to contain her excitement of sharing the news.
Shale followed her gaze.
“It cares for the elf,” the golem observed, a strange almost disapproving tone in its voice. “Perhaps it shouldn’t.”
Ellana was pitying her, Harding knew, and the idea made her shiver.
“My family was hated for trying to shelter elves from Tevinter,” Harding said, picking at her cotton blanket.
She’d come straight to Ellana’s tent after hearing the history of her family from Shale, and the truth was disconcerting to say the least. It was hard, after having some love of her people’s culture restored to her, to find out that she’d been right all along.
“They were hated for doing the right thing,” she mumbled. “How could they be hated for that?”
Ellana shuffled over to her, pushing aside carelessly strewn articles of clothing and armour. She wrapped her warmer blanket around the tiny dwarf’s shoulders and pulled her in close to rest her head against her shoulders.
“It may not be what you want to hear right now, but at least they tried to help us,” Ellana said softly, rubbing the dwarf’s arm comfortingly. “No one else did.”
Harding nodded, burying her head in the crook of Ellana’s neck and allowed herself to be comforted.
“The rest of the dwarves didn’t want to risk a war with Tevinter,” she explained. “Stupid Tevinter.”
Ellana hummed thoughtfully.
“I would say that humans ruin everything they touch,” she replied, drumming her fingers against the dwarf’s shoulder. “But I am yet to see Josephine be anything but perfection.”
Harding couldn’t stop her giggle.
“She is really nice.”
They fell into a comfortable silence, warm from the blankets and each other and equally content with the closer intimacy.
“It might not be an appropriate time to say this,” Ellana began, hesistant, “but I’m glad you were born a surface dwarf. It means I could meet you.”
Harding smiled, and snuggled in deeper to her elf.
“I’m glad I could meet you too.”