Saturday, August 12, 2017

Meaningful Banters (DAI): Solas and Sera

Solas: "You are different. You are the furthest from what you were meant to be."

NOTE: This post is part of a continuing series ("Meaningful Banters"), in which I'll shine a spotlight on especially meaningful moments that occur between companions in banter, during the course of the game (from DAO to DAI). These banter conversations are sequential, so they evolve as relationships between characters grow and change. Many specific moments occur within banters that are pivotal to illustrating character growth, awareness, and other changing relationships with the Inquisitor or their companions in the game. Read on!

NOTE: This post has NSFW elements and includes some pretty colorful and frank profanity in both Elvhen and English.

Sera loathes Solas and everything he stands for. Yet Solas
cannot stop engaging. Their ensuing banters are some of the
best and most fascinating in the game.
While playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, as you're walking along with Solas and Sera in your party, you'll realize fairly quickly that Solas is unfortunately everything, everything, that Sera loathes about elves. He's knowledgeable, proud of his heritage (although he denies this several times on the surface), and he tangibly seeks kinship or recognition from other elves around him (including an Elven Inquisitor, for instance, if applicable). So they aren't exactly going to get along, no matter how polite Solas may be.

So, after a pretty grumpy, inauspicious beginning between the two, early on, the following banter will trigger at some point (oh, dear):

Solas (to Sera, out of the blue): Ar dirthan'as ir elgara, ma'sula e'var vhenan.
Sera: Pppbbthh! (raspberry noise)
Solas: Excuse me?
Sera: Excuse yourself—whatever you said and what I did, same 
difference to me.
Solas: I'd hoped... well, our people can sometimes feel the
rhythm of the language despite lacking the vocabulary.

Sera: Uh huh? Know what else is good? Words that mean
things. Like these. Words.

Solas (cursing): Fenedhis lasa!
Sera: Pppbbthh.

Okay, so obviously, they won't be soulmates. But it's an interesting juxtaposition of two very disparate people forced to support each otherand who gain from the close quarters. First off, here's my suggested translation, which has been the topic of much debate in DAI fandom:

Ar: I/me (Note: (it's not we/our, which would be ar'an)
Dirthan: speak/speech (-an denotes use as a noun, typically as a place)
'as: typically denoting 'in' (here, I'd argue it could be 'from')
Ir: I am, very, more
elgara: spirit (I've seen it translated as "wisdom" or "sun" but this definition is the best fit to me here)
ma: my/your
sula: song
var/e'var: our
vhenan: heart(s)/home

Literal, linear translation: I speak in/from the very spirit-place, the song of our heart.

But the Elven language of Dragon Age isn't linear; it's a cipher, circuitous and organic. 

So my more creative translation is: "I speak to you from the Fade, in the language of our home." 

Sera vs. Solas: Rejecting or Embracing a Heritage

Sera is, in many ways, Solas's legacy. How can he help but be
 fascinated by who she is... and what his actions have led to?
I've seen widespread speculation that Solas may be attempting to flirt with Sera here (probably because of his use of the typically romantic word 'vhenan'), but I don't think that's the case at all. First off, Solas would certainly be aware at this point that Sera is gay. Not to mention that he'd also be aware that she can't stand him. 

Yet while his interest isn't romantic, I do think Solas's feelings for Sera are singular and noteworthy. I believe he has deep compassion for Sera, and that he is fascinated by her for many reasonsnot least of which, because right here in front of him is a living, breathing, suffering outcome of his past act of putting up the Veil. I also think there is another, supernatural connection that I'll explore later as well (relating to Andruil, the Elvhen huntress).

Sera Never (No, Really)

As we know from our Inquisitor's conversations with her, Sera was an impoverished ragamuffin child caught thieving during her early life in the elven alienage in Denerim, and who, despite her adoption by Lady Taraline Emmald, a well-to-do human woman in childhood, grew up with enough clear knowledge of the world's darkness and dangers not to trust safety for a moment (for one thing, Sera lived through the Blight that took place for more than a year during the events of DAO. Her memories of life in the alienage (and of the racism she encountered in her life with Lady Taraline) marked her for life with a pronounced dislike for elves and anything to do with elven culture (or anything Sera calls "elfy"). While the death of Lady Taraline left Sera with potential financial stability via her mother's estate, Sera rejected such ease, abandoned the estate and went off into the world, to teach herself archery and to become a leader of the secret revolutionary faction "The Red Jennies."

When Sera meets Solas, he's pretty instantly curious about her and her latent abilities. If you subscribe to the idea that Sera, like Flemeth, may actually have a divine spark or wisp in her (in Sera's case, that of the goddess Andruil), then it's likely Solas sees and recognizes something in Sera that is both latently magical and/or profoundly recognizable to him as being of the Evanuris within her (more on this theory here).

Regardless of why Solas is interested in Sera (and whether or not that interest betrays his yearning for his ancient people), he most certainly is, and their banters are fascinating—most of all, because despite Solas's gentleness, of course Sera patently loathes him and the ground he walks on. She'll never give Solas the space in which to see him as a person; he is a living example of everything she has rejected.

Yet he does awaken something within her—a vision, and even an acknowledgment of a latent magic or sense ability, and the banters reveal this. For me, it's fascinating.

Talk Elfy to Me (or Don't, in Sera's Case)

So, to get back to the "Solas talks elfy to Sera" moments—for me, I think his initial statement in elven to Sera is Solas testing the waters—attempting to reach the elvishness Sera has locked away in fear and bigotry deep within herself. 

He wants to see how she responds. So his words to her are pretty literal—he's attempting to go right to the crux by speaking Elvhen, whether or not she knows it, right to her heart and soul, simply to see how she reacts.

Elvhen Cursing 101

The next time Solas curses, you may find yourself blushing
when you realize what he's actually inviting you to do. (The
fact that thousands would take him up on it is a whole other
post... or series of highly successful and imaginative fanfics!)
When it doesn't go well and she mocks him, Solas responds with his usual favorite Elven curse, "Fenedhis lasa!" What's slyly funny about the curse is that when deconstructed, it basically refers to a specific, ahem, part of a wolf's anatomy (yes, basically, 'fenedhis' means wolf-penis). "Lasa" typically means "I allow" or "I give." So "Fenedhis lasa" is "Wolf fucks you" or "Go fuck a Wolf." In addition, my own take is that it's not just referring to a general wolf (like, of the canine wildlife variety), but instead to the Elvhen trickster god Fen'Harel, the Dread Wolf. Which is pretty funny because, ahem, the actual guy is standing right here. (Hi, Solas!) 

This means that it's basically the Elven version of our modern profanity, "Fuck you," or "Fuck off," with the added twist to go get off with the Devil/Trickster while you're at it. Project Elvhen, meanwhile, translates it even more literally as, "Go fuck a wolf's dick." Which is even better, because it's being said by the actual freaking Dread Wolf. And it's the best thing ever. I really love the idea that proper, quiet Solas, is, throughout the entire DAI story, not just cursing, but personally inviting people to do naughty things to him whenever he loses his temper. And nobody around him is any the wiser (except perhaps Cole).

A Message to Sera's Secret Self

Now let's get back to his initial banter with Sera. There's a superb exploration of this interaction by Emmadirthera here:

"I think Solas knows that Sera can sense or hear the Fade like Cole can, and that she is blocking it out because it unsettles her. By speaking this way he is hoping her soul/her subconscious dreaming self, will recognize him and be comforted by his message."

It's a terrific observation, and very much how I see the interaction as well: I think it is a genuine attempt at connection by Solas, and to do so in a way that overcomes Sera's fear of herself (and her heritage). Which she, of course, instantly rejects.

And yet—he's sparked something in her, as we see when their conversations continue. Solas doesn't let up. He continues to talk to Sera, and they're some of my favorite banters in the story, because there is so much curiosity and compassion in Solas for her:

Solas: Our people used to be here.
Sera: Pfft, you say that everywhere.
Solas: It is more true than you want to believe.
Sera (mockingly): I bet, right? Who wants to think about stepping
on dead elves!
Solas (angered slightly): Din Elvhen emma him? ("The dead my Elven people became?")
Sera: Oh, you felt that one?

Later, however, something unexpected happensSera's visibly upset and shivering, shaken by something she cannot quite explain. Solas is the one who immediately takes interest:

Sera: Weird.
Solas: Sera? What are you feeling?
Sera: Ugh, here we go. It’s nothing, it just feels like I've seen
this. Exactly this. It happens.
Solas: Not to everyone.
Sera: It’s not an elf thing. Inquisitor's not shaking (alt: You're
not shaking). I suppose now you’ll switch to how I’m
the same but different?

Solas: You are different. You are the furthest from
what you were meant to be.
Sera: Well I’ve definitely heard piss like this before. Hmph!

Solas's statement there (and Gareth David-Lloyd's nuanced and intense voice performance on its delivery) always gives me chills, as does Robyn Addison's touching depiction of Sera's fear and uncertainty. It's as if Solas is speaking with absolute assurance that he knows who Sera was meant to become (or who she truly is underneath). It's certainly an intriguing idea.

Later on, Sera responds unpredictably yet again, actually letting Solas lead her into a new analysis of her feelings when she looks up and into the Breach:

Solas: What color is the sky, Sera?
Sera (dismissively): Hang on!
Solas (quietly): It is an earnest question. What color is
the sky when you look at it?
Sera: You know, blue mostly. Except for the Breachy bits.
Solas: And when you looked past the Breach? As perhaps
you were drawn to do?
Sera: Greenish? Then clear a long ways, and kind of... felt
like falling. Ugh! Makes my head hurt. You make my head hurt.
Solas: We are not so far apart, you and I.
Sera: We will be.

Solas echoes these references to distance and—intriguingly—uses a similar term again later, when Sera mocks his relationship with a romanced Inquisitor in front of the group. If the Inquisitor responds angrily, Solas will say: "Don't concern yourself, vhenan. She is… apart from herself." 

Again, Solas is subtly referring to the idea that Sera is a person split in two—sundered and distant, not just from her elf-self, but perhaps even from who she truly is underneath.

"Elves Did it Themselves"

Later on, after the events at the Temple of Mythal, Solas and Sera have a final discussion:

Sera: Don't you start.
Solas: I am reasonably certain I said nothing.
Sera: Don't have to. You're all fluttery from that Mythal place.
"Oh, Tevinter took our stuff," except turns out, elves did it
themselves. Pppbbthh!
Solas: You cannot upset me with what we found there.
Sera: Oh? Why's that?
Solas: Because, Sera, my genuine sorrow for the tragedy of our
history cannot be diminished by a single moment. That you do
not feel this, well, you have my envy... and pity.
Sera: Well, you just... Shut it!

Look at this dialogue objectively. Sera is disconcerted by what they discovered and is trying to hide it. She even feels compelled to talk about it (ELFY STUFF! I know!) with SOLAS. Solas, weirdly, meanwhile, does not want to talk. He saw what he needed, and was moved and saddened by it (and, I feel, it strengthened his resolve to remove the Veil). But Sera is the one obviously off-balance and upset here. To me it's as if she's trying to mock the elves ("They did it themselves!") but is failing because she's too disturbed by some of the implications of what they discovered. I also wonder if the Temple didn't stir up additional mysterious feelings in her like those she has expressed feeling elsewhere.

Later, in "Trespasser," there are conversations and moments that add symmetry to these interactions, when (two years later), Sera has grown enough to express regret to Lavellan (if she romanced her, then broke up with her because of her elvishness), as well as sympathy to a Solasmanced Inquisitor that Solas has still not returned to her. Then, on the last, desperate end run toward the eluvians from the Darvaarad, she even voices aloud the hope that Solas may actually be able to save the Inquisitor as the Mark begins to visibly consume her. That's an incredible journey, given Sera's prejudices when the story began.

I think we'll see Sera again in DA4, and I'm so interested to see what her thoughts are about who Solas has been revealed to be... and of how she has come to terms with the subtle war (if I'm right) within herself.


  1. I know not many like Sera, I didn't the first play through, but now she's one of my favorites, she's real, tells it like it is and just because she says it...funny, most don't like her. But I always enjoy our rooftop cookie time. Plus she's fucking bad ass when you're fighting dragons hahaha

    1. I love Sera. Yes, I agree she can sometimes be grating or a bit pushy, but to me her vulnerability is so real and visible that it's easy to see the pain and uncertainty underneath. (And I love the rooftop cookies with her.)

  2. What I think is interesting is the phrasing that Solas uses in his banter with Sera: He says OUR people referring to the Elves. Yet he acts confused if the Inquisitor uses that exact same wording to refer to the Elves (post-Halamshiral, talking about Briala). Does he perhaps mean ANCIENT elves when he says "my/our people", and he uses it with Sera because he knows that she is connected to the Ancient Elves?

    1. This was basically my take, and I love that you feel similarly! I definitely think his use of "our" people is complex -- and I think he absolutely knows something about Sera's connection to Andruil and the Evanuris.

  3. Elves are Norwegian Seheron is Turkey Ferelden’s England Rivain is Spain Anderfels is Germany Dwarfs are initially Vikings from Russia Scotland is Free Marches Nevarra I no not (Greece mayhap) Tevinter Empire is Roman Empire Italy’s Antiva Qunari armada is Mongol armada France is Orlais


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