|I find it enormously telling and important that Solas kisses the Inquisitor not just in the Fade, but in the past... in a place and time that no longer exists. In a subtle way, he's showing her the emotion he lives each and every day.|
SOLAS: Where did you think we were?
INQUISITOR: ...this isn’t real...
SOLAS (teasing): That’s a matter of debate… probably best discussed after you wake up.
Where does Solas's romance truly begin?
With a simple kiss... upon a dream.
Meanwhile, what I suspect (at least, in my imaginary headcanon, which is pretty much always in overdrive, as this blog certainly demonstrates) is that while they may have spent time in the Fade, even if Solas were beginning to have feelings for the Inquisitor, and vice versa, he would still, I think—to that point—have kept them to himself. So those Fade visits might have been important and intimate, but they would not have been openly romantic... until the kiss.
But of course, the kiss is just the inevitable outcome of a linked series of events that conspire to tip Solas off-balance and make him more vulnerable than he's been since his long-past youth.
If you analyze Solas's behavior across DAI, he's pretty formidable in terms of his ability to compartmentalize, and I'd put that ability right up near the capacity of Bull or Leliana (near, but not quite—Solas isn't an especially good liar). I think, however, that early events in Inquisition nevertheless set him off-balance, and he's therefore never quite able to regain that equilibrium when it comes to both the Inquisitor and the Inquisition (I'd even argue that he's still not 100% even as of "Trespasser," given the lengths he goes to in order to both give her the truth about himself and to save her life).
So let's conjecture and wonder a bit...
It's certainly implied that Solas has no trouble staying on-mission before the events at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. He's quite able to be cold and dispassionate when operating Felassan as his agent from the Fade, as well as in meting out punishment later. Even upon awakening, wandering Thedas (planting those elven artifacts, by any chance?) in the year or so before the Conclave, he certainly seems to be able to keep his emotions at bay. However, this is also when everything once again seems on-track, and going according to plan.
Then the Temple explodes, the sky is a livid, apocalyptic green, and his Orb is now in the hands of a mad ancient magister who's also half-Darkspawn, and who's using it to do terrible things across Thedas.
And then there's the woman—the one who's suspected, who was Marked by a magical transference from his own artifact, and who has already been mocked, imprisoned and nearly executed. Remember, Solas has joined the Inquisition just days or even hours before he meets the Inquisitor. He knows that he is responsible for the Breach and for her Mark and is, I believe, truly horrified at both. He is also fully aware that the Inquisitor has been captured, imprisoned, and accused for something he had a hand in creating... and he alone knows right away that she is 100% innocent of any of the charges against her. So I think even there, she gets past his boundaries a bit because he feels genuine remorse (as he darned well should).
And then he begins to feel again, something beyond rage and powerlessness. Allegiance. Indebtedness. Admiration. She handles her impossible situation bravely. She attempts to meet the challenge. She may accept or reject a divine influence. She may question him on dreams, on spirits, and the Fade. He may even be moved enough to allow himself to compliment her on her grace, strength or indomitable focus (words that are, ahem, seared on my brain). And he may admit his own recent bitterness and rejection—which she may counter by sticking up for her people, respectfully asking him to reconsider his anger against the Dalish. She may call him 'hahren,' and try to connect with him in Haven on their shared elvishness, to give him the companionship he so desperately desires and fears after his long loneliness and isolation.
He is cast adrift. He is in danger—not from fire and wrath, but from the possibility of love... and he knows it.
|Solas sees Lavellan more clearly than she sees herself; she's a hero because he's the villain in the story, even if |
she doesn't know it yet.
Either way, it's no wonder that he calls her "a hero" in one of their first conversations—because he already knows she is one, and he's judging her through eyes that have watched the passage of millennia, by her reactions to almost impossible circumstances that she herself doesn't even understand. At this point, Solas sees Lavellan more clearly than she sees herself; she's a hero because he's the villain in the story, even if she doesn't know it yet. Solas already knows who he is. He believes, through his own regretted and yet open-eyed choices, that he is doomed. But he also believes that she is not (or at least, not yet).
Tentatively, he begins to try to connect with her, to help, to spare her the little agonies. To be there—not as a lover, but as a part of her fellowship, in the everyday cameraderie and companionship of war... and in doing so, he dooms himself. A door opens upon his emotions, not just to her, but to all the companions. He starts to care. And when it comes to Lavellan, he feels guilty, vulnerable. He feels genuine liking. He feels respect and admiration, and perhaps more than that.
In other words, he feels. It is Lavellan's first gift to him; one of which she is not even aware.
Whether he's romancing the Inquisitor or not (but especially if he is), Solas begins to feel an obligation to her, that he owes her something. He can't take back the Mark. He can't give her the truth, but there are things he can provide... a castle (a new home)... and a respite.
So he takes her into a dream. It's safe. It's lovely and ephemeral. It's not those seeping, frightening corners of the Fade we encounter physically either in the prologue or after the siege at Adamant. This is Solas, after all, and this is his kingdom. So instead, he takes her to a Fade location that he can build for her wall by shining wall, down to the smallest soothing molecule. An escape to the past, to where she once briefly felt at home.
Conversations in the Fade
To me, Solas taking Lavellan to the Fade is a really lovely and irresistible idea—Solas is a man who has reshaped the very warp and woof of the physical world with his power. Still, that's nothing compared to what he can do in the Fade.
And yet what does he do when he takes Lavellan to the Fade, when he can take her almost anywhere imaginable in the swirling mists of time and space? Does he take her to those intoxicating ancient days of his youth, to glory in the heights of power, enchantment and knowledge? Does she travel with him to visit those twining spires of crystal, to witness the shimmer of magic as breathable and accessible as air in the splendor of lost Arlathan?
He takes her instead to something simple, homely and devastating, to bright regret and loss... but in a way that's quiet and healing. He takes her back, in other words, to just a few weeks prior, to a place that has been wiped out of existence, and shows her just how much your heart can break when the home you loved now exists in memory alone.
Solas knows this emotion well. He's lived it for millennia at this point, after all.
To me, it's bittersweet to realize that what Solas does here is exactly what he does in his final excursion with Lavellan later on in their story at a crucial juncture: He takes her to a place where he can quite literally show her what she means to him.
Then, once within the perfection of his magically recreated Haven, Solas relives their relationship from its earliest moments for her, narrating in parallel storylines, with Lavellan as witness and shared participant, her story—and his. He tells her of his emotions and concerns for what the Inquisitor suffered (and manages not to make it All About Him), as well as revealing what he himself was also feeling for her at the same time. He reveals his frustration and confusion, that he was worried for her, that, even then... he felt something. That she had already become special to him. That she had, in fact, changed his world.
Sometimes words are not enough. And this seems to be a theme with Solas. Despite his obvious eloquence and poetry, and despite his intelligence, I believe he sometimes dislikes words in moments that matter. Perhaps because he has had to lie so often since he awakened in this world. I think this is why, over and over again, he attempts to demonstrate his feelings at key moments in other ways — with a kiss or physical gesture, with a painting on a wall, with a revealing bit of magic, with the removal of the vallaslin. He has lied enough, been poisoned by them irrevocably. All he wants now is something real.
So of course he has to stage that moment in a place that is unreal. That's Solas. He's never one to do things the easy way.
|Lavellan is a firefly when you compare her brief life to Solas's many millennia, but she is also bright, brave, and (the biggest relief of all) something genuinely new to Solas. It's no wonder, then, that he finally gives in to his feelings.|
Meanwhile, here we are where it all begins.
And it's interesting, isn't it, that Solas kisses the Inquisitor in the past? In a place that no longer exists? It's a beautiful way for him to subtly reveal the secret of his own situation, his own conflict. He takes her back to a place she loved, to a place that is now obliterated, and he walks there with her as if to salute the fact that even if it no longer exists, he knows that she will always love it.
And although Lavellan doesn't know it at the time, of course, Solas is revealing something about himself, as well—showing her what he himself is literally feeling all the time. The constant regret and nostalgia. The longing for what has been lost.
It's a beautiful and subtle revelation. It is also a gift that, due to Solas's unique powers and circumstances, no one else could give her.
And I really think this is meant to be the whole gift he wants to give Lavellan here—that glimpse of brightness and mourning. He's not dreaming of kisses.
But hey, dreams are where all things are permissible, after all. And despite thousands of years of life, he doesn't anticipate what Lavellan does next.
Whoops. You go, girl.
And so there are the little moments of banter, of teasing, as Solas and the Inquisitor walk through this shiny new Haven. It's all really charming, as is the flirtation of a confident Lavellan with a suddenly awkward, uncertain Solas.
By the way, I absolutely love the way this scene is presented—especially the physicality of Solas and his discomfort and slight nervousness in the presence of Lavellan's ease and relaxed charm. For instance, when Solas turns away in sudden awkwardness here, he does so stiffly, with his whole body, as if his head doesn't move on his neck, and it's absolutely this thing someone would do in real life if uncomfortable and trying really hard to cover for that. Just so real and funny and beautifully rendered (he does it again later on, after "I never said it was a good plan"). Nothing to see here, everything's fine. As if he can't remember how to move naturally—kudos to the BioWare team. And then there's Gareth David-Lloyd's sneaky-funny vocal performance here—especially the way he laughs when the Inquisitor notes that "Cassandra's like that with everyone"—he gives this weird little awkward "Ha," like a bark!
Anyway, awkward or not, the moment arrives, and they kiss... and it's great, and just beautifully directed and rendered by the team who brought it to life. And kudos to Solas (and to the Dragon Age team that created him) on the fact that he doesn't make the first move, which is respectful and ensures that there aren't any consent issues. He's the one, after all, who understands that this is all taking place in a dream. So I really like that it is Lavellan who acts first with the kiss.
It's the Fade, after all.
|Vulnerability is permissible in the Fade, where Solas can explore passions he may not be able to admit to in waking life.|
Solas then says something fascinating in this scene, once the kiss is broken, and I think it's something that may tend to be overlooked. Let's take a look at the scene, below:
INQUISITOR (flirting like crazy): Felt the whole world change?
SOLAS (adorably awkward): A figure of speech.
INQUISITOR: I’m aware of the metaphor. I’m more interested in “felt.”
SOLAS: You change… everything.
INQUISITOR: Sweet talker.
She kisses him. He allows it, then steps back... and then returns to the kiss. And again. Then at last, with an effort, he stops the kiss a final time, and pulls away.
SOLAS: We shouldn’t. It isn’t right. Not even here.
INQUISITOR: What do you mean... "even here?"
Let's examine that odd little comment: "We shouldn't. It isn't right. Not even here."
The details are telling. To me, it's the opposite of what's expected—not "We shouldn't. It isn't right. Not here," but rather, "We shouldn't. It isn't right. Not even here."
The implication that's so fascinating, in other words, is that he's not saying it's wrong to kiss in a dream; he's saying the dream may be the only place it's actually allowable. Solas has just revealed that the Fade is where this kind of moment is actually okay with him (even if nowhere else). The Fade is, in other words, where vulnerability is permissible, where he can explore passions he may not be able to admit to in waking life.
And where he doesn't have to admit that he is playing an incredibly dangerous and hurtful game. It's the Fade, right? His place. His safe place.
And yet, he allows that it may not actually be a safe place for the Inquisitor. And that's intriguing.
Echoes of Felassan
If you've read The Masked Empire, the superb Dragon Age novel by Patrick Weekes about Briala, Celene, Gaspard, and Michel, then you've already met Felassan, who is one of my favorite characters across the entire world of Dragon Age.
Named for the 'slow arrow' from the brutal Dalish legend of Fen'Harel, Felassan is the mysterious and powerful elemental Dalish mage apostate who wanders the world and seems to belong to no clan, and who serves as Briala's friend and protector through the years even as he also secretly serves Fen'Harel in his dreams. Felassan is smart, charming and witty, and his humor can be as ruthless as his magic. Like Solas, Felassan begins by holding himself apart from the events around him, watching from the shadows, quick to amusement and yet carrying nevertheless an air of hidden power and detachment.
But in the end, Felassan succumbs to the beauty of the world, and to his respect and affection for his friend and student, gently refusing the gift of the eluvian access even when she offers it to him outright. As a Dreamer, he enters the Fade via a trance to lie about the situation with the password to his leader (whom we now know to be Fen'Harel... Solas). As the story ends, he begs the unknown leader to give the elven people their chance... and to no avail. The blow falls and he is killed. (Years later, Cole tells us in "Trespasser" that Solas regretted this action ("The Slow Arrow breaks in the sad Wolf's jaws.")
Yet while Felassan may be dead, his words live on, and they are echoed subtly more than once throughout DAI. Solas hears them when he kisses the Inquisitor. When he sees the goodness and beauty even in the muffled, maddening demon-haunted world in which he has found himself. When he realizes that the people are... "courageous" in their fight to survive. Cole sees it happening, and confides in the Inquisitor, after Solas has so cruelly and abruptly ended their relationship, "You're real, and it means everyone could be real," referencing once again the idea that Solas has fought for so long... the idea that this world is happening, is real, is full of light and life that will be destroyed, or at least forever changed, if Solas completes his plans.
Felassan was right. But Felassan can't be right. Or everything Solas is doing is monstrous.
|Lavellan's just a girl. Standing on the desk of a boy. Asking him to love her.|
For instance, there's another prickly little flirtation that I love, early on, where Solas and the Inquisitor talk about whether spirits are people. Again hearkening back to Felassan, the subtext of the conversation is wonderfully complex because, remember, we're first off listening to a man who may once have been a spirit himself, and because this man, still traumatized by the pain and sudden awareness that he doomed his own people, does not, actually, quite see the Inquisitor as a person herself, either. In other words, she may not quite believe that spirits are sentient beings worthy of respect, and Solas, we learn later, feels the exact same way about the companions around him, at least in the earliest days:
INQUISITOR: You trust these spirits not to possess you the first time you accidentally make a wish?
SOLAS: Do you trust your friends not to turn on you?
INQUISITOR: Well, yes, but they’re people.
SOLAS: Ah. Of course.
INQUISITOR: You know what I mean.
SOLAS: Are people only 'people' because they are flesh and blood?
It's what always happens to Solas, after all. There's fire and blood and chaos, he tries to do what he feels is right, the world falls down, and Solas is alone. It's the way of his world. Always.
|Solas is utterly, fatally lonely—and that loneliness is beautifully externalized even in his surroundings.|
While each of our Dragon Age: Inquisition companions embodies diverse and fascinating character traits, the one thing I always associate with Solas is isolation, and of course, it's even hidden within his name itself.
As a character, Solas is so utterly, deeply lonely that it's almost a physically palpable thing—and that loneliness is beautifully externalized in both his surroundings, his character design, and even in his physical movement and expressions in the story's scenes and cutscenes. He is always, always alone, and in the lovely, lonely golden glow of his Rotunda, Solas is a figure that glows pale against the tower room's shadows and frescoes as he paints, works or paces in thought. As if he is already a ghost.
This is where we most often encounter Solas throughout the game story, but one of the cleverest things Dragon Age: Inquisition accomplishes is that our romance (or friendship) with Solas actually pulls him out of this space and into other areas of both Skyhold and Thedas. If you don't befriend Solas, unless it's for mission purposes, he almost never leaves his Rotunda (and it's even more true if you do not do Cole's loyalty mission, either).
It takes the Inquisitor, and his high regard or love for her, to coax him out of his self-created prison.
Visits to the Fade
Now let's go back to the moment I began with, and that I think is so vital to his romance.
We're back with Solas, in a Haven that no longer exists, so that he can share our story with us from a new angle, and because he understands perhaps better than anyone else that we're still quietly in mourning for what was lost there. "Haven is familiar; it will always be important to you," he notes, even as the Inquisitor answers, in slight confusion and irritation, "We talked about that already."
Have we, though? We didn't see it. We've never once heard even an echo of this idea from the Inquisitor, to Solas or to anyone. So the implication is clear to me that (as I explored a little bit previously here) not only has Solas talked to the Inquisitor in the Fade before, but that they have, as I implied earlier, spoken about the things that matter to her. What she loves, what she fears, and even perhaps how she was traumatized by the loss of Haven, and I really love how economically and subtly this is conveyed. It's one small, single comment from the Inquisitor, but it provides the potential for added richness and story immersion for those who seek it. And that's so much fun!
But there's more to it. Look at it from a character standpoint—Solas has brought the woman he loves to the one place he adores above all others. It's not an accident. He's sharing something truly private with her here, but he's also giving her strength and affirmation, a gift of approbation and acknowledgment. The entire story he tells her in Haven, after all, can be distilled down to, "You are brave. A survivor. You are unique... and I care what happens to you."
|Even in his safe place, his kingdom of the Fade, Solas can only lie to himself for so long. At some point, he must awaken.|
That's why, for me, this scene in the Fade at Haven with Solas is especially important, and for reasons that go beyond the kiss, as delightful as that moment is. I actually think it's one of the most important sequences in the entire game story, for those truly want to know who Solas is. As with the final devastating scene in Crestwood (which bookends this one), this scene, too, is about Solas giving a hidden gift to the Inquisitor—the gift of truth—so every moment within is rich with a certain degree of subtext and symbolism.
Let's revisit with them. He walks her through Haven in the snow, on a beautiful winter's day, in the soft and gentle touch of snowflakes. Around them is the brilliance of the little village at its height, framed by the bright and bravely waving pennants.
He has given her back Haven, here. But he also wants to show her who he is, and the cage in which he himself is trapped. So when she pauses, briefly and tentatively as they arrive, he walks faster and leads her where he wants to go. And then in the darkness he says what he brought her there to say.
SOLAS: I sat beside you while you slept, studying the Anchor.
INQUISITOR (among the options): How long can it take to look at a mark on my hand?
SOLAS: A magical mark of unknown origin, tied to a unique breach in the Veil? Longer than you might think.
He pauses, remembering.
SOLAS: I ran every test I could imagine—searched the Fade, yet found nothing. Cassandra suspected duplicity. She threatened to have me executed as an apostate if I didn’t produce results.
INQUISITOR (among the options): Cassandra’s like that with everyone.
SOLAS: Ha. Yes.
He laughs briefly, then turns away from her again.
SOLAS: You were never going to wake up. How could you? A mortal, sent physically through the Fade? I was frustrated, frightened. The spirits I might have consulted had been driven away by the Breach. Although I wished to help, I had no faith in Cassandra… or she in me. I was ready to flee.
INQUISITOR (among the options): The Breach threatened the whole world. Where did you plan to go?
SOLAS: Someplace far away, where I might research a way to repair the Breach before its effects reached me.
He glances at her, then chuckles slightly.
SOLAS: I never said it was a good plan.
He turns away from her (once again in that wonderful, odd whole-body Solas-way), looking back to the Breach, still visible in the sky in this moment at Haven.
SOLAS: I told myself: One more attempt to seal the rifts! I tried, and failed. No ordinary magic would affect them. I watched the rifts expand and grow, resigned myself to flee, and then...
A flash to the moment when Solas held the Inquisitor's hand skyward to seal the rift.
SOLAS: It seems you hold the key to our salvation.
What he doesn't say, and leaves unspoken, hanging in the air like old incense and prayers? Is the fact that she also holds the key to his.
And Solas says this as if it is the culmination of the story; as if it is the culmination of his story. And then of course there's the flirtage and smoochies I described earlier.
But as lovely as all of that is, there's more to this dialogue than mere flirtation. The entire sequence is full of revelation and nuance, on levels that are both symbolic as well as mythological, with Solas retracing his steps as he leads Lavellan down into the grim, dark dungeons (the "Underworld") where he admits his uncertainty and fear to her in the shadows for the first time, before they return to light and life, and to the white brilliance of the winter day.
The Hidden Gift
It's a striking and even amusing scene, as when he talks about Cassandra's threats and the Inquisitor may respond humorously that "[she's] like that with everyone" (an answer option I absolutely have to take every time, because come on, it's SO CASSANDRA). But what's most noteworthy of all here is the way that Solas is willing to reveal his own insecurity and fear, his doubt and weakness, in ways that are rare and even uncharacteristic for him in daily life. And yet he does so, because the scene has (I believe) been crafted by Weekes so that Solas is attempting, however awkwardly, to give Lavellan something—something real and honest, even if she doesn't understand it at the time. Every word he says to her in this exchange is therefore carefully chosen as the genuine truth—truth that is, for him (living a daily lie and hating it) the highest and best gift he can give her.
But of course, he's not just telling her the story there, is he? There's somebody else he's talking to in this sequence, as there is throughout several moments in their early romance: himself.
The conversations between Solas and the Inquisitor feature some of the most beautiful and complex dialogue across the Dragon Age story, not only because both are eloquent and share the connection of heritage and loss. Their conversations are rich and evocative, in addition, because that poetry is what she brings out in him... but that's not everything. There's also the fact that Solas is not just talking to the Inquisitor, he is rationalizing to himself the inevitability of his own actions and feelings (and, given his plan for the Veil, it's safe to say that Solas is a master at rationalization)—even while already dreading the inevitable aftermath.
Because what Solas touches, dies. And what he saves, he inadvertently destroys.
He must not do this. And yet he does.
This is why the hidden poetry and syntax of sex, love and grief that Weekes weaves into the dialogue, with its lyrical touch of Leonard Cohen, is so important. Solas is the only person I can think of who could fall in love with a woman and mourn her loss at the exact same time. It's as if the entire romance is being experienced by him, in some terrible and quiet way, from a future in which everything has already been lost, and he is once again alone, and grieving.
I've talked about the fact that Solas isn't a consistently great liar, but that's not always true: He's superb, after all, at lying to himself. Which is why, in his relationship with the Inquisitor, Solas is able to convince himself for a short span of months that he can live a normal life, that he can allow himself passion, desire and love for a woman whose life is, in comparison to his, as brief and bright and fragile as a firefly's. A woman who would, by his own admission, be doomed anyway by her own mortality, even if she weren't destroyed by his secret plans and obligations (as she almost certainly will be). If of course he allowed that to happen.
But—as "Trespasser" shows us later on—Solas is not one to allow the course of natural events to get in his way. It's something both to admire and to fear.
But none of that has to matter. Not now, at least—not now, not here, and not yet. They're in the Fade, and everything is safe, and sweet, and permissible. For now, it's all just part of the dream.
As long as he doesn't wake up.