BLACKWALL: Skyhold. How did you find it?
SOLAS: I looked.
There are many dialogues with Solas that are slyly funny post-revelation, and the one above is one of my favorites. Talk about understatement.
But let's get to it... it could be argued that Solas really, really, subliminally, wants us to know he's the Dread Wolf.
I argue this because of the many times throughout the story of Dragon Age: Inquisition in which he very nearly gives himself away.
Solas almost trips up in several dialogues in his romance—early on in Haven (talking about the Veil), on the balcony (romanced Lavellan), and in the first big conversation directly after the Winter Palace and "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts." And then nearly so again when he dumps us. It's why I really love the big Solas conversation in "Trespasser" because you can actually tell that despite the difficulty of the revelations, part of him's seriously just delighted and relieved to finally be able to be honest with Lavellan.
It's fascinating to look at the many moments in which Solas slipped up, precisely because mistakes are so unlike him. Yet despite his precision and control, he gives us plenty of hints about his true identity as we play through the game, especially if romancing him (and if we're paying attention).
Here's a list of some of the banters and conversations where I feel like Solas is pretty close to waving giant landing-lights and going "I AM THE DREAD WOLF." Or at least giving away far more information about his true self than he realizes. And those moments when the mask slips are some of my favorites for his character in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Let's take a look...
Of course, one of the biggest clues hidden in plain sight is one that most fans know fairly early on—that Solas, the Dread Wolf himself—wears a wolf's jawbone as a necklace.
One of the things I like about this detail is that it is as paradoxical and complex as Solas himself, if you think about it. He's identified as a wolf, and to some extent seems to have welcomed and used that comparison—and yet he wears the jawbone of the animal he portrays around his neck. To me, this implies a certain capacity for coldness and ruthlessness, as well as a quiet, dark and razor-sharp wit.
The best part is that Solas does genuinely seem to admire wolves. When asked about the creatures, Solas says: "I know that they are intelligent, practical creatures that small-minded fools think of as terrible beasts." Which is, of course, doubly funny because he is literally describing himself and the myth around his own persona as created by the Dalish. It's not exactly complimentary to them, perhaps, but it's not inapt, either.
But then we get to the real moments—the dialogues where Solas seems almost determined to trip himself up with his own words and deeds, not just with a subtle inside joke built into his fashion choices (or lack thereof)...
Life Before the Veil
For instance, Solas actually reveals huge insights into his emotions and goals in this early dialogue at Haven:
INQUISITOR: I'm not sure I can imagine it.
SOLAS: Try! Imagine if spirits were not a rarity, but a part of our natural world, like... a fast-flowing river. Yes, it can drown careless children, but it can also carry a merchant's goods or grind a miller's flour.
Solas gets very heated here, almost shouting.
SOLAS: That is what the world could be, if the Veil were not present!
He pauses, then speaks more quietly...
SOLAS: For better... (he pauses) or worse.
In this early scene at Haven, first off, listen to the sounds of thunder and lightning from the nearby Breach as Solas speaks these lines! I'd swear they actually intensify. It's certainly very appropriate if they are amplified when he speaks them (although I admit this may be my own wishful thinking).
But it's the words that are astounding upon retrospection: Solas is literally describing the world he lost, the world he misses, and the world he singlehandedly changed. A world he himself has witnessed firsthand. He's also telling us, in one of the first conversations we have with him, what he is working toward creating—that very world. A world without the Veil.
When you revisit this scene, while it might appear that Solas is just giving us another one of his insights into the Fade—look at the emotion involved. It's one of the only times he genuinely loses composure (outside of the romance or his personal loyalty quest, at least)—as I note within the scene, he is emotional, very nearly shouting the words.
It's so obvious in hindsight, how nearly he comes here to revealing himself, even in such a tantalizingly early moment in the story.
Conversational Clues with Cassandra
However, Solas still manages to maintain his rigid isolation at this point—an isolation he doesn't really relax until after the discovery of Skyhold. Which is smart, since he can't exactly reveal what he knows or how he knows it until the Inquisition basically catches up with him a bit—although he does actually let slip quite a bit in a fairly early banter with Cass. When she asks him what he believes, he answers with complete honesty:
CASSANDRA: Solas, if you do not mind me asking, what do you believe in?
SOLAS: Cause and effect. Wisdom as its own reward, and the inherent right of all free-willed people to exist.
CASSANDRA: That is not what I meant.
SOLAS: I know. I believe the elven gods existed, as did the old gods of Tevinter. But I do not think any of them were gods, unless you expand the definition of the word to the point of absurdity. I appreciate the idea of your Maker, a god that does not need to prove his power. I wish more such gods felt the same.
CASSANDRA: You have seen much sadness in your journeys, Solas. Following the Maker might offer some hope.
SOLAS: I have people, Seeker. The greatest triumphs and tragedies this world has known can all be traced to people.
Years before the events of "Trespasser," he is telling anyone who will listen the actual truth about the Evanuris... if they were paying attention.
Your Mind, Your... Spirit?
If high approval, when Solas talks to you on the balcony, he'll slip up a few times in very telling ways. He'll stumble slightly when asking if the Mark has affected "your mind, your... spirit" because this matters deeply to him—Solas is all about the spiritual.
Then we talk to Solas, and if we're romancing him or high-approval, Solas will show a glimpse of vulnerability and real uncertainty.
SOLAS: Inquisitor, I was… do you have a moment?
They go to talk on the Inquisitor's balcony.
SOLAS: What were you like before the Anchor? Has it affected you? Changed you in any way? Your mind, your morals, your… spirit?
INQUISITOR (among many options): I don’t believe so.
INQUISITOR: Why do you ask?
SOLAS: You show a wisdom I have not seen since… since my deepest journeys into the ancient memories of the Fade. You are not what I expected.
Notice the marked hesitation I note here, on "since." My take: That he actually almost possibly said something like, "Since the ancient days of my people!" or "Since my time in Arlathan!"
Or something like that.
INQUISITOR (among several options): What have I done that’s so surprising?
SOLAS: You have shown subtlety in your actions, a wisdom that goes against everything I expected. If the Dalish could raise someone with a spirit like yours… have I misjudged them?
INQUISITOR (among several options): I don’t hold the Dalish up as perfect, but we have something worth honoring. A memory of the ancient ways.
When we return to this scene, it's one of a few that is, for me, vital to understanding Solas. He is, for one of the very few times in our presence, actually questioning himself. In retrospect, it's not out of the question to imagine him going, "If I was wrong about the Dalish, am I wrong about my plans? About what I plan to do? Have I blinded myself to other options?"
Location and Subtext (Beyond the Balcony)
I think the location of the talk here is incredibly important, by the way—it's one of the few times Solas actually seeks out the Inquisitor and goes to her, speaking to her on her turf, so to speak. They're literally in her bedroom. Now, if it's a high-friendship Inky, that fact just helps to shift barriers and show a certain intimacy and ease. But for the romance... let's face it. There's subtext there.
And again, it's interesting and very telling that he ends his observation on the subject of "spirit"—the thing that is nearest and dearest to him, most important and closest to his heart. He doesn't say, "If the Dalish could raise someone like you, have I misjudged them?" It's stranger and lovelier than that. He's saying, "If they could raise someone with your spirit, have I misjudged them?"
I've written about this elsewhere, but I think this entire conversation is incredibly revealing, and as a component of his romance, it's obviously a vital moment, and one that also spotlights that fiery swift nature of Solas's that he keeps so well hidden most of the time. Two kisses, and he says "I love you." But it doesn't feel rushed to me, because of the way the entire romance (and this conversation) is structured. He is saying, very clearly, in the conversation preceding, "I see who you are, the spirit within you, and oh, by the way... I love you."
And of course this comes just after a passionate physical moment in which he almost turns away, yet cannot bring himself to do so. It's a little scene, but one in which the spiritual and the sensual blend together, and for just a few moments, Solas allows himself to be entirely unguarded.
In other instances, he is unguarded in other ways, as when the Fear Demon confronts him in the Fade after Adamant.
The Ancient Rebel
Solas also gives himself away, I feel, in two other key instances, in conversations with Sera, and also with Dorian. In both cases, we get a vivid if brief glimpse of the rebel general from millennia back.
First, there's a fascinating series of banters with Sera in which the quiet, humble mage apostate unexpectedly demonstrates a sophisticated knowledge of spycraft, propaganda, and politics:
SOLAS: ...It is an opportunity. You have already divided your group's membership. That is wise. No one cell can betray all your secrets. The next step is to establish a rhythm. When your enemies pursue, you vanish. When they become complacent, you harass them. When they are weak, you strike in earnest.SERA: Where d'you get all this, then?SOLAS: Do you wish to be unnerved by another tale of my explorations of the Fade? Or do you wish to learn something?SERA: I don't know. Neither?SOLAS: Once you have the aristocracy weakened, Sera, you will have to redirect your lieutenants.SERA: Oh, this again. All right, what am I doing?SOLAS: Some of your forces, valuable until now, have no interests beyond creating disruption. Chaos for its own sake. They must be repositioned where they can do no harm, or removed if necessary. You replace them with organizers willing to build a new system and carry out the ugly work that must be done.SERA: What? Why? What ugly work?SOLAS: That is up to you. Do you wish to disrupt the nobility, secure a title? Or change the political structure entirely?SERA: None of it! I don't want any of that!SOLAS: I do not understand you, Sera. You have no end goal for your organization.SERA: Nobles get rattled, and people get payback. I play in the middle.SOLAS: Why not go all the way? You see injustice, and you have organized a group to fight it. Don't you want to replace it with something better?SERA: What, just lop off the top? What's that do, except make a new top to frig it all up?SOLAS: I...forgive me. You are right. You are fine as you are.
Sera is, of course, very very happy to let the subject drop. Solas brings it up again later on, when Dorian expresses guilt over what his ancestors did to the elves.
DORIAN: Solas, for what it's worth, I'm sorry... The elven city of Arlathan sounds like a magical place, and for my ancestors to have destroyed it...SOLAS: Dorian... hush.He continues, gently but firmly.SOLAS: Empires rise and fall. Arlathan was no more "innocent" than your own Tevinter in its time. Your nostalgia for the ancient elves, however romanticized, is pointless. If you wish to make amends for past transgressions, free the slaves of all races who live in Tevinter today.DORIAN: I... don't know that I can do that.SOLAS: Then how sorry are you?
What I love about this moment is that Solas's dialogue here to me contains a hint of affection and something almost paternal. He is also, of course, dead serious here: it's his entire secret and fierce revolutionary heart on plain display. And best of all? Dorian eventually does actually do something pretty close to this... when he returns to Tevinter.
In the conversation above, at least to some degree, it can be argued that the Dread Wolf subtly recruited one more follower.
Here Lies the Abyss (in the Fade)
When taunting Solas in the Inquisitor's physical return to the Fade, the Fear Demon says: "Dirth ma, harellan. Ma banal enasalin. Mar solas ena mar din."
Which translates literally to:
harellan: Trickster, rebel, traitor
Ma: my/you (here it's you)
Note: I've seen some who interpret it instead as "your pride appears dead." But I think given the syntax and phrasing here that it is more ominous than that. So my interpretation of the Fear Demon's taunt is this:
"Talk to me, Rebel/Trickster/Traitor. Your victory was nothing. Your pride begins your death."
I could also make a case for "Tell me, Rebel, of your empty victory. Your pride will lead you to your death."
I could further make a case for "Tell me, Trickster, of your empty victory. Your death emerges from your pride."
To me, this interpretation also works better with Solas's response.
Solas responds: "Banal nadas." ("Nothing is inevitable/certain.")
I always headcanon that with an elven Inquisitor, after this trip she'd certainly be giving Solas a few sharp, puzzled looks about just what exactly that conversation was all about.
Let's talk about Halamshiral! Solas is incredibly interesting here because he's so different. I expected him to be all Sad and Regretful and Oh, So Mournful about the fate of the elves and the blatant racism we see there, but instead he's cheerful and relaxed, slightly tipsy, and there's a wicked glint in his eye.
SOLAS: I do adore the heady blend of power, intrigue, danger, and sex that permeates these events.INQUISITOR: You seem more comfortable with a grand Orlesian ball than I’d have expected.
I think Solas allows himself this respite because it's a break for him in a weird way—the Orlesians are classist, privileged assholes, and herer probably remind him very much of the arrogant Evanuris he knew. And I think it's a rare instance where he is utterly uninvested in the outcome. He cares everywhere else, but not in the palace.
And of course let's not forget that Solas's goals are different here. It is very likely that while we are running our little Inky arse all over Halamshiral, desperately gaining approval, solving mysteries, resolving issues, eavesdropping, and attempting to forge political alliances, at some quiet moment in the evening, I believe Solas slips away from his darkened corner, finds what he needs to access (and override) Briala's hidden control over the eluvian network, and then leaves, with no one the wiser.
And then I believe he returns to his shadowy corner with a smile and a call for more wine.
Curiosity is Rewarded... Except Once (Post-Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts)
This is one of my favorite moments in terms of what Solas reveals about himself because, even afterward at Skyhold, it's like he's trying to settle back into his "I'm just a humble elven apostate!" role and failing. Which is why I think he disapproves when we ask him about it—it's the only time in the game he disapproves if we ask him a question, but he's all too aware, I think, that he's revealed too much:
SOLAS: There are spirits hovering by the Veil to observe the thrones of powerful nations. The machinations, betrayals… After our time in Halamshiral, I understand why. I had forgotten how I missed court intrigue.INQUISITOR (among options): You miss court intrigue? When were you at court?SOLAS (visibly flustered): Oh. Well, never… directly, of course. An elven apostate is rarely invited to speak with empresses and kings. But, from the Fade, I have watched dynasties form and empires crumble. It is sometimes savage, sometimes noble. And always fascinating.
Solas gives approval every single time you ask a question... except here, and it's one of my favorite scenes. It's the only time we get disapproval for it. And why? Because he realizes he's revealed more about himself than he wished. And it's because he's said too much!
INQUISITOR: When were you at court?SOLAS (mentally): Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit. Um. Oh dammit. Say something. Kiss her. Grab her. Tell her that her hair looks really nice today. Which it does. Oh shit, I forgot. Right. Say something about courts and how I never ever was in one although I totally had my own throne at one point...
For me, it's kind of fabulous. It's not like he doesn't deserve the comeuppance here... just a little.
The Temple of Mythal
It's a widely discussed element among the Dragon Age fandom that Morrigan, bless her heart, is intensely irritating in the scenes and revelations involving the Temple of Mythal, if she's witnessing the discoveries with a Dalish Inquisitor (and, of course, Solas).
It's never bothered me that much because of the game mechanics involved in fine-tuning a lot of these dialogues, and also because it makes sense to me that Morrigan would simply assume that the Inquisitor, being Dalish, would have less actual lore knowledge than someone who had sought out that lore (even if Morrigan was not always evidently all that respectful or ethical when coming by that knowledge).
Besides, Solas is so much fun here. I just sort of picture my Inquisitor giving him the occasional eyeroll behind Morrigan's back, and Solas quietly following along, biting his tongue, smiling inwardly, and only occasionally allowing himself a sharp, effective criticism, as in the following instance:
MORRIGAN: Why would this be here?INQUISITOR: Something wrong?MORRIGAN: It depicts the Dread Wolf, Fen’Harel. In elven tales, he tricks their gods into sealing themselves away in the Beyond for all time. Setting Fen’Harel in Mythal’s greatest sanctum is as blasphemous as painting Andraste naked in the Chantry.INQUISITOR: My clan set statues of the Dread Wolf outside our camp. They’re meant to frighten harmful spirits.MORRIGAN: Perhaps. I thought the ancient elves were above quaint superstitions.SOLAS: For all your ‘knowledge,’ Lady Morrigan, you cannot resist giving legend the weight of history. The wise do not mistake one for the other.
INQUISITOR: You said this Mythal was worshipped as a goddess.MORRIGAN: So one assumes. What is a god but a being of immense power? The dread Old Gods were nothing more than dragons, after all. They rise as Archdemons, and they die. Perhaps Mythal was a powerful elf, a ruler among her kind. History often plays storyteller with facts.SOLAS: You admit lack of knowledge, and yet dismiss her so readily?MORRIGAN: I do not dismiss her. I question her supposed divinity. One need not be a god to have value. Truthfully, I am uncertain Mythal was even a single entity. The accounts are… varied.INQUISITOR: There are varied accounts of Mythal?MORRIGAN: In most stories, Mythal rights wrongs while exercising motherly kindness. ‘Let fly your voice to Mythal, deliverer of justice, protector of sun and earth alike.’ Others paint her as dark, vengeful. Pray to Mythal, and she would smite your enemies, leaving them in agony.SOLAS: More Dalish tales, I assume?INQUISITOR: If you know more about this, Solas, speak.SOLAS: The oldest accounts say Mythal was both of these, and neither. She was the Mother, protective and fierce. That is all I will say. This is not a place to stir up old stories.And here:INQUISITOR: My clan’s hunters asked for his blessing when we fought bandits. Our Keeper taught them the prayers.SOLAS: I do not believe they sing songs about Falon’Din’s vanity.
INQUISITOR: Do you know any legends?SOLAS: It is said Falon’Din’s appetite for adulation was so great, he began wars to amass more worshippers. The blood of those who wouldn’t bow low filled lakes as wide as oceans. Mythal rallied the gods, once the shadow of Falon’Din’s hunger stretched across her own people. It was almost too late. Falon’Din only surrendered when his brethren bloodied him in his own temple.INQUISITOR: Did ancient elves believe all their gods so terrifying?SOLAS: Yes. I believe they did.Another interesting alternate close is:INQUISITOR: I’m surprised that they let such a monster live.SOLAS: One does not lightly kill a god, Inquisitor. Even in legend.
It's fantastic. So many layers!
Onward... as Solas subtly provides more hints on the ancients:
INQUISITOR: What’s this?MORRIGAN: I believe we are in the presence of the elven goddess Andruil, Lady of the Hunt.SOLAS: Or a goddess of sacrifice, according to some.And here:INQUISITOR: This place looks untouched.BLACKWALL: I’ve seen Orlesian palaces with less gold. What did the ancient elves do here?SOLAS: Perhaps it was meant to kindle a sense of awe in visitors.BLACKWALL: Well, it’s working.
BLACKWALL: Val Royeaux, huh? I remember the first time I visited it, some thirty years ago. The market was not half as large, without the garish statues. And far fewer stands selling those ridiculous frilly little cakes.SOLAS: The Val Royeaux market was once nothing but tents of oiled leather and mud. Filled with ragged humans selling strings of beads made of bone.BLACKWALL: You saw this in the Fade?SOLAS: Yes. I left that memory quickly. The smell...BLACKWALL: Must have been ages ago.SOLAS: Oh yes. It's much better now. I enjoy the frilly cakes.
ABELAS: Each time we awaken, it slips further from our grasp.SOLAS: There are other places, friend. Other duties. Your people yet linger.ABELAS: Elvhen such as you?SOLAS: Yes. (with emphasis) Such as I.
INQUISITOR: Are you leaving the temple?ABELAS: Our duty ends. Why remain?SOLAS: There is a place for you, Lethallin… if you seek it.ABELAS: Perhaps there are places the shemlen have not touched. It may be that only uthenera awaits us. The blissful sleep of eternity, never to awaken. If fate is kind.INQUISITOR: You could come with us. Fight Corypheus. He killed your people.ABELAS: We killed ourselves, long ago.SOLAS (gently, and with genuine pity): Malas amelin ne halam, Abelas.
For me, this translates roughly to:
amelin: (your) name
Or, more loosely translated: "Your name is no longer your destiny, Abelas.”
Abelas nods at Solas and leaves.SOLAS: His name. Abelas means sorrow. I said… I hoped he finds a new name.
Solas's reactions are complex as the Inquisitor ponders whether to drink from the Well. When he is approached about drinking from it, he will reply shortly, "No. Do not ask me again."
But if the Inquisitor drinks, he's very upset, and utterly loses composure:
SOLAS: I begged you not to drink from the Well! Why could you not have listened?INQUISITOR: Solas…SOLAS: You gave yourself into the service of an ancient elven god!INQUISITOR: What does that mean, exactly?SOLAS: You are Mythal’s creature now. Everything you do, whether you know it or not, will be for her. You have given up a part of yourself.Option 1:INQUISITOR: I have not become Mythal’s slave.SOLAS: Not yet, but if you remove the layer of nostalgia from stories of the elven gods, you might see the danger. They were arrogant and fickle. They warred amongst themselves. They had feuds, vendettas.Option 2:INQUISITOR: You don’t even believe in the ancient elven gods!SOLAS: I don’t believe they were gods, no, but I believe that they existed! Something existed to start the legends! If not gods, then mages, or spirits, or something we’ve never seen.And shortly after:INQUISITOR: I trust my friends.SOLAS: I know that mistake well enough to carve the angles of her face from memory.INQUISITOR: Why is this so important to you?SOLAS: You have not been what I expected, Inquisitor. You have… impressed me. You must not let false modesty allow you to pass your power to someone else. There are few regrets sharper than watching fools squander what you sacrificed to achieve.
Whose face? Mythal's, of course. It has to be.
SOLAS: ... Your face. The vallaslin. In my journeys in the Fade, I have seen things. I have discovered what those marks mean.INQUISITOR: They honour the elven gods.SOLAS: No. They are slave markings, or at least, they were in the time of ancient Arlathan.INQUISITOR: My clan’s Keeper said they honored the gods. These are their symbols.SOLAS: Yes. That’s right. A noble would mark his slaves to honor the god he worshipped. After Arlathan fell, the Dalish forgot.
But let's move on to after the breakup, to one of the most important banter conversations of the entire game—one we only get if we romance Solas.
SOLAS: You cannot heal this, Cole. Please, let it go.INQUISITOR: Perhaps Cole can get a better answer from you than I did.COLE: He hurts, an old pain from before, when everything sang the same. You're real, and it means everyone could be real. It changes everything, but it can't. They sleep, masked in a mirror, hiding, hurting, and to wake them...Cole gasps.COLE: Where did it go?SOLAS: I apologize, Cole. That is not a pain you can heal.
My writer friend Eryn believes this sentence would have ended with: "And to wake them... the Veil must be lifted."
I always waffled on "to wake them" (where he breaks off), because it also seems to me he could also be about to say that awakening them... would be a dangerous thing. Although the other take is more fun—I always thought he wanted to keep them sleeping/hidden and that he was referring to the Evanuris he had trapped.
Meanwhile, and this is so, so important and I think frequently overlooked: Solas just MINDWIPED Cole. In front of everyone.
Of course, Solas does this later on, too, after the events of Dragon Age: Inquisition, if we try to go talk to Cole after Solas's departure, and it's absolutely heartbreaking.
But again: He just did this here. Not alone, in the shadows of Cole's corner. But right in front of our other companions. It's incredibly risky. So why would he do this?
I believe it's because Cole was about to reveal secrets Solas could not allow to be unearthed, both about himself and about those followers of his still in uthenera. Cole always knew the truth about Solas, and did not judge him for it, and loved him anyway. Solas knew this and respected it, allowing some of Cole's conversations with him to mystify the others.
Ultimately, from all of these near-missteps, I think Solas is presented as desperately wanting to tell the Inquisitor the truth about himself and what his true plans are. And yet, if he is truly acting on behalf of a dead and enslaved people as he believes himself to be, he has an obligation that goes beyond the people of the Inquisition, no matter how much he has begun to care for them. So all we're left with are these little moments in which Solas tantalizingly (in hindsight) nearly betrays himself, as his spirit speaks aloud as if begging for exposure... or absolution. Or forgiveness.
But here and now, in the fight against Cory, he can't speak. Not quite. And not yet. So he'll continue to wear his guilt, wordlessly, in an ongoing regret that he will carry forward, and which we know from Tevinter Nights ("Callback") will so consume him that a demon will form from its ashes in the frescoes. It is a regret that brings loneliness with it, the ironic solitude that defines Solas and that I believe he also loathes so much that it is why he obliterates the Qunari forces in order to rescue the Inquisitor in "Trespasser," and why he speaks so openly and gently to Charter in Tevinter Nights ("Dread Wolf Take You").