Monday, February 25, 2019

Dances With Dread Wolves: Solas's Secret Mission at Halamshiral

Perhaps the most surprising development of "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts" is to discover a Solas who's drunk,
amused, relaxed, and even secretly celebratory (and by all appearances very much at home).
SOLAS: I do adore the heady blend of power, intrigue, danger, and sex that permeates these events.

Ah, Halamshiral, the masked ball, and the Inquisitor's entrance to the stage of the impeccable and complex movements of the Great Game. Where a single pair of shoes can betray a family's financial woes or hopes for greatness; where a single gesture can gain the approval of the aristocracy, or doom generations to disgrace and dishonor; where a dance can mean instant success or failure on the very grandest scale

Lies or truth, love or loss, acclaim or disgrace. In Orlais, in the Great Game, there is no in between. It all comes down to life or death in the end.

And it's all there in the Dragon Age: Inquisition quest "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts." So loathed by some. So loved by others.

For me? It's the best quest in Inquisition. I love that so little of it involves fighting, and that so much of it involves statecraft, conversation, and trickery. I also love the atmosphere, the exotic Orlesian setting, the location design, and Trevor Morris's tense, delicate and evocative music, with its main theme a variation on the "Empress of Fire" bard song. I especially love jumping into the quest as a lowly Dalish Inquisitor, one who is instantly loathed and distrusted by the Orlesians present (and who are so befuddled at the sight of Solas that they simply announce him as a semi-nameless elven servant).

But my favorite part of "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts" is how it provides a subtle, enjoyable and essential new flash of insight into Solas—who isn't really there as an Inquisition party member, in my view. He's not there to take down Celene, or Gaspard, or even Briala. He's there for reasons of his own.

Or so I think. So gird your loins and prepare for tinfoil hats galore, as I share my 2 cents on Solas's situation at Halamshiral! And since I think the romance adds some necessary and vital subtext, this is definitely a part of my series of analyses on Solas's romance, as well. But it's also probably my biggest "headcanon" piece to date, so of course, as always, I may be utterly, totally wrong here.

It's all supposition. But it's fun.

Gaspard's capacity for brandy is either horrifying or laudable depending on your POV, but it still cannot remotely forgive his open racism at the Winter Palace. (Choose Briala as the evening's victor and watch him spit the word "Rabbit.")
The Vermin at the Palace

The first time I played Dragon Age: Inquisition, I figured I knew exactly what I was going to be faced with when I took Solas to the Winter Palace: A tense, humorless, angry and resentful man. Solas would have ample reason to be that way, but let's face it, I wasn't expecting to see my favorite elven apostate at his best.

Especially after our arrival, when it became crystal-clear to me just how unwelcome my Lavellan really was. The nasty little comments by the Orlesians. Their disbelief that she was actually not just an elf, but a "Dalish savage." Even Gaspard's not-so-subtle delight at the fact that her presence was an exotic and hilarious insult to Celene and the entire evening.

The funny thing is, for that first playthrough, and even a few after, I actually found Gaspard oddly charming there—because he was so honest, so forthright. I really got a kick out of Gaspard, I did—until I realized that he wasn't actually enjoying the frisson of walking in as a disgraced rebel Duke with the unexpected escort of an elven Inquisitor. Rather, he was enjoying the idea of himself walking in beside someone who was not even a person to him—just one of the Dalish "rabbits" he liked to hunt in his spare time (which is why, it's strongly implied by partygoers, Gaspard has so many hunting dogs).

You get an added dose of this reality if you play WE&WH through and support Briala at the end. In that final scene, Gaspard is spitting mad there, all courtesy abandoned, and he's blatantly and repeatedly calling her "rabbit" through the entire final scene. It's pretty gross stuff. Let's just say I've never found him remotely charming again.

The Hidden Question

But... where's Solas throughout all this? 

His absence is, needless to say, notable.

Because, meanwhile, my favorite resident rebel is nowhere to be seen outside the Palace, or in the earliest scenes at the Vestibule. Which is probably for the best, as very, very quickly, playing this segment of the story as an elf, you really feel the sting of the racism and bigotry. It begins to feel less like a game and more like, well... the world.

Then the Orlesians actually have the temerity to introduce Solas as "The Lady Inquisitor's Elven Serving-Man, Solas!" and in my very first playthrough, I basically full-body cringed and waited for the guaranteed explosion to follow.

Except the explosion never happened. 

Then I realized why: This night is a culmination. For Solas, it's a notable victory. Let the shems ignore him, humiliate him, call him disrespectful names. No matter. Their prejudice only empowers him and his victory is all the sweeter for it. Because tonight he has achieved a task that gives him—and his people—potential dominion over them all.

Instead of consoling the Inquisition's resident rebel, my Inquisitor found herself facing a decadent, slightly drunken elven mage viewing the worst Orlesian racial and class excesses with nothing more than a slouch and a half-smile.
The Trickster in the Corner

After entering the ballroom, I wandered my Inky around for awhile, trying to get used to my terrible Nutcracker formalwear and the feeling that everyone hated my heroine for the shape of her ears, then eventually located most of my companions and advisors around the ballroom or in the vestibule. But I couldn't find Solas.

Then I headed out toward the garden, and as I entered the antechamber between the main vestibule and the garden, I looked off to the right... and there was Solas. Amused and relaxed, and lounging in the shadows, leaning against a pillar and by all appearances very much at home.

Well, you could've knocked me over with a feather. Or, rather, a fluffy Orlesian fan.

Instead of being faced with consoling or soothing the Inquisition's resident rebel, I was facing a decadent, slightly drunken elven mage happily viewing the worst Orlesian racial and class excesses with nothing more than a slouch and a half-smile.

And then he practically stretches and purrs in his delight at his situation:
SOLAS: I do adore the heady blend of power, intrigue, danger, and sex that permeates these events.
ME (plotzing slightly): What the hell happened to you?!
You okay, buddy? I want to ask. But I do not. Even if I might be dying to. Because, well, this is awesome. And... um... hot. Fine, yes, I said it. Surprisingly hot. Still, I do continue the conversation, where we're given the chance to have our Inquisitors respond at the change in him:
INQUISITOR: You seem more comfortable with a grand Orlesian ball than I’d have expected.
SOLAS: I have seen countless such displays in my journeys in the Fade. The powerful have always been the same. Only the costumes change.
ME (upon replay): OH MY GOD You're lying. Again.

I do not think it's an accident that there are elven servants just steps away from Solas, whispering in the shadowed corner.
I smile as my Inquisitor edges forward, taking in the scene. Solas is still there, just hanging out, looking loungetastic and slinky in his subversive elven corner. It's important for me to note here that there are elves all around us, including just to the Inquisitor's right, in the corner proper, just steps away from Solas.
INQUISITOR: Have you seen anything useful?
SOLAS: No. Sadly... I do not have the look of one of the elven servants, or I might well be invisible... (another pause)
But wait... let's look at this. Because: Really? Really? If Solas wanted to go undercover, he'd just need a switch of a jacket and hat. Boom. He wears no vallaslin, no identifying markings. He'd be just another elven servant making his way quietly between rooms. So he's dissembling, and deliberately so.
SOLAS: I wonder how masked men live their lives without ever seeing that servants have an entire society of their own? If you want to find something useful, I would pay attention to what the servants do.
INQUISITOR: Have you encountered any trouble with the nobles?
SOLAS: The Orlesians do not quite know what to make of me. I have kept to myself, for fear of giving them some purchase to cling to. 
He says all of this with such satisfaction, and Solas voice actor Gareth David-Lloyd makes the most of each carelessly aristocratic syllable. We can practically see Solas grin in the moment here, as he takes a breath.
SOLAS (continuing): The food and drink are excellent, however, and the servants have been happy to refill my glass.
I'm sure they have, I think when viewing this scene now. Considering that I am pretty certain at least some of them work for you.
INQUISITOR (romanced): Do you have any interest in dancing?
SOLAS: A great deal… although dancing with an elven apostate would win you few favors with the court. Perhaps once our business here is done?
Our female Inquisitor voice actors are especially lovely here. Sumalee Montano is more kidding and defiant in her delivery, with that slight edge of humor she often brings to the Inquisitor, while Alix Wilton-Regan is more yearning, openly wishing simply to take a moment to enjoy the spectacle for herself.

The disparities here are so fascinating. Solas is again calm, delighted, relaxed, and hyper-aware of the racist, genuinely creepy setting in which he finds himself... and yet it's all fascinating and amusing... and doesn't seem to touch him at all. He's happy to call upon the elven servants, to be waited upon. 

If I analyze this moment, to me there's a touch of nostalgia to Solas's attitude here (and afterward, in the Rotunda conversation). He's transported back to a time when he was one of the chosen, one of the special few, to be respected, flattered and adored. A prince at court, one of the Evanuris.

In other words, the rebel apostate is gone. In his place is the amused god for whom all of this is nothing more than spectacle.
INQUISITOR: I’ll be back.
SOLAS: Hunt well!
One of the little details I love about this dialogue between Solas and a romanced Inquisitor is the fact that Solas wishes her well as she heads into the danger and intrigue of the evening's investigations. He doesn't tell her to be careful, he just smiles and bids her to "Hunt well!" It's wonderful, subtle and empowering for those playing a female Inky.

But why is Solas so relaxed, so out of character here? Is it just a little wine and a little Orlesian decadence, a reminder of his youth in millennia past? Or is it something more?

Me, I think it's something more. I think he's celebrating a private victory.

It's my belief that Solas effortlessly navigates the eluvian network the night of the Masked Ball,
and that he does so, potentially, with the help of Merrill's eluvian.
Solas's Secret Mission

As I outlined in my recent overview of the eluvian network, I believe Solas has had an entirely different agenda at Halamshiral: That of reacquiring control over the entire eluvian network.

And let's note: There have been other signs in Inquisition that Solas is focused on the eluvians. If we hit the Emprise du Lion, kill Imshael, and recruit Michel before the Winter Palace events, we are told outright. In the War Table mission "Assigning Michel de Chevin" Solas is revealed to be working actively on the eluvian situation, and Michel can be assigned to work with Solas and the Inquisition's scholars on the eluvians of Orlais. If chosen, Leliana confirms that Michel's memory of the paths between eluvians is excellent, and that he is already providing much information.

Come on. This is the best thing ever. Solas is researching the eluvians for the Inquisition. Because of course he is.

Meanwhile, here we are at the ball. And while the Inquisitor, advisors and other party members have been fixated on the Great Game, on the worrisome politics of the evening (and how it all might go terribly wrong), I believe Solas has been solely focused on his private and different mission... and that he's already accomplished it within the first hour of the evening, in fact. Before we ever confront him in the vestibule, in fact.

The wolf has already been on the prowl.

A wave of the hand? A flash of the eyes? A little magic, and either way, the eluvian network is now Solas's.
Through the Looking-Glass

Here's what I think happened: While everyone else was focused on Gaspard, and the Inquisitor, and Celene, and on the stakes and steps of this all-important evening, Solas took a short walk and accomplished his greatest victory yet.

Let's imagine it:

Solas arrives at Halamshiral, then swaps his hat and jacket in seconds for those of an elven servant. He uses magic to access the room in the Palace housing an intact but dormant eluvian. This may be Merrill's restored eluvian, in which case Solas simply slips into the garden from his corner a few steps away, ascends to the library on the second floor, enters the library using his magic, and then does the same to the storage room/study housing the Veilfire off the library's upper back room. If it is not Merrill's eluvian, I think Solas simply goes to another, in a different storage room, with the same result (an eluvian he is already aware of thanks to his own elven spy network in the Palace).

Either way, he activates the eluvian in a smooth rush of ancient magic, then being both elven, magical, and experienced, he travels to the Crossroads and beyond at the super-fast travel speeds available only to elves. Knowing the network intimately, Solas does not need to travel a long series of entrances and exits as Briala and her companions once did; he simply has to choose the right eluvian to get him to the central chamber. Which he does.

Once there, Solas uses his magic to access the labyrinth, and then walks it smoothly, reaching the center. While I believe it is possible for Solas to have stolen back the Keystone in his previous year before the Breach, Solas's words in "Trespasser" make me think he did not do so: 

SOLAS: You remember Briala from Halamshiral? For a time, she controlled part of the labyrinth. One of my agents was supposed to take it from her, but he did not succeed. I had to override the magic personally.
Solas isn't just referencing Felassan here (one of several heartbreaking direct references to my favorite Masked Empire character throughout "Trespasser"). He's also admitting point-blank that he did not have the Keystone and instead overrode the magic on the fly.

Although, since I've noted previously that as Briala's passcode was simply "Fen'Harel enansal," or "Fen'Harel's blessing," the most likely occurrence was that Solas stood at the center of the labyrinth, ascended the pedestal, and guessed the words, with or without another rush of magic, that would give him control of the entire network in perpetuity.

The Inquisitor faces the missing piece of the puzzle, and yet simply moves past in her investigations this evening. Ironically, Merrill's eluvian is an object of nothing more than mere curiosity.
The Slow Arrow's Echo

As I mentioned in my examination of the eluvians, the irony and sadness of Felassan's death at Solas's hands is that, to me, Felassan had already done the work assigned to him. In teaching Briala as his da'len, in focusing constantly on Fen'Harel in his tales, and especially in hinting to her of Fen'Harel's far more likely real complexity, he had already primed Briala subconsciously to be an agent of Fen'Harel, and to choose one of the ancient phrases his guardians and agents would have used in those long-lost days.

So Felassan dies for not giving Solas the passcode... a passcode it surely took him seconds to guess. Unless he simply waved a hand and magicked himself a new one.

Either way, it's done. And Solas has just won a silent victory on his path to tearing down the Veil and restoring his world.

The Secret Victory

Solas then makes his way back through the Crossroads, directly to the Halamshiral eluvian, emerges in the Library, and (with a quick switch of coat and cap) returns to the Vestibule.

I'd argue that this was all doable within 30-60 minutes. If that much. And easily accomplished well before the interminable list of attendees were even completely announced to the gathering.

And all thanks to the racism and blindness of the Orlesians, which made it laughably simple for Solas to achieve, since their prejudices ensured that he was basically invisible the entire time. It's a beautiful irony that Orlesians, when confronted with the most powerful being in Thedas, simply saw a lowly and despised elven servant with pointed ears.

When we look back at the Winter Palace, it's fitting that Solas has never appeared quite so wolfish as he does here.
The Subtle Celebration

Now let's revisit that scene again. The Inquisitor endures the wait outside the gates, the mingling and insults in the courtyard garden before her entrance, and then there's the pause in the outer vestibule before the ballroom doors open. She is announced, and then walks the long, slow, terrible distance to Celene. She banters as well as she can, beginning the Great Game. 

Then she locates her advisors, her companions. Makes chit-chat. It's entirely possible that all of this takes an hour or more.

Finally, she goes to find the rest of her companions—Bull, Blackwall, Solas or Dorian, etc. Only to find Solas in that darkened corner, relaxed and cynical, a little drunk, smiling and curiously lighthearted.

Dance with Me

The evening ends, in intrigue, in truce, or very possibly in Celene's murder thanks to our tacit support of Florianne's assassination, or of course, in the equal potential for death for any one of the other two primary movers (Briala, like Gaspard, can be executed here).

And then the Inquisitor is out on the balcony after welcoming Morrigan to the organization, and she's very possibly facing the realization that she's no longer a good or defensible person—and now she has to live with that knowledge. 

As Morrigan exits the balcony, Solas enters.
SOLAS: I’m not surprised to find you out here. Thoughts?
The Inquisitor can respond with a number of reactions here. With satisfaction for achieving her goals, with remorse for Gaspard's, Briala's or Celene's deaths, or (my choice) with a simple admission of tiredness and general sadness:
INQUISITOR (sighs): It’s been a very long day.
SOLAS: For everyone, I’d imagine. It’s nearly over now. Cullen’s giving the men their marching orders as we speak.
He's still buoyant, pleased by the day's events. No matter what happened here, he won. He leans forward in a courtly bow and offers her his arm:
SOLAS: Come, before the band stops playing, dance with me.
She has a number of options here—to dance with him, to ask him to simply be with her there for a quiet moment, or for her to tell him she simply wants to leave.

Among the options and potential choices, I want to spotlight one of Solas's most important comments to Lavellan here (said if she expresses remorse over her actions, especially if they resulted in death): 
SOLAS: Remember what happened; do not dwell on it. You cannot save people from themselves.
I know everyone hates Solas's Winter Palace hat, but I adore it, when it's not clipping horribly (as here). But I just love what it does to his face; it frames his angular cheeks and jawline in a really interesting way.

"You cannot save people from themselves."

One wonders if Lavellan thinks of this comment, in the months and years to come. Or if she ever reexamines those early, charmed moments in the Vestibule, when Solas was unmasked—the Prince of the Fade, decadent and amused, satisfied with the day's victories.

"I'll be back," she says, poised to hunt the evening's secrets, thinking her night has just started, never ever aware that the greatest secret of all is standing before her, both god and man, wolf and hunter. And that, for him, the evening is nothing more than spectacle. Everything he needed to do is already done.

No wonder Solas is pleased and secretive, possibly charmed by her beauty and courage, and most of all, by the prospect of his future victory... His path is not yet that of the din'anshiral. He still thinks what he wants to do is both possible and defensible. So for now he can observe, and drink, and watch the pageantry of human frailty before him, untouched by any of it, and knowing that when it comes to the Great Game and these racist, rather silly and shallow Orlesians, that he has already won.

"Hunt well!" he answers. 

And he smiles.


  1. This whole thing has me swooning. I love you!

    1. Thank you so much! (blushing as badly as Alistair) This absolutely makes my day. I always look forward to your feedback, and I'm so delighted you enjoyed this one!

  2. This all makes sense if you take Solas with you to Halamshiral, but... what if you don't? When do you think he might gain control of the eluvians in a playthrough where you leave him behind at Skyhold?

    Morrigan doesn't arrive until after WEWH, and she does bring an eluvian with her to Skyhold. I suppose that might give Solas plenty of opportunity to access the network, but since OGB Kieran, Morrigan and the Inquisitor do go into the eluvian as part of The Final Piece, Solas probably doesn't gain access until after that.

    The other option is, of course, that he wrests control of the eluvians in the 2 years between the end of the main game and the beginning of Trespasser. But then what is he so pleased about during WEWH? Maybe just being able to touch base with his spies there? Maybe just reliving his youth, as you suggest.

    1. Thank you for chiming in, Lady Iolanthe! I always look forward to your thoughts!

      To answer your question, first off, my understanding is that it's basically canon that "everyone" is with us at Halamshiral, even if we don't choose them for our party. Which is why they will all comment on the events even if they weren't chosen to be there.

      I think you bring up a great point about Morrigan's eluvian at Skyhold (and the possibilities there are so tempting!). It is of course absolutely possible that Solas used magic, used that eluvian, then muted it again... I just don't get that feel from the events.

      And you're right: He absolutely could wrest control later on, and during that period between DAI and "Trespasser!" My one plea is that it doesn't fit the feel of events. It doesn't fit, for me, Solas's demeanor at the Palace (or after). Something big feels like it happened here, so that's my take on the potential situation.

      I want to address another element in an upcoming post -- Solas's feeling of urgency. What's going on there? My thought is... he's feeling the Quickening. He does not have unlimited time. (At least, not yet...)

      More to follow -- and thanks so much for reading and commenting, as always!

  3. I think Solas takes control of the Eluvians after he absorbs Flemeth, but I agree he certainly liked Court, and I suspect he felt free *not* being in the hot seat while enjoying the events from afar. I imagine it would be freeing.

    1. I think this is absolutely possible! Time will tell how wrong I actually am! ;)

      I would definitely agree with you that Solas finds Halamshiral curiously freeing -- I think that's a great way to put it. And also, for me, that's where the nostalgia comes in -- he's euphoric, enjoying the pomp and circumstance, the sheer spectacle. It's a night unlike any other in the game and I love that Solas reflects that back to us.

      Thank you so much as always for the insightful thoughts and comments! I always look forward to them.

  4. After reading this I absolutely HAD to go back and replay WEWH with my Solasmancing Lavellan, and I seriously think you're on to something with all of this! Right after entering the vestibule for the first time, Cullen will say (if you keep talking to him after he mentions the troops and such): "Solas has already gone inside. I'm not sure about the others." So why single out Solas and no one else? Hmmmm...? Makes one wonder.

    (And as always (even though I've never commented before) I LOVE your posts and look forward to them every time! Keep up the great work!)

    1. I noticed that too! I wonder if Cullen will still say that if we bring an un-romanced Solas!

  5. Very well written, thank you so much! I just discovered your blog and have been digging through aaaall the juicy Solas theories. Love it and makes my not so forgotten heartbreak very much alive again (yes, shame on me, it's just a game after all, dammit!

    But regarding the hat: I found some interesting theory which you might already know yourself but just in case posting it here:

    Do you agree? If the theory is true, it's just glorious :D


"Dragon Age: Dreadwolf" Predictions & Ponderings (and "What's in a Name?" Redux)

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