Fergus stood before the full length looking glass in his room. He adjusted the strap on his shoulder plate. He was wearing his everyday suite of armor, medium plate of Highever green veridium. Escorting Alistair to the Chantry this evening he would have to wear his full-dress heavy silverite trimmed with the royal blue of Highever’s Insignia. His helmet would sport a royal blue plume. The brand new armor had been delivered by Wade himself as well as Bellavalia’s Drake Scale blue leathers. Everything that the Cousland’s needed was nearly in place for the official ceremonies and the ball to follow. Today, the jewels would be delivered and the weavers would arrive tomorrow afternoon with Bell and Leliana’s gowns, completely finished, and their sashes.
I’ve been training our new men into the ground to get them parade march ready. I’m nervous and rightly so, thought Fergus, this will be my first duty as the Teyrn of Highever.
His sister, Maker bless her, had saved their ancestral shield and their father’s sword. All due to their mother who had given Bellavalia the combination to the Highever treasury. Fergus would bet ten soverigns that his sister most likely had known the combination before their mother ever told her. All the relics of the Cousland family were not entirely lost, which he was thankful for. Their family shield was getting a spit and shine for this evenings ceremonies, along with father’s sword, which was in need of a good sharpening. Bell had used the sword and used it well. It had been dented and scratched something terrible. It was also taking a turn on the forge at Cousland Court with order that the Cousland family sword get a high-gloss shine applied as well.
Fergus chose a Highever wooden kite shield and just an ordinary veridium sword for the day from the racks of weapons in his room. He tested the sharpness of the blade. It had a nice sharp edge. It was going to be two very long days. Once he escorted Alistair to the Chantry he would also have to stand vigil outside at full parade attention waiting for the King to escort him to the Palace. He would really have to eat hearty with a lot less wine before seeing to his duties. Oh, I must make sure I go to the privy one last time before I leave for tonight he thought. I should send word to the men to do the same.
With one last glance in the highly polished glass ruffling his hair into place, he left his room. Walking swiftly, he made his way down the stairs to the family’s private salon. There a very important guest awaited his arrival. The mage had arrived just an hour before and none to soon.
Fergus opened the door to the salon. Inside he saw the mage stand as he entered and she kneeled before him. She looked older than he remembered her. She was tall and slim with a narrow waist. Her hair was medium brown pulled back into a simple bun with a sprinkle here and there of silver gray. Her eyes reminded him of cinnamon, they didn’t miss much. Her eyes were now creased with tiny lines. She was dressed in a simple outfit of a white peasant blouse which rimmed her slim shoulders – laced and tied up the center. Her neck was decorated with the traditional leather collar of a lay person. Her ankle length skirt a blue/green plaid of flannel accompanied with a dark brown leather belt. Dark brown heavy soled lace up boots were on her feet. Over her shoulders was a heavy dark blue hooded cloak, tied at the shoulders. All of the best quality, she was a servant of Highever after all.
Fergus offered his hand to aid her to stand. She gladly accepted.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again Michelle.”
“A pleasure as always, Your Grace.”
“I hope the fast paced journey wasn’t too difficult?”
“I’ll recover with a good night sleep.”
“Is”…she hesitated for just a second.
“Is it true, Your Grace, Loghain is really dead and Anora in custody?”
Fergus grinned at her.
“Aye, it’s true.”
She sagged slightly with relief.
“This is why I’m here then, in Denerim?”
“Yes, the time has come Michelle for you to tell your tale.”
“I can’t help… but, feel afraid,” she muttered.
“I fully understand Michelle, it has been difficult – you being on the run from Loghain and the Chantry all these years. You’ll do just fine.” He patted her hand.
“Yes it has been a most difficult journey, and I have only your father to thank for my very life. I’m so sorry, Your Grace, he was the most honorable of men and so was your mother. I’m sorry for the loss of your wife and child. I wish I could have helped in some way.”
“Thank you Michelle, soon you will get your chance to help. I’ll see you safely into the presence of Prince Theirin and Arl Eamon.”
“I promise you Michelle, just like my father, I’ll do all in my power to keep you safe.”
“My life and that of my sister, and our future monarch all depend on the truth you have to tell.”
“What if they don’t believe me?”
“How are you so sure, Your Grace?”
“My sister put her life at risk to retrieve the letter you sent to Loghain, along with several other documents that are very damaging for Anora. She will hang, I promise you that she will.”
Michelle nodded. A spark of hope shimmered in her eyes.
“What about the Circle and the Templars?”
“I’ll do my best Michelle to keep you from their eyes; but, if they detect you I can’t go against the Chantry and will have to let them take you. My parents gave you their oath, they’d keep you from Loghain and Anora. Also, hide you from the Templars, which we have done. Couslands always keep their word Michelle, we’ve always done our best for you.”
“Aye, Your Grace you have. If it wasn’t for your parents, I’m sure I’d be dead by now.”
Fergus smiled and patted her hand once more.
“Just remember to keep your hood well over your face and whatever you do, no magic is to be used for any reason, regardless of what happens.”
“If the Templars detect you, then I’ll have to deny knowing you.”
“What will your answer be to them if this happens?”
“I’ve been in service to a ruling class family in Kirkwall, the family of Belinda Howe to be precise.”
“Yes, that will do nicely, Michelle. It will look as if Howe was in on it all along.”
“Come let’s sit for a moment. Can I offer you something to eat or drink?” Fergus was hoping to put her mind at ease and to calm her before she faced Alistair.
“A hot cup of tea, please.”
“Of course, just take a seat by the fire if you wish.”
Fergus walked over to the bell pull and tugged the fabric, the tiny bell sounded in the hall. With a knock one of Molly’s servants came inside.
She curtsied, “Yes, Your Grace.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like something to eat Michelle?”
“I’m fine Your Grace, just the tea.”
“A tray with hot tea for our guest.”
“Right away, Your Grace.” The tiny girl left the room to do his bidding.
Fergus joined Michelle by the fire and seated himself in the chair next to the one the mage occupied.
“You’ve had the chance to freshen up?”
“Yes, we just arrived and your house keeper led me to a small room to wash and to put on fresh clothes.”
The small maid returned with a small tray of tea and the necessary items to go with it. She asked Michelle how she took her tea.
Fergus waited for her to serve and retire from the room. Fergus watched Michelle blow gently on the hot brew, then she took a sip of the tea. Pleasure washed over her face.
“Yes, thank you, those in Antiva like a spicy blend, this is perfect.”
Fergus had a flash of memory, he would surprise Oriana with a small chest of her favorite tea and the delight upon her face when he would give it to her…it would take his breath away, her smile and her pleasure.
Michelle waited politely for him to continue as he stared off into the fire. She sensed he was thinking of his dead wife.
Fergus recalled himself. Shaking his head to loosen the memories and cobwebs he said.
“Yes, back to our discussion.”
Michelle nodded for him to continue. The warm tea cup in her hands was warming her chilled fingers. She hadn’t much need of gloves in Antiva. Here in Ferelden when they arrived a few hours ago, she’d noticed they were in the beginning of spring. Ferelden was chilly to begin with, her fingers had nearly froze on the crossing and keeping them inside her cloak pockets hadn’t done much to warm them.
“Why did our men take you to Orianna’s family?
“I’m sure you’ve heard darkspawn made it over the border into Jader.”
“Yes, we’ve heard some made their way into Orlais, what happened?”
“The Grand Duke, his wife, and his oldest son are dead, all of them, very few escaped.”
“Maker, is Christian alright?”
“I don’t know, the duke sent all the women and children of the estate to the Val Royeaux and he sent me with them. His wife and daughter-in-law refused to leave saying if men were injured they would need women to aid them. I wanted to stay and help, being a healing mage; but, the Duke demanded I go with the children and help protect them. On our way, we meet the Grey Wardens of Orlais. They were rushing to the border to defend Orlais if Ferelden failed. They sent a Warden with us to assure our safety. A small group of their Chevalier support troops were also sent with us. We reached Val Royoueaux without much harm, just very frightened children. Your men realized that they, nor I, could remain in Orlais being from Ferelden, so they booked passage for us on a ship to Nevarra. Once in that port we took another to Rialto Bay in Antiva. Then traveled by land to your in-laws estate.
I just recently learned in the ports that a major battle took place west of Jader right on the De’Charny property. The darkspawn got into the castle, they killed everyone. This is what we were told before taking ship to Antiva.
“My wife’s family?”
“As you can imagine, they are in deep mourning, Your Grace. They told me to tell you, if you need aid to win Highever back, send them word. They want swift justice on behalf of Orianna and Oren. Your mother-in-law is bedridden with grief. Your father-in-law was going to come, but because of his wife he decided not to leave her.”
“You are about to give it them Michelle?”
“So it was Anora?”
“Yes, we believe so. The other documents Bell found say as much.”
“I’ll do my upmost to convince them Your Grace.”
“I knew the moment I wrote that letter to Loghain my life would never be the same. I sometimes wish Loghain’s wife had been alive, then all of this might not have happened.”
“Did Loghain listen to her?
“He would listen to her advice, that didn’t mean he would always act on it. He always treated his wife with the greatest respect, and Anora was spoiled rotten.”
“Yes, Anora always had in her mind – the ideal of entitlement. Everyone owed her and not the other way around.”
Michelle finished her cup of tea and placed the empty cup on the tray. She waited patiently for Fergus to command their leave. Her toes had warmed up sitting by the fire. It felt good to be home….back in Ferelden again. Hopefully, they would send her back to Rainesfere. She loved it there. The life of a simple peasant working in the orchards. Even though she was an apostate mage. She’d had to use her magic only on rare occasions and when she did she would be shuffled off again.
“Will I get to see Her Grace? Is it true, she is now a Grey Warden and she killed the Arch Demon? I could hardly believe the tale”
“Later perhaps, yes it is true, the Warden at Highever gained father’s permission for her conscription into the Wardens, and he got Bell out of Highever. She and a few others are the only ones who survived. Once Prince Theirin is crowned we leave for Highever in just a few days’ time.”
“I have to warn you, there is a Circle Mage here, she traveled with Bell during the blight and fought with her.”
Michelle stiffened with alarm.
“Who is it, she whispered?”
“Senior Enchantress Wynne.”
“Wynne was my instructor at the Circle, she would know me.”
“I figured as much. She is upstairs with Bell. We must be very careful. I’ll see you have a room in one of the other buildings and away from the main house. Once we return from Eamon’s then you will be escorted there and you are to remain in that room. It is well stocked with books and writing materials for your use. Only the guards assigned to you will deliver your meals along with wash water. If you have need of anything tell them and they will see to your needs. When I gain control over Highever again, and understand the situation there, and when Wynne leaves to return to the Circle, I’ll send for you then.”
“You must understand Michelle, this hinges on what Prince Theirin decides to do. If they decide to send you back to the Circle. You might request becoming a Grey Warden. Bellavalia will be named the Warden Commander of Ferelden. You’d do well in her service and she can protect you.”
“I understand, if I’m sent back to the Circle they might make me tranquil for running away.”
“If they send you back, I will speak on your behalf that you have been under our protection because of Anora and Loghain. I’ll do all I can.”
It was the best she could hope for Michelle realized.
“Are you ready? I’ve already been summoned by the Prince. He has no idea you are here. I’m sure they sent for me to see if I know anything, so you will be a surprise. Don’t be frighten if they make you write something so they can compare your hand writing with the letter you wrote to Loghain all those years ago.”
“Yes, Your Grace, I wish to see the end of this and where fate will lead me.”
“That’s a brave lass.”
“Let’s go then.”
Fergus rose from his chair and offered her his hand. She stood smiling warmly at the Teyrn. She pulled her hood up well over her head to conceal her face. Fergus walked her to the door and soon they were on their way.
They started on the long walk through the city to Eamon’s estate with Highever knights and Templars following in their wake, which made her very nervous. She’d played this game before. Fergus laughed and joked with the men and held onto her hand firmly. Keeping her at his side. She dared not look up and watched the ground as she walked. If the men were curious about her, they offered no questions regarding her person.
Michelle smelled meat pies for sale on carts, the barks of the merchants as they tried to entice people to purchase their wares. Children running and playing, troops on guard and the click and clack of their armor as their weight shifted. Servants in the market trying to find food for their lord’s households along with their complaints echoed through the markets. She wished she could see all of it. I’ve been in the country for so long and the time on the piers had not offered much of a view except for the mast of ships and their cargo; the unwashed smell of sailor’s bodies and rotting fish.
In what seemed no time at all they came to the famous Arl’s estate and soon she would get to lay eyes on Prince Alistair Theirin. Rumor had it he was a bastard of King Maric’s and also a Grey Warden. Just like Bellavalia was now and they’d both fought side by side to defend Ferelden. The men from Highever had offered the tale with pride regarding their lady.
A twinge of sorrow engulfed her heart as she thought of Bellavalia. Could that young woman possibly endure anymore heartache and hardship than what she suffered in Orlais? Now, this, a Grey Warden and the deaths of her parents. She would be eager for information on Christian, his fate was unknown. Sadly, she had no assurances to give the Lady of Highever. Michelle also wondered if she would be asked to tell about that sad tale. My life and fate seems to be forever entwined with the fate of these two women: Anora of Gwaren and Bellavalia of Highever, both Teynirs. Each woman with deep dark secrets and pasts that will decide the destiny of Ferelden if all of the truths came to light.
Both women would allow nothing to stand in the way of their desires. It would be a fight to the death between the two women and Michelle was certain Bellavalia Cousland would come out the winner. It would be interesting to see what Bellavalia had been up too in regards to Prince Theirin and if he knew the truth. Does he know Bellavalia holds the fate of his life in her hands as well as Anora? Michelle was certain one woman had the proof and the other didn’t. Bellavalia held a tighter grip than Anora, of that, Michelle held her conviction with absolute certainty. If Bellavalia Cousland spoke the truth of what she knew and could prove, it would rock the foundations of two countries and bring two monarchs to their knees. Michelle was certain the old Divine had known, the question most likely to come to the surface will be if the new Divine becomes aware. Most likely she will come to learn of it whomever she will be.
They were immediately allowed inside the famous resident of Arl Eamon, with no wait at all. The guards had only bowed and ushered them right in with no escort at all. Fergus seemed to know his way. He squeezed her hand for reassurance. Before long they found themselves standing before a pair of massive wooden doors with the coat-of-arms of Redcliffe engraved upon the solid ironbark doors.
A booming voice bade them enter and they did. Michelle found herself inside a lavish study, with blazing fire, velvet portiers hanging on the massive windows, walls lined with book cases filled to overflowing, various pieces of art displayed throughout. What caught her attention the most before she bowed on bended knee was the man sitting at the desk. Maker, he was sure was a looker.
With Fergus’ help she was raised to her feet, she stood and faced the man sitting behind the desk with Arl Eamon at his side. Both men looked intrigued at her presence. Slightly amused. Michelle suspected they thought she was Bellavalia. They would be in for a surprise.
“Fergus, you bring a visitor with you?”
“I do, Your Highness, and one I’m sure you’ll be pleased to meet.”
“Is that so?”
“I’m certain of it,” chuckled Fergus.
“Then by all means introduce the lady.”
“As you wish Your Highness.”
“Prince Theirin, and Arl Eamon, please make the acquaintance of Michelle, Circle Mage of Ferelden, and healer to Anora of Gwaren during her formative years.”
Alistair and Eamon both looked shell-shocked.
Michelle had thrown back her hood. She could feel wisps of her hair float around her face where they had come loose in the hood. She took her hand and smoothed her hair back into place as best she could.
Eamon stepped forward with complete shock upon his face. Prince Theirin showed no emotion what-so-ever and his gaze had not left hers once he looked upon her. His gaze was intense. Michelle felt the power of a Templar upon her and she was immediately drained of her mana. She was held in check and she knew it. She gasped herself.
“You’re a Templar?”
“Yes, I am,” spoke the Prince “and a Grey Warden as well and you’d do well to remember it.”
“I meant no disrespect Sire.” Fear obvious in her voice. A blasted Templar would decide her fate. The Maker and his sense of humor. Blast and damnation.
Prince Theirin sat watching her, at least she thought he was the Prince. Ferelden would be foolish to put an old man on the throne. Grand Duke Gaspard of Orlais would laugh himself silly at the notion. She felt the hard chill of a Templar’s eyes upon her. She had never forgotten the feel of it. The fear of it.
A Templar held the life of any mage in their hands. They used Holy Smite to strike a mage down and it was nearly impossible to fight such an attack. Very few mages had the ability to withstand this weapon the Templars used. At least he had no sword on him that she could see. A dagger most likely. Not that swords weren’t handy, the walls were lined with them and shields as well. By the looks of him he knew how to use one. Damnation. A bloody Templar was soon to be Ferelden’s king. Well if that didn’t beat all.
“Fergus, I believe an explanation is in order.” Alistair had spoken without once taking his eyes from hers. She was sure to be certain she offered no attack on him. Once a Templar always a Templar as the saying went.
“One I’m pleased to give, Your Highness.”
“Let’s hear it then.”
“Of course, Your Highness, I’m sure by now that you’re aware of the Anora’s condition or should I say her lack in the ability to produce a child.”
Alistair nodded. Still not taking his eyes off Michelle.
“Was it you or Bellavalia who sent the pouch?”
“Let’s just say, I was aware of the documents, who sent them, well it could have been anyone who suspected.”
“Your father knew for certain.”
“Aye he did, he knew when Anora fell from her horse as a child. Father had several spies within Gwaren and he was also aware of the spies Loghain had inside Highever. They were kept busy by my sister with false information. Bellavalia wasn’t called the ‘mischief maker’ at Highever for nothing. Our spies keep a close watch on Anora and Michelle. Once Michelle sent Loghain word the letter was intersected and it was our man who delivered the letter into Loghains’ hand. When an attempt was made on Michelle’s life inside Gwaren, it was our spy who killed Loghain’s man and got Michelle out of Gwaren and brought her to Highever. Where she has remained hidden and under the protection of the Cousland family ever since.”
“How is it that you avoided Loghain and Anora’s men from getting to Michelle,” Eamon asked.
“She has been moved constantly between connections of our family, namely in Antiva with Orianna’s family, she was also sheltered for a time as just a lowly serf with Nan’s sister in Rainesfere and with many others. We’ve taken great care with her safety because of the knowledge she possesses.”
“This explains why Loghain sent Zevran to kill you and Commander Cousland.”
“Apparently, Eamon.” Alistair glanced briefly at the Arl and returned his eyes back to the mage standing before him. “It still doesn’t explain why he outlawed all Wardens.”
“You’re right Alistair it doesn’t. I still can’t find a reason for Loghain to issue such an edict as regent.”
“Nor I,” spoke Alistair. “The only conclusion I’ve come up with is that he never believed the stories about the Wardens, if you remember Eamon he called us nothing more than dreams and fantasy.”
“This is why your parent’s were likely murdered and the attack on Highever ordered?” Alistair directed his question to Fergus.
“Yes, Bell and I, have known all along the ‘why’ of all of it.”
“Loghain likely understood, if Cailan survived Ostagar or retreated, the nobles wouldn’t allow him to enter into battle again, until he sired an heir immediately, and with Anora it would have been impossible, given her lack of a womb,” spoke Eamon as he rubbed his chin in thought.
“Father was putting pressure on Cailan to sire an heir, the same as you Eamon. He also argued against Cailan fighting at all. Cailan of course wouldn’t listen to any of us. It was becoming obvious Anora would never produce an heir, many had no idea she was barren when she married Cailan.”
“Did your father wish for your sister to replace Anora?”
Alistair’s eyes shifted between Fergus and Eamon, waiting for Fergus’ reply. Eager to hear what Fergus had to say to Eamon’s question.
“I’m not sure if you are aware of this Eamon; but, Bell was already pledged to someone else. Something happened and she returned home to Ferelden not long after.”
“I never knew.”
“Most people didn’t. She’d only been home less than a month when Cailan called for troops.”
“Who was the lucky fellow?” Alistair asked with a hoarse voice.
Eamon glanced nervously at Alistair.
“A nobleman out of Orlais, Cailan still hadn’t given his permission for her to marry the man, and I’m sure you can understand why.”
Anger coursed through Alistair’s body. She had never told him this. Not once. So this was the fellow whose lamp post she had licked. Damn you Bellavalia. Damn you. This must have been why Eamon had discouraged him from marrying her and Riordan. Why was Eamon playing dumb?
“So Cailan was the only holdup to her marriage?”
“Father and mother never got the chance to tell me why Bellavalia chose not to marry Christian De’Charny from House De’Charny in Orlais, it was a given that they would marry. From my understanding Celene and Grand Duke De’Charny were ecstatic over the decision. All of us were busy getting the troops ready to march to Ostagar. All of this happened so fast. Father was going to tell me later that evening when Howe showed up with none of his troops, and Father ordered me to leave immediately, and get to Cailan with all due haste.”
“Bryce Cousland must have suspected what was going to happen.”
“I agree Alistair, Bryce and Elnora both died for their knowledge on past events and the ones getting ready to play out at Ostagar. Bryce must have suspected Loghain would leave the field and leave Cailan to die which he did.”
Changing the course of my life forever thought Alistair. I’ll never be able to marry the woman I love all because of Loghain.
Eamon suddenly turned to Michelle. “Why was the decision made to take Anora’s womb?”
Michelle cleared her throat, apparently, they were done discussing politics. Just as she thought, none of them knew about Bellavalia in Orlais and what had transpired at Rainesfere right under Bann Teagan’s nose. Fergus Cousland didn’t know the half of it. If any of them knew what she knew, Alistair Theirin would not sit the throne of Ferelden on the morrow. I’d cross Anora Mac Tir any day of the week than go against Bellavalia Cousland; but why her Grace keeping silent? I need to ask her to understand. I don’t want to give any information away that she doesn’t want known. I’ll just have to play this by ear she thought. Maker guide me.
There was no doubt in her mind that the man sitting before her was King Maric’s son and brother to King Cailan, the apple does not fall from the tree as they liked to say in Rainesfere. Why Isolde Guerrin ever took this man before her as her husband’s bastard was beyond her. Well, Isolde Guerrin was an idiot of the highest quality, if what she had heard about the mage at Redcliffe was true. On to business then.
“The horse partly fell on her lower body, pinning her to the ground beneath it. The horse suffered a broken leg and had to be put down while it still lay on top of Anora. It was a most gruesome sight for all involved. Anora snuck out and took the horse without permission. She had always been a willful child, none at the stables dared to defy her. Anora had been riding the horse with no thought to safety and pushed it hard. The horse was one of Loghain’s prized war horses and Anora should never have dared to take him out. There was no way she could have handled that horse when he reached top speed. War horses are trained to run and harder to stop. It takes a man to stop one. Someone in the fields heard the screams of the horse, they went to investigate and found them. Others followed and the call came for help. Many rushed to the scene, myself included, being a healing mage. I knew I’d be needed.”
“The weight on her small body caused her small womb to burst and the only way to stop the bleeding and to save her life was to remove her womb. She sustained several broken bones, her pelvis crushed, and a concussion as well. I thought for sure I’d lose her and my life along with hers. She was Loghain’s only legitimate child, and I knew if I lost her, he’d kill me.”
“I performed the procedure right there in the field. I dissolved her womb with magic. It was the only thing I could do. Once I got the bleeding stopped I had her moved to the castle to care for her other injuries. Her nanny demanded that I write to Loghain, who was here in Denerim with your father, Sire, to let him know the sad condition of his daughter. At this point I was still unsure if she would live. I was also aware that Anora was betrothed to Prince Cailan by this time and what I’d done would likely cost me my life.”
“Loghain arrived within two weeks. He must have left for Gwaren immediately. Anora was in and out and still not fully aware of her surroundings. Loghain grilled me harshly on my decision. As you can imagine, he was furious. One did not talk back to Loghain Mac Tir. I was scared out of my wits and the Templars with me offered me no assistance. I’m sure they considered this my blunder and only I would answer for it.”
“A few nights after Loghain left to return to Denerim, a man entered my small chambers next to Anora’s. I was awakened with a struggle going on in my room. Two men in dark clothes with daggers fought each other inside my room. I dared not use magic since I had no idea who was who and what the situation was all about. One killed the other, the man remaining told me to make haste and gather myself a change of clothes and informed me he was there to take me to Highever by orders of Teyrn Cousland, or stay here and die. It didn’t take much to figure out I was the target and why Loghain had ordered my death. The Templars with me had also been killed, by whom I can’t say.”
“I can, spoke Fergus. Loghain had them killed, our man saw their deaths and knew you’d be next. Fergus gestured to Michelle. Their bodies were taken into the forest and left to rot. I can also take you to their graves. Father had the Templars dug up and moved, just in case.”
Alistair and Eamon both were shocked at this news by the expressions on their faces. Fergus grinned. Yes, indeed one had to get very early in the morning to outsmart Bryce Cousland.
“I traveled up north with the rogue, we came to Highever and I told everything that I knew to Teyrn Cousland. He decided to aid me and sent me to Antiva out of Loghain’s reach and I’ve been on the move from one place to another ever since under the protection of the Coulands.” This was not the full truth; but, what Teyrn Bryce Cousland had instructed her to say if caught, or with Arl Howe’s wife’s family in Kirkwall.
All the men in the room seemed to be digesting her narrative. She was certain more questions would follow. She waited patiently.
“Why didn’t your Father inform Maric what had happened?”
“So Loghain wouldn’t realize straight away that we knew and to protect our spies inside Gwaren. We didn’t know who else might be involved. Father also never anticipated that Loghain would go ahead with Anora’s marriage to Cailan. He said it was of little consequence since she would never bare a child and the truth would come out eventually, then he’d come forth with our knowledge and Michelle.”
“Your father always resented the fact that Loghain was raised to a Teyrn.”
“It was the general thought of every person in the north, and many in the south. Loghain should have been raised to that of Bann or an Arl, never a Teyrn. He did deserve a reward because of his service against Orlais. To rise that high? Fergus shook his head, no, others deserved it more or so my father thought.”
“What did your sister say Eamon on Loghain’s reward?”
“The only thing I recall her saying it was up to her husband on how to reward Loghain, not her, he was the Theirin heir not her.”
Eamon seemed unconvinced to say the least. Or he was ticked off that Bryce Cousland had gotten spies inside Gwaren when he hadn’t been able to pull it off, thought Alistair.
Alistair opened the desk drawer, retrieving a piece of vellum and slapped a quill on top of the paper.
“Write something,” His command was sharp and hard. When a Templar gave an order a mage hopped to it.
Michelle didn’t hesitate, walking to the desk, she picked up the quill and wrote her name and a small verse from the Chant of Light. Once done she stepped back and waited to see what would happen next. What more could she do?
Prince Theirin, picked up the vellum and read. Eamon laid down written pieces of vellum next to the one she had just written on. She noticed at once the letter she had written to Loghain so very long ago was one of them. Crinkled badly, but still readable. She could clearly see her signature at the bottom of the older document.
Eamon went to stand behind his Prince looking over his shoulder to compare the papers.
“Well Eamon, what say you?”
“No doubt at all Alistair. What do you want to do now?”
“Enchantress Michelle, you will remain under my protection for the time being.”
“I object.” Fergus said stepping to the desk.
“Why do you object Fergus?” A touch of steel was issued with the Princes’ words. Not literally of course Michelle observed.
“Michelle has been under the protection of the Cousland family all of these years Alistair and I wish for her to remain under my care in your name of course.”
“I’m sorry Fergus, I can’t allow that?”
“I beg you to reconsider, Sire.”
“As much as I’d like to accommodate you, I can’t, because of the Chantry. She is an apostate mage, and once the Chantry learns of her involvement they will take her into custody, even though you are the Teyrn of Highever, the Templars will run rough shod over you, Fergus. With me they have to pause. They just can’t walk in here and take her. Diplomatic relations between the Monarch and the Chantry will demand they treat me with respect. You on the other hand, they will fully ignore and walk right in and take her.”
Michelle could see Teyrn Cousland struggle and wanted to argue further with his prince. He finally acquiesced. “As you wish Alistair.”
“I promise you Fergus, she’ll be well cared for and guarded. I’m a Templar remember.”
“Yes, well, my sister, will be very unhappy with this arrangement.” Fergus played his last ace up his sleeve.
Prince Theirin’s eyebrows shot up at this tidbit.
“Why would it matter to Bellavalia?”
“You’ll have to ask her, she has made it her mission in life to see to the welfare of this mage Alistair for reasons unknown to me. After she inquired of my own welfare she immediately checked to see if Michelle was safe and still in the care of our people.”
Alistair returned his eyes to the mage before him with harden resolve. Michelle was sure he’d do just that. The Dukes in Orlais better watch themselves, this Prince of Ferelden had a backbone. If Bellavalia Cousland allowed it, tomorrow he would become Ferelden’s king. It seemed she was determined to place him on Ferelden’s throne. Why? He was a bastard after all. A royal one but still a bastard.
“Take a seat Enchantress Michelle, you’re going to be here awhile. I assume you did pass your harrowing?”
“Yes, I did, Your Highness, years ago.”
She did as she was told and sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk, directly facing Prince Theirin. If she was a younger women she might have squirmed under the steady gaze of the Templar before her with his concealed probing gaze.
“Eamon send for the Grand Cleric, Irving, and Knight Commander Greagoir, they are to make haste. I believe it is past time for Anora to get her examination.”
“As you say, Alistair.”
Hmmm, Greagoir and Irving were still around. Interesting, thought Michelle. Greagoir would be most unhappy that two of his best Templars died under Loghain’s order. She pondered. He had to be near the age where he would be forced to retire and be sent where all Templars go – to Val Royeaux for their retirement. Sent to the bowels of the Grand Cathedral, never to be seen again until they died. Most were buried in the cathedral or the in the bosom of the White Spire.
What Michelle didn’t offer by way of information was that many at Gwaren always thought someone had shot the horse out from under Anora causing her fall. There had been no evidence of that but people did like to theorize.
Michelle also knew why Anora had been trying to learn how to ride the horse, she had been a skilled rider for her age, and could handle a gentle mare with ease. A war horse was a whole other matter. It had been because Cailan wouldn’t stop singing the praises of Bellavalia on a war horse. Michelle put her hands in her lap as a lady should and waited to see what happened next.