I stood inside my bedroom. Finally dressed in the first gown I’d been in since living in Orlais. Molly helped me secure my mother’s jewelry as I sat down in front of my mirror. Sapphires and diamonds shimmering off of my throat encased in sterling silver. More glittering off of my fingers and wrists. I still had my sash to put on with the brooch, which Molly was reaching for. She slipped this over my shoulders, pinning the massive Highever Brooch at my right shoulder. Pride and love for me reflected in her eyes.
My face done up with make-up for the first time since I’d been back in Ferelden. Not since my days in Orlais had I been so made up. The mask of the Teyrna’s daughter was in place. She had come out to play for one last hurrah.
Molly had one last piece. The emblem of my station as the highest in the land beneath the King. My mother’s tiara as the Teyrna of Highever, this would be my first, last and only time wearing these pieces. One day Fergus’ wife would wear them. Molly sat the tiara on top of my head securing it with pins in my hair. I wished my mother was here wearing them instead.
Molly placed her hands on my shoulders and squeezed. “We’re all so proud of you my lady.”
“Thank you, Molly.”
“You’ll tell me all about the fancy doings tomorrow like you promised?”
“For you Molly anything.”
“Are you ready lass, you’ve only your cape.”
“I guess it’s now or never Molly.”
“That’s the spunk my girl. Do us proud now.”
“I will Molly.”
There was a knock on my door. “Come in,” I said. To my surprise, it was our butler.
“Apologies, My Lady, this just came for you. I took the liberty of unwrapping it and getting it pressed for you.”
In his hands was the sash for the Teyrna of Gwaren and Gwaren Brooch.
“His Majesty has requested that you wear these. Your own knights are also here to escort you.”
My mouth fell open.
“My goodness,” said Molly.
“You mean from Gwaren?”
“Yes, My Lady. Under the Command of Sir Richard, and your knights from Amaranthine under the command of your new Seneschal Sir Varel.”
“Thank you,” I said. Molly took the sash and brooch from our butler’s hands, he turned and left my room.
“Come My Lady, I’ll get this on you.”
I nodded. Fury in my eyes.
“What vexes you so about this child, tell me the truth,” Molly asked me.
“The truth, because Anora isn’t dead yet.”
“Ahh, but she soon will be for her treason, what she did was evil lassie, she hangs on the gallows tomorrow. Take comfort in that alone.”
I nodded my head.
“Molly, make sure you lay out my armor, I have work to do this night.”
Molly sighed, lass can’t you forgo it, just for one night.”
“No, Molly, I can’t. See to it that Sten, Wynne, and Zevran’s equipment is ready for them as well. They will be going with me.”
“Lass what are you up too?”
“I have an appointment this night.”
“With whom?” I raised my eyebrows at her.
Molly turned shrewd eyes on me.
“Aye, well then, I’d say you have a few things to say to her.”
“Indeed,” I said.
“Well Lass, you better get going.”
“Yes, I suppose so.” I stood up and Molly draped my dark blue cap with the Warden’s Griffon on the back, about my shoulders and tied it in place. I took a deep breath and left my room.
I walked to the grand staircase going down. I could hear hundreds of people downstairs. I came to the landing, stopping, my hand on the stone balustrade. The noise going quiet as all stopped their talking to watch me descend. Everyone turned and bowed to me, except Fergus of course. I held my head high and continued down. Fergus meet me at the bottom of the stairs, offering his arm to me, which I took. All of the knights in the room came to attention.
“Ah, here is my lovely sister, been awhile since I’ve seen you in a dress, to bad mother isn’t here to see. You look beautiful Tink.”
“Thank you Fergus, you look extremely handsome. I love the dress armor of Highever. I think our armor is the most beautiful in all the land.”
Fergus laughed. “Well, we certainly can’t hide from any enemy this night, they’d see us coming for miles.”
“They would indeed.” I laughed.
Fergus shook his head, come on, let’s get this night over with, the sooner the better, we’re already late and I’m ready to get drunk.”
I smiled. “Yes, fashionable late.”
“You did this on purpose didn’t you?” Fergus queried.
“Big brother, I have no idea what you mean.”
Fergus chuckled. “Uh huh. You’re a naughty minx sis. Ready?”
Fergus looked so handsome in his Highever Silverite Blue Dress Armour, Father’s sword strapped to his side, his signet ring on his hand, sash and brooch in place and his cape. Our Highever ceremonial and honor shield on his back. Only the best of the best of Highever wore this shield. His dark brown hair freshly washed and brushed. The ladies would swoon over him. Wouldn’t do them any good, I doubted very much if Fergus would remarry anytime soon. Fergus would be charming and courtly and that would be all. No lady of the realm had a prayer until he properly grieved for Oriana and Oren, it would hit him when we went home.
My close friends beamed at me in awe. They’d never seen me dressed this way before. I felt Thor nudge my hand and I stroked his head. I bent down. “You stay right beside me tonight.” I whispered to him. He licked my hand, giving me reassurance. Thor also dressed up with his Kaddis of the Mountain Father painted on his fur.
Fergus led me out to the courtyard and my carriage door was already opened by a Highever groom waiting in attendance. The Orlesian Grey Wardens were on horseback in the front of my carriage. All of them trained as Chevaliers before becoming Grey Wardens. My banners and pennants snapping in the cool evening breeze before them, carried by foot soldiers. Along with Highever, Amaranthine, and Gwaren banners. Announcing to all whom was in the carriage. The Highever Crest in brass on my carriage door all shined up. Knights from Highever, Gwaren, and even Amaranthine, all in attendance, would follow behind my carriage on horses. A second carriage was behind mine for my companions. Sten, Shale, and Thor would walk alongside my own. Zevran, Oghren, Wynne, and Leliana in the second.
Fergus lifted me up into the carriage that had once took my parents, and I arranged my skirts and cape around me. I took a deep breath and sat down. Fergus nodded to me, closing and locking my carriage door. Which he alone would open when we got to the palace. I wasn’t to get out of my carriage per protocol until he came to get me. I rolled my eyes at the thought. Let some groom run his hand up my skirts and he’d no longer have a hand when he withdrew it. I smirked at the thought.
I listened as horses stamped their feet to get under way, their brass harness jingling, and Fergus issuing orders. He’d ride on horseback in front of us all. I knew the streets were going to be lined with people coming to see all the fanfare and the Denerim guards would pave the way for us.
Come on Fergus get on with it. I heard the trumpets blare as the portcullis was opened. Which was actually a sound to tell people to get the hell out of the way or get their asses trampled. Finally I thought and soon we were on our way. The crowds already cheering us along. I hated riding in a carriage. I’d rather be on a bloody horse, dressed in leathers of Highever.
Alistair had already accepted numerous oaths already, and another nobleman was kneeling at his feet. He didn’t even recall who the hell it was. Where in the hell is she he thought? Eamon was having a heck of a time delaying. The Landsmeet Hall crammed full of people. Alistair really didn’t give a shit about all of these idiots. He took the nobleman’s hands into his own and accepted yet another meaningless oath. As if he believed half of these people. What a farce this all was. There was only one oath he wanted and desired, the only one that really mattered from the only person he could truly trust besides Eamon.
A page came to give Arl Eamon a message. Eamon nodded to him ever so slightly. She’s here. Alistair had been afraid she’d run. He’d see her for the first time dressed in a gown. He couldn’t wait. Poker face, old man, just like Eamon had taught me. The trumpets blared. Alistair stood watching patiently, as the doors at the other end of the Landsmeet Hall were opened. His majordomo pounded his staff of office into the flagstones. The Landsmeet Hall went silent as they all waited for the announcement.
“Your Majesty, his voice rang out. Lords and Ladies of the Realm. Honored guests, may I present His Grace, Fergus Cousland, Teyrn of Highever. The true born son of the former Teyrn of Highever Bryce Cousland and His Lady Ella Nora Cousland.”
Fergus started his long walk down the aisle. As he passed, the other nobles bowed to him. His spurs striking the flagstones with each step. Fergus held his head up high. When he came to the dais he bowed to Alistair. Then he removed his Sword of Highever and gave it too the guard who walked it up the dais, handing it to Arl Eamon. Then Fergus walked up the steps and went down on his knees before His King. Alistair extended his hands which Fergus took in his own. Fergus looking up into Alistair’s eyes.
Arl Eamon stepped forward with Fergus’ sword laid in his hands. Ready for Alistair when needed. Arl Eamon spoke the traditions.
“My Lord, do you come willing to give your Oaths of Fealty to His Majesty King Alistair of the Royal Theirin Bloodline of Ferelden, the true born son of His Majesty King Maric and do you acknowledge Him as such?”
Fergus answered. “Yes, I do so swear on my Honor as a Knight of the Realm, before Our Maker and Creator, and to His Bride our Lady Andraste, and to His Majesty, my true King, that my oaths are freely given of my own accord.”
“My Lord, will you aid His Majesty in upholding the Laws of the Kingdom of Ferelden and will you train His Majesty’s troops to exhibit honor and integrity toward His people on behalf of His Majesty as you and they execute your duties?”
“Yes, answered Fergus, I do so swear.”
“My Lord, do you faithful pledge to serve His Majesty to the best of your ability on behalf of Ferelden and her people, and will you swear to give up your life in His Majesty’s stead?”
“Yes, On My Honor as a Son of the Noble House Of Highever; I do so swear to protect and honor his Majesty’s life with mine, for the good people of Ferelden so that their true King may live.”
“My Lord, do you pledge your life to the good people of Highever as your ancestor’s before you, protecting them always on His Majesty’s behalf?”
“Yes, I do so swear to His Majesty and to the people of Highever in our Lady of Andraste’s name.”
“My Lord, will you accept His Majesties discipline to prove your words ring true this night?”
Alistair looked into Fergus’ eyes. This is the moment of truth.
“Yes, I will, gladly,” said Fergus.
Alistair nodded to Fergus. Alistair released Fergus’ hands. Fergus didn’t even flinch when Alistair raised his hand striking Fergus on the cheek with a resounding slap that echoed through the hall.
A murmur of approval sounded through the hall from all present. Later they would all compare who had the most bruised cheek!
Alistair reached for Fergus’ sword.
Alistair spoke. “Fergus Cousland, You are hereby bestowed the Title of your Late Father officially, and will be forevermore known as the Teyrn of Highever, Commander of my Northern Troops. Alistair tapped Fergus on the shoulders with the Sword of Highever. Arise your Grace and take your Father’s sword from mine own hand.”
Fergus did as he was instructed and strapped his sword to his side. He bowed to Alistair once more then walked back down the dais to await his sister.
A lady in waiting had already taken my cape and helped me smooth out my gown. This was it. I took a deep breath to steady my nerves.
Alistair took a deep breath. The last one, the most important one.
The trumpets blared again. His majordomo stamped his staff on the flagstones once more as the doors opened and Alistair saw her. His breath stopped…awestruck. His eyes on the most beautiful woman of his realm. The piper of Highever started to play and she stood there for all to see. She was a vision dressed in white, dark blue, and silver, the colors of Highever and ironically the Grey Wardens also. When the piper finished the Anthem of Highever, the majordomo announced her.
“Your Majesty, Lords and Ladies of the Realm, Honored Guests. It is with great pleasure and honor that I present to you: “The Hero of Ferelden, Warden Commander of the Ferelden Grey Wardens, Her Grace Teyrna of Highever and Gwaren, Her Grace The Arlessa of Amaranthine. Bellavalia Ella Nora Cousland, the daughter to the late Teyrn of Highever Bryce Cousland and His Lady Ella Nora Cousland. Sister to His Grace, Teyrn of Highever.”
Every noble bowed before I even moved, going down on their knee, everyone of them. I walked to Alistair with my head held high. Thor at my side. Not one person raised to their feet as I passed them. Well this was different I thought. I looked neither right nor left acknowledging anyone except my King before me. After the long walk I came to the dais and Fergus stepped to my side and took my hand in his. I bowed down low. Fergus helped me up and escorted me up the steps. A page stepped forward and laid down a purple pillow, I quirked my eyebrow. Alistair smiled at me. Fergus helped me down on my knees before Alistair. Well, well, I was the only one who got a purple pillow to kneel on.
Alistair offered me his hands, and I took them in my own. I looked up at him and he down at me a reverent smile on his face. You’re giving too much away I thought.
“Lords and Ladies of the Realm, Honored Guests, please rise.” Arl Eamon spoke.
I watched as Alistair’s expression changed to one of seriousness.
My mouth twitched. Alistair had done this on purpose, the sneak, so him and I could have this one – last moment privately. Since I didn’t carry a sword, a page stepped forward and placed Starfang in Arl Eamon’s hands. The Arl stepped forward and spoke.
“My Lady, do you come willing to give your Oaths of Fealty to His Majesty King Alistair of the Royal Theirin Bloodline of Ferelden, as the true born son to His Majesty King Maric and do you acknowledge Him as such?”
“Yes, I do so swear, upon my Honor as a Knight of the Realm, and before our Maker and Creator, and His Bride our Lady Andraste, and to His Majesty, my true King, that my oaths are freely given of my own accord.”
“My Lady, do you faithful swear on behalf of the First Warden of the Anderfels in His steed, that you will execute your duty to His Majesty and to the Order of the Grey Wardens with honor and integrity, assisting His Majesty on behalf of the Ferelden Kingdom against the threat of darkspawn unto your own life on their behalf. Will you accept His Majesties appointment as the Warden Commander of Ferelden?”
“Yes, I do so swear unto my last drop of blood for My King and My Order and the people of Ferelden whom I will serve faithful and gladly.”
“My Lady, will you aid His Majesty in upholding the Laws of the Kingdom of Ferelden, and will you train His Majesty’s troops to exhibit honor and integrity toward His people on His Majesty’s behalf, as you and they execute your duties?”
“Yes, I do so swear.”
“My Lady, do you faithful pledge to serve His Majesty to the best of your ability on behalf of the people of Ferelden, and will you swear to give up your life in His stead for their sake?”
Alistair hands tightened in mine as tears came into my eyes and I started to shake. He was looking into my eyes deeply and I him.
“Yes, on my Honor as a daughter of the Noble House of Highever and as a sworn blooded sister to His Majesty by our Order of the Grey Wardens, I do so swear to protect and honor His Majesty’s life with mine, for the good people of Ferelden so that their King my live.”
“My Lady, do you pledge your life to the good peoples of Highever, Gwaren, and Amaranthine protecting them always on his Majesty’s behalf?”
I didn’t answer and there was gasps throughout the hall. Alistair raised his eyebrows at me imploring me to answer. He tighten his hands further over mine.
Arl Eamon asked me again after a few minutes passed and I didn’t answer. I had the insane urge to vomit at this very moment.
“My Lady, do you pledge your life to the best of your abilities to the good peoples of Highever, Gwaren, and Amaranthine protecting them always on His Majesty’s behalf?”
The time had come and I had to answer yes, knowing it for the lie it would be. Because I knew once my duty to the Wardens was done and over in Amaranthine, I would leave Ferelden forsaking my duty, I had no choice. I was going to lie to the whole realm and not just Alistair when I answered. I could be beheaded for my answer if the truth came out, for it constituted more than one treasonous act. I swallowed hard, then I answered. Father, please forgive me.
“Yes, I do so swear to His Majesty, and the good peoples of Highever, Gwaren and Amaranthine to give my life for theirs.”
Alistair’s shoulders and hands relaxed with relief.
“My Lady, since His Majesty doesn’t believe in striking the ladies of His Realm, will you prove your words by kissing your own sword Starfang, while you kneel before Him?”
Releasing my hands, Alistair took my sword from Eamon. His grip true. He’d welded it himself a time or two and pointed the end down to me. I placed my open palm under the underside of my very sharp sword and brought it to my lips and kissed it. I returned my hands to my lap.
Alistair spoke as he looked down at me. “Your Grace, forevermore you shall be known as the “Hero of Ferelden,” saving My People, My Realm, and Me personally from the visages of the Blight. Which you swore to do by giving your oath to my brother King Cailan on the battlefield of Ostagar before His death assuring my brother that you’d keep me safe and deliver me unto his throne and to my Father King Maric for your service to His Realm in Orlais as His personal spymaster and too my Brother King Cailan as His personal spymaster and his private personal guard.”
There were gasps throughout the Hall. Now, the whole realm knew the truth, I had been in service in secret to King Maric and King Cailan while in Orlais. I knew why Alistair had done this. As a warning to those in Gwaren and Amaranthine, the real reason my family had been murdered. The Couslands of Highever were not traitors as Loghain and Howe proclaimed my parents to be. My father had agreed and had given his permission for my private training and personal appointments to both Kings.
My eyes shot to Alistair’s, he knew, how much did he know? Alistair continued.
“You will be known as the Teyrna of Highever until your Brother, the Teyrn of Highever remarries, and as Her Grace forevermore as the Teyrna of Gwaren and Arlessa of Amaranthine on behalf of the Grey Wardens.” Alistair tapped each of my shoulders with my own sword. “Arise your Grace and take your own sword which you used to kill the Archdemon with from mine own hand.”
I stood with Fergus’ help, and took my sword from Alistair’s hand holding it by the grip and raised it between us and I kissed it again. The hall went wild with cheers. Alistair smiled at me like an idiot. A page came forward and I gave my sword up. I bowed to Alistair again. Taking Fergus’ arm he escorted me down the dais. Thor came and sat down beside me and Fergus.
When it was quiet Alistair spoke again. “My friends, now that official business has been concluded. I welcome you to the dining hall to lift a glass in celebration, listen to wonderful music, and enjoy the good hearty food of Ferelden. Please come, enjoy yourselves.”
All of us bowed to Him. Alistair and Arl Eamon left the hall with the honored guests following behind them.
We went across to the massive dining hall and it was lovely on the inside. Andraste’s Grace,roses, ferns, and garlands were hung and draped. Banners of King, Grey Wardens, and Ferelden Nobility on display throughout the hall. Banners of the honored guests. Candles everywhere, above in chandeliers and a roaring fire behind the King’s table which snapped, and crackled as the logs burned in the massive fireplace. The tables all laid with food grown in Ferelden. Unlike Orlais, our tables were already set with the food on it. We didn’t parade our food in to be presented. Thank goodness, nothing like watching your food take a trip around the room while your tummy rumbled.
Alistair, Her Reverence, Arl Eamon, Bann Teagan, Lady Isolde, and Connor would eat on the raised dais of the King’s table being His family. Alistair would sit directly in the middle with Arl Eamon on his right side and Bann Teagan of Rainesfere on his other with Conner and Her Reverence next to Lady Isolde who was next to her husband. Fergus and I would be seated at the first table, and all of my war party with us. Alistair had wanted us seated at his table and I had objected. It wasn’t proper. Honored Guests such as King Behlen, Lady Lanaya, and those from other countries in the row of tables across from us.
From there in order of rank the nobility filed in. Alistair and those at his table stood until the hundreds of people came inside the dining hall. All of them going to their assigned tables. There were hams, beef roasts, poultry, lamb, whole fish, shrimp, cheeses, bread, vegetables aplenty. Goblets for wine which would be served by pages. Hearty ale if a person wanted it.
For dessert we’d be served cake, sweetmeats, fruits, and nuts. Plain honest wholesome fair. By tradition the tables along with the King’s were set with just wood plates and eating daggers and wooden spoons. Plain goblets and tankards. Reminding Ferelden’s of our ancestors and our hardships. Orlais had picked Ferelden clean for over eighty years. I knew people from other countries found this odd.
Once everyone had filed in. Alistair asked her Reverence to bless our meal and she did.
“Please be seated everyone and enjoy your meal.” Alistair instructed. Even in Ferelden at this traditional meal, the King and Queen had to pass the dishes when asked. It was meant to show their humbleness.
I opted for slices of beef, a few shrimp, cheeses, bread, roasted potatoes, peas, and carrots. Wine to wash it all down. Shale stood behind me and Fergus. She was getting worrisome looks from others. I sneaked Thor bits of food. Alistair was watching and he smirked at me. As if I’d allow my dog to go hungry. Fergus rolled his eyes at me. I filled my plate a second time going with the ham and pork the second time around. I was starving. Fergus shook his head amazed at my appetite. I shrugged my shoulders and continued to eat.
Everyone was to hungry to talk much, yet there was low murmured conservation and joyous laughter and ribbing for the most part. The other Grey Wardens were sitting with the ambassadors of Empress Celene’s representatives. All of them keeping an eye on me. And I knew why, given Alistair’s announcement on my activities. Which was like painting a big bull’s eye on my back. Lovely! Celene had known for years who and what I was. Celene had a few secrets of her own that I was privy too!
I noticed Wynne keeping an eye on Connor. She and I looked at each other and laughed. If only her Reverence knew!
Dessert was finally served. White cake, with white frosting. I also opted for a few nuts and sugared grapes with more wine. I looked down the table to see the expression on Sten’s face…because their was finally cake! Sten was in nirvana, his pleasure plain on his face over the cake. Dinner was finally over, the many servants begin to clear the massive hall. They’d work all night cleaning the place to get it ready for the large breakfast that would be the first for the King in his new home.
The ballroom doors had been opened to the cool night air. Thank goodness, it was stuffy with so many bodies. This enormous room also, decorated with flowers and candles, and more banners. Various chairs and benches for seating for the ladies. Most of the men would stand.
I went to the loo, with Wynne and Leliana. Upon my return the musicians in the balcony above were waiting. Alistair came toward me as everyone watched.
“My Lady, will you do me the honor of this dance.”
Taking his hand I bowed to him.
“Yes Your Majesty, I’d be honored.”
Alistair led me out in the center of the room, then we both bowed to each other, he took me in his arms, the music started with his first step. Leading me in a Waltz as the music played and the people watched as their King danced His first dance.
“Bellavalia, you look beautiful, you took my breath away when the doors opened.”
“Thank you, your crown is well designed and really suits you.”
“I could do without it.” I giggled at his comment.
He twirled me around the dance floor.
We just smiled each other.
“I think you lied Your Majesty.”
“Oh,” he smirked. “Remember it’s a talent of mine.” How true that was.
“I thought it was to just look stupid.”
He laughed, “that too,” he snickered.
“You dance very well for a beginner.”
“Well now, dancing was taught at the Chantry as part of our courtly manners you accused them of teaching me.”
“They did very well teaching you. Who knew the sisters could kick up their heels so.”
“Well, I learned dancing with other Templars.”
“My eyes widen in shock and I laughed.”
Alistair laughed, “no I’m not.”
“Ewww,” I said.
“Not my favorite activity I assure you.”
“I imagine not.”
“I’m slightly disappointed,” I said.
“Disappointed… how,” he asked Fury etching his face for a second.
“Well you’re not in a dress, and dancing the remigold.”
Alistair shook with laughter. “We’ll save that for next time.”
“Alistair is so relaxed with her and he only really laughs with her,” Isolde commented to her husband.
“Yes,” said Eamon.
“She’ll become our next queen I’m assuming.”
Eamon discreetly shook his head.
“Husband, why not?” Isolde whispered.
“I’ll explain later my dear when we’re alone.”
“Think he’ll change his mind after tonight?” asked Zevran as their small group watched Alistair and Bellavalia dance.
“I hope so Zev, they were made for each other.” Leliana replied.
The waltz ended and Alistair kissed Bella’s hand and escorted her back to Fergus.
As the night went on, Alistair danced with the ladies of the His realm. Laughing and putting all of them at ease. After our dance, he immediately danced with Wynne on the dance floor, then Leliana, then Lady Isolde. He even took her Reverence around for a loop and the old lady seemed thoroughly flustered. Given her and Alistair had been at loggerheads for most of his life at the Chantry.
I danced with my brother, and all of the males in my war party. I refused to dance with anyone else. I was very surprised with Sten and Oghren, they swung me around the dance floor like they’d been born to it. I was pleasantly surprised. Shocked even.
“Didn’t think I could do it did you lass,” Oghren laughed
“Oghren, you’re full of surprises. Just don’t try to pinch my bottom while others are looking.
“Ah now lass, did you have to spoil my fun.”
“Oghren! Were you planning on doing that?”
I shook with laughter. “It’s good to hear you laugh Commander.”
“It’s good to laugh Oghren.”
I spoke with several nobles, drinking and chatting in small groups. I spoke with King Behlen and of course Lady Lanaya.
I discreetly nodded to Zevran and he went to retrieve Starfang for me. Sten, Zevran, Wynne, Thor, and I slipped out. Alistair and Eamon were too busy to notice my departure. My brother had watched and nodded to me. He knew exactly where I was going and why. The grooms were shocked. I called for my carriage and we hightailed it out before I was stopped once again. I gave the other Grey Wardens the slip. We got to Cousland Court and changed. We stole out into the night heading to Arl Eamon’s estate.
With a few minor fights in the back alleys we finally made our way to the back of Arl Eamon’s Denerim estate. Which was located just off the Market District. The whole of the city was celebrating the crowning of their new king. My hood up over my head so nobody would recognize me. Master Dolan was waiting for us with the keys to the dungeon. I nodded to him. Anora had parceled off his land to a Bann she wanted to reward. I knew Dolan hated Anora’s guts. His family had owned that small parcel in the Bannorn for generations. The Orlesian occupation had sent Dolan into the path of Arl Eamon’s family and he’d been with them for decades, which was good since the poor man had nowhere else to go once Anora sold his land out from under him.
“You know the way my lady?”
“I do indeed Master Dolan.”
“This has been along time coming my lady.”
“Indeed,” I answered him in a whisper. “You and I are in accord Master Dolan.”
I led my small party deeper into the bowels of Arl Eamon’s estate. Dolan would be with us to a point then we’d be on our own. My orders were to only knock out any guards who didn’t allow us passage and to tie them up.
“We’re here my lady. Arl Eamon has given strict orders that nobody sees Anora without His Majesty’s permission. The guards will try to detain you, my lady, please don’t harm them to badly.”
“I promise you I won’t Master Dolan, Zevran will let you know when we leave so you can check on the guards and untie them if need be and return the key to you for her cell.”
“Aye my lady.” Master Dolan nodded to all of us and took his leave slinking back into the darkness of the hallways of the dungeon. Thus far we hadn’t been seen by too many castle personnel.
All of us continued on within the dark cold damp hallways. Lights interspersed intermediately. We went down more steps deeper into the bowels of the castle, passing massive storage rooms filled with barrels of supplies, and crates. Casks of wine and beer, sacks of grain and flour. A few guards stopped us, Sten and Zevran made fast work of them. Sten pommeling them then Zevran gagging and tying them up. Thor getting his hits in by knocking two of them down. Giving Sten a grin as he did so. If I didn’t know better I thought for sure Sten and Thor were in a competition with each other. Wynne and I looked at each other chuckled.
We finally came to the final stairway down and at the bottom we could clearly see the guards posted. Eight of them, large burly men, clustered around the massive oaken door which had a few smaller doors to pass food and necessaries through. I’d prefer to do this the easy way. Hopefully, they would allow me to pass. The key to Anora’s cell firm in my pocket. My companions would guard the entrance to the dungeon room. I wanted complete privacy with Anora for our discussion.
I went down the final passage. I didn’t guard my footsteps but stepped with purpose. They knew someone was coming. They readied themselves. Trained well they waited to see who approached them.
All eight of them bowed to me as if they had been expecting this very thing.
“Your Grace,” their Captain said.
I acknowledged them all with a nod.
“Forgive me, Your Grace, but I really can’t allow you entrance to the prisoner. The only person to see Lady Anora this eve is Her Reverence to prepare her soul for tomorrow.”
“We can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way. Who do you really think is the real power behind His Majesty’s Throne?” I spoke very softly, I really didn’t want to cause harm or injury to these men.
Glances between all eight of them. They already knew what they would do in this instance. That moment was here and now.
“Aye my lady we know you are. You saved the entire country. All I ask Your Grace is your word you won’t kill her.”
“You have it. I want total privacy with her. She ordered the execution of my entire family – I have a reason to be here. Yet, I am a professional, my word is my duty and honor. I’m bound to my word.”
“Aye Your Grace, we’ve heard that about you. Very well. We’ll be at the top of stairs if you need us.”
“Thank you.” Each of them bowed to me on their way out.
“Do you want me to go in with you?” Wynne asked me.
I shook my head no. “I want all of you upstairs to help the guards in case anybody comes down. I’m not sure when watch change happens for Eamon’s garrison. This won’t take long I assure you. Less than a half hour at the most.
“As you wish Bell.”
“Zevran you remember our signal?”
“Aye, I’ll alert you in case anybody comes.”
I nodded, my companions leaving to guard the guards in a manner of speaking.
I took a deep breath and gripped the key of Anora’s cell within my hand. My fingers rubbing the warmed metal from my body. This was going to be one ugly conservation. I was going to have my say and much of it would be a lie. My purpose…I had to be convincing so Anora would perform properly on the morrow and not hurtle words that would harm more people. Christian included. I closed my eyes thinking about him. Oh Maker! I missed him so much my soul hurt. I’d done the right thing in the long run for both of us. I knew deep down in my heart this to be so, and the journey which started at that moment which led me to meeting Alistair.
I pulled the hood back over my head. I wanted the privilege of seeing her face when I revealed myself. Taking the heavy metal key I inserted it within the lock and twisted it with a hard yank. The pins in the lock clanging as they tumbled and unlocked. I pulled the heavy door open and went inside. I closed and locked the door behind me encase Anora tried to fight me to escape. I’d known for years that Anora had been trained by her father to defend herself if she needed too. She didn’t have field experience or the strength of a Warden to help her. I’d knock the shit out of her if she tried it, which I’d wanted to do for years.
Anora’s dungeon was one that many nobles were housed in. I’d done a fair amount of time in this very room, having prisoners tortured on King Maric or Calian’s orders. At least they’d cleaned the blood stains off the walls and floors.
It was warm with a large hearth and a fire was blazing away merrily with extra wood on the hearth in a basket. A small copper kettle to heat water for washing and for her to make tea. Anora wasn’t allowed servants any longer. Her comfort had been seen too. There was a nice hearty wood bed with a feather stuffed mattress and pillows with heavy furs and quilts. Thick furs on the floor to guard her feet against the cold. Warm bread, soup, cheese, grapes for her supper laid out for her and a skin of wine. Several changes of clothing and books with many candles to read her parchments. Quills, and ink to prepare her last documents for disposal of her person and that of her personal items. All that was left of the might of the Mac Tirs. It was so very sad in a way. Anora and I both knew the truth of many things. It could very well be me inside this very room in her place.
She looked up when I entered. I leaned against the door and crossed my arms and legs getting comfortable. She knew I wasn’t the Grand Cleric. “So, you’ve finally come,” she said. “I expected you sooner for our tete-a-tete which is very long over due.”
I pulled the hood back off of my face. My hair still up from the ball.
“Shouldn’t you be enjoying yourself dancing the night away, possibly enjoying our new King in my own bed. One wasn’t enough for you Bellavalia, you had to have both of them?”
I just looked at her ignoring her jib at me. Choosing my words carefully before I spoke.
“Still on that old argument Anora. How many times do I have to tell you I never slept with Calian. If you recall I was betrothed to Christian, someone I was deeply in love with.”
“Look into my eyes Anora and see the truth of what I say.” I looked her directly in the eye.
“So you say, yet you called off your marriage to Christian which would have done much to improve the relationship between Ferelden and Orlais through your marriage. Cailan never did explain to me why your marriage was called off.”
“Cailan and my parents were the only ones who knew why, not even my own brother knows why Anora. I never wanted Christian and Fergus to come to blows over what happened and they will if my brother learns the truth. Both of them are still friends to this day and I didn’t want to come between them. It had nothing to do with you or Cailan, nor me sleeping with your husband, which I never did Anora. I never slept with Cailan. I was his personal bodyguard when he was on state travel and nothing else besides being a friend. Cailan being friends with Fergus and me… the tag along sister.”
Anora huffed at me. “You’ve tried to lie for years over that Lady Cousland. Stop… your lie, it belittles both of us.”
I shook my head at her. “This was one of the reasons you ordered my family executed and your father believed my family was in cahoots with Orlais. My father was ordered by King Maric and by your husband King Calian to deal with trade between the two nations in secret, and nothing more. Calian couldn’t tell you or your father because of Loghain’s attitude against Orlais. Calian did a lot more without Loghain or you knowing. The war had been over for years and Ferelden needed the trade of new goods and technology to keep our country afloat. Your father wouldn’t give on the issue. Calian had no choice and neither did Maric.”
“It was more than that and you know it.” She hissed at me.
“You think I don’t know what you hide in Orlais? I know where he is Bellavalia and others do too, my followers and true subjects, the truth will be revealed one day.”
“Really Anora, what exactly am I hiding in Orlais that has you in such a snip?”
Anora, smiled coldly at me. “Calian’s son and true heir. The son he had with you.” I keep my eyes on hers and didn’t react to her words, remaining cool and calm. Her words she had spoken during the Landsmeet rang in my ears. Anora had alluded that she knew of one of Calian’s bastards or she was pregnant.
“You know Anora, everyone keep saying you’ve become delusional and I really didn’t believe them until this moment. Let me explain one more time.”
I just looked at her keeping my face calm, and looked her in the eye. “In order for a child to be born I would have had to sleep with your husband, which I never did. Calian considered me his little sister and nothing more, he was my other big brother, my employer and my King, no more than that.”
“Don’t you realize how much Calian loved you…really loved you Anora? He wouldn’t even agree to set you aside, he loved you so much. He wouldn’t hear anything against you, his beloved wife. Do you realize how much flack he took for not setting you aside?”
Anora double over with laughter and gave off a cackle. I just stared at her, still not moving from my spot against the door. If she only knew how much she had actually rattled me.
“In love with me, maybe he was at first, then you grew up Bellavalia and his eyes never strayed from you when you came into a room. He couldn’t wait for reports from you, and to see you, so eager for you to return home. Do you know what that was like for me, his wife?”
“I’m telling you Anora it was never like that.”
She snorted at me, her eyes full of fire and hatred directed at me.
“Then you became one of the best rogues in all of Ferelden, Orlais, The Free Marches and even Nevarra. There wasn’t nothing that he didn’t love about you. Your fire and spirit, your need to challenge social conviction and live your own life contrary to society. Calian was in love with you Bellavalia for years, especially after that damn tournament in Orlais. You think I didn’t know it was you he always wanted. He loved everything about you. You think I didn’t know?”
“You think I don’t know about the other women in Orlais.” She added.
I lowered my gaze, “Do you know what one of my duties was in Orlais Anora? Given to me directly by my father on orders of King Maric and King Calian both, and I was horrified by what I was ordered to do.” Anora shook her head.
I took another deep breath. “It was my job when Calian had been with ladies who shall we say earn their pay at night, I was to watch them and discern if Calian got them with child. If so, I had to kill them Anora even if I was unsure if their babies where his. So Calian would only ever have legitimate heirs with you, no bastards. Especially bastards born in Orlais. Oh the irony Anora. You couldn’t give him a child and you and I both know it. Yet, I was killing women in Orlais who carried his seed.”
I shook all over. Anora gasped. I laughed. “Do you think I enjoyed that or would have done such a thing if I’d been a mother myself? Unlike you I’m not a cold fish.”
“Calian did many things behind your back and if you hadn’t keep Erlina in your bed he might have been more faithful. He was a wonderful man and you treated him horribly for years. Never fully believing he could live you up to your standards…say to be like Loghain which was impossible because he wasn’t your father, he was Calian – himself.” There I’d said it.
“You killed Erlina.”
I laughed at her. “No, I didn’t, it wasn’t me. I was sick inside Fort Drakon recovering from killing an Archdemon if you recall Anora.”
“Then you had it done.” She sneered at me.
“Please don’t give me credit where it isn’t due, I’ve more than enough accolades to my name. I don’t need the death of your lover and servant added to the list, I do fine all by myself.”
“No Anora, like I said, I’m not like you. What reason did I have?”
“The papers, they never made it.”
“Ah yes, the papers, the ones that will see you hanged tomorrow. Well it’s obvious others knew about them. My family wasn’t the only ones who knew Anora, others knew, such as Eamon.”
She gasped. “He was needling Calian to set me aside. So Calian had a chance to produce an heir.”
“Once again there is that irony Anora, don’t you think .” I smirked at her.
“This is the last time I’m telling you, I’ve never birthed any children Anora and like you I’ll never be able too. Becoming a Warden took this type of future away from me all because of you and Howe. I’ll never be able to the live the life I was born to live. All I ever wanted was a love like my parents had in each other and to have children. This is all I ever wanted, not someone to marry me for my high illustrious title. I wanted true love.”
“True love, there is no such thing,” Anora replied.
I shook my head at her. “You had it with Calian, yet you could never see it, you were a fool Anora. You never loved Calian did you?”
The ice queen didn’t answer my question instead she asked me one, “what really happened with you and Christian?”
“As if I’d tell you.” I snickered. “I’ve only been with two men in my life – Christian and Alistair. Never Calian. And I’m not into necromancy or necrophilia.”
“You killed my parents thinking I had and he was in love with me, which wasn’t true. This was your only reason in ordering them killed. There is as much blood on my hands as yours Anora. You killed over a lie, which I’ve never done. I kill doing my duty. This is the difference between you and me. I never used my power and position to manipulate people like you have always done for your own gains and you deserve everything that is going to happen tomorrow, not just what you did to my family over a lie but all of it.”
Her and I just looked at each other.
“I’ve never understood why you’ve always hated me,” she said.
“I never hated you Anora, I felt sorry for you. Huge difference there.”
“Why ever for?” She asked in astoundment.
“You were raised in an ivory tower, I was raised to work and be around all levels of society, I’ve seen the true harshness of life for the common people. I connect with them in a way you never will because of my training as rogue. People my brother and I would one day rule. Their lives are something you’ll never be able to understand until you see their hardships yourself in real life, in real time. The plight of the elves, the harshness of the life for castless in Orzammar, these examples are just a drop in the bucket. You’ve never been out among the common people, I have. You would have sided with what the nobles wanted each and every time and keep those close to you who do your dirty work, so you wouldn’t get dethroned once Calian was dead. Guess that didn’t work out for you too well. Alistair gets it, he has lived it.”
“This is why you choose Alistair over me.”
I shrugged. “Only part of it. The other part was because of Calian, before the battle at Ostagar he made me swear an oath, that I’d get Alistair on the throne. You see Anora, I have Calian’s will which was filed with the Her Holiness in Val Royeaux signed and witnessed by several Chantry clergy at Ostagar not only the Grand Cleric of Ferelden and several Grey Wardens from Orlais who also witnessed it at Empress Celene’s request, were sent to see it filed. Her Holiness holds a copy, so if the one I carry is stolen or I’m killed several copies do exist in various locations. It clearly states that Alistair is Calian’s heir, not you and Calian confirmed Alistair’s true lineage that he is indeed Calian’s brother told to him by their father before King Maric just before he left on his trip, it’s all in there.”
“Alistair is a Theirin, you’re a Theirin widow, no royal blood runs through your veins, none in your father’s. Calian provided for you very well, he knew he might die, especially when I showed up at Ostagar and Calian learned about the death of my parents. He hadn’t trusted you or Loghain for a long time. He never said, but it was obvious to many, my father included with the secrecy of the illegal trade.”
“When you ordered your father to turn his back on his duty at Ostagar and our beloved King died defending our country, and then you showed up at Howe’s I put it together then. You ordered your own husband’s death, plus the papers I recovered of Calian’s from Ostagar when I went back. Our beloved King along with my parents dead at your order. If you had not done this I might have disregarded Calian wishes and allowed you to continue to rule. You sealed your fate with me on those two scores. My nephew who was only five years old dead by your order, a sweet innocent little boy whom I couldn’t save and countless others. These were my reasons.”
“Alistair is the one I love Anora and always will. Once again, because of you any happiness that I might have had changed the moment you ordered our deaths at Howe’s hands. Duncan the Grey Warden Commander of Ferelden was there at Highever when we were attacked and he’d come purposely to seek me to join the order, my father declined and Duncan accepted his decision and didn’t conscript me which he could have done. When the attack happened and my father lay dying the only way Duncan would see to my safety – for my very survival was for father to agree to me joining the order and bring those responsible to justice so the truth about the attack on my family was truly known. I lived to fulfill Calian and my father’s wishes and killed an Archdemon in the process and checked mated you.”
“I think we’ve said all we need to say to each other. Just know I’ll be watching tomorrow as you pay for your crimes against Calian, my family, and against Alistair, because you would have executed him just the moment I declared you ruler of Ferelden, and you’re a threat to him.”
“Those who are loyal to me know where he is in Orlais Bellavalia, remember that when I hang tomorrow. They will find him and claim him as my own child, he’ll carry my name and sit the throne as a Mac Tir, not a Theirin or a Cousland.”
“One thing I’ll enjoy, even though you condemned me to a death of unimaginable horror by the events which made me a Warden; I’ll go to my death killing darkspawn. I’m allotted at least 30 years as a Warden, because of our abilities and health, you only have tonight. I’ll die a hero. You’ll die a traitor.”
I walked out and locked the door behind me. Then I shook all over with fear, then I bent and vomited all over the cold dark stone floor of Eamon’s dungeon.