Straightening his tunic as he walked, Aedan smiled at the pair of guards standing by Cailan’s office door as he approached them. The older one, Odrick, inclined his head in return while the young, whose name continually escaped him, smiled back while he lifted a hand to knock at the closed door. It opened to reveal a familiar face twisted into stern lines that softened immediately upon seeing him.
“Young Cousland,” greeted Osanna, her voice warm. “Come in. Her Majesty has some news for you.”
“Oh?” queried Aedan as he entered the office. “Good news, I hope.”
The older woman smiled but her eyes spoke volumes. And the expression in them said that whatever Anora had to tell him was decidedly not good news.
Nodding to Osanna, he turned to look at the large desk across the room, behind which Anora looked all too small. As he strode forward, she looked up and smiled as she greeted, “Aedan. I was just about to send one of my pages to get you.”
“Osanna said you had some kind of news for me.”
Anora’s smile instantly turned brittle before fading entirely and she nodded as she reached to pick up one of the many papers from the desk. “Yes,” she said after a moment. “The messenger I sent to Kinloch Hold asking for a healer returned early this morning. This letter was all he had to show for it.”
Stunned, he reached for the closest chair and sank down into it as a black pit opened in his stomach. As he’d feared since he’d been shoved into the position, there was no easy escape from responsibility and politicking. “Fergus needs a healer from the Circle, though. It will take him months to fully recover otherwise!”
“I know,” she said gently as she extended the letter across the desk.
He took it and quickly skimmed the very short missive, which was signed by Commander Greagoir, who he knew had been the Templar in charge of the Hold since he’d been a boy. Then Aedan frowned and rubbed his fingers across the rough parchment and looked up at Anora to see her sitting with her hands neatly folded on top of the desk.
“Something’s wrong,” he said after a moment. She nodded and flicked two fingers, inviting him to continue in a way that reminded him of his teachers back at Highever but more polite. “The letter’s got all of the courtesy it should as a response to you but it’s all wrong. The parchment’s wrong and the edges are all hacked off instead of neatly cut. I’ve seen letters from the Hold before that Father got in response to queries he sent and none of them were like this.” Looking back down at it, he then frowned and added, “And the Templar seal is missing from the Commander’s signature.”
“Which means something’s wrong at the Hold.”
“Also correct,” said Anora. “Unfortunately, we have no forces to spare.”
Aedan blinked for a moment in surprise then hurriedly said, “But…we’ve got to. Fergus needs that healer. I need…” He forced himself to cut off that sentence, closing his eyes as he worked to regain control of himself as his voice had started to go shrill. Breathing a little harder than normal, he reopened his eyes and looked at Anora. “There has to be someone.”
She smiled sadly and shook her head. “There isn’t unfortunately. Given that my father has settled his men on our doorstep, I need every man I have here in the city to ensure peace and that he doesn’t take over as long as I can.”
“I can go.”
“Which leaves me with one less powerful ally.”
“Powerful!” scoffed Aedan then he frowned at her as she shook her head. “I’m not powerful, Anora.”
Anora just laughed and looked at him in amusement. “Of course you are,” she said gently. “You are a Cousland, Aedan. And that stands for a great deal.” Rising from her chair, she turned to walk to the window that looked out over the city and waved a hand behind her. “Come.”
A little confused, Aedan let the letter fall to the desk and rose to move to stand beside her. They stared silently out at Denerim for a moment, the silence only broken by a faint noise from the office’s little anteroom where Osanna had retreated. Then Anora reached out to touch the glass and softly said, “There are some in this country who will certainly believe my father’s lies. They will also believe those that might be told of what happened at Highever.”
He let out a low hiss and she nodded, the reflection of her eyes in the glass turning to regard him.
“We must stand together to tell the truth, Aedan. You were witness to what truly happened at Highever.”
“But not Ostagar,” he said quietly.
Anora nodded after a moment then smiled, saying, “My messenger heard some news while he was on his way back from the Tower.” She turned to look at him as she continued. “Bann Teagan survived the battle.”
“But…it was my understanding that the Redcliffe forces were with the King and…oh.” Aedan blinked then stared at her as he breathed, “You think he saw something. Knows something. Something that will confirm what we heard about your father retreating from the field.”
“That is my hope. So, you see, Aedan, I have you for Highever and perhaps he for Ostagar. I need you both.”
He frowned at the words for a moment then closed his eyes as he shook himself, trying to brush off the uncertainty and fear that had been bogging him down since coming to Denerim.
Fergus needed him to be his eyes and ears. Alistair needed whatever help he could give him, even far away. And Anora needed someone she could trust.
As he reopened his eyes, Aedan took a step back from Anora then bowed deeply as he said, “Highever is at Your Majesty’s command.”
Anora’s hand reached out to touch his shoulder and he looked up to see her face graced with a smile like cold steel. And he knew, like he had known under Highever that he and Alistair and Fergus would bring Howe to justice, that he and Anora and all others on their side would see Loghain pay for the things he had done.