How she had let the letter sit in the desk for two days wasn’t a question Anora could rightly answer. She’d wanted to crack the seal as soon as Teagan has placed it in her hands, longing to hear her husband’s voice again even if it was only in her head. The letter had been passed to her during that first meeting, however, and she knew that reading it would make her useless for the rest of that day as well as the meetings they had planned later.
So she had waited ever impatiently, feeling like the hours in the days were mocking her as they dragged onward. Now, though, all of the important business was done for now and Anora sank gratefully into the great desk’s chair. Almost instantly, however, she was tense and sitting ramrod straight as her eyes fell automatically to the desk’s bottom drawer. It had been one of the first things Cailan had shared with her after they were wed – besides their marriage bed, of course.
There was a false bottom to the drawer, one so well-made that she hadn’t actually believed it to be there until he’d shown it to her. She had been thankful once that they’d had little use for it and had pondered replacing the drawer. Now she was glad Cailan had talked her out of it as it was the one place she could count on things to remain safe in as the only others who knew of its existence were now dead. And after the Occupation, no one would dare destroy the desk that had been a gift to its triumphant King years ago.
Sighing, Anora leaned down and opened the drawer, retrieving the records ledger Cailan had kept after King Maric’s passing and a sheaf of blank parchment from inside. Placing both on the desk, she then leaned back down and sharply popped the heel of one hand against the false bottom near the front of the drawer. There was a dull snap in response and the bottom popped up enough that she could slide her fingers underneath it.
Inside the hidden space of the drawer were only three things: Cailan’s final letter, the two replies to Cailan’s formal letters from the Empress that had survived her burning that odd third one, and the heavy leather scroll case stamped with the royal seal that held the papers naming Alistair as Cailan’s heir. Anora stared at the case for a long moment before she finally reached for the letter.
Leaning back with it in hand, she found herself shaking in equal amounts of dread and anticipation. For as much as she wanted to know what he had written, there was a stark finality that made her heart ache because these were the last words she would ever receive from her husband.
Tears welled in her eyes at the thought and for a fleeting moment Anora fought them. Then she remembered the loyal men at her door, currently following orders to let no one disturb her, and let go. As she cracked the wax seal stamped by the ring that Teagan now safeguarded, the first tear rolled down the curve of her cheek.
More followed as she unfolded the parchment and saw the jerky lettering within that practically screamed the agony he had endured in his final hours. Then she read the first word of the letter and couldn’t help the sudden sob that tore its way out of her throat, wracking her body with its intensity.
If she had ever been prone to doubt Teagan, the salutation alone would have assured her of the letter’s origin. There, cast in that pain-chased hand, was the nickname he had called her for several years since learning the word. Not even Alistair knew of the name, though he would have been able to translate as it was an Ander word Cailan had learned from him.
I wish that there were some way I could give you these word in person but I cannot. My wounds are too much for me to survive without the aid of magic and we cannot make it to the Tower or Denerim in time. Even if we could, I am tainted, which will only degrade my health further according to the Wardens who survived. Hence comes my writing of these letters – this to you and one for Alistair – which I have entrusted to my uncle.
The first thing I must do is apologize to you, Kleinod . I could not keep the promises I made to you, both that I made when I left and those we spoke at our wedding. It claws at me that I will not be there for you and, perhaps worse, that I leave you nothing but memories to recall me by. Remember in these days that follow that you are the strongest woman I have ever known and that I have faith in you always.
Second, as I’m sure my uncle has already told you, your father never joined the field at Ostagar . I cannot even begin to imagine his reasoning or what he saw that we on the field could not but can only hope that decision does not doom a country I can no longer protect. My only thought is that I revealed my naming of Alistair as my heir to him but that seems an absurd reason. Not only in my own death but that Alistair will still need the backing of the Landsmeet no matter what I have officially claimed. Whatever his reason, my love, I know it will never be enough to excuse his actions.
I know that you will do everything you can to protect Alistair and to succeed I must tell you this: his birth mother is not who we thought. And the truth is far more damning than being the mere bastard son of a maidservant. While she is a Warden, she is also an elf, an Orlesian by birth, and a mage . It is as though Father made it deliberately as hard as he possibly could.
Startled by the information, Anora let her arm fall to her lap and focused her eyes on one of the office’s windows. She felt suddenly breathless, like all of the air had been stolen from her lungs.
Alistair, a half-elf? The son of a mage? The very idea was so absurd that she almost didn’t believe it. Yet…it would explain some of Alistair’s quirks. His fascination with the arcane that had such a mystery origin. How he had a tendency to hear things he shouldn’t have been able to. It could also explain his excellent night vision as she had heard that elves could see far better than humans in the dark. He certainly didn’t have the build of an elf as he’d grown into a slimmer broad-shouldered echo of her husband.
Shaking her hand, Anora turned her attention back to the letter and picked up where she’d left off.
I wouldn’t be inclined to believe it if I hadn’t already been a little suspicious of Father’s story. He never kindled a romance with any of the eligible ladies of the court and we were never really in Redcliffe enough to woo a servant girl. And Father never would have taken a woman against her will despite all the rumors I heard that was the way of things. That and your father is the one that told me all this as some sort of proof that Alistair couldn’t be my heir. Not a very positive view for a man who led a group of city elves during the war though I suspect part of that is the threat of Orlesian blood on the throne.
That is why I needed to warn you. I doubt he will use it but you need to be prepared if he does.
Though I have little else to write, some part of me feels that I must keep going. These are the last words you or Alistair will have from me and it feels wrong to leave the both of you with so little. I wish with all that I am that there was a way to see you again, even if it were only to touch you one last time. Yet these words are all I shall have as my epitaph.
Anora , my Queen, my heart, you were and have always been the only woman I have loved. A jealous part of me hopes I am the last in your heart but that is a cruel wish. Instead I hope that one day there is a man who loves you as deeply as I have and that he too can experience the devotion of the finest woman in all of Thedas . Be well, Kleinod , and do not lose what makes you you searching for revenge. I love you.
Your eternally devoted husband,
Sinking bonelessly into the chair as tears blurred her vision, Anora tucked the letter against her heart and quietly sobbed as she allowed herself to mourn the loss of her husband for the first time since the messenger had delivered the news to her.