“Pity the boy has the Theirin stamp on him so clearly. The King might not have had to claim him otherwise.”
Anora’s spine stiffened at the overheard remark but she covered her distaste with a smile before she stepped forward to touch Cailan’s arm. “Don’t,” she breathed, her lips barely moving as she watched the muscles in his jaw clench. As he let out a long breath, she looped her arm into his and slowly led him away across the hall. “You’ve heard all of this before, Cailan.”
“Not essentially said to my face,” he hissed in response.
“Well,” she drawled airily while keeping her voice low, “no one ever said that Urien or Rendon were particularly subtle creatures.”
Cailan snorted then looked over to where Alistair seemed to be safely esconced in a corner, chatting animatedly with Aedan and Fergus Cousland as well as Delilah Howe. Nathaniel Howe was lurking at the edge of the group, looking all too bored with whatever they were talking about while still apparently contributing every once in a while. Anora followed his gaze to them and she smiled.
“He’s fine and he hasn’t heard a thing,” she said despite knowing that that probably wasn’t true. Alistair was all too much aware usually of what was going on around him – a habit she’d noticed in him very young – and he already knew there were going to be comments. She’d prepared him for such before the Landsmeet, though never going so far as to to say exactly what sort of bile he might hear.
Despite the fact that he was smart for his age, he was still eleven years old and she didn’t think he was quite prepared for that. Hence why she had also had a quiet word with Fergus once the Couslands had arrived and had him point his brother at Alistair. With them being so close in age, Aedan was the perfect distraction.
Cailan smiled and nodded as Bann Esmerelle passed haughtily by them on her way to Rendon Howe’s side before he said quietly, “If the Landsmeet would just confirm him, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
Anora sighed and closed her eyes as she lifted a hand to lightly touch her forehead. Her betrothed was wise in many ways that a normal boy of sixteen years was not but sometimes he could be all too naive. In all matters concerning his little brother, he was almost overwhelmingly blind and it frustrated her.
“Are you alright?”
Smiling, she dropped her hand and rose on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. As Cailan flushed and sputtered in confusion, she whispered in his ear, “If you must be the optimist of us, dear, then I shall have to be the realist.”
He just stared down at her as she settled back to her feet before hissing, “What’s that mean?”
Anora just shook her head and smoothed out a wrinkle in his tunic, as she had an hour before for Alistair. “Only that you are oft times blind to the reality of the people around us. You think the best of people, Cailan.”
“And that’s wrong?”
“No, but people are not always kind.”
Cailan scowled in response to that, his jaw tightening again. As Anora reached up to cup his cheek, he closed his eyes as he grumbled, “I don’t like thinking the worst of people, Anora.”
“You are completely missing my point.”
“And now I feel like I’m being lectured at by your father.”
Anora swatted his arm lightly and Cailan smiled down at her. He then shook himself and pulled her further off to the side of the room, nodding politely to those they passed until they settled behind a column. After a moment he took her hands in his own and she found herself absently inspecting all of the new callouses he’d gained since the last holiday when she’d seen him.
“Now,” he said after a moment, “explain.”
“Would you like me to be give you the polite or unpolite explanation?”
“What I would like is an explanation from the friend that I will one day marry, not the politician her father attempted to craft her into.”
Anora felt heat in her cheeks at the words and she breathed, “I’m sorry. It’s been hard without you here.”
His voice was the warmest now that it had been since he’d arrived back in Denerim with the Redcliffe contingent a day earlier. Then again, they had had little time to be together as anything other than in their official offices as Prince and Teyrn’s daughter. Now was truly the only moment they had had to simply be Cailan and Anora.
Squeezing his fingers with her own, Anora smiled up at him and said, “We have discussed Alistair many a time, you and I. You know I agree with you on all accounts regarding him. What you do not see, dear, is that even if he were confirmed by the Landsmeet, it wouldn’t mean anything to those like Rendon Howe.”
“Which makes no sense,” he hissed. “That’s what they want, isn’t it? Him declared ‘official’ so he isn’t a ‘stain’ on the family honor?”
She wrinkled her nose at his harsh inflection on those two words and said, “You’ve been listening to your uncle.”
“Hard not to at the moment. That’s beside the point, though, Anora. It’s what they want, what they’re always complaining about, so why wouldn’t it solve the problem?”
“Because then they will find some other reason to complain about him.” Sighing, Anora shook her head and continued, “I do love your optimism, Cailan, but you cannot cast it around blindly without getting yourself misused in the end. It is not that I want you to think the worst of people because I don’t. You must, however, see that no matter whether he is ever confirmed or not, Alistair will always be a bastard in the eyes of those men.”
Cailan frowned, his eyebrows crinkling together, then grumbled, “Politics.”
“Politics,” she nodded in agreeance.
“I hate it.”
“So do I.”
Cailan huffed out a breath then turned his head as one of the criers near the halls doors called out that the Landsmeet was about to begin. Turning back to Anora amidst the sudden shuffle of feet, he said, “Thank you for keeping me from doing stupid things.”
Anora just smiled and rose to kiss him on the cheek again as she said, “That is why I am the realist to your optimist, dear. Someone must keep your head out of the clouds.”