Bann Teagan Guerrin looked up in confusion as he realized the man he’d been helping to tend his small field had stopped working. “What is it, Gerald?”
Gerald nodded in the direction of the road and answered, “Messenger, ser.”
Dread instantly settled into Teagan’s stomach and as he straightened, wiping sweat from his brow and tucking his braid back behind his ear, he heard the sound of hoof beats. He knew exactly what he’d see when he turned and he absolutely did. Not. Want. To. Whatever was coming would spell doom for her and a breaking of the careful peace she’d forged in Rainesfere.
He turned, though, because it was his duty and smiled at the young man wearing the royal colors as he slowed his horse.
“BannTeagan?” questioned the youth, his brows furrowed in confusion.
Teagan chuckled and couldn’t really blame the boy for his confusion. He was probably a Denerim lad and not familiar with nobles helping out their vassals like this. Of course, his own brother isn’t the sort to get his hands dirty so perhaps he’s the one out of place.
“Aye, lad, this is he himself,” said Gerald, leaning on his shovel with a wry grin.
The youth looked dubious and Teagan shook his head before asking, “What news from Denerim? Has the King some task for me?”
“Don’t know, ser,” answered the boy as he reached into a pouch on his saddle and drew out an envelope with the royal seal. Then he slid his hand into his tunic and the dread in Teagan’s stomach became all the heavier because the seal on the letter he drew out was Alistair’s personal one. As the boy leaned down from his saddle, he said, “I just know I was to deliver these to you as quick as I could ride.”
It was hard to keep his hand from shaking as he took the letters but Teagan managed it. Fingering them for a moment, he said, “Gerald, take the lad to get some food in him, will you?”
“Of course, ser. Come along, lad, and we’ll get this pretty lass of yours some feed and water as well.” As he waved the boy ahead, the man turned back and breathed, “She’s going to be leaving us, isn’t she?”
“I imagine so,” answered Teagan quietly.
And then Gerald was gone, leading the youth away on his horse and chattering to him as if nothing was wrong when it was. Because five months of freedom is not enough and he just wants to strangle Alistair.
Sighing, Teagan moved to lean the hoe he had been using against a nearby stump then turned in the direction of a specific house, watching for a moment as smoke billowed up from its chimney. Then, like a man going to his death, he began to walk toward it with the letters in his hand seeming to weigh him down.
It took him several long minutes before he could knock on the door once he reached it and when Elena Amell answered, she was smiling broadly. Almost instantly, however, her expression faltered and she asked in a numb, quiet little voice, “It’s over, isn’t it?”
Teagan’s heart ached for the young woman but he said nothing as he simply handed over the letter with Alistair’s personal seal. Her hand shook as she reached out to take it then she whirled away, leaving him to close the door behind him. By the time he pushed the bolt shut to assure they weren’t disturbed and turned around, she was sitting at the small table that occupied the kitchen side of the tiny home she’d made her own. One side of Alistair’s letter was now hopelessly crumpled in her still shaking hand and he noticed that she was reading with the other curled around the swell of her belly.
Sitting down in one of the other chairs, he laid his own letter on the table, not ready to read it quite yet. Mostly because he was angry at Alistair and also he knew she would need someone to lean on and he was all she had here.
When Elena let the letter go and it drifted down to land on the table, she said, “I’ve been ordered to Amaranthine.”
“By the Wardens,” she replied with an icy tone. “Apparently since they didn’t know my location, they saw fit to send Alistair a letter to inform me of my new position. Alistair is, however, apparently giving me the Arling.”
It took a moment for Teagan’s breathing to start back up after it stopped and he managed to gasp, “He’s giving you the Arling. Is the boy absolutely mad? The Chantry will be up in arms when the news reaches them!”
Elena nodded and scowled down at the letter, idly tapping her fingers on the top of the table. “Doubly so after the news reaches them that I’m with child. Given that most know about our relationship during the Blight, they’ll undoubtedly think it’s his.”
And they’ll be right, Teagan thought but didn’t say. Since revealing the news to him in Alistair’s office five months ago in Denerim, neither he nor Elena have referred to the child as the King’s. Not for the reason that his brother and Maric had to never refer to Alistair as such but for the reason that this child is something else entirely.
The knowledge that the reborn soul of the Archdemon grew under Elena’s skin was more than a little disturbing. Alistair hadn’t told him as such but she had as soon as they were alone once he had agreed to shelter her in Rainesfere. He wouldn’t have believed her if not for the absolute seriousness in her eyes telling him that she was not lying.
Thanks to her, he probably knew more Grey Warden secrets than he rightfully should as a mere Bann.
Shaking his head, Teagan asked, “What else did he say, if I may ask?”
“About a paragraph’s worth of apology for one thing or another.” Her mouth twisted bitterly as she added, “He said he wished that he hadn’t listened to me that night. That we had done it the right way.”
And all Teagan could think was, Maker preserve. Alistair, you fool.
He was utterly expecting it when she lifted her hand and both letter and envelope burned to ashes on the table. Elena’s expression was thunderous, fury and sorrow warring across her face, and all he could think to do was lean forward and rest a hand on her knee.
At his touch, sorrow won out and tears spilled down her cheeks.
“I didn’t want either of us to die. Was that truly so bad, Teagan? To grasp onto a glimmer of hope for life, even as dark as it was?”
A tiny part of him wanted to say yes but that was the youth that still clung tightly to Chantry teachings. After seeing the destruction of Ferelden after he and Eamon returned from the Free Marches, watching Redcliffe fall to his demon-possessed nephew, and fighting in that terrible battle against the Archdemon, however, he could not possibly say such.
“No,” he assured and then added, “If the Wardens still don’t know where you are, you could stay. Simply refuse to go.”
Elena smiled sadly. “I could.”
“But you won’t,” noted Teagan with a frown.
“I won’t run until the Tower or the Chantry comes after me.” She paused, idly stroking a hand across her child swollen stomach, then continued, “Because they will come for me someday. Being with the Wardens will ward them off for at least a little while longer. Maybe even long enough for me to see my child grow up a little in peace.”
Given his understanding of her general run of luck, Teagan sincerely hoped it will happen the way she envisioned. “When will you leave?”
“As soon as possible. Too much longer and I’ll be absolutely useless on the road should something happen.”
Nodding, Teagan squeezed her knee then rose, saying, “I will leave you to it then, Elena.” As he reached to pick up his letter from Alistair, her hand slid over his and he paused.
“Thank you, Teagan. For everything.”
Smiling, he turned his hand to grip hers and said, “If you should ever need shelter, my hearth will be ever open to you.” And he says it that way because Eamon has already told him it isn’t likely he’ll have another child and to be ready to take over Redcliffe when the time comes.
She nodded in response, eyes gleaming with fresh tears, and Teagan left her to her loss of peace and prospects of tomorrow. As he walked back to his own little stone keep, he opened Alistair’s letter and read it quickly. There was little in the letter that directly concerned Elena…except for a tiny sliver of a postscript near the end that simply read: take care of her.
Snorting, Teagan crumpled the letter in his fist and growled aloud, “I would if you had but told the Wardens you had lost her, fool boy! Now I’ll simply have to see her off as best I can.”
As soon as he was inside the keep, he began barking orders to what few servants he had and setting things in motion for the morrow.