Chapter 9: Memory
After he gave a gentle talking down to Spud, who was very penitent and used every trick in her book to try and convince him she didn’t need punishing, Alistair got a professional tongue lashing from Marn. While he could have stomped away, or maybe sent her to the stocks for awhile, he felt like he deserved it. He knew he’d overreacted when Spud pulled her vanishing act, that it played right into something something... Marn’s words washed over him while Alistair kept glancing over at his daughter curled up in bed with her stuffed frog. That tiny hand clutched tight to its webbed foot, her wide eyes shut tight as she traipsed through the fade.
“Look,” Alistair interrupted Marn, who reeled back in her words but glared for having to do it, “I get it. Okay. If I was the perfect father of the year, I’d have done things better. If I wasn’t sitting on a teetering edge constantly afraid all the damn time that some fat arse off in Antiva or Tevinter gets it in his head to off my kids to make a point, maybe I wouldn’t have overreacted. Welp, sorry, this is the king you’re stuck with full of all that gooey feeling stuff they’re supposed to scrape out of you in war. Somehow I missed that part.”
He expected Marn to renew her attack with more vitriol, but instead she sighed and shook her head. “A’right. Fair enough. And I don’t think we’ll have a spoiled brat on our hands for one over reaction followed by her father lavishing her with attention for a night.”
“Thank the Maker for small miracles,” Alistair scoffed.
“But make a habit of it and you will be facing a tyrant in short pants,” Marn threatened.
“Tell me again why I don’t have you out there chasing down these assassins? I think you’d put most hunting mabari to shame.”
She snorted and folded her arms up tight across her chest. “You ain’t the first man in thedas’ history to fear for his children.”
“I am well aware, but...it feels like it,” Alistair admitted. He flexed his bruised knuckles that he’d only soothed the pain partially away with a balm. To think, in his younger years he wouldn’t have even noticed the pain unless the skin broke, or a bone. And his need to work out the emotion last night was nothing, just a small sparring practice. Maker’s sake, he did far more damage to his knuckles when they met that templar’s jaw. By the void, what were they feeding them in Skyhold, actual bars of iron?
Marn plucked up her own child into her arms, and with the love of a mother bear carting her young out of the stream, she plopped him into the shared bed with Spud. His daughter only began sharing it with the boy a few months back, and at first it was the true end times upon abandoning the crib, but she seemed to grow more used to it. Routine. That’s what she needed.
“How’s the Queen doing?” Alistair asked.
“Why?” Marn shot back. After prudently tucking her boy in, she took a moment to kiss his forehead and he snuggled in to sleep.
“Because I wanted to talk to her about Spud and other things. Is that so bad?”
Marn folded a moment, her head tipped down, “She’s sitting by the fire with Cailan.”
Alistair tried to not shudder at the idea of his dead brother haunting through the castle sitting by fires and whispering to people. It felt like the first few years he took the stupid crown, so many of those velvet portraits were hung up in every damn room of the palace. Sometimes Alistair would turn around and he could swear a portrait would appear on a wall that’d been empty a moment earlier. Nodding thanks at Marn, he slipped into the Queen’s chambers. The two personal handmaidens were asleep, or feigning it, upon the daybed thing. He wasn’t certain what it was called when it wasn’t quite couch and wasn’t bed either.
The lone rocking chair creaked back and forth before the hearth. Funny enough, it was a gift from the Dalish. Carved from ironbark it was a mother’s rocking chair that could double as a shield should the need arise. Bea’s hair, that was always pinned up in fancy dos, cascaded down her shoulders as she hummed a song softly to her son sleeping in her arms.
“Hello,” Alistair began, feeling like a stranger walking into someone else’s home.
She turned her head to the side, the flames highlighting her face that finally bore a bit of color. “Good evening, my King,” Bea whispered.
With that opening, he stepped closer and took a knee beside the chair. Even with business hanging in the air, Alistair couldn’t stop from peering down at the little face framed by blankets. He dipped a finger down the baby’s cheek, and froze when the tiny mouth opened in a yawn. But Cailan wasn’t in the mood for more screaming, as he settled back to sleep.
“Someone’s had quite the day,” Beatrice cooed to her boy.
“How’s his, uh...” He couldn’t bring himself to admit that he let their daughter slap the baby on his watch.
“It is fine, barely pink now, probably not even going to bruise.” She turned over to look at him and in a voice one used when talking to particularly stupid dogs said, “These things occur between siblings.”
“So everyone keeps telling me,” Alistair admitted. “That’s what I wanted to come talk to you about. I heard...Spud misses you. She knows something’s wrong and I think that’s why she’s acting out.”
Bea’s head hung down heavy from the crown of motherhood, “I miss her too.”
“I was thinking, maybe tomorrow, if you’re up for it, we could all gather in the garden. You could sit on the bench with ol’ stoic here,” he gestured at the baby, “while I roll around in the grass with Spud. And, Cordell can come too, to take over when needed so your daughter could sit in your lap. All five of us for a day of garden fun.” It sounded idiotic he knew, but it was the only answer Alistair could come up with.
“That sounds delightful,” Beatrice smiled at him, “but you’re forgetting the day.” He lifted a shoulder in confusion. “Tomorrow is the fifteenth.” Alistair parted both hands. Fifteens tended to come after fourteens, that wasn’t any big reason to cancel garden plans. Bea dropped her head and she whispered, “The fifteenth of Cloudreach.”
Andraste’s grace, how could he forget?
“Cade’s informed me that the usual parade has been cancelled due to the attacks, but people will expect you to appear at the memorial,” Beatrice explained while Alistair kept mentally kicking himself.
How could he blighted forget that date? There were only four he kept tattooed in his memory; the end of the Blight, the fall of Ostagaar, his ignominious entrance into the world, and that one. Might as well forget your birthday next time too. Wander into Isolde’s party shirtless and covered in mud asking what everyone’s doing standing around in their best outfits.
“And,” she shifted around her arms to slide the baby into his. Without thought Alistair accepted his son but his mind was on the other side of Ferelden. Rubbing her sore arms, Beatrice smiled at him, “I rather suspect you would not wish to miss it.”
“No, I...everything’s been so blighted crazy lately, I forgot what day it was.”
“I understand,” Beatrice traced her own manicured fingers across the boy’s chubby cheek, “and I imagine she would have as well.”
Alistair sighed, “Probably. Depended on what mood she was in.” One of Cailan’s fists tumbled out of the blankets and Alistair curled it up with his pinkie. He was fascinated by the teeny tiny nails on the ends of each adorable digit. Who would have ever thought he’d become so entwined around two chubby fingers? Spud could make him leap with a look, and he suspected this one would be giving him heart attacks once he figured out rolling over. Maker, the first time Spud did it, she nearly rolled right into the stuffed teeth of a bearskin rug. That was the fastest Alistair had ever moved in his life, including at a broodmother and away from dragon fire.
“I really want to get this right,” he whispered to the baby.
“Right isn’t a thing in parenting,” Beatrice said. “All there is is trying your best.” She was a few years younger than him physically, but she acted like she was fifty the moment they met. Considering how often she tried to patiently mother him, Alistair was grateful to feel no attraction to her because that would just raise all kinds of confusing questions.
He snickered at the idea of trying his best, knowing just what kind of a mess his best tended to cause. Bending over to his son, he placed his lips close to his forehead and whispered, “Sorry.”
If the King rose in the middle of the night to attack his dummy either Reiss didn’t hear it, or, more likely, he found other ways to work off the tension of the day. On the plus side, no bountiful mages slipped out of his room in the morning. She was waiting with gritted teeth for that day, but for now it was simply the two of them. The King waved away the clerk he dubbed ‘itinerary guy,’ snatched up his daughter from her room, and had breakfast while their two bodyguards stood watch.
Reiss spent some of her free time after the princess incident speaking with Commander Cade, who introduced her to Brunt - a man of few words and all muscle. He’d been receiving a dressing down for losing the princess when Reiss stumbled across the guardhouse, then he had to stand and listen to her praise for finding the girl. It was so awkward, she began to suspect that the Commander was trying to punish them both as if to say they needed to remain in their lanes and any deviation, even if it was a gain, would be frowned upon greatly.
After breakfast, and the King taking the time to scoop half of the princess’ dropped food off the floor, he sat her in a special chair and brushed her hair. The princess kept giving him tips for the entire attempt, passing over silver combs and boar’s hair brushes which the King pretended to run over her locks before slipping them back in a drawer. Brunt was ordered to sit in the tiniest pinkest chair and watch. While Alistair attempted to dissuade the girl, her bodyguard huffed, and balancing his weight all on his feet, hovered his mighty frame right above the chair. It was the kind of humiliation that would do in the most hardened veteran, but Brunt bore it with aplomb. After the King added a fifth bow to the pin straight locks, the nursemaid appeared and swept her away.
“Spud,” he ordered to her retreating form, “you be good. I have to go do official stuff.” Her face fell at that, the girl wishing she could spend the whole day with her father, “But I think you’re going to go play with your mother today, right?”
Those green eyes widened and her jaw popped open as she turned up to Marn who slowly nodded. “Mummy?” the princess shrieked, whipping her pigtails back and forth in excitement.
“So much for the surprise,” Marn huffed. “Come along child, and you need to be calm.”
“Okay!” Spud shouted at the top of her lungs.
“Right,” the king clapped his hands together, “that was the lighthearted easy part of the day.” He turned his eyes over to Reiss and asked, “You read for the somber portion?”
They travelled by horseback a rather short distance of the city, barely getting more than a few blocks past the palace’s gates. Reiss tried to not roll her eyes at the royal fear of walking, until she spotted where their destination was. The King arrived first, as if he and the horse could reach the memorial by memory. Dismounting quickly, throngs of mourners parted in his wake, though one stepped up and bowed his head.
“Teagan,” the King smiled, throwing a half a hug around the man.
“Your Majesty,” the Arl sighed weary with the world.
“I swear, this comes up earlier and earlier every year,” the King spoke quietly to the Arl before reaching over and shaking hands.
Reiss dismounted fast off her horse, leaving someone else to tie it off as she fell in behind the King working through the crowds. While during the naming ceremony he had a cool, detached approach to greeting everyone now he took the time to speak to them, listen to a few stories they had to tell, and kept accepting a flower from each.
Teagan tried to tug the growing bouquet away, but the King chuckled, “I’ve been carting a two year old around. Unless someone’s gonna stuff an anvil in here, I’ve got it.”
She was supposed to be watching hands, shoes, looking for anyone suspicious or out of place, but in truth everyone looked out of place. Commoners dressed in tattered cloth stood beside nobility in silks and neither blushed at the idea. Even a few elves moved through the mix, the King taking his time to speak to them as well. A young child of six was thrusted forward by his father. The King paused at the terrified look in the boy’s eye and waited as he gathered the courage to thrust forward a wad of elfroot. Not even pausing, Alistair placed it next to the roses from the better off.
“She loved elfroot,” he smiled at the boy, “we were always stuffing handfuls of it in every pocket.” It took another twenty minutes before he’d worked through the crowd, giving each a moment or two and despite his assurances to the Arl, the King’s arms were waning from the foliage stuffed in them.
He rose up the stairs and stood before the door. “I feel like I should give a speech, but...in truth she hated them. Would often do as that girl there is and make foolish faces at me whenever I tried.” The twelve year old tugging down her eye retracted in her tongue at the attention and tried to slide back into the crowd. Sighing, the King scrunched up his eyes and spoke, “Thank you all for coming. It would mean the world to her to know how many care all these years later.”
Turning around, he nodded at a pair of servants. Each tugged open the wooden doors to reveal the memorial for the Hero of Ferelden. The King stepped across the red carpet, Arl Teagan close on his heels, to the base of the statue. Dropping to a knee, he placed the bundle of flowers at the foot of it and whispered something. As he stood up, his hand glanced across the statue’s foot. Suddenly, his eyes shot up and Reiss noticed he left a green smudge across the onyx. With as much grace as the man could manage, he tried to wipe it off with his shirt.
Tapping down a laugh, Teagan turned back to the crowd to announce, “Please, come in and remember.”
In a great rush, the people raced into the memorial. It wasn’t an orderly funerary procession whispering but a cavalcade of voices laughing, speaking, celebrating. Reiss stepped in quietly, trying to blend in with the background which was hard to do. The memorial was built in a circle, the walls stuffed with books, staves, quills, robes, weaponry, even tea cups that belonged to the Hero of Ferelden. All of them sat behind glass, which the people were leaving fingerprints on as they leaned over to investigate. In the middle stood a fifteen foot tall statue of the woman herself. Carved from a jet black stone, it was illuminated by mirrors placed around the base, casting light upon the determined eyes facing off against an unseen foe. Her staff bore a globe on the end that glittered with red light, which projected an image of the archdemon across the white ceiling. It was the only hint of an enemy in the statue. Most had the victor standing upon a mountain of skulls or some hint, but whoever carved it seemed to only want to see her standing ready for battle but not yet engaging in it. A protector instead of a warrior.
While the King worked through the crowd yet again, pointing at a grey warden shield and telling some story that got everyone to laugh uproariously, Reiss slid closer to the statue’s base. A plaque of gold bore the words:
“Solona ‘Lana’ Amell
Defeater of the Blight
Hero of Ferelden
Fifteenth of Cloudreach 9:11 Dragon
Lost to Us
Sixth of Drakonis 9:42 Dragon
She Stood Against The Darkness To Make Thedas Brighter"
Thirty one when she died, her same age now. Reiss reached out, her fingers glancing across the words, when a voice whispered beside her, “Is this your first time here?”
“I...” she pulled her hand back and let it fall to her hilt. Turning to the King she answered, “I’ve seen the memorial but have never entered it prior.”
He had his head turned far back as if studying the statue’s face, or perhaps trying to remember the real woman who once bore it. “We try to do something for her birthday. Okay, I try to do something and some people show up too.” He glanced around the crowds standing beside her things, some of them hoisting children closer and explaining who the Hero of Ferelden was. “She had a way of touching lives without trying.”
“Yes, I...” Fire lapping across the grass, as she cowered beside the over turned carriage. Chittering from the darkspawn echoed over the screams as they plunged blade and teeth into the humans from the caravan. There was no hope. There’d been none when she left home, and now...
Shaking off the memory, Reiss tipped her head up at the hero, “She saved me during the blight.”
“Oh?” the King turned fully to face her now, his once waning focus burning bright.
“I was trying to flee with my...family, from South Reach after Lothering,” she swallowed hard. It’d been nearly seventeen years and it still pricked her heart open.
A hand landed upon her back and she caught the King misting up. “Lothering was...Maker, we tried so hard to--”
“I know,” Reiss interrupted. It was easy to forget that for every step the hero took the King was at her side. She was the savior from the Blight while he took on the farce of jester. So many in Ferelden were happy to take that as fact in the years since, even those who fought beside him forgot. But she watched the true pain of war, of watching helpless as the enemy swarmed over people you couldn’t hope to save scrawling away his boyish charm. An almost deathly pallor replaced it as his eyes wandered over to look at a sword hanging on the wall.
“The Hero, she saved me and my siblings from being torn apart by darkspawn,” Reiss explained, her heart feeling strangely heavy.
Barely fourteen, her hands locked around her five year old brother while trying to stay as quiet as possible. Ice shards firing through the air and impaling one of the screaming darkspawn in the throat. The girl with no home buried her head in her brother’s hair, terrified to face what was certain to come, when a hand, a human one lands upon her shoulder. “It’ll be alright,” was all she whispered.
Reiss didn’t voice the memory aloud, uncertain if she could tug it back. But she whispered to herself, “I never thanked her for it.”
The King placed his hands behind his back and stretched up, “She hated when anyone did. Drawing attention to her, she’d blush like her cheeks were on fire from it. But, for what it’s worth, I think she knew.” Ignoring his blubbering bodyguard, he traced a finger across the date of her death, a day of mourning for all of Ferelden.
“You were in the Inquisition,” he stated. “Were you there when she...?”
“Adamant,” Reiss recited. Yes, she was there fighting first grey wardens, then alongside them to destroy the demons. “At first, everyone was cheering. The Inquisitor closed the rift, saved us all from some terrifying nightmare demon army. I remember people clapping all across the fortress and then...” Like a stone tossed into a pond, ripples of horror echoed outward silencing the celebration. “We heard that the Hero, our Hero, sacrificed herself to save us, all of us. Every Ferelden in the army all but collapsed, even the Grey Wardens were bereft. The Commander,” she spotted him being led out, not speaking a word to anyone, “seemed to be in shock.”
Alistair’s hung head lifted a moment and he snorted, “That sounds about right.” Tears glittered in his eyes, which he blinked back down before they escaped. “I, uh,” he shook off the sadness and covered it over in a goofy smile, “should probably return to all that kinging stuff before there’s a coup. Excuse me, Ser Reiss.”
The day wound down slowly, the King taking the time to speak with any and all who showed up to the point his voice scratched and he had to cough to keep going. As the hour grew longer, the final visitors left leaving only the King, Reiss, and Teagan behind. The Arl himself stood regal staring up at the statue, an inscrutable look to his eyes. How well did he know the woman carved in stone? By his stance it was impossible to tell, but the fact that he hadn’t moved in hours told Reiss there was more than gratitude underneath.
“Welp, not bad for having to rearrange everything,” the King said clapping his hands together.
“Indeed, Sire,” Teagan announced.
“Would you,” the King ran a hand over the back of his hair and fluffed it up, “could you give me a few minutes alone? You know, to clean up and...”
Teagan smiled sadly, “Of course, your Majesty.” After casting one more look up at the woman’s face, he turned on his heel and walked towards the doors.
Reiss paused uncertain if she was meant to leave as well, when the King chuckled. “I don’t think there are any assassins hiding in here. Least I hope not. They can’t go invisible now, can they?”
Nodding, she began to slip out but paused at the entrance. Covering an eye, Reiss sighted around the memorial making certain to check the shadows for anything out of the ordinary. “Looks clean,” she pronounced, getting a grim smile from her boss. Accepting that he wasn’t likely to be stabbed, Reiss slipped out of the memorial and quietly shut the doors. As she took up guard, Teagan stood at the edge of the stairs watching the sun set on the horizon.
“Maker, it’s nearly nightfall?” Reiss gasped.
“I’m surprised we finished that early,” the Arl chuckled. “He can take a fair share of time with this.”
There’d been rumors for years about the King and Hero of Ferelden being close. More than a few bawdy books were spun about their bodice ripping adventures, some of which Reiss had to hide under her pallet at night so her sister wouldn’t see them. While she knew little of the Hero beyond seeing her once, the King in the books bore no resemblance to the one she knew now. In the tales he was suave and charming, the type to take command. It took Reiss all of five minutes of speaking with him to realize that was an entire fabrication of the author. She’d assumed the very romance itself to be as well, but the way his eyes burned even these six years since her death...
“Oh Maker,” Teagan cried pointing at one of their horses slipping off its post and making a run for it. He began to beat feet after it. Reiss rose to join, but he waved at her, “I’ll catch it. You stay with the King.” And beyond any common sense, the Arl of Redcliffe began to chase after a horse down the streets of Denerim.
Reiss followed the order, remaining rooted on the spot, when she heard a muffled voice speaking from behind the door. She should ignore it, block it out, or pace back and forth to obscure it, but... Sliding back, she hooked a finger into the door handle, pulled it just far enough to jam her toe in the way, and listened.
Sounds of pacing back and forth were all that filled the air at first, the King perhaps making good on his promise to clean up, when his voice rang out. “So, happy birthday. The big 36, eh? I think that’s an important one. Better than 37, let me tell you. That’s when everything breaks down into one big mess. They’ve got me drinking this white glop before bed, helps with my constitution or something.”
He sighed, and then the sound of his foot being drug across the floor echoed. “Wherever you are, I hope you’ve got something big planned. Or something to celebrate. Better than what we did during the blight. Ass deep in darkspawn in the middle of the deeproads and you turn to me to say ‘Hey, I’m twenty today.’”
A laugh broke up his higher pitched voice meant to mimic hers. “I swear you did that just to watch the panic in my face.” Another silence fell, this one heavier than thedas itself.
“Maker’s breath, but I miss you Lanny. I wish you were here. That you could...I know why you can’t be but Andraste’s grace, I’m scared. Assassins right. We’ve been through this a dozen times, friended one for some reason. What are a few more traipsing about in the shadows? I should be able to shrug this off but...Flames, I can’t. If they’d gotten to Spud or the baby who, oh yeah, we’re calling Cailan. It’s weird, I know, but no one wanted to listen to me. Let’s name your son after your dead half-brother that way it’s like he’s always haunting you. Wooo!” He tried to laugh at the end but the joke turned into a soft sob.
“I don’t know who I can trust, aside from you. Even when you hated me, which I rightly deserved, I still had faith in you and...” Alistair groaned, then slapped his hands against his cheeks, “I’m supposed to be wishing you a happy birthday. So, that. I won’t sing, I promise. But please tell me you made your templar do it. That’ll at least lighten my mood.”
Reiss scrunched her nose up at that, confused what he meant. Perhaps there was some templar friend waiting for the Hero across the veil. She risked a quick glance inside. The King’s back was to her as he faced the statue. No one else moved around, but an eerie red glow emanated from in front of him.
“I should go. Lots of beheadings and other kingly stuff to do. Oh, you’ll love this. I got myself a bodyguard. Yeah, I know, poor thing. Funny thing though, I bet you’d like her. Be careful out there, Lanny. I’ll see you later.” The red light vanished, and the King began to turn around.
Reiss yanked her toe out and spun back, letting the door fall shut. She tried to will back the erratic beat of her heart for eavesdropping, certain that the King made her, but when he opened the door he was all smiles again as if something washed his psyche clean. “Don’t tell me, Teagan ran off and left us with the check,” he chuckled.
“No, Ser, he’s...”
Hoofbeats clattered down the road and the Arl rode up on the runaway horse. His hat hung precariously close to falling off and an exhausted flush burnt his cheeks, but he seemed in good spirits. “I caught her before she fled through the city gates,” the Arl proclaimed, dismounting off the King’s horse.
“That horse is a master escape artist,” Alistair complained, jogging quickly down the stairs to grab at the reins before she bolted again. “We once found her on the roof.”
“You did not, Sire,” Teagan laughed stepping back to gather up the last two horses.
“I swear to the Maker, it’s true. Middle of the night I hear a crash and think either thunder or Orlesian invasion. But nope, it’s a damn horse standing on the roof, clipping along like she’s on a run through the meadows.” He ran a hand down her nose, curling it up through the mane while this master escape horse snorted. “You’re lucky we don’t turn you into glue.” Despite his proclamation, he seemed to have a real affinity for this magical horse. There were a good dozen in the royal stables he could have chosen, but this was the one he was drawn to.
As the Arl swung up into his saddle and Reiss in turn followed suit, the three of them clopped down the street to the palace. “Gonna be hanging around for a few more weeks, Teagan?” the King asked. Despite the long day he sat bolt upright in the saddle, something seeming to have energized him.
“I’m afraid not. I should return to Redcliffe soon.” The Arl smiled, “It should give your bodyguard some breathing room at the very least.”
Reiss couldn’t tap down the burn rising in her cheeks from the attention. The King tried to turn his head fully around to look at her before shooting a glance at the Arl, “Are you two still on about her nearly trying to chop your head off? That was two days ago. Stop living in the past.”
“As you say, Sire,” the Arl chuckled and Reiss followed suit.
“Before you go, I’ve got a few letters for you to take with,” he all but whispered to the Arl.
Teagan’s formal facade melted a moment, and he closed his eyes, “I’ll be sure to deliver them myself, Alistair.”
“Good, good,” the King nodded. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m famished. Let’s go see if we can find a tavern with a steak the size of our heads.”