Isolde remembers being five years old and sitting on the knees of her père in the front of the fireplace, while he told her they have to leave Orlais and move to Ferelden. She knew nothing about this place, except that it’s a part of the Empire nowadays, but hasn’t always been, and that Fereldans love dogs. Maybe she could have a dog then. That’d be nice. Enzo told her of dogs big enough to ride them. She could call it Éclair and pretend it to be a race horse. All of her friends would be so jealous.
Oh… her friends. She frowned, while thinking pretty hard. When her father noticed, he caressed her cheek and smiled reassuringly. “Is something wrong, ma chérie? Do you not want to go?”
Two questions at once, that’s a bit much. She wasn’t sure where to start, but when she did the words kept coming and before she even knew she was jabbering away. “I don’t know. I thought I did, but I’m not sure anymore. I want to see Ferelden and I want to have a dog. But I don’t want to leave my friends. Can we take Enzo and Florence with us, papa? I think they’d love to see Ferelden as well. And then they can see Éclair and we could all still play together. Maybe after a while they can have one too, and--”
“Wait! Slowly, you are losing me here. Who is Éclair?”
“My dog of course. Silly papa!” She had to laugh because his confused face was really funny.
“Of course. I should have realized.” He laughed and kissed her on the forehead, but he looked uncomfortable and kind of sad now instead of confused and she did not like that. “You can have a dog, chérie, but your friends can’t come with us. They have to stay with their families. You understand that, don’t you? Would you want to leave your family?”
Isolde shook her head so vehemently it caused her blonde tresses to flow around her in the wake of the motion. She loved her family. She loved her père and she loved her mère. She even loved her frère stupide. Except when he called her mean things or pulled on her hair or put her doll somewhere she could not reach it. Or when he wouldn’t let her play with him and his friends. Maybe she did not love him after all.
“Do we have to go? Can’t we just… stay in Orlais and not go to Ferelden?” Isolde quietly asked looking at her own hands and not at her father’s face. Deep down she already knew the answer.
“I’m afraid that’s impossible. The Emperor wants me to be the new Arl of Redcliffe. He would be very disappointed, if I refused. It is a great honor to be given this title.” His voice was strange though while he said that. Did he not want to be an Arl? Isolde couldn’t think of a reason why he would not. Maybe she just imagined it then.
“You would be some kind of lord, right?”
“Yes. And you, you would be a proper young lady. Lady Isolde. That has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? You’ll find new friends in no time at all. And when you are old enough you could marry another Arl’s son. You could be Arlessa one day.”
Isolde giggled because she was only five and never really thought about marriage before. It wasn’t until the next morning, when she talked to her mère about it, that she grew fond of the idea.
Leaving her friends and her home behind still terrified her, but she was also excited to move to Redcliffe, to become a woman and meet the man who would make her his Arlessa.
She never heard the cook talk to the steward about rebellion, hostile banns and assassinations. She never heard the kitchen hand and the stable boy swapping stories about the demise of the previous Arl of Redcliffe at the hand of the Emperor. She never saw the worried glances her parents shared whenever someone brought the topic up either.
Only her brother told her that of the nine Orlesian Arls the Emperor named not a single one hold his title for more than three years. “It is said the third Arl was killed within a fortnight of his arrival at Redcliffe.”
She didn’t believe him. He only meant to scare her obviously. Everything would be alright and she’d marry an Arl one day.
Arlessa. Arlessa Isolde. Yes, she liked the sound of that.