Before a long looking glass, Elissa watched her reflection, wholly believing that wrapped in white wedding silk, the Hero of Ferelden looked – soft. The glass was one of the few possessions they had been able to salvage from the Highever estate. In her forever forth chambers in the Denerim castle she was surrounded by them – crates, carelessly thrown sheet coverings, and pockets of floating dust reflecting the early morning light through the arching windows that overlooked the city. Elissa ran her fingers over the curling inscription in the silver frame, sighing deeply - For my darling Eleanor, may you always see yourself as I do. She could only hope that Alistair’s devotion to her would remain as eternal.
Alistair – Elissa frowned at herself. She had never thought she would end up here, she felt she hadn’t even had time to consider it. In the aftermath of the war she was to forsake her armour for a tiara? Elissa touched her cheeks, allowing her fingertips to trail from the bags under her eyes, across the peaking creases near her lips, and down to the hallow of her throat. There was a fading scar there from a mage who had once held a dagger against her life. She had aged - somewhere between Darkspawn, elves, assassins, dwarves and the evil of humanity, her girlhood had been robbed from her.
Once she had dreamed of marrying for love – Father had promised her she could have that much. He had allowed her a blade, seeing in her the heart of a warrior, which reminded her even now of her Mother. She wondered if he was as naïve as Mother had always scolded him for. She was a woman now, sworn to the duty of her country. The nobles would have nothing less, they were eager to reunite the kingdom.
But she did love Alistair, didn’t she? She had. It was easy to cling to him in the whirlwind of war. So many blades they had escaped to be here. She remembered nights they whispered promises to each other. In the heat of passion they swore to survive for each other. There hadn’t been another option, and she was so grateful to him. His light heart had saved her from the tragedy of the road – but she had never thought she would survive. Now in the quiet, before her harshest judge, she was restless. Elissa owed Alistair her life, just as he owed her. She couldn’t leave him to rule on his own. He had begged the Maker not to allow the great king Meric to be succeeded by a bastard son.
Alistair was afraid. He was still a boy. His fear caged her. Elissa scolded herself, realizing the thought. Her eyes flickered in the glass finding a crack in its low left corner. She wondered if it would make her resentful over time, perhaps she was afraid as well. She didn’t want separate quarters, quibbling nobles, and ill-wishing ex-princesses plotting from towers within her walls. She wanted a man who would hold her when she woke up terrified that a Shriek would be hissing at the foot of her bed. She wanted someone to contemplate what she had seen with. She wanted someone who would indulge her philosophies, and contemplate the cultures of the world with her – looking for more. There had to be more. She had seen enough to understand that little made sense, and more to condemn Ferelden for the idiocy of its politics, but there was still a spark of Father left in her.
She swept her tumbling hair from her shoulders, braided elegantly with tiny rose buds. Flowers, she scoffed to herself. Elissa massaged her temples and closed her eyes, it could be so much worse. “Now everyone will remember you like this,” Elissa whispered to herself. Though she suspected she had earned happiness, this was not the happiness she would have expected. It was not the peace of the void.
“There are worse things to be remembered for.”
Elissa’s skin turned to gooseflesh at the sound of Sten’s voice, the deep tone easing her heart. It didn’t startle her, she was used to his proximity. If all else faded into history, Sten would forever be her brother in arms. He was her sword, her asala. Elissa smiled to herself.
The clink of his armour as he approached stole it from her face. She looked at the stoic warrior in the mirror. “You’re not dressed,” she said plainly.
Instead of answering her, he stood behind her and appraised her. It was strange to see her so bare and fragile. His grey eyes glinted like the silverite of his Juggernaut plates. He could see her skin, a much lighter olive than his.
“What’s changed, Sten?” Elissa asked turning to face him. “Has the Arishok -“ Elissa bit her lip to disguise the emotion she felt rising in her throat. She had known he would leave but she had hoped he would remain a little longer. The thought of being separated from him – “You’re leaving.”
Sten felt his posture straighten, a trained response he had been attempting to quell. Not that it mattered now that he was returning to Par Vollen, but he had been trying to be more open with the Warden. Humans relied so heavily on words and touch. At first he had hoped being more forthcoming would mean a better understanding between them on the battle field, later he had simply needed her to know.
“Have they given you everything you need?” Elissa fretted, hiding her face by focusing on her dress. “Are you prepared?”
Sten reached out tentatively and pulled the Warden’s eyes to his. Lined with kohl they were foreign to him. She was far more pleasing without the mask. He saw the rainforest in them and it made him homesick. He thought maybe he should tell her – ask her not to let the world weigh on her soul, beg her to return with him. But Par Vollen would cage her as well. “I’ve brought you something,” he told her instead. Sten opened large palm to reveal a square emerald pendant.
“It’s beautiful,” Elissa breathed.
Sten nodded, “A wedding gift.” It was true that the Arishok would have heard of the Blight’s end. The longer he lingered, the longer he could be considered an insubordinate. He didn’t have time for foolish human traditions, especially if they were supposed to promote promises of faith, not lies made for duty. With care unusual for one his size, Sten unclasped the gold rope of the necklace.
Elissa turned, just as careful not to shiver as he tied it behind her neck. She tried to ignore his fingers skating over her shoulders. He was always so chaste, why should this morning be any different? A moment passed, and another, as they looked at each other in the looking glass. Elissa could hear her breath. It quickened to keep time with the war drum of her beating heart. “I don’t want you to go.”
Elissa watched Sten’s throat flex as he swallowed. She thought maybe his eyes darkened, but he blinked and it was gone, and all he could do was nod. “The Qun demands that I return.”
Oh, Sten – Elissa wished. She wanted to turn and embrace him. She wanted to declare everything that needed to be so, but there were no words.
“Sister,” Fergus called, too soon in the doorway. He pulled at the collar of his dress robes, looking just as uncomfortable in formality as she was.
“Brother,” Elissa smiled banishing her thoughts. She hurried to hug him, eager for comfort. “You clean up well,” she laughed, though it was strained.
“As do you,” Fergus tried to ease the tension in the room. “Qunari,” he nodded to the Sten. He was aware he owed the horned foreigner for his sister’s life. Elissa was all he had left. He looked back at her, a vision in white, surely an angel of the Marker. “It’s time.”
Elissa nodded. “You’ll write once you’ve arrived?” she asked Sten, though she knew it wasn’t so. This was the last time she would see him, her warrior.
Sten nodded anyways, a human trick he found had it's uses at times, forgoing the truth for comfort.
“Panahedan, Sten,” Elissa whispered. Sten's tepid smile was her reward for his native tongue - it was the first and the last time she would see the Qunari smile.
“Panahedan, Kadan,” Sten set his jaw.
“Okay,” Elissa said. She straightened her skirt and took her brother’s arm. “Okay.”
“Warden,” Sten called drawing her eyes back to him. “Asit tal-eb, meravas parshaara."
Elissa nodded over her shoulder as Fergus steered her away, her eyes hardening to steelt. She wouldn’t understand, but at least he had told her. Until the Katari returns me to Kadan, his last thought in Thedas was that humanity would never have a better protector.