The letter lay open on Commander Ilyana Surana’s mahogany desk in her office in the newly reconstructed Fort Drakon. She had read it at least five times. Each time she reread the letter, the realization of her true obligations and place in the world became clear.
She withdrew a quill and opened her desk ink pot and began to pen her response on a fresh sheet of parchment. After she had finished all but her signature, the dark and gallant Captain Harion knocked on her office’s open oak door before he stepped inside.
Captain Harion was a few years Ilyana’s junior, always looked at her with large brown puppy dog eyes. His first encounter with her was when, as a young recruit, she charged through the very fort they were standing in, heroically slaying darkspawn, and ultimately, the Archdemon. The tiny elven Mage with long black hair, wielding a sword and a shield left a strong first impression.
“Commander, his Majesty, King Alistair has requested an audience with you- again.” Captain Harion said casually leaning against the open door. He held a red and yellow striped apple in his hand and took a loud crisp bite from it.
Ilyana let out an exaggerated sigh. She nodded and placed the lid back on her inkwell and laid her quill down into the desk. With resignation, she stood and grabbed her cloak off the wall hook and fastened it around her chest plate.
Ilyana was reminded of the time when wearing anything other than the hideous circle robes felt foreign and uncomfortable. Now, six years after the Fifth Blight serving as the Commander of Fereldan’s armies to King Alistair, being out of armor is what felt foreign.
“Thank you, Captain.” Is all Ilyana said, she evolved into a leader of decreasing words as the years washed over her. She spent most of her time in the field or organizing resources from her office. She rarely made it home to her cottage just outside the city. Ilyana did, however, routinely visit the Kinloch Circle every three months like clockwork.
Ilyana habitually avoided direct audiences with the king. In lieu of debriefing him herself, she would send Captain Harion. The king had been requesting her presence for about two weeks this time and she had been going through her usual great lengths to avoid seeing him in person. Ilyana’s lack of reticence on this day felt very suspicious to Captain Harion. Harion knew something was different.
“Ser, would you like me to come get you with an emergency after five minutes? I do believe the recruits have suddenly broken into the liquor rations.” Captain Harion smirked with his last statement. He was an oak of a man, towering above Ilyana’s diminutive elven frame. The “emergency” tact was the most common tool Ilyana and Harion utilized to keep the meetings that she couldn’t avoid brief.
Ilyana closed her eyes in deliberation. Her black brows right and low, “That won’t be necessary this time, Captain.” Ilyana smiled as the tension in her face released. The remainder of the trip to the palace was made in silence. Which in itself was unusual.
“Darling, show you’re father your new toy!” Queen Blythe encouraged her son playfully. A red lipped smile and her flaxen curls framed her peachy face that bounced with every gesture. She was a glowing woman and regal from the tip of her sharp nose to the train of her blue gown.
The herald trumpeted an interruption, the royal family lifted their attention to the throne room doors. “Announcing Commander Ilyana Surana, you’re Majesty.” The herald regaled.
Ilyana entered the throne room leaving Captain Harion at the door. Her crimson cloak flared out behind her like an undulating wave of fire which contrasted sharply with moon glow skin and her raven black hair, which swept to the side in a loose plait.
King Alistair was mid conversation with his wife Queen Blythe and their three year old son, Prince Duncan. He stopped mid sentence as he saw his Commander approach. For the moment time stopped, the same as when she first approached him six years prior at Ostagar. Though she still looked like the young Grey Warden he met that day, her presence lacked the exuberance she once carried; it’d been traded for a calm cool and strength.
Queen Blythe shot the Commander a glare and looked upon her husband with the same expression. Roughly she grabbed her son’s hand and forcefully pulled him toward her.
“Come Duncan, your father has business he must attend to.” Queen Blythe spat her words as she dragged the young Duncan from the throne room.
“But...Mom!” Duncan squealed as he was pulled away.
Ilyana didn’t bow or salute, she merely nodded. She was the Commander of Fereldan’s military, and she was also the Hero of Fereldan. This gave her the right to be more casual with the royalty. She utilized her ceremonial freedoms as she had no love for the elf hating, Mage-phobic queen.
“I... didn’t think you’d come.” Alistair paused. “You’ve avoided my summons for half a year.” Alistair stood from his throne flabbergasted. “Um… let’s go to my office.” He waved a hand at her to join him. He removed his formal cape and left it on the throne as he led Ilyana to his study.
The guards stood by outside the office doors bracing themselves for the shouting match that would inevitably ensue, as it had like clockwork almost like every time the King and his Commander were face to face.
Once they were in his office Alistair went to take Ilyana’s cloak but she refused by holding up a single gloved hand in protest.
“What important matters do you wish to discuss with me?” Ilyana paused and caught her breath. “Are you under threat? Are you not satisfied with your security? Your forces?” Ilyana inquired, her voice an icy velvet. She looked at the pile of papers on his desk avoiding Alistair’s gaze.
“Yes, no...Maker’s breath.” Alistair softly pressed a fist to his desktop. “Ilyana.” He paused for a breath. “...we were once as close as two people could be. Can’t we talk, as friends?” Alistair looked down at Ilyana with pleading hazel eyes.
Ilyana pivoted on her heels turning away from him. “Your majesty, that was a long time ago. You asked me to give you distance so you could make things work with your noble human wife.” Ilyana’s words cut deeper than any knife. “I can run your army, I can keep Fereldan safe, but you made it clear that I’m not suitable for a King’s love. Is that not what you said?”
The hollow in the middle of Alistair’s chest, behind his heart, ached greater than any injury he earned in battle. Though when he was honest with himself, he earned this wound too. Every day since he ended their relationship, he was filled with regret. Every time he looked at his Commander or even when she sent a report instead of showing herself, he hurt even more. He watched her sunny disposition grow dark and serious. She was a brilliant commander, which made it worse. The more she excelled in her position the colder she became. His loneliness echoed hers.
“Ilyana. Will you... could you... ever forgive me? Please forgive me for what I did to you...to us?” Alistair moved in front of his desk and took her chin in his hand, it was the closest he had been to her in five years.
Ilyana turned away. She refused to allow him see her vulnerability as her eyes welled with tears. “Your majesty, I have something I must tell you.”
Alistair reached for her shoulder but retracted his arm before making contact. “Yes?” He swallowed hard. He knew whatever she had to say, he didn’t want to hear it.
“Warden Commander Clarel has requested that I join the rest of my order in Weisshaupt. She’s asked that I take over the aging Warden Commander’s responsibilities there.” Ilyana spoke hurried, a desperate attempt to discuss anything but the past.
Alistair yelped. “No! I’ll lose you forever. I’ll never see you again!” He rushed around the desk reaching out for a hand he couldn’t hold.
Ilyana turned to face Alistair, tears streamed down her face. “Lose me?” She shook her head. “You already lost me! After the landsmeet six years ago, you pushed me away!” Her cheeks wet from tears.
Alistair turned from Ilyana, his arms folded his body convulsed as he let out a sob. “As your King... I forbid you to leave.”
Ilyana, who didn’t believe her heart could break again, discovered the depths of a heart’s sorrow knows no bottom. She removed the glove from her hand and placed her bare hand upon Alistair’s upper back, as she had done so many times before. “Alistair, you’re a Warden too, you know that if I’m summoned, I must go.”
Ilyana paused. She could feel his warmth through his clothes. “Things will be better for you when I leave. Your wife will trust you, everyone will be more comfortable not having one more elven mage running free through Ferelden” Her voice cracked. “It’ll be better for me... if I’m not reminded every day of what I gave up by living…” she paused as her grief overcame her ability to speak. “...by supporting your claim to the throne,” she began to openly sob, “...by being born the wrong race and a mage. This life has made me sorry for being what I am.”
Ilyana broke. Six years of her shell fissured beneath the final blow. She sobbed uncontrollably. “I can’t...not be with you anymore!”
Urgently, Alistair took Ilyana into his arms. He kissed her forehead and held her close, her plate mail pressed again his soft royal tunic.
Ilyana looked up at Alistair. She wrapped her arms around him as he leaned down and kissed her softly. One kiss escalated to many, each one more desperate and deeper than the one before it. For the first time in years the emptiness and loneliness that plagued both of their lives dissolved. Ilyana placed her bare hand upon his chest feeling his racing heart beneath his soft royal tunic as they kissed.
Alistair’s kisses migrated from her lips across her face tasting the salt of her tears and moved to her neck. He whispered “Please, I need you.” He pressed himself against her armor.
With a swift gesture she pushed herself away from him, she knew her willpower was finite and was already buckling under the years of loneliness.
“No, Alistair... one night can’t erase six years or convince me to stay to be your... shameful secret.” Ilyana attempted to regain her composure. “The order has summoned me. I must go. I don’t want to endure anymore glares from your wife for things that aren’t my fault.” Ilyana stared into Alistair’s hazel eyes as she spoke. Her strength returned.
“I’ll leave her! I’ll marry you, I’ll make it right! I’ll do anything!” Alistair fell to his knees as he grabbed her small lithe hand. The hand he always wished he held.
“Alistair... please, don’t do this.” Ilyana dropped to a knee, the armor clanked against the stone. “You and I both have responsibilities that are more important than our individual desires. Maybe someday, when you’re no longer King we can be together again.” She leaned in and kissed him before returning to stand. “I’ll love you, always, Alistair. You will know how to find me.” Quickly Ilyana reached for the door and returned to the throne room.
Alistair slowly returned to his feet. He noticed Ilyana had left her glove on his desk in haste. He clutched it in his hands as he brought it to his cheek. Alistair stuffed the glove into his desk drawer.
During the walk back to Fort Drakon Captain Harion broke the silence with a question, “Will you go directly to Weisshaupt?” He asked alluding to the fact he had listened in on the entire exchange.
Ilyana smiled. Her captain was a pillar of strength and friendship over the years, the only person she confided in on the rarest of occasions. “No, you know I have to make a trip to the Kinloch Circle before I depart.”
Captain Harion smiled. “She’ll be happy to see you.” A moment of silence passed. “I think you’re doing the right thing, Ser. Though, I’d be afraid to be so far from Kinloch, but I think it’s time you found a new a path.”
Ilyana responded with only a smile of affirmation.
After an eight day journey on horseback through the Bannorn, Ilyana returned to her original home. She no longer donned her heavy plate armor, she traded it for leather and cloth, her sword still sheathed upon her back. The journey had already invigorated her soul: the fresh country air was exhilarating and it was a comfort to be back on the road. When she arrived at Lake Calenhad, She stabled her mare at the Spoiled Princess and was ferried across Lake Calenhad.
Knight Commander Greagoir welcomed Ilyana with almost open arms, the only Mage he never looked at sideways, he ushered her inside.
A loud but exuberant small voice echoed off the stone walls “Mama!”
Ilyana dropped to her knees as the small girl dressed in a tunic and trousers with auburn hair in braids galloped across the floor to her mother. Ilyana wrapped her arms around her daughter lifting her off the ground. The years and weight of the world melted off of Ilyana’s face.
“My little Chaska!” Ilyana showered Chaska with kisses. She held her daughter on her hip as if she was still a toddler, which she was quite a few years beyond that. Ilyana turned to Greagoir, “My little Dragonling being much trouble?”
The old templar laughed. “Absolutely. She’s a feisty little one with a voracious appetite for knowledge and is always giving the new recruits a hard time. It’s apparent she owns the place. Between her and Dagna the dwarf, I don’t know who’s worse. She claims she wants to grow up to be a templar.” The last statement was a boast.
Ilyana set Chaska down and held her hand. “You want to be a templar? Is that so?...I don’t know about that.”
Quickly distracted, Chaska screeched with joy as she saw Wynne head down the hall. “Grandma Wynne! Mama’s here!”
Wynne looked happily bewildered. “Ilyana! You didn’t send a raven, we weren’t expecting you.”
Chaska wrapped her arms around Ilyana’s leg. “Go get Dagna, I need to speak with Grandma Wynne for a moment.”
“Okays!” Chaska skipped down the halls singing at the top of her lungs “Mama’s home! Mama’s home!”
“So, what’s wrong?” Wynne cut to the chase.
Ilyana sighed. “I’ve retired from the Fereldan Army and have been summoned to take the position of Warden-Commander at Weisshaupt. This might be my last time here for a few years...”
Wynne’s brows furrowed. “He still doesn’t know, does he?”
Ilyana leaned against a pillar. “Oh... boy. No. He has his own family... look, if anything happens to me... or you...”
Wynne placed a hand on Ilyana’s shoulder. “I’m taking her to her father. I don’t care what you say. I still have the sealed envelope you gave me years ago.”
Ilyana stood quietly for a moment. “Is she showing any signs?”
Wynne shook her head. “She’s a perfectly normal six year old. She’s a miracle.”
Remorse washed over Ilyana’s face. “She truly is, my little miracle.”
Unbeknownst to Ilyana, after Ilyana’s departure two weeks later, Wynne sent a sealed letter to King Alistair. “It’s about time the King took some...responsibility.” Was what Wynne said as she stamped the seal and sent the courier.