If you’re not a Grey Warden, the Anderfels is a bleak place to live. Even then, it barely passes. In the summer and spring - very beautiful if you’re not used to it. In the fall and winter – balls-numbingly, lip-chappingly, risk-frostbite-if-you-go-outside cold. But still quite beautiful.
Everyone who lives in the Anderfels is an Anders. A small dirty blonde child sitting in the third desk in the last row of a chilly classroom looking past the two kids next to him out the window moreso out of boredom than interest is also an Anders. Because he is an Anders, he prefers to be called Anders. It will make things easier, he says, for when he leaves the Anderfels to be a knight and slay dragons. People will know who he is, he says, and where he came from.
Anders is in the fifth grade when his teacher claps her hands to get her students’ attention. She announces that there are people in Ferelden, children just like them. She is friends with a teacher in a village called Lothering, and everyone has been assigned another child to write to. A pen pal project. Anders is paying attention now. They will learn about each other’s culture and customs and most importantly make new friends, relationships that will last a life time. She takes a large manila envelope, thick with papers. This project will last all year. At the end of the year, the children from Lothering will come to the Anderfels and visit.The kids groan at the year-long project, although all of them are excited.
She calls all of them up, one by one. When Anders goes up to get his, the teacher smiles. I think you’ll like her; she winks and calls the next kid up. Anders frowns, scrunching his nose. Girls are gross. He doesn’t want to write to a girl. She’s only going to want to talk about ponies and baby rabbits.
All the profiles of their pen pal have pictures paper clipped to them. A girl with short black hair and big blue eyes with her tongue out and her arms crossed looks up at him. In scritchy scratchy handwriting, it reads “Dear Pen Pal, my name is Marian Hawke. I like to play sword fight. I like turtles. I like mud. I have a Mama, a Daddy and a brother and a sister. They’re twins. They always smell bad and they’re really noisy. I don’t think I like them. My Mama is nice and my Daddy is strong. What is your family like? Do you like games? Do you like animals too? I want a mabari. Sincerely, Hawke”. Under her signature, there was a crude drawing of a bird.
Anders supposed this was acceptable, for a girl.
He began his letter with “Right now in the Anderfels, it’s really windy.”
He's the first one to run up to the teacher to have his letter sent out. She says that he needs to have a picture taken, like Marian did. He agrees and poses. He pulls on his ears and blows a raspberry at the camera. His teacher laughs.
His friends tease him for having a girl as a pen pal. They also ask if she's cute. They see the picture and say she looks like a boy, she doesn't count. Anders yells, "Shut up, you don't even know her!" He doesn't know her either.
Anders has a girlfriend, Anders has a girlfriend!
Anders sulks on the swings, being rocked gently by the fall wind.School lets out and he bustles home. The wind was getting worse and it would soon give way to snow. He tells his mum all about his new pen pal, Hawke. Maybe when she visits, she can stay here. We'll see, his mum smiles and sits him down at the table for hot cocoa.