Anora was three years old the first time she sat on the throne of Ferelden, and she might not have been born to this, but she had been raised to it (for it.) Her father, devastated over her mother’s death, brought her to Denerim, where he himself spent most of his days now, so her care could be undertaken by Queen Rowan.
Queen Rowan had already buried two children by then, one born before its time, and one who lived to be two before dying of sickness. It was the taint, the palace maids would whisper to Anora later, from when Rowan and Maric and her own father had braved the Deep Roads. And Cailan, who was barely a year old, seemed fated for the same end.
There was no point in burdening him with responsibilities, especially not when Anora seemed so content to sit on that throne, young as she was. So she was betrothed to Cailan, which made it more seemly to raise a child not of Theirin blood to the Fereldan throne. And if the people of Ferelden thought that Cailan would never live long enough to marry Anora, well, it would have been impolite to have said so in court.
Her father, for all his flaws, was right about one thing: People of Ferelden have short memories. The place she called her home for as long as she could remember is now her prison, as if she had planned to take the kingdom from its rightful heir, aspired to things she was not meant for. But if Maric were alive, or Queen Rowan, Anora has not the slightest doubt that they themselves would have named her to the throne after Cailan’s death.
They did not take her to Fort Drakon. Eamon, always more concerned with affectations and appearances of decency and loyalty than their actual manifestations, pointed out that if Alistair did insist on naming Anora to the throne in the event of his death, it would be unseemly to have to retrieve the ruler of Ferelden from a prison cell.
So she has been locked away in a room and sealed in by their witch of the wilds with her arts. And left defenseless should any of the darkspawn break away from the horde and invade the castle. The witch argued for executing her, and while Anora could not thank her for that, she could understand her logic. She has no doubt that she herself would’ve executed Alistair had she been in his position, and while he might think he is being merciful, he’s done her no favors, condemning her to a life of imprisonment. She takes what comfort she can in the knowledge that this reluctance and hesitation in doing what’s required will be his downfall, but she hates to think that she’s essentially leaving the kingdom to an overgrown child and an overeager Eamon, who will be all too happy to guide Alistair as he wishes.
There’s a commotion outside her door in the early hours of morning, after the sounds of battle outside have stopped. She assumes that they’ve won, because she’s still here in relative safety, and that Alistair survived because they seem to have forgotten about her. She approaches the door and notices the absence of heat radiating from the magical seal, and so she pulls on the door and is relieved to find it unlocked.
Stepping out, she finds the hallway eerily empty save for a black cat running away from her door.
She doesn’t take much, having things will only slow down her escape. But she is never one to panic easily, so she takes her time to find objects – small valuables, her own jewels, what coin she can find – and she takes these with her. There is not a thing here that doesn’t belong to her rightfully, and she knows that she will need every last coin she has if she is to escape Denerim, and eventually Ferelden, safely.
She is able to secure sanctuary in Orlais, of all places, through Erlina’s connections, and Empress Celene herself welcomes Anora to the Orlesian court. She tries to swallow her pride and repress the knowledge that this is the woman Cailan might have replaced her with, had he lived. And for once, she is glad that his end came when it did. Being Cailan’s widow still gives her some claim to the throne, and she would not want to be on the opposite side of a war from Celene.
“You must know, Anora,” Celene says to her that evening in the privacy of a dinner table where everyone is too occupied with their own conversations to pay attention to them, “of the alliance that Cailan and I had been discussing, between Ferelden and Orlais.”
Anora almost chokes on her wine, not having expected this level of directness from the empress. Celene is politically motivated, and morally obligated, to grant Anora asylum. In her past dealings with Orlais, Anora always found Celene to be direct and capable, but Anora assumed that any respect Celene showed her was directed to her position and not to her person. So she decides to be equally direct in her answer, “My understanding was that the alliance was going to be…more of a personal nature.”
And now she’s caught Celene by surprise. “He told you that? Anora, I honestly do not understand how a woman of your intelligence could have ever put up with him.”
“You would not, having come to your position through blood. But no, he didn’t tell me that.”
“I was going to marry him, I will not lie to you. But it was going to be a hard decision. Orlais…has been in a bit of a difficult position the last few years, and a Fereldan alliance might make a difference if it comes to war with Nevarra. But…I would rather do it this way.”
“So you hope to gain Ferelden’s alliance by…giving sanctuary to their former queen, who is now a fugitive?”
“I mean to put you back on the throne of Ferelden,” Celene finally confesses, “And do not tell me that this wasn’t your intention all along, to go back.”
If Anora had not meant to challenge Alistair to the throne again, she would have happily sworn fealty to him and avoided imprisonment. But she had no intention of making treason any easier on their consciences, and she has no doubt that many banns would consider deposing the reigning queen and replacing her with a bastard prince to be treason. So swearing fealty was out of the question, if she wanted their support for her claim any time in the future.
So she tentatively accepts this offer, without giving Celene any idea of exactly how much she needs this. She respects Celene and the empire she’s built in such a short time, understands the decisions she has had to make to keep her rule, but none of these things translate into trust.
She ends up with something of her own minor court within Celene’s court. Foreign ambassadors, Orlesian nobles, disgruntled banns from Ferelden, and various nobles who had hoped to gain the teyrnirs of Gwaren and Highever after the fall of the Couslands and the Mac Tirs assemble this court, but Anora knows she cannot trust any of these, least of all the nobles whose main grudge against Alistair seems to be that the lands that were confiscated from Anora’s family weren’t given to them.
Still, it is to her advantage that Eamon – and she has no doubt that it is Eamon ruling Ferelden through Alistair – has decided to take some of the power away from the arls and the banns. It has sown seeds of doubt and dissatisfaction in the minds of the nobles who would only consider rebellion if their own power were directly threatened by the current regime.
As things are, with the word of her staying here spreading, it is not unusual to see Fereldans in the Orlesian court. Still, Alistair’s mage – and she cannot separate her from Alistair, with whom she had come and on whose whim she had sealed the doors to Anora’s prison – is absolutely the last person Anora would have expected to see at any court, least of all one so unsuited to her person.
Anora herself is used to finery, but even she finds herself underdressed and lacking in the excessive finery that people of Orlais are used to. Celene has made offers of royal jewels and a new wardrobe, but if Anora is to conduct her own court here, she must not seem anything but Fereldan. As it is, her reputation has probably already sustained enough damage by just having accepted sanctuary in Orlais. Besides, she does not want to owe Celene any favors, not until she is sure of her motives. Celene has the most power over her, which makes her more dangerous to trust than anyone else.
Morrigan sticks out here as much as she did in Denerim, wearing her mismatched rags and too many clashing jewels, almost as if she’s hoarding anything valuable she can find. It is hard to miss her, here or anywhere. Mostly, however, Anora is surprised because she assumed that Morrigan died in battle, which was the only thing that would explain the spell holding her imprisoned being lifted.
That night, Anora wakes up to a feeling of being suffocated and struggles against her assailant, but without any hope of fighting him off. And then she’s struggling against the dead weight and able to breathe. She pushes the body off of hers and sits up to find Morrigan sitting in a chair beside her bed.
“You…killed him,” Anora says, her heart still racing.
“You are welcome,” Morrigan replies. “I did it to save your life, you understand?”
But Anora isn’t comforted by that knowledge. The fact that not one but two people somehow made it inside the secure chambers Celene has granted her worries her. She takes a deep breath, trying to calm herself, and asks, “How did you get here?”
“Through the window,” Morrigan looks towards Anora’s open window. It is at least thirty feet high from the ground, with a guard standing outside.
“You…climbed up the castle wall and through the window?”
“I flew in,” Morrigan says, and Anora is about to question her sense of humor when she remembers that the woman sitting by her bed is a mage. And likely a shapeshifter.
And through her sleep muddled mind, Anora recalls seeing the lone cat outside her chamber in Denerim. Then it dawns on her, “It was you,” she says. “In Denerim. You lifted the spell…but why?”
“I would have killed you,” Morrigan says, “if you had been my rival for the throne.”
“And so you made abundantly clear after the Landsmeet.”
“I would have especially executed you if I had been Alistair, as tis so very easy to upstage him.”
“On that, we can agree. I am only surprised that Eamon was not able to talk him out of showing…mercy.”
“Mercy is a luxury afforded only by foolish men, my mother used to say,” Morrigan says, “Even so, it was no mercy. You would have been imprisoned for life, you do understand that, do you not?”
“Grateful as I am for your intervention, I assure you, I had no intention of spending the rest of my life at Fort Drakon. As it is, Alistair’s…mercy is what gave me a chance to escape with my life. And you, of course.”
“I had no wish to save or help you,” Morrigan says. “Nor did I do it to gain any favors.”
“Why did you do it then?”
“Because I dislike seeing…people imprisoned against their will. You deserved better. A noble death, at the very least.”
Anora finds it only slightly disturbing that Morrigan seems so fixated on the idea of her dying. So she says, “I prefer being alive, just the same.”
Silence prevails, and this Anora likes about Morrigan right away. She has no need to make conversation to cover the silence. It is an art Anora is well practiced in, having grown up in court, but it is the part she least liked about her duties as a queen. Cailan, she thinks, was always better suited to it than she was.
Eventually, Anora says, “So you…did you want anything in return? For freeing me? Is that why you are in Orlais?”
“I did not say that, no. Pay attention.”
Anora, with all her practiced art of conversation, is struck speechless at that. Not even her father, the hero of River Dane or Queen Rowan herself ever talked to her in that tone.
“What I said is that I did not set you free in Denerim because I wished for anything in return. I did it for myself, not for you.”
“So you have said,” Anora says, finding her voice.
“Now that,” Morrigan says, turning her gaze towards the dead assassin on the floor, “That, I will want something in return for.”
Before Anora can ask her any further questions, Morrigan turns and leaves, leaving behind the dead body. Anora will have to get someone to take care of that. However fallen her current status might be, she simply refuses to sleep in the same room as a dead body. But for now, she decides that she wants to trust Morrigan. Not because Morrigan has any lesser or better motives for helping her, but because she feels that with Morrigan, she will know what she is getting into. Even so, she would need something to hold over her, to know that she’ll have some power over her, before she gives up any of her own.
She knows she will need allies in Ferelden, if she is ever to regain her throne, but she cannot trust anyone who has come to her with their own agenda or anyone who has made offers of support. She will have their support, she knows, but she cannot count yet on the people who stood by and let Eamon and the wardens put Alistair on the throne. Instead, she seeks out people who will have to break significant ties of loyalty to assist her, so she may test their commitment. She has Celene send to Redcliffe for Arlessa Isolde, and with Eamon at court in Denerim, she has no doubt that Isolde will bring Bann Teagan with her.
It is a risky gamble, but one that would pay off if it turns out well. It is hard to tell where Teagan’s loyalties lie. Publically, he has never shown anything other than perfect loyalty and unity with his brother, but Anora knows things whispered in private at her court about Teagan and Isolde.
Anora has never been on particularly good terms with either of the Guerrin brothers, but Teagan has always respected her, unlike his brother. And being the younger of the two, he spent a considerable time under Queen Rowan’s care with Cailan, and with herself, as a result in the Denerim palace. He hated her father, she knows that, but the hatred had been there well before the Blight.
Anora was not old enough when Queen Rowan passed away to remember her much, but her father had told her stories, often as a part of her education and training in the intricacies of running a country. “She used to say, Anora,” her father would tell her, “That she should have had a girl like you so she would not have to worry about Cailan taking the responsibility.”
By the time Cailan was well enough to take on responsibility, Anora already knew her place in the world. Having such an apt pupil in Anora, the king and queen, as well as their tutors, neglected to train Cailan as he should have been.
When she has Teagan to herself, she does not wait to bring up the problems she has been hearing about. They have done this before, but this time, he is the one who is forced to defend his brother’s choices and how good they might be for Ferelden in the long run.
“Eamon only wants to unite the banns, and giving more power to some of them, as was given to the Couslands and Loghain, when they have not done anything to deserve the merit, seems like a bad course of actions. And Alistair is the right person to unite them under.”
“And if it leads to more power for him, then all the better,” Anora says. “Of course Alistair is the right person. The boy does not know how to do anything but follow another’s lead. We all know what Arl Eamon wants, Bann Teagan, but do you really believe that your sister would’ve wanted the same? Would she have wanted the throne of Ferelden decorated by the sign of the king’s betrayal against her?”
She sees him struggle against himself, but habit wins over pride and anger, and he defers to her, “No, she wouldn’t have.”
“And Cailan, as much as he was smitten with me at the start of our marriage, did not hand the metaphorical keys to his kingdom to me because he loved me so deeply,” she says, pushing her point and pushing the appropriate amount of contempt in the word ‘love.’
“Even if I believed you, Anora, that you only want what’s best for Ferelden - and I am not saying I don’t, there’s still the matter of the Blight and your withdrawal from your duties through that. You let Loghain run the kingdom into the ground.”
“As you’re letting your brother do the same. Surely, if anyone understands the complications of family loyalties and an inability to see the betrayal of those we love, it’s you, Bann Teagan.”
“There must be some other way. Perhaps, we can reason with Alistair. Allow you back into Ferelden, and give you your family’s holdings.”
“If anyone can find where he’s taken his latest excursion to, we might be able to. No, we would be dealing with Eamon, instead, who already suggested that I be executed once. I will not put my fate in his hands, or anyone else’s.”
“What do you propose, Anora?”
“I will not ask you to raise arms against your brother. Or against Alistair. All I ask is that you honor the memory of your sister and her wishes, remember the love she bore me, and do not betray the trust I have placed in you by meeting with you.”
“I cannot betray my own brother,” he says again.
“Bann Teagan, for you, it is not a question of whether or not you’ll betray your own flesh and blood, but whether you’ll betray your brother or be false to the memory of your sister…and your queen.”
He is silent as he contemplates her words, and she holds his gaze for a very long time. Finally, he looks away, and she thinks that she’s won. He won’t help her, as she hoped, but he won’t betray her whereabouts either. So she lives to fight another battle.
Morrigan does not know how to make friends, Anora finds herself thinking as she watches Morrigan engaged in some debate with Celene, who seems to be quickly losing her patience, her lips pressed tightly together as Morrigan talks animatedly.
Celene is Anora’s best chance of distancing herself from her father, in order to gain support from the banns who had sided against her father. What better way to show that she was not her father’s daughter than to side with Orlais and Celene, the very people her father fought so hard to keep out of Ferelden? But she is her father’s daughter, and trust does not come easily to her, not for the woman who was going to steal Ferelden from her. But she is at Celene’s mercy, and unlike Morrigan, not in a hurry to displease her. So she bides her time, using Celene’s resources, but trying to build her own so when she does go back to Ferelden, it is on her own terms.
Morrigan does not come to dinner that night, and Anora excuses herself, feigning a headache. She finds Morrigan in the gardens outside, and she doesn’t exactly know what she is going to ask her, so she says, “Why are you here?”
She does not pretend to misunderstand, as Anora might have. “As with you, I have people in Ferelden I wished to get away from.”
“I have no wish to be away from Ferelden. My life rather depends on being away from it.”
“Have it your way then. But we are both here seeking sanctuary.”
“If you wished to avoid Templars, there are better places to hide than in Orlais. Unless…Celene does not know you’re a mage?”
“Your fool Templars do not scare me, and I am not hiding.”
Morrigan avoids her question, Anora notices, but it is hard to decipher her. Her words are carefully chosen, each pronounced with its full weight, as Anora herself has learned to do. It is frustrating, so Anora decides to give up on it. For now, she is content with having something to hold over Morrigan that Celene does not.
“We shall play a game, you and I,” Morrigan says to her another day, after Anora has dismissed her Fereldan audience and is ready to retire for the night. She does not think that Morrigan picked this chance to talk to her arbitrarily.
“Honestly, Morrigan, I am already tired of whatever game it is that you’re playing.”
She laughs and says, “Come now. I will let you go first.”
Anora hates the sound of that laugh, hates the sound of that voice, dripping so with condescension and mockery. However, mostly, she hates that she wants to ask what Morrigan means. She sighs exaggeratedly, indicating tiredness, but Morrigan seems to take it for defeat.
“We both seem to have need of the other, let us not pretend otherwise,” Morrigan says, “You may ask me anything, and I will answer honestly. In return, I will do the same.”
“And how do I know that you’re not lying?”
“We are going to have to trust each other, on that much.”
“The last person to trust you died killing the archdemon after you left her to fend for herself in the final battle.”
The look that crosses Morrigan’s face is what convinces Anora to trust Morrigan on this much. It is a confirmation that Morrigan has feelings, can be hurt, and has emotions that can be controlled. And Anora has always been particularly good at manipulating emotions, as she needed.
Morrigan has no answer for her, but Anora refuses to apologize. Instead, she waits.
“The only person to trust me,” Morrigan says. “And if she had trusted me just a bit longer, she would be alive. Or perhaps, I made it too hard for her by not trusting her in return.”
Anora considers Morrigan’s words carefully, and wonders if Morrigan really is that easy to manipulate, that she could play on the right emotions and Morrigan will start to unravel. Unless Morrigan is a lot better at this than Anora thinks and is manipulating her.
Morrigan laughs again, but there’s no mockery in it, nor any mirth. She says, “Rest assured, I have learned my harsh lessons about trusting too much or too little, and I am not planning to repeat my mistakes.”
“All right, we’ll play your game, Morrigan,” Anora says, “But you must admit that it is a bit unfair. You’re a witch of the wilds, whose existence the world knew nothing of until you decided to help the wardens defeat the blight. I, on the other hand, spent my whole life training to be the queen of Ferelden, and was the queen for the last six years, always in the public eye and always a part of Fereldan affairs. Surely, your opportunity to lie is much greater than mine.”
“I will admit no such thing. You understand I grew up in a forest, hmm? I did not know of your existence much before the Blight, during which, you had ample opportunity to gather any information on the Warden’s companions using your vast resources.”
Anora finds that she’s too tired to continue this thread of conversation, so she asks her first question, “What happened back in Denerim, with you and the warden?”
“I offered to save her life in exchange for a favor. She refused, and I refused to stand by and watch her throw her life away.”
“That sounds rather simple.”
“It…was not. It required her to place her trust in me, after I had betrayed her idea of trust by keeping things from her. It would have saved her life, but she could not trust me with the power it would have granted me. So here we are, with idiot Alistair on the throne by himself and you in exile.”
“Is that what you want from me, what she refused you?”
“That is not in your power to give. But I believe I have the next question.”
“By all means.”
“Why not accept the help Celene offers? Why court the likes of Teagan and the foolish Fereldan banns for their support? This, I do not understand.”
“Then you do not understand politics. Celene wants something in return, but she would not tell me what it is. And I refuse to place my fate, and the fate of Ferelden, into her hands. My father was mad with paranoia towards Orlais, I admit, but Orlais has been no friend to Ferelden since the occupation. Celene meant to marry my husband, and now she is courting my favor because she thinks that I am young enough to not have the grievances with Orlais that Eamon and the other banns do. And because I happen to be unlucky enough to be in need of her favor doesn’t mean that I should be so indebted to her that I could be forced to put Ferelden’s interests second to Orlais’.”
Morrigan seems to be trying to understand this, and Anora can’t blame her. In her experience, people either get politics or they don’t. And the only person in their merry band that seemed to have grasped them is dead. What little hope Anora had for Ferelden’s future seems to have died with Elissa Cousland. “Why the sudden interest in Fereldan politics? This is not the sort of power I thought you were after.”
“Power, as important as that is, is second to survival. I had thought that my survival depended on gaining power, but Elissa closed off that path. I have made powerful enemies, and now I find myself in need of important…allies.”
“Celene is powerful. And important.”
“Too powerful, as you have noted. No, I would rather have you as an ally. But your present circumstances do nothing to recommend you.”
“Now you sound like Celene, which doesn’t exactly recommend you either.”
“True,” Morrigan admits. “But I do not have Celene’s resources and political power, and I am no threat to yours. “
Anora, for all her common background, really has no eye for any sort of power outside of the political arena. She rather thinks of it as getting back what’s rightfully hers. Celene has the power to keep her from it, and Morrigan does not. And trusting Morrigan, in this at least, is as simple as that.
The next morning, Anora starts sending out spies to gauge the current situation in Ferelden. She sends discreet messages to the banns she has already met with, with instructions to use utmost caution while searching for additional allies.
By the end of that month, she is sure that she has the support of at least one fourth of the banns. But there is danger in this kind of exposure, and it does not take long for someone to find her and send an assassin to finish the job started back in Ferelden.
Anora is leaving the small sitting room outside the main hall that has unofficially become her court, when she runs into Morrigan in the hallway, who grabs Anora by her hands, pulling her back inside the room. “Tis not safe outside.”
Anora pulls her hands from Morrigan’s grasp and maintains her composure as she asks calmly, “What is it?”
“An assassin. I am certain he has been sent for you.”
“Only one?” Anora asks, “I am disappointed that I am not a bigger threat at this point.”
“You should be flattered, in that case. They seem to have contracted the Crows.”
“How do you know this? Are you a mind reader, too?”
“Nothing so grand. Only a shapeshifter. I would know a Crow anywhere after traveling with one for so long. Everything about them is so…learned and affected, not very different from learning the form and the habits of an animal.”
“I am told that the Crows are unbeatable. I had sort of hoped never to end up high enough on someone’s marks list to warrant one.”
“No one is unbeatable, and the Crows are arrogant, which makes them easier prey,” Morrigan says.
“I shall leave it to you, then. Take care that you do not kill this one before gathering information.”
Later, Morrigan lets her watch as she gets the information from the assassin, even letting her ask the questions, but Anora finds that she has no stomach for it. She was trained in battlefield combat and she thinks that she rather excels at it, but this information gathering through use of force and torture, she could go an entire lifetime without seeing again. But she knows that there will be more of it, if Eamon does not back down, and she knows enough of him to know that he will not give her an easy fight.
“Don’t look so grim,” Morrigan says, afterwards, “It was either you or him.” But Anora is in no humor for Morrigan’s games and taunts.
“At least,” Morrigan continues when Anora is silent, “Take comfort in the fact that he probably tortured and killed numerous people that had done nothing to deserve it.”
Morrigan means it to be comforting, and Anora is surprised to find that she does find that it helps.
Another month goes by, and Anora is confident enough in her contacts that she has them arrange for an unofficial war council, conducted by Fereldan banns in support of Anora. It is a dangerous move, one that will expose Anora to people whose loyalty is still uncertain, but it is a necessary step in the process of securing Ferelden for herself again.
Anora is surprised to find that Celene has no interest in attending this, and she wonders briefly if maybe she misjudged her intentions. But she feels safer (and less like a traitor to Ferelden) with Morrigan by her side, and Celene lets her have that, in lieu of bodyguards whose motives and loyalty are questionable.
She finds herself in Morrigan’s rooms, waiting for her to become presentable. Anora has lent Morrigan one of her own Fereldan gowns to wear, refusing to trust Morrigan’s judgment in picking something suitable to wear. She now finds Morrigan arranging her hair in front of a mirror, placing far too many shiny objects in it, but when she reaches for her shining silver necklace set with gems of every color, Anora stays her hand, and says with impatience, “Morrigan, you are already wearing far too many jewels. And you cannot just…throw everything pretty on together, with no care for how all of it comes together.”
“Perhaps, I will ask Celene for a maid to dress me and do my hair, as if I were a child,” Morrigan says, her voice holding more venom than usual, which is something. She slaps Anora’s hand away when she reaches for the clasp on her necklace. “I can do this myself. And I have no interest in imitating one of your Fereldan nobles.”
“Have it your way, Morrigan, on any other day. But today you will be in an assembly full of them, and if you hope to make a good impression, this is the way it will have to be. And make no mistake, it is imperative that you look and act like one of them, and not a woman from the wilds.”
Morrigan turns back to the mirror and doesn’t say anything, but when Anora reaches again for the clasp of her necklace, Morrigan lets her take it off. Anora starts to reach for the pins in her hair, but stops when she notices that the gold pins are lovely in Morrigan’s dark hair, even if they are not something she would have chosen herself. Instead, she reaches for a chain of simply twisted gold and ties it around Morrigan’s neck. “There, we can leave the pins in your hair, if you’ll agree to go with a simple chain around your neck.”
“Then that will have to do,” she says, but her eyes linger on the discarded silver necklace.
“The silver and the gems are shinier, Morrigan, but gold is more valuable. And it’s a far lovelier compliment to your hair and eyes.”
She turns away before Morrigan can reply, “I will be waiting for you at the assembly. Do not take long.”
Still, it is a surprise (and a relief) when Morrigan enters the assembly without having made any additions to Anora’s changes.
“I am going to need to trust you more than I do,” Anora says, after the assembly, “if we’re going to move forward with this.”
Things went well, better than Anora had hoped for. Everyone had grievances against Eamon, which she knows is the main reason they support her, but it is an acceptable start. Most of the banns did not even have to be convinced to swear fealty to Anora. They had come expecting at least that much, and had offered a lot more, in terms of arms, people, and safe havens to hide in after she crossed into Ferelden.
Morrigan surprises her by saying, “Ask me what you will.”
“If I help you, I need to know that I will not be taking on any enemies more powerful than I can handle. I do not fear for my life. I had been prepared to lose it when I refused to swear fealty to Alistair. But I cannot put Ferelden into yet another civil war, after I have the throne. I am going to have to earn their trust again, and it won’t be won by bringing another powerful enemy to threaten them. Tell me who you’re running from. ”
“No one you need to worry about,” Morrigan says.
“Do not dismiss her. She is more powerful and cunning than any other person, if she could be called that, I have ever encountered.”
“Do I not remember correctly that the warden slayed the witch of the wilds?”
“So she did, but Flemeth has been slain before. It hasn’t stopped her yet.”
“But you think you can stop her. How?”
“I do not know if I can. Only that I must. My own survival depends on it.”
“But you must have some course of action, surely?” Anora isn’t exactly worried about Flemeth coming after her, as fearful as Morrigan seems to be of her. Stories of witches stealing children seem to exist in a world entirely different from the one she occupies. Her fears are more about invasions, defeat, and assassinations. Whatever niche of the world it is that witches occupy, it seems to be far removed from hers.
“I have been reading texts that Celene has in her chantry libraries, about the witch of the wild. There seems to be a specific method with which she resurrects herself, a piece of herself trapped within a trinket or a bauble that gives her back her life. But even so, she needs to access her places of power, before she can gain her full strength. I mean to locate this object she has hidden herself in, and failing that, I must have access to Fereldan records on Flemeth, so I may destroy the very things from which she draws power.”
“And who better to help you do that than the queen of Ferelden,” Anora says. She wants to ask Morrigan why she is so afraid of her mother, but she decides that that’s a conversation for another time. Still, it does not keep her from sending one of her spies to retrieve some chantry documents from Ferelden that may have more information on Morrigan’s mother.
They set out for Ferelden, once winter is over. Their forces consist of small armies that could be spared by the banns in support of Anora’s return to the Fereldan throne. Anora also ends up accepting the aid of Celene’s chevaliers, in exchange for a promise to aid Orlais if it’s threatened by Nevarra. But Anora is able to negotiate a five year period in which she will not be required to send troops, with the period starting once Anora has secured the throne for herself. Even so, she only takes one-third of the chevaliers that Celene offers, not nearly enough to overshadow the number of her own Fereldan soldiers, much less to lead to another invasion.
She has soldiers enough to guard her, but she asks Morrigan to share her tent once they cross over the border. It’s not that she doesn’t trust her guards, but rather that Morrigan has already proven herself in this capacity, and she trusts her instincts with it comes to this sort of thing. The woman did spend an entire year of her life protecting the warden and ensuring her success, such as it was.
Morrigan is reluctant to camp anywhere near the rest of them, much less sleep inside Anora’s tent. But she concedes to Anora’s suggestion.
They encounter their first bit of resistance while hiding outside a town near the border. The small band of soldiers is no match for Anora’s forces, but it means that they may need to split forces and lie low for a while. But after the battle, during which Morrigan sticks close to Anora and does not let anyone come near enough to attack her, Morrigan asks Anora, “Have you killed anyone before?”
“I am perfectly capable of protecting myself, Morrigan. I might not have inherited the throne, but my father made sure that I would be fit for it. He used to take me to battles with him, after I came of age, and I have done my share of fighting in the field. Granted, it’s been a long time, but I don’t think one forgets how to swing a sword and stick the pointy end in.”
And that is the end of that, but three nights later, Morrigan wakes up screaming from a nightmare, waking Anora up, “Andraste’s mercy, what is WRONG, Morrigan?”
Finding that they’re alone, Anora calms herself down and makes her way to Morrigan’s bed, and tries to hold her down, “Morrigan?”
When her guards come inside, she only says, “Bring us some water. And tea,” before turning back to Morrigan, who seems to be coming out of it.
She slaps away Anora’s hands, and Anora tries not to take offense at that because Morrigan seems to be clawing at her own skin now. So she reaches again for Morrigan’s hands and holds on to them. “Morrigan, stop this nonsense at once. I would never have taken you as the one to wake up screaming from anything.”
“Tis this place,” Morrigan finally says, breathless, “The veil is thin, here.”
The guard arrives with water, which Anora hands to Morrigan. “I…thank you,” she says, as she drinks it. And then, “Will you bring me a mirror?”
“Morrigan, I hardly think this is the time…”
“A mirror, Anora, please.”
And something in her voice makes Anora nod to the guard who is still standing by. He returns with a mirror moments later, and Morrigan gazes in it for a long time, before putting it down and lowering her head into her hands. She does not refuse the tea Anora offers her, and Anora dismisses the guard but stays by Morrigan’s bedside as Morrigan drinks the tea.
When she seems calm enough, Anora starts to stand up, but Morrigan reaches for her hand and pulls her back down to sit beside her. She says, “I…need to tell you something. Something that I probably should have told you sooner, but…”
“It will not help you to trust me, I warn you. But I believe it will be better for the both of us, if you know this.”
But she falls silent after that, and so Anora asks, “What is it?”
“My mother, Flemeth, has managed to defy all laws of nature by giving birth to daughters, whose bodies she then possesses, so she can live longer. Live forever, essentially.”
Anora has never heard anything half as ridiculous in her life, and her only response to that is, “What?!”
“Tis true,” Morrigan says. “I found out about her plans while traveling with the warden, and I…asked Elissa to kill her, so she may not possess my body. If my mother somehow manages to resurrect herself, she will no doubt come after me.”
Anora remembers needing to protect her father, even after he let Cailan die and after he may have tried killing her, too. And she cannot understand Morrigan’s decision to kill her own mother, but she is glad that it never came to her having to choose between her own life or her father’s, so she says, “And here I thought that I had a difficult relationship with my father, but I suppose that I should be grateful that he only wanted to take over my throne.”
“So you manage to find humor in this,” Morrigan says, “Perhaps, you should be courting Alistair, instead of challenging him for the throne.”
“I assure you, Morrigan, I find no humor in the fact that my closest ally might turn on me any second.”
“Oh, I doubt that Flemeth will find much use in involving herself in your affairs. She has no use for politics, but still, you are wise not to place your trust in me.”
Anora considers her words carefully, and then asks, “What are we going to do about this, Morrigan?”
“I…was hoping that you would be willing to kill me, if it comes to that.”
And now Anora understands Morrigan’s earlier question, but she says, “Don’t be so dramatic, Morrigan. There must be a way around it.”
“There was, but Elissa could not trust me with it. And now, this is the only way. I have no desire to die, Anora, but if I can’t have my body, then nor will she.”
“How will I know?”
“From my readings, I believe there will be a…period of disorientation following the possession, and it will take her time before she comes fully into her powers or can fully access mine.”
“Let us hope it never comes to that,” Anora says, unnerved by this knowledge despite herself.
“Even so, I need you to promise me that you will not let her have my body.”
Anora nods, “I promise.” She holds Morrigan’s gaze, and adds, “But no more lies, Morrigan.”
“No more lies,” Morrigan agrees.
Once they near the towns Morrigan herself traveled through, she suggests that Anora appeal to the people for support, which is not exactly a course of actions Anora herself would have taken. But Morrigan says, “They’re not very wise, these men, but they are strong, and fought with us during the Blight. Here is the army you need, one that Celene and the banns cannot take away.”
Anora finds that Morrigan is right, and she does not need the armies of the banns. The Blight has made warriors out of every commoner who can lift a sword, and they are all happy to fight under her banner. And here, she is happy to play her father’s daughter and send the chevaliers back home to Celene. She will never maintain the trust of the Ferelden commoners with Orlesian soldiers in her army, not when their trust in her and loyalty towards her is an extension of their love for her father, the commoner hero who rose through the ranks to become a teyrn.
“They are calling you the Rebel Queen,” Morrigan tells her one night while they’re hiding in the attic of a tavern whose owner has given them refuge for the night. Anora finds that keeping Morrigan by her side is both safer and less conspicuous than having guards with her at all times, but she has also taken to keeping a dagger with her now, where before she trusted Morrigan fully to protect her.
Anora turns to her, “You claim you did not know about me before you left your wilds, but you know about the Rebel Queen?”
“Flemeth mentioned Maric to me only once, in the company of the wardens, when she claimed that she had met him and your father. But Queen Moira? She claims to have given refuge to while she was trying to find support among the Fereldan banns simply because she admired her spirit. She said that Moira was stronger and smarter than any of the kings that came after her.”
Anora smiles, glad that Morrigan cannot see her in the dark, and says, “Is that a compliment?”
“Hardly,” Morrigan says, scoffing. “I doubt the intelligence of anyone coming from the same line that produced Alistair. No, you are far better suited to ruling because you are not from that line.”
“Now, if we could only get the rest of Ferelden to see things your way.”
“The rest of Ferelden, you already have. It’s the banns and the arls that you must court the favor of. I will never understand why no one has risen up and forced them from their lands.”
“Because they fear the armies and the weapons and the wealth the banns have. It is a vicious cycle, but perhaps, something we will have to look into improving at some point.”
“Those who will not take what is rightfully theirs do not deserve to have any freedoms. Let them rot in poverty, if they will not raise arms to take what is theirs.”
“Sometimes,” Anora says, half falling asleep, “I forget that you grew up in a forest.”
“Better a forest than a Circle Tower. Or a village full of idiots.”
“Or a castle full of fools, I know,” Anora says.
“I might not mind a castle so much, as long as there’s no court there. Or servants pestering me.”
Anora laughs, “We might be able to arrange for a castle. But it will come with a court,” she says, and then adds, “Really, the longer I stay away from it, the less I miss it.”
“But you insist on going back.”
“I owe it to the Fereldan people, to Queen Rowan. And to myself.”
When Morrigan does not answer, Anora’s fingers tighten on her dagger, and she sits up to look at her, only to find her sleeping.
The next morning, she sends Morrigan with a few guards to shop for some supplies for her potions. It is still too dangerous for her to be seen openly in these places, so Morrigan does not question Anora’s desire to stay behind.
She has in her possession some of the documents Morrigan is in search of, but she has no intention of handing them over yet. She feels only slightly guilty about it, but she wishes to have information about this Flemeth that’s not given to her by Morrigan. If she has a slight fear that Morrigan will leave if she got what she wanted, she does not dwell on that part of it.
By nightfall, Anora has wasted a whole day reading when it could have been spent on strategy or travel. However, that night, she is able to put her dagger aside and fall asleep before Morrigan does. The books have confirmed that the period of disorientation lasts several weeks, if not months. Anora has always been confident in her ability to get rid of threats, but she is also fairly confident in her ability to tell Morrigan apart from Flemeth, if need be. There is really no one quite like Morrigan, and she’s not an easy one to imitate. She takes comfort in that knowledge, for now, and decides to focus on more immediate concerns. It will be years before Flemeth will have enough power to attempt anything, and she has long since stopped thinking of Morrigan herself as a threat.
The next day, they are attacked by another group of soldiers that Anora suspects are sent by Eamon. Last week, they were in a town that claimed that King Alistair was staying in their local tavern, and Anora wanders if anyone has bothered to tell him of this rebellion. Then again, a good king would not have to be told. She manages not to feel too badly about attempting to take over his kingdom while he seems to be taking a sabbatical. After all, not even Cailan would have just taken off like that, leaving his kingdom in the hands of this bann one week or that arl the week after.
They come out of the scuffle without any big losses, but a cut Anora acquired while fighting becomes infected and they have to make camp that night when Anora’s fever is too high for her to continue traveling. Morrigan stays with her, and Anora wakes up three times in the middle of the night to find Morrigan up and about, working at her potions or just sitting by Anora. “Sleep, Morrigan,” she manages enough strength to say, “I will still be sick in the morning, and you can fuss over me then.”
“I am not fussing,” Morrigan says. “I am brewing healing potions, which will be of use to your army.”
“Hmm,” Anora mutters, only half registering Morrigan’s words.
“And there is something else, which might prevent infection if this happens again.”
She means to thank her, but her strength is already fleeting, and she finds herself falling asleep again.
When she wakes up, her fever seems to have broken, so she goes looking for Morrigan and finds her looking for herbs in the woods around their camp. Morrigan seems relieved to see her, but says only, “Are we ready to get back on the road?”
Anora nods and goes to issue the army their orders.
In the next battle, Morrigan is the one to get hurt, and Anora realizes just how bad Morrigan is at any sort of melee combat. She commissions a simple armor for her, and plans on assigning someone to cover her while she casts spells. But for the moment, Morrigan is bedridden, and Anora is that much more vulnerable. She briefly considers getting herself another mage, but she doubts she will find one of Morrigan’s calibers. And like every Fereldan, she has grown up with a fear of magic, and she does not think she can trust someone else as much.
So instead of going back into battle, she takes some men to go meet with some potential allies.
“Can this not wait till I am better?” Morrigan asks her when she is about to leave.
“I want to start moving eastward, as soon as you are better. As it turns out, this gives me a much needed respite to meet with some allies.”
Morrigan seems to consider something for a long time before finally reaching for a chain around her neck that seems to hold a ring. She retrieves the ring and holds it out to Anora, “Here,” she says, “Take this.”
“What is it?”
“It is…a sort of tracker that my mother made for me, when I was a child.”
“Your mother seems to turn more and more sinister with each of these charming things about her that you tell me,” Anora says. “How will this help me?”
“It will allow me to track you. I will be able to sense if you are in danger, and even your location, given time.”
“There is really no need for that. I will have enough of the guards with me that one will be able to come back with news, if something should happen.”
“Your guards will not be able to travel as fast as I can, if need be.”
“I doubt you are able to travel at all, at the moment. But I will keep this, if it will make you feel better.”
Morrigan nods, and squeezes Anora’s hand when she reaches to take the ring from her. “Farewell, my friend.”
Anora’s intel turns out to be news of Alistair’s whereabouts, but Anora does not know what she is meant to do with this information. She has no plans of assassinating him, even if it could accomplish anything. As things stand, she knows that even if Alistair were to drop dead in one of his drunken stupors, she would still have all of Eamon’s army and supporters to contend with. She is under no illusions as to who it is that she is really fighting. Alistair might have been worth taking on, had Elissa Cousland lived, but without her, he is a shell of a person that Eamon is happy to fill up with his own ideals.
When she returns to camp, she is surprised to find Morrigan waiting for her at the hidden entrance, and she is reminded of times when she would watch Queen Rowan wait at the gates for her own father.
“I admit that I had not thought this thing actually worked,” Anora says, “But I am glad to be back, and happy to return this.”
Morrigan takes the ring back and traces the intricate patterns on it. “I wish I had stayed in Denerim for the final battle,” she finally says.
Anora doesn’t understand what that has to do with the ring, but she remembers what she found out about Alistair, utterly lost without Elissa, and she wonders if Morrigan is a little like that, too.
“Why did you not?”
“She would not let me save her, and I could not watch her die,” she says, echoing her earlier words, and Anora is disappointed that all this time later, Morrigan is unwilling to share any more than that.
“So you said earlier.”
“I had not been completely honest with her, you see. About why I was helping her. I did not deserve her trust, after that, but I will never understand why she punished herself for it, as well as me.”
“She did what was necessary. It had nothing to do with you, likely.”
“Still, I should have stayed. I might have been able to help her in some way, been able to ease the pain, talk her out of it.
“Or convinced Alistair to take the final blow, and neither one of us would be in this predicament.”
“Indeed, if I could convince Alistair of anything, we would not be here.”
Morrigan does not say any more, and Anora lets her have her silence.
They fight their first battle in a hostile territory the next week, and another week later, Anora has secured Highever for herself. Granted the area now referred to as such is not the grand Teynir it used to be, but rather an arling of half its size. But her father had secured his first victory in the only other Teynir in Ferelden, and she hopes to imitate his strategy, starting from north of Ferelden, instead of South.
The arl of Highever swears fealty to her and pledges his men and his wealth. Anora has little use for fealty sworn under the shadow of a sword, but it is still a victory, and she means to hold on to Highever until she has her throne, at which point, she has promised to return the arling to Bann Darlan.
News of the victory travels to her allies, and they come to celebrate with her. She has no use for celebrations yet, but her advisors tell her that it is good for morale. So she gives in, and lets them have it, while she herself plans to hold another war council while everyone is gathered in one place.
As she prepares herself for the festivities, she feels Morrigan’s eyes on her while she combs her hair, holding tightly to her handheld mirror. She ties her hair into tight braids, and meets Morrigan’s gaze through the mirror, only to have Morrigan turn her eyes to focus on Anora’s mirror. “Tis lovely,” Morrigan finally says.
Anora feels that this is not what she meant to say, but her eyes meet Morrigan’s in the mirror again as she says, “It was a gift, from Cailan, I believe. I have had so many of these, I cannot always remember which one came from where. But this one was valuable enough that I made sure to bring it with me when I left Denerim.”
Morrigan’s fondness for shiny objects is hard to forget. Anora is reluctant to think of them as pretty objects because Morrigan’s tastes are far from elegant and her eyes seem drawn to anything that stands out, things that Anora herself would stay away from for the fear of their gaudiness. Anora has no weakness for jewels or mirrors, but she has always been expected to have nice things, and has more than she could ever desire, even now when she’s so far from Denerim, she finds herself collecting tributes from Fereldans still loyal to her. So she puts the mirror down, breaking eye contact, and pushes it towards Morrigan, “You should have it.”
“I thank you for the gesture, but it was a gift from your husband and has value to you. I will find many others in the market like this.”
“Not like this one. This one was handcrafted in Tevinter Imperium. You see the tiny vials in between the jewels? They’re filled with lyrium dust and priceless. Which is what I meant by its value. I had meant to sell it, if it came to that.”
Morrigan’s hands find the mirror, and she traces the gems and the lyrium vials on it. “Thank you,” she finally says.
Morrigan is nowhere to be found at the gathering, and Anora finds herself getting restless without her constant presence and protection. Afterwards, when most of the banns have either retired to their rooms or have made out for their domains, Anora finds Morrigan by herself in the gardens.
“It’s not safe, to be out here by yourself.”
“Nowhere is safe,” Morrigan says, “from the one thing I actually fear.”
Anora lets her guilt over keeping what she found from Morrigan pass over her, before she asks, “What is wrong?”
“This place. Highever was Flemeth’s birth place, and the place where she became…whatever it is that she is.”
“Was, Morrigan. For now, she is dead.”
“But for how long? I can feel her presence in this place, and I do not know whether it is because this is the place of her origin or because she is getting closer to me.”
Perhaps it is because Morrigan is rarely ever less than perfectly composed, but seeing her like this unnerves Anora. And right in this moment, it seems petty to hold from Morrigan the information that might help her, just so Anora could have something to hold over her.
She has spent her whole life controlling people by having things to ensure their compliance, and she finds that what she misses most about Cailan is the easy trust they had between them. Cailan was, besides being her husband, perhaps her only friend, and so his betrayal was all the more heavily felt.
“I have something for you,” she says out loud, quickly, before she can change her mind. And when Morrigan looks at her expectantly, she adds, “Remember the texts on Flemeth that you thought the chantry in Ferelden had? I was able to retrieve those for you.”
Morrigan’s eyes narrow and she considers this and says, “When were you going to tell me this?”
She considers lying, but only for a moment. If she is going to trust Morrigan by letting go of her power over her, she will have to trust Morrigan with this, too. “I hadn’t thought about it, really. I have had them for a while, but know that I did always mean to give them to you. I just…did not know what to expect from you, after.”
“I have never lied to you, even if I withheld certain things.”
“I know that now. And if it helps, this was my version of what you call withholding information.”
“Well, then let us have no more of that, either.”
“All right,” Anora agrees.
“Where are these documents?”
“In my room, in a secret compartment inside my chest,” Anora says as she removes the gold chain from around her neck that holds the key to the chest. “You will need this.”
Morrigan takes the key from her, “Thank you.”
“I believe what is in there will help allay some of your fears, but still, we should move on from Highever in the morning.”
“Soldier’s peak is not too far from here, and it’s a strong holding and strategically located,” Morrigan offers, before going back inside the castle.
Anora waits outside, letting Morrigan have the room and the texts to herself for a while, but she feels the weight of the last months lift from her, as she lets go of her guilt over keeping things to herself. Trust still does not come easily to her, but at least if Morrigan decides to stab her in the back or betray or disappoint her, it will not be because Anora has brought it upon herself by betraying hers first.
She sends word to her banns to look into Soldier’s Peak, and tomorrow, she will go there, and they will start the fighting anew. But for now, she is happy to leave it to them and follow Morrigan back to her rooms.