The mirror looms across the room. It both beckons and terrifies me. One shiny, cold, glass surface the size of a serving platter holds a vast reservoir of painful reminders. I had come into my room with light feet and a smiling face. My eyes are wide now, wary. I need to look, to remind myself, to plant my feet back into reality.
In the tower I had spent hours in front of the mirror. I was lost in adolescent vanity - painting my face, practicing coy expressions, discerning which smile suited me. I once brushed my raven hair into curls and then braided beautiful ribbons in its depths. Such pride and fancy at the smallest things – a soft perfume, a pink flower to tuck behind my ear. Those are the things I'd like to remember. The mirror, doesn't reflect memories, however.
My breath holds in my throat and I step in front. My eyes immediately dart to my hair. It's much longer now, nearly to the middle of my back – so heavy the curls are only subtle waves. If I could turn to the side and gaze into the mirror, that is what I would do, but the mirror is a prankster and it flashes my face into my eyes before I can look away – and then I'm transfixed.
The scar is what draws my eyes first, though maybe the eye might draw a casual observer. The scar starts at my hairline and slashes over my eyebrow. It is not dainty and thin or barely noticeable, though perhaps in a few years time it might be. It's red and angry and wide as my finger. Acid burns are not as beautiful as a knife wound, though I suppose those aren't beautiful either, they wrinkle and pucker the skin in fascinating colors of pink and red.
The eye is as clear as crisp mountain water. It does not, however match the lovely shade of blue in my other eye. Thank you, dear Emissary, for this interesting variation on normal.
For years my beauty had been remarked upon, a weapon wielded when necessary or a crutch to lean on when options ran dry. Without it I feel half alive. Perhaps that is vanity, perhaps practicality. I'm a mage, but more than that I'm an elf – the race renowned for their beauty. What I have left of myself, after the Blight took everything else, is my magic. My soul, my home, my friends and even my face are all different now.
The old me screams and rages inside, she beats at my face and body. She howls in dark, secret places in my soul which are filling with sadness and drowning her. I try tamp her down but she escapes and slips into my skin. She's the beautiful, raven haired elf with the perfect face, flirting and enticing. She forgets the scar and the eye - like tonight with the Bann.
My hands touch my stained dress and then clench the fabric. I turn away from the mirror before the tears fall.
Teagan. I close my eyes and I see him just standing there and he's looking at me smiling, teasing - flirting. And for the moment I see myself reflected in his eyes - the beautiful, golden girl he met so many months ago. I do not see pity or the usual evading gaze. He had looked at me and I had just wanted that moment of utter enrapture – that sweet feeling of being admired and treasured. Such a silly girl – but at least I lived in that one moment.
Alistair is speaking. I laugh when he laughs and I nod politely during requisite pauses, but I follow Teagan out of the corner of my eye as he speaks to Ser Cauthrien. The woman laughs - a hearty sound - and my eyes narrow as her hand touches his shoulder. He returns her laughter and scans the room briefly. His smile grows wider when he meets my eyes. I quickly turn my attention back to Alistair.
"Soo then you'll leave tomorrow?" Alistair is smiling expectantly. I blink and try to recall the conversation and where I've obviously agreed to go.
"Um…well tomorrow seems a bit soon…" What in Andraste's name had I gotten myself into?
"Bloody marvelous! You'll need an escort and I suppose the elf is going with you?" He nods at Zevran. "And I'll make sure you have the- ...you've no idea what I'm talking about do you?"
I wince and shake my head with wide eyes and a small shrug.
"Waisshaupt…recruiting! The Orlesians will be here to take over the order soon."
Ah. It seems I am once again thrust into duty and my life is no longer my own. "Yes majesty." I murmur adjusting the belt of my gown. It seems I'll never have the chance to get used to wearing fine dresses.
"Hey. I did offer you a position here you know. That is still open."
I looked at Teagan and softened a little. It would be so easy to give in. I'd have a title. A mage with a title. A chance to prove we have value. I had thought about this already. A title brings respect, but it also brings scrutiny. One slip and mages everywhere would feel the sharp end of Templar's blades - a public affirmation of the Chantry's doctrine and a claim of power over mages again. I would never give them that.
My voice is soft and assured. "No, I've said I wanted to rebuild, and I do. I just thought I'd have more time is all."
"It's been a month - and I would give you a year even - but the Orlesians come and unless you take the initiative, they will take over the order here."
I want nothing more than to say, "then let them have it!", but Alistair's claim on the throne was tenuous and there were plenty willing to bring him down. The Orlesians settling into the Grey Warden order in Ferelden would be the first nail in his coffin. "You're right of course. I'll leave tomorrow. I've a mind to visit Highever, Duncan mentioned a young man there..."
"No need, Teagan has suggested his bann, Rainesfere."
"Has he now?" I turn my head to the Bann, cocking an eyebrow. Teagan is still engrossed in conversation with Ser Cauthrien.
"Um… I'm not going to ask." Alistair murmurs and I turn to see him looking at me curiously.
I laugh softly. "You needn't worry, Alistair. I know my place." My hand unconsciously touches the scar on my forehead.
Alistair's face darkens. "Don't start that nonsense again. That particular pity-party has dispersed."
I nod, and bow slightly, amused. "You're correct, I apologize. It's still all new to me – this feeling of freedom - of a road ahead – it's made me maudlin"
"Well, at least we still have purpose." He's smiling and I relax my tense shoulders. "Another grand adventure, but with decidedly more cheese and less darkspawn!"
I laugh again and my body feels a little more whole. I press my forehead against the king's chest and wrap my arms around his waist. He's the king, but he doesn't hesitate – he's my dearest friend and if that looks a little strange to our company, darkspawn take them all. "I shall leave tomorrow then, but I will miss you and your smelly cheese."
He pulls back and looks into my eyes and then brushes his lips over my scar. I know in this instant he has forgiven my betrayal. And once again we are brothers in arms, friends in honor and conspirators in silence.