I have a special place in my heart for Arlessa Isolde.
I feel like Isolde gets a ragingly bad rap from fandom for the most part. I hear a lot how people choose to let her sacrifice herself because of her annoying voice or because she as a “lying bitch”, which always makes me cringe. Yes, she did lie. Yes, she covered up something dangerous which had dire consequences, and yes, I get a little irritated with the over-dramatic Orlesian accent. That being said, though… I can’t help but wonder how much of the ire directed at Isolde is because she is a woman. A woman who *gasp* makes decisions out of desperation that have terrible results. She has flaws, but for some reason there seems to be a lot about Isolde’s particular flaws that are condemned for reasons that feel very dismissive and, frankly, a bit misogynistic at times.
I have a lot of respect and sympathy for Isolde based on what we know about her. We know that she is the daughter of a nobleman who occupied Redcliff during the Orlesian occupancy of Fereleden. We know that she fell in love with Eamon during the occupation, and when Orlais was driven out, she remained with her husband. Isolde made a conscious decision to remain in a country that hated her and to the best of my knowledge, held her head high despite the outright (and mostly deserved) hatred directed towards Orlais.
Isolde, however, has been a product of the world in which she lives. We know that she is very pious. We know that she is highly suspicious of magic, and that the job of raising her son was hoisted almost fully on her according to in-game dialogue. When Connor began to show signs of manifesting magic, she naturally panicked, and a large chunk of this probably had to do with the attitudes and laws regarding mages. She knew that her only child would not be allowed to inherit the Arling if it was known he was a mage, and pursuant to the time period we seem to be dealing with, the inability to produce a legitimate heir was more than likely going to be seen as a huge failure on her part. We know that nobles are expected to produce heirs, and this burden, naturally, falls on the women. It seems to be implied that Eamon is much older than Isolde, though I can not confirm this. I always imagined that it was difficult for the Guerrins to get pregnant at all. In my head canon, Teagan is actually Connor’s father, though Isolde loves Eamon very much. I have no problem believing that Isolde and Teagan had a relationship, though she was always, first and foremost, loyal to Eamon. In fact, in my head canon, Isolde doesn’t know who the father is, and doesn’t really care. An heir is an heir, he has Guerrin blood, and Eamon is happy.
Isolde decides to keep Connor’s magic a secret, and I do see her condemned for this quite often. Funnily enough, it was Loghain who offered a solution to her problem in the form of referring a known apostate and maleficar to her as a tutor for Connor. Loghain supported this, as it was a way in to try to eliminate Eamon from standing in his way. Rarely do I see Loghain’s part in this criticized, but more often, the fact that Isolde lied and tried to cover up Connor’s magic by resorting to an apostate is used as justification for ending her life.
Not unlike Loghain, Isolde made desperate choices that turned out poorly. Unlike, Loghain, Isolde was not committing war crimes, rather she was just trying to keep her family safe. She says herself that she had no reason to not trust Loghain, and a lot of people felt that way. He was the Hero of River Dane. He was an epic and iconic figure to Fereldens. My personal opinion, though I realize it is unpopular, is that there is no way to condemn Isolde (without being sexist) and her actions while excusing Loghain’s, especially with the knowledge that he facilitated them with the intent to murder her husband.
Isolde’s decision was ultimately her choice. Kahrin allowed her sacrifice because she saw little better option (the other really being killing a young child, because the Circle’s aid was NOT an option for them). Isolde pays for her actions in either her own life or her child’s, and no matter how it works out, the Guerrins will lose their son, either to the abomination or to the Circle. In the end, Isolde accepts the responsibility for her actions, and admits they were well-intentioned by poorly executed.
I feel for her. I really do. I have grief for the way that circumstances in her life made her feel she had to resort to what she did, and also that it ultimately causes everything she tried to avoid. Lady Isolde Guerrin is an excellent example of how life is not, in fact, equal for women in Ferelden, no matter how equal they appear to be on the surface.