We’re nearing the end of the Origins timeline, and because I’ve had so much fun escaping in this world, I’ve decided to go off canon after the events of the first game and write a few more chapters. I’m currently at the 60,000 words mark and counting…oh, how one little Writing Prompt created such inspiration…
Chapter IV – Denerim and the Final Battle
One night, while organizing my thoughts and flipping through my notes, I came across this folded up piece of paper tucked between the leaves of my journal. I’m not quite certain when I planned to include it, some time after saving the Arl, but it got lost in the shuffle.
I watched as Alistair continued to rush to the front of the fighting, but as he had made the decision to remain with us, I could not let my attention rest solely on his well-being, each of my new friends deserved as much. Regardless, I would let my gaze linger, or find it returned to him often to ensure he remained unharmed. I had promised the Arl I would do my best to keep him safe, although I had not shared that information with Alistair, of course. Even without such a promise, it was something I was prone to do anyway.
How those words still rang true.
The thought of returning to Denerim was a welcome one. Not only did it mean we were just a few steps closer to resolving the civil war and uniting against the Blight, but it was also possible that another letter from Cullen could be waiting for me. I was in love with Alistair, there was no question, but there was something unique about my friendship with Cullen. I had never received a letter before the one I got from Cullen. My family had cut all ties with me when I was taken away, and I grew up with a feeling that I wasn’t important to anyone.
Even upon leaving the Circle with Duncan, no one said they would miss me, or hoped they would receive a letter of my well being. I knew I didn’t have any close friends there, but that had been rather eye opening. Having someone tell me they looked forward to hearing from me, knowing that someone was worried about me, an actual friend, was a new experience.
Upon entering Denerim, a messenger from the Arl intercepted us and informed us that the Arl was both awaiting our arrival and inviting us to stay at his estate. As we had a great many things to discuss with him, we made our way there first. I could take some time for myself after meeting with Eamon and see if there was any news waiting for me at the tavern.
The Arl’s Denerim estate was palatial, to say the least. The grand entrance led in a number of directions to a great dining hall, a lovely library, and many lavishly furnished rooms. Our companions went directly to the dining hall when a servant directed that Alistair and I follow them to meet with the Arl.
The Arl was warm and welcoming, and when Alistair and I met with him he embraced me like an old friend. It made me blush. There was such kindness about him, but there was also a feeling of great strength just under the surface. Old age had most likely softened him some, that and having a family, but he had most likely been quite formidable in his youth.
It was while talking with him that we learned of Queen Anora’s fate. According to her maid, Erlina, Arl Rendon Howe had kidnapped her. The whole matter was rather unsettling for many reasons. The primary one being that as a friend of Loghain’s, what purpose did he have in taking the Queen hostage?
Erlina crafted a plan to sneak us into the estate using disguises and side entrances. It was once we were inside we learned the extent of Howe’s treachery. Not only did he have a mage in his employ, one that had warded Anora’s room from being breached, but he also had secrets in the lower levels that would prove most beneficial to our cause.
The metallic scent of blood wafted through the corridors; growing stronger the further we traveled downward. Moans echoed throughout the darkened hallways, as did other sinister sounds I hoped not to discover the source of. As had become habit, we searched chests and cupboards for things that might be of use to us, and if we were able to take anything that might result in vexing Loghain and his “friends”, all the better.
What I did not expect to find were papers belonging to the Grey Wardens that detailed the Joining, nor shortly thereafter, a Grey Warden himself. We encountered a number of prisoners within the dungeons, many of whom would aid our cause upon their release, but none such a welcome sight as that of Riordan.
Another Warden. And a senior member at that. The things he could tell us. The things he knew. And so close to when we desperately needed advice and aid. The Maker had surely smiled upon us.
Time was not on our side, so we freed everyone we could, and told Riordan to seek refuge with the Arl. We dealt with Howe and his mage, but when the proverbial light at the end of this debacle seemed close at hand, Ser Cauthrien and a retinue of Loghain’s men proved a greater obstacle than we could have imagined. We were completely outnumbered, and at a serious disadvantage within the walls of the estate. There was no room to fight. It was as if we were purposefully lead there to be captured, and captured we were.
I remember wondering at the time if Anora’s “kidnapping” had been a ploy designed to bring us within Loghain’s reach? I wondered if she were at all trustworthy? But the last thing I remembered before losing consciousness from a blow to the back of the head was watching the safe retreat of my companions. The trap had been set for me and Alistair, and they barely took a second glance at the others, I thought thankfully.
They hadn’t killed us. That was comforting, as was the thought that our friends were on the outside, probably thinking up a crazy scheme to help us escape.
No other force had been lucky enough to take us down – it was not a good feeling. I discovered I really did not like to lose.
I wasn’t certain what had started me awake – the unsettling sounds coming from the dark, the throbbing of my head, or the deep chill upon my skin. I awoke to find myself in Alistair’s protective embrace, on the cold stone floor of a prison cell, in nothing but my smallclothes. Looking up to his face, past the bare expanse of his chest, I said teasingly, “It’s a shame we are unable to take advantage of this privacy, given our situation is so dire.”
He gave me a look, one that said he couldn’t believe I could make a joke at such a time, and laughed in spite of himself. “Yes, unfortunately this is no time for romance.”
It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dimly lit cell. We were against the wall furthest from the cell door. I sat up slowly, wincing with every movement, then immediately turned my attention to Alistair. He looked unharmed. I traced my fingers lightly over various parts of his body, taking no note of any injury.
“I’m fine.” He reassured me. “How’s your head?” He gently touched the side of my face.
“Should I be concerned that there are two of you? Or should I rejoice?”
He shook his head. “I love you.”
“And because I love you, I’m going to get us out of here.”
“Ah, there’s that practicality I adore.”
I shivered when I stood up away from Alistair’s warmth. “I’m sure our friends are planning a rescue, but I refuse to wait, wondering what inventive methods of detainment Loghain and his lackeys may devise now that we are within arm’s reach.” I would not give him the satisfaction. We were getting out. I didn’t know how, but we had become pretty adept at thinking on our feet, but first thing first. We had to get out of the cell.
Cue the guard, and my first attempt at using what Zevran referred to as my “feminine wiles”.
Escaping Fort Drakon had taken longer than I anticipated. It was a multi-storied building that housed an entire garrison; every corner we turned we encountered more of them. When we were finally free of it, we made our hasty return to Eamon’s to ensure the safety of our friends, and to learn what further trickery Anora and her father had planned.
Anora, of course, played the innocence card, and as I looked at her, with her cool demeanor, it was hard to tell if she were telling the truth. I didn’t trust her, and as I listened to her haughty explanation I kind of wanted to punch her in the face. As queen, she had learned to play a game Alistair and I were still unaware of. Eamon seemed to trust her, to some extent, and when she informed us about the unrest in the alienage, and that she believed her father was somehow involved, we all agreed it was at least worth investigating.
Eamon warned Alistair and I about trusting anyone this close to the Landsmeet. Politics in general were a messy business, but with the country so divided, tensions were even higher. Grey Wardens still held some reverence with the people, but as Loghain’s enemies, there were those who would be happy to garner more favor by ridding Ferelden of the couple that remained.
With that thought, Alistair and I found Riordan to learn what we could from him. He was weakened from his internment, but had otherwise remained fairly unharmed. He had been captured while following the darkspawn, and he had a great deal to share with us. As a senior member of the order, his knowledge and advice was something both Alistair and I needed desperately. Duncan had left us so soon, and Riordan was impressed by what we had been able to accomplish.
Having Riordan by our side brought a sense of comfort I had not expected to find. Alistair and I had not been alone in our journey, but as junior members of the Order, we had been forging ahead almost blindly. Had it not been for the treaties, we would have been lost after Ostagar. The treaties had given us purpose, something to do, and our travels had barely kept us out of our enemy’s hands, but we had survived nearly a year by the Maker’s good grace and garnered a number of allies along the way.
Riordan found this most impressive, especially in light of the fact that I had become a Warden at Ostagar and knew almost nothing of what was expected from a member of the Order. He praised Duncan for his uncanny ability to choose members wisely. Such high praise made me blush. I knew we had been effective, but to hear we had done the unexpected and most likely accomplished more than a seasoned Warden might have made me exceedingly proud.
The Grey Wardens had not long been welcomed back to Ferelden since their exile centuries before, so when he shared with us the location of a Grey Warden vault within the city, he was uncertain as to usefulness and state of the items that might be found within. It was kept for the defense of the city, but he wasn’t familiar with how regularly it might be maintained. Alistair and I agreed that it was definitely worth searching. Besides the weapons or armor, there could be Warden relics that needed to be salvaged and restored to the Order.
We had been planning on heading into the market district to sell unwanted items and upgrade the party’s weapons and armor, so discovering what was lying in wait within the vault, which had completely piqued our interest, became a priority. And getting out into the city gave me an opportunity to pop into the local tavern for, hopefully, a little reading material.
The vault had not only proven useful, but profitable as well. When Alistair and I entered the room, we both felt a sense of…it was a hard feeling to describe. It was akin to pride or honor, knowing that our brothers and sisters in arms had been coming here for many years to protect the city. Many things had remained undisturbed for some time; there was a fine layer of dust upon almost everything, except for one weapon stand.
It was an emotional moment when we discovered something unexpected – Duncan’s shield.
According to Alistair, Duncan had been a skilled fighter, but was especially accomplished in his double dagger wielding. Looking at the shield, I was reminded of the first time I saw Duncan in the tower. He had been speaking with the First Enchanter. I remembered being impressed by the daggers he wore. They seemed as much a part of him as any limb.
My mind then traveled to our time spent together on the road. I never had the privilege of watching him in action. We had encountered not one adversary on the road, and instead spent out time learning a little of the other. Trying to build my confidence in my new destiny, he had shared with me how he had been conscripted into the Wardens. He had been a thief who had found himself in dire straits, so to speak. He hadn’t gone into too much detail, but he assured me that no matter our station, we could make a difference.
His eyes were kind and wise. They had seen much. He shared a few stories of his time with the Wardens, how he had, at first, resented them, but that he learned to appreciate the noble mission with which the Wardens had been tasked.
His words had always stayed with me, and despite our short time together I knew it was his faith in me that had helped me to make the decisions I had. Although he had not lived long after my joining to see the Warden I had become, I hoped he was proud. I touched the shield fondly at the thought.
We could not know how his shield had come to reside here or why, perhaps he had left it here when he had passed through Denerim, but with a great deal of reverence, it became Alistair’s.
Alistair offered to speak with Master Wade about armor upgrades while I returned to the Wonders of Thedas shop for a new staff. Once Alistair was out of sight, I made my way to the Gnawed Noble first instead. I felt a pang of guilt for keeping such a secret, and that made me question the reasoning behind the secrecy.
Would it pain Alistair to know that I had maintained a relationship with the Templar? Would he question my need to keep it from him? I had to wonder at that myself, and why I hadn’t shared with Cullen my relationship with Alistair. I didn’t feel as if I were being unfaithful to Alistair, and it’s not as if Cullen and I shared any romantic words or affection, other than friendship, within the letters, but somehow I felt that there was a note of betrayal in my actions, on both sides.
As I took two letters from the bartender, a flicker of a thought began to nag at the back of my mind. I found a chair tucked away in the corner of the back room to sink into, and then it all came rushing forward.
Unconsciously, had I put Cullen on reserve? Upon learning that one of the most powerful men in Ferelden wished Alistair to become king, I knew our relationship was doomed, and without any premeditation, I had kept Cullen close. As what? A back-up? Was I capable of such action? As this line of thought became clearer…maybe, I was.
I was disgusted with myself.
I had become well versed in deception, so much so that I was able to deceive even myself. I had been telling myself for months that we were friends; never letting my mind wander to that night we shared. It had been wonderful, and aside from the few days afterward, I had put it out of my mind. Alistair and I had begun to build something, and I couldn’t let that passionate encounter linger beyond its time.
I was so confused. I clutched his letters tightly in my lap and asked the Maker for clarity. Was I being too hard on myself? Just because such thoughts had entered my mind, did that mean that was the truth of my motives? I loved Alistair, more than I thought possible, and even knowing the fate of our relationship, I wasn’t looking to replace him. How could I?
There were still so many unknowns in our journey; it was a foolish notion to even think I had thought so far into the future, subconsciously or otherwise. No, I had to trust my judgment, as I had all this time. So why then had I kept each of them secret from the other?
I believed that Alistair might be affronted by the idea that I would want to remain friends with someone I had shared such intimacy. He had known of Cullen’s affections, despite his inaction, and because I had kept my correspondence quiet for so long, it would be easy to conclude that there were romantic elements that required such covert means. It could be presumed that the secretive nature of our letters was because we were building upon that night, although neither of us had brought it up. We had, in fact, only shared one letter each, until I received the two I was now holding, which made me look down on them and wonder at their contents.
Keeping Alistair from Cullen, on the other hand, was harder to pinpoint. Cullen had left Kinloch, and the country, because of what had happened there. We had decided to remain friends, and initially the words had been just that, words – words meant to reassure – but they had become the foundation for what was becoming, what I considered, a true friendship, almost as dear to me as those of my companions. So why was I afraid to share my love for Alistair with Cullen?
In the first letter I had written, there had not been much to tell. It had still been early on, and I knew Cullen was in a fragile state, so there had been no need to share the inconsequential details of what was basically a crush. But since that letter, so much had happened, and I had still chosen to leave Alistair’s importance to me out of the subsequent letter that now sat neatly tucked away in my journal.
My life had become an open tome, as it were, but my communication with Cullen was something that was just for me. It was an aspect of my life that no one had a part of, and that had become important to me. My intimate moments with Alistair had been practically witnessed by the rest of our party, as had every other aspect of our relationship. The others each had comments to make, and we had never enjoyed the privacy that I can imagine other couples must. Our relationship did not belong to just us, so perhaps that was why I had chosen not to share it with Cullen. Let there be at least one person in all of Thedas who would not give me their opinion.
As I sat reasoning with myself, those answers felt closer to the truth than my original thoughts, and a sort of calm came over me. When had I become so dramatic? I shook my head, chastising myself, and proceeded to open his letters. I had little time to dedicate to their length, he had written me quite a bit, so I gave them a quick perusal to reassure myself of his well-being.
He still called me Spitfire, which I adored, and from what I could tell he seemed to have found a rhythm in his new routine. He mentioned that he had been sharing his quarters with a man named Samson, and although he wrote that he felt they were doing good work, there was a tone of bitterness I could sense in some of his phrases. I wanted to study his words more closely, but it would have to wait, which was disappointing.
I took my letter to him from my journal and paid the barkeep for his services and discretion, and quickly made my way to the Wonders of Thedas before anyone noticed I was not taking care of business.
We would not investigate the alienage until the following day. After all our traveling, we needed a hot meal that consisted of more than just stew, a long, hot bath, and a good night’s sleep. Being given the opportunity to sleep uninterrupted the whole night through, not having to take shifts…well, that was an opportunity we were not going to let pass us by.
Arl Eamon had a feast prepared for us. It was meant to celebrate our accomplishments in attaining the allies needed for the fight against the Blight, but it was clear from some of the other guests in attendance that this was meant to be Alistair’s introduction as the heir apparent.
Alistair and I were seated next to the Arl while our companions were seated further down the long table. In what was clearly a strategic move, Eamon seated a few of the nobles across from us. I fixed a small smile upon my face and gave Alistair a knowing look. He gave me the slightest head nod, understanding what this meant for the evening.
The nobles were a sly bunch. They asked us questions about our journey and the decisions we were forced to make in many of the situations we had encountered. No one came right out and asked us what we thought about Alistair being king, but it was evident from their line of questioning that they were trying to decide whether he would be a good king or a good puppet.
Looking at the two of us, from their perspective, it was easy to understand their skepticism of us. Alistair and I were young, but together we had accomplished great feats. We were human, but we had been able to garner favor with both elves and dwarves. We were Wardens, but we were junior members of the Order, and yet we were capable of uniting the country. Sitting there, side by side, I can imagine we made quite the picture. Neither Alistair nor I had any airs about us. We were just two people thrown into a chaotic situation, doing what had to be done. The men that sat across from us were older, and maybe they weren’t resentful of us, but there were too many examples of them expressing their disbelief at our accomplishments.
I was growing resentful of them. Did they believe we were exaggerating our exploits? “We did none of this alone.” I began. “We were joined by those seated beside you; each of them a master of their craft. If you find fault with us,” I motioned to Alistair and myself, “or if the scar in my side from a giant spider in the Deep Roads does not prove to you the validity of our endeavors, then perhaps one of them would be better suited to assuage your doubts, for they were with us every step of the way.” I let my hand drift along the length of the table to where our friends sat. At this they each turned challenging gazes toward the nobles. Perhaps the nobles had not taken a head count of those attending the dinner party, but when they turned their eyes to the witch, the Qunari, the elf, the dwarf, the golem, and the mabari with a bone nearly as big as he dangling from his mouth, it effectively silenced further admonishment.
Eamon laughed heartily at this, and diverted the attention from our journey to the task that still lay before us all, the Landsmeet. Alistair took my hand in his and squeezed it reassuringly. My heart slammed against my ribs, and I felt a blush warming its way up my cheeks. I took a deep breath as he leaned close to my ear and whispered, “I love that fire in you.”
I swayed towards him, as I always did, but I kept it minimal. The men seated across from us would surely have an opinion on such matters. If this was just a sample of what life would be like at court, I had to wonder how any of us would get on? I had learned from Leliana that Orlesian nobility wore masks, it was part of “the game”, and although the nobles here wore no such adornment, they were definitely hiding behind their own veneer.
I met his affectionate expression with one of my own, but said nothing – too many eyes and ears.
After dinner, we each retired to our own room; no more sharing tents, at least for the time being, soft beds instead of rough ground, and solid, insulated walls instead of fabric. I entered my room to find a large bathing tub near the fire, the water still warm. Without a second thought, I slipped off my robes and left them where they fell to sink into the refreshing rose-scented warmth.
I didn’t quite fit in the tub, so I dangled my feet outside while I submerged the rest of myself completely. I took a deep breath and forced myself below the surface. There was no sound, and with my eyes closed, there was no light, just the all-encompassing warmth and the feeling of my heart’s rhythmic beat. I stayed like that for as long as I could, missing the soft knocking at my door apparently in the mean time, because when I reemerged, I screamed to find Alistair watching me from the other end.
He laughed and nearly fell over. “You’ve faced darkspawn and dragons, and yet my sudden appearance is what scares you?”
“You caught me off guard is all. I wasn’t sure to expect you.”
“We can finally share a proper bed with thick walls between us and our friends and you thought you were going to sleep alone?” He raised an eyebrow in challenge.
“Well, if you plan on sharing my bed, then you’ll have to bathe first. You smell like Keiko.” I bit back my teasing smile.
He flung each piece of armor and leather off in quick, dramatic movements until he was plunging himself into the tub with me. “We Fereldans take that as a compliment, you know.” Water sloshed in every direction and continued to do so as he pulled me onto his lap.
I laughed playfully. “It’s no wonder than that the nobles weren’t offended.”
“I find it amusing that you think you smelled any better.”
I feigned shock at such a statement, and he laughed again. “You’re lucky I already love you, for such words would help you not.”
He placed both hands on either side of my face, and gently stoked my cheek, as he looked deep into my eyes. “I don’t know how any of my clumsy words allowed me to be so lucky.”
We kissed deeply, our passion quickly igniting, but instead of hurrying our bathing time, we made use of it. We continued our playful banter while washing each other. I reheated the water twice, but we, neither, felt any urgency to curtail the fun we were having, so we stayed in the water until our skin became water logged.
We then sat naked in front of the fire while he towel dried my hair. We were alone, finally – it was what we had long needed, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. We were being ourselves – this was nothing new, except we were free from burden and eavesdroppers. And we were enjoying each other – we didn’t have to constrain ourselves, and this was the first glimpse of what Alistair and Bryn could be like…after? Before my mind started its descent I leaned back against him and rested my head upon his shoulder. He wrapped his limbs about me and pulled me tight against his chest, kissing my temple, and sighing deeply.
“I’m of the mind to test our Warden stamina.” He whispered seductively before kissing my shoulder.
I scoffed. “You think you’re up for such a challenge?” I turned toward him and saw the twinkle of deviousness lingering in his eyes.
“Aren’t you the least bit curious?”
I smiled brightly. “I am indeed.”
We spent the night teasing and fondling, making passionate love and laughing as only we could. I remembered being struck by the thought that this was one of the happiest moments of my life. Alistair was responsible for many of them, but this one in particular had resonated with me. It was a memorable evening, and although we had both joked about the sleep we were neglecting, it was definitely worth missing.
As it turns out, Warden stamina has a reputation for a reason.
The history of the elves was common knowledge, but seeing an alienage first hand delivered quite the effective blow. Many of my fellow mages felt that the Circles were nothing more than prisons, and to some degree that was true. As Circle mages we were under constant watch from the Templars, and had no freedom outside the tower walls. If we escaped those chains, we were called apostates and hunted down.
City elves seemed to fair little better. Elves had lost their identity, their history, and their culture. They had become slaves, and were considered the lowest class citizen. For those who were lucky enough to escape those shackles, they were forced to live in slums. Denerim’s alienage was in stark contrast to the rest of the city – and to think I was staying in a palace just a short distance away. I shook my head at the sad state of such a living.
The alienage had been in lockdown for some time under a claim of plague, but upon speaking to some of the residents, it was clear there was something amiss. People were disappearing, and because of the elves status, no one was willing to help them. Well, we weren’t going to let that stand.
I had to wonder what possible gain Loghain would hope to achieve here?
After a bit of snooping and sneaking about, and a great deal of fighting, we learned the truth. The “plague” was a ruse to abduct elves for the slave trade for monetary gain – and we had the papers to prove Loghain’s involvement.
The whole thing made me sick, and we were all shocked that a man who was considered a hero could do something so heinous to a people who were already so vulnerable.
Among those we were able to free was a man named Valendrian, the elves’ Elder, and an old friend of Duncan’s. He was grateful for our intervention, and was kind enough to share some memories of Duncan, which both Alistair and I appreciated. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that although we had put an end to the abductions, there was little, if anything, we could do for those who had already been sold. It saddened me to think of their fate.
We left the alienage armed with more evidence of Loghain’s treachery, and wishes that we could do more for the elven people. Perhaps this could be addressed in the Landsmeet, although I was unfamiliar with the details of the proceedings. I glanced at Alistair as we made our way back to the market district and wondered if, or when he became king, would he do more for them?
I had barely finished the thought when we were set upon by a group of Crows. Zevran was not overly surprised to find an old friend leading them, a man named Taliesen. Zevran and I had talked a little about his friendship with this man, and a woman named Rinna. They had trained together, and eventually became romantically involved until Rinna’s untimely death. Zevran had admitted that he was a changed man afterward, and his willingness to accept the Warden assassination contract was in the hopes it would turn out to be a suicide mission.
Obviously, he had never planned to befriend the mark, since he was an expert at keeping his personal and professional sides separate, so one could imagine my delight at learning I was the exception to that rule. He had assured me I was an anomaly, and if such a fact were to get out it would tarnish his well earned reputation. I had seen a different side of Zev that night, and I had smiled brightly at him in return.
Seeing him now, defending me against his old friend, I was overcome with emotion. When I had realized that I was basically friendless in the Circle, I could never have imagined that within a short time there would be people around me who would risk their own lives for mine. The man standing beside me, the man who had been sent to kill me was now fighting his friend in my defense. It seemed a strange thing to say, given the circumstances, but I felt very lucky. Life certainly had a strange way of turning out.
Taliesen had insinuated that Zevran had gone soft, but as we stood over his corpse, the ruthless assassin in Zev had seemed to return. He was reinvigorated. His freedom had been hard won, a freedom to choose his own destiny, and with that newfound freedom he chose to stay by my side. Once again, all I could do was smile.
The time had come for the Landsmeet.
In spite of the evidence we had against Loghain, which was great, I was nervous for what it all meant. I didn’t know the ways of politics outside the Circle, or ending a civil war, or even uniting everyone for a common cause, but here I was, walking into the thick of it for all those reasons. I didn’t have long to worry about nerves, for we were once again set upon by Ser Cauthrien and her men.
This time, things went differently.
We had learned to talk our way in and out of any number of situations, and this time, Cauthrien saw reason, because she too had seen what Loghain had become. I was able to persuade her to step aside and avoid further bloodshed. She seemed a reasonable woman, and understood our mission. Seeing her again, knowing how things had ended last time we were face to face, I had a pit in my stomach, but we came to an agreement, nonetheless, for the common good.
As we stepped through the doors into the great hall, the once hero now turned villain stood at the other end.
Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir.
The Hero of River Dane made an imposing figure in his heavy silverite armor, a great broadsword upon his back, flanked on either side by his men. As we made our way forward, I couldn’t help but second guess his intentions. Did he mean to abide whatever rules governed the Landsmeet?
His features were hard. He had a long, straight nose with piercing eyes and lips that he held in a tight line as he looked us over. His hair was still as jet black as the stories had depicted when he fought beside King Maric to save Ferelden from Orlais. To know the kind of man he had been – honorable, brave, loyal – it was hard to believe he had become a man who would betray his best friend’s son in order to usurp his throne.
When it came time to present our evidence against him, I made sure I delivered it in a particular order to ensure the best response from the nobles. I couldn’t call him a traitor for leaving the battlefield at Ostagar; he was a seasoned warrior, and I was a mage of no consequence. Each word had to be chosen wisely, deliberately, and in the end, I had turned the majority of the nobles to our side, but, in an unexpected turn of events, Loghain rallied against us – calling us all traitors.
He wanted to duel…me.
I made an off-handed comment that with my magic he would be dead before he even reached for his blade, and Alistair offered to fight in my stead. The agreement left my lips even as my head was disagreeing, and I was forced to stand on the sidelines, my stomach in my boots, my heart in my throat, and watch my lover fight the man who had wanted us dead for nearly a year.
We had fought so many creatures, many of which were more dangerous than any human, that I was sure Alistair would be victorious. In addition to his youth and stamina, increased due to the taint, he was a skilled warrior. Loghain on the other hand was more experienced, battle-hardened, and clearly a changed man since his days as a “hero”.
Watching them circle one another, prepared to kill one another, is a moment I shall never forget.
It was easy to hate the man, he had done so many things to earn it, but he had not always been this man. He had taken a path that had brought him here, and that was something I could not forget either. His reasoning may have become skewed, but that did not diminish his intent.
My fingernails dug little crescent moons into my palms because I was clenching my hands so tightly in an effort to not send a stream of lightening or fireball at Loghain’s smug face. My breaths were shallow, when I remembered to breathe, and sweat gathered on my upper lip. My heart beats were erratic, and I could feel the tension in the room, not only from our companions, but from everyone in attendance.
This was a moment that would change…everything.
Alistair had the upper hand, and before delivering the final blow, Riordan interceded. Loghain was an ideal candidate to become a Warden, and because there were so few of us, any help should be procured.
Alistair and I stared at one another in utter disbelief. To suggest we fight alongside the man who had tried to kill us on more than one occasion, the man who we felt was responsible for both King Cailan and Duncan’s deaths…it was too much to bear. It was too much to ask of us.
Anora then stepped in. Knowing that not everyone who took part in the Joining survived, we could have our vengeance in that regard, or gain a skilled asset to the cause. Alistair was adamantly opposed to the idea, and I agreed with him.
So with a final swing of his sword, it was over.
Loghain’s body lay haphazard in the center of the hall, Anora a short distance from him, having fainted at the sight of his fall.
In the aftermath, there was chaos; Loghain’s men looked to retaliate, the Arl’s men came to our defense, and when order was restored, Alistair was named king.
As the words left the Arl’s mouth, Alistair and I made eye contact and my heart sank.
What was worse, I agreed.
And there it was.
Our time was over. Grey Warden or no, I was a mage. Even had I been born to a noble family, I would have no place beside a king.
We had been foolish to let ourselves become so invested. Happy moments from only a day earlier flashed before my eyes, and I felt the first sting of tears. I forced them back and swallowed the lump in my throat. Since the Arl had first mentioned Alistair’s potential we had stopped discussing our future because we always knew it would lead here.
There was unity now, and the people cheered, but I did not hear it. I barely remembered Leliana and Morrigan leading me out of the hall. I was both numb and heavy, crushed under the weight of my actions.
We returned to the Arl’s estate and awaited Alistair and Eamon’s return. I paced for a short time, wondering how we were to proceed given this change, when I heard the familiar clink of Alistair’s footsteps upon the stone floor. I turned to face the doorway with as much dignity as I could muster, my back straight, despite the fact that I could feel my heart breaking.
As Alistair strode in, a look of determination upon his face, he started a speech that sounded less like him and more like those who had begun to rally to his side. He would need to marry, because as the taint shortened a Warden’s life span, he would need to provide an heir. Obviously, I could not be his wife, and the people would demand a legitimate heir – no more of this bastard prince business.
I heard his words, and felt myself disconnect from it all. After all it had taken to bring us together, one word had torn us apart. For all his talk of love, and despite knowing that this exact scenario was to happen, I was angry with him for letting go so easily. I wanted to fight for us. I wantedhim to fight for us.
I thought about using my increasing powers of persuasion to make him realize we had options, but at the same time, I wanted him to come to those conclusions on his own. I realize in writing that, that it’s a very woman-like thing to say, but I didn’t care. I had been left to make the decisions on our journey, but if he was planning on ruling a country, he could at least start with his heart. But as I searched his eyes, mine swimming with unshed tears, I didn’t see any fight in him, no remorse. How could it just be over for him?
In the end, we left many things unsaid, like always.
I felt the air go out of the room, and I felt sick, but somehow I kept myself together. Although it might have been those first twinges of bitter anger swelling in my depths that aided me in this time of need. The conversation left me with a feeling of wanting. It was one thing to think the thoughts, but it was another to have everyone agree – I was unworthy.
I could risk my life to stop the civil war and the Blight, I could even make a score of important decisions, including making Alistair king, but as a mage, I was, and would always be, a second-class citizen, and not one of the right stock to be queen. It was infuriating and insulting, and to know Alistair felt the same, or was at least willing to listen and consider such ideas was a slap in the face.
The tense mood in the room dissipated when Alistair left us, and my shoulders slumped in angry defeat. I watched him walk away, my breaths coming quickly as I willed myself not to cry. I would not cry. But the more I tried to stop the tears, the harder they tried to make themselves evident. I could feel my friends all silently looking at one another questioning what they should do, and it was Sten who finally stepped up beside me.
My large, taciturn friend.
Taking my hand, he placed it in the crook of his arm, as he had seen Alistair do, and led me quietly out of the Arl’s study and down the main hall. Leliana’s calm, reassuring voice resounded that, despite appearances, she was certain that things would work out as the Maker intended. One had to appreciate her effort.
The group decided to head to the dining hall, but I was in no mood for company. I patted Sten’s arm in silent thanks and made my way to the library instead. I hadn’t sat with a book since before leaving the Circle, and I still had Cullen’s letters to read. As I entered the library, despite the obviousness that it wasn’t the same as the one in the Circle, it felt like I was visiting an old friend. Our lives would be very different from this moment on, and the timing for such a diversion felt right.
I needed the solitude, if only for a little while, and I needed to gather my thoughts and emotions, and put this whole event into perspective.
The library was quaint, but it contained a few perfect hiding places where I could easily tuck myself away. I picked up the first book whose binding caught my eye. It could have been about blood mages from Tevinter or how to properly train a mabari for all I knew. I stared blindly at the pages while I tried to quiet my mind from the day’s events, and ignore the lump that seemed to have permanently lodged itself in my chest.
Clearly something so mundane would be impossible to hold my interest given my state of mind, so I reached into my pack for Cullen’s letters. I held them in my hands, staring at the purposeful strokes his quill had made of the word “Spitfire”. The revelry from the dining hall echoed throughout the estate, drawing my attention to the matter at hand.
I was hiding. Tucked away in a corner, I was avoiding the stares and the comments and the wonderings. There was cause for celebration. Now that the country had come together with a new king to lead them and a plan to fight the Blight, there was a sense of relief and purpose, and it had been hard won. I should join in the festivities. I had every reason to as the leader of the group responsible, and I didn’t want to appear ungrateful, or a sore loser, of sorts, but I also didn’t want to have to put on airs for those who had already made their minds up about me.
I tossed the book aside and stared at the letters again, wondering if I should at least read them before rejoining my friends. If I entered the hall now, the others in attendance would only think I had freshened up after the day’s events, and so I tucked the letters away again, and made my way to the dining hall, cursing under my breath the entire way. Thanks to Oghren, I had learned some new ones.
I entered the hall and scanned the room for my companions. Of course they were huddled together on the opposite side of the room, which meant I would have to cross all those fake smiles and well-wishers first.
I don’t think I would enjoy court life much come to think of it.
The remainder of the evening passed pleasantly enough – after a little wine, some food, and merry conversation. Alistair was being ushered about the room, from noble to noble, and from the look of him, he was doing his absolute best to not run screaming from the room. A darkspawn horde would probably have been a more welcome sight to him at the moment.
I felt a pang of sympathy for him, and had things not transpired as they had, I would have happily helped him, but my anger would not allow me to offer him such aid right now. I was still raw from his inflicted wound. Let him learn what his life would be like…without me.
My eyes were drawn to him as they always were; a year of watching over him would be a hard habit to break. He must have felt my gaze, because each time he would turn sad eyes toward me that would then turn hopeful when we met. That alone made me turn away each time severing the connection. I would do nothing to let him think that I was anything but adverse to him. I wouldn’t let my emotional state affect our plans, but for tonight, I would allow my anger free reign – it wasn’t so much anger as it was hurt – but for the best interest of the group and our goal, I knew I could not hold onto these feelings beyond the evening.
When it was acceptable to do so, I bid everyone a good evening and left for the peace and quiet of my room, avoiding Alistair’s eyes completely. A warm glow from the fire bathed my room in amber light. I closed the door and sank heavily against it, sighing with relief that I had made it through the evening without incident. Keiko, who was already asleep at the foot of the bed, barely raised his head to acknowledge my entrance before curling up into a tight ball and falling back to sleep.
The fluffy comfort of the bed was inviting, and it promised a sweet release from my troubled spirit. I flung my clothes off haphazardly and crawled onto the mattress determined to forget the day. It was at that moment Alistair appeared.
He was a shadow in my doorway, his expression unreadable, and yet I heard his breath falter. “Please forgive me.”
The tears I had worked so hard to contain all night finally broke free, and now they spilled from my eyes in a steady stream. I was sad and angry and hurt, and I wanted him to understand what he had done. I strode across the room, in nothing but my smalls to confront him, my magic flickering in one hand desperate to find a target. “You cast me aside at a moment’s notice.”
With a wave of his hand, his Templar training disrupted my magic, but he said nothing.
The other hand lit up. “Until today you let me decide everything, and at your first opportunity to make your own decision, you chose to rid yourself of me.” I stopped short of reaching him, afraid that I might actually strike out at him.
This time he didn’t counter my move. “That’s not why I said what I did.”
I saw his first tear fall, and I couldn’t bear it. I turned away from him. I closed my eyes and willed my magic to subside, but instead, both hands lit up. Clearly my emotions were getting the better of me. I clenched my fists in anger. “I never expected you to discard me so easily.”
His hands were on my upper arms in the next instant holding me at arm’s reach, and this time he dispelled my magic. I was slightly relieved in case I set the room on fire. “Is that what you think I was doing?”
“Was it not? Since the moment Eamon suggested you become king, I knew I would never be able to marry you, but I expected more of a fight from you when it came time.”
“I was trying to do the right thi…wait, you wanted to marry me? Then? Why did you ever encourage me to be king?”
“Because I think you’ll make a wonderful king. And yes, I thought about our future, before I learned what that would mean. How could I not? I’m in love with you.”
He stumbled at that. “I love you. I want to marry you. I never wanted to be king, not until you helped me realize the good I could do. You’re the one who made me this way. You made me see that I had to think about the welfare of the people of Ferelden, that we couldn’t be selfish, as Wynne once feared. I thought I was doing what was right, for both of us.”
He wanted to marry me? I held onto that for a long moment because the rest of his words would invade the space quickly enough. And they did. He was right; I put him on the throne. If there was blame to be had, or fault, although such words seemed negative all considering, it was mine. I did this, to us.
I suppose, the anger I felt earlier, I had deflected because I didn’t want to face the truth – I was the leader. Without discussion, I had been put in charge. I made the final tough decisions, regardless of my experience or insight, and that included watching over Alistair and guiding him to this task.
“Maker, help me! Have you nothing to say?”
I stepped out of his reach, my tears dried, my resolve returned. “You asked for my forgiveness, but what have I to forgive? Nothing has changed. We cannot marry. You will be king, and I am not worthy of you.”
A spark of anger crossed his features. “You? Not worthy? That is among one of the most absurd things I have ever heard spoken, and we’ve been traveling with Oghren for months now.”
My smile was small in response. “Then what would you have me do?”
“For now, let us ignore what may be. Let us continue on as we have, together, and worry about the rest later. The forgiveness I seek is because I was an ass for thinking that I could live any sort of life without you. I cannot imagine such an existence, I don’t want to.” He took my hands in his, his eyes pleading.
My heart ached for him, but it also ached from the heart break his words had prompted. I knew I couldn’t forgive him right now, not entirely. If his first thoughts as the future king were to sever his ties with me, how could I trust him? How could I trust in his love for me? And after all we had been through. To find myself questioning him…it wasn’t a position I cared to be in.
I felt those first prickles of tears behind my eyes, and I swallowed hard to squelch them.
Then I thought of what still lie ahead for us. We had to move forward without burden, and so I did what was necessary, for both of us. I rested a hand upon his cheek, and leaned in close. “There is nothing to forgive.” And with that, I kissed him sweetly.
He wrapped me in a tight embrace, squeezing the air out of me, and sighed heavily with his relief. I stared blindly into the fire, feeling a chill edge its way onto my heart.
That night we slept together, snuggled tightly against one another. I did not sleep well. Despite the proximity of our bodies, my heart had separated itself, and I feared that it would not return.
No one would be able to tell that there had ever been anything amiss between us. I don’t think even Alistair found a difference in my manner towards him. My rogues had taught me well. It took a great effort to appear as if we had returned to normal, although on the inside, I felt the deep sting of his loss. Alistair may have apologized for his words, but the truth was, his destiny did not reside with me, and as had become custom, as the leader, I would have to ensure that he met it properly.
Despite his change in status, everyone still deferred to me for decision-making. After a war council meeting, I left shaking my head that both my presence and opinion were still so regarded…in this instance.
On the road back to Redcliffe, I had time to put our relationship into perspective. It was over, and I had come to terms with that. I couldn’t tell him that, of course. I had to guarantee his safety by ensuring his focus, and such a topic would surely prove a distraction. We would laugh and banter as we always had, but when he looked away from me, I felt my face fall. Each time.
I was keeping up appearances, but I was heartbroken, and Leliana noticed. Eventually, they all did. Even Keiko had changed his routine of exploration to constantly remain at my side. As we sat around the campfire, he placed his head in my lap, offering his support in the only way he could. When Alistair questioned Keiko’s change in demeanor, I made up some excuse that he must be worried about the coming battle – which was a perfectly legitimate explanation.
Alistair and I continued to share a tent, but with the Arl and his men around us, it was easy to dissuade any physical activity. Our last night together had been such a happy time; I wanted to remember us that way, and I knew myself incapable of feigning such affection amidst the heartache. I thanked Andraste for such a kindness.
Upon returning to Redcliffe, we learned a dreadful truth – the bulk of the darkspawn horde was headed toward Denerim. Only a “handful” had turned their attention here. It was an overwhelming moment to learn that the city and its inhabitants would have to fend for themselves, and with us having only just left the city days before. The Arl needed time to gather his army, and we knew that was precious time Denerim did not have. Alistair and I agreed that we would not wait for them; we had to return as soon as possible.
The fight was nearly upon us, and I found the responsibility an even heavier burden than any of the others that preceded it. I looked at Alistair and Riordan individually, and let my mind linger on the idea of having had Loghain join us. It was a twisted idea, I realized, but his expertise on the field of battle would have been invaluable, but could his heart have been turned to a loyal fellow Warden by a simple ritual? His death had severed that possibility, and so I returned my attention to the task at hand. There was no use in questioning the past or regretting a decision I knew in my heart had been the right one…like making Alistair king, Maker, preserve me.
We needed to rest before setting out again, but as we turned to make our way to our rooms upstairs, Riordan asked to speak to Alistair and I in private. Riordan looked as burdened by responsibility as I felt. Clearly the information he wished to share with us was of great import.
Riordan was the only other Grey Warden, outside of Duncan and Alistair, I had met, and there was something unique in the bond that occurred between members of the Order. There was instant kinship, an invisible tie that automatically seemed to bind us. Without knowing much of anything about him, I knew I would like him – just as I had felt about Duncan. There was something about him. Perhaps it was due to his age or experience within the Order. I’m not sure. Perhaps it was his timely appearance, and his willingness to sacrifice himself. Whatever the reason, I respected him, trusted his advice, and was relieved to have him by our side.
As a senior Warden, he was privy to the pertinent details we needed to end the Blight, and once Alistair and I knew of it too, we were left in sort of a daze.
The Grey Warden’s motto flooded my mind – In War, Victory. In Peace, Vigilance. In Death, Sacrifice.
Sacrifice. It echoed, over and over.
Duncan had rescued me, but I had been on borrowed time ever since. I could have fallen in the Circle during those terrible times – been cut down by a Templar, or turned into an abomination – but I had been saved from such a fate, only to discover that the life of a Grey Warden did not necessarily mean one would fare much better.
Maybe I wasn’t meant to have perished in the Circle because I was needed for another day.
I looked at Alistair and my heart felt heavy. Maybe had we known earlier that one of us would have to sacrifice themselves, we could have had some time to adjust to the idea – maybe we could have avoided allowing our hearts to rule us, knowing how short and tragic an end we might be facing…although knowing that Alistair could be king had done nothing to dissuade the relationship.
There were too many maybes for my liking.
My mind had already maneuvered a number of steps ahead to the final battle, and I left Riordan barely aware that I was doing such. My feet moved of their own accord; my mind overwhelmed and yet silent. Riordan, as the senior Warden, had offered to take the final blow against the archdemon and sacrifice himself for the greater good, but I was already aware that should he fail, I would not.
I must not.
Alistair’s future was to sit upon the throne of Ferelden – I had helped to make that a reality, and I would not watch him die. A flash of that image from my dream, the one of him crushed beneath the claw of the archdemon, passed before my eyes and it made me ill, heartsick. No. It would fall to me.
Alistair took my hand tightly in his. I held onto it as if it were a lifeline, which at the moment, it was. I didn’t want to speak about what we had just learned. I didn’t want to talk about us. In fact, I didn’t want to talk at all. I wanted to scream. I wanted to use every foul expression I had learned from my companions and yell them into the Void, cursing the magisters of old for their vanity that brought this darkness upon us.
The tears welled in my eyes, and this time I did nothing to try to contain them. I could curse my fate, but I had been given a chance unlike any other. I had left the confinement of the Circle to travel Ferelden. I had met elves and dwarves, werewolves and sylvans. I had discovered Andraste’s Ashes and rescued my friends from the Fade. I had traveled the Deep Roads and rediscovered lost thaigs. I had made friends with the unlikeliest of people, and I had fallen in love with a kind man who would prove himself a good king.
Amidst the tears, I laughed. How could I not? Because even in the light that I might fall, at least I could say I had lived a grand adventure; one beyond any tale I had read. One I could never have dreamt possible.
This random, uncalled for outburst caught Alistair off guard. We stopped walking and he turned concerned eyes toward me. Still holding my hand, he used his free hand to wipe away a rolling teardrop off my cheek. I raised loving eyes to meet his.
“Thank you.” I owed him a great deal, and despite what had happened between us this last week, I loved him. If I were to fall in battle, at least I had had this.
He looked confused, and despite the year of hard lessons, he had lost none of his sweetness. I let everything currently standing between us fall to the wayside. I wanted to shut out the world and spend my remaining time enveloped in him. I leaned forward and gently pressed my lips on his in a teasing manner. As I had kept him at arm’s length for nearly a week, I was hoping his hunger would engulf us.
I was not disappointed.
His arms were immediately about me, crushing me to him. I wanted there to be no mistaking my intention, so as we continued to kiss, I pulled him towards his room and over the threshold. We both swatted at the door in a haphazard effort to close it behind us without separating. In a flurry of color and limbs, our clothes were tossed aside and he picked me up. With his hands on my buttocks to hold me up, I wrapped my arms and legs around him while keeping our mouths fused. He did his best to maneuver about the room without seeing where he was going, but he bumped into one of the settees. He got this devious glint in his eye and unceremoniously dropped me upon it.
In the next instant he was on his knees before me, his hands leaving a warm trail down my entire body. “Oh, how I’ve missed you.” His voice was distant, almost as if the words were said in reverence.
My back arched with the sensation, but when his head dipped between my legs to leave a trail of heated kisses from my knee up my thigh, I ran a desperate hand through his hair while a moan of desire escaped my lips.
If I were only to remain on this side of the Veil for a few more days, I wanted them to be in Alistair’s arms.
I so enjoyed the feel of him on top of me – feeling his weight, watching his eyes flash with passion, the way his breath would catch – I would miss him, terribly…no matter where I found myself.
We lay spooned together, watching the diminishing light of the dying fire. In the afterglow, I found my mind consumed with the idea of finality. I held him ever tighter, trying my best to suppress the tears that were sure to come.
He either sensed the change in me, or heard the ragged edge in my breath, and his voice took on that concerned tone it always did when he was worried about me. “What is it, love?”
I shook my head, remaining silent. I didn’t want to spoil the moment.
“We have left much unsaid.” He began. I nodded in agreement. “I have often understood, even in your silence, where your thoughts go, and while I fear your reply, I also fear never knowing the whole of your mind.”
“I think you would prefer to remain in ignorance. It is unfair to burden you…”
He leaned away from me so that I would roll upon my back, giving him the opportunity to look me in the eyes. His own questioning glance had taken a hard edge. “What does that mean?”
I had to tell him. It was unfair to burden him with my thoughts, but it was also unfair to leave him in ignorance. “There are currently three Grey Wardens in the whole of Ferelden, and we have learned what it takes to end the Blight.” He cocked an eyebrow suspiciously. “Should Riordan fail in his task to take the final blow, I will not.”
“Absolutely not!” He sat up abruptly.
“Alistair, you are to be king.”
“To the Void with all that. I will not stand by and watch you fall.” His voice had taken on a strange tone. “Not again.”
I sighed. “And you would rather I watch you? You have a destiny. I am but a Warden and a mage who cannot remain at your side. What purpose do I now have beyond this?” The unshed tears began to swim. “However the final battle plays out,” I had to catch my breath, “I do not think you should be by my side.”
And there it was.
A flush of anger stained his cheeks, and I saw him struggle to find the right words he should speak next. He stood up and stalked about the room. The amber light from the fire danced off his glistening skin, and I watched him for a long moment, admiring the regal quality in his stance, even in his nakedness. It was the right decision. I would succeed, and he would have the full life for both of us. It offered me a great deal of comfort.
He paced in quiet anger for some time. “Do you wish for me to continue? You wanted to know the whole of my thoughts.”
He stopped pacing and looked at me. He was hurt; there was pain in his eyes. “What more is there to hear? No matter the outcome, you will leave me, will you not?” I could not meet his eyes. “So your words to me in Denerim were a lie?”
“I said what was necessary to keep your wits about you.”
That landed a critical hit, one I had not planned. His smile was meant to hide the sting of my words. “Did we not vow to stay together in Redcliffe?”
“Aye, we did. Until the end, but then what? In the Deep Roads you said you couldn’t imagine living without me. That king or no king you would find a way to make it work, and your first decision as the heir apparent was to give me up.” Of course it still stung. And I had not planned to bring it up again, but besides wishing my last days be spent with him, I wanted him to know the truth, all of it. Should I fall, he had the right to know my mind. I owed him that.
“Despite my apology, you have not truly forgiven me?”
“The wound is still fresh, and I’m not certain it is a hurt I will ever fully recover from, for I saw no fight in you that day.” I stood up and looked for something to wear. I put on his tunic and sat with my knees tucked under me on the settee. Alistair watched me in tormented silence.
“I was heartbroken at that thought.” It was almost under his breath, and I had to swallow hard against the swell of emotion.
“And despite me being a mage, I am a Warden. I have a duty to the Order.” He scoffed at that and continued to pace. “Once your status changed, I knew I could not be your wife, but I fell in love with you anyway. But the truth is, I cannot stay by your side given what this status change means. No matter how strong I may appear, I am not strong enough to watch you spend your life with someone else. You may not love her in the beginning, but once she bears your children, you build a life together…” My breath caught.
“I don’t want that.” He was on his knees again before me taking my hands in his.
“It’s the life I wanted for us…and it’s what’s expected. You said so yourself. And there is no getting around it. I would rather you remember me fondly, with love, as someone you were proud of should I perish, then to survive and become someone you resent because I remind you of the choices forced upon you.”
“I could never…” I silenced him by placing a few fingertips upon his lips and looked at him sweetly.
“King Alistair. It has a nice ring to it.” Again he scoffed, but this time there were tears in his eyes. I touched his cheek. “Trying to stay together is selfish, just as Wynne foretold. We are trying to force something to hold that cannot stand against all that is straining against it. Should we survive, our duties lie in different directions. And that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. We never talked about the future because we knew it would always lead here. We wanted to avoid the truth of it, and find a kernel of happiness in all this darkness, but the time has come to face the inevitable. Our time is over.” The tears were running in a steady current now.
“Please don’t say that.” His hand cupped my cheek, and as had become habit, my eyes closed to revel in his tender touch.
“Upon my own lips did the words fall that brought us here.”
“Call me selfish, or any other word you like, but I’m not giving up on us, not yet. We still have time to figure it all out.” I looked at him skeptically. “Please, do not give up on us.” His voice was desperate. “We will stay together, and fight side by side as we have done since the beginning, and no matter what the future holds, we will forge ahead together.”
I motioned to counter him, but he silenced me with a kiss.
“Do you still love me?” His eyes were filled with worry.
“Of course I do.” I kissed him again to reassure him. “That is why I am trying to do what is best for you, like I always do.”
“You are what is best for me. I’m a different man because of you, better, and because I love you, I will ensure Riordan succeeds in his task.”
That struck a chord in the depths of my being. He would ensure it?
He was trying to remain positive, but there was that undercurrent of desperation hiding in there as well. There was cause. He had hurt me with his betrayal after the Landsmeet, but his deep remorse had led me to forgive him, even if not entirely, to ensure his well being, and now he knew it.
That day had left me wondering whether or not he truly loved me, or if he loved me enough.
I was a fool to doubt him. I was a hurt fool.
I was still undecided as to what I would do after the battle, but until we crossed that finish line, I needed to be certain Alistair would survive the day, and if that meant I needed to stay by his side, then that is what I would give him.
I could not sleep, even in Alistair’s warm embrace. I had too much to think about, too much to worry about. I left Alistair’s bed to wander the castle in silent contemplation. The castle was fairly quiet, except for the occasional faint noises that echoed from distant parts of the estate. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t sleep.
I ran my hand along the thick stone wall, mindlessly meandering my way back towards my room. We were to make our return to Denerim the following day and prepare to fight harder than we ever had before. The fate of all of Thedas depended upon us to. I sighed deeply, trying my best to keep my nerves in check, until I rounded the corner to find my door ajar and a shadow passing across the floor.
I warily entered my room to find – Morrigan.
As a Circle mage, I knew there was a great deal of the magical world that was still unknown to me. I knew little of blood magic, or spells related to the spirit world, so when Morrigan suggested a ritual that would save both Alistair and myself, I knew her in-depth knowledge of the arcane would eventually prove useful, and yet, the act in which the ritual would need to be performed gave me pause – and I wasn’t certain I would be able to convince Alistair of its benefit either – it just proved how little I actually knew. And how surprised I could still find myself, after all I had seen.
I had to wonder what other gems lay in wait to be discovered within Flemeth’s tome.
At first I felt betrayed by Morrigan. She had always known what would happen in the end. She knew that a Warden would have to sacrifice themself, and yet, she had stayed silent and watched my relationship with Alistair continue, unsure if her option would ever be a viable one. She wanted the soul of the Old God, and that was why she had agreed to help us all along.
I stared at her while she explained, trying to wrap my head around the idea of her lying with Alistair and its outcome. It’s not as if they liked one another, not really. I think they tolerated one another, more or less, on my behalf. To induce him to share her bed, when it had taken months to share mine – where love was involved – seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle – on par with uniting the country – and one that made me ill to even consider. Imagining them together…no, I didn’t want to do that, but if it would save us both…what wasn’t I willing to consider?
But at what cost?
The result of their union – a child with a god’s soul? Another bastard prince? A child of Alistair’s…and not mine?
I walked back down the hallway towards Alistair’s room in a strange sort of numb daze. While the betrayal at Morrigan’s hands still remained, I could also understand why she had kept such a secret to herself. Was there anyone else in the whole of Thedas who knew of such magic? It was doubtful that even the Wardens knew, which is why they took the idea of sacrifice so seriously.
Morrigan had become my friend. We understood one another, and despite the underhandedness of her alliance, I truly believed she was looking out for my best interest. She did not wish to see me or Alistair fall, knowing the consequences that would have on the other. In spite of all her side remarks, I knew she cared about what might happen to us.
Outside Alistair’s door, I found myself unable to enter. With each step I had taken recently, I felt that there was a new and bigger piece of information to process. When I had walked these halls not a half hour earlier, I had come to terms that I might have to die in battle to not only save the world, but those I loved. Now I was trying to come to terms that a dark ritual could save me, and the man I loved. There was a lump in my throat, one I could not dislodge. That had been happening quite a bit recently. I slumped against the wall and sank to the floor. I rested my arms upon my knees and considered our options.
Although I had told Alistair I didn’t think he should be by my side in the final fight, the truth was that by keeping him with me, I could do my best to protect him. But then there was the thought that should Riordan and I fail to kill the archdemon, Alistair would do whatever was in his power to ensure the Blight did not spread beyond Ferelden – and if by chance he failed, what would happen then?
We had heard nothing from Weisshaupt. There was no word of reinforcements. There was just the three of us.
Morrigan’s plan, although reprehensible, offered us a better alternative, if it worked. Merciful Andraste!
I couldn’t believe I was seriously contemplating this idea. And there was no time to delay. I didn’t have the luxury of time to grow accustomed to such a plan, and I didn’t have long to convince Alistair, if that was even possible. My persuasion skills had grown considerably since my time in the Circle, but asking for this might be just possibly outside my capabilities.
My memory flickered to when I had suggested Cullen and I get to know one another a little better after my Harrowing. He had literally run away from me. I don’t know what sparked that memory…perhaps it was the knowledge that now I might be better at getting what I want.
But was this what I wanted? Truly?
I didn’t have time to consider it because Alistair’s door opened, and he raised his eyebrows upon seeing me on the floor. “I see you can’t sleep either.” He chuckled softly. The laughter died upon his lips when I turned my eyes up to him. “I also saw Morrigan outside your room earlier, and the look she gave me…that was icy even for her. Is something up?”
In a silent request for his help off the floor, I held my hands out. Smiling, he pulled me up, but too close to him. I looked into his eyes and lost my nerve. I babbled about why he couldn’t sleep, and other nonsense until I could finally tell him Morrigan’s plan.
He was surprised, to say the least. The look he gave me when he heard the whole story is one I shall never forget. It was a mixture of horror, disbelief, confusion, and amusement. He paced back and forth, finding it hard to contain the volume of his voice as he, too, tried to understand what it was I was asking of him. Saying the words out loud was like putting a dagger into my own heart. And even though I tried to make light of the situation, inserting my sarcastic comments when I could, this was one of the most demanding conversations I had ever had.
My argument for not wanting to be Alistair’s mistress was because I couldn’t and didn’t want to imagine him with anyone else. The ritual with Morrigan was not about love, but for survival, our survival, but still…
When he asked me if this was something I really wanted him to do, I fell silent.
I didn’t think either of them would exactly enjoy themselves, but if he was looking for some sort of vengeance for my time with Cullen – gracious, I hoped that wasn’t the case, and not with one of my friends – no, it had nothing to do with that. I don’t think Alistair had it in him to be so vindictive, and although we had never talked about it, I don’t believe he held that against me. And it had happened long before we made any declarations to one another – I was running in circles and was no closer to a solution.
I was giving myself a headache and poor Alistair just continued to look aghast.
Having a conversation in which you encourage the man you love to share the bed of someone he doesn’t care for was never one I imagined having, but as we did our best to discuss it rationally, it seemed at least a backup plan we might never discuss again – no matter how it all played out.
I made a joke that I would do it myself, were I able, to which he shook his head. I would not say, “If you loved me you would do this” because up until this point, I had never used that as a bargaining tool, and I didn’t want that to be something he remembered. And I couldn’t do that to him.
He may not have always agreed with my decisions, and this was definitely one of those moments, but he knew I always had our best interests at heart. I was looking for a way to ensure his survival, and in the end, it was that persuasive argument that eventually made him agree, albeit begrudgingly, thankfully.
Morrigan was a powerful mage, but her mother had proven even more so. If she had survived centuries, her knowledge of magic was beyond anyone else I might ever encounter. I had to trust that the ritual would provide the best outcome.
I wanted him to do it, and I didn’t.
So it was no wonder that when he finally agreed, my heart sank.
We made yet another foreboding journey down the short hallway that stood between our rooms. My heart pounded against my ribs, my face flush with a number of emotions, the blood rushing in my ears. I looked at Alistair and his face was resigned to the unforeseeable prospect that now awaited him. I took his hand in mine and squeezed it reassuringly.
Would we survive this?
We returned to my room to find Morrigan waiting, and when she had the nerve to tell Alistair that he would not hate “it” as much as he believed, I felt like setting her on fire. Sometimes she just didn’t know when to hold her tongue.
Morrigan left the room, leaving Alistair and I in awkward silence. We both stared into the fire, frozen. Finally he turned to me, his eyes filled with an emotion I couldn’t name. He seemed sad and pained, but there was something else in there as well.
I rested my hand upon his cheek and whispered, “I’m sorry to have asked this of you.”
His smile was wistful and he kissed my forehead before leaving me too.
And then I was alone, once again, with my actions.
I started to pace like a caged animal. I could not stand by idly waiting, wondering…I had to get out or my thoughts would drive me mad. I wanted a pint of ale, or six, or something that might help me forget this whole ordeal, but I knew I couldn’t allow myself to feel those after effects again, not with so much on my shoulders.
I needed a distraction. I needed away from here.
Who would make the best cohort in exploring the village at this hour? Who would keep me occupied so that I wouldn’t let my mind turn to the vile idea of Alistair’s and Morrigan’s naked bodies writhing…Andraste, preserve me!
Sten was too silent to be effective at this moment, as was Shale. Wynne would give me lecture, or three, and Oghren would definitely want to get drunk. That left my rogues, Leliana and Zevran. Either would make a good sidekick for this purpose, although, Leliana would probably want me to discuss my feelings. Zevran was the best choice.
I had no idea how I would handle all of this in the days to come, but for now, I just needed to ignore it was happening. The lump was rising in my throat again, and I felt I might be sick, but I swallowed it back. This would not break me.
Only a short time ago, Alistair and I had been in one another’s arms, lost in the sensation of our joined bodies, and now he was about to do those same things with Morrigan, of all people. There had always been a tension between them, and maybe this was something they both secretly desired…to explore the rivalry…no, it was too much.
As I walked down the hall, I focused on each step, not letting my mind dare to explore any other thought than finding Zev and getting out the front door.
Walk. Just walk.
I found Zevran in the library, and he smiled upon my entrance, but it faded quickly as he took in my appearance. “What is it, my friend?”
I must have looked as awful as I felt. I had wondered if I would tell anyone about Morrigan’s ritual. Maybe, in time.
I tried to smile, but it was forced. “Want to explore the nightlife?” I had changed into casual clothes to hide my mage origin, and as his eyes raked over me, he raised an eyebrow, clearly intrigued.
“And what could you possible have in mind, my dear Warden?”
“Anything that hopefully won’t require me praying to the Maker for mercy in the morning.”
“So, not the tavern, or a place like the Pearl?” His smile was sly.
I pretended to consider the idea, which only seemed to intrigue him further. Finally, I shook my negatively, my smile coy. “You could teach me how to pick locks.”
He laughed and stood up to take my arm. “And why would you need such a skill as that?”
We walked out of the library and towards the castle’s main entrance. “Well, you never know when such a skill will come in handy, and we won’t always be traveling together.”
“Ah, that is true.” His face grew serious. “But, until that day arrives, allow me to continue to be of use to you.”
“I don’t need you just because you can pick locks, you know.”
“I am glad to hear of it.” We paused at the main door and he took my hands in his. He looked at me seriously again. When he wanted to, he could be quite the charmer, and it was easy to see why so many had fallen under his spell. “Is it Alistair?”
I shook my head in all directions. “Among other things.”
“Then let us find a worthy distraction. Come.” He pulled me by the hand into the cool night air, his energy infectious.
We stumbled in hours later, still laughing, but doing our best to keep quiet as to not disturb the household. Zevran had not failed to help find a number of distractions, and until I was walking back to my room, I had only thought of Alistair and Morrigan twice. It had taken all my energy to do so.
But now that I was no longer distracted, it was all I could think of, again.
It was the middle of the night. They had to be “done” by now, right? I walked to the end of the hall towards Alistair’s room and thought about drawing closer to, I don’t know what…eavesdrop?
Worst idea ever.
I turned immediately on my heel and returned to my room. Whatever the repercussions, I would worry about them tomorrow. For now, I would hope that sleep would come quickly because I didn’t think I could handle being left with my thoughts, alone, in the quiet dark.
I opened the door quietly, not wanting to disturb Keiko, only to find him resting his head in Alistair’s lap by the fire.
I felt my heart sink again.
I closed the door quietly and moved to stand behind him. I stroked his hair and he leaned his head back against my stomach, eyes closed. It was clear he was in need of comfort, and although this was nothing like the attack on the Circle when I had comforted Cullen, I had asked Alistair to do something questionable, something that went against who he was, and he had done it, because I had asked him to. He trusted me, and that trust had a price.
I felt a deep wound in my soul. I loved him so much I was willing to risk everything to ensure his survival. Wynne’s words once again echoed, and my greatest fear revealed itself. He could not only resent me now, but this act could have swayed him to hate me. That I could not bear. “Are you all right?” It was all I could think of to say.
He sighed deeply. He took one of my hands and held it to his cheek for a long moment, then kissed the palm. I leaned down and wrapped my arms about him, nuzzling my face into the crook of his neck. My mind kept saying the same words over and over again, “Please don’t hate me. Please don’t hate me.”
Despite the expressionless look in his eyes, his voice held a teasing note. “I could use a bath.”
I did my best to match his levity. “Right away, your highness.”
He groaned, and reached his hand back to pull me even closer, but said nothing else. After a few minutes, his grip lessened, and before moving to warm the water in the tub, I kissed his temple, holding the kiss to impart the emotion behind it.
I wanted to ask him a dozen questions, and yet I didn’t want to hear any of the answers. I was at a loss of how to fill the silence, and as I moved about the room, he remained on the settee with Keiko, blindly staring into the fire. He had returned to my room barefoot, in nothing but his tunic and breeches – he looked vulnerable.
We had always enjoyed one another’s company, and we had never been at a loss for conversation, but this was one of those times that words would fall short. I was no bard, not like Leliana, but I decided to hum one of her tunes in the hopes it would offer him some relief.
I continued to hum as I helped him remove his clothing, taking my time to let my hands drift upon skin as I slowly lifted the tunic over his head. I did the same as I removed his breeches. My hands lightly caressed his hips, buttocks, and thighs. His body tensed under my touch, and I smiled to myself, knowing this was how I could be helpful.
I would put all the focus on him. Once he was submerged in the welcoming warmth of the water, I continued Leliana’s song and washed him from head to toe. It was impossible not to compare this moment with the one I had shared with Cullen, for they were quite similar. Alistair, too, said nothing, but watched me with troubled eyes. For some time, I avoided them, ashamed and regretful.
It was while I was washing his hair, when we weren’t looking at one another, that he finally spoke. “When I was with Morrigan, I was reminded of Wynne’s words. What aren’t we willing to do for one another?”
“Alistair, you don’t have to…”
“I love you.” He started, and tears stung my eyes. “The thought of you falling in battle, no matter the reason, is not one I could live with, and I’m guessing you feel the same, which is why you tore yourself apart to ask me to take part in such in ritual.”
“Then we shall speak no more of it. We have learned that we are willing to go to great lengths for those we love.” He pulled me around to look into his eyes.
I knelt down beside the tub; eyes brimming with unshed tears, head nodding silently. “I am sorry.”
“I’m not. If it saves you, it was a price I was willing to pay.”
“This won’t be one of those decisions I forced upon you; one you resent me for?”
He gave me one of his knowing looks, the one that said he thought I was crazy for thinking such things, and then leaned forward and kissed me. The kiss quickly turned hungry, filled with emotion and desire for reassurance.
It was in that moment that I realized I had to leave him. I had been toying with the idea since the Landsmeet, but these actions had proven how selfish we truly were where the other was concerned, and I wasn’t certain that was an advantageous quality that we could allow to continue.
Why was I now always looking for a way out?
Because it was what was best for Alistair.
Tears ran down my cheeks as we continued to kiss, and I clung to him knowing it would be one of our last.
It would be a few days before we knew if Morrigan’s ritual had worked, and while we traveled back to Denerim, I found it difficult to look at her, let alone speak with her. It was easy to avoid her with so many others around us, and although I knew I was being petty, I just couldn’t face her, not yet. And I knew we wouldn’t have much time if the ritual didn’t work, and yet…
Occasionally I would allow my glance to fall upon her, and I felt a mixture of emotion each time. It was distressing to be thankful and resentful simultaneously. Morrigan was beautiful and sultry in a way I wasn’t. She was so self-assured, confident, and fearless – I had learned a great deal from her. Her confidence translated to her magical abilities, and that was where I had learned from her the most. I knew there was no reason to be ashamed of my power, but her encouragement had helped me to embrace my abilities fully, and that had proven useful on our journey.
She kept herself at arm’s length, always setting up camp a short distance from the rest of us, but that just added to her allure. Men would be sure to fall at her feet, a trait we did not share. I had always thought myself rather unremarkable. My quiet life in the Circle had not given me too many reasons to believe otherwise, with the exception of Cullen. Her eyes flashed like fire, while mine were sort of an uninteresting shade of blue-green. She brazenly exposed flesh, regardless of the circumstance, while my modesty induced me to wear whatever armor would best suit, and cover the most. She often spoke plainly, while I held my tongue. We were so opposite, and that made me wonder in what other areas we might differ.
No, don’t let your mind wander there.
I sat fireside with Sten while these thoughts raged, until I finally, abruptly, averted my eyes from her. The movement was dramatic enough to pique Sten’s interest and he turned inquisitive eyes in my direction. “Has the witch done something to upset you, kadan?”
I bit back a smile and made a small negative head shake. “Will you tell me the meaning of kadan now?”
If Sten could blush, I was certain he would have at this particular moment. He turned back to stare into the fire, uncomfortable. “It is a word given to those we respect.”
Sten and I shared a unique bond, and it had been a difficult one to forge, but because his views were so particular, I knew that earning his respect would mean a great deal, and it did. He had used the term in the Deep Roads when I awoke from the spider attack, but I knew he had been warming up to me before that. When I placed Asala back in his hands, his opinion of me had changed, and he viewed me differently.
His features had softened ever so slightly, and he was easier to talk to – not so many circular conversations – and out of sheer curiosity, I allowed myself to contemplate what a relationship with a man like Sten might be like. We were from such different cultures. There was no denying his severe beauty. His ideas, although fairly set in stone, could be altered given the right encouragement or example. And his side comments about the dangers of physical relations with Qunari, although intriguing, had made us all cringe, and yet, it made me wonder if a man in Sten’s position could find love, or if he even wanted to?
So as I sat beside him, that odd expression upon his face, I reflected on whether that was the emotion he was feeling, or as close to that emotion as was acceptable to the Qun? Was it possible? I did not wish to make him uncomfortable, but I had to know what he was thinking. He was always so quiet, so stoic. Without pressing the issue, I simply asked, “Respect as the leader?”
He stood up, his back rigid, and looked at me with a serious expression. “Its meaning is hard to describe in your tongue, it’s closer to where the heart lies.” And with that, he left me in disbelief.
The following morning while Alistair, Sten, and Oghren were with the soldiers preparing, I sought out Leliana to share with her what I had learned the night before. I had thought on his words on and off for hours, wondering at their meaning, and I had to tell someone. Leliana had become the friend I had always hoped for. Not only was she excellent at keeping secrets, she was wise, and loyal. She genuinely cared about, and watched over, those she considered her friends. When we had first met her, Alistair was worried that her naïveté might be her downfall, but she had proven herself more than capable. She was not to be underestimated.
She could not contain her delight at learning such a tidbit of information. Her smile was bright and she giggled to herself for a few long minutes. We were walking together through the encampment in order to keep our conversation quiet, and her cheerfulness was infectious. I was soon laughing myself, and it was the first time in the last couple of days I felt like myself.
We strolled arm in arm, enjoying our private conversation, which seemed odd considering the circumstances surrounding us. We were a day’s journey from Denerim, and tensions within the camp were high, which is why it felt strange to find such a moment of levity. But after all we had endured, and all that was still to come, I was comforted in the knowledge that I had such people by my side; people that could help me find a moment’s peace.
Our group rejoined to break their fast, knowing it would probably be among the last times we would all be together. There was little conversation to be had; most topics seemed trivial and of little import, all considering. Instead we ate in pleasant silence – the kind of silence that can only be found among friends.
It was then that I made eye contact with Morrigan – the first time since the incident – who was seated almost directly across from me. Alistair was seated beside me, close enough that our legs and arms grazed the other. There was a reassurance in that.
Her look was…an apology, I suppose.
From what I knew of Morrigan, there was little she had ever done that she regretted, but perhaps this was one of those rare instances, despite what it could mean for us. I liked her, ever so much, that regardless of what had occurred between she and Alistair, I could not stay angry hostile annoyed bitter…
There is no word to surmise that emotion, but whatever word best described that feeling, I let it go.
My response was simple. It was meant to convey forgiveness, or that there was no ill will between us. It was a rueful smile with a tilt of my head, but it was her response – a genuine, relieved smile – that caused me to smile wide in return and brought a tear to my eye. I chuckled under my breath and shook my head. My life had taken a peculiar journey.
Morrigan tilted her head in Alistair’s direction, and I turned to find his quizzical eyes upon me. I couldn’t help myself – I kissed him, hard, and then held up my cup and raised a toast, “To the strange circumstances that brought us together. No one could ask for better companions to stand beside them, or better friends.”
Their voices resounded in agreed unison.
That night, just a short distance from Denerim, my mind recollected on the past, in particular, Ostagar. Maybe it was because the moon looked the same, or the smell of campfire on the eve before battle took me back to those days, I couldn’t say for certain. I sat outside the tent Alistair and I were sharing; he had fallen asleep a short time earlier. I was too entrenched in reflection.
I remembered the strange feeling of freedom as I walked in those ruins, despite knowing what was soon to come; I had never been outside the Circle since being put in. I wondered if Alistair thought about his brother, and how they were practically side by side then? I thought of those lost in the Joining, Ser Jory and Daveth. I thought on Jory’s wife and child, and how Daveth had been quite the charmer, and rather brave.
I thought back on seeing the darkspawn for the first time, and wondering how such abominations could be made. I smiled at the idea of meeting Morrigan and her comments about trusting a woman’s mind. I remembered Alistair’s comment about dancing the Remigold, and I had to laugh. That’s when I felt his arms wrap around me.
“You can’t sleep again?”
“I was remembering when we first met.”
“It seems a lifetime ago.”
“You wouldn’t dance the Remigold for the king, but I was wondering if you would dance for me now?”
He chuckled softly in my ear. “But I don’t have a pretty dress.”
I laughed in return. “We complained that we wouldn’t be in the battle…”
“And that’s all we’ve done since.” I nodded silently. “What troubles you?”
“I dreamt of the archdemon during the Joining, and a few other times since, but being this close, I thought I would…feel it?”
“I can feel the horde, but I don’t sense a larger presence either.”
“Could it not be here?”
He thought on that for a long moment.
“I miss the First Enchanter’s wisdom. He would have the right words for this moment.”
“As I miss Duncan’s.”
I wrapped an arm back around his neck to hold him close. “We were so young when this began.”
“We’ll soon be the ones giving the advice.”
“Perish the thought.” And we both giggled at that. “Am I much different from when we first met?”
“What do you mean?” He leaned forward to look at me more directly.
I had come to wonder if all the fighting, all the hard decisions had changed me, made me hard. Had I lost something of myself along the way? Become someone unlike the person Alistair had originally fallen in love with? Was that why he had found it easier to let me go after the Landsmeet?
I couldn’t believe this thought popped up again.
He moved around to face me giving me, what I now considered, his famous quizzical look. “How do you think you’ve changed?”
Both the First Enchanter and Duncan had spoken highly of me – of my talent and my self-confidence – but I had doubted myself often, of late. The decisions I had made along this journey were in line with my ideals or morals, or what-have-you, but some of them weren’t, and that had me questioning if I was the same person I was when I started. Of course we grow and change according to our experiences and circumstances, but I had to wonder if given a second chance at some of those decisions now, would they be different? Would I do things differently to gain a more favorable outcome or an easier one? I didn’t think so, but then again…
Alistair gripped my chin and made me look at him. “Where is your mind wandering off to?”
“Over the course of our journey, I don’t feel you’ve lost any of your sweetness, but I’m wondering if I have?”
He took a deep breath, that glint of deviousness lighting his eyes. “You weren’t that sweet to begin with.”
I leveled my gaze upon him. “Take a care with your next words, your highness.”
He raised an eyebrow in challenge. “You are the same as you have always been. You are kind and clever, just maybe more so now. I mean you aresweet, you’re willing to help anyone who needs it, but you have a leader’s mind. You think many steps ahead; you know what must be done, and you do it. This is why I followed you.”
“I thought it was because when you lead you end up stranded somewhere without pants.” I winked.
“You also have quite the sense of humor.” He leaned forward and kissed me tenderly.
We stayed like that for some time, just kissing lightly, staring into one another’s eyes, and enjoying the moment’s peace we had. The calm before the storm…We sat snuggled together by the fire in silent reverie; my head upon his shoulder. At daybreak we would be on our way to finish what we had started a year ago, ending the Blight. So much had happened in that time.
I still planned on taking the final blow against the archdemon should Riordan fail, just in case. In our downtime, I had been learning new skills from our companions, and I knew at least enough about swords to get the pointy end in the most effective spots, so I had that to rely on. I had read of specializations for mages, although most of them were rarely talked about within the Circle because there was no need for such abilities for those trapped within their walls, but I had been lucky enough to learn the skills of the arcane warrior. The specialization was derived from the ancient elves, and I was thankful for the knowledge. I had hoped to learn how to generate a magical blade for close combat, those used by Knight Enchanters, but sadly, there was no one to teach me such methods.
Alistair’s hushed voice broke the silence. “I would have lived and died happily having only known your touch.”
His words felt unconnected to everything we had been talking about, and especially where my mind had wandered, but clearly his mind had returned to his time with Morrigan. My eyes went wide.
“You doubt my words, again?”
I didn’t want to fight with him, not with what little time we had left, so I tried to lighten the mood, or hoped to. “I’ve heard the banter. Is it not something all men desire? Variety?”
He looked angry. “You believe that is what I wanted?”
Now I was angry, with myself.
“Why are you angry with me?” He asked pulling away from me.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“You said you didn’t.” Our voices rose with each word.
“I will if you want to.”
“I don’t want to make you if you’re not ready.” He burst out laughing then, and soon I was joining him. No matter the circumstances, could we ever truly be mad at the other? Apparently not. “You never pressed me about Cullen, so why would I press you now?”
“Because we’re different now.”
I tried to pull myself together. I was tired, and stressed, and worried beyond comprehension, but if he wanted to talk about “it”, I had to listen. “First and foremost, we’re friends, so I will listen to whatever it is you wish to talk about.”
“Do you want to talk about Cullen?” I stuttered for a moment, not prepared at all to talk about him. “Obviously not.”
“Do you want to talk about Morrigan?”
“On the night before battle? Not exactly.”
The spark between us was reignited, and soon we were dragging ourselves into our tent.
There were many emotions behind our lovemaking that night. At first there was anger and fear and passion. It was hard and relentless. The kisses were unforgiving as we took out our feelings upon the other. We had hurt each other, we had said things we regretted, and we knew we might not survive the day. The things we could not say, our bodies did.
After the initial desire was satiated, we were softer, gentler. Our love for one another, our bond, those things united us, would forever be a part of who we were, regardless of our change in status. I could not help but be drawn to him. Not only was he my first love, but I had the feeling that he would be my great love, one no other would be able to compare to, if one were ever to come again.
We lay together, wrapped in each other’s embrace, both unable to sleep. Rest was necessary in order to endure the following day’s events, but how could one sleep with such impending doom on the horizon?
We said nothing, for a long time. As we had realized at breakfast, most conversation seemed irrelevant. He stroked my arm up and down, while I drew circular patterns upon his chest. As we lay there, it felt like a goodbye. I couldn’t explain it, but it was there, nonetheless. That feeling. Maybe that was why we were afraid to speak.
Why was something that was so easy between us also so complicated?
When I finally did fall asleep, the dream that plagued me is one that will forever haunt me. I was a darkspawn making my way through Denerim, slaughtering everything in my path, including my companions. I hacked and slashed without mercy, and reveled in their blood as it soaked the ground where they fell. They did their best to combat the forces that outnumbered them, but it was of no use. The darkspawn, me, we were stronger, we were many. The smell of burning buildings and flesh only rallied me on further.
I remember looking down at my arms as I struck down my friends, the taint running through my veins, and thinking this was my future. This is who I was becoming, and yet at the same time, feeling that this was who I had always been – the thing others feared.
Alistair, the Warden, was the last one standing. And he was my target. The one who stood between us and victory. I stalked him. I caught his scent on the breeze, and I knew that eventually the taint of our blood in his would bring him to us, but I also knew he couldn’t survive beyond the day.
He was a threat that our master could not abide. I felt the slightest pang of guilt as I plunged my sword into his flesh, and yet I was satisfied knowing I had blotted out his existence with a flick of my wrist. I watched the life leave his eyes, along with a number of emotions I barely remembered – regret, fear, dismay, failure. And so much more.
I woke up in a panic. Alistair was crouched over me shaking me and calling out my name. When my eyes were finally able to focus on his face, and I returned to my senses, I cried.
The nightmare had been a hideous insight into the mind of the darkspawn, and feeling myself cutting down those I cared about was more than I could take. Watching the life leave those I called my friends, by my hand, made me sick.
Being so close to the archdemon had to be the cause for such vile dreams.
The echo of their bones breaking, the gurgling sounds of their bloody final breaths…it made the bile rise in my throat. “I don’t want to sleep.” It was all I could utter amidst my shallow breaths. My voice didn’t even sound like mine.
“It wasn’t real. You’re safe.”
“I don’t know that we are.” My eyes filled with worry.
He stuttered out, “Of course we are. I was lucky enough to survive with you, all those months ago. If we could survive an ogre and arrows in a tower, we can survive a few darkspawn and a dragon.”
“It’s not just any dragon.” I gave him a sideways look.
“So it’s a big dragon. We fought a high dragon, remember?”
I nodded silently.
“And we survived the Deep Roads; the place darkspawn hail from.”
“Just barely.” A smile teased upon my lips, but quickly faded. “Did you dream that you were darkspawn?” He ran an unsteady hand over his face, and I nodded silently, understanding.
“It was just a nightmare.” He reassured me.
Anger simmered in my belly. “Tell me we’ll succeed.”
“I recognize that look in your eyes. You don’t need me to tell you that.” His smile was tentative, uneasy. The nightmare had rattled him as well, and he was doing his best to not let it show.
“We accomplished a great deal on our own, and now we’re not alone. It will be hard won, but victory will be our…”
I kissed him before he finished his last word. For all our sakes, I hoped he was right.
The following morning, Alistair rallied the troops with a rousing speech that he made certain to include me in. He mentioned how I had risen to my rank from a Circle mage, and had led us all to this moment. He wanted to avenge our fallen comrades, those betrayed, including his brother – his words were inspiring, and he sounded like our new king.
For all our talk, the Blight was still sort of an elusive idea; we had no means by which to compare it. We knew ending it was our goal, but until we saw it first hand, we had no real perspective on the event itself. How were we to know the sheer weight of the word horde?
The horizon flashed orange like an autumn sunset, but we knew it was the glow of a great fire burning…the city of Denerim. As we drew nearer the scent of the fire sat heavy in the air, and it sent a chill down my spine. The darkspawn were a true blight upon the land, and left unchecked, they would destroy the world. Upon nearing the city, I got my first taste of real fear that should we fail, they would leave nothing in their wake.
One of my consolations was to know that such a threat had been defeated multiple times before, that and the fact that we had gathered together an amazing group of allies.
After securing the city gate, we discussed strategy with Riordan. He could sense the presence of two generals, and suggested we take them out before moving to higher ground to take on the archdemon, which had made it’s presence known. It precisely resembled the creature from my nightmares, and that made me question the other things I had seen and done in them.
This was no time for that.
Our group disbanded here. And it was one of the most difficult things I had ever endured. This group may have started out as a random partnership of individuals, but in time, they had become my family. There was nothing I would not do for any of them, and I had been lucky enough to learn that they would do the same for me. It had been a true honor to travel with them, to fight by their side, to befriend and love them.
Who would have ever thought?
I had mixed emotions about leaving Keiko behind, but in the event that both Alistair and I fell, I knew Sten would look after him. Keiko was rightly unhappy, but I told him that I could only entrust him with the task of watching over the others, protecting them. He barked a sharp affirmation, a reassuring sound that let me walk away from him certain of his survival.
My faithful mabari. Maker, watch over him. Watch over them all.
By the time we reached the rooftop of Fort Drakon, I wasn’t sure how much more fight I had left in me. From the look of my friends, they weren’t faring much better, especially poor Alistair and Leliana in their armor. We had made it through the city, defeated the generals, in addition to every other creature the darkspawn had brought with them, but we had taken our own share of losses. We watched as Riordan went up against the archdemon and fell.
That had been a crushing blow. Knowing he was no longer with us saddened me. We would honor his sacrifice.
We climbed stairs beyond counting to reach the final battleground, finding only a moment’s reprieve when we encountered Sandal surrounded by a roomful of dead darkspawn, and now it was as if a whole new battle were just beginning. Every inch of my body ached for a moment’s rest; I was running on lyrium and adrenaline, and thought that should I survive the battle, I would need a week’s worth of sleep to recover.
Everything we had done up until this point had been preparation. We endured wave upon wave of darkspawn who did their best to shield the archdemon from our attack, but we had allies of our own, and they rallied to our side and helped us to fight them back.
As Alistair had predicted, it was indeed a hard won victory. The remaining darkspawn began to flee in retreat, while the archdemon lay dying. As I had been planning, the final blow fell to me.
I rested a hand upon Alistair’s cheek. “Just in case.” I did not kiss him. I did not say farewell. I took a greatsword from a nearby body and ran with what little strength I had left in my legs to plunge it deep within the archdemon.
I heard Alistair call out my name; his voice riddled with fear, and saw from the corner of my eye Leliana holding him back. She had promised me she would watch over him, and she had not failed me.
I yelled out a battle cry filled with hatred for the creature dying at my feet and fear that I may soon be lying beside it. Energy sprung forth from the archdemon in the form of a pillar of light that reached up to the sky. Then a surge of power exploded from it and threw me off. I fell hard a few feet away and had the air knocked from my lungs.
I looked up to the sky with blurry eyes to see the magic of the archdemon dissipate in an array of twinkling light. It was oddly beautiful. I took a careful breath. I could feel the cooling comfort of the stones beneath my overheated body, but nothing else seemed amiss. I didn’t feel different. I didn’t feel as if an otherworldly entity had invaded my body. I didn’t feel as if I were dying.
Had we just won?
Had Morrigan’s ritual worked?
I looked for her, and caught just a glimpse of her sly smiling face as she retreated back the way we had come. She had known it would work, and now knowing that both Alistair and I were safe, she was leaving. I wanted to call out to her. I wanted to tell her she didn’t have to leave. I wanted to know this wouldn’t be the last time I ever saw her.
And then my eyes immediately sought out Alistair. He was running towards me one moment, and then swooping me into his arms in the next. “Are you all right?” His hands roamed up and down my body to reassure himself that I was in one piece.
We had survived. We had defeated the archdemon and put an end to the Blight. We had obtained victory. It was an overwhelming feeling. I was a mixture of emotion – relieved and yet sad. This meant that it was over. All of it.
Covered in sweat, ash, and blood, Alistair was a beautiful and welcome sight. We looked at one another, our eyes saying more than we could, and I smiled a bittersweet smile. I ran my hand up his cheek and pulled him to me. I had no words, and so I just held him.
Walking back down and out of Fort Drakon was near torture. My muscles burned and I was beyond exhausted. My staff felt like dead weight, and I had to wonder what was keeping me upright. The Maker’s will, clearly. Well that, and my two friends on either side of me. We held each other up and united against straggler darkspawn hiding in shadows.
As soon as we were outside, I sank in a heap upon the steps and smiled weakly at the cheers of our allies who had come to see our return. Bann Teagan was at the forefront, a genuine, relieved smile upon his face. He shook Alistair’s hand and embraced him in a fierce hug. They patted each other hard on the back, laughing.
He then kissed Leliana’s cheek, and finally came before me. He took my hand in his and kissed it. “My lady.” He smiled sweetly, a gesture I returned. He then bowed before Alistair, and the men and women behind him followed suit. They cheered and called his name.
I was sure I would fall over, but since I was already seated, kneeling shouldn’t be too difficult a maneuver, or so I hoped. I had barely positioned myself and bowed my head, when Alistair was helping me to rise. Again the crowd cheered, and I blushed. We had done this together.
Then the crowd parted, and our friends made their way forward. Sten led Wynne, Zevran, Oghren, Shale, and Keiko proudly through the throng. A sob escaped my lips and I was off running towards them. It must have been Andraste’s grace that carried me so lightly, for I felt no pain. Keiko bounded into my arms and licked my face repeatedly, barking happily as I inundated him in praise and joy. He then ran off to Alistair, while I embraced Sten.
It was at first awkward, our first hug, but as he let go of that gruff demeanor and returned my embrace, I felt my feet leave the ground as he lifted me into his arms. I felt small, and oddly safe. I heard and felt this grumble in his chest as he released his pent up breath. I had to wonder how long he had been holding it? Since I had left him at the gate?
He put me back down, and I couldn’t contain the bright smile at seeing one of his own, one that was quick to disappear. “It is good to see you, kadan.”
“And you.” I winked.
We all greeted one another again amidst a strange air of solemnity and celebration. The city was in ruin, but the threat was over. The others questioned Morrigan’s whereabouts, to which I could only offer speculation. I had not thought that she would leave so suddenly, but then again, she had always had her own plan. It was cruel to believe we were only a means to an end because her parting words to me had been of true friendship.
She may not have planned on befriending me, it had clearly made some of her decisions more difficult, but friends we were, and I wished her well, no matter what that meant for our futures. Her respect had been hard earned as well, I was a Circle mage, after all, but her last words to me had been a reassurance. Her actions were at times questionable, but as her friend, I could trust her, that much had been proven.
Darkspawn fled the city and retreated back to the underground. Without the archdemon to lead them, their battle was lost, and so they fled. The army made its way through the city, vanquishing any lingering foes and aiding survivors. There was a great deal of restoration that would have to happen in order to make the city safe again, but that was a worry for another day. For today we would celebrate this victory.
Some parts of Denerim had taken little damage, the Arl’s estate among them. It was there we sought refuge. We each retired to our previous rooms, the desire for rest an overwhelming yearning. My robe was caked in a number of filths, and every movement in an attempt to remove it caused me to wince. My muscles ached. My hands found it difficult to unclench. The smell of burning lingered in my hair. I wanted a long bath, but I was afraid my exhaustion would lead to my drowning, and so I fell hard upon the bed, half undressed, and was unconscious before my head hit the mattress.
The battle on the rooftop had taken its toll. I learned upon waking that those of us who had fought there had slept for nearly three days. I woke up in the late hours, famished, and still filthy, and was thankful for the Arl’s generosity and thoughtfulness. He had arranged for meals to be sent to our rooms while we recovered. I devoured the plate left on the table while I bathed before setting out in search of more food – the Warden appetite Alistair had warned me about.
I quietly made my way through the house, but my muscles still ached making my progress slow. I took note of where the estate had taken some damage. A part of the roof in the main hall had collapsed and I could see up to the clear night sky above. The city was quiet. The fires had been extinguished. I took a moment there to reflect on what had transpired and what was still to come.
I giggled upon entering the kitchens and finding Alistair already foraging for food. He had a tray in one hand and was sorting out a variety of food along with a bottle of wine.
“Am I interrupting?” I called out softly.
He startled, nearly dropping the tray. “Maker’s Breath! I did not hear you enter.” He turned sweet eyes toward me. “You’re all right.”
“So are you.” I couldn’t help myself, I ran unevenly into his arms.
He tossed the tray on the table and crushed me in his embrace. He held me like that for a long time. I was deeply relieved to find him unscathed. There were sure to be cuts and bruises underneath his tunic, but he was whole, and that in itself was a miracle. I thanked the Maker.
When I realized that we were willing to go to great lengths for each other, the night of Morrigan’s ritual, I had wanted to distance myself from him, for his sake. I hadn’t planned on sharing his bed again, and yet, on the night before the final battle, it was all I wanted. I had become rather selfish where he was concerned, but as I had started to formulate a plan that ensured his future, I had to be stronger, for both of us.
I would stop being so emotional, so full of angst, and be the person everyone thought I was – levelheaded, brave.
I pulled away, feeling my sadness creep over me. He raised a quizzical brow. “Did you just wake up?” I asked, while continuing to pull ever so slightly away from him.
“I did. And I don’t think I’ve ever been so hungry. I was preparing this for us.” He motioned to the discarded tray.
My smile was small. “Thank you.”
He dropped his arms suddenly. “Well.” Suddenly my backside was against the table and as I tried to move around it, backing away, Alistair put an arm on either side of me. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” I said too quickly.
“Come now. You don’t think I know you well enough to recognize when you’re troubled?” He was teasing, but it only made me feel worse about my decision.
The war was over. And that meant a number of things.
I could say those things, but it would only start another conversation we shouldn’t have; a conversation that would continue to leave our relationship open ended, because he didn’t want to face the truth. So I lied. “I’m not quite myself yet, that’s all. I’m starved and still feel as if I could sleep a week. Do you know how long we were out?”
“A day or two? Judging by my hunger.” He laughed.
I took a few pieces off the tray. “We should probably get what rest we can, for I can imagine there will be a great deal to do over the next few weeks.” I leaned forward and kissed the corner of his mouth before leaving him in questioning silence.
I hurried out of the kitchen as if I had stolen goods, and heard Alistair start to call after me. I kept walking, quickly. When I was safely back in my room, I breathed a stunted breath. I had to be better at keeping him at arm’s length. Hopefully, as the days passed, and he was called to meeting after meeting, the distance between us would not be so obvious and I would be able to withdraw with little notice.
I would excuse myself from those meetings in time as well, especially since my presence was unwanted by the nobles anyway, despite what I had done for them. In time, there would be too much going on to notice the absence of the mage Warden.
Or so I thought.
I thought I had been subtle, but apparently I had not been as clever as I thought. I must have acted too quickly. During the first week of talks and plans for restoration, I began to execute my plan. I left the Arl’s estate knowing my presence had been requested at a meeting concerning the continued alliances of those who had fought with us.
If my presence was unacceptable, why would they heed my words for the future peace of the land? If I didn’t have a place at court, why did they care for my opinion? And so, partly out of spite, I left the estate early that morning to meet with the Dalish encamped outside the city. They had welcomed us into their camp, they had offered us food and shelter, and I wanted to return the favor. I also wanted to extend my thanks for their support and offer them my condolences for their loss. I would do the same with the dwarves before they returned to Orzammar. Alistair and the nobles were to visit each of them later in the day, but if my plan was going to work, I had to limit our interactions.
Two days later, after failing to appear at another important meeting, I found myself on the end of the king-to-be’s ire. He didn’t bother to knock. He entered my room in a huff. I was sitting by the fire, finally reading Cullen’s letters, not expecting the interruption. Upon his entrance, I shoved the letters between the cushions of the settee and stood up to bear his displeasure.
It was the first time we had been alone since that night in the kitchen.
He paced for a moment, struggling to find the right words. When he did find them, they were a jumble of thoughts about how he needed my advice, and how the nobles were questioning my loyalty by showing such disrespect.
At that I laughed. They had some nerve.
He continued on about how he missed me, missed us, and that without me by his side, he didn’t want to do this, any of this.
I felt sympathy for him. He had never planned on ruling, and had been given little opportunity to take on any such leadership. I knew he would be a good king, but he needed time to find his way. I was trusting that the nobles of Ferelden would offer him sound advice until he became more self-assured in his new role, but he was making it clear that he didn’t want to do it without me.
How long could I remain at his side separated from him? How long could I keep him at arm’s length without him noticing?
His coronation had been scheduled almost immediately. It was a necessary step to reassuring the nation. In one week’s time, Alistair would be king. I could play this game another week or two to be certain. Couldn’t I?
I couldn’t disappear slowly as I planned. There would have to be some adjustments. I would take it day by day…until when? When would I be certain Alistair would be all right? When did it stop being my responsibility?
I apologized. He knew how the nobles felt about me, and so I reiterated that I thought it best to remove myself from official business. That was when he told me that they had unanimously agreed to granting me the title, “Hero of Ferelden”. I physically felt my jaw drop.
“Have I rendered you speechless?” He joked.
“Hero of Ferelden? Me? I didn’t do this alone.”
“You united us. You lead us to victory. You took the final blow. The title is more than fitting.” He took a step forward, and I retreated backwards, finding something mundane to occupy myself with.
“I’m not sure I deserve such a lofty title.”
“Why are you avoiding me?” He sounded hurt.
“I was just trying to give you the space you needed to grow accustomed to your new position.” It was hard to look at him in the light of such a lie.
“You think I know so little of you to not realize when you’re lying to me?”
I had to bite back a smile. So much for that. “I just thought it best to linger in the shadows.” I finally met his eyes. That much was true.
“It won’t always be like this.” He drew closer and took my hands in his.
“I know.” My smile was bittersweet. I know.
The week of Alistair’s coronation passed quickly. I sat in attendance whenever he requested and did my best to keep up appearances, but in the wee hours of the morning following the celebrations, Keiko and I boarded Captain Isabela’s ship bound for Kirkwall.
I told no one of my plans in order to keep them innocent of my betrayal. I left no word and traveled north without any indication of my identity. I hadn’t even sent word ahead of my arrival. I felt like a thief in the night.
I kept telling myself that it was in Alistair’s best interest that I remove myself from his side, but as I stood on deck, watching Ferelden grow smaller, I was overcome with grief and self-loathing. Alistair would be crushed, let alone what the rest of our friends would think of me – a coward, among other not so kind phrases. I hoped his anger at my actions would help him distance himself from me emotionally, but I really had no idea. I just didn’t know what else to do.
Keiko whined, and I gently patted his head for reassurance. I had no plan. Leaving Alistair seemed the most logical step to ensure his future, but I had no idea what that meant for me. I didn’t know where to go beyond Kirkwall. Weisshaupt? Orlais? Should I find other Wardens or just disappear all together? How easy would such a task be for the Hero of Ferelden?
That title would take some getting used to. Or maybe not.
I needed time, perspective, and a voice of reason. I didn’t even know if Cullen would be pleased to see me. His last letter had been filled with notes of bitterness. Had he not fully recovered from his time in the Circle? Or was it the attitude of his Knight Commander, the one fueling his wariness of mages that had affected him? Would the presence of a free mage be a welcome one?
I had never felt so lost. I suddenly had no purpose.
When I could no longer see the shores of Ferelden, I turned my attention forward. The last time I had traipsed across water, I had been leaving Cullen behind to make a future with Alistair. Now I was leaving Alistair in the hopes of finding solace with Cullen.
I could only sigh. I was truly lost.