We have now begun the DLC section of the Origins timeline and Maker, have I written more than I thought possible. It’s still the most fun I’ve had writing, and surprisingly enough, or not, there’s still more to come.
As the story includes mature scenes only suitable for those of a certain age, there will be links added that will lead you to AO3 when the time comes so that you can accept responsibility for reading such material, but also, should you like to read it in its entirety, as I’ve broken it into two sections due to its length, you can follow the link here. There are some mild NSFW moments that I will not detour away from, so be forewarned. 😉
Chapter VI – Awakening
It had only been five days since I had boarded the King’s ship and left Kirkwall, my new friends, and a strange adventure behind.
Very little had happened externally in that time, I had been confined to a boat, after all, but internally, my mind had done what it had always done, examined each situation from a dozen angles, and I had had plenty to think on. Especially after days of an imposed solitary confinement.
I thought Alistair had been giving me time to think, as if I needed help with that, but what was more likely was that he had needed the separation after seeing me again, knowing how I had spent my time away. And Cullen had not made the farewell easy. As we had made our way toward the stairs that led to the ship that would take me back to Ferelden, and the waiting King, my ex, he chose to flaunt our mutual affection for one another by giving me a final kiss.
It had been meant to impart a message, and it had not failed to do so.
My breath still hitched at the thought.
Maybe that was why Alistair had left me alone, in the hopes the remnants of Cullen upon my flesh would dissipate given enough time. Such a thought made me laugh.
The quiet, the isolation, and lack of anything else to do made the time pass slowly, and although I had been able to watch the sun rise and set, it distorted the days. My mind wandered to a number of events, from the actual past to a theoretical future. My journey to becoming the Hero was, indeed, a remarkable story; one riddled with the types of elements that my new friend, Varric had said would make for a real “page turner”. What would the days to come as the Commander of the Grey look like?
That thought had compelled me to flip through my journal; the one I had kept while we had traveled through Ferelden, places a Circle mage could never have imagined visiting, let alone the actions taken. As I had read the words, I felt removed from them. It was almost like those events had happened to someone else. How was it possible to have survived all those incidents?
The quick succession of so many events had left me little time to think on them, even when I had a moment’s pause. Hence the journal, to keep track of the ever-growing list of unlikliest of experiences.
In it was the developing relationship between the now King and I, in addition to the chance encounter with the now Knight Captain.
I remembered the night I worried that I was in love with two people simultaneously. I had lain awake beside Cullen, days spent in passion’s embrace, and then that cursed dream. The one that had startled me awake because I was afraid I was going to lose Alistair, the man I had run away from, for both our sakes. I knew the nobles would never accept me, and so I watched from the shadows as they paraded a line of “acceptable” choices before the man I loved.
Present tense. Love.
I was in love with them both, and I couldn’t fathom how that was possible.
My mind had flashed to my last moments with Cullen, and while it felt somewhat like a betrayal, now that I found myself once again by Alistair’s side, I knew there was something I was going to have to do – the sorting out of my feelings.
”…I know I can live without you…he can’t.”
He had been stoic that last day, and I had to wonder if he was putting on a brave face, something I had failed to do, since I said things I hadn’t planned on, but in spite of all those words we said our farewells.
I had held his four letters tightly against my chest, desperate to read his words, even knowing that two had been written when he thought I had perished in the fight against the archdemon. While I was fearful to know his mind, discovering upon my arrival in Kirkwall the change in him, our time together had had a positive effect. I also knew that I would be able to hear his voice as if he were standing next to me, and that was a comforting thought.
I also knew there would be consequences should I be caught with them.
The first few days, I hadn’t known what to expect from Alistair. He had chosen to avoid me. But then things changed, and yet I still didn’t know what to expect, and so I had remained fairly idle in my solitude; staring out the window of my room, watching small waves ebb away as the ship carried me away from one lover while the other purposefully ignored me above deck.
Alistair had changed in our time apart. Gone was the sweet natured man I had fallen in love with. There was a cold edge about him now, and I had to hope that, in time, I would be able to thaw it. I didn’t want him to remain in such a state. I felt overwhelming guilt at the knowledge that this new demeanor was my doing, and I couldn’t let that stand.
I didn’t yet know what I was going to do, but as it was my fault, I would find a way to undo it. I had to.
We had shared an ill-timed kiss and apologies that felt like a start to a new beginning, but I knew we were a long way off from being what we once were. If such a relationship were possible.
I had become filled with a sense of dread as the King’s ship lurched into port. The past two days had been pleasant, unexpectedly so, as I didn’t think to see Alistair again until we arrived back in Denerim, but the dread returned as I came face to face with my friends turned judges. The looks upon their faces – a mixture of relief, anger, and disappointment – and I thought my taint-fueled dreams were the only things to haunt me.
~ * ~
Honestly, there was something to be said about friendship. In spite of my actions, my friends were relieved to see me, even a bit happy. I know they were mad, maybe mad wasn’t exactly the right word to describe their particular state of anger at my disappearance, but upon stepping off the King’s ship at the docks in Denerim, I swear I could almost hear them sigh.
I was happy to see them too. I had missed them, but I didn’t realize how much until I saw them all, save Morrigan, Shale, and Oghren, standing together, waiting for my arrival. They looked well. I had wondered what had kept them occupied since completing our mission.
The civil war had been ended. The Blight had been ended. And one of our own had become King of Ferelden.
They had earned a long vacation, and while I was certain that at least a few, if not all, of them had been assisting Alistair in his transition, some of them must also be getting antsy and ready for the next challenge.
Since my leaving I hadn’t heard anything in regards to the state of the country nor any lingering effects of the war or the Blight on the people or the land. My selfishness had led me to leave it all behind, after doing everything in my power to save it.
As I made my way from the ship, the other guilt I had been avoiding began to make itself known, suddenly and with great weight. It felt like a boulder, weighing upon me so that my legs began to slow. I could barely breathe for fear of what my companions might say. Would they forgive me? Could they? I was certain Wynne would have the most disapproving comments. She had already forewarned Alistair and I about our relationship and we had ignored her.
Alistair King Alistair led the way off the ship, with me following just behind. Keiko bounded around us and beat us to make his greetings. The big puppy received a great deal of affection, and he was ever so happy to receive it and return it. He bounced and barked ecstatically around the group, causing everyone to laugh at his overjoyed display.
Alistair waited patiently for the excitement to cease, and while our friends weren’t quite as boisterous in their welcome of him as they were Keiko, they did greet him with great warmth and kindness, making sure to comment on how much better he appeared after such a short time. Leliana was deliberate in giving me a look, knowing my reappearance was the cause.
Alistair gave me a final glance and a few short words about seeing him at the palace, and then left with the few guards that had traveled with us.
I finally stood before them, with Keiko taking his place beside Sten, feeling small, like a child about to be chastised for her bad behavior. “I’ve known this moment was coming and yet the words fail me as to how I should beg your forgiveness.”
Zevran was the first to step forward. “While the haircut is fetching, I think we are all wondering the same thing…”
And then it was Sten. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
I must have thought about my answer too long, as Wynne’s face, that maternal disappointment unmistakable, turned sour. She followed Alistair. That was going to be quite the conversation.
“I thought I had, but in the end, I may be even more confused, and I think I may have actually made matters worse.”
“How is that even possible?” Leliana asked coyly.
I let out an exasperated sigh and shrugged my shoulders simultaneously.
“I’m sure there’s a story there.” She winked and then drew me into her embrace. Once I was in her arms, the pent up emotions, the worry of seeing them again, the confusion, the everything…released. And I cried.
“I’m so sorry.” My words were muffled into her shoulder.
“Until I know the truth of it all, I cannot give you the absolution you seek.”
I nodded my head and stepped out of her comforting hug. I looked at Sten and Zev and said, “I will do what I can to earn your forgiveness. I’m sure you know why I felt compelled to leave, but I should never have left things like that with you. I was just trying to keep you from being culpable in my escape. I mistreated our friendship because my heart was broken. I was selfish, and naive, and lost. I’d like to use my age and lack of experience as some excuse, but given what we accomplished together, it’s hardly a sound argument.”
“I judged you for months, if you’ll recall? I do not like to repeat myself.” Sten looked at me with his stern eyes that flickered with a hint of his amusement at my predicament.
“And I am in no position, nor have I been lucky enough to find myself as such.” Zevran winked, and through my tears I was able to chuckle.
With Leliana’s arm around my shoulders, we made our way through Denerim towards the palace. A lot of rebuilding was already under way. There were a number of areas that still showed the signs of battle, but the energy of the city was positive.
Upon entering the palace, the guards situated at the main doors escorted me, alone, to my rooms where I was locked within.
I suppose the situation could have been worse. I wasn’t in a cell. Instead I had been given conjoined rooms – a living space with a desk, overflowing bookshelves, and a comfortable seating area with a fireplace that lead to a spacious and ornate bedroom. There was a fireplace in there as well along with a large canopied bed, an armoire, a vanity, and multiple chests. Amidst the many grand tapestries were a number of windows, some of them even giving me a view of Fort Drakon.
Of which I had had my fill.
I had to wonder if that was done intentionally.
The bonus was the steaming bath that awaited me. It smelled of lavender and was ever so inviting, especially after a handful of days upon a ship. I hadn’t taken much with me when I left, nor did I return with much more, so as I looked down at my robes, I truly wished there was something else available to me. My eyes turned to the armoire. Despite the lock down, all the other things Alistair had done and said had made me believe…made me hope that we were on our way to creating something new. He had wanted me to return, so with that in mind, would he have taken the time, the consideration, to bestow gifts upon me?
I was overwhelmed to find a collection of new robes, including a few dresses that were overly nice, as if I were expected to wear them while at court, but not as a Warden, nor a mage for that matter. They had no real purpose, at least not one I could discern. I was confused. There were a variety of useful belts, shoes for every occasion, and mage cowls for different functions.
There were a number of conversations waiting to be had, and this intriguing new development was now to be added among them.
Without further invitation, I slipped out of my clothes and submerged myself into the lovely scented tub. The heat penetrated my muscles and I was instantly relaxed. It was only a moment later when there was a light knock at my door and the simultaneous entrance of Leliana with a tray of food. She barely made a sound as she crossed the room and came to sit beside me.
“We thought you might be hungry.”
“And I thought we could talk before your obligations call you elsewhere.”
I nodded silently, took a few bites of the food she was offering, and then went into detail about my…let’s call it a “diversion” to Kirkwall.
Amidst the telling of the adventures I had had, Leliana would smile or gasp, revel in the romance or grow serious and even angry depending on the moment I was describing. At the end of my tale, she asked only one question. “You would have run away with the Templar without thought of returning home to Ferelden?”
I suppose I didn’t tell the story quite right.
“At first I didn’t think I should return. Alistair, I thought, would be better off without me in his new role. I thought of maybe joining another branch of the Order, or maybe just disappearing all together. Then as things progressed, I did consider leaving Kirkwall with Cullen, but after some time, I came to my senses about how I had behaved, and I had to atone for my actions. I planned on returning, soon actually.”
“I’m happy to hear it.” She didn’t smile.
“I wrote everyone a letter about a fortnight ago. You clearly have not received them.”
“No. I shall make inquiries.”
We were silent for a while for the conversation had waned. She had not forgiven me, not yet. I had hurt her deeply with my betrayal. And she had already endured enough of not being able to trust those she thought closest to her. She had become the best friend I ever could have hoped to have, and I had left without a word. I would need to earn her trust again, and soon, as I wasn’t sure how much time either of us had left together. “How bad was it here?”
“You would not have recognized him.”
“It hurt to see him so altered. After the Landsmeet, I did not believe my absence would cause him such distress.”
“Finding you was his sole focus. He was frantic until he learned where the Templar was stationed. His royal duties were only given a cursory glance, so the Arl has been invaluable.” She turned away from me then. “Had you not been in Kirkwall, I’m not sure what he would have done.”
I swallowed hard. That was difficult to hear, and even more difficult to comprehend. “I do love him. I care for them both, which is why, even though we’ve forgiven one another, he keeps his distance. He wants me to clear my head, I suppose, and be certain, which of course I was until…” We had been only speaking of my adventures, or misadventures, given the circumstances, and so I turned my attention. “Enough of me. How are you? What are your plans?”
She continued to look into the fire. “I have been offered a position with an expedition in regards to the Urn.” She then gave me a sideways, knowing look.
The Urn was meant to have stayed secret, and yet, here we were. I mused at this new information. Such things couldn’t remain hidden for long, apparently.
Her tone changed as she continued. “Courts are full of intrigue and the machinations of men, and I wasn’t certain of leaving our King alone. He is capable, but without us by his side, I fear who may take advantage.”
“I share your fear. That was what brought me back to my senses, that he was here alone. I won’t leave him again unprotected. Maybe together we can better prepare an assurance of his safety in our respective absences.”
She half nodded and then arose to rummage through the armoire.
“And how are you?” I asked again.
“Better now.” She picked out a simple, yet pretty gown that felt almost unnatural due to its lack of armor or magical purpose. It was just a dress, but is was cut so that aspects of my figure were more accentuated. She then coordinated a belt and shoes to match. Once I was dressed, she tucked an errant hair behind my ear. “The haircut is fetching. Your friend should be commended.”
“Yes, well.” I shrugged.
“Had your new friends not sought retribution for such a slight, I would feel it necessary to do so.”
She was close to forgiving me, and her words made me smile. “Thank you.”
She led me to sit at the vanity where she opened drawers and revealed powders and oils and a variety of strange things I could not understand the use of. She patted my eyelids and brushed my cheeks and dabbed my lips, and when she was done, I saw her handiwork. She had added colors in the way of enhancement. The eyelids were darkened which made my eyes look more striking. My cheeks were given a permanent blush, and my lips were rosy as if stained by berries.
I gave her a questioning look. “You are at court and there are expectations.” It was a flat out lie.
“I’m a mage and a Warden. I doubt I’ll be in error of courtly etiquette if I walk about without this.” I gestured to my face.
“Oh, one more thing.” She removed one of the vials of oil and dabbed behind my ears, both wrists, and then a drop between my breasts. Now I looked shocked. “We shall all gather together after you meet with the King. He has requested that you speak with him in regards to your new station and the state of affairs since the Blight.”
“Then shouldn’t I wear something more appropriate for such important matters? What is all this?”
“This is perfect.” I caught her biting back the smallest of smiles.
~ * ~
I was uncomfortable, and I knew Leliana was up to something.
She directed me to the antechamber where I found Arl Eamon waiting for me. The room was spacious and the couple of guards stationed by the main doors were far enough away that the Arl could address me without much worry of being overheard. The look he gave me was close to the one I received from Wynne, and I nearly wilted underneath its meaning. Despite the look, he kissed my hand. “My lady.” His voice was cold.
I nodded in return. “Arl Eamon, please let me begin…”
He took a curt step back. “The King looks better, and for that I am thankful to you. He has given me little detail in regards to your journey back together, except to say that you are forgiven.”
“We have forgiven each other.”
He was taken aback at that. “And what injustice required you to forgive him?”
“Was it you who urged him to put me aside at the Landsmeet?” His wince was barely visible, but I saw it. “I suspected as much, as you are the only other person whose words carry such weight.”
“You cannot marry him.”
“Does my return disrupt your plans to flaunt the eligible maidens of the noble houses of Thedas before him?”
“You hold great sway over him.”
“As he does me.”
“I’m surprised to hear you say that.”
“We stayed to fight after Ostagar because he wanted to, even though we were branded traitors. We saved your son because of his respect for you. I stayed by his side in the fight against the archdemon not only because of my attachment to him, but because we’re stronger together. I left Ferelden for him. Despite what you may think of me, my primary concern has long been for his well being. Long before you asked.”
A small half smile dawned. “I should have known better than to doubt you or your intentions. Teagan tried to tell me, and in spite of everything, I…I should apologize.”
“Are your shortcomings in your trust of me, after everything, due to the simple fact that I am a mage?”
“I wish I could say I was a better man than to have allowed such a trivial matter to cloud my judgment. I am ashamed to admit as much. You have acted more honorably than anyone I know. You saved my son, a fellow mage, and I would not want others to judge him as you have been, especially after such service. I do apologize for my behavior.”
“While I have little understanding of the dynamics of court and politics, nor do I have any desire to gain more, I find it intolerable that Alistair and I were allowed to risk our lives to save Thedas together, but not allowed to maintain a relationship, of any kind, according to you. A bastard ascending the throne was more tolerable than the idea of a mage by his side. I have a powerful gift, one that clearly makes the ungifted nervous, but I am still a person, one who sacrificed nearly everything only to be told ‘thank you, you’re remarkable, but unworthy’.”
I hadn’t ever planned to voice my thoughts on this subject aloud, even though it had always been waiting to be said.
“Do you think as a noble you would have any more freedoms? As a peasant? We each have duties and expectations imposed upon us, and there are many a decision made for us. It may appear as if we have more freedom but we are rarely allowed to make any decision for our own happiness. We must always think of how it might affect our family, our livelihood, the future of, well everything. As king, the outcome of those decisions is magnified tenfold. The only freedom either of you had was during your journey to end the Blight.”
That was a somber thought.
“And what expectation was imposed upon you when you chose an Orlesian wife?” I fully intended the taunt and his sly smile let me know that it had hit its mark.
“You would do well at court.”
I shrugged it off with an embarrassed smile because I hadn’t intended to be so bold.
The conversation had been more enlightening than I would have thought. I think on both sides we had come to a better understanding of the other, and so after we had each had our say, we looked at one another in comfortable silence and nodded in agreement. “We shouldn’t keep the King waiting.” I finally said.
“Warden business excuses me from attending. And given your appearance, which if I may be so bold, is quite lovely, I imagine the King’s attention will be divided. And here you had me believing you had his best interest at heart.”
I looked down at the gown Leliana had put me in and now realized her intentions. “My friend had other plans.”
He bowed and motioned for me to make my way to the throne room. With this newfound knowledge I grew nervous. There was familiarity in my mage robes. They not only symbolized my skill set, but the typical reaction from others was expected and therefore, easy to prepare for. The same could be said for the Grey Warden armor. Again, there was universal recognition in what they symbolized and after some time of wearing it, I could prepare myself for the general population’s reaction.
This simple dress, on the other hand, was not something I knew how to handle. The tops of my breasts were exposed. The soft fabric clung to my hips, and upon hearing the Arl’s reaction, I didn’t know what I was going to do once I was standing before Alistair.
The soft soled shoes barely made a sound on the stone floor. The gown swished around my feet, and I could feel the sway in my hips because I wasn’t encumbered by armor or even my staff. This is what Leliana had wanted for me? To feel vulnerable? And then it dawned on me. She wanted me to feel like a woman, and to make Alistair see me as one. Or at least remind him of the fact.
It was too soon to make those kinds of inroads. He wanted me to have some space to reflect on not only our relationship but my relationship with Cullen as well. And I knew I needed it. Things had escalated quickly and I had been mourning a broken heart. Leliana should have known better than to force this so soon.
The heavy doors to the throne room were opened for me, and I entered the great hall to find Alistair standing by a window at the other end, alone. Things had escalated quickly for him too. He was now ruling a kingdom, and I had left him to navigate such an undertaking alone. Not that I knew anything about such an endeavor. As soon as I was within hearing distance, I curtsied low. “Your Majesty.” And I remained low until he acknowledged me.
I may not know much about court but I knew that much.
He laughed. “What are you doing?” And then he turned and saw me, and his laughter died. He cleared his throat, and now the full understanding of Leliana’s plans were clear.
He couldn’t take his eyes off me.
“Is it not customary to greet my sovereign as such?” I tried to be nonchalant, as if I didn’t know this dress was ridiculous. Or at least me being in the dress was ridiculous.
“It’s already so strange to hear you call me anything other than Alistair. Please, let us just be who we are when we’re together.”
And who would that be?
It took a great deal of effort not to ask. His attitude towards me had been so strange since Kirkwall. He dismissed me, then said he loved me. He was flirtatious, then told me to sort my feelings. He basically ignored me upon leaving the ship, and now he was happy again to see me. I knew he was struggling with his feelings, and it was evident that we still had a lot to figure out.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
There was a long table off to the side of the throne, most likely used by his advisors, that he made his way around to lean against. His eyes stayed on me, and I just stood there in the center of the room awkwardly. “And why is that?”
“We aren’t simple Wardens anymore, and our friendship is fragile. Maybe it’s best if we maintained a professional relationship until we’re…”
“Until we’re what?” He crossed his arms, preparing to hear the worst.
I was at a loss for a good word. “Better?”
“Is that what you want?”
I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. That was a lie. “Do you?”
“I asked you first.”
That made me chuckle. I looked at him and there was this expectation in his eyes. My heart leapt into my throat.
He looked like my Alistair again.
The sweet-faced, kind, light-hearted man I had fallen in love with. And the passion that always resonated between us made itself known.
We were alone. There was no one to witness an exchange. It was just us, as it once had been, and my mind quickly flipped through a series of inappropriate scenarios I could most likely put him into and I had to bite my lip to stop from giggling. I wanted to kiss him again but if the incident on the boat was any indication of its welcome then it was probably best to refrain. And the awkward intensity continued to grow as we stared at one another, waiting for the other to break.
Should we succumb? Should we try again? Should I test the fragile nature of our new relationship by indulging in desire? Why was I so weak where he was concerned?
I took a step forward.
Why was I so weak?
I missed him. So very much. Despite our time aboard the ship. I felt as if I might always miss him. I shook my head, annoyed with my thoughts. “Remind me to thank Leliana later.”
I could imagine the chuckle rumbling in his chest. “Me too.” He took a couple of steps forward, albeit reluctantly. “You’re so beautiful…” I scoffed. “You are. But seeing you like this…was unexpected, delightful.” He traced a gentle finger from my cheek down my throat, stopping before he went any further.
My body fully flushed and my heart skipped a beat. “I feel…foolish. Unlike myself.”
“I think this is a look you should consider more often.”
“Is that the reasoning behind the other gowns in my room?” Did he want me to dress like this all the time? It was so impractical. I looked into his eyes, which were focused on my breasts, and his cheeks warmed under the scrutiny.
“There are a number of events you may be required to attend, and Leliana and I thought it best you be prepared.” He cleared his throat again and finally made eye contact.
“But I’m to leave for the new Wardens’ keep soon, am I not?”
“You are. But you may have need of something other than armor on occasion.”
“I can take them with me?”
“You are welcome to leave some here. For when you return. As I told you, your home is always with me.”
My eyes were puddles as I finally leaned in to kiss him. It was soft and lingering, and it was met with mutual warmth.
When we parted, he gave me an embarrassed half smile. “Let us talk business so that we may enjoy the remainder of the day with our friends. As you may have learned, some of them have taken new appointments and must leave us shortly.”
I nodded while stepping out of his embrace. To work.
~ * ~
We leaned, side by side, over the paperwork upon the table. Feeling him beside me again was intoxicating. Gone was his anger with me, and all that remained was the familiar warmth that resonated off him. Our hands were ever so close to one another; so close, in fact, that if I moved my pinky finger at all, it would graze his.
We stood like that for some time, reading over the letter of my promotion and the associated expectations from Weisshaupt. It was a kind letter, generous in compliments of our accomplishments, and heartfelt praise for ending the Blight. They noted that although the Wardens had begun to feel the start of a new Blight as early as 9:25, five years before it arrived on the surface, it was the shortest Blight in history. That was a remarkable discovery. It also offered detailed steps that I could take, all advisory, in regards to my new role. As the new Commander of the Grey, I was solely responsible for the Wardens in my care and any decisions made, and while they would expect regular reports of my progress, I had free reign.
There was a small note in reference to Duncan, the previous Warden Commander of Ferelden and the first Warden to be allowed reentry to Ferelden after their expulsion. Seeing his name and title there in print, remembering it was he who had recruited me, and now it was I who was following in his footsteps – it leant more gravity to the situation. He had such a way about him and it was my goal to make him proud.
There was mention of the refusal of Orlesian Wardens during the Blight, which both surprised and angered Alistair and I. It caused Alistair to pace in frustration. We could have had help, a great deal of it, nearly two hundred wardens and four legions of chevaliers, had Loghain not been so stubborn as to accept the help of Orlais. He hated them, and refused aid, which only incensed the Empress. We could understand his hesitation in accepting the help of people he considered his enemy, but the Wardens were meant to be an unbiased Order, beholden only to the greater threat, and they would have been a welcome sight.
Ever so welcome.
200 wardens. I couldn’t fathom such a number, especially in light of the fact that until we had found Riordan, it had just been Alistair and I in all of Ferelden. 200 wardens…denied entry during a Blight. It left me speechless.
Restoring a relationship with Orlais was something Alistair, as king, would need to address, and soon. In spite of everything, Orlais had sent a dozen Wardens to Ferelden, and they were now stationed at the keep. While Alistair mended diplomatic relations, I would extend my thanks to the Commander of the Grey in Orlais, Clarel de Chanson for her support and generosity. It would be helpful to create a relationship with my counterpart, as we were all after the same thing, and I knew very little of the Order other than what Alistair had shared with me. Duncan had fallen before being able to share very much with either of us, and so I looked forward to being surrounded by so many who would be able to teach me a great deal about so many aspects of the Order.
Alistair had also sent a number of soldiers to the keep to aid the Wardens in fighting the remnants of darkspawn fleeing through the area. Some of them had been recruited to join the Order. Mhairi, one of those soldiers and my guide to the keep, had gone north with the others but was awaiting news of my arrival. I had only as long as it would take to send her word and await her return from the arling. I could be leaving in as little as a week. And there was still much for me to do.
Eventually he stopped pacing, his anger reined in.
He didn’t know much more beyond that as the Wardens now had a base in Ferelden. Any further communications from Weisshaupt were most likely directed there, and so he had to wait for a report from Mhairi upon her return as to the situation.
I had a pit in my stomach. I had quite the task ahead of me with no one I trusted, save Keiko, by my side.
Alistair was on the throne. Leliana was off to research the Urn of Sacred Ashes, scheduled to leave within the month with a small retinue of Templars and priests. Wynne had two paths laid before her. Not only was she joining the College of Magi, she was planning on meeting Shale in Tevinter to discover if there was a way for Shale to regain her mortality. Sten was returning to Seheron, it was time for him to report on his journey. Zevran was planning on seeking vengeance in Antiva, although he was willing to stay if I asked. I would have to ask. And finally, the day after I left, Oghren had taken off to reunite with Felsi, and Shale had left as well. There had been rumors of sightings of the golem heading back toward her thaig, but details were sketchy, as were the reports that there had been a decrease in the pigeon population, but since she was planning on meeting with Wynne, there had to be a way of communicating with her.
Alistair made a comment that we did not need to send Mhairi word right away of my homecoming. That surprised and delighted me, and my face reflected the array of emotion associated which caused him to smile in turn. I knew my duties for the Order would need attention soon enough, but I liked the idea of having more time with Alistair, even though he wanted me to regain that perspective he kept talking of.
With the return of the Grey Wardens to Ferelden, the pressure of chasing down straggler darkspawn was alleviated. I could remain in Denerim to assist him as I should have. If three Wardens could end the Blight, imagine what a dozen Wardens could accomplish? That was a comforting thought, and it would give me the time I needed to ensure Alistair’s well-being in my absence. Hopefully Leliana and I would have ample time together to accomplish that goal.
Our conversation then turned to the state of Ferelden. The tasks we had undertaken while uniting Ferelden had been numerous indeed and at times some of them had seemed insurmountable, which is why I felt confident that the country could be restored, given time. We discussed the regions that might need the most attention. The relationships we had cultivated would need to be maintained, as allies were the best asset in the restoration plans.
Alistair was likable, exceedingly so, and his efforts to protect not just the nation but the whole of Thedas would not be forgotten, and it was those qualities and characteristics that would help him during his reign. He was his own best asset.
He had begun to study the art of governance and a number of other related topics that would be useful to him, and now that his mind was eased, thanks to my return, he would be able to turn more attention to it. I encouraged his efforts. He would be able to rely on his own judgment more soundly than those around him.
Our business was concluded, and without demeaning his competency, I was proud of him. In a short amount of time, he had already grown into his new role with a newfound leadership mentality – which is what I had wanted for him. He was concerned for the people, his people. He stood before me, back straight, hands clasped behind with a regal air about him.
I had been right. He was a good man who was going to make a good king.
While I could not take the last few months back, nor did I want to, for there had been so many positive things to come from that time, I did have to wonder at the lives
we I had given up. Could he and I now be heading off to the new Warden keep together? Could we be traveling the whole of Thedas or would we have settled down somewhere quiet and beautiful?
I wondered in vain, as those possibilities were ended the moment I learned he could be king. That had long been my problem, knowing there was an expiration date on our relationship. But now here we were. Still in the same predicament, and yet, there was hope again.
And without reason, there it was again.
That spark of desire.
It began in my belly and traveled south making its presence known until having him between my thighs was all I could think about. He must have noticed the shift because suddenly his demeanor changed as well and the want for one another once again charged the air between us.
My pulse had quickened, and I could see the rise of my breasts as my breaths shortened, causing my head to swirl. My rational brain tried to tell me it was too soon, but I could see his desire overcoming his reason as well. Was I going to take him on the table? We were not to be disturbed. It might be fun to defile the throne, as it symbolized our separation.
We needed it, I think. The release. And so blotting out all thoughts as to why we shouldn’t, I pulled him towards me until I was pressed against the table with his legs entwined between mine. I kissed his neck, gave it a light nibble, and relished in the moan that escaped his lips.
He pulled one of my legs up to wrap it around his waist while his hand made its way under my gown and up my thigh. His mouth was then on my neck as I leaned back, clinging to him with my whole being. And then just as quickly he was untangling himself from me and the words, “I can’t” were being said, barely audible.
It had been too soon. I knew it and couldn’t control myself. He hadn’t been much better, I was happy to say. And at least we both knew that the “thing” that had always been between us, was still there.
I let out an unsteady breath, trying to regain my composure. He pulled on his leathers, trying to do the same. “As I said on the ship, I want you to be sure.”
He smiled sweetly, and I knew I had to leave. Looks like that were my undoing. I curtsied again, making sure to show off my assets. “Your Majesty.”
He groaned. “Maybe it would be best, for the time being, if you were to wear more appropriate attire.” I looked affronted. “I’m compelled to tear this gown off of you, and I’m not sure that’s the most prudent course of action, under the circumstances.”
“When the circumstances are better, I look forward to its destruction.” I smiled sweetly in return, and sauntered from the room, not looking back. In part, because I wanted him to desire me with such fervor that he couldn’t control himself, and I knew the teasing would eventually, hopefully, draw him there.
I shivered. That was quite the delicious thought. The innocent Warden-turned king in command.
Outside the king’s chamber, I found a moment to compose and chastise myself. But only a moment as the guardsmen were still at their post. Half acknowledging their presence, I continued on.
What was wrong with me? Within a week I was wishing for the family life with one man and then flipping to hopeful thoughts of something similar with another. I had been so back and forth with my feelings, allowing them to rule freely, letting base desire lead me by the heart strings so that I found myself wanting them both without any consideration what it all truly meant.
Alistair and I had slowly forged a relationship through battle, friendship, and trust earned. We had shaped it over the course of a year, and within a fortnight, my heart had looked elsewhere. It had reason. There was cause. I had left Ferelden broken. Not only my heart but my spirit as well. But in that time, which should have been spent in reflection, I took the opportunity to seek out someone who I knew would bring me solace.
It’s not that I didn’t care for Cullen, but dreaming of a different life with him had been unfair, to both of us. It had happened so quickly. I would need to reconcile such behavior, and apologize for it. I had to be honest, with everyone, if I was ever going to recover from it all. If we were going to recover from it. No matter the faces they presented, no matter the words of forgiveness spoken, I had done them both wrong and I would need to do better by them.
I had already come to these conclusions, but vainly I thought it would all sort of magically fix itself. I had apologized. I thought I was being honest, but there were underlying feelings that I had to confront and time on my own was most likely the only way to do that…as the incident in the king’s chamber had just revealed.
I was wanton where those two were concerned.
Having felt Alistair pressed up against me…my body still pulsated with want at the thought and I swallowed hard to regain control. Maybe if I had Zevran’s mindset towards sex I could relish in such moments instead of worrying and second guessing.
Maker’s Breath! Too many thoughts. I must get out of my own head and back to the tasks at hand.
Before I settled into the remainder of the afternoon with my friends, I knew I had to seek Wynne out and make amends. She was like a mother to all of us, despite her protests, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her leaving and having not forgiven me. I may never see her again. She was on borrowed time as it was. And so I made my way to her room.
I had barely uttered a word when she saw the pathetic look upon my face and pulled me into her arms. I knew she couldn’t stay mad at me for long.
Even still, she pulled me by my ear to sit by the fire while she rattled off the reasons she was disappointed in me. When her tirade was over, she sat down calmly beside me. Looking into my eyes, seeing the pain and guilt still bubbling beneath the surface, she asked me, in her kind voice, to tell her what had happened.
When I was finished with the highlights of my time away, she offered me some advice. Talking with someone you look up to, like a parent, generates a strange, uncomfortable conversation when it comes to intimate encounters and their details. Neither of us wished to disclose such details, and yet, we ended up talking a bit about physical relations. It was her hope that she could offer me some help in distinguishing the difference between love and passion as I considered my relationships.
She then shared with me a story of an affair she had been in while in the Circle. She didn’t go into too many of the particulars, but her thoughts on relationships were forever changed after that. She agreed that I needed the time away, to think clearly on each of them without the constant reminder of either. It would give me some much needed perspective, to discover if and what I missed about each of them.
Once I was forgiven, we found the others and enjoyed a splendid afternoon of feasting and laughter, storytelling and thoughts on the future. And after too much wine and good feeling, I crawled into bed with Alistair by my side.
~ * ~
I was confused. I was scared. I was thrilled.
The wine had lowered my inhibitions and the earlier rise of desire still lingered so that my body pulsated at the mere brush of our skin. In spite of all that, I tried to act nonchalant. “People will talk.”
“I took a secret passage. Did you not wonder at the situation of your room?”
“I thought the view of Fort Drakon was meant to be a reminder.”
He laughed quietly. “Maybe a little.” He fell silent for a minute after I swatted at him, and then turned his eyes upward. “This place has been so empty without you. I have been empty without you. Until you left me, I didn’t realize how I had taken your presence for granted.”
The crackling of the fire and Keiko’s soft snoring at the foot of the bed were the only sounds filling the room, and so the silence that stretched between us seemed even greater. After such an admission, I felt a sort of dumbstruck awe. “We have treated one another badly.”
“We have, but I intend on making amends.”
I turned his face towards me. “Please don’t make promises you cannot keep.” My heart couldn’t take such an assurance. “I don’t think we should take advantage of either of our vulnerabilities because being with you was…is easy, and falling back into your arms, just as easy.”
We each lay on our side, looking at one another in the golden light of the fire. After a few long moments, he finally opened his arms to me. There was the hint of a smile upon his lips as he watched me contemplate my options.
We had just talked about this.
It was a bad idea, and yet it felt right. How could either of us be assured of our affections if we didn’t give one another the time we needed…but looking at him now, seeing the sweet eyes looking so expectantly…what else could I do?
And so I fell.
~ * ~
The next morning, I woke up feeling surprisingly invigorated, albeit alone. Alistair had cradled me in his arms until I fell asleep. His lips upon my head were the last thing I remembered. He had worn soft linens that smelled of…nature, maybe? It was a smell I couldn’t name, but lingered upon my sheets. I flopped over, inhaling his smell, thankful for this new start.
Feeling more positive about the day ahead than I had in a fortnight, I dressed in a more modest, more appropriate, mage robe. I say modest because although it covered all my parts, it was unlike anything I had seen in the Circle, or anywhere, for that matter. It had lovely, ornate stitching, layered skirts, and a high collar. I had felt foolish in the gown Leliana had chosen, and the reactions to me in it made me uncomfortable, to some extent, but I would be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that this particular robe made me feel beautiful. It made me feel powerful. I had heard stories of court enchanters. Perhaps this mage robe was intended for such a person.
Going over to the vanity, I copied some of the touches Leliana had done the day before. Darkening my eyes and coloring my lips completed the look, and for once, looking in the mirror, I was satisfied with what was reflected. It was odd to find myself altered by the mere change of dress. It gave me the courage to act as the advisor I should have been.
I didn’t have an itinerary for the day, nor did I have any information as to my duties while in Denerim, so I made my way to the dining hall in the hopes of finding my friends breaking their fast. When I entered the hall, I could hear their response to my new look, and I blushed.
The dress did something to my posture, and the collar made me hold my head high, and so as I approached the table, their side comments about how I had taken to my new role made me roll my eyes in response. But joining in their laughter came just as easily. As I sat with them, Alistair entered, and we all stood up quickly to bow.
He immediately growled his discontent.
He came to sit beside me, and remarked that this dress was somehow even more appealing than the one I had tempted him with the day before. I blushed at the flattery, and tried not to think of his hands tearing it off of me. Perhaps my simple mage robes would be more appropriate during my stay in Denerim. They weren’t particularly flattering, now that I knew there were more flattering gowns to be had, but he was accustomed to seeing me in them, so maybe the distraction of the unfamiliar would be best left until we were on better footing.
Whatever that meant.
I directed my attention back to our friends and the comfortable familiarity of our family unit overwhelmed me and saddened me simultaneously, for I knew that very soon we would be separated. Our time together had come to an end, and we each had a new path set before us. I had to wonder if we would ever all be together again? I feared that these were to be the last days.
Another end was nearing, and again I seemed only to be able to focus on that, instead of the more enjoyable moments in-between. My love for Alistair had taken precedence over nearly everything else, and while the love of my friends and the bonds we shared were important to me, I had taken them for granted, as Alistair said he had of me. I didn’t think of their futures beyond what we were doing together, even while I considered the lack of a future I would have with the to-be king. Perhaps if I had taken the time to be a better friend, the misery of my failed relationship wouldn’t have affected me so.
And here Alistair and I were, possibly building something new, and it had consumed nearly all my thoughts.
I had to spend as much time as I could with each of them, to ensure that our bonds would remain intact despite the time and distance that was to separate us.
Alistair asked that I sit in on a meeting about some restoration plans to the war torn, Blight affected areas. I was then free to enjoy the remainder of the day however I wished. And that was how the first week flew by. As the week pressed on, I found more and more to occupy my time and each night I would fall into bed exhausted, cuddling with Alistair who continued to sneak into my room after the household had retired.
Even though we weren’t fighting, which generally caused physical fatigue, the mental strain of putting the country back together was almost as tiring. There were so many topics that required attention and I assisted in prioritizing them, usually quietly after the nobles had left the room. They were still uneasy about a mage beside their king, even though she had led the group who ended all their troubles.
There were side glances and whispers, but my new wardrobe helped me to maintain my indifferent demeanor and a sideways glance back in their direction often silenced them. Knowing I was one of the King’s favorites also helped to quiet the more outspoken opposition that would ordinarily be voiced in court. Plus, my given title as the Hero of Ferelden had offered me a special place of recognition, and that was something the nobles had decided upon, alleviating a lot of the pressure.
When not attending the king, I spent time with our friends. Leliana and I worked on our plan to protect Alistair in our stead and talked about anything and everything. Wynne and I practiced magic in the private garden or read together in my room while sharing a bottle of wine or a pint. Sten and I ate a variety of cookies and sweets trying to find his favorite among them, and during a scouting mission of the castle to ensure its defenses, discovered artwork in the lower levels. We learned that in order to protect them, they had been moved when the war drew near. Zevran and I toured the city and checked the outer defenses for weak points and would find the highest point wherever we were to watch the people below, or the sun set. He would tell me stories of his days before joining us, doing his best to shock me.
Keiko joined the city guard on their daily tour, helping to clear out rats or any other menace that may bring further problems to the recovering people. He spent time with the children who were struggling to return to normalcy, and his boundless energy and affection generally brought joy and laughter wherever he went.
The second week passed in a similar fashion but I included a visit to the alienage, and sent missives to both the Dalish and Orzammar to continue our relations. I asked after the welfare of their people, and offered my services should they require it.
There was a drunken game of Wicked Grace mid-week which still remains a blur, although I remember falling asleep at the table and being carried to bed by Sten. We always gave credit that his tolerance was higher than everyone else due to his size, but he, in his serious tone, said that what he was used to drinking was much more powerful than anything we could imagine. While the rest of us struggled to remain upright, Sten was as steady as ever.
Sten, my gentle giant. The side of him that only a handful of people ever had the privilege of being witness to, carried me securely in his arms. He made me feel small and delicate, and I remember he felt warm and called me kadan as he gently tucked me in.
By the end of week two, Alistair and I had been able to keep our nightly visits private, even from our friends, but I was finding it increasingly more difficult to just lay beside him without any…fun. Our friends did notice, however, the way we had settled back together into an easy, relaxed, remaining-in-close-proximity-to-one-another manner. It wasn’t really a surprise that we should fall back into such a state. We had always found our relationship effortless.
And after a year of traipsing through the countryside and having each other’s back, side by side was where we were most comfortable.
Having him beside me every night, reminded me of our time on the road, and the false sense of the relationship that such intimacy created. Without being intimate. When I returned to my room each night, I expected to either find him already waiting, or to follow me soon after. And while a wonderful way to spend the evenings, embraced in his arms, discussing the day’s events, there was no understanding of what it all meant. I was afraid to bring the topic up, and because I was due to leave at anytime, I wanted to maintain the falsehood – the idea of us being together, for as long as I was there.
The lack of physical intimacy was easy to maintain because we remained fully clothed, at all times, in front of one another. Except one evening. It was well after the household had turned in for the evening. Alistair and Sten had begun to spar with one another in order to rebuild Alistair’s strength. After taking my leave of Denerim, Alistair’s worry had taken its toll.
He entered my chambers shirtless, towel drying his hair. He and Sten must have worked long into the night for him to be just freshly bathed. I couldn’t quite make out his features in the darkness, but I could see the sharp edges that the strain of my disappearance had left on his body. He was thin. Too thin.
A pit gnawed in my stomach.
His clothing did nothing to hide this fact, but to see his bare skin, to remember what he had once been, not that long ago…I felt wretched.
When he came to lie beside me, I wrapped myself tightly around him, burying my face in his back so as not to give away my shame and remorse. He brought my hand up to his lips and kissed it, and held it close as he drifted off to sleep.
It made me feel worse.
He said not a word, and I could not sleep. When I realized sleep was to elude me, I chose to instead watch over him. I stoked the fire and sat beside him on the bed, looking over his body, taking notice of anything I should be concerned about.
It seemed foolish. I wasn’t his wife. I wasn’t even his lover, but during that long year, he had become my main concern,
and should I never see him again , I needed to reassure myself of his well being , and…oh, Maker! I was lying to myself once again. I just wanted to look at him, unencumbered, to etch his likeness into my memory once again.
To just look at him…it was a pleasant way to spend some time.
We had been young when we had first met. Neither of us had been in a real fight before Ostagar. In the year that followed, there had been nothing but fighting, too many lean meals, fear and concern for not only our well being and that of our companions but the whole of Thedas as well. There had been moments of joy and laughter along the journey too, of course, but in that year a lot had changed.
We became who we were supposed to be.
Looking at him now, knowing what we had been through together, what we had built…how did I not know what I wanted? Maybe I did but was too afraid to admit it after everything. I was easily in love with him. That was never a question. I was drawn to him. Pretty much had been since the beginning. I wanted him. Always would.
If I finally made the declaration, recommended The Void to the nobility, and took the leap, would Alistair catch me?
Why could I not let the betrayal at the Landsmeet go?
Sitting alone with him, recollecting on our past, memorizing the lines of his face, I could finally be honest with myself. It was time.
I would happily spend my remaining days with Alistair. Even before we admitted our feelings to one another, I had envisioned us together, until the end. I didn’t need to be his queen. I just needed to know I wouldn’t be put aside again.
But having spoken with Eamon, I knew that was not going to be possible. The nobles would never allow it. Nor the country for that matter. I had earned a great deal of respect from the people for my part in ending the Blight, but I was mage, and would forever be looked at with fear and trepidation.
Alistair no longer had any choice, and that was partly my fault.
It had become clear that it wasn’t Alistair alone that needed forgiveness. I needed to throw a little my way as well. I was holding quite a bit of resentment in regards to my actions in his ascension to the throne. The knowledge had been a burden I had carried for a long time, and the bitterness at my part in our undoing which had, at first, been just a seedling, had grown into a full fledged wilderness, and the reasoning behind many a “bad” decision.
Perhaps I should have spent some time in the Circle exploring the nature of the heart so that I could have been better prepared. Well, how could I have ever imagined such a future as a Circle mage? Saving the world and falling for the future king? Inconceivable. Losing Alistair, and knowing that I would well in advance, had really done more damage than I had been willing to acknowledge. Having now done so, I felt the pain of his loss again, and it stung even more in light of the new beginning we were trying to create.
It would be unfair to us both to continue thusly, and so, I considered that in the morning, perhaps it was time to put an end to it, once and for all. I had to. Didn’t I? For both our sakes? I felt my heart thump in contradiction. It made me near ill to think of it. Friends. It was a concept I had been thinking on for some time, but knew would never work, not really given our desire for one another, but now, being sincere and forthright in my thinking, taking the moment to genuinely reflect on my feelings for the man lying half naked in my bed…
I was worried about them?! What they would think?!
To The Void with them all! Andraste take them!
I love Alistair.
It was as clear to me now as it was in the Brecilian Forest, in what seemed like a lifetime ago. Although I struggled with admittance then too.
What did this mean for Cullen? I didn’t want to go down that road. Not yet. I just wanted to enjoy this moment – remembering all the delicious bits of being in love with Alistair.
I didn’t know what this would mean for us but I wanted to give us another chance, a proper one. But I knew it would not be now. Maybe we wouldn’t have the kind of relationship that was considered “normal”. Maybe we would never have the consent or approval of those around us, but I didn’t care. Finding the courage to once again declare my love left me feeling lightheaded, and my nose twitched with the tears that wanted to break their way to the surface.
I wanted to run my tongue along Alistair’s bare chest. I wanted to soundly bite his shoulder in the throes of ecstasy. He sighed deeply, simultaneous to my devious thoughts. His sweet face turned toward me and I could not help myself. Having come to terms with my feelings, I leaned forward and ever so gently kissed him. He did not stir. Sten must have been hard on him. The close proximity, his woodsy-nature scent, it stirred my senses and I pulled away reluctantly to continue my vigil.
By week three, Leliana and I had a plan in place and people outside of our circle that we were planning on testing. We needed to be assured of their fidelity, discretion, and ability to defend, should the need arise. I was excited by the prospect, but also that we were designing something new that would be so beneficial for our friend.
We all continued to spend time with one another, which helped to put my endless thoughts aside, and we continued to learn more about each other. The prospect of them leaving was still cause for overwhelming melancholy but I had come to understand that this extra time I had been given with them was a gift. When I left, they could have scattered, and I may have never seen them again, and I think, this was something we all appreciated. Without impending threats and the constant fear of all the terrible things that lingered in the shadows during our time on the road, we were all relaxed and at ease. It didn’t hurt that we were living in a castle, each with our own room, a warm fire whenever we wanted, and a fully stocked kitchen at our disposal.
Of which I used to my advantage.
Whenever Alistair was in his study or was in a long meeting, I made sure he was brought a full meal with items he could pick at. I would return him to health again, especially before I was forced to leave his side, to do my duty…yes, yes.
I couldn’t help but feel thankful for our situation. When we had first began, we were pickpocketing the dead and scrounging for scraps to make the water we called soup palatable. How things had changed.
I wrote to my friends in Kirkwall to give them an update on my status and my new station in Amaranthine. Having something to look forward to, their letters awaiting me upon my arrival to the keep, made the imminent journey ahead of me somewhat bearable. I kept the letters short, although I personalized each one, and gave them to one of Leliana’s new people as part of the testing.
During the fourth week, the knowledge that my time in Denerim would most likely be coming to an end shortly kept me active to the point of an obsessive compulsion. Neither of us brought up Mhairi’s name, but my departure from Denerim was inevitable, and each day I was filled with anxiety that someone would remind us that she awaited the news of my return. Surprisingly, and maybe in part because the king looked well and his positive temperament had returned, no one even hinted at my leaving.
There were so many details that needed attending, and remaining by Alistair’s side and assisting him in those tasks filled me with a sense of purpose that I did not expect to find so enjoyable. Of course, by Alistair’s side was always where I had wanted to remain. Some of the tasks were great, and the guilt at having left him alone to undertake so many of them rose to the surface with regularity.
I would have to forgive myself at some point. What was done was done. There was no erasing it. There was no undoing it.
Alistair had said he had forgiven me, but I felt compelled to speak with him more directly, more thoroughly. There was still something, a lingering, an unspoken element that needed to be addressed. It felt selfish to want to alleviate my guilty conscience, so I would have to be prepared for anything else that may be lingering on his mind as well. If we were to continue to build this relationship, we would have to be open and honest, even if neither of us wished to say or hear such truths.
I had still to share my thoughts with him about the decision I had arrived at, but there were still too many unknowns with the new station that awaited me, but the love for him was there, in every action I took. It was my hope he would feel it.
After a month, our day to day ritual had almost become second nature. The whole group would break their fast together then go about the afternoon tackling projects that assisted the people, the city, or the country at large. I continued to make time for our friends, enjoying one-on-one time or group activities that strengthened our bonds. There were a number of large feasts and events that included the nobles or visiting dignitaries, and every night, I continued to find Alistair joining me in my room.
There was dancing and frivolity, and it was the first time I could remember having such fun and feeling so carefree. We all laughed until our cheeks hurt and often drank too much wine but the overall experience was unlike any I had ever had. The pleasure of these kinds of evenings would become fond memories that would sustain me in the lonely, long nights ahead.
It was a strange feeling to not have worry, and I found a sense of guilt that I should be having my attentions so diverted when the others of my Order were protecting the land and defending its inhabitants. It’s not as if I wasn’t working, and it wasn’t as if we all had not earned such a moment, and yet…
It was during one of these jovial affairs, about six weeks after my return that I first heard the whispers of prospective brides for the new king. A group of nobles had gathered together and their drunken conversation eventually found its way to the future of Ferelden. They wanted an heir and they were considering the various noble ladies who would be most tempting for their young monarch. It was disgusting to hear them discuss women as they would their prized mare.
And that was the start of it.
I knew the conversation was forthcoming. It was inevitable, as it had been mentioned as early as the Landsmeet. I sought Alistair out then. He was across the room talking with Eamon and some visiting dignitaries from Orlais. After many weeks of physical inactivity and nearly a month since I had made the decision to love him without hesitation, a little wine and this new knowledge that wedding talks were under way, I wanted to remind everyone, myself included that he was first and foremost, mine.
He looked handsome. And a little out of character in his new clothes. He wore an ornate doublet with ceremonial chains and a simple crown upon his head. He wore leather breeches but no armor adornments nor any weapon, not even for show. It suited him. And he seemed to be settling into his new role with ease.
I approached him nonchalantly, not wishing to draw attention or distract him from the conversation he was in, but I was determined all the same. He saw the look and excused himself to immediately come to my side. He was concerned but I reassured him that all was well, but teased that before the evening concluded, I wanted him in my arms…in a dance.
He laughed his nervous chuckle and lead me to the dance floor.
It started out exuberantly, with him swinging me in circles and us laughing as we stumbled about, but the close contact after so long without, warmed us each to the core. It wasn’t long before each time Alistair pulled me into his arms that we lingered longer and longer until we were no longer breathless from the dance.
I would not be the one to instigate. I had learned my lesson. And with what willpower remained after drink-filled passionate fumbling, I pulled away, and started a fight instead. “When were you going to tell me about the marriage arrangements?”
“Celene has long been a favorite for many a king.”
My jaw went slack. “The Empress of Orlais?”
“Yes, the council was in talks with hers before Cailan married Anora. Even after. Wait. What were you talking about?”
“Not that. But we are now.”
The hall emptied, almost in response to our conversation. Sten and Leliana remained in one corner, Eamon in another.
Our voices were not raised. I’m not sure the eavesdroppers were partial to our words, but they wanted to be. I would not give Eamon more reason to be wary of me, and so I bowed. “Good night, your Majesty.”
Alistair, looking around and understanding my meaning responded simply. “Of course, my lady.” He purposefully reiterated the “my”.
With great effort, I walked away from him and returned to my room incensed. Alcohol, emotion, frivolity…they had taken their toll.
With all the events and dinners, the closet full of dresses had found themselves put to use. I did my best to only wear the least revealing ones in order to help maintain the decorum Alistair sought. I did not need assistance to remove my gowns, so the servant, who Alistair had assigned to my chamber, and who was all too familiar with my nightly regimen and my desire for her to do as little for me as possible, had already turned in for the evening.
Keiko had followed Sten after the festivities, and so I was alone, for the first time nearly since my return to Denerim. I was barely out of my gown, just pulling it down my waist, when Alistair entered in a huff. I crossed my arms across my breasts, not wanting him to think I was purposefully trying to seduce him. Although I really wanted to.
Seeing me in such a state of undress nearly extinguished his argument, but I wanted it all out in the open, and so I pushed. “Do you mind?”
He stuttered out his apologies and turned his eyes but only for a moment. He pushed back. “I doubt you shied away from the lust-filled eyes of your Templar given how quickly you wanted to run away with him.”
I scoffed in response as I covered myself. “You remember those letters we found when we returned to Ostagar, do you not? They implied that theywanted to have Cailan put Anora aside for her lack at producing an heir. For Celene. Now they’re considering a tainted king as her next prospect? When I suggested you repair your relationship with Orlais, this is not what I meant.” I sighed deeply. “You must see the way they scheme with no true regard for who sits upon the throne?”
“Is that why you left?”
“You know why I left.”
“Given how things progressed with you and him, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because you preferred his company to mine.”
That stopped me short. How could he think such a thing? “Alistair.”
He had turned away from me, and as I moved to close the distance between us, he still refused to look my way.
“If there is anything you want to know about my time in Kirkwall, I will tell you. Let there be no more secrets between us.”
That got his attention. “I imagined all the possible scenarios, and the worst of them made me afraid to ask you and hear you confirm those fears. And then the others filled me in. Within weeks you wanted to marry another man? You were considering having his children?”
I bristled at his tone. “I only ever wanted those things once I fell in love with you. The idea of having a family, you were the father in those fantasies. This line of thought never crossed my mind while I lived in the Circle, but meeting you changed all that. I guess the idea of settling down stuck with me.” I looked down. The shame, for so many reasons, flooded me. “I was a broken woman when I arrived in Kirkwall. More than I realized. The idea that someone wanted me, wanted to spend their life with me…it was an alluring prospect.”
“I wanted to spend my life you. I mean, I still want to.”
I couldn’t stop the knitting of my eyebrows. It was all I wanted to hear, and my heart thudded against my chest. “I believed you before the Landsmeet, and maybe, I’m starting to again, but when I left here, when I left you, I didn’t.”
“I was swayed, in part, but I also thought I was protecting you from the evils of court. You’ve met them. They’re self-serving, irrational, fearful. Their sight is skewed where mages are concerned, and I didn’t want them to use their position to do you harm. And so I thought that if you left me, you would be safe from them. I’m sor…”
“I don’t want you to apologize for that anymore.” We could cause a great deal of damage in our desire to “protect” one another. “I know how that choice affected you, and I won’t keep punishing you for it.” While I held onto the anger and pain I had felt in that moment, for a long time, I no longer felt the weight of that burden. “I have forgiven you, truly. Now. When I left, I was intent on causing you pain. I wanted you to know what your life without me would be like.”
“It is not something I wish to endure again.”
“Nor do I wish to inflict such again.” There was resolution, at least in this. “Do you wish to know anything else?” I was keeping the door open, just a little longer, because after this night, we would not traipse across these delicate, relationship-ruining details again.
He looked nervous. He was scared to continue but it was clear there was something he wanted to know. I waited patiently, and after a long moment I raised an eyebrow, hoping to encourage him. He sighed deeply in preparation. “I don’t want a comparison, by any means, but was I lacking in some way? Were you not…satisfied?”
“Oh, my sweet Alistair.” I put my hands on either side of his face so that he had to look directly at me as I reassured him. “You have nothing to worry about. We were wonderful together, if you’ll recall. Have you forgotten how you satisfied me already?” He blushed. And my mind suddenly wondered why he was worried about such a thing. The marriage talks? Maker, help me. I pulled away from him and his eyes did that adorable confused thing. “Do you ask such a question because you are soon to be another’s husband?”
“What? No. I have no desire to…I don’t even want to think about…no.” He sat down on the bed, hard. “Should the agreement between Ferelden and Orlais come to pass, it would be a marriage of state only. I doubt we would ever even meet. Her position on the throne is precarious; there are many who have long wished to overthrow her. An alliance, between our two countries, would most likely quell our opposition.”
“But what of an heir?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
This weighed heavily upon him. I could see the strain the external pressures were putting on him, and I started to again feel the guilt of encouraging him to take the role. So many things had been heaped upon him without any concern for his readiness, and it was unfair to add to his burden but we were in a state of honesty and this might be the only time I could say the words that had been haunting me for months. “You’d still be someone else’s.” The thought made me sad, even though I understood all the reasonings behind it.
“Not in any real way. It’s a political maneuver.”
And I finally said the thing that had been troubling me, the thing that I was afraid to ask. “So you would have me be your whore?”
He looked aghast, but the reality of our situation hit him with the vulgar word. I realized then that he had not thought that far in the future, he just wanted me back by his side.
I sat beside him and thought again about the decision I had arrived at earlier. I wanted to give us another chance. I didn’t want to be put aside, so did that mean I had already decided, unknowingly, that I would be relegated to such a position, and that I was okay with it? I had made mention that our relationship might not be “normal”. Perhaps in the deeper recesses of my mind I had already reconciled myself to the idea. Was I all right with it? Having all of him except in name? I’d have his heart, his body…but no permanence. There was nothing to bind us together beyond our word, but perhaps that was enough. Our words, regardless of who they were said before, were still vows. They were still promises.
“I would have you be my lady.”
I threaded my fingers through his and stared at the pattern they formed. “Remember when things were easier?” That caused us both to laugh. With my free hand I turned his face to mine and kissed him sweetly.
The next morning, after a fitful night’s sleep, Alistair and I stumbled into the dining hall to join our friends for our first meal. It was too early still to deal with anything of note, and yet Eamon had requested my presence at the morning’s council meeting. I gave Alistair a questioning look.
Eamon, most likely in an effort to get me out of the castle and away from the king, suggested, or should I say, highly recommended that I take part in a “goodwill mission”. As the Hero of Ferelden, taking a tour of the country to meet its citizens, offer our services to those in need, garner support from the arlings, and recruit soldiers was a necessary task, and one that would ingratiate the new king to his people.
Sophia Dryden, the Warden who’s failed attempt at a coup that in turn caused the expulsion of all Grey Wardens from Ferelden ages ago, was the reason Wardens had to now redeem themselves. The Hero was a Warden and a legend, one that could do good things given the proper outlet.
Eamon, the newly appointed Chancellor, Alistair’s chief advisor, was quite the negotiator. And with such provocative words, he swayed all the members of the council to agree that such a mission was worthy of my attention, without giving up any pretense as to the truth of it. He didn’t even mention Mhairi’s name, so this was to solve the problem of the King’s Consort sooner, knowing that by traveling throughout the country, Alistair wouldn’t have the opportunity to seek me out, as he might when I was permanently situated in the north.
And cornered as I was, should I disagree, I would be dismissing the value of the work and what it might mean for Alistair as king.
And so I had to accept.
And because Eamon had already been preparing for it, told me that all was arranged and I was to leave in two days time.
This was for his own ends. He cared not for the fact that my companions still remained, and that sending me away, sent me from them as well. That was not a concern he shared. The rising tensions displayed at the last event had turned the tide. So with a heavy heart, I left the council chamber to prepare for my farewells.
I returned to my room in a solemn state, only to be followed by a furious Alistair soon after. I was at the window fondly looking over to the tops of Fort Drakon. What adventures we had had there. We had mounted an escape after being captured. We had fought our way through nearly the entire fortress filled with darkspawn to arrive on the roof to defeat the archdemon and its minions. Such desperate and perilous times those had been. To avoid certain death, only to be manipulated by those we had rescued. An interesting turn of events.
Alistair had every reason to be angry. The council had gone behind his back to secure my absence from court while they continued their scheming. In light of the tasks we had accomplished together, to be handled in such a manner was beyond bearing. We deserved more respect, but it was becoming apparent that the nobles were used to getting their way. And now that the war was over, they could return their thoughts to more tedious, petty endeavors and to The Void with any who stood in their way, including the King and the Hero.
“I had no idea the nobles would be so bold. I’m sorry.” His anger bubbled under the surface.
“This was the kind of behavior I feared, the fear that finally pulled me from my selfish reverie. I’m sorry. I wish I had known more about court before encouraging you to become a part of it.”
“I cannot let this stand.”
“Although I loathe them and the manner in which they chose to make this happen, the mission itself is a worthy one. How could I refuse to help your kingdom and its people?”
“You mean they worded it just so that any refusal from you would easily allow them to discredit all our good work.”
“This is an outrage. To make such decisions without consulting me first.”
“Perhaps they are testing their boundaries. A new king on the throne with little experience in diplomacy is an easy target to bend to their will.”
“But…they know what you mean to me.” He fumbled a bit.
This caught me off guard. “Do they?”
He blushed and stuttered, but before he could answer, there was a knock at my door.
Eamon entered with his hands up in defense. “Let me explain.”
Alistair stood rigid in the center of the room. I took my place beside him. Neither of us said a word.
“I knew you would not support the idea of sending the Hero on such a campaign, especially in light of her promotion to Warden Commander, but an endeavor of this nature is of great importance for the people. To see her first hand, to hear her speak about the trials you both endured to save their lives, the people will rally around her, and that is invaluable in the aftermath of war.”
“I will not be treated as if I am a mere puppet for your ambitions. I have always trusted you, which is why you received your own promotion. Do not make me regret such a decision, for should you act against me or my wishes in the future, you will find that I am not as amenable as you hoped.”
I had never heard him speak like that, and given his new station, his threat had backing. It was thrilling.
“I did not mean offense, your Majesty.” Eamon bowed deeply. “On the contrary. My lady, I apologize for what must have appeared as an ambush. That was never my intent. Given the short time you have remaining with us before your departure to Amaranthine, I thought it best to approach you quickly with the idea. The people wish to meet you, and as they cannot all come here to you…”
“I approve of your objective, my lord, but am wary of your tactics. I leave my king in your hands and pray that you prove worthy of the honor.” I bowed in response.
Alistair gave me a sideways glance while Eamon bowed again, uttering his apologies once more before retreating. When we were alone again, we faced each other and half laughed at what had just transpired. Alistair may be king, and I was a mage with a bunch of fancy titles, but we had just confronted the most powerful man in Ferelden. The laughter died as quickly as it had risen and was replaced with the passion we had been denying. With my imminent departure just days away, could we wait any longer?
“Your king?” He pulled me to him and our lips were a breath apart. He was taking control, coming into his own power, and I would not stop him.
“Yes.” And before I could finish the one word, his lips descended upon mine in an all consuming, mind numbing, soul searing kiss.
I floated to Leliana’s room in the afterglow. She was at her desk, overlooking some papers. She barely registered my entrance. “I have learned you are to leave us sooner than we thought.”
“You are well informed.” I sat down on the floor in front of her, still stupidly smiling.
She looked up then and gave me one of her knowing smiles. “How is the king?”
“Delicious.” And together we shared a good laugh.
“A good will mission is a smart strategy. Eamon lives up to his reputation.”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes in response.
“Do you disagree?” Leliana watched me with her clear, exacting eyes.
“Not at all. I think it will reflect well on our king that he sends the Hero to assist his people.” I put on the diplomatic tone I had adopted since my return. It was the least offensive tone, or so I was learning.
“You don’t have to do that with me, sweet friend.”
I stood up and had to pace. “I wanted to spend as much time with you all as long as I could, especially in light of the fact that I am responsible for us having less time than we should. I have amends to make. We all knew our time was limited, but I didn’t want to be taken from you before I was able to secure your forgiveness. Alistair and I are enjoying our time together again. It’s new and fragile. And when I return, he’ll be betrothed, you’ll all be gone, and I’ll be off to the north alone.”
Leliana came to stand before me. She took my hands in her own. “When you left the Circle, did you feel this much trepidation?”
“And why is that, do you think?”
“I didn’t have this much to lose?”
“Maybe, in part. But you also had no idea of what lay ahead. You think all these ideas you have about the future are set in stone. They are not. None of our fates are sealed. When you left the Circle the world was full of possibilities, and now you no longer see it as such. Your journey has hardened you. A handful of disappointments have made you see the dark instead of the light. I understand this because until I befriended you, I saw the world in a similar way. You changed that for me, and now it is my turn to do the same for you.”
Tears filled my eyes and I hugged Leliana tightly.
“And if this begins to ease your burden, we all forgave you, long before you stepped off the ship. We understood your reasons for leaving and none of us have any cause to hold that against you, nor are any of us blameless. We are all complicit in the events that shaped this path.”
She was such a dear friend.
During our evening meal, I broke the news of my departure to the others. There were grumbles of discontent but also of understanding. It was then that Leliana and I shared our plan for a celebration the following day. We didn’t have time to put together the sort of event that our companions deserved but we would celebrate our victories and our friendships before saying our farewells.
This would be our last dinner together, around the table like this, and so we stayed there, long past the hour when the rest of the household had retired for the evening, drinking and sharing secrets, laughing and commiserating. I would recollect on this evening, years from now, and remember the familial bonds that had been created between us and how I would never find others to ever fill their place. They were each unique and ever so special to me, and tomorrow I would show them how much.
I selfishly continued to think about the absence of them in my life without reflecting on the reverse, our absences from each other. Alistair would be alone here, surrounded by those he barely knew with their own agendas. Leliana was headed into a strange excursion surrounded by unfamiliars. Sten was returning to his homeland a changed man, a state the Qun may not appreciate. Zevran was embarking on his own revenge mission unaccompanied. Wynne was potentially traveling to Tevinter to aid Shale, or returning to the mages amidst times of strife.
I didn’t like the thought of any of them heading off on these new adventures alone. It was what I feared for myself. Not having someone I trusted by my side. When we were on the road, their well being was my primary concern, and somehow through my own self involvement, I had sort of forgotten that. I was ashamed of my actions but even more so of my lack of a full return to my senses. Somehow, falling in love had diminished my brain capacity.
Perhaps I had been idle too long; the lack of impending doom had dulled my faculties. Maybe the goodwill mission would be good for me too, a precursor to my new adventure – an effort to regain my wits about me.
There was a lot to do for tomorrow’s celebration, correction, today’s celebration as I could see the rising sun turning the dark night sky gray. Sod it. It was going to be a long day.
Alistair didn’t take any precautions when he took my hand and led me to his room. It was the first time. He smiled to our friends as he said good night. I know how I looked because they had to stifle their giggles at my confusion. We hadn’t spoken about the kiss but it had been lingering on my mind with the intention of creating an opportunity for its continuation.
I was delighted to discover that Alistair was creating the opportunity.
The palace was quiet. Only a few guards remained on duty and they were sporadically placed in key observing locations, so as we walked together, we often found ourselves alone, which was new for us in this environment – there were always eyes – and Alistair took the opportunity to be romantic and playful.
It had been quite some time since I had seen this side of him. Romantic, on occasion, especially if he hadn’t found himself embarrassed in front of our friends. Playful, absolutely. That was one of the reasons I had fallen in love with him. We had been too serious for far too long and now together again, without burden of duty, if even for just a little while, we were like we once were, when we first fell in love.
He spun me in dancing circles along the corridor, pulling me to him and teasingly kissing my lips or cheek. He’d spin me again and as my hand was extended, he’d kiss it. He dipped me as I giggled and this is how we went about making our way to his room.
“It’s good to see this side of you returned.” I sighed with pleasure seeing the rosy hint of color upon his cheeks.
He smiled wide and my heart thumped once distinctly against my chest. How I hoped the coming years would not diminish his sweet nature; that the nobility and the politics would not wear on him. I wanted him to always be…this.
“I can’t remember the last time I felt like this. Maybe when we were in…” He was deep in thought.
I couldn’t remember either. And for a moment we both stood there dumbfounded. We looked at each other, hoping, I suppose that we would enable the other to sort it out, but no. We started to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Finally I said, “Ostagar?” And we laughed even harder. Everything changed after Ostagar, but had he not felt, whatever he was feeling since before the whole journey began? Maker’s Breath! We had to do something about that. We had found a number of enjoyable moments throughout our time on the road, but the events that surrounded us always cast a long shadow.
“Lake Calenhad?” He offered hopefully.
“During our respite after the fight with the undead.” My voice turned wistful as I remembered us sitting side by side, dangling our feet in the cool water, our hands barely touching.
“Oh, Haven. Those blasted shrieks interrupted all our fun.” Our desire for one another had reached it peak that night, only to be stopped short. I had used that frustrated energy to vanquish our enemy.
He chuckled. “The Deep Roads?”
“Ah, that was a good moment, when my near death experience finally compelled you to admit your feelings.” I winked.
“I had been afraid to admit my feelings.” He pushed me against his bedroom door. “But they had been desperate to be known for some time.”
“It appears as if you may be becoming desperate again..”
And then he kissed me.
It left me breathless. I was wedged between the door and his hard body but it was a position I was happy to find myself in.
His kisses trailed down my neck and to the tops of my breasts, so his words were slightly muffled as he continued. “The Frostbacks?”
He began to pull up my skirts and my eyes darted about the hallway to ensure our privacy. “The Frostbacks…hmm…” I purposefully acted coy. As if I could ever forget our first time together. Our friends, despite their good intentions, had made it a bit awkward. That made me smile in recollection. “It was so cold, we huddled together in that small tent.” I teased.
Alistair’s eyes found mine. “Was our time there so forgettable?”
“On the contrary, my lord.” I brought my hands up to his face to hold it still while I continued to tease him with my kisses, offering one every few words to punctuate their meaning. “It was when (kiss) we discovered (kiss) just how well (kiss) we fit together (lick).”
His grumble had a note of frustration and he stepped away from me giving me a look I couldn’t quite name. It was a bit heated, and flustered, and a little chastising, as if I were the only one to take responsibility for this situation.
I offered him a sideways smile. “Why do I feel like our fun is to be interrupted once again?”
“I want you. Maker knows how much. But you’re leaving in a day and…” He grew silent and couldn’t maintain eye contact.
My smile faded. “I’m afraid to ask why you’re afraid.” Was he still conflicted about my time spent in Kirkwall? Was it concern for the time we were being forced to spend apart and the uncertainty of its result? Did it have something to do with his future, impending nuptials?
“I was lost without you while you were away…having you back by my side…I fear what another, longer absence will do to me.”
“I’m going to say something, something that you may find inappropriate but that which needs to be said because I fear what may happen in my absence, and because I know you need to hear it. I love you.”
He didn’t say anything but took my hand and led me down the hall, away from his room. I could feel the strain of holding the perplexed look upon my face for so long as I tried to figure out his intentions. We took the stairwell up to the roof, and when I tried to ask where we were going, he shushed me.
My eyebrows shot up in response.
When we were outside, on the ramparts he spun me into his arms again and looked deeply into my eyes. “Say it again.”
We were alone in the early morning hour, the world was still asleep, and without any fear of being seen or interrupted, we could be ourselves. I smiled, ever so slightly. “I love you.” I kissed him lightly. “I love you.” I whispered. My heart swelled with emotion as I finally could say the words that had been straining against my chest for weeks. My eyes began to swim.
He took my face in his hands this time and kissed me deeply. When he pulled away, his own emotions were clearly expressed in his eyes. “I love you.” We smiled wide at one another, delighted by our admissions.
On the uneven wall we sat together, hand in hand and watched the sun rise. I rested my head upon his shoulder and together, in the perfect quiet afterglow, we shared an intimate moment.
Alistair and I spent nearly an hour on the rooftop, enjoying the view and our alone time. We didn’t speak much. We didn’t have to. That was a nice side effect of having spent so much time on the road together, in silence for fear of being heard by the enemy. We had a shorthand to the way we did a number of things, including our conversations.
There was a great deal to do for the party, but I knew if I didn’t sleep at least a few hours, I would be useless come time for the festivities, so I led Alistair back to my room where we snuggled together for a little while. It was during our nap that we were discovered, thankfully, by Leliana and not a member of the staff.
I internally chastised myself for our carelessness, for had we been careful for another day, no one would have been the wiser to our budding relationship. Leliana’s expression reiterated just how much she relished this new information. She looked so smug and satisfied, as if she had known all along and finally had vindication. “I’ll return shortly.” She announced as she sauntered haughtily out of the room.
I flung an arm over my face to hide in shame but laughed simultaneously at the absurdity of it all. I know the reasons I had been reluctant to share what was happening between us with our friends, the why as to why I wanted to keep it all a secret – it was new, he’s King, and I was still a mage. No one needed to know anything until we knew ourselves.
We had said “I love you”, and while that brought a sense of relief, it did nothing to solidify our relationship. There were still too many events ahead of us that would shape what future we might have together.
Leliana had once told me that she had enjoyed watching our relationship “blossom”, as she had put it. It had been a bright spot in the ever growing darkness that surrounded our journey. Apparently it had been a great source of amusement for all of our companions; they even made side wagers as to when certain things might happen and the like. Being on the road, surrounded by so many, while trying to find a moment of privacy had proven difficult, and so our relationship unfolded before their eyes, and they were almost as much a part of it as Alistair and I were.
They each had active roles in helping us find those peaceful moments, but when things fell apart, they were also witness to the aftermath and helpful in picking up the pieces. I know I was ashamed of myself for finding myself so weak where Alistair was concerned, and it didn’t seem fair to inflict all the drama associated on our friends in the little time that remained.
Alistair rose up on one arm to look at me. Even behind the shield my arm offered, I could feel his sweet gaze, and so playfully I moved my arm up a bit so that I could peek underneath. He had that crooked smile upon his lips that begged me to kiss it and it took all of my strength to hold back. “Don’t look at me like that. In that look lies trouble.” I smiled.
He moved so that he put one arm on either side of me and was in a position to look upon me without touching me. I let me arm settle back so that I was open to him, and immediately the heat between us grew. He fell upon me, and my legs wrapped around him and we kissed with fervor and a long held back restraint that was now desperate to break free. Long weeks of desire, continually held back, wished to be unleashed, and our bodies connected in a delicious dance.
~ * ~
I didn’t see him shortly. In fact, I’m fairly certain he went out of his way to avoid me. I realized as I was dressing for the party that although Leliana and I had been busy finalizing all the details, there had been a number of opportunities for Alistair to seek me out, or for our paths to cross and yet they hadn’t. Once I realized that, I felt odd. Rejected? It left a pit in my stomach.
The gown Leliana had chosen for me had a plunging neck line and soft flowing skirts. It was sultry and feminine. I had always envied Morrigan’s confidence, and I thought of her and tried to emulate that demeanor because wearing this dress, exposing so much flesh, would require all the confidence I could muster. I missed Morrigan. She would have slapped some sense into me long ago and then perhaps I wouldn’t have found myself in this predicament again.
I sat quietly with my thoughts while Leliana pinned my hair and applied the color enhancements to my face once more. She hummed a tune while doing so, and I grew sad thinking that it might be the last time I heard her lovely voice. I shook those thoughts away as the night’s events were meant to be a celebration.
And they were.
In the Circle, only on the rare high holiday did we have the opportunity to celebrate, relax a little, and enjoy ourselves. Most of our time was spent at study under watchful eyes, but there were those special occasions that allowed us all to gather and dance, maybe have a glass of wine, and it was those ridiculous dance lessons I recalled as I entered the hall. Even the shrewd Templar would soften on those rare occasions, allowed to join in on the celebrations although they usually still remained in their own groups.
My mind flashed Cullen’s face before me – huddled amongst his companions, avoiding my eyes. And then I thought of him in Kirkwall. He was warm and his eyes were puddles of soft gold.
I shook my head to rebuke the memory and took my place beside Alistair to greet the guests as they entered. He did a double take when he saw my gown and I saw him swallow back his rising emotions. He met my eyes for the briefest of moments, and then turned away as if he were shy, or guilty.
Teagan was visiting and he was a welcome sight after so long. He embraced me as an old friend but upon stepping back and seeing me in my new attire, he blushed and stammered, and it helped to boost that confidence I was so desperate for. He saved me a dance, one I didn’t quite know, and was so kind to help me and make me feel at ease. We shared some laughs and a couple of drinks, and it was nice to spend some time with him outside of the shadow of war.
There was a sadness about him. I would catch him alone, watching the festivities, and felt that he might be lonely. Perhaps I should turn the nobles interest into finding Teagan a wife, and give Alistair a little breathing room.
We invited Shianni and some of the elves whom we had fought beside. The delegates from Orlais were still guests, so they, of course, were included. We also invited the soldiers who had fought with us in the final battle as well, for they, too, deserved recognition.
The main hall had been transformed. Banquet tables were heaped with treats, there was musical entertainment, and a troupe of acrobats and dancers to delight our guests. There were banners and adornments strewn about. There was laughing and frivolity, and for most of the evening I was able to join in, but like Teagan, I was overcome with sadness at odd moments and found myself forcing an outward appearance of contentment.
Alistair had continued to maintain his distance, and despite the joyous nature of the occasion, I was leaving in a few short hours, and shortly thereafter, so would my friends. It was difficult to remain positive.
Leliana and I were confident in the people we had set up to watch over Alistair and the situation here in the castle, so that offered some relief. I spotted them here and there as the night progressed.
She and I had realized during the course of our planning that while we had been on the road we hadn’t celebrated a birthday or name day. We hadn’t celebrated most of the holidays because our very livelihood was often under threat, and that gave the evening a different purpose. Throughout the evening I took my friends aside to spend a quiet moment together and gave them gifts – something to honor our friendship, something to remember me by. We all did our best not to think of this evening as a goodbye, but merely a diversion that we each must take so that we would have new stories to tell when we were reunited. It was a nice sentiment, and probably the thought that got me through the night.
As the festivities were drawing to an end and the majority of our guests had left, Alistair and our friends remained and we shared a moment. It reminded me of our farewell during the final battle, when we had split up to defend the city. It was a solemn moment, and we all felt it. Sten, ever silent, was actually the first to speak. “I did not expect to be accepted by those so unlike me. Those who would become a word I was unfamiliar with, friend.”
“It wasn’t easy.” Joked Alistair, and we all shared a laugh.
In response, Sten offered us one of his rare smiles, and so moved was I, I snuggled a bit into his side. I found such comfort in his presence. He wrapped one of his great arms about my shoulder and I found myself reluctant to leave his embrace, and so I stayed.
“Nor I.” Added Zevran. “Forfeiting my life to you was the best decision I ever made.” He smiled.
“I’m happy she chose not to kill you.” Alistair added again.
“Despite all your protests.” I chimed in. The group laughed.
“Still think the Maker guided you to us?” He asked Leliana.
Without hesitation she responded, “Of course.” And smiled one of her all knowing smiles saying nothing else.
“As he did with all of us, I think.” Added Wynne.
“He must have had a hand in each of our lives to bring us here – a couple of Circle mages, a Templar, a Qunari, a Crow, and a bard. We should never have met, let alone become family…” I became wistful and swallowed my tears.
“And don’t forget the drunk, the witch, and the rock.” Alistair offered, to which we all chuckled.
Keiko then added a bark to the mix and we all looked sweetly upon him. “No one forgot about you. You’re the bind that keeps us together.” I patted him on the head while everyone agreed.
We shared a group hug, and then the night was over. We each retired to our own room, hoping for a few hours of sleep before my early morning departure, but despite Alistair’s quips with our friends, he had remained distant all evening and I knew sleep would not come. I would have been furious had it been a normal day but it was intensified given our morning exploits. He had made me aware that he feared my absence and what emotional toll it might take, again, but we were different now.
Had he really not wanted to spend any more time with me before I left? Had he been seeking closure?
I sought him out to no avail. After the party he had quietly retreated to the Maker knows where and I didn’t have time for an investigation, so I returned to my room. I undid all of Leliana’s work, warmed the bath water that my adorable little maid had left for me, and prepared for the journey ahead. I created a mental list of the items I wanted to be sure I took with me. I needed a new journal, writing instruments, candles, parchment for letters, lyrium…
I closed my eyes and rested my head back on the edge of the tub. Two months. It wasn’t that long. That was nearly how long I had been in Kirkwall, nearly how long I had been back in Denerim. We could bear the separation, maybe. If he wanted to, I suppose. What if he didn’t?
Since we had been building a new relationship, culminating in the morning’s pleasuring, I thought we both had the same idea of where we wanted to eventually be, but something had changed and I didn’t know how or why.
Maybe having me near again, remembering what we once had, what we could have again was too much to bear given everything else he had to concern himself with. Perhaps a little time apart again would give him the perspective he needed as well.
I looked at my Grey Warden armor hanging from the armoire. It was the only dressing I was going to wear on this journey, I had decided. I had begged, and then bribed, Master Wade to create another, more elaborate set for when I returned so that I would have new armor for my new role. I was excited to see what he would create, but I was also, now, finding myself excited to put it back on – to remember what it felt like to be that woman. She had been absent too long.
Sleep was to elude me once again, and so I dressed and made myself ready for the day ahead. While doing so, Leliana quietly came to fetch me. It was all a great secret. We tiptoed through the castle, hand in hand, stifling our giggles as we made our way outside. There were horses waiting for us and she led me to Fort Drakon – ominous, foreboding, awe inspiring Fort Drakon. There was a contraption the builders used to lift supplies to the uppermost parts of the structure, and we used it now. It hoisted us to the roof where I found my friends waiting.
A much easier path than those never ending stairs.
They had planned a breakfast picnic atop the building where all our efforts had culminated. It was strange to be there again. Blood of both soldier and darkspawn stained the stones, almost as if part of a pattern. A larger stain on one of the keep’s outer towers drew my attention. The place where we had slain the archdemon. I was nearly in a trance as I found myself drawn there. I could here the howls and screams of battle, as clearly as if it were happening again. I could taste the metallic tang of blood on my lips, smell the sulfur and ash that filled the air. I could feel the thud of each of the archdemon’s steps, feel its roar in my chest.
I drew a shattered breath as I remembered Alistair ready to take the final blow, and me taking up the sword instead. I had been prepared to die in that moment, to sacrifice myself for them, my
friends family. While I was determined to protect the people, it was those around me now for whom I took that final strike. I loved them, and Maker help me I did not know what I was going to do without them.
I turned my tear streaked face back towards them and simply said, “Thank you.”
We huddled together in somber silence around the small meal they had prepared. Zevran had discovered a merchant who sold an Antivan beverage, something he called coffee. It was strong, dark, and bitter but it energized us and warmed us and it complemented the sweet treats Sten had provided. Despite the distance he had purposefully created all the previous day, Alistair held me to his side. I wanted to protest, angry as I was, but it would be some time before I found myself so comforted again, and so I said nothing and heavied myself against him.
Zevran, desperate to alleviate the pressure of the situation, told us a story of an encounter he witnessed in the brothel when he was still young. It was meant to turn our attention, and it did just that. We blushed and laughed uncomfortably, and were thankful for the diversion. It changed the mood, and after the shock wore off, we were able to laugh and enjoy our final moments together.
From the fort, they escorted me to my awaiting entourage. I hugged them each one last time and whispered that I loved them. I needed them to hear it, even if they already knew. One by one they retreated to the shadows of the castle walls and allowed Alistair and I our moment alone.
“I owe you an explanation for my behavior.” He began.
“Yes, you do.”
“I wish I had one.” I raised an eyebrow at that. “I’m torn.”
My heart fell a little. “Since I returned, you’ve spent nearly every night in my bed, and yet I realized something, you’ve barely said my name. I know you’re torn, because of my time away. You want me, but you’re afraid. You have much to think on in my absence.” So did I. I placed a hand on his cheek, stroked my thumb across his eyebrow, and kissed him softly. “I’ll seen you soon.”
He barely nodded, and the look of sadness in his eyes was nearly my undoing. I took a step back, found my friends gathered together, gave them a final head nod in farewell, and turned on my heel. I mounted my horse and off we set. I could hear them all saying their farewells to Keiko, and hear his barks in response, but I couldn’t look back. I could feel my heart breaking knowing Keiko and I would most likely never see any of them again.
The ride out of the city was unbearable, so sad was I. Thankfully, there were a few recognizable faces among the soldiers who had offered to accompany me on this expedition. In that I found some measure of comfort that Keiko and I would at least have a few friendly people around us.
We were to head south past the Brecilian Forest, where it was my hope to find the Dalish again, before heading to Gwaren where Loghain had once been Teyrn. There were relationships to be mended there. Gwaren had been among the first hit by the darkspawn, although we learned that due to their position seaside, most of their population had survived by boarding ships. Silver linings.
From Gwaren we would travel the outskirts of the Korcari Wilds, passing the edge of Ostagar to travel through the Hinterlands but not as far as Redcliffe. We would take a route between Redcliffe and Lothering to the north to visit the Bannorn, and continue even further north still to Highever, where I had been personally invited by the now Teyrn, Fergus Cousland, a fellow soldier from the Battle at Ostagar. I’m sure we would have some stories to share. We would then finally head southeast back to Denerim.
The nobles had all made their regions aware of my coming, and so many of our overnight stays would be within their castle walls, or the larger towns where the people traveled already for trade and business making my tour more impactful. It was strange to find myself on the road again but this time on horseback, staying in castles instead of caves or ruins, and without constant worry of an impending attack.
We took a leisurely pace around the Brecilian Forest in order to give me the opportunity to seek out the Dalish, even still, traveling by horse, by the second night we found ourselves at the abandoned Seeker outpost known as Therinfal Redoubt. There was a strange feeling about the place, and having sat abandoned for some thirty years, we chose to make camp in the outer courtyard instead of making our way inside to discover what creatures may be lying in wait.
It was eerily quiet for such a large structure, so it made me wonder if the unease I felt lent itself to others not wishing to call this place home as well.
The following day we took a path through the edge of the forest, but I failed to find the clan. There were no scouts to be found so near the border, so it was with a reluctant heart, I turned my attention to Gwaren. I had so hoped to see them again, but after the battles, the blighted land, it was no wonder they had retreated into solitude once more.
As we approached the Brecilian Passage, it became evident that the darkspawn had traveled through here. Much of the land still showed signs of the Blight. It was a sickness that infected everything, and I did not know how long it would take such places to recover.
Gwaren was an old dwarven outpost connected to the Deep Roads that spanned the breadth of the continent. It was not surprising then, to learn, that this is why the darkspawn had first appeared here. I did not relish the thought of entering the Deep Roads again, but it was instrumental in ensuring whatever passage they had used was sealed. We were greeted warmly, all considering, and while we made our way closer to town, I could not sense a darkspawn presence, and it was then that I determined I would seek out the opening, and do my part, as a Warden, to ensure the people here were no longer under threat.
Fereldans thought little of the Wardens, in general. After their expulsion in the aftermath of Sophia Dryden’s failed coup d’etat, and having only been recently allowed back, thanks to Alistair’s father, King Maric, the first Wardens to return to Ferelden were outsiders, and having lived under foreign rule, they did not receive a warm welcome. It was a wonder then that Alistair and I had done so well. Perhaps it was in the face of a true threat, the Blight, that we were recognized as the guardians who could hold back the approaching darkness. Perhaps it was also because we were Fereldans ourselves.
Whatever the reason, our time in Gwaren was well spent and actually quite pleasant. We stayed longer than expected, due to my uneventful excursion into the Deep Roads, but after a week, we were back on the road.
I was thankful for the uneasy quiet of the Deep Roads. Having so many unfamiliar companions about me, I was unsure of their abilities, and didn’t want them tested so soon after undertaking such a journey. The old dwarven ruins were just as awe inspiring as they had been the first time I had seen them, and for many of the soldiers in my company, this was a first for them. This part of the underground network was well preserved and we didn’t have to travel far to find a bottleneck cavern to seal properly from future attacks.
Our expedition traveled past the Korcari Wilds and I reminisced about my time there. Entering the Wilds to obtain darkspawn blood for the ritual that would make me a Warden. Finding the flower that would cure Keiko of the taint. I saw him padding off happily in the distance. He remembered his time here too. Meeting Morrigan and her mother, Flemeth. Finding Alistair outside of their home after having been rescued by them from the Tower of Ishal.
Maker. That seemed a lifetime ago.
We passed Ostagar along the southern border then headed north. I could barely keep my gaze on anything but the ruins. We had lost Duncan there. Daveth and Ser Jory had fallen during the Joining there. We had lost Cailan there, and more disturbing, found him again strung up like some sort of prize. Loghain had betrayed us there. Alistair and I had nearly died there but we also shared a special bond because of our time spent there.
I became a Warden there.
I felt the tears streaming down my face, almost of their own volition as I reminisced. Ostagar would always have strange, special meaning to me.
Like a breath of fresh air, we entered the Hinterlands and left a chunk of the Blighted lands behind us. I knew Lothering had been overrun, Marian and her family had become refugees because of it, but in the southern region, they had surprisingly remained untouched.
The days began to blur together. Some days we traveled for hours without stopping, some days we met with so many people I couldn’t keep track. Nights were either spent in celebration or deep conversation in regards to the weakened state of Ferelden given the civil war and a Blight. As I met with people and assisted them where I could, we mended fences, both literally and figuratively. I regaled them with stories of their heroic king and our unique and unlikliest of allies. Even as the contingent of soldiers around me heard the stories, they too became more proud of the man they were serving, I could see it in their demeanor and hear it in their voices as they assisted in recruiting new members to both the army and the Order. We were gifted useful items, food and materials, but also coin for the coffers to rebuild the more war torn areas and help those in greater need.
Most people welcomed us kindly, with only a few instances of negative comments in regards to my mage abilities. Most were in awe of my powers, thankful for my service, and that of my fellow Warden turned King.
The more I spoke of him – his deeds, sweet nature, and kind heart – the stronger my feelings for him seemed. I could hear the way my voice would change when I talked of how he had shielded me, at least three times, upon the bridge as we ran to the Tower of Ishal to light the beacon. I would grow wistful as I recollected on our time in the Brecilian Forest, or how brave he was in the Deep Roads. How his humor was always a light in the darkness. I shared with them how he fought to protect them, wanting to take the final blow against the archdemon. But I also shared how he enjoyed spending time in the local taverns of Denerim, getting to know the people so that he would better understand what they needed in order to rule more effectively and ensure their happiness.
As the tour was meant to highlight his deeds and the good king he was making, I knew he would always be at the forefront of my mind, but what I didn’t intend was how much talking about him would make me miss him all the greater. How I missed his laugh and warm embrace. The way he would half smile at me when he was shy or feeling amorous. Many a night I found myself desirous of his attention, yet being alone, was often left wanting. It was a frustrating situation, and I could only hope he was in a similar position.
In each town or village I would hear stories of the “dark times”, as the Blight was referred to. In those dark times, people had gone missing, tainted animals gave birth to unnatural offspring, the whole of Crestwood had been flooded and it was rumored spirits now lingered. There were many stories of this nature, village gossip most likely, but as I had seen the effects of the Blight firsthand, nothing could be ruled out. It would take a great deal of effort to put the country back together.
One night we camped early as we drew near the Highever border. It looked like rain might be headed our way and so we found an abandoned homestead and set up for the night. It was the first quiet night in weeks, and so I fully took advantage of it. The journey had been pleasant. We had helped so many people, shared tales of my adventures with my friends, learned much about the land and its people, and I was left with a feeling of deep satisfaction. Unlike the journey to end the Blight, the ends to these means were quite different.
It was the first opportunity I had to sit and write my thoughts, think on my friends and where they might be now in their own journey, and even wonder at how Cullen, Marian, Fenris, and Varric were doing. I decided to write letters. Later, when I heard the first pitter patter of rainfall, I snuck outside to welcome it. I wore a simple tunic and breeches, Alistair’s, which I had stolen from him before leaving Denerim. I told no one of my theft because I wanted something of his with me on this journey and I didn’t want to have to endure any looks. They were oversized but comfortable and I wore them each night. They made me feel closer to him despite the distance.
Outside, dressed in his clothes, I channeled the lightning as I had all those months ago. It felt both warm and cool at the same time and I was reminded of how scared Alistair had been. I had found it thrilling, and I still did. I looked around to make sure I didn’t have an audience. Even after our many weeks together, some of the soldiers were still wary of when I used my magic, so I was always careful as to not incite their fear.
How different things were. For many reasons.
On this journey I was no longer cold or hungry. I hadn’t slept on the ground except for that one night in Therinfal. I hadn’t pickpocketed one felled enemy. I had also not been free to be myself. I was, despite their kind faces, surrounded by strangers, and the weeks traveling together had not made them any more friendly than they had been when we first left the capital. They were soldiers, many of them still young, who had trained together and had known one another for some time coming from the same towns.
I was a mage.
Despite my “hero” moniker or even that I was a Warden, the mage bit ruled above all else. And despite watching me fight alongside them, speak with dignitary and peasant alike, when we camped they kept to themselves, albeit, ever so distantly. It was no matter. It was mostly what I had expected. My friends had been an anomaly. Given the circumstances, they hadn’t really had a say in it anyway, but I had been accepted and even encouraged by them.
It made me miss them all the more.
~ * ~
Highever was a welcome sight, for a number of reasons. It marked the near end of our journey, I was to meet with a fellow soldier of Ostagar, and the landscape was lush and in full bloom, a stark contrast to some other parts of the country. I was also expecting word from Denerim as this was one of the only stops on our journey that was predetermined.
I was sorely disappointed.
Fergus Cousland, despite the deep sadness that surrounded him, was more than hospitable. Indeed, he was gracious as he opened his ancestral home to us, and more welcoming than I would have expected given the tragedies that had befallen him. Arl Howe had turned traitor, while housed within those same walls. He had turned his men on the Couslands, murdering the entire family, including Fergus’s parents, his wife, and only child. Fergus had already left for the front and so had escaped Howe’s treachery – something that haunted him still.
His only solace was the knowledge that Howe had paid for his crimes with his life.
While my men took their leave for the afternoon, Fergus and I walked his lands. There was a beautiful spot that overlooked the Waking Sea and together we sat and talked about each of our journeys. Fergus had been on a scouting mission when the battle in Ostagar had begun, thus he missed all the action. Another point of contention. He had spent the last year mourning his family and rebuilding his home. He had the look of a man who had lost much. My heart ached for him. I could not fathom the depths of his loss.
He asked me to tell him about all I had seen in our effort to end the Blight, and so I shared with him the beauty and otherworldliness of the Brecilian Forest, the majesty of Orzammar and the other underground cities we had discovered, and the curiosity that was the Temple of Sacred Ashes. He was delighted to hear of such unique places all housed within Ferelden’s borders, and made mention that he might travel in order to see some of these places himself.
We stayed a few days, meeting with his people and just spending time with him and his men. He held a banquet in our honor, and his teyrnir, including his men, needed a morale boost, and it was a pleasure to be of such service.
We left under an open invitation to return whenever our journey led us near, and Fergus was kind enough to offer me his personal oath that should I require his aid, all I need do is ask. He knew that as the new Commander of the Grey in Ferelden I would be undertaking a great deal, so should I need any help, he would be happy to assist. It was nice to know I had gained such an ally.
We headed southeast, cutting through the southwestern most part of the arling of Amaranthine – my new home. I did my best not to think on it but it was inevitable I would come face to face with my destiny. A day’s ride out of Denerim we crossed paths with a courier. He was one of a handful who had been dispatched via different routes toward Highever in an effort to find me. There was urgent news from the Keep. The darkspawn had been attacking the countryside in the north in an orderly fashion – unusual given the demise of the archdemon. This unsettled me.
We pushed on to the capital, my mind stirring endlessly at the lack of time I would have in the city with Alistair and what new horrors awaited me in the north. When we arrived late that same evening, I was surprised to find Alistair and Eamon awaiting us. I was happy to see him, and yet my heart was heavy at the lack of any word from him in all my time away. I had written him. I had told him of our journey and how well it was going. I had received silence in response, and so as I dismounted I kept a cool demeanor. Respectful but cool.
Keiko, of course, was beyond delighted to see Alistair again, and vice versa. They greeted one another with warm enthusiasm.
Alistair offered me his arm, to which I gave him a sideways glance of confusion, and yet took it as to not cause any questions in such close proximity to listening ears. He led me directly to his chambers where a young woman stood at the ready. I guessed it was Mhairi given her uniform and stance. She greeted me kindly, saying that although our destination was not as pleasant as she would like, she hoped our journey together would be favorable.
Eamon wished to hear more of our mission and asked to meet with me in the morning, and then he and Mhairi took their leave. Then Alistair and I were alone.
He took a step forward as if to embrace me, and I took a step back. “It was a long ride today. I should like to retire.” I bowed. “Your Majesty.” And without waiting for a response, turned and left.
The castle was quiet, and I was disheartened to think on the fact that all my friends were gone. Keiko had bounded off to the kitchens immediately, and so alone, I entered my room and sighed deeply at the overwhelming number of feelings that had returned upon my return. I peeled off my armor, my body aching from the long ride, and flopped on the bed. It was soft and ever so inviting and I could feel myself drifting off to sleep within moments. I would have a full day of preparations ahead of me, in addition to meeting with Eamon to discuss the details of the good will mission, and speaking with Alistair about the task set before me…and whatever else was going on with him.
I vaguely remembered being lifted at some point to lay properly in the bed, and awoke in the middle of the night to find Alistair sitting in a chair by the fire watching me intently. My voice groggy from sleep, I called out to him. “Alistair? What are you doing?”
“I missed you.”
“Really. And how would I glean such information? From your letter? Oh, wait…”
“I didn’t wish to burden you with all that is happening.”
“And why would you think that anything you have to tell me would be unwelcome? If you’ll recall, we are friends, despite appearances to the contrary. Who else do you have to speak to here about what troubles you?”
He scrunched his face. “As always, you’re right.”
“So in my time away it appears you are no closer to knowing what to do with me, is that correct?”
He made a sideways smile but it was laced with sadness. “I’m sorry.”
Maker, help me. I shook my head to myself and sighed. I opened my arms to him and within a few long strides, he was in my arms. It felt good to be surrounded by him, and he was warm, though warmer on one side because of the fire. His strong arms were tight around me, almost too tight, but we both needed it. I brought one hand to the back of his head and cradled him against me and I heard him exhale. It was the type that one released after having long worried about the person in their arms.
“I’d be grateful for a time when every conversation we had didn’t have an apology added in for good measure.”
He chuckled at that. “I look forward to that day.”
And then I laughed as well.
We stayed together for a moment longer, relishing the feeling of being reunited. After I had left for the tour, he had had to watch all of our friends, one by one, depart, and that burden must have been heavy. “Who was the last to leave?”
I shook my head. She had mentioned she would stay as long as she could. I pulled away from him then, wanting to look at him as I asked, “Now, tell me what troubles you?”
The wedding talks had continued, of course, but what troubled him more was that some of the nobles had begun a royal inquest into Alistair’s true parentage. They did not believe him the son of Maric, despite the obvious similarities between he and Cailan. His most worrying concern was my leaving without him to fight darkspawn. He was as uneasy as I in regards to their odd behavior but in that I could offer him solace that there were a dozen Wardens awaiting my arrival and who would fight beside me. I promised to keep him apprised of the situation, and should I genuinely need him, I would send for him.
He joked that should the inquest prove otherwise, he could join me as a free Warden, and give the imprisoned Anora what she desired. Despite the levity he was trying to bring to the conversation, I knew all the topics we were discussing, and many others, were compounding and giving him reason to regret the crown. I chastised myself yet again for the position I had put him in. I could only hope, in time, he would truly forgive me…and that given enough time, I could truly forgive myself.
We stayed up for a while, discussing everything he needed to relieve himself of until we finally laid down side by side. I crossed my hands upon my chest and stared at how the light of the fire cast strange shadows on the ceiling. In a weird way it reminded me of the battle in Denerim and how the orange glow of so many fires lit up the sky. That, of course, set my mind reeling towards the new threat stirring.
Could I really undertake such a task without any of my friends beside me?
It had only been six months since the Blight was ended, and here I was again, mentally preparing for another battle. I kept those comments to myself. There was no reason to burden Alistair further with my own worries. He was already worried enough.
We had both fallen silent, and I was sure he had fallen asleep – his breathing was deep and steady – but he surprised me by taking one of my hands in his own. Our clasped hands rested between us, as they had after the fight in Redcliffe, and my stomach did the same flip action it had then. He would always cause a physical response.
“I don’t wish to keep apologizing.” He sounded sad.
“Then stop having reason to.” I only half joked in response and gave his hand a squeeze as some sort of reassurance. I turned to look at him then. “I told you I love you not only because I knew you needed to hear it but also because it’s true. I’m going to give you the time you need to decide how I fit in your life, but if we’re going to have any chance at any sort of relationship, friendship or otherwise, you need to remember that. You can’t keep treating me like this, this half in half out sort of mentality. You can’t keep wishing me close and then holding me at arm’s length. If we are to just be friends, then treat me as such. If you wish for something more, make the decision and then hold true. I’ll be waiting for your decision.”
I leaned over and kissed him lightly, then snuggled into his side. I didn’t expect an answer right then, he apparently still had much to think upon. How could he still not know?! Maker, help me! Maker, help him! He wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly. I could feel his heart beating, it was slightly faster than usual.
I should not have added to his burden.
~ * ~
The next morning Alistair joined me when I met with Eamon to discuss the goodwill mission and to dispense with the goods and coin. He was overjoyed at the success of my trip, and I think a little pleased with himself for having set up such a venture and having it reap such reward. We had acquired more soldiers to both the army and the Order, the people knew of the heroics of their king and his desire to rule them with a kind hand, and that a mage had been the one to save them. Negotiations would be easier moving forward, favors garnered, new allegiances formed…it was all political…and none of my concern…except where it concerned Alistair. I would have to make sure to speak with one of the people Leliana and I had put into place to keep an ear open for the scheming that may come in the wake of the tour.
Afterward the council entered and a new meeting began. As if to remind me of their machinations, and how little my being there meant to them, as if I weren’t aware, the discussion about who might be the new queen was purposefully given attention. I rolled my eyes as I moved into the shadows. Alistair noticed and gave me a questioning look. I just raised an eyebrow in response.
It was a much more serious conversation than the one that had previously transpired in my presence. They had legitimate options now, Celene still counting among them. After months of listening to their prattle, Alistair had grown tired. With the skepticism surrounding his lineage in question by some of these very same men, he took control of the situation, and surprised everyone in the room, myself included.
“This topic has grown tiresome. You’re all so desperate to have your way. Did you torment Cailan as relentlessly?”
One of the nobles, a younger man boldly spoke up. “We have your best interests at heart, your Majesty.”
“Really.” Alistair scoffed. “You scheme as to who should be my bride while second guessing my legitimacy. Maybe Cailan should have done his duty and given you the heir you so clearly wish for.” There were disgruntled murmurs in response. “Oh yes. The rumors.” More grumbling. “Did you believe I did not hear that Anora is most likely barren? Or that Cailan had more than just a wandering eye?”
Eamon tried to intervene. “Your Grace.”
Alistair gave him a look and Eamon abandoned his effort. I was impressed, to say the least. And I was enjoying every moment.
“I warned you about being swayed by your ambitions.”
Eamon nodded in understanding, and then taking a cue, requested the council exit the chamber. They were stunned but bowed and left, one by one. Alistair barely acknowledged them. Eamon tossed a look my way, I’m sure the others had forgotten I was there, and it looked like he was sending me a plea. I’m not sure what he wanted me to do, I was proud of Alistair.
When we were finally alone again, I did the only thing I could. I made him laugh. As I made my way out of the shadows of the council chamber, I clapped my hands in appreciation for his performance. “Well done.”
In response he took a bow.
“Interesting rumors you’ve been privy to. And quite the pair they made, a garden tool given a landscape unable to bear fruit.”
He burst out laughing. “Oh how I’ve missed your wit.”
It always felt good to be able to make him laugh, especially when he seemed so heavy with responsibility. But then something dawned on me. “With the rake tilling other fields, is it possible there is fruit to be concerned about?” The analogy was quite humorous, and it made him laugh again.
“I’ve been thinking on that for some time, and wondered if the inquest would reveal any more bastard princes. I’m not worried about it.”
I looked perplexed at such a statement and waited for him to elaborate, but he just sort of shrugged his shoulders. “Well, we should allow the council back in. You have business to attend to, as do I.”
“I…I’ll see you later?”
He had stopped himself. I wondered why. “Of course.” I curtsied low, gave him a wink, and then sauntered out of the room.
From the palace I went to see Master Wade about my new armor – it was stunning. So much so I was afraid to wear it. I made a pass through the Wonders of Thedas to resupply, and finally to the Gnawed Noble just to see if Cullen was still using our old system. I could barely hide my delight to find a letter waiting for me. I paid the bartender for his continued service and discretion, and made my way back through the market. I took my time knowing it would probably be my last day of leisure for quite a while.
I stopped by a stall and bought a few treats then walked to the pier to enjoy them in solitude. I hadn’t seen Keiko all morning. He was most likely visiting with the children in town he had befriended, or perhaps spending time with the soldiers he knew. If he didn’t return by nightfall, I would ask around. I couldn’t leave without him. And perhaps that was what he was planning. I think he wanted to stay, and I, of anyone, understood that. He was happy in Denerim, and it made me wonder if I should leave him behind with Alistair. Maybe I should ask him what he wanted?
That thought saddened me. I didn’t want to think of taking on whatever might be awaiting me without him by my side. He had been my constant companion since just after Ostagar, but he would make a wonderful sidekick for Alistair as well who would be left alone when I departed. Oh, Maker.
I watched boats leave port and was curious about their destination. What exotic land awaited their cargo? I sat longer than I should have, but I found myself uneasy. There was a pit in my stomach, so perhaps solitude was not exactly what I needed but I had hoped that the time would allow me to process the task ahead of me. During the tour, any time my mind would wander to this very idea, I would find myself something to do, busy work, anything to distract. Now as I sat there, my mind was jumping ahead to so many paths and their possibilities. I wanted someone to talk to about the anxiety I was feeling but I would not do that to Alistair, so maybe now was a good time to finish my letters.
My letters to Kirkwall had been part of the trust test of the people chosen to watch over Alistair in my stead, so they hadn’t been long or detailed, and Cullen’s response suggested concern at my lack of length and information. I had to be sure to clarify why it had been so in my next letter. I wanted the new letters sent before I left for Amaranthine so that none of my first hand experience with the new threat made its way in. I didn’t want anyone to worry needlessly, and I knew with Cullen and Marian I wouldn’t be able to hold my tongue.
It was nearly dusk when I returned to the palace, and I took the side entrance through the kitchens to avoid being seen by those that may report my return. I snuck into the library, a beautiful room that I had only had the opportunity to enjoy a few times, and tucked myself into a corner to finish my letters. To Cullen I expressed a little of my fear at what new horrors may be awaiting me. I shared my concern at fulfilling my new role having so little knowledge of the Order. I recounted my tour of the country and its purpose. I then asked after his well being, and asked him to be honest with me – I was growing tired of secrets. His own short letter had given me little indication as to his own welfare.
And of course, I did not share any details of what was transpiring between Alistair and myself, it was still yet to be determined. It was also still too awkward to discuss either with the other. It probably always would be.
To Marian I wrote much of the same except where Alistair and my relationship was concerned. I went into too much detail perhaps. I did ask her for the particulars on her relationship with Fenris and how things were going. I asked after her family, and to convey my two short letters to Fenris and Varric as well. I was determined to maintain those friendships. To Fenris I was sure to ask after his continued path of vengeance on Danarius and if he had made any progress or was willing to let it go now that he had found something new to be obsessed with – I joked and made sure to make that clear as to not derail his budding relationship with Marian. And to Varric, as promised, I gave him more details about the journey to end the Blight.
Feeling satisfied, I returned to my room to pack.
On the way, Eamon and I crossed paths. I had been wanting to speak with him privately before my departure, so I took advantage of the opportunity. “My lord? Do you have a moment?”
“For you, my lady, always.” He gave me a half bow then stood tall, attentive. Much of the animosity and distrust had faded in the months we had worked together, despite his trickster behavior in regards to my good will mission.
The hallway was fairly empty and so without any preamble, I delved into the topic that had been plaguing me, and the king. “This inquest into Alistair’s legitimacy? Will it bear anything of note?” Of anyone left in the whole of Thedas who might know the details, Eamon Guerrin was the man who most likely knew the truth of it.
He took a long, slow breath. The weight of it meant this was a burden he had long carried. “For years now, I have been burdened with the task of safeguarding Alistair’s true parentage, and this is not something I will put upon you. Given your relationship with the King, it is unfair to put you in a position to maintain its secrecy. Relationships riddled with secrets, omissions, lies…I would not wish that for either of you. He is Maric’s son. The inquest will not prove otherwise.”
The strain of this long held secret had taken its toll. “I appreciate your honesty and the steadfast nature of your character. Should you ever feel the need to unburden yourself, know that I will gladly continue to carry it for you.” My interest was completely piqued with such an admission, and as desirous as I was to learn the truth, for clearly it was a great secret, I didn’t want to have to keep that hidden from the man I love for the years to come, and so I swallowed my curiosity. A true test of my strength and character.
“You continue to remind me why he loves you so.”
I scoffed in response. “Please. You cannot wait for me to head north in the hopes the darkspawn will finish what they started in Ostagar.” It was meant as a taunt, and he looked truly pained that I would think such of him. So maybe we weren’t yet the friends either of us hoped we were.
“Never. I have never wished ill upon you. In fact, I fear the day you find yourself in the predicament that all Grey Wardens eventually do. I do not think the King will survive it. Despite what you think of me, which is clearly very little, I understand better now the bond you and Alistair share. While I have his well being and that of the nation at the forefront of all my decisions and advice, he needs you, and I will no longer interfere in a relationship that is none of my business.”
I looked truly dumbfounded. I could feel it. And it caused Eamon to laugh.
“You’re both still so young. Because of all you’ve experienced together, things may feel more dire, more dramatic. In time, the urgency will lessen, but seeing you together, I doubt your bond ever will. I hope that gets you through the days you have ahead of you. Good night, my lady.” He half bowed again, leaving me to consider all he had said in that dumbfounded state.
I made to say something, anything, but found myself at a loss. A rare state indeed. I walked back to my room with a knitted brow, looking over my shoulder at Eamon’s disappearing frame, wondering what new game he was playing.
~ * ~
As I was unsure as to the length of this next part of my adventure, I wanted to be fully prepared. When I opened the armoire to choose a few dresses to take, I was surprised to find a sizable satchel adorned in ribbon sitting quietly below. It was heavier than it looked, so I slid it to the floor to unwrap it and discover what lay hidden within. I was brought to tears as I found gifts from each of my friends, a small note attached to each.
From Sten it looked like he had decided to try his hand at the artistic medium he so enjoyed. It was a small painting, about the size of a book, that showcased all of us. I’m not sure I had ever smiled so wide. The lines weren’t too detailed, so the colors sort of blurred together, creating a unique and quite lovely picture. His note simply read, “Kadan”.
From Wynne she had given me a beautiful golden amulet with a blood red stone. Her note echoed Cairidin’s words to me, “May you always find your way in the dark”. I ran my fingers over the smooth surface and felt a warm sort of energy radiating from within. It made me wonder at the power that it held and looked forward to discovering it.
From Leliana there were two gifts, a belt woven with the flower that reminded her of her mother, Andraste’s Grace and a small dagger that resembled her amulet, the Sword of Mercy. Her note read “May you always remember that you can be both beautiful and deadly”. It made me laugh as I thought on those times I had asked her to teach me to be a bard. The stitch work on the belt was delicate and I had to wonder if she had made it herself. They were the perfect gifts from her as she knew going forward I may not always be wearing armor but would always be prepared to defend, and because of their symbolic nature, I would always think of her.
And finally from Zevran there was a box. When I opened it, I have to admit my surprise. The item was…well, let’s just say I was already aware of what it was but had I not been, his note spoke of his gift’s intention. “For those long and lonely nights.”
Now, I hadn’t planned on mentioning it because I was embarrassed and didn’t want written proof of the existence of the conversation I once had with Zevran, but as I was keeping this diary with the understanding that at some point not only would I need to recount the details of our journey, but also that I would need/want a good laugh, I am now going to write some of it down.
In one of those afternoons I spent with my friends after my return from Kirkwall, Zevran and I had had a long, uncomfortable conversation about physical intimacy, the lack of a partner, and how to take care of one’s own satisfaction. His time spent in the brothel had given him an education unlike any I was ever to be privy to, except for that one afternoon. I still blush, and cringe a little, at the thought of many of the things he suggested. He was also familiar with both the male and female form, and offered advice, as he had once given Alistair – and I had been and was still thankful for that.
Knowing the delicate situation I had now found myself in with the king, my new appointment in the north, my distant Templar, and, with a sly smile, that his own departure would leave me without a backup plan, he shared with me some techniques I could use. “With women,” he began, “it’s more about stimulating the mind.” We enjoyed fantasies and the thought of desire to bring about pleasure. Men were more stimulated by sight. Just seeing a woman was enough sometimes. That was romantic. With women, they often required more time, more touch, more seduction. Not that they weren’t capable of just getting things done when they needed as well. “Sometimes, my dear Warden,” he added, “time is of the essence.” And he smiled at that.
He had told me about some of the “tools of the trade” he was familiar with, this object among them. Some of the women had used them with other women, some of the women had used them on men. Some of them used them on themselves because while their services were utilized, it did not mean they found pleasure or satisfaction from those partners who came with a bag of coin. Blushing, I picked up the phallic aid. It was made of polished stone and was surprisingly light. He had forewarned me that such objects were often cold, so I should warm it, and use lubrication. I held it up and I know I must have looked bemused. It was so like Zevran to think of such a thing, and while it made me blush considerably to even think of using it, it was ever so thoughtful of him to think of me potentially needing it. What a strange friendship we had.
And I will admit, just this once, that I found myself intrigued.
Zevran wanted me to know that it was important to be aware of what I wanted from sexual intimacy, and that such items often allowed people to explore their desires. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little at the whole thing.
Biting back the smile that just wouldn’t stop, I packed up all the gifts in my magic imbued bag, hoping Zev’s gift would never be accidentally discovered should someone else rummage about. I would have to find a safe place for it when I arrived in Amaranthine. Where would someone not look in their Commander’s room?
I continued packing the rest of my belongings, and Maker help me, I couldn’t stop thinking about that gift. I would have to send them all thank you notes. Communication with Sten and Zevran would be limited given their situations but as I had created a plan with Cullen, similarly I had created one with each of them. It may be months, many months in fact, given their precarious situations, but we promised to maintain contact.
After a long bath, I realized how late it had become. Not only was I hungry, I hadn’t seen Alistair all day. I hadn’t planned on that, and so after a stop in the kitchens, I would seek him out. I put on one of the light dresses Leliana had picked out for me; I was tired of armor and the weight of my mage robes. I just wanted to relax.
Most of the staff had retired for the evening, so there were only a couple of cooks left cleaning and preparing for the following day. They bowed as they greeted me and welcomed me in. I told them they didn’t have to treat me differently, I was, still, just a mage, and they were displeased to think that I should be treated otherwise, given what I had done for them. It was a nice sentiment. They prepared a sumptuous plate while asking questions about my trip. We were chatting away, me sitting atop one of the counters picking at my meal, when Alistair entered.
Caught off guard, the cooks were still gracious as they bowed, a sign of long service to nobility. I stayed exactly where I was. I knew it would be considered a slight to any other royal, but not Alistair. I knew he appreciated me treating him like normal. I think even the cooks were insulted I chose not to jump down and fawn all over the king but that’s not who we were, and I was starting not to care what anyone thought of our behavior when we were together.
“I’m sorry to interrupt.” He began. He looked at me and I couldn’t read his face. “Would you mind giving us a moment?” Now I looked confused. He could have easily asked me to join him elsewhere.
The cooks bowed again and were hasty in their retreat. Alistair leisurely made his way about the kitchen, picking at one thing and then another, not looking in my direction. “Was it payback to maintain your distance on your last night?”
“No.” I emphatically countered. “The day got away from me, and I was only grabbing a quick bite before coming to find you.”
“Why…why did you not…”
I knew what he was asking. Why had I not asked him to spend the day with me. “Because you still have not decided.” And that, in part, was true. Until he knew the relationship he wanted with me, my heart could barely take it. When I had sat on the docks, I remembered the time we had spent there, after his meeting with Goldanna, his then believed-to-be sister. We were friends then. We were honest and close. Now there was a wedge between us, one I wasn’t sure would ever be dislodged. Maker! I prayed that wasn’t true, and yet for a long time, there had been this distance. There were moments of a return to ourselves, but they quickly disappeared in the light of day – or the truth of our circumstances.
I feared it was always going be like this. I grew sad with that thought and looked at him. Really looked at him. He was sad too.
“Last apology. I’m sorry. I did not purposefully stay away, honestly, there was much to do.”
He came to stand before me. “You’re leaving again.”
We stared at one another for a long moment, trying to process that this could be the last time we were together like this. The tears started then. How many times would we have to say goodbye? I grabbed a handful of tunic and pulled him towards me. I wrapped my legs about his waist and held him close while trying to impart my feelings for him, our situation, everything in that kiss. We held onto one another tightly and the kiss deepened. He ran his hands up under my skirt along my thighs while my hands made their way through his hair and then down along his back to draw him yet closer, and yet it wasn’t close enough.
He pulled away from me then, his breathing as uneven as my own. I saw the look, the same one from our previous encounters. “Why will you not succumb?” I finally asked. This had gone on long enough. Was it his memory of me with Cullen? Was it my possible demise?
“Do you remember the last time we were together?”
Of course I did. “On the eve before the final battle.”
“And before that?”
I didn’t like where this was heading. “After the conversation with Riordan about a Warden’s role in slaying the archdemon.”
“My last memories of being with you were during dark times, a necessity to lose ourselves, overwhelmed by fear. Your last intimate moments were with another man, in pleasure. You’re leaving to fight the darkspawn again. I don’t know if you’re going to return, and the thought sickens me, but I don’t want to always remember our time together being used as a device to escape. It may sound strange, especially given how much I desire you, but…”
“No, I understand.” I did, and I could not fault him. I wanted to remind him of what we shared, he wanted to not feel used. I straightened myself, closed my legs from around him, and adjusted my dress. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes and looked down at my hands in an effort to compose myself. Everything blurred.
He settled his hands upon mine. They were warm, and soft. He had not held a sword for some time. At least not for any length of time. Okay, that was an unintentional slight. “Come. Let us rest together.” I could only shake my head in agreement. He helped me off the counter then threaded the fingers of one of his hands in mine to lead me from the kitchens. Hand in hand we walked the halls to his room.
We encountered only a few servants and soldiers, and no one batted an eye.
Once inside his impressive, stately room, he sat on the floor before the fire leaning his back against one of the settees. He motioned for me to sit between his legs, resting my back against his chest. He wrapped his arms loosely about my waist and together we sat quietly for a long time. What was left to say? We couldn’t talk of the future, in any regard. We didn’t want to burden the other with the weight of the responsibilities put upon us. And so we said nothing, for a while.
Finally he broke the silence by talking about how much I would learn of the Order from the Grey Wardens enlisted to me. He asked that I write to him and share what I learned, which sparked my memory that I had not given him his gift the night of the farewell party. He had ignored me all night, after all. Asking him to wait, I ran to my room to retrieve his present.
I offered him an exquisitely decorated box that I had found at the Wonders of Thedas. He opened it to find the Joining Chalice. I had discovered it when we had traveled through Ostagar again. He cradled it in his hands, looking it over in awe. It was the object that initially united us. It was a reminder of the good it had brought us but also the gravity of being part of the Order. He was touched and leaned over to kiss my cheek in thanks.
He took the chalice and its box to a bookshelf near his desk and placed it with a sort of reverence, and returned with a small box of his own. It fit in the palm of my hand and could only hold a particular item. He presented me with a ring engraved with a rose. It was beautiful and elegant, and had me questioning its purpose. This wasn’t the type of gift he would have come across in the marketplace. This was finely crafted, specially ordered, and designed with meaning, and it made me look at him wide-eyed.
“I wanted you to have a rose that wouldn’t wilt and fade.” He placed it on my finger, the one that signified to the outside world that you were spoken for, and then kissed my hand.
I still had the rose he had given me all those months ago. Because, of course, I did. It was pressed between the pages of my journal. But this rose meant something else, even though he was reluctant to say it. I wouldn’t force it, not yet. I wouldn’t ask him to admit to something that he was unable to give, and so I simply said, “I love it.” And I smiled brightly. It was genuine. I loved the look of that ring on my finger and my heart swelled with joy.
He knew my mind. He knew that by putting the ring on the marriage finger where my thoughts would lead. He may play the part of the fool on occasion but he knew exactly what he was doing. I looked forward to the day he would be able to voice those thoughts aloud. I leaned over and kissed him, and let it linger. We moved back to sit before the fire, and this time, I let my head rest on his lap. There were others way to feel close. He stroked my hair and gently touched my cheek. He traced my eyebrow with his fingers and let them follow an invisible trail down my neck.
With such tender affection, it was no wonder I fell asleep.
When I awoke in the middle of the night, I was surprised to find us in the same position. He hadn’t moved. He must have been so uncomfortable on the floor, the seat of the settee offering him little support. His head hung down, his chin nearly on his chest. Oh, my sweet Alistair. He may be struggling to show it but this gave me great insight.
Carefully, so as not to disturb him, I sat up and eased him to the floor. I took a pillow off the settee and placed it under his head. I then returned to the place I wanted to be, in his arms. I shimmied my way back into his embrace, putting my face into the crook of his neck, when he instinctively tightened his grip around me. I could feel each rise of his chest upon my own. I could hear his heart beating. Feel his breath tickle the hairs upon my head. I felt safe in his arms, and as desirous as I had been to reunite our bodies, I would have to come to terms that this may be all he had to offer me.
His views on our relationship had changed, and what was surprising was how different they were from my own. Yes, he loved me, but perhaps he couldn’t reconcile all those things that had changed us. It was most likely the reason he hadn’t been able to come to a decision about our relationship in four months. He put a ring on my finger but said nothing about the meaning behind it. It was a gift, something to remember him by, and maybe that’s all it was meant to be. Maybe it was originally meant to signify something more, but the uncertainty of my future probably caused him to rethink that. And so he stayed silent.
Perhaps one day I would be fortunate enough to discover its true intent.
Mhairi and I had decided to leave after we broke our fast, giving me a final morning with Alistair. I hadn’t wanted my last night with him to be asleep but given that this might be the last night in his arms, I decided to just take it for what it was. Everything we had done for so many months had had such a finality about it. I had long been concerned that so many of our times together were possibly to be our last. There had been a dark cloud about us for ages.
It was no wonder he felt as he did. It was true. We had long been on the precipice of disaster, and so the moments of pleasure we were able to find had usually had a thread of desperation about them. Was that all our relationship was then? A path to escapism?
That couldn’t be true? Could it?
In the two months following the Blight when there would have been a sense of peace, I had fled to Kirkwall. Finding solace with Cullen had tainted my return and then I left for the goodwill tour. The only time we could have found the pleasure he sought had been undone…by me.
Andraste’s flaming knickers!
He deserved better. Maker. Maybe I wasn’t the right one for him.
I lay there, sheltered in his embrace, sleep eluding me while my thoughts ran wild, and came full circle back to the conclusion that always seemed to make itself known. He was better off without me. But why? After all we had been through, all that we shared, why did I continually think I wasn’t good enough?
Was it because I was a mage – taught to think myself a lesser person? Was it the crown that now sat upon his head? Was it because I continued to find ways to keep him at arm’s length?
I wanted to hit myself in the head and free myself of these thoughts. Instead, I cried. Just a little. I didn’t want to wake Alistair and have to confront everything that was now swirling about my mind.
Even in slumber, he must have felt my shudder as I tried to control the tears because his arms wrapped even tighter around me. But then his whole body twitched suddenly and I realized he was having a dream. He didn’t speak any words just muffled sounds and his body jerked. He hadn’t physically reacted to any dreams since the time of the Blight. Not that I remembered. Was this because of the new darkspawn threat? He had been a Warden slightly longer than I had.
I pulled away from him as the wordless sounds continued. I tried to gently wake him, knowing that being startled awake from such dreams were often jarring. Sweat beaded his brow, and his whole body convulsed, and I grew frightened when my pleading didn’t register. Finally I sat up fully, taking his face in my hands. I said his name louder and maybe it was the tinge of worry that laced his name that made him realize I was waiting for him outside of the Fade.
He lurched forward, finally awake but took a moment to focus. Then he said my name. It made my stomach flip. Having mentioned that he hadn’t said it in months, it brought me great joy to hear it again on his lips, even tinged with the remnants of whatever nightmare he had just endured. I didn’t have long to relish in the moment because in the next instant he crushed me to him in a frenzied kiss. He pulled me onto his lap and deepened the kiss which stirred all the pent up desire. I didn’t want to stop it but all my previous thoughts still lingered, and he had said how he didn’t want our lovemaking to be shadowed by the fear of whatever danger may be lying in wait. And so with the little strength I had left, I pulled away, ever so gently. “I’m here. You’re safe.”
“I saw you in a strange forest, entering a ruin. There were magical markings on the floor, and…and I watched you fall.”
“We had dreams like that before, if you’ll recall, and we survived.”
“But I was by your side.”
I shook my head solemnly. It was true, I wouldn’t have him to watch my back but if I knew he would be awaiting my return… “With your warning, I’ll now be better prepared.” I tried to make light of the moment, knowing that it was an impossibility.
“I cannot let you go alone.” He took my hand in his and then ran his other hand up my arm. “I can’t imagine not knowing if you’re well. How am I to go about my day as if I’m not frightened beyond all reason that anytime a messenger arrives it will be with bad news from the North?”
I knew if the roles were reversed, I would feel the same. It was, to some degree, how I felt about our companions and their journeys. I couldn’t imagine going for months without word of Alistair’s well being. “There are no assurances to be had given what awaits me, but believe that I will do everything in my power to return to you.” It was a bit dramatic but I knew he felt powerless, and that was, in part, my fault. I needed him to have a sense of positivity. To have faith. He had his own responsibilities to attend to, and it would be best if he put his focus there.
He took both my hands then and held them palms facing up. “These are capable of great destruction, and the Order welcomes any means necessary in the fight against the darkspawn, so never hold back. I will be sure to have cases of lyrium sent to you so you are always well stocked.”
I offered him a lopsided smile as way of a response. He had already been fearful of my going and now his dream had him rattled. I, too, was afraid, more than I wanted to admit, but again, he could not know. I wrapped my hands around his jaw and looked him straight in the eyes. “I will bring the Maker’s fury to all who cross my path.” I sent the tiniest sparks of electricity across my fingertips to his jawline, and he gasped then sighed then chuckled.
“Your king commands your obedience in this. You will not fall in some ruin in some forest or elsewhere while he is not by your side. Do you understand? This is a royal decree.”
I had to bite back the smile. He was serious, somewhat. I stood up and curtsied low. “I shall do as my king commands.” And then I crumpled down to sit before him. “I swear it.”
Since learning of the Warden taint and the final walk into the Deep Roads that was expected of us, I had presumed Alistair and I would make that journey together. If we survived that long. We had joined the Order at roughly the same time, so when the Calling came, regardless if one or both of us heard it, we would take that long walk into the darkness side by side. I just thought that was how it would be. No matter where we were in the world, which, at the time of those thoughts we were still together, we would come together and take that road in a similar fashion as how we had begun.
I looked at him and could barely contain the wave of anger that rose at the thought of watching him perish under the overwhelming numbers of the darkspawn in the darkness. He was king. I had sacrificed much to ensure he lived a long and fruitful life but not once in all that time had I considered the Calling and what that would mean. In a dozen years, he could be tainted beyond recognition and willing to give up his life. Where would I be?
I would find my way to his side, no matter the circumstances or the distance.
I looked him in the eyes again. “I swear it.”
He nodded once, in that regal sort of way. He was getting good at that. Taking my hand, he pulled me toward him, and together we laid back down. Enveloped in his arms, a leg draped over me, I was completely surrounded by him and I did not want to leave. I held onto him, taking in his scent, feeling his warmth, and wanted to…there was nothing to be done. I was leaving in the morning and there were no guarantees of the outcome to be had.
We stayed like that until the wisps of daylight made their way across the sky. Solemnly, we got up and sat together for a little while before the now cold fire. I created a fireball in my hand and let it float, watching it flicker. He put his hand above it, and unlike that sobering moment when Cullen had used his Templar abilities against me, Alistair let it burn. We looked at one another over the glow of the fire and let the weight of the moment sink in. I sent the little ball of flame into the fireplace as I rose to start the day.
We said very little to one another before I returned to my room to prepare for my leaving. I needed to change, gather my belongings, and find Keiko before meeting Alistair again to break our fast together. Before entering the dining hall, I found one of my people and gave them specific instructions as to what information I needed to be privy to in addition to what I expected of them. I also gave them my letters for Kirkwall and an early bonus to ensure their continued loyalty. I made my way back to the kitchens and asked the head cook to make sure Alistair’s meals were thoroughly enjoyed as there would be consequences should I again return to a malnourished king.
Over our morning meal, Alistair and I discussed his most pressing duties. He had learned a great deal more from my trip around the country and understood that there were a number of matters that would need his personal addressing. We spoke of nonsense, anything to divert from the fact that when the meal was over, I would be gone. Finally I looked at him seriously. “Promise me you will take care of yourself. I now ask you the same you asked of me. I cannot focus on the task at hand with lingering worry over your well being. I will send you regular updates. I’ll keep in touch, I promise, and I ask you to do the same.”
“I won’t disappoint you again.”
Alistair was seated across from me and I reached out to take his hand. “Share any of your troubles, any of your worries. As your friend there isn’t anything you need not share with me. No more secrets.”
He gave me a sideways smile. “And you will do the same?”
After a brief pause I said, “I will.”
Continuing to hold my hand, we walked side by side to the main entrance of the palace where I found Eamon, Mhairi, and a small contingent of soldiers. Keiko was among them. He barked upon my arrival and I gave him a stern look for his day-long absence. He came forward to greet us. “I have been wondering if you should like to stay in Denerim? With Alistair?” Keiko looked between us and let out a small whine. “No, it’s not that I don’t want you with me, I just thought you could protect him in my stead. Maybe keep the town’s children company.” He snorted.
“He and I already had this conversation. He has sworn to me that he will look after you since I cannot.” Alistair patted him fondly on the head, and Keiko offered an affirming bark in response. “Besides, I have all these soldiers and Eamon.” He tilted his head in Eamon’s direction.
I looked to Eamon then and we shared a look that I hope communicated that I was expecting him to look after Alistair. We each nodded once to the other. When I turned back to Alistair, his sad eyes made my heart hurt. “I’ll see you soon.” I offered with false optimism.
“I’d better, Commander.” He bowed graciously and it made me smile.
I curtsied in return. “Your Majesty.”
And then, in front of everyone, he kissed me. It wasn’t overtly passionate, it had a similar feel to the kiss we shared when we made a promise to one another. It was meant to impart a number of desires for the other, and deep down, well, actually not that deep, I hoped it wouldn’t be our last.
I turned slowly, keeping my eyes on Alistair for as long as possible before having to walk through the center of the contingent to make my way out of the palace gates. I saw the captain and quietly said, “It would do the King well to train regularly with the men. He should remain in fighting form, do you not agree?” To which the captain emphatically nodded that he did.
Knowing Alistair would be looked after brought me some measure of comfort although my heart felt heavy as I left the city. His dream had left me uneasy – there were no guarantees. I hoped he would have a good life. Find happiness, in some form. Make a friend with whom he could confide in and trust, because that nest of snakes would rather watch him suffer than do right by him. I hated leaving him again.
The soldiers accompanied Mhairi and I through the Wending Wood along Pilgrim’s Path to ensure our safety before they headed back to Denerim, leaving she and I to make our way to Vigil’s Keep alone.
I won’t forget seeing the smoke tendrils in the distance, hearing the faint cries of battle, and feeling the sense of dread that accompanied the closeness of darkspawn.
This was my welcome to my new home…fantastic.
~ * ~
Goodness, I was tired. But not the kind of tired that would allow me to fall asleep any time soon. Not only were the disturbing images I had seen etched in my mind, I was also overwhelmed by all I had learned. It had also been some time since I had fought like that, and I could already feel the sore muscles I would suffer. I leaned on the stone edge of the rampart and watched as the sun began to disappear over the horizon. So this infested keep was to be my new home? The former home of the traitor, Howe? This place sent shivers down my spine. There was something not right here, and not just because of all people, Oghren had found his way here.
That was a terrible joke, and rather unkind given his desire to join the Wardens, and since he had been a stalwart companion upon meeting him in Orzammar. I took a deep breath and looked over the scorched landscape. The sky was heavy with cloud cover, and the scent of dying fires and rot filled the air – it was too much to hope that those clouds would bring with them a cleansing rain.
And to top off it all off, I had met, and killed, a talking darkspawn. As if they weren’t already horrifying enough, now they were capable of thought and speech?! What did that mean? How did such a thing happen? The implications, while intriguing, were also frightening.
Maybe it was the combination of visually seeing the remnants of the darkspawn attack, the knowledge that the keep had belonged to a fallen family, and the scent of death from so many of my fellow brothers and sisters in arms that left me so unsettled. But this wasn’t my first experience with any of that, and while still unsettling, there was something deeper gnawing at me.
I had learned from Mhairi on our walk together that Vigil’s Keep was one of the oldest settlements in Ferelden, older than even Denerim, so this site was sure to hold a number of ghosts and secrets and stories waiting to be told. And now the Wardens were to rebuild here? Where were the Wardens? I hadn’t encountered any while I had fought my way through the Keep. Curious. Perhaps that was why the attack had been so devastating? A lack of forewarning from a Warden who would have sensed the impending threat?
I had met a fellow mage though, Anders.
Having left Denerim, and my ever confused feelings for the King, I had actually started to look forward to the space and purpose my new post would allow, but then I was immediately thrown back into battle with a familiar foe. Going to Kirkwall, while a choice I would never regret, had made things that much more complicated. My heart had been torn in two, my friends were now scattered to all corners of Thedas, and I found myself in a challenging position in my new appointment. Maybe space wasn’t what I really needed right now.
I pushed myself away from the ramparts and made my way back downstairs to find the older man I had rescued. He had probably served the former Arl and would most likely be able to share with me the details of what had happened. His name was Varel and he explained that basically everyone was either dead or missing. A dozen Wardens either dead or missing?! This wasn’t a Blight. How could this have happened? I was a mixture of emotion as I considered the ramifications of this. (And it made me wonder again at why we hadn’t found Duncan’s body when we had returned to Ostagar. Had he not actually fallen in battle? Had he lived long enough to be taken by the darkspawn? I had to swallow back the lump of emotion rising.) Had I arrived sooner would I be counted among them? Had the Maker intervened on my behalf to ensure I would be here at the precise moment I would be needed?
It was then I heard the resounding, rhythmic footfalls of heavy horse. With the remaining people I now found myself in company with, we walked closer to the sound with hopeful expectation that it may be reinforcements.
It was not.
Nor would it be.
I plastered a smile on my face and bowed low. The king had arrived.
What was he doing here?
That question would have to wait as there were Templars among his troops, and one of them was determined to take Anders, who we learned had escaped the Circle seven times. I was impressed, and also fearful for what they might do to him given his brazen disregard for their rules. And so I conscripted him. I remembered Orsino’s words to me, I could conscript without ever putting one to the Joining but now learning there were no Wardens left, I would actually need to draft at least a few immediately.
I learned later that the Right of Conscription was only ever used sparingly for fear of retaliation from those in power. The Order had a low standing in a lot of countries but especially in Ferelden – something I would need to remedy.
It brought me some satisfaction in thwarting our former captors; watching them scoff and remark that I couldn’t do such a thing…well, let’s just say that my new position gave me a power I did not think to enjoy so much. Although the Joining brought with it its own danger, nearly all mages preferred death to the alternative – being made tranquil.
Alistair and Oghren greeted one another after the ruckus subsided, and while the others talked amongst themselves, I took Alistair aside to discover the reason for his arrival. It had better not be to join my ranks.
Trouble in the Bannorn. One of the topics he had not wished to burden me with. He asked after the situation and I did what I had promised not to, I lied. I would not give him any reason to be concerned until I had a better understanding of the situation. It was my duty, my burden, and I wouldn’t let him know there was anything amiss, beyond the obvious. Yes, there had been a fight but that was all he need know. A dozen missing or dead Wardens…no, he need not know about that. Knowing I was surrounded by so many had been his only consolation.
I don’t think he had intended on seeing me again so soon. We were awkward. I jokingly asked if he wanted to stay by making light of the state of the place. He responded that he didn’t want to overstay his welcome. He then turned serious reiterating the great task ahead of me, and how he was disappointed he wouldn’t be able to help. Ferelden was in a delicate state and knowing I was here building the Order brought him some relief, despite the threat.
This was all said as a show of his status to those in earshot, for this was not a conversation had between two people who had been through so much together already. This was said in close proximity to those in his entourage to reiterate that his dealing with the Wardens was cordial, and that both sides had grave responsibilities. As he, himself, was a Warden, he wanted the importance of my tasks to be known, but that he wasn’t playing favorites.
It was tiresome. But I understood the necessity.
His captain mentioned that they should get back on the road to take advantage of the little daylight that remained. He nodded in acknowledgment and then turned back to me. “Maker watch over you.” Alistair said sweetly as he leaned in to kiss my cheek.
There was no mistaking the concern in his eyes.
“And you.” I smiled weakly in return. I could not ask him to stay, and yet I was desperate for him to. I could feel my heart longing towards him. I was afraid of what was happening here, and now there was truly no one to have my back, save Oghren, if he survived the Joining. My heart thudded against my breast as I watched him go. Tears burned my eyes and he grew blurry. We’ll be fine, I
said lied. I’ll write to you soon, I said. How many things would I have to actually keep from him?
I wiped my eyes before turning back and took a shattered breath in the hopes it would calm my nerves. I was the Commander of the Grey now. It was time to start acting like it.
Varel was actually the Seneschal. He had served under the previous Arl and protected and sheltered those in need as Howe’s evil grew. It was a consolation to learn that the man who would be my right hand was a good one. He was also privy to a number of Grey Warden secrets including the Joining ritual, and with so many Wardens missing, he said it was imperative to start the ceremony with those now recruited as soon as possible to build the numbers back up. After the day we had already endured, and how many people required attention, the Joining could wait another day.
As we walked together back into the keep, we aided the wounded. We created a makeshift clinic and made the injured comfortable while organizing those with the greatest need. Anders was a healer and set to work helping those he could. I gave him every healing potion I had, and made a mental note to make more as soon as I was able.
The keep had fallen into some disrepair over the years but with the attacks there were a number of visible upgrades that would need immediate attention. Varel agreed that if this was to become a stronghold, there were many fortifications that would need to be considered. We would need to hire a master stonemason to make the proper repairs, and soon.
Once inside, we accounted for the staff and set to work every able body. The kitchen fired back up to prepare a meal for everyone, soup for the injured, and I went about making potions. I met Mistress Woolsey and the Captain of the Guard, Garavel and was given an account of the state of affairs. There was a prisoner in the cells who needed my attention and I learned that there was one Warden, Kristoff who was away when the attack happened. He had been researching the darkspawn activity and would need to be sought out.
Oghren and some men removed bodies from the halls, while others did their best to bring some semblance of order back to the keep. It was going to take a great effort to feel “normal” in this place. The darkspawn had done unspeakable things to some of the bodies, strung some of them up, and left their mark upon everything they touched. And now we had to live here?
We had systematically made our way through the keep during the fighting but now I sent a contingent back through to ensure we wouldn’t be surprised by any stragglers while we tried to recover. I would need to remain vigilant in order to sense another attack. It was going to be a long night. I used some of Zevran’s coffee he had given me to lift my spirits and for the mental clarity it offered. I would need to invest in more.
The following morning Varel and I performed the Joining ceremony. Poor Mhairi. Eager and honorable Mhairi. She did not survive. I did not know her long, but I liked her, and her death was just more pain in an already dreadful situation. We are planning a vigil for all those who perished and now she will be counted among them. Fortunately, Oghren and Anders will now be by my side, joined in common purpose. Oghren’s survival should never have been in question, he heartily drank from the chalice as if he had discovered Orzammar ale within.
On my way to the dungeon, I found Master Wade and Herren had come to help. I was surprised, to say the least, but thankful we would have such a craftsman forging our armor and weapons within our walls. They encouraged me, as always, to bring them anything unique with which Wade could utilize his skills.
I was intercepted again with more pressing information – the discovery of the place from where the darkspawn had come through. That needed my immediate attention. It wasn’t a wide opening but it had been wide enough to allow them passage. It needed to be excavated and then properly sealed. That was going to take some time. A guard was placed near enough to warn us if they heard anything stirring below.
The thief prisoner turned out to be the son of Arl Howe, Nathaniel. He had misconceptions about his father, and was rather angry given the state of things. He wanted me dead – get in line – believing the Wardens responsible for his father’s “murder”. He made some flippant remarks like, “If it isn’t the great hero, my father’s murderer” and “Aren’t you supposed to be ten feet tall? With lightning bolts shooting out of your eyes?” and finally this delightful tidbit, “I came here to kill you. If you let me go, you might not catch me next time.”
And so I conscripted him.
I may come to regret that decision but seeing his bow and taking notice of his physique, I needed every able body for the fight ahead.
Nathaniel survived the Joining, and not long after asked if I liked having Grey Wardens who wished me dead to which I replied, “Some of my best friends have wanted me dead.” It was surprisingly true and I smiled to myself as I left him in stupefied silence.
I did not trust him, even though he was now part of the Order and my brother in arms. I would have to keep an eye on him. He wanted to restore his family’s honor but right now there were bigger concerns and he needed to understand that. Some time under my command on the road may give him the perspective he needed. Learning what we had about his father, in particular from Fergus Cousland, hearing about our journey…maybe, in time, he would come to know my mind and understand what we had endured and overcome, and build some sort of trust because I couldn’t afford to have someone at my back that I did not.
I will speak with Oghren about it with Keiko by my side. They can watch over me by keeping one eye on him and intercept him should the need arise. I might have to consider placing a guard near my room as well, at least for a little while.
Varel would be instrumental in that regard. As a longtime member of the Howe household, he could offer insight into the Arl’s downward spiral and offer Nathaniel some context as to the rumors he had heard. Nathaniel, I learned, did not have a good relationship with his father and had actually been squired to a cousin in Starkhaven. He had been away for years so was not familiar with all that had happened in his absence. It was going to be an eye opening experience, to say the least. Varel and I decided not to bombard him all at once. There was a younger brother and sister he was concerned about, and so as part of an olive branch I extended, offered to find them when we visited Amaranthine the following week.
As Arlessa, Maker, help me, I was also now going to have to deal with the politics of the arling. One of the things I truly detested. The Banns were to pay their “respects” and I had to meet those who now found themselves under my rule. I don’t think I fully comprehended what my new position entailed. I was not just the Commander of the Grey and my focus was not just on the darkspawn threat. There were many tasks and details that required my attention – I should have followed Alistair’s lead and read up on diplomacy and all that nonsense.
Luckily I had people in place to help with many of the daily tasks. They assured me that often times they would just seek my approval or direction on how I wanted something in particular handled freeing me up to tackle the most pressing issue.
Since Wardens and darkspawn could sense the other, and now that they were organized, it was no wonder the darkspawn had considered Vigil’s Keep a threat. Ferelden had not had any Wardens, not in any significant numbers anyways, for years. A dozen was still not sizable considering Orlais had offered to send 200 – I’m still not over this detail – but a dozen Wardens still must have drawn their attention and the attack was a deliberate attempt at removing them from whatever plan they had developed.
It was this thought that startled me awake nearly every night that first week. Well, at least one of them. We needed more information, and quickly. We would seek out Kristoff first in the hopes his research had led to some discovery.
~ * ~
The night before we left for Amaranthine, Varel told us some of what he had learned about the Wardens. He chose two specific details to share, and they both spoke to me. I also think it was his intention to instill in the others a sense of gravity and pride for the Order that they now found themselves members of. Without knowing any others, only me, having a better understanding of what we represented, having a sense of honor, would be something, as companions, to bind us. Since we were embarking on our first mission together, Varel offered us our first thread of unity, and I was thankful to him for it.
As we sat together he said that the Grey Wardens didn’t accept just anyone within their ranks, only the best and brightest were allowed. When times weren’t so desperate, recruits were put to excruciating tests to determine their worthiness, and because the Joining kills many, membership was even further elevated. To face a Warden in combat was to face an elite and deadly opponent.
This information made me feel proud about my position. Duncan had recruited me. He had seen something in me that he thought was worthy.
As I looked around the table, I had conscripted two of them. It was out of sheer desperation and I had no idea if either would be a valuable member of the Order, let alone my team. Anders, now free of the Circle, had found a sense of calm. He had a light hearted sense of humor, and as a fellow mage, was easy to be around as we had a shared experience from our time in captivity.
Before we retired for the evening, I shared with him the tragedy that had befallen Kinloch at Uldred’s hands. He had just successfully attempted another escape, so was unaware of the damage done, the lives lost, the willingness of the mages to turn to blood magic, and the resulting threat of the Right of Annulment. Recollecting on that time, the torture Cullen had endured, it made my heart heavy, and despite his desperation to be free of the Circles, Anders found himself both amused and saddened at learning this.
Nathaniel was still an enigma. He still shot daggers at me with his eyes when he thought I wasn’t looking, and Oghren said he had found him lurking outside my bedroom in the hallway once. That had been one of the first nights, he said. Oghren was sure Nathaniel didn’t know Keiko stayed with me, but upon hearing Keiko’s low growl at the door, fled away in fear.
Keiko was at my feet, gnawing a bone, and I patted his head fondly at the thought. My protector. Alistair would be proud.
Varel continued. A Grey Warden’s first allegiance is to their duty, their second is to the Order, but Wardens are not expected to abandon the lives they had before their Joinings. Rather, they are encouraged to put their worldly ties to use in order to further the Order’s aims. Titles and wealth can often accomplish what weapons cannot. We all looked at Nathaniel then, who blushed and put his head down. Wardens are allowed to marry and have romantic relationships, even retain the one they had before joining the Order. We looked at Oghren then, who had left Felsi behind. He, in turn, looked at me. We nodded to one another in understanding.
It had been an enlightening evening.
~ * ~
We left the following morning before daybreak and arrived in Amaranthine when all the vendors were open to selling their wares. I purchased some provisions while Nathaniel sought out his family. I then made my way to the Crown and Lion, a place I remembered well for it was there I had met Isabela to arrange my escape. I smiled a secret smile as I crossed the threshold.
Kristoff had rented a room and it was there we learned of his potential whereabouts – the Blackmarsh. We would head there next.
As we walked around a bit, exploring the city, I saw a familiar face I had not expected to see again so soon. Outside the Chantry, Wynne stood quietly. We embraced in such a fond, warm welcome it brought tears to my eyes. Oghren was even compelled to hug her, and he didn’t grope her inappropriately. There were stirrings in the Circles, a separatist movement by the Libertarians that she was investigating. She was traveling to the College of Magi in Cumberland. How fortunate we were able to see one another again before her travels. As we were awaiting Nathaniel’s return, we sat together for a short time and just talked.
She held my hand in hers the entire time. I didn’t even notice at first, it had become second nature during our time in the castle whenever we sat together reading or talking. It gave me strength, an added boost that lifted my spirits.
She asked after Alistair in general, and then our relationship before asking me to help find a friend of hers, a botanist named Ines who was in the Wending Wood seeking herbs and seeds. She wanted her to attend the convening of the College, and I promised to keep an eye out for her should our journey lead us through there.
The time to leave arrived quickly, and I had to say goodbye to her once again. It never got easier. After our well wishes and hopes for the other, promises of letters, Maker’s protection, and all that, I remembered to thank her for my gift. She just winked and walked away. I smiled in return. There were no tears this time. She had left me with a sense of peace, and hope.
As we left the city we became privy to two pieces of information. One, there were sinkholes opening throughout the land – a rather large one in Knotwood Hills. Those holes could possibly lead to the Deep Roads which would draw treasure hunters, who would then most likely encounter darkspawn. Two, Pilgrim’s Path, the route Amaranthine and Denerim relied on for trade and passage was riddled with strange happenings and the rumor was darkspawn were the cause.
With the Blight so close behind us, and the recent attacks, every bad thing was now feared to be due to the darkspawn. Still, it was all worth investigating.
We made our way back to the Keep and prepared for the journey to the Blackmarsh.
As I have already written a detailed account to Weisshaupt, I will only surmise the events for my own recollection.
Less than half a day’s journey from the Keep, we found ourselves in Blackmarsh, and it was not at all what I expected. Upon entering the area, one could feel how wrong it was – the veil was thin, it was devoid of most life, the ground felt tainted, the air was heavy with death. The darkspawn had indeed grown more clever. They had set a trap for me by killing Kristoff and leaving his body for me to find. Another talking darkspawn, this one referred to as “The First” cast a spell that sent us into the Fade, crying about how “The Mother” had lied to him. I suppose because he was sent through as well.
There was a fight with the Baroness, the meeting with a spirit of justice, who now inhabits the body of Kristoff – Maker’s Breath! – I’m not sure what to write about to Weisshaupt, or Alistair, and what to keep to myself. So far, I’ve left the fate of Kristoff out of all official records, other than adding him to the list of deceased in the line of duty.
A spirit of the Fade, drawn through against its will…I don’t know what that will do to it. I will write to Wynne.
Then there was the hard fight against a spectral dragon. As we traveled through the marsh, we found bones that I put together, inadvertently calling the creature forth. I should have gathered that someone, most likely the Baroness, had scattered them for a reason. Regardless, Master Wade is now crafting a sword he says he’ll call Vigilance – a reminder that I should act with more caution in the future.
Because of our close proximity to the Wending Wood and Pilgrim’s Path, we detoured through there before heading back to the Keep. We found Ines, unscathed shockingly given the situation there. Darkspawn, an angry elf mage named Velanna, talking statues, and another talking darkspawn. This one called the Architect. It was meeting him that I discovered Alistair’s nightmare had come to fruition.
It is only now, that we are on the other side of that horror, that I can speak about it with any rationality.
I saw the ruins, the “ruins in some forest”, and upon entering them saw the strange markings on the floor. My heart lodged itself in my throat as I thought of Alistair’s warning. After all our time on the road, my warriors always reminded me that as a mage, my ranged attack allowed me to stay on the edges of a fight. I should be the one who was able to see the entire field of battle and plan accordingly. I should never be the first one through a door, et cetera et cetera. I had become the unofficial leader of our group, but now that it was official, I felt I could not let others walk ahead of me into unknown danger, and hence, I was the first to step upon the rune covered stones.
The Architect cast a spell that did indeed cause me to “fall” and said he was sorry as he did it. I’m not sure what distressed me more in that moment. I couldn’t counter the attack, and as I felt myself crumple to the floor, I apologized to Alistair that I hadn’t been more careful, as I had promised. I knew it was a sleeping spell but I could not know what awaited me while I slept, or if I would awaken again (or now, in retrospect awaken again as myself). I remembered my last thought that I was afraid of what my death might do to him and our friends.
He was going to be so angry. And considering Eamon’s words, he may become inconsolable. I felt my heart thud in anguish before my eyes closed.
I had survived a long time, against overwhelming odds, and I was disheartened to think this is how it was going to end, especially in light of his warning. Luckily, I did wake. And we escaped the horrors of that place. Velanna’s sister, Seranni helped us but she did not join us. We were witness to some of the experiments, Seranni and some of the missing Wardens included.
This was one of those stories I would have to edit before telling Alistair of it. He cannot know how close to death I had truly been.
The hunger I felt when I awoke allowed me to consider how many days I had been asleep, and once we were free of that place, I was able to thoroughly check my body for evidence of manipulation. Thankfully, in at least three days of unconsciousness, from what I could tell, I had been left untouched, as had the others.
When finally Vigil’s Keep came into view, for the first time since learning it was to be my new home, it was a welcome sight. I knew within its walls I would finally be able to breathe and find a moment’s peace. We needed some time to recover, emotionally and physically, and so I would not hurry us off to another potentially deadly experience.
I had thought to detour to Denerim, but pride and duty wouldn’t allow me to concede. I couldn’t run into Alistair’s arms at every turn. I had to show my people what I was capable of, especially in the face of such evil, and in its aftermath.
I was delighted to find a special delivery awaiting me – a box of lyrium, as promised. I smiled wide as I found the small note tucked within that simply said, “ Smite your enemies and return to me .” Seeing his words calmed my frayed nerves and renewed my sense of purpose. I would not allow myself to come that close to an end again.
~ * ~
The first night back I had difficulty sleeping. Every time I closed my eyes I was back in the ruins. I had had to repress a great number of things from my travels, and in time, this, too, would be tucked away, but as of now, it was too fresh, and I had no one, save Keiko beside me to offer me their support. Oghren was not exactly the comforting sort. He could get me drunk though…and so as I woke up for the third time that night, struggling to catch my breath and calm my pounding heart, Keiko wined and nuzzled me, and I wept.
The following few nights were better. I was able to at least get a few hours at a time before I was startled awake. The encounter with the Architect had left me more rattled than any previous incident. More so than even the spider in the Deep Roads. Surprisingly, even more than the fight against the Archdemon. Maybe the fight against the sloth demon at the Circle was a close second, but I hadn’t had time to give it much thought as there had been more pressing matters as we made our way further through that ordeal. And then there was the whole thing with Cullen…ever so diverting.
The Architect’s plans had been too close a brush with death, or worse.
And I realized that it wasn’t just that I needed to be more vigilant in my future fights, but that I needed some companions about me with whom I could trust with my life. I needed someone who would watch my back, rush to my side, stand shoulder to shoulder with me, and I needed to be that for them as well.
There were many things to be done about the Keep. Busying our hands with other tasks, other than fighting, would help us all to acclimate to our new situation, and perhaps in the mundane we would bond. I think Nathaniel would also appreciate us restoring his family home to its former glory and even improving upon it. In addition to restocking our shelves and storehouses, there were repairs to be done and general maintenance and cleaning. The library needed attending, most of the rooms were in need of some upkeep, and the fields and livestock needed tending to as well. Then there were the plans for the banquet so the banns could pay their “respects”.
The sink hole in Knotwood Hills troubled me so I sent a small contingent to survey the area and report. Our trip to the other side of the Veil, our encounter with the Architect – we needed a reprieve.
Velanna has joined us and is mourning the loss of her sister to a different atrocity than that which she had originally thought, believing it was humans who had kidnapped her sister and killed her clan, she is standoffish with nearly everyone. It will take some time to prove to her that we’re not all bad shems.
Justice on the other hand is almost friendly when not focused on the task at hand. I am still wary of him but he has proven a useful ally in battle.
Nathaniel is different since seeing his sister. She enlightened him to the ways of their father, the unfortunate passing of their brother, and her new life, and it has settled him to some degree. The dagger stares have ceased, and he’s actually found his dry sense of humor. When we were in the woods, I had found myself cornered by darkspawn and low on mana, and he came to my side to help me. From that moment our relationship changed, and while I would not call us friends, I wouldn’t call him my enemy either.
Anders reminds me a little of Alistair when we first met. Charming, funny, and a bit of that do-good attitude despite the deadly nature of their skill set. He and I have become fast friends, and his positivity has been a comfort.
Oghren is Oghren. Out of everyone, save Keiko, he’s known me the longest and our friendship is a strange one at that. We yell at one another and say exactly what we mean, consequences be damned, then laugh and share a drink. His presence has brought me a sense of relief in that there is this one other person here from my time before – someone who knows what I’m capable of, has some level of respect for my abilities to lead, and that trickles down to the others.
Nearly six weeks passed in a blur of work and the daily routine we created. We talked about what we had endured and started to put the pieces of this new mystery together. We decided to travel to Knotwood Hills after the contingent returned with news of strange sounds and the tenuous nature of the area. If there was an opening to the Deep Roads and the depravities that lie within, we needed to seal it all away.
And then there was the banquet which revealed a murder plot. I had ended the civil war and the Blight and yet someone still wanted me dead. There truly was no satisfying these people. I have heard there is a contact in Amaranthine who may be able to assist me in flushing out the conspirators, so although not exactly on the way to the Hills, we will stop in the city to learn what can be done.
We camped for the night outside of Amaranthine. I paid 50 gold to a mysterious man who calls himself the Dark Wolf to learn more about the conspiracy against me. Having parted with such a large sum, it better yield a result because such an amount would be better spent upgrading the Keep. I know I could request assistance from the crown, should I need it, but this is my burden to bear, and the Keep should be self-sufficient given the arling’s tithes.
I do not wish to recollect on the events of the banquet and the pettiness of men. So many of them think only on their own speck of land, their own monetary gains, and not that of the town, arling, or even country as a whole. There are so many in need, and yet they squabble over scraps. It took every ounce of effort not to create a storm and clear them from the hall and my presence.
It is good to be on the road again.
~ * ~
That was a short lived feeling.
Where to even begin with Kal’Hirol? We have gained a new companion, Sigrun the sole survivor from a group of the Legion of the Dead. We were lucky enough to arrive when we did and help her from being overrun by darkspawn but from there it was one battle after another and horrible new details along the way. We destroyed a broodmother nest. When we previously encountered one, I thought it a monster and did not look upon it to see the truth of it. It was an abomination to be destroyed. This time, I looked more closely and could hear Hespith’s words as clearly as if she were standing next to me. I could see the traces of the creatures they once were – dwarven women.
They had been stolen and brought below, violated and twisted to become the heinous givers of darkspawn life. I thought I might be sick but somehow overcame the feeling and channeled that rage into killing everything in our path. There had to be an end to them. There had to be a way to end this cycle of violence and destruction, of torture and evil. I wanted justice for those women, for all of the ones who had been dragged into the abyss.
My anger rises again as I write these words. I have to go hit something or light something on fire.
I destroyed six practice dummies and struck fear in some of the new recruits. Maybe a little fear in the old ones as well.
I don’t feel much better.
We also learned of the darkspawn civil war. The Architect and the Mother are leading one side against the other. They are sentient beings with thoughts and feelings…yes, darkspawn are choosing their own path…it is a new nightmare to come to terms with.
The one bittersweet moment amongst all the chaos was discovering that the casteless of Kal’Hirol had defended their people during the First Blight. In fighting the darkspawn, they allowed many others to escape, and it is with this revelation that I have written to Orzammar in the hopes that they will be honored in the Shaperate.
Sigrun is a bright spot in contrast to her position in the Legion. She makes off-handed remarks about going back to her death but for now she is content in fighting darkspawn wherever they may be, even on the surface, which she is becoming more comfortable with.
There are a number of minor details that need my attention, so for the time being, we will remain at the Keep and continue in the daily tasks of rebuilding the Order and our stronghold. I have letters from Kirkwall to read, I still have to write Wynne, continue my report to Weisshaupt, and figure out what to say to Alistair in order to not arouse his worry and bring him north.
I’ve already been away from Denerim longer than I was there. Longer than I was in Kirkwall. And it has passed so quickly, and with little thought about the romantic aspects that had so preoccupied my time.
I won’t lie. There have been many a night when I have thought on Alistair, my desire for him compelling enough to seek out Zevran’s gift. While the fighting may release some energy, there is a different energy that requires expulsion, and the tool for such release has proven useful, I will admit. I was at first embarrassed to want to use it, but having not found such relief in many months, imagining Alistair between my thighs brought a wave of satisfaction. Zevran had encouraged me to be adventurous, not chiding myself for whatever thoughts or experimentation I wished to explore. I was also meant to sort out my feelings in regards to the two men who had taken up residence in my heart, and so in those moments of ruling passion, I alternated my imaginings to Cullen as well.
Zevran was right. The fantasies were stirring, and although not as enjoyable as the real thing, a pleasant diversion that brought me some sense of clarity from the release.
When I thought on Alistair, I thought of his sweetness and the love between us. I remembered our time on the road, the looks, the lingering moments. When I thought on Cullen, it was the physical desire to connect with him that was at the forefront. It was his strength and the knowledge that he had long desired my attention. Fantasizing about them both did nothing to clarify their respective places in my heart, but it was fun.
Thinking on them now and the pleasure those thoughts have brought with them makes me want to set my writing aside to explore them further. Zevran would be proud.
Darkspawn activity is low. Raids have ceased which has allowed me to concentrate on many aspects to ruling the arling, but also given rise to my concern about what the quiet means. If the darkspawn have withdrawn, does that mean something greater is on the horizon? Having destroyed some of their plans, are the Architect and Mother preparing a retaliation? I would like to believe their civil war will bring to an end some of the chaos, leaving us to clean up a much smaller faction but I can imagine I will not be that lucky.
I do not know where to head next. There are no leads as to the whereabouts of either, and so we work on the Keep and helping those we can within our domain. I have taken care of the threat against me by way of eliminating the conspirators and having returned to the Keep found a most welcome sight – my friends from Kirkwall.
Marian, Fenris, and Varric were casually sitting on the fence outside the Keep looking as if they were enjoying a moment’s reprieve of their own. I could barely finish asking what they were doing there before I fell into Marian’s warm embrace and lingered there so grateful to see a kind, familiar face was I.
Fenris was gracious enough to shake hands with me, and even smiled. I would hug him before the end. Varric was more than willing to hug me and I sighed deeply at being surrounded by friends again.
This is not a slight against my new companions. It’s just that despite what we had been through, there is still some distance.
Keiko and Dane greeted each other affectionately as well and bounded off together to enjoy the outdoors.
“We brought you a present. We left it in the courtyard.” Marian smiled.
“You needn’t have brought me anything. Your presence alone is all the gift I could have asked for.”
She laughed at that, as did the others, and she encouraged me to go take a look. So after making introductions, I went to discover what she had brought me. I couldn’t guess at what she thought I could need or want.
As I rounded the main gate, I saw there in the middle of the open space, the back of a casually dressed man with curly blond hair, and my knees went weak. It couldn’t be, could it? It was too much to hope for. “Cullen?” It was barely more than a whisper.
And then he turned to face me. His smile bright. My heart lurched forward and my breath hitched.
“Maker’s Breath, but you’re a sight.” His voice was filled with a sort of awe, and in a few long strides he was standing before me with hope filled eyes.
All my worries, my fears, all the things that troubled me seemed to vanish. Cullen was here. There was nothing I could do but laugh and throw myself into his arms. I jumped up and wrapped my arms and legs about him and held him with such intensity I thought my powers might alight and burn us into a strange shape of melding bodies. He held onto me too and swung me back and forth, laughing himself.
When we finally released one another, I slid down his body and stayed close, basking in his warmth. He stroked one hand down my head while I just gazed into his golden eyes. “For the girl who has everything…”
“What a delightful surprise.” I rested one hand upon his cheek and just smiled.
“Hawke and I agreed that your letters to us suggested your need to see a friendly face or two, so here we are.”
“How long can you stay?”
“How long would you like?” He asked coyly.
I audibly sighed. “What I wish and what I can expect are very different, I imagine. For how ever long you are here, I am so happy to have you.”
He took my hands in his and brought them to his lips. That was when he saw the ring and raised a questioning eyebrow. “Are there congratulations to be made?” His voice had an edge to it.
I answered quickly. “It was a gift, nothing more.” And to my knowledge, that was true. There were no promises made, not even a hint at the meaning behind such a token. I didn’t have any more insight now than I did months ago when it was given. I had received only two letters in my time here, having only written two myself, and our personal lives, especially in regards to one another were almost deliberately left out, on both sides. My situation was precarious at best and neither of us was willing to say anything that might put the other into a position they were afraid to commit to. I had already learned that. I suppose that was the best summation of our particular situation.
And now Cullen was here. I could barely believe it.
I blushed as I recalled my thoughts of him during my private time. Would I be able to resist him while I put my feelings in order? I thought I had decided…until I was looking into his eyes again. Maker, preserve us. It was both an exasperated sigh and a plea for strength.
He seemed satisfied by my response and said with adoration, “Hello, Spitfire.”
“Welcome to Vigil’s Keep, my lion.” Hand in hand we rejoined the group, and after a grand tour, sat down to supper. It was the happiest I had felt in some time. My last weeks with my friends before coming to Amaranthine were tainted with the knowledge that we would be separated soon thereafter. This was different. It was a reunion. And if such a thing could occur so delightfully unexpectedly, like seeing Wynne in the city, then only the Maker knew what the future held. It brought me a sense of peace I hadn’t expected to find, especially after all I had seen since my coming.
The appearance of my friends from across the Waking Sea was a morale boost to the rest of the Keep as well. Although Anders and Justice were off on another research trip, I was secretly relieved they were gone when my friends the Templar and the magic-hating warrior arrived. It was my hope their trip would take the length of time my friends chose to stay. Having Varric’s good natured fun filling the great hall alleviated the tension of our situation while having a respected Knight Captain sitting among the soldiers boosted their confidence.
After we dined, Varric regaled the troops with stories of my heroics from my time ending the Blight, embellished just so as to add even more mystery and excitement to an already interesting tale. I blushed and winced uncomfortably, and found solace in the warm reassuring hand of Cullen taking mine. He’d squeeze it occasionally, laugh when warranted, and then look at me in wonder as he heard of my accomplishments.
At one point he asked, “Is that true?”
I half shrugged and half nodded in response.
“You are a marvel.” It was high praise coming from the Templar who once said mages could not be trusted.
I would have to remember to thank Varric for his kind words. I think it helped those in my care to hear from an outside source the achievements of the one they followed. They may have been conscripted or forced to join the army for lack of any other option, but knowing they had a proven leader, one they could trust and believe in would do wonders for morale and the fight that still lay ahead.
After the Keep retired for the night, Marian, Fenris, Varric, Cullen and I remained fireside to catch up over drinks. Fenris added very little to the conversation, still broody as ever, but I would catch him every so often watch Marian as she spoke, his eyes flashing, clearly still warring with his ever growing feelings for a mage. I looked forward to speaking with Marian alone about the situation. I also looked forward to speaking with Fenris alone to see for myself how he truly was. Something troubled him.
Varric was himself. And that was a welcome relief. I think Alistair would be disappointed not to see him again. Perhaps I could entreat Varric to visit Denerim while he was here. A discussion for another time.
Marian’s yearlong indentured servitude had ended. She had repaid her family’s debt for entrance into the city during the Blight and now had grand plans for how to better their situation. Knowing that the Deep Roads were most quiet after a Blight, she intended on joining Varric and his brother on an excursion to recover long buried treasure, she just needed to raise the money to become a partner in the venture.
The entire situation made me uncomfortable, and from the look on Fenris’s face, he wasn’t too keen on the idea either, but I already knew he would follow her to the Void and beyond. I couldn’t imagine what her life was like in Kirkwall. She was an apostate in a Templar-centric city but the Deep Roads were practically a death sentence. I feared for her. Perhaps if they could wait, I could accompany them. Having a Warden by their side would offer them some warning. I know she would never ask it, so I would have to bring it up when we were alone. Fenris and I made eye contact then and I nodded to him, hoping I would impart my decision and offer him some reassurance that I felt as he did.
It had been a long day, and the mixture of emotion and alcohol had their effect. I grew tired and struggled for coherence. I led them to their rooms, wished them a good night, then found myself alone with Cullen.
I would not succumb. I would not succumb. Maker, give me strength. Do not let me succumb.
“Your room is near mine. Follow me.” I led him down the corridor, feeling an expectation rise within me. I kept repeating, “He is my friend. He is my friend .” to myself hoping to remind myself of how things ended for us previously. He and I probably still needed to have a conversation of my time with him in Kirkwall, for that was another thing I left unsaid in the letters. He deserved an apology for my behavior and I would not take advantage of him again.
I still hadn’t read the letters he had given me in Kirkwall. I was afraid of what may lie within them – the emotions associated when he believed I had perished against the archdemon, his thoughts about our time together. I didn’t wish to be caught with them in Denerim, and when I was on tour, I tried to put Cullen in my box of memories, given how I had come to terms about my feelings for Alistair. I needed separation, and reading his words, well, if I’m being honest, I was scared to know his thoughts.
I had already found myself so torn between the two, I was afraid his words might pull me in his direction. And now here he was, and it was taking everything in me not to wrap myself around him.
I opened the door to his room and ushered him inside.
“Will you not join me? For a little while longer?” He asked playfully. His countenance deceived his tone for the energy I could feel emanating from him told me of his true intention. His passion had been piqued as mine had.
I stood in the doorway, looking over his body in his informal attire and admired the shape of things. My eyes fell to his hands, and I recalled the way they had felt on my skin. I had locked away all thoughts of our time together, until recently, knowing it was unfair to the life I was trying to create with Alistair, but now he was here in the flesh. I could smell him, feel him, could run my hands through his hair and tug on those curls at the nape of his neck…how I longed to feel the weight of him, run my hands down his muscled back, to grab a taut butt cheek…Stop it!
“I shouldn’t.” I saw his face fall. “I have an early morning meeting with my household. I must clear my schedule for the coming days now that I have visitors.” I smiled wide, hoping to take the sting out of my refusal to stay. “I’d like to spend as much time with you as I can, without worry of tedious tasks occupying my mind.”
“I apologize. I realize our arrival was unexpected, and must be a disruption to your duties as you are a Commander and an Arlessa.” It was like he couldn’t believe either was true of the woman standing before him. Much had changed since our days in the Circle.
“You a disruption?” I shook my head negatively and moved closer toward him. “Now a distraction…” I smiled again. “Get some rest.”
He closed the distance. “As if that’ll be possible knowing you’re next door.”
I could feel the blush consuming me. My heart beat quickened, and I struggled to make eye contact. I was afraid of what I was going to do to him if I looked up into his face. Those lips, those eyes… “As if that was an accident.” I leaned up and kissed his cheek, lingering longer than I should. I moved to turn away, and he brought me back.
The kiss he laid upon me was full of hunger and passion. Desire is a strong motivator, and an intoxicating compliment. Our hands went in all directions, our bodies moved against one another. I was flush and full of want, and I pulled away, fearful of my lack of restraint. What was this hold he had over me?
I warily stepped out of his embrace, and continued walking backwards until I felt a safe distance. I watched confusion cross his features, and I tried to calm my nerves. My heart and mind were racing. As I finally turned to leave I said, “Sweet dreams.” and was rewarded with one of his strained groans. It almost made me smile.
When I was safely back in my own room, I slouched against the door and sighed. I was in trouble.
I looked down at my hand and the ring upon it. I was lying to myself, and apparently to everyone else, about it having no meaning. I knew it did, even without him saying a word. He had been purposeful in its placement, it was just too soon to make a declaration. If I was meant to truly make up my mind, then I would have to resolve my feelings for the man next door.
I dressed in Alistair’s linens, the ones I had claimed for myself and laid in bed, staring at the ring. (Little side note, upon returning from the tour, I secretly put the clothes back into Alistair’s room so they would make their way back into rotation. Fresh with his scent, I took them back. So foolish, I know.) The ring on this finger told the world that I belonged to someone. That someone belonged to me. It signified a bond, and in our case, a deep one forged in battle and friendship and love. He didn’t have to give it to me. He didn’t have to have put it on that finger, and yet he had. Even if he married someone else, a marriage of state or what-have-you, we would still belong to each other…right? That had been the decision I had come to. Had Alistair come to the same conclusion? Oh, why couldn’t he have just said something?
Cullen had said Alistair could not live without me but that he could. And yet here he was, and our passion was instantaneous. I knew we were friends but there was this physical aspect of our relationship that was impossible to ignore. I mean, honestly, if there had been anyone else in the room, they would have retreated with understanding of the desire we each had for the other. Were we clinging to the friendship to make more out of our relationship than there actually was? Was it purely physical? Maker, help me, for it was toe-curling bliss to be with him but had we developed a fixation because of the long, pent up desire and restraint from our time in the Circle?
Thinking on Cullen now, I wanted to go back to his room and ride him until dawn. While my toy had been useful, it was not as satisfying as the real thing, and Alistair should have sent me off fully ravaged so as not to let me forget him.
If I went back to his room right now and asked him the questions I now found myself plagued with, I would definitely not be able to stop myself. I would be begging him to bury himself within me. I was wanton with desire and pent up frustration, and I knew he would be more than accommodating to help me fall over the edge. “Vashedan!” With great effort I remained in bed, felt for the object I had hidden between the mattresses, gave it a quick warming, then pleasured myself as I imagined it was Cullen.
I was quick to crest, so desirous was I to feel fulfilled, and when I was clear headed once again, realized it wasn’t enough.
As we broke our fast together the following morning, I was off. I felt out of sorts, for a number of reasons. The major one – being so damned weak. For months my heart had taken second place to my duty and within moments I was back in the center of that mess again. I realized, looking at Cullen across the table that he was a soft spot for me. He was ever so lovely, gentle, and passionate, and not just physically. I could not be left alone with him, at least not for a few days until I had resigned myself to having him near. I was confused and needy, and I would not do that to him again.
We gave one another awkward glances across the table, shy, nervous looks that I’m sure the others noticed. It was absurd.
Cullen offered me a reprieve in that he wished to work with the soldiers, see them in training, and offer any useful advice he was privy to. I welcomed the idea and was grateful for his help. That alleviated the pressure, at least for the afternoon.
Fenris wanted to reinspect the Keep, check for weak points. I thanked him for turning his discerning eye towards my safety.
Marian and Varric wanted to hear about everything I had done and seen since arriving at the Keep, and so together we set off to walk about the surrounding fields under the guise that we were going to discuss strategy should the Keep come under attack.
My new companions each had their own tasks to attend to, although some of them set those duties aside to watch Cullen train in order to learn a new trick or two. Velanna, still wary of strangers, followed Fenris from a distance to observe the mysterious elf with the strange markings.
Once outside of listening ears, I told Marian and Varric nearly all that had happened since my return to Ferelden. I told them of the goodwill mission and the talking darkspawn. And when I told them of the Kal’Hirol and the horrifying discovery of the broodmothers, I turned my attention to their scheme of going to the Deep Roads for treasure.
It was a half baked idea at the moment. They didn’t have the funds to support the journey yet, nor a map, nor a team of reliable people. I begged them to find a Warden, if for some reason I wasn’t available, to offer them a steadfast warning should the darkspawn move further upwards, as they were doing here. I enlightened them to the strange happenings, the experiments, and the civil war all in an effort to better prepare them for what was happening below. They should have as much information as to the state of things if they were planning an expedition, and maybe with this knowledge, would rethink the whole idea.
They were both determined people, capable, and strong willed, and they each had their reasons for going but hopefully the darkspawn threat would be enough to dissuade them in this course of action. They would each come to their own conclusion, and I could only do so much. I could, at least, tell Fenris I had given them fair warning.
Varric offered to give Marian and I some time alone, and headed back to the Keep to help “Curly” with training. Bianca may be unlike any other device ever seen, but he was still a skilled marksman and could provide useful feedback to our archers.
Finally alone, we did the girly thing I had always turned my nose up to in the Circle – we talked about boys.
While she admitted that she was a little frustrated with the pace their relationship, or non-relationship as it were, was moving, she had made slow, steady inroads with Fenris. Being a mage was, obviously, not something she could help, but she could do something about building trust and helping him to not fear her while understanding his side as well. It was a worthy endeavor if he eventually let his guard down with her. His past traumas had left him emotionally distant. His invisible walls to protect himself from further harm, or pleasure, were weakening, ever so slightly. She could feel it. And besides, there was no one else that had ever turned her head like he had. Yes, he was delightfully easy on the eyes, and that voice…but there was something about him. She was drawn to him, and would wait for him.
I understood, probably better than most. She already knew of my struggles, and how they were now compounded with Cullen’s arrival. She winced as she apologized. She had thought that it might be a bad idea for him to visit, but he had been adamant, and she needed to keep the Knight Captain happy. She was only partly joking.
She was part of a dangerous balancing act in Kirkwall. Seeing the plight of so many, she had started to take on tasks that would help the people, but she was careful not to arouse the overly sensitive Templars and draw their notice. Hence, keeping the Knight Captain happy and letting him visit their dear mutual friend, the Hero-Commander.
“So, how was last night?” She stifled her giggle.
“A game of wills.” I sighed.
“And who won?”
“Surprisingly, the chaste side I thought I lost somewhere in the Brecilian Forest long ago.”
She laughed at that.
We were still giggling together on our way back to the Keep. It felt good to be with Marian again, not only because she was a fellow mage, but also because she was family. When I was sent to the Circle, I thought I had lost my family forever. I could barely recall them. It wasn’t until I found the friends I would eventually call family that I was reminded of that feeling – a deep sense of connection. That had been built, over time, but upon learning Marian Hawke was actually related to me, it had instantly made her special. And she was easy to love.
As we made our way through the courtyard, we realized that not only had most of the soldiers joined the impromptu training session with Cullen, but that he had also gathered quite an audience of admirers. A number of women from the keep had made their way outside, were peeking around corners and out windows to gaze upon the lovely new addition.
Marian and I, too, stopped to appreciate the specimen that is the Knight Captain. He was a natural leader, and had an easy way about him as he showed the soldiers how to better hold their blades or shields depending on the attack. He stood out from the crowd, and I watched him with a spreading warmth though my entire being. I felt the blush consume me and the slow smile dawn as I watched him and remembered our time to together.
Yes, I understood what it was like to have one’s head turned.
He didn’t seem to notice his admirers, but he did acknowledge my arrival, even though I had kept a distance to not be a distraction – to either the trainees or the teacher – and yet still he noticed. He caught my eye, smiled, and bowed his head before turning his attention back to the task at hand.
It made me feel special. It made me realize that he was aware of his surroundings, and that he was keeping an eye out for me. Friends. Ha!
It took effort to leave with Marian when she asked me to follow her to her room to retrieve a letter her sweet mother had written to me. She could see I was heading for trouble. As we made our way inside, she bumped her hip against mine, causing me to falter mid-step. She giggled. “Get out of your head.”
I sent a small fireball at her feet. She jumped back. “It’s not my head that’s the problem, for once.”
She snorted. “Oh, you want to play like that, do you?” She created a snowball and raised an eyebrow.
We ran through the halls throwing snowballs at one another, laughing and causing a stir as we made our way to her room. We hid behind columns, used furniture as part of our defense, and members of the household found themselves in the cross hairs. It was a pleasant diversion, a spontaneous act of pure joy, and it brought light to the darker sides I found myself lost in recently. It was one of those rare opportunities to act like myself. No hiding my mage abilities. No pretending I was something other than what I am.
Breathless, we flopped on her bed, still laughing.
“I’m so glad you decided to visit.”
“Me too. I needed a break from Kirkwall as much as you needed one from your own duties.”
“Is it that bad?”
“It’s not great. Asking Cullen to watch over me has probably helped a bit, but that city is a mess.”
“Yeah, we’re not doing much better here either.” How could any one person make inroads in the face of such overwhelming odds?
“Here.” She pulled the letter from her bag. It started out warmly, as I expected. Leandra asked after my well being and that of the King. She indirectly complained a bit about the tight quarters and the tension with her brother, given it was he who had indentured her children. She then told me about
my our family.
The Amells were a noble family of Kirkwall. My mother’s name was Revka. She had five children, all of whom were mages and taken to Circles. When Leandra left with her mage husband, Malcolm, Marian’s father, she didn’t have much communication with her family, and she lost contact, so she didn’t know any more about my family or their well being, but she thought I might like to know what little she did. She ended the letter by asking me to look after Marian, and myself. She understood too well what it was like to love a mage, and worry about them, and she worried about us both.
She was so kind. I asked Marian to give her a big hug from me when she returned.
We sat together in a sort of dazed silence in the aftermath of such a bombshell. Our family was not only noble but also heavily influenced by magic. Perhaps we were descendants of Tevinter. We laughed at such a ridiculous notion.
Marian asked what I was feeling after learning such information. I was more than a little surprised, to say the least. I remembered two siblings, barely. That either meant the other two had already been taken, or they came after my leaving. Either way, my poor mother had watched five children be taken from her, and separated from each other as the Chantry avoided placing family members together. That was tragic in and of itself. If we were from Kirkwall, which, really? Then they were most likely scattered throughout the Circles of the Free Marches. I could find them, given my status, and that was an interesting prospect. Four brothers and sisters to find and reunite. I would have to think on that. And the consequences.
I would write a quick thank you note to Leandra for sharing this information with me. I didn’t know how I felt about it all. I suppose I would need a little time to adjust to it for I found myself rather confused and muddled with emotion. I asked Marian to keep this news to herself. I’m not sure why, except I didn’t want anyone privy to such personal details until I had a better handle on it. Besides, as the Hero of Ferelden and Commander of the Grey, I didn’t want anyone to use my estranged lineage against me, or vice versa.
And the first week of their visit passed by in flurry of laughter and story telling, hard work and training, game nights and drinking, and too many close encounters with Cullen.