I was trying my best to maintain my distance, physically, for whenever I found myself too close in proximity, I felt myself drawn to him – literally pulled towards him. I wanted to reach out and take his hand, or put myself into his side so that he would drape an arm about me. At night, when Varric entertained us, I wanted to snuggle up beside Cullen and imagine that this was our life. He had come to Amaranthine to help me build the Order, like we had jokingly discussed before I left Kirkwall. Marian had wanted to return to Ferelden and help me as well, and not wanting to leave her side, Fenris had joined her. And Varric just wanted to be in the know.
It’s a lovely little fantasy.
I knew in reality they were due to leave in another week, but it was nice having them around me all the same. If I could just get my emotions in check.
One day after Cullen had trained the soldiers, he returned to his room to remove his armor. He hadn’t asked for assistance, and I just happened to be passing by. I had watched him from a window. I won’t continue to lie to myself. I casually strolled by and offered my expertise, which made him laugh. It was always a pleasant sound.
Removing his armor turned into a seduction. I couldn’t help it. It was intoxicating to be near him, feel the heat of his workout rising from his body, hear his deep breaths so close to my ear…I moved slowly around him, took my time in unclasping buckles, let my hands linger, and made flirty eye contact (another trick Zevran had taught me), and when he could bear it no longer, he grabbed my hips roughly. Now his breathing was different. As was mine.
My smile was uneasy because I knew I was playing a dangerous game. Maybe dangerous isn’t quite the right word, but it was starting to feel like it. I stepped out of his grasp and audibly swallowed. “Lunch should be ready and everyone’s waiting.”
His look was determined but it changed in an instant and I could see the humor return. “Now you’re in a hurry?”
I giggled but kept my mouth shut. It was too tempting to play this game and I wasn’t ready to discover how it would end.
When I rejoined everyone, I discreetly asked Marian to remain by my side whenever it appeared as if Cullen and I might be left alone. It was a foolish request but I needed the support, the backbone of which I seemed to have misplaced. She laughed and shook her head, but agreed.
After almost two days, Cullen noticed the ploy and took me aside. Marian looked helpless as he led me away to speak alone. He looked hurt as he asked, “What is going on? Do you wish me to return to Kirkwall?”
“No! I’m thrilled that you’re here.”
“Then why are you avoiding my presence?”
I was tired of the lies and the keeping things unsaid. I wanted it all to be out. My desire for him, my relationship with Alistair, all of it. And so I said exactly what was on my mind, and to the Void with the consequences. “Because I want you.” I took a steadying breath as I watched a blush consume him. “Are we friends?”
He looked confused. “Of course we are. Why would you ask such a thing?”
“You don’t think we’re trying to make something more in order to not feel guilty for just wanting a physical relationship?”
He took a moment to answer. “You think I’m pretending to be your friend on the off chance I can have sex with you?”
“Well, when you put it like that.”
“Is that what you’ve been doing?”
Emphatically I answered, “No!” But then I thought of us together and I had to bite back a smile. “But it was ever so much fun.”
He gave me a chastising look in response. Yes, bad timing but that was my thing – levity in tense situations.
“Have my letters not conveyed my feelings for you? Was our time in Kirkwall not proof enough? Is me being here now not enough to tell you how important you are to me? Maker’s Breath, woman!” He was angry now and before I could reply, he stormed out of the room.
My eyes welled with tears. I was a fool. And my heart hurt.
I waited a long minute before following him to allow us both a moment to recover, and I needed my wits about me for the rest of what was to come. When I returned to the main hall, Marian, Fenris, and Varric all pointed in one direction and offered me a sympathetic look.
“You remember how to defend yourself against holy smite, right?” Marian asked jokingly.
I winced and nodded as I continued forward. Varric laughed.
Cullen had made his way to the roof and stood ramrod straight, looking out over the ramparts. He did not pace, nor even rub his neck as I had come to expect when he was upset or stressed. He just stood there, and it made me all the more nervous to approach him. Heeding Marian’s joke of a warning, I stayed a few meters away.
“I’m sorry for questioning your friendship, it’s not what I intended.” I took a small step forward.
“What did you intend?” He didn’t turn to face me and his voice was still laced with anger.
“To confess that upon seeing you, my spirits were lifted, and that my heart filled with joy, and it tore me in two. I did not think to see you again, not really. With my duties here, and yours there, I presumed we would write letters and remember our time together fondly, but I did not expect to ever see you again.”
His head slightly turned. “Did you not want to?”
“Of course I did…but I had to make a decision in light of that knowledge. No, that’s neither accurate nor fair.”
He turned then, and he looked confused.
And I continued, treading carefully. “Upon returning to Denerim, the King and I have been trying to sort out our relationship, and I was certain my heart had decided. And then you arrived. And I was happier than I thought I should be. It was cruel to suggest otherwise, I know you have taken great pains to remain my friend, I was just hoping, no, not hoping…I was just wondering if you felt differently now, that we’ve had some distance, that what’s between us is just physical because…” I had to take a deep breath. “I don’t know what to do with the knowledge that I am in love with two men.” And now the tears were coming again.
There were tears in his eyes too. “Bryn…”
“I don’t know what to do. Despite my earlier words, you’ve been one of the best friends I’ve ever had, but I know now that it’s more than that, but I have not been honest with you…nor him, or even myself for that matter. I don’t want him to feel like I’m settling because you’re across the sea, and I don’t want you to think I’m using you to escape my circumstances. I don’t want to hurt either of you, and yet that seems to be all I’m capable of doing for want of you both.” I angrily brushed the tears away but they did not cease.
It was all out there now. He knew that Alistair and I had been together since my return to Ferelden. He knew of my feelings and my worries. And I had finally admitted that I was, in fact, still in love with him. Was it possible? I looked at him and my heart swelled. I looked at Alistair and it did the same. There were differences in how our relationships worked, why they had developed the way they had, but I loved them both. It wasn’t because I was with one or the other and that was my only option but maybe my heart hadn’t truly decided because at one point or another, they had each been out of reach.
With Alistair on the throne, I thought I had lost him. With Cullen in Kirkwall, our duties would keep us at a distance. But neither of those situations had done anything to diminish the feelings.
Andraste, guide me!
He took a step forward and thumbed away another teardrop. “I’m sorry my coming here has distressed you so. That wasn’t my intention. Your letters concerned me. There was a note of sadness and fear, and I wanted to help you. And I was in a position to do so. Because you hadn’t shared with me what was happening with the King, I had no reason to think my visit would be, well, so emotional.”
“I am happy you’re here.”
“Let me finish. What happened in the Circle, it changed me. I feel it still, like a scar. Then you came to me, after everything I had said, and you healed me.” He rubbed his neck. “I lied to you in Kirkwall. Your duties called you back here, and I didn’t want you to worry, but when you left, the scar reopened, the darkness returned, and I…when you ran into my arms, I felt whole again. I said I could live without you but I am not the same man when you are not near.”
My head was spinning. What was he saying?
“Has he made you any promises?”
My breathing was growing more shallow as my mind started to grasp what he was eluding to. “No. He has not.”
He pulled me hard against his body as his lips descended upon mine. My body turned to jelly as I sank into the feeling of desire and the intention behind his words. Was he planning on making a promise of his own? I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to think about anything except his kiss. I wrapped my arms around his neck and leaned in to deepen the kiss even further. And like a flash, Alistair’s face came into view, and I felt my heart pang with betrayal. I had to pull away. “I can’t. I can’t do this to either of you. I’m sorry.” And then it was my turn to run away.
Half way down the stairs I completely crumpled to my knees. I could barely breathe.
What have I done?
What was I going to do?
I squeezed my eyes tight, hoping to stop the tears in order to regain my composure. I took long, steady breaths and used the wall to assist in my standing upright. With slow, purposeful steps, I made my way back downstairs but I was in a daze and I barely recall Marian coming to my side to help me to my room.
At some point, Varel came to me with word of disturbances in the arling. There was no indication it was darkspawn, but he suggested a group go out to investigate nonetheless. Sigrun took pity on me, having seen the state I was in as I returned to my room earlier, and offered to go in my stead. Ever the gentleman, when the mood struck him, Nathaniel offered to go as well. Not to be left out, Oghren joined in, and then they all looked at Velanna who acquiesced under the weight of their stares. It was as if they were giving me the space I needed.
I appreciated their concern, and the well meaning notion, and figured, too, that they had grown tired of waiting around. I felt it too.
That business aside, I returned to my room and remained there the rest of the day, like a fearful child. I was afraid to see Cullen again without having come to any conclusions as to what I had learned. I couldn’t keep them both. I couldn’t seem to cut either loose. I thought Cullen and I would just be friends, it had seemed to have been working thus far. I thought Alistair and I would eventually come back to one another, given enough time. Was I wrong on all accounts? Maybe.
Given this new information, I felt compelled to return to Denerim and confront Alistair so that he too knew the truth of it all. It was only fair, right? I was almost afraid to trust my own judgment anymore where these two were concerned.
And I had been doing so well.
Or so I thought.
I couldn’t sleep. Shocking, I know. With Keiko and Dane roaming the countryside, I was alone, and as I had learned, that was not a good place for me to be – alone with my thoughts. I had imbued too much wine, hoping the numbing effect would dull my senses and allow me a night of dreamless sleep, of a lack of desire for the man only a wall’s width away. It had the opposite effect. It had lowered my defenses and let me wallow in thoughts of misbehaving. I felt devious and sultry.
There would be consequences, I knew that, but at this moment, I didn’t care. When I was clear-headed, there would be time for self recriminations and apologies and all that, but right then, I just wanted to feel myself wrapped around him. It was something I had to know.
I took off Alistair’s linens and remained in just my smallclothes. I draped my robe about me and as quietly as I was able, opened my door and tiptoed next door. Easing Cullen’s door open, I quickly stepped inside. His fire was low, and in the dim light I saw him lying in bed. Shirtless. I continued to tiptoe across his room until I was bedside.
Maker, forgive me, I have no self control.
Gently I made my way onto the bed and straddled him. Looking down into his soft features, the golden fire glow casting shadows, I had to bite back my smile. How was it possible to feel such emotion, to feel such desire, to throw caution out the window for another? Why did the heart rule so?
Was it the heart?
As my eyes took in his features – the curve of his brow, the long lashes, the full lips – I felt it again. The swelling of my heart. It was not just my body that desired him. Why would the Maker cause me such distress? Had I not done right by Him? I had saved the world from a Blight. I had halted civil war. I had removed a vengeful curse and protected his dearest’s ashes, among so many other deeds that He must have felt were honorable, and yet, He punished me.
Perhaps I should no longer ask for his aid in such matters. It was a fruitless endeavor and He was clearly enjoying the entertainment of it all.
Why did I believe I had to choose one over the other? Why could I not adopt a similar attitude as Zevran had. Enjoy their company and not abide by some ridiculous notion that my heart, mind, and body belonged to only one other. When so many nobles had mistresses, and I was resigned, myself, to be Alistair’s why could I not have my own? I almost laughed aloud at the idea. Cullen, my mister…?
I swore under my breath and banished all those thoughts aside.
As I leaned forward to kiss Cullen, he didn’t open his eyes, but he said, “The Maker answered my prayer.” His eyes opened then and they flashed with passion.
All I could think was, “Leave him out of it. ”
In the next moment I kissed him and moaned as his hands pulled me down to meet him. Instantly my body throbbed with want. We strained against one another, reveling in the sensation of our bodies together again. He flipped me and relished seeing my robe open and what little lay beneath it.
He stroked a hand down the length of me and the feel of his warm, strong hand upon me caused my breath to catch. “You cannot imagine how many nights I wished to see you again like this.” His voice has a rough edge to it.
It made my head spin. To feel so desired.
Alistair . No. I would not think on him. “And what did you imagine doing when I was in such a position again?” I teased instead.
There was that grumble at the back of his throat as he flushed with desire. “I would leave a mark upon you of being thoroughly ravaged.” He crashed down upon me and kissed me hard. His lips moved to my neck and he bit and sucked as he made his way further down. His hands were grating as they slid down my body. He was a man possessed, and it was intoxicating. He nipped at one breast as he quickly did away with my binding. I wrapped my legs about his waist to hold him close as he grasped and continued his torment in a bit of a frenzy.
He slithered out of my grip and made his further south. Taking one leg, he kissed the inner thigh and then nipped and suckled a spot near my hip. It would leave a mark, as he intended. It was also a spot that could only be reached by certain means, so the implication of how it got there would be undeniable. “What will your king say to that?” The challenge was unmistakable.
I sighed long and deep and instantly recovered my senses. “Why can’t I just have you both?” I said the thing I had been wishing for for months aloud.
And this time I got a response. “Because you are not the type of woman whom we can share.” He pressed his lower half in a long, sensual stroke against me as he came to look down upon me. I was completely open to him, could feel the heat of him, feel the desire. He was straining against his thin breeches, and he rubbed himself against me in sweet torment. He was straining to stay above me on his outstretched arms while my body began to move with his. He looked at me, our passion rising again. “When will you decide?”
I understood the importance of the question. It was one I had been asking myself for months, even after I thought a decision had been made. How could I decide?
I felt the first stings of tears prickling the corners of my eyes as I contemplated the importance of the decision before me, then the tears came. It was like the air had been sucked out of the room, and Cullen went from passionate tormentor to comforting friend in an instant. He wrapped me in his embrace and held me tight as he whispered apologies in my ear. I didn’t need him to apologize, it was I who had started this. All of it.
I was more frustrated than ever, and no closer to a decision as I lay in his arms. Finally, after I had recovered, I sat up, looked directly at him and said, “I’m sorry.” It was all I could offer at the moment, and it pained me all the same. I left his comforting embrace and walked towards the door when he called out to me.
I turned back and swallowed hard. “I won’t cause either of you further pain. I have to do right by you. You deserve that.” And with that, I left.
It was still dark out. And I decided to take a small diversion in order to find the peace of mind I was so desperately in need of. That was my hope any way.
I would seek an audience with the king.
I left a note for Varel to inform my guests of my departure, to say I left on business that could not be delayed, but also of my return. I planned on riding horseback and returning by nightfall. It was as I was sneaking out of the main hall that I found Fenris skulking in the shadows. I knew he was a light sleeper, especially in unfamiliar places, and forever had his guard up, but he had been here a week, and other than the present threat, was actually safe here.
We hadn’t found an opportunity to sit alone together as yet, and so I asked him if he wanted to join me on my ride. It would be nice not to travel alone. I was actually a bit surprised when he agreed.
So together, we set off.
Keiko and Dane had been enjoying going off together to adventure on their own, and we had barely seen them all week. I wondered if we would cross paths.
Fenris and I remained quiet until we were well out of range of the Keep. Encounters with potential enemies over time had made us cautious but we also didn’t want to alert anyone inside of our departure. I thought that maybe I shouldn’t go but no, I had to get answers. I couldn’t continue this way any longer. I needed to make a decision and know it was the right one, and the only way to do that was with information.
But then it occurred to me, maybe that in and of itself was the decision. It was Alistair’s face I saw when I had kissed Cullen. It was Alistair to whom I was now running to. It was Alistair’s slight that had compelled me to seek out Cullen in the first place. It was Alistair’s fate that had compelled me to want to return. I slept in his clothes, wore his ring, and wanted to protect him.
I looked down at my hand. The shiny gold band acted like a line to my heart. I slowed my horse and Fenris turned giving me a questioning look. “I have my answer.”
As was his manner, he nodded once, spurred his horse around, and together, still in silence, we returned to the Keep. When we dismounted, I looked at him seriously. “Will you now tell me what troubles you?”
He sort of rolled his eyes in response.
“I’m aware we do not know each other well but it is obvious something weighs upon you.” He would only talk when, and if, he felt compelled. “I’m here should you seek to unburden yourself.” I smiled and took my horse back to the stables. I had said something similar to Eamon, and I liked the idea of being someone others could trust.
He remained in the courtyard deep in thought. After a long moment, he followed me. “You were determined to see the king but quickly came to another conclusion. What changed?”
“When I was on the mission to end the Blight, I was so certain of my actions. I rarely second guessed a decision. I didn’t have the luxury. For some reason, I have been unable to do the same thing in other areas of my life, in particular, my heart. Months ago, I was assured of my choice but it was recently tested, as I’m sure you’re aware. As we headed out, I realized I need to use the same battle ready decision making at every turn, and so I did. I do not know the outcome of the choice but I can’t anticipate that, I can only do what I feel is right.”
And finally, I had peace.
It was like a wave of understanding. I had made my decision all those months ago, but there was something unique between Cullen and I. He would always be special to me, and I’m not sure there would ever be a time I did not desire him. That was a strange and interesting prospect. And Maker, guide me, I would have to talk to him about it.
“I am uncomfortable with remaining in one place overly long…but for once, I want to stay.” He looked uncomfortable admitting as much now.
“You’re no longer compelled to stay just to lure out Danarius?”
“I still wish him dead, but no.”
“So you want to know…if I regret any of my decisions?” He sort of shrugged in response. “I, perhaps, should have done some things differently, thought on which alternatives could sit upon the throne, but no, I do not regret the choices I’ve made. How can I? Some of those decisions led to some spectacular outcomes. I met you for one.” I sideways smiled at him, and he scoffed.
Once the horses were tucked back into their stalls, Fenris and I continued on.
“I genuinely meant that. I should not have left Ferelden the way I did, but going to Kirkwall is a decision I shall never regret. Besides my time with Cullen, I met family, I made new friends, I got a new haircut.” Fenris actually laughed at that. “You cannot foretell what your decision to stay in Kirkwall will mean for you, but I think you owe it to yourself to find out. If you keep on the move, you’ll never find anyone to have your back. You’ll never break free of your past. It will be all that you have, and you deserve more than that.”
“I can see why they have difficulty letting you go.” Now it was my turn to scoff. In return he gave me a hard look. “You are so insightful to all but yourself. It is why you struggle.”
I took a deep breath. Maybe he was right. No, he was. “I suppose we’ll both have to try to do better.” And we shook on it. “Promise me that should you feel compelled to run again that you’ll at least stop here first?”
He nodded. “You have my word.”
Once we were back inside, I took back my note to Varel. There was no use for it now. It was still early, too early to have such a serious conversation, so I would wait until after we broke our fast together. That would give me some more time to plan what I would say. I thanked Fenris for wanting to join me and also for his words before he returned to the shadows to keep watch.
I had been reluctant to do or say anything that would sever my ties to either man. I was afraid I would lose one or both, and I had kept much to myself. I think I had been most honest with Cullen in every other aspect except the heart. I had told him of my fears as I took on the mantle of Commander and dealt with a new threat. There was safety in the fact that he was a sea away. Writing to him was almost like writing in my journal. With Alistair, I had kept him at a distance to keep him at a distance. I didn’t share with him my burden, and he had done the same, I guess so that neither would feel compelled to join the other. I had held my tongue, I didn’t want to upset anyone, and we were all unhappy.
I didn’t return to my room. Instead I went to the rooftop with a cup of Zevran’s coffee. The sun was just up and I could enjoy a little quiet time before I ruined everything. Would Cullen want to remain my friend after? How strong was our bond? Could it endure such a slight? I still wanted to slide into his bed and feel his hands upon me, feel his weight and watch his eyes flash. I still wanted to hear him call me Spitfire and make him laugh…I was ever so selfish. And this is why I had been so confused. We were a good match.
I hoped in time he would forgive me.
I seemed to have needed a lot of that lately. I needed to do better.
I didn’t have to wait much longer to worry about the state of our relationship. Cullen joined me on the rooftop. There was a solemn air about him. He stood beside me, arms behind his back, and looked over the countryside. I just stared at him. He was filling out nicely. He was still young but in a few more years would be ruggedly handsome. I wondered at who else might eventually catch his eye. I handed him my cup, and watched his reaction to the strong brew. He nearly choked. It was surprisingly dark and strong. After a second sip, he seemed to enjoy it.
“It’s quite lovely here. I imagine on a clear day you can see down to the water, and the upgrades to the keep will make this place impenetrable. You should be proud of the work you’re doing.” He turned to look at me and I could see his eyes were sad.
“Thank you. I’ve been lucky with the people that have gathered around me in this effort. I have been quite lucky on each leg of my journey.” I held one of his hands, and I turned sad as well, knowing now what must be done.
“You have decided then?”
“I already had. I just let you turn my head.” I placed my other hand upon his cheek and sighed.
“What if he never comes back to you?”
“I lied to him for months, made false promises, and eventually betrayed him. I hurt him deeply, and honestly, I don’t know if I deserve his forgiveness, but I have to give him whatever time he needs to come to that conclusion. I owe it to him. And I owe it to you. I owe you an apology for my behavior in Kirkwall. I should not have allowed things to progress so quickly, but I was desperate for comfort, and just thinking of you filled me with joy. I am deeply attracted to you. I think I always be, and it pains me to deny you because I’m afraid I’ll lose you all together.” My eyes welled with tears and I swallowed hard. Now it was up to him to decide if we could remain in one another’s lives.
He took a step away from me, and my heart lurched. Don’t go! my mind screamed. I held fast.
He looked down at our entwined hands and I think he was wondering how best to extricate himself from the situation. “I don’t know what I truly expected from my coming. I played out a dozen scenarios in my head. Most ended with us apart, at least physically, given our duties, and yet there was this small glimmer of hope that maybe we could make it work, somehow. The King came for you, I knew that meant something, despite the pretense that it was on Warden business, but when you failed to speak of him, at all, I started to hope that it meant you were trying to move past him.”
“I have not spoken of either of you to the other. I didn’t know how. I’m sorry.”
He finally succeeded in releasing his hand from mine. “I should go.”
There was a finality about that statement. “Back to Kirkwall?”
He almost laughed. “I think it would be for the best.”
This time he did. “I love that you can still make me laugh, even when I don’t want to.”
“It’s what I do.”
“Yes, I remember.” His smile faded.
“If you leave now, like this, you’ll sever all connection.”
“And you know this how?”
“I remember how I found you in Kirkwall.”
He looked guilty at that. “What would you have me do? Stay here, be near you, and know that I cannot have you?”
Now it was my turn to look regretful. “Cullen…”
“I sort of knew this was the way it would end for us. I thought I would be stronger. I thought I would be able to look at you and not want to lose myself in you. I think I finally understand how you felt when you came to me in Kirkwall. Know that when I leave, I leave a piece of my heart here, with you.” He turned and stalked back towards the stairs. As I moved to follow him, he turned and held a hand up. “Please don’t.”
My heart hurt. It felt heavy, as if it had physically dropped lower within my chest. I wiped at the tears that streamed my face, and chastised myself for the pain I continued to cause. If he left now, like this, I would be certain to lose him. Angry and broken-hearted led to bad decisions. I should know. No, he couldn’t leave, not yet, and so I followed him.
I caught up to him as he made his way across the main hall. I didn’t want to cause a scene, there was enough idle gossip about us as it was, so I tried my best to act casual as I called after him. He ignored me and walked out the main doors.
As we entered the courtyard, I made my voice more assertive. “Cullen Stanton Rutherford.” It actually worked. He spun around to face me. Pain and hurt seethed from him. I approached him carefully.
“Commander, you have no authority over me. Should I choose to depart, you cannot stop me.” It was a challenge.
“Knight Captain, don’t think for one moment I have not considered conscripting you.” I retaliated. And it was true.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
There were onlookers now. I closed the distance between us and kept my voice low. “I had thought about it, in Kirkwall, as a way for us to stay together, but I would never have put you to the Joining. The risks are too high.” He exhaled a grateful sigh and I took his face in my hands. “Please don’t leave like this. I know I’ve failed you, and I know I’m selfish to want you to stay out of the fear of losing you, but I need a little time to make amends.”
He placed his hands on top of mine and threaded our fingers. “There are no amends to be made. You are following your heart. But you cannot expect me to remain here in light of your declaration. It is selfish. You have been too important to me for me to remove from my life, I just need time to come to an understanding of how we might move forward. I have to come to terms with the idea that you would prefer to be another man’s mistress than my wife.”
It was as if he slapped me, and I stumbled backwards. I had to catch my breath. “Are those really the last words you wish to leave me with?” He was angry, and now so was I.
“He will not marry you, he cannot, despite what you think that ring means. You won’t get your happily ever after.”
I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t think of a single thing to say in defense of myself. He was right. I had to turn from him, and the tears came again. How could I have not run dry by now?
The moment I turned, he realized what he had said, and pulled me into his arms while rambling words of apology and aid from the Maker. He held me tight but I did not return it. I stood rigid while I wallowed in my own thoughts and doubts of self-worth. It was one thing to think them myself, it was another to have someone else utter those same thoughts out loud. Especially from someone I trusted. I knew he was just lashing out because he was hurt which made me feel that much worse.
It was then that Varric cleared his throat. I pulled away from Cullen to look in his direction and he, Marian, and Fenris all gave me the same look. It was a mixture of concern and foreboding. With a head tilt from Varric I turned towards the main gate and my stomach dropped.
The King had arrived.
~ * ~
Having Alistair find me in Cullen’s arms caused me to utter the same words I had heard Varric use on occasion. “Well, shit.” I moved forward to greet him, wiping my tear stained face, while a few soldiers who recognized him bowed. He didn’t wear anything to symbolize his station, even his guards were in unmarked armor. “Your Majesty, welcome.” I bowed, and showed him the respect he deserved.
“I hope I’m not interrupting.” His voice was laced with sarcasm to cover his anger.
We looked at one another for a long moment. My heart was racing. I was so happy to see him but it was so badly timed. I resumed that false tone of diplomacy for the eavesdroppers. “Of course not, my King. It is always a pleasure to see you. What brings you to Vigil’s Keep?”
He handed over the reins of his horse to one of the stable boys who had come out to witness the King’s arrival, and stepped forward to speak with me directly. “I heard interesting news and came to verify the truth of it.” Now we were arm’s length apart. I could see how stress had given him little peace. There were dark circles under his eyes. He held my chin in his hand and took in my red puffy eyes with concern. He then turned his attention to Cullen and his eyes turned dark. “Do you think you’re the only one with spies in their employ?”
I raised an eyebrow in surprise. Spies in my midst? Mistress Woolsey seemed a likely candidate. Exactly what information had he become privy to? What had been brought to his attention that had been compelling enough to spur him to action?
Cullen. Obviously. But what did he know?
And he knew of my spies within his household?
“Let us go inside where we may talk in private.” I gestured towards the keep.
“No, I think not.” He approached Cullen.
I looked to my friends in confused worry. Marian was relishing the moment. She could barely contain herself. Varric too, from the look of him. Fenris looked almost bored, but that was usual. And Cullen…Cullen looked like he was ready to fight.
No, not again.
“So you’ve come to make sure your claim on her still stands?” Cullen taunted.
“From the look of her, it appears as if you’ve failed her, again.” Alistair threw back.
This seemed to rattle Cullen. “Let’s settle this.”
“That’s why I’m here.”
“No you don’t.” I interrupted. “And settle what exactly? You two have already come to fisticuffs.” They looked at one another and silently came to some resolution. They drew swords. “As Commander of this keep and Arlessa of Amaranthine, I forbid it.”
I was properly ignored. What good were those titles for then? Marian and Varric pulled me out of harm’s way. Alistair ushered the few guards he arrived with back, giving them instructions to not intervene. Cullen warmed up.
I had interrupted their last fight, so clearly they were still itching to work out whatever was going on between them. Unlike last time, when I thought they had come to blows to assuage their egos, this was different. They were out for blood, and if they hurt one another, I would never forgive them.
I felt almost as wretched as when I had watched Alistair duel Loghain. These two were evenly matched, and apparently had some grudge to avenge. The first few strikes were hard, on both sides. Maybe they were testing each other’s resolve. Each strike of metal made me cringe and tense up, and there was nothing to be done about it. If I intervened again, it may appear as favoritism, depending on who had the upper hand, and who knew what consequences that would have.
I don’t think they wanted to kill one another, not really, they had sort of befriended each other over drinks in Kirkwall, but as the fight continued, the attacks became a bit more premeditated. They struck with intent. I could barely contain myself, and Marian and Varric continued to hold me.
“You have to let them do this.” Varric whispered.
“Why? You tried to stop me before. What good does this do anyone?”
“It does them good. Men have a need to prove to one another and themselves their strength, their manhood…” Varric continued.
Marian interrupted. “They’re fighting over you. To see who is worthy of you.”
So if Alistair lost, it would prove to Cullen he was the more worthy choice. And vice versa. Alistair didn’t know what I had decided this morning, he was probably concerned I had been spending time with Cullen here the same way I had spent it in Kirkwall.
My poor, sweet man.
Seeing them together, it was easy to compare. It was also easy to see why I had been drawn to them both, and why I had struggled with my heart where they were each concerned, but as the fight continued, I could feel the pull towards Alistair. I didn’t know how such a fight would end, what would mark a victory for either of them, but I could feel my heart pounding for the man I loved – the one I hoped would finally come back to me, the one I hoped would find solace after this.
Perhaps it would end in a draw. Maybe that would satisfy them. Perhaps this show of strength would prove that they were evenly matched, and hence both worthy, and in some way be able to move forward without the bruise to their egos.
And if not, how would I handle the aftermath?
They each had drawn blood, and now they were taunting one another with words.
Cullen sneered as he said, “You think that ring is some sort of chastity belt?”
Alistair laughed then. “That’s not how it was intended, but given your mood, I’m guessing it must have worked as such. Have some pent up frustration to release, Chantry boy?”
They each took a hard swing.
“Have to appreciate your tactics.” Clang. “You won’t commit to her, but the moment she may find happiness with someone else, you come running.” Clang. “Strategically keeping her emotionally divided, while you decide whether or not to forgive her.” Clang. “And she loves you,” he sounded exasperated, “even while you torture her.”
Maker, that was insightful. Alistair looked at me then. Cullen’s words struck deep. On me too.
Cullen moved to take advantage of Alistair’s distracted state, and my body tensed and eyes went wide. My hand started to reach out, but the warning was noticed and Alistair turned back swinging. After all our time fighting side by side, it took very little to alert Alistair to danger. It was nice to see we still had that, and that he was still at the peak of his fighting performance. I would have to thank the Captain of the Guard for keeping his word.
Cullen saw the arc of the sword and tried to pull back, but the tip of Alistair’s sword caught Cullen ever so slightly across the face, and he stumbled back. He took a knee, holding the back of his hand to his mouth.
I lurched forward but was forcefully held back still by Marian and Varric.
Alistair held his sword to Cullen. “Do you yield?”
Cullen nodded his head while tossing his sword down. Alistair tossed his aside as well, and offered a hand to Cullen to help him stand.
“Well done, your Majesty.” Cullen offered graciously.
“Alistair. Now let’s get your wound tended to.” Alistair looked to me.
I was finally released and rushed to their side. Cullen’s face was smeared in blood, and it flowed down his chin. “Remember? She’s not a healer, Alistair.”
I rolled my eyes as they chuckled together, and then Cullen groaned as the wound spread with his smiling. It was over as quickly as it had begun.
I took Cullen aside and had him sit on the edge of the well in the center of the courtyard. I pulled up some water and Marian brought over a clean linen and a healing potion. Cullen refused it.
“It will stop the bleeding, and close the wound.” I suggested as I gently cleaned his face. I knew he still feared magic to some extent, but this was a potion.
“I do not wish to lose this reminder.” He held my hand and we looked at one another.
“You’re going to leave now, aren’t you?” It wasn’t really a question I had to ask. His eyes gave me his answer. “And are we friends still?” This one I did need to ask.
He was silent for a moment. He just let his eyes wander about my face, and it made me sad that he felt this would most likely be the last time he saw it. “You’ll always be dear to me.”
That wasn’t an answer. Maker’s Breath! I took a step back. “Let me find someone to at least give you a stitch or two.” I told him to hold the linen to his face as I left.
I went to Alistair, who was talking with Varric, and looked over his wound. It wasn’t deep, thankfully. I wanted to wrap my arms around him but I didn’t know what any of all this meant or if it would be welcome given the circumstances. “Can we speak before you return to Denerim?”
Marian and Fenris had disappeared somewhere, and most of the keep had returned to their duties now that the “show” was over.
In the time it took me to find the only one with surgical skills I trusted to undertake such a delicate task, Cullen was gone. Apparently he had asked Alistair for a horse, and Alistair had given him one. He asked Varric to gather his belongings. And that was it. He couldn’t fathom staying in my presence another moment longer and fled. No farewell. Nothing. He couldn’t even wait to be patched up.
I should have been sad and angry but I just felt numb. I stared towards the road for a few minutes, hoping he had second guessed his actions and might return, but no. I took a long, slow breath and tried to wrap my head around the fact that Cullen was gone, most likely permanently from my life.
Well, there was no coming to terms with that.
Alistair came up beside me. “Let’s take a walk.” He took my hand in his and we set off towards the fields surrounding the keep. What a day. Relationship ending conversations, emotional outbursts, revelations, a duel, a goodbye, and now a stroll, hand in hand, and it was still morning. I was exhausted.
When we were a good distance, I asked, “Did you really come here just to thrash Cullen?”
“That was just a bonus.” He half shrugged jokingly. “I learned he was visiting and there were implications of…intimacy. I didn’t want to believe it, not after everything we…and then I find you in his arms?” He was growing angry again.
“Because it was a farewell, after he had said some not so pleasant things. Nothing, much, happened between us, because I told him I had already chosen you.”
“What?” He looked confused, and then it changed to question. “Wait, nothing much?”
“He is my friend, but I am drawn to him. I was tempted, more than once, but I came to a conclusion, well, I already had.” I was babbling. I was nervous. “Before I left on Eamon’s tour, I had already decided that my heart was yours. It always has been. It always will be. And I resigned myself to wait as long as was necessary for you to forgive me. That’s why, no matter how insulting it is to think of, I’m willing to be your mistress. I don’t want to give you up. And I’m sorry for making so many decisions on your behalf. I want to be by your side, and I don’t care what others think. I know I can’t be your wife, and while that breaks my heart a little, I know you love me. I mean, you’re here. And that’s enough.”
“I would never do that to you. You deserve so much better than that.”
“But there’s nothing to be done about it, and I’m okay with it.”
“But I’m not.” He started to pace. “I put that ring on your finger as a promise, albeit an unspoken one.”
“You were willing to wait for me?”
“But you want Cullen as well?”
“I wanted him to scratch an itch you did not.”
That made him laugh, and he took a step forward. “I was afraid to tell you my thoughts. I wanted you to be sure you really wanted me.”
“I do.” My heart was pounding and my breaths grew shallow as I could feel he was nearing a revelation.
He took a knee. “I’ve heard this is something men do.”
“What are you doing?” I was confused.
He took one of my hands and looked up at me with hope in his eyes. “Bryn Amell, will you marry me?”
It was like time had frozen for an instant. I remember his face, the hope and fear in his eyes. There was a gentle, cool breeze that stirred the dandelion fluff. The warm sun bathed everything in golden light.
“What?” It was barely more than a whisper. I was completely dumbfounded, and the pounding of my heart nearly drowned everything else out.
“I don’t want anyone else by my side. I don’t want you to ever think that I don’t love you. Thinking I could lose you again made me realize how I took advantage of our time together. This isn’t just a ploy to keep you from Cullen.” I raised an eyebrow to that. “I’ve wasted time being unsure, and I don’t want to do that anymore; we have such short lives as it is. Whatever time we have left, I want us to be together.” And then he gave me one of his sweet smiles. “You’re the first woman I ever spent the night with, and if I have my way, you’ll be the last.”
All those words of love and I still couldn’t believe it. “You want to marry me?”
“I have for a long time.” He stood up and pulled me into his arms. “I’ve been a fool…” I cut off whatever else he was going to say because I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to reassure myself that I wasn’t dreaming. He was in front of me. He had just said the most beautiful words. The kiss was passionate and consuming, and cut short. He pulled away and held my face in his hands. “Is that a yes?”
“Yes.” I beamed and giggled amidst more kissing. I wrapped my arms around him and held him as close as I could while taking a deep breath of him. My Alistair. I was overwhelmed. Alistair wanted to marry me.
The thing I feared could never happen, the thing I was willing to live without, the thing Cullen had voiced aloud – I would be Alistair’s wife. He would be my husband.
I don’t know how we got here, especially in light of the past fortnight, but here we were.
To the Void with all the rest.
~ * ~
I had gone from distressed to elated within a matter of minutes. So much of my life since leaving the Circle had been as such. What a strange life I led indeed.
I knew Alistair had to return to Denerim. This had only been an investigatory trip, but I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. He gave me his arm and I squeezed it with both of mine while holding myself close to him. I still had two threats to contend with, but afterward, I would remain by Alistair’s side. We did have short lives, thanks to the taint, and I would challenge any who would dare stand in our way.
Together we went inside where I asked a meal be brought to us in my private study. When we were alone, the truth of what had just occurred between us started to settle in, and we just looked at one another and started to laugh. We were enfiancéd. We had declared to one another our heart’s intent. And truth be told, it was like a weight had been lifted. I had struggled, made a mess of things, and wasted time, and somehow been redeemed because here we were. Finally.
I leaned against the door and just admired the man who had was to be my husband. Husband. I practically squealed with delight. What had it been? A year since I first had that thought? At least.
He looked better now too, having come to the decision.
And it was time to come clean. “I lied to you after I first arrived here. About the Wardens. I was afraid if you learned they had all died or went missing that you would want to stay and help me, and I didn’t want you going back to that. I wanted to protect you.”
“We fought together for a year, and I think we’re stronger together, at least I’m stronger when you are by my side. Why would you need to protect me when in all that time I only ever endured a scrape or two while you’re the one who nearly died in the Deep Roads?” He countered with an eyebrow raise.
I pulled my face while nodding in response. “Cullen and I have written to one another since the events in the Circle.”
“Oh.” He let that sink in. “I’m a king not a member of the Chantry. You don’t need to confess to me.”
“These are the things I’ve withheld from you. I suggested there be no more secrets between us, but I haven’t followed through.” I began to pace as everything I had wanted to tell him, but hadn’t, spilled from my lips. “I was afraid to come here to Vigil’s Keep. I was afraid of what the threat meant, especially as we learned more. I felt unqualified to become Commander. I haven’t told you about the Architect or the Mother or the darkspawn civil war. I didn’t tell you I traveled to the Fade and that there’s a spirit of justice residing in a dead Warden. I didn’t tell you that your vision on me falling in a ruin in a forest came true. I didn’t want you to worry about all that was happening here because you had your own worries.”
“Um…I don’t even know where to begin. Is that everything?”
“No.” I looked at him with apologetic eyes. “I thwarted an assassination attempt on my life. Rendon Howe’s son is one of my Wardens. Oh, and I just learned I have four siblings, all mages, but that I would have told you, I just haven’t written it to you yet.” I pulled another face.
“Maker, help me.” He looked up to the ceiling dramatically. “I’m not surprised about Cullen. I just don’t know why you felt it necessary to keep it from me? If you’ll recall, I’m the one who encouraged you to speak with him after the fight in the Circle.”
“I felt guilty, and I thought you might think it a betrayal. The longer it went on, the harder it became to talk about, because I had hidden it for so long. And then it became a solace. All of our friends witnessed our relationship build and then dissolve, and my friendship with Cullen was just for me.”
He nodded in understanding. “I get it. It’s like my relationship with Morrigan. We keep in touch too.” He couldn’t keep his face straight long enough to even finish the sentence.
I grumbled in response and moved toward him in order to swat at him in exasperated mock anger.
“I’m sorry you felt you had to hide your fears about your new position and everything that came with it from me. Maybe had we been more open with one another, we could have better prepared you for the challenges ahead.” He took a deep breath. “I’m also sorry I haven’t told you everything either. I think I had a similar idea about not wanting you to worry. I knew the task ahead of you was great, and I didn’t want to burden you. But I don’t why? We were together for a year. We were inseparable and shared everything. You became my best friend and you were always the first person I wanted to talk to, about anything, good or bad. When I became king and learned you had been promoted, I knew there was going to have to be some division, when we were reunited, but I don’t know why I stopped talking to you.”
“Because I betrayed you. You were protecting yourself from getting too close to me again.” I reached out and placed a hand upon his cheek. “I’m sorry I made you lose confidence in me. I’m sorry I made you feel like you lost your friend.”
He rested a hand upon mine and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and said quietly, “I’ve missed you. Maker knows how much.”
“I’ve missed you too.” I leaned forward and kissed him lightly. It felt good to be able to do that. And I would get to, whenever I wanted to from now on. I smiled deviously.
“What is that about?” He wondered.
“You’re going to be my husband. This is what I wished for us before the Landsmeet. Once Eamon declared you should be king, so much changed for us, and now we’re able to start a new chapter, together.” I pushed him into one of the fancy chairs that sat before my desk. They were oversized and a bit ornate, and had been discovered in another part of the keep. Varel suggested they be moved to my study for when I met with special guests or people with important business. I had thought it a foolish notion then, but now appreciated that one of them would serve another purpose. I was going to seduce my future husband in it. “Are you sure about this?” I was still in a state of awe.
I straddled his lap. I wanted to look into his eyes and feel him all around me. I let my hands drift about him while he spoke.
He dug his fingers into my hips. There was an undercurrent of stress. “I remember thinking I would happily spend all my days with you when we were on the docks in Redcliffe. Remember?” His eyes searched mine. I nodded. “I was faced with losing you so many times, no matter how hard I tried to hold on, I think I just started to worry…I didn’t treat you as I should have…” He was struggling to voice those long held misgivings.
“That isn’t a mistake either of us will make again.” I reassured him.
“So you ask me if I’m sure? It’s something I’ve dreamed of, and feared, because of those around us who may think otherwise, but to the Void with them. The honor of calling you wife, is something I am completely sure of.”
That caused me to beam. I was absolutely smitten and felt like I could burst.
We hadn’t been together in a long time and if getting engaged wasn’t a reason, I’m not sure when would be. Taking his face in my hands I kissed him deeply. I felt his fingers clench again, and then he pulled away. “Don’t think we’re not going to talk about all those details you’ve withheld.”
“Of course. You have some things to answer for as well, but would you prefer to talk about darkspawn just now or ravage your fiancée?” I challenged.
He gave me a look, then pulled me closer to him so that my breasts were nearly in his face. “You could have at least made the decision slightly more difficult.” He kissed my neck and lightly bit a spot on the side that always drove me crazy.
I swirled my hips against his and he groaned. I had worn my Commander of the Grey armor when I left for Denerim this morning but had removed the armor plating upon returning to the keep. I was still covered in bits of chainmail and he was in his medium plate, so there was too much between us to thoroughly enjoy this moment, and we were in my study where lunch was expected.
As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. “My lady?”
Alistair and I both looked and sounded exasperated. I begrudgingly slid off his lap and stood up. “Come.”
Lunch was served, and instead of returning to the fun that should have been had, we discussed those things I had purposefully left out of my letters. He was distressed to learn his vision had come true, but he needed to know, should he have another. And then I highlighted some of the darkspawn threat. It was my burden, but should something happen to me, he needed to be prepared for what was happening below the surface of his land. I so desperately wanted him by my side in this fight. We had created our bond during the fighting, and there was the familiarity of standing alongside someone who had been in the thick of it with you, but he was where he needed to be, and it brought me comfort knowing that he was safely tucked away in the palace.
He was worried, naturally, about some of the people who were now under my command – the spirit, the traitor’s son, and the vengeful mage, unlike my previous companions, the spirit, the murdering qunari, and the assassin. I reminded him of not being able to choose those who came to fight by my side, and that they, too, had proven themselves.
After the pertinent information about the darkspawn had been discussed, I sat upon my desk in front of him. “So about this wedding,” I began. “We’ll have to keep it all a secret, won’t we?”
“Why do you say that?”
“We’ve already discussed this. No one will abide a mage as queen, no matter what she did to protect them. It could be our secret.” I liked the idea that it was something just for us.
He almost looked affronted at the idea. “I want the world to know we belong to each other.”
“I don’t think there will be any denying that.” I smiled sweetly. The nobles had already found me a problem and that was while he and I were figuring things out, now that we had, it would be obvious, and that could be more of a problem. No, it was better to keep this to ourselves. “Maybe, in time, they’ll grow accustomed to the idea, especially when the country is more stable, and they remember I’m not a blood mage.”
He stood up and nestled himself between my legs. “I don’t like the idea of relegating you to the shadows.” He pulled me closer to him.
“I have your love. We’re making a promise to one another. It matters not where I’m relegated, as long as we’re together.”
He kissed me again, starting by kissing each eyelid, each cheek, my nose, and finally my lips. It was gentle and loving, and I thought my heart might burst. It kept swelling to the point that I wasn’t sure my chest could contain it. “I’ve wasted so much time.” His voice was tense.
I wrapped my legs around him. “We have a lot of catching up to do.” He chuckled. “Can you not stay a little longer?” I grabbed his backside and drew him closer still while biting the bottom of his lip.
He stuttered. “I think I could delay another hour.”
Not giving him a moment to reconsider, I took his hand and practically dragged him behind me to my room. Once inside, I locked the door and, for good measure, froze the handle. That should be indication enough not to disturb us. He may have thought that a bit overkill, but he still laughed. We rushed to rid ourselves of our armor, and helped one another with the buckles. When we were in nothing but our smallclothes, the anticipation was near a fever pitch. It had been many months since we had been together, and the last time it had been nothing more than a tease. (My brushes with Cullen hadn’t done me any favors either.)
He had confessed that he didn’t want our times together to be out of consolation. I understood that. Our times together in that first year were always tainted with the perilous nature of the journey. Now it felt so different. And the excitement was replaced with a bit of trepidation.
He took a few steps back and just looked at me. I grew warm under his admiring gaze. He had filled out again, but he was still lean. I loved the long lines his muscles made down his arms and legs. I closed the distance while unwrapping my breasts, and seductively dropped the material to the side. I let my hands trace paths along his body, feeling the muscles twitch under my touch. I pressed my body against his and let my hands continue upwards around his neck and into his hair.
My heart was beating erratically. I could still feel the blush upon my cheek. I was nervous.
I leaned forward again to kiss him. This time it was meant to impart an end to what had come before, a bookend to that previous time of drama. From this point forward, things would be different between us.
As I leaned back to sit, he followed me. The kissing continued and we remained connected. There was something so sensual about it, even after the pleasure had been found.
“I don’t want to leave you.” He grew solemn.
“I don’t want you to go either, but we will only be separated for a short time more. I have just the one last thing to attend to.”
“This mother you mentioned?”
“I think defeating her will end this particular conflict.”
“I wish you would let me come with you. We’re better together.”
We were still completely wrapped around one another and his turn of phrase made me smile. I swirled my hips. “How well I know.”
It made him chuckle. “I won’t say all the things I’ve said before. I want us to plan our future together, and you know you have to return to me in order to do that?”
“Yes, my King.” I kissed him as a promise.
“I mean it.”
“I know.” We smiled playfully at one another. There was finally peace between us. I had this feeling…it was reminiscent of our time before, before I knew Alistair could be king, when there was still hope between us, for us.
His smile faded, and his voice had a raw edge to it. “Maker, I love you.”
The emotion held within his words made my eyes well with tears. It had seemed an age since I last heard him say those words and mean them. “I love you.”
He kissed my tears as they fell on one cheek while thumbing away the others. We held onto one another again in a crushing embrace. I knew our time together was drawing to a close. As fond of the idea as I was of spending our time in pleasure, the idea of just being held was almost as enticing. Those nights in Denerim, while wonderful, had always had an undercurrent of fragility about them, as we were not being honest with one another, there was no understanding. We had been uneasy, not knowing what sort of relationship to create in the aftermath of the Landsmeet, his coronation, or my time in Kirkwall.
It wasn’t to say that there wouldn’t be hard times ahead of us, but at least now I knew that we would take them on together. My mind had been so muddled for so long, and to finally have clarity brought with it a new sense of purpose. It was one thing to promise your king that you would fight well and live to tell the tale, it was another to promise your husband-to-be. It was a vague notion to fight for some noble sense of responsibility, but to fight to protect those you love is something else entirely. The current darkspawn threat may not be as world-ending as the Blight had been, but it was still something to be feared, and I would not allow it to go beyond my borders. While he may be king now, Alistair was still a Grey Warden, and technically second-in-command, I suppose, should I fall, and I would not leave him brokenhearted and angry which would then lead to his own destruction.
The remainder of our time together was spent in reflection and some talk about our future. I played with his hair while I reminisced about our early days on the road, when I found myself falling for him. He shared with me his desire to move away from the palace, at least part of the year. Without me there, it felt empty, and it wasn’t truly a home. He wanted us to have a place to call our own. I was thrilled with the idea of sharing a home with him – of having a place away from the prying eyes, a place our friends would feel welcome, a place we could be ourselves.
Eventually we laid back down together, still embraced in one another’s arms. I rested my head upon his chest so I could hear his heart beat. He stroked my back. We had finally discussed our future. It was one of the subjects we had long had to avoid, and now we were planning to be wed, creating a home…
But like all good things, it had to come to an end.
In the courtyard we said our final farewell. Our more appropriate goodbye had been within my room. In front of everyone he bowed before me, took my hand, and kissed it. “My lady.”
I shook my head in disbelief. I followed suit and bowed. “My lord.”
“I shall keep an eye on the horizon for your return.”
“I will not keep you waiting long.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” His smile faltered.
And then he was gone.
I watched Alistair and his retinue grow smaller until they finally disappeared on the road back to Denerim. He had turned once for a last look. It must have taken all his strength to continue forward knowing what was waiting for me. My heart was full, save one detail – Cullen. He had left without so much as an angry rant or a single well wish, if that could even be given. He was injured and rejected, and I needed to make things right. Who knew if I would ever get the chance again.
I called for my for my horse, and within minutes I was on the road to Amaranthine.
I found Cullen in The Crown & Lion sulking in a dark corner. What an apt title, given it was how I had often found myself divided. I felt a measure of trepidation as I approached him. He sometimes liked to remind me of our mage-Templar relationship. He noticed me almost as soon as I had entered, and looked irked as I approached his table. “I should have known I wouldn’t get an easy escape.” He sounded weary.
“Not even a goodbye?” On the ride in, I had wondered at what I would say to him if I were able to find him. I had practiced a number of opening lines. This was the best I could do, apparently.
“Your knight in shining armor came to you. What else could you need from me?”
“How about a proper farewell? A promise that we would keep writing to one another? That we might see one another again someday? That we wished one another well? That despite everything, we still love each other and want the other to be happy? I don’t know. Pick one.” I was angry, and despite my efforts to remain calm, my voice rose and the patrons of the tavern turned to witness the exchange.
He stood up, grabbed me by the arm, and hauled me off to a room in the back. That perhaps created even more of a spectacle.
He shoved me inside and slammed the door behind us. “You rejected me. How could you expect an amicable parting?”
“Because of how you treated our parting in Kirkwall.”
“That was different! I hadn’t offered you my heart then.” The anger blew out of both our sails at that.
I slumped against the table in the center of the room. He leaned against the door, dropping his head. His wound still looked unattended, and now that he had spoken, a bead of fresh blood surfaced. There was a water basin near the bed with clean towels. I dipped the edge of one in the cool water and brought it to his lip. I expected him to flinch from my touch, but he let me attend him. With my free hand, I lifted his chin so that he would look at me. There was such sadness in those golden eyes, it made my heart clench.
I dabbed the wound gently. “I’m so sorry.”
“We already came to this conclusion in Kirkwall. There is no happy end for a mage and a Templar.”
“There could have been.”
“Had I not squandered my time with you in the Circle.” It was like he had come to some sort of realization for himself. “Perhaps if I had joined you on your mission. Who knows. Maybe this is all part of the Maker’s plan.”
“When I asked you to come with me back to Ferelden, you said you thought you were in the right place then. Do you not feel that way anymore?”
“I don’t know.” He looked lost. And I felt wretched.
“Please come back with me to the keep.”
“What for?” I know my eyes were pleading, but my words failed me. He shook his head in the negative. “Did he give you what you want?”
I stepped away from him then. “Yes.” It was a simple word, but heavy with all that it implied.
“Congratulations.” His tone was bitter. “How long would you have waited for him?” I had no reply. Saying forever seemed such a slight given the circumstances, and although I said nothing, it too sat heavy in the air. “So you never would have returned to me.” It was more a statement than a question.
I couldn’t imagine living my life without one of them. I would have waited for Alistair for some time, a long time, in fact, but I was so drawn to Cullen that it was hard to believe I wouldn’t have returned to him eventually. “I would have.”
His smile was faint. “Thank you.” He stepped forward to meet me. “You’re going to be a hard act to follow. Hero of Ferelden, Warden Commander…who else can compare?” He touched my cheek but then pulled back as if burned.
I took his hand and placed it back on my cheek, and held it there. “All those things I’ve said to you are true. I could imagine our lives together, you are one of my best friends, and I love you. I wish there was another word I could use so it hurt less, but I do.” I kissed him lightly. I wanted him to know I meant those words, but I didn’t want to aggravate his wound. “Now, hold still.” I drew forth electricity and let it alight a fingertip which I traced along his wound. Fire might have left more of a scar. I then cooled my hand with frost and gently let it rest on his face.
He closed his eyes and sighed. “Farewell, Spitfire.” He turned away from me.
I didn’t like the tone of finality his voice had taken, but there was nothing more I could say or do it seemed. I would have to let him go and hope, in time, we could renew our friendship. I would ask Varric to check in on him from time to time. Maker, I hated this feeling. “So that’s it?” I was at a loss.
He said nothing. He didn’t even turn back around. Okay, then. I turned sharply on my heel and left the room, and continued to walk out of the tavern in a sort of huff of sadness and uncertainty. I was only two steps out the door when I felt a hand on my arm. It spun me around and I gasped as Cullen’s lips descended upon mine. His kiss was hard, filled with so much emotion, and even knowing I should stop it, I gave in, one last time.
It was Cullen.
The kiss was intense, raw, and all consuming. It was the kind of kiss you could get lost in, happily. And I had, and was currently doing so again. Our hands were everywhere, drawing the other closer, and then he pulled away. “I just needed to know that.” He shook his head in wonder.
Andraste, help me!
We each needed to catch our breath, and then he said in all seriousness, “I love you.” And then he smiled, finally. “I look forward to hearing about how you defeated your enemies. Commander.” He nodded his head once in farewell.
I could barely speak. “Knight Captain.” I nodded in return.
“And remember,” he started as he walked backwards away from me. “No new scars.”
“Yes, my lion.” I smiled finally too. His words gave me hope that in some way, we would remain in one another’s lives. As I turned from him, I touched my lips and sighed at the sensations he could elicit from me. Why couldn’t I keep them both, I jokingly wondered? I audibly sighed.
What a day.
~ * ~
That night I spent around my friends. I was emotionally raw around the edges, but felt a measure of peace. Cullen had left me with the consolation of our (eventual) continued friendship, and I had Alistair’s love. Once my enemies were vanquished, I could actually consider a future. I let the house retire early, and together, Fenris and I cooked. Marian and Varric assisted. We shared a few bottles of wine, and lots of laughter. It was a near perfect end to the day.
I kept comparing my friendships, how easy some of them were, but that was unfair. It had taken some time to truly bond with people like Sten and Zevran. Sten with his black and white views, and Zevran with the attempted murder. Marian had been one of the easiest bonds to develop, and in part, I think that was because we were family. Anders had been an easy friendship as well. His lighthearted humor reminded me a bit of Alistair, and as a fellow mage, we could commiserate about our time in the Circle. Nathaniel, despite having previously wanting me dead, had become one of my closest allies. It took some time, but on the road, we had built trust and camaraderie. We, now, often sat together, and he was usually one of the first to have my back in a fight.
Fenris had been right about my specialty of gathering good people around me.
I only had a few days left with my Kirkwall friends. They were due to leave by week’s end. I would be sad to see them go, but their coming had been such a blessing. They had brought so much joy with them. Yes, even Fenris. Marian was like a sister to me. Her humor, so similarly sarcastic to mine always elicited a giggle from me, and we had spent many nights huddled together in one of our rooms talking or practicing magic.
Varric and I swapped stories, and he usually engaged us in a nightly round of Wicked Grace. He would be leaving with a heavy purse. He was the one I could rely on to keep an eye on the others. He agreed to look after “Curly” and let me know if there was anything to be concerned about, in regards to all of them. He was clever and resourceful and was the kind of friend who accepted you for exactly who you are.
Fenris and I had often times just sat together quietly. Despite his wariness of mages, if you were lucky enough to earn his trust, he was the kind of friend you knew would walk through fire for you. He was so beautiful and that voice sent shivers down my spine. I generally tried to engage him in some conversation just so I could hear him say, well, anything. I once asked him to read to me, just so I could hear him speak, and he confessed, while rather embarrassed, that he could not read. I promised not to tell the others.
Their visit had been rather uneventful, save the drama with Cullen. My visit to Kirkwall had been filled with adventure and bloodshed. They actually got to enjoy their time at the keep, like a hard won vacation. It did me some good too, not to have to constantly be concerned with the next fight.
It would come soon enough.
The remainder of the week flew by, and we were too soon in Amaranthine saying our goodbyes. I was overwhelmed with emotion that such friends were to be had – friends who came to visit me out of concern for my well being. I would have to reciprocate in the near future.
Luckily, Keiko and Dane finally reappeared the day before they were all due to leave. They looked lean and powerful, and I wished that they were capable of sharing their adventures with us. I gave Keiko a bit of a hard time, he had missed Cullen’s departure and Alistair’s visit. I reminded him he was supposed to stay by my side to protect me, and he had been gone nearly a fortnight. He had been properly chastised and had diligently remained by my side ever since. Of course I wasn’t truly unhappy with him. On the contrary. And the first time he looked at me with those puppy dog eyes, I folded and smothered him with affection.
Marian and I said our farewells in a tight embrace. We promised each other we would be careful. Varric and I also shared a good hug but didn’t have to say anything. We understood one another.
Fenris and I looked at one another and I could see the wheels turning in his mind. “I know what you want.” There was the faintest hint of a smile on his lips.
“I promised myself I would make it happen.” I tried my best not to smile.
“Despite my protests.”
He sighed with false annoyance. “Fine. Make it quick.”
I smiled wide as I wrapped him in my embrace. He was, at first, tense. Who knew when the last time was that he allowed someone to touch him? Then, ever so slightly, did his tension release and I felt his arms about my waist. It lasted but a couple of seconds before he pulled away. He looked…not exactly embarrassed, maybe a little uncomfortable, and he cleared his throat.
It was a small victory, for both of us. “Thank you.” I smiled sweetly. It was a blanket thanks for all he had done. As the other two started for the ship, I gave him a small book. I had asked Varel if the library contained any books for children, something simple, without alluding to the reason I was interested. I found one that gave examples of all the letters, pronunciations, and symbols of items that were related to the sound. He flipped through it, blushed, and then tucked it away.
“Broody.” And we shared a genuine moment.
They boarded their ship, and I waited until they set off. Marian yelled down, “What are you still doing here?”
“I’m just making sure you actually leave.”
That made them laugh. We waved a final farewell, and soon they were off on the horizon. I missed them already.
On the way back to the keep, I encountered Sigrun, Nathaniel, Oghren, and Velanna returning from their scouting mission empty handed. It was only from Anders and Justice the day after that that a hint of stirrings in the west brought us any clue as to the whereabouts of the Mother, potentially.
I was happy to have them all back safely.
Our peace and quiet was short lived.
And the timing was impeccable – Alistair was in Denerim, my Kirkwall friends had just left – when we were attacked. Amaranthine and the keep were attacked simultaneously. I was questioned whether to defend one or the other, I chose to defend both. The keep had been upgraded and there was an army to defend her now. The city was fairly defenseless. I divided my forces and we went to war.
I have already written to Weisshaupt about the events, and I do not wish to relive them again. Let me just say that the attacks were devastating, well planned, and well executed, but could have been much worse. We had built a strong defense, we had silverite armor, and brave men and women who fought valiantly. The keep held for days, and the soldiers took out dozens of darkspawn each, but our losses were staggering.
The city of Amaranthine took heavy damage, but the casualties were far less than expected.
Our journey’s end took us to a mythical place the Tevinters revered, the Dragonbone Wastes, and below, a place that held their ancient ruins, Drake’s Fall. It was rumored that dragons traveled there to die. It was a bitterly cold place, littered with the bones of many a dragon, so the rumors were indeed based on truth. Tevinter believed the bones held great power, and looking at them, seeing so many of varying size, it was easy to understand why.
Living dragons had claimed the place as their own, making it a dangerous place to travel. Our progress was stealthy, but slow.
I learned The Architect started the Blight. He had awoken the archdemon. I understood his reasonings, he wanted to cure his own people, but there was no real trust to be given to such a creature. The fight was hard. The Mother, once a poor woman twisted by unspeakable acts was unique in her power. She put up a good fight, and dealt a number of crushing blows. At one point, I found myself overwhelmed by her “children”. I was fatigued and low on mana, and a few good hits put me down. I remember seeing Alistair’s face as I fell. Then the faces of my dearest friends flashed before me one by one. In a fraction of a second, I imagined what it would look like when Alistair received the news of my death, and it shook me to my core. With the little strength that remained, I used Mind Blast to scatter those little monsters, and it gave me the moment I needed to suck down a lyrium potion and call forth my wrath.
I would not fall.
I would not be defeated.
I had promised him I would return to him.
I had promised to smite my enemies.
And so I unleashed my full power.
My companions drew closer to me as I called forth elemental chaos. In the cave, the sound of storms raging and electricity striking was almost deafening. I can recall it still. The sound of power and rage.
I hated what the broodmothers represented.
I hated that the darkspawn even existed.
I hated that because of them, despite what I had become, that it was their sickness that would end me and the man I love.
I remember screaming, a primal scream, as I unleashed my magic upon them. I could understand why mere mortals feared us, but I was thankful in that moment to the Maker for such gifts. Morrigan had helped me to see that they were indeed blessings, that they were meant to be embraced, and in the eerie silence that followed such chaos, with my chest heaving from exertion, I finally understood her.
Who would I be without them?
~ * ~
We returned to Vigil’s Keep to reconvene and assess our losses. There was a detour I wished to make, yet again, but duty came first. And I could send word. We made good travel time, taking little time to rest, and so as I made my way through the keep’s gates, the overwhelming fatigue of the past week started to wear on me. I just wanted to fall into Alistair’s arms. I wanted him to care for me, comfort me, watch over me.
And the Maker answered my prayer.
I was not five steps through the gate when I saw Alistair rushing towards me.
There was a commotion about him – people clamoring to see the King, exclaiming their delight, despite the surrounding devastation – and he pushed his way through.
My knees went weak and a sob escaped my lips. I reached out for him, and he caught me. He gave me his strength and held me in his arms. And together, we drew even more attention.
The crowd drew closer around us, but a moment later they were dispersed as the royal guard made their way to shield us. Alistair then did one of the most romantic things. He swept me into his arms and carried me inside. I held onto him tightly with my face nestled into the crook of his neck.
I felt safe.
I was home.
Upon entering the keep, a few nobles gathered around us. They asked after my well being, and if I needed a healer. I shook my head negatively, and so Alistair just continued on. He called for hot water, and then, when we passed over the threshold into my room, he kicked the door closed behind us, effectively leaving everyone with the impression that we were not to be disturbed.
He sat me gently upon the bed and looked me over with worried eyes. There were no visible signs of injury, but he was unconvinced. Gently he began to remove my ichor stained armor and sweat drenched clothes, inspecting each inch of flesh as it was revealed. I couldn’t help but groan as the sore parts of my body reacted to the movements. There were bite marks, minor cuts, lots of bruises, some felt as if they covered the length of me, but nothing to be concerned about. He had barely uttered a word since taking me in his arms. A few apologies as he removed bits of armor and I winced, but nothing more.
As I stood before him in nothing but my smalls, servants entered with warm water for the bath. They kindly averted their eyes from my near nakedness, and were gone as quickly as they arrived.
With a tender touch, he removed what was left of my clothing, dirty, well-fought-in garments, and then lifted me into his arms again in order to lower me into the tub. Taking a cloth, he washed me, taking special care to remove the grime from under my fingernails (it was ever so sweet), but avoided my eyes for a long time. The stress of my mission was clearly written on his features. He must have worried desperately at my return.
As was my way, I tried to bring levity to the situation. “Disappointed that you’ll have to follow through with that wedding after all?”
His eyes snapped up. He was not amused. “I feared the worst. I had reports of Amaranthine and Vigil’s Keep. I have been distraught for days awaiting word of your survival. Stuck in that bloody palace.” He stood up and paced. “All I could think was that I had let you go alone. That my promise to love you was conditional. I thought myself useless, a coward, unworthy of you…”
“Alistair, stop.” I was able to reach over the tub and grab his hand. It was all the effort I had left in me. He still averted his eyes.
“You are none of those things.” I pulled him towards me and held tight. “And I know your heart. It was my burden to bear, but I’m home now, as promised.”
I think it may have been the word home that finally drew his attention. He sank down to his knees and took my face in his hands. He kissed me hard, like he was reassuring himself of my existence. He sat back on his heels and I rested a hand upon his cheek. He looked so tired, and I found myself loathe to cause him any more suffering. I hated myself for continually causing him to look like this. “Let us strike a bargain, you and I,” I looked at him seriously and he raised an eyebrow in question. “Any future life or death adventures will be taken together.”
He cracked a small half smile. “Deal.” We shook on it.
“Now, if you wouldn’t mind washing the darkspawn muck out of my hair, I’d love to fall asleep in your arms.”
“As my lady commands.” He kissed the palm of my hand before taking his place to finish the task at hand.
I wrapped an arm up behind me and around him to bring him closer and whispered. “I will always return to you.”
He grabbed hold of me as best he could and rested his forehead on my shoulder. The next breath he took was rough, uneven. We stayed like that for a long moment. My breaths, on the other hand, became deeper as I found myself comforted in his embrace. It caused me to drift off. I felt him kiss my shoulder.
I struggled to keep my eyes open as he rinsed me off and helped me out of the tub. He wrapped me up and laid me on one of the settees near the fire. I barely recall him dressing me and putting me to bed. But I did remember the feeling of his arms around me as I nestled into his side, feeling the warmth of him, hearing his breaths evening out, his heart beating…
There was such a sense of being home. I couldn’t think of another word to describe it. It was the feeling I had long felt when in his presence. It was love, but more than that. I felt my heart tethered to his. I felt its pull, and I could hardly fathom how it had stretched as far as Kirkwall. Somehow it had become even stronger. Maybe it had been reinforced now that our mutual affection had been declared. It was the reassurance that we were in this together.
When I awoke it was nightfall. I had earned the rest, but I had to check on my friends and the state of things. My body ached. It would take a day or two, at least to feel myself again. And I was starving. I looked over and saw the sweet face of my love. Having me back by his side had diminished his stress, he looked content. I leaned over and kissed his cheek, and he barely stirred. He needed the rest as well, given his worry over my return.
I wasn’t wearing anything more than a shift, and I had no desire to worry about propriety in my own house, especially after the events we had endured, so I put on a robe, kept my feet bare and went to seek out those who could give me a report on the status of the keep and its people.
I found Captain Garevel. He looked exhausted, and a bit banged up, but no worse for wear. He had the unfortunate duty of informing me that Seneschal Varel had died during the siege. It was a blow I did not expect. He had become a trusted ally, a friend, and his calm demeanor and wise counsel would be missed. He would be honored for his service…I am deeply saddened…
Garavel then informed me of Oghren’s status. Apparently, he had singlehandedly taken on two ogres in order to defend others and had been unconscious for nearly a week. He lost a lot of blood and no one was certain of his awakening.
Anders was also to be commended. He had held off hundreds of darkspawn, and was currently resting close to Oghren in case he could assist him in anyway.
I made my way directly to them.
Anders and I hugged like old friends. I was relieved to find him unharmed. He looked a little drawn though. Some rest would do us all good. Oghren was pale and his breathing was shallow, but he was alive.
Two ogres. Alone.
He must have had a grand time in the heat of battle, and should he recover would boast about it for years. I would write to Felsi and inform her of his bravery and condition, should she wish to visit. Maybe hearing her voice and that of his child would stir him back to consciousness.
Velanna, I learned, had followed a band of darkspawn as they retreated, and defended a village from their attack. I was proud of her for putting aside her fear and hatred of shems in order to protect innocent lives from harm.
As I made my way back to the main hall, which had been set up as a makeshift infirmary, I looked at the many recognizable faces of my people. So many had perished in the battle, and they would be honored for their sacrifice, but many had survived and I was thankful to the Maker for that. I stopped by each one and offered a greeting, a thanks, well wishes, and the Maker’s protection. All of them. Whatever they needed.
My heart was heavy with the losses, and the long recovery ahead of so many. I loathed war and its consequences.
I made my way to the kitchens and found Nathaniel, Sigrun, and Justice reclining on the floor between the counters, a spread laid out before them, and a flagon of ale in each of their hands. They greeted me warmly and made space for me to join them. We hadn’t talked at any length on the journey back from the Wastes. I think we were too tired, too overwhelmed at what we had endured to think rationally. Now, we just sort of had this understanding. It bonded us, and no words were really necessary.
I held up my cup and offered them a wordless toast. We all smiled as our flagons met and clinked. And then we ate. Well, three of us ate while Justice just watched.
Kristoff’s body was becoming…there is no nice way to put the poor state of Kristoff’s body into words. The body had been dead for months, and a spirit trying to sustain it was no longer effective. It was a conversation we had had, the end of its journey. Justice was determined to visit Kristoff’s wife, to give her some peace, but afterward, he didn’t know what to do. Neither did I. Would it return to the Fade? I didn’t know how to return it there.
I made up a plate and returned to my room. There were months of restoration ahead of us, but right now, we needed rest. The battle was over.
~ * ~
Returning to my room and finding Alistair in my bed is a sight I won’t soon forget. After so much time denying what was between us, trying to do the “right” thing, pushing him away…he was mine. I was his. My heavy heart lightened at seeing him, filled with emotion. He had come to me.
He always came for me. Thinking on that now, I don’t know how I ever denied his love for me. He couldn’t say the words then, but it was true, his actions had spoken for him. I had been a fool to think otherwise.
Oh the things I wanted to do to him.
I smiled devilishly as I let my robe fall to the ground and crawled my way onto the bed and over him. Months of sleeping by his side. Desire building to feverish levels. Waiting for him to make a move. Not anymore. If I wanted him, he was going to have to get used to the idea that I was going to take him. I had to bite back the laugh at such a thought.
Hovering over him, I whispered, “My love?” He didn’t stir. I leaned down and kissed him lightly. His head, ever so slightly, twitched. I would have to be more bold. My mind went in a number of directions until I settled on letting my hands take action. I moved to sit alongside him and let one of my hands drift below the covers and under his breeches to take him in hand. My touch was faint, but it was enough to finally stir him. He gasped as I added pressure. I was leaving no room for misinterpretation.
Now that I had his attention, I lengthened the movements and he groaned. “Is this how you intend to wake me every morning?”
“If you so desire.” I replied with a husky tone in my voice.
He placed a hand to the back of my neck to draw me towards him, and as he did, met me to kiss me with longing. Now I found myself hungry for something else.
I followed him back and deepened the kiss, and let my hand pick up the pace. His hips bucked and he moaned into the kiss. I pulled back to watch his face contort in pleasure. “The last woman you ever wish to be with, huh?”
“I…should be…so lucky.”
We looked at one another as I continued my ministrations, and I found such satisfaction in watching him come undone, relishing his stutterings to the Maker. But I wanted all of him. It was selfish to want to hurry his end and it was selfish to want to be surrounded by him by sidetracking his sole pleasure, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that we had too long been separated and I wanted him. Nay. Needed him. But this was ever so much fun.
I felt like a raw edge. My body was consumed with a need, one I had felt before, but it seemed different now, deeper. Having experienced the little death twice already, I once again found myself easily at the edge, but I felt as if I were being pulled in multiple directions at once. I felt a rising in myself, one I wasn’t exactly sure of how it might manifest. It was too much – too much sensation, too much emotion. He held my legs as he continued, and feeling the strength of his passion, the depth of his desire, and the Warden stamina that could endure at such a pace – I felt like I was going to burst. And I couldn’t stop the clawing that was happening within me. It was like an unknown thing, a nameless creature that was pulling me apart.
My body spasmed and then I felt it. The sparks. They tickled my skin, flickered beneath the surface. The sensation was overwhelming and I reached out to cling to the man who had brought me to such a place. The mysterious element was apparently my drawing from the Fade as I dug deep into the primal realm where my magic was tethered. It was a complete loss of control. Light flashed before my eyes and crackled in my ears, and I heard Alistair gasp and then sigh as he clung to me and found his explosive end.
It, too, felt raw as he came undone.
When I could see clearly again, I saw how the electricity danced over our skin. It was both warm and cool, and prickled in the most delightful way. We held fast as the waves of pleasure slowed. My head was spinning, my heart was pounding, and my breaths were quick. Alistair’s breaths, too, were shallow, and his eyes darted about, distracted by the magic. It was unusual. And when our eyes finally met, we laughed softly, and then kissed with longing.
As I found myself grounded once more, the electricity ebbed.
I had never experienced anything like that before, obviously. The desire to be enveloped had been so great. The need to be one with him was a pull I had not felt that deep before. It was beyond primal. It had been so consuming it had frightened me, just slightly, not knowing, but somehow understanding that feeling of devastation was just lying in wait on the outskirts of such pleasure. It was an awakening. Who knew such bliss was to be found?
“Maker’s Breath! That was…” He was a loss for words.
“I know.” I leaned back, still trying to catch my breath.
He ran an unsteady hand down the center of my chest. Words were unnecessary at such a time as this. We just looked at one another in awe. There was something truly magical between us. There always had been. And I would show no mercy to those who foolishly tried to take him from me. I had always felt protective of him, but now, he was my home. He was more dear to me than my own flesh. I felt that tether between us tighten. There had to be a more all encompassing word than love for the way I felt about him.
“Can you carry me to bed? I’m not sure my legs will hold me.” I smiled. He looked wistful as he picked me up like a child. My legs were wrapped around him, and we were face to face. I could feel him shaking. “Are you all right?” I knew how the power of the moment had left me wrecked, but he was still upright.
“It wasn’t enough. I had buried myself within you, and yet you were still too far away. I was scared I would hurt you for want of you, and yet I couldn’t stop myself from taking you, again and again. And then you lit up, and I thought, I would happily burn with you, for you. I was, am scared of the force of my need for you.”
I shivered. “As I am of mine for you.” We kissed again, a sweet, simple kiss. I held his face in my hands and just looked at him. Was this us? Really and truly, unbridled us?
What a life we would lead.
He lowered me onto the bed and I took his hand to bring him with me. We snuggled together, fitting perfectly like two halves of a whole. How did I ever think I could let him go?
We talked about where we might like to live. There were so many other things to talk about, but after such exploration of love, the only thing I wanted to talk about was us. Throughout our travels we had seen many places that held beauty and privacy. We agreed that we wanted to remain close to town, but not too close as to be easily accessible. It needed to be somewhat defensible, but we didn’t want it to feel imposing. We wanted it to feel comfortable, like a refuge. I had liked the Hinterlands when I had passed through, and Redcliffe was nearby. There were also a few islands off the north and east coasts that might be provide exactly what we were looking for. Maybe a trip was in order.
It wasn’t long before I was asleep, and apparently, stayed asleep for nearly a day.
~ * ~
When I awoke the following afternoon, late afternoon, I was alone. I did feel more myself, thankfully. I dressed appropriately, and went in search of Alistair, and Garavel to determine a course of action. I stopped by the kitchens to make coffee, and ate something while it brewed. The keep was eerily quiet. Too many lives lost. It left me unsettled.
I took my coffee and walked about the keep to inspect the damage. The inner bailey was in pretty good shape. Some minor repairs would be needed, but the bulk of the attack had been focused on the outer courtyard. I found Nathaniel in one of the halls, staring at the painting of his mother. We had moved it to a more private corridor where he could reflect upon it at his leisure.
He stood ramrod straight, his hands behind his back. He looked like a noble. I sidled up beside him and we stood in silence for a long moment. “I owe you an apology.” His voice was low.
“Just one?” It was meant as a jest, but there was an undercurrent of seriousness to my reply. We had had a difficult start.
He mused. “This one is in particular reference to the comment I made about my grandfather, the Warden, and how I said he wouldn’t recognize the Order. I am proud to be counted among your Wardens. You are a good Commander, a remarkable woman, and a true friend.” He turned to face me.
“Thank you.” I knew we had become friends, but it was still nice to hear. I thread my arm through his and led him towards the main hall. “Now, aren’t you glad I didn’t kill you?”
He laughed. “This must be how your friend, Zevran feels.”
I sighed in affirmation. “Begrudgingly.” And together we laughed.
We entered the main hall to find most of my companions seated around a long table with Alistair at the head. They were eating and, from the look of it, enjoying pleasant conversation. My heart swelled that I had, again, found myself in such company. When I approached, Alistair stood and pulled out the seat beside him.
Nathaniel whispered, “So, the king, huh?
I couldn’t contain the delight that laced my voice. “Oh, yes.”
“And you thought your fighting days were done.”
“It’s a challenge they’ll regret.”
He chuckled. “I don’t doubt it.” He became wistful. “I’ll watch your back.”
I had to bite back the bright smile that wished to break free, and simply said, “Thank you.”
He gave me a wink in return.
I was indeed a lucky woman.
Alistair left the following morning after the ceremony for the fallen. We said our farewell in private. It was sweet and loving. With the darkspawn threat eliminated, we knew we could part without worry of what might happen in his absence. Currently, there were no more battles to be fought, no more threats to my well being or his. We were now on the other side. It was a strange, but welcome feeling.
I would travel to Denerim in a week to provide the court with a full account of the events in Amaranthine. It was important to spread word of the continued threat the darkspawn posed, but also of the heroics of the men and women who had fought against them. I would stay a fortnight and then Alistair would return with me for a few days and visit with the people of the arling. We would have to be strategic for the coming months to ensure our visits were seen as crown-related business, but they would all be a ploy, albeit still necessary, so that we could spend time together.
As Alistair was still a Warden, and as King, there were a number of opportunities for us to work together. We would find ways of making it work.
He suggested making me Court Enchanter. It was something they had in Orlais, and it was a vague position. We could make it into whatever we wanted and it was a way to keep me at court, by his side. I liked the idea, and once Amaranthine was stable, an option to revisit. As Arlessa, I also had reason to remain in the capital for long periods of time – petitioning the court, meeting with the bannorn, playing the game, it could all be used to our advantage.
And there was a wedding to plan. Not that it was going to be some grand affair. We talked about where we would like to celebrate the union, and we both decided on the Brecilian Forest. It was when we both felt those first stirrings of affection. It was also isolated and beautiful, when it wasn’t trying to kill us. Unfortunately, we knew it would be difficult to leave the palace unnoticed, and we needed to be strategic in order to uphold the secrecy. We settled on his room, after the household had retired. Not exactly the most romantic spot, but that didn’t matter. I could traipse through the connecting hallway and no one would be the wiser.
We also needed to find someone we could trust to perform the ceremony and keep it quiet, and there was only one person I knew who would be up to the task.
She was great at keeping secrets, and was a member of the Chantry. Whether or not it would be “official” was irrelevant, it would be official for us. And it would be nice to have someone we know preside over the ceremony and bear witness to the occasion. I will write to her, soon, of course in completely coded language. There will be no evidence left for someone to uncover, to use against us or exploit us with. No one outside the three of us will have any knowledge, not even a whisper of an idea.
This journal remains in my bag at all times, which remains with me. I already have it in my head that after the wedding, after I write my thoughts and relish the moment, that I will destroy the evidence. The incriminating pages will be removed, securing Alistair’s safety and his legacy. While he still protests, I have been able to persuade him to acquiesce to the necessity of concealment, for a number of reasons. It will be our secret.
Let them call me mistress, or whatever degrading term they wish. I will know the truth, and their words will fall upon deaf ears. I know it will bother Alistair, to hear them refer to me as such, but it will only reflect their pettiness, their smallness. I may even find the challenge of putting them in their place amusing.
~ * ~
It has been some time since I have sat with my thoughts. Much has happened. With restoration efforts underway, Warden business, and the constant travel to and from the capital to visit with my fiancé (the word still makes me smile), the last two months have flown by.
The inquest into Alistair’s lineage provided no concrete evidence, as Eamon foretold. The treacherous nobles have lost on that account.
Eamon has abdicated his position as Arl of Redcliffe in favor of Teagan, who was warmly welcomed by the people as they remembered his time helping to defend them during the siege.
I have promoted Captain Garavel to Seneschal. He has proven himself a capable and trustworthy ally and more than deserving of the post. He has the respect of the soldiers, knowledge of the inner workings of the keep and the arling, and is now the other keeper of Warden secrets. Together we sat looking over Varel’s notes and he wondered if he was up to the task. He reminded me of me, when I became Commander, and I knew then that he was the right choice.
Anders has traveled to the Circle to discuss the Architect, and he went willingly, knowing they could not keep him, but teased that he would not return to us. He returned in less than two months. He has been training new Warden mage recruits, but I have a mission for him. I am secretly sending him to Kirkwall to keep an eye on Marian. I will not be able to travel with her into the Deep Roads given my duties at home, and I will not let her go without a Warden. He is also now in possession of the spirit, Justice. It was time for it to leave Kristoff, and so after a visit to Kristoff’s wife, Anders offered himself as a new vessel. I’m not sure what this will mean in the future.
It is my hope that Wynne can offer more insight. I eagerly await her letter.
Nathaniel has dedicated himself to the Order in an effort to restore honor to the Howe name. He even saved Fergus Cousland from bandits after he visited us, and as a thank you, a portion of Amaranthine was gifted back to the Howe family. Nate has given it to his young nephew and is already designing plans for the ideal castle. He has become my right hand, and as I navigate the hierarchy within the Order, the fancy titles, and such, in addition to another restoration, he is to be promoted as my second.
I have encouraged Oghren to stay with us and to continue to be a part of his child’s life. He writes to Felsi almost every week, and I always proofread them. Whenever he feels like being stubborn, which is often, he reminds us of the time he took on two ogres all by himself and how everyone now calls him a hero, and we all just shake our heads. He still drinks too much, but surprisingly it is much less. I think his brush with death has changed him, if ever so slightly.
Sigrun still makes jokes about “the walk” due her calling and randomly disappears, but she always returns, at least so far. When she suggests it’s once again time to head into the Deep Roads in search of her death, I find an “urgent” matter for her to attend to. I’m hoping, in time, this desire fades. I enjoy her company and appreciate her dedication. I think she is adorable, even with all the talk of marching off to her end.
The war devastated a number of farms, but the people have been kind and thankful for our support and protection. It could have been much worse. The details of the events have been spread around Thedas, and donations have begun to arrive to rebuild the city and the Keep. It has been a surprising turn of events. New recruits have started to arrive as well. There has been much to do.
~ * ~
It was during this interim, I finally chose to read Cullen’s letters. After our farewell in Amaranthine, the one in which he kissed me like…I don’t even know how to describe that kiss. It was representative of the passion between us, and he was reminding me of that, in light of my betrothal. It was like a brand, and whenever I thought of it, my lips twitched.
But back to the letters.
He had told me that the first two had been written when he thought I had perished against the archdemon. I had long feared the emotions, the anger contained within them, and avoided reading them. Then, while in Denerim, I worried about being caught with them, and finally ignored them out of the concern what they would do to my heart after so long and everything that had transpired between us, and then with Alistair.
The first letter. It was short. Filled with emotion and disbelief. He couldn’t fathom the possibility that I would have fallen, not after everything else I had survived. Despite the overwhelming odds, and the brute force an archdemon commanded and held, he was certain I had overcome such adversity. And even though he had come to learn that the Warden that defeated the archdemon went down with their enemy, and even though he had learned that Alistair had survived to become king, he would not believe that I had gone to the Maker’s side. He finished the letter by asking me to hasten word of my survival to him, but he hadn’t sent it.
Maybe it was because he had succumbed to the darkness my unsubstantiated death had caused.
The second letter was longer, and quite different in tone. Even the script looked different. It started off like a letter, addressed to me, but mid-way through, the letter became more like a journal entry, a private missive. He mentioned how it had been about a week since he wrote the previous letter. Refugees had continued to come to the city, and he could learn nothing about the events that ended the Blight. There was no word of the Wardens, and this lack of information was so infuriating, he was considering returning to Ferelden to discover the truth on his own. He had written to his previous commander, Greagoir at the Circle, hoping he might enlighten him to the situation, but with things as they were, he was certain there would be no post for at least a month. He hated waiting in uncertainty.
Then there was the shift and he referred to me in the third person. The sentences blurred together. There was no punctuation, as the further he delved into his thoughts, the longer he sat with the unknown, the more erratic it all became. There were regrets of the things he had said, and those he hadn’t. There was remorse laced throughout.
It made me uncomfortable. It made me sad for him. When we were reunited in Kirkwall, he still had not learned of my surviving the final fight, and he was a changed man. The emotional journey he must have had to endure, and then to see me out of the blue, to make that shift, he was a stronger person than I even thought possible. It was no wonder that my leaving had been a setback.
Of course, he had nowhere to send either letter, and so he had kept them. They must have felt like a weight, even if he were able to relieve himself of some of the burden…I was surprised he hadn’t burned them.
Before I had arrived in Kirkwall, the interactions we had shared were limited, to say the least. To read so much emotion, to feel his regrets that there hadn’t been more time together, more familiarity, it made me realize how long he had held that torch. It also gave me more perspective into his longings. He wanted a relationship. He wanted someone to care for him and someone to care for. He loved his family, but he had long been removed from them, and as he matured, realized that a more deeply connected relationship was something he truly desired. Maybe he had placed more attachment upon me because of the restrictive nature our positions created, but maybe it was more than that.
Desire did strange things, and unrequited for any length of time may have altered his perception. Then there was the torture and being forced to face his inner torment of pining for a mage.
There was a moment he mused about watching me in the library. He made note of how he remembered how I looked while reading, the gentle way my hands held the books, turned the pages. He reminisced about how I kept to myself, but would turn soft, smiling eyes to him when I felt his presence. He liked how rarely he had seen that look given to others in the Circle. Despite everything he had been taught, how the Order had reiterated time and time again the threat mages possessed, and despite the few words that had ever passed between us, he loved me.
It was a lot to come to terms with.
Even though I knew the two other letters were written in a better frame of mind, I could not bring myself to read them just yet. I needed to sit with this. I needed to feel the scope of emotion that dripped from my friend’s fingers, the depth of his soul. This wasn’t a novel I was apt to read, this was a part of my life and in part, consequences of my actions. I had to own up to the resulting anguish I caused.
I had been in my study, but now I found it too confining. I stared at the chair where I had seduced Alistair, feeling crushed under the weight of my regrets. I needed fresh air.
I had sought solace there on many an occasion, I had a number of memories of it already, but it was one of my favorite places in the keep. As I crossed the main floor, I saw Nathaniel and Garavel talking. It was late in the day, they were most likely recounting their duties and those tasks that still required attention. I gave them a passing glance and continued on.
Nathaniel had become pretty adept at reading my moods. It wasn’t too long after, while I was sitting on one of the walls chastising myself for all my past mistakes, that Nathaniel sat beside me. He cocked an eyebrow in my direction. He didn’t need to say a word.
“Oh no. This is my burden to bear.”
“You say that quite often.”
“And it’s most often times true.”
“And what is it this time?” Nathaniel produced a flask from inside his vest. Popping the top, he took a swig and then offered it to me. I needed it, and so I took a big sip, enjoying the warmth of the liquid as it made its way, softening the anxious edges.
“For all my good deeds and talk of honor and all that, I have made some egregious errors where some of my dearest friends are concerned.”
“Can I count myself among them?” He looked genuinely curious, and there was an undercurrent of vulnerability.
I looked at him, in all seriousness, thinking of how we began and where we were now. I trusted him as much as any of my other friends. He had truly proven himself. And I know we were both surprised by the ease of our friendship. “Of course.”
“I have no complaints, if that helps.” He offered me a small smile, and I nodded my appreciativeness of his compliment. “So?”
I took another swig and then handed his flask back. Nathaniel and I had shared a number of stories during our time together, so while he knew of the events in the Circle, he didn’t know the personal aspect of what happened with Cullen and I. And he wasn’t going to learn of that now either. Our relationship had been discussed (hypothesized, inflated, imagined) thoroughly enough while he visited. “I just read two letters Cullen wrote to me, when he thought I had fallen after the fight against the archdemon. They are dark…not at all like the man I know. To read his words, to know the depths of his pain, to know I have spurned his affections…we were good together in Kirkwall, and I feel a deep regret for setting him aside. It also explains how I found him when I arrived. And then I think on Alistair, and all we have been through, the things we endured, and that we were able to come back to one another, but also how I lied to him, abandoned him…
I have found it difficult to forgive myself for these errors in judgment. I thought myself a good person. I rose to the challenge of defeating a great enemy, and to protecting those I care about, but I can’t seem to hold onto those thoughts when two of the most important people to me have been irreparably damaged because of my actions. I feel deeply ashamed of my abuse of these two, I feel unworthy, and worse still when they declare their love.”
Nate took a deep breath. “I did not like you when we first met.” I feigned surprise to which he laughed. “I know. But we’ve spent about six months together now, and I think I understand you. Your upbringing did nothing for your self esteem. You’ve been told your entire life that you’re dangerous, not to be trusted. You aren’t allowed to have real relationships, you weren’t even allowed out of the Circle, like they allow in some of the others. My sister couldn’t get enough of those star crossed lover stories when she was younger, similar to the whole mage-Templar thing. It’s forbidden, tempting, and from what I know of the man, I understand the draw.
And then there was your fellow Warden. Life and death situations at every turn. You were thrust together, bonded in friendship and the camaraderie of the Order, so it’s natural deeper feelings would develop, which can’t be swayed by circumstance – like potentially becoming king – so you couldn’t change your heart once it had already turned. So you fell, for two men who should have been out of reach, and they fell for you too. And I can see why. Had you met me during my more impetuous days, you would not have escaped my own advances so easily.” He laughed to himself. A private joke acknowledging how far he’d come.
“You’re too hard on yourself. We are all fairly terrible the first go around. And look at where you are now – you have love, friendship, respect – you’ve changed the heart of an assassin, you’re greatly admired by a qunari, and even a traitor’s son.” He gave me a sideways grin.
“You know, it smiles like that which got me into trouble in the first place. It’s a good thing my heart lies elsewhere, and your impetuous days are behind you.” We both laughed. “Thank you, Nate. I made a joke once that I lacked experience, but it sounded hollow given all I had accomplished, but you’re right. I was never taught, let alone allowed to experience anything where the heart was concerned. How could I navigate something so complex? There was no one to show me the way, and so I blundered about, probably making things worse, but maybe I’ve finally come out right.”
“You’ll always care for him. He’ll always hold a special place in your heart, and given time, it won’t hurt to such a degree.”
“How do you know so much? How impetuous were you?” I raised an eyebrow.
“It’s probably a good thing I left country.” His laugh was a little uneasy and he took another swig from his flask.
I felt a little better having talked it out with Nathaniel, but Cullen’s pain was like a scar upon my heart. Learning the depth of his affection, how it had weighed upon him. It left me unsettled. I truly hoped, in the near future, we could be friends once more, but until then, I think I will miss him everyday. I hate goodbyes.
Leliana arrives this week, so I have traveled back to Denerim. I am giddy in anticipation of seeing her and becoming Alistair’s wife. It’s almost strange to find such levity after everything that has happened, but such is life. It is time to look to the future.
~ * ~
Alistair and I were working in his study when word of her ship’s arrival came to us. Excitedly, I jumped up and practically ran out of the palace. Alistair laughed as I made my way out, calling out behind me that he would anxiously await our return. I blew him a kiss over my shoulder and continued on.
I was still a curiosity to the citizens, and so Alistair required that at least a couple of guards attend me whenever I left the palace. They were in disguise, so as not to draw attention to themselves, and thereby offered me a shield of protection that most would be unaware even existed. They could protect me, if necessary, but also offered a warning system of sorts. If my guards were engaged, I would know to defend myself. I walked to the dock with purpose, knowing they would fall in line around me.
The dock was busy at this time of day – ships arriving and departing, workers and fishermen loading or unloading goods, and other people awaiting the arrival of their loved ones or waving farewell. I rose up on tip toe to peek over heads in search of a redhead among them. I didn’t see her lovely head, but I did see the movements of a particular hooded figure weaving through the crowd and knew instantly that it was her. She had that way about her. I edged through to meet her.
When we were almost face to face I said, “Welcome home!”
I saw her breathe a sigh of relief and then smile. She looked burdened, troubled, and when we embraced I felt the tension release, ever so slightly. “I am so happy to see you again, my friend.” Her voice still had that sing-song quality.
“Me too. I’m thrilled you were able to come for a visit.” I took her by the arm, and together we made our way back to the palace.
Without even looking around, she asked, “And who are your companions?”
“An extra layer of protection, just in case.”
“So there has been an incident that now requires such?”
“Well, you know me. I’m always the center of attention.” I scoffed.
She mused, “Yes, you are rather popular.” She gave me a cursory glance. “You look…happy.”
“I am. I thwarted the recent darkspawn uprising…”
She interrupted, “That would not add the glow I see upon your cheek.”
I bit back my smile. She was always so insightful. I looked around casually for eavesdroppers. The district was bustling, but we were well out of earshot. “We wanted someone we could trust with us…”
“When you take your vows?” My mouth dropped and I stuttered. “Of course you want to marry him. And he you. I’m glad to see you’ve both finally come around and put all this back and forth nonsense behind you.” She smiled teasingly. “I am delighted and honored you wish me to be a part of it.”
“You are like a sister to me, and there isn’t anyone else I wanted more by our side.” I held her tighter against me. “I’m so happy you’re here.”
I could still feel the tension in her. “What troubles you?”
She forced a smile. “Nothing. I am well.”
“I am not questioning your health, but your mind.”
“Work has been, on occasion, stressful, but I enjoy it. It’s just nice to get away for a short time.”
“You enjoy it?”
“It was like our time on the road. We were doing important work. It was scary at times, but it was necessary. I’m just moving about a larger map now.” She squeezed my arm. “I’m fine. Promise.”
I scrutinized her face, but she was excellent at hiding her true emotions. Maybe after a few days in my company again, she would be more honest with me. For now, I would take her at her word.
Upon returning to the palace, we found Alistair waiting for us. Leliana first greeted him as her king, then embraced him like her friend. It made my whole being happy to have her by my side again, to see her, and feel her love and friendship. It had only been about six months since we last saw one another, but so much had happened, clearly for both of us.
That night we enjoyed a quiet dinner all together. She told us of her work and we each shared with her what had been happening in her absence. We stayed up late, talking for hours. The following day, Leliana and I made our way to a dressmaker’s shop where, under the guise of buying her new clothes, I picked up my wedding dress. I had ordered it special, and to the outside world it was just a shopping trip and a gift for a friend. Since we were of a similar build, again, no one would be the wiser.
Leliana gently ran her fingers over the delicate fabric and looked up at me with genuine delight. “It’s beautiful.”
I smiled brightly in return.
That night after dinner, she and I retired to my room where we readied ourselves for the ceremony. We laughed and talked while enjoying a glass of wine. My hair had grown a little over the past few months, so she was able to pin it up into a more fashionable style. She hummed as she had always done, and it brought me great pleasure at being able to hear it again. She added just hints of color to my features, and then helped me dress. She clasped Wynne’s necklace for me and then topped it all off with a floral wreath upon my head that she had fashioned earlier that afternoon.
She wore one of her Chantry gowns, and we both giggled at seeing her in them again. She was better suited for armor plating. When I was ready, she looked at me and welled up. “You are stunning.”
I blushed. There had only been a few moments in my life when I felt beautiful, but when I looked in the mirror, what was reflected back was indeed lovely. Maybe it was the love and excitement beaming from me. I was about to take an oath to love that man until the end. It was just another place I had never expected to find myself, but here we were.
I will be sad to destroy these pages.
Together we walked down the hidden hallway, and she laughed to herself saying that she couldn’t believe how she had missed it. She entered Alistair’s chamber first, leaving me to wait in the shadows. She said it would be more effective if I entered on my own. I knew she meant the effect my appearance would have on Alistair. She went ahead to ensure the readiness of the room and the groom.
I didn’t have to wait long, but as the moments passed, I grew nervous. I could feel my heart beat stronger, my mouth dried, my palms sweat. What did I know about being a wife? Especially a secret one? What did it truly mean to devote one’s life to another? There was a life we wanted to build, but could we? Would they allow any divergence to their plans for him? Nathaniel had joked about the fight ahead, I suppose we would soon discover what that meant, for them and us. But we would be together. We would fight together. My nerves settled.
I swallowed hard, reassured in my love for him that we only had this one life to live and that we had decided to travel it together, side by side. My heart swelled with such promise.
And then Leliana returned. “We are ready for you.”
I entered Alistair’s room and gasped, delighted. The room was alight with dozens of candles and somehow they had brought in flowers, lots of flowers. Their light scent filled the air. Alistair was dressed in one of his finest doublets but little adornment. He was simply a man getting married. My smile was wide, and a little embarrassed as I caught his reaction to me. His face was full of wonder, his eyes full of love, and I heard his breath catch.
The candles led to the center of the room and were placed in a large semi-circle. I walked towards him slowly, relishing in every moment as I stepped closer towards my destiny. It was what I had long hoped for, and was so thankful to the Maker for allowing us to come back to. Our eyes were locked on one another, and I drifted towards him as if in a dream. He took a few steps forward, once he regained his senses, and took my hands in his. Leading me back to the center of the room, we stood facing one another.
“Hi.” He stuttered.
I smiled again. “Hi.”
“You are beautiful. That’s not quite the right word, is it?” He looked to Leliana, who chuckled softly.
I squeezed his hands in reassurance.
“Let us begin.” Leliana started. Leliana spoke about how she had been lucky to bear witness to our blossoming relationship, and the ups and downs. She said it was important for relationships to endure trials and hardships, for they were the basis to a stronger foundation, adding that an integral part was also our friendship. The Warden motto mentioned sacrifice, and she connected that to our relationship and what we had been willing to do to protect the other, and that while some may consider those actions dangerous, it was our willingness to go to great lengths for the other that had made us who we are. It was our devotion that had allowed us to overcome great odds.
She spoke of the Maker’s grace in guiding us through those dark times so that we could now focus on a brighter future together, and then she asked us the questions that were asked within a marriage ceremony. Alistair had given me forewarning since having lived in the Circle, there were no such ceremonies to attend. We also decided that after the traditional ceremony, when we were alone, that we would say our own vows to one another. Then taking a long length of fabric, she tied our hands together in a symbolic display of two souls becoming one.
And then she pronounced us husband and wife, and said to kiss as a final show of our union. It was our first kiss as a wedded couple, and it was sweet and full of love. We pulled back and looked at one another in a sort of awe, then he wrapped me in a tight embrace and lifted me off my feet. He groaned in such a blissful satisfaction that it caused me to giggle. Leliana joined in, and together we grabbed her and pulled her into our celebratory embrace.
We shared a glass of wine to mark the occasion and we thanked her for her kind words and generous spirit. She had done us a great service and Alistair was adamant that she allow him to offer her some boon, anything she wanted. She smiled deviously as she pondered the idea of having limitless options, but she simply replied that there was nothing she needed beyond our continued happiness. I audibly sighed, and Alistair replied that the invitation would remain open. She delighted in that knowledge.
A short time later, she excused herself, leaving via the secret passage, and then we were alone.
He took my hands and helped me to stand with him. Standing before the fire, he produced two rings, a simple band for himself, and a more ornate one for me. It was an elegant band with a sparkling turquoise colored jewel. It was eye-catching.
“But I already have a ring.” I protested. Such a gift was too much, even for our wedding.
“They each have different meanings.”
I watched in fascination as he slipped the ring upon my finger. It glinted in the light, and would be hard to miss. I mimicked his action and the smile upon seeing that ring upon his finger…priceless. We had written our vows together. We would each speak the words, words I never expected to hear, and they would solidify our union.
“I choose you. I will be your sanctuary, your home, where you will always find peace, love, and laughter. I love you for who you are now and for who you are yet to become. I will share in your triumphs and your trials. I will be your confidant, your counsel, and your friend. You are more precious to me today than yesterday. It is your face I wish to close my eyes to each night and wake up to each day. It is in your eyes and by your side I see my future.”
When I looked up into his eyes, I hoped he could feel the love I have for him. “I am your wife.”
He touched my cheek. “I am your husband.”
He took one of my hands and spun me away from him. “It is traditional to have a dance during the celebrations.” He said as he continued to spin me about the room and into his arms. He lifted me up and held me close, and because he was making up the steps as he went along, I had to try not to trip over my own feet, and it just made me laugh. So did he. He pulled me into his arms and together we swayed. He hummed a tune I didn’t recognize and we relished the moment.
Gone was all the hesitation, the doubt, and regret. Gone were the worries, the hold ups, and outside influences. It truly was a new beginning for us, and this was how it was always meant to be. His kind, light hearted nature had returned, and he looked like himself, the man I had fallen in love with. The crown may be heavy, but now he wouldn’t have to bear it alone. I would help to carry his burden.
“I was unhappy, deeply so, a few years ago, believing I would have to devote myself to the Chantry, and yet I am overjoyed to find myself devoted to you.”
I pulled away from him to look at his sweet face. “How lucky are we that Duncan found us?!”
“Indeed. Remember his last words to us? That he expected us to be worthy of the Grey Warden title. I wonder what he would think of us now?”
“Hmm…I think he would be quite satisfied knowing that we are still together, watching over the people.”
“Yes, I believe he would be.” He kissed the tip of my nose, and then spun me again. When he pulled me back in, there was such a look upon his face.
“Promise me you’ll look at me like this at least once a day.”
His laugh was breathy. “I promise. As long as you promise to tell me you love me just as often.”
I kissed him lightly. “I promise.”
We danced a little longer, until our dance became seductive and we started to kiss with more intensity, then with gentle, yet urgent hands, he unpinned my hair and helped me out of my dress. It pooled at my feet and he just looked at me. He touched the arrow scars on my chest, then thumbed the scar from the spider’s impalement. He circled me, letting his touch linger as he did so. It sent little shivers across my flesh. He traced the scar on my shoulder. “Kirkwall?”
“When I helped Fenris.”
He kissed it, then continued his exploration. There were other small scars to discover. I had fought a lot recently. And I remembered each one. Some were barely visible anymore, having not been very deep or since I had been quick to take a healing potion. He found himself slightly irritated by the sight, thinking had he been by my side, I would be in better shape. Maybe he was right. While I had good people around me, when Alistair had been by my side, I had been less inclined to be in the middle of the fight. I needed to be able to watch the whole field so I could protect him and the others. I had been more careless recently. I hadn’t felt as protective of my new friends.
I didn’t like that thought.
I still watched over them, but it had been my liking of Alistair that changed my perspective on the battlefield. And then when I learned he could be king…that truly had changed everything. But that aside, he had always had his shield ready to protect me as well. Like when we ran across the bridge to the Tower of Ishal. We had only just met and he had shielded me, multiple times. Maybe then it was, in part, due to our new status as brother and sister in arms, I had been the only one to survive the Joining, but after those couple of days together, I already knew I liked him.
And though I didn’t wish to give his fears any ground to stand on, I did have to admit that he may be right. There would be no more secrets or deceptions between us. I would no longer hide my feelings or keep things from him in an effort to protect him. We were in this together now, permanently and forever. Goodness, that made my heart soar. “You may be right.” I acquiesced. “I was a more careful fighter when I had you to watch over.”
He pulled off his doublet in a huff. “I only have these.” He pointed to his arrow scars. “And we got them together.”
I couldn’t help but smile. It was like he was insinuating that they were something that bound us together. I suppose they did. We had nearly died that day. I hadn’t thought of that overwhelming moment in some time. I had watched him fall, and had tried to shield him. We had fallen side by side – I remember him reaching out for me, even then.
He continued, “I barely have another scratch on me.” I didn’t know what sort of response to give him, so I just sort of shrugged. I had done everything I could to protect him and keep him from harm. “I will always regret not protecting you in the Deep Roads…” He touched the scar again. “I will let no further harm come to you.”
“My love, we are in the business of fighting, and we were very lucky on our journey.” I took his hand in mine. “There were so many opportunities for us to fail, and fall, and I know we survived and triumphed because we were together. There may yet be more fights ahead, I mean, I hope those days are behind us, but I promise you that I will always do whatever is necessary to return to you. These scars are reminders that I must be more vigilant.”
His eyes softened, but his voice was stern. “I will let no further harm come to you. As your king and your husband…”
I started to laugh. “Don’t even think about it.”
He blushed. “Yeah, who am I to command the Hero of Ferelden?”
I raised an eyebrow. “You could try to command me to take off your trousers.”
His eyes went wide. “Would that work?”
I smiled wide. “I said you could try.” I leaned in to kiss him, but he pulled away slightly.
“So you’re saying you’ll pick and choose when to obey an order?” Now he was teasing.
“You made me the leader long ago, so yes. I always made the final decision, but you’re right. You are my king, and my beloved husband, and I should do my best to fulfill your desires.” I teased back, my voice growing husky. It was a challenge, a fun one.
He audibly swallowed, and then rose to the challenge. His voice was assured. “Take off my trousers.”
“As you command.” I kept my face neutral as I undid the lacing at the front then slid my hands under the fabric and around to his buttocks to slide the trousers down. I then took a step back, waiting for the next instruction.
“Kiss me.” His voice had taken on that tone when he found himself aroused.
“How?” I was enjoying this game.
“As if you desire only me.”
That was bold. I had never told him that I had shared a final kiss with Cullen before he returned to Kirkwall. Cullen would always be a sensitive subject for Alistair, as the Landsmeet was for me, and so I think, for some time, until he was more assured of our relationship, that my sweet husband might be skeptical of my full desire of and for him. And so, I would devour him.
I kissed him hard while pushing him towards the wall near the fireplace. I slid my body along his and kissed him with wanton desire. It was deep and consuming, and it wasn’t long until we were both moaning and pulling at one another. That warm, gnawing feeling in my lower region was growing, and his own arousal was making itself known, so I pulled away. He looked dazed in response.
“What is your next command?” I asked breathlessly.
He chuckled as he touched his lips, and then he looked up at me with fire in his eyes. “Tell me that you love me.”
I took a breath, in part to not make it sound like an automatic response, but also because in that moment, everything about “us” came rushing forward. “I love you.”
“Tell me that you want me.”
I felt the flicker of a smile tug at one side of my lips, but I reined it in and looked at him in all seriousness. “I want you.”
“Lay down by the fire.”
As gracefully as I could, I sat down and then laid back. I propped myself up on my elbows and watched him settle at my feet. I would not make any move without his instruction. This was just too much fun.
“Bend your knees and lie back.” I did as he asked, and then he was between my legs. He took one leg and kissed and nibbled his way up from my ankle to the inside of my thigh, brushing past my center before making his way down the other.
I felt satiated, but still wanted more. Andraste’s knickers! When would it ever be enough?
I was still seated on his lap, my forehead on his shoulder while trying to catch my breath, and he was running his hands up and down my spine. Was this how we would spend all our free time? Always chasing that feeling? Wanting to be connected? Never having enough? Was I going to have to perpetually draw strength from the Fade to find the energy to continue further rounds of lovemaking?
I stifled the giggle.
He turned my face. “Does something amuse you?”
I was almost embarrassed to admit such, but when I saw the confusion written on his face, I didn’t want him to think anything except that I still wanted him. “I want more.” I licked his lips and then bit his bottom lip.
He sighed with satisfaction. “As do I. Are you sure we won’t set the house on fire?”
“I can make no such promises.”
He laughed while standing up with me in his arms. I wrapped my legs around him and nuzzled his neck. He tossed me onto the bed in a playful way before descending upon me. And that was how we spent our first night as a wedded couple – playful banter mixed with languid or vigorous lovemaking, entwined in one another’s arms, relishing in the knowledge that we now belonged to one another. We drank wine and fed one another treats, finding every action romantic and sensual.
“So it appears you do enjoy being in charge.” I teased.
“That was fun.” He chuckled. “And you obeyed.”
“This time.” I popped a grape in my mouth, and he laughed again.
He suddenly turned somber. “I can’t believe I almost lost you.”
I wanted to keep the mood light, but there had been too many close calls. I couldn’t help but respond with, “Which time?” And added a soft chuckle for good measure.
“After the bloody Landsmeet. How did I ever let those weak, frightened, petty men sway me from you?”
I never wished to speak of that day again. Did I not just mention how this was a sensitive subject? It was the moment he broke my heart and changed things, almost forever. He regretted it immediately, but the damage had been done and it had taken a very long time to forgive him. And myself for putting him in that position in the first place. I had felt so betrayed, so unworthy, so unloved. It still caused my heart to clench in distress.
He saw me tense and, pushing the plates aside, drew me closer. “Forgive me. I didn’t bring this up to relive that awful moment. I’m just in awe that after such stupidity, I am lucky enough to have you in my arms, and because I have been thinking about our future.”
I audibly swallowed and looked up into his eyes with trepidation. “In what regard?” My voice sounded small.
He kissed my temple, and the look of tenderness he gave me helped to relieve some of the residual pain the memory caused. It was still like a raw nerve, after all this time, after all his words, even after the promise we had just made to one another. I could still feel the wound in the center of my chest.
“When the Calling comes, we’ll find ourselves drawn to the Deep Roads…”
“I do not wish to talk about our deaths on the night of our wedding.” I interrupted.
“I should have began this whole line of thought differently.” He chastised himself. “On that dreadful day, I was given the idea that I needed to have an heir.”
“Oh, I remember.” I replied sarcastically.
He was snuggled between my legs and he gave me a pleading look, one that begged me to listen to his rationale. “The more I thought about it, the less inclined I was to follow such a path. I do not wish to succumb to the taint, leaving a child behind. In some time, I will abdicate the throne, and we will live the remainder of our lives quietly together, wherever you want.”
I was completely dumbstruck. “Abdicate?”
“We talked about this, our shortened lifespans. I want some of my remaining years to be lived how I choose. All the decisions about my life have been made for me, save one. Thought to be his bastard, I was forced to live in Eamon’s stables, then because of that same belief, sent to the Chantry to become a Templar. I was conscripted to become a Warden, and maneuvered to take the crown. The only decision I’ve been able to make for myself is asking you to be my wife and I’d like us to have a life away from all of this.” He sort of looked around at our surroundings. “Teagan will most likely marry, and he is well loved. He was brother to the Queen and would make a more than suitable successor. Although I’ve learned that Anora is technically my heir, for now.”
“You have given this some thought.” I marveled.
He sighed in agreement. “What do you think?”
He was right. His life had been decided for him, and he deserved the opportunity to live some of it as he desired. If he wanted to travel the whole of Thedas or settle in some remote location, I would happily remain by his side and help him seek out the happiness he had earned. I put my hands through his hair and said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
His eyes lit up. “Really?”
He kissed me then. It was one of those kisses we had often shared when making a promise to one another. In a dozen years or so, before we became too altered to enjoy ourselves, we would leave this world behind to forge a new path. We would do what we could in the meantime to leave it better than we had found it, but then it would be up to others to continue its course. It was something to look forward to anyway.
He continued to move forward so that I had to lean back, and hovering above me, I saw the devious glint in his eye. He moved his hips against mine, kissed me with longing once more, then let his lips travel to my neck. His one hand traveled down my body to settle at my center and soon enough we were both straining against one another as we dove head first into that whirlwind of pleasure again.
Leliana had to return to her duties by week’s end, but while she was with us, we spent all our time together. Having her visit had given me hope that we would see the others in time.
Our farewell was less emotional this time. There was so much potential, possibility, and the sadness I had once felt, no longer seemed so heavy. I also gave her a peek in my boot, where I always carried one of her gifts to me, the dagger. Concealed under my robes, even the lovely ones, it gave her a measure of peace that a piece of her, at least in spirit, was always with me. We promised to see one another again soon. Our adoration for one another could survive the distance, but oh, how delightful it was to have her with me again.
And then there was Alistair, my husband. (Yes, I will keep writing it and reveling in it for it brings me joy, and since I will have to destroy any hints at the truth of our relationship, I will continue to use it in private until that time to enjoy it to its fullest extent.) In the interim of duties, and this new, happy position, he found himself unable to control himself.
Alistair couldn’t get enough during what he called the “honey moon” phase. Apparently, newly wedded couples had an opportunity to spend some time alone together – it’s usually during this time that their first child would be conceived – but we didn’t have such luxury, of being alone. Not yet anyway. Perhaps once we found our own home. Regardless, it was as if Alistair were trying to achieve that same goal. Each night for a week he sought out pleasure and brought me my own, multiple times.
I wanted us to be careful, but the more pleasure he was given, the more he seemed to want, and usually at inappropriate times. There were stolen kisses, lingering looks, and fondles at the dining table. It was as if he were obsessed, and while flattering, to feel so desired, I urged caution while we were still so new to our positions and surrounded by so many who still sought our removal. Our relationship was meant to be kept secret, but it was like he was daring the outside world to catch us.
One late afternoon while we were in his study, I was standing beside him when suddenly I found his hand running up my inner thigh, under my skirt. He leisurely stroked my center while continuing to read the report upon his desk. I swayed and then most deviously, he too made his way under my skirt and sent me spiraling with his mouth, knowing the entire time, Eamon was to meet with us shortly. He had that look upon his face during the meeting, the one Wynne had said looked like the cat that had the cream. Satisfied. And a little bit arrogant knowing he had gotten away with something, and seeing that blush upon my cheek.
Well, two could play at that game.
For days I tried to put him into a compromising position of his own, but was unsuccessful. It then became a challenge, a game, but there were less opportunities to get him back as the palace grew quiet with the nobles leaving for their own lands temporarily, and the arrival of dignitaries had slowed, for the following month was the anniversary of the ending of the Blight and celebrations were planned, so the city would be bustling soon enough again. I suppose I could play a long game and catch him completely off guard. He would presume a quick retaliation for his efforts, but he underestimated my ability to be patient. I was a Circle mage. I knew how to bide my time.
But of course, I, too had to leave soon after. My duties at the Keep could not be put off any longer. Most of my communications were directed to me at the palace, but there were a great many tasks that required my attention, and I was still Commander despite my new title of wife.
We were in my room on the morning of my departure. We had enjoyed a thorough lovemaking session and Alistair was still in bed, lying on his back, one arm behind his head, and the sheet haphazardly resting across his lap. I was up, getting ready, but every so often my eyes would settle on the lovely bits of him exposed to me. It had only been a fortnight since we promised ourselves to one another, and he had ravaged me to the point of exhaustion on many an occasion, but as hungry as he was for me, I could say the same. Looking at him now, seeing the strength of him, knowing the heart that lay within in his chest, the sense of humor that relieved tension, the love that permeated from him, the desire he held for me – I could easily take him again.
I stopped packing and just looked at him. Feeling my gaze, he slowly turned to meet my eyes and grew warm under my observation. I thought it delightful that he still got twinges of embarrassment with me, especially in light of the commanding performances he had put in. I found great pleasure when he took control, and yet here he was, a blush upon his cheek as I admired him. It was just part of him, never feeling quite worthy. “I love you.”
He gave me a wistful look, the hint of a bashful smile upon his lips. “I know.”
We gazed at one another, enjoying the peaceful moments in the afterglow of our love together. This was now our life. If it were possible, I think I loved him even more now.
“If people knew I was your husband, there would be no questioning my coming with you.” Alistair teased.
I pouted my lips in response. “We, each, still have duties to attend, my love. There will be times when we have to travel for business, as it were. I’ll only be gone a couple of weeks, and then will return to help with the celebrations.”
“A couple of weeks?” He looked aghast, then smiled. “What will I do without you?” He got out of bed and strode across the room fully naked to take me into his arms. He held me tight.
I leaned back to look at his face. “You’ve exhausted our honeymoon, think what some time away will do for our reunion.”
He raised his eyebrows as the thought of what awaited him sunk in. “I can’t help how I yearn for you.”
“I know.” I teased back. “You’ve left me barely capable of walking straight, and now I must spend the day in a saddle.”
“I want to make a sexy comment, but I haven’t Zevran’s confidence.”
“Would you like to try it out. I can’t promise I won’t laugh.” I tried to maintain a straight face.
He blushed. And stuttered. My heart. “It was going to be something about riding me instead. I was going to bend you over and tease you, and hope you would delay your departure a bit longer.”
“I think your confidence, while maybe not at the same level as Zevran, he did have years of practice, is better than you give yourself credit for. You’ve been able to sway me to delay my leaving by two days, and easily could again.” I kissed him quickly, before we lost track of time, and wriggled out of his arms. I found his breeches on the chair and threw them at him while covering my eyes for emphasis. “Now, put some clothes on.”
He laughed as he put them on. “Yes, my lady.”
~ * ~
Upon returning to the keep, rumors of sightings of a certain witch started to circulate. Nearly a year had passed since I had watched Morrigan nod her farewell to me on the rooftop after she saw the result of her magic – Alistair and I had lived. We had survived the death of an archdemon. Because of her.
She had given us a gift, but at what cost?
The fact that she had been careless enough to be seen at all led me to believe, in part, that she was laying a trap. I had to remind myself that she and I were, in fact, friends, despite any previous evidence to the contrary. I needed to see her. I needed answers. I wanted to know she was okay. And, well, if I were being completely honest, I wanted to know about the result of her ritual. The one in which I had to twist Alistair into accepting.
She had lived a quiet life with her mother in the Wilds, and then she spent a year with us. Now she was probably alone. I didn’t like the idea of her being completely on her own. Yes, she was capable of taking care of herself, and her self-sufficient demeanor was sometimes off-putting because she acted like she didn’t need anyone, but she was my friend. I missed her. I wanted to see her and reassure myself of her well being.
It was most likely a wild goose chase. I would learn nothing and the rumors would prove exactly that. It was probably a Chasind or just a dark haired woman in clothing deemed inappropriate to the ordinary citizen. But I had to know.
After taking care of some of the business I had put off while I played at newlywed, I put Nathaniel in charge, and then traveled with a small contingent of soldiers as far as Ostagar. It was strange to find myself there yet again. The start of it all. The place felt hallowed, so we kept to the edge. I left the company to set up camp and Keiko and I traveled alone through the Wilds to seek out Morrigan’s and Flemeth’s old home.
The Korcari Wilds.
It was where I had had my first encounter with the darkspawn. There was a strange, unnatural feeling to the place. I’m not sure I noticed it before, or if it was now obvious because of the taint it had endured. Rotting corpses still lined the path we had taken in search of darkspawn blood. The traps they had set were crumbling now, but the evidence that we had once come through here and fought was still recognizable.
There must have been something of great importance left in the hut to substantiate the rumors of her reappearance. Until nature reclaimed this place, it was nearly unbearable.
Keiko and I walked carefully and quietly through the tarnished landscape until we found ourselves at the ruins where we had first met Morrigan, the site where we had hoped to secure the Warden documents. The whole of the Wilds was eerily quiet and devoid of life, so our journey back through was, thankfully, uneventful. We continued forward until we found ourselves at the place she had once called home.
It seemed smaller now, if that were possible, and it was surprising to think that such a woman could have thrived in such a place. It was desolate, decrepit. It said a great deal about her character that she was able to endure such a place and become the remarkable person she is.
I stood in the spot where Alistair had once stood as he awaited my awakening. It was where I had first wanted to run into his arms. To reassure us both. Somehow, thanks to Flemeth, we had survived. She was the one who had truly set us on our path. She knew so much more than she would ever say, saw things differently and from a greater distance.
Hindsight offered a unique perspective.
It was upon searching the hut that I met Ariane, a Dalish warrior in search of Morrigan herself. Apparently, Morrigan had stolen a book from the clan on something called eluvian. The meaning has been lost over time. As the book was originally stolen from the Circle, and me being the Warden Commander and a mage, Ariane asked me to travel with her to seek out similar books so that the Keeper could learn more. It was also my hope to discover what Morrigan could want with such a topic. Lost elven knowledge.
I stood on the dock that overlooked the only home I had ever known. Before Alistair. Kinloch Hold.
So many memories came flooding back. All that quiet time. The denying my attraction to Cullen. Jowan’s betrayal. Meeting Duncan. The First Enchanter’s wisdom. Hoping to save Connor. The abominations and horrors. Finding Wynne. Cullen’s confession and then losing our virginity. The tower held a lifetime’s worth of stories.
As I walked the familiar halls, I overheard tidbits of a conversation, about me and Cullen. I lingered in the shadows to eavesdrop upon hearing our names, intrigued that we could still be the topic of gossip. They were surprised to see me and said they were glad Cullen wasn’t there, questioning whether or not he might still be carrying a torch for me. I had to laugh. If they only knew. They made mention of his time spent in Greenfell after his leaving Kinloch, and how he always had a “creepy, intense stare.” Creepy? I suppose given the circumstances it could have been misconstrued as such. He was extremely hard on himself for desiring a mage.
Cullen and I had a complicated past, an even more complicated present, and having given him sufficient space was ready to rekindle our friendship. Having returned to our old home, I was inspired to write to him and share with him this bit of humorous conversation. It was a good opening for beginning again, and I think he would be happy to know I had survived yet another big fight against the darkspawn. Or so I hoped.
I walked past the gossipers and smiled politely. They both tensed with understanding that I had overheard them, and quickly removed themselves. Yes, I would definitely write to him soon.
Ariane and I found ourselves in the library, searching through over a dozen tomes for any hint that would lead to a better understanding of the elven history and Morrigan’s want with it. Finn, a mage scholar was able to help us, as he recognized the word and the purpose of the eluvian. They were mirrors, and Tevinter mages had tried to activate them after capturing them from Arlathan. The best they could accomplish was using them for communication, but it was clear they were capable of much more. Ariane knew of two scouts from another clan that had come across one, and the sad side effect of that encounter.
Finn recommended that we speak with the only known survivor of that time, a statue housed in the basement. I cannot begin to describe the feeling of dumbfoundedness that washed over me. After all I had seen and done, there were still such mysteries to be discovered, and one of them had been housed below me. What other secrets were lying in wait? What else was possible? How would I ever know all that could be known, even just in regards to magic?
There were tears in the Veil and it affected the Sentinels guarding the lower levels, and frightened the statue, so fighting ensued. A new clue was given, and we were to follow it to the ruins where the two Dalish scouts had been lost.
Before leaving the Circle, I made my way to the First Enchanter’s study. It had been some time since we had last met, and it would be good to see the man who was once like a father to me. I had been his apprentice and he had prepared me to be the mage I am today, and now that I found myself in such a position of leadership and power, it would be an interesting change in dynamic. I was certain that he would still make me feel like a child, he had that way about him, but I was also eager to share with him some of the victories and hardships I had endured on this journey. I wanted to hear him say he was proud of me.
I had thanked him on previous occasions for his wisdom and firm, guiding hand, but he deserved another. When I entered his study, I was delighted to find him greeting me with open arms. I practically ran into his welcoming embrace, and after a good, long hug, we sat together, shared a drink, and talked about, well, everything. Well, almost everything. There are, of course, still topics that I will always have to keep to myself.
It was a good conversation. There was such a familiarity sitting with him. He knew me from the time I came to Kinloch, had reared me through my youth, became my mentor, and trusted ally. And when he said he was proud of me, I was ready to burst with a sense of achievement. Alistair and I had fumbled together through a difficult, arduous journey without the aid of the two people we each had trusted most. We had wondered how Duncan might feel about what we had accomplished, but now I had confirmation from the one I wanted to impress. And because he and Duncan had been longtime friends, he assured me that he could speak for Duncan as well, and knew that he, too, would be proud. I was overcome with emotion.
I left the Circle in a sort of happy daze. The first time I had left I was being conscripted and had feared for what awaited me outside its walls. The second time, I had saved my home from destruction, and found pleasure in Cullen’s arms that I then had to tuck away in the recesses of my mind, so I was a mixture of emotion. Now I was leaving clear headed, battle tested, and confident. How the times had changed.
Ariane and Finn bantered about his being outside, and how much he loathed it. He remembered the times when we were allowed to come outside for “exercise” but how it abruptly ended when a mage had dove into the water to escape. It was Anders, because of course it was, and he wondered what had happened to him. I kept quiet. There was no benefit in telling him that he now lived freely, albeit tainted, with me at the Keep.
That feeling of satisfaction lasted for some time, even when we arrived at the ruins and more fighting ensued. This time with elves who seemed infected by the darkspawn taint. We found a broken Eluvian shard and then traveled to Cadash Thaig in search of the Lights of Arlathan as instructed. It was strange that much of my journey had been returning to places. Perhaps there was more significance to these sites. I would have to think on it further.
Another bout of fighting, more ruins, more fighting, and finally a return to where I had hoped to never return again.
The Dragonbone Wastes.
It was here we discovered cultists, and a new creature of mythical reputation that had taken up residence, a varterral. Upon entering the nest where I had defeated the Mother, we found Morrigan and one of the magical mirrors in full working order. She was pacing. Waiting.
Keiko ran to her, excited, and for a brief moment, she was happy to see us too, but then her stance turned wary.
She presumed I was there with ill intent, and made it clear that one wrong word would take her through the mirror. I had to remind her that we were friends once, but she was less inclined to feel that connection now, and she wasn’t going to give me any more time than was necessary. This bothered me, greatly. It was she who had betrayed us. I had treated her like my friend, and she had no reason to be wary of my intentions. I had forged relationships with Sten, a murderer who had admitted his guilt. I had bonded with Zevran, the assassin sent to kill me. I had forgiven a great deal, and had a share in a number of questionable actions.
She had only used us for a year for her own means, slept with my now husband, at my urging, to have a child who would possess the soul of the old god residing in the archdemon.
Hm. Maybe she was right to be wary.
While she played the victim, she did however explain that the eluvian were portals to places beyond even the Fade. She had clearly taken great pains to make this one work. I had to wonder at what sacrifices she had made and also at what lay beyond, but I knew she would not entrust me with such knowledge.
When she asked what I wanted, and I told her answers, her guard went up. Really?! Wasn’t I owed that? I retaliated that had she not wanted to talk, she would not have waited for me. Deep down, I knew she wanted to reconnect, she just had to remember that she could trust me, and so she shared with me that she had given birth to a son.
The word hit me harder than I could have ever expected. I felt the air go out from my lungs. Morrigan was the mother to Alistair’s child. It was something most likely to be denied to me given that the taint was slowly destroying my body. I felt wretched. And there were too many thoughts about it to think coherently then and there.
The child was safe, and would remain without any knowledge as to his background. She did not seek the throne, I knew that, she sought something greater and it would probably drive her the rest of her life – power. If her child was holding the soul of an old god, who knew what unlimited power she could wield? It was a scary thought, but also strangely reassuring. She was a mage unlike any I had met, and given her unique beginnings she would be able to defend herself and not become some sort of twisted version.
That much I trusted in.
Reiterating to me that she hadn’t wanted to see me die, let me know that deep down, she still cared for me, she just had greater concerns now. Her child.
I had so many questions, but she made it clear that in addition to seeing me again, to make sure it was me, she had only waited to impart a warning about what was to come. Given her understanding of the arcane, I took her at her word. The world was about to change, dramatically, and she needed more time and power to prepare for it. She also warned me about Flemeth and the hidden truth of what she really is – more than human, more than a mage, more than an abomination – and a potential threat to the entire realm. I didn’t know what to make of any of that, but it left me unsettled, and truly unprepared, for if Morrigan thought she needed more power, what chance did I have?
I told her she didn’t have to endure it all alone, and she turned wistful. I asked her if we would ever meet again, and she made it sound as if we shouldn’t. Shouldn’t?! Before saying her final farewell, she pointed to the gifts she left behind, the stolen tome and something just for me. I looked at them slightly confused and when I turned back she said, “Good bye, my friend,” and then entered the portal.
It went dark, and she was gone.
I felt a hole in my heart.
While on this trail, I had doubts that we would actually find her. I thought I would find myself at a dead end, and then there she had been. There were some moments I could recall with such clarity, such detail, and having found myself so awestruck in seeing her again, hearing the word “son”, feeling her lack of trust, and knowing she was in solitude, I was overwhelmed. It was not what I had hoped our reunion would be like, and yet it was so like her to leave me with more questions than answers. I exited the Wastes feeling drained and uneasy. Feeling her apprehension, hearing her words of warning and finality, I would need time to process it all. And what would I tell Alistair?
I felt numb the whole ride back to Vigil’s Keep.
I offered Ariane and Finn a place to rest before traveling back to their respective homes. They chose to set off together, eager to return and share the story of their journey. We said our farewells on the road, and I mused that two new friends had been made under such strange circumstances. I let Ariane take the book about Eluvians, and Finn was now more inspired than ever to begin exploring lost elven knowledge in greater depth.
He offered to send word if he came upon anything of interest, or anything that might further enlighten me as to Morrigan’s haunting words. Ariane said something similar. As her clan moved about, she may become privy to information we may find useful. At least there were a couple more people in the world looking out for us.
Once alone, I would explore Morrigan’s gift, her grimoire further. I was intrigued at what I might discover within its pages.
I sent a raven to Denerim upon my return to the keep. I had sent a letter to Alistair before my leaving to inform him of the new mission I was undertaking, I now needed to let him know I had returned safely. Two days later he was riding through the gates.
I had been stressed for days, wondering what I would say to him when I saw him, trying to make sense of it all. The child was all I could think about. When he arrived without warning, the stress ebbed, ever so slightly, especially as I ran through the keep to be able to throw myself into his arms.
It hadn’t been a fortnight since we last saw one another, and yet here we were again, with a great deal of new information to digest, and potentially something that might come between us, but I knew once we were together, he would help to set my mind at ease.
To the Void with any who would ever have anything to say about how we greeted one another. I would show him the respect he deserved when it called for it, but now that he was my husband and we were on my territory, I would always be what others would consider “inappropriate”. I continued through the courtyard at a run, and he rushed to be off his horse to catch me. Once I was in his arms, I felt the urge to weep, but I kept it together. I had been prone to too much emotion, but this, this was all too much for one person to bear. He held me tightly against himself, whispering words of comfort.
There were only a handful of people who truly understood what we meant to one another, so the onlookers would always be interested in what was happening between the Commander and the King. There would be gossip and rumor, so with grace under such pressure, Alistair took my hand and led me inside.
In my room, behind closed doors, he first asked after my well being. Once assured I was well, he pulled me into a ravenous embrace, kissing me with fervor and longing until I was a puddle in his arms. “Forgive me. Maker, how I have missed you.” He ran his hands over my face and through my hair, his eyes full of concern. Then he stepped away from me to lean against the desk as if he needed the distance. “Now tell me what troubles you.”
I started at the beginning, and unloaded the whole story, leaving out the frivolous details, but not skipping a single moment of my encounter with Morrigan.
I still had not come to terms with the fact that she had had Alistair’s child. Something I would not be able to do. Something he had said did not bother him, for his desire to leave this world and not abandon a child had long been at the forefront of his thoughts upon taking the throne. But hearing the words brought a similar reaction to him as it had me. It was a blow, one he had not expected.
We stood looking at one another in silence for a long moment. I wanted to ask him how he felt, but I knew he was going to need some time, perhaps a great deal of it to come to terms with this information. I was a couple of days ahead of him and was no better. I could see his mind turning with all the thoughts I, too, had had. Our shortened lifespans made life more precious. It was one of the reasons he had finally found himself compelled to act where I was concerned, and now that we were united in that love, having children was the next logical step. It was something I had thought of when we first started our relationship, I had even considered it with Cullen, and supposedly, it was one of life’s great joys – the deep love for your child. I suppose it was a way of living life more fully, beyond ourselves, whilst leaving a little piece of ourselves behind.
It wasn’t even an option for me while I lived in the Circle, and I think that’s one of the reasons I was more drawn to the idea now. I was now a wife, and being a mother, to Alistair’s children, had been, and still is an enticing prospect. But what if that never happened for us? Would either of us truly be resigned to a life without them? We were still young, only a year out from war, but in a few years would our quiet house feel empty? Would we feel a sense of loss or regret? It was too early to tell, and I shouldn’t even be thinking of it, except now I knew he had a son. With Morrigan.
Andraste’s flaming ass!
Knowing he had a child out in the world, one he would never know, and one potentially filled with great power had to have some kind of affect on him, right? It had effected me.
We had never talked about that night. I didn’t know what had happened between them, and I didn’t want to. But I could tell we were now going to talk about it. I prepared myself as best I could to hear the details, knowing the outcome of that union, and finally hearing his thoughts on it all. I took a long, steadying breath and tried to calm my nerves. I braced for the worst, in part because I remembered how he looked in the aftermath. I had asked him to do something rather
unsavory unspeakable, to take part in a ritual, to sacrifice a part of himself in the hopes it would save us both from death.
I had wielded my influence over him, and encouraged him to have sex with a woman he practically despised, and in spite of that, he had risen to the occasion, so to speak. I had always wondered how he had found his release under the circumstances. I had wondered that within their hatred of one another lay hidden desire. I had wondered if what they had shared had bonded them in some way, if he wanted her again. I had wondered if he sought revenge against me for my time spent with Cullen, but we never discussed it. We buried it. But his haunted look had troubled me. I had long been afraid that he would hate me for it.
And now here we were. On the other side of it. My eyes welled with tears.
Alistair fidgeted with his wedding ring. He spun it while he contemplated what he would say. I felt on the edge of a precipice, and not in a good way. I felt light headed, and that I might be sick. Each breath I took was uneven as I waited in the painful silence, and so I fixated on his action of spinning his ring. It was comforting to see how he was reminded of our connection.
He started to speak, but his voice cracked. He cleared his throat and began again. I couldn’t look at him. “You are worrying yourself sick over this. You mustn’t.” He approached me and took my hands in his. When I still wouldn’t look up, he took my chin in his hand and directed it upward so that our eyes met. “This changes nothing, especially between us.” I raised my eyebrows at that. “He is not my son. He is hers. I spent, what? Less than half an hour with a woman I could barely stand as part of a ritual to save the woman I love. I closed my eyes and imagined I was with you. I asked her not to speak as to not distract me from my delusion.”
I almost laughed. “But she has done something I will most likely not be able to.”
“As part of dark magic. It was not intimate. It was not anything even remotely like what we share. I cannot help that my body responded to the action, the mere thought of you fills me with desire, and I did it for you, for us. And yes, I felt some self-loathing afterward, but not because I enjoyed it, as I know you feared, but because I never wanted to do that with anyone but you. She used me for her own ends. She used you too.” A tear finally fell, and he kissed my temple. “Right now, I still am of the thought that I wouldn’t want to leave our child alone when we take our walk; we each know what it’s like to grow up without parents, and I don’t want to inflict that upon our children. And while I think, maybe, I might wish to have a family with you, at some point, should we not be so lucky, I am beyond fortunate as having you as my family. You are all I have ever wanted, all I will ever want, and looking toward the future with you by my side is more than I ever could have hoped for.”
Now the tears were flowing again. All his words, and I was left nearly speechless. Maker, I love this man. “Are you certain?”
“I’ve had moments to reflect on that time, and we knew the outcome of the ritual, should it work. When we survived atop Fort Drakon, I had to come to terms with that knowledge, and I feel the same now as I did then. It was a means to an end, and there isn’t anything I would not do for you.”
I rested my hand upon his cheek, the guilt of all those actions I had taken bearing down on me. “I will never take advantage of your love again.”
He took my face in his hands and kissed me sweetly. “I know.” He whispered. “And I will never allow us to be forced as such again, for I hate how such choices have weighed upon you, nearly torn you in two.”
“I feared you would hate me.” I felt such shame that I had to look away from him again.
“Never.” He turned my chin back towards him. “Even when I discovered that you were in Kirkwall, most likely with Cullen, I did not hate you . I hated myself. It was my actions that drove you into his arms. That was some self-loathing.” He reflected. “We must stop punishing ourselves. Look at where we are now.”
I could only shake my head in agreement because I still had one final question to ask. And while I knew the answer, given his response to the revelation, there was always the possibility that he might want to see the child, at least once, to have closure, or peace of mind. “We can seek her out, should you wish it?”
He shook his head and had a look that was a mixture of confused resolution. “And what would be the purpose in that?”
“Should you just want to know.”
“I don’t. Until I received your letter that you were following a rumor of her, I can honestly say I had only thought of her maybe twice in all this time as I came to an understanding of what the ritual meant for us. Hear me. He is not mine. He is the product of magic. I just happened to provide a seed because that was the only thing she could not obtain without help. If Riordan had been a newer member of the Order, it would have been him.”
I didn’t know how to feel. It was clear he had given this some thought, and he sounded so sure, so resolute. It brought me some solace that he felt as he did, and in particular, that he held no resentment towards me for my part in it. I felt some of the weight relieve itself from my shoulders, although it would take me a few more days to put this behind me, if ever. I had a nagging suspicion that this would haunt me for some time, especially in light of her warning.
She was preparing herself and the child for something, a threat that would change the world, and the child had a role to play in those coming days. With that knowledge, they would remain in my thoughts until the looming darkness emerged, and his purpose was revealed. How could I discover any hint of what she was warning against? And what could I do to ready myself for it? How would I protect those I love if I found myself thrust back into chaos ill prepared?
“Stop.” He said calmly. I focused my eyes back on him. “I can see your mind whirling. There is nothing to be done, and I can imagine there will be nothing to be done for some time. Come.” He held out his hand and led me to the bed where he wrapped me in his embrace and let me rest against him. I took a deep breath and felt comforted in his arms. “Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it when the time comes. Together.”
He kissed the top of my head and I squeezed him tighter. “I’m glad to be home.”
In the year that followed, Alistair and I worked diligently to restore Ferelden. There was much to be done, and it would be years before we saw any great strides in progress. So much of the land was untenable. Towns were left uninhabitable. There were many who required aid. And the coffers were nearly empty. The country was vulnerable, and whispers that Orlais was seeking to reclaim lost territory started. Perhaps Celene was just being temperamental now that marriage talks had been shut down. (That had been a delightful spectacle to behold.) Perhaps it was her court encouraging her to seek retribution for the slight. Whatever the case, we were in no position to defend ourselves. We had neither the resources nor the people.
We needed an ambassador, and simultaneously didn’t want to acknowledge the threat, so we focused on taking care of the people and rebuilding, and hoped that the whispers would fade.
I spent most of my time in Denerim after things started to return to some sort of normalcy in Amaranthine. I traveled often to the arling, often accompanied by Alistair as restoration of the city was underway. We took detours as we sought out a place to call home. Being married had offered us a new beginning, and our relationship had become even better – more open, more honest, more loving, more of a partnership. There was so much laughter and moments of quiet repose. There was a great deal of lovemaking, and just as many moments of other types of intimacy. We walked hand in hand. He kissed my forehead when he would enter or leave the room. He read to me at night by the fire. He would feed me sweets. He washed my hair.
In turn I would have him rest his head on my lap so I could stroke his hair in our quiet times. I brought him his lunch everyday. I made sure we took walks together so he could escape his duties, if even for just a little while. We’d go horseback riding through the countryside. I gave him my support whether verbally or physically, and was sure to tell him I loved him everyday.
So often I would just look across the room at him and marvel that we had finally got it right. My heart would swell throughout the day as I watched him in any number of scenarios – ruling, sparring with other soldiers, hunched over his desk in deep thought, walking around our bedroom naked. The Maker (yes, I have found myself returned to thanking Him) had truly given us a great gift, and neither of us was willing to squander it. We took every opportunity to be together, to be kind and loving, and as I foretold, the outside world took notice.
How could it not?
Even should they be blind, it was obvious, and after a few months, we did little to hide it. (He had also been vocal about where his heart resided.) We weren’t blatant, but trying to keep up the charade had grown tiresome, and as I predicted the word “mistress” started to be tossed about. And as I suspected, it did not bother me in the least, but it did wear on Alistair from time to time. He did not care for the snide remarks and looks I received as he believed I deserved better, especially given all I had done and was continuing to do for them. I had to remind him that this situation was temporary, and that their words fell on deaf ears. What we had was for us, and to the Void with them.
Owning up to the idea actually offered a bit of freedom. I didn’t have to use the secret passage any more; I entered his room without a second thought. I could sit beside him during meals without concern of appearances. I was now Court Enchanter, in addition to all the other titles, and being at his side was as normal an occurrence as Eamon’s. It was actually quite freeing. And the remarks lessened over time as my place by his side continued.
Of course rumor began that I was the true power behind the throne.
And that idea bothered me, more than it did Alistair. It was his turn to remind me of the truth of the situation and how little importance it held over us in the long term.
It wasn’t that they thought Alistair inept, they just presumed I had sway over his decisions, or was just making them all together. They discounted him as they believed, falsely, that since I had led our group during the Blight, I must still be in charge.
If they bothered to recall, I had been absent for most of the first year of his reign, and he had done exceedingly well. He was loved by the people, and he had made great efforts to rule with a fair hand by expanding his knowledge on governance.
But I digress, and have gone off on a tangent. A couple of months after the celebrations to commemorate the anniversary of the ending of the Blight, the marriage talks began again. Alistair had been able to divert the nobles’ attention with other matters, but now that it had been a year since he had taken the throne, the talks began again in earnest. They were determined to have a queen it seemed.
This was, of course, while we were still keeping our relationship quite hidden, and before being made Court Enchanter, so other than my regular appearance at court, the nobles had nothing of note to use against me. “A man should have a wife”, they suggested. A young, virile man, one who sits upon a throne should be even more apt to have one, apparently. It boiled down to legacy. An heir. Security for the nation. And thus, Alistair’s thoughts on the subject were finally divulged.
Using Celene as an example, he made it clear that he would not be coerced into marrying. He was not raised to be king, he had chosen to become king to bring the country together, and would live, with what little remained of his life, as he wished. Marrying anyone would create more political machinations and neither he nor the country needed that at the moment. He finished by saying that his heart belonged to someone else, and he would not do either of them the disservice of placing someone between them.
It was at that moment, those in attendance looked my way.
Having spent more time at court, not only had my specifically developed courtly tone of voice improved, but my facial expressions had become unreadable. While I was bursting with pride and absolute joy on the inside, my exterior showed just a hint of disinterest as to not give anything away. Leliana would be proud.
Thus the secrecy around our relationship crumbled and the mistress term came to fruition. And in spite of it all, we had never been happier. We even used the ring spinning as a way to communicate to one another in silence, or in front of others, that we were thinking of each other, and to express our love in a nonverbal way. It never failed to bring a smile to my lips when I saw him touch his ring.
~ * ~
Generous donations continued to come in to restore Vigil’s Keep and the city of Amaranthine. We used the funds to rebuild the city first. The Deep Roads were quiet and there didn’t seem to be any other immediate threats that required the Keep at full strength – we could rebuild over time. In the wake of all the chaos, peace returned to the land and it allowed us to replenish our numbers. The army was growing steadily as national pride grew with word continuing to spread about the heroics of their king, and it would bear Wardens at its core. The Wardens were now looked at with respect, given their sacrifices, and we continued to be relied upon for order and protection.
In addition to studying the book Morrigan left me, I began to explore other magical tomes in the hopes that I would be a better mage for the defense of whatever was to threaten us in the future. It was a big book, one that would take time to read fully, but there was a reason she gave it to me, so when I found opportunities to look at it without interruption, I examined every word for meaning.
I kept up correspondence with nearly everyone overseas. Some were better than others in their responses. It took many months, as I had guessed, to hear back from Zevran and Sten, so much could have changed in all that time. Zevran was exacting his revenge in Antiva, and from the sound of it, was most likely going to find himself in a bit of trouble, eventually. That worried me, but he reassured me that all was well, and should he truly need the assistance, would reach out.
Sten’s letter was barely more than a few lines. Typical. He did say that he would always consider me the only honorable person he met in Ferelden. That didn’t speak well of our companions, but it delighted me to no end. Perhaps I should have traveled with him back to Seheron. How many outsiders would ever have an opportunity to see the foreign land? He, too, wrote a line about coming changes, but it didn’t resonate the same way Morrigan’s words did, but it left me uneasy nonetheless.
After Alistair and I found our home, I wrote to them with an open invitation of their welcome. I’m hoping they’ll take me up on it sooner than later. I miss them terribly.
As expected, and as she stated, I have not heard from Morrigan, nor heard of any rumor of her. I will have to be patient that at some time, she will feel the necessity to reach out and make contact. On her terms, as always.
Leliana’s path has taken a new turn, an opportunity to work for the Divine. In her last letter, there was little information about the position, as yet, but she was filled with both excitement and hope that the Maker had led her there. She liked the idea that she could do good things on such a grand scale.
Upon Wynne’s return from Tevinter, to which she has kept me in the dark in regards to the result of that journey, she was made archmage. I am delighted someone of such virtue and wisdom will be at the forefront of the changes that are so necessary for the benefit of all mages. She had given me some insight into spirits and their likeliness of survival on this side of the Veil, I did not send her word that Justice had changed bodies and was living abroad. Whatever may happen, I will do my best to contain the situation and deal with the consequences. Knowing Justice as I had, I am positive of this outcome.
Anders has set up a clinic in Kirkwall to help the refugees and has befriended Marian, rather slyly. He even traveled with her into the Deep Roads, which apparently took a terrible turn of events. Varric’s brother betrayed them, but they all came out of the encounter unscathed, and shockingly prosperous. Letters from each of them arrived, each describing the ordeal and the aftermath. It seems there are other things in the Deep Roads to be worried about, but Varric reassures me that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.
Marian says otherwise. I’m more apt to believe her as I know Varric is downplaying the details as to not send me racing across the Waking Sea.
With their newfound fortunes, Marian was able to secure her family’s place out of the slums and into the nobility. She moved herself and her mother into an estate in Hightown. I have an open invitation to stay with her upon my next visit. Shockingly enough, while she was away, Carver joined the Templars. Ass. She and I have had lots to say, on not just that subject, and I always look forward to seeing her handwriting on a waiting envelope. She befriended Isabela, as I hoped, and has gathered a good group of people around her, which is something we all need, especially in remarkable situations.
Fenris is Fenris. Their relationship has progressed by inches, but when Marian recollected upon it, I returned her positivity because knowing him, any progress is progress. It will be worth it when he finally succumbs. Or so I reassured her. He wrote to me, a short letter, which I’m guessing he had help with, but from whom I cannot say. I’m not sure he would have told anyone of his inability to read, maybe someone in the Chantry? Marian mentioned a man she met in the Chantry, Sebastian who had taken a liking to Fenris, so perhaps.
Varric has kept his word by keeping me apprised of anything I should know, including Curly and his continued change in temperament given the circumstances. Knight Commander Meredith has increased her pressure on the Circle mages, but there are other more pressing matters to be concerned about – the arrival of a boat load of qunari with the leader of the Qun, the Arishok among them. They will not leave, which is of great concern to the citizens, and pretty much everyone in the vicinity.
The Templars are the largest army in Kirkwall and are thus the best defense should the Qunari wage open war. And so, Cullen sympathizes with their leader, Meredith, who must undertake the daunting task of containing or quelling such threats. For the sake of maintaining order, Cullen supports her. His views on mages have altered a bit again in lieu of this, even though the people of Kirkwall believe in dark rumors of her (mis)treatment of mages. A mage underground has been established to help apostates escape, and while he knows some are capable of restraint, he’s been swaying back to the belief that on the whole, mages should remain under control.
None of this has been from him. He will not send me word himself. All of my letters have remained unanswered, and were I not otherwise engaged, I would make my way back to Kirkwall just to face him and remind him of…oh, I don’t know. Our friendship? That mages should be treated with a kinder hand? That the Commander is courting danger? That he needs to remember who he is?
It would seem that my friendship with him had done little to assuage his fears. I had to wonder what he would think or how he would choose to act had I chosen to stay with him? Was it my denial of his affection that had hardened his heart? I could only ask Varric to intervene on my behalf so many times. His hands were full with Marian and their exploits, but hopefully I could entreat him one more time to speak with Cullen and sway him to at least read my letters and perhaps encourage him to respond. I knew in my bones I could be helpful if only we could reconnect.
I was so sure the gossip of our relationship that I had heard upon returning to the Circle would have delighted him, and that alone would have sparked his interest enough to write to me, but he had remained silent, and I couldn’t stand not knowing his thoughts and what he was up against in this current climate. How could he not have anything to say to me in all this time?! How could he, after his particular farewell in Amaranthine and his words, feel inclined to now ignore me? Ass.
On a more positive note, Kal’Hirol was reclaimed by Orzammar, and the casteless that died to defend her were honored. I was invited as a guest of honor to the special celebration and I found myself just as awestruck by the thaig as I had been when we first visited. It was actually quite fun to be welcomed back to the dwarven city to take part in the festivities and witness the Shaperate honor those long lost heroes.
Alistair joined me on that trip, and used it as a means to strengthen the bonds we had cultivated. We stayed in the royal palace as guests of the king, and had the opportunity to enjoy a little alone time. Thick walls, royal guards…a beneficial combination.
Alistair. We have found a measure of peace and happiness previously thought unattainable. We have a place to call our own, a lovely secluded place by the water. It’s neither too far from the capital nor the Keep, so we are in close proximity should the need arise without fair warning. Our duties, such as they are, do not allow us as much time away as we’d like, but we were able to spend the summer there and the winter holiday. We haven’t received any guests yet, which is fine, for now. Not only has it allowed us some quiet time, it has allowed us some time to renovate and make it our own.
We keep a small staff to assist us with the upkeep and such, but we give them a great deal of time off so we can be alone. Only a few guards remain with us, and they have their own housing a short distance away. Alistair is king and does require protection, protection I, alone, can not provide, or so “they” say. We did pretty well on our own all that time, so…
We often make our own meals, which usually end in disaster and bouts of laughter, I need some recipes, and spend the day like “normal” people. We are neither warrior nor mage. We are neither Warden nor royal. We are a husband and wife, tending to their own garden, caring for their own home. Having an opportunity to be ourselves with no one looking over our shoulders and watching our every move has been everything we hoped. Alistair is so relaxed in the environment, he often dreads returning to court, and I am loathe to make him. Knowing one day, in the not too distant future, that we will retire generally bolsters his spirits, and so we focus on that.
The one thing that always remained off the table, the one thing we could not discuss – our future – it dominates most conversations as the whole of Thedas will be open to us. It’s such a strange prospect. The King of Ferelden and his Warden Commander doing their own thing. We haven’t made any definitive plans, it’s still a ways off, but as those days draw closer, figuring out how we might go about such a journey will be interesting.
Would any of our friends join us to see the world? Or just to be part of the old gang again? There was a great deal of mischief we could get into when unencumbered by position and duty. Would they want to be with us when we took our final walk? While I would never want them to make that walk with us, for fear they might be overwhelmed themselves, it would be a consoling farewell party having them close at the end. I don’t wish to think on this aspect of our lives, not when things are going so well, but it is a part of us. An inescapable part, and pretending it’s not, is a fool’s errand. It’s still long enough off to not be a concern, but something that still needs to be addressed, eventually.
~ * ~
I am currently sitting in the study, recollecting my thoughts. It overlooks the sweet garden we’ve sown and beyond that the water. I fondly touch Sten’s painting, one of the first items that finds its place on my desk. It’s a way for me to keep them close, always. It’s a cool spring day, but I’ve opened most of the windows to air out the house as we only just arrived and it was shuttered through the winter. Keiko loves it here too. He disappears for days at a time, but is most often found at our feet, content. He cleared the house of pests when we first arrived, and warns us when the soldiers approach too closely. He, too, enjoys the solitude after so much fighting and instability.
Alistair has popped his head in through the window to give me a quick kiss and ask if I’m ready for lunch. He has set up a picnic. He rests his arms on the sill and gives me one of his endearing looks – one of those that makes my heart swell with the emotion he can convey in it. He is casually dressed, and his tunic is untied to expose a bit of chest. With his hair tousled, the relaxed demeanor, he’s more handsome than ever.
He warms under my gaze and raises an eyebrow in response to my scrutiny. “Are you happy, wife?”
I don’t think it’s a question in regards to my state of mind, for that should have been evident. He still hates that our marriage is a secret. “Never have I ever been so happy, husband.” And it’s true.
“Well, we’ve had some moments that can only be described as sheer bliss, but where we are now…” Sigh. “I never expected being married to feel like this. You make me happy.” I cannot contain my joy.
In response, he crawls through the window, which makes me laugh, and lifts me into his arms. He twirls me in circles and kisses me sweetly. “As you make me.”
I purposefully look down at my dress, the one I first wore before him when I returned to Denerim. “Remember this?” I ask coyly. A heated smile teases his lips. “After lunch, I expect you to destroy it.”
“With pleasure, my love.” He carries me outside where we enjoy a romantic afternoon, one of many in our new life together, and then unabashed lovemaking under the open sky.
The lunch had been a tease, laced with promise of what was to be had afterward. And he did not disappoint. The dress was unusable in the aftermath.
~ * ~