That You May Always Remember Me
Alistair and Elissa emerged the next morning into a dining room bustling with activity. A tantalizing assortment of breakfast foods covered the long table and friendly faces filled the seats around it. "There you are!" Viola greeted the king cheerily and ushered him to sit at the head of the table. Seeing that there were no open spaces near him, Elissa took a seat further down with Zevran and Oghren, but not before catching a curious look from the Inquisitor.
"I see you started planning without me," Alistair remarked upon finding that instead of sausage links and buttered toast his plate was filled with reports and maps.
"We didn't think you'd mind," came the jovial voice of Teagan from his spot to the king's right.
Alistair looked around the table and noticed one missing face. "Wait, where is Leli… I mean, Divine Victoria?"
Viola cleared her throat. "She left for Val Royeaux before the Landsmeet ended. No one's heard from her since."
Alistair bit his right cheek in thought while looking about the table and accepting his most powerful ally's absence."I suppose this is as close to a war council as I'm going to get." He settled in and addressed the group confidently, "By all means, catch me up!"
Teagan cleared his throat. "The nobles are fairly evenly split between you and Anora. Those loyal to you have returned home and pledged to send a percentage of their soldiers to Denerim once their lands have been secured."
"And Fergus?" Elissa spoke up from the back.
"He's on his way to Highever as we speak, though he only agreed after the Inquisitor managed to convince him this would be the safest place for his sister."
Elissa looked at Viola, who refused to make eye contact while Alistair rubbed his face tiredly. "An army on the way and I've no idea what to do with them! I've never been much of a general. Even when it was just a handful of us against the Blight I wasn't the one in charge." He caught sight of Elissa and his eyes lit up. "Hey! Why doesn't Elissa…"
"I've already solved that problem for you," Viola interrupted and almost forcefully directed his attention to the newly opened door in the corner. Alistair was certain he recognized the man that entered but couldn't place how. Thankfully, Viola eagerly introduced, "Commander Cullen Rutherford of Honnleath. He's on loan from the Inquisition."
"You make me sound like an old book," Cullen grimaced and placed the parchments in his hands squarely in front of Alistair, adding to the already staggering pile. "Truthfully, I volunteered my services when I heard what happened. I hope I can be of some help."
"If you have any ideas how to fix this mess, I'm all ears," Alistair said, thumbing through the new documents. "The problem is that I have no idea where Anora is and, even if I did, she took most of my guard. Until the nobles send me their armies I have very limited manpower and no idea where to send them when they get here."
"I may already have an idea, Your Majesty." Cullen expertly grabbed a report from the top of the pile and showed it to the king, who echoed and read aloud, "Manshon?"
"Technically East and West Manshon. When Bann Ronan died he split his lands between his two sons. Regan currently controls West Manshon and his niece Shayna has taken the title of Bann in the east after her father's recent death."
"Let me guess: a death that occurred under very suspicious circumstances?"
"Of course. And to make things even more interesting Fort Ronan, which has always been considered to be under East Manshon's jurisdiction, has been occupied by Regan's men as of this morning."
"But what does that have to do with Anora?"
"Bann Regan was a loyal supporter of Loghain during the Blight. I'd say it's a safe bet to assume he'll support the former Teryn's daughter over you. Lady Shayna, however, did not attend the Landsmeet and has yet to choose a side."
"So let me see if I understand." Alistair straightened in his seat and pouted slightly as he thought. "If I retake this fort and give it back to its rightful owner I'll be giving a blow to one of Anora's lackeys and possibly gain an ally."
"And a valuable ally at that," Teagan chimed in. "Manshon is a prosperous region."
"It's an intriguing idea, Commander." Alistair scratched the hairs on his chin as he thought out loud. "And it wouldn't take an entire army either."
"I'll do it."
All eyes landed on Elissa and Alistair's hand still hadn't left his chin. "You? I'm not sure you're ready for…"
"For what?" she argued. "Memories or not I was always in fighting condition. I can do this."
"That's a fair point…" Alistair mumbled and Viola's heart began to pound in her ears as Solas' words echoed in her mind.
"Then I'll go with you!" the Inquisitor declared. "I've already saved your life once, after all. You may need me to do it again."
"Ultimately this is my fight." Alistair's voice cut in. "So I'll be going too." He smiled and the two women glanced at each other before accepting the new team that had so quickly been formed. Alistair relaxed back into his chair. The morning had gone better than expected and now that they actually had a plan in place things seemed to be looking up…
"Don't you know 3 is an unlucky number?"
The room's attention turned to the man standing in the doorway and Alistair's breath caught in his throat. It had been a few years but he would have recognized that face anywhere.
"Thankfully, though, I have arrived to make it a much safer group of four." He strode across the room with the same cool demeanor he did everything else and his eyes fell on Elissa. "You…"
"Elissa Cousland," she spoke quickly to mask whatever question seemed to be coming next. "Nice to meet you."
"Right…" The man raised an eyebrow but brushed off the strange greeting and turned to the king. "So where are we going?"
"How did you even find out about this?"
"You'd have to blame me for that," Viola said. "Varric wrote that he was sending a friend. I suppose I should have guessed who..."
"Is that a problem, Your Highness?" A smirk played at the corner of his mouth and Alistair couldn't help but hear the snark in this new companion's voice.
"I'm not exactly in a position to be picky, am I?" He took one more look around the table of friends and allies and sighed. "Welcome to the team, Hawke."
That night as preparations were made for the morning trip to Manshon, Viola caught Alistair in a rare moment alone. He lounged on a windowsill, eyes fixed on the scar in the sky that forever marked the Breach. "Do you think I'll ever see that spirit again?" he asked when Viola approached. "The one who led me to Elissa?"
"I don't know," she answered. "I suppose it's possible, but I wouldn't count on it."
Alistair nodded almost sadly. "I feel like I didn't thank her enough."
"You're happy then, I take it?"
"Of course! Having Elissa back was the only thing I've wanted for a long time. And seeing her today… joking with Oghren like the past ten years hadn't even happened… it makes me feel like for once something is going right. Like the Maker's finally realized everything I sacrificed and He's decided to reward me." His wistful look was replaced with a juvenile smirk. "Except for the whole evil queen starting a civil war thing. But we'll solve that soon enough. Especially with your help." He looked sideways at the Inquisitor. "Why are you still helping anyway? Not that I'm complaining but the Inquisition has no formal alliance with Fereldan. You're free to go whenever you please, you know."
"I know." She pushed his feet aside and squeezed onto the ledge beside him. The cold window pane was close to her cheek but she noticed that the sky somehow seemed closer from the vantage and suddenly understood why she'd found Alistair sitting here. "I'm here to set things right. It's what I do." Alistair laughed and her heart sank at the thought of telling him the truth about Elissa. As tough as she liked to believe she was she didn't have it in her to break his heart all over again. Solas would find a way to get rid of Urthemiel. Until then there was no need for this sweet man to suffer. "And I want to clarify: the Inquisition is not aiding Fereldan in any way. Cullen is here as a loyal subject of yours. He also seems to believe he owes some sort of debt to Elissa. And I'm here… as a friend."
Alistair's smile widened. "Glad to hear it." He squinted at the stars before adding questioningly, "And Hawke?"
Viola shrugged. "He's a friend of a friend. Here to help as well, I'm sure."
"Right," Alistair mumbled in an unconvincing tone. "I'm sure."
The air smelled like victory as Elissa stood against the multi-colored sky. She watched an army march before her, clad in glittering armor that made the Orlesians look like dirty rats in comparison. Smiling and knowing the battle would be theirs for the taking, she took in a deep breath that caught in her throat. Suddenly a painful sensation spread from her chest into her limbs and she quickly doubled over. Her skin tightened and hardened into dark scales and her hands sharpened into claws. The pain worsened and her cries of anguish scorched her throat as flames leapt from her lips.
Elissa sat up in bed and grasped desperately at herself. Everything was as it should be and Alistair's steady breathing remained at her side. She watched him sleep as her heart rate declined and remembered a time when their nightmares were the same, but this one was hers alone. Repressing the worry that itched in the back of her mind she tossed the blankets aside, wrapped a familiar green robe around her body, and left to find some fresh air.
The plants in the courtyard rustled lightly under the gentle caress of the midnight wind and Elissa felt a rush of much-needed peace until realizing she was not alone. "Funny meeting you here, Princess," the Champion's voice cut through the silence of the night and he rose from his seat near a rose bush to stand in front of her. "Or should I say 'Elissa'? Two years and I finally learn your real name."
Elissa avoided his eye contact. "I didn't know it myself back then."
"Yes, I've heard the whole story now. Though I still don't understand why you lied about knowing me this morning."
"Alistair." He finished her thought and she finally looked up to face him. "Is there some reason you think he'd be upset?" Her stare didn't falter and revealed nothing beneath her stoic expression and Hawke soon grew bored and shrugged it off. "It's good to see you again, at any rate."
"How did things go with your friend, the Grey Warden?"
Hawke lost the smirk that Elissa had believed was plastered permanently across his face. "Not well. But we did manage to help the Inquisitor close the hole in the sky. That's something, I suppose."
"And now you're here."
"I could leave, if you like."
She shook her head. "I'm not asking you to leave. I just want to make sure you're here for the right reasons."
"It's not that complicated, really." He folded his arms defensively. "Viola asked Varric for help and he contacted me. Maker knows I wasn't doing anything. I didn't know Alistair was involved, much less you. A war in Fereldan sounded like a good chance to…"
"Be a hero?" Now it was Elissa's turn to finish the thought.
His shoulders slumped and his gaze dropped slightly. "Something like that."
Elissa turned to return to the castle but cast a forlorn look across her shoulder. The words she'd plotted for so long died in her throat as she watched the man slouch in the darkness . They'd each get the chance to redeem themselves another day. But this night was already over, and she walked away.