Chapter 1: Alistair's Dilemma
A week had passed since the official ending of the Fifth Blight, and the city of Denerim was tentatively venturing back towards normality. It was a great tribute to the character of the people of Ferelden; that they had suffered through the worst and most terrible threat that any nation in Thedas could face (and it had to be said, Ferelden was hardly the most capable country when compared to its neighbours) and come out with a dogged sort of optimism. There may have been the odd smouldering crater where the Darkspawn siege weapons had made their mark; the refugee ships still set sail with Fereldans determined to seek better fortunes in the Free Marches; yet the majority of citizens were determined to roll up their sleeves and just get on with it.
It was common knowledge that their poor nation – poor in every sense of the word, since Ferelden had never been wealthy even during more peaceful times – had been grievously wounded by the Darkspawn horde. The teyrnir of Gwaren was all but destroyed, as were a dozen smaller settlements; including the new general's own seat at South Reach. The Archdemon's army had cut a swathe from south to north, razing crops and tainting land as they went. Acres of valuable arable land had been left polluted and unusable, the animals either poisoned or consumed by the horde.
Yet, the people of Ferelden were a doughty folk, fiercely proud of their ailing homeland and unafraid of the hard work that it would take to restore it. Already, refugees were forming small collectives that they named restoration committees; planning strategic returns to their devastated hometowns. Those men and women who had served as soldiers in the great Ferelden Free Army and fought in the final battle against the horde, now turned their minds to the future.
Fortunately, the people had a firm foundation upon which to build their hopes. They had a new Theirin on the throne, one cast so strongly in the vein of Maric that the elders of Denerim swore blind that Alistair Theirin was the very reincarnation of his father. Like Maric, Alistair had proven his worth in battle; risking Royal life and limb to partake in the final fight against the Archdemon.
Located on its high rise overlooking Denerim, the Royal Castle had managed to avoid any superfluous damage from the Darkspawn attack. The servants had been safe within the thick stone walls, which had been bolstered after retaking the land from Orlais. Now the palace resembled more fortress than Royal residence; but as a result, it had managed to withstand the stray trebuchet volley launched towards it by the oncoming horde. There was some minor damage to the east tower and part of the sewerage system needed repairs where the Darkspawn had tried to tunnel their way through solid bedrock, but on the whole it had survived the Blight relatively intact.
The threat of civil war also seemed to have dissipated with the ending of the Fifth Blight. The new king appeared on civil – if not particularly cordial – terms with the disgraced former Teyrn Loghain; who had been horrendously maimed during the final battle. Mac Tir had taken the Grey, but, due to said injures, it was uncertain whether he would continue to follow the calling. The King's Council had been reformed with the new Teyrn Cousland at its head, alongside the Arl of Redcliffe, the Banns of Rainesfere and the Waking Sea, and the commander of the Royal Army, Leonas Bryland.
In addition to a Theirin king, and a reconciled peerage; the people of Ferelden also had another cause for hope. The armies of men, elves and dwarves - which had been so instrumental in defending Denerim - had not been assembled by a member of the established peerage; but by a girl barely out of adolescence, catapulted out of obscurity to make an indelible mark on Fereldan history. This same girl – a hidden scion of the Cousland family – had also been the one to strike down the Archdemon; ultimately ending the Fifth Blight and saving their nation from destruction.
Chantry priests across the city led services in Florence Cousland's honour – exalting how the Maker had compensated her for her bravery by purging both the taint and the touch of the Fade from her body. The removal of the young Cousland's magic was thus recast as a heavenly reward; that she was now forever free from the Fade's insidious influence.
Yet it was not so much this that gave the people hope, but the lady Cousland's swollen belly. The teyrn's sister was quite visibly with child, and the king had publicly claimed parentage. Alistair's acknowledgement was not strictly necessary; there were already a plethora of tavern songs that portrayed king and Cousland as lovers. These ranged from romantic ballads to lewd refrains that no retainer would dare utter in earshot of his liege-lord.
However, those who assumed that the strife within Ferelden's peerage was mended would have been sorely surprised at the scenes transpiring in the Theirin bedchamber; exactly one week after the Blight had been ended. It was the same evening that Florence Cousland had appeared at the great entrance of the Royal Palace, proving her survival to both her army and the curious townsfolk of Denerim. Those civilians who had made the trek up through the hunting grounds were the first to bear witness to the lady Cousland's swollen stomach, and enjoyed the consequent smugness of delivering the news to enthralled crowds in the taverns below.
After the young Hero of Ferelden had set out her twin arcs of burning remembrance on the turret roof, she had professed herself to be weary; still raw and shocked from the news that her spirits had departed forever, her connection with the Fade severed. The soul of the old god had purged her of extraneous influence; she had entered Fort Drakon as both mage and Grey Warden, and had departed as neither.
Alistair, in his new protective role as father, immediately dismissed Eamon's suggestion of a meeting of the Royal council; instead overseeing his beloved companion's retirement to bed with hawklike vigilance. After only an hour, there had come an insistent knock at the door: the core of the Landsmeet had come to king when king would not come to them.
They were greeted with Alistair nursing a simmering rage over his dozing lover's bedside, his anger expanding until it reached the wood-beamed ceiling. Unlike most Theodesian Royal quarters; the Theirin bedchamber was sprawling but austere, the furnishings relatively plain, if well-made. Murals of Mabari and warhorses had been daubed onto the plaster walls, interspersed with the occasional stuffed trophy. The most prominent piece of furniture in the room was the bed; raised on a stone step, with four dark posters of wood reaching up to the ceiling. Wide enough to house four, it was covered with a mismatched array of blankets and animal furs.
Florence Cousland – colloquially known as Flora – now lay snoring in the midst of a tangle of bedding, curled up against a tawny fur with a cushion clamped to her cheek. Alistair stood over her like a mother bear defending an injured cub, his handsome olive features flushed with anger as he turned his wrath on his uncle.
"No," he hissed towards the Arl of Redcliffe, nostrils flaring and Maric's characteristic temper evident in the twist of his mouth. "Absolutely not. Out of the question!"
"Alistair, " started Eamon placatingly, starting forward. "Son- "
"Don't 'son' me!" retorted Alistair a fraction too loudly, then made an effort to mute himself with a glance down at his snoring companion. "I can't believe you'd even suggest it. Flora has saved this country – and your life, uncle, and your town, and your son – and you're suggesting we lock her back up?"
The king's nostrils flared indignantly and he paced an angry circle about the bed, lifting the golden band from his head and letting it drop onto the furs.
Eamon shot a meaningful glance towards the others, who were standing a safe distance away near the hearth. These consisted of Ferelden's most influential peers – including the only remaining teyrn, Fergus Cousland – and a handful of Flora's companions.
Fergus took a deep breath, stepping forward to face Alistair square-on. He raised his palms to show amiable deference, attempting to snare the king's gaze with his blue-grey stare.
"No one is suggesting that we lock her up, Alistair," he murmured, bravely standing his ground as Alistair turned a predatory green-flicked glare in his direction. "But the Grand Cleric has agreed to publicly confirm Florence's non-mage status – after she spends a month under constant surveillance by the Templar Order, in their nearest monastery. Revanloch is only a short ride from the city walls."
Alistair sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, careful not to disturb Flora as she mumbled bleary and incoherent. His sister-warden no longer dreamt – a consequence of her severance from the Fade – but she had picked up the tendency to babble soft nonsense while sleeping.
"But, a whole month," he said, bleakly. "I can't be without Lo for that long. I need her, Fergus."
"You could visit her every day," Fergus replied, with a quickness that suggested he and Eamon had already discussed the subject extensively. "Besides, I don't imagine that she'd want for company. I think visitors will be queuing up to see her; myself and Finn in the front of the line."
"Aye," Leonas added quietly, the arl standing stiffly beside the hearth. "The lass is like a daughter to me. I'd happily go and read with her of an afternoon."
There came general grunts of agreement from Flora's companions; all clustered on the other side of the bed, save for Sten and Morrigan.
Alistair passed a tired hand over his face, rumpling the hair at the top of his head. He glanced down once more at Flora, who was now flat on her back with her mouth open, the blankets tangled around her swollen waist. Reaching down, he moved one of the heavy furs up to her chin, tucking it in around the edges.
"I don't understand why it needs to be publicly endorsed by the Chantry, anyway," he muttered, bitterly. "It's obvious that Flo's lost her magic. The Circle has confirmed it, the Templar Order has tested her blood. She's less susceptible to the Fade than you or I in her current state."
There was an elongated pause, during which Fergus glanced at Leonas, and Eamon at his younger brother. The Arl of Redcliffe gave a slight nod, and Teagan spoke up, quietly.
"Because if the Chantry confirms it, then the Landsmeet will corroborate it," the bann explained, his green Guerrin eyes focusing steadily on Alistair's own.
"So?" retorted Alistair, belligerently.
"Well, don't you want to make her your wife?"
There was another long silence, which expanded to fill the room like a thick, portentous miasma. Wynne glanced swiftly at Leliana; both women had predicted and extensively discussed this potential series of events.
Alistair blinked for a moment, his pupils expanding and constricting in rapid succession. His mouth twisted, and he dropped his gaze to Flora's limp, bandaged palm as it lay motionless on the blankets.
"Of course I do," he said at last, bleakly. "I've wanted to marry her since Satinalia. I just… I just never thought it would be possible."
"Well, Alistair," replied Eamon, his voice soft and persuasive. "If you agree to this, it will be possible. The Landsmeet would approve, you could take Florence as your bride, and your child would be born legitimate."
A Theirin on the throne, and one in the cradle. The dynasty would be secure. And the country's stability would be ensured.
"But would mi florita even desire this path?" Zevran interrupted, his voice shadowed. "You talk about her as though she has no choice in the matter. She hardly embraced becoming a Cousland, why would she want to become a queen?"
The elf was leaning against the hearth, arms crossed and a scowl writ across his tan, tattooed face. The assassin had mastered a peculiar duality of gaze; where he could focus on one aspect within his purview, while simultaneously keeping an eye on something in the background. In this case Zevran's stare was trained hawklike on Arl Eamon's lined face, yet he was continually glancing down to where Flora lay snoring in bed.
There was another long silence; and this time, it was Alistair's turn to flinch.
"That's my fault," he said eventually, voice raw. "I can't help this bloody parentage of mine."
Wynne cleared her throat, moving her wrinkled fingers absentmindedly over the notebook she kept hanging on a chain at her waist.
"If Florence becoming queen would give hope to Ferelden," the senior enchanter mused, in measured tones. "I believe that she would do it, despite her reservations. She has a sense of duty second to none."
Alistair, still perched on the edge of the bed, turned to face his former sister-warden. He leaned down and kissed Flora tenderly on the edge of her forehead, lips brushing her hairline. One hand went to settle on the curve of her belly, prominent enough to be visible even through the thick furs that covered it.
"If she's in a monastery outside the city, I can't protect her," he said, throatily. "She can't shield herself any more, and she's got no type of… no combat skills. She can't even wield a dagger. How am I supposed to defend her and our child if she's not by my side?"
"Well, she'll be surrounded by church soldiers," Finian said, reasonably. "I've visited one of those monasteries before. You can't move without a Chantry Mother breathing down your neck."
"I know," snapped Alistair, uncharacteristically harsh. "I spent ten years in one. It doesn't mean that she'll be safe- "
"What if I stay with her?" piped up Leliana, her musical Orlesian tongue standing out above the native Fereldan tones. "They'll permit me to stay, since I'm a lay-sister. If I promise to stick to Florence's side like one of her Herring limpets, would that help to assuage your fears?"
Alistair's gaze moved appraisingly over the bard, whose innocuous smile and demure Chantry robes masked one of the most skilled fighters that he had ever known. Leliana, to his knowledge, had never been bested in combat – had not permitted even a scratch to mar her creamy, perfumed flesh – and a keen intelligence lay behind the earnest blue stare.
There was a tense pause; Eamon glanced at Leonas and Teagan at Fergus. Finally, Alistair let out a long sigh, his face crumpling.
"Fine. But I'm going to tell her."
Wynne cleared her throat, the pointed sound interrupting Alistair's hand before it could settle on Flora's pyjama-clad shoulder.
Alistair stared at the senior enchanter, his handsome face creased with weariness and guilt.
"What is it, Wynne?"
The old mage grimaced, pale eyes settling on where the snoring Flora lay tangled in the blankets.
"I wouldn't mention to her the possibility of becoming queen yet," she murmured, quietly. "Florence has enough to cope with at the moment, with the loss of her magic. Let her work through that first."
Alistair gave a tight nod, before waking his former sister-warden with a soft kiss to her mouth, cupping her cheek against his palm.
OOC Author Note: I'm about 25 pages in, so I decided to post the first chapter! The story picks up immediately after The Lion and the Light finishes - and we see what Eamon's proposal is! I didn't want the loss of Flora's magic to have no consequences - and I thought it was realistic that there would need to be this official verification process of her non-mage status. So no it's not going to be HAPPILY EVER AFTER for Flo, I don't make life that easy for her, hahaha. I also wanted to show the result of 'hardened' Alistair's character development - he's not afraid to stand up to Eamon.