A/N: This is a series of fics that all tie together with the same characters. The stories aren't exactly in chronological order, but hopefully since each was written as a stand alone it will be easy to follow the threads between them.
Finally, a big thank you to Kosiah for the excellent beta.
Alistair threw his hands up in the air. "Maker's breath, you're just making this up!"
He'd officially been King for less than one week, and already he was itching to grab his sword and shield and sneak off to the Deep Roads. Getting torn apart by darkspawn had to be a better fate than the mind-numbing tedium of putting a wedding together. He scowled down at the seating chart for the banquet scheduled to follow his impending nuptials. They'd been fussing over it for two solid hours and Alistair was ready to toss the damn thing into the fire. "It can't possibly matter if we seat Lady Maris and Arlessa Isolde at the same table!"
Anora's delicate golden eyebrows lifted. "Of course it matters." Her tone suggested that he was a simpleton for not seeing such a thing. Perversely, it made him want to prove her right and act like one.
He squashed that urge and crossed his arms. It was a gesture that felt unfamiliar without armor. "How? Both ladies are our allies and we honor them both by seating them at one of the closest tables."
"Isolde and Maris have been rivals for years, for everything from who they married, to the richness of their wardrobes, to the success of their children. You know that despite the Grey Warden's victory, mages are still deeply feared, and with Isolde's only child being stripped of his title and sent to the circle for training, Lady Maris will use the occasion of our nuptials as an opportunity to gloat. It will be an absolute disaster. The last thing we need right now is petty bickering among our allies."
Alistair made a sweeping gesture at the table piled with papers and scrolls with his callused hand. "Then move Lady Maris to a different table."
"Right, but the problem is which one."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "Oh, I get it. You're testing me, aren't you? This is the royal version of hazing the new recruit." Alistair pointed his finger at her. "Well I'm onto you."
He intended his response as a joke to relieve the tension between them, but there was too much truth to his words for comfort. While he certainly respected Anora's ability to govern – an ability she'd proven time and time again over the course of the last five years – he didn't trust the woman that was to be his wife. When he'd insisted on being more than just a figurehead, more than just a king to be trotted out and paraded in front of cheering crowds, and demanded a real place at her side in governing Ferelden, she had seemed surprised by his ambition. There was a part of him that was beginning to wonder if she was burying him in tedious minutia just to break his will and send him scurrying out of the room.
But to her credit, Anora looked like she was just as tired and frustrated with this whole mess as he was. She shot him a sympathetic look that he might have believed if it had come from anyone other Loghain's daughter. "Alistair, I realize that you were not trained for this, and that you think seating charts trivial and unimportant, but I assure you they are not. This is our wedding banquet. It will set the tone for the beginning of our reign. I am not doing this to aggravate you.
"You asked me to teach you these things, but if you have changed your mind, I can take care of them myself." She sighed and gestured towards the study door with one elegant hand. "Perhaps you would like to take a break and go see your friends."
"No, no. I said I wanted to learn and I meant it." He stood and stretched his cramped legs and started to pace the study. Sitting still for long periods of time was something found very difficult. He was going to have to find time to start an exercise regimen before he went to fat and his skills completely dulled. "Go on, then. I'm listening."
"Obviously we cannot move Isolde and Eamon, so it must be Lady Maris and her son. But most of the tables are already full, and if we move her too far back, she will be insulted. She may be a widow and a glorified merchant, but she is extremely wealthy, and her son holds a small estate that is also the nexus of a major trade route. We will need her cooperation to get the trade lines running again."
Alistair stopped pacing and peered over her slight shoulder at the chart on the table. "Lady Maris is interested in trade, hrmm? You should put her next to King Bhelen's representatives then."
Anora looked up at him. "Next to the Dwarves?" He thought she was going to dismiss him or tell him what an idiot he was, but instead she looked at him intently and asked, "Why?"
For a moment, he felt like a boy back in the chantry being singled out by old Sister Marianne to answer a question in front of the whole class. He wondered if Anora was going to pull out a cane from under the table and rap his knuckles if he gave the wrong answer.
Alistair cleared his throat and said, "Well... with their new king, trade is starting to open up again and rich people always seem to want more money, don't they? She and the Dwarves might have much to talk about."
Anora's blue green eyes widened a bit, telling him she was surprised by his answer. She looked back down at the chart in front of her and picked up her quill and made a notation on the scroll. "She and her son would have to be moved back two rows, but if I send her a note phrasing this as opportunity and not a slight, I think she will be very well pleased."
She looked up at him and smiled. "Very good, Alistair!"
Alistair was torn between being irritated with the fact that she was so obviously shocked he'd come up with an intelligent solution and being pleased to have won the praise of a woman who was so obviously competent.
"You think so? Do I get a cookie and a pat on the head now? Maybe get to stay up an hour or so past my bedtime as a reward?"
Alistair hadn't realized how much Anora's smile brightened the room until it was gone. Her features smoothed out into the calm, attentive mask she usually wore, but her mortification was betrayed by the pink stain on her fair cheeks.
"I am sorry," she said. "I did not mean to offend you."
Feeling like a complete ass, he was about to tell her that he was only teasing, when one of their servants entered.
"The Grey Warden requests to see you, sire."
Alistair's mood darkened immediately. "Which one?" he demanded. "It better not be that bastard, Loghain."
At his words, the color drained out of his betrothed's face, but Alistair did not care. The first thing he had done once they had reclaimed the castle from the darkspawn, was to forbid Loghain from ever stetting foot in it again.
"No." The deep voice came from the large man who filled the doorway. "It's just that bastard, Amell."
The tension in Alistair's shoulders eased only slightly when he saw the man he'd once considered as close as a brother. Marcus Amell stepped into the room as Anora dismissed the servant. As the door closed, the Grey Warden greeted Alistair's soon-to-be wife with a deep bow, before taking her hands and asking, "I trust that the Queen is well?"
Anora gave a soft smile to the mage with the plain face and a sword strapped to his back. "Please, Marcus. Three's no need for formalities amongst friends."
Alistair's brows lifted. "Oh, is that what we all are? Good to know."
Marcus completely ignored him, still focused on Alistair's wife-to-be. "You'll be happy to hear that your father's wounds continue to mend. He is waiting for you in our rooms at the Pearl if you have time to see him."
"The Queen visiting her traitor father in his rooms at a whorehouse? Fantastic!" Alistair said. "That won't set tongues wagging, now will it?"
Anora gave Alistair a glance that made Marcus's powerful frost magic seem warm and toasty, before turning back to the mage. "Thank you for everything that you have done." She looked like she wanted to say more, but she hesitated, clearly reluctant to withdraw her hands from the Grey Warden's. When she finally did, she turned back to Alistair. "I will be back before supper. We can finish then if you wish."
His future wife didn't wait for a response, she simply glided out of the room and closed the door.
"What do you want?" Alistair demanded the moment she was gone.
Marcus moved across the room and held his large, callused hands over the fire. "Answers."
There was no accusation or anger in Marcus's tone, which on the whole, was rather disappointing. When Alistair didn't say anything, Marcus just sighed. "You slept with Morrigan, didn't you? You did the ritual."
There was no point in denying it, even if Alistair had wanted to. The answer was obvious. "Yes."
He could see the big man's shoulders tense up. Someone who didn't know Marcus very well, someone who hadn't spent over a year standing shoulder to shoulder with this man against countless darkspawn would not have noticed. But Alistair did, and he knew that underneath the implacable calm exterior, Marcus was absolutely furious. Satisfaction warmed Alistair's belly.
"Why? You couldn't possibly think that it would make me jealous."
"Of course it wouldn't." Alistair had known that while Marcus and Morrigan had often shared a tent, that there was little love left between the two mages – certainly not enough to cause a jealous rage on Marcus's part.
"Then why?" Marcus's temper broke through the surface raising the volume of his voice until it rang throughout the whole study. "Why the hell would you make a such a terrible deal with that bitch?"
Alistair's anger and resentment that had been simmering since the Landsmeet went white hot once again. "Because you spared Loghain's life! You made the man, who nearly destroyed our order, who slaughtered my friends, who killed the man that I loved as a father, a Grey Warden. You bestowed upon him the honor of becoming one of us – and if that wasn't insult enough, you were going to let him die a hero!" He pointed a finger at Marcus's chest. "And I will be damned if I see Loghain remembered as the Grey Warden who died saving Ferelden from the Archdemon!"
Marcus flung his arms wide. "Have you thought about what you've done? Morrigan's out there now, pregnant with a royal bastard that has the soul of an ancient god!"
But it wasn't only anger that Alistair had been carrying, there was shame too and that seared through him at the Grey Warden's words. "Don't you think I know that? Morrigan came to me when I was drunk and angry over your betrayal. After my best friend sullied the thing that mattered to me the most. She told me what you and Loghain had planned, and told me that I could stop it. So I did."
"Dammit, Alistair!" Marcus dragged a hand over his face. "If I had known you were this irresponsible, I would have never pushed for you to take the throne."
Even through his anger and betrayal, the words stung, but he was not going to apologize. Not to this man. "I did everything you asked of me. Agreed to take the throne and marry my half-brother's widow because I trusted your judgment and then you stabbed me in the back twice!"
"Sparing Loghain was a tactical decision."
"Really? Because from where I was standing, it looked to me like it was a decision made to impress a pair of pretty blue-green eyes."
The Grey Warden straightened up to his full height, "Do not drag the Queen into this." Even Alistair had to admit that he was intimidating.
But Alistair was not about to back down. Not about this. Not until he got Marcus to admit that why he had made the choice in the first place. "You made that decision because you love her."
For once, Marcus's pain was clear across his broad features. "The only feelings I have for the Queen are admiration and loyalty. It cannot be anything more than that." Marcus turned his broad back to Alistair, stared into the fire, and said after a time, "Sparing her father's life and allowing him a heroic death was the only thing I could give her Alistair, because it also happened to be for the good of Ferelden."
Leliana told stories around their campfire about heroes that fell in love at first sight, but Alistair never thought he'd ever witness it happening until Marcus Amell had laid eyes on the captured Queen. Of all people, it seemed impossible that it would happen to someone as fiercely practical, shrewd and focused on duty as Marcus, but the big man had fallen fast and hard. Alistair was unsure how much Anora cared for him back or if they'd ever acted on Marcus's passion, she was always so guarded around him and others, but he knew that Marcus was not fool enough to feel pain and regret for a woman who did not at least share his feelings.
Even Anora's ruthless pragmatism did not seem to bother the Grey Warden; in fact, he seemed to love and respect her all the more for it. Which was why Alistair had been completely shocked when Marcus, of all people, had pushed the idea of a political marriage on both a reluctant Anora and Alistair. But then, perhaps that shouldn't have been surprising considering Marcus had a strong pragmatic streak of his own. It had been the best solution to unite Ferelden. They had all known it. Now they were all trying to live with that decision.
Alistair's anger eased a bit with his friend's admission because despite everything that had happened, he hated seeing Marcus's grief. The confirmation that the Grey Warden spared the traitor for love somehow made the decision more bearable.
Alistair sighed and stalked over to where there was wine set out on a polished silver tray. He filled a goblet nearly to the brim and took a liberal swallow. "You should be the one marrying her and taking the throne."
Alistair poured another goblet of wine and held it out to Marcus who crossed the room and took it gratefully. "I am the son of farmers. I am mage and a Grey Warden. It is what it is. We have to face facts."
"Just like that?"
"No, not just like that! But we each have our duties. Ferelden needs strong monarchs as well as Grey Wardens. You know that as well as I."
"And one of my duties is siring an heir on the woman you love."
Marcus gave Alistair a pointed and pained look. "Yes, well, we all have to find ways to make peace with things we thought we'd never be able to accept."
The two men looked at each other and silence fell between them.
Finally, Alistair spoke. "I hate this."
Marcus took a long swallow of his wine before he said, "Despite being an idiot sometimes, you are a good man. If you're smart enough to learn from Anora, and I think you are, you'll make a good King." Marcus shook his head. "And the next time you're angry with me, just come punch me in the gut, all right?"
"And what about Morrigan? Do you think we should try and hunt her down?"
"I think that we have no chance of finding her unless she wants to be found," Marcus said, confirming the conclusion that Alistair had already come to on his own. "Besides, there are still bands of darkspawn to hunt down, as well as rebuilding to do. Neither of us have the men to spare. We will just have to hope that she meant what she said about doing no harm to Ferelden and deal with it later if it turns out she lied."
Marcus shot Alistair a wry look. "At least one good thing came out of this. You finally had a woman."
Alistair could feel the heat of the flush that crept all the way up to his ears. "There is that, yes." He cleared his throat and changed the subject. The less thought or said about that, the better. "Are you staying for the wedding?"
Marcus nodded, his expression carefully blank. "For the ceremony, but we will be leaving shortly thereafter." The Grey Warden didn't give a reason, but then, he didn't have to. They both knew why he was going so soon.
"Will not be there. But he will be your wife's father. You are going to have to find a way to make peace with his continued existence, especially since you are the cause of it." At Alistair's glare, Marcus shook his head and put the goblet down. "And now I will leave you to your wedding plans."
"Abandon me is more like," Alistair muttered. "You are a cruel, cruel man."
Marcus's tone was dry. "Making you King and forcing you to marry an intelligent, capable and beautiful woman? Yes, I am a right bastard aren't I?"
Marcus strode for the door, stopping and turning at the doorway. He met Alistair's eyes one more time and said, "Please be good to her, Alistair," before jerking the door open and walking out.
Alistair watched the Grey Warden go, half wishing that he was still free to join him, half bitter that both his best friend and worst enemy had made that impossible, before returning to the table, picking up the seating chart and getting back to work.