A/N: Hopefully this isn't too self-indulgent and someone actually enjoys it! Standard disclaimers apply. Thanks to Tasmen for the beta!
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
~Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
THE ANNALS OF THE QUEEN
Part One: A Royal Arrangement
Summer is slipping away. While not cold, exactly, there is enough of a catch in the air to give Mayra pause. The noonday sun is high in the sky and below her window, the Marketplace of Denerim is bustling with the sounds of commerce and construction, rebuilding the city and the economy all at once. Mayra affords herself a small smile at the idea that merely months before, this space had been devastated by siege; but the world moves on, she supposes, and Denerim is in the process of healing.
She cannot help but wonder what it must have been like. For those in the city whose homes had been destroyed, those who had feared for their loved ones, unsure of their return from battle but unwilling to give up hope. A twisted thought, to wish for such pain and Mayra is not unaware of just how fortunate she has been. Her father-- a minor Bann whose lands and armies had been all but uninvolved in The Blight—had spoken of the loss of life only in passing. This is no subject for beautiful girls, he had told her, dismissive, I would prefer my daughter to never know of such things.
What sort of life could one lead without pain? Only the most empty of Mayra's stories had told of heroines without heartache and she had no wish to become weak-willed or simple-minded, defined only by those around her.
She cannot help the laugh that bubbles in her throat, bitter and empty, at the thought she has done just that.
From her window, she can see her father and Arl Eamon returning. She had been brought to the Arl of Redcliffe's Denerim estate just three days prior and the intention had been clear: her marriage was being arranged. Distantly, Mayra knows she should be happy. Delighted, even, for what young noble girl does not dream of marrying a King? A young King, handsome and strong and already half-beloved by the country he had fought to save and all Mayra can think is that she'd rather he marry anyone else in the world.
But their union makes sense, her father had tried so hard to explain. She is a daughter of the Bannorn, but not from a house so powerful as to overpower his own political influence. Arl Eamon had all but selected her personally to become the Queen, extolling her virtues to the young King at every opportunity. She had been officially presented to him just yesterday, and while her heart fluttered at his nervous smile and half-awkward words, the chisel of his jaw and the obvious strength and grace with which he moved... Mayra does not want to marry him.
So often your choices are not yours to make and as a noble daughter, Mayra knows the freedom she had previously known was a luxury. So many others in her place had their entire lives planned out for them before they were even born. Marriages of convenience, of political strength arranged around the men who would benefit the most were commonplace amongst other girls in her position. Oftentimes she had seen her friends removed from court to be married off like produce traded by farmers and the bitter part inside of her knows it is just her turn.
She is lucky, she supposes. While she has only met him once, at least King Alistair seems like a kind enough man and his appearance certainly offers no complaint. He is neither old nor ugly and that in itself is a blessing when it comes to arranged marriages so Mayra closes her eyes and tries to vow that she will make the most of this.
From down the hall she hears her mother's delighted laughter, the sound ringing of pride and Mayra knows what news Arl Eamon has brought: Her engagement is official.
It takes only moments for her mother to burst through the door and confirm, hugging her tightly between exclamations that she is going to be The Queen! Her father is there too, beaming with pride and Mayra isn't sure what exactly she did to deserve that because, truthfully, she'd spoken about three sentences to The King at their meeting and really Eamon is the one they need to be thanking... But they look so happy and Mayra is nothing if not a dutiful daughter.
So she smiles in return, beaming at them with false happiness and hoping her charade is not obvious.
-- -- --
Sometimes, Mayra feels like she is caught in a whirlwind. Within a day of finding out, she is dressed up in a beautiful gown and shuffled up beside Alistair to be introduced to the country. He looks more like a boy than a King when he offers her his arm, a half-mumbled apology for how rushed and pompous everything is. She opens her mouth to respond to him, but they are whisked out for their presentation before she gets the chance.
He tells the gathered nobility that she is his chosen bride, they are betrothed.
She wonders if he even knows her name.
The wedding preparations are even worse. Her mother alternates between gleefully picking out flowers and lamenting that six weeks is not long enough to plan a wedding. Mayra spends half her days being measured and poked at by a seamstress and the other half learning all about the customs of being royalty.
It's enough to make her head spin and niggling in the back of her mind is the thought that in just a few scant weeks she will be marrying a man she's never even had a conversation with.
It is not proper for them to be alone, not unmarried! She is to be The Queen, she cannot be seen as having anything but perfect virtue and her mother laughs off her suggestion that she would like to at least share a meal with her promised husband before they are joined forever. There will be time enough for that later, dear! She tells her. Now don't frown like that, you want your face to look perfect for the wedding!
Mayra saves her frowns for private, after that.
Only one day before the wedding and she finds herself in the Royal Palace, trailing her fingers along the spines of books in the library as she waits for her mother to finish whatever last minute preparations they are there to complete. She feels out of place, despite the knowledge that this will be her home in just a matter of hours. She is used to a life of luxury, but not on this grand of a scale. She will have servants for her every whim, be given everything she could possibly want or need and as wonderful as that sounds, Mayra feels a little bit like she won't know what to do without wanting for anything...
She doesn't hear him enter, only his slight grunt of confusion followed by "Oh, hello."
When she turns, she finds him standing awkwardly in the doorway of the room, glancing about like he expects something to jump out at him.
"Your Majesty," she offers demurely, dropping a respectful curtsy.
He grunts again, sounding almost like a whine. "Oh no, no. You shouldn't..." but he trails off, brow furrowed. "I mean to say, we're to be... well, we're to be married so you shouldn't submit to me like that..." He scrubs at the back of his neck with his hand and Mayra again notices just how young he seems.
"You are still The King." She offers quietly.
"Yes, well, I am." She thinks she sees him grimace slightly, but it is gone before she can really be sure. "And I'm telling you to call me Alistair." He nods at that, as if pleased with himself. "We're going to be married, we should at least be on a first name basis, right?"
He looks so nervous and Mayra can't help but be thankful that she is not the only one with reservations. "If that pleases you, your highness." It comes out automatically, the practiced grace of a woman used to being subservient. "I shall call you Alistair." The name feels funny on her lips and she realizes this is the first time she has spoken it aloud.
"It does, absolutely." His grin is brilliant, if wavering and she feels a faint flutter in her chest. "Shall I be permitted to call you Mayra in return?"
You just did, she wants to tell him, but he is so obviously new and uncomfortable with the courtesies of proper conversation and it pulls the barest hint of a smile onto her mouth. "You shall."
The silence stretches awkwardly between them for a moment and she notices him glance towards the door more than once. Just when Mayra has convinced herself to say a proper farewell and bid him leave to find her mother, they are interrupted by the arrival of a woman.
The hero of Ferelden, Mayra recognizes. Now the leader of the Grey Wardens, the warrior who had fought alongside Alistair and saved the country from The Blight. She looks tired and resigned, stopping just a step into the library with the faintest of frowns.
"I apologize, your majesty. I did not mean to interrupt."
"No, you're not. We were just... that is to say..." he trails off lamely, something Mayra can't discern flashing across his features.
"I merely came to bid you farewell, I apologize I cannot attend your wedding but I am needed in Amaranthine immediately." She glances at Mayra as she speaks, leaving her feeling unsettled in her own skin.
Alistair looks like he might say something, but merely shuts his mouth and nods.
"I wish you the happiest of marriages, my lady." The Hero of Ferelden is nodding to her politely and Mayra cannot shake the sense that the platitude is as empty as they come.
"Thank-you," she whispers out, her eyes darting between Alistair and the woman who makes her retreat hastily. Alistair stares after her for long moments and somehow Mayra feels even more awkward than before, as if she is witnessing something intensely personal that she should not be privy to.
But Alistair has turned back to her, then. "I suppose this is goodnight until tomorrow then." He takes her hand, kissing the top of it gently and in that moment he is every bit The King he is supposed to be. "I hear there's a wedding to attend tomorrow." He flashes that grin, tugging unbidden at her chest and all Mayra can do is nod as he makes his retreat.
She should be thankful they had this moment together, that she has at least spoken briefly with the man to whom tomorrow joins her forever. He had been nervous, but charming in his bumbling way. So clearly in need of instruction in the proper etiquette required for a King, and Mayra knows she could tutor him, raise him to that standard, be useful to him as a wife and as a Queen.
In the deepest part of her mind, she can't help but think of the way he had looked at her... So hopelessly broken for just a moment...
She smoothes her skirts as she hears her mother approaching. It would not do to dwell on such things, she needs to be rested for her wedding, after all.