A/N: Sorry about the delay! It comes to me in spurts. As always, thanks to my beta and the support I get in reviews. It's always lovely to hear!
Part Six: In The Dark
He has been gone for a week.
In the empty bedchamber, Mayra stares at the ceiling. Her hands lay laced over her stomach and in the darkness of the room she tries to focus on her breathing. In and out, calculated and measured and every one taken as carefully as she can.
It had been naive to think Alistair's attention on her had been focused in any direction other than pregnancy. He needed an heir; she supplied the vessel. Now that this has been accomplished, he is gone. Off to Amaranthine on some kind of emergency and she has not seen him since she learned of her condition.
But that's okay.
Over and over she tells herself, a litany in her mind that she is fine with this. She is the queen, and it is her duty to bear his child. For Ferelden.
The night creeps on and Mayra stays alone.
In the second week, she gets word of her father's illness.
He has fallen victim to disease, they tell her. His lungs are not acting as they should and no spirit healer can understand what is happening. Far away in his bannorn, he is ill and alone and Mayra stares out the window and wishes she could go to him.
Her mother shrugs off her worry, tells her that her father is strong. He will pull through. She laughs, hugs her daughter and returns to conversation with Arl Eamon.
Mayra feels very alone.
She thinks of Alistair, thinks of him in Amaranthine and tries to tell herself he must be solving an important state concern. Amaranthine is a port city and very important. Its strategic significance surely lends to complicated situations arising?
Dutifully, she shuts her eyes and forces away any consideration of who else is likely there.
The start of the third week, he finally returns. Mayra is in the gardens, hands folded neatly in her lap as she lets the afternoon sun play against her arms and thinks of her father, her mother and the child that grows within her. They had done this once, her parents. Had waited through a pregnancy that resulted in her birth and she closes her eyes and tries to imagine her parents as young as she feels.
He clears his throat and she raises her eyes. Her king, her husband, standing in the entry to the gardens, armour dirty from travel, hair mussed and in need of a bath... Looking at her like he expects to be berated.
She wants to. She wants to scold him, to project the weight of his abandonment in a tangible way that he will understand. She longs to have the marriage where she can speak freely and give all of herself in exchange for the same from him. For the first time, regret and longing push up from her stomach and Mayra has to cast her gaze to the ground to keep from an outburst.
Pregnant or not, she is still the queen. It would not be fair to expect things of him he never promised her to begin with and she fights for control over her words.
"You've returned." An obvious statement, her voice calm and collected and all she wants is for him to go, again.
"Yeah, I'm back." She can hear the nerves dancing along his voice and it's as though they have started again. All their closeness, all the intimacy they had forged carefully between them stands on the edge of a precipice tilting toward a fall. To Mayra, it feels absurd. His child grows within her stomach and the weight of weeks apart has them acting like strangers.
"I trust the coast was pleasant?" She folds her hands, seated on a bench in the garden, pregnant and wishing there were some joy to be found in it.
Alistair nods, raking a hand through his hair and he's still looking at her like he expects some sort of reprimand. He looks boyish, nervous and stuttered. Mayra struggles to ignore the tight pull on her heart he causes with every innocent feature. He is no child. He does not get to look at her with those eyes and that expression and have her melt...
"Pleasant, yeah. If you like Darkspawn and bandits and general mayhem and stuff like that."
He crosses the distance then, coming to a stop before her. She looks up at him, golden sunlight framing his face and she has to choke back a surge of affection. How easy it would be to step into his arms, to be embraced by him and kissed by him, to fall back down into the pit of love she'd been slowly trying to escape since his departure.
No, she cannot be besotted. He is the king and he will break her heart time and time again and for the sake of their child, she needs to be strong.
Mayra nods. "The Warden Commander is fortunate to have you in Amaranthine's time of need." She says it smoothly, rehearsed in tone and countenance and somewhere in the darkness of her heart she feels a tiny surge of pride at how well she pulls it off.
He grimaces at that, searching her eyes and swallowing before he speaks. "Mayra, I-"
She stands, cutting him off as she smoothes her skirt and regards him with a cool smile. "It bears no explanation, Alistair."Another nod and she prays he does not see how her hands clench at the fabric of her dress. "You are the King and a Grey Warden. It is only natural that the Warden Commander requires your assistance."
"Mayra..." He doesn't finish the sentence, looking at her with a crumpled sort of resignation that nearly breaks her resolve.
Yet she needs to be strong, to press forward with her heart intact and ready to be given to their child with the unconditional love of a mother. Neatly, she places her hand on Alistair's arm, the hardness of his armour feeling cold under her palm. "I am glad you have returned. You should bathe. We can discuss the baby over dinner." She pauses only a moment, unaccustomed to speaking with intent to harm. "You did know of my condition, yes?"
He looks miserable, younger than ever before and Mayra feels the strange tug inside of her once more as he nods.
"Good," she smiles again, the gesture lacking in any emotion at all. "We shall speak over a meal." Her hands still clench the fabric as she makes her retreat, already at the edge of the gardens when he calls out to her.
"Mayra. I wasn't... I didn't..." He swallows and even with her back turned it is not difficult to imagine the look on his face. "You are my wife."
Thankful for her turned back, Mayra fights to keep herself composed. "And you are my husband." She reminds him. "I will not ask as to what sanctity you hold those facts."
She leaves then, carried back into the palace on hurried feet and unwilling to risk furthering the conversation. Her peace said, her fears put to words. There is a tightening inside of her she had not expected. She makes it to an antechamber before the tears start. Her husband has returned to her, his child grows within her and Mayra has never felt more alone.