This chapter is something of an epilogue to The Hero of Ferelden. I'll publish further stories about these characters separately after this.
He was curled into a mossy hollow formed by the roots of a giant tree. Shafts of afternoon sunlight poked through the interlaced branches and roots above his head crisscrossing in patterns of light and shadow all around him. It was a warm space and the 'ceiling' was high enough that he felt he could stand, if he wanted to. He did not.
He was weak limbed and covered with sweat and a terrible pain radiated outwards from the small of his back down through his thighs. He briefly wondered if he'd broken his legs again and tried to remember where he was. The pain receded and as he drew in deep breaths he felt as if he were bracing for another wave of it. Why was he expecting more pain? Where were his companions?
He felt the loneliness then. He had no companions and he had no one to help him in this task. He was alone in this forest. His feeling of sadness was torn away by the next wave of pain and he cried out with it. It was not his voice. The hand that grasped the exposed and gnarled tree roots to the side of the hollow was small, delicate. It was Morrigan's hand.
A sense of panic quickly began to overwhelm the loneliness and the rising wave of pain. Maker's breath, was she ill? Aedan reached blindly toward her awareness, wanting to know, wanting to comfort. He could feel the clenching of her jaw then and she spoke.
"Aedan," she took in a short breath and continued, "You are here, lend me your strength." He did not quite understand what she wanted, but he could actually feel her welcome. He was more used to her anger and at his intrusion and had prepared to be flung away as she recognised his presence. He had no idea how to do what she wanted, so he simply remained still.
"T'is nearly done," Morrigan murmured quietly and he could feel a calmness wash through her, a weariness begin to seep into her body. The pain came again, dizzying in its intensity. But this time it was followed by a sense of release and relief.
As Morrigan welcomed her child into the world Aedan could feel himself slipping away. He tried to see the babe but his vision was clouded by Morrigan's tears and he only received the vague impression of a face surrounded by thick, dark hair. The newborn opened his eyes and they were of the clearest pale blue. Morrigan's love for her son was immeasurable and he had the sense of intruding on an intensely private moment and so willfully relinquished his hold.
Aedan awakened to a darkened room and was momentarily disoriented. He was stirred by the emotion of his dream and he clearly remembered every detail of it as if he'd been there in that verdant hollow with Morrigan.
Closing his eyes again, Aedan rubbed at the scar upon his forehead. Though Taren had been able to finish healing his injuries when the companions had returned to Haven, the deep furrow across his brow had already closed and the skin had knit unevenly. There was little the mage had been able to do about the scar, except to suggest it would fade somewhat with time. Aedan had shrugged softly and said, "It is no bother, Taren, if that is the worst of it, I have done well. Thank you."
Leliana had looked at his new scar thoughtfully, and after a moment she had added her agreement, "We all bear the scars of our journey, some are just more visible than others."
Taking his fingers from the scar now, Aedan opened his eyes again and glanced around. He was at Gwaren. He was reclined in a stiff backed chair and the desk in front of him was littered with documents and letters. He was in the study and the large room was lit only by the late afternoon sunlight that filtered through the windows at his back. He had been asleep for some time. Another look at the paperwork arrayed before him produced a chuckle. Inventory lists and merchant accounts, no wonder he'd taken a nap.
He and Leliana had arrived in Gwaren nearly two weeks previously. The companions had all gone their separate ways from Haven.
Philippe had taken it upon himself to escort the Orlesian wardens back to Orlais. Aedan had offered to travel with his second, but Philippe raised a hand and said, "Are you so eager to leave the side of your wife?"
Aedan had smiled fondly at the older warden and said, "Of course not, Philippe, but I know my duty to the Grey Wardens."
Philippe had answered, "Then do it here… I will come back before the darkspawn raise their ugly heads once again. You may count on that, Commander."
"I will." Aedan had replied and grasped Philippe's shoulder. "Thank you, Philippe. I look forward to your return."
Zevran had traveled with the remainder of the Ferelden wardens to Amaranthine. Aedan planned to join them there as soon as he had settled affairs in his new home. He had thanked his elven friend profusely for everything, but most sincerely for his continued friendship.
"If the road you traveled were not so exciting, I might have sought adventure elsewhere, my friend," Zevran had replied. But his eyes were resting casually upon Kayley, who had been waiting with the rest of the wardens. Aedan had followed his gaze and smiled.
"Maker watch over you, Zev. I will see you in Amaranthine." Aedan had said and turned to bid farewell to the rest of the wardens.
Aedan and Leliana had parted company with Alistair and Oghren on the Western Highway. Alistair had continued on to Denerim, taking his dwarven commander and his army with him, while Aedan had turned south, toward Gwaren.
Though Aedan would see Alistair as he passed through Denerim on the way to Amaranthine he missed his friend already. Their separate duties would likely keep them apart more in the future, particularly with the resurgence of darkspawn. Alistair had talked briefly of his plans their last night at camp.
Aedan had been amused and mildly surprised when Alistair had dropped down beside him, warmed his hands before the fire and said, "Would you mind if I asked you to relinquish one of your many, many titles?"
Aedan had carefully responded, "So long as you don't intend to replace it with another, certainly. Which one do you want?"
Alistair had cocked an eyebrow at him and said, "Oh, I have learned not to ask before giving you anything, but no, I don't intend to replace this one…not right away that is." The King had laughed at the wary expression on his face then and patted his shoulder reassuringly, "I jest, Aedan!"
With a glance over at Aedan's tent, in which Leliana was sleeping, Alistair had continued with his request, "I'd like to appoint your wife as my Chancellor."
Aedan had raised his brows and answered, "Have you spoken with Leliana about this?"
"No…I wanted to ask your opinion first." Alistair had replied.
Aedan had considered the flames thoughtfully. He liked the idea. Leliana had a knack for politics and with her phenomenal memory and ability to distill fact from fiction she'd be an asset to Alistair, and to Ferelden. He also knew that Leliana would thrive in Denerim, which was not too distant from Amaranthine, and he would see more of his wife if she were in the capital rather than Gwaren. The role would also likely include the opportunity to travel with the King and Aedan knew that would appeal to her wanderlust. And she would be safe with Alistair.
Alistair had interrupted his train of thought by continuing, "This is no reflection upon the work you and I have done together…"
Aedan had raised a hand and waved it briefly at his friend, "I know, but I cannot be Warden Commander and Chancellor, not while the darkspawn threat still looms."
Alistair had been relieved at his response. Aedan then answered his original question, "I like idea, but my reasons are mostly selfish." He chuckled and Alistair joined him, perhaps those reasons were not so hard to discern.
The next morning Alistair had asked Leliana if she would consider the appointment. She had glanced at Aedan, clearly suspecting that her king and her husband were conspiring to keep her in the city and away from the darkspawn, but after Alistair had enumerated the number of ways in which her skills would be service, she had relented and begun to look excited by the prospect.
His reverie was interrupted by a soft knock at the door and Aedan called out for his visitor to enter. It was the house steward, Evers. Aedan glanced down at the paperwork spread before him and started gathering it up, no doubt the kitchen wanted their accounts back and as far as he could tell Evers was running the estate with meticulous attention to detail. It wasn't like he had the time to run it himself, but Aedan had wanted to give the impression that he was concerned for the livelihood of those given into his care and he could tell his interest was appreciated. Thank the Maker he had not been caught napping on the job.
After the steward had left, Aedan rubbed at his forehead, fingers unconsciously feeling for the scar, and thought again of his dream. Morrigan had given birth to her child. Though he knew it was his son, Aedan preferred to think of the babe as hers. It made it easier for him to separate himself from the child he would never see. He had mixed feelings about being 'present' for the birth. He'd had a glimpse of Morrigan's overwhelming love for the child and hoped that his presence had provided a small measure of comfort to her, the loneliness he'd sensed saddened him. But Aedan could not entirely discount the possibility that she had drawn him to her side at that precise moment and that she had sought his company and strength at a vulnerable time. This disturbed him a little.
Aedan wanted to talk to Leliana about it and he left the study in search of her. She wasn't far away. In fact she was right next door in the library playing a game with Luke. Aedan paused in the doorway and regarded his new family fondly.
Luke had been overjoyed to see him when they had arrived at Gwaren. The boy had looked rested and well cared for and in that respect Aedan would be forever grateful to Evers. The steward was a family man and had readily welcomed another child into his care.
Aedan smiled as he remembered the enraptured expression on the boy's face when he had introduced Leliana. He never forgot how lovely his wife was but always enjoyed another's appreciation of her beauty.
Leliana had welcomed the boy to their little family and fussed over him with maternal delight. Aedan had had more than one chuckle over the past two weeks as he'd seen Luke submit to her ministrations regarding his hair and his clothing. Better him than me, he thought. But the fact that Luke had come to adore Leliana was obvious in every respect. When she entertained them with her stories and songs he hung from her every word an always begged for more.
They both looked up at the same time and Aedan briefly forgot his early disturbed feelings as he regarded their faces. He was a lucky, lucky man.
"Who is winning?" He asked as he stepped into the room. He walked over to Leliana's chair and stooped forward to drop a kiss onto the top of her head.
Luke grumbled softly and Aedan inferred this meant he was not winning. He grinned at the boy and said, "She's not just a pretty face, you know."
Leliana asked, "What have you been up to, my love?"
Aedan grinned sheepishly, "Napping…"
Leliana did not miss the shadow in his eyes, however, and she asked quietly, "Did you dream?"
Aedan nodded softly and they regarded one another solemnly for a moment. Aedan then glanced over at Luke and asked, "Luke, would you mind excusing Leliana and me for a while? I promise you can have her back this evening," he added with a warm smile.
After the boy had left, Aedan sat down on a couch and Leliana moved to join him, curling her legs up beneath herself and leaning against his side. He slipped an arm about her shoulders and just held her for a few minutes. It never felt any easier discussing Morrigan with her, but he had promised himself that there would be no more secrets between them.
Before he could begin, however, Leliana said quietly, "Will you take Luke to Amaranthine with you, or leave him here with Evers?" Leliana would be traveling with him as far as Denerim where she would assume her role as Chancellor. They would be leaving in a few days. Though this time at Gwaren had been quiet and easy and they'd both needed the respite, it was time to return to their duties.
Aedan had thought about Luke and though he knew the boy would not like his decision, at the tender age of fourteen he would have to abide by it until he reached his majority. He said, "He will stay here with Evers. I think Gwaren is a more suitable environment than Amaranthine. He is still obsessed with the idea of becoming a Grey Warden." Aedan sighed softly before continuing, "I can't help but hope that by the time he is old enough, we won't need him…"
Leliana nodded her assent and said, "He can visit with us, and we with him." She put a hand to her rounded stomach and added softly, "and after the baby is born, I will probably be here at Gwaren for a while."
Aedan slipped his hand over hers and kissed her cheek before saying, "Thank you for accepting him Leli, I really had no idea what to do with him, but he'd lost everything and I just wanted to make it right for him." He stopped, unable to explain further. Though he had hardly been thinking straight when the wardens had passed through Lothering, sending Luke to Gwaren may have been one of his more sane decisions, or so he liked to believe.
Leliana reached down to pat his hand and said, "Tell me about your dream."
Aedan took a deep breath and started with, "I was with Morrigan as she gave birth to her child." He could feel Leliana stiffen slightly beneath his arm and he closed his eyes. A sadness welled within him that he would have to tell his wife news such as this, but he stuck to his convictions and continued, "I think she summoned me to herself…I don't think she wanted to be alone."
Leliana turned slightly within the circle of his arm and he saw his sadness reflected upon her face. She said quietly, "Oh, Aedan, I don't know who to feel more sad for – myself, you or Morrigan." She bit her lip and added, "Was she, were they well?"
Aedan hugged her closer. It was so typical of Leliana to consider the feelings of others. He said, "Yes."
Leliana nodded thoughtfully and said, "Then we must be happy for them. Now that she has her son, perhaps your dreams will come to an end…"
Aedan sighed softly. He'd had the very same thought, "I hope so, Leli, I really do. I only want to be here with you."
She smiled at him, "I've never doubted that, my love." A thoughtful expression crossed her face and she said, "Did I ever tell you I found the meaning behind the name she had chosen?"
Aedan had told only Leliana the name and as he said it now, he felt a slight shiver, "Cian?"
Leliana nodded, "It means 'old one'."
Aedan raised his brows, "Fitting, but I'd rather talk about what we'll name this one."
He tightened his fingers over hers and she looked down at their hands and smiled before replying, "The possibilities are endless, Aedan. We may have to have to have more than one so I can use all the names I have chosen."
Aedan laughed and hugged her closer again. She looked up and he leaned in to kiss her lips before murmuring softly, "Your wish is my desire."
A whisper of air to his left was Aedan's only warning of Alistair's next strike. Instinctively he raised his arm, blade turned down, to block, but his attention had faltered and he didn't raise his arm high enough. There was a bright light, a thud and he was on his back, blinking up into Alistair's anxious face.
"You didn't block!" Alistair's voice was laced with concern. "Thank the Maker I pulled my strike…"
Aedan blinked a few more times and said, "I did block…" he shook his head to clear it, wincing at the sharp pain above his ear. He grasped Alistair's offered hand and hauled himself to his feet.
"You're bleeding…here" Alistair handed him a rag and Aedan blotted the trickle of blood away from his hairline as they two men walked away from the practice field and sat on a wooden bench that had been set in the shade of a large tree.
Aedan pocketed the rag and looked back toward the stone wall of house, his eyes resting on one window in particular. "This was a bad idea. I should go back in there."
Alistair patted his shoulder and said, "Taren said it could be hours yet…"
Aedan ground his teeth, "Is it supposed to take this long?"
Leliana had been sequestered away with the midwife and Taren for seven hours now and his nerves were frayed. His memory of Morrigan's experience of childbirth fourth months previously was somewhat hazy, but he was sure she hadn't been in that hollow for seven hours…or had she? He'd briefly described the experience to Alistair earlier in the day and the king's response had been, "Creepy."
Aedan stood up too quickly and his head spun. Shaking it out, he strode toward the house, calling over his shoulder, "I'm going in there!"
Alistair caught up to him and laid a hand on his arm, "I would advise against it, Aedan. Many babies were born while I lived at Redcliffe and there was always a lot of screaming and yelling and blood…" he left off there and shuddered.
"Blood?" Aedan's eyebrows rose in alarm, no one had said anything about blood. He shook off Alistair's hand and turned to toward the house again only to collide with Philippe.
The senior warden put a hand to each of Aedan's shoulders and steadied him before saying in a calm and collected tone, "Don't listen to Alistair, Commander, he knows not enough and too much at the same time."
Alistair made an indignant noise, followed by a, "Hey…" but Aedan saw the smile pass between the two men and he tried to relax.
"Philippe, you have news?" The older warden, a four time veteran of this particular campaign, had been trying to keep him calm all day. It had been at his suggestion that Aedan had invited Alistair to spar outside in an attempt to divert his thoughts for a while.
"Taren says it is time!" Philippe said, his eyes sparkling with merriment and anticipation.
Pausing briefly to wash their hands and faces, Aedan and Alistair followed Philippe into the house.
As they approached the room Aedan fought excitement, nausea, dizziness and worry. The hallway was quiet and when they reached the door, he hesitated. There was no sound! It was too quiet within. Alistair had said something about yelling…
The door opened and Taren stepped outside, pulling the door nearly closed behind him. When Aedan saw that he was smiling he nearly hugged the mage out of joy, he wouldn't be smiling if there was screaming and blood…Taren clapped his shoulder and said, "Go on in."
Without a backward glance at the three men behind him, Aedan stepped into the room and closed the door. He quickly moved toward the bed where Leliana was propped up on a multitude of pillows. She was a little pale and her eyes were shadowed, but her expression was peaceful. She was holding a swaddled bundle close to her breast and when she looked up at him she smiled.
Aedan sat down carefully and just gazed into her beautiful eyes, he was so relieved to see her looking well that he was momentarily speechless. He lifted a hand to her face, caressing her cheek softly, before asking, "Are you well?"
"I am, my love. Would you like to meet your son?"
Aedan's heart filled with wonder and joy at her words. Their child was a boy. He'd not really harboured a preference, but couldn't help the excitement he felt as he imagined all the things he could teach his son.
He leaned forward and she turned the babe in her arms, reaching up to loosen the light blanket tucked about his head. A shock of thick dark hair was revealed and when his son opened his eyes, Aedan fell instantly in love. They were of the darkest blue and they simply gazed at one another for a long while.
Tearing his gaze away, he finally looked back to Leliana who was regarding the pair of them with amusement and fondness. "What will you name him, Leli?" he asked.
"Riordan," she said softly. She resettled the babe at her breast and after snuggling the light blanket back over his hair, she looked again at Aedan and added, "Among other things, it means 'poet'."
Aedan smiled, it was a good name in many respects and he told her so, "A perfect name. Tell me, was it truly hard, will you ever want to do this again?" He added in a teasing tone, "I know you have many more names picked out."
She laughed and said, "Maybe one more. I do have the perfect name for his sister, but perhaps we'll just enjoy little Riordan for while?"
Aedan leaned forward to drop a delicate kiss upon the baby's brow, then turned his face upwards to kiss his beloved and said, "Of course."