Wynne had warned her - and why did she never listen to Wynne's warnings, when they were both so frequent and on the mark - that the love wouldn't last very long. Although even Wynne surely couldn't have imagined that it would fade quite as fast as it did, or in the way that it did. Elissa watched Alistair from across the room, engaged in lively discussion with a circle of attentive nobles. Well, he was animated, at least - they looked a hair's breadth from the grave, all sallow skin and vacant eyes, indulging their new king in return for the promise of the scraps of his attention. That was entirely unfair - and simply untrue in some cases - but Elissa was feeling less than charitable when it came to the court these days.
Arl Eamon eventually came over and plied his charge from the hungry grasp of his guests and led him away, out of the throng. Alistair glanced over his shoulder as he left, possibly looking for Elissa, but his quick scan of the room failed to detect her, tucked as she was in the nook between the staircase and the far wall. She began to smoulder a tad, wondering exactly what the meddlesome old man had to say now. That was uncharitable too, but Maker take it, Elissa still wasn't ready to forgive him yet. It may not have been entirely Eamon's fault that she was forced into hiding like some insipid wallflower, but he had certainly contributed to the problem.
"Let them believe what they want," he had said. "Times ahead are sure to be turbulent, and if it helps Alistair gain a strong hold over these fickle bastards, I say we go along with the illusion."
The illusion apparently being that Alistair had strode to the top of Fort Drakon, tapped the archdemon on the shoulder, and cowed it into submission with a single commanding glare. Or something of that ridiculous nature. Elissa wasn't sure where the rumour had originated from - that Alistair had led the Grey Wardens to victory, that he had carved a bloody path through the darkspawn ranks, that he had struck the final blow that decided the war - but when the first whispers had reached her ear, she had found it... amusing. Endearing, even. She certainly hadn't been offended or felt the need to correct anyone on the point.
At first. Now things were getting out of hand - the rumour having swelled in the past couple of months to a behemoth size - and Elissa was beginning to feel it was necessary to start reminding people just who had been put on display after the coronation; just who it was that had been at the receiving end of all those cheers. They had thrown flowers at her feet, for goodness' sake. Was she the only person who remembered that? Had it all been some fevered dream that Alistair had been too kind to point out as such? Of course you saved the country, my dear. You were so very brave. We are all very proud of you.
"Ah, my lady, I was starting to think you had escaped me," came the unmistakeable and insufferable voice of Arlessa Rosaline, followed by the unmistakeable and insufferable visage of Arlessa Rosaline.
As was I, Elissa most certainly didn't reply as she resigned herself to being effectively trapped in that corner for the foreseeable future.
"You never did finish telling me that thrilling tale of yours. It's been making the rounds, of course, but so few have heard it from the horse's mouth, so to speak." The arlessa's smile curved so sharply at that particular euphemism that suddenly Elissa was having to smother the urge to snatch out her hands to choke it right off of that over-painted face.
"Oh, it is probably no different to what you've already heard." She pasted her own smile back on. "In fact, my version is probably the more lacking - once the heat of battle has faded it can be so hard to recall the details, you understand."
"Yes," Rosaline said impatiently, "but what about that glorious moment, when his Majesty raised his sword and brought it down upon the head of that vile monster? He is a hero to all of Ferelden, you know."
She brought her arms up and then swung them down in imitation, but Elissa was too irritated to glean any enjoyment from the woman's obvious drunken state. On a better day she would have been trying to encourage further acts of increasing exaggeration, cataloguing them to share with Alistair later that night. As it was, she merely refrained from biting through her lower lip. Hero. Indeed.
"Actually, it was I who brought the archdemon to its end. Alistair was holding off the darkspawn horde, shielding me so that I could strike it down unhindered. It was a wonderful example of teamwork." Elissa paused, then - feeling incredibly petty but unable to stop herself - reiterated, "But it was I who killed it."
Arlessa Rosaline's expression soured. "Forgive me, my lady," she said, her voice wavering over the line between irked and diplomatic, "but I had heard a somewhat... dissimilar version of events."
"Is that so?" Elissa shifted, trying to discourage her body from coiling as it was trained to do before battle. Do not make a scene, do not make a scene. Not tonight of all nights.
As if the Maker Himself took pity and intervened, one of the serving staff chose this moment to pass, carrying a tray of brimming wine glasses. This proved sufficient distraction for the arlessa and, as she assailed the man, Elissa took the opportunity to slip away and up the staircase. She had promised both Alistair and Arl Eamon that she would stay until the end of the party, but surely when she explained that it came to a choice between her absence or a bloody stain on the floor of the great hall, they would understand.
Long minutes passed - perhaps more than an hour - and no one ventured into the master bedroom to fetch her. Elissa had been lying splayed on her back for most of that time, legs dangling messily off the edge of the bed, as she tried to pass the time inside her own head. No matter what, her thoughts always ended up revolving around the same subject. Second - Oghren had given her the word. He'd said a lot of things about castes and social structure and dwarven honour, but what Elissa got out of the conversation was that, basically, a second was a servant.
It had never occurred to her, that she and Alistair had ever had a comparable relationship to this, but the term seemed so very apt. She had been the leader; the general, and he her lieutenant. She made the decisions - got the glory - while he stood behind. It shamed her, to feel so cheated now that the roles had been somewhat reversed, when Alistair had never complained even once when it was he who stood in her shadow.
At some point, these thoughts chased Elissa into sleep, and it wasn't until she felt a draft of cool air on her cheek that she stirred again. Her eyes opened to the welcome sight of Alistair leaning over her - more importantly, Alistair half-undressed and smirking gently with his "bedroom face" that was reserved purely for moments of absolute privacy. That meant that it was over.
"Oh, no." She stretched, sitting herself up. "I didn't miss it, did I?"
Alistair's expression was one of exasperated fondness rather than disapproval, but the hand that reached out to stroke a strand of hair behind her ear told Elissa that he was concerned. More guilt to add to the heap. He really had enough to be dealing with right now - he didn't need his queen-to-be cracking under the pressure and hiding away from the world, especially when one of the things she had promised him before endorsing him as king was that they would always face it together.
"Is there a reason you abandoned me to the wolves down there?" There was humour in the question, but Elissa winced regardless.
"I got sick-" Of everyone cornering me, telling me how proud I must be, gushing over how lucky I am, asking me to tell them stories about your war days, making me feel jealous of my own- "I felt sick."
"Mm hm." Alistair cocked his head, unconvinced. "And if you were to put on your truthful hat?"
Elissa snorted, then drew him into a hug, because how could she not? "I didn't ruin our engagement banquet, did I?"
"Well, I hear that traditionally both the future husband and wife are present for such an occasion," Alistair chuckled as he kissed a small path down her neck. "But, to be honest, I don't think anyone really noticed. I suspect, mostly, they just wanted an excuse to enjoy themselves after all that nasty civil war and Blight business."
She laid back down again and parted her legs to let Alistair settle between them, spread atop her, his mouth journeying down to her collarbone. "What, the coronation wasn't enough? And the wedding was too far away? Are we to have events every other week from now on, just to keep the gentry's spirits up?"
"Perhaps," he replied, suddenly stopping and looking up into her eyes. "If it will keep them quiet and favourable, and... uh, averse to stringing me up by my neck."
Elissa saw the uncertainty in him, something that hadn't been apparent in quite some time, and it was amazing how quickly she slid back into her authoritative role. "That won't be necessary. You're going to excel in this, Alistair. I've always known it." Was this what it took? He gained self-assurance and she lost all of her own? He showed weakness and only then could she be strong again? Was this a healthy dynamic?
"How can you be so certain?" The question was earnest, and his face was so unguarded and honest and scared and brave that Elissa thought she might be falling in love all over again, right this instant. And finally - finally - it struck her: why she was here, why she had said Alistair's name at the Landsmeet, why it didn't matter a damn what the rest of the country thought of her and her diminished position, and why she wanted to spend the rest of the too-short years she had left at this man's side, loving him and guiding him into a new age for Ferelden.
"Because you're a hero," she said, breaking open into a smile so genuine and unrelenting that, soon, Alistair had no choice but to match it with one of his own. "Not to mention, that crown makes you far too pretty to hang."