Disclaimer: "Dragon Age: Origins" and all its expansions and additional content is the property of Bioware and EA Games. Large portions of written content within the game, as well as Dragon's Age: The Stolen Throne, and Dragon's Age: Calling, are the creations of David Gaider. Original scenarios and characters are used under the creative license of the writer, ItalianEmpress1985. No profit is being made and the following story is for entertainment purposes only
Words From The Author: Welcome! There will be a small author's note at the beginning of each chapter, several of them contain information for the chapters. This one however is the most important (and the longest, sorry), going over what you're about to get into. Mostly that this is now a three part story and each part is quite long. You do like novels, right? Right? *crosses fingers*
A) This story supports major points of canon, but doesn't swear fealty to canon at all times. Some things in this tale are very similar to the game, things you'll probably recognize, but there are things that are QUITE changed. I respect the canon enough to want to improve it where I felt it was needed and leave it alone where it wasn't broken, but if you see something unfamiliar to you, it is very likely my doing. Such as Eamon being involved during the latter years of the revolution against Orlais. I'll get into the reasons for that one later on, but for now that's an example of some changes.
B) The Cousland and Alistair of this story were not a romantic pair, nor does a romance suddenly blossom once they are married. Not to discount it entirely, but it would take a long time before there'd be even a inkling in that direction. That isn't to say there isn't 'some' romance in this fic with other characters, but it's not abundant with it. Namely there is Leliana/Alistair, Cousland/Morrigan and some Cousland/Cailan, though Alistair's romance was the only legit one of those three, the other two never made it quite that far. There are a few others that crop up later on, but those are the mainstays that the story begins with.
C) This is not a 'shining saint Alistair' story, he had plenty of his own moments of being a jerk in the game and being king was more not less likely to bring out some not-so-nice traits, nor is it a 'goody two shoes Cousland' story, as the spoiled daughter of a rich family, that didn't make sense to me for her to be quite so nice (at least not with the Cousland family as I have them in this tale). As far as that goes, pretty much everyone is chock full of grey area in the characterization. Not so big on the fluff in this tale either, but a bit more on the darker side of storytelling. I don't sugar coat 'any'thing. :p There's a lot of the grittier side of arranged marriages, and Renaissance-esque politics. Gwyneth herself is barely a fighter and much more a politician. Along with an exploration of paying the piper, which leads to the consequences of the Dark Promise used to save the two protagonists' lives in the game (and in this story).
D) Related to that, to clear up any confusion, while the Archdemon's body was assumed to be female (because high dragons are) the Archdemon was never a high dragon (not in this rendering at least) but a dragon god and always male. The soul corrupting said body was/is a god, not a goddess. So, yes, you've guessed it, we're going to get up close and personal with Urthemiel and he's definitely not a cute little god baby. If this story has any main 'big-bad' it'd be him. I've gotten creative with the lore concerning that too, so some of his background and the fall of the Old Gods might not be what the Chantry preaches. Though I haven't changed what the Chantry says. ;)
Enough blabbering from me, you came here to read, and so you shall.
Thank you for stopping by, and watch out for low flying dragons.
Fate And Forbearance: Part One
Hatred and Heritage
Their's was a fragile friendship, that fell apart for the sake of an arranged marriage . . . to each other. As the new King and Queen of Ferelden, nothing is easy, and one dark promise may threaten to ruin their kingdom and their very souls.
Beyond Duty Lies Nothing
Yesterday is dead and over.
Today is all you'll ever have.
This is your life, are you who you want to be?
This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be?
Arl Eamon Guerrein and Teyrna Gwyneth Cousland stood in the arl's study. The fine simplicity of it did little to make their conversation any easier. At least they felt enough familiarity to leave titles behind for the time being, though that was little help either.
"The Cousland and Theirin names combined would make for a grand claim to the throne. There are those who would question Alistair's suitability for the crown, they say he is untested and unknowledgeable in such matters. They'd be right, but your family name has a strength, as you yourself now do. You've been at the forefront of nearly every conversation about the Blight." Eamon tried to smile, but she wasn't won over and he sighed, readying his next tantalizing speech, but she spoke first.
"Children's stories, the fancies of feather headed girls. Those who would ever think it appropriate that I 'take up the sword' instead of seeing to Highever and its future, is a fool indeed, as are you to convince me of this by way of the heroine's tales about me. Make no mistake, dear arl, I'll never complain about the appreciation, it is my right for the blue blood in my veins that I be so recognized, but those are hardly the traits needed in a good queen. A king . . . perhaps . . ." The young teyrna waved a callous hand, as if dismissing the conversation already, but Eamon wouldn't have it.
"Fine, as you say. Let us forego heroic tales of daring do. I suppose that was Mac Tir's mistake, wasn't it? Hoping the hero worship he had would win him the country's support after all this time. People forget, that much is true, but let us go back to Alistair's experience with politics. I love that boy, truly I do, but he has no head for these things, he could, however, under the right tutelage."
Gwyneth smirked unkindly, knowing where the arl was going. "Mine, you mean to say."
Eamon rubbed his forehead, not understanding her resistance. "Gwyneth . . . you were raised by a teyrn who instilled all the skills of successful nobility in you, and an understanding of political planning and the delicacies of financial rule. Your family was second in importance only to the king himself, and it could yet be. Many would follow the promise of House Cousland and its legacy. You are the last of your house, ruler of the only truly blue blooded teyrnir in Ferelden, that carries as much weight as Loghain, his title, and his daughter."
Last of the Couslands, there was power in that. Perhaps even enough to make those at that Landsmeet ignore that both Gwyneth and Alistair were Grey Wardens. Though Eamon wasn't fool enough to think everyone would just forget it, but they might let it be glazed over. People saw what they wanted to, after all.
"Hah! You have not seen all that I have then, Eamon. For I hear the wagging tongues of the nobility, see the pointing fingers. They would rather my brother be here, and I would agree with them, except Fergus is lost, to me and the world and I am all that remains. After this Blight is won, I shall retire to Highever, take a husband who I can shape into a proper teyrn, one who will take my family's name so our line is not ended in title." The young woman's lip curled up into a sneer that was half directed at Eamon, and half directed at herself. "If I do not take care of these matters, I will lose the support of the nobility, whose praise now is tenuous at best. I mean to silence their questioning glances by taking up my proper place, not holding Alistair's hand so he can find his."
Eamon would've asked her why, if she were as ambitious as he knew her to be, she did not want to take the opportunity given to her. "There will always be wagging tongues, but they can be silenced by those that not only were loyal to your family, but had great affection for the greatness of your house." He wasn't going to back down until she had at least seen some wisdom in the suggestion.
She might have screamed at him, rage and grief claiming her buzzing mind. 'What greatness? Of a house stolen by Howe, its once noble banners burned to be replaced by those of that bastard arl?' Judgment had been wrought on that man however, and Gwyneth knew she had to let it go, had to start putting the pieces of her mind back together before it was too late. So she remained silent, posture rigid.
It didn't go without notice, as the arl continued his campaign. "I have come to see that Alistair bears great affection for the Orlesian bard you travel with."
"Leliana." Gwyneth inserted abruptly, as Eamon nodded.
"Yes, but that must be secondary to his duty to Ferelden. He cannot marry her, and if he does not marry you, it will be another high born lady. Your refusal does not spare him from making that choice, I hope you know that. I think both of you might prefer it this way, at least you have the bonds of camaraderie."
The teyrna seemed to take that in, holding it in her mind as the thought sloshed about in her skull like water. Her silver eyes could cut like daggers that shared their color, but at present they were only set pieces on a face stiff with thought. "I trust then that you spoke to him about such duty?"
A huff from the elder man. "Indeed, as unpleasant as the conversation was."
Gwyneth scoffed, tossing her hair behind her and tilting her chin upwards. "As if this one is so full of sunshine? I think not. He certainly must have said no."
"Don't be so certain. He's grown in your company. I see in him much potential, and his ability to reason has improved greatly during these passing months." Eamon stared the young lady down. "I also know you dislike the current queen and with some reasons that I share. Her father has infected her with the bile in his own mind. Anora was once a great queen, but she does not have your noble blood to keep her tempered and she's lost her way. Surely you must see that you are a better candidate, and that your influence would improve Alistair's own suitability." Eamon almost wished she were sitting down, he could use the added height to press his words on her. If only she weren't as tall as she was obstinate. Both traits inherited from her father, overbearing bugger that Bryce was. 'Maker bless his soul.' Eamon added silently.
'You are a better candidate.' The late Teyrna Eleanor Cousland had something similar, once. She'd had many suitors, both those her parents sought out and those that came of their own accord. Her dowry alone was a draw for many nobles and their sons. Her father was finicky about what matches he thought suitable, as was her mother, but Eleanor was the one who dreamt big.
They'd been at the royal palace in Denerim for King Cailan's birthday celebration, an event to which only the finest nobles were invited. It was a list the Couslands were nearly at the top of, beside Teyrn Mac Tir. There Eleanor had pointed at their sovereign, insisting that Gwyneth would make a much better queen than Anora. A mother's bias certainly, aided by too much wine, and yet it was not as if the thought had not found purchase inside her own head before.
As for herself and Cailan . . . 'No, no I won't go down that road again.'
Standing before Eamon with his suggestion, his 'matchmaking', she couldn't help but think 'Wouldn't mother be overjoyed?' The thought was a cloying one, sat beside old resentment of Anora and conceit for Gwyneth's own self worth. There was still a part of her that wanted to say yes. The world, however, had changed and Gwyneth had lost many of her girlhood fantasies. Alistair wasn't Cailan, and he was her friend besides, moments even where she thought of him as a brother. 'I can't be his bride!' Her voice rose a pitch or two as she finally responded.
"Do you have any idea what you are asking me to do? You are asking me to marry Alistair, marry him!"
"Was it not you that told me you would do anything for the good of Thedas, anything to uphold the love and respect your family has for Ferelden?" Eamon countered plainly. The Guerrein line wasn't known for backing down.
"Of course I did!"
"This is that 'anything' Gwyneth. This is the moment where you are to be tested. Is duty important to you still, or will your discomfort prevail?"
"Discomfort? Discomfort? Far more than that. I . . . I can't do this, I'm sorry."
"May I ask why you won't even consider it before giving your refusal?"
"You may, it isn't as if I can sew your mouth shut." Gwyneth rolled her eyes for effect, arms crossed impertinently across her chest.
"I think you might just try." The mouth she'd threatened bore a small grin of amusement before Eamon went on to more serious thoughts. "If we cannot win over the nobility, Loghain will win and when that happens, so too will the darkspawn win, and the lands you profess to care for will be covered in an ocean of innocent blood. He doesn't understand the threat the way you and Alistair do, love of Ferelden has turned his mind to paranoia, I fear. He cannot combat this threat as you do, but you will need the support of the noble houses. This union will give Alistair, you, and our cause a much needed hand to victory at the Landsmeet. So I ask you again, why will you not consider it, if you are so set with your sense of duty?"
"Certainly you make a better politician than my father would ever have admitted, he always thought he was the best, and indeed he was, but you are rather good at slathering on the guilt." With a huff she conceded at least his talent for speeches, but Gwyneth never did answer the question, instead posing another. "We might both die, when we face the Archdemon at the head of this horde, you know that don't you?"
"Death is always a risk, for all of us, but I can't see all ends anymore than you can. What I can see is what is before me now, a land in turmoil that will lend itself to slaughter under darkspawn claws. I cannot ignore that, nor pretend I'm not willing to do anything to change it for the better. The future of the crown is as much a concern as the Blight, and to win against the latter we must win the former."
Gwyneth's mind was already working at the issue presented. "You said you spoke with your nephew about this . . . union?"
"Yes. I've been told on many occasions, including by my own wife, of the stubbornness of red heads, but though blonde Alistair is, he was as stubborn about this as you are."
"I'd like to hope I got him to come 'round to the idea eventually, though he's brooding in his quarters now, I imagine."
"Yes, he's prone to that." Her eyes glinted at that thought. "This isn't the first time though, is it?"
"What are you talking about?" Eamon raised a puzzled brow, lips twitching above his grey beard.
"This isn't the first time you attempted to make a match for King Maric's son, excepting that the first son was already married." She bore in on the arl, old resentment flaring up.
She couldn't deny the desires for power and importance she had, but to be used like a chess piece on a board, as if no one had a care for what she wanted . . . it was infuriating, even now. More than anything, Gwyneth wanted control.
"How did you . . ." Puzzlement brought Eamon's brows together, blue-gray eyes narrowing in on the young woman before him.
"Cailan told me, that day at Ostagar, before everything fell apart."
"He told you? Why?" Eamon couldn't have been more surprised. Then he remembered the rumors after Cailan's twenty third birthday.
'They were dancing closer than was decent, I tell you.' 'Such a beautiful girl, younger than the queen by ten years, don't tell me the king wouldn't even think about it.' 'The king hardly spends time with the queen anymore, and you know the Couslands travel a lot.' 'My cousin said she saw them together at the summer solstice, tucked away into an alcove, cozy as you please.'
It had been a task to have them quelled, but he had done it, taking it upon himself to raise his nephew above suspicion. Of course there would always be some rumors that never ceased entirely. Working with Teyrn Cousland had aided him greatly in that, but even afterward thoughts were placed in their heads. Anora was nearing an age where she wouldn't be nearly so fertile, and Cailan had yet to have an heir. Eamon had brought it up to his nephew more than once, to little avail, all discussion ending in anger. So he'd been forced into planning things out without Cailan's notice, so that he might have presented a stronger case to the stubborn king.
Teyrn and Teyrna Cousland had been willing towards the idea, though not without concerns. Bryce had stood beside King Maric Theirin, Loghain Mac Tir, Rendon Howe and Eamon Guerrein against the Orlesian Empire. Adoration for the teyrn's children warred with loyalty to the men he'd served alongside. Bryce had respect for Loghain and hadn't liked the idea of moving against the man's daughter, but at the same time he couldn't deny wanting the utmost for his own. Eamon recalled a visit to their estate in Highever about such a matter.
The Teyrn eventually had said yes to the suggestion, and the planning was begun, all for naught it seemed, when Cailan fell at Ostagar. Now, however another opportunity to seal the destiny of Ferelden was presented to Eamon, and he wasn't going to shy away from it because Gwyneth and Alistair might not like it.
"It hardly matters why he told me, what matters is that he did. He thought you already had someone in mind. You did didn't you? It was me wasn't it?" She barely needed to ask the question at all, she was already nearly certain. Her eyes were hard and cold but she took note that Eamon wasn't cowering away from the truth.
"Yes." There was no need to lie about it now, and Gwyneth was right, the 'why' hardly mattered. He wouldn't let it have any bearing on the decision before him, before all of them. "Your mother and father would have wanted this."
"My parents?" Gwyneth had thought her mother's words were merely a few cursory comments made out of turn, little more. Her father had reacted very . . . unkindly, about those rumors, and his punishment was something Gwyneth would never forget. Had he changed his mind?
"Did you think I would've presented you as a candidate, without talking to them?"
Clarity dawned for Gwyneth.
That fateful day in the Great Hall of Castle Cousland, stood beside the traitorous Howe, his words remained. "You're my darling girl, I love you. I trust you to carry on the Cousland name should anything bad happen." Her brother, Fergus had already married well, and produced an heir, he had done his part and Bryce expected his daughter to do hers. The late teyrn had no way of knowing his grandson would be murdered beside his mother, with Fergus lost and likely dead. If Bryce had known, Gwyneth knew the task upon her would've been pressed harder.
'Your mother and father would've wanted this.' Yes, she thought they might have at that.
The room was quiet, but for the noise of activity in the courtyard outside the window. Gwyneth glanced in that direction, perhaps wishing she weren't there, but outdoors, holding on to a freedom that was quickly slipping away. Perhaps she just needed to collect her thoughts. "I . . . I would like some time to think on this."
"Of course, but time is of the essence and we've very little of it to waste. I'll be expecting your answer no later than tomorrow morning." Eamon nodded his head at the woman as she bid him good night, and left.
It was early enough in the morning that some of Gwyneth's companions were still abed. She'd gotten little sleep, and was all but ready to bolt from her quarters, as soon as she felt Alistair might be up. The two of them had developed the same internal wake-up call, when it came to sleep, Gwyneth assumed it might have been a Grey Warden connection.
Of course he could've still been sleeping, in which case she might just use it as an excuse to avoid talking to him. It certainly wasn't a discussion she looked forward to. Arl Eamon might have even suggested it was entirely unnecessary, that she could go tell him what she had decided, and he would tell his nephew accordingly.
However, Gwyneth found herself disliking the idea of how arranged it seemed. She couldn't get away from the fact that it was indeed arranged, but Alistair was her friend and she could lessen the feelings of it being some kind of blood pact.
The corner of the hall saw her standing before Alistair's door, a moment to draw in a long breath, newfound bravery along with it and she finally knocked. There was some mumbling, but nothing she could discern. "Are you awake? Might I come in a moment?"
"Gwyn?" It was muffled through the door, but it was Alistair's voice nonetheless.
His sigh was apparent through the thick wood. "Enter."
She almost laughed. 'Enter' Already he sounded as if he were a king. The direction of her thoughts surprised her. It wasn't as if she imagined the young man was completely incompetent, at least not anymore, but he'd professed his lack of the character necessary for a kingly position, and she agreed . . . but now; perhaps Eamon had been right, Alistair had changed.
He was sitting at the desk in the quarters afforded to him, the chair turned round so he could stare into the fire. At the moment he was staring at her instead, both of them measuring the appearance of the other. How odd it was to be without battle gear, and it was clear that Gwyneth was far more comfortable without armaments than Alistair would ever likely be.
"You look . . . different." He was mumbling, which wasn't the best indicator of a good mood.
"As do you." She nodded her head in his direction, waving a hand to point out the fresh tunic.
"Probably not fancy enough for you." Alistair snorted, well aware of Gwyneth's more than sleight self absorption. When he'd first met the red-headed noblewoman, he had thought her a spoiled brat. Over time that lessened a bit, but not entirely. She was still conceited at times, and overly fond of finery for someone that had been dropped into a more military existence. She had confessed to longing for the gowns of her old life, on more than one occasion. The ones afforded her at the Arl's estate were quite common, offered on short notice as they were.
Leliana liked fine things too, but Alistair was entirely hesitant to start making comparisons between the two women.
"They're fine enough, the shoes are a bit tight though. So saying, would you mind terribly if I sat down?" Gwyneth was completely unaware of his inner thoughts as she fidgeted.
He waved a hand and she took the overstuffed chair he had gestured to, leaning back in a posture far more casual than the rapid jumping in her nerves.
"Where is Leliana?"
That much was obvious and Gwyneth barely resisted rolling her eyes. He was already showing his mulish streak. "I see. May I ask where?"
"I . . . I don't know." He looked utterly dejected and lonely. "We had an argument."
"Oh." She was quite certain she knew what it was about.
Long uncomfortable silence stretched between them, and Gwyneth found herself almost hoping the absent bard would return and she'd have an excuse to leave. She could make up something to the arl and find a way to avoid ever having this conversation.
She was a Cousland, she could do anything. That thought stopped her, and she knew then that there was no turning back from her decision. With a deep breath, she opened her mouth. "Your Uncle has brought forth a proposal, and he tells me he already spoke to you about it."
Alistair winced, refusing to meet her eyes. He didn't want her to think he found her horrid. She was his friend and fellow Grey Warden, but the prospect was painful and made him feel sick. "He did. He's right in that you would make a fine queen, and certainly better than any noblewoman I can think of, though I don't know many." Alistair shrugged, the gesture looking as heavy as his heart felt.
A small smile tugged at the corner of Gwyneth's mouth. The same weight that pressed down on her was at least two fold on him, she could see that plain as day. "If there is little comparison, I'm not certain how well recommended I am for the position."
"What did you say? About . . . you know." His tone grew very grave, and finally he looked at her. Brown staring into silver, and both pairs dark with displeasure.
"I haven't said anything yet, nothing committed at least. I wanted to think about it and I have, but I wished to speak with you first."
"Well, here I am." Alistair smirked, trying to find some humor in the situation, but there was none to be had. He had a feeling he already knew what her answer would be. So many times she'd spoken of nobility, duty to one's lands and people. "You think it's a good idea, don't you?"
"'Good' isn't quite the word I'd choose, but it seems the best recourse available to us, yes." A slight nod of her head, a quick motion with her hands. It all seemed so simple, in practice it was anything but.
"Leliana, she . . . didn't take it well, but I think she understands. I understand too." He sighed, wide shoulders slumped, his hands running through his dark blonde hair, clasping behind his head.
Gwyneth nodded in understanding. "It isn't easy for me either, but after giving the matter as much thought as I could, there is little else that would help you win the crown as much as my hand. At least there is little else you would accept, after all you could marry Anora . . ."
"Never!" He glowered, gaze firm. "I thought once that she was a great queen, smart, definitely smart, but now . . . We could've been killed in Fort Drakon because of her, because of her lies! We rescued that ungrateful witch from Rendon Howe and what did we get in return? A nearly fatal trip to a prison tower." He shook his head again, vehement. "No, I see what she is now, no better than the other pretenders out there. There's no way I'd marry her, Gwyn."
A sly smile almost came to Gwyneth's mouth, thinking on the insults the two woman had flung at each other. Where it had been Gwyneth that was conniving, and Alistair had once suffered her with as great an insult as he was now with Anora. Time made things fade away . . . or convenience.
The teyrna had always thought herself better than Anora, born of The Blood whereas Loghain's daughter had her title only because of the favor the late King Maric placed upon her father. Now it would seem that where Alistair was concerned, Gwyneth had won.
There may have been a bigger smile of victory in that, but this was a serious matter and those kinds of feelings were inappropriate. "There were times, when I was younger, that I envied Queen Anora. I thought myself more beautiful than her, more clever, more . . . worthy. My mother hardly helped, occasionally making not so subtle hints, finally she let up, at my father's insistence. The Couslands were second only to the Theirins of whom only Cailan was left, or so it was thought then, but second we still were, and I wanted to be first."
Alistair allowed himself a thin smile. "I can see that."
Gwyneth narrowed her eyes at him briefly, but smiled in turn, hiding her covetous desires behind a shroud of the camaraderie Eamon had mentioned. "Still, I like this idea no more than you, but I would do this. I would be your queen if it's in the best interests of the people." Gwyneth felt her throat tighten on tears she dared not to shed, the moment could fall apart if she did, and timing was everything, but even for the thrill of victory, the idea of marrying Alistair made her feel heart-sick. Never could she have who she truly wanted, one was long dead and the other . . . she imagined no one knew of the feelings she harbored, and for whom, perhaps not even the object of her affection. Soon it would not matter, perhaps it did not even matter now.
Storytellers would always weave tales of forbidden love, and those who read such tales ate them up with abandon, thinking them oh so very romantic. No one ever talked about what it was like in actuality, how it filled you with emotion, but ripped your heart out. They never dwelled on how the pain of it twisted you up until you no longer knew what direction was down or how you'd gotten there.
It ended in tragedy in those tales, oh yes indeed, but always in the same manner. The star crossed lovers forgoing life and any other love for the power of their 'true love' The heroine would plunge a dagger into her chest, or poison herself, and her beloved would throw himself into battle to fight until the death, for he no longer had anything to live for. It was not reality. Reality made you keep going, made you pretend such love never existed, because the importance of it paled in comparison to other matters. Tales of romance had the quick release of death to end the suffering of the lovers, but love in life was a slow poison, rotting you from the inside out, making that suffering continue until you had to put the thought of your pain from your mind, or risk madness.
Love, as Gwyneth had been taught since her youth, was dangerous and deadly, a lie that ate away at your ability to think. Never had she believed that so much as she did then.
Alistair took a moment, what he thought might be the last moment he would have to savor being 'just Alistair' and not 'king in training'
Leliana's face was there, in his mind and hovering as if it were a mirage before his eyes. The long talks of the chantry. She found peace there, and he couldn't wait to get out. He recalled with painful precision the impish and flirtatious discussions on just what bards did. The embarrassing admonition that he'd never been with anyone, and the joy when he had lain with her for the first time. His blue eyed goddess. How she'd cried when he told her what he had to do, the look on her face breaking his heart clean in half. He wouldn't make her his mistress, wouldn't have people whispering about her. There'd been enough of that in the woman's life.
"Eamon told me . . . he told me that I could never marry Leliana. I wanted to be enraged, but inside, I knew he was right." Alistair rubbed a palm across his sorrow-weary face.
"If we survive against the Archdemon, I will have a duty to marry of the nobility and eventually produce heirs." He felt his cheeks grow hot in embarrassment, unable to look at Gwyneth. Leliana had been his first, and he once told her that he wanted her to be the last. Duty required otherwise, but Alistair couldn't imagine doing those same things with Gwyn. "But children between two Grey Wardens . . . I've been told its nigh on impossible."
"So you think it would be better if you were wed to another?" Gwyneth raised one dark red brow.
Alistair shook his head, holding back a tortured groan. 'I don't want any of this! I just want Leliana!' Finally gaining control over himself, he sat up straighter. "No. We can . . . We can figure out what to do about an heir later. This is hard enough, and to marry some stranger, or Maker forbid, Anora . . . no, I can't do that. Not when the option to have you at my side instead is presented. I care about you Gwyn, you're my friend, at least we'll have that."
"So we're really going to do this then? King Alistair and Queen Gwyneth?" She figured she'd better start getting used to the titles. Even if she found herself in the Fade after facing their deadliest foe, she would at least have a good bitter laugh over the irony of it all.
"Yes, I think we are." Alistair was tight lipped, his face taut in an effort to keep his heart ache hidden away. He knew he wasn't nearly as talented at pretending as Gwyn, but he'd better begin to be.
Not even another second left to the last Cousland for her own sorrows. She left them buried as she rose from the seat, head held high. The decision was made, and she would see it through with all the pride she could muster.
She maintained that same stance at the Landsmeet, her hand entwined with Alistair's. A fine facade of their 'united love' for all the nobles to see. Gwyneth had always been good at games of pretense, but she was surprised that Alistair was developing a talent for it as well, even if he did grip her hand like a vice for those first fraught moments before the uproar began.
A look was sent to the sorrowful Anora, the blonde woman holding on to her pride, but there were tears in her eyes.
Loghain kneeled before Alistair, only because his knees could no longer support him, not for any acceptance of defeat. He was unafraid of the judgment that had been passed on him. The man looked up at the would-be-king, eyes blue and cold, like ice.
"Do it if you are going to. If you are Maric's son in anything but name, you won't hesitate."
Gwyneth could barely believe what she was hearing. It was as if the teyrn wanted to die. Alistair was shaking beside her, with rage she might have guessed, but perhaps some other unnamed emotion as well.
"Warden . . . Please . . . " Anora's elegant voice rang out in the din. Neither woman had been very fond of one another from their first meeting, but the queen needed Gwyneth and her eyes sought her out.
"What will it be?" A voice of one of the nobles attending the Landsmeet. "What does the Warden say?"
Alistair was a Warden, Riordan was a Warden, but somehow it was Gwyneth who seemed to have inherited that name as if it were as much a title as 'queen.' In the days to come it would have to be forgotten, replaced with a grander one.
"You know he deserves to die for what he did!" Alistair spat, eyes shooting sparks. "Are you with me Gwyn?" His voice was lowered, and for a moment of weakness he was looking to her as he had since Ostagar. Looking to her to be the final voice.
He had been with her when she had slain Howe. Some of the others had balked at her actions. 'Vengeance will not fill the hole in your heart.' Wynne had advised. Alistair, however, stayed beside her. He understood what she needed to do, and let it be done. She owed him the same.
Gwyneth gripped his arm in one hand, and nodded. "I have always been with you."
She stood firm as Loghain was brought to his end, Alistair's blade falling with swift revenge to cleave the man's head. Gwyneth let the sounds of shock about the chamber fall on her deadened ears. A lurch wound in her guts, Anora's heart-wrenching cry breaking through the self appointed silence, but still she remained at Alistair's side. The other woman looked up at Gwyneth from where she was sat in the pool of blood around her father's headless body, eyes full of hate and grief. Splatters of Loghain's blood were on his daughter's face, coloring that pale and creamy façade with bits of crimson.
Gwyneth looked away, feeling tears pricking in her own eyes, a rare grief from one like her, sympathetic with the loss of a woman she'd long professed an intense dislike for. The teyrna knew what it was like to lose a parent, the heartbreak still there beneath her ribs, and still she'd stood beside her future king, her future husband and let it happen to Anora.
Eamon's words came back to her. 'Anything for the good of Thedas, anything to uphold the love and respect your family has for Ferelden.'
Alistair was still shaking, bits of blood splattered on him from his grisly act, breath coming in quickly. Then he felt Gwyneth's fingers over his own, as if she cared not a whit for the red fluid on them. There was a large pulse in his heart, nerves, grief, anger, all swelling within him at the justice he had wrought upon Loghain. For all that he hated that man, for as long as such dark feelings of revenge had propelled him, when little else could have, it was over in a blink.
"It's done now. Let them see that their king is calm and sure of himself." Gwyneth's words were whispered so that only he would hear them.
Slowly, Alistair let the grip on his sword lessen, putting it back in its scabbard. With a deep breath, he turned his head from the sight. Gesturing to the guards, who were ordered to remove Loghain's body. There were other matters that he needed to attend to personally. The words felt shallow, but he was surprised at how in charge he sounded, the tone of his voice both strong and commanding.
No words were said between the two Grey Wardens as they left that bloodied room, but Gwyn's hand was in his, lending him a silent reassurance. Leliana was watching them, a sad cast to her eyes, and it was all Alistair could do to avoid going to her. He wanted her consolation, but he would settle for Gwyn's, because it was his duty, and beyond that duty there was nothing he could have, nothing he could own.