Darkspawn were everywhere. They filled every inch of the underground lair, with its high stone walls carved by hands Ailee was fairly certain couldn't have been tainted by the darkspawn blood. They cheered, louder and louder as they marched ever forward. Her vision was clouded for a moment and then Ailee saw it. A wing, huge and leathery, attached to an enormous dragon. It whispered, the words not quite understandable but there just the same. Terror washed over her. Ailee couldn't tell if she was awake or dreaming but either way she needed to get out of there. The dragon roared. The walls shook. The darkspawn seemed to cheer once again.
From the darkness a voice seemed to call to her. She couldn't quite make out what it was saying, but it was safe and warm, not at all like the cold, harsh speech of the darkspawn. The darkspawn spread its wings and took off from its roost once again. As the scaly back cleared her view Ailee found herself looking not at the darkspawn but at stars. Ailee blinked a few times, making certain what she was seeing was real and wasn't only a dream, half afraid that her nightmare had indeed been real.
"It seemed so real..." she trailed off. She was surprised when a voice responded.
"Well, it was real." She propped herself up on an elbow and looked over at Alistair who had just spoken. He was sitting up, hands on his knees, watching her with interest. "Sort of," he added seeing her confused and frightened look. "Don't worry, all new recruits get them. The darkspawn, we can hear them in our dreams. Some of the older Wardens even said they could understand their speech. What you heard was the Archdemon."
"You heard it too?" Ailee asked. She pulled her blanket closer about her shoulders. Alistair smiled.
"I'm a new recruit too, don't forget. Haven't been a Warden more than six months..." Alistair trailed off. Her looked at Ailee for a moment, a dark look coming to his face. He got up and walked over to her mat and sat beside her. "There is one more thing we never got to tell you before the battle." Alistair paused for a moment, watching Ailee. She held her breath, sure Alistair was about to tell her some sort of terrible news.
"The taint is a death sentence. We have thirty years to live. Give or take."
Ailee let her breath out and began laughing. Alistair cocked an eyebrow and openly stared at her. "I was so sure you were going to tell me that we turn into darkspawn eventually or grow fangs or something."
"So this doesn't bother you at all?" Alistair said, astonished. The news had bothered him somewhat when he first learned. But after a few days he had decided that thirty years as a Grey Warden was much better than fifty as a Templar. It wasn't long after that the dreams of darkspawn began including that dragon. And then Duncan had announced that this was indeed a Blight.
"Alistair, I should have died that night in Highever. I almost did die that night in Highever." Ailee shook away the faraway look in her eye and turned back to Alistair, smiling. "Right now thirty more years sounds like a blessing."
There was movement across camp. Someone was limping towards them. As the figure neared the firelight Ailee saw that it was Cailin wrapped in his blanket limping slightly. "I suppose this is the I-Can't-Sleep/Too-Much-On-My-Mind Party?" He sat next to Ailee on her mat.
"You alright?" She asked him. Cailin hadn't been limping earlier, at least not that Ailee had seen. He just smiled and waved a hand dismissively.
"Yes, yes, fine. Just a slight brush with death is all." He smiled at Ailee and Alistair. "What about you two? I saw how the Wardens were when they were together. I lost my army, you lost family."
He was looking at Alistair moreso than Ailee. Alistair watched him for a few seconds, searching Cailin's face for something Ailee couldn't see. "Yes, well." He said stiffly. "Duncan...Duncan will be remembered." Alistair didn't sound very convinced and quickly looked at Ailee for support.
"By the Wardens and Ferelden alike." Ailee tried to smile reassuringly at him. Alistair half grinned back. He put his hands on his knees and stared into the fire. Cailin lay back and looked up at the stars. He smiled softly to himself.
"I guess you and Fergus laid out and watched the stars like this every night, and not just when you were in Denerim." It was more of a statement than a question. Ailee laid back next to Cailin in the grass. The stars were the same as always, twinkling down on them from the heavens, oblivious to the plight of the earth.
"Every night we could when we were young. Though after Fergus met Oriana he'd take her stargazing instead. Father would come out with me sometimes then." Ailee gave a heavy sigh, making Alistair turn back to watch her. She wasn't smiling anymore, and whatever she saw definitely wasn't the stars overhead.
Alistair laid back next to Ailee. He had never really stargazed as a boy, not often at least. As he looked up he realized why it was that Ailee loved it so. There had to be thousands upon thousands of stars shining down on them with an etheral light. As he watched they began to take shape, becoming more than individual dots in the sky. Lions and dragons and beautiful women seemed to take form, making Alistair wonder if the entire thing had been enchanted in some long ago time by a powerful mage.
"I suppose this is what it feels like, yes?" Cailin questioned. "To lay out under the stars with family, without a care in the world."
Alistair turned towards Ailee. She glanced at Cailin, then at Alistair, then back Cailin. "Yes, sort of." She said. Cailin smiled and went back to looking at the stars. Ailee put her arms behind her head and did the same. But for some reason Alistair wasn't able to smile like that. For some reason he didn't like the sound of being family to Ailee. She must have sensed him watching her for she turned back to him.
"What about you, Alistair? Did you ever go stargazing when you were young?" She blinked up at him so innocently that Alistair felt almost guilty at blanching at the question. Maker there were too many questions that would sprout from that one question. Ones that under normal circumstances he wouldn't want to answer. But with Cailin right there he wasn't sure how to respond at all.
"My mother died when I was born. All I had of hers was a locket. But that broke a long time ago, when I learned that Arl Eamon, who raised me, was sending me off to the Chantry to become a Templar. Stupid, stupid thing to do." He said. Ailee's eyes softened.
"What about your father?" she asked. Alistair looked back at the stars, not really wanting to look at her, and definitely not Cailin.
"I never knew him."
Ailee propped herself up on an elbow trying to get a better look at Alistair's face. Part of Alistair didn't mind - even liked it. The other part didn't want her knowing his past at any cost. Maker she was so bloody perceptive, at least on the battlefield. And Alistair was sure that ability wasn't just a sometimes thing. "I'm sure your father would have wanted to know you, though." Alistair knew Ailee just wanted to make him feel better, but she wasn't exactly helping the situation. He sighed but said nothing. Ailee continued to watch Alistair, growing a bit worried about him.
"I'm a bastard, Ailee," he said. "It's more complicated than that."
"No it's not." Alistair started at Cailin's voice. He looked at him through the crook in Ailee's arm. Cailin wasn't looking at Alistair but the stars. "No one likes their family being separated. He would have wanted to know you." Cailin turned to Alistair and smiled at him through the crook in Ailee's arm, his face carefree. Alistair wasn't sure how to respond. He had always assumed that Cailin would have hated him, Alistair being a threat to the crown and all. At least that was the feeling that he got from the nobility.
Cailin was still watching Alistair waiting for his reaction. Alistair's face dropped the harsh, almost frightened look it had. He smiled at Cailin awkwardly, not really knowing how to show his gratitude to Cailin for saying that. It meant more to Alistair than he would have like to admit.
Ailee looked from Alistair to Cailin and back again. Neither one said anything, instead sharing that secret grin. "Fine then, keep your secrets." She said, lowering herself back to her mat.
"What secrets?" Cailin said, looking bewildered. He looked at Alistair, who shrugged. So that meant Cailin had assumed Ailee knew about Alistair as well.
Ailee just shook her head at the two and laughed. She was too tired to pursue the matter. Pulling her blanket up higher she looked back at the stars and let sleep wash over her. Cailin was soon snoring to Ailee's left. She drifted off to sleep soon after. Alistair lay awake, trying to figure out what had just happened between Cailin and he. But he was exhausted from the march from Lothering and fear of that dream he and Ailee both had.
"Aww, look how adorable they are." Leliana said, sitting near the fire the next morning. Radagast looked over at the three splayed out on the grass where they had fallen asleep the night before. Ailee had curled up on her side, facing Alistair. Alistair was on his back and had stolen more than half of Ailee's blanket during the night. Cailin was laying on his back with his mouth open, snoring loudly.
"I don't know if you can exactly call Cailin adorable. I've fought darkspawn who made less noise." Across camp Morrigan was standing with her staff planted in the ground next to her, arms folded. "Why good morning little apostate," Radagast called to her. "What do you look so happy about this morning?"
"Do we plan on ever moving this morning or are we to stay her and babysit these refugees day after day."
"Morrigan, we only rescued them yesterday. I'm sure that we can find a village for them to stay at, at least temporarily." Leliana said, trying to calm the witch. No one was ready for Morrigan this early in the morning.
"Wonderful. Not only to we have a Blight to quell, but we also get to play watchdog to a herd of frightened sheep." And with that Morrigan walked back into the woods muttering to herself.
Radagast sighed. "Good to know she's happy this morning. How far are we from Redcliff, anyways?"
The answer came from across camp. "Shouldn't be more than a day now, I'd venture." Cailin had rose, yawning. He strolled over to Leliana and Radagast. "Morning. Radagast, my friend, I think I pulled something last night. You wouldn't mind..."
Radagast shook his head. He had taken care of bad patients before but Radagast had the feeling that Cailin was going to take the cake of worst of all time. It had only been two days and it sounded like Cailin had restrained a muscle in his leg with his refusal to stay put on Bodhain's wagon. "Come on. I'll set it right in a tick."
Alistair stretched and opened his eyes. He looked to his right and saw Ailee curled up beside him. She was sleeping peacefully, despite the noise around camp. It sounded like Bodhain was rounding up all the refugees. Sten was trying to pull up all the tents and put out the fires. Leliana was sitting nearby humming to herself. Alistair watched Ailee sigh in her sleep and curl closer to him. He smiled to himself. A piece of dark hair fell over Ailee's eyes. Alistair felt the sudden compulsion to reach out and tuck it behind her ears.
But no. What if she woke up? That would more than a little awkward. But still... Alistair found himself reaching out towards Ailee despite his fear. he brushed his fingers lightly across her skin, tucking the loose strand of hair safely behind her ear. He smiled at her sleeping form. She hadn't woken up after all.
"You might want to get her up. We have to pull out soon according to Sten. And as that's been the first thing I've ever heard him say I think we should listen to him." Cailin sat down next to Leliana. He turned his face towards Alistair, away from Leliana as he winced. Cailin took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
"You sure you're alright?" Alistair asked. He was beginning to get worried about Cailin. Yesterday he hadn't shown signs of being in pain like this. Of course Cailin had been moving around more this morning than he had been nearly all of yesterday. Leliana rose and moved to help Radagast distribute breakfast to the masses.
Cailin half smiled at Alistair. "I don't want them to see. I'm still their King, after all." Cailin rubbed his side gingerly. "Let me tell you, death by being squeezed round the middle by an ogre isn't as funny now as it was the first time Teagan told me that story."
"The one about the Valiant Knight?" Alistair asked. "I always thought the Knight popping like a bubble was a bit ... gruesome."
"Yes... Well... Teagan did like trying to scare the pants off of me when I was young." Cailin scratched his chin. "I imagine from the way Eamon would yell at Teagan it was the same way with you."
There were footsteps and both men stayed silent. Radagast walked towards them and paused. "Well don't you lot look raring to go. Quick, look productive. Morrigan's on her way back."
"Umm, can I talk to you for a minute?" Alistair asked Ailee as they walked towards the bridge leading to Redcliff. The refugees had found shelter at a village of a kind minor Bann's not far from Redcliff.
"Sure," Ailee said. She stepped to the side, allowing the rest of their companions to pass. Cailin walked by, arching an eyebrow at Alistair. Alistair bit his lip unconsciously. Cailin smiled and mouthed what looked like 'good luck,' which didn't booster Alistair's confidence level. "What is it?" Ailee asked when Alistair didn't say anything.
"Umm...You know how I said that Arl Eamon raised me last night?" Ailee nodded, looking up at Alistair innocently. "Well... I ... that's cause..." Alistair stuttered. He sighed and rubbed a hand through his hair. Alistair tried again. "Maric was my father," he said bluntly.
"I knew you and Cailin were hiding something from me!" Ailee said, happy she figured out at least that much the night before.
"Oh, no, no please don't think that. I wasn't trying to hide anything from you, Ailee. I just," he paused again, not sure how to put his feelings into words. Ailee waited for Alistair to realize that she had meant that jokingly, but he didn't seem to be taking the hint at all. "I thought you already knew when we met and then when you didn't ... It just seemed too good to be true. You accepted me as just Alistair. Not the bastard son of a King or a want-to-be Templar. I just ... didn't want that to end."
Ailee was trying her best not to smile. She knew it took Alistair a lot to admit that, but part of Ailee already knew. The similarities between Cailin and Alistair, how she had mistaken Alistair for Maric in the Tower of Ishal. It all fit together, especially now when she remembered back to her childhood, how Cailin would always have a wistful look in his eye when he watched Fergus and her together and didn't think either of them had noticed him.
"And...your smiling?" Alistair said, confused. "Why are you smiling like that?"
"So," Ailee said, not being able to hold her tongue anymore. "You aren't just a bastard, but a royal bastard?"
Alistair's face lit up. "Hey, that's a great line. I should use that more often." But the smile began to fade. "This doesn't change anything between us, does it?"
"Oh, Alistair," Ailee took one of his hands in his. "When we met I was in a nightgown and covered in blood. And you're worried about what I'll think of you?" she laughed. Ailee looked at the ground a minute, dropping his hand. She opened her mouth to say something but closed it again. "Thank you," she said finally, "For being you and not some other Grey Warden. I wouldn't know what to do if ..."
"Ailee, Alistair, we have a problem!"
Cailin's voice broke the moment. The two turned to see his worried face looking anxiously at them from the bridge. Ailee turned and ran towards him. Alistair cursed silently to himself. He was starting to understand what people meant about siblings and how they always tended to spoil the moment.