Once again, thanks to Bioware for allowing us to use their characters. This story is set about two years post Origins. It features a few of the characters from my story 'The Hero of Ferelden'. If you have not read that one, here's what you need to know: Aedan and Leliana are married and have two sons. Riordan is their natural son and Luke is their adopted son. Aedan is Warden Commander of Ferelden. Alistair is King of Ferelden. Oghren is the Commander of his armies. Ferelden had nearly a dozen Grey Wardens recruited in 'Hero', those that may appear in this story are: Philippe (Senior Warden), Eric, Rolf, Taren, Yrisa and Kayley (Zevran's love interest).
Aedan crouched down and held out his arms, a wide grin splitting his face as Riordan tottered toward him across the floor. His son was walking! He felt he would never tire of watching those sturdy little legs step towards him. Riordan's brow alternately furrowed with concentration then lifted in delight as each step gained ground and he remained upright. His arms were stretched toward Aedan and he gathered the boy up and hugged the wriggling body to his chest, dropping kisses across the top of the thick black hair that adorned Riordan's head.
"I can start teaching him forms soon," he informed Leliana proudly.
Leliana laughed musically and then scoffed, waving a hand at them, "You are not to give that boy a sword until he is at least…" she paused to think, "Five?"
Aedan laughed at the thought of his eleven month old son lurching about with a big wooden practice sword and hugged him all over again. Having a child delighted him in ways he'd never anticipated. He remembered well the days when Fergus's son had been an unfathomable being, a smelly ball of furiously noisy babe that had caused them all many sleepless nights. Riordan had given them no such trouble, but even if he had not been the placid and sweet infant he was, Aedan knew he would have loved his child regardless.
He had seen too little of his family of late, and every time he returned from Amaranthine he worried that his son wouldn't remember him, but the boy was now relaxed and comfortable in his arms. The small face turned towards his own and regarded him with the most serious expression, as if to say, 'Don't worry, I know who you are...'
Aedan looked into those familiar eyes. Though Riordan favoured him, had his hair and would probably develop his nose, he had Leliana's deep blue eyes, not his own cool blue ones, a combination Aedan was more than pleased with. After bestowing that serious little face with yet another kiss, he set his son on the floor and watched as Leliana beckoned him, sighing with contentment as the feat of walking across the room was accomplished all over again.
"You say he only started yesterday?" he asked as Leliana gathered up the wobbling little boy and set him astride her hip. She looked as at ease with a child at her hip as she had done with a blade and it stunned him when he considered the various facets of his wife. He often wondered if all women were able to take on so many roles as naturally as this. His mother certainly had.
Leliana was walking toward him as she answered, "Just yesterday, you almost missed it." She looked a little wistful as she reached up to caress Aedan's cheek.
Aedan captured her fingers and brought them to his lips, endowing them with a soft kiss before drawing her forward, taking his wife and his son into the circle of his arms. He kissed her ear and whispered softly, "I'm sorry, my love."
He knew she understood his duty to protect Ferelden from the darkspawn threat, but it did not make their frequent and continued separations any easier. He had arrived in Denerim late last night and tomorrow morning he and Oghren would leave for Orzammar. One day, he had only one day with his family.
Leliana replied, "Shh, let's make the most of the time we have."
Aedan relinquished his hold on them and Leliana lifted her face to his for a kiss. Aedan happily complied and would have stood there all day had Riordan not had other ideas. A small hand interjected itself between them and they pulled apart with a chuckle.
Leliana took the break to ask, "Tell me again why you have to go with Oghren to Orzammar…" her tone was interested and there was a spark of curiosity in her eyes.
Aedan had mixed feelings about the trip, but it represented an opportunity he could not ignore, "Well besides collecting Alistair's wedding present, I plan to attend the proving Bhelen is holding in honor of his first born. This proving is an invitation only event and will play host to Orzammar's best. Not only is in an honor to be invited, but there is great potential for recruitment… the dwarves understand the darkspawn like no other."
Aedan was excited to have the chance to practice his skills in the arena instead of against mindless creatures, and he was also looking forward to the possibility of recruiting more Grey Wardens. Ferelden now boasted nearly two dozen wardens, but the darkspawn still threatened. But as stirring as the prospect was, it meant another two weeks away from his family.
"Perhaps after Alistair's wedding you could bring the boys to Amaranthine for a while?" he asked. He hugged her again and said more softly, "I've missed you…"
There was a shuffle at the door and Aedan looked up to see Luke standing there. He smiled broadly at the boy, and stepped away from Leliana towards him, but restrained himself from holding his arms out. Luke was at that awkward age where hugs were just entirely inappropriate. He remembered it well. Instead, he strode over and held out a hand instead and was pleased when Luke grasped his arm.
"It's good to see you, Luke," he said.
Luke smiled a little shyly in return and said, "Will you have time to practice with me today, Aedan?"
Aedan tucked his fatigue away and put on his most sincere expression before he replied, "Of course, Luke, whenever you're ready."
Leliana had told him Luke had been practicing his forms and his strikes and blocks almost daily. It seemed the boy still had not given away the idea of becoming a Grey Warden and worked tirelessly to perfect his combat techniques. He had taken to wielding dual weapons, as Aedan did, and it suited his more lean and wiry build. Though Aedan knew he was supposed to find the boy's imitation flattering, he still worried about the boy's obsession with the Grey Wardens.
Leliana had opted to bring the Luke to Denerim with her. As Alistair's chancellor she spent more time in the city than Gwaren and neither of them liked the idea of leaving him alone for too long. He was so impressionable and Leliana and Aedan both hoped that by introducing him to the city, allowing him to practice his swordsmanship along with Oghren and the soldiers stationed in Denerim, that they could divert his interest to a military career instead.
Luke was still standing there and Aedan took this to mean he was ready now. He grinned at the boy and gestured that he take the lead. Before he left the room he glanced over his shoulder. Leliana was smiling indulgently and as he shrugged a quick apology, she waved him away saying, "Have fun!"
"Aedan didn't have parades and festivals to celebrate his wedding…" Alistair knew this was a weak argument, but there was always a certain satisfaction in eliciting just that expression and that particular tone of sigh from Eamon. In a day full of paperwork and meetings, it was the little things…
Eamon replied, "Aedan is not the King of Ferelden…" and Alistair smiled, so very tempted to reply, 'But he could be…' but Eamon was looking fatigued and Alistair took mercy on the older man. The last two years had taxed his former regent and he was looking increasingly…old.
Eamon rubbed his temples before continuing in his tirelessly patient tone, "Ferelden has been waiting for over a year for this day, Alistair, it's a occasion for the whole country to rejoice!"
There in lay the problem, to Alistair's mind. He did not want to share his special day with the entire country, he wanted to share it only with his intended bride. He'd never expected to be swept off his feet by love. He'd hoped… but he knew so little of romance. There had been no love in the Chantry, only books, and sometimes even they failed to deliver upon a promise, there was always an end to the story, a final page. He'd watched wistfully as Aedan and Leliana's friendship had developed into love. Though he would never wish for trials that had separated the pair time and again, he envied the bond that sustained them.
Alistair didn't notice the smile that shaped his features as he thought of his bride. She was his opposite in every way. She was a mere slip of a woman, delicate, but her fiery personality more than compensated for her lack of height. She could hold her own in any debate, and it was this side of her that had first caught his eye. She had come to Denerim to request aid on behalf of the elves seeking to settle land to the south of her father's holdings. Some of the local farmers had objected to Alistair's gift of land to the Dalish and had armed themselves against what they called the 'incursion'. But the elves had a champion in the form of a woman who was barely five feet tall.
Her colouring also vastly differed from his, her skin was pale, though her cheeks carried a high, natural blush no cosmetic could imitate. Her eyes were of a deep forest green and sparkled with humour and wit. Her raven hair reached to her waist when unbound, a sight he'd delighted in just once recently… Alistair quickly dragged his thoughts away from that particular vision thinking only that this wedding could not happen soon enough! Only three more weeks…
As a light flush burned the tips of his ears, Alistair noted that Eamon had stopped talking and was looking at him with an amused and indulgent expression. He laid a hand on Alistair's shoulder and said, "Although you ruffled some feathers with your choice, lad, I'm glad you are marrying someone who pleases you so. You deserve the happiness she will bring you." Eamon paused and then added in a more thoughtful tone, "You have done a fine job this past year, Alistair, I am proud of you. I may not say that enough. Though he'd hoped to spare you this business, Maric would have been proud of you too..."
Alistair felt his flush spreading at this outburst of unexpected warmth and praise and said quietly, "I long for a simple affair, something I would share with only those dear to me… but I understand, Eamon, a Royal Wedding it shall be. What is your plan for the parade again?"
They discussed the route and logistics until they were interrupted by a muffled thump. Alistair glanced up from his desk, and noted the door to his study had swung open, but no one had entered. Eamon was seated across the desk from him and he turned around and stood up, walking toward the door.
"Now here's an interesting delivery!" the older man exclaimed as he stooped down to collect something from the floor. Alistair stood up, a flicker of concern creasing his brow, but as Eamon turned his face relaxed into an easy smile. Eamon was holding Riordan and gazing down at the boy with much affection. Aedan's son had become a familiar sight around the palace.
Leliana arrived seconds later, breathless and flustered. "He only started walking yesterday!" she exclaimed, "I was stopped by a messenger and when I turned around, he was gone!"
Alistair and Eamon both laughed – a sound that obviously delighted Riordan as the boy joined in. Alistair walked around the desk to have his turn at holding him. Riordan was a welcome distraction and as he held the little boy and studied those familiar features he felt a wistful longing. Aedan had been blessed with not one, but two sons, though of course, Morrigan was probably largely responsible for the first. It was rare for a Grey Warden to able to have children at all…
Would he and his new wife be able to produce an heir? It was a subject Alistair had danced about delicately with his betrothed. While it was important, vitally important if one listened to Eamon, he did not want it to be the only reason he married.
Leliana stepped over to relieve him of Riordan just as the toddler began to wriggle and squirm and he asked her, "Did Aedan arrive last night?" He looked over her shoulder, as if he expected his friend to follow her through the door and said, "Is he here?"
"He's gone to Fort Drakon to practice with Luke. He won't leave the city without seeing you, Alistair," she promised.
Alistair couldn't suppress his grin…Fort Drakon! It was a fine day for some exercise, he hadn't sparred with his men for a while…
"You mentioned a messenger?" Eamon inquired of Leliana.
"Yes, the Empress's ship has been sighted. The harbourmaster anticipates they will be docking in about two hours," Leliana answered.
Alistair's shoulders slumped, well at least it was a fine day to stand at the harbour…
A messenger was sent to round up everyone of note, which included Aedan and Oghren. Alistair intended to give the Empress of Orlais a royal welcome. This would be her first official visit to Ferelden and the city of Denerim would be thronging the streets to greet their neighbouring ruler, therefore Eamon cautioned they should start for the harbour as soon as possible in order to avoid the crowds.
Riordan was demonstrating his new ability to walk, the uneven boards of the docks proving to be of little hindrance to his unsteady gait, when a shadow fell across them and Alistair straightened from his crouch. It was Aedan. He hugged his friend and Aedan clapped him fondly on the back, calling him 'Brother' by way of greeting.
Aedan then stooped down to pick up his son. As he stood up, Alistair marveled at the resemblance between the two faces. Besides the colour of his eyes, looking at Riordan really was like looking at a younger version of Ferelden's Warden Commander.
A gravelly, "There's the little nug runner!" sounded over his shoulder and Riordan immediately began to wriggle about in Aedan's arms, reaching for Oghren. The dwarf took the toddler from his father and Riordan immediately set to tugging at the various plaits and braids in his beard. Oghren didn't seem to mind in the least and held the boy comfortably as he laughed.
Luke poked his head over Oghren's shoulder and tickled Riordan under the chin, then stepped lightly to Leliana's side. The older boy was devoted to Leliana. She slipped an arm around his shoulders and hugged him close and asked him how the training had gone.
Aedan responded proudly, "He's getting a lot faster with those blades! You'll be ready to come to a proving with us soon, lad!" He ruffled Luke's hair and the boy ducked a little before acceding to the show of affection. Alistair smiled at the family and thought soon enough, I will have this too, Maker willing…
A murmur rose from the gathering crowd as the ship rounded the harbour and began to drift toward the dock. Alistair felt a pang of apprehension as he scanned the bobbing heads for her shining dark hair, where was she? She should be here. But slight as she was, he'd not likely see her coming until she stood next to him.
Soon enough the ship was docked and the Empress herself appeared on the deck. Within moments she was descending to the dock and Alistair stepped forward to greet her.
As always, Celene was perfectly turned out, as if she had not just spent the last two weeks sailing. She held out her hands as she stepped away from the ramp and Alistair took them and said, "Welcome to Ferelden, Celene, I trust your journey was a pleasant one?"
He felt a small stir of air at his side and Celene glanced over, and smiled as she said, "Yes, dear Alistair, it was indeed most agreeable, but please, you must introduce me to this most charming lady at your side. Is this your bride to be?"
Alistair raised his brows and glanced beside himself and there she was! Her cheeks were slightly flushed, and a few silken strands of hair had escaped her bun, but otherwise, she was beautifully presentable in a navy and gold dress, styled in an almost Orlesian fashion. She would have picked it out especially for this occasion. Alistair felt his apprehension lift and his heart lighten as a broad smile spread across his face. She grinned in return and winked at him as she reached up to tuck those fine strands of hair back behind her ears.
Alistair turned back towards Celene and said, "May I present, Brenna, daughter of Arl Wulf of the Western Hills, and soon to be Queen of Ferelden."