Written before I'd played any of Awakening - therefore, spoiler-free.
The barkeep at the Gnawed Noble regarded the woman slumped at the end of the bar. Well-dressed, in expensive inscribed armor buffed to a neat shine, like she had somewhere to be; a strange twisted staff on her back marked her as a mage, though, and her face sagged like a darkspawn had just eaten her dog.
Getting mages drunk, especially upset mages, was a good way to burn down your own establishment. The barkeep knew that expression, though – it was a common one among his patrons, and he'd always had a soft spot for a heartbroken pretty girl.
He poured a mug of his second-best ale and put it in front of her. "Here," he said. "On the house."
"Oh, I shouldn't," she said, slurring slightly. "I really shouldn't. I've already had too – is that porter?" She took a long draft and sighed, not without satisfaction. "Serves him right if I show up at the palace drunk. Making me come all the way back to Denerim for my new marching orders, ha. Might just set his hair on fire and pretend it was an accident. That'll teach him to send a courier next time."
"New marching orders? You're a soldier, then?"
"You could say that," she said. "Whatever I am, I do my duty." She snickered. "Heh. Do my duty. I think Oghren's rubbing off on me."
"And this man you're here to see, he's a soldier too?"
"Not anymore he's not," she said, and glowered at the bar.
"Well, whoever he is," said the barkeep, "he's not worth a tenth of this sovereign right here if he can't appreciate a fine lady like you." He tapped the bar near the coin in question, left behind by a particularly generous patron.
It was shiny and brand-new, one of the king's heads done up just after the coronation. She glanced at it, and her face fell even further, if that was possible.
"Andraste's tits," she said, and burst into tears.
Not for the first time and definitely not for the last, she wished she'd spurned Morrigan's offer and died slaying the Archdemon. It would have been a nice clean death, they probably would have done a nice statue of her, and she wouldn't be here with a throbbing headache (those last few ales were a very bad idea) at yet another royal dinner in her own honor. She'd gone off to Weisshaupt in part to avoid all the people who kept trying to honor her by making her do things she hated, like give speeches and make small talk at parties.
And if she'd died killing the Archdemon, Alistair probably would have wept over her corpse and maybe laid a couple dozen red roses on her grave – and since her soul would have been completely destroyed, there'd be no chance of running into him in the Fade and beyond. Everything would have ended, nice and neat, and she wouldn't have had to look at him sitting there all kingly at the head of the table next to Elissa Cousland.
Elissa bloody Cousland. She'd been at the Landsmeet, all righteous anger, shouting about Howe's atrocities against her family; she'd also fought bravely at the siege of Denerim, although how one could fight efficiently with one's long chestnut hair flowing loose, cleavage nearly spilling out of her light armor, was a mystery to Cordelia. (She diplomatically refused to think about her short, low-cut Tevinter robes - those were magic so they didn't count.) She was a cheerful, brave and talented young woman, a fine picture of a battle maiden, and now she was a fine picture of a warrior queen. Elissa thrice-damned bloody Cousland.
And there was her love, her golden king, with eyes only for the queen - that same expression of astonished delight that someone so wonderful belonged to him of all people, that crooked smile Cordelia used to love so much (used to? No such luck) directed at her and only her, as he reached out and tenderly touched her stomach –
Oh, bloody hell.
Cordelia excused herself abruptly, prompting confused looks from the two elderly arls seated next to her, and left the table.
She had thought he wouldn't have the nerve to follow her to her rooms, but when she heard the tentative knock on the door she knew she'd been wrong. She should have known. "Bugger," she swore under her breath, then sat up on the bed and wiped the tears from her face with a corner of the coverlet. "Come in," she said.
He opened the door and peered in anxiously. "Cordelia?" he said. "Are you all right?"
She had seen him a few times in the last six months, but usually there was a dinner table full of nobles or a strategy table full of maps and miniatures between them. She hadn't been this close to him in a long time; he hadn't changed, not at all. If he'd only grown a beard, or grown out his hair so it didn't do that thing in front that it always did, or if he had on his royal golden armor instead of that court doublet that emphasized his impressive breadth of shoulder, or if he was wearing a suitably stern expression instead of that warm concern she'd seen on his face time and again, she could pretend he was someone else. King Alistair, the brave and noble sovereign of this nation. Not Warden Alistair, with his earnest goofy charm. Not her Alistair.
Oh, Andraste's crumpled bloody knickers, were those flowers? He'd brought her flowers. Lilacs, not roses, but her heart lurched with irrational hope.
"I saw you leave. Are you feeling all right?" he said, stepping into the room. He handed her the flowers with a small smile and a flourish; she took them, heart in her throat. "Elissa and I were concerned. She thought I should bring you these."
Ah. They were from him and Elissa. Maker guide their steps into the nearest pit of lava. She forced a frozen half-smile. "How thoughtful," she said.
He plowed ahead, oblivious as usual. "I know you hate these dinners, but when I told Elissa you were coming, she absolutely had to plan an event for you. She was so excited. I didn't have the heart to tell her no."
"How thoughtful," Cordelia repeated, sounding slightly strangled.
"Isn't it? She's wonderful. I'm so lucky to..." He trailed off as he realized what he was saying and to whom. That oh-so-familiar blush rose in his cheeks; Maker's breath, but that was attractive. Great, now she was going to blush, which would make him wonder what she was blushing about, and so on until the chain reaction ended with them both flushed and tangled naked on her bedroll. She smacked herself mentally. Inappropriate! "How have you been?" he said finally.
"Oh, fine. Wandering about, conscripting more Wardens, killing darkspawn. The usual. There do seem to be a lot more darkspawn around, though, and they seem smarter than they used to be. Traveling in packs."
"That's what I hear. It's part of what we'll be talking about tomorrow morning. That, and Amaranthine. Have you been to Amaranthine?"
"I haven't. I hear it's pretty."
"It is." He trailed off again, and they both stared at their feet for a long awkward moment.
"Teagan and Leliana," Cordelia said. "Did you hear about Teagan and Leliana?"
"I was just about to mention Teagan! He was asking about you last week. I thought maybe you might want to go down to Rainesfere and spend some time with... "
"He wants me to help with the wedding plans. Why, I couldn't tell you. Leliana could plan one in her sleep. They suit – it's very charming." Alistair looked astonished. "What, no one told you? They've been together for months."
"For some reason our traveling companions don't keep me in the loop like they used to." He paused. "What about that Templar we ran into at the Tower, the one you used to know? Cullen. How's Cullen?"
"In Aeonar," Cordelia said. "He went completely mad. Snuck out of the Tower one night, who knows where he was going, but he murdered five people before they caught him. All women, all short, all with blonde hair cut to their chins. He was screaming about demons and temptation and how all mages must die." She ran her fingers through her own chin-length blonde hair. "One of them wasn't even a mage. They wouldn't let me see him, Maker knows why."
"Ah," Alistair said. "That's awkward."
"You're telling me."
This was stupid. This was horrible and painful and stupid. By all rights she should be the one sitting at his side, or at least lying naked at his side, or she should never have to see him again – not this weird, awkward... in-between thing.
Ah, well, it was her own fault. She didn't have to make him king. But when you walk through the corner of a legend, you know it – and you have no choice but to do your part. If only he'd actually given enough of a damn to make an effort to keep her around, rather than shrugging her off in the name of duty and pretending to be sad about it. She half-suspected he'd used duty (heh... damn you, Oghren) as an excuse so he didn't have to wear himself out making any more complicated choices.
She wished she hadn't been too cowardly to take the thing to its logical legend-ly conclusion and sacrifice herself to the Archdemon. Well, that was what you got for thinking you were the main character. The story goes on, and there you are, left behind to wander the land and burst into tears at the sight of legal tender.
"Alistair," she said, no longer making an effort to conceal the bitterness in her voice. "I have to get some rest before you send me off tomorrow on whatever fool's errand you've thought up. If you don't have something to say, leave me be."
He almost winced. "You weren't at the wedding," he said quietly. Ah. So that's what this was.
"You expected me to be? Are you simple? No, don't answer that. Anyway, I sent Tabris and Brosca for the Grey Wardens. Wasn't that enough?"
"They're very nice, although Brosca ate nearly all the Highever Farmhouse. But I hoped you'd be... over things enough to want to come. It's been a long time, Cordelia."
"It's been six months."
"However long it's been, you're my friend. I wanted to see you."
"Kings don't have friends," she said, trying her best not to raise her voice. "They have loyal subjects. And as a Grey Warden, I am subject to no king anywhere, least of all you. Now, before we conclude our professional business tomorrow, please just take yourself back to your kingdom and your wife and your baby – yes, I know, I saw – and leave me be."
He gave her a long, sad, searching look. "All I want," he said, "is for you to be happy."
She glared at him.
"Get used to disappointment," she said.
Amaranthine! A new and exciting place, with bustling streets to explore and darkspawn to kill and mysteries to solve and Arlessa-ing to do. And, of course, new traveling companions to recruit.
"I'm Anders," said the apostate mage. "Pleasure to meet –"
"Oh, Andraste's holy deerskin thong. Not again," Cordelia snapped. "I am not going through this again. Let me guess: your specialty is witty banter, right? Snarky comments that will impress and charm me with your sense of humor, am I correct?"
"Well, possibly –"
"And I don't doubt you've got a complicated past. Maybe you've got some interesting parentage going on and you're secretly heir to something? Or maybe you've got a long-lost brother somewhere who looks uncannily like you?"
"Actually, no –"
"Well, I'm not falling for it. Keep your quips to yourself, don't tell me who your parents are, and don't stand where I can see you in profile if you can help it. And if you need a kingdom or a fortune or a unicorn or something, you can damn well get it yourself."
"Why would I want a –"
"And if you try to give me any flowers I will rip your spine out through your nose!" The Warden Commander stalked off.