Nineteen, no, twenty hours. But it might just as well have been a week, or a month. He had seen nothing but the walls of the antechamber, heard nothing but the crackling fire, for what could have been an eternity.

Did all fathers feel like this? And then he corrected himself. All second-time fathers, that is. Though to be fair, this was the first child he had wanted to father.

He continued his measured pacing about the room. Maker, but this was worse than fighting darkspawn. At least during the Blight his enemy was one he could see. What was his enemy here? Time? Boredom? Anxiety? He had no idea how long this was supposed to take, but to hear so little for so interminably long...

It must have been five or six hours ago now that the midwife had asked for fresh linens and more hot water. Alistair had leapt to supply them for her - anything to keep him from the endless pacing about the room, and to give him some hint as to how things fared. But in response to his questions, the midwife had said only that Anora was tired, but well enough, considering.

And then she had returned to the birthing chamber and he was left alone again. He sighed.

At this point I'd almost rather fight the Archdemon again than wait here another hour.

He made another restless circuit of the room and then paused, his hand hovering over the doorknob.

What could they do to him? He was the king of Ferelden, after all, and who in Thedas had the right to keep him out of his own child's birthing chamber? Forget the silly superstitions and Eamon's over-protective coddling. He wouldn't let them keep him away any longer.

He turned the knob, and then stopped.

Anora had told him to wait outside.

After five years of marriage, and heavy with child, she was still as self possessed as ever. And though time had brought them closer than he would ever have guessed, he could count on one hand the number of times she had allowed him to see the side of her that wasn't completely in command of herself and her surroundings.

Well, tonight, she would simply have to make an exception.

Smiling as he pictured Anora's disapproving yet happy face, he opened the door and walked up the hall toward the royal quarters.

One of the midwife's attendants was coming out of the chamber – a young elf with her light brown hair cropped short. She was new to the palace, or he had simply not seen her before, but when Alistair approached she bobbed a nervous curtsey before babbling, "Y-your Majesty, p-please, I-I'm so..."

Something about her tone sent a shiver down his spine.

"It's all right," he answered automatically, nodding to the attendant, though he had no idea what he was comforting her for, "I'm sure it's—".

It suddenly occurred to him what was wrong. Though the chamber door was half open, the rooms beyond were still and silent. No voices, no laughter, no crying.

Heart pounding, he pushed the door open.

The midwife was exiting the bedroom, her arms filled with bed sheets and pillows. Upon seeing Alistair, her eyebrows knit in disapproval, but she did not try to hide the linens from him. Linens stained with...

That's a lot of blood. It couldn't all be Anora's, could it?

"Your Majesty," the midwife said, her voice soft. Alistair remembered when Anora had brought her into the palace, having made another of her unilateral decisions. She was from Highever, or at least he thought she had said so at the time, though he couldn't remember her name, now. His head buzzed, as though he were standing too close to a hornets' nest, and he resisted the impulse to shake it.

"Is the Queen...?" He kept his voice soft, in case Anora was sleeping.

"I'm sorry, Your Majesty. The Queen is dead."

The buzzing grew louder, and for a moment he wondered if he'd heard her right.

What? The word formed on his lips, but suddenly he had no voice to speak it. She couldn't have said what he thought he'd heard. She must have meant...

There was only one way to find out. Slowly, as though moving underwater, he entered the bedroom.

Anora lay in her bed as though she slept. Her face, drawn with the pains of labor when last he had seen it, was peaceful now, her mouth smiling slightly as though she lay in some happy dream.

But her hands are so cold.

It was as if the entire room was just a painting, some lifeless, frozen moment in time. Or, rather, as though he were looking at some strange copy of the world he knew – some warped reflection, where some other queen lay dead in some other room. He found himself hopefully tracing the outline of her face, as if to find some flaw or subtle change that would show him he was dreaming.

But no, it was she, for he knew every feature of her face, remembered every hair of her head.

Quietly, Alistair knelt before Anora, and kissed her brow.

"May you find peace in the Maker, my love," he whispered. "And—" For a moment he lost his voice again, and had to clear his throat, a strange, alien sound against all the stillness.

"May Andraste draw your soul to heaven, and may you find it glorious."

He drew the linen shroud over her face, gently touching the pale cheek one last time, and resting a hand upon her hair for one final moment.

He didn't know what else to say or do. He shook his head, remembering their last conversation, over breakfast yesterday. Anora had been tired and nauseated, and he had managed to convince her to rest with him awhile on the veranda, and even to submit to a foot rub, before she had gone, bold-faced and alone into a five-hour negotiation session with some visiting Orlesian emissaries.

And what had been his last words to her? "Goodbye, my queen, I'll always love you" seemed a preposterous thing to say after breakfast, but now he found himself wishing he had said so, regardless of time or seeming impropriety. Instead, he had called after her to remember to inquire after Empress Celene's nephew's health, or dog, or some other unimportant trifle. Such a stupid, careless request.

He felt suddenly empty, as though by entering the room he had become trapped by its silence. Without looking, he sank to the floor, slumped against the bed and rested his head in his hands.

"Your Majesty?"

The voice startled him, breaking the stillness like a hammer.

"Would you like to see your daughter now?"