Epilogue – The Father
"It's my turn now! Dad said you need to let me try too so it's my turn no-o-o-o-ow!"
Fergus Cousland smiled as he sneaked to the window and looked out at the courtyard, where Sandra and Timothy were arguing over a wooden sword. Sandra was holding the sword above her head and her brother was jumping up and down frantically, trying to reach it.
"Stop teasing Timmy!" Amelia had been making a snowman, or actually a snow elf, although she was having troubles making the ears stick to the head, but she ran to her big brother's aid. Sandra laughed and gave the sword to Timothy, then kneeling to hug her sister.
"Come on, help me get the ears right!" Amelia dragged Sandra towards the snow elf, leaving Timothy to twirl the sword and try to hack pieces from a snow darkspawn they'd built the previous day.
"Spying on the kids, now are we?"
"Just checking to see if they're alright," Fergus turned around to look at his wife, leaning on the doorway and smiling at him. "Are you?" he added, a hint of worry in his voice. "You should sit down, you…"
"Darling, I'm pregnant, not ill," Claire laughed, but walked to the sofa and sat down slowly, holding her stomach. "But I really wish this thing would just come out of me! Trust me, if I'd known pregnancy was like this, I would've been happy with just three kids."
"But you are beautiful," Fergus sat down next to her and wrapped his arm around her, leaning to kiss her hair and then the pointy end of her ear. He knew she loved it, although she tried to suppress the little sigh as his lips brushed against her ear the second time.
"Oh yes, ignore my discomfort and just adore me," Claire sniffed, but then pulled him for a kiss.
Fergus didn't always know whether he was allowed to be as happy as he was. He'd lost almost everything, but now he was happier than he'd ever been.
Sometimes he did think about Oriana and Oren, it was only natural, but he no longer felt guilty like he'd done before. They had died, and it hadn't been right, but as Nathaniel had told him, he shouldn't feel bad for surviving. And finding new love wasn't something to feel guilty about either, especially since he hadn't even set out to find it; it had simply happened.
Fergus hadn't spoken to Claire much in Vigil's Keep. Varel had been injured and Sarah had forbidden him to even get close to his office, so Claire had taken on most of the Seneschal's duties. Fergus had remarked to Sarah that he might need someone like Claire back at Highever, where the rebuilding was almost over, but all the other duties of Teyrn were making his head hurt. He hadn't actually expected his sister to ask Claire to accompany him back to Highever, but nevertheless, the elf had done just that.
"Just… just give me a room, lots of paper and don't bother me," had been Claire's words when Fergus had presented her with the paperwork that had been piling to his desk, and the floor. He'd done as she asked, apart from not bothering her, since he felt like he should have some say in whatever it was she was doing; after all, he was the Teyrn. She'd gently talked him through the paperwork and, when words were failing, taken him out on horseback to see with his own eyes what kind of decisions he needed to make.
The changes had taken almost three months, but then she'd announced that she believed that he could handle things himself and that she should return to the Vigil. Just like that, an off-hand remark over the dinner table before asking him to pass the salt, and Fergus had felt his heart sink. She couldn't leave, not so soon, not when there were so many things they could still do, so many things… Then his mind had ran out of excuses to why he really wanted her to stay and he'd reached over the table, taken her hand and told her he loved her.
She'd stared at him like he'd lost his mind and then, very slowly, had told him all the reasons why it was impossible for anything to happen between them. His status, her race, his duties, the people and their expectations for him… the longer the list had grown, the harder it had been for Fergus not to smile. Finally she'd stopped and asked him why he was smiling.
"All those reasons, but you haven't said that you don't love me," he'd pointed out and watched her blush, the first time she'd ever blushed in front of him.
"That's not the point!" she'd finished the conversation and rushed out. Fergus had felt like he should be crushed, but he hadn't been. She hadn't told him that she didn't love him.
The next day she'd avoided him, and the day after that as well. On the third day Fergus had decided that enough was enough and had been on his way to talk to her when a guard had come to tell him that Sarah and Nathaniel had arrived.
It had been raining all day so they'd been drenched, as had been the three kids they'd had with them.
"We couldn't leave them at their 'caretakers'," Sarah had explained as they all had made it into the main hall, making the last word sound like a curse. "You should've seen that wretched inn, Fergus, it was… they were sleeping in the kitchen floor, and those clothes, they're just rags! Those people claimed to be their family, but they treated those two like dirt." She'd pointed at the girl and the boy, huddling together close to the fire next to Floyd. "You know, the girl, Sandra, she's only twelve, but she came to me and her eyes were like an old woman's and she begged if I knew anywhere they could go. We had to do this."
"What about her?" Fergus had pointed to the youngest child, a blond elf girl curled in Nathaniel's arms, unwilling to let go.
"Amelia," Sarah smiled sadly. "She was sitting by the roadside, next to her dead mother. The woman had simply collapsed, I don't think she'd eaten anything for days, and the girl had woven flowers into her hair. When I tried to talk to her she told me that her mommy was with Andraste now, but she herself had no place to go." Sarah had sniffed, wiping the tears from her cheek quickly before the children noticed it. "And suddenly we had three kids with us and I couldn't think of anywhere to come but here. Good thing we were only three day's journey away."
"You did the right thing," Fergus had said, even though watching the children, especially the boy, had brought back such painful memories of Orlen that he'd thought his heart might burst. "If they wish, this is their new home now."
The kids had eaten, had warm baths, and a quick trip to the nearest village had even yielded them some proper clothing. A room had been prepared for them, and after they'd gone to sleep Fergus had finally remembered what he had been supposed to do earlier. He'd seen her many times during the day, helping organize things for the children, but they hadn't spoken, even once. While he'd still contemplated whether he should go look for Claire, he'd almost bumped into her, waiting for him outside his room.
"You just took those children in," she'd said, looking almost shocked. "Two human orphans and an elf girl. You don't know them and you just took them in."
"What else could I have done?" he'd asked and she'd rushed to him, hugging him.
"You were right," she'd muttered against his shoulder. "I can't say that I don't love you."
"I knew that," Fergus had replied and kissed her.
"You're not even listening," Claire said and Fergus snapped back to the present moment.
"Sorry, my dear, what did you say?" he asked.
"I was saying that I think you should've gone to the royal wedding," Claire said. "To show your support and loyalty and, well, whatever. And the kids would've loved Denerim."
"We'll take them once you can travel too," Fergus replied. "And besides, it'll be much more fun travelling with four children than three. If we have a baby with us, we can tell the other three that they need to be quiet so the baby won't wake up. It'll be a perfect, peaceful journey."
"Sometimes I'm not sure if you should be allowed to raise children," Claire sighed. "Mr. Please-put-daddy's-sword-down-daddy-will-give-you-your-own-sword-if-you-do."
"It's a wooden sword, they're not going to hurt themselves with it. At least not fatally," he added with a grin.
"Well," Claire said, pretending that she hadn't heard the last bit, "I have to say I'm happy you're here. And that you prefer us to a royal wedding."
"A castle full of pompous fools or you and the kids? Not a difficult choice," Fergus smiled and kissed her. With her, he felt like a king every day.
King Alistair – Maker, it still sounded so strange. King. Kiiii-ing. Nope, he wasn't used to it yet. Alistair snuck out of the bed and tried to find something to wear. That was the problem with living in a palace full of servants; they hid all your other clothes somewhere and then you had to make do with what you were wearing, at least until the servants deigned to come in and give you some new clothes to wear.
The clothes from the previous night wouldn't do, however, since the outfit was the most ridiculous one he'd ever worn. Sure, it had been his wedding, but at least he could've worn something that didn't make him look like a sparkling golden statue. Then again, it was tradition, or at least that what they'd claimed, so he'd just gone along with it.
He glanced over to the bed, where Elena was still asleep. A warm feeling flushed through his body and he smiled. At first the thought of an arranged marriage had scared him to death. He'd imagined that they would treat each other like strangers, having polite conversations and possibly arranging a timetable for the bedroom aspect of the marriage duties, to be performed at certain times and with as little fuss as possible. Well, all those frightening options had flown out the window, especially the last one. Come to think of it – Alistair glanced at the window closest to the bed – one of his socks might've also flown out the window the previous night, when undressing had suddenly become a competitive sport.
He still didn't love her, but even if the feelings he had were not love, they were not far from it, and they were not bad at all. When they'd first met, she might've actually been the more nervous one of them, which Alistair had though would be impossible, but soon they'd started to talk about their nervousness, which had helped them get over it, and then they'd moved on to other topics.
He'd never had as easy time talking to a woman as he had with Elena. Well, maybe with Sarah, but still it felt different. She was smart, and opinionated, once she realized he wouldn't ridicule for having opinions only because she was a woman, and even though she'd only meant to stay for three days, to get to know him and then let him ponder whether she was the one, he'd asked her to stay longer. They'd talked more, taken rides outside the city, and even spent an evening keeping shelter from the rain in an abandoned hut and finding very innovative ways to stay warm. It was there he'd finally asked her to stay for good.
It wasn't love like in romance stories, blooming from the first instance. It was something that was still shaping, still changing and growing. But it was right, and it made him feel happy. She understood him, he understood her and could respect her, and, yes, like Eamon had pointed out too many times, she could give him children.
Every time the subject of children came up, Alistair felt uneasy. No one knew, no one except Sarah, and of course Morrigan, that he already had a child. He'd tried to tell himself sometimes that maybe he didn't, maybe the ritual had failed, but since both he and Sarah lived, it was unlikely that something had gone wrong. He had a child, a child he probably never would meet, a child whose mother was a woman he didn't like or trust.
Maybe it had been selfish, wanting to live so badly that he agreed to the ritual. But then again, maybe he would've gotten hurt or died before they reached the Archdemon, and it would've been Sarah facing the creature on her own and dying when killing it. He hadn't done it only for himself, but for Sarah as well.
There was no point in dwelling in the past, since he couldn't change it. He could only hope that one day a young man or a woman wouldn't turn up at the gates to proclaim their right to the throne. Or proclaim their right to the world, who knew what the power of the Archdemon could do to a child. If that day came, then he'd have to find a way to make things right. Until then, he could only live as best as he could.
"I appreciate you posing for me, but how about getting back to bed?" Elena pushed her curly blond lock from her face and smiled at him sleepily. Alistair realised that he had been standing next to the window for quite some time, and he was starting to get a little chilly.
"Only because the servants haven't brought me new clothes," he said, slipping back under the covers. Elena grinned and kissed him.
"Didn't I tell you? I told them not to bother coming in today," she said, "Except to bring us food. But darling husband, no clothes for you today."
"Already giving orders to the servants, are we?" Alistair asked.
"Like a queen," she smirked and curled against him. Alistair pulled her close and closed his eyes. As far as he was concerned, this was perfection. Once you let go of the past and embraced the present, the future looked much better.
The graveyard was quiet; not many people visited it at the light of dawn. Nathaniel walked slowly past the huge headstones of nobles, then the smaller ones of merchants and finally the modest ones of ordinary folk. The grave he was looking for was at the far end of the graveyard, where people with no money or family were buried. It was marked only by a small stone without any engravings, already almost lost under weeds. Nathaniel stared at it for a moment, then sat down and brushed his hand against the stone, pulling off some weeds.
"Hello, father," he said, almost startled by the sound of his own voice in the silence. He wasn't certain why he was there, again. Like he'd been every year at his father's birthday for the past four years. It had been a tradition, a way to try to make peace with his past.
"I still don't understand," Nathaniel continued. Maybe talking to a gravestone was a sign of insanity, but it was better to let the words out than to keep them inside, circling his brain until they made him hurt. "But you know what, father? I don't think I need to understand."
He'd spent all those years wondering what had driven his father to betray his oldest friend, to murder and torture and… To do all those unspeakable things that Nathaniel hadn't wanted to believe. He'd felt like he needed to know, because even though he'd had his problems with his father, being a bad parent is not a small step away from being a murderer. At least that's what Nathaniel had wanted to believe.
"I can't keep doing this anymore," he sighed. "The more I try to understand, the worse I feel." He looked around him, trying to collect his thoughts and say exactly what he wanted.
"I can't waste any more of my life thinking about you, trying to find reasons and justifications to your actions. Because honestly, father, there is nothing I can think of to explain your actions." He'd kept thinking there had to be, and that he had to be the one to discover them, because he was the son. A son needed to know his father, needed to know the man who'd brought him up, who'd he become like.
"I'm not like you. If you had lived, if all your plans had succeeded… I think I would've been the one to kill you. Because there was no excuse to your actions. You stopped being my father the night you ordered the murder of the Couslands." Nathaniel got up, giving the stone one last look.
"I disown you and all your evil deeds. I'm still a Howe, but only as my mother's son and my sister's brother. As a proud grandchild of a Grey Warden. But you… You're nothing to me anymore. I will not spend any more time thinking about you and wondering if there's something I could've done. I'm finally completely free from you. Goodbye, arl Rendon Howe."
Nathaniel turned and walked back the way he'd come from. It was the last time he'd walk this route. The thought was strange and liberating at the same time. The small stone would be soon covered in weeds and the few people walking past it at the furthest corner of the graveyard wouldn't even know there was a grave there. Like it should be.
Sarah was sitting on the fence of the graveyard, her feet dangling in air. She'd cut her hair again last week, saying she was tired of long locks that got in the way everywhere, and her hair was fairly short, forming sort of a fuzzy halo around her face. When she saw Nathaniel, she hopped down from the fence and ran to his arms. Exactly what he'd needed. He pulled her against his chest and buried his face in her hair, inhaling her scent and allowing himself relax for the first time since he'd walked through the gates of the place.
"You're alright?" she asked when they pulled apart, and her hand brushed his cheek, wiping a tear from his cheek.
"I am now, since you're here" he replied, and she gave him a crooked smile.
"You know, that was exactly like a line from one of those romance novels you keep sending Delilah. Do you read them in secret?"
"Maybe," Nathaniel said, trying to keep his face straight. She gave him a light kiss on the lips and then pulled away, taking his hand.
"Home, then?" she asked, and Nathaniel smiled. "I think Del will shout at me for buying all those presents for the kids, but, come on, I'm auntie Sarah, it's my right, my duty, to buy lots of stuff."
"Like you did with Timmy, Sandra and Amy?" Nathaniel chuckled. "I wonder what you're going to do once Alistair has a child. Getting the perfect present for a little prince or princess won't be easy."
"I think I'll get the kid a mabari puppy. Since Alistair always got on so well with Floyd, I don't think he'll object," Sarah grinned. "I mean, some eaten socks and stolen cheese and hidden gauntlet and pee in his bedroll aside, why would he have anything against the mabari?"
"You are very wicked," Nathaniel stopped and pulled her into a kiss. "And yes, it needs to be a puppy," he muttered against her lips as they started to pull apart.
"So glad you agree, my love," she replied. "Now, come on! Going home, remember? If you keep kissing me every other minute, it'll take months to get there."
"I think it might just be worth it," he replied and she rolled her eyes and started to walk away. Nathaniel hurried to her side and wrapped his arm around her waist as they continued on their way through the city slowly waking up to a new day.
Note from the writer: Well, what do you know, that's it! Thank you so much for reading, commenting, faving and supporting this fic. I've had fun, I hope you did too. :) And maybe one day I'll return to check what's going on with these characters (depends a little what DA2 brings), so I hope to "see" you again if that happens.