The road home was long, but less tense than the way there had been. Although Alistair was unwilling to dismiss the danger as completely dealt with, Zevran assured him that there would be no more attacks - Sorren was the man with the resources. There were still people who believed in the prophecy and it was possible they would make trouble again, but they were neither organised nor wealthy enough to continue their attacks at the same level.
They crossed the Silent Plains. Miranda's belly reached enormous proportions. Anders and Rowan continued to monitor her - pronouncing the baby remarkably healthy considering she had been traveling for most of the pregnancy.
They were two days from Val Royeaux when Miranda called for them to make an early camp.
"Not another false alarm?" Alistair said, rushing to her side in the wagon. She smiled at him.
"Possibly," she said. "Although...." she stopped and gasped, clutching at her stomach "although this time.. they hurt a lot more."
Anders and Rowan had been preparing for this for nearly a month. They carried extra water, elfroot and swaddling blankets in the wagon. They set up camp, using a large length of extra canvas to make a tent big enough for Miranda and three grown men to be inside at the same time.
"How long have you been having the contractions for?" Rowan asked Miranda as she paced around the fire.
"They started this morning," she said.
"What?" Alistair said. "You didn't say anything!"
She smiled at him. "I thought it was another false alarm," she said, then clutched at his arm as another contraction came. She breathed deeply for a few seconds before straightening again.
"They're coming more quickly," Rowan said. She nodded.
"Shouldn't you be lying down?" Alistair asked her.
Rowan gently patted Alistair's shoulder. "Really, your majesty, the best thing for the Queen to do at the moment is whatever she feels like. Walking will encourage her waters to break and take her mind off the pain."
"Is it really painful?" he asked her.
She rolled her eyes at him. "Remember that time, in the deep roads, when that darkspawn used the flat of his blade to hit you from behind between your...."
He winced and held up his hands. "Ok, it's really painful. I get it."
"I can almost guarantee you that it's more painful than that," she said, then doubled over again. "Um, Rowan?" she said. "I think my waters just broke."
After that it was just a bit like the worst battle he had ever been in. Miranda had powerful lungs and even more powerful hands. They moved to the tent after her waters broke and dressed Miranda in her plain white sleeping shift. She spent most of the next six hours on her hands and knees - she said it felt better than being on her back and Rowan insisted that it was one of the best positions to give birth in.
Alistair had thought he would be more afraid, but when it got down to it, there wasn't really time for fear. Miranda was in a great deal of pain, but she was coping with it in her own way and her confidence calmed him. Rowan assured them both that the baby was in a good position and perfectly ready to be born. All they needed to do was wait.
When the time came for Miranda to push, Alistair felt like he'd been put through a wringer. Miranda had been wounded before in battle, sometimes seriously, but she had never screamed quite the way she was now and he shuddered to think how bad the pain was.
"It's not so much that it's worse.." she said. "It's just that it keeps coming," she managed to get out when the contractions were a few minutes apart.
"One of the women I helped during a birth explained it to me once," Rowan said to Alistair as she stopped talking to let out a stream of curses that would make Oghren blush - and probably did seeing as he was just outside the tent, "she said you can deal with being stabbed - but it's a bit more difficult to deal with being stabbed when you know you're going to be stabbed in the same spot again and again and again."
It was at that point that Anders excused himself.
Thankfully, the final stages were quick. She delivered the babe still on her hands and knees with Alistair in front of her, holding her shoulders. The effort she expended for the final push was enormous, but her expression afterwards told him the job was done. "He's out!" Rowan said. There was a pause, then a few wet coughs and a lusty yell emerged from the tiny throat.
"Thank the sodding maker," Miranda gasped out. Alistair couldn't help but laugh a little at that.
"One final push for the afterbirth, your majesty," Rowan said. She made a final effort, then Alistair helped her turn around and she collapsed against him. He sat and cradled her in his arms, looking up at Rowan.
Rowan was holding something red and wet and squirming. To Alistair it looked nothing like a baby and he had a dreadful moment of thinking that his wife had given birth to a darkspawn. "Your majesties," he said, passing it to Miranda, who gently laid it in the crook of her arm. "Your son." The mage wrapped the afterbirth quickly and cut and tied the cord, before bowing. "Congratulations," he said. "Remember what I told you about nursing, your majesty. And now I'll leave you to get acquainted." The mage slipped outside. Alistair didn't see him leave.
It was a human baby. A crop of dark hair crowned the tiny head. His eyes were open - light brown like Alistair's, blinking in the candlelight. Tiny fists waved and his mouth opened and shut as though he was tasting the air. He turned his head towards Miranda's chest, nosing and nuzzling against the fabric of her nightshirt.
"Do you think...?" Alistair started to say. Miranda nodded and fumbled with her nightgown. She led the baby to her breast and he began nursing noisily.
Miranda's looked up at Alistair, and her eyes held so much wonder that he felt his own filling with tears. "Duncan," she said then. "I think Duncan is a fine name, don't you?"
He smiled at her and nodded, too full of feeling to reply.
Anders sat staring into the fire, head slumped in shame. "Cheer up sparkle fingers," Oghren said. "You're much better off out here than in there. Believe me."
"I don't get it," the warden mage said. "I've faced broodmothers - the architect, abominations. I've seen men get their limbs ripped from their bodies by demons. Why can't I watch a woman give birth?"
"It's like I said..." Oghren started to say.
"If you make that comment about the inn again," Anders growled, "I will cone of cold your genitals and feed them to you through your nose. That's the queen your talking about, you two foot snotslug."
"Just you try it, fancy boy. I'll boil your eyeballs and string them on your intestines for a necklace."
"Please, gentlemen!" Zevran interrupted. "Really. Your immaturity is amusing for the first few seconds but ultimately deeply disturbing. And fruitless."
There was another scream from the tent.
"It can't possibly hurt that much, can it?" Anders said. "I mean, most women in the world give birth at some stage. Wouldn't they just.... give it up if it hurt that much?"
"Felsi said she forgot about the pain after the first couple of days," Oghren said. "Although she never forgot that it hurt - she did forget how. That's what she said to me any way."
"Well I hope for the Queen's sake the same is true for her," Anders said. They stared into the fire for a few more minutes before there was another scream from the tent.
"He's out!" came a shout - Rowan's voice. They all tensed, looking towards the sound. It was completely quiet for a moment, then they heard the unmistakable sound of a baby's yell.
It seemed another age before Rowan came out, wiping hands that were, Anders noted with a gulp, covered in blood.
"Is she...?" Anders asked.
"Mother and baby perfectly fine," Rowan said. "I've left them to get acquainted."
There was a massive sigh of relief. Rowan grinned at Anders and clapped him on the shoulder. "Still want to be present at a birth, my friend?" he asked.
Anders cocked an eyebrow at the older mage and sighed. "It looks like I'm not cut out for midwifery," he said.
"Or anything," grunted Ogrhen.
"Got the spell ready, right here short stuff," Anders said.
There was a fair to welcome the royal couple home to Denerim after their long absence. The people were ecstatic to have them back - although Fergus had been a capable and popular regent, there was something to be said for having King Alistair and the champion of Ferelden once again where the people wanted them.
The night of their arrival, Alistair settled Duncan into his cot in their quarters and turned to Miranda. She was still tired - he could see, but under that tiredness there was a joy that ran deeper than anything he'd ever seen in her before. She seemed complete, the damage done by the losses of the last four years - and before - finally healed.
"You're more beautiful now than you've ever been," he said, gathering her in his arms. She laid her head on his shoulder and sighed deeply.
"I suppose you wouldn't believe me if I said the same about you," she said.
"Probably not," he said. "Although it doesn't hurt to hear it."
She looked up at him and smiled. He kissed her, then, deeply and completely.
He had a family now, he found himself thinking. A real family. Made up of people he loved, and who loved him in return.
He had never wanted anything else.