She wouldn't be convinced. "I don't know these people," he said, pleadingly. "You can't expect me..."
"Nonsense, Alistair. You know Oghren."
"I just wish I didn't, sometimes."
She turned from the mirror and encircled his waist in her arms. "My love, I can't come with you - I need to speak with Varel about how we're going to rebuild the damage to the keep. And I promised them. They spent the last few weeks fighting with me. They're wardens. And you should get to know them."
Alistair wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her neck. "I haven't seen you for months," he said, in between kisses. "I kind of expected to be able to spend this time with you."
"You've been here for a week," she pointed out, laughing. "We've spent a great deal of that time together. You're just making excuses." He pulled back and pouted at her. She tweaked his nose. "What's so bad about having a few drinks with them any way?"
"Are you really asking me that question?" he said. "After what happened at Redcliffe during the Blight? I really don't think your wardens need to know about my sexual history."
"We'd been traveling for three days straight," she pointed out.
"Believe me, it doesn't make a difference."
She slapped his backside. "Get down there and take one for Ferelden, your majesty," she said. "You'll enjoy yourself."
"What's the point of enjoying yourself if you can't remember it afterwards?" he grumbled. But he went.
"Most beautiful woman," Anders said.
"Felsi," Oghren replied. Nathaniel raised his eyebrow, taking a pull from his tankard. "What?" Oghren said. "A man can't think his own wife is beautiful?"
"What about Branka?" Sigrun said. "She was your wife first."
"Huh. She was too crazy to be beautiful. Now, you, on the other hand..."
"You can't have more than one!" Anders cried.
"What about you Anders?" Sigrun said.
"Um.. well..." the mage blushed.
Oghren guffawed. "Aww, we all know who he thinks is the most beautiful."
"And who would that be?" Came a new voice.
They looked up to see a tall man in court clothes with sandy blonde hair and a ready smile. Oghren lifted his tankard in welcome. "Well if it isn't the little pike-twirler himself."
"Hello Oghren," the tall man said. "Miranda said you'd be down here."
Belatedly, the rest of the party realised who it was and clambered to their feet. "Your majesty," Nathaniel said, bowing deeply - always the most courtly of them, even when he was threatening the Commander's life, Anders thought to himself.
"You must be Nathaniel Howe," Alistair said, reaching out and clasping his hand. "I must say when Miranda wrote and told me she'd recruited you I thought she'd lost her mind."
"When she recruited me I almost thought so too, your majesty," Nathaniel said.
"You must be...Sigrun?" Alistair said, turning to the dwarf woman.
"Yes your majesty. Formally of the Legion of the Dead," Sigrun said, standing and bowing with both her arms crossed over her chest.
"Very pleased to make your acquaintance," the king said. "So that leaves..."
"Anders, at your service, your majesty," he said. He stood and bowed, trying hard not to glower. This was her husband? Suddenly a lot of things she had said made sense.
He was predisposed to hate her husband before he'd ever met him. Now he knew he did.
Alistair sat at the table and waved a serving girl over. "What are we drinking?" he asked.
"I'm guessing whatever the sod we want, with the king at our table," Oghren said.
"We were just playing a game, actually," Nathaniel said. "Trying to get to know each other a bit better."
"I would have thought you knew each other very well already," Alistair said. "Miranda said you've all fought together."
"True," Sigrun said. "But we didn't get much time for chatting along the way."
"And we had a couple of companions who made casual conversation a little difficult," Anders added.
"Ah, you're referring to the elf and the fade spirit? The ones who disappeared at the battle for the Vigil?"
"Yes, indeed," Oghren said. "Justice had a spear up his arse and no mistake. Velanna had more than that, I'll wager."
"In any case, we haven't had a chance to get together like this since we killed the Mother," Nathaniel said.
"Oh, if I'm intruding..." Alistair made as if to get to his feet, but Anders, suddenly belligerant, put his hand on the king's arm and pulled him back down to his seat.
"No, no, your majesty. We all wanted to meet the Commander's husband. Otherwise we wouldn't have invited you!"
Alistair looked uncertain, but sat again as the serving girl brought tankards for the group.
"So what was the game you were playing, then?" he asked.
"We were sorting through our best experiences," Nathaniel said. "It's been very interesting. What have we done so far, Sigrun?"
"Ah, let me see - they haven't been very difficult, seeing as most of them Oghren came up with.." she ticked them off on her fingers "Most drunk, best meal, biggest monster, oh, and the last one was most beautiful woman, although I haven't contributed to that one yet."
"Nor has Anders," Nathaniel said, raising an eyebrow.
"Or you," Anders pointed out to the archer.
"It's an obvious answer, though," Nathaniel said then. "How can we say anything other than the Commander?"
Anders suddenly liked Nathaniel a lot more. "True," he said. "How could we possibly?"
"Well, you won't get any objections from me on that account," Alistair said, smiling slightly. "But I may have to run you through later."
"My turn then?" Sigrun said.
"Aren't you going to do the most beautiful woman one?" Anders asked her.
"I wake up with her every day," she said archly. Oghren roared with laughter. "How about.. worst wound?"
"Do we have to show everyone?" Anders asked.
"Only if it's in a decent place," Sigrun said. "And no Oghren. It is not decent if you have to take off your pants."
Anders rolled up the sleeve of his robe and showed a long, jagged scar that ran from his elbow to his wrist. "Sliced open by darkspawn during the blight," he said. "Took me a week of healing spells to stitch it together."
Oghren pulled down the collar of his shirt and showed a scar that ran from his shoulder to his collarbone. "Branka got me with her dagger in the Anvil of the Void," he said.
"I remember that one," Alistair said.
Sigrun stood up and put her leg on the chair she had been sitting on. She was wearing a simple dress. She pulled up the skirt and showed a patch of shiny skin that covered most of her left shin. "Emissary got me with a fire spell," she said. "Just after I joined the legion."
Nathaniel turned around and pulled up his shirt to show lash scars criss crossing his back. "My father did these when I was fourteen," he said. "He didn't let me get them treated. Said the scars would remind me what I'd done wrong."
There was a silence around the table as they contemplated Nate's words. "I hate to ask," Alistair said. "But what did you do?"
Nathaniel laughed harshly. "You know, I can't remember? Probably nothing. He was a bit like that, my father."
They drank deeply and were silent for a few moments. "I think Nathaniel wins on that one," Anders said finally.
"What about you, your majesty?" Sigrun said. The king blinked.
"Oh, well.... it's the obvious one," he said. "Still gives me a bit of trouble every now and then." He pulled up his shirt to show the scars from the jaws of the archdemon. Two lines of teeth marks, one just under his navel, the other across his chest.
"Do they go right through?" Sigrun asked, fascinated. The king shook his head, but twisted in his seat and they saw the matching set on his back.
"They didn't meet in the middle, if that's what you mean. My armour stopped that from happening."
"I'll concede my wounds to that one, your majesty," Nathaniel said. "How did you survive?"
"I had a good healer with me," he said. "Wynne was on the roof with us when this happened. They still thought I wouldn't make it, though."
"Well, I think I need another drink," Anders said. He waved a serving girl over. The King, however, declined.
"Not thirsty your majesty?" Nathaniel said.
"Um...." Alistair grinned nervously, "...no, not really. I ... ah...."
Oghren chuckled. "Don't let him drink more than one," he said.
The king sighed deeply. "I can always rely on you, Oghren, to pull me down a peg. I should have you as an advisor in the Palace."
Sigrun and Nathaniel were grinning. "It's all right, your majesty," Sigrun said. "You can have a cider."
Anders pursed his lips thoughtfully. He suddenly had a plan.
"While they're coming," he said, "I think I'll go and take advantage of the facilities."
"Don't get your knickers wet," Oghren said. "Sparkle fingers."
"Yes, well, Oghren. I have been quite capable of performing this particular function for a good long while now."
"At least a week," the dwarf said.
"Ha ha. Has anyone ever told you you're the funniest dwarf in Thedas?"
"I wonder why. I'll be back in a minute."
He slipped out of the inn to the privies at the back - relieved himself, then came back inside, snagging a serving girl before he was within sight of the King's table.
"Here," he said to the girl, pressing a few silvers into her palm.
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Now, you're not bad looking," she said. "But I'm not that sort of girl."
"No, no, I'm not trying..." he sighed. "There's five more of those if you give the sandy blonde at my table alcoholic cider whenever he asks for another."
"You want to get him drunk?" she said, tucking the silvers into her bodice, her smile turning sly. "I don't blame you. I saw the scars on his chest - nice contours."
Anders looked at the woman for a moment. "You've got a filthy mind," he said eventually. "It doesn't matter why I want him drunk, but it'll be to your advantage if he can't stand up at the end of the night."
"Well if you don't want to take advantage of him... maybe I could..."
"No!" Anders said. "Andraste's mercy woman. Just do as I ask and keep your hands to yourself!"
She pouted. "If you say so," she said, and flounced off.
When he got back to the table, Alistair was answering the previous enquiries. "Well, the cheese in Orlais is just amazing - they have this one cheese that looks like it's mouldy but if you taste it it's just... wow. That's all I can say. Wow."
"And the biggest monster was the Archdemon I take it?"
"So... it's probably your turn to come up with something then," Anders said to the king as the serving girl placed a tankard in front of him.
"Mmm. Let me see..."
Sigrun left them after Oghren started singing. She said she had a headache, and she was sick of trying to convince Oghren that she wasn't his wife. Nathaniel excused himself soon after, claiming he had letters to write. That left Oghren and Anders and Alistair.
Anders had had a plan at some point in the evening, but he was pretty sure it involved him not drinking alcohol, and for some reason that part of the plan hadn't worked. He was drunk. And there was something he needed to ask the king of Ferelden.
"So..." he said, leaning across the table. "Why did you let her come here?"
Alistair fixed him with a bleary eye. "What?"
"The Commander. Why did you let her come here and be..the... be the Commander? She missed you... so... much.."
Alistair's face fell. "I didn't let her," he said. "The wardens at Weis..weisshaupt.. they ordered her here."
"So? Aren't you the king?"
"Yeees. But. She said she should go. She wants to be a warden as well. We were wardens before we were... you know.."
"King and Queen. Married. All that stuff."
"I wouldn't have let her go," Anders said. "Or I would have come with her."
"Eamon wouldn't let me," Alistair said. "Said we had things to do in Denerim. The nobles were grumbling about me being a bastard - if I'd stayed in Amaranthine someone would have suggested I wasn't... good enough... to be king."
"How could you bear it, though?" Anders asked. "She's so... so..."
"Beautiful," Oghren finished, letting out a deep sigh.
"Hey," Alistair said. "You're married."
"So? Doesn't mean I can't appreciate other women. It's not like she'd give me the time of day any how."
"But she's not just beautiful... she's... lovely and... she can kill stuff..." Anders glared at the king. "If I'd married her I wouldn't have let her go, no matter what."
Alistair took a long drink from his tankard, then looked at it, frowning. "You know - I'm drunker than I should be."
"Not possible," Oghren said. "You can never be too drunk."
"Oh, I beg to differ on that point," Anders said. "You are always too drunk."
"Come over here and say that, you swishy nuglicker."
"I'm drunker than I should be," Alistair said, articulating every word with extreme care, "because I could have sworn you just implied that you were in love with my wife."
There was a sudden silence at the table. The rest of the inn was getting more and more rowdy as the night went on. The people of the Vigil were still in celebration mode and many of the patrons of the inn hadn't truly left since the end of the battle with the darkspawn. But their rowdiness only made the silence at their small corner deeper.
Finally Anders broke it. "And what if I am?" he said.
"I'd probably have to... challenge you...?" Alistair said, clambering to his feet. "A duel? Isn't that how it normally goes?"
"Woah, wait a minute," Oghren said, suddenly sounding much more sober than usual. "Alistair, Anders is just trying to get you riled up."
"Well, he's succeeding! How long has this been going on? Since she came to the Vigil?"
"Nothing's going on!" Oghren said. The dwarf frantically waved a serving girl over.
"No, nothing's going on," Anders said, "nothing except a woman alone, under pressure, without the man she loves."
"Do you think I wanted her to come here? I'm not insane. I love her - I wanted to be with her every moment. But we have a duty.."
Anders scoffed and got to his feet. "A duty!" he said. "You first duty should have been to her!"
"Why don't you tell her that, you...."
"You idiots!" Oghren roared. "This is getting out of hand!"
"I'll show you out of hand..." Anders said, pushing up from the table and spreading his arms. Green light flared at his fingertips.
"Oh, yes, that's mature," Alistair said. "But ultimately useless!" He made a gesture with his hand and Anders felt his power drain away.
"Right," came the bartenders voice. "You two are out of here!" Strong arms clamped around Anders and he was lifted bodily. The next thing he knew he was in the Vigil's courtyard, being dumped in a puddle with the King next to him.
"And stay out."
Anders clambered to his feet. He still had no magic, but he'd been on the streets in Denerim before he was taken to the tower and he knew how to fight with his fists.
Unfortunately, so did Alistair. The first punch Anders threw connected with Alistair's stomach and he staggered back a couple of steps. Anders advanced on him, but was stunned when Alistair threw a punch that connected with the side of his head.
He was vaguely aware of Oghren jumping up and down next to them, shouting, but most of his focus was on the man in front of him as they exchanged blows. "You don't deserve her," Anders said. "A woman like that should never be left on her own."
"And you think you deserve her?" Alistair yelled back, as they circled each other. "No one does. But she happens to be.." the king suddenly let loose a flurry of fists, some of them connected with parts of Anders that were very sensitive indeed, "my wife!"
"What in Andraste's name is going on here?" Came a voice. A familiar... beloved voice. Both men froze.
"Thank the sodding maker," Oghren said. "Commander, you need to talk some sense into these nughumpers."
"Talking might be beyond their comprehension at the moment," Miranda said coldly. Anders looked up and saw she was flanked by four Vigil guards. "A night in the cells would do them both a lot of good I think." She sniffed. "But soak them down first. They stink of beer."
The guards dragged both Anders and the king towards the cells. "Separate cells!" Miranda's voice came after them. "And make sure Anders is in bracers, I don't want him disorienting anyone."
She'd put him in the cells. He sniffed, trying not to feel resentful. His nose was bleeding. His groin ached from one of Alistair's well-aimed punches and he was truly miserable.
After everything he'd told her about being in the tower - she'd locked him up. He clawed fruitlessly at the anti-magic bracers around his wrists. If he could call forth power... well he'd certainly be aiming the brunt of it at the man in the cell next to him.
That was the only compensation for being in here. The fact that he was there too. She hadn't gathered him up in her arms and taken him off to tend to his wounds. No. She'd dumped him in here with Anders. Like a criminal. The King of Ferelden! He'd laugh if it didn't hurt.
Alistair sat on the cot in the cell next to Anders, glaring at the mage. "You know, I could have you executed," he said. "Raising your hand in anger at a ruling monarch is treason."
"Did you read that in a book somewhere?" Anders said. "Go ahead and try it. I was conscripted into the wardens, if you recall. She'll conscript me again."
"What makes you think she'll want to, after tonight?"
He had a point. Despite his feelings of righteous anger against Alistair, there was no doubt where her heart truly lay.
No doubt at all, he thought to himself bitterly.
"I told her it was a bad idea for me to come down here," Alistair muttered. "Alcohol and me - they don't mix at all."
"Oghren told me once that you giggled all night after one pint of ale," Anders said, snorting.
"Well, yes. I think that may be true," Alistair said. "Not that I can remember it."
"Does that mean you won't remember what happened tonight?" Anders said, a hint of hope in his voice.
The king frowned at him. "It might be a bit difficult to forget," he said. "Between your hits to my head and the cold bucket of water they poured over us before they dumped us in here... I think I'm pretty sober right now."
They were silent for a long moment.
"You were right, you know," Alistair said finally.
"You were right, what you said about not letting her go. I shouldn't have. If I'd been a better... husband, I would have come with her. Or made the wardens appoint another commander. Or... or something that meant we didn't have to be parted."
"So why did you?" Anders asked finally. "Why did you let her go?"
The king of Ferelden let out a big sigh. "She was pregnant," he said. "Before we got the orders from Weisshaupt. We lost the baby. She... and I... she said she needed time. And then the orders came and she thought it would be a good idea to... come here and.." Alistair dropped his head into his hands. "I was so stupid," he said. "I wanted her to feel like she was in command again. She wanted the same thing, or that's what I thought..."
Anders sat back against the wall in surprise. She hadn't mentioned the pregnancy. But then, she hadn't really told him much at all. She'd spent all this time listening to his stories, but she'd never told him what she felt. If he hadn't come upon her, that day, with Alistair's letter in her hands and the tears pouring down her face... he wouldn't even have known that she was feeling alone.
"She's too strong for either of us," Anders said finally. "She didn't let you know because she didn't want to hurt you."
Alistair thumped the cot. "She drives me crazy sometimes!"
"Part of her charm," Anders said.
The two men found themselves smiling at each other. "You know," Alistair said. "I'm probably never going to like you much."
"Well, the feeling's entirely mutual, old boy," Anders answered.
"Good to know."
The next morning Miranda went down to the cells fuming. She should have listened to him when he said drinking was a bad idea. But she knew he wouldn't have drunk as much as he did unless someone else was doing the buying and she had a suspicion she also knew who had made sure her husband was matching the rest of them drink for drink.
Anders was going to wish he'd never been born.
So was Alistair.
She expected to find them trying to kill each other through the bars of the cell. Or sitting as far away from each other as possible glaring. Or passed out in their own vomit.
Instead they were both sitting on their cots, chatting amiably. Alistair had a black eye. Anders' nose was swollen and red. They both looked up as she entered and gave her identical, sheepish grins.
It really was impossible to stay angry with them.