Alim followed Miranda and Alistair back to their quarters. Alistair had extracted a promise from Eamon to keep Isolde confined until the baby was old enough to be weaned. Something seemed to have broken in his friend, however, and he gave a deep sigh as he sat on the bed.
"She was involved in the rebellion, you know," Alistair said. "That's how she and Eamon met. Only in her teens but she actually helped the Fereldens. Chose to stay here rather than go back to Orlais with her father because she loved him."
"I didn't know that," Alim said. "I always assumed Eamon had met her on a trip or something."
"Why did she do it?"
"She explained why," Alim said.
"It's not good enough," Alistair said. "She would have to be crazy..."
Miranda sat next to him and took his hand. "Alistair, to all intents and purposes, she is. She still saw Alim as a threat to Connor. I have no doubt that the baby she's carrying is adding to it as well."
"There's every chance this baby will also be a mage," Alim said. "That would be making her more paranoid."
"Pregnancy does funny things sometimes," Miranda said.
"Remember as well, Alistair, that she spent all that time locked up in Redcliffe with an abomination - there's no telling what it did to her, even though she was fine physically."
"It's ultimately your decision what her fate will be, Alistair," Miranda said softly. "But you have some time, at least."
That night Eamon joined them for an informal dinner. The mood was subdued and Alistair resolved not to stay any longer than was absolutely necessary. They had a meeting with the bans tomorrow, but they would be able to get underway the following morning. He found he couldn't wait to see the back of Redcliffe - possibly forever.
"You need to know, Alistair," Eamon said quietly. "The troops that accompanied Cullen - they were arranged by Bann Wulf, not Isolde. I can prove it - she was smart enough to keep the letter he sent to her in reply. She asked him to do it, but he was willing to take part. He needs to be dealt with."
Alistair nodded, but couldn't find any response. If Isolde had had her way during the Blight, she would be dead now. If Alistair hadn't spoken up and demanded Alim go to the circle... He had fought so hard to save all three of them and this was how he was repaid.
"Alistair, I'm so sorry," Eamon said then. "I didn't realise how far gone she was - we were so caught up in getting you on the throne, and then I stayed in Denerim when I really should have been here.. It is my fault as much as hers that this happened."
He pressed his lips together. There were no words. Next to him he could feel Alim tense up and he remembered telling the mage about what Isolde had been like, before he went to the chantry. He put his hand on his friend's arm. It would do on one any good to enter into recriminations now. The damage had been done. The Arl's family would never be the same.
And it was the Arl's family. Not his. He should have realised that a long time ago. If he wanted his own family, he thought, looking at Miranda seated across from him, he was going to have to make it himself.
Zevran met them at the Palace when they returned to Denerim. He walked with a cane, but he was walking and Alim was overjoyed. After a brief greeting the King and Queen retired inside and Alim was left with his lover.
"Short trip," the Antivan said as he embraced the mage. "Am I wrong in assuming that the mystery has been solved?"
"Not wrong," Alim said. "It's sorted. There won't be any more attempts on my life - from that quarter in any case."
"I am relieved to hear it." They made their slow way back to Alim's quarters, simply enjoying each other's company.
They made love carefully to avoid any strain on Zevran's wounds, and Alim felt truly that he had come home. Afterwards, they lay in each other's arms, sweating after their exertions and in the spring warmth. Alim traced the tattoo on Zevran's face, letting his fingers linger on the tips of his ears, enjoying the slight shiver that ran through his fellow elf at the touch.
"Alistair is taking Isolde's betrayal hard," Alim said finally. "I haven't seen him this upset since Eamon first suggested he take the throne."
"This Isolde woman - she was always a problem," Zevran said. "When we first met her I knew she was unstable. I was once contracted to remove someone very like her, actually, in Antiva. The wife of a powerful nobleman. His family wanted her removed before she did something foolish. A shame Eamon did not recognise this propensity for insanity in his wife earlier."
"She's been through a lot, Zev," Alim said. "You might have acted the same way, if you'd been put in her position."
"Alas, for the problem of my sex, it shall never be," Zevran said.
"I would never call your sex a problem, my assassin," he replied, letting his hand slide lower onto Zevran's abdomen.
"No indeed," Zevran said, laughing.
The letter from Weisshaupt arrived two weeks later. Alistair called him into his study, a worried look on his face.
"The High Commander demands our presence," he said to Alim. "Both of us. The gall of the man."
"I assume you won't be leaving," Alim said.
"Of course not. It's a six month round trip. I'm tempted not to let you go either."
"I need to go, Alistair," Alim said. "We need to explain what happened with the archdemon. And I'm assuming there'll be orders regarding the rebuilding of the Ferelden Wardens."
"They're also demanding at least three quarters of the archdemon blood," Alistair said. "Not surprising, considering their supplies must be running fairly low. Will you take Zevran with you?"
"If he'll come."
"I don't want to lose you," Alistair said.
He grinned. "Alistair, your wife is much better equipped to give you advice about how to rule Ferelden than I'll ever be."
"I'd deny that to stroke your ego, but I'd be lying and we'd both know it. Still, I'm going to miss you, my friend."
"I'll be back."
Zevran agreed to go with him, but not all the way to Weisshaupt. "I need to go to Antiva, my love," he said. "I need to be certain that the Crows believe I am dead."
Alim felt fear grip his heart. "You can't," he said. "They'll recognise you..."
"No, no, Alim, they will not recognise me. The Crows are not like the Wardens. We do not all meet in a big field and have drinks together. The only Crows who knew my face were my direct superior and those I worked with - Taliesin, who is now conveniently dead... and..."
"And Rinna," Alim finished for him. "Also dead. And I'm assuming that the man who sent you on that mission will be dead soon after you get to Antiva?"
"You know me too well, my magical love. I do indeed intend to take my revenge of him. But I promise to return. If I am efficient enough, and you know that I am, I shall be able to meet you on your way back from the Anderfels."
Alim cupped Zevran's cheek. "You'd better," he said. "Otherwise I will come looking for you."
The elf smiled and kissed him.
Alim's farewell was lavish and sumptuous. Ferelden's spring weather was kind to them, the day dawning bright and clear and warm. Alim and Zevran waved goodbye to the king and queen from their carriage and left the city in high spirits.
Alistair and Miranda made their way back to their rooms that evening subdued, but Alistair could tell there was something on Miranda's mind. He liked to think he knew her better now, than anyone save perhaps Alim, and he hoped she knew him as well.
"I have some news for you," she said, smiling up at him. "I'm pregnant."
He felt the news before he really heard it as a jolt to the stomach. "Really?" he said.
She rolled her eyes. "No, I just made it up to have another hold over you. Of course really."
He blinked. "I'm sorry, my love," he said, letting the smile that had been trying to get his attention spread over his face. "That's wonderful news. Is everything all right? Have you told anyone else?"
"No. But as far as I can tell I'm nearly two months in," she placed her hands on her stomach. He hesitantly placed his own over hers.
"Our own baby?" he said.
"Yes, ours," she said.
He sighed happily and gathered her into his arms. "You know, I never wanted to be king," he said. "And I still don't know if I'm going to be a good one. But..."
"At least you'll be here."
She squeezed him tightly. "Always," she said.