A.N.: For the purposes of this fiction, I have made the Warden as generic as possible, with no description or name given. I wanted it to be possible she could have been from any of the origins; however, as the story progressed it became obvious to me that she would need to be a mage. Therefore, she is as generic an arcane warrior mage as I could make her. Because of the ending, I tend to think of her as human, but feel free to imagine her as an elf if you like.

Even though this is AU, I have used a good bit of the actual game dialogue with changes as appropriate. I hope you enjoy the story.

It's all Bioware's baby, except for the twisted story line.

The Warden wearily made her way from the first floor of Arl Eamon's estate to the bedroom that had been assigned to her. The long day in the alienage clearing out the slavers and killing the demons in the orphanage had taken its toll on her. She knew she only had a short time before the joining ceremony would begin. Luckily, she had been busy enough to avoid thinking about it all day. Now that the immediate problems of solving the mysteries in the alienage had been resolved, it all came rushing to the forefront of her mind. Anders, Zevran, and Nathaniel were all to undergo the Joining tonight, and she really didn't want to face the fact that with three recruits to go through the ritual, the odds were that at least one, and maybe more, of them wouldn't survive.

She pushed open the door to her room, entered, and shut it behind her before she started removing her armor. Her fingers, normally so dexterous, were refusing to cooperate and allow her to shed it. She finally managed to take off all the pieces and stack them to the side for attention later. She then sank into the thick fur rug in front of the fire clad only in her linen underclothing while she waited for the servants to bring her the water she had requested for her bath. She drew up her legs to her chest and rested her cheek on her knees as she remembered how this all began.

It was really outside of Lothering that she had started collecting her oddball set of recruits. She, Alistair, and Morrigan were drawing close to the small town when both her and Alistair had felt the tingling along their nerves and the burnt ash taste in the back of their throats that indicated darkspawn were near. They had warned Morrigan and rushed around the curve of the road ahead of them. The sight that met their eyes was not one any of them had expected. A mage was casting a fire spell at a hurlock. As they watched, the hurlock fell and the man turned to face them. There were bodies of templars and darkspawn scattered randomly behind him.

"Ah, I didn't do it," he declared. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not broken up about them dying to be perfectly honest. Biff there made the funniest gurgle when he went down."

From the first moment upon seeing the mage's Circle robes, she had been trying to place him. "Wait, I know you," the Warden said. "You're Anders, aren't you? The one who is always playing tag with the templars. First you run away, then they bring you back, and then you do it all over again."

"Yes, well, I keep hoping the templars will get bored and give up, but they never seem to," said Anders. His eyes fell upon Morrigan. "What do we have here? Who is this lovely lady? May I compliment you on your choice in robes?"

Morrigan took one look at Anders and sneered in his face, "Circle fool."

"Did you kill those men? The templars?" demanded Alistair.

"Not me!" declared Anders. "It was the darkspawn. By the time I was freed most of the templars were already dead."

"Most?" asked Alistair with a steely gaze at Anders.

"I did not kill the templars even though they wanted to drag me back to the Circle again," asserted Anders.

The Warden looked Anders over while assessing him. She had heard stories of him in the tower. She knew one of his specialties was healing. Neither she nor Morrigan were especially proficient in that department. She strode decisively up to him, "I hereby conscript you into the Grey Wardens. Congratulations, recruit, you are free of the tower forever."

"Me? A Grey Warden! I guess that will work," he replied.

"Have you lost your mind?" asked Alistair.

"Excuse us," the Warden said to Morrigan and Anders. "Alistair, come with me." She pulled him a short distance away where she proceeded to fill him in on Anders's background and how much he could help them with his offensive spells and his healing abilities. She also drove home the fact that they were going to need to recruit more Wardens even if neither of them knew the actual joining ceremony. At some point, other Wardens would come, and any recruits they had could go through the ritual then. After some argument from Alistair, he eventually agreed to go along with her plan.

The group had then moved into Lothering and taken care of various errands and missions there. On their way out of town, they had discovered the caged qunari. Between Morrigan's cold spells and Anders's fire spells, they soon had the metal of the lock on the cage weakened enough that Sten could exit the cage. He was not a recruit, but he swore his service to the Warden so he could find his atonement. The Warden was pleased. This gave them two fighters (three, counting her dog) and three mages, one a shapeshifter and the other a talented healer.

At first Anders had tried to turn his charm on Morrigan saying they were two apostates against the world. Morrigan rebuffed him at every turn. Finally even Anders' optimism broke under the realization that Morrigan would never accept him in her bed. When that happened, he turned his attention to the Warden. By this point, Alistair had started making known his interest in her as well. The Warden realized the only way her little group was going to get along and function well enough to stop the Blight was for her to not enter into a relationship with any of the men of her party and to treat each of them just as a friend. Of course, that didn't stop the men from trying to win her or change her mind, but she managed to remain neutral between the two of them. .

It was only after they annulled the Circle tower mages and had agreed to find the Urn of Sacred Ashes to help heal Arl Eamon that her second recruit arrived. Zevran had laid a cunning trap for them, but their group had quickly proved to be too much for him and his hired accomplices to handle. Almost before the Warden was aware of it, all of the attackers were dead except for the leader. Zevran explained how Loghain had hired him to kill them, and he was now a dead man because the Crows would kill him unless he was allied with someone who would give the Crows pause.

Once again the Warden assessed a man in front of her for his usefulness. She asked a few questions about his skills and loyalty and made her decision. "I conscript you into the Grey Wardens. You are no longer a Crow. Welcome, recruit."

"What! You're taking the assassin with us now? Does that really seem like a good idea?" asked Alistair.

"Don't worry about it. We could use him," the Warden replied.

"Oh yes," begged Zevran. "Please use me hard."

The Warden laughed inwardly, but outwardly she only glared at the elf and extended a hand to help him off the ground.

After the addition of Zevran, the Warden was glad she had made the decision she had. His rogue skills proved invaluable, but he was a shameless flirt. Even she had to admit, the lengths the three men went to in vying for her attention could be downright hilarious at times. Still, she kept her promise to herself and remained free of romantic entanglements with any of her traveling companions no matter what the temptation was.

Surprisingly, she and Morrigan became pretty good friends, especially once the Warden had removed Flemeth at Morrigan's request. The two women often banded together in female bonding when the men they traveled with would tease them, and they would often share a cup of tea at Morrigan's fire in the evenings before the Warden turned in. At the Warden's request, Morrigan even began teaching her how to shapeshift.

They continued on in their quest to stop the Blight and gather allies. It was during one of their times of approaching Denerim that her last recruit was added to the mix.

Nathaniel had been in the Free Marches where he had been sent by his father after another of the numerous arguments in their acrimonious relationship. He had happened to be in Ostwick on a mission for his employers when he had heard of the rumblings of the events that were occurring in Ferelden. He heard some sort of story that his father had attempted to kill the entire Cousland family in order to take over Highever. Hoping desperately that this was rumor and not true (but fearing it was as he knew his father), he had made his way to Amaranthine as rapidly as possible. There he had his worst fears confirmed by his sister, Delilah and had discovered that his brother, Thomas was dead under mysterious conditions. Delilah was certain, however, it had been done at his father's orders. He couldn't believe the Howe family had fallen so low as to have at its head a viper such as Rendon Howe. .

Nathaniel had then made his way to Denerim and had been keeping his identity a secret as he attempted to determine exactly what his father was up to. As the information Nathaniel uncovered became worse and worse, he made a decision. His father had to die for the stain he was placing on the Howe honor. However, Nathaniel knew he could never get close enough to his father to exact his own form of justice. He needed help and he knew where to get the allies he needed. In the course of his information-gathering, he had also discovered quite a bit about the few remaining Grey Wardens in Ferelden. Nathaniel knew that both his father and Teyrn Loghain were living in fear of them and that the Grey Wardens would eventually be returning to Denerim. He started loitering outside the gates each day to see if he could catch them before they entered the city on their next appearance.

The Warden had been surprised when on their return to Denerim after taking care of some Kadan-Fe mercenaries for Master Ignacio they were accosted before they even entered the city. They had been walking in their normal formation with her in the lead when a dark-haired man had approached them with his empty hands held out before him. He had begged permission to speak with her, which she had granted. There followed an incredible tale of who he was, the information he had gathered, the task he had laid upon himself, and the hope they would allow him to join their party and make seeking out Rendon Howe for justice one of their missions.

"You do realize that once your father is dead, you should be the Arl of Amaranthine, correct?" she asked Nathaniel.

"Yes, but that doesn't matter to me. The arling will be safe in Delilah's hands. She is the one who has been running it for father these past years," he said.

"If you kill your father, you will be hunted down for committing patricide," the Warden warned.

"I realize this," replied Nathaniel. "However, I cannot let my brother's murderer run free, especially with all the other vile deeds he has committed. I must remove the stain to my family's honor."

The Warden looked at him and considered, "Why should I allow you to travel with us as you wish? What skills can you contribute?"

Nathaniel explained how he had spent the last years on various campaigns in the Free Marches. He was very familiar with camp life and combat. He also had some special skills he had acquired over the years, such as hiding in shadows and picking locks, that he was willing to place at the Warden's disposal. The Warden liked the idea. It would round out her group nicely to have someone else able to pick locks beside Zevran, who truthfully wasn't the most skilled at it. She asked Nathaniel to give them a few minutes to talk it over among themselves, which he agreed to. He moved back up the road out of hearing distance.

The Warden turned to Alistair fully prepared to have another argument on her hands. She was surprised when he agreed with her in wishing Nathaniel to join them. When she asked him why, he told her it was because the man had honor and Alistair could understand his motives. After a short discussion, she motioned for Nathaniel to join them once again.

"Nathaniel, we have agreed that if you desire to join us, you may. However, there will be a price. Once your father is dead, you will be conscripted into the Grey Wardens to serve to the best of your abilities. Until that time, I am the leader of this group with Alistair as my second, and you will follow orders just as Sten and Morrigan do. If you change your mind before the confrontation with your father, you are free to leave. Are we agreed?" she asked.

The Warden and Alistair had decided to conscript Nathaniel after Howe's death as a form of protection for him. Once a Grey Warden, whatever he had done in the past was no longer a consideration. Besides, she was looking forward to having a recruit who had actual battle experience and seemed as accomplished as Nathaniel.

He had agreed and proven an excellent addition. His ability to fade in and out of the shadows was almost spooky. Nathaniel made the trip to Orzammar with them as that was where Master Ignacio sent them next, and it also allowed them to acquire their last allies from the treaties. Once they left Orzammar after the crowning of King Bhelen, they headed to Redcliffe and then finally back to Denerim for the showdown with Teyrn Loghain.

Once they had arrived in Denerim, they finished up assorted quests in the city itself, including freeing Riordan, Nathaniel's slaying of his father and subsequent conscription, the rescue of the queen, and Alistair and the Warden's detention in Fort Drakon. After Alistair and the Warden had made their escape and returned to the arl's estate, they'd had a conference with Riordan. He told them about the Denerim cache that belonged to the Grey Wardens and how he had gone there on his way to the estate. In it he had found the required elements to put her three recruits through the Joining. Before this could occur, though, the queen had suggested that they investigate the alienage. The Warden told Riordan that the Joining wouldn't take place until they were ready for the Landsmeet. With the possibility of losing members of her team to the taint, she wanted to delay the actual ceremony as long as she could.

Delay was now no longer possible. Tomorrow they would convene the Landsmeet that hopefully would end in Alistair being crowned king. The Joining had to be done tonight to allow the newly created Wardens time to recover before morning. Now she understood why Duncan had been so insistent they get the Joining over as soon as possible at Ostagar. Allowing yourself to get fond of someone who was doomed for death was folly; unfortunately, she had done just that with her three recruits in the months they had traveled together.

She finally dragged herself up off the rug and went to her bath. She needed to gather herself to appear strong for the ceremony. She scrubbed from head to toe removing blood and gore from her fights today, but she was surprised to realize she was scrubbing tears from her face as well. Taking herself firmly in hand, she pushed back the fear she had for Anders, Zevran, and Nathaniel. Sitting in the hot water in her bath, she re-wove the mask of calm and authority she wore each day until her face showed none of her inner dread. Once she was convinced she had mastered herself, she left the bath and dressed in a comfortable pair of trousers and a tunic.

She met the others as arranged in Riordan's room where the six of them would perform the ceremony. Riordan had been in charge of acquiring the actual components required and had the cup for the joining ritual prepared by the time she arrived. Darkspawn blood certainly wasn't hard to come by these days. Alistair and the three men about to undergo the rite were already present as well. She greeted everyone with a serious demeanor. Riordan looked to her with a question in his eye. Taking a firm hold of herself and a deep breath, she nodded to him to begin.

"At last we come to the Joining. The Grey Wardens were founded during the first Blight when humanity stood on the verge of annihilation. So it was that the first Grey Wardens drank of darkspawn blood and mastered their taint, as the first Grey Wardens did before us, as we did before you. This is the source of our power and our victory," began Riordan. "We speak only a few words prior to the Joining, but these words have been said since the first. Warden, if you would?" he asked.

"Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that cannot be foresworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten, and that one day, we shall join you," intoned the Warden as memories of a day in Ostagar interspersed themselves with present-day Denerim.

"Anders, step forward," commanded Riordan. Anders met him halfway across the room and took the cup from his hands. "From this moment forth, you are a Grey Warden."

"So we need to drink darkspawn blood. That's it?" he asked.

"That's it. Those who survive the Joining become immune to the taint. We can sense it in the darkspawn and use it to slay the archdemon," Alistair said.

"Well, all right. If I wake up two weeks from now on a ship bound for Rivain in nothing but my smallclothes and a tattoo on my forehead, I'm blaming you," Anders replied.

With a look of trepidation, he raised the cup to his lips, took a swallow, and returned the chalice to Riordan. Anders put his hand to his forehead as the taint began its corruption within him. His eyes were covered with white film as his body fought the changes that were occurring, and he began to hear the call of the darkspawn and the roar of the archdemon for the first time. His body gyrated and then he landed on the floor on his back, unconscious and unknowing.

Alistair leaned over and looked at him, "He lives and will awaken in time." The Warden let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding at Alistair's statement. One was safe, two to go.

"Zevran, come forward," Riordan surrendered the chalice to Zevran as he said once again, "From this moment forth, you are a Grey Warden."

Zevran took the cup and with a wink at the Warden threw back the chalice. After taking a swallow, he returned it to Riordan's hand. Zevran hunched into himself and grunted as the pain from the taint began coursing through him. His eyes went white as his body fought the contamination he had taken within himself. He fell to his knees with his hands at his throat before collapsing facedown on the floor of Riordan's room.

Alistair knelt down and looked at Zevran's face and chest. He slowly rose to his feet as he shook his head. There was a stricken expression on Alistair's face as he refused to meet either the Warden or Riordan's eyes.

No! the Warden was screaming internally. Not my Zevran! He would never flirt outrageously with her again. She would never admire the gracefulness of his form as he almost danced around those he fought in combat or the ease with which his witty barbs found their target in raising Alistair's ire. No matter the pain at his loss that was shredding her insides, her face remained impassive as there was still one more recruit to go.

"I am sorry, Zevran. May the Maker watch over you now," Riordan said formally. "But the Joining is not yet complete. Nathaniel, you are called upon to submit yourself to the taint for the greater good."

Nathaniel took the cup even less enthusiastically than Anders or Zevran had, but the Warden was relieved he had done so. There would be no one cut down for refusal such had occurred to Ser Jory at her Joining. She watched as Nathaniel took his draught from the cup. She didn't even realize she had her hands drawn up into fists as she waited to see Nathaniel's reaction to the taint.

A feeling of relief washed over her as she realized that Nathaniel, too, would survive. She asked Riordan and Alistair to take Anders and Nathaniel to their rooms. She didn't say she wanted a last few minutes alone with Zevran, but Alistair knew even if Riordan didn't. Alistair didn't want to leave her, but she told him more sharply than she intended to take Nathaniel and go.

Once the others had left the room, she dropped to her knees beside Zevran's body. The tears she had managed to hold off until now flowed freely down her face. "I'm sorry, Zev," she murmured to him. She thought how unfair it was. He had told her how he had come to Ferelden seeking his death after Rinna had betrayed him, but he had found new joy and a desire to live under the Warden banner. To have that taken from him just as he had found something to live for seemed wrong to her, and it was her fault. She was the one who had conscripted him. She was so wrapped up in her weeping that she didn't hear the door open.

The first indication she had that anyone was in the room was when Alistair placed his hands on her shoulders and drew her away from Zevran's body. He guided her to his chest and draped his arms gently around her as he attempted to comfort her with a mixture of murmured endearments and comments aimed at easing her guilt. She continued to sob for just a few minutes, but then her natural strength came to the fore again. She pushed away from him and drew herself up. She forced herself to inquire about both Anders and Nathaniel, and Alistair told her that they were resting and should be fine by morning. Riordan had stayed with Anders, and Alistair was going back to Nathaniel, but he had wanted to check on her first. The Warden thanked him for his concern, but told him she was fine and was going to bed. Alistair told her not to worry about Zevran's body and that Riordan would take charge of ensuring he had the proper rites the next day while they were at the Landsmeet. The Warden just nodded, having been too drained mentally to even consider that. Alistair accompanied her to her door, but when he would have invited himself inside, she sent him back to Nathaniel. Alistair reluctantly left her, and she entered the room, which seemed to resound with her guilt. She pulled off her clothes and climbed into bed soaking her pillow with her tears. She spent the night remembering every memory she had of Zevran before finally falling into a restless sleep.

The next morning, her self-indulgence was over. She had a job to do and people depending on her. When her team gathered before departing for the Landsmeet, everyone was subdued at the loss of Zevran. She did take the time to check with her new brothers and welcome them as befitted her role as their leader.

The encounters with Loghain and Ser Cauthrian may have ended differently on another day, but with Zevran's death so recent, the Warden had locked away her emotions and her normal persuasive elegance she saved for swaying the nobles. By the end of the Landsmeet, both Loghain and Cauthrian were dead at her hand, but Alistair had been declared king.

The next day, they began their march towards Redcliffe as Riordan took his leave of them to try and scout the location of the horde and the archdemon. As he was departing, he pressed a small packet of ashes into her hands. The Warden thanked him and carefully tucked them away.

They traveled as fast as they could and eventually made it to Redcliffe only to have to fight their way through darkspawn to reach the castle. Once Redcliffe was secured, she was surprised that Riordan was there and requesting to see the four other Wardens. After being welcomed by the arl and having rooms assigned to all their party, the Wardens made their way to the meeting with Riordan. There he informed them of information that neither she nor Alistair had been aware of, including the real reason for the Grey Wardens and some of the other side effects of the taint that Alistair hadn't known. Riordan planned to make the final blow, but they all knew they needed a backup. The Warden was touched when all three of the men volunteered. She told them that she would think about it as no decision needed to be made at this moment. The only thing she knew for sure was that it wouldn't be Alistair, even if she had to do it herself. He was Ferelden's future king and could not be spared.

She made her way back to her room only to find a familiar figure in front of the fire.

"Do not be alarmed. It is only I," said Morrigan.

"Morrigan? Is everything all right?"

"I am well. 'Tis you who are in danger. I have a plan you see. A way out. The loop in your hole. I know what happens when the archdemon dies. I know a Grey Warden must be sacrificed, and that sacrifice could be you. I have come to tell you this does not need to be."

"Does not need to be? What do you mean?"

"I offer a way out. A way out for all the Grey Wardens, that there need be no sacrifice. A ritual-performed on the eve of battle, in the dark of night."

"Why all the secrecy?" asked the Warden.

"Anything to do with magic stirs one's fear, especially among those who do not understand it. What I speak of is old magic, a ritual from a time long before the Circle of Magi was ever created. Some would call it blood magic, but I think that means little to one like you."

"And from where did you get this ritual?"

"From Flemeth, of course. I have known about it for some time. Flemeth wished me to perform the ritual, but since she is gone and I am free, I have another plan. I offer to teach you the spells necessary and you perform the ritual yourself."

"What does this ritual entail?" queried the Warden.

"You must lie with a Grey Warden here tonight, and from this ritual, a child shall be conceived within you. The child will bear the taint and when the archdemon is slain, its essence will seek the child like a beacon. At this early stage, the child can absorb that essence and not perish. The archdemon is still destroyed, with no Grey Warden dying in the process."

"Lie with…you mean sleep with either Riordan, Alistair, Nathaniel, or Anders? You can't be serious!"

"I'm perfectly serious, but it cannot be Riordan. He has been tainted too long. Any of the other three should suffice."

"Besides the obvious fact that I'm not involved with any of them and to have sex with one of them would destroy the balance we've achieved between the four of us, there is a problem with that plan, Morrigan. Riordan informed us tonight that Grey Wardens cannot have children, especially not together."

Morrigan considered this for a few moments. "The spells I will teach you will make you fertile, but for the best chance to ensure a child is conceived, you should bed each of the other three male Wardens."

"Are you crazy? I've been avoiding a relationship with any of them and now you want me to sleep with ALL of them?"

"Well, I wasn't suggesting all at once, unless you prefer that, of course," Morrigan answered with a slight upturn of her lips.

"Very funny. I'm no blushing virgin, Morrigan, but to bed three men in the same night seems a little extreme. How do you know they would even agree?"

"I've seen the way all three look at you, each one hoping for his chance. If you care for them as you seem to, you will convince them to. Consider what the alternative might be. Do you think Alistair will fail in his duty as the future king and save his country? Anders and Nathaniel are new to your order and overeager. Or do you believe they will be willing to stand by and allow you to administer the blow? Do you want to lose one of your Wardens so shortly after Zevran when there is a chance to save all four of you?"

The Warden fell heavily on her bed rubbing her forehead in thought. Morrigan was right. She couldn't stand to lose any of them. No matter which one it was, each would cause a grief in her heart. If there really was an alternative, would it be so wrong to take it?

"Why are you offering this to me? Why are you not doing it yourself as planned?" the Warden asked.

"For the first time in my life, I am free of my mother. I have no wish to become pregnant and tie myself down with a child as she wished. I also have no wish to see you die unnecessarily. I propose to stay with you and offer you aid until the archdemon is defeated and then leave Ferelden. I find after our time together I wish to travel and encounter other places and people and determine my own future. Is that so strange?"

"No, I suppose not. The world is certainly larger than a hut in the middle of the Korcari Wilds," the Warden answered. "But what about the child? Does it become a darkspawn?"

"Not at all. It will become something different: a child born with the soul of an Old God," answered Morrigan.

"Will the child be evil?" she asked.

"It will absorb the essence of the Old God that once was and not the dark forces that corrupted it. Some things are worth preserving in the world. You will have the raising of the child and may teach it as you see fit. The concept of good and evil is one I find hard to understand and matters little to me. Teach the child to be 'good' if you wish," Morrigan replied with a shrug.

"The child won't be hurt, will it?" the Warden asked.

"Ignoring that after but one night , it could barely be called a child…no, it will not be hurt. It will be changed."

The Warden had never really considered children in her life as she had grown up in the Circle and hadn't expected to have any. Riordan's news that she would never be a mother hadn't affected her much because of that. Now, to have Morrigan here offering it to her left her off kilter and confused. What did she know of children or how to care for one, especially one as powerful as this child would be? Could she really raise this child so it wouldn't be a danger to others?

"When we used blood magic here at Redcliffe it cost Isolde her life. Is there a life to be forfeited for this as well?" asked the Warden.

"No one dies. Each participant sheds some blood; you cast the proper spells and then perform the sex act. That's all there is to it."

"That's all," echoed the Warden hollowly.

"Here is what I suggest," said Morrigan. "Talk to your men and see what they say. See how many of them are willing to take the chance of one of them or you dying. I will wait here for your answer."

The Warden thought about it. What would be the harm in telling the others of Morrigan's offer? Before she could change her mind, she nodded to Morrigan and told her she would be back. She gathered the three men in Alistair's room and while not looking at any of them told them of Morrigan's offer and what it would entail.

Anders immediate comment was, "I'm in!" When Alistair gave him one of his looks, Anders stated bluntly, "What? You mean you aren't? A choice between grisly death or sex? I'll take the sex, please."

"Anders," the Warden said. "Be serious."

"Oh, I'm serious. I'm perfectly serious. You have my answer."

"Nathaniel, what are your thoughts?" she asked.

He turned his dark eyes on her. "I'm in no hurry to meet my death. However, what of the child? What happens to it? What are your plans for both the babe and you after?"

"Well, I had assumed I would rebuild the Wardens with Anders and your assistance while Alistair rules Ferelden. If they make me Warden-Commander, then I don't believe anyone will have the authority to take the child away from me as long as I stay here. I would hope that at least one of you would be willing to help me to ensure the child doesn't become a danger to those around it," she finished softly. "I guess I would raise the child at whatever base of operations the Wardens would be awarded from a very grateful king."

"That would be me, right? That leads me to another thought. What if it is mine?" asked Alistair. "Will the child someday expect to rule Ferelden after me?"

"Alistair," she said. "You and Anders look enough alike that if one of you were the actual father we could never really be totally sure which of you it was. No, this child would never be the heir of your bloodline."

Anders spoke up again, "There is an easy solution to this. All three of us serve as father to the child since we all decided to participate in its creation and help in whatever way we can."

Alistair raised his eyebrows in surprise, "I'm not sure if I've totally lost my mind or if that actually made sense." He remained quiet for a moment, but then continued speaking, "I don't like the idea of using Morrigan's blood magic. You know that goes against everything I believe in."

The Warden looked directly at him, "We've used blood magic before in saving Connor, Alistair. At least this time, no lives need to be lost. If we decide not to do this, who makes the decision on who strikes that blow? You know as well as I do your life will not be offered up, so you make it, Alistair. Tell me, who dies if Riordan fails? Is it Anders, Nathaniel, or me?"

Alistair's face flushed and he bit his lower lip, but no answer was forthcoming.

The Warden wished she could spare him this, but pushed on mercilessly, "Well, my king, what is your decision?"

He looked at her with a tortured expression, "I-I can't. How can I choose?"

Her eyes softened as she said, "You see now why I am even considering this. I'm not anxious to die myself, nor am I any more willing to ask others to do so in my place than you are, Alistair."

He dropped his eyes, but nodded his head.

Nathaniel turned his gaze on her once again, "The choice is yours, Warden. You would be the one who would have to take each of us to your bed, and you have been pretty clear on not giving any of us that honor in the past."

She flushed under the three sets of eyes that turned to rest on her face waiting for her answer. She nervously licked her lips, "Well, I suppose I could make an exception….for one night only."

Anders jumped up, rubbing his hands together and looking joyfully around, "Well then, the only question remains is…. together or separate?"

The Warden wasn't sure who answered first, her or Alistair, "Separate, definitely separate."

"Right, who goes first, then? I'll volunteer," continued Anders blithely.

The Warden, still not able to believe she was actually going to do this, decided to take matters into her own hands. "Go back to your rooms. I'll come to each of you, but first I have to learn the proper spells from Morrigan."

The Warden quickly took her leave and returned to her chamber where Morrigan awaited her. She learned the spells to make her conceive and the ones to bind the archdemon to the child through Morrigan's blood magic. She was relieved that none of the spells were terribly complex or noxious. Morrigan left the Warden's room after offering her encouragement. The Warden then took her time to prepare herself both mentally and physically for what she had to do before gathering the supplies she would need for her spells and heading to the first man's room.

She went to Alistair, her second, the man with the earnest eyes and caring touch who had been the shield at her side since Ostagar. She knew she was his first. Their time together was sweet and gentle, and she hoped it had been everything he had dreamed of. Next, she went to Anders, as quick with a joke as he was with a spell. He was lighthearted and fun, although his magic called to hers in a blazing rush of power. Finally, she went to Nathaniel, grace and power hidden in a wrapped shadow of darkness. He gave her passion and intensity, and afterwards, he opened himself to her and allowed her to rest quietly in his arms.

When she finally returned to her room just before dawn with the scent of the three men mingling on her skin, Morrigan was waiting for her. "'Tis done?" she asked.

The Warden nodded wearily, "Yes, it's done."

Morrigan smiled and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, "I'm glad, sister. I would hate to lose you." With that, she slipped from the Warden's room.

The Warden was so busy the next few days she barely had time to spare any thoughts for what had happened that night in Redcliffe. She ordered her armies and was constantly revising battle plans as they made the forced march back to Denerim to try and rescue the city from the horde. Her men reacted in different ways to the events of that night. Anders was much the same, laughing and joking; although at times when he thought she wasn't aware of it, his eyes would pass over her with a wondering expression. Alistair was even more solicitous of her welfare than ever, always making sure she ate and pushing her to get more rest. The Warden would swear she could feel Nathaniel's gaze caressing her body even when she turned and he wasn't there. She wasn't sure if he was keeping an eye on her from the shadows or if she was imagining it. The one thing all three men knew better than to do was to try and keep her out of the fighting. She thought that they were all staying closer to her than normal to help keep her safe, but as long as they didn't try to exclude her, she was willing to hold her protests. As protective as she was of them, she could understand how they could feel the same way of her and the unborn child she now carried. She never brought up that night or the child in the days that led up to the confrontation with the archdemon, and because she didn't, none of the men did either.

Finally, they made it back to Denerim, and they fought at the gates to cripple the darkspawn's ability to send more troops into the city. When Riordan suggested she select only a team of four to enter, her first thought was to leave Alistair at the gates. He was the one who needed to survive the battle in order to lead the nation. When she turned to order him to stay, he firmly cut her off, "No. We started this together. We end it that way. I'm coming with you." She looked at her friends who had followed her across Ferelden and taken her commands as they gathered together the components of her army. From her dog, Sten, and Morrigan to her amazing three Grey Wardens, Alistair, Anders, and Nathaniel, how could she choose?

She chose the way her head and her heart told her. She took the Grey Wardens, her lovers, the fathers of her child. She put Sten in charge of the defense at the gates. She petted her dog, grasped Sten's hand in a warrior's salute, and thanked Morrigan for her help. Her last glance as they entered the city showed Morrigan still standing with a raised hand. Then her attention was claimed by the darkspawn.

They entered the market district first. The four of them were a deadly combination between Alistair's strength, Anders' powerful primal and healing magics, Nathaniel's darting blades, and her combination of magic and sword. The groups of various darkspawn fell before them as they cleared the alienage, the palace, and then pushed onto Fort Drakon itself. They fought their way to the roof where the archdemon awaited after Riordan had failed in his attempt to claim the life of the dragon. After a protracted battle, the archdemon was down, and it was just left for the final killing blow. The Warden lifted her sword and started that way, but Nathaniel was by her in a flash. He slit the dragon's underside and then leaped onto its head. With a final powerful downward thrust, his sword slid home deep in the dragon's brain.

Urthemiel felt the sword strike and release it from its dragon body. Its mind began to clear for the first time in a very long time. As its life drained away, its consciousness separated and was drawn in the direction of strong taint. It felt itself enter the body of a female and was pulled towards her womb. On entering, it was surprised to find there was an embarrassment of riches here. Which child should it possess, the warrior-king's, the shadow-arl's, or the mage-prince's? Urthemiel made its choice and slid its consciousness behind that of the child's. It settled in for a long wait. After all, it had time; it and its two siblings wouldn't be born for months.

Thanks to melismo for her help!