Levirate, in case you do not want to consult your dictionary, is the practice of marrying a widow to her husband's brother, in order to maintain the family line.
Thanks to Witchy Bee for the beta!
"So... I guess we're married now."
The bastard looked very much like her late husband at the same age. Alistair and Cailan both resembled Maric, who looked exactly like Brandel the Defeated, who was the spitting image of Calenhad the Great, if she could believe the tapestries. The Theirin blood was dominant and unmistakable, and Anora was bound to it, again.
"Yes," she said, smoothing her champagne dress.
"If it's all the same to you, I'd like to be alone tonight," Alistair said, as they walked slowly down the hallway that led away from the Great Hall, where they had just exchanged their vows. "This has been very… exhausting."
Anora frowned. Alistair had grown up in a world apart from this, she knew that, but his ignorance was still surprising. Just because they seemed alone didn't mean they weren't being watched.
"It paints a picture of instability, if we do not spend the night together," she explained.
He shifted uneasily. There were some differences, she noted. Alistair was perhaps an inch shorter than Cailan, and his hair was coarser, a little darker. A scar traced the line of his jaw near his left ear. And he wore that vial of darkspawn blood around his neck, and her father's blood, on his hands. Some small differences.
"Look, my best friend in the whole world just died," he said. His eyes were tired, as they both remembered the funeral for the Warden who had given her life to end the Blight. "I can't say I'm really in the mood."
He flushed then, and Anora did not know if it was from embarrassment or anger or something else. She hadn't learned his tells yet; she would.
"Accompany me to the royal suite, then, but only just," she suggested. The Dalish girl had let her keep her throne and her life, so Anora could make allowances for this small request. "We can part ways there, but we should present a united front while in public."
His eyes widened, as if he'd only just realized that his life was no longer his own. "Do we have to jump up and down on the bed, as well?" he asked. "Rumple the sheets and make loud groaning noises?"
"No..." she said. He smiled impishly, an expression that was probably meant to amuse her, and she forced a smile in return.
Anora had been warned that Alistair was a bit... unfinished. That had been Teagan's choice of words; others were less generous. He clearly thought himself hilarious. In her own estimation, Alistair was blithe, but she could see he wore his flippancy as an armor. For what, she wasn't sure yet.
Anora stared at herself in the mirror. Maker, when did her pores get so big? She scrubbed her face and reapplied her makeup carefully. She did not enjoy being new to someone, that feeling of being appraised, and being found wanting. Alistair was so much younger than her.
It had been a mistake to humor him that first night. Since then Alistair had come up with a series of increasingly elaborate excuses to avoid being alone with her; she couldn't begin to guess where he had been sleeping. The King was playing some sort of game, but Anora didn't know the rules, and she was quite tired of it. With a sigh, she re-braided her blonde hair and decided to dispense with subtlety.
She found him sitting behind a tree in the gardens, fiddling with a worry token in his hands. She resisted the urge to snatch the token away and toss it into the nearest fountain.
"Husband," Anora said, catching him off guard. "We need to have sex. Now."
Alistair was startled, and he looked up, blushing. He cleared his throat. "I see," he said. "Is there some rush?"
"It's been three days, Alistair," she said, trying to sound calm. Anora placed her hands on her hips and regarded him. She thought about telling him about his duty to produce an heir, to consummate their marriage, to stabilize a country ripped apart by war, but all that was probably over his head, so she said only, "It's just what people do."
At this, he drew a sharp breath and looked at the sky. "Well, the thing is, uh," he said, tripping over his own tongue, "the thing is that I, well, don't. Haven't yet, I mean. And you're a little… well, to be quite frank, Anora, you're a little bit intimidating."
She blinked at him. He was wearing his honest face, that infuriating combination of slack jaw and wide eyes that meant he was about to tell everyone so much more than they needed to know, and there was no reason not to believe him.
"But you're a soldier," she said weakly. She realized she had concocted a fantasy about this in her head, as if owning a sword meant that a man had a running tab at every whorehouse from here to West Hills. She should know better than to make assumptions. Still, there had been the Dalish girl, and Anora frowned. "What about the Warden? I thought-"
"Me and Nya?" He laughed, an artless sound that sent spasms up her back. "No. I mean, not that I wasn't interested, but ah… well… Nya wasn't. Interested, I mean."
"In you?" Anora asked. She could sympathize.
"In me," Alistair agreed. "In love in general. In any sort of happiness." He sighed, and a darkness passed behind his eyes as he remembered her. "Nya was sort of damaged."
"I see," Anora said, and then, "I'm sorry."
Alistair smiled at her, and Anora scowled. Why was she apologizing? He should be apologizing to her; she was the one trading down. It had been ages since Anora had to hold a man's hand and pretend he was doing a great job. She shuddered. The thought of going through that again made her feel impossibly old.
She crossed her arms over her chest and said, "Well. I can assure you, it's not that complicated."
"Wow, Anora," Alistair said, snorting. "Be still my heart."
She huffed, loudly. Biddable enough, she remembered: those were the words she'd used to describe him. Not by half. "I was unaware that I had to woo you," she said. "Alistair, this is humiliating. We're already married. Do you want me to make small talk? Buy you flowers? Take you out to dinner?"
He shrugged. "Okay."
"I wasn't…!" Anora sighed. Cailan had never been this difficult. "Very well."
"So we find this sad little hovel, and this creepy guy answers the door, and he's going on about travelers and vantages and honestly I had no idea what he was trying to tell us. Then all of a sudden he says, 'Witness Gaxkang!' and he turns into a revenant and Nya was literally so surprised she started choking. Ohgren had to wack her with his axe handle."
Anora had arranged for them to share a meal in the private dining room, and now they were having what passed as a conversation, she thought, for Alistair.
"We fought for a long time, and he changed shape a couple more times, but then Leliana shot him in the face and we won." He smiled, nibbling at a forkful of roast chicken. "That was probably the weirdest fight we had. That, or the time we killed a giant ogre zombie. Did I tell you about that, yet?"
"Yes." Anora gritted her teeth and spun her wine glass in her hand. She thought about breaking it in half and stabbing him with it, but then she decided that would be a waste of good wine, and drank it.
He was very much like Cailan, she thought, daffy and buoyant and thoroughly stupid. Anora had indulged Cailan, more than that, for years, but Alistair was not Cailan. He had not spent a lifetime jumping to the snap of her fingers, or trusting her with his country, or reaching out to her in his sleep with hands she had known since childhood. He was only a collection of similar shortcomings, wearing her dead husband's face.
"Oh, sorry." The chicken was gone, and he had a biscuit in his hands. It was his third or fourth; the man had an appetite for food, at least. "Why don't you talk, then? Tell me about yourself."
"Ah. Well." Anora rubbed her temples with the pads of her fingers. She wasn't sure how much more of this she could take. "My favorite color is red. I like to read history and I enjoy needlecraft. And, oh! For the past six years, I have been the Queen of Ferelden, by way of arranged marriages to a couple of nitwitted Kings. The latter of whom speaks with his mouth full, like a common stablehand." She folded and unfolded her napkin in her lap. "Is there anything else you'd like to know?"
Alistair dropped the biscuit and glowered at her. "How I've managed to resist your charms, woman, I can't imagine." He ran his tongue over his teeth self-consciously, swallowing conspicuously before he answered. "I don't know. Tell me about your childhood."
"My childhood." He should have had the sense to avoid that topic, she thought, but then Alistair didn't seem to have much sense at all. She felt heat rising up the back of her neck. "As for that, I was raised in the castle at Gwaren, by my father, Loghain Mac Tir. You remember, he was the national hero whose head you so gleefully demanded at the Landsmeet."
Silence smothered them like a shroud. This was an impolite dinner conversation, and her husband was gaping at her.
Anora chewed her lip. "Ah… apologies, your Majesty." It was not like her to lose her temper like that. She clenched her hands together under the table and stared down at them, avoiding his eyes. "I didn't mean… ugh. Listen, I don't blame you for what happened to my father. Quite the contrary. It was a horrible thing for me to witness, as… as a daughter, but it was necessary for the strength of the nation. Forgive my outburst."
"No, it's fine," he said quickly. Their eyes met across the table for a moment before Alistair dropped his gaze. "It's brilliant, actually. The anger makes you seem human."
It was no wonder he was a virgin. "I am human."
"I know, and… I'm sorry." He picked up a spoon and pushed a pile of peas around his plate. "About your father. I'm not normally that… bloodthirsty." Alistair exhaled a long breath, and his voice had changed when he spoke again. "I've never had a family, not really, but the Grey Wardens, and Duncan… we shared the same blood."
He touched the pendant at his throat, and it occurred to Anora that she had never questioned why he still wore it. I refuse to call this man a brother, he had said, as he condemned her father to die. At the time she had dismissed it as male posturing, and it infuriated her. Perhaps not.
"I acted out of vengeance, only, and I'm not proud of it," he said, watching her. "After what happened to Nya... well, I wonder if we should have maybe listened to Riordan."
The armor fell away for just a moment, and Anora watched the grief play, fresh and raw, across his face. Her eyes softened, and she fought back a sudden urge to grab his hand. He was not Cailan, she reminded herself. Although the similarity was there.
"I loved my husband," she admitted, quietly. She saw surprise in Alistair's eyes, and she ignored it. She didn't care if he believed her or not. "Despite his many flaws, Cailan was charming and kind, and I loved him. When I discovered that my father had…" Anora shook her head, her tightly bound hair shifting ever so slightly. "My father, the man who bounced me on his knee and showed me how to read a map when I was a girl. As you can imagine, my feelings in this area are… complicated."
A chuckle shook free of him, inappropriate and jarring, and she flinched. He would laugh at her when she was exposed like that, the swine, and she decided right then that she hated him. Anora glared at him with all the contempt that she could muster.
Alistair was leaning back in his chair as he looked back at her. "Complicated," he agreed. "That's an understatement. Can we agree to take our time, then? Sort through our very complicated feelings?"
Anora smiled faintly. He didn't understand: their feelings had nothing to do with it.
The bastard started chatting again, about dwarven deshyrs, or some other nonsense. Anora nodded politely. Why couldn't they just blow out the lights, make babies, and then ignore each other, like a normal royal couple? Surely Empress Celene never had to coddle her consorts this way. Anora wished there was some way to get past Alistair's inhibitions without having to listen to him speak.
And he was still speaking, prattling on about noble hunters or Antivans or his own damn navel. Anora closed her eyes. She would send Erlina hunting for potions in the morning. Maybe there was something she could slip him.