AN: I apologize for the delay in getting this final chapter done. Here's what happened - I got about 5000 words into a rather straightforward post-battle epilogue along the same lines as the game, wrote myself into a corner, and finally decided it felt uninspired and drab. So I threw it all away and started over with a completely different approach. I admit in advance that this chapter is much longer than it needs to be (this is the longest chapter of the story by far), and is perhaps a bit rambling at times, but I hope you all will forgive my bout of self-indulgence in wrapping up Alim's tale.
My dearest Alim,
So much has happened since we last spoke. I've started writing out the tale of our adventures, but I admit I find it hard to concentrate long enough to make much progress. Not just because of the many interruptions, but because my mind is so preoccupied. I thought I would take a break from it and catch you up on what has been going on.
Though it has only been six days, in some ways it already feels like the archdemon was long ago. Perhaps that is because of all that has changed and is changing still. Queen Anora's coronation was yesterday. It was a magnificent affair, as grand and regal as you would expect of such an occasion. Anyone even remotely important turned out for the event. Well, other than you, of course.
To be honest, I did not stay long once the ceremony itself was over. The queen mentioned I was your wife, and after that I was asked variations of the same unanswerable question over and over. Not that I don't like talking about you. But what can I say at this point?
One of the queen's first proclamations was to grant Amaranthine to the Grey Wardens. Alistair accepted, naturally, and is making plans to go there to work on rebuilding the Grey Warden presence in Ferelden. Since Alistair is the Warden-Commander, can you believe that now makes him the Arl of Amaranthine? He jokes about it being a cruel twist of fate after only recently getting out of being king, but truthfully I think he likes the idea, especially since it will be a great base of operations for the Grey Wardens.
Believe it or not, Oghren has offered to go through the Joining and become a warden. Typical Oghren, when Alistair reminded him that it's often fatal, he laughed and said he'd drank a lot worse stuff than a little darkspawn blood and was still going strong.
Zev managed to get to camp safely after he left us at Fort Drakon. The healers have done a lot of work on his arm. The elbow was apparently fairly easy to set, but the shoulder was a mess. What he told me a healer said was that his shoulder socket was more or less crushed, and there is only so much they can do when the bone is broken in so many small pieces.
He doesn't want anyone else to know, but it's likely he'll never regain full range of motion in that shoulder, particularly being able to lift his arm straight up over his head. I see the unspoken worry in his eyes. He fears he won't be as useful to us as he has been, and that as a result he'll be pushed away. Of all of our friends, could you ever have imagined Zev feeling insecure about anything?
After you finished off the archdemon (told you so!), Alistair led a squad of soldiers over to the alienage. He said it was to make sure the darkspawn were cleaned out. The truth was he went to find Neria. He found her holed up with Shianni and several others and brought her with him back to the palace, where we're all staying temporarily. Unfortunately, neither your aunt and uncle nor Elder Valendrian survived the attack.
Alistair told everyone that he rescued her for you, but he is just as easy for me to read as you are. I can tell that he has his own interest in her, an interest that seems to be returned. They are spending a lot of time together. And she's been with him almost every time he has come to visit.
After a day of rest, most of our friends have been spending their time helping around the city with the cleanup and repair work while waiting on you. Zev's arm limits how much he can do still, but as he says, his legs work fine. So he runs messages and delivers reports to Cauthrien on the various initiatives underway in the city. Cauthrien is trying to get the defenses in Denerim rebuilt as quickly as possible while also coordinating patrols between here and Redcliffe. Alistair and Neria have been working in the alienage during the days and then coming by to check on us before getting dinner and retiring. He jokes about Shianni being a slave driver, though he stopped using that term once I pointed out how insensitive it was, seeing as we only recently busted up the slave trade operation. But Neria says Shianni is very appreciative of the effort he's making to help. Truthfully, I think he's glad to have things to occupy his time with.
Something I forgot to tell you before. The day after the Landsmeet, Alistair and I went over to the alienage while we were out and talked to Neria about coming to live with you and me and heading up our housekeeping staff. She was very excited about it! But I won't be surprised if she ends up going to Amaranthine with him now. I will be very happy for the both of them if it works out that way.
Sten already plans to go back home. He is waiting though, and in the meantime is pitching in with some much needed heavy lifting. He says he will not leave until he knows what will happen with "The Little Hero." I know you would cringe at it, but Queen Anora called you "The Hero of Ferelden" at her coronation. And you know Sten. You've always been the little this or that to him – the little warden, the little mage, little one. He referred to you as the little hero at the beginning of the post-coronation reception, and well, that moniker might actually stick.
Wynne is doing much better. She comes to check on you a few times a day, and we talk. Apparently First Enchanter Irving still tries to convince her to take over that position from him, but she is adamantly against it. She confided in me that she really doesn't want to spend what time she has left in the Circle Tower.
Wynne would deny it completely, but I think Morrigan's ongoing sniping about freedom had at least a little influence on her. Experiencing such extended freedom over the last year has a lot to do with not wanting to go back. She doesn't really know what she wants to do though, and says she might travel and try to help people all over with her magic. I was thinking that after you're back, you might recommend her to Anora for a court mage/advisor position.
From what I hear, Shale has been such a huge help around town, even if she still complains about the hopelessness and squishiness of humans every step of the way. I talked to her a little bit at Anora's coronation and she said she'll go back to the Deep Roads to help the dwarves with the darkspawn. I think she feels like that's the best way she can honor both Caridin and you.
The healers put my leg back together, but they say I'll be in this positively hideous looking splint for another few days. I suppose I can't really complain though. Especially not after during one of Irving's visits, he pointed out that if I didn't have access to healing magic then at best I'd be looking at six months or more before being able to walk without a brace, and at worst the leg would have to be amputated at the knee.
Truthfully, only being able to get around on crutches has mainly been a convenient excuse not to go anywhere, one I suspect is easily seen through. Though under the circumstances I think people are willing to cut me a little slack. Other than attending Anora's coronation, I have not left the room longer than it takes to go to the washroom. The queen has even graciously seen to it that meals are brought to me. Many visitors come throughout the day and evening, though fortunately most of the trite words of comfort people try to come up with when they are uncomfortable and do not know what else to say have stopped.
The healers don't really know what to make of you at this point. What we do know is that you are alive, though unresponsive. The force of the blast was enough to shatter the blade of Sten's sword and to throw you roughly twenty meters. I knew something bad happened immediately because as soon as the dragon exploded in that white light, the ogre you had raised for me fell and disappeared. I tried to drag myself in the direction of where the archdemon had been, but I couldn't. Alistair came for me soon after and explained what happened, and that the first enchanter and a few other mages were already working on healing you. Alistair promised to update me as soon as possible, but insisted I be taken back to camp right away.
You had already been transported to the palace by the time I was able to get my leg set and released. With so many wounded it would have taken even longer, except that I was a rather bad girl. I got frustrated and started loudly telling people who I was, and well… let's just say there was a lot more urgency to get my wounds treated. I suppose being married to the Little Hero of Ferelden has benefits! Ha! Okay, okay, I promise not to keep calling you that! Anyway, I made sure Sten had his wounds taken care of too, and then he returned the favor by carrying me back to the palace. He knows I know what a big softie he really is, though he still denies it.
I admit that after so long it is difficult watching you continue to sleep. At least that is what I tell myself you are doing. No one really knows. The morning after the battle, one of the healers suggested that your spirit might have disconnected from your body in response to the physical pain from the explosion of the archdemon, and that it might be lost in the Fade, unable to find its way back. I asked her not to speak of such things, but when she persisted I told her to leave and not bother finding her way back later. Maybe I overreacted, but was it really so unreasonable to expect at least the appearance of optimism out of your healers?
Speaking of the healers, they have been very consistent in coming by to check on you every few hours from 9:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. Wynne is always here with a couple of the others for the first visit of the day. She comes back at noon and stays for lunch with me after checking on you. Usually it's other mages I don't know at 3:00 and 6:00, and then the first enchanter comes by with Wynne for the last visit of the night. He and Wynne have told me many stories of you growing up that I'd never heard from you, and it's obvious that he is very proud of you.
My routine has been fairly simple. With so much traffic in and out of the room, I maintain a polite distance from you during the day, sitting or laying on the couch. When there is some downtime from visitors, or like now when healers are here for you, I occupy myself with books, writing, and prayer. I steal glances of you on the bed from time to time. I haven't given up hope that one of these times I will look over and see your beautiful green eyes open.
At night, when it is quiet and we're alone, I move to the bed and snuggle up against you. I lay awake with my head on your chest, listening to your steady heartbeat. Sometimes I sing softly to you. I also talk to you a lot, about all kinds of silly things. I don't know if any of it reaches you, but it is not so very different than the many nights we shared in front of the campfire, with me carrying on with my stories for hours on end and you patiently listening. Did you ever figure out that I used to subtly quiz you the following day about things I'd told you, just to see if you really had been listening?
It has always amazed me that you never grew tired of my chatty nature. Alistair once joked to me that he was going to suggest to you that when people asked about your ear, instead of telling them about Ostagar, you tell them that I talked it off. I could not even muster an indignant pout in response. I know I'm that bad.
I will not allow myself to even consider the possibilities of what will happen if you don't wake up. I cannot bring myself to think that after all we've done the Maker would take you away me from like that. I cannot imagine my life without you in it anymore. So, you are going to have to wake up, yes? When? Why won't you wake up? Do you realize how scared I am right now? Even if Morrigan insisted that she knew the ritual worked, I… worry that when you do wake up you won't be the same, that being the Grey Warden that slayed the archdemon caused at least some of its essence to destroy part of you. I know I should have faith that the Maker will preserve you. But I admit it grows more difficult each day.
You probably want to know why I mentioned Morrigan, yes? Surprisingly, she came by to visit late the second day after the battle. I thought she'd have already left Denerim by then, but she had not. She said she'd heard that you had not come to after slaying the archdemon. I know you will be mad at me for a couple of things I did that night.
The first was that I let her use blood magic on you. I knew it was wrong, but it's scary how easy it becomes to give into something wrong after you do so the first time. Morrigan pointed out that like at Honnleath, you didn't have to find out about it, and that even if you did it would be hypocritical for you to claim moral high ground over blood magic when it has already saved your life a couple of times. So why am I telling you this now? I don't know… maybe it is just that I can't stand keeping such dark secrets from you, and it is easier to tell you in a letter than to your face.
The other thing you will be mad at me for is sending Scorch with her. He was reluctant to leave you, but he was also sad to see Morrigan leaving. She obviously cares a great deal for him. Even if she always tried to cover it up by insulting him, her slipping him extra portions or petting him when she thought no one was looking didn't go unnoticed by me. Or how she would go out of her way to heal him during battle, when she rarely healed anyone else but herself. I know we'll never see them again, but I told Scorch we loved him and asked him to take good care of Morrigan and her child.
Morrigan gave us a going away present of her own. A pair of rosewood rings infused with magic. The rings work in tandem and enable the wearers to know where the other is and get a sense of what they are feeling. She said that at one time she intended to give you one while she kept the other, but then she admitted that changed when you and I got together. Anyway, she gave us both the rings and wished us well, while also making it clear that she expected you to keep your promise not to come looking for her in the future. So far I haven't been willing to put the rings on. I admit I don't trust that witch at all. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a third ring held by her that she'd use to secretly spy on us with.
It is almost time for my own appointment with a healer, so I'd better finish this up. I suppose I've managed to fill you in on most of what you've missed anyway.
I love you so much, my dearest one. I miss you. I am lost. I try to put on a brave face for the others, but I feel so overwhelmed. I need my warden. I need him to rescue me from this darkness I am in.
Alim? Come back soon, please?
~Leliana Surana (yes, I know you know who I am. I just felt like writing my name)
Alistair sighed gently at his friend's complete lack of enthusiasm. He understood why she was sullen, but he'd hoped that the change of scenery would improve her melancholy mood for at least a little while. If anything though, the bard was even more irritable from being hassled to go visit the alienage until she finally gave in, and from the physical limitations of being on crutches still.
"Anyway," Alistair said, gesturing around him, "a lot of the early work was just getting all of the dead out of here and cleaning up, but with that done we've been able to move on to actually repairing damaged buildings."
Leliana nodded solemnly. It wasn't that she wasn't impressed with the progress, she most definitely was. Her mind was just elsewhere.
Alistair and Neria made eye contact, exchanging knowing looks. Leliana was becoming increasingly withdrawn with each passing day, and it had practically been pulling teeth to get her to leave the room for even a few hours to go with them over to the alienage to see the progress they'd made. There was still a lot of work to be done, but Alistair was proud to show off how much they'd accomplished in the nine days since the darkspawn horde overran Denerim.
"Let's go see Shianni," Neria suggested. "I told her we'd stop by while we were over here today."
Trembling hands carefully refolded the pages of the letter before wiping tear filled eyes once again. Exhaling a ragged breath, he set the letter with his name affixed to the now broken seal back down on the nightstand and slowly rose from the bed, taking tentative steps towards the washroom.
Splashing cold water on his face, the elven warden looked at himself in the mirror. "How old is that letter?" he thought. He shivered slightly, partly from not having anything on but his smallclothes, and partly from having no concept of how long he'd been out.
"I remember nothing after stabbing the archdemon. It feels like it was minutes ago, though it obviously wasn't."
In Alim's mind the mounting questions and concerns were rapidly becoming a cacophony. He'd barely finish one thought when two more would take its place.
He looked for some clothes in the washroom and the bedroom, and was dismayed not to find any. Apparently no one expected him to get up and go anywhere. The letter said he'd been taken to the royal palace and he assumed that was still where he was, though he didn't know for sure. But unless he wanted to go exploring in nothing but his unmentionables, he was going to have to wait until someone came to check on him to find out anything more.
As Alim paced the room, his thoughts turning to Leliana. From the tone of her letter he knew she was suffering, and he wondered where she was, since at least when she wrote the letter she indicated she was almost always there with him.
He suddenly stopped in his tracks as a horrific thought came to mind. "What if… it's been much longer… and everyone has moved on?" He'd read fairy tales in books in the Circle Tower library, such as the one where a man slept for 20 years, or the one where a princess slept for 100 years until a prince woke her up with a kiss. Could he have been out for some crazy length of time?
He went back to the washroom and scrutinized his features in the mirror, studying himself intently for any signs of aging he didn't remember. He sighed after realizing that he looked basically the same as he remembered, and rubbed his face wearily. Pulling his hand away, he finally noticed the rosewood ring on the ring finger of his right hand. He glanced at the wedding ring on his left hand, and then back to the mysterious ring. He stared at it curiously. The grain of the ring seemed almost fluid, shifting in and out of various patterns nearly constantly. It also emitted a soft glow, and he wondered if it had been doing that the entire time and he just hadn't noticed until now.
It took a few moments, but he remembered from Leliana's letter what she said about Morrigan's rings. He realized that she must have decided to use them even though she didn't trust the witch. He didn't have the faintest idea how they worked or what kind of magic the glow was indicative of, but he closed his eyes and began to concentrate his thoughts on his bard.
A minute later his eyes snapped open and his mouth dropped open in shock. At first he thought it was his imagination, but he quickly dismissed that notion. He had clearly sensed a feeling of anxiety coming from what he gathered to be the other side of the connection, and he could tell that the location of it was not too far to the northeast of him. He stared in amazement at the rosewood ring. Alim didn't know what was going on, but now he was far too curious to sit back and wait for someone to come to the room to find him awake.
"Hmm? Oh… I'm sorry, what was that? I did not hear what you said," Leliana apologetically asked Shianni. She had drifted off in thought again.
The elven maiden shook her head slightly at the shem's obvious distraction. "I asked about your injury, how long it'd be before you're off the crutches."
Leliana sighed, speaking while running her fingers through her hair. "The healers took the splint off yesterday. I can walk short distances on my own without too much pain, but I'm not up to walking all the way from the palace here and back without help. It shouldn't take too long though to-"
"Leliana?" Neria asked, interrupting suddenly. The elf pointed at her hand. "Is your ring supposed to be glowing like that?"
The bard pulled her hand away from her head and looked at the ring on it. Realization set in immediately. "Alim!" she exclaimed. Looking at Alistair, she quickly added, "We must go now."
"Wh-what? Why? How do you know something is happening with him?"
Leliana shook her head. "I don't know exactly." She briefly explained the rings Morrigan gave them, and how the other one of the pair was on Alim.
Alistair tensed up, in part because this was more of the witch's mysterious magic, but mostly at the thought that his best friend might actually have woken up. "D-do you think he's awake then?"
"I don't know!" Leliana snapped in a tone much harsher than she intended. "Let's go!"
"Okay, okay! Calm down, already," Alistair replied irritably. He didn't want to be too hard on her, but truthfully he'd been getting somewhat frustrated with her. To him it seemed at times she acted like she had a monopoly on suffering, forgetting that people other than herself cared about Alim.
Neria stepped in between the two of them. "Let's not fight, not now," she said softly. "Come on… Shianni, we'll-"
"Go on, get out of here," Shianni interrupted, smirking at them. Neria smiled and nodded in response.
"Alistair… I…" Leliana began as they moved towards the back alleys that led south out of the alienage. "I am sorry."
"Forget it… I know you're stressed," he replied, flashing a sympathetic smile. "Anyway, at least you didn't hit me this time." He was still sporting the bruised eye from the previous day when he'd made her mad. She nodded apologetically and kept walking.
After half a mile of the approximately three mile walk back to the palace, Leliana stopped and huffed. She was trying to walk as quickly as possible on her crutches, but it was frustratingly slow. "Wait," she requested. When the other two stopped, she handed the crutches to Neria. "Hold these please."
The elf looked at her in confusion, but took the crutches. Alistair was about to ask what she was doing when she put her hands on his shoulders to turn him around. Then she hopped up on to his back, wrapping her arms around his neck and hooking her good leg around his midsection.
"Hey!" Alistair exclaimed. "What are you doing?"
"We'll go much faster if you just carry me."
"What? I'm not carrying you all the way back to the palace!" He squirmed, trying to get her to let go.
"Why not? You are big and strong, no? I'm not so heavy, you should be able to manage just fine."
Alistair was trying to appear indignant at being reduced to a pack mule, but it was made difficult by Neria's laughter. Finally he sighed in exasperation. "You owe me one," he grumbled while grasping her legs to help support her weight and beginning to march.
"More than one," she admitted softly near his ear. "Thank you for putting up with my behavior of late."
The warden grunted in response as he picked up the pace.
"Could use some help here!" Alim shouted. He had opened the door of the room and peeked his head out, but didn't see anyone around. When no one came after thirty seconds or so, he closed his eyes and gently banged his head against the door. He hesitated only briefly before deciding to go find answers, even if it meant potentially embarrassing himself by stumbling upon someone nearly naked. He took a deep breath and stepped out into the hall. Glancing right and left, he shrugged and arbitrarily decided to go right.
The elven warden turned down a corridor and went a little further before coming to another intersection. He stopped and sighed audibly, turning his head to the right since he didn't see anyone further straight ahead. He didn't see anyone to the right either, but before he could turn back to the left a voice loudly called out, "General!"
Alim turned towards the voice, spotting a pair of soldiers running towards him. Instinctively he dropped into a fighting stance, and being referred to as General barely registered in time for him to catch himself before casting a flame blast at them. He realized the soldier must have his seen his momentary aggressive expression, because he stopped and held up his hands in front of him to show his intentions weren't hostile.
"S-sorry…" Alim offered. "You kind of caught me off guard there."
As the second soldier turned and sprinted back towards his post, the elven general smiled sheepishly and asked, "Anywhere a man can get some clothes around here?"
The first soldier chuckled. "General, you don't know how relieved everyone will be that you're up and going again. Come on, let's find you something to-"
"Alim!" a female voice shouted in a tone conveying obvious astonishment. The elf glanced around the side of the burly soldier to see Anora running towards him with the other soldier, Bann Alfstanna of the Waking Sea, and Arl Wulff of West Hill.
Alim blushed at the approaching female nobles seeing him in his current state of undress, and much to his dismay it was seemingly only seconds longer before the halls were practically flooding with people coming to see what the commotion was about. He closed his eyes, as if that was all that was needed to make everyone go away. "Ugh… kill me now…"
"Thank the Maker!" Anora exclaimed. She started to get close enough to embrace him, but stopped as she thought better of it. Social mores being what they were, it would not be appropriate for the queen to display such open physical affection for a nearly naked man, especially one that wasn't her husband. Anora opted instead to reach out at arm's distance and place her hand on his shoulder. "Everyone has been so worried about you," she added.
"C-can s-someone tell me where my clothes are?" the elven warden asked shyly, drawing chuckles and giggles all around him.
Alfstanna smirked. "You mean it wasn't your intention to go around showing off your body? Though I suppose it is rather easy on the eyes," she said teasingly. Although she was teasing, she wasn't lying. After more than a year of trekking back and forth across Ferelden on foot and fighting hundreds of individual battles in addition to the extensive training he'd done with his blades, the elf's lithe physique was well defined, corded with lean muscle.
Alim blushed further at the bann's remark, resulting in even more laughter.
"Was your equipment not in the armoire in your room?" Anora asked.
Alim groaned slightly. He'd looked in the couple of chests and the dresser that were unlocked, but hadn't considered that the locked armoire would be any different. Not that he had the key or the skills to pick the lock anyway. "It is locked… I did not know my stuff was in there."
Erlina squeezed her way through the crowd. Approaching the warden, she smiled softly. "Leliana went to the alienage today. She probably has the key, but I can get the armoire open anyway. Come." She took Alim by the arm and guided him back towards the room.
Anora told Wulff and Alfstanna that she'd resume their meeting later, told a group of guards to get word out immediately that General Alim was up, and then followed after the two elves.
"I have no concept of time," Alim admitted to Erlina as they walked. "How long has it been?"
"Has no one told you?"
Alim shook his head. "No one was around when I woke up, and I got curious enough to finally leave the room despite the lack of clothing. The guards outside the room you guys came out of were the first people I ran into."
Entering Alim's room, the bard strode over to the armoire while removing a lock picking tool from her pouch. "Nine days since the Battle of Denerim," Erlina explained while working the lock.
"Nine days…" he repeated softly, shaking his head in disbelief. "How is Leliana holding up?"
A few seconds later the lock clicked. A pull of the handles opened the doors to reveal the warden's armor, weapons, and equipment pack. "Huh… someone managed to find Spellweaver after it was all over," Alim thought as he took a mental inventory of his gear. He rummaged to the bottom of his pack, retrieving his casual black cotton pants and burgundy long sleeved shirt. While dressing he asked, "If she went over to the alienage, I take it her leg is better?"
"She is still on crutches, but when she stopped by to tell the queen she was going out for the day she mentioned having the splint taken off yesterday."
"But she is not doing well otherwise?"
Anora had entered the room by this time. "Leliana has been miserable," she answered. "Not even the healers knew if you'd pull through, or even if you did if your mind would still be intact. While most everyone else has had the rebuilding of Denerim to provide a distraction to their worry, she hasn't had much of a reprieve from it because she's barely left the room. I've stopped by most days for short visits, and could tell that having many visitors each day but no new answers was wearing on her."
Alim sighed deeply. "I suppose I had it easy, other than being very confused initially when I came to. In my mind it was as if it was only a moment after delivering the final blow against the archdemon. The only sense of time advancing I had was not still being on the roof of Fort Drakon and seeing daylight coming through the window instead of it being night. I had no awareness of anything in between."
Anora nodded sympathetically. "I sent one of my guards to the alienage to find Leliana. It shouldn't be too long until she knows and comes back."
Having finished dressing, Alim twisted side to side briefly before turning back to the queen. "My body is quite stiff and achy from lying down so long. Do you mind if we walk outside for some fresh air while we talk?"
"That is fine. Erlina, please run ahead and secure an extra guard detail to provide security. Mainly I don't want the Hero of Ferelden to be accosted by a host of well wishers right away. We will schedule a celebration of him soon enough."
Alim winced at both the title and the idea of being the focal point of a celebration. But he decided to hold his tongue on the matter until a little later.
Word of Alim's recovery spread like wildfire throughout the Royal Palace district of Denerim and out into the surrounding districts. He, Anora, and Erlina had barely been outside on the plaza in front of the Royal Palace for a few minutes before he felt uncomfortable with the amount of attention he was receiving in the form of shouts and cheers from people passing by. When he groaned after a particularly exuberant round of applause from a group of soldiers passing by on patrol, Anora chuckled softly.
"Better get used to your new celebrity status."
"Let's not make too big a deal out of me, please…" he implored. "I hardly did it alone. In fact, is there any chance of talking you out of holding that celebration for me?"
Anora shook her head. "None. Alim, it's not about whether or not you did it alone. No one thinks you did. But you led the charge to unite Ferelden, led that united Ferelden against the Blight, and then personally delivered the killing blow to the archdemon to end the Blight. By celebrating you, we will be celebrating the hope that you've given all of us. And celebrating-"
The queen suddenly stopped and put her hand up to cover her mouth. Her face lit up in obvious amusement and a couple of seconds later she started giggling. Seeing the look of bewilderment on her general's face, she pointed with her other hand down towards the road.
Alim turned to see the source of her giddiness, and his mouth dropped open at the sight maybe a hundred meters away of a huffing and puffing Alistair running with Leliana on his back. So transfixed was he on the two of them that he completely missed the elven maiden trailing a short distance behind them.
Alim took off running towards them, weaving his way through the crowd of guards and people milling about, making life difficult on the guards who had been tasked with staying between the general and the commoners. He circumnavigated his way down to the bottom of the plaza, squeezing between a couple of guards just in time to see Alistair stumble up the short hill between the road and the plaza and fall to his knees. Somehow he managed not to drop his cargo in the process. Even though the former templar was in top notch physical condition, running nearly three miles in drakeskin armor with roughly 140 lbs on his back counting the bard's Shadow of the Empire armor was enough to have him panting audibly.
"Owww…" Alistair moaned.
"That looks like fun!" Alim exclaimed. "How much do you charge per ride? Can I go next?"
"I h-hate you… and y-your w-wife…" Alistair grumbled without looking up. He took a deep breath and added, "Welcome back, by the way."
Alim laughed. In a mock formal tone he replied, "Forgive my impertinence, my lord Arl Alistair."
"Ugh… y-you know about that already? It's your fault, you know." The smirk on Alistair's face quickly turned into a full blown joyful smile when he finally looked up to see his grinning best friend.
Leliana extracted herself from Alistair, took a couple of steps, and then jumped on Alim, knocking him down in the process. She landed on top of him as he landed on his back with a painful "oomph" escaping his lips.
"Sh-she is so abusive…" Alistair commented teasingly while still catching his breath.
Leliana didn't even hear him. Nor did she see or hear the crowds jostling around them, or the guards shouting while trying to keep order. The moment she looked up and saw Alim grinning at them after having asked Alistair for a ride, the rest of the world disappeared and all that remained was her and her warden. She didn't even attempt to speak as more than a week's worth of pent up anxiety spilled out in tears that were a mixture of relief and elation. She kissed him passionately before burying her face in the crook of his neck and holding on tightly, as if he was her lifeline.
Alim held his shuddering and trembling wife, stroking her hair and whispering soothing words. He didn't care either that this very public display was being witnessed by onlookers. He closed his eyes and held on to her just as tightly.
A few minutes later they heard a voice complain, "If they're gonna violate decency laws I wish they'd sodding hurry up and get to the good part!"
"Do not get your hopes up, my stocky little friend," another voice remarked.
"At least someone would be getting some sodding action."
"If you wish to bed me, you only need ask."
"Wh-What? Keep your pants where I can see them, you swishy nug licker!"
Alim couldn't help but start laughing at the back and forth banter between Oghren and Zev. After a moment he collected himself and whispered, "Lel? How about I get talking to everyone out of the way and then I am yours alone for the rest of the day and night?"
"Mine alone? You promise, yes?"
"Yours completely, to do anything you want with."
Leliana wiped her face off on his shirt and then looked at him with a twinkle of mischief in her eyes. "Anything?" she whispered. "I have a very creative imagination, you know."
"I am counting on that," he replied, winking.
"Where are you taking me?" Alim asked. A couple of hours had passed and all of the elven warden's companions had gathered from the various parts of the city they were working in. The group was joined by its latest member, Cauthrien, along with Anora, Erlina, and Neria, and was strolling down the road leading directly south from the Royal Palace. Two quartets of royal guards were walking twenty feet in front and back of the group respectively.
Anora smiled innocently. "You will just have to wait and see."
The group continued to chat easily, everyone telling stories of different parts of the Battle of Denerim and its aftermath from their perspectives.
"Hey, Sten?" Alim asked, noting the rather sad looking greatsword slung over the Qunari warrior's back. Its normal length had been cut more than in half and the blade itself was barely longer than the hilt before coming to an abrupt jagged end. "I am sorry about your sword. Are you going to get in trouble back home on account of me breaking it?"
"No. There is no dishonor in a weapon being damaged in battle." Gesturing to Cauthrien, he continued, "I was wrong to question your decision not to kill her before the Landsmeet. She helped me recover the broken pieces afterwards. The blade can be reforged."
Cauthrien smirked slightly but didn't comment on his statement about killing her.
Alim nodded. "That is good then. Still, I apologize for picking up your sword. Even if my own sword was lost and you were down, I should have found another way."
Sten shook his head. "Do not trouble yourself, Kadan. It is an honor that Asala slayed the dragon, even if it was in your hands and not my own."
After a fairly short distance, the guards leading the procession hung a left through a set of large wrought iron gates and into a courtyard in front of the second largest manor in Denerim next to the palace itself.
"The Arl of Denerim estate?" Alim asked in confusion, glancing at Leliana to confirm she was as equally confused as he was.
Anora practically beamed in pride as she stopped and produced a rolled page of vellum. She cleared her throat lightly. "By proclamation of the council of Fereldan nobility and by myself, Anora Theirin, Queen of Ferelden, it is with great pride that I welcome home the Hero of Ferelden, General of the Royal Army, and Arl of Denerim… Alim Surana."
Leliana gasped, while Alim's mouth dropped open in shock. "Wh-what? Wait… me?" he asked in disbelief.
"Is there any other Alim Surana standing here?" the queen asked sarcastically.
"B-but… I am hardly qualified to be an arl?"
"Like I am?" Alistair interjected sarcastically, grinning at his friend.
Anora smiled. "You are a little rough around the edges, but your ability to influence and inspire others is extraordinary, and you've demonstrated several times to me personally that your reputation of having outstanding character is warranted. And as an added benefit, I am quite certain that your wife's occupational talents will be an invaluable aid to you."
"Like teaching you which fork to use at which time," Leliana teased, recalling his own example of how uncultured he was.
Ignoring his wife's playful taunt, he continued, "B-but… I am an elf… and a Grey Warden… and a mage… That makes me about the last person in Ferelden allowed to hold a title, no? I thought mages were formally prohibited from holding titles? And what about… what is his name… Vaughan?"
Anora chuckled softly. "You should not be so surprised that special consideration can be given to the one we all owe our lives to. As for Vaughan, his deeds that led to the earlier riots in the alienage apparently caught up with him. He was assassinated the day after you left for Redcliffe. With no other heirs to inherit the arling, it was left to my discretion to fill it. Because of your background I formally requested support from the nobility and the Chantry first. None objected."
Alim shook his head, still in disbelief. "Wow… does that mean the Chantry will be loosening restrictions on mages?"
"Yes and no. The Chantry is not willing to let the Circle of Magi out from under templar oversight, but in light of the compelling arguments made by my new court mage advisor, there will be more freedom for mages to leave the Circle Tower and use their magic to help communities around Ferelden."
"You flatter me, child," said Wynne, smiling gently. "I merely pointed out that the contributions of the Circle of Magi during and after the Battle of Denerim showed that we are capable of doing much more good than being confined to the tower allows. The revered mother was particularly impressed by independent reports of our healers treating thousands of wounded soldiers and citizens in the days after the battle. She agreed that ongoing supervised outings would be beneficial both to the people of Ferelden and to the Circle."
Alim smiled warmly. "That is amazing, Wynne. I hope the Circle never forgets what you have accomplished for them. I know I will not ever forget what you have done for me."
"Oh, I think your own contributions may have carried more weight with the revered mother than those of any other Circle mage, so do not give me too much credit."
Shaking his head, Alim replied, "I cannot give you enough credit. Without you I would have been dead before the last battle even got started. Not to mention dead before that in the Korcari wilds, dead in Orzammar, and probably dead in other places I am not remembering right now."
The elder mage rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Now that you mention it, it's a wonder you survived as long as you did before I joined you."
Most of the elven warden's long time companions laughed as he blushed slightly. "Okay, you make a good point. But honestly, this is why I do not like receiving so much of the credit for our accomplishments. I know in my heart that it was a complete group effort. I could not have done it without you guys. There is not a single one of you that did not make a difference between the success and failure of our mission."
"So I can have your house then?" Zev asked playfully.
"I'll answer that for him. No!" replied Leliana, sticking her tongue out at the Antivan elf and drawing more laughter. "But," she added, "You are all welcome to stay with us whenever you're in town."
Cauthrien spoke up. "The estate was spared from the darkspawn attack and had already been well cleaned up after, well… your last visit here." She smirked slightly at the reference to when she'd captured Alim before continuing, "However, I took it upon myself to personally oversee the dismantling of Arl Howe's torture chambers and to have the dungeon in general cleaned up."
Alim and Leliana nodded appreciatively. "Thank you, Cauthrien. We appreciate that," he said.
"Shall we go inside and take the tour?" Anora asked, already beginning to walk towards the front door.
The Queen of Ferelden led the group through the estate, stopping occasionally to have Cauthrien introduce members of the new arl's personal guard to Lord Alim and Lady Leliana. All total, 100 royal soldiers had been assigned to estate in varying capacities and shifts, not that they were all on duty and present. Anora also explained that a full staff was already in place, so everything was ready for them to move in immediately. At the same time, she pointed out that they were also free to make changes to the staff and guard detail as they saw fit.
Eventually they entered into Alim's new personal office/study, and the elven warden gasped in disbelief. Hanging on the wall across from the desk was a 3'x4' framed portrait of the archdemon, a blown up color version of the pencil drawing Alim made in the Deep Roads.
Cauthrien laughed at his reaction. "I hope you do not mind, but I took the drawing of the archdemon you gave me to one of Denerim's finest painters and had this made."
"You were that confident that I would recover?"
The knight grinned. "I was hoping that you'd pull through and get to see it for yourself. But if you didn't, I would've come and taken it back for myself."
Gesturing at Alim, Leliana commented, "It is a lot nicer than his suggestion for home décor." When Anora and Cauthrien gave questioning expressions, she explained, "He told Arl Eamon and Bann Teagan that he was going to kill the archdemon and then have its head stuffed and mounted and put on display in his estate."
Alim blushed. "Well… I ummm… was perhaps in a somewhat foul mood at the time I made that statement."
"Somewhat?" Alistair asked sarcastically. "I think even Leliana was close to hurting you for the way you were behaving. I still can't believe she decided to surprise you later that same evening with the wedding."
Alim paused. There wasn't anything he was really willing to say in response right now, any truthful answer would have to include a mention as to the circumstances involved, and would only invite more questions he didn't want to address.
Leliana saw her husband's expression subtly shift and realized what he must be thinking. Covering for him, she grinned and said, "Fortunately I have seen him at his best many, many more times than I have at his worst like that." She ruffled his hair playfully, a simple act she was pleased to be able to do since he'd left his cloak off. He smiled sheepishly while the others laughed.
"Speaking of the wedding," Leliana added, "Anora, do you mind if Alim gets a vacation before assuming all of his new duties? He owes me a real honeymoon. A near non-stop trip across Ferelden on foot in order to then fight for our lives does not really qualify as far as I'm concerned."
"Of course not, that sounds like a great idea," Anora replied. "Have you already decided on where you are going?"
Leliana nodded. "I want to take him to Val Royeaux, for him to see where I grew up. And since we have a permanent home now, there are a few personal things I left behind when I came to Ferelden that I would not mind retrieving. Not to mention doing some clothes shopping."
Alim raised an eyebrow curiously. She'd mentioned once or twice during their journeys how she'd like to take him and run away back to Orlais, but it always seemed like a flight of fancy, a form of escapism that she engaged in to avoid facing their reality for a few moments. He didn't object to going, he was just taken by surprise.
The queen appeared thoughtful. "That sounds wonderful. Could I trouble you to take a letter to the empress while you're there? I promise I won't ask you do anything else on your trip."
Leliana smiled. "Of course. I expect we will be gone about a month. I know you want to have that celebration for Alim, and we'll want to see our friends off that are leaving Denerim to return home, so it will likely be a week or two before we depart."
Alim groaned at the mention of the celebration, drawing a slight glare of disapproval from the queen. Seeing her expression, he sighed. "Okay, okay, I will behave and put on a happy face even if I would rather go fight another dragon than having everyone carrying on like it is all about me."
Zev's eyes lit up at the mention of fighting another dragon. Perhaps he could talk his friend into it after all.
Leliana shook her head while grinning at his unease over all of the accolades coming his way. "Anyway," she continued, "if Alistair is ready to go by then, we might accompany him to Amaranthine and take a ship from there to Val Royeaux."
Alistair nodded, his eyes going distant and his expression turning contemplative. Alim wondered what he was thinking about, but decided not to ask right now in front of everyone.
Anora took the momentary pause in the conversation as her cue to move on. She continued leading them around the large estate. After finishing the tour they all went back to the palace, though for Alim and Leliana it was only long enough to retrieve their stuff from the guest room before returning to their new home.
Sensing that they wanted some time to themselves, Zev gently teased that perhaps it would be best if everyone else waited until the next day to join them at the Arl of Denerim estate. Alim smiled gratefully at his fellow elf when the others seemed to get the hint and went their separate ways for the day.
"How is your leg holding up?" Alim asked in a concerned tone as they entered the courtyard in front of their new home. She had jettisoned her crutches before they went back to the palace, saying she could make it the fairly short distance there and back to their estate without them. Even though she hadn't complained, it hadn't been lost on him that halfway on the return trip she'd moved from holding his hand to putting her arm around his shoulder, and by the time they actually reached home she was leaning on him quite a bit.
"Cramping painfully," she admitted, squeezing his shoulder for support. "But we are almost there and I can get off my feet."
The words were barely out of her mouth before Alim turned and swept her off her feet and into his arms. "I wish you would have told me," he said, sighing softly. He uttered a few words, casting heal on her while continuing to walk.
The bard's eyes opened in astonishment. "I… I am sorry, it… it did not even occur to me that you were strong enough to carry me while I am in full armor."
Before Alim could reply, another voice spoke up. "Good evening, my Lord, my Lady." The pair glanced over to see the guards stationed in front of the door bowing their heads in respect.
The new arl chuckled, thinking to himself how difficult it was going to be to get used to being addressed in such a formal way. But he wished the men a good evening in return and carried Leliana inside and through the estate until reaching the private chamber for the lord and lady of the estate. Alim briefly shook his head again in disbelief over how fancy it was compared to any bedroom he'd ever been in.
He laid Leliana down on the couch before pulling her boots off. He then sat down and pulled her legs into his lap, beginning to massage her sore calf and foot while settling into a comfortable silence.
"What is it that occupies your thoughts, my dearest one?" Leliana asked after awhile.
Alim sighed. "I was thinking again about the last part of your letter. I know how I would have felt if the roles were reversed, I am sorry to have put you through so much worry."
"Do not be. It isn't like you had any control over the situation either."
"Lel… I know you said you would not allow yourself to consider it, but truthfully, had you given thought to what you would do if I had not recovered?"
The bard shook her head. "No, and unless you want an eye to match Alistair's, you will not push me on it," she gently warned.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, the other day Alistair was trying to get me to consider the possibility that you wouldn't wake up and to at least put some thought into what I would do afterwards. When he wouldn't take no for an answer, I popped him."
"That sounds kind of… harsh."
"You of all people should know by now that I'm not all sunshine and roses. And you'd better know that I will not ever consider giving up on you."
Alim nodded slowly. "Well, hopefully the issue will not come up again for another thirty years or so, when we already know there will not be a choice but to let me go."
Leliana sighed. "My dearest one, you are so foolish sometimes." When he stared at her in confusion but didn't speak, she continued, "I will be going with you, of course. And do not even try to argue with me about it."
The elf gulped at the thought of her going on the suicide mission into the Deep Roads. "I would rather you not die at the hands of darkspawn, but I cannot say I would not choose the same if I were in your position."
"I will be in my mid 50s by then. Our child will be grown, we will have lived a great life together, and I could not think of a more fitting end than being by your side when-"
"Wait! Wh-what?" Alim exclaimed suddenly, interrupting when it finally sank in what she just said. "Child? Do you know something I do not? Are you pregnant?"
Alim shook his head. "I told you a long time ago what Alistair told me. It is nearly impossible for Grey Wardens to have children."
Leliana smirked. "You fathered one with Morrigan, no?"
"But that was only because of the magic involved in that ritual."
Alim studied her expression carefully. She was still smirking in a way that indicated she knew something. He didn't understand why she was so matter-of-factly confident of his ability to father a child with her. Unless…
His eyes grew wide and he bolted from the couch to grab the equipment pack he'd previously discarded on the floor. Rummaging through it, he found what he was looking for – the letter Leliana had written to him. He quickly unfolded it and began to scan for what he was looking for. Finally he found it.
… I know you will be mad at me for a couple of things I did that night.
The first was that I let her use blood magic on you. I knew it was wrong, but it's scary how easy it becomes to give into something wrong after you do so the first time… …I can't stand keeping such dark secrets from you…
He stared back at his wife in disbelief, only to find her knowing smirk was gone and her lips were trembling as if she was on the verge of tears. "That is how you know," he whispered hoarsely. "You had Morrigan perform a second ritual… on us."
Leliana didn't respond verbally, but she didn't need to for him to confirm of his suspicion. The increase in her trembling and burying her face in her hands told him everything. After a minute went by in silence, he softly asked, "Were you ever going to tell me?"
"I-I would never take advantage of you like that. I wouldn't have mentioned a child just now or left a big hint in the letter if I didn't want you to f-find out," she replied weakly. "I didn't state it outright in c-case someone else got a hold of the letter. I-I swear I would have told you before we made love. And the m-magic is not permanent… it will only last until my next monthly cycle. It is y-your ch-choice if we conceive a child or let the window of opportunity close."
Silence took the room once more as Alim fell into thought and Leliana waited nervously for his reaction. He sighed several times, and finally asked, "You do understand that the child would effectively be born a Grey Warden, inheriting my taint? That he or she would be lucky to live past their 30th year?"
"Y-yes…" she answered quietly.
"And you know that the child could inherit my talent for magic, and if that happened would be taken to the Circle of Magi? You understand there would be no possibility of me agreeing to hide it like Arlessa Isolde tried with Connor, yes?"
"Yes…" she echoed softly. Pulling her hands away from her face, she looked up at him and suggested, "But… perhaps the Chantry would agree to release the child to the Grey Wardens? And then Alistair could assign you as the guardian, since you are, in fact, still a Grey Warden?"
Alim sighed. That was a possibility, though it wasn't something he'd count on. "Would you resent me if we lost our child to the Circle, it being my fault that he or she got cursed with magic?"
"Do not… do not call magic a curse," she replied in a somewhat defiant tone. "You have long since proven it is capable of doing great good."
"Would you resent me?" he asked again in response.
"You remember what I said earlier about being foolish sometimes, yes? In case you were not aware, this is another one of those times." She was trying not to be combative given the situation, but he was making it difficult by talking to her like she hadn't already spent days and days contemplating these issues and others.
He frowned at her reply even though he understood she was saying the answer should be painfully self-evident. When she didn't say anything else, he took a deep breath and quietly asked, "I… I have to know… do you even wish to be a mother, or is this about Morrigan having something of me that you do not?" He wasn't going to bring it up unless she challenged him on it, but her previously having pushed to get married immediately in response to Morrigan's ritual made him a rather leery that this was something similar.
Under different circumstances the bard would've gotten very angry at that accusation. However, she knew that at the moment she had no claim to indignation. Instead, she sighed deeply. "I admit that… I am not completely ready for it… if I had the choice we would wait a few years before having a child. But… I know it's unlikely you could ever father a child naturally. So when Morrigan came late at night and we were talking… I saw the opportunity… and… I decided that now is better than never. And I would have nine months to get ready for it, yes?" She looked away and put her hands back over her face when all she saw was a skeptical stare in response.
Alim slowly folded the letter he was still holding, walking over and putting it up on a bookshelf. With her face in her hands, Leliana only heard his footsteps walking away and completely misinterpreted them to mean he was leaving. She began to panic, but couldn't bring herself to look. The shudders wracked her body as she cried over how badly she had messed this up. As a result, she was surprised when she felt his arms sliding around her and her head being pulled to his chest.
Leliana pleaded with him, "We-we d-do not have to go th-through with it. Just… please… do not h-hate me."
"Shhhh…" he whispered. "I… this has taken me off guard. You have to understand that, for me, last night was the archdemon, and before that was the whirlwind of events leading up to it. So everything feels really fresh in my mind and I lack the perspective that you have gotten from days of reflection. I do realize you were not exactly able to ask my opinion at the time."
He sighed again as the thought came to mind that Leliana's letter indicated he'd been subjected to blood magic more than once without his knowledge. Knowing that was a topic for another time, he shook his head slightly and continued, "I… I admit I have never thought about having children. At the time Alistair told me about Grey Wardens being nearly sterile, I thought it was just a piece of Warden trivia that was irrelevant to me. I mean, I did not consider even being in a relationship a realistic possibility. So even after you dragged my feelings for you out into the open, I already assumed I was incapable of having children and never gave it any thought."
"I-I understand…" she said quietly. She did her best to hide the disappointment in her voice, thinking he was explaining why he was saying no.
He chuckled softly. "No, Lel… you do not. If you understood you would not be worrying yourself to tears." When she finally looked up at him in confusion, she saw his gentle smile. "That I never thought of it does not mean I do not think it is a good idea," he explained. "I trust you. If you say you want to have a child with me for the right reasons, and you will not blame me if there are consequences I cannot control, I believe you. I…"
He paused. All at once it hit him how far her love for him went. He was blown away by the realization that his amazing, beautiful wife actually wanted to have a child with him, and wanted it badly enough to enlist her least favorite person to help. She hadn't said how the conversation with Morrigan went, but he imagined it must have been rather humiliating for her to ask the witch for this. He blinked back his own tears. "I… I am so sorry. I have been so very stupid about this…"
Leliana was even more confused by his abrupt change in tenor. When he didn't continue after a few seconds, she softly requested him to explain.
"I… I just realized… I have been standing here making you feel guilty about such an incredible gift you are trying to give me- us. You have given us a chance for something that likely would never have been possible otherwise, and I am stupidly grilling you about it when I should be thanking you. Forgive me for forgetting just how lucky I am to even have you in the first place."
The bard giggled lightly as a feeling of relief began to set in. "Are you saying you're… okay with it then?" she asked hopefully.
"Yes, it would make me very happy to have a child with you. I-"
She covered his mouth with her own, effectively silencing any further explanation as none was needed.
"So do you have any plans, Zev?" Alim asked curiously. The two of them, along with Leliana, Alistair, and Neria were sitting in the large reception room talking.
The assassin shrugged. "Not since you ruined them by waking up early and all," he replied playfully.
Alim raised an eyebrow curiously. "Early? How much longer was I supposed to stay out?"
Zev's eyes flicked briefly over to Leliana, not sure if she wanted him to say. When she simply nodded in response, he grinned. "Well, my friend, we were in the beginning stages of planning to go after a certain high dragon's hoard that we didn't get on our last visit to Haven."
"Zev!" Leliana chided halfheartedly. "That wasn't why we were going!"
Chuckling, Zev waved his hand dismissively. "Oh, yes, there was also that matter of seeing some old urn again. Minor detour, really."
The elven warden's eyes opened wide in astonishment. "W-wait… you guys were… going to go back to the Urn of Sacred Ashes… on my account?" He stared around the room in disbelief before his eyes finally settled on Leliana.
"I told you, I will not ever consider giving up on you," the bard replied matter-of-factly.
"I do not know what to say…"
Alistair chuckled. "One of these days, Mr. Hero of Ferelden, you're going to have to accept that you're worth the same effort you give others."
"I… I know you are just teasing, but… even though I still do not like this hero business and think I am getting far too much of the credit… I am starting to accept that maybe I do have worth beyond being needed to stand in front of the archdemon. You know, early in our adventures I… felt guilty for being the one in my group of recruits that survived the Joining, thinking everyone would have been better off if I had died and one of the others had survived instead. Sometimes I felt like the only reason you all did not just give up and leave me behind was because of that Grey Warden status. I felt like that was the only reason anyone even cared that I was alive. And I hated myself for it."
"Alim…" Alistair began, but the elf kept going.
"It was like a cruel joke that I somehow got tabbed as the group leader. I mean, I was the least capable, least competent of the group. I thought it was some running joke with you all that I was not being let in on, just another way I was being made fun of. When I ran away, it did not even occur to me that any of you would come after me. I honestly thought your reactions would be happy, good riddance and all that. You cannot tell me that with what I grew up with and what I went through in the first several months of our journey that I had any reason whatsoever to think I had any real value to anyone."
"Alim…" Leliana said softly, "You won everyone over anyway. You gave of yourself time and time again, even when we were not very nice, and even your harshest critics came to respect and hold you dear."
Alim chuckled humorlessly. "And yet no one figured it out. Everyone kept saying how selfless I was, when all I was doing was desperately trying to gain acceptance, to make myself feel like I was more than a necessary burden for you all to bear. Some inspiring Hero of Ferelden, eh?"
An awkward silence filled the room as he finished talking, with no one really knowing what to say. Finally, Neria spoke up. "I don't buy that you only helped others to feel better about yourself. I mean, from what I hear, you helped people even when there was no real benefit to you, just because it was the right thing to do. And I do not believe you're capable of manipulating people on such a grand scale as you claim you did."
"Yes, you are basically saying that you manipulated companions, nobles, and thousands of others into devoting themselves to your cause, that they believed in someone that wasn't real. Do you honestly believe someone like Leliana wouldn't see you for the selfish bastard you are claiming to be? You know, I didn't completely believe her when she told me how fragile your self-esteem is. I see now that I was wrong to doubt her."
Leliana sighed deeply. For as much progress as she'd made with him, she still had so far to go.
After another uncomfortable silence set in, Zev decided to try to lighten the mood. "So, about that high dragon's hoard… now that we don't have to go out of our way to get some more ashes from the urn, we can focus on the important part, the treasure, right? Slaying dragons is becoming old hat for you anyway, so what do you say, my friend?"
"Haven't we found enough treasure to last a lifetime?" asked Alistair incredulously.
"Still your tongue! One can never have too much treasure. Besides, you will need a lot of gold to rebuild the Grey Wardens, so think of how much the extra treasure would help." Zev winked at the human warden.
Alistair rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Not a bad point actually. I… could probably be talked into making a trip to Haven still. I'd already been mentally prepared to go for Mr. Self-Confidence over there anyway."
Alim grinned slightly. "I am game if my decision maker says I can go."
Leliana shook her head, grinning while Zev and Alistair laughed. "As if the archdemon wasn't bad enough, you are not taking me to fight a high dragon until after I get a real honeymoon."
"Fair enough, Val Royeaux first. Sten and Shale will be gone, and obviously Morrigan and Scorch are gone as well. We will have Oghren, assuming he survives the Joining, and maybe Cauthrien would be up for it. Wynne will think this is the height of foolishness, so I cannot see her going."
"We'd better bring a boatload of poultices and injury kits," Alistair suggested.
"No kidding," Alim agreed. "How about we tentatively plan to set out for Haven from here in three month's times? I am sure we will all be ready for a vacation from our new jobs by then."
While the others nodded, Neria shook her head, laughing lightly. "I take back what I said. You are simply insane, Alim, suggesting that you travel to fight a dragon as a vacation."
Leliana had a sly thought. "Neria, maybe if Alistair will teach you something of wielding a blade, you can travel with us. You would not be up to actually fighting the dragon by then, but you could fight other things with us along the way."
Alistair tensed slightly at the suggestion. Alim picked up on it and couldn't resist teasing him. "Yes, Alistair, tell me, what exactly are your plans with my sister anyway?"
"Plans? Who said I had any plans?" the former templar said weakly, drawing laughter. Neria blushed as well as having the attention turned on them. She had grown to really like Alistair during the brief time she'd known him, but he really hadn't given any solid indications to her that he thought of her as anything more than his best friend's sister and a friend herself. And she was an elf, after all, her brother was the only elf she'd ever known in a committed relationship with a shem.
Alim turned up the heat. "We are supposed to believe that following her around like a puppy dog and hanging on her every word does not mean anything? Have you told her you like her yet?"
Alistair's eyes were silently begging Alim to shut up all the while his face was turning redder from embarrassment.
"Do not be so embarrassed, my dear Alistair," Leliana remarked. "If you cannot tell by looking at her, she feels the same way about you."
Neria blushed even further, matching Alistair's embarrassment as the other three laughed gleefully at their discomfort.
Zev cleared his throat. "Alim, Leliana, I think now is a good time for you to perhaps show me where my room is in this lovely estate of yours? I am thinking it will probably take twenty or thirty minutes, so hopefully these two kids will be able to find something to talk about to pass the time."
Taking the hint, the lord and lady of the house stood up and left the room with Zev. Once they left, Alistair and Neria glanced at each other shyly. Alistair realized that he actually wasn't as nervous as he thought he'd be, because he trusted Leliana's ability to read people. If she said Neria liked him back, then it was probably true. And Alim didn't seem to have a problem with it, which was something he'd been somewhat concerned about. Alistair took a deep breath, and smiling tentatively he began to admit that what Alim had teased him about was true.
The Hero of Ferelden shifted uncomfortably in place, trying not to make himself sick from the stress. In a few short minutes the doors to the palace would open and he'd step out before a crowd of thousands there to laud him.
"Stop it!" his wife chided in amusement. "You act more like a condemned man than one being celebrated!"
"There is a difference?" he deadpanned.
"You are hopeless…"
"Yep," he agreed, chuckling humorlessly.
"Try harder, dear, it's embarrassing," she teased.
Shale sighed again, prompting a curious stare from the elven warden. "What is with the heavy sighs, Shale?"
The stone golem looked down at the little elf. "Once this is over I shal leave with the dwarves to return to Orzammar and then the Deep Roads. It is puzzling to me, yet I find myself… sad? That is this feeling?"
Alim smiled. "It is okay to have feelings. I will miss you too, Shale."
"Oh, dear, I must find something to squish… soon. Let us find something to crush and watch it fountain blood. That is a girlish thing to want to do, yes?"
"Shale… Take care of yourself, please? In thirty years or so, when it is my time to go to the Deep Roads, I… I hope to fight alongside you one more time."
Shale sighed deeply. "I suppose even the best flesh creature will meet its end eventually. But I shall be waiting for it."
"Thank you, for everything. It is hard to imagine sometimes that if not for a remark about darkspawn in Honnleath made in passing by a merchant we almost did not even stop to talk to, we would never have met you."
"Well, maybe I will honor it by saying thank you to every darkspawn right before I crush their squishy heads like a grape."
Alim laughed. "There is no need to go that far, I assure you. Speaking of honor, though, I was thinking. It is not really fair that the dwarves are called upon to help against Blights on the surface, but other than the Grey Wardens, the surface really does not return the favor. I am going to try to change that, to honor the dwarven sacrifice by organizing forces specifically to go into the Deep Roads and help push the darkspawn further back. As far as we were able to make it with just our group, I feel like with even a few hundred soldiers, the Aeducan and Ortan thaigs could be retaken, maybe even Cadash Thaig. A thousand soldiers could probably help retake and hold Bownammar."
Shale stared at the elf in disbelief. "It would do that?"
"Why would I not?"
"I… yes… excuse me, I must go squish something. Now."
Alim and Leliana laughed as the stone golem stalked away from them shaking her head.
"Kadan," Sten said simply. He entered the warden's study and found Alim by himself. He was leaning against the large red oak desk, staring at the portrait of the archdemon on the wall and lost in thought. The parade and public celebration of the Hero of Ferelden had concluded a few hours earlier, much to the uncomfortable guest of honor's relief, and he had taken the opportunity to slip away from the others for a few moments of solitude.
Alim glanced over at the large Qunari warrior. Sten wasn't one who revealed much with his facial expressions, but now he appeared almost… forlorn. Suddenly Alim understood.
"I… suppose it is time…"
Sten nodded. "Tomorrow morning I will board a ship and depart for Seheron."
The elven warden nodded slowly. "Knowing this was coming does not make it any easier. I know… I know we did not always see eye to eye, and that I frustrated you in many ways, but I hope you will remember our time together with at least a little fondness."
"There is not much of Ferelden I care to remember, but I will not forget the little hero. When I return to the Beresaad and they ask me if I found anyone worthy in Ferelden, I will tell them of you. You carried us through to the end, Kadan, do not doubt yourself."
Alim gulped slightly at the sentiment. "Will I ever see you again?"
"I do not know," Sten admitted. "You once asked me about the Arishok sending an invasion force against Ferelden. I promise you this, you will not see Qunari warships sail to your shores during your lifetime."
"Is that out of respect for me, or because you do not think you would win?"
"Yes," the warrior answered matter-of-factly.
The elf bowed his head slightly. "You do me a great honor, my friend. I will miss you. Errr… just you, not the warships."
A short silence set in and Sten turned to leave when Alim had a thought. "Hey, I just thought of something. The queen promised a boon for all of my friends, and I do not think you have received anything. What is there we can send home with you?"
Sten shook his head. "I do not require anything for having done my duty."
"It is not payment, it is a gift. Surely there is something of Ferelden you would like to take back with you?"
The Qunari pondered it briefly. "I would take a Mabari."
Alim grinned. "Consider it done. We will go over to the royal kennels before you leave tomorrow and you will have your Mabari."
"Thank you, Kadan."
The next morning, Alim and his remaining companions stood at the docks to see Sten off. The proud warrior smiled very slightly at the little warden. "Thank you again, Kadan," he said, gesturing in reference to his new warhound.
Alim nodded. "I know he will take good care of you, and you him." Sten nodded in response.
"I have a going away gift for you as well, Sten," Leliana said. All eyes turned to her as she pulled a rectangular box from her pack and handed it to him. "For your trip," she explained, smiling warmly.
Sten looked at her curiously before opening the box to reveal several dozen cookies.
The bard grinned at him. "Try not to eat them all in one sitting, you'll make yourself sick."
"I… I will take your advice."
"Oh! And this is for you as well," she said, handing him a folded sheet of vellum.
"What is this?" the warrior asked.
"You have bakers back home, yes?"
Leliana smiled brightly. "You once said that you did not have cookies in your homeland. That is Lady Cecile's cookie recipe, so now the Qunari can have cookies too."
Sten looked at her in surprise, causing her to giggle. "Be well, Sten. May duty and honor bring you happiness."
The large Qunari nodded. "Thank you." Motioning in reference to the little warden, he continued, "See that nothing takes him before his time. And do not let noble life turn him fat and slovenly."
"Hey!" Alim exclaimed while the others laughed. "I am not the one being lectured on eating too many cookies!"
After the laughter died down, Leliana smiled. "I will take care of him, Sten, I promise."
Nodding a final time to the group, Sten bid them farewell and boarded the ship with his Mabari in tow.
Walking back towards the Arl of Denerim estate, Alim couldn't help but note with a tinge of sadness that his group of ten companions was now down to six, and soon to be down to four that he'd see more than just occasionally. And really just three that he'd be around on daily basis – Lel, Zev, and Cauthrien.
Then again, it was going to be an even bigger adjustment to not living life out of an equipment pack and being ready to travel across the country at a moment's notice. It was going to be interesting, he thought.
It was great hearing from you. I know you are feeling somewhat discouraged that the Grey Warden ranks are not growing faster, but do not be. It may seem slow going that our numbers are only up to 25 after the most recent Joining ceremony (which I apologize for not being able to make), but remember that you are doing it the right way, by recruiting only the best candidates. It may take years before our numbers rival those of Orlais, Nevarra, or Rivain, but our quality will be second to none. It has only been six months since we ended the Blight. Stay the course, you are doing great!
An interesting thing happened the other day as we were getting home from our short trip to Dragon's Peak (yes, I am still working my way through visiting the lands of every arl, bann, and teyrn in Ferelden in person – Bann Sighard's was the latest). I actually made it from the city gates to the estate without people stopping in the middle of whatever they were doing to stare at me, thank me, or ask me for something as I went by. I know it will never again be like the old days when we could walk around Denerim without anyone paying attention to us, but I will be happy if I can just go out without the stress of people gawking and making a big deal about me. Maybe I am hopelessly naïve, but I look forward to a day when I will be able to just go out into town without having to take guards with me for crowd control.
Yes, Zev is still Zev, even though he is more spy than an assassin these days. Lel has worked quite a bit with him on the subtleties of reading and manipulating people. That combined with his already incredible stealth and blending in skills has made him very effective. He occasionally does jobs for the queen when Erlina is busy with something else or the situation calls for a male touch, though mostly he keeps tabs on things for me where Lel cannot. Everyone around here knows Arlessa Leliana, of course, which limits her potential at times. I think Zev feels a strong sense of pride in being respected for more than his ability to kill people.
I still make it a point to go see Wynne at least once a week, though Lel still has lunch with her a few days a week. I wish you could have been there a couple of weeks ago to see her reaction when we told her we planned to name our baby after her. She was speechless! Yes, Wynne, of all people! I think I told you about the name already? Wynne for a girl and Wyn for a boy? Ugh… there goes my memory again… I have been in front of so many people of late that it is hard to keep track of who I've told what. If not, it was Lel's idea to honor Wynne for being the reason I am still alive (no, I did not remind her that Morrigan has just as much claim to that).
Speaking of the baby, Lel is finally starting to show. It is funny because that makes her both happy and unhappy at the same time. She gets emotional sometimes (yes, more so than usual), and I learned quickly to just listen to her and not try to "fix" things for her. She says she is nervous about being a mother, but I think she will be great. It is the father and Uncle Alistair that need to be watched out for! We will probably have the child so full of itself, he or she will be going around telling their mates how they were slaying high dragons before they were born and all.
Thank you again for not holding it against me that because of Morrigan I am not only alive, but am going to have this child with Lel. Even though you did not say it, I know it is not fair that I was able to benefit twice from the witch's blood magic, while you and Neria, if you ever reach the point of getting married and even wanting children, the possibility is almost nil. I will never say I regret having done the ritual that saved my life or regret Lel getting Morrigan to use the same magic to enable us to have a child, but I will also never completely shake the feeling of guilt.
How is your dragon scale armor working out for you? I still laugh when I think about Wade's assistant freaking out when we came in and dropped half a dead high dragon on the floor and asked for six sets of armor made. And poor Wade, I thought the guy was going to have an orgasm right there at the thought of working with so much dragon scale. Anyway, to be honest, I mostly still wear my drakeskin armor because I have not broken in my dragon scale armor yet. I know I should just suffer through the initial uncomfortable phase and get it over with, but I suppose it has not seemed like something urgent when I am not in battle on a regular basis anymore.
Cauthrien and Zev wear their dragon scale armor all the time, though Lel still prefers her Shadow of the Empire drakeskin armor. She says it has too much sentimental value for her to give up. At least Wade did not charge us for any of it. Though I suspect he made enough selling other sets he made off of the leftover scale to more than offset the cost of making ours for free.
I know you said not to worry about it, but I still have feelers out for info about Goldanna. Nothing has come of it yet. You are probably right in saying she likely got killed in the Battle of Denerim, with the way the market district got hit so hard, but it does not hurt to keep our ears open for any news.
You said it is hard to believe that it has been six months since we took down the archdemon. For me it is almost the opposite. So much has changed that it seems so long ago now. Even if it has only been a couple of months since I last saw you, Oghren, and Neria, it seems longer when you have gotten so used to that day in day out camaraderie that we had on our adventures. Of course, I have not seen Shale, Sten, Morrigan, and Scorch since back then.
By the way, no, I have not changed my mind about hunting Morrigan down. I know you disagree with me, but I gave her my word I would not follow and I will keep my promise. I am sorry, I really do not care that those wardens from Orlais are still pressing us for the details about why I am still alive. As I told you before, I have no idea where Morrigan went and I do not know the magic she used in the ritual. She remarked that it was old magic from before the Circle of Magi was founded, which makes it Tevinter in origin. So they are better off going to the Tevinter Imperium and seeing what they can find out there than hassling us.
Already the details of our adventures to stop the Blight are starting to fade. At times I will be telling a story or recalling something out loud and Lel will politely correct me on the things I've gotten out of order or wrong altogether. She is almost done writing her tale of our adventures and teases me that at the rate I am going, when she does finish and lets me read it, much of it will seem completely new to me.
The truth is, she uses humor to cover up that she worries about me, that this memory thing is a permanent side effect of either being dead briefly or of being comatose for nine days, and will only get worse over time. Wynne asked me about it a couple of times awhile back and was not exactly subtle. It was not hard to figure out Lel talked to her about me. I wish she would not worry so much.
I think more than anything it is just that other than the trip we all took to Haven, everything has been a whirlwind ever since she and I got back from Val Royeaux. Anora and the nobility have paraded me in front of so many people throughout Ferelden. And I've had so much on my plate as both the general and with the responsibilities of the arling in rebuilding Denerim. I think I am just rundown. I am less concerned that my mind is deteriorating and more concerned that I am being stretched to the point of breaking. It does not help that slaying the archdemon did not dispel the darkspawn from my dreams. I have not had many nights of great sleep in the going on two years I've been a Grey Warden. Of course, you know how that goes as much as anyone.
Two years… it sounds like such a long time. Maybe it is Lel's influence, but I have begun to see my life as a series of acts in a play. I think the time has come to formally lower the curtain on Act III, the story of the Circle mage who became a Grey Warden, who leaned on the strength of his friends and countrymen to end the Blight and save our nation. I admit that Act IV is shaping up to be almost as daunting. But I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in it. I have been blessed with the best friends and family a man could dare to hope for, and I know that with their help we will leave Ferelden to a better future than what we inherited. And when the final curtain draws on our lives, it will be a fine legacy indeed to leave behind.
Maker's blessings, Alistair. Give my love to Neria. I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Your friend, your brother,
AN: The end :-)
Special thanks to everyone that has given feedback either in reviews or PMs, and thanks in general to everyone who has taken the time to read this story. I'm not one to ask for reviews much, but I'd appreciate it if those of you who stuck it out to the end wouldn't mind letting me know about the things you liked and didn't like with the story. It took on a life of its own seeing as the original scope I had in mind was the first two chapters, and there were plenty of times throughout the story that even I didn't know what little twist/variation was going to happen next until inspiration struck. But seeing the finished results six months later I'm glad I decided to keep going.
Thanks of course to Bioware for the great game/story that served as inspiration for this.
With Dragon Age II coming out in a few weeks, maybe I'll see you all again in the future with a story set there. Thanks again, everyone.