Together we stand
Well, it's just you and me
So baby, hold on and you'll see
Forever we stand
And we'll make it through
'Cause I know I can't live without you
Forever - Skid Row
Dane and Talia were quiet as they left Alistair's room. Dane wrapped an arm around her waist drawing her hip firmly against his so they bumped against each other as they walked. Talia slid her arm around him as they continued down the hallway. "Where to?" she asked, almost giddy with the knowledge that she could go anywhere she wanted in Denerim with this man beside her. There was no one who could gainsay them being together now. They even had Alistair's tacit approval.
Dane thought for a moment before answering, "I am not sure, but I know I will not stay another night under that man's roof." Talia bit her lip to keep from laughing at some of the dire threats to Eamon that Dane was muttering under his breath. Was that last one even possible?
"Do you want to see if Cyril has a room available for the night?" she suggested. "I really need to go and let Soris know about his new position as well."
Dane was agreeable so they headed for Eamon's estate first so they could get Dane's belongings. On their way, he asked Talia, "Why are you not more upset about Eamon being behind what happened to you?"
Talia thought for a moment before answering, "I trust Alistair will handle it. Don't get me wrong. It infuriates me that he would arrange something like that, but I think what Alistair has in store for him is worse than anything I could do to him."
"What do you mean?" Dane asked.
"Alistair promised you would be there to help arrest Eamon. That means a trial. Depending on the charges Alistair can bring against him, which I figure are anything from crimes against the crown all the way to treason, Eamon is probably looking at death. Even if he isn't executed, he will have all his titles and power stripped from him, and everyone will know what he did. That might be a worse punishment for Eamon than death. I'm satisfied to leave this whole mess in Alistair's hands."
Dane said seriously, "I do not know if I can let it go like that."
Talia squeezed his waist lightly, "I think Alistair realized that and that's why he has promised to include you when the time is right. Patience, my love."
Dane just grunted as they continued to walk in silence.
Once they arrived at the estate, they gathered together all Dane's things. Since he had been packed for leaving the next day, it didn't take long. As Dane traveled light and had not collected many possessions while he had been in Denerim, the two of them were easily able to carry everything from there to the Gnawed Noble. Cyril's face lit up in a smile when he saw the two of them enter together and walk up to the bar.
"Change of plans, Cyril," said Dane. "Do you have a room available I could rent for a couple of nights?"
"You just happen to be in luck, ser. The finest room in the house just came free," replied Cyril. "Edwina!"
Cyril's partner and mistress of the Gnawed Noble approached at Cyril's call. Dane quickly made arrangements for the rent of the room. Talia stayed seated at the bar sipping an ale while Dane carted his belongings to the room and left them there. He returned to the seat beside her, once again slipping his arm around her. They did get an occasional raised eyebrow from patrons who did not know them and who seemed surprised to see such a blatant elf-human pairing in public. The few members of the council that were in attendance were shocked when Talia corrected their greeting of her to include her change in rank. She made no mention of Alistair's plan to raise her to arlessa. That news could come after it was official. The fact that she was now a commoner once again seemed to have captured the interest of the nobles far more than her relationship with Dane. After they had shared a few drinks, Talia leaned over to Dane. "As much as I'm enjoying being here with you, we need to go to the alienage and let Soris know what is going on."
Dane hesitated, looking down at her. "Are you sure it is a good idea for me to accompany you? I would hate to cause trouble between you and your father."
Talia reached up to run her fingertips down the side of his face, enjoying the feel of his skin under them and the fact that he was now hers to touch whenever she wanted. She marveled at the change in texture from the smoothness of his cheek to the slight coarseness of the auburn hair of his goatee. "I love you, Dane Perth, and my father will just have to get used to the idea."
As she dragged her fingers across his lips, he kissed them and said, "Then lead on, my Lady. I will be right at your side."
Dane and Talia left the Noble heading for the alienage. Dane caught her hand in his, weaving his fingers through hers as they walked. Talia spoke before he could. "Please don't mention anything about Alistair's plans. I want Soris to have this night. If we tell people about me becoming an arlessa, he will get overshadowed. Soris has been such a support and help to me, he deserves to bask in the attention this news will bring him."
"Fine with me," replied Dane. "So," he continued, trying to go for nonchalance. "Are you staying at home tonight?" He paused before continuing, "I am only asking, of course, because your security is my responsibility now."
Talia looked up at him with a hint of mischievousness in her gaze, "Was that an invitation?"
They were passing through a darkened street, and with the lateness of the hour, not many people were in evidence. Dane dropped her hand and grabbed her so fast, it almost took her breath away. He picked her up and turned with her in his arms as he said, "No, but this is." As he finished speaking he brought her to rest against the side of the building they were passing with her face on the same level as his and her feet dangling in midair due to the difference in their heights. He supported her entire body weight as his mouth claimed hers possessively. Talia wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed herself against him as she submitted wholeheartedly to his kiss. Eventually, his lips left hers as he kissed his way up the side of her face. Dane readjusted his hold on her so he had one hand he could use to free her ear from the confines of her hair. He slowly made his way up the entire length of it, teasing her with his warm breath, soft kisses, and delicate twirls of his tongue. The soft mewling noises she made deep in her throat as well as the way her small body began to tremble and quake in his grasp only served to make him want her even more than he already did. When Dane reached the exquisite point of her ear, he took it in his mouth and began to suckle.
Talia moaned his name and her body bucked against him. Dane reluctantly released her ear from the heat of his mouth, knowing this was not the place for further teasing. He whispered to her, "I have been wanting to do that for weeks," before he carefully replaced her on her feet.
Talia looked up at his heavy-lidded eyes, her own desire evident in her expression. "I've wanted you to do that for weeks," she admitted.
Dane still held her in the circle of his arms, and he leaned down to rest his forehead against hers. "Will you stay with me tonight, Talia?" he asked hopefully.
She moved away from him slightly to smile up at him. "Yes, I will."
"Good," he said, his face echoing her smile. He reached out and adjusted her hair so her ear was hidden from view once again. She turned as he dropped his arms and they began moving down the street side by side.
She stated playfully, "Besides, I would hate for you to fail at your first assignment for Alistair."
"What do you mean?" Dane asked.
"Well, it would be hard for you to keep me safe if I was in the alienage and you were at the Noble."
"True," conceded Dane with a smile. "What sacrifices you make in the name of duty, my Lady. He continued on in a much huskier voice, "My only question is, who will keep you safe from me?"
When they first arrived at what would from now on be Soris' home in the alienage, Talia found him in her office putting together a proposal for the next council meeting. When Talia asked Soris where her father was, he told her that Cyrion had retired to his room after Soris had informed him that Talia had gone to see Dane. Talia winced to herself because she was sure he wasn't happy with that news. Talia asked Dane to wait in her office with Soris while she fetched her father. Talia called upstairs asking him to come down to her office. Once Cyrion made his way down to join the rest of them, Talia asked Soris to sit on the settle beside her. Dane took the chair behind the desk that Soris was originally sitting in, and Cyrion seated himself in the last chair available in the room.
Talia turned to Soris, "Cousin, I have something to tell you," she said.
"Oh," replied Soris. "What's that?"
"I've renounced my title as bann of the Alienage."
"Talia!" exclaimed Cyrion.
"Hush, Father," Talia commanded and turned back to Soris.
He just looked confused. "Why would you do that?"
"It's for the best, Soris, for a number of reasons," she replied.
"Talia, I don't see how the alienage losing its bann is for the best. So many were hoping that things would finally change for the better for us."
"Oh, the alienage will still have a bann. It just won't be me."
"Well, that's good, I guess. Who's the new bann?" Soris asked curiously. "Think they will let me keep my job?"
"I don't see why they wouldn't, Cousin," Talia said with a smile in his direction, "As the new bann will be you."
Soris blinked at her owlishly and his face went pale, "M-Me?"
"Yes, Cousin, you!"
"Talia, I can't do this!"
Talia reached over and took his hand. "Yes, you can," she told him. "In fact, you already have been doing it really. Soris, you are the reason I was able to accomplish so much. You are the one that everyone in the alienage felt comfortable coming to with their problems. You worked on every project with me that we were able to get approval and funding for. You attended council meetings and understand how things are done there. You are the one who has always been here for me no matter what needed to be done, and I'm sorry I haven't told you before how important your help was. I can't think of anyone better qualified for the job."
Soris smiled in appreciation at her, "You don't know what it means to me to hear you say that."
Talia briskly told him, "It's nothing but the truth." She paused for a moment and took a deep breath before continuing, "You know as well as I do I don't fit in here any more. As much as I love the people here, my time with the Wardens changed me. Thinking that I could come back home again was a nice dream, but I know now it can never be. The alienage deserves someone who will give their whole heart to inspiring change and fighting for our people. Not only can you do this, but you deserve it. I have every confidence that you will do an even better job than I could have."
Soris' eyes lit up, "You really think so?"
Talia smiled gently at him, "I really do. Now, you need to present yourself to the palace tomorrow. Boyd, Alistair's clerk, will no doubt have lots of paperwork for you to go over and sign."
A shadow passed over Soris' face. "What about you? What are you going to do?"
Talia patted his hand, "Don't you worry about me. I have plenty to keep me occupied." She looked over at Dane with her feelings for him evident in her face for her family to see. Dane smiled back at her leaving no doubt that he reciprocated her feelings. She returned her gaze to Soris and said mischievously, "So Bann Soris, what are you going to do first?"
"Bann Soris, wow," he murmured. "I'm going to go find Taeodor and Abaris and tell them. They will be so surprised!"
Talia released his hand, "Go, Cousin. Have fun before the work begins."
Soris jumped up and made it halfway out the room before turning and rushing back to Talia. He gave her an awkward hug and said softly to her, "I know you somehow arranged this. Thank you."
Talia hugged him tightly in return for a moment. "You're welcome." She then pulled back, smacked him lightly in the arm, and said, "Now, my Lord, go find your friends!"
Soris gave her one last grin before rushing from the room.
Once Soris was gone the silence was deafening. Talia looked over at her father. His face was grim and he was looking down into his lap. For the first time, Talia really saw the signs of aging that were starting to overtake Cyrion. She noticed the gray in his hair and the small lines etched around his eyes. Even though she and Cyrion had been going through a rough spot with the situation over Dane, Talia felt a rush of love for her father. It had been hard for her these last days when they disagreed and been so disconnected from one another. He had always been there for her, and ever since her mother had died, he had tried so hard to fill both roles in her life. Talia slipped from the settle and knelt on the floor in front of him placing her head in his lap.
Cyrion was surprised when Talia came and laid against him. He couldn't resist placing one hand on the side of her head and stroking her hair, much like he had done when she was a young girl. Her next words shocked him more.
"I'm sorry, Father. I never meant to disappoint you."
"Talia!" Cyrion exclaimed. "You have never been a disappointment to me."
Talia sat back up so she could look him in the eyes. "Let me finish, Father. I know you are disappointed that I gave up the title of bann, but I refuse to lose Dane. I had no choice when it came to Alistair, but this time I did. This was my choice. I love him. If you can't accept that and Dane and I are not welcome here, then we will leave and not return. I love you and I hope that isn't the case, but Dane means more to me than anything else."
Dane stiffened at Talia's words but did not speak. This was the decision he had told the king he did not want Talia to have to make. He waited to hear Cyrion's response.
Cyrion seemed to deflate, "Oh, my girl, how I wish your mother was here."
"Me too, Father. Me too," Talia replied sadly.
"I can almost hear her telling me not to be such an old fool and that I should realize how well you have grown up. Talia, I owe you an apology. I see so much of Adaia in you. Your mother's headstrong tendencies took her away from us too early. I was so afraid that the same would happen to you that ever since you came back home I've tried to box you in with our traditions, and I'm sorry.'
Tears sprang to Talia's eyes, but before she could say anything, her father continued. "My darling girl, you have never been a disappointment to me. I have loved you since your first cry right after you were born. Regardless of the fact that you saved Ferelden from the Blight, you have grown into a beautiful, caring woman who tries her best to do the right thing, and that is why I am most proud of you.
Talia buried her head in Cyrion's lap once again, the relief at not being at odds with her beloved father anymore coursing through her. The obvious pride in his voice when speaking of her had Talia teetering on the edge of breaking down and bawling like a baby, but she managed to rein in her emotional response to her father's words. Once more in control she lifted her head and then rose gracefully to her feet pulling her father up with her. When Cyrion's arms closed around her and she rested within her father's embrace, Talia realized she had fully grown up. Her father could no longer shelter her from the world as he had done since she was small. No, now she had to solve her own problems and meet the world head on. After the Blight and what happened with Alistair, she had tried to slip back into childhood to some extent and she now knew she couldn't do that no matter how hard she tried. She could accept her father's support and comfort, but he could no longer direct her life. "I love you, Father."
"And I you, Talia, always." The two of them broke apart both trying to surreptitiously wipe the tears from their eyes.
Dane had sat quietly allowing Talia and her father to work out their problems. He had been greatly relieved when Cyrion had not pushed Talia away. Dane was not sure how he would have handled being the reason that Talia was at odds with her family.
Cyrion's gaze fell on Dane still sitting motionless at Talia's desk. "So, young man, you are the choice of my daughter."
The expression on Dane's face softened as his eyes found Talia's. The gentle smile she gave him brought an answering one to his face. He rose coming out from behind the desk and returning his attention to Cyrion. "Yes, ser. How I was ever lucky enough to be her choice, I do not know, but I have no intention of questioning my good fortune."
"The promise I extracted from you was wrong; I release you from it, but I want you to make me a new one."
"And that is, ser?"
"Promise that you will watch over my daughter for me."
Dane's face became very serious, "I have learned that Talia likes to look after herself, but I promise to do my best. I would give my life for her."
Talia, not about to be left out of this conversation as she was the one between Dane and Alistair, walked over to Dane and said, "And I promise to watch out for you." She raised herself up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
"Talia! Uncle Cyrion!" called Soris as the front door banged shut behind him. Not only was Soris back, but a number of his friends had accompanied him. Over the next bell or so, more and more people showed up at the house as the news of the new bann spread like wildfire through the alienage. Talia packed a bag of some personal items and a few changes of clothes to take with her back to the Noble. Once that was done, Talia and Dane slipped discreetly away from the impromptu celebration that had sprang up. Before she left, however, Talia had made sure to let everyone know how proud she was of Soris and how she felt he would do a wonderful job as bann.
Talia was quiet on the walk back to the Noble. She was nervous about the upcoming night as she had never shared a room at an inn with a man before. Whenever they had been fortunate enough to get rooms while she and her companions were traveling during the Blight, the women had stayed together while the men had shared because they had been chronically short of coin. She also wasn't very practiced when it came to relationships and men. Everything had been out in the open with Alistair as Talia had always been able to read his thoughts and emotions from his face and body (although he seemed to have learned a lot about hiding them since becoming king). The man walking beside her was much more contained. He seemed so distant and proper on first meeting him, but she now knew that was just a front. The real Dane was much different, a man with strong passions, but yet still gentle and willing to show her how much he cared. She took little sideways glances up at him out of the corner of her eyes, but he seemed to be concentrating on the environment surrounding them.
Dane kept alert for any danger as they passed through the darkened streets. Part of his mind, though, was occupied with thoughts of Talia and the night ahead. It had been a while since he had been involved in an intimate relationship, but being a healthy young man there had been a few over the years. There was always a certain breed of woman willing to oblige a knight; Dane just happened to be more fastidious than some others he could bring to mind. What really occupied his mind were the differences between them. He had felt the strength of her when they had sparred, but tonight when he had picked her up to kiss her, she had seemed almost light as a feather. Even though he could feel the contained power in the muscles of her body, Talia was just so much tinier and lighter than him, and Dane's main fear was that he would inadvertently hurt her.
When they reached the entrance of the Noble, Dane reached out and took Talia's bag. (He had let her carry it when they left the alienage as he wanted to keep both hands free in case he had reason to draw Service.) He held the door open for her and then wrapped his free arm around her waist, drawing her into the shelter of his body as they moved through the public rooms of the tavern. When they entered the hallway where the private rooms were, he dropped his arm to dig the key out of his belt pouch. He sat Talia's bag down to unlock the door and usher her in ahead of him.
Talia picked her bag up as she entered the room, pointedly not looking at the bed. She busied herself with lighting the small lamp at the bedside and then moving over to the chest the room included and started putting some of her possessions away.
Dane stood by the door for a few moments while he slowly removed Service from his back and leaned the sword against the wall. He then watched as Talia moved nervously around the room.
Talia noticed that he hadn't take time to unpack his bags earlier. "Did you want to put some of your things away?" she called over her shoulder without really looking at him. She was kneeling in front of the chest with her arms inside it, but he could see the nervous tension in how she held her body.
Dane walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed. He held his hand out to her and said in a serious voice, "Talia, come here." Dane saw her hesitate for the briefest of moments before using the chest to push herself to her feet. Talia turned and moved across the room to him, placing her hand in his. Dane put his other hand on her waist as he situated her body in between his legs. With him sitting on the bed and her standing, their faces were about on the same level. He looked intently into her eyes and said quietly, "We do not have to do anything you are not ready for. I did not bring you here for a night of quick satisfaction. I love you, and I plan on being at your side as long as you want me there. I can wait if you are not ready for a physical relationship between us."
Talia was touched by his words and willingness to wait for her. She murmured his name softly while moving closer to him. Even though she was a little nervous about this first time with Dane, she had no intention of waiting any longer to share herself with him. She began to gently place light kisses across his face; his forehead, over his eyes, his cheeks, the tip of his nose, and even his chin before finally meeting his lips with hers.
When Talia started kissing him, Dane closed his eyes so he could enjoy the sensations that her soft kisses were sending through his body. He groaned Talia's name softly before she surprised him by pressing herself against him and capturing his mouth like she would devour him. Desire flared up strongly, but Dane was expecting it this time and was able to control the fire. He brought his hands up to hold her face between his hands as he backed off enough to break their kiss saying, "Easy, my heart. There is no need to rush." Dane moved Talia back so he was only touching her with his hands and his lips, and then he proceeded to give her a long languid kiss as desire built within them both. Dane drew away to look deep into Talia's eyes before turning his attention to her neck just below her ear. Talia tipped her head back to give him better access, and he gathered her against him once again. He gently licked and sucked his way down to the junction of her shoulder. He raised his head to look into her eyes once again as he brought one hand to the laces of her tunic. "May I, Talia?" Dane asked, his voice slightly uneven with the desire he felt for her.
Talia's answer was a breathy, "Yes."
Dane untied the laces of her tunic, pulled it over her head, and dropped it on the floor. Her breastband soon followed. Dane kissed her once again as his hands and lips began exploring those aspects of her body that were now exposed to him. Talia worked the ties free on his tunic and drew it off. She ran her hands over his chest and arms, combing her fingers through the reddish-tinged hair she found there, and enjoying the play of his muscles under her touch when he moved. She saw that he wore a chain around his neck with a Maker's amulet suspended from it. The amulet caught her eye as it was finely wrought and gleamed in the light from the lamp. She grasped it in one hand so she could inspect it. She turned it over and noticed it was engraved. She tilted the amulet farther into the light so she could read the words there. "To Tristan, from Father. May the Maker always protect you."
Talia looked at Dane questioningly. "Who's Tristan?" she asked.
"Now that is a story for another day, but the short version is he was a knight I met once when I was young. He gave me this amulet, and he died shortly after that. I have worn it ever since."
"It's beautiful," Talia said. "The craftsmanship is exquisite."
"Yes, it is," Dane agreed. "But not as beautiful as you." Dane leaned forward to kiss her lips as he drew her closer to him once again. Talia allowed the amulet to fall back against Dane's chest, all questions forgotten in the rush of passion that his hands and lips caused.
When his hands sank lower to the ties of her breeches, Talia reached to snuff out the lamp, but Dane stopped her. "Leave it please, my heart. I want to see every part of you."
Talia left the lamp, moved back to the circle of Dane's arms, and soon the rest of their clothes laid haphazardly on the floor of their room while the two of them were entwined on the bed. Dane and Talia took the time to begin to learn each other's bodies, the touches that tantalized mixed with deep kisses that brought their ardor to a peak. Finally, just when Talia thought she couldn't take wanting him anymore, Dane slid his body into the welcoming heat of hers, filling her to the core. Shortly thereafter, the soft sounds of completion could be heard as two hearts became one.
The next morning, Talia woke to the warmth of Dane's body in the bed beside her. She stretched her muscles and felt contented and sated with the attentions Dane had lavished on her through the night. She rolled up on her side so she could observe him while he slept. He looked so peaceful lying there. Talia could hear the soft inhalation and exhalation as his breath moved in and out of his body. Talia could have spent half the day just watching him.
Dane said without moving or opening his eyes. "I was always taught it was rude to stare."
"Then you shouldn't pose such a tempting picture," Talia teased him as she snuggled closer against his body.
Dane opened his arm so she could rest her head in the hollow of his shoulder. When Talia threw one leg across him, Dane placed his other hand on her thigh and began tracing patterns on her skin with his fingertips. "If I had not been raised to be a gentleman, right about now I would be saying 'I told you so,'" Dane commented.
"Let's throw caution to the wind. I give you permission not to be a gentleman. What do you want to say I told you so about?" asked Talia curiously.
Dane tightened his hold on her as he dropped his face into her hair in approximately the area of her ear and said with no small amount of satisfaction, "I told you last evening that you would scream my name."
"Good thing the Noble has stout walls then, but exactly who was the one begging later?" retorted Talia quickly. Dane just laughed while Talia grinned along with him. They laid there quietly for a few minutes before Talia asked him, "Did I ever tell you how much I love the way you talk?"
"The way I talk?" Dane asked, slightly confused.
"Um-hum. You're very formal in your sentence structure."
"Oh," replied Dane in a more subdued voice. "My mother would receive the credit for that."
Talia felt the way Dane's body stiffened slightly when he spoke and he moved his hand from her leg, drawing it into his body. "Tell me about your mother," she requested.
Dane was quiet for a bit considering. He had never talked about his mother with anyone before.
"Dane?" Talia asked softly, not wanting to push him too hard.
He began hesitantly, not sure how much to say. "My mother is…complicated. When I was young, she was a much different woman from the one she is today. My parents lost my little sister when I was three, and my mother favored me over Rendorn and Rowena. I remember thinking she was the most beautiful woman in the world, with her red hair hanging down her back and her laughter ringing through our rooms. Mother spoiled me unabashedly, spending hours telling me stories about knights, kings, and dragons. I can remember her saying how I was going to grow up and become the greatest knight in the land." Dane paused there and Talia looked up at him. He had covered his eyes with the back of his arm, but there was a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth as the memories washed over him.
"I think you are a magnificent knight," answered Talia, "But I admit there may be some prejudice on my part."
"I am far from the greatest knight in the land, but I appreciate the vote of confidence, my heart," Dane replied.
"So why do you say your mother is different now?" Talia asked when Dane showed no inclination to continue his story.
"When I was about seven, Mother changed dramatically. She stopped laughing and her whole demeanor became very severe. There were no more stories about knights. Across the next few years, her demands on us became more and more strict. We had always been Andrastian, but Mother started making us go to the chantry every day. Her main concern seemed to become our 'station in life' and that we children speak, act, and behave in such a manner that brought credit to the family. She was very conscious of social status and always thrilled when the arl made some acknowledgement of Father. She became a favorite of the arlessa and often was her companion when there was no company at the castle. However, Mother also taught us. She had permission to borrow books from the arl's library and she would make us read them out loud to each other in the evenings. When I was old enough, it had been arranged that I would take instruction from one of the guards, and all I wanted to do was practice sword work. I learned to write because if I did it well enough, then Mother would let me go and hang around the practice field where the guards did their daily drill. I learned a lot of things I never would have known because of Mother's insistence on our education. The day I was knighted by King Cailan, she was so proud," Dane finished quietly.
"What caused the change?" Talia asked curiously.
"I do not know," Dane said.
Talia lifted herself off of his chest to look at him incredulously. "You still don't know?"
Dane removed his arm from his eyes. "No. You have to understand, Talia. My mother can be very difficult, and I was just a child when this happened. Like most children, I thought it was all my fault, and that I must have done something that caused the change. I decided to be just what Mother wanted, and then if I was good enough, Mother would return to her old self. Obviously, whatever happened had not had anything to do with me, but I spent years trying desperately to please Mother to no avail. Rendorn had it the hardest of the three of us. He was eleven and fought tooth and nail against all of Mother's new edicts. He took whipping after whipping over the next year as he refused to speak the way Mother wanted or use the manners she was insisting upon. By the time I left home, the manner of speech and deportment Mother had drilled into me were a part of who I am."
"You've never asked her what happened? Even now that you are older?" Talia asked.
"We are not close, Talia, not like you are with your father and Soris. We just do not discuss personal topics between us. If I was to ask such a question, I am sure Mother would consider it rude and refuse to answer," Dane looked down at her with a small smile. "Do not worry for me. I accepted my family for what they are a long time ago."
Talia laid back down as she wrinkled her brow in thought. She idly played her fingers along his skin and fiddled with the amulet around his neck as she tried to raise her courage to address the topic that had been on her mind, "How about we make your mother very happy?"
"What do you mean?" Dane questioned as he lifted his head to look down at her.
Talia kept her eyes on his chest watching her fingers. "What would you think about going to Amaranthine as the soon-to-be arl?" she asked him very quietly.
As Talia's words sunk in, Dane went completely still and he swallowed audibly. "Talia, are you saying what I think you are?"
Talia answered, again without looking at him, "Well, only if you want."
Dane reached out and tilted her head up so her eyes met his. He said, "I want to be real clear on this. Are you saying you want us to get married?"
Trapped by his eyes, she had nowhere to hide. "Yes," she admitted. "When my father told me I would never be able to see you again, I realized just how much I had come to care for you and how important it was to me for you to be a part of my life. I can't stand the thought of someone trying to take you away again, Dane. I know what will happen once it becomes common knowledge that Alistair is going to make me an arlessa. The shuffling for position, the sons that seek power through marriage, the nobles plotting to increase their influence; all of it. I want nothing to do with it. I just want you beside me every day for as long as possible."
"Talia, no one is going to take me away from you. We do not have to get married to ensure that. I will not leave you unless you ask me to go."
"Oh, well, that's good then," was all she said as she dropped her eyes. Dane could feel her withdrawing from him. "Never mind, it was a stupid idea anyway."
Dane was not about to let this hang unresolved in the air between them. "Talia, look at me."
Talia reluctantly raised her eyes back to his. "You should not get married in an attempt to 'keep' someone. If it is not a dynastic marriage brought about by an agreement of families, you should get married because you love the other person and cannot imagine your life without them, because you want to wake up with her beside you every day, because when you are away from her, all you can think about is getting back to see the smile on her face…and that is how I feel about you," Dane admitted. "When I was in Redcliffe, I missed you so much and I knew then that I was falling in love with you. Then when I returned and you were missing, I cannot tell you what an agony that entire day was. I hope I never experience the anguish I did knowing that you needed me but not being able to find you. The images that ran through my mind were terrifying…and then the king located you and you were hurt so badly. Before Wynne came, I was so afraid that you would die." Dane trailed off almost too overcome to continue.
Talia flinched a little as she heard Dane's words. She had not realized what he had gone through while she had been missing. She put a gentle hand up to the side of his face and said, "Dane, I'm sorry to have put you through that, but I can't promise that another situation along those lines won't happen again once I go back to the Order. The life of a Grey Warden isn't an easy one, either for the Wardens or the ones who love them. So many lose their lives to the darkspawn and that could happen to me at any time. You have to be ready to accept that," Talia warned. She knew that the time had come that she would have to tell Dane just what being a Warden entailed. "Dane, there are some secrets of the Order not usually discussed with outsiders, but I can't ask you to be a part of my life without you knowing everything up front. However, it goes without saying what I'm about to tell you is not to be repeated to anyone."
"Of course," replied Dane.
Talia pushed herself away from Dane. She sat up, drew her legs into her chest, and hugged them. She faced him but looked down at the bed instead of at him. She took a deep breath and began, "There is a price to be paid to become a Warden. There is a ceremony that everyone goes through. During this ritual, we take the taint into ourselves. Those that master the taint become Grey Wardens."
"What happens to those who do not?" asked Dane.
"They die-horribly," she replied very quietly. There was a long pause before she continued. "That's why I said I never wanted you to become a Warden. You never know who will survive and who won't. There were three of us who undertook the ritual together, and I was the only one who lived," Talia said softly, and the memories of Duncan, Ser Jory, and Daveth played through her mind once again. "Even for those that survive initially, death is only delayed. Eventually, the taint has its way with all of us."
Dane sat upright at that. "So, you mean that you…?"
"Yes," said Talia with a nod. "If I'm lucky I have about twenty-eight more years before the taint begins to corrupt me, but it could be less."
"Talia!" Dane was at a loss. He did not know what to say.
Talia smiled ruefully. "If Duncan hadn't conscripted me, I would be dead now for killing Vaughn, so I don't consider it such a bad trade." Talia continued, "There is also a very good possibility that I can never have children. Most Wardens have their children before they enter the Order. The taint destroys the body's ability to reproduce."
Dane was quiet for a few moments before asking, "But there are some who do manage it?"
"There is a chance, a very small chance, that a Warden and someone not tainted can have a child together," she answered.
"I see," said Dane who felt like his head was spinning. He looked off into the distance past Talia as he tried to come to terms with the information she had shared with him.
Talia watched Dane as the silence drew out between them. Had she lost him? Could he accept the cost of her obligations? Eventually, when Dane did not speak or even look at her and the tension inside her was at the breaking point, Talia asked almost in a whisper, her fear closing off her throat, "Do you want me to leave?"
Dane's eyes snapped back to her face, "What? No! I love you, Talia, and that is not going to change." Dane moved towards her and she met him halfway pressing her face against his chest in relief as she blinked back tears. Talia felt as though a huge weight was off her shoulders. She hadn't realized just how worried she had been about telling Dane what being a Warden meant and whether she would lose him because of it.
Dane wrapped his arms around Talia and he could feel the dampness of her tears against his chest as she rested against him. He ran one hand over her hair as he laid his cheek against the crown of her head. "Shh, my heart. Do not cry. I told you I would only leave if you asked me to go and I meant that."
Talia let Dane hold her for a bit, enjoying the sensations and the quiet reassurance his touch gave her. She then pushed herself away from him. "So where does this leave us?" she asked.
"Talia, I know how I feel about you, but you are so much younger than I am. What if you should change your mind or find someone else? Annulments from the Chantry only happen with very good reasons. I would not wish you to be trapped, tied to me and regretting it."
"Dane, you are only six years older than me, and I stopped being young the day I killed Vaughn. I'm not going to change my mind about wanting to be with you. Even if we had to part now, I could never regret any of the time I've spent with you," she added as she laid her hand gently against his cheek. "I think in a way I'm being selfish. I should let you go to find a woman who can lead a long, full life with you and can give you a houseful of children who look just like their father."
"I do not want another woman. I just want you," Dane said as he moved her hand from his cheek and placed a kiss in the palm.
"As I want you," Talia said softly with a smile. She then continued becoming more business-like in tone and posture. "I'm not suggesting we run out to the chantry tomorrow. If the Warden-Commander position comes through as Alistair hopes, then I'll basically have two very demanding positions to fulfill, and I'm not sure how willing the nobles will be to accept me as arlessa regardless of what Alistair thinks. I thought that if when we arrived at Amaranthine everyone knew you would be their arl someday then the nobles might accept that easier. We could take our time and plan a big ceremony so the people in Amaranthine felt as if they were a part of you becoming their arl. Plus, you could help with the running of the arling from when we first arrive."
As Talia had been talking, Dane's face had gone white as the realization hit him. "An arl? You want me to be an arl? Talia, I do not know how to do that! Guard one, yes; be one, no!"
Talia laughed at him. "Like I know how to be an arlessa or a Warden-Commander? We learn as we go; I found it worked amazingly well to stop a Blight." Talia readjusted her position so she could bring her face to his as she held his head in her hands. "I love you and that isn't going to change. Please say yes, Dane. Say you will go to Amaranthine as my betrothed. We can wait as long as you like for the actual wedding itself."
"Talia," Dane said as he tried one more time, "Are you truly certain this is what you want?"
Talia just looked at Dane a moment before she spoke, "I gave up my title as bann of the Alienage because as long as I held that you and I could not be together. What else can I do to show you how important a life with you is to me? As long as you are by my side, I don't care if we live in a fancy castle or eek out an existence in an alienage."
Dane took hold of her shoulders, pushing her down and pinning her to the mattress beneath him. He leaned in towards her neck, trailing his mouth up the sensitive skin towards her ear before responding, "In that case, my heart, I would be most honored to take you for my wife." Dane rose slightly so that he could stare deeply into her beautiful blue eyes as the emotions his words generated inside Talia overwhelmed her. He spared a moment to smile blissfully at her before lowering his lips to hers and kissing her once more, showing her with his touch exactly how he felt about her.
Later, Dane held Talia closely against him. He could scare believe the events that had happened over the past day. It was almost inconceivable to him that she would be his wife, and no one would come between them again. Their first night together had been everything Dane had hoped it would be, and he knew he would no more leave her than a fish would leave the sea or a bird the freedom of the sky. Yes, just as he had predicted, Dane was hers, and he was entirely satisfied that it should be so.
As Talia laid cradled in her betrothed's arms, her mind drifted to the future. She wasn't sure what they would find when she and Dane arrived at Amaranthine, but Talia knew whatever the situation, they would face it together. Alistair may have trusted her physical safety to Dane, but Talia trusted her recovered heart was safe in Dane's hands.
A:N: And there you have it, the end. Talia and Dane are officially betrothed and headed to Amaranthine together. I've been asked if I'm planning a sequel. The honest answer is I don't know (yes, ladyamesindy, this means you!). If I can come up with a really good idea for a story, I would love to write more about Talia and Dane.
However, for those who just cannot get enough of Ser Perth, I do have a short prequel (about three chapters) planned to explain what happened with his mother and the story behind the amulet he wears. I hope to start publishing it the week after Thanksgiving. It will be rated M and right now it is tentatively titled Of Parents and Secrets.
Once the prequel is done, then I plan on devoting myself to finishing What Follows Next. I have shamefully neglected that story for this one, and I really do need to finish it. I still have some fun stuff and lots of intrigue planned for that story if I can just get it written!
After that, I may possibly do a sequel to this story or maybe even Surviving the Archdemon (see Liso66, I haven't forgotten your request either).
As always, thanks to two of the best betas out there, melismo and ladyamesindy. Ladies, I really couldn't have done this without you.
I really wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to review at some point in this whole process, including: Liso66, ladyamesindy, Windchime68, you can't see me, Grannaah, ChampionThe WonderSnail, wisecracknmama, erynnar, zeeji, alisgal, bioncafemme, Fluid Consciousness, USAF713, celtic-twinkie, Castiana, Eriana10, darkelf, Zoe Whiteraven, patbaking, serenbach, AletaLune., Arsinoe de Blassenville, roxfox1962, Eva Galena, Snow-queen85, Shakespira, ElaineMcFG, mousestalker, JackOfBladesX, Nithu, Harmakhis, ashelynco, Lillie Cullen, cluaran, Isabella Monroe, musing-scribe, and Warrose. Your reviews really helped me stay on track and often offered up ideas for a following chapter. I can't thank you enough for the help and support. I especially want to thank Ladyamesindy, Windchime68, and Liso66 for reviewing EVERY chapter. You all inspire me to keep writing.