A/N: The premise is that Alistair was the protagonist, and all the Origins happened, and this is the aftermath of his decisions.
Based on Dragon Age: Origins, The Stone Prisoner DLC, and my own imagination. Not consistent with canon from any other source, including books, Awakening, dev comments, etc.
Once, when Eleanor had been very young, she had overheard her parents arguing.
They never argued. It was the first time she had heard them raise their voices to each other—to anyone—and it had frightened her; she'd lingered in the hallway outside her mother's room, her ear pressed against the door, and she had listened and listened with her heart in her throat.
"—we can't risk it," her father was saying, the heavy tread of his boots thumping against the floorboards as he paced. "Eleanor turned out well enough, but Maker knows the next one might carry the taint, or worse—"
"We can't not risk it," her mother had snapped. That had made Eleanor quail; her mother was always cool, always regal, and to hear Queen Anora lose her composure marked—well. The world ending, possibly. "She's a curious child—what if she should wander off a cliff? Or fall into the river? Or—"
"Don't talk about my daughter like that," her father had said, sounding furious. "She's not—she's not some set of robes that might get soiled one day and we'll have to bring out the spare—"
"We need a spare, Alistair! Ferelden needs some more security in its royal line, and children for alliances with the Bannorn, or Orlais or Antiva—"
"Oh, nevermind the robes," said King Alistair, bitter. "No, she's just a pawn, isn't she? You'll marry her off to some Crow assassin just to get a few more trade concessions."
"That isn't what I meant, and you know it."
"Then say what you mean!"
"She's my daughter too, or have you forgotten? And what's more—"
But Eleanor never had a chance to hear what was more. She must have made some sound at that moment, because Anora's voice broke off abruptly, and then bedroom door was swinging open and both her parents were staring down at her, looking astonished.
Her mother recovered first. "You should be in bed," she scolded, kneeling down to look Eleanor in the eye. "What are you doing here?"
"I couldn't sleep," Eleanor said.
Her father was leaning against the doorway, looking unhappy, but he attempted a smile when she glanced up at him. "Did you want a story, sweetheart?" he asked. "I'm sorry. I had something to talk to your mother about."
"Something very important," said Queen Anora, swiftly, in what Eleanor would—years later—recognize as a masterful piece of manipulation. "We were talking about giving you a little brother or sister, Eleanor. Would you like that?"
"Yes," she had said, at last.
Her mother had looked triumphant. Her father had looked resigned.
Two years later, Ferelden had been presented with a new prince.
King Alistair and Queen Anora and Princess Eleanor and little Prince Duncan had all sat for a portrait together. The painting was still in the palace somewhere—covered up and moldering in a dusty corner, most likely—but Eleanor remembered what it looked like: they had stood before a window that looked out into the palace gardens; her father had his hand on Eleanor's shoulder; her mother was cradling the infant Duncan in her arms. Everyone had been smiling. The portrait had been called by the rather unwieldy title of: His Majesty, King Alistair Theirin of Ferelden; his wife, Queen-Consort Anora; and his children, Crown Princess Eleanor and Prince Duncan; in peaceful bliss.
It hadn't lasted.
Even as a child, Eleanor had known that there was something wrong with her brother. It took him more than half a year to sit up and move his head; it took him another six months after that to begin to crawl. Anora locked herself into hushed, worried conferences with healers and midwives. Alistair read books, wrote letters, requested help from the Circle mages. None of it helped. By the age of three, it was apparent that the young prince was—well.
Impaired was the term her mother preferred.
Touched in the head was the term her father used, along with tainted, Blight-ridden, by the Maker we should never have done this, I told you it was a terrible idea but no, no one ever listens to the Grey Warden when he talks about the corruption—
It was the second time Eleanor had ever heard her parents arguing. She had been old enough, then, to feel vaguely guilty about eavesdropping, and so she had snuck away to her brother's nursery to watch his nurse rock him to sleep.
Her father had come in soon afterwards, flustered and angry, and he dismissed the nurse with more abruptness than Eleanor had ever heard him use. "Leave us," he'd snapped. "I'd like some time alone with my children, if you don't mind—"
The nurse scurried out, curtsying hurriedly, and her father had shut the door behind her with something like a slam. "Eleanor," he said sternly. "What have I told you about listening to other people's conversations?"
She hadn't meant to. "I didn't," Eleanor protested. "I didn't hear anything."
His face softened. "I knew you were there," Alistair said, settling himself down in the nurse's chair. In his crib, her brother had awoken and was watching them, wide-eyed; her father glanced between them both and sighed, raking his fingers through his hair. "And I knew you heard things you weren't supposed to. What did you hear, Eleanor?"
"The Blight," she said, coming up close and plucking at her father's sleeve. "You said—you said something about the Blight. But you told me it was over—"
"It is." Her father sounded rueful. "It's—it's complicated, all right? I'll explain you when you're older, I promise."
"Oghren said you ended the Blight," Eleanor said, emboldened. "And he told me a story about—"
"Oh, Maker." Alistair slumped down into the chair, his hand over his face. "Please don't tell me you've been listening to Oghren, sweetheart. Was he drunk when he told you this story? He was drunk, wasn't he?"
"No," she said truthfully. "But Queen Aeducan was."
"Oh, Maker," Alistair said again. He sighed again, reached out to ruffle her hair. "Well, all right, let's hear it. How much have those dwarves corrupted my little princess?"
"They said you had a pint of beer once, and giggled for hours afterwards, and then tripped and fell into a horse trough."
"Oh." And now her father was turning red. "Right. That story. Don't listen to them, they don't know what they're talking about."
"I, ah—" Alistair coughed. "Anyway, look, I came here to talk to you about your brother, all right? Eleanor, you know—you know he's not—" He stopped.
And, with a great effort: "I hope you like him, sweetheart. I'm afraid you're going to have to be happy with just this one brother."
"Two," said Eleanor, without stopping to think about it.
Her father went still.
"What?" Alistair said, staring at her.
Duncan was snuffling quietly. He wasn't crying; he never cried, and he was a little strange but Eleanor had long since decided that she liked him anyway. "Two brothers," she said, crawling into her father's lap. "You forgot one. Can I have a story now?"
Alistair absentmindedly reached out an arm to steady her. "But—" he said, and stopped again. And then: "All right, which one do you want to hear?"
She hardly needed to consider it. "The Wise Scholar and the Princess," Eleanor said decisively. "When they climb the tower, with the flowers, and—"
"You ask for that all the time," said her father. "Don't you know it by heart now?"
"But Duncan's never heard it," she'd protested.
"All right, all right," King Alistair had said, laughing a little as he hoisted her more securely into his lap. "For Duncan, then."
It wasn't until years later that Eleanor thought to wonder where her older sibling was, but by then she was also old enough to realize that life was—well, complicated.
She had been fourteen, fresh from a hunting trip in Highever with Lord and Lady Cousland (and their daughter Victoire, and their passel of handsome young sons, and their kennels and kennels of Mabari hounds), when she'd first realized that there were some couples who shared a bedchamber. Eleanor had known this before, of course, but she hadn't understood—she still wasn't sure that she did.
Eleanor liked romance, of course. But people who loved each other did not get married and have children and grow old together—no, they went on quests and fought dragons and died valiantly. The people who did get married did it for political expediency, her mother explained kindly every time her father bought her another book of fairy tales, and King Alistair would look unhappy but he never disagreed, because that had been why he'd married.
But Lord Aedan Cousland had married for love, and he was the most powerful teyrn in all Ferelden. So: a little puzzling, and then things had become a great deal more puzzling when the dwarves arrived at Denerim.
Queen Aeducan and her retinue had come as emissaries from Orzammar, as they did every few years, and they stayed on for at least a month while the entire palace staff tried not to trip over the dwarves and Eleanor tried to remember all the intricate tangled traditions of other people's monarchies. There was Queen Aeducan (who was also a Paragon, which was somehow more important); there was her not-quite husband Brosca (who wasn't King or King-Consort or even Prince-Consort, but rather something a little more than concubine, and not even her father had been able to explain it very well); there was Lord Harrowmont, the adviser; there were the Queen's three children, Serissa and Endrin and Rica (Crown Princess, but not Prince, and then Princess again, and Eleanor kept forgetting and calling Endrin your highness and he squirmed when he had to correct her); and finally there was Oghren (who was just Oghren, thank the Maker).
Then, with so many of her father's old friends in the city, the others had to come too—Lord and Lady Cousland, of course, and the aging Arl Eamon and his wife Isolde, and Bann Teagan. Less respectably, First Enchanter Amell had arrived from the Circle Tower with three of his apprentices; they had been accompanied by a veritable legion of Templars that stalked around the palace in their heavy plate armor and brooded over everyone as though abominations might come crawling out the walls at any moment. Then the Dalish had sent a few emissaries, amongst them a mage named Surana—who was not an apostate, her father had to keep reminding the Templars, even if she did dress rather outlandishly and throw around spells and—look, just stop waving those swords around, please, or else we'll have another incident with the Dalish on our hands—
It was a very busy month. The palace had been filled to bursting with all sorts of people, and Eleanor and Victoire and Endrin had crept about trying to avoid the Templars and sneak looks at the elves—dangerous and exotic these elves were, with their curling tattoos and haughty demeanor, and they were so different from all the city elves that Eleanor had ever met the she couldn't help but be fascinated by them. And so it hadn't taken her very long to decide that one of them was missing.
"Missing?" Victoire wanted to know, curled up in a corner of the Crown Princess's private gardens and twirling a daisy between her fingers. "What do you mean, missing?"
"There should be another one," Eleanor said. "These are most father's friends from back when he fought the Blight, but there's one more—"
Victoire was frowning, puzzled, but Endrin was nodding. "I know," he said quietly. "Someone isn't here."
"How do you know?" Victoire demanded, setting the daisy in her lap. "No one's said anything."
Eleanor shrugged and shook back her hair. It had been neatly pinned and braided this morning, but since then they'd been ducking into cupboards to avoid Templars and hiding beneath tables to avoid the elven scouts, and so all three of them—Crown Princess and Lady and the not-prince son of royalty—were rather in disarray at this point. "They wouldn't tell us," she said. "I don't think Father likes to talk about it. But I know."
"Yes, well, that's not very helpful," said Victoire.
It was Endrin who explained. "I'm not sure," he said, crinkling up his nose thoughtfully. "But I think it has something to do with how they're all Gray Wardens, and one of them isn't here—and, well, I can feel it."
"Why can't I?" Victoire asked.
Eleanor and Endrin looked at each other. Eleanor shrugged. "Because we're the Gray Warden's children?" Endrin offered. "I know Lord Cousland isn't—"
"But neither is Queen Aeducan," Victoire objected, plucking another daisy.
"Brosca is," Endrin reminded her, and then immediately looked uncomfortable as he did every time he mentioned his parents. "Anyway, so was that elf mage, Surana, wasn't she?"
"Right," Victoire said. She had started to make a daisy chain now. "The Grey Wardens of Ferelden: a human and a dwarf and an elf all working together in perfect harmony, united against the darkness, et cetera, et cetera—"
"Two elves," said Eleanor and Endrin at the same time.
"Right, two elves," said Victoire. And, after a moment: "They never talk about the other elf, in the stories. Where is he?"
Eleanor and Endrin looked at each other again. "I don't know," Eleanor said, "but I think it would be a bad idea to ask my father."
It would also have been a bad idea to ask Endrin's father, or Victoire's, and the elves and mages were all far, far too aloof to approach, so in the end they had taken it upon themselves to get Oghren drunk and wheedle the story out of him. It had been rather more difficult than they had anticipated. Oghren was inclined to be suspicious—even after Victoire bribed him with a bottle of golden Orlesian wine.
"Another elf?" Oghren demanded, peering at them beneath his bushy eyebrows. "What do you mean, another elf? Who's been telling you all these soddin' tales, anyway?"
"People," Endrin said vaguely.
Oghren fixed him with a stare. "People, eh?"
"Elves," Victoire said, and slipped between them, and smiled at Oghren—a wide, sunny smile, full of her mother's famed bardic charm. "We overheard them talking—how one of Father's old friends wasn't here—and we were curious, and wondered who it was—"
"Bloody elves," Oghren said. He knocked back the entire cup of wine and poured himself another. "Always getting themselves into trouble. I'll tell you what, though," he added reminiscently, belching. "That girl could fight."
Eleanor and Endrin glanced at each other. Girl?
"Tell us about her," Victoire wheedled.
"Why aren't you lot asking your parents about this, anyway?" Oghren demanded.
"Because they'll leave out all the good parts," Victoire said winningly. "Father certainly would never have told us about that time you all ended up falling into the lake, and that was really funny—"
"Oh, fine, fine," Oghren grumbled. "What do you want to know?"
By unspoken agreement, Eleanor and Endrin kept their mouths shut and let Victoire work her magic. "How did you meet?" Victoire asked. "She could fight, you said? Was it in a glorious battle against the darkspawn?"
Oghren snorted in laughter, nearly knocking over his goblet. "Oh, it was a glorious battle, all right—with Alistair's trousers, eh? If you know what I mean?"
"You mean," Eleanor said weakly, "my father's trousers had been possessed by—by a demon, or maybe the darkspawn taint got into it somehow and—"
"Nah. They were in camp. Caught them practicing their midnight jousting, aye?"
"So they were, they were fighting each other—"
"Sex," Victoire said succinctly. "They were having sex. Or about to. Go on, Oghren."
"Oh, Maker," Eleanor moaned, and wished desperately for something with which to scrub her brain. Next to her, Endrin was trying not to laugh. She elbowed him, hard, and hit him in the ear.
"Yeah, that," Oghren was saying, oblivious to the trauma she was undergoing. "That elf was a daredevil, she was. Not as bad as Zevran—you know the story where he tried to kill us and got his arse handed to him?—but she was a little thing, even for the knife-ears, and she had this one move where she'd go rolling right through whatever idiots we were fighting and pitch a fire bomb in their faces. Served them right. Kept getting her cut up, though. Had more scars than I did, by the end."
"Did she die?" Victoire asked.
"What? Nah, she was too tough to die. She was a Grey Warden, you know—took the oath with Brosca and Surana, back at Ostagar. She went back to the Alienage, afterwards. Stuck around for a month, then disappeared."
"Wait," Eleanor said. "She and my father were—they were—you know—"
Oghren peered at her. "Aye?"
"You know." Eleanor made a desperate sort of motion in the air with her hands.
"Lovers," Endrin supplied helpfully.
"Yes. That. He never mentioned her."
"He didn't?" said Oghren.
"Ow," said Eleanor, because Victoire had just kicked her under the table, but it was too late; Oghren was frowning at them with his brow furrowed, and looking suspicious again.
"You should ask Alistair about it then," Oghren mumbled into his beard, going suddenly reticent. "He knew her better than I did, anyway. Listen, you lot, I've got to get back before Paragon Aeducan starts looking for me. Stay out of trouble."
And he made a hasty retreat.
"Well," Victoire said, after a moment. "That was interesting."
"Too interesting." Eleanor shuddered. Her father's love life was not something she ever wanted to think about—especially if it hadn't involved her mother. "I am never going to be clean again."
Endrin patted her sympathetically on the hip.
It was months before Eleanor mustered up the courage to speak to her father about it. The dwarves had gone back to Orzammar; the elves had slipped away to their forests and the mages to their tower; Lord Cousland had left to be home in time for the harvest; the palace was feeling very empty now, which left Eleanor with far too much time to think.
Her birthday came and went. She was sixteen. Duncan was nine years old, still playing with blocks on the nursery floor; her elder brother, wherever he was, would be nearly twenty. The darkspawn taint ran through them all, a relic of the war that her father had ended, and for the first time in her life Eleanor was thinking of her parents as something other than father and mother: she had known the stories, of course, and the lessons in her history books, but her father had fought the darkspawn and defeated the archdemon and taken an elf for a lover—
And she loved him, but—her father.
He was a hero to other people, too. It was a strange thought.
"Father," Eleanor said, one chilly winter evening as they were tucking Duncan to bed, "I spoke to Oghren."
"Oghren?" King Alistair instantly looked apprehensive. "He didn't—er—he didn't teach you any drinking songs, by any chance?"
"What?" said Eleanor. And, hastily: "No, no drinking songs," although she filed away the thought for later, "but he did mention some tales of your travels together."
Her father sat down in the chair by Duncan's bed, a storybook already opened in his lap, and frowned at her a little. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Why are you looking at me like that, sweetheart?"
"I just—he mentioned—there was—"
"Are you all right?"
Eleanor took a deep breath, remembered all her lessons on elocution, and plowed on: "He said there was an elf that traveled with you and the two of you were lovers."
King Alistair stared at her. Eleanor tried not to fidget.
"Oh, Maker," her father said at last. "That story."
And all of a sudden he looked very tired, and very sad, and Eleanor didn't know what to do, because her father was—he was the King, and inexhaustible. And a Grey Warden. And a hero—
"I suppose you're old enough, now," Alistair said, almost to himself.
"So it's true?" she blurted out.
Her father glanced at her in surprise. "Of course it's true," he said. "It's not—not a secret, exactly, but not something that gets mentioned often, either. She was—well. We traveled together, and grew very close. She was a Grey Warden, too, you know—initiated at Ostagar, with—"
"I know," Eleanor said. "Oghren told me that. It's just—he said you two were lovers, so I was wondering—my brother—"
"Oh," said King Alistair, in comprehension. And: "No, no, she's not—no. We never had a child together."
Eleanor exhaled in relief.
And then it dawned on her that she did have a second brother, which meant that her father must have taken on two lovers—
"Sweetheart? Are you all right?"
"Erk," said Eleanor.
Her father was staring at her again. "Are you sure?"
"Fine!" Eleanor managed. "I'm fine! Who was my—my brother's mother, then?"
King Alistair sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. Duncan make a quiet sound, a little like a question, and her father patted him absently on the head. "I'll assume you're not talking about Duncan," Alistair said, in a wry attempt at humor. "But no—I can't tell you that, not yet. This one is a secret, sweetheart."
"But," Eleanor said desperately, "but you didn't love her, right?"
"Either of them. That's why—that's why you didn't marry them, right? You liked Mother best?"
And: "I care for your mother's well-being a great deal, Eleanor," said King Alistair, very carefully. "I married her because she was the—the best match, for me."
"But you don't love her," Eleanor said, and it wasn't a question; it was true, her father did not love her mother at all.
Alistair sighed again. "Eleanor—"
"You don't even like Mother," Eleanor said, and was suddenly furious. "You would've rather had that other woman, or, or even the elf—"
"Her name," Alistair said, "is Kallian."
Eleanor wanted to throw something.
Instead she burst into tears and fled.
It was a while before her father sought her out in her own bedroom, so he must have stayed to finish reading the story to Duncan, and by then Eleanor had stopped crying and was unhappily staring at the ceiling.
She didn't answer. King Alistair sighed and came in anyway, shutting the door behind him.
"I'm sorry," he told her.
"For marrying Mother?"
"What? No, for upsetting you." He sat down at the edge of her bed, and Eleanor wished that she were seven again and her father was coming to read her a story, instead of telling her all these things about his life that made her want to cry. "I'm not sorry for you, all right? Or for Duncan. I'm not sorry that—that what I chose brought the two of you here."
"But," said Eleanor, "you would've rather had us with her."
"Yes, that," said Alistair, "that wasn't exactly possible, since we were both Grey Wardens—so no, that couldn't have happened. Er. At all."
"I'll always love you, Eleanor," her father said, very seriously. "Even if your mother and I don't—don't always get along. All right?"
"Your mother can take care of herself."
And it was true, Queen Anora was capable of anything; but Eleanor didn't like to think of her world being different from what she had thought it was. It was all right if her parents didn't love each other the way Lord and Lady Cousland did, but that was different from not wanting each other at all—
"I thought you two were happy," Eleanor said, very small.
"We are happy," Alistair said firmly. "Ferelden is safe, the Blight is over, and we have two lovely children. No one could ask for more."
But everything else was so complicated, and she didn't like it.
Her father was smiling, a little rueful. "I'm sorry, sweetheart," he said. "Life is complicated—but it's all right, you're a clever girl. You'll figure it out."
"Really?" she asked.
"Then," she said, "is there anything else I should know about—"
"Not yet," Alistair said, taking her hand. "You'll figure out a little bit at a time, and it'll all make sense that way, I promise. But if it's all at once, then it'll only confuse you—"
"So there is something else."
"Oh, loads of stuff. Monsters beyond the ken of man! Horrors from the deepest trenches of the mountains! Dwarven cooking!"
"Father," Eleanor said, but she was laughing.
"Do you want to hear a story?" Alistair asked, grinning at her. "It's quite horrifying—and true, too, that's the worst part—once Oghren and I got lost in the woods for days, we had to hunt for ourselves and then he ran out of ale, it was a nightmare—"
So Eleanor went to sleep that night smiling, and in the morning her family sat together at breakfast and Duncan spoke his first sentence and her father did a perfect imitation of the Orlesian ambassador's accent while her mother looked on, torn between amusement and disapproval; everything was as it had been before, and Eleanor could almost forget that her father had done things and known things beyond her comprehension.
It was a little bit of peace.
But the world was changing: relentless and inexorable as the seasons, and Eleanor couldn't pretend that it wasn't, and she couldn't stop it no matter how hard she tried.
A/N: Thank you for reading this story about a girl growing up.