It was everything I had expected and nothing like it. As I hurtled towards the undead dragon, as I calculated the best place for my blades to hit, it turned to me and spoke. As in inside my head. As in to me.
In my mother's voice.
Darling, you cannot do this. You must retreat, save yourself. This is not a fight you will win.
At first I was shocked into stopping, only a shout from a nearby archer alerted me to the dragon turning its deadly flame my way, which allowed me a split second to leap aside, though my mother's voice echoed inside my head as if she were standing beside me. No, I thought, shaking my head. No, she would not say that. She would never tell me to run from a fight.
My blades bit deep into the tender spot just below the joint where the demon's hind leg met its body, its scream of fury stunning everyone within earshot.
Then my father spoke.
Fall back, pup. This is folly. Do not throw your life away for this. You will fail.
It can pluck the voices of the dead from my mind, I thought, gritting my teeth as I coated my blades with poison. Do not listen...it is a lie. One of the wings, the one that Riordan had managed to rip, swooped over me, and my sword found it readily. To the front of the dragon, I could see Alistair and Shale pummeling the dammed thing for all they were worth, Wynne well behind them surrounded by a haze of light. My friends were with me, and it gave me heart. You will not live to see the end of this day, demon, I thought, hope flooding my body as I raised my blades. I will be your undoing.
And again, I was wrong.
My love, please do not throw your life away!
It can pluck the voices of the dead from my mind...
Duncan's dagger fell from my hand as I stood, deaf and blind to the chaos that surrounded me. He is dead, he is gone...there is nothing left for me but despair. In that moment, when all hope fled from my mind, when my life was forfeit, it was then that I found the resolve to fulfill whatever bits of destiny were left to me. I didn't know if Morrigan's ritual was valid, nor did I care; I was tired and wanted to end this, once and for all. My body moved of its own volition, arcing through the air towards the creature to sink my blade into its skull with a force that I did not know that I possessed. Time was still. The people that had fought with me and their malformed foes vanished, leaving only me and the dragon. When my father's blade bit into its skull, I felt a great tremor overtake me. Looking down, I saw a streak of white light erupting from where I stood...
And then there was darkness.
I was dead.
Strangely, there was shouting all around, frantic voices, confusion, footsteps beside my head, which concerned me, because I'd always been told that all is peaceful when you go to the Maker. This isn't right, I thought. This isn't how it should be. My eyes refused to open, but I am stubborn.
"Thank the Maker!"
A voice said my name, a voice that told me I was dead. "My love? Can you hear me?"
I forced my eyes to open, to stare into his. Even in death, he was perfect. I smiled, but then I noticed the brightness in his eyes. "Are you hurt?" I asked, confused. "It's not supposed to hurt, but my arm feels like hell."
"Wynne, get over here!" he shouted, glancing behind him. "You are not dead, my sweet Warden. Not yet, anyway."
The frown made my entire face ache. "But...why are you here? I don't understand."
"I am not dead," he said, stroking my hair. "And neither are you, though there is apparently some confusion on that point." He turned again, his voice strained. "Wynne! Where are you?"
"I see her," Alistair's voice sounded above me. "I'll fetch her."
He's not dead, I thought, closing my eyes with relief. When I opened them, I noticed a laceration on his upper arm. "You're hurt," I said, reaching towards him. "Why haven't you had Wynne look at that?"
He sighed and shook his head. "Don't worry about me, you silly thing! I'm fine." He touched my lips once, making me smile. "Now, I am, anyway." We remained so for the next few moments before Wynne approached and gave me some draught or another that made my eyelids heavy. I felt myself being raised up, carried across the stone courtyard, though it was an effort to stay awake; Zev was beside me the whole time. The last thing that I saw before sleep claimed me were his eyes, watching me with an intensity I had not seen before. In that moment, I was utterly happy. "She was right," I whispered, thinking of Morrigan. "That crazy bitch was right."
The Hero Of Ferelden.
Ugh. It sounded like a name torn from a bad adventure story, but Alistair was quite pleased with it, so everyone humored the new King, and I endured countless banquets and fetes thrown in the honor of that name. After the coronation, of course.
The night after the Archdemon was slain, Alistair came to see me in the healer's quarters of the Denerim palace. He stood in the doorway to my room, clad in a simple tunic and breeches and looking for all the world like the clumsy, shy almost-Templar that I had met over a year ago. Zevran was with me, naturally, though he excused himself from the room, sensing that I needed to speak with the King alone. Alistair came to sit beside my bed, not speaking for several minutes until I grew impatient.
"I can hardly believe it's over."
He nodded and looked at his hands, folding and unfolding them in his lap. Finally he spoke. "Arl Eamon informed me that it is tradition for the King to grant one in your position a boon at such a time as this. I wanted to ask you about it now, if you wanted time to think on it." He looked up. "Maybe granting Howe's lands to your family or something? I dunno."
"Or, you know," he added. "I could release you from your promise...to me. I was thinking about it, and what are the odds that we'll even be able to have children, you know? Everyone loves the Wardens now, but give 'em a few years without an heir...Eamon thinks there may be unrest."
"And what does the King think?"
He frowned. "I care for you, and I always will. But I know you, too well, maybe, and I know that you would not be happy here. It is selfish for me to hope otherwise."
Something fluttered in my chest; remorse, or hope, I was not certain anymore. "I care for you, too. But I...I would not make a good Queen. Not now, anyway." I put my hand over his. "You, however, will make an excellent one, I think, provided you cut back on the bad jokes."
At this he gave a sheepish grin. "They aren't that bad, are they?"
"Much worse." We shared a chuckle, then he stood to leave.
"Well, I'll let you rest. I'm surprised that Wynne allowed Zev to stay here-she barely let me in the room as it was."
I grinned at him. "I can be very persuasive when I need to be." The door opened and he spoke quietly to Zev, who had been waiting in the hall, I guessed, before his footsteps trailed off.
My assassin returned to my side, a thick mug of tea in each hand, one of which he gave to me. "What was that all about? He looked so...forlorn?"
The tea was hot, though I could tell that it was laced with more of Wynne's healing herbs. Soon I'd be out cold. "He offered me a boon for...well, everything, I suppose." I eyed him over the rim of my cup; he seemed relaxed, but I could tell that he was listening intently. "And we agreed that it's really best if there is only one Warden on the throne," I said at last. "After all, the chances that he and I could produce an heir are minute, at best, and I have no wish to stay in Denerim and-"
Without a word he set his mug down, reached for mine and set it down as well, then leaned forward and kissed me soundly, murmuring to me in Antivan as he did when he was truly happy, and I am certain that if Wynne knew what we were doing in my room she would have heartily disapproved.
The announcement was made the next day, to an almost audible sigh of relief among the gentry, for though I was well-liked, speculation about my lack of child-bearing abilities had already begun. So, I was to remain the Warden Commander, the Hero of Ferelden, and not Queen.