Thanks to mille libri, gerbillmonkey12, Guest, SuperGravyMan, xseikax, Shom, FellowNrd, spectre4hire, anon, lazyguy90, Jade Ookami, hinatalover445, Mike3207, 17986, JordanMathias, Ronin Kenshin, Liso66, Rake1810, acedude and csorciere for your reviews last chapter. Also many thanks to those who have favorited and alerted my story!

As you might have noticed, I'm writing a lot of fanfic for NaNoWriNo...Also, because it might factor in this chapter, you should know that I've never read any of the DA novels, so aside from what details I've picked up from the DA Wiki, I've no knowledge of them. Any derivation from that canon will just have to be considered intentionally AU on my part.

The trip up to Soldier's Peak was uneventful. Alistair and Cauthrien discussed many things during the journey-their childhoods, some of the stories from Corin's and Alistair's year-long quest and some of their plans for the Order's future in Ferelden. There was the occasional awkward moment-Cauthrien couldn't say much of her life beyond her sixteenth year, for that was when she rescued Loghain and he had been central to her life from that point on. Alistair also tried to repress his antipathy for the late Teyrn, which made some of the stories of his last, storied year off limits.

Cauthrien was impressed at her first sight of Soldier's Peak, and astonished for another reason altogether. "How could something the size of this slipped our notice?" she asked Alistair. "We're not that far from Highever, and we had troops all over this part of the country!"

"It's well hidden, tucked back here into the hills like it is," Alistair agreed. "If you were to collapse the tunnels, then no one could get in."

"You couldn't get out, either," Cauthrien noted, her eyebrow raised.

"There is that."

He'd tried to prepare Cauthrien for Avernus, and he wasn't in any hurry himself to greet the old mage. So they carried the chests into the keep, foregoing any help by the Drydens, and Alistair opened the secret door that had contained Warden Commander Asturian's stash. Both chests fit into the compartment handily, and he made sure that Cauthrien knew the Oath so that she could access them, as she was currently the only other Warden. Then he took Cauthrien on a tour of the castle and grounds, knowing that she had much more experience than he did as regarded utilizing and managing such a keep.

Cauthrien had kind words for Levi and his family about the work they'd done to restore the Peak, and she spent some time discussing metallurgy with Mikail. Alistair was beginning to know the woman who was his de facto second-in-command, and from the speculative look in her eye as she looked about, he suspected there were some changes she was contemplating making, however complimentary she might have been.

Having set aside six vials of Archdemon blood for the old mage, Alistair finally took Cauthrien to the tower, warning her in advance that things might be a bit gruesome and in bad repair. But when they arrived in Avernus' chambers, he could have kissed Levi Dryden. The merchant might warn his children away from the tower, but someone had been brave enough to come and repair the huge crack in the wall and clean the ancient corpses out of the laboratory. The chains still remained in the prison pits, causing Cauthrien to raise an eyebrow when she saw them, but the overall atmosphere had been much improved.

Avernus himself seemed to have been cared for as well. His robes were clean and a fireplace had been installed in the room. He was seated near it, reading, when Alistair and Cauthrien came in.

He looked up, his expression pensive. "Come back to check on my research, did you?" he wheezed. "What happened to the other Warden?"

"He killed the Archdemon," Alistair said.

"Ah. I see. A pity, that."

"And he left the Wardens. He's going to be the King of Ferelden."

Avernus' eyebrows lifted. "How exactly did he manage that?"

"It's a long story."

"Limited though my remaining time is, I think I can spare enough to hear your account of that." He even took up parchment and pen to record what Alistair told him.

So Alistair explained about the blood ritual. Not having witnessed it himself, he wasn't able to give Avernus any real information about the actual spells or methodology employed, which annoyed the old mage. But Avernus' mood improved immediately when Alistair gave him the Archdemon blood. His skeletal hands cradled a vial of it almost reverently.

"So you are the Warden-Commander now, Warden Theirin?" Alistair nodded. "You've just made it much more likely that I will be able to complete my research before I die. I had not expected to ever get my hands upon Archdemon blood again, much less in such quantity. I thank you."

"You're very welcome."

"What are you going to do with the rest of it? Send it to Weisshaupt?"

"I've not decided yet."

Avernus cackled. "To the victor go the spoils, heh?"

"More like only the Wardens who actually showed up for the Blight get the blood."

"If that's the criteria we are going to use then we might want to send a bit of it to Jader," Cauthrien noted. "In memory of Riordan."

Alistair nodded. "We might do that." He turned his attention back to Avernus. "I've a question for you, Avernus. Corin's betrothed is pregnant. Because of the ritual, we know that Warden babies carry the Taint. How does it affect them?"

"They don't turn into darkspawn, if that's what you're worried about," the ancient mage snorted. "There isn't any visible sign of the Taint, and they don't seem to have any special abilities. Mind you, two Wardens together can't make a viable child-the Taint is too overwhelming. But the children born to a Warden and non-Warden bear a bit of resistance to the Taint. There have never been very many of them, but of the few instances that have been recorded, all of the children of Wardens who hazarded the Joining survived. Every single one." Avernus actually chuckled, a creepy, croupy sound.

"I once suggested to Sophia that it would be sensible to insist that all newly joined Wardens have babies while they could, so that we could raise up a new crop of Wardens without the death toll the current Joining enacts. But we never put it into practice."

"What happens when those Tainted children have children?"

"If they have not Joined themselves and have children with a non-Warden, I don't expect that there would be a problem. After all, they'd be diluting the Taint even further. A doubly-Tainted Warden? Interesting question. You might try yourself and let me know what happens."

"What are you talking about?"

"The children of Wardens bear the Taint they received from the Joining and there's also a sort of shadow-Taint from their Warden parent. It's discernable to a Warden mage. I see it when I look at you."

"What are you saying?"

"That one of your parents was a Grey Warden," came Avernus' mild response.

Shocked, Alistair stared at the wizened old mage. "That's not possible! My father was King Maric and my mother was a serving woman at Redcliffe Castle."

"Are you absolutely sure of that?"

"About my father, yes."

"Then it was your mother who was the Warden." Wide-eyed, Alistair looked over at Cauthrien, who seemed rather coolly intrigued.

"I expect there's a certain arl who will have a lot to answer for when we get back to Denerim," she said with an evil smile.

Avernus agreed to make sufficient base for a dozen Joining potions the Wardens could take with them, a simple enough matter now with the Archdemon blood on hand. He further agreed to make more of it and store it at Soldier's Peak, along with a copy of the formula so that they would not be left in the lurch should he perish in the next few months. Instructions for combining the formula with the darkspawn blood were sent with Cauthrien and Alistair.

"Any reasonably competent mage of Enchanter rank or better should be able to do this for you," he said.

Having achieved everything they had come for, Ferelden's only two Wardens were not inclined to hang about, particularly considering the huge amount of work that was still going on in Denerim. Avernus also seemed eager for them to go, so that he could begin his experiments anew. After checking with the Drydens about what they might need in the way of building materials or provisions, Alistair, Cauthrien and Pooka took their leave.

They were half a day out from Soldier's Peak when Cauthrien brought the subject of conversation around to Avernus' revelation.

"Alistair, I'd like to talk to you about something, but it's something that you might rightly feel is none of my business. So if you do feel that way, feel free to tell me to shut up."

"You're my Warden sister. Wardens take care of each other. Go ahead."

Cauthrien took a deep breath. "All right then. There has to be something more to this business about your mother. What I mean is that there had to be more to the story than just her being a Warden. I'd lay money on it."

"Why do you say that?"

"Despite the fact that the Wardens have been in disfavor for a long time here in Ferelden, I have to think that Eamon would have told you about this before now. Particularly since you saved him at Redcliffe and he found out you'd been made a Warden and most definitely since the Blight has been ended. Which makes me think there's something else he doesn't want you to know."

"I've been wondering about that myself. Coming up with the most horrible scenarios," Alistair agreed, his expression glum. "Like Father killing Mother, or Mother turning into a broodmother or a ghoul. Stuff like that. The only bright point in all this is that if it's true, Goldanna is no relation of mine."


"Oh, that's right. I didn't tell you about her. She's supposedly my half-sister." He recounted his visit to Goldanna with Corin in Denerim. Cauthrien whistled when he was done.

"I don't think I'd want to claim her as a relative either. What a cold piece of work! I can see why being free of her would be a big plus for you."

"Yes, it would. But now I'm waiting for the other boot to drop. I can't live like that. I've got to find out what the true story is as soon as we get back."

"Ah, Warden-Commander! The Queen put the word out that she would appreciate it if you would report to her as soon as you got in," the guard at the front entrance to the Palace said.

"She'd probably like it better if I cleaned up first," Alistair said.

"I wouldn't know about that, sir. She seemed to feel it was pretty urgent." Alistair nodded, and bade Cauthrien good-bye.

"Do let me know what happens if you can get Eamon to talk," she said. "I'm off to a bath and a big supper."

"Thanks for everything, Cauthrien. I'll check with you tomorrow after I've spoken with the Queen and Prince about what still needs to be done in Denerim. If they've got things in hand, we might want to go out of the city and start searching for straggler darkspawn."

"I'd like that better than demolishing houses," Cauthrien noted.

Alistair nodded. "Pook, you're with me." He went off in search of his own bath.

When he was cleaned up and respectable (a selection of reasonably nice garments having mysteriously found their way into his wardrobe in his absence), he inquired after the Queen's location and was told she was taking supper with the Prince in the Prince's room. Pooka had already returned to Corin on his own.

His knock on the door was answered by an enthusiastic command to enter from Corin. He and the Queen were eating dinner at a small table near a window. Alistair was pleased to see this further sign of Corin's recovery. Pooka was dozing by the fireplace.

"How was Avernus?" the Crown Prince asked with a grin. "Did he miss me?"

"He did in fact ask after you, and was rather surprised to find that you were still here. And he was annoyed that I couldn't give him all the proper, magey details about how you pulled that off. Other than that, he was the same creepy, crackly, nasty old piece of work he always is. But he did help me with that problem I had."


"Did you ask him about the children, Alistair?" Anora asked, a sudden tension plain upon her face.

"I did, Your Majesty. According to Avernus, the Taint doesn't affect them in any visible way. Doesn't give them any advantages either. The only thing it does do, as far as he knows, is that if the child of a Warden undergoes the Joining, he or she always survives. So I think you'll be just fine."

The Queen sighed. "Thank you. That's quite the relief."

"You're very welcome, Your Majesty."

"Anora, Alistair. Please."

Corin's eyebrow was up. "They always survive the Joining? You'd think the Wardens would be breeding more Wardens then, wouldn't you?"

"Avernus said something of the sort as well," Alistair said with a smirk. "Guess you two think alike in some ways." A roll flew towards his head in retaliation and he snatched it out of the air deftly. "But it probably didn't catch on for one reason. If you were a Warden, and had a son or daughter you loved, would you want them to be a Warden too?"

"I see your point." Corin looked over at the Queen. "Do you mind if Alistair joins us, Anora?"

"Not at all." She rang a small bell on the table and Erlina poked her head through the door that connected the Queen's quarters to Corin's.

"Erlina, would you be so kind as to see if some dinner might be brought for the Warden-Commander? He's joining us."

"Of course, Your Majesty." She dropped a curtsey in the general direction of the table and vanished back into the room, shutting the door behind her.

"Pull up a chair, Alistair," Corin said, moving some dishes to make room for him at the side of the table. When Alistair had done so, moving one of the fireside chairs over and nibbling on the roll, the Crown Prince asked, "Everything else all right up there?"

"Just fine," Alistair said between bites. ",But I think we owe Levi Dryden some sort of token of appreciation. Apparently the Drydens, in their zeal for picking up the place, even cleaned up Avernus' laboratory."

"Wow. Have we got any spare bannorns lying about, Anora?"

"Corin. You're not serious, are you?"

"You haven't seen Avernus' laboratory!" He smiled at her furrowed brow. "No, I'm not serious."

"The trip went just fine, all around. We didn't see hide or hair of darkspawn. It was very quiet. But there's one other thing."

"What is that?" Corin asked, sobering in the face of Alistair's sudden and obvious discomfort.

"When we were talking about the Warden children, Avernus said that he didn't know much about what happened when they had children, but that he figured it would be all right, so long as they married a non-Warden and kept diluting the Taint."

"That makes sense to me."

"What he couldn't tell me was what happened when one of those Warden children who became Wardens had children. He told me to go do it and find out, and when I asked him what he was talking about, he said that I was one of those, that he could see the shadow of the parental Taint in me, as well as the Joining Taint."

Corin was as sharp as ever. "But that would mean that one of your parents was a Warden!"


"Then Eamon lied to you about your mother being one of his maids?" Anora asked.

"It looks that way."

"It's incontestable that Maric was your father," Corin said. "Or at least, hard to contest. Eamon told me he had proof of your parentage, though I've never actually seen it. It might be time to have those documents put in Crown hands."

Anora's eyes were narrowed and very chilly. "I agree, Corin. We should probably see to that tonight." She looked up at Alistair and her expression softened. "I would imagine that you wish to speak with Eamon, Alistair. Would you like to do that alone, or would you like witnesses?"

"I…I would really appreciate it if the two of you were there. I don't think he'd dare do anything but give us the straight story if you were."

"Then we shall do it here," the Queen said, with a firm nod. "After dinner." As if on cue, Alistair's stomach made a protesting growl. Anora laughed. "And the sooner, the better from the sound of things. I've not much of an appetite myself at present, but it's nice to see that other people still do!"

Despite his worry over his parentage, Alistair was able to do dinner justice when it was brought. It had been a three day journey, after all, and even though Cauthrien had turned out to be a decent camp cook (and had assumed the cooking duties permanently after eating Alistair's offering the first night on their way up to the Peak), it was still travel food. There are decided advantages to keeping company with royalty during a time of Blight.

Though the royal couple weren't eating particularly lavishly. The dinner, when it was brought, was hot and excellently prepared, but modest of proportion, though there were some more of the excellent rolls. Alistair made short work of it while the three of them discussed the progress made in Denerim in his absence.

"If you and Cauthrien want to give the city a general going over, make sure we didn't miss any pockets of Taint, that would be great," Corin said. "In your absence, we've mostly been taking down the stuff that was burned and halfway falling down already. But it would be nice to know if all of the building materials we salvaged are safe."

"Sounds like you're getting back on the horse," Alistair noted.

"We held Council meetings in Corin's room for three days, then he felt well enough to come to the Council chambers," Anora said. "I must say, Grey Wardens are resilient."

"Yes, we are," her betrothed agreed. "In fact, I need to talk with you about a particular aspect of that resiliency sometime soon, Anora." He waggled a brow in her general direction and the Queen blushed.

"Corin! For Maker's sake, not while I'm eating!" Alistair declared, and they all laughed.

When Alistair was done with his meal, Anora rang for Erlina and had her summon a footman to bring Arl Eamon to them. Alistair almost wished he hadn't eaten dinner, because his stomach started roiling badly as he waited. He was always so conflicted where Eamon was concerned, a boy's blameless love overlaid with the adolescent resentment caused by his abandonment and the adult's cynical realization of how Eamon had been using him as a pawn.

Anora had made plain that the matter was urgent and that she would brook no delay, so in a very short time the arl was announced. That was actually impressive, as Corin and Anora knew that he'd gone home to his townhouse. Eamon looked tired after the day's meetings, but that weariness was swiftly overlaid with a wary curiosity when confronted with the three of them.

"Your Majesty. Your Royal Highness. Alistair. Your message said that it was urgent. What has transpired?"

Corin gestured expansively to Alistair. "He's all yours."

Alistair took a deep breath. When he spoke, he was surprised to find that his voice was level, unemotional, even crisp. "My lord arl. During my visit up to Soldier's Peak, I uncovered something very interesting. Someone who has cause to know said that one of my parents was a Warden. So I'd like to know-have you been lying about the King being my father all along, or the fact that one of your maids was my mother?"

Anora was suddenly pure Ice Queen. "Yes, Eamon, that is something We," and a sweep of her hand included Corin in the royal plural as well, "would very much like to know as well."

Alistair had been wondering if Avernus could have been mistaken, but Eamon's reaction confirmed that the old Warden mage had been right on the money. Or at the very least that Eamon was hiding something about Alistair's parentage. Cauthrien would have won her bet. The Arl went pale, paler even than when he'd been poisoned. There was a long moment of silence.

"Eamon, We are waiting for your answer," Corin said and if his tone was less cool than Anora's, it was no less inexorable.

"I…Your Majesties…" the arl stammered, then collected himself. "This is something that I had hoped would never come to light."

"Obviously," Anora said, her lip curled. "But it has, and your best hope is to come clean about Alistair's parentage swiftly, Eamon. We do not appreciate being lied to."

"I did not lie about Alistair's father. Maric did sire you, lad, and I do have the proofs."

"Speaking of which, Eamon, such proofs are most properly kept in the Crown's possession, as they concern the legitimacy of the Theirin bloodline," Corin said with an authority that could not be denied. "Admittedly, that was not advisable during the recent unrest, but things have settled out now. So I suggest that you send for them and any other information you have about Alistair's parentage and have them brought here immediately." Eamon glanced at Anora, only to receive a glacial nod of agreement.

"The documents are sensitive, Your Majesties…"

"Then go and get them yourself now or send to Teagan to bring them!" Anora snapped.

"Just send for Teagan," Corin suggested mildly. "I think it might be best to keep the Arl right here, under Our eyes." Eamon actually went paler still, as he finally realized the depth of the hole he'd been dropped into. "I'm assuming they're all in one place, Eamon? One box or book or something you can tell him to fetch?"

"Yes, Your Royal Highness."

"Good." Corin rose and moved a bit stiffly over to the desk, where he got parchment, pen and ink and brought it back to the dinner table. "Write him now, and We will read it before you seal."

The arl looked around at them all for a moment, before beginning to write. When he was done, Corin and Anora looked it over. "The brown folio in your lockbox," the Queen said. "Very well. Sit, love," she said to Corin, as he began to rise again. "You've been on your feet enough today." Eamon looked startled at her mode of address. Alistair was a little surprised himself, but Corin was obviously not and obediently subsided, giving his Queen a grin and an ostentatiously blown kiss.

"I'll do it this time," the Queen said, a smile flitting briefly across her face before it resumed its former gravity. She fetched the sealing wax to Eamon and watched as the arl sealed the note and handed it to her. Then she rang for a footman.

"Summon a captain of Maric's Shield and a squad of twelve," she told the startled servant. "I have an errand for them, of some urgency and delicacy." When he had departed, Anora closed the door and turned back to the Arl.

"That will take a little time. Not much, but a little. In the meantime, you may as well start talking, Eamon."

"Shortly after Rowan died," Eamon said heavily, "Maric was approached by the Orlesian Commander of the Grey. Since he had let the Grey Wardens back into the country, Warden-Commander Genevieve thought that he might be sympathetic to her plight. Her brother, who was also a Warden, had been taken by the darkspawn and was being held close to…Ortan Thaig, I think they called it? Maric and Loghain were the only two people who'd been down in that section of the Deep Roads."

The arl sighed. "From things Maric said, it was more important than just rescuing one Grey Warden. Genevieve's brother had some sensitive information that needed to be retrieved. And Maric had received information from somewhere that indicated a Blight might be rising in Ferelden in the immediate future, and he hoped to forestall it." Eamon grimaced. "Obviously, he and the people who went down with him into the Roads were not able to do that, whatever else they managed to accomplish."

The arl started pacing slowly about the room, a sign of rare unease in a person who usually exhibited extreme self-possession.

"I honestly don't know how much of what Maric told me was true, and how much of that was to make myself and Loghain think better of Maric for skipping out on his duties as king. He was grieving Rowan, having trouble dealing with Cailan, and honestly, rather chafed at the day-to-day chores of ruling a country. So off he went, down into the Deep Roads, with Genevieve and Duncan and a band of other Wardens."

"Duncan was with him?" Alistair asked.

"Oh, yes," the arl said. "As well as a young Warden named Fiona. Fiona was your mother, Alistair. She and Maric became lovers down in the Deep Roads. I still don't know exactly what happened, but when they came out of the Roads, there was some treachery on the part of the First Enchanter, the one before Irving, and they were captured. Loghain was forced to take an army to rescue them. Maric resumed his duties as king, and Fiona went off to Weishaupt to make a report on what had transpired. It was all Grey Warden stuff and very hush-hush. Fiona returned some months later to Denerim, with Maric's child in her arms. That was you, Alistair. She said that her Warden duties precluded her raising you properly. And there were other reasons, reasons she felt that made it a better choice for you to be raised here."

"Because being raised in a stable was so much better than being raised at Weisshaupt?" Alistair asked bitterly. Eamon possessed the grace to wince.

"Your mother thought it better that your connection to her not be known, and Maric and I agreed. That's why he gave you into my keeping and I concocted the tale that you were the son of a maid who had recently died as a cover story."

"Come now, Eamon, what was so bad about this young woman, a brave Grey Warden, that it could not be known that Alistair was her son?" Anora asked with a touch of impatience. The arl stopped in his tracks and turned to face them.

"Because not only was Fiona Orlesian, she was an elf. And a mage."

A stunned silence greeted the arl's announcement for a moment. Then Alistair laughed, and it was the ugliest sound Corin had ever heard him make. His voice was uncharacteristically harsh when he spoke.

"Well! That explains a lot! No wonder you didn't want anybody else fostering me, my lord arl! It wouldn't have done if Maric's bastard suddenly exhibited mage gift, now would it? Half-elves just look human, but it's a little harder to hide the fact that the royal by-blow just burned the barn down by accident! By the way, I think you owe your horses and hounds an apology, for putting them in danger like that!"

Eamon threw up a hand. "You've every right to be angry, Alistair. Any number of people have rightfully upbraided me for my shortcomings where caring for you was concerned." His glance crossed Corin's for an instant. "But I was certain that you were going to manifest mage gift-Fiona was a very powerful mage. And it just seemed safer-and easier- to…keep you at a distance, if you were going to end up in the Tower in a few years anyway. And safer for Maric and Cailan as well. I didn't want any question rising about the possibility of mage-blood in the Theirin line." He rubbed his brow. His pacing had brought him close to one of the wingback chairs.

"Your Majesties, may I sit?"

Anora inclined her head. "You may." Eamon pulled the chair around so that he was facing them and dropped heavily into it.

"Then, after I married Isolde, and she started making such a fuss about you, I thought it might be best to send you to the Templars. The gift had not manifested yet, but it was still not too late for it to do so in the next couple of years. If you were in their keeping already, you'd be sent off to the Circle quietly and it was unlikely that it would ever be known. And if you did not manifest mage gift, well…there are worse places to get an education and instruction in arms." He sighed.

"But the gift never manifested in you. It came to Connor, my only son. And now he'll have to go to the Circle. And so the Maker punishes me for my failings where you were concerned."

"You told me once, Alistair, that Duncan knew you were Maric's son," Corin said to his friend. He then turned to the arl. "I'm assuming he knew about Fiona as well?"

"Yes. Of course."

"And did Cailan?"

"Yes. Maric told him everything."

"Then that explains why Cailan never acknowledged you, took you away from the Templars. He didn't want the mage blood and he wasn't particularly desperate yet about getting his own progeny. Begging your pardon, Anora."

"No pardon needed, Corin."

"But you were his last best hope at Ostagar, so he sent you with me to Ishal to save us. It also explains Duncan's timing about making you a Warden. He waited as long as he could, willing to defer to Cailan should Cailan decide to acknowledge you in some capacity. But when Cailan didn't and you were going to have to take final vows, then Duncan asked you if you would like to be a Warden. Because once the Chantry got its hooks in you like that, and got you addicted to lyrium, you'd never be free again. Had you had a genuine vocation, he probably would have let you go. But you wanted out, and he was your only chance of escape. And you were good enough to be a Warden in any event, or he wouldn't have asked you even then. We both know about how ruthless Duncan could be."

Alistair nodded. His face was grim as he mulled over the new information. My mother has a name at last. Fiona. And she wasn't a maid, she was a Grey Warden. And an elf. And a mage.

"Mother" had always been a faceless concept to him, an indistinct figure in maid's uniform, shadows where her face would be. Had anything really changed? Now she was an indistinct figure in mage robes, holding a staff, with pointed ears protruding from the shadows where her face would be. Not much difference, really, except…Alistair brightened a little.

"On the bright side, I guess that business about an arldom is over with now," he said.

Corin looked both relieved and amused. He had obviously been watching, worried about Alistair's reaction. "Why ever would you think that?"

"Come on, Corin! Did you miss the part about elf-blood and mage-blood?"

"No." The Crown Prince shrugged. "But the elf-blood doesn't show, and it looks as if you take after your father where the mage-blood is concerned. If we find the right girl with no mage blood in her background, I don't think it will be a problem." Belatedly, he threw a look at Anora. "Providing, of course, that Anora has no objection."

The Queen gave Alistair a smile that had genuine warmth in it. "I have no objection whatsoever. My search for appropriate wife-candidates for you will still continue, Alistair. You're not off the hook." Alistair groaned, and her smile broadened. Then her attention turned back to Eamon and that warmth evaporated. "And my betrothed and I would take it very much amiss if any information leaked out that would jeopardize insuring Alistair a place that his abilities and blood merit. Is that understood, Eamon?"

"There would be no reason for me to do so, Your Majesty," the arl replied with some dignity-and a little heat. "I too wish to see Alistair elevated as he deserves. Obviously so, since I kept this information from even you and the Crown Prince and am now paying the price for that."

"Fair enough," Anora said. A sound of clanking was echoing down the hall, coming towards them. "Ah. I think the escort is here."

It was the work of moments to give the captain his orders and the message for Teagan. Once the soldiers were gone, Anora came back in and in an effort to lighten the atmosphere while waiting for Teagan, she and Corin began discussing the day's Council meeting with Eamon. Alistair listened with one ear for the most part, though his attention was piqued when what the mages were accomplishing was brought up.

It seemed that, along with helping to clear Denerim and incinerating darkspawn bodies from a safe distance, the mages were also working on a stretch of Blighted land close by the walls of the city. A grid-work of plots was laid out and numbered, and they were using a variety of magical spells, different approaches to each plot. The plan was to seed all the plots identically in the spring and see if any of the spell combinations had dispelled the Taint.

"It sounds like they're keeping busy," Alistair remarked. Corin nodded.

"Even though it's not been proven that magic is really helping anything yet, the fact that it does purify has gotten around. People have seen what the mages are doing in Denerim. We've had numerous requests from lords and yeoman farmers for mages to come and sear their Blighted land. The general belief is, even if it doesn't actively help, it might keep the Blight from spreading further."

"I'll bet Gregoir is overjoyed about that. Isn't he spread a little thin?"

"A bit. But I'm inclined to think he's content to let things ride for now. The mages are behaving, and people are being very complimentary of the way his men are keeping charge of them. It's good publicity for the Chantry. Even the Grand Cleric is keeping her mouth shut. There is still such a need for healers, for one thing, that if she were to insist that they all go back to Kinloch, it would cost a lot of lives and cast the Chantry in a less-than-favorable light."

"How is Surana getting along? Have you seen her?"

"Oh, yes. She recovered quite nicely. She's been at dinner every night. Irving is keeping her busy."

"Burning buildings down and searing plots of land?"

"Yes. Why?" Corin asked, his brow raised inquisitively.

"I've been thinking. I hate to admit this, but I sort of miss Morrigan's death-and-destruction. It's just nice to have a mage around who can do fire spells when you're dealing with darkspawn."

"Are you thinking of Conscripting her?" the Crown Prince asked quietly.

"No. Not unless she were willing and I absolutely had to do it to get her." Alistair looked over at Eamon, then at Corin and said no more about his reservations upon that matter with non-Wardens present. The plain fact of the matter was that he liked Surana too much to risk her in the Joining. "But I was wondering if there wasn't some way she could be remanded over to the Wardens as a…I'm not sure what the correct term would be."

"A liason?" Anora suggested. "A sign of good faith and cooperation between the Wardens and the Circle?"

"Yes…that might work. Do you think Gregoir and Irving would go for it? Surana's awfully good in a fight. And I think she'd probably prefer to do that to Firestorming farmland."

"You won't know unless you ask," Corin said. "You're the Commander of the Grey, and you helped kill the Archdemon. Use that political capital to get what you want. If anyone should ask, you've got the Crown's support and approval." He looked at Anora, who nodded her head.

"We want you to have whatever tools and people you need to do your job, Alistair," she said. "But you're the one who knows best what that job is at this point. How much more trouble from the darkspawn can we expect?"

Alistair sat back in his chair. "Here is where Duncan's teaching of me falls down a bit," he admitted ruefully, focusing a quelling glare on Corin, who'd snickered. "We were concentrating so much on how Blights start and stopping them, that he never got around to much about what happens afterward. All he told me was that the Wardens called the period right after a Blight a Thaw, and their actions during that time a Thaw Hunt. He said that there was still more darkspawn activity than normal, as they all made their way back down under ground."

"Needless to say, the Crown of Ferelden upholds the Warden Right of Conscription," Anora declared, with a meaningful look at her betrothed. "And we'll do whatever we can to get you the supplies and men you need, be they conscripts or regular army. Are you planning on doing patrols?"

"I've not spoken to Cauthrien about it yet, but I'm thinking the best thing to do is for each of us to take a sizeable squad and go over the immediate area around Denerim for a start. That will hopefully give us a good idea of what the extent of the problem is. Then, when we get Denerim sorted, we can start going further afield."

"It sounds like a good plan to me," Corin said approvingly. "Who knows, maybe I'll come out and help you at some point."

"Not any time soon!" Anora informed him severely.

"I can see that I am going to have to prove my physical competence to you in the near future," the Crown Prince told his betrothed. "You know-that thing I spoke of earlier?"

Anora sighed. "I begin to have sympathy for Wynne and her dislike of griffons," she said. The Crown Prince chuckled.

A knock at the door sounded. Alistair rose and went to open it. There he found Teagan, carrying a folio under his arm, a slightly alarmed expression upon his face.

"In the name of the Maker, Eamon! What is going on here? Is there some reason I've been brought here under arrest?"