To all who have PM'd me or waited silently for this story to update, I do apologize. Something happened fandom related that killed my desire to write any Dragon Age stuff for a long time. But you are owed the end of the story, so I'll do my best to finish it. And I'll try to go back and answer all the PMs that have built up. Thanks so much for your interest and patience!
One day the Maker chanced to cast His eyes
In the direction of that creation which had displeased Him so.
And He heard a song upon a hilltop,
Sweeter than the voices of the birds which He had made.
For the first time, he beheld Andraste,
And His ire abated and he remembered what He had forgotten.
He remembered Love.
Sister Agnetha's voice was a golden benison as she sang the words of the traditional wedding hymn. When she finished, there was a long moment of utter and appreciative silence from the audience. Then the Grand Cleric stepped forward with a stole of white and gold, and bound Corin's and Anora's left hands together.
"On the day you were betrothed," she said, "you started on the journey that has led you to this day, the journey towards each other. You are starting a new journey now, together, to become one in the Maker's sight, to create life even as He created the world. This is a sacred purpose and this oath should not be taken lightly or frivolously." She turned to Anora. "Therefore do you, Anora Mac Tir Theirin, Queen of Ferelden and Teyrna of Gwaren, desire to join your life with this man? Will you honor him and work with him, will you weather all the difficulties and joys life brings with him, cleaving unto him only until such time as you are parted by death?"
"I will." Absolutely, my beloved!
"And you, Corin Maric Cousland, Crown Prince of Ferelden, Heir to Highever. Do you desire to join your life with this woman? Will you honor her and work with her, will you weather all the difficulties and joys life brings with her, cleaving unto her only until such time as you are parted by death?"
"I will." Corin's voice was firm, resonant, and his fingers twined into Anora's as he took the oath.
"Are there rings?" Elemina asked.
"There are," Corin said. He released Anora's hand, only to take it up again immediately after Fergus handed him her wedding band. He slid it gently onto her finger.
"With this ring I plight my troth to you and pledge that I am yours in this world, until death take me, and at the Maker's side beyond," he said with calm surety. Anora almost shivered for a moment at the force of the oath. Teyrna Eleanor had to give her a little nudge along with Corin's ring.
"With this ring, I plight my troth to you," she said with a smile that verged on tremulous. She was feeling such a chaotic swirl of emotions that she couldn't put name to any of them, and her usual cool certainty was shot. How much of it was the baby humors and how much her own fears and wishes was impossible to say. "I pledge that I am yours in this world, until death take me, and at the Maker's side beyond." She slid the ring onto Corin's finger. His hand closed around hers for a moment and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
"Then by the divine authority invested in me, and in the presence of these witnesses, I do sanctify this union and bless it in the name of the Maker and His Bride." Elemena's mouth twitched into a genuine smile. Despite her own reservations about the royal couple's possible future intransigence, she did love performing weddings.
"You may now officially kiss your bride," she instructed Corin, as the Landsmeet clapped and whooped and cheered. That cheering only intensified when he turned to Anora, wrapped his arms about her and kissed her in earnest.
In deference to the solemnity of the moment, Corin left her feet on the floor for once. But to Anora, having claimed him at last, it felt as if she were flying nonetheless.
Alistair, watching, was relieved. It was obvious that there was genuine affection between the two royals, that Corin wasn't having to make a sacrifice of any kind. And having come to know the Queen a little better over the last few weeks, Alistair found her to be much more personable than Morrigan! Beside him, Fergus was grinning, which was a welcome change from the uncharacteristically somber solemnity he'd exhibited when they first entered the Landsmeet. Corin had told Alistair that Fergus and Oriana's wedding had been very lavish, as befitted the heir to the most influential noble title in the realm. All of this must have awakened painful memories.
Teyrna Eleanor and Alfstanna were laughing along with the rest, as was…Nerissa? Was that Nerissa beside the throne? It had to be. The height and hair color were right, as was the gnarled darkspawn staff she cradled in one arm. But she looked very different, almost unrecognizable, clad in a silk dress that poured over her slender form instead of her usual bulky robes, her hair tumbling down over her shoulders in curly profusion. She looked…beautiful!
Her eyes met his across the distance between them, and her free hand waggled a surreptitious hello down beside her skirt.
"Wow!" he mouthed at her, giving her a thumbs-up close to his body. She smiled, high color blooming on her cheeks.
And at the sight of that brilliant, gamine smile, something lurched and turned over in Alistair Theirin's chest, the culmination of a sea change that had been building since Drakon, building over days of patrolling in nasty weather, of evenings spent talking far too late. His usually taciturn subconscious unburdened itself to him now, and he knew there would never be a way to go back to the way things had been before.
Across a space of sunlight, his glance meshed with hers. He wondered if Nerissa was feeling the same thing he was. Given the wide-eyed look of sudden, shocked comprehension on her face, she might very well be.
We are so screwed!
Hardbody looks yummy today…Nerissa had thought, watching his advance up the aisle from her most excellent vantage point. The Warden uniform complimented his coloring and it fit his powerful figure well.
He didn't notice her at first, his attention fixed on his best friend and the Queen. And it stayed focused all through the ceremony. It wasn't until he was laughing with the rest afterwards that he actually realized she was up on the dais.
The astonished expression on his face when he recognized her was extremely gratifying, and well worth every minute of the hours spent being tweaked and groomed by Leliana.
Wow! he mouthed at her and gave her that thumbs-up. It was such an Alistair thing to do, and even as she smiled back at him things changed, shifted, became crystal clear.
I want him. Warmth was pooling in her belly and between her legs. It was difficult to breathe of a sudden. Despite the life-long Chantry discouragement and her own fear of the consequences, she wanted him. And not just in bed. I want to be able to be with him, walk beside him, talk with him, for the rest of our lives!
She understood now how mages, falling in love, would attempt to flee the Circle. Why apostates fought so hard to stay out of it, so that they could have the life experiences non-magical folk could. Fall in love and marry as they pleased. Make children and watch them grow. Grow old together…
She understood now, too late. Because she wanted all of that, with him. With Alistair Theirin. And when she met his eyes, she realized that he was feeling the same thing. And that it could never be….
Cauthrien was in the Lower Market when Corin rode through. Clad in her Warden uniform, she was wearing sword and dagger. The Summer Sword was gone, broken and melted down by Wade as she watched, since she could never have brought herself to wield it again. She had another greatsword now, a dragon-slaying sword that the Qunari had left behind. Yusaris, it was called, and it suited her well enough. But greatswords were difficult to draw in a press like this. She could dual-wield at a pinch, and she would not go out unarmed, not entirely certain about the reception she would get among the common folk. It could go either way she figured; those who were angered at her slaying Loghain versus those who appreciated her efforts against the Archdemon. Best to be prepared.
But aside from moving aside in deference to her Warden uniform, no one gave her any trouble. She was close to the front of the crowd when the Prince rode by, not certain if the slight inclination of his head in her direction was intentional or chance. Certainly, Corin carried himself with proud self assurance-much as Loghain had done. They were similar in many ways that would have probably made the Prince uncomfortable to contemplate them.
But there would be no more hitching her destiny to such a shooting star. She was a Warden now, and her fate was sealed. She would continue to serve Ferelden in that capacity until she could no longer do so, and then…then she would go out fighting, taking as many foes down as she could. And if it was true that one was reunited with those they had cared most about in life at the Maker's side, well…she would just have to wait and see what Loghain had to say to her.
The press of folk in the Lower Market was in a jubilant mood. There was a large section of trestle tables set up for the feast, a bonfire, and a portion of the market roped off for dancing. Several cows and pigs roasted on spits over their own fires, and there were huge kegs of beer and smaller ones of cider, some of which was being mulled over fires and lent its own fragrance to the air..
Despite the occasional flurry, the day was not all that cold and the bright sun lifted the spirits of those who had lost so much. After the royal procession had passed, Cauthrien found her way to the bonfire. She had pulled off her gloves and tucked them into her belt and was warming her hands when she became aware of a gaggle of children of varying ages, all eyeing her hopefully.
Children were people she'd never felt entirely comfortable with, despite having grown up in a large family. Perhaps it was a subconscious realization that her desired life path lay elsewhere. She gave them a captain's glare and a couple of them stepped back. But one in the front, a red-headed lad with a truly extraordinary collection of freckles, held his ground.
"Lady Warden," he said politely, "you were there when the Archdemon was slain, weren't you?"
"I was," she said shortly.
Undeterred by her curt manner, the bold lad continued. "Would you tell us the story, please? We'd like to know what happened."
Nonplussed, Cauthrien stared at him. Certainly, she'd briefed all sorts of groups countless times. But story telling was more than an unvarnished recitation of facts, and she wasn't sure she was up to the challenge.
The red-haired lad's friends, seeing her hesitation as a possible agreement, began to chime in with their pleas. They were joined by some of the adults in the crowd who had heard the request, one of whom handed a foaming tankard over the children's heads to her.
And then, suddenly, it was as if Taver and all the dead of Gwaren were standing at her shoulder. It occurred to Cauthrien that here was a chance to tell their tale as well, a tale of heroism that was being obscured by all the enthusiasm about the new King.
"Very well, then," she said. There were cheers from the children and the crowd shifted, as others who had heard what was going to pass drew closer.
"You must understand that I was not with the Prince's party for part of the journey up to Drakon," she began, in her carrying captain's voice. "So I cannot tell you all that he did from personal experience, though I will tell you what the Warden Commander told me about it. I was with Riordan, and I can tell you how he died trying to kill the Archdemon. But before I do that, I need to fill you in on the decisions that were made in Denerim about how to defend the city while the Prince was riding to Redcliffe…"
"Your Majesty," Elemina said to Anora, "You may take Your throne once more, if it please You." Anora, who was having a queasy moment after all the emotional tumult, did so, after exchanging a smile and a squeeze of the hand with her new husband. Eleanor and Alfstanna helped her with the arrangement of her heavy mantle and Eleanor served her a cup of Wynne's tea, which she sipped for a moment before setting it aside.
"There is an oath that Kings traditionally speak upon their crowning in Ferelden," the Grand Cleric told Corin. "But there is also a provision that the Crown Prince may speak his own oath. What is Your Highness's will in this matter?"
Cailan had spoken the traditional oath, practicing over and over again. Anora had helped him practice. Corin had asked for no such assistance. But he had told her that he intended to create his own oath and she had helped him write the words, wondering all the while if it would supplant the traditional oath in time.
"I will speak my own oath," he told Elemina.
"Then face your subjects and swear your oath," the Grand Cleric directed. Corin turned, stepped to the edge of the dais and drew Starfang, resting the point upon the stone, his hands clasped loosely upon the pommel. The sword that had killed the Archdemon gleamed softly in the light.
Cailan had spoken his oath with Cailanesque earnestness. Corin simply looked out over the heads in the hall and spoke with grave simplicity, his voice pitched to carry well to the audience.
"I am come this day and in the presence of these witnesses to declare that I will be the strong arm of Ferelden, sword against her enemies and shield over her subjects."
"I am come this day and in the presence of these witnesses to declare that I will be the discerning mind of Ferelden, maker and arbiter of law, giving equal justice to all subjects, whatever their degree."
"I am come this day and in the presence of these witnesses to declare that I will be the clever hand of Ferelden, encouraging tilth and craft and trade, so that all of my subjects may enjoy prosperity."
"And I am come this day and in the presence of these witnesses to declare that I will be the loving heart of Ferelden, putting the well-being of my subjects before mine own always."
"This swear I, Corin Maric Cousland, son of Bryce and Eleanor, Crown Prince of Ferelden. And may the Maker and His Bride turn their faces from me, may the earth swallow me, the sea drown me and the sky fall upon me if I fail in this oath."
There was a long, respectful silence, broken by a soft murmur of approval here and there in the hall. Then Elemina nodded to Sister Agnetha, who walked over to the throne to retrieve the crown, as it had been Corin's wish that she fulfill that part of the ceremony.
"Having sworn your oath, kneel one last time, Corin Maric Cousland, in recognition of your deference to the Maker's will. For when you rise, you will never bend knee to any man again," Elemina declared.
Corin sheathed his sword and knelt, still facing the hall, his expression composed. Agnetha took up the crown and brought it to Elemina. As the Grand Cleric placed her hands upon it, her fingers brushed the young mother's. And suddenly, a Voice spoke in her mind.
Are you comfortable, Elemina?
Startled, her hands almost slipped on the crown. She looked across at Agnetha and found that she was…not herself. The expression and carriage were entirely different. The Personage smiled with a sublime authority Agnetha had never possessed, and the Voice spoke again.
After all, it is most important that you be comfortable, is it not? Never mind that there are people starving and grieving and in despair in Ferelden. The Chantry's prestige and authority and power must be upheld, always.
My Lady! Elemina's mind managed to gibber after a moment. I never meant to anger You!
Agnetha lifted a brow. I am not angered. I am disappointed that you failed of your promise. Your faith flamed when you first came to the Chantry, you were so earnest in your desire to do good. I had hoped that when you came to Me in time, I would be able to commend you for what you had accomplished. Never fear, you will come to me, Elemina. I had just hoped that we would have something to talk about… But it seems you are more interested in serving the Divine than serving Me. You have been closed off to Me for a long time, Elemina. It was only today, when you were taking joy in the clerical aspects of your office, that I was able to reach you.
What is My Lady's will? the Grand Cleric asked contritely within her mind. There was a moment's silence, then the Voice spoke again.
I wish you to help, to heal, to become once more the woman who used to speak to Me in the late watches of the night. Remember this, Elemina-the Chantry does not always keep with what I actually said, what I actually wished to happen. Time twists and warps things. And bear in mind that you may pay dearly for doing My actual will!
The Voice softened then, and when It spoke once more the Crown Prince jumped. Elemina realized that he was hearing the Voice as well, and when it spoke, she also realized that it might not be for the first time. Her world turned upon its foundations.
The third blessing, and the last, My knight, before you go forth to do what you may in the world.
Agnetha spoke aloud, prompting Elemina, who suddenly remembered that she still had a job to do and quickly chimed in. "With this crown I crown you King of Ferelden, foremost among all its people. The blessings of the Maker and his Bride attend you in all of your doings and for all of your days, and for all the days of your descendants."
Those watching saw the sunlight beaming through the high windows suddenly seem to thicken, to gather about the crown, as it was lowered onto Corin Cousland's head. But when they next blinked, the light was gone as if it had never been. The young mother and the Grand Cleric stepped back, the older woman a bit unsteadily it seemed, and resumed their places.
"Ferelden!" Grand Cleric Elemina cried, after taking a deep and obvious breath, "Behold your King!"
The applause and cheering began as Corin got to his feet. It swelled and rose, going on for a seeming eternity. The banners hung from the rafters for this very special occasion shivered with the force of it.
Once before, Fergus had watched a king be crowned. For all that Cailan had seemed cavalier about his role afterwards, he'd been uncharacteristically solemn the day of his crowning, as if for that moment at least he understood the magnitude of the responsibility he was undertaking.
So too it was with his pesky little brother, his Pup. Corin braced himself when the crown came down upon his head, and his expression became that of someone else entirely, someone new to Fergus, bound to the land and its burdens, the burdens of the sovereign.
It was Fergus's and Alistair's task then to place the royal mantle, gold brocade and snow-white fur, upon the King, and assist him with it as he took his place upon his throne. There, Anora handed him his scepter with a smile, which he returned, closing his hand about hers for a moment. Fergus and Alistair retreated back down the steps and the King lifted his head and addressed his people.
"At this time, We would have our lords swear fealty to Us, at this, the beginning of Our reign." He gestured to the herald, who would announce the lords in order of their precedence.
"Fergus Leonas Cousland, Teyrn of Highever," the herald intoned, and Fergus stepped forward to kneel before his King, who leaned forward to take his hands within his own.
This oath, at least, was unchanged. "I, Fergus Leonas Cousland, Teyrn of Highever, do swear this day to keep full faith with the Crown of Ferelden, to submit to all lawful commands, to give good counsel always, to bring what arms I may to bear in times of war, to rule those of Ferelden's subjects given over to me justly and to care for their wellbeing above my own. So swear I, in the name of the Maker and His Bride."
The stranger King who wore his brother's face answered in the traditional way as well, his blue eyes cool and distant, almost alien. "We, Corin Maric Cousland, King of Ferelden, do swear this day to keep full faith with our liege man Fergus Leonas Cousland. To command him only in those ways which are lawful and to give due consideration to his counsel always. To lead him in battle, and aid him in times of want. His loyalty shall be rewarded with love, his valor with honor and his justice with good regard. So swear We, in the name of the Maker and His Bride."
Then, suddenly, Fergus's hands were being squeezed, the royal stranger was gone and his rascal Pup winked. "Think you can get back up, Geezer?" came the stage-whisper. "We've got a few more yet to do. Don't need you holding the line up."
Fergus looked over at Anora, who was beaming fondly at him, and nodded. "I think I can manage, Sire." He rose, and chuckling a little, resumed his place.
"The Terynir of Gwaren is in the keeping of the Queen, and as such, no oaths are necessary," the herald intoned.
Corin raised Anora's hand to his lips and kissed it. "The Queen has sworn such oaths today as quite suffice me," he announced; and then, grinning wickedly, added, "And I shall endeavor to return the favor tonight!"
"Corin!" Anora expostulated, her color high, but the earthy Fereldans began cheering, whooping and applauding. This went on long enough that the herald was forced to rap his staff upon the flags in an effort to restore order.
"The Arldom of Amaranthine currently stands vacant," came his declaration, when silence had finally fallen again. Corin beckoned the man, who was standing next to the throne to lean over, and muttered something in his ear.
The herald straightened and called, "The Crown calls Alistair Theirin."
Alistair looked at Fergus, who shrugged. Guess it's the snake pit after all. It had not escape his notice that Amaranthine held primacy among the arldoms. Short of taking Gwaren from Anora, this was the greatest gift Corin could give him-if gift was what you wanted to call it…
He went forward to kneel before the throne with a weird feeling of displacement. It could have been him up there, taking and making those oaths, accepting Corin's fealty… Then he thought of the burdens and challenges his friend would have to bear in the coming years and shook his head a little bit. I'm better off out of it, and so is Ferelden…
Corin had noticed his reticence. "Are you all right with this?" the King asked softly, his expression concerned. Alistair wasn't sure if he was referring to the crown or the arldom, but he supposed it didn't really matter.
"I am," he said firmly, his jaw set. Corin smiled lovingly at him.
"For service so far beyond the call of duty that We cannot begin to express the depth of it, for unswerving loyalty to Ferelden and its people, this day the Crown does create Alistair Theirin the Arl of Amaranthine," the King declared in a ringing voice. "Those lands are his and his heirs in perpetuity and within them he is given the right of low, middle and high justice. Within the bounds of the Arldom, his is the rightfully appointed voice of the Crown." Corin leaned forward a little. "Is it your wish to assume this responsibility, Alistair Theirin?"
Alistair swallowed hard. "It is, Sire."
Corin extended his hands and took Alistair's between them. "Then swear you fealty to the Crown of Ferelden."
He'd practiced the oath, over and over again, softly, in his quarters. Now, he spoke in a firm voice, confirming that for now, at least, Theirin was subordinate to Cousland in Ferelden. Father is probably spinning in his watery grave!
"I, Alistair Theirin, Arl of Amaranthine, do swear this day to keep full faith with the Crown of Ferelden, to submit to all lawful commands, to give good counsel always, to bring what arms I may to bear in times of war, to rule those of Ferelden's subjects given over to me justly and to care for their wellbeing above my own. So swear I, in the name of the Maker and His Bride."
Corin's voice was equally firm, but there was warmth beneath it. "We, Corin Maric Cousland, King of Ferelden, do swear this day to keep full faith with our liege man Alistair Theirin. To command him only in those ways which are lawful and to give due consideration to his counsel always. To lead him in battle, and aid him in times of want. His loyalty shall be rewarded with love, his valor with honor and his justice with good regard. So swear We, in the name of the Maker and His Bride."
Corin smiled down at him, and the matter was sealed and done. Alistair found himself oddly content. Liege man. What he had always been. What he would always be, now that the unspoken understanding had become spoken oath. Fergus stepped forward, bearing an arl's coronet. Alistair's brow furrowed. Is that the Howe coronet? Yuck!
Seeming to discern his thought, Fergus bent close and whispered, "This was made just for you. Rendon was a pin-head and besides, Corin knew you'd not want to wear his things." Alistair gave the two Cousland brothers a look of profound gratitude and they both chuckled at the same time and in the same way. Corin rose, and Anora rose with him. The two stepped close, took the coronet from Fergus and lowered it onto his head, the two rulers smiling as they did so. Alistair then stood, bowed and resumed his place. Rather to his surprise there was applause and cheering and it went on for quite a while, more than long enough for Corin and Anora to seat themselves on their thrones once more. Alistair's eyes were irresistibly drawn towards Nerissa. The little Enchanter was beaming and applauding, her face aglow. Once again, he felt that disconcerting lurch within. As Eamon came forward to give his oath, despite the fact that he knew it was totally inappropriate and forbidden, Alistair couldn't help but grin right back at her, feeling a profound happiness that had nothing to do with the wealth and property he'd just been given.