Parting Ways

Denerim –Fort Drakon, 9:31, Wintermarch 12th Midmorning

Slowly the light subsided. The companions on the Fort's roof got back their senses and minds. Morrigan stood stone silent, unable to look away from the slender frame on the floor. With a nearly incomprehensible and raspish voice she asked: "Does she live, Petra?"

For a moment the mage wanted to throw a harsh answer at the witch but something in her face stopped her. With a hint of compassion she responded instead: "She lives, but barely." The glow of life was there but only faint. Petra hurried at Natasha's side. Morrigan was unable to follow her instantly. She embraced her womb, sensing the child within, sensing the changes these last moments brought to her. Nothing would ever be the same. For the others the blight ended on this roof with the Archdemon's death but for her it was only the beginning. Iona dragging Mikhail away as Morrigan stepped nearer, her paces awkward, her face ragged. The witch staid clear from Petra while the mage examined Natasha.

"Naturally she is very exhausted from those two spells she casted. But there is something … special. Something happened as the Archdemon died and I can't say what exactly. She seems to be stable now. I fear we have to wait until Wynne is able to look after her. We should haul her into her chamber and then we can only pray."

Mikhail ordered some of the soldiers to prepare a litter. Slowly Morrigan sank on her knees beside Natasha's shoulders. An odd expression appeared on her face as she scrutinized the unconscious mage. She will go. The thought erupted in Iona's mind. With a compassionate voice she whispered into Morrigan's ear: "I'll care for her."

The witch looked up shortly, her eyes glistening, and nodded silently. Her regard went back to the mage on the floor. With a soft touch her fingertips caressed the facial features of Natasha. The words she whispered were inaudible even for the elf. Very slowly and unconfident Morrigan bowed down to Natasha, holding her face only a handbreadth above, her eyes wandering from the eyes to the nose and the mouth with the soft lips. Iona stopped the soldiers with the litter as Morrigan crossed the last centimeters and placed a very light kiss on her lips, the mouths nearly not connecting. After caressing the cheek a last time the witch stood up and smiled weakly at Iona.

"You're a strong woman, Iona. Good luck to you and your daughter." Mikhail's eyes went wide as the witch embraced Iona shortly, this being the first time he saw her starting such a compassionate gesture on someone other than Natasha. "I'll care for her," Iona repeated.

Slowly Morrigan walked to the staircase while the soldiers on Iona's signal hurried to Natasha and put her on the litter. The mage seemed to simply sleep, her face exhausted but relieved. As the elven maiden searched for the witch Morrigan was already gone, leaving no sign behind.

Denerim – Palace – Warden Compound, 9:31, Wintermarch 12th Evening

Thru the closed door Mikhail could hear Leliana singing with the children. They had brought Alistair's nephews and Amethyne to the compound and the bard tried hard to occupy the children's mind and soothe their emotions after these fearsome days. Her mood had been much better after Alistair's arrival.

The other door opened quietly and a very exhausted Wynne entered the room. Staying clear of Oghren – the dwarf snoring loudly after his victory drinking – the elder mage placed herself between Alistair, Zevran and Mikhail on an armchair. "She's still sleeping. We'll have to wait now. I've done what is possible but the effect of the Archdemon's death … perhaps we should simply be happy that she didn't die instantly." As she was expected to do. This statement was left unspoken.

Mikhail nodded slowly before he changed the subject. "Sten said that he would leave in a few days. He's only preparing his provisions and waiting for a ship. I was under the impression that he was relieved to quit before Natasha awakes."

Alistair smiled humorlessly. "I understand him. I wouldn't be eager to duel Natasha myself, even less after what she did with the Archdemon."

Wynne made a face. "I never understood why these two wanted to make a duel in the first place. They're kind of close friends and yet are eager to kill each other."

Alistair shrugged. "This question only Natasha can answer. Perhaps not even she can do that. Mikhail, did you know that she asked Cauthrien to train with her?"

Not really attending to Alistair's words the warrior remarked: "Tomorrow will be another meeting. Anora had called the landsmeet together. You're specially invited Alistair."

The ex-Templar smiled weakly. "As long as she didn't change her mind about her becoming Queen and you her King, err Prince-Consort …" Mikhail's responding look bothered Alistair. The Cousland seemed to know why Anora wanted him there. But he left the question unspoken.

In the next room Iona watched silently the children and Leliana while she pondered about the letter she had gotten an hour before. Anora had requested her attendance the next day together with Cyrion. The elven maiden hoped for some good news in regard of the elven alienage. What would the meeting bring?

Denerim – Landsmeet, 9:31, Wintermarch 13th Midmorning

The tension was much lower than a few days before at the last meeting. Even with many deaths to be mourned there were many relieved faces to be seen. Fergus stood beside Alfstanna. Obviously he still felt a bit uneasy in her vicinity after the Bann had greeted him the day before with a hearty hug and deep kiss, joy about him being alive and healthy on her face. Mikhail knew that his brother had agreed with Alfstanna to start slowly, that he needed time to handle the deaths of Oriana and Oren. But he hoped that someday he would see his brother happy again.

Many nobles looked exhausted, some of them were wounded. But apart from Loghain only Arl Eamon was absent. In his stead Teagan was attending. This could start some problems later but make the present day going on more smoothly.

After some words to the assembly about the victory the Queen had been silent for a while to give them time for cheering. But now she addressed them anew.

"There are many things to do now, many problems to solve, many questions to be answered. Some of them cannot be solved in a few sentences but have to be examined in the next months and decided on the next Landsmeet. But there are two choices that have to be done now, choices that will have repercussions on the reconstruction of Denerim. The city and its inhabitants have endured a lot in these days and the rebuilding should go as smoothly as possible. But we have to think about the future. We're able to make some decisions now that will enhance the situation for many citizens.

The most important question surely is: who should be the new Arl of Denerim. With Arl Urien and Bann Vaughan dead, the former Arl's family ceased to exist. I want to have someone in this position that can be trusted to help all citizens, someone who has the heart to know how his people feel. "

With the noblemen around him looking puzzled as they wondered of whom Anora could be speaking about, someone standing in the rear paled visibly.

"I want a very special man in this position who is able to take command in the case of military trouble." This position simultaneously would train him how to lead, how to rule. Thru this he should be able to take his place if somehow the need arose for someone to take reign of Ferelden. With the chance of her getting pregnant very slim she had to plan for the future. But these thoughts she better held tight to her heart. This was not the moment to scare him off.

The man in the rear began to tremble but before he was able to slip into the crowd a firm hand gripped his arm.

"Teyrn Fergus, Warden-Commander Mikhail and Bann Teagan speaking for Redcliffe have agreed that only one man could be considered to be the next Arl of Denerim: Alistair Theirin."

With Mikhail shoving him in the free middle and Fergus starting to applaud loudly Alistair was only able to give in and smile weakly. Following Mikhail's whispered commands he followed his warden-commander to the queen and with a hazed mind he witnessed the short ceremony of acclamation. Only minutes after he realized where this was going, the new-born Arl of Denerim stood at the side again, glaring at Mikhail while a very broad smiling Leliana watched him with adore in her eyes.

As the assembly calmed down, Anora continued: "One quarter suffered especially under the attack. It was nearly completely destroyed and while this quarter has never been very rich we should use the chance to build it a better way now. To help the new Arl with this difficult task, I want to give him someone at his side. Elder Cyrion, please come to my side."

Under low mumbling of the noblemen, not all of them content with the queen, the elf left his place and followed the order. "Elder Cyrion, I know that the elves of Denerim never had an easy life. With no one able to speak for them despite the amount of elves living in the city, it had fallen to the former Arls to rule them even-handed, something that had not always been successful, often caused thru the cultural differences."

Mikhail liked how Anora circumvented to say how miserably Urien and Vaughan had failed in this. Neither of these men had been interested in the elves' welfare. Alistair would do much better but he needed someone with knowledge about elves. He had spoken long with Anora about this point; it had been one of the only two conditions he made.

"Elder Cyrion, I want to change this. I want to give your people a voice. From now on the elves of Denerim shall have a leader to speak for them and to rule them … there will be a Bann of the Arlada – Bann of the 'small home' as the alienage shall be called from now on."

This time the mumbling went far more irritated but the stern glares of Mikhail and Fergus assured that nobody argued aloud against the queen.

"Elder Cyrion, I have asked you who should be this new Bann."

Cyrion bowed deeply. "The elves of Denerim thank you, Your Highness. This bestowment means so much to us. It will give us hope and joy. To answer your question: …"

"No, no, absolutely no, Cyrion." As the elder turned to her, a very pale Iona waved deterrent.

"You see, Your Highness, we'll need a bit of persuasion. But she is the only possible choice." Turning to the young elven maiden Cyrion continued. "Iona, our people know and trust you. You're kind-hearted and enrooted in our community. In these last days you led our people into the battle with bravery and reason. There could be no better Bann for us. Please accept our choice."

Thoughts were running thru her mind. Who could it be? Cyrion was too old, Shianni too short-tempered, Valendrian lost to Tevinter. Searching for an escape she found none. Looking to Cyrion she saw his pleading. This chance for the elves of Denerim would not reoccur. She couldn't deny this chance to her people, whatever it meant for her.

Her eyes flickered to Mikhail. Iona saw the expression on his face. He knew it, he started this. Was this his kind of revenge for her throwing him into Anora's arms? No, she knew better. He did it because he 'saw', because he wanted to help, because he trusted her as she trusted him.

At last she bowed to Anora and accepted the position.

Anora sighed with relief; this being a sure sign that she hadn't been sure that all would go on as planned.

"Before we part I have a last announcement to be made. It is as much a political as a personal choice for me."

Mikhail looked up, trying hard not to show his confusion too clearly. Only the choices for the positions of Arl and Bann had been in his mind. Anora had spoken with him about them and she had his full support. What choice could there be left now?

"Mikhail, despite what happened in these last months you always stood by my side. You helped me and decided to be my Prince-Consort. You asked the Landsmeet to announce me as the Queen of Ferelden irrespective of marriage to grant the land stability. I thank you dearly for all of this. It showed to all that you care much for Ferelden and that you're as honorable as you're brave and inventive.

But I have to admit that I don't like this arrangement, it goes against my heart."

Baffled Mikhail watched Anora, unable to comprehend where this was going. For a sweet moment hope scrabbled in his heart, hope that there would be an escape, but then he knew somehow that Anora meant something else.

"After what you did for Ferelden there could only be one honorable choice: instead of Prince-Consort you should be the King at my side, equal in power and rights."

Much acclaim arose from all sides. While Mikhail pondered about this, Anora looked at someone in the crowd. With a deep breath and a touch of grief she turned to Mikhail who was just starting to answer. She stepped away from the throne at his side and gripped his hands. Small and soft they were, Mikhail pondered for a moment. Beautiful and groomed they were, not like the strong hands of his mother but more like those of his former sister-in-law Oriana.

"Mikhail, will you do me the honor to marry me and rule Ferelden at my side?"

The warrior looked in Anora's eyes. It would be a political marriage they both knew. And her proposal to declare him as king was only another step to strengthen Ferelden and enhance its stability. But had it not always been his duty to serve his home? The picture of a blond woman and a child with great hopeful eyes flickered thru his mind.

Father would be so proud of you, Fergus had said. Mikhail saw trust in Anora's eyes. Perhaps he would never love her, but they could be good friends. He could try to be a better husband than Cailan had been. There was so much to do, so many things he could accomplish. He could make Ferelden a better place, a place where women like Oriana wouldn't be killed, where children like Amethyne could be raised with joy.

"Anora …" He accepted her proposal as he was meant to. Somehow he said those words, expressed his gratitude. The hubbub of exaltation and acclaim numbed his mind. Later he would be unable to remember what he said to Anora and the assembly. He would only remember those long blond hairs around a face with troubled eyes fighting to hold back the tears as she hurried away and left the chamber before he finished his speech.

His eyes followed her, his heart wanted to run after her. But he couldn't allow this. Mikhail was unsure how much Anora saw in his face in this moment. But he smiled and she responded in kind. Side by side they looked at the assembly and accepted the congratulations.

Duty and honor, this was the way of the Couslands. He would follow that way. And they all would only see the smile on his face and not the tears in his eyes. For Ferelden.

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A/N

Originally I intended to write a trilogy: Part 1 "Origins", Part 2 "Awakening" and Part 3 "DAII". Because of this there isn't a happy ending in this story for Mikhail and Iona. I planned to have that in part 2. In addition, there are many scenes in this first part that were written as hints to later events. Especially Natasha was meant to return in part three, meet the rest of her family (the Hawkes) and have her duel with Sten at last.

Regretfully it run out of steam and – at least for the near future – I'm not in the mood to continue the story.