I wonder how it's going to be
When you don't know me
How's it going to be
When you're sure I'm not there
How's it going to be
When there's no one there to talk to
Between you and me
He couldn't quite believe it was over. The battle, the Blight, their quest to unite Ferelden, but the Archdemon was dead. If the Archdemon was dead then...Alistair looked around quickly to find Maddie panic squeezing his chest. There! She was near Zevran, looking around for him and her twin. Cogburn was... near the dragon, both he and Maddie were close to the fallen Archdemon and he had to wonder which of them had delivered the killing blow.
Alistair moved closer and wrapped Maddie in his arms, unable to speak for the sheer gratitude suffusing him. She was alive, alive and whole, breathing and near sobbing with releif in his arms. Finally he could speak, "You are well, my love?" Alistair murmured, "Taken no injury?"
"A few paltry wounds," Maddie's low smoky voice was like a balm to his senses. "Nothing serious, no need for you to worry. And you? My knight are you well?"
"I'm fine," Alistair reassured her. "I see your twin near the head of the arch demon, did he strike the killing blow or did you?" He pushed her helmet back so he could lay his lips on her forehead.
"We were both fighting it," Maddie told him softly, "Morrigan was hitting it with spell after spell, Zevran was keeping the darkspawn off of her. When it fell, I had struck it a blow to the neck, and my twin did the same. His sword, must have caught in the dragon's spine, in wrenching it out I believe he killed the Archdemon."
"Then Morrigan's spell most definitely worked as he is still alive," Alistair wasn't sure if it was more amazing that they hadn't died in the battle or that the witch's spell had succeeded. "The two of you were talking...before we made it up here."
Maddie nodded in his arms, "She transported Riordan's body up here, it will be near the fallen dragon. We worried on what the other wardens would think, were the three of us still alive when the archdemon fell."
"So now we have a fallen Warden, rather than a live one," Alistair nodded his understanding.
"Hey!" Cogburn's voice forced him to pay attention to the other Warden, "I know the Archdemon is dead but we've still got darkspawn to deal with. They don't just melt away you know."
"I hate to agree with him but he's right," Maddie sighed and Alistair loosened his embrace so she might pull away.
"I don't like it either," He frowned and saw that the allies they'd called upon for the battle with the Archdemon were either dead or scattered. Some were moving so he guessed the death of the dragon had knocked them out just as it had he and his friends. "But we'd better get moving."
Alistair sighed in relief as he got out of the bath and dried off. It had been four months of insanity, something he'd become more accustomed to than he liked but at least it seemed to be over with for a time. Denerim had been damaged, but not as badly as it would have been had the Darkspawn rampaged unchecked. Bringing the army to fight had prevented the entire city from being sacked, and Denerim could be rebuilt.
Anora had been confined to her rooms under guard until he could figure out what to do with her, and Eamon was pressing him to simply execute Cailan's consort. Whatever she called herself after Cailan's death, Anora was not a queen. She didn't have the lineage to be declared Queen. Dressing was automatic and he never remembered to call for a body servant or valet or whatever the title was assigned to the boy who was supposed to help him with his clothes. Alistair chuckled as he buckled on his swordbelt, the poor boy was always coming in too late to actually help with the dressing part of his routine.
Maddie had been in and out of his rooms ever since they'd come to the palace. She'd been officially assigned a suite down the hall, with her twin adjoining it, but it was an open secret that she and Alistair were 'carrying on' at least according to Leliana and Zevran.
That was the other thing Alistair had found both hilarious and irritating, apparently now that he and Maddie were officially betrothed they weren't supposed to spend a great deal of time together unless they were chaperoned. As if two years worth of walking all over Ferelden and sharing a tent and campsite hadn't existed now that everyone was aware of who the Grey Warden's were. She had looked at Eamon, Teagan and Isolde as if they'd run mad when Isolde had told Maddie that she shouldn't spend her nights with Alistair.
"And exactly how do you think heirs are begotten Arlessa?" Maddie had wanted to know, arms akimbo as she regarded the noblewoman, "I can assure you that whatever the Chantry teaches, it involves bodily contact." Alistair had chuckled and rolled his eyes but he and Maddie had promised to be discreet about the time they spent together.
The door to his suite opened, recalling him to the present and he looked towards the antechamber as Maddie appeared in his doorway. She was wearing a gown similar to the one he'd given her, a deep blue silk that made her eyes look luminous. In the four months since the battle of Denerim she'd been tirelessly organizing food supplies and the rebuilding of the city and, with Zevran and Leliana, gathering intelligence. Cogburn had, along with Sten and Oghren dealt with the troops, sending out patrols in ever widening circles to hunt down the Darkspawn and make sure they were chased back to their holes.
"My love, are you ready?" She smiled and came closer, playing the squire for him now as she had so many times in camp.
"Nearly," Alistair smiled as she smoothed out his tunic. "Are you all right? You seem...quiet somehow." She had seemed quieter since the last battle, sadder somehow, but somehow he hadn't asked before this. Maddie hadn't seemed precisely receptive to the question when they'd been alone sometimes, other times they'd had other things to concentrate upon. "No regrets?"
"I..." Maddie gave him a smile and shrugged, 'I should have known you'd figure it out." She admitted. "I miss Morrigan, and I know Cogburn misses her. He's...throwing himself into his duties, into chasing down the Darkspawn but..."
"I know, it's the 'but' that worries you," Alistair nodded. "I...well sometimes I miss her myself, though Zevran is quite good at puncturing my ego if it gets too swelled up." He took Maddie in his arms and kissed her gently, "I just wish I could say thank you to her. For what she's done for us, for the potions and making it possible for all three of us to live..."
"That's part of why I miss her too," Maddie nodded. "She disappeared and we won't ever be able to tell her thank you if we have children."
"Cogburn will find her," Alistair predicted. "If anyone could, he can."
"That's true," Maddie grinned. "And it's not as if any of us will ever stop looking. She's bearing his child. Even if he wasn't tail over top in love with her, he'd search her out for that reason alone."
"Sometimes I miss her threatening to turn me into a frog," He laughed as he pressed a kiss to Maddie's hair. It was longer now, her battle braids hung below her shoulders, silver clasps gleaming against her pale hair. "Even knowing who I was she never treated me different. I liked that. I don't think anyone but our companions will ever be able to treat me that way."
"Probably not," Maddie seemed reluctant to agree with him but since she wouldn't lie she was forced to do so. "But I'll treat you the same as much as I can. And you know Cogburn will. In private we'll just be Alistair and the twins again. It's when we're in public that we'll have to watch ourselves."
"Hmm...speaking of public," Alistair kissed her gently. "When can we schedule our wedding? Hopefully soon?"
"It's looking like it'll be at least a year from now," Maddie sighed. "At least we're both young and the war is pretty much over."
Alistair nodded, it was the pretty much that worried him, "I noticed that too, the reports from the north about Darkspawn...not going back underground."
"Since you're planning to give Vigil's Keep to the Wardens and it's in a fairly stable part of the north Cogburn and I were discussing making it a base of operations. I can get it organized along with the Seneschal and Cogburn can go out with the Wardens and find out what's happening with the Darkspawn." Maddie told him as he began to take his armor off the stand and buckle it on.
"I hate the idea of being away from you," Alistair sighed. "But I know you're the only one I can trust to deal with the Wardens properly while I'm dealing with the Bannorn."
"First we have to get through this coronation and the official announcement of what's been done with the Howe's lands," Maddie reminded him with a wicked little smirk. "Not all of the Bannorn is going to take that well."
"That reminds me," Alistair grinned. "I'll have a surprise for you and Cogburn at the reception."
"Oh dear," Maddie made a face at him, "It's not the improved version of cheese stew is it?"
He couldn't help laughing, "No my lady it is not."
Alistair found himself smiling, perhaps a bit foolishly, when he saw Maddie throw herself into the arms of her surprise. He hadn't wanted to spoil it but having Fergus Cousland arrive just in time for the coronation had been hard to keep from crowing about. Maddie and Cogburn had pretty much given up their elder sibling for dead.
The joy on Maddie's face was worth the subterfuge he'd gone through in order to make certain it was a surprise. Cogburn appeared dumbfounded and when his older brother hugged him took a full minute to hug back, as if he still couldn't believe Fergus was there. Maddie spent some time talking to her brothers but sought him out on the dias soon after, "You found Fergus." She said in a tone that was half accusing and half amazed.
"I found a lost soldier who'd been wounded when scouting," Alistair smiled at her. "He was actually trying to report for duty when one of my men overheard his name and the patrol he'd been with. It was a lucky thing."
"And you kept it a secret so it would be a surprise for us," Maddie leaned against him, tucking her head under his chin. For a moment Alistair cursed the damn plate armor everyone insisted he wear, he'd much rather have worn dressier clothing so he could put his arms around his betrothed and be able to feel her body against his.
"I thought he might like to see his younger brother and sister honored as heroes," The new king shrugged slightly. "He's not going to come after me is he? I mean we want to be married, I want to be honorable with you, it's getting to the altar that's taking us a while."
"He wouldn't dare," Maddie muttered under her breath. "I'd kill him and then the Cousland name really would be in trouble."
"Well lets hope it doesn't come to that," Alistair grinned at her and kissed her cheek. "I think Zevran wanted to speak with you if you had a few minutes my love." He looked around for the elf and found him near some of the bannorn, speaking idly to a bann's daughter, "He looks as if he's debating whether he should divest her of her purse or her clothing first."
Maddie laughed as he'd hoped she would, "Well I'd better prevent him from doing either."
Alistair watched her go and shook his head ruefully, all of their companions were here except for Morrigan and even she... he saw a dog nearby, of the same breed Morrigan used for her shapeshifters form and sighed. "We miss you," He offered quietly. If the dog was their missing witch it might make her feel better to know she was missed and if it wasn't her...well no harm done. "Maddie in particular if you don't count Cogburn much. I even miss you threatening me with frog time. I hope that you'll let us know if there's ever anything we can do for you."
The dog in question gave him an odd look, tilted its head and bolted from the hall. Alistair sighed, so much for communicating with Morrigan on the sly. Shaking his head the young king picked up a tankard and held it. That was a trick Maddie had taught him after his first banquet, holding a pint would prevent anyone from giving him another. At table all he had to do was prevent someone from refilling his glass with wine too often and he'd remain mostly sober. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy drinking, but there were very few people around he would trust to drink with him. It was something he didn't like much about being king, everyone wanted something. It was almost as bad as being a Grey Warden during the Blight, to get a treaty fulfilled they always had to do something. Deal with werewolves, find a paragon, wrestle demons in the Fade... it was always something.
"You look as if you aren't enjoying that drink overmuch," An unfamiliar voice commented, drawing Alistair out of his thoughts to regard Maddie and Cogburn's elder brother. "Not your favorite?"
"I don't have enough experience with drink to have a favorite yet," Alistair shrugged and sipped to give himself something to do. "I'm afraid Cogburn and Oghren haven't corrupted me so much as that yet."
"Give my little brother some time and you'll be drunk every other night," Fergus chuckled. His dark brown eyes, so like Cogburn's regarded Alistair thoughtfully, "Of course I can't guarantee that Maddie would tolerate that behavior."
"I can tell you she wouldn't," Alistair smiled affectionately as he thought of Maddie's managing tendencies. "She worries when I drink. I think she's concerned Eamon or Teagan or someone will slip me a treaty to sign whilst I'm intoxicated."
"Has that happened before?" The new Teyrn of Highever asked curiously.
"No, thankfully," Alistair's smile widened to a grin. "The one time Maddie has seen me drunk she was a little tipsy herself. She didn't feel she had room to lecture I think." He found his ladylove in the crowd, talking to Zevran with a smile on her face and couldn't help but beam with delight. "I think I'd like to get her more than a little tipsy though. She doesn't get much chance to relax."
"What is going on with you and my little sister," Fergus' question wasn't unexpected though it wasn't precisely welcome. "How long have the two of you been...been..."
"Fraternizing? Carrying on?" Alistair supplied the terms with a wry twist of his lips, "I've been in love with her since Ostagar. Before the battle even." He looked at Fergus, "We are betrothed. We will marry as soon as we're able."
"But you let her fight," Fergus objected. "If she's to be your wife how can you let her go into battle?"
"Seriously?" Alistair almost choked on his next sip of mead at that question, "Have you seen her fight? She's amazing." He shook his head, coughed and managed to breathe again, "The one thing I learned and right quickly too, was that telling Maddie what she can and can't do is the surest way to end up with a sore jaw or a busted head."
"If she's to be your wife she'll be bound to obey you," Fergus reminded him quietly.
"Yeah, that'll happen," He couldn't help rolling his eyes. "Look Fergus, I respect that you're her older brother and you're protective, but Maddie doesn't need to be protected from me." Alistair set the tankard down and folded his arms, staring Fergus in the eye, "She's a Grey Warden. She's the best of the best. We won Provings in Orzammar, fought Werewolves, demons, dragons and Darkspawn. We've managed to survive the Blight and we couldn't have done it without Maddie. Now I'm sorry if you don't like it, but Maddie is my queen. She's the only possible choice and if she wasn't willing to marry me... well I wouldn't be king. I won't...can't do this without her."
"So you're not a complete idiot then," Fergus sipped from his own tankard thoughtfully. "And you're loyal. That's a good thing I suppose. Maddie said something about not really being a Grey Warden, that Duncan had falsified the records so she'd be protected."
"It's highly irregular for two people of the same generation and family join the Wardens," Alistair admitted. "It doesn't matter to me what happened at the Joining, Maddie traveled with us, fought with us, and survived this entire Blight with us. That makes her a Warden in my book."
"So it is true," Fergus regarded him with a frown that belied his words. "My sister... well she's very good at circumventing the truth but she doesn't do outright lies very well. When she and Cogburn told me she wasn't actually a Grey Warden...that didn't feel..."
"Like it was the truth?" Alistair really didn't like lying to Maddie's only family but they'd all agreed, he, Cogburn and Maddie, that not even Fergus could know the truth. Maddie traveling with Alistair and her twin during the Blight could be explained as a means to ensure her safety from Howe and Loghain's assassins. Duncan pretending to make her a Warden would have been for the same reasons, the promise he'd made to Bryce Cousland. So Alistair took a deep breath and prepared to spin the same false tale, "From what the twins have said, your father made Duncan swear that he would protect them. Cogburn becoming a Grey Warden was the price of that protection but there was no reason to make Maddie a Warden as well."
"So you've all been lying about it for two years, more than two years now," Fergus seemed stunned and cast a strange look over at the twins before looking back at Alistair.
Alistair really was glad he'd only been holding his tankard, not really drinking from it because there was no way he'd be able to keep this story straight if he was even the slightest bit tipsy, "We... Duncan didn't even tell me until the time came for the Joining. He sent Maddie out with the rest of the recruits, he treated her just as he did her twin, until the Joining. The other two recruits were first to drink, one, Daveth, died of it. The other tried to run and was cut down. If he hadn't he would have been unconscious, wouldn't have seen Duncan only hand the chalice to Cogburn and never to Maddie." He shrugged and caught Maddie's eye, "She was very brave. It takes nerves of dragonbone to watch your family go through the Joining and not flinch." He nearly sighed his relief when Maddie drifted over to join the conversation and gave her a smile, "I was just telling your brother of your bravery in watching Cogburn take the Joining."
"We do what must be done," Maddie quoted the Cousland motto in her quiet voice. "Duncan knew that if Cogburn didn't live that I would take the Joining, I'd spoken to him about it earlier. Grey Wardens were sorely needed, still are."
"But you were never a Grey Warden?" Fergus was still trying to take this in and Alistair was reminded of the conversations he'd had with Zevran and the twins on the road. It had been remarked upon more than once that the Teyrn had been considering making one of the twins his heir, rather than Fergus and right now it wasn't hard to see why. "Why didn't you go to the Bannorn for support, to take back Highever? Why leave our people to Howe's tender mercies?"
"First of all Fergus," Maddie's voice was eerily calm and Alistair was glad she wasn't aiming that steely gaze at him as she stared at her brother. "You forget that while Cogburn is easily recognized as Father's son, I have never been so obviously his daughter. I might not have been believed. Second, there was a Blight. Stopping the Blight and keeping Ferelden from being destroyed took precedence over taking back Highever. And third, I wouldn't have been able to do anything from the dungeons of Fort Drakon. Howe knew that Duncan was at Highever before it was taken. Loghain knew that Cogburn and I were Couslands, between the two of them, if I'd left Cogburn and Alistair, I would have been dead long before I could have journeyed north."
"But the danger you were in," Fergus sputtered a bit, plainly trying to grasp what she was saying, "From all I've heard...you acted as if you were a Grey Warden. You fought dragons, battled Darkspawn, went into the Deep Roads..."
"She did," Alistair took Maddie's slender calloused fingers in his hand and raised it to his lips. "She saved my life more than once. She did your family name proud. And I am honoured to call her my betrothed, my lady."
"I don't believe it," Fergus shook his head suddenly. "My sister might have done everything you say but Maddie's never been one to claim something that wasn't hers. You're lying to everyone about her Grey Warden status for some reason."
Alistair drew himself up very straight and looked Fergus Cousland in the eye, "She is Lady Madelaina Guinne Cousland and she is my beloved and my betrothed. And if you say one more word in accusation you will find out just how dangerous a Grey Warden can be." He didn't like threatening Maddie's brother, not that it was much of a threat but he wasn't going to take any chance that Maddie would be taken from him. And if anyone learned that she truly was a Warden and the rumors began about the inability of Wardens to have children he and Maddie would be parted regardless of him being king. He'd learned that when it came to the future of Ferelden there was nothing Eamon and the Bannorn would not do.
"Alistair, its all right," Maddie's hand squeezed his and he looked down at her to see the sad smile he hated curving her lips as she looked at her brother. "Fergus, we have given you the same information we have given every other member of Ferelden's nobility." She stepped closer to Alistair and he couldn't help wrapping an arm around her waist, keeping his hand gentle on her flesh even as he wanted to encircle her in his arms. "For the sake of Ferelden and the Theirin line nothing else can be known," Her face was entreating, almost desperate. "Fergus if you want me to be happy at all, please don't question this."
"Maddie..." Her older brother's face was worried. "Are you saying that...the rest of your life...the life you've fought for..."
"Her life, mine," Alistair kept his voice low and tried to keep his face amiable. "Our life together, if you keep questioning..." He shook his head and lifted his tankard to hide his mouth. "We're going to be married. Maddie will be my queen. But there are things that if not known...are rumored about Grey Wardens. Hence...the story."
Fergus' face cleared and he looked at his sister with a half smile pulling at his lips, "In the future little sister, just tell me that I don't need to know. Don't treat me like a mushroom."
"Keeping you in the dark and feeding you manure," Alistair couldn't help grinning. "Yeah we'll work on that." He pressed a kiss to Maddie's temple, "We'd better get on with all the ceremonial stuff." He reminded her, "Cogburn has to ask his boon and then we present him to the crowd so they can worship their Hero."
Fergus chuckled, "Just don't let him ask for wine, women and song, he'll drink you dry, make the women revolt and your ears will bleed."
Alistair couldn't help the laugh that burst from his lips, "Yeah we've had some experience with Cogburn's...proclivities."
Maddie pressed a kiss to his cheek and Alistair sighed as she reminded him, "The sooner its done the sooner we can retire."
"Let's hope," Alistair groaned and pressed a quick kiss to her mouth. "Stand with me beloved?"
"I belong at your side," Maddie smoky voice murmured the welcome words. "Fergus, will you meet us for breakfast tomorrow? It's one of the only times Alistair won't have advisors vying for his attention."
Alistair couldn't help grinning as Fergus agreed and then Maddie was tugging him away to the center of the dias again. Cogburn approached him with more ceremony than the rogue typically did anything, genuflecting until Alistair laughingly told him to rise.
"Wouldn't want to assume too much," Cogburn grinned up at him as he rose finally. "You are the king after all."
"I'm going to be your twin's husband," Alistair reminded him just as quietly. "To me that's more important than being king. But we couldn't have one without the other."
"Don't let Eamon hear you say that," Cogburn's grin tilted into a smirk. "I think he's convinced it was all his idea."
"Let him take the credit if it gets him off my back and he doesn't interfere in my marriage," Alistair grinned back. "But as the Hero of Ferelden I have granted you the right to ask any boon of me. Ferelden owes you a great debt my friend." He sobered as he spoke, for once it felt right to be solemn, the truth of his words weighing on him.
"I only ask that I may continue to serve Ferelden and the Crown," Cogburn spoke clearly, his words heard throughout the hall. "And that the sacrifice of the Grey Wardens never be forgotten."
"I will be honored to have such a man as you in the service of Ferelden," Alistair smiled. "As for the Grey Wardens, all the lands and levies once belonging to the Howes, including the Vigil Keep and Amaranthine, I award to the Grey Wardens to honor their sacrifice and ensure that Ferelden is never left to face the threat of a Blight alone again."
Cogburn's grin was mischeivous as he spoke sotto voice, "So what in the world would you have said if I'd told you I wanted a title or something?"
"Oh I'd have made you Teyrn of Gwaren," Alistair shrugged. "I'm not giving Anora back Loghain's lands and titles...I'm not sure what to do with her really."
Cogburn chuckled, "So who will you make Teyrn then?"
"I was debating that," Alistair shook his head. "I'm not sure."
"If I may," Maddie murmured. "Perhaps it might be best to leave Gwaren without a Teyrn for now. Until some Bann distinguishes him or herself, leave it as a reward for service."
"A sound notion," Alistair agreed with a half grin. "Though that leaves the running of the Teryn to the crown until someone else is put in charge."
"There's a seneschal there," Maddie shrugged slightly. "We'll manage it," Her eyes narrowed at her twin. "In the meantime, you'd better get to your adoring public." She nodded towards the doors to the balcony. "I think the people are about to riot if they don't get a good look at you soon."
Alistair laughed, "They are fairly insistent that they want their Hero. What's a King or a future Queen to that?"
Cogburn groaned and rolled his eyes but headed obligingly towards the doors.
Author's Note: So one more chapter and then possibly an epilogue. How do we like this development? Maddie and Cogburn have dragged Alistair into their scheming ways. But the boy couldn't stay naive forever and really, after two years of traveling and fighting alongside the twins, how innocent could he really be?
Work is going to be crazy in this coming week but I promise I'll try to work on the final chapters as much as possible. Hope everyone is enjoying this and that you'll be patient in the final weeks of writing.