With the thrill of the battle behind them, and the adrenaline finally dissipating throughout their bodies, reality of the situation slowly sank in. That and a few ignored wounds.
Regalyan focused his efforts on Cassandra, while quietly scolding her for coming dangerously close to death. He tried to shake the image of the queen dragon tossing his love aside, as one would flick a crumb from a table. When he had seen her fall, there was not enough air in the world to keep his lungs from collapsing.
"I was never worried with you watching over me," she whispered, not wishing the others to share in their intimate moment.
Neria and Zevran stood several paces away from the now defunct eluvian. Zevran lazily draped his arms over her shoulders as he stood behind her, watching the others. "I am rather surprised we all survived."
Neria pressed her back into his chest, and tilted her head to look up at him. "Did we? All survive I mean? He doesn't look so good," she stated, as she gestured toward the old king.
"We shall see," are the only words Zevran could find to say to her.
Hawke and Fenris had also given space to those who remained near the eluvian. Jaeger happily panted as he sat with the two, enjoying the massage from his master. Hawke applied slight pressure to the muscles of her hound, working through the kinks caused by his valiant efforts in the battle. Fenris allowed himself a moment to nearly smile, watching Hawke take care of Jaeger. It was a simple task, but one he realized he had missed during their time apart.
Maric hadn't moved, or uttered another word, since they'd returned to the spacious cavern hidden near Lake Calenhad. He was alive, though barely, as Alistair knelt beside him. "There was so much I wanted to say to him when I was growing up," he whispered, staring down at the face so similar to his own. "Now I am at a loss for words."
Morrigan stood behind him, Aurelian at her side. She hadn't a clue what to say either; never the type to offer comfort, or understand emotions, as some had enjoyed pointing out to her at one time. When both Neria and Regalyan had failed in healing the former king, everyone had left the couple and their son to say their goodbyes to the king.
Alistair took Maric's hand in his. It felt strange to do so, knowing his father would not even notice or care he'd made the soothing gesture. So many questions would remain unanswered, and the anger of abandonment would linger in his heart, perhaps for the rest of his life. Yet Alistair struggled to contain the tightness in his throat that always preceded his tears. He was the king now, not this man who lay near death. He could afford to show no weakness. Is that something his father might have said to him? Alistair shrugged at the thought. Now, he would never know.
Aurelian pulled away from Morrigan and went to Alistair. He bent his knees enough to grasp Alistair's free hand, and then held it as he stepped over Maric. Reaching down to take Maric's other hand, the three Theirin's were now, for the first time, joined together.
Cassandra was the first to feel the change in the air. A soft golden glow began to radiate from Aurelian's hand that held Maric's. Neria noticed too, and gasped in wonder at the boy, while at the same time Fenris' posture stiffened. Jaeger cocked his head to the side, his intelligent face expressing the same wonder that was reflected on the humans.
Alistair felt the rising warmth which radiated from his son, through him and into Maric. Though he doubted it was enough power to bring the man back from near death, it was enough to bring him to consciousness. It wasn't long before Aurelian released Maric and Alistair, and paused only to look at his father briefly, before returning to Morrigan. She put a protective hand to his back, and they silently moved away to allow Alistair a moment alone with his father.
"The boy?" Maric whispered, his voice raspy from illness, or lack of use, Alistair wasn't sure.
"Your grandson," Alistair informed him. Did it matter to him? Alistair wondered in that brief moment if family had ever been a concern of Maric's.
Maric titled his head to get a glimpse of the child as he moved away. "A mage?"
Alistair followed his father's gaze and rested his eyes upon his son. A good question. Was he a mage as well as a child born with the soul of an old god? Looking at him now, Alistair could only see an innocent boy; conceived in a night of desperation, but also the product of a love he was finally accepting.
"A blessing," Alistair finally replied. "A reminder that life is a gift, and should be cherished as one. And my chance to finally have a family."
The words may have stung, but if they did Maric didn't reveal it. "You're lucky then," was his reply. "We don't all get that opportunity."
"No," Alistair agreed. "I don't suppose we do." His inner child was screaming inside, begging to say all the hateful and hurtful things he had thought about Maric when he was growing up. But seeing the man now, so vulnerable and broken, Alistair didn't have the heart. "We aren't far from the Circle," Alistair informed him. "The mages with their combined magic may be able to heal you."
Maric shook his head. "My time is done here son," he whispered. "It has been for a very long time."
Alistair ignored his words and stood, prepared to carry the man to the Circle himself if necessary. "We'll have you there within a day," he promised him.
"Alistair." Maric said his name as only a father could, with a tone that implied his words were to be listened to and obeyed. "As your father, your King, I tell you I am done, and I mean it. I order you with what power is left to me. I will hear no argument from you. Leave me."
Hearing Maric use his name, address him in such a way, that inner child of Alistair's hid in the corner of his mind like a scolded adolescent. "I'm not just going to leave you here to die alone," Alistair protested quietly.
"I know I have not been a father to you, but would you deny me my dying wish because of it?" Maric looked upon eyes that reflected his very own. "Go, be the true king of Ferelden. Raise your son and have your family. Waste no more time here, hoping to find answers I can not give you."
He didn't want to admit it, but Maric had a point. He wasn't a father to him, not in the sense that Alistair wished he would've been. The man was dying, and was unable to give him what he'd needed, or had wanted, for so many years. He had accepted life without a father for so long, why should that change now?
Looking at Aurelian again, the pain of history repeating itself tightened his heart, and Alistair made a solemn vow to himself that the cycle of abandonment would end here, with Maric, the father he himself had never known. "As you wish, my King," Alistair said with a bow, before walking over to Morrigan and enveloping his son's small hand in his. If Maric wanted to die alone, then so be it.
"Let's go," Alistair said to the others. "It's time to go home."
They had spent one more night camping together before going their separate ways. It was a bittersweet time - one of rejoicing in their success, but also of saying goodbye to old friends and new. Not surprising, by morning's light only Alistair, Morrigan, and Aurelian remained. The others had taken their leave, gone to face their own futures, wherever that may lead them.
Cassandra and Regalyan informed the others before they left that they would make sure Flemeth's tomb was secure. They returned to White Spire in Val Royeaux and recruited a few Templars and mages to return to the Tellari swamps and confirm the destruction of the Silent Grove. The destruction was clear even on the surface, as there was a large indentation, nearly a crater, scarring the earth from the collapse. Many wondered how Cassandra and Regalyan had made it out alive, as did they, when they studied the remains of the area. It was a moment they all took to appreciate each other and life in general.
Under the supervision of the Templars, the mages had set up several wards around the area as protection for those that may travel to, or stumble upon, the desolate location. They also added a few wards to keep trapped whatever may yet lie beneath, should anything have survived.
Leliana was overjoyed to hear of Cassandra's return, and had spent some time with her and Regalyan on their leave from White Spire, listening to the tales of all that transpired. Except for Maric; Regalyan and Cassandra had vowed to keep that part of the tale from the bard, as it wasn't their story to tell. Leliana was happy to hear Neria and Zevran were reunited, and had already begun forming songs in her head about the journey in which the defenders had endured.
After witnessing what had happened between Alistair and Maric, Hawke had begun thinking of her own family, and their time in Lothering. Before traveling back to Kirkwall, she, Fenris, and Jaeger returned to the last place where she'd lived with her mother and father, her brother and sister - the last place they'd been a real family. Hawke faced the demons of her past with her love by her side, and was glad to see that Lothering had in fact been rebuilt, and was thriving as never before.
She was even rewarded for her bravery by running into some old friends who had escaped Lothering, only to return when news spread of its resurrection. Alistair remained true to his word and had sent aid to the city as well, and Hawke and Fenris remained long enough to assist in the final stages of restoration.
Upon their return to Kirkwall, Hawke was consistently dragged off to the Hanged Man by Varric, who was determined to transcribe every word she spoke concerning her latest adventure. Hawke didn't think it was her imagination that the dwarf looked disappointed that he'd missed out on it himself. Both Hawke and Fenris, however, had agreed to keep Maric's part of the story to themselves; let his tale remain as it was, and save Alistair the pain of questions from the nobles and the curious folk of Ferelden.
Neria and Zevran went back to Amaranthine, where a celebration was quickly prepared for the Hero's return. Having been apart the longest, aside from unavoidable duty, Neria spent her time with Zevran, making up for, in every way she could think of, the long year they had lost. Neria took leave from the Wardens for a brief time to travel with Zevran to the Dalish, where she shared with their Keeper the maps that Morrigan had provided.
The Keeper was fascinated with this new find, and sent word to other clans for a meeting. Zevran and Neria remained until the gathering, sharing what information Morrigan gave them, as well as their own experiences through the eluvian. With the hope that the historic objects were no longer tainted by darkspawn, the Dalish were excited to begin traveling to several locations to do more research.
Before leaving the gathering, Zevran had one more event planned for Neria. With the help of the Keepers and the Elders from all the clans, he had prepared a surprise wedding for her. They were married in a traditional Dalish ceremony, and spent their honeymoon in the Free Marches, ending their trip in Kirkwall to visit with Hawke and Fenris. The four of them, five including Jaeger, then left for Val Royeaux to meet up with Cassandra, in fulfillment of a promise to assist in the upcoming war.
Morrigan had no expectations when it came to Alistair and his promises to remain involved in her and Aurelian's lives. When he said he needed to go to Redcliffe to coordinate efforts to retrieve Maric's body, she did not offer to go with him. It wouldn't be proper for the King of Ferelden to be seen with an apostate, nor would it be good for him to be traveling with a child who resembled him, as Aurelian most certainly did. Especially in Redcliffe, where the king had spent his own childhood, since Aurelian was the spitting image of Alistair as a boy.
He'd asked for one promise from her; that she return to Dragon's Peak and wait for him. Against her better judgment she did so, but warned him she was not going to wait for long.
Alistair met with Teagan and Eamon and filled them in on what had happened. The news that Maric had been alive, and was now truly dead, was a shock to Eamon in particular, who had wished more than anything he could've been there. It was decided amongst the three of them that the secret should remain as such for as long as possible, but that Maric deserved a proper Chantry funeral. Assigning only the most trustworthy guards to accompany them, they set out to retrieve the former king's body.
When they returned to the cave however, Maric's corpse was nowhere to be found. There was no sign of struggle, or evidence that animals or bandits had been there, and Eamon insisted that Maric must have walked out of there on his own. Alistair assured him that was not possible; his father had been on death's door, and had confirmed as much, but Eamon reminded him this was not the first time King Maric was thought dead. Was that the real reason Maric has been so insistent that Alistair leave? Had Aurelian been able to heal him after all?
Alistair wasn't sure if he was relieved or angry at this news. Now he was left wondering, yet again, if his father was alive or dead, and if he'd ever hear from him. He considered looking for the man, but it was clear by his actions that if he was alive, he didn't want to be found. Resolving himself to the fact that this time was no different the rest of his entire life, Alistair left the caves. He bid farewell to Eamon and returned to Denerim - the guards accompanying him under Eamon's insistence.
Returning to the castle, and to his queen, put Alistair in a very foul mood. The shrill sound of her voice increased the pounding in his head as she bellowed through the halls with joy over his safe return. Why she insisted on putting on this show of a warm and loving marriage in front of Eamon's guards... it was enough to make him sick. Grabbing Habren's hand in front of their unwanted audience, Alistair pulled her into the nearest room and shut the door.
"I see your travels did nothing for your manners Alistair," she scolded, brushing off her dress as if he'd dirtied it. "And you positively stink of dog."
"Yes, well, traveling with a dog will do that," Alistair stated as he dropped into the nearest chair. "Habren, we need to talk."
He had been as honest as possible with her, letting her know that throughout the years he had tried his hardest, but there would never be any love between them. Not surprisingly, she admitted the same, and even hinted there was another she had loved before accepting the position as his queen. They had apparently been corresponding as of late, this man in South Reach, whom she had left to marry Alistair.
Eamon had discussed, in great length, the repercussions of ending a royal marriage when they'd been together in Redcliffe. While the situation was not ideal, and a public breakup probably not the best political move at the moment, what with a mage/Templar war on the horizon, Alistair and Habren did manage to come to an agreement.
Alistair made the arrangements for her former lover to move to Denerim. Assuming she could be discreet about their relations, Alistair would permit her to visit him as often as she liked, with the understanding that Alistair would also be taking several trips away from the castle. He hadn't offered any names, or the truth that he had a son, but he doubted Habren cared.
Her face lit up when he agreed to allow their relationship to happen, and for the first time in years the atmosphere in the castle shifted in a positive manner. With their new mutual understanding, they got along much better as King and Queen, so much so that Alistair was proud to now call his wife a friend.
Morrigan was surprised when he showed up that first night, and even more shocked when he reiterated his promise to remain in their lives. That the three of them would be a real family in every way that was possible. True to his word, Alistair spent weekends, summers, and holidays on top of Dragon's Peak with her and their son. It was a happiness Morrigan had never expected, or experienced, but nevertheless gladly indulged in. She cared little about the throne, and worried less and less about Aurelian being used in his role as Alistair's heir.
It was enough that the man she could finally admit she loved was with her, and her son would know his father.
My heartfelt thanks and love go to Erana and Wintryone for their beta skills throughout this entire story.
And to everyone who has taken this journey with me, with them, please know that your reviews, PM's, and encouragement throughout the last 7 months have been appreciated. There were times I felt like giving up on this story, that I had taken on too much with 8 main characters (And Jaeger!), but the love and support you guys have given me kept me going. This story has the most followers of any other I have written, and that warms my heart more than you will ever know.