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Ascension

Chapter Text

Ferelden was cold and smelt of dogs.

Of course, that’s what everyone said about it, but they said it because it was true.

Fiona did not mind either.

She hated the rocky road that made her bounce hard into the air every time the carriage hit a bump.

And she hated that she was the only elf in the carriage with the Orlesian enclave. Mostly because the other people in the carriage, the ambassador, Comte something-or-another, who wanted to curry favor with the Emperor, an agent of the Divine, barely masked their hostility to her.

But she liked being back in Ferelden again.

She rested her head against the wall of the carriage and rested her eyes now. She hadn’t slept well the night before, or any night in the twenty-two days since she began on the trip from Orlais. A carriage full of Orlesian noblemen, most of whom had likely known the man who owned her, at least in passing, made her feel unsafe. But one had to sleep at some point. Or rest at least. And so she was now.

“Why don’t mages create a spell to make it possible to travel more quickly?” the Comte asked her, snapping her out of her near sleep state. He had a high, whiny voice that grated on one the longer one spoke to him.

She tried to hide her annoyance with him with a smile as she opened her eyes but was uncertain how successful she was at it.

“It breaks one of the cardinal rules of magic.”

“Since when do mages care about breaking rules?”

“It’s not one of those kind of rules.”

“What kind of a rule is it then?” The condescension in the Comte’s voice was audible, and the agent of the Divine, a young woman with dark, waist length hair and an upturned nose, and the Ambassador, a grey-haired man with a waxed mustache and a goatee both let out a small laugh.

“It’s a rule like the laws of gravity are rules. It’s a set of boundaries in which magic can work.” She paused, biting her lip. “There are rumors that once, elves had magic mirrors that allowed them to travel great distances in less than a minute, but I don’t know how true they are.”

“Elves?” The Comte spoke again, letting out a snort. “Elves created this?”

“Yes. The books call them Eluvians. They were-”

“You believe this? You, Warden, believe ancient elves had this technology even though humans do not?”

Fiona bit the inside of her cheek to keep from punching the man in the jaw. “I don’t know what I believe, your lordship. I am only telling you what I know from the books I have read.”

He let out a laugh again, exchanging amused looks with the two other shemlen. She closed her eyes again.

“It thinks its people were able to make magic mirrors,” the Ambassador said with a laugh. He spoke in Tevene, the language of the well educated, apparently expecting her to be unable to understand.

“If you could please be quiet so I may sleep, I would appreciate it, Ser,” Fiona said back in Tevene, not even opening her eyes. The small gasp someone, Fiona wasn’t certain who, probably the agent of the Divine, let out made her smile slightly.

The shemlen of Orlais, minus those within the Wardens, still treated her poorly, despite her position. She was still an elf, no matter her status as Warden-Constable, no matter her rank And she was still a mage. And conversations like this just proved that.

She was a free woman, she was a Grey Warden, she had more power than almost any other elf in Orlais, but she was still just an elf, still, in the eyes of men like the Comte, nothing but an elven whore who rose above her station and needed to be brought down a few pegs. But, as elves always have, she would resist.

It was night when Fiona woke again. The three others in the carriage were asleep. It was a beautiful night, with more stars showing in the night sky than there probably were people in Thedas. The moon was large and hung high, making the night less dark than it could have been. And in the distance, she could see a large castle on a hill.

She knew, without any signs telling her such, it was Redcliffe. That it was the village where her son lived.

What would her son, what would Alistair, be doing right now?

Would his governess be putting him to bed?

Did he have a governess? Or did the Arl and Arlessa care for him?

She wasn’t sure. Nearly every time she got a letter from Maric about Alistair, she couldn’t bring herself to open it. She had given him up, she had cleaved herself from his life. No matter how curious she was about him, it wasn’t her place to know.

If the Maker existed in His heaven, He knew. And He would watch over Alistair. She just hoped He’d watch out for her son better than He watched out for her.

He’d be nearly three.

Tears started to fill her eyes, unbidden, as she thought about how her son would look now. Would he still have blond hair or if it changed color? And if those big, blue eyes of his were still blue, or if they had gotten darker. Would he have freckles in the sun, like the freckles Maric had on certain parts of his skin? If she met him in a crowd, would she be able to tell, just from looking at him, that he was her son?

She forced herself to take a deep shuddering breath, willing the tears away. The choice to give him up was her’s. She had no right to miss him. She had chosen this. She had made this choice. She had no right to miss him.

He had a right to a happy life with a family who loved him. Not doomed to be the elf-blooded bastard of the king of Ferelden and an elven mage slave. No. She wasn’t a slave. She was free now. She needed to remember that.

But she couldn’t get the thoughts of Alistair out of her head. She hoped someone was tucking him in. That someone was telling him stories of griffons, and dragons and kings who always saved the princesses, and princesses who always saved themselves.

Maric’s bedroom was always warm. He may have been Ferelden, and his skin may have been thick enough to survive the harsh winters, but that didn’t mean he liked them. The fire in his fireplace burned hot for hours, and the red velvet curtains that lined the walls kept the heat inside the room. In the dim candlelight the red curtains, and the yellow pine of the floorboards made Maric feel like he was inside the flame of an oil lamp, which was not a sensation he disliked.

He sat across from Loghain at the sturdy oak table in one of the corners of the room. Loghain was wearing something other than that Orlesian chevalier armor he’d taken to wearing oh so many years for ago for what felt like the first time in months. Instead, he wore a simple white tunic and a pair of brown trousers that had probably been Maric’s at some point, based on the fact that they were about an inch too short in the legs for him. His face looked sharper and even more angular in the candlelight.

“The Orlesians are coming tomorrow,” Loghain reminded Maric irritably as he poured both of them a glass of honeywine. The golden color of it was changed to a greenish black in the clear blue glasses. Loghain pushed one of the glasses to Maric, who took it gratefully and took a sip. It was thicker than most honeywines, and sweeter on the King’s tongue. He put the glass back down on the table, and stared down into it, as though the wine was suddenly very interesting to him.

“Fiona is going to be with them,” he said. “She sent me a letter before she left Orlais. The Wardens sent her to be their representative.”

“That’s…The boy’s mother?”

The right side of Maric’s mouth twitched up for a moment, but his eyes made it clear it wasn’t a happy thought, not really. “She is. Yes.”

“I could arrange for someone to keep her away from you, if that’s what you want.”

“No…No, that’t not…That’s not what I want. I’ve missed her. It will be good to see her again.”

Loghain picked up his own glass of honeywine, and he held it at about his shoulder for a moment. “You’re in love with her,” he said, before taking a sip. His voice was that of someone entirely exasperated with his best friend’s taste in people.

“I didn’t say that.”

“You don’t have to. You have that look. That cow-eyed look you’d get back when….” He paused, not finishing his sentence the way he wanted to, that is, with ‘back when you were in love with Katriel’. Even now, neither of them spoke of the Elven bard who had won Maric’s heart. Who the King had slayed at Loghain’s urging. The one who’s death had helped to cause rifts in their friendship. “Back during the rebellion when someone caught your eye,” he finished weakly.

“I don’t look cow-eyed,” Maric protested.

“You always look cow-eyed when you’re in love. Like a love-sick Mabari.”

He smiled a little now, like Loghain hoped he would. “Dogs have cow eyes now?”

Loghain smiled back, letting his teeth show as he did. “When they’re in love them do.” He took another deep sip of his honeywine, a long, deep one that lasted until he cleared the glass. “Do you think she misses you?”

Maric’s mouth twitched, and he looked back at his drink before looking at Loghain again. “I can’t tell, with the letters she sends me. They’re short. Crisp. Businesslike. She asks me how I am, but never tells me how she is. She asks about Alistair, but she doesn’t say she misses him. It’s like she’s scared of putting any emotions in them.” He lifted his glass and took another sip, cherishing the way the alcohol burned slightly. “Actually, they remind me of the letters you would send me and Rowan back before she died. Back when we were barely speaking. Only more neatly written,” he added as a tease.

“I’d say she misses you then. As a friend if nothing else.”

Maric felt a pressure behind his eyes, like something urging him to cry, even though he had no idea why he would, or should. He swallowed hard in an attempt to make the sensation go away. “You’d like her, Loghain.”

“I quite doubt that.”

“No, I mean it, I’m sure of it. You’d like her. She’s…Actually, she’s a lot like you.” He let out a small breath of a laugh at his friend.

“Should I take that as an advance on your part? Saying the woman you are clearly in love with is a lot like me?”

“You could,” Maric said with a smirk, “Though that wasn’t how I originally intended it.”

Loghain let out a small laugh, much like the one Maric had, still smiling, and took another sip of his drink. “I don’t believe Celia would approve.”

That made Maric let out a genuine laugh. He didn’t know if it was the alcohol making him giddy, or if it was actually funny, but he laughed no matter which it was.

The subject changed then, away from Fiona, to other business, but she was still on Maric’s mind. He still felt butterflies in his stomach quivering at the thought of her arrival.

Cailan didn’t sleep well. He hadn’t since his mother’s death. He’d sleep for a few hours, and then wake again, still feeling exhausted, but unable to go back to bed. On nights like that, he wandered the darkened halls of the castle, finding things to busy himself with. Tonight, he had taken his oil lamp up to one of the higher levels of the castle, where there was a window that allowed him a view of the city below.

Denerim never truly fell asleep. There were always enough burning lamps and candles that even in the dead of night it was bright enough to see the shapes of the buildings, to see the people in the street walking around; the city guards and those who were up to no good. The palace district held the castle, and the estates of many higher levels of nobility. It was where the Couslands had their city home, and where, if he ever chose to use it, Loghain would live. The Howes had a city home here too, and some of the other, more wealthy, nobles.

It was fascinating to watch their homes and see servants come in and out of the house.

“You should be in bed,” a voice behind Cailan chided. He knew, without even turning around, that it was Anora’s voice. She and her father often spent the night at the castle. Loghain was his father’s oldest friend, and some nights the two of them would stay up all night talking, which meant Anora could not go home and sleep in her own bed.

“Shouldn’t you?” Cailan asked, still not turning around.

“I heard someone walking around out here. I reasoned I should make certain it wasn’t a kidnapper or a burglar.” The blonde girl walked up to the window where he stood, and began to stare down at the city as well. Cailan glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. Her hair had been rolled into strips of cloth, meant to make it curl, and she wore a thick white flannel shift much like the one he wore. She was barefoot like him as well.

“What would you do if it was?” Cailan asked, returning his eyes to the city below. One of the city guards was talking to one of Arl Howe’s guards now. “You don’t know how to fight.”

“Do so! Papa taught me.”

Cailan snorted in a manner completely unfit for a future king. “You do not.”

“I do so! I’ll fight you right now.”

“No! It’s the middle of the night. I’m not fighting you, Anora. Your father would skin me alive if I hurt you.”

“You’re just a coward,” Anora said crisply, but she allowed the subject to drop. For a few minutes the two just stared out at the city they would one day rule together.

Then Cailan looked away, back at her. “There’s a Grey Warden coming tomorrow,” he informed Anora.

“Duncan comes often, doesn’t he? I don’t see why that is important.”

“It’s not Duncan. It’s a woman. And,” he spoke in a stage whisper now, “She’s a mage.”

“I’m still uncertain why you’re acting like this is important news.” Anora glanced away from the window now and sat down on the floor in front of Cailan, letting her head rest on one of her fists as she stared up at him. Cailan quickly dropped to sitting as well, tucking his legs under him, and gave her an exasperated sigh. “Have you ever met a mage before?”

Anora thought for a second. “The Aldebrant’s son Florian is a mage. I met him before he was sent to the Circle.”

“That doesn’t count. I mean a mage mage. Not a mage who isn’t a mage yet.”

“You’re not making sense Cailan.”

“I am so.”

“No, you’re not. Try explaining it again.”

“A mage who’s…A mage who’s been trained. A real mage. Not a mage who doesn’t know he has magic yet.”

“No.”

Cailan beamed now, watching as the oil lamp now sitting on the ledge lent a yellowish glow to Anora’s face, along with brown shadows. “See? We’ll get to meet a mage tomorrow.”

Anora made a face, though she said nothing. For a few minutes, the two children just looked at one another, blue eyes staring into blue eyes, until finally Cailan looked away.

“You should go back to bed,” he commented, pulling himself back up from the ground.

“You should too.”

“I’ll go to bed eventually.”

“I’ll stay with you until you do,” Anora told him. It wasn’t an offer, it was a statement. And Cailan smirked down at her, nodding.

“Okay then. You can stay. Just be quiet. I don’t want to wake the servants.”

Chapter Text

Loghain woke the next morning, laying on the small settee in the corner of Maric’s bedchambers, feeling the crick in his neck and shoulders, the pain in his back. Maker, he was getting too old for this. Finishing that whole bottle of honeywine with Maric had been a very bad decision. His head was bloody killing him.

He put his face in his hands and shook his head.

“That bad?” Maric teased from the bed, with a smirk. “I did say you could have the bed.”

“I’m never going to take your bed from you,” Loghain grumbled. He took in a deep breath and then let out a sigh.

“We could have shared it.”

Loghain laughed, until the laughter made his head start to ache more. He couldn’t tell if Maric was messing with him, or he honestly meant it. So he changed subject. “I don’t know how you manage to drink as much as I do and not get hungover.”

Maric shrugged. “My mother could drink Arl Rendorn under the table, and she was fairly tiny. So…” he steepled his fingers for a moment, looking down at them, then back at Loghain. “Good pedigree?”

The king glanced at the door, and then back at Loghain. “I’m surprised Anora hasn’t broken down the door begging to go home and change clothes yet. And Cailan is usually rather eager to be the one to wake me in the morning.”

“Perhaps they found something to do that doesn’t involve getting into trouble.”

“I doubt it,” Maric said with a smile. When he smiled, Loghain could see the crowsfeet barely starting to form at the corner of his eyes. Maker, they were eighteen what felt like a year ago. Were they really getting old this quickly? Anora would be nine in Wintermarch.

Maric finally pushed back his blankets and walked over to one of the chests of drawers along the right hand wall. He dug around in it, finally coming up with a blue chemise, a jerkin the color of brick, and a pair of trousers that matched the jerkin. He tossed the clothes at Loghain, who took them gratefully and began to dress in them.

It wasn’t uncommon for them to share clothes. It had started as a habit as young men during the rebellion that had carried into adult life. They were built similarly, even if Maric was a little shorter than Loghain, so they fit well enough.

“So, do you think the doublet,” he held up a greyish-purple doublet made out of a brocade fabric, “or the jerkin?” he held up a grey suede jerkin, with shiny pearl buttons.

Loghain looked at Maric, pointedly, his expression clearly saying ‘Why are you asking me this?’

“I want to look nice for Fiona. Help me pick. Please Loghain.”

He made a grumbling noise in the back of his throat and thought for a second. “The grey,” he said finally with a long-suffering sigh, pressing his fingers hard onto the front of his forehead. It was going to be a very long day.

It was snowing as the carriage pulled in through Denerim’s city gates. Despite this, many Fereldans wandered about busily, buying things from the marketplace to prepare in case the storm that was moving in got even worse.

The three other people in the carriage slept, but Fiona watched carefully, absorbing everything she could about the City. It had been nightfall when they entered the city the last two times she had been here, so she hadn’t gotten a good look, but now, in the bright, cold sunshine that reflected off the snow, she could see it.

The Chantry in the middle of the marketplace was small compared to the chantries of Orlais. It reminded her of the type of building a rather pious country village would have, rather than the chantry of a city as large as Denerim.

Most of the buildings weren’t large, only two floors at the most, and most were made of weathered wood, or stone.

It may not have been beautiful in the way the white-bricked buildings that lined Montsimmard’s wealthy sea-side district were, where they sat, reflecting the sun, but it had far more character than those buildings had. Unlike the ephemeral buildings of Orlais, that would be completely remade in ten or fifteen years when the style changed, the houses here were built to last. To survive the test of time.

The agent of the divine sniffed irritability, looking out at the city with scorn in her eyes.

“I hope the palace is not simply a much larger version of these houses,” she said softly. She had a Mont-de-glace accent, that Fiona hadn’t noticed before, and a low voice that would have been almost melodic if she hadn’t decided more than a week ago she hated the woman.

She didn’t answer the woman, until the woman looked at her, with those deep-set brown eyes of hers and raised a brow, making it clear she was asking her.

“I have only been in the throne-room, My Lady, and the waiting area outside it. I am uncertain what the rest of the palace is like, to be honest.”

“Pity. I was hoping you’d be useful for something.”

It would have been alarmingly easy to electrocute the woman with lightning shocks, but Fiona clenched her fists to keep herself from doing so. “If you are unhappy with our accommodations, there is an inn in the Marketplace I understand is quite popular with visiting nobility,” she said with a forced smile.

The palace district was a bit grander than the buildings in the Marketplace had been. Most buildings were made of stone or brick, with small windows, but large doors on the front of them.

Most of whatever gardens and ornamentation there were had been covered by snow, minus the heraldries that hung from the windows of a few of the buildings.

Fiona found herself idly wondering if Maric would recognize her, or if he had forgotten how she looked. Her hair had been cut even shorter than it had been the last time he saw her. And, if one were to believe Duncan’s words when he came to visit her in Montsimmard a few months before, she looked thinner, less healthy, than she had in the deep roads a few years before. Considering that, for part of her time in the deep roads she had quite literally been dying, Fiona had punched him for making such a comment.

She was glad the carriage had made a stop at an inn near the City to allow them the time to wash themselves and change their clothes. It was probably a foolish choice, but she had forgone wearing one of her Warden uniforms for the first time in at least a year for a light grey silk velvet dress.

She had purchased it in Jader when she was sent to check on the Warden outpost there, though why a dress of such an expensive material was made in an elf’s size, she had little idea.

It had a square neckline, a bit lower than Fiona was used to, and it was still a little too long for her, though she had hemmed it. Minus some smocking on the waist and near the wrists, it was unadorned.

The gates to the palace opened in front of their carriage. She felt her stomach feel as though it was entirely empty, like the bottom had fallen out of it, and she clenched and unclenched her hand a few times in an attempt to calm herself.

She was here as a Grey Warden. She wasn’t here to interact with Maric in any capacity but that. She needed to remember.

A tall man, with dark hair, in a gleaming suit of armor stood outside, waiting for them. It took Fiona a moment to realize she recognized the man. He had been with Maric in the throne-room when the Wardens first arrived, before the deep roads. Loghain Mac Tir. The Hero of River Dane. He glowered at the carriage with a firm intensity as it slowed in front of the palace.

A coachman opened the door to the carriage, and the three humans quickly pushed their way out of it, nearly knocking the poor man over. Once they had been cleared out of her way, Fiona followed suit.

She inclined her head politely as the man offered her help getting out of the carriage.

The snow was falling fairly hard now. She could feel it land on her head and melt in her hair, and she, if she were honest, didn’t particularly like the sensation.

She also didn’t like that, despite the long dress she wore covering most of them, snow had somehow gotten into her boots as well. How that had happened in less than a minute and a half of being outside, she had no idea.

She walked over to where Loghain stood with the others as he led them inside.

Maric waited in the throne-room, trying not to seem as though he were doing his best impression of a mabari who’s owner was finally home after months away. Had someone, preferably Loghain, been in the room with him, he likely would be talking. A lot. He did that when he was nervous. But talking to one’s self was a sign of madness, and Maric was unwilling to allow himself to do such.

'You are utterly incompetent at looking impassive,' he scolded himself, his pointer finger tapping nervously against his knee, 'you know that's a wonderful talent for a king.'

Loghain walked into the throne-room, followed by the Orlesian envoys. He did not announce who they were, and Maric hadn’t expected him to. Loghain had simply ensured none of them carried weapons into the chamber. Being rather tall and broad, he was intimidating, and often people listened to him simply because of that.

It took Maric a moment to spot Fiona, merely because she was quite short compared to the others, and seemed to get lost behind them. But he smiled when he finally caught sight of her.

She looked tired, with large, red bags under her eyes, though such was to be expected when one traveled as far as she had. Her hair was shorter than Maric remembered, no longer touching the tips of her long ears, but instead cut closer to her head, almost cropped really. Her brown skin looked washed out, as though she were ill. But despite all of that, she looked as lovely as he remembered.

When she had made certain none of the other representatives saw her do so, she smiled back at Maric, those brown eyes of her’s lighting up. Perhaps she had missed him as well, though whether it was as a friend, or as a lover, one could not be certain.

The four Orlesians bowed politely at Maric for a few moments, and then rose again.

“Your majesty,” the ambassador greeted, giving the King an enigmatic smile, and stepping forward from the group, arms held out at his sides grandly. “We,” he gestured to a bald man with a grey mustache, likely the Comte that the Ambassador’s letter had mentioned, “have been quite excited to have this meeting with you. The Emperor sends his regards and he hopes that you are well.”

Loghain scoffed, which made it very difficult for Maric to not smile.

“Thank you your Excellency,” Maric said, inclining his head to the man. “Is Florian well?”

The use of the Emperor’s name as opposed to his title along with his name was an act of disrespect and Maric knew it. But if any of the others knew, they showed no sign of it.

“He is, your highness,” the Ambassador said. “He had a brief bout of pneumonia a few weeks ago, but I understand the mages of the White Spire treated him, and that he is, as you say, ‘good as new’.”

“I am most glad to hear that,” Maric said, and he tried to sound genuine as he said it, though he did not mean one word of it.

The Ambassador stepped back now, and a tall, dark haired woman with deep-set brown eyes stepped forward. “The Divine sends her regards as well, your Majesty. She hopes that these talks between you, the Grand Cleric and I will help bring the Ferelden chantry more closely in line with those of Orlais.” She bowed as Maric nodded, and she too stepped back.

It was Fiona’s turn now. She didn’t step forward, instead staying where she was.

“Maric,” she greeted, smiling.

Though honestly he was paying little attention to them now, he saw the others exchange worried glances as she did so. They thought, clearly, that this was a breach of etiquette. It would have been, in most circumstances, but not now, though the nobles did not know that.

“Fiona,” Maric smiled back at her, warmly. “It’s wonderful to see you again. I hope you’re well.”

“I am, thank you.”

Loghain brought his hand up to his face and rested the gap between his thumb and pointer finger over his eyes and shook his head.

But Maric paid no attention. Instead, he tried to keep his hands from shaking and the fact that his mouth was now very dry, from being too obvious.

“I hope that our discussion can allow the Grey Wardens to improve their presence here in Ferelden.”

“As do I, your highness.”

The room fell uncomfortably silent after that, for almost a minute, until the king cleared his throat. “Uh, I’ll have someone show you to your rooms to get settled, before, uh, before we begin our, uh, meetings,” he finished weakly.

He heard Loghain mutter ‘Maker help us all’, under his breath as he led the nobles out of the hall.

As Maric expected, however, Fiona stayed behind.

Maker, she looked even lovelier now that he could see all of her properly. She wore a long grey dress, with fanciful patterns embroidered, smocked, was there a difference?, on the front and the sleeves of it. It had a neckline which, while not low, did make one rather aware of her figure beneath it.

“Maric,” she said, as though it was the only thing she knew how to say.

“I’m not very good at this,” Maric said apologetically. “I’ve never…” he swallowed, not knowing how to finish that thought.

“Nor am I,” Fiona agreed. “I apologize if my introduction to you was…impolite.” She didn’t actually sound all that sorry, but Maric didn’t mind.

“It wasn’t.”

He rose from the throne, and walked down off the dais, over to her.

He’d forgotten how much he towered over her. Around Loghain he always thought himself shorter than he was, so it was striking to remember he wasn’t.

They stood there staring at one another, mentally reviewing the bits of the other they hadn’t remembered since they saw each other last.

Maric had forgotten how she smelt, like sea water, bread, and lilacs. He’d forgotten the curve of her brow, the way that, even when her face was resting neutrally, she looked annoyed. He’d forgotten the slight curl her hair had to it.

“You look beautiful,” he said genuinely, after a moment, feeling that pressure behind his eyes again, the one pushing him to cry. He felt tears well up as well, but swallowed them back.

“I look exhausted and sick,” she said, gently shoving him, smiling.

“You can look tired and ill and still look beautiful.”

“Can I now?”

“You can. It’s true.” He teased smile growing larger. She tried not to laugh. “You must be hungry. Are you hungry? I’m sure we can-”

Fiona cut him off. “Maric, you don’t need to do this.”

“Do what?”

“Try to impress me. I am here as a Warden representative and your friend. Nothing else.”

She could have ripped his heart out and it would have hurt him less than her words. He felt like he had been ripped in half. But he tried to hide it. “I didn’t expect otherwise,” he lied with a nod.

“That isn’t to say I don’t love you,” Fiona clarified. “We…just can’t be together..If any of the others, particularly the agent of the Divine find out, it could problems for me. A mage in a relationship with the King of Ferelden. They’d accuse me of blood magic, of making you my thrall before we could say otherwise. Even just catching us kissing.”

“We can make sure they don’t find out,” Maric said softly, reaching a hand out to brush the fringe out of Fiona’s eyes. She reached a hand up to cover his hand with her own and press it against her skin.

She looked up at him, and nodded.

'Maker help both of us,' Maric said to himself.

There were many places in a castle where two small children could hide, particularly if both of them weren’t likely to complain to one another that their legs were cramping up.

And the kitchen was more full of them than anywhere else in the castle.
“Are we really going to hide under this table all day just to maybe see a mage?” Anora whispered to Cailan. “How do you even know she’ll come in here.”

“If you’ve been traveling for days wouldn’t you want something to eat?” he asked her. “I would. She’ll come in here. I promise.”

“She might send a servant instead to get her something.”

“She won’t,” Cailan said, rolling his eyes. “They’re all busy getting the castle ready for the storm.”

The door to the kitchen opened, and Cailan heard two sets of footsteps enter the kitchen. He lifted up the tablecloth a little, so he and Anora could peak out. His father and a small elven woman probably shorter than Anora, walked into the kitchen. Though she didn’t carry a staff, the arcane symbols carved into the mitts she wore marked her as a mage as much as a staff would have.

He was about to say something, when Anora clamped a hand over his mouth, not particularly wishing to get caught.

“-In the city for the winter. If you wanted to come with me and see Alistair, I’m sure he and Isolde wouldn’t mind, provided the storm doesn’t trap us here.”

The mage woman said something, her lips moved, one could see that, but she spoke very low, so Cailan didn’t hear her.

“He’s our son. You have a right to see him. You don’t have to tell him who you are, Fiona.”

Their son? What was Father talking about? Cailan was his only son. Cailan was his only child. He glanced at Anora, wide-eyed, and she just shrugged.

“What if he recognizes me?”

“He won’t. If he does, he won’t remember. I promise.”

Cailan’s father reached a hand out to the woman’s shoulder, to comfort her, and she seemed to be fighting the urge to shrug out from under it.

“We don’t have to. But we can. If you want to.” Maric removed his hand from the mage woman’s shoulder, and walked towards Cailan and Anora’s hiding place. Before he could notice where they were, Cailan let got of the tablecloth and let it fall closed.

“What’s going on?” Cailan mouthed to Anora.

She shrugged, and mouthed back. “Sister Ailis might know?”

There was the sound of objects being moved, and then of Maric walking back over to the door. The moment Cailan heard the two sets of footsteps leave the kitchen, and the door close behind them, he scampered out from under the table, Anora following after him.

“I…Have a brother,” he said to Anora, eyes wide.

“I’m sorry for this terrible news,” Anora deadpanned.

“What do you even do with a brother?”

“Nothing apparently, seeing as your father is keeping him a secret from you.”

“Anora. You don’t understand. I have a brother. A brother!” he grabbed her shoulders and started to shake her by them. Anora raised a fist, and before he could block it, her punch collided with his jaw. Hard. Perhaps her father had taught her to fight like she said. It hurt so badly Cailan wanted to cry, but he wouldn’t. Not in front of her.

“Calm down,” she said. He clutched his jaw and frowned at her. “You don’t know for sure you have a brother.”

“What else could someone my father calls ‘our son’ be?”

“A bastard. Which would mean he’s not your brother. Not really.”

Cailan stared at Anora incredulously. “A bastard would still be my brother.”

“Not legally. He couldn’t become a prince, or anything, unless your father made him one.”

“That doesn’t make him any less my brother. I have a brother.”

He waved the arm that wasn’t attached to the hand holding his jaw wildly, in a way Anora found slightly out of character.

She gave him a look, which made him calm himself. “We should go talk to Ailis,” she said to him.

Cailan finally nodded.

“I have a brother,” he repeated one last time, before they left the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Lady d'Évreux, the agent of the Divine, did not like Ferelden.

She did not know why the Divine has chosen to send her to this Maker-forsaken country, with it's dogs and dog lords, and no proper furniture or decorations or wine.

She had done nothing to upset the woman that she could think of. She'd been nothing but an obedient servant since she began to work for her sixteen years before.

Yet here she still was, in this land of Barbarians.

How Andraste could have come from such a place she could not fathom. It was a sacrilegious thought, but sometimes she wondered why the Maker had not chosen an Orlesian beauty like herself to be his beloved. When she was a child, she'd pretend he had chosen her, and that she was to be his new prophetess. But she put that thought away with all her other childhood fancies when she became a woman.

She'd gone to her bedchambers. She had found, despite attempting to nap, that she could not rest. And so, now, she walked around the palace, trying to find some place that could hold her attention for at least a few hours before her meeting with King Maric.

“-ld your father want to have a baby with a mage though?” a small blonde girl, with long braids that hung to her waist asked her companion, a boy with even lighter hair and skin, who was quite a bit shorter than she was. Probably the young prince, Cailan, and a servant or playmate.

The Lady's ears perked up at the word mage. She peaked around the corner to where the children had walked, and, trying to be as cautious as possible not to get caught, followed behind them. She was rather good at hiding in plain sight. It was part of why the Divine had hired her, after all, was it not?

“I don't know,” The boy said. “Maybe...” he stopped walking and looked up at the ceiling as though considering it. “Actually I don't know why anyone would want a baby. With anyone. Not just with a mage.”

“I don't either, to be honest,” the blonde girl agreed. “Does his mother being an elf mean he's an elf? Or would he look like you?”

“I bet he'd look like me,” the boy clutched at his ears though, pulling at the tips of them. “Except maybe with pointed ears?”

The small girl laughed, then, stopped and turned around. Lady d'Évreux quickly hid in one of the alcoves along the wall.

“Are you okay, Anora?” her companion asked, turning around to see what the girl, who was apparently called Anora, was looking at.

“I thought I heard someone,” she said, frowning. “It must have just been rats.” Anora turned back around, and started walking again.

“Do you think Father is going to marry her? Don't you marry people who you have babies with?”

“Kings don't marry elves.”
Well, that confirmed the boy was indeed Prince Cailan.

“Why not?”

“Because Mama says they're not good enough. And elves don't marry humans anyway. They all live in their alienages and marry other elves. They think humans are terrible and they want us all to die.”

“That doesn't sound right,” Cailan said softly.

“My Mama says.”

“Didn't Celia also think that during the Occupation they put lyrium in the water to make more of us mages?”

“Hush.”

“Didn't she?”

Anora shot the young prince a withering look that made him tense up and drop the subject.
Lady d'Évreux didn't need to hear any more. She knew all she needed to know to send a report to the Divine.

Once the two children turned the corner, she crept out of her hiding spot, and began to walk back to her room, unable to suppress her grin.

The study, where Fiona and Maric had finally settled for their conversation was large, but the chipping brown paint that covered the walls made it seem smaller. The room didn't contain much, aside from a desk in a corner, a set of elaborately carved wooden chairs and a matching table, and four or five shelves filled with books.

Maric rarely came in here if he could avoid it. It had been Rowan's sanctum when she was alive, filled with her books, and other things she liked. But it was the only place in the castle he was reasonably certain he could be alone with Fiona.

She sat across the table from him, eating the food he'd gathered up for the two of them. She must have been ill during the trip, based on how sunken in her cheeks looked. She certainly seemed like she could use a good meal. But seeing as she, and the other nobles, missed dinner a few hours earlier, and supper wouldn't be for at least a few more hours, this would have to do for now.

She shook her head as she took a sip of her wine and frowned, rubbing at the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes. After a moment, she glanced up at Maric.

“The Ferelden forces need many more recruits. If another blight hits Ferelden tomorrow, including myself, there'd be thirteen Wardens in the entire country. To give you an idea, the third blight had the smallest force of Wardens to fight it, with a hundred. Backed by five or six armies.”

Maric picked at one of the hazelnuts on the wooden board acting as a plate between him and Fiona, and popped it into his mouth, buying himself some time to think. “What would help you to increase your numbers?”

“We need a compound, for one thing. The building we have, from what I am to understand, is too small to fit even the men we have now. I've spoken to Duncan about the First Warden's idea of recovering our base near Highever, Soldier’s Peak, but it has been deserted for over two-hundred years. He's sure it wouldn't be economically feasible to return it to a state to be used and I trust his judgement. Perhaps eventually we can retake it, but not now.”

“A bigger building,” Maric nodded, thinking. He couldn't think of a building anywhere in Denerim that would be large enough. Perhaps a new one would have to be built. Loghain would be really quite pleased with that; him spending money to outfit an Order that had, in his mind, outlived their usefulness. Perhaps he wouldn't tell him, if that was the case. “What else?”

Fiona took a bite of the buttered piece of bread she had in front of her, thinking. She made the most curious face when she was lost in thought, her brown eyes narrowed, and she seemed to frown, as though by doing so she could better 'see' what she was mentally focusing on. She glanced back at Maric.

“More men. Recruitment is too low. There have only been five enlistees since we returned,” she let out an annoyed noise, and took another sip of her wine. “And only two of them are still alive.”

“How do Wardens usually bolster your numbers when they're this low?”

“We usually don't have to. In most places, fifty, one-hundred people try to join the Wardens every year. But in Ferelden, our name is black. Everyone knows the Wardens once tried to kill the King.”

“Surely after the battle of Ayesleigh, when everyone thought the blights were over for good you had to struggle to recruit. What did you do then?”

Fiona considered this, tapping her fingers on the wooden table as she thought. “After the fourth blight, in Antiva, the new Queen offered lower taxes to every family who had a member join the Wardens.,” Fiona sighed, rubbing at her brow, “But there were a lot of problems with that method of recruitment.”

“Problems?”

“It overburdened the elves, for one thing. Since taxes are comparatively high on the poor, and elves are, almost universally poor, almost every elven family gave up at least one member to the Wardens. Half the population of the Antiva City alienage ended up leaving. The population didn't return to the size it was before the law until a hundred and fifty years later. For another, since most people don't survive the process of joining the Wardens, it led to our unpopularity, after all, most people find it unpleasant when you kill their family members, intentionally or not.”

Fiona grinned at him. Maric smiled back, wide and warm, reaching a hand across the table to put his hand on her's. She allowed it, and began to rub a circle along the back of his hand with her thumb. Rowan had done that, when she was still alive. It always made Maric feel better when she had but it felt wrong now. He didn't know why it felt wrong, but it did, and he felt unsettled. He didn't pull away however, knowing the sensation would pass eventually.

“Could you recruit criminals, like your Commander did with Duncan?”

“Duncan's doing that. But most of the criminals he's had the chance to recruit were either petty thieves with no skill at it, or they've committed a crime which isn't exactly useful to the Wardens. You have far less murder than Orlais. If it were higher, perhaps he'd have an easier time with recruitment.”

Maric grinned, and shook his head. “Well, that's too bad...I mean it's good we've got a lower murder rate than Orlais, but it's bad that it's causing problems with finding men.”

Fiona returned his smile. “That's another issue we're having. Recruitment of women. In Orlais, the Wardens are nearly half female, but so few women are willing to join the order here.”

“Likely because the occupation has put a bad taste in their mouth about a group of Orlesian men looking for women.”

“That's...A fair point,” Fiona agreed. She rubbed at her eyes, pressing down on both lids with her pointer fingers and moving the skin there.

“We can finish this later, if you'd like to rest.”

“I'm fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“I'm. Fine,” Fiona snapped. “I'm tired but we need to finish this now. There's a lot more to do besides just discuss what's needed, and I've only got a few weeks to do it.”

“A few weeks,” Maric reminded her. “You should sleep. You've had a long trip.”
After a moment, she nodded, face softening, as she rose from her chair. “Where was my room?” she asked. “I've forgotten.”

“I can show you it.”

He rose from his chair as well, and walked beside her, out the study door.

They walked silently through the halls, their hands awkwardly brushing each other as they walked.

They stopped in front of a room near the end of a hallway. “Well,” he said awkwardly, feeling red creep up his face, though he couldn't fathom why.

“Well,” Fiona agreed.

She turned to open her door, and walked into her room, closing and locking the door behind her.

And Maric stood in the hallway having no idea what else he should be doing.

He began to walk away when he heard the door unlock and Fiona popped her head outside. She looked down the hallway, both ways, and then looked at him. She seemed to be trying to find her words.

“Would you like to join me?” she asked after a moment.

“You should sleep.”

“I know I should sleep. I was suggesting you come in here and lay with me. It's cold in here and you look tired too.”

The last time Fiona laid in bed with a man she didn't have sex with immediately before doing so was when she was five, and her and her cousin both had gotten very sick with scarlet fever, which was sweeping through the Alienage. Daniel ended up dying of the disease, still laying next to her.

It felt peculiar, to do it, to sleep with someone without sleeping with them.. Not unpleasant, but very strange.

Maric's arms around her were strong and warm.

Their bodies fit together perfectly, like the cogs of a clock, or nesting spoons.

She'd thought of this when she was in Orlais, laying in bed alone. She'd thought of him, missed him, frequently, missed the way he smelt, like the sharpness of rusted metal, and dog, and the Antivan cologne he seemed fond of, and anise and cloves, missed the way he whispered her name, missed the looks he'd constantly give her, the looks that checked up on her, with big eyes, making sure she was alright. She shouldn't have missed him. But she did.

“I love you,” Maric murmured, kissing the hair at the side of her head softly, pulling her closer.

“You love having a warm body in your bed,” Fiona teased gently, a tinge of bitterness filling her words, though she tried to mask it. Her fingers found the sparse hair of Maric's chest, light blond, and curly, unlike the hair on his head. She traced a few idle circles with her finger, gentle, barely there touches.

“If I wanted just that I could have gone to the Pearl. Or slept with one of the many single noblewomen who threw themselves at me. I wanted you. I love you. I missed you.” His voice cracked slightly at the end of his sentence. “You are so important to me, Fiona. You, and Alistair are both so important to me. I hate having to hide you both.”

“Don't,” she warned. “We can't do this Maric. You know we can't. It will only be more painful to pretend we can.”

“I'd like to pretend. For a little while.” Maric kissed at the bit of her shoulder that peaked out from under her dress. “Please let me.”

“Pretend,” she said tiredly, with a nod, closing her eyes, feeling a few tears slip out from under them.

“Pretend and I'll pretend with you.”

As she fell asleep, slowly, breathing in the scent she had so missed, Maric's warm body next to her, she thought back to the deep roads, to the darkness where they first laid together, first made love and found herself grateful that it was now a feather mattress beneath her, instead of cold stone.

Chapter Text

A thick blanket of snow coated Denerim.

It hadn't been the blizzard many feared it would be, but the large snowdrifts that covered many buildings in the the market district proved that it wasn't anything to take lightly.
Winter was on the way already. And it would be a harsh one.

Cailan let out a pathetic, tired sounding whine as he walked into the large hall where meals were often taken. The whirring wind the night before, whipping the snow up into the air had kept him awake for most of the night. The pitcher of water by his bed for washing up was as cold as ice when he cleaned his face, and seeing as Anora borrowed his favorite shirt the week before, during one of the days she stayed over night, it wasn't in his chest to wear.

The large grey stone hall was mostly empty, which was to be expected on days that weren't large gatherings.

Three of the Orlesian diplomats sat at one table, huddled close to one another, taking in their peculiar tongue, while his father and the mage woman sat at another table far away from them.

Most nobles didn't take meals with their children. That was something which commoners did. But Cailan's father nearly always did. Back when Cailan's mother was alive, the three of them often ate together, taking it in his parent's bedchambers, still in bed, Cailan perched between them, still half-asleep, his mother's fingers running through his hair, his father teasing him and making jokes.

That had all changed when his mother got sick. His father and he took their breakfast in the hall then, so as to let his mother rest. And they didn't laugh. And they didn't joke. And every time Cailan tried to make his father smile, Maric could give him only a halfhearted grin that didn't reach his eyes.

When Rowan died, he stopped eating with Cailan at all, instead leaving him to eat alone, or with Loghain when he stayed over. Maric had been very sad, he knew, and he understood, but more than anything he wanted his father back.

But now he was back, happy again, most days, and he took to meals with Cailan again, and he talked to him again. And that made Cailan very happy.

The mage woman and Cailan's father were speaking in hushed voices to one another. They stopped talking almost immediately, and the mage woman eyed him nervously, as though she had never seen a child before.

“Cailan,” Maric said softly, waiting until the boy stopped rubbing his eye and looked up at him, “This is Fiona. She's a...Very good friend of mine.”

The woman, Fiona, gave him an odd smile, as though the expression were something she wasn't used to doing, though she'd been smiling just a few moments before during her conversation with Cailan's father. “Hello Cailan,” she said softly.

He blinked wearily, and waved, feeling his eyelids, heavy, start to droop, until he forced them open, blinking a few times.

“You didn't sleep well?” Maric asked.

Cailan shook his head and made a groaning sound, as he reached across the table for the platter of eggs in front of his father's plate. He dished himself out some until his entire plate was covered in yellow.

The three sat in awkward silence for a few minutes, the two adults picking at their food while Cailan inhaled his own.

Sometime around minute four or five, Maric cleared his throat. “We're going to your Uncle Eamon's estate today, to see how he fared in the storm.”

“Me too?” Cailan asked, speaking for the first time all morning. His voice came out in a harsh croak, with something in the back of it that sounded almost like grinding.

“You can if you'd like,” Fiona, the woman, told him. Her voice sounded strange and measured, as though she wasn't used to speaking to children and was certain if she spoke to them in the wrong way they'd suddenly burst into flames.

“Is Anora coming?”

“No, she isn't. I'm sorry. Her and Loghain are both busy today.”

“Then no. I want to see if Mr. Henley brought Timothy today.”

“The groundskeeper and his son,” Cailan's father clarified to Fiona, who nodded.

The thought seemed to befuddle her, as though the idea of a noble child playing with a commoner was something entirely unheard of where she was from. From what Loghain had told Cailan about Orlais he wouldn't be surprised if it was. But then again, Loghain spoke of Orlesians as though they were seven heads giants who smashed farmsholds for fun, ate elven babies and kicked dogs. So how accurate a picture of the Empire Cailan was getting, he didn't know.

He finished his eggs and pushed his plate aside, walking out of the hall slowly, hoping that he could get a few more hours of sleep before he wandered around hoping to find Timothy.

It might have made Fiona a terrible person, it probably did make Fiona a terrible person she knew, but in truth she found herself a little bit pleased Cailan hadn't wished to accompany her and Maric.
The last time she interacted with a child, aside from her own three month old son, was back when she was a child herself.

They were very strange to her, like very smart but not very wise miniature people who could snap from utter euphoria to the greatest of rages in under a minute.

That was not to say she didn't like them, however.

Small children were like griffons to her. Everyone wanted one, and she thought they were cute, but she'd never really met one, and feared them because of it.

The carriage house was a large part of the building, made up of two intersecting rectangles, one which laid on it's long end, and the other which laid on the short end. It was made of a white stone that was different from the stone used in other parts of the castle. Three large wooden doors stood in front of it.
The snow, which reached part way up her thigh when she sunk into it, made walking to the building rather difficult, and after a few times she nearly fell face first into the damnable drifts, she grudgingly allowed Maric to offer her a hand, literally, to help her keep herself upright.

“We don't have snow like this in Orlais,” she told him, “Or at least not in Montsimmard. It's usually very sunny there. And when something falls from the sky it's rain.”

“You've never gotten snow before?”

Fiona shook her head, and then, realizing he wasn't looking at her, and was, instead, watching where he was going, she instead answered verbally. “Not since I've been alive at least. Which is good, for the alienage there at least. The roofs aren't built to survive snow. Most houses, from what I understand, leak when it rains.”

“You don't know?”

“The last time I was in an Alienage I was seven. I don't remember much.”

“Don't you ever miss your people?”

Fiona glared at him, and then took a deep breath. “Of course I do. But in what world would they allow me back? Warden or not I'm still a mage. And I don't know about here in Ferelden, but in Orlais, the Chantry has made elves terrified of us. Made us convinced that all mages, especially the elven ones, are blood mages, who are going to enslave us like the Tevinter magisters. Not that you need to be a mage to enslave people,” she said resentfully. She saw pain cross Maric's face, and she wondered if it was because he was remembering what the demon had showed him of what she went through, or because of her tone. She honestly wasn't sure which she'd prefer it to be.

When they finally reached the carriage, horses already hitched up, the stablemaster and coachman both tried to help her into the carriage, but she waved them away and got in on her own.
The king's carriage was less ornate than the one she had traveled to Ferelden in, with plain white walls, and the only window not even covered by glass. But the seats had padding on them, unlike the other carriage, which she was certain would be a major improvement.

She sat down, and waited for Maric to come inside as well.

He sat down across from her and shot her a grin. “I don't use the carriage much.”

“Do you ride everywhere then?”

“No, no, mostly I just walk where I want to go. Or I did until Loghain made me stop because he was convinced I'd end up getting killed liked that.” He laughed, which made Fiona smile. He had a nice laugh, warm, and deeper than one would expect considering his speaking voice. And the crowsfeet just starting to form around his eyes creased a little as he laughed, which made him look very dignified in her mind.

“A skilled swordsman like you? I very much doubt that.”

“I can't tell if you genuinely think I'm a skilled swordsman or if you're mocking me. Is that intentional?”

Fiona's smile grew wider at that, and she didn't answer.

“Now I really want to know,” Maric egged her on.

“I think you're a good swordsman. But there are Wardens who are better, of course.”

“And I bet they're all Orlesians.”

“You overestimate how much I love Orlais.”

“It's your home. You must love something about it.”

“Aside from the Wardens? No. I don't. You think under the occupation you experienced what living in
Orlais was actually like. But you didn't. Orlais is far worse.”

“I find that hard to believe. It can't be much worse without it being the literal void.”

“My earliest memory when I was a child was playing outside, and having my aunt rush me into her house because the Chevaliers were riding through the Alienage and were going to run through any elves they could find. That was common. Them doing that for fun. Sometimes they'd kill babies in front of their mothers simply to watch the women scream and cry, and them lop off the their heads as well.”

The king was silent for a few moments, his large blue eyes looking down at his hands, as though by not knowing he somehow had blood on them. Or perhaps because it was easier to stare at them than at
Fiona's face.
“And no one does anything?”

Fiona stared at him, unblinking, her expression unreadable. He couldn't be this dense. “Maric. No one cares about elves. Any elves who get high enough in power in Orlais, either as bards, or mistresses, to do anything don't. They turn their backs on their people in hopes they can make a better life for themselves.”

The mention of the word 'bard' made Maric go stiff.

For the rest of the short ride to the Arl Of Redcliffe's Denerim estate, the two didn't speak. Instead Fiona looked out the window and this world of white that seemed to glitter around her and sighed.

Eamon's home was on the edge of the market district. It was large, and grand. During the occupation, an Orlesian who had been granted all of Eamon's father's lands 'improved' on the building heavily, adding ornate details to the front, and rebuilding the place in a very different style from the one more common in Ferelden.

And apparently Eamon liked it, seeing as he hadn't changed it.

That was unsurprising, considering just how many Orlesian things Eamon liked. His clothes. His wife. His mistress.

Growing up in the Free Marches had let the man grow up with many fine Orlesian things, without having to suffer the oppression that accompanied them back in his home country.

He wondered, for a moment, if referring to people as things was rude, and then decided he didn't care either way. He'd tried to be nice to Eamon's wife Isolde, but she'd been very standoffish towards him, if not outright unmannered, when they were first introduced, constantly shooting him glares and mumbling under he breath in Orlesian.

He'd found out later that her youngest brother was the commander who's armor Loghain looted at the Battle Of River Dane, and while that was an understandable reason to hate him, being friends with her brother's killer, but he still didn't like it.

The guards at the gate recognized the king's carriage, and opened the gates for it to pass into the courtyard.

A young elven boy ran out from inside the castle as Maric and Fiona began to come out of the carriage.

He bowed low in the snow, and then stood up once Maric nodded at him to rise.

“I'm sorry, your highness,” he said, eyes darting between Maric and Fiona, clearly trying to figure out what was going on. “But Mrs Fletcher wanted me to come out here and tell you that the Arl and his lady aren't home right now. That they was- were- going to visit the Arl's brother and that they won't be back until supper at least.”

Maric gave the boy a fond smile. He couldn't be much older than Cailan. “Thank you for letting me know, but we're not here to see the Arl.”

That seemed to confuse the boy, who's brow furrowed.

“If the Arl and Arlessa aren't here,” Fiona said, “Alistair probably isn't either.”

That, the boy recognized, but it only made him look even more confused. “You're here to see Alistair, Majesty?”
Maric nodded. “Yes. Is he here?”

“Uh, yes he is, Majesty... Do you want me to take you to him?”

Fiona nodded for Maric, but the boy was apparently unwilling to take commands from anyone other than the king. So he himself nodded.

The boy led them through the manor, down the hall, to the stares of many.

The elven servants especially stared at Fiona as though confused by her presence there, walking next to the king, rather than behind him the way a proper servant should.

When they reached a door to the back part of the estate, the boy opened the door, and led them back outside, towards the kennels. It was good that Alistair's governess, whomever she was, allowed him time to play with the dogs. Playing with the dogs who traveled along with the Rebel Army was one of Maric's favorite childhood memories.

He opened the kennel door, and led them inside. The building wasn't terribly cold, but it was far colder than the manor had been.

Maric glanced around as the mabari walked over to him, curious, clearly not seeing him as a threat, though a few barked happily at him and play bowed at him, wagging their tails frantically.

He looked around the kennel, for whomever was watching Alistair, and then, finding no one, he glanced around for Alistair. It took him a moment to see the boy's blonde hair peak out from the straw. He was asleep, and shirtless, laying next to a mother dog and her pups.
He was far thinner than he had been when Maric saw him last, nearly six months ago when he visited Redcliffe, and he was covered in dirt and muck.

Before he could even think, Fiona raced to the small boy and picked him up tightly. Alistair stirred, but he didn't cry and quickly fell back to sleep. She stared at Maric eyes burning with silent fury, her mouth opening and closing rather like a fish, trying to find words, in one of the languages she spoke, for what she wanted to say to him. She couldn't find any.

Maric removed his cloak and handed it to her. She wrapped Alistair in it, and held him close to her, still wordlessly enraged.

“Where's Alistair's governess?” Maric asked the elven boy, who had started walking back towards the manor.

The young boy turned around. “His what?”

“His governess.” The boy still didn't understand, so he clarified, “The woman who takes care of him. Where is she?”

“Well, the cook, Mrs Baker she comes out here sometimes and feeds him and changes his clothes.”

“He stays here all the time?” Maric questioned, feeling the rage bubble up inside him as well, feeling his fists clench, feeling warm all over despite the chill, feeling his teeth grit, and his shoulders tense. But he made sure to keep his tone and body language as calm as possible to keep from frightening the child. He was not responsible, and Maric needed to be certain not to shoot the messenger, as it were.

“When we're here, Ser. I don't know where he stays when the Arl is in Redcliffe.”

The king waved the boy off.

“This is how you have our son taken care of?” Fiona demanded, once the child was out of earshot.

Suddenly the rage inside him grew greater. “I didn't know. Every time I visited, Eamon would have him dressed in nice clothes, and he had a woman taking care of Alistair and...” He felt the need to clench his jaw, and this time didn't fight the urge. “And he did it because he knew I was coming. Every time I visited he knew I was coming. So he had time to prepare.” Maric's blood felt like it was on fire, and the edges of his vision went blurry. “He had time to prepare,” he said, raising his voice louder than he usually did, making the young boy in Fiona's arms let out a small annoyed noise, before settling back to sleep. He lowered his voice again. “he had time to prepare. To make me think he was caring for him. He had time to prepare.”

Fiona gave him a nod that told him she understood, and that he would no longer face her ire.

The two of them walked back into the manor silently.

Maric asked one of the maids to show the two of them to the Arl's study, and bring him a bowl of water, a rag, some food, and a pillow and blanket. The maid, a pretty elven woman with dark brown hair and tawny skin a bit lighter than Fiona, had looked confused, but she nodded, and ran off to fetch them.
He held out his hands for Fiona to give him Alistair, who he took into his arms and held to his chest.

“How could he?”

Fiona didn't answer. Instead, she sat in one of the chairs in the study, glaring so hard at the floor, he was almost certain she'd burn a hole into it.

When the maid returned with what they needed, another elven maid assisting her, Maric had her set the blanket onto the floor, still folded, and then peeled back the top layer of blanket, placed Alistair on top of it, and then folded the top blanket back over him, placing the pillow beneath the boy's head.

What had Eamon done to him?

How could Eamon have done that to him?

He was just a baby and...

Maric felt angry tears well up in his eyes, unbidden, and didn't fight them this time, instead letting them fall, feeling as though the rage inside him was making him shake.

He'd never been this angry.

Not even when they killed his mother.

Not even after Loghain- well, that didn't need to be thought about now, it would only make matters worse and make Maric angry at someone else, someone who didn't deserve it right now.

Not even when he killed Severan or the men who murdered his mother.

They sat in that room, the three of them, for almost ten hours.

When Alistair woke from his nap, Maric had cleaned him up gently while Fiona looked on, and fed him.

And for a bit she'd taken Alistair into into her arms and murmured a song Maric didn't recognize underneath her breath. It didn't seem to be in the Kings. Or Tevene or Orlesian either.

It could have been Elvish, he thought he heard the word 'Hahren' in there, which he knew was the elven word for the head of an alienage, or that was what it meant to the Alienage elves at least, but he knew most elves knew next to none of their language, so he doubted that it was. Singing to Alistair seemed to calm her a little, but not much.

The two of them didn't speak. There was nothing to say.

When the sun set, a servant brought in candles and an oil lamp for them to see by.

When Eamon finally returned at nearly nine that evening and walked into his study followed by Isolde, both Fiona and Maric stood. Fiona set Alistair gently on the ground behind Eamon's desk, to keep him out of harms way, should this come to blows.

“Close the door,” Maric commanded cooly. He usually didn't order people to do things. He preferred asking them, but he knew if he asked, Eamon would refuse.

“Isolde, leave us be,” Eamon said to his wife.

The woman began to walk away but Fiona spoke before she did. “She stays.”

“Eamon, who is this woman?” Isolde asked in the strong Orlesian accent one who didn't speak the King's very well often used. She gestured to Fiona.

“I'm...not certain,” he said, glancing at Maric.

Fiona took a step forward, which made Eamon take a step back..“I am the mother of the boy you have been 'caring' for.” Her voice was low and serious, and there was a dangerous look in her eyes Maric had never seen there before, something primal, animalistic.

Eamon and Isolde both walked into the study and closed the door behind them.

“Maric, I didn't expect to see you here!” Eamon said, giving him a wide grin. But the smile didn't reach his eyes. He knew rather well that this wasn't a social call. Or, rather, wasn't a social call any longer.

Fiona looked like something out of one of the history books Maric's tutors had him use when he was a child as she walked forward, one of the early Andrastian martyrs being burned at the stake, all righteous fury and flames, beautiful and dangerous like fire itself was. And Eamon looked terrified.

“How. Dare. You.” Fiona said, stepping towards him. “How. DARE. YOU,” she said raising her voice now. “HOW. DARE. YOU.” she shouted at the top of her lungs. The magical fire came from her hands, like the instinctual magic she had used to kill her master. Along with it, she reached for the belt knife that hung at her waist.

For a moment, Maric feared she would turn into an abomination. He'd heard that moments of great emotional stress could cause that to happen to mages, and seeing her son in a kennel with dogs, he figured, would be enough.

“Maric asked me to care for the boy and that's what I did. I put a roof over his head. I put food in his stomach. You can't ask me for more than that. To a boy who insults my sister's memory.”

“He was born long after your sister died,” Fiona seethed, moving to strike at him with the flames. But Eamon reached for the sword one of the suits of armor behind him on the wall held and tried to swing it at her. She dodged and smacked it out of his hand, burning him as she did. He fell to his knees, clutching his burnt hand. “Your friend, YOUR KING, asked you to care for his child and you thought that keeping him with your ANIMALS was caring for him? I should kill you where you stand.”

“He cared for him better than any other noble would have. Do you think anyone else would treat the king's elven bastard better than he did?” Isolde shouted at Fiona at the top of her lungs.

“I didn't think so,” Maric said to her angrily, “I thought he'd treat Alistair the way he should have been treated. The way ROWAN would have treated a child. But apparently I was wrong.”

Eamon was livid, his face bright red now, and he reached for the sword again, despite his burns.“Don't you bring my sister into this, Maric. Did you see elven whores like this woman when she was still alive?”

Maric flinched at Eamon's words. He hadn't. He couldn't do that to Rowan while they were married. Not after seeing how hurt she'd been after Katriel. But Eamon hadn't asked 'while you were married'.

He'd asked 'while she was still alive.' And he couldn't lie. “Before we were married I slept with someone else. But during our entire marriage I was faithful to her, Eamon. I would never betray Rowan's trust like that ever again.” He felt tears spring to his eyes and he didn't swallow them back.

“You were angry at me so you made my son suffer?”

Eamon didn't answer. Fiona pinned him to the wall with some sort of spell Maric didn't know, and walked over to him holding her belt-knife in her flaming hand and moved both dangerously close to the Arl's neck

“Stay your blade, Fiona,” Maric ordered. She didn't have to listen. She was a Warden. She only had to obey her commanders. Not him. She could have slit Eamon's throat right there, and ended it, let blood spurt violently out of his neck all over the room, all over her, all over Isolde.

But she obeyed Maric's command, looking at him angrily, waiting for an explanation.

He didn't give her one. There'd be time for that later.

Whatever spell had pinned Eamon to the wall wore off, and Isolde quickly crossed the room and held onto her husband for dear life. She babbled through tears in Orlesian to him.

Fiona responded in Orlesian, sharp and angry, yelling at the top of her lungs.

The sound of the young boy in the corner starting to cry made everyone stop. The flame surrounding Fiona's hands disappeared. She sheathed her knife. She walked, or, rather, almost ran, over to the baby, and picked him up, shhing him gently, mumbling words in Orlesian to him Maric couldn't understand either. She left the room with him, still clearly furious, but unwilling to make Alistair see more of this.

“What are you going to do now, Maric? Raise him yourself? Do you really think the people of Ferelden will-”

Maric didn't listen to another word Eamon said, instead he shot the man one more stern look, and followed Fiona out of the room.

He tried to grab her arm when he caught up with her, to get her to slow, but she pulled away from him, hard.

“I don't want to talk to you,” she said, the anger still clear in her voice. But she took a deep breath, and turned to look at him, letting her voice soften. “Later.”

Maric nodded.

The two of them, Fiona still carrying Alistair, walked to the carriage outside. It was almost funny, to Maric, to see the way she tried to use her body to keep the snow which was now blowing off the baby, craning her neck so her head blocked the snow from getting on Alistair's head, the way she held his hands tightly in one of her's to keep them warm. It was too cold for a child to be out in what Alistair was wearing, so Maric removed his cloak again and handed it to Fiona, who, wordlessly, wrapped it around him.

She was crying. It seemed so bizarre to see that, to see her cry. She looked so much younger when she cried, her face softened, and the anger that normally sat there, even when she wore a neutral expression disappeared without a trace.

She'd been barely twenty when they went into the deep roads. Maric had forgotten that, had forgotten she wasn't even twenty-five yet. When he was her age, he was still fighting the rebellion, but he'd had Rowan and Loghain for support. Friends who became his family. She was a Warden-Constable living in a country far away from her oldest friend, who'd lost all the rest of her friends to the darkspawn. It was unsurprising that when she broke, she broke hard. And this had broken her. Broken whatever helped keep her together.

The coachman helped the two of them into the carriage when they reached it.

When they started moving, she let go of Alistair's small hands and he ran one of them over her cheek, though, as Maric couldn't see his face, he couldn't tell if it was empathy, the little boy not wanting to see anyone in pain, or curiosity, wanting to reach out and touch the face of someone new to him.

That was, until he heard the little boy say softly to her, “Sorry.” He was either apologizing for something he had done, perhaps he'd accidentally scratched her face as he touched her, or he just knew the word made people feel better.

Either way, it made Fiona smile despite her sobs. “You're a very sweet boy, aren't you?” she asked Alistair softly. She kissed his hair and began to hum the same tune as before to him.

The ride to the palace was silent, except for that humming, and intakes of breath when she began to cry too hard.

The fury filled Fiona like it was inside every piece of her body. There was shame there too. How could she be stupid enough to think that just because Alistair looked human he'd be treated any better? She'd seen the elf-blooded children in the Alienage when she was a little girl. The only shems who treated them well were shems who'd never seen them with elves. Who didn't know one of their parents was an
elf.

No noble could have raised Alistair without that bigotry of knowing his mother was an elf and treating him poorly because of it.

Even if she had died giving birth to him, like she nearly had, and Duncan brought him home to Maric for her, even with her completely erased, vanished without a trace from his life, people would still find out.

How, after all she faced, could she be so bloody stupid? She should have known. She should have known and she didn't and her son suffered because of it.

When they reached the palace, Maric walked to his bedchambers, and, not knowing where else to go, Fiona followed him.

“I used to dream that he had a family that loved him,” she said, starting to cry angry tears the moment the door closed behind her. “I used to wonder to myself how he was, if he was happy, if he...”

She shook her head so hard she felt dizzy. She set Alistair down, and the boy began to, unsteadily, toddle around the room. A baby should have been able to walk more steadily by the time he was three, shouldn't he? Was this because he was tired or because... Fiona closed her eyes.

Maric walked over to her, and pulled her close. She fought to get away, not because she didn't want him to touch her. He immediately let go.

“My master used to do that,” she snapped “Don't. Don't do that without asking. And don't do that when I'm upset.”

She was being irrational. She knew it. She was angry at Maric when she had no right to be.

“I need to be alone,” she said, not wanting to make things worse than she already had.

She left Alistair there, and stormed out of the room, walking to the hall where she, Maric, and Cailan had eaten together what felt like a lifetime ago.

She began to pace frenetically until her pacing almost became running.

She didn't know how long she'd been in there when she heard someone walk into the room. The room wasn't lit, except for a few candles that still burned on the tables, so she couldn't make them out, but they were tall and armored. They sat down at a chair in the corner of the room, and seemed to watch
her. She continued to pace as the figure seemed to stare at her.

Finally, she turned to him. “What do you want?” she demanded. It wasn't a shout. She'd shouted too much that day, and her voice sounded raspy and thin instead.

“Do you know why Maric didn't let you kill Eamon?” It was Loghain's voice.

“What are you doing here?”

“Maric asked me to come.”

“Why? To talk to me? He thought you should come and talk to me? Explain to me his reasoning because he thought-” she cut herself off, having no idea how to finish that sentence.

“No,” Loghain said. “I chose to do this. He had me come because he has no governess or nanny here for Cailan, but I have one for Anora. He wanted someone to care for the child while he locked himself in his room and drunk himself into a stupor.”

“Very good problem-solving,” Fiona spat. “Drinking.”

“Maric isn't a great man. He's just a good man.”

The two stood staring at each other, until finally Fiona walked over to where Loghain sat and sat down across the table from him. “Why didn't he let me kill him?”

“Eamon's popular in the Landsmeet. If you killed him, it would leave Maric with two options, condone your actions, and likely reveal to the Landsmeet that he had an elf-blooded bastard with someone like you, which would be frown upon by them, or punish you for it, and risk demands that the Wardens leave Ferelden again. Which I don't think would be much of a loss, but he apparently does.”

“The Landsmeet.” She knew the word, it was part of the Ferelden government, she knew that, but she didn't understand it.

“It's like your College of Enchanters,” he said in what might have been an almost warm tone, if it had come from anyone else. “Except that, unlike the College, they usually can manage to do things.”

That made Fiona laugh even though she didn't want to.

Loghain continued. “A king of Ferelden can't act on many issues without the approval of the Landsmeet. Which Maric would probably lose if you murdered Eamon. It would have put the people of Ferelden at risk.”

She nodded, understanding.

“What do you think you're going to do about the boy now?”

“I...I don't know.” Even to herself, her voice sounded very small. And for a second she felt as lost as she had when her parents died. She shook her head to rid herself of the memory. “I don't know.”

The black haired man across from her offered her a gauntleted hand. “Whatever Maric chooses to do, I'll stand with him. And you. Maker help me for it.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, Loghain walked into the room where the Orlesian Comte and ambassador were sitting, waiting for Maric.

 

It was a small room, one of the lesser used rooms of the palace, and it was dark, and drafty. Loghain had actually been the one to suggest this room as the meeting place to Maric, half-kidding, but the king was apparently in the same spiteful mood towards Orlesians that he himself was always in, and he agreed to the idea.

 

He could kill Eamon for what he did. Not just for hurting a child who had done nothing to him, which offended him as a father, and was certainly part of it, but because if Eamon hadn't done that, perhaps he could be at home, still sleeping rather than doing this for Maric.

 

Perhaps he and the Warden could break into Eamon's estate together, sometime before she left for Orlais again, and kill him and make it look like an accident. Wouldn't that make Maric happy, Loghain and the trollop he'd chosen to become close with bonding over a murder.

 

He felt his lip twitch up with something like mirth at the thought of it.

 

“Will the King be coming to meet with us soon?” one of the men, the one with the waxed mustache asked.

 

“We've been waiting for forty-five minutes,” the other man, who was rather unremarkable to look at aside from his shock of red hair and whiny sounding voice, agreed.

 

“An emergency has come up, and the king has sent me to inform you he won't be able to meet with you today.”

 

Ignoring the questions and angry words spit by the two men, Loghain walked out of the room.

 

He stalked down the hallway, towards Maric's bedroom, hearing his metal sabatons click noisily on the stone floor, feeling the angry frown nearly split his face.

When he reached the room, he pounded loudly on the door. Maric, clearly very hungover, from within the room, let out a loud groan, and then told him to come in.

He walked into the room, not bothering to walk in such a way that helped to mute his sabatons. Maric, who laid in the bed clutched his head pathetically. “Don't be so bloody loud,” the King murmured.

“Maker's breath, man,” Loghain replied, reaching the bed and sitting down on it, by where his friend's feet created a bump in the duvet that covered him. He spoke loudly too now, noting with not an insignificant amount of glee that this too seemed to bother the other man. It was probably petty, and he knew it, but, while Maric could shuck his responsibility for many things, meetings with noblemen, attending diplomatic conferences abroad, meetings with the Grand Cleric, he, as a father, took personal offense at him eschewing his duty to his child, or, now, children.

“Have pity.”

“On who? You? Or your sons? Because I am having pity on them right now.”

“Loghain, that isn't fair.”

“That strumpet you're sleeping with returns to Orlais in less than a month. The two of you need to work out what happens to the child before then. Or do you not care about your son?”

Loghain's words actually seemed to hurt Maric, like they were scalding oil Loghain had thrown into his face.

“Of course I care about him,” he whispered, looking up at his friend with sad eyes.

For a moment, Loghain felt something like guilt for his words, but he pushed it aside, reminding himself he was doing this for Maric's own good. “Then get up, clean yourself up, get dressed and go and talk with the boy's mother.”

Not waiting to see if Maric followed his instructions, Loghain walked out of the room, closing the door behind him, and walked towards the hall.

Fiona sat alone at one of the tables in the far corner of the the hall, head resting on her arms which she crossed and laid on top of the table.

It was odd, but she couldn't remember if she'd fallen asleep there sometime after she and Loghain spoke, or if she'd gone to her room and slept there, and walked back here. Her clothes surprisingly didn't help her to figure it out. She wore the same Warden uniform she'd worn the day before. But considering her grey dress was the only article of clothing that wasn't a warden uniform, socks, or her small clothes that she packed, that wasn't surprising.

Sometimes, rarely, when she felt overwhelmed, she'd black out. Everyone told her she'd talked to them, and done things as she was supposed to, but she remembered none of them.

Once, back when Kell was still alive, she'd talked to him about it, worried it was demons, which, being Avvar, Kell knew about more than most non-mages. Fiona was too afraid to speak to other mages at the compound about it, worried she was possessed and that, like templars, they would cut her down where she stood once she finished speaking.

And the pale eyed man had listened to her, stroking Hafter behind the ears while the dog panted happily. After a few moments of thinking, he gave her a smile, unreadable in it's meaning. “It is not a demon,” he said with confidence. “The same thing would happen to the Warden Commander before Bregan, on occasion.”

She still feared, despite Kell's reassurance, but it did make her feel better.

Loghain walked over to her, Prince Cailan and his daughter hot on his heels both babbling about something Fiona couldn't quite hear.

“And then the dragon killed everyone,” Anora said, finishing whatever story she'd been telling Loghain as she sat down. She stared at Fiona, giving her a peculiar look that Fiona could not read.

Fiona ignored it. “Teryn Mac Tir,” she began, as the tall man sat down across from her.

“Loghain.”

“Loghain. Do you know where Alistair is?” Fiona asked him, deciding to have at least something to eat, reaching for the smoked fish on one of the platters and dishing herself out some. The children began dishing up their own plates as well, though both of them avoided the two other types of fish on the table, evidently not fans.

When she set the platter back down, Loghain decided to do the same. “He's with Anora's governess.”

Fiona took a bite of her food.

“Who's Alistair?” Cailan asked.

Loghain ignored him, though Fiona could see in his face he didn't want to.

“He's my son,” she said gently. “Your father helped me to find someone to take care of him after he was born, because the Wardens wouldn't let me. But...That didn't work. So now he's staying here until where he can go is decided.”

“Is my father his father?”

The pit of Fiona's stomach fell out, and she pushed her plate away.

“That's very rude to ask,” Anora scolded, sounding rather like a little mother. Cailan shot her a look, but she glared at him just as hard until he finally looked away like a frightened dog.

“Just wondering,” Cailan mumbled under his breath.

Fiona swallowed. Hard.

“Ask your father questions like that, not a stranger,” Loghain said, agreeing with his daughter. His tone was scolding, though not loud or frightening. “Apologize to her.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled under his breath, stabbing at his toast with his fork, purposefully not looking her in the eye.

There were footsteps in the hall and she turned around to see who had come in, whether it was one of the other diplomats, but it wasn't.

It was Maric. He looked tired, with dark circles under his red eyes, and he clutched his head.

But he was clean, and not wearing the clothes he might have fallen asleep in, which was possibly better than Fiona could say for herself.

Cailan glanced up at his father, then back down at his plate, the desire to ask Maric the same question he'd asked Fiona less than a minute before clearly burned onto this face, but he said nothing as his father sat down, instead he began to eat his food rather like he was a dog and feared it being taken away quickly, wolfing it down in a hope that by doing such he could soon escape the awkward silence that now filled the hall.

When he was finished, he waited for Anora to finish her own meal, and then the two of them walked as quickly out of the hall as they could without actually running, realizing their presence was not desired at the moment and that they should find something else to do rather than sit there.

“Cailan asked me if Alistair was your son,” Fiona said finally, picking her fork back up and picking at her fish.

“I heard that, yes,” Maric agreed, glancing around the hall for any of the Orlesians who might be present.

“I had the servants take them breakfast in their rooms,” Loghain informed him, noting what his friend was doing. “We're alone.” He scanned the hall anyway, looking for scullery maids hiding in the corners, or odd-job men hanging from the rafters, and when he saw none, he rose from the table, and walked over to the large door that provided access to the right side of the hall, and barred it, and then did the same to the other on the left side of the hall, Maric and Fiona watching him until he sat down.

Fiona stared down at her drink, the golden cider inside it turned a bright orange in the heavily etched glass that held it. “I can't talk him with me to the Wardens. I want to. But I can't. Even if my commander allowed it, what is he supposed to do? Ride in a sling on my back while I travel into the deep roads?”

“He's too big for a sling,” Maric said, lifting his glass to his mouth and taking a sip. It was hard to tell if he was joking, trying to lighten the mood, or missing the point, because he didn't wear a smile on his face. He looked serious, more serious than Fiona'd ever seen him look. His eyes reminded her of sugar glass, firm and solid looking, but only because they were trying so hard, or rather he was trying so hard, not to break.

“You could leave the Wardens,” Loghain suggested.

“No. I can't.”

Rage found it's way to Loghain's face now, but his tone was deadly cold when he spoke.“You're unwilling to give up a fool hearty Order who has long outlived their mission to care for your son?”

Fiona shot him a death glare, and didn't respond, feeling like she'd been punched in the gut.

“She means she actually can't,” Maric said softly. “She's a mage. The only reason she's allowed free from the Circle is because she is a Grey Warden. If she left the Wardens, if they even let her do that, she'd either have to be an apostate, which would put her, and Alistair in danger, or turn herself into the Circle. And you're not allowed to raise your children in the Circle.”

“Couldn't you give her a title and allow her to stay?”

“Mages aren't allowed to hold noble titles,” Fiona informed him. “That wouldn't help.”

They fell silent for a bit thinking.

Loghain spoke again, “Wilhelm wasn't an apostate or a Warden and he lived outside of the Circle. And he had children he kept safe.”

“Because during the war he was in Rendorn's employ and then mine as a magical adviser. The Circle lets every noble have one. Apparently princes who's titles have been usurped are included in that.”

“Or perhaps the Templars were too scared to have to face an army and a massive stone golem in order to chase after a single mage,” Loghain replied snarkily. He paused, and then looked up at Fiona, appraising her. “You could be my adviser,” he offered, though the offer was made grudgingly, it was clear from the expression on his face it wasn't his first, or even his thirty-first choice, but that he was willing to do it for Maric.

“No,” Maric said slowly. “She could become mine.”

“Do you think that would work?” Loghain asked Fiona. Maric's eyes were fixed on her as well, both of them looking to her for the answers, though she herself felt like she had none of them.

Fiona mulled it over, eyes not meeting theirs and instead finding the still uneaten fish on her plate fascinating.“/If/ the Wardens allow me to leave and /if/ I am not forced back to the Circle in Montsimmard and can stay at the Ferelden Circle instead in the interim, and /if/ you request me as your adviser, and /if/ the Circle allows it and /if/ the Chantry grant your request, and /if/ none of the nobles object to you having an elven adviser, then yes. It seems like a solid plan.”

“That's a lot of ifs,” Loghain told her.

“It's better than 'no, it's impossible',” Maric reminded him.

He let out a heaving sigh, but then mumbled his assent to the plan.

“I'm...not sure I want to do this,” Fiona began cautiously.

“Would you rather your son not have anyone to care for him?” Loghain asked.

“No,” she snapped. “But if the Wardens let me go, but Chantry or the Circle refuses Maric's request once I'm at the Circle, I will be trapped there. I will have no. way. out. I'll be stuck in the Circle until I am an old old woman, Teyrn Mac Tir. And you don't understand what that is like for an elven woman there.”

She let the implication hang there, not wanting to voice the fullness of her statement, not wishing to voice to this man she barely knew, who probably hated her and who she likely hated as well, that her Master hadn't been the only one to take advantage of her powerlessness. It was nothing she'd speak about, not ever, the same way she'd have never spoken about her enslavement if Maric hadn't been shown it without her consent.

She could tell from the darkness that crept into Loghain's eyes that he understood.

“I will make sure you're able to leave the Circle,” he promised her grimly, glancing at Maric, and then back at her, “Even if I have to storm there and retake it as I did before.”

And, though she knew this man didn't like her, she took comfort in his promise, hoping it was the truth.

The rage Maric still felt in his body felt wrong. Anger was something unfamiliar to him.

It wasn't part of him naturally, the way it was for Fiona. Anger was woven into the weft of the fabric that made her up. It was a part of her, her rage. It flowed in her fingers, and her thighs and her knees and her chest. He wondered if it was an elven thing. If an eon of enslavement, and poor treatment knit it into the heart of every elf, or if Fiona was special.

To him it was like some oily healing salve spread on in thick layers that he just wanted to get off of him. It was a pressure on his lower back, and in his shoulders.

He could feel it and it felt wrong.

He walked into the room where Anora's governess, a fat attractive human woman named Adelaide had taken Alistair. The small boy was sitting on the floor, playing with some blocks. He wore a rather fancy looking blue dress now, instead of the dirty trousers he'd worn the day before.

Maric had gotten rid of Cailan's baby clothes years before, so he had no spare clothes in Alistair's size, so he'd asked Loghain to bring over some of Anora's old clothes he knew Celia and Loghain still kept.

Loghain didn't spend much on things he deemed impractical, but when it had come to baby Anora he'd spared no expense getting her the finest clothing he could. Probably to make up for the fact that he was never home in Gwaren to see her and her mother.

“Your majesty,” Adelaide greeted quietly, shifting in her chair.

Maric nodded to her but didn't say anything. He didn't trust himself not to snap at her. That was how peculiar this sensation of anger everywhere was. He sat down on the floor near Alistair, who looked up at him and then back at his toys.

“You know,” he told Alistair, picking up one of the other toys by the boy, a wooden soldier doll Alistair, or possibly young Cailan before him had gnawed on the arm of and studying it. “When I was a boy, my mother would play army with me when she came back from battle. I was terrible at it. Horrible. I found out later that she was trying to teach me strategy. I'm very lucky I had your Uncle Loghain to help me with planning that sort of thing, otherwise I'd have lost the rebellion.”

Alistair looked up at him, his young eyes wide, watching Maric's mouth move. Cailan had done that too.

“Now, drawing, that was something I was good at. But I have to say, Arl Rendorn didn't particularly seem to enjoy me drawing in his books.”

The boy stood up, still a little unsteady, and walked over to Maric, holding a block in his hand. He handed it to Maric.

“Thank you,” Maric said politely, taking the block from Alistair. The little boy then kept walking forward, climbing over the king like he was some kind obstacle.

Maric picked the boy up instead, lifting him under the arms and holding him high above his head. Alistair giggled. When Maric brought him back down to his chest, he felt himself smiling too. For a moment, at least, this moment, he didn't feel angry any longer. He felt happy.

Holding Alistair with one arm, he pushed himself up off the ground, and stood up. “How about I take you to go meet your brother, hmm?”

“If you had a baby, where would you hide it?” Cailan asked Anora. They were walking around the castle. And they had been for the past half hour looking for where Anora’s governess, Adelaide had gone with the baby.
“I wouldn’t have a baby,” Anora said, setting her teeth on edge as she sat herself down on the floor, resting her back along the large archway’s support.
“Say you had to have a baby.”
“I /don't/ have to have a baby though. I don't want a baby. So I won't have a baby.”
Cailan didn't speak for almost a minute, staring into space instead. “If I were going to hide a baby, I'd hide it at an orphanage. Because there'd be a whole bunch of other babies there. How would you be able to tell which one was the right one?”
“Brilliant, Cailan. She took Alistair to the castle orphanage,” Anora deadpanned.
“The castle doesn't have an orphanage. I mean there's Edward, the squire, and he's an orphan. But he's almost sixteen isn't he? You couldn't hide a baby with a sixteen year old.”
Cailan was very good at that. At missing the point. It was a trait Anora had to grudgingly admit she found sort of endearing. When it wasn't maddening. How the boy would ever be king, she had no idea.
It was a good thing their fathers had betrothed them when they were much younger. Anora was certain without her by his side, a strong breeze could threaten Ferelden's safety. Okay. Perhaps not a strong breeze. But something not very dangerous.

There were footsteps coming towards them now, from the north east.

“Did you have your lesson today with Sister Ailis yet?” Anora asked.

“Not until after dinner. Do you want to come with me?”

“What is she teaching you today?” she asked idly.

“The history of the third blight.”

“Maybe.”

“Do you think if I ask the Warden about the third blight she'll tell me stuff Ailis doesn't?”

Anora shrugged.

King Maric turned the corner, carrying a small toddler in his arms. He was thin, and his skin, while not as dark as his mother's, was still fairly dark compared to that of Cailan and Maric. He had blonde hair that seemed to be turning reddish. And he was wearing a dress Anora was certain had once been her's, though it hadn't fit her in many years.

She may not have much cared for babies, but even she grudgingly had to admit the blue silk of the dress looked good on him and made him look cute.

Cailan stood up before anyone could even react, and raced over to Maric. “Is this Alistair?” he asked excitedly.

Alistair's attention turned from Maric's face to Cailan's and he smiled, then buried his face shyly into Maric's shoulder. It was hard to tell if he was playing at bashfulness, or if he honestly wasn't used to someone being as excited to see him as Cailan was.

Cailan's father nodded in confirmation, setting Alistair down, so that he and Cailan could get better acquainted.

For having an elven mother, the baby didn't look much like an elf at all. He was about as tall as a human boy his age would be, and, unlike Cailan's prediction that the boy would have points on his ears, they were round.

“Alistair,” the king said, though Anora wasn't certain he understood him, “This is Cailan,” he pointed to Cailan, “And Anora.”

Anora waved, still watching him carefully, He, Cailan and Maric all had the same face.

“Cailan, this is your brother Alistair.”

Anora swore she'd never see Cailan as gleeful in his life as he was in that moment.

Chapter Text

For a moment, when Maric walked into his chamber and saw a dark-haired woman sitting in Rowan's favorite chair by the only window not covered by the thick velvet that lined the rest of the walls, reading to herself, he swore it was indeed Rowan, back from beyond the veil.

If he'd looked closely, he'd see the hair was the wrong length, and the skin the wrong color, and that the woman in the chair was too short. But for a second he didn't see any of that.

But then Fiona's large eyes glanced up at him and the illusion was shattered. She sat there, looking up at him wordlessly for a few moments, and then looked back at her book.

“That was Rowan's favorite spot in the whole castle,” Maric said to her softly, crossing the room to sit on the bed near the chair. “If I couldn't find her anywhere else, I could always find her there.” He smiled ruefully at his lap, then glanced back up at her.

Fiona closed her book over her finger keeping her place. It was a large, weighty tome who's title he recognized as Orlesian, though he had no honest clue about what it actually said in that bold gold lettering on the blue cover. “You still miss her,” she stated, nodding though about what, Maric had no real idea.

“I do...Does that bother you?”

“She was your wife, your friend, and the mother of your son. I'd be far more surprised if you didn't miss her.”

The silence between them grew awkward, and for almost a moment, neither one of them spoke, they just looked at one another,

“It felt nice,” Maric said, “to have someone in here waiting for me after all this time.”

“Teryn Mac Tir is never waiting for you?”

“Well, yes. But he doesn't count.” He paused, “He used to not come into my chambers when I wasn't here. Once, I actually stayed as silent as possible the entire day, pretending I wasn't here, because I didn't want to have to take care of the rite of high justice that day. I just sat in my room all day reading because he wouldn't come in and look without me here to let him in. He found out the next day and since then,” Maric let out a laugh. “Well. You can probably guess.”

“Very responsible of you, skipping your duties,” Fiona said, letting out a breathy laugh from her nose, smirking at him.

“I never said I was a great king. Everyone else says I am. I've always said I'm average at best, mediocre at worst.” he paused, thinking. “If I was an elven king, I'd have to be great, wouldn't I? Just to keep the people from rioting in the streets to try to get a human on the throne?”

“If you were an elf, you wouldn't be king. You'd be dead. The moment you even began to try for the throne Orlais would send everything in their arsenal to try to make sure you didn't lead.”

“What if my wife were an elven queen?” Maric asked meaningfully.

The large Orlesian book slipped out of Fiona's fingers, making her lose the place she'd held the book open to. She didn't reach to pick it up. Instead she just stared at Maric.

“Don't,” she began. “Don't do this Maric. I'm already leaving the life I love for you and for our son. Don't ask me this. Please. Not yet.”

Maric swallowed and nodded. “I'm sorry.”

'Well. That wasn't awkward and embarrassing,' he thought to himself. He knew it was soon. That all told, they'd only known each other in person for maybe a month and a half at the very most. That most courtships were far longer. But they had a child already. Fiona marrying him would offer her protection that just becoming his adviser wouldn't. It would offer her power. A way to stay safe.

Magical advisers could marry. Wilhelm had. It stood to reason Fiona could. That she could marry him, and live as his queen and be safe.

But he could see the fear and pain in her eyes after he asked, and she gave him a sad smile.

“Don't be sorry. Just...” She shook her head, unable to figure out how to finish that sentence. Instead she leaned down, picking up the book and setting it on the small side table next to her.

She stood up and walked over to him, sitting down on the bed, next to him. He looked at her, and was struck, again, always, by how stunning she was in the dim candle light, her face a study of light and shadow in the soft yellow glow.

She had the most gorgeous eyes, and they looked especially stunning in this low light, large and heavy lidded and dark and deep-set with thick dark lashes. If he hadn't given up drawing after his mother died, he would want to draw those eyes. They were a work of art in and of themselves.

He reached a hand out cautiously, to cup her cheek. She smiled at the gesture, then leaned over and kissed him, chastely brushing her lips against his. His hand found the back of her neck and pulled her closer by it, deepening the kiss, the closely cropped hairs there feeling interesting and new on his fingertips. Their teeth clacked together awkwardly at first, but they quickly adjusted to alleviate that problem. After a moment, they both pulled away, smiling..

“I've missed that,” Maric informed her, his hands pushing her now askew bangs out of her eyes.

Fiona smiled, letting out a breath of laughter, looking at him fondly. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “It's been too long,” she said in agreement.

She placed her small hand over his larger one, which rested on the bed, the way she had in the study the day before, rubbing circles again. But with her free hand, she began to unfasten the neck buckle that held her Warden robes collar closed. She couldn't get it, so with his free hand, Maric leaned in and helped, letting his fingers trail along her neck as he did. When he was finished helping, he glanced at Fiona, and with a gesture that consisted of pulling at the neck of his shirt and pointing at himself, wordlessly asked if she wouldn't mind him joining her in undressing. She nodded her assent, and with that, he pulled off his own shirt, revealing his bare chest.

“This one,” she said, “The buckle on this particular uniform always does that. The leather is dry and doesn’t like to budge. In Montsimmard, it takes me ten minutes with a knitting needle trying to get the end of it free.” She removed her leather gloves, her leather belt, and her quilted surcoat, revealing the clothing underneath, a one piece black garment with a blue collar, that covered both her torso and legs. It had a high neck, and no visible way to get it open in the front.

“I'm not sure I like these new Warden uniforms as much,” Maric teased. “They're very pretty, but they seem rather...fiddly compared to the old ones.” The old ones had consisted of a grey tabard with a blue griffon on the front of it, that could be worn over any garment.

“They're better for combat,” she said with a frown, “But the robes are rather difficult to get on and off.” As if to show him this, she began to attempt to undo the buttons down her back, missing with each pass.

“May I?” he offered.

She didn't answer, instead shifting on the bed so her back was to him, a silent yes. There were twenty flat buttons made of a shiny silver metal, probably silverite, imbued with lines of blue lyrium that seemed to vibrate under his fingers, trailing down her back, following the curve of her spine. He helped her undo them, one by one, his hand exploring the now liberated bits of skin with the gentlest of brushes that made Fiona shiver or laugh in the most electrifying way before moving on to the next button.

In the deep roads they hadn't done this. They'd been selfish, spending time together when the three of them, Duncan especially, could have all slept. Their studies of each other's bodies were done in near darkness then, touch being the only thing that made it clear what they looked like. It wasn't about taking their time, it was about speed. The same way most things were when one was fighting to survive the darkspawn

But now he could see her. All of her. And Maker, was she radiant. He felt, like this, the fire he always saw inside her was finally visible. And even if it burned him, he wanted to touch it.

Loghain was looming over Maric's bed when the king awoke the next morning. He glared at both Fiona and the king, his arms crossed, a grim look on his face.

“I thought you'd have learned better than to bring an Orlesian elf to your bed, Maric,” the man said softly.

The bitterness with which he said elf made it clear he'd of far rather called her an 'Orlesian whore', but that he feared Maric would punch him in the face. Or perhaps that Fiona would lob a fireball at him and burn him alive. People did fear mages. And for mages like Fiona, with a nasty temper, perhaps a small bit of that fear was justified. But only a very small bit.

His eyes fell on Fiona and if a look could kill, she would be dead twenty times over. She sat up and reached for the thick down blanket to cover herself, not wanting this shem to see more of her body than he already had, when Maric began to speak.

“Fiona isn't...She isn't like that,” he said softly, looking up at Loghain. He was naked, except for a sheet into which is legs had twisted during the night.

His friend seeing him in such a state didn't seem to bother him at all. Perhaps it was a Ferelden thing. Or perhaps the rumors in Orlais about the two of them had a grain of truth to them. It didn't matter to Fiona either way.

He held Loghain's gaze for almost a minute, until the dark-haired man broke eye contact with him and looked away towards the sunlight streaming in through the window, brighter than usual, because of the mounds of white snow reflecting it.

“The Orlesian ambassador is waiting to meet with you downstairs.” He continued not to look at Maric, still staring out that window, though at what Fiona didn't know. Finally, he turned, walked over to the door, and opened it just enough to slip out.

Well, he may have hated her, but he at least knew to be discreet about she and Maric's ill-advised relationship.

Maric sighed and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “I should go do that,” he told her, reaching a hand up to touch her shoulder, and she placed her hand over his. They broke contact after a few seconds, and he stood up, rolling out of bed and walking over to the bowl of water in the corner of the room.

Without standing herself, Fiona glanced at it. It was a dweomer basin, much like the one she, Duncan and Maric found in the deep roads a few years before, except that, unlike that one, this one wasn't cracked.

Dweomer basins were basins created by the Dwarven shaperates of Orzammar. They had special runes carved into them which allowed them to pull an endless supply of fresh, clean water from thin air.

This one, unlike the one they had found in the deep roads was richly decorated, the rim of it painted with gold paint, or perhaps actual gold leaf. And it had carvings of the house Aeducan heraldry, and the heraldry that had hung outside Maric's castle, carved on either side of the rune carving.

Maric, washcloth in hand, scrubbing his face, turned to look at her, feeling her eyes on his back. He noticed she was staring at the bowl, not him, so he smirked. “It was a gift from King Endrin. To cement the relationship between Ferelden and Orzammar,” he explained. “He gave it to me last time I visited.” He let out a small laugh at the memory. “I had to carry it very carefully on my lap the whole ride back to Denerim, because I couldn't put it with my clothes without them getting wet.”

Fiona laughed too. “It's lovely,” she said softly. She let her eyes trail off from the bowl, onto Maric. In the light of day, she could see his body better than she could the night before.

He wasn't heavily muscled the way some of the warriors she met in the Wardens had been, with biceps likely wider than her entire torso. But his muscles were still firm, solidly built. Surprisingly so for a king.

Actually his build was a bit similar to Duncan's. If she hadn't known he was a warrior from having seen him fight, from that, she would have guessed he was a rogue like Duncan was. Perhaps he'd been too clumsy for that sort of training as a child.

When he finished washing up, Fiona kept her eyes on him, as he walked over to where his clothes were, and dug around for something to wear.

“Enjoying the view?” Maric teased.

She didn't answer, instead she thought for a moment. “Was your mother a warrior?” she asked. “The rebel queen? I've seen portraits of her with a sword and shield but-”

“But she's not built like a warrior,” he finished. “No, she wasn't originally. Her natural fighting style was more roguish. But my grandfather made sure to train her like a warrior. In battle, rogues are a lot more vulnerable than warriors are. Range of motion is important for rogues and you can't move well in big bulky armor, so most wear leathers which offer less protection. But most rogues, if they need to, can switch over to become warriors. Loghain did it too, actually, I believe.”

“I didn't know that. In the Circle, you can switch how you specialize, if you are naturally a spirit healer, but because you fear possession if you use that gift, you can become a force mage instead, but it will take you a lot more work to be half as good.”

“What did you specialize in?”

“Nothing yet. Genevieve wanted me to be a spirit healer, but I had no aptitude for it.” She gestured with her fingers in the air to some marks left on Maric's body, ones she'd healed in the deep roads, but which had, despite that, still scarred. “A good healer can heal without scars.”

He began to dress now, and she looked away as he did, though she was uncertain why she had.

“What are you going to do today?” he asked her.

“I'm uncertain. Maybe I will take Alistair to the Warden compound. I need to visit there anyway, and,” she swallowed hard, “I haven't spent much time with him at all.”

“That's a good idea,” Maric agreed.

She paused, thinking of the day before, when Cailan cornered her before supper, and asked her about the Wardens, excited to hear anything that he could about the Order.

“May I bring Prince Cailan as well?” she asked. “He seemed interested in the Wardens yesterday.”

“Are you sure you can handle him?” Maric asked. His big blue eyes caught her's, serious.

Fiona considered it. She was fairly certain that she /couldn't/ handle both Maric and Alistair, seeing as she'd rarely been around children before, but she was also certain she couldn't get better unless she tried. “I believe I can, yes.”

Maric smiled. “He'll be very excited to go.”

An hour later, they went by carriage to the Warden compound, Alistair bundled up in a pink knitted cloak that had been Anora's, an odd color for a girl, and a blue dress.

Fiona found herself pleasantly surprised to find that no one exploded, or fell down a flight of stairs, or got trapped in some oubliette, never to be seen again at any point during their trip.

It'd taken a little assistance from one of the Wardens, a kindly elven man who said he had three children of his own, to soothe Alistair after he fell and hit his head and Fiona had been unable to calm him.

But it hadn't been as frightening as she imagined caring for two children to be.

A few days later, she found that sending in her request for discharge to both the First Warden and her commander was as terrifying as she imagined, however.

She knew what the answer would probably be.

The First Warden had given her the option to leave the Order when Alistair was born and they discovered she was cured. But she had stayed because she wanted her son to have a life without her.

But the First Warden who was in office then had gone on her Calling, and been replaced by a grizzled Dwarven man, a distant relation of the Aeducans from her understanding, whom Fiona knew nothing about. Being a dwarf, he might insist on her staying with the order, knowing how important it still was in fighting darkspawn.

She tried to hide her nerves and fear, telling herself that if the answer was that she must stay, she'd want to spend as much time with Alistair and Maric, and even Cailan who'd taken a shining to her, before she was forced to return to Montsimmard.

While Fiona was waiting for the letter with her answer, the Divine had already gotten her own.

Divine Beatrix was an older woman, in her sixties, with golden red hair that was slowly giving way to white.

While many Divines before her would travel among the people, and meet with leaders, Beatrix, for the most part, did not, instead choosing to stay in her quarters above the Val Royeaux cathedral, and only came out when something made it necessary.

To her detractors, she was a woman of inaction. A woman who did just enough in the Chantry's hierarchy to ensure it ran smoothly, but just too little to enact any real change.

The Grand Cleric who had replaced Mother Bronach in Ferelden, a local woman called Augustine, requested chantry funds to provide relief to those still in turmoil after the rebellion, especially the alienage elves, who had suffered more than any other group, but Beatrix had denied them.

And now, Beatrix sat in her chambers, across from a stack of letters containing more requests from across Thedas, hoping that if she were very very lucky, and stared at it very very hard, the entire pile would disappear.

She'd stared for almost a minute and a half, until a knock on the door caused her to blink, and jump, leading to the letters falling out of their pile and down across her bed.

“Come in,” she called, clutching her chest and taking a breath to calm herself.

 

A young Sister, barely seventeen from the looks of her, in red vestments, walked into the room and bowed low, almost as though terrified of Beatrix. In truth, Beatrix did not mind the idea that she was.

 

“Your Perfection,” she began, “Uh, Grand Cleric Hortensia told me to inform you the letter you have been waiting for from Ferelden has finally come. S-she told me to give it to you.” The girl's hands, sweaty, shook as she reached into the pocket of her robes and pulled out the letter, setting it carefully on Beatrix's bed.

 

“Thank you my girl,” the old woman said, inclining her head slightly. “You may go. Close the door behind you as you go.”

 

The girl nodded and, almost running, left the room, closing the door behind her just as Beatrix requested.

 

The old woman opened the wax seal that closed the envelope carefully, gently peeling back the wax and pulling out the letter.

 

It was written messily, in a fast, curvy hand, as though the writer had been trying to get the information down as quickly as she could before she forgot it.

 

It read:

Your Perfection,

There is much going on in Ferelden. I've heard rumors that the King Of Ferelden has a child with an elven mage, a woman I believe to be the Grey Warden who traveled here with me, Warden-Constable Fiona de Rais, of the Montsimmard Grey Wardens.

I wish to investigate further, possibly with the assistance of a few of my fellows in your employ, as well as some Templars.

I fear that the king may, in fact, be the Thrall of this Warden, and I wish to stop her before it is too late. Please, Your Most Holy, send me the resources I need before Ferelden falls to malificar and abominations.

Your most humble servant,

In the light of the Maker,

Lady T. d'Évreux

Beatrix sighed and crumpled the paper up. She did not feel like upsetting the Wardens today.

“Where's Anora?” Cailan asked Alistar a few days later as the two of them, as well as Fiona and Anora, sat in the Great Hall. Alistair was sitting on the table, where Cailan has placed him, with Cailan sitting on the chair in front of him. He grinned at his little brother wide.

Alistair giggled, showing off his small teeth, and pointed at Anora, who sat at one of the ends of the table, reading a book.

Anora glanced up at them, and shook her head with something close to a smile, and then looked back to her book.

He'd heard Fiona, and his father talking one evening when they thought he was asleep. His father told Fiona that Alistair wasn't acting the way Cailan and Anora had at his age, and that Loghain noticed it too. That he worried maybe what Alistair went through had made him a little slow.

And so Cailan decided to make it his goal to teach his baby brother all he could, as quickly as he could.

“Where's your mother?” he asked now.

Alistair looked at his mother, then laughed and pointed at Cailan. A joke. Or as much of a joke as a toddler could make.

“No,” Cailan said laughing. “Where's your mother?”

Alistair's smile stayed on his face and he pointed at Fiona, who glanced up at whatever she was writing, and waved at him. His smile was apparently contagious, because she, too, smiled back.

“Mama,” he said, standing up from where he'd been sitting and walking towards his mother. Cailan offered him a hand to make sure he stayed steady, and he took it.

When he reached her, he stepped on her papers, smudging the drying ink a little with his feet, and though Fiona looked fearful at the idea of him coming at her, she didn't deny him the cuddle he was clearly looking for. Instead she picked him up and held him close, closing her eyes.

“Are you and Cailan having fun?” she asked him, her hands finding his reddish blond curls and running her fingers through them, the way Cailan remembered his mother doing with him.

Alistair let out another giggle and nodded, “Yes,” he said, though the s sounded almost like a 'th'. He buried his face in Fiona's shoulder.

“Good.” She kissed at his curls. “I'm very happy you're having fun with him.”

She kept Alistair in her arms for a few more minutes, until he started squirming, wanting to be put down, and she set him down on the ground.

Cailan wondered if this would be what it would have been like if his mother had lived and she and his father had another child, him playing with them, teaching them, reading to them.

If this was what it would have been like to never have to be alone.

Chapter Text

It was here.

She could hear it.

The Archdemon.

The eldritch whisper, the siren's Call that she heard in the Deep Roads so many years ago.

She heard it call out her name. And then she fell into blackness, a writhing pit filled with darkspawn. And they descended on her.

Fiona felt herself hit the bed hard. She could hear her heavy panting, feel the tears on her face as she tried to fight them back. But she found herself terrified to open her eyes.

'A Warden nightmare,' a voice somewhere in the part of her mind that could think rationally, whispered to her. 'It was just a nightmare.'

She knew it was. But she also knew that sometimes this would happen. That she'd be certain she was awake until she opened her eyes, and there at the foot of her bed would be a whole horde of Darkspawn, with a massive archdemon flying over her head. And she'd be stuck in this dream again. But if she kept her eyes closed it would go away.

Then she felt someone shaking her. Hard.

“Fiona,” the person shaking her's voice whispered loudly, “Wake up, you're having a nightmare. It's just a dream.”

Maric's voice.

She opened her eyes. The tears and heavy breathing hadn't been a part of her nightmare. They were real.

Maric was sitting up, looking down at her. Something, probably her during her sleep, had scratched him hard across one of his forearms, hard enough to draw blood. And down his side too, though those hadn't broken the skin. He helped pull her into a sitting position.

Fiona tried to catch her breath enough to speak, letting out a few hard coughs. “S-sorry,” she panted.

“Was it...about your master? Your nightmare?” he asked her softly, cautiously, slowly, reaching a hand out to put it on her shoulder. He was giving her a chance to move away if she didn't want him to touch her.

But she didn't move, and closed her eyes when she felt his fingertips find her bare shoulder.

She shook her head in response to his question, and coughed hard again, holding up one finger on one of her hands to indicate she'd speak in a second.

“Relax,” he soothed. “Speak when you can breathe again.”

The hand on her shoulder was replaced by an arm around her, pulling her close to him, and she allowed it, resting her head against his chest, taking the deepest breaths she was able to, breathing in Maric's scent long with the air.

“It wasn't about him. No.”

“You can tell me about it.”

“I'm still trying to decide if the Commander of The Grey would agree.”

“So it's a Warden thing."

Fiona nodded, deciding Maric knew enough of this that it wasn't some major secret. “We get nightmares. Of the call of the Old Gods. It isn't every night. Or even most. But we get them. Even Dwarves. It's unrelated to the fade.”

Maric's body tensed a little around her, holding her closer as though protecting her from something. “I thought you were cured.”

“I haven't been cured. I just won't have to go on my Calling. Many of my 'symptoms' are less severe, but they're not gone. I'm still hungry constantly. I can still sense darkspawn, they can still sense me. I still have the Warden nightmares. But it isn't as severe. The nightmares aren't as vivid. I need to be closer to the Darkspawn to sense them. I can stave off eating outside meals. But the taint is still inside me. And it probably always will be.”

Her words hung heavy in the already thick warm air.

They didn't speak for what felt like an eternity, Maric's fingers finding the space between Fiona's shoulder blades and rubbing it comfortingly. Fiona let them, feeling her dark lashes flutter close as her eyelids felt heavy again.

“I'm sorry I scratched you,” she finally said, hearing the tiredness that invaded her voice again, her words half whispered and groggy against Maric's skin.

“I've had worse. You're less dangerous to share a bed with than Rowan was,” Maric let out a laugh. “She used to keep a knife under her pillow.”

“Why would she do that?” Fiona mumbled.

“After the Orlesians tried to ambush us just after the battle of Redcliffe, she started to. She, Loghain, and I were all asleep in an abandoned house just outside Redcliffe...”

Fiona felt herself slowly fall asleep, Maric's words becoming softer and softer until they disappeared, replaced only by the sounds of the dreamscape the Fade had conjured for her.

The small palace chapel was one of the most beautiful places in the entire building.

The floor was a heavily tiled mosaic in the Rivaini style, geometric shapes that looked like stars and flowers and hexagons made of reds and browns and blacks and whites.

Near the front of the chapel, just before the altar and holy brazier, there was a nearly sky high marble carving of Andraste the Warrior. The Warrior that the chantry so often tried to forget She was. She was in Her heavily maile haubergeon along with maile hood, Her leather armor over it also heavily detailed. The statue was so well made, one could even look closely and see the straps that held Her armor on Her on the side She held Her shield, despite the fact that the shield covered most of the view of them.

In the stain glass windows along the walls, there were the images of different parts of the chant. The magisters entering the golden city, and it blackening. Andraste raising Her sword and cutting the manacles of an elven slave, freeing her. The burning of Minrathous. Maferath's betrayal.

And it was always warm, because of the holy brazier which always stayed lit.

And it was Maric's favorite place in the entire castle.

The Usurper had spared no expense on it, every detail was carefully chosen, and probably took months for a skilled crafts-person to carve, or smith or assemble.

It was probably grander than the Denerim Chantry, if quite a bit smaller.

He walked into one of the rows of benches and sat down, crossing his hands over his chest, and inclining his head against the bench in front of him.

He needed the guidance of the Prophetess who's larger than life statue loomed over the small room, and of Her heavenly Husband, The Maker.

“In times of great tribulation, open your mouth and ask for the Maker's guidance,” he whispered, saying this section of the Chant of Light from memory. “And He shall come to you, and offer you succor and safety in His light.”

That was what Andraste told the slaves She freed who followed Her. The Maker listened then. That was before the Archons burned His bride alive, and He judged humanity unworthy, and turned His back on His creations again.

But Maric hoped it was still true. That the Maker still listened, even if the Chantry said He didn't.

'Maker,' he thought to himself, hoping he didn't need to say the words aloud for the Maker to hear him, 'I am struggling.' He swallowed.

He sat there, thinking of all the things he was struggling with.

His rage at Eamon.

His fear that he may lose Fiona to the Wardens again, or, if they let her go, to the Circle.

His efforts to raise Cailan the way an ordinary father would while still caring for his country, and doing neither in half-measure.

His guilty conscience for abandoning Alistair. His fear that it kept him from protecting his son from every misery he went through.

His worry that he was putting too much on Loghain, making him do more than he could. His worry that if he expected too much of the man, he may eventually break.

The idea that Rowan would be angry at him for moving on.

And his fear that by being in love with a mage he was somehow disobeying the Maker.

“Please Maker, in the name of Your Bride, please take pity on me and tell me what to do. Please. I need your guidance.”

He sat there in the chapel, the holy brazier now nothing but glowing embers to offer light, and waited for something. Anything. Any sort of sign that perhaps the Maker had heard him. And in the darkness of the chapel, eyes closed, body warmed, he felt like every worry he'd been carrying was removed slowly from his shoulders, until he felt light again.

He took a deep shaky breath when all the anxiety was gone, and rose from where he sat, walking over to the statue of Andraste. He touched her shield gently with two fingers held together, and closed his eyes again, then opened them, and walked out of the chapel.

There were four more large winter storms before the month was over, each one piling snow in higher and higher mounds around the castle, that Cailan was fairly certain that, had the tallest pile been placed outside the window of his bedchamber on the second floor, he'd be able to reach out and touch it.

Anora left Denerim with her Governess for Gwaren before the first one hit, though Loghain stayed behind, probably to help Cailan's father.

The Orlesian Comte, the Agent of the Divine, and the ambassador returned home, promising they'd come back to Ferelden when spring came again, not wishing to get stuck in Ferelden until it thawed.

But Fiona stayed.

He wondered how long she would stay. Grey Wardens were supposed to be in the Deep Roads, fighting darkspawn, and yet here she stayed, far from any darkspawn, even though she was supposed to return to Montsimmard with the others.

He sat in his mother's old study with her, he and Alistair playing on the floor. The other boy was too young to be a proper playmate for someone Cailan's age, but he was happy to have him to help relieve the boredom that was the palace in winter without Anora or any of the servant children to play with him.

They were roughhousing, Cailan and Alistair. Cailan made sure to be careful not to actually hurt his baby brother, instead always letting the younger boy win every fight, while he giggled.

“You're very good with him,” Fiona told Cailan after one of his and Alistair's bouts. She gave him a smile. It wasn't the scared smile she'd given him when she first met him, but something warmer, friendlier. Less fearful.

“I like him,” he told her simply, sitting down on the floor at her feet, folding his legs up under himself, watching her.

Alistair, still wanting to play, tried to pull Cailan backward by his shoulders, but, since he was too weak, and Cailan wasn't willing to fake it at this moment, it didn't work. Instead his older brother bent backwards, and picked Alistair up, and sat him on his lap. The younger boy didn't seem amused by this, and he shot Cailan a look. But Cailan ignored it.

“I'm glad you do. I never had a younger brother or sister. I don't think I have the temperament to take to it the way you have. I liked to be alone as a little girl.”

Alistair's noises to get free from his brother's grip were the only other noises in the room, until Cailan let him go.

“Why didn't you go back with the others?” Cailan asked, glancing from his hands folded in his lap, to Fiona. “Are you going to stay here with Father and I? You and Alistair?”

She nodded, her smile grew a little sad now, but it stayed on her face. “I hope to. I'm waiting for the First Warden in Weishaupt to say that I can leave the Wardens.”

“If he says yes you can stay here? With us?”

“There's still a lot to do if he says yes. I'll have to go away for a while, to Kinloch Hold, where the Circle of Magi is. And your father will have to write to the Grand Cleric and perhaps the Divine asking her permission for me to come live here.”

Cailan's brow furrowed. “Why does he have to ask them?” He reached for one of the solider dolls on the floor and took it into his hands, toying with it nervously.

Alistair walked over to his mother and made arms at her to pick him up. She leaned down and complied, then looked back at Cailan.

“Because I am a mage. The Chantry decides where a mage can and can't go when mages aren't in the Wardens.”

“Because of the Magisters,” Cailan said softly.

“Because of the Magisters,” Fiona agreed.

“But you're an elf. Elves were the Magister's slaves. Elven mages aren't Magisters. They wouldn't be.”

A look of anger crossed the woman's face, a sign she agreed with him, but she pushed it away, probably hoping Cailan didn't notice. “The Chantry doesn't agree.”

“What happens if the Chantry says you can't come stay here?”

“Your father will care for Alistair. Loghain will help him.”

“To you. I mean.”

Fiona shook her head. “That's not something for you to worry about Cailan.”

“I want them to say yes. And I want you and Father to get married.”

That made Fiona laugh. “I don't know if we'd get married. But I want them to say yes too.”

Four days later, the letter from Weishaupt came, delivered by an elven Warden Fiona was fairly sure hadn't stopped running since he left the fortress, based on how out of breath she was.

She walked into the throne room with it clutched close to her chest. The look on Loghain's face said that walking into the throne room alone wasn't something that was just done like that.

The man who'd been speaking to Maric, just barely out of his teens from the looks of him, with a blondish brown goatee and chin-length hair, some of it twisted into a braid, in fine clothes, a noble probably, glanced at Maric, and then at her, and then back at Maric, very confused as to what was going on.

Maric eyed the letter, able to see the blue wax seal that held it closed even from where he sat. “Excuse me, Teagan. I have to-,” he took a breath. “I will be right back.”

Before the man, Teagan apparently, could say anything, Maric had risen from his throne and walked over to Fiona. The two of them quickly walked out of the room.

“It's...The Warden letter?” Maric asked her as they walked down the hallway, looking for an empty room in which they could speak privately. They walked for a few minutes, finding nothing suitable. Finally, unwilling to wait, Fiona opened one of the storage room doors and stepped inside, holding the door open for Maric, and then allowing it to shut behind him.

“Yes.”

The storage room was dark, but one very small window in the corner of it supplied enough light for them to see one another, and to see the letter.

“Did you open it?” Maric asked.

“I wanted to wait for you. I...wanted you to know the news right when I did. So, no matter what happens, we know together.”

She hadn't felt this terrified since the deep roads, when she, Maric, and Duncan were literally fighting for their lives. She wasn't a coward. But she held her entire life after this point in her own hands. Any person would be fearful.

With a shaking hand, she handed it to Maric. “Open it. Please. Tell me what it says. I...Can't.”

Maric took the letter and opened it carefully, reading it over, his face a mask of neutrality until the very end of the letter, when he grinned wide at her. He didn't even need to tell her what it said.

It was hard to tell who kissed whom first, because everything happened too quickly. Maric had probably kissed Fiona first, if only because he was so much taller, and it was more likely he'd be able to kiss her more easily than she could kiss him. But it could have been either.

What was easy to tell was how alive both of them felt at that moment, their mouths pressing against each other so hard it wasn't unlikely they'd bruise, breathless and frenzied, until they finally pulled away.

The Wardens let her leave. That was the first step.

In a few days, when the roads were clear enough to travel, she'd begin the second one. She'd travel to Kinloch Hold and wait for the Chantry's word on whether or not she could be Maric's adviser.

“The Maker is watching over us,” Maric said.

Fiona, despite not believing, nodded in agreement. “Let's hope He keeps watching over us.”

Chapter Text

The worst thing about any Circle was always the dungeons.

They were always cold and damp and dark, no matter how warm and well-lit the rest of the Circle was.

She saw the White Spire dungeons once, when she was given a tour during her time recruiting for the Wardens.

And she remembered the dungeons of the Montsimmard Circle, the cold grey stone walls around her the first thing she remembered of freedom.

Wasn't that funny, the first thing she remembered of freedom was a cage. A cell.

The Ferelden Circle's dungeon was much the same. Only it wasn't.

It was maybe one one-hundredth the size of the White Spire's dungeons. And one twentieth the size of the dungeons at Montsimmard. There were only twenty cells, all of them empty.

There was a set of bones in one of the cells, but it was too dim for Fiona to see whether they were human or elven or animal as she passed.

Her eyes hurt. They were swollen, and probably red, though of course Fiona could not see if they in fact were.

Most of her trip she'd cried, or wanted to cry. She wanted to be back at Maric's home in Denerim. With him. With her son. Maker, she'd even put up with Loghain if it meant she was allowed back.

A red-headed female templar led her to an empty cell on the far side of the room. The floor of the cell was damp, and when Fiona looked up she saw why. There was a brick missing from the wall, through which snow leaked in and melted.

The Templar frowned. “Well...” she sighed. “That's the only cell the door locks for... I keep telling the Knight Commander he needs to have the others repaired...” She glanced at Fiona, and Fiona looked at her. She was young. Younger than Fiona for certain. Maybe nineteen. New to this job.

The woman took a breath and pushed her fringe out of her face. “I'm going to chain you to the cell door until I can go get you a chair or some blankets or something so you don't have to get wet...It's not protocol, but I can't have a Grey Warden sit on a wet floor.”

Fiona didn't bother to correct her. To tell her she wasn't a Warden any longer. Instead she nodded, feeling her eyelids grow heavy. She blinked rapidly to stop herself from falling asleep where she stood.

The templar undid one of the shackles on Fiona's wrists, pulled the chain through the bar on the cell, and then reclosed it. She then repeated the action on the manacles around Fiona's ankles.

And then she walked away, leaving Fiona standing there.

The Circles always did this.

Not chain people to the doors of jail cells.

But keep new arrivals in the dungeons for a few days. For observation. To ensure they weren't possessed and turning themselves into a weapon to be used against the templars.

Apparently, something like two hundred years ago, a Dalish mage did just that. She submitted herself to one of the smaller circles, stories always differed as to which one, already possessed. And then, when the Templars weren't paying attention, she allowed herself to become an abomination and killed nearly a hundred of them before she herself was killed.

There was very little in the way of things to look at in the dungeon. Rats darting in and out of holes in the far corner of the room, nearly impossible to see in the oppressive darkness.

On the floor of the 'aisle' that ran between the cells, though it was difficult to see, covered with filth as it was, there appeared to be a mosaic. And though she could make out a man wielding a sword against something that was very large but indistinctly shaped, little else could.

Footsteps coming down the stairs signaled the reappearance of the templar, who walked back into the dungeon carrying a rolled up mat, a pillow and a blanket.

“We're not supposed to give you blankets,” she informed Fiona in what would have been a kindly tone if Fiona was in the mood to care or notice. “Because the last time someone gave a mage one they hung themselves. But I don't think you'd hang yourself, would you?”

She glanced up at Fiona, who blinked at her dully and didn't answer. The young Templar's face turned to panic.

“Please don't hang yourself. If you hang yourself while you're here the Grey Wardens will blame the templars and the other templars will blame me and I'll be punished.”

“I doubt the Grey Wardens would much care what someone who has retired from their ranks chooses to do,” Fiona said finally, as the woman opened the cell door, knelt down, and began to set up a bed of sorts for her.

“Oh, but they would,” the woman told her, “My uncle, he's from the Anderfels and he joined the Wardens and he says once you're a Warden you're always a Warden. Just like with Templars...Well...As long as the templar doesn't get fired... Or they go awol. Or they get possessed. Oh. Don't get possessed either, because they said if you do I have to be the one to kill you, and I had to kill a mage during their harrowing already and I really don't want to have to kill anyone else.” She winced at the thought and glanced back up at Fiona.

“You picked the wrong occupation then, if you don't want to kill anyone.”

The woman laughed, smoothed the blanket one more time and then stood up, her heavy armor making the task more difficult than it would have otherwise been. “Maybe I did. My mother always said I'd be better off as a lace maker. But since the Oresians left, there's not really much of a demand for lace.”

She reached down and picked the keys off her waist again, and undid the shackles around Fiona's wrist, and then redid them when they were freed from the bar, and then repeated the process with her manacles.

Fiona walked into the cell and laid down on the 'bed' in the corner, closing her eyes before she even bothered to put the blanket around herself.

The cell door closed and locked behind her, and there was the sound of metal sabatons walking back up the stairs. And she found herself all alone in the darkness.

It was funny that the first thing she found herself thinking in the darkness was not about her son, or about Maric, or about anyone else. It was instead the thought that she should have stopped at the Inn by the boat to the Circle and gotten something to eat before she surrendered herself. Because she hadn't and now her stomach was growling so loudly it was irritating.

At the Montsimmard Circle they kept her without food for nearly a week in her cell, and only brought her water twice.

The Templars seemed to take a sick sort of pleasure in it. At the time she assumed they were just sadists, wanting to see her suffer for their fun. The way her master had.

But now she wondered if they'd been so cruel /because/ of her master. Because she was an elf who killed a human. Killed a Count. A Comte.

She pushed the thoughts out of her head. The only thing digging at the past would lead to was tears, and if she was going to cry it wasn't going to be about that man.

Fiona pulled the blanket out from under herself roughly, and then pulled it over herself, not opening her eyes as she did so.

Tears welled in her eyes, unbidden and she allowed them to fall, allowed herself to feel the pain, the hurt, the loss, of her freedom, of her family, of everything.

And though the sobs wracked her body, making her chest hit hard against the stone she could still feel through the mat, she couldn't make herself stop.

She was exhausted. She was hungry. She was cold. She was alone. She missed her son. She missed her lover. She missed her lover's bed.

Everything felt overwhelming and it made her head swim, making her more weary.

Eventually she could not fight the claws of sleep pulling her into it.

And before unconsciousness rose up to meet her, she remembered something one of the Wardens at Montsimmard used to say to himself before every mission. She had no idea where the words were from, some poem perhaps, by a priest or a brother, but they offered her some comfort to hear them every time he said them.

'Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,
I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm.
I shall endure.
What you have created, no one can tear asunder.'

And she knew she could. She had to. She could survive this. She could weather this storm.

Fiona was in the cell for what could have been hours, or days, or weeks, she honestly couldn't tell. With just the blackness and the guard who came by to bring her food and water occasionally, and the annoying templar who brought her in when she first came visiting her on occasion, everything seemed to blur together.

After a while, she tried to summon some magical fire, just enough to see by, so that she had something to do other than sit and sleep. However, whatever the chains she wore around her wrists and ankles were made of seemed to disrupt her mana regeneration, and the flicker of flame she made lasted for less than a minute before it died out, snuffed before it could even fully form..

So instead, she sat and waited. At times she'd feel her eyelids grow heavy, and the desire to rest would nearly overtake her, but she willed herself to stay awake, not wishing to miss her chance to leave the dungeons because she happened to doze off.

Eventually, the voices came. Demonic voices, soft and gentle, promising her freedom and the chance to leave the dungeon if she allowed them to possess her.

Tremulous voices. Voices that reminded one of black velvet. Voices of friends and loved ones.

The voices of demons were not foreign to any mage. They often whispered on the edge of one's consciousness like the sound of voices shouting from a great distance away. But most of the time enough willpower could keep them from becoming too loud or overwhelming.

But when one was alone, and in a dark place, metaphoric or literal, they became louder. Cacophonous shouts and guttural monologues of promises the demon made.

And it took all one had to chase them away.

Fiona remembered the first time she heard their whispers. Back in Orlais, when she was fourteen. Laying on the stone floor of her master's dungeon, feeling herself bleed out while her master laid there next to her, dead, his body mangled by her magical attack, face nearly burnt off, hands too.

So many of them gathered around her, promising her they'd heal her, get her somewhere safe, if only she let them into her body. Let them possess her.

But she didn't listen to them. Blocked them out, until finally, blissfully, unconsciousness came and took away all her pain.

No respite came now from the voices now however.

They reminded her of the Calling in some ways, in how loud and persistent they were. Of how they burrowed into one's mind so firmly one was almost certain there were grooves pounded into one's skull from it like a tattoo.

'Little one,' one of the demons whispered to her, borrowing both her master's voice, and the name he used to call her, the one that now made her feel sick to her stomach to hear. 'if you do not let me in, I will make you suffer for it.'

Another took Maric's. 'Please, please come home to me. If you let me help, I can bring you home, my love.'

Still another took Kell's, trying to convince her that by staying here in the dungeons she was abandoning the Order the same way Utha had.

That she was a traitor, turning against the men and women who became her brothers and sisters when she took the Joining. And it took everything Fiona had in her to force herself not to listen.

It seemed, however, that she had to decide between forcing herself to not hear them and forcing herself to stay awake, and finally, she fell asleep on the mat, blanket kicked off, and she did not dream.

She was awoken the next morning, or she assumed it was morning, by the sound of soft footsteps.

Before she could bite it down, an exhausted, broken whine escaped her throat. But she stirred despite herself, and sat up, rubbing her eyes. Then she looked toward where the footsteps were coming from.

A woman, another elf, the large sunburst brand on her forehead marking her as one of the Tranquil, entered the dungeons, carrying a set of dull brown robes. She had another tattoo on her skin, beneath the brand, swirls coming from under her lip, and down her cheekbones and across her forehead. Tattoos that marked her as having been Dalish before the Circle.

“Warden-Constable,” she said politely, in that peculiar monotone specific to the Tranquil, unlocking Fiona's cell door and walking inside, “First Enchanter Irving wishes to speak with you. He has told me you are to dress, and be brought to him.”

She walked over to Fiona, and began to unlock her bonds, then she set the brown robe on top of the mat, by Fiona's feet.

Fiona picked up the robe and then stood up and turned her back to the woman to change into them. The Tranquil may have had none of the misgivings of seeing someone nude others had, but it still made her uncomfortable.

She felt filthy, and achy, and every ounce of her felt numb.

“I'm not Warden-Constable any longer,” Fiona informed the woman softly as she tied the sash around her waist, the sadness in her own voice more obvious than she hoped it would be.

The Tranquil either didn't notice, or didn't care.

“That was what the First Enchanter told me I was to call you, Ser.”

When she was fully dressed, Fiona followed the Tranquil woman out of the dungeon.

The two ascended the stairs together, and then up one or two more flights of stairs until they reached the First Enchanter's office.

The other woman knocked on the office door. A voice from within bade them entrance.

Fiona opened the door, and walked inside, the tranquil waiting in the doorway for more instructions.

“Thank you, Revas,” the First Enchanter said softly to the tranquil woman, “You may go. Close the door behind you.”

Fiona studied the man. He was fairly young for a First Enchanter. Forties or early fifties at the very most, with a fine blonde beard which was slowly turning grey with age.

“I hope you didn't mind your time in the dungeon too much,” The man said. “It was what had to be done, though I did my best to make sure you were let out quickly.”

She didn't respond, instead she glanced around at the man's office.

It looked much the way she thought a First Enchanter's office should look. Books lined the shelves. There were a variety of metal instruments in the corner of the room, which Fiona couldn't fathom the use for, and his desk was solid and wooden, with ornate carvings into all but the writing surface.

There was a chair to the side of the man's desk, large and wooden, the base shaped like a cube with all but one of its faces missing, and a straight back attached to ornately carved arms.

Without the man instructing her to do so, Fiona sat down in the chair.

“I'm afraid you will have to forgive me, Warden-Constable, but this transfer was most unusual. And because of that, all of your files are still at the Montsimmard Circle and, even if I sent the request for them, they would not be here for at least a month. After speaking with Knight Commander Sanderson, we have both decided it would probably be best for us to remake your files, rather than wait for them to arrive.”

Again, she let herself make no acknowledgment that she heard the man.

“Warden, have you heard me?” the man asked after a moment, trying to catch Fiona's eyes with his own. She didn't allow him to, instead she stared up at the things which sat on top of the bookshelves. A fancifully shaped set of deer horns. A smaller dragon scale, probably from somewhere along the tail. A reassembled snake skeleton.

“I've heard you. I just would prefer not to do this, Ser.”

The man chuckled in a way that made Fiona more annoyed than comforted. “I understand that, Warden de Rais-”

She cut him off. “De Rais is not my surname. It was the surname of the man...I lived with before I was sent to the Circle. That is the only reason I am called it.” Her voice was harsher than intended, but she made no effort to apologize for it.

She was being unpleasant and she knew it, but she was exhausted, and had been deprived of contact with other people for days and she could not work up an effort to not be, especially not after being called a name which to her meant pure evil.

“What would you prefer I call you then, Warden?”

“Fiona.”

“I meant as a surname.”

She thought for a second, before finally deciding. “Du Gris.”

The man pulled some vellum, an ink pot, and a quill out of a desk drawer. He began to scratch that, 'Fiona De Gris' at the top of a piece of paper.

“Names of your immediate family, Warden?”

“My father was Enansal, a servant in the home of...some noblewoman in Montsimmard, I don't remember her name, and my mother Sara was a washerwoman in the Montsimmard alienage. No siblings.”

“Do you have any children?”

Fiona swallowed. The idea of telling the Chantry of Alistair's existence was not something she wanted to do, as she was uncertain if the law which gave the chantry the rights to the children of Circle Mages could also be applied to children born while their parents were outside the Circle. But if they found out later that she was lying it would probably not end well. Fear tensed in her stomach like writhing snakes as she tried to decide.

“Yes,” she said after a moment. “One son. Alistair. He lives with his father in Denerim.”

“And what is his father's name and occupation?”

“Is that necessary?”

“We would prefer to have it. It would make finding your son and lover a simpler task, should you die in our care and your ashes should need to be returned.”

“My lover lives in the household of King Maric. My son lives there with him. Is that a sufficient answer?”

Irving gave her a look, which told her to calm down, but which only served to make her more annoyed, but he scratched the answer anyway.

“When was the date of your arrival to the Circle in Montsimmard?”

“The fourteenth of Kingsway, 8:99 Blessed.”

“And the date of your Harrowing?”

“The twentieth of Kingsway, 8:99 Blessed.”

The rest of the questions took over an hour to complete and by the end of it, Fiona wanted to do nothing more than to punch something. Or sleep. Either would be acceptable.

When he was finished filling out the form, the First Enchanter rose from his chair and walked over to the door, peering out into the corridor.

“Enchanter Uldred, Enchanter Thelka, would you be willing to do me a favor?” he asked to someone, or two someones rather, outside in the hallway. Fiona could not see them where she sat until they both walked to the door of the office.

One of the men was a fairly attractive slender young man with light skin, and hair and a beard that was either light brown or dark blond.

The other man was a less attractive young man with a round baby-face, thick eyebrows and dark hair.

The first man noticed Fiona and gave her a kind smile before turning his full attention back to the First Enchanter. The other man didn't seem to notice her at all.

“This woman,” the First Enchanter said, gesturing to Fiona with one hand. “has come to our Circle from the Grey Wardens-”

“Are you recruiting then?” the second man asked, cutting the First Enchanter off.

Fiona shook her head. “I retired from the Wardens.”

“She is here to become an ordinary member of our Circle,” the First Enchanter continued. “She does not know where anything is. I'd like to request that you show her to the enchanter's quarters, and, when she is ready, show her where everything else is.”

The First Enchanter gestured for Fiona to rise and she did so, standing from her chair and walking over to the door where the men stood.

“Uldred,” The second man said as a greeting holding out his hand. “Libertarian.”

Fiona shook it. When she pulled her hand away, the first man offered his. “Karl Thekla. Also Libertarian.”

“Fiona.”

The man called Uldred took the lead in guiding Fiona down the hallway.

“What's your fraternity then?” the other mage, Thekla, asked conversationally.

“I wasn't an enchanter when I left the Circle for the Wardens.”

“Are you one now?”

“We are taking her to the Enchanter's quarters Thekla, what do you think?” Uldred snapped.

“The First Enchanter said I could stay with the Enchanters because of my service with the Wardens. But he didn't make me an enchanter, no.”

To be honest, Fiona had no idea what was required to make one an enchanter rather than just an ordinary mage. Until she was nearly seventeen, she assumed that it required training at least one apprentice, until one of the mages at her Circle who'd never taught, a pockmarked human man in his twenties was made one.

“The next meeting of the enchanters here they will almost certainly vote to make you one,” Thekla informed her. “You should start thinking about what fraternity you most agree with. If you don't pick one, you won't have many friends.”

“I'm not here to make friends,” Fiona snapped. She hadn't meant it to come out that rudely but she couldn't stop herself.

“Why are you here?” Uldred asked, “It isn't to be trained. You could have been trained in the Wardens. Did you find freedom unappealing?”

“My reasons for being here are not your concern.”

“You gave up something most mages would kill for the chance to have. I would say that is my concern,” Uldred snapped back.

“Please stop bickering, the apprentices are staring,” Thekla said pointing to a group of children, all but one of them human, who were, indeed staring as they walked past.

Uldred ignored the other man. “Why?” he demanded, his voice lower than it had been.

“Some things are more important than freedom,” Fiona whispered. Her accent felt thicker, more Orlesian than she usually heard it, the word 'freedom' becoming twisted into something that sounded almost like 'free-dome' to her ears.

“Nothing is more important than freedom.”

“Family is,” Fiona said. She didn't know if she believed that to be the truth, and even if she did, she didn't want to say that to this man. But it came out before she had the chance to stop it.

“Family abandons you the moment they discover you're a mage.”

“Maybe yours did.”

“Really you two. Please stop fighting. It's making me uncomfortable,” Karl said weakly.

Neither of them listened.

“And yours didn't? Well. Then. I'm sure they will visit you every month then,” Uldred said mirthlessly, clapping his hands together.

Fiona felt her teeth set on edge, and her fists tense. “They can't,” she gritted out.

“They /won't/. They can. But they won't.”

Her fist connected with Uldred's jaw before she even realized what she did, sending the man reeling. It was a clean punch, delivered with all the strength Fiona could muster behind it.

If she'd been a larger woman, or Uldred a more delicate man, it might have fractured his jaw, or at least hurt him more than it seemed to. But it seemed, the way things were, that it only hurt him. And that perhaps, if she were very very lucky, it might end up bruising on him.

She hoped it did. And that it was on the side of his face he slept on. That would make her feel a little better about his lack of injury.

When the man finally looked up at her, holding his jaw, he smiled. It wasn't a happy smile. More a smug smile.

“You should join the libertarians,” he told her, showing every one of his teeth, “We need a woman with your fire.”

“A woman punches you in the jaw and you invite her to join your club. Are all mages in the Ferelden Circle utterly mad, or is it just you?”

“It's mostly just him,” Thelka said, turning down a corridor, and leading her into a room. “Although, to be fair, Senior Enchanter Saavedra isn't a picture of sanity herself. Perhaps that's why she's in charge of the libertarians. Everyone thinks we're nuts anyway.”

The room was large, with many large colorful Antivan and Rivaini rugs crisscrossing the floor awkwardly so that no bit of the stone floor was exposed, even if by ensuring that, the rugs laid one on top of another in spots, almost an inch above most of the rest of the rugs. It had to be a trip-hazard, but this was Ferelden. Perhaps the floor was cold enough in the mornings to warrant that risk.

Most of the beds were covered with homey touches, a quilt made of what looked like scraps of old robes on one bed, a clearly well-loved china doll in a fanciful Orlesian dress that had gone out of style more than twenty years before, who was missing her middle and pointer finger resting on top of a pillow, a crocheted blanket made of many large, colorful squares, held together by navy yarn.

Except for one bed. Upon which rested a leather satchel and a long wooden staff, white, shaped like a hand clutching a glass orb. It was Fiona's staff. The satchel was a gift given to her by Duncan before her departure from Denerim. He made her promise not to look inside it until she got to the Circle, the sentimental fool.

He told the other Grey Wardens he was going to say goodbye to her one last time before she left. And they spent that last night in the study, talking and drinking, and laughing. Remembering things they'd done a few years before. Before either of them was moved up through the Warden ranks more quickly than they could prepare for.

Before they lost most of their friends to the Deep Roads and the legion of monsters that dwelt beneath the earth.

“If you end up trapped at the Circle,” Duncan whispered in her ear, holding her close before he left, the alcohol making his voice slur a little, “I promise, Fiona, I'll find a way to get you out.”

“I don't want to escape from the Circle as an apostate. That would make things worse, not better.”

“Then I'll re-recruit you. There's nothing in the Right of Conscription that says I can't. You can't be with Alistair. Or Maric. But you'd be free. Safe.”

Tears welled in her eyes unbidden, and she pursed her lips to keep them from falling out.

“Thank you Duncan,” she whispered to him, breathing in the way he smelt before she let him go, like the Orlesian pomade he was so impossibly fond of, and the wool of the cloth of the Warden uniforms, and lavender.

“I have something for you,” he told her, once she pulled away.

And that was when he gave her the satchel.

Fiona sat down on the bed, completely ignoring the two men in the room with her now, and picked up the satchel, turning it around in her hands.

It was a squarish bag with a rounded bottom. It was old, worn, and the leather had been cut and bent the wrong way for long amounts of time at some point, so now there was a large crease across the flap. It was closed by a large button carved from bone and polished to a shine, and decorated with tarnished silver

On the side that didn't button, it featured elaborate leather-work of a griffon. Of course it did. Because the Wardens, even a few hundred years after their extinction were still so impossibly fond of the beasts, putting them on absolutely everything they had the chance to put them on.

Even the wooden staff that was given to Fiona when she was promoted to Warden-Constable had a griffon on it, on the top, carved taking flight. She'd left it behind in Orlais though, thinking that there was no need to bring all her things to Ferelden for a month long trip.

Both of the men who'd led her into the room stared at her expectantly.

“Are you alright?” Thekla asked, taking a cautious step forward. “Do you need any more help?”

“I'm fine. I'm going to sleep I think.”

Thekla gave her one last glance and then walked out of the room. Uldred followed him.

Fiona opened the satchel. Inside was a small container of jerky, which would have been rather useful her first night in the dungeon if she'd been allowed it, an interesting looking novel written in Orlesian, entitled 'Mien'harel', a sealed envelope, some stationary, ink, envelopes and a quill, a single sovereign, and, in one of the inside pockets, hidden from view, a small blue knit baby's hat with an intarsia griffon on the front of it in navy. One of the many baby hats wardens at Weishaupt fortress made for Alistair during the brief time he and Fiona both stayed there. Most of the hats seemed to disappear into the ether, much the way socks did, but perhaps Duncan found one buried in his things.

She didn't take the hat out of the bag, instead leaving it in the pocket, but she did let her fingers stroke gently against it, smiling sadly. She was doing this for her son. And it would not be fun. But she needed to do this for him. And she would.

The melancholy that had gripped Maric after Rowan's death returned in full force once the Elven woman left.

The man was like a ghost, haunting his bedchambers, rarely eating and even more rarely sleeping, instead drinking, or pacing the halls, or praying in the palace chapel. Despite his claim that she and he were doing this for their son, he rarely saw either Cailan or Alistair, letting Sister Ailis care for both of them, a task the old woman seemed to revel in.

And Maric's bed felt empty.

That wasn't a metaphor, or an innuendo, it truly felt empty with only him in it.

It was too large for one person, and he knew it was when Rowan died, and he slept alone in it the first night, but time had numbed him to that knowledge. Time allowed him to sleep in his bed, just his bed now, and not feel that. But Fiona's presence made it feel full again. Made it feel the way it should. But Fiona...

She wasn't dead. He needed to stop moping like she was. She left, but she would be back. Soon. Eventually. Unless the Chantry decided she couldn't come back to him, couldn't be his adviser. If they decided that, it would be all his fault she was stuck there. If he hadn't demanded-

“Maric,” Loghain said to him, glancing at him from the chair by the table in his bedchambers. Maric wasn't certain how, but it was like the man could hear his thoughts.

It was annoyed, and sharp, but not loud. Maric didn't look at him.

“She's a grown woman. If she didn't want this, she could have said no.”

“I'm a king,” Maric said, his voice barely audible even to himself. “Maybe she thought she had to listen to me.”

Loghain said nothing for a good long minute, just narrowing his eyes at Maric. Maric looked away.

“Oh,” the other man finally began, voice dripping with sarcasm, “In that case, then, perhaps she thought she had to listen to you when you wanted to sleep with her.”

Maric felt his stomach drop, felt himself tense, felt his mouth open and close a few times. He felt like he was going to be sick. Maybe she had. Maybe he wasn't a good man the way she said. Maybe he was as bad as his master, taking advantage of her. No. No.

Loghain noticed his friend's distress, let out a sigh, then stood up and crossed the room to where Maric sat in bed.

“Maric,” he began, sitting down on the bed, “I was saying it was a foolish idea that she'd do something just because you told her to. From what I've seen of this elf, she's very much willing to make her opinion heard. And she is a Grey Warden. From what I understand, Grey Wardens answer only to their superiors, not kings or viscounts or princes. If she didn't want to do this, she wouldn't have.”

There was silence for a long minute that felt like an hour, there in the dim candlelight of Maric's bedchambers. Loghain looked odd in the low light, sharp shadows making up most of his face.

“Have you ever been to Kinloch Hold? I don't mean when you rescued me when the First Enchanter took me prisoner. I mean when it was still functioning.”

“No,” Loghain said slowly, drawing the word out a little more than was strictly necessary. “I've never had a need to go.”

“They say it's meant to protect mages. They say that's why it's in the middle of a lake. But...”

“You have your doubts.”

Maric was silent and pensive for a few moments, one of his fingers coming to rest on the tip of his chin while his brow furrowed.

“It's like a prison,” he said finally, voice low, but full of something that was either sadness or anger. “You don't notice at first, because of how beautiful everything is. But I've been thinking about it now. Remembering it. And I can't believe I didn't notice before.”

“I think your opinions are being colored by that elven woman's.”

“She has a name,” Maric said.

Loghain said nothing in reply, so the King continued.

“She lived there for nearly five years. Well, not there, but at /a/ Circle. I think her opinions are better to color mine than anyone elses'.”

“She will find her way out. I can say many things about her, but from what I've seen of her so far, I can't say she isn't capable,” Loghain cracked a smile at the king, “I think she'd rather you care for your sons than sit and worry.”

“Perhaps you're right,” the king mused with a sigh, rolling over onto his side, so he was facing his friend.

“Of course I'm right.”

“I'm lucky to have you, Loghain,” the King said. “Very lucky to have you.”

“This is getting maudlin,” Loghain mocked gently. But that made his smile form into something more genuine. And though he couldn't say back to Maric that he was lucky to have him as well, he hoped his smile communicated that as much as words might.

Loghain reached a hand out for Maric, but stopped it before it touched him. He paused for a moment, like he wasn't sure this was a good idea, and then brushed the king's blond fringe out of his face. A gesture that was likely meant to comfort, and so Maric gave him the smallest hint of a smile.

“Lay with me,” he said.

“You don't intend to do anything untoward with me, do you?” Loghain teased with a smile., allowing himself to lay down.

Maric didn't answer the question. Instead he glanced up at the canopy on his fourposter bed. “If I didn't marry Rowan, and you didn't marry Celia, and I didn't find Fiona do you think we ever would have....” he trailed off, not finishing the thought.

“I think this isn't a conversation I should be having as a married man.”

“I think we would have,” Maric continued, “Or we would have if you let me. You'd make me be responsible and take a queen, have an heir though. Probably.”

“I think you love too much and too often,” Loghain said softly. “But, I think, if the Maker, or Fate, or the stars or whatever you want to believe didn't intervene we might have.”

“I love Fiona,” Maric said absently, and he meant it, really and truly meant it. “And I loved Rowan. And I loved...Katriel,” he whispered the woman's name, as though still too broken at the thought of her to say it more loudly, then swallowed hard and continued. “Do you love Celia?”

“She's the mother of my daughter. I care about her.”

“Do you love her though?”

“She's a good woman.”

“But do you love her?”Maric pressed.

Loghain sighed. “No. I loved Rowan. And I...” he didn't finish, instead brushing his fingers in Maric's hair again. Maric closed his eyes.
“But I don't think I love her. I don't think I know her well enough to love her. Which is my own fault for never spending time in Gwaren with her. But I care about her. She's a good woman.”

“Will you stay here tonight? With me? I...don't want to be alone.”

“I won't sleep with you.”

“I'm not asking you to. I'd never ask you to. I'm asking you to stay. As my friend. I don't want to be alone,” Maric repeated. Tears welled in his eyes unbidden and unshed.

“I'll stay with you,” Loghain agreed, stroking Maric's hair one last time.

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

The first few nights when Fiona was away, Alistair cried out for her, crying and yelling 'mama' at the top of his lungs. He called for their father too, though the word 'father' was not easy for him to say.

He'd gotten used to the idea that if he called for them, one of them would come.

But Fiona was gone, and Cailan's father was too upset about his departure to do much of anything for Cailan or Alistair.

Cailan was used to it. He was used to the idea that his father sometimes got sick, and couldn't do things most people found simple, and that during those times, he might find it hard to spend time with him. It hurt, but he understood.

But Alistair was only a baby. Alistair couldn't understand. He was too little.

Luckily Cailan heard his brother from the room next door. He'd been in his own bed, but was unwilling, or perhaps unable, to rest.

“Shh, shhh,” Cailan soothed, walking into Alistair's room, over to where the small boy's bed was. He was too big for a crib, Father had said, even though Alistair /was/ a baby. Or, at least he was a baby as far as Cailan was concerned.

Alistair was crying, large fat tears rolling down his face, which started to look less gaunt in the month since he came to the palace.

“Maaaaamaa,” Alistair called out, sobbing pitifully.

“Your mother is gone,” Cailan said, walking over to Alistair's bed, and pulling back the covers so he could lay next to his brother. He pulled the other boy close to himself, laying on his side, so he could look Alistair in the face. “But I'm here, Ali. I'm here. Shhh. Shhh. Everything is okay. Your mother will be back soon, I promise. And when she comes back, maybe Father will go back to normal.”

He kissed at his little brother's cheek, and stroked his brother's strawberry blonde hair.

“I'm here,” Cailan repeated. “I'm here, and I'll protect you. I promise.”

The other boy stopped crying, but he didn't stop sniffling.

The two sat in silence for almost ten minutes, Cailan holding Alistair tightly, and Alistair letting him, his small body still wracked with the aftershocks of tears every few moments.

“Do you know about father and the rebellion?” Cailan asked.

Alistair shook his head.

“Well, our great great grandfather was king, like Father is. But one day, the Orlesians decided they wanted Ferelden,” Cailan said softly.

“And so they decided they'd take it. So they killed great great grandfather, and took it. But his son, and our Grandmother, Queen Moira, survived. And they moved around the country-side with a small army, hiding from the Orlesian us- User- The Orlesian who wasn't really supposed to be king. And when Great Grandfather died, Grandmother, Queen Moira took over. And she started to gather allies and an army to retake her father's throne. She was like Andraste, Mother, my mother not your mother, used to say. A warrior everyone wanted to be around, who was a great mother. Everyone loved her, father said,” Despite never meeting the woman, Cailan felt himself tear up.

Alistair was no longer sniffling, though his nose was running from the ugly crying he'd been doing just a little bit before, so Cailan reached out with the cuff of his nightshirt and wiped his nose. Alistair fought to stop him, but when he was done, settled back in to hear the rest of the story.

“But like Andraste, she was betrayed. A Bann who was working for the Orlesians told her he wanted to join her forces. But he didn't. He just wanted to kill Grandmother, for the Orlesians. And he did. And Father was there with her and he had to run into the woods to hide from them, so they didn't kill him as well. And that was when Father met Loghain. Loghain actually tried to kill him at least once in the first few days they knew each other,”Cailan said with a giggle. Alistair likely didn't understand why this was funny, though he giggled anyway.

“But the Orlesian not-king's forces were still hunting father, and they cornered the Outlaw camp where Loghain and his father and Sister Ailis and a bunch of other people lived. And they were willing to kill everyone in order to get Father. So Loghain's father told Loghain to take Father, our father, not his father, and run...”

By the time Cailan finished the story, Alistair was laying there peacefully, still not asleep, but calm now. Cailan made a move to stand up, but Alistair reached a hand to pull on the sleeve of Cailan's nightshirt in an attempt to get him to stay.

Though the tug wasn't enough to keep Cailan there if he truly wanted to leave, the boy laid back down.

“You want me to stay with you tonight, Ali?” Cailan asked, reaching a hand out for his brother's hair again.

The small boy nodded, and then with a pathetic whine that seemed to be threatening tears again, said,“Yeah. Stay. Please?” That was the most words Cailan heard his little brother say in a row, and he smiled proudly, hoping perhaps it was his doing, his brother learning to speak a little more.

“I'll stay with you then, I suppose,” Cailan yawned though, and laid his head back on the pillow. “Maybe I'll go back to sleep...”

And the two brothers fell asleep, in Alistair's bed, soon oblivious to the world around them.


For the next week, or nearly a week, Fiona, for the most part, didn't leave the room to which she'd been assigned.

She did not take her meals with the other mages, instead eating the jerky Duncan had packed her, and, when that was gone, choosing to go without food.

She wasn't hungry anyway.

Or rather she was. The taint made one hungry constantly. Ravenous. Made the need to eat almost impossible to resist.

But she didn't have the energy or desire to eat.

To be honest, she didn't have the energy or desire to do much of anything besides lay in her bed and stare up at the ceiling.

On the fifth day, one of the other women who shared the room she now lived in, an attractive blonde woman with a kind motherly face, noticed, and after dinner, she returned with a plate of food, chicken, beets, beet greens and a few rolls for Fiona. She set it on the footlocker at the base of Fiona's bed, and then looked at the woman expectantly.

“Do you intend to starve yourself?” the woman asked giving her something of a smile, before sitting down on her bed next to Fiona's.

“I don't intend to, no.”

“Then perhaps you should eat something, before you faint. You're already far too thin. I'd almost wonder if the Grey Wardens never feed you.” The woman laughed. “I am Wynne.”

“Fiona,” Fiona said, pulling herself into a seated position and reaching for the plate, feeling the little motivation she had to do so slowly begin to ebb from the effort. But she forced herself to pick up one of the rolls and take a bite. She chewed it carefully and when she was finished she glanced back up at the other woman.
“You are the first person I've met since I've come here, save the Tranquil and First Enchanter who didn't introduce themselves by their fraternity,” she said suspiciously.

The woman's, Wynne's, smile widened. “I am an Aequitarian. I do not know how it was in the Circle where you came from before the Wardens, but we are the majority here, and most of us are assumed to be Aequitarians until proven otherwise. If you think I'm being kind to you because I wish to recruit you to our number, you're mistaken. I am a spirit healer, and if you were to faint from exhaustion and hunger, I would be the one to have to rouse you and I'd rather spare myself the effort of that if I can.”

Fiona said nothing, instead she cut part of a beet slice in half and popped it into her mouth. “How do you have beets in the wintertime? Do the Tranquil grow them indoors?”

That too made Wynne laugh. “No. Beets store well in the winter, even without magical intervention. It is a reason why many Fereldens grow them. Do you know nothing of vegetables and herbs?”

“I know about plants in Orlais. Or, rather, in Montsimmard, not even all of Orlais. But I know nothing of Ferelden plants. I've never had a need.”

“That right. Irving told me you were Orlesian.” As if to herself she mumbled, “perhaps that is why Constantina is so frightened of you.”

Fiona looked at the other woman, waiting for an explanation.

“She's one of the apprentices I am helping to train. Her father was killed during the Occupation, near the end of King Maric's Rebellion. And she was here for the uprising of First Enchanter Remille, when he took the tower. She hid in a wardrobe for three days while the rest of us who resisted him were imprisoned.”

“I was there when Remille took the tower. I was one of the two Wardens who helped assist in killing him.”

“You did a great service to the Circle, and to Ferelden, that day,” Wynne said. “King Maric was nearly captured. Our great rebellion to liberate ourselves would have been for naught had that happened. At best they would have left Prince Cailan on the throne as a puppet...” She trailed off, looking away sadly, before she changed subjects. “My son lives in Orlais, I am told. That is where the Circle they assigned him is located. The White Spire.”

Fiona stabbed another beet and chewed it slowly, before speaking again. “I have a son as well.”

Wynne smiled. Fiona found herself smiling back.

“How old is he?”

“He will be three in Haring. The fifth.” Her smile grew larger, but she felt tears rise to her eyes. “I miss him so much. He's beautiful. He looks so much like his father.”

“Do you think his father will bring him to visit with you?”

The tears fell now, but Fiona tried to force herself to keep picking at the food despite them. “My lover works at the Palace in Denerim. He's a very busy man. I don't think he'll be able to. Perhaps my friend Duncan can bring him, though I'd rather him not come with it as cold as it is.”

Wynne nodded. “Is he why you left the Wardens?”

Fiona nodded. “Yes. King Maric owes me a favor,” she lied, “for saving his life. I asked him to use it to try to make me his adviser. So I can live with my lover and my son.”

“I don't think your son or your lover would much appreciate you starving yourself, then.” She looked pointedly at Fiona, until she took another bite of food.

“I'm not starving myself. I just...feel hopeless. I'm so close to real freedom. For the first time since I was seven. But it's so far away. It's hard to eat when you're … not coping well, let's say.”

“Once you let yourself settle into the Circle, you'll cope better. I promise. Find freedom here. Get to know some of the people here. Help to train an apprentice or begin your own research. Find a purpose during your time here and serve it.”

Fiona nodded.

Wynne sat there on her bed until Fiona finished her entire meal, pretending not to watch her.

That night, Fiona washed up, and dressed in clean robes, and, though it felt like her whole body was made of lead and she was being forced to drag it, she managed to force herself to go to dinner.

The dining hall was large, but not overly so. There were eight tables, two of which had been pushed together at their short end, to make a longer table.

One table held nothing but the Tranquil, who did not seem to make conversation with one another, and who ate their meals in silence.

Another table was filled with Apprentices and newly harrowed mages.

The rest, Fiona assumed, were divided up among the fraternities.

Wynne sat at one of the tables that had been pushed together, and Uldred and Thekla at another table far from her table.

The Wardens didn't do this at meals. Everyone ate together at one table. Even if you disagreed with someone, they were still your sibling in arms. Your family. And families ate together, even if they fought. The tainted blood may have brought them closer to their deaths, but it also brought them closer together.

She stood there, trying to decide which table to sit at.

She could sit with the apprentices. The older ones would probably swamp her with questions about the Wardens, though.

And though she had a nice conversation with Wynne earlier, the idea of sitting with so many new people didn't appeal.

So she walked over to the libertarian table and sat down.

“Did you decide to take me up on my offer?” Uldred asked her with a smile, the same smug grin he'd given her when she punched him.

“I'm uncertain.”

A statuesque human woman with twisted hair, deep brown skin, and large eyes that marked her as probably being elf-blooded smiled at her. Her dark brown hair was starting to go grey, and there were crows-feet and laugh-lines on her face. If Fiona had to hazard a guess, she'd estimate the woman was in her early fifties.

“You're the Grey Warden Uldred hasn't shut up about then,” she said, giving Fiona a broad, slightly crooked, grin. “I'm Saavedra.”

“Fiona.”

“So what is one of the fabled Grey Wardens doing in a backwater like Ferelden?” the woman asked, her grin widening.

Fiona ignored her, instead glancing around the table at the other people sitting there. Most of the people were elven or likely elf-blooded, with only three women and Uldred and Thekla not, which was saying something considering that meant the libertarian table held the most elves of any of the other tables, barring the Tranquil's table.

Even the Aequitarians' table had only three or four elves among their numbers. And a table Fiona suspected was the loyalists' table had only one, an aged and decrepit old elven man, bent and wrinkled.

“I'm not going to get an answer, am I?” Saavedra asked, still smiling.

“Probably not,” Fiona agreed with a nod.

She began to dish herself up food, though she still had little desire to eat. There were many vegetables on the table, which again surprised her. She was certain that they would be hard to come by in the Ferelden winters, that Maric having them was a sign of wealth.

“What are your thoughts on Circle politics, Warden?” One of the elven women, dark-haired with eyes that seemed to curve up towards her ears on the corners, asked loudly so she could be hear over the din of the conversation in the hall.

“Hush,” a slightly older woman sitting next to her, who looked like she could be a sister or cousin, if the Ferelden Circle allowed family members to be in the same Circle. If not, then she was, at minimum, from the same alienage. “Leave her be. You can harass her with your questions once she's eaten.”

“I'm not harassing her. I'm asking her.”

“Ask her later. Maker, Girl. People probably haven't stopped asking her questions since she arrived. Show her some respect and let the Warden have some peace.”

The people at the table turned their attention back to one another, apparently taking the admonishment against the elven woman as one against the rest of them. For the next ten minutes, they talked to one another, but, other than a few glances, or outright stares, they didn't acknowledge Fiona.

That was, until one of the human women glanced at Fiona.

“What did you do with the Wardens exactly, /Fiona/? Now that the darkspawn are no longer a threat, do you all sit around and get drunk?”

The table fell silent, all eyes turning to the woman and Fiona.

Fiona swallowed her food and glared up at her. “The darkspawn are still a threat. Your own king has seen them with his own eyes. Ask any dwarf born in Orzammar, and they will tell you that the darkspawn are still a threat. The lack of a blight does not mean they are gone.”

“Really?” she asked with mock interest. “So the Grey Wardens don't simply sit around taking tithes from each kingdom in Thedas and get fat off them? Fascinating. Exactly what do you do with the money collected?”

“She doesn't need to answer to you, Gloria,” the older elven woman who spoke before said. “The Grey Wardens are heroes. I won't have you badmouth them.”

“I'm not badmouthing. I'm merely asking a question. Since the darkspawn haven't been seen on the surface in over four-hundred years, what /does/ the Order do with the money they are given?”

“Have you considered,” Fiona snapped, “that you have not seen darkspawn on the surface in four-hundred years because the Grey Wardens have been /doing our jobs?/”

The woman gave a bitter laugh. “Oh, yes, that's a smart thing to say. Because I have no way to prove if it is true or not. The Chantry and the Grey Wardens both take tithes they do not deserve from the hard-earned money of the poor of every country in Thedas. And they both use the fact that nothing bad has happened yet as proof they do something when they don't.”

“At least,” an elven man who sat next to her said, raising his voice, “The Grey Wardens recruit elves and mages. I'd rather have an order that does nothing, but which allows elves a respected position and mages a way out of the Circles, take my money than the Chantry. When was the last time you saw an elven templar? The last time you saw an elven priest? An elven Divine? An elven Revered Mother? Never. Even if all the Grey Wardens do is sit around and drink, I'd rather have them have my money than have the Chantry. The Grey Wardens don't go back on promises the way the Chantry does, taking away the Dales because they decided it would be nice to have.”

“Mages should be free anyway,” the woman, Gloria, said, “We don't need the Grey Wardens to free some of us, we need to free all of us.”

“And what of the elves?” the man asked. “Are we to suffer on our own once you shem mages are free?”

“The elven plight isn't my concern. It's the concern of the elves.”

“So we can stand as your brethren in an attempt to become liberated from the Circles, but you will not stand in solidarity with us when we try to free ourselves?”

“Elves are slaves no longer. Mages are. If you wished to, you could improve your station. But you do not. You sit in your alienages and wallow in self-pity at the loss of your culture.”

“That isn't fair,-” Thekla began.

Fiona spoke over him, drowning him out, “Elves are still enslaved. In Tevinter. In Orlais. Even here in Ferelden. People like to pretend we are free, but the chantry looks the other way. They do nothing to help us. And even human mages who should be our strongest allies, don't think our suffering matters.”

“The concern of the libertarian fra-” Gloria was cut off by Saavedra.

“Be quiet all of you,” she said in a voice that was a cross between a hiss and a shout. “The templars are watching us, and I don't know about you, but I don't particularly feel like being sent to the dungeons for fighting. We are supposed to stand together, not bicker like small children.” She paused, took a breath, and then continued, “The Libertarian fraternity was begun by elves with the dual goals of freeing mages from the Circles and supporting elven liberation. Gloria, if you'd rather not support elves, I'm sure the loyalists will take you.”

Gloria opened her mouth to speak again, but one look from Saavedra and she seemed to decide that was a poor idea, and instead turned her attention to her food, staring at it as though fascinated by the mashed turnips.

“I apologize for that, Warden,” the woman said. “Usually we are not this...chaotic. But as you can probably tell, your arrival has the entire Circle in a bit of a frenzy.”

Fiona said nothing, and instead pulled apart her bread in to little bits, dipped some in her gravy, and popped it into her mouth. She wanted to be back in bed. She wanted to be back in bed, even the one in the room she was assigned would work, and as far away as possible from Circle politics.

She finished her meal quickly, and grabbed three or four rolls and hid them in her pocket to take back to the room, and then walked out. Perhaps the rolls would make it possible for her to not have to leave to go to another meal, at least for a few days.

She hoped the Grand Cleric would make her decision soon, so she could leave this Maker-forsaken place.

A few days later, the Templar came.


Even living in Ferelden for nearly three years hadn't warmed Duncan to the Ferelden winters. They were cold, and when the snow blew, which was frequently, it cut one like it was a knife and one's flesh was pound-cake.

But the Ferelden Grey Wardens needed new recruits, and it could not wait until spring.

Okay. It was untrue to say he was going to the Ferelden Circle of Magi to recruit new Wardens. Or at least it was untrue to say that was the only reason he was going. Or even the main reason he was going.

Despite giving her paper and ink, and envelopes, and a quill to write him, Fiona hadn't. She'd not written him, or Maric, or, as far as Duncan knew, anyone in Orlais. Not since she arrived.

And that worried him. Back in Orlais, Fiona wrote him at least once a week. Even if her letters did not make it to him for months because of the distance, one could tell from the dates that she did.

So this silence worried him.

When he arrived at the Circle, after a boat ride made perilous by chunks of floating ice and strong winds, he waited in the atrium to be led to meet with the First Enchanter and the Knight Captain.

It was almost an hour before they came to see him.

“Warden Commander!” the Knight Captain, a powerful looking woman in shiny plate armor greeted grabbing the top of his arm as though the two were close friends, even though he'd only met her once. He fought the urge to pull way, and plastered a smile on his face.

“Captain,” he said inclining his head slightly.

“Are you here to see if you can find any recruits?” Irving asked, smiling politely at Duncan. He was a younger man, maybe twenty years older than Duncan himself was, though he carried himself as though he was far far older.

“That is one reason I am here. I also have some important Warden business to discuss with the former Warden-Constable,” he lied, “I would have spoken with her before she left for the Circle, but the letter it is in regard to did not come until two nights ago.”

“What sort of Warden business?” The Knight-Captain asked, as she began to lead the First Enchanter and Duncan upstairs where it would be far warmer.

Shit. Well. Luckily Duncan was a good liar.

“You see, there's a group of Wardens, from Minrathous who went into the deep roads. They've been traveling in them, to get here. To help rebuild the Ferelden order. But they never arrived. We know they got to Jader at least, because they exited the deep roads near there and stopped for a few days before going back in, but we've not seen them since. Fiona knows the section of the deep roads we need to search better than any Warden outside of Weishaupt. We're helping she can give us a few places to look. To find the bodies to burn at least.”

Irving gave Duncan an unreadable look, but if the Knight Captain was suspicious, she didn't show it.

“Of course. I will have one of the templars fetch her from the dungeon for you, and find you a room where the two of you can meet in private.”

“She's in the dungeon?” Duncan asked, fear leaping into his voice before he had the good sense to stop it.

“She stopped eating. When a templar told her that if she didn't start to attend meals and eat, he'd put her in the dungeon she told him she'd like to see him try.”

“She didn't want to eat and so you decided the best course of action was to lock her in the dungeon?”

“We cannot have our charges starving to death.”

“How long has she been down there?” Duncan demanded, “Has she at least had someone to talk to? Or have you left her alone the whole time?”

“She's been in the dungeon for about two weeks. One of our younger templars has taken a shine to her and visited her at least twice. And, if you were wondering,” she added pointedly, “She has started eating again. So it has worked.”

They reached the top of the staircase and found themselves in the antechamber. Two templars stood guard in front of one of the doors that led outside to the shore where the mages might get weekly exercise, if it were warmer.

“I need to talk to her. Now.”

“I'll get you a room and-”

“Bring me to her! We can get a room once I've made sure she hasn't done anything stupid!”

He immediately regretted yelling that, as every single one of the nearly twenty people in the room, including the knight-captain and the First Enchanter stared at him like he was mad.

“She's... She doesn't do well in dungeons,” he explained. “She...” It wasn't his place to tell these people about her master. Her enslavement. So he instead added weakly, “She got locked in a dungeon at the castle where her parents worked when she was younger, and she got locked in it for nearly three days before someone found her. She doesn't do well in dungeons.”

The knight-captain nodded. She gestured for one of the Templars, a hulking lad with deep brown skin much like Duncan's own, and tight braids like those his uncle wore in a painting his mother had of him. But his facial tattoos, of which there were a few, marked him as Chasind, not Rivaini, to come over.

A Chasind templar was honestly one of the last things Duncan thought he'd ever see, but he didn't say anything about it.

“Nitarum,” the Knight-Captain said to the man, who stared at her, a look of boredom clear as day on his face, “Take the Warden-Commander to visit with the Warden-Constable. And, then, take them both up to the empty office on the forth floor.”

The man nodded.

He said nothing to Duncan as the two walked towards the dungeon, and Duncan was honestly too worried to make conversation with him either.

As they descended the filth covered steps, he began to hear sobbing. It sounded so familiar. So much like the sobbing in Fiona's nightmare. Her pitiful tears as...that monster beat her.

It took walking almost directly in front of the cell where Fiona was held to even see her there, to be able to tell her apart from the blankets on the floor.

Once, before Duncan's trip into the deep roads with Maric, he'd gone into the deep roads with Genevieve, Kell, Hafter, and a few other Montsimmard Wardens who hadn't accompanied him on the later trip.

While he was down there with them, he'd seen a scavenger. This twisted, blighted figure, who ran as soon as they tried to come near her.

Kell told him that dwarves who entered the deep roads in search of treasures sometimes ended up like that, from having to eat the darkspawn dead to survive.

And that woman looked the way Fiona did now.

Fiona was curled around herself, head brought down to her knees which were brought up to her chest. You could see the sobs run through her body. There was filth on her skin that looked almost like corruption. Her hair was filthy looking and there were deep purple bags under her eyes. Her face looked sunken and gaunt, even more than it had when he saw her before she left.

“Wow,” he said quietly, hoping to lessen the anxiety and pain he felt seeing her like this, “Fiona, you look like shit.”

“Even my hallucinations make fun of me. That's wonderful,” she mumbled to herself under her breath.

“I'm not a hallucination, Fiona.”

She glanced up at him, her large listless eyes staring up at him. And then she reached a thin, filthy hand out of the cage, trying to feel him, to test if he was really real. Really there. Duncan leaned down and reached a hand through to meet her's.

“I'm real,” he soothed, voice low, as she burst into big, desperate tears, not the subtle sobs that wracked her body before this. “I'm real. I promise I'm real.”

She couldn't say anything. After a moment, Duncan pulled his hand away and stood up, and the Chasind templar unlocked the door.

Fiona didn't struggle to walk with him as much as Duncan feared she might, with how tired and in pain and weak she looked. She clutched onto his arm like a vice, but he was fairly certain that was more for comfort than for physical support.

She didn't say anything else to Duncan, until the Chasind templar brought them to the room the Captain told him to.

“Can you bring a bowl of water, and a cloth? And some food and a change of clothes for Fiona?” he asked the man, who just nodded, and walked off.

Duncan closed the door behind himself, and Fiona let go of his arm, walking over to one of the large plush chairs by the fireplace. It made it all the more apparent how much being imprisoned had taken out of her.

She looked like one of the walking corpses who mages sometimes reanimated.

It hurt Duncan just to look at her.

He sat down in a chair across from her.

“If you want to...If you want to come back to the Wardens,” he said, “I can get you out of here today. You don't need to stay here. You don't need to put yourself through this torture. Maric wouldn't want you to.”

“I would be a terrible mother if I did,” Fiona said weakly. Or, more accurately croaked. Her voice sounded unused. And it seemed to take so much out of her just to speak.

“You're a great mother. You gave up your son for the chance to have a good life. When you found out his life wasn't so good, you had his father take him back in. Even when you couldn't be in his life, you talked about him all the time. You're a great mother.”

“No. I'm not. A good mother can't be separate from her son. A good mother doesn't look at her son sometimes and even for a moment, resent him for taking her away from her life. A good mother takes care of her son after he's born. She doesn't cry for days or weeks after and have to have other people take care of him for her because she can't. Because even feeding him, or holding him. feels like a monumental task. A good mother doesn't do that. This is the least I could do for Alistair. To make up for the terrible mother I've been.”

“The spirit healers at Weishaupt said that was normal. That sometimes people who have a baby get depressed. That they can't care for them for a while. It doesn't mean you're a bad mother.”

Duncan took a deep breath to keep himself from yelling at Fiona, he was trying to comfort her after all, then continued, “As for resenting him, babies are cute, but they're tiny people who can't take care of themselves. I'm not surprised you feel resentful sometimes. If I had to take care of someone who spent most of their time crying, or needing my help constantly, I might feel resentful sometimes too. Even if I loved them. Even though I loved them. You're a good mother. You love Alistair. If you need to leave, to keep from dying it won't make you a bad mother, Fi.”

She was silent for a very long time, then glanced up at Duncan, pain and sadness in her eyes, “I won't die. I might suffer. I might be miserable. But I promise you I won't let myself die.”

“I told the templars that I need your help on a Warden thing. I could say that we decided you need to come with me for it. You can come back here after a week or two away from here. If you want to. Go to Denerim. See Maric, and Alistair. We can pretend to be planning a trip into the deep roads. You can stay at the Warden compound. Even just for a little while, to keep yourself sane.”

Fiona didn't respond. If she decided, Duncan knew, she'd let him know.

There was a knock at the door of the room, and an elven woman with red hair and a bright red sunburst in the middle of her forehead opened the door a crack.

“I was told to bring supplies here,” she told Duncan in a monotone.

Duncan nodded. “Come in. Set them on the desk.”

She walked inside, sat them on the desk near the far wall, and then walked back out, closing the door.

Fiona rose and walked over to the bowl of water, and began to rub at her face with the cloth next to the bowl.

“There is,” she said, stopping for a moment to run the cloth over the skin near her mouth, “A Tranquil woman here who is Dalish.” She gave a slightly resentful sounding laugh. “She had the strangest name. The Circle has a dictionary of some elvish words. So I decided to look up what it meant. Most Dalish names are words, or based off words after all. Her name means 'freedom'. The Maker seems to have a particularly cruel sense of humor, doesn't he?”

“The Maker is a bastard,” Duncan agreed with a smirk.

That made Fiona smile too. And, somehow, it made her look less skeletal. More alive.

“Is...Alistair...Is he okay? Is Maric okay?”

“From what I understand, Teryn Mac Tir is having a harder time with Maric than usual. As for Alistair, I think he's adjusting.”

“I suppose I shouldn't be surprised about that. About Alistair I mean.”

Fiona started to strip away her filthy robe, but then stopped and turned around to face Duncan.

“Do you want me to turn my chair to face the door while you do that?” Duncan asked, knowing that was probably why she stopped.

Fiona nodded, and Duncan complied, turning his chair away from her.

“He only knew me for...not even a full month before I left. It makes sense he's adjusting. That's...That's good. That he's...not hurting because I'm gone.”

“He's hurting, I figure, but he's a kid. Kids are resilient.”

“It's been... so long...Did Maric do anything for his name day?” Duncan could hear her begin to tear up again. “I...was hoping to. To make him...I don't know. Something. My mother used to buy strawberries and cream, really expensive for the Alienage, and she'd make cake, and put the cream and strawberries on top of it for me...I was hoping...Since this is his first name day since...I was hoping I could do something.”

“It won't be Haring for another three days. I don't know if he'll do anything. I hope he does. That little boy deserves...He deserves the world. Just like his mother does.”

Fiona let out a bitter sounding laugh, but said nothing in reply.

“Please, Fi, for me and for him if not for yourself, come with me to Denerim. I won't conscript you. I'll just convince the Captain to let you help us with something. Get you away from here for a few weeks. A month.”

“How long have I been here?”

“Nearly a month.”

“I can't even last a month here. I survived....I was...My master had me for almost seven years. And I survived. I didn't...I didn't break. And I can't even be here a month without breaking. What kind of coward does that make me? I've been in the deep roads for months at a time. I survived that bastard for seven years. I survived my other Circle for four. But I can't make it even a month here without going mad.”

“If they hadn't put you in the dungeon you wouldn't have gone mad.”

“Maybe.”

“Why did you stop eating?”

“I couldn't. I didn't feel the need to. I'd get hungry, but...I couldn't find the desire to eat. I'd just sleep. For days.”

Duncan said nothing. Fiona walked back to her seat, dressed now, a single slice of the bread the tranquil brought in her hand. She stared at it, then set it on the table next to her.

“I...Think I'll come with you. As long as you can promise me that the Templars will not find out there isn't really a mission.”

“I can promise that. You and I will go to the compound. And we'll 'leave for Orzammar' after a few days, during the day. So people see. And then we'll come back into the city at night, I take you to Maric, and go back to the Warden compound and lay low, and you spend the rest of the time, until you have to come back, hiding at the palace.”

“I don't know if it will work.”

“If it doesn't, I'll tell the Templars you had nothing to do with it. Let them tell the First Warden, and let him send me angry letters. Maybe he'll replace me as Warden-Commander with someone actually competent.”

“You're competent enough.”

Fiona smirked at him, and he smiled back at her.

And, a few hours later, the two of them left the Circle tower. It took barely two days to reach Denerim.

Never before did Fiona think the smell of Denerim, the smell of the mud, and muck, and boiling vegetables in the market district, and the overwhelming scent of dogs would feel so comforting than it did when she and Duncan rode into Denerim.

They shared a horse, the one Duncan came on, because they didn't have time to go to Redcliffe or one of the smaller villages near it to buy a horse for her to ride back on her own. It was good they had to, otherwise Fiona was fairly certain she would have frozen to death, even with her woolen robes and cloak.

But she was home. She was back in the city where her son and her lover lived. And it made her happier than almost had in a very long time.


When one of the servants knocked on Maric's bedroom door at two in the morning a few nights later, looking exhausted, wearing his bed clothes, Maric was reminded of the night a few years before when Fiona and Duncan had shown up in the middle of the night with Alistair, unannounced.

So, when he walked into the throne room and saw Duncan standing there, he had to smile.

“You're really bad at showing up at reasonable hours, Duncan,” Maric teased softly.

“I couldn't come during the day. We had to pretend we were leaving for Orzammar. In case templars were watching.”

“...And why would you have to pretend that for the Templars?”

Fiona stepped out of the shadows. Or at least Maric thought it was her, though in the oppressive darkness lit only by a few candles it was hard to tell. But when she looked up, removing the hood of her cloak, he could see it was indeed her. In the low light she looked drawn; ill.

“Duncan told the Circle that he needed to borrow me for a Warden mission,” Fiona said softly, walking closer to him. Close enough to touch.

“They had her locked in the dungeon because she wasn't eating. I couldn't let her stay there. I'll bring her back in a month or so, but-”

“So what's the plan??”

“The plan is, for the most part, Fiona stays out of sight. Don't let the servants see her if you can avoid it. She hides here, I hide at the Warden compound, we both pretend we've gone to the deep roads. You don't tell anyone, except maybe Loghain,” Duncan said.

Maric wished he'd been told about this plan before, because, although hiding a single soul in the palace would not be difficult, it was something he'd have liked to have known ahead of time to better prepare. But then he looked at Fiona again, at how clear it was that the Circle was as bad as the void, if not worse, and he nodded, reaching for her and pulling her close.

She buried her face in his chest, and nuzzled him, her body limp against him. She felt more delicate to hug than she had, though Maric wondered how much of that was his own anxiety about hurting her because of what she'd been through.

Duncan stood there awkwardly, and then, finally, mumbling some goodbyes under his breath, walked out of the throne room.

“I missed you so much,” Maric said. “It's..It's all my fault you had to go there. I should have found another way. I should have done something else...”

Fiona said nothing, she just sshh-ed him and stood there, close to him, basking in his warmth for a long few minutes.

“Can we go? To your room? Can we...Can we get Alistair and go to your room? I just...I want to be there. With you. With him. I just...”

She sounded so lost. So confused. So helpless. So little like herself. He heard sometimes Circles would put mages in cells for weeks at a time, and that they went mad or turned into abominations in the oppressive loneliness. He wondered if that was what happened to her. If she'd been left all alone, and she'd gone mad. Or if she was just afraid, just terrified that if she let go of him, he'd disappear and she'd be back alone in the dark again.

He stroked her dark hair gently, and slowly pulled away, offering a hand to her instead, which she took. “Yes. We can.”

She smiled, her eyes coming to life. “Good.”

Fiona walked to Maric's bedchambers to wait for him, while he walked to the nursery to get Alistair.

The nursery wasn't a single very large room as it was in other noble households that raised their children instead of sending them into the countryside to be raised, where the young children lived, usually far away from their parents in the castle.

There'd been one of those, but Rowan didn't like the idea of them, and so, instead, the 'nursery' was the section of the hallway near Maric's room where Cailan, and now Alistair's room were. There was a door between the two boys' bedrooms, so they could walk into the other's room without going through the hallway. There were four other such doors leading to rooms that sat empty. Bedrooms for children Rowan wanted to have but hadn't been able to.

Maric walked into Alistair's room quietly, not wanting to wake the boy. He picked the sleeping boy up, along with the blanket that covered him, and held him close to his chest.

Alistair stirred, and opened his eyes, blinking up at Maric, and gave him a sleepy smile.

Maric closed the door to Alistair's room behind him, and then walked to his bedchambers.

Fiona had stoked the fire, and lit every candle and oil lamp in the room, so it was so bright it almost looked like it was daytime.

In the bright light, Maric could see just what that prison had done to her. She looked like some twisted nightmare version of herself. Like a possessed corpse wearing Fiona's face. The hollows of her cheeks were nearly empty, and her eyes looked sunken.

“I'm going to need to make sure you eat something,” Maric mused.

“You look like you haven't been eating either,” Fiona commented, studying him. She kept her voice low.

“I haven't been,” Maric said honestly. “I've been too worried about you to eat.”

“I've been too...sad is the word but it isn't quite right, to make myself eat.”

“Well, maybe I can make sure you eat, and you can make sure I eat.” Maric gave her a smile.

“Sounds like a plan.” She looked at Alistair in his father's arms. “Give him to me?”

Maric walked over to the bed where Fiona sat, and passed the small boy to her.

Alistair started to cry out before she even grabbed him.

“No!” He whined, kicking his small legs in the air. Maric took Alistair back to his chest again.

Fiona's eyes went wide, and Maric saw pain there.

“He doesn't remember me,” she stated with certainty.

“No,” Maric reassured her, “He's just in a mood I bet. There was a big stretch when he was two, when Cailan would only let Rowan and Loghain hold him. It could just be he's crabby and would rather be with me now. It's...children get like this. I know that's probably not very helpful, but it's true.” He paused, running his fingers through his son's hair.

“Where's your mother?” Maric asked the little boy, in order to reassure Fiona that he did remember her.

Alistair turned his head to face Fiona and stared at her, smiling, reaching his hand out towards him. She held up her hand and he reached for it. She closed her hand around his and smiled sadly at him.

“Very good,” she praised. “You're very smart, aren't you?” Her smile grew into something more genuine. “I missed you very much while I was gone. Did you miss me?”

Alistair let out a giggle and shook his head wildly back and forth, his hair flying out to the sides.

“You didn't miss your mother?” Maric asked, once the boy finally stopped shaking his head, and rested it against Maric's chest, dizzy. “Cailan told me you cried for her a lot while she was gone. Is Cailan lying?”

 

Alistair giggled again. “No.” Then he turned to Fiona, struggling to focus on her with his head spinning. “Mama.” he said, grinning wide so all his teeth showed.

“Alistair,” she said to him, reaching a hand out to stroke his curls. “I love you very much.”

 

“I love you,” he said back, though it sounded uncertain and untested, as though he wasn't completely sure he was saying the words the proper way.

Maric kissed his hair.

They were together again. And in the morning, when he woke up, Cailan could join them. And they could pretend, for at least a little while, that Fiona was back to stay. That she'd be with them for the rest of time.

Chapter Text

There were new cuts and bruises along Fiona's body. Even wearing her robes she refused to take off, he could see them in the dull firelight, on her arms as she rested next to him. Yellowing bruises along her knuckles, and from shackles on her wrists, cuts from rough stone on the backs of her hands, on her palms, on her inner arms.

The few times he couldn't negotiate his way out of the Right Of High Justice, or couldn't get Loghain or Teryn Cousland, or someone else to do it for him, he saw them on the same places on the arms of convicts, murderers mostly, kept alone in the dungeon until their trials.

Then, he'd wondered if they did it to try to get pity. To make it look like the people guarding them had been overly cruel.

He'd seen them on Bryce Cousland's arms too, when they'd freed him from Orlesian captivity. Then he'd assumed he'd gotten them from trying to get his shackles off.

But seeing them on Fiona's thin arms, being able to run his thumb over them as she slept next to him, made him wonder. Perhaps the mind of a man, or woman, could only last so long in the darkness away from others. If, once they were alone longer than that time, one's body began to attack itself, just to have something to do.

Perhaps demons took one over, making one's mind a slave to them, and one obeyed because it was better than the oppression of the stone walls and pitch blackness.

Or perhaps she wasn't as hurt as she looked, perhaps she too wanted pity, so she wouldn't have to return to the Circle. That one was far less likely, and it sounded like Loghain's voice in his head when he thought of it, but it was possible.

He didn't know. What he did know was that he'd prefer to never have to see marks like that again on her.

Alistair was back in his own bed now, and it was just Maric and Fiona now, together, next to one another.

And, for the first time in days, Maric couldn't sleep.

Somehow this was his fault, he just knew it had to be. He could have done something to stop it, and he didn't, and the Maker made the woman he cared for suffer for it. People suffered because of his inaction, always.

He kissed softly at Fiona's clothed shoulder, feeling the cloth against his lips. He'd make this up to her, somehow. He didn't know how yet, but he'd figure it out.

The last thing Fiona needed was more misery.

Loghain missed his daughter.

Whenever Anora went back to her mother's, the large Denerim estate felt particularly empty.

There were servants, yes. Three or four elven servants who scurried around the place, making sure the household ran, but Loghain didn't talk to them, mostly because many were too awe-struck to speak to him.

Hatred of having the large home all to himself was what often made him spend days, weeks sometimes even, at the palace. When she was home, he'd go home at night so as to allow her to be at home, and decompress away from the Prince, who was very much the human personification of a puppy and often overwhelmed.

But without her home, there was little reason.

'Loghain's clothes' and 'Maric's clothes' had long long ago ceased to be anything resembling meaningful categories due to all the overlap, so changing clothes was no longer an excuse to leave.

And Loghain, despite his misanthropy, favored being alone around people, rather than alone alone, found the bustle of the palace with it's nearly one hundred servants preferable to his own home with so few.

So during the winter months, the palace became Loghain's home.

He walked into Maric's bedroom, not knocking on the door, and walked over to the wardrobe to retrieve something to wear, then he noticed the sensation of eyes on his back.

He knew they were not Maric's. He'd seen the man at breakfast not ten minutes before, and even if the king had somehow managed to beat him back to his bedroom, there was only one route to reach it, and he would have seen him pass.

He spun around on his heel and turned to face the eyes, not caring who or what they belonged to.

Unsurprisingly, considering the person possessing them laid in Maric's bed, clothed surprisingly, the eyes belonged to an elf.

The woman was almost feral looking, with hollow cheeks and deep cheekbones, and dark, thick eyebrows that were pulled into an annoyed expression. She reminded Loghain of how Bryce Cousland looked when he, Maric, Eleanor Cousland and Rowan rescued him from the Orlesians who'd taken him prisoner.

He'd been away from the rebels for less than a month, but he'd lost so much weight, and his eyes looked so sad then. Like he would never smile again. Until he saw Eleanor and he'd beamed.

It took Loghain almost a full minute, a shameful amount of time really, to recognize the woman as Alistair's mother. She'd had a fuller face the last time he'd seen her, however, and she'd looked far less sallow. Far healthier and vibrant. There'd been no deep bags around her eyes either.

“Teryn Mac Tir,” she said in a sore sounding voice, “I am unsure how you ever gained a reputation in Orlais for your stealth. I find you walk far too heavily to sneak up on one.”

She rubbed at her red eyes and let out a small groan. He'd woken her, apparently.

Loghain ignored her eyes on him. He pulled a plain red chemise from the wardrobe, judging by the sleeve length it had originally been his own, along with a pair of woolen trousers.

He stripped off the shirt he already wore, and then turned to face the woman as he pulled the other one on.

Her eyes stayed on his face, ignoring what he was doing.

“I would not have been so loud if I knew someone was asleep in here. Odd, for how concerned Maric was that you would not return to him from the Circle, that he did not tell me the Grand Cleric approved his request.”

“That's because she didn't.” The woman pushed her hair out of her face with her right hand, the uncut nails running along her scalp.

Loghain snorted and pulled the neck's drawstring to close it more tightly. “I was under the impression you did not wish to become an apostate.”

“I am not an apostate. As far as the Chantry and Circle are concerned, I am not here. I am in the deep roads, assisting Duncan.”

“The Orlesian Rivaini. Yes. I assume this foolish plan is his, then? Or is it Maric's?”

“You assume it can't be mine?” She didn't seem to notice the 'foolish' before the word 'plan', and if she did, she didn't acknowledge it.

“You seem to be too sensible to believe that this will work for the long-term.”

“A compliment from you to me, Teryn. I'm very surprised.”

“As well you should be. I do not dole them out the way many people do.” He turned away from her now to put on the woolen trousers. Even with his smallclothes on, the idea of her seeing him was not a pleasant one. “Cailan has been asking after you. Were I you, I would see him. Although, I do warn that in your present state I don't recommend allowing him to hug you. I'd fear the prince would do it far too tightly and might break a few ribs.”

“I wish to see Cailan. But unfortunately, I am not allowed to leave this room.”

“You don't seem the sort of woman to allow someone to tell you where you can and cannot go.”

“I'm not. But were the servants to see me and report it to the templars ...” she trailed off tiredly.

“I see.”

“Maric will bring Cailan soon. Once...I've rested enough.”

“How long will you be 'in the deep roads'?”

“As long as it takes for Duncan to be reassured that if I go back to the Circle I won't kill myself.”

Loghain sighed, his fingers slipping as he tried to button the last button on his trousers. “Maric becomes like a lost puppy without you around, and you try to kill yourself without him.”

“I didn't try to kill myself,” Fiona snapped, “And if I had it wouldn't be because of Maric. I love him, but he would not be why. I don't need him to be happy and satisfied with my life. What I need is to be as far away from the Circle as one possibly can. I would rather have to spend a month in the void than have to return to the Circle. It is the worst possible place you can imagine.”

“I don't know about that; I can imagine Val-Royeux.”

She didn't respond to that with words. Instead, before Loghain could even realize what she was doing, he heard her whisper something in Tevene, or possibly the magical language used in Tevinter for spell casting, Arcanum. And then he felt the bolt of lightening strike him.

It felt like he was being stabbed by a million tiny knives in a new part of his body every single moment. It wasn't as strong as some lightening spells he'd been hit with during the war, cast by mages hired by the emperor for the Usurper, but he was sure that was because the woman didn't put her full power behind it, rather than because she was weak.

He fell to his knees, doubled over in pain, and stayed there for what felt like an hour, but had probably been less than a minute, before, shakily, he was able to rise, the pain dissipating.

“I'm not in a mood to be mocked,” she warned.

“I was locked in the dungeon, alone for almost three of the four weeks I was at the Circle. I do not expect pity or sympathy for that from you. I know you're heartless towards everyone who isn't /Maric/,”

The word sounded hateful falling from her lips, not the usual way she said it.

“or your precious daughter. But I won't have my pain be mocked by some shem who hasn't been to the Circle. Who hasn't lived there. Who doesn't have to see nearly everyone who looks like you with a brand on their head because the Chantry claims they're too dangerous, when what the Chantry means is they will not bow their heads in submission to everything the Chantry says. Who doesn't have to deal with Templars watching you when you bathe or dress, or sleep, or making suggestions in the hallways of what they would do with you if you gave them the chance to. You're a shem and you're not a mage, and you will never understand and have no right to mock.”

Loghain reached for his belt knife, from the belt on the wardrobe he'd not yet put on.

“Using slurs against me is the perfect way to educate me, I suppose.”

She didn't respond. Instead, she just glared at him. “Finish dressing and leave.”

“I've been here far longer than you have, girl, and I will not have you ordering me around as though this is your home.”

“I have a name, Teryn, and I expect you to use it. You may not like me. And I will understand and accept that, but I will be respected.”

Loghain grabbed a clean doublet out of the wardrobe, grabbed his belt, stepped into his boots, and, leaving his clothes in a pile on the floor, stormed out of Maric's room.

“That /witch/,” Loghain seethed, walking into the great hall, still shrugging on a doublet. “Hexed me.”

Cailan looked up from his bacon to watch the man as he sat down at the table.

It took him a few moments to realize that he meant witch in the literal sense meaning 'mage', rather than as a stand in for the word 'bitch'. Common as it was elsewhere, the word bitch as an insult, was nearly unheard of in Ferelden, commonly only used by those who'd left Ferelden for some time, for templar training or something similar, or by foreigners. As an almost universally dog-loving people, most Fereldens would rather insult their own fathers than their dogs.

Cailan's father looked away from what he was doing, cutting up Alistair's food for him, and glanced up at Loghain. “Out of nowhere, she just decided to hex you?” he asked, smirking, and then turning back to his task at hand. “Or did you start something with her?”

Alistair eyed what his father was doing with great interest, impatient to eat, but well-mannered enough to not scream to get it. Cailan supposed him slipping Alistair bits of his own toast while he waited, probably helped.

He noticed the 'she'.

Was Fiona back? She was a she. And a mage.

Loghain didn't answer. Even though he'd eaten earlier, he reached for a piece of toast and began to pick it apart, looking rather cross.

“I should have warned you she was there and that she probably wouldn't be in the best mood. Fiona's...not had the best month.”

“She's back?!” Cailan heard himself shriek before he even realized it. When he noticed Loghain, his father, and even Alistair staring at you, he clamped his hands over his mouth, as though that would cause the words to fall back into his mouth like they were never uttered. “Can I see her?”

Keeping from yelling when he was excited was something Cailan still had little skill at.

“She's... probably not up to seeing anyone, Cailan,” Maric warned softly, reaching a hand out to place it gently on Cailan's shoulder, to calm Cailan's excitement. “She's...sick. The way I am sometimes. That's why Duncan convinced the Circle to let her come home and visit.”

Cailan felt his face fall. “I promise I won't bother her. I just... She's nice. I...I like her being here.”

“Nice,” Loghain mumbled through gritted teeth. Cailan couldn't make out any of the rest of the sentence Loghain said except for 'electrocute me'.

The table fell silent, except Alistair's manic giggles when Cailan's father finally handed him his plate of food.

Cailan picked at his eggs.

 

He'd been around sick people most of his life, whether physically sick the way his mother had been, the weakness that first took her ability to hold Cailan, then her ability to hold the books she so loved to read, then the ability to even rise from her bed, or sick the way his father was, when the melancholy struck him and he couldn't be the father he used to be for Cailan any longer.

Ailis, his tutor, was old, and she got sick often as well. The only person Cailan knew closely who hadn't been sick for weeks at a time at least once was Anora, and that was probably because she'd never been to war. Never been alive during a war.

The stories in books spoke of the glory of war, and of battle. But every person Cailan met who'd been a solider, his own father included, never truly seemed to believe in that glory. They all got a sad look in their eyes when you asked about it, even if they usually smiled. Especially Loghain.

Usually, if Loghain had that happen, Cailan knew, he'd go down to the kennel and see the dogs.

It seemed to help his father too when he was ill, when he was feeling well enough to leave his chambers, to go to see them.

And while his mother laid dying, she had one of their dogs, a mabari she'd called Saffron, who'd imprinted on her, laid next to her, keeping her warm and as close to happy as she could be in her final moments. Cailan may have only been Alistair's age, but he remembered that as though it'd happened just the day before.

“Can I bring a puppy up to see her?” Cailan asked softly. “I promise I won't bother her. But... She might like it. If she can see one, I mean. It might help.”

“She's Orlesian,” Loghain said, annoyance clear, “Does she even like dogs?”

“One of the Wardens we traveled with had a dog,” Maric said with a nod. “Beautiful thing, she liked him.”

 

This seemed to get Loghain's attention, and he looked up at Maric. “One of those lap-rats they're so fond of?”

“No, no. A great,” Maric grinned, thinking of him, “A great beautiful hound. He wasn't purebred, but he was...he was a great dog. Almost as smart as one of the mabari...” His smile faulted slightly as he kept speaking. “His owner tried to get him to come with the three of us when he... tried to buy us some time to escape the deep roads. But the dog, Hafter, wouldn't leave his side.”

“So can I bring one for her to see?” Cailan asked again.

Maric considered it. “She will be stuck in there...She probably won't like that....You can. But if she doesn't seem to want you there, you leave. Agreed?”

Cailan nodded. “Agreed.”

When he finished his breakfast, he walked down to the kennels.

They were colder than the main building, though not by much. There was hay on the ground to help insulate and keep the floor from icing over if water leaked in somehow.

The moment Cailan opened the door, three of the dogs bounded over to the door to greet him, bowing at him playfully.

“Hello,” he greeted, giving one of them, his dog, a grey-coated mabari called 'Flemeth' after the witch in the legends Ailis would tell him, a pat on the head. “I've missed you.”

Flemeth barked at him, and jumped up on him, eagerly licking his face. Cailan grinned, and allowed it, waiting until she finished.

When she seemed to be done, he walked forward, toward the corner where the puppies usually slept, when there were puppies

There were now. Two litters of them, in fact. One was about a month older than the other, with the younger ones being a month old at the very oldest.

He scooped one of the older puppies, a whiteish dog who seemed to be only part mabari, her mother had likely gotten out and found another dog during her freedom, into his arms and she continued sleeping peacefully.

Rather than make the poor thing freeze during the walk outside, Cailan wrapped the base of his cloak around her like a blanket.

She was soft. Whatever her father had been, he'd had a long coat she was starting to inherit.

She had three or four large spots on her body, and a foot in grey, like a sock.

When he finally reached his father's room, he knocked on the door.

He could hear Fiona inside, or rather, he could hear someone inside, pacing from the sound of it, but they didn't answer.

He opened the door just a crack.

Fiona turned around to look at him, eyes wide and filled with worry for a moment, until she seemed to notice who it was.

“Can I come in?” Cailan asked.

She looked at him for a moment, and Cailan worried she might say no, until she nodded.

He slipped into the room, closing the door behind himself.

Fiona looked sick. The way his mother had, more than the way his father did when he wasn't well, and it scared Cailan a little, to be reminded of that. Of how being near death had twisted his mother's features. But he bit down that fear as well as he could manage.

“Father said you...weren't feeling good,” he began cautiously.

She'd stopped her pacing to look at him and Cailan felt a little intimidated being watched by her, but he continued.

“Uh...When Father is sick, and when mother was sick, and when I get sick, uh...” He trailed off, not looking her in the eye. Instead, he pulled back his cloak to reveal the puppy. “I brought you a dog,” he finished lamely.

Fiona walked towards him. He watched her feet, too nervous to look her in the face. She walked the way Loghain did. The way a solider did. It was odd to him that the Grey Wardens weren't soldiers, but that they walked like them.

When she was directly in front of him, Cailan looked up.

She wasn't much taller than he was; half a head at the very most, though, to be fair, Cailan was tall for a boy his age.

And her eyes looked so sad close up.

She gave him a smile and reached out for Cailan to hand her the dog.

Cailan carefully handed her the puppy, and she brought her to her chest, stroking her softly with the palm of her hand not supporting her.

She walked over to the bed and sat down with the dog.

Cailan stood where he was, uncertain of what to do.

“What's her name?” Fiona asked. She was looking at the dog as though she were the only thing in the world currently worth looking at.

“She doesn't have one yet. She's not full mabari, so usually father lets servants take the puppies if they want them when they're big enough. They name them. I would have brought you a mabari instead, but the only one who listens to me is Flemeth and she doesn't like any people but me.”

Fiona glanced up at him and gave him a warm smile. “She sounds like the Flemeth in the tales, not caring for people.”

Cailan laughed.

“If I were going to name her,” she continued, kissing at one of the puppy's ears, “I'd call her...Ayeleigh.”

“If you want to name her, you can. I bet Father would let you keep her if you want her.”

“I'm going back to the Circle soon. I can't care for a dog.”

Cailan sat down on the bed, but not directly next to Fiona, sitting down near the head of the bed rather than the foot.

“If you're here, the Grand Cleric said you can stay, didn't she?”

“She didn't say I could stay. The Templars think I'm in the deep roads right now, helping Duncan. She still hasn't made her choice.”

“But I want you to stay,” Cailan whined. He balled his fists and crossed his arms.

“I want to stay as well. But they haven't said I may yet. And if I stayed without their permission, I'd be an apostate. Templars would kill me on sight.”

“It's not fair,” he seethed. “You want t'stay and I want you to stay, and Father wants you to stay, and Ali wants you to stay probably, and Anora probably too, Loghain probably doesn't but that's because he doesn't like you... we all want you to stay, but you can't because she has to stay yes because of the Magisters. It isn't fair.” He felt angry tears start to well in his eyes, and felt his face twist into a pout of sorts, but he ignored them both.

“No,” Fiona agreed, “It isn't.”

“You're not a magister. You should get to stay because you want to stay! The Chantry...” He stopped himself before he said something the Maker might strike him down for. The Chantry said the Maker did not watch humanity any longer, though whether or not he still watched over elves and dwarves and Qunari, Cailan didn't know, but he feared the vengeance the Maker might call down upon him for saying something bad against the chantry anyway. “The chantry aren't very nice.”

“Sometimes they're not.”

“Do you think they're just mean? Or?”

“I think some of them genuinely believe mages are an actual threat. The rest, I think, simply enjoy using mages, both tranquil or not, as free labor.”

“I don't know what that means.”

“That means they like being able to use us to make money.”

Fiona fell silent, petting the puppy gently, while Cailan watched.

There had been a globe once, in his mother's study. Even after she died, it was one of Cailan's favorite things to play with. It showed so many places outside of Ferelden, outside of Thedas. Places who's names and peoples he'd never even heard of.

And he'd spin the globe around with all of his weight and it'd spin until it stopped.

One day, however, he spun the globe around so hard, the arm holding it in place snapped, and it fell off the wooden base it sat on, the paper ball and half the arm, rolling around the room until it stopped.

It was still the same globe, but without the arm and the base, it lost all context, and all meaning to him. It was just a pretty paper ball with places painted on it's skin, sitting on the floor.

Fiona reminded him of that globe.

She was the same woman she had been. But she didn't have her support or her context she had before.

Whether that was because she wasn't a Warden any longer, or because of the Circle, he didn't know.

All he knew was he wanted to make her feel better.

He walked down the bed on his knees over to her, and sat down next to her. He placed his head gently against her, and closed his eyes. He grinned when she began to run her fingers through his hair.

There were marks on her arms. Long thick abrasions where she'd rubbed the skin raw there until it bled, trying to make the voices stop. Both those solely in her head, and the voices of the demons.

The Templars didn't seem them, because Duncan had them rush her upstairs. She was very lucky they had, otherwise she'd have been killed right there in her cell.

Bleeding wounds didn't always mean blood magic. But they did to templars.

And the worst thing was Fiona couldn't remember why she'd cut herself like that, if it was for blood magic, or...She couldn't think of what else it could have been for. Blood magic was the only thing that made sense.

For the third time in her life, she'd used blood magic. And she couldn't even remember why she'd done it.

She couldn't let Maric see the cuts.

He had parts of the chant of light memorized. He believed.

He'd killed his last lover for betraying his country. Would he murder her for betraying his faith?

Maybe he'd try to kill her for hurting Loghain...She had hurt him, right? It wasn't just in a dream?

Fiona felt like her head was in a fog, and like her body was made of mist. Like she had no weight, no sense of time, or space, or distance. The end of the bed felt like forty miles from the head, and the time that passed between when Prince Cailan came into the room and when he left like seconds, even though logically it had to be far longer.

Perhaps she was going mad.

Or, perhaps, worse, she was possessed.

Perhaps, in that darkness, she'd gotten desperate enough to agree to allow something to take her over. And that was why she was doing this.

Or perhaps none of that ever happened. Perhaps she was in a basement in Orlais, still even now, being beaten to death and this was her dying dream.

Maric, and Duncan, and Loghain and Utha and Kell and the wardens, and the Circle and everything else was a poor teenage girl trying her hardest to stay alive, to protect herself from the ugly words, and painful whips of her master.

No. No. She was alive. She'd escaped. She was here. She was safe. Something was messing with her mind, making her think that wasn't true, but it was. She was safe. She was alive. Maric would never hurt her.

Everything was fine. She would be fine.

She pet the puppy in her arms, feeling the tears fall down her face, trying to hold them back as a cold, hard sounding laugh escaped her mouth.

“One of the men recruited to join the Wardens when I was,” she told the puppy, who let out a small puppy yawn, closing her eyes, “Used to say all the time that I was mad. That I was a loon and that he didn't know why the Wardens let me join. That someone as clearly mad as I was in the Wardens would only do one thing. Put others in danger...He ended up dying in the joining.”

There were footsteps in the hallway now. Shoes, not metal sabatons. Too heavy to be Cailan's, or Loghain's. Cailan was too light, and Loghain was too nimble.

Maric then.

Maric was coming, and he was going to see her like this and he was going to decide he'd made a poor choice in his lover.

And he wouldn't be wrong.

Well. If he didn't want her any longer, she could still rejoin the Wardens. Unless they didn't want her either.

The bedroom door creaked open gently, and Maric walked inside, carrying a large tray of food.

Fiona set the dog on the floor as he walked over to the table.

He set the down on the table then walked back over to the door to close it before the dog could escape.

He sat down at the table when he was done, and looked at her.

“How are you?” He asked her softly. It wasn't a 'how are you' in the way one asked an acquaintance, the kind of 'how are you' that could be answered in two or three words. It was different, but Fiona couldn't voice how.

She shook her head at him and felt herself start to cry harder. “I'm sorry,” she whispered, but in truth she had no idea what she was apologizing for.

He grabbed a plate off the tray, along with two slices of toast, and then walked over to the bed, setting the plate on one of the bedside tables, before crawling into bed with her.

“I'm so glad Duncan got you out of there when he did,” he said, reaching a hand out cautiously towards her shoulder. She didn't jerk away, and so he placed it there, letting his thumb gently rub there. “I'm so glad he got you out of there then. If it's in my power, I'll find some way to make sure you never go back there.”

“It...It wasn't even that terrible,” she sobbed, turning into Maric's chest, kicking herself for getting tears all over his clothes, but finding herself unable to pull away. “I-It was just.... I was alone for a few days in the dark...It wasn't...But I couldn't...I should have been stronger. I'm sorry.”

Maric kissed her hair, his hand finding the back of her neck now, and she could feel him trace out her name with his fingers there, pointer and middle finger held together on the straight line going up the F, until it split into it's two prongs, and they went parallel to one another. He shhed her softly, into her ear and she felt herself soothe a little, the bitter sobs slowing, and she felt herself able to catch her breath again.

“I think,” he said softly, his lips brushing against her hair as he spoke, “I'm going to stay in here all day, and be with you, if you don't mind.”

“Y-you have things to do. You shouldn't push them aside for me.”

“I'll do them later. I don't want you to have to be alone. I...know how terrifying being alone with just your thoughts can be.

“Thank you,” she whispered, next to his ear, her lips brushing over it. “Thank you.”


She ate. It felt good to see her eat.

Maric knew when he was gripped by the monster of sadness that sometimes took his life prisoner, eating felt like a monumental task, impossible for one to complete.

But that once he'd eaten, he felt two hundred times better. With what was said about Grey Wardens and their appetites, he figured that had to be even more true.

And it seemed it was.

For now, with a meal in her, whatever demon, literal or metaphoric, that gripped her was gone, leaving only Fiona.

Maric knew it was almost certainly only temporary, but it was still a blessing from the Maker none the less to see her looking like she was back in the land of the living, her brown eyes no longer glazed over and sad, her face looking less drawn, a smile, or perhaps a smirk, playing over her lips.

They didn't sleep together.

Or they did.

But only in the literal sense.

Fiona hadn't asked for them to do it metaphorically, and if they were going to, he'd rather her start it, so he didn't feel like some terrible monster forcing her into something she didn't want.

For the next few days, minus an hour or two here or there each day when Maric had meals with his sons, or Loghain couldn't talk someone who needed to meet with Maric into doing so on another day, the two of them, he and Fiona, stayed in his room, together.

He told her stories. Of Dane and The Werewolf, which wasn't a story told in Orlais, according to her.

And she'd tell him about her ancestor who fought against the Chantry forces during the fall of the Dales.

About his mother, the great Rebel Queen. Of how she raided an armory and began to fight the Orlesians, rather than just run from them the way Maric's grandfather had.

And she'd tell him about her mother, what little she remembered of her.

Of the way she'd spend her entire day doing laundry over a simmering pot, sticking her hands into the burning water to retrieve pieces when the large oar she used as a stirring spoon to agitate the clothes, couldn't reach far enough across it.

And how, at night, when that was finally done, and her brown arms were blistering again, she'd pull out some thread, and a hook, or a set of needles, or a tatting shuttle, or bobbins and a pillow and begin to make lace to sell to noblewomen for their dresses when she brought them their wash until she finally fell asleep in her chair.

Sometimes Cailan and Alistair would join them, Fiona would hold Alistair almost too tightly, as though afraid the templars would come and take him away from her, and Cailan sitting at the foot of the bed, talking animatedly about the things he'd learned in his lesson that day, or about what he and Alistair spent their day doing.

And in that time of peace, the four of them could feel, at least for a little while, like they were an ordinary Ferelden family; like Maric was not the king and Cailan was not the prince, and Alistair was legitimate, and Fiona wasn't an elven mage.

They were just people, allowed to be happy together.

That time was cut short when the letter came.

It came just after noon, on Alistair's name day, delivered by a templar in full armor.

Maric assumed it was meant solely to be intimidating.

He took the letter and opened it there, not wanting Fiona to know of it, in case it's contents boded ill for them.

The letter was written in crisp, neat handwriting, that of the well-educated.

Most of it was flowery prose, attempting to get the writer into his good graces.

But three lines in the middle paragraph, before he began to actually read it, stood out to him.

'Because of former Warden De Rais' issues with authority, as typified by her frequent stints in the dungeons both at the Montsimmard Circle and Kinloch Hold, as well as the three documented cases of her engaging in physical altercations with templars, I do worry about her working as anyone's adviser, but particularly that of a king. Her murder of Comte Dorian De Rais, in who's home she lived as a ward, and the disappearance of her Commander and the majority of her fellow wardens during a trip into the deep roads further cement my fears. Should you insist that she be made your adviser, I,' the I was underlined five times, 'insist that you have at least one templar present to ensure you do not come to harm in her presence, if not five or more.'

Maric folded the letter up and placed it into his pocket, sighing deeply.

Chapter Text

“She's killed someone,” Loghain said, glancing over the letter the Grand Cleric sent to Maric. “You've fallen in love with a murderess.”

“Fiona's killed someone, but she isn't a murderess,” Maric protested.

The two of them sat in the room Loghain claimed as his own, just down the hall from Maric's own. The woman was resting in Maric's room, Alistair and Cailan with her. Maric was unwilling to disturb them, or to inform any of them about the letter yet, so they retreated to Loghain's room.

His room was about the same size as Maric's, with similar furniture pieces.

The main difference between the pieces was that the ones in Loghain's room had been the furniture of the Usurper. The dresser was delicate with turned legs, and mother-of-pearl inlay knobs. There'd once been the Dufayel family crest, the crest of the Usurper, branded into the wood on the front of it, but, when insomnia hit for days on end, Loghain used what he'd learned of woodworking as a child to re-cut a piece in similar wood, and added the Theirin crest instead.

He needed to do it to nearly every piece of furniture in the room, the table, the desk, the headboard of the bed.

His room was as sparsely decorated and practical as one would expect. The only decorations to speak of were two framed maps, one of Ferelden with the various Alamarri clans' names and loose approximations of their borders, and the other of far-off Rivain, Tevinter, Seheron, and Par Vollen.

It was not, however, as neat as one might expect. Bits of the ties of chemises and sleeves and pant-legs peaked out from the over-full dresser and the basket underneath it, where he kept his clothes that needed to be washed.

The bed was unmade, and papers littered the desk in the corner.

He didn't like servants in his chambers. They were far too likely to be spies for his taste, so he cleaned his room for himself.

The problem was, he wasn't all that good at it.

Growing up in an outlaw camp, with his bed consisting of a bedroll, and his clothes all stowed in a pack, learning to keep things neat just wasn't the priority.

Give him men to command, those underneath him, or his King, or armor to ready for battle, or weapons to clean and repair, that he could do. But ask him to make a bed or fold laundry and that was not a place where his skills lay.

“I suppose her guardian simply walked into a knife she was holding.” Loghain sighed after a long moment, and held his head in his hands; Maker help him, “If she killed someone she's a murderess.”

“No she isn't.”

“Explain to me how she isn't.”

Maric reached for the crystal decanter in the middle of the table and poured them both another glass of brandy. He reached for his own and took a large gulp of it, before looking up at Loghain.

“I can't tell you that. I know. But I can't tell you. She didn't tell me to keep it a secret, but I have a feeling she wanted me to. And I don't want to betray her trust.”

“I'll remind you of this in five months, when there are twenty templars stopping you from being able to lay with her.”

“If my choices are 'risk her no longer trusting me' or 'risk never being able to lay with, or kiss, the woman I love ever again', I chose the latter. She's been betrayed too many times.”

“You've read too many tales, Maric. I remember Rowan. She wouldn't sleep with you, and you ran off and...found someone new. If you love this woman, tell me what I need to know, otherwise you'll do the same with her.”

Loghain saw a spark of anger in Maric's blue eyes, a rare thing. “I didn't...Katriel wasn't... Rowan knew me since I was a child, Loghain. I didn't want to be with her because she knew me too well. I...I would always be the Maric who fell off horses, and fell asleep standing up while Wilhelm lectured us. To...I wanted to be able to be who I...”

He brought his glass to his mouth and drained it, and then, swiftly, poured himself another drink, not bothering to finish the sentence. Instead, he took another sip of his drink, and swallowed hard.

He didn't look up at Loghain, his blue eyes on the signet ring on his right hand. It'd been an ancestor's, badly tarnished, found in a mouse hole in the palace when they took it back from the Usurper. Loghain was the one who found it. Who gave it to him. And Maric's face had lit up like a million candles.

His face was dark now though. And he wore no smile.

“Would you want me to tell someone you hardly know who hates you about what happened to your mother?” He asked finally. His voice was a whisper. “Not to tell them to ask you. But to tell them myself. Would you?”

Loghain suddenly felt cold, flashes of images, of his mother's face, and of silk-covered torsos of the men dragging her came to his mind, but he picked up his glass and drained it, pushing them away.

“No,” he said flatly.

“What made her kill him was...as bad as what happened to your mother. I think, if a demon didn't show us it, she would have never told a soul. Even if we became lovers without that happening, I don't think she'd have told me about it. All you need to know is that Orlesian nobles are as bad to elves in Orlais as the were to us here. Maybe worse.”

The room fell silent, and felt suddenly chilled for a good amount of time, until Loghain spoke again.

“I don't hate her,” he said, reaching a hand out to cover Maric's, to get Maric to look up at him. Maric did, his eyes matching up with Loghain's own, “I..Worry she'll hurt you. But I don't hate her.”

“Make sure she knows that then,” Maric said, giving Loghain a sad smile. He stood up, grabbing his glass, and walked towards the door. “I think I'm going to bed. Sleep well.”

“Sleep well,” Loghain called after Maric. He couldn't tell if Maric heard him before the door closed. He kicked himself mentally for everything he said as he drained his glass.

Both Alistair and Cailan were asleep when Maric walked into the bedroom, Cailan holding Alistair tight, like he was a ragdoll meant to comfort, his body curled protectively around his little brother. His hair was a tangled mess. Either he hadn't brushed it, or he'd tossed and turned and mussed it up. Alistair's short hair was far less messy, but like Maric had as a child, some of it was curled around his finger loosely, the thumb of his other hand popped into his mouth.

 

Fiona sat over by the window, in Rowan's old chair, watching the two of them.

 

She glanced up at Maric as he walked in, but then looked away.

 

Maric walked over to the table and chairs to the side of her, and sat down, watching her as she watched the children, the two of them in silence.

 

The need to speak to her itched in his throat, was frantic in his fingers, thumb running over the tips of the rest of them, weighed heavily on his jaw. But he knew nothing good would come from opening his mouth.

 

“You look tired,” Fiona observed. “Maybe you should join,” she gestured to the boys. Then she blinked, rubbing her own eyes and trying to keep from yawning.

 

“Uh...Actually I wanted to talk to you. The Grand Cleric sent her response.”

 

He walked over to her, pulling the letter out of his pocket and handing it to her.

 

She read it over slowly, her dark eyes filling with more and more anger as she kept reading. When she was finished, she was very careful to not allow herself to crumble up the paper, instead handing it back to him, giving him an angry smile.

 

The room was so silent, Maric was certain he could hear the mice who made their homes in the walls in the wintertime if he listened closely enough.

Fiona tried her hardest to keep her temper under control, to keep from yelling and waking the boys.
“I was his /ward/? His bloody ward?” She let out the bitterest, most angry laugh Maric had ever heard and she turned to look at him, wearing an exceptionally unsettling smile, face shaking with even more bitter laughter. “His ward. His /WARD/. Of course I was his ward. Of course. Of course I was his bloody ward because Orlais cannot admit slavery exists. Because of course what he did to me, everything he did to me was what a good custodian would do for their charge. Of course I was his /ward/.”

She spit the word, and then stood up and walked towards the window, beginning to pace.

“The Grand Cleric is a good woman,” Maric said softly, “She's Fereldan maybe Loghain and I-”

She stopped her pacing and turned to face Maric. “Good woman or not, I'm an elf and I'm a mage and I'm a murderess and Orlesian, and she likely thinks I'm a malificar too. And Maker knows I've no way to prove I'm not.” She took a few calming breaths. “Aside from that, there's no way to get her to believe I'm not a danger without telling her why I killed Do-/him/. And...If I had it my way, no one would ever know about that. Not you, or Duncan, or Utha if she yet lives. That, once my master's wife dies, no one but me knows. But that demon-”

She cut herself off, her footsteps growing louder and more frantic along the floor. Her cheeks were reddening, and Maric swore he could see tears forming in her eyes, but she rubbed at her face until they disappeared.

“Do you want to go out?” Maric asked softly.

Fiona turned and faced him, staring at him blankly, a scowl still fixed on her features. “I can't leave. If someone sees me and reports me to the templars, you know nothing good will come of that, don't be an idiot.”

“You assume someone will see you.”

“And you assume I'm willing to risk it.”

“There's a secret passageway. I've never used it, but my mother used to tell me about it when I was a little boy. It's how my my grandfather and my mother escaped from the palace when the Orlesians finally took it.”

She stopped pacing and started to breathe again, glancing out the window at the starry night sky outside. Then she looked over at Maric, her dark eyes unreadable and hard. And she nodded. “Yes.”

The passageway was at the end of the hallway from the bedrooms, an easy escape if it was needed, though judging by it's location, just outside the set of doorways that had become six or seven bedrooms intended for children, but which had once been the master bedroom, an easy entrance for a paramour.

It was a large tile, identical to all the others, except for a bit of a gap between the grout.

It took Maric a few goes with his beltknife to manage to work the stone up enough to lift it and reveal the metal square holding the tile in place, and the hidden staircase.

Except for an utterance to light her staff which she'd been sensible enough to grab, she walked silently next to Maric the entire trip down the passageway. The stairs fairly quickly gave way to a slightly sloped plaster walled tunnel, though it seemed to badly need some repair, Large, spidery cracks covered the grey-white walls and Fiona ran her hand over it, small bits of dust and stone coming off on her hand.

“It isn't terrible down here,” she told Maric softly, the anger inside her ebbing away the further she walked into the warm dark tunnel. “It reminds me a little of the Deep Roads.”

Maric glanced over at her, his pale skin looking even lighter in the blue-green glow from her staff, to the point it looked almost alien.

“You actually liked the deep roads?”

“Don't be an idiot. No one actually likes the deep roads. But at least it's familiar. I've not had anything truly familiar since I came to Ferelden. It feels nice to have a touchstone.” Her shoe caught on a bit of tile sticking out of the ground, and she reached for the wall to catch herself. Again, more plaster came down over her fingers, but she caught herself, and then gave a breath of laughter, “Even if the touchstone is falling apart.”

“So you do miss Orlais then?”

 

She didn't miss Orlais. She missed the smell of lemon and cypress and linen and the ocean in her bedroom. She missed the sunlight reflecting off the gleaming white courtyard of the Wardens' compound bouncing up into her window. She missed other mages who knew what life outside catty Circle politics was. she missed cool soft sheets, and the sound of training. She missed the solitude, having the chance to be alone, instead of constantly having at least a servant in the room with her. And she missed having other elves around who weren't servants. Sometimes, even, she missed waking up in bed alone, without either the cold stone floor of the dungeons, or Maric's thick warm arms greeting her.

She didn't answer for a long minute. “I don't miss Orlais, I miss my home, which is to say I miss the Wardens. But I don't miss Orlais.”

Maric reached out for her hand, letting his fingers gently brush against the back of her hand. “You can go back if you truly want to.”

“No. I can't. I have an obligation to Alistair. I need him to be happy. That's all I need. If I still want to go back when he is a man, I will, if they'll still have me.”

“You don't have an obligation to anyone, Fiona.”

She turned her head up slightly and gave Maric a smile. “Thank you.” She let her fingers curl tightly around his own,

They walked like that together, hand in hand, the small gesture of affection meaning more to Fiona than a million kisses might.

The end of the tunnel let out nearly five miles from the palace, by Fiona's best estimation. A large metal grate covered the exit.

Underneath it were the hanging remains of a metal ladder, which had, in the years since it was used for King Brandel's daring escape from the palace, rusted to the point it was no longer useable.

Cold winter air seeped down, out of it now, making Fiona clutch her thin cloak tighter.

Maric made a face, frowning, studying the ladder, reaching out towards the rusted remains, bits of the old paint and metal falling off in large bits as he touched it. Then he turned around to Fiona, looking at her sheepishly. “I'm sorry we walked all this way for nothing,” he rubbed at the back of his neck with the hand that wasn't in her's, making a face when he realized that doing so with bits of metal still on it in places probably wasn't the best idea.

“It feels nice to get out of that room at the very least,” Fiona said, letting go of his hand, and lowering herself to the floor to sit. Her legs weren't sore; it'd not been long enough away from the Wardens that she lost the ability to walk great distances, but she was tired, though whether in the physical or emotional sense she still couldn't tell. “I was starting to become convinced I wasn't actually home. I was imagining it all to distract myself from the dungeons.”

Maric slid himself down onto the floor as well. He looked sad at the mention of her experience at the Circle. “I'm not naive, despite what some people, Loghain especially, seem to think. I know love doesn't cure everything, that love, or sex, or anything like that can fix anything instantly the way it does in the tales. But I want you to know I do love you.”

Fiona let out a small laugh, not looking at him.

“You don't believe me?”

“I'm still learning how to believe that people /can/ love me, Maric. Don't take offense at my incredulity.” She was silent for a few moments, before she looked at him again. “But do know that I love you too. No matter how much I used to hate you, you are probably one of the best things to happen to me in my entire life.”

“Only one of the best things?” Maric teased, smiling at her.

She smiled back, laughing again, but this time it was less sad, and more genuine. “Terribly written novels about elven radicals exist, so you can't be the very best, you know.”

“Ah. True enough.” He thumbed at the silver frogs holding his cloak in place, and unbuttoned all three of them, removing it. “Are you cold?” he asked, offering Fiona the cloak. She took it and wrapped it around herself.

“I need to buy a new cloak when I have the chance,” Fiona observed, rubbing at her slowly reddening nose, “Apparently cloaks good enough for Montsimmard winters aren't even close to good enough for Ferelden winters.”

“Speaking of, outside of the robe you came home from the Circle in, and that grey dress, do you have any other clothes?”

“Here? I have my Warden robes. When I get out of the Circle, I'll have to buy more.”

“I could buy them for you.”

“Don't be stupid. I'm not some strumpet. I can buy my own clothes, Maric.” She sighed, and then looked back up at him. “I'm sorry. “

Maric didn't say anything. He just kept smiling at her.

The only noises that could be heard for for what felt like forever was the sound of their breathing, and dog barks wafting in from the metal grate.

“We're going to convince the Grand Cleric,” Maric promised her. “And if not, I'll appeal to the Divine. I'm going to do my best to make sure you can come home and stay there, with as few restrictions as possible. I promise.”

“Thank you.”

The Grand Cleric was a very busy woman.

Perhaps even busier than Maric himself was, if only because she had far less competent people to delegate to than he did.

From what Maric heard, it was far too easy for one who was forced into joining the Chantry by some meddling brother who wished to inherit one's family's estate, or in an attempt to hide from one's crimes to find themselves in a fairly high position without the unshakable belief in the Maker one would expect of such a woman.

His own inner circle of nobles, those he allowed to help him with his tasks may have had flaws, Eamon's abuse of Alistair and his...delight in Orlesian things, Howe's cruel nature, Bryce's occasional tendency towards drink and Eleanor's tendency to coddle him, Loghain's paranoia, Teagan's youth and naivety, but every one of them lived for Ferelden.

Every one of them was committed to doing the things they thought was best for their homeland.

Maric wondered if such were the case for the Grand Cleric's inner circle, if they woke every morning, knowing, or perhaps hoping, that the things they did would bring the world closer to the Maker's return.

The room where he sat waiting for her was warm, despite no obvious fires in the hearth.

He'd heard of buildings before, in Orlais, and Starkhaven, and other wealthy places where it still got cold in the winter, where a single large fire in the cellar of a building was used to heat water, and that water was piped up through the walls, where it would heat the rest of the building; a technique discovered by the mages at one of the Orlesian Circles of Magi who grew tired of freezing in the winters.

He wondered if that was the case here, if that was keeping it warm.

If it was, he'd certainly need to see about getting something like that for the palace... Maybe Fiona knew something about it.

Or perhaps it was a bad idea to assume she did. Perhaps that'd lead to her getting annoyed with him. Particularly if she'd already found out about the Grand Cleric's response to their request hadn't changed.

“Stop fidgeting,” Loghain scolded, “You're shaking the bench.”

The bench they were sitting on, dark oak with delicate yellow cushions on the back and the seat, embroidered to illustrate Maferath's betrayal and Andraste's ascension to the Maker's side, was not shaky on his own, but when Maric was nervous, his tendency to bounce his leg made it shaky.

He ignored Loghain, smirking at him as he did. Loghain gave him a sour look.

“Anora and Cailan are more mature than you are,” the other man mumbled under his breath. But Maric kept smirking at him, until finally, rolling his eyes, Loghain smiled back.

“How likely do you think we are to get her to change her mind?”

Loghain leaned back in the chair, steepling his fingers over his mouth as he thought, taking almost two minutes to do so, before he looked up at Maric.“Unlikely. The Grand Cleric, when she was still merely a mother, supported the rebellion.”

“Shouldn't that be a good thing then?”

“It would be if the woman you chose wasn't an Orlesian. And hadn't killed a man.”

“Her murder was justified,” Maric protested softly.

“So you say.”

“I was under the impression you considered the murder of all Orlesian nobles instantly justified. Or is it unjustified simply because you don't like her?”

Loghain opened his mouth to answer, before the door creaked open, and he stopped.

An older woman with greying auburn hair walked out of the door to the left of them. She had light brown eyes that seemed to bug out of her head a little, walked inside.

“King Maric,” she said with a smile, “What a pleasure.” She then noticed Loghain sitting next to Maric, and smiled at him as well. “And General Loghain. It's quite a honor. Please, this way to my office.”

She led them through the door, and down a long hallway that smelt like incense, and jasmine, and the burning of the holy brazier.

It was more richly decorated than the palace, with fine cherry wood paneling covering every inch of the walls and a thick Rivaini-woven rug with intricate geometric designs covered the floor.

When they reached the end of the hallway, they turned into a door on the left of the hallway and walked inside.

The Grand Cleric's office looked far more like an elaborate sitting room than a true office, aside from a small cheveret desk in the corner.

A row of ten twelve-pane windows covered the right wall. And the mahogany floor had various rugs thrown in various sections of it.

A group of wooden chairs sat near the centre of the room and Grand Cleric Augustine led them to them.

“Would either of you like something to drink? Or eat? One of the servants bakes the most delightful macaroons. They're really quite good.” she asked sitting down in one of the chairs, gesturing for Loghain and Maric to sit in the other two.

“No thank you,” Maric said, he lowered himself into the chair, Loghain lowering himself into the other, looking around at the room grimly.

“Now, what can I do to help you?”

“I'd like for you to reconsider your position on Fiona.”

“Former Warden De Rais, you mean?”

“Yes.” He felt himself tense up a little, and gave the Grand Cleric a nervous smile in an attempt to fight it. “Fiona isn't a danger to anyone, let alone to me. Her murder of Comte De Rais was entirely justified, and, having been there, I can say she had nothing to do with the disappearance of her commander or her fellow Wardens during the trip into the deep roads. She's a wonderful person, a good friend, and perfectly trustworthy without Templar supervision.”

“Murder is never justified, your majesty.”

“'With the might of the Maker,
Behind his final blow,
Havard did slay Magister Camerarius,
And the Maker smiled upon him for his righteousness.”

The Grand Cleric's smile didn't waiver, “I'm glad to see you know the Chant, but, there is a minordetail you've forgotten, your majesty, Havard slew Camerarius in defense Andraste. They were at war. Warden De Rais killed Comte De Rais in cold blood at his own home.”

“Fiona killed the Comte in self-defense. He was trying to kill her.”

The woman raised her eyebrow. “Did the Warden tell you this?”

“No,” Maric said, “I saw it.”

“I was unaware you'd ever been to Orlais.”

Maric closed his eyes, remembering the scene, this man beating the woman he himself loved, her skin bloody and scarred, her barely alive, and the bile rose in his stomach. He took a shaky breath to settle himself.

“I haven't. I saw it in a vision showed to me, and the wardens I traveled with, during my time in the deep roads.”

“In the fade? Need I remind you, mages can manipulate the Fade. It could have been a trick.”

“Yes,” Loghain snapped, “I'm quite certain that woman knew one day Maric would ask her to be his adviser and manipulated the fade in order to trick him into thinking she was innocent of murder. She is truly a brilliant strategist, planning this more than three years ahead of time,” he added dryly. “I find her trustworthiness as lacking as you do, Grand Cleric. She is Orlesian and she is a mage. However, she also helped Maric to escape the deep roads, and so far she's proven honest. I don't trust her, but I do not think she has the forethought to do what you suggested she did. She's far too hotheaded for that.”

“So, were you in my position, General Loghain, with a mage who is known to have willfully murdered, wishing to become the adviser to a king, what would you do? Provide him no protection, risking that, should he be killed by her, you would now be responsible for regicide?”

“I would allow him to have her advise him, but have a templar check in periodically. If there are signs of blood magic corruption, or Maric or I fear for his safety, she is to be returned to the Circle.”

Maric looked at Loghain, panic in his eyes, and started to speak, but Loghain gave him him a reassuring look. A look that said he knew what he was doing.

“That is what you would do?”

She studied Loghain's face, an expression Maric couldn't name, playing on her lips. All he /could/ say was that it was rather unsettling.

“Yes,” Loghain said confidently.

“And if something should happen between visits, and it results in Maric's death, what would you say to those who say that I am responsible and that I should have ensured she was safe?”

“I'd tell them to blame me. Or, Maric's poor choices in his friends.”

“Hey,” Maric said in response to that, but Loghain ignored him.

She chewed at one of her fingernails, eyeing Loghain as she did so, thinking in silence, until she spoke again. “Then, when Warden De Rais returns from the deep roads, that is what I will do.” She clapped her hands together and smiled at them. “Are you really certain you wouldn't like a macaroon?”

Maric shook his head, rising. “No thank you, your Grace. We have matters to attend to at the palace, and I'm rather certain you're quite busy yourself.”

“Ah,” she said sadly. “That is a pity. It was good to see you, your Highness. I hope we will speak again soon.”

Maric gave her a nod and a polite smile and walked out of the room as quickly as possible, as though if he slowed, the Grand Cleric would change her mind.

“Sister Ailis said Ser Aveline was a human though. She was raised by the Dalish, but she was human,” Cailan informed Fiona.

“That's not the way my mother told it,” Fiona said, fondly stroking Cailan's hair with her free hand. He rested his head in her lap, looking up at the canopy of the bed, Alistair laying next to him, the story Fiona was telling already put him to sleep. Fiona had a stack of paper next to her on a portable writing desk. On the paper was a drawing of what looked like a very long tunnel and a list in Orlesian Cailan could only make a few words out for. Next to the drawing of the tunnel was a sketch of what looked like a room filled with many plants. “My mother said she was a Dalish elf. And that, and the fact that she was a woman was what made Ser Kaleva angry enough to kill her.”

“If she was an elven woman, how was she tall enough to make people think she was a human man?”

“Mother didn't say,” Fiona said with something of a laugh, “Though, she could have just said she was a dwarven warrior. If she was short enough.”

“I s'pose she could have,” Cailan agreed. “Or she could have been like Alistair. Have an elven mother but have looked human.”

“Most elves consider people like Alistair to be human. The Dalish especially.”

“But don't most humans treat them like they're elves?”

Fiona was silent for a few seconds, but then she spoke. “I suppose they do.”

“Then her being elf-blooded would be just as bad as her being an elf, right?”

“I suppose it's pos-”

The bedroom door opened, and Cailan jumped and sat up. He hadn't even heard footsteps in the hall.

Father, and Loghain, both walked into the room.

Father was absolutely beaming, while Loghain didn't look too displeased either.

Neither he nor Fiona said anything to each other, instead, they just stared wordlessly, Fiona's eyes darting between Father and Loghain and back to Father again.

Father nodded at her.

She rose from the bed and crossed the room and calmly, pulled Father into the tightest hug Cailan had ever seen. Then, Father leaned down and kissed her and Cailan looked away, making a face, and suddenly finding the counterpane of his father's bed quite fascinating.

But then he looked up, struck by what this might mean. “Wait,” he started loudly, but he quickly, without prompting, lowered his voice, so as not to wake his younger brother. “Does this mean Fiona gets to stay?”

Father pulled away from Fiona and nodded. “Yes. The Grand Cleric has granted our request. Once Fiona returns to the Circle, and the paperwork they make her do there is done, she will be allowed to come back here.”

“She'll get to come back home,” Cailan said grinning wide, feeling as though it was Satinalia and his name day all rolled into one.

“I'll get to come home,” Fiona agreed, matching his smile with her own.

She was coming home.

Oh, did Cailan want to be the one to tell Alistair.

Chapter Text

The next week flew by what felt like over night, and by the time it was time to return to the Circle, Fiona didn't want to go back.

She didn't mean that in the sense that she idly wanted to stay at the palace forever.

She meant that in the same sense that she meant she never wanted to go back to the Comte's home, to the basement she'd been held.

It held the same revulsion for her, though slightly less severely.

It made her stomach turn, and her legs tense up as though to run. It made her jaw set, and her eyes want to close tightly, so she didn't see, didn't feel.

Fiona wasn't good at fighting places. People, people she could fight. People who called her a knife-ear, or a whore, or a robe, she could fight them, hurt them in a million ways. Make them stop. Make them leave. Make them die so the only place she had to hear their voices again were in her nightmares.

But places, even places run by people, she couldn't fight them. There was nothing to fight. You could blow them up, into a million little pieces and it did nothing.

But when Duncan came for her in the dead of night, she was ready for him.

She'd kept away from the boys, and from Maric, for the entire day before, hoping by not seeing them it would hurt less to leave them.

She was quickly discovering that was not, in fact, the case. All not seeing them did was make her miss them more.

Sitting alone in the dark of the throne room, wearing her Warden uniform for what would probably be the final time for a very long while, a small satchel of her things in her hand, she waited for him, willing herself to try her hardest not to miss Alistair or Maric or Cailan, or even Loghain.

Duncan slipped in through the doors, flitting in and out of the shadows like he was a ghost, until he was directly in front of her.

“Have a good vacation?” Duncan asked with a charming smile that showed clearly even in the darkness. He offered her a hand to pull herself up from the dais, and she stood, reaching for her satchel as she did. She fixed it, then

Fiona nodded, not speaking.

She gave him a long look over. He left his beard untrimmed, probably to add credibility to their cover story, no one cut their beards in between killing darkspawn. The tunic of his uniform, under the metal plate bore stains from the darkspawn ichor.

“That's going to eat through your uniform if you don't clean it,” Fiona warned, pointing to the ichor stains as the two of them walked out of the throne room, and into the hall leading to the doors out.

That just made Duncan laugh.

“Glad to see it's convincing then! It's not actually darkspawn blood,” Duncan said smirking. “It's ink. Me and a couple of the other Wardens dipped swords and daggers into ink and had sword fights with them while this hung on a dummy. I wanted to make it look like blood castoff as though I was actually fighting. You're a mage and you stand in the back during a fight, so it'd make sense for your uniform to be in decent shape. But mine...Well.”

“Forethought. I'm impressed.”

“You still think I'm stupid, Fi? After all these years?”

“I don't think you're stupid. I just wouldn't have thought to do that. I barely remembered to change into my uniform.”

“I was a criminal. To some people, I'm still a criminal. I have to have a little cunning and schemes in me, don't I?”

Fiona laughed. “I suppose you do.”

“How was Alistair's name day?”

“Small. Quiet. One of the cooks made pound cake and Cailan gave him a couple of the presents Maric took him to the market to pick out. Maric gave him clothes. I gave Maric some money to buy Alistair a griffon doll for me, since I couldn't go out, and he got the doll, but, uh, I counted the money in my purse when he got back, and there was the same amount of coin in it as there'd been when he left with it.”

“Maric's a king. You're an ex-Grey Warden and everyone, even people who aren't Wardens know we don't get paid nearly anything. What do you have in your coin purse right now? Fifteen silver, a comb and an interesting rock?”

One of the servants guided the two of them outside, where two horses, hitched to a carriage waited in the falling snow. Fiona glanced at Duncan who smirked at her.

“Neither of us are much of any good at riding horses, and I know you're coming with me this time, so I have an excuse to use it.”

They walked to the carriage, and made their way inside. Fiona, not even bothering with her staff, muttered a spell to heat the carriage slightly, so it wasn't as terribly cold as it could have been, then spoke again to Duncan.

“I know he has money, but it's the principle of the thing. I don't want to be his kept girl. I don't.”

“You're not his kept girl. He loves you and he wants to buy your son something nice for you without you paying for it.”

“I know that but...”

“But?”

“A few days ago he offered to buy me clothes when he found out I only had a robe from the Circle, my cloak, Warden uniforms and one dress. That...” She closed her eyes. The words stuck in her throat and she couldn't speak them. But she took a deep breath and tried to force herself to. “One of the things the Count liked to do was buy me fancy dresses and dress me up and show me off. They were always the most expensive, extravagant dresses he could find...And every time he put me in one of them, he'd tell me how much it cost. And then he'd remind me how much he paid for me,” she let out a hollow laugh, and tried to stop. “And...and the dress was always worth more. He'd tell me I shouldn't ruin it, because it was more valuable than my life was.”

“Maric isn’t the Count, Fiona.”

“I know he isn't,” Fiona snapped, “But it feels the same. It feels the same to have him spend money on me. Or to have him spend his money instead of mine.”

“You sound like a fool.”

That just made Fiona angrier. “I know I sound like a fool, thank you Duncan.”

“When he makes you his queen, what are you going to do? Wear the same dress to every single party or dinner he takes you to until the day you die? Or are you going to skive off them?”

“I'm not going to be his queen. I'm an elf. And I'm a mage. And, as far as most Fereldans are concerned, I'm Orlesian.”

“He loves you. You love him. He's going to ask you to marry him eventually. He's not the type of man to just let the woman he loves be relegated to mistress. Some day, you'll be Queen of Ferelden. What are you going to do then?”

Fiona stared at Duncan for a very long time before she spoke. “He already asked me to marry him. Before I even left for the Circle. I said no.”

“You what?”

“I said no. If he married me, Ferelden would be in uproar. There would be a revolt and Maric would be deposed. No country anywhere would accept an elven queen, or a mage queen, and Ferelden wouldn't accept an Orlesian queen. For me to be all three would be a death sentence for Maric. They'd kill him, they'd kill me, they'd kill Alistair, and if we were very lucky, they'd put Cailan on the throne. If we were unlucky, the Divine would call down an exalted march and kill all of us.”

“They would not. Maybe there'd be a riot or two, but Ferelden loves Maric and they love the Theirins. They'd put up with an elven queen if it made him happy.”

“I'm not willing to risk Alistair's life on that.”

“You're always talking about how terrible elves have it. If you became Queen, you could help fix that.”

“Or make it worse,” Fiona said softly, looking out the carriage window, her fingers brushing over the ice now forming at the glass, letting her short, blunted nails chip away with it in artful spirals.

“Yes. Having a queen who listens to your concerns will make it worse. Right.”

“What happens when the humans who are unhappy with Maric's marriage find out? Will they storm the palace? No. It's too well defended. They will attack the alienages. They will kill elves. And their deaths will be on my hands.”

“That won't happen.”

“Duncan, don't be naive. Of course it will happen. Every time something vaguely related to elves happens that is disliked, our communities are stormed and our people beaten or killed. And the city guard, if there is one, does nothing.”

“Ferelden isn't like that.”

“Every place in Thedas is like that, Duncan.”

The rest of the trip to the Circle went well. Every five hours or so, they'd stop in a village to change horses for fresh ones who weren't tired, and every fifteen for a new driver, so the old one could rest. During the trip,

Fiona and Duncan, when they weren't sleeping, or talking, played cards.

The entire time they played, Duncan would insist she cheated.

She did, in fact, cheat, but as Duncan could not prove it, she continued to do so, eventually winning five sovereigns from him.

Despite heavy snow for part of their trip, it only took five days to reach the Circle tower. The boat ride across the lake was freezing, so much so that the man steering the boat gave Fiona and Duncan two large bear skins each to use as blankets for their trip.

“If they put me back into solitary confinement to 'monitor' me, I swear to the Maker I will kill every single templar in this tower,” Fiona muttered to Duncan, as they walked into the atrium to wait

“Murder sounds like a terrible plan. Last time I murdered someone, I ended up recruited into the Wardens. Try to avoid murder if you can, Fiona. It doesn't end well.”

Fiona laughed a little, then rubbed her cold fingers against her numb nose trying to regain sensation to it. “I think I can avoid it.”

“You better. I can talk people out of a lot of things, but I don't think I could manage to talk someone out of executing you.”

They did not send her to the dungeons. Instead, she was led alone upstairs to the first enchanter's office.

“You're looking well, Miss De R- Miss De Gris,” Irving said. “Far better than you did when you left.”

“Duncan was good about getting my favorite foods. He's a good friend,” she said softly, with a small, tight smile, making sure to look Irving in the eye.

“Indeed? He sounds very kind.”

“He is.”

“Before you return to your room, I have something I must discuss with you.”

“If it's about my eating, I will try my hardest to ensure I do.”

“Well, yes, that, but something else. We have been informed by the Grand Cleric that she is willing to grant King Maric's request to make you his adviser. Congratulations.”

Fiona smiled wide, pretending this was new news to her. “Thank you ser. Does that mean I am allowed to return to Denerim today?”

Irving laughed. “No. Not today. In a week or so's time. There are things which still must be done before you are allowed to leave the Circle.”

She stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate.

“We must elevate you to Enchanter, ordinary mages are not allowed to become advisers. Templars must examine you for signs of blood magic. A spirit healer must ensure you're physically well enough to leave the Circle. You will see, Warden.”

“I'm not-” Fiona began, but Irving waved her off.

“Yes yes, you're not a Warden any more. I know. You may go Miss De Gris.”

Fiona stood and walked out of the office.

She walked to the room where she'd been assigned, and, before she could ensure no one had stolen her possessions left there, before removing her boots, before anything, she allowed herself to collapse face-first into the mattress, letting out a long, low, tired groan.

She quickly fell asleep, not even righting herself into a more conventional sleeping position than simply face against the mattress, body diagonal, feet dangling off the end of the bed.

When she woke again, her boots had been removed, along with her cloak, both of which sat on the trunk by the end of her bed. Sitting next to them was Uldred, who was reading the novel Duncan gave her when she first came to the Circle.

The room was empty, except for the two of them.

He turned to face her after he felt her eyes on him, giving her a smile. It was not a nice smile, not kind. “Good afternoon Warden.”

“Have you been at the Circle since you were a small boy? Because that is the only explanation I can think of for why you might find it acceptable to be in a woman's room, watching her sleep.”

“I wasn't watching you sleep, Warden. I was waiting for you to wake, and reading this novel.” He showed her the cover. “During your time in solitary, one of the apprentices stole it. I retrieved it for you.”

Fiona scowled, which only made Uldred's smile grow. “You could have left it on my bed.”

“I could have, but as I had other matters to discuss with you, I didn't.”

“Get out. Now.” She hissed the words, rather than shouted them. A shout would bring templars running, and that was not what she wanted.

“How was Denerim, Warden?” He asked, still smiling, examining his fingernails now.

“I wasn't in Denerim. I was in the Deep Roads.”

Uldred laughed. “We are not all as stupid as the templars are,” he informed her. “You're no longer a walking corpse, you've no dark circles under your eyes. And your skin has color again, like it would if, say, you were out and about in the city, or sitting by a sunny window. You weren't in the Deep Roads. You used your Warden connections to be able to leave the Circle. That's obvious to even the dullest apprentice if they thought such was possible.. I do not blame you, of course. Had I Warden connections, I would do the same, especially if I were placed in solitary for nearly a month. But were the Templars to be informed, I have a suspicion they'd be unwilling to allow you to leave to advise King Maric. Lie about Warden business, you might lie about using blood magic on the king. Might, say, lie about not being his lover.”

Fiona felt cold, except for her face which was flushed in rage. If looks could kill, Uldred would be dead several times over. She fisted the sheets in her hands, willing herself not to rise from the bed and beat the man into a bloody pulp.

“What do you want Uldred?”

“A promise. A promise that you will join the Libertarians when you are raised to Enchanter. Your presence will be enough to attract new members, but I have a feeling you agree with our values far more than you are willing to voice. You'll be able to attract even more with your words and your thoughts. I truly am sorry for blackmailing you, Warden, I would usually allow you to come to us on your own, as I have no doubt you eventually would, but this /is/ rather important. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I cannot allow my fraternity to lose it. You on our side could mean liberation from the Chantry ten, twenty years down the line.”

“And if I refuse to your terms?”

“I will tell the templars my suspicions. And they will investigate. And if they find you lied, they would kill you, and likely bar Warden recruitment of mages from Circles across Thedas.”

Fiona thought for a moment, setting her jaw on edge, closing her eyes. She wanted nothing more than to just kill this man. But killing him would mean missing out on her chance to leave the Circle and raise her son. To leave the Circle and be with her lover.

“Agreed,” she said, swallowing hard afterward.

“I am so very glad, Warden. I will see you at dinner tonight. Have a good rest, should you go back to sleep.” He walked out of the room and into the hallway, and Fiona just felt her rage build.

How dare he? Threaten her, yes, she could understand that, but threaten the right of Wardens to recruit mages? Did he not understand what that would do in times of blight?

She was livid. She wanted nothing more than to find him and strangle him. But she didn't.

Instead, she got out of bed, and changed into Circle robes, rather than her Warden uniform, and a pair of boots that had no mud on them, and sighed. Maker help her.

She walked out of the room, and down the hallway, and down to the library, to watch the apprentices train.

That would make her feel better.

“But she didn't say goodbye,” Cailan complained, his words muffled by his kneecaps on which he rested his chin. He sat in the hallway near the palace chapel, curled up into something akin to a princely cube, pouting.

Minus breaks for sleep and meals, that was where he'd been since Fiona left.

And Anora was not pleased with it.

She'd returned from Gwaren the day before, four days after Fiona had left, and found Cailan in a state. Usually her return merited him stealing sweets from the kitchen for her, spending hours catching her up on the castle gossip, and lavishing attention on her, in the fruitless hopes that, by doing so, she would never go back to Gwaren and leave him again.

And in all honesty, it often made her feel like never leaving. Until pangs of homesickness would eventually hit, and she would leave again.

“You're being an idiot,” she informed him. “She will be back. You told me she will be back. When she returns, complain to her about how upset she made you.”

“You don't understand,” Cailan whined.

Anora let out a sigh and sat up, in a similar position to Cailan, except she kept her head erect. “What don't I understand, Cailan?” she asked dryly.

“I wanted her to be my mother,” he told her. “But mothers say goodbye before they leave. Your mother always says goodbye when she visits Denerim and then leaves.”

“Queen Rowan was your mother, Cailan.”

“And she's gone to the Maker's side. She's been dead so long if it wasn't for her portraits, I'd barely remember what she looked like.” The tears started again and Anora felt pangs of guilt about them, as though she caused them.

“She's an elf. She can't be your mother. You're human.”

“Alistair is human and she's his mother. Why can't she be mine?”

“Alistair is human, but he isn't /really/ human.” Anora let out another sigh, brushing her hand gently down her friend's back. As she was certain was the case for Mac Tirs for a hundred generations, even before they were called the Mac Tirs, she was not skilled in the slightest at comfort, but she tried. Seeing her previous tactics were not working, she switched gears. “When he first met her, your father left for the Deep Roads without saying goodbye. He had no idea if he would return or not. She knows she will return.”

That quieted Cailan for a few moments, while he considered it. “She will be back, right?”

“You said she will be. And if she said she will be, I believe her. She doesn't seem to be a liar like most Orlesians.”

“She will be back,” Cailan repeated, once, twice, three times, until he seemed to believe it. He pulled his head up from his knees, wiping away the few tears on his face, before glancing at Anora.

“You're my best friend,” he said, pulling Anora into a warm, tight hug. It took her by surprise for a second, only a second, but she allowed herself to hug him back.

She was tempted to reply back with the factually true statement that she was, in fact, Cailan's only friend, but she decided against it. “I love you, Cailan,” she whispered, meaning it in the way she imagined a sister might love a brother, or the way her father might love King Maric.

“I love you too,” he whispered back.

He finally let go of her after that, and stood up, wiping his eyes again. Then he offered her a hand to help her up. “Do you want to go see if the cook will give us marzipan?”

Anora let out a small laugh. “That sounds like an idea.”

Chapter Text

The examination for signs of blood magic was invasive. It required one to stand for almost the full length of it.

It was hours of a Templar, a woman Templar, thank the Maker, checking over every inch of

Fiona’s body for signs of cuts, or tears, injuries of any kind.

Fiona kept her eyes on the fire in the fireplace in the corner of the room, to keep herself grounded.

Even a bruise was suspect. One could claim that the blood had been drawn to the surface in an attempt to use it for blood magic.

Whether or not that was possible, Fiona didn’t know. What she did know was that she couldn’t wait for the exam to be over.

“Where did you get this mark?” the Templar asked, running a pale finger along Fiona’s back, a scar that ran from her right shoulder blade to the top of her hip.

Fiona bit her tongue to keep from answering sarcastically. The Templar was probably stupid enough to take it literally. She shifted on her feet to stop her legs from going numb.

“From a punishment when I was a child,” she answered, not allowing herself to be more specific.

“And this one?” A hand gripped a bruise on Fiona’s hip. A mark from Maric, accidental. Kissed so many times after as an apology.

“Hurlock.”

“How odd that seems to be the only injury the darkspawn left you.”

“I healed most of the rest,”she lied. She resisted the urge to say that if she hadn’t the Templars would use every mark as a sign of blood magic.

The Templar made a doubtful noise but continued her examination.

It took nearly four hours for the inspection to be finished.

When it was done, the Templar left her standing in the room, naked except for her small clothes and a breast band. She didn’t tell Fiona she could leave. Nor did she tell her when she would be back, if she would be back at all.

So Fiona waited.

She paced around the chair in the center of the room, then sat down in it.

It took what felt like an hour for the Templar to return, the Knight Commander returning with her.

Fiona glanced up at the man, waiting for him to speak.

There was an awkward silence for nearly two minutes until he finally did. “It is Knight Captain Harmon’s opinion that you are not a blood mage.”

She continued to wait.

There was another awkward silence until the man spoke again, his wrinkled left hand played with the silver ring on his right hand. His blue eyes stared down at it, until he looked back up at her.

“Tonight we will allow the First Enchanter to make you an Enchanter. And on Friday you may return to Denerim, accompanied by three Templars to advise the king.”

“I was told I wouldn’t need Templars to watch over me advising the king.”

“The Templars are to accompany you on the trip. Nothing else.”

“Is that necessary?”

“We cannot allow you to make the trip alone, it would be too easy for you to become an apostate,” the man said firmly, his tone making it obvious there was no room for debate.

He and the Templar woman left the room, leaving Fiona alone again.

After a few minutes, a Tranquil woman entered the room carrying clean robes for Fiona.

Fiona waited for the woman to leave, and then dressed herself.

The idea that she was going home hadn’t hit her yet.

It didn’t hit her walking back to the room she was assigned, she would not call it her room, it didn’t hit her at dinner when she sat with the libertarians, trying to ignore her burning urge to punch Uldred.

It didn’t hit her until she was walking up the stairs to the Harrowing Chamber.

Halfway up the stairs, one foot still in the air, and she felt it. She was going home. Back to her son and her lover.

She let herself smile.
--
The carriage ride back to Denerim was awkward and silent, except for one of the Templars, the young woman who’d led Fiona to the dungeon, who kept attempting to make conversation.

“Advising the king? That’s going to be fun, I bet,” she tried.

Fiona ignored her. The silence returned.

“Do you think it’s going to rain?”

“Wow, it’s really windy out, isn’t it?”

“What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get to Denerim? I think if the Commander lets me, I’m going to go to the market and buy some fabric.”

Fiona had to bite at that. “I’m going to hold my son.”

The Templar woman beamed. “You have a son?! How old? What’s his name?”

Fiona found herself smiling back. “His name is Alistair. He just turned three.”

“My little brother is three. I miss him like mad. The last time I saw him he was eight months old and the Templars let me go home on a weekend pass for my auntie’s funeral. My mum says his favorite thing right now is catching frogs. Does your son like catching frogs?”

Fiona felt her eyes close for a split second before she looked back up at the woman. “I’m not sure. For the time I’ve known him, he’s lived in the city. Not many frogs there.”

“He’s adopted then?” The woman’s leg bounced, the armor making nose that clearly annoyed the other two Templars, but they said nothing.

“No. A friend of his father’s just raised him while I was with the Wardens.”

“What happened?”

“The man was cruel. I found out. I refused to let my son be raised by him any longer. So I left the Wardens.”

“And King Maric requested you.”

Fiona nodded. There was silence again, until she found herself curious and spoke again. “Can Templars have children?”

The woman’s smile fell a little bit. “The men can. Well. Most of the men anyway. Most of the women can’t. The lyrium causes problems. Of course they don’t tell you that until they give you your first taste.”

“They have a reason,” the oldest of the three Templars, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a beard began gently, placing a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “You act like they don’t.”

The woman forced a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “I know there is. I know there’s a reason. I just wish…Well. No matter.”

The carriage stayed silent for the most part after that.
--
It was hard, when Fiona returned home, and Maric met her carriage with Loghain, formally, the way a king was supposed to greet an adviser, for Maric to not scoop the woman into his arms and kiss her.

Instead, he offered her a hand and, after she had bowed, she shook it, giving him a smile.

“I’ve missed you,” he whispered as she leaned in close to shake.

He pulled away, and began to walk towards the castle.

“Wait, your majesty, we’re not finished,” one of the Templars began. A tall, broad bearded man.

Maric turned around.

“There’s much we still need to do, your Majesty, before the Mage is formally released into your service.”

“The mage has a name,” Maric corrected.

“Apologies, Majesty,” the Templar said, inclining his head slightly. “Before Enchanter De Ra- /De Gris/ is formally released into your service.”

He pulled a large wooden crate from the carriage, and presented it at Maric’s feet.

Maric bent down and opened it. Inside was a silverite sword and matching shield bearing the Templar crest.

“Is this a gift from the Templars then?” Maric asked, reaching a hand out to run along the shield, studying it. He picked it up after that, and began to put it on.

“No sir. It is a weapon meant to confer divine protection should the mage become an abomination and you need to cut her down.”

The shield fell from Maric’s hands almost instantly, hitting the outside of the crate and then falling to the paved stone.

“Pardon?” he asked, feeling himself choke on air.

“Not you yourself, Majesty. Those in your employ, of course,” the Templar said.

Maric reached for Loghain’s arm for a moment to steady himself. He couldn’t believe what the Templar had said. “Fiona won’t become an abomination.”

“It is better to be safe, Majesty.”

“She won’t,” Maric repeated with confidence.

“As you say, Majesty,” the Templar said doubtfully. He inclined his head, and turned back to the carriage.

“Do you think Anora would like a new sword and shield?” Maric whispered to Loghain, before glancing back down at the weapon and shield. “I don’t want that in the palace.”

Loghain smirked. “She’ll be thrilled.”

The moment the carriage disappeared into the city streets, Maric reached for Fiona’s hand and held it in his own.

“I missed you,” he repeated.

“I missed you too.”

Chapter Text

Guardian soon came, bringing with it the first signs of spring across the kingdom. Soon the snow would melt and the air warm and the roads clear. And with the clear roads would bring nobles. They’d flock to Denerim like migratory birds. For the Landsmeet, and Court, and many balls and galas.

And Maric couldn't wait. The events were some of the most exciting things a king got to attend. Even if he was not fond of the crowds, they were occasions where he could see his friends outside Loghain without an excuse to do so.

“You need to be formally introduced to the Landsmeet when it starts.” Maric murmured softly against the skin at the back of Fiona’s neck late one evening.

The two lay in bed together, pressed close, the warm duvet wrapped around them. The threat of sleep hung in the air, soon certain to catch them.

“Hmm?” Fiona mumbled, cracking open her eyes, and shuffling herself around to face her lover.

The fire in the fireplace was merely embers now, giving Fiona enough light to see by.

Maric’s eyes studied her’s in the dark, the soft glow they gave off gave him enough light to see her face. He reached a hand out to cup her cheek.

“The Landsmeet. We could have a ball or a salon or some sort of formal introduction,” he cracked a grin. He ran his thumb against the corner of Fiona’s lip. “Otherwise they’ll assume you’re a servant and send you to fetch whisky for them or something.”

“Even if you do introduce me,” Fiona grumbled, letting out a yawn that drew out the last word, “people will still do that.”

“True. But hopefully they’ll do it less.”

“Why should you introduce me?”

“You need to be,” Maric said softly, “It’s-”

“No. I’m not being introduced. No.” She pulled her body away from his and yanked the blankets along with her, exposing Maric’s skin to the cold air as punishment for not listening. He let out a hiss and tried to pull the blankets back, but Fiona just twisted them away harder.

Some Orlesians who gained Fereldan lands during the war still held them, at Maric’s allowance.

Some may still know her face, or her name from when the Comte owned her.

And they would spread it around.

Turn Fiona into some tart.

Or a murderess.

Or both. If Ferelden was anything like Orlais, that would be the best way to make a scandal.

Fiona could not allow that.

That would put Maric’s reputation at risk as well as her own.

A former slave as his adviser.

“Please Fiona.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Fiona pushed aside the blankets now and stood up. She gathered the clothes she took off less than an hour before; her breast band, small clothes, a simple red robe. Then she began to dress in them again, glaring at Maric in the darkness.

“Because I said I didn’t want to. That should be a good enough reason,” she snapped.

“Fiona-” Maric called.

She marched to the door, pulling her cloak down from where it hung off the decorative mast of a wardrobe and pulled it on, all in one fluid motion. She opened the door, stepped out into the hallway and slammed the door shut.

And that was when Alistair began to sob.

The door woke him.

Fiona crossed the hallway and opened the door to Alistair’s room silently. She walked over to his bed and scooped him up along with his blankets. “Sorry I woke you,” she murmured as the boy groused in her arms, before finally settling down, his head resting against her neck. “Your father is just being an idiot.”

She walked through the castle, no one awake to notice her, except for one or two night servants who paid her no mind.

There was a servant’s exit to the Castle in the kitchen that would allow her to leave unseen. It had the added benefit of going exactly where she wished to go.

She opened the door, and stepped outside into the cool night air.

The sky was full of stars, and it was bright despite the only visible moon being only a sliver overhead.

The servant’s entrance led to a stone path through the yard, and to the fence of the castle. It was guarded by two men who seemed more there to block people's entrance rather than their exit.

And from there was a straight shot to the road that led to the Alienage.

Even from here, almost a mile away one could see the Vhendahl. The Tree of The People, tall and proud, peaking up over the buildings. The great gnarling twisting branches like arms reaching towards the sky, a forest unto itself, uncaged by the great stone alienage walls.

Here, along this path, in these clothes, she was invisible. Just another elven servant walking home from work in the Palace District. Not a Warden. Not a mage. Just another elf.

Unfortunately, Fiona forgot that ‘just another elf’ often meant trouble.

A man stood in the center of the bridge. His back was to the dim lights coming from the alienage.

He was tall and broad with a round face and a mess of black curls and dark stubble.

His clothes were not the fanciest clothing Fiona had ever seen. But they were nice enough to mark him as someone with some money and resources. A merchant perhaps. That also meant this was not out of necessity. He robbed elves for fun.

“Oi! Knife ear! Hand over your purse!” he called out in an accented voice that marked him as a Marcher. A Kirkwaller probably.

Fiona walked past the man ignoring him.

Then, as she passed by him, she saw, out of the corner of her eye, the man pull out a knife. It was a stilletto with a fancy handle made of carved ivory.

The knife made her stop.

She wouldn’t think if she wasn’t carrying Alistair. She’d knock the man off balance with a spell, a fist of stone rising from the ground, perhaps. Smack him hard in the gut, and then she’d grab the blade, to get it away from the man. And then run like there was fire licking at her legs, either back to the Palace, or to the Alienage, and hope the templars weren’t called.

Luckily, she was carrying him, because the chances the Templars weren’t called were slim. And she was not willing to go back to the Circle.

She glanced up at him as he backed her into the wall of the walkway.

“I’m not going to ask again,” the man said.

“I don’t have any money,” Fiona said. She considered kicking him, but with as big and burly as the man was, that was likely about as effective as kicking a horse.

“Well then,” the man raised the blade.

Just then, an arrow whizzed past the three of them, and landed with a skittering stop just five feet away.

The man looked at the arrow, and then at Fiona, and then back at the arrow.

As he did, a voice called out to them from the direction of the alienage.

It was a woman’s voice, thick, rich, slow and dark, like molasses. It was deep, for a woman, and particularly for an elf, but beautiful. Strong sounding. And it carried well in the darkness. “If you don’t leave her be, Fritz, the next shot won’t be just for warning.”

The man’s eyes widened, and he put his knife back into its sheath. Then, he left, not quite running, but far faster than Fiona imagined he normally walked.

She stood there for a moment, clutching Alistair even tighter, taking in deep breaths and willing the adrenaline shooting through her veins to stop.

The woman crossing the bridge towards her, her rescuer, was clearly an elf.

She was tall, for an elf, and while not broad, was muscular, in much the same way swimmers were. The build of a rogue rather than a warrior. The large bow slung across her back, nearly as tall as she was, the quiver of arrows on her hip, and the twin ironbark daggers holstered on her sides said as much. As did the dark leathers, well fitting and surprisingly well made for an elf, that she wore. They were made of simple cured hides, not tanned leather, but the fit and the way they were made was still impressive.

The woman had dark skin, rich brown, and strawberry blonde hair worn in thick rope-like strands in a style Fiona thought suited her.

She grinned wide at Fiona, her teeth bright white.

“That man tries that every single night. And every single night I’m out here with my bow. He needs to learn we aren’t easy marks.” The woman bent down to pick up the iron arrow and place it back into her quiver.

Like most elves Fiona met in Ferelden, the woman spoke with an accent more like that of the Orzammar dwarves than her human countrymen.

“I think it’s about the power, more than the money,” Fiona said.

“I know it is,” the woman agreed. “But still. If he doesn’t learn, I’ll hit him in the leg or something. See if he feels powerful then.”

“Thanks for the rescue,” Fiona said, grudgingly at the woman before her. The woman was striking looking, the way Fiona pictured Andraste would look, if Andraste was an elf.

“No problem. If you didn’t have the baby,” she pointed to Alistair, still sleeping against Fiona’s chest, “I bet you would have him on the ground in no time. You look like you can handle yourself in a fight.”

“I used to be a Warden,” Fiona told the woman. There was no ego in the statement, it was fact stated as a fact.

“I didn’t know the Wardens allowed 'used to’.” The woman said with a laugh.

Fiona smiled, “They usually don’t.”

“I’m Adaia,” the woman said. Her hand jerked for a second, likely to shake Fiona’s hand. But then she it lowered, remembering that Fiona was carrying the baby. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, then began to walk again. Fiona followed her.

“Fiona.”

“We don’t get many Orlesians out this way. Not since the War.” There was an unspoken question to that statement as the two began to walk to the alienage. A question of 'What are you doing here’.

“I work in the castle,” Fiona said. “An adviser to the king.”

Adaia turned her head, just enough to still see Fiona as the two walked. “An elven adviser?”

“That’s why I said I used to be a Warden. They let me leave to do it.”

“Good. We need someone in power. Well, I mean, so long as you help us, not just Orlesian elves.”

Adaia tensed the moment after the words left her mouth. But then Fiona laughed, and Adaia took in a breath. Visible relief Fiona didn't find her statement offensive.

Then Adaia glanced at Alistair.

He was not the spitting image of his father, the way Cailan was. But Maric was clear in the boy’s face, if one looked for it.

Adaia’s lips pursed. “Is he-?”

Fiona said nothing.

“If the King…I mean… If-” Adaia swallowed. “I have a cousin in the Free Marches. I could help get you to her if he’s-”

Fiona felt her stomach flip. She turned to face Adaia, eyes wide, understanding what the woman was implying. “Maric didn’t…Maric is a good man.”

“Many men are good men,” Adaia said. “But sometimes they use their power in ways they shouldn’t.”

“Maric never forced me,” she said, taking in a deep breath. “Alistair is why I became his adviser,” she explained. She kicked herself for revealing such a secret to a stranger. But it was better than letting her believe Maric was no better than the Comte. “Not the other way around. Maric is a good man,” she repeated.

Adaia looked visibly relieved.

“Good. I served him in the Rebellion…Well, I served Teryn Loghain, actually, but in the King’s army. I’m glad to know he’s the man I thought he was.” She paused. “What are you doing wandering the streets with a baby at nearly midnight?”

“I accidentally woke him,” Fiona told Adaia. Not the full truth, but close enough.“I hope that you know not to tell people about,” she shifted Alistair in her arms pointedly.

“I am loyal to my king. I wouldn’t tell any secret I’ve heard about him.”

“Good.”

When they reached the Alienage, Fiona stared up at the Vhendahl, glancing up at it. It was beautiful, even in darkness.

She needed to come back here in the day time to see it in all it’s glory.

“The tree up in Highever is nothing like this one,” Adaia told her. “They cut it down for firewood maybe fifty years ago. But then one of the Hahrens ten years later planted a sapling in it's place. It's still small. Spindly. Was the Vhendahl in your alienage like this one?”

Fiona closed her eyes trying to remember. In her mind's eye the tree was massive, taller than an ogre at least, and always festooned with bright bits of cloth and paper, and bright paint. But that wasn't right. It was tall, to her, but only because she was so small. It barely rose above the buildings. Not a sapling, but not near as grand as this one.

“No. This one is far lovelier.” She shifted Alistair to rest him on her hip and reached her now empty hand out to touch the painted bark, smiling at it like an old friend.

“Which alienage are you from? Val-Royeaux? I have a cousin up there.”

Fiona laughed, shifting her weight, and moving Alistair back to both arms again. He was getting heavy. Big. That was good. “Do you have a cousin in every alienage?”

Adaia grinned. “Most of them. You know Asha Campana? My grandmother was like the Asha Campana of Alienage elves. She had thirteen kids that lived and married each one of them off to someone in a different alienage.”

That made Fiona laugh again. Something about Adaia put her at ease. The woman held out her arms, offering to take Alistair. Fiona handed him to her.

“No, I'm from Montsimmard. Do you have cousins there?”

Adaia pulled Alistair to her chest, pulling his blankets up higher so the poor boy didn't freeze, and looked down at his sleeping face. “He's handsome,” she told Fiona. Then she remembered she'd been asked a question. “No. My grandmother thought it'd be better to marry someone off to the elves in Halamshiral than to marry them off to Montsimmard. “

“Bigger population. Makes sense,” Fiona agreed.

“When was the last time you came back there?” Adaia began to walk around the large tree, graceful, swaying as she walked, her eyes on Alistair.

Fiona frowned, thinking. “It's been a very long time.”

“The Circle took you then?” Adaia gestured with her chin to Fiona's robes.

“Something like that.”

“It's freezing. Cyrion has some stew on the stove. Why don't you come in and have some?” Adaia asked.

“I couldn't impose,” Fiona said, with all the manners she was certain the Wardens had let wither.

“It's not an imposition,” Adaia said. “My daughter might still be up, and she'd love to meet your little boy. And maybe I could pry some stories out of you. 'Used to be a Warden' sounds like quite an interesting career.”

“Are you certain?” Fiona asked cautiously.

These elves were poor. As beautiful as the Vhendahl was, the buildings surrounding it were still slums. Despite Adaia's well made leathers and fine bow and daggers, Fiona had no doubt she was still poor.

“Tell you what,” Adaia said, “If you're worried about imposing, next time you come to visit, bring a couple of cabbages or something from the Palace Larder, with the King's permission of course, and we'll call it even, sounds fair?” She grinned wide, and turned her back to walk to her house.

Fiona grinned to herself, and followed, running to catch up the few missed steps between the two of them.

They walked silently through the streets, and Fiona felt like she was traveling with the Orlesian emperor, with the looks the passing elves gave them, smiles, and slight bows of their heads, nods in Adaia's direction. If not for the other woman's young age, she couldn't be older than thirty, Fiona would have guessed her to be the Hahren.

Perhaps she was. Disease was a problem the Orlesians had not bothered to curb in Ferleden alienages during the occupation, much as they'd not cared to curb it in Orlesian alienages. Had the Hahren died, a War Hero as Adaia seemed to be could take their place, despite her age.

Adaia's home was not very unique among the slums. It was large for an alienage, home, perhaps the size of a normal home outside the alienage. It was made of wood with gaps filled in with hardened mud, and the roof was made of thatched hay on a wooden frame that seemed as though it would leak.

Five or six large, but damaged, barrels stood outside Adaia's home, filled with soil, in spring perhaps it was a sort of garden.

Many elves in Fiona's alienage had grown vegetables however they could, planters hanging from the roofs, and containers sitting on the edges of windows. In the spring and summer the alienage was covered in greens and reds and yellows and purples of ripening produce.

Adaia shifted Alistair on her hip and the boy stirred, as she opened the door.

The smell of vegetable stew hit Fiona as she entered behind Adaia.

The inside of the house was similar to how Fiona had pictured it, a large bed in the back corner, a smaller one near to it, with storage chests near the foot of both of them.

Another sign that Adaia, while certainly not rich, was a little better off than her fellows, most alienage elves had but one single bed parents and children both shared, if they had not sold it years ago to pay for food or rent and slept on the floor.

Braids of garlic and similar braids of red peppers and basil and rosemary hung from the ceiling rafters, numerous rows of them.

There was a cupboard with numerous trenchers and wooden spoons resting on top of it.

And the centerpiece of the whole building was the large table in the center of the room, at which a small elven girl with bright red hair and brown skin nearly as rich as her mother's sat, her head resting on her arms like she was napping. She wore a light blue dress, well stitched, though the fabric not quality.

A pale man, about Adaia's height, in the clothes of a servant, stirred a large pot that hung over the fire. A small plate with simple peasant's bread rested by the hearth, by the man's feet.

“Adaia,” the man greeted cheerfully, not looking up from the fire.

“Hello Cyrion. We have two guests tonight for dinner if you don't mind.”

“More strays?” Cyrion joked, thwacking the stirring spoon against the edge of the kettle to clean it, and then turning around to face his wife.

He eyed Fiona. Her robes marked her as either a mage, an apostate to anyone who did not know her circumstances, or someone without the sense to wear something less risky out in public.

“The Templars-”

“Need not concern themselves,” Adaia said. Something about her grin changed. It was almost cocky now.

And Cyrion smiled back at her. “We have enough, I think. I expected Tara to send Shianni for supper tonight, but she didn't.”

“Lady Eremon sent Tara home early,” Adaia informed him. She jostled Alistair and the boy stirred, letting out a whine, but opening his eyes despite his annoyance at having been woken. “saw her come earlier.”

She set the boy down next to her own daughter, shaking the girl awake as well.

The girl also did not seem pleased to be awake, but she noticed Alistair next to him.

“Hi,” she croaked at him.

Alistair waved in response, still blinking tiredly.

“Well, then,” Cyrion said, “we should be fine."

“She left with the boy?” Loghain asked, voice cold fury, eyes like ice, glaring at his best friend.

“Yes,” Maric said. “She and I got into a fight and-”

“She left with the boy and you did not think this was an important thing to let the guards know?”

“We had a fight and Alistair started crying. She probably went out for a walk with him to calm down.”

“The boy may not be a prince, Maric, but he is still a pawn. In that woman's hands, he could bring your destruction. Should she bring him to Orlais, she could use him to rally the people to place him on your throne as a puppet.”

Maric gave Loghain a wary smile. “She wouldn't do that.”

“She is Orlesian.”

“If she wanted to do that,” Maric pointed out, “She could have done that from the start. Brought Alistair to Florian, not to me.”

Loghain grudgingly agreed.

The two sat in Maric's quarters. It was far too early for breakfast yet.

But Maric woke Loghain an hour before, upset at the tiff he and the woman had. And he'd forgotten to, or chose not to, let Loghain know the most important detail until now.

The door to the bedroom opened just a crack, and, as if on cue, the elven woman slipped inside.

Her large eyes were wide, and her mouth hung open slightly, as though she still expect Maric to be asleep and Loghain not to be in the room at all.

Loghain stared at her, his face contorting into a sneer.

“I'm glad to see you've returned,” he said cooly. “I'm sure the prince has returned with you as well?”

Fiona's eyes narrowed into a glare, her shoulders tensed. “I was unaware taking one's own son out for a walk was against the law.”

“When one's son is a possible heir to the throne, it may not be criminal, but it is irresponsible! What if you had been attacked? Kidnapped by slavers?”

“I am certain slavers go down as easily as darkspawn do, if you set them on fire,” Fiona said contemptuously.

“Where did you go?” Maric asked. He gestured for Fiona to sit down at one of the two empty wooden chairs at the table with he and Loghain.

Fiona accepted his offer, sitting down next to him, across from Loghain, rather than taking the seat that put her back to the door. “I was invited to dinner with a woman called Adaia in the alienage. She served under you, Loghain.”

Loghain thought for a moment and called the woman to mind. Adaia. A young, striking looking Elven woman. She'd been a good shot. Almost as talented with a pair of twin daggers, if they were ever stormed by Orlesians on their position. He nodded. “Played the apostate to beg a meal off her?”

“No,” Fiona said. “I told her who I was. My people deserve to know there is one of us with a certain modicum of power they can come to.”
Maric looked wary at the thought, but he nodded. “I'm glad you returned. I was worried you wouldn't, you know. That I upset you. That maybe you ran to Duncan. Returned to the Wardens.”

“Maric,” Fiona said softly, reaching a hand out for the man's. He placed his on top of her's and she stroked it softly, rubbing his thumb with her own. “I...” She didn't say she apologized, or that she was sorry. But Maric nodded in recognition of her intent. “An introduction would reveal me to your people. All of your people. Including Orlesians who still hold land.”

Maric took in a breath, nodding, understanding. “And you worry they'll know you.”

Fiona nodded. “Having a former slave as an adviser would mar your reputation. Having a tart who murdered her patron, as they'll probably spin it, would be even worse.”
Loghain's expression turned to thought. Thinking of this event as a battle, and the nobles invited to it as the enemy. Both Maric and Fiona turned to him, waiting for a solution.

“Few among the nobles listen to the Orlesians. They are nobles of Ferelden simply because there are no Ferelden nobles to hold such lands. If we send word through the Couslands, the Howes, perhaps Teagan, ahead of time that the Orlesians will attempt to discredit you for political reasons, by the time the event is held, no one would believe any nobles who said such things against you.”

“No,” Maric said.

“What?” Fiona asked, staring at him like he had two heads.

“No. Fiona, I don't see how you killing a man who enslaved you is something you should be ashamed of. He should be ashamed of it. His wife should be ashamed of it. His children if he had any. You shouldn't be. Andraste was a slave, and when she became free, became the Maker's bride, she killed many slave owners. Many of them nobles. Andraste is a martyr for what she did. You should be a just as much a hero for what you did.”

Fiona looked like an angry cat, mouth open wide as if to bare her fangs, or in her case, teeth, her eyes narrowed, her jaw set. She pulled her hand away from Maric's as though it burned her.

“Should be? Maric we don't live in the land of 'should bes'. We live in a world where either I'm a liar who killed a man who was nothing but good to me, or an honest elf, who still killed a nobleman, slave owner or not. I am not ashamed of what I did. I'm angry at how people will react to what I did. I am bloody proud of what I did. It is the proudest moment of my life, aside from becoming a Warden and becoming a mother. If I were a human, like Andraste, I would be a hero for what I did. But I'm not a human, and acting as though people will treat me like one because you command it is idiotic. Even if you repealed every anti-elven law tomorrow, made it legal to kill a human in defense of an elf, passed laws that assisted elves in moving out of the alienage if they choose, made it illegal for crafthalls to ban Elven members, your people wouldn't change overnight. The idea of an elf, servant or slave, killing her master is terrifying to shemlen. If it is known, I will be slandered and so will you.”

Maric was scared, but whether he was scared of Fiona, or scared for her, Loghain could not tell.

“I'm sorry,” he said swallowing. “I...Had no idea.”

“You're a shem. You had no reason to know,” Fiona grumbled. “We do it Loghain's way, or I am not introduced at all.”

“Agreed,” Maric said with a nod. He reached out his hand across the table. Fiona placed her's on top of it again.

They laid in bed together, Maric's arms wrapped around Fiona from behind, their leg tangled together, skin to naked skin. Still two hours til breakfast, time to rest before the sun rose. The red wool blankets were now kicked to the edge of the bed despite the coolness of the room.

“I'm sorry I'm an idiot,” Maric told Fiona, the scruff of his beard tickling Fiona's neck.

“I expect you to be,” Fiona said, her voice teasing, not mean.

“Is it true?”

“Is what true?”

“That killing a human in defense of an elf is a crime.”

Fiona nodded. “Kell told me before we arrived in Ferelden. I think he told me to make sure I didn't...pick fights. I wouldn't. But he knew I had a temper.”

“I've killed humans to defend elves before,” Maric said. “Not just you. Some prisoners, convicts, I think, they escaped the jail in Gwaren. And they were trying to, uh, rape...” He took a deep breath in. “an elven woman. Katriel. I didn't know her yet. But Rowan and I killed at least two of them to save her. Perhaps they should take me to jail.”

“Can you change the law?” Fiona asked.

“Maybe,” Maric said. “If it's an actual law. If it's a law of custom I'd have to get the Landsmeet to agree it's unjust,” he let out a breath of laughter, the air tickling the hair at the back of Fiona's neck. “Probably by letting them know I broke it accidentally. They can't arrest their king, after all. But if it is a law of custom, they may just pardon me. But if I can change the law for you, I will. I promise.”

Fiona rubbed her face against the top of Maric's arm. “Thank you.”

“I need to do it.”

Chapter Text

The sun was high in the sky as Fiona walked to the Alienage again the next week. Instead of her son, she carried a sack with a few small treats, as payment for Adaia saving her.

She rapped at the wooden door with her free hand.

It opened slowly, only a crack, so as to not let the still cool air into the home.

Adaia's large dark eyes peered out at Fiona, and Fiona pulled back her hood, revealing her face. Adaia smiled, and pulled the door open a little wider.

Fiona passed the sack through the door, and stepped inside.

“I wondered if you'd come back,” Adaia said, pulling Fiona into a tight warm hug.

“Most Orlesians don't pay their debts,” Fiona said, smirking back. “But I'm not most Orlesians.”

Adaia pulled away and placed the sack on the table, the curiosity at what was inside the sack was clear on her face. “This doesn't feel like a few cabbages,” she said, still smiling as she looked up at Fiona. Her hands were deft and she untied the bag without looking at it.

“I felt saving my life was worth more than a few cabbages,” Fiona said. She sat down across from the other woman. In truth, she was nearly vibrating with excitement to see Adaia's reaction.

Adaia pulled a medium sized cloth bag from the sack first. It was bright white and held closed with a drawstring. Adaia opened the drawstring. She pulled one of the small fruits out and studied it with fascination. “Figs!”

“Dried figs. Sorry. Fresh are out of season.”

“Dried are more useful.”

She pulled out a chicken, the brown feathers still intact, placing it too on the table. Then she removed a small wheel of cheese. Finally, a small cloth satchel that, aside from the size, was identical to the other bag.

She opened the small bag and took a sniff. “Cloves?” she asked, her face lighting up even more.”

“I wanted to bring saffron. To show how thankful I was. But I couldn't afford it.”

“You bought this yourself?” Adaia asked. “I assumed you were going to knick it from the palace pantry.”

“I have some money,” she insisted.

“I know you do. I...would just save that money if I were you. Good men are good men, but-” Adaia cut herself off, shaking her head. “I have no doubt Maric is a good king. A good man. But women like us need to be careful. Forgive me if this is talking out of turn, my lady-”

“There's no need to call me 'my Lady', Adaia. Just Fiona.”

“During the war, there was an elven woman King Maric was close to. And by that I mean they shared a bed. Everyone knew. All the Night Elves knew her. Her name was Katriel. She was a good woman. Kind. Funny. She told wonderful stories. She was smart. Then one day, she disappeared. None of us knew what happened. Eventually we found out. His Majesty murdered her. Killed her in a blind rage. Teryn Loghain said she was a traitor. But she wasn't. I know she wasn't. You could look at that woman and see how in love she was with His Majesty. She'd never betray him. Teryn Loghain said she was a bard. Sent to spy. And she might have been. But anyone with any sense could see she'd changed. You should save your money, Fiona. So that if something ever seems wrong, you can leave. Take ship somewhere he could never find you.”

Fiona's skin suddenly went cold and clammy. Maric told her about Katriel before. In the Deep Roads. He'd told her he murdered her. But to have it recounted by someone else. To hear the secrecy involved, to hear that it was Loghain who reported Katriel's death to her people, rather than Maric, to hear all of this was unsettling. “Maric would never hurt me, Adaia.”

Adaia looked at her with an unreadable expression in her deep, heavy dark eyes before turning back to plucking the chicken.

“I want to believe that. He is our king. My king, at least. If not your's. I fought to put him on the throne. But I've seen too many elven women made mistresses of nobles, treated to wealth, finery. Moved into apartments on their patron's house. Maybe slept in their patron's bed. Only to turn up dead by the docks a few months later because she did this or that wrong. Ferelden is better than Orlais. But I do worry. If you went missing tomorrow, how long would it take someone other than the King or the Teryn to notice?”

Fiona was silent. She didn't know. It took Duncan a month to notice she'd not written him from Kinloch hold, but that was winter. Expeditions into the deep roads were infrequent because supplies were harder to find. If she went missing in the summer or fall, he couldn't know for weeks. Months. No one in Orlais would wonder where she went if she stopped writing. The Templars might notice, but they'd assume she went apostate.

“I want you to know I don't think King Maric is a bad man. I just worry about you.”

Fiona looked up at Adaia. “Why? You barely know me.”

“We're still family. You may be from a different alienage than me. But we're family. And I protect my family.”

“Ma serannas, Hahren.”

Fiona's voice was soft and low when she said the elven words. It'd been many years since she spoke Elven. The Dalish wardens taught her words, phrases, taking pity on their flat-eared cousin. But she hadn't spoken it aloud since she was seven. She worried her pronunciation was off.

But even if it was, Adaia smiled. It was warm and made Fiona feel safe. “I'm no Hahren.”

“I assumed. From the way people treat you.”

“They respect me,” Adaia agreed. “But I'm not Hahren yet. Our Hahren is a man called Valendrian. Aside, how old do you think I am that you call me a Hahren?”

“Thirty. But Orlais has been rough on Ferelden. The elder could have passed.”

Adaia laughed. “True enough. I'll try not to be insulted at being called old.”

The two sat together, Adaia plucking the feathers. then butchering the meat. Then chopping off the feet in a fluid motion, and clipping off the talons, placing them in a soup pot. Fiona just watching.

On the rare occasions Fiona's family had meat when she was a child, her mother did the same thing. She wondered if it was an elven thing, or if anyone who cooked chicken feet did the same.

When the sun began to set below the horizon and Fiona had to return home, Adaia pulled her into a tight hug.

“Be safe,” Adaia said, “And come back soon.”

From the way she said it, it was an invitation, not required niceties.

“I will,” Fiona said. Her head rested on Adaia's clothed shoulder, the wool of Adaia's dress soft against her chin.

She walked back to the palace in silence.

The words Adaia told her, about the woman Maric killed, Katriel, still played again and again in her ears.

She had no doubt Adaia's words were true.

And that scared her.

She didn't believe Maric would hurt her.

But it was still terrifying to know that the man in who's bed she slept every night killed a woman like her in such a way. In the deep roads, she assumed it was an accident that killed her, that Maric blamed himself for. Or a trap. Not that he actually killed her.

She dined with Maric, Loghain, Anora, and the boys that night.

Cailan whined about his studies with Sister Ailis. “I'm no good at rhetoric. Anora's better than me. She's going to be my queen. Why can't she just speak to people?”

“I'm going to have to if you don't get better,” Anora jabbed back.

Cailan dramatically pretended to be wounded and almost fell face forward into his stewed lamb. But Loghain caught him by the shirt collar and gave him a hard look, which made him stop misbehaving.

Alistair was starting to talk better as well, and he began to tell her a bit about his day then.

He pointed to his brother. “Cailan an'Nora read me a book,” He informed his mother excitedly, nearly vibrating in his seat with delight at the thought of it.

His words were still slightly slurred and hard to understand, but no more so than any other three year old. He spoke quickly, which didn't help the slurring, but did make his joy at the thought even more obvious.

“What book did they read you?” Fiona asked. She smiled wide at the little boy, who beamed back up at her.

“A rivern book,” Alistair said, holding his hands out to his sides and waving them around. Then he let out a laugh and began to shake his head around for a few moments, until his dizziness was obvious and he stopped.

“He means a wyvern book,” Anora explained.

“We read him Ser Winfred and the Wyvern,” Cailan told her at the same time.

Alistair nodded excitedly. He picked up a butter knife, the only knife within his reach and began to pretend he was Ser Winfred. The knife was his sword, and his brother the wyvern.

Cailan clearly understood and held his mouth open as though letting out poison breath. But a few more jabs and he 'died', falling backwards this time.

Alistair giggled excitedly.

Everyone at the table, Loghain included, smiled at the play acting.

“Is this the point where I play responsible adult and tell you both to stop playing and start eating?” Fiona asked, “Because if so, I'm not going to.”

“Loghain is the only responsible grown-up,” Maric informed her, smiling from across the table.

“And how I loathe that position,” Loghain said. The smile on his face made the sarcasm obvious.

After supper finished, Maric and Fiona walked to their room together.

The moment the door closed behind them, Fiona took a deep breath. She steeled herself for this conversation she knew needed to come.

“Tell me about Katriel,” she said softly, as she crossed the room. She sat herself down in the chair by the window, and watched Maric.

Maric swallowed hard and there was a flash of fear in his eyes. “Pardon?”

“Katriel.”

He reached a hand out as if to steady himself on the desk near the door, and, after catching himself, walked over to the table by the foot of the bed. He pulled out the chair and sat down in it. “Where did this come from?”

Fiona didn't answer. She trusted Maric. But if her trust was misplaced, she didn't want Adaia to suffer for her mistake. “I want to know about her. About what happened,” she said instead.

There wasn't anger across Maric's face, but instead, sadness. Regret.

“I was in love with her. And she was in love with me. Or I thought she was.”

Fiona nodded, Maric continued.

“Rowan and Loghain had suspicions about her. So they sent someone to follow her when she left camp to go to Denerim. I don't...I don't remember the excuse she gave me. But the man followed her here. To the palace. To meet with Meghren's mage. I thought she'd betrayed us. I blamed Loghain, then, for letting me think that, but, it was my fault. She'd switched sides. She told the Usurper she wanted nothing to do with him. That she supported the rebellion. She told me that. But I didn't believe her.”

“Then?”

Maric stared up at Fiona over his lashes instead of tilting his head up to look fully in her eyes. Like a kicked dog. His eyes blue and sad, his hands in his hair. “I ran her through. I killed her.”

“Would you ever hurt me like that?” she asked.

Again she expected anger. Indignation. Fury at even being asked that. That's how she would have felt if she'd been asked that same question.

But again all she saw was sorrow.

Maric shook his head slowly. “No,” he said. His voice was confident, and he met her eye. “Why are you asking me this, Fiona? Did I do something?”

“No,” Fiona said. “I just needed to know.”

That night they didn't lay together. Maric gave Fiona the bed and slept on the settee in the corner of the room instead.

Fiona didn't feel guilty for her questions, but a voice in her head told her she should. She had no doubt it was the same voice that told her she was a murderess, that she was a bad mother. The voice that blamed her for everything. She'd made the right choice in asking about it. Even if she felt terrible every time she looked at her lover that night. His eyes stared off into the distance, as though he was somewhere else.

The next morning, she was grateful to see that it was almost as though the conversation never happened. When she heard Maric stir on the settee, she pulled back the blanket on his side of the bed. An invitation. And Maric took it.

Chapter Text

“Cailan,” Anora called out, wandering down an empty hallway near the palace chapel.

She cupped her hands to her mouth and called out the boy's name again.

Unless he was doing very poorly in his lessons with Sister Ailis, his lessons should have finished at least an hour ago.

Usually, he would sit in the hallway, reading one of his books aloud to himself, or, of late, to Alistair, to practice. Until Anora came to fetch him to play a game, or something.

Unless she chose that day to sit in on classes with him.

She only did so occasionally. When she studied something she didn't understand, and which her father could not help her with. She'd sit with Cailan and Ailis, doing Cailan's lessons with him, until there was a free moment when she could ask Ailis for help with what she struggled with.

Usually it was reading.

Her father, great man though he was, had been mostly illiterate until he joined the rebel army. Then, out of necessity, Queen Rowan, Queen Rowan's father, the mage serving with the Rebels and King Maric, helped him to teach himself.

Sums one could learn on one's own. You counted and figured. And Papa did.

Rhetoric one could learn on one's own. One simply needed to listen to the way a leader spoke, and mimic it until you had it. And Papa did.

History one could learn on one's own; listening to stories in the tavern, stories your elders told. And Papa did.

But reading was not.

Books were a conversation. If you didn't understand half the words, then you would be lucky if you understood half the message.

So Ailis helped her decode the words she could not understand.

It always made her father proud to see her reading.

He'd watch her when he thought she wasn't looking, and a smile would creep up, twitch at the corner of his lips, no matter what else he was doing at the time.

“Cailan,” she called a third time, this time louder than the two before it.

Her voice echoed off the stone walls, but no voice answered her calls.

If Cailan was hiding from her, trying to jump out and scare her, Maker help him. It would pay.

“Anora is that you?” Ailis called, peeking her wrinkled face out from the chapel. She smiled at the young girl. Her red chantry vestments smelt like incense even from where Anora stood.

“Do you know where Cailan is?”

“He, Maric, Alistair, and that Elven woman left.”

“Where?” Anora felt herself ball her fists, lean forward, shoulders forward, head out, chin up. She forced herself to unball her fists and took a breath. Then she forced herself into a less aggressive body language.

“To the Cousland's I believe. They came to Denerim yesterday. As far as I am aware, Maric had an important conversation he needed to have with them.”

Again she wanted to clench her fists, to purse her lips, to narrow her eyes, but again she forced herself not to.

“Thank you Ailis,” she said as nicely as she could muster.

It apparently passed the niceness test, because Ailis nodded, smiled once more at Anora and stepped back into the chapel.

One thing Anora trained for nearly since birth, was to hide what she felt.

She hid it behind a mask of ice, or armor of snark.

It was a gift.

But sometimes the ice began to melt, or the armor got dented.

And her emotions threatened to come spilling out.

She attempted to keep composure as she walked back through the castle, this time looking for her father rather than her playmate.

She brushed at the end of her left braid with her left hand, running her fingers through the ends, trying to soothe herself. But her mind just raced with angry thoughts. Sad thoughts. Thoughts of Cailan giving her up the way he had his stuffed dog toy and his imaginary friends.

She was nine years old now. She was too old to act like a baby. To burst into tears out of nothing.

She found her father in his bedroom near the King's.

She cracked open the large oak door just enough to peer inside.

Papa sat over a pile of notes, his face screwed up in concentration. A dry quill guided him through the words as he moved over them.

His armor sat shiny on the bed.

Instead he wore a blue gambeson, brown trousers, no shoes, and a pair of thick knit grey socks.

He glanced up at the noise.

“Anora,” he said gently. He nodded at her and then looked back at his work.

“May I come in Papa?” she asked. Her voice was soft, but it sounded upset to her own ears.

If it did to her father's ears, he didn't mention it.

Loghain nodded, not looking up.

Anora threw herself across his bed. It was far too large for a girl her size. She picked up a thick brocade pillow. She pressed it hard against her face, trying to keep the tears she could feel forming in her eyes, from starting to fall.

Her father should know she was upset. He should just /know/, but he /didn't/. He should have felt it somehow. Been able to tell. But he didn't. Maybe because he didn't love her.

Like Cailan didn't love her any longer, now that he had a brother and a new mother and his father back and everything. Went places without telling her. Didn't bring her marzipan when she came back from Gwaren. Spent all the time he should be playing with her, talking to her, playing with that /baby/ and talking about how much he /loved/ having Fiona back.

Well if Father didn't love her, she wouldn't love him.

She sat up and chucked the pillow as hard as she could at her father's head.

She missed, instead hitting the table and scattering his papers all across the room.

Her father snapped his head towards her, anger in his face, his mouth snarling, his brow furrowed, his eyes narrowed.

She met his expression with just as much anger.

“Why did you do that?” he asked. His face softened slightly; he kept his voice low and even as he asked.

Anora's eyes still met his, though she needed to raise herself onto her knees, even on the bed to look him in the eyes. She crossed her arms and did not answer.

“Anora,” Loghain warned.

And that was when the angry tears started to fall. They felt wet and hot on her face.

“Cailan isn't here,” she said.

“He went to see the Couslands with his father. He will be back before nightfall.”

“He went with his father. And with his brother. And Fiona.”

Anora pulled the ribbon tying her braid from her hair and threw it on the ground. She repeated the action with the other, then she ran her fingers through her hair, undoing the braids. Her nails were sharp when they touched her scalp. She didn't bother to be gentle.

Her father stared at her. “You wanted to go?”

“No! I didn't want to go! ”

“You're upset that Cailan went,” Loghain said with a nod, understanding now.

Anora started crying harder now, her hands digging at the bed clothes now. It was as though she was trying to tear them open. When they wouldn't tear, she threw them onto the floor.

“Ye-yes,” she sobbed hard. “When Ma-Maric got sick, it was m-me and Cailan. You were busy and M-Maric was sick and Mama was away and Rowan was de-dead. We were alone. But we were alone together.”

She looked up at her father again, face red, still crying, her breathing almost pants now.

“We were alone together, but now he's not alone any more. Now he's got a new mama and a brother and Maric isn't sick. But I'm s-still alone.”

Loghain rose from his chair and walked over to the bed, scooping Anora into his arms.

“You have me,” he told her.

“Not when I'm with M-M-Mama. And I don't have Mama when I'm w-with you. Cailan is a pr-pr-prince. He has a real family. N-Not broken. He doesn't ha-have to be perfect to get to have perfect. I do. You do. He gets to be h-happy. We don't.”

“We do,” Loghain told her gently, swaying from one leg to another as though she was still a baby and he was trying to get her to nap. “Cailan being happy does not mean you need to be miserable.”

Anora sniffed a few times, rubbing her now snotty nose on her father's shoulder. “You and Mama don't love each other. Y-you aren't happy.”

Loghain didn't respond to this. "Your mother will be coming to visit soon Anora. We will be a family soon."

“You're supposed to love the person you m-marry,” Anora pushed again.

Loghain's chest shook under Anora, a small, nearly silent laugh. But he didn't say anything in response.

Neither spoke for what felt like hours. Loghain still swayed, and Anora, though she likely would consider herself far too old for naps, fell asleep in her father's arms. He set her down on the now naked bed, slipped a pillow under her head, and covered her up.

Then he turned back to the next task at hand. Finding and organizing all the papers that now littered the floor.

Cailan was warm. It was what, when the mood to cuddle struck Alistair, made his older brother such an appealing target.

He toddled over to Cailan carefully. The unfamiliar carpet in the unfamiliar room new terrain for him. It made the trip more treacherous than it would be on a floor he knew at home.

He knew at home where there were holes in the floor. Or dips. Or places where the wood creeked and it scared him.

When he reached his brother, the other boy pulled him into his arms, and cuddled him tight. It was like Alistair was some toy for him to play with and snuggle.

Alistair giggled.

“What a cute baby,” the black haired little girl behind Cailan cooed, drawing cute out to three syllables.

She wore her hair in two messy braided buns on either side of her head. Her pink ears stuck out almost comically from her head and she had very large eyes.

She was maybe two or three years older than Alistair. She reached her hand out and petted Alistair's hair like he was some kind of dog.

Alistair smiled up at the girl briefly for the attention. Then he pretended to be shy and hid his face against his brother's chest.

“He's my brother,” Cailan said proudly. “Alistair.”

“He's my brother,” the girl said, jabbing her finger at a boy perhaps four years older than Cailan, who sat against a wall, reading a large book to himself. He had dark red-brown hair, and broad shoulders for a boy of perhaps twelve. “He's not nearly as cute.”

The boy in the corner burst out laughing, not even putting down his book.

“That's not very nice, River,” he said to the little girl once his laughter had subsided.

“It's true!” the girl, River, protested. “He's cute. You're not Fergus.”

“Father says he looked just like me when he was a boy,” Fergus said.

“Well then Father was an ugly boy.”

“Forgive my sister,” Fergus said to Cailan, setting his book aside face down. He scooted across the floor a few feet, then stood and walked over to the settee where his sister sat. “We don't often get guests in Highever and she's...unused to being polite.”

“I know how to be polite, Fergus. I'm being mean to you, but polite to them, aren't I?” River asked, crossing her arms, and pouting.

“I suppose you are, little sister.”

“We don't get guests much in the palace,” Cailan said in agreement. “Not during the winter anyway.”

Alistair fought his brother's grip for a moment before freeing himself. He pulled himself up onto the chair and into River's arms.

“Hi!” she greeted. She gave him five or six large kisses across his cheeks and giggled, pulling him close.

Alistair was pleased at the attention at first, but then she began to hold him too tight and it started to hurt. He let out a loud shout and started to cry, but the girl ignored it.

“He's not a toy, River, remember that. If he doesn't want to be kissed or touched, don't touch him,” Fergus warned.

“You're not the boss of me,” River grumbled, but she loosened her grip on Alistair grudgingly.

Not even a minute later, Alistair's mother practically ran into the room. She scooped Ali into his arms, and he set his head into her neck, still crying.

“What happened?” Alistair's mother asked. She rubbed a hand against Alistair's back as she spoke.

“I'm sorry,” Fergus said. “River isn't very good with babies. She accidentally hurt him.”

Fiona held him closer, and Alistair could tell she was angry, but he also felt her nod, her head making her shoulders shake slightly.

“Sorry,” River said softly.

“It's...okay...” Alistair's mother said, her words tight and clipped. “I...Think I will take Alistair in with us.”

She began to walk, and Alistair started to calm down a little.

“Are you alright?” his mother murmured to him.

“Uhuh,” Alistair said affirmatively.

“It's no wonder noble adults think they're entitled to treat other people like toys if this is how their parents allow them to act as children.”

His mother carried him into another room and set him down on the floor, closing the door behind herself.

As she did that, Alistair pulled himself and toddled over to the one empty chair of the four in the room and pulled himself into it.

The room was tall, with high ceilings, but rather small, perhaps the size of a supply closet. The walls were lined with yellow wood and large heavy looking green drapes, likely to keep the place warm. The floors were wood as well.

There were four chairs, arranged around a circular table.

Alistair's father sat next to him, in a patterned grey and purple shirt with a leather jerkin atop it. He wore a thin gold circlet around his head, and a chantry amulet similarly in gold, on his neck. He wore two rings as well, a large gold signet ring, and a thinner gold band.

Across the table from him there were two people Alistair didn't recognize.

One was a man with kind, happy looking eyes and hair that reached just below his ear. He wore a blue shirt made of jacquard satin in the design of squares inside circles. On top of that, he wore a red cloth surcoat. He, unlike Alistair's father, wore no jewelry besides a silver ring in the shape of a sea-serpent.

The woman next to him, on the other hand, was rather well adorned. She was pretty, with dark brown hair the color of oak wood. She wore a necklace of silver, also adorned with the chantry's holy symbol. She also wore three large rings, including a silver band that matched the man's. She wore a jeweled comb in her hair, holding up her bun. Her clothes were also quite beautiful. A dress of satin in the color of the sea with a sweetheart neck. And a filmy hunter green surcoat, almost see-through.

Cailan liked to play a game with Alistair sometimes. He'd pick three objects, books, or toys, or even, when he was in the mood to irritate the maid who tidied his quarters, clothes, and have Alistair pick which object did not belong.

Alistair was fairly good at the game. Sometimes, he'd even notice a difference Cailan did not, and have to argue his point with his brother. It often took awhile to find the words, but neither minded much.

If Cailan were here and they were playing that game, Alistair would pick out his mother. Her clothes were nothing like the finery worn by the others, even Alistair could see that. She wore a well tailored, but relatively simple grey velvet dress with only smocking at the waist and wrists as decorations. The only accessory she had for one to speak of were a pair of brown knit mitts that did not match the dress.

Fiona walked over to the table and scooped Alistair up out of the seat wordlessly, before sitting down herself.

Alistair shifted on her lap, pulling himself up on the table and crawling across it to sit with his father.

The woman across the table smiled at him, waving. “He's quite active, isn't he? He must be a handful. River was at that age.”

Alistair's father ran his fingers through Alistair's hair. “Alistair's a good boy, aren't you?”

Alistair tipped his head up as high as it would go to look at his father and smiled, letting his upper teeth bite down a little on his lower lip. Then he let out a giggle. “Yeah!”

“Cailan is far better with him than I'd have thought him to be,” Fiona said.

“The moment he and Alistair met, they were practically inseparable,” Maric agreed.

“I'm glad to hear it,” the man next to the woman said. “Eleanor and I got to plan for months to get Fergus ready for the baby. I can't imagine springing it on him. Well, not that having a new playmate is anything like having a new sibling.”

The room fell silent for a few moments. It was an awkward, perhaps tense silence.

Alistair's father's hand, already resting at his side, reached out to Alistair's mother's leg, and gave it a gentle pat. Their eyes met for a moment, and Alistair could see his mother was sad. But she smiled at Alistair's father anyway.

“So,” the woman, Eleanor began, “What did you wish to speak to us about? The messenger you sent told us it was important.”

“I am Maric's new magical adviser,” Alistair's mother began. “And Maric insists I must be formally introduced to the Landsmeet.”

“Who's hosting the ball? Or are you going to do it at court?” the man next to Eleanor, who's name Alistair still didn't know asked.

“Loghain is hosting the ball. Celia is coming up from Gwaren to help.”

“To be honest I think I'd rather fight a bear than try to convince Loghain to throw a ball.”

Everyone laughed. Alistair didn't understand what was funny about the joke, but he laughed anyway.

“It was an ordeal,” Maric agreed. “But I'd rather it be Loghain than anyone else.”

“And Celia does throw a good party,” Eleanor agreed, “when she's able to. Bryce and I will be happy to come.”

“You didn't come all this way to invite us, did you?” the man, apparently called Bryce, asked.

“No,” said Alistair's mother. “We need a favor."

She took a breath, paused, then continued, "I have...something of a reputation in Orlais. Much of the story isn't true. But you understand Orlesians and their gossip.”

Both of the Couslands nodded. Alistair's mother continued.

“Should the nobles of Orlais who hold titles here in Ferelden spread this gossip around, it would hurt not only my reputation but Maric's as well.”

“Normally they wouldn't be believed,” Alistair's father said, “But unfortunately there's a possibility Eamon might fan the flames. He and I had a falling out. But you both are equally as trusted in the Landsmeet as Eamon.”

“I think I understand,” Bryce said with a nod. “It will be like the war again. We're the forward force sent to intercept the enemy.”

“Exactly!” Alistair's father said, grinning wide.

“Well,” Eleanor considered this, “I had been looking for a reason to host a salon while we were in Denerim. I would be glad to help.”

“As would I,” Bryce agreed.

“Wonderful.”

The group talked for a bit more about unimportant things.

Then Alistair's mother rose, and walked over to Eleanor. She whispered something into the other woman's ear, and the woman nodded, and patted the top of Fiona's arm sympathetically. Then she whispered something back, pointing at the door as she did.

Alistair's mother walked to the door, opened it, and stepped outside, closing the door behind her.

The room fell quite again, until Bryce spied the gold band on Maric's finger.

“It's been years, Maric,” he said gently, looking up at the other man.

“And it might take more years,” Eleanor argued, giving her husband a look.

“It just...might be good for him to try to find someone else, Eleanor. If not for himself, then for Ferelden. Cailan is an heir, but what should happen if, Maker forbid, something happens? There are many eligible women who would love to be your wife. Both here and abroad.”

“I have another heir. And I want to marry his mother.”

Bryce grinned wide. “That's excellent news! Who is she? Is it Bann Elsia? You know the gossip is her son is-”

Maric pointed to Alistair. “He's my other heir.”

“I thought the Elven woman was his mother.”

“She is.”

Bryce looked confused.

But Eleanor completely understood almost instantly. One could see it in her eyes. “That's why you want Fiona's introduction to the Landsmeet to go perfectly. Because you want to be able to marry her some day without the Landsmeet getting up in arms.”

Maric nodded.

“Maric, I'd die to make sure you lived,” Bryce began, "But this...”

“If it is any comfort,” Eleanor said to Maric now, “I am glad you're happy with her, and I'm sorry my husband is being an arse.”

“Do you really think Ferelden will accept an Elven queen?” Bryce asked.

“I do. Their choices are let their king be happy and accept Fiona, or allow Orlais back into the country to rule us again. And I think the people are more tired of Orlesian rule than they are bigoted.”

Bryce nodded. “True. If this is your choice Maric, I also support you.”

Alistair's father nodded.

The conversation went silent when Alistair's mother came back into the room.

Chapter Text

The market was huge.

One could smell fresh bread baking in one storefront and cloves as one passed a table of spices. One could hear the sound of a hammer hitting an iron at a smithy nearby. The clang was repetitive, like the beat of a song, while a fishmonger called out his catches. One could see leeks and parsnips piled high in one stall. Fine silks and linens neatly draped in the stall next to it. And all around the bustle seemed to hum.

The tent overhead was massive, and though it had rained a few hours before, the red and gold fabric did not drip down the drying water onto their heads at all.

This place was unfamiliar to Cailan. Unfamiliar but exciting.

As the prince, he was, of course, rarely permitted to go to the Market, or even, often times, to leave the castle.

He could only think of a handful of times he was permitted to leave anywhere. Most times, if he was allowed to leave it was only with his father, Loghain, and five or six heavily armed guards. Even his trip to the Wardens with Fiona a few months before he'd been protected. Though he was certain if someone attacked him, Fiona would be more than capable of defending him.

It was less than a decade since Orlais had been chased from Ferelden soil by his father, mother, and Loghain. The fear that Orlesians might hatch a plan to kidnap him should he leave was not impossible, or even unlikely.

But he'd begged and plead to go to the Market when Fiona voiced her intention to go herself. And his father relented.

There were guards with them, but they didn't wear uniforms and they were hidden in the crowd. It made it easier for Cailan to pretend he was was just an ordinary boy.

“I'm surprised no one's spotted me yet,” Cailan said. He gripped Fiona's hand tightly as she led him through the crowd.

“It's because no one sees me,” Fiona told him.

“Did you make us invisible?”

“No. People just don't see elves.”

“What? Like you're invisible?”

“No. They don't notice us. We're 'just servants', so we blend into the background. It's the reason why in Orlais we are so often trained as spies for the nobility or as assassins in Antiva. No one notices me because I'm likely just a nanny with her charge to them.”

Cailan pondered this silently for a few moments. “Does it make you angry?”

“Hmm?”

“Does it make you angry. For people to not see you?”

“At times.”

“Like when?”

A dark-haired, portly man in fine clothes nearly ran into Fiona, causing the conversation to momentarily stop.

“Like now.” Fiona laughed, and continued walking once her path was clear. “And with the Wardens. When I was made Warden Constable, I would go places with a less senior human Warden, to speak to nobles. They would not speak to me, however. They'd only speak to my companion.”

They reached a stall filled with fine fabrics and Fiona stopped in front of it.

The shopkeeper, an attractive woman with dark black hair pulled into an elegant bun and an air of refinement around her, stared at Fiona.

Glared, Cailan mentally corrected.

She did not greet Fiona. Aside from the look she gave her, the shopkeeper seemed to be trying her best to ignore her.

Fiona studied the fabrics in front of the woman carefully, eyeing the black wools, and green silk velvets, the red figured satins. She reached a hand out as if to touch one of the fabrics, and then pulled it back as though the air in front of it burned her.

“What would be the best fabric for a ball gown?”

“Has your mistress sent you to fetch some for her?” the shopkeeper perked up, giving Fiona a large smile now. “The satins would be nice. Good drape,” she picked up a fine looking yellow fabric, “Especially the charmuse.”

Fiona eyed the fabric, reaching a hand out to touch it before she spoke again.“I don't have a mistress. I'm shopping for myself.”

The woman's face fell just as quickly as she'd smiled. She jerked the fabric away. “There is a shop in the Alienage run by a woman called Leah I occasionally sell my seconds and remnants to. Perhaps she would be willing to help you. I am afraid no bolt here costs less than fifteen silver. I have seen she has some good wool.”

Fiona gripped Cailan's hand tightly, almost to the point it hurt. He tried to jerk his hand away. She noticed and loosened her grip again.

She was annoyed. Perhaps even angry.

Cailan could tell that.

Her shoulders, her head, seemed to jut forward into the shopkeeper's space. Her teeth were bared, her eyebrows slanted downwards, her eyes squinted.

“I can afford that much. Please tell me which fabric is best for a ball gown.”

“What does an elf need such fabric for?”

“Why does it matter? I have the coin. I am willing to pay you the coin for it! Why in the Maker's name does it matter why I need the fabric?!”

“I have a brand to uphold and if you use it to make a dress that you wear, it could hurt such a brand.”

“I don't care about your brand! I care about buying my fabric!” Fiona shouted at the top of her lungs. Her Orlesian accent was stronger than normal and her voice gruffer. She was shaking with rage now.

“Please leave.”

Fiona stormed off. She led Cailan, out of the tent which held the large market. The crowd was far thinner outside the tent and the two of them walked over to a building.

Fiona leaned against it, still clearly furious, glaring at the woman who'd spoken that way to her. It was as though she was a sniping archer and her eyes her arrows. Her arms were crossed tightly over her chest.

“Are you okay?” Cailan asked softly.

“Yes!” she snapped.

Cailan flinched, unused to people speaking to him in such a way. He felt tears well in his eyes.

Fiona noticed.

Her face softened and there was regret in it.

She knelt down in front of him.

Her height meant that such things were not mandatory to look Cailan in the eyes, but he liked it anyway. Her looking up at him with those sad brown eyes of her's. It made him feel the way he imagined he'd feel if his mother was alive to do it. Warm. Happy. Safe. Loved.

She cupped his cheek and smiled up at him sadly. Her hands were soft on his face. But they were cold. Not from the wind, not freezing, just colder than he was used to. He was uncertain if that was something true of all elves, or just of Fiona.

“I'm sorry,” she said softly. “I'm not angry with you.”

Cailan nodded. “You're angry at her.”

“Yes.”

“You could have told her you worked for my father. Told her you worked for the King.”

“The common people can't know an elf is the adviser of the King.” Fiona paused, thinking, then she spoke again, “One of the ways corrupt nobles stay in power is by convincing the poor humans that they are better than elves. That elves are stupid, lazy, unwilling to change or assimi- become like the rest of the people in the land. That the elves are the reasons they are poor. The reasons they aren't able to find jobs. That elves are the reason for every problem the land faces. And an elf in power would only prove such a thing. Do you understand?”

“No.”

Fiona sighed. “Imagine Orlais wanted to invade again. But because Ferelden was vigilant, they couldn't. Too many scouts would see them. The armies no doubt all still focus on Orlais.”

She closed her eyes and rubbed at the bridge of her nose with two fingers before speaking again. “Imagine they bribe a trusted Arl to say that the Chasind have banded together and intend to attack. What would the army do?”

“They'd get ready to fight the Chasind.”

“Right. And Orlais would be able to slip in mostly unseen. The nobles are like Orlais, the common people Ferelden, and the Chasind elves. The nobles wish to behave badly, so they keep the people they rule over's attention on my people. So they can do so without restraint. Having it become known I'm an adviser would be like Ferelden scouts catching site of a group of Chasind warriors outside the Wilds. Proof of what Orlais says. Even if the warriors are just out hunting. Do you understand now?”

Cailan nodded.

Cailan did not understand.

He did not even /think/ he understood.

But he did understand that Fiona was worried about what would happen if the woman found out. So that was good enough.

Fiona removed her hand from his cheek and rose. She offered her hand to Cailan again and he took it.

“Where now?” Cailan asked.

“I don't know any other shops in the city that sell fabric, aside from The Wonders of Thedas and I will not pay the Circle a single copper. So, I'll bring you back to the palace, and I'll go to the alienage. Hopefully this Leah woman will have cloth. And perhaps know a seamstress.”

“Why can't I come?” Cailan whined.

“Your father agreed to let you come to the Market. Not to the Alienage.”

“Father didn't know the woman would be rude. Please, I want to help you. Please please please?” Cailan begged, crossing his arms over his chest like he did in prayer.

Fiona rolled her large brown eyes and grimaced. “Alright,” she agreed, relenting.

They began to walk again, towards the large gate that led to one entrance to the alienage.

Cailan had no idea what to expect the alienage to be like, other than filled with elves.

He'd seen a large tree sticking out from behind the alienage walls from the palace window on many sleepless nights.

He'd heard that ancient elves once lived in buildings made in the branches of such trees, though he wasn't certain how true it was.

Perhaps that was how the alienage elves lived. In small, sturdy homes nestled in the treetops. A rope bridge with wood slats acting as a walkway.

It would be beautiful. And green.

Perhaps there'd be a large cauldron constantly simmering at the base of the tree, filled with soup for the elves too old to work to feed themselves.

It would smell like grass and perhaps the smell of the tree's flowers. If the tree had flowers.

It was not beautiful. It was not green.

It was shades of greys and browns and bile yellow.

And almost from the moment he began to cross the bridge, he gagged at the stench. It smelt like waste and rotting meat and stale urine.

The buildings were small, but they were not sturdy. They were made of wood Cailan would not trust to protect a horse from the rain or cold, let alone a person. There were knots in the wood and large holes, perhaps the size of two of Cailan's hands stacked one on top of the other.

Standing stagnate water filled the streets and the muck reached nearly the top of Cailan's shoes. He had no idea how the elves, many of whom walked barefoot, could stand it.

There were many beggars by the gate.

Fiona stopped in front of them and pulled out her coin purse.

All of them ignored Cailan the same way all the humans at the market ignored Fiona.

“Hello,” Fiona greeted softly.

“Spare a few copper for a poor old soldier?” one of the men asked, holding out a small iron mug. Both of his eye sockets sat empty. But they didn't bleed. They looked almost burned, the two gaping holes.

Fiona dropped two silver into his cup. Then into the cup of a woman sitting next to him, a girl perhaps five years older than Anora by the look of her. An elf-blooded child at her breast, and down the line to the rest of the group. There were about four in all.

But Cailan's eyes were on the man with no eyes.

“What happened to you?” Cailan asked, before his manners made him stop himself.

Fiona gave him a look.

“Sorry,” he apologized.

The man grumbled, but answered anyway. “Some damn Orlesian mage decided I couldn't shoot him with my bow if I couldn't see him. Burned my eyes right out of my skull.” If he'd still had eyes, he'd of been looking into Cailan's. Glancing up at him instead of at about where Cailan's shoulder was, where an Elven child his age's eyes might be.

“My father fought in the war with Orlais,” Cailan said, before he could stop himself.

The man laughed bitterly. Almost a bark. Cailan clutched Fiona's hand tighter with both of his and she gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Did 'e now? I bet they gave him something he could actually use when he left the King's service. Some coin. Not me. A handshake from General, excuse me /Teryn/ Loghain and a copper medal not even worth enough to sell for my dinner.”

Cailan didn't know how to answer the man, so he tried to hide himself, burying himself into Fiona's side. The wool of his robe was soft on his face.

Fiona began to walk again, leading him further into the alienage.

The large green tree in the center of the alienage, and the red and yellow bunting that hung from it were really the only sources of color in the whole area. Small items, offerings perhaps, a few candles littered the front of the tree. A platform was built nearby it, though Cailan had no idea for what.

He was struck by how thin the elves here were.

The palace servants often ate the leftovers from the meals Cailan's father and the rest of the household ate. Soup made of the bones of chicken, carrots with unappealing splits down them. Meals of offal and other scraps. Often even the meal they made Cailan's father itself, it there was any left over.

Most of them were strong looking and while not fat, seemed healthy.

But these people didn't.

They all looked the way Fiona had when she returned from the Circle. Their faces gaunt, their eyes tired. Some still smiled all the same, but it unnerved Cailan to see people like this.

Did poor humans live like this? Or was this a treatment reserved only for the elves?

Fiona didn't seem to notice. If she did, she was far more used to it than Cailan.

Even with the muddy streets and the stench and the buildings that looked one strong breeze from falling down, children still played. Elven boys ran in the streets with girls who looked almost human, girls like Alistair. Women stood outside their houses, gossiping with one another. Dogs barked. Wash hung from lines outside each window.

Three or four small stalls of goods, fish, bread, vegetables, stood near the tree, with their owners calling out songs of their wares, trying to get the attention of passersby.

“Fish! Cockles! Mussels! Oysters! All for the best prices in the city!”

“Freeesh Parsnips!”

“Warm bread for a cold day!”

In that way it was what Cailan imagined any other village in Thedas would be like.

Fiona stopped herself about ten feet from the stalls and looked around.

There was no fabric stall.

Fiona's face screwed up in annoyance again and she closed her eyes, taking a few deep breaths and mumbling something Cailan could only recognize as Orlesian, under her breath.

After a moment, she walked over to the fishmonger.

“I've some fine gunard,” the woman told her, giving her a large smile. She had greying red hair piled on top of her head, and wore a stained blue smock. “Some nice oysters too.”

Fiona removed her coin purse from her belt. “How much for,” she frowned, and studied the fish. “four of those?”

She pointed at a pile of the silvery fish.

Their empty eyes stared up at Cailan in a way that was somewhat unnerving. He hid himself, as much as he could behind Fiona. Fish did not look like that. Fish, to him at least, looked like breaded fillets on his plate next to parsnips, carrots and spinach. Or they looked headless, smoking over the kitchen fire.

“Forty-eight copper.”

“Do you know if the people by the gate have a place they'd be able to cook it?”

The woman shook her head. “Sorry. I don't...But if you buy it, I'll cook it.”

Fiona pulled the copper from her purse and counted it carefully. “Tell them when it's ready please?”

The fishmonger nodded, smiling wider.

“I was told there was a shop here run by a woman called Leah. Could you tell me where that is?”

“'S behind there.” She pointed to a large building near the tree.

Fiona inclined her head in thanks.

“Is everyone here poor?” Cailan asked.

“No, they just enjoy living like this,” Fiona said, her tone sarcastic. But she quickly changed it, probably remembering Cailan didn't know. “Yes. They are. Most elves are. People won't hire us for most jobs. Which means those who do can hire us for the least coin possible.”

“No one helps them?”

“Who would help us?”

“Other elves. The Arl of Denerim. Father. The Chantry.”

“Other elves can barely afford to feed themselves. Your father probably doesn't know. And the Arl probably doesn't care. As for the Chantry, if it's anything like it is in Orlais, it comes once a year bringing a lot of empty words and empty prayers. And very little of the things people here need. Food. Clothes. Coin.”

“Prayers aren't empty.”

Fiona turned to look at him, not looking in front of her as she walked. Her large eyes were sad and her mouth rested like a flat line on her face. She didn't yell. She spoke quietly.

“If the Maker has left us as the Chantry teaches, do you think he'd hear the prayers they send up? That he'd send food because the Chantry asks it?”

He thought for a second, then shook his head. Noting Fiona was not looking at him any longer, he spoke. “You're right.”

“If they really wanted to help, they'd sell the silver candlesticks in the chantry and give that money to the Hahren to help the poor. Send one or two templars to guard against slavers who come to steal away our people. But they don't. They want to give themselves a pat on the back and feel good for 'helping' a group of poor, lost elves.” She took in a deep breath. “I'm not angry at you,” she told him. “I'm just...angry.”

Cailan opened his mouth to say that he, too, would be angry if his people had to live like this.

Then he remembered the man by the gate, and he closed it. The man at the gate who'd lost his eyes helping Cailan's own father retake Ferelden. He could not be the only one.

These were Cailan's people.

These were Fereldans.

They walked through the mud-filled street and behind the large building.

The shop was small and squat and it's door almost blended in with the wood of the buildings around it.

A small carved wooden sign with a spool of thread and a wedge of cheese on it was the only thing marking the place as out of the ordinary.

Fiona reached the door first, and pulled it open, letting go of Cailan's hand as she did. Cailan stepped inside in front of her, and she followed behind him.

The shop was small, perhaps the size of Cailan's bedroom at home. But it was filled with goods. Three or four large tomes sat on a high shelf behind the till where the owner stood, difficult for anyone to reach, and perhaps that was the point.

Old pots and pans, dented but otherwise still usable sat on a shelf behind the owner.

And, leaning against the shelf with pots was a small crate, holding stacks of fabric. A few bolts stood in the box, leaning against the shelf for support.

The bolts of fabric were not of the best quality. One bolt appeared to be candlewick, a cheap cloth. Another cambric, far nicer cloth.

The other two appeared to be plain wool. All were dyed a pale, dull yellow.

But the remnants were beautiful. Sumptuous figured silks. Lovely batiste in fine, rich colors. Beautiful black .

The woman at the counter was perhaps twenty-five. She had white hair, pale skin, and blue-gray eyes hidden behind a pair of dwarven spectacles. The spectacles were bent, and slightly cracked in the left lens.

She eyed them suspiciously. Would they be turned away here too?

“You're that mage that came to see Adaia a few days ago? From the palace?”

Fiona nodded. “I am.”

The woman smiled.

And that was when Cailan realized she wasn't looking at them with suspicion. She simply could not see them properly. The spectacles might have helped a little, but not much, clearly.

He wondered where the woman got them. They were not made of wrought gold, as Cailan's great-grandfather's were. But they were still expensive.

A trophy a parent or sibling brought home from the war, perhaps? Looted from the body of a Chevalier? Or bartered from someone who'd done the same, when her vision problems came to light.

It took him a moment to realize he was staring at her. He glanced away, towards an ornately carved horn on a high shelf above the woman's head. A halla horn?

“Adaia's spoken about you. She says you're not bad, for an Orlesian.”

Fiona laughed. “Elves from Orlais aren't considered Orlesian /in/ Orlais. If I was actually Orlesian, I'd probably be as snotty and terrible as the rest of them.”

The woman giggled, placing a small, pale hand over her nose as she did, to keep the too large eye glasses from falling off her face.

She grinned wide at Fiona when she stopped. “I like you! A sense of humor. Most of the people who come here don't have one.” The woman pulled at the neck of her dress. It seemed to be made of the same fabric on the bolts behind her.

“I was told by a woman in the market you have fabric? She refused to sell to me and I have a need for some.”

The woman nodded. She turned around and picked up the box, setting it on the counter.

Fiona lifted the bolts of yellow fabric up and set them down on the counter next to the box. “I know nothing about fabric, if I'm honest,” she told the woman, before she began to dig through the box.

“What are you making?”

“Nothing, I don't know how to sew.” Fiona sighed, and unfolded a piece of dark brown figured velvet. It was about as large as the top of a small card table. She frowned, and folded it back up, placing it on top of the yellow bolts, speaking as she did. “I was hoping to find a seamstress to bespoke a dress for myself. But, no one I've spoken to is willing to.”

“It'd be the busy season, most likely,” the woman said. “So many nobles coming into the city for the spring.”

“I thought-” Fiona began, then shook her head, and reached into the box for another piece of fabric. This time it was yellow samite. Fiona didn't even unfold it before setting it aside. “I was overreacting.”

“Well, that probably had a lot to do with it too.”

Cailan had no idea what the 'that' the woman mentioned was.

The woman reached into the box and pulled out some dark blue satin that looked like liquid in the way it draped. “Charmeuse,” she told Fiona, who reached a hand out to touch it. She smiled wide at the feeling of it.

“Is there enough there for a dress?”

The woman shook her head. “But maybe a skirt if one was generous with fur? I know one could make a surcoat out of it, but it's such nice drape it'd be a waste.”

Fiona nodded. “Set it aside. Maybe something can be done with it.”

Cailan reached into the box now, coming up with some bright green taffeta. “How about this?”

If Fiona heard him, she was ignoring him. He tried again.

“Fiona,” he said, tugging on the sleeve of her robe now. She looked up from the white cloth in her hand at the taffeta. “How about this?”

“No.”

“It'd look so pretty on you.”

“No.”

Cailan pouted.

Fiona turned her attention back to the woman. “Are there any seamstresses in the alienage?”

“To make your dress?”

Fiona nodded. “I'd pay a fair wage, of course.”

“How soon would you need it? I'm not bad with a needle and thread, myself,” she smiled bashfully down at her hands, then back at Fiona, the tips of her pointed ears pink now. “not to be boastful. The Hahren's sister isn't bad either, better than me, but she's slow.”

“I would need it in a month's time.”

Cailan pulled out another fine piece of fabric, dark red brocade. There was quite a bit there. “Fiona,” he called again.

Fiona glanced over at him. “What?” she asked in irritation. “I'm speaking with her now.”

“I...just wanted to show you this,” Cailan said. He frowned.

Fiona studied the fabric, then reached for it from Cailan's hand and put it in the pile with the charmeuse. “I'm sorry,” she said quietly.

The next hour or so was spent with Fiona setting aside any fabrics that she both liked that had enough yardage to be used for a dress or other garment. While she did so, her and Leah tried to hammer out an agreement for the dress she was to make.

They finally made one. Fiona would pay eighty-five silver for a dress made of black wool. She'd pay another fifteen silver for a surcoat made from dark green and black figured satin remnants.

She led him out of the shop.

A woman with dark skin and dark blonde hair worn in thick rounded strands stood with her back to them. Two guards Cailan's father sent with them stood with their backs against a wall, looking at the woman cautiously.

Any conflict between the woman and the two guards halted at least twenty minutes before into a standoff, but one could tell, from the way one of the guards favored his left leg, that the woman had gotten the easy advantage.

“Fiona,” the woman greeted at the sound of Fiona's footsteps, turning around. She smiled wide at her.

“Adaia,” Fiona greeted back.

“Shem guards? To visit the alienage? Not the best idea.”

“I didn't know I was coming until I already had them,” Fiona explained.

“You didn't have guards the last two times.”

Fiona moved her head, gesturing to Cailan.

Adaia studied Cailan's face for a moment in a way that made Cailan feel picked apart. Then she bowed her head slightly in his direction, a nod of the head more than a bow.

It was the type of bow Cailan imagined a Dalish would give if they were required to. The proud Elven wanderers didn't follow human laws or obligations. If one met with his father, for example, and was required to bow, that would be the sort he'd imagine they'd give.

“Having the prince visit the alienage isn't the best idea either, though.”

“I'm not the prince,” Cailan lied.

“You're a terrible liar, Your Grace.”

The woman, along with the two guards, led Fiona and Cailan both back to the palace, chewing Fiona out for her terrible decision.

“He could have been killed. Or kidnapped, Fiona. I didn't help put His Majesty on the throne to see him lose his heir. You didn't think! It wasn't safe! You were trusted to take him out. It's your job to make choices when he's out that keep him safe!”

And, Cailan was surprised to see Fiona didn't get angry.

That she looked ashamed, rather than annoyed, at the chastisement.

“You are right. You are completely right.”

“Don't yell at Fiona like that,” Cailan snapped. “I asked to come.”

But both Fiona and Adaia ignored him.

They returned to the palace and Adaia helped the injured guard safely into the grounds before parting from them.

“Why did you let her yell at you?”

“Because she was right,” Fiona said.

“Loghain's been right and you don't let him talk to you like that.”

“Loghain is an insufferable ass who tells me I'm wrong because he hates me. Adaia is a great woman who tells me I'm wrong because she cares about this country.” Fiona sighed, rubbing at her forehead. “I cannot wait to hear what Loghain has to say tonight. It will be wonderful.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm.

She led him into the palace, then parted from him.

Maric retired early after supper, leaving Fiona and Loghain alone together for the night.

Cailan, Alistair and Anora had long since vanished once they finished eating, leaving Loghain and Fiona to finish their meals in each other's company.

Fiona was certain the moment the children were gone, that Loghain would start in on her.

Picking at her.

And that she'd yell back, losing her temper. That, perhaps she'd end up hexing him as she had a few months before.

But he didn't.

The two sat in silence, only occasionally catching the other's eye.

“How do you do it?” Fiona asked after a moment. She took a sip of her wine, and cleared her throat.

“Do what?” Loghain, who had just been about to cut himself a piece of meat, put down his fork and knife, and looked up at Fiona.

“I've never seen you yell at Anora. Never seen you strike her. Twice today in the market I lost my temper and I yelled at Cailan.” Fiona looked up at him, into his eyes. They was sympathy there she'd never seen. “He did nothing wrong. Just... talk to me when I didn't want to talk.”

Loghain actually smiled. “Well, for one, Anora is far better behaved than Cailan.”

Fiona didn't smile back.

He sobered. “I remember that she is a child.”

“That's all?”

“It's sometimes a difficult thing to remember.”

Fiona closed her eyes and rested her head against her hand. “I don't know how to be a parent.”

“You missed many of the early lessons,” Loghain said. “You are catching up now.”

There was silence. A stretch of silence. Almost ten minutes almost complete silence, interrupted only by the clinking of glasses against the table, or the sound of a knife scraping against a plate.

Then Fiona spoke again.

“Do you ever miss the rebellion?”

Loghain didn't answer.

She continued.

“I miss the Wardens. I miss being able to spar with my brothers and sisters in arms, with the other Wardens. I miss going into the deep roads, knowing I'm doing something to help the world with every darkspawn I kill. I miss... I love my son...sons. And I love Maric. But I miss it.”

She expected him to snap at her for calling Cailan her son.

Tell her that Cailan was Rowan's son, and that she would never replace her.

She wouldn't. She knew that.

She couldn't.

But he didn't.

Instead, he looked thoughtful for a few moment. His thumb and pointer rested over his eyes, his other three fingers rested on his cheek. His arm rested on the table.

“I miss the rebellion,” Loghain agreed finally.

“Do you spar?”

“Never with a mage.”

“Duncan trained me with daggers a little. To defend against darkspawn who could drain mana. If you'd prefer.”

Loghain shook his head. “No.”

“No, you won't spar?”

“No, I'd prefer you use magic.”

There was silence again, as the two finished their meals.

When she drained her glass, Fiona stood and waited for Loghain to drain his.

“The courtyard?” he offered.

Fiona nodded.

And the two began to walk.

“There are no darkspawn who can drain mana, are there?”

Fiona laughed. “There are some spells the emissaries can cast that drain mana, but no. There aren't. But Duncan couldn't tell Genevieve he was training me to defend myself against templars, could he?”

Loghain laughed, low, quiet, but still he laughed. “I suppose he couldn't.”

Chapter Text

Fiona returned to Maric's bedroom that night, with her heart pounding, the new cut on her face from a grazing wound from Loghain's sword stinging, her staff split nearly clean through, and a tear in her robe, happier than she'd felt in months.

She knew, without even glancing in the mirror as she stripped away her dirty robe and her smallclothes, that she looked a wreck. Dried blood probably caked on her face, maybe her leg, dirt on her face, mud in her short, messy hair, but she didn't care. For the first time in months she felt alive.

She let out a breath of laughter, smiling as she pulled back the covers of the bed.

Then she saw Maric begin to stir.

“Go back to bed,” she whispered, as she lowered herself in next to him, pulling up the covers.

“Fiona?” Maric murmured, opening his eyes, he blinked up at her, trying to bring her into focus, then smiled when he saw her, reaching a hand for her cheek. He cupped the side that had been cut up, and ran a thumb along the cut, “Will Loghain be dead when I finally wake up?” he asked.

Fiona laughed, and rubbed her face against his hand as a cat might, before he pulled away. “No. We were sparring in the courtyard. The worst injury he got was to his pride. I won.”

Maric sat up, yawning. He gestured to the candle by Fiona's bedside table, and with a gesture, she lit it. “You beat Loghain in a sparring contest?”

She smiled wider now, “Well, I think he would disagree and tell you that he won. The problem is, he and I have different measurements of winning or losing. Winning, for him, is getting me on the ground, out of mana and defenseless. Winning for me, when I'm fighting a man in metal armor with elemental spells, is managing to not kill him during the bout. I not only won, but Loghain owes me fifty sovereigns.”

“You bet with him?” Maric asked. He smiled at her, brushing a piece of hair out of her face.

Fiona laughed, reaching a free hand out to Maric's hand. “No. He ruined one of my robes, and destroyed my staff.”

“I could buy you new ones if you want,” Maric reminded her.

“I don't want.”

The room was quiet for almost a minute, a peaceful silence, two lovers happy in each other's company.

She squeezed Maric's hand, then stared at him, eyes on his lips.

“Would it be okay if I,” she didn't finish what she was saying, but Maric understood.

He nodded, leaning forward, and Fiona kissed him.

After a moment, they broke the kiss.

Fiona looked away from Maric, towards her lap, pursing her lips, trying to think of how best to phrase what she was going to say.

“We've not laid together,” she started, but that wasn't right. They'd laid together every night, “We have not...” She sighed, “Do you want me?” she finally tried. “You and I haven't been together since I returned from the Circle.”

“No,” Maric agreed, “We haven't.”

“Is it... How I look changed...after the Circle. Is that why?”

“No,” Maric said. “I... wanted to wait until you asked.” He took a deep breath and sighed, pushing his hair behind his ears, looking away from Fiona as he did, when he was finished, he looked towards her. “While you were...away, Loghain...made a joke. I told him I worried I forced you to go to the Circle. I'm a king, and you're...”

“An elf,” Fiona said.

Maric nodded in reply. “He made a joke that perhaps I forced you to lay with me too. After all, if you can't say no to going to the Circle... I...wanted to make sure you wanted it. That I wasn't... That I wasn't like...him.”

Fiona reached a hand out to Maric's face as he had to her's earlier, and cupped his cheek before kissing him softly. A chaste peck on the lips. “You are nothing like...Like...Comte Dorian,” she took in a deep breath after saying the man's name, and closed her eyes tight for moment before taking another breath and opening them, “If you were, I'd have killed you in the Deep Roads and blamed the Darkspawn.” She cracked a grin, “And Duncan would have helped me.”

Maric smiled back, and took Fiona's hand in his, lacing their fingers together. “I never thought I'd be glad to hear about my wife wanting to kill me.”

He didn't notice the slip of the words, and, though part of her brain needled her to correct it, part of her felt right being called his wife. “I-I would like to...lay with you...if you're willing to.”

Maric's only response was a kiss.

Chapter Text

“How does it feel?” Leah asked. She was kneeling at Fiona's feet, pinning the fabric of the skirt for the hem. “Other than the pins probably jabbing into your side, of course.”

“Is it supposed to...” Fiona searched for the word to describe the fit of the bodice, “Hug so tightly?”

The small shop was dark. It was lit only by one cracked window in the corner of the back wall, and the hearth in the fireplace, but somehow it felt welcoming despite this. It's cheap pine floor was scrubbed almost until it shined, the knots and gnarls and holes covered up by what looked like pieces of clay.

The shop was disorderly but very clean, and the few pieces of furniture, while threadbare and old, probably four or five owners from new, were clearly well cared for.

“You're not used to this sort of fashion, are you?” Leah asked. She carefully pressed the piece of vair flush with the fabric of the dress, and pinned it in place along the hem, then repeated this again, a little farther down the width of the skirt.

“No.”

“I can tell.”

“Is this Ferelden? The style?” Fiona asked, looking down.

She kicked out one of her legs a little to the side, resting on the other, in order to see just how wide the skirt would be once she'd put the underskirts on.

Leah stabbed her with a pin in the calf, not even bothering to disguise the action as error on her part.

“Don't do that again.” Then, she properly pinned the hem in place, “It is...sort of. The fur, the leather bodice, they are. Ferelden dresses, the cut of them...does not go well on a more Elven figure. It's low necks, high waists, and wide hips, and... Well, it's attractive on humans. But you'd look exceptionally short, and your bosom will be found lacking by the men of the court...and some of the women.”

“I don't care what the men of the court think of my bosom.”

Adaia, who stood, leaning on the half wall separating the back of the shop from the front of the shop, laughed hard. “What about the women, though?”

“Eh,” Fiona, sighed, and giggled a little, “If a woman comments on my bosom, it will likely be more interesting than anything else happening. I hate parties.”

“Do you hate parties,” Adaia asked, “or do you hate the parties rich shems throw?”

“The last party I went to that wasn't thrown by rich shems was a wedding when I was six,” Fiona said, “In all honesty, I am not certain I know the difference.”

“You poor child,” Adaia said, laughing again. Her tone may have been comical, but there was true sympathy in her voice. “If there's a lot of drinking, it's an actual party, but if there's throwing enough money to feed a small town into a fountain, it's a rich shem party,” she paused and twisted one strand of her hair around her finger. “My mother, she worked up at the Castle when Meghren was still king. Said he'd throw away hundreds of coins into a fountain just to show his wealth. Was a game or something...The servants didn't care though. They fished the coins out of the fountain after everyone was passed out, and smuggled them home in their breast bands and small clothes and sold them to a silver-smith to melt them down.”

Leah giggled from where she knelt. “We had chicken for supper every sunday for the next two years thanks to that!”

“Caprice coins,” Fiona said with a nod, calling up an image of them in her head.

She'd found one, once, at a party the Comte took her to, and ferreted it away among the many layers of her skirts.

The comte found it later as he undressed her.

He'd...surprisingly not beat her for 'stealing' it.

Instead, he took it.

Twirled it his hands, and smiled at it glinting in the hearth light.

And, rather than continue what he'd planned to do to her, he instead told her, gently, kindly, in a tone he rarely used for her, about them.

They were tokens of affection, once. She did not remember the whole story. All the details were fuzzy in her head, like most of her memories.

She did not like to think of moments when the comte was gentle, or kind.

To think of such moments made her doubt what she'd done. Made her feel guilt.

She knew she was just in her actions, but sometimes the thought she wasn't ate at her.

“Finished,” Leah said after a few minutes of pinning, pulling herself up from the ground. “Slip the dress off. Carefully,” she instructed.

Fiona did as she was bade, turning her back to both Leah and Adaia, them, she laid the dress carefully across the yellowed chair in the corner of the room.

She grabbed her robe off the counter, and pulled it back on.

“I might need you tomorrow,” Leah said.

“Alright,” Fiona nodded. “If you do, tell, uh...” She closed her eyes, trying to recall the name of servant girl who worked in the great hall, the one with the kind eyes and bright red hair. She'd seen her enter the house next to the shop. “Rayna. I will pay her if you do, of course.”

Leah nodded. “Alright.”

Fiona left the shop, Adaia following. “Mind if I walk you?” Adaia asked.

Fiona smiled, perhaps a little too widely, still not entirely at ease. “Not at all.”

The sun was bright, and warm. The little snow that had still lingered almost entirely melted now, making the muck of the alienage streets more swampy than perhaps it usually was, and Fiona lifted the skirts of her robe so as not to dirty it.

“I feel like some noblewoman doing this,” Fiona complained, “And in the worst way.” She thickened her Orlesian accent, upping the pitch and distorting it a little, to mimic the way the aristocrats of Orlais spoke. “Ugh, mud. 'ow do ze common people stand it?”

Adaia put on an Orlesian accent and joined her, “'Ow true, Hélène.”

Fiona laughed, and Adaia smiled, bumping into Fiona with her shoulder, a gesture of affection.

After a moment though, she sobered slightly. “I'm surprised you can mock them. Orlesians, I mean. They're your people. Sort of.”

“These are my people. Orlesian humans are no more people than Antivans are /their/ people. We share a country. And even that is only because they stole ours.”

“I suppose,” Adaia agreed.

“You mock your nobles, don't you?

“I do. But individually. I might call Arl Urien an Orlesian sympathizing fool, or Bann Senna a simpleton, but I wouldn't dismiss the whole of them.”

“Orlesian nobles are essentially interchangeable, though. They may differ a little, some eagerly wish to return Ferelden to their control, others wish for peace, some tax their people more, some less, but all are corrupt and ineffective. But they stay on the throne because they have the loyalty of their armies, and the people cannot fight that.”

“I supp-”

A young, chubby elf-blooded boy, perhaps Cailan's age, ran towards them, his eyes on a ball a friend had thrown. Fiona tried to step out of the way, but he knocked into her despite it, cutting off what Adaia intended to say.

Only Adaia catching her kept Fiona from falling backwards into the muck.

“Sorry miss,” the boy said, as Adaia helped her back to her feet. He began to walk away when Adaia grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Give her her coin purse back, Slim,” Adaia said sternly, pursing her lips to form a thin line.

The boy's brow furrowed. “I didn't take nothing, Adaia,” he insisted.

Adaia continued to stare down at him, not releasing him. After a moment, he reached under the back of his shirt and pulled out a green coin purse. Fiona's coin purse. He handed it to her, looking away from both her and Adaia.

Adaia reached for his chin, forcing him to look her in the eyes. “Slim, if I ever hear about you stealing in the Alienage again, I will make sure your mother knows. If you want to steal, work the markets. Don't take from your own.”

Her tone was the same tone she'd used when she told Fiona off for bringing Cailan to the Alienage. Firm. The kind of tone one could not question.

“Am I understood?”

“But she's a mage. Mages are lousy with gold.”

“She's also my friend, one of our own, and not someone who's pocket you should pick. Now, go home, Slim. Or I will tell your mother about this.”

Adaia let go of Slim, and he ran as quickly as he could in the opposite direction.

“Thank you,” Fiona said, finally finding her words. “I... wouldn't have even thought to... I'm worried at this point you do not even believe I was a warden, I've been so incompetent.”

She let out a laugh of nerves, and smiled at Adaia who smiled back.

“Well, I highly doubt there is much pick-pocketing in the Wardens.”

“Pickpockets, no, except Duncan stealing your things for fun. He always gave them back...usually. But muggings I've seen...”

“Muggings? In the Wardens?”

Fiona held up a single finger, “No, in the Circle. /One/ mugging. An apprentice, the son of a noble was sent a case of fine chocolates for his name day. Another, older apprentice threatened him with a knife and stole them. They sold them for ten times the usual cost and made at least fifty royals doing it. Paid off the templars to keep out of the dungeons too.”

Adaia laughed. “Let me guess, 'and that mugger was me?'”

“No. No. I would have kept all the chocolates for myself, if it were me. I bought two pieces though.“

“And the Evil King locked Una away in an- Anora, what's this word?” Cailan asked.

He and Anora sat in the palace chapel, Alistair between them.

Ailis had long since left the two alone, Cailan's lesson had finished an hour ago, but Alistair had been excited by the story Cailan read aloud for it, and so he'd stayed to finish it for his brother.

And he was nearly done now. Five more pages and he would be.

Anora looked up at him, then over at the book, pursing her lips as she did. “I don't know,” she said. Even sounding it out in her head was difficult. “I think it's in Orlesian.”

“I'll ask Fiona when she gets home then,” Cailan said. He reached for his dry, clean quill and placed it inside the book to mark his page. “I'll finish reading it when your mother gets back, okay Ali?”

Alistair pouted for a moment. Then pressed his face into his brother's side. “I want it now,” he mumbled, his words distorted by his brother's tunic. He sounded almost like he might cry, so Cailan rubbed his back, and kissed his hair.

“I can't read it,” he said. “Sorry Ali.”

Alistair made a whining noise of disapproval.

“I don't know why you like her,” Anora said.

“Like who? Una? She's the /best!/ She's a great archer-”

“Fiona,” Anora said.

Cailan felt puzzled, and could feel his brow furrowing. “Why wouldn't I like her? She's funny, and she's smart, and she's nice and she used to be a Warden and she loves me.

“She doesn't love you. She's only being nice to you to get your father to like her. If you and Maric died tomorrow, she'd be glad. Because then he,” she pointed to Alistair, “Would get the throne.”

“No, Fiona loves me because she loves me,” Cailan argued. He felt worry knot his stomach, he felt tears well in his eyes.

“She's just /pretending/ Cailan. She doesn't love you. She wants you dead, and Maric dead, and my papa dead, and me dead. She wants the throne for herself. Mama says!”

“Does not,” Cailan insisted.

“Does too! She doesn't love you. I'm the only one who loves you, Cailan,” Anora snapped.

The tears began to fall. Anora looked shocked, pained, sorry. Cailan picked up his brother and stood. He began to walk towards the chapel door. Anora stood with him, following him. She reached a hand out for his arm to stop him.

“I'm sorry,” she said, her words practically begging him to stay. But he ignored her.

“I'm sorry,” she said again, this time raising her voice a little.

“I'm sorry,” this time she yelled, starting to cry herself. “I'm sorry.”

Cailan ignored her. He held Alistair to his chest and began to walk to a part of the palace he knew Anora would not follow him to.

Alistair touched Cailan's face. “Cailan, you sad?” he asked. His words all ran together, sounding like they were one single word rather than a sentence.

Cailan shook his head. “N-no,” he sobbed. “I'm a-angry,” the tears came harder, now, and he tried to wipe them away with the sleeve of his free hand. “I h-hate her!”

He didn't hate her. He was angry, yes, but, even blinded by that, he knew he did not truly hate her. That Anora was his friend. Perhaps eventually he would no longer be mad at her, perhaps he would forgive her. But now, he did not feel anything but blinding rage towards her.

“She's got a mother. She's got a father who's...not sick. Who's always there when...I don't. She's got... She's...” He could not find words, so he did not speak.
He walked into his father's bedroom. He opened the door, and set Alistair down. Then he locked the door behind them.

Anora would not follow him in here.

He walked over to the large desk in one corner. It was heavy looking, and made of solid mahogany, with carved reliefs of mabari on the door panels of the front. He knelt down in front of it, and crawled underneath it, drawing his knees up to his chest.

Alistair twice tried to comfort him, or distract him, but he ignored the boy. Eventually, Ali pulled himself up onto their father's bed, and fell asleep.

After about a half hour, Cailan stopped crying, but he still felt upset. For one thing, his head ached terribly now, from all the tears, and for another, he felt hurt, sad, angry.

His first thought was to tell Anora about it, until he remembered Anora was, in fact, the one he was cross at.

Instead, he sat there, knees still against his chest, and sat in silence, watching the blankets move with every breath his brother took.

A few minutes later, the doorknob began to shake.

“I'm not letting you in,” Cailan said, assuming it was Anora, trying to again apologize.

“Cailan,” Fiona said, firmly, “please let me in.”

Cailan stood and walked over to the door, opening it,

Fiona looked at him for one moment, then pursed her lips. “Are you alright?” she asked, reaching a hand out to cup Cailan's face.

Cailan didn't answer at first, looking away from her.

“Cailan."

“Anora said you didn't love me,” he said, fighting back the tears that again began to well. “That you just...want me d-dead. S-so Ali can be king.”

“Anora is an little girl who needs to learn that she does not know everything,” Fiona said firmly. She knelt down, though she did not need to do so to look him in the eye, he was only barely shorter than her, and looked up at him, her hands on his upper arms. “I love you, Cailan...It's...hard for me to say that...To your father, to anyone, but I mean it. I love you, very much. And I love your father very much. Anora is a foolish and probably worried she's going to lose you. That's all. She's /wrong/. Alright?”

Cailan nodded wordlessly.

Fiona smiled at him, before she stood up, and walked into the room, closing the door behind her.

When she reached the center of the room, she turned around, and frowned. “Would it...I...” she began, “I'm not...very good at this. Would...Can I-?” She cut herself off, and instead opened her arms for him. An offer for a hug. And Cailan walked over into them, and let her.

She was not very good at it, as she had said, she was stiff, awkward, tense at first, as though hugs, physical affection was still somewhat strange to her, or perhaps simply hugging a child was strange, but she relaxed, and held him tight.

“I love you,” she repeated.

And Cailan believed it.

Celia was not fond of this.

Not fond of carriage rides, not fond of leaving Gwaren.

Every time she left, every time she met with Nobles, they treated her like she was a fool, because she’d been born poor.

Celia was not a fool.

Celia was the reason Gwaren had not been swallowed up by the Brecilian forest, or fell into the sea during her husband’s long absences.

She was not of noble blood, but she possessed a noble mind.

A mind for ruling, a mind for watching for danger and acting.

Her Uncle had been a merchant, selling her father’s carved wares in Orlais, and often, he was forced to attend Orlesian Galas.

He spoke of a Game they played there, eyeing each other for weakness, and exploiting it.

And he was certain, and Celia was certain, that she would be good at such a game.

She did not dress like an Orlesian.

She wore plain dresses in fine fabrics, the skirt cut a few inches shorter than usual so she did not trip, with an ornately carved wooden leg she’s made herself.

No jewelry, no makeup, her now silver hair in a long braid that went from the crown of her head to below her waist, and when she was whittling, which was often, a pair of half-moon Dwarven spectacles.

She was not the ideal spouse for a Teryn.

For one thing, she’d been a widow before the remarried Loghain, losing her first husband in the same fire where she lost her leg. For another, she was nearly fifteen years his senior.

When they married, most were certain no children would result. She’d heard the whispers. But she did not care, and he did not care, and they married anyway. A daughter came less than a year later, proving her detractors wrong.

Her husband was the reason she was in this carriage. Her husband and her king. King Maric hired a new adviser, a /mage/. And he needed a grand event to introduce the woman to the nobles.

Celia had no problem with the woman being a mage. Mages were revered in the Old Faith, even if many who still believed had taken on Andrastian beliefs about them, as they'd taken on other Andrastian aspects.

What she had a problem with, was that the woman was an Orlesian, and an Elf at that. Her daughter had told her such in the many letters she sent.

How the woman lorded herself around the palace as Orlesians were want to do. Anora had not used such words, but the way she spoke to King Maric, with no pretense of respect, how she raised her own son around the Prince, as though he was an equal, the way she seemed to feel herself equal to the King, with no title, no money, no family background, and a bastard son, was shameful.

Had Celia no respect for her husband, or her king, she would have refused.

Told them she would not help host something which glorified and honored a woman who did not deserve such an event.

But she did respect her husband, and she did respect her king.

And if His Highness wished to have a woman who treated him with little respect in his own household, she would not refuse him the right to do such.

At least, perhaps, such a party would allow King Maric to find a new woman, or man, if rumors were true, to court.

The poor man had been so lonely for so long, and Celia knew his pain.

When she lost her husband, she was in despair for several years until she met Loghain.

And though she still thought of Fredrick, she was happy now. A new lover would surely do the same for the King, would it not?

At the very least, it would allow her husband time to return to Gwaren to be with her, rather than helping Maric with every bout with sadness he faced.

The City of Denerim always put her ill at ease, with its vastness and its teaming unwashed masses, and Celia felt the stranglehold on her lungs as she crossed through the city gates, but she closed her eyes and took a breath, and tried to center herself as the carriage made it's way through the city streets towards her home here she owned, or her husband owned, but which she had never seen.

The carriage made its way through the twisting streets, and Celia watched out the window at the people as it passed them by. A tall, mustachioed man hawking street-food. A young woman in a small stall showing her wares. A young woman on a corner, showing her 'wares'. Two elven women, walking together, talking, as they left their slum. A harried young mother with one child in a sling across her chest, and two others pulling desperately at her hand, throwing a fit in front of a market stall.

She hoped, at the very least, that her husband and her daughter would be waiting for her when she arrived.

Chapter Text


Sharing a bed with her husband was like sharing a bed with a stranger.

It wasn't the way it had been with Fredrick. With her first husband, he and Celia would lay next to each other, Celia would lay in his arms, and the two would talk about...anything, before they went to bed. Their little farm. Fredrick's parents. Celia's parents. Children. Anything. And, even if they quarreled, Fredrick always told her he loved her before they went to bed. He'd kiss the tip of her ear, and whisper it, and Celia would smile.

Loghain was so stoic, Celia would be uncertain the man /could/ love, if she didn't see the way he was around his daughter. And when he spoke of his time at the palace during dinner.

He'd speak of everyone there, Maric, Prince Cailan, even the elven harlot and her bastard with such fondness. Or, as much fondness as Loghain could allow himself to show. A smile at the mention of a name, a flash for a moment of one. A compliment. Something.

But he showed none of that, abet tepid warmth to her. He would lay on his side of the bed and she would lay on her side, and there would be a gulf of bed between them, never to be crossed.

She wanted to hate him for not loving her. But, how could she, when she didn't love him?
--

Anora's mother had upended the entire house in preparation for the ball.

Tables that had sat where they were for as long as Anora remembered, were carried upstairs by Elven servants, so that the entire first floor, minus the kitchen, could be used for dancing.

The staircase to the upstairs had been blocked off with large bows of velveteen ribbons tied from handrail to handrail.

The party would be too noisy, likely to allow Anora to sleep, and despite the young girl's insistence that she be allowed to attend, Anora's mother and Papa had denied her her chance to, so instead, now, she laid in bed, and waited for it to start.

Anora not attending was one of very few things the two had agreed with for the past week Anora's mother had visited.

They spent much of the time fighting.

Not the loud, explosive fights they'd had in Gwaren, before Rowan died, before Anora's Papa had come to Denerim to serve King Maric, the stipend Maric had given Anora's Papa for such a service was not inconsequential, and had smoothed over her mother's acceptance of this, but fights none the less.

Fights of passive aggression.

They would start, sometimes, with Mother asking Papa to come home from the palace by sundown, so the three could eat together, but he would not return until eight. He'd claim Maric needed him. And Mother would then spend the whole meal tapping one of her feet under the table, a trait Papa found annoying. And Papa would set his teeth and try to ignore it, and the two would go to bed angry.

And then the next day, Papa would insist on wearing his armor, even though Mother hated the noise it made, and Mother would 'accidentally' lose her grip on her bit of the table she, Anora, and Papa moved together, and let the table fall onto Papa's foot, Papa still wearing his armor so it didn't hurt. And the two would go to bed angry.

And then, Mama would 'accidentally' elbow Papa's milk off the table at breakfast, and Papa would storm off and spend the night at the Palace, making up an excuse the next morning why he had to.

And neither of them noticed how Anora went to bed when they went to bed angry.

They tried to keep their voices low downstairs as they argued, as Anora's mother yelled, and her papa shouted, as something broke, but Anora could still hear them here.

She held her rag doll tight in her arms, and buried her face in the doll's blonde yarn hair, as she let her mask slip away, and she let herself feel. No one could see her feel in the dark.

Fiona was beautiful.

Her hair, short though it was, was slightly tousled. Her eyes were rimmed thick with dark kohl, making them look even larger. A balm tinted pinkish brown covered her lips. And, most importantly, she was dressed like a proper Noble lady.

She wore a dress of plain black wool, like the dress an Antivan merchant might wear.

Or, it would have been, had Leah's seamstressry not been as fine as it had been.

Even without the vair edging the sleeves, the skirt, the collar, even without the black leather that hugged the back and edges of the bodice, even without the surcoat, the dress had fine bones.

If the vair were cannibalized for a later project as Adaia had heard Fiona and Leah discuss, the dress would still be fetching enough to be worn.

The skirt was not overly full, the way the dress would be for a human. At the very most, the three or four silk underskirts beneath the dress added perhaps an inch to the hips. And the skirt belled out, but only by slim margins, not the nearly sixty inches or more some dresses did.

The entire bodice of the dress hugged Fiona's figure tightly, fitting snugly, like a second skin, except for the sleeves, where it puffed out slightly. The neck was high, reaching perhaps to Fiona's collarbone, resting on the low part of her neck. Sewn to it was a wide vair collar, likely detachable, shape like a half circle. The inside was lined with dark green silk, edged with black leather, to keep the fur from itching Fiona's neck, should the collar come out of place.

The surcoat was a marvel too. The black and dark green figured silk had become a surcoat befitting a queen. It was a simple jacket, in terms of shape, minus the sleeves. But it had been sewn so skillfully that it became more than that. It, too, hugged Fiona's figure, following her shape.

And it, too, had a large high collar that flared out as well, green silk, the same that lined the inside of Fiona's other collar, pleated in such a way that it resembled the frills on the necks of some lizards. It had been starched until it stood up on it's own.

The edges of the coat, too, were edged with green silk, pleated just as the starched silk had been, and sewn along the edges of the 'keyhole' of the front of the coat on both sides, around to the skirt of the coat as well. The arm holes, on the other hand, were instead lined with the same silk, cut into strips, braided, and sewn along the edges.

Fiona stood near the table near the foot of the bed of King Maric's bedchambers, the sunlight from the window by the chair back lighting her. Her eyes were closed, and she looked close to tears. She swallowed hard, and then opened her eyes, looking upon both Adaia, who sat on the bed, leaning back slightly on her elbows, the bed was very comfortable, and Leah, who sat at the table by the bed, picking at the tray of food that had been there before they arrived and Fiona had invited them to eat.

Both of the other women had worn dressed well, on the off chance they would meet King Maric during their visit.

Adaia's outfit consisted of a white off the shoulder top. Strips of leather lined the edges, and under her bust, at the wrists, and at the upper arm. The strips had gems, made of glass of course, not true gems, sewn along these bands, as well as copper rivets. The skirt was dark grey leather at the edges, with lighter leather on the inside of the skirt.

It had been her wedding dress. And some day, Maker willing, it would be her daughter's, if she couldn't afford better for her.

Leah, too, had dressed in her best. She wore a pale blue, almost grey cotton dress with butterfly sleeves and a sweetheart neck. It was not fancy, by any means. But it was well made, and fit well. And, along the skirt, waist and neckline, Leah had embroidered beautiful sunflowers.

Fiona took a deep, shaky breath in, then spoke. “So?” she asked. Her hands reached for something to grip, and she grabbed at the skirt, balling some of the fabric in her fists. She was on edge, anyone could see that in her face, hear it in her tone, tell from the way she didn't quite meet your eyes.

Adaia took a breath, and sat up a little, just to get a better look, holding the small white sack she'd brought with her in her hands as she did.

“If Arlathan ever had a queen, she'd look like you,” she said genuinely.

“Flatterer,” Fiona said, but she smiled a little now.

“You look amazing,” Leah said. “And I'd say it even if I hadn't made the dress.”

Fiona's smile grew. “Thank you,” she inclined her head slightly towards them. “I...Hope the nobles feel the same.”

“I'd say 'who cares about the nobles,'” Adaia began.

“As would I,” Fiona interjected.

“But tonight is important.” She pulled herself up completely now, and walked over to Fiona. “And I have a gift. To, help you remember.” She paused. “Well, gift isn't the right word. You can't keep it. You're borrowing them.”

She held out the cotton sack, and Fiona took it.

Adaia was on edge as the other woman undid the knot, her thick dark brows knit in concentration, her deep brown eyes focused on the bag. When she undid the knot, she opened the drawstring and stared inside.

And from the bag, she pulled a pair of copper ear cuffs out.

The cuffs consisted of a piece of metal, following along the helix of the ear. It fit along the ear, held in place both by the the fact that the metal laid flush with the ear, and by an attached pair of screw-back earrings on each cuff. The screw-back earring was topped with a piece of polished green quartz on the front of it, and, from the bottom of the front, from an eyelet, fell three thin metal chains, hanging down like chandeliers.

The copper and quartz were not gold and diamonds, but they were important to Adaia. They'd been her mother's. And her grandmother's. And /her/ grandmother's. Perhaps all the way back to the Dales. Perhaps further. The lack of green oxidation so common to copper, her mother had told her, was because of an enchantment performed by one of Adaia's ancestors who'd been a mage.

Fiona looked stunned.

“My mother wore them on her wedding,” Adaia said, “And I wore them on mine. This isn't wedding, but it could end up being more important than one. I thought I'd lend you something to wish you luck.”

Fiona wordlessly scrambled to try to put them on. She didn't succeed, as, even to Adaia, who'd worn the cuffs many times, they were quite fiddly.

Adaia held out a hand to assist, and Fiona set both into Adaia's open palm.

“Stand still,” Adaia prompted, stepping close to Fiona.

Fiona closed her eyes.

Adaia took one in her right hand, leaving the other in her left, and pulled the 'shell' of the cuff over the helix of Fiona's ear. Then, carefully, so as not to drop the other cuff, she unscrewed the screw-back earring, and rescrewed it back onto the lobe of Fiona's ear. She repeated this with the other.

She stepped back, and, again, admired Fiona, to make sure that this touch had not ruined the outfit.

And she smiled.

“If the shems can't see how pretty you are, they're blind,” she said, after a moment. “No offense, Leah,” Adaia quickly added.

“None taken,” Leah said, and though Adaia could not see her face, with her back turned, she could tell the other woman was smiling.

Chapter Text

The way one could find Isolde at a ball when she was in Ferelden was simple.

Look for the best dressed women in the room. And she would be there.

Such women would, almost without fail, also be the few women from Orlais to still hold Ferelden land after the Rebellion.

And nearly always, said group would consist of Baroness D'Érablière and Comtess De Montclair. (Though Baroness D'Érablière, for whatever reason, would probably insist on being called her Fereldan title of Bann.)

Comtess De Montclair was in her sixties. She had pale white skin, and deep set green eyes. She wore her grey hair in a high hairstyle, and a scowl on her face. Her dress was made of a muted burgundy silk velvet, but the black bobbin lace and black wolf-fur wrap, and the black gems sewn beneath her bust elevated it.

Though masks were banned in Ferelden's court events, she still, defiantly Orlesian, covered her face with a mesh veil that hung down from a circlet of silver she wore upon her head.

She wore large silver earrings, and a ring in the shape of a snake around her right pointer finger.

Baroness D'Érablière could not be more differently. She was a pretty girl with light brown skin and large brown eyes with thick dark lashes. She wore a bright yellow and white figured silk satin gown with a low neck befitting her youth. It was trimmed with a gauzy fabric in many small pleats.

Her many small braids had been braided into one larger braid, and then formed into a bun, held in place at the nape of her neck by a bright yellow ribbon. She wore three sets of delicate diamond-and-gold earrings, and a circlet of gold and pearls.

“I do not know what Maric sees in that elf,” Isolde fumed, darting her eyes to where the woman in question stood.

The other woman's dress was fine enough, very plain though, nothing like Isolde's own. All blacks and dark greens and browns. Isolde's was awash with color. Pinks and teals and blues and greens and even a dash of purple on the sleeves; being the king's sister-in-law had some benefits, even if he was not on speaking terms with her at present.

The girl was speaking with the younger Lady Aldebrant, the one good thing Isolde could say about her; If she'd not been, the woman would be over here, bothering Baroness D'Érablière with her theories about language.

“She's pretty enough for an elf,” Baroness D'Érablière commented, fanning herself with a fan of silk that matched her dress. “Lovely eyes, if nothing else.”

Comtess De Montclair sniffed, crossed her arms, and glanced where the other two women were looking.

“Very large though. If one must have an elf in one's court, however, would one not wish her to be...dainty? The woman is small, but she is not dainty. All those,” she sounded disgusted by the word, “muscles. I will hand it to her tailor, that dress hides them well, but one can still tell. Very...masculine.”

“Andraste had muscles,” Baroness D'Érablière argued, “Or do you think she raised a feather as a sword to fight the Imperium?”

“Andraste was a swordswoman,” Isolde said, “Not a mage. They're unnecessary for a mage.”

“Perhaps he cares to have only advisers who scowl,” Comtess De Montclair said. “After all, that Teryn Loghain does nothing but.”

“He does scowl quite a bit, it is true,” Baroness D'Érablière agreed, “But I am told he's very handsome.”

The Comtess laughed, “Perhaps if you are so eager for him, you should hire the house of repose to place him back on the market...”

The Baroness laughed, “No, I do not think I will.” She continued to watch the Elven woman and Lady Aldebrant, a smile playing faintly on her lips.

“His Majesty keeps glancing at Lady Aldebrant,” The Comtess said after a few moments of silence. “And I have heard he is not wearing his wedding ring. Do you think perhaps he is interested in her?”

“No,” Isolde said, “He's looking at the woman.”

“The Elf?” She paused, frowned, “Her first party, I suppose that makes sense. Oh well. A pity. The man needs a wife soon. Prince Cailan is not enough to guarantee the continuation of his line.”

“What if he was interested in the elf?” the Baroness asked.

“Do not joke about the King in that manner, girl.”

It was at that moment that Isolde's husband and Teagan walked over to the group.

“Having fun?” Eamon asked. He smiled.

“I will be quite soon,” Isolde said, reaching her hand out for his. She smiled back.

“Would you care to dance?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Eamon put his arm around her as they crossed the room. “Perhaps Maric has come to his senses, I've not seen him speak to the girl all night.”

“Has he spoken to you? Or is he still angry?”

“He's being a child,” Eamon said with a sigh.

They found a clear space. Eamon placed his hands on Isolde's waist, and she reached for his shoulders, smiling up at him.

He was so very handsome. His brown beard had been trimmed just for tonight. He wore a livery collar around his neck, and a brown jerkin of fine wool, and a shirt beneath of silk. He was the most attractive man here by leagues.

“I am so lucky to be dancing with the most beautiful woman in the room,” he told her softly, pressing his lips against her curled blonde-brown hair, narrowly avoiding the filigree diamond and silver tiara she wore.

Isolde smiled, and, when he pulled away, went for a kiss. It was short, just a peck.

The two spun around the dance floor as the Bard sang 'the Lady And The Weaver'. It was not as good as it had been in the original Orlesian, but the Bard's voice made up for it.

When the dance ended, Eamon kissed Isolde again, and then the two went their separate ways, Eamon headed towards the King and Loghain, and Isolde headed back to the Comtess and the Baroness.

But the Baroness was not there.

“Jane did not wish to stay longer?” Isolde asked.

The Comtess gestured with a single finger, to behind Isolde.

Isolde turned.

The Baroness and Teagan stood in a small alcove, talking.

“Perhaps soon you will have a new sister-in-law,” The Comtess suggested.

“Teagan is a good boy. He deserves a wife.”

“Jane's family has money as well. Not just in Orlais and Ferelden, but in Rivain as well. It would be a good match. What is Teagan again? Just a knight?”

“A Bann. He was a Knight until Rowan died. Eamon became Arl, as Cailan's regent, and she left Teagan Rainesfere.”

The Comtess frowned, “Your husband is just Arl-regent?”

“And a Baron in Orlais,” Isolde said defensively, “He may as well be Arl. Cailan is crown prince. The moment he becomes king, he will give up all his other titles and simply be king.”

“Still. Such a pity. A beautiful woman like you could have done far better. I know the Marquis De Serault had his eye on you.”

“I'd rather marry an Arl I love than the marquis of a cursed backwater.”

“Redcliffe is not a backwater?”

Isolde said nothing, instead she fumed silently for a few moments, clenching her fists tightly, trying not to let her anger show. She had little love for Redcliffe, but she had much for her husband.

She walked away, towards the refreshments.

“You,” she said to the elven woman behind the table in front of the kitchen door, “A glass of wine.”

“I don't speak Orlesian, Madame,” the Elf said in halted Orlesian.

Isolde made a tsking noise and switched to The King's. “A glass of wine.”

“Of course, Madame, right away.”

The elf scurried into the kitchen. Isolde turned her back on the table, leaning a him on it, and looked around for Eamon.

He was walking towards the Elven woman. And he looked angry.

They spoke to one another, though from where she stood, Isolde could not hear what they said.

She glanced back to see if the elf returned, and by the time she turned her head again, she could no longer see the two, a group had formed around them.

The room had, aside from the bard, and some noises from the group, fallen silent.

The noises, she realised, were those of a fight.

The blood drained from her face as she remembered what it'd been like the last time Eamon fought that witch.

She reached for her skirts and ran towards the fray as quickly as she could.

She swore she saw the elf throw the first blow.

By the time she reached the center of the group, Eamon was on the floor, though he looked mostly uninjured, except a broken necklace she did not recognize, which he held in his hand.

Teagan held the witch back, as she glared at Eamon with more anger than Isolde had ever seen on any person's face.

She knelt down beside Eamon, and cupped his cheek. “She did not hurt you, did she, darling?” she asked in Orlesian.

“Only a little,” he said softly in the same language. He reached a hand out and brushed at her golden curls, “Wardens are not as terrifying as they make themselves out to be.”

She stood, and held a hand out for Eamon to do the same.

Then, still holding his hand, she walked over to the edge of the crowd. She glared at the crowd in front of her, until they parted, making way for her and Eamon.

“She stole a necklace from Rowan,” Eamon told her, “As if stealing Rowan's place in Maric's bed was not enough.”

“She's an elf. I am not surprised. Maric should lock away the silver at night.”

“She had the nerve to say Cailan lent it to her. Cailan has more sense than that.”

They made their way to a corner of the room where people could not watch them.

“Maric is smarter than this. I...” Eamon looked worried for a moment, perplexed as well, “Almost wonder if she is using blood magic to seduce him. To charm him. He's better than this. Better than her.”

Isolde nodded, and stroked his upper arm gently. “If she is, the Templars will stop her, and Maric will return to normal. And someone else will raise that boy of her's.”

They sat in silence. Eamon tried to catch his breath.

They watched as people danced around them.

Fifteen minutes or so passed, until Teagan approached them.

“Maric wants to speak to you,” he said to Eamon grimly.

It was rare to not see the boy smiling, so Isolde worried.

When Eamon stood, she stood with him, and walked with him towards where Maric had set himself up, beneath the second floor balcony.

Maric's face was grave, and he looked angry. Very angry. Loghain loomed next to him, his face expressionless.

“Go,” Loghain commanded.

“Go? It was her who started things! She stole a necklace of Rowan's.” He held the necklace up.

Loghain stared at the necklace with something between confusion and anger, until Maric snatched it out of Eamon's hands.

“Cailan lent it to Fiona. For good luck. /I/ helped him take it out of the vault this morning. His mother left it to him and it's his to do with as he chooses.”

Eamon's face grew red and Isolde could see he struggled not to raise his voice. “It was Rowan's necklace. That witch has no right to wear it!”

“It's /Cailan's/ necklace. And you broke it. You broke one of the few things your nephew has left of his mother's. Not Fiona. You.”

“If she hadn't worn it-”

“You would have found some other reason to attack her,” Loghain interrupted.

“Leave,” Maric said, “Leave. I expect money to pay to repair the necklace, and I expect a note of apology to Fiona, Cailan, and myself. Until I get those things, I do not wish to see your faces.”

Eamon tried to speak again, but Maric simply walked away.

Loghain led them outside, ignoring any attempts they made to argue.

In the carriage, on the ride back home, Eamon wept.

He loved Maric. The two had been close.

And now...

“It's blood magic,” he said softly. “I know it.”

“I know, I know,” Isolde soothed. “We will tell the templars. We will tell them and they will save him.”

--
Before she left the palace, Cailan had given Fiona a present.

The door to his bedroom had been open, and he'd stood up and walked to it as he heard her footsteps enter the hallway.

He'd changed into his night clothes, a simple flannel shift and a warm-looking pair of knit socks, but he looked alert, awake. He hid a small hand behind his back.

He smiled wide at her.

“I have something for you, for the party.”

“Oh?”

Cailan held out his hand now, and opened it.

In it, he held an amulet on a silver chain.

The amulet was in the shape of a small sun, with curvy rays of light coming off it. At the base of the sun, a single pearl shaped like a teardrop hung.

“It is beautiful,” Fiona told him softly. She reached a hand out for the amulet, then stopped. “Where did you get it?” she asked.

“It was my mother's before she died. I asked Father if I could let you wear one of mother's amulets tonight for good luck,” Cailan told her.

 

“I can not take it.”

“It'll be good luck,” Cailan insisted. “Please take it, Fiona.”

She pulled her hand back. Then, she took a breath. Then a second. Then, she reached for it again. This time she let herself pick it up. She didn't want to take it. If she lost it, if it broke..If she were Cailan, she would be devastated. She could only imagine he would be.

“Thank you,” she said softly. She undid the clasp and placed the necklace around her neck, but struggled to redo the clasp.

“Let me help,” Cailan offered. Fiona turned her back to him, and knelt down, so he could do it up without the large collars getting in the way. She was surprised how easily she could kneel in the dress. It was not cumbersome at all.

“Thank you,” she said, as she stood.

“Good luck,” Cailan said. And then, he gave her a hug.

She tried not to act surprised, or put off, and hugged him back, smiling as she did.

“I am going to say goodnight to your brother,” Fiona said, “Would you like to come?”

Cailan shook his head. “No, I said good night to Ali already.”

Fiona nodded and continued down the hall a few doors.

She reached Ali's room, and reached for the door handle, pushing the door open as she did.

A servant, a pretty blonde woman Fiona was certain was some relation to the fish seller who'd tried to sell her gurnard when she was trying to find Leah's shop, the two had the same eyes, was tucking Alistair into bed.

Alistair was pouting, but he laid in bed anyway, a small griffon doll clasped in his hands.

“Lady Fiona, I wasn't sure you were coming. I thought you left for the ball.”

Alistair sat up, and waved at her.

Fiona smiled at him and waved back. “I'm leaving in a few minutes. I'm sorry for interrupting. I couldn't leave without saying goodnight to Alistair.”

The woman nodded, and then stepped out of her way.

Fiona walked over to the bed and knelt before it. She kissed Alistair on the cheek and pulled him into a hug.

“Did you have a good day today?” she asked.

Alistair nodded eagerly. “Calian let me pet Flemeth.” The boy could not pronounce the L in Flemeth.

“He let you pet his dog?” Fiona grinned, “That sounds fun! Did you play fetch?”

Ali nodded again, smiling back, showing his small teeth.

She sat down on the edge of his bed, and ran her fingers through his curls softly, still smiling to herself as she did.

After a few moments, she spoke again, “Your Mama is going somewhere very important tonight. I need a kiss for good luck. Would you give me one?”

Alistair giggled, and then kissed his mother on the cheek.

Fiona stood. “Thank you.” She walked to the door, “Good night Alistair. I love you very much.”

“I love you too,” he called, the L becoming a W.

And Fiona walked out the door.

She traveled down the hallway to the stairs, and then, to the great hall, where she was fairly certain Maric would be waiting.

He was.

He sat at one of the tables, a crystal decanter and two glasses in front of him.

He looked beautiful.

Fiona knew she was supposed to use 'handsome', but beautiful fit better.

He wore a circlet of gold in his long blond hair. He'd tied his hair back, a rare occurrence, and he'd shaved beforehand too, and the stubble barely showed. He looked different without his beard, younger. He wore a purple cloak, and a golden silk shirt that seemed to glint and gleam in the candlelight. The neck of the shirt was lined with fur. His trousers were long, and were dark brown.

On his right hand, he wore two rings, his signet ring, and a gold ring with a polished green gem. On his left hand, he wore only one ring, a ring carved from obsidian.

She noted, feeling a strange feeling she could not name, that he did not wear his wedding ring on either hand. Instead, he'd slid it onto the necklace he wore around his neck, upon which also hung a pendant of amber.

She pointed to it, “Announcing to the court you're single?”

Maric smiled, “Single, no. But, that I'm...willing to be with someone else, yes.”

“The women will swarm you,” Fiona said, sitting down at the table, across from him.

“There's only one woman I have my eye on,” he said softly. He reached for her hand and she let him take it.

“Oh? Truly? Who would that be?” she teased, keeping her voice low so the servants did not overhear.

Odds were good they'd noticed she shared Maric's chambers, or if they hadn't, then either Leah or Adaia may have said something by accident, but digression was not such a terrible thing.

“You know exactly who,” he replied in the same tone.

She continued to play dumb. “Uh...Duchess De Montfort?”

He made a face, then smiled wide at her, showing all his teeth, the crows feet starting to form at the corner of his eyes crinkling as he grinned. “You. You're the only Orlesian I could tolerate.”

“That's because I'm hardly Orlesian.”

“Very true.” He took a sip of his whiskey.

Fiona eyed her own. Then, she reached for the decanter and opened the stopper. She carefully returned the glasses' content to the bottle, then caught the eye of a man polishing some silver in the corner of the room.

“May I please have a glass of water?” she asked, raising her voice slightly so he could hear her despite the distance.

The man walked off quickly, without saying a word.

“Is that a yes?” Fiona asked Maric.

Maric shrugged, then took another sip of his drink, “You weren't at supper.”

“I needed a nap,” she said. It wasn't a lie.

“You managed to nap in a dress like that?”

“I managed to sleep in the deep roads without a bedroll before. I can sleep anywhere in anything.”

“You have talent.”

“Truly.”

The servant returned with Fiona's glass of water, and she took a sip before reaching to rub her eyes.

Before she touched them, however, she remembered she was wearing makeup and pulled her hands away.

“If you get hungry, I'm certain Celia has food. If she doesn't have any out, just ask her.”

“She hates me, you know,” Fiona took a sip of her water, and then put the glass down again.

“Celia?”

Fiona nodded. “Cailan says Anora told him her mother said that I wanted to kill you and him so Alistair could be king.”

Maric's face screwed up in confusion. “Celia knows Alistair is...?”

She shook her head. “I assume that was Anora filling in her mother's words with something she knew but the Teryna didn't.”

“When did this happen?”

“A few days ago.”

“And you didn't say anything?”

“It wasn't important. Cailan is fine.”

“Did you tell Loghain?”

Now it was Fiona's turn to feel confused. “Why would I tell Loghain?”

“So he could talk to Anora about it. Have her apologize.”

“Do you honestly think he thinks any differently? He's kind to me because you love me. If you didn't love me, I have no doubt he'd say the same things.”

“You're wrong. Loghain isn't... He's not like that.”

Fiona made a face, then took another sip of her water. “He's married to a racist. Very few people who marry racists aren't also racist.”

Maric looked like he wanted to speak again, but he pursed his lips, and drained his glass. Then, he poured himself a second glass, and then drained that, too.

Then he stood.

“We're going to be late,” he said.

Fiona followed him as they walked to the carriagehouse.

The ride to the ball was tense, and silent except for the noises the carriage made when it hit potholes or splashed in puddles.

Maric exited the carriage first. Despite the tension between them, he offered Fiona a hand to help her out of the carriage, and she took it.

She wondered briefly if she should apologize for her words. Then she asked herself why exactly she should? They were true, weren't they? Loghain had shown her nothing so far that said he wasn't a bigot. Until he did, she had nothing to apologize for.

“Am I being introduced as accompanying you?” she asked Maric as they walked up the steps towards the house.

It looked much like other homes in Denerim's palace district. Large and made of stone. There was a small front garden, but other than some hedges, and grass meant to prevent flooding during the constant rains, it seemed mostly very spartan. No fountains. No elaborate benches.

“Do you want to be?”

Fiona shrugged. “Will it stop noblemen from bothering me?”

“They'll probably assume you're just my guest.”

“Then no. If it does nothing, it's not worth the whispers yet.”

They walked inside, and instantly Fiona was greeted by warmth.

Not just in terms of temperature but in terms of look.

The, it must have been hundreds of them, candles lit the well-shined yellow-wood floor.

The tapestries were all yellows and golds and oranges and reds.

She could see the stairs that led to the upstairs from where she stood, in the vestibule. The handrail was ornately carved, with knots, and a dog's head, and flowers, and trees.

She'd expected Loghain's home to be more austere. This was simple, but not spartan... Rustic...That was a fitting word. Minus the tapestries, necessary for keeping a house this large warm, it was very similar to what she imagined a Fereldan Freeholder's home might look like, only on a far larger scale.

The few pieces of furniture still on this floor were very similar. Chairs with carved legs, backs, and lovingly dovetailed seats.

She wondered if Loghain carved any of it himself. It certainly seemed like a hobby the man would have.

“Introducing his His Royal Majesty, King Maric Theirin, King and Liberator of Fereldan by the grace of Andraste and The Maker. Traveler of the Deep Roads, Hero of Fort Drakon, Savior of Fereldan,” the Herald called, recognizing Maric instantly. Maric stepped inside, and Fiona watched for a moment as he went.

Yes. He certainly looked attractive in those clothes...

She waited a few moments, then walked over to the herald. He was elf-blooded from the look of him, with hair the color of straw, ruddy skin, and deep green eyes.

“Do I need to tell you my name or anything?” she asked.

“You're Enchanter Fiona, my lady?” the man asked.

“No, I'm the other elf on the guest list.”

The man looked confused for a moment, and looked at his list again.

“I'm kidding.”

“Oh. Very funny my lady,” the man said.

“I'm sorry.”

Fiona walked towards the stairs and the main announced her.

“Introducing Enchanter Fiona, Presently of the Kinloch Hold Circle of Magi, formerly Constable of The Grey in Orlais.”

Every set of eyes in the room was on her. She lifted her skirts, and walked carefully, slowly down the stairs.

She glanced up at the second floor landing, which both Loghain and a woman Fiona assumed was Celia, were using as a balcony to watch those who entered. Maric was walking up the stairs to join them.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Smile broadly. Shoulders back, stomach in. Glide on your feet.

Curtsy and incline your head at the end of the staircase. If you get the host's eyes, smile.

She forced a smile up at Loghain.

He nodded at her in approval, and gave her an almost-smile back.

She tried the same with his wife, but she did not meet Fiona's eyes, so she let it pass, and kept walking.

It was so odd how easy it was to fall back into this routine.

When she reached the end of the 'walkway', she walked towards one of the windows to get her bearings.

She did not see the Coastlands. (That was their surname, was it not?)

The only nobles she recognized were the man who'd 'cared' for Alistair and his wife, who'd set themselves up in one corner of the room underneath the landing where there was far less candlelight

Fiona knew little of fashion, but even she could see the woman's ensemble would not be out of place in Val-Royeaux if one added a mask. It consisted of what looked like six or seven layers of thin fabric, not wool, something...gauzy and very thin looking, in many different colors, and a large brown fur stole. She wore a silver necklace that looked like it'd been made the way one made silk, and a belt made with a similar technique.

Her hair was done up in a high bun with a comb that held a small veil of greenish-blue gauze in place.

Her husband looked slightly less Orlesian, his clothes at least looked practical for the cold, but he too had dressed in the Orlesian style.

The woman and the man smiled and laughed and flirted with each other.

A young man stood near them. Fiona recognized him as well. He'd been there when she'd gotten her letter from Weisshaupt. He'd also been Maric's brother-in-law, she thought, but she wasn't sure.

The problem was not that she recognized no one. There were many people she recognized. The problem was they were all the servants.

She knew the woman with red hair serving drinks, though she did not recall her name. Adaia often watched her daughter Shianni during the day. Fiona met her once, during her dressfitting.

Adaia's husband Cyrion was working in the kitchens, she'd seen him pop his head out a few times. She'd had no idea he worked for the Mac Tirs.

She'd seen a couple other servants enter Leah's shop as well.

She wanted to talk to one of them, to Cyrion at least, but she had a feeling that would be even worse than speaking to no one.

The one thing she knew for certain was she needed something to drink.

The wool was thick, which was good in the Fereldan cold, but the heat from the large fires and all the bodies in the room had already made it a little warmer than she'd anticipated.

And she was thirsty again.

She walked over to the table.

“Do you have anything that isn't liquor?” she asked the woman politely.

“We have wine and ale as well,” the woman said, without a lot of confidence behind her words.

Her large brown eyes darted up to Fiona's face, then down to the table. Her hands rubbed against the fabric of her dress. She too seemed to have no idea how to handle this.

“I meant, uh, no alcohol? Water, milk, juice -”

“The mistress allowed the servants to make barley water, I could give you a glass if you like.”

“Is there enough?”

“Oh yes. More than enough.” She lowered her voice to a whisper and leaned in close to Fiona, “The Teryn said we could make a few gallons and take some home to our families,” she said. “But he said not to tell the mistress. He's not around enough to use all the barley he has the household buy anyway.”

Fiona smirked. “No, I suppose he isn't. He's at the palace.”

“Cyrion told me to tell you if I see you that Adaia says good luck,” she said, still whispering.

“Tell him I said thank you, and that I need all the luck I can get.”

The woman turned now, and walked into the kitchen now. She returned a few seconds later, with a glass of barley water. Fiona took a sip. It was warm, and tasted faintly of apples and cinnamon.

She was certain her lipstain would be absolutely coating the glass, it felt so thick on her lips, but it didn't.

She made her way to one of the walls, and leaned against it, nursing the glass carefully. She glanced up at Maric, he was standing on the landing now, and found he was looking down at her. She smiled, raised her glass. He smiled back, then returned his eyes to the doorway.

“Pardon me, my lady,” a woman with a strong Fereldan accent said softly, walking over to her. She was a tall, awkward looking red-head and she wore fine trousers and a jerkin rather than a gown, “Are you from Montsimmard, by any chance?”

“Yes?” Fiona said, tensing slightly. She took a breath and tried to force herself to look calm.

“I noticed your accent when you were asking for a drink. It really is quite peculiar,” The woman smiled, and placed a hand over her nose and mouth as she let out a small laugh, “I am a student at the University of Orlais and I am researching the way people speak as part of my studies. You speak a very odd mix of Montsimmard accents. Elven most prominently, but you have noble and circle mage both in there as well. It really is quite fascinating. I've never met a person with that combination of speech elements.”

Fiona leaned in closer to the woman. “What do you mean?”

“You say many of your 'e' sounds like 'i' sounds. That's not something common among Montsimmardi elves, only among nobles. It really is quite exciting! I have a theory it's due to the prevalence of the 'e' sound in Elvish. That, even though most elves speak perhaps only a word or two of the language, they learned to mimic the 'e' sound from their parents, who learned it from their parents, all the way back to when it was commonly spoken. It'd make sense, considering the same holds true for Elven speakers here in Ferelden.”

“Do you know why elves in Ferelden speak so differently from other Fereldans?” Fiona asked after a moment, before the woman had a chance to inquire why her accent was so different.

The woman looked utterly thrilled at Fiona's question, and she grinned even wider, “What do you mean? The words they use or?”

“They speak like dwarves,” Fiona clarified.

“Oh. That really is a linguistic mystery. I've been studying it myself, and I have a theory, but so far, only circumstantial evidence to back it up.” The woman nervously flattened the front of her jerkin, “Do you want to hear it?”

“Very much so. I've been fearful it'd be rude to ask since I came to Ferelden.”

“Ferelden was not yet a nation state during the Fall of the Dales. It was still a rough amalgam of Alamarri tribes. Unlike Orlais or Antiva, there was no real need for servants, which was the only job many elves were able to get. The Chantry had branded your people traitors and heathens, after all. So the few elves who settled here were able to set up their own society and did not need to learn to speak the King's. Instead, they spoke the languages they spoke in the Dales, Elvish and Tevene. The first people outside the Elven community to hire elves were surface dwarves-”

“Dwarves respect my people more than humans,” Fiona agreed.

“Yes! Exactly! Orzammar is one of few places in Thedas where the fact that an item was crafted by elves is considered a selling point. Most places try to ignore the hand elves play in making their goods. So, Dwarves hired Elven workers. And many of the formerly noble-caste dwarves likely had no trouble communicating with them, because they, too, spoke Tevene because of trade with the Imperium. But likely other Dwarves, surfacers who were not once noble-caste, didn't speak Tevene-”

“So the elves here speak like Dwarves because Dwarves taught them,” Fiona said, understanding.

“Yes, that's my theory. It would very much make sense from what we know from other places. Kirkwall was the first place to send missionaries to convert those among the Alamarri who did not worship Andraste, and our people and Kirkwallers speak very similarly.”

“It makes sense.”

“Thank you, Lady-”

“Fiona.”

“Lady Hortense Aldebrant.”

“Charmed.”

The woman laughed, a slight blush rising to her pale cheeks. “I believe I am supposed to be the one to say that to you, seeing as you are the mage.”

Fiona smiled. “Sorry for denying you the opportunity.”

“You are very enchanting, however. I can never get anyone to let me speak about dialects at these parties.” She raised her glass to her lips and took a sip, coughing slightly after she swallowed. “I tried to tell Arlessa Kendell about my study of the linguistic differences between nobles who sided with King Brandel early in the conflict, despite the loss of their lands for doing so, and those who sided with Orlais until King Maric's reign. She ended up spilling a drink on her dress to get out of our conversation.”

“I was a circle mage. Esoteric knowledge was most of what I learned there. Whether about history or about magic. You are not half as boring as the woman who trained me. She spent twelve hours a day one week educating me on the history of House Valmont.”

“My goodness. I'm uncertain I could take even a few minutes of that.”

“It was terrible.”

“Are you here alone?” the woman asked after a few moments.

Fiona felt confused how to answer, but after a moment, she nodded.

“Uh, in that case, my lady, would you care to dance?” The other woman extended a hand.

Fiona reached to take it, but paused before she did, “I have a lover, if that matters,” she said.

The woman's smile faltered for a split-second, but then it quickly returned. “She's a lucky woman,” she said.

Fiona didn't bother to correct her.

“We can dance as friends. If you'd like to dance I mean.”

Fiona took her hand.

Neither of them were particularly good dancers, though Fiona was marginally better than Lady Aldebrant.

The bard, a young Antivan woman, sang a song in her native tongue. Fiona did not know what the words meant, but the song was fast and happy.

After their dance, a Rivaini woman who wore a bun made of many braids, and a shimmery yellow dress, and the young nobleman Fiona was fairly certain was Arl Eamon's brother, walked over to them.

“I hope you don't mind us stealing your dance partner,” the Rivaini woman said.

“Oh, I don't mind, Lady Fiona is likely tired of speaking to me any-”

“I meant you, actually,” the Rivaini woman said. She smiled wide, then covered her smile with a hand.

“Oh. Oh!” she turned to Fiona, “I'm terribly sorry, my lady. Forgive my rudeness, but it seems I'm needed elsewhere.”

“It was wonderful speaking to you,” Fiona replied.

The two women and the young nobleman walked into a crowd of people, and out of Fiona's view.

And she was alone again.

She walked three feet one way, and then three feet the other. Knocked a fist on her upper thigh softly three times. Brushed her fringe out of her eyes with one hand.

She glanced up to the 'balcony'.

Maric and Loghain were no longer there, nor was Loghain's wife.

But Anora was.

She wondered for a moment if she should find Loghain and tell him his daughter was out of bed but decided against it.

The girl was in a white flannel nightshirt. She'd not noticed that she'd been spotted.

Fiona watched her as she watched the crowd, moving closer and closer to the railing.

She watched every step, the caution Anora took to make no noise, even though no one would hear her over the din of the ballroom if she did. It took her nearly five minutes to make it all the way to the rail at the edge of the balcony. She kept looking out into the crowd to make sure neither of her parents had spotted her.

It was almost like something out of a piece of art somehow. The upper balcony was unlit, so the only light on Anora's face came from the candlelight below her. It caught angles on her face one normally did not notice.

It was entrancing to watch her. Easily the most interesting thing in the room, if only by virtue of Fiona being the only one to notice it.

Then, someone bumped into Fiona and the spell was broken.

She turned around to see who'd bumped her.

Eamon.

“I see Maric is continuing to pretend you're not below his station,” Eamon said.

Fiona did not respond, instead she blinked slowly three times, and tried to return her attention back where it'd been.

Eamon would not let her. He grabbed onto the pendant of the necklace she wore.

“This is my sister's!” he yelled. “You steal my sister's place in Maric's bed and now you steal her jewels?”

More than a few eyes fell on them now.

Fiona tried to snatched the pendant back but Eamon kept it out of her grasp.

“Your nephew lent it to me for luck!”

“My nephew did no such thing! You stole it!” He pulled the necklace, hard, and the claps broke, and the necklace came free, three or four links in the chain that held it in place flying off in different directions.

For a split second, she was very very still. It was as though time stopped. She felt nothing. And then, she felt red hot anger rush into her. “Your nephew lent that to me. You will pay to fix it,” she said in a low hiss.

She saw the punch coming. She could have blocked it, could have turned it against Eamon. Instead, she prepared herself to take it, turning her head to the side to keep it from hitting her eyes, nose or teeth.

He punched with bad form, keeping his thumb inside his fist. It hit her squarely in the jaw. It was not as hard as some punches she'd taken, and she could tell from the cry of pain he let out that it hurt him more than it hurt her. He probably broke his thumb.

She could use that.

He went in for another punch, and she blocked it, grabbing his fist. His other hand flung towards her face, knocking her hard in the nose. She batted it away.

She put pressure on his thumb and managed to twist his arm back and force him to the floor. Less than thirty seconds after the fight began, it was over.

“If you lay a hand on me or my son again, I will kill you,” she said softly, “And you will pay to repair that necklace for Cailan.”

And then she let him back up and began to walk away.

She heard the sound of a scuffle behind her and turned around. Eamon's brother and Teryn Coastland were holding him back from trying to get at her.

She walked into the crowd that had gathered, and tried to find a spot she could heal herself. Her jaw hurt badly, it would bruise, and she was fairly certain her nose was bleeding.

But he'd punched her first. He'd grabbed her first. She would not look like the guilty party. And she'd not used magic.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, human from the size of it, and probably a man's, and without looking to see who it was, she shoved it off.

“Fiona,” the voice said.

Loghain's voice.

She turned around, and looked at him impatiently.

She could taste the blood now, spilling in through the slight crack in her lips, and she grabbed her nose.

“I will take you upstairs, if you wish to heal in private,” he said.

Fiona nodded, too angry to find words.

He led her silently up the stairs.

“You did nothing to provoke the fight?”

“Absolutely nothing! Cailan lent me a necklace of his mother's for luck. Eamon saw it and said I stole it.”

“You let him punch you.”

“If Eamon punches me first, I'm the victim.”

“It makes you look weak and the Wardens unnecessary.”

“So I should have punched him or hexed him and made myself look even more dangerous?”

Loghain did not speak.

When they reached the landing, he led her to a room.

The master bedroom from the looks of it.

Fiona sat down on the bed.

Loghain opened a drawer in the corner and grabbed out three rags. He handed one to Fiona and set the other two on the bed next to her.

“Maric knows I didn't start the fight?” Fiona asked.

Loghain didn't answer.

“I didn't,” she said.

“I saw,” Loghain agreed.

“Did Maric?”

Loghain shrugged. “I didn't see.”

She didn't want to cry here. Now. In front of Loghain. But she felt tears bubbling up and not just from the pain. She moved her hand out of the way, put the rag in place, and then pinched her nose again.

Then, she mumbled an ice spell under her breath, and with her free hand she coated one of the rags on the bed with a thin sheet of ice, and brought it to her face to stop the stinging.

“That bastard,” she mumbled.

“If we were barbarians like the Orlesians, we could have him killed,” Loghain said.

“I would not let anyone but myself have the satisfaction.”

Loghain stood there, silent, watching her for a few minutes, and then he left the room, leaving her alone, bleeding on his bed.

Her brain would not shut off. It kept telling her lies even as she sat there.

Telling her Maric hated her.

Telling her she needed to die.

Not the voices of demons. She could handle demon's voices screaming in her brain.

This was her own voice. Her own thoughts.

And she could not block them out the way she could block out demons.

It felt like she was alone for hours with her own thoughts, telling her things she didn't want to hear.

In the Wardens, if one wished to die, one simply needed to gather a few brother and sister wardens and go into the deep roads. If one still wished to die after a few fights with darkspawn, death could easily be found.

But that was not how it was here. She could not silence the thoughts that way here.

Here she wore fancy dresses. Was the only elf at parties not serving drinks. Here she was hated. Here she had no doubt most of the nobles would pay to be rid of her already, and they hardly knew her.

Then a thought.

It was not her internal voice. It was a voice that sounded familiar, a woman's voice, but she could not think of who's.

'If the world wishes you dead, do not give it the satisfaction of doing the job yourself. Make it work for it.'

It did not get rid of the thoughts, but it gave her brain something else to repeat.

She stayed in the bedroom until the ball was over, unwilling to speak to anyone else.


Hair; a braid up the back of her head to the top back, where it was formed into a high braided bun.

Dress; a down of ice blue voided velvet. Square neck. Ruched bosom. Tight sleeves that ended in a v shape.

Jewelry; a pearl and sapphire choker. Pearl teardrop earrings. Three rings on her right hand. Two on her left.

A smile like diamonds.

Celia looked better than she had in years for this night.

And yet the moment the Elven woman entered, nearly a half hour before, her husband's eyes stayed on her. Tracked her like a hawk tracks prey.

He and Maric stood together, talking, laughing, watching that girl.

There had been rumors about Queen Rowan, Gods watch over her, and the two of them before she died.

That the three had shared a bed for more than just sleep.

With Rowan gone, had the elf taken her place?

“Wonderful party,” Eleanor Cousland said with a smile as she and Bryce walked over, interrupting Celia's thoughts.

Both of them looked resplendent, Eleanor in a green silk dress, with bare shoulders, but a large brown fur collar around the neckline, a small silver circlet, and a beautiful silver Chantry necklace, and Bryce in a fine tunic of white silk, brown trousers, topped by a wyvern skin vest, and many fine rings on his fingers.

“Thank you,” she said politely, giving them a smile. She took a step towards them, leaning on her cane as she walked forward.

“I'm surprised you managed to find such a gifted singer who wasn't Orlesian, I tried for my last event and it was so terribly difficult. Bryce ended up having to have a young woman travel from Kirkwall to sing.”

“In all fairness, I think she was happy to leave Kirkwall,” Bryce said, taking a sip of his wine.

“Anyone would be happy to leave Kirkwall,” Celia said.

Bryce and Eleanor both laughed softly.

“Very true,” Eleanor said, “A terrible city. Five outbreaks of cholera in a decade. Even the slums of Denerim are not as terrible.”

“The Imperium poisoned the land, thinned the veil, and cursed the city,” Celia said.

Both Bryce and Eleanor looked uncomfortable suddenly.

“Forgive me,” Bryce said after a few moments, “I believe Rendon is trying to get my attention.”

He walked off.

Eleanor smiled, “I should go with him. When I am not around one cannot imagine the trouble Rendon and Bryce get into.”

She followed.

She was right though. Kirkwall was a cursed city. The Magisters had killed many there to try to bring down the veil. Her own mother had told her so.

Her mother had been a witch. Not an apostate, she was very insistent about that. Simply a mage outside the Circle. Her family had lived where Celia grew up for years, practicing magic. It was valued in the old faith.

Unlike most families, who would rejoice at being blessed with a child without magic, her mother had been disappointed. She could not teach Celia to bend fire to her will. To heal wounds with just a spell.

Another girl in the village, not her daughter, was taught by Celia's mother instead.

At least the tradition stayed alive.

Celia sighed, and took a few pained steps, watching the faces of the crowd for people she knew.

“-Sisters! You steal my sister's place in Maric's bed and now you steal her jewels?” The voice that shouted it was loud. A man's voice.

Celia looked in the direction of the voice, and saw Eamon, looming large over the Elven girl. His hand pulled at a necklace around her neck, until the chain holding it snapped.

The girl said something, low, too low for Celia to hear.

A moment later, the man punched her. And the girl reeled. He went again for another hit, but she managed to quickly disable him, with only a slap to the nose

Eamon's Orlesian tart went to help him up, and when he was on his feet, he tried to swing at the girl again, but Eleanor Cousland and Teagan held him back.

But Celia's eyes did not stay with him, instead, they followed the Elven girl.

Her husband met the girl midway to the stairs.

It was five minutes until Loghain returned.

The rest of the night was a blur of conversation and a slow descent into drunkenness for nearly everyone there.

Celia swore she saw Lady Aldebrant and Bann D'Érablière kissing in one of the alcoves.

And she /knew/ she saw Teagan dancing with a young woman.

But otherwise she could not tell you much of anything else that happened that night.

When the party finally ended, she'd sobered up enough to walk upstairs with Loghain.

He walked with her, not ahead of her. With her.

They walked into the bedroom. Celia sat down on the bed, and slowly began to undress. “Do you both love her?”

Loghain looked confused, and did not answer.

“You and Maric. Do you love the Elven girl?”

“She is Maric's lover. Not mine.”

“Do you love him?”

There was silence for a moment. Loghain, who'd been about to take off his shirt, stopped. He lowered his hands.

“Yes,” he said honestly, after a moment, meeting her eyes. There was sadness there, but no guilt. No shame.

“As a friend or-?”

“More than that.”

“You love men?”

Loghain nodded.

“Have you ever loved a woman?”

He kept his gaze on her, solid. Steady. “Only one.”

“Do you love me?” she asked, fairly certain she already knew his answer.

One second. Two seconds. Three.

“No.” He swallowed. “I would like to learn to.”

That was not the answer she expected.

Chapter Text

“Are you alright?” Maric asked Fiona once they'd settled into the carriage on the way home.

She'd created a small ball of light in her hand the moment they entered the carriage, and then had let it free, and it lit the inside enough to see by.

She did not look at him, instead she glared at the carriage floorboards. She was freezing. It was winter no longer, but Fereldan spring was still as cold as Montsimmardi winter.

Maric, likely still warm from the last two glasses of whiskey he'd finished before they left the party, slipped off his cloak, and handed it to her. She wrapped herself in it tightly, nearly drowning in the extra fabric.

She balled her fists into the ends of it, and scowled. Ran her tongue over her teeth. The desire to die had subsided, and left her instead with blinding rage. This was not her normal anger. She'd only felt this angry perhaps five or six times over her lifetime, and twice it'd been because of that man.

“I hate him. I hate him with every fiber of my being. I want him dead. I want him to die. I want to be the one to kill him. To burn him alive. To know I could save him and then not do it. Tonight was supposed to be my bloody night. I did nothing wrong. It was him and I'm still...” She lashed out with a fist, punched the door frame.

Even though Maric was across the carriage, he flinched, moved away.

Fiona noticed, and softened.

“Sorry...At least he couldn't throw a punch.” She looked up at Maric now.

Maric looked at her carefully. She could feel his eyes move over her almost as much as if they'd been hands, reaching across. Checking. Making sure she was okay.

He leaned in towards her. She did not move away. And when he leaned in, and kissed where the punch began to bruise. Fiona smiled. She laughed. For the first time since the fight.

“You're a fool,” she teased, pushing him away gently.

“I love you,” he said, smiling back at her.

The anger was still there, it had not evaporated but she was smiling again.

“I love you too,” she replied, still smiling. “But you're still a fool.”

“Didn't you have someone kiss injuries better when you were a child?”

“My mother did. But I figured out it didn't work when I was six. I would think you would figure it out by now.”

“Arl Rendorn did always say I was a bit slow to understand things.”

“I can certainly see that being true,” Fiona teased, interrupting.

Their clothes were set aside almost immediately after they'd gotten home, safe again in the confines of Maric's bedchamber.

The fire had not been stoked, no oil lamps burned, the only light to see by came in from the moon, full and yellow-white, over Maric's shoulder as he brought his head between her legs.

After, the two laid there next to each other.

Fiona's fury still boiled under the surface, but she felt calmer now. More at peace now, in the safety of their bedchambers.

“Do you think it'll bruise?” Maric asked her, reaching out a gentle hand to touch the spot where Eamon had punched her.

“I don't think so,” Fiona said, “I iced it. I... tried to heal it as best I could,” she smiled a little, though if she were pressed, she could not tell someone why.

“I should have been with you. I should have stopped him.”

“I'm not some Orlesian wallflower who needs your protection. He punched me because I let him. If I wanted to stop him, he would have been stopped.”

Maric smiled. He stroked at the spot, and looked into Fiona's eyes.

“Why?” she asked. His eyes were so blue. Like the sky on a summer's day, free of clouds and going on for miles.

“Why what?”

He blinked, she smiled as she watched, reached out her own hand to play with his hair, falling loose from his bun, into his face.

“Why did you want to marry me? Some...romantic notion? Some idea that marriage should be for love and not about property?”

“I do love you,” he said, trying to parse out the words, “But...” He frowned. “I love you, but that's not why I want to marry you.”

Fiona stared, feeling her face screw up with confusion. She tried to keep it neutral, but she wasn't certain how successful she was.

Maric seemed to note her confusion and tried again. “If...If you're just my lover and the Templars come and decide to take you away from me...for whatever reason, the templars took away the King's elven Orlesian mistress,” He put on a voice, slightly than his natural register, matching the way Eamon and his ilk spoke,“'Oh, how scandalous.' 'What did she do?' 'Serves her right.'” Then he switched back to his normal voice, “The templars take the queen away and some people will think all that. But some will see it as the Orlesian chantry tampering with Ferelden's independence.”

“And what of my people?”

“What of them?”

“If you marry me, those who are angry will not attack the palace. It's too well guarded. The walls too strong. Without a trebuchet, they'd make no dent. They'll attack the alienage.”

“I've seen your people with bows. They can hold their own.”

“Weapons are banned, Maric. By order of the Arl. Adaia has her bow because she can hide it. Her daggers because she can hide them. If a guard caught her with them, she could be hung...Hanged?”

“Hanged,” Maric said softly, “We could hire guards.”

“Hire guards for elves, and the commoners will riot even before they know why you hired them. 'You protect those knife ears, but not us?'”

“If it's a law the Arl made himself, not the Landsmeet, I can override it.”

“And if you do that, not only will you step on the Arl's toes, there's still the matter of bows. Of weapons. My people can barely afford food. How do they buy a bow and arrows?”

“They could make their own. That tree in the center of the alienage-”

Fiona felt a jolt of rage at Maric's ignorance, “Is /sacred/.”

He seemed to 'jump' a little in his skin, jerk back slightly. “Oh...I...had no idea.”

There was silence for a long stretch of time.

Then, Fiona spoke again, slowly, carefully, “If we could...work it out, I would...consider your previous offer. If it is still open.”

It took three seconds for the spark of understanding to enter Maric's face, to change his expression.

“You'll marry me?”

Fiona nodded, “I have conditions, of course.”

“Conditions?”

“Alistair must be given a title and land to provide for himself. Even if the landsmeet legitimizes him and he becomes a prince. He must be able to provide for himself. Especially if...If that man's maltreatment has lasting effects.”

“Done.”

“The Hahren of each of the alienages in Ferelden must be paid. If a family can afford it, to pay the Hahren before a wedding is traditional. To help others in the community.”

Maric nodded.

“And...” she swallowed, “You must allow me to attempt to make an alliance with the Dalish. To promise that, should Orlais be weak enough in our lifetimes to allow the Dales to be retaken, we will provide aid to do it.”

Maric opened his mouth to speak. Fiona held up a hand.

“Think about it. All of it. Don't...Say yes right away. Think. Talk. If you still wish to marry me in a month's time, tell me. But think first.”

“I know my answer.”

“I want you to make sure. I /need/ you to make sure. I could not take you changing your mind.”

Maric opened his mouth to speak again, but he closed it. Instead, he swallowed. Nodded. Pressed a kiss into Fiona's hair.

Fiona wanted to say that the bruise that still had not fully healed, despite the healing magic she'd used, caused her to stay awake. But it wasn't.

Chapter Text

The sunset in Denerim always looked amazing from on top the tall stone alienage wall.

Adaia was certain it had to be the best spot in all of Thedas to see it.

The yellows, grey-blues, oranges, reds, and purples all coming together into something beautiful.

The view was part of why she'd often sit out here at night, bow beside her, and watch as people shuffled in from work in the palace district.

She could deter shemlen with bad intentions without even raising her bow, most nights.

And should the guard walk close enough to see her there, where she was not supposed to be, all she needed to do was jump down from the wall and stash her bow. She could see them before they could see her.

She could see nearly everyone from where she sat. And she could see Rayna before the woman even got close.

“Fiona sent a message?” she asked the other woman, not quite yelling, but speaking louder than normal, once Rayna was within earshot.

“And a package,” Rayna replied.

Rayna was a short, red-haired, pale-skinned woman, who both worked at the palace, and lived near Leah's shop. Thrice during the time between when Fiona ordered the dress and the ball she'd been sent by Leah to request Fiona for a fitting. And twice more Fiona herself had used her to send messages. Adaia wondered if 'messenger' would soon become her official job, she'd been sent so often.

“I do hope she paid you well.”

“Of course she did,” Rayna said with a smile, tossing up a small cotton draw-string bag to Adaia. “Thirty silver, like always.”

“Thirty silver for a message. I'm surprised every person in the palace isn't rushing to send messages for her. I almost wonder if she doesn't know the exchange rate for sovereigns and royals,” Adaia mused, undoing the knot on the bag, and then pulling open the pursed mouth of the bag. Inside were her ear cuffs, shiny and freshly polished as she placed them onto her lap, and another small sack. She brought it to her mouth and sniffed it gently. “Cloves,” she said aloud, mostly to herself.

“I'll buy them off you,” Rayna said.

“The cuffs?”

“The cloves.”

“Fifteen silver.”

“Done.”

Rayna pulled out her coin purse, and handed up the coins, which Adaia ferreted into her own purse.

Then Adaia tossed down the small sack.

Rayna popped the sack into her coin purse and reclosed it. She frowned, and furrowed her brow as she returned her purse to her hip.

“I think she's just lonely, personally. Poor woman has no one to talk to there. The King works, the Teryn hates her, or I think he hates her, her son is a child, and so is the prince and Lady Anora. Enchanter Fiona might share the King's bed, but I highly doubt she gets to share much of his time. But she can't talk to us. Because of silly Noble rules. So she pays me to send messages, knowing every day I'll come up and check if she has any, because it means coin...”

“You should not speak so casually about your King,” Adaia said.

Rayna smiled, “That's true,” she agreed. “Though in all honesty, I'd not be surprised if the whole of the alienage knew with how those two behave. And with how eager Prince Cailan seems to be to tell everyone who will listen about his new brother. The boy has bragged about it to nearly everyone. I only hope he will be more discrete about state secrets when he comes of age.”

Adaia laughed.

Rayna began to walk away, but then she stopped. “Oh! I nearly forgot to give you the message. Fiona would like it, if possible for you to come to the palace tomorrow. She says to bring Da'assan and Shianni, if you're sitting her, if it makes it easier for you to come. She also says if you can't come to tell me so I can tell her.”

“I'll come,” Adaia said. “Did she give a time?”

“No.”

“Pity. Is ten too early do you think?”

“If you come at ten you might get invited to breakfast. And the King would be there... So...it depends on how you feel about that.”

Adaia shrugged. “I'll have to think about it.

“I'll tell her,” Rayna said. She smiled brightly and turned around to walk home again. Then she turned her head once more. “I think she really likes you.”

Adaia could not help but smile at that.

She turned back around to face the sunset again, marveling at the colors, utterly contented.


Letting herself get punched in the face was probably not a good idea.

She'd been so certain it was a good idea in the moment. Better to get punched, and be seen to be the victim, the innocent victim; not the scary mage. But now, her face was still bruised, not a bright purple bruise like it would have been without the healing magic, but an ugly, yellowing bruise that hurt when she chewed. She regretted not having eaten before the ball, as the bruise made it all the more difficult to eat now. Fuck Eamon.

Instead, she sipped at the mint tea in her large earthenware mug, and did not eat, as she waited for the peppermint oil she'd rubbed gently onto the bruise to cool the spot and ease the pain so she could eat.

“Adaia may bring her daughter to the palace,” Fiona told Cailan across the breakfast table.

“How old is she?” Cailan asked.

“About Alistair's age. Her name is Da'assan.”

Cailan laughed, “What kind of a name is Da'assan?”

Silence for four breaths, then Fiona pursed her lips and looked at him dead in the eye. He looked away.

“It's an /elven/ name. Because she's an elf. Just as your name is-” She glanced at Maric, who paused in raising his goblet to his lips, “It is Fereldan, is it not?”

“Alamarri,” Maric said softly, before finishing the motion, and taking a sip. He swallowed and spoke again, “His name is Alamarri. It means 'descendant of Calenhad' in the old tongue.”

Beneath the table, he placed a free hand on Fiona's hand, and stroked the top of it gently. She pulled it away.

“That,” she said. “Apologize.”

“Sorry,” Cailan said, looking down at his plate, his ears turning pink.

Fiona nodded, and sighed, before glancing down at her own plate.

Alistair, across the table was nearly done with what his father had cut up for him, so she reached for his plate to refill it from her own. He began to shriek and cry almost instantly as she did so, so loudly Cailan covered his ears at the noise, so she took the last few pieces of bread and fruit and set them down on the table before him, which quieted him. She set his now empty plate in front of herself, and rubbed at her brow before returning to her task at hand.

She cut up an apple slice, and some pain perdu, she did not know the name for it in the Kings Tongue, and spooned a serving of eggs back onto his plate. She set it down in front of him, and picked up the two pieces of bread still on the table. He began to scream again, until she set them back on his plate.

She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. She wanted to eat. She wanted to do /anything/ but she couldn't. Instead she drained her mug of mint tea, and let out a half sob. She picked up a fruit bun, and then, still holding it, left the table, and then the great hall.

She walked up the staircase back up to Maric's chambers, and locked the door behind her.

She set the fruit bun down on the desk in the left hand corner of the room, and then clenched and unclenched her fists, her jaw.

Almost immediately, the negative voice within her began again. 'A good stepmother wouldn't be mad at him for that mistake. A good mother wouldn't get mad at a child for yelling and crying.'

She walked over to the bed, and laid down across it, spreading her arms and legs out as far as they'd go, like a star.

She'd just wanted to bloody have something to eat, but she couldn't even have that.

She grabbed the pillow on Maric's side of the bed and held it over her face as she let out a half-sob. She laid there like that for nearly ten minutes, calming herself and trying to quash the negative voice, before she stood, and changed into her clothes for the day, her smocked grey velvet dress, setting her old things in the laundry basket.

The peppermint had numbed it a little, but not much. Pity.

She was a Warden....Had been a Warden, rather. She should be able to push past this pain to eat, shouldn't she? Especially considering being a Warden meant one was constantly hungry.

There was a rap at the chamber door. She walked over to it, and she opened it.

Maric stood outside it. She stepped aside and let him in.

“You're angry at me,” he said, as he walked towards his dresser. He half turned in front of it, so he could see both her and the dresser. From it he pulled a grey suede doublet, and pulled it on.

Fiona simply blinked at him. “Am I?”

“Fiona, please let me know if you're mad at me. I want to fix it.”

A bolt of anger. Of rage. As potent as lightening.

She raised her voice, “I shouldn't have to be the only one who tells Cailan, or Loghain or Anora, or...anyone else I have to interact with that they're being a bigot. I have to deal with racism every single day! Even in the Wardens, even when I was supposed to be the equal of any man, noble or not, I was marked as less than by virtue of being an elf or a mage, or both. I don't speak my language, or know our gods, and I didn't get to live in an alienage with my people for much of my life, or anything else because of bigotry. I was stuck in what amounts a prison for years because of bigotry. I should...I shouldn't have to be the one to say these things. If we're going to be married, you need to step up and tell people this yourself. If you're going to love me, if you're going to be married to me, you need to know this isn't going to be like being married to...to Rowan. She was human. I'm not. She wasn't a mage. I am. If we are going to be married, if we are going to be happy, you need to understand that and pick up some of this for me. I shouldn't be the only one. You tell Loghain his daughter was racist. You tell Cailan not to mock Elven names. You tell people these things just as much as I do.” She felt tears well in her eyes and tried to fight them back.

He looked stunned, confused...almost sad. “I'm sorry...I...I thought it wasn't my place. I'm...human. I didn't... I thought it was better you said. I'm human and I don't understand and I thought...I thought it'd be wrong for me to.... I'm sorry.”

Silence. A coldness between them for nearly a full minute.

He held out a hand, and Fiona took it.

“You are only human...Humans make mistakes,” she said softly, letting a smile crack at him though she still felt anger. “Just... I do not wish to be alone in this.”

“Humans make mistakes? What of elves?” he teased.

“Some elves might. I don't though. I'm perfect,” she teased back.

“You are,” he agreed. He went to kiss her cheek, but she held out a light brown hand to stop him.

“Still sore?” he asked, eyeing the yellowing bruise, reaching out a hand to touch it gently. Fiona smiled as he touched it, his fingertips feather light, despite the sting.

“Yes.”

“If it doesn't heal enough to let you eat, try some willow bark tea. When I got hurt as a child, Wilhelm gave me gallons of the stuff.”

Fiona nodded and smiled. “I might. Thank you.”

Alistair's mother held him in her arms as they sat out on the palace steps, a purple cloak, his father's, wrapped around himself and her.

A large hedge hid them mostly from view, but, had he been turned the other way, he could have seen people and carriages and horses passing by through gaps in the plants.

He'd had a nightmare the night before that still haunted him even now, of darkspawn and archdemons and other monsters Cailan had told him about, and so he clung onto her, and to anything comforting.

“What am I going to do with you?” she asked. Her tone was gentle, but she sounded tired. She rubbed at her large brown eyes with the tips of her fingers, and yawned.

She took a sip from the mug next to her, the warm, steaming liquid, and then picked at a piece of a fruit bun, popping it into her mouth.

Alistair made a grabbing motion towards the bun, nearly knocking his hand into his mother's mug instead. She grabbed at his hand, holding them in one of her own for a moment, before letting them go.

“Use your words,” she said. “Tell me what you want.”

“I want some,” Alistair said, though his words did not come out as clearly as he meant for them to.

She sighed, and broke off a piece of her bun, and handed it to him.

“But the rest is for me,” she said. “You had breakfast. I've not eaten yet.”

Alistair munched at his bit of bun. His mother let out a groan and cupped the side of her face shaking her head gently, before she sighed and reached a hand down to her side to pick up her mug and take a sip.

Then, she broke off a piece of the bun for herself and placed it into her mouth. She winced as she chewed, and mumbled something under her breath Alistair didn't quite catch.

She gently brushed her fingers through his wavy hair. He heard her let out a small breath of laughter as he pulled his hair to the top of his head as though she were about to put it up. “Your hair is longer than mine,” she said.

Alistair laughed, but he didn't know why. Perhaps just the way she said her words. With happiness for the first time that day.

“Looks like it's about to rain,” a woman's voice called out from the edges of the hedge.

All Alistair could see of her was the brown pinstripe of her dress, and two small hands in each of her's, one brown like her's, the other pale like Cailan's.

“Yes it does. All the more reason to get the children inside,” Alistair's mother agreed, setting him down so she could stand. He began to cry.

She stood up, picked up her mug and her bun. She placed the bun into the tea, then picked him back up with a sigh, shaking her head.

“Let her in,” she told one of the guards by the gate.

The man gave her a look Alistair could not read, shook his head, and then did as he was said.

Alistair recognized the woman who entered, and one of the little girls who grasped her hand so tightly.

His mother had gone to her home the night she'd woken him up from his sleep. He'd met one of the little girls too. The woman wore a brown pinstripe kirtle over a pale green and white plaid blouse. Her hair, red and separated into many strands had been wrapped into a large bun, covered with simple scarf. The two girls both wore simple dresses of yellow-dyed wool.

“Cyrion told me you getting punched. Didn't expect it to bruise.”

Alistair's mother smiled. “Nor did I.”

“It looks good.

“Truly?”

“Yes. Makes you look tough,” the woman teased with a kind grin.

“Well thank you,” his mother said, smirking. She shifted on her feet, and turned towards the door. “He won't stop screaming when I put him down today,” Alistair's mother said to her. “he will have to stay with us.”

“What's this about, Fiona?” Adaia asked, following Alistair's mother into the palace as a guard opened the large door for her.

Alistair's mother did not answer. She walked straight down a hallway, then took a left and walked into the great hall, where Cailan sat at one of the large tables.

He looked up at Fiona, the woman with her, Alistair, and the two girls.

Cailan grinned at the sight of the other children and, as though he were a liquid or a beam of light, seemed to practically spill out of his seat on the bench and ran over to them.

“Hi! I'm Cailan,” he said beaming widely.

The pale girl did not smile at him, cowering into the woman instead, but the darker girl did, beaming a smile that seemed like pure light in it's own right. “'M'Da'assan,” she pointed to the other girl, “She's Shianni.” She spoke better than Alistair himself did, but lisped slightly when she spoke. “She's shy.”

“Ali's shy too,” Cailan told her, pointing to Alistair. “Shi-anni,” he said, trying to say the girl's name, “Da'assan. Did I say it?” he asked.

Da'assan nodded wildly, her numerous red braids moving as she did. “Cailan,” she said.

It was Cailan's time to nod now.

He held his arms out to Alistair's mother to hold Alistair himself, and Fiona began to hold him out, but Alistair fought and shook his head, and whined so vigorously that she brought him back to her chest. “He is staying with us, I suppose.” She began to walk to the other door to the great hall, and the woman began to follow her.

“Behave,” the woman said to the two girls, who chorused that they would.

“He's so clingy today,” Alistair's mother said, “I was hoping we would meet alone, but it seems he's just...” She stopped speaking, stopped walking, and took a moment to adjust him as he slipped.

The other woman held out her hands towards Alistair, just as Cailan had done.

Alistair considered the woman for a moment, and, deciding she was safe enough, crawled from his mother's arms to her's.

“Adaia you are too good a person,” Alistair's mother said. She rubbed her free hand against the wrist of the hand holding her mug, then switched the mug, and repeated the same action on the other wrist, and began to walk again.

“Good enough of a person to find out what's going on?”

“Good enough once we're somewhere safe to talk,” Alistair's mother agreed.

They took two lefts and a right, until they reached a door in a part of the palace where Alistair had never been.. Alistair's mother opened the door and stepped inside, gesturing with a hand for Adaia to follow her inside. Adaia did, and Fiona closed the door behind them and locked it.

It was a small room, for the most part undecorated, with only a small table and four chairs, on which rested plates of rolls, nuts, fruits, and other easy-to-eat foods, two candlesticks in silver holders, two wine glasses, and two bottles of wine.

The scuff marks on the floor, and the disturbance of the dust, made it clear the table had been brought inside only fairly recently.

“Well, at least if you're going to kill me in here, I'll get to eat first,” Adaia joked.

Alistair's mother laughed, “It is bleak, isn't it? With more time, perhaps I would have decorated. It is rare for someone to come to this end of the palace, however. That is what is important.”

Adaia walked to the table, pulled out a chair, and sat down, setting Alistair on her knee.

“Are you pregnant?”

The face Alistair's mother made was amazing. Her large eyes got even larger, a rush of pink came to her cheeks and her mouth opened enough for him to see the bottom of her two front teeth from behind her lips. She looked terrified for a moment, then spoke, “Maker, I hope not.”

She walked over to a chair, pulled it out, and set down her mug. Then, she removed her purple cloak and placed it onto the back of her chair. She conjured fire into her hand and lit the two candles carefully before making the fire in her hand disappear.

Adaia looked impressed. Alistair scooted out of her arms, and over to his mother, specifically the empty seat next to her. His mother pulled out the chair for him. He rested his head against her once he'd sat down.

“Does King Maric know you stole his cloak?”

“He insisted I take it. No hearth,” she gestured around them. “He's always scared I will freeze, I think. As though I'm some Orlesian flower.”

“You are an Orlesian flower. An Orlesian flower who was a warden, true, but an Orlesian flower none the less. You have to be a flower when you're as pretty as you are.” Adaia reached for a pear, glanced at Alistair's mother, who nodded. She picked it up, took a bite, chewed, and then set it onto her plate.

“I'm pretty? I'm pretty when you're...you?” His mother laughed. “You are far prettier than I.”

“Okay, that's fair,” Adaia agreed, laughing as well.

They sat in silence a few moments, Alistair's mother finishing her tea, and then, picking up a spoon to eat the now soggy fruit roll from the dredges of it, Adaia finishing her pear, before Alistair's mother cleared her throat, and spoke again.

“If you had all the money, could guarantee all the weapons you needed, and all the people, how would you defend the alienage?”

“What do you mean?”

“Say it were under attack-”

“By?”

“Darkspawn. Angry shemlen. A rampaging pack of griffons. What does it matter?”

“It matters.”

“Angry shemlen.”

Adaia thought for a few moments before her expression turned from mirth to anger. “He's going to announce you're his mistress to court, isn't he?”

Alistair's mother swallowed and shook her head. “We're...engaged...nearly engaged,” she whispered, looking away from Adaia.

Adaia took in a hiss of air through her teeth. “You're engaged.”

“Nearly.”

“You're engaged to be married.”

“Yes.”

“You're engaged to be married to a /shemlen/.”

“Yes.”

“You're engaged to be married to a /shemlen king/.”

“Dear Maker, Adaia, yes!” Alistair's mother said, raising her voice slightly. She took a breath, and calmed herself a little, closing her large brown eyes, before she opened them again. Alistair shifted in Adaia's arms, and reached for a cookie on a plate. Adaia handed it to him, her eyes still fixed on Fiona. “I know it is...not the best decision...that there will be...repercussions. But this needs to be done. For me. For Alistair. For our people. And I wish for them to be as safe as I can possibly make them.”

Adaia reached for one of the wine bottles and opened it, pouring some wine into a glass, and taking a sip. She set it back onto the table. Alistair's mother reached for it, poured herself one as well, and did the same.

“What do you get from marrying him?”

“To be with the man I love. Protection, and a title and property for Alistair. Protection from the Circle for me. Money for the alienages. And, if we are very very lucky, the Dales.”

Adaia drained her glass, and seemed to replay the words Fiona had said in her head, then, her head snapped up, “Explain that please?”

It was hard to work without Loghain keeping him on track. It was part of why he delegated so often.

Maric honestly had no doubt Loghain, were he here, would say that it was hard to get Maric to work even /when/ he was there. And that was fair enough. Reading was difficult for Maric, letters would shift or seem to scramble as he tried to read them.

But he wanted to work now. Stay focused now.

It would distract him from everything else on his mind.

He shuffled the stack of parchment and papers into a rough pile, and then began to card through it.

The papers were primarily requests from nobles across the land. To have Maric mediate disagreements, or agree to expand their holdings at the death of their neighbor's line, or for him to please intercede on their behalf about something or another.

He skimmed the first paper on the stack, a request from a noblewoman to have a nobleman banned from court events because he'd been harassing her daughter, and quickly signed his name to approve it, then, he set it on to top of his desk to dry, moving onto the next one.

That was, in all honesty, the only paper in the first twenty or so he finished that he remembered anywhere near well. Two were land disputes, another was a request Maric intercede in getting an Orlesian Marquis to return a dowry paid to him for a marriage contract he now refused to enter, and twelve or more were entirely about the supposed theft of property from multiple nobles by a itinerant knight by the name of Barrows.

He smiled as he reached the last paper in the stack, recognizing the hand that wrote it.

It was written in a way that was both very messy and very careful, the way only a child's hand could be.

Cailan wrote it.

It was hard to read in places, splotches of ink covered bits of letters, making it hard to make out what it said, but after a few readings he'd understood it.

It was a request that Maric consider giving a 'pention' as Cailan had spelt it, to the Elves who'd served in the army, one they were currently lacking.

He reached for his quill again, to sign his name, then stopped and smiled.

This...This was very good. Very good indeed.

He'd need to tell Fiona before he continued. And speak to Loghain.

Chapter Text

“I don't like it, Adaia,” Cyrion said. He stirred the kettle of soup on the hearth, before sitting back down at the table. Da'assan ran over to him and clambered into his lap, pulling him into a hug and cuddling against him. He smiled despite himself, and that made Adaia smile too, covering her grin with her hand.

“I'm sure Fiona will utterly change her mind about marrying a king simply because you don't like it, Cyrion. I'll make sure to give her your opinion next time I see her.”

“There's no need to act like that.”

Adaia leaned forward, still grinning. “Act like what? I'm just saying, it's none of our business if she wants to marry a shem, king or not.”

Cyrion looked away from Adaia, and began to, carefully, braid together the, far smaller, braids Da'assan wore her hair in.“I'd still rather her marry one of her own. And she has no one to look out for her. We’re the closest she has. If you're going to become friendly with her, then you should look out for her.”

“I am looking out for her. You've got to face facts.”

“Face facts about what?”

“She's a twenty-eight year old woman, with a half-shem son, she's a mage, she’s Orlesian, she's got no family outside her son, she's got no hahren to vouch for her, since goodness knows Valendrian wouldn't support her, and she's currently /intimate/ with the king, and unlikely to stop any time soon. Name one person, not even a man, one person, here who'd be willing to marry her.”

“My cousin Seth.”

“Your cousin Seth's a thief and a liar.”

“You didn't say it had to be a good prospect, Adaia,” Cyrion said with a smirk, looking up again.

Adaia smiled back and rolled her eyes as she did, pulling off a hunk of bread from the loaf on the table, and popping it into her mouth. She closed her eyes, tasting the honey and citrus in it.

“It's good, isn't it?” Cyrion asked.

“Amazing. You're going to make it for Bann Mac Eanraig?”

Cyrion shook his head. “I'm thinking Teyrn Loghain, the next time there's work to be had at his home. One of the women who works for him is with child. She'll be leaving soon. He pays better than the Bann. It'd be nice to work more than just parties. Imagine serving him this with white flour. He'll hire me on the spot,” He reached for a hunk of bread too, and took a bite, before he changed back to the subject at hand,“You support her marrying him?” Cyrion asked.

“I don't support it, but I think it's the best possible choice she can make in a bad situation. Plus, the Dales. It's that or be alone; leave herself vulnerable, leave Alistair vulnerable. Say they got married. They were together for a few years, long enough time for the Prince to grow into a man. Say the king died. The prince would fight tooth and nail to keep her at the palace as his adviser. He loves that woman already. He'll be loyal to her. Keep her out of the Circle. Now, same situation, but Fiona ends things with the King. Marries...I don't know... Seth.”

“She wouldn't marry Seth.”

“I know she wouldn't marry Seth. No one would marry Seth. But say she does. And say they end up having a few kids. Still pretty young. And then the King dies. Even if the Prince, now the king, adores Fiona, he won't adore her in the same way. She's not his stepmother. She's a friend of his father's. His brother's mom. He'll probably try to keep her on, but the fight won't be personal in the same way. And those kids she has with Seth? Would probably never see their mother again. This is the best option for her, at the very least.”

“I don't like it.”

“Good thing you're not the one marrying the King then,” Adaia reached for her glass, and took a sip of her.

Cyrion groaned, “There has to be another way. What if her parents were alive? What would they think?”

Adaia leaned forward, for the first time there was no mirth in her expression, only anger. “Who cares what they'd think? For all we know they're the whole reason she was in the Circle in the first place. For all we know, her powers started, and they called the Templars themselves. Forgive me if I don't care what they think.”

Cyrion reached for another piece of bread, handed it to Da'assan, and then pulled off another chunk for himself. “Do you have proof of that?

“No, I don't. But she's never talked about them. And you have no proof they'd be against her marrying King Maric.”

“If we don't marry our own, Adaia, we'll die out.”

“She has no obligation to marry an elven man when she's got a much better prospect who /loves her/. If she had two suitors, and one was an elf, even with King Maric as the other, yes, I'd tell her to marry the elf. But she doesn't. You're saying she should choose to be single until she can find an elven man who'll marry her. And I don't think that's fair. I want Fiona to marry a man who loves her. I want her to have what we have, Cyrion. A family. A life. A husband who loves her. Children she loves. If a shem gives her that, then let her marry a shem.”

Cyrion did not reply, instead he looked down at Da'assan's hair, as though he had to focus on it.

“She's my friend. I want her to have what we have,” Adaia repeated gently.

She reached a hand out across the table rested it there in front of Cyrion. He looked up at her again, and gave her a smile, before he placed his hand on top of her's.

“I don't like it,” he said.

“You don't have to like it,” Adaia said. “Just...Let her be happy.”


Celia sat in front of a small desk in the corner of the bedroom. The desk was tucked away, as though Loghain did not wish for a soul to see it. The sun was down, and few candles were lit, but the hearthfire provided most of her light.

Upon the desk sat six stone bowls, a small one in the center, and the rest slightly larger around it, the six forming a floral shape. Next to them on their right sat a pitcher of water and a candle for light. On their left, a small silver box, and a bottle of whiskey.

Celia's hands sat flat on the desk, her fingers splayed slightly. She closed her eyes, and took a breath. Set her lips into a straight, flat line, then opened her eyes again.

She opened one of the desk drawers, then, not finding what she sought, opened a second, and pulled from it a leather pouch. Then, she set it down upon the desk and pulled out another. And a third. And more, until there were five upon the desk, and a sixth within her hand.

She pulled open the bag within her hand, and from it pulled small pinch of dried rose petals. She placed these into the center bowl. She reached for the pitcher, and, half standing to keep herself from spilling, she poured just enough water into the bowl to cover the dry petals. She returned the pitcher, and sat again. Then she began to speak, her voice just loud enough for herself to hear.

“Sky Mother, as your water does nourish our bodies, our crops, our fields, our lands, let your love nourish our spirits.”

She returned the pouch to the drawer, and reached for another pouch. From it she removed an arrowhead, and placed it into a bowl to the bottom left of the center. She then dipped her fingers gently into the center bowl, and let the water from them drip down upon the arrowhead.

“Tinun, protect our shores from our enemies, and our nights from the silence of death. Let our dogs, your watchers, our ever faithful companions protect us from those who will do us harm.”

She set aside the now empty pouch, and reached for another from the pile. She opened it, and pulled a large chunk of quartz. Again, she dipped her fingers into the center bowl, and again, she let the water upon them fall onto the object.

“Korth, make our fields fertile and our lands workable. Make our ground soft, and easy to plow. Let us not grow weary of our labors, though they be many.”

She set that one aside as well, and opened another pouch, shaking the bag slightly until one of the contents of it fell into her hand. A very small, very delicate looking, snail shell.

Holding the small shell in her hand, she then reached for the top bowl, and brought it to herself, kissing it before placing it into the bowl. She poured a small amount of water into the bowl.

“Oh Braven, watch over those who travel your sea, keep them safe from storms, and blessed with plentiful fish.”

She returned the bag back to the drawer, and then picked up, and opened the second to last bag.

She did not reach into the bag, instead, she opened it, rose slightly, and poured it into the top right bowl. From the bag split dried stinging nettles, and raspberry leaves. She closed the sack, returned it to the drawer, and sat down again. Then she reached for the silver box, and opened it, pulling out a match, before closing it again. She struck the match onto the box, and then, when it was lit, dropped the match into the dried herbs.

“Oh Riwa, keep those who are heavy with child safe. Ease their pain and make their labors short. Keep my daughter safe, and healthy.”

Finally, she opened the last bag. It contained, simply woodshavings and a few branches, broken up into pieces small enough to fit within the bag. She placed them into the final bowl. She stood fully now, bracing herself slightly with her left hand. She reached for the whiskey bottle and leaned heavily on the desk as she opened it. She took a long swig of it, then poured the alcohol over the wood. She closed the decanter, and returned it to where it'd been, before she opened the silver matchbox again, and struck another match. She lit it, and then tossed it into the bowl.

“Cimue, may those who wander the woods at night never become lost in your domain, and may those who share a bed for the night take pleasure in each other's embrace under your watchful eyes.” She closed her eyes, and then spoke once more.

She let the flames in the bowls burn for a few moments, before dousing them.

Then, she heard the sound of Loghain's heavy footsteps coming up the stairs.

He opened the door and walked into the room. There was a flash of anger, annoyance perhaps?, at Celia's presence in his expression, but only for a moment.

Celia moved to begin to put away the pouches, but Loghain, spoke, stopping her.

“Leave them,” he said softly. “I...have not prayed in days, and I should...” He seemed distressed, his hands clenching and unclenching, his weight shifting on his still-booted feet, but he did not move to sit down. To remove his boots, or begin to change from his fine clothes to the ones he wore at night to sleep.

She'd never seen him like this. Not that she knew him well enough to see him in all that many moods. But this was not even close to moods she'd seen before.

'What would you do if he were Fredrick?' a voice inside her asked.

“Something is wrong,” she said to Loghain, leaning on her cane to rise from her chair. She pushed it in with her hip, and walked towards him. When she reached him, she held out a hand to cup his cheek.

“Maric is marrying her,” he said solemnly. “It is only a matter of a few details now.”

“Are you certain?”

He nodded. “She wants him to think for two weeks, to make sure he truly wishes to marry her, but...He will say yes. I know he will say yes. He loves her.”

“I'm sorry,” Celia said, voice low, soft. She leaned in, paused a moment, to ensure her husband did not mind, and kissed him gently on his cheek, resting her head near his when she pulled away.

“She...Fiona. I will admit she makes him happy. She is sensible, Cailan cares for her. Her son ensures a second heir. I am glad Maric has found someone. If a man deserves a chance to be happy, it is him. I simply wish...” He trailed off, and did not finish his sentence.

He instead leaned down slightly, and kissed Celia almost chastely on the lips.

“Perhaps the gods have a different will for you,” Celia told him.

“Perhaps,” he said, but his voice did not seem to agree.

The palace chapel offered Maric as much succor and safe-harbor as any chantry in Thedas filled with priestesses might.

Even with the Orlesian opulence the Usurper built it with, it still felt like...like coming home every time he entered, the gold and the mosaic tiled floor, and the ever-watching eyes of the statue of Andraste-the-Warrior.

He walked in slowly. There was a tension here today. Or perhaps the tension was within himself. He felt like he could not breathe as Andraste looked upon him, but he forced himself to anyway.

He walked past the tall statue that took up most of the aisle, and walked to the first pew on the right.

It was then he noticed he was not alone.

Ailis stood near the front of the of the chapel, stoking the pyre. She turned at the sound of his footsteps.

“If you wish to be alone, your Majesty, I will leave.”

Maric shook his head and he swallowed, “No, I...think it's better you stay.”

She placed the last bit of wood she'd been feeding the pyre onto it and turned to him. There was concern on her motherly face. “Is there something wrong?”

Maric sat down in the pew as she asked, leaving enough space near the aisle for her to sit beside him if she chose.

“Does the Chant of Light say if it is wrong...” He trailed off, and took a breath. “One of Andraste's daughters married a Magister, did she not?”

Ailis laughed, but it was a tight, weak thing which ended with a cough before she spoke again. “She fell in love with one. Ran off with one, but it is not clear if she married him. The histories of Andraste's life are murky, as are the histories of the lives of her children. There is much myth surrounding her, as you no doubt understand.”

The corners of Maric's lips twitched upwards in a tense, awkward smile. “My mother is dead not even twenty years, and already she is the stuff of legends. I can...very much understand.”

Ailis crossed the room, the skirts of her scarlet, pink, and golden robes moving as she did. She sat down on the pew next to him, and put a hand on his shoulder.

“You are considering ending things with Alistair's mother?”

Maric was silent for almost a minute, so silent he could hear the pyre crackle, and hear his own breathing. “I am considering beginning things with her,” one breath. Two, a sigh,“I asked her to marry me months ago, and she...Last night, she agreed.”

Ailis' silence matched his own.

“Oh,” she said.

He could see the confusion furrow her brow, the momentary tensing and relaxing of her fingers as she smoothed her skirts absently. There was something in her face he could not name, but anger came the closest, but she tried to hide this.

“Are you angry because she is a mage?”

Ailis gave him another tight smile and a pat on the shoulder. “I am not angry. Simply...concerned,” she paused for a few moments, finding the words, “You are a good man, and I am fearful that, perhaps, you are making this choice out of a sense of obligation. That you have not considered what this will do.”

Maric nodded. “I haven't. She has. She has given up so much to care for our son, to be here with me.”

“I am sure having food to eat, a bed to sleep in, fine clothes to wear, all of these are recompense enough. If she is not happy with them-” Ailis said. Maric cut her off.

“They're not. She's given up nearly all she loves because she loves Alistair and she loves me. She's given up her homeland, and her work, and most of her friends... She's sacrificed so much. She's had so little in life before this. And she still gave it up. The least I can do is marry her. Offer her the little protection I can from the templars. From the chantry. Offer her a chance to...Have a life.”

“The chantry is not the enemy, Maric,” Ailis said gently. “They wish to protect people. That is all.”

“No. They aren't the enemy,” he agreed, sighing, “But...Did you see Fiona? When she came back from the Circle? She'd been so...” He shook his head, then glanced around, searching for the words. “The Chantry is not the enemy, but they don't make things pleasant for her either. And...I want her to have the best life she can...I love her.”

There was quiet for nearly five minutes as they sat there. Maric watched the pyre. Studied it. The way the flames flickered and moved and danced.

“How do you plan to marry her?” Ailis asked, rubbing a withered hand across her eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“There are few in the Chantry who would marry a mage to anyone. Some, of course, but few. Even fewer would marry a mage to a King. And even fewer still who would marry an elf to any human.”

Maric frowned, moved in his seat, forced a breath into his lungs, and then let it out with a sigh, rubbing a hand across his face. “I will petition the Grand Cleric to allow me to marry Fiona. And, I hope, she will allow it.” He paused for a moment, “Do you...Would you...Does it bother you? That she is a mage?”

“I am more...offended that she is an elf, in truth. One of Andraste's own daughters married a magister, as you said. But...a human with an elf...That is not in the Chant.”

“What of Andraste and Shartan?”

Ailis laughed, and it lessened the tension slightly. “That is heresy. A legend; though a popular one. I dare say nearly as popular as the one about Andraste owning a mabari.”

“What if it wasn't? If it was found tomorrow to be the truth?”

“One may as well ask 'what if tomorrow the sky were made of cheese?'”

“Many legends are based on fact. What if,” Maric repeated, “Tomorrow you found out the Prophetess and Shartan were together? Proof. Unquestionable proof?”

“I do not know what I would do, My King,” Ailis said in a quavering voice, looking towards the flames. “It...feels profane to even think of it.”

“What is profane about love? A god may love a mortal, but two people of flesh fall in love, and it is wrong because one is a human and the other an elf?”

“The Maker has made us different from another for a reason.”

“Rowan's hair was dark, mine is light. The Maker made us different as well. And yet we were married.”

Ailis, for the first time, seemed truly angry at Maric. She kept it under the slightest veneer of tranquility, but Maric could see the rage. “You are being a child. You know perfectly well the difference, Your Majesty.”

“I truly don't. What makes her so different from me? We are not as different as a lion and a dragon. We are a wolf and a dog. She's wild and trusts few, I am... loving, and docile. A dog and a wolf are the same underneath.”

Ailis did not answer, again. For a few long moments, she did not look at him, instead, again, she stoked the fire. “If you have come to me asking for my blessing to marry her, Your Majesty, you will not get it. And I am certain the same will hold for the Chantry.”

 

Chapter Text

The candles on the table, and fire in the hearth were not bright enough to fill the whole of Valendrian's home with light. The flames seemed to avoid the western wall, where his bed and his doorway sat, cloaking it in shadow.

Adaia brought her tin flagon to her lips, and took a sip of the beer within it. She did not look at Valendrian, who stood across from her, leaning forward slightly, a hand on the back of a roughly made chair, helping support him.

“You're not listening to me, da'len.” His face was reddened, and his voice was slightly raised.

His sister sat in the corner of the room, working on embroidery and seemed entirely disinterested in their heated debate.

Adaia put down her glass again, perhaps a little more forcefully than she should, “You're maybe five years older than me, Valendrian. Your being hahren doesn't make me a child.”

His hand not on the chair clenched, into a fist. “You're not listening.”

His forehead creased. He pressed his lips together, narrowed his eyes.

Adaia gave an angry, bitter laugh. “I am listening. You both think Fiona isn't one of us, so you refuse to help her find a husband you find satisfactory, but you also think she has a responsibility to us to not marry King Maric because you don't like him. You want me to convince her of this. And, like I said before, I refuse.” She crossed her arms, and then uncrossed them.

Valendrian sucked in a breath through his teeth. He leaned forward further. He gestured with his free hand as he spoke.“She is an elf. But I'm not her hahren. I have enough trouble-”

Adaia leaned forward in her chair now, bringing her face closer to Valendrian's. She pushed herself up slightly on both arms,“You just don't like the fact that she's had a son with a human man.”

“Don't interrupt me, Adaia!” Valendrian said, raising his voice. He walked around the table to where she sat. She took another sip of her beer, and turned away from him.

She put down her glass.

“If it isn't her son that's the problem then explain Dev.”

“Dev has nothing to do with this.”

“Dev's parents died, and you told her you'd find her a husband to take care of her. She had Slim, and then you stopped looking. The only reason she's not living in the streets is Slim's stealing and his father's gifts to her.”

Valendrian clenched his teeth and closed his eyes. “I don't want our daughters looking at that woman and saying 'she's married a shemlen and she's had a son, and she's queen. I'm going to find a shem husband too.' We'll die out.”

Adaia narrowed her eyes, and sat forward in her seat. She counted out each name on one hand, “I think finding Hana dead at the gates of the alienage, Ceri floating by the ports, never seeing Lailah again, or Sharon, or Mirthadra, or Violet. I think they'll weigh a lot more heavily than one success story.”

“I am asking you to talk to her.”

“You want me to tell her to pick to be alone for the rest of her life because having a human husband might lead one or two girls astray. You're asking me to tell her to deny her son legitimacy. Deny us a chance-”

“It isn't a chance!”

“Of course it fucking is!” Adaia raised a hand in the air, and let it fall down to the table loudly. The Hahren's sister looked up from her work and made a tutting noise before she returned to her project.

“What happens when he gets tired of her? Or, if he doesn't, someone assassinates her? Slips poison into her goblet and she dies? What then?”

Adaia turned her chair away from Valendrian. He moved to stand in front of her. She looked away from him. He reached a hand out towards her. She slapped it away.

“Do you think he'd keep protecting us the way she says he will with her dead? Or do you think there will be city guards at the gates of the alienage before her body is even cold, cutting down people where they stand, mothers with babies in their arms, fathers protecting their sons with their own bodies?”

“That won't happen. I won't let it happen,” Adaia growled. She took a swig of her beer, not even caring that some missed her mouth and dribbled onto her chin. She wiped it away roughly with her fist.

“Do you think it will be like Montsimmard in 8:60? Or Kirkwall in 7:95? Or Cumberland in 7:38?

She set down her glass hard enough that some of the beer splashed out onto her trousers. She wiped at it with the bottom of her shirt. “It. Won't. Happen.”

“-I am asking you to do what I can't. Talk to her to prevent this. To keep all of us safe!”

“We have a chance for a homeland. For security. A chance for two kings who'll support us. Maybe even three! We have a voice with the ear of the king.”

“She's Orlesian.”

Adaia took another long glug from her flagon. “I'm not doing this. I refuse. She's a better chance for us than doing nothing.”

The word came out of Valendrian's mouth like he was spitting it. Like it was poison in his throat he was trying to dislodge. His voice was barely above a whisper, and he murmured it while returning to his seat. “Harellan.” It meant, roughly, traitor.

Adaia looked him dead in the eye, clenching her jaw. She felt tears start to well up along with the anger. “You are Hahren. But it would be wise to remember the only reason you are is because every other person who could have been died in the war. The war you refused to fight in.”

“Being a veteran doesn't make you more loyal than me, Adaia.”

“Every night I stand out there, bow in hand, risking jail, or death, or worse, to protect our people. What do you do? Tell them to cower!”

“I bribe the guards to keep them from harassing us-”

“Fiona and I want to change things. We want to make it so we don't have to bribe them. We want to change the laws. Arm everyone here who can fight. Make it legal to carry weapons. Make sure we know how to use them. Keep ourselves safe that way. You want to keep our daughters safe? That's how we do it. Not by having me tell Fiona not to marry King Maric. We raise bows, and knives, and hammers and make sure the noblemen know we have them. And have them by the King's law.”

Adaia stood up and began to walk towards the door. “I need to put Da'assan to sleep. Good night, Hahren,” she said, forcing her voice to remain calm.

“When they die, will you and that woman attend their funerals, Adaia? Will you apologize to their families?”

“Goodnight,” she repeated. She stepped outside into the moonlight. The air was cool on her overheated skin.

Cailan sat in the pew of the chapel, waiting for Ailis when Anora walked in. Alistair sat next to him, babbling animatedly.

“-killed the dwagon! Stab stab stab.” The boy illustrated his point by thrice banging on the pew with his fist.

“Your mother said Duncan did that?” Cailan asked.

Alistair nodded, grinning wide.

When they heard her footsteps, Cailan turned around, looked at her, then looked away, his body language stiffening and becoming cold. He gestured for Alistair to stay silent. Alistair adopted Cailan's body language, crossing his chubby little arms, and looking away from Anora.

It would have been almost adorable if it had been directed to someone else.

“Only babies hold grudges,” Anora informed Cailan, sitting down next to the boy anyway.

He scooted away from her. “Our fathers are babies for holding grudges against Orlais then?”

“Don't be a fool. That's different. I don't even know why you're still mad. I said sorry.”

“To me.”

“Yes, because you got sulky because of what I said.”

“I don't need you to say sorry to me. Say it to Fiona. She's the one who was hurt by what you said.”

“I don't remember her bawling,” Anora said sharply, before she could stop herself.

Cailan turned as gravely serious as a child could at that moment. He looked at Anora deep in her eyes. She would never in her life forget the way he looked at her, stony faced and hard, like an old man in a little boy's body.

“Everyone hates her. Because she's not like them. Because she's an elf. A mage. Father, and Loghain, and us are nice to her. If we say bad things about her, the people who hate her will hear that and they'll believe it. Use what we say against her.”

“No one heard me.”

“But they might,” Cailan said. He glared at her.

That was true. She knew that. Her father taught her well enough to know that. He was right. There were ears everywhere. Orlesian ears especially.

“I'm sorry,” she repeated, her voice almost a whisper. She looked Cailan in the eye, hoping he could see she meant it.

“Are you sorry for me being angry or because Fiona could have been,” he glanced down at Alistair, and gestured for the boy to cover his ears, which Alistair mimicked, “killed?”

“Both.”

Cailan nodded. “Say sorry to her. And then we can be friends again.”

He turned his attention back to Alistair, making it clear it was now time for Anora to leave and do that.

He made a face at his little brother, making the boy scream with laughter.

It almost made Anora smile.

Fiona carefully loaded the aid bag with various salves, poultices, tinctures and potions. The Fereldan wardens still had not recruited a mage, and Duncan asked her to help ready them for a deep roads trip as a favor.

Fiona smiled across the table at him.“Let me come with you. He can't say he'll marry me if I get gored by an ogre and die.”

“I'm not going to make Alistair suffer because you're afraid of having someone love you.” Duncan laughed.

Fiona sighed. “Spoil sport.”

“When can he say yes?”

“Tomorrow.”

Duncan reached for the bottle of Warden wine beside him. He held the bottle up, wordlessly offering Fiona some. She nodded, pushing her glass towards him.

“Where are you going?”

“Near the Dead Trenches. The Legion of The Dead want to try to retake it, and they wanted support.”

“A dozen Wardens isn't exactly support.” Fiona took a sip of the wine. She smiled at the familiarity of it.

“Jader and Montsimmard are sending about fifty Wardens each.”

“What do you think the odds are of actually retaking it?”

“Zero percent. We could have the greatest general in Thedas plan our attack and we'd still fail. Speaking of, could you ask Loghain to look at the plan for us?” He smirked.

Fiona laughed, “Of all the non-Wardens to tell Warden information to, you would pick him, Duncan?”

“What would he do with it? Tell the Architect? Maric already knows more Warden information than he should and Loghain's only got one friend..”

“Don't be mean to Loghain.”

“You started it.”

“I did,” Fiona agreed.

It took her maybe a half-hour to finish preparing the aid bag. She and Duncan spent most of the time talking about the old days. About the friends they missed, and about how cold Ferelden was compared to Orlais. 'It's almost Cloudreach and we're still getting snow!'

Before she left, Duncan left the room, and returned with a letter from the back office.

“From Weisshaupt. For Maric.”

Fiona touched it.“The wax is still hot.”

Duncan made a face, “Obviously I read it first. I sealed it to make sure Maric doesn't know.”

She turned the letter around in her hand,“What's it say?”

“Tithes from the Crown and other nobles. Begging for money for sealing deep roads entrances. That sort of thing.”

“I'll give it to him,” she said, before pulling Duncan into a hug. “You better live.”

“I'll make sure to. I want to see you in a frilly wedding dress.”

Fiona returned from the Warden compound just after supper began.

Maric watched her as she entered the great hall. She wore her black gown from the ball without a surcoat. She'd borrowed his purple cloak and it flowed behind her as she walked.

In her hands, she held a blueish grey envelope.

When she reached the table, she sat down between Cailan and Alistair, and handed the envelope across to Maric.

“Duncan told me to give this to you,” she said. She smiled at him, and reached beside her to ruffle Alistair's hair.

Maric opened the letter, expecting some Warden update or something. Instead, there was, in legible handwriting, not fancy by any means, but readable, were the words 'The Elven day begins at sunset-Duncan.'

Maric folded up the note and put it into his pocket smiling. Ten more minutes to sunset.

Chapter Text

The purple of the cloak she wore made it hard for Loghain to avoid look up as she walked into the great hall.

It was familiar; the cloak was Maric's after all, and, though he knew the other man sat next to him, for a moment, his mind played tricks on him, making him think it was Maric entering.

She seemed to nearly run towards the table, raising the edge of her black skirt slightly to make such a task easier. A bluish grey envelope was grasped in her right hand.

She slid in, between Alistair and Cailan, and sat down at the table.

After fixing the cloak so she did not sit on the edge of it and have it pull at her neck for the whole of her meal, she ruffled at Alistair's hair, and handed the envelope over to Maric.

“Duncan told me to give this to you,” she said. She smiled at him.

Maric opened the letter as she went to serve herself some of the food on the table.

Loghain, thinking it might be something from the Wardens relevant to he and Maric, leaned over to take a glance at it.

Instead, he saw the words 'The Elven day begins at sunset- Duncan'.

He felt a pang in his gut as Maric folded up the note and put it away.

He swallowed, then cleared his throat, trying to rid himself of the lump developing there.

He reached out for his goblet, and took a long sip of the wine within.

Loghain had taken a mace to the chest before, and yet somehow this hurt more. Even though he knew it would be coming.

He looked across the table at the elven woman who stole Maric's affections. She was smiling as Cailan recounted to her the story of everything he'd done that day. His brother, who sat on her other side, and Anora, from Loghain's side, both chimed in on occasion.

His mind went to the other elf. The traitor. The one Maric killed.

What if this one was a traitor like her?

'If she's a traitor she has more than enough ammunition.'

She didn't try to hide her son from Maric.

She did not hide her Orlesian birth as the other woman had.

And she did not hide her feelings the way all the best bards did.

When one looked at her face, even if she tried to steel herself, one could see what she was feeling.

Loghain finished his wine after a second sip, and then went to stand.

“Anora,” he said slightly more sharply than he intended, “Your mother wants us home before eight,” he said.

He stood. Maric placed a hand on his arm. He looked down at the other man who looked up at him.

“Have a good evening, Loghain,” he said. He smiled at Loghain.

Loghain nodded, and though he did not feel like smiling, he gave a small smile back.

“Good luck,” he whispered, uncertain if the woman across the table could hear.

He walked to the great hall doors, Anora behind him, running to catch up.

She grabbed his hand as they walked out into the hallway.

She wore her light hair in two braided buns over her ears, and a white dress, smocked at the waist, and near the arms.

They walked in near silence to the carriage.

Anora climbed in first, and then Loghain sat next to her.

She leaned her head against his side, and he began to gently stroke at her hair.

When they arrived home, Anora said she'd had enough to eat at the palace, and excused herself to go to bed.

Loghain, on the other hand, walked into the dining hall.

A fairly meager dinner, the sort he'd grown up with before the Orlesians stole his family's farm and killed his mother, was laid out on it.

A porridge of barley, beans, and scraps of beef and pork fat. Meat pies with hot water crusts. Many pickled vegetables.

Celia sat at the head of the table. She smiled when he entered.

“Anora excused herself to bed,” Loghain explained, sitting down beside Celia.

She nodded, “She filled herself on cakes and sweets?”

Loghain shook his head. “She ate an actual meal.”

“Good. I swear, I will not disrespect my King, but what he eats is not good for a person. So much sugar. Meat. Meat should be a compliment to vegetables, not the other way. My mother lived entirely on brown bread, beans, and pickled vegetables and she lived to be a very old woman.”

“The healers all say if the Maker wished for us to eat vegetables, He would make them taste good.”

“Andrastian healers are idiots. The whole of them. They ban mages from their ranks when the Gods clearly gave them their gift to help people.”

“I don't disagree.”

She poured Loghain a glass of small beer, a less alcoholic beer than the sort often served at the palace. He took a sip, and then drained the glass.

That night, he laid with Celia. Only in his mind, she was not Celia. Sometimes, flashes of dark curls, and a jaw a sculptor would ache for. Other times hair as pale as cornsilk, and a face unmistakably the face of a King.

Afterwards, he left bed, and wandered the halls, wondering if he could ever love Celia the way he wished he did. If he could love her the way Maric clearly loved Fiona. Or if his heart would only ever belong to two people. Two people he could not have.
--
Loghain and Anora left the dining hall sometime just before sunset, leaving just Cailan's father, Alistair, and Fiona sitting at the table.

A red-headed elven woman stood by the window on one wall of the great hall, cleaning it, but as far as Cailan could tell, she could not hear them from where she stood.

But otherwise the hall was empty.

Cailan's father was smiling wide. He looked so happy, like...like the monster that hugged his back and stole away his joy had never been there.

“I've made my decision,” said Cailan's father to Fiona. He raised his wine goblet to his mouth and took a sip.

“About?” Fiona asked.

Alistair stole a roll from her plate. She grabbed it out of his hand, returned the roll to her plate, and grabbed another from the center of the table, handing it to him.

“My food. That food anyone may take and yet you take my food?” She shook her head. “What is it about my food that makes it tastier, hm?”

“Ailis tells him not to reach,” Cailan informed her, “When we eat meals together. Maybe he's trying to listen?”

“Ailis,” Fiona said, shaking her head, “I'll have to speak to her.”

“My decision,” Cailan's father interrupted.

“Yes, I apologize,” Fiona looked away from Alistair, and back towards Maric, but she seemed distracted. “Did I pack them bandages?” she mumbled under her breath and looked behind herself to the window the woman wasn't cleaning. “I might need to go back to the Warden compound. I don't remember if I packed bandages.”

“Fiona, Duncan is a smart man, he knows how to pack bandages.”

“But I was supp- I'll send a messenger later. He won't sleep until daybreak a few days before a mission.”

“I've decided I want to marry you,” Cailan's father said softly, before Fiona turned back around to face her plate.

It took a moment for Cailan, and seemingly Fiona herself, to hear what he said.

“Pardon?”

“You said to give it time. A fortnight. To decide if I would marry you,” He pointed at the window, “It was a fortnight as of a few moments ago. And I've decided, Warden-Constable Fiona, I want to marry you.”

Fiona grinned wide, but Cailan might have grinned wider, letting out a loud, excited screech, which, he realised, might have made it impossible for his father to hear what Fiona said to him next.

“Married married married married,” Cailan sang-songed, clapping his hands together.

He doubted Alistair fully understood what was going on, but the small boy quickly joined in Cailan's ruckus and chant. Cailan stood from the table, and began to jump around. He picked up Alistair and began to dance around with the boy.

“They'll never get to sleep now,” Cailan's father said to Fiona, raising his voice to be heard over the din. “I shouldn't have said it in front of them.

But Fiona just smiled.

“Do I call you mother now?” Cailan asked that night, as the four walked upstairs.

Cailan walked behind Fiona and Maric, holding Alistair's hand, and helping the boy up the stairs as she and Maric held each other's hands.

The question took Fiona back slightly. The picture of the portrait of Rowan in the former Queen's study, where Fiona often now sat and read, came into Fiona's head, in it's white and pale blue damask gown, and soft blue eyes so much like Cailan's own. Her dark hair pulled back. Her face stared down at that room, like she was still alive and watching it. Like a protector.

She did not know this woman, but with how much loyalty she commanded even in death, from her husband, from Loghain, from her subjects, and, even if Fiona felt it caused him to do harm, her brother, she felt like she'd like her.

“I will never replace your mother,” Fiona said diplomatically, “And I would not wish to.”

“But I didn't call my mother Mother. I called her Mama, because I was little like Ali,” Cailan said. “It's not the same. You can be my mother, and she can be my mama.”

Fiona glanced at Maric, who shrugged slightly.

“If you would like to,” she began, “I would be honored if you did. But I would highly recommend you call me Fiona, and not Mother around visitors. Especially either of your Uncles. It might...make them very sad. Losing someone you love is very...Difficult. As you know. And it could hurt them, and make them think you have forgotten Queen Rowan.”

She felt tears began to well up in her eyes slightly, and Maric gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

“I agree,” said Maric, “And I would ask Loghain if he would mind you calling her that around him.”

“Can you put me to sleep tonight instead of Alexandra?” Cailan asked, referring to the young woman who put he and Alistair to bed every night.

“Of course,” Fiona said.

They reached the landing with the bedrooms.

Alexandra picked Alistair up.

“Are you ready for bed?” she asked the small boy.

He shook his head. But he rubbed at his eyes with his small fists.

Fiona leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “It's bedtime now. Sleep. Behave for Alexandra.”

Ali started to cry crocodile tears. Alexandra began to stroke the boy's hair and carried him into the room, closing the door with her foot.

Fiona turned to Maric. “Stay up for me?”

He nodded, “Of course. We...Have a lot to talk about.” He smiled, and walked into the bedroom, closing the door behind himself.

It was just Fiona and Cailan now. Cailan stepped into the bedroom, closed his door, and, Fiona swore, it was less than thirty seconds later, opened the door, slightly out of breath and wearing his flannel nightshirt.

“It's not a race,” Fiona said, slipping into the room.

Cailan closed the door behind her, but, he ignored her words and raced for the bed now, falling to the mattress with a muffled thud against the feathers inside it.

“What do elves think happen when you die?”

Fiona laughed, “There is no one elven belief on what happens when one dies. The Dalish and some City elves believe a god of our pantheon, called Falon-Din carries us to rest. But...what to rest means is...argued. And many elves don't even believe in him. What do you think happens?”

Cailan considered the question. “You go to the Maker's side and meet Andraste, and Calenhad, and my grandmother, and my mother, everyone else you love, and get to be happy forever. Do you believe in Falon-Din?”

Fiona shrugged. She sat down on the edge of Cailan's bed down, and pondered it. She reached a hand out, and began to stroke the boy's light hair, “I...Don't think I believe in anything. Any god, at least. I believe in justice. And I believe in charity. There's a word in Elvish that encompasses both. I believe in that. But no gods. And I believe, when one dies, you live on in the memories of people who loved you, and continue to love you. And if you're a very vibrant, powerful person, you...A spirit in the Fade can see you. And take your form, and live on as you. Or close enough to you. And you are remembered. But...” She trailed off, giving Cailan a sad smile, “That likely isn't the answer you wanted to hear.”

“But you don't get dogs.”

She grinned. “Dogs?”

“There are dogs at the Maker's side. Andraste had a mabari, so there has to be at least one dog. I bet he sits on the Maker's lap. And steals venison legs from the feast table there.”

“I think, even with the prospect of dogs, I would not chose for the Maker's side to be true. If I could /chose/ what is true, I would believe in uthenara. The long sleep the Ancient Elves went into. No death, waking up whenever I was needed. That would be what I choose.”

Cailan was silent for a few moments. Fiona continued to stroke his hair. “Do you think Mama is mad that I'm happy you and Father are getting married?”

Fiona considered this too now, “If there is something after, the Maker's side, Falon-Din taking one to rest, whatever else it could be, I would hope that she would like the idea of you finding joy wherever you found it.”

“If you don't believe in gods, then why are you getting married to Father?”

“Because I believe in people. And marriage protects one against people. Not gods.”

Fiona looked slightly tired when she returned to the bedroom about an hour later. She rubbed her eyes, then her mouth, and let out a yawn.

“Ferelden needs a university. If only for he and Anora. He asked me about death, gods, and marriage.”

Maric smiled from bed, where he laid naked, blanket pulled up to his waist.

“What did you say about it?”

“Against it, against them, and grudgingly for it.”

“Succinct. I should have you give me summaries of things the Landsmeet wants me to read now.”

Fiona smirked and began to undress, pulling off first the purple cloak. She folded it carefully, and placed it on a chair. Then, she peeled away her dress and shift, and underskirt, letting them pool at her feet.

When she was in smallclothes, she walked over to the bed.. She pulled her breastband off, and tossed it into the pile, and then did the same with her actual smallclothes proper.

Then she crawled into bed.

“It doesn't make you angry I don't believe, does it?”

“I have faith,” Maric said, “But if I'd been through what you have, I'm not certain I could believe in Him either.”

“Even if I do grow to believe, which I likely won't, it won't be the Maker, you know that, right? My people, we have our own gods.”

“And Loghain has his. We do not speak of it, but...” Maric leaned his head against her shoulder, “Andraste wants her followers to do good in the world. Mother always told me that. Why would I hate a person doing good just because they don't believe in Her husband? The Chantry may not agree, but the Chantry also believed Meghren was Ferelden's rightful ruler. I am faithful to the Chant, but the Chantry is human. It errs. Mother made sure I knew that as well.”

“I love you,” Fiona whispered softly. She reached a hand for his. He took her's and squeezed it.

“I love you too.”

Using her powers, Fiona blew out the candles, and turned off the gas lamp with the murmur of a single word, leaving only the hearth and the crescent moon out the window for them to see by.

Chapter Text

Isolde laid across the chaise lounge, an arm along the back of the small red velvet couch, the other dangling off it, playing with the long pearl necklace she wore. The pearls were not white, but instead black.

Her mask, too, was black. Black enamel, inlaid with onyx. And her gown was dark velvet, with a black ruff and black lace at the waist, wrists, and edge of the skirt.

Ostensibly, she wore it in mourning for a cousin who’d been a recent victim of the Valmonts in the Great Game.

In truth, the young man was a fool for going head to head against Prince Reynaud and his wife, Clarisse. But her family loyalty demanded she at least pretend to care.

In truth, she wore it in mourning for her king. Not her emperor, mind, she still bore some allegiance to Florian, but her king. Her brother-in-law. Maric.

He was under blood magic, of that she was certain. Bewitchment. And that mage whore was the cause of it. They’d told the Circle that on their way to Orlais.

And she was going to make sure every woman at every salon in Orlais knew it.
Isolde knew her husband did not like her homeland as much as his own, but unless they wished to spend the whole of the spring season as pariahs to all but the most unsavory types--like Lord George Aldebrant and Lady Juliana, who had sided with Orlais until the final two months of the way, even choosing to name their son Florian, and Harwen Raleigh who had a reputation for brutally butchering Orlesian soldiers, and Lord Donal, who had a reputation for sniffing women at parties--they needed to go there.

“The elf is a monster. There is no question there,” she whined to Lady Cecilie Vasseur, the hostess of the salon she attended.

Lady Cecilie was a tall, graceful woman in her sixties. She wore a cream colored floral dress with a good amount of décolletage for a woman her age. Near the base of the skirt was beadwork of peacocks, the animal on her late husband’s family heraldry.

A thin linen ecru shawl covered her bare shoulders. Her dark grey hair was worn in loose curls, and as it was day, was neither covered nor worn up. She wore a simple mask of cream colored satin, embroidered with brown flowers.

A woman her age, and in ill health, was given the liberty to wear such a simple mask without it being viewed as a statement of being above the Game.

Next to her sat Lady Jehanne Callier, an acquaintance of Isolde’s, and Lady Cecilie’s junior by nearly forty years. She wore a white linen dress with a very wide skirt, and a tall neck, atop which she wore a ruff that caused her to sit up very straight. She wore a black beaded mask, black lace gloves, and a small black hat like the sort archers in storybooks wore, with a bright peacock’s feather sticking out from the top of it. Her bright red hair was a statement by itself, the lack of the color in her outfit only highlighted it.

A third woman, who Isolde recognized as a comtess, but did not recall the name of, joined the three of them in the room as well.

She was at least Lady Cecilie’s age, if not older, and carried a walking stick of silver. She wore no mask, she must have been even sicker than Lady Cecilie, but instead a tightly woven white mesh veil that hung down from a silver comb that held her pale white bun in place.

Unlike Cecilie, who was round in her old age, and Jehanne, who was rather plump, the Comtess was a thin woman, with bony hands like those of a skeleton.

They were covered with many rings, including a large ruby ring on her left pointer.

She wore green floral taffeta gown with a matching stomacher, and atop it a linen jacket in a darker green, embroidered with roses climbing up it. A dark brown fur lined the edges of it.

Lady Cecilie rolled her eyes behind her mask. “I’m sure the little rabbit is a nightmare, Isolde,” she told Isolde in a very condescending voice.

“She is!” Isolde insisted, “That knife ear stole my husband’s sister’s necklace. Broke his finger when he tried to retrieve it! She has King Maric under blood magic, Eamon and I are certain of it.”

“Oh, Isolde, you poor dear,” said Lady Jehanne in the same tone, her voice almost cooing, the way one spoke to a child, “I’m so sorry you’re suffering through this.”

She placed a hand on Isolde’s shoulder and Isolde violently shrugged it off. “I’m being serious!”

“That backwater has you so eager for gossip a king’s mage has you scared,” Lady Jehanne said with a laugh. She turned from Isolde to Cecilie, who sat beside her, lowering her voice slightly, “Cecilie, you must tell me about this ward of your’s. Prosper met her last month and has been raving about how sweet she is since.”

Cecilie laughed, clapping her hands together excitedly, “Leliana is a delight. You have never met a child with a singing voice like her’s. Part of me almost feels selfish listening to it. Some would say such a voice should only be raised for the Maker. Perhaps He’d turn and listen to hear it. Come,” she said rising, “I’ll introduce you to her.”

Jehanne stood, but both Isolde and the Comtess stayed seated. After a moment, Cecilie and Jehanne left the room to see the girl.

“I am willing to listen more about this elven girl,” said the Comtess, after the sound of footsteps could no longer be heard down the hall.

“Fiona is the last thing Ferelden needs. Twisting Maric. Corrupting his mind.”

If Isolde had looked more closely at the woman, perhaps she would have seen the slight look of recognition on her face.

“She’s Fereldan?” The woman leaned forward in her chair, a small smile playing on her lips.

“No. She’s Montsimmardi street-trash. Skinny and over-muscled, and short. Maric could have any mage he please serve in his court. There are such pretty girls forced in the Circle. Could he not find one with grace? One from a noble family perhaps? He had to steal her from the Wardens? I thought he had more self-control than that. /And/ better taste. He threw my husband and I out of a ball because that girl cried crocodile tears. And that son of her’s.”

“She has a son?” the Comtess asked. “How old?”

“Three. /Alistair/,” Isolde spit the name, “A Fereldan name and a royal father doesn’t make the boy a prince.” Had Isolde been paying attention to her words, and not just ranting aimlessly, she might have noticed she’d let something important slip, but she was in a rage now. “He’s clumsy and stupid. Just what a chimera would be expected to be. If the Maker intended rabbits and humans to be one, a boy like him would be normal. He’s malformed. And so is she.”

Isolde ranted to the Comtess for over a half hour. The woman was sympathetic, and a good listener.
Eventually, however, a rabbit in a mask in Lady Cecilie’s colors entered the room.

“Lady Cecilie isn’t feeling well and must lay down, and she’s asked for me to, Lady Guerrin, Lady De Rais, escort you back to your carriages.” The rabbit smiled. “She asks me to thank you for your visiting her.”

When in Orlais, Eamon and Isolde often stayed in a château in Val Firmin that belonged to Isolde’s uncle, Raymond, who was now too infirmed to live there by himself and instead lived in Mont-de-Glace in a smaller home near the convent where his eldest daughter lived, and had taken her vows.
The ride to it was not particularly far, perhaps an hour at the most, from the countryside near Montsimmard where Cecilie lived.

It was however far from the land where Isolde /should have been/ with her husband.
--
“Hey Fion-”

The words died in Cailan's throat. He didn't even bother to correct himself and call her mother as he'd wished to. He let his hand slack slightly, and let go of Alistair's hand.

There was a bag on the bed. And Fiona was packing it.

The possibility of an innocent reason for it disappeared the moment Cailan saw the look on Fiona's face. Guilt. Shame.

“Hello,” she said forcing a smile. She pushed her fringe out of her face with both hands.

Alistair reached for Cailan's hand again, and brought his other hand to his mouth. He began to suck slightly on his thumb, his small brow furrowing. He noticed too.

“You're leaving?” Cailan asked softly.

“I-” Fiona raised a finger, looked nervous for a moment then nodded. “When your father and I discussed marriage he made me a promise. And, for part of that promise, I must leave.”

“For how long?” Cailan asked.

“No more than two months.”

“Were you going to tell us before you left?”

Fiona took a step forward, took a breath and closed her eyes, then took a step back. She stood there, hands open, at her sides, and shook her head slowly.

“I...wasn't. I'd...thought, perhaps wrongly, that it would hurt less if I were to. Just leave.”

She did not say who it would hurt less, him and Alistair, or herself.

Cailan felt tears begin to well in his eyes. He shut them tight to keep from crying. Wiped the sleeve of his left arm over his face.

He heard the sound of footsteps, and then, when he opened his eyes, Fiona was kneeling in front of him, wiping the hair from his face. With her other hand she stroked Alistair's cheek.

“I did not mean to hurt you,” she whispered, “either of you. I need to do this. My people need me to do this. And you're going to have to be very brave for me, and for your father and Alistair while I'm gone. Are you able to do that?” she still kept her voice low.

“Y-Yes,” Cailan sobbed.

“Good. Thank you very much, Cailan,” she said, giving him a sad smile. “You're a very good boy.”

He smiled despite the tears at the praise.

She scooped up Alistair, who did not fight her, and did not seem to fully understand what was going on, and then looked back at Cailan.

“I need an escort to the market to pick up a few things I need for my trip. Would you be willing to accompany me?” she asked, offering a hand to him.

Cailan took it eagerly, his breathing still ragged from the tears.

“We're going to see if we can go without the guards,” Fiona whispered conspiratorially.

They left the castle through one of the servant's entrances quietly, and began to walk to the market together, Cailan eager to see it without an escort.


There had been a bakery between the Comte’s home and the Chantry he attended every week. It was not the one where the servants bought the daily bread, but a shop that specialized in pastries.

 

They were a special kind of pastry, coated in chocolate and they looked vaguely like Chantry lay-sisters if one squinted.

 

Every week, after he returned home from the Chantry, from saying his prayers like he was a good man, he’d bring her one. When she was really young, the pastry seemed nearly bigger than her.

 

She’d tear into it like she was starving, and the chocolate, still tacky, would coat her fingers. Then it would itself become covered in the crumbs of the choux.

 

She’d lick her fingers clean, watching the Comte watch her.

 

In those moments, when she was so very little especially, she’d think his cruelty must be over. How could a man give her such a treat, look at her with the affection of a father, and still hurt her again.

 

When she got older, she would still eagerly eat the pastry, but any idea she had that he would no longer be cruel disappeared with her hope, and her faith.

 

She smelled the pastry now, on the wind of the market. She almost swore she could feel the chocolate too, on her fingers, the slightly sticky, slightly chalky sensation of it.

 

For a second, she was not a grown woman walking the Denerim market, holding tightly to both of her sons’ hands, but the girl she was so many years ago.

 

She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

 

Ali looked up at her. “You otay, Mama?”

 

Cailan, who’d been gabbing on now stopped and he too looked concerned.

 

“Fiona?”

 

She scanned the market. She needed a moment, and she couldn’t find it while trying to reassure both boys.

 

Across the market, as if sent by the gods, was the young boy from the Alienage who’d tried to steal her coin purse. He was doing the same thing to a Noblewoman in a green dress.

 

She walked as quickly as she could without making Alistair trip over his little feet.

 

She didn’t call out to him, or break into a run. She’d been Duncan’s friend for long enough to know all that would do is make the boy think she was on to him.

 

He noticed her and eyed her warily as she came to a stop in front of him. Two other boys, both fully Elven watched her too.

 

“Slim, was it?” she asked, trying to keep from hyperventilating; the ray of sunshine through the small window of the dungeon. The feel of the stone beneath her small fingers.

 

The boy nodded, still looking disquieted.

 

“I need you to take these two boys back to the palace.”

 

She expected an argument from Cailan and Alistair, but both seemed to understand that this was important.

 

“What do I get out of it?” Slim asked.

 

“Fifty silver each.”

 

The boys didn’t argue. Fiona fished the money out of her coin purse, handed it to each boy. Slim took Alistair by the hand and then they left.

“She your nanny?” the boy, Fiona called him Slim, asked Cailan.

 

“Our mother,” Cailan replied. He glanced behind himself to look for Fiona again, but she was gone. Disappeared into the crowd.

 

“She doesn’t look like /your/ mother,” said one of the other boys with straight blond hair and a lisp.

 

“She’s Ali’s mother. My stepmother.”

 

“What’s your name?” asked Slim.

 

He couldn’t say his real name, could he?

 

“Falon,” he said without thinking.

 

“Falon,” said Slim, his voice making it clear he didn’t buy it.

 

“Yeah. Falon.”

 

“If you’re gonna be King, you gotta learn to be a better liar,” said the third boy who hadn’t yet spoken.

 

“What are you talking about?” asked Slim, narrowing his eyes.

 

“He says the woman we talked to is his stepmom. Adaia told you not to rob her even though she’s a mage. King Maric is fucking a mage. Either there are two mages in the palace, or he’s Prince Cailan.”

 

“Don’t say fuck around them," said the other boy before Slim could speak. "They’re little. You shouldn’t teach them curses.”

 

“I’m not little, I’m eight and a half!” Cailan protested.

 

“Curly,” said Slim to the blond boy with the lisp, panic creeping into his voice, “go get Adaia. Me and Simple will stay here with these two.”

 

“If Adaia takes them to the palace, she might make us give back the coin,” Curly protested.

 

“Would you rather risk getting in trouble because the prince got hurt?” The other boy, Simple asked.

 

Curly clenched his fists and made a face and walked off towards the alienage.

“Have you ever picked a pocket?” Simple asked Cailan after a few moments.

“Isn't that stealing?” Cailan asked quietly.

“Yeah, it is,” Slim interrupted, giving the other boy a look. “He's the prince! You can't talk to him about picking pockets!”

“Slim, think about it,” Simple said, “he's the /prince/. He can pinch, I don't know, a sovereign worth of things and the person he pinches it from can't do nothing! Cuz he's the prince!”

“Andraste will be mad if I steal things!” Cailan protested, “And Fiona and Loghain!”

“Oh. I see. You’re too much of a high and mighty prince to steal things. You’re not like one of us /street rats/. ‘E’s looking down his nose at us, Slim.”

“He is not,” Slim said rolling his eyes, “He’s just little.”

“I’m not little!” Cailan repeated, “I’m eight and a half!” He paused, and then continued, “I can steal something!”

“I don’t believe it,” Simple said.

“You don’t believe it cuz he shouldn’t do it,” Slim said, a smirk playing on his lips.

“I’m going to do it!” said Cailan.

“Fine,” said Simple, “Go steal an orange then. We’ll watch right here.” He pointed to a fruit seller. His stand was five or six crates on a large wooden table beneath the market tent.

Cailan paused, feeling panic set in. Stealing was wrong. But Simple wouldn’t like him, and Slim would think he was a baby if he couldn’t do it.

He walked over slowly to the fruit stand, and, waiting until the man’s back was turned, stole a small orange from the stand, hurrying over to where Slim and Simple stood.

He triumphantly showed off the orange to the other two boys with a wide smile.

“See?” he asked, “I’m not a baby!”

He was tempted to peel the orange and give it to Alistair to hide his crimes, but instead he reached into the pocket slit of his trousers and placed it inside. He’d give it to Anora instead. Wouldn’t she be impressed?

“I see that,” said Slim, “Simple was right. If your ‘mother’ ever lets you come out and play with real kids, not stuck up noble brats, you should play with us. I could teach you to pinch a man’s coin purse without him even blinking.”

“You will do no such thing,” said Adaia’s voice behind them, coming over the din of the crowd. She looked at Slim. “Don’t teach him to do anything, Slim.” She turned to look at Cailan and Alistair with worry, “Where’d Fi go? She just left you?”

Curly went and stood with his other friends, looking slightly scared of the woman.

“She got really upset. And then she asked them to bring us back to the palace. And then ran off.” Cailan said. The worry in Adaia’s voice made him start to worry too. He wanted to cry, but he didn’t want the older boys to mock him for it.

“Mama was crying,” Alistair added.

“We’ll....Get you home to your father...And I will find Fi. And chew her out,” said Adaia, anger creeping into her voice.

She led them home, dropping them just inside the palace gates, muttering something about Fiona needing to be more responsible before it killed her. Cailan didn’t know if the her was Adaia or Fiona herself.

He led Alistair back into the palace, and quickly went off to find Anora.

She sat in the palace chantry, reading a small book titled ‘Lady Aldara’s Foal’.

He tapped her on the shoulder and tossed the orange into the open pages of the book.

“Where’d you get that?” Anora asked, narrowing her eyes in suspicion.

“I nicked it,” Cailan said proudly, beaming wide, his worry about Fiona mostly dissipated at the prospect of Anora’s either annoyance, or pride.

She shook her head, rolled her eyes, and began to peel the fruit, “If you’re going to have me eat something stolen, you and Alistair have to share it with me.”
--
***************************************
Fiona leaned against the wall of the alleyway, her head in her hands, her chin resting on her knees. She tried to catch her breath, stop the tears, calm her breathing.

She was a terrible mother. She could hold actual demons at bay for days, but these memories catch her up within them in a heartbeat? Make her abandon her sons to some street toughs she barely knew? That would be a crime, a sin, even if they were ordinary boys. But they were the children of a King. Didn't she know better? Didn't she know her place?

She could hear the Comte's voice say just that. Except it didn't sound like the Comte. Not exactly. She heard Maric within it. And Loghain.

A man walked by the alley. She swore he stared at her. She did not want to be stared at. She didn't want to have a body. She wanted to be a wraith. No form, no body, nothing to look at, nothing people could hurt. If she had been a wraith, Alistair could not be born, and he could be protected from the horror of her as a mother.

Duncan could be spared her as a friend. He could have proper friends. Friends who he didn't have to stop from throwing themselves out of the window of their room when their baby was only four days old because they could not stop remembering, could not stop hurting.

Maric and Loghain could be happy with one another, or as happy as Loghain could be. She could see that were she not there, they could be.

She wanted to be a wraith. She wanted to be formless, and shapeless and not able to be hurt.

But she wasn't. She could feel the heat and wetness of her tears on her face. She laughed bitterly at that. Heat and wetness. All she was good for.

She pulled her cloak around her tighter.

What would that monster think of her now? Would he have any words to say?

'I'm the reason you're obedient enough a king would even consider marrying you. Do you think he would touch you at night without me training you to be useful?'

Her mind went, without thinking, without wanting to, to Maric's face between her legs. The moon in the window above his left shoulder. Full behind him. The fifteenth. Her hand in his as he brought her pleasure. And suddenly it was tainted. It was wrong. It was wrong.

“Fiona,” said a voice from the alley's mouth. An angry voice. Adaia's voice. “What the fuck were you thinking?! Sending Slim-”

Fiona glanced up at her, tears streaming down her face. She wanted to stop shaking. She wanted to stop panting, and she wanted to be calm. Adaia could not see her like this. No one could see her like this. She didn't want to be like this. She wanted to be formless. Shapeless. Mist.

She heard the ancient elves, and some of the Chasind could change shapes. Perhaps she could become a cat. Hide in this alley and not be noticed. Not be seen. Not be looked at by anyone she did not wish to let see her.

Adaia stopped talking. There was perhaps two yards between the mouth of the alley and where Fiona sat down it, and the other woman cleared it in what felt like a single heartbeat.

“Are you okay?” Her brow knit with worry. “Are you hurt?”

Fiona covered her face with her hands. She could not find the words in the King's Tongue, or Orlesian. She struggled to say something. Anything. Until.

“No. No. No. No,” she sobbed quietly.

Adaia placed a hand on Fiona's shoulder.

Adaia cried out in pain, and jerked her hand back. Magic. Fiona's brain could tell that much. Her magic. She had not tried to cast anything. Did not want to cast.

“Sorry!” she said instantly, through sobs. Or tried to say. She was not sure Adaia could make out her words.

Adaia sat down across the alley from her now. She wore her earcuffs. They looked so shiny even in the dim alley. Fiona's mind tried to remind her of other things that shone, like the jewels the comte would have her wear, but she dug her nails deep into her calf to stop it. No. No.

“Take deep breaths,” Adaia soothed.

Fiona did as she was told. Adaia's voice was comforting. It was right. It didn't sound like the comte's, no way her brain could twist it to either. Nor like his wife's, she had a high voice, Adaia's was deeper, and smoother, a slight rasp to it, likely still from the chill in the air. And there was no world in which her accent could be Orlesian.

She looked at Adaia. She wore her leather armor, shiny. Freshly polished, if she had to guess. And her locs were covered by a tichel, a headwrap traditionally worn by married elven women.It was the first time Fiona had seen Adaia wear such a thing. It was in a bright, cheerful yellow check that seemed so out of place here in this alley, and in the darkness of Fiona's mind. She smiled at it despite the tears.

Fiona wished she had one. Short hair usually kept prying shemlen eyes away from her, but it was not always enough. She felt exposed now, like all of herself was on display. Her neckline was high, but not high enough. And her head was bare.

“What happened?” Adaia asked, once Fiona had calmed enough to speak and be understood without the aftershocks of tears.

“I was a terrible mother. That's what happened,” Fiona said flatly. “I should return to the Wardens. I am not meant for anything else. Domestic life is a farce. I'm a failure.” She smiled an angry twisted smile at her kneecaps.

“Fiona.”

“It's the truth!”

“I seen men like you. After the war. And women....Other times... If it's a Warden thing, people will-”

“It isn't a Warden thing. It isn't anything. I'm a terrible person. Maric should end our engagement and you should forget our acquaintanceship. Find better companions than myself. Let it be, Adaia.”

“I think I'm old enough to decide my own /friends/,” the word was pointed. Not mean. Just sharp. They were /friends/ to Adaia. Not acquaintances. “And if you want to talk, I get war nightmares. I can understand this. If you let me listen. It may not have been the same battle, but I know this war.”

Fiona was silent. She was silent for almost a minute. Then she looked at Adaia.

“I... do not wish to return to the palace like this. People will...Look at me. In this fine dress and...Maric's cloak. They will look. I don't want them to.” She handed Adaia Maric's purple cloak.

Adaia hesitated for a moment, before she took it.

“May I take your scarf?” Fiona asked. She gestured at her own head.

Adaia did not hesitate the way Fiona feared she might. Instead, she untied the cloth in a fluid motion, and handed it to Fiona.

Fiona's fingers fumbled to tie it properly. She could not do the various more fanciful styles some Elven women wore even if her fingers were working properly, one needed a proper foundation for that, and she did not have one, but she managed to tie it like the fishwives did, the cloth folded into a triangle, and tied at the base of her neck, and while she was not better then, instantly, it did help.

She stood, somewhat shakily. A split second later, Adaia did the same.

She walked out of the alley. She could see herself right now, her eyes red and puffy from crying, in her mind's eye. All bone and sinew and stiff body. She struggled not to judge herself the way she imagined everyone was judging her.

Adaia offered her an arm, and Fiona took it. They walked arm in arm towards the palace together.

“I... Do not know if I will ever have the words to...” Fiona trailed off, “But if I am able to find them...Know that you are the first person I would tell. Willingly.” She swallowed.

“Does...Maric know? About this Not-the-Wardens, thing?”

“He does. He is one of the only who does. I...Did not tell him. I do not think...Were it my choice...I would have ever told him.”

“Please. Talk to him tonight.” Adaia tried to catch Fiona's eye with her own. Fiona did not allow her to.

“I will...try,” Fiona paused, before she spoke again, “I am not sure I will be well enough tomorrow to leave for the Dalish. But I will try to be. Please forgive me.”

“Do you want my opinion.” Adaia said. It was not a question. She would give her opinion no matter what Fiona said. So Fiona did not fight it.

“Yes,” she said, though she really didn't. Instead, she wanted to be sleeping. Or better yet, de- No. No. No. That was not helpful.

“Nature will help. Less noises, less smells. Plus, you know, if you asked the shems, that's where we're supposed to be.” Adaia smirked, and that Fiona caught, and she smirked too.

“I will go then. I will. Try to go.”
********************************************

“Please do not yell at me,” Fiona said quietly as Maric helped her to undo her stays.

“I...wasn’t going to,” he said softly, running a finger along her spine. She sighed in a way that was not in annoyance, but in relief. He bit his lower lip slightly.
“Did I do it too tightly this morning?” he asked. Stays, at least from his experience with Rowan, were not often uncomfortable. Quite the opposite in fact. He’d heard of Orlesian women who wore stays far too tight for making their waists smaller, but they were very much outliers.

“No. I just… Very long day. It feels good to be free.”

She sniffled slightly, the way one might in the springtime, but Maric knew it was still from the crying she’d done earlier. She’d come home with Adaia, a sobbing mess. And he found out she’d abandoned the children at the market after… He didn’t know what. A panic? Like the sort the demon had brought her into in the fade.

Except without a demon.

He knew the feeling. The war. But he would never...could never...abandon Cailan and Alistair when it happened… A few deep breaths would be all it would take to bring him back to some kind of normal, even if for the rest of the day his hand would shake, and the smallest thing could set him back further into his depression for a few days. But not abandon the boys.

“Are...are you alright?”

“I...Hope to be. Eventually,” she told him. He could, even without being able to see her face, tell she was on the verge of tears. “I...Wished to lay with you. Before Adaia and I left...But...I… Am not even sure I will be able to kiss you. I am sorry. It isn’t you. It is...All my fault.”

“If you can’t kiss me, will you do me the favor of going out to drink with me?”

A sigh, “I would love to. If it did not mean being surrounded by nobles.”

“We don’t have to go to the Gnarled Noble.”

“And you cannot go to the alienage to drink. A quarter of it already hates me for being engaged to you,” She sniffed again.

“We won’t.”

“And I...No Pearl,” was all she managed to say. She turned now, and he could look at her as she slipped off her stays. Not her body. Her face. She didn’t seem comfortable with his eyes on her, so he looked away.

“There’s a bar by the docks. I wear my hair up. Loghain’s old leathers. You wear a nice dress, and people will think we’re normal people having a night out together.”

“I’d like that.” Fiona pulled something black out of the dresser.
He turned away from the room to the window to keep from wanting to see what garment was causing Fiona to murmur swears in both The King’s and Orlesian as she pulled it on.

“I’m ready,” she said softly.

He turned around. She wore a black piece of fabric, the underpiece to her Warden uniform?, beneath her grey smocked dress. And her hair was covered in a black piece of fabric.

They walked to the bar together. Maric wondered if Fiona would even allow him to hold her hand, but she offered her’s before he even had the chance to offer his.

“I...It was as though...” she began quietly, without him even prompting, “Imagine...If you were...walking down the street with the boys. And suddenly there was a noise like a few thousand arrows being let loose. And suddenly, you were, or felt, like it was the thick of battle. In the war. And. You knew it wasn’t. But it felt like it. And your throat feels tight. And you want to cry. Or run. Or both. But it’s happened enough times before that you know you’re being a fool. That was. What it was like. That was why I left them. I did not….I did not wish for them to see me as you had with the demon.”

“I can see that,” Maric said, imagining it. But instead of imagining it for himself, he imagined it for her. That dungeon from the vision he’d seen. Her back covered with blood. “You need to bring guards with you. Please. For them at least, if not for me.”

“I know,” she said with a sigh, smiling sadly, “I...wanted Cailan to be happy with me again. He was so sad I planned to leave. He hates the guards. He wishes to be a normal boy.”

“I wish he could do that,” Maric said somberly, “But Denerim is too big, and the number of people willing to sell him out to Orlais too many.”

“I know,” she repeated.

The walk to the bar took them through the less savory parts of Denerim. Maric led the way, guiding Fiona behind him by hand.

It was a seaman’s bar, but the surprisingly good weather on the Waking Sea left it empty except for a table of old men playing cards, and the barkeep, a Qunari woman.

“What y’want?” she asked Maric as Fiona found a table for them far from the other group. She had a softer voice than he expected. And kinder too.

“You got mead?”

She nodded.
“Bring two mugs of that, and a bottle of whiskey to the table, please.”

She gave a noise in the affirmative, and Maric went to go sit with Fiona.

His beard was still growing in from when he shaved it before the ball.

“You look so different like that,” Fiona remarked. She placed her hand on the center of the table. Maric went to place his hand onto her’s, giving her a second to move before he did. She didn’t. She stayed in place. He lowered his hand onto her’s and began to brush a familiar pattern with his thumb into it.

“Better or worse?”

“Younger,” she said, smirking, “I’m not sure if that’s better or worse.”