The Keeper and the King

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction for my personal entertainment (and maybe yours). Dragon Age: Origins and all related characters and locations are the property of Bioware Inc. RATING: Grown ups.


Her orders to burn the dead Darkspawn, strike camp and prepare for a dawn departure were sharp and left no room for question as she turned and walked off into the darkness. Even Morrigan held her tongue and got busy after only a moment’s rebellious hesitation. Alistair moved uncertainly to help Sten and Ogden with the ghastly task of disposing of the bodies, but Zevran caught him by the arm and shook his head.
“She is in need of comfort, I think. If you do not go to her, someone else might have to. I do not think you would appreciate if it were me, am I right?” Zevran grinned coyly, but it did not mask the seriousness in the elf’s eyes.
“Yes. Right. Me. Me? Really? I’m sure the last thing she needs is a babbling idiot to comfort her.” Alistair replied, twisting his hands.
“Silence, and an arm to lean on works well,” advised Wynne.
“Advice like that is why you are far more qualified than I.”
Wynne only smiled and shook her head.
***

Alistair found Mardelle at the edge of the clearing, kneeling with Tamlen’s head on her lap. She didn’t seem to notice his approach and he almost lost his nerve, but when he sat beside her, she began to speak immediately, and he made a note to thank Zevran and Wynne for their advice.
“We were meant to be bonded. We had grown up together. We didn’t know anything or anyone else, nor did we wish to. I suppose it was love, but I see now that it was a different kind of love than what I feel for you. One bred on familiarity. Everything about my life was about the familiar. All I knew was the forest and the people of my clan. I refused to venture further. I refused to heed my father’s wishes for the Dalish to learn about the shemlen and try to make peace. My father was the only Keeper that spoke like this and … it  got him and my family killed by the very people he wished to prove were not as bad as the stories say.”
“I hated humans, Alistair,” she said emphatically, tilting her head to see him for the first time. He tensed and lowered his eyes, hiding from her gaze, but he remained silent, even as her words continue to cut at him. “I hated Duncan for tearing me away from my world with his lies about becoming a Grey Warden to cure the taint I had suffered in that cursed cave. I believed that it was him who brought the Darkspawn to my people and refused him. But my Keeper. She … she permitted it. She exiled me. Banished me from everything I knew and loved. Banished me to enter a world I despised filled with people I wanted to kill. Have killed.”
Alistair bristled defensively and pulled away, meeting her piercing gaze and trying to understand just where this conversation was going. “Something changed though… right?” he ventured hesitantly.
She blinked, snapping out of her memories, seeming to see him for the first time. A smile touched her lips and her eyes. “You,” she said, reaching for his hand and giving it a comforting squeeze. The breath he didn’t  realize he was holding escaped him and he squeezed her hand back, only to find that she was already letting go. Her face darkened again with pain. “Duncan. Ostagar.” Her fingers returned to Tamlen’s face, gently tracing what little remained of the pattern of his tattoo. “Tamlen.”
“I understand now that it was not hate. You cannot hate that which you do not know. You can only fear it. I tried hard to hate Duncan as we traveled together to Ostagar, but …,” she chuckled, “He is impossible.”
“Ha. That he is, to put it mildly.”
“He just talked and talked through my silence. He spoke of the Blight and of the Grey Wardens and their purpose. I already knew, of course. I was a Keeper’s apprentice until my father was killed. I knew many things. But our own histories are lost to us. We have few record of Dalish Grey Wardens. But he knew them all. Or knew of them. He told me and his words melted my fear, at least of the Grey Wardens, and I finally came to actually hear the truth in the words my Keeper had spoken. I had not been banished. Not exiled. As much as my conscription was to save my life, it was also to represent my people. And to serve and protect them, as well as others. My Keeper – she who raised me after my father’s death and continued teaching me, even though I swore I no longer wished to be a Keeper – she understood that there was far greater at stake than my own life and knew that the Creator had a path for me to walk that was not bound to my clan, as I thought it was.”
“Ostagar opened my eyes to the words of my father. Not all humans are to be feared and hated. When there is a greater purpose, we all must work together. As if Ostagar and all we have been through already has not served as enough proof that there is something far greater at work here, Tamlen…” she fell silent for a long time, caressing his face. It was hideous with the corruption, but peaceful.
“Dawn is breaking, Mardelle,” Alistair interrupted quietly, “We must let him go.”
She sighed and nodded, allowing him to help her to her feet. He picked up Tamlen’s body, doing his best to ignore the stench as they made their way to the pyre that used to be Morrigan’s camp site. He looked to Mardelle and, at her nod, tossed the body into the flames as reverently as he could manage. Leliana approached then, taking Mardelle’s hand. The bard looked to Mardelle for approval and began to sing the Dalish funeral lament. Attracted by the haunting song, the others gathered slowly, staring into the flames in respectful, contemplative silence. A tear slipped down Mardelle’s cheek when Leliana’s melody came to an end. She wiped it away and raised her head to address them.
“We are the Grey Wardens. The last in Ferelden. Though we are few, our responsibility remains: We must stop this Blight. That is what we do. For Ferelden. For all. Even at the cost of our own freedom. Our own lives.
“You are all bound to us in word or deed only, but you are not Grey Wardens. We cannot ask you to take this burden upon yourselves if you do not wish it. If it is your desire, then go now. We release you of all bonds. Without question. But if you choose to stay, understand that we will see this through to the end. We will defeat the Darkspawn and the Archdemon. But to do this, we must first unite the people of Ferelden. Ferelden must have a king to lead this army against the Darkspawn.”
Alistair grimaced, “Oh right… this is the part where I come in… yay…”
Mardelle had been speaking into the flames, but she turned now to face him, placing a hand on his chest. 
“Steel your heart, Alistair. You may not believe in yourself yet, but I do. And soon enough, you will, too. You have to.”
***
It had been several months since she had made that speech and then made it reality. Alistair would have liked to believed that he had some part in that – he did defeat Logain, afterall – but he was fooling no one. He was king now because of her and Arl Eamon, whether he liked it or not. But he knew they were right. This wasn’t about what he wanted. His life had never been about him making his own choices, so why should this have been any different? He belonged to the Chantry. To the Grey Wardens. And now he belonged to the people. As always, he had a duty to fulfill.
And his first duty as king was to let go of the one thing he needed most.
***
She was out of her armour, busy cleaning her swords. He rapped gently on the open door and she smiled warmly in welcome. Free of the blood and dirt that had so often adorned her over the past year, she looked so…
“Oh why do you have to make this so difficult?”
“What’s that, your majesty?”
“Don’t tease.”
“Are you not the king?”
“So it would seem. With much thanks to you.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Alistair,” she said, laying the blades on her bed, “I would not have pushed you to be something I didn’t believe you already were.”
“Riiight… about that,” he took a step into the room, intending to close the door for privacy. Then he caught a glimpse of her lithe frame through the silhouette of her gown and thought better of it. “Temptation…” he muttered to himself, remaining a safe distance from her. Her eyes twinkled mischievously, but she did not move. Steeling himself, he plunged forward with what he had to say before his heart changed his mind. “As king, there are expectations of me. I will need… an heir. More so because I am a Grey Warden and our days are already numbers. I need a queen, but she… she cannot be a Grey Warden for the same reason. I … I have a duty as king to … but you…” she smiled sadly as the revelation came to him, “…but you already knew this…”
“There was always the chance that one or both of us would die in this battle.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
Mardelle sighed and sunk down onto the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry Alistair. I didn’t want to hurt you, but I needed you to come to this realization on your own. I have a duty to my people, just as you have a duty to yours. After tomorrow, our duty as Grey Wardens will diminish in relationship to those roles. You have already granted my people lands to settle once the war is over. I must be with them. I will be returning to my people and seeking apprenticeship. In time, I will become a Keeper. That is the path the Creator intended for me, as your path has led you to be King. Forgive me.”
“Forgive you?” he asked incredulously clearing the distance between them in a few strides, “Maker’s breath! I .. I owe you everything!” He sighed heavily and sat down beside her, enfolding her small hands in his. “There is no need to apologize. You understood long ago that we were never meant to be. And loved me anyway.”

“I am fairly certain that I will always love you, in spite of all of this.” She rested her head on his shoulder and they sat in silence for some time. As comforting as the affirmations of their love were, there was still a great weight hanging over them. Their fates still hinged on the death of the archdemon, which in turn meant the death of one or both of them, rendering all their future plans moot.

Morrigan had grown impatient of waiting at the door and made her presence known. “If you two are quite finished pre-emptively mourning your doomed relationship, I have a proposition for you…”
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