Well, this was an unmitigated disaster.
Never mind the fact that there was a Blight to stop, and then a wedding to plan – Maker, that had been a shock in itself, when the Queen had turned to him and all-but-demanded he become her Prince-Consort – but now, on the road out of Denerim, a Shriek attack had sent the party scattering for cover, and the blizzard that had been building on the horizon had finally come to roost.
On top of that, he had no idea where anyone in his part was, and the Queen – the sodding Queen, who was supposed to be in the bloody city but had come out to say farewell just before the darkspawn had come knocking – was now in his care as they stumbled blindly through the woods. Her hand was tightly ensconced in his as he pulled her along.
By the time he'd spotted the small house, she had fallen over twice and her fingers were blue. He swept her up in his arms with a chattered apology and carried her the last twenty feet, knocking on the door with his feet rather than putting her back down. Her face was buried in the crook on his neck, and it felt like ice; he needed to warm her up, or the Bannorn was going to be holding another state funeral before the end of this whole mess. Alistair would kill him, he thought with a grimace.
No-one answered, so with more than a little force he kicked the door in, striding in to set her down gently before dragging a chair up against the door to keep it shut. Rubbing the back of his neck, he scanned the dark room – empty, completely empty save for two chairs and what looked like a scrap of a blanket. Shuffling through the house, the other rooms were much the same. Whoever had lived here was clearly not coming back any time soon. And so he returned to the Queen, stripping off his bulky chainmail as he picked up the blanket. It was reasonably thick, he had to admit, but there was no way around the situation.
"Your Majesty," he began. "I'm afraid that with the weather as it is, and our options boiling down to this, we will have to remain within extremely close proximity to each other if we are to survive this night." She shivered constantly, but nodded. Her father had taught her basic survival tactics "in case those Orlesian dogs decide to rip us apart again", and with little ceremony she tugged off her dress and shuffled into his arms. Tucking his knees underneath hers, he wrapped the blanket around her back and held her gently, her face once more hidden in his neck. After a few moments, he could feel warmth start to tingle through her, and the reality of his situation fell upon his shoulders with alarming clarity. He was mostly naked, under a single blanket.. with the QUEEN. Oh, Maker have mercy..
And then she was crying, a strange sort of sound to his ears. He hadn't heard a woman cry in months, not since before Highever, and he had almost forgotten the correct response. But as he stroked her back and murmured softly to her, she seemed to melt further into him, piteous sobs replaced with stuttered explanations.
"They were so big.. and everywhere.." And he realised that she had never been thrust into the fray like that, had never seen the darkspawn. He wondered if he had been this shell-shocked, the first time. Then he remembered that he had been ready for it.
"I'm sorry, your majesty. I would.. I would never have wanted you to have to face the darkspawn in such a manner." She rubbed at her eyes, oddly childlike for a moment.
"I would be a poor leader if I did not know the enemy," she reasoned quietly. "Do you.. do you face them like that often?"
"Every day, your majesty. But I am a warrior, and a Grey Warden. I am destined for this." Steeled for it, more like. But she nodded regardless. The moment hung, and awareness of her bare skin started to creep into his mind. She was terribly soft..
"You always call me that. Even before the Landsmeet."
"Call you what?"
"You always say 'your majesty'." She had a wry smile on her face for a second. "You know, we're engaged now. I think you of all people can call me Anora."
He had the compulsion, then. The perfect opportunity to ask.
"Your majesty, why did you request a marriage with me?"
"Does it make you unhappy?"
"N-no, I just.. it was rather sudden. I was caught off-guard." He smiled nervously. She trailed a finger down his chest absently, though the effect was not lost on him as his breath caught in his throat. Her answer was slow in the coming.
"Two reasons, I suppose. We are the last of our families, and thus the last teyrns of Ferelden. I was hoping that with our union, the title could be laid to rest, and the lands given back to the arls." She looked up at him, a calculating look in her eye. "The Bannorn would still meet, but they would answer directly to us, as heads of state. We would have a more.. active grip on the people, we could help them more directly."
He frowned for a moment, before understanding settled in. "And then.."
"In the future, perhaps, more changes.. it will be slow, and we will have to fight to make them see past their titles, but I have hope that some of the more free-thinking banns will be amenable to the ideas I have." She smiled up at him, glad that he understood, and his chest tightened slightly.
"And the second reason?"
She ducked her head, resting once more in the crook of his neck, her voice small. "Like I said.. we are the last of our families." And there it was – their lives had been played out in similar fashion, though with opposing hands. His grip around her tightened slightly, holding her close as he pressed his lips to her forehead. They had both lost everything – who better to understand the importance of birthdays no longer celebrated, the sorrow and joy in finding a lost letter, the sheer weight of the realisation that you are utterly and unwaveringly alone from this moment forward, despite what you may gain? She would never question why he always offered a thanks to the Maker before breakfast, and likewise he would never ask about her family's traditions. There would just be acceptance.
"If you choose.. if you remain a Grey Warden, I will not ask for your loyalty to the country," she said suddenly. "I would not expect you to answer to the call for Ferelden, should that be the life you choose. You are to be my husband, if you so choose, but I would never expect you to be anything less than what you are."
Tucking a finger under her chin, he angled her head up to look her in the eyes. With a gentle smile, he shook his head slightly. "Whether I am a Grey Warden or not, my loyalty shall always lie with you," he murmured, and her eyes lit up, the smile on her face one of the most genuine she had ever shown him.
"Then.. this arrangement of marriage is acceptable?"
"Yes, your majesty. I.. must confess, I have admired you for quite a long time. The king was a lucky man, in his life." She blushed, eyes dropping, and it felt like the most wonderful small victory. "I know you still grieve for your husband, but it is.. it is my fondest wish that one day I manage to live up to his standard in your eyes."
She said nothing for a moment, opting instead to reach up and stroke a stray strand of hair from his face, fingers trailing down his cheek lightly. Her lips were soft on his, then, in a sweet and chaste promise. "I think you will do just fine," she whispered, and he could not help but smile.
The blizzard passed in the night – they had barely noticed after a while, keeping away the night with quiet conversation and embarrassed glances – and by the time Alistair and Eamon had found them they were the picture of propriety. Her guards escorted them back to the road, and there Eamon insisted that she head back to the capital. She had not argued the point, glad to be heading away from the darkspawn threat.
He bowed to her, and smiled softly.
"Good Warden," she replied, curtseying, before the smile broke and she reached forward, hugging him briefly. "Come back to me. I look forward to falling in love with you."
He chuckled. "I'll be back soon, Anora. I promise." Letting go of her waist, he dropped a kiss on her forehead before pulling back. "I look forward to that too.. your majesty." And as he headed off to join the troops, she thought it sounded a lot less like a title and a lot more like a name she could love when he said it.