“So, I'm guessing someone must have told Anora that I want to steal her throne. Maker, she has a nasty glare.” Alistair gave a mock-shudder, then turned to look at Natalia, who was making adjustments to her armor on its stand. “Did anyone mention this wasn't my idea? I think she's a great queen. As far as I'm concerned, she's welcome to it.”
Natalia didn't look up from her armor. She considered reassuring him that he'd make a fine king again... but after all the times it had been said to him already, what would one more recitation matter? Instead she asked, “Do you think you could back out?”
“Not without embarrassing Arl Eamon,” he said, pacing nervously. “'Oh, by the way, that whole duty thing? Could we just ignore that?' His sister is who my father cheated on to make me, yet he still took me in. He was good to me, and not because I was a good backup plan.” Alistair stopped and looked up, his voice taking on a hopeful tinge. “But... I wonder if he feels differently now that Anora is here? What do you think I should do? Go ahead and be king? Just let it happen?”
Finally, the other Warden did look up at him, but her smile was bitter. “We could run off together, instead,” she said, her voice giving no indication of whether she was suggesting the idea seriously or in jest.
For a moment, Alistair looked uncertain. Then he grinned and nodded. “Good plan! We could go to Orlais, live in sin and eat cake until the darkspawn finally catch up to us. Cursed darkspawn!” Then he sighed, and his smile fell away as he resumed his restless pacing. “It's just that everything I've heard about Queen Anora is that she's the one who really ruled here, not Cailan. She's smart, tough, determined – while I feel a bit like Cailan's substitute. I think I'd be better off against the darkspawn.”
He stopped pacing and made talking motions with his hands while using two different voices. “'All right, Alistair, enough whining!' 'Thank you, Alistair, that's excellent advice! I'll do my best!'”
Natalia let out a short laugh. “I agree with Alistair,” she said, shaking her head.
“About the whining? I know, I know. Someone really needs to slap that one around. Tsk.”
Abruptly Natalia dropped the piece of armor she'd been holding and turned around. Her voice glittered with frost, and for the first time in his experience, it was directed at Alistair. He couldn't help backing up until he bumped against the cabinet behind him.
“I know you don't want to be king, Alistair. I hate feeling like I'm forcing you into something that will make you miserable. So let's take a look at our other options, shall we?
“If you think that you can just step aside and let Anora have the throne, and that she will be content to leave you alone after that... well, you can think that, but I wouldn't wager five copper bits on it. As long as you're alive, and she's on the throne, you're a potential threat. Any banns that have a grievance with the kingdom will go looking for you, whether you like it or not. And as queen, she'd have any number of ways of getting rid of inconvenient people. Eventually one of them will hit the mark.
“But there is an alternative.” Natalia stalked closer, her expression full of cold fury. “I'm surprised I'm the only one who seems to have thought of it. You have an excellent claim, and so does she. If you combined your excellent claims, the two of you could walk in and take the throne, or thrones as the case may be.”
“Combined... you mean I should marry her?” Alistair said, his voice incredulous.
“Our duty is to defeat the Blight,” Natalia gritted. “What have we been working so hard for all this time? An army, a strong, united kingdom. What better way to bring that about than a political match that would unify all support and yank the legs out from under any possible opposition?”
“That's... Nat, I couldn't...”
“Yes, you could. You could sit by her side and be her puppet prince, just like your brother was.” Her throat was raw, tightening on the words, but she didn't seem to be able to stop them, pushed out of her heart by anger, frustration, and fear. “She'd be happy to let you go off and fight darkspawn. You'd never have to give a thought to governing or being a ruler. She probably wouldn't even mind if you had a dalliance of your own on the side, as long as she kept all the power in her tiny, manicured, soft little hands.”
“Is that what... you think would be best?” Alistair said, seeming to choke on the words.
“Best? It is our duty.” Natalia spat each word out like a stone. She whirled away, pacing over to the stand where her armor waited. “Wynne was right,” she said heavily. “I didn't suggest it because I don't want to lose you... not like that. And every time the subject comes up, I hold my breath and wait for somebody else to get the idea. If somebody does... don't you understand?” She looked back, her face tired and resigned. “What could I say against it, other than my own selfish desire to keep you? I didn't suggest it because I didn't want it, even though I knew it was my duty. And if I don't suggest it, I may be dooming us all. But I just can't make myself give you to that... viper.”
She stopped then, empty of words, and they stared at each other across the room. “I'm sorry,” she finally said, her voice a murmur that he had to strain to hear. “I know you don't want to be king. I don't want to lose you. This isn't about what we want anymore.” Natalia bent, picking up the piece of armor that she'd dropped, and turned back to the stand, her shoulders stiff. “It's about our duty.”
Alistair waited a minute, until it became obvious that Natalia was done talking. “I'll... go and get ready for the Landsmeet, then,” he said. “Polish the pretty armor... all that.” He paused again, then walked out, leaving the other Warden alone in her stony silence. As soon as the door was closed behind him, she leaned her forehead onto the armor stand, sobbing uncontrollably.