The village of Redcliffe was famous for its hilltop windmill, and after hearing about it for years from the Templars who traveled Ferelden in search of what they considered uncontrolled magic; I was excited to finally see the twirling sails for myself. What I was not excited about was the eerie silence of the village that followed. As a Circle mage, my life was limited to the walls of the tower; silence was my old friend. Approaching a place that should be bustling with life, only to find it quiet, was to put it mildly, unsettling - as was the conversation with Alistair before we moved any further.
He asked to speak to me alone for which I received some knowing looks from the rest of the party who continued forward, allowing us some privacy. I was immediately tense. I found it easy to continue to maintain my distance from Alistair while on our journey, and although done purposefully, I hadn’t thought he had noticed. The events in the cave, the magnitude of what lay ahead of us, in addition to my irrational thoughts about a nonexistent relationship weighed heavily upon me, and I felt it best to recapture my level-headedness, through distance.
The Circle, although full of people, allowed each of us a great amount of time to find solitude, especially as we grew older. As children, there were always elders to watch over us, but even as a child I remember keeping my distance from the others; the bitter taste of betrayal from my family lingered for some time. Being sent to a strange place, to be treated like a dangerous object, to never be free...I didn't know that was what lay in store for me when the Templars came for me, but my parents had.
But I digress. I know I had grown quiet since leaving the Brecilian Forest, but it was a habit, a coping mechanism, or whatever you want to call it, because retreating to the safety of my own mind was where I found comfort. I had not intended it to be alienating, especially to my companions, and I said as much when Alistair asked if I was all right.
I was also troubled by how the world suffered. Being locked away, sheltered, I only had the smallest of insights into what everyone else had to deal with on a regular basis. So far, each time we traveled somewhere new there was a new threat. The darkspawn were a recent development, but villagers had to deal with civil war and in-fighting, dragon attacks, bad crops, bandits, and so much more while trying to raise a family and just live their lives. The Dalish had been dealing with werewolves and were continually on the move due to a variety of fears and threats.
The mages only had the Templars to worry about, and the constant fear of possession, and the threat of tranquility - our world was contained, limited. So much more could happen on the outside, and I found it oddly thrilling. When Duncan recruited me, I had no idea what he was truly offering me…I’m not sure if he knew either, but what he had done was open the world to me…and then there was Alistair.
Not only did he want to talk about me and my well being since the cave, he bombarded me with news so surprising I was left literally speechless. As if our challenges weren’t already great, he shared with me that he was the bastard half-brother of the late king, making him the last in the Theirin bloodline.
I can only imagine the look I had upon my face, because he had to stifle a laugh. He shifted uncomfortably under my scrutiny as I tried to make sense of what this meant. Not only did this completely change him in my eyes, it affected our entire mission. Maker’s Breath! He could be the next king and he was wandering the countryside, killing darkspawn…I wondered if Loghain knew, which of course he did. As Maric’s former friend and advisor, I was sure he was privy to any number of the old king’s secrets.
Alistair assured me that this changed nothing, that he was devoted to our cause and the Grey Wardens, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the beginning of something so much bigger. The Arl of Redcliffe would know what to do. Our only hope was that he had recovered from whatever strange illness he had contracted.
I joked with Alistair about being a prince and the look of horror that dawned was one of the funniest things I had ever witnessed.
And then it happened– closure, or what I hoped it would become. His confession was what I needed to regain that perspective I was so in need of, and I got it (although I soon discovered it was to be short lived). The decision had been made for me, and for a moment my heart ached at the loss. I swallowed hard, and with it, the intention of burying my growing feelings. I suppose Morrigan’s suggestion offered us at least a chance at something, a connection, but it rang hollow now. It always had.
There would be many who would want to utilize this information to their own benefit, even if he chose to remain a Warden, his name would always hold sway, and should he become king, I was a mage. He could also be considered a threat to those political factions vying for the throne for their own purposes, and a target for anyone wishing to exploit such a connection. We would have to do what we could to conceal this knowledge.
I stared at him for a moment, longer than I intended, as I tried to wrap my head around the idea of him becoming king. He was a strong and brave warrior, but there was a vulnerability about him, something Morrigan disliked in him, which of course I found endearing. He would need to be protected, and although I disliked the idea of telling all our companions, we had to watch over him. He could not be allowed to charge into the fray, or take unnecessary risk, although I would never tell him that.
We had speculated that we were probably the last two Grey Wardens in Ferelden, but now knowing that he was also the last in a royal line…and I thought we had problems before.
My gaze fell from his questioning eyes to his lips, and without warning a compliment about his attractiveness spilled out. It wasn’t even remotely related to the topic at hand. Internally I winced, and externally I made a face as I chastised myself.
But then that foolish man offered me a rose.
He asked me if I knew what it was. I raised an eyebrow and retorted with, “Your new weapon of choice?” I had to switch the brevity of the situation, and humor and sarcasm were always the safe way to play.
We shared a laugh as he continued to remark that he would fell the darkspawn with his rosy scent. Every once in a while I would see him thumb this rose he had plucked outside Lothering when he thought no one was looking. He always had this far away look upon his face. I wondered what he was thinking about each time, and now I knew. It was symbolic…of me?! It reminded him of me?!
There was the belly flip again. I thought it was just a fascination, something almost forbidden that I wanted to explore, but maybe it was more than that. I needed to make up my mind.
I looked at the flower and gently stroked its petals as I had seen Alistair do on occasion. It had aged, having been plucked from the earth over a month ago. The edges were nearly black and wilted, but at the center, its color was still vibrant. I held it to my nose, the light floral scent still lingering in its flesh. I let my eyes close, wanting to remember this moment, but I was inundated with images of Alistair touching the flower and looking sweet, which struck me harder now knowing what he had actually been thinking.
My heart beat erratically as I leaned forward to kiss his cheek. I let my free hand linger upon his arm, to use in part as leverage, but also to allow a little more intimacy. I heard his breath catch as my lips gently brushed his skin. I lingered briefly to take in the moment and Alistair as well.
His skin was warm from our recent travels. I could smell the sun on him, the saltiness of his sweat, and the faint traces of metal and leather from his armor. There was also this earthy scent from the cleansing soaps we had acquired from the Dalish. The combined scent was heady, and somehow pleasant, and arousing. I pressed my lips harder upon his cheek and felt him tense underneath me, and heard him grip the hilt of his sword tighter. As I pulled back slowly I whispered, “Thank you.”
Hoping to avoid any comments about the blush upon my own cheeks, I turned quickly from him, but smiled wide when I heard him cough and adjust his armor. I bit my lip as I contemplated my previous thoughts. This had just negated all thoughts of closure, as my heart and mind were not on the same page…I was going to need to talk to him more directly, and soon.
I received a variety of smiles from our friends as I rejoined them, but gave them a reprimanding look that I hoped would stifle further inquiry or comments, at least for the time being because Alistair was still in earshot, but also because the pleasure of the moment was to be short lived by the appearance of a young man with bad news.