Their way through the city didn't follow the planned route at all. Some streets had been entirely blocked off, either by barricades or crushed buildings; some places held groups of survivors, banded together and ready to fight, and Zin led their small party around those places, so as not to draw darkspawn attention to them. The plan was to go south, but the two bridges there were blocked off and burned down, respectively, so in order to get across the Drakon river they ended up going farther and farther east, deeper into the city, until they stumbled into the market district, so disturbingly changed that Alistair had to blink and look and look again until he was certain of what he was seeing.
Everything was on fire here, too. All the buildings were tightly shut, but Alistair didn't dare to hope that any survivors hid behind those locked doors and barred windows; bodies lay broken in the small yard in front of the chantry, and dark stains in the dirt were likely not just crushed fruit and berries from vendors' stalls.
The canvas roof that shielded wares and shoppers from the sun, and the stout poles that supported it, had been pulled down. And set on fire, of course. This was one of the larger open spaces in Denerim, and now it was filled with ogres, who likely felt quite comfortable here. "Filth everywhere," Shale said, not sounding very surprised. "Is that ogre eating a chicken?"
"I do believe it is," Wynne said. "With the feathers still on."
"Serves it right."
"I hope it gets food poisoning," Alistair said cheerfully. "Not that it will have time to notice, since I'm going to kill it."
"Go for it, babe," Zin said. "I'll take the one on the left."
The one on the left turned into two on the left, three... four... Alistair had honestly never seen so many ogres gathered in one place before, and he could have done without seeing it now, especially since Zin leaped on them in his usual breakneck fashion and tried to stab them in the face when they bellowed a challenge.
But maybe all that raw chicken hadn't been good for them, after all, because they fell, all of them, and so did the darkspawn general who'd been hiding behind them. Wynne got lucky with her entropy spells, and he stood paralyzed as they cut him down.
And then they finally made it to the bridge, made it across the river, and the archdemon ripped the bridge to pieces behind them.
"Well," Zin gasped as they huddled together at the end of the bridge and watched building stones bigger than a man's torso go flying. "That's... interesting."
"Oh, I'm sure it just wants to play," Alistair said. "We should try throwing a stick for it." At his feet, Serpent barked disapprovingly.
"We had better hope the archdemon stays on this side of the river," Wynne said. "Because we cannot get back across now."
"It is going that way," Shale said, leaning out of their dubious shelter under a stone arch to follow the archdemon's flight.
Zin straightened up. "Then I guess so are we."
Going that way meant going through the alienage. Here, the closed doors and barred windows really did shelter survivors; Alistair caught glimpses of pale faces, of bows held at the ready. When they came to the big open space with the vhenadahl tree, they found a familiar-looking red-headed woman, Soris's cousin Shianni, trying to rally a small group of defenders, shouting to be heard over the roars and thumps of approaching darkspawn. "Get up high! We can pick them off from the--"
A man ran up, panic in his face. "They're breaking through the gates! It's some big grey thing and it's breaking through!"
"There's always another ogre," Zin muttered. "Maybe it's a rule."
Shianni spotted them and ran over. "We need help," she said bluntly. "No one here has any decent armor, if we get too close to those creatures, we're doomed. I don't know where you came from, but--"
"But now we're here," Zin said. "We wouldn't say no to a bit of ranged support, though. Get up high, like you said, and we'll take care of the street-level fighting."
"We will?" Alistair said. "Yes, okay, we will. But one of these days I'm going to explain to you that you're a fast and sneaky rogue who creeps up behind his enemies and stabs them in the back, not a warrior in heavy armor who stands in the middle of the fight and yells for the darkspawn to come and get him."
"I'm not?" Zin grinned. There was a loud crash in the distance, and Serpent ran off towards the sound, growling angrily. "Come on, babe. Darkspawn to kill." Zin ran after Serpent.
"And you're not a whole army!" Alistair ran after them both, waving his sword as he tried to make the point perfectly clear. "That's what you have me for."
"It is not an army, either," Shale said, running beside him and making the ground shake. "Why do squishy creatures imagine themselves to be invulnerable?"
"Don't ask me, ask him!" Alistair slammed his shield into a hurlock that had gotten through the ruined gates, and saw that Zin had already engaged the ogre. Damn the man. But Shale walked up and hit the ogre in the stomach, drawing its attention and almost making it fold in half at the same time. Unfortunately, that made it possible for Alistair to see past the ogre's great bulk to where a hurlock general was directing wave after wave of its hurlocks to attack, and wielding a rather ominous-looking staff.
Alistair drew a deep breath and went straight for the general, cutting his way through the hurlocks to get close enough to try the effect of a holy smite. If anyone ever needed smiting, it was this revolting creature. He put everything he had into it, and when he saw the general stagger, he sprang forward, slamming his shield into its ugly face and then doing his level best to cut its head off, while it did its level best to send bolts of lightning through him.
Which was unpleasant, to say the least. Alistair felt as though all the bones in his body rattled against each other, and he bit his own tongue so hard he tasted blood. His hand shook around a sword that was suddenly very, very painful to keep hold of. But this had to be done, and he was the one who was there to do it, so he kept on stubbornly swinging, bashing, battering as hard as he could.
Not until the body fell one way, the head another and the staff a third did Alistair start to wonder why the hurlocks hadn't overrun him, trying to defend their general. He took a moment to look around, and saw that the ranks of hurlocks were being held away from him by a steady rain of arrows. Shianni and her archers had found their high ground and were offering just the kind of support that was most appreciated, weeding out the masses of weaker darkspawn so that Alistair and the others on the ground could focus their attention on the bigger threats.
A sturdier hurlock charged him, and he stood his ground, taking the full brunt of that charge on his shield and then drawing his sword arm back to retaliate. His blade nearly clashed with another inside the hurlock's body, as Zin stabbed it in the back at the same time.
"Kind of romantic, isn't it," Zin said.
The palace district had certainly changed from the last time Alistair had seen it. He remembered a lot more elegant house facades and flowering shrubs. Now it was all fire and wreckage and darkspawn.
Somehow Riordan's little troop had arrived ahead of them, though Alistair couldn't figure out how they'd crossed the river. Those men fought their way to the top of a watchtower, while Zin, Alistair, Wynne, and Shale struggled on the ground, trying to catch up, hoping for an exchange of information, a short moment of planning in the midst of all this confusion.
They saw Riordan fall. Alistair held his breath at the insane bravery of it, seeing the man leap from the top of that tower onto the Archdemon's back, the glint of a sword rising and then stabbing down as the dragon flew higher and higher. But to kill a large creature in the air, while clinging to its back... Riordan fell.
Alistair was grateful he couldn't hear the sound of Riordan landing.
The archdemon, one wing seriously injured by Riordan's sword, drifted sideways like an ash flake on the wind, and came down on the top of Fort Drakon, roaring its displeasure.
"I don't think it can fly properly anymore," Wynne said, squinting against the night and the firelight. "Riordan has... given us a chance we must attempt to take."
"So all we have to do is get up there," Zin said. "Piece of cake."
The fort stank of death. Its soldiers were massacred, and darkspawn roamed the halls, desecrating bodies, ruining food stores, setting fires. Doing the worst kind of magic, apparently, or maybe all this death had ripped the Veil apart, because some of the dead soldiers were up and moving again, their bodies much too decayed in such a short time, their corpse grins fixed.
"Insult to injury," Alistair muttered, killing the already dead.
Some places were strangely untouched, and that was even worse. They ran through silent soldiers' dormitories, seeing beds neatly made, waiting for sleepers who would never come. A few private touches, such as a book left half-read or a pot of salve for sore feet waiting on a table, made Alistair look the other way.
"And to imagine we fought our way out of here, not so long ago," Zin said. "It smelled better then."
At least, Alistair thought grimly, there were no ribbons anywhere. He really wasn't in the mood for a festive touch.
The last of Fort Drakon's defenders were on the roof, dying. Soldiers screamed and burned as the archdemon breathed a strange blue fire on them. Its presence was a horror, far worse than the uncomfortable itch of ordinary darkspawn; to Alistair, it felt like every part of his skin was being pelted with filth, bruisingly hard and utterly disgusting. He set his jaw, and tightened his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Everything about that long fight was a blur to him. The archdemon, though it could not truly fly, nevertheless managed to move short distances, making them run after it. Which was like the whole past year, only worse. Fighting a dragon was bad enough; fighting a corrupt dragon-like creature that could call more darkspawn to defend it was a nightmare. Quite literally, Alistair thought as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Shale, or at least shoulder to stone arm, and tried not to burst into wild laughter. This was exactly the stuff that warden nightmares were made of.
The archdemon's roar rang in his ears, but much worse than that was hearing its voice inside his head, growling and commanding. Alistair didn't know what it said, but he could guess, especially when more darkspawn came to their injured archdemon's assistance. Some of them were injured, too, looking as if they'd been through a long battle already to get here; Alistair found it strangely cheering to see that Denerim wasn't giving up without a fight.
None of them were giving up without a fight. A loud thunk made Alistair look up from cutting a shriek in two, to see that Zin had made one of the fort's ballistae work and was firing it at the archdemon. Little by little, they wore the dragon down. Alistair didn't think they could have done it without Wynne there; the cool green wash of her healing spells was the only pleasant sensation in all that chaos. He was bruised all over, scratched and bleeding in more places than he cared to count, but he had no deep damage, nothing that kept him from moving.
When his sword severed the tendons of one scaly knee, when the archdemon staggered and its legs began to give way, Alistair stared in silent amazement for a moment that seemed very long and very short at the same time. This was it. This was really, truly it. The dragon was bleeding heavily, its life pulsing out with each heartbeat. It was time. He'd decided already, he didn't have to stand there and think about what his choice would be. And it wasn't a choice, really.
He did wish he could have kissed Zin one last time.
Then he ran, with a speed that was born of equal parts certainty and terror, launched himself at the dying dragon, and stabbed his sword into its skull.
The world went white.
Alistair woke up in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room, flat on his back, and as soon as he tried to move, his whole body hurt. He grunted in pain, and in response got a flurry of movement immediately to his left, where Leliana straightened up in the chair by his bedside. "It is wonderful to see that you're awake at last!" she said. "I'll ask Wynne to give you something for the pain."
"Wait," Alistair hissed between his teeth. So, he wasn't dead. At least, he'd never heard anyone preach that the afterlife involved pain and brightly smiling Orlesian-accented bards. But if he wasn't dead... "Where's Zin?"
He'd been ready to sacrifice himself -- not happily, no, but if it was a choice between Zin and him, of course Alistair was going to take that death on himself. The last thing he remembered was burying his sword in the dragon's head, and then a blinding flash of light. He'd believed that was the end. Yet here he was, alive. The archdemon's soul had bypassed him somehow, had gone somewhere else, and Zin had been the closest receptacle, then.
"He was just here," Leliana said. "He asked me to take his place for a moment when Arl Eamon insisted on talking to him about something." She shrugged. "I thought the arl would still be confined to bed, with that broken leg of his. It seems he is remarkably receptive to healing magic."
Which Alistair himself apparently was not, at least not judging by the way he felt at the moment. He managed to reach out, with his every joint screaming in pain, and grab Leliana's wrist. "Zin."
"I'll see if I can liberate him from the arl's clutches," she said. Leliana stood up, then bent down and kissed Alistair's forehead. "You should be proud. You killed the archdemon."
Then she turned and went out of the room, and Alistair stared after her. His mind still felt a bit hazy. He was alive and the archdemon was dead. It didn't make any sense.
The door burst open and Zin skidded in, sliding to his knees on the floor by Alistair's bedside and clutching at his shoulder with both hands. "You're awake," he said, "I'm away from you for five minutes and suddenly you're awake!" He buried his face in the mattress next to Alistair. "I was so worried, babe. It's been two days. Wynne said you'd be fine, but."
"Zin." Alistair wanted Zin to lift his head. He wanted to see those clear blue-green eyes. "What happened?"
"When you killed the archdemon," Zin said, still speaking into the bedclothes, "there was a huge blast of, I don't know, something, some concussive force that knocked us all down. You -- you went flying. You broke so many bones, and I was terrified you'd have internal injuries. We didn't know if we could move you, and in the end we just," Zin swallowed hard, "we just sat there for hours and waited for the battle out in the city to be over and for people to come find us. Wynne drank all the lyrium we had, she was exhausted, and she worked and worked to heal you, and I take back every mean thing I ever said about her, thought about her, she almost killed herself trying to keep everyone alive, she was incredible."
"Everyone?" Thinking back, Alistair remembered an odd, ragtag force coming to their aid halfway through the battle: some dwarves, some mages, some human soldiers, led by... "The arl was there?"
"Broke his leg in that blast," Zin nodded. "He went tumbling down the stairs and landed wrong. But he's fine now, full of energy."
"Zin." Alistair managed to move his hand enough to slide it into Zin's hair and stroke slowly. "Why am I not dead?"
That made Zin lift his head, finally. "Well, it's certainly not for lack of trying," he said tartly. He caught Alistair's hand, tugged it to his mouth and kissed the palm. "I made a deal," he whispered. "I wasn't sure it would work, and you wouldn't wake up, I could see you were breathing and Wynne said you'd be fine but you wouldn't wake up..."
"Deal?" Alistair blinked. "What kind of deal?"
Zin told him.
"You slept with Morrigan," Alistair said. Zin nodded mutely. "To keep us both alive." Zin nodded again. "And she got pregnant and left." Zin didn't even nod this time, just met Alistair's eyes and then flinched and looked away. "You mean to tell me that the heir to the teyrnir of Highever, who might also have a claim to the kingdom of Ferelden, is out there somewhere in the hands of an apostate witch whose evil mother planned the whole thing."
"More like in the womb of an apostate," Zin muttered. "And do we know that Flemeth is evil?" He slumped down, as if speaking like his insouciant self had been too much of an effort. "Do you hate me now?"
"I don't know what Flemeth is," Alistair said. "I'm not sure she's even human." He wished he could wrap his arms around Zin, but settled for resting the backs of his fingers against Zin's shoulder. "And I don't know if you've noticed, but I love you."
"I love you, too," Zin said, no flourishes, no under-the-eyelashes look. "I couldn't stand the idea of losing you." Then he frowned, nose wrinkling. "Wait a moment, did you say claim to the kingdom of Ferelden?"
"It's your child," Alistair said, "and the last time I looked, you were about to become one half of the royal couple. You haven't changed your mind about that while I was unconscious, have you?"
"No," Zin said. "But I promised Morrigan that this child would be hers to raise. That I wouldn't come after her." His brows drew down. "Much as I want to." Then he smiled faintly. "And the child's not a Theirin, whatever else it is. You're still going to have to have sex with Alfstanna, babe. No getting out of it."
The next person to sneak into Alistair's bedchamber and sit in the bedside chair was, rather to his surprise, Fergus Cousland. Fergus seemed to have come through the battle mostly unharmed; he moved a little stiffly, that was all. Alistair tried to prop himself up a bit higher on the pillows and felt his ribs twinge.
"Don't move," Fergus said quickly. "Your healer might let me live if you crack your bones again, but Zin definitely wouldn't."
"Wynne's fiercer than she looks," Alistair said, "so I wouldn't count on her being the sweet and gentle choice." He settled back down again and wished he could at least reach up to tuck another pillow under his head. "And to what do I owe the honor of this visit?"
"I can't want to express my gratitude to the man who killed the archdemon and stopped the Blight and saved my country?"
Alistair choked out a laugh. "Zin did that," he said. "I mean, he did all the hard work and all the difficult parts. I just swooped in at the end and stole the glory."
"Oh, that's what you call killing a giant dragon and getting nearly every bone in your body broken. I had no idea." Fergus shook his head. "Zin... It's because of Zin that I'm here. I have a few things I want to say to you."
"Erm." Alistair really, really wished he wasn't lying flat on his back in bed.
"Seemed stupid to say anything when I wasn't sure we were going to live through this." Fergus grinned. "I'm still not sure how we managed. But since we're here and alive, I think I have a family obligation to ask you, what are your intentions towards my little brother?"
"We're going to get married," Alistair said. "Didn't he tell you that?"
"He may have mentioned it." Fergus's face turned grave. "But you're about to be crowned king of Ferelden. You need to marry a woman and have children."
Alistair sighed. "It's a Cousland thing, I swear. First thing you think of. Did he also happen to mention we've agreed on an heir-arrangement with Bann Alfstanna of Waking Sea, and before you say anything about merchant customs, heir-arrangements started with Calenhad's grandson, what was his name again, Frayne, right, that was it, it's because of him that the law exists and he's about as royal a precedent as you can get. And yes, I'm going to sound more enthusiastic than this when I tell the Landsmeet about it, before you ask."
That made Fergus chuckle. "I certainly hope so. But I'm glad to hear that you've made some serious plans." His brows drew level. "What about Highever? I know you must have believed me dead, which would mean Zin was teyrn."
Alistair nodded. "We hadn't started to make plans for that yet. Things were, well, rather busy for us." Most of the past month, in fact, seemed to have passed in a haze of stress and blood and sex, although he certainly wasn't about to tell Fergus Cousland that. "I know Zin meant to find out if he had any cousins left, as a first step." He definitely wasn't going to go into the child-with-Morrigan complication. Alistair wasn't sure he understood it himself, but whatever plans the witch had for that child, he was fairly sure that claiming Highever wasn't one of them. "But now that you're back--"
"Yes, about that." Fergus Cousland held up a hand. "My lord, I have to tell you--"
"Oh, please don't call me that," Alistair said. "Zin told you how I was raised, didn't he? And you're going to be my brother-in-law, I sincerely hope."
"Yes," Fergus said with a small grin. "But listen. I thought I could count on Zin and his children to be my heirs. I was married. I had a child. But..."
"I know." Alistair reached out, without thinking, just as he would have reached out to Zin, and patted Fergus's forearm, which was about all he could reach. "And I'm so, so sorry. Howe is dead now, at Zin's hands, but I know vengeance doesn't really do anything about that, that hollow feeling inside." Seeing Howe fall to Zin's sword, seeing Zin's face, had shown him that even before Loghain had bled out at his feet and he'd learned for himself that the emptiness left in him by Duncan's death was always going to be there.
"No." Fergus pressed his lips together. "I heard of what had happened at Highever even before I was injured; another scout had the news, and I had all of an hour to be stunned by it before the woods were overrun with fleeing soldiers and hunting darkspawn bands, and we learned that the battle of Ostagar was over before we'd even managed to get back there. Then we met with a band of hurlocks, and there was an emissary with them."
"That's when you were hurt?"
Fergus nodded. "I was the only one who survived. Karsten found me under the bodies of my men. Cathla cut the head off the emissary and saved it for me to cleave in two later -- I didn't understand when I first woke up why she wanted me to do that, but it's a Chasind custom, so those who were injured can be part of the kill, in a way."
"I see," said Alistair, who didn't see at all, but he didn't suppose that was very important right then. "You can't have been that far from where Zin and I ended up -- we were rescued from Ostagar by Flemeth, and--"
"Flemeth!" Fergus straightened up in the chair and stared. "The Chasind tell a lot of stories about Flemeth, and they walk a long way around the part of the Wilds where this witch is supposed to live."
"Sensible of them," Alistair said. "I'm very grateful to her for saving our lives, and she's utterly terrifying and I hope I never see her again."
Fergus smiled crookedly. "From everything I've heard about her, I hope you never see her again, too. You and Zin both."
"Anyway," Alistair said, when the moment seemed to hang too heavily on both of them, "it's very nice to see you back in civilization again. Good for both you and Zin to discover that you do have some family left."
"Yes, of course. And I know I'm the teyrn of Highever now, and I'll try to fulfill my duties, but I... I'm not sure I can get married again." Fergus stared down at his hands. "Karsten and Cathla have already suggested, several times each, that I could just run off with them to the Wilds, that the people of the soft northlands will be fine without me."
"I suppose we would work something out," Alistair said a bit doubtfully, "if you did run off, but I know Zin would be... Wait. Wait, wait, wait. They both want to run off with you?" And then, because he had been spending entirely too much time with Zin and Zevran, "Separately or together?"
"Oh, together," Fergus said. "They do everything together."
"And does this everything include you, brother?" a fascinated voice asked from the door. Alistair jerked his head up to see Zin leaning there, looking rumpled and untidy and rather as if he'd been rolling around on the floor, wrestling with Serpent. Which seemed entirely plausible.
Fergus didn't even twitch, and that more than anything reminded Alistair that this man really had known Zin since the day he was born. Instead of turning to look at Zin, he looked at Alistair. "Are you quite sure you want him as a consort?" he asked. "I know he's pretty, but I swear his mabari has more tact and better manners."
"But I smell nicer," Zin said cheerfully. Then he sniffed cautiously at himself. "Most of the time, anyway."
"I'll risk it," Alistair said.
Zin came into the room and draped himself over the arm of Fergus's chair. "You didn't answer my question."
Fergus glared up under his brows, and Alistair was struck for the first time by the family resemblance between these two. Fergus was much darker, of course, tattoo-free, and had avoided getting his nose broken, but they had the same mouth and the same chin, and right now, the same stubborn expression. "They've offered," he said. "Which is an honor I don't deserve."
"Pft," Zin said. "You deserve to be happy. Honor has nothing to do with it."
"Happy." Fergus was all chin. "I was happy. I loved Oriana. I loved my son. I'm not -- I don't think I'll ever be that kind of happy again."
"I'm sorry," Zin said, and that apology had more real feeling in it than any Alistair had ever heard him make. "I loved them, too. I'm just hoping that one day, maybe, you can be a different kind of happy. I want that for you."
Fergus nodded slowly. "I understand."
"And if that kind of happy involves Cathla and Karsten, that would be fine with me." Zin grinned impishly, and Fergus punched his arm, not quite hard enough to push him off the arm of the chair.
"I'm the teyrn of Highever," Fergus said. The words seemed to taste bad in his mouth. "And my only living heir is going to be consort to the king of Ferelden. I can't have two Chasind lovers. They couldn't live with me, and I couldn't be away from Highever to live with them."
"Why not?" Alistair said. "Get a good seneschal, someone you trust, and you can easily spend the time between planting and harvest in the south. And don't tell me those two love the winters in the Wilds so much they'd rather be there than have the castle walls of Highever between the snow and themselves." He'd been to the south when it was snowing. Alistair couldn't imagine anyone wanting to spend time like that if they didn't have to.
"And I know you need an heir," Zin added, "someone who isn't me, I mean, but something tells me we're about to bring heir-arrangements back in fashion for the nobility. This coming year is going to see a lot of marriages, especially in the Bannorn, but people who'd rather not get married, or not get married again, will have another option."
Fergus looked up at Zin, and then over at Alistair. "The two of you," he said slowly, "are going to be absolutely terrifying together, ruling the country."
Zin smiled at Alistair. "And you didn't want to be king."
"I still don't," Alistair said promptly. "But you had your heart set on marrying high, so..." Zin started to tug out something from behind Fergus's back. "I mean, I'd be just as happy being a grape farmer in Rivain."
Zin threw the cushion he'd excavated at Alistair's head.
Everyone had plans, great and small, and while Alistair lay in bed and couldn't get away, he was apparently the perfect person to tell all of it to, at length. Leliana was going to find the ashes of Andraste again, or at least go back to the temple again, with Brother Genitivi and what sounded like half the chantry. She was very happy about it. Oghren was going to join the army, in a disturbingly highly-placed position, and Alistair wondered who was going to be in charge of keeping the dwarf reasonably sober, and also if the military leaders had really thought this through. Both Oghren's and Leliana's plans sounded like something he might want to look into once he was on his feet again.
Shale wanted to find out if the Tevinter mages knew anything about making a golem into a dwarf again. Wynne meant to travel with Shale, which was reassuring in its way, as just Shale alone might manage to start a war between Tevinter and Ferelden, or Tevinter and the dwarves, or both. Alistair managed to charge Wynne with trying to track down and buy back the missing alienage elves, and then to come back and be an advisor to the throne.
"And here I thought I would lead an easier life in my old age, once the Blight was over," Wynne said.
"This isn't your old age," Alistair said, wincing as she tightened one of his bandages. "You can start having your old age in, I don't know, ten years or so? Maybe."
Sten meant to go back and report on the Blight to his fellows. He said he would probably come to Ferelden again, and Alistair wondered if that really sounded sinister, in its way, or if he was just being paranoid. He'd never been very good at understanding Sten. Zevran, on the other hand, had no very immediate plans to go anywhere or do anything.
"But I may go to the alienage and look up Soris and Shianni again," he said. "They were very appealing people."
"Pretty, you mean," Alistair said. He frowned. "Zev, Shianni's been through... a lot. She's not someone you should try to, well."
"I should not remind a beautiful woman that she is beautiful?" Zevran pressed his hand to his chest, roughly in the vicinity of his heart. "My heroic but bed-ridden friend, you ask the impossible."
"What if I can't even get up the steps? What if I fall over?" Alistair said, staring at the packed Landsmeet chamber and the platform at the far end.
"Then the nice guards will help you to your feet." Zin made some minute adjustment to Alistair's hair.
"And then I'm supposed to kneel. Maybe I can't get up again." He was so tightly bandaged under the armor, he wasn't sure he could get down in the first place, either.
"The grand cleric will give you a hand if you need it," Zin said. "Everyone knows you cut down an archdemon not that long ago. Being a little stiff after a fight like that isn't surprising." He kissed Alistair's cheek. "I'm more surprised you can stand at all, even with all that stuff Wynne poured into you."
"I just want to have this over with," Alistair said. "And then we can, you know."
Zin grinned. "Get married? Rebuild the country?" The grin took on an edge of wickedness. "Have wild sex?"
"All of that," Alistair muttered. "Maybe not at the same time." He caught Zin's hands before his hair could be rearranged again. "Stop that, or I'll reward you for all your hard work by making you head privy cleaner of the royal palace."
"I love you, too," Zin said. "Stop worrying. It'll be fine."
Despite everything, Alistair found himself smiling. Some unseen trumpeter played a fanfare, and he went out to his coronation.