Game: Dragon Age: Alternate Universe
Characters/pairing: Alistair x Cousland
Disclaimer: Dragon Age is the property of Bioware, as is Alistair and any other characters mentioned within this piece. Roselyn Cousland is my creation, under the Dragon Age: Origins player character, Cousland.
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Month: Drakonis. Two months to the wedding.
The following morning Roselyn awoke before her mother did and found a surprise waiting for her on the table at her bed side: a pink rose with a note folded and creased around its stem. It was placed next to the first rose Alistair gave her, which sat in a small glass vase filled with water. Roselyn reached for the gift while pushing herself up in bed and clearing her wild hair away from her face.
She smelled the rose's sweet perfume, holding it close to her face while letting the petals graze against her lips. Unfolding the note, she read the one line written there in a confident, square hand:
"A rose for a rose.
Fighting to keep back her smile, Roselyn skimmed the words a few more times. She turned the bloom around in her fingers and relinquished to the grin that broke out across her mouth. Giggling she fell back against her pillows, her face growing hot and her heart fluttering in her chest. She pressed the note to her lips. Still giddy she climbed out of bed, suddenly eager to see the Prince again.
The same ritual occurred every morning for the two weeks that followed. Roselyn woke up to a note and a flower on her bedside table. The note's content changed from simple morning greetings to invitations to go riding. The flowers were always roses until one morning she woke to find a dark purple daisy folded in the paper and the words:
"No more roses until the summer. Will this suffice?
Each day she wrote a quick reply before going down to the hall to eat breakfast and dropped her reply into Alistair's seat. Its content was never anything crude for she was very much aware of the eyes on both of them. She knew only too well that her behaviour needed to be perfect and without fault. Any crassness on her part would be unacceptable, so she remained polite in her notes and eventually grew slightly flirtatious as the days went on.
They were still not permitted to sit near each other during meals times, but they would catch each other's eyes along the table for a second or two and look away; a game of bashful, coy glances bordering on inviting and tentative flirtation.
Alistair held to his promise and Roo was returned to Roselyn's company the day after they had first spoken. The mabari now accompanied her mistress everywhere around the palace and out. She terrorized the gardens, the servants, and occasionally Alistair by lumbering about and being either too playful or too affectionate.
Ever since Anora usurped her mother's authority, she took Roselyn out of Eleanor's grasp at every opportunity. No longer was Roselyn confined to her rooms and the company of older ladies and her mother. She and Anora walked the gardens daily and for longer periods as the days grew steadily warmer. They would "happen" upon Alistair, with or without Cailan, which allowed he and Roselyn to speak more. Anora meanwhile hung back but within a close enough distance to be seen as chaperoning them.
The days they rode out together with Anora, Cailan, and a small group of guards for their protection, Alistair showed her as much of the surrounding parkland as possible, namely what was owned by the crown and what was rented out to farmers. They came across herds of deer and wild sheep and were often greeted by laborers working in the fields. Roselyn noticed how familiar Alistair seemed with them, for each time someone greeted them he stopped their group to hop out of the saddle and talk with them. Most of their time their stops were brief, but on occasion they stayed an hour or more.
Each time they stopped, Alistair helped Roselyn down from the saddle - a brief moment of closeness which always left the two of them a little flushed - and introduced her. She was impressed by how much interest Alistair took in running the land and how attentive he was to the problems that were occurring with ploughing fields and damage done by storms during the winter. She saw how he spoke to the people as equals, not as those beneath him. He understood the most basic rule of being in a position of power: the power came from the people at the bottom. If they were not happy, the power could be taken away.He took more interest that Cailan, who stopped joining them after their third ride out together.
Roselyn found herself liking her intended more and more. He was related to Cailan and Maric, but while he had inherited his father's looks, she believed his personality came more from his mother. He was kind whereas Cailan was callous. He listened and Cailan did not. He cared and she could see the people appreciated that just as she did.
She also observed that he was willing to get his hands dirty, sometimes literally. Whenever they needed help in repairing a barn or mending a broken fence, he shed himself of his riding jacket and turned his sleeves up to the crook of his elbow. Each time he did this, he discarded the title of Prince and fit in as well as any of the other farm hands. His help was always greeted with warmth and genuine gratitude. The people loved him, and Roselyn noticed that he either did not notice or chose not to. He was humble and insisted on doing it "because it was the right thing to do."
Each day Alistair surprised her. Before arriving in Denerim, she expected to find a snotty nosed Prince who was arrogant, stuck up, had too high an opinion of himself, and would be as loving to her as a cat to a fish. Instead she found someone who was generous with his time and his energy, humble, and did everything and yet asked for nothing. He was never going to inherit anything grand and would always be in his brother's shadow as far as their father was concerned, yet it never seemed to bother him. She had yet to hear him complain about his lot in life, despite the treatment Maric and Cailan demonstrated towards him at meal times. They teased and taunted him, making jokes at his expense almost every night as the wine flowed. Anora was all that kept Roselyn from defending Alistair from the jibes of his father and brother. She kept her on guard and tutored her in how to behave around Cailan and Maric. She taught her to never answer too truthfully and try to avoid answering a question by deflecting them. She warned her that Maric might corner her and catch her off guard with sudden, quick-fire inquiries which seemed innocuous at the time but in truth were his way of weeding out unrest and potential betrayal.
During her forth week in Denerim and only two months from her wedding, Roselyn was prepared for her first outing in the guise of Prince Alistair's fiancée. She, along with her parents, Alistair, Anora, Maric, Cailan, and a small contingent of guards, were to visit the elven Alienage in Denerim and check on repairs being done after the harsh storms of the winter. The responsibility and oversight of the reconstruction and welfare of the city elves had been put to Cailan and it was the first visit Maric was taking to the Alienage in almost a year.
Her mother was beside herself with excitement and determined to make sure Roselyn's first official appearance went smoothly. Eleanor wanted the people of Denerim to see Roselyn and love her, so her daughter had to make the best impression possible. She also wanted them to know that know Roselyn came from good stock - Cousland stock. She was so eager that she woke Roselyn before dawn to get her ready. This left her tired and throughout the carriage ride through the city she stifled yawns while listening to the sound of enthusiastic cheering and horse hooves clip-clopping on the streets.
"Once we get out, you can't yawn," Eleanor swatted Roselyn's hand from her mouth. "It'll be seen as bad manners. You'll insult the King."
Roselyn managed not to roll her eyes. "I'd be more worried about insulting the elves, mother," she chided. Anora smirked a little, her gaze directed out of the window. "Besides, I wouldn't be yawning if you hadn't woken me before the whole palace."
"Someone has to make sure you look presentable."
"The fire wasn't even lit in my room."
"Mother--" Roselyn recoiled out of her mother's reach, clenching her hands. "Enough."
A look flickered across Eleanor's face, one that Roselyn was becoming more and more familiar with. A look of quietly simmering anger and begrudging respect. At Highever, Roselyn was a tool of her mother's whim. She was used as bait and something to be bargained with in her political games. It was a role Roselyn had grown accustomed to playing, tiresome as it had been.
With Anora's help, she was slowly slipping out of her mother's suffocating grip. She was learning how to say no and defend herself from her mother's underhanded snipes, her biting words, and her picking and prodding. She always made sure that Roselyn knew she was not yet good enough when in truth, Roselyn was better than enough.
"I really wish you would let me help you, darling," Eleanor sighed, playing the wounded party as well as she could. "I'm your mother. I only want what's best."
"For whom?" Roselyn bit back, looking out the window at the passing buildings and the blurred faces.
Eleanor gasped, "For you, of course. Who else?"
Roselyn arched an eyebrow but said nothing, catching the subtle shake of Anora's head, a gesture which signalled to her to let it go. Not to allow her mother to dig her nails in and get the argument she wanted or manipulate her. After a pregnant silence Eleanor sighed, releasing the tension in the air. Anora smiled a gentle, approving smile which Roselyn caught a glimpse of.
Anora grew higher and higher in Roselyn's esteem. Not only was she the soul responsible for allowing her and Alistair to meet and speak so frequently, but she took it upon herself to show her the ropes of the palace. She explained who Roselyn needed to speak to about what things. The palace's size was much bigger than Highever and meant that the number of servants was massive by comparison. Anora did not know them all by name, but she knew what they did by sight and the livery they wore. She knew who each servant answered to and was always polite to them just as Alistair was. The servants liked and respected her, and as the days went by they began to warm up to Roselyn, too. During their talks, Alistair commented about how Anora seemed different with Roselyn around. He remarked how Anora taking Roselyn under her wing had given her a new focus.
The carriage came to a stop outside the gates to the Alienage. From the window Roselyn could see the crowds of city elves gathered to catch a glimpse of the King, his sons, and those that accompanied him. Guards, armed and in full armour, formed a protective and imposing presence around them all as they were led through the gates by an elf named Valendrian, the city elves Hahren.
The focal point of the Alienage was a great tree, the vhenadahl, around which everything was built up. Buildings packed together with only tiny, narrow streets that were barely big enough to squeeze through. The buildings were taller than what Roselyn was accustomed to seeing in the Highever Alienage and from what she gathered, were designed to house elves in separate rooms, rather than allowing each elf having their own house for their family. There were scaffolds everywhere and building materials left out and unattended along with various tools and carts to move heavy stone or mortar from place-to-place.
"Where are the workers?" Roselyn asked Anora, keeping her voice low so not to disturb Maric and his conversation.
Eleanor pinched the back of her hand. "Shh."
Roselyn's lips twisted and she rubbed where her flesh hurt. There would be time for questions later. This was an opportunity for her to investigate and learn more about the elven Alienage and how to make it a better place to live. Looking over the living situation here, she could only think back to the Alienage in Highever, where the elves were as much a part of daily life as the people were. Here, the elves looked sickly; many had a waxy pallor and a greying complexion, lank hair and wide, wild eyes making them appear almost feral. They were clearly underfed with some so thin that they struggled to keep their clothes on their shoulders.
Valendrian led the group through the main square of the Alienage and past the great vhenadahl. His conversation with Maric was amicable but low. They walked a few steps ahead of everyone else to keep their words as private as possible. Everywhere their group went, eyes peered out of shuttered windows and doors. Elves turned away, only to peer over their shoulders at the visitors in their finery. Despite wearing a heavy gown of silk and damask, Roselyn felt almost naked under their scrutinising gazes. She was over dressed and felt guilty for the way she almost paraded her clothes in front of them.
Her mother and Anora moved off with Cailan and Bryce, talking amongst themselves. They kept eyes on the King and Valendrian. Her parents and Cailan pretended to be blind to what was around them. Alistair slowed his steps on purpose and began to walk at Roselyn's pace until they were side-by-side.
With no sharp eyes watching them, Roselyn dropped her hands to her sides as casually as possible. Following her silent hint, Alistair did the same. Never looking at her he reached for her fingers with his; quiet and unassuming. Wrapping his index and middle fingers around hers, he drew her hand towards him until they could press palm-to-palm, fingers lacing together.
Warmth flooded Roselyn's cheeks and neck. She felt giddy, almost naughty for what they were doing. Holding hands and not being married - a scandalous thing to do. But she enjoyed it while they had the opportunity.
His hands were rough, made so though weapons training most of his life. Her fingers were dwarfed by his and every time he ran his thumb across her knuckles, she felt a little tingle of excitement shudder through her body. He squeezed her fingers between his. Not too hard, but enough that she could feel it. She glanced up at him when she squeezed back. He was fighting a smile, the corner of his mouth curved upwards in a crooked way. His own cheeks were tinged red and the colour deepened when he noticed her looking.
"Have you told him, Valendrian?" A sharp female voice shocked Roselyn from her momentarily blissful stupor. She and Alistair jumped apart as their party came to a stop. She missed the feel of his hand almost immediately but turned her focus to where the new voice had come from.
Standing in front of the group was an elven woman with hair like fire and eyes that matched. While she too did not look healthy or well fed, she stood to her full height to try and appear imposing. Hands on her hips, legs shoulder width apart, her lips drawn into a tight line on her otherwise pretty face.
"Shianni..." Valdenrian shook his head, a subtle indication for her not to speak.
"He needs to know!" Shianni snapped.
One guard stepped forward as Shianni approached. "Stand down, elf!"
"Enough!" Maric barked and the guard dropped back. Roselyn watched Valendrian shift uncomfortably. The mood of those around her grew tense. Alistair's face hardened and he was primed to move if necessary. Cailan was at his father's side too, leaving Anora with Bryce and Eleanor. "What is it Valendrian should tell me?" asked Maric, standing a few feet away from Shianni.
She took a breath. "We were told that your son, Prince Cailan, would be overseeing the repairs and reconstruction of the Alienage," she explained. "That promise has not been fulfilled. That boy," she jerked a finger at Cailan, "hasn't been near the Alienage since the storms of the winter. There have been no workers sent. No supplies. We have had none of the help we were promised."
Cailan crossed his arms. "There's scaffolding up."
"Our scaffolding!" Shianni snapped at him. "And the repairs we have managed to do were done with things we could reuse from destroyed buildings or barter for extortionate prices from merchants who think just because we're elves, we can be fleeced for the gold we have to work twice as hard as any shem to earn."
"Then what do you need workers for?" asked Cailan, snorting with indignation. "If you can do the work yourselves, then why should the crown waste money paying professionals?"
"Because they are professionals, you jumped up spoiled shit heel!" she shouted at him. Her nostril's flared, her anger growing. "The work we have managed to do has been done by the elderly and those with no training because many of us cannot afford to take days off the few jobs we can get! The repairs are taking longer and longer. The poor weather has made disease spread and we are suffering for it, Your Majesty."
"I was going to bring this up to His Majesty in time, Shianni," Valdenrian sighed and rubbed his forehead.
"Well now he knows! The truth has been made clear to him!" She shot back. "If he cares at all for his elven subjects, he'll do something."
"You don't think I care?" asked Maric.
Shianni seemed to hesitate for a moment, before gathering her courage. "You put the duty of rebuilding homes and lives in the hands of a boy who cares nothing for the people and country that will one day be his," she explained. "What are we elves supposed to take from that?"
"You're very bold," remarked Maric.
Shianni lifted her chin. "I want what is best for my people. We have as much right to be treated well as you do."
Cailan snorted. "You aren't going to take that kind of preaching and accusation from a knife-ear, are you father?" he asked, crossing his arms. "Make an example of her."
"What did you call me?!" snarled Shianni. She took a step towards Cailan and the guards crowded around him. "Say it again."
"Now, Shianni..." Valendrian lifted his hands, trying to placate her.
"He called me a knife-ear!" She shouted, raising her voice for everyone to her. "The Prince of the realm called me a knife-ear!"
Murmurs began to arise from the elves nearby. Roselyn drew closer to Alistair's side. He grabbed her hand, hard this time to keep a hold of her. Elves who had been hiding in buildings began to flood out, their eyes now on Cailan, Maric, and Shianni. They advanced from all sides, forcing the group to back up step-by-step. The guards drew blades, keeping the growing number of elves at bay.
"You don't care about us at all, do you Your Highness?" Shianni spat on the ground. "You just see us as a dirty mark in the city of Denerim. You wouldn't care if we all died out."
"Cailan--" Maric snatched his son's arm and squeezed, stopping him from speaking and making matters worse.
The guards were heavily outnumbered and even with their weapons, the increasing elven mob could tear them all to ribbons. Valendrian's attempts to pacify the city elves fell on deaf ears. Their shouts for Cailan, for justice, and for help grew into a crowing cacophony of noise.
Roselyn was jerked one way then another. Anora pulled her hand and wrapped an arm around her waist yanking her from Alistair and towards the entrance to the Alienage. Eleanor was with them and a small handful of guards to keep them safe. They each piled into the carriage and one guard slammed the door behind them. The horses sped into action, hooves grinding on the ground and kicking up stones as they sped off, leaving Alistair, Maric, Cailan and Roselyn's father in the unrest of the Alienage.
Alistair could not remember seeing his father as angry as he had witnessed when they returned to the palace, and was grateful that he had not been the focus of his fury. He had been little more than an onlooker and silent throughout all of Cailan's dressing down. Maric bellowed insults, calling Cailan every name under the sun, cursing him to Andraste and the Maker. Cailan just stood there, stoic and taking his father's words as he was supposed to.
He knew his father and brother would be best friends once again in a day or two when they cooled off. They would probably go hunting together to re-cement their bond as father and favoured son. He knew too that what had occurred in the Alienage would go forgotten. The plight of the city elves would be ignored by Maric until it became too much of an issue and it needed to be faced. When that time came, Alistair would be forced to stand at his brother and father's side, pretending to agree with whatever decision they came to. He would have to smile and keep his mouth shut, no matter his true feelings on the matter.
He only hoped he would be able to help the elves in some small way with what standing he had. The elves, after all, were well within their rights to be angry and upset. They were promised help and it had not been given to them. And when the person responsible was confronted, he tried to shirk the blame onto some imaginary villain. Their homes were unliveable, there was sickness on the streets striking down the young and old alike, and no one seemed to care.
Wanting to do something and being able to accomplish something were two different things, and even though he was a prince his power was limited by his father's rule and by his brother's position as heir to the throne. He could only do a small amount, but he already had plans he wanted to put into motion; ideas for new housing and how it could be achieved before the autumn came.
Striding through the corridors of the palace, the only noise that followed him was the sound of his boots echoing off the floor and the walls. Most of the servants were in bed. In fact, most of the palace was asleep and Alistair would have been too, had his mind not been awash with ideas and possibilities. He had been at his desk in his room since supper, scribbling down ideas and jotting notes to himself about building materials and costs. How many people could live to a house. The space each building would need. The possibility of setting up an elven clinic, run by elven mages sent from the Circle. Things that the elves desperately needed, things that had to be addressed, and could not be ignored.
He clutched his plans in one hand and pushed open the door to the library. The person he sought, his tutor Ephraim, was often awake at unreasonable hours, tracking the movement of the stars through a telescope. Alistair stayed up with him on more than one occasion. He wanted to present his ideas to his tutor first before presenting them to his father for consideration. Ephraim was as honest as Maric but not as dismissive or abrupt. He would tell Alistair without coddling him if his ideas were of any merit and would also help him tidy up the scruffy edges of his thoughts.
The library was one of the smaller rooms of the palace and was always quiet. It was lined wall-to-wall with shelves that stood floor to ceiling and were all stuffed with books. Ladders on wheels were arranged around the room so people could reach whatever was on the higher shelves. In the centre of the room were two long, dark wood tables with griffins, mabari, and intricate designs of vines and leaves carved on their legs and corners.
The door closed behind him and he paused after taking a few steps into the room. A figure at one of the tables caught his attention and he watched a quill coming to a stop in her fingers as she lifted her gaze to him.
Feeling his stomach drop somewhere to the floor, Alistair swallowed once, twice in an attempt to dampen his throat which had turned cracked and dry. His tongue felt heavy when he tried to speak, so he saved himself the embarrassment and didn't.
They weren't supposed to be alone. In fact, Roselyn wasn't supposed to be left alone. So why was she here? In the library? And clearly without an escort or chaperone? His palms grew sweaty and he fumbled for the rolls of paper in his hands.
"Your Highness?" Roselyn smiled and began to rise out of her chair.
"Don'tgetuponmyaccount!" Alistair barked, stumbling over his words in his effort to get them out. He blushed at his foolishness, burning under his clothes. Roselyn stayed seated, her attention on him with half-hooded eyes.
He noticed she was dressed in a cotton shift and a long cloak fastened around her shoulders, practically naked by normal standards. Her hair was loose down her back too, like she had come from her bed. He gave a curt nod of his head, gulping down air to find his voice. "I'm sorry that I disturbed you."
"Have--" Alistair cleared his throat, "have you see Ephraim?"
"No." Roselyn shook her head sending ringlets tumbling over her shoulders. Alistair noticed that she was not entirely alone; at her feet was her mabari, big amber eyes open watching him. "Why were you looking for him?"
"Oh..." Alistair clenched his hand around the papers he clutched. "No reason."
There was silence between them. Heavy, uncomfortable silence. It was the first time they had ever been alone together and that was something they both knew. If they were caught there would be gossip. Knowing he should turn and leave her, go back to his rooms and find Ephraim in the morning, Alistair instead found himself moving towards her. While they could talk quite candidly with Anora around there was always an air of politeness and pretence. This was the first opportunity they had to talk as equals. As far as they knew it would be the only opportunity they would have until after the wedding.
"Are you alright?" Alistair asked, wanting to take back the words as soon as he said them. He closed his eyes, cursing inwardly and wishing he was as cool and confident when it came to talking as his brother was. Instead he was a bumbling fool, tripping over what he wanted to say, never able to make it clear. "I mean... at the Alienage. That was--"
"Quite an experience," Roselyn remarked. "I'm fine, thank you, Your Highness. A little shaken but... unhurt." Her smile was calm and unguarded, an attempt to put him at ease. "And you?"
"I'm fine," Alistair grinned. "Cailan may never recover from the dressing down our father gave him but I came out unscathed for a change. We had to stay to try and calm things down. There was no fighting or weapons drawn. Though I'm certain the woman, Shianni, wanted Cailan's tongue for the 'knife-ear' remark." He leaned his hands on the back of a vacant chair near where Roselyn sat. He could see from the light of the candles she had around her she had been writing.
"What happened?" Inquired Roselyn turning her body towards him in her seat. "After Anora, my mother and I were escorted away? I've asked around the palace but no one will tell me."
"Valendrian and the King managed to calm the crowd. There was no bloodshed - thank the Maker - but it came close." Alistair told her thinking back to the afternoon. He had never felt a fear like it, for several minutes he had truly feared for his life and those of Cailan and his father. "We spoke with Valendrian, Shianni and other elves of importance about what needed to be done. My father is sending missives out to builders, carpenters and stonemasons in the hopes we can rebuild the Alienage before the autumn. In the mean time what labourers and builders we have to spare in Denerim will be sent to continue to oversee and repair the damage."
Roselyn sighed, her shoulders dropping. A look of relief glimmered across her face. "I'm pleased you--" Her eyes widened a fraction. "Th-that no one was injured. That no blood was spilled."
"So am I."
"My mother was frantic in the carriage back." Roselyn told him. Her mouth quirked to one side when she smiled. He found himself watching her lips form her words. "I think she thought the elves were attacking her personally. She does like to make a fuss."
Alistair gave a soft chuckle, leaning over enough to see Roselyn's words on the pages laid out before her. "What are you writing?"
She glanced at it and quickly covered the words with a spare sheet. "Just a letter to my brother. Telling him what I've been up to." Her tone turned more defensive. Alistair decided not to push the subject and instead sat down on the chair beside her.
He felt a little giddy, being so close and without a chaperone to watch them and keep them at the specific distance. He could feel Roselyn's warmth through her thin clothes. That he could reach out and take her hand made his skin tingle, and a shudder of excited anticipation ripple over him.
"May I ask," Roselyn broke the silence that had fallen between them, "about today?"
He perched his chin on his fist, his elbow on the table. "What about it?" Alistair smiled, he liked that she looked at him when she spoke. She didn't drop her gaze or appear feeble and weak. She was as steady and assured as Anora.
"As I understand, the welfare of the elves is your brother's duty, correct?" Alistair nodded. "I'm curious, if their welfare was your responsibility, what would you do?"
"Me?" He managed to keep his mouth from falling open at the bluntness of her question. To even consider him taking Cailan's duties came close to treason. "I wouldn't be so impertinent to put myself in my brother's place."
"Hypothetically speaking," countered Roselyn without hesitating, as if she had planned on what he would say. "If you were hypothetically the heir to the throne with all of Cailan's duties and responsibilities, how would you approach the subject of the city elves?"
Growing uneasy, Alistair got up from his chair. He ruffled his hand through his hair, scratching the back of his neck. "I wouldn't," he stated, pacing back a few steps. "What you're putting forward is sedition." He rounded on Roselyn who was also standing.
"We're discussing a hypothetical situation, not planning a coup," she remarked. "How is that akin to sedition?"
"Because imagining harm to any member of the royal family, especially the King or heir to the throne can be considered as plotting or tempting fate," he explained to her, words coming out in a rushed and harsh whisper. He had learned from a young age that the walls had ears. Words spoken in private could somehow find their way to ears they were not meant for. "I like my head where it is." He began to walk towards the doors, eager to leave the conversation.
"Who said anything about harm?" demanded Roselyn.
"I don't know why you're asking anyway."
"Because I find the way someone deals with the less fortunate very telling of their character, Alistair." He stopped at the sudden use of his name. He was half-way between the door and the table where Roselyn was still standing one hand on the table. He faced her, schooling his expression to betray nothing. She too, had a still face, eyes on his but no other telling traits. "I wanted to know what you would have done to avoid what happened today."
"You said my name."
"That's the first time you've said my name."
Roselyn scoffed. "No, it's not."
"It is." Alistair smiled, seeing colour rise in her cheeks at being caught speaking to him in such an informal way. "You called me Alistair."
"Don't make it out to be more than it is." Roselyn remarked, crossing her arms. "It just... slipped out."
"I like it."
"You're avoiding the question."
He stepped towards her, closing the space between them in a few strides. "Call me Alistair again," he bargained, reaching for her hands and holding her fingers in his. "And I'll answer your question."
"Of all the..." Roselyn rolled her eyes, shifting her weight from one hip to the other. Alistair felt her apply a little pressure where she returned his hold. "Alistair," her mouth quirked to one side as she peered up at him. He grinned, rocking on his feet. "Please tell me what you would have done differently, Alistair."
He was positively beaming at the second utterance of his name. He opened the scrolls he had been carrying, full of his jumbled thoughts and drawings. "Here." He directed her attention to them, pointing at one. "First I'd get supplies in. We have good trade with Orzammar for stone which is stronger for roofing and would be better to withstand some of the winter weather. And we have other merchants and steady trade coming in from the Free Marches and Orlais. They have good, strong trees there that could build up the houses. I'd speak to the elves, get their view on what they wanted. If they just wanted repairs, or if they would like things to change. More space, better housing."
"Did you draw these?" Roselyn asked, picking up one scroll and examining his sketches of a two-story building.
"Yes." Alistair scratched his head. "They're not very good. I mean, they're very--"
"Alistair, these are wonderful. Clever and inventive." Roselyn squinted at the drawings. Alistair flushed hot under his clothes and was grateful for the dim lighting. "They're houses built one on top of the other, yes?"
"Exactly." He took the scroll to explain, "A stairwell around the back allows access for the family living upstairs. There are separate rooms that are sturdy but well ventilated. And they're affordable to make. It would make their living conditions better. Families could live there."
Roselyn picked up another scroll, "what's this one?"
"A clinic." He pointed to his chicken scratch short hand. "I know the city elves have their own healers, but I thought what about bringing in mages from the Circle to heal and teach other basic medical training in case of emergencies."
"You would propose taking mages from the Circle?" Roselyn lifted both eyebrows.
"I know, I know. It's a bit radical." He continued, "but I don't believe anyone should be cooped up in a place and feared. Do you? Things need to change."
"I agree on that." Roselyn pushed her hair over her shoulder. "Thedas is changing, moving forward. And, forgive me for saying so, but your father and Cailan seem rather... reticent to embrace change."
Alistair shrugged. "My father was the King Ferelden needed during the war and occupation of Orlais. Now that it's peaceful, he's bored. He was born to be a warrior. Not a ruler."
"And what were you and Cailan born to be?"
"The heir and the spare?" He laughed in spite of himself, leaning on the table. "I'm just here in case my brother goes missing. I don't know what I'll be when he becomes King."
Roselyn reached over to give his hand a supportive caress. "I'm certain you will be something great." Her smile caught him off guard in his softness and sincerity. The candle light reflected in her grey eyes making her look like something from a dream.
Smoothing his thumb across her hand, Alistair felt himself inching towards her. His chest constricted around his lungs, making him breathe faster. His skin grew warm, his nerves trembling just beneath the surface. He brought his free hand up, tracing the back of his fingers down Roselyn's cheek and then cupping her jaw with unknown boldness. She leaned into his palm, dropping her gaze almost shyly.
"I..." Alistair's voice caught, "I would-- That is to say I... I would-- May I... uhm- k-kiss you?" He breathed, his voice shuddering. "Would that..." he glanced at the floor. "I mean would-- would you...?"
"You may kiss me," she nodded, giggling. "If you like."
He nudged forward timidly. His stomach clenched with the anticipation flooding his body. His lips began to tingle at the sensation of her breath landing on them. Roselyn's eyes slid closed, Alistair angled his head to avoid bumping noses. An inch more--
The door slammed back against the wall and the two of them jumped apart.
Roo was up on her feet, growling at the intruder in the shadows.
Alistair recognised the silhouette lurching in the doorway. The warmth of his body was replaced by ice racing through his veins. He stepped in front of Roselyn without hesitation intent on using his body as a barrier if need be.
"Lady Roselyn," King Maric grumbled, "half the palace is up looking for you."
Roselyn dropped into a brief curtsey. "I apologise, Your Majesty. I had no intention to cause alarm. I was only writing to my brother." She began to gather her things, including Alistair's scrolls and drawings.
Maric walked towards them, towering even when drunk and unsteady on his feet. Alistair had seen his father drink many people under the table. "Get along to your chambers, my lady. Before you cause any more mischief."
Roselyn bobbed her head at Maric and then Alistair. "Goodnight Your Majesty. Goodnight Alis-- Your Highness."
She fled from the library, Roo behind her. Alistair saw her peek around the door as she closed it her expression drawn into one of concern as she looked at him. He shook his head in silence offering a small smile he hoped would assuage her worries.
Once she was gone, Alistair steeled himself with a deep breath. He knew his father's moods when he was drunk and if Cailan was not around then he would be the subject of his ire.
His father's mouth was drawn into a frown as he stood opposite Alistair. His eyes bloodshot, his hair a dishevelled mess, his clothes and his breath reeked of Dwarven whisky. Strong stuff. Clearly the day's events had taken their toll.
"I overheard your conversation." Maric began, speaking with clarity Alistair found surprising. "Planning on supplanting your brother and me, eh?"
"Don't back talk me, boy!" Barked Maric, his temper flaring. Alistair closed his mouth; he knew better than to incite his father's wrath. "I know Cailan is a wastrel, but he's my son and heir. Your future King." He grasped Alistair's shoulders in strong hands and held tight, digging his fingers into Alistair's skin through his clothes. "Don't let that little Highever girl fill your head with delusions of grandeur. You will never be King."
"I don't want to be King." Alistair clenched his jaw. "We were talking hypothetically. She was asking about the plight of the elves in the Alienage."
"Hmph." Maric snorted, "should leave those things to her betters." He grunted. "All you and she need focus on is getting a baby in her belly."
Alistair blanched at the bluntess of the statement. "Your Ma--
Maric held gripped Alistair's shoulders tighter and stood to his full height. "You are likely the last hope for an heir my line has." He explained sobering a little. Alistair tried to ignore the stink of his father's breath so close. "Anora is barren, all of Ferelden knows it, and your brother..." Maric sucked his teeth, "he's probably the one who caused her barrenness with his whores and wenches. But you, boy." He slapped Alistair on the shoulder, "you're a good one. You get a baby on the girl and we'll have a secure line."
"I know, Your Majesty." Alistair said wanting to appease his father and get away from him as quick as he was able.
Maric sniffed and peered at him through his drunken haze. Alistair held himself still as Maric pressed his forehead to his. "You're so much like your mother, Alistair." Sighed Maric, a moment of sentimental calm seeping through his inebriated stupor. "Wish she could have seen you grow up."
Alistair clenched his hands at his sides and swallowed. He stayed silent, squeezed his eyes shut and willed the time to go quicker.
"You're a good boy, Alistair." Maric huffed, ruffling his large hand through his hair. "Go on, be off with you." He gave him a strong shove towards the door. Alistair watched his father sink down into one of the library chairs and left.