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.
AO3 Link // FF.net Link // Tumblr Link
Cloudreach. One month until the wedding.
Roselyn stared at her reflection in the mirrors erected around her. She stood on a stool a foot off the ground so the hem of her dress could be tucked up and pinned to the proper length by the seamstresses who bustled around her.
This was the first time she was seeing herself in what would be her wedding dress. It was almost finished except for a few minor details and Roselyn was astounded by it. No one ever asked her opinion on what sort of dress she wanted to wear, so she dreaded every fitting. Each time she felt less and less like a bride and more like a beast lost in yards of tulle and lace.
But today she saw the work of the dressmakers and seamstresses and what it had been building up to. She realized that her worries were unfounded and that, minus the pins, the dress was beautiful. The base was a heavy ivory coloured dull satin with layers of chiffon under the skirt, making it flare out at Roselyn's hips. It cut straight across her chest just below her collar bone, drawing attention to her slim shoulders and her neck. A layer of lace was sewn over the main dress and it sat across her shoulders with sleeves that ended at the elbow. Throughout the lace were delicate pearls and diamonds all individually sewn into place which caught the light making her gown practically shimmer when Roselyn moved. While it was a heavy gown to walk in, Roselyn felt like a giddy little girl looking at herself and almost didn't want to take it off.
"What do you think?" Roselyn asked Anora, who was sitting on a seat close by reading.
She closed the pages around one of her fingers to keep her place and looked over Roselyn with an arched brow. "It's lovely," she remarked, her lips quirking. "Very pretty."
"Do you think Alistair will like it?"
"That's his Highness," Eleanor interjected coming towards the mirrors and Roselyn armed with a pin cushion. "You know better than to call him by his first name."
Rolling her eyes, Roselyn tugged away from Eleanor's hands as she pulled on her sleeves, lowering the neckline of her dress. "Its fine, Mother."
She saw her mother pinch her lips between her teeth. She lifted her hands away, leaving Roselyn's sleeve as it was and thrust the pin cushion at one of the seamstresses before sitting down in a chair beside Anora and retrieving her embroidery ring from a small table.
"Honestly, the fact the two of you were alone..." muttered Eleanor.
"Not this again," sighed Roselyn, rolling her head along her shoulders to ease out the ache in her neck which had started to pulse. "Mother, we talked."
"The King said he almost kissed you," snapped Eleanor, sharp eyes glaring up from beneath furrowed brows. Roselyn pretended to ignore the rush of heat which swept up her chest and neck, staining her face.
She remembered the evening in the library where she and Alistair had been able to speak candidly for the first time. No chaperone, no guards or people listening in and making sure they behaved. Just them, their honesty, the thoughts they had shared. She thought to the drawings he had shown her, which were tucked safely away in her desk. She took them in order to protect them from Maric, worried that he would rip them apart if he saw them, .
She remembered the closeness. Alistair's hands in hers, the thrill of skin-to-skin contact which they were so rarely allowed. She recalled him brushing her cheek with the back of his hand, the smell of him as he drew nearer, earthy and deep. A good smell. A strong smell. She remembered her fear of being kissed, of being caught had disappeared, and how she had wanted him to kiss her. When she shut her eyes and imagined the moment, she could still feel the heavy thud of her heart and the excited twist of her stomach. The shudder of anticipation which had rippled over her from her lips and throughout her body.
Roselyn gave an involuntary shiver and quickly squared her grey eyes on her face in the mirror. She caught a glimpse of a smirk on Anora's lips. She knew what Roselyn was thinking of. She probably still remembered the heady delight of it all.
"He didn't kiss me," Roselyn said finally, taking a breath to steady herself. "We were just talking. The King was drunk. He probably would have seen a dragon in his state."
"Do not be so flippant," Eleanor hissed, slamming her sewing down into her lap. Roselyn snapped her head to look down at her mother. Anora was no longer reading her book, her eyes fixed on her page but not moving. "If you do anything - anything - that the King does not approve of you'll be branded a harlot and this whole marriage will terminated before the day. We'll be laughing stocks."
"How can I be branded a harlot if I don't do anything?" asked Roselyn. She tried to cross her arms but the fabric of her dress had been pinned so tight her movement was restricted. "We were talking. He was showing me drawings, ideas for how to make the Alienage more liveable for the elves."
"The elves," snorted Eleanor. "They would have killed us had the King not been there."
"Cailan started it."
"That elf girl started it," retorted Eleanor. "That she wasn't thrown in the stocks and made an example of amazes me."
"Maybe the King thought she had a good point in her complaints," suggested Roselyn, lifting one arm as one of the seamstresses asked her to. "We all saw firsthand on the visit that the elves are living as no one should have to. They need help."
"That's not our business," her mother started sewing again, pushing the point of her needle through the pattern and drawing the thread through slowly. "And certainly not yours. Yours is to be on your best behaviour until you're married."
"And after?" Roselyn arched a brow.
"Afterwards you need to concentrate on getting pregnant," she replied with thoughtless calm. Roselyn noticed Anora's expression freeze. "Get pregnant, have a child, secure an heir," continued Eleanor, snorting softly. "Someone needs to."
Closing her book, Anora got to her feet with all the grace Roselyn had come to expect from her. Her face was clear, unreadable, her eyes level and hard. "Excuse me." She placed the book on the table and walked with quick but steady steps out of the Roselyn's bed chamber to the reception area which split off to the other rooms.
"Mother!" Roselyn snarled and stepped down off the stool.
"Roselyn, get back-"
"Shut up, Mother," Roselyn snapped marching past her and beyond the slatted screen which hid them from view in case anyone happened to enter.
Lifting her dress so she didn't trip, Roselyn marched through the different rooms until she found Anora sitting in the window seat of the last one, the one supposedly used for dining which Roselyn had yet to make any use of. It over looked the gardens and Roselyn found it a nice place to sit and ignore the goings on around her while her mother and the ladies she had selected gobbled and clucked like chickens.
Roo sat at Anora's feet, her chin on the older woman's knee. Anora had one hand on the hounds head, stroking one of her ears between her fingers. Her gaze was focused outside and though she showed no outside signs of being upset at Eleanor's words, Roselyn felt a sense of sadness rolling off of her in waves.
She approached tentatively and placed a hand on Anora's shoulder when she reached her. Anora wrapped her fingers around Roselyn's squeezed briefly and looked at her. "I'm fine."
"I'm sorry about my mother." Roselyn sat opposite her in the seat, gathering the heavy fabric around her. "She can be thoughtless."
"It's all right," Anora assured her, patting the back of Roselyn's hand. "I don't mind."
"It's not alright," argued Roselyn. "She's so... She doesn't think about other people. All she cares about is herself and that this marriage goes through." She wriggled, uncomfortable where a pin was pricking into her skin.
"Mothers are like that." Anora sighed, a brief smile touching her lips. "They want what's best for their children. I would."
Roselyn's gaze softened as she watched Anora staring out of the window. There was nothing there, nothing to see, just the gardeners and the workers for the palace going about their daily business, but Anora was far away, seeing something that Roselyn could only imagine. Perhaps a life Anora pictured long before Roselyn met her; a life very different from what it was now.
Roselyn reached for Anora's hands and held them in hers. "There's still time, you know." She tried to be supportive, smiling up at the woman she had come to rely on to safely guide her through the intricacies of life in Denerim and in King Maric's court. "You could still have a family."
Anora retracted her hands. "It's a nice thought, but it won't happen."
"Why?" Roselyn cocked her head to one side. "You're young. Cailan seems... capable?"
"Oh, he is." Anora's laugh was short and bitter. "But not with me." She treated Roselyn to a level stare. "He comes to me maybe once a month. If that. To..." She gestured to elaborate without needing words. Roselyn lifted both eyebrows, understanding her meaning. "And he no longer sleeps in my bed. Nor I in his."
Puzzled, Roselyn nibbled her bottom lip for a moment before speaking. "You don't share the same bed? The same room?"
"Maker, no." Anora laughed again, "How would he see his mistresses if I was there with him?" She chuckled softly through her nose. "No, we haven't shared a bed all night or a room for a long time." She grew silent and leaned back against the dark wood panelling which surrounded the window seat. Roselyn said nothing, unable to think of anything to say. She could not comfort her or offer suggestions. She had no experience with married life or how to change things so Cailan's interests returned to where they should have always been. "It's funny." Anora said after a pregnant pause making Roselyn jump.
"We were happy in the beginning. We were in love," she spoke wistfully. Roselyn could almost see Anora recalling the memories of the early days of her marriage. "He was dashing and charming... he swept me off my feet. Which is funny, considering I grew up beside him and almost always found him insufferable."
"Cailan insufferable," Roselyn muttered. "Imagine that."
Anora gave a small wicked grin. "He was so arrogant and stubborn. Childish and spoiled in so many ways. Maric always gave Cailan whatever he wanted, especially after Queen Rowan died. Cailan always had to be right..." stated Anora, pointing her finger at her reflection in the glass as if telling herself off. "If he wasn't, he would throw such a tantrum. I was always shouting at him and calling him names, telling him to grow up. I used to run circles around him. He would follow me around like a love sick dog and I would kick him away every time."
"Sounds like you impressed him," Roselyn said, leaning her head against the window and watching Anora's faraway look. She wore a misty eyed expression she had never seen on her before, a the slight flush to her cheeks.
"I think I did. I was one of the few people who was never taken in by his charm or his wit. I saw through it all..." She looked at Roselyn. "I still do."
"We had been promised since childhood and grew up together. Like you, I was very reluctant to marry this boy who I saw as little more than a fool. He went away on a summer tour with his father when he was sixteen. A gangly youth all long limbs and all the signs of adolescence. Just a boy, not a prince." Anora twisted a strand of hair back behind her ears, smirking to herself. "When he came back in the autumn, he was a man. He'd turned seventeen. Filled out, developed muscle and a confidence he hadn't had before. No showmanship, just... confidence. He was different. He treated me differently. Suddenly he was courting me. Really courting me. Sending me flowers, riding out with me, walking with me. He would shirk his duties to spend time with me..."
"He sounds so different," Roselyn said, and then smiled a little. "You sound like you were very taken with him."
"I was," Anora nodded with a smile that made her eyes light up. "I thought myself the luckiest woman in all of Thedas when we were married. I thought marriage would be easy, but..." She trailed, and stared down at her hands. "Things changed so quickly. We would argue. Disagree. We were spending more nights apart than together and the constant badgering about whether I was pregnant... it made the mere idea of sex with him abhorrent to me."
"I had gone from a woman who had opinions and thoughts that were valued to a royal baby maker," Anora explained bluntly. "I hated that my identity had been taken from me. Any power I had was removed. I was no longer Anora Mac Tir. I became Anora, Cailan's wife. Every month for that first year I was asked if I had missed my courses. My sheets were inspected. My measurements taken every week in case I was growing. Gossip followed me wherever I went. I was reduced to nothing but whispers and hearsay. And it was never Cailan who was at fault for there being no baby that month. It was always mine."
Roselyn took hold of Anora's hands again and squeezed. "Anora, calm down," she hushed her, glancing across the rooms at the ladies who were pretending to sew or read. "Remember what you told me? That the King has people here?"
Anora took a deliberate breath, slow through her nose, closing her eyes to focus. "I know," she said once she had calmed. Meeting Roselyn's gaze, she continued. "After that first year and no child, the gossip became malicious. I heard rumours that people thought I wasn't fit to bear children. That the Maker had cursed me with barrenness. That I had cuckolded Cailan somehow. That I was so repulsive he could not bring himself to do the deed."
Roselyn covered her mouth, failing to hide her disgust. "That's a revolting thing to say."
"And false," added Anora. She sighed, her shoulders dropping. "Not that it matters any more. The court made their mind up about me a long time ago. It's up to you and Alistair to produce an heir now."
"Don't you... want... children?" Roselyn asked very slowly, almost wincing as she finished her sentence.
"I did once." Anora shrugged. "But that was a young, inexperienced woman. Now I just want to see Ferelden prosper. And I can do that once Cailan is on the throne and needs my expertise where he falls short. I can speak to the Landsmeet and the council on his behalf. Queen Rowan used to sit in council with King Maric before she died. I intend to put that back into practice once Cailan is King."
"Rule from behind the throne?"
"The word is, behind every strong man is a stronger woman."
"And you are probably stronger than most."
Anora smiled, a little putting Roselyn's worries at ease and the two fell into a companionable silence watching the comings and goings below Roselyn's room.
Roselyn found her mind wandering. She wondered if her life would be reduced to what Anora's was after she and Alistair were married. If she would be pestered and hounded daily for any news of a baby. If Alistair was doing his duties as a husband. If she was doing hers as a wife and 'royal baby maker' as Anora put it.
She worried what the outcome would be if she didn't produce a child within a year. Would Alistair become like Cailan? Willingly taking mistresses and abandoning her bed for that of other women? Would he become repulsed by her? Would people gossip and mutter about her behind her back and pretend to be her friend to her face? Would those closest to Alistair make plots to remove her from the picture if she couldn't fulfil her duties?
Pushing her fingers through her hair she fought the sting of worry biting at her mind. She hoped Alistair would not forsake her if she didn't fall pregnant right away. He seemed too kind to do something so callous, but if he was pushed... She wasn't sure what he would do. She didn't want to think about it, but now Anora had spoken about her experience, her mind could focus on little else.
What if she failed in the one thing both families wanted from her? There wouldn't be room in the royal family for two women unable to produce heirs. Anora was still married to Cailan because of the long friendship between Maric and her father, Loghain. When Maric died what would become of Anora then? Would she be tossed aside and replaced? Would Roselyn fall to the same fate if she could not do what was being placed on her shoulders. She suddenly felt sick with and gulped down mouthfuls of air to quell the tempest of anxiety swelling and swirling within her belly.
A quick knock at the door caught the attention those close enough to hear it. Anora was up first and crossed to answer while Roselyn returned to her bed chamber and stepped onto the stool for her fitting to continue. When Anora reappeared she was carrying a folded note with a dark pink rose tucked inside it, only partly bloomed. She smiled knowingly passing both items to Roselyn.
"What's that?" asked Eleanor, trying to reach for the paper. Roselyn snatched it safely out of her grasp, smoothing the flower across her cheek while reading the words inside.
"Are you free to go riding this afternoon? I have a surprise for you! I think you'll like it.
PS. The roses are starting to bloom again. I think you'll still be the most beautiful one here though."
"What should I tell him?" Anora asked, taking the rose from Roselyn's fingers.
Roselyn read the note again, unable to conceal her grin. "Tell him that I accept his invitation and look forward to it." She passed the note to Anora too, knowing she would put it safely with the others where Eleanor would not find them.
As Anora went to deliver Roselyn's reply, Eleanor looked between the two of them with growing suspicion. "What's going on?" She asked, narrowing her eyes.
"Nothing that concerns you, Mother," sighed Roselyn, pleased. She ruffled her hands through her hair. "Nothing that concerns you."
Alistair was already saddled and mounted on his destrier when Roselyn arrived in the stable yard with Anora. Her own hunter, a gift from Maric, was hitched to a posted ready for her, the only horse without a rider. Around him were six men all on horseback, adjusting their stirrups and saddles. Their guard and chaperones for the afternoon.
When she first arrived he was forced to do a double-take. He was used to seeing her in fine gowns and dresses with full skirts made with rich fabrics. When they had ridden out before she had ridden in her decadent clothing despite the risk of it getting ripped or stained. Today, instead of a dress, Roselyn wore tan leather buckskin breeches which followed every soft, sensual curve of her body. Her leather riding boots reached her knee and her long-sleeved sea green tunic was cinched at the waist with a belt, covered with a riding coat. Even her hair, which Alistair was accustomed to seeing either down or tucked up and decorated somehow, was pulled into a high-ponytail.
Unable to draw his gaze away, he watched her mount her horse and adjust the straps of the girth and the stirrups to better suit her needs. This was the first time he was seeing her without any cumbersome layers. He found himself following the swell of her backside as she moved in the saddle and appreciating the curve of her hip and thigh with his eyes.
Noticing Anora watching him with a small grin playing on her lips, Alistair tore his eyes away from Roselyn's body and cleared his throat. He blushed at being caught, his cheeks burning and his ears feeling like they were singed.
"Were you admiring something, Alistair?" teased Anora, pursing her lips and shaking her head.
"Just... the view," Alistair muttered rolling his eyes at his response. If possible, Anora's smile increased and he felt his stomach clench at the way Roselyn glanced between the pair of them, the joke lost on her. "You aren't riding out with us?" Alistair asked his sister-in-law conversationally.
"Not today," Anora told him, "I have things to do here. I'm sure the two of you will be fine without me."
"Where are we going?" Roselyn asked Alistair once she had her stirrups and girth buckled and set. Her hair fell over one shoulder when she tilted her head, guiding her horse around the stable yard on a long rein.
Alistair's mouth curved into a secretive smile. "Not far. What I have planned might be a little too dangerous to do in the grounds of the palace. That's all."
"Dangerous?" Roselyn lifted both eyebrows and glanced at Anora who shrugged. "How mysterious!"
"That's me," Alistair laughed, steering his destrier towards the gates. "I like to keep people guessing."
With a final goodbye, Roselyn followed him out of the gate and the small troupe of guards accompanied them, trailing behind.
Alistair led the way out of the stables and out of the grounds of the palace out towards the open fields and woodland. Once they were on softer ground, he urged his horse into a gallop, earth spraying up behind him. On previous rides Roselyn showed herself to be as accomplished a rider as he and enjoyed the speed the horses could go when they were given the chance.
He heard the guards call for him as his horse took off, racing over the ground. Their voices were lost in the sound of the wind whipping past his ears, stinging his eyes and cheeks. The beats of his horses hooves were joined by another set, Roselyn riding close by, bent over the withers and neck of her hunter in the effort to give more speed. Before her dresses had prevented her from being able to properly let loose. Now she lost the demure quiet look she often wore when riding.
She grinned, her hands wrapped in her horse's mane for a better grip. Her hair flew out behind her and she glanced across to Alistair, grey eyes narrowed against the sting of the air. His stomach clenched, he dug his heels into the sides of his horse pushing on its speed. She mimicked him, regaining ground.
Roselyn always stayed a little behind him, following as Alistair led their chase. The trail they took went through fields bursting with colour. Golden rapeseed, carpets of deep magenta clovers, bluebells and wildflowers in rich oranges, reds, and pinks; all in full bloom, their aroma mixing with the scent of the earth the hooves of their horses churned up.
Bringing his destrier to a slower pace and then to a walk at the top of a sloping hill, Alistair settled back comfortably in his saddle and dropped his feet from his stirrups to let them hang long. His horse was lathered, sweating and breathing hard while tossing its head from side-to-side, still eager to go. Roselyn joined him a few seconds later and gave her horse a long rein to relax.
"Over there." Alistair pointed into the distance, grinning foolishly. Roselyn followed his arm and pointer finger to where he was indicating. Not far away on the edge of a copse of trees a pair of straw archery butts on wooden stands had been set up. Standing with them to keep a look out were two servants from the palace.
"Archery butts?" Roselyn questioned, looking at him with a puzzled expression.
"Yes." Alistair dropped his hand as his horse walked at a leisurely pace towards their destination. "I thought you, being an expert archer, could help me with my archery skills."
Roselyn's eyes lit up at the prospect. "Why all the way out here?"
"I'm less likely to hurt someone out here if I misfire."
"Are you that bad?" she laughed. Alistair noticed the wind had stained her cheeks a bright shade of pink and there were smears of mud on her face.
"I am that bad," he assured her. The look she gave him was shrewd and came from beneath her brows. "I promise you, I really am," he insisted, "You'll see."
The servants took hold of the reins of their horses when they arrived at their location. Alistair climbed out of his saddle first and almost ran around to help Roselyn out of hers. He was certain she could dismount without his help, but liked to believe she enjoyed the brief closeness they both experienced when he helped her down just as he did. A moment of intimacy where he held her slim waist and she braced her hands on his shoulders; allowing their bodies to slide against each other, granting them the briefest second where their faces could almost touch. Where their lips could almost brush, but didn't.
The guards who accompanied them all climbed off their horses once they were together and one by one the horses were relieved of their saddles and left to wander close by. Some chose to roll around in the grass. Others went to graze or stand under the trees.
Alistair had arranged the targets to be moved up into the fields with plentiful arrows and some food sent ahead from the kitchens - dried salted meats and fish, spiced bread, freshly baked that morning, skins of sweet Antivan wine, and ale from Orzammar. Alistair encouraged the guards to partake in the food while he joined Roselyn at the targets.
She stood at least thirty metres from the archery butts with a recurve long bow in one hand as she nocked an arrow with the other. He noticed at least ten more arrows where sticking up from the ground, their fletching facing the sky. He watched her lift the bow and position herself. She drew the arrow back in a fluid motion. Alistair heard her inhale and a moment later she loosed the arrow with a whoosh. It met its mark on the target, a little off centre.
Roselyn turned to him, dropping her bow arm. "Your turn."
Alistair retrieved a second bow from the ground and a quiver of arrows. "Don't laugh," he said, nocking an arrow to the bow string.
"I make no promises," Roselyn teased, crossing her left arm over her chest and grasping the top of her right arm with her hand.
"That's comforting," Alistair retorted playfully. He pursed his lips, lifting the bow to take the same stance he had always been taught.
Archery was the one thing neither he nor Cailan had ever been good at. They were both taught since childhood, but their grasp of the blade was far quicker and more natural for the both of them. Archery took concentration, focus, and timing. A certain finesse was required to fire a bow and to hit a target every time.
Before he had even anchored his arrow he heard Roselyn stifling her laughter and dropped his bow arm to look at her. "What?"
"Your stance." She grinned, making the dimples Alistair was coming to adore appear in her cheeks.
"What about it?"
"It's..." For a moment she struggled to find a word. She licked her lips and took up her own position drawing the bow string without an arrow. "See how I'm standing?"
Alistair leaned back to both examine and admire her. She stood side face with her body angled toward the woods, but her head was turned and her chin was in line with her bow arm, which was outstretched in the direction of the targets. Her shoulders were down, level. Nothing about her body was tight or looked uncomfortable. Where Alistair looked natural wielding a sword and shield, Roselyn looked as though the bow should have been an extension of herself.
Plucking an arrow from the ground, he passed it to her. "Show me with an arrow?"
He watched her slide it into place, how her index finger rested above the nock and the arrow lay against her other fingers below as she drew back the bow string. He noticed she touched the corner of her mouth with her thumb, drawing her lips back as she inhaled. She stood perfectly still, eyes fixed on the target while holding the string tight.
"I see." Alistair pursed his lips, wandering behind her. He hoped his gaze was as discerning as he was trying to make it as it lingered and roved over her. He stepped up behind her, a small gap between their bodies but close enough to feel the warmth of her and to smell the fragrance of her hair - rich saffron and something like cinnamon.
Roselyn stepped onto her back foot, brushing against him for the briefest moment. Alistair felt his throat almost close and gulped thickly in an attempt to find his voice and the ability to take normal, steady breaths. His legs and feet felt weighed down with metal. His stomach knotted, unknotted, tangled, and wrapped around itself the longer they stood so close. He rubbed his palms on his breeches yet was unable to shake the sweaty feeling from them.
"Mimic my arms, you'll get a better idea," Roselyn suggested glancing over her shoulder. For a moment her grey eyes met his, only to disappear under fluttering eyelashes with coyness that made Alistair's chest grow tight.
He lifted his hands, clenching his fingers to stop them trembling. He placed his left hand on her shoulder, following the length of her arm down. He felt her muscles, tight and controlled under her clothing. The subtle bend in her elbow where his fingers tickled. He slid his hand around hers, the both of them grasping the bow, the shaft of the arrow resting atop both their hands. His right arm curved around her shoulders and came to rest with hers, the arrow nocked between their fingers as they pulled the bow string in unison.
Roselyn's back pressed close into Alistair's chest and he hoped his heart beat wasn't as obvious to her as it was to him; shuddering behind his rib cage, rattling and thudding like it was trying to break out of its bony prison. He matched his breaths with hers. Slow in... hold... slow out. She shuffled. Slow in... hold... slow out.
"Keep your back straight," Roselyn told him. "Keep both eyes on the target. Look at where you want the arrow to go, not at the arrow itself." She turned her head slightly more, her mouth open a touch, lips a little puckered, pink and so tempting. Heat flooded Alistair's cheeks when he realised he was staring at them and leaning close to her. His head inclined toward hers, close enough that if he moved a few inches more he could kiss her.
Roselyn seemed to notice too. Her skin darkened to scarlet suddenly. She turned her focus back to the archery butts and her breathing, which had stopped, resumed with hurried intensity.
Without warning she loosed the arrow. They both watched it fly wide of the target and disappear beyond the high grass as it began to fall back to earth.
"Well..." Alistair stood up straight and put his hands on his hips.
"That was your fault," Roselyn stated, lifting her chin.
"My fault?" scoffed Alistair. "I thought you said you were good at this." She narrowed her eyes at him placed an arrow against her bowstring, pulled back, and released. The thud of the arrow hitting the target dead centre echoed for a second or two. Alistair's face dropped. "Alright. Show off."
An hour later Alistair felt like he was beginning to make some improvement. The lesson came to a sudden halt when dark clouds rolled across the sky and opened, unleashing a heavy downpour. Roselyn and Alistair fled for the cover of the trees at the edge of the copse. The guards and servants did the same after gathering up the horses and saddles out of the rain.
Alistair lifted his riding coat up over his head and held the draping lapel out over Roselyn. For a while they stood in silence, listening to the sound of rain droplets hitting the leaves above them, the soft whicker of the horses, and the low conversation of their company.
"So, why did you really ask me here?" Roselyn inquired fiddling with the fletching at the end of an arrow.
Alistair glance down at her head. "What do you mean?" He blushed, his ears stinging.
"We could have done archery at the palace," she explained, lifting her eyes to his. "Even with your terrible aim, it would have been safe." A smirk tugged her lips. Alistair managed not to pout. The curve in her mouth disappeared, her expression growing more serious. "What's going on?"
Stepping closer to provide her more shelter, Alistair tried to pretend the cold shudder that ran down his spine and through his body was caused by stray droplets sliding down his back and his collar. He stared at the grass and then at the beads of water on his boots, searching for the words to begin. His father would murder him if he knew Alistair's plan - what information he was going to divulge. It was a closely guarded secret; only select members of the royal family knew of it and it was never supposed to be spoken about. Maric ordered Alistair to keep silent, but the truth gnawed at Alistair's conscience every night. He hated lying. He hated concealing the truth, and he wanted Roselyn to know as much as she could know about him before they were married. He didn't want to begin a life with someone he was starting to care for and have it based on falsehoods and hidden truths.
"Alistair?" Roselyn's fingers brushed his face, jerking him from his thoughts. She was standing before him with honest, worried eyes. While he knew her eyes were grey, this was the first time he observed the flecks of green within them. "What's wrong?"
She trailed her fingers down across his cheeks, brushing his lips with the faintest of touches. He puckered his lips against her caress, a blush sweeping up his neck.
"I'm trying to think of how to tell you this..." He said, forcing a long breath out of his nose. "I don't really know where to begin."
"Take all the time you need." Roselyn assured him kindly.
He stared at a droplet of water, focusing on it trailing down the side of her neck until it disappeared beneath the collar of her tunic. "Honesty is important, isn't it?" he asked. "I-i-in a marriage, I mean."
"I think so," nodded Roselyn, clasping her hands behind her back. "Honesty, trust, love, respect. They're all important."
"Right. Good." A little breathless chuckle tumbled out of his mouth. The tips of his ears were burning hot. "The reason I ask is... is because... well... even though this whole m-marriage is you know, arranged, I still think there shouldn't be any secrets."
"Well," he puffed his cheeks up, lifted his eyes skyward for a moment. "Well, the... the thing is..." Alistair shifted his weight from one hip to the other. "The thing is... uhm..." He dropped his head to meet her eyes. "I'm a bastard," he blurted out, fighting the urge to clench his eyes closed and trying to ignore the tossing and turning sensation within his stomach. Every possible outcome whirled in his mind. He imagined she would be appalled and that by telling her the truth he ruined any chance of a happy future. But she needed to know; he would never have felt right going into their wedding without her knowing the truth.
For several seconds, Roselyn simply stared at him. Dumbstruck. Eyes big and wide with rain drops clinging to her eyelashes. Alistair's limbs grew cold, his fingertips freezing in place where he held his riding jacket up for protection.
"You're..." Roselyn spoke after several tense seconds. "A bastard?"
"Yes," he almost barked at her but managed to control his voice. "Yes, I'm a... a royal bastard. Maric is my father, but Queen Rowan wasn't my mother."
Her lips twitched at one corner and she squinted up at him as if trying to see if she recognised in his face any features of his true parentage. Tilting her head this way and that, Roselyn tucked her bottom lip between her teeth. She obscured the top half of his face with her hand and then the bottom half, the delicate features of her face growing more into a frown as time drew on.
"My mother was an elf," Alistair explained, speaking hurriedly in an attempt to get his words out before Roselyn could say anything. "She was a serving girl in Redcliffe. She and my father had an... encounter when he stayed with my uncle, Eamon, once and I was the result."
Roselyn leaned back on the trunk of a tree. Alistair followed, covering her with his jacket. "I'm listening."
"Maric knew about me. He always did, but he never wanted me. I was an accident. Shouldn't have happened," Alistair elaborated, taking a long breath in an attempt to ground himself and settle his gnawing fears. "When Queen Rowan died leaving Cailan as the only heir to the throne, Mar- my father panicked. Cailan was young, a lot could happen to a young Prince. He could get sick and die, be killed while out riding, be kidnapped. He needed a spare and I was the perfect candidate. I was half elf, but his blood was stronger than my mothers. I look more human than elf, anyway. Really the only give away is that my ears have a bit more of a point than normal."
He turned his head and indicated to the tip of his burning red ear. Often the focus of his gaze when he looked at himself in the mirror, he knew his ears better than any body part. Instead of curving round like Cailan's, they rose to a sharp, exaggerated tips. "As King and my father, Maric was able to take me from Redcliffe and legitimized me as his son and second heir to the throne. That when he died, Cailan would inherit the throne. And if Cailan died without children, then I would inherit."
"What about your mother?"
"She..." Alistair's lips twitched into a wistful smile. "I'm told she died when I was young. I was raised in Redcliffe. Arl Eamon took care of me, gave me a roof over my head. I was six when the Queen died, Cailan was eleven when Maric sent for me from Redcliffe. I had never met him before then and suddenly I was expected to call him father."
"You don't though," she pointed out.
"You don't call him 'father' to his face." Roselyn inched towards him. "You always call him 'Your Majesty'."
"I..." Alistair reached back and rubbed the hair at the nape of his neck. "I... yes. I suppose I do. It's... it's something I developed early on. Cailan always made sure that I knew I was only Prince by luck, nothing else. It felt wrong for me to call him 'father'."
"Did Arl Eamon know who your father was? And the Queen? Did she know about you?"
Alistair shook his head. "I don't know if Queen Rowan knew about me. I imagine she did. After all, Eamon was her brother and he did know who I was."
"He looked after you?"
"He gave me a roof over my head."
Roselyn's lips tightened into a line. "That's not what I asked." She folded her arms across her chest.
"He..." Alistair cleared his throat, "he did what he could. Rumours flew that I was his bastard. His wife didn't like that, so any kindness Eamon might have wanted to show me was ... not made easy for him."
Roselyn squinted up at him and said nothing. She released a slow breath through her nose and said nothing. The hold of her arms across her chest tightened and still Roselyn said nothing. Only her gaze bored into Alistair, whittling him down.
"I slept in the stables," he admitted, his skin now burning with shame. He wanted the ground to open up and swallow him. Then wished for an ability to somehow stop time and turn it back - to take back this whole conversation and to ignore the idea of telling her. She would never want him now that she knew the truth of his early years and his parentage. She would want to leave and marry someone who was legitimately royal. Who wasn't of mixed blood. Who was worthy. "He looked after me..." Alistair added in a small voice, as if trying to make the fact of him sleeping in the stables somehow better. He kicked the grass with the toe of his boot.
"You were a child," Roselyn murmured, clasping her hands to her mouth. "How could he... how could she..." She shook her head, sending damps wisps and tendrils of hair flying around her face. "That's such a cruel thing to do to a child."
Alistair lifted a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. "It could have been worse," he explained, trying to smile. It felt like a grimace but he kept it there. "I... I wanted to tell you because I think it's important you know the truth. A-about me."
She nodded. "Thank you."
"I'd understand if you want the wedding to be cancelled," Alistair carried on, speaking slow to ensure his voice didn't crack or shake. "If you wanted to leave. If the King is upset, at least the blame will lay with me and your reputation will be spotless."
"Does he know?" Roselyn stepped towards Alistair, tilting her head to one side. "Does Maric know that you've told me?"
"No." He shook his head. "No, he doesn't. He told me not to tell you... actually."
Nodding her head, Roselyn swayed on the balls of her feet, brows drawn together in thought her lips quirked to one side. Her gaze was fixed on the ground. Unkempt segments of her hair fell over her shoulders, loose from her ponytail. Alistair fought with himself not to sweep them away.
Alistair wasn't sure how long the silence dragged for. A minute? An hour, maybe? He heard the rain dropping on the leaves and the distant rumble of thunder miles and miles away. In the background he could still hear the low murmur of the guards while the horses grazed on the rich grass. He thought Roselyn would leave and say nothing; just take the reins of her horse and go, leaving him nothing but the view of her back. It was something he had prepared himself for.
He jumped when Roselyn moved; not away from him but towards him. She slid her hands up onto his shoulders, stepping close onto her toes. Alistair turned his head, eyes wide, unable to blink. He felt the brush of Roselyn's soft lips on his cheek and heat burst in his chest and across his face. She tucked herself against him, her arms winding around his waist.
Alistair dropped his riding jacket, mirroring the way she held him. His arms secure and safe around the bottom of her back, hands flat on her clothing. She felt good cushioned against him. Warm, soft, smooth, giving an embrace which was both gentle and firm, affectionate and fierce. Roselyn pressed her cheek against his chest. He pressed his mouth to the crown of her head, reluctant to breathe, let alone speak. He would only ruin the moment if he did.
"Thank you for telling me," Roselyn mumbled, tilting her head back to rest her chin against his chest. "I know you didn't have to... but that you did..." She shook her head and buried her face in the quilting of his doublet. "I appreciate you being so honest and trusting me with something as sensitive as this."
He smiled against her hair, inhaling the scents he had smelled earlier, the aromas of cinnamon and saffron until his head was swimming in the heady fragrances. "I want you to be happy," he explained, closing his eyes and swallowing against the closeness of his throat. "I want us both to be happy. I think if we're always honest... we might have a chance." He peered down at the top of her head, "What do you think?"
Leaning back a little, Roselyn peered up at him and gave a silent nod of her agreement, her hold around him growing the tiniest bit tighter. Alistair's heart grew heavy in his chest, stomach coiling on itself. Fingers curling into her clothing, Alistair licked the rain from his lips dropping his head. He felt Roselyn rise up onto her toes to meet him, watched her eyelids flutter closed, felt her breath skim across his mouth.
"Your Highness?" One of the guards who accompanied them spoke and Alistair barely silenced his growl of frustration. He pressed his forehead against Roselyn's, muttering a soft curse under his breath.
"Just one moment of peace, is that so much to ask?" He grumbled. Roselyn chuckled and pressed her lips to his cheek. He stood, inhaled, and turned to face the guard as he approached through the long grass, apparently blind to what he had interrupted.
"Yes?" Alistair asked as politely as possible.
"The rain is growing heavier, Your Highness." The guard explained, "storm coming in from the west it looks like. We need to go back to the palace before it gets any worse and the trails get water logged."
Lifting his gaze skywards, Alistair took note of the dark grey clouds and the lashing rain. He found it funny how he hardly noticed it getting worse while he and Roselyn spoke. "Very well." Alistair agreed with a nod of his head. "Saddle the horses as quickly as possible. Two guards will have to carry the servants on their horses too."
The guard saluted. "Yes, Your Highness." Alistair watched him return to the others and bark orders.
Roselyn left his side to retrieve his riding jacket from the ground. She held it out to him, eyebrow tilted on her face and a soft glow of pink across her cheeks. "Before you catch your death."
"Right." He took the jacket from her and draped it over one arm - it was too wet to wear now. "Thank you." They stood under the canopy of the trees in silence, watching as the guards and servants saddled the horses ready for their departure. The air was thick with the knowledge of what almost passed between them - but didn't. Again. Alistair rocked back and forth on his feet, arguing with himself as to whether to mention it.
He started when Roselyn's slim fingers slid against his palm and between his. She squeezed and he returned the gesture, smiling to himself. They stood in silence, waiting until they were ready to make the journey back.