“Glorious,” I groaned aloud.  I stretched languidly and closed my eyes, luxuriating in the feel of the thick, soft grass all around me.

This was my favorite place in all the camp, although technically it wasn’t a part of the camp as I was currently outside the perimeter of our home away from home.

I was exploring beyond the boundaries one day, looking for herbs for Morrigan, when I stumbled across a small clearing almost hidden by a stand of trees.  The grass was lush and thick, fed by the same stream that watered our camp, and sheltered from the sun by the overhanging branches of the trees.

It practically begged you to strip naked and lie down, inviting you to close your eyes and forget your troubles, promising many hours of sweet, quiet solitude.  It was perfect.  Close enough to the camp that I would hear the screams if there was trouble, but far enough away that the general din of life was a faded memory.

I often came here when I need time and quiet away from everyone to process things or plan our next course of action.  The others were good to varying degrees on letting me be unless they had something urgent to discuss.  Like now.

“Lurianna?” I heard his voice before his footfalls.  I had left Kiché at the camp this time, so I had no advance warning on anyone coming up on me, but I knew I was in no danger from this one.  I sighed.

Alistair was one who used any excuse he could to speak with me alone.  I knew why he did it, kind of hard to miss some of the looks he gave me and the fact that he put himself between me and danger whenever he could.  I think a lot of it had to do with his chivalrous nature-protect the women and all that- but you would have to be truly blind to miss the fact that the boy was infatuated with me.

And if I were to be honest with myself, he was winning me over.  At first I found it cute and amusing, him wanting to be around me, following me like a little lost puppy.  But now I often looked forward to being alone with him and talking with him.  He was fun to have around, always laughing and joking with everyone and smiling as often as he could and he lifted my spirits when we were on the road together.

“Here,” I called out but remained where I was, lying in the soft grass, and put my hands behind my head.  I stared up at the sky as if I would find the answers to all my troubles encoded in the stars.

I was wearing a simple tunic and leggings that I thankfully had the foresight to keep here, wrapped in waterproof oil cloth and wedged into a high branch of a tree.  My armor that I had stripped off was laid out neatly at the base of the same tree I kept my change of clothes in, along with my swords.  This was a place for me to relax, and I could not do that wearing several very heavy pounds of steel and leather, staring through a visor.  My only concession to battle was Kiché when I brought him, and a small enchanted dagger I had found in an abandoned Dwarven thaig in the Deeproads several weeks ago.

“Lurianna!” Alistair called out again, closer and sounding exasperated.  The grass had grown up enough these last few weeks to completely hide someone from sight when they were lying down like I was.  I raised my hand and listened to the thud of his footsteps as he came closer until I was looking up into his face.

Oh, he was in a fine mood tonight.  Alistair was never one for subtlety, although he did try.  And while he wasn’t frowning outright or yelling at me, I could tell by the set of his mouth and the stubborn look in his eyes that he was upset about something.

“Can I talk to you?” he asked me, his voice hard.  I put my hand back behind my head, shrugged, and looked at him.  “You came all the way out here to find me Alistair, wouldn’t be right for me to turn you away now.”

Alistair nodded to himself and straightened, staring down at me from above as he waited for me to rise up.  I sighed and got to my feet as Alistair turned and headed towards the riverbank.  Further downstream from the camp, I had discovered two good sized rocks and, with Sten and Shale’s assistance, had them brought up here so I had something to sit on whenever one of my companions sought me out.

Sitting next to him there in the clearing, I studied his profile as I waited for him to speak.  Alistair was looking up at the sky much the same way I was not so long ago.  I assumed he was gathering his thoughts, wanting to present himself in the best way.

I kept thinking of him as a boy because that’s how you would describe much about him.  Boyish good looks, boyish charm, he acted like he was so much younger than me, despite the fact that we had both seen just over twenty winters.  He was cute enough with his short cropped dirty blonde hair, a clowlick that caused it to stand up at his forehead, and eyes that were normally a light sky blue, but now were darkened by whatever bothered him.

Alistair sighed, bringing me back to myself.  “Can I ask you a question?”  I smirked.  “You just did,” I pointed out.  He looked at me, surprised, and grinned sheepishly.  “Well, I’d like to ask you another one.”  I nodded for him to continue.

“Where are we going next?”

I blinked at him, surprised.  I wasn’t used to Alistair asking me questions like that.  He was more inclined to follow first and ask along the way, so long as wherever I lead us ended with Loghain and the Archdemon dead.

“I was planning on going to the Brecelian forest and seek out the Dalish, talk to them about our treaty,” I watched him closely as I laid out our next course of action.  Alistair turned away from me at that.

“We’re not going to Dennerim?  Brother Giovanni is supposed to be there, with the research for the location of Andraste’s Ashes,” he said as nonchalantly as he could.  It didn’t work out very well.  I shook my head.

I knew why he wanted to go to Denerrim so badly.  Alistair and I had known each other for some time now, and while familiarity breeds contempt, it also makes one easier to read.  I met Alistair shortly after my family was slaughtered and I was drafted into the Grey Wardens.  He was already a Warden, albeit a junior one and I met him at Ostagar where I was to take my vows with two others who had been drafted: a thief and a knight.

Before that fateful battle that slaughtered our brethren and marked us wrongly as traitors, Duncan –our most senior Grey Warden, my savior from the slaughterhouse my family home had become, and Alistair’s mentor –tasked us with traveling out into the nearby Kokari wilds and finding an ancient Grey Warden tower, inside which we would find treaties that gave the Grey Wardens the power to call upon mages, dwarves, and elves in times of a Blight.  Duncan intended to put those treaties to good use, but was cut down in the battle shortly after we returned.

Alistair and I survived the slaughter at Ostagar only because we had the blind luck of being tasked with beacon duty.  We were to light a beacon and call reinforcements if needed.  They were, and we did, but the reinforcements never came.  Loghain, father in law to King Cailen and a general of Fereldan, took his forces from the field once we lit the beacon.  Surrounded, wounded from a blast of Darkspawn magic, Alistair and I were saved from death by the apostate mage Morrigan and her mother Flemeth.  I awoke a few days after the battle in Flemeth’s hut to learn that the army at Ostagar was wiped out, and Loghain had returned to the capital city of Denerrim and branded the Grey Wardens traitors.

Lost, directionless, alone, Alistair and I decided to take up where Duncan had left off and enact the treaties.  Flemeth sent Morrigan along with us, the first of what promised to be many companions.  The three of us made our way to Lothering, where we met two more companions: the Orleasian bard Leliana and the Qunari warrior Sten.  Leliana we ran across in the local tavern.  A sister of the Chantry, Leliana said the Maker had granted her visions that led her to my side.  Sten was imprisoned for killing a farming family in a fit of fear and confusion, and was going to be left to the Darkspawn once the inhabitants of Lothering had fled.  Not one to turn down aid where I could find it, I welcomed Lurianna gladly, and convinced the Revered Mother of the local Chantry to release Sten into my custody and he joined our quickly growing band.  After some discussion we decided to head first to Redcliffe and enlist the aid of Arl Eamon, the man who raised Alistair like a son.

On our way to the arl, we were besieged by assassins, hired by Loghain and led by an elf named Zevran.  It was a hard battle, but we were able to kill all of them except Zevran.  I had dealt him only a glancing blow so he lived and I gave him a chance to redeem himself by joining with me and aiding me in my battles.  Alistair was not too happy with an assassin joining us, but I knew we would need everyone before this was all over.

When we arrived at Redcliffe, the town was almost destroyed.  Undead came forth from the castle every night and attacked the villagers.  We were able to help repel them, and fought our way to the castle where we discovered the arl poisoned by a blood mage named Jowan whom we found imprisoned in the castle dungeon, a mage that the arl’s wife Isolde had brought in secretly to train their son Connor in the way of magic.

But the training hadn’t gone far enough.  Connor had entered the Fade to try and save his father, but instead was possessed by a demon who was the cause of the undead attacks.  After freeing Jowan, he told us there was a way to free Connor, a spell that needed either a blood sacrifice or a group of mages working together to send one into the Fade and confront the demon that possessed Connor.  Isolde was quick to offer her life for the sacrifice, but no one else wanted that.

My decision was an easy one.  Leave, seek the aid of the mages of the Circle of Fereldan, invoke the treaty of the Grey Wardens, and return to save Connor.  And it was a good thing we did, because when we arrived at the Circle tower, we found it besieged from the inside by demons and abominations.  We fought our way up to the top of the tower, clearing out the demons and abominations, and saved those mages who had survived until we got there.  We left with a promise of aid for the Blight, saving the boy Connor, and a new companion in a senior enchanter named Wynne.

We returned to Redcliffe castle, and with the aid of Jowan and the other mages, we were able to free Connor from the demon, although the arl was still stricken.  We learned of some Redcliffe knights who had been sent out to seek what was rumored to be the only cure:  Andraste’s Ashes.  The mortal remains of the Maker’s prophet here in Thedas.  But the knights had all failed, both in finding the urn, and in returning to Redcliffe.  Arl Eamon’s brother Teagan directed us to Denerrim and Brother Giovanni, whose research was rumored to have found the resting place of the urn.

I knew when Alistair heard of this lead he wanted to race right away to Denerrim, and understandably so.  The arl was the only family Alistair knew after his mother, a servant at the castle, died in childbirth and his birth father King Maric chose not to claim him.  Maric already had one legitimate son, Cailen.  Two would have torn the kingdom apart.  But now that Cailen was dead at Ostagar, Alistair was the only one of Maric’s bloodline left.

But despite his eagerness to save the arl, I took us north to Orzammar, to seek the aid of the dwarves.  And after healing a political schism in the stone city, we left with their promise to honor the treaty, and yet another new companion, a dwarven berserker named Oghren.  We had just returned from Orzammar a few weeks ago, and now instead of going to Denerrim, I wanted to take us east to the Brecilian forest and seek out the elves.

I had my reasons for not wanted to go to the capital yet, and I would not be swayed from them.   “We’re not going to Denerrim yet Alistair,” I explained softly, my voice firm.

Alistair exploded into motion at that, leaping to his feet and pacing around the clearing.  “Why not?  We go to Denerrim, speak to this Brother Giovanni, find the ashes, and save the arl!” Alistair was all but shouting to me as he pounded his fist into his palm with each point he made.  “Why are we waiting on this?  The arl could die!” He finally stopped moving long enough to glare at me.  I remained seated on the stone, waiting him out.

“I understood going to the mages,” he said, taking a deep breath and visibly trying to calm himself.  “That was a good call.  We were able to save Connor and Isolde.  I wasn’t too sure about going to the dwarves next, but I followed because I trusted you.  And now…” Alistair’s voice trailed off as he shook his head.  “Now there is no reason not to go to Denerrim.”

The clearing was still and silent as his words faded into the night.  I watched Alistair to see if he was finished.  Alistair met my gaze unflinchingly, waiting me out.  I nodded to myself and finally stood to face him.

“You trust me.” I stated simply.  Alistair blinked at me and frowned, looking puzzled.  “Of course I do.”

“Then believe me when I say we can’t go to Denerrim, that I won’t go until we meet with the elves.” I stepped forward, holding out my hands imploringly.  “Loghain is in Denerrim Alistair.  Denerrim is his.  He has the power there.  And he branded us as traitors or did you forget that part?” I arched my brow at him.

“I didn’t forget,” he grumbled petulantly.

“Then what do you think would happen if we walked into the capitol now, today, without as much support as we could muster?”

“It’s not like we’d walk up to the castle and say ‘hey, we’re the Grey Wardens Loghain’s been looking for’!” Alistair objected.  I rolled my eyes at him.

“Of course we wouldn’t announce our arrival, but do you really think Loghain wouldn’t have given our description to every man, woman and child who can hold a blade?  Blessed Andraste, he’s sent assassins after us once already!” I motioned back towards the camp where I assumed Zevran was biding his time with the others.  ‘What do you think he’ll do when he discovers that we’re so close to home?”

I sighed and shook my head.  “No.  I won’t go to Denerrim.  Not now.  Not until we see these treaties through.  Yes, there is a chance that we may be too late to save the arl, but he has survived this long before we came and I doubt he’ll fail when we’re so close.  I will not walk into the lion’s den unprotected, and I will not put you or anyone else here with me now at risk.” I looked at Alistair.  “I know you don’t like it, but if you become king, you’ll understand that these choices must be made sometimes.”

“By the Maker, you’re just like the rest of them, aren’t you?” Alistair huffed in disgust.  “Did it ever occur to you that I don’t want to be king?  That I never asked to be the bastard son of a now-dead hero?  I don’t want any of this!”  He whirled on his heel and began stomping away from me.

Alistair was never open to the royal blood that flowed through him, and kept it hidden as much as he could so people would accept him on his own merits, rather than the merits of someone he had never truly met.  I only found out about his royal bastard background as we entered Redcliffe for the first time.  Alistair rightly assumed that there would be little to no chance to continue to keep his secret if we were to be meeting with one of the few men who knew it, and so he told me about it before we went any further.

I wasn’t upset by his reluctance to admit such a thing, and I understood the reason behind it.  But this was not the first time since revealing it to me that Alistair had thrown his bloodline to the wind, whining about how he didn’t want or ask for it.  Normally, I would have let it go.  But my days on the road were beginning to wear on me.  I came here for peace and quiet, not to get into a fight about my decisions or listen once again to this same old song.  I felt something inside me snap.  Alistair was not about to get away with this.  Not tonight.

“You didn’t ask for this.  You didn’t ask for the life you have been given,”  ” I said softly, my voice as cold as ice.  Alistair stopped dead in his tracks, but didn’t face me.  Instead I started slowly towards him, my voice still soft.  “Did you ever stop to think Alistair, that none of us ‘asked for this’?”  That got his attention.  Alistair finally turned back towards me, face petulant as I began ticking off one by one on my fingers the lives of our companions.

“Did Morrigan ask to be raised as Flemeth’s future meat puppet?  Did Sten ask to lose his sword and kill those farmers in a fit of fear?  Did Leliana ask to be framed for treason and flee for her life to the Chantry here in Fereldan?  Did Wynne ask to be ripped from her family as a child and thrown into a tower for the rest of her life?  Did Oghren ask for his wife to go bat shit crazy in the Deeproads and have her feed her household to the Darkspawn down there?  Did I ask for my family to be slaughtered in their beds in the middle of the night and be drafted into the Grey Wardens?  Did any of us ask to be born and fight in a gods-be-damned Blight!”  I was shouting at the end and caught myself.  Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and forced myself to be still.

After a few moments I opened them again and saw Alistair watching me, a mix of fear and sorrow on his face.  I had never lost my temper like that before, never yelled at anyone within my camp.  He knew my outburst was his fault and after laying out the lives of our comrades plainly before him, it seemed as if he was suitably contrite over his earlier lamentations.

Following a sudden impulse I cared not to question, I reached up and gently laid my fingertips on his cheek.  His eyes widened at the contact and I felt his cheek warm as he blushed, but he didn’t move.

“None of us ask for the life we are given Alistair,” I continued in the same soft voice.  But now it was heavy with fatigue and sorrow that even I could hear.  “All we can do is make the best of what we have, do what we feel is right, and the Maker willing leave this world a little bit better than what it was when we entered it.”  I dropped my hand to my side and smiled gently at him.  “No one is saying you have to be king.  But you need to at least accept the fact that it could happen.”

Alistair looked down at his feet, his blush deepening before looking back up at me.  “What if I make a terrible king?” he whispered.  I grinned.

“My father always said that’s the first step of being a good leader, putting the needs of others above your own.”  I looked off into the distance, remembering my father strong, smiling and laughing.  Rather than the beaten, bloody creature I had left behind in the cellar of my home that night.

“I forget sometimes where you come from,” Alistair murmured.  “Your father sounds like a great man.  I wish I could have met him.”

I looked back at Alistair and cocked my head as I studied him.  “I wish so too. I think he would have liked you,” I mused.  Alistair blushed a deeper shade of pink at that and I laughed.

“Come on then,” I clapped him on the shoulder and made my way to the pile of armor at the tree.  “I think we best be getting back to the others before too many rumors start flying around.  Oh, and Alistair,” I looked back over my shoulder at him.  He watched me curiously.  “For the record, I think you would make a fine king.”