Aphreal's Dragon Age fanfic

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Witch Hunting
This is another fic focusing on Alexia, my Queen Cousland. As the title may suggest, this explores Alexia's motivations for going to find Morrigan. I'm incredibly grateful to my beta reader and critique partner signcherie and my husband Chris for their assistance with this one.

 When Alistair said to me, “You know we can probably never have children,” I didn’t care. I was fresh from the Landsmeet, exulting in my victory, in having gotten my love confirmed to his throne and safe from Anora. 

When Morrigan said to me, “Give me a night with your betrothed. There will be a child,” I didn’t care. All I wanted was to destroy the Archdemon without losing my husband-to-be. 

Two years later with the Blight behind us and Alistair secure on his father’s throne, the royal nursery stands empty, and now I finally care. 

I’m growing to hate some of the women around court, the nobility and even many of the servants. Their well-meant reassurances grate on my nerves until some days I think I’d rather face a darkspawn horde than my ladies-in-waiting. I can’t bear to hear again how we’re a young, healthy couple, how since I’ve abandoned Anora’s practice of keeping a separate Queen’s bedchamber, surely it’s only a matter of time and I must be patient. If I have to hear one more piece of advice about what worked for a lady or her sister, aunt, or cousin, I think I’ll scream. “Were any of them tainted?” I want to ask. “Had they been corrupted with darkspawn blood?”

I've consulted the most skilled healer I know, sending Wynne a letter admitting my secret shame and pleading for her help. She responded exactly as I could have expected: warmly, comfortingly, and negatively. She says it would take a mage who knows far more that she does about the Joining ritual, about darkspawn blood and Warden taint. I know what she means, and she and I both know that I'll never be desperate enough to submit to Avernus's research.
Alistair’s aware of my frustration, and he handles it the only way he can: by attempting to comfort and distract me. 

One evening recently I was venting as we were talking before bed, complaining about the scrutiny into our private relationship. “Honestly,” I muttered, “it’s nearly as bad as being back on the road during the Blight!” 

“Why do you say that?” A concerned expression flickered across his face. “Er, did Zevran ever try talking to you about us?”
“Zevran?” I asked, surprised. “No, he’s about the only one who didn’t, I think. Why? Did he talk to you?”
“Once, early in our relationship, he decided that I needed advice, tried to give me… helpful tips.” Either I looked a bit too amused or Zev’s suggestions had been truly embarrassing because he quickly shifted the subject back. “Nevermind. Who were you thinking of?”
“Leliana.” I carefully didn’t mention the other person who’d pried into the physical aspects of our relationship; we never speak of her. “She would ask rather detailed questions at times. I think she may have been a bit jealous, actually.”
“Really? I never thought she was especially interested in me.”
“No, dear, I don’t think she was,” I responded with a smirk. 

“But you said…” I waited for him to catch on and get the perplexed but intrigued expression men often wear at times like this. “Oh… oh? I had no idea.” He faltered for a moment then grinned. “I suppose I can’t fault her taste.”
“I don’t think it had much to do with me,” I shrugged. “The last strong woman she’d been around outside the Chantry had shaped her thinking, taught her that men were playthings or puppies and that the only match of equals in terms of respect or passion was between women. Her life was being run by a strong woman again, so she expected me to step into that role.”
“She thought I was a puppy?” He sounded so affronted and wounded, so like a scolded puppy, that I bit my lip to resist laughing. 

“She thought you must be an amazing lover to inspire such loyalty.”
“And what did you tell her?” he asked, trying to sound confident but clearly wondering if he would regret knowing. 

My mind flashed to the other woman who’d asked me those questions, and I decided it was time to end the conversation before it wandered onto more dangerous ground. “That you were everything I could dream of and making me deliriously happy on a regular basis.” I glanced across the room under my lashes to gauge his reaction. His grin looked encouraging, so I continued with a sultry smirk. “Now come over here and prove me right.”
“As my queen commands.”

 Not all nights are so good. I hate being weak, even in front of Alistair. Some nights, when it’s just too much, I wait for him to fall asleep and cry silently to myself. I don’t know if I ever actually kept it from him. I suppose when you’ve slept beside someone this long, you know what their breathing should sound like. The other night, he decided to stop pretending. 

I was lying, curled away from him, silent tears on my cheeks, when I felt a gentle hand on my arm. “Can I help?” he asked. 

I couldn’t help a small smile as a rolled to face him, despite the tears welling in my eyes. “No, love. As I predicted the night we got engaged, the problem isn’t lack of effort.” 

His lips twitched into a brief, fleeting smirk before he spoke, voice soft and serious. “We don’t have to have an heir. We can appoint one, choose someone we can trust. I doubt it’s been done before, but being king has to give me some rights.”
I just shook my head, unable to find words to explain. 

“If it’s about raising children, we can adopt. As many as you want, Lexia. The palace has plenty of room, and the kingdom is full of Blight orphans in need of loving homes…”
He trailed off quizzically in response to my sudden outburst of laughter at his mention of Blight orphans. He was being so sweet and sincere that I felt awful for laughing at him, but the perplexed look on his face only made it worse. Besides, it was easier to give in to hysteria than to talk about the sense of failure, the nagging emptiness. Eventually, I caught my breath long enough to explain about the “Blight Orfans” in Amaranthine, and he began laughing along with my tales of getting brandy and moonshine for the poor, helpless “children” at the Crown and Lion.
So the subject was dropped, and I got to spend another night wrapped happily in the arms of my loving husband. I treasure each of those even more as I wonder how many I’ll have left. 

I’ve thought about telling Alistair that he should end our marriage and find a new wife who can give him children. I could probably convince him to do it. I’ve talked him into worse. He might hate me for it, but he’d do it for Ferelden, if I insisted he should. Which is why I’ll never even suggest it to him. 

They call me the Hero of Ferelden, who saved the nation from both usurping tyrant and Blight. But what they don’t understand is that I wasn’t doing any of it for the kingdom. I wasn’t motivated by duty, just by love. I brought down Howe and Loghain out of love for a murdered family, and I killed the Archdemon and won the throne for the man I had come to love along the way. Selfish as it may be, I won’t give that up for the good of Ferelden. 

What I say may not matter for long, though. I’m surely not the only one who’s thought Alistair would be better off with a fertile wife. Arl Eamon was encouraging King Cailan to put Anora aside because she seemed to be barren, and she didn’t even have an obvious flaw like darkspawn blood. Gratitude for saving his life and his family will hold Eamon back for a while, but he’ll eventually overcome his personal feelings for the good of the nation. And when he does, will Alistair still love me enough to defy the man he respects like a father and reject his responsibility to his people?

As time goes by, I find myself thinking more often of Morrigan and the child conceived through her ritual. I never mention it; we’ve only spoken of her once since she left. 

It was about two weeks after the Battle of Denerim. The city was starting to function again, and we’d been enjoying some much-needed time together. I was lying with my head on his chest, listening to his relaxed, even breathing when I decided it was time to broach the subject. “I’m sorry for what I asked you to do with Morrigan.”
As soon as I mentioned her name, I could feel his muscles tense and hear his heartbeat quicken. “I don’t want to talk about her,” he said through clenched teeth.
I remember looking up and being taken aback by the pain and flashes of cold fury in his eyes. “Are you really that angry with me?” I started to pull away, but he tightened his arm to keep me close. 

“Not anymore. I was at first, but I understand now why you did it.” His arms wrapped around me, holding me to his chest with an almost fierce possession. “What we have, this is worth it.”
I closed my eyes and nodded, saying softly, “I spent the whole night awake, trying not to imagine… I just kept reminding myself it was one night with her in exchange for a lifetime of us.”
“I wasn’t thinking that far ahead,” he admitted. “I never expected to survive the Blight.”
I raised my head in shock, but any words I might have said were stopped by the cold, flat expression on his face. 

“I think I was a bit crazy after going back to Ostagar, seeing where so many good men had died and having no reason why I hadn’t been one of them. I went into the final battle carrying Duncan’s sword and shield, wanting to avenge him and fully expecting I’d be joining him before the battle was done, giving him my last report. When Riordan told us a Warden had to die to kill the Archdemon, I knew it should be me. It was perfect: revenge and death in one tidy package.
“You were the only really good thing in my life. I wanted one last night with you at Redcliffe, in a real bed instead of blankets in a tent. I wanted a few last hours of joy before going to face the darkness.”
I don’t think I’d realized I was crying until he paused to absently brush away a tear that had fallen onto his collarbone.
“Then you came and took that dream away. You told me that you wanted me to spend my last night with a woman I hated, to be part of a blood magic ritual. Of course I was angry, hurt, but I didn’t want us to spend our last night together fighting. I’ve never been able to refuse you anything, so how could I start with your last request? But yes, I was angry.
“The next morning, I could barely even look at you. I was so hurt by what you’d asked me to do, so ashamed by what I’d done. I couldn’t even speak to you until we were at the gates of the city, and I waited until everyone else had gone because I had no idea what I was going to say.” He paused for a shuddery, uneven breath.
“Then I saw fear in your eyes, uncertainty that had never been there, even in the worst moments we’d face. I’d put it there, and I knew I couldn’t have angry words be your last memory of me. So I told you that I would always love you. I meant that. I channeled everything else I was feeling into a mindless fury of killing darkspawn.” He shook his head slowly. “I don’t remember anything between those words at the gate and standing on the roof of Fort Drakon. It was like I was in a trance of killing.
“The fog didn’t clear away until you killed the Archdemon. I saw the backlash of energy released, and you dropped to the ground. All I could think in that moment was, ‘What if Morrigan was lying? What if the ritual had some other purpose?’

“Then Duncan’s sword was at Morrigan’s throat, and I knew I could kill her in cold blood with no regrets. My world narrowed to a steel blade at the pulse in the witch’s throat that it rested against. The edges of my vision started to go dark, and all I could hear was the blood rushing in my ears.”

I blinked away tears and looked up at him, shocked at this unaccustomed ruthlessness. I don't know what I expected to see, anger or disgust, maybe guilt at the admission. But his face was empty of emotion, completely at odds with the racing heartbeat I could feel beneath my cheek. Then he blinked, and I started to recognize him again.

“Wynne may have been trying to talk to me; I don’t know. All I remember hearing was, ‘Alexia’s all right.’ And I started breathing again, and everything came back into focus. After that, I was just holding you. Wynne probably kept speaking, more of her mystic spirit healer talk, but I’d heard the only thing I needed to. Morrigan must have left because I didn’t see her again. I just knelt on that rooftop, holding you and knowing that you’d been right: it was worth any sacrifice to never again feel the pain of thinking I’d lost you.”

I was crying freely by the time he finished, trying to sniffle quietly to not interrupt him, but his eyes were dry, blazing with a fierce determination I’d rarely seen there before and never directed at me. I couldn’t think of any words that would be close to adequate, and I’m not sure I would have been able to speak anyway. So I kissed him, trying to put everything I felt into it. I think he understood, and he responded with equal fervor.

He’s never spoken Morrigan’s name since, and the one time I tried to bring her up, he stopped me. “I won’t have her between us,” he said. “I did what I had to with her because you asked me to, and you were right, but that’s the end of it. I won’t have her coming into our marriage, our life together. She’s gone; let her go.”

So we’ve never spoken of her again, but I only wish that meant she was truly out of our lives. There were times in the first few weeks that he would flinch away from my touch or break off an embrace, and I knew he was thinking about Morrigan. That reaction faded over time, and by the wedding I thought the specter of that night was done haunting us. And things were fine for a while, until I came back from Amaranthine.

Maybe I was too aggressive that first night back. I’d missed him deeply, needed him desperately, and maybe I was a bit too fierce, too eager, too forceful. Or maybe it was an effect of the time and separation, and there was nothing I could have done. He won’t talk about it, so I’ll probably never be certain.

All I know is that I was pulled from a sated sleep by Alistair flailing next to me, clearly in the grip of a nightmare. It was strange to see him like that when I was calm, when it wasn’t a shared dream from the taint. I gently shook him awake, ready to provide comfort and remind him he didn’t have to spend his nights alone any more.

As soon as his eyes opened, he flinched away from me, recoiling from my hand on his shoulder. “Don’t touch me!” he gasped. There was panic, almost fear, in his voice.

I stared in stunned silence as my husband, the only man I had ever wanted to love, skittered across the bed away from me, ending sitting with his limbs curled up defensively. I watched him for a while, unsure of what to say or do. Once his breathing slowed from ragged panting to something more even, I risked speaking. “Alistair, are you all right?”

I wonder now if it was the vulnerability in my voice that got through to him. He took a deep, shuddering breath, then let it out in an uncomfortable laugh. “I’m fine, Lexia. Just forgot how to share a bed while you were gone. Looks like I need some reminders.”

I knew he was hiding something, but I’ve never been able to resist that grin, the look of hopeful anticipation melting into eager disbelief when his silly line actually works. I kissed him, kneaded my fingers along his shoulder to ease the tension there, and soon his nightmare was entirely forgotten.

But it kept happening. Not every night, but often enough that I knew something was very wrong. He wouldn’t tell me what it was, but I put things together: the way he sometimes recoiled away from my touch, the wariness in his eyes, the subtle probing questions. I suspect Morrigan had suggested using her magic to shift into a form he found more familiar for intimacy. Maybe he said or did something that hurt her, and she retaliated by putting that idea in his head. I can’t picture those two being civil to one another, even in the midst of… that ritual. Or maybe it was a sincere offer to put him more at ease. Morrigan can be magnanimous in victory. Either way, I’m certain Alistair was horrified by the idea and is haunted by the thought of Morrigan’s sly mind watching him from behind my eyes.

Once I put it together, I tried to lessen his fears. Every time he woke in the night or looked at me with guarded suspicion, I responded with something he wouldn’t believe Morrigan capable of: tenderness. I would give him a gentle kiss, whisper that I loved him, rest my head on his shoulder or chest, meeting every wary glance with something soft and vulnerable.

And over time, it worked. He seldom has those nightmares any more, and on the rare nights that he does, they no longer upset him for long. When he wakes up from images of Morrigan taunting him with my face, he brushed them aside as a foolish dream and curls up against me to go back to sleep, or sometimes not to sleep.

Now that his night with Morrigan has quit haunting Alistair’s dreams, in some cruel twist of irony it’s begun invading mine. Not Morrigan herself. My nights are filled with thoughts of the child, a perfect little infant watching me with Morrigan’s knowing eyes, its chubby baby cheeks grinning Alistair’s smile. I wake aching to hold this precious, tiny life, to shelter and love and nurture it.

At first I thought the dreams were true seeing, the remnants of Urthemiel calling to me in my sleep. But Alistair seems untroubled by them, and the child was supposed to inherit only what was pure from the Old God, cleansed of the taint that bound me to it as the Archdemon. So I’ve had to accept that the child I see behind my eyelids every time I sleep is just a fantasy, that Alistair’s baby belongs to its real mother and wouldn’t even know my face or voice. That was the price for my husband’s life, and I paid it willingly.

But I can’t stop myself from thinking, can’t help wondering. What if the ritual didn’t give the child the powers she hoped for? What if her plans have changed? What if Morrigan doesn’t need the baby anymore? I would be so happy to take it from her, to raise it, to love it regardless of what mystical powers may or may not run in its blood.

So when the scouts reported sightings of a dark-haired woman near Flemeth’s hut, I had to go. I thanked the messenger, told him not to trouble the king with the news, that I’d look into it. They’re used to me dealing with minor matters of governance, so it didn’t seem unusual to him for me to handle something so trivial.

I didn’t tell Alistair where I’m going, just that I’m taking Kazaril out hunting. He laughed, accusing me of trying to avoid any more formal dinners with the Antivan ambassador who’s visiting. I let him think what he wants, but I’m not really lying to him. Kazaril and I are going hunting. I just didn’t tell him that our quarry is witch.
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Thank you very much :) Glad you enjoyed!

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