A Reluctant Hero
"They must have some juicy stories about you in Ferelden," Varric said. He was alone in his quarters tonight but had caught Mahariel on her way in and invited her to his room to talk.
"Maker, I hope not," she groaned, wrapping her hands around a cup of mead. She was forgoing the wine for something a little more gentle. She was drunk enough on emotion, and Mahariel was not one to be a sappy mess, so she stayed away from the strong, bitter wine The Hanged Man offered and took Varric up on his suggested brew, making sure to drink very slowly.
"A reluctant hero, eh? Very poetic," the dwarf mused.
"Don't you have enough to do regaling Ser Hawke's achievements?" she prodded, leaning forward on her elbows. The more she walked around Kirkwall, the more ridiculous things she heard about the Champion, and Mahariel got the feeling she knew the source.
"Variety is the spice of life, Hero, and your feminine wiles counter Hawke's manly good looks nicely."
"Feminine wiles? Oh please," she moaned. "I'm about as wily as a sack of grain."
"The spell you've put on Blondie would have me disagree," Varric opposed, taking a long drink of his foamy beer.
Mahariel laughed and couldn't keep from blushing, but the hue brought to her cheeks was made weird by the darkspawn taint in her veins. "That was not my 'feminine wiles' that cast that spell."
"Then what, Hero?"
She shook her head. "I can't say for sure. Mutual loneliness, maybe. If anything," she confessed, "I fell for him first." But Mahariel paused, parting her lips and knitting her brown in a gesture of confusion. "Why I am telling you this?"
Varric only smiled and rubbed his beardless chin. "I have that effect on people."
"Or you've slipped me the mickey."
"I would never! I have standards, you know."
"Everyone has standards. Some are lower than others."
"I'd heard you were clever."
"I hope I'm living up to your expectations."
"And then some," Varric toasted her, then lowered his voice. "Is it true? About you and King Maric's bastard son?"
A jolt of pain shot through Mahariel's heart and she took a long, cog-wheeled inhale.
"I'm sorry -"
"No," she cut him off. "I should... I'm used to it. Yes, it's true."
Mahariel whipped around, and found Fenris standing in the door way. "The door was open," he offered.
"This... might not be the best time, elf," Varric tried his best to repair the damage he had unintentionally done. Though crass on the surface, Varric's heart was of gold, try as he might to deny it.
Mahariel dismissed him, "It's alright. Sit down, Fenris." She turned to Varric, explaining, "We spoke earlier today. I left in a bit of a rush." To the elf, she said, "I apologize. I was rude."
Taking the seat opposite Mahariel, he waved it away. "Not at all. In fact, I wanted to thank you for your words. They were more insightful than you know."
Remembering Anders' awkward, lusty smile, she laughed, "No, I think I do," and she folded her hands before her. "So, you want to know the truth about Alistair and I, Varric?"
"Does a nug carry the Blight?"
She narrowed her eyes. "Actually, no, they don't."
"Don't be pedantic."
"Fine, the truth," she said. "I loved him. He died."
"When he slew the Archdemon?" the dwarf fished for more.
Mahariel nodded, and with a sad little laugh, she said, "I don't think I've forgiven him for that." Fenris looked at her sideways, and she elaborated reluctantly. "Only a Grey Warden can slay an Archdemon. An Orlesian Warden, Riordan, made an oath to Alistair and I that he would take the blow; he was old, he said, his time was almost up. But he died before he could deliver the strike. I watched him fall, and in the chaos of battle, I made my peace. I pushed passed the horde of darkspawn and told myself I would make the sacrifice - Ferelden needed a king more than it needed me. I was nothing.
"We lured the Archdemon down and fought it atop Fort Drakon. When it was nearly defeated, I drew my blade..." she took a long, slow breath and leaned her head back against the chair. "He smiled, you know? That was the worst part. He smiled, and he slew the dragon in my place. I was ready to die. And I couldn't stop him." Involuntarily, she gasped a sharp inhalation, but she quickly covered her mouth and steeled herself. "And then he was gone."
The room was silent but for the noise from the bar filtering up the steps. Mahariel stood. "I'm sorry," she muttered, and with hunched shoulders, she walked quickly out of the room, out of the inn; Varric and Fenris watched as she disappeared into the Lowtown night.
After a brief pause, Fenris remarked, "That's the second time she's done that today."
"Elf, after everything she's seen, I'm surprised she stuck around this long." It took a few moments before the implications of his own words hit them both and Fenris followed in Mahariel's footsteps, making to follow the Warden Commander.
"Varric, you have got to learn when to shut your mouth," the dwarf muttered to himself and lost himself in his drink.