Morning came. Battalions of men, dwarves, and elves merged as they pressed on towards Denerim. Elissa, as Alistair’s general, took no time in establishing her position in the chain of command. Elissa had met with the commanders of her troops in the foothills near Denerim, in the army camp, and the plan to take Denerim was all laid out. Riordan had finely tuned Warden’s senses, and the darkspawn generals would certainly have been an unwelcome surprise, had he not taken scouts to the city. She sighed heavily, running her fingers through her tresses and tying them back with a piece of leather to hang down her back loosely. Commanders of Orzammar, the Dalish, the Circle Tower mages, and Redcliffe all had looked to her as she expected, and while she had greatly benefitted from Riordan and Alistair being at her side to offer some suggestions, she had gone on instinct, with very little knowledge of how great battles like these were truly won. Perhaps that was how they were conquered, on the experienced instinct of a hardened warrior like herself. Still, she was anxious to put her theories to the test.
Alistair saw her leaning over the strategic map of Denerim, scowling, concentrating. She had always taken her decisions seriously, but the last few days, she had been especially hard on herself. He walked towards her, hoping to comfort her.
A noise drew their attention. Near the Dalish commander’s tent, there was a crash and a barrel rolled out of the way. A soldier of Redcliffe, cheeks flushed from too much ale and eyes crazed with anger and prejudice and fear, beat down on a Dalish archer, who was trying desperately to fight back, but it was well known the Dalish knew little of melee combat compared to the soldiers of Ferelden. Elissa darted over, hoping to intervene.
“Hey…hey! Stop that!” Alistair caught up with her.
The soldier didn’t so much as look in her direction before he blurted out, “Stay out of this, woman,” as he kneed the elf female in the stomach. Elissa halted, and Alistair whistled his astonishment as her ears turned an incensed scarlet. She took a step back, amazed at the blackguard.
Alistair remarked, “That might have been the worst decision you’ve made all day, man, talking to her like that…” Elissa ignored Alistair, fuming. She leapt, turned the man around and grabbed him by the collar, pushing him up against a yew. Alistair helped up the archer and sent her on her way. The soldier was stunned a woman could be so forceful, and as he noted the lady’s armor bore the Warden-Commander emblem and the fair-haired man resembling the late King Cailan behind her was in the golden armor of the Theirins, he began to fear that he was headed for the executioner’s block. Minstrels from Denerim had already begun to sing the adventures of the legendary bastard prince and his fearsome Warden lover. Elissa shook him, drawing his attention.
“What did you just call me?” she said in a voice that was low and chilling. When the man did not respond, she slammed him up against the tree again, and rephrased hoarsely louder. “What word did you use to address me?!”
The man was petrified, but he managed to whisper, “I called you ‘woman,’ ma’am.” He looked to Alistair to intervene, but the crown prince stood silent, grinning smugly with his arms crossed over his chest as he watched his fiancée in her fury. She shook him again to lock her gaze with his.
“Know this,” she hissed. “I am your commanding general and future queen. I have practically run this war since Cailan’s death, and you will not address me so uncouthly. You shall call me ‘My Lady,’ ‘Ser,’ or even ‘Your Highness’ if you really want to make my day. But never, ever are you to speak to me in that way again.”
The pallid man gulped as she released her grip on his chainmail.
“My apologies, My Lady.” He started to walk away, but she grabbed his arm with constricting grip. She put a finger to his face.
“And if I so much as see you rousing up discord and malcontent in my troops like that again, I will have you flogged and sent home with a dishonorable discharge. You shall go straight to your commander and report for duty, and do nothing else unless you are told to do otherwise.” The man stood frozen as he managed a small nod. Her eyes narrowed. “Immediately.” The soldier ran for the Redcliffe barracks, as if a whip was driving him. Elissa sat down at the base of the tree, sighing, and she swiped a hand over her face. She looked up at Alistair. The sod of a man was beaming.
“What’s that look for?” she inquired, dropping her hand to her chin. He laughed.
“Somebody’s cranky…” She rolled her eyes and looked away.
“Shut it.” He chuckled again as a smile touched her eyes.
Alistair crouched to meet her at eye level and took her hand. “You are showing quite a lot of spirit this morning…an improvement from yesterday. I don’t know if I would want to be that poor man, foul as he is, or any soldier under your command, but I do love to watch you flex your authority.” Elissa’s mouth turned up in a smirk, and she scoffed.
“You are going to eat those words someday, I can guarantee it.” He sat down next to her to kiss her knuckles.
“Yeah, well, until then, I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.” She playfully slapped his chest as a laugh escaped her throat, and she got up, helping him up as well, to go and play the inspirational leaders.
Finally, their march led them to a place where Denerim was in plain view, and from it there were screams and smoke and the smell of death, and the sky turned red with it. Elissa looked sadly, reminiscently on the city, and she heaved a sigh. Alistair stood beside her and took her hand, and his eyes mimicked her own, smoldering in remembrance, intent on her. She could feel her ardor blooming in desperation for this final hour before they entered the fray, full with the knowledge that one of them, maybe even both of them, might not make it out.
“I love you, Alistair,” she murmured. He squeezed her hand, feeling her fingers clutching his in earnest.
“I love you. Always.”
“Watch the doors!” Elissa shoved a few of the Dalish archers to guard the entrances to the roof of Fort Drakon. “Go, go! Do not let them pass!” The four doors to the tower’s pinnacle were teeming with darkspawn, and the Dalish bowmen were struggling to stem their wake. In the middle of it all, the archdemon stood with a devilish grin on its face. Elissa snarled at her foe. Urthemiel awaited his demise.
As Elissa started after the arch-demon, she heard Alistair stumble behind her and the sound of dented metal. She turned to see a hurlock strike his chest with a mace, and she hoarsely cried out his name as he fell to his back. She retreated to aid him, slicing off the darkspawn’s head as Alistair lay on his back, clutching his chest in agony from what may have been several broken ribs. As more descended upon them, Elissa threw her whole strength into fighting them off, resolving to die before they laid a blade on him. It was only when Wynne and Leliana appeared that she felt safe to leave him, and only after the old woman nudged her towards the dragon. “Your duty, my Lady…” Leliana sliced and dodged, weaving in and among the incoming blows that seemed to slip past her, leaving her unscathed.
“We can take it from here,” she stated. Elissa grabbed her by the arm as the darkspawn presence waned to look her in the eyes.
“Protect your king. That is your only responsibility from here on out.” Leliana grasped her hand and pressed into it, looking to her knowingly.
“With my life, my dear friend.” Elissa briefly smiled and let go, sprinting for the arch-demon, to finally decide her fate and the fate of Ferelden.