Their escort back to the castle for the banquet and festivities seemed to take an eternity. The entire city of Starkhaven lined the streets for the procession, children throwing flower petals and confetti and colorful bows made of ribboned paper into the white cobbled streets as the royal couple passed. Sebastian reveled in the sweet smell of blossoms crushed under foot, and the beaming smiles of nearly every face in the crowd.
The road that led him back to his kingdom was long, and the trail of enemies left in his wake bloody, but he’d never lost sight of his due. Hawke made sure of that. He held her hand, glancing over at her every time she reached out to catch flower petals in her hand and toss them back to eager children hoping to catch the eye of their fair princess.
And she was fair. More than fair. Never in his life had he seen a woman more beautiful, more graceful, more deserving of a crown than Marian Hawke. “You were amazing today,” he leaned into her and kissed her cheek, his voice raised above the cheers so she could hear him. “You’re amazing every day.”
“Stop, or you’ll make me cry again,” she warned, her hand waving furiously in front of her face to stem tears before they could fall.
He didn’t have a chance to ask her if she was all right because they arrived at the castle and were ushered separate ways to change for the festivities, but the smile she cast over her shoulder seemed to suggest she was more than all right: She was perfect. Sebastian grinned to himself and didn’t stop grinning while changing into a more casual outfit for the banquet.
Emerging from his rooms to wait for Hawke so they could enter the ballroom together, he paced outside the doors of her apartment for ten minutes before finally heading for the door and charging in without even knocking. She was only half-dressed, the elven attendant helping her with the row of buttons trailing the back of her gown letting loose an exasperated sigh as she called out, “I don’t know what part of ‘this takes time’ you don’t understand, your ladyship, but… Oh, Your Highness.” She squeaked, both hands dropping away from the buttons as she lowered herself into a complicit bow of respect. “I beg your pardon, Your Highness. I thought you were Lady Elisen come to hurry me along again.”
“Only me,” he grinned. “Would you excuse us a moment, please?”
“Of course, Your Highness,” she curtsied again, dipping her head low in humility.
“I can tend to the lady’s buttons, if that’s all right.”
“Highness?” she looked to Hawke for approval.
“He’s quite adept with buttons,” she grinned back at the elven maid who was already blushing when she added, “though his talents seem to be more suited to undoing them. We’ll have to see how he fairs with buttoning them all into place.”
“Rein it in, love,” he laughed. “Not everyone needs to know our private affairs.”
“You think I haven’t already told her what a stallion you are? Half the castle knows you can hardly keep your hands off me.”
“You’re no fun sometimes, you know that, right?”
Not sure what else to say, he told the elf, “Please, take some time to enjoy the festivities in the ballroom before you turn in for bed, make sure all the servants partake. This is their celebration, too.”
“Oh, we couldn’t, Your Highness. It wouldn’t be proper, but I thank you nonetheless.”
“You can, Methalia,” Hawke called after her, “and you will. When I come down to that party, I expect to see you and Freda both having a drink.”
“My Lady,” she began to protest.
“I expect it, Methalia. One drink. You deserve to celebrate as much as any of us, if not more. Without you this wouldn’t even be happening.”
“I hardly think that’s true, but if you insist, Highness, I will spread word to the other servants.”
“Well, we can all see rather easily who runs this castle,” Sebastian chuckled. “I suppose I should seek you out next time I have trouble convincing Chancellor Benneit it’s perfectly all right for a man of my station to ride out for a bit of privacy without a full retinue of guards now and then.”
“Oh, even I won’t side with you against the Chancellor on that, my dear. Sorry. Privacy is not a luxury a man of your station can afford, especially not so soon after his coronation.” She tipped back her head, arms reaching around to attempt the buttons in the rear of her gown, but he slipped in behind her and swatted her hands away in earnest.
“I said I’d get that.”
“I’ve been dressing myself since I was three years old,” she huffed. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to all of this. Highness and Princess and let me see to the buckles of your shoes.”
“Why shouldn’t you be waited on? You’re far more deserving of the title and the treatment than I most of the time. The entire household is head over heels in love with you.” They were very tiny buttons, so small they made his fingers feel overly large and utterly useless as he slowly worked his way up the line. “And so am I. Never has there been a backside more worthy of a throne than yours.”
“Please,” she laughed. “You have to say nice things about my backside because you’re stuck with it for the rest of our days. I wonder if you’ll feel the same when it starts to widen from so much time sitting.”
“I can’t think of a nicer arse to be stuck with than yours.” His hand slipped off the trail of buttons, cupping the very backside they spoke of and offering a gentle squeeze while leaning inward to nuzzle his nose along the curve of her neck before placing a kiss there. His other hand slipped around her waist, resting on her stomach so he could draw her back into him. She tensed a little, hesitating before she lifted her hand over to rest atop his.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use such naughty language with all the lights on,” she mused.
“What can I say?” he kissed her again. “You inspire a great many things in me, love, most of them unmentionable in polite company.”
“Well, no one’s every accused me of being polite, so please, do go on.”
He growled a little before nipping at the skin on her neck and promised, “Later I will tell you all my dirty little secrets, but right now there is a ballroom full of people from all over Thedas waiting to congratulate us on our rise to power.”
“You mean you have more dirty secrets?”
“More than you might ever know.”
“Huh, and here I thought I knew them all. I’m going to remind you about them later, and you will tell me.”
“Perhaps I’ll show you, but you have to promise not to make me undo all these buttons again. Maker’s breath, they’re a nightmare. Who thought this was a good idea?”
“Some pretentious fool from Orlais, no doubt,” she huffed. “I swear I put on ten pounds since my fittings. Do you need me to suck in?”
“No, you’re fine. There are just so many of them.”
“I was fine in the other dress. I don’t know why I had to change.”
“Neither do I. You were radiant in that dress. Not that this dress isn’t stunning, it’s just… for a moment when I looked at you up there this afternoon I felt like I was finally giving you the ceremony you deserved. Not that our marriage wasn’t special, because it was, but I promised you no less than a prince and then impatience got the better of me. I couldn’t live another day without you as my wife.”
“You just couldn’t wait to get into my pants.”
“Hawke, that’s not what I meant. I…”
“I know what you meant, and you’ve given me no less than you promised, Sebastian. Even if you hadn’t, none of that would actually matter to me. I didn’t want to be with you because you were a prince, or because I wanted your kingdom.” She reached back to take his hands, drawing them around her as she fell against his chest. “Though I’m sure there will be people who think otherwise, bottom of the noble barrel girl like me from Lothering…”
“I wish you wouldn’t disparage yourself like that. I know you love me, Hawke. That’s all that matters.”
“I wanted to be with you because from the moment we met I felt drawn to you, and even though I knew it was wrong to lure you away from your duty in the chantry, I couldn’t… I’m very selfish, you know. Everything’s always about what I want.”
“Hush, love. I am exactly where I want to be, where I should be. And I’ve no trouble giving you everything you want.”
“You always sound so sure.”
The time when he struggled seemed so long ago, almost as if it was never a part of his life at all. She was the only part of his life that mattered, and she always would be. “Of course I’m sure. Aren’t you?”
“About us?” she paused. “I’ve been sure about us for years, long before you were ever convinced. I just worry sometimes you’ll regret…”
“Hawke.” He drew back, gripping her shoulders and spinning her about to face him. Blue eyes scanned his face, searching for reassurance. “The only regret I have is that I waited so long to tell you I love you. That I didn’t take you in my arms long ago and show you what you meant to me. What you’ll always mean to me.”
The features of her face softened, the slightly downturned corners of her mouth twitching toward a smile. “That’s all I needed to hear.”
“Is that all then?” he grinned.
She seemed to hesitate, her eyes indicating she had more to say, but then she nodded and told him, “That’s it. Let’s go downstairs and feast and dance and make sure our love is the envy of all Thedas tonight.”
“Tonight and every night. But first, let’s see to these accursed buttons.” Gesturing for her to turn back around, it took a great deal of patience to see to those buttons. It probably didn’t help much that she was very fidgety, turning every time she spoke to him, and nearly jumping in place when she marveled at the strange arrival of the Hero of Ferelden.
“Did you know she was coming?”
“King Alistair said nothing of it in his letters.”
“I hope there’s not trouble,” she muttered. “The last thing we need right now is more trouble. What if there’s another blight?”
“I’m sure it’s fine, love.”
“I hope I get to talk with her,” she mused thoughtfully as he pushed the final porcelain button through its hole. “There are so many things I want to ask her. Do you think she’ll talk to me?”
“It’s your party, love. You can talk to whomever you like.”
“If that were true I’d spend my whole night talking to no one but you.”
“I’m sure Varric would be very upset to hear that.”
She drew away as his hand fell from the back of her gown, pirouetting in to face him again. Beautiful didn’t begin to describe the woman in front of him. She was radiant, absolutely glowing, and though he didn’t like to think himself a braggart, he was definitely going to hold his head high as he walked into the ballroom with her on his arm.