Author: Isabeau of Greenlea PM
The provoking young Cousland Grey Warden stands squarely in the way of Anora's ambitions.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Adventure - Cousland & Anora - Chapters: 51 - Words: 273,135 - Reviews: 1,041 - Favs: 433 - Follows: 434 - Updated: 06-11-13 - Published: 08-18-11 - id: 7300672
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sorry about the long delay for this. Holidays were obviously a factor, as is the fact that my LOTR muse has returned. I'll probably be trying to update some stories in that fandom in the next little bit, so I might not be updating Corin quite so quickly as I have in the past, though I'll try to keep some momentum going.
Thanks to Blighted 114, acedude, MetalSpawn, VGGirl95, DragonRebornaMoL, LivewithHonour, Advent of Shadows, Ronin Kenshin, Rikard Gadell (Yes, you're right! I'm math challenged!), Robbie the Phoenix, The-Demon-of-Soul-Society, NIX'S WARDEN, mille libri, Sayle, xseikax, lazyguy90, Nargil, Rake1810, spectre4hire, SuperGravyMan, DarthCruciere, thecelticspirit, realitydeviant, none, Genericrandom, Mike3207 and Suilven for comments and criticism of the last chapter. Note to self-smut=reviews!
RakeeshJ4-you made some valid points. This chapter hopefully addresses some of them.
"You're the one the Grand Cleric was so upset about losing!" Gregoir managed to say when the Smite began to wear off.
Alistair, helping Nerissa back to her feet, shrugged and said, "I guess. I always thought that she was just angry at having to give me to the Wardens after spending all that time and money on my training."
Gregoir gave him a disbelieving look. "You mean you don't know?"
"There are very few Templars who have the strength to do what you just did without lyrium," the Knight-Commander said. "When they're discovered, the Grand Cleric in their jurisdiction has standing orders to send them to Val Royeaux for Seeker training. You'd have been a big feather in her cap. That's why she was upset!"
"Oh." Alistair pondered this for a moment. She was upset not because the Wardens took me, but because I was really good at Templar stuff? "Wow."
Irving took up his napkin, wiped his face and mopped up some spilled tea. "Quite the demonstration, Warden."
Alistair had the grace to look abashed. "Sorry, First Enchanter."
"So you said. So you said. So, Gregoir-do you feel more confident about Warden Theirin's proposal now?"
Gregoir rubbed his brow. He'd gotten back up, righted his chair and seated himself once more. "I will admit, the prospect of a Circle without Surana in it does seem…restful and rather appealing."
Nerissa, who had plopped into a nearby chair, frowned, wrinkling her nose at him, but was apparently still too undone to do any more.
"And it is technically still to do with the Blight, which we are bound to aid in any event," the Knight-Commander mused. "All right, Irving. Go ahead and draw up the agreement when you're feeling better."
"I'm well enough," the First Enchanter assured him. "I'll do that right now." With a resiliency that was amazing for someone of his advanced years, he drew out pen and paper and ink, scooted over to find a dry spot on the desk and began writing. His handwriting was a little shaky for the first few lines, but then it firmed up. Gregoir helped himself to more tea as he watched. Nerissa just slumped in her chair, still looking a bit out of things.
It didn't take all that long to scribe out, all things considered. Alistair read it over when Irving was done. The agreement basically contracted out the services of Nerissa Surana, Senior Enchanter, to the Ferelden Grey Wardens for a period of up to ten years, to assist in dealing with the aftermath of the Blight. The Grey Wardens were responsible for her proper supervision and her good conduct during that time, as well as being liable for any damages she might cause while under their supervision. In the event of her death, the Circle was to be immediately notified and if possible, her remains returned to them for proper disposal. It was very straightforward and Alistair felt confident enough signing it without consulting anyone else.
It felt odd doing that though, writing his name and the descriptor "Commander of the Grey, Ferelden" beneath it for the very first time. Very official, and he almost fancied he felt Duncan's ghost smiling at his shoulder. He handed it back to Irving, who signed it along with Gregoir, and they sealed it with the Kinloch seal.
"I'll have a copy scribed for you tomorrow, Warden-Commander," Irving said with a smile. "And I'll have someone send it to you. Where might you be found?"
"In the Cousland suite, sir. Any of the palace servants know where that is."
"Very well then. Why don't you take Nerissa along with you, get her settled in for the night."
"Uh, sure. Do you need to get your things, Nerissa?"
Nerissa nodded, and got up. "I'll just be a moment, Warden," she muttered, oddly unenthusiastic, and left the room. Her subdued demeanor seemed to both surprise and please Gregoir.
While they waited, Alistair chatted with Irving and Gregoir about the repairs that had been done to the Circle thus far, and the progress that had been made in the two mens' absence. Letters had come to both Irving and Gregoir and though there were few enough people currently in Kinloch to do much, they were trying to proceed with restoring the tower to normalcy.
When Nerissa returned, she had small sack slung over her shoulder and to Alistair's astonishment, Spellweaver was belted around her waist. Where and when did she get that?
"I'm ready, Warden."
"Very well then. I guess we'll be going," Alistair said heartily, still puzzled at her mood. He wished the First Enchanter and the Knight-Commander a good evening, and headed for the door.
"Nerissa," the First Enchanter called after them. The little Senior Enchanter paused to look back at him.
"You've already made me prouder than I can say. I feel confident that you will continue to do so."
A ghost of her usual grin came over her face. "Thanks, Boss." She nodded once, then turned to follow Alistair.
Who was rather worried. He'd expected Nerissa to be happy, not subdued and sad. This quenched-looking little elf was not the Nerissa Surana he knew. She even dropped back to his heel, like some sort of obedient dog. Do the Templars in the Tower insist on that? he wondered.
He was beginning to be familiar with some of the shortcuts in the Palace by now and was taking one of them, a deserted hallway through some unoccupied nobles' quarters, when he heard her voice behind him.
"Warden Theirin, I don't apologize in advance!" The next thing he knew, there was a crackle of ice and he was frozen solid.
Nerissa walked around to the front of him, and the subdued, quenched elf was gone. Her green-hazel eyes were blazing with anger, and she went up on her tip-toes, inches from his frozen nose, staff in hand.
"Not so easy to take a mage down if she knows you're coming, is it, Hardbody? One good Stonefist at this range and you'd be in pieces. And there wouldn't be a damn thing you could do about it." She hefted her darkspawn staff menacingly and if Alistair could have flinched, he would have. Despite the antipathy he and Morrigan had felt for each other, she'd never turned her magic against him. Of course, you never leveled a Holy Smite on Morrigan either, his conscience unhelpfully informed him. You only do that to mages you like.
"I really don't think you did that just to prove what a tough guy you are," Nerissa was saying. "I think that you thought you were helping me. And I think that you thought that Gregoir wasn't going to listen, and you needed to get his attention. Maybe it's true that he wasn't going to listen. But I'm only going to tell you this once. Smiting me is one thing. But so help me, if you ever pull anything like that on the Boss again, I swear by your stupid Andraste that I'll fry you if I can! Do you understand me? You can give a mage his age a heart attack Smiting him that hard!"
She waited, glaring, until he defrosted. Shivering, Alistair shook himself and nodded.
"I'm sorry. You're right. I wasn't thinking." Wasn't remembering that mages aren't allowed children, they're not allowed family, that their mentors are often the closest thing to a parent they ever get. Smooth move, Alistair. You just smacked Nerissa's father around!
"I'll say!" Nerissa's gaze was still challenging. "Ready to tear that contract up and send me back?"
"Not just yet. I think I need someone who'll tell me when I'm being an idiot."
"Just so you know, I'm not done with you yet. I'm going to tell Wynne what you did when we get back to quarters. I want her to look at Irving."
"Maker, but you're a little brute!"
Alistair's newly-contracted mage liaison snorted. "You don't know the half of it yet."
They started walking again, in silence for a few moments, while Alistair pondered his failings as a commander. Eventually, he heard a quiet mutter from Nerissa.
"Not that it wasn't worth it, seeing Gregoir knocked on his ass. The Boss probably thought so too."
Wynne's reaction was every bit as astonished, reproachful and reproving as Alistair expected. "Really, Alistair! Smiting the First Enchanter! How could you!"
"I was actually Smiting the Knight-Commander. The First Enchanter and Nerissa just got caught in the area."
"Because that makes it so much better!" Wynne said, putting her knitting away into its bag. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I do believe you're right, Surana. Someone had best check Irving over. Perhaps even Gregoir as well, if he will permit it. Alistair, that was hardly behavior worthy of a Grey Warden."
"Oh, I don't know," Nerissa said, apparently being contrary just to tweak her fellow Senior Enchanter. "It got him a kick-butt Primal to torch darkspawn with. Seems Wardenly enough to me."
"What you know about Wardens would fill a thimble, Nerissa," Wynne huffed tartly. "I'd best be off immediately." She hastened to her room to get her bag, and hurried out of the suite.
"'What you know about Wardens would fill a thimble, Nerissa!'" Surana echoed mockingly when she had gone. Her eyes rolled. "I do hope Irving and Gregoir manage to survive until Wynne comes to succor them with her incomparable bedside manner."
Alistair bit back a laugh and she looked up at him, her manner softening a bit. "Where am I bunking, Hardbody?"
"The Couslands have a big suite. Some of us are using the servants' rooms. You don't mind that, do you? You'd have a room of your own, even if it's not very big. I'll put you next to Cauthrien."
'That will be just fine. I don't take up too much space."
Alistair ran his hand through his hair. "Yeah. About that. If there are things you need, Nerissa-extra clothes, anything like that-then please let me know. It's my job to see that you're properly equipped."
"Speaking of which. You're going to have to work with Wynne for a bit."
Alistair found himself the recipient of a narrow-eyed stare. "Why?"
"Because she and Corin are the only two people we have who know that Arcane Warrior stuff. And Corin's busy with other things. And I want you in armor, not robes."
Nerissa groaned. "All right, all right. I really want to learn that! And I'm sure that Wynne would love the opportunity to 'instruct' me on any number of things. But you're the one who's being the brute now!"
"Do you know how to ride a horse?"
"Are you kidding?"
"We'll need to find you someone to teach you that as well. Maybe I can convince Cauthrien to do it."
"Really? That's excellent! But I'll need some riding clothes…"
"I'll ask Leli if she'll help with that."
The little elf looked dubious. "Chantry Girl?"
"Trust me. Anything to do with shopping or clothes, you want Leliana."
"If you say so…but I didn't think there was much shopping going on in Denerim at present."
"She and Zevran are good at all sorts of …acquisitions."
"Ah. Got it."
"And I might see if Zev would teach you some basic hand-to-hand. His style of fighting is probably much better suited to you than mine is."
"And who is going to defend me from Zevran's hands?"
"Noticed that, did you? You've got my permission to freeze, fry or petrify him as necessary."
"But I think Corin's rather fond of him for some inexplicable reason, so you might not want to do anything too permanent."
"Damn. And here I'd been working on that targeted Petrify spell! The one that lets you shatter an enemy's bollocks right off." At Alistair's wide-eyed look, she grinned. "Just kidding, Hardbody!"
"Good to know…" Her new commander shook himself. "Okay. Ground rules about the suite. We moved in here after the Landsmeet because Corin wanted to be closer to Anora, and because we thought Lord Fergus was dead, so it was Corin's suite as Teyrn. But neither Lord Fergus or Lady Eleanor is dead, so Fergus has taken the master bedroom back and Lady Eleanor the dower suite. So be polite if you see them, because they're being nice enough to let us stay." Nerissa nodded.
"Needless to say, we clean up after ourselves," Alistair continued. "We can use the parlor and library if we like, but if either of them come in and ask for privacy, you should clear out. And if they want the bathing chambers, the same thing applies."
"If you want to take a book back to your room to read, that's okay-they've already said so. But don't take it out of the suite."
"I know how to take care of books, believe you me." Since Leorah wasn't around to describe how she'd desecrated the map books in Kinloch, Nerissa felt safe enough making the claim.
"All right then. Let's go to the library and see if the Teyrn or Teyrna are in. I should introduce you."
Teyrn Fergus was out and about, but Teyrna Eleanor was in the library, sitting at a table near a lamp, setting careful stitches into what looked to be a man's shirt. She looked up at Alistair's knock and smiled.
"Come in, Alistair dear. Who is this?"
"I thought I'd better introduce you, my lady. Teyrna Eleanor Cousland, this is Senior Enchanter Nerissa Surana. She's just been contracted over to the Grey Wardens by the Circle, to help us with the end of the Blight, so she'll be staying with us now, if that's all right with you."
"And why would it not be?" Lady Eleanor set her sewing down and extended her hands. "Come here, Senior Enchanter."
Nerissa approached cautiously and allowed her own hands to be taken.
"My son has spoken to me of your fighting skills. I'm so very glad you were with him! And I'm very glad to have the chance to meet you at last."
Lady Eleanor was very disarming. It was difficult to believe that she was one of the highest nobles in the land. Her manner was sincere, and she wasn't afraid to touch a mage. Despite her reservations, Nerissa found herself melting a little bit.
"You are very kind, my lady."
The teyrna was shaking her head in wonder. She released Nerissa's hands. "Corin told me you were a tiny girl. He certainly wasn't exaggerating! Is there anything you need, Senior Enchanter? We have some stores here-mostly plain clothes, but of good quality. Some could be cut down to fit you. Wardening is dirty work, from what I hear."
"Warden Theirin would know more about that than I do, to be honest, my lady," Nerissa said, with an imploring look at him.
"We were just talking about some riding clothes, Lady Eleanor," Alistair put in. "And some things appropriate for wearing under armor. If you have anything like that, it would be great."
"We don't have any gambesons that would fit her. Oren…he'd not started arms training yet, though he was longing to do so. Not that she's quite that small." Her face darkened for a moment at the mention of her dead grandson, but it cleared once more. Her tone was brisk as she continued. "But there are some smallish breeches and shirts we can look at, as well as some stockings. We'll set you up, Senior Enchanter, never you fear. Do you have anything to wear for the wedding yet?"
"I…didn't know I was invited."
"One of my son's companions not invited? Don't be silly." Her kind tone took the sting of the words away.
"I…suppose I should wear my mage robes. Unless there's something Warden-y I should wear instead."
Alistair's brow furrowed. "Actually, that's a good point, Nerissa. I need your advice upon something, Lady Eleanor."
"How may I help, Alistair?"
"Nerissa's going to learn to go about in armor, so she'll be better protected when we fight. But I don't want Templars smiting her if they see her with her staff and not in proper Circle robes. Any ideas?"
"She needs a tabard with Warden arms to wear when she's in armor," the Cousland matriarch said promptly. "If she's in your livery, there will be fewer challenges. Everyone knows the Wardens have mages of their own."
"Oh. All right. That does sound like a good idea…" Alistair trailed off, wondering if Leliana could help with the commissioning of such a thing. Lady Eleanor smiled knowingly.
"I do have a lady or two back with me now, Alistair. And we have to measure the Senior Enchanter in any event. I'll see to it."
"Thank you, my lady."
"And we'll see about getting you a pretty gown as well, Nerissa. Every girl should have at least one pretty dress."
Nerissa found herself dipping a curtsey. "Thank you, my lady." She looked at the needlework in Eleanor's hands. "What are you making?"
Eleanor smiled. "Corin's wedding shirt. Would you like to see?" Nerissa nodded, and the teyrna held the mass of fine lawn up closer to her. Eleanor was working upon what looked to be the front of the neck, the facings. There was a white-on-white pattern of griffons within Cousland laurel wreaths, interspersed with the Ferelden royal arms. It was fine work, and very ornate.
"That is lovely," Nerissa said sincerely. "Though I don't see how you see to do it. I'd go cross-eyed!"
The teyrna indicated the lamp, set close beside her. "I can only work on the embroidery a bit at a time, at least at night. It's easier in daylight. My eyes aren't what they used to be, but I did want to make him something for the day. Though I'd better hurry it up-they're talking about doing it in the next month, before the weather gets truly wretched." She gave Alistair an inquiring look.
"Is there anything else you need, dear?"
"No, my lady. Thank you for allowing us to bother you."
"It was no bother at all. A good evening to you both." Alistair bowed, Nerissa tried another curtsey, then they left the library.
"The Prince doesn't look like Lady Eleanor at all," Nerissa noted, when they were back in the parlor once more.
"No, but he's very much like her in other ways," came Alistair's response.
The door to the hall outside opened, and Leliana came in. Smiling, she sauntered up to Alistair, twined her arms about his neck and laid a slow and leisurely kiss upon his lips. Aware of Nerissa's scrutiny, the Warden-Commander found himself blushing. "How was the Chantry?" he asked when she broke the kiss.
"The singing is always beautiful for me," the bard answered. "I'm feeling quite…exalted… right now."
Leliana detached herself from Alistair, looked over at Nerissa and smiled.
"Hello, Senior Enchanter! What brings you here?"
"The Warden-Commander. I'm contracted to the Grey Wardens for the next ten years." To her own ears, Nerissa's tone was a little flat. But Leliana didn't seem to notice anything amiss.
"That is excellent! I'm sure you'll be a big help to Alistair."
"Thank you. Are the two of you…"
Leliana's cinnamon eyebrow rose. "Together? Us? No, nothing permanent. We're not betrothed or anything. Alistair is a dear friend." She smiled knowingly. "With benefits, of course. Rather big benefits, actually."
Taking a moment to work that out, Nerissa found herself blushing. Looking over at Alistair, his face was absolutely crimson. The bard seemed amused.
"I'll be in my room, Alistair. I'm sure you need to settle Nerissa in. You know, Nerissa, if you'd like to join us sometime, you'd be welcome, at least as far as I'm concerned. And I doubt Alistair would object over much." Seeing the two flabbergasted expressions before her, the bard giggled.
"Your faces! It's so sweet! Later, Alistair." She sauntered off, an obviously inviting sway to her hips.
"Um. Yes. Well," Alistair said when she had gone. "Let's get you situated. I imagine you're pretty tired." Nerissa nodded.
The servant rooms were on a corridor behind the family rooms, which connected to them by a door in the parlor. Alistair had just opened the door to Nerissa's new room, when the door to the room next door opened and Cauthrien stepped out.
"Commander. Senior Enchanter. What are you doing here?" she asked, her saturnine face curious.
"I contracted the Senior Enchanter to work with us during the Thaw Hunt," Alistair replied.
"Are you Conscripting her?"
"Not unless it becomes necessary," came his response. "It's a contract with the Circle. The First Enchanter was very helpful." Cauthrien nodded her comprehension, then extended her hand to Nerissa with a smile. Her grip was very strong, though she wasn't trying to hurt Nerissa, and the elf could actually feel the sword calluses on her large hand.
"Glad to have you, Senior Enchanter! Thank you for being willing to help us. I'm sure you'll be a great asset to the Wardens."
"I'm certainly going to try, Ser Cauthrien." Nerissa declared with a smile, responding to Cauthrien's obvious good will.
"I heard Leliana come in a moment ago," Loghain's former right hand said, with a meaningful look at her commander. "Why don't you let me settle the Senior Enchanter in?"
Alistair nodded, his blush returning. "Thanks, Cauthrien. That's very kind of you. And the two of you ought to get better acquainted anyway." He looked down at the small mage and smiled. "I'll see you in the morning, Nerissa. There are some things Cauthrien and I can't tell you because they're Warden secrets, but we'll try to answer any other questions you might have, all right? It's important that we all trust each other-we'll have to work very closely together." Nerissa nodded. Alistair gave her another smile, turned and headed down the corridor, leaving her with the tall knight.
"I guess Alistair meant to put you next to my room?" Cauthrien asked.
"That's what he said."
"That's probably going to be the most convenient for us both," Cauthrien noted, opening the door.
It was a small room as Alistair had said, somewhat smaller than her Enchanter quarters in the Tower. But this one actually had a door she could close, a great improvement on the open alcoves the enchanters had, and Nerissa looked around with approval. A small bed with a good mattress, a chest at the foot, a table with a chair near the window, a bookcase and a wardrobe completed the furnishings. There was a small fireplace and even a nice rug on the floor.
'This is very nice," she said. Cauthrien nodded.
"The Couslands take care of their people, that's for sure. I'll get you a key." At Nerissa's look of incomprehension, the knight's brow furrowed. "So you can lock your room when you're not here?"
"We weren't allowed any such thing in the Tower. My room didn't even have a door," the little enchanter explained. "The Templars wanted to be able to look in on you at any time." Her nose wrinkled. "You never know when we might be getting up to malefic thoughts or something."
"Maker! I had no idea! They watched you all the time?"
Nerissa nodded. "Day and night."
"So I always thought. But you do get used to it, if you've not known anything else. Though the Senior Enchanters got private rooms, so I'd have had a door of my own when I got back. But even Senior Enchanters don't get to lock their rooms."
"Well you can have your privacy with the Wardens, that's for certain. How long are you going to be with us?"
"The contract says for up to ten years."
Cauthrien nodded thoughtfully. "Good. A lot can happen in ten years. Maybe things will…open up a bit for your folk before you have to go back."
"Gracious! That's certainly open-minded of you, Ser Cauthrien. Not to mention heretical."
The lanky knight grinned. "I'm not much of a one for religion. But I was on that roof, and I saw what you and your people did. Ferelden's a relatively small country, next to a very rapacious neighbor." A shadow fell over her narrow face. "Though Orlais isn't a problem right now, it could be in the future. I can see them wanting to take advantage of what they deem is our weakened, disorganized state. Our mages could be a real advantage, were that to happen-and were we to let them be."
"Is that really your problem, now that you're a Warden?" Nerissa asked curiously.
Cauthrien's smile was wry. "Old habits die hard. And this one is decades long." She cast her eyes about the room. "I know where the linens are kept. Come along and I'll show you and help you get the bed sorted. Wood for the fireplace is a bit scant at present, we're still really getting settled back in, but it's always warm in the main rooms and there are plenty of blankets."
Nerissa dropped her sack and her staff in the room, and followed Cauthrien obediently down the hall. The knight's ready acceptance was unexpected and heartwarming.
This is going to be awesome! she thought to herself with glee.