Author: Isabeau of Greenlea PM
As the son of a teyrn, Corin Cousland can afford a very expensive hobby. And it gets him into trouble. A glimpse of his life before DAO. Rated M for strong language.Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure - Cousland - Chapters: 4 - Words: 14,609 - Reviews: 21 - Favs: 23 - Follows: 4 - Published: 10-26-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7496667
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
My one gripe about Thedas is that there are no horses in it, though there references to them. Chevalier, much? Oxen and brontos and even riding wyverns, for Maker's sake, but no horses. So this story is mostly about horses. If you don't like horses, you should probably skip it. Of course there are also some parts about Corin's life pre-DAO that you might find interesting, but mostly, it's about horses. You have been warned.
I should also add that it always seemed silly to me that Landra was supposedly one of Eleanor's great good friends, yet Dairren acts like he's hardly ever met the Cousland. So you may safely assume here that Corin has spent a good amount of time with Bann Loren's family.
This story was written for the Cheeky Monkeys Secondary Character challenge, but I'm not sure it fits the prompt particularly well.
It had been just like the old nursery rhyme, Fergus Cousland reflected afterwards. For want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe; the horse was lost…Though the horse wasn't lost, precisely. She was Corin's saddle mare, and standing in her stall when the shoe came lose. But they had already been well past the time to leave for Bann Loren's tournament.
"I'll just take Beauvisage instead," his younger brother had said, shrugging. Amabelle was a beautiful, spirited, well-trained mare and he enjoyed showing her paces off for the girls, but Corin was an even-tempered fellow, and took setbacks well for someone deep into the throes of adolescence. "Dairren was saying last tournament that he wanted to try holding a lance. I'll bring Beau's stuff and let Dairren get a feel for it. Hey, Damon!" he called across the courtyard towards the armory door. "Would you get my lances and my jousting armor and throw them in the back of the equipment wagon? Thanks!" He went back into the tack room to collect the jousting barding and put it in the wagon himself, and then hurried to saddle his second horse.
Beauvisage was anything but pretty, despite the name. A retired war stallion, he was Corin's mount for learning the finer forms of equitation, an art not much practiced in Ferelden because it was considered a pompous, Orlesian affectation. Fereldens had no trouble hunting animals over fields and through forests on horseback, though they often dismounted for the kill itself. But fighting on horseback, or learning the art of jousting with the long lance was something few of the nobility troubled themselves to master-it brought back too many memories of the Orlesian occupation. Most tournaments in Ferelden were fought exclusively on foot. It was only in Denerim or Amaranthine that you might see tournaments with an actual mounted division. If you wanted to be a serious jouster, you had to go to Orlais.
This was why Bryce Cousland had been so resistant to the idea of his son learning to tilt. As second son, it was true that Corin was going to have to find something to do with his life, but becoming a wandering tournament champion was not what the Teyrn of Highever considered to be an optimal career choice. Though Corin was the most accomplished horseman in the family, it had taken a solid year of pleading on his part after he turned fourteen to convince his father to hire a retired Orlesian chevalier to train him to joust.
Gervaise Tallyvere, an ugly, irascible old fellow with a scar running down the right side of his face and close-cropped, wiry grey hair, had come to Highever then. Tallyvere had brought Beauvisage with him as a training mount, and when Corin had complained to him about the red roan's less than attractive appearance when compared to Tallyvere's own handsome, seal brown Aiglet, the old man had shrugged and spat.
"'Eee is as prettee as 'e needs to be. And an old 'orse is best for a young man."
Tallyvere had proven to be a thorough and demanding task master in the art of horsemanship, improving Corin's already formidable riding skills enormously, and working with his arms instructor on teaching him the basics of mounted combat. But Corin's parents weren't particularly happy when, after a year of intensive training and tilting at rings and the quintain, Corin finally graduated to actually tilting against his master, an honor which resulted in him being knocked off his horse ass over end with blunted lances for weeks. He finally got so fed up with falling and the huge bruises all over his body (and the one broken arm), that he began to properly use what Ser Gervais had been teaching him. Tallyvere was pleased with his recent progress, pleased enough that he'd been discussing with Corin's parents the possibility of Corin riding in one of the minor Orlesian tournaments when he turned eighteen. Bryce Cousland was actually considering it, because he was planning a trip to Orlais himself in the near future to negotiate trade agreements on behalf of King Cailan.
"I wouldn't have believed it, pup," he'd said to his son with a wry smile, "but you learning to tilt might actually be helpful. Win or lose, it shows we're willing to meet them on their own ground."
"Good to know my bruises were earned in the service of Ferelden!" Corin had quipped, winning a laugh from his father and a ruffle of the hair.
Right now, Tallyvere was back in Orlais, visiting family and looking for a younger competition horse for Corin-as well as taking his most recent measurements to an Orlesian armorer who specialized in jousting armor. Which was a breathtakingly expensive proposition even for a teyrn, and even though Tallyvere was that rare Orlesian who preferred function over flash.
"Consider this your next five birthday presents," Bryce had growled at his son upon hearing the cost. "And given that you're still growing, Maker grant that that armor can be let out!" Corin had winced, agreed and thanked him very sweetly.
Now Fergus asked Corin, "Are you sure you should be tilting with Dairren without Ser Gervais along?" giving him a properly responsible, older brother look of concern.
"It's not tilting, Fergus," came the exasperated reply. "It's just showing Dairren the equipment and how it feels. The worst we'll do is set up some rings or something, all right? Give me a little credit!"
"Bann Loren is not going to thank you if you give Dairren the tilting bug. They can't afford it." At Corin's disgruntled look, he capitulated. "All right then! It is the polite thing to do, if Dairren asked. But hurry up!"
The tournament was the first one of the year since winter had loosened its grip, and for that reason was better attended than it might otherwise have been, given Loren's modest estate and the small prizes. There was a veritable forest of pavilions around Loren's manor, and as the Highever contingent arrived, they were astonished to see Ferelden's royal arms floating from the tallest tower.
"Cailan was getting castle fever, I see," Fergus remarked to his father. "I wonder if Anora is here."
"Doubtful," Bryce Cousland said. "She was never much of a one for mud and blood, and there's going to be plenty of mud at least. She's probably back at Denerim, minding the store."
"Oraina thought we were all mad too. Though I can't blame her for not wanting to try to keep track of Oren in this mess." There was an incredible bustle among the tents, of servitors and lords, mabari and hunting hounds, opportunistic vendors and tinkers.
"Will the king fight?" Corin inquired curiously. The last time he'd been at court he'd been ten, and more concerned with swiping sweetmeats from the buffet than meeting royalty. Maric had been king then and Corin had never met Cailan.
Fergus shook his head. "By law he's not allowed to fight in tournament, not until he gets an heir or two. But he'll be watching, to be sure. Give him a good show in the esquire fights and maybe he'll knight you next year."
"Works for me," Corin said, feeling very pleased with how things were turning out. He knew he was one of Highever's better esquire fighters.
"This is what we get for arriving late," Bryce Cousland said, surveying the field morosely. "This place is going to be a mire by tomorrow. Let's see if we can find some higher ground away from the center to set things up."
Dinner that evening was a very bright and cheerful affair. Cailan sat in the middle of high table, his golden hair gleaming in the candlelight, his white smile flashing almost continuously. He seemed to be in high spirits, probably at least in part because Teyrn Loghain was not with him. Bryce and Eleanor Cousland sat at his right hand, while as host and hostess Bann Loren and Lady Landra sat at his left. The table was rounded out by Fergus and Corin on the right side and a couple of Orlesian gentlemen on the left. The one closest to the King looked to be a couple of years older than Corin, with curling blond hair and a goatee, clad in the most extreme flower of Orlesian fashion, an eye-bruising confection of purple and green and gold. The other looked to be in his early thirties and was clad more soberly, in a suit of subdued maroon and silver that actually went well with his olive complexion and dark hair.
"Who are the Orlesians?" Corin asked his brother in a low voice, bending his head close to Fergus's.
"The peacock is Egile Deslarnes, the son of the Marquis Deslarnes, the Orlesian ambassador. The other one is Antoine De Mornay, the ambassador's equerry. Or in this case, Deslarne's nanny. Deslarnes is a prick."
"Good to know. Will he be in the esquire fights?"
"No. He's old enough to fight with the big boys."
"Damn. Hoping you'll draw him?"
"It would brighten my week considerably," Fergus admitted. The two Cousland brothers exchanged identically evil smiles.
Given his mother's friendship with Lady Landra and his own acquaintance with Dairren, Corin had spent a fair bit of time at the Loren mansion. So when he found the downstairs garderobe had a line waiting, he nipped upstairs to quickly use the other one. That one was indeed unoccupied and once he was finished, he went down the hall to access the servant's staircase and cut back through the kitchen. The sound of muted music and laughter could be heard from below-as well as the closer, muffled sounds of a struggle and a woman's despairing voice. Those appeared to be coming from one of the guest bedrooms. Corin paused to listen.
"Please, my lord, don't! I don't want to!"
"Uppity knife-ear slut! Be silent!" a distinctly Orlesian voice said. "I am doing you an honor! You should be pleased a Deslarnes deigns to favor you!"
A prick indeed, Corin thought in disgust, and nothing much else to distinguish him. He knew the woman's voice. Iona, Lady Landra's lady-in-waiting. A lovely, sweet, young elven woman all too aware of the great privilege she'd been granted in having that position. For a brief moment Corin thought about going downstairs and finding Bann Loren or his father to intervene, but it sounded as if things were progressing very swiftly and Iona might suffer real harm before he could get back. He also took a moment to weigh the fact that he was probably about to start an international incident, but there was no way he could walk away. So he went to the door the noise was coming from and threw it open, letting it bang loudly against the wall.
There was one lamp lit in the room. Iona had probably been preparing it for the guests when Deslarnes had come upon her. She was on her back on the bed, her skirts shoved up around her waist, Deslarnes standing between her legs, one hand holding her flat while the other tore at her clothes. Corin could see a flash of white thigh.
The young Orlesian jumped at the banging of the door, and turned his body halfway around to see who had intruded. Corin leaned negligently against the doorway, arms crossed, his drawn dagger in his right hand.
"Perhaps your knowledge of our language is imperfect, my lord," he said mildly in fluent Orlesian. "The lady said no. Step away, if you don't want to lose that prick of yours."
"Cousland of Highever, is it not? What concern is this of yours?" Deslarnes scoffed. "She is but a knife-ear serving woman. Go away now and I will forget this insult."
"Sorry. Can't do that," Corin said, still in Orlesian. "I know that you're a little young to remember, but we Fereldens fought a war and kicked your Orlesian asses to teach you to leave our women alone." Corin's heart was thudding; he'd never had to confront anyone in quite this way before. The esquire tournaments he'd fought in felt quite different. This was for real. But the current of rage running through him was an oddly cool one and his voice was cool as well. "My own father killed any number of Orlesian rapists in his time. I'm sure I could manage just one."
His amorous mood totally transformed to a murderous one, Deslarnes spun around to confront the impertinent young man. The beautiful elf took the opportunity to writhe across the bed and roll off it to the other side. He went to draw his dagger, then some inner sense of danger gave him pause. Cousland's father had quite a reputation as a warrior, as did his older brother. Despite being two years his junior, Cousland the Younger looked absolutely confident in his ability to carve Egile up into tiny pieces, his eyes the blazing blue of shadows on sunlit snow.
"You repay your hosts poorly for hospitality given," Cousland's chilly voice said. "Go back downstairs now; leave the serving women alone for the rest of your visit and this will be forgotten."
"Bah! What do you think they call them 'serving women' for?" Deslarnes sneered. Cousland simply stared at him with that unnerving blue gaze. He capitulated. "Very well, you Fereldan buffoon! But do not think I will forget this insult!"
"Oh, I don't expect you will. I certainly won't," Cousland said, standing and inclining his head mockingly before moving aside so Deslarnes could exit.
Hands shaking, Iona adjusted her clothing. The possibility of rape was something any female elf lived with on a daily basis and the more attractive that elf, the greater the danger. In the Alienage it was omnipresent. She had let herself forget in the relative safety of Bann Loren's household.
"Did he hurt you, Iona?" young Lord Cousland asked. She had truly thought herself beyond help when the Orlesian lord had cornered her. As the son of an ambassador, she had doubted that anyone would interrupt him even had they known about it. And then Lord Corin's voice had sounded from the doorway, so cold and dangerous. She didn't understand Orlesian, but it was plain from his tone that he'd been calling Lord Egile down, had actually been threatening him on her behalf!
"I…I am well enough, my lord," she managed to stammer. "Some bruises, but otherwise all right."
"Hardly all right," he disagreed gently, his blue eyes soft with concern when they'd been arctic but a few moments ago. He'd shot up in the months since she'd last seen him, but he didn't have the lanky, unfinished look of most young men his age. He seemed to be developing all of a piece and he was a very handsome young man. While sex was the last thing on Iona's mind at present, it did cross her mind that it might be very pleasant to express her gratitude to Lord Cousland in a more tangible way in the future, when he was a little older. He was always so mannerly when he visited with Lord Dairren, remembering to address her by name.
"I'm going to take you downstairs to the kitchen, so you can wait where there are other people. You'll stay there while I find Lady Landra and tell her what happened to you. We need to make sure you're not left alone so long as that Orlesian ass is here."
"I don't wish to be a bother! Surely it's not necessary to tell Lady Landra!"
"I think that it is." He indicated that she should precede him, just as if she were a lady, and they went down the back stairs together into the warmth and bustle of the kitchen. There the light and the large number of people were suddenly overwhelming to the elven woman. Iona put her face in her hands and began to tremble. She felt the young lord's hand take her elbow and lead her over to a chair near the hearth.
"Mistress Maura!" he called Bann Loren's elderly, comfortably plump cook over.
"Young Master Corin! You can't tell me you're already hungry after that dinner I just put out on the boards! Maker keep me, I didn't expect the King to show up out of nowhere!"
"No, Mistress, it was lovely. I heard the King say so, more than once. But there's something else going on." Iona couldn't hear what else Corin was telling the cook, he'd lowered his voice, but after he left the kitchen Maura came over to where she was sitting.
"Oh, you poor dear! What a time you've had! A warm mug was thrust into her hands. "Here. I was just going to send these possets out. One of them should help put you to rights. Such a polite young man, Master Corin. Though I declare he gets taller by the day, Lady bless him! I'm certainly glad I don't have to keep him in clothes and shoes!"
After a hurried conference with Bann Loren, Lady Landra and Corin's parents, it was decided that Iona would be waiting upon Teyrna Eleanor for the remainder of her visit. The Cousland pavilion was always under guard, there were plenty of men about to escort Iona should she need to leave the area for any reason, and in the encampment she would hopefully be out of sight and mind. Iona was sent to her rooms with a guard escort to collect her things and Eleanor turned to her youngest son. Reaching up to stroke his cheek, no longer a boy's downy one, she put her hand behind his neck and pulled his head down, to kiss him on the brow.
"I am very proud of what you just did, Corin," she said, smiling.
"We both are," his father added.
"Diplomacy only goes so far," Bann Loren added, a frown creasing his face. "What rudeness, to molest a man's people under his own roof!"
"Perhaps they do horrible things like that all the time in Orlais," Lady Landra speculated. "If so, then I am glad that it's you and Bryce who are going to negotiate with them, Eleanor and not Loren and me!"
"Oh, they're not all terrible people," Bryce Cousland noted. "They've their good and bad, like anyone else. I know the Marquis. I doubt he'll be very happy with his son if word of this gets back to him. Egile doesn't seem to appreciate that he's making his father's job harder."
"I don't think he cares much about anything but pursuing his own pleasure," Corin noted. His father covered a yawn with his hand.
"For me, the only thing I intend to pursue is my bed. We had a long ride today. So, my lord, my lady, I give you my leave." He gave his wife his arm. "Come, pup. We'll collect Iona and wish Cailan a good night."