So sorry for the long time between updates on this story, and for the lack of updates on "Missives" lately! Holidays have been a little hectic, as I'm sure they were for everyone. :) I haven't let myself update Missives until I finished this chapter. When I started this one, I assumed it would be around 4 pages, but it wound up being 9, so obviously it took a bit longer than expected!
If anyone reading Missives wants to request a chapter here that expands on something I mention in a letter in that story, please feel free to mention it in a review or message! I haven't decided exactly which ones I'll be writing yet, so suggestions are always welcome.
An update on Missives should be coming tomorrow. And as always, thanks for reading! :)
From chapter 5 – "Guests to Hosts"
I am happy beyond words that your wedding went so well. I know we didn't get to speak much, and I didn't want to bother you when you had so many people to entertain, so I hope you'll forgive me for writing to you instead. You know I'm not one for fancy speeches or formal events usually, but the ceremony was perfect and it made me glad to see the two of you so happy.
Alistair seems like an excellent choice, and I can tell he loves you very much. I wanted to have a talk with him about what would happen if he ever hurt you, but I knew you'd be terribly embarrassed and managed to stop myself. I know you're married to the king and a Grey Warden and Hero of Ferelden now, but you'll always be my little sister and I get to defend you.
Fergus Cousland had been trained since he was a boy in the traditions of Ferelden nobility. His father and mother were both highly respected by the king and other nobles, and they shared their knowledge with him. They had high hopes for both their children, and were optimistic that he would be as successful as they when he was eventually the Teryn of Highever.
He'd hated the lessons at first, and it didn't help that he was an awkward child. He forgot names nearly as soon as he heard them, he worried about saying the wrong thing so much that he inevitably stumbled over his words, and being in large groups of people made him nervous. These combined to make him fearful of social situations, which was an essential part of being a teryn.
He'd tried to rebel by not paying attention when his parents or tutors were trying to teach him, as children often do. He and Irien were both getting lessons on the intricacies of noble life, but she didn't get to spend nearly as much time with it as he. The fact that she was a girl meant she had to work on embroidery and dancing, and she whined about it to him whenever he even half listened. Of course, she had a few short breaks for the weapons and tactics training their father allowed, but that was only after she'd begged him for them for months, and even those weren't enough for her apparently.
He would have been more than happy to let her be the heir, and even attempted to convince his parents to let him give her the position. After all, she was the one who was actually interested in these kinds of things, and she wasn't nearly as awkward as he was around other nobles and important people. They knew that Irien would have been much happier with the training he was getting, while he would have been perfectly content sparring and soldiering. But as much as he tried to convince them, he always knew in his heart that both he and Irien were stuck with their lots in life, and that he should probably be grateful for what he had been given.
Their little rebellions ended in time. He eventually understood his place in the world and his duty as the heir to Highever. Once he accepted that and put his heart into it, he excelled at everything his parents taught him – well, nearly everything. He still had difficulty in large groups of nobles, though he was perfectly comfortable with his soldiers.
He knew that for years Irien had been called "that Cousland spitfire," and had confused all the other nobles with her strange interests and decidedly unfeminine talents, but eventually she, too, came to accept her place. She had even agreed to stay behind while he and their father made plans to leave for war, though of course the attack by Arl Howe had put an end to all their planning.
Fergus was experienced in all aspects of nobility. He'd sparred with and dueled nobles and knights, and had won; he'd competed for the hand of a beautiful noblewoman and married her; he'd successfully navigated the treacherous and often shark-infested waters of several Landsmeets; he'd met and impressed a king; he'd led an army against the Blight, or part of it; he'd escaped an ambush by enemy forces; and he'd recovered from a nearly fatal wound. He felt that his parents' training had succeeded, and that they would be proud if they could see him now.
But despite everything they taught him, all the lessons he'd learned and all the growing up he'd done – even after all that, he was amazed to find that he could still manage to feel incredibly uncomfortable around large groups of people.
Some things never change, he thought with a half-smile, then corrected himself. Apparently Irien did, though I never expected it.
He looked around him at the huge number of people gathered in the banquet hall and shifted in place awkwardly. The wedding ceremony had ended shortly before, and the guests had all been funneled into the hall for celebrating, so now they were just waiting for the bride and groom to make their grand entrance before all the festivities began, and as he stood in the hall alone, he was still amazed that Irien had actually gotten married.
He and his sister weren't particularly close as children. He remembered how he'd been annoyed that she imitated him so much, wanting to fight and learn the same things he did, until he'd realized that those were her interests and not just her copying him. They'd become friends as they grew up, and he thought he knew her rather well. But apparently the six months she'd spent ending the Blight had changed her more than he ever thought was possible – changed her enough to accept, even want, the position of Queen of Ferelden.
He remembered that, as teens, he and Irien had been taken to a Landsmeet with their parents. While their father had wanted them to meet other nobles and see how the government worked, Irien had apparently gotten bored with all the nobles congratulating themselves on a successful Landsmeet, and had ducked out and somehow stumbled into a meeting with Prince Cailan, who was four or five years her senior. The two had apparently talked for some time, and upon her return to Highever, Irien was interrogated by every other girl she knew.
"By the Maker, Irien! I can't believe you got to meet Prince Cailan! I am so jealous! Was he nice?"
"I'm sure he was nice! He's too handsome not to be nice!"
"That's true, he is a prince, he has to be nice. I think it's a rule."
"I'm sure he was a gentleman! Did you fall and did he offer his hand to help you stand up and did your eyes meet-"
"Or maybe there was music and they started dancing and everyone stopped to stare because they were so beautiful together!"
"I heard all the ladies at court are jealous of his hair!"
"I wish I could go to Court and meet Prince Cailan! You're so lucky, Irien! Did he promise to write you? Will you see him again?"
She stood there silently in the group of girls with a patient smile as they bombarded her with questions. He was surprised – she didn't usually like so many people around her at once. She wasn't shy or awkward like he was, but she tended to avoid the large group of girls her own age. That group always seemed to be together, and the few times he'd seen Irien with them, she'd always seemed a little out of place. It probably wasn't as obvious to everyone as it was to him, but he thought that even a casual observer could have glanced at the group and known there was something different about his sister. He couldn't have put a finger on what it was then; he barely could now.
Eventually she'd cut them off so she could finally reply. "He was really nice," she assured them. "We talked for a few minutes in a hallway in the castle and I told him how boring the Landsmeet was."
One of the girls gasped. "You didn't!"
Irien just shrugged. "It was really boring," she repeated, as if that justified her telling the prince how bored she was at his father's court. "And anyway, I'm glad I said it, because he agreed and said I was lucky I didn't have to go to the meetings all the time like he did – usually they're worse." She'd shuddered, as if she couldn't possibly imagine anything in the world worse than the Landsmeet, and Fergus had chuckled quietly to himself at her reaction, but silently agreed with her. Too many people around, and too much pressure to say the right thing and act the right way.
"Are you going to see him again?" one girl asked hopefully.
"He could come visit! Maybe your father could talk to King Maric and you two could get betrothed!" another suggested gleefully. Apparently they would even settle for Cailan being married to someone else, as long as they got to see him.
Irien laughed, surprising the other girls. "I don't want to get married," she said dismissively. "If I was married, then I'd have to be in charge of a keep and have children. I'd never have time to practice with the armsmaster with all that boring stuff to do. And whoever I married would probably make me wear dresses and stop fighting just like my mother did when she married my father. And I'd have to go to fancy balls and sit through meetings all the time, and I'd never get to do anything I wanted to do."
The other girls hadn't quite known what to make of this, and their excitement turned to confusion and then rejection as they drifted away from her. Irien didn't seem to mind them leaving – she'd immediately skipped off toward the sparring area for practice – but the conversation had stuck with Fergus for years. At the time, he'd dismissed their intense focus on marriage to be something girls that age did; later, of course, he learned that it was a focal point of many noblewomen's lives, and he was amazed that Irien seemed to be resistant to it.
She was always so self-assured, so confident even when she probably shouldn't have been, that he'd always wondered if she'd ever let herself truly rely on anyone but herself. Perhaps she knew this and didn't intend to do so, and that was why she never let their mother arrange a match for her, despite the teryna asking her if she'd changed her mind yet every few months. If he was being honest, he'd always been a bit jealous of Irien and what seemed to be her immunity to others' opinions of her. She said what she thought, the consequences be damned, which often got her into trouble.
She'd relented a bit as they grew up, and even sometimes learned to think before she spoke her opinion, but her feelings on marriage had never changed. None of the lordlings their parents had introduced her to had ever struck her fancy, and both he and their father had assumed none of them ever would. That didn't stop Mother from trying, of course.
He'd been firmly convinced that his sister would stay happily unmarried forever, but that was before he'd left home with his army. Everything had changed, including her. The first time he saw her since leaving Highever with his army, she was standing beside the newly-crowned King of Ferelden, who was praising her bravery and announcing how she'd soon be the new queen.
In the six months he'd spent in Highever since the end of the Blight, he'd had time to consider how different Irien the Grey Warden was from his little sister Irien Cousland. He'd thought she would never change from the bold and somewhat odd girl he'd grown up with, and had assumed that, after the deaths of their parents and the horrors of the Blight, she would have retreated further into herself and become even more aloof than before.
But somehow, in the midst of all that, despite all odds and all evidence that it was impossible, his little sister had fallen in love.
More than that – she'd fallen in love, and even gotten married, he corrected himself. The ceremony had gone off without a hitch, and she hadn't fled or even hesitated as she spoke her vows. And because she had to go against expectations as always, she hadn't married just anyone – she'd married the King of Ferelden.
So much for her saying she wanted to avoid responsibility and boring parties, he thought with a smile.
Fortunately, this party didn't seem to be of the stuffy variety, and he looked around the room to see enough banquet tables to seat the entirety of Denerim, he estimated in amazement, with servants beginning to set out food fit for – well, a queen.
They'd left a large portion of the hall open and free from tables, keeping plenty of space for mingling between the guests and the newly-married couple. Everyone seemed to know each other and was talking cheerfully; the horrors of the Blight just six months earlier seemed to be completely forgotten, or at least forcefully forgotten. No one had recognized him, or if they had, no one had said anything. He wondered sadly if the deaths of his parents, wife, and son had changed him as much physically as mentally.
He stood in place in the giant hall, surrounded by chatting nobles. Everyone seemed so happy. Not that he wasn't – his little sister was married, and it was a celebration – but he couldn't help but feel completely out of place. Six months of relative solitude while repairing Highever, and I completely forget years of training on how to mingle with other nobles, he thought with a little sigh.
He jumped and looked to his right, where a young red-headed elven woman was looking at him. "Uh, hello," he said, a bit confused.
"You looked a little lost, so I thought I'd come over and say hello," she offered with a smile and a shrug. "I'm Shianni."
He was surprised at her openness, but he wasn't going to turn away the one person who seemed approachable. "Fergus." He held out a hand, which she shook gratefully. "Nice to meet you."
"Same to you," Shianni said with a smile. She glanced around the room at all the gathered people. "I'll be honest with you," she said, somewhat conspiratorially, and he leaned in a bit to hear her better, "you're one of the only other people here who doesn't seem to know everybody else, so I felt like I should meet the other outsider." He found himself grinning, and she smiled, encouraged. "I mean, is it just me, or are they all saying the exact same things over and over? 'Wasn't the bride just beautiful? I'm sure I've never seen anything so wonderful in my life!'" she imitated in her best high-pitched noblewoman voice, fluttering her eyelashes.
"And, 'oh yes, and what a lovely ceremony! Best wedding in years!'" he said, using a deep voice and puffing out his chest. They both laughed. "I definitely know what you mean," he continued. "I haven't been to a formal event like this in a long time, mainly because I feel like an idiot and never have anything to say to anyone else that hasn't been said a thousand times."
She nodded with empathy. "I'm not really one for small talk with people you don't like or know that well. It just seems like a huge waste of time. If you have something important to say, then say it, and if not, go do something else," she said firmly. "And if that's all these events ever are, then I can't blame you for avoiding them. I mean the wedding was great," she corrected herself hastily, "but if I had to stand around and feel out of place like this more than just this one time, I'd lose my mind. It's my first time at an event with nobles," she explained, "and if it wasn't Irien and Alistair getting married, I wouldn't have come at all."
He glanced around at the crowd again. Everyone seemed to be getting antsy and people were looking at the large doors a lot more often than they had before, hoping to see the new couple come through soon.
"I just hope I get a chance to talk to them," Shianni continued. "There are just so many people here, and I think everyone is more important than I am, so I wouldn't blame them if they decided to skip me to avoid offending someone else."
"I'm sure they'll find time for everyone," he said, hoping it was true. "How do you know the bride and groom?" he asked politely.
"Irien and Alistair- er, 'King Alistair and Queen Irien,'" she amended with a little smile, "came to the Alienage and helped sort out some of the problems we've been having. Honestly I'm surprised I got an invitation to the wedding," she confessed. "I wasn't exactly the nicest person when they were there. I'd like to think it was at least partly because humans aren't usually so helpful, but still, I shouldn't automatically think the worst of people."
"I can't say I have much experience with the Alienages," he admitted, "though if they're half as bad as I heard, then I'm glad they were able to do something. Several elves from the Alienage here in Denerim recently moved to Highever, though, so I've heard more about them lately."
"Oh, you're from Highever?" she asked curiously. "Isn't that where Irien is from?"
He smiled. "It is. Actually she's my little sister – I'm the teryn there."
She looked surprised. "I didn't realize you were a noble," she said, and she didn't sound happy to hear it. But she immediately blushed a red as bright as her hair and slapped a hand to her forehead, shutting her eyes for a moment. "I'm sorry, that came out completely wrong. You're just so, friendly, and so unlike everyone else here," she explained, motioning at the other nobility with a dismissive wave of her hand. "You're a lot like Irien – I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you're siblings," she smiled.
"I hope that's a compliment," he smiled wryly, and she grinned and nodded.
"Oh it is, don't worry," she said. She opened her mouth to continue, but the noise of the crowd's talking got a lot louder suddenly, and she stopped talking, wanting to see what the fuss was about.
They looked toward the doors to see that they'd finally opened, and a herald stepped through. "Presenting for the first time as man and wife – King Alistair Theirin of the Gray Wardens, and Queen Irien Cousland-Theirin of the Gray Wardens!"
The crowd applauded politely, and the happy couple finally entered the room. Fergus didn't know Alistair very well, but the man looked like the happiest person in Ferelden. He had a huge grin on his face, and he could barely take his eyes off his new bride. While he wore dark pants and a white tunic with the Theirin family crest stitched on the front, Irien was practically glowing in a simple white dress. Her hair looked nicer than he'd ever seen it look before. Clearly someone else had done it for her – the Irien he knew was hopeless with her own hair, which was why she always kept it cut so short.
"Let's go see them!" Shianni said, and before he could reply, she'd grabbed his arm and started dragging him through the crowd. There wasn't much space between people, but that didn't seem to bother her, and he was left apologizing to scowling nobles in her wake as he was pulled after her and toward the doors.
Somehow they managed to make it near the front, where his little sister was, shockingly, being the perfect noblewoman – Queen, he corrected himself. She was greeting everyone, smiling politely, and thanking everyone for attending, just as she'd been trained to do, so many years ago.
Well, he amended, not quite perfect. A perfect noblewoman, according to their parents, would have been staying back a bit more and letting Alistair do most of the talking, but the two of them were behaving more like equals. Which is how it should be, he thought, nodding to himself as he and Shianni slowly made their way closer. Irien wouldn't truly be happy any other way.
They finally made it up to them, and Irien held out her hand automatically to shake his, before she looked at his face and realized who was standing in front of her.
"Fergus!" He was almost bowled over by her enthusiastic hug. "I'm so glad you made it!"
He laughed and hugged her back. "Nice to see you too, little sister," he said, then backed up a step to hold her at arm's length. "I never thought you'd be married, and here you are, looking happier than I think I've ever seen you." She beamed at him, and he smiled. "Congratulations, Irien. And to you, Your Majesty," he added, turning to Alistair and bowing slightly.
"Oh no, none of that 'Your Majesty' nonsense from you," Alistair shook his head, and the grin on his face reminded him so much of Irien. "We're family now!" And with that, the King of Ferelden stepped forward and hugged him. Fergus was surprised at first, but he returned the hug after a moment of awkwardness.
Irien reached out to squeeze Fergus's hand briefly after Alistair let him go, and the king turned to smile at Shianni, who had been patiently standing nearby. "Thank you so much for coming, I'm so glad you were able to make it."
Shianni blushed slightly and stepped toward them, joining the group. "I wouldn't have missed it. Thank you for the invitation," she replied, more subdued than Fergus expected. "I'm just glad you two are happy. You deserve it, after everything you've been through."
Irien smiled gratefully. "So do you," she said, and glanced at Fergus. "Did you meet my brother Fergus, Shianni? Or did you both just happen to make it up here at the same time?"
"We met," he replied. "We were keeping each other entertained while we waited for you two."
"Ah," Irien said simply, but she smiled.
"Have things improved in the Alienage, Shianni?" Alistair asked, and he and the elf began discussing the situation there, leaving Fergus and Irien a few moments to talk.
He just smiled at her for a moment, and she caught him and laughed. "What are you smiling at? Laughing at me in this dress?" she asked, playing with the skirt a bit.
Fergus shook his head. "I knew you'd find happiness somewhere, little sister," he said, "but I never expected it to be at a wedding. Honestly I didn't think you'd marry at all – you always seemed so repulsed by the idea," he confessed, and she chuckled and nodded in agreement. Apparently she didn't think she would either, he thought. "Seeing you like this, I know it's the right thing for you," he said. "I just-" He hesitated. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
He couldn't help but think of how happy he was at his own wedding, and the wonderful few years he'd had with Oriana and Oren – and then the fact that as much as he loved them, he'd still left them behind, defenseless, where they were murdered by Arl Howe just hours after he left for war. His guilt nearly overwhelmed him, and he had to stop speaking for a moment, trying to pull himself together.
Irien touched his arm gently, and he looked up and met her eyes. She was so sad, and he immediately felt worse for upsetting her on her wedding day. "I'm so sorry, Fergus," she said quietly. "I can't imagine how you must be feeling right now, and I'm so glad you came to the wedding despite everything. But you won't ever lose me," she said emphatically, trying to reassure him.
He looked over at Alistair, who was still talking animatedly with Shianni, but even as he watched, the new king glanced over and reached out to take Irien's hand, continuing the conversation as he did so.
"He adores you," Fergus said with a little smile, and she nodded. But can he protect her? Can he keep her safe where I failed to keep Oriana and Oren safe? "Will he take care of you?" he asked, looking at her intently.
"Do you really think I need someone to take care of me?" Irien grinned impishly, lightening the mood.
He couldn't help but chuckle. "I suppose not. Just-" He paused in thought for a moment. "Promise me that you'll take care of each other, then."
She smiled slowly, and nodded. "Always."
"That's all I can ask for," he said, reaching over to hug her again. "I love you, little sister. And if you ever need anything, then…" He chuckled again and let her go. "Then I'm sure you can take care of it yourself. But I'll always be at Highever, just in case."
She laughed at this, and Alistair looked over. "I hope you're not mocking me over there," he said cheerfully, sounding as if he expected nothing less.
"Just saying how you're already ignoring me for someone prettier and younger," Irien said innocently, and Shianni blushed but grinned, taking a few steps away from Alistair and toward Fergus.
"Well, I am the king now, dear. I'm expecting I'll have to spend most of my free time fending beautiful young ladies off with a stick. Should be a tough job," he said with a wink. She gave him a look, and he held up his hands in protest. "It's my duty! Plus I know you'd fend them off with a sword if I didn't use a less-lethal method first."
"True," she admitted, and he leaned over to kiss her sweetly.
Fergus and Shianni exchanged a look as the new couple spent a moment just staring at each other, and she rolled her eyes.
"I saw that," Irien laughed.
"Good, maybe it will discourage you from showing off how in love you are all the time," Shianni replied with a grin. Irien snorted, but glanced at Fergus for a split second. What was that for? he wondered, but decided he'd better not ask.
"We should go, Shianni," he said. "These two have plenty of other guests to greet before they get to sit down, so we should probably let them get started."
"Sorry nobody else will be as fun as we are," the elf offered.
Alistair shrugged cheerfully. "We'd better get used to dealing with un-fun nobles, right love?"
"Unfortunately, you are right," Irien said, crinkling her nose in displeasure at the task before them. She hugged Fergus one last time.
"I'm so proud of you," he murmured. "And I'm sure Mother and Father are too." She nodded into his shoulder and hugged him tightly. "I'll see you again soon," he said as he let her go.
He looked over at his new brother-in-law, and wondered for a moment if he should tell Alistair to take care of her, or not to take her for granted, or how lucky he should feel. Or perhaps a warning; he was being trusted with the woman who was not only Fergus's last living relative, but also his little sister. But one glance at the man's face told him that he already knew all those things, and the look in Alistair's eyes when he looked at Irien was enough to convince him that if anyone deserved her, it was him.
Ferugs offered his arm to Shianni, and she accepted with a smile.
"You all right?" Shianni asked, looking up at him. "I know it must be hard, letting your little sister go."
He looked one last time at the new couple, already greeting their next guests, then smiled down at the woman on his arm. "More than all right," he replied, and the two of them returned to the party.