A/N: So. My first multi-part story, and it's based on an idea borne of crack. *grins* Well, that's not entirely surprising, I suppose. And for once, I'm not to blame - that honour goes to Cris! The original post is still on LJ - Circle_Tower/33374(dot)html - this was an April Fool's joke on all of her faithful readers, and I believed it for a shameful moment. But then ideas came to me, and this is where we are now.
Much, much love to Crisium, who has kindly let me play in her sandbox. Therrin and Stephen are, of course, from her wonderful works. Everything else is owned by Bioware and I make no profit, etc etc. Audrey is all mine and, although her name is not a typical Fereldan name, she is based only very loosely on a different Audrey. Which will probably become clear.
Cullen hums softly, the song permeating the thick perfumed air and finding its way to the sweet elven maid hovering at the archway of the garden. Audrey simpered, as was her way around the former Templar. She had developed a soft spot for the man ever since he had been brought to the castle, weak and shivering and lost. The king had insisted he be given every opportunity to excel in whatever he chose, and he had chosen the garden. The rose bushes were almost wild, turning the once-barren courtyard into a haven for the ladies of the castle. Even the Queen deigned to stop in every so often, her eyes tinged with sadness whenever she saw the faithful gardener – it was at these times that the King swooped in, plucking a bloom and threading it into her glossy hair with a soft smile. Then they would away to the library or the west wing, to while away their time with royal pursuits.
And Cullen would continue to tend to his roses. It was all so terribly poetic, she thought with a soft sigh.
"Miss Audrey," he murmurs softly. "Are you quite well?" She jumps slightly, a faint blush across her face as she emerges from the archway.
"Uh.. y-yes, I'm fine," she stutters. "H-how did you know it was me?" He stands up, turning around with a soft, strangely blank smile. She is not quite sure she'll ever get used to it.
"You smell like thyme and rosemary. It is an interesting counterpoint to the roses. Are we having some form of stew today?"
"Yes.. by request of the king. Will you be joining us or should I save you some?"
"I would be most appreciative if you could set aside a bowl for me. I have much pruning to do today, there is a terrible blight and I do not wish to leave until I have eradicated all traces of it." She jumps slightly at the mention of a blight – everyone does, really, with reports of darkspawn still roaming around the countryside. But he holds up a few leaves and she recognises the black spots on the leaves. Her mother had lost her one and only rose bush to the disease, and it had broken her heart. She nods, before smiling shyly and turning on her heel to leave.
"Oh." He kneels down. "Oh. That is.. new." A slight frown mars his usually-calm face as he inspects something within the bushes. Audrey turns to look, hovering over his shoulder slightly.
"What is it?"
"I am unsure, in truth," he murmurs, leaning back to allow her to see what had perplexed him. She squints, the small plant nestled between the thorns unfamiliar to her. "I must consult the archives again to be sure, but I have not come across a plant such as this in my research." He stands to face her and she holds her breath, dizzyingly close to the man for the first time. He smiles gently, his eyes damningly blank, before stepping back to grace her with a short bow before heading indoors. She closes her eyes for a moment, before returning to the kitchens, the scent of roses and the impossibly gentle gardener clouding her every thought.
"I am reasonably sure that this is a new species," he explains. They sit, him cross-legged on the soft grass and her resting on a cushion, dozens of dusty tomes surrounding them, and he looks up at her with mild interest. "There is nothing like it in the archives, and very few species even slightly similar."
She smiles, resting a hand on his. "That's brilliant, Cullen. You've brought brand new life into the world." Behind them, the king leans against the doorway, a rare opportunity to wear anything but his regal vestments as he watches the pair talk.
"I admit I am.. surprised. That something so new and wondrous would choose today to appear, when I am trying to deal with a blight.. it is most unusual." Alistair smiles slightly, though it is tinged with melancholy for the man in front of him. The woman glances to catch his eye, a softness in her eyes indicating that she too had been struck by the memory. Turning back to the gardener, she thinks for a moment.
"You should name it. It is your right, as the great discoverer." Pulling herself to her feet, she dusts off her dress. "And let us know what you call it. We'll have a proclamation. Scholars will flock to see your garden. Won't that be wonderful?"
"I suppose so." He smiles up at her before standing up, the books collected in his arms. "I shall return these to the library now, Queen Therrin." And without another glance at her, he heads past the king and into the castle. She stares into the bushes, a soft sigh escaping her, and Alistair steps forward to wrap his arms around her waist, kissing her neck gently.
"Are you alright, love? I know it's hard, but we're keeping what's left of him happy. Isn't that a good thing?"
"Of course," she murmurs. "I just.. I just wish I hadn't helped break him in the first place."
He squeezes her lightly. "You can't think like that. He knew the risks.. all Templars do. It was his choice, and although I know you'll never actually believe me on this, it's not your fault."
She smiles slightly, reaching up to stroke his cheek. "You're right. I'll never believe you. But thank you for trying so hard every time." They remain for a moment, transfixed by the new plant – it is clearly a sproutling, but already it was weaving through the thorns and making a place for itself in the garden, dark green leaves fluttering slightly in the breeze.
She had found him slumped in the gardens, fingers bleeding slightly and no other explanations forthcoming. After screeching for some assistance, she had not left his side until ordered by the healers. Now she lingers in the corridor outside, awkwardly sitting at the base of the only chair whilst the king – the actual king! - paces the floor, his wife locked in the room with Cullen and the healers.
The royal pair had always had an eye on the man, ever since they had returned from the king's daring rescue mission – the story varies in the telling even now, but it is widely accepted that Queen Therrin was a terribly unhappy mage after the king sent her away for the sake of duty. Their subsequent reunion and marriage had inspired nobles all over to throw off the shackles of formality and marry for the right reasons, and although this had caused a power upheaval in the Bannorn, it was generally considered a wonderful thing. But then there had been Cullen, the mysterious man. Some whispers claimed he had been a templar, duty-bound to protect the mage, and still others claimed he was the last surviving member of Lothering, rescued by the royal couple on their way back. Either way, he had no recollection of his former life nor any grasp on what made everyone else around him so terribly human.
"Thank you," Alistair says suddenly, and Audrey jumps slightly at being addressed directly. A blush burns up her cheeks as she ducks her eyes. "If it hadn't been for you, we might not have found him for hours."
"I-I.. really, it w-was nothing, sire." She silently berates herself for stuttering, but in a heartbeat he stands in front of her, smiling slightly as he offers her his hand. Pulling her up, he ushers her into the chair.
"I won't have you sitting on the floor, dear lady." The flush rips down her throat and she is fairly sure that she might set herself on fire. The whispers of Maric's son and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree ring in her head for a moment, phrases heard in the shadowy corners of the castle by old hands with loose lips.
Suddenly the door opens and Therrin emerges, and the king is by her side in an instant, concern written all over his face as the feeble whispers blow out of her mind. Here, clearly, was a love worth listening to.
"He's fine," she says after a long moment. "Stephen's going to stay with him until he wakes up, but there's nothing wrong with him. A lot of blood lost, though, and no explanation at all." She rubs her forehead before spotting the young elf-maiden, crossing over to her and kneeling beside her chair. "I know you must be sick of saying this, but are you sure there was nothing else suspicious in the garden when you found him?" Audrey shakes her head slowly.
"There was some blood on some of the plants, I think, but.. that's all, really." The queen nods, before smiling gently.
"Thank you. I'm sorry to have to ask again, you've been a wonderful help. Would you mind staying with him, and then coming to find us when he wakes up? I know you have other tasks to do, but we'll make sure you're covered," she adds, standing up. "I'd just like to leave him in trustworthy hands, and Stephen gets terribly bored on his own." After an astounded nod of the elf's head, she takes Alistair's offered arm and sweeps down the corridor, the remnants of a hushed conversation dissipating in their wake as Audrey shakes her head slightly at her luck.
She slips into the room, smiling awkwardly at the young mage at Cullen's side. He had arrived with the king and queen and the gardener, a scrap of a boy with unpredictable magic and many an exploded dinner for several weeks. Now, though, he had shot right up, tall and gangly and more confident in himself. Popular rumour was that he could be announced as the royal heir within the next few years, should the queen remain without child.
"Hullo," he offers. "I'm Stephen."
"I-I know," she murmurs. "You're the qu-queen's apprentice." He grins suddenly.
"And you're someone new, which is brilliant! Would you tell me your name, please?"
"Audrey. I'm just a kitchen maid, really," she says sheepishly, sinking to her knees next to him, her gaze fixed on the slumbering form in front of them. "But I.. I found him, and now the queen wants me to sit with you.. is that alright?"
"Well, if Therrin thinks you're alright, then definitely." He beams, holding out his hand to shake hers. "I didn't realise you actually found him. He's got a lot to thank you for when he wakes up," he adds thoughtfully, before regaling her with how he had helped look after the man. But she is already fretting again, and Cullen sleeps on.