Nathaniel and Fergus walked quietly down the hallway to a room just off the main hall. Nathaniel was thankful for both the silence and the private location for their impending words.
The tragedies of the past were screaming into their present and anger suffused Fergus' movements. Tension rode high upon his shoulders and a sneer twisted the shape of his mouth as he seemed to purposefully avoid looking in Nathaniel's direction. Rivals as children, enemies as men, this appeared to be their current path and he did not wish it made a spectacle for all to witness and gossip about.
He considered, for a moment, apologizing to Fergus as soon as they were alone. To tell him how sorry he was for what happened to his family, how he wished that he could go back in time and change everything. Yet he knew such apologies would fall upon unhearing ears. An apology was the last thing Fergus wanted from Nathaniel.
As they neared the doorway, Fergus turned to the men that shadowed them during their short journey. "Stay just outside the door. I will not be needing you inside." A frown curved one of the guard's mouths, but he protested no further and simply nodded in understanding.
Nathaniel entered first, the significance of the place selected not completely lost to him. The two had spent many an hour within the confines of this particular room whenever Fergus and his family visited the Keep. They drank stolen ale, played cards together and spoke of their life's plans.
Fergus never knew, however, it was a room of Rendon Howe's selection. A small peep hole hidden within the ornamentation of a candle sconce on the north wall allowed any behind the wall to spy on those inside the room.
Lost within his thoughts, Nathaniel had little time to prepare for what came next. Red colored his vision and pain shot sharp and sudden along the line of his jaw. Fergus actually punched him! He took a knee, stunned by the shock of the strike. He thought fists might come into play at some point during their conversation, but he simply had not expected it would be so soon and with no notice. The bitter taste of copper tickled against his tongue, the inside of his cheek bitten from the punch. His hand swiped against his mouth, fingers rubbing at his jaw. "Did that help?"
Fergus flicked his hand, shaking off his heavy red steel gauntlet, letting it fall to the ground with a loud clank. His head shook, anger curling the edges of his mouth and infusing his tone, "No, but I'm not done yet."
Nathaniel pulled himself to stand once more, hand rubbing against his jaw, Heat already spreading across his skin. That punch would certainly leave its mark. "Just not the nose next time," Nathaniel offered somewhat ruefully. "It's already distinct enough."
"You arrogant son of a bitch…" Fergus' fingers flexed before curling back into a fist. Tension continued to tighten his every movement. Teeth bit down, his jaw clenching as he managed to spit out, "Just like your father."
A snort edged Nathaniel's mouth. "No, not like him." Rendon would have retaliated immediately with a knife to the gut and then pleaded self-defense, using the burgeoning bruise upon his face as evidence to support his claim. That was not Nathaniel.
A finger jutted out, pointing at Nathaniel in an accusatory manner. Fergus snarled, "No? Did you not come here to kill my sister? To continue your father's goal to exterminate the whole of my family?"
"I did." He could not lie to Fergus. Nathaniel's actions at the time were motivated by lies. And when the truth finally came to light… "Things have since changed."
"So I hear." A gruff sounding snort punctuated Fergus' statement. "I would have killed you."
A sardonic angling overtook Nathaniel's mouth as he said, "That seems to be the popular opinion."
"I might still."
"You are welcome to try." Defiance colored his expression. If Fergus thought to intimidate Nathaniel, he would find himself sorely disappointed. Fergus' anger was justified. He'd suffered an unimaginable loss, but Nathaniel would not beg his old friend's forgiveness for actions that were not his own. He would listen to Fergus' angered words, he would even allow the man to hit him again if he needed to. Nathaniel would not, however, humble himself. His pride would not allow it.
Fergus' hand reached back for the pommel of his sword but paused just shy of unsheathing his weapon. With the shake of the head, he turned around and looked toward the window on the east wall. "Elizabeth tells me you did not know of your father's plans."
"I knew only what he told me."
"And that was?" Some of the anger within the Teyrn's expression diffused, he turned around once more, brown eyes searching out Nathaniel's grey.
A frown curved Nathaniel's mouth. "Not the truth." If he had known the truth, he wanted to believe nothing would have stopped him from coming back to Ferelden. Nothing would have stopped him from trying to make his father see the insanity and wrongness of his plots. The truth was, though, Nathaniel was not sure if he would have come back. So wrapped up in wanting to please that man, he did not know if he could have found it in himself to so brazenly betray Rendon.
A grim bit of laughter grew in the back of Fergus' throat. "Hardly surprising I suppose. Seems nothing but lies come from a Howe's mouth."
"So you say."
"So I know."
The throbbing in Nathaniel's jaw began to slow. His hand rose, massaging at his chin. "Elizabeth doesn't seem to hold that opinion."
Gruffly, Fergus snorted and shook his head at Nathaniel. "She doesn't always know what is best for her."
Nathaniel's arms crossed about his chest, his eyebrow peaked curiously. "And I suppose you do?"
Without hesitation, Fergus said, "Yes."
A derisive snort preceded, "Pardon me, Fergus, if I disagree." Elizabeth was no longer the girl he'd known all those years ago. One thing had not changed, though. She was not the type of woman that liked others deciding what was best for her. All Couslands had that trait: stubborn to the bone.
The anger returned. Baleful eyes narrowed upon Nathaniel, Fergus snapping, "It's Teyrn." His hands edged upward, scrubbing against the top of his head. With a long sigh, he seemed to calm once more; the fight gone from his voice. "How long have Elizabeth and you…" Fergus' words trailed off, but the meaning was understood all the same.
Nathaniel leaned back, leaning against the wall behind him. His foot propped up, knee bent. "Ask her." This was not his discussion to have with Fergus.
A frown curved the line of Fergus' mouth. The answer was not to his liking. "I did."
Faintly, Nathaniel managed a shrug. "Then you have your answer."
With a snort, Fergus said, "You were and still are an insufferable shit, Nathaniel."
"I will take that as a compliment." A single corner of Nathaniel's mouth quirked upward.
For the first time since seeing Nathaniel, Fergus cracked a smirk. "You would." The wry expression was short-lived, however, and soon faded within the shadow of darkening features. Pacing, he glanced over his shoulder, searching out Nathaniel, "I need a drink. Do you think..."
The men shared many moments together in this room as boys. When both were twelve, Fergus dared Nathaniel that he could not steal a bottle of whiskey from the cellar. Not one to let a Cousland get the better of him, Nathaniel accepted the challenge. Twice he was almost caught by the guard, but he succeeded in his task. Both got drunk that night in this very room and hid the unfinished bottle in a small cubby behind a loose brick in the wall. Could that bottle still be there after all these years?
"You could look," Nathaniel replied.
Fergus seemed to hesitate a moment, almost as if he was not sure if he should turn his back to Nathaniel or not. The moment was fleeting, however, and Fergus took a knee in the west corner of the room. Fingertips nudged the stone back; bits of mortar flaked upon the ground as the stone was removed. He reached into the small hole and when his hand reappeared, it had in its possession a dust-covered bottle. Uncorking the whiskey, he took a sip and immediately spat the liquor out. "Tastes like it's been sitting in a wall for years."
Nathaniel's brows rose. His tone dry, he replied, "Perhaps because it has?"
Fergus gave Nathaniel a hard stare for a moment before raising the bottle to his lips once again. This time he managed to swallow down the whiskey rather than spit it out. "I can't allow this, you know that right?" Fergus extended a hand, offering the bottle to Nathaniel.
Nathaniel edged away from the wall and walked toward Fergus. There were many reasons Nathaniel and Elizabeth should not be together none of which involved her brother's approval. He reached forward, taking the bottle from Fergus. "I hardly think it is your decision to make."
Elizabeth loved her brother.
Sometimes, however, she really did hate him. While his intentions were always good and he only wished what he thought best for her, she did not need or want his protection. The little girl that wanted to hunt bear or ride her own horse no longer existed. In her place, stood the Warden Commander of Ferelden.
Too many men had made decisions for her in the past under the pretense of what was in her best interest. Her father allowed Duncan to conscript her. Alistair took the final blow. And now, Fergus wished to solve what he dubbed her Howe problem.
Nathaniel was many things; some of which she could not quite put to words. He was not, however, a problem, at least not in the way Fergus implied. But even if he did cause her trouble in the future, it was not for Fergus to decide for her what to do. How could she expect those in her command to follow her orders if her own brother would not even allow her to make decisions in her personal life?
Couslands were always a stubborn bunch and on this subject she was immovable.
Fergus' displeasure came in the form of a sharp frown and a demand to speak to Nathaniel. At first, she protested to the idea of the two men speaking. While they had been friends at one time, much had changed since then.
She could not deny, though, that a conversation was warranted. After speaking to Nathaniel, there was no way that Fergus could hold him responsible for what happened at Castle Cousland. Her brother was angry and hurt, but he was not unfair.
Let the two of them be locked together in a room and work this out, she thought.
After Fergus and she parted ways, Elizabeth decided to go back to her room. She'd had enough of people and wanted nothing more than to disappear into her room and decompress. She needed to think, to sort out just what she wanted to do about Nathaniel.
Unfortunately, the alone time she sought was not to occur. Upon opening the door to her room, she found a familiar friend lying languidly atop her bed. Slender fingers tucked behind his head, an all too smug yet enchantingly charming grin playing light against his lips, Zevran stretched atop the covers. Really, with all the other surprises Elizabeth received over the last two days, she should have seen this one coming.
The door shut behind her and she walked toward the bed and the sprawled out Antivan. "Zevran, what are you doing…" Her hand waved toward the bed and the room in general. "...here?"
His hands untwined from behind his head, arms moving to his sides so that the tips of his fingers could press into the bed as if testing the firmness of the mattress. A small grin hooked his mouth, "I heard you were sleeping with men that tried to kill you and I thought I might come to collect on the debt you owe me."
Was there no one not talking about that? She, of course, knew the answer. No, there was not. Gossip traveled like wildfire within a castle. That still did not answer her question, however. All kidding aside, Zevran had a different purpose for his visit; that much was evident.
She sat down upon foot of the bed, one leg bending to rest flat atop the mattress. She did not answer his question and instead posed one of her own, "Why are you really here, Zevran?"
"Business first, yes? And then pleasure?" Zev edged himself to a more upright position to sit atop the bed; his back pressed against the headboard. "I came to warn you of an assassination attempt. However, I have heard that is old news."
So much happened after the attack, Elizabeth never took the time to sit and consider the others Esmerelle brought with her to help with the coup. Crows. She should have recognized them instantly but was too busy thinking of Nathaniel's possible betrayal to pay attention to the dead upon the floor.
Her head shook, "So much for Ignacio's promise the Crows would leave me be, eh?"
"It was he that contacted me." Her eyes widened slightly at the news causing Zevran to chuckle softly. "Oh I was equally surprised. He was contacted first and refused the contract but apparently your friends persuasive enough to convince a different cell."
Concern peppered her expression. She did not need to add Antivan Crows to her list of worries. Talking darkspawn and rebelling nobles already left her list quite long. "Will there be more attacks?"
"No, I do not believe so. You have proven yourself quite difficult to kill…" Teeth flashed white; a brilliant smile curving his mouth. "…yet again. While the Crows do like their gold, they do not like failure."
He had come to warn her, to help save her life when all she had shown him the last time they were together was contempt and cruelty. He tried to be a comfort to her when she was willing to accept none from anyone. The pain of Alistair's passing, the guilt that overwhelmed her were both still too fresh, too raw. As a result, things were said, cruel things that she regretted.
Her chin dipped, eyes cast down to peer at the bed. Nervous fingers fiddled with the coverlet, tugging at a loose thread. "Zevran, those things I said to you-"
His hand rose, stopping her mid-sentence, "Elizabeth, you do not need to apologize."
"I do." Of all her companions, Zevran was the most likely to understand her torment after Alistair's passing. He'd told her about Rinna and instead of realizing Zevran's offered comfort came from a place of understanding, she threw the murder of his lover in his face. "I should not have said what I did. I was hurting and…" She reached forward, her hand settling upon his ankle. "…I am sorry."
Zevran was a master at disguising his emotions. If you pretend nothing can harm you, nothing will, he told her once. Yet in the moment, in the wake of her apology, his usually waggish manner softened faintly and she could see, though he said he did not need to hear her say she was sorry, he was grateful for it all the same.
The lapse in expression did not hold, however, and as quickly as Zevran drifted into the realm of the serious, he floated effortlessly back toward the cavalier. "Very well, might I comfort myself on your bosom? It will help me recover all the more quickly."
It felt good to smile. With a friendly squeeze, she held onto his ankle briefly and then let go. "No, you may not."
AN: Ok, what can I say? 5+ months for an update? That's just crap. I'm sorry. I got caught up RL and roleplaying Nathaniel over at Warden's Vigil (if you wish to RP, check out the site!). In honor of Nathaniel Howe Fan Week on tumblr, I swore I would get this update up. My life is balancing out once again so I should be able to do updates at least once a month. I cannot thank all of you that have stuck around enough. You are the best! And my beta? I 3 you so hard, bb.