"Bryce, I am overtired. We have been out for hours with no sign of a trail. I wish to return to the castle."

Bryce exchanged glances with Maric and Rendon. Their eyes were bright and smiles wide. They were enjoying this waste of time, tramping around the moors after nothing. But the boy also looked bored. She felt a flicker of pity for him. It can't be fun, traipsing about the country with his father while the man tries to negotiate a marriage for him with girls he's never met. She looked back to Bryce. "Perhaps the boy could accompany me. I hate to enter a cold estate alone."

She was happy to see the shade of relief that appeared in his eyes. He quickly covered. "But, Father," he started.

"No, I'm sorry, Cailan. But you should accompany the lady. We have... man things to discuss."

Bryce and Rendon laughed. "Yes, man things."

As they walked toward the castle, Eleanor was suddenly struck with the realization that Cailan was hardly a boy any longer. At seventeen years old, he was already as tall as his father, she had to walk quickly to keep up with his loping pace. The thin leather armor stretched and bunched as his muscles rolled underneath it. She tore her eyes away from him. Maker help her. They were here to negotiate the possible marriage between this boy and her daughter. She can't.

She musn't.

She shouldn't.

The estate was quiet. Most of the guards were out on the hunting grounds, protecting the king. The servants had followed to set up a meal out-of-doors. A few elves scurried about on some mission or other but aside from them the two were alone. Cailan wandered around the main sitting room, as if he didn't quite know what to do with himself.

"We are lucky," she said. "It seems somebody thought to light the fire already."

He nodded.

"Would you like a drink? I have some brandy that would help to warm you up."

"That would be very nice, thank you." He accepted the glass and looked everywhere but her eye.

She smiled a little. "You know they won't be back for hours. We might as well find something to talk about. How do you feel about all this, this marriage business? Meet anybody interesting?"

He shrugged and turned to look out a window. "Not particularly."

She lounged on a couch, stretching her legs. "That is a shame. Well, I'm sure it will be easier once the decision has been made. I wanted nothing to do with Bryce when we first met. Since then? Well. I'm not going to lie and pretend it's all been sunshine and cookies but there have been good times. Usually."

Cailan turned around slowly, and his eyes dragging along the length of her body. "By the Maker."

She settled back in her chair. "Pardon?"

"Oh no, Teyrna Cousland, oh no." He seemed distressed.

"What is it, Cailan."

"For the love of Andraste, Teyrna Cousland. Here we are. You get me alone, you give me a drink, you start talking about your own marriage and then you mention how they won't be back for hours."

"What are you getting at."

"Teyrna Cousland, you are trying to seduce me."

Her heart leapt as she realized he was right. That is exactly what she was trying to do.

His brows furrowed. "Aren't you?"

She stood up and walked toward him slowly, deliberately, glass in hand. "Cailan I am not trying to seduce you."

"Of course not. I'm sorry..."

She was now very close. Too close. She spoke low. "Would you like me to seduce you?"

He choked on his drink. "I... What?"

"Is that what you're trying to tell me?" she purred.

He looked at her, eyes round. "Well," he answered slowly. "Yes. I would like that."

She smiled. He was so young, so fresh, so energetic. She trailed a finger along his shoulder and down to his belt and pulled him against her. "Kiss me."

He did, tentatively at first but growing in fervor. She nibbled on his lower lip, and he gasped in surprise. She carefully placed her drink down on a table behind her, and reached for the neck of his light leather armor. "Get this off, young man."

He stripped and she leaned back, admiring his supple form, glowing with health and vitality, firelight flickering against his glowing skin. She slipped out of her armor and let her hair out of its customary buns. Their bodies met again, and she noted with pleasure that he was quite ready. She had forgotten how quickly young men could become aroused. "No, not yet. Touch me first."

"Touch you? There?"

"Yes, you foolish thing. Like this," and she slid her hand between her legs to demonstrate.

He knelt and watched, enraptured. He glanced up at her face as she leaned back, enjoying her own arousal. "Glorious," he breathed.

She laughed, deep and throaty. "Do you say that to all the girls?"

He didn't answer, just reached up to touch her. "Like this?" he asked, hesitant.

"Yes!" she answered and rocked against his touch. "Oh you do learn fast."

He explored her for a time, trying different strokes and places and pressures, responding intuitively to the moans and shudders. Eventually she inhaled and said, "Now."

He needed no further encouragement. She guided him into her and he exhaled slowly. "Oh Maker," he whispered in her ear.

This elicited another throaty chuckle. "Oh, you are a heartbreaker." She choked back a moan as he thrust his full length inside her. "Or you will be. I don't..." and he found her again with his hand and she no longer was capable of coherent thought.

He was excited and awkward as a puppy, and she often had to correct his form, or slow him down, or remind him to touch or to increase his pace and pressure but he was an excellent student. Before long she felt the familiar trembles of ecstasy building at the small of her back. "Oh that is very good, Cailan." she knotted a fist in his hair. Buoyed by her encouragement, he deepened her movements until finally she arrived. She dug her fingers into his bottom and pulled him roughly into her. "Hold still" she gasped in his ear, quivering as she rode her pleasure to its apex. "Now, you can finish."

It didn't take long. He was still young. She let him remain within her for a moment, panting. Then she was done. She lifted herself off.

Bryce and Eleanor stood together at the main gate, watching the royal party depart. "So what do you think, Bryce? Do you think they would be a good match?" she asked casually.

He sighed. "As much as I like the idea of Elissa as queen, no. He seems far too subdued for her."

"Yes," she replied, thoughtfully. "Much too subdued."