A slightly longer blurb of a story about Dragon Age, this time set during the beginning of "Awakenings" and focusing on the friendship between Anders and the PC (Cousland). A second chapter about Nathaniel and Cousland will be coming soon as well. Hope you enjoy!
Anders was having a hell of a week.
And for once, most of the insane things happening around him weren't even his fault, he thought, kicking a dented darkspawn helmet so it clanged against the stone walls of Vigil's Keep. The younger and more excitable of his two new companions looked at him with disdain at the noise, and he tried to look apologetic. No need to make them hate me quite yet.
Sure, he'd managed to escape again, so the week had started off pretty good. He'd traveled all the way from the Tower to the city of Amaranthine without incident, using all his old tricks and contacts to move quickly and avoid those blasted Templars. He'd been hopeful that he could actually stay out of the Tower this time, and he'd hoped to find Namaya and his phylactery so he could evade the Templars on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, and unexpectedly, they'd managed to get their heads out of their asses long enough to find and capture him again.
I hate surprises, he thought glumly. I really had hoped they'd let me alone until I could find my phylactery. He'd expected the Templars to remain as stupid as they usually were – or, at least, less intelligent than himself – but the addition of Templar Rylock to the group hunting him had put a crimp in his plans.
He hadn't gone down without a fight, of course. He'd learned from prior escape attempts that he couldn't hold back if he hoped to escape, especially with how quickly they could take away his spellcasting ability, but still, he was loathe to kill the poor idiots. Though they treated him like a dangerous animal, something to be caged and feared and never understood, they were still people.
And as much as he hated to admit it, they were all trapped, just as he was, though their prisons were made of lyrium addiction instead of metal and stone and earth.
Unlike me, those poor bastards can't even try to escape lyrium withdrawl, he thought with a momentary twinge of pity, tossing a fireball at yet another darkspawn charging toward him.
Of course, he didn't feel bad for most of them, as he was sure many had joined the Templars willingly and kept him from his freedom without a twinge of guilt, so he did what he could to make their lives difficult after they recaptured him. They took away his ability to cast spells, but they hadn't bothered with a gag to shut him up, so constant mockery was one of the few ways he was able to get back at them. He didn't feel like he deserved to get kicked as much as he did, but he honestly felt lucky that that was about the worst of what they did to him.
One of these days, he thought. One of these days, they'll tire of chasing me, and decide that I'm far more trouble than I'm worth. Which is approximately... nothing, according to the Chantry, he snorted derisively, and the sound caused his new companion to look at him, one eyebrow raised in a silent question.
He smiled and shook his head, and, thankfully, she shrugged and left him alone with his thoughts.
Anders hadn't been able to help the Templars guarding him in Vigil's Keep. He didn't like them, but he wasn't a murderer and no matter how many times they captured and kicked him, he wasn't going to just stand there and let them die.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what he was forced to do. The Templars were very skilled at taking away his magic and keeping him powerless. When the darkspawn had attacked, taking everyone by surprise, he didn't have the time to recover his spellcasting ability before most of them were cut down. The few Templars still standing fought the beasts while Anders pulled the key to his cell from the pocket of one of the bodies that had fallen nearby. By the time he'd gotten the cell unlocked and his magic had returned enough for him to actually do something with it, the rest of the Templars had fallen, leaving him to eliminate the few remaining darkspawn.
And then an extremely intimidating stranger in heavy plate armor walked into the room, two swords drawn and ready, and he took a few steps back in surprise before he realized he wasn't about to be attacked. The figure pulled off its helmet to reveal a beautiful, but very serious-looking, young woman.
He'd managed to stammer out what appeared to be sufficient explanation on why he, an admitted apostate, was surrounded by the corpses of Templars, and the woman seemed to believe him. This made him feel much better, until he realized that she was most likely just using him to get rid of the darkspawn in the keep before turning him in to the Tower again.
Or maybe she actually does believe me, he thought hopefully. Maybe she likes mages and apostates. I don't know her, maybe she's not like them. He stopped in place, suddenly realizing something.
She took a few more steps before realizing he wasn't moving anymore, and looked back at him curiously. "Something wrong?"
"I should think so," he replied, trying to appear deadly serious. She looked concerned, and he grinned. "I'm afraid I don't know your name."
She smiled at this. "There are three of us invading a highly-defensible keep that has been taken over by darkspawn, and your biggest worry is my name?"
"Obviously," he replied. "You have the advantage here, my dear lady. Not only do you know that my name is Anders, but you also know that I am an apostate mage who dislikes the Tower immensely and doesn't usually get along with Templars."
"That's fair," she replied with a little smile. "My name is Irien."
"And it is an honor to make your acquaintance," he said with a wink and an elaborate bow. "Being the honest, upright apostate that I am, I have to tell you that I wasn't quite as naïve about you as I led you to believe, as I did notice that Mhairi called you 'commander,'" he admitted. "So I take it that you're a Grey Warden, yes? Perhaps the Commander of the Grey?"
"Good guess," she confirmed, and they began to walk again. "As of just recently, though. There are so few Wardens in Ferelden that they were fairly desperate for someone to take the position."
Ahh, so she was one of the new Wardens, he realized, and she must have been quickly promoted just to make sure that an Orlesian wasn't running everything here. He obviously hadn't been able to keep up-to-date on current events while in solitary confinement for the past year, but he knew a few vague things, with no details on how they'd happened. There had been a rebellion, a Blight, and the death of King Cailan and crowning of King... something, Anders couldn't quite remember. He'd always told himself that he'd catch up on current events once he actually managed to escape the Tower, when it'd be useful. He did know that there were very few Wardens in Ferelden, but their numbers were slowly growing. Irien must be one of the new recruits.
But he was nothing if not observant, always looking for a weak point or opening, and he also noted that she was speaking a bit hesitantly and wondered why. Was she not used to talking about herself? Hiding something? Didn't trust him?
"It wasn't exactly what I wanted to do," she continued, "but it's part of being a Warden, I suppose. Doing the things you don't always want to." And she definitely sounded a little sad there. Perhaps a bit of prodding...
"Understandable," he said, trying not to sound as curious as he was. "The life of a Warden is a dangerous one, always fighting the darkspawn and getting kicked out of countries and causing all sorts of trouble," he said cheerfully. "I can't imagine that the Commander of the Grey has an easy time being in charge of so many different people, in addition to all that. Did they recruit you from the army into the Wardens, and that's how you wound up as the commander? Or was the promotion a punishment from some cruel higher-ranked Warden who didn't want the job himself?"
"The latter," she replied with a little half-smile. "King Alistair gave the order, and as much as I wanted to tell him where he could stick that order, I didn't have much of a choice."
Made Commander of the Grey by King Alistair himself? Anders was now even more curious than before, and thankful that she'd said the man's name so he didn't look like a fool not knowing who his king was. "How did you manage-" he started to ask, but Irien urgently motioned at him to be quiet, they were approaching a group of darkspawn who hadn't seen them yet, and he shut his mouth quickly.
Too many darkspawn for questions now, he thought, preparing a spell. My curiosity will have to wait.
An hour later, he had more answers, but even more questions.
It started after they'd rescued Seneschal Varel. They were talking with him for a moment in the courtyard when a good-sized group of soldiers had approached from the road, surrounding a handsome man in golden armor. The man had joined their little group and made a crack about missing out on killing darkspawn, and Mhairi had immediately kneeled.
So, this is the new king, Anders had thought, looking him over with curiosity. He definitely wasn't what he'd expected from the man who ended a Blight and a civil war, both of which had been pretty bad from the little he'd overheard since escaping. He wondered how the new king had managed it, especially since he only appeared to be around Anders' age. Alistair had a ready grin and casual way of speaking and standing that Anders immediately liked, so much so that he would've had difficulty believing this really was the king if Mhairi hadn't addressed him by name and title.
He wasn't quite sure what to do – kneeling seemed so formal, but just standing there probably wasn't a good idea either, if he hadn't wanted to be disrespectful to the new royalty within ten seconds of meeting him.
He'd glanced at Irien, hoping he could take his cue from her, but she wasn't bowing or kneeling or anything except looking at Alistair, and the look on her face just made him more intrigued about her history, especially her history with this man. She had practically lit up when the king approached, and he barely knew her at all, but he was still surprised at how happy she seemed. He'd initially assumed that she'd taken the position of the Commander of the Grey because the king wanted her out of the way, or maybe he knew how skilled she was and he'd had to force her to accept the title.
Something is obviously going on between them, he thought, and wondered if he'd get to ask Irien about it later or if he'd be back in a cell before he got a chance.
He'd gotten his answers just a moment later.
"And how about you, dear wife?" Alistair had asked, and he saw that the look of adoration on the king's face was identical to the one on Irien's. "Not too badly hurt, I see?
"Planning on joining me, dear husband?" Irien had replied impishly,
"Oh, I wish," Alistair replied with a grin. "Don't even tempt me like that, you minx. Eamon will have a heart attack."
Anders hadn't quite known what to think, just stood there listening to the conversation in shock for a few minutes. Not only had he been rescued by an extremely intimidating warrior woman, that woman was also married to the king? So, the queen, he'd thought, feeling a bit slow on the uptake. He hadn't expected to escape the Templars at all, and then not only did all the Templars get killed, but the queen had come to his aid, as well. In his surprise, his thoughts were more slippery and difficult to organize than usual.
And then, just when he thought Templar Rylock was going to drag him back to the Tower for the seventh time, Irien had rescued him again, this time with a Right of Conscription and the approval of the king and a feeling of permanency. Before he could wrap his mind around the fact that he'd truly been recruited, they'd all gone inside and drank some disgusting blood from that giant cup, and as easy as that, he was a Grey Warden. He'd been puzzled; he thought it would be more difficult, or more painful, or something more than a bad taste and his eyes going funny for a moment.
But he thought maybe it wasn't quite so easy once he saw Mhairi collapse on the ground and Varel declared her dead, and he felt a moment of pity for the poor, excitable woman before he'd had to sit down because all of a sudden his head was killing him. Then he was quite glad he was sitting down because he couldn't keep himself sitting up anymore and everything went black.
"Anders? Can you hear me? Are you all right?"
He was on the ground, and he could tell he was outside because he could feel grass tickling the back of his neck and hear birds chirping far too happily for how he was feeling at the moment. He groaned and opened his eyes, then shut them again quickly at how bright it was and covered them with his hands. "I hate the light," he said groggily.
"Don't let the Chantry hear you say that," Irien reminded him, sounding amused. "I think they're probably angry enough at you already."
"Good point." He hesitantly removed his hands and slowly opened his eyes again, trying to get used to the brightness of the sun. "What happened?" he asked, sitting up with a bit of difficulty.
"You passed the Joining, and then passed out," she explained. She was sitting on the ground next to him. She'd removed her armor after the battle – and he couldn't blame her, it seemed heavy and uncomfortable – and now was wearing a simple, long-sleeved blue tunic and brown pants. Her short red hair was tied back with three leather bands to keep it out of her face, and two swords were in their scabbards on the ground beside her. "It's normal, don't worry. It happens to most people after the Joining, from what I've heard. Varel and I thought you could use the fresh air, so we carried you out here and I waited for you to wake up."
"He's fine. He didn't faint or even feel ill," she said with an unladylike snort. "I think he's used to it. He's had much worse to drink than darkspawn blood, I can assure you."
"Huh." They were both silent for a minute, enjoying the sun and the cool northern air, but eventually he couldn't stop himself from talking anymore. "So you're the queen!" he blurted out, then slapped a hand to his forehead in embarrassment. "Can we pretend that I said that in a way that didn't make me sound like a complete fool?"
She grinned at his request, but nodded. "I am," she said simply. "Haven't been for long; Alistair and I just got married a few months ago, and before that I was just Irien Cousland."
"You think 'just' is the right word? You were 'just' a member of one of the most important noble houses in Ferelden?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Compared to 'Queen of Ferelden and Commander of the Grey, Irien Cousland-Theirin,' I think 'just' Irien Cousland is pretty accurate," she countered. "Life was much simpler, especially as the second child in the house. My brother had most of the responsibility; all I had to do was train, take lessons, and ignore my mother when she begged me to get married. My duties now are a bit more complicated."
He had to admit that she had a point. "I feel a bit betrayed, my lady. I admitted immediately that I am an apostate, yet you conveniently forgot to mention the fact that you are royalty when we introduced ourselves."
She looked a bit sheepish. "I hate to talk about it. It feels like I'm showing off," she said hesitantly. "I know it sounds silly. I just get treated so differently since I married Alistair; it almost makes me miss the Blight when no one knew who we were."
"I see," he said thoughtfully, trying to piece together her story. It would have been easier if she'd just told me this from the start, but I suppose I can see why she didn't. "So let me see if I have this right. You didn't just marry Alistair just because of your noble birth; you refused to marry, so it wasn't arranged by someone else," he said, counting the information on his fingers. "You aren't one of the new Warden recruits; you were one already, before the Blight ended, because you miss those days. No one knew who you and Alistair were; you were with him before he was the king. Now I'm a bit rusty on my knowledge of current events – comes with being locked away in a tower – but I believe that means you helped end the Blight and put Alistair on the throne, yes?"
Irien looked surprised. "Yes, actually," she said, and he felt a bit smug at getting everything right. I may be behind, but give me half the information and I'll figure out the other half. "I was recruited by the Wardens after most of my family was betrayed and killed by Arl Howe – this used to be his, by the way." She motioned at the keep around them, and he was amazed at how calmly she was able to state the fact of her family's murder. Is she really over it so quickly? She can't be.
"I met Alistair at the Battle of Ostagar," she continued. "That's where Loghain betrayed King Cailan and let the darkspawn horde destroy him, his army, and nearly all the Wardens in Ferelden. It took six months and a lot of luck, but we were able to recruit enough allies to defeat the Archdemon and put Alistair on the throne; he's the bastard son of King Maric," she explained, and he nodded his understanding. "Alistair has ruled since the end of the Blight with the help of Arl Eamon, and we were married a month ago."
He was dying to know more about what happened. Don't push it, he scolded himself. You were probably lucky to get this much information from her; I doubt she tells this much to everyone who asks. "So that's the short version of how you saved Ferelden," he said with a smile.
She looked uncomfortable at this. "It wasn't just me," she said, shifting in place a bit. "I helped, but without everyone else, I couldn't have done anything. Oghren was a part of the group, too, but you don't see people bowing and practically worshipping him." She sighed. "Everyone keeps calling me the Hero of Ferelden or Commander or my lady or queen or any other title they think of to throw at me, and I miss being Irien and a little more anonymous, not always having to worry about what people will think. I know I shouldn't complain, I'm so lucky and my life is wonderful, but it was nice to just be me, Irien the Grey Warden,instead of Queen or Commander, even if it was just for a little while, and just with you."
They sat together in silence for a moment, but it was a companionable one, and eventually Anders spoke again. "I understand how you feel," he said. "Your position makes people respect you immediately, but you feel like you have to earn respect, not just get it from someone hearing your titles, yes?" She nodded in agreement, and he continued. "I find I have the opposite problem. If I fail to mention that I am an apostate and people find out later, any respect or trust I may have earned is gone. So I tell them the bad news immediately, and hope that I'm able to win their trust through my actions, despite what I am."
She nodded thoughtfully and was quiet for a moment. "Well, you're not an apostate now," she pointed out with a smile. "You don't have to work for their respect anymore."
He laughed. "Excellent point, and thank you for saying so. And I was in a cell for the past year and know little of your heroic deeds, so you won't be able to rely on your titles to get my respect," he teased.
She smiled. "Thank you, Anders." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know, I don't think I've ever thanked anyone for not respecting me before."
"You can always count on me for that," he grinned.
She stood up and offered him a hand. "Shall we go see what we should do to prevent the darkspawn from bothering Vigil's Keep again, Grey Warden Anders?"
He took her hand and stood. "Absolutely, Irien Cousland."
They began walking back towards the keep, and he smiled to himself. She is definitely not what I expected in a queen, or a commander, or a noble, he thought, but for once, I believe I prefer being surprised.