This is a different take on the Morrigan/Cousland romance from my last story, "Warden's Keep". I wanted to try some different angles, styles, and plot. I'm being intentionally cryptic in places, but all will be explained eventually. The first couple of chapters are experiments with style to give character perspectives and set up background from Origins. After that, off we go! Let me know what you think! Reviews and thoughts are welcome!
Thanks to Bioware for a great story and all involved for excellent voice acting!
The Blood of the Dragon
"In Darkness eternal they searched,
For those who had goaded them on,
Until at last they found their prize,
Their god, their betrayer:
The sleeping dragon Dumat. Their taint
Twisted even the false-god, and the whisperer
Awoke at last, in pain and horror, and led
Them to wreak havoc upon all the nations of the world:
The first Blight."
"That Which Life Has Made Us - We Are What We Are"
He used to have a sense of humor. Before all this. Before Arl Rendon Howe slaughtered his family. Before the Blight and Loghain's political intrigue had taken so many good men and women, including his brother Fergus. He used to laugh easily, and offer his own sharp wit to a conversation. But that was a long time ago, ages it seemed. It had been almost a year since his life had fallen apart at his family castle in Highever and so much had happened, he could barely remember how to smile, much less give himself over to laughter. If not for his clownish companions and the clever banter between them, he might never have allowed his lips to part in some semblance of humor. He was not dour exactly, but intense, single-minded, focused. The light-hearted playboy son of a Teyrn Dekker Cousland was gone, and the serious, grim, purposeful Grey Warden Dekker Cousland had replaced him. He had become a forceful man…not ruthless…but persuasive, and a man not to be trifled with, though his motives were honorable. He was tall with a powerful build, befitting of a warrior's years of training with his father's Guard in sword and shield. He was not classically featured, but rugged, with a strong chiseled jaw that wore a coat of stubble more often than not, as he was typically indifferent to his appearance. His thick brown hair and sideburns gave him a rough and tumble look that had the ladies sighing back in the day when he cared about such things. He'd had no shortage of women in his 28 years, but none had captured his heart, and few had intrigued him enough to spend any significant time with them. Thus, he had remained a prize for the women to win…rakish and handsome, wealthy and titled, kind and good. And back then, when he was capable…charming and witty.
A pity, he thought. To be robbed of your humor is no small thing. But in these times, he supposed, much had been lost and many had been robbed of that which they cherished. He had lost much of himself to guilt and grief after his family was murdered. In truth, he had cut himself off from his primary emotions as a self-protective measure. He guessed it was the normal reaction of a survivor of a massacre, but guilt and grief were not the emotions he would have held onto had he been given a choice. They simply were. His constant companions and the scourge of his soul. Unlike his fellow Grey Warden, Alistair, whose mentor Duncan had been slain at Ostagar, he had not grieved with tears and gnashing of teeth. He had swallowed it, and it had hardened into a bitter pit in his stomach, waiting for revenge to exorcise it from his body…from his heart. But, of course, revenge's rewards are never as sweet as they seem when first contemplated, and even though he had slain Howe and Loghain for their treachery, he still felt it deeply.
His only real respite from his pain had come from the unlikeliest source of all…Morrigan. The incredibly beautiful Witch of the Wilds…courageous, spirited and strong, yet innocent and vulnerable. Damn her. She was simultaneously the most frustrating, irritating, exasperating, enchanting, mesmerizing, intriguing woman he had ever met. She could be harsh, even ruthless at times, but soft and confused and afraid of her own feelings at other times. She was equal parts confidence and insecurity, practicality and passion, logic and chaos, cynicism and innocence - struggling to find her own way and refusing to accept help in the searching. He had come to believe she was a product of her environment…Flemeth's world, where survival and power were paramount, and emotion was anathema. What she had not experienced, she had held in contempt, quoting Flemeth's malignant philosophy as doctrine. To her, love had been a weakness, kindness a folly.
For all of himself that he had lost, his trademark infinite patience had remained intact and Morrigan had benefited highly from it. He had been fascinated by her from the start. She had a barbed tongue, certainly, but she was intelligent, clever, and bold. And different from any woman he had ever met. She seemed less difficult around him than the others, for some reason, and he had welcomed it, spending many an evening talking to her at her campfire set up well away from the main camp in her self-imposed exile. Slowly, he had fought his way inside her defenses, and she had revealed much about her horrible, deprived childhood, never recognizing the horror or deprivation of it. She simply had no reference point, no way to know that it could be different…that a child could be loved and nurtured by his family, and grow to maturity with the ability to love and nurture in return. He had felt the greatest grief and sympathy for her, though he knew she would have despised him for his pity, so he did not voice it. Most of all he had felt he began to understand her…why she thought and reacted as she did. And, eventually, he had begun to feel something besides grief, besides guilt. It was, in truth, something he had never felt before…an ache in his heart, a longing…even when he was with her. It was strange to him, and stranger still that it should involve Morrigan, who was so above these things, who was so intolerant of all things she considered weakness.
The Orlesian girl, Leliana, had made it plain she was interested in him, fawning over him at every turn. He could have but nodded and she would have been in his bed. But he was disinterested, as he had been in all women these last months. Except her.
He had not tried to define the feeling at first, thinking it better left to die on its own, an un-watered seed left to perish from neglect. But he found it would not die and, in fact, flourished, as Morrigan's demeanor softened. She became more willing to listen, more open to new ideas and ways of thinking. She began to entertain the thought that perhaps Flemeth had not been right about everything. And watching her discovery, seeing her grow, brought the first joy back into his life since Highever. And he was learning to smile again. After a time he was willing to name that which he had refused to define before…the swirling in his stomach, the sleeplessness thinking of her, the dreams of her when he did find sleep, the swelling of his heart when she smiled at him…he was in love with her. He could not tell her for fear of frightening her, so he waited for her, and nurtured the relationship, gaining her trust, and he hoped, ultimately, her love. But he knew it would be no easy feat. The walls around her heart were high and well-fortified. But he had already decided. If he could not scale them, he would knock them down.
They had finally become lovers to satisfy her carnal urges, she had said, but for him, it was more. And he thought, though she would not admit it, that she had developed feelings for him. Subtle things as time had passed…a gentle touch of his arm, the soft way she spoke his name now…no longer a demand, but a question. On occasion, he had caught her looking at him, not with lust, but…something else. A sadness tinged with longing. He was never sure what it was as she always quickly recovered when his gaze met hers, but there was something in her eyes now that he had not seen before, he was certain of it. Those eyes… golden, exotic, mysterious eyes. He had never seen the like. They captivated him. Dekker had wondered on more than one occasion if she used them to bewitch men. Morrigan was a sorceress, after all. He certainly felt bewitched, although to what end he could not imagine. She had asked for nothing, except help with Flemeth, which he had gladly given.
Morrigan had discovered through the Black Grimoire that her mother's fabled immortality stemmed from the mystical appropriation of the bodies of her "daughters" over the years, and Morrigan was sure she was the next intended victim. She was clearly unnerved and genuine in her fear. She had asked for his help in slaying Flemeth so that she might be saved. And he had not hesitated, leaving Morrigan behind to trek back to her home in the Wilds and slay the old witch. Flemeth had been cryptic and cagey with him, speaking in riddles and rhymes, never answering him directly. She enjoyed playing with him, until he grew tired of her games and declared he would end her threat to Morrigan. She had only laughed, as though he was a child challenging an ogre. "Perhaps. Perhaps not," she had said sinisterly, a vicious smile curling her lips.
He had heard the stories, and had not expected an easy time of it, but he had not anticipated her shapeshifting into a high dragon. She had nearly slain him, but after a pitched battle, he had driven his sword deep into her heart and heard her death rattle. He had returned to Morrigan with her mother's real Grimoire, which she hoped to study to protect herself in the future. For she feared her mother was not really dead, in spite of his insistence to the contrary. Her gratitude for his selflessness knew no bounds and he could tell she was moved by his actions.
Except for this favor she had asked of him, in truth, she had kept to herself. It was he who had sought her company out. No, she had not charmed him…at least not with any spell, he thought, unable to keep a half-smile from crossing his lips. He simply had grown to care for her.
He had seen something in her the others had not…beneath the sarcastic veneer, the veil of indifference, the cool pragmatism others viewed as callousness. There was a woman alone with little or no experience in most things, socially awkward, and defensive to cover her shortcomings. A vulnerable, insecure woman-child exploring the world around her for the first time without the malicious "parental guidance" Flemeth had provided for 24 years. She was initially a reflection of her mother's sensibilities, but as time passed, the raging conflict within her became clear to him. She feared nothing that she could fight. But she could not do battle with her confusion, she could not slay her inexperience, she could not conquer her emotions. She struggled with them and Dekker saw that she was afraid of him…and of herself. And instinctively he had wanted to help her…to save her from the life Flemeth would have her lead…from the woman her mother would have her be.
His beliefs were confirmed when she came to him that night, after the Gauntlet. They had gathered support from factions all over Ferelden to join the war against the darkspawn and the archdemon – the dwarves of Orzammar, the Dalish elves, the Circle mages. All that had remained was garnering Arl Eamon of Redcliffe's support. Hopefully, he could help sway the rest of the Bannorn nobles at the Landsmeet to unite under one leadership. But the Arl was gravely ill and they had been sent after the Ashes of Andraste, the remains of the spiritual wife of the Maker, in hopes that a small amount of the mystical relic would heal him. Dekker believed in the Maker, but this seemed wildly optimistic at best. Morrigan had just been wildly skeptical, but she had mercifully swallowed her undoubtedly lengthy list of reservations, and they had trekked to the Frostback Mountains to a small town called Haven in search of what they hoped would be the cure for Eamon. What they found was a dragon cult guarding a massive high dragon and its brood.
They were a strange bunch, these dragon cultists. They were ritualistic drinkers of dragon's blood…many driven mad from its myriad effects. As far back as the glory days of the Tevinter Imperium, they had worshipped the Old Gods. Most believed the Old Gods were gigantic dragons trapped beneath the earth ages ago by the Maker for inciting mankind to stray from the Maker's teachings and worship them. These creatures then spoke to the magisters of Tevinter in the Fade and taught them the secrets of magic - all for a promise that they would one day free the Gods from their prisons. It was at their beckoning that the magisters attempted to usurp the Maker's throne. But the Maker punished them for breaching the Golden City and turned them into the darkspawn – soulless, tainted husks. The Old God Dumat was first to be found by the darkspawn, his call reaching out to them from beneath the earth. But Dumat had not expected their taint would drive him to madness. Thus began the First Blight.
No one seemed to know what it was that drove the darkspawn in their relentless search for the sleeping Old Gods. Perhaps it was instinct or the need for vengeance upon the ones who prodded them into a foolhardy coup attempt against the Maker. Whatever the reason, when darkspawn found one of these ancient dragons, it was immediately afflicted by the taint and corrupted, leading the darkspawn in a full-scale invasion of the land. The archdemon was their leader, and a Blight would not end until the archdemon was destroyed. This was the fifth Blight upon the earth and Dekker Cousland was knee deep in it.
Members of a dragon cult lived in the same lair as a high dragon, nurturing and protecting its defenseless young. In exchange, the high dragon permitted those cultists to feast on draconic blood. That blood was said to have a number of strange long-term effects, such as enhanced strength and endurance. But there were those who went insane, who developed an insatiable bloodlust. The changes in the cultists were a form of blood magic, surely. Nevarran dragon hunters, adventurers from the country due north of Ferelden, claimed these cultists were incredibly powerful opponents.
They were right, Dekker had thought. It was a difficult battle. It had not helped that Morrigan became ill during the conflict, a high fever raging through her as they fought. He could have used her help, especially against the powerful Reavers, but she had been near the point of collapse, and useless as an ally as they cut their way through dragonlings, drakes, and cultists alike. When they had reached the mountainside lair of the high dragon the cultists protected, a creature they believed to be the risen Andraste, Morrigan had begged them not to take on the beast. They would all be needed to defeat it, and she was in no condition to fight at that moment. The Warden had agreed and they had snuck past the gargantuan dragon. He had half-carried her into the temple beyond, where he had faced his personal demons again…where the Guardian had devastated him, questioning his decision to abandon his parents, to leave them to die. And though his father's spirit had attempted to soothe him, it had only agitated his guilt.
Morrigan had approached him that night, sympathetically. "Warden?" she had asked gingerly.
He had been lost in his thoughts, brooding, as was commonplace for him since the murder of his family. But that night had been especially difficult. His wounds were reopened, his guilt re-ignited. He turned at the soft sound of her voice, "You are better, I hope? The fever has passed? You no longer seem flushed," he said with all concern, touching her forehead gently, to assure himself she was no longer ill.
She had looked disconcerted, no doubt from his display of affection. "I…I am well…you have my thanks…but I did not come to speak of my health, but yours. How fare you, Dekker? I know the Guardian's words dealt you a blow, and your father's spirit…'twas a cruel test, and I…am sorry for your pain. But you must not take it to heart. I…we know you for a great man…a brave warrior who knows no cowardice. From what you have told me of it, you have done nothing for which you should bear shame. Survival is not a crime. If it were, I should be a criminal many times over," she said, offering him an encouraging smile.
He could not resist a small smile in return. It warmed his heart to see her make such an effort to console…to comfort him. She was not experienced at such things, clearly, and her awkwardness only made the attempt that much more charming.
In that moment, he knew he had been right about her. She was growing, evolving, becoming a human being…she did not have to be a copy of Flemeth. She was learning to be Morrigan, and everyday would bring new and different choices, feelings, and experiences for her to embrace as her own woman, not as her mother. She could think for herself, judge for herself, feel for herself. It was up to her to decide who she wanted to be. That was all he had wished for her. He smiled broadly then, feeling better than he had in a long time.
Morrigan had responded with a brilliant smile of her own.
Dekker had given himself away then. His eyes had betrayed his feeling for her and she had begun to pull away, to tell him why she could not be with him as he wanted. He had tried to make her see she that she was not like Flemeth and was free to make her own choices…that she was capable of love, she simply had to let go of her fears and give in to it. He had seen her wavering, her hesitation, as though she wanted to believe him. And he had kissed her to convince her. They had made love. And this time it felt real, meaningful. He was sure she felt it, too. But when he told her he loved her, she had tensed. She had withdrawn from him, stopped being with him. She cut him off as though they had shared nothing. It was as though unburdening himself, saying the words, had pushed her over some invisible edge…some precipice she was standing on in her mind. And he did not understand.
She longed for a simpler time…for her Korcari Wilds as a child, when she had some small measure of freedom. Even if it was an illusion. Even if it was not to last. She had taken great pleasure and solace in those times away from Flemeth…from her training…when she could run free as a wolf, fly as a crow, or revel in whatever form that called to her that day. She was a gifted shapeshifter. It was exhilarating and she missed those periods of unbridled joy. She had known few such moments after the Binding, and most of them had been given to her by the Warden. He had provided her with an escape from her fate, if only for a few hours of her life…hours that she would always remember. She wondered what it would have been like with him…to stay, to be part of his life. She thought they made a strong team in battle. She admired his prowess…his courage. But more than that, he had been good to her in a way that no one had ever been. He cared about her well-being, her opinions, her wishes. He listened and did not judge, though she knew he did not agree on many topics. He was kind to her and asked for nothing in return. This concept was foreign to her. 'Twas not something Flemeth had prepared her for…this charity…this giving without expectation. But even when he gave her gifts, and over time there were many, he had grinned and given them just to give them, to make her happy. It confused her.
She had talked to him of many things since she had met him. He was easy to converse with and encouraging and she found herself telling him things she had told no other. She had told him about the beloved mirror that she had stolen as a child that Flemeth had smashed. She had been punished severely…not for the theft, but for being drawn to such baubles…for forgetting that power and survival were all important. It was a pivotal moment in her life…one in which the lessons of frivolous weaknesses were driven home to her. From that day forth, she had not allowed herself to entertain such foolish notions. The Warden had found a mirror exactly like it and given it to her with such a joyful look on his face. His generosity had stunned her. She was moved by the gesture. He had made a point to give this to her, knowing its meaning. She had let him in then…just a little, but enough. A crack in her façade. She had allowed herself the small weakness of finding him an exceptional man, in spite of her mother's teaching. Those values he possessed that Flemeth would scoff at…kindness, generosity, honesty…she found she admired in him more every day. 'Twas confusing.
The Warden had shown her respect…treated her as an equal. She was an apostate - reviled by some, feared by others. Yet he showed no fear, felt no revulsion. Dekker saw to it she was treated as an equal member of the party, not as an outlaw to the Ferelden state, not as the hunted quarry of the Chantry Templars. While he believed in the Maker, the Warden did not approve of the Chantry's methods, the treatment of mages in Ferelden. He found it unacceptable that mages were subject to such measures as imprisonment and Tranquility and death for not submitting to the will of the Chantry, the will of the Circle. It was inexcusable that the mere presence of their magical gifts forced them into a life on the end of a tether or worse. In truth, 'twas one of the reasons she hated the Circle mages so, for submitting to their bondage so easily without a fight. How could anyone knowingly give up their freedom? Willingly accept the shackles? Perhaps her bitterness was because she'd had no choice. Because she had been tricked into it by her mother. Because she would never again know such freedom. She did not know. But she knew she was grateful for the Warden's attitudes, for his tolerance, for his acceptance of her.
She was drawn to his personal power, initially. From the first moment she saw him looking for the Grey Warden treaties in the Wilds, she had sensed it. He was above the others. His striking presence was commanding even then, as a novice before the Joining. It had intrigued her. She could not have imagined then that he would be the one that Flemeth would choose to pluck from the jaws of death and bring back to set her plan into motion. Her mother rarely included her in the details of her schemes…revealing her distrust…one of many slaps Flemeth had given her over the years, both emotional and physical. But when Flemeth announced that she would be leaving with these Wardens, it had surprised her. She was not prepared…she thought she had more time…before her life as she knew it ended, before she fulfilled her purpose.
She had made it a point to distance herself from the rest of the party, setting up her camp well away from the main group. She would make no friends here, 'twas not her purpose nor her desire. And she had tried desperately to keep things on a casual level with the Warden even when they had begun a physical relationship. But he had developed feelings for her and she had been unable to control her own emotions, confused as they were. He was compelling to her. He commanded her respect, certainly, but there was something else. She should have been more critical of him…he made many decisions she would not have, he said and did things that would not have occurred to her, he showed kindness where she would have been indifferent. Flemeth had taught her these things were weaknesses for fools, but she could not reconcile that with her image of the Warden. He knew the consequences of every action and still did not shirk from that which he thought was right. She was confused by the Warden's moral compass, yet unwilling to dismiss him. Morrigan had spent a great deal of time considering that which the Warden had done and said, and she had come to admire the man greatly…another unforeseen turn of events. And in the end, she had found herself unexpectedly entangled emotionally.
He was darker than she had anticipated. Brooding. But 'twas not a darkness born of malice. His darkness spawned from pain. He was haunted by his past, the tragedy that had befallen him. He spoke not of it for a time, but suffered in silence. She knew of the events in passing, overheard from the others. She had wondered at it, for it seemed his only weakness. But the way he bore up, she found she could not fault his handling of it, even at the beginning, when it was in her nature to find fault with everything that smacked of weakness, of feeling, of superfluous emotion. They had talked of many things at her fire at night, but his reluctance to speak of his pain was surely due to her pronounced lack of patience in such matters, her inability to commiserate. He had not asked for pity and she had offered none. But as time passed…as she came to know him, she found that his pain had begun to be her pain. She had little experience with it, and her mother would surely have railed at her for the feeling of it, but she could not help it. He was a wounded animal that as a child she would have healed, if possible, or put out of its misery if not. For that was the only kinship she had ever felt, that with animals…with the wolf pack or the flock. But that was before Flemeth had punished the compassion out of her. Or so she thought. In truth, she wanted to heal the Warden. She did not wish for him to hurt, and knowing the outcome of their relationship made it all the more difficult, for she knew she intended to compound his pain, to re-injure him, and hated herself for it.
When he had at last told her of his self-loathing…of his grief, she had not berated him, but extended herself and offered support and encouragement. It had been strange for her to do so, and she knew it to be awkward, as she was not accustomed to such expression. But he had been visibly relieved and grateful for her attempt. And it had given her no small measure of satisfaction to bring him solace, however little. For a time he had seemed better, stronger, less introspective. But then had come the Guardian and his accursed tests of faith.
Morrigan knew the Maker existed. She had seen the ancient texts…she knew the truth of it. But she took pleasure in pretending otherwise, arguing against the facts with great passion, as though she really believed it. 'Twas only to frustrate the Orlesian girl…a small measure of revenge for Leliana's constantly cloying, feminine assault on Dekker while he was seeing her. All attempts to warn the girl off had failed, so Morrigan had fumed and glared and made her struggle to convert the apostate to the Chantry doctrine. In truth, 'twas not the Maker Morrigan took issue with, but the Chantry, with their morally superior tone too often followed by a morally inferior action. And, of course, the fact that she was an apostate…a hunted animal…did not endear her to them.
Dekker, too, believed in the Maker. The Maker would know this, Morrigan reasoned with all logic and practicality. There was no point in torturing the Warden with his damning memories…in reviving his self-hatred. Dekker had withdrawn from them all after the Guardian, and she had gone to him to try to pull him back. But somehow, unexpectedly, the conversation had turned to their relationship.
She had tried to ease his burden and thought she had succeeded. But then he looked at her with such longing, allowing his feelings to show in his eyes. It frightened her. What she saw on his face was not desire, but something far more dangerous for her. Something she was not prepared to accept, something she could not cope with, that she knew could never be. "Do not gaze at me thus," she had said plaintively, "I cannot give you what you want, what you ask for. I cannot…I am not…like other women. 'Tis not in me."
A sad smile spread across his features. "It is in you. It is not in Flemeth, but you are not Flemeth. You are Morrigan, you go where you want and do what you like, you are your own woman. Is it not so?" he had asked.
His words had chilled her.
"You are capable of so much more than your mother. She was wrong about so many things. Surely you must see that now. You don't have to be Flemeth. I killed her for you, so you could be free of her, free to be who you wish to be," he'd said gently.
If he only knew the truth, she thought. I will never be free.
"It is in you, it's in your heart. You have only to stop fighting it, and give yourself over to it. Let go of your fear, Morrigan, let me in," the Warden had said softly.
She wanted to know at that moment…if it was in her. This…love…that she knew nothing about. She had known confusion and distress and longing. She had known sleeplessness and no appetite. She had known anxiety and a sense of dependency which she had despised as weakness. But she had also known warmth and security, comfort and desire and… something else…strange and vague feelings she had no experience with that made her heart beat wildly. She should have stopped him then, but felt powerless to do so…because she wanted it, too. Because her time with him was growing short.
He had kissed her then…an impossibly passionate kiss that left her breathless. They had made love. And it was not like before. It was more than physical. It was intense and fiery. And he had spoken the words she had dreaded and longed for…the words she had wanted and feared…the words that would change everything.
"I love you, Morrigan," Dekker whispered, brushing a wisp of her hair back off her face.
She swallowed hard and winced, both grateful for his admission and grieved he had voiced it. For she could no longer continue as they had, lovers with no ties.
"No, Dekker, you cannot say such things to me. I cannot hear them. You…do not know what…you should not have spoken so…" she had said, shaking her head. She had pushed him away then. She had to end it, for both their sakes. Because she had no wish to hurt him any more than she had to, and because she had discovered that it was in her.