Summary: Gift-giving is something of a tradition in the House of Cousland, no more so than on Satinalia. Gen, Cousland family fluff. My secret swooper gift for zenedai.
A/N: augh this is late and I fail so much at deadlines and I wish I had time to get it beta'd but I don't. . Either way, I really hope you like it! I heard you liked Couslands so I put some Couslands into your Secret Swooper gift. Hope you enjoy!
The first Satinalia Bryce spends away from Highever is in the barracks with his men, cold and hungry. It's a somber occasion—rumors that Prince Maric (or is it King Maric now?) is dead abound, and many of Bryce's men had family members that were lost in the battle of West Hills. It doesn't feel like a day worth celebrating, and his men are sour, depressed and overall simply not in the holiday spirit.
So Bryce sings instead.
It's as bad as it sounds.
He never pretended to be any good at it, but it's even worse because he's suffered a cold for the past few weeks. He sounds nasally, his throat raw, but he's trying damnit because it's Satinalia and they are supposed to be celebrating, not moping.
He's rather surprised when another voice joins his, soft and feminine and ever so lovely. Eleanor.
Then, as if inspired, there is another voice. And then another. And another. Soon, the entire barrack is singing, loudly and cheerfully, full of life and song. Even the hounds join in, barking in unison, until the entire camp is singing along gleefully.
If the Orlesians could see them now, they would not be so sure that they have won the war.
The greatest gift Eleanor ever manages to give Bryce is a son: a boy, an heir, with his father's face, ruffled hair, and mischievous smile, and, for once, a fellow adventurer.
The greatest gift Bryce ever manages to give Eleanor is a daughter: a girl, Highever's jewel, with her mother's long, cascading blonde hair, and for once, someone to gossip with.
But at some point, things change: Elissa is less interested in boys and hair than most girls her age, and far more interested in swords and adventures than she ought to be in times of peace. Fergus, meanwhile, is quite possibly the biggest gossip in the entire castle, if not all of Ferelden; always the first one to know these things and always the first one to share them.
So Fergus becomes something of a mama's boy and Elissa rarely, if ever, departs from her father's side. That's quite alright, as far as Bryce and Eleanor are concerned. They've learned how to share.
For Satinalia this year, Elissa only wants one thing: a prince.
Well, Bryce can't exactly give her that, so he gets her a toy sword instead, which she adores. And Eleanor does one better, and gives her a small army of dolls to play with
(to which Elissa fusses, and Eleanor whispers conspiringly "These are not dolls, darling, but soldiers. You must protect them, and they will fight for you," which opens a whole new arena of dangerous activity, with General Elissa and her small doll army to wage war with).
Fergus, being a boy and a rather mischievous boy at that, gets her a pumpkin he puts on a stick. "Prince Pumpkinhead," Fergus calls him, "perfect for a Princess Pup."
Elissa, of course, adores it.
There is a lesson in this, one about the fragility of life, and how one shouldn't take things for granted. Prince Pumpkinhead is still a vegetable, after all, and while the freezing winter around them keeps the pumpkin alive for much longer than normal, it still begins to rot, festering with death and disease.
They have to get rid of it, of course, and Elissa is reasonably devastated. So they hold a funeral for the pumpkin, building him a pyre and releasing the pumpkin into the fade as if he were real.
It's Elissa's first encounter with death, and she doesn't handle it well, clinging to her father and mother while sobbing big, crocodile tears into their clothing. "I—I don't u-understand! W-why d-did h-he h-have to d-d—"
She can't even say the word, unable to understand, and it's hard for him, too, because how do you explain to a six year old the cycle of life, that all things live and, in time, all things die?
He doesn't have the answers, so he holds her as tightly as he can, letting her cry into his shoulder for as long as she needs to.
He cannot promise that he will be there for her forever, or that he will love and protect her until the end of time, but he can take care of her for right now, and he hopes that it will be enough.
(Fergus, for his part, vows to never get her another Satinalia gift for as long as he lives.)
Bryce is good at giving gifts, it's true, but even he can't beat Eleanor at gift-giving. Bryce tends to give his children what they what, where Eleanor tends to give them what matters, and he'll never know how she does it.
("She like the Satinalia Nug," Fergus jokes one holiday, "With eyes in the back of her head and everything.")
It's Eleanor, after all, who picks out the mabari they eventually give to Elissa.
They've tried, of course, in the past to get their pup a pup of her own, but none of them ever seemed to want to imprint on the young lady.
"Are you sure, Eleanor?" He asks her softly, looking over the litter of puppies with apprehension. "If it doesn't work this time, I think the disappointment might actually kill her."
But Eleanor seems unfazed, cooing at the small brown pup scooped into her arms. "I have a good feeling about this one."
She's right, of course, and they barely let the pup out of their arms before it finds Elissa and imprints on her almost instantaneously. The joy in Elissa's face as the puppy chooses her is well-worth the constant barking and occasional messes the pup is sure to bring into their home.
Bryce slides his hands around his wife's waist, holding her close. "How did you know?" He asks, kissing her ear gently.
There are a lot of things she could say: "mother's institution" is one of them, and sheer luck is another, but the truth of the matter is far simpler.
She knows her daughter.
And she knows that no other dog than the newly-christened Scout (named so because every general needs a scout, and General Elissa of the 311th Doll Army is no exception) would be right for her daughter.
(No other pure-bred mabari pup was rolling around in the mud, uncaring about getting dirt in his fur, or the fact that the Teyrn and the Teyrna were there, watching.
Elissa wouldn't have cared, either, and that was when she knew.)
But that would be harder to explain, and so she kisses her husband playfully and laughs him off. "I'm her mother, darling: I just know these things."
Bryce is something of a traveler, the type who enjoys seeing the world outside of his native Ferelden. Oh, he loves his country, and he's always happy to come home, but there's something magical about seeing the rest of the world, establishing trade relations and alliances across Thedas.
This year, however, will be the first time Fergus joins him.
"Ah, Antiva," Fergus croons, leaning against the rails of the ship. "Warm beaches, good liquor, and women of…looser morals. Oh yeah, this is going to be a good trip."
Bryce frowns, because while Fergus's reaction is to be expected (the boy is sixteen, after all) there is more to this trip than having a good time. Bryce is getting old, and Fergus is his heir. There are nobles Fergus must meet, people that he must impress if he wants to keep up their diplomatic relations that Bryce has worked so hard to build.
He tells his son as much, and Fergus grins in response. "I know, Father. Don't worry—I'll be a perfect gentleman while I'm there." But then he turns to the sea, breathing in the salty air with a smile on his face. "It's just—Antiva, you know?"
Bryce's gift to Fergus that year is more than the patriarch would have ever expected: it's on this trip to Antiva where Fergus meets Oriana, an Antivan nobleman's daughter who he will eventually marry.
"Yep," Fergus promises, crossing his heart to make the point, wind blazing through his hair and a shit-eating grin across his face. "Perfect gentleman."
It's different, spending Satinalia in a Chasind camp. The Chasind aren't exactly known for their strict Andrastean beliefs, but even they appreciate the more secular aspects of the holiday, and so their camp is decorated, with a few Chasind mages lighting up trees with frozen lights. It's picture-perfect.
It's also the first Satinalia Fergus has ever spent alone.
At home, there would be a giant tree in the main hall that reaches almost to the ceiling. It'll be decorated with every sort of ornament they can find, but every ornament tells a story, and Mother will recount them as she places each of them on the tree.
("Bryce brought me this one from the Free Marches before Fergus was born," she would say, holding up the silver cradle ornament and placing it on the tree. "And this one came from a friend of ours named Duncan shortly after Elissa was born. And this one—")
It would take hours, because Father insists on sending all the servants home ("It's Satinalia! I'm not going to make them work on Satinalia!") and so they have to do everything by hand.
But that's alright, because as soon as everything gets decorated it's time for the best part of Satinalia: the presents.
(Or, if you are Fergus, the pranks.)
He wonders what everyone will have gotten this year. He wonders if, in his absence, Elissa has taken up his role as head Satinalia prankster. He wonders if Oriana finally caved in and got Oren a toy sword, or if in his absence his son had to go without.
He wonders if Father made it back from the battle at Ostagar alright, or if he's out there somewhere, close by and yet, so very far away from him.
He wonders if they miss him, but ultimately he's glad they're still in Highever. Highever is safe and far enough away from the darkspawn threat that he has nothing to worry about.
He wishes he could write to them, but how would the letter even get to them? It's not like the Chasind ever travel that far north. He will simply have to endure, wait until he can use his legs again before making the hike for himself.
As he starts to fall asleep, he thinks he hears Oriana crying: but that's silly, isn't it? Oriana is far away in Highever, under his sister's protection. Highever is safe, if distant. Everything will be alright.
It has to be.
It's been hard out here, traversing Ferelden, fighting off the Blight with what feels like their bare hands some days. She misses Highever-no, she misses home, which for Elissa is wherever her family is, but they're dead and so it's not like she could join them.
(Well, she could, but she has a duty to fulfill; besides, suicide is for cowards and Elissa is anything but.)
Most days she can pretend she's just off having an adventure, that her family is home, safe and warm and not dead, and that once that pesky archdemon has been taken care of she'll just waltz back up to Highever and there they'll be, their arms open wide and welcoming her back ("What took you so long, pup? We were about to start supper without you.")
But she knows the truth, and that's a bit harder to swallow, particularly when Bodahn Feddic cheerfully tells her that cheerfully that Satinalia is in two weeks and if she wants to get gifts for her friends, she should let him know now so that he can get the items she needs.
(He'll charge her an arm and a leg for it, of course, but she's used to it and besides, Bodahn is convenient and stable when nothing else in the world is, so she'll deal with it as she always does.)
She's something of a professional gift-giver, the type who gives her companions gifts all the time. Any little trinket that she finds that she thinks they'll enjoy, she gives them. It's just one of those constants in life—the sky is blue, the grass is green, and Couslands are excellent gift-givers. Picking out gifts isn't the hard part.
The hard part is that it's her first Satinalia away from Highever, and Maker's blood, it hurts. It hurts a lot, makes her chest heave and makes her heart feel like it's going to explode at any minute.
"Miss?" Bodahn asks. "You okay?"
She breathes in deeply, her chest pounding. "Yeah."
They wouldn't want her to be upset: they would want her to celebrate, to be happy for once on this Maker-damned trip.
(If her mother were here—"Mistletoe, darling, for that handsome knight friend of yours I've seen you eye—" to which she would blush and screech "Mother!"
and her father would laugh, "Leave her be, Pup. She just wants grandchildren."
Speaking of grandchildren, Oren would pop up at some point, grabbing her skirts and grasping for her attention "Did you really fight a dragon, Auntie? Did you did you did you?"
And then Fergus would hand her something foul, possibly a rotting onion or a lump of charcoal. "Happy Satinalia, sis!"
To which Oriana would tisk, "Fergus, really." and then try to give her a real present-)
"Miss? Are you sure you are alright?"
She blinked back tears. "Yeah, I'm fine. Listen, here are the things I need you to pick up for me if you can—"
The merchant nods, furiously copying down her list with his chicken-scratch writing. "Any pranks this year, or just gifts?"
Pranking is always Fergus's job and so she's a little inexperienced, but, as she glances sidewise at Morrigan's scowling form, ideas start forming. Oh, the things she could pull off…
She grins. "Almost forgot-I'll need a couple more little things, if you don't mind, ser?"
The merchant merely nods (more presents mean more money for him) as she rattles off the ideas for pranks that she has in mind.
"Will this be all, ma'am?"
She nods. "Should be. See you in a couple of weeks?"
"Of course. Happy Satinalia, dear."
She simply smiles. "Happy Satinalia."
Merry Christmas/Happy Satinalia/Happy Hannukku/Merry Kwanzaa/Whatever You Celebrate to you as well!