A Knight in Shining Armour
This story was originally published as part of Interludes. I have pulled the Fergus chapters out and published them separately. For those who are unfamiliar with my version of Ferelden, this story takes place approximately five years after the end of the Blight. Aedan is Warden Commander of Ferelden and is married to Leliana. They have three children (two adopted, one of their own). Alistair is the King of Ferelden and is also married to the daughter of Arl Wulff. Oghren Commands Alistair's armies, Nate is the Arl of Amaranthine and Zevran continues to be Aedan's loyal companion.
These chapters here delve into what Fergus did during the Blight, and since. I wrote them as a way to explore the brotherhood and friendship between the Cousland boys and it did not take long for the quiet teyrn to capture my imagination.
I have published them separately here as I hope he will also capture yours.
As always, what belongs to Bioware, belongs to Bioware. As always, I thank them for allowing me to play in their sandbox.
Fergus lingered at the gates longer than necessary. He watched his brother's family move down the road until they dwindled into the distance, the horizon finally swallowing them. He felt somewhat as if his heart went with them.
The quiet Teyrn well remembered the day Aedan had been born. He'd hoped for a brother, someone to not only relieve the boredom of his days, but to share his imagination and just be… younger. The eight year old boy looked forward to being able to teach instead of being taught, and to shepherding someone through what he perceived as the pitfalls of childhood. Fergus made no secret of the fact he wished for a boy, just as his mother did not seek to hide her longing for a girl. His father expressed no preference other than a healthy child and easy birth. All had gone well and that evening he'd been invited to meet his younger sibling.
"What is it, what is it?" he'd asked, bouncing upon his toes.
"'It' is a baby, Fergus," his father answered, a smile hovering about his mouth, relieving the tired lines about his face. Childbirth in Ferelden was always a risky thing…
Though caught by the urge to stamp his foot and demand to know if he had a brother or a sister, Fergus instead quickened his step, he'd find out soon enough. His father's long stride outmatched his and the man reached the door first, opened it, then stood aside allowing his eldest to enter before him.
Fergus looked over toward the bed and saw his mother looking pale but well and happy, so very happy. He never forgot the look on her face. He hoped she'd looked like that when he'd been born and of course he'd been told she had. Eleanor loved both her children equally. But that day he interpreted her look differently. His mother looked so radiantly happy because she had her heart's desire, a daughter, cradled within her arms. He could recall how his hopes had fallen as a physical sensation, something within in him dropping towards his boots. But as a polite young boy he'd worked to keep a smile on his face and stepped forward anyway to greet the newest Cousland.
Leaning over the edge of the bed, he took a look at the wrinkled and red face nestled against amongst soft folds of blanket. Even then, the babe had had a high brow framed with wisps of dark hair and a somewhat angular nose. Eyes of intense blue opened to regard him.
"It doesn't look like a girl," Fergus said wonderingly. It didn't, not at all. Though he supposed babies often looked odd.
His mother chuckled softly and reached over to move a wayward lock of hair from his own face and stroked his cheek before securing the blanket about her new babe. "That's because he's not. Fergus, this is your new brother, Aedan."
"Greetings, Aedan," he said somberly, his quiet voice belying the joy he felt within.
Having a younger brother had not been exactly as he'd envisaged. While he did get the opportunity to teach and share, the shepherding part was often a little overwhelming. Aedan followed him everywhere. The young Fergus came to miss his solitude and crave quiet times, not that his younger brother was an excessively noisy child, but he always seemed to radiate energy, as if at any moment he could spring into action – which he often did, alarming anyone not attuned to his odd restlessness.
Aedan's devotion to his older brother had always been obvious, however. Always. Sometimes it had been almost embarrassing to look over and catch those cool blue eyes gazing so intently at him, as if he were the most interesting and wonderful thing in all of Thedas.
Fergus smiled now at the memory of their childhood together. Even now that they were grown up, Aedan still have him that look now and again and he treasured it. He didn't feel so much like the older anymore, they were simply brothers. But that look always reminded him.
Then there were the other moods he'd catch in Aedan's eyes, particularly since the Blight.
He did and did not envy Aedan, having heard his brother's secrets and what it meant to be a Grey Warden. Fergus pitied his brother the shortened span of his life, the taint in his blood, the calling to a cause he'd not chosen for himself. Besides that, Aedan's recent trials in Orlais had horrified the quiet Teyrn. He winced in memory of the scars across his brother's back and shoulders. Fergus had his own scars, from wounds sustained in the Korcari Wilds, during the battle to retake Highever and the siege of Denerim. He'd seen more bloodshed and battle in his lifetime than he'd ever thought he might, but Aedan had seen more. His once quiet and gentle younger brother had seen true darkness.
Yet he had somehow managed to find a wife and collect a family. He had two sons and a daughter. Fergus adored his nephews and niece; he didn't care that only one of them carried Cousland blood. For a long time he'd found it hard to look at Riordan and not see Oren. Now he could look at the small dark haired boy and see a young Aedan and he would smile at that serious little face. Just as he could now think of Oren and though he felt the loss of his son, keenly, he could smile at the memory of the good times.
Fergus tried to hold on to the better memories of his wife also, not the bittersweet ones – the regrets. He could never quite decide if it better or worse that he'd not been there to witness Howe's betrayal and the deaths of all who were dear to him. He had left Castle Cousland that evening with grim expression, knowing he marched to war, but inside his heart had been light. Highever lay well north of Ostagar, his family would be safe…
A frown creased his brow and Fergus realised he could no longer see anyone along the road, not even a swirl of dust marked their wake. Silence, heavy but for the occasional bird call and whisper of wind seemed to blanket the world and Fergus blinked against his melancholy and silently thanked the Maker for the family that remained. His brother and Leliana – the sister he'd never had, his nephews and niece.
Turning to regard the stone walls of Castle Cousland, Fergus let out a soft sigh. Though the place teemed with people, servants and armsmen, it seemed to echo in the absence of children's laughter, Aedan's energy and Leliana's light.
Continuing to turn, he let his gaze move across the formal gardens set outside the wall and to the forest beyond. The solitude of the trees beckoned. He would be alone in the castle despite being surrounded by people. The forest held true silence but for the quiet rustlings of animals, it was meant to be peaceful. If he craved noise afterwards, he could follow the path to the cliffs and listen to the crash of the surf below.
He set off across the short grass, skirted the trees dotted about the edge of the garden, and passed into the cool shelter of the forest. As he progressed between the solid trunks sounds caught his attention. The whisper of the wind across the tops of the trees, birds calling and squirrels chittering. A distant knock might be a woodpecker and the sudden rustles would be chipmunks or rabbits darting out of his path. The smell of the forest floor rose to meet him, mulched leaves, brown pine needles and the distinctive odor of mud. The combined scents carried him back to childhood once more. He and Aedan had often adventured in the forest – slaying mythical dragons, taking their lunch to the river and pretending they were on a long journey, climbing trees to act as lookouts and the unfortunate incident when they had tried to light a fire. A chuckle tickled past Fergus's lips as he recalled the pair of them flapping their hands about as the small sapling near their 'fire pit' had suddenly burst into flames. Fortunately, they'd been close to the river and had their fishing bucket with them. Bryce Cousland was a forgiving man, but had they burned down an entire forest, well…
Of their own accord, his legs carried him towards the river and Fergus's faint smile widened as the ripple chuckle of water reached his ears. The rocks along the bank diverted the course of the river in many places, causing frequent rapids and unpredictable pools of deeper water. Stepping out onto one of the rocks, he looked downstream to the widest part of the river where the water looked deceptively smooth. The current moved swiftly there – Aedan had almost drowned there. Looking upstream, he saw the deeper pool where he and Aedan liked to swim most often. He'd broken his brother's nose there, completely by accident. A wince crossed his features as he remembered the sharp crack and the immediate gush of blood as his elbow caught Aedan's face in the midst of their rambunctious play.
Fergus sat down on the rock and shook his head softly, a smile winning over his mouth. Breaking his brother's nose wasn't a particularly treasured memory, but he remembered that afterwards Aedan had been so proud of the bump, the small imperfection on his nose.
"It makes me look interesting!" he said. "And more like an adventurer!"
Of course, Fergus had had to retort with something like, "You look interesting enough with that long nose and those pale eyes. You were supposed to be a girl you know, it's a good thing you weren't!"
And a playful scuffle had ensued and then they'd trekked through the forest again, always returning, despite the mishaps, continuing their adventures, proudly displaying their scars.
After resting on the rock briefly, Fergus pushed to his feet. He felt more centered than he had before, restored. His memories of the past had soothed him. He didn't feel like returning to the castle just yet though, so he decided to follow the river upstream for a while.
Upstream lay the source of the river, or where it entered Cousland lands. A series of caves and fissures gathered about another rocky cliff that resembled a cut off hillside, as if part of it had been sliced away and the river had gushed forth from the wound.
Fergus wandered slowly upstream, following his memories once again. Instead of listening to the thunder of surf against the cliffs, he thought he might duck his head into some of the caves he and Aedan had explored as boys. They had walked out here together recently, a couple of weeks before, but had not made it far upstream. Instead they'd cast lazy lines into the river and had napped upon the bank, both of them losing their bait, neither of them minding in the slightest. The deepest their conversation had dwelled was what Nan might serve for dinner that night. It wouldn't be fish…
The ground rose gently as he approached the hills and the river narrowed and quieted, though he could faintly hear the rush and hiss ahead where the water fell from the rock in a short fall into a shallow pool that then spilled into the river.
Fergus stopped at the faint sound and turned his head about looking for the source. Had someone actually spoken or had it been his imagination…
"Maker damn it all to oblivion!"
Not his imagination then.
"Hello?" he called.
"Hello?" she answered. It sounded like a she…?
Fergus walked towards the hillside, thinking the voice had come from over there. The forest thinned as angled away from the river and towards the first rise of rock that seemed to have tumbled from the cliff. The sound of their voices seemed to have stilled the wildlife temporarily and Fergus called out again to pinpoint her location. "Are you alright? Do you require aid?" The swearing could mean anything.
"Yes, no! Wait… don't come too close…" her voice trailed off, somewhat muffled and Fergus peered curiously at the ground. It almost sounded as if… "You might slip… sinkhole…"
Stopping in his tracks, Fergus drew in a sharp breath as he realised what must have happened. With the caves spreading beneath the hillside and under the forest, sometimes the ground gave way beneath the feet. Normally a narrow fissure of chimney was the cause, something to catch the ankle. He'd twisted his own in that fashion out here before. But it sounded as if the woman had found a much larger hole. He scanned the ground before him, it looked innocuous enough.
"Call out again," he prompted. "So I know where you are."
"Down here," she called, confirming that she was indeed below the ground and somewhere off to his left.
Fergus stepped gingerly forward. "Right, I'm heading over there, are you hurt?"
"No, I'm fine. Be careful!" the voice admonished.
A flash of irritation had him frowning as he picked his way carefully amongst the boulders and underbrush strewn across the ground, the clearing resembling an unkempt field. His boot hit a patch of mulched leaves and Fergus flailed his arms to keep his balance as he slipped, but righted himself before hitting the ground.
"Are you there?" she called.
"Here," he answered, followed by an exclamation, "Argh!" as his boot then decided, on its own of course, to become lodged in one of the fissures he'd hoped to avoid. A twinge of pain shot through his ankle. Fergus blew out a breath and gingerly pulled against his boot.
"What happened? I told you to be careful!"
"I am being careful!" Fergus bit his lip over the irritation in his voice. "I just caught my boot," he grunted a little as he pulled it from the fissure, "and now I am fine." He took another step and winced as his ankle failed to hold his weight, buckled and though he reached out his hands met nothing but air and he fell. Maker's breath.
"That does not sound fine…"
Squeezing both his eyes and his lips shut, the eyes in frustration, lips over a yelp of pain, Fergus concentrated in letting his breath out slowly. "I, er," he rolled over, his brow creasing as rocks bit into his ribs and legs in passing, "the footing is somewhat precarious," he finally admitted. Instead of gaining his feet, Fergus crawled forward on his hands and knees. He could see the opening ahead, a dark shadow between a large boulder and a smooth patch of ground. Inching forward, carefully, he peeked over the lip of the hole. "Hello?"
He couldn't really see far into the darkness, which meant the hole was deep.
"Hello," she answered. "Are you being…"
"Careful? Yes." Fergus gritted his teeth. "I cannot see you, is the hole very deep? How did you not get injured?"
Splashing answered his question. He could just make out a ripple below as light filtered downward, and then a shadowed face peered from one side. "I fell into the water. I'm on a shelf now."
Fergus nodded, then realised she'd likely not be able to see the gesture. "Right. Let me think a moment on how to get you out of there." He shuffled back from the edge and sat back on his heels.
"Just go get someone to help," the voice in the hole commanded.
Brows raised Fergus bit his lips together again, this time over a bark of laughter. Did she realise she'd just ordered the Teyrn to go for help? Though he did not expect the townspeople or his guards and knights to bow and scrape before him, it did tweak his sense of humour to be commanded like a servant or a child. Particularly on top of the repeated pleas to 'be careful'. Was she so particular on that score because she had not been careful?
Going to get help did seem a rather sensible idea, except that his ankle had started to throb. It would be a slow journey. Casting his eyes around for something he might use as a crutch, Fergus spied a long stick, too slender to be used as a cane, but perhaps long enough to reach into the hole. He was a strong man, well muscled through exercise and discipline. He should be able to pull a woman from a hole in the ground.
"And then she can help me walk back to the castle," he muttered, shaking his head and uttering a sound somewhere between a tsk and a chuckle.
"What? Are you there?"
"I am here."
Fergus reached for the stick and discovered it was actually a tree root snaking through the leaves and grasses. Pulling out his belt knife, he scouted out what he thought might be a suitable length and cut it off.
"What are you doing? Are you going for help?" Her tone now sounded querulous.
"I am going to try something."
"Wouldn't it be easier if…"
"Are you always this quarrelsome?" Fergus snapped.
"Only when I'm stuck a Maker forsaken hole!" Splashing followed her reply and then her voice called up more clearly, "I apologise if I sound terse." Rather than the expected sarcasm, she actually sounded sorry.
Fergus sighed. "No, I should be the one to apologise. Here," he started feeding the root over the edge of the hole, "grab a hold of this. If it is supple enough, tie it about yourself."
Silence met his request then he felt a tug on the other end of the length of tree root. "Got it."
She tugged a little harder on it and it slipped through his hands a little faster and Fergus quickly tightened his grip. He did not want to hear her thoughts if the entire root fell into the hole with her. After some time during which the root moved back and forth and generally jerked about in his hands, she called up, "Right. If you're sure this will work?" She sounded nervous and a little tired.
No. "We can only try. If it doesn't work, I'll go for help, alright?"
"Well… alright." She tugged on the root.
Fergus yelped as he slid across dry mulched leaves and sharp rocks, the former speeding his way, the latter ripping at his pants and jacket. He thrust his hand into a crack and managed to lodge his boot into a crevice.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes, sorry, I did not expect you to pull right away," Fergus answered a little tightly as he sat up and wedged his boots into the cracks and crevices.
"It's alright, I've braced myself, I'm going to try and pull you out now."
He tugged on the root and felt her weight settle against the end of it as he managed to lift her from the ground. Taking in a deep breath, Fergus pulled backwards, placing one hand over the other. The fact that he could lift her at all meant she wasn't heavy, but anything hanging from a rope, or root, took strength to lever out of a hole. Firming his legs and straightening his back, Fergus continued hauling the root upwards. Fingers reached up over the lip of the hole and scrabbled about amongst the dry weeds and loose pebbles.
Fergus continued pulling, ignoring the temptation to reach for her hand. The top of her head came into view, a bird's nest of brown curls, and then her face. "Lucinda!" he gasped, surprised to see Ser Travers's younger sister.
"My lord!" she answered.
Taking a firmer grip on the root, Fergus pulled harder. She had her other hand wrapped around the root and as her shoulders cleared the edge, she tried to put both arms over the edge. Then began the game of trying to pull herself up with one hand, fingers clawing at the rock, while not letting go of her life line. Fergus wanted to reach for her hand, but he dared not let go of the root, particularly now as all her weight seemed to be hanging from the other end. He imagined she'd climbed the wall of the hole to a certain point, but now simply swung from the edge, feet kicking into open air.
Lucinda managed to get both elbows above the edge, and Fergus held his breath. She let go of the root in order to grab at one of the rocks and he saw too late that she reached for the wrong one; it came up off the ground in her hand. Her mouth opened in a silent 'o' and it seemed time slowed as she slipped backwards.
Fergus abandoned the root and reached for her, grabbing the hand that still clutched at the edge. Unfortunately, he loosened her grip in the process. Her weight then pulled on his arm, which tugged him forward, wrenching his sore ankle from its hold behind one rock and leaving his other boot wedged in a crevice.
Slowed time then stood still as he teetered over the lip of rock and then suddenly he was swallowed by blackness followed by a splash as Lucinda hit the water, a spray of droplets striking his face, and then he plunged into the pool, face first, eyes open, mouth open. Water seemed to rush down his throat and Fergus coughed and spluttered in the cool, wet darkness. He kicked out with his feet and flailed with his hands, trying to turn himself upright in the lightless pool. He became disoriented and panic wormed its way into his thoughts as the world seemed to lose definition and direction. He could not remember which way was up. His hands struck rock and he pulled himself towards it only to feel himself jerked backwards. He struggled against the grip until something tapped him on the head. Lucinda?
He relaxed and then realised she had his collar and was pulling him upwards. Craning his head back, he could see the light above the pool and then his head broke the surface of the water. He tried to take in a breath and only coughed as water surged out of his lungs.
Lucinda dragged him out of the pool, though by the time his back hit the slimed and muddied 'shore', Fergus had recovered enough to help. Embarrassment flushed his cheeks as he pulled himself up onto the ledge, then he rested on his hands and knees and coughed again, his throat raw and his head spinning.
"My lord, are you well?"
"Fergus," he coughed, "Call me Fergus, Lucinda." Maker's breath. He flopped onto his backside and sat blinking at the dim light surrounding them. What had he done? "I'm so sorry," he began. Beside him, Lucinda began to chuckle and he squinted at her through the darkness, wondering if she'd hit her head, or if perhaps she wept and it just sounded as if she laughed. "What in Thedas…?"
"Well… Fergus," Lucinda managed to get out, before clapping her hand over her mouth, squelching more laughter. Her shoulders shook a little, and then she took in a gulp of air, chuckled one more, then breathed out a sigh. Glancing over at him, she finally continued. "You really are a knight in shining armour."
His mouth dropped open and then he gazed around at the dark hole and the shaft of light that played off of the rippled water. He saw his bootless foot and his ripped pants. Then Fergus glanced at her face. He could barely see her in the darkness, could just make out the smudges of dirt and bedraggled tendrils of hair.
He shouldn't, he really shouldn't, but he couldn't help it. He laughed. Lucinda joined in.