Mushroom Soup and Leviathans

Fergus looked down at the burgundy shirt he wore and frowned. He liked the colour, but it felt too vibrant in the low light of his bedroom, as if it had absorbed all the light of the lamps and the sheen of the quilt thrown across the broad bed behind him. His skin, normally lightly tanned by the end of summer, looked pale against the deep red and his hair looked almost black. Studying his reflection, the teyrn decided he just did not look like himself. Lucy had not seen him with a clean face, brushed hair and carefully pressed shirt, not up close. Would it be foolish to think she might prefer the rougher copy? Would it be foolish to think she might not recognise him? Would it be foolish to think these thoughts at all?

With a soft growl, Fergus began unbuttoning the shirt and casting it across the bedspread it matched so well, he picked up another. This would be the fourth change he had made. As fingers deftly buttoned the deep blue linen, he risked a quick glance in the mirror, fearing the dark colour might look worse than the burgundy. Maybe the green had been the better choice, or… what had he been wearing that day? Blue. Would it be odd to wear blue again? Dragging his fingers through his hair, Fergus left off the task of buttoning and sat heavily on the edge of the bed.

Maker's breath, it was worse the second time around. The anticipation, the knot of worry in his gut, the nervous twitch to his fingers, all of it felt amplified by the years between his first experience with infatuation and this last. How would this work, exactly? Could he court this woman as he had Oriana? Take her places, visit her home, walk with her, read to her, steal kisses until they decided between fortune and folly? A thousand other questions taunted and teased and Fergus gripped the bedcovers, closed his eyes and blew out a breath. He had to calm down. While not as cheeky as Aedan, he had never been awkward around women in the past. Why such fears gripped him now, he could not say. Sitting there, he recalled a conversation he'd had with Leliana, not a month before.

He had been reading in the library, actually, he'd been sleeping in the library, a book open across his lap, head tipped back and probably snoring. Leliana did not make sound if she did not want to be heard, and so he supposed she must have wanted to be heard. Heels scraped the floor and a throat cleared and he opened his eyes and shut his mouth. As he lifted his head, Leliana dropped gracefully into the chair opposite, leaned back and crossed one slender ankle over the other.

"These chairs are quite comfortable, Fergus. Do you think they were designed specifically with napping in mind?"

"It is quite possible, Leliana. Many have succumbed to their charms."

She grinned and leaned back, settling herself more deeply into the upholstery, and closed her eyes. Fergus watched her curiously, one brow quirked, one corner of his mouth pulled upwards as he wondered if she might actually attempt a nap, after having woken him from one. She did not. After a moment, she lifted her head and winked at him. Fergus chuckled in return.

"What are you up to this afternoon?" he asked her.

"Interrupting naps, naturally. I disturbed Aedan, and now I am here."

Fergus laughed. He could guess in exactly which why she had disturbed Aedan and supposed his brother would be sleeping off her attentions for a while yet. A glance at the small, high windows lining the rear wall confirmed his assumption that Rory and Grace were likely napping also. Snatches of sleep in the middle of a quiet afternoon were often the most restorative sort. But as Fergus felt refreshed by the minutes he had managed before Leliana's entrance, he indulged her with a warm smile.

"Well, would you like to talk about something?"

"I always like to talk about something, Fergus," she teased lightly and he felt himself grinning all the wider. It was not hard to see why his brother adored her so. Aedan had always had an eye for beautiful women, but Leliana had something else besides, the will to challenge and intrigue.

"And which particular something did you have in mind?" he asked, knowing she already had already chosen a subject and happy to play her game.

"Do you entertain when we are not here, Fergus? Do you have many guests to the castle?"

Scratching his head, the teyrn first tried to plot out why she had asked this particular question, then prepared his answer. "On occasion, yes. I played host to Bann Dalton over the summer, he and his wife stopped here on their way to Denerim." They had been pleasant guests. He'd befriended the Bann of Rainesfere two years ago at the Landsmeet and now the man and his wife always called in on their travels, as he had to them when visiting Redcliffe. "I usually have feasts during the festivals also, for the knights who have no kin in Highever. Kyle stays frequently." Here, Fergus laughed. "I couldn't very well turn him out that drunk." As he paused to consider the other guests he'd had, he looked up at Leliana and added somewhat ruefully, "My brother does not stay as often as I'd like." Is that what she had been hinting at?

Leliana expression cleared and he realised that was not what she'd been hinting at as she replied, "And that will change. He loves it here, Fergus. He is himself here, truly."

"I am glad to hear it." Leaning back in his chair, Fergus regarded his brother's wife quietly for a moment before asking, "What sort of guests do you think I should be entertaining?" And as soon as the words left his lips, he understood the nature of her question.

She smiled, reading the knowledge in his eyes, and Fergus shook his head and clucked softly at her. "Ah, Leli." Sobering, he resisted the urge to scratch the nagging but phantom itch on his scalp once more, aware it would be interpreted for exactly what it was: a nervous gesture. She meant female guests of course, they'd had this conversation before, nearly three years before, at Alistair's wedding. "More than one woman has spent the night in Castle Cousland over the past three years, dear sister," he said with his closest approximation of a cheeky grin. Aedan did it better of course, but Fergus knew he was not without charm.

"But did they share your bed or shiver alone?"

Fergus laughed again, unable to take offense at her words as his mind conjured images of women shivering alone in the various bedrooms of the castle. "I'll have you know we make sure none of our guests shiver. As for their choice of rooms…" he trailed off, a bemused smile now settling across his mouth. "Perhaps one has shared my bed." But not at Highever…

Leliana narrowed her eyes at him, holding his gaze as if to catch him out in a lie. When he did not flinch she instantly brightened. "I am pleased to hear it!" If only everyone were as easy to please as his sister in law. She had a smile that lit a room and lifted the spirits of all within. "Will you tell me about her, or… them?" Her eyes sparkled.

"I am a gentleman, Leliana; I do not kiss and tell!"

Clapping her hands together in delight, Leliana kicked up her heels and rocked back in her chair. Fergus chuckled at her antics. It was her turn to sober then, and she did, the large blue eyes taking on a pensive, yet caring aspect. "But you have not found love yet," she stated quietly.

Fergus let out a breath and shook his head, the old grief encircling his heart and pulling down at the edges of his mouth. After Alistair's wedding, and his previous talk with Leliana, Fergus had taken a woman to his bed while staying in Denerim. While he found the physical release satisfying, waking up to a strange face had been disconcerting. He had seen the woman afterwards, on subsequent visits to the city and she had even shared his bed once more. But after the second time they had decided to simply remain friends. As a widow herself, she did not have a reputation at stake, but neither did she have the desire to be a wife or a mistress. And for his part, Fergus had felt at odds being intimate without love. Since then he had slept alone.

The touch of a cool hand on his returned him to the library. "Do not wait for too long, Fergus. You should not be alone, you have much to give and share."

He had found a smile for her and nodded to her words, acknowledging and accepting them.

Now, looking across to the mirror standing to the side of the chest where he kept his clothes, Fergus took in his reflection, the dark hair that swept across his forehead and over his ears to brush the back of his neck, the dark eyes that resembled his mother's and the same straight nose he teased Aedan for, though on his fuller face it did not appear quite so long and his had not been broken twice. Clasping the bridge of his nose with his fingers, Fergus rubbed the narrow bone gently and let out a sigh. He clasped his family to his chest and held them close and thought over Leliana's words. He wished his sister in law were here now, she would have much advice to give. In the very least he could tell her, "I am not waiting any longer."

Standing up, he discarded the blue shirt and reached for the green he'd started with half an hour before. The colour of Highever, the colour of his eyes when they caught the light, the colour of the forests that surrounded the castle. Not the colour of a teyrn.

Hugh, his other guest and 'chaperone', slipped through the door of his study a few moments after he'd arrived and said, "Will we set a signal?"

"A signal?"

"For when you want me to take Bart on a tour of the castle, show him the armory, lose him in the storerooms."

Caught between shock and laughter, Fergus scratched his hair before dropping his hand and shaking his head in wonder. "Ah… I am not sure it would be polite to…"

Hugh held up a hand. "Do you really think a twelve year old boy wants to have dinner with his mother and the Teryn?"

"Probably not."

"So I'll be doing everyone a favour then, right? Bart will be interested in the armory, by the way, so no worries there!"

"Don't lose him in the dungeons, Hugh."

"Not for too long, anyway. We'll see what sort of adventures we can come up with," Hugh replied with a wink.

A servant appeared at the open door and informed them that the guests had arrived.

"Shall I escort them to the dining room, my lord?"

"No." He wanted to welcome Lucy to his home properly. "We'll come down."

The teyrn and knight walked side by side to the courtyard set just inside the large, wooden doors to the castle proper and Fergus worked to keep his nerves calm, ease the clench of his gut and the itch of his palms, wriggling his fingers as he walked. Hugh remained stoically silent. They rounded the corner and Fergus' nerves fled. Someone he knew stood in the courtyard, he realised the minute he saw her. A woman he liked and admired, a friend. Stepping forward with a smile, he returned Bart's salute with a bow of his own and looked towards Lucy.

"Good evening," he said, wondering if the greeting sounded entirely too banal. Instead of a disheveled tunic and leggings, Lucy wore a simple dress in a colour that closely matched her hazel eyes, somewhere between a soft burnt orange and chestnut. The colour looked good on her and added warmth to her cheeks and highlighted her hair, or so he thought. Two simple wooden combs held somewhat tame curls away from her face. She looked, to his mind, very lovely and he wanted to tell her so, but held his tongue, wondering if the comment might seem inappropriate in front of her son.

"My lord," she returned politely, the warmth of her expression underlined her formality, however, putting them both at ease, as if she was noble blood and he the guest. She turned towards her son, a youth with dark eyes and a mop of thick, brown hair, who looked as if he'd recently put on a couple of inches in height and was unused to seeing things from his new perspective. He had a friendly face, Fergus decided, and a naturally curious glint to his eyes. Putting her hand on his shoulder, Lucy introduced him. "This is my son, Bartholomew."

Extending his hand towards the boy, Fergus said, "Welcome to my home, Bartholomew."

After only the smallest hesitation, Bartholomew took his hand in a firm grip and bowed his head again. "Thank you, my lord," he said quietly.

"If I ask you to call me Fergus, will you let me call you Bart?" he asked solemnly before adding with a grin, "Bartholomew, while quite the distinguished name, will twist around my tongue and come out wrong more than once, I am sure. This will save me future embarrassment."

He saw the telltale tug at the boy's mouth as he answered, "Alright."

Fergus turned to Hugh. "And you both know Hugh, so there we are. Shall we go see what's for dinner?"

He led the way to the family dining room rather than the larger, more formal one. Fergus took most of his meals in the smaller room and preferred it to the cavernous space on the other side of the hall. This room was set into the base of a corner tower and had an almost circular shape. The outer wall had two small, high windows that let in sunlight during the day and offered a view of the stars at night. An inner wall hosted a small hearth and a low buffet lined the wall opposite. Set in the middle was a round table which could seat up to six comfortably and would allow the four of them to lounge in their chairs with plenty of elbow room. Fergus gestured Lucy to his left, waiting behind her chair to pull it out and seat and seat her in a gentlemanly fashion. Hugh sat to his right and Bart opposite.

Had he been entertaining only adults, he might have offered drinks and small talk first, but being somewhat familiar with the appetites of growing children, Fergus had opted to have dinner served first, hoping the food would set a congenial atmosphere. It did, not that Nan's cooking ever failed to produce cheer. Fergus had ever been grateful that the cook had survived Howe's treachery. He liked to tell her he'd be lost without her cooking, but honestly, he loved the matronly woman and had been overjoyed to find her alive and well in the village. She knew that. Nan knew her boys, as she called them, loved her for more than her apple pie.

The first course was mushroom soup. Lucy blinked at the bowl before looking up at Fergus.

"Is this…"

"Mushroom soup, yes."

Puzzlement swept across her face as she opted between being polite and amused. Amusement won out and she adopted a lightly chiding tone as she said, "I seem to recall the promise of a dinner with no mushrooms."

"You are quite correct," Fergus said, trying to keep a straight face. "You have my apologies, Lucy; you will have to simply accept a second invitation."

Lucy chuckled softly and dipped her spoon into the soup. "I will admit I am quite partial to mushroom soup."

Would it be silly to admit it was his favourite? Fergus smiled and nodded and attended to his own bowl, satisfied with his ploy. When he caught Hugh's eye, the knight winked broadly at him before turning his attention to Bart.

"Have you any interest in swords, Bart?"

Not yet, they'd not even finished the meal! Fergus darted a glance at the knight, but Hugh refused to meet his eye.

"Yes, Ser," Bart answered politely. "I have some little training with a dagger m'self, but I prefer a bow?"

Realising Hugh had merely started the conversation in the right direction Fergus relaxed and added his voice. "My mother was quite handy with a bow, Bart. She often provided for the family table."

Bart grinned. "As does mine."

They all smiled at Lucy and she seemed to shrink slightly beneath the attention of three men. "Oh, well, I'm fairly hopeless with a bow," she admitted. "I can swing a sword though!" This caused the rest of the table to start laughing as Bart and Hugh perhaps echoed Fergus' mental image of Lucy beheading rabbits and other small forest creatures with her sword. "Er," she said, cheeks reddening, "I use traps." She chuckled then, bending her head forward, and Fergus took the opportunity to admire the blush on the curve of her cheek.

The main course consisted of poached salmon with buttered potatoes and steamed greens. Simple fare, but the flavour of the fish spoke for itself, fresh caught and lightly sprinkled with salt and dill.

Gesturing the fish, Fergus addressed Bart. "How was your first extended trip out on your grandfather's boat, Bart?"

"Fantastic!" the boy answered enthusiastically. "We had fair weather the whole outing, which is odd this time of year; they said it was beginner's luck, me being on the boat and all. We could see the rain along the shore, though. And the fish were many and we filled the hold a day early, which is always a good thing, and we saw whales way out deep and the moon looked as if it might sit on the ocean one night and," he finally paused for breath, "that night? We saw the leviathan!"

"Oh, Bart!" Lucy said.

Glancing at Hugh and seeing the knight's grin echoed his own, Fergus urged the boy on. "Has your grandfather ever seen it before?"

"No! We think it was part of the beginner's luck thing!"

Nodding, Fergus finished his mouthful before leaning forward and offering in a confidential tone, "I've seen it too."

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Lucy giving him a sharp look and he turned to give her his most innocent smile. "Have you seen it, Lucy?"

"I have not, Fergus," she said tartly, her tone clearly indicating she did not believe he had either.

Leaning back in his chair, Fergus reached for his wine and took a slow and careful sip. He held the pewter goblet in his fingers as he began his tale. "My brother, Aedan," Bart nodded, everyone in Ferelden knew who Aedan was, "was about ten and I was eighteen when we saw the creature. We were out like you, fishing the Waking Sea. Jacob took us out, do you know Jacob?"

Bart nodded again. Everyone in Highever knew who Jacob was. Every town along the coast had an old man of the sea and in Highever his name was Jacob Grey. Seventy something years old and bent by the wind and the waves, the elderly fisherman still took his boat out on occasion with the help of his many grandchildren.

"Jacob took us out for two days and that night, the moon seemed to float above the ocean, big and full. The light was so bright it almost hurt the eyes and it lit the water for miles about. Jacob told us the moon only set like that twice a year, once in the spring and once in the autumn, and that if we were lucky we'd see the leviathan. I laughed, thinking, at eighteen, that he told us the tale of a fishwife." Fergus remembered the confusion on Aedan's face as he'd laughed. Aedan always wanted to do what his older brother did, but he also wanted to believe that the leviathan existed and that they would see it, and the ten year old boy had been torn between ridicule and curiosity. Feeling immediately guilty and realising his reaction had been somewhat rude, Fergus immediately sobered and nodded towards Jacob who took no offense and seemed to be regarding him with a knowing look in those sea foam coloured eyes.

To Bart, Fergus said, "But Aedan believed we would see it and I did not want to spoil the fun for my brother and so I decided to believe we would too."

Fergus took another sip from his goblet, knowing his audience waited and enjoying the pregnant pause. This is how Leliana must feel, he mused, gaining a new appreciation for the minstrel's craft. Just as he sensed questions were about to trip from three mouths, he continued. "We watched the moon rise from the ocean, and then we saw it, not once, but twice. At first I thought we'd seen a whale," and he'd held his tongue, not willing to dispel the wonder in Aedan's face, and then… "and then we saw it again, long, sinuous and scaled with fins all along the spine. Too long to be a whale, and narrow and undulating through the water…" his voice trailed off as he remembered the sight.

As a man of rational thought, Fergus had spent many nights trying to explain what he had seen. In the end he accepted the explanation of his ten year old brother. "Some things just are, Fergus." He wondered if Aedan still believed that, if the man who sought to order his life with charts and maps still believed that some things existed along the edge of reason.

Bart was nodding his head up and down. "Yes, that was exactly it!" Turning to his mother, he gave her a brilliant smile. "Do you believe me now, mum? Even Fergus has seen it!"

Lucy looked from man to boy, her eyes resting for a moment on each as if urging them to give up some plan they had plotted out in advance and then she smiled. "Well, I could hardly doubt the word of a teyrn, could I?"

Bart grinned and attacked his food with renewed enthusiasm and Fergus leaned forward to do the same. Feeling the weight of Hugh's eyes, he glanced up and caught an interesting look from his knight. The rogue almost looked as Aedan had all those years ago, caught between a desire to admire or believe, as if Fergus might have told the best tall tale ever and gotten away with it, or had just maybe really seen the softly rumoured leviathan. Fergus turned back to his plate with a smile.

After dinner, Bart took Hugh up on his offer to tour the armory and Fergus invited Lucy to join him in the small adjoining sitting room. Again Fergus chose to entertain his guests in the sitting room he kept for family use rather than the more formal parlor reserved for dignitaries and formal parties. The square room featured the same high, small windows as the dining room – none of the castle's rooms had terribly large windows, they had not been practical at the time the castle had been built. The sitting room had a much larger hearth and a small collection of comfortable furniture: two plush couches faced one another and at the end, two overstuffed chairs with a table in between. A low bookcase lined the wall beneath the windows and a bureau hugged the wall opposite the hearth. Set atop the polished wood surface stood a few bottles of liqueur and several glasses.

Gesturing the bottles, Fergus asked what she would like.

"Water if you have it," she answered and he complied before pouring a small measure of whiskey for himself.

"So, Fergus, about this leviathan," she started and he laughed.

"And here I thought you'd be asking me about the mushroom soup first."

Lucy chuckled and dropped her gaze. "No," she answered quietly. Looking up, she said, "I was happy to have an excuse to come back for another visit."

As he was already smiling quite widely, he could only nod happily at her response, so openly given. Had she been coy, he might have faltered. "You make a very polite guest," he noted. Then before he could think too hard on it, he continued with, "and quite the lovely one. You look very nice in your dress, Lucy. I meant to tell you earlier…"

Touching her hair lightly, checking the set of her combs with self conscious fingers, Lucy smiled. "Thank you," she said. "Quite the change from dirty breeches and tangled hair! I wasn't sure you'd recognise me."

"Well, I didn't at all, but I remembered Bart from the docks and guessed it must be you."

"Fergus!"

"Alright, I'll admit to that lie. But my story about the leviathan is true."

She studied him for a moment, then nodded. "Bart was very excited to meet you. He wanted to hear the story of our adventure over and over again, I was afraid he'd ask you to tell it as well!"

"I would have happily indulged him."

"I expected you would. You have a way with people, Fergus. It is little wonder all of Highever thinks so well of you."

"The affection is mutual," he said.

Gesturing the arrangement of couches and chairs, Fergus let her seat herself, hoping she would choose a couch and that she would sit to the side, so as to invite him to share her seat. She did. Improper behaviour, he realised, for a maiden and an unmarried man, but they were neither. They had both done this before and so the rules were relaxed somewhat. Sitting next to her, close, but not too close, Fergus leaned back into the soft cushions of the couch and settled comfortably.

As they were seated closer together than at dinner, he caught the familiar scent of her, fresh herbs, elfroot and something else, her soap, probably. The smell took him back to the caves and it seemed as though the sitting room faded around them and they were together in the dimly lit passages again, except comfortably seated, warm, and properly dressed.

"I came looking for you," he confessed into the quiet that had risen between them. "Last week. I walked the row of cliff side cottages, not knowing which one was yours."

"I came looking for you," she replied. At his quizzical expression, she clarified. "It was the same evening. I heard you were in the tavern and I walked all the way to the door."

"You never came inside."

"No."

"What stopped you?" He knew, and he saw the answer in her eyes as he recalled Patrick's words. Taking her hand he said, "Thank you for accepting my invitation, Lucy. I could think of no other way to visit with you, and not set tongues to wagging."

"Fergus, we could be…" she stopped and blushed. Clearing her throat softly, Lucy sipped at her water, before setting the cup on the table before them. "Well, I could hardly refuse an invitation from the Teyrn himself, though that might have been an excuse for you to visit my cottage."

Her soft chuckles died away as Fergus tried to restore his expression from the forlorn fall it had taken at her suggestion that she might have refused his invitation.

"I would have taken a no as a 'no', Lucy," he said hesitantly, realising what he alluded to, knowing it underscored this entire conversation.

"Then it is a good thing I accepted, otherwise you might have continued to lurk outside my cottage and I outside the tavern and the whole town might think us mad."

Fergus chuckled, encouraged by her words. Realising he still held her hand, he looked down at their curled fingers. "The whole town has seen me drink in the tavern, and sing, and many have heard my leviathan story. They have also met my brother, whose antics are far worse than mine..."

"You are not painting a very good picture, Fergus."

"I thought Travers had told you all tales of our wild youth?"

Lucy let go of his hand to cover her mouth as she laughed and he missed the warmth of her fingers immediately. Before he could recapture her hand, however, Hugh and Bart approached, their voices echoing loudly in the hall, Hugh's doing, no doubt, in case the 'couple' in the sitting room needed time to compose themselves. One look at Lucy's face confirmed she harbored the same suspicions and as their eyes met, Fergus became possessed of almost irresistible urge to kiss her. Her eyes widened and a pink flush crept across her cheeks and…

The moment passed, it had to. Fleeting regret whispered through Fergus, immediately followed by a warm sort of content. His want had been reflected in her eyes, he'd seen it, and for now, that would suffice. That Lucy had wanted him to kiss her was enough. Smiling, he leaned back and looked up at the door just as Hugh and Bart strolled in.

"Mum, you should see the armory! So many swords and daggers and shields, all matching!"

Fergus chuckled. He'd seen the Royal Armory, which put his small collection of arms to shame, but he did not spoil Bart's impression. Instead, he looked up to Hugh and asked, "Did you show him the bows as well?"

"I did, he took a liking to a particular one."

"Oh?" He had an idea he knew which one would appeal to the twelve year old boy. One of the smaller bows had a wave motif carved along the slender arms. It was a unique and attractive weapon and a good fit for a boy his size. "Maybe next time you visit, you can practice with the knights in the yard, give it a try?"

Bart looked immediately to his mother for permission and she nodded. "Perhaps I will bring my sword and ask the Teyrn for a match!"

Fergus turned to regard Lucy and noted the challenge in her eyes. A wistful pang tore through him and he attempted to speak and found he could not. He wanted to tell her that he'd welcome the match, would look forward to it, but all he could think of suddenly was his wife, Oriana, and her refusal to pick up a weapon. Lucy's expression faltered and Fergus knew if he did not force out the words, the moment would be ruined. Swallowing over the lump in his throat, he said somewhat hoarsely, "I will look forward to it," then reached for his whiskey, taking a large swallow to ease the sudden dryness of his throat.

Bart and Hugh sat and the four of them conversed lightly for a while before Lucy noted the lateness of the hour.

"Can we escort you home?"

"Thank you, yes," Lucy replied sensibly. Her cottage did not lie far from the castle, perhaps half an hour's walk, but night had fallen and the lane extending towards the cliff was not lit.

Hugh and Bart walked ahead and Fergus admired his knight's ability to fully engage a twelve year old. That the knight clung to bachelorhood did not surprise him, Hugh had enjoyed the company of more than one lady over the years, though he conducted his affairs discreetly. But at only thirty four years of age, he had time yet, should he decide to settle. Fergus had no doubt there were women in Highever who daydreamed of Hugh's roguish charm. It was little surprise he and Aedan had got along well.

As the knight and the boy pulled a little ahead, Fergus reached for Lucy's hand in the dark. They did not talk as they walked, both seemed content to listen to the chatter of their chaperones. Fergus was more than content to simply walk at her side, his fingers entwined with hers. When they arrived at the cottage, the one at the end, the one he had paused behind, pretending to admire the view, Bart cast a sly look at his mother and reached for Hugh's arm.

"Let me show you my bow before you go, Ser Hugh."

Hugh complied with out a backward glance.

Turning to Lucy, Fergus murmured, "I think our friendship has earned Bart's stamp of approval."

She smiled warmly, either at the thought her son had blessed her acquaintance with the Teyrn or at the thought their friendship might continue and grow and then the moment had come upon them again; they were alone and by the design of a twelve year old boy. Fergus knew if he did not kiss her now, he would be a fool. No nerves clenched his gut and no itch teased his hands, only the slight chill of the night air stirred past his skin, making the connection of their joined fingers more welcome. He leaned forward and she lifted her chin. Their lips touched and the contact was not brief. It was a first kiss, but not, as hesitancy fled and the maturity of two adults lent a sureness and certainty to their actions. Her lips were as warm and soft as they looked and Fergus kissed her properly, savoring the feel and taste of her. This time, when the moment passed and they drew back from one another, it was not with wistful regret, it was with wide smiles and looks of affection.

Happiness bloomed within the quiet teyrn and he squeezed her fingers gently. "I will see you in three days time," he said, confirming the agreed upon date for Bart's trial of the bow and their sparring match.

"Does the idea of me wielding a sword discomfort you, Fergus?" Lucy asked suddenly.

He understood the nature of her enquiry. Many men believed women should dedicate themselves to the more feminine arts. If he held such an opinion, she would want to know it now, before they moved forward, before they exchanged more than one lingering kiss.

"No, Lucy, it does not," he answered truthfully. "I think more women should learn the art of defense. Fathers, brothers…" he felt his brows drawing together and worked to settle his expression, "…and husbands are not always around to do the job," he finished quietly.

Lucy seemed to understand his meaning and she nodded soberly.

"Good night, Lucy."

"Good night, Fergus."

Hugh respected his silence during the walk back to the castle and Fergus mentally thanked him for it. He'd known, in a sense, that moving forward with Lucy would dredge up the past, memories, feelings, joys and sorrows. In as many ways as she was different from Oriana, there would be similarities as well. And Lucy would have her own memories, her own past. They would both need a certain strength of character to take their two separate stories and attempt to knit them together.

They reached the castle and Hugh turned towards the knights lodgings.

"Hugh?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you for this evening."

Smiling, the rogue gripped his arm fondly. "Take a deep breath, Fergus. 'Tis but the beginning, eh?"