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You can thank a last-minute NaNo charge for this chapter. And I did it! Thanks to Corin and Crew I got my 50,000 words in !
It took a few minutes to explain to Teagan that he was not, in fact, under arrest. Corin spread the contents of the folio out on his desk.
"Is this all of it, Eamon?"
"It is, Your Royal Highness. My word on it."
"Very well then, Eamon," Anora said smoothly. "We thank you. You and Teagan are free to go." The arl and the bann left and Anora dismissed the guards with thanks. She closed the door after them and turned back to Alistair and Corin. Corin scooped the letters back into the folio, and handed it to Alistair.
"Go ahead. Take them and read them. You've the right to."
Alistair took the folio and gave his Warden brother a challenging look. "And what if by accident these found their way into a fireplace somewhere?"
Corin's eyebrow lifted. "I don't think that ultimately it would make much of a difference. Everyone knows that Eamon, Anora and I recognize your claim. They think of you as Alistair Theirin. But if you feel you must…"
"No, that's all right. I won't burn them."
"I'm about to retire for the evening," the Crown Prince said with a meaningful look at Anora. "So why don't you take those with you?"
"What about that business about keeping them in Crown hands?"
"When you're done with them, get Fergus to put them in the Cousland vault for you. There's a small one in the suite. Either of you can bring them back in the morning."
"That works. A good evening to you, Your Majesty, Corin."
"Good night, Alistair," the Queen said with a smile that could almost be construed as friendly.
When Alistair had gone, Corin looked over at his wife-to-be and grinned. Cheeks slightly flushed, Anora said, "I assume we're to have that discussion about your…burgeoning…recovery now?"
"Burgeoning…now there's an appropriate term for it," Corin mused. "You do have a way with words, my queen." Noting her unease, his brow furrowed in concern. "Are you truly feeling well enough, Anora? We don't have to, if you're feeling tired or ill. Is it safe for the baby? I'm pretty sure that Fergus and Oriana did it when she was pregnant, but perhaps all ladies aren't the same."
"I feel well enough, Corin. And I will point out to you that if we didn't have a mage on hand we would not even know that I was pregnant yet. We'd merely be suspecting, and probably carrying on as usual."
The Crown Prince brightened. "There is that!" He moved around behind Anora and began to unpin her hair in that careful way of his. Feeling his warm fingers brushing her neck, the Queen shivered.
"This is one of my favorite parts, you know," he breathed beside her ear.
"We've done this once before and you've got favorite parts already?"
Gathering all the pins up in to one hand, Corin set them carefully on the bedside table. Then he undid her braids and combed through them gently with his fingers, burying his nose in the golden swathes at one point. Anora chuckled.
"Why do I think I could cut my hair, set it upon a mannequin, and you'd still have your perfect queen?"
Corin's hands slid between her body and arms and pulled her back against him. "Nonsense. My perfect queen has to have the brain under the golden hair." Those hands slid up to cup her breasts and Anora winced. Corin released them immediately.
"They're rather tender of late. From the baby, I expect."
"Oh. I'm sorry. Hands off, then."
"I think that you can still touch them. Just be very gentle."
"Speaking of vulnerabilities, I'm afraid you're going to have to help me with this quite a bit."
Corin's lips were tracing up and down the side of Anora's neck in a way that made it difficult to concentrate, but she managed to ask, "What are you talking about?"
"I'm not sure I'm up to much of the old pelvic thrusting at present. You're going to have to be on top."
She melted back against him. "I thought we were going to do that after we married. I remember you describing that to me once."
"Oh. Yes. In the sunlight, with your hair all around. I remember too. And I still intend to do that. I intend to do a lot of things with you, Anora," the last being said in that low growl that never failed to thrill her. In a more normal voice, he added, "But for now, the spirit is a lot more willing than the flesh is strong. Help me?"
"I would be happy to."
Disrobing was more workaday than it had been in their previous encounter, given that they were both in day clothes. Corin patiently dealt with all the fiddly fastenings at the back of Anora's gown and her wrists, then slid the confining garment off of her with gentle care. She in turn stripped his shirt and doublet, then unbuttoned his breeches and slid them down those strong, well-muscled legs, along with his stockings. Fortunately, he was wearing house shoes rather than boots and for all that he had complained about losing his muscle tone, she could not discern much damage as of yet. She spent a little time while she was down there stroking up and down the length of those well-shaped legs, which elicited a pleased murmur from her betrothed.
"Come up here," he commanded eventually. "You've still got too many clothes on." When she complied, he spent some time gently pulling her shift off of her shoulders, kissing and nibbling them and her neck. When her breasts were bared, he caressed them with just the lightest of feather touches, touches that caused Anora to gasp and her nipples to crinkle in response. "That's not too hard, is it?"
"No, that's very nice."
"Good. I'll remember that." Undoing her smalls, Corin slid them down to join the shift. Figuring that he could not bend to reach her stockings, Anora started to undo one of the garters, only to be stopped by his hand upon hers.
"Leave them on. You look hot that way." Blushing a little, she smiled at him from beneath her lashes and he grinned back.
"Time for bed." He was cautious, she noticed, about the way he got up onto the high mattress, and Anora clambered up rather inelegantly behind him, only to bounce once, puzzled, when she arrived.
"This feels different. Harder."
Corin was folding the coverlet back and settling back against his pillows. "I had to have it changed," he admitted. "That big, poufy feather tick was killing my back. So I used royal privilege and had them find a straw tick and a wool tick, with a thinner feather bed on top. And I made them put boards over the ropes. Does it bother you?"
Anora bounced a couple more times. "No. It's different, but rather nice. Definitely much more firm, but still soft enough. I think it will be fine."
"Good. I'm just going to lie back here and let you do what you want with me, if that's all right. I'll hold up my end as best I can, but like I said, I really need your help in this." He stretched his arms over his head in one of those gingerly stretches and then left them there when he relaxed. The sight of him, supine and vulnerable, caused a sudden flush of warmth in Anora's nether regions. The damnable boy seemed to know this somehow and chuckled.
"Like what you see?"
"Brat." Anora scooted to his side, reaching out to stroke Corin's chest a bit tentatively. Cailan had always taken the upper hand in their encounters. She did not know if he had given his other lovers this sort of control, but he never had with her, perhaps because he felt himself so dominated in the other parts of their relationship.
Given leave to do as she pleased, Anora bent over and suckled at one of Corin's nipples. He groaned.
Encouraged, she began to work upon both of them with tongue and lips and teeth until they peaked as much as they could, while her hands stroked his chest and taut stomach. One slipped lower and closed about his length, already beginning to firm and feeling much warmer than the rest of him. Corin bucked beneath her when she did so. Stroking him a few times, she then released him to explore that area more closely, caressing the oddly silky black fur upon his balls, then sliding two fingers back to trace behind them. That won her a gasp and another buck.
One of Corin's large, warm hands was now tracing gently over her back and sides and neck, brushing ever-so-carefully against her tender breasts. It was pleasant, but not overly distracting. Anora's hands roamed his body between knees and neck for a time, exploring every dip and crevice. She watched as he became fully erect and wondered if she dared…
Before she could lose her nerve, her head dipped and she took a swipe up the length of him with her tongue. The taste, though slightly musky, was not unpleasant, and Corin's shocked gasp was very satisfying.
"Oh, you wonder, you!"
She ventured a few more licks, and even sucked the tip into her mouth before she lost her nerve. Looking up, she saw that Corin's eyes had darkened to deep blue.
"That deserves a reward," he declared. "I know that you never wanted to do that. Come up here and straddle my head. Hold onto the headboard."
She did as he directed, suspected she knew what he had in mind and was beginning to clench at the very thought of it. It was a somewhat embarrassing position to be in, her thighs splayed to either side of Corin, knees sunk into the pillows, gripping the headboard for dear life. But then, most of sex was embarrassing and ridiculous as far as Anora was concerned. And suddenly, that didn't seem to matter, as his hands gripped her hips and brought her sex down to his lips.
His tongue swiped her end to end and she cried out, arching. And kept crying out as he sucked and probed and licked until the fire built in her belly as it had before. The sensation was almost too much to take, but there was no escaping the strong grasp of his hands no matter how she jerked and before long, Anora was keening as she climaxed.
"Sweet Lady, save us!" she gasped, hanging onto the headboard for a moment, until the stars left her vision. Corin chuckled.
"It's a good thing we both like that."
She lifted her leg and slid to the side, then down beside him on the bed. Seeing his face still wet with her juices, she tutted and pulled up the hem of the sheet to wipe it.
"You are entirely too full of yourself," she chided.
"One part of me, at least," he agreed with a plaintive look. "Do you think you could do something about that?"
She looked down at his erection, swollen and angry-looking, and nodded. Then moved to straddle him once more, lower down this time. An idea occurred to her then and rather than taking him into her immediately, she lowered herself until her wet crotch was pressing the length of him flat against his belly and began to move back and forth, rubbing against it.
Corin's body arched up against hers, he threw his head back and groaned. "Wicked, Anora!" But there was nothing but approval in his voice. When he began to relax once more, she decided that it was time, reached down and placed him at her entrance. Then she began to settle herself carefully down upon him.
She'd never done it in quite this way before. The change in position made things feel different-not unpleasant, just different. And the fact that she was the one who was determining how deep she should take him gave her confidence, in this endeavor where she usually had little. Anora leaned forward, grasping his hands and pressing them against the sheets, pushing back until he was well seated in her and began to move, slowly at first as she got the feel of things.
Her betrothed's eyes were closed, his brow furrowed with that look of intense, almost angry concentration he got while in the throes of passion. Anora's rocking became harder, faster and his fingers clenched almost painfully within hers. He was totally in her control and that realization sent a resurgence of heat through her.
You are mine now, not hers! She gave you up, but I never will! And if that means I have to learn every whore's trick in the book to keep you, then so be it! You belong to me!
She was actually slamming down now, but Corin did not seem to be pained by it. He was gasping and moaning. Suddenly he cried out and she felt the heat of his seed inside her. That brought her over the edge with him for a second time with a cry of her own.
Totally spent, she slumped down onto his chest with him still up inside of her. The sensation of still being connected was oddly pleasing. Dimly, she felt his hands pull the coverlets up over them both. Then they came to rest upon her back, stroking soothingly.
She cracked an eye open, to find a pair of sleepy blue ones looking fondly at her.
"I said it before and I'll say it again. Cailan was an idiot. You were marvelous." Corin yawned.
She was feeling marvelous, as it turned out, boneless and limp and totally at peace.
"You can tie me up sometime, if you'd like," her betrothed remarked.
"What?" The sense of peace vanished.
"I said, you can tie me up sometime, if you'd like. And don't tell me that you wouldn't." Corin's hands left her back to extend above his head once more, wrists crossed together as if bound. Anora felt her cheeks flush furiously, and an echo of earlier arousal ghosted through her.
"See what I mean?"
Dismayed at her response, she asked, "Is that…do normal people do that?"
"Of course they do. Normal people do all sorts of things. When all is said and done, sex is play-time for adults. I'd certainly like to tie you up. Only if you'd let me, of course." His hand came back down to pull her head down to his for a kiss.
"We've got time now, Anora. Time enough to try everything you want."
Alistair was not sure what he was expecting from the letters. Some sign of affection, some indication of regret that Alistair could not be more fully part of the family? But they were remarkably business-like, at least from Eamon's and Cailan's end. Maric's words expressed some concern, if it was only about the adequacy of Alistair's education. In the end, there was nothing for him within the letters, even as there had been nothing for him at Goldanna's house. Though the fact that she was not really his sister was the one bright spot in the whole business.
He read through all of the letters twice, just to make sure that the first reading had not been colored by overmuch expectation on his part, but a second perusal led to the same conclusion that the first one had. Slipping them back into the folio with a muted feeling of discontent, he went out into the sitting room to look for Fergus, but found the Teyrn in the library, reading, with a glass at his hand. He gave Alistair a smile.
"Alistair? What can I do for you?"
Alistair thrust the folio forward abruptly. "Corin said that there was a lockbox here in the suite, and asked if you'd secure this until tomorrow."
Fergus laid down his book and took the folio. "What is this, if I may ask?"
"Eamon's and Cailan's and Maric's letters about me. The proof about my Theirin blood. Corin and Anora made Eamon cough them up tonight."
Fergus' eyes widened slightly. "Oh. I see." He gestured over to the sideboard. "You know where the drinks are. Help yourself while I put this away." He left the room. Alistair poured himself a couple of fingers of Starkhaven whiskey, rather astonished that anything alcoholic was still available in a suite that housed Oghren. But Corin had made a point of keeping the dwarf well-supplied-and apparently had set some boundaries. It was possible to do that with Oghren if he respected you.
The Teyrn reappeared some minutes later and settled back into his former chair.
"Have a seat, if you like, Alistair. I don't mind. That book wasn't all that interesting."
Alistair pulled up another of the large, comfortable stuffed chairs. Fergus took up his own glass and turned it between callused, scarred, swordsman's fingers.
"From the look on your face, the letters weren't what you expected."
"Yes, and no. I guess I was hoping there would be some sign of affection, but I didn't really expect it. If that makes any sense."
"Perfect sense. You've been brought up your entire life to have no expectations, after all." Fergus took a sip of his whiskey. "Do you know what I admire most about you, Alistair?" He smiled at the young Warden's disbelieving look.
"I admire that, despite the fact that you've never been given a moment's consideration or true affection by any of the people responsible for your upbringing (and I do not consider how Eamon treated you affection), you are still capable of love. You're still willing to put your heart out there on the line. And that's special. A lot of people who'd gone through what you have wouldn't be able to do that." Another sip of the whiskey.
"Of course, the fact that you're a good enough warrior to kick Teyrn Loghain's ass doesn't hurt either."
A slight huff of pleased laughter escaped Alistair. "Corin told me once that he wished I'd been fostered at Highever with all of you Couslands. I wish I had been too. I envy what you had."
Fergus shrugged. "And if you had, you might have been dead with the rest of them." He started turning the glass once more. "I'm not looking forward to going back there, I must admit. Though I daresay Rikard is doing everything he can to tidy up before I get there."
"Would you like me to come with you? Is Corin coming?"
"I suspect he will, if I wait until he's well enough to travel. It's more than kind of you to offer. And you'd certainly be welcome too, if you've not got Warden things to attend to." He gave Alistair a direct look then. "It's at least in part due to you that I still have a brother, Alistair. And he's your Warden brother, which sort of makes me your…Warden brother-in-law? Something like that? Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, you're family. In case you hadn't figured that out already."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. It's how we Couslands do things."
Alistair spent a little more time with Fergus after that, chatting about the restoration that was going on, and what had been covered at the recent Council meetings. He'd felt remarkably at ease with Corin's older brother almost from the first. Though the dynamic between himself and Fergus was different from that between himself and Corin. Fergus, because of his greater years, had a bit more of an elder statesman thing happening, whereas Alistair and Corin met more as equals. But the teyrn was anything but stuffy, and there was an intelligence keen as Corin's beneath that scruffy exterior.
Upon leaving Fergus, Alistair found himself at a bit of loose ends. He wasn't tired enough to sleep yet, and he'd already checked and determined that Leli had gone off to the Chantry for some sort of evening devotional service involving music. He wandered the halls of the palace for a while, until the desire for some fresh air took him up on the battlements. It was a pleasant evening, though a bit chilly. The moon was well up and the stars shone clearly in the sky. He'd gone half way around when he saw a small, cloaked figure seated between the merlons, dangling feet over the edge.
As he had once before, he made his tread heavier, so as not to startle. Nerissa Surana's head swiveled around.
"Oh. Hi there, Warden Theirin."
"What happened to 'Hardbody', Mistress Death From Above?"
It was difficult to tell in the moonlight, but Alistair thought that she might actually be blushing.
"The First Enchanter happened. Gave me a big lecture upon upholding the dignity of my new rank. Actually, Irving's given me several lectures. So since he used to be my mentor and I'm actually rather fond of the Boss, I'm trying to do as he asked."
"That seems a shame. I think there are enough people overly worried about their dignity in Denerim already." He watched as she pushed away from the edge and rolled to her feet, a bit awkward in the voluminous robes and cloak. "By the way, what is it with you and dangling your feet over the edges of tall buildings? Have you got a death wish or something?"
"No. Heights don't bother me. I find it relaxing. The wind blows around my feet and I can close my eyes and pretend I'm flying. Weird, I know."
"Did you do that at Kinloch?"
"No. They don't let mages onto the roof at Kinloch. For obvious reasons."
"Because sometimes they want to jump off of it."
"Oh." Silence fell for a long moment. Nerissa Surana broke it, with an uncomfortable clearing of her throat.
"Warden Theirin, I owe you an apology."
"For what?" Alistair asked curiously. Yes, that was definitely a blush, discernable even by moonlight.
"When you were nice enough to look after me, after the battle…I seem to remember grabbing your ass at one point."
"You remember that? I'm astonished."
The little elf groaned. "So I did do it!"
"You didn't grab. You patted. It was very gentle. My ass survived the experience just fine."
"Even so…I am sorry."
"No apologies necessary. You were hardly yourself at the time."
"Irving said that was what you'd say. Thank you. Just so you know-I'm really not the Circle-slut you might think, given my behavior with you."
"You know-those mage-girls who like to notch their staffs for each of their conquests?"
Alistair suddenly found himself grinning, his earlier malaise dissipated. "But you have a new staff now, Nerissa. How would I know if the old one had notches or not?"
"Very funny, Warden Theirin!"
"Hey! Comrades-in-arms, remember? You insisted. It's Alistair."
"All right then. Alistair." In what was obviously an effort to both change the subject and make polite conversation, Nerissa asked, "So-how is your Wardening coming along?"
"My 'Wardening' is doing just fine. Speaking of which…I was wondering. How would you feel about working as a liason to the Wardens? I find myself missing Morrigan's firepower, though I'm glad I'll never have to admit it to her."
"You want me to…fight with the Wardens?"
"Are you going to invoke the Right of Conscription?"
"Why not? Aren't I good enough?" Her brows drew down and she scowled.
"You're more than good enough. But there are things about being a Warden that aren't so good, things I can't really discuss with anyone who isn't a Warden. Things I'd rather you never had to deal with. So no, I won't Conscript you unless you get Tainted while working with us. Which is a possibility, so you ought to consider it before you give me an answer. A Thaw Hunt is dangerous work. The idea is to kill as many of the straggler darkspawn before they can get back underground. So there are hopefully fewer to breed up for the next Blight."
"I don't have to think about it. I'm in."
"Nerissa, you really should take some time to consider…"
"No. I don't need to. I'm a battle-mage! It's what I do, what I trained my whole life to do. I've gotten exactly two opportunities in my life thus far to use my magic the way it was intended to be used. If I work with the Wardens, I'll get many more. And it beats Firestorming farmland all hollow, though I'll admit that has to be done. But it can be done by the Primals who don't have the balls to work their spells in battle, and we do have a few of those. I'm your girl, Hardbody!"
"All right then. How do we go about this?"
"You need to talk to Irving, of course, get custody of me officially handed over to the Wardens. Which, by the way, makes your Order responsible if I suddenly turn into an abomination and wreak havoc over the countryside."
"Were you planning on turning into an abomination?"
Nerissa snorted. "As if! Demons are so tacky!"
"Very well then. I'll make an appointment with Irving tomorrow."
"Why not tonight? It's not that late and Boss is an old guy and doesn't sleep much anyway."
"If you're sure-I don't want to offend him and maybe lose the chance of getting you."
"And I don't want to lose it either! Let's go!" She grabbed his elbow and tugged him towards the stairs.
The mages had been assigned a couple of adjoining suites belonging to nobles who'd perished in the Blight. Extra beds had been brought in, but even so it was still more luxurious than the living conditions in the Tower. None of the normal folk were complaining, however-the healers, in particular, had been greatly appreciated. There were too many families now who owed a relative's life to the ministrations of a mage.
Templars were stationed upon the entrances to the suites, and among the rooms where the apprentices, journeymen and Enchanters were staying. Kinloch had been emptied to answer Ferelden's need. Only a few mages too old to travel and the recalcitrant Anders had been left behind.
"The Warden-Commander of Ferelden to see the First Enchanter," Nerissa declared as they approached, and the Templar sentries saluted and let them pass.
"Warden," they intoned respectfully, inclining their heads.
Nerissa led Alistair through a sitting room to another door, and knocked upon it.
"Boss, you in?"
"Yes, Nerissa, of course," came Irving's placid voice from the other side of the door. Nerissa pushed it open.
The room had obviously been the suite's library. The original books were still all there, as well as a couple of tables that held those magical additions the First Enchanter had deemed useful enough to risk bringing along. He was seated at his desk with tea to hand. Sharing said tea was Knight-Commander Greagoir.
"Well, shit!" Nerissa Surana said.
What followed was one of the more frustrating half hours of Alistair's life. He began to finally, fully understand the extent of the captivity even mages of higher rank endured. While Irving seemed willing enough to release Nerissa, agreeing that what Alistair proposed was probably the best use of her talents, Gregoir resisted, coming up with one objection after the other.
"Surana has always been too powerful, too uncontrolled!"
"I am not uncontrolled!" Nerissa protested. "My spells go just where I want them to!"
"I was referring to emotional control, which you have given ample proof of a lack of over the years," sniffed the Templar commander. "I agreed to let you elevate her, Irving, because I couldn't argue that she met the magical criteria to be Senior Enchanter. But I have serious doubts about her mental stability, and I won't be responsible for letting her lose to gallivant all over the countryside, blowing up things hither and yon!"
"Nerissa is either a Senior Enchanter, with the rights and responsibilities of that rank, or she is not, Gregoir," Irving said mildly, though there was a look in his eye that might have denoted irritation. "You agreed to her elevation, so it's a bit late to be coming up with gradations of rank and privilege in an effort to control her after the fact."
"The disposition of any mage, regardless of rank, is the right of the Knight-Commander."
"Look, Knight-Commander, I'd only be blowing the things up that Warden Theirin wanted blown up," Nerissa growled. "I'd be blowing up darkspawn! Surely you don't have a problem with that! And the darkspawn might kill me, which possibility must be appealing to you!"
"Appealing though it may be, I have a responsibility to the people of Thedas to uphold," Gregoir intoned sanctimoniously. "And that responsibility precludes letting you run amok as you would like."
"The Senior Enchanter would be under my direct supervision," Alistair noted, keeping a firm rein on his temper.
"You're a Warden!" scoffed Gregoir. "I don't that doubt you're a man of rare ability, Warden-Commander Theirin, but fighting darkspawn and controlling mages are two different things."
"I don't know if you're aware of it or not, Knight-Commander, but I had Templar training before I became a Warden."
"Having some of the training does not qualify you to have charge of such a dangerous mage as Surana."
"All of the training, Knight-Commander. I was about to take final vows when I was conscripted. And I am not unfamiliar with combating hostile mages."
Gregoir's eyes narrowed. "You were not among the companions the Prince took into the Tower."
"No, I wasn't. I was referring to emissaries. Darkspawn mages."
"Such creatures could not possibly be as puissant as a trained Circle mage."
"You'd be surprised."
"Even so, Surana is an exceptionally powerful mage. Without lyrium, there would be no way you could control her."
Alistair's temper snapped, for he could tell that the Knight-Commander was prepared to be obstructionist until his opponent was worn down by weariness, if the superiority of the Templar's arguments did not suffice.
"First Enchanter, Senior Enchanter, I apologize in advance."
Whereupon Alistair did what he'd wanted to do since Gregoir started in with his objections. Had wanted to do, now that he reflected upon it, since Kinloch. Getting to his feet, he gathered all of his strength. The blue aura flared as he nullified all of the magic in the immediate area, then lashed out at the Knight-Commander with the strongest Holy Smite he could manage.
Nerissa dropped to the floor with a muted cry. Irving fell forward, almost into his teacup. The Knight-Commander fell backward in his chair with a very satisfying thud. Silence fell over the room, broken only by the soft moans of the mages. Alistair looked down at Gregoir with a lifted brow. He'd just taken down two of Ferelden's most powerful mages without even breaking a sweat.
"I told you that I could handle Surana, Knight-Commander. Perhaps now you believe me?"