Chapter 22

Authors Note: It took almost a year, but it has finally happened; my muse for my M!Hawke/Merrill story, Dragon's Rage, has finally started to return. It should be out not long after this.

Also, there is a Harry Potter reference in this chapter, and if you don't spot it immediately and scream "Plagiarism", than you are sad and I will not speak with you again until you have gone back and read all seven books.

oo-00-oo

Fergus Cousland sat stiffly in his carriage, arms and legs crossed together, scowling and nearly hyperventilating with rage. He could not believe his ears the first time he had heard it; it was completely inconceivable to him. There was simply no way he could fathom that his own brother would, upon finding another member of the traitorous Howe family, would not only allow him to live, but to grant him a place by his side in the Grey Wardens, to welcome him as though he were a friend or a guest of honor? What in the Maker's name was wrong with him!

Think back on the past few days, Fergus realized that this news could not have possibly been given to him at a worse time in terms of him being in a good mood. Only a few days before, one of his knights had uncovered evidence of the Chantry's involvement in Howe's coup on his family at the start of the Blight. The Revered Mother had accepted Rendon's blood money and declared him the rightful ruler of Highever, and later had ordered her Templars to help uncover and crush several rebellions against Howe's rule to reinstate the Cousland line. Long story made short, she and her lieutenants had been partaking in Rendon's atrocities hand and fist. He had every intention of executing them as soon as possible, but then this news had broken and he felt it far more pressing an issue.

His dark thoughts were interrupted by a high-pitched whine, followed by a wet nudge on his knee. Broken out of his stupor, Fergus looked down, searching for the offender; Gleadr, his brother's mabari hound who he had ordered to remain in Highever with him. In his confusion and anger over Matthew's newest choice, he had forgotten the dog, but the instant he mentioned that he was going to find his brother within earshot of the mabari, he had immediately bounded up and jumped in the carriage, almost knocking Fergus over in the process.

Now, Gleadr was sitting upright, staring at him with his head cocked to the side, eyes boring into his with human-like intelligence and inquisitiveness.

"Don't worry," Fergus said, uncrossing his arms to scratch the mabari behind the ears. He did his best to smile and appear nonchalant. "We'll be seeing your human soon enough."

Gleadr wasn't fooled, though; the hound narrowed his eyes and huffed in irritation, shaking his head around to drive off the Teyrn's fingers. Sighing, he leaned back, looked at the irritatingly intelligent hound, and softly said, "No, I'm not happy with him right now. I am quite angry with him, actually." Hearing a low growling, he lifted his hands in mock surrender. "Well, if you heard what he was doing, you wouldn't be happy with him either!"

With that, Gleadr gave a massive huff of annoyance and indignation, and turned his back on the Teryn, lying down on the floor of carriage. Fergus rolled his eyes and threw up his hands in frustration.

Not even the DOG is on my side here, He thought.

"My lord!"

Fergus was jolted out of his thoughts at the sound of one of his knights calling out to him. Leaning out toward the window, he answered with, "Yes, ser knight?"

"We've arrived at Vigil's Keep, my lord."

Nodding, Fergus leaned back into his seat, frowning, and impatient to get out and find out just what in the Void his little brother was thinking. As his carriage went passed, he was quickly inundated with the sounds of the people within the fortress; soldiers hurrying by with their officers barking orders, small children laughing as played in the breaks from their choirs, a handful of merchants hawking their wares.

Finally, the carriage began to turn, curve to the right, and then finally came to a stop. Immediately, he stood up as high as the carriage roof would allow him to, and swung open the door so fast he nearly sent the servant trying to do the same thing flat on his back. Too agitated to apologize, or even notice, Fergus dropped onto the ground, and immediately began marching up the stone stairs, his guards hurrying to try and catch up. Out of the corner of his vision, he could see the commoners, soldiers, and the staff of the castle recover from the shock on his sudden arrival, and hastily kneeling before him. He ignored them as well.

Fergus quickly made his way through the maze of corridors towards the throne room of Vigil's Keep. He was already well versed in the fortress's layout, the result of numerous trips here with his father as a child. Those were happier times, when the Couslands could still call the Howe's friends. Not for the first time, the Teryn was struck by just how much damage a single man could inflict, and not just to him personally…

After a few minutes of speeding through the castle halls as though he was floating above the ground with wings on his ankles, Fergus finally reached the doors leading to the throne room. Bursting them open, he stormed inside, expecting to find his brother on the throne. What he saw instead were two men in armor and a grey-haired woman having a rather heated discussion, which they cut off upon seeing him enter, and the dwarf that had accompanied Matthew during the Blight slumped against a nearby cask of ale in a drunken stupor.

Taken aback by the loudly snoring dwarven warrior, Fergus came to halt and stared at the strange sight long enough for the older of the two armored men to approach him, and bowed in greeting.

"My lord, Cousland," the man said. "I am Varel, Seneschal of Vigil's Keep. I apologize for not arranging a proper greeting for you; we were not expecting your arrival."

"I… apologize, Seneschal," Fergus replied, now feeling somewhat embarrassed for barging in completely unannounced. "A… sensitive matter has come up, and I need to speak with my brother about it immediately. Please bring him here immediately."

"I'm afraid I can't, Teryn," Varel replied slowly. "Your brother has been… well… incapacitated."

"Incapacitated?" Fergus repeated. "What do you mean? What has happened?" Panic began welling up inside of him; he had been angry with Matthew, yes, but the thought of his brother being injured or- NO! He squelched that line of thought before it could go on; the consequences were too much to even consider.

"He is in no real danger, my Lord," Varel quickly said. Intertwining his fingers, his lips pressed into a thin line before he continued. "Your brother's situation is… very strange." Looking up at the Teryn apologetically, he said, "I think it would be best if the Arl explained it to you himself."

"Then take me to him. Now!" Fergus nearly shouted. Varel bowed his head, and began leading the Teryn through the halls to the last place he had seen the Commander.

oo-00-oo

Matthew sat in a chair on a small balcony, the sole vanity in the otherwise totally practical Vigil's Keep, that was just across the hall from his and Morrigan's chambers. Cradled in his arms was his newborn son, barely a day old now, wrapped in thick white blankets. He was sleeping sounding, one tiny thumb in his mouth, gently sucking on the appendage as he slumbered. Matthew smiled gently; the babe had just had his first feeding and burping. Morrigan had gone back to sleep almost immediately afterwards, still exhausted by from having just given birth. Matthew, though, was in much better shape; now that the immense pain from the process was no longer being bombarded on him through the ring link, he was recovering from the event much more quickly than his wife.

That said, he still did not feel he was quite ready to go back in the field and fight the darkspawn, so, for the first time in his brief career as Warden Commander, he had been forced to send his followers out on a mission without going himself. A few hours ago, a minor noble of the Arling had arrived at the Keep, telling Matthew that a group of thugs had kidnapped his daughter and were holding her ransom at an old, run-down Chantry for 30 sovereigns, a sum he could not afford, having spent the majority of his funds trying to defend his holdings. So, Matthew had given Nathaniel a sack of 30 sovereigns, outlaid a plan for the group he had chosen to go out with him, which included Sigrun, Anders, and Velanna, and sent them on their way. Given the distance between the Vigil and the site the hostage takers expected to meet, though, he wasn't expecting the group to return until the next day.

He was taken out of his thoughts at the sound three sets of footsteps approaching, two armored and slow and one soft, padded, and quick. Sighing and rolling his eyes, Matthew growled, "Seneschal Varel, I thought I said to leave my wife and I be."

"It's me, brother."

The Warden sat up ramrod straight, utterly shocked by the unexpected voice he was now hearing. Turning his head, and leaning around the back of the chair to get a better look, he saw Seneschal Varel standing beside his mabari, Gleadr and his brother, Fergus.

An enormous grin split across his face. "Fergus! What are you doing here? Come, sit down," he called out, gesturing to the chair beside him. With a small smile, Varel bowed, and turned to leave as Fergus and Gleadr began walking to the balcony. Well, Fergus walked; Gleadr was bounding toward Matthew.

"Wow, wow," Matthew half-shouted, holding up his hand to gesture for the dog to slow down; he was afraid, and not unreasonably so, that Gleadr would try and jump on top of him, and his newborn son! Granted, his child had the soul of an Old God, and logically would be more durable than the average newborn, but he was not willing to put that theory to the test.

Fortunately, Gleadr listened, and brought himself to a halt at the side of his chair, panting happily and twitching with excitement. Extracting his left arm out from under his son, Matthew reached out, and began scratching the mabari behind his ears, who began wagging his small tail so fast it appeared blurred.

"It's good to see you, boy. Both of you," he added, as Fergus began approaching behind the excited dog. "Speaking of which, brother, I have a surprise for you."

"Oh really? And what would that be?" Fergus said, a small grin splitting his features. It lifted Matthew's spirits to see it; he had been forced to focus the majority of his energy on the darkspawn threat, but throughout the last few months he had been worried for his older brother, given all the loss he had gone through.

Returning his brother's smile, he stood up, and finally brought the bundle he was holding into full view. Fergus's face went from his slightly amused grin to one of total shock and wonder. His smile widening, Matthew announced, "Brother, say hello to your nephew; Bryce Oren Cousland."

At his words, Fergus's eye's bugged out even wider, and his gaze immediately darted to the baby, and back to Matthew's again, his expression unreadable. The Warden suddenly felt his stomach fall out; he hadn't considered how Fergus would react to him naming his newborn after his nephew, who had been killed during Renden Howe's coup at Highever Castle. Immediately, he started backpedaling. "Is that alright? It… just seemed… I'm sorry I didn't bring it up you, brother, I just-"

"No," Fergus whispered; he sounded as though he had just had the wind knocked out of him. "No, Matthew, I'm not upset, you just… took me by surprise, that's all."

Despite his brother's reassurance, Matthew still felt extremely guilty about his choice. Though he had done his best to hide it and focus on rebuilding his Terynier, it was obvious that Fergus was still in agony over the loss of his wife and son. And Matthew himself was terrified of the same happening to him and his own family. During the Blight, the mere thought of loosing Morrigan had been more than enough to keep him up long into the night. He had known his son for less than a day, and already the thought of losing him was intolerable. To have them both killed at once… he shuddered inwardly. He could not imagine living through that. Immediately, the Warden's respect for his brother soared.

"May I hold him?"

The simple question jolted Matthew out of his thoughts, and back to reality. Grateful that their conversation had shifted back to more pleasant territory, he smiled slightly, and answered, "Only if you swear on everything you own that you will support his head and neck properly. I practically had to sign a binding contract before Morrigan would let me lay more than a finger on him."

That got a chuckle out of Fergus, and Matthew handed little Bryce over to his uncle, carefully. Making sure he was holding the babe properly, Fergus took a small step back, bouncing the bundle in his arms slightly as he did so. Bryce, though, remained asleep, his thumb falling out of his mouth and down to his chest. Reaching over, Matthew tucked the tiny, bright red appendage back under the blanket he was wrapped in.

"He's pretty heavy," Fergus commented, testing his nephew's weight.

"Yes," Matthew groaned, his mind going back to the night before. "An even eight pounds, the little…"

As the Warden began muttering obscenities at his spawn, Fergus turned his attention back to his nephew. Reaching over with his offhand, he began stroking the infant's checks and chin. As he touched Bryce's nose, though, the baby's face began to twitch. He took a hitched breath, and let out an adorable little sneeze that managed to shake him awake. Blinking in surprise, the infant finally focused his gaze on his uncle, who was transfixed by the newborn.

Sensing that his brother was standing right next to him, Fergus turned and, with a small smile, said, "He's your spitting image, brother."

"He is," Matthew answered, pride evident in his voice. "Except his eyes. He has his mother's eyes."

Looking back down at his nephew, Fergus took a closer look and, to his amazement, he saw that, indeed, behind the grey film that covered the eyes of newborns, was his mother's yellow, wolf-like eyes.

"I've never seen anyone with yellow eyes until you introduced me to your wife, brother," Fergus said, bringing up a subject that had been at the back of his mind for some time. "I had assumed that it had something to do with her being a mage, but seeing that they have been passed on to your son, it is obviously more than that."

Matthew simply shrugged. "I'm afraid I don't have any answers to that either. Perhaps it is a rare trait that has been bred out of humans over the centuries. Maybe it is unique to the people of the Korkari Wilds. There is any number of possibilities."

Accepting Matthew's thoughts on the matter, Fergus was about to go back to looking at his now awake nephew, when he remembered what the Seneschal had said before Fergus had forced him to lead him to his brother in the first place. Turning his gaze back to his brother, he said, "Matthew, when I first got here, your Seneschal said that you were out of commission. What happened?"

"He happened," Matthew responded with venom, pointing at Byrce, who began to reach out to grab at his father's finger. "You remember what I told you about the rings Morrigan and I wear? About how we can share thoughts and feelings over a long distance?" When Fergus nodded he continued. "Well, apparently, we can share something else; labor pains."

Fergus winced, but then appeared confused. "So," he asked, "Why didn't you simply take the ring off?"

Narrowing his eyes, Matthew said, "Why, so I can hear 'you have no idea how painful childbirth is' for the rest of my days? No thank you."

Fergus had to snort at his brother's stubbornness. "So," he asked, deciding to drag this out even further. "What is it like to give birth?"

Matthew paused, thinking of a way to properly answer his brother's question, during which Bryce managed to get a hold of his finger, and trying to bring it down to his mouth.

"Well," the Warden finally answered, "Let me put it this way; do you know what it is like to be in physical agony?"

Cocking an eyebrown, the Teryn said, "I think I have a pretty good idea, yes."

"No you don't."

The two stood still for a moment, letting Matthew's simple statement hang in the air as he stared into Fergus's eyes, daring him to challenge what he said. Eventually, Matthew shifted his arm uncomfortably, and asked, "Fergus, could you please give me my son back? I don't think he is going to let go of me anytime soon, and holding my arm out like this is most unpleasant."

Chuckling, Fergus did as he was requested, though somewhat reluctantly if the slight hesitation in his hands was to be believed. Taking Bryce back into his arms, Matthew began trying to tug his finger out of the baby's mouth, but the infant stubbornly refused to release him, tugging the finger back into his mouth with surprising strength given his small size. Finally, Matthew simply gave up, and walked back over to his chair, letting his son gum on his finger. He resolved to get Bryce out of this habit as soon as possible; he did not want him doing this when he started getting his teeth.

Looking up, he saw Fergus sit in the chair opposite him, wistfully looking at the two. The Warden felt his gut twist again at the thought of his brother's loss. He wished that he could go back in time and make Rendon Howe suffer even more for what he had done to his brother. Of course, if he could go back in time, he supposed he should just go farther back and warn his family of Howe's betrayal and prevent the attack altogether.

Deciding to steer the conversation so as to get his brother's mind away from the subject, Matthew asked, "So, Fergus, what brings you out to Vigil's Keep? I am certainly glad to see you, but I don't think you would up and leave Highever in the state it is in just to drop by and say hello to Morrigan and I."

All traces of good humor immediately vanished from Fergus's face, and he slumped back in the chair, and stared into the distance, hands folded on his lap. Finally, he turned his gaze back to Matthew, and whispered, "It's the Chantry."

"Of course it is," Matthew said, rolling his eyes. "Have the self-righteous hypocrites tried assassinating you, too?"

"No, but they did-" Fergus began, before his eyes bulged and he spluttered out, "Wait, what you mean by 'you, too'!"

"Oh, did I forget to mention that?" Matthew asked mockingly. "The Revered Mother of the Amaranthine Chantry tried to have me murdered. She sent out a group of her best Templars to ambush my Wardens and I."

"And," Fergus exclaimed, waving his hands for his brother to elaborate.

He shrugged and simply said, "And I ambushed them instead."

Fergus cocked an eyebrow. "That's it?"

"Yes," Matthew said. "For the Templars, at least. After I was finished with them, I went to the city, arrested the Revered Mother and her accomplices, which included all the 'holy' mothers save one, dragged them back to the Keep and threw them in the dungeon. Anyway," he finally finished his small diatribe, "What exactly did you catch them red-handed at?"

Fergus leaned back in his seat, exhaling loudly. Slowly, he began to explain what he had discovered about the Highever Chantry, and his own purge thereof. Throughout his brother's explanation, he continually kicked himself for not spotting this sooner. He was the resident Chantry-hater of the Cousland family, after all. How could he have let this slip past him? It should have been plain as day! Granted, like Fergus, he had been focused on rebuilding Highever, specifically its military, but still…

Once his brother had finally finished his story, Matthew pinched the bridge of his nose and said, "You know, Fergus, I didn't think it was possible, but I respect the Chantry even less."

"You mean, even lower than they were after some of its members attempted to have you murdered?" Fergus asked, a slight smirk on his face.

"Yes, actually," Matthew replied, though there was no trace of humor in his voice. Looking down, he noticed that Byrce had gone to sleep again, and finally took his finger out of the baby's mouth. Lifting his head back up to meet his brother's gaze, he said, "I wasn't going to go through with my original plan to deal with those traitors; much as I hate to admit it, it seemed like an overreaction. But this seals the deal."

"What were you planning?" Fergus asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion.

Smirking, Matthew began laying out his plan. By the time he was done, Fergus was staring at him, eyes wide and mouth open in utter shock at the unabashed ambition of his younger brother's plan. Finally, after Matthew had laid out what he intended to do, the Teryn leaned back in his chair, and said, "You really intend to go through with this?"

"Of course," Matthew answered without hesitation. "The Chantry has been doing things that are undeniably evil and completely against the code they have supposedly sworn their lives to. And those actions are bringing Fereldan and what is left of our family line, otherwise known as just us, to harm. They cannot be allowed to continue their free roam as they clearly cannot be trusted with it. Even if my plan doesn't work as I plan, it will certainly shake them out of their delusion that we will simply lie down and ignore it all."

"But still," Fergus said, frowning with worry. "This scheme of yours, no matter how righteous and well-intentioned, has very little chance of succeeding in either the immediate or distant future."

Cocking an eyebrow, Matthew answered, "You are talking to the man who lead a small group to topple the Fifth Blight. Don't tell me something can't be done, brother."

Fergus sighed and shook his head, trying to come up with some king of reason that his little brother's idea could possibly end without him ending up hanged for heresy. Before he could think of anything, though, he suddenly had nails driven into his eardrums.

"NO!" Matilda's unnaturally loud and enraged voice came roaring out the Arl's chamber. "ABSOLUTELY NOT! THAT IS OUT OF THE QUESTION ENTIRELY! IT IS COMPLETELY UNNATURAL!"

"DO NOT SPEAK OF THINGS YOU HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF, HAG," was Morrigan's equally ear-splitting response. "EVERY FEMALE THAT HAS LIVE BIRTHS DOES EXACTLY THE SAME THING! THERE ARE FEW THINGS THAT ARE MORE NATURAL THAN THIS!"

"THAT IS IT! I am dragging your husband in here, and having HIM straighten you out!"

The Commander immediately whipped his neck to the side, and, nearly panicking, shouted, "Whatever it is you two are arguing about, I WANT NO PART IN IT!"

His instinctive yelling, though, only meant he had shot himself in the foot; his screaming had awoken Byrce, who immediately began wailing in displeasure at the noise and added to the crescendo with his shrieks.

And so, as the Warden desperately tried to calm down his upset newborn son, while Morrigan and her midwife continued to shriek at each other and were becoming more and more incomprehensible with each passing moment, Fergus leaned back and let the sounds of domestic bliss wash over him.

I didn't remember how much I missed this, the Teryn thought with a small smile on his face.