Cedwyn was writing in her journal again that evening, Alistair noticed. Though "journal" was perhaps a generous term for the vellum pages she'd folded and cut smaller, than used needle and thread borrowed from the bard to sew into a crude book. But she certainly used it as such, faithfully adding entries every evening with ink Morrigan had brewed for her from oak galls and quills from a goose she'd shot for dinner herself.
"What do you write in there?" Alistair asked her. They'd been partners for four months now and he figured he could ask a personal question. Cedwyn's weird, white-blue eyes had narrowed, crinkling, and she gave him an inquiring look in return.
"Haven't you ever kept a diary, Alistair?"
"No, never. Why do you do it?"
"It helps to clarify my thoughts."
"Well there you go now. That explains why I wasn't encouraged in my youth to keep a journal. The Chantry's not really much on clear thought, is it?" His fellow Warden's rare smile manifested briefly, leaving as quickly as it had come, faint as a fairy seen from the corner of one's eye.
"When I read back over where we've been, I see things I could do better the next time," she obligingly explained. "And sometimes I get ideas about what our future road should be. Besides, it's just nice to talk to someone. Even if that someone's only me." Then her eyebrow lifted and she made a point of returning to her writing. The conversation was over.
You could talk to me, Alistair thought, though he did not say any such thing aloud. Taking the hint, he went off to find more firewood, pondering as he gathered branches. He was beginning to think he'd like to be more than just another comrade-in-arms to his fellow Warden, a disturbing feeling for someone raised chaste in the Chantry.
Cedwyn was hardly what one would consider beautiful, with a raw-boned frame, a nose that was slightly too big and fine white-blonde hair that flew every which way like dandelion fluff, despite Leliana's periodic attempts to tame it. And Cedwyn herself seemed truly oblivious and uncaring as to any charms she might possess. But Alistair liked her face and found her graceful movements to have a luring quality in and off themselves.
More importantly, he trusted her. There was steely integrity there, you could sense it and that was what was most attractive to Alistair, who still found himself chary of relationships after Eamon's early betrayal. He couldn't fault any of the decisions she'd made since taking command, particularly her actions at Redcliffe, where she'd made every effort to save the Arl's family despite her dislike of Arlessa Isolde.
More and more often lately he found himself wishing that he could see Cedwyn really smile, could hear her actually laugh, even if she brayed like a donkey doing so. He wanted to soothe that well of sorrow that lurked beneath the cool surface in any way he could. Was that love? He wasn't sure, though he thought it might be the beginning of the feeling. But how to go about doing anything about it was beyond him.
It wasn't her fault, really. Cedwyn was certainly approachable within limits, though admirably focused on the task at hand. She'd listened with seemingly endless patience to every one of her oddly assorted fellows' troubles, particularly Alistair's mourning of Duncan and the other Wardens. Alistair had been well aware the whole time that he'd been whining, but couldn't seem to stop himself. Then they'd gone to Redcliffe.
There he had revealed his parentage and Bann Teagan had inadvertently revealed hers. Cedwyn was the Teyrn of Highever's daughter, once one of the premier ladies of the kingdom, now sole survivor of the brutal massacre at Highever, her father branded a traitor posthumously.
She never spoke of her own past, even after the Redliffe revelation. Any attempt on Leliana's or Zevran's part to get her to open up was totally rebuffed. She seemed to prefer to deal with her losses by repressing them. She never laughed. She didn't make jokes either, though a certain gleam in those icy eyes and twitch of the lips showed that she appreciated them when she heard them. Her overall demeanor was mild-she didn't scream battle cries in combat; in fact, she didn't seem to get upset about anything much. That eerie calm was possibly unhealthy and due to suppressed grief, but it certainly made for an agreeable, even-handed sort of commander.
When Alistair had dumped the responsibility for things on her at Lothering, she'd simply stared at him for a moment and asked, "Are you formally surrendering command to me, Senior Warden?" He'd nodded, she'd sighed softly, said, "Very well, then," and the matter was never mentioned again. From that point on, she was in charge and Alistair had been treated as just another party member, his opinion solicited with the exact same gravity as she'd used with everyone else. Only during times when his marginally greater knowledge of Grey Warden lore was more than her own did she treat him any differently.
There's where I messed it up, right there in Lothering, he decided. If I'd just been the man and done my job, she might have come to rely upon me and trust me enough to confide in me. But no, I dumped everything on her instead and became just another of her problems.
Hindsight was unhelpfully acute. The question was, what to do about courting her now? He decided to go to the party's resident expert upon love, Leliana.
"Well it would help if you didn't ask women about their femaleness," Leliana pointed out, when he'd opened the conversation by asking her if she were a woman. When he'd groaned in despair, she'd relented. "It is true, you are awkward. But it is also endearing. Just be yourself, Alistair. Surely you can do that?"
"But I don't know how to go about the ritual of courtship at all, Leliana. It's not exactly something they covered in Chantry training."
"Perhaps you should give her a small gift," the bard suggested. "Something to let her know that you are interested. Something you think that she would like. Many women like flowers or sweets or jewels, but we can't afford jewels and that's not appropriate at this stage of things in any event. And I don't know if Cedwyn likes flowers or sweets. She's not very…girly, when all is said and done." The bard's nose wrinkled as she reflected upon the heroic battle she'd waged to make Cedwyn let Leliana cut her hair, rather than randomly hacking it off with a knife herself.
"You know her better than any of us, Alistair. You know her interests. Find her a gift that reflects that."
He found it in the marketplace the very next time they were in Denerim. Wonders of Thedas had a selection of blank books on display. There was one in fine blue leather with silver waves tooled on the cover. The armor he'd first met her in had been blue and silver, something to do with her family's heraldry, he suspected. And the waves could stand for Highever. Flipping through the pages and pages of creamy white, blank parchment, he smiled. Cedwyn was down to the last page of her makeshift book and her entries were being written in smaller and smaller script. Always conscious of the party's small budget and generous in sharing the spoils out to everyone but herself, she would never buy a new journal on her own. This would be the perfect gift.
It took every bit of his share of the money, but it was worth it. He slid it into his pack, next to the handkerchief-wrapped bundle that was his other present.
Maybe I can put both the gifts together!
"I have something for you," Alistair said when they were a little way from camp, after asking Cedwyn to accompany him on a walk after dinner. She had gotten to her feet at once, her expression polite but reserved and he had wondered if she were anticipating another session of whining. Not that. Never again.
He presented the book to her, wrapped in a piece of cloth. She unfolded the cloth and took in a breath, running sword-calloused fingertips lightly over the cover. "Alistair, this is beautiful. What is it?"
Cedwyn opened the cover and began thumbing through the blank pages.
"You were running out of pages, so I got you some more."
Her wolf-blue eyes blinked quickly a couple of times. "That is so thoughtful of you, Alistair! I'll be sure to write small and make it last! Thank you!"
"Well, we can't have our leader not at her strategic best, now can we?" he said heartily, all the while thinking, Is she even going to find it?
About that time, Cedwyn noticed the lump in the center of the book, turned to it and found the dried-up rose.
"A rose?" Alistair offered. "I found it in Lothering."
"You're giving me a flower?" Cedwyn asked in disbelief. Taken aback by her reaction, Alistair said nothing. Eyes narrowed, her next question was, "Exactly where did you find this flower?" Her manner had moved from grateful to inquisitorial in the space of moments.
"Uh, in the Chantry garden. Does it matter? I figured the darkspawn were just going to ruin everything and it was so beautiful that it seemed a shame."
"It wouldn't have happened to be on a gnarled old rose bush that looked almost dead, would it?"
"As a matter of fact, it was. How did you know?" His fellow Warden suddenly had the oddest look on her face, her lips pursed as if she had swallowed pickle juice. "Cedwyn, is something wrong?"
Cedwyn slapped the book shut on the rose, dropped onto a nearby boulder and made the oddest sort of choked whooping noise. There was a second one, then the noises transmuted suddenly into laughter; gorgeous, melodic, glorious laughter that went on until tears were pouring down her cheeks. Alistair was uncertain whether to be pleased or offended.
"Oh, Maker! You would! You so would!"
"This is Leliana's rose!"
"What are you talking about?"
Cedwyn waved a frantic hand at him and he bent closer.
"I asked Leliana about that vision of hers a while back and she told me all about this dream about darkness and everything being swallowed by it and her leaping into it at the last," she gasped, wiping her cheeks with the hand not holding the book and clearing her throat. "She said that the next morning she went out into the garden and there was this one beautiful rose, blooming on the horrible, old, gnarled bush. Leliana took that as a sign from the Maker that she should have hope. It encouraged her to join us. Then along comes Alistair Theirin, dum de dum de dum, and plucks the Maker's miracle right off the bush!" The laughter started up again. "You plucked it and stuck it right in your pack along with the stinky cheese and your unwashed socks! I'm sorry, but that strikes me as really funny for some reason!" The laughter had an almost hysterical edge to it this time and the tears were back once more. Unsure of what exactly to do, Alistair decided to retreat.
"I'm glad you liked the journal," he said, backing slowly out of the clearing. Cedwyn nodded.
"I do, very much," she managed to choke out. "Thank you."
He rejoined the others. Zevran had to be threatened with bodily harm to stop his speculations upon what the two of them had been up to. Leliana gave him an inquiring look which he answered with a disgruntled shrug, since he really had no idea if anything had been accomplished. Cedwyn returned a few minutes later, her face a little red, but expression composed. And that was where they left things; though after dinner, Cedwyn gave him a genuine smile for once and thanked him again for the book.
I made her smile. I made her laugh, for Maker's sake! Alistair thought as he crawled into his tent for the night. It's what I wanted. Even if she doesn't love me back, I made her feel better. That's no small thing.
It may have been so but virtue, Alistair was finding, was a poor substitute for the affection he'd been craving.
Cedwyn was different the next day, as if the laughter had opened or changed something. The coolly affable Warden was gone; in her place was someone no less focused but considerably warmer. She floored Zevran with a ribald joke about two Crows, a Revered Mother, an abomination and a nug, and she, Morrigan and Leliana dropped back from the others to engage in some girl talk in the middle of the afternoon. It probably did not reflect well upon the male gender, given all the laughing and giggling that was going on. Alistair caught her giving him odd looks every now and again, as they hiked towards the Brecilian Forest, but aside from mentioning that she was going to make her first entry in her new journal on the morrow, she really didn't have much to say to him.
Being rebuffed, rejected and humiliated was hardly a new experience for Alistair, but this time he found it really hurt and lapsed into a surly silence as the day wore on. He did his evening chores responding to the others with monosyllabic replies and by dinner time, everyone was most pleased to leave him alone. He could feel Cedwyn's eyes upon him throughout the meal and after dinner, she got to her feet.
"Alistair. Walk with me." Her tone was crisp and commanding as always and he got to his feet reluctantly.
If she gives me a commander's heart-to-heart about my bad mood I don't know what I'll do, he was thinking as they moved off away from camp, moving along the stream bank they'd camped by. When they were well away, she turned to him, her brow furrowed.
"I owe you an apology, I think. Was the rose meant as a romantic offering?"
His face reddened. "Yes, but you needn't worry. I shan't be a bother about-"
She cut him off with a sharp gesture and pulled her old journal from out of her belt pouch. Leafing through it for a few moments, she finally selected a page and handed the little book to him.
"Read this entry and none other."
His eyes scanned the page, noting that the date was more than a month ago.
Well, this is awkward. I find myself thinking more and more about Alistair. It's damned distracting and I really need to just stop. He couldn't possibly be interested in return, and we must work closely together. It wouldn't do to make him uncomfortable or reticent about working with me.
But he is a genuinely decent soul and tries always to do the right thing, even if it challenges his preconceptions. I can respect him for that. And Maker, he's hot! But he doesn't seem to know it. So shy and so cute! Leliana says his butt is perfect and she should know, but I like his eyes. And his nose, but mostly his eyes. He's got mabari puppy eyes. All right, I'll admit it, I like his butt too…Makes it fun to rearguard every once in a while.
It would be very bad form to say anything about it to him, so I won't. Chain of command and all that. But a girl can dream…
Alistair looked up, a warm, hopeful feeling beginning to blossom in his midsection. "But if you felt this way then why-"
"-did I more or less ignore what the rose might mean? Look at me!" She turned about before him. "I know I'm a big gawk of a girl. Mother was always after me-'Shorter steps, Cedwyn, don't gallop!' 'You sit in a chair, not plop into it!' and that sort of thing. I never felt comfortable unless I was reading or writing or hunting or fighting." She grimaced. "When I was fifteen, my parents took me to court to come out as a young lady. Oh, that was torture! Dancing and etiquette lessons for months. I had this dress and it had corsets and padding and what not, trying to make me look curvy and genteel. But it didn't work. Vaughan Kendall about died laughing. 'I don't know if I should dance with it or slap a saddle on it!' he said. And he wasn't the only one."
"Who's Vaughan Kendall?"
"Heir to the Arldom of Denerim. Why?"
"I'm going to kill him."
The warm smile blossomed once more on her face. "Someone needs to, that's for sure. And for much more than what he did to me." She reached out for the journal and he handed it back to her. Tucking it away, she sobered and said, "But what was worse than Vaughan, because at least he was being honest, were all the men who'd gush at me about how beautiful I was, when all along what they were really thinking about was my father's power as an ally or my dowry, which was huge. I could always tell that they didn't mean it. They would never meet my eyes."
Alistair took that as a cue to batten his "mabari puppy" brown eyes onto the wolf-blue ones, which widened in consternation.
"Anyway," Cedwyn continued, a bit flustered, "I found over time that the best way to deflect that sort of thing was to simply ignore that it was happening. It became an ingrained reflex and when I saw the rose, it kicked in immediately."
"I'm looking you in the eye now," Alistair noted. For some reason, his usual hesitation was nowhere to be found.
"So you are."
"And I'm telling you that I think you're pretty. And smart. And brave. And organized, and I'm…I'm babbling, so I'm just going to kiss you instead." He reached out, cupped her face in his hands and touched his lips to hers. Whereupon her arms snaked around his neck and pulled him closer. She didn't know anything more about it than he did and there was some awkward nose-bumping, but eventually the kiss deepened and became a very satisfying thing for them both.
"That wasn't too soon, was it?" he asked worriedly when they were done.
"Not soon enough, if you ask me," Cedwyn responded a bit breathlessly.
"At least now you'll have something interesting to put in your new book," Alistair noted.
"Sod the book!" Cedwyn declared, and grabbed him to kiss him again.