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A Case of You - 30_hugs prompt

Title: A Case of You
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #9, Footprints
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, eventually romantic
Rating: PG for slight violence
Summary: Moira misses a certain mage, Nathaniel takes stock of his Commander’s skills, and Oghren gives the “You Hurt My Friend and I Hurt You” speech. Bandits are also involved.


“Don’t see why we left the mage behind,” Oghren complained, grunting while Moira applied a freshly made poultice to his neck. The sticky paste of herbs tingled as it worked its way into the cut at his throat. They hadn’t even stepped three feet into the Wending Wood when they had been attacked by bandits. One of the bandits they had encountered had nearly pinned him with an arrow, but his armor had deflected the worst of it.

“And I don’t see why you left your helmet behind,” she replied, brushing her hands off before starting on a fresh bandage for herself. She could feel blood running down her forearm and she hoped that she wouldn’t have to give herself any stitches to hold her over until Anders could take a look at it. “Anders said that he wanted to sit this one out. Something about the woods giving him the creeps.” She spread a thin layer of reddish herbal paste on a linen strip and slowly wound it around the injury, mentally cursing at her armor’s sad lack of protection around her arms. The set had several weak points, especially wherever her arms or legs bent, but she liked wearing it because it did offer her the same level of protection around more vital areas that heavier full-plate armor did while still being lightweight and supple enough for her to quickly maneuver on the battlefield. Besides, Wade had been so proud of himself when he had presented it to her in Denerim and his productivity went up a notch whenever he saw her wearing one of his creations. She’d endure patching herself up if it meant that her soldiers at the Keep would get better armor in a timelier manner. “You never complained about using poultices before.”

Oghren snorted as he checked the edge of his axe. “That’s because Morrigan was the one in charge of making them for us. You try complaining to her. She probably put frog guts and who knows what else in ‘em.”

Moira smirked and shook her head, her fingers clumsy as she tried to tie the bandage one-handed. “I certainly hope not,” she said, moving her fingers aside when Oghren took over, wincing as he fastened the bandage a little tighter than she would have. “I’ve been making these all wrong if she did.” Morrigan had been their principal healer before Wynne had joined their group. The vast majority of her spells were of a destructive nature instead of medicinal, but she had an encyclopedic knowledge of potions and healing poultices. Over the months of travel, Moira had befriended her and Morrigan had taught her skills that most herbalists depended on in return. Morrigan could have stopped teaching her when Moira had gotten the hang of the basics, but Moira liked to think that the normally reclusive apostate had liked her company enough that she had continued to teach until Moira knew how to create third tier remedies. She was certain that by putting in a little more effort and using manuals as a guide that she’d be able to expand her knowledge even further.

Moira scanned the horizon for any other bandits. She thought about Morrigan and the child that Alistair had fathered, hoping that they were all right wherever they were. She couldn’t help but wonder about the little boy or girl with the soul of an Old God. Did they have Alistair’s eyes? Was their hair as dark as their mother’s? Had they even lived past infancy, seeing that the last report that had come in had placed a pregnant Morrigan wandering the Frostback Mountains. While staying true to her word, Moira had never actively tried to find them, but little hints here and there during darkspawn scouting reports had shown up.

“I’d say there are about twenty, maybe thirty more bandits wandering around somewhere,” Oghren said, looking into the trees.

“More like ten or twelve, if you look at the footprints,” Moira pointed out, flexing her arm to test the bandage and sighing in relief as the poultice numbed the pain. “Something happened to scare them all, which is why they’re all scattered like they are.”

“This doesn’t look like the work of regular bandits,” Nathaniel noted, looking closer at the ruined caravan. Broken tree branches were jabbed into the splintered wooden frame. He too had noticed the way that the dirt path had been littered with scuffed up footprints, almost as if someone was trying to run from something.

Moira nodded. “I agree.” She turned over a broken log with her foot, revealing a partially hidden chest. “We should all keep our eyes open for anything suspicious.” The lock was easy to pick, and Moira noticed that there was a bolt of silk fabric inside. She ran her hand over it, appreciating the texture, before taking it out and putting it into her pack.

“I can’t believe you’re going to try to collect them all now,” Nathaniel said.

She found another bolt of fabric in a nearby crate and hugged it close to her. “And why not? If we wait any longer, then perhaps the bandits that we’re looking for will come back and get their prizes. It’s best to collect everything now while we have the chance.”

“And I take it that you’re going to do those rubbings for that scholar as well?”

She shrugged. “Perhaps. It depends on where these statues are located and if there’s any danger around them. And before you ask, yes, I am going to find Ines for Wynne. She’s a dear friend of mine and I owe it to her to at least look.”

“Would have been better if she was around,” Oghren grumped. “She would have just waved her staff and healed us all by now.”

Moira rolled her eyes before moving further down the path. Nathaniel followed in his customary spot at the back of their group, ready to defend his companions should they get into another fight. It was strange how they had all come to an unspoken agreement on battle arrangements. Oghren and Moira took the lead as well as the brunt of the blows while Nathaniel and Anders stayed behind to inflict injury at a distance. Nathaniel’s job was to pluck off any enemies that might come from behind their two main damage dealers as well as defend Anders while the mage concentrated to cast spells. Seeing that Anders had decided to stay at the Keep for this investigation, Nathaniel was able to focus more on keeping his other two fellow Wardens alive.

This also meant that he was able to contemplate Moira’s fighting techniques. He grudgingly acknowledged that she was a skilled rogue whose attacks were quick and efficient, her blades making the most impact while wasting very little energy. Her fighting style almost reminded him of something he’d seen during his tour of the Antivan border and he clearly recognized techniques unique to the assassins that lived there, making him wonder how she had picked up her skills. Her dualist training was even more apparent; not only did she have a knack for evading enemy blows, but it seemed as if she could place herself far behind her target, taking her opponent by surprise with a stab in the back.

A stab in the back, Nathaniel thought, the words forming bitterly in his mouth. It seems that it’s something the Couslands are good at. He might not know the full story of what happened that night, but he still refused to believe that his father would kill the Teyrn of Highever along with the rest of his family. It made no sense to him; as an arling, Amaranthine depended on Teyrn Cousland’s protection. Besides, his father and Bryce had been friends for years. They’d ridden off into battle together; their children had grown up together and befriended the other…

Nathaniel glanced at Moira. She was kneeling beside the trail, her fingers tracing an odd print in the dirt. Once upon a time, the Howes and the Couslands might have become closer than friends, seeing that he had intended on asking for Moira’s hand the first moment that he had been able to return home. Shaking his head, he brought himself back to the present.

“This is not a bandit’s mark,” he said, crouching down beside her.

“It looks almost like a tree root,” Moira said, looking further down the trail. “There were living trees that had attacked us in the Brecilian Forest; these could be the same type of creatures.”

“Any hints on how to fight them if they attack?”

Moira sighed, wishing that Anders had decided to join them. “Fire. It seemed to work best, or at least distract them enough that Alistair and I could get in enough hits to bring them down.” She looked down at her left side. While her armor covered it, she knew that there was a jagged white scar that ran along the outside of her arm from her wrist to her elbow. “Be careful; they tend to summon roots that will surround an entire person.”

“Not your run of the mill rose thorns, I gather?”

“No, much worse.” The root that had caused her scar had gone deep enough to hit bone. It was a wonder that it hadn’t gone through her arm entirely. “There’s smoke in the distance.”

Nathaniel nodded. “It’s small, more than likely from a campfire.” He reached behind him and took out an arrow from his quiver. “We should probably keep alert for an ambush.”

She looked at him, opening her mouth as if to say something. Nathaniel noticed that it seemed like she was having a hard time getting her thoughts in order. “Commander?” he asked, arching his eyebrow. “Was there anything else you wanted to add?”

“I was just going to say that I forgot how well you could read tracks. It’s been a while since we’ve wandered the woods together.” Her eyes softened for a moment and the corner of her mouth lifted into a faint smile. “And I wanted to thank you for watching my back.”

Nathaniel felt something in his chest unfurl at her praise, but he squashed it down. “I’m only doing what’s expected of me,” he replied cooly, moving away from her. He tried to ignore the guilty feeling at seeing her smile quickly disappear and her eyes harden as she slipped back behind her role as Warden-Commander, but couldn’t quite manage to.

“Of course,” she said quietly, unsheathing her swords and moving ahead of him, her body tense and braced for an attack. Whether the attack she was anticipating was from ahead of her or behind her, he couldn’t tell.

“You’ve gone and pissed her off,” Oghren commented, falling into step beside Nathaniel. “Don’t know what the history is between you two, but I’ve never seen her like this.”

Nathaniel snorted. “I seem to have that effect on people.”

Oghren’s eyes narrowed. “Just a friendly warning; the Warden’s on the short list of people I consider my friends. You keep on pissing her off and you piss me off, understood?”

“Understood.”

“Good.” Oghren threw the poultice he had been holding against his neck into the nearby brush. “One good thing about her mood is that she gets rid of the bad guys faster when she’s mad. Takes them down harder too. I’d sure hate to be in their place.”

Nathaniel couldn’t help but notice that the dwarf was staring at him pointedly. “Also noted,” he said dryly. He fitted an arrow against his bow and took a shot, hitting a bandit that was about to jump from their hiding spot above them. The bandit gave a cry as he fell, the arrow lodged in his shoulder. Moira spun on her heel, taking him out with one well placed blow. The bandit’s cry brought others to his aid and Nathaniel’s eyes widened when he saw one of the trees uproot itself and slowly lumber towards them. Oghren ran to Moira’s side, his rusty sounding chuckle trailing behind him. Her answering laugh followed and the trail, muddy to begin with, soon ran red.

Nathaniel shook his head as he took aim at the others who had come running towards them. “I’m surrounded by lunatics,” he muttered to himself, moving to the side to avoid the swing of Oghren’s axe. His foot slipped as he stepped in a patch of mud, making his arrow hit his target in the leg instead of the chest as he had originally intended it to. “Next time, I’m making Anders go along and I’ll stay at the Keep.”

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