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Steady as We Go, chapter 4

Title: Steady as we Go, chapter 4
Rating: G
Summary: Moira and Alistair deal with the aftermath of Ostagar


The next few moments were a bit of a blur and made no sense to Moira whatsoever. One minute she could clearly remember lying face up in a large puddle of ogre blood and the next she was hallucinating about Morrigan’s mother. She couldn’t make out what the woman was saying, but her face was drawn into a businesslike manner that reminded Moira of how Nan used to look whenever she or Fergus used to run into their home with scraped knees and other minor injuries. Moira closed her eyes and when she opened them again, Morrigan was standing over her as well, looking over her mother’s shoulder as the older woman explained something. Why can’t I hear? Moira wondered. And why is it that I can’t say a word? Am I dead? Is this what happens when you die?

The next thing she knew, she had traded in her lack of sound for a lack of vision. “Please, wake up,” someone was saying next to her ear. She tried to turn her head towards the voice, but found that she couldn’t move. Moira attempted to recognize who was talking – the voice was definitely male, but she couldn’t make out who was addressing her.

“Nate?” she whispered, amazed that she had managed to open her mouth enough for that single syllable to come out.

The person at her side must not have heard her, because he continued to plead for her to give him some sign that she was aware of his presence. “It’s been nearly two days; please.” She felt a vague pressure on top of her hand, but she couldn’t flex her fingers or do anything. After a while, the voice stopped pleading with her and she slipped back into darkness.

She didn’t know how long she was out, but Moira blinked her eyes and stared up at the bare rafters of a hut. She made a pained noise and attempted to sit up, but found that her right shoulder wasn’t allowing her to do much of anything.

“Ah, so your eyes finally open,” someone said to her left. Moira turned her head and saw that Morrigan was indeed standing there at her bedside, her hands on her hips and her head tilted to the side. “I was wondering when you would decide to wake. Your friend has been most anxious for your recovery.”

Moira groaned and finally succeeded in sitting upright. She glanced down at herself, wondering where her clothes had gone off to. Her necklace was cold against her skin, as were the three rings threaded on it; the fact that they hadn’t been lost a great relief to Moira. “Morrigan?” she asked, putting a hand to the back of her head. Her fingers came back sticky with some red substance, but a tentative sniff told her it was nothing more than a very potent healing salve. She closed her eyes again, feeling as if someone was pounding on her skull with a spiked hammer.

“I’m glad to see that your memory wasn’t scrambled along with the contents of your skull,” Morrigan dryly said. “You took quite a nasty hit there. Mother and I were almost about to place wagers on when or if you would wake.”

“How did I get here?” She sat up straighter. “The battle! How did it go?”

“What is the last thing that you remember?”

Moira frowned. “I remember fighting an ogre, then lighting the signal beacon.” She looked down at her bandaged shoulder. “Darkspawn attacked the room we were in and I was hit with an arrow, but after that, I don’t remember anything.” She decided against telling Morrigan about recalling how a dragon had torn off the roof of the tower, thinking that it was the product of the hit she had taken to the head.

“You did not miss very much,” Morrigan explained. “My mother rescued the three of you – yes, your dog is quite all right. Once he saw that we meant you no harm, he paid us little heed. The man in charge of leading the relief army quit the field; the darkspawn horde was far too much for the ones left behind. I’m sad to say that there is no one left alive, including Ferelden’s king.”

Moira put a hand to her mouth. “Oh, Cailan,” she said, bowing her head. While she hadn’t had many dealings with the man after the two of them had grown past childhood, he had been a kind person. He had never had a cross word to say to anyone and had a talent for making everyone around him feel at ease. Moira had been present at his coronation and wedding, and even though he had only held the throne for a mere five years, he had shown great promise as being a good and just leader. The country would dearly miss him. “You said that my friend was anxious. You meant Alistair, yes?”

Morrigan picked up a clay jar from the small bedside table and placed it on a nearby shelf. “If you mean the dim-witted, suspicious one from before, then yes. He has done nothing but brood since getting here. It is most annoying.”

Moira swung her legs over the side of the bed, pausing when the room spun around her. “Thank you for healing me.”

Morrigan looked as if she didn’t quite know what to say. “I…” she started, looking perplexed. “My mother did most of the work; I am no healer. I merely handed her the things that she needed when she needed them.”

“But thank you all the same. I must go to Alistair and Quinn, to let them know that I’m all right.” Her mind was already racing; if everyone had been killed on the battlefield that meant that all the Grey Wardens had met their doom there. Her fingers tightened on the sheets underneath her. That meant that not counting Quinn, she and Alistair were the only two who were able to sense the darkspawn threat and bring an end to the Blight. “Just like every adventure tale, indeed,” she muttered, thinking back to Ser Gilmore’s exclamation when they had battled rats in Nan’s larder. Little did she know how prophetic the knight’s words would turn out to be.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.” She looked around the hut, shivering in merely her smallclothes. “Where are my clothes?”

“I piled them there, by the hearth. If you are well enough, then you may go and get them.”

Not a healer, indeed, Moira thought, noticing how Morrigan had chosen her words. It made her think of Nan again and how she had acted when Moira had been ill as a child. If you can cross the room to get dressed by yourself, then I shall declare you well enough to run about and play. “Thank you.” She took a breath and stood on shaky legs as the room did funny dips and spins around her. She did manage to sit down on one of the chairs by the hearth, pulling on her wool socks as she did so. The thin linen breeches and tunic were next; Moira noticed that while the breeches had escaped relatively unscathed, the tunic had a large slice through the neckline where they must have cut so they could remove the arrow. The tear had been expertly mended, but the black thread that had been used to sew up the damage stood out against the pale blue fabric and the material was stained with her blood. She drew the garment over her head, noticing how the bloodstain didn’t feel stiff and how the fabric smelled somewhat clean, letting her know that someone had laundered her clothes while she had been unconscious. Her boots and armor were similarly clean, though she had a feeling that she owed that thanks more to Alistair instead of Morrigan or her mother. By the time that she had strapped her sword to her back, she felt exhausted, almost as if she had been running practice drills for the better part of the day. She let out a shaky breath and wobbled towards the door.

“At least you have not passed out like I thought you might,” Morrigan said, giving her an appraising glance. “You are made of stronger stuff than I had thought to give you credit for. Go to my mother; she should be outside. I shall remain here and make us something to eat.”

Moira thanked her again before pushing on the door to the hut. The sun was bright and she shielded her eyes as she tried to take in what was before her. Alistair stood at the edge of a small pond, despondently skipping stones along the surface.

“I would not do that if I were you,” Morrigan’s mother warned from where she was picking herbs nearby, her basket nearly full. “There are things that live there that do not like to be disturbed.”

Quinn was the first to notice Moira’s presence. He stood up from where he had been lying down and soaking up the sunlight next to Alistair and gave a happy sounding bark, trotting over to her side and nearly bowling her over in his exuberance. “Down, Boy,” she laughed, scratching behind his ears affectionately.

“You’re awake,” Alistair said, turning towards her. “I had feared…” He swallowed hard and looked as if he had wanted to give her a hug, but thought against it at the last minute, his arms falling back to his sides. “I was so worried when you didn’t respond right away.”

“Thank you for your concern, Alistair,” she told him. She stepped towards him and wrapped her arms around his middle, partly for support, but mostly because it looked as if he had needed the hug. Alistair’s arms went up and hovered over her before tentatively settling around her shoulders as if he hadn’t known where to put his hands.

“Everyone is gone,” he said in a hoarse voice. “Duncan…” He stepped back and looked away, unable to continue.

“I know, Morrigan told me that Loghain had abandoned them.”

“Loghain,” Alistair spat, his eyes darkening in fury. “He left them all to die; he shall be punished for his crimes!”

Moira couldn’t help but think that he sounded very much like she had felt since fleeing her own home. “He shall, Alistair. I promise you that we’ll see the Order avenged. Being a kingslayer is not something that justice takes lightly.” She thought about that; Loghain’s own daughter was Queen; what did Loghain gain in leaving Cailan to die? Everyone in the proper circles knew that Cailan had been the pretty, rallying cover for Anora, who had been the true ruler ever since saying “I do” to her husband. Cailan hadn’t seemed to mind and the royal couple had genuinely been in love, so no one thought to question their arrangement. Now what did Loghain plan on doing? He was the Hero of the River Dane and considered one of Ferelden’s finest generals. Did he plan on taking the throne as his daughter’s regent? And what of Ferelden? With the death of their king, there would be a need for a new ruler. Would the politicians allow Anora to remain in power or would they seek someone new? Arl Eamon and Bann Teagan came to mind; they were Cailan’s uncles, after all. Even if their ties to the throne were by marriage alone, either one of them would be capable of becoming the next king, in Moira’s opinion. Moira’s own father would have been right behind them; as one of the only two remaining Teyrns in Ferelden, Bryce Cousland had long since shown his loyalty to his king and country many times over.

Then again, Moira’s father was dead and Fergus was still missing in the field. The Couslands were in no shape to even think of politicking for such a lofty position. Moira herself wanted no part in politics, taking herself out of the equation entirely. Though there was a time not so long ago that you wanted nothing more than to become the future Arlessa of Amaranthine… She blinked. That path was closed to her forever, thanks to Nathaniel’s father.

“Moira?”

She blinked. “I’m sorry. I was miles away.” She put a hand to the side her head. “What shall we do now?”

Alistair looked lost. “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about just that for the past day. We are the last Grey Wardens in all of Ferelden. It is our sworn duty to defend the land against the Blight and to put an end to the archdemon. But…” he spread his hands. “How do we do that with just the two of us?”

“Surely we have some allies that we can call upon for help,” Moira suggested.

He looked up. “We do! Arl Eamon wasn’t at Ostagar, so he still has his entire army. He is a good and just man, I’m sure that he would come to our aid. And even more, he was Cailan’s uncle; he has a personal stake in bringing Loghain to justice.” He began to pace in front of her. “But even with the Arl’s men, that’s surely not enough to bring down the horde and the archdemon. Many men from various lords had been in Ostagar and they all had died.”

Moira’s heart went out to the soldiers that had worn the Highever colors. “Then we shall need more allies if we’re going to build up our own army.”

“It sounds as if you have a plan,” Morrigan’s mother commented, putting aside her herbs and standing next to Moira. Without preamble, she reached out and lifted Moira’s eyelid with her thumb, her own eyes looking critically at Moira’s pupils. “There doesn’t seem to be permanent damage,” she said more to herself. “Are you dizzy? Weak in the knees?”

“A little,” Moira confessed.

“Just as I figured. You’ve risen from bed far too early, but it can’t be helped. Time waits for no one, especially for the two of you. You have a lot of work ahead of you.”

“It all sounds great in theory,” Alistair said, biting his lip in indecision. “But in practical use? Can we build an army and defeat the archdemon?”

“I don’t see why not. You two are young and things will be accomplished if you truly put your mind and backs into your work.”

“But there’s that little matter of me not knowing how to do this.”

Morrigan’s mother quirked her eyebrow. “Not know how to do what? How to raise an army or how to defeat an archdemon? Those sound like two different things.”

Moira thought of something. “What of the treaties that Duncan sent us out to retrieve? Have you looked at them?”

Alistair snapped his fingers. “Of course! Those treaties are with the Wardens and various other folk of Ferelden! Dwarves, elves and mages are sworn to help us during the Blight! We can go to each and call them duty-bound!”

“I may be old, but it seems as if dwarves, elves, mages, this Arl Eamon and whoever else you might run into along the way sounds like an army to me.”

“She’s right,” Moira said. “We can do this. We must do this, for the sake of everyone. We might not know how to defeat the archdemon now, but there is a long way between here and each of these people who we’re going to be paying visits to. We’ll figure it out on our way.”

“Now, here is a sensible young lady. I’m so glad to see that your head wasn’t too injured.”

Moira bowed as best as she could. “And I have you to thank for my swift recovery. You have my most heartfelt thanks.”

“No no, you two are the heroes here. I was just doing my part to make sure that you’re kept alive.” She looked thoughtful. “There is one last thing that I can give you that will greatly aid your quest though.”

“We shall gratefully take whatever you can offer,” Moira told her. “What is it?”

“The stew is bubbling on the fire, Mother,” Morrigan said, coming out of the hut. “Shall we have two guests for dinner or none?”

“None. These Wardens are leaving now, and you are going with them.”

Morrigan looked at Alistair. “Such a shame…” Her mind caught up with what her mother had just said. “What?

“The last time I checked, you had ears, girl.” Her mother laughed at her own joke. “You heard me.”

“But Mother, I am not ready.”

“You’re as ready as you’re going to be. You’ve been itching to get out of the Wilds for years, this is your chance.”

“But…”

“No arguments. I will not take no for an answer from you, girl.”

“Not to look a gift…” Alistair winced. “Horse in the mouth, as it would be, but outside of the Wilds, the two of you are apostate mages.”

“And this troubles you because?” Morrigan’s mother said archly. “My magic got you out of that tower, did it not?”

“Alistair, we need all the help we can get,” Moira said, putting a hand on his arm.

He sighed, his shoulders slumping in defeat. “You’re right. Welcome aboard, Morrigan.”

The mage gave him a cross look. “If you would allow me to get my things, I shall be ready to leave shortly.”

“Thank you again,” Moira told Morrigan’s mother. “If you don’t mind me asking, we never got your name.”

“Names are pretty, but not very important,” the older woman said. “The Wilds people call me Flemeth.”

Alistair took a step backwards. “The Flemeth from legend? Daveth was right; you are the Witch of the Wilds.”

She stared him down. “There are many who would say that, but then again, I could merely be an old woman who happens to have the same name as some character in a child’s storybook. What you believe is up to you.”

“That is everything,” Morrigan said, threading a large wooden staff through the pack she had on her back. “Do not let the stew bubble over; I’d hate to return to a burnt out shell of a home.”

Flemeth snorted. “It’s not likely that you will ever find anything here, should you ever return here again. The darkspawn will have overcome this place as well as the lands beyond.”

Morrigan looked away, her expression sullen. “I…what I meant was…”

Flemeth looked at her daughter with a soft expression in her eye. “I know what you meant. Now do try to have fun, my dear. I shall be fine. Old Flemeth didn’t live this long without learning a thing or two about survival.”

“I suggest replenishing our supplies in the town of Lothering,” Morrigan said, pointing towards the north. “It is but a two day trek from here; we should find everything that we are looking for there.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Moira said, noting now light her own pack that Alistair had been keeping safe felt. The burlap sack from Highever was still folded neatly on the bottom and her fingers brushed over the thick square of paper she had placed inside once she had purchased the bag. If she looked hard enough, she could see Nathaniel’s handwriting through the opposite side of his message. He always did have a habit of pressing too hard on the quill as he wrote, she thought, thinking back to how she had often sat in bed with his latest messages in hand, tracing her fingers over the letters and feeling the impression the pen had left on the paper. It had been the closest way she had of touching him for the past six years and the act had always brought her some comfort. Her fingers did that now, her nail going over the embossed outline his I love you had left on the other side of the page. “We really should be off.”

Alistair took the lead for a short time before surrendering it to Morrigan, who knew the lay of the land best. “Have you seen any scouting parties this far into the Wilds?” Moira asked her, hoping that she might have heard of any and praying that Fergus had been among the living. She refused to think that he might have gotten killed by the very same horde that had gone through Ostagar. Fergus was alive; she had always been so close to her brother, surely she would have been able to sense if he had died away from home.

“No,” Morrigan replied, looking behind her shoulder. “We are close enough to Ostagar that our home was probably not even considered a good place to go looking for darkspawn, yet far enough out of the way to avoid any scouting expeditions. Are you hoping that one of your members survived?”

“Something like that,” Moira said, feeling slightly deflated.

“It’s a very slim chance,” Morrigan continued. “From what I’ve heard, darkspawn aren’t too terribly fond of letting their captives live and whoever you were looking for would have had to have been incredibly lucky to stay undetected for so long.”

“Nice one, Morrigan,” Alistair said, noticing the way that Moira’s shoulders fell. Even Quinn seemed to look distressed at that bit of knowledge. “Next time you have the urge to spread news of the gloom and doom variety, do it with an even heavier hand.”

“She asked a question and I did my best to answer it. Should I sugar coat everything for you instead? Shall I skip along the trail and sing of sunshine and daisies? Will puppies and rainbows fall from the sky any time soon?”

“I’d rather you not say anything at all,” Alistair muttered to himself, shouldering his pack higher.

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Lead on.”

They walked for a considerable distance until the sun began to set low over the horizon. “We should probably set up camp,” Morrigan suggested. “It isn’t wise to travel these lands at night; there are a great many things besides darkspawn that like to hide in the shadows and snatch away any prey foolish enough to brave the darkness.”

“It would be a relief to sit and rest,” Moira agreed, setting her pack down and sitting down on the ground beside it. She had been feeling nauseous all day long but hadn’t said anything, lest her complaints tack on extra time to their trip. “How long do you think it would be before we get to Lothering’s gates?”

“We’ve made good time today, so if we get an early start, then we should reach the town before mid-morning.” Morrigan claimed a tree with bare branches as her camping spot and began gathering as much fallen wood as she possibly could. “I’d start thinking about making a fire if I were you two,” she cautioned.

“I thought that was what you were doing,” Alistair said.

She snorted. “I am building a fire for myself. I said that I would go with you and I said that I would show you to the nearest town. I never said a word about babysitting the both of you.”

Alistair mumbled something under his breath, but even Moira couldn’t decipher what he had said. She attempted to stand, but fell back on her rear as the world did another one of those interesting dips again.

“Your head is still not healed, is it not?” Morrigan suddenly asked, setting aside her pile of firewood and coming over to Moira. “You should have said something earlier.”

“If I did, then we wouldn’t have made as good time as we have,” Moira said, holding onto the side of her head.

Morrigan’s lips thinned out in disapproval. “Mother certainly saddled me with the best companions: one stubborn as a rock and the other just as dumb.” She took out a glass vial from a small sack tied to her belt and handed it to Moira. “Drink this slowly. If you swig it all down at once you’re likely to throw it and everything else up soon after.”

“What was it?” Moira asked, sipping the contents. She could taste something vaguely sweet that cut the heavy medicinal aftertaste and her headache quickly vanished.

“It has the same ingredients that you use for a potent health poultice, but in liquid format. It’s something that I’ve been working on perfecting for a while now.” She stared at Moira’s face as if to try and see if the potion was working. “No hives,” she mused to herself. “It seems as if this batch was a success.”

Moira drank the rest of the potion down and handed the empty vial back to Morrigan. “You should be fine to move around now,” the witch informed her, going back to her own little space. Moira watched as Morrigan arranged a small amount of the firewood into a circle, then as she flicked her fingers at the wood. A second later, smoke began to curl into the air and the mage had a pleasant looking fire burning.

“Handy, having a mage around,” Moira muttered, getting up and dusting her palms off. She joined Alistair and the two of them managed to gather enough wood nearby to feed their own campfire for the rest of the evening. Alistair didn’t say anything as they worked, and he was silent while Moira lit the fire. For her part, Moira took stock of their little party. Morrigan was busily grinding herbs with a stone mortar and pestle while softly humming to herself as she worked, paying no heed to either of them. Alistair might have been sitting near Moira, but he was worlds away, his arm resting on his knee as he stared intently into the fire. Quinn curled up next to her and set his head on her thigh, giving a great doggie yawn as he did so. He rolled his eyes up to look at his mistress, who obliged him and scratched the middle of his back where he couldn’t reach. Quinn panted his thanks, snuggling even closer to Moira to help ward off the growing nighttime chill as best as he could. Moira gathered the edges of her traveling cloak together and huddled underneath, listening as the Wilds finally came alive with nocturnal sounds. She had thought that it had been eerie spending the night where everything was so still when they had gone out to look for the abandoned outpost, but it was even more unsettling to listen to the strange noises that came out from the darkness beyond their fire. Once during the night they all heard a loud shriek of some sort of bird – or at least Moira thought that it was a bird – and then rustling in the grass as if something was struggling, then nothing. Quinn had raised his head off of Moira’s leg to growl in the direction that the noise had come from, but he soon put his head down and resumed his previous nap, letting Moira know that if he hadn’t been worried about the commotion then it wasn’t something that was a threat to them. She fell into a fitful sleep soon afterward, still sitting upright.

When she opened her eyes next, Moira noticed two things. One, she had a horrible crick in her neck from where her chin had fallen to rest against her chest as she slept and two, Morrigan was nowhere to be found. “Just our luck,” Alistair grouched, kicking at the fire to extinguish the last of the hot coals. “We’re stuck in the middle of nowhere without any knowledge as to where we’re going. I knew she was going to do something like this.”

“You have very little faith,” Morrigan said, coming up out of a tall patch of grass behind them. “I was merely taking the opportunity of a pleasant morning to gather a few herbs that I had been lacking. The two of you were sleeping so soundly that I thought I would have been able to return before you woke.”

“Well, we’re up now,” Moira said diplomatically. “And it is indeed early. Shall we move along?” Her stomach growled loudly, but Moira knew that they didn’t really have anything to eat. She made a note to visit whatever bakery or store in Lothering that offered food first.

“Here,” Alistair said, handing her something. “I had a little extra in my pack.”

Moira looked down at the chunk of cheese and strip of dried jerky Alistair had offered her. “Thank you,” she said, tearing the jerky into pieces to hand to Quinn, who gobbled it up hungrily, sniffing at her fingers when it was done to see if she had any more to share. “Applewood cheddar,” she noted, nibbling delicately at the cheese. “There is a dairy in Highever that makes something similar to this.” The dairy was on the outskirts of Highever, close to where the farmlands began so that the cows had plenty of pasture to graze in. She recalled the trip she and her father had taken when she had been a young girl. The farmer who owned the land had seen how interested she had been in the whole process and had taken the time to allow her to sample the core pieces that they used to test the aging of certain wheels of cheese.

“I haven’t tried any from Highever, but this comes from the monastery close to Redcliffe. They have a unique aging process for several of the other cheeses that they’re famous for, one where they deeply pierce the rind and actually encourage mold to grow. It smells like feet, but the finished product tastes delicious.”

“You’re quite the cheese connoisseur, aren’t you?” she asked, smiling. If anything, Alistair was in great need of cheering up.

“Aspiring aficionado, more like. Now Duncan…” Alistair stopped, the tiny smile that he had worked so hard to attain vanishing from his face. “Duncan was quite fond of it himself.” He seemed to draw into himself and Moira’s heart went out to him. She had been in the same place that he currently was. In many ways, she was still in that same place, though she had forced herself to set her feelings aside for a later date when other pressing things weren’t present.

She put a hand on his shoulder. “I know you haven’t known me long,” she said, echoing his words from earlier. “But if you ever have a need for a sounding board, I’m here.”

“Thanks,” he said, his eyes looking a little less haunted. “I don’t know when, but I just might take you up on that offer.”

“Whenever you’re ready, I’ll be here to talk.” She gave his arm a final pat before whistling for Quinn, who came back from investigating the area they were walking towards in order to stay near her side. Moira looked over her shoulder and saw that while Alistair was still deeply mourning his companions that had fallen, at least he didn’t look as lost as he had yesterday.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
ironicdiscordia
Nov. 26th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
Always glad to see updates to Moira's story (especially in the form of multiple chapters). Lovely as always.

Although I always feel somewhat nitpicky. In the paragraph where Alistair's saying that they've got an ally in Eamon, the sentence "he has a personal stake in bringing Loghain do justice." Should be to, instead of do.
iceprincessd
Nov. 26th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
No, I'm glad that someone is nitpicky - I was editing/posting this around 1 AM and I appreciate you caught some typos for me. It really helps a lot. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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