Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #19; aurora borealis, northern lights
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland
Summary: No matter where you’ve been, everyone has a best and worst camping story.
“All right, what was the worst camping experience you had?” While Moira had originally planned to sleep the entire day away after coming back from the Blackmarsh, her body hadn’t cooperated with her. Her eyes had snapped open well before dawn and the lingering ache in her muscles had made lying in bed difficult. A rumbling stomach had led her to the still empty kitchens where she’d been surprised to see Nathaniel already raiding the larder shelves. He’d given her a slightly embarrassed look before moving over so she could grab an apple and the remains of a cheese wedge. A little more digging around produced a kettle, which soon held enough fragrant tea for the both of them.
Nathaniel tapped the side of his mug with his fingers. “Five years ago. I was part of a scouting party along the coastline between the Free Marches and Antiva.” He took a sip. “No one told me that hurricanes were in season.” He shuddered, remembering how the howling wind and stinging rain had buffeted their party. Had they not found shelter, he was certain that they would have met their end, especially when hail the size of his fist started falling from the sky.
“I remember that,” she told him, stretching her legs out in front of her. They’d taken their breakfast outside, where they waited for the sun to rise. “You wrote saying how the wind had actually bent tall trees in two.”
“What about you?” Nathaniel pulled himself a handful of bread from the loaf they had pilfered. “What was the worst you’ve been through?”
Moira leaned back against the battlement wall. She thought for a while: there were several instances, say the time that Oghren had run about camp without his pants, or the time Zevran had tried to sneak into her tent but had gotten Alistair’s by mistake – Alistair’s curses had woken the entire camp that time – or maybe the time that they had been caught in a torrential rainstorm and Moira’s tent was the only one that hadn’t leaked, which meant that she had to share it with just about everyone. That hadn’t been a restful night. In fact, she didn’t think anyone actually slept, seeing that they all had to sit crammed tightly together just to fit inside the tent. Sitting with her legs up to her chin and her arms hugging her knees, Moira had been sandwiched between Morrigan and Leliana, the former complaining about living conditions and the latter trying to find the silver lining in the situation. Alistair had continuously apologized for his hand accidentally bumping against Leliana’s thigh, Wynne had shivered so much that Moira worried for her health, and Zevran kept offering his lap as a cushion, should anyone get tired of sitting on the ground. Sten had looked miserable, his great body hunched over just so his head wouldn’t hit the roof of the tent. Oghren had offered to pass around the wineskin he kept as a way to ward off the damp, but it had been emptied after one round, which put the dwarf in a sullen mood.
Everything would have been all right had the thunder not scared poor Quinn so much that the hound had jumped into Moira’s arms for comfort, knocking down the tent’s support pole in the process.
“The Frostback Mountains,” Moira said, finally picking a time. “A blizzard forced us to camp there for several nights.” She shivered, just thinking about it. They had been trying to reach Orzammar before the weather had put a halt to their plans. She, Wynne, Morrigan and Alistair had wound up walking through snowdrifts almost as tall as Alistair, who had taken the lead, clearing a path for them with his shield acting as a makeshift snowplow. Morrigan had been behind him, casting fire spells every now and then when the snow was too thick for Alistair to shove through. In the end, they had decided to set up camp underneath an outcropping of rock that provided some shelter from the storm, connecting their tents to make one large one. “I almost danced when we finally reached Orzammar. While being underneath the mountains was claustrophobic, at least it had been warm.” Their meager fire had almost died out several times; she and Alistair had scouted around for extra wood, but everything they had found was already soaked from the snow. At night, the three of them had huddled together for warmth, though even with the extra blankets and body heat, Moira had still felt chilled. Morrigan had simply created a nest with her share of the blankets before shifting into her wolf form. She hadn’t seemed bothered with the cold and it had been the first time Moira had ever wished she had been a mage, just so she could have done the same.
“That sounds particularly unbearable.”
Moira took another sip of her tea and made an mmmhm noise of agreement. “It was pretty bad, but there were a few good things that came out of that trip. The most important one was that we wound up getting the newly crowned King Harrowmont’s support against the Blight.”
“And the other good things?” He remembered her telling him about searching for the Anvil of the Void, but she had glossed over many details. He hadn’t pushed her, seeing that she was reluctant to talk about the Deep Roads and the darkspawn she and her party had fought there.
“Let’s see. The sky the second night had been incredibly clear. Of course, that meant that it had also been incredibly cold, but you could see stars from miles around.” During her watch, Moira had been astounded by the fact that the night sky had looked like a dark, upturned bowl filled with sparkling lights. “And then there were the Southern Flashes.”
“I’ve never seen them.”
Moira stretched her back. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what causes it, but parts of the sky light up in different colors, creating waves of light. I can’t describe it properly, but the first time I saw such a thing, it brought tears to my eyes.” She glanced at him, as if gauging his reaction. “It reminded me that no matter how ugly the world had become, there was still some beauty left in nature. To be able to witness such a thing was a humbling experience.”
They were quiet for a while, companionably finishing their breakfast. “After the storm,” Nathaniel finally said, “the sky had turned this odd yellowish green color. The rest of my party had thought it was an ill omen, but all I could think was how green the grass had looked in comparison. The sea had been a choppy grey color, but even that had been lovely in its own. The wind had finally died down, enveloping us in a cone of stillness. The way you spoke of the Southern Flashes is how I felt to have seen such destruction one moment and complete silence the next.”
“It makes you realize just how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t it?”
“That it does.” He hooked his arm over his upraised knee. “Now tell me, what was your best camping experience?”
Moira looked over the battlements. The sun was beginning to rise on the horizon, the sky turning golden and rosy. Giving him a smile, she leaned over until their shoulders bumped. “I wouldn’t call it a camping experience, per se, but sharing a breakfast with a friend while watching the sun rise has to rank pretty high up there.”
Nathaniel grinned, his eyes lighting up. “Funny, I was going to say the exact same thing.”