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Holding out for a Hero - 30_hugs prompt

Title: Holding out for a Hero
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #28; dust
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, romantic
Rating: PG for violence
Summary: Moira is faced with important decisions and would like some reassurance that she’s doing the right thing. Nathaniel gives an awkward “You hurt my sister and I hurt you” threat to his brother-in-law.
Note: And here’s the main action bit, all compressed into one chapter! I’ve always saved the city when given the choice close to the end and I kind of disliked the epilogue bits that happened when I decided to save the Keep this go around. I hated what happened to Varel, mainly because I’ve developed a bit of a crush on his character. This is a tiny bit of a step to the side of canon, mostly on the part of letting everyone in Amaranthine suffer the consequence of me siding with the Keep, as well as keeping Varel around so he could continue to be the Seneschal of Awesomeness. Nathaniel’s approval rating dropped when I made another choice close to the end of the game, and that’s always stuck as an arguing point with me.

“Oh no.” Nathaniel stopped dead in his tracks right before they reached the main gates to Vigil’s Keep. “Not again.”

Moira shaded her eyes with her hand and sighed. “Another mob?” She sounded just as tired as he felt. They had been coming back from the Knotwood Hills after eradicating the darkspawn breeding nest in Kal’Hirol and she, Oghren, their newest recruit Sigrun, and himself were bone-weary from the ordeal. Moira said that she had never seen so many broodmothers in one place, and it was a chilling reminder that even though the Blight had been quieted before it had really begun, that the threat of new darkspawn was still an everyday reality.

“I don’t know.” Nathaniel squinted. “Something isn’t right.” The four of them quickly made their way up to the Keep where they found a great number of people milling around the outer courtyard, most looking frightened and worried.

“What is going on?” Moira asked, finding Anders kneeling amongst a group of grubby looking children.

“Oh, nothing much,” he replied airily, completing a healing spell. Standing up, he brushed his knees off with his hand. “Just the annual exodus from Amaranthine.” He smiled at the children, who looked a little less frightened than they had a moment before, before drawing Moira out of earshot. “There’s a darkspawn army amassing and headed towards Amaranthine. We got as many people out of the city as we possibly could.”


Nathaniel’s head snapped up when he heard his sister call out to him. “What’s going on, Nathaniel?” she asked once he got to her, her eyes wide.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Where’s your husband?”

Delilah pointed to where the Keep’s meager army was handing out weapons. “Your fellow Wardens came and evacuated the city. We’ve been here since last night.” She curled her arms protectively around her midsection.

“Don’t worry,” Nathaniel said, gathering his sister in his arms. He looked the scene in the courtyard over, mentally counting all the people – his people, their people – who were just as frightened as Delilah was. “Everything is going to be all right. I’ll make certain of it, I swear.”

She kissed his cheek. “You always did look out for us when we were younger,” she told him. “What are you going to do?”

Nathaniel looked towards Moira, who was speaking to Varel and Captain Garevel. He couldn’t make out what was being said, but he inferred that she was getting caught up on the events that had begun to take place in their absence. She looked completely in charge and Nathaniel realized just then that he wasn’t merely looking at Moira; he was getting a glimpse of the Warden-Commander who had cut down an archdemon and had lived to tell the tale. “I’m going to follow our Arlessa.”

“Nathaniel,” Moira said, striding up to them with a determined glint in her eye. “I need to know if there’s anywhere safe we can lead the women and children to.”

“The cellars are an option,” he said. “We’ve made sure that they’re secure, and we can probably hold half of the people there.”

“The rest will have to stay inside the throne room,” Moira finished. “The hall is large enough to keep everyone safe, and it’s in the most defendable position.” The throne room had held during the first siege she had fought in the Keep; it would hold for another. Besides, she was determined not to let the darkspawn overrun the Keep. If anything, the outer courtyard would serve as a last stand. “Delilah, I’m going to need your help getting everyone situated. Do you know if there are any injured people?”

“No, everyone was healthy. There were a few sick folk in Amaranthine, but they haven’t been evacuated just yet. Constable Aiden stayed behind with a small number of guards to get them out.”

“Good. We need to get this courtyard cleared and everyone safely hidden.” Varel had informed her that he had assigned people atop the battlements to act as an early alert should they spy anything amiss and she wanted to make certain that plans were in place before they shouted out warnings. She gave Nathaniel a look, which he returned. Without another word, she broke away and began organizing people to escort those unable to fight to safety.

“Nathaniel,” Delilah said, grasping onto his arms. “Albert is a good man, but he isn’t much of a fighter,” she told him, her eyes wide. “Promise me that he’ll live to see his child born.”


“Nate, please. Promise me.”

“I promise.” The vow tasted bitter on his tongue, but he would do everything in his power to make sure that his sister’s husband drew breath at the end of this. “But you promise me something as well. Should the Keep fall, make for Father’s library.” The room on the right side of the throne room was well known to both of them; generations of Howes had been taught at a young age that should something dire ever happen and they were in need of a quick, unseen exit, all they had to do was run to the family library and press upon a certain wall sconce. The bookshelf on the far end of the room would slide away, exposing a hidden tunnel leading down and away from the Keep. The winding path eventually ended at a cavern only a mile or so away from Denerim. “Take as many people as you possibly can, but make sure that you save yourself. I’ve already lost one sibling to these foul beasts, I’ll be damned if I lose another when there’s something that can be done.”

She wrapped her arms around his waist, squeezing tightly. “I promise. Maker watch over you, Brother.”

He dropped a kiss on the crown of her head. “Maker watch over us all.” He watched as she ran towards her husband, as the man clutched her against him and kissed her passionately before letting her go.

“You must be Albert,” he said as he joined him, picking up a blade and handing it to a nearby farmer. Maker, these would-be soldiers are but boys and men used to farming equipment instead of swords.

“And you must be Delilah’s brother. She speaks fondly of you.”

“Can you fight?”

Albert nodded. “I know that I’m not as well trained as others, but I know how to defend myself.”

Nathaniel grimly looked him over. His brother-in-law held himself well, his hand on the handle of his axe. He had promise, and Nathaniel hoped that he had enough skill to keep himself alive.

Meanwhile, Moira and Oghren were eying the front gates. “They’ll hold,” Oghren reassured her, handing her a stamina drought even as he drained one himself.

“I’m more concerned about the people behind the gates instead,” she replied, feeling slightly better with the potion in her system. It wouldn’t do for a long-term solution to her fatigue, but at least it would keep her alert during the upcoming battle.

He elbowed her. “Guess that you’re gonna have to give one of those rousing speeches then. Let them know that us Wardens have faith in them and all that.”

She bit her lip. “I never wanted this,” she confessed. “I’m not a leader, I’m…” I’m the daughter of a nobleman whose biggest fear two years ago would have been saying the wrong thing at an estate dinner. The most stressful thing I would have been required to organize would have been the menu, not worrying that any move I made would mean life or death for hundreds of people. “I’m going to get us all killed.” This was different than the Blight. These were people that she had come to know, not soldiers trained in battle. Besides, Alistair had been the one to give the speeches, to rally everyone. She had just stood behind him and looked on encouragingly. She curled her hands into fists. Seeing women holding babies to their breasts while pleading for her to save them had shaken her confidence. So many lives were at stake, not just her own.

“Asschabs,” Oghren spat. “So you weren’t born a leader. Not many of ‘em are. You honestly think that you killed the sodding archdemon purely by luck? Warden, we followed you back then because you made things right wherever we went. You kicked ass and took names after, and you saved a helluva lot of people along the way. I follow you now because I still believe in you. We all do.”

Moira let out a breath. “I thought that I was supposed to give the rousing speech,” she joked.

He shrugged. “Well, sometimes ya gotta take the nug by the horns an’ give it yer all.”

She put a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you, my friend.”

“Hey, hey, hey. Don’t get all sentimental on me. Your sweetheart’ll bound to get jealous. Not that I’d blame him; I always knew you were itchin’ to sample some Oghren lovin’.” The leer he gave was enough to shake her out of her self-doubt, which Moira knew had been his main aim.

“Commander,” Varel said, running up to them. “Our scouts have spied darkspawn forces gathering on Amaranthine.”

“Constable Aiden and his guards are still there,” Moira said. “We can’t leave them.”

Varel nodded. “I was hoping that you would say that. What is your command?”

Moira looked at Oghren. “You don’t gotta say anything,” he replied, crossing his arms over his chest and giving her an anticipatory smirk. “I’ve got your back, Cousland.”

“The city isn’t far from here,” Moira said, reckoning that if they didn’t run into any opposition, then they could make it there before the bulk of the horde did. They’d have to make a hasty retreat, but hopefully they could gather the constable’s men and survivors and make it back to the Keep quickly. “I’ll take a small group of Wardens and be back shortly.”

“You aren’t going anywhere without me,” Nathaniel said, coming up towards them.

“Or me.” Anders tucked Ser Pounce-a-Lot into his pack and tugged on the straps at his shoulders.

“You sure about this, Sparkle Fingers?” Oghren asked. “It might be a suicide mission for all we know.”

Anders quirked his eyebrow. “Call me crazy, but I like to live on the edge.” Pounce poked his head out of Anders’ pack and meowed.

“Then it’s settled. Varel, protect the Keep while we’re gone.” Moira stared at the courtyard, praying that the upgrades and armor that she’d commissioned from both Voldrick and Wade would give them an advantage.


“The city is taken,” Constable Aiden reported, wiping blood out of his eye. “Those injured have been infected with the Taint. If we take them with us, they’ll surely infect the others.”

Moira shook her head. “There have to be survivors who are well enough to move.” She held her arm tightly against her side, her blood seeping out from underneath her armor. Anders was already at her elbow, his hands tingling with healing magic.

“Commander! More darkspawn approach!” Nathaniel’s bow automatically went up at the guard’s shout, his arrow trained on the lone darkspawn on the road.

“Nathaniel, wait,” Moira said, her hand on his forearm. “Do you see something familiar?”

“It is one of the talking ones,” he agreed, the hand holding back his bowstring relaxing. He didn’t let go of the bow, but followed Moira as she approached the darkspawn. They both listened as it explained how the Mother had set a trap; that while they were here in the city, she had another force waiting to attack Vigil’s Keep.

“We need to get back,” Moira said, turning towards Aiden and Nathaniel. “We need to move the survivors that aren’t infected and get back.”

“The city is taken,” Nathaniel told her, shaking his head. “Darkspawn have overrun it.”


He held onto her uninjured arm and squeezed. “Think for a moment; do you want to waste time looking for survivors that may or may not be infected by the Taint while fighting off darkspawn that could be better spent running back to the Keep to defend the bulk of our people?”

“We’re leaving people to die here, Nathaniel.” She knew what had to be done, but her mind was still looking for a way to save both the city and the Keep. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find a middle ground.

Nathaniel’s fingers tightened on her upper arm. “Moira, you can’t protect everyone. Decide how many you want to save.” He looked at her desperately. “Think of the women in the Keep. Do you want them to share the same fate as those we saw in Kal’Hirol?” His mind frantically went to the thought of his sister screaming in the dark, her features disfigured as she howled. He would do anything to protect her, and by the way Moira grimaced, he knew she would do the same.

Aiden came towards them. “Commander? What are your orders?”

Moira closed her eyes and bowed her head. “Andraste and the Maker forgive me.” Turning, she unsheathed one of her swords and stalked towards the Architect’s messenger. The darkspawn had a brief second to realize what its fate was before Moira’s blade sliced its head off its shoulders. “Set fire to Amaranthine. Burn it and the darkspawn inside to the ground. We kill every one of those bastards that we come across.”

Nathaniel watched as she stared unblinking at the archers, their arrows blazing through the night sky. Others might not have seen it, but he caught the way she flinched when rooftops caught fire. “We need to make it back to the Keep,” was all she said, her tone brittle as she wiped a smudge of blood off her cheek. Nathaniel kept up beside her as they went down the road, his hand curling over hers as a show of support.

Behind them, the screams of the people left behind reached their ears over the crackle of the fire. Moira stiffened, listening as pleas to the Maker fell on deaf ears, but she refused to look back. Nathaniel squeezed her fingers, but her hand remained slack in his. Where her eyes had once held a determined glint, Nathaniel saw that they were now dead and flat. They didn’t once speak on the way back to the Keep.


Dust from the battle swirled around Anders, his hands weaving in complicated patterns as he called magic forth from the tip of his staff, a dark cloud enveloping a large area near the eastern side gate. Thunder rumbled and lighting struck their enemies in a violent chain reaction. A testament to Anders’ skill, none of their allies were hit. Darkspawn children screamed and through the strobe-like effect of lighting, Nathaniel could see Moira in the midst of the action. She and Oghren fought back to back, the dwarf protecting Moira’s flank as usual while she snuck behind and caught her foe unaware. Nathaniel stood beside Anders, protecting the mage while he cast offensively and threw the occasional healing spell around their allies, just as they had always done, until the east side was cleared.

“We’re needed back at the front gates!” Garevel shouted. The roar that came from the area sent chills down Moira’s back.

“No,” she whispered, staring in horror as Varel was scooped up by an ogre, his body flopping around limply as the ogre let loose another roar in her seneschal’s unconscious face. Her mind flashed back to Ostagar, to Lothering and the Deep Roads. Duncan and Riordan also came to mind, as did everyone she had left to die amid darkspawn and flames. “Enough!” she shouted, running towards the ogre. She stabbed at it with her swords, making it drop its prisoner. Varel fell to a heap next to Moira, and the sight only fueled her anger. She was tired of losing those that she knew to the darkspawn. Adrenaline surging through her veins, she ducked the ogre’s fist and lunged at it, launching herself at its chest. She screamed in rage as she plunged one of her swords hilt-deep into its neck, hot blood all but drenching her arms and making her hold slippery. She stabbed her other sword into its eye, ignoring the squelching sound of her blade slicing through soft tissue and the jarring impact of hitting bone. She let go as the ogre fell to its knees, jumping off and covering Varel’s body with hers to shield him from the worst of the blow.

“Commander,” he wheezed, staring up at her. “Did we…win?”

Moira screamed for a medic, fumbling at her belt for healing potions she kept on her at all times. “We did,” she said, gently tilting his head back so he could swallow the contents of the bottle. “The Keep is secure.” Her hands shook as she took in the twisted metal of his armor and how it crumpled inwards, dark blood seeping from his wounds.

“I’m done for,” Varel murmured, holding onto her hand. “It was an honor serving you, my Arlessa.”

“Don’t talk like that,” she told him fiercely, breaking the seal of yet another potion and forcing it down his throat. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw a faint blue light enveloping him. Anders knelt at their side, his hands warm as he cast a regeneration spell over both of them.

“It looks bad,” he said, his voice grave. “But I think I can stabilize him enough for us to move him into the throne room.” He waved his hand over Varel’s face. “Sleep.” At the command and subsequent surge of magic, Varel’s entire body went limp in Moira’s arms.

“No more death,” Moira said, her voice flat. “There’s been enough today to last a lifetime.”

“I heartily agree with you, my dear. Unfortunately, I think we’re up for yet another wave at the front.” Anders pointed to where more heretic disciples were beginning to flood the area. “Go. I’ve got this.”

Moira ran towards the front gates, taking a breath to slip into the shadow form she and Nathaniel had been working on for the past few weeks. While it had taken her a while to master it, she could now move in complete stealth quite easily. She was thankful that he had taught her how, especially now that she needed all the chances to gain the upper hand as possible. Gritting her teeth, she snuck up on one of the disciples and slit its throat before it even had a chance to cast a spell. Quickly leaving it to fall to the dust with a thud, she moved on to the next.


“Come at me, you thunderhumping sons of whores!” Oghren bellowed, swinging his axe as the darkspawn turned their attention to him instead of the farmers who were quickly fatiguing. “That’s right. Come to Oghren.” Ah, Felsi, he thought, slicing through heads and arms as if they were made out of water. I only wish I had a chance to tell ya how sorry I am that I wasn’t the family type ya deserve. He could feel his own arms tiring, even though the number of enemies around him was slowly dwindling. If I’m gonna die here, I’m gonna go out with a bang. He grunted and tried to find his second wind, drawing breath to break out into song. “There once was a maid from Orlais…”


Nathaniel had long since run out of arrows, abandoning his bow in favor for the twin daggers he kept at his belt. His heart raced as he realized that he had lost track of Moira in the fray, and the distraction had almost caused him a near miss with a darkspawn axe. His head whipped to the left when he heard a shout, his eyes widening as he saw Albert surrounded by genlocks. Nathaniel ran to his side, slashing at any opponents that got in his way. He performed a quick move that upset the balance of one of the genlocks, which was enough to give him an opening. Nathaniel silently thanked Moira for teaching him the duelist skills needed to pinpoint vital organs from any angle as he scored a critical hit from behind. The strike was even deadlier now that he had learned the assassin’s lacerate talent, which he grudgingly gave a nod to Zevran for being the one to teach the skill to Moira, who had in turn taught it to Nathaniel.

“Thanks,” Albert panted as they finished off their enemies.

“Delilah would kill me if I let you die,” Nathaniel told him, wiping sweat from his brow. Bending down, he picked up enough stray arrows to refill his quiver.

Albert let out a tiny laugh. “She’s scary when she’s angry,” he agreed, turning to face off a Hurlock that had made its way towards them.

Nathaniel drew back his bow and let loose an arrow. The Hurlock fell to the ground with a grunt, Nathaniel’s arrow in its forehead. “Then let’s do our best to keep her happy.” He meant his comment to come out as ‘let’s make sure that we both stay alive,’ but it came out as the veiled threat that he hadn’t had a chance to give his sister’s husband. Arching his brow, he gave his brother-in-law a pointed look. “She’s not the only one who’s scary when they’re upset.”

Albert gulped. “Noted.”


Moira’s entire body shook with fatigue as she darted into the armored ogre’s blind side. She took the opportunity to catch her breath, as well as to check how the battle was going around her. She couldn’t take everything in, but it seemed as if things were going well. The ground shook and she caught a flash of flame out of the corner of her eye. The scent of burnt lyrium settled thickly in the air, signaling that Dworkin’s bombs were being utilized.

“Woah!” Sigrun shouted, rolling out of the range of the ogre’s fist. “Who would have thought they’d have sense enough to arm these guys?”

“I don’t know,” Moira replied, finding a point in the armor to strike. She climbed up the ogre’s body, trying to find a spot against its throat to send her sword into. She let out a grunt when the ogre easily shook her off, her back hitting the ground hard enough to send stars dancing in her vision.

“Move it, both of you!” Velanna yelled from the front gate’s battlement. Sigrun was able to drag Moira out of the way fast enough to avoid the large patch of roots that shot out of the ground at their feet. The roots quickly enveloped the ogre, finding all the gaps in its armor to wind their way through. The two of them watched as the roots suddenly developed large thornlike barbs that the ogre couldn’t defend against, eventually falling.

“Is that all?” Sigrun asked, her daggers dripping with dark blood.

“I think so,” Moira said. “Wait. There.” She pointed to where Justice was, the Fade Spirit’s shield protecting him from the worst of the blows a larger darkspawn was attacking. “Maverlies!” Moira shouted. “Arrows to the front gate!”

“Yes, Commander!”

“We’re going to need to flank him, probably on both sides,” Sigrun commented, running alongside Moira.

“You’re not going to do much good with a cracked skull,” Velanna said dryly, casting a healing spell over Moira. Almost instantly, the pounding headache that had blossomed at the back of Moira’s head disappeared.

It was a long battle, but they finally managed to bring the Herald to his knees. “You might have gotten me,” he laughed, black blood bubbling from his lips, “But the Mother will never fall to the likes of you!”

“You and your kind have slaughtered innocents,” Justice said, his face impassive. “The Mother will share your fate.” With that, Justice swung his mace back, catching the Herald on the side of his head. There was a crack as the Herald’s skull fractured, then the darkspawn fell.

“What were our damages?” Moira asked, turning from the scene behind her.

“The Keep’s walls have held, Commander,” Captain Garevel reported. “We have suffered many injuries yet few fatalities. The militia from the farmlands was hit the worst, and our infantry has seen better days. Varel…”

“Is quite all right,” Anders interrupted, coming up and dusting his hands off. “He’s sleeping still, but I managed to heal the worst of it. He might not be up for dancing the Remigold any time soon, but he’ll recover.”

Moira let out a breath. “Thank you, Anders.”

“The darkspawn have fled,” Maverlies supplied. “They’re leaving a path that even the greenest of trackers could make out.”

Moira nodded. “They’re more than likely retreating to the Mother’s lair. We can’t let them escape.”

Nathaniel slung his bow across his back. “Are you proposing that we chase them down tonight?” He could see the way that she shook, how they all looked as if they could use a good rest.

She turned to him. “Yes. We need to end this while we still have the upper hand. If we wait any longer, then it only gives the Mother another chance to rebuild her army.”

“I know, but…”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Do you want what happened in Amaranthine to happen here?” Even from where they were, Moira imagined that she could see the curling black smoke rise from the ruined town.

He nearly stepped back from her sharp reply. “You know that I don’t.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “It was…”

“It was what, Nathaniel?” She clenched her hands into fists at her side. Taking a breath, she closed her eyes and slowly exhaled. They didn’t need to fight, especially now. “It doesn’t matter. What is done is done. Who is going with me?”

“Count me in,” Oghren said, taking a swig out of his wineskin.

“Me too,” Anders chimed in, wiping his mouth as he finished up a lyrium potion. The effects were immediate; he suddenly perked up where he had seemed to droop from exhaustion before.

“You know that I’m going,” Nathaniel said.

“Then it’s decided. Justice and Sigrun, I need you two to help keep watch for any threats that might spring up once we’re gone.”

Sigrun nodded. “We can do that.”

“Velanna, I’m going to need you to help heal those that were injured.”

“Very well.”

Moira saw that the Dalish mage was somewhat reluctant to help humans, but was grateful that she hadn’t refused outright. “The rest of you, make certain that the Keep is fortified. Aiden, see to those in the cellars. Captain Garevel, report to Mistress Woolsey and the rest of the nobles in the throne room. With Varel out of commission, I’m appointing you in charge while I’m away.”

Captain Garevel blinked at her as if he hadn’t quite heard her correctly. “I…it will be done, Commander.”

Moira shook her head. “Good. Our main goal is to make certain that the Keep remains safe, but we also need to reassure everyone inside. Have the cooks prepare something to calm everyone’s nerves and see to it that there are places for everyone to rest for the evening.” And for the foreseeable future, Moira mentally added. There was no way that anyone was going to be heading back to Amaranthine any time soon.

“Your orders will be followed to the letter,” Garevel reassured her. “Stay safe, and come back to us quickly, all of you.”


“So, this is where dragons go to die,” Anders commented, winding his way through the enormous skeletal ribcage. He leaned against one of the bones, trying to catch his breath. Drake’s Fall had been too quiet; the Childer grubs that had ambushed them had nearly gotten the drop, had it not been for Nathaniel’s warning. They’d barely had enough time to dart out of the way before a high dragon had swooped down, killing the grubs with one mighty blast of fire. The dragon had been tough, but it hadn’t stood a chance against Oghren’s axe or Moira’s blades. The dwarf had jumped atop its head and repeatedly hacked at the dragon’s neck until he had beheaded the beast while she had slicing at its vulnerable belly from underneath.

“Stay sharp,” Moira said, picking through the still smoking ruin. Using her dagger, she pried off a dark black scale and stowed it away in the pouch at her belt. They made their way silently down the winding stairs, finding strange crystals along the way. Anders had been the one to insist on keeping them, saying that they might come in handy later on. He was right; they found four niches to place them in at the bottom of the first stairwell after fighting their way through shrieks and other darkspawn. Moira didn’t know what the crystals had activated, but there was a definite hum of magic as soon as the fourth one had been put in place.

The last two crystals needed to complete the next set were blocked by the Architect. Moira had listened as he rationally explained why the darkspawn needed Wardens. The idea of more sentient darkspawn intrigued Moira, as did the thought that the cycle of Blights could be put to an end. Then she thought about it. Darkspawn who thought for themselves would never be accepted by the rest of Thedas, meaning that there would be even more death – death to the Wardens whose blood would have been used to awaken the darkspawn and the darkspawn themselves – that would be absolutely unnecessary.

If anything, Moira was fed up with unnecessary death. Anders had been the only one to voice his opinion before she chose to defeat the Architect, and like him, she thought that Oghren and Nathaniel would have been behind her in her decision. While Oghren hadn’t been too upset with her choice, she could all but feel Nathaniel’s disappointment in her. She had looked at him and had taken a few steps backward once she saw just how angry he was with her.

Kneeling down, Moira set the crystals in their niche. Like everything else, speaking to Nathaniel about what had just happened would have to wait.


The Mother was even more monstrous than she had been in Nathaniel’s nightmare. While she might have gained sentience, she had definitely lost her sanity a long time ago. Ser Pounce-a-Lot had snuck his head out of Anders’ satchel, and the cat’s ears had flattened all the way back against its skull at the sound of the Mother’s screech. Pounce hissed once, then dived back into the depths of the bag for the duration of the fight.

“Watch the tentacles!” Moira yelled, moving out of the way. She slashed at the ones in her reach, causing the Mother to howl in pain. At her cry, Nathaniel heard answering screeches from all around them.

“Grubs!” he warned, pulling his arrow back high in the air. He drew a breath and rapidly fired, sending multiple arrows raining down upon the bulk of the wave.

“Watch where yer shootin’ them things!” Oghren groused, shaking his arm. Luckily, his heavy armor had deflected the arrow. Nathaniel didn’t have time to apologize, mainly because he was more interested in trying to keep Moira alive. Things would not end like they had in his nightmare, he swore. The swarms of Childer grubs and tentacles defeated, Moira had run straight up to the Mother. Nathaniel saw her move her arms in a Mark of Death before avoiding the Mother’s main tentacles. He pulled back the last of his arrows, piercing the Mother in the chest, before running up to help Mora.

It was strange, Moira thought. Defeating a being that had caused so much harm, so much death, should have been a lot harder. Anders had sent a sizzling bolt of lighting at the Mother’s face that had stunned her, giving Moira an opening to take a dagger and jam it into the Mother’s skull. The smell of darkspawn and other darker things was overwhelming, and she fought to keep her gorge down.

“Do you have any more juice left to get rid of this mess?” she asked Anders, who was leaning against his staff.

“Sorry, Commander. I’m all out.” He reached up next to his shoulder where Pounce had started to climb out of the satchel and scratched the cat’s ears. “But I think I figured out what those crystals we collected were for.” Drawing forth the last of his magical strength, Anders summoned up a ball of fire. He closed his eyes, murmuring something that the rest of them couldn’t quite catch, before throwing the flame at the Mother’s corpse. With a flick of his fingers, the ball of flame erupted into an inferno, the blast of heat actually making Moira take a step back and her hair flutter backwards off her shoulders.

“Nice move there, Sparkle Fingers,” Oghren said, clearly impressed as the Mother and the rest of the childer bodies were reduced to ash. “Never knew you had it in you.”

“I didn’t,” Anders confessed, shaking even more now that the spell was complete. “We have Trevinter magic amplifiers to thank for that little display.”

Moira ducked under his arm, wrapping her arms around him for support. “Come on,” she said, giving Anders a slight hug that he weakly returned. “Let’s go home. We’ve all deserved a rest.”


Moira had wanted to forgo a bath in favor of seeing to her people, but one look at herself in a hall mirror had changed her mind. She looked as if someone had dipped her in blood, her hair matted into thick clumps from it. What was left of her armor was a complete loss, and now that the battle was over, she felt every single one of her injuries she had gained that Anders hadn’t been able to heal. Limping to her bedroom, she sank against the doorframe.

“Jillian is a saint,” she muttered aloud, looking at the tub of steaming water that was waiting for her, even with the Keep being in complete disarray. She didn’t care if it had been ice cold, she needed to get clean. Her hands fumbled at the buckles to her armor, and she was about to slice through them in frustration when she felt Nathaniel’s hands cover hers, his fingers deftly removing what she couldn’t.

“I’d have to agree,” he replied, closing the door behind them. He watched as Moira absently stripped out of the remainder of her clothing and weaved her way towards the tub. “Do you think there’s room for two?”

“Oh, I think so.” She sank into the water with a sigh, wincing slightly as the scented oil stung against the various cuts and scrapes on her body. Nathaniel slid in behind her, and it felt wonderful just to settle against the solid bulk of him, to feel his arms come around and cradle her against his chest.

Of course, that meant she had to ruin the moment. “You’re still angry with me, aren’t you?” she asked quietly, taking the bar of soap and lathering her arms. Dried blood flaked away, turning the water pink. “About killing the Architect.”

Nathaniel tensed, pausing from scrubbing his fingernails over his scalp. “I’m not angry,” he told her, keeping suds out of his eyes.

“I could have put an end to the Blights. This most recent archdemon would have been the last that Thedas would have ever had to face.”

“That’s true,” he said slowly, using the ewer nearby to rinse his hair. Setting the pitcher down, he took the bar of soap from Moira’s hands and soaped up her shoulders. “And initially, I had thought that it was the best thing to do.”

“And now?” She wrapped her arms around her knees, watching as blood sluggishly seeped from a shallow cut near her elbow.

“I’ve been thinking. Would it be better to have intelligent darkspawn running about, finding old gods? It might take them a lot longer, seeing that the Mother claimed that she couldn’t hear the archdemon’s call any longer, but what would happen to that when they do find it?” He poured clean water over her back, rinsing away the last of the darkspawn blood. He stepped out of the tub, holding out a hand for Moira. Wrapping one of the towels around his waist, he knelt at the foot of their bed, opening the trunk there and getting out medical supplies. While he wasn’t as good as Moira or the other healers in the Keep, he knew enough basic first aid to patch them both up.

“Let me do that,” Moira said, coming up behind him. She’d put on clean undergarments, but that was as far as she had gotten dressed.

“No,” he told her, wincing when he realized that the single word came out harsher than he had intended. “You’ve taken care of everyone here,” he said quietly. “Let me take care of you for once.” Gently, he smoothed over a layer of thick red healing paste on her arm and wrapped a bandage over it. After he tucked the loose end into the finished bandage, he lightly pressed his lips to her injury.

Moira’s lips trembled and she heard someone let out a loud sob. It wasn’t until she felt her throat close up and her vision blur that she realized it had been her. “Shhh,” Nathaniel said, gathering her in his arms. He rocked her softly back and forth as she cried against his shoulder.

“All those people,” she sniffled, burrowing closer to his chest. “The screams.” Even over the clean scent of soap and herbs from the poultice on her arm, she could still smell the lingering scent of blood-caked dust and smoke.

Nathaniel ran his hand over her still damp hair. “There wasn’t anything you could have done,” he told her.

“It doesn’t make it any better,” she replied, moving back from him and wiping at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “I don’t know what to do.”

Nathaniel knelt to wrap a bandage around her calf. “You’re going to sleep,” he said, preparing another bandage to go over a partially healed gash on her upper thigh. “And then in the morning, we’re going to go down and see how the militia and infantry are doing.”

“I want to go into Amaranthine tomorrow. We need to retrieve…” she swallowed hard. “We need to bring back the bodies for a proper burial. We’re going to need to do that with the numbers that we lost here as well.” She was going to need to get with someone to tally just how many people they had lost, and with someone else to see if there are any that are unaccounted for. The people that were now in the Keep couldn’t possibly be all of Amaranthine’s population. Surely some would have already fled south to Denerim or Redcliffe or even to the west to Highever.

“That’s what I was going to suggest.” He went to work bandaging his own bicep, but stopped when Moira put her hands over his and took over. “I was also going to suggest working in pairs to see that the people from the city are taken care of while they’re here. The Keep has plenty of rooms; we can place different families in several to get everyone out of the elements. We can also keep the Great Hall converted into a temporary shelter until reconstruction of the city can take place.”

“Esmerelle is going to be demanding us to make certain we give her town the highest priority,” Moira commented, putting away the first aid supplies.

“And we’re going to do our best to reassure her that we are putting her first.” Nathaniel thought about Zevran, wondering if they’d have to put up with Bann Esmerelle’s veiled threats and demands for very long. Taking Moira’s hands, he led her over to the bed. “But all of that can wait until later. We won’t be able to do anything if we don’t get at least a few hours’ worth of sleep. You can’t exist on stamina droughts forever.”

She’d known that she had been exhausted, but Moira hadn’t expected to drift off as soon as her head hit the pillow. The last thing she remembered was Nathaniel settling beside her, his lips warm on her forehead.


The sky had barely started to turn pink in the horizon when Moira woke up next, her head on Nathaniel’s shoulder and her arm draped over his chest. She slipped out from underneath his arm without waking him, watching as he frowned in his sleep before turning and hugging her pillow close. She dressed as soundlessly as possible and then made her way downstairs.

“What are you doing up?” she asked Anders, who was sitting at a tall worktable in the infirmary, a mortar and pestle in his hands.

“Potions aren’t going to make themselves,” he told her, stopping his mixing in order to take a sip from a ceramic mug near his elbow. “I’d ask the same of you, but I have a feeling I know what’s made you such an early bird.”

“Arlings aren’t going to rebuild themselves,” she replied, going over to his side. She took a knife and began chopping up elfroot. “What are you drinking anyway?” The mug he was drinking from contained some dark liquid that smelled fragrantly strong. Wisps of steam came off the surface, telling her that he had either just made it or that he had used magic to reheat the contents.

“Oh, a little of this and a little of that. Tea wasn’t doing the trick to keep me alert, so I’ve been working on my very own concoction for some time now.” He offered the mug to her. “I’m thinking about calling it ‘coffee’.”

Moira took a tentative sip, making a face as soon as the bitter liquid hit her tongue. “Because it makes people cough when they drink it?” she asked. “It’s interesting, but all the same, I think I’ll stick with tea.”

Anders shrugged. “It is a little bit bracing when taken just black, I’ll admit, but I’ve been experimenting with adding different amounts of sugar and cream. Sigrun’s been helping out with the taste tests.” Anders melted wax over the finished potion vial and set it in a holder. “Which would explain why she’s been extra perky lately. Maybe I should tell her to stop after her fourth cup.”

“Thank you,” Moira said, moving her chopped herbs over to Anders’ workstation. “You’ve done so much. I appreciate it.”

Anders gave her a noncommittal shrug. “Hey, I might be all flashy with the primal magic,” he said, grinning as he stirred ingredients together, “but I’m a healer at heart. This is what I do.”

“How many people were injured?” Moira looked over to where several cots had been set up. In the semi-gloom, she couldn’t make out if all of the people sleeping in them were injured or not.

“Surprisingly, not that many. Wade’s armor saved the infantry, and the militia held its own. Velanna, the lovely Serena from Amaranthine – and what I wouldn’t give to compare notes with her - and myself treated everything from bumps to the head to the three or four critical injuries, including Varel. As for the others, I say that everyone will benefit from rest and a couple of good meals.”

“That can be done.”

Anders leaned against her arm. “And in my own medical opinion, I’d say that you’d benefit from some rest as well.”

“You’re starting to sound like Nathaniel.”

He grinned. “That’s probably because we both have your best interests in mind.”

“I’ll head back to bed after I check on Varel. Is he here?”

“No, we moved him back to his own personal quarters.” Anders poured the potion in another vial and capped it. “Do I have your promise that you’ll go rest as soon as you finish that?”

Moira nodded. “I promise.”

She spent a little more time in the infirmary with Anders, both helping him restock their supply of potions and poultices and helping tend to the injured. Serena, a healer who had fled from Amaranthine, had come in some time after to assist. Moira had seen the look Anders was giving her behind Serena’s back when she decided to leave, smiling a bit because it was obvious that she was cramping his style. After that, she went to visit with the cook, who was already busy recruiting volunteers to help feed everyone. Phillip, the head chef, was like a general in an army and pleased as punch that he would be able to cook for so many people as well as help out in efforts to make things a little more normal. Moira left with a basket of rolls and fruit, which she redistributed to several children and their parents that were awake at such an early hour.

She didn’t stay long in the Great Hall, knowing that she would come back later with Nathaniel. She did, however, slip into her office with the last roll in the basket. Hiding a yawn with the back of her hand, Moira stared at a blank piece of parchment and dipped her pen into the inkwell.

The first letter to Arl Teagan as well as the letters that followed to the other Banns in the Bannorn was short and to the point. She informed them of the state of Amaranthine and requested that a poll be conducted to see just how many people from her city had fled so she could get proper numbers accounted for. She didn’t ask for aid, at least not now, because she still wasn’t certain as to what her people would need until she had a chance to go to the ruined city and see for herself.

The next two letters were a little harder to pen.

Dear Alistair, she started. Remember the land you asked me to eradicate darkspawn from? Well, I have good news and I have bad news. Here, she did ask for help, and she knew that he would offer as much as he possibly could. The royal coffers couldn’t have changed too terribly much in less than three months; she knew from experience how much was still in them. They had rebuilt several smaller towns with those funds and all she was really asking for was help in both monetary and physical labor to make the city livable again. Any other upgrades would have to come from taxes and levies, which she was loath to do, but she wasn’t about to ask the king for anything incredibly extravagant. She wrote several more pages, adding in great detail the events that she was comfortable sending through mail, but telling him that other Warden business would have to be explained face to face. Like the other letters, she asked him to make note of how many refugees might be living in Denerim and send the numbers and if possible, the names of those living there back to her as quickly as he was able.

She sealed the letter and reached for another blank piece of paper, taking a breath before she began writing her brother. She gave him an even more abbreviated explanation of events, reassuring him that she was fine, but that she needed his help by way of any craftsmen he could spare. She ran her fingers over her necklace, feeling a sharp, painful wave of homesickness hit her that almost brought tears to her eyes. Just then, she wanted to go home more than anything else. She closed her eyes. Highever wasn’t her home any longer, just like Denerim wasn’t either. She had already welcomed Amaranthine as her home, and had identified the people there as her people.

She ended the letter with an open invitation for Fergus to come visit, knowing that he would show up uninvited anyway. She bit her lip, wondering how she was going to broach the subject of her and Nathaniel’s relationship without causing bloodshed. Moira pressed the Cousland crest into the cooling wax, setting the letter aside with all the others to be posted later on that day. Her hands shook and she finished off the leftover roll, chewing thoughtfully before getting up from the chair and heading to Varel’s rooms.


Nathaniel woke up face down in bed feeling as if someone had pulled every single muscle in his arms and back out of sorts. He hadn’t felt this sore since his first year of intense archery drills. Attempting to flex his right hand caused his fingers to cramp, making him grimace.

“I suppose,” he drawled, his voice muffled by his pillow, “that you’ve already been up for hours.”

“Something like that,” Moira replied, sitting on the edge of the bed. She took Nathaniel’s hand in hers and gently rubbed until the tendons relaxed. “I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.” Rising from the mattress, she rummaged through her glass jars near her makeup stand before pulling out a vial of unscented oil. She’d gone to visit Varel, but found him resting. Upon going back to her own rooms, she stripped out of everything but her smallclothes, intent on joining Nathaniel for a short nap.

Nathaniel jumped when he felt something cool hit his shoulders, then let out a low moan when Moira’s hands dug into his muscles, easing the ache that had settled there. “You know,” he muttered, “if you say that your Antivan friend taught you this, I don’t think I could work up the energy right now to get jealous.”

Moira laughed. “Actually, you can thank my friend from Orlais. Leliana could work wonders with her hands.” The bard had often worked knots out of Moira and Alistair’s arms after a long day of swinging swords. Moira ran her hands down Nathaniel’s forearm, erasing the tension there before moving along his spine. She couldn’t get to him from her current position, so she rose and sat on her heels, her knees straddling his hips. She squeaked when he rolled over, his hands holding her in place over him.

“So,” he started, looking up at her with hooded eyes when she rolled her hips against him. “Care to tell me just where you’ve been so we don’t waste time revisiting people?”

Her breath hitched and she couldn’t form a coherent thought in her head, especially when Nathaniel’s hands settled firmly on her hips. “I…” She splayed her hands over his chest and bit her lip. “Went to see people.”

“Uh huh. I gathered that much.” He gave her a crooked grin before rolling them again, stopping when they were on their sides facing one another. “I suspect that Varel is doing well?”

“He was sleeping, but he looked a great deal better.” She settled closer to him, her leg gliding over his, and told him of everything she’d already done that morning. “I also wrote to Alistair. Knowing him, he’s going to want to come here and check out the damage himself.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “It might actually help morale to see him. I don’t know if he realizes it yet, but he has quite the effect on people.” Even before she had left for Amaranthine, she had overheard the common classes call him the People’s King. He was popular everywhere he went, especially since he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. When they had helped rebuild Lothering, Alistair had been right alongside everyone else, raising house frames and hauling away burnt timber. It had been a trial for his bodyguards, but the refugees from Lothering had remembered the kind acts that he performed without even thinking. Having him in Amaranthine would be a good thing.

“You might also want to prepare yourself for a visit from Fergus sometime soon,” she warned, her finger tracing the line the bandage made over his chest.

He sighed and buried his face in her hair. “Maker, that’s going to be a difficult visit.” It was sad, especially since the two of them had been the closest of friends in their youth. Ever realistic, Nathaniel knew that no matter what, he’d never be able to undo the damage his father had done to Fergus’ family.

Moira stroked his back, frowning at the way his muscles tensed up again. “Especially when he learns that we’re together?” She suddenly realized that she was going to have the three men in her life that she’d ever loved in the same place at the same time. That was going to be interesting. Alistair would probably accept their relationship without question, especially since he knew much of her and Nathaniel’s past history from the many nights that they had stayed up and kept watch, and the most he would probably do is tease the both of them mercilessly and ply Nathaniel for embarrassing stories or something on that lines, but Fergus…

Nathaniel groaned. “I’m a dead man.” Fergus had been accepting, if a bit overprotective by principle, of his and Moira’s relationship back then, but he was certain to not feel that way now. “He’s going to know at first glance and kill me.”

Moira snuggled closer against him and exhaled slowly, finally deciding to take Nathaniel and Anders’ advice. “He’ll have to go through me before he can hurt you,” she said sleepily. A nap was looking more and more appealing as the day wore on.

Nathaniel tipped her face up and kissed her, lingering on the pliant way her lips met his. “My hero,” he breathed against her mouth, his fingers tangling in her hair.

No, Moira thought, kissing him back. You’re mine.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 15th, 2010 01:14 am (UTC)
Very nicely done! Busy little Wardens. I feel like I was up for a week fighting darkspawn myself after reading this :P

Please say you're going to write Fergus's visit? I'm assuming you will, as we haven't hit 30 yet, but I have to double check.
Jul. 15th, 2010 01:18 am (UTC)
This chapter gave me so much hell, mostly because action scenes and me go together like oil and water. I'm completely stumped for the next chapter, but I think Fergus will make an appearance. I love that guy like crazy. :)
Jul. 17th, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
!!! I'm so glad that you saved Varel!! I was pretty upset when he died at my feet my first playthrough! He always has the nicest things to say to your PC, how can you not love him?! 'May the Maker watch over you and hold you close'.

Another great installment - shared baths and wound healing are two of my fave coupley plot devices! I've got my fingers crossed on an appearance by Fergus next chapter.
Jul. 17th, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC)
I always figured that Varel lived if you went to save the city, so having him die right there made for one of those "no, no, NO, damn you!" moments where you're yelling at the TV without even realizing it. I love that guy!

Fergus is rapidly taking over chapter 28 by refusing to do what I had originally planned on just barreling on through with ideas of his own.
Jul. 20th, 2010 09:57 pm (UTC)
Whoa. A heavy, long and incredibly well written chapter <3 Took me all evening to read, because I had to keep stopping to let things sink in (also, because I had some very sad news from a friend today and started to get emotional). I'm incredibly glad you're writing this, though, and that I stumbled over it in the first place. :)
Jul. 23rd, 2010 04:12 am (UTC)
I'm sorry about your news; I hope everything is okay.
Jul. 25th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
I'm ok, but my friend, who was really excited about becoming a father, isn't so much. Their daughter died only a week or two before she was supposed to be born :( I feel terrible for them, but that's how life sometimes is, I guess. :/
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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