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If You Could Only See - 30_hugs prompt

Title: If You Could Only See
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
Theme: #14; somei yoshino: a type of sakura
Characters and Relationship: Nathaniel Howe/Moira Cousland, romantic
Rating: G
Summary: Moira heads to Highever. Fergus finds out about the company his sister’s been keeping.
Note: Moria’s favorite childhood story? Yep, that’s a nod to my favorite childhood book, The Hobbit, done with a Ferelden twist. Usual disclaimers apply; Bilbo and company don’t belong to me, property of J.R.R. Tolkien. Like Moira’s dad, I’m sure mine was tired of me always asking for another chapter each night at bedtime.

The majority of the forest surrounding Highever and the road leading up to the castle was made up of evergreens. Moira knew from experience that there were a select few trees that would actually change colors from green to vibrant red and orange; as a girl, she had made crowns of multicolored leaves and pretended that she was the queen of the forest. The scent of pines enveloped her as they rode under the trees, almost as if the land itself was welcoming her back to the place of her birth.

“It’s rather lovely, isn’t it?” Mistress Woolsey asked, taking everything in from the horse beside her. Fergus had sent a letter shortly after Moira’s own had reached him that said that he would be unable to visit Amaranthine at the moment. The harvest was upon him and there was much to oversee, but there were matters that needed to be discussed face to face concerning the arling’s expenses. Moira had forgotten just how busy their father had been during this time, which only drove home how ruined her own farms were and the fact that their food stores would need to be replenished somehow before the onset of winter. She’d sent the messenger back with a letter explaining that she and her treasurer would come to Highever to conduct business instead. It was difficult for her to leave Amaranthine, but her people were proving to be resilient: two weeks after the final battle had seen a flurry of activity, both at the Keep and in the city. True to his word, Alistair had shown up with a veritable army of craftsmen, rolling up his sleeves alongside Moira and the rest of the Wardens as they helped clear the burnt out shell the city had become. Ever the optimist, Alistair had told Moira that the bright side of all this was that now they could map out the sprawling city to work even more effectively. He’d left after a week to attend to business in Denerim, but he’d left the crew of workmen behind. His main city planner had worked extensively with Moira, Nathaniel and Constable Aiden in planning out the new layout, and the three of them were satisfied with what they had worked out.

“It is,” Moira replied. The city of Highever was just as she remembered it and the people who were milling about at the early hour instantly recognized her. She dismounted from her own horse and took the time to converse with the people who had known her since before she had been born. The end result was that she and Mistress Woolsey wound up at the castle’s front gates far later than they had anticipated. Moira was still leading her horse when she heard a familiar deep bark echo off the stone.

“Quinn!” She crouched and braced herself for the hearty welcome from her Mabari, tilting her head up to avoid the worst of his tongue as he tried to lick at her face. “My beautiful boy, I’ve missed you so!”

“Welcome back,” Fergus laughed, standing a bit to the side. “I certainly hope that you don’t expect such a welcome from me.”

Moira stood up and embraced her brother. “It’s good to be back,” she admitted, squeezing Fergus back just as hard as he was holding her. “I have much to speak to you about.”

“All in good time, dear sister. First, let’s see you and your companion to your rooms.” Fergus let go of Moira and greeted Mistress Woolsey, who was shouldering her pack of personal belongings.

“I take it that I’m in my old bedroom?”


Moira took hold of the reins on both horses. “If it’s all the same to you, I think I’m going to the stables first and then I’ll head on up to get cleaned up.” She took her time wandering to the stables, her eyes silently taking in the repairs and fortifications that her brother had done in her absence. The most significant had been the extra reinforcement he had placed on the front wall and gates.

The stables were just as Moira recalled them, the sweet smell of straw taking her back to when she had been younger, all gangly arms and awkward angles. The other horses in the stable shuffled about at the arrival of the three newcomers, but then proceeded to pay them no heed. Moira’s horse nibbled at the ends of her hair while she took the saddle off, taking her time to clean tack and run a brush over her steed’s flanks. She did the same for Mistress Woolsey’s horse, making sure to fill their feed and water troughs. She left after giving them each an apple she had kept in her satchel before taking her bag and heading back to the castle proper.

It might have been fall, but her mother’s roses were still in full bloom in the carefully tended courtyard. When she had first returned to Highever after the Blight, she had been relieved to see that Eleanor’s prized gardens had been left untouched by fire and soldiers. She bent and inhaled deeply, thinking that her mother had often smelled just like the flowers she had so carefully tended. Snapping one of the blooms off at the stem, Moira walked closer to the upper wings of the castle. Everywhere she went, there was a memory tucked here and there. Her lips curled upward at the hallway where her mother and Nan had spent hours teaching her proper posture, marching her up and down the corridor with heavy books balanced atop her head while she wore equally heavy gowns of brocaded silk. The open door of the library brought all the lessons Brother Aldous had drilled into her and her brother’s heads. Fergus had often caught the wrath of their tutor by scribbling dragons in the margins of his books instead of paying attention to his lessons.

She stopped in the guest room to make sure that Mistress Woolsey was comfortable. Her treasurer had assured her that everything was to her liking and was preparing for a nap. Moira only had one bad moment when she reached her room. She stared across the hall at what used to be her brother’s old chamber, swallowing hard at the memory of cooling blood trickling through her fingers and a little voice whispering in the dark. Auntie, it hurts…

Moira closed her bedroom door firmly behind her, resting her forehead momentarily against the wood before turning to the already drawn bath to wash away the road grime from two days of travel.


Fergus had left their father’s office pretty much the same as it had always been. A large portrait of the four of them hung behind his chair, their mother’s gentle smile looking back at them, one of Bryce’s hands on her shoulder. His other hand was on Fergus’ and the artist commissioned to do the portrait had caught everyone’s expressions perfectly, down to the sparkle of humor in her father’s eyes, her brother’s prominent cowlick that had refused to stay down no matter what Mother and Nan tried, and Moira’s own gap-toothed smile and smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. The Cousland family shield hung over the massive fireplace opposite their portrait; Moira had given it to Fergus after the Blight, keeping the family blade for herself. Two swords were crossed underneath the shield: one Moira recognized to be Fergus’, but the second smaller one was new.

“I promised him a sword,” Fergus said from the desk, his hands under his chin. “I think Oren would have liked it.”

“I think so too,” Moira replied. She walked over to where her brother and her treasurer were sitting, going over formal requisitions. She had wanted to get business out of the way quickly so that she could enjoy the remainder of her visit, but Fergus had insisted on waiting until the two of his guests had rested and eaten first. After lunch, Moira had tried to broach the topic again, and yet again, Fergus had managed to stall by declaring that the two of them needed to go into Highever for old times’ sake and visit the merchants there. She’d enjoyed herself and managed to purchase several gifts for her friends – a jar of specialty honey that she had remembered Varel speaking highly of before, a bottle of Highever mead for Oghren (made from the fermented specialty honey the dwarf had sung even higher praises of), warm knitted socks and catnip-stuffed knitted mice for Anders and Ser Pounce-a-Lot respectfully, a book of local lore for Sigrun and another for Justice as well as a couple of large bars of rose petal soap for herself. She’d missed that luxury ever since running out of it a month ago and figured that while she was here that it would be a good time to replenish her supplies.

She’d also bought a finely made leather arm guard for Nathaniel, dodging her brother’s questions as to who it was intended for by saying that she had taken up an interest in archery. It wasn’t an outright lie per se, seeing that Nathaniel had been trying to teach her how to use a bow in the weeks before the final confrontation with the Architect and the Mother. She still hadn’t been any good with it, but it didn’t stop her from wanting to learn.

By the time they had gotten back, it had almost been time for dinner. Fergus had finally brought up business, inviting the two of them to join him in his office after they had eaten. Mistress Woolsey had unfolded a small pair of spectacles and perched them across the bridge of her nose, pulling out her neatly kept ledgers as she did so. Fergus had looked over Amaranthine’s numbers and had shaken his head, stating that their coffers wouldn’t hold them past the spring if they kept up with recovery the way that they had wanted to.

“I can’t take your money,” Moira told him, crossing her arms over her chest.

“And why not? Your arling is still under my rule. As Teyrn, I am obligated to provide aid to your lands and people, you know that.”


He shook his head again. “But nothing. I know you Wardens are above the usual political ranking, blah, blah, blah, but you are my sister.” He stood up and went over to her, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Family comes first. You helped me reclaim my home after what that bastard Howe did to it; let me do the same for yours.”

The finality in his voice made Moira back down. “Yes, Fergus.”

“Good. Now that that’s settled, let’s get down to the specifics. I can’t spare very many people right now with Harvest coming up, but I can send money back with you, as well as some food in our stores to help shore up your numbers for winter.” Moira nodded mutely, trusting Mistress Woolsey to iron out everything in her efficient, highly detailed manner, which was the exact reason Moira had taken the woman with her in the first place. She would have taken Varel as well, but her seneschal was still recovering from his injuries. Between her potions and Anders’ spells, what would have taken months of recovery was taking merely weeks.

After a while, it was apparent that Mistress Woolsey had taken over the conversation on her end, leaving Moira feeling like a third wheel. She let her eyes wander the office, taking in the smell of leather and books that lined the walls. She smiled, recalling the years of sitting cuddled in her father’s lap as a child, listening raptly as he read to her during rainstorms. While Brother Aldous had taught her how to read with primers focusing on rules and other stuffy topics, Bryce Cousland taught her how to use her imagination, reading tales of the Black Fox and his band of merry men to his daughter as well as stories of knights rushing to rescue captured maidens from the clutches of evil dragons. Her eyes scanned the titles nearby and she caught sight of one of her favorite bedtime stories she had often begged her father to read over and over to her about a young man that a mage had recruited to join thirteen dwarves in their quest to regain their home Under the Mountain from a vicious dragon. Moira had loved hearing about the reluctant rogue whose many adventures included finding a magical ring and rescuing his companions from gigantic cave spiders. She wondered if Fergus would mind it terribly if she took the book back with her to Amaranthine.

After a while, both Fergus and Mistress Woolsey came to an agreement on the amount of funds to be sent back to Amaranthine and the three of them went to bed. Moira stared up at the canopied ceiling of her bed, unable to sleep. Quinn had stuck to her side all day long, his head resting on Moira’s knee. He let out a great doggie snore and rolled to his back, his hind legs moving as if he were chasing something. Even with the familiar weight next to her, Moira couldn’t relax. Pushing the covers off her body, she slipped out of bed and dug around in her pack for her brush. She paused when her fingers brushed up against something papery. Drawing it out, her lips curved up into a fond smile at the sight of familiar bold script.

Dearest M, it read. If you’re reading this, it’s because you’ve either unpacked your bag upon arrival at Highever or you’ve stumbled upon my letter by accident. Knowing you, it’s the latter. Don’t make that face; you know it’s true.

Moira shook her head, sitting cross-legged atop her bed and absently scratching Quinn’s ears. “Okay, so I hate to unpack things. You have me there, Nate.”

And also knowing you, you still haven’t told your brother about us. Not that I blame you; I’d put it off as long as possible myself. I wish that you would have let me come with you, that way we could have provided a united front against the backlash that’s bound to happen. I don’t like it that you’re going to face it alone. I also want to apologize to Fergus for my father’s actions. I know that words won’t bring back his wife and son or undo the damage that Father has caused to your family, but I want him to know that I mean him no harm.

She sighed, turning the page over, her fingers tracing across Nathaniel’s handwriting. Reading a letter from him now brought back memories of reading and rereading his messages when they had been separated by an ocean instead of merely a few hundred miles. I’m going to venture a guess and say that you’re reading this in bed (and if you are, I hope that you’re wearing that green silk negligee of yours) and that you’re unable to sleep. Hopefully I’m wrong, (well, not about the negligee, because it is one of my favorites to picture you in) but I’m going to confess that I’ll more than likely sleep poorly while you’re away. I know, I know. You’ll only be gone for a week, but I already know that our bed will be far too big for one person.

I’m certain that the Keep won’t be the same without you. I’ll try to keep Anders from leveling the place with his newfound earthquake spells – he told you he discovered a scroll detailing them, didn’t he? I can’t promise anything for the rest of the lot. I shall refrain from brooding overmuch, if only to attempt to stem Sigrun’s campaign to get me to “cheer up” as she bluntly puts it.



PS – Don’t make that face either. You know that I love you. (You were thinking ‘is that it?’ while reading this when you didn’t see that earlier, weren’t you?) And before you ask, yes, I shall miss you terribly. The things I already have planned for you upon your return won’t be mentioned here, lest this get into the hands of someone else other than you. We can’t have your reputation tarnished by detailed, explicit talk of steamy, highly athletic lovemaking requiring an extreme amount of flexibility from both parties involved, now can we?

Moira laughed, folding the letter back up and imagining that Nathaniel had written the last bit with a wry smirk on his face. She thought to place it back into her bag, but tucked it underneath her pillow instead. Burrowing under the covers again, she pulled the spare pillow close to her, draping her arm across it. It wasn’t Nathaniel, but she finally let herself drift off, her free hand gripping his letter tightly.


“So, when were you thinking about leaving?” Fergus asked her after lunch. Mistress Woolsey had gone into Highever by herself, saying that she wished to purchase some items, leaving Moira alone with her brother for the better part of the day.

“Tomorrow morning, the earlier the better.” They were walking down the corridor towards their father’s personal library. It was odd, but neither one of them could break the habit of calling certain rooms anything other than ‘Father’s library’ or ‘Mother’s sitting room’ and neither one of them seemed to care. “It isn’t that I don’t like coming back, but…”

“I understand. You hate to be away from Amaranthine for very long.” He steered them into the library, sitting down at the well-worn blue upholstered settee. Moira sat down beside him and looked around. Here, memories of her and her father were the strongest, but Nathaniel was there as well. She glanced towards the bookshelf farthest from the door, recalling a sixteen-year-old girl receiving her first real kiss from an eighteen-year-old boy she had loved for years. “Speaking of Amaranthine,” Fergus continued, shaking her out of her memories. “I have something else to talk to you about.”

“What is it?” Fergus had never been one to mince words, and it was strange seeing him trying to find the right words.

“You’re not going to live forever,” he blurted, softening his words with an exasperated smile. “Despite the fact that some stories are painting you as some immortal, Maker-sent fighter destined to rescue Ferelden from all the evils in the world.”

Moira groaned. “I hate that one.” Then she thought about what he was trying to say. Amaranthine, not living forever, did he… “Fergus Cousland, if you say what I think you’re going to say I’m going to hit you.”

“Amaranthine needs an heir. Ow.” He rubbed his bicep where his sister punched his arm. “Look, it’s not like I particularly enjoy entertaining thoughts that my baby sister would be performing acts needed in order to create children and this order is certainly not coming from me.”

“Then who is it from?”

“Other banns. They’re wondering when you’re going to go husband hunting. They’ve even started compiling a list of eligible sons.”

Moira let her head hit the back of the settee. “Andraste save me. Please tell me that you don’t have a copy of this list.”

“Actually, I do.”

“Throw it away. I have no desire to marry any of them.” She pinched the bridge of her nose with her forefinger and thumb. Well, Nate, it looks as if our cover is about to be blown. “Amaranthine belongs to the Wardens. When I die, the person I designate as Warden-Commander will take over. I don’t need an heir. Besides, I don’t even know if I can have children. There are records of Wardens having children after their Joining, but those are few and far between.”

“I know that. It’s just…” he sighed. “There’s more to life than performing duties. I always thought that you’d want to settle down with someone, to have the sort of relationship that our own parents had. I certainly want that for you.”

“I do want that.” She took a breath. “And I already have that with someone.” While what they had wasn’t necessarily considered ‘settling down’ with all the upheaval going on at the moment, she and Nathaniel had the sort of partnership she’d always dreamt of.

“Oh? And I do know the lucky man?” The teasing tone was back and Moira bit her lip as he nudged her with his elbow.

“You do. Actually, you know him very well.” She stood and went to the window. “I conscripted him into the Wardens the day I arrived. These past months, he’s proven to be invaluable in both his knowledge and his support. I don’t think that I could have done half of what I’ve accomplished without him; everyone already looks to him as my second-in-command and he’s endeared himself to the people of Amaranthine for the way that he’s thrown himself into rebuilding the city. They hold him high esteem, which I’m quite thankful for.”

“Well? Don’t leave me in suspense, little sister. What’s this mystery man’s name that’s captured your heart so?” He threw his arm over the back of his seat. “I’ve prayed that you’d find someone to replace that damnable Howe in your affections.”

Moira’s hands tightened on the window sill. “He is Nathaniel.”

Fergus was silent for all of five seconds. “I don’t think I heard you correctly,” he said slowly. “I could have sworn that you said you were seeing Rendon Howe’s son.”

She closed her eyes and turned to face him. “I said that I’ve spent these past months in Nathaniel’s company.”

His face contorted in anger. “How could you do this, Moira?” he demanded. “How could you shove your family, your own flesh and blood, to the side in favor of…of…him?

She stood up straighter. “I would never forget our family.”

“Well, you certainly seem to forget that his father butchered our family and took our lands.”

“I was there, Fergus. I’m not likely to forget what happened that night. It’s just that I’m a lot more forgiving than you are, especially when it comes to people that weren’t even involved but just happen to have the misfortune of sharing the same last name with the man that did this.”

He sneered. “Sure, forgiving. I’m certain that’s what you’re feeling when you’re rolling about with Howe.

Moira had never felt the urge to strike her brother before, but her palms itched to slap across his face to knock some sense into him. “You can say whatever you wish about me,” she said stiffly. “But leave Nathaniel out of it. He wasn’t the one to kill our family and you know it. Look at what your hatred has done to you. Do you truly think that Father or Mother would have wanted you to carry on this way? What of your wife? What would Oriana have to say with the way that you’re acting?”

He stood and jabbed a finger in her direction. “You leave her out of this,” he ordered, his voice rising. “She would still be alive had Howe not…”

Moira cut him off. “Think for a moment, Fergus. You’re letting anger cloud your judgment.”

“And you’re letting some memory of a summer fling cloud yours.”

She shook her head. “What I had with him then wasn’t some passing fancy. We were going to marry.”

Fergus squinted his eyes. “And now? You marry him now and he still becomes Arl. Funny, it seems that he gets the better part of this bargain.”

Moira closed her eyes and unclenched her hands from the fists she had formed them into. “It’s no use talking to you when we’re both upset,” she said carefully. “I don’t need your approval when it comes to my relationships, but I wanted to tell you all the same.”

“I will aid your arling,” Fergus said, glaring at her. “But if you think for one second that I will accept a Howe into my family, you are sadly mistaken. You should know that should you marry him, you become a Howe in my eyes as well.” He turned on his heel and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him. Moira sank into a nearby chair and hid her face in her hands.


The knock at Moira’s door later that evening made her tense for yet another argument. Fergus had avoided her for the rest of the day, taking his dinner in his private rooms. She wondered if he would even see them off in the morning, or if he’d have someone else at the front gate do it for him. Bracing herself for another verbal battle, Moira wearily opened the door.

“Lydia, what a pleasant surprise.” Lydia had been her mother’s maid, and by extension, Moira’s when Nan moved into the kitchens. “I’ve missed you!” She reached out and hugged her, glad to see a friendly face after the day’s events.

“Forgive me for not being here last night to properly welcome you back,” she said, squeezing back, her voice as soft as ever. “I was visiting my daughter in the city.”

Moira shook her head, turning back to her packing. “How is she?”

“Oh, she’s the same as usual. Her husband’s been fighting a cold, but it looks like he’ll pull through within the week.” She moved over to the vanity and picked up a heavy silver-backed brush. “Word around the castle is that you and his lordship got into an argument today.”

Moira sat on the edge of the bed. “I’d forgotten how fast word travels here,” she muttered, sighing when she felt Lydia run the brush through her hair. It brought a faint smile to her lips. She’d always confessed everything to Lydia during their nighttime ritual, the hairbrush acting as an excuse for Lydia to stay longer just to chat and laugh. Lydia had always treated her like a daughter, and she had cherished every moment they had together. “I take it that you know why we fought already?”

Lydia nodded. “Something about you seeing Rendon Howe’s son.”

Moira tensed. “What does everyone else think?”

Her ex-maid sighed and ran her fingers through Moira’s hair. She hadn’t had a chance to cut it, and now she was actually thinking of letting her hair grow longer than where it barely hit her shoulders. “There’s mixed emotions. What happened to the castle still feels new to some, but to others, they’re just glad that you’re happy. You are happy, aren’t you?”

“I can’t say that everything I’ve gone through has been good, but Nathaniel has a way of making sure that I don’t drive myself completely insane. He’s one of my closest confidants.”

“Is that all he is to you?” The question was asked in such a way that Moira felt as if she were a giggling teenager all over again.

“No,” she laughed. “He most certainly is not just a confidant. Being with him reminds me that even though it seems as if nothing but ugliness gets thrown into your life, you can find something good, something worth fighting for. He makes me feel safe, which I haven’t felt in the longest time.”

“I always knew that you’d end up with him. I remember all the letters he would send you while he was away.”

“I loved him very much back then.”

“And now?”

Moira tilted her head. “I think I love him even more now than before.”

Lydia rounded the bed and sat on the opposite edge. “What is he like?” She hadn’t had many chances to see the young Howe when he had accompanied his father to trips to Highever, but she could picture a thoughtful sort of lad, dark of hair and serious in expression.

Moira curled her feet underneath her. “He’s quiet for one. Sometimes he’s so quiet that it makes him somewhat intimidating to others, but he’s actually taking in everything that’s being said and storing it for future reference.” She remembered one of the earlier times she and Nathaniel had gone around the Keep checking on people. “There was this little girl who said that she had lost her dog in the fires. I hadn’t noticed her at first because I was speaking with her parents, but the next time we went down there, Nathaniel knelt down and gave her a little wooden dog I had seen him carving the night before. He said that it couldn’t replace the one that she lost, but that he hoped that it would help her to not feel as sad over her loss.” She recalled the way the girl had held the carving in her hand before throwing her arms around his neck, how her parents had looked on with teary eyes.

“He sounds like a good man,” Lydia said, smoothing a wrinkle in the bedcovers. “Not at all like what…” she paused and looked away. “Everyone thought.”

“When you say everyone, you mean my brother, don’t you?”

“Teyrn Fergus is a good man. He treats us well, but…”

“Even good men can let preconceived notions get the better of them. Nathaniel is nothing like his father; I wish I could find a way to make Fergus see that.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

Moira bit her lip and wrung her hands. “I told him that I don’t need his approval when it comes to my relationships, but the truth is that I want it, especially after what he said should Nathaniel and I decide to marry. Fergus is all the family that I have left; I don’t want to lose him.” She took a breath. “I don’t want to have to choose between them, I really don’t, but if my involvement with Nathaniel means that a gap forms between Fergus and me, I will end things with Nate.” It physically hurt to say that. “I don’t know what to do; I can’t send him away, these are his people as much as they are mine and he cares for them just as much as I do. I’m their commander; I can’t run back to Denerim or even back here either. It would be cowardly to turn tail and flee just because I couldn’t stand to stay in the same room as him and pretend that I didn’t love him or that he didn’t love me.” Her vision blurred and she wiped at her cheeks with her hands.

“I can’t tell you what to do, but I do know what you’re not going to do,” Lydia said, her tone steel-sharp. “You are not going to sit here on the last night that we’ll be together and cry your eyes out.” Her eyes went back to the bedroom door she’d purposely left ajar. If she wasn’t mistaken, she had seen someone quickly move away, and she had a pretty good idea as to who had been listening in. She knew that her place in the castle was pretty much set in stone, which gave her enough nerve to plan on visiting her Teyrn later on and giving him a piece of her mind. “Come on, your Nathaniel can’t possibly be the only handsome boy in all of Amaranthine. Tell me, what else does your dear city have to offer?”

Moira gave a watery laugh and sniffed. “Well, there’s Captain Garevel for one, but I have a feeling that you’d like to hear more about my seneschal…”


Bags packed and ready to go the next morning, Moira made one last stop in the castle before setting out. The cherry tree that sat in one of the larger gardens had been there since before either she or Fergus had been born, but the memorial underneath it were relatively new. Kneeling, Moira set the three dragon scales she had collected down beside the portion engraved with Oren’s name. “Dragons, my dear boy,” she whispered, running her fingers lovingly over the letters. “The stories I could tell you.” She dusted a few dead leaves away, her hand finding the first scale she had left for him years ago. It was a little dirty, but she wiped it into some semblance of order with the hem of her traveling cloak and placed it with the others. “Oh Mama,” she said quietly, setting a rose from the gardens down beside the plaque bearing her mother’s name. “What would you say to all this?”

“She’d probably say how much she hated to see her children bicker.”

Moira sharply turned around to face her brother. “Fergus.”

“You think I wouldn’t let you go without saying goodbye?” he asked, coming up to her and sitting down at the stone bench nearby.

“Truthfully, I thought you’d be too angry with me.”

He looked down. “About that.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “You’re right; you don’t need to have my approval in the dealings of your love life.”

“Nathaniel is a good man.”

“I want to believe that, I truly do. I spent most of the night trying to remember the Nate I had befriended, but all I could come up with was the memory of the ruin his father had left of our home.” He glanced down at the names on the stone. “You’re all I have left, Moira. I’m so afraid of losing you.”

Moira stood up and sat next to her brother, his arms automatically going around her as her head settled against his shoulder. “Come to Amaranthine when the harvest is over,” she whispered, looping her arms around his waist. “He said that he knows he can never make things right between the two of you, but he wants you to know that he means no harm. I think he misses you.”

“Does he make you happy?” Fergus asked, his chin on the crown of her head.

“He does. I like to think that I make him happy as well.”

“I never saw you with him, at least not romantically, even back when we were younger. He has quite the glass-is-half-empty approach to life that always seemed to be in direct opposition to your more optimistic nature.”

Moira shook her head. “I think he considers that pessimistic trait to be a realistic viewpoint of the world around him.” She looked at the tree they were sitting under. “Do you remember the story that goes with this?” she asked.

“I wasn’t aware that there even was one. Father said that he planted this for Mother when they married.”

“That’s right. Mother told me a little bit more. She said that Father explained that this variety of cherry tree wasn’t suited for Highever’s climate. The soil is too rocky and the elements would more than likely destroy it.”

Fergus frowned. “Then why did he choose it? He could have given her something far more suiting as a wedding gift.”

“I asked Mother the same thing. Father’s reply was that with a little bit of care, nurturing, and determination, anything could flourish in even the worst of circumstances.” At the time, Moira had always thought that her mother had merely meant that about the tree that she loved to read under, but as she grew older, she saw it was a metaphor for relationships and marriage. “We might have a lot of things going against us, but Nathaniel and I are determined to make the best of what we’ve been given. Last night, when you said that our match would drive you away, I was ready to turn Nathaniel aside, but I can’t. I love him too much to hurt him that way.”

“Last night, I would have demanded that of you.” He smoothed his hand over her hair. “But after thinking it over, I know I can’t do that to you. To either of you. You deserve your chance at happiness; I could never deny you that.”

She looked up at him. “What changed your mind?”

He gave her a crooked grin. “I’d like to say that it was me being mature and seeing the issue from all angles, but I’ll confess, it was a midnight visit I received from Lydia that set me straight. She read me the riot act.” She had more than blistered his ears, telling him that he was acting selfishly and putting his own need for vengeance ahead of his sister’s well-being. It was as if he were ten and being berated for using his mother’s cosmetics as war paint all over again. “She gave me a lot to think about.”

“It would be foolish of me to think that you’ve changed your mind about us, wouldn’t it?”

He sighed again. “I might not like your choice, but I’m not going to do anything to stand in between the two of you. All I’ve ever wanted is for you to be happy, and if Nathaniel does that, then I approve.” He squeezed her tightly. “But if he ever hurts you or causes you pain, I will come over there and beat him into a pulp.”

Moira laughed, hugging her brother back. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about there.”

He kissed her forehead. “Take care of yourself on the way back,” he said. “Hero of Ferelden or no, I’m still your big brother. I’m entitled to worry.”

“I will.”

“And take that flea bitten Mabari with you.”

“But…” Quinn had been with Fergus ever since Moira had come to Amaranthine.

“Oh, we had a talk last night. I told him that I understood his desire to follow his mistress. He’s missed you something terrible since you’ve been away. It’d be cruel to leave him behind for a second time.”

“Will you be all right?” One of the reasons she’d left Quinn with Fergus was that Quinn had been the only thing to draw Fergus out of mourning over his wife and son.

He waved a hand dismissively. “Actually, I was thinking of getting a hound of my own. The kennel master said that there’s a new litter due any day now.” Standing up, he pulled Moira to her feet. “Come on, I’m sure that you want to get back to the Keep in record time.”

“I love you, Fergus,” she told him.

He draped his arm over her shoulder. “I love you too.”


Nathaniel had kept watch as soon as Moira’s scheduled week away was up. After Oghren and Anders complained that his pacing was driving them insane, he had stayed on top of the battlements and it wasn’t until the sun was starting to set that he begin to worry. He was just about ready to set off towards Highever himself when Sigrun sighted two travelers on horseback and a large dog approach the Keep through her spyglass. By the time Nathaniel made it down to the courtyard, Moira had dismounted and was handing the reins to one of the stable boys. He felt as if something had lifted off his chest when she turned towards him, her face breaking out into a wide smile. The dog at her side was busily snuffling around the dirt, trying to identify all sorts of new smells, but he stopped and marched straight up to Nathaniel. He made a great show of sniffing Nathaniel’s boots before butting his head up under Nathaniel’s hand, urging him to scratch between the dog’s ears.

“I see Quinn likes you,” Moira said, tilting her head and watching the two of them interact.

Giving the dog one last pat, Nathaniel strode over to her, for once not worried about their audience. Gathering her up in his arms, he slowly bent his head down to hers. “Welcome home,” he murmured against her lips.

“It’s good to be back,” she replied, sifting her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, tugging him down for a kiss while Quinn ran circles around them both, barking happily.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 20th, 2010 12:49 pm (UTC)
You've got to do the Fergus/Nathaniel confrontation. I want to read that.
Jul. 22nd, 2010 01:45 am (UTC)
Jul. 23rd, 2010 04:14 am (UTC)
It's percolatin' in the back of the old brain, but I think it's going to wind up in the next chapter. :)
Jul. 22nd, 2010 01:48 am (UTC)
My heart twinged a little at little Oren's sword - so sad!!

And now I imagine all the ladies and maids of Amaranthine playing 'Who'd You Rather' with all of the Wardens and staff of the Vigil - Varel, Garavel... Constable Aiden/etc?
Jul. 23rd, 2010 04:17 am (UTC)
I have a very soft spot for Auntie Moira and little Oren.

Hah! I can see that happening too! And then they all get caught by the one that they were gossiping about. :D
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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