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Someone Like You, chapter 4

Title: Someone Like You, chapter 4
Rating: G
Summary: A lot can happen in a year.
Note: This was done for ten_by_ten's prompt of "thief". It seems that Mama Cousland has put her stamp of approval on our boy Nate. *grin* Before this, I really didn’t see her playing favorites. Also, Moira is one of those girls that hits a boy to show that she likes them.


Highever in spring was one of Nathaniel’s favorite times of the year. Flowers dotted the countryside, covering the sides of the roads in blankets of color. Amaranthine was similarly beautiful, which made for a pleasant trip both ways on horseback.

The white towers of Castle Cousland were a familiar sight after nine years of traveling from Vigil’s Keep to Highever with his family. This trip was different, seeing that it marked the first time Nathaniel had made the visit alone. The spring festival in Amaranthine had fallen on the same day as the one in Highever; his parents’ attendance was needed in the city, so Nathaniel was sent to act as a family representative. His mother had felt that Delilah and Thomas were still too young to travel by themselves, but at seventeen, Nathaniel was of age to start taking on more responsibilities when it came to running an arling. He’d have three more years at home before leaving to squire in the Free Marches for at least eight years, and upon his return, he’d assume further duties in order to prepare him when the time came for him to assume the role of Arl of Amaranthine.

He dismounted from his horse and handed the reins to the stable boy with a quiet word of thanks. Shouldering his pack, he gave his traveling cloak a cursory brush-off and ran a hand over his hair out of habit. Servants were running in and out of the castle with supplies for tomorrow’s festivities, so to keep out of everyone’s way, Nathaniel decided to take the back path into the castle that ran next to the garrison. The recognizable sound of metal swords clanging together hit his ears, and he would have continued on his way had he not heard a feminine voice cry out.

“Oof! Did you have to hand my ass to me that hard, Rory?” Out of curiosity, Nathaniel pivoted on his heel and entered the training area where he saw Roland Gilmore standing in front of someone sprawled on the ground. Gilmore was a year older than Nathaniel and was only a few months away from taking his vows to become a knight of Highever. The woman must have been a new recruit; Nathaniel couldn’t recall Teyrn Bryce ever having a woman in his guards before.

Gilmore laughed. “But you make it so easy,” he said, extending his hand to help the lady. Nathaniel stopped in his tracks when he saw that it was Moira who Gilmore was pulling to her feet, her hair put up in a messy bun at the back of her head and her cheeks flushed from exertion.

“You don’t have to be so smug,” she said, giving him a playful shove, her lips set in a grin. “I always wind up with bruises in strange places after our sparring matches.”

“Then learn to move faster, my lady.”

This was not the girl Nathaniel had last seen a year ago. He could clearly recall that Moira had been all gangly arms and elbows while constantly complaining of being even more awkward than usual. The young woman standing a few feet away from him was slender and athletic looking in her lightweight training gear. She wore tightly fitting leggings underneath the strips of leather that made out the skirt of her armor – and when did Moira go and develop legs, Nathaniel numbly wondered – but the smile was the same.

That smile grew even bigger whenever she finally spotted him. “Nathaniel!” she shouted, running towards him with her arms outstretched. “I thought you would arrive tomorrow!” Even her welcome hug was slightly different than what Nathaniel was used to. Moira wrapped her arms around his shoulders, forcing Nathaniel’s arms to go about her waist, her forward momentum spinning them around in a half circle.

“I made good time,” he mumbled against her hair, still struck dumb at the thought that his friend had seemingly transformed into a girl in the short span of a year.

She broke from his embrace and grabbed his hand. “Does anyone else know that you’re here?” She didn’t wait for his answer; with one last wave to Gilmore, she pulled him along the path towards the castle. Once they were closer to the exterior gardens, she slowed her pace. “I’ve missed you, Nate,” she said, ducking her head to the side and clasping her hands behind her back. Nathaniel couldn’t tell if her cheeks were still pink from her sparring session or from something else, but he had to admit that the rosy glow looked pretty on her.

“I’ve missed you too,” he replied. He had missed her. It wasn’t as if their families got together at every opportunity, but the letters they exchanged were poor substitutes for speaking face to face. “How is Fergus?”

Moira shrugged. “Fergus is…well, he’s Fergus. Papa’s been having my brother shadow him more often now in hope that he’ll begin to understand what it means to be a Teyrn.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing as well,” Nathaniel said. “Father sent me here to act as an emissary for Amaranthine.”

“Then I trust that you have the arling’s tax collection reports?”

He arched an eyebrow. “How do you know about those?”

She grinned and stood up straighter. “Fergus isn’t the only one that’s shadowing Papa. I want to learn how things are run.”

Nathaniel smiled back, bumping her shoulder companionably with his. “What? Learning to be the proper wife is too boring for you?” he teased, knowing that it would get a rise out of her.

Moira rolled her eyes. “Maker, if I’m ever saddled with a man that’s content to have a wife simper and cater to his every whim, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Her expression made him laugh out loud. “Somehow, I don’t see that being a problem for you, Moira.”

***

They found Moira’s parents in the Teyrn’s study. “Look who I found sneaking about,” Moira said, holding onto Nathaniel’s hand. “Can we keep him, or shall we turn him out on his ear?”

“Nathaniel, it’s good to see you, lad,” Teyrn Bryce said, standing up from his desk.

“It is good to see you again as well, my lord,” Nathaniel replied, clasping the Teyrn’s offered hand. “My family sends their regards and regrets that they couldn’t be here for the spring festival this year.”

Bryce patted Nathaniel’s shoulder with his free hand. “It couldn’t be helped, but we’re pleased to have you here as our guest.”

Nathaniel turned towards Teyrna Eleanor. “My lady.”

“Welcome, my dear,” she told him, holding onto his hands as she gave him a motherly embrace. “My, you’ve grown since the last time we’ve seen you. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that you and Fergus were competing to see who will end up tallest.” She gave him a final squeeze before letting him go, noting that he embraced her just as hard. Her heart had always gone out to the Howe children over the years, watching as they cautiously ate up any scrap of physical affection given to them by others, almost as if they were starved for it at home. Delilah and Thomas were pleasant to be around, but truthfully, Nathaniel had always been her favorite of the three.

“Where is Fergus?” Moira asked, going over to the window that overlooked the path towards Highever.

“He’s in town, more than likely flirting with all the pretty girls instead of helping with festivities like I told him to,” Eleanor said. “I’d ask the two of you to go hunting for him, but I’m not letting you leave our home dressed like that.”

Moira worried her bottom lip, the move causing Nathaniel to discover that Moira had rather full lips – and since when did he ever pay any attention to her mouth in that fashion? “If you can wait a few moments Nate, I can go make myself more presentable so my mother doesn’t die from embarrassment when we head into town.”

Eleanor rolled her eyes and gave a tiny smile. “Impertinent child.” She reached out and ran her hand fondly over her daughter’s cheek. “Come, Nathaniel. You must tell us what you’ve been up to. Surely you’ve stolen the hearts of several young ladies by now.”

Moira laughed as she danced out the room. “Oh Mama,” she said. “Why must you bring up the good gossip when you know I won’t be around to listen?”

***

Nathaniel had only spent a while with the Couslands before going to his usual guest room. He and Fergus had stopped sharing a room several years ago and it never failed that he was put into the room closest to the family wing of the castle. He was in the middle of unpacking his satchel when he heard a knock at the door.

“I figured that you’d be here,” Moira said, opening the door enough so that she could slip into the room. Nathaniel blinked. Surely he’d seen Moira in dresses plenty of times over the past nine years, but just then it was like he’d never truly seen her in a dress before. The bright red fabric brought attention to her pale skin; he wondered when her tan had faded, for it seemed as if he’d never seen her without a scattering of sun-bleached freckles across her nose. The color also brought out her dark hair, which was now flowing freely down her back. “Nate?”

He blinked again, realizing that he was staring. The leather training armor had hidden the curves that Moira’s dress now showed off. Nathaniel’s eyes seemed to wander down to her breasts - breasts, for Andraste’s sake! – on their own accord. His mind briefly flitted back to the time several years ago when Fergus had teased his little sister about being as flat as a board when other girls her age were starting to fill out. There was no way that anyone could tease her about that problem now. “What?”

She smiled at him. “Am I presentable enough?” she asked, slowly turning around in a circle for his inspection.

Nathaniel cleared his throat. “You’ll do,” he said, just to irritate her. Grinning, he held out his arm. “Come now, my lady. Let us be off to see what damage your brother has done to the female population.”

***

“Well?”

Nathaniel looked at her. “Well what?” The walk from the castle to the city was a pleasant trip. The afternoon was warm, but the breeze that made the branches of the trees lining the road sway was cool. They’d been switching from all sorts of topics as soon as they had set out, seemingly making up for the time lost between visits. Moira had done most of the talking as usual, but Nathaniel was content to walk beside her and listen. Somewhere between the ages of twelve and fourteen, Moira had finally listened to her mother’s lectures and had begun to speak in a softer, gentler tone of voice than she normally did. At fifteen, it seemed as if it had become habit; she still spoke with as much enthusiasm as ever, punctuating her words with hand gestures, but Nathaniel found her voice to be soothing to his ears.

The thought made his feet slow down. It was almost as if a thief had apprehended his friend when he hadn’t been looking and replaced her with a slightly different version, one that he was rapidly coming to see as someone rather attractive.

The slight punch on his arm shook him out of his thoughts. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?” he asked, rubbing his bicep and giving her his full attention.

She tilted her head. “You’ve been awfully distracted today, Nate. Are you sure that you’re up for this? We could go back so that you can get some rest. I know the ride from Amaranthine probably took a lot out of you.”

“No, it’s all right. I just have a lot of things on my mind.” Like, for instance, the way that her cheek curved or how the sunlight created shadows at her collarbone or even the way that she had taken to wearing earrings. He wondered how many other normal, everyday details about her would suddenly pop up and strike him as things that he’d never truly noticed before the day was out. “What was it?”

She clasped her hands behind her back. “I was asking you about Amaranthine.” Her cheeks reddened slightly and she looked down at the path. “And I was wondering just how many girls there you’ve decided to make fall in love with you.”

His step faltered again. “None that I’m aware of,” he said slowly, wondering where this conversation was going to head off to. “I’ve been too busy at the Keep to dally about.”

“What? You’re not courting anyone?”

“No.”

Her blush grew even redder and she suddenly found the trees next to them incredibly interesting. “Whoever you do decide to court will be a lucky girl.”

He shrugged. “Becoming the Arlessa of Amaranthine is something to aspire to, I guess.”

She frowned. “That wasn’t what I meant.”

He arched his eyebrow. “Well, what else would I have to offer?”

“If I didn’t know you any better, I’d say that you were fishing for compliments.” Her eyes widened when she glanced at his blank look. “Oh, surely you know that you’re handsome, Nate.”

“I…” He didn’t really know how to answer that. He’d often been told that he favored his father, who was better described as distinctive instead of handsome. He regarded her, taking in the way that even the tips of her ears had reddened and how she wouldn’t quite meet his gaze. “Are you saying that you find me handsome, milady chatterbox?” He meant for his words to come out as a joke, but he was curious to find out what she thought.

Moira huffed. “I might have said yes, but then you had to go and tease me so.” She took a breath and lengthened her stride, moving ahead of him. Nathaniel watched in confusion as her left hand went up to her face, almost as if she was wiping a tear away.

He caught up to her in a matter of seconds. “Moira,” he said, reaching out and capturing her wrist in his hand. He tugged until she stopped walking, even though she refused to turn towards him. “Forgive me. I’ve hurt your feelings without realizing it,” he told her.

She sniffed, which she often did when she was angry. “Well, you can’t help it that you are just a silly boy, even if you’re a nice looking one,” she said, turning her head so he caught a slice of her profile. Her blush had faded and he could see that she hadn’t been crying, but it looked as if she had been close to doing so.

Stepping closer to her, he wrapped his arms around her from behind, never for a moment thinking that it was odd for them to be embracing in the middle of a fairly well-traveled road. “That I am. The silly part, mind you. I’m not quite too sure on the nice looking portion,” he agreed, just to see her roll her eyes.

Nathaniel,” she sighed, leaning back against his chest. “I guess it’s a good thing that you’re not all caught up with yourself like Fergus is. I was so afraid that the two of your egos put together would wreck all sorts of havoc.”

He chuckled, resting his chin on her shoulder. “You have nothing to worry about on that mark,” he assured her. He took a tentative sniff when he caught an unfamiliar trace of lavender waft up from her skin, wondering when Moira began to bother with perfumes. He found that he rather liked the scent on her. His mind began to do a few calculations. In another few months Moira would be sixteen and become formally available for courtship and betrothal, meaning that other Bann’s sons would have a chance at wooing her. Nathaniel knew that she valued him as a friend and after their most recent conversation – and had they just had their first fight? - he was slowly coming to realize that she might see him as something more. The shock of finding her all grown up had finally worn off and Nathaniel decided to be honest with himself. He liked Moira. He figured that he had felt that way about her for some time, but it had taken seeing her as a young lady instead of his tomboy friend with skinned knees for him to sort out his feelings.

“Let Fergus have all the girls’ attention,” he told her, dropping his arms from around her. “I’d rather spend my time with you.” Before he moved away, he punctuated his declaration with a chaste kiss to her cheek. Moira had been the one to start up that habit when they had been children and now it had become something that the two of them did without thinking.

Moira held herself very still, her teeth worrying her bottom lip. After a while, she let out a breath she wasn’t aware that she had been holding. “Let’s get to Highever,” she said, feeling her cheeks blaze yet again.

Nathaniel inwardly cursed his ill-timing. “Of course,” he replied, falling back into step with her. He kept his eyes to the road, but turned his head when Moira lightly punched his shoulder.

“I’ll race you!” She gathered her skirts up in her hands so that she wouldn’t trip over them. Now that her dress was hiked up above her knees, Nathaniel saw that she was wearing a pair of breeches and well worn boots underneath. He watched as she ran ahead of him, her hair streaming out behind her. She looked over her shoulder and Nathaniel could have sworn that she had winked at him.

Huh. Perhaps his timing wasn’t as off as he thought it had been. He let her get a decent enough head start before running after her, listening to her trailing laughter and letting out an answering whoop of his own.

Comments

iceprincessd
Aug. 29th, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
It's that tall, dark, and brooding combo. You can't help but want to snuggle. XD

If there's a round-robin in the works, I'm in too! I haven't written with other people in ages and I remember how fun it was. (and of course you can write - the scripts to your comic are great!)
annikainen
Aug. 29th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
...but some of them aren't originals but straight from the game script XD Anyway. Yeah. I can. *tries to think positive* :D

But yes, that's how it goes. Irl too. *dreamysigh*

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