Rating: G for the most part, but just to be safe, I’ll give it a very light PG rating.
Summary: Book club discussions never turned out quite like this before.
Note: This was done for ten_by_ten's prompt of "old book"
For once, Nathaniel was grateful that he was too tired to join Fergus and the Teyrn as they performed their duties. He’d made good time only because he’d spent the better part of the night traveling, resting only when he felt that his horse needed to. There was something in the air that had made him want to avoid setting up camp; he’d heard of reports of darkspawn in the southernmost reaches of Ferelden, but it had felt as if something had been watching him along the road. The something might have merely been his imagination getting the best of him, or it could have been bandits waiting for the right time to strike. It never hurt to err on the side of caution, which was why he had ridden with his horse’s reins tucked in one hand while he held onto the hilt of his sword with the other.
The good news was that he had made it to Castle Cousland well before dawn. The bad news was that the sleepless night and all the activities from the previous day had finally caught up with him. He could vaguely remember being guided to the guest room by a servant before falling face down onto the thick coverlet. He could slightly recall being woken up by Fergus later on, his friend saying something about joining him and his father as they went to inspect the farmlands surrounding the area. He had mumbled something, but then had promptly fallen back to sleep.
The loud crack of thunder that shook the glass in the windows made Nathaniel’s eyes snap open. He groggily sat up, unclipping his travelling cloak and draping it across the foot of the bed. Stretching, he saw that the maid staff had come in while he was sleeping and had drawn a bath. It must not have been too long ago because the water was still slightly steaming. Stripping out of his clothes, he neatly folded them up and left them on top of a nearby trunk. He quickly bathed and dressed in clean clothing from his pack before slipping out of the room, his grumbling stomach leading him towards the kitchens. He and Fergus had been running in and out of the place so often in their youth that none of the kitchen staff thought it was odd for a young man of eighteen to be wandering about. Nan, the Cousland children’s old nanny, had been appointed head cook once her duties ad governess weren’t needed any longer. She’d always had a kind thing to say to Nathaniel, and even now, she ushered him onto a stool near the cutting boards and presented him with a plate full of meat and potato filled pastries that she knew were his favorite as well as a handful of spiced cookies she was famous for. He ate the pastries while filling her in with Amaranthine’s goings-on – Nan had a weak spot for gossip and she had sat with her elbows on the table, eating up the news of the brewer’s son getting caught canoodling with the weaver’s eldest daughter.
Nathaniel left the kitchens with cookies in hand, leaving Nan giggling like a young girl when he had leaned over and taken her hand, pressing a kiss over her knuckles in thanks for breakfast and keeping him company. He’d grinned widely as she shooed him out, closing his eyes in appreciation as the first taste of cinnamon hit his tongue.
The rain was coming down in earnest now. He shielded his head as he darted from an open area to an enclosed walkway. Poor Fergus, he thought. He and his father are probably stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere. He made his way upstairs, wondering why he hadn’t seen Moira yet. It was far too cloudy to try and make out what time it was by the sun’s position in the sky alone, but he knew that it was at least mid-morning. Moira was an early bird out of habit, but given the choice, she would rather sleep the day away. The first knock on her bedroom door revealed an empty room, the bedclothes still rumpled and her nightgown left hanging on the edge of the silk changing screen in the corner. Frowning, he had backed out and closed her door, wondering just where she might have gone.
He had time to contemplate his feelings for Moira as he meandered down hallways that had become his second home of sorts. He’d had time to contemplate his feelings for Moira for a little over a year after realizing that he even had feelings for her. Since last year’s spring festival, he’d only seen her twice; once when she and her family had visited Amaranthine and again when she’d been formally presented to Court in Denerim once she turned sixteen. He grimaced at the memory. There had been a ball, which had meant dancing, which was something that Nathaniel was terrible at doing, especially in front of an audience. He had held his own with the slower, more gliding group dances where it was simple enough to follow the leader, but he was wretched when it came to waltzes. Moira had been stunning that night, dressed in a flowing midnight blue gown with summer flowers woven in her hair. He’d thought that she had been the loveliest girl there and had been proud when she had asked him to be her escort for the evening. That pride quickly turned to embarrassment when he had stepped on her toes several times during their waltz. Moira, bless her, hadn’t complained, but he had seen the miniscule way that her mouth had tightened that told him she was holding in how much his clumsy feet had hurt her. That had been the first and only dance they had shared together that evening, Nathaniel keeping to the edges of the ballroom, watching as she gracefully moved over the dance floor with other partners for the rest of the evening. It never failed though that she would find him out between dances, sitting at his side while sipping water and whispering commentary on the other young men in the room. Her observations had made him smile as well as relieve some of the anxiety that she would find any of them to her liking.
She’d been on the peripheral edges of his mind ever since. He couldn’t pass the Keep’s kitchen gardens and its lavender plants without thinking of her, and he often found himself daydreaming about the way her cheeks would go rosy when he gave her a compliment or when he turned after feeling someone watching only to realize that she had been staring at him. He contemplated how it would be if he did formally court her. He’d overheard several mothers talking that night at the ball speculating about the two of them and if they were already a pair. They might have grown up together, but what he felt for her was miles away from the brotherly concern of their youth. Moira knew him better than anyone else and he liked to think that he knew her mind as well as she knew his.
He took a deep breath, brushing off cookie crumbs from his tunic before heading into the Teyrn’s private library. Teyrn Bryce had discovered Nathaniel’s love for books long ago and had informed him that his private collection was free for perusal. Nathaniel had found a wealth of information within that room, from the practical, heavy tomes of government rules and regulations to the whimsical tales of fancy that he had often found himself drawn to.
Nathaniel was so preoccupied with deciding what he was in the mood to read that he didn’t see the door handle move in time. His reflexes belatedly kicked in, saving him from getting hit in the face with the door.
“Nate!” Moira was standing wide-eyed on the other side of the door, a book cradled in one arm and her hand on the handle.
“I’ve been looking for you,” Nathaniel said, rubbing his shoulder where the edge of the door had clipped him. “I didn’t think I’d literally bump into you here.”
She winced. “Did I hit you terribly hard?” Moira reached out and touched his arm.
He shrugged. “Nothing I haven’t felt before.”
She arched her eyebrow. “What? Girls hitting you with doors are a reoccurring thing in Amaranthine?”
Nathaniel rolled his eyes. “I meant that I’ve been hit by harder blows during training sessions.” He stepped out of the way and opened the door completely. “It’s good to see you again, my lady.”
Moira blushed and smiled. “It’s good to see you again as well.” She stepped closer to him and gave him a hug. Nathaniel wrapped his arms around her, noting the way that the dark blue velvet of her gown felt under his fingers and how she smelled of citrus instead of the lavender he had been expecting. He also noted how their embrace lingered and how it seemed that she was reluctant to break it, her hands sliding over his shoulders as he stepped away first. “You were sleeping so soundly that I hadn’t wanted to wake you earlier.”
“You were in my room?”
She seemed to be at a loss for words. “Well,” she finally stammered. “One has to practice their stealth somehow. You’re the lightest sleeper I know; you must have really been tired if you didn’t sense me there.” She cocked her head to the side and put a hand to her hip. “And just when did you arrive, Nathaniel Howe?”
“Early.” He guided them back into the room. “I could hear you snoring from three doors away.”
She made an affronted sound at the back of her throat. “I do not snore!” she said, mock angrily. “Although I can’t say the same for you. You make the cutest snuffling noises when you sleep.” She wrinkled her nose as she said it, knowing that it would irritate him.
She’d never admit it to anyone, but Moira found Nathaniel at his handsomest when he frowned. There was something about the serious expression that made him more attractive to her than anything else.
His eyebrow winged up and he leveled her with a glare. “I am not cute,” he told her, his tone saying that he expected no argument out of her. Of course, this was Moira he was talking to. She lived to debate with him.
“I think otherwise,” she said, sitting down on the settee next to him. “I find you adorable.” She punctuated her statement with a familiar bump of her shoulder to his.
And this is where you can leave things as they are or test the waters, Howe, Nathaniel thought. “As long as you find me, my lady,” he said, getting up and going towards the window. “Dreadful weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
Moira floundered for a second, thrown by the change of topic. Before he had gotten up, she was almost certain that he had snuck a glimpse down her bodice. No, this is Nate we’re talking about. If there was a definition for Gentleman written somewhere, his picture would be right next to it. “Yes, it’s absolutely awful,” she replied, staring at his back in confusion. Since when did Nathaniel ever speak to her in that tone, his voice deepening to a husky rumble that made her heart do flips in her chest and set the hair at the back of her neck on end. “I thought to use the weather as an excuse to curl up with a good book.”
“That’s what I was going to do, at least until your father and brother come back. I still need to give your father the arling’s numbers for the harvest. This year was a favorable one for wheat and corn; I suspect that our stores will be well stocked for the coming winter.”
“That’s good to hear,” she told him, smoothing out a wrinkle on her skirts. “Our granaries have fared similarly; this winter will be a good one even if there is a threat of snow.” She stared at a bit of lint by her knee, wondering why they were talking about the weather. “What book were you looking for?”
Nathaniel shrugged, turning from the window. “I don’t know. I was hoping that the Tale of Ser William was available, but I see that I’m going to have to pick something else.”
Moira stared at the book in her hands. “It’s one of my favorites.”
“Mine too.” He sat back down beside her, his long legs stretched out in front of him. He was nearly a full head taller than she was which made his shoulder a convenient resting spot and yet made conversation with him while she was sitting and he standing difficult. She found that she often had to crane her neck in order to look him in the eye. “Ser William had quite an adventure, what with fighting dragons and defeating pirates.”
“Not to mention saving princesses.” The book was nothing that would be described as a literary masterpiece, but it had been one of Moira’s favorites due to the description of the title’s hero and his romance with the princess who had been captured by a dragon.
“Ah, yes. Ser William was the typical warrior type on that part.”
She looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“Well, he just barged in, sword flashing all dramatically, and took the dragon on headfirst. Not the wisest of moves, but something that I’ve noted those of warrior mentality taking.”
“Oh? And what would you do differently?”
“For one, I would have scouted out the area beforehand. Ser William completely overlooked the secret side entrance to the cave and probably would have saved himself a lot of headaches if he had detected the traps the dragon had set out, like any good rogue would have done.”
She smiled. “And I suspect that he would have snuck by as silent as a shadow while the dragon was sleeping and picked the lock to the princess’ cage, stealing her away before the dragon had a chance to realize what had happened?”
“Is there any other way? And of course, he probably would have poisoned the dragon’s food supply just for good measure.”
Moira sighed. “That poor princess. You just robbed her of the flashy rescue and the scene where she bandaged up her hero after he defeated the villain.”
Nathaniel shrugged. “What? Would you rather your knight in shining armor be damaged when you finally get to kiss him? I thought you liked rogues.”
“I do. It’s just that his whole ‘running into danger because my love is trapped’ was quite romantic.”
He hooked an arm over the back of the settee. “All right, milady critic. Tell me, how would you like your hero to act should you be the one kidnapped by a dragon?”
She let out a bubble of laughter. “Oh come on Nate. You know that dragons don’t capture people. They just eat them on the spot.”
“Humor me. Suspend your sense of disbelief for a moment.”
She opened her mouth, then closed it. “All right, so in practice the warrior rescue does sound a bit foolhardy. I’ll admit it; I’d rather have a rogue rescue me from the clutches of evil.” She glanced sideways at Nathaniel. He’d already proven that he was more rogue than warrior. There were times that he would sneak up on her soundlessly, startling her until she had begun to work on her own stealth skills. Now he had to work extra hard to catch her unaware. Letting her imagination get the best of her, she pictured herself in Princess Daphne’s position, finding the love of her life lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to creep up and silently pick the lock that kept her from freedom. He’d press his fingers to his lips to signal that she needed to be quiet as they made their way out the cave, not once disturbing the dragon.
For the first time, Ser William’s chiseled, classically handsome face was replaced in her mind’s eye with Nathaniel’s. “And I guess that I would have to make up for not tenderly bandaging his wounds after his epic battle by being especially thorough when I kiss him as a reward for rescuing me.”
He looked down at her and this time, she was certain that he looked down her bodice. “Thorough, you say?”
“Absolutely.” She peered up at him from beneath her eyelashes, a trick that she’d often seen her mother apply to her father whenever she wanted him to agree with something. Just as she thought, the way she looked up at Nathaniel made his eyes darken, his throat bobbing as he swallowed. Her heart sped up just a bit faster when he leaned closer to her.
“There’s one thing that you didn’t take for account,” he said, his voice doing that husky timbre again that had her toes curling in her slippers.
“Oh? What would that be?” She couldn’t help but notice that her voice had a breathless quality to it.
“If it were you that had been captured, you wouldn’t have needed a rescue. You’re the type to slay your own dragons.”
“Well,” she said, wondering when his face had gotten so close. Her glance went from his eyes down to his mouth, then back up again. “Just because I can take care of myself doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the occasional rescue like any other girl.”
“I’ll make a note of that,” he murmured before ducking his head and brushing his lips over hers. Moira’s eyes fluttered closed as the pressure of his mouth grew more confident, one of his hands going to her cheek to guide her face up into an angle that deepened their kiss. He tasted of ginger and spices and smelled like soap and leather, the combination making her head spin pleasantly. “If you slap me,” he said slowly, his lips still brushing hers, “then it was completely worth it.”
She reached out and framed his face with her hands. “And why should I slap you for giving me the best kiss I’ve ever received?”
He arched his eyebrow again. “The best? Not the first?”
She laughed. “Sorry, but you were beat out a few years ago. And no,” she said, tracing his lips with a finger when he frowned. “I’m not telling you who it was. If it makes you feel any better, you managed to blow that kiss right out of the water.”
He smirked, turning his head so he could plant a kiss against her palm. “Good,” he said. “Because I intend on doing that again.”
“Hmm, if I’m not mistaken, that sounds like a headlong approach if I’ve ever heard one.” She threaded her fingers in his hair, gently tugging him closer. “Best be careful, or else my rogue might just turn out to be a warrior in disguise.”
“Quiet, you,” he told her, his mouth set in a soft smile that made her breath catch. She had been wrong; this expression, this before unseen way he was looking at her now, made him more handsome than any frown ever could. He kissed her again and her arms went about his shoulders, drawing him even closer than he already was. She sighed against his lips, savoring the way that his hands tentatively settled on her waist before sliding up and around to her back. Let Daphne have her knight, Moira hazily thought, losing herself in the new way their relationship had just turned. I’d pick Nate over William any day.
Neither one of them noticed when the book they had been discussing slid from Moira’s lap, falling to the floor with a muted thud.