Summary: Nathaniel talks to Moira’s parents. Fergus gets suspicious.
Note: This was done for ten_by_ten's "love" prompt. I was in the middle of a ten mile hike last weekend when this plot bunny hit. It nibbled and now suddenly Rendon has layers that I wasn’t aware he had before and the Couslands have become my most favorite parents in the history of ever. Also, if the word “noogie” is not in Ferelden’s language, it needs to be. Big brothers need to have something to torment their little sisters with.
Also, also, this can be a filler part for A Rush to the Start’s chapter 2 where Nathaniel thinks “He was twenty again, holding her close to his chest with his nose buried in her hair, marveling at how perfectly she fit in his arms and wondering if she would object to him kissing her like he had wanted to since he and his father had arrived in Highever that morning.”
Nathaniel knew the roads from Amaranthine to Highever by heart. He knew every twist and turn and where the bad patches that needed repairing were as well as the areas that were more suitable for camping. He also knew where in the journey his horse would need a break and where he could push further onward in order to shave a bit of time off his trip. He’d made so many trips to Highever in the past two years by himself that it felt strange to be traveling with anyone else, even when his only other traveling companion happened to be his father. Both of them were quiet by nature, so they hadn’t talked much, but they were nearing the woods that surrounded Castle Cousland when Nathaniel broke the easy silence that had settled between them.
“I’ve decided that I’m going to ask Teyrn Bryce for Moira’s hand today.” Saying the words out loud that he’d been pondering about for the past few months made him feel even better, as if some weight on his chest had somehow been lifted.
His father pulled on the reigns of his steed until they were traveling at a slower pace. “Why would you ever want to do such a thing?”
Nathaniel furrowed his brow in confusion. “I thought that this is what you’ve always wanted. The first time I met her, you asked me to befriend Moira. I have, and now I wish to make her my wife.”
Rendon frowned. “I just think that you should keep your options open. You’re twenty years old; you have plenty of time to find a suitable wife.”
“But I already have. I found Moira.”
“And what of Anora? I thought the two of you got along well the last time our families were together.”
Nathaniel shook his head. “It’s clear to everyone that Prince Cailan is smitten with her. Why should I ever want to come between them?”
Rendon shook his head. “All I am saying is that perhaps Anora would be more suitable for you. Moira is…” he paused as if searching for the right words. “Headstrong. Opinionated. Impulsive. Is this truly someone that you wish to be shackled to for the rest of your life?”
“Shackled? Father, you make marriage sound as if it were a prison sentence.” He said it laughingly, but his expression faltered when his father didn’t echo his good humor.
“It can be.” Rendon sighed and looked at his son. “If this is what you truly want, then I will not stand in your way.”
“It is what I want, Father. I love her.”
“Bah! What good is that word? Love,” he all but spat the word out, his lips twisting as if it left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. “Love has a way of betraying you when you least expect it, of taking everything that you ever thought was good and turning it against you. Moira is the daughter of a Teyrn. Despite her personality flaws, her political status makes her a decent enough match. If I’ve ever taught you anything, remember this: marry for power and status, my son. Only fools marry for love.” Rendon looked away and Nathaniel had to strain to hear what his father said next. “Love never lasts.”
The rest of the trip was spent in silence, Rendon’s expression stony and Nathaniel wondering just what had happened that had turned his father so bitter.
“You’re spending a lot of time on your hair, Sister,” Fergus teased, coming up beside Moira as they waited in the Great Hall for their guests. “You normally treat it as just something that goes on top of your head.”
“And what of it?” Moira asked, patting her hand at the side of her head to make sure that the fishtail braids on either side of her temples were still in place. She’d struggled with the style for the better part of the morning before giving up and asking her mother’s maid Lydia for assistance. When she had heard that Nathaniel and his father were visiting for a full week earlier that very day, she had taken care to pick out her clothes and had spent a great deal of time fussing about until she was satisfied that she looked presentable. “I’m a girl; we tend to fixate on things like this.”
Fergus rolled his eyes. “I’d say that you were taking care to make sure you looked pretty for our Nathaniel. You’re sweet on him, aren’t you?”
Moira blushed and shoved her brother. “And what if I am?” she asked him. “Perhaps I wish to practice my feminine wiles on him.”
He snorted. “You tried that tactic years ago on poor Roland. Your feminine wiles are defective; I swear it took him a full week to be able to properly look you in the eye after you ambushed him in the stables.”
She huffed, her cheeks warming at the thought of Ser Gilmore gawking at her after her failed attempt at a first kiss. “I was twelve at the time. I’m eighteen now; perhaps my skills have improved.”
Fergus slung his arm over her shoulder and squeezed. “Huh, you’re even wearing perfume. You are sweet on him!”
She elbowed him in the ribs. “Is that a problem?”
“No, not really. Actually, I think it’s quite cute that you have a little crush on Nate. Does he know?”
“He might have a bit of an idea.” She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling and giving everything away.
Fergus sobered. “You do know that he’s going to be leaving in several months, right? I wouldn’t put my hopes too high that anything would come of trying to flirt with him. Knowing Nathaniel, he wouldn’t think it would be fair to leave you pining away for nearly a decade while he was gone.”
Moira’s throat tightened. “I know how long he has left.” She didn’t want to think of his departure if she didn’t have to, but she couldn’t deny that the day he would be leaving was looming closer and closer.
“Nathaniel isn’t the type of man to have a quick summer fling,” her brother warned. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Moira leaned against Fergus’ side. Despite all his teasing, Fergus truly did have her best intentions at heart. “I won’t, I promise. I know what I’m doing.”
Fergus let her go and cracked his knuckles. “So, it looks as if I finally get to pull out the brotherly speech about how if he hurts my little sister I get to cut out his spleen with a spoon.”
She laughed. “A spoon? Really?”
“A dull one even.”
“Somehow, I don’t think you’ll have to make good on that threat. We’ve both known Nate for years; if anything, he’s more of a gentleman than you are.” She smoothed out her dress when she heard her father come down the hallway, Arl Rendon’s voice echoing behind him. “Just promise me that you won’t tell Papa yet. If this turns out to be a dismal failure, I don’t want anyone besides you to know.” Actually, she was hoping that Fergus kept his mouth shut so that she and Nathaniel’s cover wouldn’t be blown. It never failed that once her brother found out about something, the rest of the castle was soon to follow. Sometimes, she swore he was worse than a woman when it came to gossip.
“My lips are sealed,” he promised, crossing his heart with his index finger for good measure. “Now, put on a pretty smile; your potential sweetheart is headed right towards us.”
Nathaniel walked a little ways behind his father and looked towards the large chair that sat at the end of the Great Hall. Both Fergus and Moira were standing on either side of it and Nathaniel’s heart lifted when he saw the welcoming smile that Moira gave him. He could feel his own lips moving to mimic hers – it never failed; it seemed that when she smiled at him in that manner that it was like standing in a ray of sunlight meant only for him. His eyes glanced over to Fergus, who was giving him an odd look that seemed to be caught between confusion and curiosity.
“Fergus,” he said, extending his hand as was their custom. “It’s good to see you again.”
Fergus grasped Nathaniel’s forearm. “It’s good to see you again as well. Has it only been a month since your last visit?”
Nathaniel’s eyebrow lifted at the extra squeeze Fergus gave his arm as well as the way that Moira’s eyes darted over to her brother, her expression one that Nathaniel recognized as a precursor to either a verbal reprimand or a physical blow, depending on her mood. “It seems as if it’s been longer,” he said carefully, wondering what type of mood Fergus was in.
“It certainly has. How is your family doing?” Moira interjected, giving him their customary embrace that they’d shared since childhood. “We need to talk,” she whispered into his ear. She gave his sideburn a surreptitious kiss before drawing away.
“Everyone is well. Delilah sends her regards.” He gave her hands a brief squeeze before letting her go.
“Remind me to send you home with a letter I just finished writing her.” She tilted her head. “Do you have any business with my father, or are you free for the rest of the day?”
Nathaniel glanced at his father, who was busy speaking to Teyrn Bryce. “No, I was going to drop my pack off in a guest room, but then I don’t have anything planned until evening.”
“Oh, good. I’ll walk you to your usual room then.” Moira wound her arm through his, rolling her eyes at the way that Fergus snickered behind their back.
“What’s the matter with your brother?” Nathaniel asked once they were in the safety of the gardens.
She rested her head on his shoulder. “He just found out that I have a little crush on you.”
“Oh? Just a little one?” His tone was teasing, which made her smile.
“He also just found out that I plan on practicing my feminine wiles on you.” That made him laugh out loud, which made her look up at him. “What? You don’t believe I can do it?”
“My lady, the day that you gain the power to turn my legs into putty is the day –” He didn’t finish his sentence; Moira dragged him into an alcove where she knew that they wouldn’t be spotted and before he knew it, she had her hands in his hair, her mouth slanting against his. He groaned as his hands found purchase on the curves of her hips, his back hitting the stone wall with a faint thud. Nathaniel had always been the one to initiate their kisses and it was refreshing to have her be the more aggressive one for a change. Just as he was getting used to the way that she had nipped his bottom lip with her teeth, she gentled their kiss, the tips of her fingers softly tracing the sides of his face. She sighed into his mouth and he trembled - trembled - at the thought that he had found someone like her to spend the rest of his life with.
“You were saying?” she murmured, her breath ghosting across his chin.
He let out a faint chuckle. “Feel free to prove me wrong any time you wish,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and burying his nose in her hair.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked, her cheek against his chest.
Nathaniel licked his lips and tried to figure out how to say I’ve never held anyone who felt more perfect in my arms than you without sounding completely foolish. “This little crush of yours that Fergus has recently discovered,” he said instead, “does he know that it’s reciprocated?” He thought back to the odd look and comments that his friend had just recently given him.
She shook her head. “No. He thinks that it’s cute that I’ve finally taken an interest in you though.”
“Well, if he doesn’t know now, he’s smart enough to quickly figure things out.” He tipped her face upwards and brushed a soft kiss across her lips. “For I intend to act precisely how I feel for the duration of my stay.”
They walked out of the alcove and out of the gardens. “Oh? And how would that be?”
He lifted her hand off of his arm and brought her knuckles to his lips. He smiled, his expression softening at the way she gazed up at him. “Like a man in love.”
The week had gone by far too quickly and Nathaniel still hadn’t mustered up the courage to speak with the Teyrn and Teyrna. Fergus, on the other hand, had cornered him in the middle of the week to finally ask what was going on with him and Moira.
“What are your intentions towards my sister?” he finally asked after one of their sparring sessions. Fergus was casually leaning against the rack that held a wide variety of longswords, but his relaxed posture did nothing to hide the veiled threat in his stance.
“What do you mean?” Nathaniel had answered, slowly putting his blade back with the others. He’d been trained in swordsmanship since childhood, but he favored daggers when given a choice between sharp objects to fight with. They just felt right in his hands, just as wielding a bow felt natural to him.
“Oh, don’t play dumb. I’ve never noticed it before, but the two of you spend a great deal of time together.” Fergus had given him an accusatory look. “And her hair has been mussed whenever you both finally show back up.”
“You’ve found us out. I’ve been secretly administering noogies behind your back.”
“Will you be serious? I know my sister hides it, but she has a romantic streak a mile wide. You’re older than she and you’re about to leave for places more interesting than here, places that Moira’s only read about. I’m afraid that she might have gotten it into her head to put you on some sort of pedestal and play the part of the lovesick maiden waiting for you to return to her.”
Nathaniel had frowned. “Speak plainly. What are you worried about?”
“I adore my sister, Nate. The last thing I want is for her to be hurt. Tell me now; do you have any feelings for Moira?”
He had given Fergus a level stare. “I guess it’s fitting that you know before anyone else in your family, seeing that you’re my best friend and everything. I admire Moira. I have for several years now. In fact, I intend on going to your parents and asking for her hand in marriage before the week is over.”
Fergus had visibly slumped as he had taken that bit of information in. “Oh. Well. But…Moira?”
“Is there something wrong with her?” He had crossed his arms over his chest and given Fergus a look that dared him to say anything negative of Moira in front of him.
“I just never saw the two of you together romantically.”
“Fergus, we’ve been friends for ages. What’s so different?”
“Well for starters, childhood friends chasing the other about in the woods is far different than a man chasing a woman about in the woods with the intent…” he had paused then, glaring at Nathaniel. “You haven’t done anything with my baby sister, have you?”
“Trust me; I have the noblest intentions in mind.” He hadn’t been about to explain that while he had thoroughly mapped out Moira’s mouth with his own, he was still in the dark as to what color her smallclothes were or if she wore any that were edged in lace or not. “Besides the obvious shock, do you have any objections to our pairing?”
“You truly love her?”
Fergus had shaken his head. “It’s just that I always thought you would marry someone…I don’t know, more delicate. When you say the word ‘ladylike’, Moira isn’t the first person that comes to mind.”
“She does like to speak her mind.”
“And complain. And favor wearing breeches over dresses. Not to mention stabbing things with pointy objects.”
Nathaniel had smiled. “And I wouldn’t have her any other way. I want her just the way that she is; I wouldn’t trade her for anyone else.”
“It’s true,” Fergus had said, laughing. “Love truly does make you insane.” He had draped his arm over Nathaniel’s shoulders, giving him a brotherly squeeze. “I highly doubt that my parents will have any objections to your proposal, so let me be the first Cousland to welcome you to the family. Moira couldn’t have found a better man for a husband if she had tried. When the time comes, I’ll be proud to call you brother.”
Nathaniel’s breath had gone out in a relieved sigh. “You don’t know how much your opinion eases my mind,” he had said.
“Don’t get me wrong. If you ever cause my sister a moment of grief, I reserve the right to beat you to a pulp.”
“If I ever cause your sister a moment of grief, I’ll let you beat me to a pulp.”
“Good. I’m glad we’re on the same page now.”
“I do ask that you keep this between us. I might have the best intentions, but I want to ask Moira to marry me once I return. And I wish for it to be a surprise.”
“Why are you looking at me that way? I can keep a secret.”
He had snorted. “You keep a secret the way that a sieve holds water. Once you get a bit of information, it slips out of your fingers and everyone within a five foot radius quickly knows about it. Just…keep this under your hat, will you? I want to have a chance to figure out how I’m going to propose to her instead of ‘Well, I’m off. Once I get back, the two of us will wed. See you in eight years!’ It isn’t the most romantic way, you know.”
“Don’t worry,” Fergus had assured him with a grin. “For her, I’ll keep my mouth shut. I give no guarantees for my mother though. Knowing her, she’ll already have an entire wedding coordinated and ready to go upon your return and be harping about grandchildren while you and Moira exchange vows.”
Nathaniel shook his head, bringing himself back to the present. He sighed and eyed his already packed satchel. Twisting the gold ring he wore on his left index finger – a name day gift from his sister years ago – was a nervous habit of his that he couldn’t get himself to break, and he gave the ring an exceptionally hard twist before slicking his hands over his hair and straightening his shoulders. Purposely opening his bedroom door, he strode down the hallways, intent on finding Moira’s parents.
As luck would have it, Nathaniel found both Teyrn Bryce and Teyrna Eleanor together in the Teyrna’s informal receiving room. Eleanor was sitting at the window with a piece of embroidery in her hands and Bryce was lounging close beside her with a book, a cup of tea at his elbow.
“Ah, what can we do for you, Nathaniel?” Bryce asked, straightening as soon as he saw him.
“Is this a bad time? I have something very important that I would like to speak to the both of you about.”
Eleanor put her loom aside. “No, right now is quite all right. You know that our doors are always open for you, my dear.”
Nathaniel turned to close the door behind him, completely missing the excited glance that Eleanor gave Bryce or the way that Bryce winked back at his wife. “What can we do for you?” Bryce asked, gesturing for Nathaniel to sit in a nearby chair.
Nathaniel declined the offer, choosing to stand for the meanwhile. “I wanted to speak to you about Moira.” Maker, but he was nervous. The carefully planned thoughts that he had figured out on his walk to the sitting room vanished and he was left grasping at straws. “I’m sure that you’re aware that we’ve been friends for over twelve years.”
“We are. And I think that it’s wonderful that our children have kept in such close contact with you and your siblings,” Eleanor said. “Is something the matter?”
“No, everything is fine. I just…” He sighed. “The two of you have always treated me well and I treasure the friendships that I’ve built with your family and with Moira in particular. I’ve come to care for her very much, and I have good reason to believe that she feels the same about me.”
“And you would like to speak to us about that, correct?” Bryce prompted, leaning forward in his seat.
Nathaniel ran his hand through his hair. “You both know that I’ll be leaving for the Free Marches within the next two months. I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back to Ferelden, but I wanted to ask this of both of you before I left.” He took a breath and stood up straighter. “I love your daughter. Nothing would make me happier than to become her husband once I return.”
Bryce sat back in his chair and let out a slow breath. “You’ll have to forgive me,” he said slowly. “It isn’t every day that a young man asks for my only daughter’s hand in marriage.”
“This is all so sudden,” Eleanor said, looking as if she were more composed than her husband. “Especially since we haven’t heard word of you deciding to court her before now.”
Nathaniel scuffed the toe of his boot against the stone floor. The look that Eleanor gave him made him feel guilty. “Actually, I’ve been privately courting her for a little over two years now. I thought that it would be best to keep our relationship quiet, seeing that I am to leave soon.”
“And now?” Bryce arched his eyebrow. “Why come to us before you leave when you could have waited until you returned? You’ve kept everything else from us, why not this?”
Nathaniel winced. “I see now what a mistake that keeping our relationship private has been. Just so you know, Moira was against it all along; she wanted to tell you both but I talked her into waiting.” He looked down. “Eight years is a very long time to be gone. I have no doubts as to her feelings, but I wanted to make my intentions clear now.”
“Absence does make the heart grow fonder,” Eleanor said.
“Or forgetful,” Bryce added. “Tell us; is part of your request due to the fact that while you’re away, there will be other men vying for her hand?”
“Yes, but not how you think. I…” Nathaniel finally sat down. “I know that Moira will be faithful to me, but I worry that she’ll feel guilty about sending suitors away without giving a proper explanation as to why.”
“You speak of Moira’s faithfulness, but what of your own?” Bryce asked. “The Free Marches border Antiva. There are many beautiful women to choose from.”
“My lord, I am not a man to be easily swayed by a pretty face. I love Moira, nothing can change that. Eight, ten, thirty years from now, I will still love her. I know that I am reserved by nature – my family is not known for their displays of affection, but please, do not doubt the depth of my feelings.”
Eleanor rose from her seat and went over to her husband. “Bryce,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder.
He reached up and covered her hand with his own. “I know, my darling.” Giving Nathaniel a warm smile, he stood and offered his hand. “I’ve known you since before you were born and I’ve had the great privilege of watching you grow into a fine, decent young man. It would be an honor to be able to call you my son.”
Nathaniel stared at the Teyrn’s offered hand, slightly dumbfounded. “It would?” he asked, numbly taking hold of it.
Bryce laughed, pulling on Nathaniel’s hand until he had hauled him to his feet. “Of course it would. We both had our suspicions that there was something going on between the two of you all along, but we didn’t want to question it until either one of you were ready to come to us. You are a good man Nathaniel. I wouldn’t let my daughter go to anyone less.”
“I assume that you wish to keep our conversation quiet?” Eleanor inquired, embracing Nathaniel.
Bryce clapped his hand over Nathaniel’s shoulder. “Does anyone else know?” he asked, almost at the same time.
Nathaniel shook his head. “Only Fergus. I want to wait until I return to properly ask Moira.” He laughed. “I haven’t even looked for a ring.”
“You won’t have to,” Eleanor said. She slipped a plain gold band off her left ring finger and pressed it into his palm. “This belonged to my mother, and to her mother before that. It’s tradition amongst my family to pass this ring down from mother to daughter and I would be pleased to offer it to you to give to Moira. I’ve always hoped that you two would get together, ever since you were children.”
“No buts, my dear.” She folded his fingers around the ring and stood aside. “Consider this my blessing.”
He held his closed fist close to his heart. “Thank you. I’ll hold it close until the time comes for me to give it to her.”
“Your father and I have much to discuss now,” Bryce said. “I’ve been dreading haggling over bride prices ever since my girl was little. It’s a comfort to know that at least I’ll be dealing with a trusted friend.”
“If it’s all the same, could that talk wait until I return? I would like to be a part of it.”
Bryce smiled. “That would be better. I’m almost glad that you are leaving; it means that I get to keep my Pup that much longer.”
Nathaniel knew that Moira and her father were close; it was evident in the way that Teyrn Bryce often indulged his daughter’s wishes and how Moira spoke highly of her father. If anything, he didn’t want their marriage to put a strain on that bond. “Amaranthine is only a few days away. We will visit often and I’m sure that my father wouldn’t object to you being guests in our home.”
“And this is another reason I know that you are the right one for our Moira. Never forget: family will always come first.” Bryce stepped away and held onto Eleanor’s hand. “Even if we were the poorest people in Ferelden, I would consider myself a wealthy man to have a woman that I love with all my heart as my wife and two young adults who are making their way into the world as my children. Titles and rank can be taken away on a whim. Power and status are precarious things to base a marriage on; as long as you have love on your side, anything is possible.”
Nathaniel thought that it was odd how Bryce had inadvertently echoed his own father’s harsh words at the beginning of the week. The two men had opposite ideas when it came to marriage, but Nathaniel found himself believing that Teyrn Bryce’s views were something that he wanted to aspire to.
Bryce watched as Nathaniel left the room. Turning to his wife, he wiped his knuckle against the corner of his eye. “I always thought that Fergus would be the first to be engaged,” he said. “I thought that we’d be able to hold onto our baby longer than this.”
Eleanor looked out the window. Her sitting room offered a perfect view of her gardens below, and she smiled at the spring in Nathaniel’s step. She didn’t even mind when he snapped off a pink rose, knowing who the recipient would be. “Do you remember being that young and in love?” she asked.
“Of course I do, dearest.” He wrapped his arms around her from behind and rested his chin on her shoulder. “I feel that way every time I look at you.”
She laughed, settling back in his arms. “Charmer.”
“To my dying breath.” He kissed her cheek. “But tell me something, my love. How in the world are we going to keep quiet when Moira first notices that your wedding band is missing?”
Eleanor turned until she could drape her arms around Bryce’s shoulders. “Once she does, I’ll act incredibly upset for a while and pretend to search frantically for it for a few days. Then you, in your infinite generosity, will commission a new one to be made to make up for my loss.”
“Infinite generosity, is it? It sounds to me as if I’ve been had.”
She kissed the tip of his nose. “But you don’t mind, now do you?”
“Not in the slightest. I do sense a flaw in your plan though.”
“Oh? And what would that be?”
“It just doesn’t feel right to get you a brand new ring and be done with it. Your other one had three marriage ceremonies tied to it. Would you consider renewing our wedding vows?”
Eleanor leaned up on her tiptoes and gave her husband a brief peck on the lips. “Are you asking?”
“I am. My dearest Eleanor, would you marry a Teyrn for the second time?”
She smiled. “No, I will not marry a Teyrn. I will however remarry Bryce Cousland, the man that I’m still madly in love with after all these years, with whom I’ve built a wonderful life and raised two beautiful children together.”
Bryce framed her face with his hands before dipping his head down to kiss her. “How did I ever become so fortunate?” he murmured against her lips. “My only wish is that our children will be able to experience what we have with their respective partners.”
“I hope that they will as well.” She snuggled closer, her head on his shoulder. Nathaniel Howe wasn’t classically handsome by court standards, but there was a certain attractiveness to him that Eleanor could see her daughter gravitate towards. In her mind’s eye, she could clearly picture little grey eyed Howe children with the Cousland’s chestnut hair running about the castle and her heart swelled at the thought of the halls filling once again with the sound of children’s laughter. They shall call me Grandmama, she decided, a contented sigh slipping past her lips.
“What are you thinking of?” Bryce asked.
“I was just thinking how spoiled our grandchildren are going to be. Oh Bryce, they’ll be so beautiful, I already know it.”
Bryce laughed and held her closer in his arms. “I do hope you’ll give them a chance to be newlyweds before you start insisting on them making you a grandmother.”
“Don’t worry. I promise I won’t start nagging until after their first year together.”
“It’s just going to be hard playing dumb for the next eight or so years,” Bryce said. “Do you think that we can do it?”
“You said it yourself,” Eleanor said, threading her fingers into her husband’s hair. “With love, anything is possible.”