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Steady as We Go, chapter one

Title: Steady as We Go
Rating: PG
Summary: When Moira had wished for an adventure of her own, this was not what she had in mind.
Note: Sequel to Someone Like You.

Alistair couldn’t help but notice that the girl walking towards him looked horribly lost. Not lost as in I have no idea where I’m going and whoever sent me out on an errand neglected to provide a map, he thought, but rather like she knew where she was headed to but didn’t know exactly where she belonged once she got there. He had to admit that she was quite pretty if you ignored the pale, drawn expression on her face and the fact that her chestnut colored hair looked as if it had lost a fight with a pair of dull shears. She looked uncomfortable standing there in armor that was slightly too big for her frame that was clearly borrowed and a shield slung across her back that showed that she was unfamiliar with how to carry it. Alistair watched as she moved out of the mage’s way, her eyes cast downward and politely murmuring “excuse me” underneath her breath. Either a servant or someone who doesn’t hold any prejudice towards the Circle, Alistair mused. No, not a servant. Look at the way she holds herself.

“You know, the one good thing about the Blight is how it brings everyone together,” Alistair said by way of greeting once she got closer to him. Now that she was closer he could see that the very tips of her hair did look a bit singed and it seemed as if she had been the one to cut her own hair; the back portion was a bit longer than the parts on either side of her head.

The young woman’s hazel eyes looked haunted, but the edges of her mouth tipped upwards into a ghost of a smile. “I know exactly what you mean,” she replied.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we just all sat around together and held hands while singing songs? It surely would give the darkspawn something to think about.”

She gave a dusty sounding chuckle. “You must be Alistair.”

He gave her a wary look. “Well, that depends. You wouldn’t happen to be another mage, would you?”

She shook her head. “And if I was?”

He shrugged. “It would just mean that I’d have a chance of offending yet another person before the sun went down today. Oh well, I still have a few hours left before that.”

“Duncan didn’t exaggerate when he said you have quite the odd sense of humor.”

Alistair cocked his head to the side. “So you must be the new recruit, the one from Highever. I was wondering when the two of you would come back.” He held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, my name is Alistair.”

She took his hand, her handshake surprisingly firm and steady for a woman. “My name is Moira.”

He snapped his fingers. “Right, that was the name. Duncan had sent word ahead you informing the rest of us Wardens . You know, I don’t recollect ever having very many females in the Grey Wardens. I wonder why that was.”

She arched her eyebrow. “Would it help if you didn’t think of me as a woman?”

He stood up straighter. “Yes Ser,” he said, grinning. “But in all seriousness, as Junior Warden, it will be my duty to help you and the others on a small yet very important mission before your Joining. You have met the other two, haven’t you?”

She shook her head. “No. Duncan sent me to gather you directly.”

Ah, good. She’s the type to follow her superior’s directions. She has the look of a noblewoman to her – I was hoping that she wouldn’t be the type to complain and whine. “We might have a chance to see them on the way back to Duncan. He’s more than likely waiting by the bonfire. It’s where several of us have decided to make camp.”

“Some of us? How many Wardens are here in Ostagar?”

“All of us.” Alistair gestured for Moira to take the lead down the stone stairs and he followed to her left. “When the King commands our presence, it’s most unwise to not follow his orders to the letter.”

Moira swallowed, thinking that her father had said almost the same thing not but several weeks ago. Don’t think about that now, she told herself, swallowing a lump that had formed in her throat. You must get back to Duncan and begin this mission Alistair mentioned. Everything else can wait for now. Even though she knew that Cailan had said that Fergus’ company was out in the Wilds, she couldn’t help but look all around the camp, her eyes hoping for a glimpse of a familiar face and her ears straining to listen for her brother’s voice. Oh Fergus, whatever shall I tell you once I see you again? She might have had two weeks to prepare for meeting her brother again, but she was still at a loss as to how to explain Howe’s treachery and their family’s demise to him. Her hand went to her chest where she kept her parent’s wedding rings and her father’s signet ring. She’d been terrified of losing the now priceless treasures early on in her journey, so she had threaded the three rings through a piece of twine and knotted it at her neck. The makeshift necklace now rested underneath her cuirass and thin wool padding, the rings settling firmly next to her skin.

They passed a soldier guarding a man stripped of his clothing and hanging in a cage. His cheeks were so hollow that it almost seemed as if his skin were stretched much too tightly over his skull. Moira felt a pang of sympathy for him, especially when she saw him eyeing his guard’s half-finished dinner. Something made her go over to him and strike up a conversation and she listened as the man told her that he had been caught deserting. His reasons for leaving seemed reasonable to Moira and she felt as if his punishment was unfair. Without saying another word, she went over to his guard and cajoled him to spare the rest of his meal.

“The man is going to wind up being hung anyway,” she said, hoping to persuade the guard. “What harm would it be to give him at least one last meal before he swings from a nearby tree?”

“Well…” The guard grumbled, but eventually handed over his food and flask of water. “But if anyone asks why he’s burpin’, I’m blaming you.”

“That was a nice thing that you did,” Alistair commented as they left.

“No one deserves to be treated so cruelly,” she replied, dusting off her hands from where she had gripped the rusty bars of the cage in order to hand the food and water up to the prisoner. “Especially when they have not earned it.”

They made it back to the bonfire without bumping into the other two recruits. Duncan told Alistair where they might be and sent him off to collect them. “What do you think of Alistair now that you’ve met him?” Duncan asked once they were alone.

“He seems to have a good sense of humor,” Moira said, scratching between Quinn’s ears when her Mabari came up to her. He sat at her feet and leaned against her leg, his tongue lolling out of his mouth as he let out a satisfied sigh at having his mistress back where he could keep an eye on her. “He mentioned that he would be coming along with us on a task before our Joining.”

Duncan nodded. “I’ll elaborate on what that task is as soon as he comes back with the others.”

“What is the Joining? Alistair evaded all of my questions when I asked him, saying that it was something exclusive to the Wardens and therefore quite secret.”

“It is. All shall be revealed in due course once the four of you return from the Wilds.”

Moira was going to ask him something else, but Alistair came back just then with two other men. One was quite tall and sturdy looking, a greatsword strapped across his back. The other was a bit shorter and carried two daggers. Moira instantly recognized from his stance that he was skilled in the rogue school of talents. She also noticed how he recognized the same from her after he had finished looking her over as if she were a tempting piece of meat hanging in the butcher’s shop window. Quinn’s ears instantly flattened against his head and he let out a soft warning growl.

“This is Ser Jory,” Alistair said, introducing the man wearing the greatsword. “He hails from Highever as well, even though we recruited him out of Redcliffe.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said, nodding his head in welcome.

“And this is Daveth,” Alistair continued, gesturing towards the second man. “He’s a…fellow we picked up in Denerim.”

“Pleasure to meet you, my lady,” Daveth said, waggling his eyebrows.

“And this, gentlemen, is our newest recruit.”

“Nice to meet you,” Moira said, dipping into the slightest curtsey on reflex, years of habit making her move before her brain could catch up to her body. And how Mama would have laughed, Moira thought sadly. Her hellion has finally decided to show off the manners that have been drilled into her head since childhood. “My name is Moira.”

“Now that we’ve all been introduced,” Duncan said. “Let us get down to business. I have several tasks for the three of you to perform before we can get to your Joining. As you well know, the Wilds have been taken over by darkspawn. The first task is a sort of test: You are to bring back three vials of darkspawn blood, one for each of you. I know none of you have faced darkspawn before, so this will be a good learning opportunity as well as a test to see if you can stand defeating these creatures.”

“What is the second task?” Moira asked. She wondered what the blood would be used for, but decided that Duncan was the sort of person who would explain everything in due course instead of answering questions shot at him left and right.

“The second task I have for you to complete is to retrieve a chest from an abandoned outpost nearby. The Wardens of Ferelden used to keep watch here before it became too difficult to spread our forces out so sparingly. The chest contains very important scrolls detailing treaties that different entities have with us Wardens. We may need to use those treaties when everything is all said and done, especially if this proves to be a true Blight instead of a mere raid.”

“So, retrieve the scrolls and secure the blood,” Moira murmured, absently scratching behind Quinn’s right ear, much to her dog’s delight. “I think we shall be able to do that. Is there a timeframe as to when we should return?”

Duncan shook his head. “Today is already quite old. Don’t worry if you need to set up camp for the night, but try to make it back as quickly as possible. We will need all the Wardens we have at our disposal for this upcoming battle.” He turned to Alistair. “Keep your charges safe.”

“I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble,” Daveth piped up. “But doesn’t it look like we’re in need of a bit of gear? I don’t particularly like the idea of wandering out there to fight darkspawn wearin’ nothing but the clothes on my back.”

“You’re right,” Alistair said. “We don’t have much money on us, but perhaps we can pool our resources and see what we can come up with. Moira, do you happen to have anything that we might trade the Quartermaster for? Perhaps that shield you have on your back. I noticed that you looked a little awkward with it.”

Moira reared back, her hand settling on Quinn’s neck. “This shield is not for sale,” she said firmly, her voice a bit harsher than she had meant for it to be. Taking a breath to compose herself she gave him an apologetic glance. “I meant, yes, I am quite unfamiliar with fighting with a shield. Perhaps you would like to sell your shield and use mine instead?” Great going, Cousland, she admonished herself. Let’s just antagonize the person being charged to keep us all alive out there, shall we?

“That sounds like a good idea,” Alistair agreed after eying her with an odd expression that she was unable to read, taking the shield she offered.

“And this set of armor doesn’t quite fit me right,” she continued. “If you like, Daveth, you can have it. It moves quite well, especially when trying to maneuver as quietly as possible.”

“It does look flexible enough. Good quality too.” Daveth reached out and touched the chainmail that was attached to the leather body.

“I have a little money in my bag,” Jory supplied. “I hope that it will be enough to buy you another suit of armor to replace the one you’ve given Daveth.” The four of them made their way to the Quartermaster, where with a little bit of creative bartering and selling off of several items that weren’t quite as important to carry, Moira was outfitted with a better fitting set of studded armor made out of cured leather as well as a backpack capable of carrying much more than the makeshift bag that she had made out of a burlap sack from her family’s larder. Moira gently touched the dried brown stain on the corner of the sack before folding the material and placing it at the bottom of her new bag, kneeling to do the job better.

Quinn whined and nosed her cheek. “You’re going to have to stay here for right now, Boy,” she said quietly. “There isn’t room in our party for a fifth fighter, no matter how much you want to come along. Besides, didn’t you see all the sick hounds in the kennel? I would hate for you to get what they had.”

Quinn whined again and licked her chin. “I know, I’ll be careful. You just stay there by the fire and be a good boy, all right? No chewing on other’s things, I mean it.” She felt her lip quiver and she gave him a quick hug around his thick neck. “You just stay safe. Besides Fergus, you’re all the family I have now.” She blinked quickly and stood up, rubbing at her chin with the back of her hand to rid herself of Mabari drool.

“Nice dog,” Daveth commented as they walked towards the main gates. “Looks like he’s real protective of his mistress.”

“He could rip someone in half on my command,” she said dryly, noticing the way Daveth’s hand was already starting to stray towards her backside. She lengthened her stride to keep out of range. “He’s already proven that he can several times over.”

She heard him sigh dramatically behind her. “Just my luck, I’m saddled with the pretty Ice Queen. The Maker surely thinks this is hilarious.”

They hadn’t walked very far when the howl of wolves echoed in the air. Moira drew her sword and dagger, ducking out of the way of Jory’s greatsword. She’d never fought with anyone who had wielded such a weapon and she made certain to keep on the far side of the battlefield instead, wading into the middle of the wolf pack and taking on two at a time. She gave a dual weapon sweep, taking out one wolf and finishing off the second with a flurry attack.

“Is anyone hurt?” Alistair asked, cleaning his blade on the grass nearby before sheathing it.

“Not a scratch here,” Daveth said, flexing his arm. “This is good quality; I would have gotten my arm bitten off otherwise.”

“Markus would have been pleased to hear,” Moira said quietly, thinking fondly of the castle’s blacksmith. She prayed that he had been able to escape in the confusion. Hopefully Howe’s men had only attacked the front portion of the castle; Markus’ forge was at the back near the barracks. “I’m all right as well.” She had dodged the snapping teeth and jaws of the wolves successfully, her mind going to the Captain of the Guard and how he had often warned her and her brother when they had been children of the dangers that roamed the woods around their home. He hadn’t been exaggerating, Moira thought, catching her breath.

“Maker, what is that?” Jory asked, pointing towards the marsh ahead of them. They couldn’t see much from where they were standing, but Moira thought that she made out a pair of boots poking out from the tall grass.

Her suspicions were confirmed when they reached the edge of the marsh. “He’s dead,” Moira said, kneeling on a boggy patch next to the body. She turned him over with Alistair’s help, wincing at the way that the brackish water had made the man’s face bloat and prune up. An arrow protruded from his chest, the shaft and fletching black.

“Darkspawn,” Alistair spat, shaking his head. “He looks to be a missionary – he didn’t stand a chance against them.”

“His name was Jogby,” Moira noted, reading the letter that had crinkled under her hand as she had turned the body. “He was to meet his father here and begin trying to convert the Chasind.”

“Does the letter say anything else?”

“There’s some directions to a chest full of supplies.” Moira bit her lip. “It seems a shame to let those supplies go to waste when we could dearly use them. Do you think that it would be awful to claim them as our own?”

Alistair looked at her thoughtfully. “Well, it isn’t like he’s going to be using them any time soon. I don’t see why we couldn’t.”

She let out a relieved breath. “I’m glad that you said that. I was afraid that you would think that I was some sort of vulture.”

He shook his head. “No, I’m starting to get the impression that you’re a resourceful sort of person. We need more people like you around.”

“Well, if the two of you are done sitting in the mud, maybe we should get going,” Daveth said, plucking the meager little leather pouch off the body with the expertise of a back alley pick pocket. He shook it, measuring the amount of money in the bag by sound alone before stuffing it into his pack.

“And we need less people like him, in my opinion,” Alistair muttered under his breath, quietly enough that Daveth couldn’t hear him yet loud enough where Moira could.

Moira smirked and shook her head, but then she stopped in her tracks when she turned the bend. “What could have done this?” she wondered, her hand going to cover her mouth, her eyes wide in horror. It looked as if someone had painted the grass and dirt trail beyond in red. Things that Moira would rather not think to describe hung from nearby trees, flies already buzzing around. A cart was overturned near the road, its poor oxen dead in its yoke. Men in various colored armor were littered along the ground and Moira let out a shocked gasp when she recognized those among the dead that were wearing the dark green scale mail of Highever.

A strangled groan caught her attention and she froze in place, watching as one of the bodies wearing her family’s armor stirred and began to crawl towards them. “Fergus,” she whispered, her heart suddenly hammering in her chest as she watched the dark haired man reach towards her. “Fergus!

“Wait! You don’t know what’s up ahead!” Alistair tried to warn her, but it was already too late. Moira had gone running down the road, her boots sliding around on the gore that was so saturated in places that the dirt hadn’t had a chance to absorb all of the blood yet. She skidded to a halt and knelt beside the injured man, her hands carefully turning him over. She was partially relieved when she realized that the soldier was not her brother, but dismayed when she recognized him.

“Padrick,” she said, smoothing his bloodstained hair out of his eyes. “What has happened to you?”

“Darkspawn,” Padrick gasped out, his eyes closed tightly in pain. “They came from… under the ground. Our scouting party never stood a chance.”

“Was Fergus with you? Have you seen him?” She was already trying to assess the damage he had sustained. While she might have known Padrick on sight, it seemed as if he was too dazed to recognize her voice. He had a gash on his side and looked to have suffered a blow to the head, which was bleeding profusely. She could remember the last time she had seen him; she had been in the training circle practicing her forms and he had been busy at the archery range. Alice, one of the castle maids, had approached her bearing a letter from the Free Marches and news that Rendon Howe had finally arrived with his men. Moira had teased Padrick when she had seen the way that his eyes had followed Alice as the maid had gone back into the castle, his cheeks blazing red at being caught admiring the girl. He was young, one of the newer castle soldiers whom the Captain of the Guard had personally decided to take under his wing once he saw the talent Padrick had possessed with a bow.

Moira let out a breath from between clenched teeth when she took further stock of his injuries. His right arm was mangled and there was a bit of translucent bone protruding close to his elbow. He wouldn’t be wielding a bow any time soon. “Fergus?” Padrick asked, finally opening his eyes to look up at her. “My lady, what are you doing here?” he asked weakly. “His Lordship is going to be so angry when he learns that you stole away to join us.”

Moira gave a weak laugh and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “It is a very long story,” she explained. “I’ll tell you everything once we get you back to camp. Can you walk?”

“I think so.”

“It doesn’t matter; I’ll see you back myself.” She made quick work of unbuckling one side of his breastplate, but stopped when he made a pained wheeze.

“No, don’t go troubling yourself on my account, my lady.”

“I have bandages in my pack,” Alistair supplied once he caught up to them. He knelt and carefully helped Moira take off Padrick’s armor. “This looks bad,” he said, gesturing towards the broken arm. “I don’t think we can set this properly in the field.”

“I shall be all right,” Padrick assured them. He gave Moira a weak grin. “It can’t be as bad as the time that I fell out of Nan’s fruit tree. She blistered my ears something awful, but getting the first apples of the season was worth the broken leg.”

“Are you certain that you can make it back?” Moira asked again, tucking the edges of the bandage against his chest. Her fingers tingled from the medicinal paste that Alistair also had with him and she hoped that their first aid attempt would be enough to hold him over until he got back to the infirmary. She could feel heat radiate off of his skin and a quick check also found his forehead hot to the touch. Her eyes went to the bandage; she hadn’t seen any red streaks coming from the gash on his side that might indicate blood poisoning and nothing had looked to be infected. Then again, Moira had a very limited knowledge on healing, so she hoped that she was doing everything right.

“I am.” He grunted as Moira and Alistair helped him to his feet, his good arm hugging his broken one close to his body. “Our army was split up to scout the area. Fergus was sent with Arl Howe’s men further south.”

Moira closed her eyes and looked away. “Damn,” she cursed. “Thank you, Padrick,” she said.

“I know not what you’re doing here, but Maker watch over you and his Lordship.”

“May He watch over you as well,” she answered, watching as he slowly made his way back up the path they had come from.

“Did you hear that?” Jory asked. “An entire scouting party taken out by darkspawn!”

“Well, we’re not quite helpless, I think that we can take care of any that we come across.”

Jory folded his arms over his chest. “Yes, we might be able to take on several, but what if there’s more? How many can you defeat? Ten? Twenty? More?”

“Calm yourself, Ser,” Alistair reassured him. “Any large parties of darkspawn have long since quit the area. There may be one or two stragglers left behind, but we’re in no danger of running into the bulk of the horde.”

“How can you be so sure?”

Alistair touched his chest and looked out to the distance. “Part of becoming a Warden is gaining the ability to sense darkspawn. It’s one of the reasons that I’m here with you. So far, I can’t detect any that are extremely close to us.”

“See? We might be killed horribly, but at least we’ll be warned about it first,” Daveth said cheerfully. He sidled up to Moira, who was still staring at the path that Padrick had gone. “So, your Ladyship, just who is this Fergus fellow? Is he your husband? A lover, perhaps?”

Moira narrowed her eyes. “He is my brother.” She wiped her palms on her leggings, ignoring the way that Padrick’s blood now stained her knees. “Are we ready to move on?” Her thoughts were swirling in her head and she felt her stomach twist at the thought of her brother amidst a large party of Howe’s men. Andraste, keep him safe, she prayed, her hands straying again to her makeshift necklace, her fingers tightening over the signet ring. She walked a little ways ahead, something to the left of the path catching her eye.

“We got off on the wrong foot,” Daveth said quietly beside her. He was so silent on his feet that Moira had scarcely heard him approach.

She nodded, her gaze cemented on the grass in front of her. “I apologize. I’m not myself; there has been so much going on in my life recently that I’m still trying to sort out. I should not have been so sharp with you.”

Daveth gave a small laugh. “I was meaning that I got off on the wrong foot. It seems that every time I open my mouth that I’m getting a taste of my boot.” He fidgeted. “I’m sorry.”

She looked at him. “Accepted. Perhaps we could start fresh?”

He grinned. “I’d like that.” He pointed at the flower that had caught her attention. “I heard that the kennel master was looking for some of those flowers. I don’t know why, but I think that I heard him say something about it being part of an ingredient to cure hounds that had recently gotten sick. There might be a reward involved.”

Moira thought back to her own hound as she plucked the flower and placed the bloom in her backpack. “Then we shall gather any of these flowers that we come across.”

“Huh, it’s funny, but you aren’t like any noble that I’ve run across.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Who said anything about me being a noble?”

He rolled his eyes. “Well, it’s the refined way that you talk and the fact that you just admitted to being sister to someone with the title of Lord before his first name that’s a dead giveaway for one. Then it’s the way that you carry yourself for another. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever come across one of the higher-ups - especially women - that can kick ass and wield a blade like you do.”

She shrugged. “My parents were quite unorthodox when it came to raising their children. I for one am infinitely grateful that they allowed me to learn swordplay and run about the castle as I pleased.” Mother and Father’s leniency has more than likely saved my life several times over, she added silently. “But tell me, if I’m not like any noble that you’ve seen, where have you seen nobles? Did I hear Alistair correctly when he said that you were from Denerim?”

“I’m not originally from there. My home village is actually a little dot here in the south. One of those blink and you miss it while riding down the road sort of places, it is. I wound up getting out of there as soon as I was able and have made quite a tidy living in Denerim, thanks to my noble contributors.”

“So you’re a cutpurse, aren’t you? I thought that I detected that bit of talent.”

“Hey, don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. Liberating the wealthy from a little pocket change in order to eat never did me wrong. In fact, I wouldn’t even be here today had I not gotten caught trying to lift Duncan’s wallet. The authorities were ready to hang me, but Duncan wound up using the Right of Conscription to get me to join the ranks of the Wardens.” He shrugged again. “In all honesty, I think this might be the start of turning over a new leaf. I mean, we can’t have the Grey Wardens’ reputation tarnished by having a street thief in their ranks, now can we?”

She smiled at him. “No, I guess we can’t.”

“Now, come on; we’re wasting daylight standing here talking about myself. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time to get to know the other later on once we’re done with all this.”

“You’re right. I guess we ought to watch the other’s backs, don’t you think?”

He chortled, his voice deepening as he looked down her body ever so slowly. “Oh, I’ll be watching yours, no doubt about it.”

She shook her head and walked ahead of him. “I wasn’t kidding about Quinn being able to tear a man in half, you know,” she warned breezily without looking behind her shoulder. “It doesn’t hurt that he’s already decided not to like you on principle.”

His voice sounded amused. “That’s part of the thrill, my lady.”

Alistair rolled his eyes and walked past Daveth. “If you’re quite finished getting shot down by your fellow recruit,” he said, his tone teasing. “Then…” He stopped in mid-sentence and stood stock still, his entire body tense and alert.

“What is it?” Jory asked, standing beside him.

Alistair unsheathed his sword. “Darkspawn, right ahead of us on that hill. I can feel about four of them, perhaps a little more.” He had barely said that when an arrow whizzed over his head and imbedded itself in the tree trunk behind him.

“Archers!” Moira yelled, crouching behind a fallen piece of a nearby wall. She eyed the discarded bow next to her and wished that she actually knew how to properly use the weapon. Daveth rolled next to her, yanking the arrow out of the tree and fitting it against Padrick’s bow that he had scooped up.

“Thank goodness one of us is a long distance fighter,” Alistair muttered, watching as the darkspawn arrow flew true and landed in the center of the creature’s forehead.

Those are darkspawn?” Daveth asked, his eyes wide.

“I’m afraid so. Don’t worry about their appearance, just concentrate on the fact that you’re able to kill them just as well as they’re able to kill you.”

Even with that reassurance, Moira was chilled to the bone when she got her first clear view of a hurlock from up close. It was the size of a man and had let out an inhuman howl when her blade sank through its chest. She didn’t give her mind any time to recoil out of disgust and fear and simply moved on to the next attacker. Jory swung his blade in a wide arc, catching several on the return path. Daveth had found a discarded quiver of arrows and was lobbing as many projectiles as he could in their direction, making sure to aim in a manner that wouldn’t put his companions in the crossfire. Alistair had run ahead and was attempting to draw the majority of the enemy’s attention, which left Moira wide open to sneak behind and stab genlocks in the back. She grimaced at the way that the black blood stained her family’s blade, quickly wiping the sword clean on the grass before putting it back in the sheath situated on her back.

“Disgusting creatures,” Jory muttered, trying not to gag as he capped the lid to his vial.

“Yet disgusting creatures who happen to carry bits of silver coins on their persons,” Moira said, crouching near one of the fallen Hurlocks. Now that it was dead, she had a chance to study its face, to stare until she was certain that she could look upon the next live one and not feel as if she were going to be attacked by fear.

“And that was your formal introduction to the creatures known as darkspawn,” Alistair said cheerfully. “Shall we move on?”

“Was it just me, or did one of them act as a mage would?” Moira asked, walking alongside Alistair.

He nodded. “Yes, that was an emissary. They’re quite dangerous, far more than your regular run of the mill genlock or hurlock. If we come across any others, make certain to take them out first. They know a variety of spells that can disable you and allow their normal brethren a chance at taking you on while you’re defenseless.”

Moira tucked that piece of information away. “I noticed that you did something that drained its mana. I didn’t know that you were a Templar.”

“Former Templar,” Alistair corrected. “Actually, I never officially took my vows; Duncan recruited me out of the Chantry while I was still a Templar in training. The Revered Mother was most displeased, but I think that it was for the best.”

“You disliked being a Templar?”

“Not disliked so much as I never felt as if that was my life’s calling. Being a Warden has been a satisfying experience, far more than an entire lifetime spent in the Chantry has.”

“How long have you been a Warden, if I might ask?”

“Only six months.” He looked at her from out of the corner of his eye. “Tell me, what do you think of Duncan?”

Moira thought her words over carefully. “He seems to be a fair man,” she said. “Truthfully, I’ve only known him for two weeks. My first impression of him was that he was the sort of man who stood by quietly and watched what was going around him before jumping into things. He doesn’t speak very much, does he?”

Alistair grinned. “No, he doesn’t. Truthfully, I think that he’s grateful that he’s recruited so many others; my prattling on must have gotten on his nerves.” He pushed aside a tree branch that was in his way. “How did he recruit you? He failed to mention the particulars in his letter.”

Moira’s stride stalled out and she bit her lip. “He asked my father,” she settled on. She shivered, remembering those last moments in the larder.

“Duncan, I beg you. Take my wife and daughter to safety.”

“I will. In return, I will need something from you.”


“I came to Highever seeking a recruit.”

“I understand.”

“He has been very kind to me,” she said, rubbing her arms to ward off the chill her memories had brought up. “I can tell that you hold him in high regard.”

“The highest,” Alistair agreed. “In some ways, you could say that he saved my life.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” she murmured. She frowned, looking at the patch of herbs that was growing a little ways off the path. “That is Deathroot,” she pointed out, kneeling down and pulling out a small paring knife from her pack. She had taken the knife from Nan’s kitchens on impulse as they had fled and now she was glad that she had – Deathroot wasn’t highly toxic on its own in small quantities, but it could cause a nasty rash and itch like crazy should someone get nicked with a blade that still had a bit of sap on it. Moira’s dagger would have sufficed to harvest a bit of the plant, but Nan’s knife would serve nicely for that specific purpose. “We might have need of some later on.”

“You have a knowledge of poisons?”

“Not much, but I do know some. I don’t know anything too complicated, just the basics.” Oriana had taught her all that she knew when it became apparent that Moira had taken an interest in learning that went beyond a polite urge to get to know her brother’s wife better. Oriana was the first to admit that she knew very little – her father had been one of the middle to upper class noblemen from Antiva and as such, he had believed that ladies only needed to learn what was necessary to survive should the need come to poisoning their adversaries, not have a broad knowledge of poisons that they might make a living off of.

Alistair watched as Moira carefully harvested a few leaves and a bit of the root, wiping the small knife in her hand off on the grass before tucking her prizes inside her pack. He listened as she muttered something about finding pressing paper for the leaves and a bag to carry roots in later on. “I’m starting to see what Duncan saw in you,” he told her. “Daveth was right; you aren’t like any noblewoman that I’ve met.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she said, standing up. “Now, about this letter. Are we going to try to follow the instructions to get to this hidden chest?”

Alistair scanned the horizon. “That over there might be our clue to pass under the tree bridge,” he said, pointing at the roots that were sticking up in the air. An enormous tree had fallen some time ago, the grass on the hill partially growing up around it and it did seem to make a bridge that they could cross underneath. “Poor slobs,” Alistair said quietly, looking up at the men hanging from the tree. “This is just…excessive.”

“Don’t look now, but there’s more of them,” Daveth warned, notching an arrow and letting it fly.

“Take out the hurlocks first!” Alistair cried, bashing a shorter genlock in the face with his shield. “They’re stronger than the others but they go down a lot faster!”

Moira grunted when a hurlock rammed her in the shoulder, making her drop her dagger. She ducked underneath its sword, her free hand grabbing a fistful of loose dirt. She threw it into its eyes, temporarily blinding it. It was a dirty fighting trick, but it worked; Moira used the brief distraction as a chance to round behind the darkspawn and arc her sword in a two handed chop, sending the hurlock’s head rolling to the ground. She recovered her fallen dagger in time to use it to block an arrow that came from the next hill. “Daveth, to your right!” she yelled. The others might be too far away to do something about the threat, but at least one of their party could cause some damage from where they were.

“On it!”

“They just don’t let up,” Jory said as they all heard the howl of a wolf from nearby.

“And there she goes, running into the thick of things again,” Alistair added, running after Moira, who was already stabbing the darkspawn who was getting attacked by wolves. The weakened hurlock wasn’t much of a threat and Alistair caught up with her just in time to help her fight the two wolves that had turned away from their prey once they were aware that it wasn’t fighting back any longer. “You’re making this quite the habit,” he commented, stabbing one of the wolves in the mouth, his sword going through the tender portion underneath the jaw and into the brain cavity.

“You’re not the fan of the direct approach, I assume.”

“No, quite the opposite.” He turned and blocked the mace from a genlock who managed to sneak up on them. “I’m just used to being the one running into danger first is all. It’s kind of refreshing to be the cautious one for once.”

Moira slashed at the wolf with both of her blades, sending it spinning and landing in a heap a little ways away. “I have a bad feeling that this was Jogby’s father,” she said quietly, looking down at the body of a man dressed very much like the missionary they had come across in the bog. She whispered a few words to excuse herself from rifling through his pockets before coming up with another sheaf of paper. “At least he was well prepared.” She handed the paper to Alistair, who scanned the contents with a grave expression on his face.

“What is it?” Jory asked, limping up to them. Blood seeped from the armor covering his calf and it looked as if he was in a great deal of pain.

“It seems that Rigby – that was the man’s name, it appears – knew that his chances of survival were quite dismal. He hid all his valuables in his camp to the west and requested that whoever finds this letter go retrieve them and give them to his wife Jetta in Redcliffe.”

“Would we have any business in Redcliffe once this battle is over?” Moira asked.

“I think so. We would have to get with Duncan first.”

She went over to Jory and helped ease him down against the crumbling stone wall nearby. “You need to get off that leg,” she said softly. “We could at least attempt to find this camp while we’re out here. His final request doesn’t really call for any effort on our part; at the very least it will give some poor woman some sort of comfort knowing that her husband is gone instead of wondering for years what his fate might have been.”

“You’re right,” Alistair said. “And we are in the area. We don’t exactly know where this outpost is anymore; it’s been so long since the Wardens have occupied this portion of Ferelden that much of our history has been lost. It just might turn out that Rigby had been camping in the very place that we’re searching for.”

“There seems to be something nice here,” Daveth commented, kneeling in front of a locked chest. He took the padlock in his hand and tugged experimentally. “Little bugger won’t unlock though.”

“Try a smaller pick,” Moira suggested, handing Alistair the roll of bandages as he looked after Jory’s leg. “And use a steady hand – there are times when tumblers in locks like that don’t respond well to anything but the most delicate of touches.”

“And here you were wrinkling your nose up at me being a pickpocket. Seems to me as if the pot was calling the kettle black.”

“I wasn’t wrinkling my nose; I was just making an observation.”

“Ah, there’s nothing useful here, just a few measly coins and some old poultices.” Daveth sniffed at one of them before dropping it back into the chest. “Sorry, but they’re too dried up to help out here.”

“It’s getting dark,” Alistair commented, looking up at the sky. The sun was starting to set behind a tall ruin. “It wouldn’t be safe to wander around once night falls; we ought to set up camp here. It’ll also give your leg some time to heal.” He stood up and dusted off his hands. “Moira, Jory, I want you two to set up camp while Daveth and I go collect some firewood and dispose of the corpses.”

“Stay where you’re at,” Moira said once she saw that Jory was about to attempt to get up and help her. “There isn’t much to set up and Alistair was right, you need to stay off that leg as much as you can.”

“I feel so stupid,” he confessed. “I should have been able to dodge that attack.” He pulled his satchel off his shoulders and took out a blanket that he spread out beside him.

“It was an accident, they happen. At least you weren’t hurt too seriously.” Moira dug through Alistair and Daveth’s packs and came out with one blanket apiece. Alistair also had a cloak tightly bundled up that she brought out but did not unfold. Task complete, Moira sat with her knees up to her chest and watched as the sunset turned the sky indigo. She hugged her knees tightly and pulled out her father’s ring, her fingers running over the raised portion bearing her family’s crest.

“Alistair said that you were from Highever,” Jory prompted.

“I am.”

“My Helena is from there. I met her when Arl Eamon had been visiting with Teyrn Cousland. Helena’s family owns a small shop that specializes in beeswax candles. They also make soaps, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.” His eyes went soft and he draped his arm over his upturned knee. “They make the skin so very soft to the touch.”

“I know the shop that you’re talking about,” Moira said. “They’re right next to the weaver’s stall.” It seemed a lifetime ago that she had visited that very shop with her mother, the both of them inquiring about the health of the people inside. The seasonal colds had hit early this year and the owner’s wife had been ill for a while. They had been so grateful that the Teyrna and her daughter had been thoughtful enough to pay them a visit that they insisted on sending them back to the castle with a large basket full of soaps of their choice. Moira’s mother had been fond of the rose and sandalwood scented blend, but Moira had chosen blocks of lavender soap. Ever since she had been a girl, lavender had been one of her favorite scents that never failed to soothe her senses and comfort her. As she grew older, she had favored oils and perfumes infused with the scent as her signature fragrance.

I think of you often. I had to stop myself from purchasing a vial of perfume the other day based on the fact that it was similar to what I remember you wearing.

Nathaniel’s words from his last letter came to mind and Moira rested her cheek against her knees. How could it be that she wanted nothing more than to have him there with her right now when she had resolved to kill his father to avenge her own parents?

“That’s the one.” Jory smiled. “I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. Arl Eamon was generous enough to accept my request to be transferred into the Teyrn’s army so that Helena would be able to stay close to her parents and help out with their business. We’re expecting our first child soon; I’m hoping that I’ll be able to return to her side in time to be there whenever she’s due.”

“She looked as if she was progressing quite well the last time I was there. Her mother had a touch of a cold, but everyone else was healthy. She mentioned that her husband – and now I can see that she meant you – was away.”

“I miss her dearly. Is she not the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen? Her smile is enough to light up an entire room.”

“She is quite pretty, yes.”

“I’m not that familiar with Highever; have you lived there long?”

Moira nodded. “I’ve lived there all my life. There are few places that can compare to the beauty surrounding the lands.”

“The castle overlooking the town is exceptionally lovely.”

Moira felt her throat tighten. “Yes, it is.” She was hit with a pang of homesickness and she had to look away. “I miss it very much.”

“Did you know the Teyrn? I only spoke with him the one time, but he seemed to be a great man.”

“That he was.”

“Was? Has something happened recently?” His voice rose in volume, concern clouding his words.

“Arl Rendon Howe attacked the castle not two weeks ago, killing everyone in sight.” She cursed herself for making him worry when she saw the distressed look on his face. “Don’t worry; he needs the people of Highever if he wishes to rule the land,” she said, an awful taste in her mouth at the very idea of the man that her family had once called friend sitting in her father’s favorite chair or ruling from his throne in the Great Hall. “He would be a great fool indeed to usurp the title and then squander the very backbone that holds the teyrnir together.”

“How close were you to the fighting? Are you certain that the town was unharmed?”

“Duncan and I fled the castle and sought refuge in the city for a brief while. The Arl’s men were nowhere to be seen. Had they intended on attacking Highever proper, they would have done so instead of merely striking against the castle.” She stared at the signet ring. “Rendon Howe will die by my hand for what he has done.”

Jory put two and two together. “Forgive me,” he said quickly. “I should have caught on when the soldier we came across called you his Ladyship. You are Teyrn Cousland’s daughter, are you not?”

“I was.” She ran her fingers over the smooth metal of her mother’s wedding band. “I don’t know who I am now.”

“I might have only met him the one time, but your father was a good man. Everyone that I knew spoke highly of him; he was well loved by his people. I am sorry to hear about his death.”

“Thank you.” She tucked her keepsakes under her armor when she heard the deliberate sound of boots snapping against fallen twigs.

“We found a bit of wood, at least enough to keep us warm for the evening if we’re careful,” Alistair said, dropping the stack of deadfall in the center of the overgrown stone floor, carefully avoiding the dried bloodstain where Missionary Rigby had lain.

“Too bad we didn’t find any food,” Daveth complained, stretching. He scratched at his neck and let out a mighty yawn. “I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired out.”

“We should probably take watches in groups. I’ll sit up first,” Alistair suggested.

“I’ll join you,” Moira offered, watching as Alistair struck flint and coaxed the small pile of tinder he had collected to burn before adding it to the initial pile of firewood.

The woods were silent save for the usual evening noises of birds and crickets chirping beyond the circle of light that their campfire let off. Jory had fallen asleep almost immediately while Daveth had, despite his previous complaints of being tired, tossed and turned before falling into a fitful sleep.

“I caught the last bit of your conversation with Jory,” Alistair said, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.

Moira looked up from where she was sharpening her dagger on a borrowed whetstone. “What part?”

“The part where you said that you were the last of the Cousland line.”

She shook her head. “I’m not the last of our family. My brother is somewhere out here.” She set the stone aside and looked up at the night sky. “I still don’t know how I’m going to break the news to him. He’ll want to go after Howe and seek blood rights, I’m sure of it.”

Now that he knew the gist of her recent past, the lost look that he had seen when he had first met her made sense. He knew that if he had just escaped the only home that he had known after seeing those that he loved die before his eyes that he would have worn the same sort of expression. “I know that you haven’t known me for very long,” he began, standing up to poke at the fire and add another handful of sticks to it. While he was up, he plucked the rolled up cloak from the ground and shook it out. “But if you ever need a sounding board, I’m here.” He saw how she shivered in the evening chill and gently draped the cloak over her shoulders.

Moira looked up at him. “Thank you,” she said, holding the fabric together with her hands. “I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think that I’m ready to talk just yet. Everything is so different that I’m still trying to come to terms with it all. It doesn’t seem real; none of this does. I keep on thinking that I’ll wake up in my bed, all of this being some sort of horrible nightmare.”

“All the same, whenever you are ready to talk, I’ll be here.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “I might not look it, but I’m an excellent listener.”

“Thank you,” she repeated. “I just might take you up on your offer.” They spent the rest of their watch in silence. After an agreed upon amount of time, Moira went to wake Daveth to take her place, falling asleep almost as soon as she settled down on the ground. The last thing that she was aware of before sleep took her was that Alistair had neglected to wake Jory, taking the injured man’s turn on watch as well as his own.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 14th, 2010 05:19 am (UTC)
Yay. Distraction from writing. ^_^

Did I mention that I love Moira? Lol, I totally had a fever thought a couple weeks ago that Cecilia and Moira would be awesome sisters. XD
Nov. 14th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Just doing my part to help a fellow NaNo'er procrastinate :D
Nov. 14th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
Updates to Moira's stories make me happy. :D It'll be fun to see how she an Al got to be BFFs.

Also that bit '“Was Fergus with you? Have you seen him?” She was already trying to access the damage he had sustained.' I think you want assess rather than access there.
Nov. 14th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
Hah! Thanks for the catch. If I had left it that way I could have had him squirming around going "Nononono! Hands off! You're making it worse!"

The first couple of bits are slow going, but hopefully the whole Al + Moira = BFFs dynamic will start picking up. :)
Nov. 18th, 2010 10:45 pm (UTC)
Phew, finally got to finish this! I've been so ridiculously busy that I've only been able to read bits and pieces every now and then. And still you manage to make the scenery and people come alive in your writing <3 Shall be interesting to see how this goes on :)
Nov. 20th, 2010 06:06 am (UTC)
Thanks! I have up until you get to Redcliffe for the first time written, so we'll see how it goes afterwards.
Nov. 28th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
I'm so loving this! The story is awesome, and I love how you are seamlessly incorporating the little side quests (missionary's cache, etc.), as well as memories, etc. from Someone Like You.

On to the next chapter :D
Mar. 29th, 2011 06:20 am (UTC)
You've done an excellent job with the dialogue, I'm looking forward to reading more :)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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