“Can only mages be made Tranquil?”
Cauthrien’s gaze is fixed not on Knight-Commander Meredith, who has been gracious enough to let her through the Gallows gates, but on the quiet woman in the corner with the sunburst brand. Kirkwall feels foreign and makes her skin crawl, but this, it seems, is her only remaining option.
To offer herself up to templars, in the hopes of regaining some purpose in her life.
She hears the creek of armor, steel and leather, and spares a glance to Meredith, who has leaned forward across her desk. “No,” Meredith says. “Why do you ask?”
“Sometimes,” Cauthrien says, gaze drifting back to those unwavering, ice-blue eyes that watch without feeling, without the crushing weight of loss or fear or shame, “it seems like it would be far easier to stop feeling.”
She leaves the Gallows as frustrated as she came to it.
Apparently, in Kirkwall, they still require an excess of faith for their templars. Funny, because that isn’t what she’s heard in her travels through the Marches.
She steps off the dock and looks around, at the towering walls and buildings on top of buildings, the banners and rope and stink, and she wonders where she’ll go next. It’s a big world - and an empty one, without a home. And just like every time before, she starts walking.
She finds herself outside a tavern in what the locals call Lowtown, with a hanging man overhead and the stench of cheap ale and vomit wafting out. This is as close as she’s come to a home - a tavern, in whatever town she’s in, sitting in the corner and polishing her blade, buying whiskey when she can afford it.
It’s just another sort of home. One she hates.
She opens the door, and is halfway to the bar when she hears familiar voices. They’re not ones she thinks about, or dreams about, or has nightmares about - but they’re familiar all the same, Fereldan and heated, and she stops where she is, turning to look. Her eyes go wide.
There, the exiled drunkard Alistair, almost-king, royal bastard-
The door is right behind her, and she’s half-turned. But then something stops her. Perhaps it’s the memory of home, the smell of rain and mud and dog shit that seems to come with the swell and fall of Fereldan tongues. Perhaps it’s a refusal to be chased away. Perhaps she just wants a connection to somebody again, in some way, even if it’s one of mutual hatred.
She strides over to where Teagan has sat down, three tables from Alistair, rubbing his hand over his beard. She clears her throat. He looks up.
“You,” she says.
“You,” he returns after a moment’s hesitation, his eyes narrowing.
“What are you doing here?” She is almost certain she knows the answer, but she asks him anyway.
He snorts. “I could ask the same of you.” He looks exhausted, run-down, and more than the four years older he should have been. He’s a shadow of the man she saw stare Loghain down in Denerim, all those years ago.
He nods his head towards Alistair. “… I’m here for him.”
“Maric’s bastard?” She knows the answer to that, too, and she looked over to the man, narrower through the face by just a little, all vibrancy gone from him, too. She wonders if she looks the same.
Teagan makes another disparaging sound and shrugs. “He looks a bit different, doesn’t he. But then, so do we all.”
Well. That answers that.
She looks back to him. “Are you here-“
“To drag him back, yes.” He quirks a brow. “You know all of this.”
She doesn’t say anything in return, and makes herself finally look back towards the door. “I should go.”
“Running?” She catches the sneer in his voice. His gaze hardens, and she remembers the man in the Landsmeet hall all too well, anger and determination and bile. Her own jaw clenches, and she tries not to think about Ostagar.
She’s had practice.
“No,” she spits, then nods in Alistair’s direction. “If you’re trying to bring him home, I won’t stop you. But he doesn’t need to see me.” She’s sure of that. She remembers dragging the man to Drakon, and she remembers the look on his face when the Warden allowed her to yield before the Landsmeet.
But Teagan has seen some of that, and he shrugs, a sharp thing that’s a far cry from the usual ease he has in all his motions. “Maybe that’s exactly what he needs to see.” And then he stands, and though he’s an inch or two shorter than she is, his lifted chin and set expression give her pause.
His fingers close around her wrist before she realizes he’s reaching out for her, and she hisses.
“My lord Bann,” he corrects, and his grip only tightens. The thin line of his lips quirks up into a dark smile. He tugs her towards Alistair.
She stands her ground. “Unhand me.”
He only sighs, and says, “No.”
It’s strange. For all that his anger seethes and roils, it’s tempered by his exhaustion and, she thinks, reluctance. Reluctance to do this to her, to Alistair, to himself. It’s something about his resignation that lets her allow him to lead her forward. There is no struggle, though she flexes her fingers and follows at the greatest distance she can manage with any grace.
He lets go of her while there’s still enough room for her to flee, but she doesn’t. In a peculiar way, it’s like being home. Like working in Ferelden’s name. And so she walks by Teagan, rubbing at her wrist, and drops into the seat across from a very haggard, very drunk Alistair.
Alistair looks up with bleary eyes and a wavering, drifting gaze. He stares for a moment. And then he frowns. (She’s not sure when the last time somebody smiled at her was. It was before the Blight, though.)
“… You,” he says, and she nods.
“You.” He grimaces, face contorting as he tries to process just how Ser Cauthrien has come to sit across from him. “Andraste’s flaming tits,” he breathes, and she can smell the whiskey from where she stands. “What are you doing here? They send you to cut my head off? Well it isn’t exactly attached these days. Not most of the time. Besides, Teagan will stop you.” His gaze drifts behind her for a moment, and she sighs.
Right. This is about what she expected in the five second march over.
“That’s not- no,” she says, and reaches for his cup. It’s empty, and she scowls and waves for somebody bring her a round.
“Then what? Come to threaten me? Arrest me? Oh, you could call me churl, like back in the good old days. Your master send you? He alive?” His words tumble out and she can’t quite get a word in edge-wise, but at least a cup of something vaguely alcoholic is deposited in front of her.
She looks back to Teagan as she lifts it to her lips, shaking her head. She has no idea what to do with this man, how she can help, and so she just stands awkwardly. “I’m not going to do any of that,” she says.
“Going to kiss me, then? Not much else you could do, I suppose.”
“I-” She can feel her cheeks heating and she knocks back the drink in her hand. It’s not strong enough. It’s really not strong enough to handle what just came out of Alistair’s mouth, and it’s to her relief that Teagan finally steps forward.
“Alistair,” he says.
“Sod off,” Alistair replies, and Cauthrien can breathe a little more. She rubs a hand over her mouth, chews at her bottom lip, and then settles on motioning for another round.
“Alistair,” Teagan says again.
“I don’t want to hear it!” He sounds like a small child - or like a man who’s lost everything and just wants to be left in a hole to drown. If she were a talkative person, she thinks she might have sounded like that, all the way back in Ostwick a few years ago.
Teagan huffs and taps his toe irritably against the stained floor. She looks at him slantways even as she takes her next drink with a murmured thanks. He’s thinking. Alistair’s given up - happily - and has slumped in his seat again.
For a moment, she thinks it might be over.
And then Teagan looks up.
“What?” He’s all petulance and flat mockery. She winces.
“Take a look at her. You’re better than her, aren’t you?” Teagan says, quirking a brow and having the gall to smile.
Alistair peers at her, then shakes his head. “Nooo. She’s still got some sort of… sense… in her. Look at her. Look at me. And then kindly go shove it, uncle.”
“Don’t wanna go home. They don’t want me anyway. Wardens don’t want me. Just- just Taint with them, all the time, and blood, and death, and I’m sick of it. Just… sick of it. And its not like politics is much better. Just… shove off.”
“They need you back home, Alistair,” Teagan says, shaking his head and reaching for Alistair’s shoulder. Alistair shrugs him off.
Cauthrien drops back into the seat across from him with a resigned sigh and waves a hand for a third round of drinks, this time for two. “Shove off, my lord Bann,” she says. “I’ll take care of it.”
Two hours and far too many drinks later, and Cauthrien has somehow managed to convince Alistair that going home won’t be so bad. It’s involved promising him a puppy and that he doesn’t have to share a building with Anora, and an added oath to get him a full set of the little figurines that are, by his word, circulating through Kirkwall these days, but she’s done it.
Teagan pays for the drinks, and pays for her room, too, when she explains that she’d appreciate one.
He also follows her up the stairs, and when they’re alone and the conversation has died away, he draws close and murmurs,
“Well that was… exasperating.”
She turns with a raised brow and a slight waver. “You didn’t do any of the work.”
“I found you,” Teagan says with a shrug. “Took you over there. Seems to have helped.”
“You threw me at a problem you had no idea how to fix, and you call that helping? You think that’s work? And besides, you didn’t find me- I found you.” She snorts. “Blighted horseshit, you’re arrogant.”
His brow echoes hers, and he can’t seem to help his faint, curling smile. “And you’re not?”
She’s not sure what he’s playing at, and so she draws closer still. She drops her voice, and she’s not sure if it’s for effect or to keep them from being overheard. “I just came crawling in from being rejected by the templars,” she breathes, and the whole incident comes back in a moment. “I think I lost the ability to be arrogant somewhere around Ansburg and the fifth letter of proposal from an Orlesian noble.”
That seems to give him pause. It’s either her words or her closeness, but either way he runs a hand through his hair and glances back to the stairs, back towards, eventually, where Alistair sits still, having his last night of freedom on a paid tab.
And then he turns to her again.
“Orlesian nobles?” he asks, and there’s a hint of apology in that.
She blinks wide-eyed at him, and she gives in with a small confession of, “You haveno idea.” Her anger fades, and her shame and embarrassment, if only by degrees.
Teagan smiles and looks down, then glances up through his lashes like a bashful, lovestruck boy, and says, “… Can I buy you a drink?”
It’s almost too much. Her lips quirk at the absurdity of it all.
“I’ve had more than enough, my lord Bann.”
“Teagan,” he corrects, and she can’t stop her snort of amusement - and then she’s laughing - and then she’s bent double in a dingy hallway in Kirkwall, because this whole thing is ridiculous and her head’s a little light. He cracks a smile as well, and then reaches out to lay a hand on her shoulder.
It trails to her jaw, and she stops, falling off and looking up at him with a grin that fades to a question.
He opens his mouth to speak, but for once, nothing comes out.
She has the oddest urge to straighten up and kiss him, to feel his beard scratch over her chin and cheeks, and at first she blames the whiskey. But then his expression softens further, and he murmurs,
“I would have thought you had found something. Out here. You really are so out of work you went to the templars?”
She swallows at the concern in his voice, and she stands up slowly. His hand falls from her skin, and she can almost breathe again. “Few people in the Marches want a doglord knight. Former knight.” Cauthrien looks down. “And the ones that do are Orlesian nobles who would like a trophy in their bed - and mercenaries.”
“You’re not a mercenary.” He says it with a certainty that makes her breath catch a moment. It’s not exactly pity in his gaze. But there’s the same concern he had for his nephew, with perhaps a measure less of frustration.
Her lips quirk, and then she ducks her head. “Not a good one, no. But it’s what I have available to me.”
He hums assent, and she can hear his breathing, they’re still so close together. His fingers curl at his sides, moving as if to reach out for her again. She finds herself watching them, even when he speaks again.
“Do you want to know the truth?”
“About?” Her eyes trail up, over his doublet - not too fancy, not too ostentatious and it fits him well - and to his face once more, where his little frown is still in place. He’s looking directly at her. His head cants, dips as if to catch her gaze.
“When you walked in. I didn’t think, not really. But I did assume you were a part of the guard. I assumed… that you were the same Cauthrien as in Ferelden, if a little…”
“Put in my place?” She watches him swallow and pale, and she shrugs. “I’ve gotten that enough before.”
“What I mean is,” he pushes on, “is that if I had known…”
“I didn’t mean to force you. I- that is, I did, but I… I’m sorry. … Bad memories. From the war.”
Really, she thinks, they’ve both treated her better than she had any right to expect. The bad blood between them could fill the entire Waking Sea, she’s sure, because even if she was only following orders, she believed those orders with all her being.
But that was years ago, and she’s tired of holding onto it. She thinks that maybe he is, too.
“You don’t need to apologize,” she says, then adds, “but it’s appreciated. The war…”
“Is over,” he says.
She can’t say I’m sorry about the war, because though she regrets the outcome, the truth of it all, she can’t regret her actions; she believed them, at the time. They were the best possible ones, at the time. So instead she simply smiles and says,
“Can I buy you a drink?”
She doesn’t question how they end up back in his room at a Hightown tavern with better lighting, cleaner floors, and beds without visible lice. She’s flush with connection, with understanding, and kissing him is one of the greatest pleasures she’s been offered in years. Who they are hardly matters. He chuckles, and the sound goes straight to her gut. She tugs at his doublet and he whispers her name, then tumbles back with her onto the bed in an awkward dance of removing too-tight pants and worn boots, shirts with too many toggles and bands wound too tight.
He has nimble fingers for a lord more trained in oration and swordplay than in stealth, and she surrenders to them eagerly, tangling with him in the sheets. He can’t keep from laughing, little breathy chuckles that she knows aren’t aimed towards her, but come from delight and amusement. She drinks them up.
When she slides him home inside of her, there’s a momentary exultant flash that, perhaps, Kirkwall isn’t so bad. And then she moves and he groans, and she loses herself in the sound and feel of it all.
“Orlesian nobles,” he says, as if to himself, while he slowly shrugs on his doublet.
It takes her a moment to remember what he’s talking about, but when she does, she rolls onto her side and nods. “Orlesian nobles,” she agrees.
“You turned them down?” He pauses, then approaches the bed to run a hand over her hip again, knuckles dragging over skin.
Cauthrien laughs, an unfamiliar sound in its ease, but one she finds she likes. “Of course.”
“And if-” he says, and then stops himself, and she can see him turning crimson.
“You’re not really going to ask me that, are you?” And if a Fereldan lord comes next, she’s sure, and she doesn’t quite know what she would say to that, except to ask him to tally the number of drinks he’d had.
He swallows, then covers anything he’s feeling with a laugh. “I- No.” He moves to sit on the mattress. His hair is disheveled from her fingers carding through it and she can see bruises on his hips. He’s in nothing but an open shirt, but he looks at her with all the solemnity of if he were wearing templar armor. “But… perhaps you should come back to Ferelden,” he says. “Finally.”
She winces and looks to the ceiling. “I can’t.”
His hand on her hip slides up to her belly, ghosts between her breasts, and then he cups her cheek. “Nonsense,” he says, quietly, a private murmur even though the door to the hall is locked and all the windows sealed. “I’m sure we can work something out. You did bring Maric’s bastard back, after all, right when the country needs him. I think that’s a good deed enough.”
“… Do you think so?”
He nods, and he leans down close enough to kiss her cheek, her nose, and lightly her lips. “And if it’s not, if somehow it’s not enough… please try not to burn a letter of proposal from a Fereldan lord? He doesn’t want a trophy in his bed.” She can feel him smile as her breath catches. “He just wants to bring a good woman back to her home.”