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Esmareld Cousland, second son of Teryn Bryce Cousland of Highever, was the only one to survive the destruction of his ancestral castle. The culprit – Arl Rendon Howe of Amaranthine and longstanding friend to the Cousland family – did not anticipate the presence of the Grey Warden Duncan, nor the young noble’s recruitment into the Wardens. Esmareld revealed the Arl’s treachery to the young King Cailan, but the impending Blight crushed nearly all plans for revenge against the Howes. An army had amassed at the ruins of Ostagar, where one night later, King Cailan was slaughtered along with Duncan and the rest of the Fereldan Wardens; General Loghain Mac Tir, pulled his men away from the battle, leaving everyone to perish at the hands of the darkspawn. Only two Wardens survived the attack – Esmareld Cousland and Alistair, half-brother to King Cailan. Together, Alistair and Esmareld gathered an army in hopes of ending the Blight and slaying the Archdemon as well as taking their revenge against Loghain.

In the end, Rendon Howe, whom had placed himself at Loghain’s right hand, was slain in Denerim the very same day that a Landsmeet was called by the popular Arl Eamon of Redcliffe. After a decisive win in a duel against the disgraced general, Loghain was sentenced to life as a Grey Warden as penance for their destruction. Alistair, angered by what he saw as the betrayal of his best friend, claimed the throne for himself, eventually marrying Cailan’s widow and Loghain’s daughter, Queen Anora Mac Tir to cement his claim to power that he never wanted.

Days later, the Archdemon appeared, leaving only three Wardens – Esmareld, Loghain, and Riordan – with the sole responsibility of destroying it. With the knowledge that the Archdemon’s death required the sacrifice of a Warden’s life, Esmareld met with the witch Morrigan, who offered them all a way out. They accepted and Morrigan performed a dark ritual on the eve of battle with the help of Loghain, which allowed the group to defeat and kill the Archdemon atop the high tower of Fort Drakon.

Esmareld Cousland, who delivered the final blow, was declared the Hero of Ferelden and eventually took up the mantle of Commander of the Grey in Ferelden. A year after the Fifth Blight came to a close, the nation rebuilt, and the lands of Amaranthine were granted to the Grey Wardens, becoming their unofficial base in Ferelden. This is where our story begins…


I wanted to make note of a few things before the first official chapter is published.

Chapter Text

There he is: the son of the man who slaughtered nearly everyone Esmareld Cousland held dear.  Eight years later, he still recognizes the blue-grey of those eyes as though he had just seen them yesterday.  It’s enough to send a wave of cold through his chest and send shivers along his spine despite the warmth of his leather armor.  His lips move, but for a moment, no sound escapes, and then he says the name that’s just resting on the tip of his tongue.

“Nathaniel Howe,” he breathes the name without even meaning to and the man in the cell goes rigid.  Nathaniel seems to recover himself quickly, rising from his spot on the stone floor and glaring heatedly at him.  “If it isn’t Esmareld Cousland.” His familiar gravelly voice replies, “Conqueror of the Blight and vanquisher of all evil.  Isn’t the Hero of Ferelden supposed to be ten feet tall with lightning bolts shooting out of his eyes?”

“The Darkspawn probably think so.”  His voice sounds much calmer than he feels, and he finds himself grateful for that.

Nathaniel’s arms move to cross his chest as he speaks, words drenched in venom.  “Somehow I thought my father’s murderer would be…more impressive.”

“Rendon Howe murdered my family.  He deserved everything he got and more.”

“Your family was going to sell us out to the Orlesians.”

“I suppose your father told you that?”

“How could he?” Nathaniel’s eyes narrow into slits, emanating fire to match the anger that Esmareld knows is bubbling towards the surface of his otherwise calm exterior. “A certain Grey Warden slaughtered him before I could even talk to him.”  The words do not hurt as much as he thought they would.  He remembers Rendon Howe, recalls images of that day in Denerim when he slit the throat of the man who murdered his family in cold blood, can almost smell the metallic red blood that spilled aross the stone floors and coated his hands in liquid warmth.  There is no regret to be had. 

“So you returned to Amaranthine for revenge?  Is that it?” he questions.

“I came here…” Nathaniel’s gaze drops as he searches for words, “I thought I was going to try to kill you.  Lay a trap for you.  But all I want is to reclaim some of my family’s things.”

“Your family still has belongings here?”

“We used to live here once upon a time, remember?   It’s all I have left.  The Howes are pariahs now – those of us left, anyway.”  This makes Esmareld’s gaze soften.  It is only now that he thinks of what Nathaniel and his siblings must be going through – to lose everything just as he had, to be branded traitors just as he was.  Whether or not they knew of Rendon Howe’s treachery, they certainly didn’t deserve to lose so much, right? 

He looks into the other man’s eyes, trying to decide what to do.  Nathaniel’s life is in his hands now.  He knows what he wants to do, but is there an excuse to do it?  There was no way he could simply let the disgraced noble go; too many men would have a fit over that, including Seneschal Varel.  But there is no way he can bear to have him executed either.  Once upon a time, he had cared for this man, and he can’t deny that a part of him still does.  He bites his lips in thought.  And then he remembers there is another option.  “So it took three of us to capture you, I hear?” he says.

Nathaniel raises an eyebrow nearly up to his hairline is his confusion.  “I’m not some helpless damsel, you know.” 

“You certainly aren’t.” Esmareld replies, fondly remembering the days of his boyhood when the Howes would come to Highever Castle, and a younger Nathaniel would teach him to shoot with his bow.  “Last I heard, you were squiring in the Free Marches.”

“I only just returned to Ferelden a month ago.”

Eight years.  He remembers that last night as though it were yesterday, learning that the man he had slept beside the night before was gone when he woke.  He tries not to show how much the memory hurts his pride; he had done the same thing to others - one night of sex and he would be out the door.  It takes a moment to shrug off the dagger-like feeling in his chest at the thought.  To mask it, he says, “Learn anything interesting?”

He can see the bewilderment on the other man’s face, but the voice that he hears is sure and livid.  “Hunting, scouting, poisons.   Why?  Does that scare you, Cousland?” “Why would I be scared of you?” is Esmareld’s reply, “Half of Ferelden tried to kill me and failed.  Even if I just let you go, you would hardly be a threat to me.”

At this, the man in the cell smirks.  “But you might not catch me next time.  Would you be willing to risk that?” 

Esmareld pursed his lips slightly, brows furrowed in thought.  


Eight damnable years.  Even older, Esmareld Cousland is a pretty man, slender and tall, but there are definitely some muscles under that golden skin and fitted leather armor.  He’s put together well, two ornate blades at his back and dark hair framing his clean-shaven face.  Those eyes meet his, green to blue, and he feels his chest grow tighter.  He hopes the man in the silverite armor beside him doesn’t notice, but it may be too much to hope for.

“Commander,” the older man’s voice is baritone, curt, as he looks toward the young man dubbed the Hero of Ferelden, “What do you intend to do with him?”

“I wish to invoke the Right of Conscription.”

Nathaniel can fee his eyes grow large as the shock soaks through his system.  “You what!”  Is he joking?  No, the Warden’s face is impassive, his gaze like stones.  Why would he…?  Then Nathaniel remembers the stories – how the Cousland boy spared the life of Teryn Loghain in a similar fashion only a year ago.  He’s only looking for extra bodies to replace the lives of the dead Orlesians.  Why else would he spare the son of his greatest enemy?  There is no way Nathaniel will give him the satisfaction.

He looks over to see the Seneschal’s face drained of its color.  “Commander, are you sure?”

“Absolutely not!” Nathaniel finds himself saying, “Hang me first.”

That face is still there.  Esmareld’s countenance doesn’t change.  “Did I say I was giving you a choice?” 

“I can’t decide if that’s a vote of confidence or punishment.”

“You can decide later.  Varel?”

Varel looks reluctant, his gaze darting between both men before he slumps his shoulders slightly.  “…Yes, Commander.” He says, gesturing to the impassive guard to unlock the cell. “Come, ser.  We’ll see if you survive the Joining.”


The throne room of Vigil’s Keep has an air of tension as Nathaniel steps up to take the goblet.  Esmareld wants to damn them all, but he finds he cannot fault this mistrust.  The heavy cup in his hands, he makes his way forward to the man he could once say he cared for and simply studies him like an aged painting.  His hair is longer, black and falling to just brush against his shoulders, and there is a patch of beard just below his lips.  He is dressed in thin traveling clothes that don’t look like they would do much to protect against the cool Fereldan air but still show a bulk of muscle beneath. 

It takes a moment to shake away the unwanted memories of a drunken night and a cold lonely morning as he holds the Joinng goblet out toward the other man.  “Drink.”

Blue eyes regard it with rightfully placed suspicion.  “Do I even want to know what that is?”

“Probably not, but I won’t keep you in suspense.” Esmareld replies, “To become a Grey Warden, we take the Darkspawn taint into us.”

He knows that look all too well -  disgust.  He had felt that same way during his own Joining.  “You’re asking me to drink Darkspawn blood?”  Nathaniel snaps.

“One gulp is all you need to swallow.  It won’t be pleasant, but it is necessary.”

He can’t quite bring himself to look as, a minute later, Nathaniel drinks the contents.  He tries not to picture what could happen if he’s wrong – the twisted limps of a body broken down in agony, the sounds of choking as the blood burns all the way down his throat into his stomach, scorching from the inside out.  He’s silent, waiting for the moment when everything ends.  Instead he hears Varel say something. 

“He lives.”

Indeed he does.  Relief floods Esmareld’s every pore and he lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding.  Nathaniel is lying on the floor, sprawled like an eagle, but the rise and fall of his chest coincides with the beating of the younger man’s heart. 

And then there were four.

As the sleeping body of his newest recruit is carried out of the throne room, Esmareld finds himself praying that he will not regret the decision to spare him. 

Chapter Text

Nathaniel’s body takes a while to wake up, but when he does, there is pain shooting through his skull.  It takes a moment to register the fact that he is alive and another to realize that he is no longer on the floor of Vigil’s Keep’s throne room, but lying on what one can only assume is a mattress.  There’s a blurry image of a man across the room and when his vision clears, he feels a chill race through him.  It’s Esmareld Cousland, the man who murdered his father and took control of his family estates.  “Awake, then?” he says simply.  Nathaniel breaks contact with his green eyes, hates the look of concern he sees there.  “There’s food and water on the table beside you.  Try to eat what you can.”

He noted a bowl of fruit where Esmareld had indicated.  It’s a medley of strawberries, apples, blueberries, and oranges, one of which Esmareld had already peeled and sliced and probably eaten.  Nathaniel frowns as he watches him pop a blueberry into his mouth.  “You stayed?”

Esmareld chews.  He says nothing, but his expression is a mask of what looks like hurt, but in the dark light of the room, it’s hard to tell.  “I remember this used to be your room.  I thought you would like it back.  The Keep isn’t as it was when you lived here but do with it as you will.”  The Warden dares to crack a small smile now.  He reaches for an orange slice and hands it to the archer, who after a moment, reluctantly takes it.  The flavor bursts in his mouth as he bites into it, making him realize that he isn’t just hungry – he’s famished.  He can’t remember the last time he’s eaten something that wasn’t poached rabbit or pigeon.  It’s a small gesture, but Nathaniel finds himself grateful for it.  He doesn’t speak, simply continues to eat.  The silence is long and loud for several minutes before Esmareld, the remnants of strawberry juice on his lips, lets out a deep chuckle.  Nathaniel raises an eyebrow in confusion before he explains, “It’s been years since we’ve sat together like this.”

The archer lets out a small chuckle of his own.  “It has.”  Just like that, the tension starts to melt a fraction.  Esmareld has always that that effect on people.  Fergus Cousland was always the serious one, similar to himself in that respect, but the younger Cousland was the exact opposite.  He cracked jokes that were often ill-timed and cringe worthy and was always energetic with an aura of confidence that bordered on cocky, but still, people were drawn to him.  It wasn’t hard to see how he had gained the title of Warden Commander; all he had to do was pour on that charm and he could have anything he wanted.

Except for one thing.

“What happened with the Couslands…I’m sorry.”  Maybe it’s the wrong thing to say because the younger man freezes in surprise.  He then looks down at the floor.

“Howe soldiers killed everyone.” He says, “My father, my mother, even my sister-in-law and nephew.  Oren, he wasn’t six years old.  They didn’t even take a single hostage.  They slaughtered them all.  I only survived because of the Warden staying at castle.  Duncan helped me escape, only to bring me to Ostagar.”  Now Nathaniel feels guilty.  While he had sought revenge for the death of his father, a known traitor to Ferelden, this man had lost so much more.  He breathes the Warden’s name, but Esmareld waves his concern away and stands.   “I don’t blame you for what your father did.  I wanted to, but I couldn’t.  You weren’t even in Highever that night.”

“I wasn’t even in Ferelden.” Nathaniel reminds him, “I’ve been in the Free Marches for eight years.  Had I known,” he doesn’t let himself continue.  What would it accomplish? “Perhaps I could have done something.”

Esmareld opens his mouth to speak, but is cut off by the sound of the heavy door opening.  A man steps in, his hair tied back in aa blond ponytail and his tall thin body dressed in robes.  The single gold hoop in his ear catches the light as he steps in.  “Is he awake?” he asks, “Any lasting damage I have to fix?”

“None that he’s voiced so far.”  Esmareld replies, “Nathaniel, this is Anders.  He’s a new recruit as well, and our resident mage and healer.”

Anders nods and says, “So you’re a Howe?”

“Does it matter?”

“Hey, I’m fond of the Howes.” The mage says with a shit-eating grin, “I’m also fond of the Whys, the Whos, and the Whats.”

Nathaniel growls before Esmareld cuts in.  “Probably not the best time, Anders.”

“Alright, point taken.” He concedes, “Mind if I check him over?  You said he hit his head when he fell.”

“I’ll send for you if he needs it, Anders, but right now we have a whole keep full of injured men and women to deal with.”

“Yes, I made some rounds today and healed the most serious injuries as best I could.  Unfortunately, I don’t have enough mana to help everyone right now.  And we need more medical supplies.”

“Among other things.”  The Warden wipes his mouth an dchin with the back of a gloved hand as he takes a few steps towards Anders.  “How many did we lose in the attack?”

“All the Orlesian Wardens are dead.  Some of the Keep’s staff survived, tho.”

Nathaniel rises on legs that are still shaky, refusing to show any sign of weakness.  “So there are only three Wardens stationed here, then?” he questions.

“Four, actually.  You haven’t met Oghren yet.”

Anders lets out a disgusted noise.  “Why did you let that dwarf join anyway?”

“Oghren was with me when the Archdemon fell.  As much as he may be…difficult to stand, he is a friend and a damned good warrior at that.  You’ll get used to him.”

“I doubt that.” 

“Four Wardens.”  The words are spoken with an edge of vexation, “We’re going to need more recruits, especially if there’s another darkspawn attack.  Anders, is Varel in the throne room?”

“Isn’t he always?”

“I’ll have him draw up a list of possible candidates to test for our ranks.  You and Oghren will go with me to Amaranthine in the morning to get supplies since trade is slow here, and I’m sure you could use new equipment.”

Anders grins like a child on Feast Day.  “Oh, so we’re going shopping?  Sounds like fun.”

With a crooked grin and an agreeing snigger, Esmareld turns to the archer.  “Nathaniel, if you are up to it, you may travel with us.  Get yourself a change of clothes and all that.”

“I…Thank you.  I will go.”


They end up touring the Keep until they end up in the smithy, where a drunken red-headed dwarf is testing a greataxe’s swing.  It takes all of fifteen seconds for Nathaniel to decide that he doesn’t like Oghren and to avoid him as much as he can.  As Esmareld converses with the smith’s assistant, Nathaniel takes a moment to consider where he is and how he got there; working with the man whom he lost his virginity to.

It’s strange to think about now.  He’d been twenty-three at the time and the Cousland boy eighteen at most, and yet somehow, the boy had been his first.  It should have been the other way around, or so says the voice in his head that echoes images from his youth, before the Blight and before his life had become complicated by Wardens of all things.  Nathaniel cannot help but wonder if the Maker had intended such a thing to happen from the start; were their lives really just amusement for Him?  Not that it mattered, but the fact that he was serving under the very man he had sworn to hate – not to mention one that awakened strange feelings within him – was a humiliation to say the least. 

He realizes he’s staring, but not quick enough for Esmareld to miss it.  He covers up his embarrassment with the first thing that comes to mind; “Isn’t that a little impractical?”

A dark brow rose high on the Warden’s forehead.  “What?”

“Your clothes.” He said, “They don’t offer much protection.”

“This is high dragon hide.  Leather doesn’t get much stronger.” Esmareld replied, making a show of gesturing to the scanty garment, “Besides, metal armor makes me uncomfortable and isn’t ideal for sneaking around.  Too much clanking.”  The face he makes is that of a child asked to eat his vegetables and Nathaniel shakes his head at the display while Anders makes a noise of agreement.

“Your blade is ready, Commander.” The smith’s assistant, Herren, calls from behind them. 

The smith, Wade, is grinning from his place at the forge.  “And it’s my finest work!  You better use it well and take care of it or I will be very upset.” 

“Thank you, Master Wade.”  Esmareld takes hold of the sword and tests the swing enthusiastically.  It matches well with the one already strapped to his back.

Oghren whistles in appreciation.  “What a beauty!  Not dwarven, but it’s still a looker, ain’t it?”

Nathaniel has to agree.  “I’ve never seen a sword like that.” he says.

Herren looks pleased.  “That’s because it was custom made for the Warden Commander.  Both Master Wade and I know his tastes well.”

“Fine quality, lightweight, and an ornate design.”  Esmareld grins, “It truly is everything I’d wanted.  I shall carry it beside Starfang.”

Oghren straps his giant axe to his back as he speaks.  “Don’t forget, all the best weapons have names.  What’re you gonna call it?”

Esmareld thinks for a moment before he replies, “Vigilance.”  The name is met with approval, but then Esmareld turns his gaze to Nathaniel and his smile vanishes.  “Surely you aren’t intent on carrying that into battle?” he says, gesturing to the old Antivan longbow he’s holding.  It really does look bad in comparison.

His reply sounds defensive, “I will replace it in Amaranthine.  There are plenty of merchants-”

“Unnecessary.”  Esmareld cuts in, “Master Wade, can you make a bow as well?”

“Of course, I can!  The question is of material.  I need suitable wood.”  The smith thinks a moment before jumping up onto his toes, “I’m thinking heartwood.”

The color drains from Herren’s face.  “Wade!  Heartwood is extremely rare.  Where is he going to get that?”

“I happen to know where some may be found in the Wood.” the Commander says with a grin, “If it is still there, that is.”

“Marvelous!  Oh, what a happy day!”  Wade’s squeals cause Nathaniel to wince, “If you can bring me some heartwood, I shall craft for you something exquisite.”

“You have a deal.”

Nathaniel turns to Esmareld with wide eyes.  “Have I no say in this?”

Oghren gestures to his weapon with a booming laugh.  “Trust me, the Commander knows his weapons.  See this axe?  His doing.”

“And my staff was especially crafted for me.  Thank you, by the way.”  Esmareld nods to Anders and places his hand on Nathaniel’s shoulder as he says, “You will owe nothing, Nathaniel.  We will be upgrading the Keep soon, as well.  Quality weapons, armor, and masonry are all on the list of necessities.”

The hand lingers there as their gazes meet.  He tries not to dwell on how warm his skin feels beneath his clothes there or how close the Warden is.  He smells of smoke and sweat and his eyes seem to burn holes into Nathaniel’s very soul.  He brushes the intruding hand away and ignores the feeling of loss that the action provides.  “Very well.” He says it with reluctance.  If this is how the younger man was going to affect him, he would have to deal with it, but for how long?

 Esmareld’s grin tells him it’s not going to be easy. 

Chapter Text

Esmareld wakes up the next day sticky with sweat and sporting a painful hard-on between his legs.  He groans as the fog of sleep slowly lifts from his eyes, one hand fisted in the sheets while the other combs through his hair to push it back from his forehead.  When he finally allows himself to sit up in bed, he takes a moment to study himself.  It’s been awhile since he woke up with a morning erection; after Highever’s destruction, his libido had dropped, but this didn’t stop him from seeking release in the arms of prostitutes at The Pearl or other places during his travels.  He had thought himself to be fairly happy since the Blight ended, having found other ways to keep his attention away from the multitudes of men and women who would give anything for one night with the Hero of Ferelden (though he did sleep with a few of them).  As he lowers his hand down to trail along his naked body beneath the thin sheets, images flash in his mind and he remembers the dream that brought him to such a state.

He wants Nathaniel Howe.  Wants him badly, but there’s something about the situation that makes him uneasy.  He’s had his fair share of flings, sure, but it was new for him to be so entranced with, well, anyone to the same degree as the archer. 

That bloody gorgeous archer. 

Nathaniel’s image is hovering over him with long dexterous fingers stroking along his torso and abdomen before they finally trail down.  Esmareld moves his hand to rest on the crease of his inner thigh, allowing his knuckles to rub against his balls, bucking his hips instinctively to get more friction where he needs it most.  The blanket falls lower as he shifts his legs, exposing an erection that is already flushed red and leaking at the tip.  Slowly, he grasps it, letting himself moan softly.  It’s Nathaniel Howe he sees as he strokes himself quickly, thumb trailing over the weeping mushroom-shaped head of his cock pretending it’s the archer’s tongue giving him tentative licks. 

Before Esmareld knows it, he’s losing himself in the fantasy. 

He feels himself pulse in his hand at the thought and bites back a moan of Nathaniel’s name and he finds himself close to the edge, it’s his own voice that stops him; a desperate moan of a name.  His eyes grow wide as shields as his legs begin to shake and he releases the white-knuckled grip he has on his pillow, his breath coming in shallow pants.

He’ll need to get laid soon.  That’s all he thinks.  Nathaniel is attractive and he hasn’t had time to dally with anyone since he came to the Vigil. 

Fuck it.


He’d wanted water, not a private show by his Commander.  However, as soon as he saw the younger man from the crack of the opened doorway, Nathaniel found himself rooted in place and unable to tear his eyes away.

He shouldn’t be here, watching Esmareld while he’s trailing his hands from his collarbone to his pectoral muscles, slowly as if to tease himself, before he finds his nipples and gives them a tug, back arching and lips parting on a barely audible moan.  There shouldn’t be an intense wave of lust all but punching him in the stomach at the sight.  “Maker’s breath!” he whispers breathlessly, but he does not move.  He can’t.  He watches as Esmareld strokes himself, quickly at first, but then teasingly slow, his unoccupied hand moving to clench the fabric of the pillow under his head.  Nathaniel counts to three in his head, and as he finally wills his body to move and leave the other man to his devices, he hears a sound.

“Natha-”  It’s barely above a whisper, but it stops Nathaniel in his tracks, eyes wide and ears ringing.  Did he just…?  A resounding moan is his answer as the man on the bed arches his back slightly and turns his head toward the door, and Nathaniel’s heartbeat races even further until he realizes that Esmareld’s eyes are closed tightly, his plush bottom lip caught between his teeth.

“Yes.  Yes, just like that.  So close…”  his hand speeds up and it is only then that Nathaniel realizes that he is hard as well, and curses himself mentally.  As Esmareld’s breathing increases in volume, he thrashes his head from side to side.  It doesn’t take much until his hips rise off the bed and he moans.


The said man finds his chest growing cold in shock as Esmareld falls back onto the bed in the aftermath of his orgasm.  He doesn’t stick around to see what the Commander does next; his feet are too busy carrying him back to his own room as fast and silently as they can.