Saturday, 22 July 2017

Chapter Three: Pride and Shame, a Dragon Age fanfic


Chapter Three - Faces Old and New

Ostagar turned out to be big. Very big. The alienage at Denerim, where she had grown up, was practically in the shadow of the castle of the Arl of Denerim, but that castle was nothing compared to the structure that emerged before their eyes as the fourth day after they had separated from Tegrin broke. It was embedded into the side of a hill, with the Korcari Wilds, vast, foggy swamplands and forbidding to the South. Powerful curtain walls with turret-like outcroppings could be seen from a distance, with soldiers standing vigil in them, looking towards the swamplands. Duncan hailed the sentries at the tall gates that led into the keep itself, and they passed through, Neria attracting appreciative stares as was, to be fair, only to be expected. With much fewer people on the road and the need to keep a low profile obviated, she had been able to use her magic to keep herself warm, which naturally meant dressing as though she were lying on the sandy beaches of her home country of Rivain rather than trudging through the frosty forests of Ferelden.

“Here we are,” said Duncan, as they approached a section of the castle’s imposing wall that connected two peaks of the hill, like a bridge.

“Can I get a warm meal now?”

He rolled his eyes, and would probably have made a snide remark about the values of suffering and hardship in order to become a true, valuable member of the Grey Wardens, when the appearance of a group of men seemed to surprise him into silence.

“King Cailan, I was not expecting a…”

“A royal welcome? I was beginning to worry that you were going to miss all the fun.”

The one who spoke walked in the middle, surrounded by two burly men in steel plate. Neria barely noticed them, though – for this one, the man who spoke, resplendent in gold-plated armour, with a broadsword strapped to his back, long golden hair and warm brown eyes – was occupying all her attention. So this was King Cailan. Well, she had heard the occasional Templar visitor from Denerim speak about how handsome he was, but not expecting to ever meet him in person, had never paid much attention.

She was paying attention now, all right.

“Not if I could help it, your majesty,” said Duncan, his gravelly voice a contrast to the King’s slightly higher pitch.

“Then I shall have the mighty Duncan at my side in battle after all,” the King said, with a broad smile that made Neria’s legs turn to blancmange. “I take it this is the Grey Warden recruit the others told me you had found in the…”

For the first time, he seemed to look at her, and his mouth seemed to move, but no words came out. Neria tried to curtsy, ended up bowing, and felt thoroughly embarrassed, but not nearly as much as the two soldiers accompanying Cailan, who seemed not to know where to look, as the King seemed to be drinking her in with his eyes.

“This is Neria, your majesty,” Duncan’s voice broke in like an ice-pick cracking through the silence. “She is a mage from the Circle.”

“Honoured to make your acquaintance, my lady,” said the King, his composure apparently restored, with a slight bow.

Neria mumbled inaudibly in response.

“I’m sure you must be remarkable to have impressed Duncan so despite your young age,” he went on. “I am proud to lead a campaign against these monsters with the Grey Wardens by my side, and prouder still than you will soon be one of them.”

“I honour think am in turn,” mumbled Neria, hoping that the jumble of words did not actually reach his ears.

“And now I fear I must cut this short, or Loghain will be sending out a search party,” said Cailan. “I will see you soon, Ducan, and you as well, I hope, my lady.”

Duncan stopped him as he left to talk about the imminent arrival of Arl Eamon of Redcliff, one of the three most powerful nobles in Ferelden. Cailan laughed, and some more banter ensued, which Neria would have paid rather more attention to had she not been dreaming up images of making love to the King. Eventually, however, the object of her fantasies removed himself from her line of sight, and she was left with Duncan again.

“I take it there is no point in asking you what you thought of the King,” he chuckled.

“Oh, I, he’s certainly very impressive,” said Neria, trying to regain a measure of self-control.

“And I fear, not a little overconfident. Cailan is a good man, but he is swayed by the thoughts of glory and the lore of the Wardens, which makes me wonder whether we might not be served better through more level-headed leadership.”

“Teryn Loghain?” asked Neria, as they began to walk across the bridge.

“A better military commander I doubt Ferelden has seen in generations. He is here too, as you might have heard the King say.”

Teryn Loghain was was indeed, a legend. Side-by-side with King Maric, the peasant-turned-soldier had fought for and won Ferelden’s independence from the Orlesian empire. Maric had granted him the Terynir of Gwarren as a reward, and married his son, Cailan, to Loghain’s daughter Anora. On Cailan succeeding to the throne, some five years ago, Anora had become Queen, and Loghain the King’s most trusted advisor.

“Then we will benefit from his experience and Cailan’s enthusiasm,” she smiled.

“It’s good to see you optimistic.”

They had stopped walking. A part of the bridge had collapsed, but there was still ample space for four men to walk alongside. Elsewhere, two ballistae were mounted between raised stones.

“Is that where they come from?” she asked.

“Yes, they advance in a horde, little by way of tactics, but with speed and force. Some are more intelligent than others and exercise some sort of command, but nothing like the discipline you will see in any good military. That’s why we have been winning the battles – their numbers grow with each assault, but they lack tactics.”

“The King seemed to think this is not truly a Blight.”

“It is,” said Duncan.

“How do we know that…”

“We know.”

They stood in silence for a few moments more.

“You should seek out Alistair. He should be somewhere about the camp.”

“What’s an Alistair?” asked Neria absent-mindedly, already looking eagerly towards the rising fog in the Wilds.

“He’s a Warden. One of the last to join us before the campaign began. There’s two more recruits as well – Daveth and Ser Jory. Why don’t you find them all and meet me at my tent so we can proceed with your Joining?”

That brought her wandering mind back.

“The Joining?”

“A ritual – and a test – all recruits must complete before becoming Wardens,” said Duncan.

“You never mentioned anything about…” she began to protest, but something about the way he was looking at her – wistfully, almost – made her stop.

“You will know,” he said, softly. “And you had better wear your cloak. This is an army camp.”

#

“Wynne!”

“Well well, little one, what strange fate brings you here?”

Neria found the Senior Enchanter standing by a tree, a little apart from the other mages who had been sent to take part in the war effort. Templars stood by, keeping a close eye on them all. With their helmets on, Neria had no way of knowing if any of them were former conquests of hers.

“It seems I’m to be inducted into the Grey Wardens,” she replied. “Oh Wynne, I’m so happy to see you here.”

“The Grey Wardens! And what did you do to impress Duncan so?”

“Got into a spot of trouble,” Neria admitted.

“I thought it might be something like that.”

Neria told her in whispered tones of the events that had brought her here, and Wynne gave a sympathetic hearing before relating the events that had unfolded in the campaign thus far. There had been three major battles against the darkspawn thus far, and the armies of Ferelden had one every one handily. Still, the horde only seemed to grow larger, which made Wynne, at least, believe that they were truly facing a Blight and not merely an unusually large raid.

Neria would have liked to remain longer, but one of the army regulars came to ask her to take a look at some injured soldiers, and with promises to meet soon, they parted.

At one of the castle’s courtyards she came across a Sergeant taking drills, and hung back to listen in. He was speaking about the different types of darkspawn they were likely to encounter – Genlocks were what the shorter creatures were called, while Hurlocks were taller, though both were just as powerful and dangerous. The latter could also, in some cases, wield magic and act as commanders, which meant one had to be a tad more cautious in dealing with them. Killing them was no different from killing any other creature, though. Arrows and swords would do the trick, and so would magic, properly used. It made her wonder what made the Grey Wardens special, and whether there was something to the order beyond being in existence specifically to deal with this threat.

“You, elf! What are you doing here?”

She turned, startled. It was a merchant of some sort, perhaps a Quartermaster, given that this was an army camp.

“I’m…”

“Go tell Ser Garlan his sword is ready,” the big, round-faced man rasped out. “Lounging around camp like the whole lazy lot of you.”

Neria gave him a half-smile, pushed back the cowl covering her head and unfastened the brooch that held her cloak together, though not removing it completely. The robe inside was a dark shade of blue, pure muslin, and cut scandalously low, the neckline plunging to barely an inch about the belt around her waist. It had been a present from a Templar lover who had come from Kirkwall. She wore around her neck a simple but elegant gold necklace with an enchanted amulet, a present from a fellow-mage who was the son of a wealthy Bann near Highever. In her ears were emerald-drop earrings which she had claimed from a fellow-student in exchange for first defeating, and then keeping quiet about the demon she had summoned in the library.

In short, accoutrements as far removed from the coarse shirts and breeches of the elf servants who were scampering around camp as it was possible to be.

“Ser Garlan, did you say?” she asked, taking the sword from his hand. It was a heavy hand-and-a-half, and she barely managed not to lose her footing trying to hold it up.

“You are not the elf I was looking for,” said the Quartermaster. It was a statement, not a question.

Neria looked at him and shook her head.

“You are a Grey Warden mage.”

She nodded.

“You are not going to give that sword to Ser Garlan.”

“You are right about that.”

“And you’re not going to return it to me either.”

“Right again,” said Neria.

“I should have realised you’re one of them Grey Wardens, I suppose,” he said. “I don’t suppose an apology would make you return that to me?”

“It wouldn’t,” said Neria. “But why don’t you give me that sturdy-looking satchel you got there and I’ll return this and we shall promise to forget all about this?”

“Oh, certainly, certainly,” he said, and moved to pull the satchel she had indicated from the pile of goods behind him.

“And those vials.”

“Of course.”

“And is that wine I see over there?”

The Quartermaster turned to look at her. She gave him her most winning smile and removed the cloak, putting it into the new satchel. It would have taken a far, far stronger man than him to have resisted either the smile or the display she put on. 

He gave her two bottles of wine.

#

“You’re a Templar.”

“You like to state the obvious.”

“Duncan said you were a Warden.”

“I am a Warden, and I was a Templar before I became a Warden, though technically I did not take my vows, so I’m not entirely sure what that makes me. A Temp-Warden? No, that sounds like I’ll be carrying messages and mixing herbs like a common elf.”

“Excuse me!”

“A Wardar? No that just sounds like someone belched. Anyway, I see my sparkling humour makes no headway with you, and thus I cease my attempts to elicit a smile from the lady. Duncan summons us, do you say? Well, follow me, and we shall answer these summons.”

Alistair had turned out to be a lad not much older than herself, with brown hair and eyes and dressed in plate, carrying a sword and a wooden shield. She had found him in conversation with one of the Circle mages, Enchanter Bargoah. ‘Conversation’ was actually being a little disingenuous, it was an argument that was on the verge of getting ugly when Neria’s arrival interrupted them. Bargoah recognised her, naturally, and by the time she had finished explaining that she was her because she had been chosen to join the Wardens, tempers had cooled enough for the older mage to do what Alistair had asked him to. But she had heard Bargoah refer to Alistair as a Templar, and that had rankled. Templars were not her friends. Lovers, yes, victims of her arrogant sexual superiority, definitely, but comrades? No.

“You know that I’m a mage, right?” asked Neria.

“I was listening to you speak to the ugly fellow we just left.”

“You’re a mage-hunter.”

“I’m not. I never took the vows, as I just told you. I trained in the skills needed to neturalise magic, yes, but I’m not actually a Templar and I do not feel a divine need to strike down all mages. Not – not that that is all Templars do, we only hunt down mages who are have been corrupted by demons of the Fade.”

“You said ‘we’,” pointed out Neria.

They had reached the makeshift infirmary where wounded soldiers groaned or slept, tended to by sisters of the Chantry. For a fleeting moment their long orange-and-yellow robes with the sun emblazoned on the chest recalled Lily to her mind, making her scowl. To the right, a Chantry system was uttering benedictions, with soldiers kneeling before her. One man, a large fellow with a receding hairline and blunt features, caught sight of Alistair and advanced towards them.

“Good sir, has our fellow-recruit arrived? I ache with eagerness to complete this Joining ritual and take my rightful place among the Wardens,” he said, addressing Alistair.

“Your wait is over then, Ser Jory. This is Neria, a mage of the circle.”

“I did not know the Grey Wardens recruited women,” said the man, eyeing her.

“I did not know they recruited idiots,” said Neria, without batting an eyelid.

Alistair winced, and was about to make some sort of explanation, when he – and Neria- realised that Ser Jory had not heard the remark. His eyes, occupied in ogling her exposed skin – of which there was plenty – had been using too much of his faculties to allow his ears to function quite properly.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” he said, tearing his eyes way with some effort and looking firmly at the top of her head.

“I said I am sure there are women in the Grey Wardens already,” muttered Neria.

“There are, in fact,” said Alistair. “Ser Jory, if you will make your way to Duncan’s tent, we shall meet you there presently.”

He left, a little reluctantly, it seemed, but he left all the same. Neria sighed and reached into her satchel for the cloak.

“Probably a good idea,” muttered Alistair.

“Too distracting?”

“And bad for morale. Have you eaten?”

“No,” she admitted.

“Well, come on then.”

She fumed in silence for a bit, as they made their way to the kennels.

 Here’s Daveth.”

Daveth turned out to be a wiry fellow with a bow strapped to his back who was flirting with a pretty blonde soldier who did not seem particularly amused. He seemed unaffected by her rebuffs though, and was still smiling when Neria and Alistair approached him.

“Alistair, my good fellow,” he said, turning towards them a face that, though carrying a stubble and not classically handsome, as Cailan, or even Alistair were, was nonetheless attractive, “is our long wait over? Is the new recruit come? Is he to be our saviour?”

“Ask her yourself,” said Alistair.

Daveth’s eyebrows shot up. Whether he would have ogled her as Ser Jory had done had she not been modestly covered from head to toe, with only her face and a few locks of hair visible, she could not say, but on the whole, she thought not. Daveth gave the impression of someone who would be a lot smoother than that.

“Well, you’re not what I thought you would be,” he said.

Neria narrowed her eyes.

“And what is that exactly?”

“Why, such a spectacularly beautiful woman, of course. Charmed to meet you, I’m Daveth. And now I suppose our Commander must await our presence. Let us go, shall we?”

# 

[Anything you might recognise from playing Dragon Age: Origins is (c) BioWare. This work is not intended to earn any profit or make any money.] 
  

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Chapter Two: Pride and Shame, A Dragon Age Fanfic


Chapter Two – To Ostagar

Neria leaned against the wheel of the cart, listlessly counting the stars in the sky. Her staff lay across her lap. There had been a few stares when she had removed it from its wrapping, but no comments, for which she was thankful. There were worse things than mages in the world, she was sure, but you would not know that from the way most people reacted. Tegrin had given a suspicious look, the old woman had given an even more suspicious look, and Cogren had looked away from her cleavage just long enough to give her a suspicious look. That had made her pull on the fur robe again. Thankfully, since Neria’s clothes were made to cover so little of her body, she had been able to pack all her outfits into the bag without much trouble. The fur was the only thing that occupied space.

She allowed herself a yawn and huddled into it again. Travelling on the open road hadn't been easy for her, accustomed as she was to the confines of the Tower. Still, this was the first time Duncan had spoken about the 'dangers' of the road – until now they had camped close to largish towns where keeping a watch at night had not been necessary.

She wondered if Jowan was awake too, wherever he was, looking at the same sky. He would be on the run, heading for Tevinter maybe, or trying to find other blood mages.  Her eyes closed for a moment. The sight of Jowan cutting himself pushed itself into her unwilling mind once again. That moment when it seemed that all she had known about him had been a lie. Making her betray her mentor Irving, the Circle, her own principles…everything! What made her even angrier was the fact that he had proven Gregoir right – the self-righteous, severe Knight-Commander had been right about Jowan. He had wanted to punish Neria in some way for years, ever since he had identified her as a corrupting influence on his men, a punishment only Irving had protected her from, and she had been nicely handed up to him, red-handed, as it were.

Here she was, then, out of Gregoir’s clutches, but away from Irving’s protection as well, in the big wide world under an open sky in which she had counted seventy-four stars and feeling cold again, because the fire had burned itself out. She cast a wary look around. She narrowed her arched blue eyes and held out a hand towards the wood. In a second, the fire had crackled to life, burning quite merrily. With a sigh of relief – she had not cast a spell since leaving the Tower and was glad to see she hadn't suffered for lack of practice – she unfastened her coat and laid it aside again. It was unlikely anyone would disturb her until Duncan came out to relieve her.

An hour passed before the fire burned out again, and a passing draft awakened from a doze by making her shiver a little. She held out her hand again to light it, her eyes barely open. Then a twig snapped behind her and she was awake in an instant, jumping to her feet, with an arcane shield surrounding herself and the wagon, staff pointed towards the dark figure that emerged before her.

"It's me, Cogren," a voice quivered, palms facing her.

Neria heaved a sigh and let the shield drop.

"Mother asked me to give you a cup of hot ale," he said, taking a flask from his belt and handing it to her.  

"Very nice of her," she said, accepting it.

"Yes, mother is nice that way," Cogren said, his eyes fixed on her. Neria tossed her blonde hair and motioned to him to sit beside her.

"Couldn't sleep?" she asked, taking a sip from the flask.

"Not very well," he replied, eyes still fixed on the young elf, "So…you're a mage, then?"

Neria nodded, stretching out a free hand and lighting the fire again.

"'Ow did they let you out of the Tower?" came the next question, almost inevitably.

"I'm not an apprentice. Mages can travel if they wish. But me, I'm going to join the Grey Wardens to fight against the darkspawn in Ostagar."

His eyes went wide at that, all right. Neria allowed herself a little mental laugh.

"You would fight darkspawn? But – you're an elf!"

"So?" Neria bristled. She knew her pointy elf ears would have gone red with anger as they always did when anyone tried to belittle her on account of her heritage. Not that he would notice – the fire made everything look red.

"I meant no harm," he said quickly, "it's just…not often one sees…don't turn me into a toad. The only elves I've seen were serving maids at the Arl's castle in Redcliffe.”

"Well, not all of us are servants in Arl's castles," said Neria. Yes, some of us are servants in less privileged establishments, she thought, and others work as prostitutes and thieves.

"I do realise that now, my lady," he said, "you are clearly no serving maid. I’m going to join the army myself after I leave mother with my sister in Denerim. Maybe our paths will cross again.”

“It’s unlikely. There are a lot of soldiers,” pointed out Neria.

“But very few Wardens.”

This was true. Unlike Orlais or the Free cities, which had large standing regiments of Grey Wardens, there were only a hundred-odd Wardens in all of Ferelden.

“If the battle still rages by that time, and I am still alive, perhaps we will.”

There was silence for a while as she finished the ale. It had been bland, but warm, and warm was good. It was getting colder as they went further towards the south. Of course, now that their fellow-travellers did know she was a mage, it probably would not matter if she used a bit of magic to keep herself warm. She grasped her staff – not necessary to perform magic, but it made it easier to focus the energy – and concentrated for a brief moment, closing her eyes, and it was done. It could be freezing around, but her body would be nice and toasty.

“You are…very beautiful."

Neria did not blink, but took a grip of her staff. She wondered if a little reminder of her powers was warranted for Cogren’s benefit.

"It must have been rather lonely, shut up in that tower," he continued, the desire in his voice barely-hidden. "Especially for one so…enticing as you."

"You'd better keep your hands where I can see them," said Neria calmly.

"I've heard about you elves," the man went on, his eyes afire, "about how much you enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. My friend Lloyd who runs the inn back in Redcliffe village told me he'd been with an elf from the Castle once and she was a right tigress, she was…"

The point of the blackened hardwood staff pressed into his neck.

"One more word and I will light you up like the Feastday bonfire. Go on, one word."

"What was it I was saying about drawing attention to yourself?" Duncan's voice cut through the night like crashing glass.

Cogren stumbled backwards as the Grey Warden emerged from his tent.

"But – I…he…," she began, getting to her feet.

"Killing innocent citizens for harbouring or expressing desires which they cannot act upon without your consent is not the way of the Grey Wardens," he said, with infuriating calmness.

Neria hung her head in shame. Duncan dragged Cogren to his feet and pushed him away towards his tent. She watched as he scampered away.

"But Duncan, you should've heard him," she protested. "He was…lewd!"

"It is advisable, young lady," the Warden said in a patient tone, "to try to see the situation from the other's point of view, and the view the lad had for however long he was sitting with you must have been very…arousing. I trust he did not make any assault on you…"

Neria looked down at herself. Her dark yellow robe had short sleeves and a neckline that plunged almost to her stomach. It was still more modest than her favoured blue robe – the one that set off her eyes so well – which was cut in a way that exposed her flanks and belly, though it did cover her breasts somewhat more modestly.

“No, he didn’t,” she confessed. “I was just irritated, I guess. I wouldn’t have actually killed him.”

“I should hope not.”

“I might have taught him a little lesson, though. He would not have dared to speak like that to a human.”

"I understand your feelings, Neria," he sighed, "Elves are treated too much like chattel in this land, and in different circumstances I would not have stopped you from teaching him that lesson, but Grey Wardens are still eyed with suspicion in some parts of Ferelden and we want to avoid an incident. Anyway, you had better take some rest now. I will stay till morning."

"It's not necessary, Duncan," she replied, "In fact I'd rather stay."

"We have a long journey tomorrow, child, and we aren't likely to find a wagon going towards Ostagar. Rest."

"Duncan, I…I'd rather not sleep."

He only gave her a questioning look.

"Dreams," she said, not caring to elaborate.

"That’s never a good sign. About your friend from the tower?"

"Jowan," she said, "About Jowan. And the blood. Oh, all the blood!" Suddenly it seemed as though the emotions welling up in her were too much to resist, and hot tears rolled down her cheeks. "I loved him, Duncan. If he wouldn't have me for his mate, I'd have gladly been his sister. He lied to me. He betrayed me – he made me an outcast from the only family I've known. I couldn't bear the look in Irving's eyes – Irving, who's been a father to me in so many ways."

"What do you dream of?" Duncan asked, as she crumpled to her knees, still holding on to her staff.

"Of him plunging that knife into me," she replied, "of it ending right there. He had been everything to me, Duncan. I'd have done anything for him - and I did. If he had only told me he was really practising – that filthy magic – I'd have told him, I'd have advised him, I'd have – have found a way out somehow."

"He never valued you as you deserved. Do not look back in regret. Your true destiny lies ahead of you."

"It feels as though everything I've known – was false, somehow. I feel evil, Duncan. Maybe you should have let Gregoir take me, maybe you should..."

"The Grey Wardens are your future, child," said Duncan softly. "Think not of the past. The loyalty you felt for Jowan is commendable, but that is now pledged to the Grey Wardens. Your sole duty is to protect the land against the Blight. The past – is the past. Ferelden needs you to be strong. Go, sleep in my tent, I shall awaken you when day breaks.”

#
Blood. It was all over her. Whose blood was it? Jowan's? Her own? Was it Cogren's? Had she slain him after all? Was it Lily's? Had she murdered that silly bitch in a fit of jealousy? Oh wait, it was the blood from the vial she had helped steal from the Circle vaults. But whose phylactery was it? The shattered glass on the floor seemed to form a name. That – that was an N, and an E. Then – was that an R?

She awoke with a start. Sweat glistened on her skin; she could see it by the moonlight coming in through the translucent fabric of the tent. With a groan Neria buried her head in her hands. Grabbing hold of her staff, she crouched to the tent's opening and looked out.

Still dark.

Opposite to where she was, she could Cogren’s tent.

She crawled out and sat under the sky. A faint glow of light and the sounds of a sword being polished on the other side of the wagon her tent indicated Duncan was awake. She sobbed silently, for the past she had left behind, for
the future she had wanted and now knew she could not have.

"Is something wrong, my lady?" the whisper made her look up. It was Cogren, looking genuinely concerned.

"'Tis nothing. I…have trouble sleeping," she returned in a low tone.

"Is it the thought of the darkspawn you are going to fight? It would scare the wits out of anyone," he said.

"It's not what I'm going to do, Cogren. It's what I should have-"

"I am sorry for what passed earlier – I," he began to fumble an apology.

Neria raised her finger to his lips and then placed it in his hand. She silently cursed her body for its needs. Two months of celibacy had been easy to deal with when the Harrowing and her studies occupied her mind – and thinking about how much more she would enjoy breaking that sexual fast on the luxurious bed that mages were allotted was enough to let her pleasure herself while she bathed. Now there was none of that, and her body protested its needs all too urgently as she looked at the dishevelled, unprepossessing farmer’s boy and led him into the tent she had just occupied.

Maybe it would stop the dreams, at any rate, at least if he managed to bring her to finish.

"You said I was beautiful," she said. It was a statement, not a question. Before his widening eyes, Neria removed her cloak and cast it aside. At a gesture of her hand the inside of the tent glowed in a dim blue light. She stood before him, strips of cotton cloth all that covered her breasts and her womanhood.

Her shoulder-length blonde hair fell in thick locks, framing her dark-skinned, high-cheekboned, sharp-nosed face. Large blue eyes gazed upon him with an urgent plea. She was lithe and muscular, her breasts small but shapely, her stomach taut and hard. Closing her eyes, she unclasped the cloth covering her breasts and let it drop to the floor.

The farmer let out a gasp as her nipples, hardened by desire far more than the cold, stood proudly before him. In another graceful motion, she divested herself of the last vestiges of what must be called, for want of a better word, modesty and stood before him as the Maker had made her.

"They lied," he whispered, falling to his knees. “You’re not chattel, you’re not lesser than us. You’re a goddess!”

"Tomorrow I go to Ostagar, to fight darkspawn. I do not know if I will live to see the day after. Tonight, help me forget they exist. Our paths shall never cross again."

"I have never…been with one such as you," he stammered, his tone close to reverence - though the lust, too, was unmistakable.

"And you never will again," she said, a gesture dimming the light to a dull glow as she began to unfasten his armour, "but I promise you'll never forget tonight."

His shirt was light cotton, easily ripped away, his breeches coarser but just as easily pulled down. Their lips met, and she pushed him onto the bedding, ignoring – no, revelling in - the rough, clumsy pawing of her breasts by his hands. Neria’s own hands played far more deftly with his body, dancing around his ears, on his neck and tracing patterns on his chest before making for his tool, rigid as she fully expected, and wanted it to be.

He groaned as she held it, and pressed gently, still kissing his mouth, and then lifted herself up and onto him, lowering herself on it, slowly, for she knew how it was done, how to be in charge, how to be the one who controlled it. Her fingers pressed against his chest, harder now, no gentleness about them as he thrust, and she bucked, and in her way thrust as well, and on and on until he was spent, and whimpered, while her eyes still sparkled.

Not bad for a farm-boy, she wanted to say, and laugh in his face. But she sighed instead, and with something approaching tenderness, pulled away and lay next to him, putting an arm around his chest and a leg across his knees. He was still breathing heavily. She was calm as still water. But then with a grunt and a curse, he turned and mounted her, still hard, still eager, and now he was taking her, harder and harder, until she had to cover her mouth to muffle her scream, and as he began to shudder and moan, this time she did not have a mean word to say, or rather no words at all, except,

“Thank you.”

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"Neria? Are you awake? We leave immediately!"

She awoke with a start and pulled on a robe quickly, leaving her lover in her tent as she grabbed her staff and stepped out.

"I'm here," she said, rubbing her eyes.

"Take everything you need from the tent. We leave in ten minutes.”

"Yes, I just need to take my bag from the wagon.”

He accompanied her to where Tegrin was sorting out his wares. She extricated her belongings and turned to face Duncan. Behind him she noticed Cogren crawl out of the tent and struggle to his feet - unsuccessfully.

"I'm glad you've at least left the man alive," Duncan said drily.

"I…err…" she blushed red to the very tips of her ears. Cogren finally managed to get on his feet and began to stagger towards them.

"Irving had mentioned your…appetites."

"He knew?" If she could have blushed any redder, she would have, but her dark skin had taken as much colour as it could.

"I doubt anything goes on in that Tower Irving doesn't know about," Duncan replied, with an expression as close to a humorous smile as she would ever see from him. “I trust you have your fossida potion?”

“Oh, fade take it, no!”

It had never occurred to her. Fossida potion was what you took when you let a men put his seed in you to make sure you did not end up pregnant. In the Tower, it was easily available, there was a thriving black market for it. Neria rarely needed it, since she was usually careful about where she let her lovers finish, but she knew where to get it if she needed to. But Cogren’s seed was in her, not once but twice and she felt very stupid indeed, for she was outside now, and not in the Tower.

“I know a herbalist a half-day’s ride from here,” sighed Duncan. “It is a little out of our way, but not much.”

"I apologise," she muttered. “I really, really…”

“Don’t repeat the mistake,” he added, mildly.

“Oh no, I’m very particular about where…I mean, yes, it won’t happen again. I, err...learn my lessons well.”

“So Irving said. You have two minutes to bid him farewell. Go.”

She darted over to where Cogren was standing, looking rather befuddled. She gave him a quick kiss, and ignoring his fervent protestations that he would never, ever, forget her, returned to Duncan.

“To Ostagar and the Grey Wardens, then,” he said, and began to walk.


“To Ostagar and the Grey Wardens,” she repeated, keeping her eyes on her feet, as she followed.

Next Chapter

[Anything you might recognise from playing Dragon Age: Origins is (c) BioWare. This work is not intended to earn any profit or make any money.]