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.
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,
"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.
[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.]
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