War is Never Cheap Here (2/12)Authors: cherith
Dragon Age: OriginsPairing:
Bann Teagan/Ser CauthrienSeries Rating:
T Series Wordcount:
While Cauthrien attempts to remember what happened the night before, Teagan tries to forget what he almost saw. Cauthrien attempts her first report to the Queen but can't seem to find the words. (Ao3
)Notes: War is Never Cheap Here
will be updating weekly, on Fridays. Projected length looking like twelve chapters.Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12Chapter Two
Cauthrien woke to a pounding headache sometime after dawn. Morning was when she usually ran through drills, but her head ached too much for it to have done any good. Grumbling and trying to remember exactly what had happened the night before (murder mysteries? six tankards? bann disappointment? his laugh-), she dragged herself from her bed and tried to find her clothing.
After the night before, she had planned to wear her armor and return to being imposing, but that, too, would have to wait.
Still, her arming jacket was almost like armor and gave her the same security and so, dressed much the same as she had been the night before, she left her room and went in search of the main hall.
It was only a few minutes later when she sat herself down with a large tankard of water. Blessed, sweet, cool water. She was too early for breakfast, so she sat in the dining hall, considering what she'd write to Anora.
She seemed to remember, quite clearly, that Teagan had said he was not fucking, nor did he think he would ever get the chance to fuck, the Lady Cousland.
Also, something about being Bann Disappointment and then she had mentioned Anora's penchant for murder mysteries.
This was embarrassing. She knew
she had questioned him, knew that she had told him things about her mission that she likely shouldn't have, but all the details were fuzzy- except that he had seemed cheerful and had laughed and she had felt miserable because how dare he feel good?
And she thought she might have apologized about the fields.
By the time the faint scent of breakfast finally reached her, she had managed to get up once or twice to visit the privy and to retrieve parchment from her guest room, and was at that moment tapping her quill against her fingernail, staining it black and trying to remember how to spell likelihood
She stared down at the page, trying to imagine the letters there in some kind of order- but there was nothing, only blank space. She frowned then shook her head. Later. She’d try later.
When she looked up, Bann Teagan was standing in the doorway, watching her.
She met his gaze, questioning and more than a little prickly at not knowing how long he had been standing there. He moved away from the door and joined her at the table, sitting directly across from her.
"Ser Cauthrien," he said as he sat, not quite looking at her. "Good morning." It was polite but not nearly as friendly as she remembered him being the night before.
"Bann Teagan," she responded with a curt nod, trying not to feel too awkward. It didn't work particularly well. At least from his tone they were back to being at least strained acquaintances, and not- not whatever they'd danced around the night before.
Maker, had she really taken off her leggings in front of him?
"I hope you slept well?" he added after an awkward pause with a brief, faint smile.
"Well enough." She looked back down at her report. Likelihood had not materialized there, and every word she glanced at seemed wrong in a way she couldn't put her finger on. Perhaps she should have him proofread- but no, that was a stupid idea.
Though, it did remind her-
"Last night- I seem to remember you asking about the Queen's reading habits. Antivan murder mysteries, and no, I do not understand it at all."
He nodded. He was quiet another moment before he canted his head, finally meeting her gaze. "Antivan? How... odd," he said, his tone a mixture of amusement and curiosity. "Do you think that’s where the Queen has summoned up her fears? Antivan murder mysteries? Wait, no, don’t answer that. Instead- I seem to remember I owe you a plot of some kind."
"Do you?" She frowned, looking up and carefully setting her quill aside. Her spelling might have been questionable, but she at least had decent penmanship, and she would only stain her fingers with ink, not the missive.
He shrugged. "It’s just as well. I haven’t had time enough yet to think up a good one. At least, not one that wouldn’t actually make her want to- well, I think you understand the problem." Teagan was smiling at her again. It made her shift, uncomfortably, and wish that she had steeled herself and donned her armor once more.
She sat back, looking at him and trying to remember. Nothing came. Well, then, to his question. "No, I don't think that's where-" She hesitated. Actually, upon further consideration, it sounded... disturbingly plausible. "No. I doubt that is where she gets them."
"Oh, of course not." He pursed his lips and shook his head jokingly, just as the servants began to bring in breakfast.
Cauthrien watched them with a mixture of appreciation and awkwardness. She was starving, and more than grateful for the distraction, but she had grown up a farmer's daughter and then a soldier, and the idea of being waited upon still felt- wrong. She didn't begrudge a bann his household help, but she would have felt more comfortable serving herself at a mess with other soldiers or holed up in the kitchen again.
She pushed her half-written report, ink pot, and quill towards the center of the table and away from her to make room, thinking again about his 'plot'. It brought back a few, vague things - not wanting to disappoint, giving Anora something interesting, don't come up with anything too worrying. Paranoia.
The Antivan murder mysteries.That
was where they fit in.
She pushed a loose strand of hair back behind her ear. After this meal, she would finish writing, send it off, and then go drill. She was already feeling far more human and the food they were bringing out smelled wonderful, even if she couldn't look any of the servants - mostly elves - in the eye. She reached happily for a hunk of still-warm bread, slathered with a mixture of honey and butter.
After another stretch of silence, Teagan interrupted her glorious, wonderful breakfast and asked, "Are you already writing your report? Or is that just to let her know you’re here?"
Cauthrien looked up and swallowed. "Yes," she said, glancing to the pages. "Both. I can recall at least some of what we discussed last night." Though she was having trouble getting it in order besides combative at first, then became a polite and good host; not fucking the Lady Cousland.
What else was there to tell?Alistair still missing.
But it wasn't disappointing at all- except that Anora would likely still doubt him. It meant there was no plot brewing that would send them back to war. She could remember, too, feeling relieved at that.
"Is there anything in particular you would like me to include? It will be directly attributed to you, of course."
He chuckled at that, bowing his head a little. "Well, I’m sure that anything attributed to me would be summarily dismissed. So, until I have something worthwhile to share, no.
"But I appreciate the offer," he added with a nod.
Good. That saved her the trouble of having to take dictation. She hated that.
She went back to eating, and in contrast to the previous night's picking at her food, her appetite was in full swing. And water- water was still a precious commodity. She drank it like she had drunk the ale the night before.
When her own consumption slowed, though, she sat back and considered him.
"... I apologize if I did anything untoward last night," she said. "And thank you for making sure I got back to my room alright. I might have found myself in the stables this morning, otherwise." She wouldn't have confessed that except that he did truly deserve her thanks. It somehow overpowered her guarded, proud nature.
Shaking his head, he said, "No need. You were a perfect-" He hesitated, frowning slightly, as if searching for a word. "Perfect. You were fine."
She blinked. Swallowed. Frowned, tilted her head, tried to understand.
He glanced away nervously for just a moment and then, "Yes, right. It was my pleasure. You’re-" Again, he paused. "Welcome. You’re welcome." He pushed his plate away, looking clearly unsettled.
Why was he babbling like that?Perfect.
Her, perfect, while drunk and maudlin and wallowing in her own guilt, perfect, his pleasure
Was she not remembering something very important about the night before?
"... Did something happen last night?" she asked, slowly, shifting uneasily. "You seem-"
She had no word to really describe how he seemed. Sounded.
Teagan's eyes widened and he hurriedly, with a great deal of strain, held up his hands and sad, "No, sorry- I just meant that you were fine. Nothing to apologize for. And that you’re welcome for the escort. It wouldn’t have done to have you falling up the stairs... or to end up in the stables." He nodded, smiled slightly, and absently waved his upheld hand.
Well. She'd trusted him so far.
And really, she thought she would have known if she'd been- if they'd- it had been a long time. She would have known.
"... Right. Well." She looked to her report. "... If you need me - to confess regicide plots or related things to - I'll be here. Or in your practice yard." Wherever that was.
She pushed aside her plate and drew her papers back over to her.
A quick look at it reminded her of her earlier problem and she glanced back to him. "... How is 'likelihood' spelled?" she asked after just a moment's consideration.
He stood, and she watched as he circled around to her side of the table.
"Likelihood?" He glanced down at her papers. "Spelling isn’t your thing, is it?"
She bristled, tensed visibly at his comment, and with his teeth on his bottom lip, he bit back a smile.
"Right, so ‘likelihood’, l-i-k-e-l-i-h-o-o-d."
She dutifully spelled out the word as he said it, even as her lips thinned to a narrow line. That- it looked okay. She would trust him; he had far more practice writing than she did, and likely read a lot more.
She was determined, if he was going to see this weakness of hers, that he would understand where it came from. Looking up from the note, a light, embarrassed blush on her cheeks, she muttered, "I didn't start leaning to read or write until I was eighteen." It had taken Loghain that long to realize that she really was just an illiterate farming girl. He had wanted to teach her-
"I'm better in Orlesian."
Flawless, actually. Articulate, even slightly poetic, though she hated the damnable language. Loghain had drilled her mercilessly in it, allowing weaknesses in her Common once she was literate enough to read orders, to write something that was at least comprehensible.
"Really? My brother’s wife-" Teagan started, then faltered. "It’s just not often that I have occasion to meet someone that has more knowledge, than ‘oh, that sounds Orlesian’." With a glance back down at her parchment he shifted his weight and then looked at her again. "I know it might seem... odd, given I’m currently the subject of said investigation," he nodded at her document. "But I would be willing to help you."--
Orlesian. Maker, she knew Orlesian- so few people did in Ferelden anymore, and that little detail fascinated him. It was even stronger than his surprise at how poor her spelling was (and it was, indeed, poor). He could tell from how she tensed at his words that he was saying increasingly foolish things, but it was hard to restrain himself around her.
He'd told her she was perfect, earlier. He had meant to say, perfect guest
. But, she wasn’t a guest, and saying it felt wrong somehow. So it sounded just like- Maker help him. And now she was glaring because he had offered to help her.
"I was instructed in it in case we intercepted spies," Cauthrien said, tersely, and then pulled a sheet of blank parchment over and wrote, quickly, in Orlesian:If you ever make me speak it, I will write the most damning lies I can think of back to the Queen.
And then, when she was sure he had read it, she leaned forward to one of the thick candles that burned in the center of the table and lit it on fire, holding the parchment until it was almost completely burned away.
So, no Orlesian. As he watched the parchment go up in smoke he said, "No need."
She let the last smoldering corner drop to the table. "... if I need the help, I will be sure to remember your offer."
And then after a few moments' silence and to his great surprise, she slid what she already had written over to him, giving him a better look, enough to make out the substance as well as the errors.
It wasn't much:Arived at Rainsfair the previos evning. Was maid to wate out side and was eventuly greeted by a skuire. Led to Teagan's ofice insted of meating in the hal. Aloud me to stay, no fite.
Breef qestuning reveled the foloing:
Polite, after inishal crosnes
Clame of no nolege of wear Alistair is
Clame of no past or intenshuns of a fewtur of a romantik or sexul natur with the Warden-Commander
My inishal reed on the mater is that, in al likelihood
He read the letter and shook his head. Of course, it might all be true, but her spelling... Clearly, this is where the need lay. A lot of it. More than-
Nearly every word.
"Well, I think that pretty well captures everything as it happened." He wanted to make a joke about leaving her to it, as she clearly had everything in hand. But he had seen her make the decision to hand over the letter, and it had not been an easy one.
"I would offer to write it for you," he started and slid the parchment back over to her. "But we both know that’s not the version you would send." He considered a blank piece just out of reach. "Though, if it would help- and it wouldn’t feel too much like an intrusion- it might help you in the rewriting?"
He hoped that was polite enough. Maker, he didn’t want to feel sorry for her. But it was nearly every word, and they would be here all day if he spelled out each word for her and then waited for her to write it down. At least she had managed to spell his name right.
After a moment's consideration, her brow staying furrowed, she said, "... the Queen will notice if my spelling suddenly improves. And while I'm sure she wouldn't mind it - she corrects all of my notes these days - it would make her suspicious." She frowned at the letter.
"... It's bad, isn't it," she added, quietly. "He never cared, but- It's just- it's hard
-" She sat back, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes.
He felt awful for mentioning it. He hadn’t mean to make her- he had only meant to help. But it was bad, very bad and now he didn’t know how to tell her that. He sighed. Nearly every word.
He cleared his throat and tried to think of something better to say, and then tried not to be angry with Anora. Cauthrien was right, after all; if the Queen was used to such spelling she would notice when it was different. And clearly, when Cauthrien had worked for Loghain, he hadn’t minded at all.
He considered the parchment again. "So, here’s what we’ll do. I’ll write it out for you if you like, and then you can maybe pick words out and spell them the way you have here," he gestured to her letter. "Then she’ll be less likely to notice."
Looking up at her, he smiled softly. "If you like, while you're here, I could help you more." He didn’t have reason to be nice to her other than to keep Anora off his back. Cauthrien was not his friend, but after last night- he didn’t feel much like she was his enemy. She had apologized in a way, and even if she had been drinking, he thought he understood there had been meaning behind it. After all, they did have time together, lots of it, and it wouldn’t hurt either of them to brush up on their skills.
"We have a month at least?" he continued, carefully.
She nodded with only a little hesitation. "I'll finish the draft before dinner," she said, slowly. "And- yes, we have a month." She bit at her lower lip, not looking at him. There was something about how she looked- a vulnerability, a weakness, and combined with her soft features, it made her look young. What had she said? Hadn't begun to learn until she was eighteen? Stories came back to him- the tall, gangly farmer's girl who had rushed to the teyrn of Gwaren's rescue with only a hoe. Or had it been a rake?
She stood up, rather abruptly, and began gathering her things. "I'll- we can talk about this later," she said, gruffly, though her hands shook faintly.
He nodded as she stood. "Certainly." It was going about as well as he would’ve expected, especially considering how badly he had possibly insulted her just by offering- an offer he wasn’t sure he should have made.
But before she stepped free of the bench, she looked to him and took a deep breath. "... Thank you."--
She left him there in the dining hall, hurrying away while trying to look like she wasn't. She wasn't running. She wasn't ashamed.
Except, of course, that she was. She had fled, embarrassed- and a little flattered. He'd clearly been amused - and not in a good way - at her spelling, but he had offered and waited for her response. Maybe- maybe this wouldn't be so bad. But Maker help him the first time he made fun of her where she could hear.
She went back to her room, put aside her notes and considered her armor. She trained in it some times, to make sure her body remembered the weight. But her head still hurt a little, and the hard ride the day before had taken more out of her than she had first thought. So she just grabbed up her sword, made sure her hair was tied back securely, and went looking for a quiet practice yard.
This was not how she'd imagined her month in Rainesfere. She'd expected something closer to how she had been greeted the day before - Teagan terse, unpleasant, and as distrusting of her as she was of him. She had expected difficulty in getting to the truth. She had expected... not this odd sort of amused kindness. It was surprising. Almost pleasant at times. At others, though, she could only think of how much he must hate her, and that kindness took on a patronizing, superior edge.
She went through drills for much of the rest of the morning, practicing guards, strikes, tumbles. She could have used a practice partner, but she had managed before and could manage again.
When Teagan came to stand above her, looking out over the yard, she didn't notice him for some time.
She was too busy moving between guards, advancing across the field. Vom tag, schrankut, ochs
- they were all familiar, second nature, and her movements were fluid despite her wielding a weapon as tall as she was.
It was when she set her blade aside to work on falls and tumbles that, on one, she came up facing his direction.
And frowned, quite magnificently.
He stood, arms crossed, hands in the crooks of his elbows while he watched, and seemed just as taken aback by her seeing him as she was.
She pushed a few loose bits of hair back from her sweat-slicked forehead. There was a brief moment where she thought that perhaps the man was watching her to try and find a weakness- but he had helped her back to her room the night before when she was falling over herself. He'd already found more than enough weaknesses.
"Am I not allowed to practice?" she called out, taking deep breaths to calm her exercise-excited body.
Pushing off his heels he took a step forward and let his hands drop to his sides. "No, I wouldn’t keep you from your practice. I was just- I was passing by and-
"I- I’m sorry," he finished. And with a nod, "I'll leave you to it then. I didn’t mean to interrupt."
She remained frowning up at him. He was- tense. Confused, possibly?
"I was just checking," she assured him, raising a hand to shield her eyes against the sun. "... How much training do you have?"
"Enough to be decent in a fight," he said.
She remembered him, vaguely, at the battle for Denerim. He held his own until the Archdemon had fallen, until the darkspawn ranks had broken and she had been left staring up at the tower of Fort Drakon with the heaviest, sinking feeling taking over her entire body.
"Why do you ask?"
She pulled herself back to the present at his question, pursing her lips. She had seen in him the exact reasons she often turned to sparring to unwind, there in the set of his shoulders, the harried look in his eyes, but as she opened her mouth to ask him to come down, she stopped.
She had destroyed half of his bannorn. She had wiped the blood of some of his people off of the sword sitting just a few feet away from her.
She may have felt more comfortable when he was antagonizing her the day before, but she didn't want him to actually have cause to hate her more. So she shut her mouth and tried to think, shifting uneasily.
No, she couldn't just ask him to come down to her. But-
"If- you ever wanted-"
To spar. To spar. The words were to spar
, and she could even spell those. She fell silent, stymied and frustrated with herself.
"Thank you for the offer," he rocked forward and looked towards the house. "But I really should be getting back inside."
He took a few steps and then turned back. It felt like he might say something: ‘I’ll see you at dinner’ or ‘I’ll think about it’ or even another word of thanks. He opened his mouth. Shut it. Then turned back and left without another word.
That had gone about as well as she had expected.
Yes, invite a man who she had fought against on a country-wide scale to a sparring match. Wonderful. He had declined politely enough, but-
She worked herself hard for much of the rest of the day in frustration. Frustration at making a fool of herself. Frustration for being frustrated. She should
be making him uncomfortable; it was her whole reason to be in Rainesfere, and she had succeeded, after a fashion.
But that look back to her-
She didn't know what to make of that, and so she worked herself until she was doused in sweat, shaking with exhaustion, and could barely drag herself into the building proper to have a bath drawn.
The bath was long, lazy, something she rarely allowed herself, but she had so little else to do and it all reminded her of Teagan. Confusing, unreadable Teagan, who seemed at times to actually like her in spite of what she had done. Teagan, who she couldn't get herself to distrust no matter how much Anora's moods demanded it. Teagan who-
She would not think of him.
She sank below the surface of the water and tried to distract herself through other means.
It hurt, still, to think of Loghain. She could barely say his name aloud even to Anora. But the memories were still there, and while bittersweet, they were comforting. He had been her life for so long, all she wanted, and then he had finally pulled her close and-
And she had Loghain Mac Tir for just a little over a month, warmed his bed and given him what support he needed.
Those few weeks had woken up a part of her that, while grief-paralyzed, was still very much alive. Before him, there had been nobody for years. Now she felt guilty, awkward, but that didn't always matter when her hands slid over her stomach and then went lower.
What did matter was when for a brief moment, it wasn't Loghain she was imagining.
It was Teagan.
That was when she let out a loud growl of frustration, climbed out of her bath, dried off, and tried to get to work on the draft of that letter.--
He had been determined to lock himself in his office until dinner, determined to actually do something of use until he had reason to be elsewhere. At least he made it to his office. The work part, just like that morning, still wasn’t really- well, working for him. The determination, however, was.
With his chin resting in his palm, fingers splayed against his face, he stared at the paperwork, reading many of them several times. But reading only made him think of that morning at breakfast and Cauthrien’s badly spelled letter, which then made him think about how much he had likely insulted her by commenting on her spelling. She had accepted his help- but it didn’t really make him feel any better about offering it.
And each time he tried to avoid thinking about breakfast, his mind instead replayed what he had seen of her practice in the yard and that was when he had to stop. He had been flustered then- attracted and confused, barely able to look away from her exercise-flushed skin, the flex of her muscles. He pushed those thoughts away, but after a while the whole cycle repeated.
By dinner he felt emotionally drained and frustrated. Still, he had made a promise, and intended to keep it. When it was time, he unlocked his office and then walked down the hall to the dining room to meet Cauthrien for dinner.
She was sitting in the same spot she had for breakfast and when he entered the room, he could feel her eyes on him. He almost thought he saw her swallow, tense, but it was fleeting. She rose from her seat in greeting.
"Good evening Ser Cauthrien," he said. She wore a different pair of leggings from that morning - buckskin, soft and creamy yellow - her boots, and a loose, long-sleeved tunic that looked like Anora might have had it picked out for her, so different and delicate was it from how she had been dressed that morning or the night before.
He tried very hard not to look at her, to compare what she had looked liked outside in the practice yard to the image before him now. He couldn't help but wonder, though, which Cauthrien he would be having dinner with.
He felt slightly embarrassed that she had arrived for dinner before him. "I apologize for keeping you waiting. That was not intended."
"It's no problem," she returned, looking a little embarrassed herself. "I- have the draft, for after dinner," she continued, tugging at the sleeves of her tunic.
He took his seat, eyes down, waiting for the meal. He would not think about how... endearing it was, that she looked nervous about going over the letter. Or that he was going to help her with it at all. There were so many things he was trying not to think about that his head felt full of wool, all of the thoughts piling up at once so that he couldn’t not think about them.
With a deep breath, he instead looked for ways he might give them something distracting to discuss. He was a nobleman, surely he could come up with one simple discussion topic that would keep them occupied? But as each usual topic came to mind, he could think of several reasons not to bring it up at all. That left him with-
"I trust the rest of your afternoon was pleasant?"
"Frustrating," she said, and he thought that he caught a faint tinge of pink of her cheeks.. "It took a while to finish the draft. Yours?"
Convinced (because he wanted to be) that he had imagined the blush, he smiled at the thought of her laboring over the draft of the letter, then realized that wasn’t better. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Much the same," he said, still smiling. "I find it hard to write letters when I’m- when I know they’re under investigation. No matter how innocent the letters." There. He could say that and it wasn’t at all saying that he had been thinking more about who
was doing the investigating. Or that he hadn’t actually done much of anything.
"That does remind me though, I was preparing a letter to the Warden-Commander yesterday and thought to tell her about the investigation. I was going to say as much-" without the whole, ‘are you fucking the Warden-Commander’ question- "but you hadn’t said if she was also receiving some kind of investigation?" He tapped a hand on the table thoughtfully. "I suppose it would be harder to investigate without stepping on Grey Warden toes."
"It would be. Which, I think, is why I'm here and not in Amaranthine." She sat back as their dinner was brought out: rabbit, some sort of casserole, lots of cheeses. "As far as I know, though, you're allowed to tell her what I'm here for. The queen never specified secrecy on my part. Just... to investigate." Cauthrien shrugged.
He nodded. "Well, I supposed that settles that question, then."
He was happy to see dinner, not because he was particularly hungry- he wasn’t. No, it also gave them a reason to ignore each other for a while without appearing rude.
More than once, his gaze travelled across the table to her. He only picked at his plate and it gave him time to think and to watch her eat. For the second time that day, he found himself willing to do little else than watch her and think on how different she was than what he had expected.
Bringing a piece of rabbit to his lips, he thought more on her response. Anora hadn’t specified secrecy
on Cauthrien’s part- although considering the state she was in, he didn’t know that she would’ve been especially effective. But it did make him contemplate what the Queen may have had planned. Perhaps this was less about him and more some kind of punishment for Cauthrien, having her return to the Bannorn after the war?
The thought was similar to one he had the previous evening - when he had explained why he was determined not to mind the Queen’s investigation of him. He didn’t think the Queen knew exactly what it was she played at. She had placed Lady Cousland, given her the Arling that now worried her, and she had sent him Ser Cauthrien as some sort of-
He didn’t know what.
under investigation now?" she asked, finally catching his gaze and fixing him with an unflinching look. "You've been staring at me all meal."
"Well, not the whole
Had he- yes, he had said that out loud. Might as well press on then. He quirked an eyebrow at her and shrugged.
"I was just thinking, is all. First, about A- the Queen’s purpose in sending you here." He pushed his plate away and took a deep breath. He wasn’t going to continue his thoughts, to the second point, the third. It might lead them both down a path that wasn’t really- didn’t really serve any good purpose other than-
To satisfy some curiosity, maybe.
She sat back, looking down to her glass of wine, thinking. "To intimidate you, I suppose," she said, after a moment. "And the rest of the Bannorn. If they know she can and will send me to stand around and glare at the slightest hint of disloyalty, that would give her rule strength."
He half-laughed at first, but it caught at her comment about the Bannorn. It was too much a sore spot for all of them. Still, he had to wonder how much Cauthrien understood. Anora seemed more her father’s daughter than he thought any of them, Cailan most of all, had known.
"I'm certainly no spy." She looked over to him, head canted slightly to one side.
Definitely not a spy. Persistent, though.
"I apologize then? …for being bad at being intimidated?" His words remained playful, even if he wasn’t laughing anymore.
"I don't intimidate you? Ah, Bann Disappointment," she murmured, leaned forward with a faint smile tugging at her lips.
That drew the laugh back from him. He bent forward and leaned his elbows up on the table to steady himself.
"I do hope you’ll use that in one of your letters." I’ll even teach you to spell disappointment
. "I’m sure Queen Anora will find it amusing, especially after she finds out how little plotting I have been up to out here in Rainesfere."
"I might be honor-bound to use it," she agreed with that same, small, lopsided smile - like she was unused to using it. "... And the other things?"
Right, the other things. He shrugged. "Other things? Did I say there were other things?" He asked with a wicked and playful grin. He was lapsing into his role as good-natured noblemen, something he had warned himself about the night before. It was dangerous to flirt with a woman like Ser Cauthrien and he was doing it all the same.
She didn't follow his deflection. "You implied it. First, about the Queen.
And second?" She reached forward to pluck a piece of cheese from the wooden board.
"I suppose I did," he admitted. He had known he was, as he had said it. He just hadn't thought that she would call him on it. "Second, I was thinking how different you are than I expected." And third-
He would keep third to himself a while longer.
She blinked, eyes widening somewhat, and she took on the curious, owlish expression that he'd noticed the night before. "I'm different?" She paused with a piece of cheese against her lower lip, tapped it there, then sat back a little. "I suppose that's the not-intimidating bit that you didn't admit to."
A part of him wanted to say that on the battlefield, he was sure he would be intimidated. But then, he had been, hadn’t he? That’s why he had worked to fight so hard against Loghain, why he had gone to his brother Eamon in the first place. Those thoughts threatened to swallow up the levity of the moment completely.
Certainly the fact that she was attractive without her armor didn’t help him feel intimidated by her. And it was assisted by the view he had gotten of her last night. He very vividly remembered her reaching for the laces on her leggings, remembered the rustling of cloth he had heard before he was too far down the hall to miss it.
His eyes were softer now, and he continued to watch her eat. In order to break his own gaze for a moment, he reached for his wine glass and took a sip. That gave him at least a moment to stop acting like he was teenager again, staring and smiling like he didn’t know any better.
He took a breath. "Something like that," he admitted.--
She found herself watching him, everything all turned about. He was too nice and she too good-humored, finding jokes where there should have been none. But in at least one respect it was back to how it should have been: her, watching him. That was why she was there.
But she was all too aware that she was watching the wrong things - his fingers on his glass, the way his throat bobbed as he swallowed, the way his braid slipped slightly from where it was tucked behind his ear. His laugh, and how she had imagined his hands on her just a few hours earlier.
She cleared her throat more to pull herself back to reality than to gain his attention and looked down to her waist, fished out the folded paper she'd tucked there. It was going to embarrass her, yes, but perhaps that was what she needed. A firm reminder that he was tolerating her. Barely. And that she had no interest in him.
None at all.
She passed the folded parchment to him. "There's the draft."
He looked up from his wine, nervously licking his bottom lip, the swallowed. "Right! We should work on this." He stopped for a breath and to clear his throat as he took the parchment from her. After pushing his plate out of the way so he could unfold the draft, he spread it out on the table in front of him. "We’ll have to get more parchment in a moment."
"I can go get my things?" she suggested, standing. She had barely touched her meal, more out of the awkwardness of being watched than her usual lack of appetite, and she could have eaten more yet. This, though, was better than the awkward silences that seemed to plague them that day, even if she was suddenly even more of a bundle of nerves.
He'd offered to help, but Maker, this was embarrassing. If he laughed-
But as he looked over her report, he didn’t laugh, and her shoulders relaxed somewhat. He put on his best nobleman’s face, earnest and polite, as he read the letter. And then he looked up at her, expression steady. "No need. If you like, we can just use my office."
Them, alone, in a small, private room- but they had managed it the day before. He had just glared a lot. Taken his time. This wouldn't be a problem.
And the bastard hadn't even left her a reasonable opening to decline without sounding... off.
So she was stuck watching him push back from the table and stand, taking the letter with him. He gestured for her to lead as he turned towards the hall. She nodded but did not move in front of him, instead walking slightly behind him and to the right. He hesitated for a moment, looking back at her- but then it was he who led.
It was a comfortable spot, following, and one she was used to. She tried not to think about that.
Once they were in his office, he paused, hand half-raised to push the door closed but he hesitated and then let his hand drop. After, he walked over to where there was fresh parchment on his desk, no doubt from his day's work.
"Please," he said and gestured to a chair. "Have a seat."
She slid into the chair he'd gestured to. She sat like a soldier- straight-backed, with her legs slightly spread like she- well, like she wasn't a noble lady, which they had already established was exactly the case.
She rested her weight on her elbow propped on the arm of the chair.
"Where do we start?" she asked, after a moment. "... Is
there anywhere to start?" He had implied, earlier, that he would actually show her how to spell correctly, but that seemed unlikely. She hadn't picked it up so far, and she wasn't young anymore. Noble children were all schooled in their letters when they were young, not even hip-high, weren't they?
Instead of responding immediately, he grabbed a piece of parchment and brought another chair over to the same side of the desk she was on. Then, he pushed a few things out of the way, so they had room on the desk to work.
"Well, I suggested this morning that I could write up a new version of your letter. And then if you like, you can use that to rewrite it and pick and choose what amount of words you want to use." He shrugged. "That’s quickly enough done. After that, I’m... willing to help you learn what you can in your time here, as long as you're interested. Already I can see that you have a grasp of things you use often, so that’s a place to start."
He studied her, brows creased with... worry? She shifted, a little nervously. This was not a conversation she really wanted to be having, and yet-
And yet, she didn't particularly want to leave (unless it was to run away screaming until she found somebody that she could hit; that might make it worthwhile).
She swallowed, sitting back and thinking, not looking at him. She was thirty-three and was, in at least some respects, not entirely literate. It was embarrassing. But she'd lasted as long as she had, and if she started learning, Anora would realize something was happening to her erstwhile guard dog.
But why had Anora sent her on what was essentially a month-long break, given Teagan's honesty, if not to tell her to sit down and be quiet for a while? Stay out of sight?
"... You think I could do it?" she asked after a long silence, glancing to him. There was a hint of vulnerability, there. Of nervousness, self-doubt.
"I do. As I said, you already have some understanding, it’s just a matter of applying that to words that aren’t just names, or- well." He nodded. "I do."
She swallowed, nodded, and then watched as he grabbed for the quill on his desk and leaned over the blank parchment. He started to write out her letter and she followed the scratch of his quill as he worked, leaning over to see what the differences were. It was less painful than Anora's comments, but- Maker, she really was bad at this. It was embarrassing, to know-
To know that Loghain had been saddled with trying to figure out what she was trying to say.
It didn’t take him long at all, and when he finished he smiled and looked back to her. Her face was still flushed with embarrassment, her bottom lip caught between her teeth, her fingers tugging at her sleeves again, but he politely ignored it all.
"It’s nice to know you think I can be trusted after all." There was a hint of his previous playfulness in that, and it relaxed her enough to free her poor, abused lip.
"You've given me no reason not to trust you," she said, a little awkwardly. "And I can read just fine, so if you made any alterations, I'll know." But she did trust him- quite a lot, really, to let him see her writing like this. It made her antsy, but if it had been anybody else (except for Loghain, her mind whispered quietly) she would have already run out.
"No alterations, I assure you," he said, handing over the fresh letter.
He sat back and waited for her reaction
She read it over and picked up her old letter for good measure, comparing the two. He had changed nothing, and while some of the spellings seemed odd or questionable (intention
? Really?), they all looked... familiar.
Maker damn him, he was probably right about every single word.
And she hadn't misspelled everything
. Warden-Commander. His name. On. To. Those she'd gotten right (though not always - apparently there was another form of to?). But it was still- it was painful, and shaming, and even Anora had never done this while sitting right next to her.
Really, it was like when Loghain had corrected her Orlesian, only without the dry comments and stifled laughter, the thin smiles and proffered wine.
That was a good
"If," she said, slowly, "we are going to- to start lessons tonight- then perhaps we should have some wine sent up." She would never have asked that of Anora, not even of Loghain. She blinked as she realized that.
"That can be arranged," he said when a smile. He stood and went to ask after it.
Good, wine. Wine could in no way make this more awkward.
Unless she drank enough of it that he had to help her back to her room again, and stay to make sure she could get her boots off without collapsing and banging her head.
She sat forward and pulled another piece of fresh parchment towards her, dipped a quill, and began to rewrite the letter. It was so tempting just to copy it all out as it was. Perhaps tell Anora she'd had it dictated - just to make herself look less pathetic. But no, she'd have to improve slowly for the queen not to question her. So instead, she fixed only the smaller words, leaving the larger, more complicated ones untouched.
The image of her sprawled out drunk on the floor of his keep remained with her, however, through every word, until she had copied out the letter and Teagan had returned. She looked up, then, a frown on her face. The time apart had given her room to think, and all she had been able to turn her mind to had been all of those embarrassing little moments of the last few days, moments where she was no longer the imposing Ser Cauthrien but instead a nervous or drunk or oddly shy, bumbling, too-tall farmer's girl.
"What do you think of me?" she asked, bluntly, staring him down.
"Think of you?" he asked as he lowered himself back into the chair next to her.
"You said you weren't intimidated by me." Any more
. She knew from his reaction the day before that if she tried, she could have still made him back away in terror.
She tried not to think about that. "And it seems," she pressed on, looking down to the letter, where she could see now every word that was still misspelled, even if she couldn't fix it without going to his copy, "that I'm... incredibly pathetic, in quite a few ways."
This and the drinking. Oh, Maker, the night before had been a terrible idea. Should have taken the ale with her to the stables; no chance of discovery there.
... That was not a good way to be thinking. She'd seen good men go down like that.
She let out a rough little exhale in frustration, and stood, ostensibly to stretch out her leg. "... But you're here, all the same."
Teagan watched her in return, running a thumb against the stubble along his jaw a moment. "I see," he finally said, words slow and carefully chosen. "However, I do not think..." He paused for a moment, pursed his lips before continuing. "... that you are pathetic." He looked down, away. "I would not be here, as you’ve said, otherwise. In fact, would not want
When he looked back to her again, his expression was mild, calm.
She relaxed at that, hand going to rest on the arm of her chair, fingers drumming for a moment. Thinking. She should not have been so affected by his good will, and there was something about his answer-Want to be here.
He wanted to have her sitting in his office with wine on the way, with only the hope of her fumbling with words a little less for his trouble?
She gave him a curious look, not quite a frown, and sat back down.
"... You want to be here?"
She hadn't intended to ask that at all. And when the words had come out, she had intended for it to be a flat statement. Instead, her voice was more confused and soft.
And she was thinking about his laugh.
Had she ever-
Had anybody ever-
Her relationship with Loghain had been rough, forceful, and so this whatever-it-was seemed incomprehensible in comparison. Bizarre. Completely in her head, and so she forced herself to look away.
Teagan, however, sounded steady as he replied, "Yes. I do."
A servant knocked on the door and Cauthrien looked up. Teagan called for the girl to enter and then rose from his chair. Once the wine had been placed, he crossed the room following her back to the door. With little hesitation this time, he pushed the door until only the smallest sliver remained open.
This was when she should have stood up, knocked back half the bottle, and reminded him once again that she had torched half his lands and forced his people to starve. But instead, she just stood and walked over to where the wine was and poured herself a glass. Not half the bottle.
"Oh," she said, bringing it to her lips and taking a sip.
He poured a glass for himself. After a moment, he looked at her and nodded.