War is Never Cheap Here (5/12)Authors: cherith
Dragon Age: OriginsPairing:
Bann Teagan/Ser CauthrienSeries Rating:
Teagan and Cauthrien practice their agreed upon discretion, spar with weapons (instead of words), and begin an investigation. (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 Five
It was late evening and all the petitioners had gone home for the day, and she
was still in his office. There wasn't anything else to keep him.
There was a giddy feeling in him about it all: the nearly dying, the gauntleted slap to his face (which had nearly healed), their quiet and simple afternoon nap, and now the possibility of another night - a better night, perhaps the whole night - together. Once in his room, he slid his shoes off and stood nervously by the door, then by the bed. He wondered how long she would wait to join him, how he might greet her, and whether or not he was doing a good thing by initiating this so soon. But he wanted it - wanted her - and felt that after their talk on their way back, he should be upfront about what he wanted, for his sake if not also hers.
While he waited, he fidgeted with his shoes, the coverlet on his bed, paperwork on his desk. And when he couldn’t decide what best to do with himself while he waited for her, he sat simply on the edge of the bed, hands folded in his lap, and watched the door. His mind raced and though he had been honest with her about everything, including what he wanted, in those silent moments alone, even he wondered at the wisdom of it all.
She kept him waiting, in the end, about twenty minutes. When she cracked open his door and slipped inside, the anxiety he felt while waiting for her receded. She was dressed down, arming jacket discarded, hair still loose, and she had the tiniest hint of a nervous smile. He stood and went to her and after making sure the door was shut securely, he greeted her with a smile and a kiss on the cheek.
Parts of him were all-too-eager to simply pull her to the bed. He faced her and happy as he was to see her, took a moment to look at her: all pale skin, long limbs, strong arms. He reached for those arms, let his hands slide down them, and wrapped his fingers around her wrists.
“I’m glad you came.”
Her eyes had followed the path of his hands and at his words she shifted so that she could lightly take his hands in hers.
"I told you I would," she said quietly, with a glance up to him. "I just had to get a few things put away, first."
“I know you did,” he said as he lifted one of her hands and pressed it to his lips. “I’m glad all the same.”
He found that he had the ability to push away everything else. To watch her, and not to have his mind clouded by memories of the day. Instead, he saw a beautiful woman who had come to his room, to be with him, because he had asked- and, more importantly, because she wanted to. He lowered her hand slowly and licked his bottom lip.
With a step, he turned, switching his hands so he could still hold hers as he faced the bed. Slowly, he started towards it, tugging gently at her. He didn't want to let go.
She made a breathy sound, a shy, soft laugh, and followed him. When they reached the bed, she tugged at his hand to turn him around again, so that she could lean in and kiss him. He let himself be turned, leaned in to her kiss and closed his eyes. It was sweet and soft and not unlike what they had shared before. Still, it felt different in that moment, in his bedroom, and he smiled into it.
His free hand went up to her jaw, thumb caressing her cheek. He hadn’t really noticed it before, but with them on nearly equal footing and height, it was easy, with less fumbling than he was used to with other women. He could reach for her and she was there.
He took a slow step back, his legs hitting the side of the bed. As he started to sit down, he pulled her with him, one hand on hers, the other still at her jaw. He sat, then slid back to make room for her. She kicked her boots off before following, then sank into another kiss. He let go of her hand, just so he could wrap both arms around her, slide them over her back, pull her close.
With a quick nip at her bottom lip, he parted his lips just enough- just to lick at hers. He slid a hand further up her back to her neck, to where her hair was loose around her face. He brushed some of it back and away from her face and cradled his hand against her jaw.
“Cauthrien.” It was just a statement, just at acknowledgement that she was here with him and wanted to be. He smiled and kissed her again.
She readily deepened the kiss, but it was still gentle - especially compared to how she had come to him the night before. It was slow, experimental, and she went from just responding or attacking to meeting him, trying new movements, feeling how he responded.
She touched her fingers to his jaw, holding him close for a moment, before she ran her hand down his front, finally settling on his hip, the touch sending a warm flush through him. She pulled away just enough to say in a rather wondering, amused tone of voice, "Teagan."
It was surprising but pleasant to hear her say his name, without his title and with what sounded like a kind of happiness in her voice - not the harshness that had accompanied it previously. It was enough to make him let out a soft sort of chuckle against her lips when she kissed him again, murmured it against his lips.
He tugged at her tunic playfully. He wasn’t in a hurry, but as he had the night before, he craved to touch her skin. And she obliged, sitting up and away from him. She tugged her tunic off before coming right back down to him, pressing kisses to his lips, his jawline. Her hands didn't go to the fasteners on his clothing yet, though - instead, she tried to get him to lie back.
He pulled her down with him as he let himself be pushed back on the bed, wondering at the warmth of skin under his hands. For all her will of steel, she was soft and smooth beneath his hands, her few scars more landmarks than any kind of blemish. When she came down next to him, he crooked his leg around hers, pulling her close, stretching so that his body stretched the length of hers. She tangled her legs with his, wrapped her arms around him, held him close.
With a soft caress, he brushed her hair completely away from a shoulder and his thumb found her collarbone, traced along it with a light touch, and she returned each touch with gentle, tasting kisses.
Her fingers teased up beneath his shirt, finding skin and fanning out to cover it, her palms pressing flat against his back. He squirmed a little under her playful touch. It was nice, this more relaxed version of her, of them. It was easy like this to forget who he was, who she was, and what impact the two of them together would have on anyone other than themselves. It made him want to stretch it out and make the moments as long as he could-
Even if the rest of him wanted to go faster, to work at his clothes, and the rest of hers. He pressed kisses into her shoulder, along her neck and cheeks whenever he could. His breathing was already shallow, needy and eager for more.
His free hand, slid further down her back, finding the edge of her leggings and teasing at it. They were light touches, finding places on her that he wanted to explore. She shifted at them, muscles flexing under his touch, and she pulled away just enough to slide her hands around to the front of him, begin to undo the toggles of his doublet, expose skin that she could dip her head to, kiss and nibble at. She rolled him onto his back so that she could straddle him, kneeling and bending forward.
Teagan tried to relax, to let her work at his clothes. She was taking charge but it was easy, gentle and he didn’t mind. But as he had the opportunity, he reached to the laces of her leggings to tug at them, to work at the edges- pushing and sliding his fingertips where he discovered gaps between them.
With her over him, he couldn’t hide that he was ready for her but he focused on her, letting her work at her own pace. Something had changed between the Cauthrien he had taken on his desk the previous night and the one that straddled him at that moment. It was an enticing change.
She pushed his shirt off his shoulders as best she could with him sprawled beneath her, then dropped her hands to his own pants. It was almost a race, and she looked up at him with a quirked brow, a quick, wicked little smile, her fingers working fast.
The smile she gave him was so different from what he had already seen from her. She was enjoying herself, enjoying playing at him- and it drew a chuckle from him as he watched her.
When she had the laces undone, she pushed both his pants and his smalls down, sliding her palms over the crest of his hips, then leaned down and pressed her lips to his once more. One of her hands stroked along his side, trailed over his stomach, brushed his erection.
He let out a small breath - nearly a moan - and convinced his hands to work more diligently at her the laces on her leggings. When he deemed them loose enough, he put his hands on her hips and tried to keep her still long enough to hook his thumbs in the waistband and push them down.
She rose up slightly, hands braced on either side of his waist, allowing him to push her clothing away. When it passed her knees, she knelt down again, kicked it the rest of the way off.
He wanted to ask her, to point out how different this Cauthrien was from last night, to make a point of letting her know how much he liked this softer version of her. It wasn’t that the other wasn’t also appealing. But this, he could get used to. This didn't have to threaten them. This didn't have to end in hurt me, and he opened his mouth to speak.
And then she sat up, reaching behind herself to undo her breastband, and the words were lost.
Bared, she leaned back down and pressed kisses to his lips, his jaw. She nuzzled her cheek against his as she reached back between them for his length. His thoughts went hazy as her fingers wrapped around him, and it was all he could do to reach for her. A hand found her waist as she rested against him.
He didn’t want to give up the skin-to-skin contact where she could be as close to him as their bodies allowed. But he found a space his hand could slide up her belly, to wrap his fingers over one of her breasts, to caress and knead.
But when he had the chance, he pulled his lips away from her, for just a moment.
“You’re enjoying this...” he said wonderingly. “This is a different side of you-”
Different, but good. Even as she drew a small groan from his lips he was able to continue. After everything he thought she should know.
“I like it.”
She paused, looked away sheepishly. "... I'm trying something new," she admitted, carefully glancing back to him. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips reddened and a little swollen despite the lack of violence in her kisses. "Something I never had the opportunity to try before."
She had faltered in her languid, experimental strokes when he spoke, but she resumed them, still learning the feel of him, the way he responded in her hand. She arched into his touch when his thumb found her nipple, then bent her head to stroke his lower lip with her tongue once more.
"Tell me if I do something wrong," she murmured.
He grinned. “Nothing wrong with this,” he managed after several long moments.
Thoughts of the night before were long gone and there was nothing but every touch of her hand, every lick of her tongue. He rolled his hips towards her, almost unconsciously. It felt like the heat from her hand was spreading through him, starting with her strokes and rising through his chest to where his lips met hers.
She didn't stop her hand until she sat up, shifted her hips, and guided him to her entrance, a quiver going through her from tip to toe. Cauthrien murmured something that might have been I want you, and then guided him into her, sinking down onto him with a groan, her eyelids fluttering, her lips parting.
It took him a moment to come down from the feeling of her, soft and wet and welcoming. He let out a low noise that could have been her name in that moment, or just the sound of his own pleasure. But after, he slid a hand to her cheek, threading his fingers into her hair as he cupped her face and whispered, “Cauthrien”.
He wrapped his other arm around her, holding and pulling her close with a steady rhythm, slow, and letting her pace the changes. When he could, he kept his eyes open, wanting to watch her as best he could.
There was the slightest amount of space between them, the only points of contact their hips, her thighs against the outside of his hips, her chest against his, her lips against his. She propped herself up, hands on either side of his head.
It was slow, gentle, and she let out a series of moans - not nearly as loud as the night before, but building, slowly, in volume.
She increased the speed at which she rocked her hips only when the slow pace was almost too much to bear, too tantalizing, too tempting. She shifted one arm so that she could slide a hand into his hair, thumb his braid as she broke their kiss, let her head drop forward, her breath warm on his shoulder and heavy with her voice. The sound and vibration of her murmurs and cries against his skin made him buck his hips up quickly into her, despite trying to stay at her rhythm.
He had to lean his head up into her neck, keeping his own voice quiet, forcing his own breath to come more evenly. He kept the sound low and quiet, as controlled as he could, using kisses against her neck and shoulder to keep himself nearly soundless to anyone but her.
He kept a hold on her hips, using them only as leverage as she quickened the pace again.
She was all coiled, flexing muscle- and trembling soft flesh. Her toes curled and thighs tensed, controlling the rhythmic thrust of her hips down to his, but her hands and lips were gentle, uncoordinated, needy and soft. Her lips trailed over his collarbone, her forehead pressed to his neck, his shoulder.
When the volume of her cries leveled off, she was still far quieter than she had been the night before.
He noticed distantly that she was once again learning from him, matching her actions to his, this time in matters of volume. But his skin felt stretched to its limits, that at any moment he could slide out of it as the heat and the pleasure filled every inch of him. His lips parted, sound trying to escape - working to tell her, to say something - but all that came out was a rough exhalation of breath that could have been a laugh or a cry had their been noise with it.
What he managed eventually was little more than her name.
He knew that they should stop, that he should pull back. But when her movements drew his hips up against her of their own accord, everything else was forgotten again. His eyes closed and he braced for what would soon send him over the edge.
The angle she moved against him at let her roll her hips against his pelvis, making her gasp and squirm and buck, and as she reached her peak, she pushed herself back up to almost sitting to allow herself to thrust harder, take him deeper. He heard her whimper and then her fingers sought out his hand, grabbed it and pulled it to one of her breasts.
He was nearly gone already. His lips were parted, eyes closed to her, though he tried to force them open. Everything was warmth and motion and near pin-pricks in his sight with the force of it all.
With nothing to press his mouth against he shut it, though it made him draw less air. There was a roiling, low sound that stretched from his stomach and up through his ribcage and he let it out little bits at time as he tried to hold on to the feeling as long as possible. He focused the little concentration he had left on his hand, squeezing at her breast with brushes of his thumb and fingers across it as he rolled his hips up.
His breath caught as the sensation built to a level he couldn’t contain, what felt like fire spreading through him and out as he let a final moan out. He tried to sit, his back up off the bed as he came. He pushed into her again, letting the motion carry him into her again and then up, wrapping his arms around her.
She kissed him to muffle the loud cry she made as she came around him in turn. She rocked against him, just rolls of her hips, no other motion except how her arms came around him to grip at his shoulders, hold him close.
She let her mouth slide from his and pressed her forehead to his throat again as she panted for breath. "Teagan," she murmured, sighed against his skin, pressing her lips to his pulse
His name. He lifted his eyes, watching her as her skin shivered, the last waves moving through her. Bringing a hand to her face, he brushed her hair away, over her shoulder, using his thumb against her cheekbones, down her throat.
He leaned in, down, just enough to kiss at her ear. To whisper, “Cauthrien”. And nothing about it seemed wrong- even as his head cleared.
“You- I-” he started still breathless. “I'll talk to an herbalist. Tomorrow. I will.”
She lightly stroked a hand over his mussed hair.
"Don't need to worry about that," she murmured, quietly.
He leaned back into the bed at that, pulling her down with him and wrapping his arms around her again. By the time they were settled, he was already tired, despite their earlier nap. His eyes closed again and he pressed his nose into her shoulder with a sigh- a contented one.
“No?” he found himself asking even as he rested against her.
He sighed again. Stirring just a little, he brought a hand up tracing lazy lines on her arm, and then reaching up to her hand, pulling it into his. He twined his fingers with hers and squeezed them.
"Do your servants wake you in the morning?" she asked.
“Not anymore,” he said quietly. “... up early.” The last was more of a murmur as leaned his head closer to her.
She shifted close enough to give his cheek a light kiss before she settled down and closed her own eyes. "I'll be up at dawn," she murmured. "Soldier."
And then he let the creeping, gentle softness take him, and fell asleep beside her for the second time that day.--
She was up at dawn with no desire to flee.
She stirred and stretched, rolling away from the warmth beside her. She didn't open her eyes immediately, instead waiting for the tingling tension in her limbs to reach their releasing point and then relaxing again before she did.
Mumbling, Teagan followed her and tried to pull her back to him. She let him. A moment later, he stretched his legs, curled his toes and managed to blearily open his eyes. Running a hand through his hair, he pulled back just enough to look at her.
“Good morning.” It was almost a question, as if he wasn’t sure she had stayed with him through the night after all.
They'd never made it beneath the blankets the night before, but the room was decently warm, and with him beside her, that was more than enough. She was half-tempted to go back to sleep again, to sleep through the dawn, preclude any last minute attempts at flight. But she had no reason to flee, or desire, and so she just offered him a small smile, a quirked brow.
If she was awake, though, she should be out in the practice yard.
So, quite carefully, she tried to sit up. "Sleep well?"
“Very,” he nodded, smiling against the pillow as he spoke. “You?” His eyes followed he as she rose. Swallowing thickly, he stretched and then groaned as he sat up as well, movements stiff.
He blinked at her blearily and gave her another sleepy smile.
She had slept surprisingly well. She didn't remember waking up, even to shift away from him. She counted herself lucky that she had adjusted to being in another person's bed so well - and that she trusted him enough that small movements on his part didn't wake her.
"Very," she said, watching his attempts at waking with an amused little smile. She had already shifted to her knees, ready to leave the bed, but she sat back again.
Maker, she liked looking at him.
"I was going to head out to the practice yard before breakfast," she said, turning away to swing her legs over the edge of the bed, stand. Where had she flung her clothing the night before? "You're welcome to come, though it might not be the wake-up you're used to."
Nodding, he turned to slide his legs off the other side of the bed. “Actually, I think I will join you. I could use the practice,” he said as he pushed himself up and off the bed.
He looked for his clothes for a moment and then seemed to think better of it, crossing the space between him and Cauthrien. He reached for her hands, kissed one of them, and then leaned in to kiss her cheek. When he moved to kiss her lips, he let go of a hand and trailed his fingers against her face, cupped her cheek against his palm.
She wasn't sure she'd ever get used to how easily affectionate Teagan could be.
She laughed, quietly, at his kisses, his touches, and stepped into them. Her leggings and smalls, which she'd picked up, she dropped.
After a moment, she stepped away again. "I'm not going to go easy on you, you know." And she wouldn't. Match her force to his skill, yes, but go easy? Never. That was worthless, for both parties. "You might get banged up. Again."
“I wouldn’t expect you to,” he said with a small chuckle. “Besides, I doubt you could even if you wanted to.”
He stepped back. After running another hand through his hair and tucking his braid behind his ear once more, he carefully touched his face. He didn't flinch in pain, and Cauthrien could barely make out any swelling from the day before. The poultice had done its job well.
With a smile he took a few more steps away. “And if you do, I’m sure there’s some way you could make it up to me.”
She snorted as she bent down to pull her smalls and leggings back on. "Oh, yes. I'm sure you could think of something very easily," she laughed, shaking her head.
This easy, sensual companionship- was this normal? Maker, she had missed... a lot, really.
She was quick and efficient in dragging on the rest of her clothing. Her arming jacket and armor were still in her room, as was a replacement tie for her hair. She'd have to stop there first. She sat down on the edge of the bed as she tugged on her boots.
"I'm assuming you have blunt or wooden practice weapons?"
He nodded, finishing the laces on his breeches. “Yes, there are practice weapons available.”
Once he fastened his doublet and pulled on shoes he met Cauthrien near the door. “Should we have breakfast first?” He grabbed her hand, squeezed it and dropped it again. Reaching for the door, he said, “Discreetly,” and with a smile, “of course”.
He pulled the door open and waved a hand.
"I usually work before eating, in the mornings. It's up to you." Her smile didn't leave, just softened a little, shrunk, as she came to stand by the door- but a little behind where it opened. That way, if anybody was watching...
She took a quick look. Nobody.
She stepped into the hall.
He chuckled as he stepped into the hall after her and closed the door behind him. She fought down the urge to shoot him a glare, reminding herself that Teagan appeared to approach everything with good humor, even the inconvenient realities.
"I'll need to get my armor, at any rate."
He waved a hand, dismissively. As he walked passed her room, he glanced back and said, “Breakfast first,” then continued down the hall and on to the dining room.
... Well, breakfast first, then.
She followed after him. She would dress and arm herself once she was fed; otherwise she would just be possibly uncomfortable at the dining table and certainly made to wait for him to get ready later.
Besides, she was beginning to like taking her meals with him.
"Should I look at you distrustfully all meal? Just in case somebody sees?" Especially if he kept laughing like he was, it might be necessary. But really, she just wanted to relax in his presence. She still didn't wholly understand why she could in the first place, but when it was an option, there was little sense in rejecting it. Not after the day before.
“You should,” he nodded solemnly, though his eyes still sparkled with laughter. “Though, I can’t promise to do the same.”
"All the more reason for me to appear distrustful. Clearly, your good humor means you're plotting something." She shot him a quick little smirk, walked close enough to touch his elbow. And then she drifted away again, pushing space back between them.
They entered the dining hall, and Cauthrien shook her head. So much had happened there, and every time it seemed just the same as it always had been and wholly different, all at once. She moved to her usual spot, mindful this time of how her hair brushed her exposed shoulders. She should have at least grabbed a tie. Her arming jacket, too- she couldn't be sure that there weren't marks on her throat from the night before.
But what was done was done. At any rate, nobody had yet interrupted them during a meal save for the servants who brought out the food.
Just as those servants came to set food out again, a man entered who was not dressed quite the same and looked none-too-pleased. Teagan looked slightly ashamed as the other man approached and Cauthrien tensed.
“Good Morning, Raud.” Then to Cauthrien he said with a nod, “My seneschal, Raud.”
Raud nodded to her and though he spared her only a brief glance, his distaste was evident. When he looked back to Teagan, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant meeting.
“My lord Bann Teagan, I trust you had a restful
“I did,” he said, his voice steady, ducking his head slightly to look at the food. “I know I owe you a mountain of work, Raud. Which I will begin, just after breakfast.” His gaze flicked to Cauthrien for a moment, as if to apologize. She kept her face expressionless, stoic. He looked away from her and lifted his chin and looked back to his seneschal. “If that’s alright?”
The man nodded sharply. “I’ll be waiting, my lord”.
When Raud left the room, it was via the door that led quickly to the office. Teagan sighed, smiling tightly, then looked to Cauthrien.
“I’m sorry. I do need to do something.” With some bit of hesitation he added, “I suppose I should have said something yesterday. But it can’t be helped now.”
After he had a few bites of food, he added, “Perhaps you can start without me? I’ll meet up with you when I get a break?”
"If I'm still out there by then, you're welcome to join me. And I have no other place to be."
Except to post her report to Anora, finally. She made a note to do just that, then bent to her food, picking at it. She rested her weight on one elbow on the table and tried not to look over to him too readily.
"... What will you tell him happened yesterday, if he asks? We were both rather conspicuously absent except for dinner."
He leaned in just a little with a smile and shrugged. “I had a nap yesterday afternoon after a hard ride yesterday morning. It’s true enough.” The playfulness in his expression returned in full as he turned to his food. “And I’ll have plenty of motivation to work quickly.”
Her smile broadened slightly at that, her cheeks coloring just a little.
Loghain had never pushed through work-
No, she wouldn't think that way anymore.
The fact that Teagan would work quickly to get back to her, it made her feel good. Wanted. And she liked that.
She ran her hand through her hair, pushing it back. "Do the work well, though, or else he'll be after you tomorrow with even more."
Watching her, he chuckled again, unable to suppress his smile. “Oh, I will,” he said, quirking a brow at her. “I wouldn’t want a repeat of that,” with a nod he indicated where Raud had been standing, “tomorrow morning”.
Cauthrien nodded. Former opposition or not, she was quite aware that Teagan was very good at what he did. He'd handled both his bannorn and an arling during a war; he could catch up on two days' missed work.
She turned her attention back to her breakfast, finishing it quickly. "Well, I'll be out in the yard, when you need a respite from paperwork." She didn't actually understand how nobles could lead as they did - it was overwhelming enough being in charge of a division of the army, and that involved far less paperwork, far more simply looking out and seeing what was happening.
As she got up from the table, he nodded. “I’ll find you there soon enough,” he said with a smile. “After I make sure that Raud is settled and I’ve done enough work that the rest can wait for tomorrow.”
She left the hall with another nod, another smile and returned to her room in high spirits, despite the delay. It would give her time to get settled- work out any frustration that might be lurking behind her new found happiness and learn her practice weapon before she had to face Teagan.
Once her hair was tied back and her armor donned, she made her way down to the practice yard, stopping only to post her letter. She didn't always practice in full armor, but it was useful to do it every so often.
When Teagan arrived, she'd shed the metal. It should correct for any lingering unease fighting her would produce. With padded jackets, the wooden sparring weapons she found would be adequately protected against.
That he would conceive of sparring with her at all, though, made her feel- trusted. It made her smile. It meant something. It meant something very good, very pleasant, and a little frightening, but she went with it.--
Raud was indeed waiting for him when he arrived and still looked displeased as Teagan took his seat. The older man had already arranged what look like more work than he could get through in one morning on his desk. His seneschal stood over that desk, mouth pulled into a disapproving line.
“Good morning again, Raud.” Teagan tried to sound upbeat, even as he saw Raud’s clear disapproval and the work that awaited him.
“My lord,” Raud nodded. “We have several things that need your immediate attention this morning. However, about yesterday-” He stepped away from the desk, tense as though he had been preparing this lecture while he had waited.
Teagan held up a hand to stop him. If he could avoid it, if he could press through to the work, he would be able to put off any ideas about him and Cauthrien for a little while longer. The previous day had been strange and unexpected, but ultimately, the two of them were still on tenuous ground. Explaining it, when there was so little that could easily be explained, seemed unwise.
He huffed irritatedly. “I know, I should have said something before I left.”
Raud nodded sharply, but pressed again. “We nearly sent riders out after you, especially since she was also missing. It was concerning. One does not want to lose an agent of the Queen-”
“No.” He nearly laughed at that, pursed his lips to keep from it. “However, things are settled now.”
Teagan hoped to make that the end of the discussion, giving Raud a dark look to indicate he wanted no questions about the previous day or why he had ridden after Cauthrien in the first place. He most especially did not want to address why he had returned with an injured face.
Glancing away, the older man shuffled parchment on the desk. Teagan crossed the space to his desk, passing behind Raud. His seneschal took the moment of distraction to say, a little quieter, and with some concern, “Still, you departed without escort and then left many things undone-”
“I am sorry, it won’t happen again,” he answered softly.
There would have been concern had Cauthrien run him through. Or if he had let her go- let her ride to Denerim to tell the Queen of their... indiscretion, as she had called it. Though it did not suit him to admit it, his chase after her had been reckless, foolish. He smiled down at his desk at the thought, at the memory of her words.
Raud cleared his throat, parchment in his hand. Teagan shook his head, to free his mind of the memory of Cauthrien in the field or the other, more pleasant image of her in his bed. Or the though that she would be in his practice yard where he could join her.
“Let’s get to work now. I’d like to get out to the practice yard some time today.”
With that, it seemed he and Raud came to an understanding. Teagan, did his best to look clearly at the work before him and with a reminder to himself to be more careful about his time away from his duties, he set to work.
It was midday when Raud relented. He could have at least an hour away from his desk and happily, he went to his room and changed. He made his way towards the practice yard, a broad smile fixed in place and went out to meet Cauthrien, hopeful she would still be practicing.
She was. She worked in her arming jacket, her armor on a stand along the far wall and no sign of her blade or any metal weapon at all. She looked flushed, sweat-slicked, and he could readily guess the reason why she did her drills in cloth instead of pounds and pounds of metal.
He could see thin strands of dark hair, curling and stuck to her forehead with sweat. There was high color in her cheeks, a brightness to her that he'd seen the first day he'd seen her practicing, that had been buried beneath her terror the morning before when he had ridden her down.
When she saw him, she called out a greeting, raising her hand to him. "Alive, then?"
“Barely,” he said with a smile.
“I’ll be lucky if I get any free time at all in the coming days. My ride yesterday morning was... a concern. I’ve had to promise not to let it happen again.” He stepped down to enter the yard. “I think Raud will make me keep it, too. He wasn't pleased about any of it.” With a shrug he crossed the yard to her.
He was tempted to push back the hair that had fallen down, but he stayed his hand. Instead he went passed her, bumping her shoulder just slightly as he went to grab a practice weapon.
"I'll just tell Calenhad not to expect any unplanned rides in the near future," she said, turning to watch him.
He chuckled, shrugging off his fine doublet and pulling on a padded jacket. “I hope he won't be too put out." Finishing with the toggles, he turned to her, sliding his practice shield onto his left arm and hefting his wooden sword. "Now, if you don't mind. I’d rather like to forget work for a little bit..?”
She nodded but hesitated to draw nearer to him. "For the record, I'm going to say it again- I'm not going to go easy on you. Your seneschal might end up with even more questions. And reason to glare at me over breakfast."
“Training is a far better reason to come back banged up-" He paused, not meaning to slight her, but knowing what it sounded like. Quickly he added, “I just mean that it’s as an excuse as any, and far preferable to...”
He gave up trying to explain and walked back over to her, feeling out the grip on the sword as he moved. It had been too long since he had been in the practice yard. And he had the distinct feeling that he was not as prepared for sparring with Cauthrien as he might like to be.
“Anyhow,” he swallowed a bit nervously. “He’ll get over it eventually.”
"We can hope so, anyway."
Cauthrien moved to the center of the yard, sword pointed down and behind her as she moved. She rolled her shoulders, let them relax, and then gave him a small smile.
"When you're ready," she said, lifting her sword up so that the hilt was in line with her ear, her blade pointed straight towards him.
He stepped forward, letting the sword roll over in his hand once, before steadying his grip and settling into the ground. He took a deep breath as he tilted the blade up in front of him, angled towards Cauthrien.
With a smile on his lips, he nodded and then with another breath added, “Ready”.
She nodded in return but didn't immediately press forward. She looked over his stance, circled to his left with a few careful steps. He watched her carefully, matching her movements with his own.
And then she stepped forward with a quick swing down, a testing blow. He leaned back, bringing an his shield up. Her sword hit it and he grinned, stepping forward with his sword cutting for her neck. She disengaged from his shield and caught his blade. She recovered fast and after a brief pushing test at his weight behind his sword, she fell back and brought the hilt of her sword in line with her hips.
As her sword arm fell back, his did also. He wasn’t eager to press forward, knowing her to be the better swordsman than he was. But, he braced and brought his arm back up to block again.
She shook her head, a small movement, and pushed forward again, this time pushing through his deflection to continue the attempted strike. "Never just block- block with your strike," she called, voice calm despite her quick movements. "Otherwise you give up a chance to hit. Use your shield as a weapon"
She pushed him harder. She only used her sword at first, striking and parrying, dropping back into well-practiced guards whenever she was rebuffed. She had been practicing for hours by that point, he knew, but she seemed to be a well of stamina, constantly moving, adjusting, muscles coiled and ready.
He worked through his hesitation, responding to her attacks when he could, even when it meant a few well-earned blows. His sword arm ached, his shield arm screamed with pain when a blow connected with it. But he was not completely outmatched, though his time out of practice started to show. He pushed through the hard breaths, the growing pains.
As they worked, he couldn’t help that small bit of himself that wanted to prove to her that he was capable against her. There, as they sparred, it wasn’t just him wanting to spend time with Cauthrien, it was-
It was a part of himself, that he had thus far been denying, surfacing. The part of him that knew, had she the time during the Blight, this place might no longer been his. Fighting, even with wooden swords in a practice yard, reminded him of that fact even more than her horse, or her armor, or her real sword had.
He increased the pace; he pushed harder, overreached, left his flank open. She let him drive her back, though she did not allow him to land more than glancing blows. She slowed her parries, kept her skill matched to his and it frustrated him. He felt mad with determination and tried to force her back again.
When he finally left a gap too large for her to ignore, she slid a hand to grip the blade of her sword, caught his blade on hers, pushed it up and out of the way. She closed the distance between them with nothing but a fast exhale, hooked one of her long legs around his, and dropped her blade quickly to press against his throat as she twisted her body, forcing him over her hip and onto the ground.
She followed down, blunt tip of her practice weapon touching the dirt below them just beside his head.
She was too close.
He dug a heel into the ground and pushed against it to slide out from under her. His eyes were wild, a mix of anger and adrenaline rioting in his body- and somewhere still the desire was still there. He swallowed and studied her face a moment, the sword in his hand nearly forgotten.
He opened his mouth to say something and then closed it when he realized he had nothing that wouldn’t sound like an attack. Digging his other heel into the ground, he pushed back a little more until he could at least lean against his sword for some balance, to try to stand again. He dropped his gaze from her as he moved, trying to blink away the confusion.
She shifted back and stood as he pulled away.
"We're taking a break," she said, and her voice sounded strained, thick with something he couldn't name. Somewhere her voice registered with him and he nodded.
She turned and walked away from him to where there was a pitcher of water.
It took him another minute before he was steady enough to try moving, though his knuckles were white on the sword in his hand. Still, he couldn’t look at her, though what he felt now was closer to shame.
Hadn’t he fought against these feelings already?
He had said it didn’t matter. That he knew who she was, what she had done and that he still wanted her. Maker, he did want her. Even now, as he lifted his head and looked to her where she had gone for water, he knew it was still true.
Yet that hadn’t stopped him from getting lost in the moment, the motions, wanting to prove he was capable. And it had ended with him on his back and her sword (practice, or no) near his head. He shook a little, letting the sword fall to the ground if only to keep from gripping it tightly, and made his way over to her. He was quiet as he reached to get his own drink.
She passed him the pitcher and without a word, went to put her weapon away.
"I'm going in," she called out, gathering her armor.
He couldn’t bring himself to respond even with a wordless grunt of assent. The thought crossed his mind to stop her, to call out, but he didn’t. He just shook his head a little and watched her go.
It wasn’t that she was better- she was, and he had known that when they began. No, what he hadn’t known was what it do would to him to actually face her in a fight. When the war had started, he had dreamed of a moment like it. And still did some nights, hoping that he could have stopped what she had done to the bannorn.
Briefly, he wondered if she would invite him to spar with her again.
He thought not.
Eventually, he collected the sword he had left in the dirt and put it away, along with his shield. He changed out of his padding and back into his doublet, made his way back into the house and to his room. He didn't stop to address her or give more than a sideways glance at her door as he passed it. For the first time since she had arrived, he was looking forward to returning to his office, for having work to do to keep him well and truly distracted from her.
Work did help. It gave him focus and with Raud nearly over his shoulder most of the afternoon, he didn’t have time to think of much else. It wasn’t always like this, he knew; there would be days when he would be left alone in his office knowing that she was somewhere on the grounds, when he wouldn’t be so lost, so focused. He had very little time to wonder if he had ruined things completely, or if those times could still be salvaged.
By dinner, he hoped he would feel differently. That he could regain some control.--
Cold water was good.
It was bracing, and as she stood bent over her washbasin and stared at her reflection, it was also oddly soothing. It sent thought fleeing, at least, and so as she looked at herself, she didn't feel shame or frustration or fear. There had been a touch of fear, when he hadn't said anything to her and just let her leave.
Fear that she had broken whatever tenuous relationship existed between them, when threatening to cut him down had not, when laying out all her reasons had not.
She couldn't have him face her again, not with how wild he'd looked, staring up at her like he wanted for all the world to run her through, like he knew she would kill him without hesitation. It had been enough to simply imagine it before. She didn't need to know what it was really like, to have him beneath her like that. He
certainly didn't need to know.
And Maker, she hadn't even been fighting with all her heart.
He would have bruises. Even she had sore spots that would likely discolor, but him-
If they fought again, she was certain that she would lose whatever goodwill he held for her, that he would be unable to remain uncaring about their entwined pasts. Two days ago, she would have welcomed that disillusionment. Now, she wanted to keep it off as long as possible.
She wouldn't think about it. During the Blight she had become very good at not thinking about the unpleasant things as long as they didn't need to be dealt with immediately. She had lost that ability in the months since, but she felt like it was within reach again. Teagan had, for better or worse, staunched the bleeding inside of her, had made her feel like she hadn't in years. That healing let her settle at her desk.
She had mailed her report to Anora, but another letter could easily be begun. The idea of writing, however, did not appeal.
She spent the hours until dinner with her nose buried in The History of Rainesfere
, with only a brief trip down to the kitchens for a small drink of ale, a piece of bread. She remained in her room at first, then found a spot on the battlements, feeling for all the world like a peasant girl offered knowledge, freedom, and power. At times, when she came across words like intention
, she thought of Teagan, remembered the purpose of the book. But the rest of the day was lost in simply turning page after page, accomplishing work that needed to be accomplished, regardless of its origin.
When the sun began to set, she carried it down with her, prepared to retreat to the kitchens the way she had the first night there, if only to ensure the man's privacy and her continued ability to lose herself.
She was passing through the hall that drew near to Teagan's office when she saw him. She tried to keep moving, to pretend as if she hadn't seen him. Discretion
, that was what this was. She was good at it.
“Cauthrien,” he called to her from his door. A few steps later he was at her side and gesturing towards the dining hall for them to continue.
She couldn't flee once he'd called her name. She stopped where she stood, suddenly embarrassed about the book tucked against her hip. "Bann Teagan," she responded, with a small incline of her head. And then she looked away towards the dining hall, bottom lip caught for just a moment between her teeth.
"Was today productive?" Her voice felt hollow, and she cringed at it, beginning to move again. If he had reevaluated his willingness to be with her, that was both his right and to be expected. It wasn't hurting. It wasn't.
He tugged at a sleeve nervously and led her into the dining hall. Taking his seat he nodded. “Yes, Raud made sure my day was plenty productive.”
He was silent for a long stretch, and Cauthrien felt whatever words she might have had catch in her throat. She didn't look at him. She looked everywhere but him.
“Cauthrien,” he started, voice softer, apologetic. “... about this afternoon.” There was no playful smile on his lips, and she thought for a moment that it must have never existed to begin with. He looked down at the table.
"For what?" She frowned.
How was she supposed to understand that? Sorry for his entirely legitimate reaction? Sorry for ever telling her that they could make whatever they had- might have had- work?
She shifted uncomfortably in the seat she had taken. All she could remember was the panic in his eyes, panic that hadn't been there just the morning before when she had advanced on him with live steel in her hands. What had changed? Maker, what had changed
She shouldn't be sitting across from him. She should be down in the kitchens, or the barracks, eating a quick and serviceable meal. Not playing at being an honored guest.
"Say the word, and I'll take my meal downstairs."
He looked at the table again. Swallowed, took a breath and then tried to meet her eyes again
“I only meant to apologize for my behavior. I got caught up...” he pursed his lips. “I reacted poorly and I’m sorry.”
She had half-risen from her seat, and she sat back down then, fingers tightening on the edge of the bench she sat on.
Was it an inborn trait of the nobility, to be so articulate in apology?
She frowned, then sighed, then reached back with her free hand and scratched at the back of her neck, toyed with the tie in her hair. A thought crossed her mind - that with her hair down, she would be so obviously not the woman who had caused so much harm, would be instead the woman he had taken to bed the night before.
It was a ridiculous idea, but she undid the strap anyway, wrapping the narrow length of cloth around her wrist afterwards.
"I should not have asked for you to practice... against me. The other day," she clarified, a quick glance up to him showing a hint of confusion. He had suggested it this morning, but the fault still initially rested with her. "It was short-sighted."
“I’m glad you did," he said, and she looked up to find him watching her.
"Still, I think it would be best to wait a while before trying it again,” he added, a smile tugging at his lips as though he couldn’t decide if should be there or not.
"Yes. A while would be good." She didn't relax, but her lips did quirk slightly in response to his.
"... You could certainly use the practice," she added after a moment's hesitation and consideration. It might have been too soon, but from everything she had learned about the man across from her, he responded well to good-natured teasing. It wasn't something she was naturally good at, but it was like picking up a new language - being around somebody using it made it take more quickly.
Swallowing, not waiting for a response, she picked up her book and set it down where he could see. "I'm quite a ways in. It's still better than Orlesian poetry."
For just a moment, his mouth hung open and then he let out a quick, sharp laugh.
“Yes,” he nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “Obviously. The practice.” It was only half-melancholy in his voice but the rest was accompanied by a more purposeful smile and he leaned in to look at the book.
“You made more progress today?”
Dinner was brought in for them before Cauthrien had the chance to reply. Teagan leaned forward to look over the food as it was set down, and Cauthrien did the same, grateful for the reprieve.
She looked up at Teagan's sigh.
He was looking towards the nearby door, and she followed his gaze. There- his seneschal, from this morning.
“Yes, Raud,” he asked, flatly.
“Forgive my intrusion, my lord,” he said with the barest nod for Cauthrien. “However, the mayor is here seeking an audience with you. I would not intrude, but I fear it may be urgent.”
“I must apologize... again," Teagan said, looking to her and shaking his head, then pushing back from the table. He stood and turned to Raud, and by the set of his shoulders, she could see him settling into his work again.
Cauthrien rose moments after he turned his back to her. He hadn't invited her, but she wasn't prepared to sit poking at her food, even with a book to keep her company. Besides, she was investigating.
And she needed to have something to tell Anora in her next letter.
She followed at a quick pace, catching up to Teagan and his seneschal with ease. "I'll be accompanying you," she said, reaching to restrain her hair once more. "As a representative of the Crown."
He looked back as Cauthrien. “Oh, of course. I wasn’t thinking.” She thought she saw a hint of a smile.
With a shake of his head, they followed the hall to his audience chamber. The mayor, Gerald, was waiting, brow creased with worry. Teagan gave him a nod and then sat to hear what the man had to say. Cauthrien took up a position standing just behind him and to his right.
“My lord, I am sorry to disturb you so late, but there’s been an incident in town.” The man was older than Teagan, with a long greying beard, and he looked at Cauthrien with flinty, distrusting eyes.
“What kind of an incident?” Teagan pushed.
“One of the girls in town, Edlyn-” Gerald looked down at his hands. “She was missing this morning, it looks as though she’s been murdered.” When he looked back to Teagan, he reached a hand out with a folded scrap of parchment. “Her body is missing, but we found blood. And this letter.”
Teagan took the letter and started to unfold it. Gerald added, “It looks Orlesian, so I brought it to you.”
Cauthrien watched as his eyes scanned the letter, though she couldn't make out the words from there. When he was done, he looked at Gerald and then behind him at Cauthrien. He handed her the letter. “It’s Orlesian, looks like a love letter...”
A dead girl, and an Orlesian letter.
She scowled as she took the paper.
She hated reading Orlesian as much as she hated speaking it, writing it, hearing it- but this was exactly what she had been trained in it for. So she read it carefully, twice over, face losing all color, jaw tightening with each word.My darling little girl-
You were so lovely, drawing water the other morning. I can't imagine that you don't see it- that you don't know what you do to me. Little flower, why do you constantly turn me away? Ignore me? You're so beautiful. Let me show you.
I've waited for months now, but every time I invite you, you turn away from me. So this time, I will come to you.
- the man who loves you more than the stars
"This is not a love letter," Cauthrien said, fighting the urge to crumple it to a ball or tear it in two. She thrust it back to Teagan. "It's obsession."
The poetics had been off but the sentiment had been clear.Mine.6