Feeling a little bored and depressed at the same time, so I'm posting this just for fun, as a sort of teaser. It's the first chapter of my full-length take on the Awakening from Nathaniel's PoV, attempting to flesh out his relationship with Ned Cousland - and here I do NOT mean any slash.
Next chapter: User blog:Ygrain/His Father's Son 2
The weight of the manacles on his wrists has almost become accustomable; the rattling of the chains at his every move is as unnerving as ever, and so he spends most of the time sitting still, except for getting up and stretching his muscles at regular intervals. Every time he does so, the guard appears to check on him.
The fearsome prisoner, he is. If only he could break those bonds as the guards seem to imagine.
Nathaniel Howe leans his head against the wall.
What an irony, to end up chained to the wall of the place that should have been his. When, how, did it all go so wrong? From a mighty nobleman's son to an outcast, from a free man to prisoner.
And almost to darkspawn lunch, if they ever do such a thing. At least he is not the only one for whom things didn't work.
Though it seems that for some people, they always do.
'The Warden Commander has arrived and saved us all' , he overheard the guards talking excitedly.
Everything seems to be centred around him – even that when and how.
They met only a few times when still boys and Nathaniel barely remembers him; the younger Cousland made no lasting impression – then.
Back than, he did not provoke any intense feelings, either.
As always, the mere thought of the man induces a rush in Nathaniel's heartbeat: a mix of anger, and helplessness. No matter how hard he tries, how much he rakes his brain, he has no idea what he will say or do when he finally sees him face to face.
Ned Cousland. The man who murdered his father and condemned all his family.
The time passes unmeasured, and stretches to ages. Surely the mighty Commander will deign to take a look at the mysterious prisoner, or will he simply order him executed without further enquiring?
The confrontation is inevitable, Nathaniel believes, and does his best to be prepared for it – yet when he hears the footsteps and the guard addressing the 'Commander', he feels a knot forming in his stomach.
So, this is it.
As he hears the key turn in the lock, Nathaniel stands up to face whatever comes in.
The torchlight stings his eyes as the newcomer places the torch in the holder next to the door, but even so he can see that the fearsome Warden Commander is barely as tall as himself, of slender frame and a face the delicacy of which hardly matches the ideal of manly heroicness.
The thought that the ordinary man brought down all that ever mattered to him, drives Nathaniel's wrath to an unexpected surge. "Well, if this isn't the might Hero of Ferelden," he spits. "Aren't you supposed to be ten feet tall, with lightnings shooting out of your eyes?"
"Life's full of disappointment," Cousland retorts dryly. He narrows his eyes, inspecting Nathaniel's face. "Do I know you?"
"Oh, why should you? You only killed my father and dishonoured my family, made us despised outcasts in all of Ferelden! I am Nathaniel Howe, the son of Rendon Howe whom you murdered! Do you even remember him, or was he just one of the many on your way?"
Nathaniel realizes that he is short of breath, his heart frantically beating – and he can also see Cousland breathing hard. The answer comes in a voice strained with emotion:
"It would be hard not to remember the man who murdered my family. Pity I couldn't kill him more than just once for that!"
"Your family would have sold us to the Orlesians!"
Nathaniel is unsure what followed; he just knows that the next moment he is sprawled on the floor, his head and shoulder aching as he has hit the wall, his left cheek throbbing with pain. As he looks up, the fury in Cousland's eyes makes him cringe involuntarily.
"My family," Cousland says in a soft voice that scares Nathaniel more than the physical attack, "was exterminated because of a treason we never committed, and you whine about your family being punished for the crimes your father actually did? How dare you! Do you have an idea, Howe, what restraint it costs me not to gut you like I did your father?"
Nathaniel feels his wrath surge again. He rises. "Do, then," he grunts. "I'm shackled, suit yourself."
As they stare unflinchingly into each other's eye, Cousland folds his arms on his chest. "That would hardly be appropriate," he states in an edged tone. "Thieves are flogged and murderers are hanged. Which one is it to be, Howe? What were you up to here? A little night backstabbing, your father's style?"
"Do your worst." With difficulty, Nathaniel manages to get his emotions under control; sick of the cat-and-mouse play and with little doubt that he is to be both hanged and humiliated. "I do not deny that originally, my plan was to kill you, to set a trap for you."
"Originally?" Cousland tilts his head and continues to scrutinize him with contempt. "Am I supposed to believe that you have given up your revenge?"
Nathaniel shrugs, feeling tiredness in the wake of the receding anger. "Killing you would have been pointless. It would neither bring my father back nor clean my name. All I wanted to do in the end was to retrieve some family things and leave." He twists his lips in an imitation of Cousland's grimace. "What does it matter now? Go on, decide my fate. Get rid of just one more Howe."
Cousland shakes his head. "I'm not done with you yet. If you intended to leave, where to? For what purpose?"
"Maybe to return later and try my luck with you once more?"
"Where to?" Cousland repeats calmly, ignoring the provocation.
Nathaniel snorts: what does it matter now, after all? "Probably back to the Marches? I've spent the last couple of years there and thanks to you, there is certainly nothing left for me in Ferelden."
For some reason, the information does matter. After a prolonged silence, Cousland says slowly: "Were you in touch with your father during that time? Did he keep you informed of what had transpired here?"
With the feeling that he is walking a rope over an abyss, Nathaniel shrugs again: "Hardly. Given that I was sent off home to acquire better manners, we barely wrote to each other. I only learned of his death incidentally, two months ago. I was told that a certain Grey Warden sneaked in his residence in Denerim and murdered him."
The dark eyes are unfathomable in the dim torchlight. "So you know nothing."
The flat tone offers no clue, either, and Nathaniel frowns. "No, I do not know any details of what happened to your family, if that is what you imply. I'm sure that the war did bring about some horrible things, for everyone, and I'm sorry that my father was involved – even more so that you really made us all pay for that. How ironic that of all people, I'm even at your mercy now."
Again the pause, before Cousland says: "Very well, that's all I needed to know." He calls to the guard over his shoulder: "Bring the seneschal; I'm ready to proclaim my decree."
"Oh, are you? You certainly do not waste your time."
Cousland does not respond to his sarcasm and Nathaniel smiles wryly, in no doubt what the decree is to be. He breathes in even, controlled breaths, to face his fate without dishonouring his name in his last moments.
Soon enough, Varel turns up, accompanied by two more guards. "Commander?"
Cousland turns to him, his expression blank. "It has turned out that our prisoner is Nathaniel Howe, in his own person."
Varel gasps and his eyes dart to Nathaniel, who returns the glance with defiance. He is not surprised that the man never recognized him; and he certainly does not expect Varel to speak up for him – after all, the seneschal was degraded and expelled by his father, so there is no reason why he should be loyal to the son.
Cousland lets the information sink in and then slightly raises his voice: "Hereby I proclaim my decree: for his offence against the Wardens' property, Nathaniel Howe will be pardoned and released but he is forbidden to come in the vicinity of the Vigil's Keep. If he is ever seen near the Keep again, he will be executed immediately."
Stunned, Nathaniel only stares at him, unable to grasp what he has just heard. Pardoned? Released? What game is the man playing now?
Still expressionless, Cousland addresses him directly: "Go and decide your fate yourself, Howe. If I may advise you, I only suggest that you do so nowhere near Waking Seas or Dragon's Peak." Saying that, he turns on his heel and leaves. As he makes for the stairs, he adds: "And return him his belongings."
The four stupefied men stare behind Cousland for some time, then Varel shrugs and says: "You have heard the Commander's decree. Nathaniel Howe, you are to be released and returned your possessions. You are forbidden to ever return to this place under the penalty of death, to be carried out immediately."
He himself unlocks Nathaniel's manacles. "For the sake of the boy I used to know, I hope you will do nothing to throw away this chance," he says softly but his eyes scrutinize Nathaniel with a cold and unforgiving stare. "You are lucky, I wouldn't have bet a single penny on your life."
Neither would Nathaniel himself and even as he puts on his armour, as fast as he can with trembling fingers, he is unsure what to expect; what he is being tricked into. Is he to be shot 'on the run', so that Cousland does not have to bear responsibility for sentencing him to death?
Yet, as he walks across the courtyard, accompanied by the guards who watch him with barely hidden hostility, it seems that the impossible has become the truth. He passes through the gate, unhindered, unharmed, and on shaking feet he sets out on the road, having no inkling where or why he should go.