Moments of Ned Cousland's relationship with Morrigan, focusing on its development. Morrigan's PoV
Chapter 2: Over the Herbs
The world of men is not in the least what she expected.
Travelling through it is not what she expected.
Of course, she has been out of the wilds before, and several times – every time, though, on her own, following nothing else but her own wish and whim. Travelling in the company of others, the constant presence of the others – Morrigan never realized how straining this might be. The journey to Lothering in the company of that half-witted chatterbox of a Warden – or rather, a poor excuse of a Warden – was bad enough; with the joining of the crazy pious bard – one more who cannot keep her mouth shut! – it became almost past bearing. Were she one of those dumb Maker-confessors, she would profoundly thank Him that at least the Qunari seems to know the meaning of the word "silence".
On the other hand, the way Sten watches everyone and everything from under his heavy lids, without showing any thoughts or emotions, may be even more disturbing than Leliana's chatter.
Leliana. Morrigan's lips twist in a quirk. She is not deceived by the innocent blue eyes and religious talk: she can tell a killer when she sees one.
Truly, for all its puzzles and nonsenses, the world of men is sometimes easy to see through.
Ned Cousland, though, is a different story.
The man is full of contradictions and contrasts.
The favourable impression of their first meeeting quickly turned out to be false: in some ways, Ned is as foolish as everyone else. There have been countless occasions on which he ignored her advice and made the most illogical decisions. Actions bringing no profit. Helping foolish people who are doomed anyway. Refusing beneficial offers in favour of disadvantageous. There seems no end to whiners in need of help, and Ned Cousland never turns a deaf ear on them.
And then, whenever she is about to arrive at the conclusion that he is as soft as Alistair himself, he makes the perfectly logical choice and carries out his decision with pragmatic efficiency. She is unsure if it is his noble background that plays a role in this inconsistency: while she is certainly not impressed by the status gained by birth and not abilities, her experience with noblemen is too limited to allow for a correct assessment whether such… carelessness, counterweighed by decisiveness when the need arises, is a common trait or not.
Morrigan sighs. She should probably be grateful that unlike others, their leader can act reasonably at least at times.
Sitting by her own fire, apart from the others, Morrigan looks in the direction of the other fire, of the sounds of conversation muffled by the blowing wind. It's absolutely past her why Ned – or anyone, for that matter – should enjoy Alistair's company, especially not after what happened at Redcliffe, but he still does. As she ponders this, though, she realizes that this may be due to the fact that Ned seems to have his easy way with everyone: jolly with Alistair, pensive with Leliana, quiet with Sten… and with herself.
This is yet another thing which puzzles her: though she does appreciate such versatility, as it seems to be most effective for a leader, she is not quite sure how to cope with it… or with him.
Of course, there were a lot of questions at the beginning of their travels; but while Alistair was easily deterred soon, Ned remained persistent. Not really pestering, though: always poising a question or two, and quickly dropping the issue for days whenever she became irritated, but always coming back to it eventually… and to her.
Ever since the beginning, he took up the habit of coming to her fire almost every evening; simply to wish her good night if she made clear that his presence was unwelcome, or to sit by for a while, watching her as she took use of the time to prepare extra poultices, asking simple, matter-of-fact questions about the procedure and use.
And slipping in questions about herself.
She was cautious at the beginning, since she could not – still cannot – figure out the reason behind the questions he asks: of her childhood and upbringing, and of her mother. There is nothing he can possibly gain from such knowledge (and she has certainly racked her brain sufficiently for the ways he could use it against her); in the end, she had to conclude that this is simply one of those illogical things Ned Cousland tends to do.
Not that she underestimates him because of that; there have been quite a few who have made the mistake and feed the wolves now.
She sighs again and shifts uneasily. Whenever men indulged in conversation with her before, claiming to "get to know her bettter", their intention was clear from the beginning. And though Ned does linger on her with his eyes quite often, he doesn't make a slightest attempt at seduction. Having lost patience once, she even asked why he kept staring at her when staring was all he seemed capable of – and all she received in answer was a smile, together with "A nice sight certainly improves a nasty day."
A most disturbing man, he is.
Though, she must admit that his company is not unpleasant.
As if summoned by her thoughts, she hears the familiar steps and soon, Ned Cousland makes himself seated by her fire. For a while, they sit in silence, not uncomfortable.
"What are you preparing?" he asks, looking at the brewing kettle.
"Herbal tea," she retors, annoyed at him asking the obvious. "'Wish to try it?" she adds as an afterthought.
Ned smiles. "Thank you," he takes the offered mug.
She watches him as he takes a sip, then another. "It's quite delicious," he admits.
"Of course," she snorts. "I see no purpose drinking aught unpalatable if it can be helped."
"Of course not." He downcasts his eyes to the pale golden liquid in the mug. "Is there any other purpose to it than the taste?"
"Certainly," she replies with a sweet smile as he takes another sip. "Should you be menstruating, it will ease any inconveniences."
As she expected, Ned almost chokes on the sip but she is quite impressed that he neither spits it out nor starts swearing. Instead, he looks amused, and with a little hesitation he drinks again. "Any adverse effects I should know of?"
Morrigan scowls. "Would I be drinking anything harmful, what think you?" Then she sneers. "Though, I cannot guarantee what effect it might have on males."
Ned's eyes sparkle with good humour. "I'm sure it's perfectly safe." He downs the rest of the tea in one gulp. "And if I turn into a toad overnight, I'll know whose doing it was."
She laughs a little at the nonsense. "Unless you turn into Alistair, there's nothing to fear from me."
"That's good to hear." Smiling, he hands back the mug. "Thank you for… the tasting experience. I hope it will ease all your inconveniences. – Now that I think of it, I can also offer you something with a similar effect, I hope."
She looks at him, confused, as he produces something from his pocket, and then her breath catches in her throat.
The silver pendant, shaped like a rose and attached to a fine chain, glistens in his hand as it did amongst the merchant's trash earlier that day when she saw it first.
"But… this… why did you buy it?"
"I was under the impression that you liked it… and that bandit scum we disposed of yesterday left us handsomely suppplied with coin." He grins. "I bought something for everyone – though Alistair didn't seem so appreciative of his new socks like the rest of us."
Morrigan barely notices the joke, transfixed with the silver sheen.
"You do like, it, don't you?"
"Yes, of course – it's utterly useless, I know, but –"
"I think I could come up with some use for it." And before she can react, he leans to her and clasps the chain around her neck. With a cold sensation, the pendant slides between her breasts, followed by Ned's look. "I think this is the right place for it," he remarks, and as she looks up, still perplexed by the unexpected situation and by his proximity, he leans even closer and quickly plants a kiss on her lips. "A little payback for the tea. Good night, Morrigan."
She does not respond – she never does, after all – but as he disappears in the dark, her lips slowly curve in a content smile.
Finally, the pieces of a puzzle fit in their place. Now she knows where this is leading. She slowly traces the outline of her lips with her finger.
That night, she falls asleep more at ease than ever before.