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The Color of Truth [Complete]

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
Canon Character
Noble
Grey Warden
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183
#1
((OOC: 28 Cloudreach, 9:33, early morning, @Cauthrien ))

Candles burned on the stand and a fire roared within the hearth casting warm light upon the woman sleeping upon the bed. Cauthrien slept, but from experience, Nathaniel knew it was not a peaceful type of slumber. Those first dreams of the darkspawn forever changed a person. Good, bad... Those concepts had new meaning and dreams had new purpose. She would awaken; her eyes opened with new perspective.

Nathaniel turned away and focused his gaze upon the flames rising in a gentle ebb and flow within the fireplace. Palms pressed against stone and he let the heat from the fire bathe him. Cauthrien was lucky even if she might think so upon waking. But he suspected she would realize her fortune, her chance at rebirth. Of all those present at the Joining, she showed the least fear. Brave to what ended up not being her end.

Bronn however...

It was a blessing that Fiona was in Denerim. Nathaniel had no idea how he would tell her of her brother's death. He could have left such a task to her father; however, even after all that happened between them, he felt he owed her the news from his own lips. Bronn was dead and it was Nathaniel's fault. He should not have let him volunteer. He could have easily told Dougal no, but he did not. Duty to the Wardens, duty to the arling all demanded he take the man as a recruit.

And now more blood stained his hands and he would have to hurt Fiona further.

That conversation would wait for a different day, though. He glanced over his shoulder and at Cauthrien once more. She'd been sleeping for a few hours and any time he expected her to wake up. There were things he needed to explain to her; things he was sure she would not be pleased to hear. He had not when Aedan told him.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#2
Darkness that was not dark. Eyes that were not hers, piercing the gloom of the subterranean world as she searched. She needed food to fill the gnawing hunger in her belly, but more than that, she needed to hear the song. It had been silent for many months now, and she was desperate to hear it again, to have direction, meaning, purpose. And she was not alone; there were others like her, all yearning, all searching. They would kill whatever they came across, use that to slake their physical hunger, and she knew that it would only be a matter of time before they found what they truly sought and that beautiful, terrible song would ring throughout the world once more.

Ahead. She stilled, felt those around her do the same. Heat: two bodies glowing warm in the darkness, and a moment later, the confirming scent that pushed aside thoughts of the song as hunger surged to the fore.

Flesh.

Blood.

Food!


She rushed forward ahead of the rest, the rich tang of fear flooding the scent as the creatures sensed their fate bearing down upon them, sounds that had no meaning emerging from their mouths. She scented steel as it was drawn and fell back a step, letting the less cautious charge in and take the brunt of the steel, then moved in from behind, her own blade stabbing deep, releasing a rich fount of blood.

Seconds later, her teeth sank in, the dying screams vibrating against her mouth as she began to feed.


Cauthrien jerked awake with a shout, the taste in her mouth blurring the line between sleep and wakefulness. She rarely dreamed – or at least, rarely remembered her dreams, but this one had been hellishly vivid, and she raised her hand to scrub the blood from her mouth as she pushed herself into a sitting position on the edge of the bed. A fire burned in the fireplace, and Nathaniel Howe stood beside it, watching her intently, but she didn't feel ready to speak yet. Not until she knew that her face was not drenched in dwarf blood.

Her hand came away clean, and she let out her breath in a sigh of relief. Her mouth still tasted vile, but it was only the residue of the darkspawn blood that she had drunk ... how long ago? She glanced at the window: outside the curtains was the silvered dimness of either early dawn or late dusk.

She turned her eyes back to Nathaniel. “Who died?” She suspected that she knew most, but she hoped that the young man had not been among them.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#3
With a shout, Cauthrien awakened. No one was ever prepared for the dreams. The true horrors of average every day life did not compare with the savage brutality of the darkspawn. Nathaniel still vividly remembered his first dream and the face that looked back him. To fight them, we become them... In degrees a Warden lost their humanity, transforming into the very thing they fought to destroy. Become one to destroy all. It was a sacrifice those they sought to protect would never truly know, never truly appreciate. A duty that could not be foresworn.

He pushed away from the hearth and walked to a small table by the window. On the table sat a pitcher of ale, a loaf of bread, hard cheese and salted boar atop a tray.

“Who died?” Cauthrien asked.

Nathaniel lifted the tray and brought it over to the bed, stopping to set it carefully down atop a bed table. "Those you saw and Bronnleigh after you." To Maisie's family he would send a letter along with Fiagai's first support payment. She died so that Fiagai could save his friend, the mage. Nathaniel would not see Maisie's family starve as well. And Bronn... That was news Nathaniel did not relish in delivering. "Their families will believe they died fighting darkspawn as Wardens." It was the truth, but not. Each name would be etched into a journal as fallen Wardens, a mark by their name noting they died during their Joining. Somewhere there was a journal with his great grandfather's name written down. Had he died as bravely as Bronn? Nathaniel wanted to believe he had.

"Eat. Drink. It will help..." His mouth slid at a wry slant, "...some." When he awoke from his first dreams, hunger tore at his gut and the taste of rancid meat coated his mouth. No one had been so kind as to have drink and food there for him and Nathaniel was forced to make his way to the kitchens. He ate a whole ham and drank what felt like a keg of ale. The taste remained in his mouth for three days all the same.

A chair by the hearth was moved to the side of the bed and Nathaniel took a seat. "There are things I need to tell you, but first, do you have any questions for me?"
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#4
Cauthrien frowned at Nathaniel's answer to her question, dragging her memories out from beneath the shroud of her dreams. “So many?” Nearly all of those who had been present. She looked at him questioningly. “Are the odds usually so poor?” If so, it was no wonder at all that they guarded the secret so closely.

"Their families will believe they died fighting darkspawn as Wardens."

She nodded slowly, not liking the lie, but seeing the need for it. Nathaniel's expression suggested that he took no real comfort in that necessity. “It's true in a way, isn't it?” she asked quietly. “They were Wardens from the moment they drank the blood, weren't they?” Some bonds were forged over time, and some in a single, searing moment of shared risk.

No sooner had she spoken than her stomach knotted up in a pain so intense that she thought for a moment that the poison she had drunk was finishing its work. She folded over with a grunt of surprise, pressing her fist to her belly, finally identifying the sensation as...hunger?

Nathaniel gestured to the tray beside the bed. "Eat. Drink. It will help..." He gave her a wry smile, "...some."

She glanced down at the contents of the tray and poured ale into a mug. Taking a swig, she pushed herself to her feet, swirling the liquid in her mouth until she reached the washbasin on the table by the window and spit into it. She grimaced at the dark clots that swirled in the brew, took another drink, swirled and spit, again and again, until only the amber ale was produced. Her mouth still tasted like an ogre had pissed in it, but hopefully that would pass with time.

Returning to the bed, she sat down and tore into the rest of the meal with as much decorum as she could manage...which wasn't much, admittedly. Food, like rest, was something that she took as needed, and while she could appreciate good food (as opposed to whatever the cook at Sarim's Luck was turning out), blackberries were the only thing that she had a strong preference for, and she had yet to meet the meal that she couldn't force down, if necessary.

This was not about taste. She barely chewed the food, in fact, bolting down each mouthful in an attempt to get it to her stomach as quickly as possible. Only after the tray was half empty did the gnawing pain fade to a tolerable level; the feeling of hunger remained, but it was manageable enough that she forced herself to slow up, chewing each bite thoroughly before swallowing, gauging the responses of her body and realizing with some embarrassment that the food that remained would not be enough to sate her.

Nathaniel had drawn a chair up opposite the bedside table and seated himself, waiting until her consumption had slowed somewhat before speaking. "There are things I need to tell you, but first, do you have any questions for me?"

She paused, swallowing her mouthful of cheese and meat. “The hunger is normal, I take it?” She could well understand the complaints of the camp cooks at Ostagar now; there had been two dozen or so Grey Wardens there, and if they all had the same appetite... She took another bite, chewed and swallowed. “I dreamed,” she said slowly. “It was as though I saw through the eyes of one the darkspawn, heard its thoughts. It was...vivid.” A bite of bread, chewed more slowly as she reviewed the images that had invaded her sleep. “Is that common?”
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#5
“So...the two guards, one of the templars and the lad.” With a quizzical look, Cauthrien looked at Nathaniel and asked, “Are the odds usually so poor?”

Grim realities tugged at his mouth, forcing a frown. "They can be. The only Joining where I've heard no one died was my own." Much to Aedan's disappointment, I am sure. But with as many deaths as there had been in this latest joining, there was one boon. No one had run. Nathaniel did not have to shoot a man or woman in the back.

He went on to mention what the families would be told to which Cauthrien responded, “It's true in a way, isn't it? They were Wardens from the moment they drank the blood, weren't they?”

Nathaniel was happy that Cauthrien saw it that for it was what he believed. It was a brave thing to stand and look firmly in the face of death and still drink. "Yes, they were. But I am sure that will bring little comfort to their families." He knew it would bring little comfort to Fiona.

He changed the subject, wishing to guide his thoughts in a different direction. There would plenty of time later to consider Fiona and the death of her brother. He offered food and drink to Cauthrien, hoping it might ease some of the pain he knew all too well would start gnawing at her insides. She accepted the offering and attempted to swish some of the foul taste out of her mouth with the aid of the ale.

While she did so, Nathaniel moved a chair beside the bed and waited on Cauthrien to eat some before speaking again to see if she had any questions for him before he started to detail things she would need to know as a new Warden.

A hunk of cheese and bread swallowed down, she asked, “The hunger is normal, I take it?” Another bite. Another quick chew and swallow.“I dreamed. It was as though I saw through the eyes of one the darkspawn, heard its thoughts. It was...vivid. Is that common?”

Nathaniel leaned forward; arms crossed and elbows pressed against his knees. He nodded simply, "The hunger is normal. The cooks here are used to it by now." Used to it? Yes. But pleased by it? No. "They are used to Wardens appearing in the kitchen in the middle of the night ready to raid the larder. I've found heavy foods work best to settle the stomach." A muted yet sardonic snort graced his lips, "I hunt a lot as a result. The dreams are also normal, unfortunately. But with time, they will not come as often. You were hearing the song in your dreams. The Old Gods sing, beckoning the darkspawn to find them to unearth them so that they might live again. When they do find the Old God, it rises as an archdemon and we find ourselves in the midst of a Blight."

Nathaniel dreamed of darkspawn maybe once or twice a month now. Though, he heard as a Warden got closer to their Calling, the dreams returned with a vengeance.

"Some day you will hear the song outside of your dreams and that will let you know it is time to go to the Deep Roads. We..." He straightened his posture, sitting up. "...have thirty or so years after our Joining to live. The Joining is fatal for everyone. The only difference is the timing of the death. The taint kills us, but in degrees and over time. We return to the Deep Roads when we hear the song as it warns us we are about to become what we wish to destroy. And you..." The fate of women in the Deep Roads was far less pleasant than for the men. "...you will not wish to be taken. Darkspawn turn women they capture into Broodmothers, their breeders."

It was a lot of information to absorb and he was not nearly done yet. He paused to allow everything to soak in before continuing on.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#6
Cauthrien listened to Nathaniel's words, still eating, though her interest in what she was being told was great enough that she would forget about the food until another rumble from her gut prompted her to take a bite.

The hunger was an ongoing thing. “I'm not much at hunting, but I can set snares and fish,” she offered. “How many Wardens are in Vigil's Keep now?” The guilty knowledge that there would have been two dozen more, if not for Ostagar, jabbed at her, but she had spent enough time wallowing in self-recrimination. The opportunity for atonement had been given to her, and she would take it; such memories would be a spur, not a weight.

And the dreams...real, then? She pondered the significance of this. “So, if the darkspawn do find an Old God, we will know?” She frowned...why hadn't Duncan pressed the matter harder? He had maintained that the Blight was real, but in the face of Loghain's doubts, he had not insisted. But then, would Loghain have believed, no matter how strongly the Grey Wardens insisted, when he believed them to be nothing more than Orlesian infiltrators? It was not until the first irrefutable reports of the Archdemon being sighted had reached him that he had agreed to turn his greatest attention from the rebellion in the Bannorn to the darkspawn.

“There could be a tactical advantage beyond that,” she mused, setting aside what might have been for what could yet be. The dream had been unusually vivid and clear; she could recall specific rock formations, tunnels, could all but see the faces of the two dwarves that had been killed while she slept. She gave Nathaniel a questioning glance. “Eyes and ears in the enemy camp, so to speak; has it been used in that way?”

“We...have thirty or so years after our Joining to live. The Joining is fatal for everyone. The only difference is the timing of the death. The taint kills us, but in degrees and over time.”

She nodded slowly, neither surprised nor particularly distressed by the information. She supposed that thirty years might seem a short time to an eighteen-year-old, but no career soldier expected to die of old age. “We fight darkspawn; do many Wardens survive as long as thirty years?” Perhaps in lands where no darkspawn roamed, but that didn't seem to be likely to be true of Ferelden in her lifetime.

It made sense, taking the final fight to the darkspawn, but she would worry about that if she lasted that long. Her eyes narrowed as Nathaniel spoke of a type of darkspawn she had never heard of, warned her against being taken by them. “Broodmothers?” She turned the ominous sounding term over in her mind. “All women, or just those who are Wardens?” she asked, feeling her gut clench in a response that had nothing to do with hunger. Cailleach had been lost in a fight with the darkspawn, her body never recovered, and there had been many women among those who had been abandoned at Ostagar. “What do they do to them?” Rape was the obvious answer, and it was an all too regular risk for the women who chose to take the field of battle alongside and against men, but she had never seen any indication that the darkspawn were driven by any urge but killing.
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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Noble
Grey Warden
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#7
“I'm not much at hunting, but I can set snares and fish,” Cauthrien said. “How many Wardens are in Vigil's Keep now?”

"Eight," Nathaniel said, but shook his head a moment later. He had forgotten the Orlesians. If only he could forget them all together. "There are 3 others... Orlesians. Two are not here at the moment, but this is their home while they see to the First Warden's business here in Ferelden." That business was a matter he still needed to discuss with her. But all things in their due time. He went on to speak about the dreams.

“So, if the darkspawn do find an Old God, we will know?” With a frown, she continued, “There could be a tactical advantage beyond that. Eyes and ears in the enemy camp, so to speak; has it been used in that way?”

"I've been told that we would know, yes." But what if the Old God was within the body of a small child? Nathaniel had no dreams that would indicate any danger on that front, but that did little to ease his worry. A human with the soul of an old god was not something the Order had experienced before. Many firsts and questions littered the path ahead.

Their mortality was addressed next. An understanding nod dipped Cauthrien's chin. “We fight darkspawn; do many Wardens survive as long as thirty years?”

It was a good question and one Nathaniel pondered a great deal himself. "I suppose it depends on location and the activity of the darkspawn."

Talk shifted to one of the more unsavory facets of being a female Warden, the broodmothers. The narrowing of Cauthrien's eyes as well as the follow up question, “Broodmothers?”, confirmed what he already suspected. She had never seen one. But there was no reason for her to have. “All women, or just those who are Wardens? What do they do to them?”

"All women. They force the women to gorge themselves on darkspawn flesh until they are so overcome with the taint that they transform into a broodmother. Beyond that, I do not know."

Most other things Cauthrien needed to know as a Warden, she would learn with time. Most things. "I'm sure you understand now why we must keep the details about what makes a Warden secret. I've forbidden any Wardens in Ferelden from sharing those secrets. If I discover secrets have been shared, I will conscript the person they were shared with." His mouth formed a sharp frown. "Five of those are your Joining were all a part of one of those conscriptions." And now three of those are dead.

"There are some like Varel that know and so long as they keep these secrets, I will not conscript them, but anyone else... anyone new..."He let his words trail off. Cauthrien did not strike him as the type would utter their secrets to another, but he had to voice the rule all the same.

"There is one more thing and then I will let you rest. Grey Wardens are required to kill the archdemon. One of us must strike it down so that we might absorb the soul of the old god when it is released. It is fatal to the Warden that takes the final blow." Of course, that is not entirely how things went in Ferelden.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#8
Eight Fereldan Wardens, plus another three from Orlais, on business for the First Warden...in Wiesshaupt, wasn't it? Cauthrien almost asked, but then decided to look it up on her own; there was much that she had to learn; as much as she had thought, and much more that she had never even imagined.

The notion of the broodmothers ... she listened to Nathaniel's words in tightly controlled revulsion, her mind trying to wrap itself around it. Human women were turned into darkspawn, who in turn gave rise to more darkspawn. Did that mean that those...things...were human, in some way? What did they look like? Again, she almost asked, but this time, it was the grimness in Nathaniel's eyes that kept her silent. She would learn that for herself, with time.

"There's no reversing the...change, I take it?" His tone, his expression did not suggest it, but she had to ask, had to know. Cailleach had not been a friend, particularly after Ostagar, but she had been a soldier that Cauthrien had commanded and been responsible for. She would likely never know for certain if this had been her fate, but she still had to ask...for Cailleach and the others.

Yes, she could understand why the Wardens guarded their secrets so closely. They would be as reviled as mages, if it became known what was required, what the potential cost was. And there was nothing to be gained by making the existence of the broodmothers widely known, save a widespread panic that would serve no purpose, particularly if there was no bringing the women thus taken back from their sorry plight.

She nodded as Nathaniel looked at her expectantly, though her mind couldn't help going back to the young man - Bronnleigh - and his open smile, the way it had vanished as he saw the truth of it. The faces of the guards, there through no fault or will of their own, apparently. Which would be worse: to volunteer for what looked to be a heroic calling, only to discover that your life might be forfeited immediately, or to have that fate thrust upon you by no choice of your own? And what of the one who accepted the volunteers, conscripted the unwilling, and watched both die in agony or live to become conspirators? She had seen men and women under her command die in battle, knew how the faces hovered in the darkness when you were trying to sleep; was that why Aedan Cousland had resigned as Warden-Commander? The burden clearly weighed heavy on the current holder of that title.

"I won't tell anyone," she said quietly, taking another bite of cheese and bread, a bit dismayed to realize that the grim revelations had not dampened her body's demand for food. In for a bit, in for a sovereign, and she was no stranger to secrets that needed keeping, after all. She could see the reason for the necessity, and that made it easier to make such an assurance, even if it did not make the truths sit any less heavily in her mind.

And then the rest. The reason for keeping the secrets at all cost, for perpetuating the Order by any means possible. How in blazes had those faced with the first blight come up with this solution? How many had died before it was discovered that a Warden must strike the killing blow and die in the process?

But...wait. "I thought that Aedan Cousland killed the archdemon...he and the King?" She had heard that an Orlesian Warden had been found in Howe's dungeons, and had taken part in the final battle, but the idea that either of the survivors might take credit for the sacrifice of another did not sit easily with her. Nor was it an accusation that she would voice, but Nathaniel had to know that his words would raise questions. "How did they survive?"
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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#9
"There's no reversing the...change, I take it?"

Just as there was no way to reverse their change, there was no way to reverse a woman's transformation into a broodmother. "There is none," Nathaniel responded darkly.

The pair continued to speak, talking of those that lived and died during the Joining and of secrets that could not be shared. Not surprising him, Cauthrien agreed to keep all secrets. Only then did he press on and begin to tell the Fereldan Order's greatest, starting with mention of how a Warden must take the killing blow of an archdemon to end a Blight.

Cauthrien immediately saw the problem with that statement, "I thought that Aedan Cousland killed the archdemon...he and the King? How did they survive?"

He exhaled a deep breath, his chin dipping forward for a moment to look down at his hands. "Bluntly put?" He swallowed down his disdain for Aedan's decision, trying to reason the logic in it, trying to find the pragmatism in the approach. He still could not. Short term gains with possible long term consequences. It was an idea he could not shake. His gaze lifted upward, grey eyes looking into Cauthrien's dark, "Blood magic of a kind." Aedan never used the term blood magic in reference to what happened, but what else could it be called?

"The witch he traveled with during the Blight, Morrigan, came to him with a proposal the night they discovered a warden was required to kill the archdemon," he started to further explain, his disapproval apparent already in the tone of his voice. "If he was to make a child with her that evening, the soul of the archdemon could be absorbed into her unborn child instead of into the Warden. The child could survive such a merging of souls while Alistair, Riordan or Aedan would not."

His frown deepened with further disappointment, "He loved her so Aedan agreed. The ritual worked. He took the final blow and lived to tell the tale. And Morrigan? She left with his child in her womb and we have no idea where she has gone."
 

Cauthrien

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#10
Blood magic. Cauthrien felt her eyebrows lift in surprise at the remark, but she felt more curiosity than revulsion. She'd been exposed to little enough magic in her life, and blood magic not at all. Given her choice, she would avoid magic entirely, but if it was going to be in play, she would rather have it on her side. The Chantry held that blood magic was evil, but the Chantry also held that any mage was only a heartbeat away from becoming an abomination at any given moment. She'd never seen an abomination, but she had met more that enough arrogant templars and pious priests to distrust anything that they considered an absolute.

“The Joining ritual could be termed that as well, could it not?” If it served a purpose, and harmed no one, than why not? Except that the Joining did harm those who partook...in the most permanent of ways. But it was necessary...wasn't it? She gave her head a little shake, trying to bring some order to churning thoughts. “This order is well named,” she muttered; she preferred black and white, right and wrong, but this new world seemed to be nothing but shades of grey.

The darkspawn were evil, she told herself. They were what mattered, and if the Wardens did not stand before them, Thedas would fall, nation by nation, consumed by a blight that never ended. That was justification enough for the lives lost, wasn't it?

Nathaniel went on, his voice hardening with disapproval. "The witch he traveled with during the Blight, Morrigan, came to him with a proposal the night they discovered a warden was required to kill the archdemon.”

Cauthrien nodded, her eyes narrowing in thought. She remembered the witch: golden eyes and the haughty bearing of a queen.

"If he was to make a child with her that evening, the soul of the archdemon could be absorbed into her unborn child instead of into the Warden. The child could survive such a merging of souls while Alistair, Riordan or Aedan would not. He loved her so Aedan agreed. The ritual worked. He took the final blow and lived to tell the tale. And Morrigan? She left with his child in her womb and we have no idea where she has gone."

She stared at him for a moment, then let out a bark of incredulous laughter. “You're telling me that there is a child out there who could bring on another blight...or worse?” The soul of the archdemon in a human? Might it not be even stronger, harder to defeat? “And he let this happen?” Outrage seared through her veins as she remembered his cold disapproval at Highever, cooled just as suddenly. Who was she to judge anyone for the choices they had made?

“Are there any plans to search for her?” she asked at last. “And the child? Surely some determination needs to be made of the potential threat?”
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
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#11
That was the first time Nathaniel heard laughter in response to Aedan's child. Granted, Cauthrien was not amused, far from it. She sounded more disbelieving than elated. “You're telling me that there is a child out there who could bring on another blight...or worse? And he let this happen?”

And now Cauthrien knew their biggest a secret; a secret that never should have been. Because, yes, Aedan let it happen.

He straightened his posture, sitting upright. "That is what I am telling you. There is a child out there that some day may bring on another blight. There is a child out there that some day we may have to kill." Wardens never should have been in the business of killing children, but nothing could be done about that now. Nathaniel was also no fool to believe that if the child needed to be destroyed, Aedan would do it himself. He made this mess, but like many others, Nathaniel would be the one to clean it up.

And those outside the Wardens? To them, Aedan would remain a hero, the man that saved Ferelden and Thedas from the last Blight. They would never know much like Wardens themselves, they might be living on borrowed time; time just long enough for a child to grow into a man.

“Are there any plans to search for her?” Cauthrien asked. “And the child? Surely some determination needs to be made of the potential threat?”

"I asked Aedan to provide Anders with something that had been Morrigan's in hopes that we might be able to trace her trail with magic." He glanced to the fire for a moment as if the answers might be found within the flicker of flame.

They were not.

"He has discovered nothing as of yet," he added as he looked back to Cauthrien. "As to the child..." As much as Nathaniel dreaded finding the child, he wished to be the one that found it first. If the First Warden found the child first, a quick death would be unlikely. The child was an aberration and would be treated as such. Experiments performed. Whatever this child was, it was Aedan's and though Nathaniel could not agree with how it came into this world, he would not see it mistreated. "...some determination will need to be made and if one cannot..." More blood would color his hands.
 

Cauthrien

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#12
“There is a child out there that some day may bring on another blight.” Nathaniel's face was grim. “There is a child out there that some day we may have to kill."

No. Her mind instinctively rejected the thought, but the harsh truth would not be easily banished. “For the greater good,” she said bleakly, remembering how Loghain and Howe had used those same words to justify their actions, wondering how you knew if they were spoken truly or merely self-serving justifications.

"I asked Aedan to provide Anders with something that had been Morrigan's in hopes that we might be able to trace her trail with magic," the Commander said in response to her question of the child's whereabouts. His eyes shifted briefly to the fire, then back to Cauthrien. "He has discovered nothing as of yet. As to the child..." His expression was troubled but unwavering as he met her eyes, "...some determination will need to be made and if one cannot..."

He did not go on; he did not need to. Cauthrien might fault Aedan Cousland as a fool for engaging in the ritual in the first place, but no father could be expected to kill his own child, regardless of the danger. That duty would fall to others, and Nathaniel had already assumed the weight of that mantle.

“We will do what is needed when the time comes,” she said simply. Finding the child would be the task of others, but with a powerful apostate guarding it and the soul of an archdemon entwined with its own, killing it would not be a task for one man alone.

Her stomach gave another gurgle, and she glanced from it to the nearly empty tray in embarrassed irritation. She'd already consumed more at this sitting than she normally did in the course of a day. “This is going to be damned inconvenient on extended marches,” she muttered. “Does it ease up at all with time?”
 

Nathaniel Howe

Warden Commander of Ferelden
Canon Character
Noble
Grey Warden
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183
#13
“We will do what is needed when the time comes,” Cauthrien responded succinctly.

They would.
Nathaniel would.

The path ahead weaved in uncertain directions, but there was one certainty. Nathaniel would not hesitate to do what must be done.

Cauthrien's stomach rumbled. She flushed with embarrassed.“This is going to be damned inconvenient on extended marches,” she muttered. “Does it ease up at all with time?”

Hands pressed into Nathaniel's knees as he went to stand. "No." He could have lied, offered a sliver of hope. Cauthrien was not the type of person that needed to be coddled or sheltered, though. Nothing about being a Warden eased up over time and she deserved to know that truth.

Each day brought the men and women of the order one day closer to the inevitable. They lived on borrowed time granted upon the promise of unconditional duty, even more so for Nathaniel and for any that had been conscripted and saved from death. Theirs was a thankless task. If they did their job correctly, no one would be the wiser there was anything to give thanks for.

"You will learn to manage it with time, though." Adapt or there was always the Deep Roads. He inclined his head toward the near empty tray. "The larder is always open to us, remember that. If you are still hungry," and there was no doubt in his mind she was, "please, go help yourself. This is your home now."

The events of the evening began to take their toll upon Nathaniel. Exhaustion roughened his tone and caused a hand to rise and rub at an eye. There was still more to do before he could rest, though. Maisie's family needed to be written to and he needed to see to the proper storage of Bronnleigh's body until he could inform Fiona and Dougal of his death. Perhaps when that was all done, he might find time for a short nap. Perhaps not.

"If you need anything, think of anymore questions, don't hesitate to seek me out." He walked toward the door and paused, hand upon the knob. Turning to face Cauthrien, he said in exit, mouth curving in a muted but not disingenuous smile, "I am happy you survived, Cauthrien."
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
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319
#14
Nathaniel could have lied to her, but he didn't. He did assure her that she would learn to manage the hunger with time, which she supposed would have to do, even if it meant more dealings with the kitchen golem.

"If you need anything, think of anymore questions, don't hesitate to seek me out," he went on as he rose and moved to the door. He paused and glanced back, fatigue heavy on his features, and she wondered how much more he had yet to do this night. "I am happy you survived, Cauthrien," he told her with a weary but genuine smile.

She'd been given much to think upon, and it was clear that there were complications that she had never suspected, but there was purpose here, and the opportunity to serve with honor. “So am I,” she said quietly, and for the first time since Ostagar, she meant them.
 
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