Alistair knows that there are still many things that he doesn’t know about the Dwarves, and he wants to learn about them, about their culture. He really does, particularly about Sereda and Natia. The first was formerly of the royal house of Aeducan, who was then recently reinstated with full rights in the house. He had heard that when she lived in Orzammar, the latter was born among the casteless — but she had been warmly welcomed by the King because her sister was his wife and Consort. While Natia was a wild force of nature in the battlefield, Sereda, their leader, was much calmer in contrast. It seemed that the Grey Wardens were indeed rather lucky enough to have gotten not just one, but two Dwarven recruits from Orzammar to add to their already smallish numbers in Ferelden.
There is a part of him that wishes he could be as calm and collected as Sereda is when there are Darkspawn coming at him on the field. Neither of the two Dwarves were the green recruits that he had initially thought that they would be, unlike Ser Jory or himself when he had first gone through the Joining.
Though when it comes to understanding anything, in the deepest parts of his heart, Alistair knows that he really just wants to understand Sereda and the secrets of her strength... how she was able to take down Darkspawn that were so much more bigger than she while only using daggers to attack or defend herself, and yet somehow able to come out on top in an uneven fight.
If she’d only understand that Alistair was trying to tell her that he liked her more than simply as friends and comrade in arms, but it only ended with him slightly upset and confusing Sereda in the process. Was there something that he was missing when it came to expressing more than a passing interest with the Dwarves? he wonders.
“Is the human Warden still staring this way?” Sereda asks in the Dwarva tongue as she sharpens a new dagger with a newly acquired whetstone. Natia glances over Sereda’s shoulder before nodding slightly and answering in the same language.
“Ancestors help us.” Sereda frowns slightly at the dagger in her hand as Natia starts giggling helplessly, getting up to go either harass Morrigan or talk to Leliana and Zevran, Sereda isn’t sure which.
Nearby, Kallak snorts in his sleep, and she watches with a small hidden smile as his paws twitch every so often while he sleeps.
“Do they really not know how obvious they are?” Leliana asks quietly as she glances at her companion. Zevran sits with his back against hers, his eyes watching the darkness around their camp while very likely listening in on their conversation, while Natia shakes her head slightly with a smirk on her lips whenever either subject of their private discussion looks at them.
“No. They don’t seem to have a sodding clue, Ancestors help them both,” she answers softly before looking down at the rapidly cooling bowl of soup in her hands.
“Do you think that should we help them along?” Natia’s already shaking her head before Leliana can really finish her question.
“No, not openly. We can only help if they actually need it, and while I don’t know a sodding thing about human courting practices, one must consider ours in this instance. I don’t know everything, but Dwarva culture is... very particular on the matter of courting practices. Were we in Orzammar, Alistair would have to go through many of the rites just to gain the permission to court a member of the royal family, even a former one. There are rites for expressing interest too.”
“Ah, so cultural differences may well be a factor for our would be lovers then,” Leliana says, leaning on one elbow close to Natia and smiling sweetly at Alistair before looking back. “Even given your background… will you, Zevran, and I have to worry about having to follow such rites?”
“Nah. I was born casteless and those rites are more for the dumb nobility and the warrior castes anyways, so you two don’t have worry about those,” Natia says as she reaches over to squeeze Leliana’s hand gently. At her back she can feel the movement of Zevran breathing calmly as he keeps a watch going over the edges of the camp near the tents and takes silent pleasure in having his protective warmth there at her back. “And don’t tell anyone else, but just between you and me, those rites aren’t even really for Sereda anymore since she was cast out with those charges and banished to the Deep Roads. And it doesn’t count either that Bhelen inducted her back into the Aeducan family tree. She is still a Grey Warden, after all. We both are.” Natia shakes her head with a slight grin before pulling Leliana towards her in a soft breathtaking kiss.
“More’s the pity. But still it should be fun to watch these two stumble around I suppose.”
She grins widely as she feels Zevran’s back vibrate against hers as he tries to stifle his laughter and keep from waking the rest of their camp.
Alistair’s definitely not jealous of them. Nope, he is definitely not jealous of Zevran, Leliana, and Natia for finding something that he didn’t even know that he wanted. For having found each other so quickly when he’s… still not sure what he’s found in his own heart.
He’s heard of people immediately falling in love and claiming that they had found their other half. He’s heard of people who know the instant that they fall in love with their better half, but fight their feelings because they don’t believe that they are worthy of the person that their heart has chosen. Though Alistair thinks that even if he didn’t believe in that, there is proof of new love found in front of his eyes in the form of the relationship between Natia, Leliana, and Zevran from the first time that they had met each other.
What was it that made so easy for them to even speak about it to each other, when he was having trouble expressing his feelings to Sereda? Was there some trade secret in finding and expressing love that he was missing? It isn’t that he doubts true love between two people exists, he just wishes that there a guide of some sort to understand what errors he might be making.
Alistair thinks of the small brilliant red rose that he had found and picked in Lothering and carefully placed in his pack for safekeeping, his original intention to save it from destruction by Darkspawn and the touch of the Blight. Now he’s starting to wonder if his own heart knew itself better than he had originally thought it did, and had perhaps had different intentions even back then.
Glancing over at Oghren, then at Sereda who curses about something in the Dwarven language before she is up and storming off towards Bodahn, Alistair is caught by Natia who grins at him from where she sits in a reclined position with Leliana and Zevran. Alistair looks back at Oghren and finally decides to bother the probably drunken Dwarf.
Eventually the moment passes as Oghren finally takes notice of him staring and glares at him.
“What do you want, boy?”
Alistair tries to ignore how awkward he feels about asking Oghren anything, especially when it comes to the Dwarven race and their social customs. Hopefully the entire thing won’t be too awkward for anyone except him. “How do you feel about answering some questions?”
“Depends on the question.” Oghren snorts softly as he takes a swig of something likely alcoholic from his hip flask. “Though if it’s anything to do with puberty and sex then I’m afraid you’re asking the wrong Dwarf.”
The skin of his neck heats as he shakes his head vigorously. “Maker no! No, nothing like that. The sisters and the Templars at the village Chantry taught us all about that. In fact, I still can’t get the images of what one sister had one of the brothers teach the boys…”
Natia grins toothily as Leliana “coughs” behind her hands and Zevran cackles loudly, waking up the resident mabari who merely snuffles in the dirt before rolling over to face his back to them.
“I’m really gonna have to ask you for those details some time,” Natia says.
Oghren fails to look impressed by their antics. “Not that all this chatter isn’t nice and lovely or anything. But what are you bothering about with me?”
Alistair swallows roughly—it seems that he had found the point of no return and he had no idea what lay on the other end of the tunnel. Other than the Darkspawn horde and an Archdemon, that is.
“Well, I was wondering if you could tell me something about your culture, Oghren?”
“Like what?” One bushy brow slowly rose upward toward his hairline.
Oh, this is definitely going to be embarrassing and very likely not go well for him. “Like Dwarven culture and... your people’s courting traditions.”
“Come again?” The other brow rises slowly to meet its counterpart.
“I—,” Alistair starts to say something else, but he gets distracted when he notices over Oghren’s shoulder that Sereda left Bodahn and moved to the outer edges of camp to talk with their other teammates.
“Oghren,” Natia smoothly cuts over him. Oghren turns to look at her with a slightly bored expression on his face.
“What? What do you want now?”
Along with Leliana and Zevran, Alistair watches as Oghren’s bushy eyebrows seem to disappear completely into his hairline as Natia rattles off something to him in the Dwarven language with a wide toothy grin on her face. Frowning, Oghren responds back to her in kind. They’re probably saying something interesting and Alistair really wants to know what it is that Natia wants to tell Oghren that she can only say in their language. After a moment, Oghren eventually turns to him with a smirk on his lips though it’s hidden slightly behind his beard.
“About sodding time. Now listen here, boy. The first thing you must do before you can court someone among our race, even a former princess turned Grey Warden like our Sereda, is ask her family for permission. Only after that can I start telling you anything about our courting rites.”
Alistair considers the idea. Contacting family? Well that shouldn’t be too difficult for him to do... except wait. “The only family she has left that I can contact is her brother, King Bhelen.”
The knowing gaze turns to something like hardened steel as Oghren slowly nods and Natia’s grin turns nasty.
“Do you think he’ll grant permission to me for this?” Unease settles into his gut as Natia slowly leans forward.
“Dunno, boy. It certainly won’t hurt you to try, will it? In these times, that new King of ours might laugh and deny you or he could just easily give his permission in place of their father not being here to do it,” Oghren says.
Natia snorts and waves a hand to get his attention. “You thinking of backing out, Alistair? Would you do that to Sereda without even trying to fight for her?”
Alistair’s eyes find Sereda again as she stands near the far edge of the camp with Morrigan, staring out into the darkness of the night, and he wonders what she might be looking for. After a few moments, Sereda slowly turns her head towards him with a hard as stone expression on her face. As their gazes lock, his heart finally comes up with an answer for him.
Slowly Alistair shakes his head at the curious, questioning tone in Natia’s voice. “No, no, I would fight for her. I want to be the one that does right by Sereda’s heart.”
“Good to hear!” Clapping her hands together once like a clever minded merchant who knows when they’ve struck a good deal against someone who doesn’t know it, Natia grins widely. “Now. Oghren will be the one to help you write the letter to Sereda’s brother.”
“I will?” Oghren complains.
“He will? Why not you?” Alistair half echo’s Oghren’s question as he stares at Natia with raised eyebrows. She shrugs one shoulder.
“Reason one, yeah? Our dear Oghren must have had experience with writing these sorts of formal letters to the family of the women he cares about since he was with that weird Paragon lady. Branka was her name, right?” Natia eyes Oghren up shrewdly. “And likely to do again in the future if the indications in that bar are anything to go by. Reason two. Lil ol’ me? Imma just a casteless sod of a nobody with no formal education in anything that doesn’t require the use of stabbing someone unlucky enough to meet the business end of my favorite daggers. The same casteless nobody who just got sodding lucky enough to become one of the remaining Wardens left to face the Blight in this country.”
As Alistair watches them search for paper and a writing instrument of some kind without rousing the suspicion of Sereda or the rest of their companions, a nervous kind of excitement fills Alistair’s gut so strongly that he wonders if he might just throw up right there in front of them. Hopefully with the help of the Maker, he can hold in the meager contents of his stomach.
No one in Orzammar was sure which of the events were more surprising since the departure of the Grey Wardens and their companions after selecting a new King to put on the throne; the large, surly black Raven that came bearing a letter for the King, or the fact that after the arrival of the bird, they say that King Bhelen’s laughter could be heard from all levels of the city and could still be heard even now echoing through Dust Town.
Later at night, Rica finally approaches Bhelen while getting ready for bed. She looks over at her husband’s back where he stands, leaning against his desk and looking intently down at something among the endless piles of scattered papers upon it.
“Yes, Rica? What is it?” Rica watches as his back straightens and her husband stops leaning against the desk.
“I heard something interesting today.”
Bhelen half turns to look at her, his expression mildly curious and a part of her wonders if he knows what she might ask from him. He tilts his head at her when the silence between becomes noticeable.
“It wasn’t anything about your former status as a noble hunter and a woman of Dust Town, was it? I thought that I had dealt with those…”
Bhelen’s eyes go as flinty as hardened steel and his low tone is light, but dangerous; she knows that it usually means trouble is coming for someone since Bhelen usually finds the answers he wants. Rica holds in a shudder as she shakes her head quickly.
“No, no it’s nothing like that, my love. It was more about the fact that a large dark Raven arrived here recently with a letter for you from the Grey Wardens. I have heard the reports of the guards who stand guard in the throne room, even one from Vartag Gavorn, who brought it to you personally, that say you laughed for a long time after reading it. You were loud enough that my mother and I both heard you from her rooms.” Rica frowns as she recalls the question that her mother had asked. “My mother, drunk as she was and not knowing it was you, asked me if the palace had gained a ghost as one of its newest residents.”
“Oh that little thing. It was nothing of great of importance, Rica. At least nothing of great importance to the running of this kingdom.” Bhelen shrugs one shoulder.
Rica sits on the edge of his side of their bed. “Even so, it took only a raven with a letter from the surface to make you laugh. Whereas it took me months to get you to laugh at something I said.”
“Ah. I see,” Bhelen says, tilting his head to the side, his eyes amused as he looks at her. “Are you jealous then of such a small thing, my love?”
Immediately she shakes her head. “No, my love, not at all. Simple curiosity is all it is.”
“Indeed.” Bhelen glances at the table for a long moment before coming to a decision, reaching to take hold of the scroll and passing it to her. “Here. I could… use your thoughts on formulating an answer to it.”
For a small brief moment Rica hesitates even as she’s reaching out to take it from him, her fingers brushing lightly against his. She holds it in her hands, wondering at its contents as she glances at the broken seal. “You are certain I can read this?”
“Yes. I am. Were it really anything of great import, I do not believe that I would simply let you read it,” Bhelen answers with a slight nod, watching her with a steady and calm gaze. Rica sighs softly before she starts to read the letter, feeling so very, very relieved in the deepest parts of her heart that there’s not a death notice about her sister included within the contents of it. Though another part of her wonders if her mother would even care if she had been told that her other daughter had perished fighting against the Blight. Mentally, Rica quickly shakes that thought from her mind as she reads the letter from the Grey Warden that her husband had received.
You may not know who I am, but my name is Alistair and I am a Grey Warden working to end the Blight with your sister, Warden Aeducan. I helped your sister place you as King of Orzammar rather than that Harrowmont fellow - to be frank I do think that you were the better choice for the kingdom than he.
I am I have been told recently by a companion of mine and by the ever so helpful GREAT ahem, helpful Warden Brosca as well, that to court the person of your affections, one must court someone in the ways and traditions of their people.
Sereda Aeducan is someone who has found their way into my heart and that I care deeply about. I have even grown to love her in the time that I have gotten to know her. So as the only remaining family member and in place of your Father, King Endrin, I am now asking for your permission. And though we are Wardens who may fall in defeating the agents of the Blight, in life I wish to try courting Sereda in the ways of the people that she came from.
Maker and your Ancestors watch over you and yours in these hard times.
Signed: Warden Alistair
Rica surprises herself by giggling like a young dwarfling with her first crush as she rereads the letter before looking to her husband. The romantic side within her cooed at the thought of someone wanting to court the once reluctant Dwarven Princess turned Grey Warden, who — she had seen only a few times from a distance and heard from Bhelen — had so often rejected her Father’s attempts to find a match among both the Noble and Warrior castes in order to be groomed to be a Commander of Orzammar’s forces.
“This is real?”
Bhelen nods. “As real as any of the letters we have shared in the past. And the pile of missives lying on my desk behind me.”
“I never thought I would see a day when a surfacer — no less a Grey Warden — is interested in the courting rites and rituals of our people.” Rica turns her gaze briefly to the letter in her hands and then meets Bhelen’s gaze again. “This is about this Warden and your sister.”
Bhelen nods slowly. “And therein lies the problem. My sister whose existence was erased by my own words, by my own hand, and the Shaperate and goes on then to become a Grey Warden, like your sister. From what little I have read or heard about the Wardens, I have seen a few writings that say they give up the life and the traditions they had before. My sister and I parted on uneasy terms even after she made me King.”
“And we’re lucky that your sister didn’t just outright kill you instead of making you King.”
Bhelen snorts. “Yes, we’re lucky in that matter I suppose. That in the moment she saw me, Sereda didn’t immediately decide to simply behead me before all to see says much about how... honorable she still is. But—” He looks at the letter in her hands, his eyes troubled. “But that is neither here nor there. Rica, you know me well enough to know that I do care about my sister, regardless of what my past actions were. Will you help me write a response?”
Rica grins slightly as he nods. “Yes, I had better help with it. Though if only to keep our Grey Warden allies from coming back to here to behead you should you accidently offend one of them in your return letter.”
“Quite amusing you are, beloved,” Bhelen says as he sits down on the bed beside her and kisses her cheek gently.
I know you not, however I do recall seeing your face when the Wardens Aeducan and Brosca came to Orzammar with a few companions to seek aid against the Blight by honoring the Grey Warden treaties. Make no mistake, Warden, I am grateful for the support you gave to my cause, though I suspect it was not easy to give. However, I am surprised by your request as the manner it arrived was most interesting.
But I digress. As I consider your request, it was my understanding that the Grey Wardens shed all that they had, including the traditions and as well as their ties to the people they came from. Nonetheless, you have requested to court my sister, Warden Aeducan, in the manner of my people and as her only remaining family that she explicitly trusted in her time here before the Wardens, I find it behooves me to give my permission to your request to honor her in the ways of my people.
Ancestors protect you if you harm the heart and soul of my sister Warden Aeducan.
-King Bhelen Aeducan of Orzammar
Alistair almost folds the note in two and feeds the raven Morrigan had summoned, before his eyes catch another line of words at the bottom. Feeling curiosity in his veins, he reads it and smiles.
(Thank you for making my Lord-husband laugh. It made our kingdom happy—and somewhat concerned. Do let us know how your attempt courting Bhelen’s sister in our traditions goes for you, won’t you? It’s both matter of interest to the Crown and more personal one for those who now claim her as part of the family once more. Please extend my greetings to both my sister and Warden Aeducan.—Rica Brosca, Consort-Princess)
Alistair lets out a relieved sigh as he reads the last part of the letter. Part of him had been very sure that the King would not give his permission for him—an outsider and a Grey Warden—to try courting Sereda in the manner and rituals of the Dwarven people. He glances around the camp to see who Sereda had taken with her group this time. He can see Natia whittling pieces of wood as she sits quietly near Oghren, and beyond them he can see Wynne reading a book of some kind that he guesses Sereda had taken the time to find and give to her. It warms his heart to witness her generosity.
As though sensing someone looking at her, Natia looks up and immediately notices his staring before seeing the letter in his hand. Alistair knows the moment when she does, because a wide little grin appears on her face before motioning that he join them and nudging Oghren’s arm only to get an irritated grunt of acknowledgment from him in return. Though he feels somewhat reluctant at first, he does go over to them and squats down as Oghren finally deigns to look at him.
“So? What was the response from King Aeducan?” Natia asks eagerly as she leans towards Alistair, her wood whittling project now sitting forgotten on her lap.
“Here, Natia, why don’t you read it and see?” Alistair says in response as he holds the letter out towards her, with Oghren looking over her shoulder, his eyebrows ascending into his hairline.
Natia cackles loudly and feigns wiping away her tears. “Oh dear, I’ll have to tell Leliana later about what my sister said when they come back.”
“You do that,” Alistair says, trying to be nonchalant about the letter as Oghren turns his thoughtful looking gaze from the letter and onto him.
“Alright boy, so ya secured the permission of Warden Aeducan’s remaining family to court her in the ways of our people. Now, I want you to listen and listen well so that I don’t have to sodding repeat myself again later.”
From beside them, Natia continues to cackle as she turns some of her attention back to the wood whittling project while she listens to Oghren talking with Alistair about the courting rites of the Dwarva people. In her mind, she knows it will be all too interesting to see how well Alistair does at trying to court Sereda. Now Sereda is a Grey Warden, but as the former princess of Orzammar, she had turned down any and all courting attempts from all of the would be suitors that her Father had given permission to, seeing them as only distractions from her duties and training to be a great commander for the Dwarven army.
How quickly would Sereda pick up on the fact that Alistair was using the courting traditions of their people?
If she had thought before that it would be interesting to see how well Alistair’s courting attempt would go, being an actual witness was almost like watching history in the making. Natia congratulates herself for being right in having had the thought that things would certainly be interesting when this whole adventure to the surface world to fight the Blight had first started.
Just as she guessed, it was as glorious and as amusing to watch as she had also originally thought it would be. It wasn’t that Alistair wasn’t doing extraordinarily badly with the brief lessons that Oghren had given him.
In fact, Alistair actually was doing rather well aside from having some small problems — in all actuality, that was somewhat surprising. She had expected that there would have been more problems given the cultural differences between them. Perhaps the Ancestors were being kind to their would be suitor in this matter?
Their friend and comrade in arms had started off well by giving Sereda gifts and trying to show interest in her chosen weapons, like attempting to take them from her to clean and sharpen the blades of her daggers. The taking-her-weapons-part wasn’t something that Sereda had at all appreciated him trying to do—perhaps something to do with her short time being weaponless in the Deep Roads?—and if Alistair had spoken to her, she could have told him to leave the weapons alone.
No Dwarf that she knows of would have appreciated having their weapons taken away from them for any reason, regardless of the intentions behind the attempt, and the person or Dwarf making the attempt would likely been gutted for their trouble. She herself didn’t like it, and before this Natia highly suspected that Sereda wouldn’t like it much either. At least now she has the physical proof that her fellow Dwarf Warden didn’t sodding like it one bit.
The only true problem was that Alistair wasn’t a Dwarf and he had been badly butchering some—if not most—of the words that were meant to be spoken when courting another Dwarf.
Privately she noted that despite his initial attempt at butchering the Dwarven words, he had finally shown Sereda not only his true interest in her, but also that his better intentions to take her most favored daggers were actually in fact part of his attempts at courting her rather than trying to disarm of her weapons and leave her vulnerable to any wandering Darkspawn or persons of unsavory natures.
As Natia stares out over the fire with Leliana and Zevran sitting down on either side of her, she wonders just when and how Sereda might respond to Alistair’s attempts to court her in the Dwarven way.
Her answer comes two days later when Sereda finally, finally, pulls Alistair aside near the edge of the camp and very loudly talks to him for all there to hear. As Natia watches from her current perch on the log pile, she wonders what will be the final result.
Natia also notices the slight flush under the dark ink of Sereda’s tattoo on her cheeks and wonders if its cause is Alistair’s attention and little gifts that he had been giving her.
“Speak your interest plainly, Alistair. This time without the courting rites of the Dwarves, please.” Alistair pouts at her and Sereda just barely stops herself in time from rolling her eyes.
“I thought I did.” She stares at him unblinkingly and Alistair squirms under her gaze.
“Fine. Will you take this flower, Sereda Aeducan? And may I kiss you?” Alistair asks Sereda as he takes a bright red flower out from… somewhere she can’t see — not that Sereda is even sure that she wants to know where it was being kept this entire time — and holds it out to her.
Carefully, she takes the rose from him, her fingers brushing lightly against Alistair’s as a lightning tingle runs up her spine and she slowly nods. “I will take it and you may.”
Sereda makes a small surprised noise when Alistair kisses her and sighs softly as Natia starts cheering loudly in the background noise of the camp. She pulls back a little and grins at the disappointed noise he makes, reaching into her pocket to pull out a wrapped block of something to hand to him.
“What’s this?” he asks, even as he unwraps the thing to reveal a block of white cheese. Alistair makes a small surprised noise as he gives Sereda a shocked look. “Where did you even manage to get this?”
“Ever since you mentioned being fond of good cheeses, I have been keeping both eyes open for it in village markets. Finally found one with cheese that wasn’t already more than a day old.” Sereda answers the question with a slight shrug as she watches him with narrowed eyes. “Does it suffice as a gift to give to you?”
“Maker yes, you’re too good for me.”
Rica is sitting with Bhelen in his office when a new letter from the Wardens arrives and her heart squeezes her chest with warmth as she recognizes the familiar scrawl of her sister’s handwriting.
I don’t have much time to write this letter. As I write this we are packing camp to go find the Dalish Elves that currently travel around Ferelden. Thought you might like to know that Warden Alistair was successful in his attempts to court the lovely Warden Aeducan.
They are a right sodding successful sight of a lovestruck pair if I ever saw one.
Oh right because you are any better at it with -
Ahem yes, where was I?
Right. Off to find the Dalish now — oh look a death glare from Sereda — Ancestors help us if we do manage to find the sodding lot of them. Might let you know how that goes for us. Or might not, depending on Sereda’s mood at the time. Hehehe.
Signed: Warden Brosca
(Oh and King Bhelen, if I find out that you have hurt my sister in any way, then expect a stabbing coming your way in the future. Must go now!)
“It seems that the Warden, Alistair, was successful in his attempts to court your sister, love.” Rica sighs softly. Bhelen nods and places the letter down on his desk to take her hand gently in his.
“Indeed. If my Father wasn’t already dead, he would surely die of shock when he heard that his headstrong stubborn daughter has finally consented to allow someone, a surfacer at that, to court.” He glances up at her with a furrowed brow. “Is something wrong, Rica?”
“No, nothing is wrong, my love. Just some curious wandering thoughts of mine wondering who might have found a place in my sister’s heart.” Rica shakes her head before she speaks. “Back when we were under the thumb of the Carta, I wondered if there was someone could ever tame my wild sister. But Natia was a very different Dwarf then, and I doubt she would have even considered such a thing, claiming that it could only be a weakness to be discovered by the enemies she had and exploited.”
Bhelen is silent for a long moment as he rubs gentle circles into the top of her hand before he speaks quietly. “I think that may well be an answer to a question for another time, beloved.”