Tabula Rasa 4/5 – Nathaniel

Author: azzy
Title: Tabula Rasa
Rating: M
Fandom: Dragon Age Origins.
Pairing; Warden/Alistair, Warden/Zevran, Warden/Nathaniel
WIP 4/5
Warnings: Angst, smut, violence… big girl hat.
Beta: lisbet
AN: I named the Warden Hashim (Destroyer) Surana to avoid confusion, and for the sake of background story, which Mages don’t really have, I will make Hashim Soris’ brother, which would make him the City Elf’s cousin, and so he originated from the same Alienage. Because I thought, why come up with something when you can bend canon. – Also I should mention that I am messing with timelines. – Had to add a chapter more, because otherwise this chapter who was meant to be the last, would get too long!


NATHANIEL.

Hashim had not had long to get used to being the Arl of Amaranthine. Day in and day out he would have to deal with the nobility versus the peasant population. His council was equally in deadlock, and some nights he was so tired it felt like climbing the highest mountain to get to the top of the stairs and his own room.

It was a paradox that he wasn’t even bothered to think about, that sometimes the only one who made sense was the rogue mage he had picked up as he arrived here. He had protected him against the Templars, and Anders had stayed by his side, offering council and drinking matches with Oghren. All in all he was a decent type guy, Hashim mused.

As if thinking of the blond troublesome mage had summoned him, Hashim saw the classical profile waiting for him at the top of the stairs. He just hoped it was not more demands. If he as much as asked for a glass of water, Hashim would break down crying like a little child. “You look like you’ve been dragged through the Deadmarches backwards and forwards, three times,” Anders said with a worried little smile.

“I feel like it,” Hashim sighed, leaning on the banister. “I could sleep for a week.” He shook his head. “I wish those fools could deal with their own trash, and not dump it on me.”

“I don’t envy you that part, that is for sure,” Anders said, holding out a friendly hand to Hashim. “I have to tell you something, I have tried all day to get to talk to you.”

Hashim let out a pained sigh. “All right, what is it?” He walked past Anders’ outstretched hand, and straight towards his room. “Whatever you want, it’s yours, just let me sleep.” He dismissed the other mage with a weak wave of his hand.

“The guards arrested an assassin. He was out for your blood, Surana,” Anders said in all seriousness, watching as Hashim stopped dead in the doorframe and turned to face him.

“An assassin out for my blood? An elf perhaps?” Hashim said, not sure if he trusted his own ears.

“No,” Anders shook his head. “Quite human. But he refuses to talk to anyone but you.”

“Really? So I have a prisoner who wants me dead, and makes demands? Interesting.” Hashim laughed, “At least it’s something other than who stole who’s farmland, or who is the father of some noble brat’s lovechild.” He shook his head. “I will deal with it first thing tomorrow,” Hashim promised. “I don’t think I can make it downstairs without fainting.” He grinned to take the sting out of his joke. His headache was handicapping him to the point where he wasn’t sure it was a joke.

“I can fetch you a draught.”

“I don’t trust any draughts, no matter who made them.” Hashim smiled secretively, “A friend taught me always to be wary.”

“Sounds like a paranoid sod, if you ask me.” Anders threw his hands up in the air and turned towards his own bedroom.

Hashim chuckled. “A little paranoia is healthy.” And closed the door in Anders’ face.

~*~

Of course he had been delayed that morning. He was terrible curious as to whom the mysterious prisoner was, and the guards didn’t tell him anything that he didn’t already know. Still it was well past noon before he made it down into the dungeon. He was shown to a cell where a black clad man was propped up against the wall. “I am Warden Hashim Surana, Arl of Amaranthine,” he said, hoping it didn’t really sound as posh as it did to his own ears.

“Are you now?” the prisoner asked sourly.

“One and only,” Hashim said, stepping closer to the door that kept them apart. “You don’t believe me?”

The prisoner’s steely blue eyes stared directly at Hashim. “I had just not expected you to…”

“Be so short?” Hashim said. “Or be an elf, perhaps?” He shook his head, ashamed that the world was still full of people who had a hard time imagining elves as anything but in someone’s servitude.

“No,” the prisoner said, “To come this fast.”

“Oh.” Hashim smiled at his own mistake. “Well, I’m here now. Tell me why you are here, who sent you? Who -”

“No one sent me,” the prisoner said as he stood to his feet, “You wronged me, I lost everything, my family, my title, my wealth. You are to blame, and so I came to set things straight.”

Hashim raised a brow. “Can’t make an omelet without breaking an egg.”

“What?” the prisoner gasped outraged.

“I mean that I might have wronged you, but it was not on purpose.” Hashim shrugged, looking up at the prisoner’s face as he stepped into the light at the door. “You could have tried talking to me before deciding to make an attempt on my life.”

“You killed my father, and stripped my sister and me of everything we had.” The prisoner shook his head sadly, “My mother is hiding out in shame. We should not be ashamed, we should be proud to be Howes. That name used to mean something before you killed my beloved father, and dragged our name through the dirt.”

Hashim’s eyes widened in surprise. “You are Arl Howe’s son?”

“I am,” the prisoner said. “My name is Nathaniel Howe, and the only thing I regret more than you killing my father, is that I was abroad and was not told of this until it was too late.”

“Your father was a murderer,” Hashim just said. “He deserved his fate.”

“Liar.” Nathaniel raged, hitting the iron bars of his cell. “King Alistair needed him gone so he wouldn’t speak up against him at the Landsmeet! And you did his dirty work like the good little lapdog you are.”

“I saw your father’s cruel handiwork first hand,” Hashim said, crossing his arms. For a moment there was a tense silence, until Hashim looked up at Nathaniel again. “I could have you hung, actually my counselors thinks that is what I should do. Show an example of what happens to fools like you.” He narrowed his eyes, “I, on the other hand, have no desire to hang anyone. Tell me, little Howe, is there anything you ‘can’ do?”

“How dare you?” Nathaniel spat angrily, but the venom had faded a little.

Hashim, on the other hand, smiled and looked amused. “The man whose honour you think you are defending had no honour.” He held out his hand and a blue flame erupted from his palm. Surana closed his hand again and killed the flame. “But like all mages aren’t abominations, then maybe all Howes are not bastards.”

“I’m good with a bow,” Nathaniel sighed, but held his head high to salvage the last of his pride.

“Alright then.” Hashim smiled, “If I let you out of here, will you let me prove to you that your father was not the man you thought him to be?”

Now it was Nathaniel’s turn to be confused. “I suppose so, yes…”

Hashim gestured to the guards to open the cell. One guard watched nervously as the door swung open. “Do you think that is wise, my Lord?”

“Don’t know,” Hashim said and deliberately turned his back to Nathaniel. “Time will just have to tell, won’t it?”

~*~

Some two months later, a letter came by courier. Hashim had read it over and over, put it away, picked it up again and read it over. It was an invitation to a week-long festival for the newborn prince. Funny how this brought up all the anger and resentment that he might have felt back when Alistair had left him behind. Maybe he should just feel privileged to be invited at all. He was quite sure that it was Alistair’s design, not the queen’s.

For the remainder of the day, Hashim was deep in thought, trying to figure out how to deal with the invitation. He would have to go; there was no doubt about that. This was not a request. He was sure that it had bugged the queen to no end that his title alone would land him a chair at their table. “My Lord?” Varel elbowed him, bringing him back from his thoughts. He blinked and focused on the two angry noblewomen in front of him, both accusing the other of their marriage to the same man to be fake. “Ladies, ladies…” Hashim stood and waved his hand dismissively, “I am sorry, but…” He didn’t know how to explain, so he just said, “I am terribly tired, there have been many things that have required my attention lately.” They looked annoyed but not enraged, so Hashim smiled. “Please, good people, come back tomorrow. I promise I will listen to everyone after I have had some sleep.”

“He does look worn,” a nobleman whispered.

“I am telling you the king was wrong to give the title to an elf, their health is…”

“Watch your tongue, Ser,” Nathaniel barked as he walked past the exiting nobles while carrying a large fawn over his shoulder, closely followed by Velanna and Oghren.

“Ser Howe, forgive me,” the noble hurriedly muttered as he fled the keep.

“Surana!” Nathaniel beamed, making Hashim stop mid-step on the stairs to his bedroom.

Hashim turned around and looked down at the small hunting party and their prize. “That looks like a magnificent feast indeed.” He grinned, walking down the stairs again.

“Too bad you weren’t with us,” Velanna said, noting the dark circles under the mage’s eyes.

“Oh!” Nathaniel said with a lopsided grin, “You could have killed it with a fireball and we could have eaten it on the spot, cooked and all.”

Oghren rolled his eyes and walked off.

Hashim laughed at Nathaniel’s folly. “I would just have burned it to a crisp.” He then smiled at Velanna, “But I would have loved to have been there. Anything would have been better than this.” He nodded towards the Arl’s seat.

“Amaranthine is a hard mistress.” Nathaniel said with an unreadable expression on his face, and pulled the fawn up over his shoulder again. “I will take this to the kitchen,” he mumbled and left.

“Ouch.” Hashim sighed, and looked over at Velanna. “I didn’t mean it that way.” He ran a hand through his short hair. “It was terrible insensitive of me, wasn’t it?”

“Very poor taste, yes,” Velanna admitted.

Hashim shrugged. “I will just have to talk to him tonight.”

Velanna reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Something is amiss; you look tired and unfocused.” She licked her lips nervously, not sure if city elves and Dalish would solve this the same way. “There is a holy grove not far from here where the Dalish – ”

“No.” Hashim shook his head, paused and placed his hand on top of Velanna’s. “It is kind of you, but I am not Dalish.” He smiled sadly, hoping she would understand.

“Very well, but if you need me, you know where to find me.”

~*~

Dinner was pleasant; the meat was perfect and the wine went straight to Hashim’s head. He sat at the end of the table and watched the others talk and laugh. Strangely, he missed Morrigan, Zevran and Wynne. Hells, he even missed Leiliana and Sten.

“A copper for your thought,” Sigrun said, filling Hashim’s glass again.

Hashim smiled at the dwarf. “Just missing old friends, wishing they were here amongst new ones.”

“Who made you so sad?” she asked bluntly.

“I’m not sad, just – ”

“Your sadness is like a shroud; you fool no one.” Sigrun shook her head slightly, amused at Surana’s stupidity.

Hashim looked up over the table, all chatter had stopped and they all looked at him, waiting for an answer. “I… It’s… ” He took a deep breath, and emptied his glass in one go. “I received an invitation to the festivities for the newborn prince.”

“But that is good, right?” Anders asked, confused.

“It is. I am glad that King Alistair got himself an heir,” Hashim said, feeling his heart sink as the lie burned his lips.

“Surana…” Oghren said rolling a thread of his beard around his finger.

“What good would it do, Oghren?” Hashim asked, deflated.

Oghren looked thoughtful, and then burped. Turning to Surana’s end of the table, he looked directly at the slender elf, “These folks would follow you to death, and you don’t think they deserve to know why this upsets you? By the stone elf! If you don’t tell them, I will.”

“Very well.” Hashim held his hands up as he surrendered to telling the tale. “I am only telling you this because I don’t trust Oghren’s version,” he said with a little laugh, hoping to take some tension out of the situation. “Years ago, before King Alistair was king, he was a warden like me. We were best friends, battle brothers for a long time. I pushed him to claim the throne as the only rightful heir left, believing it was his calling. He chose to embrace his calling and married queen Anora, and sent me here.” He shrugged, “That is the short version.”

“You know the king?” Anders asked unable to hide his surprise.

“Knew,” Hashim corrected him gently, ignoring the dirty look that Oghren shot him. But Hashim honestly didn’t see what good knowing the whole truth would do the others. “Anyway, we might not have parted as friends, and I just worry… that’s all.” He smiled his most charming smile.

“What gift are you going to bring?” Velanna asked.

Hashim shrugged, “I don’t know what to gift a baby.”

“A mabari.” Nathaniel said thoughtfully.

“You could be right.” Hashim smiled at the dark-haired man. “That is a good idea.”

~*~

Four exhausting days later, the servants of Vigil’s keep was making the last arrangements for their Lord’s travel to the city of Denerim. Hashim held up his dragon-scaled breast plate with the grey warden crest in the middle. It had been so long since he had worn it, but the road to the city was far from safe, even with the threat of the Blight gone. He didn’t understand how feelings he had buried so deeply would surface like this. It was as if he had no control of it. He couldn’t help but feel every bit as sorrowful as he had when Alistair had chosen Anora over him. Zevran had been a delightful distraction, but not a permanent solution. He wondered if the assassin would be invited, and if so, if he would come.

Hashim turned on his heels, away from his own mirror image and walked out into the hall, still clasping the straps to his chest piece. Stopping in front of Nathaniel’s door, he raised a hand to knock, paused, thought about if this was a good idea at all, and then knocked.

Nathaniel opened, surprised to find Hashim out in the hall this early in the morning. “Warden Commander.”

Hashim smiled, “Warden.”

“I’ll never get used to that.” Nathaniel shook his head, swinging the door open, leaning on the door frame casually. “What can I do for you?”

Hashim took a deep breath, “You could accompany me to the royal festival.”

“What?”

“You could -”

“I heard you, it’s just…” Nathaniel looked puzzled, “Why me?”

“I figured that you could do with a trip,” Hashim lied with a smile. Truth was that he had to admit to himself that he really wanted Nathaniel to come with him.

“Won’t that just look odd?” Nathaniel asked, “Point one I’m a Howe, point two I’m a man. Why don’t you ask Velanna?”

“Point three, we are both wardens.”

Nathaniel nodded. “True.” He paused, “On one condition though.”

“Name it.”

“You tell me the truth.” Nathaniel narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Why did the king and you part with bad blood?”

Hashim sighed, “Very well, I will tell you. But not here, and not now. I will tell you all you want to know once we are on the road.”

“That is acceptable,” Nathaniel nodded.

~*~

“So.” Nathaniel said, leaned up against a tree log, cradling a cup of wine. “I believe that you have a story to tell.” He winked in a good-humored way.

Hashim nodded, filling his own cup. He looked up at the moon, it would be full soon. “Alistair was more than my battle brother,” he admitted with a sad tone.”Once we were lovers, and I thought that it would be like that forever, but Andraste herself had other ideas.” He looked down at the ground between his feet, idly running a finger over the brim of his cup. “And that is all there is to that. I just thought it would be pointless for it to be common knowledge.”

Nathaniel shrugged. “He needed a queen, he needed an heir. You might be slayer of the Archdemon, but you have yet to sprout a womb.”

“I know that,” Hashim barked angrily. “Don’t you think I told myself that? That I should not be angry because his choice was that of duty.” He looked up at Nathaniel, “I just can’t, and I don’t know why.”

Nathaniel smiled. “When I first heard that Warden Commander Surana was the one responsible for my father’s untimely demise, I set out to kill the culprit.” He studied Hashim’s surprised expression as he spoke. “I thought you had killed him for power, or maybe for spite, because I loved him dearly and he had always been a good father to me and my sister.” Hashim opened his mouth to speak, but Nathaniel cut him off with an impatient gesture. “As I sat in that cell, your proposition made sense, and I accepted your challenge. I was so sure that nothing you could do would make me change my mind.” Nathaniel paused. “I was wrong,” he admitted with a slight drawl. “I know now that you killed my father out of duty. He was a monster, and was deserving of his end. Now I find that I can’t hate you anymore. Things are just not as black and white as I thought. I might have set out to end your life in anger, but you saved mine! You gave me a new purpose as a Grey Warden, you let me restore my name for myself, gave me a home and accepted me into your circle of friends. So tell me, after all this, should I still bear a grudge?”

Hashim just sat and stared at the man, feeling humbled. He smiled, embarrassed, knowing that Nathaniel was right. “No,” he answered hesitantly. “But Alistair is not a monster, he is just… I guess I feel betrayed, and I know it’s childish of me, but – Actually there is a reason I brought you a long on this trip. See, I have one more confession to make; lately I have been thinking that maybe I should leave here and aim for the Deep Roads. There are others who are more competent at running the Arldom than me.” He held up his cup and toasted towards Nathaniel, “Like you, little Howe.”

“What? No,” Nathaniel said, shaking his head.

“Don’t you want your title back? The land belongs to the king, but still it’s something,” Hashim nodded.

“It’s not that.” Nathaniel said, “It’s what you said before that. The part about the Deep Roads.” He shook his head again. “I wanted the Howe name restored, but – not like this.”

Hashim wasn’t sure he understood, and just took a sip of his wine. “I would make sure it was all yours. I am sure Alistair won’t argue.”

“Surana… ” Nathaniel sighed. “Are you even listening to what I am saying, or are you going to continue to act like a petulant teenager?”

“No, you don’t understand!” Hashim got up from where he had been seated and started to pace, “Every time I see him, I recall the promises he made, I remember a time when everything was us against them, where nothing was ruined by politics. The hardest thing I ever did was to watch him receive his crown with -her- at his side.” His pacing picked up speed. “It should have been me, Nathaniel, me! Not because I want fame and glory, but because I belonged there. I was his love, not her! I could hear the pain in his voice, and I could see it in his eyes as I left for Vigils Keep. He still loved me.” Hashim ran a hand over his face, “And now he hates me more than anything else, because I am the one who pushed him to claim the crown, which I felt was rightfully his. I doomed us, and most of all him with those words. He will never forgive me.” He stopped and looked up at the moon again, “And I don’t think I can ever forgive myself, either. I tried to end it with killing the Archdemon, but something was off and I survived even if I shouldn’t have. Not that I understand it, but I did, and some like my brother would see that as a gift from Andraste, but I don’t. It’s a curse, Nathaniel! I am so tired – I need this ache to go away.”

Nathaniel just sat and looked at the Warden Commander. “Maybe it is a gift, and maybe you can only erase the old with the new?” He smiled softly. “At least that is what my mother always said.”

“Are you seriously sitting there telling me that I need to just pull myself up and get on with it?” Hashim asked, surprised, not sure if he should laugh or cry.

“Yes,” Nathaniel said in all honesty. “I have heard the way Anders speaks of you, and noticed the way he steals glances at you, maybe you should…”

“Surely you are making fun of me now.” Hashim felt an insane laughter bubble up through his chest.

“Absolutely not,” Nathaniel said.

Hashim looked at Nathaniel in the light of the flames from their fireplace. “I do like them blond and idealistic,” he mumbled, and then burst out laughing. It felt good. He hadn’t laughed like this in a very long time. “Just kidding! Anders is a good friend and all, but no.” Hashim shook his head, amused.

~*~

“It’s going to be fine,” Nathaniel whispered as they rode into the city, which was decorated for the festivities.

Hashim nodded, smiling at the city-dwellers who greeted him. He was a bit surprised that they hadn’t forgotten who he was. It seemed to Hashim that they had barely made it through the city gates before he was suddenly standing in a room in what used to be Arl Howe’s home. “Come on.” Nathaniel grabbed his wrist and dragged a surprised Hashim up the stairs and out a window on the second floor. “Would you look at that sight? Does it compare to anything else?” Nathaniel sighed happily as they stood out on the roof of the Arl’s house.

“It is very beautiful,” Hashim agreed, looking out over the city’s roofs. “Look, you can even see the Venedahl from here!” He pointed at the gnarly tree in the Alienage in the distance.

“Is it really magic?” Nathaniel asked in a childish voice.

“No,” Hashim laughed. “It’s just a tree, and the Alienage elves use it to fool themselves into being close to their Dalish cousins.”

“Oh.” Nathaniel couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. “You can see the king’s castle out there.” He pointed west.

Hashim nodded.

“I came here all the time as a child. Vaughan and I could hear the servants and our parents looking for us, but they couldn’t find us.” He laughed softly. “Only Vaughan and I knew of this place. We never even told Cailan.”

“You knew Cailan?” Hashim asked surprised.

“Of course.” Nathaniel laughed softly.

“But of course you did.” Hashim smiled and chuckled at his own stupidity. He sat down next to Nathaniel and watched the sun as it slowly descended toward the rooftops. “I’m from Denerim too, and I remember seeing the prince and his followers once when I was at the market with my brother. He was dressed in white and gold, looking every bit regal.” He smiled at Nathaniel, who just listened. “We didn’t come close, of course, but you could see the sun reflected in the gold threads of his clothes.”

“You’re from the Alienage?” Nathaniel asked in a little whisper.

“I am.” Hashim nodded, “My brother Soris still lives in our old hut with his family.” Before Nathaniel could say anything, Hashim spoke again. “I was taken to the tower of magi when I was fairly young, so I didn’t grow up here.” His voice trailed off to silence.

“Your parents?”

“Dead,” Hashim sighed. “Worked themselves into an early grave for… for… nothing.”

“I’m sorry…”

“No you’re not-” Hashim barked back, anger suddenly rising in his chest. “The Theirins, the Couslands, the Howes… None of you really care. One elf dies, you get another. You don’t even care to know their names.” He let out a long sigh as he tried to quell his anger. “Both my parents worked here for the Arl of Denerim. Have you ever thought that the servants who were ordered to find you, might have been punished, or maybe even kicked out for not being able to locate you two brats out here?”

“…No…” Nathaniel whispered, “I didn’t know… I mean… I have just never given it thought.”

Hashim turned his head, his eyes sad, but his lips smiling slightly. He knew it was not Nathaniel’s fault and really he shouldn’t take it out on him. “What was the name of your nanny?”

“eh… ”

“Your cook? Your stable-boy? Your gardener?”

“I… I don’t know,” Nathaniel admitted with a sad sigh.

“Exactly.” Hashim leaned back against the wall and watched the sun. “I was lucky, I was sent away.” He paused, fingering the sleeve of his tunic. “I’m sorry, but I hate Denerim. It brings back bad memories.”

“I understand,” Nathaniel said softly, falling silent.

“I really am sorry,” Hashim finally said. “It’s not your fault, I didn’t ask you to come with me to toss a giant guilt trip your way.”

Nathaniel licked his lips. He had been dying to ask this question since they left Vigil’s keep. “Then why did you bring me?”

“To ask Alistair to instate you as the Arl of Amaranthine,” Hashim said with a sorrowful tone.

“But I don’t want to be the Arl of Amaranthine, that title is yours,” Nathaniel said. Treading in deep water, he finally asked, “Is that the only reason?”

“Yes…” Hashim said hesitantly. “No… maybe.. I don’t know. Shit!” He leaned his head back against the wall, looking up into the skies. “Because I thought you’d like to go back to Denerim.” He bit his lip. “And I had not for one second thought you didn’t want your title back.”

“Oh.” Nathaniel felt a tiny stab in his chest. He didn’t know where it came from. Why was he slightly disappointed in Surana’s motives for picking him? Truth was that when he had spoken of Anders’ infatuation, it was not really true. He had only noticed Anders because he himself would turn and secretly look at Hashim, cursing himself when he was caught in the act. He was supposed to hate, or at the most – tolerate the warden commander, his father’s killer. Then why was he sitting here wishing he would scoot closer? He knew he wouldn’t, though. Hashim was still too wrapped up in Alistair to notice.

~*~

The next morning Nathaniel had breakfast with other nobles invited to the festivities. He knew a couple, some he had not seen in years, and most offered condolences on his father’s passing. Others were surprised to find that the rumor that the Howe heir had become a grey warden was actually true. Nathaniel looked around and realised he had not seen Surana since they had gone down from the rooftop last night. He asked if anyone had seen the warden commander, but none knew he was even there. It was like searching for a ghost.

Hours went by and he began to get slightly nervous that Surana would miss the banquet with the king and queen later. It was past midday when a servant girl who was washing the floors of the entry hall called for him. “Warden Howe,” she called, “forgive me, my lord, but I couldn’t help but overhear that you were looking for the Warden Commander.” She looked away from Nathaniel’s curious gaze as he came close. “I know I shouldn’t eavesdrop, but voices travel in this place.”

Nathaniel smiled, remembering Hashim’s words from yesterday. “What’s your name, miss?” he asked.

The servant girl fell silent.

Nathaniel realised that she might think that he asked for her name to punish her for speaking out of turn. “Don’t worry, miss, I just like to know the names of people I talk to. My name is Nathaniel.” He held out his hand to the servant, something he had never done before, and he reckoned that the servant girl would think it just as odd as he.

“I’m Alima,” she said softly, feeling more brave after she shook Nathaniel’s hand. She looked up at him. “The Warden Commander left to visit family in the Alienage, but if he is not there, I am sure you can find him in the Chantry.”

“In the Chantry?”

“Yes my lord.” Alima nodded to emphasize her words. “The Warden Commander always spent most his time there, when he still resided here in the city, and I suspect it has not changed.” She blinked. “You do not have a Chantry at Vigil’s keep?”

“We do… but…” Nathaniel looked thoughtful, he had never been there, and had no clue if anyone used it at all. They didn’t have a Reverend Mother or anything, it was just a room with a statue of Andraste and the holy fire.

“The Chantry is across the market. You can’t miss it, my lord,” Alima said.

“Thanks,” Nathaniel said with a smile. “I mean that… Alima.”

The servant girl blushed but bowed slightly and returned to her task.

~*~

Nathaniel went straight to the Chantry, thinking that it would be less awkward than walking down into the Alienage. He pushed the heavy doors slightly open and walked in. There were a lot of people there. It surprised him that it was buzzing with life much like the marketplace. He scanned the room and found Surana seated up in front of the statue of Andraste, while the Reverend Mother spoke to him. Feeling like an intruder, Nathaniel made his way down the rows of benches and chairs to where the warden commander sat. “Surana?” he asked softly.

Both the Reverend Mother and Hashim looked up at Nathaniel, who felt like he had grown horns overnight or something, the way they were looking. “Nathaniel? How did you know where to find me?”

Nathaniel smiled knowingly. “I asked Alima, one of the servant girls, and she told me you used to come here frequently.”

Hashim’s smile widened and his gaze softened. “Did she now?” He indicated the bench next to him for Nathaniel to sit.

The Reverend Mother touched Hashim’s cheek gently and then walked away. Hashim looked up at Andraste, who towered in front of them. “Sometimes I came here for silence, and sometimes I came here to try and find a reason to the madness. I prayed and prayed, hoping for Andraste or the maker himself to answer me. They never did.” He dropped his head and looked down at his hands in his lap.

“I never took you for a religious man,” Nathaniel whispered.

“I guess when you’re a mage like me, and you see what the veil can spew out, you need a counterpart. You need to believe that there are good forces at play as well.” He shrugged.

“Makes sense,” Nathaniel whispered again. “Dare I ask what brought you here today?”

Hashim nodded, wondering if he should lie, but then to lie to someone at the feet of Andraste, and under the watchful eye of the Maker, would be bad. “Because of Alistair.” He sighed. “I have tried for so long to let him go, but no matter what I did, he would haunt my steps.” Hashim looked away from Nathaniel. “And because of you.”

“Me?” Nathaniel asked surprised.

“Yes,” Hashim said, deflated. “I regret my decision to bring you here. It was selfish and stupid.” He dropped his head and rested it on his folded hands on the back of the bench in front of them. “I arranged to stay with my cousin in the Alienage. You should stay at the Arl’s castle.”

“But why?” Nathaniel asked, not making heads or tails of Hashim’s confession.

“Because it has to be like that,” Hashim hissed angrily. “Just trust me.”

“You know I trust you, I trust you with my life, Surana.” Nathaniel said, inching out on the edge of the seat to try and capture the elf’s elusive gaze. “If you regret my company, then at least tell me why.”

Hashim sighed sadly. “Because I wanted to kiss you last night. I’m so sorry…” Hashim pulled himself together and sat up looking sorrowfully at Nathaniel. “I know you would not welcome a man’s courtship. I have known you for long enough to know that you enjoy the company of women. And under other circumstances it would not be a problem. I have grown quite good at keeping silly things like that to myself. But here, this city… Alistair… I just can’t, it’s too much. Truth is that I brought you not only to hand you over the Arlship of Amaranthine, but because I really wanted to be in your company.” Hashim blushed slightly against his own will, and looked away. “Forgive me.”

“Surana…”

“No” Hashim barked, raising the glare of the others in the Chantry. “Please just leave, I will stay here and maker will clear my mind of this nonsense.”

“But…”

“Don’t worry; I will be at the banquet.” He shot Nathaniel a tiny smile, and turned his head again, and looked up at Andraste.

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