I suppose this could be considered part 2 to the DAWC Holiday Challenge considering it occurs on "First Day Eve". But mostly it's just a fluffy sort of walk through what for me would be an ideal New Year's Eve party. How come my New Year's Eves never end up like this?
Anyway…on with the show…
[insert standard disclaimer here]
Countdowns and Superstitions
"Commander sure has been walkin' around with a glow, eh?"
"Close your mouth when you chew, dwarf," growled Velanna. "It's disgusting to hear your lips smacking all over the meat you're chewing on."
Oghren grumbled incoherently in response, hastily grabbing his mug of ale and spilling some of the liquid over the lip of it.
"He's right though," piped up Sigrun. "Commander Surana has been in a particularly good mood these past few days. Wonder why that is."
"The healer has moved into the room with her," Nathaniel said matter-of-factly.
Oghren spit out the ale he had just sipped. "What? Howe…I told you that if you didn't fill me in on details like these, I'd pound your face into the ground."
"Relax Oghren," the archer advised. "It has only just happened in the past few days. I walked by the open door of his room not two days ago and all of his belongings were neatly stacked upon his bed. And as I tend to have a talent for watching without being seen, I was able to track him later bringing those belongings to her quarters."
"Thank the Creators you were able to bring us this vital information," Velanna spouted, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Nathaniel shot her a look that reminded her that between the two of them, he was the senior Warden – even if it was only by a couple of months. Still, it didn't matter. She paid him no mind.
"Velanna, I think it's sweet," Sigrun said with a smile. "We don't always have a lot of nice things to latch on to here."
"And it's elves like her that get entwined with humans," – she glared at Nathaniel again – "that have become a detriment to our species."
"Yes, I'm sure Elirezara is the sole reason the elves were imprisoned for hundreds of years and lost their culture and sense of identity," Nathaniel said, rolling his eyes. "We've heard this all before."
"How can we as a species continue if elves like her bed you humans rather than their own kind?" she snapped back.
"I don't believe procreation is high on one's list of priorities as a Grey Warden, might I remind you," he said.
She snorted derisively. "I've had enough of this conversation." She got to her feet, throwing her utensils down harshly her now empty plate.
"Don't forget we're meeting in the main hall for the Eve of First Day celebration tonight!" Sigrun called out after her.
"I wouldn't miss it!" the elf growled back.
"She's feisty," Oghren remarked, slurping back another sip of ale. "I like that in a woman."
Nathaniel sighed. He watched the elf storm across the dining hall. Just as she was about to exit the room, the door opened and Seneschal Varel entered the room. As she wasn't paying attention to him – or perhaps didn't care about his presence – she nearly ran right through him.
"Out of my way!"
Varel was taken aback by her violent stalking through the room, and despite being nearly knocked clean off of his feet, he regained his footing and turned to watch her leave. The others saw him shake his head and he continued on into the hall.
The three kept eating their meals as the Seneschal approached. The man nodded as he reached the table they ate at and as soon as he passed, Sigrun could no longer hold in her excitement over the news.
"Really," she started, "I think it's wonderful for Anders. Moving in with the Commander, I mean."
Nathaniel kicked her under the table.
"Ow!" she exclaimed. "What'd ya do that for?"
"I don't think it's necessary to be spreading the news around so soon," he replied.
"Oh…it is certainly not news to me," Varel said as he stopped and turned back to face them.
The three stopped eating and looked at him.
"What's that s'posed to mean?" Oghren asked.
"It means that—" He hesitated for a moment, uncertain of whether to reveal what had happened.
"Spit it out, man!" Oghren wasn't one to be patient for anyone.
"I walked in on them…in bed…"
Two jaws hit the ground – and there was silence until the third began to chortle uncontrollably.
"I knew it! Mage's been tryin' to get into that woman's bed since the moment they both showed up here," Oghren roared.
"Keep it down, Warden," Varel cautioned. "If the Commander catches us gossiping about this, she'll likely send us all to the dungeons…to clean."
"Elirezara? Oh, she's a kitten. She'd never do a thing like that," Sigrun said.
"Do a thing like what?"
The four froze at the sound of the voice behind them.
"Anders!" the dwarf exclaimed, nervously biting her lip. "What a…pleasant sur-"
"Anders, have you seen the Commander?" Varel interrupted, allowing Sigrun to breathe a sigh of relief over not having to explain herself.
"I…no. I haven't seen her," he replied nervously. "Why would you think I'd have seen her?"
Oghren snorted loudly, prompting Sigrun and Nathaniel to immediately kick him under the table. The dwarf groaned, but continued to chuckle to himself.
"No reason," Varel replied quickly. "Look, just…give this to her if you see her." He handed over a rolled up parchment. "This is for her eyes only."
Anders scrunched up his face as he took the parchment from him. Immediately Varel spun around and left without another word.
"So," Anders started to say as he stepped over the bench to sit down. "What are we talking about?"
"We were actually just about to leave," Nathaniel replied, getting up from his seat and gathering his dishes. "Weren't we, Sigrun?"
"Uh, yes. Absolutely," she immediately replied.
Oghren continued to giggle into his mug of ale.
"It was nice to see you though," she said, jumping up and heading off with the archer.
"Hmm," Anders said, watching as they walked off. "That was…odd. What…what just happened?"
He looked at Oghren, who glanced sideways back at him. He laughed louder now, snorting a little. Seeing no answers were able to come from the dwarf, Anders just shook his head and got up from his seat, leaving him to his own devices. When everyone had left the dining hall, save for Oghren, he looked around at the empty seats around him.
"What'd I say?" he mused to no one. Shrugging, he set his focus back on the mug of ale in front of him, taking another sip. It didn't take him long to forget the exchange that he had just been a part of, and he eventually ceased giggling altogether.
"Get down, kitty!"
Ser Pounce a Lot had managed to find his way to the highest shelf of the bookcase in Elirezara's room – the room that she now shared with Anders. And wherever Anders went, so did the cat. Which wouldn't be a problem, provided he would stay off of the high furniture.
As she stretched up to try to reach him, the cat crouched in the back corner, not removing his eyes from her. He eventually became comfortable and curled up into a ball, purring loudly.
"Fine!" she exclaimed. "Have it your way, Pounce. But if you knock anything else off of that shelf, I swear it…I'll…"
There was no use talking to the cat. He responded only to Anders for some reason. She gave up and returned to the desk. She sat down, taking a large book into her hands. Things had slowed down enough for her for the day that she could finally devote some time to learning about herbalism. She had found the book at a merchant's stall in Amaranthine months earlier, but never did have the time to read it. And if she had the time, she never had the gumption. Typical.
When she finally settled into the book's wordy introduction, the door opened, interrupting her concentration. She looked up to see Anders enter the room with a look on his face that she could only describe as troubled.
"Something the matter?"
He walked over to the bed and slumped down on to it heavily.
"What does everyone know?" she asked.
"About us," he replied.
"What did they say?" she asked, putting the book down and approaching him.
"It's not what they said. It's what they didn't say," he replied. "And they didn't say a whole lot. Just…avoided me."
"Hmm," she pondered. "That doesn't mean they know anything."
He looked at her as she sat down on the bed beside him. "And the Seneschal gave me this to give to you. Acting very oddly of course. Barely made eye contact with me." He handed her the rolled up parchment.
She opened it and read it. "Twenty legs of lamb…four cheese wheels…goat's milk…Anders. This is a grocery list."
He put his hands up in protest. "I didn't open it…just as he instructed. I just brought it to you."
"That could only mean one thing," she said.
They looked at each other. "They know," rang out their voices in unison.
She giggled wildly. "Anders, my inviting you to live in these quarters was never meant to be a secret."
"Of course not," she replied. "If we were having secret trysts, we would have simply kept hiding and meeting under cover of darkness. I mean, we'll certainly have to handle things in a bit of a sensitive matter with regards to the other Wardens. No favouritism and all that. But no…certainly this is not meant to be clandestine."
"I suppose I didn't have to be so stealthy when I moved my belongings here," he said, shrugging.
She looked at him with a disbelieving eye. "You couldn't be stealthy if you tried!"
"I'm stealthy enough. How would I have escaped the Tower so many times if I wasn't?" he pouted to her.
"Perhaps because you did things like throw me into the water and then ran while the templars tried to save me from drowning?"
"Uh…yes. Sorry about that. Again," he said sheepishly.
She put her arm around him and drew him close to kiss his cheek. "Forgiven. Again."
She hopped up and went back to her desk to retrieve the rather large herbalism book once more. When she reached it, she discovered it had become a new bed for the cat.
"Oh, so now you no longer wish to be the king of the Keep, up there on your high pedestal," she said, narrowing her eyes to look at the cat. He merely lifted his head and mewed at her.
"Pounce, believe me when I say this. If you weren't so darn cute, you'd be out that window in a heartbeat," she said, scratching him under the chin.
"Is my kitty giving you a hard time?" Anders said, walking over to where she stood.
"I don't think he likes it here very much. Or maybe it's just me he doesn't like," she said.
He picked up the cat and it immediately burrowed into his arms. "Aww, Pounce. Be nice to Eli. After all, she was the one who brought you to me. There's no need to be jealous, because I still love you."
She smiled at him, all the while shaking her head. "At least I can get my book now."
She retrieved the book and settled back down on the bed, sitting cross legged with it in front of her.
"Ah, herbailism," Anders said as he brought the cat with him to sprawl across the bed as well. He lay on his back with Pounce on his chest and looked up at her. "Haven't you been trying to read that for—"
"Forever…yes," she cut in.
"Pounce," he said, looking directly into the cat's eyes. "We mustn't disturb Eli while she is reading."
He looked at her and nodded. She smiled and turned her attention to the book.
Though it didn't last long. Anders began – as quietly as he could – to play with the cat. He would scratch its nose with his finger, and Pounce would nuzzle his hand in response. The cat would playfully swat at Anders' hair, and roll around on his stomach and chest.
There was no way her attention was focused enough on the book to absorb anything she was reading. She closed the book and placed it on the table beside the bed.
"Okay…you win," she said.
"Did you hear that Pounce? Our plan worked. Your cuteness and my charm, and she's putty in our hands!"
The cat jumped off of him and she swatted at Anders. But before her hand made contact with him, he reached for her and pulled her nearly on top of him. She collapsed in front of him, her back to his chest. She felt his breath upon her ear, and was suddenly reminded of the night they spent watching the lunar eclipse together – how she'd feared it would be the last time she felt the sensation of his breath there. But life had a funny way of bringing things full circle for her, and she smiled as he held her close.
"Are you ready for this evening's festivities?" he asked her.
"Aside from not having any inkling about what I should be wearing to such an event? Yes, I suppose I am," he replied.
"Not to worry," he whispered into her ear. "I have taken care of that little detail as well."
She tried to turn to face him and ended up partially on her back, straining her neck. "You? You found something for me to wear?"
"I did," he said smugly. "Well, with a little help of course. It is hanging in the wardrobe. And I want to be just as surprised as everyone else when you walk into the main hall wearing it."
"Anders," she said. "You are full of surprises. How do you know it will fit me?"
"I, uh…stole one of your robes when we went to Amaranthine for comparison." If she could see his face, she knew he'd only be blushing a little.
"Interesting tactic. So when do I get to see this…uh…item?"
He rolled her towards him to face him, and cupped her cheek gently. "You can look at it as soon as I leave. You'll know it because it has a rather large bow on it – you know, to indicate that it is a gift," he smirked.
"I suppose you're rather lucky that I rarely use that wardrobe," she mentioned, and he nodded with a smile. "Lest I have discovered it early."
He reached out and fingered the pendant he gave her. "I'm very glad you're wearing this."
"Of course I'm wearing it," she said. "It is…probably the nicest thing anyone has ever given me. And mostly because it's from you."
He flashed her one last smile and moved forward to kiss her softly on the nose. He then jumped up and stood at the side of the bed, looking down at her.
"It sounds like things are going to be starting up just after the sun goes down for dinner. I will be back an hour before that happens to get ready myself. And then you are welcome to get yourself ready. Just don't you dare put that dress on before I have left for the dinner. I want to be surprised!" he reminded her.
"Of course," she replied, and he headed out the door.
Pounce jumped back up on the bed and stood looking at her. "Well Pounce," she said, "let's go see just exactly what kind of fashion sense Anders thinks he has."
She scratched the top of the cat's head briefly and then got up from the bed. She approached the wardrobe until she stood in front of it.
She took a deep breath. Held it.
And then opened the door.
The main hall at Vigil's Keep had been closed for a day and a half as preparations for the Eve of First Day festivities were underway. So when Anders first entered the hall, he was taken aback at just how many more decorations had been hung…at how...stunning everything looked. He was unsure of how it had been accomplished, but every single parchment snowflake that Elirezara had created and hung now appeared to be shimmering. Long tables had been brought in and placed into rows for the many residents and families associated with the Keep. Linens of deep wine burgundy spread along them all; plates of porcelain sit atop them with silverware that had been polished to a shine. And the smells that wafted through the hall…spectacular! Freshly baked breads, roast duck and a few others he could not place. The Keep had spared no expense for the Wardens' inaugural Eve of First Day dinner.
But for all the beauty of the hall, Anders was a thousand times more eager to see Eli in the gown he had purchased for her. And for that matter, he had wondered if she'd be just as excited to see him in something other than the armour that he wore as a Warden, or his mage's robes in varying colours and patterns. He had spent almost the full hour getting ready. That could have been a problem as Eli was scheduled to show up to prepare herself as well. Though his keen observational skills told him that she had obviously removed the gown and decided to prepare herself elsewhere, and so he remained. He fussed over how to wear his hair for a good portion of the time, finally settling on leaving it down. He removed the gold hoop earring that Eli also joked with him about, saying it was so 'ridiculous', though he knew she secretly liked it as her fingers undoubtedly always ended up fiddling with it when they sat together in the evening. He replaced it with a small emerald stud – the colour of both the pendant he gave her, and the dress she would wear that evening. He passed over the current style of the nobility of Ferelden with their puffy striped pantaloons, settling instead for simple dark linen pants and a matching long tunic.
Whatever it was that he did must have worked, for he heard a shriek, followed by approaching footsteps…that were obviously at the speed of a run, and was suddenly greeted by Sigrun at his side.
"Anders! You look so…different!" she exclaimed. "A little more facial hair, perhaps a beard…maybe some braids…and I might even fancy you myself."
"Thank you, Sigrun. At least, I think that was a compliment?" he said in an uncertain tone.
"It's a compliment, mage boy. Take it!"
He smiled at her, nodding politely.
"And I haven't seen her yet, so you can stop looking around so much," she said, nudging an elbow into his ribs.
"Haven't seen who?" he asked.
She glared at him – almost as well as Eli did, he noted.
"Oh please. Stop with the coyness. We all know about you and the Commander," she said. "And I think it's wonderful."
"You do?" he said in surprise. "Really? You don't think it's…inappropriate?"
"Bah!" she exclaimed. "That poor woman deserves to be happy. And she seems to like you a lot. Enough to move you into her bed, eh?" She winked an exaggerated wink to his horror.
"Yes…well," he started. "We have been friends for…longer than I can remember."
"You knew her back at the Tower huh?"
He nodded. "That I did. Poor girl hated me at first. At least, that's the way I took it. But then, I'm so damn charming."
Sigrun snorted. "And humble, apparently."
"Another one of my assets," he replied, flashing a bright smile.
"So anyway," she continued, looking around. "So many people here huh? The workers…and the nobles."
"The nobles bore me," he said. "All their posh outfits and turned up noses."
She nodded. "I'm just glad they're being kicked out after dinner. Then it's time for us to celebrate and drink until we're all under the table."
"Just please tell me the Oghren is not already at that point," he groaned.
"Not quite. Close, but not quite. He did start drinking about three hours ago though. But that's not different from—"
Suddenly she stopped speaking, her eyes glued on something – or one – past Anders. Her face lit up with a smile.
"Oh Anders," she said.
"What? What is it?" he asked, starting to turn towards where she looked. But she grabbed him and prevented him from doing so.
"You need to…you need to just wait here for a minute. Just until I tell you to turn around," she advised.
"This is silly Sigrun. What am I waiting for?"
"Now!" she said excitedly. "Turn around and look now!"
He turned to face where she had been looking – at approximately the same moment that Elirezara was turning to face him. Their eyes met and locked. A smile spread across her face and she began to walk towards him. But he – he was frozen. He watched her approach, seemingly floating across the floor. He saw a glow around her that he was completely certain he imagined, and the room went silent. He didn't see Sigrun next to him, her head moving back and forth as her eyes darted between the two. He didn't see the nobles staring at him over his…different choice of fashion for the night. Nor did he see Oghren approaching from the side, carrying several mugs of ale…surprisingly nimbly. He only saw her.
He knew when he saw the forest green gown in Amaranthine that it would look absolutely gorgeous compared to her pale skin. And he was right. The gown hugged her hips and the skirts swished softly as she walked. The neckline sat just off of her shoulders, and wrapped her in the fur of a white fox at its edge. It provided a clear view of her necklace…his gift to her. She had her hair pulled up – but only partially. Several groupings of strands hung down from her head, and had been manipulated into soft curls. They framed her small face, and he could see her ears peeking out of her hair.
He was stunned into silence.
It felt like an eternity to Anders, but she finally arrived and stood in front of them.
"Commander, you look so beautiful!" Sigrun cried out.
"Sigrun, please. Tonight there will be no titles," Elirezara said.
"Of course," she replied. "But you do look wonderful."
"Thank you," the elf said with a smile.
"You clean up pretty good, kid," Oghren said. "Let's just hope we don't have a random darkspawn attack. I don't think that would hold up very well against them."
Sigrun grabbed him by the arm. "Let's go find Nate."
"But I just—"
She pulled him off, leaving the two mages alone in the growing crowd. Anders had still not taken his eyes off of her.
Elirezara turned her attention back to Anders. "Hello there."
"H-hi," he replied.
"Are you…all right?" she asked.
"So, you're just…not going to say anything?"
He shook his head.
She laughed. "Anders, you—"
"Eli, I…I don't even know how to act around you right now," he admitted.
She looked down at the ground, hiding the blush that crept on to her cheeks.
"I thought I could imagine just how…incredible you would look, but I was wrong," he said. He reached out to take her hand, lifting it up above her head. He spun her around slowly to see her from all sides. "I am…you're…"
"There is another way you could tell me what you're trying to say," she said to him with a sly smile.
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Are you daring me to cause a commotion? Because I'll do it."
"I've no doubt," she replied. "Come. Let's make the rounds and find a seat."
She spun around and started to walk towards the front of the hall where she saw the Seneschal standing among a group of nobles from the city. She took no more than two steps when she felt his hand wrap around her wrist gently, stopping her advance. When she turned to face him, he hastily placed his hands at her hips, pulling her towards him and moving in close to kiss her. As his lips touched hers, the two spun around until her back was against one of the large support columns that dotted the hall's great expanse. She sucked in air when he briefly pulled back to take a breath of his own. The kiss was hurried. Passionate. And in no way private.
His hand had brushed past her ear, landing hard on the pillar behind her. She looked as prey to his predator as his body held her in place – though of course she did not fight his advance. As they breathed in each other's scent, an apparition of the kiss lingered between them. His head dropped to the side of her face and he kissed her along her jawline.
"Does that tell you something of what I was trying to say?" he said into her skin.
"Yes." She was breathless.
"I told you I'd cause a commotion," he whispered, nodding towards a pair of nobles that were currently shooting them disapproving looks. He stepped back from her, dropping his hand down to collect hers. As she intertwined her fingers into his, he flashed her a devilish grin. "Now we can make the rounds and find a seat."
They weaved through the ever-growing crowd towards varying groups of their Warden companions, workers from the Keep and their families, the invited noble guests and the serving staff carrying trays of appetizers and drinks of varying levels of alcohol. Eventually the din calmed to a hush and the guests settled into their seats for dinner.
The meal was everything that Elirezara had hoped it would be when she sent the kitchen staff off to Amaranthine with the extra coin. It was also well worth the investment, for the nobles were impressed. And impressed nobles meant generous contributions to the Keep and its Wardens. They left with full bellies and warm feelings for the Order – something that hadn't yet been apparent to them since they first took over the Keep. She hoped it would be enough to quell some of the rumoured sentiments she heard from those in the city. But those were worries for another day. For this night was for saying goodbye to what had been and ushering in the chance for new beginnings.
And the beginning she most looked forward to was that of her flourishing relationship with Anders.
It had gone through several false starts; but this time, things felt…right. The motion was forward rather than back and forth and side to side. Things were finally progressing. And this time she wasn't afraid to keep up with them.
As the night progressed, musicians were brought into the hall and the tables were cleared. The guests of the Keep were treated to a magnificent dance in the hours leading up to the final moment of the year. Anders and Elirezara barely spent any time together while the dancing occurred – a line up was forming for the chance to dance with the Warden Commander. It was primarily filled with the groundskeepers, cooks, soldiers and others in the employ of the Keep. Many of them had been employed by the previous residents of the Keep – the family of Nathaniel Howe – and they had never felt as well treated as by the woman who now led the Wardens of Ferelden. It was no surprise that she was popular that night.
But it didn't stop her from watching Anders no matter who she happened to be dancing with at the time. At times, he was embroiled with his own dance partner, but others, he merely leaned against a pillar, watching her closely as she moved from person to person. He could see that she was trying to be gracious, but knew that she was uncomfortable with the whole act.
When it was nearly midnight, he decided he would wait no longer and strode with purpose towards her and her current companion. He tapped the man, who he recognized as one of the Keep's guards, on the shoulder. The guard turned to acknowledge Anders, who nervously cleared his throat.
"May I cut in?" he asked.
The guard nodded and thanked Elirezara for her time, handing her over to the mage.
As he took her in his arms, she smiled warmly at him.
"You looked in need of rescue," he said.
"Thank you for rescuing me then," she replied.
"My pleasure, love," he said, pulling her closer as they swayed to the music.
"This has been really…nice," she said. "I didn't know if I was going to enjoy celebrating this holiday, but…I have. Although, it'd have been much nicer if I spent more of it with you."
He nodded. "Admittedly, we'll at least get to spend the most important part of it together."
"What's the most important part?" she asked.
"Why, the midnight hour!" he explained. "They say that what happens at the exact moment that one year changes to the next, foretells how the rest of that year will play out."
"Is that so?" she mused.
"That's if you believe in that silly sort of superstition of course," he added.
"And do you?"
"I suppose you'll have to wait and see," he said.
She leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. They continued to dance until the musicians paused for the announcement that it was nearly time to begin the countdown to the new year. The remaining crowd gathered near the centre of the hall as the Seneschal ignored his typical proper nature and jumped up on to a chair…then a table…to lead the countdown.
They stood together…close…watching him. His arm around her shoulder…hers around his waist. She continued to rest her head on his shoulder. When the countdown moved from ten to nine to eight, Anders turned to face her.
His hand found its way to her face.
Then closed…and he leaned down towards her.
She could feel his energy so close now.
Lips pressed together.
And suddenly they were alone in the crowd. They remained locked together as the revelers surrounding them continued to celebrate the dawning of First Day. When they finally separated, he leaned to whisper into her ear.
"Of course I believe in such silly superstitions. I mean, you're here. Still. After everything at the Circle. After everything you went through. The blight. Against the insurmountable odds…you're still here."
"I'll always be here, Anders," she assured him.
"I know you will, Eli."