Anders and company meet Nathaniel Howe in this chapter. Which is where the plot thickens because Anders basically finds Nathaniel sex personified. Plus some of Anders' past baggage starts coming out. This is one of my favorite early chapters, and I particularly like how parts of it came out after editing. On suggestion/request I added in a bit more with Hawke and that bit turned out to be super impactful to me anyway, so I'm glad I added it. I sort of love Nate and the way Anders interacts with Jo and the way Anders starts getting all conflicted here. This is where we start sliding into the conflict of the story and I'm pretty proud of how it goes at the start. I hope you enjoy
After a good, long soak in a hot tub and some intensive repairs on my poor, tattered robes, I found myself eager to explore my surroundings. I’d been shown to the kitchen, and I’d fought my way through most of the rooms and corridors the previous evening, but I’d been too distracted to pay the least bit of attention to what was where. Before I got too comfortable here, I wanted to find the quickest route out of this place.
I wandered around the meandering corridors and down the winding stairs, making notes of the dead ends and the hidden corners, until I stumbled into the main hall. Josephine was there, deep in conversation with King Alistair and a man we’d met on the roof of the keep at the end of our darkspawn fight. Varel, he called himself. Seneschal of the keep.“—there is another small matter that you should deal with as well, Commander,” Varel said as I approached. “Before the attack, the Orlesian Wardens caught a thief sneaking around the keep. It took several Wardens to bring him in, but he’s in the dungeon now. I thought it best for you to decide what’s to be done with him.”
“Always something isn’t there? Fine, I’ll see to him. Alistair, you and Varel should come with in case I need to defer punishment. Who knows what this man was up to? If it really did take several Wardens to bring him down, I suspect he’s no mere thief.” She nodded in my direction. “Anders, since you’re here you may as well come too. Just in case anyone needs healing.”
Repressed visions flashed back to me in waves as I descended the narrow staircase leading to the dungeons: dark, dank cages; stone walls surrounding me; the cold, hard floor beneath me. Blackness swallowed me and my head started to spin. I sprinted up the stairs, flung the door open, and sucked in lungfuls of cool night air as I stood, bent at the waist with my hands on my knees. When my head was clear and rational thought had returned, I collapsed to the ground next to the still–open door.
Voices floated up from the bottom of the stairs, just audible if I strained my ears. Varel said something unintelligible and a man’s voice sneered in response.
“Well, well. If it isn’t the great hero of Ferelden.”
The tantalizing voice—rich and low, with just the right amount of gravel—sent shivers down my spine. It reminded me of a voice from my past. Of Karl. My body trembled at the memory of his voice filling my ears as we lay together at night, curled around one another in his bed. I closed my eyes and dropped my head against the rough stone wall.
Karl had organized my first escape from the tower. I’d sprinted to his room after I passed my Harrowing, beaming with the news that I was no longer an apprentice. But instead of sharing my happiness, instead of taking me in his arms and celebrating the shared knowledge that we were now equals and the rest of our life together could begin, he’d looked at me with sorrow in his eyes and said, “Anders, you don’t belong here. You have such a beautiful spirit. The Circle will break you. I couldn’t stand to see them break you.”
He’d helped me. Created a diversion. Found an opening for me to slip out. When the Templars dragged me back to the tower three days later, Karl was absent, his chambers empty. I had no idea where he’d gone. I’d vowed at that moment that I’d whatever I could to find him again. So far I’d been unsuccessful, but I didn’t plan on giving up. Not until I knew Karl was safe.
The party emerged from the basement, Varel shoving a bedraggled man up the stairs ahead of him. I ignored the concerned glance Josephine tossed my way.
The king’s voice was raised, his arms waving about, his face crimson. “He’s a Howe, Jo. A Howe. You know, the son of the murderous bastard that killed your family. No big deal, right?”
She placed her hand on his arm and fixed her eyes on his. “Honestly, Alistair. You’re overreacting as usual. Nathaniel wasn’t even in Ferelden when his father killed my family. I’m sure he didn’t even know about it until well after it happened.”
“He came here to kill you Jo. He said so himself. He hates you for what you did to his father and you’re just going to welcome him into the Wardens with open arms? This is the second time you’ve stopped to pick up an assassin, you know. It may have worked out by dumb luck before, but what are the odds it goes without a hitch twice in a row? And they say I’m the stupid one.”
“Alistair.” Her voice was a whisper. “I know Nathaniel. He’s not a threat. Just trust me. Please.”
He closed his eyes, sighed, and stomped toward the keep.
When we entered the main room, I angled myself around to get a look at our newest companion. Dark hair fell to his shoulders. His jawline was strong, his features rugged. His nose had been broken and re–set several times. I let my eyes linger on him for a long while, taking him in. Aside from Karl, most of the men I’d slept with in the tower had been soft and round and beautiful not rugged and handsome and battle–hardened like this man. This man reminded me far more of the Templars who had beaten me and taken me by force over and over again.
He watched me watch him, eyes narrowed, body tense. I kept my distance as Josephine conducted the joining, but I couldn’t deny that I was intrigued by this man. Dark and handsome and brooding. That captivating voice. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t already imagined how it would feel to hear that voice rumbling low against my neck.
“Anders,” Hawke whined. “Really? Do you really need to tell me those parts.”
“Yes, Love, I really need to tell you those parts. You wanted to know what made me run from the Wardens and what’s making me want to return, right?”
Hawke frowned, but gave Anders a nod.
“Well. This is the answer to those questions. I’ve kept no secrets about the promiscuity of my youth. This isn’t new to you.”
“I know, but . . .”
Anders scooted his chair closer to Hawke’s and wrapped an arm around his lover. “Love, what happened in my past doesn’t at all change any of the things that have happened between us, you know that, right?”
Hawke leaned in for a kiss, but Anders pulled away. If he let himself get caught up in Hawke’s attentions, he’d never finish his story. And the Commander was waiting for him.
He put a finger against his lover’s lips. “No time. I’m afraid it’s a rather long story.”
When she finished the joining, Josephine crouched on the floor above the man. Nathaniel, she’d said his name was, Nathaniel Howe. I guessed he was the son of the late Rendon Howe, the man who had owned this estate until Josephine had killed him and the king had bestowed it upon her in the settlement.
“Anders. Be a dear and help me take Nathaniel upstairs to recover.” She brushed a stray strand of hair off his face before moving around to lift his legs and motioning for me to grab his chest. Corded muscles rippled beneath his loose tunic and scents of sweat, oil, leather, wood, and a strange sweetness drifted toward me. I was good with smells. One of the things that come along with my innate talents for healing. I could identify herbs by smell, which ones would heal, which ones would harm, which ones did nothing at all. I couldn’t identify the smell of Nathaniel Howe, but it smelled divine.
“We’ll put him in the room across from yours. That used to be his room. He might feel better if he wakes up in a familiar setting.” Josephine said as we reached the top of the stairs.
“You know which room is his?” I raised my eyebrows. “Well, well, what’s this, then? Have I stumbled into some gossip amongst the nobility? Star–crossed lovers reunited after familial tragedy? Childhood trysts, sneaking about on the battlements into your lover’s room in the middle of the night? Sounds juicy. You must share.”
She rolled her eyes in my direction. “Because our fathers were good friends, I spent a lot of time here as a child. I’ve known Nate for years. It is true that I once said I would marry him, but I promise you that story’s not nearly as interesting you’re making it out to be. Convenience, uniting the families, nothing more. Honestly, you mages all have such interesting ideas about what goes on in the outside world.
“I wish things had been different. I certainly wish we had reunited under different circumstances. Still, I killed his father and as much as Rendon Howe deserved his fate, Nathaniel may never understand. I just pray we can someday rebuild some shell of what we once had.”
When we reached Nathaniel’s room and set him on the bed, she reached down and brushed his hair from his face once again. “Thank you for listening to all that, Anders. I know it’s not your affair. I’m going to prepare some food for him. Maker only knows when he last ate. Do you think you could stay with him? Perhaps heal him a bit if you can. He’s had a hard few days.”
I wanted to tell her that I’d had a hard few days before my joining and no one had stayed by my bedside or offered me healing or brought me food, but she was out the door before I could open my mouth, so I positioned myself on a small chair next to the bed and let my eyes linger on Nathaniel. My mind strayed back to the way his muscles had felt under my hands as I carried him up the stairs. Memories of strong men pinning me to the floor while they had their way with me flashed through my head. I wanted to touch him again. Squeeze a well–developed bicep, run my hands through hair so dark it was almost black, touch the curves of his chest, press my lips against the fullness of his mouth. I leaned over him, reaching my hands out to stroke his cheek, when he moaned in his sleep and thrashed about. The nightmares. I sent waves of gentle restoration magic toward him. I doubted it would help, but it was all I could think to do.
I sat in the chair for a long while, staring at him and tossing the occasional healing and restoration spell his way until he eased open his grey eyes and shook his head to clear the fog.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Anders. I’d ask how you are, but if one joining is like another I know the answer already. You’ll be wanting some water, I imagine. Followed by an entire warehouse full of food.”
“Why am I in this room?” His voice—laced with the sultry, low gravel I’d heard from below the dungeons—sent chills through my body.
“Commander said it was your old room. She thought you’d like it.”
He let out a snort. “Indeed. Always good to be reminded that your father’s murderer now owns all that is rightfully yours.”
I wanted to explain to him that I was here against my will as well and that when it all came down to it, I had nothing to do with any of this so there was no use taking anything out on me, but all I managed was a small shrug followed by awkward silence.
“Nate.” Josephine smiled at him. “Welcome to the Grey Wardens. I’m sure you’re hungry. I brought you food and a change of clothes.” She set the tray she carried on the bedside table and extended her hand to help him sit up. He glared at her and shoved her hand away.