[identity profile] fifmeister.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] ship_manifesto
Title: The Grump and the Harpy
Author: [livejournal.com profile] fifmeister
Fandom: Dragon Age
Pairing: Nathaniel Howe/Velanna
Spoilers: Dragon Age: Origins and Awakening
Notes: Squeezing in under the free month deadline! It's still June 30 here, anyway.

Introduction

How do I begin to describe the Dragon Age franchise?

Well. It currently consists of two fantasy role-playing video games, Dragon Age: Origins and its sequel Dragon Age II, an expansion pack for the first game titled Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, assorted downloadable content add-ons, and several tie-in novels. It's set in a fictional universe on a continent called Thedas, with the action taking place in two different countries: Ferelden (the setting for DA:O and Awakening), and the Free Marches (the setting for DA II). Yet while the focus is primarily on these two countries and their respective issues, the universe's lore and world-building sprawls far beyond, encompassing all of Thedas. The amount of information contained in the games and their codices is immense, creating a universe that—despite the fantasy elements like dragons and magic and goblin-esque enemies—feels authentic and is easy to lose yourself in.

Likely one of the most compelling and realistic aspects of the Dragon Age universe is all the tension, prejudice, and conflict it contains. Thedas is swimming in political, racial, and religious issues. The humans control the majority of the land, yet fight amongst themselves over who gets to rule it. The dwarves consider themselves generally superior to everyone and everything, even as they cling to the last remnants of a once-sprawling underground empire now overrun by the orc-like darkspawn. The elves, once enslaved by humans (and still kept as slaves in some parts of Thedas), are considered second-class citizens at best, confined in cramped and slum-like "alienages" in major human cities. Nobody quite knows what to make of the stoic and duty-bound qunari. And on top of it all, mages of all species are considered too dangerous to be allowed freedom, and are hunted down and locked up in Circle Towers overseen by the religious Templar Order.

In true video game fashion, both games center primarily on the exploits of the respective player characters. However, in both games and in Awakening, the PC collects a diverse cast of supporting party members who travel alongside him or her, helping out in combat situations, offering opinions, forming relationships, and sometimes impacting the story in surprising ways.

While the PC's relationships with his or her party members make up a significant chunk of the games' content, one of the strengths of the Dragon Age games is that the party members interact with each other as well as with the PC. They bicker, flirt, joke around, argue, take potshots at each other, and the list goes on. Sometimes party members can't stand each other, sometimes they form genuine connections. Sometimes both.

That's where Nathaniel and Velanna come in.

In my own fandom history, I tend to ship popular pairings that have sizable, productive fanbases. That is definitely not the case with Nathaniel/Velanna. I'm not the only person in the entire fandom who ships it, but I'm one of the few—and I am, as far as I know, the only person who writes fic for it.

But hey, bigger doesn't necessarily always mean better.

Characters



"Cheer up! No one loves a grump!"

—Sigrun to Nathaniel


Nathaniel is one of the human party members in Awakening, and he also makes a cameo appearance in Dragon Age II. He's the stoic type—devoted to duty and family, serious, thoughtful, and broody, to the point where other party members sometimes accuse him of being a grouch or lacking a sense of humor. But he's a lovable grump once you get to know him.

Nathaniel first enters the picture with a boatload of baggage: he's the son of a traitorous ex-noble who was defeated and disgraced back in the events of Dragon Age: Origins, and Nathaniel has lost everything from his property and possessions to his good name thanks to his father's actions. Initially he defends his father fiercely, and is bitter and angry at the world in general and the PC in particular for his/her part in his father's death and subsequent discrediting. It isn't until he encounters his sister (whom he'd believed to be dead) that he comes to understand the full extent of his father's treachery.

After this point, his attitude and viewpoints begin to change as he accepts that his beliefs about his father were wrong. This is perhaps one of the biggest factors in what makes him an attractive character (and has gained him a boatload of fangirls): his ability to work through his issues rather than wallow in them endlessly. He has the stereotypically fangirl-bait qualities—the dark angsty broodiness—but comes to terms with his problems on his own rather than needing to be "fixed," and he skirts neatly past the whininess that could easily have become grating with a personality like his.

Of course, there's more to Nathaniel than "broody with a side of daddy issues." Due to his noble upbringing, he's quite cultured and even gentlemanly at times. Even his angry moments are probably about as polite as angry can be. And despite the claims of some other party members, he does have a sense of humor. It just tends toward the dry and sarcastic side.

He also has a rather deep, sexy, knee-weakening voice.



"You make me out to be some kind of shrill harpy!"
"That's because you are a shrill harpy."

—Velanna and the Warden


Another of the Awakening party members, Velanna is both an elf and a mage, thus placing her squarely into the two most oppressed people groups in all of Dragon Age. She is brash, blunt, and opinionated, has no qualms about expressing those opinions, and makes no apologies for them. (Unsurprisingly, this makes her near-universally reviled among the fandom.)

Velanna is one of the Dalish, a group of elves who refuse to submit to human rule and who lead nomadic lifestyles instead of living in the alienages. The Dalish are fiercely proud of their elven heritage, and Velanna is no exception. She was raised as the apprentice of her clan's Keeper, or leader, and as such she has spent her life learning about elvish history and lore, most of which was lost when the elves were conquered and enslaved by humans. Naturally, Velanna harbors no small amount of hate and bitterness toward humans in general for all the injustices they have done to her people.

During the course of the game, it is revealed that Velanna was exiled from her Dalish clan when she refused to accept the Keeper's decision not to exact vengeance on a group of humans that had attacked the clan. A handful of the elves, including Velanna's sister Seranni, followed her into exile and were subsequently killed—save for Seranni, who was abducted by darkspawn. Velanna is guilt-stricken over the deaths of her clanmates and is determined to save her sister from a similar fate.

In spite of her stubbornness and quick temper, Velanna is not so hardheaded that she'll automatically reject all ideas that fly in the face of her own beliefs. Conversations with the PC and with some of the other party members give her food for thought with regard to her opinions of both humans and of her own people. Unfortunately, she gets the short end of the stick as far as character development goes (possibly due to the fact that Awakening is an expansion rather than a full-fledged game), so any changes in her attitudes are never fully realized onscreen. However, depending on the player's choices, one of her possible epilogues states that she eventually becomes more accepting of humans, even single-handedly defending a human village against a darkspawn attack.

Why I Ship It

The first time I played through Awakening, I actually had little interest in either of these characters, let alone in shipping them. I chose to have Nathaniel executed rather than let him join my party—my Cousland has no love lost for Howes—and I picked up Velanna so late in the game that I hardly had a chance to get to know her before I was shuffled off to the endgame.

Then some time later, I was randomly watching a YouTube video that contained a chunk of the Awakening party members' banter, including all of Nathaniel and Velanna's conversations with each other. As soon as I heard their banter, I was sold—and then I immediately went and started up a new Awakening playthrough, this time keeping them both alive and in my party at all times.

Nathaniel: Your glares suggest that you don't care for my presence.
Velanna: I'm simply wondering how your kind can call yourselves "nobles." It seems ironic.
Nathaniel: We like irony. And it rolls off the tongue better than "oppressors."
Velanna: Ah, so you're a funny human.
Nathaniel: Not I. I wouldn't dare lighten your mood, my lady.
Velanna: Ugh.


Unsurprisingly, their relationship starts out on the hostile side—at least on the part of Velanna, who can hardly even look at humans without wanting to kill them. But Nathaniel is undeterred, and somehow manages to flirt with her all courtly-like while verbally poking her at the same time. Velanna has no idea how to react, and it's adorable.

Nathaniel: Still with the deadly looks, my lady?
Velanna: "My lady" is such a human thing to call someone.
Nathaniel: It is a term of respect. You think it's human to be respectful?
Velanna: Now you're mocking me.
Nathaniel: I think you're a lovely woman, and due some respect. So I call you a lady.
Velanna: Well...stop it!


And then she begins to come around.

Velanna: I may have misjudged you a little.
Nathaniel: Just a little?
Velanna: I sometimes paint all humans with the same brush.
Nathaniel: As long as it's such a pretty brush, I don't mind.
Velanna: I'm sure I don't know what that means.
Nathaniel: It means your apology is appreciated...my lady.
Velanna: Well, then...good.


And a little later:

Velanna: When you were talking about the pretty brush, did you mean...me?
Nathaniel: It can't be the first time someone has said you're pretty.
Velanna: And if it is?
Nathaniel: Then you must not talk to many people.
Velanna: Most people aren't worth talking to.


She admits to him—a human, and a former noble, at that—that she misjudged him, and implies that he's different from other humans in her eyes. She says that most people aren't worth talking to, yet she's willing to talk to him. For Velanna, all of that might as well be a marriage proposal.

...Well, maybe not. But it's still a pretty big deal for a woman who claims to find most humans "physically and morally repulsive."

In the rest of their conversations, they continue to poke at each other—she tries to provoke him about his acceptance of his father's killer, he teases her about her pointed ears and yanks her chain about elven propaganda, she gets flustered again and calls him "exasperating"—and they bond over sharing stories of the pranks their respective sisters played on them as children.

That's about as far as it goes in canon. But beyond canon, the potential is endless. Like angry hatesex? Or pairings that bicker and snark at each other like they've been married for decades? Or ships where one character patiently pursues the other until they can't deny their feelings any longer? Or lovers forbidden to be together because of cultural norms and societal pressures? Any or all of the above are possible with this pairing.

Personally, I have a fondness for ships that have to overcome some manner of societal disapproval in order to be together, whether it be a significant age difference, a teacher/student relationship, chain-of-command issues, racial tensions, etc. This pairing obviously hits that out of the ballpark. Even putting aside Velanna's general distaste for humans, elf/human relations are up to their ears in tensions. Humans who marry elves are looked down upon thanks to elves' status as second-class citizens, and elven culture considers relationships with humans to be traitorous due to the fact that elf/human offspring are always human. (That wouldn't be an issue with Nathaniel and Velanna, since they're both Grey Wardens and Wardens are sterile as a general rule, but the societal taboo is still there.) Any pairing that tried to have a relationship under those kinds of circumstances would have to develop a strong bond in order to weather all the obstacles that would inevitably arise.

I'm also intrigued by the similarities and differences between these two characters. The differences are obvious. He's a human, she's an elf. She's a mage, he's not. He grew up as a noble, she in a clan of wandering nomads. He's quiet and stoic, she's brazen and impulsive. But in spite of their differences, they both find themselves pariahs. They both know what it's like to be exiled and disgraced by the communities that once accepted them. And they both end up as Grey Wardens together on a crazy mission to save the world.

And as TV Tropes might remind us, what better time and place to establish a relationship might there be than saving the world?

Sadly I can't provide any fandom recommendations, because...well, there aren't any. There is no fanart, and as previously mentioned, no fanfic except for mine. And I'm not going to recommend my own fanfic, because that would be weird.

General fandom links:

[livejournal.com profile] dragon_age and [livejournal.com profile] swooping_is_bad are probably the most active Dragon Age communities on LJ.
[livejournal.com profile] dragonage_kink - the Dragon Age kink meme, including sections for DA:O and Awakening as well as for DA II.
Official DA:O Forums
The Dragon Age section on FFN
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Date: 2011-07-03 03:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] owlmoose.livejournal.com
Nice job pulling all this together! :)

The Nathaniel/Velanna banter caught my attention when I played DA:A, also, and I agree that they have the most interesting potential as a pairing of all the Awakening companions. Too bad that there isn't much fanwork for them -- it seems that Velanna isn't written about much, in general. I'm new enough to the fandom that I haven't ventured many experiments yet, but maybe someday, when I start exploring more...

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