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Fresh Off The Boat [Complete]

Conrad Krause

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#1
((14 Kingsway, 35 Dragon; Late morning, Denerim docks; @Linette ))

One thing was certain, Conrad reflected with grim humor as he made his way down the gangplank: a career as a sailor was not for him. Fortunately, the worst of his seasickness had passed by the end of the second day out of Antiva City, but he had never grown accustomed to the sway of the deck beneath his feet on even the calmest of days, and when they had encountered stormy weather – the captain had called it a “little squall” - he had remained in his cabin, clinging to his bunk as it rolled this way and that, unable to decide whether to pray for salvation or a quick death to end his misery.

Not for the first time, he asked himself why he had chosen to come to Ferelden, but the answer remained the same. It was as far from Hossberg as it was possible to get without sailing off the edge of the world. He did not know if the magistrates were seeking him; he had broken no laws, save perhaps in the burning of the house, but he had broken his oath … five generations of oaths, and that itself would be a death sentence. In the months since he had left, there had been no indication of a bounty, no word in fact, of anything to do with his homeland. Perhaps – Maker willing – the apostate hunting hysteria had burned itself out before too many innocent lives were claimed, and the magistrates repented of their foul betrayal of their own sworn duty, realized that his father had the right of it and would hold him blameless. Perhaps. He might hope for just that, but not so strongly that he would test it by returning. He was in Ferelden, and in Ferelden he would stay.

The feel of solidity beneath his feet as he stepped onto the dock was a marvel, and he paused to savor it, closing his eyes and drawing a deep breath, feeling a smile touching his mouth. He allowed it, but fought back the laughter that tried to rise in its wake. He had never been mirthful by nature, but in the weeks since he had left the Anderfels, he had frequently found laughter bubbling up in his chest for the oddest of reasons: a mime feigning a battle against three invisible opponents on the streets of Antiva City; a rainstorm that soaked him to the skin; a pair of gulls in noisy battle amidst the ship's rigging over some stolen morsel.

Grief, perhaps. He had seen much of it over the years, in the families of murder victims, the families of the condemned … even from some of the condemned themselves, overcome with remorse for their crimes. They laughed, sobbed, screamed … he had seen one woman drop to the ground and bark like a dog until her husband dragged her away from the spot where her son had been hanged. And yet, when he thought of his father, he felt what he ought to feel: sorrow, betrayal, frustrated anger; never once had he felt the urge to laugh at the memory of Johann's battered face. Nonetheless, the odd urges to laugh baffled him, even frightened him a bit; if he let himself start laughing, would he be able to stop?

“You take care, big'un.” The bo'sun, boarding the ship after helping to tie her up, accompanied the words with the friendly clap of a hand to Conrad's shoulder, though he had to reach up to do it.

“I will, thank you,” Conrad replied. His command of the Common tongue was good, but pronunciation still gave him difficulty, with 'will' coming out as 'vill'. The sailors had treated him well during the journey, the captain joking about using him as a spare mast (though it would be a poor mast indeed that bent over the rail whenever the seas grew choppy). In addition to the coin he'd paid for his passage, he had offered his skills as a healer, fixing a shoulder that had been yanked from its socket during the storm, stitching up the cook's hand when his knife slipped while gutting a fish. Their gratitude for this had been familiar enough, but the camaraderie they had offered him was not; the realization that folk did not shun him automatically was slow to sink through a lifetime of isolation, and he was still unsure how to behave. He had watched them playing dice in the evenings, participated in their banter as he learned the rules of the game, but politely declined when invited to join in.

An executioner must be above reproach. His father's words; his father's life, and Conrad's, as well. To end a life in the name of the Maker's justice was a sacred duty, and yet, too many folk were willing to believe the worst of those who performed that duty, and too many executioners (butchers, Johann had contemptuously called them) gave them reason to believe the worst. The rules of conduct were many and unyielding: never gamble; never get drunk; never visit a brothel or a prostitute; never take a bribe; never be late; never go back on your word once given; never brawl; never fail to address everyone, even the condemned, with respect; never fail to perform your duty, but never, never torture or execute one that you believe innocent of the crimes of which they are accused.

Adherence to these rules had made the Krause clan one of the most respected executioners' dynasties among the magistrates, but it had made no difference at all in the eyes of their neighbors, who still treated them as pariahs unless they required their skill as healers, nor to the folk in the villages and towns that Conrad had visited on his circuit, who answered any questions he asked without making eye contact, edging away even as they spoke. In the end, it had made no difference to the magistrates; his father had died for his honor, but Conrad still clung to it. It was all that he had left of Johann.

Nearly all. He still had the books, the journal, the tools of the healer's trade, and most of all, Maker's Mercy. He received more than a few odd looks with two massive swords strapped to his pack, and he'd been offered a fortune for the silverite blade in Antiva City, but he would starve before he parted with it. It was more than a family heirloom; it was a sword of justice, the ultimate badge of office for a true executioner. Any muscled oaf could be a hangman: drag some terrified sinner up a ladder, loop the noose about their neck and shove them off. To remove a head cleanly with a single stroke, to deliver swift and merciful justice to a repentant sinner … that took discipline, strength, skill and training. Conrad had practiced for years, starting with tough stalks of rhubarb, before he had been permitted to use Maker's Mercy in an execution when he was twenty-one. It had been successful, death delivered in a single blow, as had been all but one of the seventeen beheadings that he had carried out in the years since.

He would not part with the blade, but he felt no urge to resume the work of an executioner. Much of it was that to do so would require providing an account of his experience, which could lead to inquiries that might reach all the way back to Hossberg. Even if that were not the case, however, he suspected that it would change nothing. As the son of an executioner, he had been barred from apprenticing in any other profession; even the Chantry had been closed to him. To follow in his father's footsteps had been the only path open to him, but now …

He had made choices before: what town to travel to next; what type of interrogation might be most successful in obtaining a confession; whether an accused was guilty or innocent, based on their responses and reactions. But choices as to his own life had never before been presented to him, and the sheer immensity of it was daunting.

He could be a healer; he was good at it, and had actually enjoyed those duties, something that had never been even remotely true of the executioner's craft. But he had no idea how to go about it. Folk in Hossberg had known to come to the Krause home, and even the folk on his circuit knew that executioners were often healers on the side. He'd have to start from scratch here, build a reputation from nothing …

Again, the laughter tried to rise. Damn it! Perhaps he had been too long in the sun. He gritted his teeth and glanced upward, squinting his right eye, feeling the left mirror the action behind the patch. The sun was high overhead, the sky clear, but he was far from warm; there was a decided chill in the air that was never present in and around Hossberg, even at night.

He had coin: coin enough to live on while he figured things out; coin enough to buy supplies to replace the things he'd had to leave behind. First, however, he'd best use some of that coin to buy clothing appropriate for the climate and get a room to sleep in. Wouldn't do to freeze to death his first night here.

Rolling his shoulders to better settle the straps of his pack, he resolutely set off in a direction that he hoped would take him off the docks, wishing that his oilcloth cloak was generous enough to don over the pack. It wasn't much (though it had been quite adequate for most of his life), but it would be better than nothing.
 
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Linette Botten

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#2
The docks. Linette hated the fish-smelling fucking docks.

Lin had many foes. Early morning meetings, Antivan brandy, the damn hole in the floor by her bed she kept forgetting to fix were three. Her greatest enemies, however, were fish with their beady eyes and weird teeth. She saw a fish once when in Amaranthine that had what looked like people teeth. There was wrong and then there was wrong.

Unfortunately for Linette, trips to the docks were sometimes necessary such as this particular morning. Every lead, no matter how stupid, had to be followed in Rae’s murder investigation. The night before Linette learned of a sailor on the Grouper bragging the night before that in the Musty Mug about poisoning some knife-ear. First, what the hell name for a ship was the Grouper? Damn fish name and a stupid one at that. Didn’t exactly inspire fear on the open seas. Might as well have named the ship the Goat.

Second, she didn’t really expect the lead to materialize any worthwhile information let alone the guilty party. There were a lot of elves out there in the world. As special as Rae liked to put on airs of being, she was hard the first or last elf to be poisoned in Ferelden. Still, a lead was a lead was a lead. Fergus was paying her to chase ass and drink her night’s away in Denerim for no results.

The hood of her cloak pulled over her head, she tried to slip through the crowds of workers and fishermen lining the water and time-weathered planks of the pier. Some moved out of her way with a simple step to the side to let her pass. One asshole purposefully stepped in front of her and would not move. Him, she stomped on the foot of and walked around. There would be no moving around the man she neared now.

Linette had known some big men in her life. Diago was especially tall. Then there was the yellow-eyed bastard, Aerion. Never had she seen an oak of a man like the one walking toward her. So stunned by the image of him, she stopped right in her tracks and simply stared.
 

Conrad Krause

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#3
Everything about this place was different from Conrad's homeland: the air, which although cool, seemed laden with moisture (as well as the scent of fish); the furs that so many of the folk seemed to wear; and the wood that seemed to be used in the construction of everything.

Wood was a scarce and precious commodity in most of the Anderfels. Buildings were constructed of sandstone, limestone or mudbrick, saving the boards for necessities such as doors. Here, every wall he could see was made either of wood alone or of wood and grey stone. How many trees must they have here, to use them so profligately?

It was more than the novelty of his surroundings that kept his head turning, however. He had not yet become accustomed to the lack of his left eye and the resultant halving of his field of vision. He doubted that he ever would.

He'd damned well better get more skilled at it than he currently was, though, because he was so busy looking this way and that that he only just kept himself from striding right over the young woman who was standing and staring up at him.

“Excuse me,” he offered politely, taking a step back. Stares were nothing new, but he couldn't help a twinge of worry that this might be someone who recognized him. She didn't look like an Anderfels native: that pale skin had never spent time beneath the relentless summer sun that scorched Hossberg every year.Fräulein? Is something wrong?” He knew the common term, but 'Lay-dee' sounded so odd and harsh on his tongue. More like an insult than a term of respect.
 

Linette Botten

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#4
“Excuse me,” the man offered, stopping just shy of colliding with the gobsmacked Linette. Fräulein? Is something wrong?”

Linette shook herself out of her dumbstruck stare-fest to well…stare. Fraw-what? Presumably that was some kind of language and not one Linette was personally familiar with. As experienced in the way of things Linette liked to believe herself, she knew one area where she was seriously lacking. She was no seasoned traveler. Her experiences with foreigns were restricted to those she met here in Ferelden and during her brief time upon the seas with William.

“You are gigantic,” Lin noted quite bluntly. Was that something wrong? No, not really unless the man wanted to try to squeeze into a tight place. She couldn’t imagine him easily fitting anywhere. Given the direction the man came from, he obviously had just departed a ship. How did he sleep? Standing up? Lin could not imagine any of the hammocks on a ship would have accommodated someone of the Oak’s size.

She half-stomped a boot upon the pier. “You should watch where you are going, you know? Maker knows you are tall enough to see anyone coming your way.” Sure, she had been the one to stop and stare. Far be it for Linette to take personal responsibility for anything when she could blame another.
 

Conrad Krause

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#5
“You are gigantic.”

Conrad felt his lips twitch at the statement. “I have been told that before, yes,” he replied mildly. More in the months since he had left Hossberg than in all his years before combined. In the city where he had been born and raised, he had been first the executioner's son, then the executioner; that identity had always cast a longer, darker shadow than his body ever could. Folk might have been awed by his size, but to have remarked upon it openly to him would have meant stepping past the wall that social traditions had built around him, which risked tainting themselves by association. Those few who did were usually those who shared his outcast status: the criminals and prostitutes that he was paid to punish. Ironically, some of the most honest conversations in his life had been held with folk who were dishonest. It had provided an interesting counterbalance to the education his father had given him.

“The captain of the ship that I traveled on spoke of using me as an additional mast,” he informed her, adding ruefully, “He reconsidered his plan after I got seasick.”

The woman stamped her foot on the wooden planks in sudden ire. “You should watch where you are going, you know? Maker knows you are tall enough to see anyone coming your way.”

“I apologize for that, Fräulein,” he told her sincerely. True, she had been the one standing and staring, but he had nearly walked over her. “I am newly arrived, and allowed myself to become distracted. You use so much wood.” He nodded toward a warehouse that was made entirely of wooden planks, with split wood shingles on the roof. “You must have many trees here.” There was a touch of wistful hope in the last words. He had seen trees since leaving Hossberg – real trees, not the scrubby little shrubs that struggled to survive around any source of water on the steppes – but he had never seen a forest, and he very much wanted to.
 

Linette Botten

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#6
“I apologize for that, Fräulein,” the Oak offered, appropriately sorry. “I am newly arrived, and allowed myself to become distracted. You use so much wood.” He flicked his head toward a warehouse. “You must have many trees here.”

She let the wood comment go unmentioned for now. “Uh yeah. We do. Got lumber coming out our asses here in Ferelden,” she replied, mouth twitching a smirk. Ok, maybe she wouldn't the wood comment go entirely unrecognized.

Her smirk faded and a look of suspicion took root. Was this guy for real? Obviously he was real. The day was still young and Linette had hardly drank enough to hallucinate the human embodiment a tree asking about trees. Two ales along with bacon and porridge. Not exactly dangerous stuff there unless you got them at the Musty Mug, which Linette most certainly did not.

The way the Oak spoke made it sounds like trees were not normal. Just where was he from? Definitely not Antiva. They grew them big there, for certain. While Linette had never been to Antiva, she knew from stories Diago told her there were forests which usually meant trees. Orlais? No, they also had forests. He didn’t have horns so he wasn’t a qunari. Those always had horns, didn’t they?

There was one way to find out just where he was from - to ask. “You say you are newly arrived. Where from?”
 

Conrad Krause

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#7
The question about trees earned him an odd look. “Uh yeah. We do. Got lumber coming out our asses here in Ferelden,” she told him with a sly smile teasing at her lips.

“That must make sitting difficult,” Conrad replied dryly. Odds were that he'd been told of more lascivious uses for wood (among other things) than this woman could imagine. Criminals seeking to rattle him or seduce him would go into extraordinary detail on such matters; neither aim had ever succeeded, nor would she, if that was her goal.

Her expression shifted to a frown, brown eyes appraising him anew. “You say you are newly arrived. Where from?”

“Hossberg, in the Anderfels,” he answered without hesitation. He knew from experience which lies were easy to discern and which would hold, and lies about one's origins were among the most difficult to maintain, unless you were well traveled (which he was not). He did not know enough of any place, save the city of his birth, to provide details. He'd tripped up many a criminal by pressing for just such details: What is the name of the mayor? Where is the common well located? What shop is closest to the Chantry? He might not know the answers, but he could see in their eyes, in their faces, when they did not, either. Apart from that, he had no intention of lying. Not outright, anyway. “And no, there are no trees there. Only spindly shrubs,” he held his hand about chest high.

“My name is Conrad Krause,” he went on, deciding that the conversation had gone on long enough to warrant an introduction.
 

Linette Botten

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“Hossberg, in the Anderfels,” the Oak answered. “And no, there are no trees there. Only spindly shrubs.” His hand sliced at the air about his chest, signifying the height of the shrubs.

“My name is Conrad Krause.”
So the Oak had a name.

Seeing no reason to lie to the man, Lin offered her own, “Linette Botten.” Bit could stay home for now and mind the many brats she’d pushed out over the years.

“Long way from the Anderfels,” she noted. Linette knew very little about the Anderfels other than it was filled with Grey Wardens and, now, it had no trees. Neither of those things made the place somewhere she wished to go or learn more about. Her experience with Grey Wardens was mostly limited to Aedan Cousland and the Dragonbone Wastes mission she accompanied him on. Some Hero he proved to be.

Her nose crinkled, a discerning gaze taking in the whole of the man towering before her. Surely he wasn’t… “You a Grey Warden?” That was one way to find out.
 

Conrad Krause

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#9
“Linette Botten.” There was no hesitation that might indicate that the name was an alias, though the confident way that she carried herself, the smoothness with which she had deflected all responsibility for their near collision onto him, suggested that she would not be clumsy, if she chose to lie.

“I am pleased to meet you,” he replied gravely, deciding to accept the name without question. His days of interrogation were done, after all.

“Long way from the Anderfels,” she observed.

“It is,” he confirmed with a grimace, “and far too much of it spent on a ship. My feet will stay on dry land from now on.”

She studied him with a sudden intensity, her nose wrinkling as though she smelled something unpleasant. “You a Grey Warden?” she demanded.

“Me? No.” He shook his head, surprised not only by the question but by the hint of distaste beneath it. “You do not like the Wardens?” Odd, in a nation so recently saved by the order.

"Oi! Big'un!" One of the ship's crew strolled by, his arm about the waist of one of the scantily clad women who had been strolling the docks. "Why doncha take 'er somewheres an show her how big ya are?"

Conrad snorted, rolling his eye. "They've been a bit too long at sea," he told his new acquaintance. Somehow, he doubted that she would be blushing at the ribald remark.
 

Linette Botten

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#10
“Me? No.” Conrad the Oak shook his head. “You do not like the Wardens?”

"Oi! Big'un!”
A smelly sailor accompanied by an even smellier lady-of-the-not-so-night on his arm. "Why doncha take 'er somewheres an show her how big ya are?"

Conrad let out a gruff sound and rolled his one eye. "They've been a bit too long at sea,” he tried to explain.

Lin would be a big stinky liar from well the same town as the two smelly folks that just walked by if she denied she wasn’t a little curious just what type of lumber old Conrad was packing. Big guy. Big tree. This was the type of stuff that intrigued her for science and stuff.

Though her eyes did linger for a pause upon his crotch, Lin made no requests for him to drop trow. “I kind of gathered that,” she said, eyes shifting to the noxious couple as they disappeared around a corner.

Linette’s feelings about the Grey Wardens entirely centered around Aedan Cousland and the time she accompanied him to the Dragonbone Wastes. Many people since that day had tried to convince her Aedan did all he could during that venture. Linette, however, had a hard time accepting and an even harder time forgetting what happened. Toni was a true friend and Linette was forced to watch her explode in front of her. She had to wash her friend out of her hair. That was not ok nor would it ever be. Aedan should have gone prepared with someone that could counter that particular type of magic.

Sarcasm brushed her response as she finally got around to Conrad’s question for her. “What’s not to like about the Wardens?” Her hands sank into the front pockets of her pants. “Big heroes and all that.” She crooked her chin at Conrad. “And you’re big and from the Anderfels so…” Two and two did not equal five apparently.
 

Conrad Krause

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#11
As he had suspected, Linette did not seem particularly scandalized by the sailor's suggestion, eyeing his groin speculatively for a moment before dismissing the matter, and Conrad found himself equally grateful that she did not seem to consider it a good idea. Certainly other women, and a few men, had expressed sexual interest in him since he had left the Anderfels, but in between knowing that he could now bed whomever he chose and actually doing so lay a lifetime of learned restraint. Certainly, he had no intention of being indiscriminate; that would be a poor way indeed to honor his father's teachings and memory. Then too, if executioners held the same low status here that they did in his homeland, he risked tainting any woman that he associated with if his past were ever revealed.

“What’s not to like about the Wardens?” She asked him, replying to his question without really answering it, shoving her hands into her pockets in a classic pose of evasiveness. “Big heroes and all that.” She jerked her head in his direction, chin jutting aggressively. “And you’re big and from the Anderfels so…”

Turning the discussion back to him. The Wardens were definitely a sore spot, and it was not difficult to come up with possible reasons. Heroes though they undeniably were, they could not save everyone. Darkspawn still killed people regularly in the Anderfels, and in a Blight, no matter how short, many lives would have been lost. Perhaps the life of one that Linette cared about. Or perhaps she had been raped by a Grey Warden, or otherwise treated badly by one. His respect for the order did not blind Conrad to the fact that it was made up of individual men and women, each of them no more or less prone to be good or evil than the rest of the population.

“Not an unreasonable assumption,” was all that he said, choosing not to press the matter further. “They did offer to recruit me once.”

A gust of wind reminded him that his current wardrobe was quite unsuited to the climate. “Would you know of any shops where I can buy clothing?” he asked her. “And a decent inn, one with good locks on the rooms?” He reached up and patted the pack on his back. “I would prefer not to have to carry my belongings with me everywhere I go. And a bathhouse.” He had little doubt that he was as fragrant as the couple who had just passed.
 

Linette Botten

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#12
“Not an unreasonable assumption,” Conrad replied. “They did offer to recruit me once.”

“And you said no.” No question there. If he accepted, Conrad would have been one. Linette had no trouble seeing why. Someone his size would be invaluable as some kind of meat shield during a fight. A regular walking wall.

One of those damn gusts that always seemed to blow in from the sea licked against Lin’s skin and pushed back the hood atop her head. She let out a muttered, “Fuck,” at the temperature of the wind and rubbed at the back of her now exposed neck to try to warm her skin.

Conrad was not done with Linette, having questions for her. “Would you know of any shops where I can buy clothing? And a decent inn, one with good locks on the rooms?” He lifted an arm and patted at the pack upon his back. “I would prefer not to have to carry my belongings with me everywhere I go. And a bathhouse.”

Did Linette look like the fucking welcome wagon? Had she suddenly grown a thin Andy-stache that whispered ‘Let me help you’? Just to make sure, she rubbed her hand against her face. No hair there. Thank the Maker.

“I don’t know if somewhere would have your size.” Did they sell pants Oak-sized? When Linette bought clothing for Diago, she had to have it tailored using an Aerionniquin. Diago was tall but not nearly as tall as Conrad nor as bulky. “If you want a decent inn, I suppose the Red Kettle is decent enough. Some rooms have tubs there.” Not that the tubs would fit Conrad, but that was for him to worry about and not her.
 

Conrad Krause

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#13
“And you said no.”

“I did,” Conrad confirmed. He'd had his reasons then, but it occurred to him for the first time now that the Wardens likely would have accepted him, had he gone to them after his father died, and he let out an involuntary snort, shaking his head. Definitely a bit late.

“Fuck.” The wind blew the hood of Linette's cloak back, seemingly as unwelcome to her as it was to him. He asked her about the location a clothing shop and an inn, but the look that she gave him made him wonder if he had unwittingly stumbled over a Fereldan colloquialism for some kind of lewd proposition.

“I don’t know if somewhere would have your size,” she answered at last, rubbing her hand over her upper lip in an odd-looking reflexive gesture.

“I'll settle for a cloak for now,” he replied, shifting the pack on his shoulders a bit, hoping to block at least some of the wind.

“If you want a decent inn, I suppose the Red Kettle is decent enough,” she went on. “Some rooms have tubs there.”

“The Red Kettle,” he repeated, committing the name to memory. He briefly considered asking her for directions, but her demeanor indicated that she was losing interest in – or patience for – the conversation, and he realized that she might well be at the docks for reasons that had nothing to do with greeting new arrivals. “I thank you for the information, Linette,” he told her, “and I apologize for any delay that I have caused you.”
 

Linette Botten

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“The Red Kettle,” Conrad echoed. “I thank you for the information, Linette and I apologize for any delay that I have caused you.”

So polite for a tree. Someone Conrad’s size didn’t have to be. He could be as rude as he wanted to be and what was someone going to do? Tell him to fuck right off? Not if they didn’t want to get stomped. Even someone like Linette who was quite fond of telling people where to stick it when they irritated her knew when it was wise to keep her trap shut. Well, most of the time she knew. There were always exceptions to every rule. Ferren could attest to that.

She wrinkled her nose as she considered the man further. Big in size. Seemingly accommodating. Owed her a favor because she was all nice and helpful. Lin leaned to the side, looking just past Conrad and down the line of the pier. The Grouper, or so she assumed it was the Grouper given the stupid fish on the hull, was not far away. How better to make someone willing to talk to her than to bring along someone too large to tell fuck off?

“Ah it’s alright,” she started, a little smile sliding upon her lips. “Just going over to that ship over there.” Lin craned her head in gesture toward the Grouper. “The Grouper. Need to talk to a sailor onboard about something he said at the Musty Mug.”

Another breeze drifted by the pair causing Lin an involuntary shiver. Her arms lifted, fingers searching out her hood to replace it atop her head. “You can be my backup.” Usually a person asked for such things. Most people were not Linette though. Conrad owed her a favor so, of course, he would come along. There was no alternative.
 

Conrad Krause

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#15
Contrary to Conrad’s expectations, Linette did not immediately go on her not-so-merry way. Instead, she continued to scrutinize him, the crinkling over her nose suggestive now of contemplation, rather than disgust. She tipped to one side, peering past him and down the docks, but before he could turn to see what she was looking at, she had straightened again, a smug expression playing at the corners of her mouth.

“Ah, it’s all right,” she told him. “Just going to that ship over there.” He followed her nod to the large boat tied up about halfway down the docks, with a large and singularly ugly fish as a figurehead. “The Grouper. Need to talk to a sailor about something he said at the Musty Mug.”

He arched an eyebrow inquisitively. The Musty Mug had a decidedly seedy sound to it; undoubtedly a tavern, and likely not one of the better establishments. Such places were filled with talk of all kinds, most of it fueled by cheap ale and rotgut whiskey, and very little of it worth more than the coppers used to pay for the drink. Not the type of talk to interest this woman.

“You can be my backup.” Telling, not asking, as she yanked the hood of her cloak back up on the heels of another gust of chilly air.

He felt his lips twitch as amusement warred with caution. Clearly, she had learned that such confidence would get most people to go along with her; it was a brazenness that he had seen in many successful thieves and grifters, but speaking of him as backup, rather than muscle, was an interesting choice of words.

“You are a member of the guard?” he asked. She didn’t look it in the least, but he had spent less than twenty minutes on Fereldan soil (or technically none at all, as he was still standing upon the dock); for all he knew, this was the norm here, though he didn’t really think so. “I will help you, regardless, so long as what we do breaks no laws. I assume you wish me to look large and dangerous?” That had been easy enough before the scar and the eyepatch; now, he needed do little more than draw breath. If her task turned out to be of the illegal variety, he could always walk away.
 

Linette Botten

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#16
Conrad’s mouth did a twitchy thing that didn’t necessarily mean no or yes. “You are a member of the guard?” he asked. “I will help you, regardless, so long as what we do breaks no laws. I assume you wish me to look large and dangerous?”

“Not a guard. Not any longer.” What a time in Linette’s life that had been. Guard thinking maybe some day she’d become a knight. Oh the misguided dreams of youth. Her current path was so much better and involved less standing around with your thumb up your ass. Not that she actually ever did stand around with her thumb in her ass. She only saw a guard do that once and Ferren had an itch so…

The statement needed further explanation and since Linette was feeling especially generous, she provided one. “I work for the Teyrn of Highever, Fergus Cousland. Looking into his wife’s murder.” That made Linette sound so official and important. She even puffed her chest out a little just in case Conrad didn’t quite catch the gist of what she was laying down.

“Big, dangerous,” Linette nodded. “That’s the general idea.” She left the whole thing about breaking the law alone. Lin wasn’t about to make any promises there. Plus, did the law really apply in this situation? Fergus was an important guy. So what if Linette bent the law a little if it meant results in finding out who offed Lene?

Satisfied she got herself a giant meat puppet, Linette took a step around Conrad and started toward the Grouper’s gangplank. One of the crew was making her exit as Lin approached. Given the description she got of Willard, this was not him. She licked her lips and waved a hand at the departing sailor. “Can you help me?” she asked in her best I’m a lady with tits voice. “Oh I so hope you can!”
 

Conrad Krause

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#17
“Not a guard. Not any longer.”

Her words had the feel of truth to them, but then, the best lies were blended with truth. At any rate, there were a number of possible reasons why she would no longer be a guard, and only some of them were innocuous. Still, as he had told himself before, if anything she did seemed questionable, he was free to walk away … or to stop her.

“I work for the Teyrn of Highever, Fergus Cousland. Looking into his wife’s murder.”


That was a bold statement, and Conrad felt his eye widening as he made the mental conversion, based on the little reading he'd done on Ferelden. A Teyrn was the equivalent of … an Anders Duke? And his wife murdered? And a single no-longer-a-guard seeking answers? The questions tumbled over each other in his mind, but she gave him no time to voice even one.

“Big, dangerous. That's the general idea,” she confirmed with a decisive nod, then stepped around him and made her way down the docks toward the Grouper, not bothering to check that he was following. “Can you help me?” she called out, waving to a sailor who was striding down the ship's gangplank. “Oh I so hope you can!”

Her voice - her entire bearing – had changed in the space of those few steps. The hard edges in her voice had been replaced by a breathy, insipid quality, and she leaned toward the man in a pose of hopeful appeal. It got his attention, and that of others, as well. Heads popped up over the rail, and a couple of wolf whistles sounded. Stopping a bit behind her, Conrad let his expression settle into one of bovine placidity. That many folk equated large size with low intelligence was a misconception that he had exploited often. People forgot to guard their tongues when they were around an idiot. At the same time, he let his seemingly disinterested gaze sweep the faces on the ship above. He suspected that Linette was quite capable of reading the reactions of the man she was speaking to; he would watch the reactions of the others who heard her words. He just wished he had two eyes to do it; the blind spot on his left had never seemed so vast.
 

Linette Botten

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#18
Nothing like a coo’ing woman to garner the attention of men who had been stuck at sea too long. Really, most men were susceptible to a little boob push up and a I’m so helpless tone of voice change. Some would call the it nothing more than a cheap trick, but Linette was not above using all the tools in her box when it came to getting what she wanted. And right now? She needed to talk to Willard.

The sailor on the gangplank approached her, his mouth spread into a rather unpleasant sort of grin. Dental care was not high on his list of priorities given the missing teeth and rot setting in on two of his lower teeth. “What can I do for you?” he asked, gait more saunter than walk. Real catch that one.

Lin let out a dramatic enough sigh that her tits bounced a little on the exhale. “I need to find Willard. I heard he was on board.” Her palms flattened and she brushed them down her thighs. “I need him,” she purred, or it would have been purr-like had the words not come from Linette’s mouth and were not so exaggerated.

That didn’t seem to matter to the sailor. He swiped his hand across his lips as if dinner was about to be served and he was one starving feaster. He dished up whatever Lin was serving and nodded his head. “Ay, he’s on board. Though I’d treat you far better.” If Lin had been into fish-smelling sailors with dirty pants (she didn’t even want to think about what those stains were from) and a gap-toothed rotten meat smile, she might have been a little tempted. As it was, she liked her men with most of their teeth and clean. She was just so picky that way.

She squeezed her arms in front of her, capturing her breasts in the process so they extra plumped out. “I’d appreciate it if you went and got him for me.”

Before the man could answer, another sailor appeared at the top of the gangplank. He called out to his comrade, “Oi. What’s going on, Fredrick?”

Freddie looked over his shoulders that soon sagged at the sight of the interrupter. “Willard, lady down here says she’s looking for you."

Willard was about what Linette imagined she'd fine. A squirrelly looking man not much taller than Linette, Willard had the leathery skin often associated with a life upon the sea and a thin mop of hair that was mostly bald on top but combed over to give the pretense of more hair than he possessed. If Fredrick was a real catch, Willard was a regular wet dream.

Linette bit back her irritation at having to even talk to these studs. I do this for the Teyrn she repeated a few times in her mind before a bright smile claimed her lips in greeting for Willard. “Oh Willard! I have been looking for you!”

A hesitant step carried Willard down the gangplank, his uncertainty at the situation apparent in not only his body language but features.
 

Conrad Krause

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#19
Linette's miscalculation became apparent as soon as this Willard put in an appearance. She might not be a breathtaking beauty, but she was far from unattractive, and she was young: much younger than the man who was now descending the ramp toward her to the accompaniment of hoots catcalls from his fellows.

Wishful thinking on Willard's part might carry the ruse forward, so long as he, like most of the sailors of Conrad's limited acquaintance, had alcohol-induced gaps in his memory. Once the premise unraveled, however …

Conrad did a quick head count; even if the seven that he could see apart from Willard were the only crew, he and Linette would be at a decided disadvantage if they chose to help their crewmate against the landlubbers.

He maintained his position and his pose of indifference, waiting to see how events unfolded, but now, his attention was solely on Willard as he approached Linette. This sailor might seem an unlikely candidate for an assassin, but that could either mean that he was no assassin at all or a highly effective assassin; if the latter, things could get ugly with little to no warning.

There was a third possibility that was far from unlikely: that this was all bullshit. A smokescreen thrown up to conceal larcenous intent on Linnete's part. Should that prove the case, Conrad fully intended to paddle her ass soundly while he carried her to the guards himself, though if grift was her goal, she could surely have picked a more prosperous target.
 

Linette Botten

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#20
The smell hit Linette long before Willard got near. She wasn’t quite sure what the eau du stank was permeating from his being. The rum she was able to ascertain much as the fishy smell that all these sailors seems to sport. But was that moldy cheese or just nasty foot? Maybe rotten garbage? The inside of a privy after a huge meat dinner? Whatever the stench was, Linette had to exercise every little bit of will she had in her small being to not gag and make a smart ass comment. She needed Willard close enough to intimidate, close enough that he couldn’t run away too easily. She needed his not-so-fresh ass off the boat.

A slimy grin oozed upon Willard’s lips. Whatever apprehension he showed when Linette first summoned him faded away as he got closer and got a look at her parties both in front and back. There were a lot of men out that there certainly appreciated her back-sets a lot more than her dead dad. Not that she wanted her dad to appreciate her backside because gross. Just would have been nicer if he stopped criticizing it for its size and giving her a mini-complex about it during those very formative years.

“Ya asked for me, sweets?” Willard tried to coo. The words came out more like a snake’s hiss, though, all tongue and spit.

Lin closed her eyes as a bit of spittle landed on her cheek. She wasn’t opposed to a little facial cleansing now and again. This though… She hoped there was enough soap in the world to get that off her. “I’ve got a surprise for you,” she replied, a single finger lifting to draw down the center of her chest. “Friend of yours hired me.” When all else fails, go for the prostitute angle. That usually erased any worry a man such as Willard had.

Willard wiped his hand across his mouth and nose then peered over Lin’s shoulder at Conrad. “And him?”

Lin peeked quickly at Conrad, just fast enough to offer him a wink only he could see then returned her focus to Willard. “Bodyguard to make sure your treat arrived…” Her tongue raked across her lips and she near gagged again. She could taste the air and Willard, the noxious fumes near overpowering. “…unspoiled.”

That was all Willard needed to hear. Satisfied with her explanations, he nodded and grinned rather widely. “Well then, let’s go somewhere so that I can unwrap my present. Been at sea a while."
 
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