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Hang Him Out To Dry [Closed]

Adelaide Orland

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#1
[[OOC: 16th Kirkwall, evening]]
Celeste Monroe

The first Addie had heard of her brother’s disgrace was a scandalised whisper from Ria on the previous morning. As she assisted with her hair, her handmaiden shared the rumour that she’d picked up from one of the other maids who had been spending her evening off at the Hanged Man – apparently Sterling had got himself involved in some sort of altercation there, and had yet to return home. Gossip had it that he had stayed at a friend’s place in order to avoid coming home. As the ‘good’ Orland child, he’d never required stealth to keep his activities from Father’s eyes, and therefore was inexperienced with avoiding his wrath. Staying away only gave Barratt Orland’s temper time to reach boiling point.

How much of it was hearsay, she couldn’t say. Ria admitted she was only going off the words of others, but by the sound of it, Sterling had been lured into a room at the Hanged Man, and the next anything knew of him was him being dangled naked in the place of the mannequin that usually served as the tavern’s sign. Supposedly he had been prettily decorated with ribbons before he had been liberally decorated with fruit. Addie had hoped to learn more by hanging around the various entrances to the estate more than usual, watching for Sterling’s return. Doubtless he would be summoned to Father’s study the moment he dared to come back.

He’d finally attempted to sneak back in around midday, when Father was usually out seeing to various business matters. It hadn’t worked. Father’s thundering roar had alerted half the house to Sterling’s arrival, and the moment Addie dared get close enough to the study door to hear, she noticed more than one servant scattering away from the listening post as she approached. Quite a few of them had returned when they realised she was doing the same thing, and together they had listened with giggles muffled behind their hands as Father’s blistering tirade rained down on Sterling’s head.

It turned out that Sterling had not only been subject to somewhat more than fruit during his public humiliation, but also that he’d ended up in trouble in the first place due to following two women into some quarters at the Hanged Man. He couldn’t remember who they were or even what their faces looked like, but he did have some choice words to describe them. Father, frustrated by his failure to reveal who had got Sterling into this mess, became even angrier and Sterling shouted back. In the course of the conversation, Addie overheard a graphic account of what Father’s agents had reported back to him, and she finally had to flee back to her rooms before her laughter betrayed her.

She was still suffering residual fits of giggles a few hours later, as she settled in for a book after Ria had finished readying her for bed and bid her goodnight.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#2
Sneaking into the Orland estate was old hat by now; this made Celeste's fourth sortie past what Papa Barrett considered guards, but she approached tonight with a bit more caution than she had been using. It had been two nights now since she and Nicolette had turned a naked Sterling into the Hanged Man's new mascot. Word had spread through Hightown like wildfire, and one could all but hear scandalized mothers scratching the Orland name of their list of social calls to be made with their eligible daughters.

Corff evidently couldn't decide whether to be pissed at the guards that had come tromping through or pleased that a good number of the crowd that had gathered to gawk had stayed to drink, but he and Norah had held up their end. Kirkwall's guard was currently on the lookout for a pair of redheaded twins with Antivan accents that were ugly enough that only a blind man – or one that was blind drunk – would have taken them upstairs. Not that the guard was looking all that hard, since the only real harm, apart from some rope burns, had been to Sterling's pride.

The guards were indeed a bit more alert than usual … which meant that she probably wouldn't have been able to walk through stark naked carrying a lit torch. Their expressions were certainly grim enough, and they started at every noise; Celeste slipped past them in silence while they investigated what turned out to be a cat in the bushes.

She climbed the trellis, pausing just below the window and raising her head to peer inside. The room was dark save for a single oil lamp beside the bed, where Addie was tucked in with a book. Lifting a hand, Celeste rapped lightly on the glass.
 

Adelaide Orland

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#3
The book was not doing much to hold Addie’s attention. She would read about half a page, be reminded of a fragment of what she had heard Father yelling at Sterling, and start giggling all over again. She wasn’t the type to pray for somebody’s humiliation, but it could not have happened to anybody more deserving. Sterling had been doing all he needed to in order to be Father’s perfect son, while doing exactly as he pleased to everybody else, his entire life. Addie was fairly sure the only reason he had never struck her personally was to avoid inciting any hint of rebellion. If he had hit her, she would try and fight back. Striking others in her stead ensured she would avoid doing anything to anger him so that nobody would suffer on her behalf.

She had managed to get a little way into her book, regardless of the distractions, when a knock at her window made her jump. While she had now had several occasions where either Josc or Celeste made suddenly appeared on her balcony, it was still a little startling, but any fright was instantly dissipated by seeing her visitor standing outside. Now she dropped the book and quickly headed over to the window, beaming as she unlatched the door to admit Celeste.

“Celeste! It’s so good to see you!” Her voice was quiet but her tone joyful, and she hugged the other woman. “Come in, I think I have some wine still available – or we can see to Father’s stores later, if you’d prefer,” she added, grinning. The wine cellar was good practice for her attempts at lockpicking and Father, while good at counting bottles, would take a while to notice that one or two had had the contents emptied out and replaced with juice.

“The most amazing thing happened two days ago.” Addie couldn’t help babbling a little as she shut the door – thinking she could have gone to sleep with this amount of energy had been foolish, apparently. “You’ve probably heard by now, but – Sterling somehow ended up replacing the sign outside the Hanged Man! And he was naked!”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#4
Addie jumped at Celeste's knock, but her face lit up with delight when she saw her visitor. Dropping the book to the duvet, she slipped from bed and hurried to the window to open it.

“Celeste! It’s so good to see you!” The volume of her voice was carefully restrained, but the hug that enveloped Celeste was anything but, and the sailor returned it. Any stray thoughts of teaching the girl something a bit more carnal than sneaking and picking locks had been stilled by the understanding of just how starved this child was for simple physical contact. That and her very obvious crush on Josc. Lady Hawke would be around raising scandalized murmurs in Kirkwall long after Celeste had raised sails and headed for Antiva with Nicolette, and that was what Addie needed.

Not that the minstrel played any role in Celeste's restraint where the girl was concerned. She had never been monogamous, even with Daniel; that hadn't changed and certainly wouldn't with Isabela along for the Antiva run. Might even be a threesome in the works, in fact.

“Come in.” Addie motioned her further into the room, still beaming, and Celeste set aside her contemplation of that pleasant possibility for the moment. “I think I have some wine still available – or we can see to Father’s stores later, if you’d prefer.” The smile took on a mischievous glint that delighted Celeste. This bird was getting ready to shatter the bars of her gilded cage, and she would be a thing of blazing beauty when she took flight.

“Either is fine.” Choices was another thing that Addie had been denied growing up, so Celeste made sure to offer them whenever she could, even in the small things. “Been practicing?” She withdrew a small padlock from a pocket. The set of picks had been a gift two visits ago, along with a couple of cheap locks (and the fart potion, of course). This one was a little better made than the last two, and would be more difficult to open.

“The most amazing thing happened two days ago.” After being bottled up around her father, brother and household servants she couldn't fully trust, words tended to rush out of the girl in a flood when Celeste first arrived. “You’ve probably heard by now, but – Sterling somehow ended up replacing the sign outside the Hanged Man! And he was naked!”

“Except for the ribbons,” Celeste amended with a grin. “A friend and I happened to run into him looking for a memorable evening and obliged.” The details were undoubtedly fuzzy, but it was a safe bet that Sterling Orland would never forget that night.
 

Adelaide Orland

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#5
Celeste accepted the offer of either the wine already available or that in Father’s stores. Every the well-trained lady, Addie poured Celeste out a goblet of what she had rather than making her wait, but she smiled as she did so. “I think I would like to get some from the cellar, once that carafe is finished.” There was not much left.

“Been practicing?” Celeste withdrew a padlock from her pocket, and Addie went to fetch the picks that had been the sailor’s first gift. She had bent a set on her first unsupervised try, but she had been less ham-handed on following attempts, and she beamed.

“Yes. I relocked the ones you left me before, and tried them over and over. I can do them both really quickly now!” She wasn’t bragging, just delighted at her success. Father thought all noble ladies should have a skill or two but this was assuredly one he would not consider suitable. She took the new lock from Celeste and turned it over in her hands, examining it, feeling the weight. It was heavier and would probably be more complicated than the last one. Ever the attentive student, Addie relished the incipient challenge – but she had news to share, first. Breathlessly, she filled Celeste in on what had happened to Sterling, right down to the fact that he had been naked.

“Except for the ribbons.” Celeste grinned. “A friend and I happened to run into him looking for a memorable evening and obliged.”

Addie had to clap both hands over her mouth to muffle the squeal of delighted laughter. “That was you?!” Who else? Sterling had not been robbed, but he had been thoroughly humiliated. Had it been one of his rivals from another noble family, they likely would have embarrassed him in a more subtle way. Had it been a random act, he probably would have ended up robbed blind and maybe missing his fine jacket, but not stripped and dangled outside the Hanged Man. No, even at the time she had thought something seemed a little strange about the situation, but she was not complaining, and even less now.

She poured a glass for herself and held it out in a toast to Celeste. “Well, here is to you, the only person I have ever known to give Sterling a taste of his own medicine. How did you even do it without him realising it was you?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#6
Addie poured Celeste a glass of wine. “I think I would like to get some from the cellar, once that carafe is finished,” she suggested.

“We can do that.” The girl was getting better at sneaking, and despite the pranks that had temporarily turned the household upside down, security inside the Orland mansion remained light. Barrett had the guards outside increase their patrol frequencies, but he hadn't been able to make them any more attentive while they were patrolling, and unless an actual ruckus arose from within the mansion, their eyes would likely never turn in that direction.

Celeste accepted the wine, offering the lock in exchange, and the girl's face lit up. “I relocked the ones you left me before,” she said eagerly, taking her picks from their hiding place, “and tried them over and over. I can do them both really quickly now!” She hefted the new lock, plainly comparing its weight to the flimsy ones she'd started out on, but before long the tale of her brother's misadventure came bubbling out. Apparently, it hadn't yet occurred to her that present company had been involved, likely because few people had bothered keeping their promises to her so far in her life.

“That was you?” she exclaimed when Celeste admitted her involvement, blue eyes dancing with delight and both hands over her mouth not quite able to contain her merriment.

“I had some help,” Celeste replied, as close to modesty as she ever got. She might have been able to pull it off alone, but it had been easier with Dax and Bailey to help with the heavy lifting. And Nicolette's involvement had definitely made it more fun.

“Well, here is to you,” she poured herself a glass and lifted it in a toast, “the only person I have ever known to give Sterling a taste of his own medicine. How did you even do it without him realising it was you?”

“Well, he's never met me, so recognizing me beforehand wasn't a problem.”
Celeste reached out, letting the rim of her glass tap Addie's with a faint ting. “He was just looking for female companionship. We obliged, then slipped the knockout drops in his drink once we got him in a room.” She shrugged. “After that, it was easy, and after the drops wore off, he wouldn't remember much of anything about the hour or so before.” She took a sip of wine. “How did your father take it?”
 

Adelaide Orland

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#7
Celeste had had help, but that didn’t reduce the awe with which Addie looked at her at all. She’d promised to teach Sterling a lesson, far away from the estate so none of it could come back on the servants, and she’d gone far above and beyond expectations in delivering. Maker, she’d actually delivered. Addie was no stranger to broken promises or brush-offs of the ‘maybe later’ variety. While she didn’t think Celeste would lie to her, she hadn’t held on any hope of something of this scale. Addie didn’t have a vindictive streak in her body but imagining Sterling swinging about in the breeze still made her giggle.
She raised her glass to Celeste in a toast, before asking for the full story.

“Well, he's never met me, so recognizing me beforehand wasn't a problem. He was just looking for female companionship.” Addie crinkled her nose. She could imagine how Sterling approached women. She had seen him ooze his way across a dancefloor on more than one occasion, and it was never less nauseating to see. “We obliged, then slipped the knockout drops in his drink once we got him in a room. After that, it was easy, and after the drops wore off, he wouldn't remember much of anything about the hour or so before.”

“So he’s not likely to remember you or your friend. That’s good.” If he had, Sterling would probably be conducting a city-wide search for Celeste and anybody else involved by now, had Father not warned him against attracting more negative attention.

Speaking of… “How did your father take it?”

Addie grinned. “That’s actually how I found most of it out. He was screaming so loudly at Sterling I could hear him through the study door. Me and all the servants I noticed who happened to be busy with various small tasks that needed to be done in the vicinity at that exact point.” Sterling was unloved by most of the people on the estate, and when Father had brought up her brother’s state of undress, Addie had turned her head in time to see one of the maids rush down the corridor, muffling her laughter with her apron.

“So now Sterling has a bodyguard assigned to him to ensure he doesn’t do anything stupid like try to carry out a vendetta and cause more black marks against his name with the other families. He’s spending a lot of time in various taverns, apparently, scowling into his ale.” Another question occurred. “Was it your crew helping you?” She’d met a couple of them during her rare visits to the Hanged Man, and found them to be mostly friendly. “Or the Jennies?”

She wasn’t pushing for entry to the Red Jennies at all, she was nowhere near the skill level they needed yet, but she liked hearing about them with each visit.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#8
Adelaide seemed reassured when Celeste told her that the knockout drops would have left Sterling unable to clearly remember the period leading up to his humiliation, including the faces of his companions. And she grew positively gleeful at mention of her father.

“That’s actually how I found most of it out,” she admitted enthusiastically. “He was screaming so loudly at Sterling I could hear him through the study door. Me and all the servants I noticed who happened to be busy with various small tasks that needed to be done in the vicinity at that exact point.”

Celeste chuckled at that, taking a sip of her wine. The ones that Sterling Orland had spent the most time lording it over would certainly have enjoyed being privvy to his downfall. Hopefully, whoever had contacted the Jennies would recognize their hand in the caper and let the rest know that this particular blow had been delivered on their behalf. Theirs and Addie’s.

The girl went on, her face still glowing with delight. “So now Sterling has a bodyguard assigned to him to ensure he doesn’t do anything stupid like try to carry out a vendetta and cause more black marks against his name with the other families. He’s spending a lot of time in various taverns, apparently, scowling into his ale.”

“And glowering at any female that approaches him,”
Celeste guessed with a smirk. It would be a long while before he let another woman talk him into a room, and from the various ditties and jokes that had been circulating about ‘Sterling’s Small Parts’(and they got smaller with every retelling), he probably wouldn’t have too many interested.

Intelligent blue eyes regarded her intently. “Was it your crew helping you?” Addie wanted to know. “Or the Jennies?”

“Better if you don’t know, Little One,” Celeste deflected gently. She suspected that Barrett Orland would not deal kindly with anyone involved in putting his heir’s shortcomings on display, even if that anyone was his daughter. The less she knew, the less likely she would be to make a slip that would reveal that she had any knowledge beyond the flying gossip. “Most of my crew are part of the Jennies, though.” That much the girl was quite capable of putting together on her own. “I could tell you about some of the capers that we’ve pulled in other places.” There were plenty of those that would appeal to the quick mind and lively imagination behind that pretty face.

“What about your brother?” she asked, adding, “The one who’s not an asshole. You been able to see him any more?”
 

Adelaide Orland

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#9
Sterling’s guard had been up against all women since the ‘incident’. Sterling was objectively good looking and could turn on the charm when he wished, and Addie had known more than one woman who had realised a little too late that that beauty only went skin deep. It only benefited them if he was preventing anybody from approaching him. “Yes. The maids tend not to go near him anyway unless directly summoned, but now he won’t even call them. He knows he’s a laughing stock and while I worry about what he might do to prove himself worthy of Father again, for the moment he’s a snake with no fangs.” She’d read that sentence in a book recently and rather liked it.

Enough of Sterling, however. She wanted to know who had helped Celeste (so she could thank them, if she ever saw them), but Celeste was less eager to share than she had hoped. “Better if you don’t know, Little One. Most of my crew are part of the Jennies, though.” So it had to have been a Jennies job, then. Either that or Celeste had benefited from some good timing and imagination. “I could tell you about some of the capers that we’ve pulled in other places.”

Addie nodded. “Yes! I definitely want to hear about those.” She was disappointed that there wasn’t more to be learned about the offensive against Sterling, but she had enjoyed what she did know nonetheless.

There was another question first, though. “What about your brother? The one who’s not an asshole. You been able to see him any more?”

“It’s tricky,” Addie admitted. “But I did manage to see him a couple of weeks ago – I even got out entirely on my own! But we wanted to meet in Hightown rather than me go all the way to Lowtown by myself-” even she wasn’t quite feeling brave enough to wander the meaner streets of Kirkwall by herself at night, at least not yet – “so we met in the Blooming Rose. It was, ah, an experience.”

She was blushing again. “Not that anything happened with anybody there! It was just, um. I knew what goes on in there, vaguely? I just didn’t know, know.” She grinned a little. “The food was good enough. And Eddie is really good. I still can’t quite believe it when he’s not in the same room. It feels like a dream, and if I wake up, he’ll be gone again.” The grin became a brilliant smile. “But it’s not a dream. I actually got my brother back.”

She feared becoming a bit of a bore about that. It was still a wonder to her and she might end up rehashing details that Eddie would rather she didn’t share. So she circled back. “So tell me about one of these other capers? And then maybe we can sneak down for more wine?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#10
As expected, Sterling had learned his lesson as well as a cat who sat down on a hot stove. “The maids tend not to go near him anyway unless directly summoned,” Addie confided in her, “but now he won’t even call them. He knows he’s a laughing stock and while I worry about what he might do to prove himself worthy of Father again, for the moment he’s a snake with no fangs.”

“But still a snake.” And fangs could be re-grown. “The Jennies will keep an eye on him,” Celeste promised the girl. Now that he had been brought to their attention, he’d likely be the subject of pranks whenever he started making too big a bastard of himself, but when Addie started pressing for more details, it was time to change the subject. The girl might be a good addition to the Jennies - or at least an ally - eventually, but right now, knowing too much would be as big a danger to her as to them. Addie accepted her offer of stories without pouting at the demurral that came before it, but before she began, Celeste remembered to ask about the brother who’d recently returned from the dead.

“It’s tricky,” Addie told her, “But I did manage to see him a couple of weeks ago – I even got out entirely on my own! But we wanted to meet in Hightown rather than me go all the way to Lowtown by myself so we met in the Blooming Rose. It was, ah, an experience.”

“I’ll bet.” Celeste’s lips twitched into a smirk at the thought, but it was actually a fairly canny idea.Lusine didn’t tolerate drunks harassing her patrons, and the odds of the girl encountering someone who would recognize her were low. Definitely lower than the chance of her running into trouble on her own in Lowtown, anyway.

Her smirk brought a blush to Addie’s cheeks. "Not that anything happened with anybody there!” she protested. “It was just, um. I knew what goes on in there, vaguely? I just didn’t know, know.” Celeste chuckled at the sheepish admission; Lady Hawke was exercising rare restraint, it seemed. “The food was good enough. And Eddie is really good. I still can’t quite believe it when he’s not in the same room. It feels like a dream, and if I wake up, he’ll be gone again.” Her smile went from abashed to adoring. “But it’s not a dream. I actually got my brother back.”

“I’m happy for you, Little One,” Celeste told her. “I’d like to meet him sometime, if he’s willing.” From what she’d heard to date, Rupert Edwin Orland was a canny bloke who had survived by not being noticed; he might well prefer to keep it that way.

“So tell me about one of these other capers?” Addie wanted to know. “And then maybe we can sneak down for more wine?”

“That works.” Celeste settled at the foot of the bed, her back against one of the bedposts. “We were in Denerim a few weeks back, when the Fereldan King was getting married,” she began, sipping at her wine. “We weren’t invited to the ceremony, of course, but the whole city was celebrating. Free booze all night. The Jennies had received word that there was a noblewoman who treated her servants like trash and favored dresses so tight that it took three servants to cram her into one.” The lovely Lady Pendleton, though Celeste wouldn’t mention any names. “We snuck into her house the night before and made some … adjustments to her ball gown.” Kalindra had, to be precise, snipping threads here and there at key stress points. “We weren’t at the reception, but I’m told that when she was dancing with th Warden-Commander, the entire upper section just burst apart and everything came spilling out in front of everyone, including the King and Queen.”
 

Adelaide Orland

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#11
While Addie was still dancing on a cloud over Sterling’s current state of humiliation, Celeste gently pointed out that he could still be a danger, then promised that the Jennies would be watching. Addie was reassured that if Sterling did try to do anything that made people’s lives a misery, he would be quickly brought to task again. There was little chance of him learning his lesson permanently, but they could always hope.

Speaking of brothers, they moved on to Eddie, and Addie gave a brief description of her first outing to the Blooming Rose, earning herself a chuckle. There had been a couple of offers to relieve her of her innocence, and while Addie was curious, she knew that if anybody was to do that, it’d be somebody she knew for a fact cared about her, and not just because they were being paid to do so. She had yet to broach the subject with Josc, mostly because she didn’t know how to bring it up without being embarrassingly blunt about it. All the initiating language she knew were from the few racier books in the family library, and she suspected a lot of it was about a hundred years out of date.

Nonetheless she was happy about the meeting and that came through as she told Celeste about it. “I’m happy for you, Little One. I’d like to meet him sometime, if he’s willing.”

Addie nodded, immediately beaming. “I bet he’d like you! He always tried to do stuff behind Father’s back too. He’d appreciate that you taught me how to do it.” She attempted to tease. “I’m told people think he’s quite handsome. Maybe you’d like him too.”

All right, she wasn’t very good at teasing in response yet.

While she was always happy to reflect on the first time she and Celeste had met, however, she wanted to hear a story she didn’t yet know, and she begged for details about another adventure. Celeste made herself comfortable on the bed and Addie curled up against the headboard as the captain started spinning her tale.

It was set in Denerim, and the target of the Jennies’ ire was a woman who treated her servants appallingly. It seemed as though there were far too many people who felt that having money made them better than everybody else. “We snuck into her house the night before and made some … adjustments to her ball gown.” Addie listened agog. In which direction had the adjustments gone?

She soon found out. “We weren’t at the reception, but I’m told that when she was dancing with the Warden-Commander, the entire upper section just burst apart and everything came spilling out in front of everyone, including the King and Queen.”

Addie didn’t manage to remember to put down her cup before clapping her hands to her mouth to stifle her laughter, and wine (thankfully, white), sprayed across the pillows. Laughing and trying to pad desperately at the seeping liquid didn’t quite work, but she was fine giving up as she tried to get her breath back. “Oh, Maker, really? So they saw…everything?”

It was humiliating. It would have been embarrassing to see, worse to experience firsthand. But Addie’s empathy did not extend far enough to cover people who abused their servants, and she felt as though it had been thoroughly deserved. Finally, she managed to pull herself together and wipe her eyes. “What was the aftermath of that like? Did she learn her lesson?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#12
Addie seemed delighted with the idea of Celeste meeting her other brother. “I bet he’d like you!” she exclaimed with a bright smile. “He always tried to do stuff behind Father’s back too. He’d appreciate that you taught me how to do it.” A teasing light appeared in the blue eyes. “I’m told people think he’s quite handsome. Maybe you’d like him too.”

“Maybe,” Celeste grinned at her, “but would he like me? I’ve been told I’m an acquired taste for most men.” And truth be told, after Daniel, other men held little interest for her. The dalliances that had amused them both when he was alive felt like settling now. She doubted she’d ever find his like again, and she wasn’t inclined to waste her life trying. She was enjoying Nicolette’s company right now, anyway, but they weren’t exclusive by any means, so that certainly didn’t rule out a bit of fun if she and Eddie hit it off … or maybe a threesome.

Or maybe not. She liked Addie far too much to risk upsetting her by bedding her brother and having it go balls up somehow, so she quite readily turned the subject to one of the more recent Jenny capers, their prank on Lady Pendleton at the Fereldan King’s wedding ball. The girl curled up against hr headboard with her glass of wine, listening in breathless delight as Celeste told the tale, forgetting about the wine and splattering it all over her pillow when she lifted her hands to her mouth to cover her merry laughter. “Oh, Maker, really?” she asked between giggles as she mopped at the spilled wine - fortunately a white. “So they saw…everything?”

“Everything from the waist up,” Celeste confirmed smugly, smiling at the memory of the breathless tales that had begun spreading from the Palace District before the ball had even ended.

“What was the aftermath of that like?” she wanted to know, wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes. “Did she learn her lesson?”

“Not in the least, I’m afraid.” Celeste shook her head, taking a drink of her own wine. “I’m told that she destroyed her dressing room when she got home. Broke every mirror and half the windows. She tried to blame the seamstress, but she’d spent the weeks leading up to the wedding bragging to anyone within earshot that she had engaged the finest seamstress in Val Royeaux to make her dress … and it turned out that same seamstress had warned her repeatedly about how tight she wanted her dress to fit.” She shrugged. “So, no. She learned nothing. They almost never do.” She lifted her glass in a toast. “You are very much an exception, Little One.”
 

Adelaide Orland

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#13
Celeste seemed doubtful (in a cheerful fashion) that Eddie would like her. Addie believed he would. “I think so. You’re vivacious, bold as brass, and really good-looking.” Even with the scars that traced her face, Celeste had amazing dark green eyes and an impish smile that Addie would likely have succumbed to already if she didn’t have somebody else in mind. Nonetheless, she did blush at being so open about it, and she was happy to back away from the subject when Celeste started telling her about a prank on a noblewoman which left Addie in stitches – and slightly damp.

Sadly, the lesson had gone unlearned. “I’m told that she destroyed her dressing room when she got home. Broke every mirror and half the windows. She tried to blame the seamstress, but she’d spent the weeks leading up to the wedding bragging to anyone within earshot that she had engaged the finest seamstress in Val Royeaux to make her dress … and it turned out that same seamstress had warned her repeatedly about how tight she wanted her dress to fit.”

Addie sighed, but it was tinged with amusement. Lady Pendleton and Lady Avelraad hadn’t learned much after the spiced drink had left them pawing at each other, either. Apparently it had been the heat, and they’d just been trying to help each other out of their corsets before either of them fainted. At the same time. Which would also account for their florid complexions and the sweating. That said, rumour had it they were now bedding each other whenever their husbands were away, so maybe Addie had just helped remove a barrier that only propriety had kept in place.

“So, no. She learned nothing. They almost never do.” Celeste lifted her glass. “You are very much an exception, Little One.”

Addie blushed again (was there a way to cure that? She seemed to go around looking like a strawberry with a wig on most of these days), and clinked her glass gently against Celeste’s. “Well. I. Thank you.” She smiled softly at Celeste. “I want to be better than my family. And you can always tell me if I’m getting – what’s the expression? – up myself? Although I’m not sure how that’s biologically possible.”

She drained the dregs of her glass, and glanced around to find the bottle was empty as well. Now the smile turned shy. “Can we go wine-stealing, when you’re done?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#14
“I think so,” Addie proclaimed confidently when Celeste warned her that her brother might not find the sailor to his taste. “You’re vivacious, bold as brass, and really good-looking.”

“Why not you, then?” Celeste teased her, then relented with a chuckle when another of those adorable blushes turned the pretty face scarlet. “Don’t worry, Little One. You’re exquisite, but I’m fond enough of Lady Hawke not to poach … but let me know if she mistreats you so I can fill her underwear drawer with itching powder.” A wink to show that she was joking; Josc had shown a remarkable degree of restraint that spoke volumes about her feelings for the young noblewoman. And if she did start misbehaving, Celeste would do her the courtesy of talking to her before resorting to pranking her.

The girl laughed at the tale of Lady Pendleton’s woes, but true to form, she also hoped that she had learned a lesson about treating her servants better. Unsurprisingly, the answer was a no, and Addie blushed again when complimented on her rare sense of compassion and kindness.

“Well. I. Thank you,” she faltered with a shy and utterly beautiful smile. “I want to be better than my family. And you can always tell me if I’m getting – what’s the expression? – up myself? Although I’m not sure how that’s biologically possible.”

“Either ‘full of yourself’ or ‘up your own arse’,” Celeste informed her with a grin. She schooled her language more than usual around the girl, but she never failed to answer honestly what questions were put to her, remembering her own youth in her father’s house quite well: evasions and lies and “You’re too young to worry about such things” and (her favoririte) “That’s nothing a proper young lady should be asking!”. “And the latter may be biologically impossible, but I’ve met more than one who can’t be described any other way. No worries, though: I'll definitely let you know if you start heading down that road."

Addie drained the wine that she hadn’t spilled and lifted the empty bottle. “Can we go wine-stealing, when you’re done?”

Celeste downed the last of her own wine without hesitation. “Lead the way,” she invited. “Got your picks?” Sneaking into the wine cellar had given the girl a good opportunity to practice her skills.
 

Adelaide Orland

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#15
Addie blushed as Celeste jestingly asked her why, if she was so endowed with virtues that Addie obviously found appealing, that she did not have feelings for her. The truth was Addie did, after a fashion; but it was the sort of crush that was more based on admiration than romance. She liked how Celeste lived her life so unapologetically, how kind she could be, how inventive she was. But the simple fact was that she just liked Josc more. The memory of the gentle teasing, the dance, the soft touch of lips to her cheek, still made her smile like a fool.

And in all honesty, she had first met Celeste when the other woman was being employed to contaminate the food. Although she had approved of that action once she understood the reasons for it.

“Don’t worry, Little One. You’re exquisite-” Addie was fairly certain her face was about to catch fire – “but I’m fond enough of Lady Hawke not to poach … but let me know if she mistreats you so I can fill her underwear drawer with itching powder.”

Addie giggled. “I will do, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” She was still unsure how she would feel if she saw Josc being sweet with somebody else, but so far the thought had yet cause a sting of worry. It just left her feeling a little bemused, frankly. Apart from the rogue occasion when she’d imagined it being with Celeste or Isabela. Then it made her feel something that required being behind a locked door to deal with.

Oh Maker, it was back in her head.

Thankfully, Celeste had a tale to spin for her, and she was laughing by the end of it, thoroughly distracted, and expressed the hope that she’d be better, although she slightly messed up the idiom. “Either ‘full of yourself’ or ‘up your own arse’, and the latter may be biologically impossible, but I’ve met more than one who can’t be described any other way. No worries, though: I'll definitely let you know if you start heading down that road."

“Thank you.” And as if to indicate it was time for her to demonstrate that she wasn’t as stuck up as some nobles, the wine ran out and it was time for more. Celeste seemed happy to agree.

“Lead the way. Got your picks?”

Addie nodded, opening her bedside drawer. The small pouch wasn’t immediately evident; with a strip of leather and a few sharp tacks pilfered from the workmen’s supplies, she’d made a sort of sling that hung from the underside of the surface. Anybody opening the drawer wouldn’t be able to see it looking in – they would have to put their hand and feel around to dig the picks out of their hiding place. Addie didn’t think her father would go through her things, but she wasn’t betting her new freedom on it.

“I found a route down a couple of weeks ago where the guards don’t patrol as much. But there’s usually one stationed near the cellar.” Father was very proud of his collection of vintages, some of which were worth more than what he paid his servants in a year. The contents of the room were extremely valuable. “I’ve managed to get by them twice – once when one of them went to the toilet, and once with one of your fart bombs. He ran off to get away from the smell. Although it slightly backfired on me. My eyes were watering the whole time I was working on the lock.”

She started creeping out, looking to left and right before she stepped out of the room. Just because she knew the habits of most of the estate’s guards didn’t mean tonight wouldn’t be the night for one of them to make a change out of boredom.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#16
Addie blushed rather more at Celeste’s tease than expected, but the girl was still endearingly innocent and - unlike Celeste at that age - in no great hurry to be otherwise, content to take slow, steady steps out into the greater world, savoring each new discovery. The sailor didn’t think that Josc was pushing her along, and from the giggle that greeted her mention of the notion, neither did Addie. That was enough for Celeste; she remembered all too well being surrounded by people insisting that she couldn’t possibly know what she wanted or what was good for her because she was too young,, and she had no intention of doing the same to Addie.

Instead, she regaled the girl with the Red Jenny caper that had sent Lady Pendleton scurrying from Ferelden’s wedding ball with her assets on full display (though from the talk that Celeste had heard, most of the males present had seen them at least once before). That Addie could worry that she might ever become like that one was the surest indication that she would never be, but Celeste did promise to let her know if it seemed imminent.

The wine having run out, the girl suggested a resupplying excursion to her father’s wine cellar. Celeste agreed, watching approvingly as Addie retrieved her lockpicks from the hiding place she had rigged for them in her nightstand drawer.

“I found a route down a couple of weeks ago where the guards don’t patrol as much. But there’s usually one stationed near the cellar,” she explained proudly. “I’ve managed to get by them twice – once when one of them went to the toilet, and once with one of your fart bombs. He ran off to get away from the smell. Although it slightly backfired on me. My eyes were watering the whole time I was working on the lock.”

Celeste chuckled. “Those are definitely potent in enclosed spaces,” she agreed. She followed as Addie slipped from her room, keeping to the verges of the shadows in the girl’s wake. If a servant or guard happened upon them, they would see only Barrett Orland’s daughter out and about in her own home.
 

Adelaide Orland

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#17
Addie had walked this way openly numerous times during the day. While she was forbidden from taking anything from the cellar for herself (Maker forbid she have anything more than half a glass of wine at a time, lest she cause any embarrassment at all to the family in front of one of the numerous hangers-on), part of her upbringing required an intimate knowledge not only of the different varieties of wine but also how each vineyard was faring from year to year. A few millimetres less of rain in northern Antiva could cause the 9:34 Allegress to be marginally inferior to the 9:33, and even if there was very little difference in taste, the elite could declare the latter to be utterly unfashionable to drink. So it made sense for Addie to make occasional trips in the direction of the cellar to speak with Father’s sommelier and keep up with the latest changes.

Now she could almost find her way there blindfolded, but navigating the corridors still gave her a thrill. Within five minutes they were outside the room that led down to the cellar. She listened at the door, and heard nothing. She scratched at the door, and listened for footsteps. Silence. She straightened up and walked in as though she had every right to be there, indicating that Celeste should keep back. If there was somebody there, she would say she could not sleep and had come down to borrow one of the numerous tomes on viniculture kept there.

Nobody would question that one of those would successfully put her to sleep in moments.

The sommelier was long in bed, and the guard who was sitting in there evidently should have been. He was fast asleep, and didn’t move. Addie resumed a crouch and indicated there was a guard inside.

She was at a bit of a loss; distracting people was easy, but she didn’t know if she was quiet enough to pick a lock and swing open the door without waking him. She looked to Celeste, ready for another lesson.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#18
Down to the first floor and through silent corridors, Celeste followed Addie, stopping at the girl’s signal and waiting as she opened a door and stepped through. Crouching in the shadows, she could hear the rhythmic, stertorous breathing from the room beyond, so it was no surprise when Addie was back in seconds, her gestures indicating that there was a guard inside.

Celeste tipped her a wink and crept forward to peer inside. The guard was slouched in a chair, head tipped forward and arms crossed over his chest. Perfect.

Slipping the envelope of sneezing powder from a pocket in her vest, she stole closer still, sprinkling a healthy dose on his chest right beneath his nose, then nipped back out, easing the door closed in her wake.

Just wait, she mouthed to Addie, guiding the girl to a shadowy alcove as the first explosive sneeze sounded from beyond the door.
 

Adelaide Orland

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#19
Addie had expected Celeste to sneak across the room, and that she did. What she had not been expecting was for her to go right up to the sleeping guard, sprinkling something on his chest. A sort of itching powder, maybe? But wouldn’t that wake him up? Celeste skittered back out and then shut the door. A silence followed, and then a sound like a portion of the roof had fallen in. Addie jumped, before realising it was a sneeze. The same explosion went off several times in a row, and there was a bang that sounded as though the chair had fallen over. She could hear the guard blundering around the room, cursing between sneezes, before the door was flung open and he ran right past them, haring in the direction of the kitchen. He didn’t even notice them as he went past with his eyes streaming.

Addie had used various powders for pranks, and the fart bomb as a way of clearing the room, but she’d not thought to use them as a distraction before, and she made a mental note of it. With an approving grin at Celeste, she crept back into the room and knelt before the cellar door, picks laid out at her side.

She had a good idea already of which ones were best to use, and as she had before, she pushed both tools into the lock carefully and shut her eyes as she concentrated on feeling the tumblers slip into place. It seemed to take a long time, and she was a little scared that at any moment they would hear the guard returning, but then everything slid into place and the door opened without even a scrape.

They were in, but then Addie snuck away from the door after digging one of the small tacks out of the woodwork with her thumb. This she left upturned on the chair the guard had been sitting on. “He shouted at one of the maids for being slow.”

Hadn’t Celeste taught her to kill two birds with one stone? She smiled as she gathered up her picks and they headed through the door. “The really fancy ones are in the middle. Father figured that thieves would either grab the first thing or search right at the end in case they were hidden. He’d punish the sommelier if anything really expensive was taken, but I think we can remove some good ones without him going mad.”

She gestured, grinning. “Help yourself.”

It was an impressive cellar – about a third of the foundation level for the entire house was given to it, and bottles of every sort of hard drink lined all the walls and shelves that had been installed through the middle. It was an alcoholic thief’s paradise.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#20
In no time at all, the door flew open, and the violently sneezing guard staggered out, eyes watering. He ran right by them without so much as a glance, heading for the stairs. Addie was in motion before his footsteps had faded, and Celeste watched approvingly as she crouched in front of the locked door to the wine cellar and made short work of the lock.

“Nicely done,” she congratulated the girl, following her in and glancing around with a low whistle of appreciation, then watching with an inquisitively arched eyebrow as Addie returned to the guard’s chair and placed a tack she’d pried from the woodwork in the center of the seat.

“He shouted at one of the maids for being slow,” she explained, and Celeste nodded her approval before turning to survey the impressive array of wine racks that went from floor to ceiling and stretched the full length of the sizable room.

“The really fancy ones are in the middle,” Addie told her. “Father figured that thieves would either grab the first thing or search right at the end in case they were hidden. He’d punish the sommelier if anything really expensive was taken, but I think we can remove some good ones without him going mad.”

“Help yourself,” she invited, beaming proudly.

Celeste chuckled and obligingly stepped to the center section. Not a speck of dust to be found on the surface of the bottles, which meant there would be no way to tell at a glance that they had been disturbed. She slipped bottle after bottle from their niches, peering at the labels. Unsurprisingly, Barrett Orland favored Orlesian wines, but there were a surprising number of Tevinter vintages tucked away, including a Vercheil white, 7 Dragon. She handed that one to Addie, shifting another bottle to fill the vacant slot, then picked a Claose red, 99 Blessed. Not the best of the lot by any means, but no need to be greedy.

“These will do for this trip,” she told the girl, gesturing toward the door. The guard would likely be upstairs blowing his nose for a bit longer yet, but no sense in cutting it too close.
 
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