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It's Not What You Know... [Closed]

Cam

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12
#1
(( Wintermarch, 9:33 - The Dragon's Flagon - Late Afternoon - Bernie ))

The trick to running a (mostly) illegal business was all in who you knew.

As it happened, Cam knew lots of people. She had a whole collection by this point, though some contacts were worth more than others. It might’ve been a mercenary take on things, but it’d gotten her where she wanted to be so far. Even better, it kept people like Val from ever getting their hooks into her again.

And yesterday, it’d gotten her a lead. Selling lyrium to the highest bidder was all well and good, but she didn’t have a lot of repeat customers. For as much of a pain in the ass as it was to secure, ship, and sneak past over-eager guards, Cam wanted a consistent return on her investment.

It’d taken some doing--calling in favors, leaning into the role of ‘discrete merchant with something to lose,’ and making Warrick actually work for once in his life--but eventually she’d been told about a tavern keeper who might be very interested in hearing what she had to say.

Rumor had it she was in the business of caring for apostates. If that was true, she wouldn’t be quick to turn down a supply of lyrium. She’d also be the cautious sort, because no one sheltered wayward mages in the middle of fucking Denerim without being choosy about who they trusted.

It’d be a tough sell, but it was like Matteo always said: “If you want to get at the best pearls, you need to do lots of prying.” Translation from Antivan was shit, but Cam had taken it to mean that the most lucrative deals were worth it… you just had to be ready for a fight.

So she’d readied herself for a fight, spending last night just getting a good look at the patrons that frequented the Dragon’s Flagon. She hadn’t wanted to give herself away too early, so she’d only glimpsed the owner during a few brief exchanges that’d happened in view of the windows, but it’d been time well-spent.

The Flagon’s usual lot were a motley sort. Unassuming men and women who seemed to gravitate to the warmth that emanated from the place. For a first meeting, Cam resolved to be the same. She wore a simple, belted linen tunic and trousers, completing the outfit with a pair of boots whose soles had recently been repaired. She wore no makeup save for some dark smudges beneath her eyes, and her hair was respectably styled--combed down straight, without the usual flair--and dyed a drab brown that was surprisingly close to her natural color.

She picked a slow time--late afternoon, before the evening rush began--but made sure she wouldn’t be the only patron present. When she finally entered the tavern, there were two others seated at a table, and one at the bar. Cam took a cursory glance at the interior, her gaze eventually falling on the woman who might give her a real chance of surviving without Matteo or Val or any of the people she’d had to rely on in the past.

“Afternoon.” She’d been in Denerim long enough to learn the way the average person spoke, and she used that knowledge now. “Been a long day, and I’m just looking for a hot meal and some ale that doesn’t taste like piss.”

She grinned at the woman, pulling out some coin to cover her request. “Wouldn’t say no to some conversation, either, if you’re not too busy.”
 
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Bernie

Apostate
Apostate
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Maleficar
Posts
22
#2
New faces were anything but new in the tavern business. There were the regulars that visited more days than not: Tate, a grizzled soldier who’d lost a leg in the battle of Denerim, showed up pretty much every day to sit beneath Gertrude, drink up his pension pay and swap tales with other veterans; Fred and Edgar, an adorable old married couple who had a tailoring shop near the Palace District; Margey, who had a bakery a few shops down. Bernie knew them all by name, along with the ones who dropped in once a week or so. Some had vanished during the Blight, only to reappear with some interesting - or harrowing - tales to tell, but most of the ones that disappeared hadn’t been seen or heard from again … or she’d found their bodies herself in the smoldering rubble after the final battle. Over the ensuing months, the empty spaces had been filled, and every one of the regulars had started as a new face.

Mind, when you ran a safe house for apostates in the cellar, it wasn’t quite that simple; every new face started with the templar test, and this one was no exception. No armor made it about ninety percent certain that the young woman - or perhaps a young man - who had just sauntered through the door was not a member of that order. Even the trackers, who might go incognito, generally might as well be wearing an ‘Apostate Hunter’ sign about their necks, if you knew what to look for. Only twice since she had started hiding apostates in her tavern had Bernie been fooled in that manner, and fortunately, neither time had led to an apprehension on the premises. Thus far, she had managed to attract no suspicion, which meant that the only templars who generally showed up were either on random sweeps or just looking for a drink and a bite to eat like everyone else in the place.

“Afternoon.” The newcomer bellied up to the bar, confident without being cocky. “Been a long day, and I’m just looking for a hot meal and some ale that doesn’t taste like piss.”

“Well, both of those are something of a specialty of ours,” Bernie replied with an amiable smile, the words touched with the Antivan accent that she'd found intrigued folk in these parts. She checked out the competition in disguise every now and then, so she couldn’t fault her (the voice decided the matter for the moment) for checking. Apparently, people really would drink anything if it was cheap enough, but she had never taken that as an excuse to cut costs at the expense of her customers; George would surely rise from his grave and repossess the Flagon if she did. “It’s a bit early for dinner, but we’ve always got stew and bread, if you don’t feel like waiting. Venison today.” One of the hunters who came through when he was in town had paid his outstanding tab with half of a plump doe. “What’s your preference on ale: lager, stout, pale? We’ve got ciders and meads, as well. Even some dwarvish brews, if you’re feeling brave.” One of the few benefits of the Blight had been a minor pipeline of trade with Orzammar, enough to have a few familiar flavors to draw the dwarven mercs who were in town.

“Wouldn’t say no to some conversation, either, if you’re not too busy,”
the woman added, laying her coin on the bar with a smile. Bernie deftly calculated up the likely cost, swiped the correct amount away and nudged the rest back across the bar.

“Chitchat is on the house any time,” she replied, giving no sign that she was now a bit more alert than she had been the moment before. Conversation was as big a part of a bartender’s job as serving drinks, but it was seldom requested up front. Most people just drifted into it. “Been in Denerim long?” She didn’t quite speak like a native, but she didn’t have enough of an accent to place her.
 
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Cam

Member
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
12
#3
“Well, both of those are something of a specialty of ours.”

The woman spoke with just the hint of an Antivan accent. Enough to tell Cam it wasn’t a fake. Or if it was a fake, it was a serviceable one. Most people leaned too far into their accents and gave themselves away.

“It’s a bit early for dinner, but we’ve always got stew and bread, if you don’t feel like waiting. Venison today.”

“Stew and bread sound great,” she answered with a smile.

And they did. Stew had been a staple for her growing up. It was impossible to spend so many years living in an inn and not have a taste for every stew imaginable.

“What’s your preference on ale: lager, stout, pale? We’ve got ciders and meads, as well. Even some dwarvish brews, if you’re feeling brave.”

Her brows rose at that, the hint of a more natural smirk touching her lips. “I’m always feeling brave.”

Brave enough to try and sell lyrium to a woman sheltering apostates. Speaking of, she needed more than food and drink. She needed to get this woman talking if she had any hope of even broaching a deal.

“Chitchat is on the house any time,” she said, and Cam pocketed the coins left behind. A good sign for this woman’s patrons, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t the kind of bleeding heart who would try to cut a deep discount for her charges. “Been in Denerim long?”

“About a year. I came here early on, but couldn’t really find any work. Traveled for a while on a merchant ship and when that ran its course, I thought I’d try my luck in Denerim again.”

That was definitely one way of saying she’d joined a band of smugglers to avoid being locked up in Fort Drakon only to eventually outgrow those smugglers. The vague, handwavey version wasn’t an outright lie, at least. Cam had learned the hard way that it was best not to make up any lies you couldn’t wriggle out of--especially with potential business partners.

The drink was served and Cam took it in one hand, offering the other in greeting. “I’m Cam.”

She took a drink, and even though she’d prepared herself for a bit of a kick, this was like being slammed in the chest by an ox. She coughed, covering her mouth with her hand. It took some willpower, but she managed to recover with most of her dignity intact.

“Guess I can’t say I wasn’t warned,” she said, her voice a little raw. After she’d cleared her throat a second time, she continued. “You’re… Antivan, right? I picked up a little over the years.” She said the next in Antivan, deliberately stumbling over the pronunciation of a few words. <<What brought you to Denerim?>>
 

Bernie

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Maleficar
Posts
22
#4
A good many city folk turned up their noses at wild game, but either the new arrival wasn’t city-bred or wasn’t hung up on looking civilized. Or she was hungry enough that she didn’t want to wait. “Stew and bread sound great,” she declared with an amiable smile.

George had kept a decent stock of beers and a few wines when Bernie had arrived, but since taking over, Bernie had worked on expanding the inventory to the point where she could confidently say that the Flagon had the best selection in Ferelden. She didn’t serve rotgut, but pretty much any patron, from laborer to noble, could find a decent drink that fit their budget. Since the trade had begun picking up after the Blight ended, she’d been searching out more exotic offerings. The dwarven ales were a popular order for young soldiers eager to prove their toughness, but she seldom had any repeat orders from non-dwarven patrons (though the mage, Wynne, was fond of them and stopped in for a mug whenever she was in town).

The young woman wasn’t a soldier; the way she carried herself was wrong, but she was up for a challenge, it seemed. “I’m always feeling brave,” she asserted with the hint of a cocky grin.

“Well, then.” Bernie smiled and turned to Melinde. “A mug of dwarven lager,” she called, having a bit of mercy. The stouts would sprout hair on a Revered Mother’s ass. They weren’t ordered with enough frequency to warrant keeping a keg behind the bar, so Mel would need to go down to the cellar. “And some stew and bread, please.”

That done, she could turn her attention to the conversation that the younger woman was interested in … and find out a bit more about her in the process.

“About a year,” she responded to the question of how long she’d been in town. “I came here early on, but couldn’t really find any work. Traveled for a while on a merchant ship and when that ran its course, I thought I’d try my luck in Denerim again.”

“You missed the Blight, then,” Bernie observed without rancor. "You were fortunate." Plenty of people who had been able to had fled the darkspawn onslaught; plenty more hadn’t been able to and found themselves trapped in Denerim when the Archdemon had attacked. Others had chosen to stay, Bernie among them. She’d kept her tavern intact, saved a few lives and saw enough death to last her a lifetime. “What sort of work do you do? Maybe I can point you in a direction.” She knew most of the tradesman in the city by name, along with their drinks of choice, and thanks to just the sort of chatting and listening she was engaging in now, she had a pretty good idea who was hiring and who wasn’t.

Mel returned with the order, and Bernie slid the stew and bread onto the bar in front of her guest, then passed her the mug.

“I’m Cam,” the woman announced, accepting the ale and extending her other hand.

“A pleasure to meet you, Cam,” she replied, giving the hand a firm shake - the calluses suggested some time spent in weapon work - and maintaining steady eye contact. “I’m Bernie.”

Cam sampled from the mug and, to her credit, didn’t immediately spit it out as most did. Her eyes did get a bit bigger and she emitted a strangled cough, but she got herself under control fairly quickly. “Guess I can’t say I wasn’t warned,” she wheezed, and Bernie chuckled.

“I warn everybody but the assholes,” she said, “and if you can survive that, I’ve got a new arrival from Seheron called maares-lok.” She formed the qunlat term carefully. “I think it’s qunari for paint thinner,” she confided, wrinkling her nose. She sampled everything she served, but she didn’t have to like it. “I’m waiting for a Tal-Vashoth merc to come through and tell me if I got the good stuff or got screwed.”

“You’re… Antivan, right?” Cam inquired, and she nodded. “I picked up a little over the years,” she went on, switching to a decent enough Antivan. <<What brought you to Denerim?>>

Bernie’s smile broadened; it was good to hear her mother tongue, awkwardly spoken or not. <<My dog of a husband,>> she replied, the syllables rolling smoothly from her tongue before she switched back to the Common tongue. “He squandered his own money on his lover and took out loans he could not repay. When his creditors began looking to me, I left him to their tender mercies and started a new life here.” She shrugged. “Never regretted it.” That much, at least, was the unaltered truth. Denerim was her home now, this tavern was her life, and she was happy with that.
 

Cam

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Posts
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#5
Cam had been told before that she was one of the lucky ones for managing to avoid Denerim--and Ferelden--during the Blight. The proof was easy enough to see. The city was still wrecked from battle, with parts of it cordoned off to regular citizens and gawking tourists alike. Some rebellious part of her wanted to sneak up to the top of Fort Drakon one day, just to see what all the fuss was about. But she didn't need to see devastation firsthand to know it was a bad time.

“What sort of work do you do? Maybe I can point you in a direction.”

The woman's interest seemed genuine, so Cam gave an answer that didn't lean as heavily into the bullshit category. "I guess I'm a go-between? I've taken goods and coin where they needed to go, made sure everybody involved was happy with the outcome."

These days, Cam had her own go-betweens, but the description still fit. She just left out the part where she was willing to do whatever it took--lie, cheat, steal--to ensure a good outcome.

Introductions were made and the woman confirmed the information Cam had already dug up. Surface level stuff, sure, but she wouldn't have put it past some of her contacts to lie about someone's name.

She took a sip of the ale, and while she'd expected it to be strong, there was "put hair on your chest" strong and then there was "burn the everloving shit out of the back of your throat" strong. The ale Bernie had sent somebody to fetch from the depths of hell was definitely an acquired taste, but Cam wasn't a quitter. She'd finish the thing. Eventually.

“I warn everybody but the assholes, and if you can survive that, I’ve got a new arrival from Seheron called maares-lok.” A Qunari drink? That one might actually kill her. “I think it’s qunari for paint thinner. I’m waiting for a Tal-Vashoth merc to come through and tell me if I got the good stuff or got screwed.”

"Think that's above my tolerance," Cam said, her voice still rough from the burn of the ale.

Clearing her throat, she asked about the woman who now owned the Flagon. The woman who might end up being her ticket to actual, honest independence. As honest as a smuggler could hope for, anyway. As honest as Cam was comfortable being.

<<My dog of a husband,>> Her Antivan was beautifully spoken, and she switched seamlessly from it back to Common. “He squandered his own money on his lover and took out loans he could not repay. When his creditors began looking to me, I left him to their tender mercies and started a new life here. Never regretted it.”

"Sounds like you're better off. Known a few men like that. Women, too." It was hard to keep the edge of bitterness out of her voice. Especially when she saw Val's pretty face in her mind. She took a drink, washing the taste out of her mouth. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. We're both here now, right?"

She grinned at the woman, and boy was she genuinely fucking grateful she wasn't still in Val Royeaux. Denerim was more her speed. The people here were interesting without trying to be.

"Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing the sights before I look for an honest living," Cam said. "The first day I came here, I sat at the docks for hours just watching people as they went about their days. You can learn a lot doing that. Though, why am I telling you? You've probably collected a whole lifetime's worth of stories." She glanced at the rest of the tavern. It was slow still, but keeping an eye on the place had told her it would start filling up before long. "Who's the most interesting person you've had come through here?"
 

Bernie

Apostate
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Posts
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#6
"I guess I'm a go-between?” Cam responded when Bernie inquired as to her line of work. “I've taken goods and coin where they needed to go, made sure everybody involved was happy with the outcome." That sort of work could fall on both sides of the law, and Bernie hadn’t yet heard enough to give her an idea which way was most likely (and most smugglers did at least a bit of honest work to help conceal their illicit wares, anyway).

“That last is a useful talent to have,” she said approvingly. “If you can keep everybody happy, you’re doing better than I manage to.” Most of the time, she could manage it with most of the people, but there was almost always somebody who was determined to be dissatisfied.

The dwarven ale plainly caught her by surprise, but to her credit, she pushed on, though her second drink was more cautious than the first … and she declined to sample the Qunari hooch.

"Think that's above my tolerance," she croaked, and Bernie chuckled.

“Wise woman,” she said. “I sample everything I serve here, and it took three days for the lining of my stomach to regrow.” She grimaced and shook her head distastefully. “If that’s all they have for booze, I don’t wonder that every one I’ve run into looks so damn grim. Ever met a Qunari? Or Tal-Vashoth, rather … the ones that have left the fold don’t like being called Qunari. Had some tables busted before I figured that out.”

In response to Cam’s query about how an Antivan came to be running a tavern in Ferelden, she gave the same story she had held to for the last eight years, the details of her dog of a husband coming to her without effort.

"Sounds like you're better off,” Cam suggested. “Known a few men like that. Women, too." Her voice hardened ever so slightly on that last, and she took a deeper drink of the ale, as though trying to rid herself of a bad taste. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. We're both here now, right?"

“Right,” Bernie agreed. “To the past staying in the past.” She lifted her mug of coffee in toast. She wouldn't press; she never did. Some people unburdened themselves on the first visit, some on the tenth, some never did.

"Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing the sights before I look for an honest living," Cam remarked. "The first day I came here, I sat at the docks for hours just watching people as they went about their days. You can learn a lot doing that. Though, why am I telling you? You've probably collected a whole lifetime's worth of stories."

“I have,” Bernie admitted, “but not many people take the time to look and listen.” It was why a good bartender’s ear was as an important tool of the job as their hands.

The other woman cast an appraising glance around the common room. "Who's the most interesting person you've had come through here?"

“Wasn’t a person at all,” Bernie replied without hesitation. “One of the Grey Wardens’ companions during the Blight was a golem: basically a statue brought to life by dwarven magic. I’d never seen one before … I doubt that many have, and it wasn’t a simple automaton. It was intelligent, had free will … and was snarky as fuck,” she added with a smirk. “We got along quite well, even if it did crack my floorboards.” She shrugged. The darkspawn had done far worse, and Shale had been one of those who had helped her hold them back when the fighting had reached the Flagon

“What about you?” she asked in turn, crossing her arms and leaning against the bar. “What’s the most interesting person you’ve encountered in your travels?”
 
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