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Isabela

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#1
[[30th Bloomingtide, 9:24 Dragon, Antiva City, morning]] Celeste Monroe

“Signora...Signora? It’s time for you to wake.”

Naishe groaned, reached aside and firmly pulled a pillow across her face, successfully blocking out the sunlight that had spilled across her when the curtains had been opened. Only seconds later it was whisked from beneath her arm - it was hard to keep a good grip on silk - and a silhouette loomed over her. Madame Alfonsi was an imposing woman, broad armed and with a chest that could probably serve as a battering ram if needed, and consequently always looked a bit ridiculous in the formal dress and frilly cap of the serving staff. But she did a good job of running the house, and was equally good at her unofficial second job of herding Naishe around like a recaltrient goat.

“The master will have guests later this morning. He’s requested that you be bathed and ready to greet them.”

He’d mentioned something about that the previous night, but the details had been lost under the fug the wine had left behind in her head. Luis had wine far better than anything she’d had before coming to the city, but it was stronger than she was used to - which served her purposes admirably. It meant she was more able to tolerate him bucking around on top of her of an evening, or whatever particular thing he’d requested for that evening. Her husband’s education of her had gone beyond stuffing her in a library and memorising all the fancy dances, and some of it might actually be useful if he cared about her pleasure at all.

Consequently, as the enjoyment of warm baths, nice dresses and jewellery had given way to spectacular boredom, she was starting to chafe at the limitations placed on her movements. Luis wanted her pretty, smart enough to make conversation without actually challenging anybody, and importantly never, ever left to her own devices. He’d known she was a thief when he bought her, and had told her she’d never need to steal again. When she’d done it once for fun, he’d chuckled indulgently over his young bride’s ways, and she’d enjoyed the brief taste of freedom. The second time his fury had been incandesent, and Madame Alfonsi had followed her almost everywhere ever since.

“Five more minutes.” It was an increasing source of pleasure to cause minor irritations for Luis, even if it was just being a little late. Madame Alfonsi was having none of it this time; she whisked the sheets away.

“Nonsense. Up and ready. He’s picked out a nice dress for you, and your jewellery. All you have to do is bathe and then sit in front of the vanity.”

Luis’ fun little way of establishing control lately was choosing what she’d wear each day. Mostly it wasn’t really a bother, but once or twice recently she’d been given something that bore more flesh than seemed necessary, then been left with his leering friends. Nothing had come of it apart from the odd sidelong look - Antivan husbands supposedly guarded their wives jealously - but she had a nasty feeling about it. At least so far there had been servants in the room, preventing any attempt at handsiness.

Hopefully today wasn’t one of these days. Now chilled by having the blankets ripped off, Naishe sighed and sat up as other servants brought in the tub. The next hour she simply went through the motions, letting herself be scrubbed down, her hair arranged, and then laced into her dress, making an effort to keep her internal screaming at the idea of sitting in the parlour making polite conversation again off her face. At the final stage there was a knock at the door, then everybody jumped to attention as Luis strode in.

“There she is. I trust you’ll be on good behaviour today?”

Naishe smiled at him while envisioning driving one of her hairpins through his neck. “Would I disappoint you, husband?”

“Would you?” There was something ugly in his smile today. The air between them crackled like breaking ice; she didn’t know what she’d done to offend him but he was clearly on edge. “They’re not particularly important as far as titles go, but they’re rather...astute...traders, and I value their services. You are not to say or do anything to upset either of them.”

“I’ll try not to.”

Luis waved away the servant holding up a necklace, and drew another, much more ornate one from his pocket. “Good girl.” He drew the jewellery around her neck; it was heavy, and gold, with large gaudy purple stones. It felt like he was fastening a collar on her. When he was done, he smiled at her reflection in the mirror, keeping his hands on her shoulders. “What an exotic beauty. They’re sure to like you, if you keep a civil tongue.” He caught her chin, pulling her just a little too hard to face him. “Now. They’re rather free spirits by reputation, these two. They want more food, they get more food. They want more wine, they get it. You are to comply with their requests to the utmost, do you understand me?”

Bite his hand.

She came that close to it, too. But his beady black eyes were on her, and she forced herself to meet his gaze, her own as guileless as she could make them. After all, if she pretended not to realise a pass had been made at her, how could she comply with that? She nodded. “Of course, husband.”

“There we go. Now, they’re expected any moment. Get down to the hall.”

He held out a hand to her and she took it, allowing him to assist her in rising - in fact, putting a little extra weight in the seat, so he had to pull a touch harder than normal. His eyes narrowed at her, but she was already glancing ahead, sweeping out of the room to head down the stairs.

Once in the hallway she straightened her dress, wincing a little as the elaborate curled hairstyle tugged at the hairs at the nape of her neck. She would be expected to greet the pair, and then guide them to Luis’ study, where he would pretend he had been very busy getting on with other things. It was a farce, and once he was safe behind the heavy door, she made a rude raspberrying noise with her mouth.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#2
Celeste stood before the open doors of the wardrobe that had been built into the wall of the captain’s cabin, considering her options. She had some dresses that would accentuate her curves and display daring amounts of cleavage, and she didn’t mind showing off, but from all accounts, Luis was a pig who would be undressing her with his eyes if she was clad in an old potato sack, so she was leaning toward ‘comfortable’ instead.

She glanced back at Daniel as he buttoned up a black silk shirt, then tucked it into the black leather pants that showed off his ass quite nicely … not that Luis would be appreciating the view. “What’s his wife like?” she wanted to know. The merchant’s invitation had specifically included Celeste and made mention of the missus.

“No idea,” Daniel admitted, peering into the mirror and running the fingers of one hand through his dark hair, leaving it charmingly mussed and contrasting with the neatly trimmed beard, “but from what I’ve heard, he likes his women pretty and biddable.”

“And as dumb as a load of ballast stones, no doubt.” Celeste made a rude noise, and Daniel chuckled as she turned back to the wardrobe. If she was going to have to suffer through several hours of insipid conversation on the weather and current fashion, she was definitely going to be comfortable. She selected a pair of brown leather trews, white linen shirt with bloused sleeves and a leather vest with three brightly dyed parrots tooled on the back. Slipping into her chosen garb, she gave her own hair the same quick fingercomb treatment before snagging a narrow headband of braided leather from its hook on the wardrobe door. Three parrot feathers - red, green and blue - dangled from the headband on a strip of leather, falling beside her left ear when she put it on. “How do I look?” she asked, whirling back to Daniel with her hands on her hips.

“Like a sailor’s dream,” he told her, sinking into his armchair with that slow grin that could loosen the thighs of a grand cleric, “and your father’s worst nightmare.”

“Ha!” She straddled his lap, tangling her fingers in his hair and kissing him thoroughly.

“Keep kissin’ me like that, lass,” he breathed when they parted, “and we’ll no’ be leavin’ this cabin.”

“Keep purring at me in that Starkhaven brogue, and I’ll take you up on that,” she countered, kissing him again. It was a pleasant thought, but this meeting was a fairly important one, so after a bit more mussing and a mutual agreement to continue when they returned, they straightened out the worst of the mussing and headed topside.

“Have fun,” Gideon smirked at them from his seat atop the fo’c’sle. He was on watch; the rest of the crew was sleeping off the indulgences of Antiva City’s night life in preparation for the next night’s carousing. Any other time, Celeste would have been doing the same; an extended stay in a friendly port with no real work to be done was not to be wasted, but being the captain’s lady meant more than having a marvelously creative bedmate, and the trust implicit in her inclusion in this meeting was something she was only now beginning to earn back.

It had been less than two months since her refusal to heed Daniel’s warnings on restraint had ended with the crew of the Wicked Grace having to save her ass from slavers and Gideon nearly getting killed. The Tal Vashoth held no grudges, but Daniel had come very close to ending things and taking her back to her father. It had been a brutal lesson in consequences for one who had been largely spared them for most of her life, and she was determined to make amends. If that meant a few hours of inane chitchat with a feather-brained bedwarmer while Daniel negotiated a deal with Luis Lombardo, she’d do it.

“His wine’s supposed to be good, anyway,” Daniel said as they headed down the gangplank. Once on the docks, she slipped her arm into his and they strolled toward the part of the city where the wealthier merchants lived. The first few times they had returned to Antiva City, Celeste had kept a wary eye out for his father, until it had become apparent that he had no interest in finding her. Now she was free to enjoy one of her favorite cities: the balmy climate; the flowers that bloomed in riotous color about every villa and in every public space; the street performers ranging from jugglers to musicians to mimes to trained animals that turned every street into an outdoor theater; the food vendors whose carts and stalls filled the air with a melange of savory aromas. Antiva City was a feast for the senses, and Celeste delighted in each new course that presented itself.

“What does he want with us?” Celeste asked Daniel as they walked.

“Luis is an odd one,” her lover replied, a whimsical smile playing about his lips. “For all his trading, he only owns one ship: the Siren’s Call, and he only puts her to sea if he’s aboard. He hires out the rest of his shipping, but he’s lost a fair amount to pirates the last few months, and even more to customs.”

Scratch the surface of nearly any merchant who traded across borders and you’d find a smuggler, looking to get past the duties that most nations placed on imported goods. Those who succeeded could undercut the competition and still turn a tidy profit. The Wicked Grace wasn’t the biggest ship to sail the seas of Thedas, but she was one of the fastest, and the reputation of her crew was formidable enough that few raiders cared to go to the trouble of trying to chase her down. And avoiding customs inspections was one of the things that they did best. Daniel knew every isolated cove within easy reach of every major port, where larger cargo could be offloaded and brought the remaining distance overland under the guise of domestic trade, and the smuggler’s holes secreted here and there aboard the Wicked Grace had concealed all manner of smaller items while legitimate cargo was being unloaded and loaded until it could be sneaked off under cover of night.

The Lombardo estate was far from the largest - those belonged to the merchant princes - but like all of the others, it was meticulously landscaped and scrupulously maintained. Appearances were everything, and a merchant with any ambition would place the appearance of his abode over food in his belly, were a choice required. Ascending the steps to the elaborately carved mahogany door, Daniel grasped the bronze knocker cast in the shape of a leaping fish and knocked smartly.
 

Isabela

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#3
Naishe almost swallowed her tongue when her rude sound was drowned out by the door knocker. One of the servants, his mouth twitching slightly around the edges, went to answer it; Naisha didn’t much care if he reported her to Luis. What was he going to do, get mad because she’d made a noise?

Actually, she wouldn’t put that past him. He’d not raised a hand to her as such, perhaps realising that to do so would cause open war between them, but he’d definitely been more curt with her than he’d been at the beginning. Frankly Naishe found the current state of affairs preferable. She might be bored out of her mind but she didn’t have to put up with him slobbering all over her the entire time.

Maker, what she wouldn’t give to raise a bit of mischief, though. She was always accompanied on her trips to market and her purse carefully watched; she’d not lost her sleight of hand, though, and found an outlet in pilfering small things when she could. But it wasn’t enough. Even her latest project of practicing her lockpicking on the wine cellar only afforded her a thrill through the risk of discovery for a few moments at a time. If she made off with a bottle, it’d be noticed almost right away.

It certainly didn’t seem like the tedium would be relieved today. Luis’ preferred method of conducting business meetings was to whisk the day’s merchant into his study and leave Naishe to entertain any wives or mistresses that had accompanied them. She’d never dreamed that people could while away so much of their lives on gossip, and really boring gossip at that. Whats-her-names cousin got engaged to whosits child by Lord Fartarse’s second marriage, but supposedly he wasn’t as rich as he’d made out and it was all done for a swap of dowry for prestige, and on it went until Naishe seriously considered setting fire to a few overburdened petticoats.

With a not entirely convincing smile in place, she nodded for the servant to open the door.

She’d been expecting another Antivan merchant prince and his wife in more layers and ruffles that made sense. Instead, a handsome man dressed in a smarter version of a sailor’s garb stood on the doorstep, and beside him a woman with wild blonde hair and wicked green eyes who was attired in about the same fashion.

Naishe had been raised too canny by her mother to let her surprise show, beyond a slow, approving raise of one eyebrow and a more genuine inflection to her smile. “Buonasera, Captain Monroe. Signora Monroe.” Forward as Luis had taught her, catching the hands of the lady first and pressing a kiss to both cheeks, before doing the same to the man, with far less distaste than usual. “I’m Naishe Lombardo. Welcome. My husband will be along in a moment.”

He’d be sitting in his study, listening, and she could imagine him cursing now as he realised he would have to come out to them rather than wait for them to presented as though he was some sort of monarch. “Wine, perhaps? Luis keeps a fine cellar.”

She poured the drinks herself - another ‘misstep’ - and had only just placed them in the couples’ hands when Luis appeared, his teeth a little too gritted to make his smile sincere. “Ah, Captain Monroe. Welcome.” The only indication he gave that he realised the woman was there was to afford her a brief nod. “I hope my wife has been hospitable?” He cast what could have passed for a fond glance in her direction. “She’s young, and her manners yet require polishing, but she is trying.”

In the irritating sense of the word, presumably. Naishe affected her most innocent look until he turned away, then extremely discreetly rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry to press, but if we can retire to the study to discuss matters, Captain Monroe - Naishe can entertain your wife, in the meantime.”

That promised to be somewhat more interesting of a prospect than usual.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#4
A neatly attired valet opened the door and ushered them in. At first glance, the woman who greeted them was pretty much what Celeste had been expecting: fancy dress, the cut perhaps a bit more revealing than current Antivan fashions; hair in an elaborate upsweep with a few curls free at the ears and neck; an ostentatious gold and amethyst necklace that drew the eye to the view offered by the daringly cut neckline. Unusual for an Antivan husband to put his wife on display in such a manner, but she was undeniably a beauty, with rich brown skin, nearly black hair and striking, hazel-gold eyes. Even more unusual was the undeniable gleam of intelligence in those eyes, the slightest appraising arch of one eyebrow before her face smoothed back into a mien of pleasant hospitality.

“Buonasera, Captain Monroe. Signora Monroe.” Her Antivan was flawless, but touched with an unmistakable Rivaini accent. Stepping forward, she offered the traditional kiss to first one cheek, then the other, her hands warm in Celeste’s, their eyes meeting briefly before she turned to greet Daniel in the same manner, sending a pleasant frisson dancing along Celeste’s spine. No ballast stones here; this visit might not be such a chore after all. “I’m Naishe Lombardo. Welcome. My husband will be along in a moment.”

“Buonasera, Signora Lombardo.” Daniel took the lead, as was expected, smiling warmly at their hostess, though not so warmly as to be inappropriate. “Daniel Monroe, and my wife, Celeste.”

“A pleasure, Signora,” Celeste offered in turn, not needing to feign her own congeniality. “Your house is lovely.” Perhaps Luis would be a similarly pleasant surprise.

“Wine, perhaps?” Naishe suggested, gesturing toward a small table with a crystal decanter and several long-stemmed glasses. “Luis keeps a fine cellar.”

“Please,” Daniel responded politely. Celeste accepted the glass of claret when it was offered and sipped appreciatively. Good wines were something she had begun cultivating a taste for since coming aboard the Wicked Grace.

“Very good,” she murmured. “Rialto?” her questioning glance to Daniel was met with an approving nod.

“Nineteen Dragon, I think,” he commented, looking to Naishe for confirmation.

The lord of the manor made his entrance, clad in a doublet of russet leather over a scarlet silk shirt, his smile looking a trifle strained. “Ah, Captain Monroe. Welcome.” His eyes slipped dismissively past Celeste, and she decided to help him along, letting her expression slip into bovine placidity. “I hope my wife has been hospitable?” One could almost miss the edge in his voice as he regarded Naishe with what was undoubtedly meant to be an indulgent smile. “She’s young, and her manners yet require polishing, but she is trying.”

Celeste’s prig flags were fully unfurled by now; Luis was older than his wife by a good two decades by her estimation, and he didn’t wear his years nearly as well as Daniel did. He wasn’t fat, but he had a soft look to him … all except for his eyes, which were as hard and flat as those of a shark underneath the gleam of bonhomie that he presented. The glance that he bestowed upon Naishe defined their relationship as clearly as if he had shouted it: she was a trophy wife, as much an ornament as the heavy gold rings that adorned his fingers. And he didn’t have her nearly as under control as he wanted.

“She has made us most welcome,” Daniel assured him. “The Rilto is exquisite.” Mention of the wine turned Luis’ attention to the other man; as soon as his gaze shifted, Naishe rolled her eyes. Celeste kept her vapid expression in place, turning her mind to ruses that might get them out of what was likely to be a tedious and lengthy session. Luis had the manner of a man enamored of the sound of his own voice.

Luck was with her, it seemed. “I’m sorry to press,” Luis intoned with an air of importance, “but if we can retire to the study to discuss matters, Captain Monroe - Naishe can entertain your wife, in the meantime.”

“That sounds lovely!” Celeste chirped enthusiastically, keeping her featherbrain facade in place and hoping that her instincts were right. If they weren’t, she might have been better off listening to Luis and Daniel talk business.
 

Isabela

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#5
The pair praised the wine, and placed it accurately down to the year. It was a favourite game amongst Luis’ friends, and more than once Naishe had been tripped up by a sneering little waif who expressed her surprise that a proper Antivan wife didn’t know all the vintages off by heart. Not that Luis hadn’t tried, and Naishe did enjoy wine, but in the end, booze was booze. Who cared how fancy it was so long as it got you drunk enough to get through the day? But the Monroes didn’t appear to be doing it to show off their knowledge. They just knew.

Then Luis swept in with a pointed jab or two, and from the flicker of the other woman’s eyelids, his barbs hadn’t passed unnoticed. Fortunately Captain Daniel drew his attention away, while Naishe tried to read his wife’s face. Celeste’s expression had settled into a placidity that ran counter to what Naishe had noticed before, and remained unchanged as Luis suggested that the women talk separately from the men.

“That sounds lovely!”

Naishe hoped it was an act. If so, it was a very convincing one. Celeste wore exactly the sort of vapid smile Naishe knew Luis wished she’d perfect. But she was still not far enough under his thumb that his guests hadn’t occasionally caught her pulling expressions her husband would rather she didn’t.

Luis was quick about it, at least. When he was entertaining, he could blather on until Naishe considered ripping her own ears off - or even better, pulling the tongue from his head. But he had business in mind, and that meant money, and the promise of that spurred along his usual niceties. When they gathered to eat later there would be no escaping it, but they’d been granted a reprieve. He herded Daniel towards the study and with a sunny smile for the servants, Naishe linked her arm in Celeste’s. “Please, join me in the parlour. I’d be delighted to get to know you better.”

That, and the door to the parlour was quite thick. Closed, hopefully anybody lurking outside wouldn’t overhear any untoward conversation that might occur. Naishe was certain that her movements and anything she said went reported back to Luis if they didn’t come up to his standards, and she desperately wanted to talk freely for a change.

Some snacks and tea had been laid out for them in a prissy set of crockery that was more Orlesian than Antivan. Once the door was closed, Naishe released Celeste’s arm, and eyed the other woman as she ignored the tea altogether and poured out more of the wine that she’d just happened to bring into the room with them.

Sod being cautious. She grinned at the other woman. “You’re a bit different than most of the other wives I get introduced to. How did you end up getting dragged into this?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#6
Five sentences and a couple of glances were more than enough for Celeste to take Luis’ measure. He was one of those delightful prigs who thought that women existed for only two reasons: looking pretty on his arm and warming his bed. Had it just been him, she would have sat through what was likely to be an exceedingly boring session just to see his expression when Daniel actually asked her opinion on matters of business. But his pretty wife was in attendance, and it was plain that he thought such weighty matters far too burdensome for their little heads. Naishe didn’t seem particularly disappointed - or surprised - at his dismissal, tucking her arm through Celeste’s while keeping the carafe of wine in her free hand.

“Please, join me in the parlour. I’d be delighted to get to know you better.” Her tone had just the right note of polite formality to it, and her pleasant expression was little different from the many women Celeste had interacted with when her father had taken her calling with him. She knew from experience that they could maintain that poise for hours on end, yammering on inanely about the weather and fashion without ever once giving a glimpse of anything resembling thought or will of their own. She’d made a game of trying to shake their composure with outrageous statements and stories. Most of them would titter nervously or give her a disapproving stare, but on some, she’d been able to see the connection made briefly before panic rose in their eyes and was swiftly smothered once more beneath the mask of domestic obedience, and would she care for more tea and perhaps one of these lovely scones? The notion of living a life like that felt only slightly less horrifying than being buried alive. Daniel sent her a wink over his shoulder as he followed Luis. She returned it; even if the next few hours were as dull as scraping barnacles from the hull, she would be able to escape eventually, and Daniel would make it up to her in ways that would not be dull in the slightest.

The parlor they entered was much like the ones she had sat in back then. Such rooms were the domain of the womenfolk, furnished according to their tastes, but the decor of this room, all lace doilies and velvet cushions, elaborately carved furniture and delicate porcelain, did not at all correspond with the woman on her arm, who entered as one would a long-occupied prison cell, closing the door on a vigilant looking matron who looked very much as though she wanted to follow.

The change that took place once all prying eyes had been shut out was fascinating. The subtle tension drained from Naishe’s lithe frame, and her expression as she stepped away from Celeste held open curiosity. Ignoring the tea that had been laid out for them, she poured more wine into her glass. Excellent idea and Celeste obligingly held out her own.

“You’re a bit different than most of the other wives I get introduced to,” Naishe observed with a delightfully mischievous smile. “How did you end up getting dragged into this?”

Time for a bit of testing. “Lost at cards,” she lied smoothly. “If I’d won, he’d have had to tie himself naked to the bowsprit as we made port.” She sighed regretfully at the lost opportunity. Made up or not, it would have been fun. “Guess I’ll have to get him naked the old fashioned way.” Most of the upper class women she’d encountered seemed to view sex as just another one of their wifely duties, performed with the lights out and never discussed in polite company. Having seen a good many of their husbands, Celeste supposed it was understandable, and she was willing to bet that Luis was as much a prize between the sheets as he was upright and clothed, which meant that his wife had likely never had an encounter that exceeded a minute and a half. With him, anyway. The gleam in the amber eyes suggested that Naishe wasn’t as docile as the face she had put on in the vestibule had implied.
 

Isabela

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#7
Celeste took the wine without a second glance at the tea tray. Naishe watched her closely. Part of it was long practice; from the moment she could toddle, her mother had been teaching her how to read people. The cut of their clothes, the way they carried themselves, the shifts which might indicate a weakness or where something might be hidden on their person. How to tell a tanner from a sailor, a sailor from a smith, and how a man with means might seem simply dressed in comparison to one living on credit. How the dart of their eyes might indicate which way they intended to go in a fight, or where their interest lay. Not that she’d been much more than a girl before she learned to recognise one particular look, no matter how subtly it was delivered.

There was a vague hint of it in Celeste’s expression now, but mostly she just seemed intrigued. Doubtless Naishe hadn’t been quite what she was expecting. So they were in the same boat on that one. Naishe wanted to know why Celeste had even bothered turning up in the first place.

“Lost at cards.” Plausible, Naishe supposed. Although she doubted Celeste would have come along if she’d really wanted to dig her heels in about it. “If I’d won, he’d have had to tie himself naked to the bowsprit as we made port.” She sighed, as a smirk spread across Naishe’s face. “Guess I’ll have to get him naked the old fashioned way.”

Daniel was a handsome man. It would have made quite the sight for everybody lining the docks on arrival. “It’s a shame Antiva City’s dockworkers were robbed of such a treat,” Naishe grinned. “You’d not have found yourself short of amicable trading partners had you done so. A shame you ended up with Luis.”

Maker, it was good to talk like this. She’d always been somewhat free with her tongue anyway, but had curbed it more as she’d begun to get a sense of how dangerous Luis might be. Being a little sharp with him, dancing around his rules, was permitted - just. But she’d heard enough whispered snatches of conversation and picked up enough documents on his desk to know that he was ruthless, and if she put his nose out of joint too far it was likely she would be the victim of a ‘tragic accident’.

So she’d kept most of the screaming crushed down inside her, but she was finding it more and more difficult lately to play along acting as the perfect wife. Something about Celeste made her abandon it entirely for the moment, and it was like when she was finally permitted to loose her corsets at the end of the day.

However she wasn’t daft enough to launch into a spitted rant about what an ass her husband was. Her hand swept out to the side, deftly plucking up a deck of cards, expertly shifting them from one hand to the other. Card cons had been amongst her first tricks, and she wondered how sharp the other woman was. “Perhaps we should play? I’d be happy to teach you what I know, so you’re not deprived of the pleasure next time.”

Her smile was bright, a little teasing. If Celeste didn’t know a few tricks of her own, Naishe would eat one of Luis’ biggest feathered hats.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#8
With the watchful eyes of her husband no longer present, the appraisal in Naishe’s frank gaze was more plain, but there was a touch of wariness, as well. Perhaps she risked punishment if the visit did not go well, but that didn’t stop her from offering more wine in lieu of tea, or asking outright why Celeste had come along.

She went with the flippant response out of habit; the truth was not something she was interested in revealing. Even if she hadn’t wanted to come, she would have, because Daniel wanted her with him, and not just to show her off. Even after her foolhardiness had nearly gotten Gideon killed, he treated her as a partner, asked her opinions, taught her the little tricks of the smuggler’s trade, included her in business matters. She had thought she was on some grand adventure, and it was definitely that, but there were other facets, with risks that were not always immediately apparent, and she could no longer be the spoiled little rich girl who did whatever she pleased. The memory of bloody froth flecking Gideon’s lips, Brannigan’s grim expression and Daniel’s haggard visage, and the betrayed, disappointed anger in his blue eyes when he had spoken with her afterward, once they were sure that Gideon would live … those were what motivated her even more than Daniel’s sober promise that another transgression of that magnitude would get her sent back to her father.

But just because she was being responsible didn’t mean she couldn’t have a bit of fun; Daniel had been drawn to her precisely because she wasn’t a prim and proper lady, so she responded to her hostess’ query with a tale that would have made a typical matron gasp in a properly scandalized manner, even as their imaginations were no doubt savoring the image of Daniel tied naked to the bowsprit.

Naishe didn’t even try to look scandalized. “It’s a shame Antiva City’s dockworkers were robbed of such a treat,” she remarked with a smile that made it plain that there was nothing wrong with her imagination. “You’d not have found yourself short of amicable trading partners had you done so. A shame you ended up with Luis.”

“He has a business proposition for us,” Celeste replied with a shrug, wondering if the trader had shared any of the details with his wife. “Pirates on the Waking Sea are getting bad, and he thinks that if the smaller traders group their ships, they’ll be safer without having to hire more muscle.” Every hand on the Wicked Grace could fight; that and her speed meant that she was rarely troubled by raiders who preferred easy targets. “We don’t have to bed him for that.” There was a certain amount of sympathy in her eyes with that remark. Luis wasn’t bad looking, but she seriously doubted that he was the sort of man who gave any thought at all to his wife’s pleasure.

A deck of cards appeared in Naishe’s hand with an artful flourish that brought an admiring smile to Celeste’s lips. “Perhaps we should play?” she suggested, shuffling them adroitly without looking down, amber eyes gleaming a playful challenge and her smile utterly delightful. “I’d be happy to teach you what I know, so you’re not deprived of the pleasure next time.”

“That sounds lovely,” Celeste responded without hesitation, dipping her voice into a playful mimicry of propriety, as though Naishe had proposed a game of croquet on the lawn. She was a decent hand at card games, but the negligent ease with which Naishe was manipulating the deck suggested that she just might have some tricks to pass on. “What’s your game? Wicked Grace? Diamondback? And what will the stakes be?” This last was accompanied by a mischievous grin. She was willing to bet that they could come up with something more entertaining to wager than the cookies on the neglected tea tray.
 

Isabela

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DAO/DA2 Timeline
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#9
Daniel and Celeste were being brought in as protection, or part of an alliance, it seemed. So far neither of them had displayed a combative nature, but Mother’s lessons in reading people had yet to be eradiated by Luis’ attempts to ‘civilise’ Naishe. She’d clocked their hands right from the beginning - capable, with nimble fingers. She knew that if she took Celeste’s hand, she would feel calluses from a hilt or along the inside of the fingers from a bow. Celeste had the frame of somebody used to hard work. Added to that, there was a sharp glint of intelligence in those green eyes. Naishe had no doubt whatsoever that the other woman could handle herself in a fight.

She was keen to discover just how observant Celeste was. Shuffling the cards caused a twinge of nostalgia in her chest. She wouldn’t much rather be back on the streets playing Find the Lady while her mother picked pockets - but she longed to put her skills to use in some other fashion. It would be nice not to just be a decorative ornament. And to have less of a pig for a husband.

Shaking the thought away, she quirked a grin at Celeste, offering to teach. Although she sincerely doubted that the other woman needed to learn.

“That sounds lovely.” Celeste’s response was quick, her tone perfectly in tune with that of the well-behaved wife, although her expression was anything but. “What’s your game? Wicked Grace? Diamondback? And what will the stakes be?”

“I’m quite partial to Dragon’s Cross, but Wicked Grace is my favourite. Partly because people can’t get too cross if somebody cheats, because it’s part of the game.” Getting caught was a cause of shame, absolutely, but you could lead the rest of the table by the nose and they could know it - as long as you weren’t caught. Naishe had last been spotted back when she was a child. But she was a bit out of practice against serious players, and that ache for...not home, but a place where she could actually be at ease...pulled again.

The places she’d go and the things she’d do, if she wasn’t so sure that Luis would have her killed for having the gall to abandon him.

“As to the stakes…” Naisha tapped the edge of one card against her lip. “Cookies and coin are boring. How about - a salacious story? Or a dare of the winner’s choosing?” Her smile widened, now in no way whatsoever confirming to the sort of expression a well-behaved Antivan wife would pull. She started dealing out the cards, glancing up at Celeste from beneath her eyelashes - and switching two cards around with a deft twist of her fingers, ensuring she had the more favourable hand. “What do you think?”
 
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