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Isabela

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95
#21
“Not getting caught is a speciality of mine,” Celeste grinned, seizing Naishe’s hand. The contact made Naishe’s breath catch almost as much as their daring kiss in the parlour had. Touch was not unusual between friends in Antiva, but the casual cheek kisses and brief touches from the wives of Luis’ usual associates were too brief and perfunctory to mean anything to Naishe. This was bold, and open, held long enough for Naishe to feel the calluses on Celeste’s warm palm, and she almost tripped the first time Celeste led her down an unexpected pathway. She was quick to pull herself together, however; Luis had yet to wash out the instincts of a lifetime, and as they moved easily through the crowds Naishe was delighted to find herself falling back into the same habits she’d employed in younger, happier years. Her gaze moved from eye level to hip, seeking out the distracted, the unguarded coinpurses, the unattended stalls; Celeste was apparently thinking along similar lines.

“I stole so much here that I found out later my father set up accounts with the merchants to cover it. That took the fun out of it.” Celeste crinkled her nose, then immediately pinched a bracelet from one of the stalls as they swept past it. It was done so swiftly that if Naishe hadn’t been watching her directly, she would have missed it. She grinned.

“Admittedly I haven’t needed to in some time - but I have missed it. There’s not much on Luis’ estate to get the heart pumping.”

Within seconds, a ruby ring adorned her finger, swiped from the same stall. It took no effort, little thought, but she came away beaming. Despite her fears, it seemed that not all her skills had abandoned her. Of course she’d never be able to keep it, as Luis would want to know where it had come from and she didn’t trust that Madame Alfonso wouldn’t turn it up in the course of her daily rummagings. But she’d probably leave it behind on Celeste’s ship. As a thank you gift.

Usually when passing through these streets, Naishe’s face was veiled against the sun or to prevent anybody from spotting her. Blinkered by the material, and pushed to be swift with making her purchases so she wasn’t out of the house too long, she never really got to enjoy the city very much, but right now it was as if the sun was celebrating her taste of freedom by picking out the vivid colours in every flower, every stripe of silken material, every mural. A jester in striped clothes was juggling knives, and further up was a conman playing the old three-card game trick. Naishe eyed him with the old professional interest when Celeste spoke again.

“I always loved Antiva City. The Marches are soooo stuffy. And grey. And warm. Have you ever seen snow?” Naishe shook her head. It still sounded a little made up to her. Ice falling from the sky? “It’s fun for about five minutes, and then your tits are frozen. Give me sun and the sea any day.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you on that.” Antiva truly was beautiful, but once again she felt the tug of chains on her. “I remember watching the ships come and go from the docks in Rivain, but never got to go on one until Luis took me away. Even his presence couldn’t spoil that experience.”

Speaking of docks, they were approaching the shipyards now; the muddle of languages became more intense, almost everybody seemed to be shouting, and the warm musk of a city in the sun became tanged with sea-salt. Naishe felt something uncoiling in her back, coming looser with every step towards the water. By the time Celeste pointed out her ship, Naishe almost regretted coming - because how was she meant to walk away from this feeling?

The thought quickly died on sighting Celeste’s ship, given over entirely to admiration. While what she knew about ships remained limited to her one voyage and what she’d read in books since, she could see plain that it was a fine vessel, and her eyes gleamed. “She’s beautiful.” Impulsively, she seized Celeste’s hand between both of hers, squeezing it as she drank in the sight, taking in sails and rope, gleaming woodwork and shining brass. “What class is she? How many crew?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#22
Celeste’s pilferage earned her an approving smile from her companion, whose golden eyes were coming alive in a way that delighted the sailor.

“Admittedly I haven’t needed to in some time - but I have missed it,” Naishe admitted, lifting a ring from the same merchant with a deft ease that was most satisfying to behold. “There’s not much on Luis’ estate to get the heart pumping.”

“Now that is a real crime,” Celeste smirked, sweeping the Rivaini beauty with a head-to-toe glance. Luis was a damned idiot. “We can definitely remedy it, though.” The process looked to have already begun, judging by the spring in Naishe’s step as she slipped the ruby ring onto a finger and cast an appraising glance at the moves of a three-card monte player that they passed on the street. Tempting to have a go at scamming the scammer; she was willing to bet that Naishe could give him a run for his money. But their time was limited, and the chance that word might get back to Luis that his wife had been consorting with a card shark was a bit too high.

Naishe abandoned the show willingly enough, seeming eager to get to the docks. “I remember watching the ships come and go from the docks in Rivain, but never got to go on one until Luis took me away,” she remarked wistfully. “Even his presence couldn’t spoil that experience.”

“It never gets old,” Celeste told her with an understanding smile. “If Luis comes along on whatever he’s talking to Daniel about, maybe we can convince him to let you come.” But even as she spoke, Celeste knew that if Luis ever saw her like this: vibrant and daring, he would lock her up in that big house and throw away the key. Or worse.

Naishe’s face lit up at the sight of the Wicked Grace, the unabashed admiration in her expression cementing Celeste’s affinity for her new friend. “She’s beautiful,” she exclaimed, catching hold of Celeste’s hand in her enthusiasm as the questions tumbled out. “What class is she? How many crew?”

“She’s a schooner,” Celeste answered, keeping hold of Naishe’s hand and tugging her in the direction of the gangplank. “A hundred and twenty feet. She crews twelve, but we can sail her with half that in a pinch.” Eyes turned to follow them; they made an odd-looking pair, Celeste in her trews and vest, and Naishe in her fancy dress. Catcalls and lewd proposals marked their progress, but Celeste ignored them with the ease of long practice. Reaching the foot of the wooden ramp, she cupped her hands to her mouth. “Permission to come aboard?”

After a moment, Gideon’s bass rumble rose up from the bow: “Permission granted!”

“After you, m’lady,” Celeste invited Naishe to precede her with a grin and a flourishing bow, but it was more than gallantry. If Celeste had come up first, whoever was behind her would find themselves the target of as many bows and crossbows as could be brought to bear.

None were in sight at the moment; Gideon set aside the book he’d been reading and laid his spectacles atop it before leaping easily from his position atop the fo’c’sle and moving to meet them.

“Gideon, this is Naishe, Signore Lombardo’s wife,” Celeste introduced them.”Naishe, this is Gideon, Daniel’s brother and first mate.”

“Gideon Augustus Nicodemus Santiago Darius Monroe,” he proclaimed in his usual flourishing style, catching one of the visitor’s hands and raising it to his lips for a courtly kiss as he bowed to her. There was, however, a bit less velvet-smooth charm in his purr than usual when meeting a pretty girl, and when he straightened, the crimson eyes held the faintest question in them as they turned to Celeste.

“Daniel and Signore Lombardo are talking business,” Celeste supplied, knowing what he was asking. “Naishe wanted to see the ship, and they had no objection.” No, she hadn’t sneaked out with the man’s wife without a word; Gideon had forgiven Celeste the thoughtlessness that had nearly cost him his life, but he hadn’t forgotten it, and she couldn’t fault him for that.

“Welcome aboard, Signora,” he told Naishe warmly, with an expansive sweep of his arm. “Celeste knows the ship from bow to stern.”
 

Isabela

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95
#23
Celeste suggested a beautiful vision; one in which Naishe was able to join her and Daniel on their adventure, albeit with Luis also present. They both knew it couldn’t happen. Luis would sooner admit he was lackluster in bed then let Naishe experience a moment of freedom that wasn’t on his terms. Even now, he was effectively holding Daniel hostage until she came back.

Fortunately she didn’t have to think about him long. The Wicked Grace commanded her full attention and all the questions she’d been ordered not to pester the captain with on her initial voyage to Antiva now bubbled up at Celeste, who seemed only too happy to answer.

“She’s a schooner. A hundred and twenty feet. She crews twelve, but we can sail her with half that in a pinch.” They were almost at the ship now, and Naishe utterly ignored the raucous yells and propositions that followed them along the dock. She’d been shut away from it for a while but even as a girl she knew it wasn’t worth paying attention to that kind of man. Certainly not when there was something so much more interesting to look at. Celeste bellowed as they reached the end of the gangplank. “Permission to come aboard?”

An incredibly deep voice granted them entrance, and Celeste invited Naishe to go up first. She almost sprang up the board, hiking her dress up high enough to avoid hindering her step, then almost fell over anyway as she reached the top and saw the owner of the voice.

A qunari. A fucking qunari.

This had all been some sick joke on Luis’ part. Had he deliberately brought Celeste in to entice her away from the house? Was this a reminder of how she’d ended up with him in the first place, or was she being given away to the same pieces of shit that had claimed her mother? Well, sod that - she might be out of practice but she could still remember how to scrap, and she squared up.

But then Celeste introduced him, with a decidedly non-qunari name, and announced that he was her husband’s brother, which was confusing as all get out. Naishe faltered, suddenly feeling as unsettled as she had when she was first bought into Luis’ life, but at least this time she wasn’t being yanked into a corset. The qunari proceeded to confuse her further by bowing. “Gideon Augustus Nicodemus Santiago Darius Monroe.” He then kissed her hand, flashing a warm smile up at her from a craggily handsome face.

Naishe’s confusion went up another notch. She might have admired their build before but she’d never known a qunari to be friendly enough that she would consider them even slightly good looking. Fortunately, Celeste covered her discomfort by explaining her presence. “Daniel and Signore Lombardo are talking business. Naishe wanted to see the ship, and they had no objection.”

The qunari - Gideon - greeted her warmly. “Welcome aboard, Signora. Celeste knows the ship from bow to stern.”

Naishe pulled herself together. “Naishe, please. Signora’s what stuffy friends of my husband call me while trying to stare down my cleavage.” She eyed him up. “Sorry I was a bit twitchy at first. I knew a few qunari in Rivain, but they all acted like they had a third horn rammed up their-” She cut herself off in case Signora Alfonso appeared out of nowhere to swat her for her language, then realised that wasn’t going to happen, and grinned. “Asses.”

She turned towards Celeste, and a sweep of brisk sea air swept through her hair. Following it came the tang of salt and the sudden ache to be away from the docks, heading for the horizon, all ‘wifely responsibilities’ abandoned. She could feel herself lighting up, and she wouldn’t let thoughts of her husband ruin it. “So. Show me around?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#24
From her vantage point in the rear, Celeste had an admirable view of the sway of Naishe’s hips beneath her skirt as the Rivaini girl bounded eagerly up the gangplank. She also saw clearly when her new friend’s buoyant carriage shifted in an instant to coiled tension, ready to strike, when she caught sight of Gideon. Celeste had long since stopped seeing the Tal-Vashoth as anything but Daniel’s brother and first mate, as well as her friend, but she supposed the sheer size of him, along with the horns, could surprise someone who wasn’t expecting him.

When she drew up alongside the other woman, however, there was a pallor beneath the bronzed skin and a tightly controlled panic in the golden eyes, like an animal finding itself trapped at bay. Something more than surprise was at work here.

Fortunately, charming women was an art that Gideon had long since mastered. Alarm faded to confusion when Celeste introduced them, then further to puzzled curiosity at the first mate’s courtly greeting.

“Naishe, please,” she responded, recovering her poise. “Signora’s what stuffy friends of my husband call me while trying to stare down my cleavage.”

“The folly of small minds,” Gideon assured her. “Your eyes are by far more striking.” And that was why he had women falling over each other in every port.

“Sorry I was a bit twitchy at first,” Naishe offered, her confidence returning. “I knew a few qunari in Rivain, but they all acted like they had a third horn rammed up their-” She caught herself, bracing for a reprimand. When she realized that none would be forthcoming, her face lit up with a smile that was beautiful to behold. “Asses.”

Gideon’s delighted laugh boomed out over the water. “I’m Tal-Vashoth,” he informed her with a crooked grin. “The only horns I’ve got are up here.” He tapped his head beside one of the curving ebony horns that added another foot to his height.

Naishe looked to Celeste, her face once again shining with undiluted eagerness. “So. Show me around?”

“Absolutely!” Celeste led the way to the fo’c’sle, ducking into the galley and snagging a couple of the biscuits that Stubby had left to cool, tossing one to Naishe. “You all right?” she inquired, keeping her tone casual. “I forget that most people aren’t used to seeing them up close.” She snickered. “Mind you, he’s got a whole bunch of women that like seeing him up close.”
 

Isabela

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DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
95
#25
Naishe hadn’t forgotten all the tricks of being a con artist yet. Number one amongst them was keeping a cool head and a straight face, but both failed her at the sight of the qunari. She hadn’t expected the roiling anger that burned up into her throat. Normally only Luis at his most slimy could provoke that reaction. But he was so clearly unlike the ones she’d encountered before that it gave her enough time to regain control over herself, and give an introduction of sorts. His response surprised her further.

“The folly of small minds. Your eyes are by far more striking.”

Qunari could flirt? She knew not all of them were dour bastards - they wouldn’t have got any converts at all in Rivain if they didn’t have a little life to them - but she’d never known one could actually look playful. She studied him again, trying to put what she’d experienced out of her mind. What would be her first thought if she’d never come across one of his kind before?

Handsome. Yes, handsome, square jawed and broadly smiling, and built like the side of a mountain to boot. Naishe wasn’t blind, she knew that qunari could be attractive, but their attitudes largely made them ugly. Gideon was miles in the other direction. With that in mind she didn’t try to pretend that she hadn’t been a bit unsettled by him at first, in the broadest language she’d allowed herself to use in a while.

It earned a roar of laughter. “I’m Tal-Vashoth. The only horns I’ve got are up here.” He gestured to the impressive black ones sprouting from his forehead, and Naishe immediately took the bait.

“Only up there?” Her gaze dropped to trouser level, then back up to his eyes, smiling wickedly. “That’s a shame.”

There was a definite chuckle that followed that, and Naishe would have been happy to continue that conversation, but even more interesting than a handsome and apparently silver-tongued qunari was the ship, and the woman who had brought her to it. Naishe asked for the tour.

“Absolutely!” They headed into the galley and Celeste tossed Naishe a biscuit. She bit into it immediately, enjoying the buttery pastry and gritty dusting of sugar. Luis tended to discourage the servants from letting her have treats outside of meals. Perhaps it was to keep her fitted in the dresses he bought for her.

“You all right?” Celeste asked. “I forget that most people aren’t used to seeing them up close.” She snickered. “Mind you, he’s got a whole bunch of women that like seeing him up close.”

“After the initial surprise, I could see why,” Naishe grinned. “Smooth talker.” She sobered slightly. “The qunari got a whole bunch of people in Rivain to convert. Sometimes forcefully, sometimes not. In a way, they’re part of the reason I’m here.”

She wasn’t going to spin out her whole tale for Celeste right away. If ever. Thinking about her mother wasn’t quite the painful wound it used to be, but she preferred to avoid jostling the memory if she could avoid it. Besides, Celeste had brought her here to have fun and show her around, not hear a sob story.

“So it’s good to know they’re not all colossal dickheads,” she added, smiling again. “Anyway. Tell me everything!”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#26
Naishe quickly recovered from whatever shock meeting Gideon had caused her, and Celeste could see the sparks start to fly between the pair, but the Rivaini girl was not to be distracted from her shipboard tour and Gideon would not neglect his watch duty. Which suited Celeste at the moment. She was not possessive as a rule, and she rather liked the notion of the pair of them hooking up (imagining Luis’ reaction being half the appeal), but for now, she wanted her new playmate to herself.

In the galley, she asked Naishe about her initial response; her bearing had suggested something more than surprise, but she wasn’t surprised when the other woman deflected the query.

“The qunari got a whole bunch of people in Rivain to convert,” she replied dismissively. “Sometimes forcefully, sometimes not. In a way, they’re part of the reason I’m here.” The shadow in those fabulous golden eyes suggested that it was more than that, but it wasn’t Celeste’s place to press, so she simply nodded when Naishe concluded, “So it’s good to know they’re not all colossal dickheads. Anyway,” her smile returned like the sun emerging from clouds. “Tell me everything!”

Celeste did, recounting the tale of the three friends from Starkhaven who had built the most wonderful ship in Thedas as she showed Naishe the galley, the infirmary, the crow’s nest (from the deck, unfortunately, as the sight of that dress ascending the shrouds would definitely draw the wrong kind of attention), the cargo hold (though not the smuggler’s holes; only the crew was permitted in on that secret) and the helm, letting her friend turn the wheel, well pleased with the hungry gleam that awoke in her eyes.

“And this is the captain’s cabin!” she proclaimed grandly, ushering Naishe in and closing the door, giving her guest time to look around. Celeste had been on enough ships to know just what a wonder Old Torgun’s skill had wrought here, from the loo and bathtub built into the bay beneath the aft windows to the wine racks that filled one section of the wall.

“Wine? Whiskey? Rum?” she invited, gesturing to the array of bottles. Her lips curved in a slow smile as she added, “Or should we just skip directly to the part where we ravish each other until we can’t see straight?” There had been a couple of stops on the tour when she’d been tempted, but here there was no chance of being interrupted or seen.
 

Isabela

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#27
Naishe would have been interested in Celeste anyway - her zest for life, sparking green eyes and wicked grin would have caught Naishe’s attention from the other side of a large, packed ballroom. But her interest had really been kindled by hearing about her life on the ship, and was fanned now as Celeste did actually tell her everything, from how three friends with no mental limitations on what a ship should be put one together, how wood was treated to seal it against water, to telling apart the different sorts of rope suited for certain tasks. No question Naishe had was deemed irritating or too much, and the tour took them right around the ship.

The galley fascinated her, because how did you safely cook food on a wooden vessel? The cargo hold was stacked with chests that could have been filled with anything, so Naishe’s imagination crammed them with jewels and gold coin. Then they went back up to the deck and Celeste offered her a chance to pretend as though she was steering the ship.

The moment her hands touched the wheel, something opened up inside her that she hadn’t even realised was closed. She wanted to feel the weight of the ship resisting her, and to know she could control it. She wanted to look out to the horizon, pick a destination and set off across the gleaming sea, hampered by nothing and nobody. She wanted salt wind on her face and in her hair, the rush of cool sea air in her lungs. It was as though she had woken up, for the very first time in her life, actually knowing what she wanted.

It was almost disappointing to step away, but fortunately not by too much. She’d been watching Celeste for any sign or gesture she could interpret as an invitation on the tour, and she’d been half convinced by their close proximity in the cargo hold that something might start in there, but then one of the crew’s voices had come through the hatch and she’d held back.

She was glad she had. When Celeste threw open the door to the captain’s cabin, Naishe immediately reevaluated her idea of what constituted her dream living quarters.

Over there a wine rack, over there a table laden with maps of places Naishe had never even heard of, books and half-melted candles, beautiful wood panelling everywhere, under the window an entire Maker-damn bathtub (how, on a ship?!), and pride of place against one wall - a massive bed. And a solid door between them and the rest of the world, with full knowledge there were no eyes pressed against holes in the wall.

“Wine? Whiskey? Rum?” Celeste was gesturing towards the wine rack, but her gaze was firmly locked with Naishe’s, and from the way she was smiling she knew exactly what Naishe wanted right now. “Or should we just skip directly to the part where we ravish each other until we can’t see straight?”

Naishe returned the grin, eyes flashing. “I think we did enough teasing in the parlour, don’t you?”

In the next moment she’d closed the distance between them, pulling Celeste forward into a kiss that felt like her first real one in years. The knowledge that their time was limited fed into her need - finally she could act on her own desires without fear that Luis would punish her for them. No need to be passive to avoid bruising his ego. The fingers of one hand wound in Celeste’s hair, while the other tugged at her shirt - Naishe needed to feel the other woman’s warm skin beneath her fingertips, and she needed it now.
 
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