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When You're Good to Maman [Closed]

Nicolette O'Hara

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#1
[[OOC: Morning, mid-Justinian, 9:41]]

Fortunately, it had taken only a couple of days to find a safe place to dock. While the captain of the guard at the Cumberland docks had been enraged by the reminder of his past follies, he had either been too embarrassed to circulate a description or it had yet to reach the small town of Wyburg, where they fetched up. Nobody placed them under arrest on arrival; Nicolette and Celeste were able to saunter off and negotiate the hire of a pair of horses to carry them back towards the city.

The last few days had been the happiest of Nicolette’s life, nightmares notwithstanding. The crew had welcomed her back like a lost member of the family, and that was how she had felt. The days had been spent reacquainting herself with every part of the ship and what the other members of the crew had been up to, the evenings dedicated to song and food, and the nights wholly to Celeste. She had not paid much mind to what waited for them when they did return to Cumberland and to her other family’s reaction to her sudden departure.

She had time to think about it on the ride. What had been a couple of days on the water would take them less time cutting directly over land, but they still had most of the day. The plan was for them to stay more than one night, but Nicolette, having been reunited with the Wicked Grace, was not of a mind to stay on land for long.

Most of their travel had been engaged either in playful flirting, or more trading stories – they had both built quite a store in the last six months – but as they drew closer to their destination, Nicolette turned the conversation towards what waited for them.

“I am not sure what Maman will say,” she admitted, candidly. “She will likely be cross that I left so suddenly, although as I return unscathed that will help. I imagine by now she heard about us being chased out of town.” She smiled a little. “She is fairly broad minded, but the story of the cross-dressing quanri and a guard with a grudge might be a bit much even for her.”

In truth, Maman had been furious when she first gave her story, in the days following her exhausted arrival on the doorstep. Not at her, however; she had blamed Celeste for abandoning Nicolette. She had stopped mentioning it in front of her when it became apparent how much it upset her, but she was not sure if that meant her temper had cooled.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#2
To be perfectly clear, Celeste was not afraid of horses. She’d just never been fond of them. They were large, hairy, smelly, and generally didn’t want to do what she wanted them to. She’d never even been in a saddle until she had started accompanying Nicolette on her inland excursions on occasion, and the complaints from muscles she had been unaware that she possessed afterward had not markedly increased her interest in that particular mode of travel. If she had to leave the ocean and the deck of her ship, her own two feet suited her just fine.

But Nicolette was anxious to reassure her mother that she was safe, and given the distance that they had been required to sail to escape the ire of the Cumberland guard, horses would be a necessity. Celeste would have tolerated far worse to stay beside her lover; waking next to her each morning still felt like a miracle, and she had every intention of keeping the promise that she had made so long as Nico wanted her along. Fortunately, her minstrel was quite aware of her limitations, and selected a mount for her that, while still large, hairy and smelly, was quite willing to plod docilely along wherever she directed him. Her. It. Whatever.

This left Celeste free to admire the easy way that Nicolette sat astride her more spirited horse, as graceful there as she was on the ground, and clearly enjoying herself, gently teasing the sailor for her own clumsiness in the saddle and promising a massage to soothe aching muscles later. Maker, but she was beautiful, and Celeste was not going to tire of drinking in the sight of her any time soon, but she also noticed the subtle tension in the lines of her face and the set of her shoulders as the day wore on.

“I am not sure what Maman will say,”
she said at last, trying to sound casual but not quite succeeding. “She will likely be cross that I left so suddenly, although as I return unscathed that will help. I imagine by now she heard about us being chased out of town. She is fairly broad minded, but the story of the cross-dressing quanri and a guard with a grudge might be a bit much even for her.” She smiled a bit at that, but her golden eyes were shadowed with more than a touch of worry. She had been reticent on the subject of her family since her return, which might not have been remarkable save for the stories that she eagerly told of her other experiences during their separation. The only other things that she did not speak freely of were the moments of terror, of horror, of aching loneliness. Those were reserved for her time alone with Celeste, and the first nightmare had by no means been the last, though none had been quite so intense.

Celeste didn’t think that Nicolette’s time with her family had been as traumatic as some of her experiences alone, but she suspected that she knew why her minstrel was reluctant to speak of it. “It won’t be the first time I’ve scandalized someone,” she remarked mildly, her eyes searching her lover’s face, “but I’m guessing she’s not too happy with me anyway.” She didn’t blame Clarice in the slightest; she was still a long way from forgiving herself for leaving her gentle minstrel behind in a world gone mad.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#3
Celeste did not like horses. Nicolette, despite herself, found this mildly amusing. Her captain sat in the saddle like a sack of potatoes and even the most mild-mannered of horses seemed to become capricious under her reins. Fortunately on this occasion they had managed to find one that had no inclination to bolt, although he had stopped on a few occasions for a relaxed period of grazing while steadfastly ignoring Celeste’s instructions. Not so much that they would have to delay their journey and camp overnight, at least.

As for Nicolette, she was finding it a joy to be riding without the threat of demons, bandits or starvation snapping at her heels. She missed Arminio and hoped the people she had sold him to were treating him well; he deserved it after everything she had put him through. Her current mount was a dappled grey mare which would clearly rather be going at a fast clip than the gentle trot they maintained, but she was biddable enough and Nicolette relaxed in the seat, savouring the breeze across her face.

It also helped that she was not riding under the dark shadow that Celeste’s absence had caused. She still found herself glancing over at the captain from time to time during the occasional moments that conversation ceased, and the warming sensation in her chest never failed to occur each time. They had only gone some of the way towards making up for the months apart, and Nicolette could have carried on kissing her until the skies caved in; but familial obligation called, and she resisted the urge to suggest they delay their arrival for a day and enjoy a night together under the stars.

Also cooling her ardour was the thought of the reception that likely awaited them. Haltingly, she warned Celeste that it might be on the frosty side.
Maman had mostly approved of Celeste, the first time they had been introduced. She had seemed to find her entertaining, and had not been shy in stating that Nicolette had had far worse choices of lovers before. But an undercurrent of concern had run throughout; fear for the situations her daughter might be placing herself in. Having had most of those fears realised following Nicolette’s near-collapse on the front step, she was likely to be distant.

Celeste took it on the chin. “It won’t be the first time I’ve scandalized someone. But I’m guessing she’s not too happy with me anyway.”

Nicolette released the reins to squeeze her lover’s hand. Try as she might, she had not yet managed to assuage Celeste’s guilt over ‘abandoning’ her. “It is not as though you are my keeper. But…no, she is not. However, I did explain – repeatedly – that staying would have condemned the crew. And Saul and Michel understood.”

Saul had actually been easier to talk to than her mother, which had made Nicolette feel a little treacherous. In his study, two days after her return, he had poured her out a long drink and simply listened, with no interruptions. At the end he had hugged her, and simply expressed his gratitude that she had made it back in one piece. He would never replace the memory of her father, but she did love him nonetheless.

The house was coming into view now. It was not a huge house by the standards of some merchants, but it was still a respectably-sized rambling country estate, and therefore had a few guards posted here and there around the edges of the gardens. One of them, on seeing the women appear, immediately ran back towards the house. “Messere Saul! Lady Clarice! Your daughter’s returned!”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#4
To be perfectly clear, Celeste was not afraid of Nicolette’s mother. Exactly. But there was no denying that Clarice’s existence had presented her with a dilemma that she had never before encountered. For her entire adult life, Celeste’s world had started and stopped upon the Wicked Grace. Friends and allies could be found elsewhere, of course, but Daniel and the crew had been her family, and that had been all that really mattered to her.

Nicolette had another family, and even if she only visited them every few months, she clearly loved them dearly, and they loved her enough to let her live the life that she chose, despite their very obvious worry for her. Celeste wasn’t jealous. Exactly. But the knowledge had unsettled her in a way that she found hard to define, and it had taken a couple of years before she had accepted her lover’s offer to accompany her on one of her visits to them.

It had gone surprisingly well. Celeste had been on good behavior (for her), regaling Michel with tales of life at sea without touching on the details of the most dangerous aspects … or the illegal ones. Clarice had accepted her, but something in her manner had suggested that she did not expect Celeste to be around for long. Which had been fair enough, since at that time, both Celeste and Nicolette had still been clinging - albeit tenuously - to the notion that their relationship was simply one of convenience and mutual pleasure. That the day would come when she would be ready to forsake her ship to find the minstrel had not even breached the furthest horizon of her thoughts, but she had agreed readily enough when Clarice had pulled her aside briefly as they were leaving to bid her to take care of her daughter, and she would have agreed even without the unspoken ‘or else’ hovering in the background of one mama bear’s eyes.

As the years went by and Celeste had continued to appear alongside her daughter, Clarice had grown steadily warmer toward her, but each visit always closed with that same private admonition and the same unspoken ‘or else’. And now, she was pretty sure she was about to find out what that ‘else’ was.

“It is not as though you are my keeper,” Nico assured her, seeing the disquiet beneath her attempt at insouciance and reaching out to give her hand a reassuring squeeze. “But…no, she is not. However, I did explain – repeatedly – that staying would have condemned the crew. And Saul and Michel understood.”

“She’s your mother.” Celeste was not one to miss what she had never had, but since meeting Nicolette’s family and seeing how different Reginald was with a wife to raise his children, she had on occasion wondered what her life would have been like if her mother had survived her birth. Boring, most likely. She would never have known her ship … or Daniel … or Nicolette. Definitely not worth the trade off. “Hopefully Saul can talk her out of doing anything permanent to me.” She was joking. Mostly. Saul was a good sort, kindhearted and levelheaded, but having seen Clarice in a temper a couple of times, Celeste knew quite well where her minstrel got the fire that flared on occasion, and knew also that Nico was not easily calmed when her blood was up.

They passed the borders of the estate; this section of Nevarra had largely been spared the chaos that roiled much of the rest of Thedas, and bees buzzed lazily among blossoms on apple and peach trees in the small orchard, while seedlings stood bright green against dark earth in the gardens. As soon as they were spotted, one of the guards on duty ran calling for Clarice.

“Thar she blows,” Celeste muttered under her breath at the sight of Nicolette’s mother bustling out the front door. Then, “Nonono. Stop! Belay that! Avast! Whoa, dammit!” Neither her words nor her hauling back on the reins were enough to dissuade her mount from veering away from their course to a path of its own choosing: a patch of clover. “Oh, come on!” she exclaimed in exasperation as it came to a halt and buried its nose in the prize, tapping her heels against the barrel of a chest, not really expecting a response. “Go! Forward! Giddyup!” Whatever the hell that meant, not that it worked.

Fuck this. Scrambling out of the saddle, she narrowly avoided falling on her ass as muscles protested the sudden change. Recovering, she left the damn horse to his snack and strode - okay, limped - forward to meet her fate.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#5
Clarice Vivain, née O’Hara, tended to make an impression on those who met her. One of Nicolette’s earliest memories was her father describing how he had first seen her mother; sweating over his forge, he thought that he had been struck dizzy by the heat. Tall and graceful, with a curling fall of dark hair and faintly impish green eyes, she had come over to inspect the piece of armour he had been shaping. And then, most startling for an Orlesian woman, she’d spoken to him with no hint of censure, voice merry and light. And they’d carried on talking, and talking, and the forge went cold, and they went to a tavern to continue talking.

Nicolette suspected that part of the ‘talking’ was a metaphor for something else.

Either way, they had eloped together within days. Richard O’Hara abandoned his entire life for Clarice, and she did the same for him; her family did not approve of the match, and when they had settled in Val Chevin, it had been to build a life from the ground up. Clarice’s classical education had covered dance and music, so it was that she had turned and showed a knack for. It later served her well on the road – as did a practiced imperious gaze and an ability to bargain with even the most steel-backed of merchants without breaking a sweat. Many people had fallen in love with her while she and Nicolette travelled together – others had hated or envied her.

Time had carved lines around her eyes and mouth, but not especially deeply, and she was still as dignified as ever as she swept out onto the steps. Nicolette slipped off her horse as Maman headed towards her, pointedly ignoring Celeste’s struggles with her own mount, and swept Nicolette into an embrace. Shortly after, a long, gangly pair of arms joined in as Michel reached them, and then Saul’s bear-like hug swallowed them all.

“Nihu.” Maman clasped her face. “It is good to see you well! I heard all sorts of strange things, following your sudden departure.”

“Yes.” Saul grinned overhead, including Celeste in the smile. “I heard that the local guard-captain was led on a merry chase over half the docks.”

“Is it true your first mate kissed him?” Michel was all eyes, excited for gossip.

“He did.” Nicolette chuckled.

“Perhaps the captain would not have felt the need to chase the crew out of town, and you with them, had that not occurred,” Clarice pointed out, tartly.

“I think he would have done so anyway,” Nicolette pointed out. “There was a fight-”

“I heard. With the crew in the middle, was it not?”

“One of the other patrons started it. He pulled painfully on my arm to get me away from Celeste. They were defending us so we could get away.”

“Well, good for them, then,” Saul rumbled. “It’s a shame you had to dash away so suddenly, but at least you managed to get us the note so we didn’t have to worry too much.”

Maman looked as though she was about to say something else, then let out a breath, and smiled. “Yes. You are well and safe; that is all that matters. Come on in. You’ve arrived in time for dinner.” The iciness had faded somewhat, although she then looked around at Celeste. “Afterwards, Celeste, perhaps you and I could speak? I have some questions I would ask of you.”

“You could ask them of both of us.” Nicolette reached for Celeste’s hand. “She has filled me in well on what has been happening over the last few months.” And she was not letting Celeste take the brunt of what was likely to be a dressing-down alone.

“After dinner!” Saul held the door open for them as they approached, and patted Celeste on the shoulder as she went by. “You both need feeding up a bit, looks like.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#6
Celeste hung back a bit while Nicolette’s family greeted her. Even now, her relationship with her own father was more collegial than familial, and embraces of any kind were not exchanged, let alone the bear hugs that enveloped her lover as first Clarice, then Michel and finally Saul threw their arms around her. She let the barbs that Clarice aimed in her direction slide off, allowed Nicolette to answer them. She had dealt with the older woman in similar moods, knew that riding out the storm was the only real option and that anything she had to say would be ignored until Clarice was ready to listen to her.

Which, apparently, might be sooner, rather than later. After inviting them both in for dinner, Clarice finally addressed her directly. “Afterwards, Celeste, perhaps you and I could speak? I have some questions I would ask of you.”

“Of course.” While she might not exactly be afraid of Clarice, she definitely wasn’t going to let the woman think she was afraid of her. Besides, it was unlikely that she could say anything to Celeste that the sailor hadn’t said to herself repeatedly.

Nico jumped to her defense anyway. “You could ask them of both of us,” she suggested, twining her fingers with Celeste’s. “She has filled me in well on what has been happening over the last few months.”

“It’s all right, querida,” Celeste murmured, giving her lover’s hand a squeeze. Not being actively suicidal, she wouldn’t interfere between mother and daughter unless Clarice lashed out at Nico, but she was quite capable of withstanding a tongue-lashing on her own. If Clarice thought the Wicked Grace had been anchored in Antiva Bay with the crew sunning and swimming all this time, Celeste was quite willing to set the record straight … respectfully, of course.

“After dinner!” Saul admonished them gently, giving Celeste’s shoulder a pat as she stepped through the door that he held for them. “You both need feeding up a bit, looks like.”

“Whatever you’ve been feeding this young giant should do admirably,” Celeste joked, reaching up - way up - to ruffle Michel’s hair. He’d nearly reached his father’s height, but not his bulk, and he was all arms and legs, nearly tripping over a chair as he moved to help his mother set two more places at the laden dinner table. “Anything that’s not fish will be welcome.” While not so gaunt as Nicolette, she had definitely lost some weight, though not from lack of sustenance. The sea’s bounty had remained reliable, but she seldom had much in the way of appetite. They’d both eaten well over the past two days, but not nearly enough for Nicolette to have lost the hollowness to her cheeks and the prominence of her bones. Small wonder Clarice was pissed.

“We can bring you some, if you’d like.” The cove they had anchored in was teeming, and much of the down time had been spent by the rest of the crew fishing, with Stubby set up on the beach drying and salting their catch. The past few months had made it plain that they couldn’t count on being able to resupply in the ports they visited, and would often even need to distribute some of what they had to folk with even less. She wasn’t precisely tired of fish, but the smell of roasted chicken, herbed vegetables and freshly baked bread - a treat on board a ship even in times of plenty - was enough to have her mouth watering.

“Have you seen any demons?” Michel asked eagerly as they sat.

“My fill and plenty beyond that,” Celeste replied simply, not needing the warning look that a certain mama bear was shooting her over the potatoes. Clarice couldn’t keep the boy anchored here forever, but he wouldn’t be leaving on the Wicked Grace, and Celeste wasn’t going to make the business of fighting demons sound like anything but the grim, joyless and highly dangerous slog that it was. “I’m glad to see no rifts around these parts; not much can live where they’re at.”
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#7
Celeste had by now seemed to accept that Nicolette did not blame her for leaving her behind. What she had yet to do was absolve herself of guilt for it, and it appeared that Maman was not about to help her along the path. Clarice Vivain was loving, and kind, but having lost one family member to forces beyond her control, she was not taking well to almost having lost another. Nicolette attempted to ensure that Celeste did not have to take the brunt of her mother’s rage alone; Celeste attempted to assure her that it would be all right.

A brief exchange of eyebrow semaphore between Nicolette and her mother reached a conclusion. She would respect Maman’s wishes to speak to Celeste alone. Nicolette did not indicate that she would be outside the door, ready to burst in if she felt her mother was overstepping the mark. But first, something far more welcome; Saul’s call to dinner set her stomach rumbling. After months with little appetite, hers had come roaring back in the last couple of days, and she had been hard pressed not to keep shoving food in her mouth until she got a stomachache.

Celeste further endeared herself to Michel by referring to him as the ‘young giant’. It was odd to Nicolette to see her younger brother now almost a man, but he had yet to lose the puppy-ish look to his eyes. Always hungry for stories, he had doted on Celeste from the first time she visited. On previous visits, Nicolette had noted the wistful expression on his face as she described the things she had seen and done. She doubted it would be long now before he started asking permission to go off exploring himself, assuming he had not done so already.

Saul clapped a hand on Celeste’s shoulder. “It’s good to see you, Captain.”

They sat at the table and Nicolette was aware of both Maman and Saul eyeing her as she reached for the meat, before settling back with looks of relief as she heaped her plate high. Absorbed in exhaustion, lingering fear and misery, she had failed to notice the depths of their concern before, and a frission of guilt shimmered through her. She should not have made them worry so.

As she set to, properly eating instead of just picking, Michel decided to pick on an awkward topic to start. “Have you seen any demons?”

Nicolette could feel Maman prickling, but Celeste was ahead of her. “My fill and plenty beyond that. I’m glad to see no rifts around these parts; not much can live where they’re at.”

Saul nodded, his usually cheerful countenance now grim. “I’ve heard a lot of disturbing stories recently through some of my contacts. Others have gone completely silent, which is more alarming. Everything here is set in case one should appear nearby; we can be gone within minutes.”

Maman had relaxed enough to smile slightly. “It took a little time to advise on what ‘necessary’ covers in the case of an emergency. Running back in to claim a tapestry while the grounds are burning would not be wise.”

Saul grinned sheepishly. “I’ve been off the roads too long, I think. It’s easy to become accustomed to certain comforts and think of them as vital, until they’re gone and you carry on living.” Panic touched his eyes, and he backtracked. “Material things, that is…objects. Not people.”

His floundering couldn’t help but bring a smile to Nicolette’s face. He was a thoughtful man, and it had been his sensitivity to Maman’s needs that had brought her approval of him. He had even asked Nicolette before he approached Maman if she would be all right with him courting her mother. Maman touched the back of his hand, a gentle gesture, reassuring rather than chastising.

Michel looked nonplussed by all of this. He had clearly been expecting swashbuckling tales of taking on a dozen demons and walking away with a laugh. “Oh. Okay.”

“Demons are terrifying things, Michel.” Nicolette spoke softly. “Even from a distance. The people fighting them effectively are armed with far more than swords.”

“Like the Inquisitor.” Michel’s interest had fortunately found another target; his eyes gleamed. “Merrow says he saw her once, at the docks in Antiva. She’s a qunari! Seven foot tall and with horns! And she fights with a greatsword as tall as I am!”

Nicolette chuckled. Between Michel’s enthusiasm, and the food, and having Celeste at her side, the knot of tension in her chest was beginning to unravel. “I meant magic, but I imagine that would do it.” She canted her head towards her lover. “Celeste saw her once, I believe?”

Michel turned round eyes in Celeste’s direction. “Is it true?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#8
A silent clash of wills ensued between Nicolette and her mother; Celeste wasn’t about to get in the middle of it, but Saul was bolder, breaking the tension with a well timed summons to dinner. Celeste filled her plate without hesitation, but held off on digging in until she saw Nico begin to eat. The minstrel’s appetite on board the ship had been good, but she was still far too thin for Celeste’s liking, nor was she the only one worrying. Clarice and Saul watched until she had piled generous portions onto her plate and begun to eat.

That was enough of a relief that Michel’s question about demons didn’t blunt her own appetite in the least, but she could feel the weight of his mother’s gaze on her in the moments before she responded. The silent warning was needless; if the boy wanted adventure, she wasn’t about to point him in a direction that would get him killed within a week. The family had found a haven here, with no rifts nearby; hopefully, that would continue to be true.

“I’ve heard a lot of disturbing stories recently through some of my contacts,” Saul agreed somberly with her warning. “Others have gone completely silent, which is more alarming. Everything here is set in case one should appear nearby; we can be gone within minutes.”

“It took a little time to advise on what ‘necessary’ covers in the case of an emergency,” his wife observed with an affectionately exasperated smile. “Running back in to claim a tapestry while the grounds are burning would not be wise.”

“I’ve been off the roads too long, I think,” Saul admitted with an abashed smile. “It’s easy to become accustomed to certain comforts and think of them as vital, until they’re gone and you carry on living. Material things, that is…objects,” he added hastily. “Not people.” He was plainly worried that he’d misspoken, but Clarice was quick to lay her hand on his, her expression as tender as Celeste had seen this visit. He wasn’t the handsomest of men, decidedly on the plain side when compared to his wife’s beauty, but he had one of the best hearts that Celeste had ever encountered, and that had clearly won him his lady.

“You definitely learn what matters,” Celeste concurred quietly, her free hand reaching out to brush along Nicolette’s leg beneath the table. A few years ago, the notion of forsaking her ship for anyone would have seemed as outlandish a prospect as joining the Chantry; there had simply been no place she would rather have been than on the deck of the Wicked Grace. Now … well, she still loved her ship, but if it ever came down to a choice again, she knew beyond doubt what her decision would be.

Such sentimental displays were quite evidently not what Michel had been looking for. “Oh. Okay.”

“Demons are terrifying things, Michel,” Nico told her brother, her beautiful face touched with a rare gravity. “Even from a distance. The people fighting them effectively are armed with far more than swords.” She had seen them - fought them - up close and personal, but Celeste didn’t know how much she had told her family, and with a private interview with Clarice imminent, the sailor wasn’t about to bring it up.

Fortunately, Michel’s enthusiasm had found another target. “Like the Inquisitor,” he suggested eagerly. “Merrow says he saw her once, at the docks in Antiva. She’s a qunari! Seven foot tall and with horns! And she fights with a greatsword as tall as I am!”

“I meant magic,” his sister corrected him with an affectionate laugh, “but I imagine that would do it. Celeste saw her once, I believe?”

“Is it true?” he immediately wanted to know.

“We gave her a ride to Val Royeaux to meet with the Chantry,” Celeste confirmed. “Height, horns and sword sound about right, but her biggest weapon against the demons is the mark on her hand.” Celeste held her own left hand up, tapping the palm. “It glows like it’s on fire, but there’s no heat. I touched it,” she admitted, knowing that would thrill him. “It didn’t hurt, but it felt strange; set my teeth on edge a bit. I didn’t ever see it working, but Varric says that he’s seen her close rifts with it.” That was the key. The demons could be killed if the holes that kept spitting them out were sealed up. “Not sure what to make of the latest stories going around,” she admitted, “but it sounds like she’s still alive and fighting, and the Inquisition is still behind her. She's a good sort, with a good head on her shoulders. Not puffed up at all." And with a moniker like 'Herald of Andraste' around her neck, that was noteworthy.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#9
The pressure of Celeste’s hand on her leg soothed Nicolette. She was happy to be back here, in a much merrier mood than before, with the knowledge that tonight she’d sleep curled up next to her lover, but then tension of wondering how her mother would address everything that had happened kept her on edge, and the conversation regarding demons wasn’t helping. The warm presence of Celeste’s touch kept her from plunging into dark memories, and she rested her hand over her captain’s for a moment, before taking the opportunity to warn Michel against getting any ideas of fighting those monsters.

Fortunately he was enamoured of the idea of the Inquisitor, as most of Thedas seemed to be, these days. Official opinion was wildly between the pragmatic - accepting the help the Inquisition offered, when needed - and outright denial that the Inquisitor could even seal the rifts. Nicolette had largely ignored the debates as to whether she was sent by Andraste or not. Not being Andrastean herself, it wasn’t a subject for her to mull over. Apparently she was impressive regardless, judging by Celeste’s description of her, and Michel immediately jumped on that, wanting to know about her.

“We gave her a ride to Val Royeaux to meet with the Chantry. Height, horns and sword sound about right, but her biggest weapon against the demons is the mark on her hand.” Nicolette was now listening with about as much fascination as Michel - Celeste had already described Sati Adaar to her in some detail, but the mark on the hand captured her imagination. “It glows like it’s on fire, but there’s no heat. I touched it.”

Michel bounced in his seat. “You touched it? She let you?”

Saul and Maman also looked a little taken aback.”That was rather...daring.”

“The Inquisitor offered.” Nicolette could see where Maman’s mind had been going then, thinking this another example of Celeste being reckless, and she moved to head it off. “Apparently she feels that people will be less scared of it if they know it can’t harm them.”

“What did you hear of her, after the attack on Haven? There were so many rumours - not all of them hopeful.”

“Not sure what to make of the latest stories going around,” Celeste admitted, “But it sounds like she’s still alive and fighting, and the Inquisition is still behind her. She’s a good sort, with a good head on her shoulders. Not puffed up at all.”

Saul smiled, face returning to its usual benign state. “Well. That’s good to know. Once this is all sorted out she’ll be in charge of an army without a purpose, and knowing she’s not the dictator type gives me some peace.” Saul was unshakeable in his belief that everything would turn out all right in the end; that sort of blitheness that came with always having had enough coin to buy his way free from most troubles, combined with the good nature that prevented him from winding up in bad situations in the first place. It could have been irritating, but instead was somewhat reassuring.

He could be quite deft, as well, and smoothly moved the subject onto how trade was flowing, the mapping of new routes to avoid the worst trouble spots, occasionally sprinkling in praise on Maman. She was still a musician at heart but had always been quite silver-tongued when she wanted to be, and applied that skill on behalf of Saul’s business. Between the good food, the good wine and the turn of talk to more gentle matters, Nicolette began to relax fully, almost to the point of being sleepy.

Right up until the last plates had been cleared away, and silence had fallen, and Maman finished off the last of the wine in her glass. “Very well. Now we have all been fed and watered - Celeste, perhaps you might join me, to give your account of the last few months?”

Nicolette straightened up, ready to argue, but then Maman turned a firm gaze on her. “My daughter. Please. This is for my peace of mind.”

Nicolette held her gaze for a long moment, then nodded, slowly, and squeezed Celeste’s hand before reaching in to kiss her cheek, murmuring in her ear. “I’ll be outside the door.”

She wouldn’t interrupt if it was as simple as wanting to hear Celeste’s doings over the last few months, but if Maman started getting angry, Nicolette was not going to put up with that.
 
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