Take A Look, It's In A Book...[Closed]

[[OOC: 5th Wintermarch, morning]]
 
Isabela stood outside the homey-looking shop with the well-tended garden out front, and crinkled her nose. It was a bookshop. Worse, a bookshop in Hightown, which meant that the sort of fun reading a person might happen across in a market stall wasn’t likely to grace the shelves here. Isabela was of the opinion that there were only three kinds of literature worth reading; maps, anything that Varric wrote, and stories where everybody got naked at some point. Lucio had crammed a lifetime’s worth of ‘worthy’ reading into her head before she escaped him, and that had been enough for her.

But. She had a specific book to find, and none of her contacts were turning up much. Some said it was being held in a private collection, some just shrugged, others that it could have entered the market by now. Something so valuable as the Tome of Koslun should have been in a private bidding war, but if that had happened somebody would have overheard something about it. Rich people never did seem to remember that their servants had ears.

So maybe it had ended up in the hands of somebody who didn’t know how much it was worth. It would be sort of funny if Castillion had been chasing her up and down the coast and sending assassins after her over something that had been openly for sale all along, in a sort of ‘the Maker is a bastard’ kind of way. But she’d take the shot.

Anything so that she could get back on a ship, and get back to her actual life. She cared for Saoirse, Varric, and Merrill, but it had been three tedious years land-bound now, and each day the itch to be on the waves again was getting worse. But it needed to be as a captain, and she needed to know that Castillion wasn’t going to blow her out the water in the first five minutes. Which meant exploring every avenue.

At least this place didn’t look too up itself. With her customary swagger, she pushed through the doorway, and paused there to get a look around.

Yep. Books. A lot of them.

Life at the shop was slowly coming back to something resembling normal. Alcine was still gone, so Lucien was sure it would ever feel the same as it had before, but at least every day brought less nosy nobles looking to see how he was faring now that his wife had run off on him. Not that many of them actually asked after him. No, it was all craned necks and comments on his appearance, usually along the lines of him looking tired or putting on a brave face. Or the beard. He’d gotten quite a lot of comments on the beard. Maybe that was the reason he refused to shave it, even as he got over his grief enough to get back to his other grooming rituals.

Of course, before he’d pulled himself together, he’d pulled the shop into shape. It was one thing to let himself fall apart, quite another to let the books lay in disarray and dust. He was just putting them back into order again as a crowd of customers filed out when the bell above the door chimed again to let him know he was on his way to a very busy morning. He tucked the last of the discarded books into its proper place on a back shelf and then walked to the front of the shop to see who had entered.

What he saw was not one of his regulars or even one of his… irregulars, so to speak. It was a gorgeous woman who was showing far more skin than was sensible this time of year. Then again, he was hardly one to speak on that count, since he was currently sporting as much chest as she. She looked vaguely familiar. He thought he remembered catching a glimpse of her at Cladan while he’d been making his rounds with the nobility. Whether he had or not, it wouldn’t surprise him if she was one of Hawke’s friends. Saoirse did seem to know all the most beautiful people in the city.

Lucien ran a hand over his clothes to pull out any wrinkles and flashed a dashing smile. The woman didn’t look particularly pleased to be in the shop but he could change that. “Lucien Celare, proprietor of A Likely Story," he said with a shallow bow. "Is there something I can help you find? I assure you, we have something for every taste.”
Shortly after she entered, a man rounded the corner and went through the usual body-checking motions that people tended to do when they first saw her. At least this one appeared to have all his teeth, some notion of how facial hair should be styled, and an enticingly open tunic. All in all, a grade above the usual leering sod. Plus, his smile was directed at her face and not her tits. As much as Isabela wanted to leave this small space which seemed to be crowding in on her even more with every minute, she gave him her own dashing smile. Two could play at being charming.

“Lucien Celare, proprietor of A Likely Story.” He even bowed. “Is there something I can help you find? I assure you, we have something for every taste.”

Isabela ran the tip of her tongue over one canine. “Isabela. And I’m sure you do.” She leaned her weight on one hip, projecting an air of lazy confidence which at the moment she did not feel. “Unfortunately I’m not here for my own tastes, or I’d clear out any books you keep ‘in the back’. This is for a friend.”

Well, as pretty as this man was, she was hardly going to tell him that it was for a mortal enemy so she could get a ship again, take to the sea, build a fleet under her name and then wipe Castillion’s smug mug from the face of Thedas. Even she recognised there was such a thing as oversharing.

She glanced around the bookshelves, remembering Lucio’s library. A tall, narrow circular room, with books on all sides, frequently suffocatingly hot in the dresses he’d had her wear; and hours, days, spent poring over tomes in there, trying to learn what he required her to learn, and attempting not to let all the screams inside her head come out of her mouth. If she concentrated, she could probably recall the exact sensation of Lucio’s clammy hands on her shoulders as he stood behind her and looked over the results of her studies.

She did not concentrate. Instead, she gestured vaguely to the shelves. “He’s particularly interested in the qunari. Do you have anything here about them?”

Isabela flashed Lucien a roguish smile in return for his and shifted her weight to one leg. She wasn’t, as it turned out, here for herself. Unfortunate, as it seemed she had more interesting tastes and it was always more difficult to find books for someone other than the person present. Gifts tended to lead to a lot more second guessing. At least Isabela was able to give him a fairly concrete starting point. Most of the time he was simply told the friend liked reading or books or something else equally as helpful.

“He’s particularly interested in the qunari,” she told him, gesturing to the shelves. “Do you have anything here about them?”

“I do. A surprisingly popular topic, actually. Or perhaps not so surprising, given their presence in the city.” He tapped his chin, considering. He could take her to look at all of them, one at a time, but that seemed like a waste of both their time. “I’ll gather up what we have at the moment. Feel free to have a look around while I do.”

He swung first past the history section, grabbing up a retelling of the events around the Llomerryn Accords and another detailing the long war between Tevinter and the Qun. Then it was on to the biographies for a book on Ashkaari Koslun and a novelization of the same. There were war stories and maps of historic conflicts, an incomplete Qunlat dictionary, and Genitivi’s Tales of the Destruction of Thedas, because no collection was complete without one of the good brother's works. Finally, Lucien swung by the back to grab a couple of the more… colorful stories about the Qunari. He doubted Demands of the Qun or the uninspired Tall, Dark, and Horny were the sort of thing Isabela’s friend wanted but the woman herself might find some amusement.

In the end, Lucien had gathered enough books that he had to peer around the unsteady pile in his arms in order to see where he was going. He flashed a quick smile Isabela’s way and then placed the pile on the shop’s counter. He sorted them into smaller stacks so that she could browse the collection more easily.

“This is everything we have. Hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for in all that,” he said. He leaned back casually and rested on one of his elbows. “Anything more obscure will require a special order.” He slicked back his unruly curls and grinned. “I do like a happy, satisfied customer.”
Isabela tried not to let her heart leap into her throat when Lucien informed her that he did in fact have some qunari stuff sitting around. Even with that, it was still extremely unlikely that the Tome had made its way here, and even more so that it would be in her price range (although that wouldn’t be a problem, as long as she could steal it before somebody who could afford it showed up). “I’ll gather up what we have at the moment. Feel free to have a look around while I do.”

“Much obliged,” she offered with the obligatory purr, before turning to study the nearest shelf in the hope that her anticipation wasn’t showing on her face. She could bluff with the rest of them over a game of cards, but for something that had her entire livelihood on the line – well, who knew? This being land-bound shit had gone on her nerves from day one, so by this point in the timeline they were pretty well shredded. And she hadn’t had a drink today to settle them yet either.

There were some atlases, so she went to look at those. It was about all she could find that would interest her, but fortunately Lucien didn’t take long to locate what he had and bring it all back. And there was quite a lot.

“This is everything we have. Hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for in all that. Anything more obscure will require a special order.”

Somehow Isabela didn’t think that the most notable bookshop in Thedas could just send out an order for the Tome. Unfortunately. Or this all would have taken a lot less time. She dragged her gaze down the spines of the books, looking for the familiar patterning on the binding…

Nothing.

Lucien was grinning. “I do like a happy, satisfied customer.”

She wasn’t going to be either and Isabela wasn’t the sort of person who hung around out of politeness once a situation wasn’t going to pan out her way. But a thought occurred before she could turn away. There might be something in those books that would be of use; nothing that would get rid of Castillion, but maybe something to help if those blasted qunari at the docks realised she was the one who had stolen their precious Tome in the first place.

Which meant actually skimming through them all. Isabela fetched up a winning smile and winked at Lucien. “Well, you do know that for full satisfaction, you need to take a little more time. Do you mind if I have a look through these?” She plucked the top book off the pile. “Just to make sure it’s to his tastes.”

She opened the book at random and immediately found a passage which, if recited to an actual qunari, would probably get her run through with a spear before she even finished the paragraph. Snorting, she glanced up at Lucien. “I don’t think this author has actually ever met one in his life. Either that or I need to see about seducing one in order to find out.”

Less than zero chance of that, but she would enjoy the expression on Lucien’s face as he attempted to picture it.

Although she tried to hide it, Lucien could tell Isabela was disappointed in the books he’d gathered. He wasn’t sure where he might have gone wrong. She hadn’t even had a chance to do much more than read the titles along the spines. Whatever the issue was, she got over it quickly, and even offered Lucien a wink and a smile for his troubles.

“Well, you do know that for full satisfaction, you need to take a little more time. Do you mind if I have a look through these?” She plucked the top book off the pile. “Just to make sure it’s to his tastes.”

“Of course,” he replied, his own smile pulling up to one side. “Take as much time as you need. These things can’t be rushed. Or, well, they can if both parties know precisely what they want. But in cases like this, it’s best to take your time. Explore. See what enjoyment you might extract from the meeting.”

Isabela flipped through the book she’d picked up and let it fall open on a random passage. Lucien made a point of reading every book that graced his shelves, so he wasn’t surprised when she snorted in amusement. “I don’t think this author has actually ever met one in his life. Either that or I need to see about seducing one in order to find out.”

Lucien laughed. “I can’t imagine it would go over so well as the author would like us to believe. If it would, I wouldn’t give their compound such a wide berth.” He waved casually at the open text. “Really, if Qunari were half so exciting, I think the Rose might have already driven them out of town for fear of competition.”

Lucien pulled a nearby chair over so Isabela could be seated while she perused. He took his own usual seat behind the counter. This could be a while. He considered offering Isabela a drink but if he started offering his customers, no matter how stunning, free drinks then he was liable to put himself out of business. Best to keep them both amused in other ways.

He picked up Demands of the Qun and thumbed through the pages until he reached just the right one. “Are illustrations to your friend’s tastes? Because the author of this particular work was not only an imaginative writer but also a, let’s say, generous artist.” He tried to look at the book with a serious expression, as though he was considering a masterpiece, but the anatomy was all so ridiculously exaggerated that he couldn’t keep up the act. He laughed and shook his head before sliding the book across the counter, lest Isabela wanted a bit of amusement herself. He replaced it with one of his unfinished books from underneath the counter. “If not, well then, I’m right here to fetch whatever else might be of interest.”
Lucien smiled, causing one side of his perfectly sculpted mucstache to life a little higher than the other. Isabela eyed it with approval, idly wondering how she would look if she could grow proper facial hair. It might be fun to try a full beard. With flaming tapers in it. There was no sense in being boring.

Speaking of things not being boring, the books he’d found weren’t what they were looking for but she had decided on taking some of them back to the Hanged Man anyway after having a quick flick through. She was going to read them out to Varric as he writhed in horror, and then they could put their heads together to create something magnificent out of the dreck. Although, there were a few imaginative passages worth preserving…

. “I can’t imagine it would go over so well as the author would like us to believe. If it would, I wouldn’t give their compound such a wide berth. Really, if Qunari were half so exciting, I think the Rose might have already driven them out of town for fear of competition.”

“Now there’s an image. Would you swagger up to the gates and offer them a much more effusive welcome than Kirkwall has offered them thus far? Fair warning, you might have to limber up a bit. If they’re proportionate to their size, I’d take a jar of olive oil along as well. Tell them it’s a traditional gift.”

She was just being helpful after all.

It was an interesting conversation to mull over, but Lucien wanted to at least try and sell her on a book, and pulled out a chair so she could flop in it. She took great delight in doing so, sprawling as far as she could without being comfortable. No demure lady-like crossing at the ankles. It wasn’t so stuffy in here as it could be, either. The memories weren’t as vivid as they’d been initially. “Are illustrations to your friend’s tastes? Because the author of this particular work was not only an imaginative writer but also a, let’s say, generous artist.”

He showed her the book with an expression of reasonably convincing sincerity, and Isabela decided it’d be worth inviting him to one of Varric’s Wicked Grace nights; see how long he could hold that bluffing face. At the moment it collapsed quite quickly, and he slid the book over to her. Isabela opened it and found that, yes, the author not only had quite the way with words – tumescent was much better than turgid, more imaginative than rigid and definitely a vast improvement on ‘enormous, quivering, ship’s mast’ – but quite a skill with illustration. She traced a fingertip over the line of the bodies entwined on the page, grinning. She was trying that one with the next person to fall into her bed, no question.

She snorted. “Screw my friend, I’m taking this for me.”

A snatch of a passage caught her eye and for the first time in ages she was quickly absorbed in the book, having to remind herself periodically that she shouldn’t act on the twinges of inspiration she was feeling right now unless she wanted to get kicked out in short order. Reluctantly, she set aside the book and reached for the next, but glanced over at Lucien.

“You know, you look like a fun sort. You should join me at the Hanged Man for Wicked Grace. My friend who plays with us shows even more chest than you do. You’d like him – he’s an author.”

To say Isabela seemed interested in the book he passed her would be an understatement. She hardly seemed to want to put it down. Lucien was pleased he’d judged correctly. Everyone had their boundaries. He’d lost most of his somewhere between being taken into the Circle and all the dull hours that followed. Alcine had somehow managed to maintain hers. Lucien never would have dared show her that book but he’d had a feeling Isabela might enjoy it.

“Screw my friend, I’m taking this for me,” she proclaimed with an amused snort.

Lucien grinned. “Well, at least one of the two of you will be coming away happy.”

Isabela gave him a considering look as she put that book aside to peruse another. “You know, you look like a fun sort. You should join me at the Hanged Man for Wicked Grace. My friend who plays with us shows even more chest than you do. You’d like him – he’s an author.”

Lucien’s eyebrows raised slightly. There was a time not so long ago that he wouldn’t have been surprised by the invite. Since his escape from the Circle, he’d found he had a knack for getting on with people. Maker only knew how, since he was always running his mouth. Apparently it was considered outgoing and even personable. Neither such descriptions could be given to him after Alcine was taken and Leandra was murdered. He’d shut himself off and pushed people away. It was time he took down some of those walls. He needed a night out.

“I can’t say I’m any good at Wicked Grace, but I suppose that’s part of my appeal,” he replied with a knowing wink. What did he care? He made sure to never bet more than he could spare. “And I can hardly take this challenge to my chestly superiority quietly,” he laughed. “Sure, it would be a pleasure. I find good company is the only thing that really draws out the… charm of the Hanged Man.”

He withdrew a book he’d been reading earlier from under the counter and leaned back in his seat. “If you don’t mind,” he said, holding it up to indicate he’d read while she kept browsing. “Just let me know if you want to make that purchase for your friend after all or if it will just be the one gift for yourself. Well, yourself and whoever else might profit from such inspiring pages.”
Lucien seemed amused, and reasonably pleased that he was going to sell at least one of his books, even if it wasn’t quite for the intended purpose. Isabela suspected the binding was going to be cracked in quite a few places and some of the pages so dog-eared that it would be impossible to flatten them out again by the time she was finished with it. True, she tended to prefer her imagination – or the real thing – over reading about it, as it left one hand out of the fun, but the writing in this one was just so filthy it might be worth the inconvenience.

As he’d given her an unexpected and pleasant surprise, Isabela decided to return the favour. It stood to reason that the owner of a bookstore would like to meet an author, right? And they could compare chests. Not enough men knew the value of a proper frontal display, but in that Lucien and Varric were already kindred spirits.

He was interested, and winked. “I can’t say I’m any good at Wicked Grace, but I suppose that’s part of my appeal. And I can hardly take this challenge to my chestly superiority quietly.”

Isabela chuckled. “Good lad! He’ll like you.”

“Sure, it would be a pleasure. I find good company is the only thing that really draws out the…charm of the Hanged Man.”

The chuckle was quickly absorbed into a snort. “You’re forgetting. Four glasses of the stuff Corff claims he got from Antiva but was brewed in his bath, and you think it’s the most wonderful place on earth.” To Isabela, it almost was. If she couldn’t be surrounded by bilgerats, seadogs and…ship’s cats, on her own ship, at least she could find a good few of them there, without having to get close enough to the water either to feel a painful pang when she saw the ships or a distinct lurching unease whenever she saw one of the horn-headed bastards glaring in her direction.

Lucien had been mildly flirty with her so far, but it wasn’t going to be a goer, and she knew that because instead of hanging all over her as she read one saucy passage after another, he retired to his seat and picked up a book. Maybe Varric’s chest would be enticement as well as competition? Or maybe she wasn’t to his tastes. In which case, he’d gone up in her estimation a little; most men could be relied upon to act like idiots around a well displayed pair of tits.

“Just let me know if you want to make that purchase for your friend after all or if it will be just the one gift for yourself. Well, yourself and whoever else might profit from such inspiring pages.”

She grinned. “Oh, I’ll be the one turning the most profit out of it, you can be assured of that.” She propped one foot up on the table, set the book to the side, and picked up something else that looked promising. May as well find some entertainment while she was here. “And turn up at the Hanged Man whenever. I’m around most evening, as is Varric. Assuming we’re not out helping out friend with whatever disaster she’s agreed to help with that day.”

Hawke was never boring, and she was one of Isabela's best friends, but she did have one bastard of a need-to-be-a-hero complex.

Isabela seemed to genuinely enjoy the Hanged Man. It wasn’t too surprising. The tavern wouldn’t do as well as it did, be so continually packed, if everyone was only looking to get drunk. There were plenty of places to do that. Being drunk certainly helped Lucien but he needed special motivation to get enough of down to stop tasting what it was he was swallowing. It had to be an acquired taste, both the drinks and the atmosphere. Whatever the case, Isabela had certainly acquired that taste, along with the likes of Hawke and a good half of Kirkwall.

“Oh, I’ll be the one turning the most profit out of it, you can be assured of that,” Isabela said with a smile.

Lucien returned the expression. He liked her. A lot. He could only wish they’d met earlier because it was clear she was trouble. Her interest in the Qunari seemed far from scholarly and no one else took interest in the Qunari without meaning some level of mischief. Whether it was trouble for herself or someone else remained to be seen. Whatever the case, Lucien didn’t need to get tangled up in it, no matter how tempting an afternoon or evening trouble sounded. He had far more than his fair share, as it was.

“And turn up at the Hanged Man whenever,” she offered. Lucien dipped his head to accept. “I’m around most evening, as is Varric. Assuming we’re not out helping out friend with whatever disaster she’s agreed to help with that day.”

Varric! Aside from Lucien’s perpetual excitement whenever the dwarf was mentioned, something else clicked. “Wait, your friend wouldn’t happen to be Hawke, would it? I can’t think of anyone more closely associated with disaster than her." Except, perhaps, Anders. And himself by extension, he supposed. "Now that I think of it, I think I recall seeing you at her Cladan party. I was tragically trapped with the nobility most of the night, but I thought you looked familiar.” He leaned his chin on one hand and gestured vaguely at Isabela. “What is it with Hawke? Is disaster the price she pays for befriending all the most beautiful people in this city?”
He was a pretty man, all sparkling eyes and alluring chest. And while she wasn’t too fussy about hygiene – when your main sources of fun tended to be sailors, you couldn’t hold them to too high a standard – she did like somebody who took care over their appearance without being fussy about it. Much the same as her, really. She wondered if he’d be up for a little fun after she’d fleeced all the money out of him. It was a reliable method of ensuring a person didn’t hold too much of a grudge against her for taking all their coin, although she only employed it if she actually liked the person. If not, they could take matters into their own hands, so to speak.

She mentioned that Lucien would be joining a group, and a group that liked trouble at that. As expected the bookseller’s eyes lit up at the idea of meeting Varric, but surprisingly that wasn’t what immediately held his attention. “Wait, your friend would happen to be Hawke, would it? I can’t think of anyone more closely associated with disaster more than her.”

Isabela roared with laughter. “She is! And even she’d have to admit you’re right. Oh, I can’t wait for this.”

"Now that I think of it, I think I recall seeing you at her Cladan party. I was tragically trapped with the nobility most of the night, but I thought you looked familiar.”

Isabela grinned. “I wasn’t really trying to blend in. Perks of being Hawke’s friend are getting to enjoy access to the deepest pockets and the best wines in Kirkwall without having to put on the snotty face that usually goes with it. I think I paid for my dinners for the next week from that evening.” She doubted Lucien would be all that surprised to learn she had taken advantage of the richer patrons of the party. Consider it a little bit of tax collection.

“What is it with Hawke? Is disaster the price she pays for befriending all the most beautiful people in this city?”

Two could play that game. Isabela leaned on her chin, mirroring him, and grinned back. “Well, you tell me. Did some disaster occur when you two met? If the size of the problem is equivalent to the beauty of the person, it must have been a catastrophe.” She winked. “And Maker knows what happened when she met that minstrel of hers. I’m surprised she didn’t fall down a hole into the Deep Roads.”

Isabela laughed loudly enough for the two of them when she confirmed that the human disaster she was talking about was indeed Hawke. “I wasn’t really trying to blend in,” she said of Cladan. “Perks of being Hawke’s friend are getting to enjoy access to the deepest pockets and the best wines in Kirkwall without having to put on the snotty face that usually goes with it. I think I paid for my dinners for the next week from that evening.”

Lucien chuckled at that with no small amount of envy. He’d had to make nice with a Templar and with every invited noble. Hawke’s friend or no, he didn’t have the freedom to do exactly as he pleased. Would have been nice. Cullen would have left the party on fire and he could have dragged Anders upstairs for a dance.

“Well, you tell me. Did some disaster occur when you two met? If the size of the problem is equivalent to the beauty of the person, it must have been a catastrophe.”

Lucien’s mouth curled up in response to her wink. “Let’s see…” He held up his hand and made a show of tallying the destruction on his fingers. “She nearly destroyed my shop, her dog almost ate my cat, and all of that was barely moments after I’d met her. And that’s nothing to what’s come after. Or failed to come, thanks to her,” he added with a snort.

“And Maker knows what happened when she met that minstrel of hers,” Isabela continued. “I’m surprised she didn’t fall down a hole into the Deep Roads.”

Now Lucien really did laugh. “You never know. Or actually, I suppose everyone in Kirkwall would know. I’d give it a day- at most- before something like that went from tale of woe to uproarious drinking story.” His amusement wasn’t without a tinge of guilt, given all Saoirse had been through, but really. The woman had the most astounding mix of fortune and ill luck. He could only hope some of the good came back her way to help even things out for her. He shifted in his seat and decided it was time for a change of topic before he decided he and Isabela needed to go drag Hawke out of the estate for some long overdue fun. “What about you? How did you get tangled in that very messy web?”
Isabela expected that for Hawke to have befriended the mild-mannered (if dashing) owner of a bookshop, something interesting must have happened there. And she was not the least bit wrong, as it turned out; Hawke had been doing her impression of a bull in a pottery shop again. “She nearly destroyed my shop, her dog almost ate my cat, and all of that was barely moments after I’d met her. And that’s nothing to what’s come after. Or failed to come, thanks to her.”

Isabela joined in his snort of laughter. “Oh, I’m familiar with that. Sometimes I’ll be at the Hanged Man eyeing up somebody positively delightful, and then she pops up into view and drags me off on some insane adventure. Not that she’s not delightful to look at in herself, of course.” She tapped one of the books. “Mmm, the things I could do with that woman…”

Not officially off the cards now, although Isabela didn’t know how exclusive that minstrel wanted to keep things. She was a bit unsure as to what Hawke saw in the woman, other than a pretty face. Maybe she had hidden depths. Or shallows. That wasn’t the point of the conversation though; it was more fun to talk about how Hawke seemed to sow chaos in her wake wherever she went, usually the fun kind. Lucien was amused by the notion of her falling in the Deep Roads.

“You never know. Or actually, I suppose everyone in Kirkwall would know. I’d give it a day- at most- before something like that went from tale of woe to uproarious drinking story.”

Isabela chuckled. “Saoirse does have a gift for turning that sort of thing on its head.”

“What about you? How did you get tangled in that very messy web?”

Isabela grinned. “Well, I was looking for somebody to help me take on a gang of men, and Hawke walked in ready and willing.” She winked. “She helped me out of a sticky spot, I stood her a drink and let her keep some of the loot for her troubles, and then I never quite shook her off again. She’s fun, although I think she could stand to have more fun than she does. Nobody’s giving her proper thanks for all the charity work she does, and she has enough money to concentrate on spoiling herself for a while. She should focus on that.”

Isabela grinned at his question. “Well, I was looking for somebody to help me take on a gang of men, and Hawke walked in ready and willing,” she said, punctuating the statement with a wink. “She helped me out of a sticky spot, I stood her a drink and let her keep some of the loot for her troubles, and then I never quite shook her off again.” Lucien nodded. That seemed the way Hawke met most people. “She’s fun, although I think she could stand to have more fun than she does. Nobody’s giving her proper thanks for all the charity work she does, and she has enough money to concentrate on spoiling herself for a while. She should focus on that.”

Lucien lifted and dropped his shoulders in a baffled shrug. “I can’t say I understand it. If I had that kind of coin to toss around, I’d get out of this city, for one thing. See the sights. Do something. Something not involving that Bone Pit of hers, which is not nearly so fun as the name would imply. If nothing else, I’d at least hire someone else to start taking care of giant spider infestations rather than go out and do it myself.”

Even joking, he couldn’t actually imagine what he’d spend so much money on. Books. Clothes. In the end, it still seemed like too much. He would probably toss most of it at Anders who would, in turn, pass it on to everyone but himself. Lucien could understand why Saoirse felt compelled to keep going out and helping where she could, especially when compared to what most nobles seemed to do with their time.

He tapped his fingers on the counter and looked out the windows at the front of the shop before looking back at Isabela. “After all she’s been through, I think she’s earned some time for herself, even if someone has to drag her into having a good time. Speaking of-” He tilted his head, wondering just how much she knew of what happened to Leandra. She seemed close with Hawke but Lucien wasn’t sure if Saoirse had actually told anyone beyond those who’d been there to see for themselves. “-have you seen her recently? I’ve tried, without luck. I’m starting to think a siege would be needed if anyone wants to get her out of her house.”