Just Business! [Complete]

[24th Solace, 9.29; somewhere on the Pilgrim's Path - with  ]

Hidden in a sparse little thicket just off the Pilgrim's Path, Alia leaned her shoulder against one of the spindly trees, idly kicking the heel of her worn leather boot into the dirt as she waited for the signal. Finally, after what felt like forever, she heard the fluting sound of a distinct bird call. A bird which, she was reliably informed, was only resident in Amaranthine during the winter. Who even knew that kind of bullcrap?

Regardless, it was the agreed signal and she had just heard it. Smirking, she grabbed her battle-axe and readied herself to jump out, hoping to spook the stout pony who pulled the wagon laden with... well, something expensive, she hoped. In truth, the contents of the wagon was not really what they were focused on (or so she had said to the other three of her group). No, it was the mercs escorting it. Other mercs to her mercs. Other mercs who were putting about malicious rumours about her mercs. Other mercs who were putting about malicious rumours about her mercs that was costing her mercs a considerable number of jobs. Something had to be done, and it was Alia who had taken it upon herself to be the one to do it.

Had she informed her merc captain and his lieutenant? Void no. That was plausible deniability, right there. She might not know stupid bird calls but she knew how 'not-lying' worked. Not that she ever tried it herself. Lies were easy. Why would you choose to do something hard over something easy? That was just stupid.

Just as the wagon rounded the corner, Alia burst from her cover. As planned, the pony brayed and reared, threatening to break free of its harness. Dodging around its flying hooves, Alia use the flant side of her battle-axe to knock out one of the archers. Her lip curled in disgust as she noted how the man had not even notched an arrow. What kind of half-arsed merc group was this? If only they could fight as well as they could talk shit.

Swinging herself up onto the wagon, she ducked under the canvas protecting the goods from the elements, then drew up short as she glimpsed something in the gloom.

A wide grin spread across her face. "Would you look who it is!" She shook her head with a soft tut, marvelling at just how small the world was. "Hope you don't mind but I'm settling a little business dispute here." She lifted and dropped her shoulders in a hapless shrug, as if she was not personally responsible for the complete disregard for law and order going on beyond the confines of the wagon. "You know how it is."
Callum was, not in the best of moods. He had heard, through various grapevines that some of his goods, as well as other merchants, were going missing so to speak. Which meant the Mercs that he had paid good coin to transport his ales and spirits to Amaranthine from Denerim were not doing thier damn job. 

It was annoying, His parents were talking about eventually setting up in Denerim but for now he had to go to Denerim to pick up some goods because apparently the captains boat did not go to Amaranthine on this run so, it was travel to the Denerim docks, collect and march up., and apparently some of his parents wagons had been hijacked so thier youngest was to accompany it back.

Of course it had all gone swimmingly well from the Denerim Docks to the outskirts of the city, until that is he watched from the back as a small figure not only startled the pony but made a mockery of the mercs he had hired to do this job. No wonder they were not pleased when he said he would accompany them. He dismounted intend on hauling the thief out of the wagon when he turned to see a Merc come up with his sword drawn arching an eyebrow he punched him sending him to the ground and drew his sword "Mines bigger" he growled "Stay down while i deal with your...leader.

He walked round to the back of the wagon and folding arms went "Ahem!

He was almost wrong footed when a familiar face peeked up from the canvas. "Would you look who it is!" 

"Yes, look at who it is!" Callum responded trying to keep a angry face but feeling it fade with every passing second.

"Hope you don't mind but I'm settling a little business dispute here." there it was that nonchalant shrug as if it was everyone else's fault except hers "You know how it is."

"Oh yes i know how it is but get out of there Allie, what happened the last time you stole from me?

Trouble was the last time she had stolen from him had been years ago and, it wasn't actually him but his then very much alive formidable grandmother. Alia had led him on a merry chase around Amaranthine and somewhere along the line after that, they had become best friends. Callum still wasn't sure how that happened, nor was he sure why it was he didn't stammer or be awkward around her, it just was never a point nor an issue. 

"Come on Aliie out i dont have all day you know.

Truth be told Callum hadn't seen her for a good two years, what with learning the business thing and going to Antiva and Orlais, Liam getting married and other stuff the two of them seemed to have lost touch. 

"Hey you don't get to call her Aliie!" One of the mercs come up. "Its Alia!" 

"Shut up" and with a click of his fingers the now recovered useless mercs he had hired were now on the ball "Well, A-L-L-I-E, " he drawled deliberatly "wanna tell me what your uptoThis should be good
Ha! Look at Big C trying to keep his oh-so-fearsome angry face and failing miserably. Alia grinned even wider, not in the least perturbed by this unexpected turn of events.

"Oh yes i know how it is but get out of there Allie, what happened the last time you stole from me?"

She perched her hands on her hips, eyeing the array of very expensive goods around her. "I made a lot of coin?" she ventured. Truth be told, she couldn't quite remember what she had stolen from the Kennedy family all those years ago, but she did remember the great game of chase which she had led Big C on. Even back then, he'd be a hillock of a man, as opposed to the mountain he now was, and she had been impressed with how he had managed to keep up with her. Well, almost. She had still managed to hide the goods and sell it later, after all.

"Come on Aliie out i dont have all day you know."

Blowing out her cheeks, Alia rolled her eyes but dutifully clambered back over the various boxes and barrels, hopping out onto the ground behind the wagon. 

"Hey you don't get to call her Aliie!" One of her mercs protested. Unfortunately, judging by the shiny new black eye, it seemed Callum had already met her companion. "It's Alia!"

"Shut up." Callum snapped his fingers, summoning the bad-mouthing group of useless mercs around him. Funny how they were all so much braver when they could hide behind someone else. "Well, A-L-L-I-E," he drew the name out just to annoy her merc. Something Alia snorted over. "Wanna tell me what your upto."

"What are you, my keeper?" she groused, giving Callum a playful shove. Which, naturally, did not move him so much as an inch. Was he made of granite? "Fine, fine, I'll explain. But." She held up her forefinger before swivelling it towards her three mercs. "They get to leave now."

Of course, one of Cal's stupid mercs had a stupid opinion about that. Before even Callum could react, Alia had ducked under his arm and tackled the merc to the ground, shoving his wailing face hard into the dirt. "What did you say?" she hissed in his ear. Not that he could answer given his mouth was making out with the mud of the Pilgrim's Path.

Straddled over the writhing man's back as she kept him pinned into the dirt, Alia tossed her head upwards so that she could look at Callum. Her three mercs had, wisely, retreated and were now safely out of sight. Good. Besides, now she had someone with actual sense in front of her, she would be able to sort out this little pickle of a problem. Although without the coin she had hoped to make one the side. Never mind.

"These idiots," she emphasised the point by kneeing the man's kidneys so that he let out a satisfying oomf, "have been stealing jobs from my merc band. As you can see, they are useless against anyone who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty." She caught a movement from an overly bold merc and growled a warning, shaking her head as she pinned him with a fierce glare. "So I was proving a point." She flicked her eyes back to Callum, her grin resurfacing once more. "Businesswoman to businessman: you get it, right?"
Cal watched as Aila took stock of what was around her, her hands on her hips and he rolled his eyes at her answer. "I made a lot of coin?

He was in no doubt she had, two bottles of the finest Nevarran Whisky and he had been certain she had stashed them somewhere before or during the chase that day. he had no doubt that she had made a pretty penny out of them. Not that it mattered now, he still marvelled at how she had the balls to steal from his grandmother. Then she blew out her cheeks and rolled her eyes in that all so typical Alia fashion, but she did climb back over the various boxes and barrels, and hopped down onto the ground, how she did that without breaking anything he would never know; 

If she was the slightest bit bothered about her mercs indignation at the shortening of her name she didn't call him out on it, if anything she snorted, then again she was the only one allowed him to call him Big C, although truth be told, Callum was not always sure that Big C always meant Big Callum. Still it was thier thing. 

"What are you, my keeper?" She moaned giving him a shove that barely moved him, 20 now and a fine ole figure of a healthy virile man, apparently.

"No, just the guy who got his first kiss off you." and that was all it had been, it was his 15th birthday that he remembered, or maybe his 14th either way he had a kiss and that was that, nothing more, but it enabled him to say stuff that not everyone got away with. 

"Fine, fine, I'll explain. But." She held up her forefinger before swivelling it towards her three mercs. "They get to leave now."


Before Callum could open his mouth the incompetence that he had hired started running thier mouths, so brave when the man who had stopped then was 6'4 and had a fairly strong build on him and towered over most of them. Yeah real brave that, so when Aila suddenly darted under his arm and tackled the mouthiest merc to the ground he couldn't keep up the facade anymore. He never could with Alia around, and a deep laugh came out of his throat. 

"What did you say?" she hissed in her pinned captives ear.

Cal snorted with laughter again, he knew how that felt, he had never forgotten the times she put that move on him, only he wasn't eating mouthfuls of dirt, usually sand when they were sitting on the beach. He cleared his throat and composed himself and only just managed it. meeting her gaze he raised his eye brows a faction as she explained. 

"These idiots," He chewed the inside of his lip to stop himself from laughing as he heard the grunt from a knee to the kidney. He thought his temper was bad sometimes, it had nothing on hers.  "have been stealing jobs from my merc band. As you can see, they are useless against anyone who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty.

The oh so brave merc had been advancing but her glare was fierce, Callum always had thought it was fierce enough to pin a dragon. Knowing Alia like he did that was probably not so far from the truth, then she'd steal its damn horde just because she could.  Callum motioned with his head that told the man he was in deeper water and he stepped back.

"So I was proving a point." She flicked her eyes back to Callum, her grin resurfacing once more. "Businesswoman to businessman: you get it, right?"

"Oh i can see that." He said in a tone that told her that was obvious. he  rubbed his jaw and looked from one merc to the other than at his, well his bestie cause she was. 

Callum had a mean streak a mile wide, he always managed to keep it hidden but it was there, his brother had seen it once and said he must have got that from thier biological donor, usually he was an affable young man, good natured but on occassions there was a mean streak that showed its way through.H had forgotten the amount of times Alia had seen it and pointed out the obvious. He could put the fear of the void into someone by the way he spoke but when it came to the girls at the Pleasure Palace he could barely string two words together. She had not let him forget that when he had groused about it to her a few days after his 16th birthday. Not a present he wanted again that was for certain. 

"Leonard, how many jobs have you and your useless imbeciles stolen from this band?" he asked in a calm voice and he even put his arm around the merc captains shoulders all friendly. Callum cast a glance at Alia and tipped her half a wink. She would know what was coming. 

"Just business Mister Kennedy." 

"Not what i asked." Cal kept his arm around his shoulders "See you cheated her out of work, which is fine its business but then she goes and steals from me while your pissant crew can't even have archers ready or swordsmen ready to deal with it."  He was silent for a moment then held his hand out "The coin i paid you, give it."

"No thats for a job done!" the merc protested. 

"I will ask one more time. Give it NOW"  The squeeze on the mercs shoulder got harder and Callum moved his arm around the other mans throat "Or i let her cut your worthless balls off." He whispered close to the mans ear "Its just business, you get it right? and i am not fool enough to get in the way of HER business.

"Makers arse give him it!" The other merc took the three pouches of coin and handed it to the giant. 

"See if you are going to badmouth someone its business i get it, but you need to make sure they don't find out." He tossed each bag in his hand, one was lighter than it should have been but then he was hardly surprised, he was only surprised that he had got any of it back. 

Cal turned his attention to Alia and shrugged "So i am hiring you, " he tossed her two bags of coin and pocketed the other "unless you and your crew want to kick the tar out of these three i need to get back to Amaranthine. Whats it to be Allie love?" He tied Artos to the back of the wagon and climbed into the drivers seat after giving the back a curioso glance "and you can put back the Antivan Brandy but ill let you keep the rum" Honestly that woman had more pockets then he knew where to count, but he always knew when she had secreted stuff. "I am my grandmothers grandson" as if that answered it all

Callum understood business. "Oh i can see that," he agreed, rubbing at a remarkably chiselled jaw as he eyed up the different mercs in front of him. Ha! He was on her side, she knew it. His dark eyes always darkened a fraction whenever his ill-nature emerged from the deep vault where it was usually locked up.

"Leonard, how many jobs have you and your useless imbeciles stolen from this band?" He enquired of the idiot leader, slinging an arm around the man's shoulders. With any luck, he would tighten his arm and strangle the man using just the crook of his elbow. But that was probably too much for even Big C to manage. At least without a few practices beforehand.

"Just business Mister Kennedy."

"Not what i asked." Callum still rested his arm around the man's shoulders, but Alia was certain she could see Leonard's knees beginning to buckle from the weight of propping up said arm. Or maybe that was just from the belated realisation that things were about to go very badly for him. "See you cheated her out of work, which is fine its business but then she goes and steals from me while your pissant crew can't even have archers ready or swordsmen ready to deal with it." A deliberate pause, during which Alia kneed her wriggling captive yet again, before Callum then held out his open hand. "The coin i paid you, give it."

"No thats for a job done!"

"And if Cal hadn't been here, your job would already be done because I would have stolen it all!" Alia snapped.

"I will ask one more time. Give it NOW." Aha, there it was! Callum's hand squeezed around Leonard's throat. "Or i let her cut your worthless balls off."

"Ugh, but there's always so much blood," she complained. There was no hint that she was not speaking from direct experience.

Leaning forward, Callum whispered something else in the merc's ear. It had the desired effect. "Makers arse give him it!" he practically squealed, grabbing three pouches of coin and shoving it into Callum's other hand.

"See if you are going to badmouth someone its business i get it, but you need to make sure they don't find out." He weighed up the pouches. Leonard had probably stolen some of it prior to Callum's fingers closing off his air. Alia would have done the same.

With a shrug which emphasised that Callum understood how these things worked, he stated, "So i am hiring you."

But even as Alia protested, "only two?", he had already turned back to the thoroughly disgraced mercs. "Unless you and your crew want to kick the tar out of these three i need to get back to Amaranthine. Whats it to be Allie love?"

"Well, apparently, I'm to be cheated out of a fair wage," she grumbled, though the two coin pouches had already disappeared from sight. "But a job's a job. You lot!" She signalled to her three mercs, indicating that they should take up key positions around the wagon. "Get out of my sight, Leonard. I hear so much as a whisper that your lot are cheating us out of work, you're a dead man."

During this, Callum had been tying his horse to the back of the wagon. With Leonard and his pathetic crew scarpering off, Callum clambered up front, taking up the reins. He glances over his shoulder towards her. "and you can put back the Antivan Brandy but ill let you keep the rum. I am my grandmothers grandson."

Grinning widely, Alia did as she was told, putting back the brandy but stashing some of the rum... and the whisky which Callum had not noticed. He always thought he knew when she had stolen something, but that was because it suited her to let him think it. 

She hopped up next to Callum. With the wagon moving once more, she shouldered Callum with a companionable grunt. "What are you doing hiring mercs, anyway? Would have thought you and your brothers would have that handled personally." Their whole business was quite the family affair.

Chewing on the inside of her mouth, she added, "you know, the Pilgrim's Path is getting more and more risky." She anticipated his reaction. "Not from me, idiot. In general. More bandits. You should bear that in mind."
"Well, apparently, I'm to be cheated out of a fair wage," Alia grumbled but Callum ignored it, best to sometimes. "But a job's a job. You lot! "Get out of my sight, Leonard. I hear so much as a whisper that your lot are cheating us out of work, you're a dead man."

All said with a flourish that could only belong to Alia, one of the reasons Callum had grown to love this woman, not in the leering back alley type thing, although his new brothers in laws wondered about that sometimes, no, the love that one gave to a sister, or in Alia's case the sort of sister that you knew did everything you thought she had done, but could never prove it, woman could sell the wilds to the Chastened, he was sure of it, the way she talked herself out of trouble.


"What are you doing hiring mercs, anyway? Would have thought you and your brothers would have that handled personally." Alia shouldered his shoulder and got herself comfy. 

"Eyes off Artos, last time you borrowed him i didn't get him back for three days." Cal warned. He did get his boy back but the poor horse refused to got anywhere for a day or two after, "Just taking him for a run, she says." He shook his head and waited for her mercs to sort themselves out before clicking his tongue and rippling the reigns to guide the pony "Walk on." he clicked and fell silent for a moment then shrugged "Magdalena has had a little boy so her and Liam are in Antiva with her family, the goods..." he jerked his thumb over his shoulder "arrived three days earlier than they should have, but the merchant bringing them was not going to Amaranthine, so he put into Denerim. I had to go collect them and hiring that lot was easier than hiring the normal in the home city," He gave her a sideways look "apparently lots of Pirate activity in the Waking Sea at the moment." 

"you know, the Pilgrim's Path is getting more and more risky.

"You war-" he began but she soon shut him down. 

"Not from me, idiot. In general. More bandits. You should bear that in mind."

Normally he would have paid ear service to the gossip, he had heard the rumours but thats all he thought it was, rumours. There were other rumours too and now Alia had confirmed the ever-growing danger of the Pilgrims Path, he took a little more interest in it. 

"Don't go south for a while." He told her "Been rumours of smaller communities just vanishing over night, those in and around the Korchari Wilds." most people didnt pay anything like that lip service, but he had heard that the smaller communities, those that barely rated a head turn from thier Bann, or those that were set up by Bandits looking to make a quick coin on the few civilian roads out of the wilds had vanished too.  "Probably just horseshit but I've been hearing too many of them lately"  It was upto her if she listened or not but to emphasis his point he added "I would be very. very upset if something were to happen to you.

Cal moved his gretsword from his back scabbard to between his legs, resting the hilt against his thigh, within easy reach in case Leonard and the rest of his useless wazzocks decided to try and get thier money back, or someone with more about them. 

"So, aside from running with a bunchamercs, what else you been up to?" 
Although Big C didn't say anything, he got that faraway look which meant that he was mulling over what she had said. Good. She didn't warn just anyone about the comings and goings of the Pilgrim's Path. Well, not unless she was trying to sell the benefits of hiring her merc crew.

"Don't go south for a while," he provided his own warning. "Been rumours of smaller communities just vanishing over night, those in and around the Korchari Wilds."

Blowing out her cheeks, Alia rolled her eyes. "Cal, why in the Void would I," she gestured at herself, "be neaar the Korcari Wilds?" Occasionally, she would visit Denerim or Highever if hired or chasing a pay-off, but that was more the exception to the rule. Her life was in Amaranthine.

"Probably just horseshit but I've been hearing too many of them lately," he insisted before adding, "I would be very. very upset if something were to happen to you."

She let loose a bark of laughter, shoving him yet again. "Look at you, getting all soft in your old age!" If there was one thing of which Alia was certain: she had unbelievable luck. Nothing was going to happen to her.

Shifting his sword between his legs - and Alia resisted the urge to make a ribald comment because it was like shooting fish in a barrel when it was Callum - her oldest friend cast a curious glance towards her. 

"So, aside from running with a bunchamercs, what else you been up to?"

"Oh, you know, scraping a living," she waved away the question. Best that Callum did not know everything she had been up to... He would likely feel compelled to notify his merchant friends, and that would make Alia 'very very upset'. "Confounding the odds. Disproving certainties. The usual."

But talking about herself was boring. She sat up straighter, leaning close to Callum with no regard whatsoever for personal space. Narrowing her eyes, she pretended to examine him like some merchant checking for fakes amongst an unexpected haul. "Hmm." She pursed her lips, tipping her head first from one side then to the other. "That jaw line is definitely not as chiselled as I recall." A total lie but teasing Big C was one of her greatest pleasures. "Callum Stephen Kennedy, are you getting fat?" She poked at his stomach, shaking her head and sucking in a disapproving breath. "Sitting around laughing into all your piles of coin is making you soft."
"Oh, you know, scraping a living, Confounding the odds. Disproving certainties. The usual."


Yes the usual way that Alia dodged any question that she did not want to answer. "Never a straight answer." He sighed but accepted it anyway, because thats what you did when your oldest and closest friend told you what she wanted you to hear.  "Allie, you should know by now, i don't care who you, liberate from, just dont liberate my stuff." that was true enough, he had no love for many of the merchants in Amaranthine, but he was polite in thier society, even if he did think they were a bunch of vipers, no the only one he actually liked was that Terrell fella. His father did a lot of business with thier family, Callum didn't know him personally but the odd occasion they had met, he seemed a likeable fellow.

Now normally when a woman moved into Callums personal space he would shift away like a rabbit in the glare of the hunter, but as Alia moved closer to him he didn't even flinch, he didnt know why, he just never did. It wasn't as if he was shy of female attention, why wouldn't he be? he was handsome, he turned female heads at those flashy merchant dinners his parents were insisting he go to to get the lay of the land, but some women just scared the hell out of him, and he supposed it came down to this, Alia he could talk to on any level she never changed and she never ever expected him to give up and give out. Those women did. 

Callum could be an enigma sometimes, he could talk about anything with Alia but when someone else would ask him the same questions, he would clam up, it might have had something to do with that birthday present Liam gave him a few years ago, he was so nervous he was pretty sure he hadn't done it right. However he was not sure he liked how she was sizing him up, like some prize bull at a cattle market and the sniggers from her two fellows behind witnessing the antics did nothing to lighten that mood. 

"Hmm." He arched a deep red eyebrow as she moved her head one way then the other. "That jaw line is definitely not as chiselled as I recall."  the sniggering started again, better this merchant chump be the butt of her jokes then them. "Callum Stephen Kennedy, are you getting fat? Sitting around laughing into all your piles of coin is making you soft."

Now Callum knew she was teasing but even so, her words made him look at her and the raucous barking from her, well whatever they were, her lays when she was bored or whatever, did nothing to help the situation, and she used his full name, only his mother or, maker keep her, grandmother had ever used his full name, a no no. Alia did seem so pleased with herself at that, yup the tsking, oh so this was how it was going to be, right two could play that game. 

Callum remained silent for a moment letting the prats behind him have thier laughter, he really hated sycophants and for whatever reason  these guys seemed to suck up to her. He didn't know if she was their chief, then again, if she wasn't then she made sure they did as she told them. 

"You remember all the times you asked me if your arse looked big in this?" He heard the silence fall behind him, as if his words had suddenly switched a warning sign on on and the two mercs exchanged nervous looks with each other.  Callum was far far bolder with Alia than he ever normally would be and he looked down at her very shapely and toned thighs and around behind her.  His face perfectly poker straight with only the hint of mischief twinkling in his dark green eyes "I lied and it still looks big in those." and because the men's snickering had annoyed him more than her actual comment, aside from the full name thing "and they never told you, such a shame." and because of the whole full name thing he added "Boobs are smaller too as i remember." Well he couldn't use Alia's full name because he didn't know if even had a middle name, if she did she never told him so, women were vain and those two questions were ones men never answered if they were in thier right minds. 

Alia would be expecting a comeback of that he was sure, a sulk or a pout, but he was pretty sure no one had ever said how her backside looked too big or her boobs looked small, she had a great rack but he wasn't going to feed her ego about it.

"You might not make it back to Amaranthine with those words mate." the merc on the left the one with the black eye, commented hoping he was going to watch blood be spilt.

Callum turned halfway and fixed the guy with a stare, this guy didn't get it and he was not about to educate him on the finer points of his and Alia's long relationship. "Oh look at that, he thinks he's saving your honour, isn't that so sweet, do you fluff her pillows for her? rub her back when shes sick?" the sarcasm was so cutting and dripping because he didn't try and hide it, and then he  turned back moving the pony on again and could almost feel the daggers pointed at his back. "You not married yet then Allie?" He asked as if he hadn't just insulted her womanhood. "no beau in the shadows waiting for you to come home with the purse of gold or silver.
Ha! Big C was furious. Alia giggled with open glee, knowing she was poking the bear but having too much fun. Why did he allow himself to be riled so easily? He had to know that was part of the fun!

"You remember all the times you asked me if your arse looked big in this?" The poorly-smothered laughter from behind suddenly died out completely. Casting a swift glance over her shoulder, Alia winked at her trio of mercs, reassuring them that there was no need to pay any heed to whatever Callum said. It was all part of the game. "I lied and it still looks big in those. And they never told you, such a shame." He paused before adding, "Boobs are smaller too as i remember."

Unfortunately, her little trio weren't the smartest in the merc band (hence why she had been able to persuade them to challenge Leonard!). "You might not make it back to Amaranthine with those words mate."

Alia groaned, rolling her eyes. She folded her arms and slumped further down where she sat, knowing that the boys were going to have a little pissing contest now. Ugh, it was so boring. Well, it was not up to her to intervene in poor decisions. Let the four of them huff and puff at each other.  

"Oh look at that, he thinks he's saving your honour, isn't that so sweet, do you fluff her pillows for her? rub her back when shes sick?" What did Cal even think a merc's life was like? She snorted, her bad temper dissipating like morning mist in the breeze.

"You boys finished talking about me like I'm not here?" She first looked at Callum then deliberately hung out around the side of the wagon, fixing a pointed look on the loud-mouth merc. "When I start talking shit, I'll handle what comes of it, alright? Just keep watch like we're being paid to do."

She thumped back into her seat. "And don't pretend you didn't take a nice long look of my big arse right then, Big C." She grinned at him, unperturbed in the slightest. In fact, she cheerfully cupped her breasts over her leathers, which, admittedly prevented a proper squeeze but it would serve her point. Besides, Callum blushed at anything. "And if they are smaller, they're still a good handful, so I think I'll be just fine. Thanks for the concern though!"

Whether deliberate or not, Callum changed the subject. "You not married yet then Allie?" Given the return to a conversational tone, Alia guessed that it was intended as a genuine question rather than a lead-in to some insult. "No beau in the shadows waiting for you to come home with the purse of gold or silver."

"Got married Summerday," she declared cheerfully. She clasped her hands beneath her chin and leaned into Callum, sighing wistfully. "He's just so dreamy." Unable to keep a straight face, she burst into peals of laughter, straightening where she sat. "No, seriously, I did get married. He's as good looking as my arse is big," she poked her tongue out at him before grinning widely. "Got to know each other back in Drakonis. Like, know each other." She elbowed him again, waggling her eyebrows suggestively. "So why not get married? Could be dead tomorrow!"

Humming beneath her breath, a glint of sunlight off metal caught her attention. "Hey, Cal," she slapped him lightly on the shoulder with the back of her hand, "pull up." With agile ease, she hopped down from the wagon, reaching for her battle axe. But when she neared, she realised that the glint had been from the metal binding a chest, not from a weapon. The area was deserted. That just meant that the chest now belonged to Alia!

Still, she frowned, dropping down beside it and wiggling the large padlock as if it would just fall off. "Damn it," she muttered. "Think we could smash it open?"
Well the teasing was over and he even allowed a wry smile to cross his face, she never took any offence from him, just as he never took any offence from her. This was why she was his best friend and this was the reason his grandmother and mother had tolerated him hanging around with her, she just seemed to bring out the best side of him, and with Alia he never had to worry about a thing. 

"Got married Summerday,"

"HAH" He laughed at her "heart smitten" antics "Thats a a few gold Liam owes me." 

A couple of years ago he and Liam had got into a discussion about who they thought would be married within the next couple of years. When Callum had said Alia Liam had laughed so hard he nearly had a coughing fit. The two had made it a bet with Liam adamant that no sane man would be able to handle Alia.

"He's just so dreamy." Her straight face vanished and he chuckled as she burst into laughter and sat straighter once more. "No, seriously, I did get married. He's as good looking as my arse is big," she poked her tongue out at him  "Got to know each other back in Drakonis. Like, know each other." She elbowed him again,waggling her eyebrows suggestively.

"More information than i needed to know." he was sure she did it to get a reaction.

"So why not get married? Could be dead tomorrow!"

Callum had to admit she had a point they could be, A comfortable silence fell between them and he heard her hum the old tune He was about to turn the pony and wagon onto the side of the road so the poor creature could rest when Alia seemed to have the same idea, all be it for totally different reason. 

"Hey, Cal pull up."  He watched as she hopped down and looked around her, a triumphant smirk on her face 

He watched as she approached then crouched down by the chest that was just sitting there. "Alia," He moved his hand to his sword "A chest just laying on the side of the road, something is off here." His warning fell on deaf ears, honestly the woman was like a magpie and now little magpie had that in her sights she wanted it. "Alia!" He found himself cringing as he realised how like his grandmother he sounded when she had seen Alia do something that did not please her. 

"Damn it," she muttered. "Think we could smash it open?"

Callum looked around him and muttering a thousand and one curses, all of which would have got a ear twist had his mother been within earshot, he hopped down and told the three stooges to watch his merchandise. "Alia you never listen, you tell me what idiot leaves a chest in the open on the Pilgrims Path?"

There was another reason Callum had been asked to escort the goods back, one of the more vile merchants had lost out on a deal to Stephen and Moira, These goods he was bringing back was part of that deal and merchant Corvino had not been happy about it. Stephen had warned his son that something might happen, He was beginning to wish he had left the lot in Denerim and caught an Amaranthine bound ship the next day. 

"Leave it little magpie." he snorted in annoyance and went to make his way back to the wagon when shouts erupted from the thicket nearby "What did i tell you!" he called over his shoulder in the same I told you so tone she had used with him on so many occassions. "Frack it." The mercs wore the colours of a merc band he knew was associated with Corvino. He also had the sneaky suspicion that some of those merchants that Alia had mentioned getting robbed were getting robbed by that man and his unofficial band of highwaymen. 

"The chest is yours Kennedy." The leader motioned "Compensation for the goods we are about to liberate Just Business you understand. Ser Corvino does not like to be outplayed, you know that." 

Callum narrowed his eyes and readied his large Greatsword "First man that steps near my wagon looses his head." a strangely dark tone had taken his voice and it was not one he used in a while. 

"Take the payment Kennedy, you are too young to die and i am sure your parents will accept it as a loss rather than loose thier youngest son." the pockmarked man glanced at Alia "Whose this? Your girlfriend? Whatcha doing with him pretty one, come sit over here with me." 




Always one step behind, Callum was only just getting down off the cart. That just meant the chest was definitely Alia's - finder keepers! He was muttering on about something but Alia wasn't really listening. Big C was always worried about something or other. Sometimes, it was best just to do something and not worry at all!

"Leave it little magpie," he advised, evidently realising that she wasn't paying him any heed. He made to turn back to the cart but then shouts sounded from nearby. "What did i tell you!" He shot in her direction before surveying the advancing mercs. "Frack it."

Easy come, easy go. Shrugging off the disappointment of being deprived of her prize, Alia gripped her battle axe, moving into a ready position behind Callum. Her three companions spread out around the cart. She gave them a nod of acknowledgement. She might be a thief - well, there was no 'might' about it - but she did belong to a merc group, and these three were decent at their jobs.

"The chest is yours Kennedy." The leader of the ambushers declared. Alia momentarily brightened. Maybe she would get something shiny out of this? "Compensation for the goods we are about to liberate Just Business you understand. Ser Corvino does not like to be outplayed, you know that."

Andraste's arse. She could hardly take what was in the chest if Callum was to lose his goods, could she? Well, aside from the goods he had lost to her... but what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him. But Corvino was a nasty piece of work. He tended to focus on people who hired a different standard of mercs than Alia's lot so she had not many encounters with him. But reputation preceded and all that.

Raising his sword, Callum stared down the leader. "First man that steps near my wagon looses his head."

Oh, shit. Big C was pissed.

"Take the payment Kennedy, you are too young to die and i am sure your parents will accept it as a loss rather than loose thier youngest son." The leader glanced towards Alia. "Whose this? Your girlfriend? Whatcha doing with him pretty one, come sit over here with me."

"Ew, no!" Her face scrunched up in distaste. Callum's girlfriend? That was just weird. Yet it was only when the man scowled that she realised how he had interpreted her reaction. Oh... well, that was also appropriate. The man was gross. "But hey, maybe you want to come closer so I can get a proper look at you?" What was amusing was that Alia got just the right tempting allure in her voice that the man actually did step forward. She would never not get a kick out of how easily some people could be coerced.

"Hey, I'm a married woman!" she yelled, grabbing a handful of pebbles from her feet and throwing them over the man. He held his hands up to protect himself from the tiny shrapnel as she barked at her three mercs: "Oi, you three! This would be the kind of shit that I do want you to get involved in!" Obligingly, they threw themselves into the fray, tackling the lackeys so that Callum had only the leader to worry about.

Whirling around, she grinned up at Callum. "I got your back, Big C. Knock him into next week."
Did he just ask if Alia was his girlfriend? oh gross, Callum glanced at her for a moment. They were like brother and sister and well she was married for Makers sake. But as ever his Allie had it all in hand. 

"Ew, no!" Alia obviously had the same thought, they always did.  "But hey, maybe you want to come closer so I can get a proper look at you?

shes never flirting with him? Seriously.

"Hey, I'm a married woman!" if Callum wasn't annoyed at the impudence of the mercs he would have snorted his laughter at her "indignant" shout "Oi, you three! This would be the kind of shit that I do want you to get involved in!"

oh maybe they aren't so useless after all. 


"I got your back, Big C. Knock him into next week." and there was her trademark grin, 

clever lass he thought to himself and brought his greatsword up to block the sword that had come down in his direction. The clash caused pockmark to stagger back stunned and Cal swung his sword round his head and swept the man off his feet. He felt someone leap on his back and ended up doing a dance with one of the mercs who had retreated from Alia's bunch Cal drove his shoulder forwards throwing the merc off him and kicked him in the face in turn to be staggered by a face full of shield 

"Should have taken the chest boy!" Pockmark sneered "Now your parents will be mourning you." 

Cal spat blood as it dripped from his nose with a growl turned bringing his sword across and the sickening sound of head severed from neck rang in his ears. With a grunt he kicked the head high looping it into the middle of the group scuffling with Alia's mercs. Bending down he plucked the chest key from the body and turning he shouldered his sword "Kick his balls into next week Allie." He grinned and grabbed one of Corvinos mercs punched him to the ground and stood with his boot on hie neck. "I'd stay there if i were you for a moment." He breathed and wiped his nose. That actually hurt. "Now i expect Corvino is in Amaranthine yes?" Cal placed the tip of his sword on the mercs groin "Where?

"I dont know. the chief would know but you killed him!" 

"Hmm, his fault not mine." he pressed the sword a little harder "You can tell me or you can tell her, or i cut your balls off i mean she can do it but my blade is sharper, hers might be a bit bloody, might be blunt..." he shrugged. He gave Alia a sideways glance "Your choice pal"
With his back-up in place, Callum demonstrated why it was a really dumb idea to piss him off. Unless you were Alia. But she only did it because she could hide in places Callum was too gigantic to fit.

However, while Big C was occupied with the leader, Alia was keeping her promise of guarding his back. Two tried their luck but she had no issue in kicking them where it really hurt then using her axe to hack at whatever got in the way. The next thing she heard was the 'thunk' of a head being severed. She wrinkled her nose. She hadn't the strength to just behead people whenever she liked! Then, because Callum was really gross, he kicked the head into the midst of the entangled group of mercs (hers and the weirdo loser). She was glad she was scuffling with these idiots instead to be honest.

Ever helpful, Callum gave her some timely advice. "Kick his balls into next week Allie." She grunted but did as she was told because... well, why not? It was a good suggestion!

While Alia dealt with her attackers, Callum interrogated one of the minions, pressing a boot against the man's throat. "I'd stay there if i were you for a moment." He wiped his bloody nose against his sleeve. "Now i expect Corvino is in Amaranthine yes?" He balanced the tip of his blade against the man's (miniscule) groin. "Where?"

"I dont know. the chief would know but you killed him!"

"Hmm, his fault not mine." He applied a little more pressure on the sword prompting the man to squeak in protest. "You can tell me or you can tell her, or i cut your balls off i mean she can do it but my blade is sharper, hers might be a bit bloody, might be blunt..." He gave a little shrug and then cast Alia a sidelong glance. "Your choice pal"

"I-I don't know!" the man repeated, frantic now. So frantic that Alia was inclined to believe him. "But this morning, the chief disappeared for an hour. Think he headed down to the docks."

Alia rolled her eyes, coming to stand beside Callum. "Oh, because that's so difficult to work out," she leaned forward, "in a port town."

"No, wait, please! He was... was eating a pie when he came back!"

That made her ears perk up. "What did it look like?"

"Like a pie but it smelled amazing."

She clicked her fingers, knowing exactly where this Corvino had met the merc leader. Well, not exactly, but in her line of (unofficial) work, it wasn't necessary to know precisely where something was in order to thieve it. Just the general area and a bit of searching!

"There's only one place a shady deal would go down and where you can buy the most amazing pie," she informed Callum. "He's hiding out near the eastern warehouses. Usually busy with the Bann's business except," she turned and kicked at the sod, grinning at her cleverness, "on a market day. They change their routine for the morning."
"I-I don't know! But this morning, the chief disappeared for an hour. Think he headed down to the docks."

"Oh, because that's so difficult to work out," Alia had come to join him now and her sarcasm dripped as she spoke her words. Then she leaned forward, and in a tone that even Callum had not really heard before added, "in a port town." it was as if she were addressing a simpleton on the blatantly obvious. 

"No, wait, please! He was... was eating a pie when he came back!"

"What did it look like?"

"Like a pie but it smelled amazing."

"There's only one place a shady deal would go down and where you can buy the most amazing pie,"

Callum nodded at her words, He knew where she meant, it was how he had managed to find her on occassions back in the day.  Sometimes you took your life in your hands eating any form of food from the docks district, but that place, yup Alia was right, they did make the most amazing pies and Callum found his mouth watering as he thought  of thier amazing, and yes again she was right AMAZING meat and potato pie. Briefly he was reminded of either having to buy her one or risk having her snatch it from his hand and take a huge bite of it in front of him claiming it as hers.

"He's hiding out near the eastern warehouses. Usually busy with the Bann's business except," she turned and kicked at the sod, grinning at her cleverness, "on a market day. They change their routine for the morning."

"Which of course you would know in the er course of your day to day." Callum retorted. He knew exactly what Alia's day to day was. 

Alia was not wrong, he had forgotten how many times he had helped Stephan set up for market day, one of the busiest days of the month for them all. everyone from blue bloods to normal bloods walked the streets those days, you could have a shop or a stall every other day but market day could make or break a business. Thankfully his family had been lucky on Market Day and when the taxes had all been paid and duties, they still walked away with profit. One day they might not be. 

Going over to the Chiefs corpse he pulled the key from the bloodied belt and sheathed his sword. Callum paused for a moment and called over his shoulder "and when were you supposed to tell, Serrah Corvino it was all done?

"Don't know." The man groaned "the chief had the papers." 

Callum looked back at the corpse sighed and went back to it, he wasn't above getting his hands dirty. kneeling down he glanced over at the head "Should have killed you after i knew everything." he sighed again and patted the pocket taking out a rolled sheet of bloodied parchment. Getting up he returned to the chest and opened it His eyebrow climbing at the gold and silver mixed in there. 

"Generous but not nearly enough considering what that deal brings in. Still." he slammed the lid shut and, because he knew Alia he locked it and slipped the key somewhere he knew she would never look to pocket it from. "You three get this on the back of the wagon. you can take the pouches and whatever else of value they had on them for yourselves." 

Callum sat beside the chest. He had an inside pocket inside his britches where he kept more important things and because of where it was he knew Alia would not even dare dipping her hand there. He unfurled the paper then looked at the blood stained writing. making out a couple of words here and there but it was enough. 

"Warehouse five-nine-one." He called "Last watch bell." Callum scowled a little at the irony, that was the warehouse across from his fathers. "Cheeky bastard." Now he looked at the groaning man "Dead or alive?" he lent his arm on the chest a wry grin crossing his clean shaven jaw, He knew she wanted in there, her eyes told him that much "and you'll get your share when we get to Amaranthine." 

It would be a big share too, depending on how it went down he would decide the percentage. Alia may not be able to read but even Callum knew when it come to money she was as sharp as a Dwarf on market day. He had heard all the stories through the years of those who had tired to cheat his Allie out of her due because she was illiterate. More fool them, not being able to read did not mean she did not know the weight of a pouch by touch and feel alone. 

"Oh slit his throat." Cal sighed and made a sucking sound with the inside of his lip "i am going to enjoy, humiliating Corvino. And i know just how to do it," 




Never one to miss an opportunity to wind her up, Callum shot Alia a pointed look after she revealed her deductions. "Which of course you would know in the er course of your day to day."

She rolled her eyes. Oh, so very clever of him to realise that she dabbled in a bit of thievery. Yes, so very very clever... especially as she had absolutely never on any occasion at all whatsoever pickpocketed Callum. Or nabbed a few things from his grandmother's market stall. Or snuck something from a trade caravan belonging to his parents. Or just outright nicked a coin purse from his brother. Yes, it was really so remarkable that one of her oldest friends knew she was a thief.

Without paying her any further heed, Callum moved over to the corpse of the merc leader, pulling a key from the dead man's bloodied belt. "And when were you supposed to tell, Serrah Corvino it was all done?" he called over his shoulder.

"Don't know," the man replied amid a groan. "The chief had the papers."

Kneeling down by the corpse, Callum ruffled through the blood-soaked clothing. "Should have killed you after i knew everything." He gave another sigh, probably regretting have to dirty his hands with that tosser's bodily fluids. However, when he rose, there was a roll of parchment clasped in his hands. 

Ignoring that for the moment, he moved over to the chest and unlocked it. Naturally, Alia was close on his heels, keen to see just how much was within the grasp of her sticky little fingers. Her wide eyes reflected the glitter of gold and silver practically overflowing the chest. 

"Generous but not nearly enough considering what that deal brings in. Still." Almost as though Callum could sense the tingling of her finger tips, he slammed the lid shut before Alia could lighten the chest of a few of the coins. She harrumphed as she watched Big C hide the key too close to something she would never ever risk brushing her fingers against. Ew, no.

"You three get this on the back of the wagon," he spoke to her three mercs, and she nodded to signal that they should do as they were ordered. "You can take the pouches and whatever else of value they had on them for yourselves."

Generous but not as generous as giving Alia full ownership of the chest. She stuck her tongue out at him before going to help her men, leaving Callum to gather his thoughts. Only once all the dead were picked clean of valuables and the wagon groaning under the excessive weight of the chest (damn it, why wasn't she a better lockpick?) did Alia return to where Callum was poring over the parchment.

"Warehouse five-nine-one," he revealed. "Last watch bell." His features darkened a little. "Cheeky bastard."

Then, seeming to remember the situation at hand, he raised his head to focus on the still-groaning merc. "Dead or alive?" He threw a casual arm over the chest, flashing her a grin which would likely have sent any other woman weak at the knees. For Alia, however, it only irritated her. Smarmy toad, she thought to herself. "And you'll get your share when we get to Amaranthine."

"Oh, you better believe it," she retorted. "A substantial share, Big C. Or else." 'Or else' could mean any number of things when it came to Alia. Maybe she would launch her own bandit attack on a Kennedy trade wagon (not likely) or maybe she would just ensure that Big C never managed to ever get first bite of another pie in his life (very likely). Either way, it was in Callum's best interests to appease her.

"Oh slit his throat," Cal gestured to the man. Obligingly, Alia took out her dagger and did the deed, suppressing any pitiful attempts by the man to evade his inevitable fate.  "i am going to enjoy, humiliating Corvino. And i know just how to do it," Callum added.

"Excellent. You can add my fee onto what you owe us for sorting out this mess," she gestured to the blood-soaked surroundings. Jumping up onto the front of the wagon, she signalled that the mercs should take up their positions and that Callum should resume driving the wagon.

Only when they were on their way did she speak again. "I'm with you on this, Big C, but you need to let my men go once we reach the city," she spoke quietly so they couldn't overhear. "My merc company is the right side of the law. What I do on my own time is my business, but I can't drag them into it." Not only would it invite censure from her higher-up's but it would also cut into her share of profit from all of this. 

No sooner had they arrived within the city than Alia released the men, elbowing Callum until he coughed up their fairly-earned fee. If he tried to give her what she had earned, she would shove it back at him. Not because she didn't want it, but because he was about to add a lot more onto it.

"So how and when we taking this Corvino down?" She grinned, good humour returning. She was not a hardened cut-throat but she relished causing chaos. "Do I get to steal something?"