Hide and Seek and Seek and Seek [complete]

((22 Cloudreach, 35 Dragon, Vigil’s Keep with ))

Vigil’s Keep was simply sprawling! It seemed to go on forever, stretching in every direction with stairs and bends and little nooks everywhere. Asa tried to imagine Delilah growing up here, in a place so large and drafty. She tried to imagine Delilah as a child, and guess where her favorite places to hide might have been. She tried to imagine that, because she was currently playing an unwilling game of hide and seek with Ylsa.

Asa started with the yard, methodically checking each tree that grew within the borders before moving on to things like the little potting shed far in the back, and for a panicked minute, the shed where the sparring weapons were located. She’d only turned away for a moment, and having been caring for Delilah’s children as long as she had, knew that was her first mistake. For all that she loved the Terrell children as her own, there was no denying that James had instilled a love of exploring in her young daughter.

Once she’d determined that Ylsa was not hiding in any tree, she moved to the sparring area, silently praying that she wasn’t there. Sure enough, Asa found only Wardens training in the yard, and no sign of her daughter whatsoever.

Asa picked the closest one to her, a startlingly tall man with hair redder than any she’d ever seen. She’d not seen him before, but then again, she couldn’t say that she recognized any of the Wardens by their face, save perhaps the perpetually angry Dalish woman, but that probably explained itself.

Excuse me, Ser Warden,” she started before realizing her voice would never be heard above the din of the training grounds. She got as close as she dared and raised it up a little louder. “Please, Ser Warden. Have you seen a little girl, running around with a ragged doll?
It had been a, stressful few days for the young Amaranthine raised warrior, come to think of it, it had been a stressful month. No sooner had Avos and he arrived at the Vigil he as given a bunk, although they had to make a new one for him given his height. He was fitted for Warden armour and his sword was to be repaired from all its nicks over the years. 

When he did finally settle in, he made the trip to his mothers house in Amaranthine, Avos had advised not wearing anything that denoted him as a Grey Warden, he said there were, tensions. Callum had never seen his mother cry, he did now. Once he had sat down and told his family what had happened and that he was now, for better or ill, a Grey Warden. After  much talking and sometimes arguing, it was decided that Liam and his family would move to Denerim and take over the business there. Liam had been, "aware" of his little brothers less than legal dealings but paid it no mind. Callum had had four helpings of his mothers suckling roast pig and when he returned to the vigil he had another three of whatever was on the go. 

Hopefully this, taint would settle down, he didn't want to look like a Bann over stuffed on fine foods, but to his surprise, he didn't grow round around the stomach, his trainer had told him when he asked that the taint worked faster than a metabolism. You could eat all you want but it would be burnt off in a matter of hours. He had also started bulking out and that was more to do with the training he was being put through. He had skills but he needed to refine them. In fact he had got up this morning and noticed his stomach was more flatter and defined than it had been a few weeks ago. 

So now, here he was just finishing off a training routine, sweating like some whore in a brothel, when a tiny voice buzzed up, then raised against the noise of sword clash. 

"Excuse me, Ser Warden"  Cal  looked around then down a little “Please, Ser Warden. Have you seen a little girl, running around with a ragged doll?

Callum set his sword to the side and sat on one of the benches and scratched his now growing dark red hair and the growing beard that was hugging his lower face a little closely now than it normally had. The woman that addressed him was much smaller than he was with brown hair and eyes. He raised his brows and looked around. 

Did they even allow children to run around the keep? he thought. "Um, no mistress, i cannot say i have um do you need help finding her?

Callum had always been raised to be a mindful young man, although his months in Denerim had proved that he really was something entirely different although much of his idiosyncrasies still held true, he could be a nasty piece of work when his temper was riled. Something he was working on. He didn't need people knowing that he had sent some rivals to live the lives of slaves in the Imperium when they crossed him. So, he learnt to keep that very very quiet. Thankfully he learnt that the Wardens didn't ask questions on your past, not even his brother knew the extent of his misdemeanors, one of those traits was still very much true, for all his growling and nasty work, he was still nervous around women. 

He was no vestal virgin thanks to his brother and a few short weeks ago his brother in law, but in general women made him nervous, he supposed in time that might pass but for now he would just deal, Still didn't stop him shifting a little where he sat. and the maker knew when some of the women in this place saw him and the suggestions they had made to help him burn off six helpings of Roasted Boar made him colour as dark as his hair. 

The very tall Warden looked around before finally looking down at her. Asa tried to keep panic from her voice and her face. Ylsa had wandered off before, and she always turned up. That didn’t mean that she wasn’t worried, but she had a better chance of finding her daughter if she stayed cool in the crisis.

"Um, no mistress, i cannot say i have um do you need help finding her?" the man offered.

A small ‘o’ formed on her mouth as it surprised her. She’d not expected a Grey Warden to drop whatever important thing he was doing to assist her. She nodded, then put on a tight smile. “I would, thank you. It will be easier to find her with more eyes and hands.

Asa led the way, away from the places she’d already searched. “She looks a little like me: light brown face, dark hair, but she’s petite for her age. She has hazel eyes.” Asa was not overly tall, but she wasn’t short either. The same could not be said for Ylsa’s diminutive and absent father. “She has a ragdoll named Chevalier.” Which was a silly name for a doll, but Ylsa thought it was the most beautiful name in all the world, so Chevalier it was.

Heart pounding they hurried toward a pond Asa had not even been aware existed. Finding no trace of her wayward daughter, they backtracked to the Keep itself. She ducked down to see if there was a crevice below the stairs, and finding none, she gestured that perhaps they check the inside.

I’m afraid I don’t know the layout of Vigil’s Keep,” she said. “This is sort of my first time here.” She stopped at a T in the hallway, one leading to a flight of stairs, the other down a hallway full of doors.

“I’m Asa, by the way.” It only seemed polite to give her name. “I’m here with Bann Terrell.” Bann Terrell, who had the good sense not to bring her children to Vigil’s Keep, at least this day. Asa winced with embarrassment. “I’m sort of a nanny. I promise you that I do not make it a habit of losing children.
The woman looked totally surprised that he, or any warden for that matter, should offer to help her after all it made sense, a child running around a warden keep that was busy with swords, daggers and arrows flying could result in loss of said childs limb eye or, Maker forbid, her life. 

I would, thank you. It will be easier to find her with more eyes and hands.

Well that was true enough, and not meaning to put too fine a point on it, he was taller so could peer over walls and sheds better than someone of the concerned mothers height. Children, they could stop your heart, make you angry, frustrated, and happy all in a mix of emotions. He was the same with his young Niece and Nephew and, he had lost count of the times they had made him feel all those things when they were playing hide and fetch. 

She looks a little like me: light brown face, dark hair, but she’s petite for her age. She has hazel eyes. She has a ragdoll named Chevalier.

Callum nodded not commenting on the name of the ragdoll, his niece called hers Mabari even though it looked like some girl from a children's book, and to children thier dolls or teddies seemed to have lives of thier own that only they could understand. He let the mother talk on as he cleaned his sword and put it in his scabbard, then handed it to the master of arms explaining where he was going. The woman smirked a little, going to find a hiding child was one thing going with a sword was another entirely, they wanted to find the child not scare her into midweek. 

"My niece calls her Mabari." He commented more to put the concerned mother at ease rather than anything else. 

I’m afraid I don’t know the layout of Vigil’s Keep, This is sort of my first time here.”

"It's fine mistress, i have only been here a couple of weeks or so," he hoped to put her ease although while they searched for her missing child it might not be working.  Callum followed her inside and they checked every room until they came to a T shaped corridor. For some bizarre reason Callum was reminded of having to play a similar game with James Terell some months back, only that included said child climbing the roof of the merchants building. 

I’m Asa, by the way. ’m here with Bann Terrell.”  Cal saw the embarrassed wince. “I’m sort of a nanny. I promise you that I do not make it a habit of losing children.

Callum stopped walking for a moment and arched an eyebrow, if she was a sort of nanny to the Banns Children he assumed then this would explain much and an amused chuckle escaped his throat. "i am Callum. Nanny you say, well that explains a lot." Cal tapped his bottom lip "I was at a merchants dinner on behalf of my mother some months ago and i came across Young James."  Callum smiled at the memory "He thought i was a giant so, i pretended to be a giant.

Now he had to think, if he was James or Asa's child, where would they hide which would cause the most mischief. Callum went down the stairs and opened the door. For some bizarre reason he called out "I am Usmir Fire Hair, friend to little lord James. Come out come out wherever you are." He looked at Asa and shrugged "Kids bring out the kid in me." 

It didn't help that there were more doors off this corridor and in truth if he recalled the history of the place when the Wardens took over, this led to a detention area. Callum did not like the sound of that, he had heard the horror tales and as he went from door to door calling the same sentance in the same deep voice he used with James that time, he had a slightly more urgent step in his walk. 



The Warden in question admitted to only being at the Keep a few weeks, but that was a few weeks more than she had! Her hopes of finding Ylsa quickly raised considerably.

"i am Callum,” he introduced himself. “Nanny you say, well that explains a lot." She looked at him with her wide eyes, waiting for him to explain. "I was at a merchants dinner on behalf of my mother some months ago and i came across Young James." Oh, that made more sense. She matched Callum’s smile with her own characteristic tight one. "He thought i was a giant so, i pretended to be a giant."

That sounds like our James,” she said, her affection for the boy unmistakable in her tone. “And he is not wrong.” Callum was, indeed, possibly the tallest man she’d met, though she met few people in her life before joining the Terrell household. She realized that could have been taken wrong, and tried to hide her blush by falling in a step behind him as he chose a direction to go.

He chose the stairs, taking them down the short flight to a door, and when he threw the door open, his voice boomed. "I am Usmir Fire Hair, friend to little lord James. Come out come out wherever you are." He shrugged as his eyes turned back to Asa. "Kids bring out the kid in me."

Do I need to worry about losing you, too?” she asked, timid even in her joke.

They ventured into what turned out to be a larder of some sort. Piles of dry goods lined the walls and shelves, and baskets of tubers the were stacked here and there. Asa walked carefully around, peeking behind anything small enough for a small person to get into. She was not hiding behind the sacks of flour or bins of turnips. A lump of worry formed in her belly as she started looking at the higher shelves, not counting out Ylsa’s newfound love of climbing.

A small crack just about the right size behind one of the shelves caught her attention as she ran her hands over the ones she couldn’t quite see. “I think there’s a passage here. Can you help me move this shelf?” She started taking things off of it. The opening was just big enough that it was possible Ylsa had slipped through, and a passage like this did seem to beckon curiosity. “Do you know where this leads?” It was clearly used, not being overgrown with cobwebs. A servant’s passage, perhaps? That seemed an awfully inconvenient passage to use daily in such a way. “Perhaps if you call down it as the giant? I bet James has told her of the giant he met. This would be an excellent place to look for one.
That sounds like our James, And he is not wrong.

Callum heard the affection clearly in Asa's voice when she mentioned James. and he couldn't blame her for that, honestly it was hard not to feel affectionate over the young lad. Callum smirked in response and nodded a little in acknowledgement. As they did a room by room search though, Callum made sure he was in front. just in case something nasty still lurked in these old halls although to be honest he wasn't getting any of that buzzing sing song in his head so he relaxed a little. 

Do I need to worry about losing you, too?”  Asa asked when Callum told her kids tended to bring out the big kid in him. 

"I don't know, its not like i would be easy to loose." He said with a slight smirk of amusement on his lips. 

Callum searched the larder with Asa and where she could not reach, he did. Cal climbed up on the shelving a little to peer behind anything else that a small child could easily get behind. His attention was drawn to Asa when she called out to him. 

I think there’s a passage here. Can you help me move this shelf?

Callum helped her move things off the shelf then telling her to move a little he shifted the shelf, which surprised him a little he was never a weakling but it seemed that his strength was, more than he thought. "Thats it, soon as we find her i am going to find my mother and ask her if i really am kin to a giant."

He knew he wasn't and he was keeping light of the situation, truth was he was still trying to learn about his warden abilities. This was something different. The opening was just big enough.Big enough for a curious child and big enough for her mother for him it was a slight squeeze but he managed it. although he managed to grab a bag of hidden cookies as he went, seemed someone did know this was here, well they could do without thier cookies now. there was a more urgent need. He suspect one of the Vigils Dwarfs or maybe an elf if they wanted quiet time.  

Do you know where this leads?” He shook his head, and was privately relieved that there were no cobwebs here. “Perhaps if you call down it as the giant? I bet James has told her of the giant he met. This would be an excellent place to look for one.”

"Call down as the giant, right." Callum scratched his beard and putting his fingers to his lips whispered "Quiet as a mouse for this to work." Glancing down he was grateful for the plate armour boots. he raised his feet and slammed his foot down hard so the echo of the armour rang round and made his already deep voice much deeper "Fe fi fo fum hiding little girl makes Usmir fun." he glanced at Asa to see if there was was the barest hint of a smile, this so was not what a badass former gangster did. He slammed his other foot down so it echoed more "be she awake or be she asleep. Usmir Firehair has Cookies to eat!
Cal helped her move the shelf, swinging it open with ease. Asa stepped out of his way as he took the gentlemanly route of going first into the semi-dark tunnel.

"Call down as the giant, right." He scratched at his beard, and gave her the sign to be quiet by crossing his lips with a single finger. "Quiet as a mouse for this to work."

Of course. Nothing spooked a giant hunter like the threat of your mother finding you. She smiled and nodded her understanding.

Cal stomped his feet hard on the ground, the stone and his armor making a mighty sound on the stairs. "Fe fi fo fum hiding little girl makes Usmir fun." Asa had to put a hand over her mouth to still a laugh. "be she awake or be she asleep. Usmir Firehair has Cookies to eat!"

You’ll bring half the children of Amaranthine with that promise. We’re going to have to make good on it.” She stifled a laugh again and ventured down the stairs behind him. The passage was clearly well-used, the stairway short and leading to a hallway that was lined with enough torches to make passage easy.

Thank goodness this isn’t some Deep Roads tunnel,” she said, the lightness of a moment ago flitting away as she thought about how lucky she possibly was. Her own parents would never have taken their eyes off of her long enough to run away. She couldn’t help but wonder if she was somehow a terrible parent for not being as cautious as they were. Of course, if she were, she would not share the bond with Delilah that she did, and they might not have their children any longer. "You must think me neglectful, to just lose my little girl in a fortress like this."

As the hallway leveled out, Asa thought she heard a small laugh and a scamper of feet. She looked up at Cal and nodded for him to keep going. Usmir the giant went down the stairs ahead of her, watching for anything that might jump out. Oh, Asa knew she looked helpless, and unless she wanted to cause quite a stir, she was, and she appreciated the show of chivalry. It wasn’t often she was treated to such a thing!

The scamper of feet ran on, and a tiny voice rang out, “Catch me!” A howl of laughter followed, definitely moving away from them.
It seemed his impersonation of a giant caused Asa some sort of amusement, and truth be told, since that night at the merchants dinner he kind of liked it and in a way he liked that it caused Asa some amusement, it seemed to ease her concern a little and in the long run, that was what was important. 

You’ll bring half the children of Amaranthine with that promise. We’re going to have to make good on it."

Callum inclined his head a little. that was true enough "My mother makes the sweetest crumbliest cookies in all Amaranthine, sweet enough to bring a Qunari with a sweet tooth running for it i guarantee it.

As they continued the search for Yisa Callum noticed that he was also relaxed, well more than he would normally be around a lady, maybe it was her easy going nature but whatever it was he was grateful for it. 

Thank goodness this isn’t some Deep Roads tunnel,”  There was a distinct sound of relief in the woman's tone. "You must think me neglectful, to just lose my little girl in a fortress like this."

"Why would i think that? A neglectful mother wouldn't care that her child is missing. a neglectful mother doesnt give a thought about the dangers said missing child could be in." He held her gaze for a moment then cleared his throat "When i was a boy, a friend convinced me to climb the chantry roof. Well i thought  i was the cleverest kid going until i slipped on the shingle and fell and broke my ankle." He rubbed his nose "My grandmother read me the riot act, after the healer had set my ankle." He looked in another room "Now she was looking after my brother and I whilst our parents were away on business. If my Grandmother didn't care about us, then she would not have batted an eyelid when i broke my ankle. So no, i do not think you are anything of the sort." He gave her a sideways glance "My grandmother grounded me.

They were looking through more rooms when the sound of little scampering feet caught the Grey Wardens attention. That and a childlike giggle. 

"Catch me!” The laughter echoed through the caverns. 

Callum cocked his head listening for the echo and gave a half smile, "She's not far." he whispered. Heaving a sigh he kicked a barrel making it sound like a Giant had stomped his way through even more. "I not like little people in my home!" He deepened his voice once more "Little people give me headache. Only little Usmir likes is Master James. He friend to Usmir Firehair." Callum caught the glimpse of a shadow on the wall and smirked to himself. He turned to Asa and pointed. This time the smirk was clear on his face. "If we move either side we might catch her off guard" he whispered "and for the record i think your a good mum, to have a kid with that kind of playful nature says a lot about you." 
Cal took exception to her putting herself down. "Why would i think that?” he asked. “A neglectful mother wouldn't care that her child is missing. a neglectful mother doesnt give a thought about the dangers said missing child could be in." He looked her directly in her dark eyes for a moment, the attention almost too much for her to handle without her cheeks reddening. "When i was a boy, a friend convinced me to climb the chantry roof. Well i thought i was the cleverest kid going until i slipped on the shingle and fell and broke my ankle. My grandmother read me the riot act, after the healer had set my ankle." While he talked, he methodically checked each room. "Now she was looking after my brother and I whilst our parents were away on business. If my Grandmother didn't care about us, then she would not have batted an eyelid when i broke my ankle. So no, i do not think you are anything of the sort." He glanced to her out of the corners of his eyes. "My grandmother grounded me."

She tried very hard not to laugh, which broke her tension. She’d have done the same! It was not uncommon to catch James leading Ylsa on some adventure, sometimes climbing where they shouldn’t be, but never the roof! She was certain she would lose her ability to be relaxed given that circumstance.

Ylsa’s voice rang out down the passageway, inviting them to chase her. "She's not far,” he whispered. He used a barrel to replicate sounds of stomping down the hallway. "I not like little people in my home! Little people give me headache. Only little Usmir likes is Master James. He friend to Usmir Firehair." Cal smirked at Asa, gesturing to Ylsa’s shadow on the wall. "If we move either side we might catch her off guard,” he said, "and for the record i think your a good mum, to have a kid with that kind of playful nature says a lot about you."

Her smile went crooked with appreciation. It was a kind thing to say when she felt so very foolish for having lost track of her daughter in a fortress full of warriors. However, she didn’t waste time, taking Cal’s instructions to split up, Asa rounded one side of the pillar in front of them while he went the other.

Ylsa saw her mother first, and with a delighted scream ran the other way, ragdoll in tow. She nearly smacked into Cal with a shriek, suddenly deciding their chase was a game. “Giant!” she yelled, and screamed her way between his legs and out the other side, her smile big and showing all of her baby teeth.

Asa went around the other way again to trap her between them, and this time Ylsa had nowhere to go. Except around the giant, who’s legs she hid behind. Apparently the giant was preferable to her mother, which was confirmed when she said, “James’ giant!”

That’s right. This is James’ giant friend,” she said, muscles twitching and ready for the girl to run off again.

Ylsa held up her ragdoll. “Kiss the baby!” she demanded of the giant.
Callum waited for a moment then watched as Asa moved one way and Yisa scooted the other and, as kids were often want to do, she went under his legs. With her mother blocking her path she ultimately decided hiding behind the giants legs was preferable than being caught in her mothers grasp. 

“James’ giant!”

Well she obviously knew who he was, and considering the excitement James seemed to exude when he met what he thought was a real live giant it made sense that he would tell his very best friend about his adventure. Callum was not going to part how he had boosted James onto the roof of the Merchants Guild Hall. 

That’s right. This is James’ giant friend" Asa confirmed although Cal wondered if she was struggling not to laugh again. She did have a pretty smile...

what? no stop that no stop it now. his inner voice squeaked with terror and he banished the thought. 

Instead he looked down to hide the slight reddening of his cheek and was grateful his hair was long enough to cover it only, to be confronted by the little girl holding her ragdoll up insistently at him. 

“Kiss the baby!” Cal had a niece about her age and he knew all about little girls and thier demands. He had not forgotten the demands she put on him when he had been babysitting and demanded he kiss Mabari. 

"No." he shook his head and bending down he lifted Yisa up bringing her in line with his face and cocked his head his scar stark in the dim lighting down here. "Usmir not kiss littles little." He arched an eyebrow "Too little to fill my stomach"  He gave a look to Asa as if to say help. 
Ylsa had no compunctions with asking complete strangers to kiss her ‘baby’. Of course, in the little one’s mind, clearly Cal was not a stranger, as he had invoked James’ name in the name of catching her. Asa couldn’t—or wouldn’t—interfere with that. They’d managed to catch her in place, and diverted her attention from the game of chase they’d been playing.

"No." Cal shook his head, first lowering himself to Ylsa’s height, and then lifting her up, much to her squealing delight. "Usmir not kiss littles little." One of his scarlet eyebrows lifted high on his head. "Too little to fill my stomach"

Asa bit her lips together to keep from laughing, even as Cal looked to her for help. Ylsa was unlikely to be dissuaded from her demands of kisses for Chevalier. Upon closer inspection, it could be seen that Chevalier was indeed a ragdoll, but her head was the brightly painted skull of a squirrel.

Asa held out her arms to Ylsa, deciding to rescue Usmir the Giant from the clutches of her little girl. Ylsa clung to his arms with a wail of “NO!” which, again, prompted a chuckle from Asa. She blushed at her inability to keep it contained, but it really was funny to see this giant of a man at the mercy of such a small thing as Ylsa.

“Come on now,” Asa said gently. “If you come with me, Usmir has promised you cookies.

Ylsa considered this for a moment, in the very serious way that children considered things that sounded beneficial to them, even if it involved something they did not wish to do. Excellent negotiators, very young children. “Okay!” she sing-songed and leaned all of her weight toward Asa so abruptly that she very nearly fell out of Cal’s hold.

With waiting arms, Asa caught her, and blessed both her daughter and Chevalier with a kiss of gratitude that they were both unharmed. “You shouldn’t run off like that,” she scolded, softly. “You could have been hurt.

“I find the giant,” Ylsa said in her own defense, but leaned her face against her mother’s neck as if to hide, only belatedly remembering to be shy. Asa certainly had her hands full if Ylsa ever came into magic. “Cookie?” she asked, pointing at Cal.

I think you’re going to have to make good on that promise, Usmir,” Asa said, with only a slight teasing in her tone. Cookies were very serious business to three year olds.
Cal watched the interaction between mother and daughter. it was not unheard of all this. he had forgotten the amount of times his niece and indeed his nephew had held him to child's negotiation. One more bedtime story Uncle Callum, one more glass of juice uncle Callums. one more piggy back, and of course one more led to another and another. Children it seemed had more power over adults then even the adult knew the child of course knew it perfectly. Callum looked at the cookie back and decided he would rather not risk that. Instead he had an idea, if Asa was willing. 

I think you’re going to have to make good on that promise, Usmir,

With a sigh of resignation he led mother and daughter out of the Keep and asked them to wait for him. He returned a little later dressed in casual clothes. He grabbed his horse and stroked his neck. mounted up and first took Yisa and helped her mother up "I am going to take you both someplace where the cookies are the best you will ever taste, and i also happen to know its cookie day." He made sure they were comfortable in front of him and patted Artos's neck. 

He made the introductions after all it was only fair. Yisa had shown him Chevalier so he told them this was Artos. It was a slow ride to the city but when they got there, he dismounted and helped mother and daughter down and led them to the merchant district and sniffed the air. Asking them to wait a moment he walked round the back of the townhouse and, after a few moments emerged with a plate of sweet crumbly cookies some with bits of fruit and a couple more with small pieces of chocolate in them. 

Crouching down before Yisa he held the plate out "Usmir mama make cookies. You want some? Yum yum for tum." he glanced at her 'Baby' "Littles little can have one too."  He moved a chair from the table so that mother and daughter could sit down and sat himself down on the small wall "Would you both like a drink? juice or tea or something?" Callum was utterly enthralled with the little girl. She had clung to his arms for a brief moment as James had hugged his legs. "Guess i'm a big softy." he muttered with a shy smile


Asa worried that the sigh Cal let meant she was putting him too far out. He’d been kind enough to help her look for Ylsa, and had humored her daughter by being a giant. He left them in the courtyard while he went to change out of his armor. When he returned, he didn’t seem angry or annoyed. "I am going to take you both someplace where the cookies are the best you will ever taste, and i also happen to know its cookie day."

Proceeding with caution, Asa smiled her agreement. Besides, her sweet tooth couldn’t turn down free cookies, and Ylsa was beyond delighted at the mention of something like ‘cookie day.’

He helped them onto a horse, the animal thankfully not spooking as Asa balked. She blushed furiously when he climbed into the saddle behind them, though Ylsa thought it was the grandest adventure she’d ever been on. She took to riding like she sat atop a horse every day.

The slow ride was enjoyable as they made their way back to the city. The bustle of the market rose to meet them, but it wasn’t the market that was Cal’s destination. He led them to a little house just off the market, where sure enough, the scent of fresh baked goods tickled at Asa’s senses.

A table and chairs awaited them as Cal disappeared inside the house. When he returned a few moments later, he had a plate of chocolate laden cookies, and a few pieces of chocolate on the side. What a special treat! Asa made to protest, but one look from the “giant” hushed her on the topic.

He crouched down to Ylsa’s height, the girl grabbing her mother’s legs and peeking out behind with the sort of bravery only little kids in their mother’s skirts can wield. "Usmir mama make cookies. You want some? Yum yum for tum. Littles little can have one too." At the display of cookies, she stepped boldly forward, clutching her doll to her. He helped them get settled at the outdoor table, then seated himself on a low wall. "Would you both like a drink? juice or tea or something?" Ylsa was utterly enthralled with “Usmir”, staring at him with her wide dark eyes. "Guess i'm a big softy."

Asa laughed, almost timid. “It’s hard to be otherwise with Ylsa and James,” Asa admitted. “And I’d love some tea, thank you.

Ylsa didn’t need to be told twice that she could have a cookie. She reached out and accepted one without further prompting. After taking a bite to make sure it was suitable, she tapped it against Chevalier’s face, pantomiming feeding her baby. “Eat up! Num, num.”

I can’t thank you enough for your help,” Asa told him, her quiet shyness returning. It was easy to be bolder when her child was missing and she needed help, but now that she had collected the girl and they were sitting face to face, she found it harder to do.

She tilted her head, one hand idly stroking Ylsa’s hair as she ‘num num’d’ her cookie. “You’re from Amaranthine? I can’t say I remember meeting a giant in my time here.” Her smile tucked in tightly but prettily. “I didn’t grow up in the city, though. I was only ever here on market days, and even then it was rare until recently.
It’s hard to be otherwise with Ylsa and James,” Asa told him.  “And I’d love some tea, thank you.

Well, wasn't that the truth, when he had told his parents what had happened that night his brother had laughed so hard he nearly fell off his chair. Honestly he didn't live it down, and of course his little nephew and niece heard his brother call him Usmir for some great jape and now they called him it. occasionally. Rising from the wall he went back inside. The town house was not grand, they could afford something grander, but, ever since the amaranthine burning, his parents had not proclaimed thier wealth. for fear of upsetting those that had not escaped. It angered Callum no end about how some people treated his family, even years after the effect but, his sister in law had put it down to jealousy. Both his parents were silver tongued when it came to buying and selling and there were those who would kill for the contacts they had. Still the house was enough and with Liam and Magdalena due to move to Denerim within the week, his parents home would be theirs again. Unless thier youngest tallest son with an appetite like a dragon came calling. 

Callum returned and glanced over his shoulder a little as he heard little giggles in the back. "Come this way." He told Asa and Yisa and led them round to the back where a garden immaculately kept with every manner of flower and shrub well cared for met Asa's eyes. Callum seta cup down with tea and a small beaker of orange juice freshly squeezed for Yisa. 

I can’t thank you enough for your help,” Asa thanked him and Callum inclined his head a little. His own shyness returning a little  “You’re from Amaranthine? I can’t say I remember meeting a giant in my time here.” she really did have a pretty smile and he coloured a little and hoped it didnt look like he was staring “I didn’t grow up in the city, though. I was only ever here on market days, and even then it was rare until recently.

"I was born in West Hill." He told Asa as he picked up his tea "As was my brother but my mothers family is from Amaranthine as is my stepfather but I've lived in Amaranthine since i was a baby so its my home." He watched Yisa and covered his mirth with the rim of the tea as he saw her try to feed Chevalier "I don't recall seeing you either i am pretty sure i would have remembered someone as pretty as you." Cal came out with then his eyes widened as he realised what he said and he coloured some more. This was...not him, Makers breath the spells cute kids wielded. 

Thankfully a distraction gave him reason to change this, awkward moment "Ganma!" A little girls voice squealed "Uncle Cawum stole cookies!" 

"Stole them! You little sneak come here!

The little girl cute as the morning day squealed with delight as her uncle made to chase her through the garden and just as he got his niece down on the ground for a serious tickling he was jumped on by a little boy about the same age. "Oh..oh i see i see how it is!" For a few moments he played with them thier squeals of delight and children's laughter echoing in the air and then walked them back to where Asa and Yisa sat. His nephew was about James age with dark red hair like his uncle and his niece was a little older than Yisa with dark auburn hair like her father. Both of them had thier uncles dark green eyes something thier mama had said ran in the Kennedy family. 

"Adriana, Stefan this is Asa and her daughter Yisa. What do we say to guests?

"Hallo!" Stefan raised his hand "Very pretty lady Uncle Callum." 

Adriana hid behind her uncles legs because of course there was no better hiding place than her very big uncles legs but she waved at both Yisa and Asa clutching her own toy to her. Cal sat himself down now resigned to the fact his niece and nephew were not leaving anytime soon. Adriana jumped into his lap and rested her head on his shoulder still looking at Yisa and waved at her. 

"You hear long Uncle?" Stefan asked. 

"A little while." Callum told him 

"Can we play hide and fetch. Please? you promised last time."  Stefan gave his uncle that look that only boys of his age knew about, he was planning something "You have to find all of us." He made a motion with his arm that included Asa and her daughter. "ALL of us." 

Right because one game of hide and seek was not enough obviously and he had promised "If Asa agrees then fine but you don't go out the garden that is the rules, you dont go out the garden and you dont hide in the house and you dont climb the roof." He gave a pointed look to Stefan who shrugged with that big boy grin showing his own pearly white teeth. "Well?" He looked at Asa "Would you like to go hide with the children so, Usmir can come find you all.

"Pleaseeee!" Stefan put his hands together "I can help pleeeasse pretty lady we always win he never finds us." 

well this day did start as a hide and seek, why not make it go on like that besides he found he liked being in thier company and he had no real reason to rush back to the Keep. He lifted his arms in a shrug and a broad smile creased his handsome features. "What could one more game hurt and this time, I'll be finding you too" he caught a glimpse of his mother watching from the window "and maybe you'd like to stay for lunch and i will walk you both home after?


"I was born in West Hill," Cal told her as he picked up his tea. "As was my brother but my mothers family is from Amaranthine as is my stepfather but I've lived in Amaranthine since i was a baby so its my home." She saw him smile into his teacup as Ylsa tried to feed Chevalier a cookie. Fortunately the squirrel skull didn’t have many teeth left. "I don't recall seeing you either i am pretty sure i would have remembered someone as pretty as you."

Asa nearly spit her tea, which was an added layer to her surprise at the compliment. She flushed, bright pink across her light brown skin. She managed to swallow without choking and cleared her throat. Her mollification came when she saw that he seemed equally taken aback by his own remark. “Thank you.” It was the best she could come up with, but it was genuine.

Fortunately, an interruption came. "Ganma!" squealed a little girl. "Uncle Cawum stole cookies!"

"Stole them! You little sneak come here!" Cal chased the young girl around the garden, feinting and ducking until he caught her on the ground, tickling her while she squealed in delight. About that time, a small boy came running into the garden and jumped on Cal’s back. "Oh..oh i see i see how it is!"

Asa smiled to see it, unable to help herself. There was something so charming about a man who would play with children with such abandon. She looked down to her teacup and studied the liquid intently until her attention was demanded again.

"Adriana, Stefan this is Asa and her daughter Yisa. What do we say to guests?"

"Hallo!" the boy named Stefan said with a raised hand. "Very pretty lady Uncle Callum."

Things that often pinked her cheeks from grownups always felt different from the mouths of children. Maybe it was because they seemed too caught up in the moment to ever think about being anything but genuine. You could always believe what a babe said, she found, even if you had to do a little digging to get to the truth. “Thank you,” she said again.

The little girl grabbed ahold of Cal’s leg and peeked out shyly, waving her hand at Ylsa, who paused in feeding Chevalier long enough to wave back with a little “Hi!”. Ylsa had never met someone who wasn’t a friend, even if she was somewhat shy about it.

"You hear long Uncle?" Stefan asked.

"A little while," his uncle told him.

"Can we play hide and fetch. Please? you promised last time." Stefan had a glimmer of mischief in his eye that Asa recognized all too well. "You have to find all of us." He motioned around the garden to indicate even Asa and Ylsa. "ALL of us."

"If Asa agrees then fine but you don't go out the garden that is the rules, you dont go out the garden and you dont hide in the house and you dont climb the roof." The last he directed at the boy. "Well?" he asked Asa "Would you like to go hide with the children so, Usmir can come find you all."

"Pleaseeee!" Stefan put his hands together in a childish plea. "I can help pleeeasse pretty lady we always win he never finds us."

"What could one more game hurt and this time,” Cal asked her. “I'll be finding you too and maybe you'd like to stay for lunch and i will walk you both home after?"

She smiled, nodding her head. “Alright. One game can’t hurt.

This seemed to thrill the children, including Ylsa, who was eager to play with the other children. Asa let the little boy pull her by the hand and called out to his uncle to cover his eyes and count. “No peeking!” he said to Cal as he pulled Asa and Ylsa along. Adriana squealed, following them.

Asa turned around to face the three young ones and crossed her lips with a finger. “If you keep squealing Usmir will find us!

The children covered their mouths and nodded their understanding, though giggles broke out between their fiingers. Stefan had a plan for where he was going to hide Asa and would not be deterred. It wasn’t a large garden, and most of the best places to hide were definitely meant for smaller people. Asa watched Adriana crawl into an overturned, empty rain barrel. Ylsa, excited with the potential of a new friend, followed her, dragging Chevalier by one rag arm.

Asa had to remind him that the roof was off limits, and that they couldn’t climb over the wall. Once they places they couldn’t hide were covered, Stefan turned to the places they could hide.

Cal’s mother had a lovely trellis covered with well-trained roses. Stefan pulled her to it until he had to push her beneath it. Asa ducked down and waddled into the cramped space at Stefan’s insistence. “You have to be quiet,” he reminded her. She reaffirmed her understanding of the rules with a nod, and pretended to lock her mouth with a key. Stefan took this at face value, and ran off to find his own place to hide, leaving Asa left with her hair tangled in the thorns of the roses, her knees in the dirt.