In the early evenings, people in Lowtown flocked to the Hanging Man. You could already hear the din before opening the door. Merrill had her hand on the door handle, biting her bottom lip in obvious confusion. Twice, men pushed past her rudely, cursing her blocking the doorway, but after all those years living in Kirkwall’s Lowtown, that was nothing to ever faze the Dalish elf anymore. People insulted her as long-ears and worse all the time.
It took Merrill about 10 minutes before she actually pushed down the handle herself, stepping into the warmth of the Hanging Man. It was a chilly evening, so the warmth was welcome, but the stench as always wasn’t. It reeked of booze, sweat, too many unwashed bodies, and other, sharper odors. The din was quite overwhelming. Busy night. Merill felt very alien this moment.
Her eyes scanned the crowd. There was no sight of Varric, but he preferred drinking in his suite anymore. She also couldn’t spot Isabela, but there was no need. The Rivaini had spotted her. Dark arms wrapped around Merrill from behind, and infectious laughter sounded in her ears.
“Kitten, what pleasure to see you. I told you, it’s not good you hole up all by yourself at home all the time. Let’s find something to play with, kitten.” Isabela made purring sounds at her friend, putting her arm around her shoulders as she walked her to the bar. “Would you like some rum? Ale? Anything? It’ll be on me today.” She genuinely sounded pleased to see Merrill.
“No, no, that’s quite alright. I don’t want to drink. Or eat. Though, maybe a nibble of bread? I haven’t eaten today. But no, actually, never mind. I had a piece of cheese earlier. It was a bit moldy, but I’ll be alright. Do you know if Varric ever took care of a delivery boy earlier?” Merrill was rambling, wringing her hands.
Isabela nodded, as she casually leaned against the bar, snapping her fingers at the barkeep to order a drink for herself. “He did leave earlier, with the most prancing Hightown boy I have seen in a while. He could have been fresh from Orlais.” She took a long sip from her mug when it was slammed down in front of her. “You’re all tense, kitten. Relax. Tell me what Isabela can do for you, and I’ll take your payment in smiles.”
Merrill giggled at that. Isabela had always treated her well. Like a sister. Who maybe got a bit too touchy-feely at times, so maybe sister was the wrong word. “I…uh…need your help! I am going to do something, and maybe…” She bit her lip again. “Maybe whatever I will do will be really successful. Not that things I do ever end up successful, but maybe. It could happen! Low probability though. It’s all about learning though, and I could do with some learning, and…” Merrill looked around. “It’s too crowded here, can we go to your room?”
Isabela arched her brows, leaning forward. “To my room. I only ever take people there for…What do you mean? Learning. From me. What could I possibly teach you?” Her nose nearly touched Merrill’s, looking at her inquisitively. “What?”
Merrill looked like a doe caught by a wolf, wringing her hands nervously. “Uh, you know. The things you do. With…others…” She closed her eyes, and then opened them, a bright thought having put spark in them. “How would you say? I would like to learn how to…sail the sea.” With palm turned up she made a gliding motion, while her cheeks erupted in fierce blushing. That was probably the dirtiest thing Merrill had ever said in her life.
Isabela’s laughter was near loud enough to drown out any other sound in the inn, or maybe it just seemed loud like that to Merrill.
“It’s very…sparse.” Merrill sat on the edge of Isabela’s bed, looking far out of her comfort zone. Her eyes darted from one direction to the other as she took in the room. It wasn’t exactly a suite as Varric had. Small room, a rickety table, a rickety chair and a rickety bed to complete the collection. It looked dusty, and barely used. There was a bottle on the table, a ship in a bottle, the only surface that was not dusty.
Isabela noticed Merrill’s look and smiled. “A present from Hawke. She’s something alright.” The pirate herself was lounging on the bed, one leg propped up, her short tunic riding dangerously high. She was entirely at ease, and a permanent smile danced on her lips. “Now now, kitten, you want to go see her tonight. Good girl. Took you long enough. I could…probably find a long cloak somewhere. You could go bare underneath it. That would be delightful.”
“Isabela!” Merrill blushed again, as she turned to look at her friend. “I…I don’t even know what’s going to happen. I will likely walk in, and then say something stupid, and Hawke will look very disappointed, and then we’ll not see each other again.”
Isabela shook her head. “You know that’s not really what you think will happen, or you wouldn’t be here.” She sat up on the bed and then prowled towards Merrill on all fours. “You are going to be a tiger tonight, kitten, once I am done with you.” The elf meekly lowered her gaze and blushed some more, as Isabela put her arms around her. She made a purring sound directly into Merrill’s ear, which caused the elf to giggle, leaning into Isabela.
“You feel very soft. Not like Hawke.” Merrill was still stiffly sitting on the edge of the bed, as Isabela kept leaning in. “Of course I do not know what Hawke feels like under her armor. Her armor is very tough. Plate. Lots of pokey bits. It’s probably not very comfortable to wear armor, is it? Though you’re not the right person to ask, you don’t wear much.” At that realization, Merrill rose quickly, turning around to look at the smiling Isabela. “So, uh, let’s assume that Hawke would like me to stay when I talk to her, what do I do first?”
The pirate sprawled out on the bed again. “Kiss her of course. But I expect you knew at least that much, yes? You guys did kiss, right?” Merrill timidly nodded, cheeks in permanent flush now. “I could probably give you some hints in that area, but that would require practical demonstration.” Vehement head-shaking from the elf caused Isabela to sigh. “Too bad. Okay, the next step will be to get Messere Hawke out of her clothes. She will probably be wearing her flimsy outfit that she usually wears at home. I always thought it screamed ‘Take it off, or just leave it on when you fu…’ Well, you get my drift. Very accessible.”
Merrill frowned and tilted her head. “I don’t think I got the second part. How does that work?”
Isabela shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. For starters you want to unwrap that package anyhow. Got to admire everything. It’s probably quite the sight. She never let me peak. But then, neither did you, at that.” She reached out to take both of Merrill’s hands and pulled her towards herself. She then placed the elf’s long fingered hands in her chest area, just below her breasts. “Her coat has buttons here. Mmm, last week I met this delightful lady in Hightown. Quite lonely, her husband a merchant captain. She wore a housecoat like that. Hold your fingers still.” Merrill’s fingers fluttered nervous against Isabela’s chest and she stared down at her hands, gaping. “See, hook your fingers like this where the buttons are. Curl your fingers. Yank. Buttons will fly, and then you can really feel how soft our dear Hawke is.”
The Dalish looked up at Isabela. “I don’t know if Hawke would want that. She ripped my clothes and then she hated it and ran away.” Merrill’s smile was oddly quirky and detached. “I kinda liked it. No, actually, I liked it a lot. It was very…liberating, I guess? Is that the right word? Ah, I don’t know. But she probably didn’t know that. The part of me liking it. I sort of bit her and hit her in the face. I don’t think she liked that. But I…well, I really liked her touching me like that.” Her eyes were glazed over, but Isabela broke her out of her reverie.
“Merrill, you are feeling up my breasts, you realize? Also, wonderful, it sounds like you two were on the verge of hate-sex! That can be so bloody fantastic! I can see how that would maybe be an odd choice for the two of you on your first night. It’s certainly spectacular.” Isabela looked delighted by the info. “Varric will pay me a fortune for this idea,” she murmured, then reached out for Merrill’s hands again. The elf had removed her hands as if the pirate’s breasts had turned into hot irons, with a squeaking sound, after Isabela’s initial remark. “So, you know how to get her out of that coat fast. Now let’s inspect your fingers.”
“What about my fingers?” Merrill splayed her fingers, squinting at them. “Isabela, what are you doing?”
The pirate ran a thumb over every fingernail, clucking her tongue. “You have such lovely fingers, Merrill. As I told Bethany before when she asked me, men are good for one thing, and women for six, and we have to make sure you will be ready for that.” She finally nodded and lifted Merrill’s hands to her lips, kissing them gently, then nipping at the fingertips. “Perfect, kitten. Cropped short but not too short, no sharp edges, no claws. Hawke is such a lucky girl. Make sure to run your nails over her skin, I bet it’ll make her shiver like crazy.” She breathed “I would, kitten. I would.”
As always, Isabela’s flirtatious manner made Merrill laugh. She had never taken any of it seriously, not in all the years she had known the woman. “Ah, Isabela, but you’re not Hawke. She might not. But I’ll try. It sounds like it would be nice. Very.” She pulled her hands from Isabela’s light grasp, then studiously inspected her exceptionally long fingers. “I don’t get why you checked my fingernails so closely. Is there a hidden trick?”
Isabela lightly jumped out of bed and moved behind Merrill again, pulling the elf to her from behind. “Oh yes, my dear kitten. Many tricks. You see…” She whispered into Merrill’s ears for quite some time. If the elf had been blushing before, she was now burning all over, from sheer embarrassment. If anyone had seen her face, they would have been perplexed at the myriads of different expression her green eyes could have. Wonder, amazement, confusion, glee, it was all there, to read like a book. Maybe even a hint of desire. No, for certain. Isabela concluded her instructions with the statement “And this is why women are good for six things.” She whirled Merrill around in her arms. “I am so excited for you. It’s going to be splendid.”
The teasing facade dropped and Isabela looked very serious. “It is going to be marvelous, Merrill. Hawke loves you, and you love her, and you both would never hurt each other, not on purpose. It’s going to be more magical than anything. First time. I envy you, kitten. Do you know how many people never find anything like that? Don’t screw this up, please. I am living vicariously through you.” She ground her teeth. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone I said that.”
Merrill moved her hands to Isabela’s shoulders. “Oh, don’t you worry at all, lethallan. I would never betray your trust. You are my dearest friend, falon. I know that you are not just the tough woman who beds everyone and doesn’t give a damn otherwise. You care. I can see that. Maybe it’s a Dalish skill. I see more than their eyes can see.” She smiles. “I think Hawke does too. But I still won’t tell her or anyone. One day I want to see you truly yourself. On board a ship. Do you think that’s ever going to happen? It would be nice. Sometimes I tire of Kirkwall. Of walls. People. The throngs of people. The smells.”
Isabela’s voice was longing. “It’s going to happen, kitten, and I’ll take you guys with me. We’ll fly free. Our wings won’t be clipped anymore.” She held Merrill firmly. “You don’t really need lessons from me, Merrill. Feel with your hands. See with your eyes. Hear with your ears. Use all your senses. You will know what Hawke likes. It will come to you. And if you like something in particular, Hawke will like it too. Go on, kitten. Before I get entirely too sentimental.” She quickly leaned in to kiss Merrill on the lips, lingering. “Or before I sweep you off your feet and keep you all for myself. You look divine.”
Merrill took a step back, concerned for a moment. That didn’t sound like teasing. “Thank you, falon. Dareth shiral, Isabela.” She turned to leave, but stopped by the door. “I really liked that thing you did, whispering in my ear from behind. That was quite…wonderful. I think I will do that.”
She almost had her foot out the door, when she turned back once more. “But why is it six things, Isabela? Shouldn’t it be eleven?”
The Rivaini let out a throaty laugh. “Merrill, I think you might be the best student I ever had. The very best.” The elf looked incessantly pleased as she left, curling all of her fingers together as she walked to leave the Hanging Man. When she passed a returning Varric, all she could say was “ELEVEN!” before dashing out.
Varric headed towards where Isabela had watched Merrill leave. The dwarf looked up at Isabela with a smirk. “Rivaini, there is a story behind that, and I am going to write it, once you explain.”