LET THERE BE ALE!

And the Maker said, Let there be ale: and there was ale.
And the Maker saw the ale, and it was good.

Before libations at the Hanged Man…

"Hurry up, Hawke!"

"What's the rush, Isabela?"

The pirate's fingers were deftly lacing up her bodice while she paced the floor of Maori's bedroom. In pure Isabela fashion, she sighed dramatically then groused, "I'm bored and want to do something fun!"

The Champion of Kirkwall sat on the unkempt bed, pulling on her boots. When she heard her lover's plaintive remarks, she looked up and smirked. "And what we just finished doing wasn't fun?"

Smiling mischievously, Isabela sauntered over to Maori. "That's always fun, Tiger…" She leaned in, placed a long, hard kiss upon Maori's lips, and then pulled away abruptly. "But now I want to go do something else, so we can come back and have our fun again."

Maori chuckled at Isabela's situational whimsy. "What did you have in mind?"

"Let's find out what adventure the Hanged Man has to offer!"

"Why do I have the feeling you're up to something?"

"Hawke…" purred the pirate, "I'm always up to something."

Maori stood and gazed into her lover's eyes with bemused adoration. A knowing smile graced her lips as she edged by the pirate, impishly swatting her butt in the process. "No truer words have ever been uttered."

Before the Champion was able to take another step, Isabela grabbed her arm and spun her around so they stood face to face.

"For that you'll get twenty floggings," threatened Isabela playfully.

"Oh? Just twenty? Has the pirate queen gone soft?"

"Very few things about me are soft, Tiger"

"I think I recall a few."

"Oooohhh… do you?"

"Oh yes," affirmed Maori.

Isabela inched forward until their mouths were so close—a hair's breadth apart—that her lips could feel the heat from Maori's breath. "Prove it."

"And my twenty floggings?"

"Will be expertly handed to you during your… explorations."

Maori wrapped her arms around Isabela's waist, and then pulled the pirate tightly against her. "What about the fun at the Hanged Man?"

"I've changed my mind. Another round of fun here first."

Much, much later…

The sun was setting as Isabela and Maori made their way from the Hawke estate in Hightown to the Hanged Man in Lowtown. Although not expecting trouble, they both were armed with their weapons of choice—Isabela had her daggers and looks; Maori had her staff and wit. Kirkwall had a notorious reputation for backhanding unprepared residents.

As they entered the stench-ridden but cozy tavern, a familiar voice beckoned to them.

"Hawke! Rivaini!" yelled Varric from across the bar. "Where have you been? You're late!"

Confused, Hawke questioned, "Late? To what?"

The dwarf was seated at a table with empty chairs aplenty. He motioned for both of them to join him. "You missed hearing about the latest exploits of Marian the Madcap Mercenary! The heroine triumphed over demons, blood mages, ogres, and for good measure, some personal adversity which would depress all but the stout of heart. You know—love, betrayal, the occasional bad hair day. All of it culminated to a spectacular finale, the quintessential mark of a riveting adventure tale… also known as the pitting of good versus evil."

"Oh?" said Maori in feigned interest. "And how did it end?"

"Tragically. The heroine fell to the nefarious day of bad hair."

"Bad hair is really a bitch," remarked Isabela. She sat down at the table as Maori headed toward the bar.

"You know, Varric," said the Champion, "I'm penning my own tale as well."

"I had no idea," replied the dwarf.

Maori shot a mirthful look over her shoulder as she continued on her path toward the bar. "Oh yes… and in my story, I am plotting against you."

"Hawke, I didn't know you cared."

"I care enough to kill you off."

Isabela snorted.

When Maori reached the bar, she was surprised by two things: the barkeep was new and she recognized him.

"Rhys!" greeted the Champion.

The young man smiled broadly. "Hawke. It's good to see you." He was a tall, dark haired man with stocky features, but he was a few years younger than the Champion and it showed in his brown eyes and clean-shaven face.

Maori signaled for a whiskey and three ales—she had a feeling Aveline would be arriving soon. "I thought you were still working for Athenril?"

"Naw…" said Rhys as he poured the pints of ale. "She cut me loose a few months ago. You know how it is. We had a misunderstanding."

Maori nodded her head in agreement. "Yeah, the sort of 'misunderstanding' that ends with a field of dead bodies. Uh-huh, I had a few of those with her, too."

Rhys stared in stunned silence at the Champion until the ale he was pouring overflowed onto the floor—Maori had been scanning the tavern and was oblivious to the ale's misfortune.

"So what are you going to do now?" asked Kirkwall's Champion, turning back to face the young bartender. "I can't imagine that pouring the swill in this joint would be enough adventure for you."

While cleaning up the mess of ale, the newbie bartender shrugged his shoulders. "It'll do for now. Not everything has changed, you know. When I'm done here I'll still go find the nearest brothel. Check out the ladies. The usual. You?"

Lifting up the tankard of ale, Maori took a long swig. "Oh, you know. Find blood mages. Fight for my life. The usual."

Rhys leaned toward the bar with an expectant look on his face. "Hawke, do you have any advice? I'm thinking about hiring on as a mercenary. Unless, of course, you're looking for an extra sword arm…"

"Um… no offence, Rhys," replied Maori, "but I have enough armed lunatics following me around already." She took another long drink from her glass before setting it down on the bar to be refilled.

Seeing that Rhys' eyes were still begging for wisdom, she decided to indulge him. While he filled her glass, she leaned her elbows on the table and mused aloud. "Advice, eh? Well, working a little on your swordsmanship is number one. Besides that, I'd have to think…"

Rhys placed the full tankard of ale on the bar with the rest of Maori's order and she tossed enough coins on the bar to cover their cost.

"Hmmm...," murmured Maori. A mysterious air seemed to collect around her as she covertly inspected the patrons in the bar and then glanced to either side of herself through the corner of her eyes. When she was sure no one was listening, she leaned closer and said, "Okay… here it is…" She motioned for Rhys to move in so she could whisper the secret in his ear. "Find someone rich, and kill them. Find someone richer, and kill them, too! Then hack and slash you way to fortune!" She leaned back, raised her tankard in the air and exclaimed to the bar patrons, "Woo-hoo! Worked for me!"

Grinning broadly, she gathered up the drinks and walked over to the table.

"Took you long enough," commented Isabela. "Giving away the secrets to being a Champion again?"

"What can I say? The people want to know."

"I could always write the book for you, Hawke," offered Varric with a smirk. "A Champion's self-help guide. With pop-up pictures, a monster manual and maybe even a chapter or two on navigating one's love life."

"You've always been a sentimental sod, Varric," razzed Isabela.

"Romance sells, Rivaini," said Varric. "Look how popular your friend-fiction is."

"But sex is much more fun," countered the pirate.

Catching only the last statement, Maori remained silent, but vigorously nodded her head in agreement as she placed the drinks on the table.

The dwarf conceded. "Well, I can't argue with that."

As soon as Maori sat down, Merrill and Aveline entered the tavern and then walked over to join them. The Champion pushed a pint to Varric and one to Aveline, Isabela got the whiskey and Merrill sat empty handed. The elf liked to wait until everyone had consumed their first drink before she ordered one for herself. She'd figured out long ago that the best stories were told after the first round.

Later…amidst round two…

Anders, Fenris, Hawke and Varric were seated at the table retelling adventure tales, while Merrill and Aveline stood up at the bar listening to Isabela weave between her pirate escapades and sexual exploits—more often than not they were woven into the same story.

Varric leaned back in his chair and chuckled as he addressed the table. "And then Hawke said, 'No, we're not mercenaries. We just carry weapons and kill things for the joy of the experience!'"

Stifling his laughter with a hand on his mouth, Anders added his own story to the merriment. "Oh no, I have a better one. So… we were strolling through Sundermount and came across some Templar fools who were about to attack Dalish hunters. When they tried to get us to help them, Hawke said, 'Sorry, but we're siding with the elves. They have this great aloe-vera balm that they're giving away samples of… and my armor has been chafing a bit, ya know?'"

Varric lifted his glass, still laughing, and said, "How about Hawke's standard greeting? 'Hi! I want to pass through your land!' And then the never-before-encountered-race says something unintelligible, but loud and menacing." The dwarf raised both his hands as if clawing the air, "Klodg do g'ith dal shaog gossath! Geetaaah!" Then Varric put his hands on his hips in a flamboyant display of exaggerated frustration and let out a heavy sigh—all of which served to mock Maori. "And then Hawke says 'This isn't going to end well, is it?'"

Everyone laughed heartily and then took another swig of their drinks. By the time their tankards hit the table top, three burly, heavily armed men had walked up to table and were staring at Maori.

The brigand's leader drew his sword and pointed it at Hawke. "Draw your daggers and spells and let's have at 'er! You've crossed our employers and this is as far as you're going to go, my friend. Should've known that lazy bounty hunting rabble wouldn't get the job done. Never settle for second best, I always say!"

Without missing a beat, Maori picked up her pint and took another long drink. As she set the tankard back on the table, she looked the leader directly in the eye and laughingly challenged, "You want to know what I always say? 'Always kill the mouthy one,' that's what I always say."

"HAW! A good saying! I will use your head for a puppet and make it say it over and over while we drink large amounts of ale!" boasted the brigand. "Life is pretty good, you know?"

"Yeah, that one's already been done," said Anders impassively. "You really should think of something more original."

The brigand leader looked confused as his gaze scanned the table trying to figure out if the healer was insane.

Varric lifted his pint. "I don't believe our new odorous friend has heard all the stories in the Hanged Man, Blondie. You know… the one about the Champion using the Arishok's skull as a goblet."

"Ah yes," added Fenris as he leaned back into his chair. "I know that one well. That's a marvelous tale full of bloodshed through the streets, raging fires and grown men whimpering like babies."

The three brigands looked at each other—a questioning, uncomfortable look passed between them. They fidgeted with their swords, unsure of what to do next.

Feeling feisty with drink, Maori challenged, "No? Never heard that one? Oh well, I left the Arishok's skull at home. I guess I'll have to settle for yours tonight."

Maori moved as if to stand, but Isabela—who had walked over when she saw the three men at the table—put a hand on her shoulder, holding her in her seat. "I can't leave you alone for a minute," she teased affectionately. She narrowed her steely gaze at the brigand leader. "You… shove off before the others at this table decide to shove a chair up your ass." Fenris, Varric and Anders were glaring at the brigands—each of them a split second from doing exactly what Isabela illustrated.

The three brigands assessed the situation, realized they were outnumbered, out-classed, and not drunk enough. They immediately left the tavern.

Watching the men walk out the door, Maori mused aloud, "Why is it that the road to success is-"

"-always blocked by morons?" interjected Isabela. "That's just the way life is, Hawke."

The Champion of Kirkwall took another long drink from her glass, and then swiftly pulled Isabela to her lap. "All I want is this gorgeous pirate, my tankard of ale and a night of being Maori Hawke. Not the Champion of Kirkwall. Is that too much to ask for?"

"Not at all, Tiger." Isabela draped her arms around her lover. "Provided I get my night with Maori when we leave this place."

"Deal," agreed Maori. "Oh…one more thing, I also want to be able to shoot fireballs at fools."

Later, during round three…

After another round of drinks was ordered, Merrill was still at the bar, but was now watching the interaction between Aveline and her husband, Donnic. Before long, a human female sauntered up to the elf mage, ordered her a drink of water and soon the two were talking about flower gardens. Fenris and Varric had moved away from prying ears to discuss Wicked Grace while Isabela returned to the table, sitting across from Anders, but next to Hawke.

"It must be very strange for you, Anders," said Maori as she stretched into her chair, "living in the bowels of Kirkwall."

"Hmmm…," replied the healer, "I wouldn't necessarily describe it like that."

"Seems accurate to me," commented Isabela.

Growing agitated by the subject matter, Anders questioned, "What's your point, Hawke? Do you care?"

"Sometimes. But then I drink more…" Maori took another long swallow from her pint, "and it goes away."

Anders scoffed, "Are you drunk?"

"What? No!" said Maori. "Tell him, Isabela."

"Let me see…" Isabela captured Maori's face between her hands and then placed a passionate, wet kiss upon her lips. "Not drunk." Her tongue slid provocatively across the Champion's lips. "Just the right amount, in fact, for your sails to be properly unfurled."

"See…" said Maori. She looked over at Anders and smiled brightly.

"See what? That you're easy prey for the pirate when you're drunk?"

"She's easy even when she hasn't been drinking," countered Isabela.

Maori punched Isabela's arm in faux indignation. "Hey!"

"Yeah… that's what I've heard," muttered the healer.

Isabela snickered, "Ooohhhh… is that jealousy?" She wrapped both arms around her lover in mock possessiveness, and then shot a goading look at Anders. "Would that be coming from Justice or Anders?"

"Neither. And if Hawke saw you like I do, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Anders," quipped Maori, "for the record, you and I will never see eye to eye and that covenant should be respected and maintained!"

Isabela kissed the Champion's cheek encouragingly. "You tell him, Tiger"

Anders rolled his eyes. "That settles it. Even the Champion has been affected by Kirkwall's poisoned well."

Merrill walked up to the table with a glass of water in her hand. "The water has been poisoned?" She put the glass on the table and slowly moved away from it. "How could that be? It smells funny. Like really old, dead fish, but I haven't heard of anyone getting sick from it."

Anders sighed heavily. "There's nothing wrong with the water."

"What's this blasphemy I'm hearing?" asked Varric as he and Fenris returned to the table and sat down.

Looking at her glass suspiciously, Merrill said, "Apparently, the water in Kirkwall is poisoned."

"Again," groaned Anders, "the water's fine. It's not poisoning anyone."

"Then maybe it's the clams. The ones at the docks are treacherous," offered Isabela. "Or maybe it's the apostate mage preaching so much about injustice that you could mistake him for a chantry priest."

Scowling, Anders shot back, "Or it could be the thief masquerading as a pirate. Maybe she's stolen another relic and brought a plague upon all… again."

Isabela gasped. "Utterly amazing! You spoke so long, but you didn't say anything."

"A pirate and a jester?" The healer sneered, "You're more suited to be the fool."

"Have I mentioned that I like history?" The pirate smiled in a beautiful, but menacing way. "You'd be more interesting if you were dead."

"Wait. What?" Confused, Merrill asked, "I thought we were talking about poisoned water? I've missed something again, haven't I?"

"And that confirms it," said Anders as he shook his head. "All Dalish women really are crazy."

While watching the verbal sparring match between pirate and healer, Fenris leaned over to Varric and asked, "You have nothing to add?"

Shaking his head, the dwarf responded, "How is contributing to a nonsensical conversation fun?"

"Come on, Varric," said Fenris. "You know there's nothing more cheerful than talking about our friends' shortcomings."

Varric raised his eyebrow and whispered, "Oh…like mentioning that right now a certain blonde apostate reminds me of a man who has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."

As the group continued to engage in a lively discourse amongst themselves, a richly dressed man stepped up behind Maori's chair. "At LAST, someone who looks like they could be of some assistance! Could you help me, Serah?"

"Sure, I'd love to help you out," replied Maori. She eyed the man behind her, took a long drink from her pint and then said, "Now, which way did you come in?"

"Please, Serah Hawke." The man spread both his arms as if embracing the whole room. "The assorted boobs and dimwits around here have been of very little assistance."

"Hey," remarked Isabela from her chair. "I take offense to that. My boobs aren't assorted."

Hawke turned around in her chair and smiled brightly. "I'm afraid you have mistaken me for someone else, good Serah." She pointed to herself, "I'm Dimwit..," she jabbed her thumb in Isabela's direction, "…this is my good friend Boob," and then she motioned over she shoulders toward Varric and Anders, "…and behind me you'll find Brainless and Moron. How do you do?"

The richly dress man rolled his eyes and let out an annoyed grumble. "Indeed. I apparently I was… mistaken."

Hawke turned her back on the Hightown noble and then took another big swig from her glass. "I'm sorry. I'm a little busy now. Can I ignore you later?"

The beginning of round four…

The smoky bar was now packed with patrons and the servers had their hands full, so Isabela and Merrill were at the bar ordering another round of drinks for everyone at the table. The dark-hair woman who had been talking with Merrill earlier in the evening seized the opportunity and was chatting with the elf mage again. Sebastian had arrived a few minutes earlier and took the open seat across from Maori—between Varric and Aveline. Donnic was elsewhere—seated at a table of guardsmen.

Aveline, who always had Maori's best interest in mind, said, "You've been sitting in this cesspool for hours, Hawke. Surely you need to get some fresh air."

"No. I'm good here." Maori took a drink from her tankard. She was stubborn and reacted stubbornly when directly mothered by her oldest friend.

"Don't you have something better you can set your sights on? You can't just sit here and do nothing!" complained the guard captain.

The Champion smiled broadly, her eyes twinkling in mischief. "Aveline," she said, "a person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it."

"That is a logical conclusion," offered Fenris. He was sitting between Varric and Anders and always seemed to have a watchful eye on the healer.

Aveline shot the tattooed elf a withering look. "You're not helping."

Varric lifted his pint as if to toast the table in agreement. "And someone who thinks logically provides a nice contrast to the real world of evil blood mages and crazed templars lunatics that we live in." To punctuate his statement, he took a long drink from his tankard. "Orzammar is starting to look like paradise."

Aveline's face shifted to a dark shade of red before she turned to the dwarf and yelled, "And you're not helping either!"

With spectacular timing, Isabela and Merrill returned to the table and distributed drinks for all. Staying traditional, Aveline, Fenris, Varric, Maori and Sebastian all had pints of ale. Isabela had two shots of whiskey—she liked to stay on top of things. Merrill had a pinkish drink, light on the alcohol—dubbed a "kitten cocktail" by the pirate—while Anders stuck with the faux-poisoned water—Justice didn't allow him to get drunk.

As she sat in the open chair next to Maori, the pirate commented, "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it. Two men at the bar claim to be Orlesian diplomats sent by the Divine to investigate the water problem."

All eyes turned to Anders when his forehead hit the table and he let out an audible groan. "But there is no problem," he muttered. He was sitting next to Maori who reached out and sympathetically patted him on the back.

Sebastian drank some ale and surveyed the Champion for a moment. With his thick Starkhaven accent intact, he said, "Hawke, I have to agree with Aveline, if you keep drinking like this, you'll be cutting your life short."

Maori looked at the archer dubiously, and then laughed, "Nah, I intend to live forever!" As a testament to her statement, she took a long swig of the lightly bitter brew. "So far, so good."

Isabela raised her hand to interject. "I, for one, hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, or violence to anyone, but they've always worked for me."

"Hawke," scolded Sebastian, "the Maker is not cavalier about wasting his gifts. You shouldn't be either. Or you may find yourself face to face with him."

"Sebastian," smirked Maori, "although I'm not advocating it, I am ready to meet the Maker. Whether the Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter entirely."

The archer shook his head and then crossed his arms in disapproval.

"Sebastian," began the Champion, "I think of it like this: ale is proof that the Maker loves us and wants us to be happy."

Anders lifted his head from the table and then scoffed. "Now you're delusional."

"My fireballs are bigger than yours," retorted Maori mirthfully.

"It's not the size that matters," said the healer.

The Champion playfully slapped him on the shoulder. "Is that what the Circle taught you? They were trying not to hurt your feelings."

"The Circle lied to me? Andraste's Knickerweasels! What EVER will I do?"

"Become an abomination. Start a rebellion," deadpanned Isabela.

Aveline slammed her tankard on the table. "Hawke, this is serious! The citizens of Kirkwall are looking to you for guidance. You need to act like a hero, not some drunken lout. I know you didn't want it, but you're the Champion now. Facing that fact, your fears, head on builds character."

"First, for the record, I'm not drunk… yet." Maori grinned before continuing. "And second… sure, Aveline, facing your fears does build strength… but don't neglect the fact that running from them is a great workout, too."

"Hawke… running?" Varric shook his head in mock-disapproval. "Marian the Madcap Mercenary would never run from her fears. She may panic a bit at first, but then she'll settle in and take care of business."

"You've got it all wrong, Varric," informed Maori. "Get the facts first, THEN panic."

Isabela nudged her lover playfully. "I thought it was, 'Get the facts first- distort them later.'"

Maori replied, "Oh, that's only for Varric's stories."

Aveline rolled her eyes and sighed. She knew a losing battle when she saw one.

Merrill, who was sitting between Aveline and Isabela, had been quietly listening to the table banter, but she perked up at the mention of the character Marian. "Varric, is Marian the Mercenary rewarded for her heroic deeds?"

"Yes, Daisy, she is. She rewarded with honor, integrity, a smidge of virtue and the knowledge that she did a good deed. Why do you ask?"

"She would be better off with coin, I think. It's more helpful. Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons… and the chance to buy pretty things." The elf mage went back to sipping on her pink drink.

"That brings a question to my mind." Varric looked over Maori and asked, "What has been the greatest challenge for you since arriving in Kirkwall? Your greatest enemy to date."

"Varric, I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends, my sodding friends, they're the ones who keep me walking the floor at night! So YOU'RE my greatest challenge!" Maori's eyes had the slightly unfocused appearance that alcohol brings. "By the way, I love you guys."

"Oh boy," said Isabela. "'Love' was mentioned, it's time to go." She grabbed her lover's arm and they both stood. "Come on, Champion. Time for me to take you home."

They said goodnight to their companions and walked briskly out the door on their way toward the Hawke estate.

Later… after some adventure in the bedroom…

"I told you we'd have fun tonight." Isabela rolled on her side, wrapping her naked form around her lover.

In response, Maori's arm tightened around the pirate's shoulders, pulling her closer. "Yeah. And even the Hanged Man was a good time."

"Do you wish we hadn't gone?"

"Not at all." said Maori. "Although towards the end of the night, everyone seemed to get a stick up their ass. Any idea what that was about?"

The darkened bedroom hid the amused smile on Isabela's face. "None at all."

A few hours earlier…as the Champion and pirate walked out the Hanged Man's doors…

Everyone seated at the table began to shove coins toward Merrill.

"Damn. I'm out two sovereigns. I expected them to leave much earlier," commented Varric. "I was sure Aveline's 'act like a hero' speech would have sent Hawke running."

Aveline nodded. "I tried my best, Varric, but she has a stubborn streak."

"Sebastian jumping in and talking about the 'Maker' was pure genius!" added Anders. "I'm surprised that didn't rattle her cage."

"Yes," said Fenris. "Even I was turned off by that argument."

The Starkhaven archer shook his head. "Oh no. From what Varric said, Anders' focus on Isabela earlier in the evening was one for the record books. Even hearing about it second hand, I'm surprised she didn't come unglued."

Aveline laughed. "I thought she was going leap across the table and kick his ass."

"Yes, well, whatever it takes to win a bet," said Anders. "But apparently, I didn't pick the right time."

"How did you know, Merrill?" asked Sebastian. "Was it some sort of elven intuition?"

"What? Oh no… nothing like that," said the elf mage. "It's like I told my friend, Alessa, I just guessed."

"Wait… Your friend, Alessa? When?" demanded Fenris.

"When Isabela and I were getting the last round of drinks. There's not much to do while waiting for ale to be poured," said Merrill matter-of-factly.

"So, Daisy," began the storyteller suspiciously, "when you and the Rivaini were at the bar, you told your friend, Alessa, about the bet?"

"It's not like that, Varric. Isabela wasn't even in the conversation. I was only talking with Alessa. I told her about the bet, then she asked me what time I thought they would leave." Merrill looked stricken. "Isabela would never eavesdrop."

Aveline shook her head ruefully and sighed. "Oh, Merrill."