[center “I am going to pull them from their pedestal and I will watch them burn.”]
Wistina, a small but prosperous country located on the southern peninsula of Esteroak. Being one of the few neutrally aligned ports in the area they keep good standing with their neighbors. All in all they seem to be in a golden age. The only real complaints are those of a naïve and frivolous king, but with many well-trusted advisors at his side no one pays him much mind. That is, not until he died. Leaving behind his wife and a young son, there is much debate on what will be done and things are not looking good got the widow and her child.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It seemed the man missing his arm, and he hated having to call him that as did not know his name, was particularly upset to see Adrian stood there. Having given his respectful bow he felt a little conscious that no-one else was and stood meekly to one side. Thankfully Gregory made the introductions and his head lifted a moment to confirm names to faces. His mind cried out to ask 'how did you lose the arm' on looking at Augustus, though he bit down hard on his tongue and looked away to Augustine.
It was a little comforting to have someone in the same boat as him and a quick turn of his head for the boy to come and join him as his grandfather sought the names and parentage of the children, had the boy moving over subtly to stand nearby. It was like picking sides, with the three travellers stood close together and the two authoritarian men staring at them critically. Gregory may have waved this off but the other two became rather reserved in the presence of the two men; Augustine disliked having new eyes on himself given his past, and Adrian did not wish to make a critical mistake before Eugene. Florence had made him out as a positive and open fellow but it was still best to remain quiet.
And that made it all the better when not too long after came Florence and another woman atop her horse. A hand was placed to Augustine's shoulder to keep him close by to him, more for his own sake of not being abandoned by those who rushed off to the woman than for any other means. Leaning down beside him, the tall man smiled softly.[+crimson “I think it best we let them all catch up. After today, things will settle to a more normal routine.”] He nodded with his words.
[+darkorange “I know. But it still feels odd.”] He said as the pairing watched the passionate greetings and embracing holds that were rather forced upon Florence the moment she was off that horse.[+darkorange “I guess travelling here, it felt like an adventure and a journey. But since the pass, I've not wanted to be at this moment.”] A look of concern tinged his crimson eyes as his pale hand grasped the boys shoulder.[+crimson “Why do you dread meeting your family?”] He inquired.
The boy let out a soft sigh, looking at his mother who smile was quite infectious to all those about them.[+darkorange “I just don't feel like they are my family.”] A light laugh, not one to denigrate the boys feelings, escaped Adrian.[+crimson “Of course they are. Eugene is your Uncle and some of these children are your brethren. And you are named after Augustus, so he is important to you too.”]
The boy shook his head, little hands balling up a little.[+darkorange “No, they're just strangers. Nicolai and Gerald and those in Wistina are my family. And now, I'm just stuck here with strangers who will pity me because my dad..”] He paused for a moment, taking a deep breath and looking at the ground as the word itself seemed to have changed to him.[+darkorange “Since he died, people just pity me. Everyone except for Gregory and Nicolai. They just treated me like normal, like they knew what it felt like to lose a father and knew how to treat me to help. But mother.. she just wants to wrap me up and keep me from everything.”] He sighed as his voice became quieter and more silent. Eventually he looked up to Adrian and shook his head.[+darkorange “I don't want to talk about this sorry. If mother sees me upset..”]
Adrian nodded and let his hand fall from the boys shoulder. He did not say anything more on the matter and stood back upright, looking to the others as Florence's son put up a neutral face and watched with him, quietly and contemplative.
Augustus was not thrilled that there was a stranger amongst them, and an armed one at that. But for the most part he trusted Gregory's judgement. Though, his dark eyes did not leave Adrian until after they were introduced. Something the bard popped up to do not long after everyone grouped up and had a crisp crusted piece of pie in hand.
[+darkmagenta "Eugene, Augustus, it looks like you already met Augustine, so I will spare you that, but this is Adrian. He helped us on the journey up, wouldn't have made it without him.] He motioned to the man before turning toward him and reversing the introduction. [+darkmagenta "Adrian, this is my son Eugene and his friend Augustus."] His hand followed his announcement. [+darkmagenta "Now,"] he clasped his hands together like he was about to get down to more serious business. [+darkmagenta "Whose kids are whose?"]
There was a collective eye roll.
After a much longer conversation than she would have liked, Florence was free of the tavern owner. Danni was being called back by a patron that wanted something or other and the younger woman thanked her lucky stars. Nothing besides the sound of money calling could distract the proprietress. Though, she did coerce Florence in agreeing to come back later. But that was just as well, as she was sure someone would drag her down her at some point. Her guess was Augustus.
With Danni out of her hair, the one time Queen was able to greet the others that had gathered. She did so in a polite and reserved manner. Unlike these past several weeks, she was surrounded by people with expectations of her and how she should act. Florence planned to meet, if not exceed, them. However unlike in Wistina, there was more of a gentleness to the front she put up. These were a people she felt connected to, maybe not quite so much as her brother did, but there was a bond and sense of camaraderie. That was not the case in the south. Perhaps it could have been had she ever been allowed to leave the castle grounds. But she was not, and instead she was surrounded by noblemen. Noblemen who were selfish and incompetent, traits she could hardly tolerate, and even less so in those who held power.
Florence answered questions, though most of her replies were somewhat lacking. She did not know how long she would be staying in Astoria and she couldn't well tell people why she had come. Just by listening in she discovered that news of Germaine's death had spread all the way here, so she used that. It was better than saying she was driven out of the castle by the corruption within, or to tell them that it was in part her own fault for the choices she had made. No, it would have to stay as it was.
Florence's shoulders dropped. Here they went again, but when she turned about she saw someone she actually knew. A wider smile appeared on her face. [+mediumseagreen "Julia, it has been too long."]
With a somewhat stern expression the coppery haired woman deadpanned back, [+orchid "you are damn right it has. I cannot believe it has taken you ten years to visit."]
[+mediumseagreen "Well..."] She was cut off before finishing the excuse. Which was probably good, as she did not have anything valid to say.
[+orchid "Have you even made it up to the castle yet?"]
Florence shook her head. A hard expression flashed onto the spitfire of a woman's face. [+orchid "What in the hell are you people doing, let the woman go see her family!"] She began to shoo off the crowd, loudly chastising them. Florence held back laughter until they were gone and it was only her and Julia.
[+mediumseagreen "So what are you doing out?"] Julia usually worked during the daylight hours so it was rare to see her out. At least that was how it used to be.
[+orchid "I am making a delivery, but it is going to have to wait."] There was a look of determination on her face. Florence would come to find out that expression was her resolve to keep people away from them as they went the rest of the way to the castle. On this leg of the journey, the pair chose to walk. The horse kept in tow until they made it to the first gatehouse. They rode the rest of the way.
When Florence finally made it to the castle, it almost looked like the others had just arrive. They were still in the courtyard, which begged her to wonder if they had made it inside at all. But the demolished pies betrayed them. Clearly Gregory's tomfoolery was already afoot. The woman sighed, but there was no time to linger on it as quite the group was gathered around the dwarf.
Augustine was the first to notice someone else had entered the courtyard, but rather than shout it out, he tugged at Gregory. All these people had his shy tendencies kicking back in, so when more than a set of gray eyes came done on him, he sort of panicked. The boy opted to point instead of speak.
Augustus and Eugene hopped up instantly and continued the scurry that Gregory had previously interrupted.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Seeing that he was being laughed at Adrian's face flushed terribly dark and he quickly put the coins back into his pouch. He knew they were only jesting at his expense but it was still terribly embarrassing to have made such a faux pas. There was much to learn about being in a castle and in the home of royalty. They did things differently and he looked to Gregory with a little shame, hoping what he had done would not be held against him.
Yet they were soon away from discussing him and on to Florence and her deceased husband. It was not a topic he wished to partake in, as being the man now vying for her attention it did not shed a warm light on him. He shuffled about the kitchen, reaching for a piece of ham to try a piece but having his hand batted away by Samantha as if she were swatting away a fly. He hissed and moved back over to Gregory.
Thankfully he was rather excellent with his oral skills and in a moment he had the woman wrapped about his finger, offering up excuses of why multiple pies were required. It was humorous to see him use the children to his advantage, though he did use them in a way that would benefit them too. Adrian simply remained silent and like a pack mule he was used to carry the knife and an additional pie tin. Whilst he had been hopeful of a savoury pie, or just some cuts of meat, the sweet smell that rose from the pasty and filling was quite overwhelming and he subdued himself to be thankful.
Bowing his head to the head chef, he quickly followed the small man back out, her warning echoing down the hall as he jogged to catch up.[+crimson “You are a charming thief Gregory – no doubt you've stolen one or two of their hearts as well.”] He had admiration for the man and his tenacious ways and would have to take some of this mans acts and plays as his own. Perhaps it would give him more with Florence, at least show her a lighter side to himself though he was already quite open and light hearted.
Regardless of the woman's desires and what he wanted he followed the dwarf out back to where the children had been. Adrian was a little concerned not to see Augustine or the girl who had taken him off to play, but Gregory was calm and content, happy to be offering slivers of pie to greedy little hands as they sat in the grass. He himself had taken one small slice and stood off to the side a little, not wanting to disturb the dwarven man who seemed in his element.
When two men had come rushing down into the courtyard and skittered to a stop, he had felt a pang of fear that perhaps they were about to be acted upon. Perhaps they had taken too much liberty. Yet once again, Adrian was to look foolish as Gregory looked across and nonchalantly called on his son to come have a slice of pie. How long had this man been away? He could understand wanting to eat first but to greet his son like that in such a dismissive manner, as if he had never been gone in the first place, the tall pale man was rather lost for words. Yet that was Gregory. He did as he pleased and people loved him for it.
As if only coming to his own senses however, and letting their conversation run on until further pie offers were made, Adrian lowered to a knee, bowing his head as the cool emerald eyes of Eugene had swept across toward him. Perhaps he should have left his sword behind or at least not on his hip. The man with one arm and eyes as dark as coals had looked at him with annoyance, though perhaps it had just been this entire scene all together that had disgruntled him. The red eyed man remained silent, just staying bowed and respectful as he felt was proper. Where was Florence to keep him calm when he needed it most?
The ladies giggled at Adrian. [+hotpink “Where did you find this one, Gregory? He’s a sweet one.”] Samantha waved his hand off. [+hotpink “You can keep your coin.”] She winked, a happy look on her face.
[+darkmagenta “It was Florence who picked him up, not me.”] That was only part true, but it worked to spread the news that he was not the only one who had made the trip back from Wistina.
[+hotpink “Lady Florence has returned too? Well, that is a surprise… though I suppose it shouldn’t be. Poor girl, she just lost her husband did she not?”] Rumors of it were circulating about a month or so ago, but it was hard to tell what was the truth by the time it traveled this far north. The woman had hoped it was nothing more than hearsay, but the look on Gregory’s face confirmed it.
The dwarf nodded, concreting it further. [+darkmagenta “That she did. And a lot happened after that, politics and what have you, but I won’t bore you beautiful ladies with that story.”] He waved his hand as if it would clear up the gloominess that clung to the air. [+darkmagenta “Now about those pies?”]
Lifting a brow she looked back to him, [+hotpink “pies? I do not see why two men have need for more than one.”]
[+darkmagenta “Did I not mentioned we brought my grandson as well? He certainly will need a taste, and he is playing with a whole slew of children out there who I am sure are in need of some spoiling.”] He wore the grin of an old man who was looking to ruin dinner for a lot of children.
[+hotpink “Fine, but if Abigail asks, I am telling her exactly who is to blame.”]
Gregory shrugged; he was not too worried about it. He knew he would be easily forgiven. [+darkmagenta “You are a doll, Samantha.”] He held his hands out as the woman walked back to a collect a few of the large tinned pastries. She passed two of them off to Gregory and a third to his friend along with a serving knife. [+darkmagenta “Thank you!”] He gave his thanks emphatically, then like a mouse, he was quick to scamper away with his spoils.
Standing in the doorway behind them, hands on her hips, the chef called after them. [+hotpink “Next time you had better bring this mainlander grandson of yours, I want to see him!”]
[+darkmagenta “Of course!”] He smiled back as he rushed off back toward the courtyard.
For once Augustine needed no prompting from Flora to start off running. He followed after the King and his friend, slowly losing ground on the long legged men as they went. But despite falling behind, he never lost visual of them. And soon enough they were all back at the courtyard. That was where the chase came to the end, because as soon as Eugene laid eyes on Gregory sitting in the grass and dishing out slices of pie to his children he stopped. [+seagreen “Vati?”]
[+darkmagenta “Ah, there you are Eugene. I was wondering when you would show up. Here.”] He offered a piece of apple pie out to the man. [+darkmagenta “You too Augustine!”]
[+darkslateblue “Don’t you think you should have sent word that you would be returning?”] Augustus was critical.
Gregory shook his head. [+darkmagenta “I don’t see why I should need to tell you when I am coming home.”] He was, of course, joking, but it did not seem like the dark eyed man appreciated it. [+darkmagenta “Truth be told, we did not have time. It is a long story. Not very suitable for the ears of children, so it you will have to come later. Now eat while we wait for Florence, unless you want to get caught up by Danni too?”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The inside was much tamer than the outside, though the fields did give a little lead up to the spectacle they would see within. If it had been all gardens and fountains outside, then he would have expected just as much grandeur inside. Yet to see the barren walls, the minimalist touches here and there, it sung to Adrian. It allowed for the masonry and structures itself to shine through and to be the delight visitors would get from entering. Statues, paintings, artwork and the like were all wonderful yes but to a practical man like himself, the building and the work that went into it was what he found beautiful.
Yet all this whirled by in a blur as Gregory kept up a great speed to get to the kitchens. He knew of the man’s appetite and his desire for good food, but he had not seen him move like this, like a gymnast before. His feet were light and he positively danced down the hallways, this way and that, turning and darting through passageways to the point he almost lost the tall man behind him.
Thankfully it was a quick journey and without giving much of a pause to see if they were truly welcome, the little man waltzed into the kitchen as if he were the King himself. The faces of those within seeing the dwarf after so long was lovely and it did warm the heart to see such joy brought about by his merry words. Yet the grumbling of his stomach and the build-up of saliva as he smelt and saw the tasty delights dotted about them, it was almost too much for Adrian to ignore. Whilst Gregory danced about making complimentary remarks to the women cooking and they waved at him to go away or chastise him for his sugary sweet words, the tall man walked about slowly.
He offered his gentlest smile to any who looked at him or eyed him warily; watching them all work and do so like it was nothing. It was quite amazing. He had cooked before and seen cooks like this, but it was on such a larger scale.[+darkmagenta “Don’t mind him ladies, he’s just impressed by how amazing you all are. I told him you made the best pastries in the world; don’t prove an old dwarf wrong now. Please.”] He turned to Samantha to offer his best and most sincere looking expression.
Adrian, for his part, walked across to the woman in question, fishing into his pouch at his waist.[+crimson “Apologies, I can pay. I will even pay for his – to an extent. Maybe just a couple of pies.”] He grinned, offering up a handful of coins in his palm to the woman. He wasn’t exactly used to the notion that in the castle, you did not need to pay.
Even with his short legs, Gregory was waving for Adrian to keep up with him. [+darkmagenta “I hope Samantha is still about. The woman bakes like an angel.”] Though he would be content with any familiar face. It sure would be awkward if he walked in there and they had replaced all the staff. He doubted they would be offering some strange dwarf much of anything so long before dinnertime rolled around.
Inside the castle, things were a lot less glamorous. Well, the architecture kept up, but where one would think the walls would be lined with all sort of fanciful things, there was just the occasional piece of art or furniture. All of which was more practical. Things like paintings and tapestries, as opposed to jewel encrusted statues. As far as castles were concerned, it was somewhat humble.
Gregory took them on the shortest possible path to the kitchen. And in no time at all, pleasant smells began to tickle their noses. Something was roasting passed the thick set of double doors that led into the large kitchen. The dwarf pushed the heavy barrier just enough to give him room to poke his head in. To his pleasure, it looked as though there were mostly the same set of faces in here as when he left, so he wasted no time pushing the door the rest of the way open and waltzing right in.
[+darkmagenta “You may rejoice, for your favorite source of entertainment has returned.”] He grinned ear to ear as all eyes came to him. Nearly all of them perking up to see the gentlemen, there were a few who rolled their eyes at his vibrato, but even these folks seemed to crack a smile after given a moment or two. [+darkmagenta “My dear, sweet Samantha, we just made it back and are half starved. Could we trouble you for some of your delicious wares?”]
Laughing the heavyset woman shook her head. [+hotpink “You never change, do you Gregory?”]
This was not what Augustine was expecting of his arrival to this place. Pulled into a childish game of hide and seek with a group of kids who mostly looked younger than him. And none of them seemed at all worried that a group of strangers walked straight passed all their guards. It was strange here. His mother had told him it would be informal, but he would have never imagined to this extent.
In their game, he was at a disadvantage. Another reason for him to be in a sour mood, as he was the only one who did not know where anything was here. How was he supposed to know where they were allowed to play and where they needed to stay out of? Surely they weren’t allowed to run about as they pleased. With that in mind, he tried to find someplace to hide in the second round of their game. But who should show up other than Flora, who declared that he needed to scoot over and that she was going to hide in this bush as well. There were plenty of other bushes, why did she need this one?
The quiet required for adequate hiding did not last. [+plum “Hey, how old are you?”]
[+coral “Eight, but I will be nine soon.”]
[+plum “I am nine already, so that means I am older than you.”] She grinned as though that fact alone gave her some sort of dominion over him. [+plum “Hey, did you know my dad works here in the castle?”]
How would be ever be able to know that? Augustine shook his head.
[+plum “Yeah, he is a uh… tactician… he works directly with King Eugene.”] She bragged with little shame, but the blond listening to her was just glad to find out that they were not related. If her father simply worked here, he might not have to see her quite so much.
Flora was staring at him like she expected some sort of awe. He wondered if it was better just to appease her. [+coral “That is really cool…”]
[+plum “Isn’t it?”] She paused, only a moment’s hesitation. [+plum “Would you like to see?”]
[+coral “Aren’t we in the middle of a game?”]
[+plum “Oh, that is no problem.”] Bursting forth from the shrubbery, she had ahold of Augustine yet again. [+plum “We will be back!”] The girl shouted at the very top of her lungs before taking off toward the front entrance of the castle. Ripping his hand from hers again, the thin boy followed along on his own. She ran this way and that through the halls. And even when they passed someone, they did little more than politely ask that they slow down. Which lasted exactly long enough for them to round a corner and be out of sight before Flora took off at top speed again. But eventually, when it seemed like they must have made it to the very center of the palace, she came to a screeching halt.
There was an open door. Flora looked back at him and motioned for him to inch closer with her. Together they peaked into what looked to be a strategy room. There were two men. She pointed to the closer one. He had cropped brown hair and dark eyes like hers. It must have been her father. But before he could say anything, the boy noticed something else, something peculiar. The man was missing his right arm. His sleeve was tied off just below the elbow, the material fluttered about as he moved about in irritation.
[+darkslateblue “How could they just lose her? Something is going on.”] His voice was angry and pointed. [+darkslateblue “They are spitting in our faces and we need to do something about it!”]
The other man’s voice was calm as he attempted to placate Flora’s father. [+seagreen “Augustus, please. There is not enough information here. We cannot be sure of anything yet. Not to mention, I won’t put our people through a war over this.”] Emerald eyes falling onto the calm man, he had piercing green eyes and dark chocolate brown hair that was pulled back into a low ponytail. This was unmistakably Augustine’s uncle. He looked so much like his mother that the boy probably could have picked him out anywhere. [+seagreen “That is not what she would want either.”] He spoke decidedly.
As Augustine was marveling over the discovery, Flora leaned in to whisper. [+plum “Word just came in a couple of days ago that the King’s sister has gone missing in Wistina. It’s still a secret though.”]
Even at her quieter volume, Augustus’ eyes snapped toward them. [+darkslateblue “Flora, what have I said about skulking about?”]
The girl’s dapper mood finally damped some, which Augustus might have reveled in had he not felt like he was about to be in trouble as well. He hadn’t even been here a whole twenty minutes and was already making a bad impression. It was all her fault. They gave up the ghost and stepped fully into the doorway.
[+darkslateblue “And who is this with you?”] His voice was not so harsh as he referred to the child that was not his own. He looked the child up and down; it looked like the boy had been scampering about the countryside for weeks on end.
[+plum “This is Augustine, he is my new friend. We just met today.”]
The shorthaired man looked back to his friend sitting at the table. The same thought ran through both of their heads. [+darkslateblue “And where did you come from, Augustine?”]
Feeling on the spot, the boy was slow to answer. He stood with perfect posture; nervous even though he was fairly certain he could trust these people. [+coral “Wistina… sir.”]
The two adults looked at one another again. In the meantime, Flora piped back up. [+plum “Is that why you sound so funny?”]
[+darkslateblue “Flora!”] Her father’s voice cut sharply at her again as he shook his head. Why would his daughter not think before she spoke?
[+seagreen “Augustine, would your mother happen to be Queen Florence?”] Eugene’s words and eyes were optimistic, an optimism that was fulfilled when the boy nodded back. [+seagreen “Where is she now?”]
[+coral “She was caught up by some people in town.”]
[+darkslateblue “She is here?!”] The blond nodded again, but it seemed to be for naught as both of the men took off running down the halls, much like the children had done only a few minutes prior.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Adrian was in much more awe than Augustine as they travelled up to the first gatehouse and then beyond. He had never been within castle grounds like this. At best he had seen the inside of a keep of a lower noble, often no more than a house with a high wall around it. This was something particularly special. Even if the fields had been taken up by more buildings or put towards gardens as Florence would like, it was still quite the sight to behold. So much farmland put under the protection of castle walls and looking well watered and irrigated. Clearly this Eugene was a man of some logical and intelligent design.
When they were approaching the inner wall and the main castle, he was dazed a little from the amount of glass that reflected and sparkled back at him. Some panels were twice his height and their colours were so bright and vivid. It was splendour beyond comprehension to a small town man like himself and he could scarcely believe anyone lived in this kind of splendour. Even without seeing inside he was in awe and Gregory chuckled on seeing the wide eyes of the man he rode with. It had changed to him too but the grand scale of things never did bother him – even for a diminutive man such as himself.
The girl who came over to them was rather adorable with her vivid appearance. Such stark eyes, they were almost on par with Florence’s. Seeing her ignore him and Gregory, he chuckled and watched the young boy be dragged off to play. He was so serious, and perhaps he had not been afforded the time to be a child, yet this was a perfect chance for just such a thing and he agreed with Gregory for pushing the boy to go play. It would do him good.
Off their horses and heading towards the castle as they were, he paused when there was mention of sneaking to the kitchen. His reasoning was rather sound but he chuckled anyway.[+crimson “Gregory, you are a marvel. Back for not longer than a minute and already with food on the mind.”] He grinned and caught up to the man, patting his shoulder to draw his attention, brow furrowed on the pale mans’ face as he looked down on him.
[+crimson “What would Florence say if she were here right now? I am sure she would remind you to be polite and see to Eugene immediately. So long away and yet you want to see the kitchens first.”] He mockingly scolded him before looking about them and nodding at the smaller man.[+crimson “Still.. I could rather devour some chicken right now.”] The coin seemed to drop and the bearded bard laughed and clapped his hands.[+darkmagenta “Ohh, a bloody great big ale too! And pastries! My word, get the ovens fired and the dough rolled, Gregory wants a pie!”] He called out and took to a light jog, rubbing his hands in delight as he led the taller man off toward their savoury delights.
Adrian was more than happy to team with the man and enjoy some food and drink, though he did spare some thought to the two left behind them. Florence likely was still trying to pick herself free of the adoring fans whilst Augustine was bitterly trying to retain his independence and act the adult amongst his peers. Both were out their comfort zones perhaps. But they were safe, they would not come to harm, and for the first time in a couple weeks, he was able to truly relax.
It was not much longer before they came up to one of the main gates that led into what was the beginning of the castle grounds. The gate was wide open, with nothing than a couple of guards to keep post for the day. They stood to ask what the party’s business was before one of them recognized the dwarf atop the horse out front. The lightly armored guard waved him and the others on with a bright smile. Welcoming him back as they passed.
Fields went on for quite some way. They were littered with people tending to the crops, as Gregory and the others passed by on a stone lined road. In the distance the castle peeked menacingly over the secondary wall. Like Florence had described, it was huge. Excessively so, but it was beautiful. There was a lot of glasswork that made it shine in the bright light of day.
They were granted access to the inner sanctum with little trouble as well. For this, Augustine was glad. It would have been terrible to be cast out when they were so close. Especially with his mother not knowing what happened to them, but things went smoothly and they were able to make their way to the stables to dismount their horses. After that, they walked on foot to a pretty courtyard just outside the towering building. In the open area, there were several children playing. They took immediate notice of the strangers, but only one of them approached the trio. A girl, about Augustine’s age, with wild red head and eyes so dark brown they might as well have been onyx.
[+plum “Hello!”] Her greeting was directed at Augustine. She seemed to have very little interest in the adults. [+plum “You should come play with us.”] It was more of a demand than a suggestion.
Augustine blinked, unsure of what to do. He was not used to speaking with children his own age, and he was not used to being talked to in such a way either. The two combined rendered him speechless. He looked over to Gregory for help; the dwarf just urged him on with a nod. Still nothing came out.
The gray bearded man stepped in. [+darkmagenta “He would love to play with you all, dear.”] The girl looked over to Gregory as though he was about as interesting as a rock on the ground and nodded.
A little bit mortified at the answer that had been picked for him, Augustine was slow to move anywhere. But with a push from Gregory in the girl’s direction, she grabbed ahold of him and he was practically dragged off.
The old man laughed at his grandson’s expense. The boy would get used to it soon enough. [+darkmagenta “Well, that sets him up for now. What do you say we sneak over to the kitchen? I am dying for a bite.”] When Adrian looked at him, seemingly confused about his priorities, he laughed again. [+darkmagenta “They’ve waited eight years to see me, they can wait a few more minutes while I reacquaint myself with the chef.”]
With that, the pair was off on their own mission and Augustine was left to fend for himself. Quite fed up with being pulled about, he dug his heals into the ground and took back his arm from the girl. [+coral “I can walk on my own…”]
[+plum “Your accent’s kinda funny.”] Her head cocked to the side as she spoke. [+plum “I like it. My name is Flora, what is yours?”]
She was so rude! The blond boy didn’t much feel like telling her anything at this point, but he knew he would be in trouble if he did not behave… His hands were tied; he had to be nice. [+coral “Augustine.”] His answer consisted of only that, as he was not terribly self-conscious about the way he spoke.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat For once Adrian was not at the forefront of their walk. Rather Florence took the lead, guiding Augustine on little memories here and there and how certain buildings tied in to her past and her childhood. It was sweet to see her so engrossed in sharing this much with her son about her homeland, his heritage and where his family came from. Gregory was taken with this too, but perhaps as he had travelled a little more he held more sentiment in people than places and rode beside the tall swordsman.
When they entered Morgenstaf he could sense that Florence wanted to be up and through the many rings of outer housing and communities that surrounded the castle grounds. From a security point of view he could quite well agree, and he wanted to hurry her on at a trot. But with the sun rising to its peak and the capital now at its busiest, it was only a matter of time before someone saw the group and managed to place a name to the faces. It felt funny that Gregory would be seen first, and the man took it with some shameless bravado as he posed for the barwoman.
[+crimson [i ‘Poor Florence’]] was all Adrian could think with a smile as she was seized upon by the people of her country, ever eager to see their missing royal and to talk and converse with her. It made him feel a little lighter, knowing that whatever hard veneer she had put up when first meeting him, it was not her true self and he was right that she was a very good person of excellent repute. It was not just a façade.
Yet at the same time he wanted to wade in, to take her hand and lead her back to her horse and act like the body guard. But he wasn’t one. He was a friend of the group, an advisory, an accomplice to them all. Perhaps it was his feeling of protection over them during their trip that continued here yet he had to remind himself several times that these were her people, her land, her country and they were likely to protect her far better than he could.[+crimson “Who knew she was such a popular character?”] He commented to Augustine who, sat on the horse by himself, nodded and smiled in agreement.
Gregory had been close to asking Adrian to retrieve her so they could continue to the castle, but her hand went up and she waved for them to go without her. All three men seemed to hesitate at that but with leadership falling to the oldest, and with small waves from all three, they rode on.[+crimson “I only wish I knew what she was going through now. To be home after so long; it must be a magical feeling.”] Indeed he was curious what kind of emotions ran through a person witnessing what she was.
[+darkorange “Mother did look really happy, though..”] Augustine hesitated a little, and with Gregory leading on ahead of them Adrian moved a little closer atop his horse.[+crimson “Go on, just between us..”] He encouraged the boy who looked ahead then nodded.[+darkorange “I hope I feel the same way, when we go back to Wistina. If we go back.”] His voice showed his fear that they would remain here forever, and his home would remain just a memory and a far off dream. Adrian though, ever the optimist it seemed, smiled and put a hand to the boys shoulder for a moment.[+crimson “I am sure you will go back, one day, once you have the right skills and training. Then you go back. And if you wish, I will go with you.”] He genuinely meant that. He felt the boy needed the extra comfort of knowing he had more allied than he believed. Yet it seemed to bring a frown to his face.[+darkorange “Nicolai said that too.. I wish he was here.”] He mumbled the ending, riding on to catch up to Gregory and end their talk, not wanting to discuss it further.
Florence woke cozily cuddled up to her son. And seeing as it had been a while since he let her anywhere near him, she was in no hurry to get up and going for the day. But the time did come when he too stirred and rose for the day. Stretching, she wiped the sleep from his eyes and crawled out of the bed.
[+mediumseagreen “Good morning.”] She cooed at him, grabbing his attention. The child reciprocated the sentiment.
Eyes wandering about the room, Augustine had half forgotten that they had slept indoors. All but Gregory seemed to be awake, so he went over to the snoring man and shook lightly at his shoulder. This provoked a chuckle from Florence. They had spent so long traveling together and trying to get as early a start as they could, that her son now woke the old man out of habit. It was just as well, because the woman still wanted to be out of this place by a decent time. They were so close to home she could practically taste it. It might be another two days travel depending on how well they did on time. But after weeks that seemed like nothing at all.
Another quick meal with the family and a very grateful goodbye and they were off. Just as Florence expected, time flew. Unlike everywhere else they had gone through, she knew the countryside here like the back of her hand. Every twist and turn of the road and she knew just where they were and how much longer it would be. But just because she remembered the landscape didn’t mean what was on it hadn’t changed. There were more townships than she remembered. A sign that prosperity was growing amongst the rolling hills, it filled her with joy.
Mid-afternoon of the second day, they happened into Morgenstaf. It was the capital of Astoria. The city enveloped the castle and its grounds like a ring, so there was no getting there without going through some part of the protective town, which was a little worrying. Not because it was dangerous, but because this is where they would be most easily recognized. Once that happened it was likely they might be stuck here for a while. And as happy as she was to see her people, Florence would very much like to see her family first and foremost.
But it was not meant to be. In what was the last third of the trek through the city, there came a voice. [+cornflowerblue “Gregory, you old sod, is that you?”] A middle-aged woman called out to the dwarf from outside of a tavern. Based on the fact that she was setting a pint of beer down in front of a man sitting at a table situated in front of the establishment, she probably worked there.
Picking up the familiar voice, the bard stopped. [+darkmagenta “Well of course it is, do you know anyone else this ruggedly handsome?”] He grabbed his beard, a bit of acting to go with his jest.
[+mediumseagreen “Vati, please, we do not have time for this right now.”] The woman was anxious to make it to the castle and kept her words quiet, but they still brought attention to her.
[+cornflowerblue “Florence?!”] The woman’s voice was even more bewildered than at seeing Gregory and her attention was completely torn from him. Her loud declaration carried and brought the attention of others to the scene.
[+mediumseagreen “Ah ja, Danni it is me.”] Shoulder sagging some at being recognized, Florence bit the bullet. Coming down off her horse, she stepped into the conversation.
Florence put on a polite smile as Danni went on, gushing somewhat. [+cornflowerblue “Are you back for good, or is this just a visit?”] She could already tell this was going to take a while. [+cornflowerblue “Things just weren’t the same after you left, not to say they were bad, but we’ve all missed you something fierce in Morgenstaf.”] Hope as she might that this would not spread, people were already whispering and gathering in interest. Those who recognized her lingered, hoping to have a word with her themselves.
Turning back to the others momentarily, Florence waved them on. No reason to keep them here while she was caught up talking. Gregory obliged her for the moment and rode on.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It was lovely and warm in the house and yet Adrian too felt more warmth from his own chest than anything else. Her hand had placed atop his and with knowing smiles at one another he swiftly let his hand fall by his side. Of course Augustine may have seen the touch and the look they shared, but it could easily have been played off as innocent, given how they were crowded into this home and he was pressed into her not entirely through his own means. It was not like he was looking for more of an intimate moment or to be seen as a man out for just her body; that would do his own character a great dishonour. He hoped she did not think of him as lecherous, like she had accused Nicolai.
And on mention of the missing elf he felt a pang of guilt and regret. Each time he thought of what had happened, of how he had pushed the elf to leave because of Adrian, when all Nicolai had seemingly wanted the attention of this wonderful woman before him. And it looked like Augustine had the same thought judging by the deep thoughtful look he gave the tall man. It felt peculiar to be in the position he was now, in another man’s shoes almost. Did the boy think so too? Did he look on Adrian as the man who had pushed away his friend and mentor?
He knew only a little of the boys relationship to Nicolai. That he had served as his weapons instructor and teacher in history, whilst also as a makeshift bodyguard; though the latter was not discussed much as the details were not privy for general discussion. Perhaps Augustine had seen Nicolai in a favourable light that when he had left, it had hit him rather hard, especially alongside the knowledge of his parentage. That thought in particular tugged at his heart and played at his mind as they ate, though he gave the air of a man thoroughly happy and pleased with everything.
Even when their group made for the bedroom, light ribbing from Gregory at his and Florence’s expense met with light laughter from the tall man. But that point only made him feel that bit more troubled. If things progressed as they were, would such an act become more serious and even possible?
As he lay down on the floor, pushed up against the wall to allow Gregory some more space, Adrian resolved to allow time for things to settle, for people to relax and enjoy being home. Then he would speak with them all. He would not go to them one at a time or confide in them his fears away from the others. He would not mince his words or seek to gain the favour of the majority whilst upsetting one. Adrian was not a selfish man and if there were concerns and complaints, he would rather they were aired than allowed to fester – even if they were to his detriment. It would be good for them all to talk aloud and as a group manage the situation. They would all know how one another felt and then they could proceed forward dependant on what was said.
He wished Lizzie was here. She was rather good at diplomatic talks like that and her presence would have helped calm him.[+crimson “Goodnight everyone. And if you feel the need to pass gas Gregory, do turn away from me.”] He bit back after the man’s teasing of him and Florence and winked as the bearded fellow looked at him with ruddy cheeks and huffed theatrically.[+darkmagenta “Oh do not worry about that, just keep your hands to yourself – I don’t much like playing little spoon.”] He spoke softly so that Augustine might not hear and the pair laughed at one another before laying down.
With them all settled, Adrian had remained awake a little longer, the moonlight through the window falling on Florence’s face. She was still his primary concern, but with her peaceful and serene face to look upon, he felt those concerns pass to the back of his mind and he could no longer hold back sleep.
Come morning he woke up early – as he often did when camping – and remained in his sleeping spot to allow the others extra time. It was warm in the room given the space and the number of bodies, but it was pleasant and he only shuffled to a seated position to stop from falling back to sleep. He could be rather irritable should he sleep, wake and sleep again. That and he was quite excited - today was the day they reached the castle. Maybe. How far was the castle anyway? Where was it even?
Florence smiled to see Gregory so happy. As much as she had missed this place, the old dwarf had even more. And with how excited he was to see a friend, she knew he must have been chomping at the bit to get to see his other grandchildren. She was also looking forward to meeting the newer additions for the first time.
The close quarters of the house did not bother her; it was just nice to have a roof over their heads. And the tight space allowed for a comfortable warmth to seep into her. Though, Florence wasn’t entirely sure if that came from the house or perhaps from within her chest at knowing she was home at last.
While caught up in these thoughts, she felt a now familiar hand at her waist. Adrian was gazing down at her with tenderness in his eyes. Her breath caught in her throat for a second. But once it came back, the oxygen hit her brain and she realized this was probably not the best time or place. In fact Augustine was looking over at the curiously. This was a first for him, he had always been with his back turned or out of sight entirely when Adrian did such things. It reminded him of what Nicolai was saying when he left. That his mother liked this man… and much like when Nicolai was calling for his mother’s attention, the boy did not know how he felt about it.
Florence brought her hand up and set it atop of Adrian’s. She squeezed gently, before removing his grip from her curves. The woman faced no resistance in doing so, which was good because there might have been a scene had that not been the case. Looking up at the tall man, it appeared as though he had expected this outcome. In fact there was quite the smile on Adrian’s face. Ever infectious, she could not help but smile back, her own expression less blatant, but not entirely subtle.
Not long after their arrival, Mason’s mother quickly added to what she was making for dinner. Simple roasted fish with some local vegetables, it was fitting for the family and their profession, but was a tasty treat for the visitors, most of all Florence whose stomach appreciated having something in it again. After the meal there was a small window for conversation. Adrian shone here as he always did. Lizzie had been right in saying that he liked to have new people to talk with. But when their talks finally did die, it was off to bed. They all had an early morning planned.
There was only one extra room, so they had to make due with that. Florence and Augustine ended up being the ones to use the single bed. She tried to fight Gregory on it, saying he needed it more being the oldest, but that backfired quickly as he returned her concern with teasing.
[+darkmagenta “It sounds to me that you would just like an excuse to sleep next to Adrian.”] He lifted a humored brow her way, knowing very well that was not the case, but this would be the fastest way to get her to concede.
Her face was immediately flushed. [+mediumseagreen “Of course not, you old lech!”] Taking up one of the feather pillows from the bed, she threw it at his head. Gregory stumbled back as she comically hitting her mark. [+mediumseagreen “See if I ever try to be kind to you again.”] She took a seat on the bed, fuming. How dare he say that in front of Augustine?
The dwarf was laughing by the time she sat down. [+darkmagenta “Oh come now, Florence, you know I jest.”] She continued to glare at him, a sour expression on her face up until they were all laid down for the night. It was snug, but no closer than they had been arranged while sleeping curled up next to the fire during their travels.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Had he really gotten away with such an action? In truth, the swordsman had thought a curt hand would cut across his cheek and he would feel the sting of a slap for being so forward and bold. Yet she had looked at him, stuttered, and touched her cheek as if to see if it were real. His hand in hers was all the warmer for her rosy cheeks and that glorious smile and if he had wanted to chance his luck he may have gone on further. But it was a good progression and he did not wish to push things too far.
Sitting with her, holding her hand, gently stroking the back of it with his other as the boat continued on and rocked them quite gently, he remained with her until they had docked. Through her second spell of distress he had whispered encouragement and sweet words to make her laugh or to take her mind from the feeling of wanting to heave once more and in a way it worked, though perhaps that was down to her having nothing but a few sips of water left in her stomach. At least it was a very short journey. Had it lasted days, who knew what would happen?
Reaching Astoria, Adrian was rather in awe. He had heard it's landscape was vibrant and filled with a myriad of unique flora. Even from their ship and the slow path they took into dock, he looked about with peaked interest, wanting to spend a good time exploring the entire island. Perhaps he could convince Florence to join him? She might teach him how to use a bow and he could.. cook for her? Step one would be to think of what he could do in return. Either way, with the plentiful rivers and over abundance of vegetation, it was safe to say it would be hard to starve out here.
Off the ship, with Augustine and Florence back together and ahead of him, he grasped onto Gregory and laughed as his balance betrayed him. Mason offered them a bed for the night and it brought a nod of agreement from the tall pale man, happy for any help he could receive. The journey across had been a rather pleasant one, for obvious reasons, and given the hospitable nature of this Captain he was beginning to see why Astorian's were quite well received by the greater world upon opening up.
Keeping with the dwarf and making light chatter about the town, discussing and chuckling over the best ale houses, the best places to eat and even the best brothels – for which Florence gave him a deathly look for speaking of such before Augustine yet both men only laughed in return – the journey to Mason's home, or his fathers home, was quick.
Indeed it was a squeeze as he had said and Adrian was last to enter as he eased Augustine and Florence in once Gregory had set off to embrace his injured friend Kai. It was quite the reunion between old friends. But once again stuffed in a corner with the woman he had been flirting with all afternoon, his hand came to her side and squeezed ever so gently as to tease her a little. He knew she would not like him to be doing such in front of their hosts but when she would look up into his crimson eyes, he would only be staring back in adoration, a coy yet warm smile on his lips.
When he said he wouldn’t leave until she released him, Florence’s lips curled up subtly. It was a very sweet gesture. Especially when she was such a mess. [+mediumseagreen “Then I am afraid, it might be some time before you are granted back your freedom.”] The smile lasted right up until his lips pressed against her skin. She didn’t know whether she had been distracted or just did not see it coming, but it was a surprise. The brief contact left her stuttering. [+mediumseagreen “Oh, well, uh…”] It took a moment for her to gather her thoughts and words, but when she did sort them out, there came with another smile.
[+mediumseagreen “No need for apologies, you are very sweet.”] Her face was bright red as her free hand came up to touch the place he kissed. They color on her cheeks was not just from the act, but also from her floundering. She was a grown woman, one with a child. She should have at least been able to handle this much.
The pair sat there by themselves for a long while, at least before Florence’s stomach started acting up again. Then it was back to fighting off a dry heave as she had already emptied the contents from her tummy. But true to his word, Adrian was there for all of it. If she wasn’t so embarrassed, she might have been happier about that fact, but it was what it was. Her feelings were of their own volition. Try as she might, she did not have much control of them.
Eventually, this being hours into their voyage, the green-eyed woman’s stomach decided it would behave. Or at the very least it had given up on making her ill for the time being. Florence was even brave enough to venture away form the railing to see how her son was doing. Turned out he was fine. The boy had found entertainment in asking crewmen about how things worked on the ship. He made sure to wait until they weren’t busy, so they were happy enough to tell him a thing or two about their job. Florence was just glad that the men were kind enough to spare him a moment in their breaks. She was sure to thank them when Augustine wandered off to find Gregory.
The trip passed in this manner for the woman. There was little reprieve, but by the end of it, she thought it was not too terrible. She would do it all over again if she had to. And she knew at some point she would, but for now she was free of the incessant rolling of the sea. It was back to dry land for her. And not just any land, but her homeland. They were finally in Astoria. Looking on the immediate area she grinned. She was home at last.
Though rather hot in temperature, the island was still green and lush. The color came mainly from grasses and bushes instead of trees. But that was not to say there wasn’t the occasional scattering of trees. There were small woods here and there. But unlike in Wistina, the forests were comprised mainly of broadleaved trees. Conifers were rare in these parts, but the hardwood they did have was perfect for crafting the bows this place was famous for.
Unless one had a very well trained eye, all these details would be difficult to see from within the confines of the town they took port in. What could be seen though, were the rivers. Astoria was webbed with rivers and estuaries that ran the entirety of the isle. In more mountainous areas they formed waterfalls and other features that rivaled the beauty of any man made fountain. Florence could not wait for the others to see it, but for now it was getting dark and they had been offered to come home with Mason to spend the night. It would be a tight fit in his family home, but he was sure his father would like to see Gregory before they headed back to the capital.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Her hand was so warm and the moment it lay atop his he felt a queer flutter in his chest. For once he did not blush or show his embarrassment and nerves. He held his own and with a gracious smile he turned his hand to take a hold of hers, her palm to his, his fingers curling around her own. He squeezed gently and looked at her despite her silence as she fought to control her stomach and keep her contents within.
Eugene’s plans to turn the gardens into farmland were a quite noble gesture. To keep people fed over having some pretty fauna and topiary was a very lovely thing and it just implanted the seed of respect he would have for the man if that was a sign of things to come. Of course Florence did not sound best pleased, but surely the man would leave her a little patch to call her own, a little garden to tend and mark herself on the castle. He hoped he had at least; it would be rather sweet.
Admiring her for trying for so long, when it did finally come he kept tight hold of her hand, moving a little closer to offer a little stability as she moved with the ship. His comment about her beauty during her nausea was in jest, but he did not want her thinking he was just saying words or giving her reason to think he was a flatterer and nothing more. When she gave him the excuse to leave and not stand there watching her puke, he shook his head, hair swaying with the light wind.
[+crimson “Florence.. really?”] He asked as if slightly offended she wanted him to go away from her at this moment in time. She gave him a gentle roll of her eyes, accustomed to his very light sarcasm.[+crimson “Okay, perhaps too much. But seriously, I don’t want to go anywhere. Until you let go of my hand, I’m more than delighted to be stood here right beside you.”] He could not really imagine any situation where he would let go, save for falling off the damn ship.
Standing with her for a little time as they watched one another or the waves, his hand secure in hers, he did not want to ruin the moment with needless chatter. Yet looking at her with her rosy cheeks and those large green eyes staring out into the great blue ocean, he couldn’t help but to lean across and kiss her cheek. It was very brief but his heart beat a thousand times faster and his hand felt all the warmer in hers. It was a bold move, very bold, but the desire had been too much to deny.
[+crimson "Sorry.."] He said softly to her though he did not mean it at all. He wasn't sorry, but quite grateful at that moment that Gregory and Augustine could not see, the former Queen and former nomad tucked away behind some crates and barrels on deck.
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