Fall of the Court

/ By Loxi [+Watch]

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Florence didn’t know the first thing about Underside, it was not a place she had heard of. Though to be fair she only really knew the major cities in Esteroak. The ones that were pertinent to countries that owed their lively hood to trading, such as Wistina and now Astoria. She could only hope that this place would not be too seedy. She did not want to drag Augustine into any unnecessary danger. Not if she could help it.

Gregory sort of grumbled. He knew Nicolai had a point. It was midsummer, but it might as well have always been winter throughout the mountain range. That included through the passes, even though the altitude was not quite so high. The icy winds did a fine job of spilled down the rocky slopes and settled at the mountain’s base for the full duration of the year.

[+darkmagenta “Optimally we would act as huntsmen. Selling game as we come across towns and cities.”] That had been the plan to keep them fed the way up. But he knew it would not be enough to pull in the coin they needed to dress the two, at least not quickly enough. The elf saw that and stressed the need to meet with his friend, or whoever this was. [+darkmagenta “This is just an awful long way out of our way.”] No more helpful suggestions came from him. He did not like the idea of Florence or her boy suffering more than they had to through all this, but two more days was a lot of land covered.

The olive-skinned woman saw Gregory’s hesitation to continue on this way. And with it, the way he backed down at the mention of her and Augustine. He was a fool to not see what Nicolai was doing, but in this case it mattered little. [+mediumseagreen “It should be fine. As long as we are still heading north then we are making progress to our destination.”] That was the woman’s main concern. Getting too far out of the way, while would keep them relatively well hidden, would also give the enemy more time to think about headed them off at the pass. Which was her most poignant worry at the moment. But it was also important to give themselves the best possible chance before getting into more troublesome terrain. The latter seemed to win out in the end.

She also noticed the way Nicolai winced as he moved his shoulder. It was… concerning. She watched him with a discerning eyes and asked, [+mediumseagreen “are you feeling alright, Nicolai? When was the last time you changed that bandage?”] Florence had not recalled it happening since they left the farm, but it was not as though she spent every waking moment in the man’s presence. There were times when she or he left for privacy. He very well could have done it or had someone else help him in that time.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 72d 16h 33m 25s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Given their travel went smoothly he was rather surprised to find no-one quibbled or offered any complaints. Perhaps it was just an eagerness to get on with this long journey but likewise it may have been that no-one had anything to argue or complain about. And when you considered who was in this group, it was a rather sweet little miracle that they were quite harmonious. Nicolai was not going to be the one to break that up.

When it came to camping it was a stern word between the two semi-leaders of the group in Nicolai and Florence. Both wanted to take guard, neither wanted the other to lose out on sleep. In the end it was agreed Gregory would help and split the night in three, allowing everyone to sleep a little more whilst sharing responsibility for keeping their fire going and protecting everyone. Meredith seemed pleased with her lot, keeping quiet and allowed to eat and sleep without any confrontation – even from Nicolai.

Perhaps the dwarf had rubbed off on him a little and his forgiving nature left it's mark. Whilst the woman would not be trusted near a weapon or to guard them at night, he could understand she was destitute now and abandoned to the world. She was like them one way or another and his sympathy, though small, was with her.

Come the third day, just after covering over the fireplace from the night with a layer of dirt, Florence finally approached the elven swordsman and asked a question that no doubt burned in her mind these last two days. He smiled as he opened a pack taken from his horse, a stick of dried beef pulled out.[+teal [i “I was wondering when someone would ask me. Though thank you for trusting me to know what I am doing.”]] He spoke in Astorian, having become accustomed to doing so in his talks with Augustine. The others, having heard her question, continued to pack or go about their morning duties but they listened as he spoke – all bar Meredith of course, who ignored the hard-toned language.[+teal [i “We're heading to Underside.”]]

Two clueless faces looked at him, Meredith the exception and Gregory seemed to look at him curiously. Seeing the expression the elf's shrugged, though hisses a little and placed a hand to his shoulder. He still had to learn not to use it much but switched to Wistinian to explain himself.[+teal “It may not be the best of towns but it is where my favour lives and where we can gain aid. Otherwise I am open to ideas for how to raise funds for buying winter clothing and food.”] He did not have much in way of objection to someone coming up with a better plan. In fact it had been near two decades since he had last met this man, near a dozen years since they had last traded correspondence and anything could have happened since.

[+teal “Look,”] he began to move back to his horse, pausing as he lifted the pack up and into it's place with some effort,[+teal “it is two more days there, likely hit it just after midday. We go in, get what we need, spend a night and we're back off again. Would you rather Florence and Augustine go through the passes in such thin clothing? You've been through yourself, you know it won't be easy Gregory.”] He was trying to play to the dwarven man's loyalty to the pairing and tap into that sensitivity he had when choosing an option that would benefit them. It was not the kindest of approaches, but he fixed a look on the smaller man that showed he was not doing this to any ones detriment.
  WI_ / 72d 18h 8m 17s
Florence was pleased beyond belief that Augustine was picking up on her native tongue so quickly. She should have expected it. Although he had no studied Astorian specifically, he had taken up some of the other northern languages. There were many similarities ran between the dialects so he was likely drawing on that knowledge to make some educated guesses. He was doing well and she was glad he would not be completely cut off when they arrived in her homeland. It was a relief.

They days travel went well. The boarder came with no ceremony and they crossed it with no problems. Florence had half expected for there to be a slew of Vincent’s minions patrolling the area, but that was either not the case of they happened to find a hole in the guard. Either way, they were lucky to see no signs of their pursuers. Finally something was going right.

As they pressed forward inland the air seemed to lose the moisture it carried off the waters like it did in Wistina. The dryness was not significant, but it was one of those subtle reminders that they were indeed in a new land.

Florence was not entirely sure of where they were going. They were at Nicolai’s mercy when it came to that. Gregory did have a good sense of direction and knew the roads to take to get where he wanted, but seeing as they were after he elf’s contact, he would be of little use. She just hoped it would be near a town of sorts so that they could finally be rid of Meredith. The girl’s ban from speaking had been lifted, but little came from her. Though at the same time, little was spoken to her either. She was still be shunned, and rightfully so at that. At least Florence thought so. The old dwarf seemed to be the only one who would include her at all, albeit infrequently. He had already shown his sympathies to her, so the older woman did not much see the point of continuing on with it. Her guess was that he didn’t see her as a threat now that her family, and the Taken’s, leverage with them, were gone. He had a point, but when it came to these sorts of betrayals, Florence was not easy to forgive.

[+coral “Mother…”] Augustine was sorting through his Astorian, so she allowed him ample time to try and get out what he wanted to say. [+coral “What should I… expect of… middle countries?”]

Florence smiled softly down at the boy. She spoke slowly in return, allowing him the chance to hear and try and understand her. [+mediumseagreen “You would know as well as I do. When I traveled south, it was by sea. I have not seen much beyond Astoria and Wistina. Much like yourself, everything I know I have read or heard second hand.”] It was probably disappointing to the child, but it was what it was. [+mediumseagreen “Perhaps you can ask Gregory later tonight. I know he traveled down the mainland.”]

Things continued on in this way. And after the second day of traveling out of Wistina, Florence decided she could take knowing so little of where they were headed no more. [+mediumseagreen “Where exactly are we headed, Nicolai?”] She knew he was off to see an acquaintance, one that might help them, but they had been traveling northeast for some time. She was beginning to think they were getting a ways off course for only a favor that was owed to the elf.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 72d 19h 14m 54s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Though she was rather placating him by informing him he had won this time, Nicolai was just grateful she would not start another argument. If she wanted him to stand up to her and show he was worthy of her admiration then he would show he was not a man to sit down and grovel over his wounds. She wanted to be in Astoria as quickly as possible and it would give him some good stead with her if he showed he was keen for that too. It would be a game of give and take for this journey so it was best to start out on a good footing.

Leaving her to go inside however, on the pretence of putting the furniture back and retrieving the bottle, he did grimace as he tried to move the bench. A quick look under the tunic showed the bandage was darker and lifting it a touch he could see the skin was dark in coloration. Letting out a muttered elven curse he replaced the bandage and tunic and went inside.

The breakfast was quick and amicable. Gregory helped Augustine collect enough firewood to see her good for the next month with her current stock, and Meredith helped in setting out some wet clothing on the line to dry. Nicolai and Florence were tasked with light duties around the house, which was good for the elf but he saw the frustration in the woman's face to be given such a meaningless task.

When they were leaving, packing the horses with breads, fruits and several packets of dried meats, Nicolai was taken aside to be given a thorough talking to by the older woman. It was like a pep talk to remind him that this was the opportunity he wanted with the woman he had pined for over so many years. She instructed him in how to show her enough respect and care that she had her independence, but to not stand off too much – he had to show he was there and he could take charge when needed. To be the shy and timid boy no longer. He had to step up to the mantle and be strong now. Whilst her words were appreciated, he knew it would be much more difficult than she was portraying.

[+teal “I will give it my best Helga. For better or worse, I have committed to this now.”] He smiled and offered a soft embrace, keeping his shoulder from her and nodding as he pulled away.[+teal “Though for love of God pray for me.”] He winked as she offered him a final smile and turned away to return to the porch and wave them off. The horses seemed happy for the respite and raring to go, Nicolai having to turn his horse several times to keep her from galloping off with the energy she was showing.

He led them north from the farm, following a vale through the hills that would take them beyond the border of Wistina. Not far from the farm they came on a stream that emerged from the hills. Using this as a path to head further north and from the coast, covered by a canopy of trees from the rising sun, they made exceedingly good time and their pace at times was far greater than he expected. Having ridden for a few hours, he pulled his horse back from the front to ride alongside Florence and Augustine, looking to the boy who looked about them perhaps in search of any ambush or would be attacks.

Clicking his tongue to gain the youthful boys attention, he smiled across to him.[+teal “Quick test; welcher weg ist norden?”] The surprise examination of a lesson they had taken, and in Astorian no less, was met head on and in moments he was pointing almost to their left, at ten o'clock.[+teal “Very good. Aber wenn das im norden ist, warum fahren wir nach nordosten?”] This was a good test of his logical and language skills, and a means of keeping him alert. That and it helped to pass the times also. The boy had the answer immediately but it took Augustine a moment to think of the correct words needed in Astorian, his teachings having not started all too long ago.[+peru “Weil ... der Hügel .. zu groß ist.”] He was tentative with his answer.[+teal “Und?”] He expected a little more.[+peru “Und.. wir können uns hier verstecken.”] The accent would improve with time and the pronunciation was often emphasising the wrong letter but Nicolai smiled regardless of such small details.[+teal “Wunderbar. I am glad my lessons in the library were not ignored.”] He added with a satisfied nod as they continued on along a course to his accomplice in Tyleth.
  WI_ / 72d 23h 10m 17s
After all that emotion and sporadic-ness, it seemed that Nicolai was back to using his brain. But with that being said, he brought up some very good points in the case of leaving sooner rather than later. Looking to his shoulder, where she knew he was bandaged beneath his shirt, she wondered if he was far enough along in the healing process yet to leave. Puncture wounds such as that one were not to be taken lightly. She knew that first hand. However with the prospect of meeting a contact over the boarder there might also be the chance to rest.

[+mediumseagreen “Very well, I will let you have this way this once. But I will not be happy if you end up slowing us down later down the line because you did not take the care to heal properly now.”] Her emerald eyes stayed on him until he nodded, showing that he understood. And with that she was content. [+mediumseagreen “Then I will inform the others that we will be leaving just as soon as we finish breakfast.”]

Taking back her hand, she smiled at the man. She thought it might be best to leave things on a pleasantry. She was getting used to his tendency to overthink every little thing, so she worried that he might blow her taking her hand from his way out of proportion and they would have to do this all over again. Though admittedly it was tiring. Florence was not used to having to be so considerate of other’s feelings. [+mediumseagreen “You come inside as well. It would be best if you warm up some before eating. And you should probably apologize to Helga for getting into her wine as well.”] The last comment carried a hint of humor to it as she turned toward the door. [+mediumseagreen “While you are at it, you can tell her we will be departing today.”]

Knowing that Gregory was already up and moving, Florence went to wake her son and Meredith. She informed both of them of the plan as it stood now. Neither seemed particularly disheartened by the fact that they were leaving in a few hours, but that was probably for the best. As a group they helped out with a few more things around the house and out in the yard before everyone set down for food. True to form, Helga was determined to feed them entirely too much. Though Florence took note that most of what was put out were foods that would be easy to travel with. And as she expected, they were bombarded with leftovers as they went to load up. Then it was time to head out at last.

[+mediumseagreen “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done, Helga. You have been more than gracious to us.”] Florence smiled down at the short woman from her horse; Augustine sat in front of her. They were in the same configuration as when they rode in.

The gray-haired woman waved her off. [+goldenrod “I merely did what anyone would have done. But if you must thank me, do it by taking good care of these boys. And make sure they eat.”] Not really the type for tearful goodbyes that was all she said about that. Though she did give one final farewell to he whole group after all the individual ones were done with. Then they were off. Still off the trail, they took off toward north toward Tyleth.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 73d 17h 12m 32s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat When she did not remove her hand from his like he had stung her, it was a small victory for his cause. It was a means of cementing what he was asking her, but showing that he would do so in a tactful manner. She seemed to respond kindly to it in fact, the warmth of her hand all the more evident as she squeezed lightly and the rosiness to her cheeks began to dissipate.

Her warning was well received – it would have quite mortifying for him to try something with her and she recoiled in horror at his actions. Yet he would have to press his luck at times to push ahead with winning her over. Whilst he could understand her aversion to physical intimacy, perhaps with time and a gentle approach he could show her otherwise. But that would be long down the road and a quest for when or rather if their relationship flourished.

A thought did crop up about Augustine and how she was more than happy to smother the boy in embraces. But that was more a familial trait, whereas his own embraces would be of a different kind.[+teal “I promise not to be a leech but in return do not be too surprised if I wish to be close to you – even if not in a marital manner.”] Her warmth was too enticing at times, as if she were naturally so warm.

On hearing that she wished for them to stay another, Nicolai shook his head in disagreement.[+teal “We should leave today.”] She was right that he could do with the rest, but he knew the others would begin to feel settled if they waited any longer and risked wishing to remain at the secluded farm.[+teal “The Mayfair Pass is renowned for being difficult in the best of weather and the Terrastina Pass is some distance away. We will also need to find better clothing to deal with the coming autumnal rains, I don't think your dress will do.”] Though it was a lovely dress and he was quite happy to see her wear it, it was not best suited for travelling. None of them bar perhaps Gregory were dressed for travel.

[+teal “We would be best to move on now. I know a man in Tyleth, he owes me a favour and should be able to help us some.”] His hand had pressed on hers a touch as he said this, trying to impose his decision on her as she had moments before. But of course he was easier to sway than her, and he was not about to annoy the woman now that they were in.. well, perhaps not good relations but at least not negative.
  WI_ / 72d 23h 11m 46s
Her eyes may be been cast to the side, but from the corner of her vision she saw him shift. He moved toward her and took her hand. It was a little cool, probably because he had been outside most of the night without so much as a blanket. Normally that was not so bad a notion, but when you were a stones throw from a warm bed it was a cruel thought. She did not fight him on the contact, and made an effort not to fixate on it.

He gave her one last plea and finally there was a change in his coloration. She had no idea how he managed to push that off for so long. Surely if she said anything of this nature she would be absolutely abashed with herself. That may come to change, but at the moment it was difficult to imagine. [+mediumseagreen “I will try, I am not opposed to letting you in so that you might know more about me. Since you will be going to Astoria…”] She squeezed his hand lightly, as she commanded rather than stated the fact. [+mediumseagreen “You are bound to find out a great deal about me. I could scarcely avoid it if I wanted to. However, I am going to warn you now.”] Florence became more serious with that. [+mediumseagreen “I do not do well with physical intimacy. I am certain you have already taken notice of that.”] Aside from rumors that had run rampant in the castle, there was also his own experience with her over the course of their alliance. [+mediumseagreen “I… I am not sure that is something I can change about myself. So please, keep that in mind if a time comes and I do not respond in the most flattering manner.”] She was perhaps understating it.

[+mediumseagreen “But this seems to be fine.”] The woman lifted their hands, clasped together. [+mediumseagreen “So long as I expect it.”] She added that caveat, as she was not sure of all the intricacies of it.

Standing there a while longer, she cleared her throat as if to be rid of that somewhat awkward topic. [+mediumseagreen “Well, I suppose since it is decided, we will stay one more day to make certain that you are feeling up to travel then we can set out to the north... I will have to apologize to Helga that we are going to trespass her a while longer.”] Florence very much doubted that the old woman would mind. And so long as she was allowed to do something more than sit about, the Astorian woman would not be bothered by it either.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 73d 21h 48m 4s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat As had been the case most of their time together like this, Nicolai was easily cowed by the world and given a strong dose of humility for anything he said. She was such a strong figure and had such a way with words as to make him guilty of having asked anything. It was part of why he had remained so quiet and humble before her.

Regardless of past actions however, he was in agreement that perhaps he had been too forward in his confessions to her. If he had been more subtle then maybe things would have turned out differently. Or perhaps they would be quite the same.[+teal “If that is how I made you feel then I apologise for placing you on the spot like that, but I am not sorry for telling you. Because had I remained silent then you would not be here now, giving me this chance now.”] The man cut a happier figure even if no smile creased his lips.

Even though she had turned away from him, cheeks a shade darker as she fought to control the embarrassment brought on by such an unsavoury topic, he knew she was not angry at him. If she was then surely she would have stormed away.

A thought occurred to take her hand and reassure her that even if she had experience of romance and courting and love and the like, that it was never easy to open ones self to hurt and rejection. In fact she was placed in a most favourable position as the man looking to woo her was already quite infatuated with her. But to take her hand, to touch her at all right now, would have been quite bold and forthcoming. It would have been quite out of Nicolai's comfort to be so brazen. And yet he did it anyway.

His fingers took a hold of her light hand, curling around until their palms met and he took her attention back to himself, wanting to look into those jewelled eyes again. Offering a gentle smile, one meant to reassure her, he nodded as he spoke close to a whisper.[+teal “I will take things slow and show all due courtesy – just please try not to shut me out. If you are willing to try then you must allow me in. If I cannot get through to the inner Florence, to see the woman within, then I cannot hope to succeed.”] His face felt exceedingly warm to be this intimate with her even if it was as simple as holding her hand and saying a few words.
  WI_ / 73d 22h 40m 41s
About to yell at him some more for being the most contradictory person she had ever met, Nicolai backed down before she had the chance. She watched as he turned himself back up to a sitting position. He did so fluidly and without complaint so she figured he had not gotten too belligerent the night before. At least not enough for it to linger or make him ill today, but what did she know? Florence had little idea of how he held his liquor. They had never had occasion to drink together.

He admitted that he was of the mind to try and change hers, but pointed out her behavior from the night before. Her face darkened again. [+mediumseagreen “I am not accustomed to men professing their ardent adoration for me. It is embarrassing. That was where my discomfort stemmed from. It would have been so no matter who said those things.”] Even if the situation had been different and he hadn’t been making a confession, to be held in such high regards by someone who you had given little to no reason to do so was awkward.

Nicolai also called in to question her motives. [+mediumseagreen “Are you sure you are in a position to be picky about my motivations?] She looked at him questioningly, but it looked as though he still wanted an answer.

[+mediumseagreen “To put it plainly I do not know a thing about romances. In my youth I was much too busy to be worrying about anything so trivial. And when I got older I was married to a man who cared for me, but was very obviously still caught up on his first wife.”] From the outside it might not have seemed so, as Germaine was ever the doting husband and father, but Florence knew it was the case. Not to mention that he was over twice her age when they wed, but that was another matter entirely. [+mediumseagreen “I have no viable experience to relate this to. So no, I do not know if I think this is right... But I cannot very well go through life basking in my own ignorance. Unless I try, I am never going to know. And seeing as you are already someone I consider close, it may just be a little easier for me…”] Her words soften at the end, and she looked away. Her face was still warm but she did not know just how apparent it was visually.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 73d 23h 50m 26s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had finished off the remainder of the bottle in the hopes he could at least sleep happily and in a merry fashion, but it was most certainly watered down by Helga as he felt no expectant buzz. Worse yet, when he had attempted to come back inside he was thrust back by the smaller woman, told that he would sleep outside that night if wanted to be an animal. It was a touch harsh as he was only drinking to try and ease himself from a rather awkward argument. But knowing how fierce the woman could be if ignored – hand flexing from the memory of her striking him quite hard over the back of his head last time he was here – he relented and shuffled back to the bench.

Sleep came and went. For the few hours he managed there were no dreams, no nightmares, it was like closing one's eyes and opening them to find night had been replaced by day. Laying out on the bench had been rather tough on his shoulder and he felt the tightness even before he felt a cold morning breeze wash over him. Content to wait out a little in the light of the sun and just wake gradually over time, he heard the door swing open and footfall approaching him. Likely Helga was here to enquire how his head felt, which it was fine, or to tell him to wash up for breakfast.

Instead he felt a foot press to his stomach and he was almost levered off his bed and onto the ground. As he felt he neared the edge his violet eyes opened wide and he saw the familiar shoe of a certain Queen, following the leg up to see her looming over him with intense eyes as ever. Even despite their quarrelling and the fact she had almost pushed him off the bench, seeing her there was still a sight to behold and he watched her as she pushed him back onto the bench once more. Laying back he used one hand to place the bottle to the floor, the other raising up over his eyes as he awaited her newly found anger. He had expected her presence so that she could give him the talking to he had denied her the night before. She had slept on it and therefore her creative mind would have construed many ways to slight him and admonish him.

Instead he was given an all toward different conversation. The look of confusion was evident on his face as his hand lifted up and became a pillow to his head. The silence between them was quite long though perhaps it only felt that way to Nicolai who was trying to comprehend just why she was talking like this. Yet it did come to a point.[+teal “Did Gregory put you up to this?”] His accusation was rather typical of the elf and recalled times where the dwarf and he had butted heads repeatedly in the castle. In a way it was like taking them back a month, to when things seemed all the more rosy and sweet.

He raised his now free right hand, stopping her from giving him a particularly sharp retort and swinging his feet from the bench to sit upright.[+teal “Sorry, that doesn't matter.”] He looked up at her but quickly decided to stand, taking a step to her side so that they were not atop one another but facing her directly.[+teal “I am more than willing to try, just..”] Of course there was an additional to his sentence. Nothing was ever simple, but he did pull back hard on being too argumentative.[+teal “Last night you made it seem like my confession made you quite uncomfortable. I want to be sure you are saying this because [i you] think it is right. Not just for my or anyone else's sake.”] It was not too much to ask that this was her choice and something she wanted. Where would be the point of this if she was not truly open to him trying to court her? He wanted to be sure he stood a chance and she would not immediately rebuff all his attempts.
  WI_ / 74d 45m 7s
Gregory would have never expected to be standing there trying to sooth Nicolai after the swift strike of rejection, but here he was with a perfect stranger trying to push the elf to muster up the courage to at least not drink himself into an absolute stupor. It was not really working, but it was still surprising nonetheless.

He sighed. [+darkmagenta “I will talk to her in the morning. I would rather like to hear her side of this mess.”] Crossing his arms, the dwarf was already sorting out exactly what he would say. Until then he needed to rest as well. But on the way out he stopped, only partially turning back to the raven-haired man.

[+darkmagenta “And some friendly advice for you Nicolai. Do not expect anything to happen quickly with that girl. You may have suffered watching her put up a false front of love and contentment, but you have to remember she spent all that time living it. She’s undoubtedly been making a conscious effort to block out this sort of affection for years. It is going to take more than a few I love you’s to get through to her… Oh, and if I catch you letting those hands wander anyplace she does not want them, I will beat you within an inch of your life.”] He spoke with a smile, but he was quite serious about the threat. With that, he returned to the house. It had been a long day.

The morning came too soon for Florence. She slept so poorly that she might as well have not slept at all. However, she was determined to be out of this place. Sitting here any longer only vexed her all the more. But as she put on her shoes and made sure she was ready for the day’s travels, there was a trio of knocks at the door. They came in strange succession and she knew it was Gregory. She called out for him to enter, though her voice was off from just waking up.

Looking to the short man as he entered, he wore a serious expression. It was uncommon for him. [+darkmagenta “We need to talk.”] But not as uncommon as the wholly solemn tone he took. It felt like she was going to be in trouble.

Taking a seat back on the bed, Gregory did the same, a few feet from her. [+darkmagenta “I have already heard from Nicolai about last night. Now I would very much like to hear from you.”] He left it at that for the moment. Not wanting to sway her words by mentioning what exactly Nicolai had said.

Slowly inhaling, Florence filled her lungs only to let it out in a slow groan that was not quite so long as it should have been. [+mediumseagreen “I tried to convince him to come along with us, and he said he would not because he is too in love with me to stand it knowing I will not have him… I then told him he was stupid to think that dying was the better option than being lovesick. And then he was done with me and we parted ways.”]

It was not exactly what he had heard from the man himself, but Gregory was sure the truth lie somewhere in the middle of the two accounts. [+mediumseagreen “And you do not think that you might have been a bit too harsh with him?”]

Completely stuttering, Florence took a bit go get coherent word out of her mouth. [+mediumseagreen “You are taking his side?!”] Gregory didn’t even care for Nicolai. Where in the hell was this coming from?

[+darkmagenta “No, I just happen to know how you are. I cannot imagine you used any sort of tact with this.”]

[+mediumseagreen “Excuse me? I did too.”] He looked at her expectantly. [+mediumseagreen “Well… right up until the point that he starting going on and on about me.”] Her face heated up just thinking about it. [+mediumseagreen “It was frightfully embarrassing. I do not believe anyone could keep their composure when faced with that.”]

Raising a brow at her, Gregory was not having her excuses. [+darkmagenta “You have traveled across the continent, lifted a country out of desolation, and stood against armies, and this is where you draw the line? A man with honest to goodness feelings for you, who wants to see you happy.”] When he put it like that it did seem rather dramatic of her.

[+mediumseagreen “What would you have me do? He is determined to be done with me.”] She crossed her arms in a huff.

[+darkmagenta “I think you should give him a chance. As much as I hate to admit it, Nicolai is a good man. You should consider him for the future and tell him that you are going to do so. Let him see that you are open to him trying to win your affection if he is willing to try.”] He brought a hand up to her shoulder, placing it gently there. [+darkmagenta “Besides, if it is bothering you as much as it looks like it is, I think there is some hope for him.”]

She narrowed her eyes at him. [+mediumseagreen “What are you trying to say now?”]

[+darkmagenta “You look like hell, Florence.”] He grinned and quickly jumped up from the bed before she could hit him. [+darkmagenta “Da ist meine Mausbär.”] His Astorian sounded through laughter.

[+mediumseagreen “Oh, shut up.”] She was not particularly in the mood for childhood pet names at the moment, but she did sit still then he came in close once again. This time just to place a kiss on her forehead. Though she did roll her eyes at the gesture.

[+darkmagenta “Alright, now, go and put an end to this stupid thing. I do not want to hear anymore whining from him.”] Offering her a hand, he helped Florence to her feet. [+darkmagenta “I have the feeling he is still out back. I don’t think Helga let him back in after the fit he threw.”]

While the final comment was useful in helping her find Nicolai, it did little for her wanting to see him. But she pressed on, making her way back to the porch. Indeed she did find the elf there, curled up on the bench with a bottle still in hand. Gods, it was a display. Florence debated whether or not she really wanted him to come to Astoria. It was still a yes, but he was on thin ice at this point.

Placing a foot firmly on his stomach, she slowly applied just enough pressure to roll him over and off of the bench. At the final tipping point, right before he would fall, she saw his eyes shoot open. [+mediumseagreen “You are making a mighty pitiful spectacle of yourself for someone who is looking to court a woman who used to be Queen.”] As unkind as she was being, she did at least make sure that she pushed him so that he would not fall on his injured shoulder.

When it looked as though he was at least coherent enough to understand her, she continued. [+mediumseagreen “From what I hear, I did not make myself clear last night. I said I had never thought about you as a potential suitor for myself… but that does not mean I cannot be persuaded to do so. If you are willing to man up and show me just how you will make me happy, then maybe, just maybe, things might change. Are you willing to do that?”] In the morning light, her eyes were as bright as ever, even looking down on the man. But they were also filled with expectation, the expectation that Nicolai would answer her and she would see exactly what he was made of.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 74d 3h 1m 7s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The sound of her words and of her leaving were dulled to him as if he was submerged under water. It sure felt like it, his enter chest feeling heavy and aching as he heard the door close over behind her. His body sagged at that, hands sliding from his pockets to rest on his hips as if inspecting the darkness before him. It had been a long time since he had felt like this. It was a feeling a being broken, injured without the wounds – or at least not where he was physically injured. It brought back the memory of the last time, when his parents had passed away. It was a dark period of his life he did not want to revisit again. He needed wine.

Turning to march back inside he immediately saw Gregory in the flickering glow of the fireplace. Pausing in his step as both men looked at one another there was nothing said for a long time. Nicolai was almost happy to see the man however and at the same time wanted the man to just disappear, the constant thorn in his side there last few years.[+teal “Come to admonish me for upsetting your friend little man?”] He regretted the barb as it left his tongue but like most things that night, once they were said they could not be taken back.[+teal “Trust me when I say you cannot hurt me any more than I have myself tonight.”] He walked on into the kitchen, finding a small woman of grey hair just inside the doorway. Clearly Helga had been watching too, seeing Florence enter and hearing her words. It only served to rile Nicolai up that bit more.[+teal “Any other wise words to impart Helga?”] He did not stop this time but continued into the dimly lit kitchen.

Searching through several cupboards the soft footfall of the tentative dwarf in the quiet house seemed to echo loudly to the elf. Thankfully he found a bottle of red wine, covered in a layer of dust and tucked away with some cutlery. There was no request if he could take it, though Helga would have given it if he had asked. Instead he grasped the cork stopper and removed it with a satisfying squeak. Regardless of the taste or age of the drink, he lifted it to his lips and took several healthy gulps of the fermented grape beverage before letting it slip from his lips.

[+darkgoldenrod “You take that damn bottle and you get outside if you want to drink! I will not have a drunkard in this home, not after Irving passed and especially not with a child in this house! I will not have you waking that poor boy!”] Her voice was hushed but stern and despite the darkness of the room the intensity of her stare overcame any resistance to remain inside. Nicolai stalked outside with a nod, heading through the kitchen to take a seat where he had with Florence earlier in the day. Turning from the closing door to Gregory, Helga looked at him as if to suggest he go speak to the man.
[+darkmagenta “Oh no, I may be a priest but this is not my-”]
[+darkgoldenrod “Hush with that priestly nonsense. You are not fooling anyone.”] Helga waved off his protest quickly.[+darkgoldenrod “I knew the moment I lay eyes on you that you weren't no priest. He isn't the best of liars and neither are you. Now come on.”] She proceeded to find a candle and place it on a metallic stand, lighting it from an already lit one and turning to head outside. With little else to use as argument against following, Gregory puffed out his cheeks and followed.

Outside Nicolai was sat in the glow of the candle that was placed onto an empty seat, providing them enough light to see one another. Helga had taken up a place opposite the elven man whilst a seat beside her, with the candle between them, had been left for the dwarf. Watching the younger man swig intermittently from the bottle as if he were sipping on water, the host of the group shook her head.[+darkgoldenrod “So, you told her how you felt huh? And I'm guessing from this sad display she didn't immediately jump into your arms with joy?”] Her dry humour brought a small smile to the bard's face but no reaction from her subject at hand.
[+darkmagenta “Ah, so that is what tonight was about. I thought he was trying to convince her to stay behind with him.”] Finally clued in on the topic he seated himself and let out a deep breath.[+darkmagenta “Care to tell us what was said? Perhaps a succinct version, if you don't mind.”] He did not want a play by play retelling of every single thing said. The cliff notes version would serve just as well. For a moment however, the elven male looked keen to remain tight lipped and silent. But given the two elder figures would not relent – or at least Helga would not – he stared down at the bottle in hand and sighed.
[+teal “I told her I loved her. I said I had loved her since I first met her. And.. she told me she could not understand why I loved her given I didn't know her, and that I should stay here with Helga because I was a lost cause who needed looking after.”] He had picked at sore points to her argument, misconstrued her words entirely and taken them from their overall context. But never say wiser minds are not privy to such acts, and the two counsellors looked at one another in agreement that he was not giving the utmost truth.
[+darkgoldenrod “Okay, so she did not understand why you loved her. Given you were silent as a church mouse for ten years can you blame her? Did you show her you loved her?”]
[+darkmagenta “Did you fight for her to understand you?”] Gregory interjected quickly.[+darkmagenta “You know she is a stubborn woman – did you argue back against her?”] He meant this in a constructive way, not to argue for the sake of arguing. Nicolai shook his head, hair waving a touch.[+darkmagenta “Why not?”]
[+teal “I'm tired of arguing with her. I spent so long fighting her so that she did not find out how I felt. I fought her on such stupid and pointless matters. I just don't want to argue with her any more.”] He spoke quietly again, timid and embarrassed perhaps.
[+darkmagenta “Then what did you expect from her?”]
[+darkgoldenrod “You want her to see you as a potential partner and yet here you sit like a sorry little child, drinking wine and moping about. Why should she think you are good enough for her when you back down at the first hurdle?”] They hit back at him, quite hard, but justly so.
[+teal “She shouldn't. I'm not good enough for her.”]
[+darkmagenta “Oh cut the horse crap Nicolai.”] Despite knowing he was not a priest, Helga was not particularly happy with the language, but she kept it to herself.[+darkmagenta “You want to be this caring man who saves her and Augustine but then be seen as humble and agreeable and yet you act as a walkover. You don't even have to know Florence whatsoever to know that shy and timid men are not what she wants!”] He was quite animated now, perhaps allowing his own frustrations at this whole débâcle with the Capital and seeing his friend to safety to spill over into anger at the elf.
[+teal “And what do you suggest Gregory?!”] He snapped back, sitting up from his seat and a glint of the anger both of them wanted to see was in his eye.[+teal “I told her how I felt, I opened myself up to her and I showed her why I had been the man I was for all these years. She isn't going to just turn over and fall in love with me in an instant because of that.”] His voice rose during this but a raised hand from Helga for them both to keep their voices down had effect.
[+darkmagenta “You could have married her to stop Gabriel and Vincent! You could have done so and over time won her over! You love her, why didn't you do that?”]
[+teal “Because I am not Germaine; I will not force her to marry me out of circumstance only to find she despises me and must live out even more of her life in a loveless and cold marriage.”] Saying that aloud seeing to break something within Nicolai, or rather it brought a realisation to the forefront that he had known for some time but never admitted out loud.[+teal “I had to watch her.. had to watch as she sat next to that imbecile, that cretin.. and see her force smiles and laughter and feign happiness to be there at his side.. I had to just watch her accept her lot in life, to be a woman who is traded as a commodity, to be married to whomever made the best offer. She wasn't married for love or happiness Gregory, and she did not choose him.. I would not force her to do the same with me.”] His breath fell away as he finished his sentence and his violet eyes, having looking on Gregory with a fire and passion they had each wanted to see, now turned to the bottle in his hands.[+teal “Call me weak, call me pathetic, say I lack a backbone and won't fight for her. These are all just words and I will take them from you both with no ill will. But her? I just want her happy. I want her safe. I want her to lead a life that she chooses and to know and feel love. Real love. She has to want to me to fight for her and to show her I am worthy of her love. But she does not want that.”]
[+darkgoldenrod “She said this? She told you she does not want that?”]
[+teal “Not everything had to be said in such blunt terms Helga. She cares about me, but only so much as to see me stay alive. You two can argue with her about this or say to her whatever you wish. I have argued with her for far too long.”] The bottle rose up once more, several long but slow draws on the opening allowing the intoxicating liquid to flow swiftly. It was not a particularly potent blend – likely watered down by Helga. But it would help to ease any of his pain.
  WI_ / 74d 12h 57m 38s
She had thought with his newfound courage he might rise to challenge her. To step up like he had done before to tell her how she was wrong or selfish or something. Anything that would trigger a dialog, but instead he rolled over. As though he was content with her berating him. For someone who thought he was in love with her, Nicolai did not care to fight to for it. She groaned at the cowardice. Perhaps she was being too hard on him, but Florence had high expectations for the man.

It got so bad that he would not even look at her. He just stared off into the darkness and it made it difficult to want to try any more. So she didn’t. Florence let out a long sigh. [+mediumseagreen “Very well. I am glad you could be satisfied with this in the end…”] because she sure wasn’t. But there wasn’t much else she could think to do. Sometimes it was best to walk away. [+mediumseagreen “I plan to leave early tomorrow since we will not have any reason to linger.”] It might have been different if he chose to join them; unlike her he actually needed the recovery time. [+mediumseagreen “Just in case I do not see you come morning. Goodbye. I hope that you do well for yourself, Nicolai… I really do.”] She bowed her head in a way that was more customary of Astoria than Wistina. It worked both as a greeting and parting.

Turning back, a look of regret stained her features. He was an adult who could make his own choices and it was not as though she did not understand why he wanted things the way he did. It was more that Florence was not satisfied with how it came to pass. It felt like there was more to be said. The words just were not coming and she feared making things worse after he was so clearly done. But regardless of her feelings, it was through. She would say nothing more on the matter.

Gregory was in the hall when she came inside. He stared at her as though to ask how it went.

[+mediumseagreen “That was a nightmare… I am going to bed.”] She walked past him and did not leave any room for more inquiry. As not to run into anyone else, she rushed back to the room.

The dwarf did not move to follow after Florence, but he watched her go. When she was out of sight, he looked back to the door. He wondered whether Nicolai had finally done it. Try as he might, the elf couldn’t deceive Gregory’s old gray eyes. He'd seen the way he looked at Florence. That pining was the reason he never really cared for the man. He never felt like he could trust the general around her because of it. Longing like that, especially when prolonged in such a way, could turn dangerous. But recently that had begun to change. After starting their allegiance, the squat gentleman had formed a better opinion of the elf. It was a shame they would be parting... though without hearing the conversation between the other two adults there was no telling whether or not his hunch at what had happened was correct.

---

Florence was quick to get into bed, but sleep did not come easy. She woke frequently, tossing and turning. It was irritating. This should not have been bothering her so much. Hopefully with time and distance things would improve, but for now she would have to deal with it.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 74d 14h 39m 16s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat From how her face flushed, the soft change in colour of her cheeks, Nicolai was rather.. down heartened? There right word did not come to mind as he saw shock in her look at him and what he had to say. He felt a lump rise in his throat and the lack of fear that he had now dissipated very swiftly and his once pride strong heart sank faster than a rock in a pond. His stomach turned over and tied into knots and he very quickly turned his head down to the ground, hung a little in defeat. Her words confirmed that what he thought he saw in the look on her face was indeed how she was thinking and he let out a soft sigh. Once more Nicolai was interpreting things in his own defective imagination rather than seeing them for what they were.

He almost interrupted her whilst she spoke and he shook his head repeatedly, not wanting to hear her say it.[+teal “No, no,”] he lifted his head from his hand,[+teal “you can find love wherever you wish Florence. I hope you do..”] He stood up then, quite abruptly. Standing still for a moment he paced forward a few steps to the edge of the decking and considered the possibility of just continuing forward and on into the darkness. It was so attractive to allow the darkness to swallow him. Perhaps it would be the only way to ease the displeasing feeling in his chest?

[+teal “Well.. thank you.. thank you for talking with me. I am glad we could get this chance to discuss this. I’m.. happy that we talked this out and can leave things quite amicably.”] He bit hard at the inside of his cheek, a nervous laugh escaping as he took a deep breath in through his nose. It was a slow and controlling breath as he slipped his hands into his pants pockets. With his back to her it was next to impossible to read his face that was devoid of the light from the house. He was a simple dark silhouette against the night sky.

[+teal “It is getting rather late. I would perhaps turn in for the night. You do have a long journey ahead.”] It was evident from that what Nicolai’s choice had become now. Their talk had gone quite horribly in the end. Where he saw love and devotion, she saw obsession, insanity, an illness that needed tending to by Helga – and worse yet he was beginning to agree with her. He had let his want of her become too much and his idolisation of her was rather creepy, disgusting and unpalatable. It was no longer a romantic gesture or a moment for a man to tell a woman he had known so long that she was perfect to him. Now it was just wrong. And with fresh eyes on the experience, with her take on his life this last decade, he felt wrong. He said nothing more. Nicolai had nothing else to say to emerald eyed woman.
  WI_ / 74d 16h 52s
Her face went beet-red as she listened to him attempt to explain his feelings and how they did not come from a place of logic. They simply were, and it did not seem there was much he could do about it. If there were, Florence was sure he would have done it by now.

After going so far to call himself a fool because of these emotions, he recanted their fireside talk. His words there meant a lot to her, but it seemed the moment itself what stuck with him. The heat she felt on her face persisted. This was so entirely different for her. Plenty of men had come forward to her to profess her beauty, but none like this. He was so fixated on each detail. She didn’t remember what she was wearing when she first came to Wistina, but he did. This had gone passed being a crush; it was a full-blown obsession. A fact that probably should have scared her, or at least put the woman more on guard, but the soft way he spoke left her at ease. Well, aside from being horrifically embarrassed by it all.

[+mediumseagreen “No, no, you really do not need to go on.”] Her eyes fell to the floor. Without much light other than what was cast from the window, they were darker than normal, their green more akin to deep and tumultuous waters than anything mined from the earth. [+mediumseagreen “I am quite alright.”]

She continued to listen to him, glad that he moved on. The woman was not sure how much more of that she was going to be able to take. [+teal “…What do you think?”] That was an excellent question.

Glancing up, she saw his vibrant violet eyes on her and an expression she nearly did not recognize. Nicolai really was not holding back anymore. And as much as she wanted to look back to the ground, she kept her eyes up. If she couldn’t even do this much how could she expect to travel with him in a cordial fashion? A fire ignited inside of her again as she remembered her goal in being here.

She couldn’t imagine his situation in its entirety, but the woman could try to sympathize. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, I do believe I understand your obstinate refusal now…”] Her words were spoken with a determination that had not been smothered just yet. [+mediumseagreen “I think you are about to make a very stupid and very permanent choice. Only an absolute fool thinks that being lovesick is worse than being dead. What kind of ludicrous logic is that?”] She was gaining some traction back. He had thrown her for a loop, but Florence was not about to let it stay that way. [+mediumseagreen “And what does it matter that I have a child? Should I be condemned to never find love solely because I am a mother? If you believe that, sir, then you are most definitely a lost cause. I would suggest you stay here with Helga, as she might be willing to look after you despite it.”]
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 74d 18h 5m 5s
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