[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai bowed his head to her command for him to go through with his plan. Had she not given her agreement he would have acted regardless, knowing that to sit and wait for the two before him to come around to his way of thinking would leave them sitting on a precipice and playing catch-up with Gabriel and Vincent for far too long. With the matter dealt with a small rueful smile pulled at his lips.
[+teal “The gallows? You think so highly of me? I had thought you would dispose of me much more discreetly.”] He toys with her and the mood indeed lightens. It was not prudent of him to tease her especially before her loyal lapdog Gregory shifted about like a disruptive child upon his seat. But the flicker of humour in her voice at her suggestion of punishment was rather infectious. More so given the softness in her eyes as she looked at him.
A cough from the Dwarven male drew the others attention and the disgruntled bard flicked his eyes back and forth between the two. He seemed displeased with the entire affair, a father protective over his daughter no less.
[+darkmagenta “So this is our plan? This is how we proceed?”] He may have looked to Florence at first but he directly the question to the General, his tone accusing as if he was presented with a poor outcome and no means to avoid it.
[+teal “It is a good plan, as good as any I would say.”] A roll of his shoulders accompanies his words.
[+darkmagenta “Risking a General's life and a Queen's respect not to mention her authority, on a plan that has a great risk of failing?”] There was no winning with this man. Whether it was because she had placed some additional trust in Nicolai or that he just simply did not like the idea was lost on the Elf at present.
[+teal “You do me a dishonour Gregory. As Her Majesty stated, I will only gather names, occupations, their tentative links to Gabriel. After that she can instruct me further or we may meet again.”] He turned back to Florence herself, hands coming together in the lap of his silken clothes, quite noble out of his armour for once.[+teal “I see no reason to act alone. As you say, to do so would see me dead. And given the attacks on Augustine of late I believe it is vigilant of me to do as told and not step above my duty.”] The Elf was sincere in his tone and against he suppressed his urge to take her hand.
It was not a gesture to win her over or to be disrespectful nor to annoy the little man before them by ignoring etiquette. Given his race and his natural persona, he was just simply a more hands on person. Thus the touches to Augustine's shoulder, the taking of hands when accepting condolences from the villagers on the ride back.
[+darkmagenta “Well I will have it noted my objection to this entire matter. We should be getting back anyway.”] The short man stood up as did Nicolai who made a point of offering his hand out. After a hesitation, and a look to the Queen, he accepted the hand and shook it.
[+teal “I promise you Gregory, I will only do right by you, by Augustine, and by the Queen.”]
Holding the man's gaze for a moment he hoped to cement his position in all this. After all he had no-where else to turn. What could he do? Ignore them? If so then he would be much more swiftly dealt with than they had been trying against the Prince. It was only with their protection he still remained alive – of that he had no doubt.
The elf was blunt and to the point again. Had this always been one of his traits? Florence couldn’t recall as she hadn’t every spoken to him in length, but that was in part her own fault. Before she had a chance to say something Gregory came in, scolding their new ally. She could tell he was being overly critical of Nicolai. She would talk to him about that at a later time.
[+mediumseagreen “No, I don’t expect it to say ‘for drug den,’ but I do suspect there might be inconsistencies or unexplained funds that we can look into.”] Listening further to his concerns, she thought he was right to feel it was a long shot, even she was not fully expecting for this effort to bear fruit. [+mediumseagreen “Just as well, he might have another ledger for his more secret dealings, one that he has passed along to someone else. But we will never know if we do not check.”] They’d be kicking themselves later if it turned out to be as simple as checking his numbers.
[+mediumseagreen “It very well may be a fool’s errand, but that is why I am sending you.”] Rather than anger or malice in her voice, like the last time she’d called him that, this time it leaned toward humor. A smirk curling on her lips, though he wouldn’t see it, as he wasn’t looking at her.
After that it was hard to get a word in edgewise. The men were going back and forth about the possibility of stooping to their level. She wasn’t entirely opposed to it. In fact, it was very much the way her brain worked, but she had been avoiding it due to her current title. That and the fact that Gregory saw such things as dishonorable, not that that had necessarily stopped her before.
She was pondering the idea of saying no and then convening with Nicolai later to tell him to go ahead, when the general suggested acting as a solitary unit. That did away with most of the issues that Gregory had and all of the ones she did. She was silent as she mulled it over a while longer. However, during this time the elf finally looked up at her. Had his sense of shame finally passed? Good, she was tired of him looking pitiful. Now he wore a steeled expression, one that conveyed his determination and conviction that this was the right choice. Florence thought it suited him much better, even if it was still a tad restrained. He must have been holding back saying something more, but that might have been wise considering all the things she’d heard him say before.
Her consideration must have shown on her face, as the dwarf cut in. [+darkmagenta “Florence…”] He spoke her name in a long drawn out manner, as you would with a child who was about to touch something they shouldn’t.
The Queen shot him a scathing look in return. [+mediumseagreen “What? This course of action should not be overlooked.”] She motioned over toward Nicolai with her hand. [+mediumseagreen “This is a perfect chance to open the avenue in case the need arises further down the line.”] More options when the day came that they grew bolder in their attacks on Augustine would be a blessing. Especially when there was so little chance that it could fall back to her.
Turning back towards the man next to her, she continued. [+mediumseagreen “You may look into his associates, family, and general business. Find the best way to make him suffer, but do nothing more. I do not want to show our cards prematurely.”] Gabriel might retaliate by cutting off from dangerous associates or sending loved ones away if he knew what they were up to. [+mediumseagreen “Also, do try your best not to rouse suspicion. It may not come back to us directly, but for the time being I still need your support. Sending you to the gallows would be a waste.”] He’d been instrumental in shielding Augustine. Losing Nicolai would be a heavy blow if he were to be caught. So acting with caution was the only option, though she probably didn’t need to tell him that.
Gregory shifted around uncomfortably on his stool. They were playing with fire and as a man with a long beard that worried him.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The meeting was rather secluded in the maze of gardens attached to the castle. Despite him having needed a guide to find the particular spot amongst the foliage where the Queen had waited for them, Nicolai could understand quite well why the Dwarf took to speaking his native tongue. One could not be careful enough these days. It paid to be overly cautious than to expose oneself to incrimination. And that was their topic of discussion.
Despite his Astorian not being entirely perfect, he followed along quite well between their back and forth. The look the other man gave him left him feeling uneasy. If he could not trust him now then when and how could he build upon it? He had thought better than to speak up however, acutely aware of the others closer relationship. He sat and listened.
Nicolai was rather intrigued by the development that Gregory relayed to them, but he sat momentarily impassive to it all, nodding only to confirm he was listening. When the Queen suggested checking through his backlogs and perhaps doing a financial check on the man, the General shook his head softly and looked over to her for only a fleeting moment. He was still shamed by their encounter weeks before, not fully forgiving himself.
[+teal “I would argue it is.. not pointless but close to it.”] His Astorian was fluent if a touch rusty on his syllables and the correct emphasis on certain letters. When he heard the Dwarven man clear his throat he turned to him.
[+darkmagenta “Look, there’s something you need to learn if we are to work together. Your job is to listen to Florence and you do as ordered-“] A hard worked Elven hand rose to him, palm out to calm his tongue.
[+teal “I did not say I am denying her request Gregory. Quite the contrary, I will do all I can to help and if she truly believes this the best course of action then so be it. But we are her advisers and to stay quiet when we have concerns is detrimental to her. I simply believe it will bring no results.”] The bearded man puffed out his cheeks, feeling it was as close to a rejection as anything else and looked to Florence to show her agreement. However Nicolai spoke up once more before anything else could be said, turning a touch toward her, looking down to his hands to save catching [i that] look from her.
[+teal “What do we expect to find? A note of payment signed [i ‘for the drug den’]? A pouch of the illegal narcotics on his person? He is a blithering fool at oration and cannot hold his own in an argument but do not denounce Viscount Gabriel as a common fool.”] He purses his lips at the last word, but it is a personal slight and he continued.[+teal “He will run everything through another to separate himself from this very notion; nothing will tie him directly to criminal enterprises.”] His head dipped, aware of the Queen looking at him now, though he didn’t wish to leave her without options and ran through several plans he had been formulating for some time now.
[+teal “I will check through the ledgers but perhaps we should instead look to his acquaintances, his extended family, begin to fight back against them with their own tactics.”] Nicolai felt despicable for suggesting the idea they follow such slimy men’s deeds, to copy and apply them against their instigators. He could see the displeasure in Gregory's body language.[+teal “I know it is not something either of you would like to consider but it may be necessary.”]
[+darkmagenta “No, I don’t like that. I don’t want to get involved in their evil underhanded tactics. If we do that then we are not their betters, we wallow in the mud alongside them.”]
[+teal “And neither do I. But sometimes we must fight fire with fire.”] He implored of the smaller man who stroked at his beard – he was quite a deal more animated than usual.
[+darkmagenta “And yet their fires burn hotter than anyone else's. They are more skilled in subterfuge, in dirty deals and the like. Plus, we have more to lose if we are caught. A Queen and her General, scheming against nobility?”] He looked to Florence as he spoke his coherent point and Nicolai nodded along with him.
The bard was a shrewd man with an intellect he would have liked to pick at if they had been in more pleasant times. But here, beside the Queen and the in the lulling scent of lavender, they were two passionate men keen on achieving the same goal if only from different directions.
[+teal “I would work alone then.”] This seemed to garner the other man's interest. It didn't openly involve the Queen.[+teal “Well, given my open hostility at the last council meeting I am not exactly endeared by everyone. I have no public allies and though Gabriel and Vincent have inklings of my allegiance to you both, it cannot be proven to the greater council. If I am caught then the Queen can simply enact the correct punishment and no harm comes to her.”] He turned to her once more, lifting his gaze at last to look in her eyes.[+teal “If anything, your prestige and standing would only rise. You would be seen as a defender of the kingdom from outside and inside influences alike.”]
Nicolai had wanted to take her hand in the moment and show her how truly he felt they needed this, but it would be improper and rather outrageous to think of, and so instead he bit at his cheek to save it for another time.
Gregory’s naturally jolly temperament had been suffering for these past few weeks, so he gladly let himself have a chuckle at the Queen sleeping amongst the flowers. He didn’t particularly want to wake her, not after he’d been telling her to get some rest, but this really wasn’t what he had in mind. He tried to push it off on the Duke, thinking it might be funny, but he refused.
[+darkmagenta “Komm nach, Florence. Wach auf.”] Coming closer, he lightly flicked her forehead.
Eyes fluttering open, Florence caught sight of the smiling dwarf with his braided beard. She smiled back at him warmly, as her hand came up to rub the spot on her head that he’d pinged. [+mediumseagreen “Hör auf damit, Va-“] The tenner of her words was light, almost laughing until she noticed Nicolai and halted altogether. Her face dusted with color, she cleared her throat. [+mediumseagreen “Sorry. I’m awake, we can begin.”]
[+darkmagenta “I told you to get some sleep, now look, you’ve embarrassed yourself.”] Gregory patted her cheek before pulling back just as she swiped at him. To avoid any further attempts he took a seat that was just out of her reach.
Practically hissing at him, she urged the bard to move on. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, yes, now get on with it, old man. I haven’t got all day.”]
Nodding, he obliged her, all the while grinning. He spoke in his native language, just in case someone happened by them. [+darkmagenta “Very well… After scouring around town some, I heard some rumors about the Viscount. They were extensive, so I think there might be some merit behind them.”] He paused, looking between the pair of nobles in front of him. Gregory still wasn’t one hundred percent sure about the general, but he trusted the Queen’s sense of crisis. She had assuredly weighed their chances of victory against the elf’s likelihood of turning on them. [+darkmagenta “Apparently, Gabriel’s servants have been seen frequently down by a well known drug den on the outskirts of town. They come and pick up profits, so speculation would say the Viscount is either running the operation or turning a blind eye to it in order to line his pockets.”]
Florence perked up a bit. What horrifically amazing news. [+mediumseagreen “Have you personally seen his people there?”] She trusted his old eyes more than those of the average passerby.
[+darkmagenta. “Not as of yet, but I plan to keep trying.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Good. I want you to catch one of them with money in hand. If we can solidly link this back to Gabriel, I will be able to expel him from the council immediately.”] They wouldn’t have to wait for the coronation and Vincent would lose one of his most vocal backers. And while Florence couldn’t be sure, she had inkling that Gabriel might be the brain behind it all. [+mediumseagreen “We should also look into his books, I want to know if there is anything written to back our suspicions. And who knows, if we are lucky, this won’t be his only endeavor.”] A wicked smile played on her lips. Finally they had something. They could begin to fight back. [+mediumseagreen “Nicolai, can I trust you with that task?”] Turning slightly on the bench, she faced him with an openly inquisitive look, also hoping for any opinions he had.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The news from Gabriel was most unwelcome and it was hard to disguise it showing on his face. Nicolai saw the smug smile and it was clear each could read the other quite well. They parted quickly, leaving the Elven man to wander out after a moment and spot Gregory, a curious look on the Dwarven man's face as he looked from the swiftly retreating Viscount to the Duke in succession. His brow rose in curiosity.
[+darkmagenta “Care to explain that Nicolai?”] There was animosity in his voice and mistrust in his eyes. Whilst the duo got along cordially, the Queen's indecision on Nicolai's allegiance before their talk moments ago still weighed on the smaller man's thoughts. He was cautious in his approach to the General, acutely aware of how fine the line between friend and foe was of late.
For his part, Nicolai could understand the uneasy look and somewhat defensive stance of the bard. For days now he had been a recluse and the epitome of someone who wished to distance himself from the inner workings of this power struggle. Yet here he was at it's furious epicentre and he was already left with a bad taste on his tongue. He offered the small man a pliant nod and let out a deep sigh.
[+teal “You can relax a little, we are friends in this matter now.”]
[+darkmagenta “Oh? And what 'matter' is it you speak of?”] The tone was stern but intrigued.
[+teal “I have spoken to Florence. She has taken my oath of loyalty to her and Augustine. Ich bin nicht dein feind, sondern dein verbündeter.“] The Astorian had it's intended affect, like someone let in a deathly secret the language shared between the three their own private code.
[+darkmagenta “I see. And Gabriel?”]
[+teal “He is still Vincent's lapdog. He had wanted to speak to Florence on a matter but I decided to take up the mantel to allow her some respite from her duties.”]
[+darkmagenta “Kind of you. What did he have to say?”]
[+teal “Apparently the Priests have deliberated and decided on a coronation; three months tomorrow.”] He shared in the short man's surprised look and nodded slowly.[+teal “It's far worse than I expected. I knew they would push it back, but this is unprecedented.”] He sighed lightly and closed his eyes.[+teal “If you would, please can you tell Florence? I need to return to the barracks to make some arrangements. She's tasked me with keeping the Prince safe.”] They exchanged a nod of understanding and left to go about their tasks.
For the next two weeks there an ever present General seen moving about the castle. Like a mirror opposite of himself he had gone from shy hermit to taking on additional roles where possible, all whilst spending large portions of each day with young Augustine. He had not sought permission from Florence in the matters of what he could do for the boy but instead taken it on himself to teach him some small details of his impending role as King. Regent though his mother would be, he would have to learn this all eventually.
Therefore atop the daily light training, though not every day including sword play, he supplemented the boys studying with that of the country's history, the more military heavy aspects of which the outcome had shaped the kingdom. He taught him about management of soldiers and resources and the need to keep both loyalty and morale at a peak or face certain downfalls. It was difficult at first but eventually Nicolai found himself looking forward to their lessons. Perhaps that was the moment they had seen fit to strike and the 'accidents' occurred.
Falling pots were a novelty at first, chalked down to foolish servants and the like. The horses being scared and sent running wild from the stables whilst they had been walking nearby, forcing the Elf to sweep up the boy and shield him from being trampled – it was an oddity given the training of the horses, but animals were wild and prone to wild actions. Yet the incident in the armoury, a full suit of his fathers heavy plate armour almost falling atop him when it's stand had fell forward – that was sabotage as sure as day. Unable to pin it on anyone or prove it outright Nicolai was left with nothing more than frayed nerves and a suspicious eye of anything and everything.
As a guard to the boy, albeit one of secrecy between himself, Gregory and Florence, it was down to him to keep the young Prince safe. When he had been called to attend a meeting in the palace gardens by the Dwarf, three guards selected by himself had been left with the young boy in a cautionary manner.
Nicolai had met Gregory along the way, discussing pointless matters as they strolled along the corridors, servants offering them bows of their head and a level of respect to match their rankings in the realm. The items they discussed were mundane and drivel, to keep any listening ear filled with the knowledge that a piece of mutton was sometimes better a few days after cooking if stored in a jar of pickled beets. Riveting conversation.
Making their way down to the gardens it brought a smile to both men's faces to find the Queen already there, asleep in the lavender scents of her carefully preened solitude. There was no argument from the men who would wake her, Nicolai leveraged his injured side – from being struck by a piece of the King's armour in the 'accident' – to force Gregory to concede and be the one to wake her gently.
The Elf had looked upon the slumbering woman's idyllic features and serene look with a little sadness that they had been forced to wake her. She was no doubt exhausted from her duties and despite the best intentions of the General, any work he took from her shoulders only brought more forward for her to deal with. It was never ending. When she had been awoken, Nicolai seating himself beside her on the bench as the Dwarven man took a seat upon a stool dotted nearby, their secret meeting could go ahead.
The elderly man had been expecting Queen Florence to come walking around the corner, so when it was instead a rather disagreeable looking general, he scowled. Last he’d heard Nicolai had been throwing a tantrum in the barracks, content not to leave his corner of the castle grounds. That had suited the Viscount just fine, so he was disappointed now that the higher-ranking man seemed to be sticking his nose into the Astorian woman’s business.
Try as he might to shake off the elf, it seemed he was not willing to give in. Was this his way of bouncing back after he’d been publicly shamed? Gabriel stared down the man, holding his ground up until the point Nicolai’s eyes flashed something dangerous at him.
[+firebrick “The priest has finished his deliberation with the gods. The most auspicious day for our young Prince’s coronation is set to be three months from tomorrow.”] He smiled, an attempt to appear cordial, but it only displayed his conceit. The minister was in their pocket. Gabriel had personally picked the date of the crowning, intentionally placing it as far off in the future as he could. A move that gave them all the time in the world to wear that conniving Queen down until she broke and yielded to their demands. [+firebrick “It is a shame it’s set so long from now, but we cannot risk angering the gods, not if we want the reign of King Augustine to be long and prosperous.”] He shrugged as though he had no hand in the matter, continuing to smile his smug smile at the tall elf.
After that, the older man was quite through with Nicolai’s presence. [+firebrick “See, not so important at all was it? The matter could have waited for another time.”] He repeated the line again, emphasizing it as if he hadn’t been the one who sent a frantic servant girl out to find her in a hurry.
Gabriel was quick to leave after that. There was no need to subjugate himself to the Duke any longer than absolutely necessary. Though one good thing came from their meeting. He now knew for certain that Florence had managed garnered the intimidating man’s favor, an unfortunate fact, but a good one to be aware of all the same. Pondering that a bit longer, he found himself wishing they were dealing with one of Germaine’s first two wives. Why did the third have to be so damn unruly?
In the hall he passed the dwarf, Gregory, shuffling about as though he’d drank one too many pints of ale, which wasn’t entirely unlikely. The Viscount kept his eyes straight ahead, unwilling to give the drunken rabble any sort of acknowledgment. The bearded man’s presence only motivated his feet to carry him swifter from this wing of the castle.
When news of the coronation date did hit Florence’s ears, she was in ire. She knew they would push it back, but she suspected a month at most. Three was an eternity. Time enough for almost anything to happen. There was no possible way she could keep Vincent believing that she only played coy for the sake of her late husband for that long. Sure, had it been only the Marquis, blinded by his inflated ego, that might have worked, but he had Gabriel working behind him. That man hadn’t trusted her since the day she first stepped in through the gate.
Biting her thumbnail in thought, she wracked her brain for a plan before they moved on to prodding at her more obvious weak spots... It probably wouldn’t be too outlandish to claim that Vincent had attacked her and have him hanged, but that sort of plan had the tendency to backfire. And she didn’t need to make matters worse by exposing herself as a liar.
Lord, she looked forward to the day they had more concrete control and she could begin the process of shuffling the council to actually fit the needs of this country.
That night, she fell to sleep in her chair, trying to find a perfect solution that would never come. Meredith found her the next morning and pitched a fit loud enough for Gregory to hear, and so Florence ended up getting an earful. The same old song and dance about being useless to everyone who needed her if she couldn’t even take care of herself. She knew he meant well, but now wasn’t the time to be worried about a night or two of poor sleep. What she really needed was information. A commodity she would have to wait for.
A fortnight passed before it began. A string of incidents appearing from the outside to be nothing more than bad luck, but they all had one thing in common: Augustine. Nothing had harmed him yet, but he seemed to be mysteriously close to each and every instance. Things like pots falling from windows, horses getting spooked and running rampant, and this last time with an accident in the armory. The rumors spread unnaturally fast. She always heard the details immediately afterward, but not because of her own network. It was the overt whispering of gossip that seemed to come directly to her, as if they were trying to be overheard. Florence saw the occurrences for what they were, a cluster of cautionary signs to steer her to caving.
That very day, she received a missive. Gregory was calling for a meeting; he must have found something. The place was set in the garden and it seemed he was pulling in Nicolai as well. When it came time, Florence was the first to arrive, perhaps a little too early, but if she hadn’t left when she did she would have been pulled into some other nonsense and missed the hour. So now she waited, sitting on a bench deep within the labyrinth of flowers and thorns.
A silent moment to herself, calmed by the scent of lavender, was just enough for the woman to nod off. Her emerald eyes falling shut as she waited for the others there in one of her favorite places.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Despite his pledge and apology, before his head had dipped and the Astorian had come out, he had seen the embers still burning in her eyes and her fist's remained clenched tightly. He knew he had stepped over many lines she had not seen crossed before. To have what amounted to a commoner, openly disapproving of her actions and calling her a fool, would have been something she would take in stride against him. But when he had questioned her parenting he had seen her death glare and known what it was to cross this woman.
Thankfully she spoke to calm his withered nerves and he closed his eyes over in homage to whatever God had come to save him from her motherly wrath. He did not raise his head to look at her or to meet those shimmering emerald eyes once more – Nicolai had had his fill of being seen as an idiot that day. He wanted nothing more than to leave her until requested to attend to her.
The Elf agreed with her judgement that Gregory be the go between when she was inevitably tasked with other matters as was her routine these days. The Dwarven bard was someone he trusted to keep his tongue from waging to anyone going against the Queen and now his own intentions. And with a good relationship with Augustine he would be key in keeping the boy calm and focused, away from this kind of treachery left to the adults to play out behind his back.
Lost to these thoughts his heart skipped a beat when she whispered close to his ear. His breath caught for a moment and between the manner of her lighter tone and the thick accent that shone through he was like putty in her hands, shoulders losing their rigidity.
As secrets went his infatuation with the Queen was amongst his mostly closely guarded. Over a decade of interactions with her, from simple good mornings to this argument now, he was smitten no matter what. Granted, as this argument had proven, Nicolai did not know her at all on a personal level. She was always shielded from heavier conversation by her husband and then her child. He had been left to merely admire her overwhelming beauty from afar and daydream continually.
As she stood and stepped back he lifted his mauve eyes to watch her wave him off and she turned to leave, heading through an archway as she left for whatever she wished. He stood once she was gone, thinking that perhaps it would be the start of a closer friendship. Left to reel and reflect in her words, it was not long after that a servant girl came running into the courtyard. When he inquired as to why she was running about in such distress she informed Nicolai that Gabriel was seeking her. Jaw set firm he instructed her to show him to the Viscount personally.
Finding the man took only a few minutes of swift walking and he could see from the chubby mans shaking jowls that he was surprised to find the General marching to him.
[+teal “Viscount, I apologise for the disruption but the Queen is busy at present. What is the matter?”] He delighted in seeing the man flummoxed.
[+maroon “Oh, Duke Nicolai, it is quite fine I will await when she is next free.”] The man turned as to leave but the Elf was not done.
[+teal “Come now Gabriel, it must be important to send a servant girl seeking her out.”]
[+maroon “Truly, it is not a problem to wait another time.”]
[+teal “Perhaps you can disclose to me what it is you wished to ask and I can relay it back to her at a more opportune time. That way you have your answer more quickly.”] There was hesitation from the Viscount as he looked back at the other man, still in his armour from training.[+teal “Speak up now Gabriel, I insist.”] There was no threat in his voice but it showed in his eyes.
At his unexpected touch, she quickly turned on her heel. How dare he try to stop her; what else could he possibly have to say? Her fist was clenched closed and already rearing back to hit him, but the look in his eye stopped her. Nicolai’s animosity had extinguished from his expression. Skeptical at his sudden change, her piercing green gaze narrowed on him. She stayed silent, allowing him to say his piece.
He was conceding, admitting his fault, and it was admirable. Well, it would have been if she weren’t half as mad as she was. Anger still pulled at her stomach, but now was not the time to hold petty grudges. She was in trouble if she didn’t have the general’s aid.
Florence took in a few slow breaths, his display of kneeling and pledge helped greatly in leveling her head. She was not sure what narrative he was hoping to see within this already drama filled scene, but the Queen was glad the elf had unclouded his view. Hearing his voice come through in her native language helped to assuage her further. A smile played at the corner of her lips, though she forced it back down, returning to her resting face.
[+mediumseagreen “Ich glaube, das arrangiert warden.”] That was all she said in Astorian before returning to this country’s tongue. [+mediumseagreen “More than fidelity to me, I hope that you can place all those feelings on Augustine. He is all that matters…”] It was less that she lacked a healthy fear of death and more that it had been overridden by maternal instinct. She couldn’t even begin to imagine she’d react to losing him as well, for her sanity he needed to be safe. [+mediumseagreen “And so I ask that you keep open eyes and ears when it comes to what happens around him. He already spends much of his time in your company. Your presence will seem natural.”] It wouldn’t set off any suspicions. That being said, she didn’t expect him to become Augustine’s personal guard. Nicolai had his own duties to attend to.
[+mediumseagreen “The rest of the council is intentionally keeping me preoccupied, calling on me for every menial task in order limit my freedom. Restrained, there is little I can do, but between you and the others who have aligned with us, I believe I still have a clear picture…”] It was hard to be certain, but with this web in place she should be able to tell when Vincent’s men started to move.
[+mediumseagreen “If and when you notice anything, let me know. Though, I trust you will take action if it is urgent… And in the times I am unavailable, tell Gregory, he is the most secure and direct line to me.”] Most of this was self explanatory, but she did not want to chance it. The enemy could still have an undisclosed plot and she wanted to know anything that might hint at what it was.
Feeling that she had said most, if not all, of what she needed to, Florence leaned down towards the still kneeling man. Close to his finely pointed ear, she whispered in a hushed voice. [+mediumseagreen “Danke schön.”] The quiet thanks was lighter in tone than she normally spoke, almost reverent. Perhaps it was the residual of all the strong emotions she’d just gone through, or maybe the reignited hope in her chest. Either way, she looked at him grateful for his allegiance.
Standing straight once more, the olive skinned woman excused herself. [+mediumseagreen “That is all I came for today. Please, feel free return to your tasks.”] Waving him off, she turned to leave once again, this time uninterrupted. As she walked, she mentally debated whether or not she would run off to the garden to try and have a bit of peace before she was pulled back into the fray. She would.
Only minutes after the woman’s departure, one of the young servant girls came running through the courtyard. Shouting for the Queen and inquiring to those in her sight if anyone had seen her. The Viscount Gabriel was calling for Florence, hoping to have her opinion on something. Exactly what hadn’t been disclosed to the child, but she asked scrambled around trying to find the woman all the same.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Such a striking and powerful glare from a woman he had known for the last decade to be rather cryptic and enigmatic in her mannerisms was quite interesting to the Elf. Truth be told he had not expected such a strong and sensible response. He had thought Florence would strike him and with a curse of his name storm away. He was living up to her 'fools' title.
When she had spoken, again without his interruption, Nicolai watched her closely. It was a much longer look at her. This time he was quite thoughtful in his response. She had given him so much to think over and consider and yet with her last words she had placed him into a predicament. If it would not only serve to antagonise her he would have smiled at the clever movement the Queen had made to corner him so shrewdly. He had been right however; she was incredibly intelligent. Each point he thought so smugly was infallible and true, she had a response that left it in tatters.
To go from feeling victorious to utter destruction was a feeling quite impossible to describe. Here he had been bested and it was a shock to him not because she was a woman or that he was always the victor, the champion undefeated. It was his vain belief that he was of the upper reaches of intelligent thought and without equal. He could take a physique defeat in his stride but to have his thoughts turned back on him and be made to feel.. well, foolish, it struck a cord in him.
The fatigue in her voice showed at the end, that inkling of a foreign tongue attempting to slip in and the accent a touch rough to match. As he stood there watching her she may have assumed he was simply done arguing and would say no more, but as she twisted her figure to turn away he touched a hand to her arm. It was only brief, to return her gaze to him, and the hand moved away from her.
[+teal “I.. I feel a need to apologise, Your Majesty.”] It was a soft beginning but it was a beginning nonetheless.[+teal “I can see nothing but logic in your response and my arguments seem like nothing more now than the wailing of an infant.”] He averted his gaze downward for a moment, face losing the smugness and the anger that had come from their argument. When he looked back up he met her eyes once more, a hand brushing back wet hair quickly.
[+teal “I feel I have not only done you dishonour with my slanderous words and accusations.. but I am just as despicable as the Marquis himself.”] His voice was quieter as the humbled man sought the right words.[+teal “I saw things for how I wanted to to suit my own narrative and did not think nor consider the possibility that things are not as they would appear. Perhaps I have not dealt with Germaines illness and passing correctly but it is no excuse for my behaviour to which you have my deepest apologies.”]
Without her having a moment to accept or deny the apology he stooped down, bending down until he was left kneeling before her, looking up at her now with humility.
[+teal “As I swore an oath of fealty to King Germaine, so now I pass along this oath, to his family and kin. I, Nicolai Windsor, do swear to protect and serve you and your son to the best of my ability and without hesitation.”] Again his head dropped in honour of her title, the humbled man with a fist to his chest in salute of her position as well – after all, if she was regent then she also was head of the army and his superior for a second time.
[+teal “Das heißt, wenn du einem alten Narren vergeben kannst..”] Nicolai ended with a hushed phrase. The Astorian, with an excellent accent to match, seemed almost amiss but a further sign of his humility.
Florence continued to glare up at him as he came closer to her. Listening again to his complaints, shaking her head at some of them. [+mediumseagreen “You know I am not trained in the matters of running a kingdom? Sir, you assume. I was regent when my brother took the throne in Astoria. I know how a country is to be run, and to my so-called confusion in a foreign land, I will have you know I have spent the last ten years studying. But tell me again, how well you know me and my qualifications.”] There was a bitter taste in her mouth as she spat the words. Before Eugene took the throne back in her homeland, Astoria had been cut off from the world. Both borders and trading closed, she’d been a major component in it reopening and coming to life, though that was not common knowledge this far south.
[+mediumseagreen “The tear in the council existed long before I got here, so you cannot pin that to me as though I am the one who caused it. The members were dissatisfied with Germaine and his illogical manner of ruling.”] Things like handing out titles to friends he’d only just met and taking a rather hands off approach to ruling, letting the decisions fall to the council and reaping the glory. [+mediumseagreen “I have to set myself apart from that, show them that I can and will see flaws regardless of who makes them. Vincent’s claim was legitimate, and if I did not acknowledge it I would be a hypocrite… though, you are right to say I spoke too soon. I jumped ahead of myself, I needed to be sure that you were not dispelled from the council then and there.”] The queen admitted her fault, but did not apologize directly. [+mediumseagreen “But I would say you made matters worse after that, losing your temper.”]
The final accusation was the hardest to ward off. Her bright green eyes stayed locked to his violet ones as she tried to think of the best way to explain herself. Finding it odd that she had to at all. But it came to her with time. [+mediumseagreen “I am not in a position to reject him flatly. If I act too hostile towards the Marquis it is likely that his tactic will change to something more aggressive. And seeing as he has half this castle backing him, I cannot say whether or not I have enough power to stop it.”] It was one thing to stop usurper who tried to use the law to his advantage, but a coup d’état was another thing entirely. [+mediumseagreen “Placating him is the best means to the end I wish to see. The longer he thinks there is a chance that I may give in, the longer I have to gather my forces.”] There were nuances to these things; perhaps it was because she was a woman that she saw that.
Well, this conversation went more horrifically than she expected. Unsure that she could change the Duke’s mind, and not wanting to waste her precious time on an impossible task, she sighed forcefully. [+mediumseagreen “This game has two sides, Nicolai, by refusing me you have made your bed in Vincent’s camp. When it comes time to lay in it, I hope you will be satisfied.”] Though there was certain forebodingness to her words, Florence’s tone was more tired than anything else. She was done.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai openly scoffed when she coldly declared him more idiotic than at first thought. He turned away, a warped smile at his lips as he doesn't quite believe how she can think that of him. However when she speaks again he turns back, arms folding across his chest and the chain rattles softly.
To each of her points he only bit down on replying right away. Despite the animosity and hate being thrown back and forth it was only right he allow her to answer to his accusations as she had listened to them in full. She was articulate and precise in her responses although he could see she spoke like himself, through emotion than logic, at times over stepping into her old tongue – her mother tongue. When she did he followed along given his knowledge of Astorian, but she quickly returned to Wistinian.
Unlike the child, fool and idiot she made him out to be, he listened to her detailed rebuttal to the end. Many would have locked up after a given time, keen to just wait for the other person to be quiet before they replied. Instead he gave it a moment, mostly to allow her calling him a parasite to settle. If she regretted going so far it didn't show in her icy glare or her furrowed brow nor the way she clenched her hands to hold back physical attack.
[+teal “I see. Well, let us return to each and every point in order then shall we.”] He turned to her, stepping forward as he began to speak.[+teal “Point one. I offered you my help because I know you are not trained in the matters of running a Kingdom, not least a foreign realm you were brought into, not born into. I offered you my help to assist and advise you until Germaine's health returned, to share the weight that comes with maintaining the realm. Yet even as his health deteriorated you stubbornly held onto the power in a selfish deed that threw the council into its current mess rather than accept assistance.”]
He stopped two feet from her, his height superior so that he looked down on her a little – though he did not do her dishonour by turning his nose up at her. He would look her in the eye as he spoke.
[+teal “Point two. As I stated in the meeting, I accept criticism where it can be found. What you did was to help the Marquis by providing his accusation with legitimacy when you should have sat and said nothing, allowing me to face my accuser – but then I guess you would not know that as you do not know the protocol of such meetings.”] A mocking smile tugs at his lips.[+teal “Perhaps that was something you could have used help with?”] His voice dripped with sarcasm and rather openly, no longer intimidated to stay quiet and respectful of her crown. That is to say the respect was there but he would not hold back on her if she was to do the same to him.
All is fair in love and war, so they say.
[+teal “As to why I left, let me run some military spiel by you."] He nodded as if he was about to explain something to young Augustine.[+teal "I left to ensure the stability of the border and in doing so saved whatever this Kingdom is to become from losing land to the western lands. Your husband could have died at any given moment I am led to believe – I would not know however, as every attempt to see him was met with refusal. And do not worry about becoming the fool Your Highness, you already are one.”] He took a calming breath at that. To brazenly call her a fool like that was very good grounds for a meeting with the executioners block. Yet with caution thrown to the wind, and the sake of a few weeks of life, he saw no harm in it.
[+teal “And yes, to finish with, point three; dear, dear Vincent.”] She would see the displeasure on his face in saying the mans name and the thought of him coming to mind almost made him shudder.[+teal “Try to see things from another perspective for once, Your Highness. You spend so much of your time, both before and after Germaines death, in the presence of a man you claim to be a parasite. You do so alone."] He eyes open as if in mock surprise at such a fanciful thing.
[+teal "Then, at the council meeting, you agree with his attack on my very name and honour."] He holds up a finger in protest at himself.[+teal "Nay, tell a lie. You openly endorse to the rest of the council that I am at fault and actively name me as the sole culprit. And that was only moments after you conceded to his lackey the Viscount about the marriage proposal. The only thing stopping your nuptials?"] The same finger came to rest upon his smooth chin in thought.[+teal "I recall a reasoning of lack of taste given the recent demise of your husband. But you did little to dissuade the point being raised in the future – perhaps in the spring so you may marry under the blossoms?”] Oh that was a terribly good point and lovely jab. If he had been watching he would have applauded, but he still had to finish.
[+teal “Yes, I will concede, perhaps I should have enforced myself upon you. Perhaps if I had compelled you to accept my help, cornered you and forced your hand to listen to me things would be different. Sadly, in an error of judgement I paid no heed to your character or your very being and instead put too much respect in your title. I never thought you a monster, quite the opposite in-fact. I thought you rather intelligent and compassionate. The latter I cannot see any more but the former? Well, you may retain some intelligence. Because indeed how foolish do I look now?”]
It was difficult but the Queen let him finish with what he had to say. It seemed he was blind to the tapestry he was a part of, a single thread that didn’t bother to look properly at the bigger picture. So much so, that he thought she looked favorably on the Marquis. For the most part she did not care, his opinion of her mattered little, but at the mention of neglecting her son, her gaze turned icy.
[+mediumseagreen “I misjudged you; you are far stupider than I could have ever imagined.”] There was a bite to her words, cold and desolate. She debated whether to leave and let him be consumed by his misgivings, or to try and salvage him as a useful tool to make sure her son saw his future as King.
After a long pause, one in which her gaze never grew any fonder of his form, she decided to speak. [+mediumseagreen “If you must have a reason, let it be because you are wrong on every account you have thrust at me.”] There was so much to say, she wasn’t entirely sure where to start. [+mediumseagreen “If I had ignored your offer, I would not be here now. Clearly I was waiting until I needed you, but it seems your want to help was conditional. I had to need you soon enough… What idiocy.”] She was too busy making sure things did not fall to pieces to go begging for help she didn’t need before this point.
[+mediumseagreen “And it seems you were so blinded by my criticism, that you forgot that I praised you in the very next breath, or was my flattery not great enough for you, Duke Nicolai. What would you have preferred? Should I have said it was fine you left while Germaine was one foot in the grave, and that it was perfectly acceptable that you missed his pyre? I will not make a fool of myself to preserve your pride.”] She was getting worked up herself, her accent began to leak through. Taking a moment and a few deep breaths as she pinched the bridge of her nose, she waited for a bit of composure before continuing.
[+mediumseagreen “But by far your greatest misconception must be that I would be in cahoots with someone who so clearly wants the death of my child. What kind of monster do you take me for?”] Florence had entirely no idea how that had come about, especially after she had fought so hard at the meeting to rescind the marriage proposition. And yet Nicolai was delusional enough to think they were lovers. It took most her restraint to walk up and hit him. [+mediumseagreen “Perhaps if you were so desperate for my attention and approval you should have taken a page from Vincent’s book and come before me. Though I cannot guarantee I would have seen you for anything other than a parasite like him.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The Elf had spent a few days in seclusion. Not to the point he was a hermit, left in his room to shout at anyone who tried to approach him or throwing child like fits of rage when disturbed. Rather he was rarely seen venturing further than the military wing of the castle. Never once did he step foot inside lest he be chastised openly by the Queen again or threatened by a growing number of councillors who now stood against him given his outburst. He weathered their stares and open hostility without the need for the tongues to add to it. Doing this however meant he did not see the Queen. In fact the one time he had seen her was with Vincent in tow, heading across the grounds toward the library where Augustine would be studying. It had left Nicolai seething once more.
In his self-imposed exile, the man was losing to himself. His grasp upon what was truth and fiction became muddled. The very infighting and sabotage he had sought to escape with his expedition had come to rule over every small decision. Though he was often a calm and reasonable individual, someone who showed even the most basic of respect to those he interacted with, these past days he was often terse and strict, barking orders to soldiers and fixing anyone who dared question his authority with a glare of suspicion.
When the young Prince had come to him with an abundance of questions he had wanted nothing more than to shut his door to the boy. He was not his private tutor nor his personal guardian. Nicolai was never rude or hurtful to the child but blunt and to the point. At present he and his mother held power absolute and to upset the child would see him die sooner than was being planned. That and it was not the Prince's fault his father had left him a fractured council behind. It served no purpose to be mean spirited to a boy who would perhaps not see his next birthday, regardless if it was as King or Crown Prince.
Where he had once looked to cement his place in the Kingdom by keeping in the youth's favour and good graces, given the development of the Marquis and Queen's plans, he saw that the boy was as much a pawn in this as him. They were not irreplaceable. Florence was young enough that more children was easily possible and Generals came and went at the whim of the ruler; which by now was looking more and more likely to be that bastard Vincent.
It was for such a reason that he allowed his fellow pawn to watch him as he completed his daily training, up early on the morn and stretching long before the child had even woken. Despite his impending demise he had his routine. It kept his mind somewhat focused although these days he worked alone and the deathly silence left him to stew in his loathing and hatred, the repetition only feeding into his self-loathing and internal cesspool.
With his own training completed the boy was humoured with his consistent inquiry, though it was unlikely he would ever wield a sword outside ceremonial purposes. Both using wooden swords he taught him how to wield the sword correctly, how to block particular attacks and spot for the tell tale signs of how an opponent might swing thus giving an advantage. There was little point to showing him how to attack – he would only ever use these lessons to defend himself and his family.
The repeated running of the attack and parry was meant to drill this into the boys head, the weak swings of Nicolai blocked and any subsequent counters by the boy swept aside. It was easy for the man to direct his power and quickly Augustine was tiring.
[+teal “Your Highness, you cannot give in.”] His instructor said, landing the flat of his wooden blade against the boys side enough for him to groan and step back.
[+coral “Ow, that hurt!”] His hand held his ribs painfully, sword almost dropped to the floor.
[+teal “Do you think your enemy will stop because it hurts? Learn to expect the pain. Now, again.”] Nicolai was perhaps a touch harsh on the child but he had trained a number of young soldiers and it was best not to play into a fatherly role and coddle them.
A flicker of green fabric off at the edge of the courtyard had almost spelled an end to the training, but seeing the Queen raise a hand for him to ignore her presence left them to continue on a few minutes further. A few more attacks and the Prince called a halt to their working as he now saw his mother. They talked very briefly and he was dismissed as quickly.
Nicolai took the practice weapon from the Prince before he hurried off, bowing his head to the Queen as he stepped aside and to a weapons rack to replace them. Her words of endearment were perhaps meant to bring a lightness to the Elf or invoke an agreement. She received neither and he merely looked across impassively at her as the Prince left their purview. Her request for his trust and his alliance tickled him something queer. As if pondering the question he leaves it to hang as he moves across to a marble bowl filled with fresh water, cupping it in his hands and splashing it over his face, similar to how he had at the fountain weeks before. He pushed back his dark hair as he let the excess water run away and down his face to be lost under his clothing.
[+teal “I am to speak freely on the matter, Your Majesty?”] He turned back from the bowl to face her – he could do her that least in respect, even if he felt her presence was on unfavourable terms. She inclined her head for him to go on.[+teal “I recall, some months ago when Germaine first became ill, that I offered my services unto you in your time of need for the sake of Crown Prince Augustine. I offered to do all I could to see things continue smoothly and to help you in running the King's business unmolested. As I recall; you ignored me.”] There was clear displeasure in his voice by the end and his violet gaze met her shimmering eyes, a mix of jade and sky blue. It was no wonder Germaine had taken her for his wife from her eyes alone.
[+teal “Let us speak plainly for I do not like word games. Given your quite public chastisement of my actions and my overall demeanour of late I am left to ponder why you stand here asking for my word to support you. You speak of my loyalty to Germaine and how I you [i 'expect'] that I should simply transfer it to Augustine, all whilst you cavort with the Marquis.”] There was a reaction at his implication that she and Vincent were colluding together, but he didn't give her chance to rebut him or set things right before continuing.
[+teal “I have seen you together with that.. [i cretin],”] he bit back on a far worse barb,[+teal “these past several weeks than I ever saw you attending to you dying husband or your grief stricken son, to the point the boy came to me to seek solace and understanding. I am not his father nor will I become a token-substitute, a nanny or some tool for you and your lover to use in keeping him compliant.”] Nicolai had allowed his tongue to speak from his heart than his mind. Emotion ruled over logic in his complaints as he watched her though he maintained a steely and calm appearance.
[+teal “You ask me to cut out my tongue and never speak of what I have seen. You ask me to just forget and ignore my logical opposition. You ask me to remain loyal to your son and therefore to you. All I ask in return is.. why should I?”]
It was the night after the meeting, secluded in one of the many drawing rooms of the castle, Florence sat with Gregory. Their words were hushed even behind closed a closed door and late in the night.
[+mediumseagreen “Die Situation ist furchtbar. Nur die halbe Seite mit mir… I habe angst um Augustine.”] The woman’s eyes were hard as she spoke in her native tongue. Sitting across from the bearded bard, he was also serious in countenance, unusual for him.
[+darkmagenta “Du solltest Angst vor dir selbst haben. Es ist nicht zu spät. Wir können immer Heimat gehen.”]
Florence’s laughter filled the air. [+mediumseagreen “ Bist du ein Narr? Astoria ist nicht sicherer, nicht in die Berg.”]
[+darkmagenta “Eugene würde dich beide beschültzen…”] He was cut off by the sound of footsteps some way down the hall.
The Queen’s ear also picked up the soft trotting of feet. That would have to be all for now, but at least the two knew where the other stood. Not wishing to be overheard speaking Astorian, she switched back. [+mediumseagreen “Keep vigilant. You know what to do if you notice anything.”] That marked the end of their conversation as she stood and left the room. Closing the door behind her, her eyes fell on Gerald. He posed no threat, so her premature departure was for not. Although, she didn’t picture that conversation going anywhere productive, so that was fine.
[+mediumseagreen “Gerald,”] she nodded her head in acknowledgment. [+mediumseagreen “You are close with Nicolai, are you not?”] A question she already knew the answer to, but expected a reply all the same.
[+blueviolet “Aye, Ma’am.”] A short reply, but all she needed.
Despite both men being close to Germaine, she hadn’t spent much time around either of them, but now there was a need to know more. [+mediumseagreen “Is he usually so… emphatic?”] The woman referred to his loss of temper earlier that day.
Gerald took a moment to respond. He seemed hesitant, but eventually gave her what she wanted. [+blueviolet “No, Ma’am, but I believe it was the sudden and unexpected loss of our dear friend that sparked it. Please do not be too critical of him.”]
The captain of the guard seemed sincere in what he said. But Florence thought he must have been the blindly optimistic sort to think that Germaine’s death was sudden. The man was ill for weeks. There was plenty of time to see it coming. However that was beside the point. As she thought, the general’s outburst was out of the norm for him. The elf must have been desperate. That was perfect.
[+mediumseagreen “I will keep that in mind.”] She smiled, her pleasant mood reflecting in the expression as she returned on her route back to her room to retire for the night.
Now that a plan of action for the political situation had been carved out, Florence relaxed her own watch on Augustine. Letting him regain some sense of normalcy. Some of those she previously considered untrustworthy due to indecision could be considered less of a threat, though that would be more concretely established when her son was officially crowned. The date of the coronation had not been set as of yet. She was left in suspense, knowing that to be the true moment of reprieve for them. If the other side was going to make a move, her bet was that it would before Augustine was crowned king in order to avoid the unnecessary and expensive trouble of planning multiple events. But because both Vincent and Gabriel seemed so confident in their earlier plan, she thought any assassination attempts that were to be made might come later. Just because the pair hadn’t expected the first stage of their plan to fall flat.
Having any sort of time to herself was getting harder and harder now that the castle was on its way to functioning again. Many still mourned, but the time to wallow in that sorrow had passed. That went for Florence as well. She was constantly being called here and there for whatever reason. Even more so than while Germaine was bedridden. She knew for a fact he hadn’t been bothered with most of these questions, but she took it in stride to keep those around her placated. If they were trying to test her she would rise to the challenge and wear them down. This included Vincent, who still found time to loiter around her. Was it his attempt to be charming? She surely hoped not because it was poor at best.
Now that Nicolai had returned, Augustine was spending much of his free time following the elfin man about. The boy did he best not to be a pest, as he didn’t want to an annoyance, but he was often full of questions and concerns. One such question was to whether the general would supplement his sword training. Though he was still stuck with the wooden drill tool, the prince wanted to improve quickly so he could be more like those he admired and protect those around him.
It was one such moment when Florence happened upon the two. In reality she had been trying to find Nicolai; she hadn’t expected her son to be with him. From the looks of it they were working on his form with a sword. A skill that would come in handy with the state of castle affairs being what they were, though she hoped he wouldn’t need it so soon.
Standing by the side, the Queen watched the pair for a while. Augustine hadn’t realized she was there, but she was certain his makeshift teacher had. When it looked as though he might cut the session short to let her speak, she held up a hand, signaling for him to stop. She wanted them to finish. Currently, no one knew where she was, so she had time.
Their back and forth continued from there, a long shot from anything that could truly be considered sparing. Florence watched a while longer, up until Augustine noticed her presence at the edge of the courtyard they were using. The young prince called for them to stop. She wondered if he was embarrassed, a smile came on her face that reached her eyes making them softer than usual.
[+mediumseagreen “Now, now, there no need to stop on my account. You are doing well.”]
The child shook his head. [+coral “No, I think that is enough for today.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Very well, my love. You go get cleaned up, I have come to see your instructor.”] He hurried off to return the weapon he’d been using.
[+mediumseagreen “He is fond of you, just like his father.] A trivial attachment, though this time it benefitted her. She paused waiting for Augustine to be out of sight and earshot. In this time she allowed her eyes to run over the elf’s appearance. He was suited for practice, light armor and mail included. His brow was speckled with sweat. She thought he must have been training himself before helping Augustine, as her son’s lesson alone would not have caused that.
When she was satisfied with the distance between them and her son, she spoke again. [+mediumseagreen “I have been meaning to speak with you since we last met.”] A more difficult task than it seemed due to her schedule. [+mediumseagreen “As you undoubtedly noticed at the summit, there is a rift in the council…”] and from his behavior that day she knew which side he stood on. [+mediumseagreen “I came here today to solidify my belief that you are someone I can bestow my trust upon... So I ask you forthright, can I expect your unwavering loyalty to my son, as you gave it to my late husband?”] Nicolai had previously offered his help and guidance to her when this whole ordeal began, so she was almost certain he would oblige her now. But she wanted to hear it aloud before fully committing to seeing him as credible.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The bridge had been completed to an exceptionally high standard the next day. With nothing but their work to focus on and the number of men involved, they had progressed fast. Yet it was all finished in silence. Their playfulness in the cool water and harmless barbs at one another during construction had withered away and they went about their tasks formally. They were men of Germaine, the best and most trusted that the army had and they were loyal to a fault. It was only natural they would take his death to heart and it pained their Commander to see them in such a way.
They left when Nicolai had said; the morning after next. It was barely dawn, the sun having only just crested the eastern hills and already the line of horsemen trailed out the village leaving long and solemn shadows behind, their flags flying lower on the spears than before in accordance with tradition.
The several days along the return path was the same way it had been on the way out. Nothing happened and nothing of note delayed their steady progress. A quiet parade of soldiers of the realm moving from village to village was expected by those they had passed days before, their heads now doffed in respect and honour – they represented the King's Authority outside the capital.
With a little annoyance they were delayed at each village, the same elder and councils and noblemen he had met before offering him condolences and their prayers. He was forced to stop and take their words with an air of respect and authority – he could no easier shirk his responsibilities with Germaine dead than he could with the man alive. Each occasion came with a pilgrimage to the local church so that they may give blessings with the local Priest and offer up what little they could in offering to the God's. By the sixth night he had so many blessings placed upon him he was untouchable in the eyes of the faithful.
The men with him were gathered for a final meal at which Nicolai paid homage to the men themselves. Several men were called out by name, their acts of valour listed as a sign of their skill and character. Half-way through his speech it became somewhat apparent it was being offered as a goodbye. He told stories of his times with the King and several of those around chimed in with their own say, bringing relief and laughter to heavy hearts.
[+teal “Finally, I wish it to be known to each and every man here; you are what Wistina is about. You are its beating heart and its generous soul. You embody everything this kingdom has stood for and I could not be prouder to stand here before you.”] He raised up his cup of wine – many bottles acquired from the last village at his own expense for such a moment – and the others reciprocated the gesture.[+teal “To King Germaine; may the winds of heaven whisper hourly benedictions in his honour.”] It was not a toast to cheer but much more poignant and thoughtful and they all drank deeply in agreement.
As the Elf saw things he did not expect to remain in his position for long once they entered the Castle and he would be remiss if he did not share his thanks with those around him. Some he had known near two decades, had met their families and shared in both their joy and pain. For a man given his title of Duke, his Generalship, everything handed to him with no expectation, he had taken it and worked hard to make sure he deserved it. Yet here he was, about to have it stripped away with a click of a Marquis' fingers.
The next morning they were instructed to have their armour and weaponry to a parade-ground standard. Horses were brushed clean and Nicolai inspected each man and beast individually. Their appearance would reflect on him naturally, so he was quite brutal towards them for any infractions. The soldiers understood his desire for perfection and there was not one complaint.
Finally happy with their appearance and sufficiently resplendent himself they rode back to Belldale. Crossing the outer gatehouse several hours before midday they were greeted by a gathering of those who lived in the wake of the castle, brought out to line the main boulevard to said structure, keeping the path ahead clear for them. Even with his head facing forward the Elven Duke could read the expressions on those around. A majority were still saddened and watched quietly, others, mostly older women, proffered white lilie’s to any man who wished to take one, or walked alongside and tied them on to the horses saddles. Yet he saw a few spit at the ground before him – clearly not all were happy with him missing the funeral.
It continued to the courtyard where he left them to dismount and they were dismissed to spend the day as they wished – no doubt with family and friends. As for Nicolai he was immediately seized upon by an impatient Timothy who relayed to him all that had gone on. The funeral, the details of whom had been there and hadn't – namely just himself – and the Council meeting that was scheduled at that very moment. It was just his luck. He made for the Grand Hall without delay this time, remaining in his armour as he had no time to change and wash. His rotten luck held as he was intercepted by the Prince and his mother, a smile on the former and a quite obvious formal smile on the latter;
[+coral “Welcome back, Nicolai.”] The boy said as they met not far from the entrance. Quickly the helmet was unstrapped and lifted off to be tucked under his arm.
[+teal “Your Highness Augustine, my thanks and condolences.”] He saluted very formally, a fist to his heart though his chain ripples at the touch.
[+mediumseagreen “Yes, welcome. I was beginning to think you’d been eaten by wolves, so this is a pleasant surprise.”] The displeasure in the Queen's response was noted, but the Elf only bowed his head.
[+teal “Apologies for my delay Your Majesty.”] He said little more to her, averting his gaze as his head rose back up, staring blankly ahead as she took her son by his shoulders and led him into the hall behind.
Once inside he made pleasant talk with those around, discussing the passing of the King and how they would miss him, how he was so honourable and resplendent; the usual guff given of those deceased. It was all political drivel but he made sure to act accordingly. His ire was attracted at the sight of Vincent and Florence engaged in talk whilst the Prince sat somewhat overwhelmed in his fathers seat. It was perhaps a blessing that not too long later the meeting was called to begin. Perhaps on purpose, he had been placed to the Princes left, though he sat three seats down from him. Was it a personal slight at him? He was not sure.
The only one dressed in full armour and with a helmet with it's large plume on the table before him, Nicolai cut an impressive figure even beside the noblemen who wore their finest and most candid clothing. The helmet obscured the view of some and it was quickly taken off by a servant, a cup of watered wine left in it's stead which he gladly took to sipping.
The meeting, from his point of view, was little more than a formality. He was needed for his vote and little more – much like several of those sat around him. If his suspicions were correct then the Queen and Vincent had already colluded for the outcome of the vote itself. She was nominated as regent and the Viscount Gabriel spoke up, a large mouthful of wine taken at that, cup offered back for a waiting servant to step forward and refill from their vessel. On hearing the portly man offer up a reason against her nomination the Elf awaited the inevitable nomination of his master the Marquis. The nomination came but not as Regent to the Prince; in marriage to the Queen.
Clearly Nicolai was not the only one interested to see the Queen's reaction, a hush and faint groaning of chairs as expectant ears leaned forward. She rebuffed him, to an extent, though not in clear terms. By his understanding she was saying no; for now. Perhaps later she would change her mind.
His interest dropped off once more listening to the mundane fears and complaints of those who were fearful if they wore the wrong ring on the wrong hand and other superstitious twaddle. The Queen handled the questioning with ease and each matter thrown at her was batted aside – all simple work and likely staged to show she was calm and collected in her responses. That was when Vincent stood up. Immediately Nicolai's focus shifted from wine to whine, staring daggers at the despicable cretin who only glared back accusingly. He did not speak his name but his accusation was obvious; even more so when the Queen did his bidding.
The violet gaze of the Elf fell upon that of the now standing Queen who chastised him openly before the others. A swift look around found many of the council members nodding and looking back at him. He felt he had been led to an ambush and he seethed under a calm demeanour. She offered a placating reasoning behind his absence but the moment she finished and took her seat, those around left to contemplate her words, he stood up to have his say.
[+teal “Whilst I thank Your Majesty for her,”] he paused,[+teal “interesting defence of my absence, I would be indolent if I did not speak for myself.”] He was trained in oration, social graces and upper-class cultural rites – he knew to offer a palatable word to the head of the meeting though he also glowered over at her for a moment.
[+teal “It is quite safe to say that the loss of King Germaine weighs as heavily upon me as it does you all and whilst I would have given my everything to be there in his final moments, there was no knowing when or even if that moment would come. I am tasked with keeping this kingdom, his kingdom, safe. Of keeping everyone here safe.”] He allowed that part to settle for a few seconds.[+teal “Given the rebellion in the Western Kingdom it is only prudent I head to our border and show our strength, is it not? Deter those who may see us as weakened and feeble and attack?”] He received several agreeing nods before he focused his attention across to Vincent, biting back a particularly ferocious barb.
[+teal “Here I stand, as a Duke and a General of Wistina, and whilst those titles do not protect me from castigation do not think I will sit and accept even the thought of punishment silently. Chastise me all you wish but do not belittle me in such an obnoxious manner with sweetened words. Do not threaten me with expulsion if you dare not threaten every single person around this table with the same. Most important,[i Marquis Caton], do [i [b not]] sully my name in the hopes of improving your own, because I can promise you that it will not turn in your favour.”]
His hand had smacked hard against the table as his voice rose upon the 'not', fixing a murderous glare upon the man who sat staring back at him smugly, a blank face but eyes laughing all the same. He had lost his composure and the grief and fears of the last few weeks had come forth in his outburst.
The fiery Elven male took his seat once more, leaving the floor open to someone else to speak though the meeting frittered away to dull talks that the lesser Lords and nobles around bickered back and forth over. His focus remained on his cup as he sat back into his seat, straight backed and mulling over the anger burning in him. When the vote had come he had thrown his ballot in with the nay's out of simple spite of the Marquis. In his mind however it was pointless. The bastard and the Queen now knew who was against them in their desire to take the throne for themselves; though it was quite obvious Nicolai was against them even before his outburst or the vote.
With that the meeting was brought to a close. There was no point in guessing who made their exit first, his helmet wrenched from the servants hand as his armour clinked and boot echoed into the great chamber the others remained in. Blood pumping and his adrenaline charged he felt as if he was about to ride into a battle, yet there was no mean to take out his anger.
His path was aimless at first but soon he was striding towards the gardens, a particular section untouched by the Queens hand. It was not hidden by any means, but it had been preserved by Germaine himself for a particular reason and the distressed General needed to be there. As he passed by a servant working at pruning a bush, the furious man ordered her to bring a meal to him and something strong to drink, disappearing between two large Wistina oaks to the aforementioned spot.
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