[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat As they made their way to a safer place to stand and be out of the way, Adrian would try to guide Florence with a soft hand to her back. Moving her gently from side to side he directed them to a nice cubby hole that kept them free of the crowd but allowed him visual sight of all around. His hand had remained there with her a little longer, at least until they had found Gregory and he came across with some pleasing news, then his hand fell away. He did not want the smaller man to think he was a lecherous being.
[+crimson “Well, hopefully he is here soon. Whilst this place seems just lovely,”] he said this quietly and the sarcasm was quite heavy, but his gentle smile showed his humour,[+crimson “I would feel much safer with you all back in Astoria. Back in a nice big safe area with less people.”] He chuckled to himself at his security assessment, his red eyes looked out on the marketplace and seeing the guards only reminded him if the fear that they would become the next victims of a local attack. It was equal parts worrying and frustrating and he kept a hand close to his sword at all times.
Even as he watched over those about them he could see displeased looked being thrown in their direction. Groups of men were migrating about together and the knives and short swords they carried were obvious to see. Though once or twice a guard would see this too, they did nothing but stand and watch. Perhaps that is what they were paid to do. Or perhaps they just did not care and were fine with turning a blind eye so long as no attacks were made. It was madness to remain stationary until something happened. In his mind they should act beforehand. But he said nothing of course. Again he was too worried about upsetting the others who were rather comfortable.
Looking to the dwarven man he nodded to him.[+crimson “Do you want us to follow you in searching these shops he sells to? Like you say, if he has been gone for a few days then hopefully he is in town already. Perhaps we could go to the dock and look for his ship?”] He would have been okay to continue perusing the market and to fill their time but aside from the uneasy feeling he had being here, he did not have much wealth left and did not wish to go asking for Florence to purchase things either.
It was not an emasculating act, but it was just not right to be spending money for the sake of it. Food and equipment and tools were fine as they would give nourishment or serve a purpose. Spending money simply as you had money to spend was frivolous in his eyes.
Adrian broke off from them, but he was tall enough that you could make out his figure from just about anywhere. Florence did not worry too much about it. Instead she took the chance to walk around with Augustine, who seemed to be having fun just looking at all the different goods that were splayed out on the tables and in the windows of shops. Every once in a while he would ask a question, usually his mother had an answer, but there were a couple of times they had to ask the stall or shop keep. Most of which were very helpful, but the pair did get a couple of mean looks from people in the crowd. Florence did not know what their problem was, but she was sure to take a wide path around them. They did not need any more problems than they already had.
The green-eyed woman was relieved when the warrior returned. There was a little more security with him around. And he had purchased some a tasty looking snack. Both she and her son took small portions to try. The local flavors shined through, very different from anything in Wistina, but not quite like those in Astoria. It might have only bee a piece of roasted meat, but there was much to be gleaned from it.
The blond boy was chewing away on his bite, when Adrian inquired to his excitement. He had never considered the place they were headed home, so that bit was out, but he was very glad at the prospect of a bed to sleep in. Making sure to finish with his mouthful, he nodded. [+coral “Yes, I just hope it is not too different from Wistina.”] Even if it was just a few similarities, he hoped to have something to remind him of his actual home. He did not want to forget that place.
Finding a spot that was still close to the market where they said they would be, the three of them tucked away someplace they would not be directly in the way of all the foot traffic. There they were able to talk some more. Augustine used this time to ask a bit more about his mother’s homeland. He was careful to be specific, so that the woman could not give ridiculously vague answers, at least, not without a great deal of effort. [+coral “What is the castle like, do things work the same way as they did back home?”] His voice was kind of quiet, still a little nervous to speak too loudly about things that would pin him as royalty.
[+mediumseagreen “Well,”] Florence thought for a moment. [+mediumseagreen “The size of the grounds is similar, but the castle itself is larger. And the architecture is different. It is very grand, overly so in fact.”] Just thinking about all the money and time that went into building the place made the woman little irritated. So much room for a single family was entirely too much. She didn’t care how many servants there were to fill it. [+mediumseagreen “But the inside is much humbler. And if things went how I am thinking they must have, the atmosphere will be rather informal.”] Eugene did not care for pomp and circumstance.
Trying to picture the woman in the place she described was difficult. She was always incredibly formal. He did not think she was going to fit in, but Augustine didn’t mention it.
After he asked a few more things, Gregory returned. He had good news. [+darkmagenta “It seems it has been three or four days since Kai has come through. He should be due back anytime. I do not think we will have to wait more than a day. I also found the most common shops he sells to, so we know where to check in in the meantime.”] The old dwarf did not want to miss his friend and spend the next half a week waiting for another chance. He would be checking the port frequently to be sure.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat When they reached Vollenberg he was more on alert for those around them. He was careful to keep to the back of the others and his hand remained close to his sword. He did not like being in these areas. Too many people. Too many possibilities. It was perhaps a good reason toward his nomadic lifestyle choice. Yet for his sceptical eye, the others seemed more at ease in a place such as this. They seemed to have grown weary of the wilderness and the camping outside. It made him smile that such folks could be so accustom to beds and bathing and eating well each night. It would do them all good to reintegrate once they got to Astoria and get back to that lifestyle they knew.
Down in the marketplace things were quite lively and in contrast with the countryside it was so energetic. The smells of the different street food vendors was so stark from aromatic spices, freshly caught fish, salted meats and the general odour of dozens if not hundreds of people and animals mingling. The shouts of different tongues and accents battled over one another to be heard along with the slamming of hammers from the blacksmiths, the chopping of meats and vegetables by the food wholesalers and the braying of horses, cattle, pigs and such. Life was all about them and in such varying ways and yet Adrian was drawn to one corner where a pocket of men in armour with spears in hand stood.
Drifting from Florence and Augustine for but a moment to a nearby meat stall he smiled at the large man with his bloody apron, stood beside a fireplace that had been contained in a metal bowl with a metal trellis atop that allowed for meats to be cooked. Amazing technology to Adrian; simple to the vendor.[+crimson “Hello, sorry but I am new to the town. Can you tell me about the soldiers?”] The man looked up from his selections of cuts and wiped his hands off on his clothing but said nary a word.
Not too clueless as to miss the obvious hint, Adrian nodded with an understanding grin and fishing into his pants pocket he retrieved two silver coins.[+crimson “Some chicken, cooked please.”] Placing it into the man’s large hands he grunted and dropped them into a chest at his feet, moving aside to start cooking the meat in question. Adrian nod behind him to the men again.[+crimson “So.. the soldiers?”] He hoped to instigate the conversation once more and with a huff the man nodded back.
[+indigo “Yeah, town militia. Nothin’ new.”] He scratched at his balding head and coughed.
[+crimson “Well, there were a number of them near the outside of the town when we came in. And it looked like you were stocking up on some wooden logs there too. Possibly for a palisade?”] He had a critical eye but the man just shrugged.
[+indigo “Been havin’ some issue with the locals. Not too fond of us lot.”] A curious way of wording it and Adrian raised a brow for him to continue.[+indigo “Well, you see most people ‘ere in Vollenberg aren’t born and bred ‘ere. Most are traders an’ merchant folk, moved ‘ere not more than the last fifteen, twenty years. Was just a fishing port back then, but since Astoria gone an’ opened up, an’ with this place being the closest to ‘em, then a lot of the trade back an’ forth takes place ‘ere.”]
[+crimson “And why would that antagonise the locals?”]
[+indigo “Well, pushed them out of house an’ home didn’t it? Fishin’ don’t earn much ‘ere after the local Baron decided to put a tariff on all boats comin’ an’ goin’. The merchants and traders can pay it sure, but if you got a little skiff catching enough to feed yer self an’ yer family, with a few left over to trade for what you need, you don’t make any coin to afford to pay the tariff. Then with that the traders bought up the dock space and buildings and houses an’ whatnot. Most of these houses are new.”] He gestured to the buildings around them, and indeed it looked no older than five or ten years for most, younger the further out you got.
[+crimson “And the locals started attacking you for it?”]
[+indigo “Nah, not at first at least. They just moved on most of ‘em. Or got jobs workin’ on the boats an’ for the traders. But some were pissy about it all. Anyways, ‘bout five months back, couple Astorian blokes got into an argument with some local lads. Words evolve, locals draw knives, cut the Astorian guys to shred’s; an’ I mean shreds mate. Limbs ‘acked off, guts hangin’ out, awful stuff. Well that lit the candle didn’t it? King of Astoria demands somethin’ done about it or he yanks the trading elsewhere. So Baron find and hands the lads who done it. A few back and forth kills and someone burns down a house or two and the Baron is buying in soldiers from Astoria to beef up the town whilst the wall is built and to keep that King happy if you ask me. Don’t blame him. The locals are just savages. I heard the other day, one of them a village or two over cut a baby out of his sisters stomach because its dad was not one of ‘em. Bunch of fuckin’ barbarians mate.”] He clicked his tongue, turning back to take the meat from the flames. It had cooked beautifully and the smell was wonderful as he handed it on a skewer of wood to Adrian.
[+crimson “I see.. well, thank you.”] He accepted the food and returned to Florence and Augustine, mulling over the facts as he eyed the guardsmen in the corner. It was another puzzle piece adding to an increasingly confusing game. But he offered them both a nod and a smile and to take from the chicken he had purchased, not wanting to darken their moods with talk of what was going on here.[+crimson “So, Augustine, excited for the boat? Excited to finally get home and be able to sleep in a nice big bed?”] He winked cheekily to the young boy, smiling to his mother as he often did.
As he spoke of making a transition in lifestyle, Florence nodded. [+mediumseagreen "I always found it easier when I could get outside for a while. Being constantly cooped up indoors is nearly unbearable."] In Astoria she had been able to take short trips outside of the castle to make it better, but when it came to Wistina her only saving grave was the gardens. That was in part the reason she put so much time and focus into them.
She was sort of rushed off to bed after that with reminder that she would have to get on a ship. [+mediumseagreen “Oh joy…”] That was all she said about that before turning in for the night… It was a bit disappointing; she had been enjoying their talk. But he was right. Florence needed to get some rest. And so she did, and they started off early the next morning.
Having burst the bubble the night before, Augustine was a little more like himself. At the very least he was speaking with Adrian again, and in more than just whispers, so that was nice. The boy did still avoid direct conversation with his mother, but he was on the up and up.
Getting to the port city of Vollenberg took a few days longer than anticipated. The group took care to avoid most cities and townships, so it resulted in their journey being somewhat meandering. But when they made it to the large town, it was all hustle and bustle. This was a helpful characteristic, as they were able to blend right into the atmosphere without anyone paying them any mind at all.
There was a long list of reasons they chose to come to this place, but more than anything else it was because Gregory had a contact that ran a fishing boat between Astoria and here. It was exactly how he got to the mainland, so he figured it would be just as reliable in getting back off of it. The ride generally only took half a day, but it could be longer depending on the wind and other conditions. Storms liked to brew in the summer, but for the time being the skies were clear. Not that that was much indication of anything. On the water the weather could flip at the drop of a hat.
The other obstacle they were facing is that there was no telling for sure when the fisherman would be in town. Gregory said his friend usually made it across twice a week, but that was not particularly helpful in the moment. So, Florence sent him down to the docks to ask around. If this man was that familiar of a face in these parts, someone was bound to know when he last made port. Until he returned with news she, Augustine, and Adrian decided to mull about the marketplace. It would give them an idea of what was around if they were going to be forced to stay here for any length of time.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Having her smile was all the better for Adrian. To have taken this mistrusting and cold woman when he first met her, and having gotten her to step outside her shell and smile and laugh it was saddening not have that any more. Augustine seemed in a state of gloom and Gregory was straddling the fence like him, so it was not the best avenue to pursue if he wanted to lift them all up. Seeing her smile, her face smile too – not one of her pliant smiles that was merely a movement of her lips – was helpful to him.
Yet he found it was helpful in another manner than before. Before he would be happy at he wanted her attention and her happiness and to feel closer to her. This time, in his heart of hearts, he wanted her to just stray from sad thoughts and to have her back to the woman he knew before the end of the pass. Whether or not he could chase her in a courtly manner, to woo her, to win her heart – though Nicolai seemed to think it was already won – he could not guarantee that right now. Things were tense and strained. It was best he put those thoughts aside. So he did not look on her with eyes of passion and fire and love but concern and friendliness. Until things settled, he did not wish to draw her ire or stoke a dying flame and risk it burning out for good.
Nodding at her comments, happy for her to speak and say more than a sentence or two for the first time in a while, he smiled in return.[+crimson “Oh hush, I'm sure after a little pouting he will be more than happy to throw open his arms and have you return.”] His hand had lifted to brush her arm in his usual fashion, but again the memory of Nicolai saying she did not like such things jolted in his mind. His hand came across and he folded his arms over his chest with a broader smile.
[+crimson “I am positive he will be grateful to have his beautiful sister, his adorable nephew and his affable father back. And if you are right about him, then I need to think what I wish to do. I will likely take stock of the situations and go from there.”] He thought over how his life had gone to that point and he laughed nervously to himself, hand up to the back of his neck to rub lightly at the hackles that rose there.[+crimson “Since I left the orphanage it's been a life of nomad living. Might be a little difficult to accustom myself to a sturdy bed and warm food on the regular.”] He and Lizzie had cooked of course, and they slept in taverns at times, but only once or twice per moon cycle and even then only if they had coin.
Not wanting to broach the topic of Augustine, he just nodded to her as he looked down at her. For once there was no thought to look over his physique in a cheeky manner, or to take her eye and offer a teasing wink. It was much more formal and yet relaxed too. Peculiar to Adrian.[+crimson “Well, you had best be off to bed. A few more days and we have a boat journey to contend with.”] He grinned, thinking over just how peculiar that would be in of itself.
Florence felt terrible that, despite all his trying, Adrian was not standing much of a chance at getting a conversation out of this group. No one was super pissed at him in the same way that they were with her, but the sour mood she had caused seeped into how they acted in general. Especially in the case of Augustine. And considering he was a fourth of their group, that was a considerable effect.
So when he came to talk to her, she hoped that she would be able to alleviate some of the stress that undoubtable came from that. Though the topic he chose brought a bit of a bashful smile to her face. [+mediumseagreen "You are not disturbing anything, Adrian. And I think that is a reasonable question."] Before this point, she had not been sure he wanted to join them that much farther into the journey. The three of them would be safe just as soon as they set foot on the island. And that had been his stated goal: to get them there safely. But her heart fluttered some to think they might see more than a few days more of one another.
[+mediumseagreen "There is no doubt in my mind that my brother will welcome you with open arms. As soon as he hears how you helped us from Gregory, you will scarcely be able to avoid him offering you a job, or a place to stay while you figure out what you want to do."] It would come down to what he wanted. [+mediumseagreen "He is kindly, so if you would like to stay, I hope you will not hesitate to do so."]
Her smile widened a touch. [+mediumseagreen "I am actually more worried whether or not I will be let in than you."] For the most part, her tone was that of humor, but there was a vague thread of seriousness intertwined into her words. She could see the curiosity on Adrian’s face and went on. [+mediumseagreen “My brother was not exactly happy when I accepted my late husband’s proposal. And in the entire decade I have been gone, he has not returned a single on of my letters. I am not even sure if he read any of them. My guess is that he has. I do not think he has the capability of being so cruel as to completely ignore me… but I believe refusing to write back is his way retaliating against my choice.”] It was stupid really. It was already done, protesting would do nothing now.
Pausing a moment, she wondered how much Eugene had changed while she was gone. A lot could happen in ten years. [+mediumseagreen “Even if he is still legitimately mad about it, I doubt he will do more than give me the cold shoulder for a bit. I do not think he will be able to hold out long with me physically present. It is one thing to hold a grudge from a distance, especially one so great, but another entirely to do so when face to face.”] He didn’t have it in him. And, on the off chance he did, there were other places she would be welcome. Florence did not worry about it.
[+mediumseagreen "Anyway."] She had gotten very off topic. [+mediumseagreen "You will most certainly be welcome. I hope you will not worry any more about it."] The color was still lingering in his cheeks as she looked over him again. Being so pale, it was slow to dissipate.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Adrian nodded at her request that he go get some sleep. He would have liked to stay up, just on the off chance that Lizzie changed her mind or perhaps she could convince Nicolai to return and to show he meant his words. But Florence was right, they needed to rest. He would take watch the next night. He also didn't wish to argue against her. Looking at her he could see she was in some shock at losing a friend and having her son ignore her. He did not want to pile atop that.
The few days it took for them to reach Malidek, following Adrians guidance given his knowledge of the lands, it was rather tame and quiet between them all. Augustine was silent to all but Gregory and even their new ally was much more tame than usual. For several days he had cast constant glances behind them as if to see golden-hair rising above behind him. He was still processing living a life without her, quite accustom to her being there.
Even Florence seemed to carry the pain a little longer too. He could see her despair that first morning when she had woken him. At times, when not wondering how Lizzie was fairing, he would think over his characterisation of Nicolai. Perhaps he had been harsh in his assumptions. Perhaps before all this had happened, and they had left Wistina for whatever reason, he had been a more noble and honourable man. Perhaps the stress had gotten to him and he had just wilted under the task at hand. He would lament over his role in the man leaving, forcing Florence to decide between them. If he had just had the resolve to step forward and state he would leave first, Lizzie would still be here and perhaps Florence would feel less guilty.
He missed her smile and her laughter, and that of Augustine and Gregory. But his few times of trying to start conversation had died not long after. He had resolved to simply be pleasant, keep an open mind to them all and interact with whomever wished it from him. When they had stopped the final night, or rather the first night in Malidek, Adrian had been quick to start them a fire. He had overheard Augustine talking to his mother – he said something he couldn't hear, but it was wonderful he spoke at all.
When Florence had finished speaking with Gregory, the tall pale man approached her.[+crimson “Sorry to disturb you Florence.”] He commented, hoping he had not intruded.[+crimson “I just wondered if we could discuss what we are doing next. I understand that plan is still to get you to Astoria but.. I'm at a loss for what I am doing next if you know what I mean. Your brother will welcome you all happily, but.. and please forgive my self-centredness here.. what about me?”] His cheeks had flushed to be so blunt with her, but he wanted to see if there was a role or a task for him. He could plea his case to her brother and offer his knowledge and skills for whatever role he had, but it was not his place to assume he would be taken in like that.
Florence nodded, [+mediumseagreen "Thank you."] She could tell he was not exactly excited to be doing this. That or the loss of his friend was completely overriding everything else. Adrian was not difficult to read, but the situation was so full of intricacies that there was no telling for sure where his feeling were stemming from. If it was one place, another, or all of the above. The woman decided it was probably best not to analyze him too critically at the moment. [+mediumseagreen "You should go ahead and get some rest tonight with the others."] Her hand came up to motion him to leave slow sweeping motions.
Once he left, she took a seat in an advantageous position. A place where she see in most direction, but was still afforded some cover. There was comfort in the solitude. Florence was finally free from all the prying eyes. She could think back on what had happen and properly process it all at last. This reignited all the rage, fear, and sadness inside of her that came along with the memories. It was a potent combination that was almost too much to deal with all at once. But somehow she managed to not completely break down in the chilly night air.
As planned, Florence woke the others early. They needed to get moving. The farther from the pass they were the better. Augustine still was not talking to her, but Gregory assured her that he would come around. And while she knew he was right, that didn’t make it any less painful. But in the end she respected his space. She would let him come to her when he wanted to talk to her about what he had learned, or about anything really.
Headed north things warmed up quickly. Though they made sure not to just head straight that way. Knowing they might stand a chance at hiding by taking the long away around, they chose to go through Malidek. It also had the advantage of being home to the closest port to Astoria on the mainland. That would shorten their sea voyage, which sounded like a miraculous plan to Florence. She was not the biggest fan of boats and recalled being sick for nearly half the journey down to Wistina.
After a few days, they reached the boarder. Gregory was beaming. [+darkmagenta “See, I told you that Malidek was not so far out of the way.”]
Florence recalled shooting down his idea of visiting this place and sighed. [+mediumseagreen “Well, things did not go so smoothly as I planned… we still do not have time to see sights, but I suppose you will see enough of the countryside to set you up for life.”]
[+darkmagenta “Ah, I suppose you are right.”] Sure, there were things he wanted to see, but now was not the time. They had to get Florence and Augustine to safety before he even thought about making a pilgrimage back here.
Making it to the final country they would need to cross before entering Astoria was not the only milestone that night brought. It was also the first time Augustine said even a word to his mother. It was not a lot, but she was glad to know he did not have the intention of avoiding her forever. She was relieved beyond words, but did not push her luck by trying to apologize or pull him into any more sentimental conversations.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Adrian was in a stupor really as the sound of Lizzie waned until there was silence. He was baffled at what was going on and his mind raced to find some fathomable reason to it all. Though Florence was apologising, and he did hear her, he still face away from her. How could Lizzie, someone he had known two years and shared almost every waking moment with, suddenly leave to follow such a deranged and broken man?
So what if he had died? Would that not have saved the world from another cruel soul? Regardless of what he knew of the man, or what had been said of him, what he had physically seen was someone prone to angry outbursts. A man who was so deeply flawed and a mess he could not imagine he had ever been a friend to a King or a man of any repute.
He remained facing away even when she inquired about his plans. What was he going to do? He had not thought of changing from their original plan. Yes it had been fun with Florence, but in his mind he had always seen it as a fleeting and harmless amount of flirting. They were due to part with the group only the next day, leaving them on a path north as they turned east. And now he stood there, without Lizzie, and without a plan, unsure what he would do next as he surely couldn't go on with his travels alone.
[+crimson “I guess..”] His voice was soft and he had wanted to tell her he had no choice but accept her offer. Yet even the gentle and kind soul, he actually thought of his words first. He was not like Nicolai, who spoke from his heart.[+crimson “I will join you, take you to Astoria.”] Even he did not sound convinced by his words as his hands rose up, interlinking and placed atop his crown.[+crimson “I can't just let you all go north alone. Not with those people from earlier out there. I'll get you there.. safely.”] With or without Lizzie, his morals still held true and he could not abandon such a group to the world alone. He had to help them.
[+royalblue “It’s for the best… you have Florence now.”] And what a shitty consolation that was. The woman’s stomach twisted in place. What were the chances that Adrian would choose to stay here when his friend had decided to leave? She was going after what was probably, in his eyes, one of the most insufferable men he had ever met. So there was a bit of hope, especially given all his protests against her leaving, but Florence was still baffled when he did not go after her. Though maybe they were thinking the same of her as she stood still watching the woods where Nicolai had made his exit.
The elfin woman on the horse passed by her and Florence’s voice came out, somewhat quiet. [+mediumseagreen “Thank you, Elizabeth…”] She knew that Lizzie was not doing it for her, but she felt the need to say something all the same. Despite it all, she still did not want Nicolai to die over this. And without some form of help, that would be the assured outcome.
Lizzie disappeared into the blackness as well. They had lost two people, but they were not the two she expected to part with after getting through the pass. And now it was just she and Adrian standing about. Their little group was split evenly three ways for the time being. [+mediumseagreen "I... I am sorry. This probably was not what you were expecting when you offered to travel with us..."] Once she had that apology out, she finally took her vibrant emerald eyes from the darkness. Instead they came to the pale gentleman she was speaking with.
Her words came out tired as she formed them. [+mediumseagreen "So I know what to expect, what are you going to do from this point on? Will you continue like you had planned before all this mess, or would you like to join us in Astoria?"] Florence knew what she wanted him to do, but after Nicolai, she did not want to feel like she was manipulating anyone into doing anything.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat When Gregory had moved off to get Augustine and to bed down for the night, there was a second set of footprints in the crunch of the leaves. Elizabeth moved forward and she too moved to her horse. Unravelling the reins from the branch she had tied them to, she directed her beast forward thought it huffed as if it had been getting settled for the night and wanted rest.
Adrian look across to her, confused as she brought the animal away from the others.[+crimson “Lizzie? What are you doing..”] The night had become one long confusing mess. Between the small skirmish, this telling of the past, the way Nicolai had left, it was all too much to take it. And looking at his golden haired friend his brow furrowed deeply.[+royalblue “I'm going with him Adrian.”] She said in her soft melodic voice as she paused to look at him. His confusion was evident as he stepped over to her.
[+crimson “Lizzie, I don't think it's worth trying. He didn't look like he was going to come back.”] Her auburn eyes looked to the ground. The man never was that good at placing two and two together, but it was a fault that had become a point of fondness for her and she shook her head.[+royalblue “I'm not going to bring him back. I'm going with him. I know he would not come back with me. I know there is only one person who could convince him otherwise,”] her gaze lifted and looked across to the centrepiece of that evenings drama and tension but did not say the other woman's name outright,[+royalblue “but it would seem things are as they are and will not change now.”]
Adrian continued to shake his head.[+crimson “But Lizzie.. Lizzie you can't be serious? Why would you go after him?”]
[+royalblue “Because Adrian, he's in pain. I don't mean mental or emotional, though they are likely there, but his physical wound is still healing and he does not know these lands like I do. If I don't go now he will surely die out there.”] She was ever the sensible mind it seemed.
[+crimson “So?”] It came across as rather callous and cold but he flushed in embarrassment at being so blunt.[+crimson “He was offered the chance to stay, you heard Florence say so, and yet he chose to leave. Don't go after him.”]
[+royalblue “Adrian.. that's not who we are. These last two years we've done nothing but help people who needed it; and Nicolai needs it more than anyone ever has. Someone has to help him. And you all cannot do that for him, so I must.”]
[+crimson “But Lizzie.. it's been me and you. We've been a team all this time. You can't go.”] He could not fathom her being gone like that, in an instant.
[+royalblue “It's for the best Adrian. Besides, you don't need me any more. It's like Nicolai said; you won her heart, you have Florence now.”] She gave him a rueful smile, not as emotionally hardened as the elven man and shaking her head a little at how she let her feelings almost overcome her.[+royalblue “She chose you Adrian. And now you can begin a new chapter to your life. Me? I don't want to impede on that.”] She looked to the ground now, not wanting to look at the man.
[+crimson “Then.. then I'll go too, and we'll bring him back. We'll make him come back.”] It was humorous how he would say anything at times just to try and please another person and she let out a huff of a laugh.
[+royalblue “As you just said, he isn't coming back for me. And certainly not for you. We won't change his mind, only.. well.”] Again she did not mention Florence. Instead, she looked up a touch to the man but only enough to take his hand in hers. His were so large compared to hers but she squeezed his as hard as he could, so that he would feel it some.[+royalblue “Take care Adrian. It has been a pleasure and an honour to travel with you.”] She finally did look up and across to the woman in the magenta clothing.[+royalblue “I'll pray for you. I'll pray for you all. Do take good care of him Florence.”]
Adrian did not fight to keep her hand, that was not the kind of man he was, and so as her slight fingers lifted from his and she turned her horse down to the lake to follow Nicolai, he stood and watched her pick up a little pace to catch the other man. He watched until she was enveloped by the darkness and the horse and her movements muffled to nothing but silence.
And then there was four.
Watching Nicolai closely, probably closer than she ever had before, Florence thought she could see the exact moment that he broke. It heart wrenching, almost to the point of a physical aching inside of her. He didn’t speak, so how could she fight him on it, or even try to make things better? She couldn't, and so the quiet bore on. The only things that existed in that soundlessness were his footsteps on the damp ground and the weather calling. It seemed even the mare he led would keep her silence. Her emerald eyes stayed on him the whole time.
There was some worry when he stopped in front of Adrian. That even now he might feel inclined to do something rash and lash out at the other man, but her concern was for not. Instead Nicolai congratulated him, as though he had won. At that point she could not do it anymore, her eyes dropped to the ground. They stayed trained there until she could not hear his footsteps any more, perhaps a little longer. Florence did not want to look at anyone right now. This whole evening, the hurricane of chaos that it was, had brought nothing but confusion, pain, and shame. She did not know if she could bear it. After everything he’d seen and heard, she wasn’t even sure if Adrian would be interested in her anymore. The Astorian woman had been outed as a liar, and one that wasn’t even sure what she wanted.
The only one she could be certain wouldn’t abandon her was Gregory. Even her own son hated her now. He would probably leave just as soon as he had the chance. Everything was ruined and it was all her fault.
Eventually Gregory approached and placed a hand on her shoulder. [+darkmagenta “We should probably get some rest. It is going to be an early start tomorrow.”]
Florence shook her head, finally looking up from the ground. Her eyes went to the direction that Nicolai gone; there was darkness. [+mediumseagreen “I will stay up to keep watch… I don’t think I will be able to sleep tonight.”] In part, she was still hoping that he would come back... but it was senseless hope. What was done was done.
He opened his mouth to argue with her, to tell her she needed to sleep, but nothing came out. She had been through enough today; he didn’t need to start any more arguments. He would let her have her way and if she continued her stubbornness the next night, then he would put his foot down. [+darkmagenta “Alright, Florence, but if you change you mind. Please wake me. I do not mind.”]
She nodded in response, but did not say any more. This was going to be a long night, and she doubted it would be any better than the day she had had.
Gregory headed back to the covering of the rocks and trees. He found Augustine; the old man asked if there was anything he wanted to talk about. The child declined his proposition. Much like his mother, he was closing off to process things. Again the dwarf extended his offer, saying that when Augustine was ready, he would be ready to listen. At some point mother and son would need to sit down and have a talk too, but that was probably a long way off. [+darkmagenta “It is off to bed then. Let us make our beds near the fire you started.”] He motioned to the small flickering flame that had barely gotten off the ground before the child had come to listen to the commotion.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Whilst her point was somewhat valid about him not wishing to talk about his injury, it had been for her betterment. He did not want her to worry excessively or feel that she had rushed him out of the farm. He wanted to be strong for her and he could not do that if he was complaining about the wound. Yet obviously that tactic had now backfired and he conceded such to her.
With his hand out to her he had watched her stare at him with indecision. It was perhaps a little unfair to place this choice on her right now. She was aft to be in deep worry over her son and how he was digesting the new knowledge his father was an assassin and dead before he was born. To have this elf demand she pick between him and her new flourishing relationship with Adrian was not easy on her.
But when her hand had lifted up, and she had placed it atop his palm, he had thought his offer was right. He had been right to force her to choose, to make her confront herself and her heart and decide what was best. Yet as his fingers had gone to close around her hand it slipped away from his gloved palm and fell back to her front. Was there really anything else to say after such an action had been done? She whittled on about how she still hoped he would try and that she wanted him to be here because he wanted to be there.
But the options were quite clear in the end, there would be no having both options or this whole charade would only go on longer; if she cross his palm she would have Adrian. If she had taken his hand, she would have reaffirmed her commitment to him. She had chosen the former, and that was that.
His hand remained outstretched, fingers closed about an imaginary opposite, his head dropping so that his chin nearly rested upon his chest. The adrenaline of the fight, the pumping heart from the race away, the nerves and excitement of hiding – it had gone now. He was very tired and he looked every bit the defeated man he was on the inside now. Perhaps then it was fitting that deep rumbles of thunder sounded above them. Rain would come, though when and how hard it was uncertain. The tree's would given them plenty of cover though, the foliage thick and dense to hold back the rain.
No-one dared to speak then. It was like a curse had been placed upon them all and the first to utter a word would draw terrible consequences. Yet of course that was only really how Nicolai thought. Because all of this was how Nicolai saw things. In silly little patterns, flat and dull and lifeless. She had indeed given him his chance to shine, to win her over, and she had shown he had done nothing - thus how could she choose any other way?
His hand dropped slowly to his side and he with leaden feet he walked across the others, past Florence's shoulder toward his horse. Running a hand up the side of her neck he patted the horse lightly, before taking a hold of the reins beside her head, easier to guide her forward and across to Adrian. Reaching out he was offered the sword in it's scabbard along with the belt and tucked it under his left arm as he offered his right hand. Unsure really what to do the man hesitantly held out his own right hand and it was gently taken by the elf.
[+teal “Congratulations.. you did in one week, what I have wanted to do for ten years. You won her heart.”] A muted but confused thanks in return from Adrian he looked over to Florence, unsure really what he was to do at that moment in time. It was terribly confusing to him.
Having said what he needed to say, Nicolai once more took a hold of his horse's reins, and slowly the pair made their way along the shore of the lake, slipping away.
It was hard to stand back and take the berating he was giving. Truly, it was unfair of her to make such accusations, especially when he had never done more than embrace her. But that was how her mind worked. Unfortunately it was how she saw the world and a majority of the men in it. However, talking directly about it made her infinitely uncomfortable. She shrunk back at how freely he said it all.
It was not until he turned on Gregory who was about to come to her aid, that she sort of snapped back to it. Her eyes were hard. She could not fathom how he thought he was qualified to try and teach her such a lesson. The woman was angry, and even more so when he had the gull to accuse her of showing no interest.
[+mediumseagreen "Because you are perusing me! You should be the one to open the dialog!"] But that was not the only thing. [+mediumseagreen "And how in the hell am I supposed to ask you anything. You shut me out when I so much as asked how your arm was feeling. You expect me to believe delving into personal history would have gone better? I think not."] And that was even before Adrian and Elizabeth showed up. He had no excuse there.
Then it came. An ultimatum. He really was looking to clear his hands of them. He wanted to be through with her. It hurt. Florence didn't think it should, but nothing her heart had been feeling these past few days had been logical. She did not want to part with him, not knowing she wouldn't ever see him again. But at the same time, she did not think she could give him what he wanted. An absolute confirmation that she would try. Adrian's deep red gaze did not make it any easier. The woman hesitated.
It was true, that for the moment she liked him. She liked him very much, but she was also worried. He was so much like her brother in countenance. There was a chance that that would make things strange, awkward in a way she would not be able to get over if things progressed further. And beyond even that, there was the fact that even with the mercenary's constant attention. There were still times when her eyes strayed to the elf. Florence wasn't sure if it had to do with her worrying after his wellbeing, or if there was something more there, but she found her eyes wandering nonetheless.
All the while her brain was running, the woman stared at his offered hand. She needed to make a choice, and one came to mind, but she was not sure he would like it. Lifting her thin hand, she brought it up and ran it across his palm. Florence was quick to clarify herself. [+mediumseagreen "I do not want to hold you here out of obligation, oath or not. If you want to stay, do so by your own violation. My feelings are the same as on that day at the farm... It is terribly confusing."] She was terrible confused by it all at least. [+mediumseagreen "I still very much want to see you try, because I know for certain I have yet to see you at your best."] It probably did not count as a real answer. But after everything that had happened, her emotions were frayed and Florence had no idea what she wanted. She was in no state to be making life altering decisions.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Immediately he fell on the defensive that she was waiting for him to do something.[+teal “I wanted to be respectful like I said I would be at the farm. I did not want to ask a question and have you close up to me again.”] Her comment on Adrian being a way to keep her calm, reminding her of her home, being something he clearly wasn't. That was the part that had really stung and it did leave him a touch breathless.
[+teal “I see, and I don't offer you anything? I don't offer you protection or offer you my unequivocal support in everything? You are the whole reason I am here Florence for gods sake..”] She was trying to say that she received the interest she wanted from another source and rather than open up to him and be honest that he was shutting her down, she had drifted further to the other man. When she made him out to be some lecherous individual who wanted nothing but to touch her, he took a visible step back as he shook his head.
[+teal “Don't you dare try to turn this out like I am some.. some pervert.. some malevolent man out for nothing but sex. Don't you fucking [i dare] do it Florence, just to make yourself feel better in this because I am not the bad guy here.”] He licked his lips, turning away from her then and taking several deep breaths to calm himself. Yet his violet gaze whipped back on her quickly.[+teal “I put my life on the line for you, for Augustine too. I got you out of the castle, to the farm, to here and now I just save your life again from Gerald and the orc and you have the audacity to claim I do it because I just want you to fuck me? Do you really think that little of me? That-that-that I am some sexual predator out for his next conquest?”]
Gregory had stepped forward then, wanting to stop this argument now, feeling it was running it's course and not wanting to see the man this way. Whilst he admired Adrian, perhaps the dwarf did feel some semblance of loyalty to the man who had helped them. Yet his approach was ignored.[+teal “No Gregory, don't, she needs to hear all this because otherwise she will go through life continuing this way. Saying one thing but meaning another. Lying when it suits her needs. Deceiving those she can stand to gain from.”] All of it was just a means to try and hurt her as much as she had with her accusation but his heart was not behind the words and they were rather lifeless barbs she may see through.[+teal “I put my heart and everything on the line to continue this journey with you Florence. I gave it everything I had.”] He thrust his finger at the ground to add to his points but after a brief pause his body relaxed.[+teal “How about we turn the games on you, huh? Why did you never ask about me? Why did you never ask questions Florence? Since the farm, you never showed an interest in me of my past, but I did not mind – those questions would come in time I thought. You would ask of my past when you were ready I told myself. Why is this all on me to do everything to show you how I felt and yet he asks you once question and you are smitten?”]
His hand came up and brushed through his hair, the man to their left, the obstacle in Nicolai's mind, had tensed himself in fear he would dash forward to attack her or to unleash his fury on himself. Instead, he took a few deep breaths and bit at his bottom lip.
[+teal “I felt a better man those first few days outside the farm, just the five of us, just moving along and being a better group for it. I forgave Meredith for what she did, for how she betrayed us, and I gave her refuge in Underhill because I thought it would please you to know that she was not killed, that the girl would be okay. But you never asked me once about her since then. You only wanted to talk with Adrian.. you only wanted him.. you only wanted his attention..”]
Holding up his hand up toward her, palm up, thankfully not the bloody one, he held it steady before her. There was silence for a little time and he nodded.[+teal “Now is time then. Now is time for you to make your decision. Now because I cannot fathom a better time to make this choice than when you are speaking from your heart; draw your finger along my palm and you release me from my oath of loyalty to you.”] It was true that this was often how these less than formal arrangements were ended. A warriors code of sorts, the open palm signifying the contract, the line like a dagger cutting through it.[+teal “Or take my hand and show me that those sentiments back at the farm were true.”] The option was hers.
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