After dinner, Florence made the executive decision to wait outside. The cool mid autumn air was a plentiful distraction from her concerns. That was about all there was the keep her mind from thinking the worst though. In the day at least there were jobs to be done, and with harvest soon approaching there were many, but when darkness took hold that luxury was strangled. She did not believe she was alone in the sentiment however, Töka could also be seen pacing about though she did so much farther out in front of the house.
It was when this erratic behavior stopped that the older woman thought something must have changed. She began paying more specific attention to the front gate until it opened to reveal the man they had all been waiting for. He was not alone and that was a tad worrying, but it did not stop her from approaching.
Nicolai spoke first with what she took as a mild embarrassment in his voice. It was ever so tempting to not answer, to be vindictive with her anger toward what he had done, but in the end she decided against it. [+mediumseagreen “I am not happy with you, Nicolai... but unfortunately yes, I did miss you.”] At least with that much she was candid, anymore would best be kept for a more private conversation. She did not want to air her feelings in front of a crowd, nor berate him for his actions so publicly.
And with that she eyed the apparent stranger. [+mediumseagreen “Who is this?”] Straight to the point, she very much doubted he would bring anyone he did not trust explicitly here, but Florence was still wary. They were walking a dangerous path and she did not want to risk making it any more hazardous. Though depending on who was waiting under that hood, these feelings might be easily abated.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The third day had grown long and given way to night, the stars twinkling up above as preparations were made for the evening meal. Helga had done her best to delay and push it back but even she had limits in waiting for Nicolai. She understood Florence's concern as well as her frustrations. Many nights she had spent waiting for her husband to come home, either from the tavern or from selling their products at market. It was always a fitful night of restlessness should he offhandedly decide to spend the night at a friends house or pass out with an ale in hand, leaving her to fret that perhaps he had been set upon by brigands or had ran away with their money. It was no life to lead and though she made a few gentle attempts to bring the tall brunette in or distract her from her concerns, in the end she left her to her own devices.
Töka for the last three days was just annoyed. Left behind with these folk it was much harder for her to shirk her responsibilities when she couldn't complain to the light-eyed elf. He was good at making excuses for her and often would take on tasks assigned to her by their elderly proprietor. Sadly for her she had had to work the last few days, only one or twice managing to offload her tasks to Marko and run off before he could speak a word in disagreement. She would have preferred to be out on the road again and would often be left pacing or sitting close to the gate. It meant she was the first to hear the sound of hoofs clicking against the cobblestone path and she moved across to a peep hole to look out.
The canopies of the trees that ran parallel to the pathway did not encapsulate the entire path and left a streak of moonlight running down the middle. Using this light she saw two riders approaching, each with hoods pulled up though no torches or weapons in hand. It was good they were unarmed but she disliked not being able to see their faces. As they came closer, about twenty feet away, she called out,[+red “Alright, that's close enough. Who are you and what do you want?”] It was said with an aggressive inflection, keen to get across that she was not in the mood for games. The rider on the right however took a few steps further forward with their horse.[+red “I said thats close enough. Now answer or I'll put an arrow between your eyes.”] She had no weapon to hand save a small knife at her waist – but they didn't know that!
[+royalblue “Oh yeah? Well I bet you couldn't hit the damn ocean even if you stood on the beach!”] A scathing cutback at her archery skills but accurate nervertheless.[+royalblue “Now open up Töka. It's bloody freezing!”] Despite the voice and knowing her name, there was still a delay in her removing the bracket to open the gate. The horse on closer inspection was Nicolai's too, but it was only when he threw back his hood with a huff of annoyance that she relented. Letting him stew outside a few seconds longer would serve him right for insulting her. The gate groaned as she pulled it inwards and the two riders slowly trotted inside before it was pushed back closed and the bar replaced. Nicolai slipped free of his horse, patting the beasts flank and offering a elven word or two in its ear before hearing approaching footsteps. Looking over his shoulder he saw Florence, and had it been day she would see the slight rouge to his cheeks.[+royalblue “Ah, hello… miss me?”]
After having the chance to rest up Florence was fine with pressing through the remainder of the scouting trip. This was nothing in comparison to the ride down where they had dealt with a plethora of different terrains and dangers. The trip around Wistina was almost pleasant in comparison. Well, until they came closer to Belldale. While the rest of their group seemed excited to see anything of the place half of them used to call home, she was not. The woman still hated that place. She knew it was petty, as she had chosen to live that life of her own volition, but the feelings were there all the same. Keeping them trapped inside, the emerald-eyed woman let the rest of them have their moment. She watched as they looked over the cliff’s edge to the city and a little farther to the silhouette of the castle on the horizon. Excited eagerness played at most of their expressions, Nicolai was the only one she saw anything different in. His expression was stained with something much sadder. And so, without much thought, she came to his side and did what she could to let him know she was there with him. This small display was discrete, with the others’ attention on the land before them, but truly she would have done the same even without the distraction.
The rest of their travels went smoothly. It almost seemed too simple and Florence half expected to be attacked on the road back to Nicolai’s home, but even then, nothing came. And the night went the same way. A quick, but nice meal, time to wash up and relax, and then Helga barely even gave them a hard time as the couple stole up to the elf’s room. Still, despite the nagging feeling that something was going to break, the woman was happy. The light emotion persisted well into the next day when something finally happened. Flore happened to be the bearer of bad news. To say Florence was displeased was an understatement. He had been right in his assessment that she would have made an effort to get him to stay or to take someone with him so that she might not worry so much, not to mention Töka was rather put out at being left behind, so he made the right choice there, but that was only for himself. His girlfriend was not the least bit happy with it. What was she supposed to do with how vague he was? Couldn’t he at least let them know where he was off too? An estimated time of return and a sorry if he missed it was near infuriating and definitely not enough to put her at ease. However this was not her normal brand of anger. Normally something like this would make her mad simply because she had not been consulted on something she thought was important and that affected her. No, this was different. Florence was worried for his wellbeing and that was manifesting into an emotion she was better acquainted with and had an easier time processing. Though, that was only by a small margin. Her fuming and overall irritable mood did cause some of the others to avoid her over the next few days.
It was on that third and final day that her simmering started to show itself for what it actually was. Or at the very least she let herself feel what it actually was. The day grew older and older and night was starting to take hold and she legitimately began to fear that something must have happened to Nicolai. Her mind now dwelled on what he meant when he said he was sorry if he did not return. Did it mean he died, did it mean he was just running late, or maybe even he might not return at all for some other reason. There was no way to tell and she wished for the umpteenth time in the last three days that he would have spoken with her directly. Now she was left in the dark, thinking the worst things imaginable and she hated it.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai was glad to hear the boy was taking his advice on board, trying to buoy him against any bastard-claims thrown against him. As Florence had always stated, Germaine treated him as his son and to the world at large he was. Thankfully with his birth father dead there was also no fear of the man being brought up to strengthen the other side of the argument.
The elfin man disagreed however that the people would be so easy to remember the old times and see Nicolai as a good man. After all he had abandoned them for over seven years, if anything perhaps the villages would be keen to see him punished for the downturn in their fortunes they may attribute to him. He hoped Augustine was right, that he could be used as a means of gaining favour and reminding them of the good times of yesteryear, but the self-deprecating elf was never one to hype up his importance outside of saying so in mocking manner to Florence. Thankfully he was learning to keep his mouth shut however, and only offered the boy a silent nod of his head as he retrieved their map to show them what they had left of the country to explore. Satisfied with the general plan going ahead, he took a moment to take a hold of Florence's hand and squeeze affectionately before they are remounted and went on.
For the next three weeks they hit the further reaches of Wistina, pushed to go on by the elven man rather than make any trips back to his home and delay them. Seeing the other towns and villages would only confirm what they had found out so he didn't want them wasting much more time on sight seeing. He made sure to skirt the capital though he did guide them to a hillock where they could gaze on the impressive fortress and its tall walls for a time. It tugged a little to finally see his home away from him, indeed he had all but raced Augustine to the crest to get a good look, but for Nicolai it was rather tainted now. Given everything that had happened in the last half-decade he could be forgiven for looking back longingly on the memories that place held. Yet Florence had taken a place at his side and, perhaps understanding his forlorn gaze, offered a rare public show of affection in kissing his cheek and leaning against his side. Of course it was all out of view of her son, naturally, but it did help him to think that perhaps things were better than they had been. It left things in a positive light.
On returning to his home a month after their talk, Ool was particularly glad to see them return. By that, he was not as usually sarcastic or sharp tongued as he often was. It seemed Helga had been nagging him with small tasks and had made Cam all but a shared pet between them, the large wolf looking more timid and tamed than ever before. Nicolai found it humorous though said little more than to 'ignore her'. She had only bossed him around as the others were gone. With more hands she would be more ruthless in putting them to use for her own needs, though as those needs often provided more food or a better living space, it was for everyone's good.
Having arrived mid-afternoon they all took time to rest, ate a light meal and headed off to bed. Nicolai brought Florence with him once more – waving off Helga's disapproving glares – and again they would share a rather sweet and comfortable night together in one another's arms. He was there when she woke, languishing in slumber a little longer despite the sun rising, his bare chest fluctuating steadily and looking rather peaceful. However, come mid-day, he would have left the property. It was Flora who would inform Florence, telling her than Nicolai had told her to pass on a message. Apparently he had to go, he needed to try something, and that should he not return in three days he was sorry. It was quite cryptic and blunt though should she ponder why he couldn't have told her this directly, Flora would go on to say that he knew telling anyone but her that he was going would lead to arguments against him going or demands to go with him. It was a little sly but rather in-keeping with the elven man's ways. It seemed whilst he had changed for her, some traits still persisted.
Florence rolled her eyes at the elf’s antics, though the smile on her lips betrayed her true feelings on the matter. There were worse things she could be called than a temptress, but she knew he meant it only in a lighthearted manner. Though he was right, depending on how things went, and how many were willing to turn their opinion of him around, as it seemed rather split for the time being, then he may need to disappear just as she did. It was a thought that made the human woman nervous. If she could not be there for Augustine she would hope that Nicolai could be. He was someone she put a great deal of trust in these days, so she would feel better knowing he was there. However, if they were both gone there was little to calm her anxiety. All this was not likely to cause concern for some time yet, but Florence was not looking forward to when it did.
Augustine took some solace in hearing the perpetually pessimistic Nicolai say he did not think they needed to worry about him being outed as a bastard. Not only was it refreshing to hear him do something other than naysay, but it was a relief to be assured that his fears might be unfounded, even if Vincent enlisted the help of the Taken in his endeavor to dash his legitimacy. [+coral “I suppose you are right.”] His thankfulness came through in his voice. Though even still he was not a fan of splitting their group, even if that was not a pressing concern in the moment. [+coral “I would like to keep you two around as long as possible.”] As it stood now, their group had little chance of getting anything done in a timely manner without the two of them. Sure, Augustine might be able to worm his way into the hearts of a few and figure stuff out from there, but this whole process would go much fast with his mother and Nicolai to mentor them. [+coral “I think there is a good chance of people turning around to you,”] he looked over to the elf, [+coral “since they held such high opinion of you before. And having you show yourself in the flesh will give them a chance to remember the good things you did and not just whatever rhetoric Vincent’s been feeding them since you’ve been gone… especially if you are separated from my mom.”] He was not saying this to be spiteful and it was not a reflection of his thoughts on their relationship, simply that people were more likely to believe he was of his own mind if the supposed witch was not around to hold him under her thumb. [+coral “But like everything else we will have to play that by ear.”] He sighed. It was a little disheartening to be unable to make any concrete plans, even now that they were in and had seen so much of Wistina. The green-eyed boy felt like they had come so far, but regardless there was still so much shrouded in mystery.
The conversation continued much like that, with the adults bringing up things he should be mindful of, but it did not drag on for too long. They probably did not want to overwhelm him with all the details, not when they were just getting started like this. But after a while they were able to get an estimate for how long it would take to see the rest of the country. Nicolai figured it would be another three weeks if they continued at the leisurely pace they had set and avoided going too close to Belldale. It was a shame they had to keep out of radius of the capital city, however Augustine was glad for the time. They were able to really take everything about the countryside in and he had time to comprise the list of places he thought it best to return to first. He shared some of these with the others to see what they thought as well and they seemed to agree that it would be best to start in small towns where it was easier to become recognized. Sure, they still needed to figure out [i how] they were going to get people to recognize them, but that was liable to vary from town to town. Though no matter what it was probably going to involve some sort of service. He just prayed there was something for them to do when the time came. No doubt dealing with bandits up near the boarder would be on their itinerary eventually, especially since that seemed to be where Vincent’s shortcomings were showing the most.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It was terribly cruel to leave such large and potentially life changing decisions to a boy barely into adulthood but it must be so. Neither Nicolai nor Florence would be there to guide him forever, and if he was to be King then the boy would need to become accustomed to making the more difficult and important choices by himself. Her comment about having to step back and remain unseen was one he nodded along with though not just in agreement.[+royalblue “Well if Clarice was speaking any kind of truth, seems I'm not held in such good regard either and might join you in obscurity. I'm just your play thing, swept under your spell I believe she said.”] Such remarks were a little more humorous now, given their ability to come together more and be more natural and open with one another, rather than to hide their little moments as if they were wrong.
Nicolai was, as ever, unsure how Augustine felt of their relationship lately. Following that initial drunken night sharing their pasts, the older couple had been quite relaxed and more even mannered with each other. Indeed the last month had been the smoothest their relationship had been since Germaine still held the crown. The elven gentleman thought the youth would approve, as his mother frowned much less and even his childish remarks and incessant flirting had calmed quite dramatically. Now his affection came in actions, like helping onto her horse or fetching her a warm drink for the beginning of her watch whenever they overlapped. It was infrequent but small gestures that showed to the others that they had progressed a little, at least away from their constant bickering.
He may have been smitten, but it was less spellbinding and more real than before.[+royalblue “As for your theory of rumours,”] he turned back to the blonde, his internal monologue over,[+royalblue “I would not be worried. Vincent and Gabriel were never the most efficient in building realistic or substantive whispers back in the capital. Granted with the Taken they may have a wider reach, but from what we've heard he has thrived off using your mother and I as evil plotters stealing away their prince.”] He tried to place himself with Florence, to show that they were equally seen as scheming for the crown. She was the mastermind, he was the love drunk fool. That was the truth after all.
[+royalblue “When said prince returns home, what substantive argument can he make to deny you your birthright?”] He understood the boy was fearful of his real father been made aware to the masses, but Nicolai held little fear there.[+royalblue “Whatever he says can be easily denied and the people will only see him as a fool. Just have to make them all devout nationalists and things will be simple.”] He offered a wry grin, knowing that was not as simple as he made out, but the people would be weighing up Vincent's word that Augustine wasn't Germaines against the boy they had always known to be their prince. It was not outlandish to think the scheming man would lie about his heritage to maintain his authority and position at the top.
Florence took the offered canteen and drew a drink from it as she listened to what Nicolai had to elaborate on. Her eyes stayed set on Augustine though, she wished to see how he would react to all this. The boy wore a look of contemplation, though eventually nodded at what the older man had to say. They were walking a perilous line here and as the elf said, their timing needed to be impeccable.
The idea that people may not come to their side was a bitter truth, or rather a possibility that Augustine had a very hard time wrapping his head around. Even having heard that most people did not mind Vincent, they knew his true character. Surely the rest of Wistina would come to see it as well if they worked hard to expose him. Augustine kept that optimism to himself though. Now was not the time for it. [+coral “There is a lot that can go wrong no matter what we choose to do… but I think if we are careful and attentive enough we should be able to see the tides changing before they fully turn on us and act accordingly.”] If they see the Taken then they know they need to act faster than this initial plan allowed, just like if after some time it comes to be that no one takes their side they will have to resort to more extreme measures. [+coral “What worries me most is that even if we will do everything right, gain a following, rally them to help us, and back Vincent and his lackeys into a corner… there is a chance they will turn around and start spreading rumors.”] The blond’s wordage was vague here, but to those in the know it would be clear he was talking about his lineage. For those on the outside, such as Marko who was looking in, the comment left something to be desired. How powerful could a little hearsay be?
Florence looked over to her son and then to his friend and back again. Before now she had not been entirely certain just how much Augustine had shared with his cohorts. This put her wondering to bed. She was a touch surprised though. He was open about most things with the others, but for this it seemed he was taking her favored approach: the fewer who knew the better. The woman was not so sure how she felt about that, however she would let him do what he pleased. Well, aside from being completely transparent with it. She would really rather not be outed as an adulteress to the entirety of the country.
Beyond that, she had another concern, [+mediumseagreen “while timing is important we need to look at other pieces of the picture as well. How you decide to reveal yourself will be nearly as important as when. And after that, even if the people take a liking to you, there is a strong possibility their distain for me will not diminish so easily. There may come a time when I will need to fade into the background.”] It was not her first pick of plans, as she wanted to stay with her son, but if the backlash was that great that might be the best way for her to help him. [+mediumseagreen “I do not expect you to make any of these decisions just yet.”] There was not enough context for all that. As he said, they needed to be vigilant of the world around them and react appropriately. [+mediumseagreen “But I want you to have all this in mind for the future when these choices [i do] have to be made.”] Giving him the final call was a lot of pressure, and Florence did feel bad about it, but that was how it was going to have to be. [+mediumseagreen “I know this is a lot to think about; I just want you to be ready when the time comes, whenever that ends up being.”] Unlike Nicolai, she decided to use a gentler touch with him in the end. As his mother she could get away with spoiling him a little bit.
Augustine nodded again. [+coral “I understand.”] His voice wasn’t cheerful by any means, but it wasn’t quite solemn either. [+coral “… I will try to be ready to make whatever call is necessary when the time comes.”] This was more in response to what Nicolai had said before about handling Vincent in a more covert manner, as the young man’s brain still weighed heavily on that. It was not how he wanted to do things, but if that was how it had to be to keep them safe then so be it. He only wished he could have sounded a little more confident than he felt about it, if only to keep up appearances in front of those who were placing their faith in him.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai was a little happier to hear he wasn't the only one seeing how fickle and tricky their situation was. It had seemed so easy in the beginning, to come sweeping in and rally the people behind them against an oppressive dictator who had stolen the throne. Except he wasn't. He kept the masses fed, gave them more wealth, made it appear that their lives were better with him in charge and to forget the previous royal line. Whilst he agreed with Florence's notion that they would have to be more forward and proactive, it was disconcerting that they had to go to such an angle so soon.
Lifting his canteen he poured a little over his head, letting it trickle down over his face whilst wetting his hand and brushing it back through his hair. Rubbing the back of his neck to cool it from that mornings ride, he let out an exasperated sigh. Walking across to Florence he offered the flask toward her as he spoke.[+royalblue “We have to be ready to accept that not everyone will support us.”] He commented with mind to her first remark. His eyes glanced Marko stepping forward in silent thought, and he felt a little bad for not including him, Flora or Töka in these talks. But for right now they were all learning the land and just getting by as the main trio worked out the larger aspects of this fledgling rebellion.
[+royalblue “I'm sure there were people in Astoria, common folk, who opposed change, not just those with the most to lose. Inevitably we will do the same. Their resentment will help him, so we shouldn't underestimate what is to come. Unless we can topple him covertly, perhaps sneak in and deal with him quietly, if we must rely on the people's support then things will get messy before the end.”] It was all obvious and did not need to really be said aloud for them all, but perhaps it was also worth reminding them that this would be a struggle. Again, they needed to live with the understanding that this was a fight. His home afforded them a little space to breathe and collect their thoughts but that safe haven couldn't be seen as a projection of the country as a whole.
Looking back over to the young blonde he thought to offer him some encouraging words, perhaps buoy him with sweet flattery or the like that he had once given to Germaine when he had advised him. But this was a much more intelligent being, conscientious of the world about him, to butter him up would be an insult really.[+royalblue “We need to find the right time and place to reveal your return. It's all well and good to collect information and what not, but the longer we wait the more he will gain the trust and support of the people above what he already has. And, the higher the risk of us being found and disposed of quietly without ever mounting serious opposition...”] He wanted to apologise at the end, as if stating that aloud was a bad or negative thing to speak of, but again if this boy was to be King he had to deal with the more distasteful topics.
For Augustine the Wistinian terrain was as beautiful as he remembered. It was wonderful getting to see it more leisurely now. Not that they were just meandering about, but the one and only time he had come through these lands before they had been hastily running to the north. There wasn’t exactly a whole lot of time for sight seeing and taking it all in. He was also vastly happy to see Flora was taking interest in it. He’d noticed how she often dulled when conversation came to the topic of his future as king and her part in that. The boy knew it was something they needed to talk about, but he hadn’t felt like they had the time. But either way, seeing her light up at seeing his homeland gave him some hope that she might not be completely discontent here.
When Nicolai called out with his opinion as they rested, Augustine nodded. This certainly was not ideal, but they had only just begun. He would not allow himself to become disheartened so quickly. [+coral “I agree, the less we cause the common people to suffer, the better off we will be.”] He certainly did not want them rising up against him if this came down to them stealing into the castle to kill Vincent and reveal him to be the snake he was. [+coral “We just have to keep at it for now. There is no way Vincent has gone on all this time without making a mistake somewhere in the larger townships. We just have to find it and use it to our advantage.”] There was an undertone of confidence in his voice, but it was not to the point of being cocky, optimistic for sure, but not due to some false self-confidence. [+coral “Besides, for the time being everyone sees us as nothing more than strangers. We can’t expect them just to come out to us with all their problems.”] Doubly so when things were on the up and up, to complain about those in charge would make them look ungrateful. On top of that there was also the fear of starting rumors that their country was weak or ailing in some way. Having so many foreigners among their party certainly was not helping dissuade that apprehension in those they met.
[+mediumseagreen “By that line of thinking, we have to be ready to accept that they may never come to us with his transgressions.”] Florence was happy to see her son had not lost his spark after what could have been seen as a month of bad news. It showed that he had the foresight to know that this was not going to be over just because they showed up and began parading around the countryside. [+mediumseagreen “There may come a time when we will have to employ those who do support you to dig those things up in our stead.”] Connections were going to be key here. That was often the good thing about farmers, who were one of the groups that were ‘hurting’; they knew people. Not only did they employ them in the fields when it came time for harvest, but they made contact with the merchants and storefronts that would come to sell their produce. Through intelligence webs like these they might be able to see deeper into the mechanism that was Wistina, in fact, it was almost certain. Though it would be nice if they could also connect with at least a few of those in power in the cities. To hear word straight from the horses’ mouth was always the best, but she was sure there would come a time when they could not afford to be picky.
The blond heard what Florence was saying, but it still wasn’t exactly what he wanted. It seemed underhanded to play that way. He knew that was a childish view to take, and he knew he was going to have to work on that. This was war, be it large or small in scale, and he needed to be ready to do what it took to be the victor when the dust settled. So, he did not argue with her or try to rebut what she had to say.
At the edge of their small circle, Marko had come to join them. He did not speak as he did not have much of anything to contribute, but the boy took it all in. He wondered how long it would take for these types of conversations to be common place and at what time he would be expected to give his opinions as well. These were not the sorts of things he was versed in, at least, he had not been taught in the same way that Augustine had or lived it in the way the adults had. And so, he would continue to listen, gleaning what he could from their words and hoping that he might be able to call upon the different ways they thought at a later date when it was needed but perhaps they were not around to say it themselves.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat With her kind words playing on his mind it left Nicolai to just hold her and drift back to a light slumber. It was pleasant being able to relax like that with her and to just embrace one another in an affectionate manner. For the week ahead it was a different story. Whilst he tried to carve out time for them, he was kept quite busy by the small but demanding Helga. The teens were given harmless tasks like tending to the gardens or cleaning within the house. Florence and Töka were put to work in the stable and in helping Helga personally with her own work. Nicolai… he was essentially the handyman come labourer for the week. From dawn to dusk he was mending fences, fixing walls, digging troughs and moving earth. If it was physical and tiring, then he would be put to task on it.
It was not all negative however as by the end of the week he was feeling that little more flexible and stronger. Being outside most days in the sun, shirt discarded often as he did not want the ire of Helga when she chastised him for getting it filthy during his work, he was left a little more bronze too, a healthy glow almost. She made sure the elfin man and his lady friend were separated of a night however, not wanting them lazing about come morning nor setting a poor example to the children. It was all quite old fashioned but, in a way, it was sweet, and Nicolai did not object too much. He did his best to carve out some time for Florence here and there and to ensure she knew he was not avoiding her as before.
When they began to head out from his home and take branching paths out into the country, he would do his best to accommodate Florence’s goals of teaching the others about the terrain and offering what he knew about Wistinian customs. Everything was prefaced with the understanding that it had been many years since they had been here and that the change in leadership would mean a different landscape. As expected, Flora was quite interested, though perhaps it was just to hear of her boyfriend’s homeland and to better understand the language too. He came to a consensus with Florence on how things looked as they visited the villages and found the people spoke of similar mind whilst those of the cities spoke the opposite. After a month or so of these excursions it was beginning to get quite depressing really. As they took a break having left their last city, Tarth, hugging the southern coast, he decided to speak up whilst they took shade beneath a tree.
[+royalblue “Not exactly getting any better the longer we do this...”] He muttered as he took his flask from his saddle and removed the stopper, turning to face the others though it was more directed at the mother and son duo.[+royalblue “If he holds the cities, he holds the numbers, and therefore the popular vote.”] It was distressing though it was mostly frustration that showed in his tone before he took a sip of his water, the coolness helping ease his annoyance.[+royalblue “We could use the chagrin of the villages to withhold food and goods, start pushing the produce north to Delfin and Tyleth, perhaps then the cities would see the fragility of their situation in letting the rural lands suffer whilst they prosper. Though, obviously, not exactly good for our cause and getting them to back us.”] Vincent was rather shrewd in this respect, keeping the majority of the people happy to ensure he had a good base of support.[+royalblue “Whilst you may be the rightful King, their memories are short and they are fickle, they will weigh up the change in leadership against their new found prosperity. Anything that endangers the new lives won’t exactly be looked upon fondly.”]
[+mediumseagreen "Very well, but you cannot complain when your arm has fallen asleep or some such thing."] Her words were deceptively chiding, but there was a happy smile on her face that betrayed that rather clearly. His tucking them in did not much help her grogginess, though she was maintaining conscious well enough to hear his quiet question. In response she shook her head. [+mediumseagreen "Not in my wildest dreams could I have predicted this."] Perhaps she was being a bit too honest there, but it was what it was. [+mediumseagreen "I allowed myself to think that you might still be alive somewhere in the world, and that was it."] Florence may have been angry with him after their parting, but it never went so far as for her to want him dead. In fact, she whole-heartedly hoped that Elizabeth had managed to keep him alive, but she never thought that they would be reunited nor that they would attempt to make something happen between them again… or that it might just work. [+mediumseagreen "The fact that we are here together like this would have been impossible for me to grasp. I still find it baffling, and I have lived through everything leading up to it.”] That was more a criticism of herself than of their relationship. As previously mentioned, before now she very much planned on spending the rest of her life alone when it came to any sort of romance. [+mediumseagreen “But I am rather glad it worked out to be this way.”] Sometimes it was better not to know what the future held, and she counted this amongst the times that rang true.
As stillness settled in again, this time Florence really did fall asleep. It was probably for the best given her hangover, but when she finally woke she would feel bad not spending more time talking with Nicolai. Namely due to Helga taking up most of his time over the next few days, it was just how he predicted. Had they got more time together perhaps she would not have felt like she squandered those precious moments, but it was what it was.
After spending nearly a week recuperating, it was time for them to be off again. It became somewhat of a pattern for them. The group would set out in a different direction, stopping in towns along the way. The main goal was to survey the land and the social climate of surrounding areas. Becoming familiar with the land was useful in obvious ways, but mainly it helped to give the foreign party confidence while traversing Wistina. It was not so important right that minute, but was likely to come in handy in the future if they ever came to be separated or any such thing. As for looking into the thoughts of the general populous, it was much as they had come to expect. The larger cities that had seen a great deal of attention under this new regime were rather happy with the way things were. The economy was good and they were expanding, mostly to make room for those who were moving in to be a part of all the progress, but regardless of the reason the growth brought a sense of pride that would be hard to overcome. Smaller settlements on the other hand often longed for days passed. It was not things were terribly bad, aside from in places like Preth that had seen some great misfortune, but with most resources being funneled into the main cities there was little left for them. There was little sign of those in authority in these places and it left vast sections of disconnect between the growing points of power. If things continued on this way Florence was certain Wistina would eventually break into city-states. Such a drastic development was probably a great way off in the future, but it was still something for them to remain mindful of as they progressed.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Thinking he had caused her some discomfort in pulling her around, a thought given to mark below her chest, he watched her closely for a few seconds. Her laughter was sweet to his ear and he looked up at her with silent wonder as she looked down at him. There was a wonderful kindness to her features and perhaps seeing his silent and thoughtful looks, she leaned down to break his concentration upon her with a light and brief kiss. It was enough to sate him, and he did not go in search of more as his hands softly slid around her, moving up to between her shoulders and fixing the covers of the bed around them.
[+royalblue “I am happy to be here…”] His response was quiet like hers and slowly his hands began to gently stroke back and forth. She was not light, no adult was ever truly light, but even atop him like this she was not at all heavy. It was quite comfortable how she had settled herself and his larger frame held her with ease. She was warm, and soft, and he found it humorous that being where he was might be construed as [i ‘stuck here’].[+royalblue “Given how rude I was back in the tavern, and how I was not here for you when you woke up, I think it fair that I stay where you want me for as long as you want me.”] He still felt bad about his actions, as was often the case whenever he looked back on most things that had to do with Florence. Granted staying where he was not entirely selfless as he was happy to hold her and enjoy this embrace knowing full well that these moments alone were quite precious.
His head dipped a touch, lips pressing against her cool forehead, hands continuing their soothing motion.[+royalblue “Could you have ever imagined a few months ago, that you and I of all people, would be laying here together like this?”] It was meant in a positive manner, as shown through his uplifting tone. Months before he had been leading a rebellion, all whilst unbeknownst to her that he was even still alive. To go from a ghost of her past to a very real and potential partner for life, as she had put it, was a change in circumstances even his wildest dreams could not have hoped for. When the trio of teens and herself had first come across the straights to Malidek he had had a repressed desire to rekindle a modicum of friendship with the two Melbournes, to perhaps win enough favour and goodwill that he might crawl his way back to where he was seven or eight years ago. This, with her right now, was simply astounding.
Florence had not really believed Nicolai would accept everything she said to him. His skepticism was too deeply ingrained in him as a person, at least when it came to himself. However, when he smiled, she decided to let it slide. He had made the choice not to descend into a self-depreciating spiral, so who was she to keep pressing the topic. Even if she hadn’t really meant his title when she spoke of him not being just a guard. It was fine though, she was content to know he had at least heard what she had to say, which was probably a first for her. Not having the final word did bother her the littlest bit though. That was something about her she doubted she would ever really change. The woman was not able to dwell on it though, not before she was pulled along with Nicolai as he rolled onto his back.
Chuckling lightly at his antics, Florence tried to ignore the pulsing in her head the jostling of her laugh caused. For some reason him slinging her about was fine, but this subtler movement gave her grief. The body was a mysterious thing. [+mediumseagreen “I suppose it will have to be.”] There was not much chance of them getting any closer, though she had thought that before he pulled her atop of him too. So who knew, he might be able to surprise her again, but Florence doubted it. Once she was nearly certain they would be staying like this a while, the woman moved about some so that her legs fit better in with his. After hat, she was laid rather comfortably on top of the elf, her only worry was that she might be to heavy for him to be comfortable as well. The thought played at the back of her mind before she leaned in to place a soft kiss on his lips. It was a brief expression of her affection before she laid her head to rest on him. Surely he would move them if he needed to.
In the quiet, Florence allowed herself to simply soak in the contentment surrounding her. With her eyes closed she could feel herself beginning to nod off. She hummed lightly as if that might keep her awake. [+mediumseagreen “...If you are not careful you are going to wind up stuck here.”] Her words were a tentative whisper, as she warned him at her own expense. Florence did not want to move. She was happy here, however she also did not want to leave him trapped if he wanted the freedom to be able to come and go as he pleased.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had hoped he could listen to her response without her seeing how he reacted, that if he didn't agree with her she wouldn't see it in his telling eyes or from minor facial expressions. But she was smart to his hiding tactics and knew he would look to withhold such thoughts from her. Instead her soft hands cupped his cheeks and forced their eyes to meet and so she saw the initial scepticism he felt in her words. Perhaps it was a masculine thing to correlate physical ability with actual worth. He hoped it was just a trait of his gender and not one of his own design, as his gaze did soften when she told him what she thought of him. It was sweet if a little much; did she really think of him as courageous? From his point of view he couldn't think of a single courageous act he had committed. But that was left unspoken.
Her humour was quite poor though that only made it that much better and a larger smile broke across his lips.[+royalblue “You do realise I am not a General or a Duke any more. I am, for all intent and purpose, a mere guard now without my titles.”] It was not meant to counter her or to continue his dour mood but to merely rebut her and point out that indeed he was of no social stature any more. In a way it was for the best. Now he had nothing over him, no expectations or responsibilities. He was free to do as he pleased and as her leg crept up further on him he had settled on his next action.
As she told him she liked him, oh how sweet it would have been for her to say love but oh well, his hand around her pressed flush to her back. With a hold of her thigh in the other hand he rolled away, pulling her with him and thus ending with her laying atop him, sprawled almost as she pressed atop him and he looked up at her. Her hair tumbled down and obscured some of the light of the room leaving them in a veiled darkness almost and he chuckled lightly.[+royalblue “I really do like you too Florence. Is this close enough for you?”] He asked as hands moved around to her waist to save her slipping off of him or Gods forbid to tumble from the bed. If she did that he doubted there would be any chance of forgiveness for a day or two.
The cold from the morning air still lingered on him despite how they came together. Florence wondered when her warmth would reach him, though it was a thought in the back of her mind, especially when he pressed his lips to hers. It was a brief moment shared between them before he continued. [+mediumseagreen “No, do not apologize… Hard or not, it is important we talk about this.”] Particularly if it was bothering him as much as it looked like it was. Keeping this in would only stress him further and make things worse. She wanted to understand his worries and fears. That way she could try to alleviate them, or share in the burden where possible. She also very much appreciated his truthfulness in what was not an easy subject to talk about.
He was right, she was going to tell him he was more than just a guard. Nicolai was an advisor and confidant. Someone they could place trust in with more than just their physical wellbeing, but he was not having it. Florence let him get everything out, watching how his eyes flittered away from hers and back again throughout his confession. In the end, she smiled back at him. [+mediumseagreen “You are not an idiot, but you should shut up and let me dote on you a bit.”] Wiggling, the woman freed her arm that had been pressed between them so that she could bring it up with her other to hold his face. Her touch was affectionate, but this was mainly a means of keeping him from looking away from her.
[+mediumseagreen “Even if something were to happen and you could not fight, I would still not consider you a burden. Those I care about will never be a burden to me… I know you take pride in protecting us, and I understand how that might stay your fears for the future, but please do not sell yourself short and think that is all there is to you. You are thoughtful and loving and courageous, so if a day comes when you cannot raise your sword, there will still be plenty of you left that is worth keeping around.”] And those were just a few of the things she could think of. Certainly with more time she would be able to comprise a longer and better-worded list of his virtues. [+mediumseagreen “Besides… do you really think I would consider spending the rest of my life with a ‘mere guard.’ I think we both know I have much higher standards than that.”] Her last point was made lightheartedly as she let her hands come down from his cheeks and rest around his neck. There was not room to be any closer to him, as they were pressed tight to one another, but that did not stop her from trying to snuggle in more. Her movement did little other than set her thigh higher upon his, ensnaring him just that little bit more so that he could not escape from her or the bed. [+mediumseagreen "I really do like you Nicolai."] Florence was fairly confident all she said before had got that point across, but still, in times like this it was probably best that she was outright with what she meant. She was learning that much at least.
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