After going off together that first night in the cave, Nicolai looked as though he was doing better. For this, Florence was grateful. But after that they continued to disappear together. She was a mite curious what they were so secretive about off on their own. The woman really did not think either of them were the types for quick [I encounters] just out of view of their companions, but her mind went there for some reason. Perhaps it was seeing Elizabeth, who was gorgeous in her own right, that had swayed Nicolai away from continuing his interest in her. It was a confusing feeling, one that Florence did not linger on.
The behavior continued as they made headway through the pass. With weather as fine as it could be in such a place, luck was with them. That too made Florence nervous, but Adrian always seemed to be there to calm her back down. She was not sure if he saw through her and knew that she was worried, or he was just lucky with that sort of thing, but she appreciated him being there all the same.
It was on the final day, and with the end in sight, but some ways off, that things began to go wrong. In the distance behind there, a couple of figured came into view. They were on horseback and in dark attire. Florence tried to hope for the best, but when a whistle echoed through the craggy pass and a hawk’s cry resonated back, her worst fears were confirmed.
Picking up speed, at least as much as they could without being unsafe, the party rushed towards the end. It was not until Florence noticed that their pursuers did not hasten with them, that she thought better of what they were doing. [+mediumseagreen “Wait, I think they are trying to force us to the into something at the clearing. We need to stop.”]
Gregory was the first to beg to differ. [+darkmagenta “Then we should make sure to be prepared for an ambush. We do not need to rush back into danger just because the other option is uncertain.”] It was not so different to something she had once told Nicolai. Florence had nothing to fight his words, so she gritted his teeth and took up her bow.
Coming up on freedom from the domineering cliffs on either side of them, it looked as though Florence had been wrong. Her mind full of nothing but paranoia. But at what seemed like the last possible moment, three men on horses came forth and blocked the narrow exit. Sure, there was room to pass between them, but not enough to do so without endangering one’s self. Two of them were familiar faces.
The half-orc Ulrich took center stage, and on his right someone she had thought dead: Gerald. What in the hell was he doing with these people? Dumbfounded by the revelation, Florence didn’t even raise her bow.
[+forestgreen “Hello, Florence. It is lovely to see you again.”] The dark haired assassin wore a wicked smile. [+forestgreen “If you would be so kind, I would like for you and Augustine to come with us.”]
Before Florence could say anything, Gerald cut in, his plea directed to his elfin friend. [+purple “She’s lied to us, Nicolai! The whole time…”] He looked down at the ground, loath to say what he was about to. [+purple “The boy isn’t Germaine’s.”]
Ulrich quickly grabbed center stage again. [+forestgreen “That’s right, it turns out the Queen was nothing more than a common whore. A woman, I use the term loosely, who would spread her legs for anyone so long as they had something she needed.”] His smile grew. [+forestgreen “There is no reason to defend her. Now, if you will. I would very much like to see her punished for her crimes against Wistina.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The pass itself was rather tame and after all the trepidation that it would bring, it seemed things would be rather simple and easy. It was cold of course. The weather could not be said to be warm or cosy by any means, but they progressed that day without any incident and it was similar to the previous two days – right down to the touches from Adrian that lingered a little more now, their horses closer together, their talks a little more muted given the closeness. Regardless of the two sickeningly sweet love birds, all were progressing well.
Of course that was not the same for Nicolai. The cold was hitting him much harder as he had never travelled through anything like this before, a man who had been in temperate climates his entire life, and given the severity of his infection he was not cutting the most cheerful or happy figure of the group. Even Gregory had taken notice and offered to speak with Adrian so that they might stop early that night and set up a fire for him. But Nicolai shook his head to the man.
[+teal “The quicker we are through.. the better..”] His teeth chattered though he felt clammy at times and was continually having to drink from his canteen to keep his mind lucid as the sickness began to ramp up. The dwarf had talked with Elizabeth the night before and been convinced to stay his tongue and say nothing to the other three. The trio were happy in their little world, sharing stories and laughter amongst themselves. The dwarf was acutely aware of Florence's reactions to Adrian's advances, however harmless he may have seemed at first, and could quite understand the elven man's desire to just have this done with. It was not his place to speak and so he wouldn't.
When they had made camp for the night, utilizing a cave that Adrian and Elizabeth had used many times before, Nicolai had taken himself as deep inside as he could. Finding a little nook in which to curl up in, gathering up his furs that he had brought with him, he turned down any offers of food stating he had perhaps eaten a bad piece of tack and his stomach was in convulsions and not wanting to disturb them that evening. Even Augustine did not seek to go to him, though this was perhaps as he was particularly distracted and oft to talk with his new friend in Adrian than disturb the former general.
Elizabeth however had had enough of this and took some kindling to make a separate fire in Nicolai's small area. Despite his protests she waved him off, striking flint on a piece of steel to start some sparks and soon have the fire going. Even though it had only been going a little time, she could see the sheen to the man's face and pressing a hand to his forehead she muttered under her breath, raising her volume a touch to speak to him in elven lest the others hear.[+royalblue “So now you have a fever because you were so stubborn.”] She wasn't trying to chastise the man but it could not really be helped. Pulling the furs back some she proceeded to strip down his upper half, finding the cover he had used back in the tavern was damp with sweat though the wound itself was not weeping.
[+royalblue “Nicolai, you're going to die if you keep this up.”] She met the violet eyes of the man and there was no argument from him. He shivered a little though whether through illness or cold she did not know. Fetching her pack quickly whilst the others talked amongst themselves, she felt awful for having to sneak around like this, as if his health was something they had to keep to themselves. Kneeling beside him, she fished into her bag.[+royalblue “Why did you not tell me sooner? I have supplies for just this kind of thing you know.”]
Given how often Adrian was in fights and combat protecting others, she had acquired many salves and ointments as well as herbal remedies made with what she could find. Nicolai shook his head lightly.[+teal “Look at them.. they're so happy.. Gregory.. Augustine.. Florence..”]
[+royalblue “And what, you think their happiness overcomes their concern for you? Their wish for you to be healthy is less than your wish for them to be happy?”] She spoke as she took out a box with a green pulp inside like seaweed that had been mashed up.
[+teal “You don't understand.. they suffered a lot.. the boy lost his father only.. only two months ago.. they have been through so much,”] he felt his throat dry up but coughed to clear it,[+teal “your friend makes them happy, keeps them smiling.. I've never seen her smile like that before.. it's so real.. I promised to keep them safe Elizabeth.. but he is the one saving them.”] Mouth feeling tacky he reached for his canteen, the woman snatching it up first as she had grown suspicious of the concoction he made each morning. Opening it she sniffed and an aniseed-like smell was quite clear.
[+royalblue “You've been mixing pain medicine in with this? You're drugged out your mind, that's how you've coped the last few days?”] She was not best pleased but regardless she lifted it to his lips for a short drink to wet his tongue.
[+teal “I am fine Elizabeth-”]
[+royalblue “You are not fine you idiot!”] She was not one for harsh words, or many fort that matter, but she was quite livid with him now.[+royalblue “What if Adrian and I had not been here? You would be in this state with them, without help, and stuck in this bloody pass. And you would have died. Then what? Your promise is broken because you died because you were so damn stubborn.”] She put the water mix to one side as she took up the box again, taking out a healthy pinch of the pulp and pressed it gently into the wound. There was no reaction now, the nerves numbed beyond feeling by now.
[+teal “But you are here.. he is here.. he's doing a better job than me..”] His head lolled back, eyes closing as he panted some.
[+royalblue “Regardless of them, think of yourself then.”] She did not wish to go into the topic of her friend and Florence. It was clear to everyone what was happening and Gregory had confirmed some of what she suspected the night before about Nicolai's looks.[+royalblue “You think of yourself, your own health, your own life. Because that is what I have to do too.”] The confession came as she retrieved another box, this one with a milky white chalk inside. Rubbing it onto her hands she thinned it a little before beginning to cover over the wound and the surrounding area.
[+teal “What do you mean?”] He swallowed hard, though his eyes only opened for a moment before shutting again.
[+royalblue “You don't think this affects me too?”] She sighed as she continued to apply multiple layers of the chalk, using a little water at times when needed.[+royalblue “Suppose Adrian and Florence decide to stick this out after the pass. Where does that leave me? I won't play third wheel to their romance.”] She regretted such terminology though Nicolai knew what she intended.
[+teal “You can go to Astoria.. she would help you..”]
[+royalblue “Yeah, I am sure she would.”] She scoffed openly as she closed up the boxes to put away, washing off her hands before looking for a length of bandage.[+royalblue “I don't claim to know who you are or what you did back in Wistina. But I know for sure that those two sticking together leaves me out of place, without a friend and without a place to go. After two years with that man, in less than a week I've found myself surplus to requirements.”] She pulled him forward, leaning his head to her shoulder as she worked to get the bandage around his torso and his shoulder before laying him back on his furs gently.[+royalblue “So you see, you are not the only one concerned by them.”]
[+teal “He wouldn't do that.. he's too nice, too noble.. he's too much a good man..”] The remedies she had used already made his skin feel much cooler and his shoulder felt lighter – no doubt being placed in the wound had given it the opportunity to work that much faster.
[+royalblue “No, I know Adrian, or rather I thought I did. I don't think this is a decision for him, I think he's already set his path ahead. And I can only apologise to you.”] She brought his furs around, wrapping them about him a little more now that she had tied off the bandage, trying to get him comfortable, offering him another sip of his canteen. He swallowed with a frown.
[+teal “Why apologise.. I'm the one willing to die.. just because he was outdone by another man..”] His chest went into spasm, a cough racking his body as his breathing caught and had struggling to open his airway to take a deep breath. Allowing him time to settle, to regain himself, Elizabeth nodded.
[+royalblue “I should have told him not to disturb your group. To go our separate way sooner. To have kept him in Stonebrook a day longer and let you all go on ahead. Instead I let him have his way, didn't see what was right in front of me and put both of us out.”] She sighed as she wet a length of cloth with her water and placed it to his forehead to cool him. His hand, left hand of course, rose up and placed itself atop hers, grasping her hand as it fell back to his chest too tired to hold his arm aloft.
[+teal “It isn't your fault.. if I was a man.. if I was a man Florence could love.. then we would be fine.. I am the one who is sorry.. for being so stupid..”] A spell of heavy breathing took him again, clearly struggling at times to breathe and requiring a gentle pat of his pectoral to try and ease his lungs from fluctuating.
[+royalblue “Yes, you are rather stupid Nicolai.”] She said quietly in jest as her hand stayed in his and she watched over him in a caring manner.
The medicine would help immensely to ease him from his fever but the wound would need many more applications and careful consideration before it would heal. Yet Nicolai would not be so against having Elizabeth help him, the duo often up on watch together which allowed her to check on how it was healing and to help him along. Though Nicolai returned to a quieter and more subdued manner he remained grateful and open to her questions from then on.
After all that talking, Florence was quite done. And luckily enough, every one else was content with what she said as well, even if they didn’t believe it. Though after her story, something seemed to shift in Adrian. He paid more attention to her and that quickening of her heart soon found its self in conjunction with a loss for words. The dark haired woman was not normally one to stutter, but every once in a while he would look at her and it was like she could not put two words together that made reasonable sense. In such times she stayed quiet. She was not about to make a fool of herself, but she was sure it showed on her face just fine.
Adrian was warm and kind and reminded her of home. There was a comfort about him that she had long since forgotten. And even when he reached out to her, she did not recoil. It might not have been so had he grabbed her, but the gentle touches and pats were welcome enough that she did not shoo or try to dissuade him from the action. Yes, whether she wanted to admit it or not, she was falling fast.
But even with this new gentleman calling for attention, her thoughts still went to Nicolai from time to time. She would glance over to him, but never caught his lilac gaze. There was a pang of guilt in her. She had promised to think of him differently. And for a while, she did. The woman thought more carefully about how they interacted, so that she would not lead him on unintentionally. And she waited for him to show her his affections like he promised he would. Even now she was still waiting, but they did not come. She wondered if he had thought better of his infatuation, and realized that he was mistaken. She hoped if that were the case he would come out and say it. Confirm it for her so that she could stop worrying over him so much, because as he sat in silence she fully believed something to be wrong. It made her nervous.
The closer they came to the mountains, the cooler it got. Icy winds bowing off of the peaks kept northern Tyleth chilly, but it would be nothing compared to the a pass itself. They confirmed that when they made it to the mouth of the trail that ran the width of the Farrastinian mountain range. It practically howled at them as they stared it down.
Florence squeezed Augustine close to her. [+mediumseagreen “This should be the worst part of our trip. If you can endure this, you can make it through anything.”] She smiled down at him as he nodded in understanding. [+mediumseagreen “Tell me if you get too cold. There are extra blankets. We can wrap them around you to help.”] It would be cumbersome, but it was better than ending up with frostbite.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Listening intently to such a wild and fantastical story, Adrian and Augustine were as if on tenterhooks on hearing each additional part. In the mind of the older male, it was perhaps just fables or partial truths to keep her son happy and those big green eyes from looking back up at her in that way children had. But he thoroughly enjoyed hearing it and clapped appreciatively as she finished.
[+crimson “My word, your life is like that of a tale passed down over the generations.”] His smile only grew and his perhaps excessive clapping caught his partners attention, amber eyes looking over to him and he calmed down some. She herself had taken the story as just that, a story, and by no means did she believe this woman had risen from a poor orphan on the street to the point of turning down the crown. It made for a heartening tale, especially to Adrian no doubt given his own background, but the elven woman only smiled as she was prone to do and continued to ride on.
Adrian was in a very upbeat mood and let out a deep sigh of contentedness to have finally gotten out of Florence something. It did not explain why she was now travelling from Wistina home, or where her husband she had wed was now, but as he understood things Nicolai was most certainly not the father and Gregory seemed both too old and not exactly on a romantic more a friendly level with her.[+crimson “Thank you for the story Florence, it was truly an epic for the ages.”] Watching her as he thought over that her husband was indeed not here, there was a little more to his gaze now, a little more.. lust, perhaps?
Any hope to find the real truth or the desire to learn more about her would have to wait for a quieter time, when he could perhaps steal her away from the others just to talk between themselves should such an occasion arise. Though he hoped it would.
Hearing her give such a blatantly false story helped ease Nicolai's worries however. Parts could have been true, as he did not know her childhood, nor anything about her from before she arrived to Wistina. But he could take a fair assumption that it was all just a means of keeping the other two placated and away from the real truth of their travel to Astoria. Though by the sounds of things the larger man was swept up in the grandeur of the tall tale and was too busy stroking both his own and her ego he was in danger of arriving too soon – to use an expression.
This continual trading of stories, talking of their pasts – though not much more from Florence – and the general chattiness of the four, as Elizabeth like Nicolai often kept quiet unless asked directly, went on for another two days before they reached the pass. Now and again, shout they see the animal or hear their sounds, Florence and Gregory would take time to head out and hunt and to an extent were successful, returning with a rabbit each for their hard work and to the praise of all in the group.
Even Nicolai would muster up a small smile and a nod of congratulations, though he often remained on his horse. Most of Nicolai's dialogue had been relegated to one worded answers, humble yet sincere thanks or single lines of conversation about selecting the best route.
He was not the best lead any more as he had exhausted his knowledge of the landscape and so it came upon Adrian to take the mantle, though he lead from beside Florence as usual such was his casual nature. It left the elven man to lag behind the others and keep up the rear of the group, though being there was more painful than ever as he had to watch as the woman he had professed to love for over a decade now lapped up the attention from the tall red-eyed warrior. Listening to them had been awful enough but now he could not look elsewhere, now he was confronted by her laughter, her smiles, the light touches he would place to her arm every so often when their humour had grown much.
Where had the woman who disliked being touched gone? Where was the woman, who only a week or two before had told him to take things slow and see how they progressed? It was hard for the man to not see it now as a means of getting what she had wanted – someone to protect her and her son. Could she have been so devious as to lie to him and offer a small ember of hope to his candle heart that he may find her return his feelings? With each laugh, each touch, each moment those two spent together it only beat down on the soul of the elf.
He held his outer appearance well however. He sat upright in the saddle, continued to drink from his personal canteen and whenever Gregory or the like would look back he would seem to be scouting about them and ensuring they were well protected from behind. For all intent and purpose he gave off the look of a man doing his job and content to do so. But on the third morning, as they prepared to finally enter the pass some time that day, with mountains looming over and the air growing colder, Elizabeth had come across to hand over a roll of fur he had given to her to keep warm in the night. Looking into the violet gaze of the man she saw all too obvious a broken man. The light was dim, his face a touch gaunt, his voice monotone and lacking. From a distance this was a strong and independent elven man who had pride in himself and his work – perhaps too much focus on the latter but still. Yet up close, seeing him in the morning sun and looking at him, she could see it was but a shell now.
She said nothing however. She had been in similar circumstances in her own life and knew that to point this out was to only start an argument or incite fervent denial of her accusations. It was not the best but the only option, to leave him be, and allow him to climb up onto his horse in a manner that favoured his left arm.
He was basically begging her to go on and it was difficult to tell him no, especially since the points he made were valid. Having him stare at her so intently did not help either. She caught his eyes flickering down to Augustine. It was a signal to help out. Only a day had passed and he knew he was her greatest weakness.
Catching Adrian’s drift when he motioned to him with his eyes, Augustine moved to do his part. He looked directly up at his mother with big puppy dog eyes. It was not a tactic he had used on her before, but it was worth a shot, as he very much wanted to know about her as well. [+coral “Mother, I would like to hear about before you married father as well.”]
[+mediumseagreen “I wouldn’t even know where to start.”]
Gregory was actually kind of enjoying having the tables turned on her. [+darkmagenta “Oh come on, Florence. Give them a couple of old war stories and be done with it.”]
The woman let out a long sound of frustration in response [+mediumseagreen “Fine,”] they wanted a story. She would give them a story. [+mediumseagreen “I would say my life really started the day my brother and I were found by Gregory. Starving on the streets, his big stupid heart couldn’t bear to see it and he adopted the two of us despite not knowing the first thing about children.”] Her tone was flippant. It would be difficult to discern if what she was saying was the truth, a pack of lies, or something in between.
[+mediumseagreen “Unable to support himself and children as a bard, he gave up and returned to his circle of huntsmen. As we traveled together they taught me how to use a bow and to some extent a sword. Though Eugene was always better at that than myself. We lived like that for years, but the condition of the world was steadily declining around us. Hard working people, not just the orphans, were starving. It broke Eugene’s heart. Like Gregory, he cares about these things. Me, I just knew that my family was being wronged.”]
Her bright green eyes went from person to person, they all seemed to be listening intently. [+mediumseagreen “Backed by these motivations, we decided to do something about it. We did what we always did, travel. But now we incited rebellion into the hearts of the people as we went. The country was falling to ruin around us because of a thoughtless and selfish king, so it was not hard… When we had the support we needed, there was war."] That part was kept succinct. [+mediumseagreen "I personally took the head of the king in hopes of reforming the government as a whole, but the majority wanted to stick to traditions. They called for a monarch. I was the first choice, but I had no business or want to be Queen, so it fell to my brother. He has the better temperament too, so it worked out.”] That was about it, she thought, aside from the obvious. [+mediumseagreen “I met an influential man from Wistina a few years later. I followed him back to his country and we were wed from his home.”] And that was that.
[+mediumseagreen “So tell me you two.”] She called on Adrian and Augustine. [+mediumseagreen “Do you believe any of it?”] Smiling coyly, she continued. [+mediumseagreen “I very much hope not. As you would be fools to do so… but I do believe I entertained you with my tall tale, so I hope it shall suffice for now.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The stories from Adrian had rattled on for some good time before he felt he was stroking his ego that little bit much and wished to divert the spotlight to his new companions. Even Elizabeth was grateful when he showed humility at last and opened the floor to the others to explain their pasts some and to give details of themselves that he lapped up with great gusto. After all, he loved stories, he loved to hear how people came to be how they were and listening to them all, save Augustine who did not feel like he had much to say – and Adrian did not press him to answer – he was rather intrigued.
Gregory's answer was perhaps not this great tall tale of a wise man who had seen the world and come back with a plethora of mighty adventures. But it was rather sweet that he had turned from hunting to being a bard to earn his living, doing something that he enjoyed if not loved and making it his career. It was wonderful to see such passion in people and he was definitely eager for a personal concert from the skilled musician.
But it was Florence who intrigued him most with her answer of being little more than a housewife. Looking at her with a raised brow he was sceptical at best that she was sharing even the least amount of truth and looking over to her found himself smiling a little incredulously.[+crimson “Come now, I would believe anything you say for I have no reason to doubt you.”] He was being truthful there. She had started as his most aggressive enemy in this group perhaps even equal with Nicolai. But in a day he felt he was within those defensive walls and beginning to learn about her.
The elf in question was surprised to hear her give away such a cryptic clue and his fear that she would divulge their real identities only great further. Looking about them as if still on guard, he made a few glances behind in this pretence. He shouldn't have. Because looking back on the woman in question he could see her staring across at this red-eyed menace and a smile played at her lips as she did. He had the same soft expression and it did not take hysteria from the former general to see there was a fondness on their faces. Whipping back around in his seat he ran his gloves hands up through his hair, perspiring that little more – perhaps it was still a little warm for this clothing but his hair slicked back and he returned to his flask to drink some more.
Perhaps if he had been more inclined to believe he was within a chance of receiving such a reaction from her, he may have dropped back at that point and like a defensive, prideful man, have sought to place himself between them or offer his own stories of his bravery and adventures to match the other mans. He would fight for her attention and her adoration and to receive such a warm and generous look. Yet like a heavy stone in his chest, his heart couldn't bare to do so. It was as if he was telling himself [i why bother?] and his mind was agreeing to his emotions. His stories would not match up, his bravado would come off as pompous, his desperation for her attention would be all that more apparent. So Nicolai did as he had that day; he stayed silent, he stayed alone up front.
Adrian was still smiling across to her and rolled his eyes playfully.[+crimson “You can't just leave me with that teaser can you? Because it is highly unfair.”] A generous chuckle left his lips and catching her eye for even a moment he flushed at how her head had dipped at touch, looking up at him that bit more.[+crimson “I have shared so much, as has Gregory, I would love to hear more about you Florence.”] He looked to meet her eye again.
Flushing at his comment, she was glad he looked away and towards Gregory. Based off his personality alone, Florence was sure she would be teased mercilessly if he caught her blushing at such a small comment. Knowing that, it made things a little harder to clear her head, but she managed by the time Adrian was thrown into tales of his exploits. Though the volume of stories he told did not surprise her, as he was a great talker; she was astounded by how many of them seemed to be true. Or at the very least how many Elizabeth confirmed. She had only traveled with him two years, so she could not vouch for everything, but with how little she corrected him on what she knew, Florence was inclined to believe his other stories were based in truth as well.
Augustine was eating it up. Being a young boy, he could listen to tales of valor and glory all day. It made him even more eager to grow up and become strong himself. When that day came he would be able to return to Wistina and actually do something about that usurper Vincent and the Taken who were helping him. It was frustrating to be so young in the midst of this chaos. And while it was true people were starting to take him seriously, he was still left out of a lot.
Finishing up with his grandiose saga, Adrian thought it was someone else’s turn. Not that he wasn’t having fun, but he would love to learn more about these fine folks. [+crimson, “Well, I think that is enough about me for a while. What about everyone else? What did you all do before setting out on this quest.”] He looked between everyone, even glancing over at Nicolai’s back. The pale gentleman was not opposed to hearing about him either. Perhaps that would offer some insight as to why he was so damn petulant.
Gregory was the one to speak up. [+darkmagenta “When I was younger I was a huntsman.”] Though he spoke as if it was a long time ago, that was what he until he reached his early fifties. [+darkmagenta “I traveled across Astoria with a group a little bigger than this, selling whatever we shot in excess. It was pleasant enough, but I always dreamed of earning a living with stories and songs. So some time ago I made the switch.”] He reached down to pat the instrument that was strapped the side of the horse. [+darkmagenta “Though there are those who tell me I am not very good at it.”] He threw a look over to Florence who shrugged. The old man knew that she meant it, but he took consolation in knowing that deep down she liked his music, even with all his fumbling.
[+crimson “They say it is never too late to chase a dream, if nothing else you are a testament to that.”] Adrian joked, but he did think it was inspirational. [+crimson “I will have to hear you play, so that I can judge for myself if you are so bad as they say.”] His red eyes followed Gregory’s gaze over to Florence. She was shaking her head.
[+mediumseagreen “Do not encourage him.”]
He laughed. [+crimson “I am afraid it is too late for that.”] giving himself a bit of time to calm, Adrian continued. [+crimson “What about you, Florence. You look like a woman with a couple of stories.”]
The man called on her directly, so it would be harder to avoid answering. She did not know if that was intentional, but it seemed Florence would need to scrounge something up. [+mediumseagreen “I do think I should be offended by such a comment. I have been little more than a housewife this past decade.”] She was met with a skeptical look. [+mediumseagreen “It is the truth, but yes my life was rather different before that point… I do not think you would believe me if I told you the half of it though.”]
Normally she would not have even been that open. Florence would have left it at her being a wife and nothing more, but for the last several days she had been preparing herself to open up. Nicolai had asked her to be receptive to him, not to block him out when he tried to get to know her. She was not the type to rattle on about herself with no prompting, so all this time she had been expecting him to ask, but he never did. Instead it was Adrian, and it made her more conscious of him. Perhaps it was the groundwork that the violet-eyed man had laid down to put her in this mindset, but she was beginning to see the good-humored man in favorable light. One that made her heart quicken when he looked at her.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The moment Nicolai had seen it was indeed Adrian and Elizabeth, he had known the eventual outcome. He wouldn't put it past any of the other three to have told them of this plan to join up on the road and simply happen upon one another as a mere coincidence. And indeed after only a little while of the duo riding behind them, the voice of Florence carried up to Nicolai showing she was asking them to join in a formal manner.
It took great strength of will not to turn his horse back and inform the pairing they could take the lead, they would wait here and therefore keep them all apart. It was the safer option; not just for the Wistina quartet but the travelling pair too. These were relative strangers and it was wrong to trust them so much just because the man had purchased them a single meal and chatted with them for half a days ride. And it was dangerous to invite others in on their problems with the Taken, whomever they were as at that moment in time Florence had still yet to fully explain whom they were. Still, if they were hunting him, he knew they were bad, and that was enough.
Keeping his pace at the front, Nicolai remained silent still, continuing to sup from the canteen, making sure to shake it thoroughly before each drink. The group behind had drifted back to their usual chatter, Gregory conversing with Elizabeth a little though it was still Adrian who did the most talking with his booming voice that at times irked the elf more than usual; they were meant to be keeping a low profile right?
On that note, how long would it be before Florence revealed whom they all were? With how trusting and happy she was in the company of the red-eyed male, it was a matter of when not if she gave the information over. How would he react? What would he say? [i When would they kiss?] His eyes shut tightly and he raised a hand to his head as a sharp pain ran up his spine and pulsated in his skull. Where had that thought come from he was certain he did not know, or perhaps was trying to kid himself that he did not [i want] to know. Massaging his temple he let out a deep sigh and tried to focus on his scanning the road ahead.
Adrian laughed aloud with delight at seeing Augustine with his knife at his side, the boy looking utterly delighted to have a weapon and a means of defending himself – his very own blade! Grinning widely the tall man clapped in a humorous manner.[+crimson “Very good young man! It is a fine blade too. Just remember; only draw upon it as a last option and if you mean to do harm. I'm sure you know it is no toy after all.”] His word to the wise was met with a vigorous nod of agreement and his small hand patted the grip lightly.[+crimson “Excellent. Now we have five excellent warrior, able to fight off whatever life can throw at us.”] The slender brow of Elizabeth furrowed.[+royalblue “There are six of us Adrian.”] Looking back at her he shook his head as a half laugh escaped him.[+crimson “Ah, of course,”] turning back forward he cupped a hand to his mouth,[+crimson “apologies Nicolai. Had forgotten you were still here.”] He jokingly called as if the elf was miles away and not ten meters or so.
It brought amusement to Gregory and Augustine smiled too at the simple joke, though he was a touch concerned at how the elf just ignored everything that went on behind him. He still felt guilty for the night before, even though he had apologised immediately. Though he had felt like he would be struck by the elf for what he'd done, seeing an anger in his eyes he'd never seen before, he knew in his heart the man would not hurt him and it had just been a natural reaction to the pain. Still, he was glad for Adrian's assistance and protection and looked over to the man with a beaming smile as if thanking him silently.
[+crimson “I meant to say, you all look rather fetching in your new attire. It's good to see you in something more fitting for travel Florence. Though the dress was beautiful on you, it was not exactly practical.”] Looking over to her he was complimentary of Augustine too in his warmer clothing, not looking to win fervour with the woman though not opposed to doing so. She was strikingly beautiful and his desire to stick with this group stemmed perhaps a touch from wanting to talk with her more. Yet it was Gregory who took his attention away, a last fleeting look and smile to the woman before he grinned to his new dwarven friend who inquired to some of his previous battles and skirmishes fighting back the dredges of society – all of which Elizabeth was called upon for clarification on details and validating the fables as true, or correcting him where she could.
Catching movement form the corner of her eye, Florence turned to see Gregory running toward them. It was alarming on its own, but he had news that there were riders in the distance, which amplified the feeling.
She looked off the way they came and saw dark colors. It immediately reminded her of the group that had attacked them before crossing the boarder. Hand going to her back, the woman mentally prepared for a fight. But before she could bring the bow around. She caught Augustine’s voice. He mentioned that the figure off in the distance looked like Elizabeth. Her green eyes went to the second figure. He was right; her distinct sunshine locks were dazzling in the light of day. The two continued to ride this way.
[+mediumseagreen “Well, they seem to be making good pace.”] There was no telling how long they left after their own group, but the fact that they had caught up was a clear indication of that they were doing well on time. Florence thought it probably had to do with the two of them being more adapted riders. Adrian and Elizabeth didn’t need to slow down so often. Their muscles were probably used to the abuse.
The two made it to them within a few minutes and dismounted as well. Adrian was smiling away. He joked about how long it had been since they had seen each other. It was well received with Augustine, but most of the adults just rolled their eyes.
[+coral “Are you following us?”] There was amusement in the boy’s voice.
[+crimson “Of course not. We just happen to both be headed toward Mayfair pass, it cannot be helped that we should cross paths from time to time.”] Once again, the other adults were rolling their eyes at his antics, though that was not to say a few of them did not also find humor in it like Augustine.
Other than that, there was not a lot of ceremony to the joining of groups and there wasn’t any when they parted again either. It was a quick goodbye and the silence consumed them once again. At least for another hour or so, then it seemed to be that the others had caught up again. Florence thought they would pass, since they had a faster pace set. But it seemed as soon as reach about twenty paces behind them, they slowed to match their speed. The woman had a good idea what they were up to, but she gave them the benefit of the doubt for a little longer. Perhaps they were slowing to give their legs a break like Nicolai had been doing for them… she doubted it.
After a fair few miles, her suspicions were confirmed. They had no plans to pass. Sighing, Florence ran a hand through her dark chestnut hair. [+mediumseagreen “You know, if you are going to be at this the whole way, you might as well just join us.”] Her voice was raised so that she could be heard from some distance away.
The hoof beats behind them quickened until the two merged, growing their group back to six. [+crimson “How could we say no with you insisting like that.”] The man spoke through grinning lips.
Florence brought a hand to her face, cradling it as she shook her head. She sighed again. [+mediumseagreen “Just don’t say that I did not warn you if things get precarious.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai gave each of them a look to make sure they were settled and ready, allowing each a final moment to make any requests before they left. When no such order came, he led them out at a walk to ease their horses into the travel. It would not take them long to get up to a good steady trot that would keep them making steady progress but not wear the horses out especially with extra baggage now. Every hour or so he would slow them to a walk ostensibly to help the riders. A long journey could be havoc on the hips and backside and slowing down would allow feeling to return some.
They did not carry much food on them, as Gregory and Florence were quite adamant they would be able to hunt for their food – and a rabbit a day or a deer now and then would be good for them – but Nicolai had prepared for them to come back empty handed. Biscuits and hard tack would give them energy even if they were bland and not at all an appetising meal. But they would last quite a long time.
Staying several meters ahead of them, his eyes were continually looking around their pathway, making sure they were not to be ambushed or that whomever was operating the hawks had not thought to head up this pass to confront them before they went in. It left him separate from the others and their talks but he did not mind all that much. Sipping continually on his flask, he was rather content to remain out of their hair. Playing the guard was much simpler than playing the friend. He could detach himself emotionally and focus on a purely tactical approach.
After a few hours of good pace he stopped them off at the end of a clearing, giving them good sight behind them as he got them off their saddles to have a little stretch. It was during this time, whilst Nicolai was filling his flask from a brook and placing something inside it, that Gregory – on guard – had stood up and stepped back several steps. Squinting harshly it made Nicolai regret putting the man out on watch. He could not exactly discern what he was seeing but called on the others to tell them someone was coming.
Dashing back up the small slope to them, Nicolai was keen to get his eyes on the problem at hand. He needn't have bothered however as it was Augustine who reacted first and with the eyes of youth he noticed something; bright golden hair.[+darkorange “That looks like Elizabeth, right mother?”] He was speaking more in hypotheticals but he was not yet to know he was absolutely right, as the second and much larger figure of Adrian became more apparent. His hand raised and he waved it back and forth in greeting as they kept a steady pace up to the foursome.
Nodding back to Nicolai to signal she understood, Florence decided to give a final farewell to Elizabeth and Adrian since they were there. The tall man brought up his offer to ride on together one more time, but she politely declined and assured him they would be fine on their own. Augustine’s spirit dampened a bit at her answer, though he did his best to keep a smile on as he said goodbye.
As much as they were all loath to part, the olive skinned woman kept the ordeal short and sweet. They really did need to be getting out of town. So she ushered Gregory and her son back towards their horses just as soon as each of them had a chance to say their part.
Mounting and coming back together with Nicolai, it was officially time to set off. Once a ways off, Augustine turned to wave to the couple they left behind as they faded off into the distance. It was strange losing friends like this, or that he considered them friends at all. They had known each other for all of one day and he was already very partial to the pair. His mother, looking down on him from behind did feel a bit bad, but she still thought this would be for the best. She wrapped her arms around the boy and gave him a light squeeze. The woman hoped that her want to comfort him was properly conveyed.
Finally, the four of them were on their way. They were making progress towards Astoria at last. And for Florence, it was beginning to feel real. So long as they kept on course, and nothing too disastrous came to pass, she would finally be able to see her brother again. Not only that, but he would be able to meet her son. And Augustine would meet his cousins. It was a happy thought that he might finally have some children around his age to play with. Though she was fairly certain he was the oldest. Eugene hadn’t exactly kept in contact with her, but seeing as he was a king, she heard things down the grapevine.
It was quiet. Well, every once in a while Gregory would pipe up about something and strike up a conversation with Augustine or Florence, but it never lasted. Normally that sort of thing did not bother the woman, but right now it felt like something was missing, that there should have been something other than silence to fill the void. It was dreadful, however she could not put her finger on why she felt this way. She considered trying to do something about it herself. To talk to Nicolai, who was just a little ways out front, but she did not. Florence did not want to risk fighting with him again and making things even more awkward. It was quite the predicament and this feeling persisted for hours.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai was unsure if there was an ulterior motive to her words. Never was anything simple between them and never was there not a mind game being played. The manner in which she had swept into the stable and confronted him was with anger and annoyance and yet now she was complimenting his new attire? He found it rather to be quite peculiar and he was unsure how she had expected him to react. And this is what often happened between them. One of them entered the conversation at a heightened and emotional level, the other felt defensive and attacked and retaliated, an argument ensured and they parted.
At one time he had thought she enjoyed the sparing and the back and forth and that their butting of heads was helpful to her getting out her stress and frustration. But over this journey he had found she just seemed to continually berate him for every small issue possible. Even when he actively avoided them to keep the peace, went out early to buy their supplies, set up all three horses and did so without help – she found a means of making it out like he was doing her a disservice.
In truth, he was tired of tiptoeing around and the confrontation with Adrian last night had been quite therapeutic. In a way it was a shame the man was not coming along just to keep her preoccupied, keep her happy in a way he seemingly couldn't. Now he would be back to avoiding her to avoid the argument. Why hadn't he kept his mouth shut at the farm?
Left to go about the remainder of his work he eyed Adrian as he entered to finish getting his horse set up as he liked it. Elizabeth remained like a barrier between them and occasionally would look across to Nicolai as if by gaze alone she could convince him to remain calm and not start anything. But he was done the moment he had sat down in his room the night before. He wished she had been alone and they could have her join them by herself. Pity.
When the others returned he nodded for the them to get their horses, making no comment on the change in clothing or the knives that hung from the belts of mother and child. He knew if he said anything it would be seen in a different light. Perhaps a few days of limited talk and limited interactions may give them a more neutral and level emotional field. Or it would send her off the edge and she would yell and complain at him for that. But time would tell and he quietly made his way out the stable, past the other two, taking his horse out to use a stand outside to help him on his horse.
Leaving the others to make any additional farewells he seated himself up on his horse and grabbed a set of gloves he had procured with his ensemble. It would keep him warm and hide any paleness to his skin to abate any worry from the woman. Content to await the others, he cracked his neck and sat back a little against his supplies to support the small of his back.
[+mediumseagreen “Thank you.”] There was genuine gratitude in her voice as he agreed to keep her more in the loop to his whereabouts. He wore a similar look of defeat as he had the night before. Florence wondered if he was actually reflecting on what happened or if this was just the next stage of his outburst. Only time would tell. But of all the mood swings she had encountered with Nicolai, this one was as tolerable as any of them.
He passed her along some coin and she thanked him again. [+mediumseagreen “I will try to be timely so that we can leave as soon as possible.”] She looked over his outfit, and wondered if it would give any indication of what she would find in this place. If it were, she would not mind. [+mediumseagreen “Hopefully our search is as fruitful as yours. You look nice.”] She offered the compliment with no ulterior motive. Florence really did think it suited him.
With that pleasantry, she also wanted to inquire to how he was feeling. Clearly his shoulder was still bothering him, but every other time she had asked he had avoided her question or reacted badly. So she bit her tongue, thinking this time would be no different. It was discontenting, but she nodded him a farewell and headed back to the inn to get the others. She really did want to get this over with so that they could be on their way.
Just where she left them, Augustine and Gregory were both ready to leave when the tall woman returned. The boy wore a look of worry, but it soon faded when she informed them that she had indeed found Nicolai and now they were off too find something suitable to wear in town. It was a quick trip to the tailor only three buildings down, just as the elf had instructed. The shop was neatly laid out. Most if not all the merchandise was displayed in an organized manner. It made finding what they needed quick and easy.
Stonebrook must have been a common stop on the way to the pass, because despite it being summer there were warm clothes aplenty. Fitting something to Augustine, Florence let Gregory find what he pleased. And once her boy was all set, she set out to dress herself. A dusty magenta tunic with green trim caught her eye. It was a great deal shorter than what she was wearing, but the weave was thicker. Layered with a few other things it would do just fine. Though, it was a little strange to be wearing pants. It had been years since Florence had been put in anything that was not a full-length gown.
Gregory, already dressed for travel, settled for a thick coat. He would use it when they came closer to the pass and the air got chillier, but for now he was content. With all of them decided, Florence paid the man who had been watching them from the counter. It was a fair price, and like Nicolai said there was some coin left over. She knew exactly what she wanted to get; they just needed to head a little farther into the marketplace to get it.
This would be a first for the blond child, as he had never been to a market of any sort. Servant were always sent out to fetch the things they needed in the castle, so everything was exciting to him as they walked passed all sorts of vendors. Most of the merchants wore big smiles, a ploy to look pleasant and ensnare customers. It was a harmless tactic among so many others that were deplorable, so Florence could not fault them with their fake grins. She even stopped at one of the stalls so that she could grab some form of street food they were selling. It would make a quick and easy breakfast for them.
After that, they stopped at a blacksmith’s. All that she was after was a couple of daggers. Nothing fancy, but something to carry on them. The man at the forge was very helpful, though he kept asking if it was for her husband. She went ahead and lied saying that they were. It was easier than explaining the actual situation, though it was grating. Florence pushed to make the transaction quick, but added a few kind words here to procure a better deal. It worked. And they walked out with a blade for each of them. Fastening one to Augustine’s belt, she smiled. [+mediumseagreen “Now you will not have to borrow Nicolai’s, but you had better be careful with it.”] He nodded in response and started their way back to the stables to meet the elfin man who was waiting for them.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai continued about his preparations and getting the horses ready with saddles and reins. Elizabeth continued her own check list of work and not too long after he had seen the tall brunette step into the doorway. With only a few whispered words with his partner, he had soon left however, only casting a glance to Nicolai perhaps in warning for him not to start anything a new.
He had paused during his work to watch the duo, knowing what was being said was about him, but regardless he kept silent and did not move to approach them. They were two strangers to him and he would not look to start conversation with them now that they were on the verge of leaving. It did give him some hope they would be away and gone. Their fleeting appearance had pushed him off kilter and left a bitter taste in his mouth; though perhaps that should be an ever more bitter taste as he was quite grouchy of late even before they had appeared.
Adrian for his part was careful to remain nearby but out of sight of the elven man. He wanted to be near if required for Elizabeth's sake, but he did not wish to start the fight that had been avoided the night before. After having seen Florence and her son off to bed he had thought over the incident and still could not shake the dread of leaving that man in her presence. Upon seeing the woman in question his face had lit up and his posture improved, clearly more than happy to see her once more and with her querying gaze he had directed her in.
Nicolai was at his own horse, a hoof between his knees as he used a hoof pick to clean it out and scrape away debris left inside. Looking up as Florence confronted him, there was a very quick and terse response to be given. Somewhere along the lines of 'when did you become my mother?' or 'you are not Queen any more, I do not answer to you'. But, still feeling as he did the night before and quite sore in the shoulder, as if the pain was penitence for his actions to Augustine, he nodded along to her words in a meek manner.[+teal “Of course, I will do so next time; here.”] Reaching to his waist where his sword still hung, he retrieved a pouch.
Holding it out to her, it was filled with gold coin – or at least twenty pieces – and tied off with a piece of twine.[+teal “You should get Gregory and Augustine and purchase clothing – there is a clothing shop three stops down from the tavern. He has enough coin already to outfit you all so do not pay him any extra, but that is for if you think of and need anything else.”] He kept his talk short and his voice low, watching her a little longer to see if she would say or do anything else.
When no answer came, Florence did indeed let herself in. She was glad that the door was not locked, though it looked as though Nicolai was already up and at it. That or he had been snatched out of his bed with all this things. It was not certain, but the tall woman was inclined to believe it was the former. Though that still bore multiple options. The elfin man was either getting them ready to go, or had turned tail and left without them. Perhaps back to Helga’s? After the catastrophe that was the night before, it could have been. She would not know for sure until they went to the stables. If his horse was gone, she would assume the worse and they would have to continue on with just the three of them. If that were the case she might have to take Adrian up on his offer.
Not wanting to be too hasty with things, the demoted queen returned to the others. She relayed what she had seen of the dark-haired man’s room.
[+darkmagenta “Empty? What do you mean his room was empty.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Just that. Nicolai seems to have already left the inn.”]
[+darkmagenta “Where did he go?”] Gregory was so full of useless questions. But at least he was awake and asking them. So there was that.
[+mediumseagreen “I do not know, he did not exactly leave a note.”] Augustine looked at her, concerned. He was already blaming himself that Nicolai might have abandoned them. [+mediumseagreen “I will go and check the stables to make sure he did not just leave.”]
[+darkmagenta “What do you mean leave?!”] Apparently the thought hadn’t crossed Gregory’s optimistic mind, but Florence was out of the room before he finished the question. If Augustine could put it together, she was certain he could too if he was willing to put even a modicum of thought into it.
In the full light of day, everything looked different. Sure it hadn’t been dark when they rolled into town, but the faded light of dusk did play tricks on the mind. Not to mention the settlement was much more bustling now. Florence hadn’t been expecting it, since the night before was rather tame. But in the end it was not bad enough to stop her from getting where she wanted to go: the stables.
Outside, there was a familiar face, but it was not the one she was looking for. Cocking her head, as if to asked what he was doing Adrian laughed lightly at her. [+crimson “Good morning to you too.”] Letting his chest settle fully after the chuckling, he didn’t delay answering her any longer. [+crimson “I thought scenes might arise unpleasant if I went in.”] He motioned to the entrance as he explained. [+crimson “Did not stop Elizabeth though. He won’t scare her off.”] A smile came with the odd joke, but it was enough to tell Florence what she wanted to know.
Nodding in thanks, the woman pressed on in and sure enough there was Nicolai. He was dressed very much differently than she had last seen him. Though he had also been without a shirt at that time. She did not dwell on it. [+mediumseagreen “So here you are. You could leave a message next time, so that we do not worry so much.”] Looking passed him and to the horse, it was already loaded down with all sorts of gear and supplies. He must have taken the liberty of going into town as well. And here she was doubting his resolve to stay with them. Florence felt bad, just only the tiniest bit.
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