[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat So this wasn't over it seemed. Where had thought he was being compliant and doing as ordered, he had stumbled over the fox hole and the vixen was out barking at him again. It was an unfair comparison but it sat well on his mind as she rattled what she believed she had done for him.
Nicolai could have easily fended off everything she proclaimed to have done for him, citing several examples to most of them where she had in fact done the opposite. At least in his mind he could. No doubt she would rebuff them as she had their previous argument weeks before. He was careful not to stray into that territory again. And he was truly not in the mood for another mental battle with a woman who thrived in such circumstances. She was better prepared at it than him.
Giving her the chance to finish, and several seconds of silence to follow, his head dropped a touch and he shuffled across to one of the benches that ran down the middle of the room. A deep sigh deflated his chest and he glanced up at her.
[+teal “Quite honestly; I am scared. Perhaps closer to terrified.”] There was no fight in the man, no argument, he wasn't out to test her resolve or her compassion or her temperament. She wanted to know what was wrong with him, so here it was.[+teal “I am not from this world. Any of this, the backhanded tactics, the need for alliances, the secret deals, marriages built on social pressures and everything else. This is your world. It is your life. You have lived and breathed this way of life for so long it is like second nature to you. But not to me.”]
His hands joined together on his lap, staring down at them as his fingers writhe against one another like distressed worms pulled from the ground.[+teal “I cannot sleep, too afraid I will have my throat cut in the night. Or eat if I do not prepare it myself. Every corner, every archway, every room is a possible ambush location. And whom do I have to protect me or listen to my qualms? You have Gregory, Meredith and more. I am left to fend for myself.”] He could see her argument against this coming and he shook his head, raven hair swaying lightly.
[+teal “You are not here for me. You are here for Augustine and him alone. I am a tool in your battle to get him on the throne and nothing more. I do not blame you at all or think ill of you for it. It is not of your cause or fault. In fact if I were in your position I should think I would do the same. But like any tool, once it becomes redundant, it is left aside, discarded. I have to plan for that time where my use to you is no more than symbolic. And it terrifies me.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Thank you.”] She could easily see that he wasn’t all too pleased with the task. Once again he seemed to want to help, but only in certain ways. If he had grander ambitions, he should have opted to play guard dog for the Prince. Despite his back and forth-ing, it didn’t appear as though he was trying to be two-faced, though there was little else she could deduce from his actions.
She thought about leaving right then and there, however she stopped. [+mediumseagreen “Actually, yes.”] Since he had expressed such great fondness for their quarrelling, it was the only way she felt she could properly get through to him. [+mediumseagreen “Why, exactly, are you so determined to be bitter about everything I do and ask of you?”] Staring down his false front of a smile, she did not reflect the emotion, even on a superficial level. [+mediumseagreen “Even now, as you are the one direct line I have to one of Gabriel’s most tender spots, you look as though I’ve done you a disservice. If it is so much of a problem, why did you offer to go off to meet her? As I recall you were so resolute at the time that you asked to work on your own if neither Gregory or I could be affiliated with the task.”] Florence was at her wits end with the elf.
Her voice stayed flat, as she knew this was not a place to yell, but her words had a cutting edge. [+mediumseagreen “I have tried giving you space, relying on you, keeping to myself, having a civil conversation with you, listening to your advice, taking said advice, but none of it seems to satisfy you. I don’t think there is a soul alive who has called themselves my ally and then given me so much grief.”] If he weren’t such a crucial piece to this puzzle, she would have cut him off ages ago. But the fact was that he was useful, a crucial connection to some of the best-trained men in the militia. Every once in a while he came off as competent as well, a glimpse at what she had thought was his true nature. She would go so far to say that she thought they would get along, but it was all so buried beneath this childishness that she could barely stand it; she could barely stand him.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai could not recall a time he had saved the young Prince’s life. There had been occasions he had stopped the boy being harmed, but saving his life was stretching the facts to their limit. Yet now was not a time for petty semantics however. Again with permission he took his leave, both Gregory and Florence offered swift bows of his head in some manner of respect before he left them be, turning down a corridor away from the duo and in an opposite directly to Vincent.
It seemed the duo were not to be separated for long however, coming together at the main entrance to the keep and the pairing even walked for a little time, though in complete silence. Leaving under the gatehouse the Marquis was the first to speak, only once he had stopped and the Duke in turn obliged him and turned back.
[+blue “I should think you had something to do with today’s proceedings.”] His eyes narrowed to thin slits.
[+teal “The decision is the Queen’s and hers alone. I may have offered my opinion on the matter, but it was left solely in her hands.”] It was the truth yet the small smile he wore simply to grate on the other man’s nerves is what stirred his animosity more.
[+blue “You know it means nothing. It changes nothing. Things will progress as they were and now efforts will re-double.”]
[+teal “Hmm, is that so? What is it that is currently progressing Marquis?”] His feigned ignorance jabbed at the other man, a vein in his temple throbbing.
[+blue “Oh how I will revel and delight in what is to happen to you.”] His word choice was careful and his sneer turned to an impish smile. Nicolai stepped closer, head cocking to one side as his brow rose.
[+teal “Is that a threat by chance?”] His eyes were calm and he wanted the man to confirm it so.
[+blue “Most certainly not, merely a whimsical turn of phrase.”] He stepped down as expected.
[+teal “I should think so. I would not like to add physical pain to your emotional trauma of today.”] His elven smile growing he steps backwards, nodding his head in farewell before he turns and departs off into the town proper.
The rest of the day was spent reading through several ledgers he had taken from the record stores, more trivial matters that the record keeper was not too worried about having returned. It was tedious work, especially once the night came and he read by many candles, but it kept his mind busy and the day and night slipped by quickly. He was only just back from that mornings training when one of his Lieutenants had come seeking him out. A touch disgruntled at being disturbed with ‘news’, of which nothing in the place anymore was every worth listening to, he was informed of the Queens presence in the armoury, that she was here to meet with him.
It was a place she had never been to – at least to his recollection. Nor had she shown any interest in anything military in the years she had been here. But people changed. Perhaps not Florence, ever, but most people could change. Humouring his own curiosity he had washed and dressed appropriately to go and greet the unique tourist to his little hideaway. Thankfully she was not disturbing Nestrom – he was rather difficult to calm once his blood pressure was up. He remained silent as he was expected to, letting her speak first and nodding his head.
[+teal “He was not particularly keen on any woman being around the barracks or armoury, not just you. In his mind, it distracted the men and war was no place for a woman.”] Germaine was a traditionalist in most senses. Women had their jobs, men their own, neither should do the others work and the two genders should not mix. Nicolai was not inclined to change such actions as indeed it kept things simple and ticking over without much managerial input. His pointed ears perked up at the mentioning of her having a task for him, though in typical fashion he wondered just how pointless it would be.
Whilst it was pointless to an extent it was rather interesting. What she had in store for Lillian he would perhaps never find out – or find out through whispers and the cryptic wording of Gregory. What the gift would comprise of was not mentioned but she held his interest and he nodded along to her further requests. The woman was all but wrapped about his finger already so he indulged the Queen’s task. In his mind, despite the interest in the role itself, he was disgruntled to have gone from a respectable General to playing currier-boy.
[+teal “I understand and it will be done, Your Highness. I will take the gift across to her later today once it is ready. I am sure she will be delighted by your kind gesture.”] Like a good pliant man he wore a warm smile, though she was shrewd enough to know it was not overly genuine, more as a mask to hide his more uncivilised looks.[+teal “Is there anything else you wish to discuss?”] He was not actively seeking to leave this time, given this was more his domain, but to excuse himself when she knew his lack of tasks was easily derivable from how quickly he had arrived here.
Honestly, Florence was taken aback. After all that, the men in front of her didn’t look happy in the least. It seemed as though Nicolai wanted to be rid of them just as soon as he could be, Augustine included. She raised a brow at him. [+mediumseagreen “I do recall that you also saved his life on an occasion or two, but if you are not up to the task then so be it.”] She was aware that he had other irons in the fire, the ones concerning finding where to apply pressure to Gabriel. It wasn’t as though he could drag the Prince along for that.
Then he tried to excuse himself. [+mediumseagreen “Very well…”] She let him leave, but could not fathom why he was in such a mood. He’d given her his opinion and she listened to it. Now he was sulking. Just as soon as he made it out of sight she turned to Gregory. [+mediumseagreen “What in the hell was that about?”]
[+darkmagenta “Apparently he fears he is prone to be targeted in lieu of Augustine now that Vincent has been rejected.]
[+mediumseagreen “Perhaps he should have mentioned that the other day when we talked about all this.”] Rolling her eyes, she thought him flippant. ‘Don’t get married, your not in love,’ he said, and then was irritated when she did as he asked. Not to mention he’d previously been irritated that she had ‘ignored’ him. What was wrong with that elf? She was greatly missing her allies back in Astoria.
[+mediumseagreen “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t…”] She complained under her breath before dismissing Gregory to go start his watch. For the rest of the day she tried to think of some sort of task to set Nicolai up with. She needed a new method of handling him, because obviously when left to his own devices he became insufferable. By the next day she had something.
Florence made her way down to the barracks, the most likely place to find the man. On her way she walked through the armory, looking at the array of sparkling clean equipment. Most of which she was sure had never been used. All the same, it was pleasant to look at. As she took her time, she received many confused looks from the soldiers who passed, most of respectfully bowing to her before moving on. More than one of the gentlemen stopped to ask if she needed anything. She dismissed them saying that she was here to find Nicolai. Yet another conundrum to the men as before this point she hadn’t done anything of the sort before to avoid suspicion. Now she saw little point in trying to hide meeting with her allies. The enemy knew which side she stood firmly on.
One of the soldiers must have sought out the general to pass along the fact that she was there, because he arrived after not too long. The Queen wasn’t done looking about though, so she took her time. [+mediumseagreen “You know, I am not sure I have ever been in here… I was previously not allowed; Germaine thought it too dangerous a place for me.”] It wasn’t as though she was out to touch or play with anything so she saw little sense in it. Though, he did lose his last wife to some sort of accident, and the first to illness, so that might have been the source of his paranoia.
Giving herself a while more, she spoke again when she was through. [+mediumseagreen “I would like you to do something for me.”] She looked directly into his vibrant violet eyes. [+mediumseagreen I am putting together a basket of sorts, I would like you to give it to Miss. Lillian as a gift. Whatever excuse is fine, but make sure it is set somewhere easily visible. I want Gabriel to know we’ve been there.] Florence was already setting up to fill it with things that would link back to herself. The Viscount would get her point. [+mediumseagreen “After that keep tabs on her, if Gabriel tries to move her from the city for any reason, let me know immediately so I can extend her an invitation to the castle as my personal guest.”] Because of her rank they wouldn’t be able to refuse and Florence could keep the young lady here as long as she wanted. It was only a matter of playing up the need for more companionship after the loss of her husband.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The rest of his day was spent in some form of relaxation or another. At first it was sitting out in the sun in his private garden from before, eyes closed and taking deep breaths to stave off the need to break and smash items in a careless rage. His night was spent in a continually recycled steaming bath. The heat of the water was something that eased his aches and let his body unwind and the tension flow away. Given the rarity of having enough water of sufficient temperature to bathe like this, as opposed to a bucket and a damp cloth for washing, it was something he took full advantage of.
The next few days were mostly spent away from the keep and Nicolai was back in his semi self seclusion. He left Augustine to Gregory to look after; it would give the Dwarf something to do and he had proven he was more than up to the task. And yet the one time he was intercepted by the small man he is immediately hauled off. He could feel his foul mood coming back.
Standing close to where the Queen was making her announcement there was some trepidation as to what decision she had made. For a while he assumed she would only go these lengths if she was accepting his proposal, taking the route that gave immediate safety to Augustine but had the greater danger in the future. Of course he was wrong however. When was this woman ever so predictable? She had made sure over the last two weeks to continually throw him with her somewhat erratic behaviour. This was no different.
Nicolai could quite imagine the Marquis' disgust and rage as he stormed from the room. Though he too revelled in the man's misery like his small accomplice, he was inanimate and stone faced to it all.
[+darkmagenta “What's chewing on you? I thought you would be delighted by this.”] The bard asked when he saw the Elf's face.
[+teal “In turning him down I now become more of a target to Vincent and Gabriel. If they cannot get to Augustine, they will go after another target to sate their thirst. I believe what she has just done, though the right choice, only slashes what time I have left.”] It was rather morose but he felt it best to be truthful to the other man; it was the lease he deserved.
When the Queen approached them a soft sigh left his lips and he looked to her with a slow nod, understanding her order though speaking before Gregory could.
[+teal “I am sure Gregory can take that role on personally. The boy dotes on him and it will be less suspicious to have him constantly around, not to mention he has saved the boys life once already.”] He spoke in a monotone voice, pointing down to the other man with his open palm before it goes back to being clasped behind his back.
The thought of her screaming did make him smile internally. It would be an emotion for one, a bit of character and a bit of life aside from cynical, morose, negative and callous – that was all she had been lately. He had tried to be different aspects to her. At first pliant and open, giving her his guidance and hand to keep things moving along - she had ignored him. Then he was argumentative, in some off chance that it would draw some fire from her and build adrenaline for her struggle against the Viscount and Marquis - she had grown angry at him and not the circumstances. Then servility, bowing down to her and offering his everything for her in her time of need - she had given him menial tasks to keep him away and occupied. And finally, he had been gentle, kind, open and true to her in the hopes it would bring some human emotion out of her - and yet it was to no improvement in her persona or her character. She was just empty.
What else could he do? She was becoming quite insufferable and whilst the older man at his side had come back around to being under her influence and swept aside their disagreement from days before, the General was only pulling further away. He was quite sure that if he delivered Gabriel and Vincent's heads on a platter she would be annoyed he had let a drop of blood land on the floor. There was no doing right with this woman.
[+teal “If there is nothing else I am needed for Your Majesty, I will take my leave.”] Very formal and proper. He wanted to be here no longer than absolutely necessary. He believed he could see she was also eager to have him, the fool, gone from her sight.
A smile crept onto the Dwarf’s face as the general walked away. That was unexpected, but he could confidently say he had a better opinion of the man now. Turning back the way he came, Gregory set on a different course, back to where he’d last seen Florence. Perhaps now she saw how great of a fool she was being? Though he wouldn’t know for certain until they talked again.
The elderly man entered the drawing room without a word. She was still sitting in the chair. He could tell she was thinking. Taking ahold of the other seat he pulled it up next to her. Pulling out another hand pie he offered it to her without a word.
[+mediumseagreen “I do not want that.”] This wasn’t the time for eating sweets.
He shook the crimped treat, insisting. [+darkmagenta “It’s blueberry.”]
Sighing, it was still early in the season for the fruit, but she took it regardless. The sugar added to the pastry helped to combat the tartness of the berries.
[+darkmagenta “You know, it turns out that elf isn’t so bad. He might actually be competent after all.”]
She waited to finish her bite of still warm pie before answering. [+mediumseagreen “I told you so... I am a better judge of character than you give me credit for.”] Sure, she had not accounted for his stubbornness, but she knew a decent man when she saw one.
[+darkmagenta “I told you so? Are you a child again?”] He chuckled at long past memories. [+darkmagenta “Florence.”] His town was serious, but not grave. [+darkmagenta “Please reconsider... As tempting as it might seem now, it won’t be worth the risk later on. You have the support you need to make the right choice. Between me and that damn elf, we should be able to keep the backlash at bay and find a way to counter. Even if it isn’t the way I originally wanted to do things.”] He placed a stocky hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently.
[+mediumseagreen “I know.. It is just so hard when I’ve bet my son’s life on the gamble I am making.”] She closed her eyes, picturing the boy’s sweet face, hoping that he might be able to keep that innocence a while longer. An unreasonable request, and one she had a very hard time leaving to others.
[+darkmagenta “Tell me about it.”] He looked at her accusatorily.
[+mediumseagreen “Oh, shut up.”] She smiled sincerely and swiftly punched him in the arm.
[+darkmagenta “Oof, be careful, I am old and fragile”] He rubbed his arm playfully.
They fell quiet after that, eating in silence until it was time to part.
Time passed quickly. Florence had made her choice, though she still wasn’t certain it was the correct one. Ce sera sera. She came early to the library and then she waited. Vincent rolled in about the time they last met. It was what she expected. The Marquis seemed rather gleeful. He must have had a confidence a thousand times bigger than any other person the woman had ever met. And she knew quite a few egoists.
[+blue “Your Majesty,”] he bowed, not as low as he should have in her opinion. [+blue “I am on pins and needles, you mustn’t make me wait.”]
[+mediumseagreen “I am sorry, but if you do not mind, it will be a moment longer. I would like to make the announcement in front of an audience.”] Her voice was sweet as the sugar in that pastry she’d eaten the other day.
A clear excitement flashed across his face. [+Blue “Of course, my dear.”] The term of endearment grated on her, but Florence didn’t let it show. She beckoned for him to follow after her. They were on their way to the center balcony that overlooked the main courtyard. She had called for much of the staff and local gentry to gather there. The great hall would have worked as well, but this way everyone would have a perfect view of her.
When he heard that the people were being gathered, Gregory had a very good feeling. Seeking out Nicolai, he greeted the elf with a smile. [+darkmagenta “Have you heard? We’re being called to the yard.”] His voice held a jovial singsong tone. [+darkmagenta “I do believe you are in for a show. Let’s get a better look, shall we?”] It really wasn’t a request. The bard half dragged the younger man through the halls. Waiting for Florence and Vincent to pass, he followed with Nicolai in tow. They stood just behind the open door to the balcony.
At the terrace, Florence looked down at the people who had come. It was nothing like a public announcement, where the common people were let in, but it suited her need. Waving her hand, she had the Marquis stand next to her.
[+mediumseagreen “Welcome.”] Her voice was loud; it commanded attention even from this distance. [+mediumseagreen “There have been whispers about the castle, whispers that point to my engagement to Marquis Vincent Acton… I have gathered you to lay these suspicions to rest.”] Glancing over to the man, she for the first time saw that charming mask falter. He looked as though he desperately wanted to escape. It was exhilarating.
[+mediumseagreen “As he seems to be a glutton for punishment who has heard my response on another occasion, I thought I would make myself clear in a way that can and will not be misconstrued… There is no engagement.”] She bit back a long line of insulting reasons as to why that was the case. This was already rather petty, she needed tarnish her reputation further. [+mediumseagreen “There will never be an engagement between us.”] She left it at that, but Florence reveled in this feeling. It likely wouldn’t last, as this was probably quite the mistake, but damn did it feel good.
[+mediumseagreen “I thank you all for coming, as I know this may feel like a waste of time, but it very much puts my heart at ease to have the truth out in the open.”]
With that she was done, The Queen stayed wave her goodbyes to those below, but Vincent was immediately on his heel. He headed back towards the door, a fiery rage seeping off of him. Gregory, at the door, could only smile. That was what he was waiting for, that disheveled face. The Dwarf waved the man off with his fingers.
When she felt as though she had been there long enough, Florence turned back to the door and spotted the pair of men. She walked towards them with a sense of purpose, the euphoric expression she'd worn had, for the most part, left her face.
[+mediumseagreen “You two,”] she pointed at them. [+mediumseagreen “From now on, I want at least one set of your eyes on Augustine at all times. And so help me if I hear any word of complaint I… will… scream.”] Her hands emphasized her words as she spoke.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat His attempt at guiding her to a decision came to nothing in the end and it seemed his intention passed her by in an instant. She would not meet his gaze, actively avoiding it and in a flick of her dainty wrist he was dismissed, discarded as old news without a goodbye or a thank you for talking with her. For someone who seemed so adamant in having his help she looked positively delighted at pushing him away and ignoring his very first words to not alienate herself from the few still attempting to help her.
Hands sliding away he stands, looking down on her as she turned her head away from his presence. He supressed a sigh of annoyance and nods his head to her, bowing very quickly and leaving with nothing else said to her. If she wanted to indulge in her fantasies that she was the lonely Queen with no-one to turn to then so be it.
Nicolai left the room quietly, closing the door behind him, though the moment he turned away from the door a scowl pulled at his lips and his step increased to a steady march. No servant strayed into his path, quick to dart to one side and lower their head. They were accustomed to a furious noble or two marching about the keep as was their way and they were equally versed in keeping out of their paths lest they take their scorn. He moved through and toward the kitchen and only stopped when Gregory took note of him, eyeing him warily as if he was about to steal his basket of pastries.
[+darkmagenta “And what do you want?”]
The nerve of the smaller man to address him in such a manner only added coals to the flames. Stepping towards the dwarf even as he withdrew a small pastry and began to eat – perhaps it comforted him to do so in his own dour mood.
[+teal “Firstly, I have had quite enough of your bloody games you damn stump of a living being.”] His voice hissed, hands balling to fists.[+teal “I have dealt with your argumentative and asinine comments these past weeks for the sole purpose that I felt I owed anything to you and your cold-hearted Queen. Not to mention your dismissive attitude of anything I suggest or your continued mistrust when I have done nothing but serve this bloody kingdom with every fibre of my body.”] It was clear he was holding himself back from cursing though his skin flushed with his increased blood pressure. And he wasn’t done.
[+teal “Secondly, do not act like you are my god-damn superior. You are nothing but a bard – apparently, as I have not heard you sing a song or play a tune in some time. What you in fact are is insignificant to the running of this Kingdom. You hold no role that anyone cares about aside from playing nanny to a stupid child and to speak a stupid language of a stupid Kingdom because the stupid bloody Queen speaks it!”] He had stopped before the other man by now, leaning down closer as he spoke though maintaining his hissing tone and quiet whispered voice to save anyone else from hearing. It was a delicate matter he was aware enough to know would not go down well if it became hearsay with the servants.
[+teal “And last, I hear you are leaving, running away with your tail between your legs and pastry crumbs littering the ground behind you, to which I have one thing to say-“] he hesitated a moment, face distorting from its rage as a secondary emotion shoved a path through,[+teal “find a way to take me with you.”] The façade cracked and chipped in places and it drew the dwarf in with curiosity.
[+darkmagenta “The hell happened in there with you two.”] A spatter of crumbs fell from his mouth, some landed on the floor and others were lost to the hairs on his chin.
[+teal “She is just.. so.. so infuriating Gregory.”]
[+darkmagenta “You’ll have to be a smidge more descriptive Elf.”] He was still intrigued.
[+teal “She talks about marrying Vincent like it is a viable option, like what we have done these past weeks is pointless and we were fools to try and help her.”]
[+darkmagenta “She is assessing her options I suppose, though I do whole heartedly agree that if she married that rat of a human being she would be making a grave error.”] He bit into the pastry again, chewing on its flaky shell and enjoying the filling – what it was Nicolai couldn’t tell.
[+teal “Oh it gets much better; she all but stated she would consider marriage from someone else just to spite Vincent. Specifically someone the man hates. Just to have someone beat him to the punch!”]
[+darkmagenta “Oh,”] he pushed the food to his cheek, [+darkmagenta “like who?”]
[+teal “Who does he hate most that she could accept a proposal from that also outranks him?”] The eyes on the smaller man narrow for a moment then grow in realisation as he looks at Nicolai.[+teal “Precisely! But when I told her to marry for love, marry for the right reasons, don’t marry for the sake of spite and tie herself to another man she doesn’t love – she looks at me like I am betraying her to the wolves and pushing the Marquis’ ring onto his finger.”]
He stood upright at that, turning and walking a few steps away. He was grateful to have the opportunity to vent so soon after the fact and yet he was still so full of frustration and rage that he would quite happily attack Vincent should he pass by his vision. Let them hang him – at least it would be done and all this would end.
[+darkmagenta “Did you ask her?”] The curious and soft voice of the dwarf was surprising to the Duke. He had not heard it before.
[+teal “Did I ask her to marry me and not Vincent?”] A nod of the head from the other man when he looked across to him.[+teal “And seal her to another marriage of convenience for the sake of a man, even if it is her son?”] He covers his face with his hands and they run up and through his hair in unison with a deep sigh.[+teal “I do not want to be a husband to a woman who despises me. I am a tool for her to use against Vincent and Gabriel and once I serve my use I am then discarded or left to sleep in another room living a false public image for the rest of my life.”] He shook his head slowly and chewing his bottom lip he lets out a growl of anger. He paced several steps away, slowing until he stops and half turns to Gregory, violet eyes on the ground as he could not force himself to look up.
[+teal “Regardless of what I have said here, you cannot leave. She needs you now more than ever Gregory.”] And with that he left the man to his basket of goods.
Judging off his reaction to his own words just moments ago, Florence should have expected this, but for whatever reason she did not. She wasn’t sure if he was willfully trying to separate himself from the situation, or if he was just that dense, but either way she could take the hint.
Sighing she backed away from the idea. [+mediumseagreen “It is a tall order, not impossible, but I suppose it is too much to hope for.”] It wasn’t as though it was her first choice in solution anyway, but it was still disappointing to have the entire idea shot down so speedily.
From there things got… awkward. Nicolai approached her, his arms trapping her against her chair, but not physically touching her. Her brow furrowed, what in god’s name did he think he was doing? She didn’t have to wait for the answer. It was her turn not to look back into his violet eyes. He didn’t understand anything. [+mediumseagreen “It was always my decision.”] Even without her agreement, he backed down. For that she was relieved, if she made such a promise she was sure she would be stuck a widow the rest of her life.
She’d been lectured at again, but there wasn’t much she could say in response. [+mediumseagreen “… Now you really sound like Gregory.”] Her eyes did not come back up; instead she dismissed him with a wave of her hand. If he stayed much longer she was sure this situation would only become weirder. [+mediumseagreen “If you still wish to speak with him, he has most likely gone to the kitchen. He will pilfer food and then go hole up someplace. You should catch him before he starts completely sulking.”] That was the regular progression for when he was upset about something. He was a fairly simple man.
With that he was gone and she was back to square one. Should she remarry? There were at least two in strong opposition. And true to both their words it wasn’t really what she wanted either. Why did everyone seem to think that mattered so much? Life was complicated and not nearly so picturesque as they seemed to believe.
Just as Florence had said, Gregory was exiting the kitchen. He’d managed to charm his way into getting a small basket of goodies, including an entire apple pie. With any luck he could find Augustine and share with him just to spite his mother. If the boy hadn’t been quite so young he might have thought of telling the Prince what his mother was up to. A few words from him might actually sway her, but it was a foul idea to use him so, so he didn’t dwell on it.
Again he passed Nicolai. Was he being stalked? Generally he didn’t see the general all that often, so twice in such little time stood out as odd. Stopping he looked up at the elfin man who was eyeing him. He had had enough bad news today, but he knew he couldn’t very well ignore the man if he had found something useful. He asked out-front. [+darkmagenta “And what do you want?”] As he spoke, he reached in to the covered woven basket and pulled out one of the smaller pastries. Biting into the crisp delicacy, he really just wanted to go find a place to unwind. There was a good chance he was going to have a long journey ahead of him in a few days time.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai nodded along to her evaluation of Gregory. The man wanted perfection and the easier route in everything. Life was perhaps kinder to the man that way. Without know his past he could not be certain, but a best guess from the Elven male was that his shorter accomplice was not used to the more gritty ways of royalty. Perhaps Astoria was simply a much more idyllic and lovely place than Wistina.
[+teal “Idealist or not, now is not the time to be worrying about morals unfortunately. It is a time to do what must be done and not quarrel over future regrets. If I cannot convince him of such, I will at least make sure he continues to help us without muddying his own hands.”]
There had been little more to say after that. As before their meeting had run into a dead end and it in avoiding personal questions about one another they had little else to discuss; continue their plans and keep reporting back. His hands slid to his knees in preparation to stand yet that is when she sprung a most unusual conversation on him. His eyes widened in alarm; did she suspect him?
She apologised to him but it was still expected that he would respond to her. To leave her talking to herself would cause a little offence and he was not in the mood for being berated at a later date – by herself or Gregory.
[+teal “Well, it is a sound idea of course, Your Majesty. I should think he would be devastated and infuriated in equal measure.”] She had not outright named him, nor probably considered him as a candidate, but given his guilty conscience he seemed a touch more perturbed by the announcement.[+teal “But you have two days. That would mean finding a suitable candidate and having them propose to you in such a short time. Do you think it possible?”] His cheeks flush a little darker at those words, looking into her bright eyes for a moment longer before he has to look away.
Not a man akin to to anything but playful flirting this talk of marriage and the like left him at a disadvantage. He was on the back foot and a calming hand ran up and through his hair, pushing it back from his face, brow furrowed in deep thought. Clearing his throat a touch he stood up, brushing down his clothing.
[+teal “A person who he greatly despises, someone who would propose to you within two days, who could protect both yourself and Augustine even after the proposal and not be scared by Vincent and his lackeys into backing down. It is a tough set of criteria to meet and I cannot truly think of many who would meet the first check mark let alone the rest.”] He remained standing and wished to compel himself from the room and back to his safety in the barracks. But instead he stepped forward, crouching before her, eyes looking up into her eyes and his hands came forward – though they lay on the chair either side of her rather than touch her. He knew his place after all.
[+teal “You married before for another man's purposes; to give him a child. Do not marry Vincent simply because it is an option. Marry for love, for your own needs, for your own purposes. Promise me that you will not marry again to sate another man's political desires.”] His hands retracted from the chair, lest he brush against her and feel the sting of her hand on his cheek – she looked like she could swing rather hard.[+teal This is your chance to marry whom you so wish. Or no-one at all. No-one is saying you [i must] marry. This is your decision now Your Majesty.”]
[+teal “I am sure it would pale in comparison to the truth.”]
To that the woman nodded. [+mediumseagreen “Oh, you have no idea.”] Astoria had only opened its boarders a year or so prior to her leaving. Before then, they had kept to themselves, no unnecessary interactions with other countries. Especially those as far away as Wistina. And even now, years after opening up and forming bonds with the outside world, the happenings that brought the change about were kept from the light.
The Elf across from her was full of all sorts of surprises. His rather forward comment at Vincent’s luck seemed almost twanged with jealousy. She watched as she struggled to find a way to remedy what he had said with little success. And by the way he was avoiding looking her in the eye, it hadn’t a joke that went awry either. Interesting. He was swift to change the topic after that. Still, she let it linger in the back of her brain as it stemmed off into something else entirely. There might be some use for this idea.
[+mediumseagreen “You may very well try. I am sure he would like the idea of finding some ploy to nip this in the bud, but I doubt he will like the means we will have to take to do such a thing.”] Gregory was still reaching for a way out that didn’t involve sullying their hands. She knew he would never find it though, despite his determination. [+mediumseagreen “He is an idealist.”]
Her mind wandered back to his previous words and the idea they brought to mind. It wasn’t entirely serious and that reflected in her tone. [+mediumseagreen “How insulted do you suppose the Marquis would be if I accepted another proposal before the deadline came for his own? And one from someone he greatly despised no less.”] That was almost better than declining him out in the open. Not to mention how refreshing it was to picture the look on his face when he found out. [+mediumseagreen “That would get them off my back, and they might think twice before doing away with Augustine.”]
The whole reason Vincent wanted to marry her was to have a better shot at the title of King once they were rid of her son. If she married another, he would act as another line of defense. Maybe even one that had to fall before Augustine, especially if that person happened to not be well liked by the enemy. The more she thought about it, the more sense it made. This might have been a viable idea, but then again maybe she was just desperate.
Pulled into a deeper state of though, she went silent. Leaning back in her chair, she bit at her thumbnail. This would in no way fix everything, but it could be a start… Then his words lamenting a life in a loveless union came to mind and she doubted he would go along with it. Whatever envy he’d shown was likely due to her appearance and little more. Snapping back to reality, she sat straight once more. [+mediumseagreen “Sorry… I got carried away.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Florence gave excellent points – again. The least he would ever say of this woman is that she could hold a conversation very well. The self-flagellation was a nice touch. The best way to disarm a hostile person in a debate is to attack one’s self image and force them to feel even a little pity. She did that particularly well. Indeed he understood her far better than he had thought and he nodded at this.
[+teal “I had thought you gave up many things other than your freedom to be here, I just dare not think of what as I am sure it will pale in comparison to the truth.”] He left it at that, a small capitulation to her considering what he fought her on. He wondered what she would have thought had Germaine been younger, closer to her age. Would love have eventually blossomed and grown over time? Would she have become comfortable with the situation? He left the questions unasked.
She was clearly uncomfortable with the talk as she shifts about and he would have turned the conversation, yet she brings it away from her personally and to the formal situation at hand. The small smile when she mentions rejection is one he associates with lamentation. Perhaps she had given in to the decision already, siding with the marriage than against, and her thoughts were just that – a means of expressing what she would do in an ideal world, but not this one.
[+teal “He would be a very lucky man to marry you of course. I know I would-“] Nicolai bites his tongue from straying down that path any further. His cheeks flush marginally and his eyes turn down to his lap, the rest of his thought dying in a moment as he searches frantically for a means of escape.[+teal “In the end,”] he spoke up again trying not to give her that moment to speak up,[+teal “this is a decision you will make and it will be the right one, I have no doubt it that.”]
His smile returns and he looks up to her, violet eyes meeting hers and he does not shy from her gaze for once. He holds her look for a few seconds.[+teal “I will have a word with Gregory. In anger anyone is liable to make rash decisions, such as arguing with you.”] A light chuckle at his memory of their disagreement.[+teal “A few gentle words from a foolish Elf will see him around to listening to you again and helping us in breaking up their plot before you have to make this decision on the proposal.”]
Sitting straight as a board, her ankles were crossed to the side and hands folded neatly in her lap. This was supposed to be a casual conversation, but nothing in her posture reflected that.
It seemed as though the elf might be just as trapped as she was here. And if his claims of having no place to run were true, he might be more so. She let him speak, listening with sincere curiosity. There was a certain level of coincident to it, but she found it eerie how the past liked to replay itself. This time with Augustine in a similar position as Nicolai had been. Likening his circumstance to that of her son’s she held more empathy for the man than she normally might have.
Thinking on the story a little more, perhaps this was in part the reason Germaine had fancied himself the fatherly type. As long as she had known the man he’d wanted a large family. His previous marriages had yielded no offspring, and unfortunately they’d only managed to have a single child. She wasn’t sure if that was hurting or helping her now that he was gone. Would a longer line of succession have deterred Vincent and Gabriel?
From there the subject changed fast enough to give her whiplash. The dark haired woman tensed. A secret of many years laid matter-of-factly out in front of her as though it had been obvious the entire time. Was she so terrible an actress as all that? It never occurred to her that it might just be that he was watching her that carefully.
He was beginning to sound like Gregory with all this lamenting for her, but he seemed more open minded to this way of doing things, something the dwarf lacked. Perhaps he hadn’t been lying before. [+mediumseagreen “You needn’t imagine anything, it is a feeling you know. This was a job, like you were called to be a general; it is the same for me in the position I am in now. Perhaps I might have looked on it differently had I had some lover back home, but there was no such thing for me given my personality.”] The dig at herself wasn’t particularly spiteful. The woman knew what she was like. Love, at least for someone in a romantic sense, was foreign to her. And now that she was getting older it seemed like she had missed her chance, so it really wasn’t at the forefront of her mind for this decision.
Nicolai had been straight with her, so she felt the need to offer the same sentiment back. [+mediumseagreen “But that is not to say that I am completely content with how things are. There are other things that I gave up to be here… Though I had thought it would all be temporary, with Germaine being so much my senior.”] The King had been over twice her age when they were married. She expected him to die before her, but not quite so soon.
Shifting in her seat, Florence’s voice was a thoughtful whisper when she continued. [+mediumseagreen “This time, I my sentence would be much longer. Perhaps even the duration of my life.”] As much as she fought Gregory on returning to Astoria, that was all she really wanted, to go home. Was a little extra time to plan really worth a lifetime of imprisonment?
[+mediumseagreen “Still, I have not made my choice. So, we shouldn’t grieve for me so soon. There is still a chance I might reject him.”] She smiled at the thought. And oh how merciless she would be, after all there would be no point in trying to keep his good graces any longer. [+mediumseagreen “With all the rumors, I should think it would be best to do so publicly, so that the truth cannot be further misconstrued.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat So Gregory had disliked Germaine? It was news to the Elf but it was perhaps to be expected. It was a reason behind why the small man had such a dislike of the Duke. He saw the two as one and the same just as Nicolai saw Gabriel and Vincent in the same light. There would be no retribution if that was the case, but if they could get along for the sake of a common enemy then it would be workable.
[+teal “I will understand Your Majesty because whilst it does involve my life, I am trapped in this with you. You were his wife but I was his advisor and if anything more expendable.”] A cynical smile tugs on his lips.[+teal ”My life is tied to your fate. Whatever you decide upon I must accept and adapt to - lest I run away and abandon everything. But then, where would I go?”] The question had been rhetorical and contemplative. It was rather troubling to say aloud that he had no-where to go, just as it had been to speak of loneliness with Lillian.
Her direction for him to sit was left in the air for a moment. Had she been ordering him to stay, forcing him to take a seat with her? The tone had softened but unacquainted with her more gentle and relaxed nature it was difficult to read her. Part of their limited time together meant he did not know her nuances. What made her laugh? What made her smile? How could he make her relax and open up more to him? There wasn’t much that came to mind. He simply had to accept her at her word and learn along the way how to talk with her. At this he nodded, stepping across to sit in the chair he was directed to.
Settling himself he listened intently, interested in her choice of words. She liked the company of people [i like him], but not him directly. Perhaps it was not an intended slight at him but he had taken it as such and so he was rather reluctant to begin talking to her. Her point was factual regardless of his inclination to think himself less of a yes-man, but indeed Germaine surrounded himself by agreeable folk.
[+teal “Firstly, I must point out that it was more a fondness born of time and circumstances than genuine infatuation with one another.”] His hands came together, settling in his lap as he sat back in his seat.[+teal “Whilst we were agreeable to one another I am under no great illusion it was only due to my father’s passing at a young age that Germaine gave me a second look. Whether through pity or otherwise he took me in.”] It was already a touchy subject and little had been said.
Drawing a deep and calming breath, Nicolai lifted a foot to rest on his knee, hands now grasping at the calf in an act to stem any nervous twitch that may begin. He could quite imagine she was only asking to gain some background on the Elven male, perhaps she was genuinely curious. It would do him no harm to indulge her.
[+teal “Before you arrived I had known him some thirty years. I was only a few years older than Augustine when my father passed and Germaine had known him since he was that age. You could say it was a rather ghoulish and deadly cycle of who’s who.”] The attempt at humour missed its mark and he only served to make himself a touch dour. But it brought him rather full circle.[+teal “I know you never loved him.”] A bold statement.[+teal “You cared for him and you doted on him when needed as a good wife does, but I knew within that first month it was not a marriage for love but of political outcome. Marriage, to a woman of your esteem, is less about what you want and all about what others get from your coupling. More about outward image than inner love. I cannot really imagine what it feels like but I think it would be a terribly mournful thing, to marry for nothing more than to appease someone else’s aspirations.”] He was perhaps being a little too blunt with her, but she had commended him for this attribute.
[+teal “As such, that is why I can understand your more acceptable nature when it comes to this deal with Vincent. With things as they are it is looking as more of a lamentable if necessary choice. I..”] Nicolai’s voice faded off as he felt too close to his own boundaries of what was appropriate and what was not. He had given her enough of his thoughts, any further and he risked spilling more.
While he said he hadn’t come to chastise her, he wasn’t exactly gentle with his words either. For a while she listened to him in silence. For someone who wasn’t sure what to say, he sure had a whole lot of words to offer. She could not properly get a read on him. Was he trying to irritate her or comfort her? He walked a strange fine line between the two, but the entire time he was candid.
Alienating herself? She had never seen it that way. This was just her personality, though it was probably true in how she had just been with Gregory. The one real friend she had here and she was threatening to be rid of him. Not her most brilliant moment. If that were the case, she would need to focus on getting closer to others. How, she didn’t know. Quite obviously, that was not her forte.
[+mediumseagreen “Gregory forgave me when I married Germaine, I don’t think he will do it again.”] She didn’t believe his threat of leaving to be an idle one either. When it came to grandiose gestures like that he usually meant it.
It was strange to talk about this sort of thing with someone she knew so little about. He had offered to listen though, and this is how people normally made ‘friends’ was it not, through conversation?
[+mediumseagreen “I never thought it would come to the point where I would be considering this as a viable strategy. I barely understand it, so I do not expect anyone else to.”] She let out an airy sound, like the beginnings of sardonic laughter. [+mediumseagreen “I have a hard time seeing how you can calmly say you would understand, just because it may benefit me… This is your life in the balance as well.”] Although, he was less calm than she made him out to be. Nicolai clearly was at odds with the idea. His hatred of the Marquis must have been deeply ingrained.
The Queen found his fondness for their spat odd. Though he was right, it had been a good opportunity to vent. He had pissed her off so much that she was able to throw years worth of frustrations at him. It was cathartic. She hadn’t been able to shout like that in a very long time either. [+mediumseagreen “Your frustrations were not completely unfounded. Having little to no control over your future is one of the most irritating things in the world.”] He wasn’t like her; he didn’t have a direct choice in how things would play out. Well, aside from things such as packing up and leaving before things got any more chaotic. There was always that, though like her, he would have to leave many things behind.
She shook her head, [+mediumseagreen “No, stay.”] Florence tried to sound less demanding and more like it was an option that was open to him, but she wasn’t sure if it came through properly. [+mediumseagreen “Have a seat.”] She motioned to the cushioned chair that was sitting across from the one she would take herself.
[+mediumseagreen “You know, I like people like you. I have always gotten along better with those who are straightforward,”] maybe because she couldn’t always be so herself. [+mediumseagreen “Though now that I see that, I am surprised Germaine was so fond of you.”] He was a man that appreciated honesty when it favored him. Though, that was nearly universal. [+mediumseagreen “How did the two of you come to know one another?”] It was not a story she had ever heard, but she thought it might be a welcome distraction.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The night was spent without much rest, debating over his next move. He was working by himself. Gregory still showed open animosity to him and Florence seemed to be drifting further to the other side. With no Germaine anymore to act as his overarching barrier to most problems, he had grown weak and without allies. Now he had lost those two it was only a matter of time. His time was a burning candle and it was melting swiftly.
Returning to the keep he had pottered about the place, making idle chat with multiple servants and in general just putting his face about. Perhaps if he was seen more then he would be thought of in a kinder light. It was not as if he had anything else left to do, not least until called for by Lillian to be able to follow the lead he was building there.
Moving about the castle he had come across the sight of Gregory leaving a room in a huff. He had been happening to pass by and upon seeing the disgruntled look on the dwarf’s face he was intrigued just what could cause that – aside from himself. He paused before the Elf for just a moment before turning and walking away once more, fists balled at his side. When his curiosity bested him, he walked across to the doorway, seeing Florence inside.
[+darkgreen “Have you come to admonish me as well?”] There had been no formal welcome, no greeting or friendly hello. She was straight to open hostility, her bright green eyes staring at him with fatigue and he was unsure if she was warning him to just leave now. She was troubled, obviously, but was he even remotely close to someone who could help?
[+teal “I did not come to chastise you.”] Nicolai stood in the doorway, contemplating whether there was any chance of having a conversation with her whilst retaining some of his dignity and not being reduced to an idiot. Belatedly he closed the door behind him, stepping across slowly. He was dressed in a plain tunic, his clothing more practical today with no meetings planned.[+teal “That is to say, I could quite easily start up another argument, yes. I have heard the rumours much like everyone else. But given I was foolish and headstrong last time, and given you look close to striking me when I have seen you of late, I see no benefit to doing so but to increase your ire.”] He shrugged his shoulders, strolling by her to stop over by the window for a moment.
Debating his next words was silly. A week of planning would not be enough to carefully tip toe around the delicate subject at hand here or exacerbate it.[+teal “You are working hard. Your last few months of life have been a struggle. More than I perhaps can understand. And yet when you need allies and friends the most it seems you are alienating yourself.”] Turning back he reproached her, a hand rising up to place on her shoulder but he thought better of it and quickly returning it to his side.[+teal “I will not even offer advice in the matter. I cannot give you any piece of information that will magically solve this problem, or else I would have done so the moment I found it out.”] He was rather bad at this.
Still, he tried one final time to help her, look at her with soft violet eyes and a gentle smile.[+teal “I can offer you my ear in listening, I can offer you my hand in battle, I can offer you my heart and my mind in your struggle. I give you all this and more but you are the one who controls both your future and Augustine’s. If you find a pathway that will work, such as this.. marriage,”] he bites back a tirade of foul language for Vincent that bubbles under the surface,[+teal “and it is an option greater than the others – then I will understand. Gregory will understand, everyone will.”] He looked away to the ground, folding his hands behind his back and nodding to himself and a quiet laugh escapes his lips, his usually tense look dropping away to a more jovial one.
[+teal “It is a shame however; I rather liked our argument. It helped me to vent my silly frustrations.”] Perhaps not the best time for a statement like that, but it had been said.[+teal “I will leave you be if you wish.”]
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