[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat By the time she had seen to washing with Augustine and confronted the sozzled dwarf over his antics – though given his race no doubt he would recover all the faster – the sun had been up at least a few hours from the horizon. Upon knocking on the door however she would receive no answer or response, rather utter silence and a continuation of the general morning sounds about her of the tavern waking up.
Had she entered the room of her own accord, and no doubt she would as she oft found herself doing as she wished. Entering there was merely the remains of someone's stay in the room but no man himself. The window had been opened and allowed a cold morning breeze to sweep through the room. Casting light inside showed an unmade bed that had a few leaves littering it from the tree outside, the bronze plate with remnants of cold meats and bread aside burned out candles, and the bowl, empty, with the old dirty bandage left inside. No other remnants of Nicolai were left behind.
The man himself had left just after dawn and was out in the village purchasing supplies and such. Given that Stonebrook sat along the prime route up to the pass, they made a good business out of selling thick furs, clothing, supplies and the like for adventurers such as themselves. It was not going to be the highest quality for the coin that was being spent, but it would be quite sufficient for them and their needs no doubt.
Having purchased most of their collective needs he had taken on the help of a young boy to carry them all to the stable with him. It was a quick affair but the boy was happy for the few coins for little work and had hoped for more but was curtly dismissed not long after the final trip. The man made little to no conversation as he went about his work, only speaking when needed and not looking to make small talk. Even when Elizabeth had come into the stable to set the duo's horses for the day, nothing was said.
The air was rather tense given their altercation the night before, but they went about their works in amicable silence as if they had never met before, each focused on their own tasks and duties. For Nicolai it was rather discomforting at times to lift things with weight that required both his hands, and for Elizabeth it was tempting at times to offer her help or make small talk – but she felt it would be rebuffed quickly or descend into bitter squabbling in no time. She knew the elven man would rather keep the tentative peace than to further any disagreement, and though she enjoyed their talks on the ride here she would respect the peace as it stood.
With most of the supplies he had fetched stowed away where possible, he had taken to an empty stall to change into the clothing he'd purchased. For now it was just more layers. An undershirt, underwear that ran to the knee, better boots and socks and the like. Atop this he wore a tan suede jacket, looking more like a rancher from one of the vast farms in the plains out east, ready to shepherd cattle and the like. But he was warmer, and several thick furs rolled up on his horse would come in use once they reached even colder climates.
When he reached out for Augustine, Florence somewhat expected for him to do the same with her. So she readied herself, offering her hand to him. What she did not expect was the wink, and especially in front of her son. Face flushing, she looked to the side. All of a sudden the grain of the wood there was very interesting. [+mediumseagreen “I will keep your offer in mind, thank you.”] Her tone did not leave much room for hope that she would have a change of heart though.
Seeing the way his mother clammed up, Augustine was a touch confused. But by the time he looked over to Adrian things had returned too normal. He was fully baffled, but she did not seem displeased, so he would leave it be. Everything wrapped up shortly after that. They broke off from one another and the pair began their canter down the hall once more. They did not make it far.
At the sound of the door, Florence’s eyes found their way to its source. And who was to be seen, but Nicolai. Knowing that that Augustine was still sensitive to what happened, a misplaced guilt on his part, she placed her hand on his shoulder. It was a light touch, meant to comfort. And while she had thought that the elf would offer some sort of comment, there was nothing but a goodnight. She nodded in response, but did not return his word.
That was the final interruption on the way to their room, which was nice enough. The layout was plain but served its purpose. She mentally debated whether or not she should go back down stairs and ask for a basin of water so that they could wash up before bed, but with how late it was getting she decided it was a task for the morning. Though she was determined to get the both of them clean before they left.
Directing Augustine to the bed, Florence brought the patchwork quilt up to tuck him in. While he had been hesitant to leave all the fun downstairs, he now settled into his fate gracefully. Though, he did work up some courage to tell her what he thought about their encounter with Adrian. [+coral “Mother,”] He called her as if he attention was not already undividedly on him. [+coral “Adrian is really nice.”] And it wasn’t even because he knew who they were or wanted anything from them. [+coral “Like, really, really nice.”] The groggy words did not directly convey his want to continue as a larger group, but the dark-haired woman knew what he was getting at.
Smiling warmly down at the boy, there was a hint of remorse in her gaze. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, yes he is.”] Leaning down, she kissed his forehead gently, just like she always did. [+mediumseagreen “Now off to sleep, please. You should enjoy the bed while you have it.”]
Florence waited until Augustine was asleep before turning into bed herself. She watched him, humming quietly, as his breathing slowed and face became serene. It was as though he hadn’t a care in the world. She wished that were true, though it did not plague her enough to keep her from sleeping.
Waking to the sound of Augustine stirring in bed, she wondered why it was that children inexplicably woke so early. And full of energy at that. Why would the gods make it so when, more than anyone else, mothers needed to sleep. It was a challenge, and one that she would be forced, rather than wanted, to overcome.
Sitting up sluggishly, Florence did not wish to leave the warmth of the bed. It was not the best quality of mattress, but after so many nights on the ground anything was comfortable and welcoming by contrast. In order to buy herself more time, she sent the blond on an errand to call for the bowl of water they needed. He was not gone long, so it did little to actually help her obtain more rest, but the few minutes of solitude were nice. It had been a while since she had a moment to herself.
Forcing herself to get up once a young woman dropped by with water, Florence made sure she and her son got clean. This would probably be the last stop for some time, so it was important to do it properly while they had the chance. After that, she thought it best to roust the others so that they could eat, do their shopping, and be out of Stonebrook by a decent time.
As expected, Gregory gave her some trouble. He had drunk too much the night before. Stupid old man, she warned him, but he hadn’t listened. [+mediumseagreen “You are too old to be acting this way. Remember your age every once in a while.”] Her complaint was more out of worry than anything else. Gregory was in his late sixties, and while it wasn’t quite the same for a dwarf, if he didn’t start being more cautious he would see an early grave.
Done with that, Florence left Augustine behind to keep an eye on the gray bearded man. She did not want him falling right back to sleep. Her son should be assertive enough to stop that. And while he was practically babysitting, she made her way down to Nicolai's room. She certainly hoped his foul mood had dissipated, though she doubted it would be so. Coming up to the door they had met at the previous night, the woman knocked firmly on the door. She did not want to waste time wondering if she had been heard.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat As ever she was such a gracious and kind woman and her soft refusal of his request was perhaps what he had been expecting as he thought over his question. She was full of optimism, especially when it came to Nicolai, and whilst he could find that both respectable and noble he also saw it as potentially threatening to her own life and that of Augustine. To entrust a boy around a man like that? He had seen it go wrong so many times before.
What made it worse in Adrian’s mind was that Nicolai could easily overpower the trio. Gregory was humble and fair but he was getting on in years now and would not be all that swift to the fight if it happened. Augustine was still a child and one not armed either now the elf had retrieved his knife. Florence would be the main defence and seeing the marking on her cheek he surmised it was not the first time Nicolai had acted out like this. It was good that he had not done something, so there was some control there, yet the bruise only made him more determined to be there to stop it should he try to confront her himself.
This would not be the time for that however and he nodded to her with a slight rueful smile.[+crimson “Well, I will hope you sleep on it and change your mind. But I won’t force the decision.”] Watching her for a moment longer he offered his hand to little Augustine and when taken he shook it firmly.[+crimson “I know you will be good to your mother, but look after yourself. I hope to see you in the future; you’re going to be a giant, I can tell.”] He grinned and released the boys hand, reaching up to take Florence’s free hand when she saw he opened his hand to her.
[+crimson “And you take care of yourself especially. Despite being such a good shot and for such an intimidating woman,”] he recalled that morning and smirked lightly,[+crimson “you still need to keep an eye out. Not a lot of good, strong women out here much anymore. Certainly none quite like you.”] Thankfully Augustine was looking up to his mother and missed the cheeky wink he gave her before wishing them a warm and good sleep. Turning back he headed back down the stairwell to the others to have a few final drinks.
Hearing voices outside and footsteps moving closer to his door, Nicolai was jolted from his little singsong with himself. He was thinking of going for a strong drink, but with the others likely downstairs he dared not show his face. Yet hearing the noise he stood up, moving over and opening his door to find Augustine and Florence moving down the corridor. Confronted with the pair, shirtless but thankfully with the door obscuring his wound, he nodded a shameful greeting to them.
Recalling how he had reacted to Augustine brought shame to him and his cheeks would have coloured if not for the relative darkness he stood in lit by waning candles. Rather than offer a verbal apology however, seeing Florence place protective hands on her son’s shoulders, he could see the damage had been done. Looking up at her he thought he saw hostility in her eyes but in truth he was projecting that on her. If she was defensive and hateful of him then he would be able to justify it to himself later that she was the villain. But he couldn’t say that with any truth or honour.
[+teal “Night.”] That was all he said. And perhaps from their viewpoint it was quite the odd sight. The door opens, a shirtless Nicolai looks at them, says night, and shuts the door over behind him as he turned back into his room. Not exactly a lot of context in that itself, but coupled with the stable, it made some sense. Again it mirrored poorly with Adrian's goodnight but he was not to know.
Back into his room he decided it best to use the last of the light to wrap up his shoulder with the fresh cloth he had requested. He had done what he could on the wound by himself. He would keep an eye out the next day for some herbs to help him with both the pain and the infection. For now, he would just wrap it and call it a night there.
While Florence heard the footfall coming up behind them on the stairs, she chose to ignore it. They were not the only patrons of this inn, so it was to be expected that others would come to the second story. But when her name was called, things changed. She turned about face to see Adrian hot on their tails. [+mediumseagreen “Yes?”] There was no telling what he wanted, but she urged him to continue both with her words and her eyes that were looking over him from a new angle.
Once hearing what he had to say, she shook her head. [+mediumseagreen “There is no need for such gratitude. You helped us just as much as we helped you, if not more. Think nothing of it.”] Her voice was soft; both in consideration of whoever was might already be asleep in the rooms that lined the hall and sincerity.
There was a pause, and she thought that was the end of it, so she went to continue to their room for the night. Looking to the closest doors there were markers on the thick wood frames that labeled them in a peculiar manner. It seemed they were all named after land formations. The woman couldn’t help but wonder if it was a play on the name of Stonebrook somehow. She did not have time to dwell on it, as she was stopped again. This time Adrian made a plea in hopes that this might not be where they parted. He wanted to go at least as far as the pass together. And when he, someone who was keen on speaking their mind, looked down at her boy and hesitated, she had a clear view into what he was thinking.
[+mediumseagreen “You worries, while appreciated, are unnecessary. As terrible as things might appear, it is not so bad as you might be thinking.”] He had been discreet in the presence of Augustine, so she continued to do so for the sake of formality. [+mediumseagreen “Our situation is just stressful. We are all feeling it, and each of us handles it differently.”] After everything, she still found herself defending Nicolai, even if it was not outright.
[+mediumseagreen “Also, it is no secret that we are being tailed.”] He had heard that much earlier. [+mediumseagreen “… But there is a much bigger picture to be had. I cannot in good consciousness involve and endanger the two of you for the sake of safety from bandits. It would be unscrupulous.”] Looking down from his enwrapping red eyes, her own fell to her son and she smiled. [+mediumseagreen “Besides, I have wriggled my way out of worse. This will be nothing.”] It was an optimistic outlook she did not often take.
Not ready to look back up, she placed a hand on her son’s head, ruffling his hair lightly. [+mediumseagreen “Now, I should be getting this one to bed.”]
Augustine’s big green eyes turned up at his mother; he was not at all pleased to be used as an excuse. Especially in this context, he thought it was a wonderful idea that they go together. Though his mother’s point of it being bad to place them in danger did resonate with him. If only they could tell Adrian what was going on so that he could chose for himself. Augustine thought it was just as good a plan as any, but thinking he had caused enough trouble for one day, the boy did not speak up.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The meal progressed well with stories from all about their pasts. From Florence they were rather stunted, kept to areas that would not reveal her identity whilst still allowing her to join in with the conversation. Augustine’s revolved primarily around things he had learned and jumping in on the tales of Adrian to state when he knew about something. The larger man was more than happy to stop mid-story to listen on things he knew, loving the energised spirit in the boy and grateful to see him smiling and talking more than he had before.
Drinks flowed for Adrian and Gregory as the women knew not to go to excess. The food was plentiful and warm and after several hours – as the nastier drunks came in – Florence and Augustine stood to leave. Having collected their key from the tavern owner, left behind by Nicolai, they made it to the top of the stairwell before a heavy boot came from behind them.[+crimson “Florence.”] Adrian caught them up and despite standing a few steps down from them almost retained eye-level with her.
[+crimson “Sorry to stop you, just wanted to say thank you for today, you really helped me and Lizzie out joining us to get here. I sometimes forget it’s just the two of us and it was nice to have someone new to talk with. So thanks.”] He smiled, nodding to Augustine too as the boy looked at him, even offering up his large hand to shake the boys. After a few pleasantries with him and his mother over the day he had found the boy to be quite intelligent and his mother more protective than intimidating. As she turned to leave again he cleared his throat.[+crimson “Actually, I meant to talk about something else with you.”]
Stopping her again, this time a step or two further up the stairs, he thought of his words for a moment before continuing.[+crimson “Look I’ll be a little blunt; I think our groups should stay together. We’re going the same way, heading through the pass, you saw today that our numbers helped in a few situations. What with how dangerous the pass can be it would be best we keep together. And..”] He was hesitant to continue, characteristically unlike him given how he was quite open and forward that day.[+crimson “Well, with Nicolai’s outburst, I just think we should stick together. For everyone’s safety including his.”] With the boy present he did not want to openly call out the elf as a threat or danger, but most if not all of them had seen his hand clench and in truth Adrian was worried. If he were bolder, and again Augustine not there, he may have approached her with the notion of leaving the elf behind. But he stayed his tongue there.
Nicolai had left the tavern floor not long after entering. Securing rooms for their group that night he left instructions on who would be receiving a key, leaving out their temporary guests to find their own accommodation that night. Requesting a small plate of food, strip of cloth and a bowl of water be brought to his room, he waved off the tavern owner’s offer of a girl for the evening. It had made Nicolai chuckle really, finding the situation quite amusing. Here was a former General being propositioned with a woman of the night. Thanking the man for the offer he headed to his room before Gregory stepped inside.
It was lit by a few candles, the light through the window minimal given the time of day and the fact had not been cleaned in years likely. After a few minutes a light knock at his door signalled his delivery request and he allowed in the tavern girl to place down a small plate of bread and slices of meats along with a bowl of water on the table. Back alone, he stripped off his belt and sword before carefully removing the tunic he had worn almost a week now. As soon as the material was gingerly removed he could see the darkened bandage and a pang of regret ran through him. He wanted nothing more than to ignore it as he had done for several days now but it had to be looked at.
The knife was removed from his weapon’s handle and used to carefully sever the bandage in places that would allow him to remove it slowly. His breathing quickened as it was lifted away, the wound quite the sight to see though from his angle it was rather difficult to do so in an easy manner. The sword was not clean enough to use as a mirror and with nothing else in the room, he took the brass plate with his food, dumping the contents onto the table top and turning it over to use the bottom. Despite the bumpy, uneven and orange surface, he was able to see better and his fingers traced about the red angry skin. It was not good. The decolouration was clear and the steady throb of pain from the wound was continuous.
Filling up a cup with some of the water to keep it fresh, he dipped the cleaning cloth that had been brought with the bowl of water and began to slowly press it against the edge of the wound, cleaning away days of dirt and other sickly fluids. Whilst cleaning up about the wound was easy enough he knew he had to clean it directly. Taking a few heavy breaths he pressed the freshly cleaned cloth flush to the wound, pressing rather hard and groaning as he did. The pain was immeasurable and as he relented, opening his eyes which had at some point shut, he saw dark spots dance about his vision and his head feel awfully light.
For the next hour or two he repeated this process, eventually numbing his shoulder’s nerves which could take no more physical shock and became desensitised. Left with a bowl of water tinged pink and grey he sat back in the chair and shut his eyes slowly.
How had it gotten to this? How had his life come to this moment? Sat in a tavern in a foreign country, cleaning an infected wound using a plate as a mirror, alone. The last point was quite obvious and had been true for some years. But still he felt incredulous at the situation. However, wishing he had kept his mouth shut to Florence was the main thought running through his mind. Not over chastising her son or what he had said in the stable but over his feelings. Since that morning, coming back to find Adrian and Elizabeth stood there, he had felt a regret in saying anything. From the word go the man had been a charming and charismatic delight and won over the others no doubt as easily as he had the elven woman. It was quite like the man was his mirror opposite of himself, having all the qualities people liked and wanted in friends.
The way Florence had stated that word, friend, in the stable, played over his mind a few times as he absently took a few pieces of the bread to chew on slowly. It had been said with such emphasis as if stating something quite clear to him. He thought it was her cementing the fact that she was not interested in him in [i that] manner. But it could have had a thousand other meanings too.
With his right arm quite dulled and useless, resting in his lap as he allowed the nerves and muscles to recover some, his left hand trailed across the numbed skin slowly, fingers running across his arm in a manner his mother had done when he was a child and sick with any number of childhood illness. The simple act was good for his mental fragility as it was his physical one, and without much thought he had begun to hum as she had, a light but slow song that had once brought him great relief and respite but now just brought a sparkle to the corner of his dull violet eye.
The surprisingly bitter comment that came from Adrian was not entirely unwarranted, but Florence was still glad he rescinded it. Now was not a good time to begin doubting whether or not she should have asked Nicolai to continue on with them. Hell, going back further, perhaps she shouldn’t have been so keen on ensnaring him in an allegiance either. There was a lot to regret, and she did not want to dwell on it. Not right now when there were so many other things to worry about.
At mention of dinner, she nodded. It looked as though that offer was still on the table. So, they to wandered off toward the tavern, meeting the others there. Adrian continued on with his boisterousness. He knew how to return the mood to a lighter condition. Even Augustine who was in fairly low spirits perked up at his attempts, though the emerald-eyed woman did throw him a look at the mention of feeling her eight year old liquor. She got the feeling he would not really, but she was still glad he backed down with nearly no effort.
For the rest of them though, it was ale. Florence could barely remember the last time she had had a drink. Gregory warned her to take it slow when the barmaid came about with a large pitcher of beer and a plethora of glasses. She shrugged him off, but knew he was correct and would spend most of the night nursing that first glass.
The event, if it could be called that, passed pleasantly. There was plenty of lively conversation and warm food to eat. All the crabbiness from a long days ride and the argument washed away. Even Augustine, who bore a more age appropriate drink in hand, fell prey to the merry atmosphere. They must have spent a couple of hours doing nothing but talk and graze on the spread of food, but it didn’t feel like that at all. If it weren’t for a yawning child, Florence probably would have been content to sit out there for a few more hours. Well, that and the nightlife was starting to make an appearance in the tavern. It would be best to turn in before they got too rowdy.
[+mediumseagreen “Alright, well, that will be enough for the two of us.”] She spoke only for herself and Augustine. Gregory would probably stay down for a while longer, not wanting to give up the company just yet. [+mediumseagreen “We will likely leave early tomorrow, so do not stay up too late.”] There was no telling if he would listen to her advice, but she gave it all the same. After that, she turned to Adrian and Elizabeth, placing a hand on her son’s back to have him do the same. [+mediumseagreen “Thank you both. It has been pleasant. May you have safe travels from this point on.”] She smiled, a little sad to be parting, but thinking it would be for the best. Augustine reflected his mother’s tone, saying his thanks to the pair and they were off to bed.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Adrian nodded as she explained how he was usually like this, quite irritable and prone to anger. She seemed to be hiding something in her vagueness but he would not press it with her as she seemed rather upset already at the elf, he did not want to add to her concerns.
[+crimson “Well, I'm sure you have your reasons for travelling with such a man. I'm sure his uses as a guard outweigh such a personality.”] It was a damning thing to say and immediately he flushed, not wanting to be seen as petty and stooping to the other man's level. Apologising for his choice of words, he started them off walking, Elizabeth having already left ahead of them to head to the tavern where Nicolai had purchased a room and seconded himself away upstairs, gone before Gregory and Augustine had even arrived.
[+crimson “Anyway, how about we just try to forget what he did. No harm, no foul in the end.”] He offered her one of his calming smiles as the duo came upon the entrance and he opened the door for her. Closing it over behind them they met with the other three at a table in the corner, Adrian looking to Augustine almost as soon as he had sat down.[+crimson “Hey, how about we get you a good hot meal?”] He grinned in the hope of cheering the boy up, receiving a light nod in return.
It was clear Augustine was still a little ashamed. Primarily it stemmed from having started it all off, the shouting and arguing between Adrian and Nicolai and the sound of even Elizabeth raised her voice. If he had just kept to himself he was sure things would be okay now and Nicolai would be sitting and eating with them.[+darkorange “Y-yes please. Thank you..”] He replied in his timid voice.
Adrian looked to Florence for a moment and let out a sigh. Rubbing the back of his head, he looked across to the young boy.[+crimson “Augustine, don't worry about it. Nicolai is just tired I bet, that is why he went straight to bed. I bet you've had times where you were irritable before going to bed, right?”] He grinned as if it were a normal thing for all of them, but he did revoke memories of how he had snapped at his mother at the campfire. Nodding softly brought a larger smile off the big man who patted the table top with his hand.[+crimson “Then lets eat until we can't eat any more – have you ever had a beer?”] There was a vigorous shake of the boys head, as he looked to his mother who eyed the fair skinned man with annoyance.[+crimson “Only joking, I assure you.”] He said to her and held his hands up in mock defense.[+crimson “I assume the rest of you are okay with an ale to start with?"] There seemed to be no objections and he grinned.
[+crimson "Wonderful. Let me go get it ordered and we can start this banquet.”] With a little flourish, giving the night more meaning than it perhaps deserved, he stood up and left the table, heading to the bar to make their order.
Well, she had tried to extend him a hand out of this hole he was digging, but it seemed it was unwanted. Though, she could have guessed that. It did not help that her motives were also coming from a place of spite. He said the rest of his piece with no interruption and then saw fit to leave the stable. Typical, create a mess and then leave the aftermath for someone else to clean up. For a man who did not want others speaking on his behalf, he sure had no problem encumbering those around him with his issues.
[+mediumseagreen “You are a fool to think that more enemies is what we need right now.”] She whispered these words under her breath as he walked by. Florence had wanted to keep quiet, thinking her silence would speak volumes more than anything she could say. But he broke her resolve.
Not long after he was gone, awkwardness clung to the air. At least for Florence. But Adrian, little as it was his responsibility to do so, alleviated it. He broke the silence left in Nicolai’s wake.
[+mediumseagreen “There is no reason for you to apologize. I appreciate what you did, as I would not have been so kind in doing it myself and I think things would have ended even worse than they already have.”] She sighed. Florence was not sure where they should go from here. Physically, as that answer was clear: out of the stable. But figuratively, not so much.
After exerting so much time and effort into trying to mend this strange relationship she had with Nicolai, it looked as though it was still liable to fall apart. The olive-skinned woman did not know if there was a way to mend it. But that didn't mean she needed to let the budding acquaintance with Elizabeth and Adrian go by the wayside. [+mediumseagreen “As he made abundantly clear, I cannot speak for him, but I am sorry that you were treated this way, Adrian.”]
Shaking his head, he mirrored her words saying that she had no need to apologize either. But that was not all. [+crimson “Is he always like that?”] It was a broad inquiry into Nicolai’s character. He looked worried that that anger might have been a problem before, or might be one in the future. The man did not like the idea of it being used against the woman or her child.
[+mediumseagreen “Nicolai has always been… difficult. However, recently he has grown more irritable. But that is not to say there hasn’t been reasonable cause for it in most cases. This time has been the exception, obviously.”] Florence kept vague. Going into details would only waste time. It was already growing late and this was to be the night of their parting.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Ignoring the child that was quickly ushered away by Florence and then Gregory, Nicolai remained with his focus on Adrian and likewise held the other man's attention too. Even as the two women discussed what had been said, including the insult Nicolai had used, the two men did not back down from one another. Hearing Florence's tone did not alter his mood however. If anything it only solidified his anger.
When she apologised he shook his head slowly, a small smile growing on his lips.[+teal “Don't be fooled Adrian, she does not speak for me – I meant every damn word of it.”] He spoke quieter now as if to emphasise his point. However when the other man made no move or showed any reaction to his taunting tone, he glanced across to Florence. That brought a flinch from the larger man as if he was ready to place himself before her too and Nicolai's left hand came to rest at the pommel of his sword. It was an escalation that brought no physical attack, more like the careful movements on a chessboard before the first piece was taken.
[+teal “Do not assume to speak on my behalf or apologise for anything in my name Florence, because you don't. I am not sorry for the words I use; they are the right ones and quite fitting really.”] He looked back to Adrian, eyes wandering over the large man's frame as if to confirm his words.[+teal “At the end of the day, the higher a man rises, the higher he places his morals and his dignity and his honour – the harder the inevitable fall at the end.”] The silence between them hung a little longer before Nicolai had had his fill of whatever it was he was after from this altercation and pulled away, taking several slow steps backwards and turning to march away.
Passing by Elizabeth he slowed in his step as he met her amber gaze.[+teal [i “I had thought to find some friendship with another elf; but you are only elven in appearance it would seem.”]] He swept by her then, walking out the stable, pack on his back and off to find the inn.
Gregory was walking with Augustine not too far away and his critical eye looked to the elven male.[+darkmagenta “You best watch yourself boy, she won't stand for you acting like that around Augustine. And be kinder to those two.”] His words of warning were laughed off however by the violet eyed man.[+teal “Kinder to them? Come morning they will be gone. How about remembering your supposed allegiance to me old dwarf.”] He left the man to ponder his words as he strode on.
With the man finally gone, and only once he was out of sight, did Adrian let out a deep breath and look to the ground shaking his head lightly. After a moment to just ease the spent nerves he looked to Florence with a look of regret.[+crimson “I am sorry for that. I should have stayed out of it but seeing him shouting at Augustine I couldn't exactly help myself.”] Given his raising with so many younger children he was perhaps overly protective at times.[+crimson “I did not mean to start anything, my apologies.”] Elizabeth stayed where she had been this entire time, silent though also with a look of thought on her face – whether in response to Nicolai's words or the overall scene was unsure.
The child was shocked. Augustine was not used to being talked to in such a way, and doubly so by Nicolai. He was stuck in place, apologetic and afraid. So much so that he did not hear the man calling out behind him. And before he had gathered his thoughts enough to apologize again, said man was pushing him out of the way. He had thought it was going to be his mother, but this figure was much bigger. Looking back the way he’d come the boy did see Florence and she was beckoning to him. So he went.
In a way, Nicolai was lucky. Lucky that Adrian was first to react instead of Florence. The woman had seen the way his hand trembled. How close he had been to reaching out to strike her son. Had that happened, she would have come unglued. And this was a woman who already had half a mind to march over there and punch him in his ailing shoulder. But the large mercenary made it there first and she was able to keep her focus on Augustine who looked dazed. She gestured for him to come to her and he rushed over obediently.
Kneeling in front of him, she whispered calming words. All the while Nicolai’s tantrum ran in the background. What was wrong with him? Not wanting Augustine to feel he was the cause of this, or hear anymore of the nastiness the elf was spewing, she urged him over to Gregory. He caught the hint and rushed out with the blond child.
Standing back up, posture ramrod straight, Florence was seething. It rolled off her in nearly tangible waves as Nicolai finished his piece. Hard, stony gaze placed directly on him, the woman spoke but not to him. [+mediumseagreen “Elizabeth, care to translate the venom Nicolai is spewing? I would very much like to know the extent of it.”]
The dark skinned elf was hesitant to answer, but complied. [+royalblue “He was just berating me for siding with, in his phrasing, the foundling.”] Elizabeth did little to skirt around his words or doll them up so that he might be seen in a more pleasant light. Her amber eyes were cold as Florence’s.
Expression flashing in a dark way, the human woman was not at all pleased with what she heard. There were so many things she could say, and all of them warranted, but she did not. Instead she turned slightly, facing Adrian who was still nearly in contact with the other man. [+mediumseagreen “On behalf of my [I friend],”] she put a fair deal of malice into the word. [+mediumseagreen “Please accept my apology… He knows not how scathing his words are, nor to all who they apply.”] She flashed a searing look at the thinner man before bowing in his stead.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Getting the horses put away was good for the animals themselves. Having ridden hard that day and had little rest since the farm, it would help them to have a night with warmth and shelter and some good feed too. Having ducked in to meet the owner and offering a good price for their rest their stay, Nicolai returned to the others with knowledge of an inn that had been recommended – of course the stable owner would make a little coin for the recommendation, but in a small place like this, it was likely a choice of two inns and so he took him on his word.
Nodding for everyone to take what they had with them for the night, Nicolai was busy with removing the last of his food from his horse when something tugged sharply at his sleeve – or rather it felt like a sharp tug as the fabric pulled down against the bandage and therefore the wound. Hissing like man who had stubbed his toe, he turned sharply on the culprit, looking down to find the blonde boy apologising to him, holding his hand to his chest as if to protect it.
[+teal “Dammit Augustine! Watch what the hell you are doing you stupid boy!”] He barked at the youthful figure who looked up at him with those large emerald eyes, seeing the scowl and anger of the elf clear across his face. Nicolai's hand had clenched for a moment but shaking his head he instead placed it close to his shoulder and readjusted his bandage from atop the clothing.
[+crimson “Hey!”] A booming voice shouted from across the stable, close to the other corner where Adrian and Elizabeth had taken their mounts. Looking up to find the pale figure moving across in large strides Nicolai brow furrowed deeply.[+crimson “Don't shout at him like that, he didn't do anything wrong.”] He stopped beside Augustine, a hand to his small shoulder, trying to move him back and insert himself before the elf.
Nicolai looked at the man in sheer disbelief, almost like that of a drunken stupor.[+teal “Who the actual [i fuck] do you think you are?”] His voice carried his confusion though the anger simmered just beneath the surface.[+teal “First off mind your own bloody business you lumbering oaf. You can swing your dick about and strut around in front of them,”] his hand waved over to the other adults,[+teal “but don't even think for a second you can do so in front of me.”] Stepping forward he closed the gap between them, their chests almost touching as he met the bigger mans eyes.
[+teal “I don't care who you are, where you're from, what you did with your life – you're just a pretentious arsehole in need of being put on his backside and taught he isn't as tough and big as he thinks. Want me to be the one who does that to you because I would love nothing more than to-”]
[+royalblue [i “Nicolai!”]]
At the shouting of his name, though in elven it sounded like a curse word, both men's heads turned to the elven woman who stood staring at the duo with a look of fury – it was a sight that seemed foreign on such a beautiful face. Given how tranquil and calm she had been all day, this was a change for Elizabeth.[+royalblue [i “Leave him alone!”]] She stared at him directly now.
[+teal [i “Oh, but of course, that makes sense,”]] he turned back to Adrian as he took his attention once more,[+teal [i “you stand alongside this.. foundling.”]] The fact that word existed in elven was a feat of itself, but Nicolai found it gave both the right amount of insult and on the ear it would not be misconstrued as anything but that even to someone who did not speak his language.
Florence was unaccustomed to this sort of praise. It felt almost childlike. A flush of red came to her face as he patted her and moved on. Yes, it was very different to be treated this way… but she wasn’t entirely sure she hated it. Perhaps from someone not quite so earnest she would have, but Adrian acted in a way that showed no mockery or jest. He meant what he said. The whole thing was very strange.
The moment passed quickly and they left in a whirlwind like manner. They needed to quit this place as soon as possible since there was no way to tell how far off the enemy was. There was also a change in formation. Initially they had Gregory out back to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity with the strangers, as things were, having a fighter at their backs would be better. It also stopped the inquisitive Adrian from asked what or who they were on the run from as he was more isolated at the tail end of the group.
Aside from the constant nerves, which Augustine only made worse for his mother by near constantly looking up, the trip went without trouble. Florence nodded as the elf in front announced a plan for stabling the horses. This place appeared harmless compared to Underhill, but the woman was sure it had its own list of problems. They just did not plan on staying long enough to find out what they were.
Just as they were finished putting the horses up for the night, Augustine worried if it was for the best to put them away. What if they needed to get out of this town quickly? This would do little more than create an extra step, but it seemed everyone else was happy with the idea. Not wanting to cause a stir, the boy came up about Nicolai's side. In attempt to be discreet, he tugged lightly on the man's sleeve. However, discreet was not what he got when the elf let out a hiss.
[+coral “I am sorry!”] Augustine's hand immediately came back to himself. [+coral “Nicolai, are you alright?"] It was not the question he had come to ask, but his voice held a sincere concern as he looked up at the fine-featured man.
The boy's green gaze was not the only one that fell on the scene. His mother too, lifted an inquisitive brow their way. Florence had been suspicious of Nicolai’s injury since the other day when he played off her inquiry of how he was doing. She was not pleased that he was lying to her. Not to mention if he had in infection like she suspected, the sooner they dealt with it the better. Delaying would only let it get worse and waste more time in the long run. And if it got bad enough, it just might kill him. The shoulder was not exactly a place you could amputate to save the rest of him.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai stared at the red eyed man with the same sceptical look Florence had. Both of them seemed to share the same thought that this man was mad to think she could strike a small moving target like a hawk. Maybe a rabbit if it stopped to eat, then she was rather accurate as the last attempt with Augustine being taken had proven she could hit a fairly steady target. But this was just preposterous. Yet here was this stranger telling her she could do it.
The elven man was ready to get to their horses and try to make some distance, perhaps find cover somewhere on ahead toward the village – but it seemed such gentle encouragement from a man who did not know her and she was willing to try. What would this man do next; would he walk on water or perhaps he could fly? His dislike only grew as he watched her take the hawk down with accuracy that would put ancient elves to shame. Even Elizabeth seemed to be quite impressed with the shot and beamed a larger smile than usual at Florence.
Clapping his hands as she rushed off to finish the bird, Adrian was just delighted that she had even attempted the shot – hitting the hawk was a bonus. Watching as she returned and threw a metallic band to the elven man, who caught it and cast it aside with a barely a glance, the large man grinned.[+crimson “Well done, I said you could do it.”] He had begun to move over to his horse, but patted her arm as he passed by and climbed onto his steed swiftly.
Nicolai had paused at the side of his horse, looking at the animal and taking a few breaths, knowing that it would be a painful mounting, his fingers all but desensitized. A hand on his left arm drew his eyes to Elizabeth who nodded to him.[+royalblue “I won’t claim to know what that woman means to you, nor why you seem so keen to hide your injury, but I won’t make you suffer needlessly. Come on, let me help.”] Though she had noble intentions, she did not seem to fully grasp just what an egotistical man he was and he shook his head, pushing her back a step.[+teal “I told you, I am fine. Go mount up.”] Dismissing her quickly he did get up on the horse, grunting with the effort as he wrapped the reins about his right hand. Thankfully with the noise from the animals and the others busy making sure they were well seated, his distress went unnoticed and he led them out.
They went a little distance before Nicolai advised for Adrian to keep near to the back. It was perhaps a personal feeling that he wanted the man away from the others, but to have a strong swordsman at their back in case they were tracked, would help more than having him amongst the others. The elven man was at the vanguard once more and led them on at a canter in his eagerness to have them away and to Stonebrook. It was a good two hours of this upped speed before he allowed them to slow, Adrian and Elizabeth pointing out a less travelled path to take to their destination for the evening. There was no argument and the ex-general directed them as they guided him so.
A few hours more and they reached the town with the sun just beginning to find its way over the horizon, still an hour before sundown.[+teal “We’ll stable the horses tonight just on the off chance they turn up here too.”] He commented to Florence, looking about them with an uneasy feeling but also periodically up to the sky wondering if they were still followed.
Florence flinched at Nicolai’s exclamation. He was correct. There was nothing to hide behind so that they stood a chance in losing the circling birds. She began to wonder how far off their pursuers might be. What kind of time did they have to prepare? Perhaps they could catch them off guard since there was no way for them to know that they had caught on to their tactic. Her thoughts were interrupted by Adrian’s booming voice.
Her initial reaction was skepticism. What did he know about her aim? The target was small, moving, and a great distance away. It was a hard shot for any marksman and she had been away from it for years. But he continued to try and bolster her up and Florence remembered having all the same fears when Augustine was scooped up. She had taken the shot then, with the added pressure that she might hit him. The consequences of missing here paled in comparison. It would be foolish not to try.
Taking up the bow on her back, the woman steadied herself, taking breaths as deep as she could muster. Keen eyes watched the birds above. Her saving grace would be that they were circling continuously in a pattern. Picking a place upon that line, she set it in her sights and took aim. Waiting for the right time, the woman let the hawk pass in front of her gaze a few times before she even thought about loosing her arrow. But when the time came, it was worth the wait. Like the last time with her son, it was not perfect. She merely hit the wing, however that was enough to send the beast hurling toward the ground and frighten its mate away.
The lightweight animal didn’t even make a thud against the ground when it hit. That silence did not last though. The speckled breasted creature flapped about, struggling with all its might to be away from the group of people. But it could only hop so fast. Florence caught up with it easily and put the screeching thing out of its misery. Inspecting it, the woman found a silver band around its leg. The circlet bore an insignia she recognized.
Breaking the thin metal piece from the fowl, she held it up. [+mediumseagreen “I think this is proof enough that we were right.”] Florence tossed it at Nicolai to inspect. She didn’t need the second opinion, but the woman would appreciate the backing. [+mediumseagreen “We need to get moving. There is no telling if they know where we are, but at the very least we know what to look out for now.”] Her eyes went to the sky, scanning the horizon for any sign that the other bird might return and avoiding the looks of confusion from Elizabeth and Adrian.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Grateful for the chance to stop and rest, Nicolai kept close to his horse for the most part. Carrying a bag of so much gold with two relative strangers nearby was good enough reason for him to keep to himself. Using the horse as a screen he took a moment whilst the others conversed to pull forward his tunic and look in at the bandage. It was definitely damp now and without having to look beneath he knew it was not exactly healing right. But being the stubborn man he was he would fix his clothing and go on without saying another word on the matter. Florence and Gregory were too concerned with discussing Augustine’s name and its origin.
Of course Adrian perked up with a tidbit of information to look like the walking encyclopaedia that he was. Nicolai had not known about that Astorian tradition, though why would he if he had never travelled there? Aside for learning their language for diplomatic means, primarily sending correspondence to their King for trade agreements and the like, he had very little knowledge of their island.
Dismissing their talk once the tall newcomer had spoken, Nicolai busied his hands and mind by working the saddle on his horse and adjusting some of the straps. It did not take long however before Elizabeth spoke and he found his attention drawn back by her comment. Looking up himself he eyed the birds circling above. It was a peculiar sight indeed but animals were just that way sometimes. Dogs would chase their tails; horses would chew the wood of their stalls. He had no concerns about it until Florence called for them to find cover. Turning violet eyes on her he gave a confused expression, not catching on.
Once she added to her request, showing her concern at the birds being above, he gave her an incredulous look. In his mind he could not fathom someone using birds in that manner. They could hunt for animals, but that was more to attack rabbits and other small prey. He had never heard of them being used to track.
But then her request to find cover also made no sense.[+teal “Where? We’re in the middle of god-damn hills. There is no cover out here!”] He raised his arm to indicate that any tree cover was sparse and with hills all around, they would not be making it to anywhere she could reasonably call cover – but that was just what Nicolai knew of the landscape. And not too long after, Adrian popped up with a suggestion.
[+crimson “Shoot them!”] He called over to her as he eyed the hawks above. He had no idea why hawks would track them or what the mirrors talk was about, but if they wanted them gone then that was their best chance. Looking over to her he nodded vigorously, walking over to her.[+crimson “Come on you can make that shot easy. I saw that look when I first approached; you know how to use that thing. I know a fighter when I see one.”] He partitioned his time between the woman and their watchers above, coming back to her with a look of belief in his red eyes.[+crimson “You only need to hit one and that will scare off the other one. Trust me when I say you can do it Florence.”] He would have asked Gregory to try too, but given he could not see the men back in Underhill, this was a safe chance he could not see the birds.
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