[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The damn kids were making some good points and Nicolai's saving grace were that they came down as positives for him. It seemed Davos was given the thumbs up, not useful or worthless, a good middle ground on which to judge others in the future. Florence hit on the bigger point that this man was not of the inner circle, and so any information he was given was likely public knowledge, but if they could get word of something sooner than the general populace they could use it to their advantage. Augustine was right that they were just building up options for now.
Continuing for a little longer they soon ran out of anything substantive to talk about and so he dismissed the younger duo to go about whatever chores they had been assigned by Helga. He poured the last of the watered wine into his cup to finish it off, eyeing Florence with concern as she stared daggers at him. Perhaps it wasn't quite that severe but as she spoke in a calm tone and nodded for the path to the shore, he slowly put down the cup.[i [+royalblue “Fuck… what did I do now?”]] It was mumbled to himself and he offered a placating smile as he swept around the table to join her in walking to the steps that led to the shore.
It was a small beach, the sea crashing on the rocks to their left leaving them safe from being swept away. It was ideal for a small row boat or a sloop at best, though it would take a skilled captain not to dash the boat against the rocks or beach the vessel entirely. Indeed the path down was built for receiving guests via row boat though he couldn't recall the last time it had been used in such a way. Still, it was calm, tranquil and above all deserted when they began walking along its sandy surface.[+royalblue “Lovely day, isn't it? Almost makes you want to go out for a swim, or take a boat out for a sail...”] His attempt to start a conversation lived and died by those few words as he looked over to her, trying to discern if he was in trouble or not via her beautiful emerald gaze.
Augustine saw Nicolai’s eyes on him and knew he expected an answer. [+coral “I do not think he is going to be winning anyone over to our cause, but Davos makes a decent contact.”] He was not just being nice, the boy really believed it. Plus it was exciting for him to have what felt like a real chance to act as a King. With his close friends and family it was almost as if they were playing pretend, but this meeting seemingly cemented the reality of it all for him. [+coral “Having that glimpse of what is going on in the castle was something I did not think was possible yet.”] More than anything else that pleased him.
[+mediumseagreen “Not to mention his inconspicuous nature may come in handy. Someone like him who blends into the background and never steps out of line is ideal to gather information from the inside.”] He was used to being idle, so it was good for them. [+mediumseagreen “However, conversely it is incredibly unlikely he will be included in anything truly meaningful or damning.”] Anything was better than what they had currently, but for any truly heinous scheming they would have to come from a different angle. The woman did not see the Lord as particularly useful, though she was happy enough with the single meeting. There were some things he said that bothered her though. His mention of these strangers in the council brought up red flags for Florence. If her hunch was correct those two were associated with the Taken, if not members themselves. That meant Vincent was still in cahoots with them to come capacity, and that did not bode well for them. But, there was a decent chance that boiled down to nothing more than paranoia, much like before when she had easily mistaken Nicolai for Ulrich. Sure, that had been his intention, but she still felt a fool for falling for it so easily.
[+coral “Even still, that is fine.”] The blond saw his mother’s point, but was neither as disappointed nor pessimistic as she seemed to be. [+coral “We always expected for this to take time and considering we are just beginning, this is a great place to start. We don’t need to perfect spy right now, or the most charismatic speaker. We need whatever help we can get.”] Augustine saw a lot of potential in this turn of events. [+coral “Besides, I think it would be wise to look at this from more than just one angle. Even if he finds us nothing in the way of new information after this point, he is still a potential sponsor.”] It was a point Nicolai had brought to light earlier and it was a damn good one. [+coral “That alone is valuable to us.”]
Marko nodded in the background. [+darkblue “Like it or not money talks.”] Even coming from someplace as humble as a lumberyard he knew that. [+darkblue “I think the fact that Töka is still around speaks more to that than anything.”] She was not exactly shy about her motivations; though after all this time he liked to think there was a little more honor in her than that. Or at the very least loyalty, though it was all in Nicolai. Still, the stout young man thought it got his point across.
Florence was not determined to be negative. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, I do suppose there is that… So long as we maintain the contact and give him reason to remain loyal, I think he would do very well for any of these things.”] The woman still held concerns. That the lowly lord may buckle if it were convenient for him to do so. She trusted in Nicolai though, if he believed Davos would remain faithful to Augustine as an extension of Germaine then she would too.
There was a bit more discussion after that, but it seemed like most everyone was fed up with talking. Florence was the exception. Now that the meeting was adjourned and the others were leaving, her green eyes stayed on Nicolai as if to ask that he stay put. When her son and his friend were gone she spoke up. [+mediumseagreen “I think I would like a walk.”] The implication is that he would come as well and she gestured to the path that led down to the shore. It was time to talk and they were more likely to find privacy away from the house.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai was a little pensive during the meeting. He had staked a lot on bringing the lesser lord to the group. It was not just about risking their discovery, this was about his appearance to the others; namely Augustine. They all sweet talked him, how he would be useful for how the people viewed him and how they hoped just his presence would instil loyalty from them, but he knew his use came from who he knew. Having been one of them, the Lords of the realm were where they would make or break their rebellion. If Davos came off as weak or useless, it would therefore not reflect kindly upon Nicolai.
Several times he would come in to help in answering questions, or offer up sweeter answers in the older mans stead. Rather than talk of how little power the man actually held, given Nicolai's lands were more fruitful for their wealth than their strength in arms, he would point to how the man could direct some of this wealth to their cause. Money talked and if they could bankroll themselves from his old lands, they could easily splash it about here and there in grand displays of generosity to the people. Words were nice but offering out free bread or a silver here or there went much further for loyalty.
The man performed amicably and the elfin man waited for the farewells to be made before leading him to the stable, saddling him up and giving one another a steady handshake as if sealing into motion their alliance. Opening the gate he followed out, standing outside until the man's horse disappeared at the end of the path and a deep breath left him. Heading back inside he returned to the trio in the rear gardens, taking a sip of the watered wine that had been brought as refreshment.[+royalblue “What do you think?”] His question was called out to them all, though he was interested mostly in the blonde boys opinion. Finishing his cup he placed it down on the table, remaining stood up as he looked over.[+royalblue “I know he's not exactly the most charismatic or inspiring, but he is simple and quiet. I thought we could use him, have someone in the meetings and whatnot, but he's a rather damp squib...”] He rolled his eyes a little, hand running up to brush through his hair and a soft sigh escaping his lips. He was sounding more sour about this than anyone though it was just his own nerves getting the best of him.
Once again Florence wished she had been given some level of briefing before they all sat down for this conversation. While it was heavily implied what Nicolai meant when he said Davos only knew what he needed to, she could not help but wonder just what all that entailed. Sure, there was the obvious bits, but was there anything else that had been withheld from him? Also, had she or Augustine known this conversation was coming they would have had more time to prepare more thoughtful or probing questions for the lord. These were all things she planned to bring up with the elf later, but for now she would not look a gift horse in the mouth and squander this opportunity, as it was a good one.
[+mediumseagreen “How much of the council remains since we saw them last?”] It was simple enough a question. Florence was still worried Davos was here only as a way to play to both sides. A minor title such as himself could stay in the background and secure his place in the future regardless of which regime won in the end. It was clever, albeit cowardly, but it also meant they could not ask too much of him. At least, not until Augustine gained more traction and it was clear he would be the victor in this play for the crown.
If Davos was worried about them asking too much of him, he did not show it. [+teal "Some of those who were boisterous in their support of attempting to return to the true royal blood line have since disappeared from the council. Not all at once, but over the years following Vincent’s ascension they seemed to resign one by one."] That was much as Florence had come to expect. [+teal "I am sure you would all recognize most of the new faces, many of them were great friends of His Majesty the late King Germaine. They are men of nobility from the area surrounding Belldale, though there are a few choices I myself find strange. Men who no one recognized before they were called to the council. Marquis Olivier and Lord Edwin, they were given titles to reflect their membership. The two of them never miss a summit, but are strangely silent on most matters.”] It was like they were only there to observe. Davos was not the only one who found it odd, but he had no plan to voice such opinions. [+teal “That being said, save those two I am certain there are many like myself who would be overjoyed to hear of your return. Though, I understand your need to be discreet for the time being and will do my part in keeping this meeting undisclosed.”] Despite Florence asking the question, his attention was turned to Augustine through the majority of his spiel.
[+coral “I am beginning to understand why my father trusted you so, you a good man.”] Perhaps it was not necessary to stroke his ego so, but if Augustine had learned anything, making others feel appreciated and useful could go a long way in gaining their trust and following. [+coral “I am glad to hear that I might not be so terribly received, but as you said, for the time being I believe it is best we remain quiet. I would like to gain the respect of my people before moving forward. Call it a boyish wish, but I feel it is the right thing to do by them after being gone for so long.”] That made their scheming sound much more noble than it actually was, but he smiled when Davos nodded along happily.
After that Augustine took the reins as a few more questions and answers went back and forth. All of which were answered in the same political manner. That was well enough though, to have any insight was a great blessing. Beyond that, Davos professed his desire that they may call on him again or even allow him to show his own hospitality to them in his home, making a promise that his people’s lips would remain tightly sealed at their presence. Augustine made no official plans, but let him know that he appreciated the offer and thanked him accordingly. Davos joined them for the midday meal before setting off back home, he did not wish to be gone too long lest he draw suspicion to himself and this place. He was not alone in this sentiment, but the others were sure to give him a proper sendoff with prayers that he might have safe travels.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Glad to be excused Nicolai led Davos to the kitchen, taking a plate of food for them each to the dining room to quickly throw it down. It was a humble affair and soon they were heading up the stairs to their respective rooms.
On arriving to his room Nicolai stopped at the foot of the bed fully expecting a good scorning for all he had put Florence through and seeing her sat up waiting for him it looked likely. But she seemed to be putting any harsh words off for another time and he was grateful for the stay of execution. Waved in to join her in the bed he stripped down swiftly and slipped in beside her and held her kiss just a little longer before she turned away.[+royalblue “I had good reason to come back safely.”] He commented though it was best to lay down and not push his luck with sweet words.
Although he started the night on his side of the bed it didn't take long to shuffle his way across to her and curl in behind her. She was so warm and inviting and given their previous time together he was more confident to just take a hold of her and keep her close; in a respectful manner of course. He didn't need much sleep that night and woke early to relax with her in his arms though she was still a touch upset at him and after only a little time cuddling in with him she rolled free and went to help Helga. He was being selfish of course, watching her dress from the warm confines of the bed, but he did drag himself free before she left to hug her tightly and offer a light kiss.
It was a small gesture but it set him up for a good morning, light talk made at breakfast where he introduced the others around the table, Lord Davos particularly interested by Ool. Like Nicolai he had not seen many goblins this far south, out in the open and away from mountains or a kiln where they made basic metal goods. Thankfully everyone was respectful or failing that just quiet, as was the case of Töka. The one time Duke Nicolai, brought those who wished to participate in the meeting out to the rear gardens and over to a platform of smooth stone that had impressive views of the sea and coastline. It had a table and several chairs and was rather beautiful at night. Though he was not keen to admit, it had been quite the place to bring past relations with a bottle of wine and… well, the rest was clear.
With everyone settled about the table he thanked them all for joining himself and Lord Davos for this meeting.[+royalblue “I have informed Lord Davos of all he needs to know,”] a faint look to Florence and Augustine that denoted he left out many deeper secrets,[+royalblue “and I thought it best to bring him in so that you could all ask your questions of him directly. He was a good, loyal, lesser Lord to Germaine and was given my title of Duke when we left. I feel we have a lot of information from those at one end of the chain, the farmers and the serfs, but we need someone who sees the world of the puppeteers – so to speak.”] He had to butter up the man to make him feel like this was not a betrayal of his loyalty to Vincent, but rather a continuation of his oath of fealty to Germaine and his kin. Being a timid Lord when Nicolai had known him, he was a good shot of learning more detailed information without fear of the man giving up their location. Even if this meeting amounted to nothing useful, he was not likely to go and sell them out to Vincent.[+royalblue “Feel free to ask your questions.”]
Nicolai’s instruction for Töka forced Florence’s hand as well. Looked like she would be bunking with him so that the disgruntled young woman would have a space downstairs. She was planning on sleeping on her own tonight, just to cement that the elf was in the doghouse, but it seemed she could not. Not with how small the beds were in the servants’ quarters. Sure, they were comfortable for one, but there was no way two grown adults were fitting unless they spooned and neither she nor Töka were up for that. Florence did not even need to ask, though she did sigh quietly to herself as they went.
As for Augustine, he was wholly unaccustomed to being spoken to in this way. Not that people treated him poorly, as most of Astoria well and thoroughly babied him, but this was different. This was based solely off his own status and not for the sake of his mother. Though, he was not sure how much he liked the undeserved adulation. Still, he took it gracefully, thanking the gentleman for his kind compliments and going back and forth with him about this and that. This was part of the game when it came to getting others to like and follow you. Politics as it was.
Then Nicolai came in trying to move things along and the boy had to do his best not to stare blankly at him. Augustine knew what he was doing, that at least in the presence of those who held any semblance of power or influence he needed to act this way, but it felt so unnatural that he could barely respond. [+coral “Oh, yes of course. Apologies for holding you up, please continue and I will see you all in the morning.”] The blond stayed in place as the others continued, watching them as they went. Once they were gone from sight, he was able to direct Flora off in the other direction so he could explain the gist of what he believed was going on. She for one found it stilted and strange. All she had to compare the interaction to was what she saw of Eugene. And while he was given absolute respect in many regards, he was also seen as a man of the people. Very few tried to flatter him the way the dark-eyed girl just saw. This was going to take some getting used to… especially if there came a time when she was going to be expected to act that way around her boyfriend.
Splitting the group allowed them to continue on. After making it to the kitchen, Florence decided to branch off herself. While it seemed Nicolai was making no secret out of their familiarity, she thought it best that they at least retire to the room for the night separately. Plus, she did not want to seem like she was hovering, as Augustine told her she was prone to doing. This left her waiting in the master’s chambers until Nicolai joined her. By that time she was already dressed down and sitting in bed. [+mediumseagreen “It is late and I know you are tired, so we will talk tomorrow... I expect some very thorough answers for all this.”] With little room for argument in the matter, she allowed him to crawl in bed as well.
Having been given some time to passively vent at him, coupled with the fact that she now knew he was safe, the woman was beginning to feel a wee bit better. She was not seething any more. [+mediumseagreen “I am glad you made it home,”] her eyed flickered to him and she sighed again. This time more in relief than irritation. Then with that, she leaned over and gave him a kiss before properly snuggling into her side of the bed.
The next morning was much like any other, though like any time she woke next to Nicolai, it was terribly difficult to get out of bed. Something about his presence there made her want to stay. However, she did the good thing and rolled out of bed to get an early start helping Helga. Between that and a posturing filled breakfast, she barely had time to sit down and talk with the raven-haired man. The next chance did not seem to come until they were out in the back garden, however that was not a private affair. Davos was there along with Augustine and Marko. Flora had offered to help clean up after breakfast and Töka seemed to have already had her fill of hearing the others magnanimously defer to Augustine, so she was no where to be seen either. That was just as well though, fewer people would make whatever conversation was going to sprout up easier to manage and navigate.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It was a quite curt and polite greeting between the two and Nicolai was glad to see there wasn't open hostility – at least not yet. He did not know how Florence thought of the one time advisor, nor how she would view him seven years later when he had remained in Wistina whilst they had had to flee. It was a win for the elven man however that she would not openly dismiss the man's presence and he squeezed her back lightly in an appreciative manner. Her warm figure was oh so inviting and he could have been tempted to just forgo food in favour of his bed and her embrace, however he turned to Töka as she returned from the stable having quickly unsaddled the horses.
As Florence led the way into the house, a chastising remark that he would have to find his own meal, he advised the red eyed warrior to gather some of her belongings as Lord Davos would be taking her room for the night. He assured her it would only be the one night and their light bickering was ended with a few short and sharp words from the man. Of course he would have to smooth over the conversation at a later date, perhaps take a few chiding remarks or light hits to the arm as was the norm, but it would be better than upsetting their guest by forcing him to sleep in one of the servants quarters.
In the house Nicolai let out a thankful groan as the warmth was made immediately apparent. The woman at his side made no comment as she stalked past them and her boots thudded up the stairwell as she went to grab her weapons and personal items. Nicolai was keen to lead them on to the kitchen to gather some food though it was delayed by the arrival of an eager Flora and confused Augustine. Nicolai offered a small nod of greeting to the duo, rubbing his hands together as he stayed off to one side. He couldn't leave. Florence would have his head if he abandoned the old Lord to their care to sneak off to the kitchen.
[+teal “But of course. May I be the first to welcome you back to Wistina my Lord. It is certainly a pleasure to see you have grown up to be so tall and strong like your father.”] It was all upper class flattery and over stating to sound pleasant and Nicolai felt a touch nostalgic to hear such nonsense once more. He had at one time been the focus of such sweet words, often from young and beautiful women vying for his attention. Now? He was just as often insulted by the women in his life as he was complimented. It was… sweet, in its own way.
Allowing for them to make some light talk, much as Florence had, Nicolai did step forward with a bow of his head to Augustine.[+royalblue “I do not wish to interrupt my Lord,”] he had not called the boy that in so many years it sounded foreign,[+royalblue “but it has been a long day and both myself and Lord Davos, and we – as well as you I might guess – could do with a good nights sleep. We will eat a late supper, get some sleep and we can all reconvene together after breakfast in the rear gardens and discuss everything quite openly then. If that meets with your approval of course.”] It was more difficult than it looked to slip back into subservience. Whilst he and Florence had been making many decisions since leaving Wistina, both together and apart, with Augustine and without, it was a touch difficult to then step back and immediately treat him like he was already King. But it was key to make it seem like they, or at the very least Nicolai, were bowing the boys authority. A form of leading by example; if he was already a servant to Augustine, it could help Davos to slip in to such a role more easily.
Watching as the cloaked man came off his animal, Florence remained skeptical. Even more so when Nicolai came warmly to her side as if he was trying to butter her up to something she was not going to care for, but in the end the one he introduced ended up being someone she knew. Well, it took a moment for recognition to fully set in with the low level of light and his change in appearance, however the one-time queen did put the name to the face fairly quickly despite it. Davos was not a noble she knew well. In fact, when all the drama surrounding Germaine’s death was going on, she had not been sure what side he would take. It was not until the vote for reagent when he had sided with her and her son that she came to think of him as dependable. Though it was not enough so that she had come to personally call on him like she had done with Nicolai and some of the others. Still, she was willing too see what her boyfriend had to say on the matter, so for the time being she would be amiable.
With a nod of her head she acknowledged his greeting. It was a respectful reciprocation, though in a way it lent back to the way things used to be with her as Queen even though for all intents and purposes she held no formal title at the moment. [+mediumseagreen “And the same to you. I am glad to see you well, Lord Davos.”] Though as her eyes ran over him, she was not so sure. The man seemed worse for wear. It might have just been the passage of time, or the late trip back to the estate, but he looked tired. She would not be able to fully tell until he was rested and standing in the light of day. So with that thought, and only after weighing the possibility that he might come to be useful to them, she glanced back at the house. [+mediumseagreen “It is cold,"] Florence could feel it for herself, but there was also Nicolai's icy touch on her back that was making itself known even though the fabric of her shirt. [+mediumseagreen "We should go inside and get the two of you fed.”] She did not imagine they stopped to eat on the way in. [+mediumseagreen “Helga left out a plate for you, but it seems that will be forfeited to your guest and you will have to dish up for yourself."] It was not much of a punishment, more of a minor inconvenience.
The house was warm in contrast to outside. Fires were winding down for the night in some of the common rooms, but it was still comfortable and would remain so for many hours into the night. The trio did not make it to the kitchen before they ran into some of the others. In this case it was Augustine and Flora. They were chatting quietly about something when the girl caught sight of Florence with their favorite elf in tow. She was excited and that burst of happiness only grew as she saw a new face. The Astorian girl had little idea of who it was, but she was always ready to meet someone new and so she was pulling her boyfriend along in no time flat. It took the blond a moment to recognize what she was so up in arms about, but when he finally saw his mother and her small group he understood. He was just glad they weren't gonna have to tiptoe around her horrific mood anymore.
The new face, or rather the vaguely familiar one, was not one that Augustine could put a name to. He must have been someone he had met or seen in passing, but it was so long ago now that no one could fault him for not completely remembering. Or at least he hoped no one would. As he was half fretting over that, his mother took notice of the couple and stopped. She was the first to speak.
[+mediumseagreen “Oh good, I am glad you two are here.”] It was simpler this way; she did not have to go out searching for them. [+mediumseagreen “Lord Davos, you remember my son, Augustine.”] Or he had better, considering this boy was once very nearly crowned his king.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The displeasure in her gaze was evident the moment she stepped close enough to read it and had the horse not been behind him, he would have surely backed up a few more steps to ensure peace between them. She was not one to strike out, but the last time he had upset her greatly had been in a dungeon in Astoria – and she had hit him then. He was happy to hear she had missed him. In a way it helped to ease the disapproving looks he had had from both her and Töka.
Her attention left him swiftly however and she stared daggers at his cloaked accomplice. With her distracted he slipped forward, placing a hand around her and gently to the small of her back as he joined her in looking to the other rider who now left his horse. Obscured for a moment between both horses as Töka stepped around to grab their reins and lead them off, Nicolai smiled lightly.[+royalblue “Apologies, Lady Florence, may I reintroduce you to Lord Davos of Blackwater.”]
The horses led away and hood lowered it revealed a familiar, if much older, face of someone who had once sat at the King's table. Davos was an older man, toward the middle of his fifth decade, with thinning grey hair and eyes a dull dark auburn that were underlined by dark circles. His face was framed by a short stubble beard, a far cry from the glorious and bushy brown affair he had worn when they had last met. It may take a moment to see the face and allow recognition of a quiet and unassuming advisor to trickle back through for her, but he looked on her with a warm smile and offered a half bow to her.[+teal “My Lady, it is wonderful to see you once more.”]
Nicolai was unsure how she would feel to have this man brought before her. He would explain himself, of course, but much like how she would scold him in private he didn't want to explain his reasoning before the man he had brought with him. Knowing Florence as he did he hoped she would simply be polite, offer a kind welcome and they could go to eat. It had been a long ride back here and he was eager to just eat and have a rest, questions could wait for morning.
After dinner, Florence made the executive decision to wait outside. The cool mid autumn air was a plentiful distraction from her concerns. That was about all there was the keep her mind from thinking the worst though. In the day at least there were jobs to be done, and with harvest soon approaching there were many, but when darkness took hold that luxury was strangled. She did not believe she was alone in the sentiment however, Töka could also be seen pacing about though she did so much farther out in front of the house.
It was when this erratic behavior stopped that the older woman thought something must have changed. She began paying more specific attention to the front gate until it opened to reveal the man they had all been waiting for. He was not alone and that was a tad worrying, but it did not stop her from approaching.
Nicolai spoke first with what she took as a mild embarrassment in his voice. It was ever so tempting to not answer, to be vindictive with her anger toward what he had done, but in the end she decided against it. [+mediumseagreen “I am not happy with you, Nicolai... but unfortunately yes, I did miss you.”] At least with that much she was candid, anymore would best be kept for a more private conversation. She did not want to air her feelings in front of a crowd, nor berate him for his actions so publicly.
And with that she eyed the apparent stranger. [+mediumseagreen “Who is this?”] Straight to the point, she very much doubted he would bring anyone he did not trust explicitly here, but Florence was still wary. They were walking a dangerous path and she did not want to risk making it any more hazardous. Though depending on who was waiting under that hood, these feelings might be easily abated.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The third day had grown long and given way to night, the stars twinkling up above as preparations were made for the evening meal. Helga had done her best to delay and push it back but even she had limits in waiting for Nicolai. She understood Florence's concern as well as her frustrations. Many nights she had spent waiting for her husband to come home, either from the tavern or from selling their products at market. It was always a fitful night of restlessness should he offhandedly decide to spend the night at a friends house or pass out with an ale in hand, leaving her to fret that perhaps he had been set upon by brigands or had ran away with their money. It was no life to lead and though she made a few gentle attempts to bring the tall brunette in or distract her from her concerns, in the end she left her to her own devices.
Töka for the last three days was just annoyed. Left behind with these folk it was much harder for her to shirk her responsibilities when she couldn't complain to the light-eyed elf. He was good at making excuses for her and often would take on tasks assigned to her by their elderly proprietor. Sadly for her she had had to work the last few days, only one or twice managing to offload her tasks to Marko and run off before he could speak a word in disagreement. She would have preferred to be out on the road again and would often be left pacing or sitting close to the gate. It meant she was the first to hear the sound of hoofs clicking against the cobblestone path and she moved across to a peep hole to look out.
The canopies of the trees that ran parallel to the pathway did not encapsulate the entire path and left a streak of moonlight running down the middle. Using this light she saw two riders approaching, each with hoods pulled up though no torches or weapons in hand. It was good they were unarmed but she disliked not being able to see their faces. As they came closer, about twenty feet away, she called out,[+red “Alright, that's close enough. Who are you and what do you want?”] It was said with an aggressive inflection, keen to get across that she was not in the mood for games. The rider on the right however took a few steps further forward with their horse.[+red “I said thats close enough. Now answer or I'll put an arrow between your eyes.”] She had no weapon to hand save a small knife at her waist – but they didn't know that!
[+royalblue “Oh yeah? Well I bet you couldn't hit the damn ocean even if you stood on the beach!”] A scathing cutback at her archery skills but accurate nervertheless.[+royalblue “Now open up Töka. It's bloody freezing!”] Despite the voice and knowing her name, there was still a delay in her removing the bracket to open the gate. The horse on closer inspection was Nicolai's too, but it was only when he threw back his hood with a huff of annoyance that she relented. Letting him stew outside a few seconds longer would serve him right for insulting her. The gate groaned as she pulled it inwards and the two riders slowly trotted inside before it was pushed back closed and the bar replaced. Nicolai slipped free of his horse, patting the beasts flank and offering a elven word or two in its ear before hearing approaching footsteps. Looking over his shoulder he saw Florence, and had it been day she would see the slight rouge to his cheeks.[+royalblue “Ah, hello… miss me?”]
After having the chance to rest up Florence was fine with pressing through the remainder of the scouting trip. This was nothing in comparison to the ride down where they had dealt with a plethora of different terrains and dangers. The trip around Wistina was almost pleasant in comparison. Well, until they came closer to Belldale. While the rest of their group seemed excited to see anything of the place half of them used to call home, she was not. The woman still hated that place. She knew it was petty, as she had chosen to live that life of her own volition, but the feelings were there all the same. Keeping them trapped inside, the emerald-eyed woman let the rest of them have their moment. She watched as they looked over the cliff’s edge to the city and a little farther to the silhouette of the castle on the horizon. Excited eagerness played at most of their expressions, Nicolai was the only one she saw anything different in. His expression was stained with something much sadder. And so, without much thought, she came to his side and did what she could to let him know she was there with him. This small display was discrete, with the others’ attention on the land before them, but truly she would have done the same even without the distraction.
The rest of their travels went smoothly. It almost seemed too simple and Florence half expected to be attacked on the road back to Nicolai’s home, but even then, nothing came. And the night went the same way. A quick, but nice meal, time to wash up and relax, and then Helga barely even gave them a hard time as the couple stole up to the elf’s room. Still, despite the nagging feeling that something was going to break, the woman was happy. The light emotion persisted well into the next day when something finally happened. Flore happened to be the bearer of bad news. To say Florence was displeased was an understatement. He had been right in his assessment that she would have made an effort to get him to stay or to take someone with him so that she might not worry so much, not to mention Töka was rather put out at being left behind, so he made the right choice there, but that was only for himself. His girlfriend was not the least bit happy with it. What was she supposed to do with how vague he was? Couldn’t he at least let them know where he was off too? An estimated time of return and a sorry if he missed it was near infuriating and definitely not enough to put her at ease. However this was not her normal brand of anger. Normally something like this would make her mad simply because she had not been consulted on something she thought was important and that affected her. No, this was different. Florence was worried for his wellbeing and that was manifesting into an emotion she was better acquainted with and had an easier time processing. Though, that was only by a small margin. Her fuming and overall irritable mood did cause some of the others to avoid her over the next few days.
It was on that third and final day that her simmering started to show itself for what it actually was. Or at the very least she let herself feel what it actually was. The day grew older and older and night was starting to take hold and she legitimately began to fear that something must have happened to Nicolai. Her mind now dwelled on what he meant when he said he was sorry if he did not return. Did it mean he died, did it mean he was just running late, or maybe even he might not return at all for some other reason. There was no way to tell and she wished for the umpteenth time in the last three days that he would have spoken with her directly. Now she was left in the dark, thinking the worst things imaginable and she hated it.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai was glad to hear the boy was taking his advice on board, trying to buoy him against any bastard-claims thrown against him. As Florence had always stated, Germaine treated him as his son and to the world at large he was. Thankfully with his birth father dead there was also no fear of the man being brought up to strengthen the other side of the argument.
The elfin man disagreed however that the people would be so easy to remember the old times and see Nicolai as a good man. After all he had abandoned them for over seven years, if anything perhaps the villages would be keen to see him punished for the downturn in their fortunes they may attribute to him. He hoped Augustine was right, that he could be used as a means of gaining favour and reminding them of the good times of yesteryear, but the self-deprecating elf was never one to hype up his importance outside of saying so in mocking manner to Florence. Thankfully he was learning to keep his mouth shut however, and only offered the boy a silent nod of his head as he retrieved their map to show them what they had left of the country to explore. Satisfied with the general plan going ahead, he took a moment to take a hold of Florence's hand and squeeze affectionately before they are remounted and went on.
For the next three weeks they hit the further reaches of Wistina, pushed to go on by the elven man rather than make any trips back to his home and delay them. Seeing the other towns and villages would only confirm what they had found out so he didn't want them wasting much more time on sight seeing. He made sure to skirt the capital though he did guide them to a hillock where they could gaze on the impressive fortress and its tall walls for a time. It tugged a little to finally see his home away from him, indeed he had all but raced Augustine to the crest to get a good look, but for Nicolai it was rather tainted now. Given everything that had happened in the last half-decade he could be forgiven for looking back longingly on the memories that place held. Yet Florence had taken a place at his side and, perhaps understanding his forlorn gaze, offered a rare public show of affection in kissing his cheek and leaning against his side. Of course it was all out of view of her son, naturally, but it did help him to think that perhaps things were better than they had been. It left things in a positive light.
On returning to his home a month after their talk, Ool was particularly glad to see them return. By that, he was not as usually sarcastic or sharp tongued as he often was. It seemed Helga had been nagging him with small tasks and had made Cam all but a shared pet between them, the large wolf looking more timid and tamed than ever before. Nicolai found it humorous though said little more than to 'ignore her'. She had only bossed him around as the others were gone. With more hands she would be more ruthless in putting them to use for her own needs, though as those needs often provided more food or a better living space, it was for everyone's good.
Having arrived mid-afternoon they all took time to rest, ate a light meal and headed off to bed. Nicolai brought Florence with him once more – waving off Helga's disapproving glares – and again they would share a rather sweet and comfortable night together in one another's arms. He was there when she woke, languishing in slumber a little longer despite the sun rising, his bare chest fluctuating steadily and looking rather peaceful. However, come mid-day, he would have left the property. It was Flora who would inform Florence, telling her than Nicolai had told her to pass on a message. Apparently he had to go, he needed to try something, and that should he not return in three days he was sorry. It was quite cryptic and blunt though should she ponder why he couldn't have told her this directly, Flora would go on to say that he knew telling anyone but her that he was going would lead to arguments against him going or demands to go with him. It was a little sly but rather in-keeping with the elven man's ways. It seemed whilst he had changed for her, some traits still persisted.
Florence rolled her eyes at the elf’s antics, though the smile on her lips betrayed her true feelings on the matter. There were worse things she could be called than a temptress, but she knew he meant it only in a lighthearted manner. Though he was right, depending on how things went, and how many were willing to turn their opinion of him around, as it seemed rather split for the time being, then he may need to disappear just as she did. It was a thought that made the human woman nervous. If she could not be there for Augustine she would hope that Nicolai could be. He was someone she put a great deal of trust in these days, so she would feel better knowing he was there. However, if they were both gone there was little to calm her anxiety. All this was not likely to cause concern for some time yet, but Florence was not looking forward to when it did.
Augustine took some solace in hearing the perpetually pessimistic Nicolai say he did not think they needed to worry about him being outed as a bastard. Not only was it refreshing to hear him do something other than naysay, but it was a relief to be assured that his fears might be unfounded, even if Vincent enlisted the help of the Taken in his endeavor to dash his legitimacy. [+coral “I suppose you are right.”] His thankfulness came through in his voice. Though even still he was not a fan of splitting their group, even if that was not a pressing concern in the moment. [+coral “I would like to keep you two around as long as possible.”] As it stood now, their group had little chance of getting anything done in a timely manner without the two of them. Sure, Augustine might be able to worm his way into the hearts of a few and figure stuff out from there, but this whole process would go much fast with his mother and Nicolai to mentor them. [+coral “I think there is a good chance of people turning around to you,”] he looked over to the elf, [+coral “since they held such high opinion of you before. And having you show yourself in the flesh will give them a chance to remember the good things you did and not just whatever rhetoric Vincent’s been feeding them since you’ve been gone… especially if you are separated from my mom.”] He was not saying this to be spiteful and it was not a reflection of his thoughts on their relationship, simply that people were more likely to believe he was of his own mind if the supposed witch was not around to hold him under her thumb. [+coral “But like everything else we will have to play that by ear.”] He sighed. It was a little disheartening to be unable to make any concrete plans, even now that they were in and had seen so much of Wistina. The green-eyed boy felt like they had come so far, but regardless there was still so much shrouded in mystery.
The conversation continued much like that, with the adults bringing up things he should be mindful of, but it did not drag on for too long. They probably did not want to overwhelm him with all the details, not when they were just getting started like this. But after a while they were able to get an estimate for how long it would take to see the rest of the country. Nicolai figured it would be another three weeks if they continued at the leisurely pace they had set and avoided going too close to Belldale. It was a shame they had to keep out of radius of the capital city, however Augustine was glad for the time. They were able to really take everything about the countryside in and he had time to comprise the list of places he thought it best to return to first. He shared some of these with the others to see what they thought as well and they seemed to agree that it would be best to start in small towns where it was easier to become recognized. Sure, they still needed to figure out [i how] they were going to get people to recognize them, but that was liable to vary from town to town. Though no matter what it was probably going to involve some sort of service. He just prayed there was something for them to do when the time came. No doubt dealing with bandits up near the boarder would be on their itinerary eventually, especially since that seemed to be where Vincent’s shortcomings were showing the most.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It was terribly cruel to leave such large and potentially life changing decisions to a boy barely into adulthood but it must be so. Neither Nicolai nor Florence would be there to guide him forever, and if he was to be King then the boy would need to become accustomed to making the more difficult and important choices by himself. Her comment about having to step back and remain unseen was one he nodded along with though not just in agreement.[+royalblue “Well if Clarice was speaking any kind of truth, seems I'm not held in such good regard either and might join you in obscurity. I'm just your play thing, swept under your spell I believe she said.”] Such remarks were a little more humorous now, given their ability to come together more and be more natural and open with one another, rather than to hide their little moments as if they were wrong.
Nicolai was, as ever, unsure how Augustine felt of their relationship lately. Following that initial drunken night sharing their pasts, the older couple had been quite relaxed and more even mannered with each other. Indeed the last month had been the smoothest their relationship had been since Germaine still held the crown. The elven gentleman thought the youth would approve, as his mother frowned much less and even his childish remarks and incessant flirting had calmed quite dramatically. Now his affection came in actions, like helping onto her horse or fetching her a warm drink for the beginning of her watch whenever they overlapped. It was infrequent but small gestures that showed to the others that they had progressed a little, at least away from their constant bickering.
He may have been smitten, but it was less spellbinding and more real than before.[+royalblue “As for your theory of rumours,”] he turned back to the blonde, his internal monologue over,[+royalblue “I would not be worried. Vincent and Gabriel were never the most efficient in building realistic or substantive whispers back in the capital. Granted with the Taken they may have a wider reach, but from what we've heard he has thrived off using your mother and I as evil plotters stealing away their prince.”] He tried to place himself with Florence, to show that they were equally seen as scheming for the crown. She was the mastermind, he was the love drunk fool. That was the truth after all.
[+royalblue “When said prince returns home, what substantive argument can he make to deny you your birthright?”] He understood the boy was fearful of his real father been made aware to the masses, but Nicolai held little fear there.[+royalblue “Whatever he says can be easily denied and the people will only see him as a fool. Just have to make them all devout nationalists and things will be simple.”] He offered a wry grin, knowing that was not as simple as he made out, but the people would be weighing up Vincent's word that Augustine wasn't Germaines against the boy they had always known to be their prince. It was not outlandish to think the scheming man would lie about his heritage to maintain his authority and position at the top.
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