[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Elizabeth had looked over to see the others all smiling and laughing amongst one another. Given the wind she could only pick up on parts of their conversation, and what she did hear did not give her any knowledge of what was being discussed. But they were happy and for the elven woman that was good enough.
[+royalblue [i “It's good to see them getting along. It has been some time since he had someone other than me to talk with – and a man like Adrian is happiest when talking.”]] Speaking to Nicolai as she remained riding next to him, she looked from the others to said man and found him looking ahead with an impassive look.[+royalblue [i ”Something the matter?”]] He looked across as if he had only just checked into the conversation she was having with him and shook his head.
[+teal [i “Not particularly no.”]] He was terse but polite.
[+royalblue [i “Which is a long way of saying yes.”]] Her smile accompanied another risen brow – she was very good at teasing him whilst not aggravating him. Knowing she would not let up he sighed.
[+teal [i “I just don't want him to start getting comfortable considering we part tonight.”]]
[+royalblue [i “Well, are you really all that opposed to parting? If we are all going through the pass it is logical to continue as a larger group – especially given the reports of attacks.”]] Violet eyes looked at her with suspicion now.[+royalblue [i ”And what is with that look?”]]
[+teal [i “For a woman who has been travelling with no-one but that man for two years, I find it quite strange that even you now advocate for us to join together.”]]
[+royalblue [i “Truth be told, it is rather nice to have someone to talk to in a softer tongue than Astorian or Malidek.”]] She almost recoiled at the latter language and Nicolai smiled, knowing it was a much harsher more brutal language that even had a different alphabet just to make things that much more difficult.[+royalblue [i ”Besides, they all seem to be getting along famously now, right?”]]
Looking back to the others he had to agree they did look particularly happy. Gregory as ever was a bundle of laughter and jovial happiness. It was hard to upset the man – though Nicolai seemed to have that knack as the man often did not smile because of the elf. Augustine was timid as usual, but seemed attentive and engaged with the others rather than shy and silent. He was talking and joining in and it made Nicolai look to their last member.
Florence was smiling. Not a fake and plastered one that she had perfected, nor the same polite one he had received when talking to her by the campfire nights ago. This was so much more genuine. She was close to beaming and looked so radiant with laughter that lifted her cheekbones and softened her face. In truth Nicolai could not remember the last time she had looked like this and in his mind he wondered if it truly was best to keep Adrian around. If that is what he could do in a few hours, there was little telling what days of interaction could do. He wanted to steer his horse back and over to them, perhaps whisper a warning that these people could not be trusted and they needed to keep to themselves.
But he knew that would just be a spiteful and cruel thing to do to sate his displeasure with the other man and he resolved to leave them happy – it was the sane option at the very least. Yet that familiar pang of jealousy hit him then and he turned away from them, face having dropped to that of a more solemn man. It was his usual look to be fair.[+teal [i “I won't argue if the others want you two to stay. I just want to keep them safe, get them to Astoria.”]] He was not admitting defeat by any means, but having spent so long being passive and reserved, it would take time for him to come out and fight for Florence if he felt she was in danger from another suitor.
Elizabeth was obviously of some level of intelligence and seeing his look and his reaction she could tell there was feeling in his looks at the brunette woman. It was a man who was pining and she could forgive him for being quite cold to them if he felt a threat from Adrian as more than just an attacker as a bandit or thief, but as an aggressor against 'his woman'. She had seen the look before as men often felt threatened by other men. Reaching across she placed a hand to his arm, his subconscious flexing of his hand stopping as her warm fingers ensnared him.
[+royalblue [i “Well thank you for being so understanding, as I know I will feel a lot safer having so many more people protecting me.”]] She was being kind, and he knew that. She looked capable of defending herself. But he nodded his thanks for her own understanding of how he saw things. It felt good not to have someone openly critique him for his thoughts or to scoff at his words.
Green irises falling back on the man who called her name, Florence had no idea what he was on about. [+mediumseagreen “I say nothing.”] Adrian went on to explain what he meant. What a curious man. Not only did he talk incessantly to whoever would listen, he continued on in his head when it was just himself.
Gregory was on board. It took little more than the mere mention of food to pull him in. He was easy prey to ensnare. Though, looking down to Augustine, he seemed to perk up at the prospect as well. Out of all the party, she felt worst for him. He was not accustomed to this lifestyle at all. And he had had no time to adjust before having it thrust upon him. So there was that urging her towards her answer, but that was not all. [+mediumseagreen “I think that would be a fitting parting for the six of us.”] The meal would act as a concrete moment of parting so that there could be no extra lingering.
The pale man wore a look of delight. [+crimson "Excellent. I look forward to sitting down to a meal with you all."] As happy as he was, he somewhat surprised the woman agreed so readily.
Gregory at the back of the pack, peeped back up. [+darkmagenta "I knew we would get along as soon as I set eyes on you, Adrian. There was just something about you. It reminded me of my son, so I knew you had to be alright."]
Florence had to restrain laughter at the juxtaposition. The thick bearded dwarf was right. She hadn't put it together, but the two of them, at least upon initial acquaintance, were similar. That explained a lot. As even as friendly in nature as Gregory was, accepting a stranger with open arms in such tense times was generally beyond him.
[+crimson "Pray tell, Florence, what is so funny about that? Should I be offended by the comparison? I imagine any child of Gregory's would be just as agreeable as him."]
[+darkmagenta "You would be surprised..."] Sarcasm, as if to barb someone, was laced in his comment.
Clearing her throat, Florence still found it a tad funny, but she had composed herself. [+mediumseagreen "By no means, he is a very good boy. Almost too much so, he would do better to look out for himself more."]
Taking up a look of mock contemplation on his features, Adrian scratched at his stubbled chin. [+crimson "I admit, I am not fond of being likened to a child."]
Shaking her head, Florence realized how she had misspoken. [+mediumseagreen "Well, I suppose he is not a child anymore. It is just that I have not seen him in some ten years."]
[+crimson "Ah, then I suppose that lessens the blow. And if he makes you smile like that,"] he nodded over to the woman whose face had not returned to a scowl since he had been brought up. [+crimson "I am inclined to take it as a compliment... You must care about him a great deal."]
Florence blinked. She was unaware that she was grinning away, though that was not really the case. The actual expression was much subtler. Adrian was just easily able to take notice because it was something other than a scowl, but in the same breath was also able to pin down her feelings. Perhaps he was not so great a fool as she thought. [+mediumseagreen "Like a brother."] This answer provoked snickering from the dwarf behind them; Florence rolled her eyes at him, but said nothing on the matter.
Uphill travel was a little easier on the legs without all the bouncing from the horses. It also caused fewer worries of falling headlong down the incline, so that was nice. As a whole most everyone seemed more merry because of it. Though, that might have only been part of it. Adrian was doing a good job of keeping the ambiance light and happy. For most of them it was a welcome distraction from the doom and gloom. The constant ruckus did make it a touch difficult to listen into their surrounds, but no more than the sound of horseshoes against the stark rock ground. However, certain things still cut through. The howling of wind as it rushed down the rocky Cliffside and the occasional screech of a hawk in the sky being two such sounds.
Nicolai took Florence’s command as a means of her establishing herself with the newcomers. She was not a woman to be cowed and put back and indeed she demanded respect if not authority. It was always best when she could take the role of leader as she seemed most calm and relaxed when she had control. It was a soft working theory but for now it had proven to be mostly correct, and he only hoped she would back him when it came time to part with Adrian and Elizabeth. Gregory was sure to make another argument for their continued mutual assistance.
Up on his horse with a groan his body felt unpleasantly hot and he felt close to perspiring despite the constant wind near the mountain. Flexing his right hand several times to stave off any twitches of the nerves he brushed at his pants a touch. He was dirty once more having not only moved through Underhill but also the blacksmiths, yet the lines of soot and dirt just gave him a weathered traveller look. Thinking on himself thought brought him to glance at Adrian who had taken to his horse with more ease and some flair.
The man was about his height, but he held more weight on his body that was for sure, yet it looked to be muscular weight not just fat – if only it had been, that would have been easier. He looked like a seasoned fighter given the markings on his few pieces of armour and the worn grip of his sword on his back. Adrian looked like a man eager for a fight and yet his face always seemed chipper or upbeat – Nicolai didn’t like that. What was there to be happy about out here?
And the elven woman – who travels with a woman who looks like that, and you are just friends? Was he celibate? Was he of the queer persuasion? His violet eyes darted back to the man who had just started up a talk with young Augustine. Being in the front made sense as he knew where they were heading, but to have the pairing behind him left him uneasy and he was left isolated from the others. A man of solitude missing conversation, he was just a mess of emotions and feelings lately. Perhaps his wound was affecting him more on a mental level; but the man was too stubborn to consider this. No, it was Adrian, he was making him uneasy.
Unfortunately for Nicolai, having looked back to observe the group, he had caught the attention of the very same man he wanted no dealings with. When his question came there was a look on the elven man’s face that he was not interested in talking. Florence was busy with Gregory and so his eye fell to Elizabeth – but she only offered a humoured smile and her slender brow rose with a look that showed she would not save him from the conversation. Huffing to himself he turned to face the front. No doubt Florence would be disappointed in him to ignore the man, and to be acting so childish once more.
[+teal “No, I am not from Astoria. I am from Wistina.”] He kept his personal background to himself.[+teal “I have lived there my whole life.”] Giving the man only the information he wanted and possibly abating any annoyance from Florence, he was happy to continue on and allow the silence to settle in.
[+crimson “All your life? Well then congratulations on striking out into the great unknown. Nothing better than exploring.”] So. Damn. Chipper.
[+teal “I have travelled within the southern kingdoms as part of my work. I am not some bright eyed youth fresh to the world.”] His retort was quite snappy.
[+crimson “Apologies, I did not mean to insinuate anything. Just love to learn about others and having a chat to pass the time, but I will leave you to it.”] Still with a half-smile on his face he seemed to play off the irritable former-General with ease of someone accustomed to meeting his kind. It was always best to play rather kind and humble than press any matter too far.
He was finding the group rather fun. Augustine was talking to him, even if he did not know the boys name, and Gregory was seemingly ever eager for a talk about any old subject – if fact they did talk for several miles about the instrument strapped to the side of his horse. Discussing their favourite pieces, what melodies worked best with what musical ensemble, how difficult it was to find good strings when one broke; they were like old acquaintances reminiscing over past times.
Nicolai was quiet and standoffish, but it was to be expected given he clearly did not want the pairing to be travelling with them. And yet Florence was the one he found quite fascinating. She held so much back behind a tough exterior and a look that was meant to frighten but he found rather innocent – like a child holding their breath just to be stubborn.[+crimson “What do you say Florence?”] He asked as his conversation with Gregory came to an end.
Drawing her attention, though she did not understand what he was asking, he smiled and bright crimson eyes lit up a touch.[+crimson “Sorry, I have conversations in my head sometimes and forget to say it out loud. Lizzie hates it.”] The elven woman, riding behind Nicolai and ahead of the others, nodded her head in agreement.[+crimson “I was thinking, seeing as you all agreed to join us and bolstered us from just two lone travellers to a more formidable group, we can buy you all a meal as a sign of thanks.”] He could hear a groan of delight from Gregory behind him, the dwarf dreaming of good meal and how it would taste right about now after days on rations.
[+crimson “I see I have one yes. What do you and your son say? I figure if you’re going north you have to change to more warm clothing – could be a nice send off for all your amazing clothing before they get packed away.”] He did not mean Nicolai in this, given the man looked like he had rolled with the farmyard animals, but he did not openly state that.[+crimson “A nice big hot meal, some wine and beer, maybe some light musical refreshment from the talented bard?”] A holler of agreement once more.[+crimson “Come on – I insist!”]
Nicolai felt his cheeks flush with jealousy that he had not thought to proffer the suggestion first – though his meal would be just four strong. And yet he was also embarrassed to be shown up as a more gracious man when he was meant to be showing Florence he was worthy of her attention. Elizabeth must have seen, taking her horse up further to his side.[+royalblue [i “Come now, are you really getting upset at having a warm meal and wine?”]] She asked in her ever teasing voice. Looking at him for a moment with humoured eyes she saw his right hand was flexing repeatedly resting on his thigh. The skin looked lighter than his face – even without the blush – and she narrowed her eyes a touch.
[+teal [i “I am not upset!”]] It was hard to make elven sound harsh but Nicolai had a knack with difficult tasks. His voice did not raise however and he sighed as he turned his gaze from ahead to look at her. The bauble of hair atop her head was held steadfast in place but the golden strands framing her face jumped with each movement of the horse.[+teal [i “Apologies, I am just tired. The last few weeks have been long – and coupled with little if broken sleep, I am a little at my wits end.”]] He had no idea why he was being so open with her about this. Perhaps it was just natural when speaking in his home tongue. He had only really spoken with his mother in this language, so it felt natural to do so with her.
She nodded in understanding, having not been a great sleeper herself.[+royalblue [i “Perhaps you should rest in Stonebrook, regain your strength?”]] She offered helpfully but he shook his head.[+teal [i “We just finished a respite and I insisted I was fine to continue. Plus with having to act as guard each night, I will only fall back to a poor sleeping pattern.”]] There was a nod of agreement from the woman and she smiled a little more.[+royalblue [i “Ah yes, I am the same. The few times we rest it is only more painful to have to go back out again.”]] She let out the lightest of chuckles and Nicolai offered a small smile himself. [+teal [i “Well, it is good to know someone else understands what it is like – these three are a touch spoiled to such hardships if you ask me. But don’t tell them I said it.”]] He winked toyingly at her as if to seal their pact of silence and she laughed a little once more, nodding again. [+royalblue [i “But of course – consider it our elven secret.”]] Their jovial back and forth continued on a little longer as Adrian awaited his answer.
Like Gregory, the human woman was curious just what had become of the girl who had once played the role of her lady in waiting, but she trusted Nicolai enough not to assume the worse, especially if he planned to tell them what had happened later down the line.
There was no one else amongst them who spoke the flowery elfish language. So it continued to gently bounce between Nicolai and Elizabeth with the rest none the wiser. Still, Florence listened carefully. It was difficult to tell with how soft all the sounds were, but whatever was being said sounded amicable. At the very least the midnight haired man was [i probably] not continuing his hostile affront he had started with. In fact when the pair was through, he seemed more receptive to the temporary union. It seemed everyone was on board, even though they weren’t all entirely happy with it. Florence was still hesitant about the entire thing. She planned to keep a keen eye out for anything she considered suspicious.
After Nicolai finished stating their intentions, Florence spoke up as well. She did so with an almost commanding tone. [+mediumseagreen “Agreed, now let us leave. I do not care for this place.”]
Now that things had been decided and it seemed these newcomers were not as dangerous as Augustine had initially been expecting, the boy stepped out from his mother’s shadow. He approached the dark haired elf to return his blade; he would not need it on the horse with his mother. In fact it would likely be more of a hazard that way that without. [+coral “Thank you, Nicolai.”] The child was appreciative, even if he didn’t need to use it. He watched as the man returned the pommel to the hilt of his sword. The mechanics of it fascinated the child. But before he could ask about it, his mother was calling for his return beside the large stallion.
The tall woman helped to hoist Augustine up onto the horse and then took a seat herself. There was a bit of wiggling about until they were both comfortable. By then everyone else had mounted. With a sidelong glance off into the direction of the possible brigands, Florence confirmed their disinterest in a group of this size, especially with so many of the members clearly armed. It brought a smile to her face as they left. Despite all that had gone terribly, at least they had this.
They must not have gone more than a mile before the silence was broken. [+crimson “So, son of Florence, have you ever been to Astoria before?”]
Not expecting to be the one the crimson-eyed man reached out to, Augustine took a moment to realize that Adrian was talking to him. It didn’t help that his name wasn’t used, but when his mother nudged him from behind, he became more alert. [+coral “Oh, yes… This is my first time leaving Wistina.”] His hands gripped tightly at the horn of the saddle as he spoke; he was concentrating on his Astorian.
[+crimson “Then there will be plenty for you to see the whole way up.”] It would be an exciting prospect for the boy, though he did not look entirely enthralled with it. He must have been dragged along for the ride. [+crimson “And it sounds like you are still working with the language?”] There was an inquisitive tone to the comment. [+crimson “Your mother did not use it with you growing up?”] That seemed kind of odd given the mother hen vibes she had radiating off of her.
He shook his head and Florence stepped into the conversation. Albeit, she kept her part short. [+mediumseagreen “I was not in a position to take such liberties.”] The statement was not entirely true. She knew no one would have questioned her doing so, but the woman hadn’t wanted to give anyone even the smallest reason to doubt her son’s loyalty to his country and people.
Brow furrowing, Adrian was not sure what that meant. Looking from the child back to her, they shared enough features that he was fairly certain the boy was her flesh and blood, so that couldn’t have been it... But nothing else came to mind. At least, nothing else that was any good. Not wanting to step on any toes, he quickly backed away from the subject with a smile. [+crimson “Just as well, he is learning it now.”]
[+coral “Well, I did learn a little before… Gregory used to teach me some words and phrases back home.”] The child tattled on the old man, thinking that with it would be okay given the circumstance.
Eyes narrowing, this was news to Florence. She looked back at the bard who shrugged and looked away, admitting his guilt. This explained why Augustine was picking Astorian up so quickly. Letting out a shallow sigh, she decided to drop it. In the end it was beneficial, so faulting him now would be pointless.
This group was definitely interesting if nothing else. [+crimson “So, Nicolai,”] as he remembered him being called. [+crimson “What about you? Do you also hail from Astoria, or will it be your first trip?”] He called to the front where the lilac-eyed man led the way, hoping that the attitude change he had undergone because of Elizabeth might extend to him as well.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Like an alpha male animal strutting and flexing his might, Nicolai remained stationary even when the other man backed away a step and tried to profess his innocence of whatever it was the raven haired man was accusing him off. Though he knew there were two of them, this man was the main threat and he felt like he had put the others in jeopardy by leaving them outside.
Gregory, as was his way, jumped to the man's defence and tried to inform Nicolai that despite the appearance of the man before them with his shield and sword, he was not a threat. And perhaps he wasn't. But he had to make sure that it was understood that the friendly nature was not a sign of any weakness. In his mind, they were against the world, and couldn't trust in anyone but their own group of four. It was self-centred and isolating but it was better than another situation similar to that with Meredith where their new found friends turn on them and try to have them killed – especially now he carried so much coin.
Nicolai did not get much of a chance to speak as the deep voiced man made a proposal for them to link their groups together and travel on as one. He would have to have a word with Gregory about keeping his mouth quiet; having a Queen, her son and the General of a country out here on their own and running from tyrants who would pay handsomely for their heads was something that had to be considered at all times. But the dwarf seemed rather happy to inject his opinion once more on the conversation.
Violet eyes looked in the direction indicated though only for a brief time before they returned to what he considered the more immediate threat. Yes, a group of skulking men stood on the main path north was something to watch for, but who knew if the two here worked with that group to lure them out specifically that way? Such possibilities plagued the elf's mind before Florence spoke up.
Looking back at her with a little surprise that she would agree to something like this, he was joined in his amazement by Adrian who smiled to hear her agree his plan had some semblance of credibility to it. Even when she looked the former for his opinion, it was not exactly a free option to say what he thought. With three against one, and Augustine as ever relegated to having no vote in the matter, he looked around and eyes landed on the elven woman who stood quietly with their horses.
Having approached to confront the man he had not truly considered the woman. With a very preliminary look over her he deduced her to be quite beautiful and yet a mystery. Her clothing spoke of the trees and forests, a deep connection to the world and the earth like elves of old. And the markings on her face backed up this more druidic look to her. Yet when her amber eyes met his, he saw a deep wisdom and intelligence there. Her constant smile had perhaps the desired effect of relaxing anyone who came across her and even the pent up Nicolai calmed a touch.
To Gregory, he waved his hand as if to dismiss him.[+teal “She is staying here, I will tell you the details later.”] Looking away from the man back to the golden haired elf, he paused a moment before asking his question, his tongue changing from Astorian to Elven in an instant.
[+teal [i “Does your man here speak elven?”]] He had to know.
[+royalblue [i “He does not. It is not exactly the easiest of languages to learn, left often to our kind alone.”]] She seemed pleased to speak in her native tongue, that easy smile growing a touch.
[+teal [i “Then tell me about him; is he a good man? We have a child here – can he be trusted not to bring ill will to the boy or lead him astray?”]]
[+royalblue [i “He is a very good man who saved my life and those of many others. He has a kind and noble heart – you can trust him to remain respectful, though he can be rather.. forward and headstrong. But aren't all men?”]] It was light joke at his expense given how he had approached them both but he nodded anyway.
[+teal [i “You seem to be sure of yourself.”]] It was not an accusation, more just his observation.
[+royalblue [i “I am very certain in my words. If he was a cruel and vindictive man I would not be travelling with him.”]] The calmness and tranquillity in her voice was steady throughout and he could not find a fault in her answer or how she responded. If she was lying, then he could not find any fear of being found in her voice, nor any lie in her gaze which never left his.
Between Gregory and Florence, and now the testimony of the elven woman, Nicolai was left with little way of disagreeing or trying to swing the argument. It was less a point of arguing his corner, as the others and himself were want to do, but a matter of being cordial and showing solidarity with them so their group had some semblance of unity. Florence had accepted him coming with them but it felt that he would have to be much more open to listening to others than he had been if he was to show her how he was.
[+teal “It would make sound sense for us to remain as a larger group yes – at least until we leave. We are heading for Stonebrook, we will get the rest of our supplies there and stay the night. Once we reach the village we can go our separate ways, the threat of Underhill no longer with us. Agreed?”] He looked to each of them, even to Augustine, wanting them all to understand just what was going to happen. Like Florence he did not want them around for long, but it would really depend on him keeping Gregory away from her ear. If he had his way there would be two new permanent members to their group, as the dwarf had the brunette woman's ear.
Finally someone who saw fit to speak sense. Florence nodded as she was introduced, but did little more. Gregory on the other hand, leaned into making the acquaintance. [+darkmagenta "Oh no, he's-"] he meant to complete the sentence saying that Adrian was no bother, but something else cut him off. A certain violet-eyed elf burst into the scene.
Not expecting the gentleman to make an appearance, let alone such a swift one, Adrian was a little shocked. He stared at him a moment before taking a step back whilst raising his hands in surrender. [+crimson "No need to be so hasty, I am harmless. I promise."] The golden haired woman behind him sighed. This was exactly the sort of thing she wanted to avoid. The people around here thrived on charged energy like this, and the last thing they needed was to attract more attention to themselves.
[+darkmagenta "Calm down, Nicolai. These people are nothing more than travelers, like ourselves. Everyone is fine..."] Gray eyes fell back to Florence for help on the matter.
[+mediumseagreen “no harm has been done... and I believe they were just leaving.”] She nodded to Elizabeth to try and herd her friend away so that they might avoid making things any worse than they already were.
Despite her efforts, that Adrian either did not notice or chose to ignore, he piped back up. [+crimson “Actually, Gregory here mentioned you all were headed the same way as we are. I thought it might be a nice change of pace if we left together."] He wasn't quite ready to give up on the prospects of conversation with someone other than the woman he was traveling with. Their were only so many stories to tell and in two years, they were just about all dried up... But that was not his only reasoning. [+crimson "...Not just that, but I think it would help in making sure that none of the fine folks of Underhill feel the need to follow us up and out.”] The brunette nodded off toward the distance where there was a small group of rather sheisty looking men. They had been watching the road out of town for about as long as Florence and the others had been sitting there, no doubt waiting for a decent mark to walk by. They were best to be avoided at all costs.
The bearded man squinted off in that direction. For him they were only blurs off in the distance, he couldn’t tell much more than that they were people. Especially not if they looked more the sorts to attack them directly or pilfer through their things in the night. Neither were great options to deal with. [+darkmagenta “I think that would be as good a plan as any.”] He was a firm believer that there was strength in numbers.
Florence did not stay quiet for long, but she did take a moment to think it over. Even as she spoke, she was considering what other options they had and if it would be worth taking the risk of being followed out. Their dwindling group had enough to worry about; they did not need to add actual bandits to the list. Perhaps if it were for a short time, traveling with these people would be okay. That way each group could keep their secrets. Besides it was highly unlikely they would encounter the Taken up this path. [+mediumseagreen “That might be for the best, at least until we make it up over this hill scape.”] Her words were carefully spoken as she looked over for Nicolai to weigh in. They needed a consensus. Florence did not want him stomping off because he did not agree with them.
Before that though, Gregory took notice of something, his eyes scanning the direction that the general had come running from. [+darkmagenta “Wait, where is Meredith?”] There was a hint of alarm in his voice.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The look on Meredith’s face was one of utter confusion and a touch of betrayal, though Nicolai couldn’t fathom why she thought either of those emotions. They had told her she would be left at the next town they came upon, and this was it. And if she felt their talk the other night had altered how he felt about what had happened then she clearly thought wrong. He had told her the trust was something that may not be possible to repair – that did not mean he was going to give her another chance to finish the job.
[+teal “I need that money as soon as you can.”] He addressed the soot covered woman.
[+dodgerblue “I kinda wanna know why she’s been left behind. What good is she?”] A fair question.
[+teal “Go get the money or the deal is off. I’ll explain her use once you are done.”] Shooing her off with a wave of his hand he turned away and strolled across to the open window have shaken free of Meredith. Though before he could look out he heard her approaching.
[+violet “Y-you’re just going to leave me here? Abandon me..?”] The tone was like that of a child who had been told they were adopted or unloved by a parent.[+violet “B-but I thought after that night-“]
[+teal “That I would forget you almost had me killed? Almost got Gregory and Florence and Augustine killed? I told you Meredith, I can’t trust you. I don’t blame you for what you did but I can’t just ignore that you did it.”] Seeing her face was rather heart-tugging, even if he had made up his mind and couldn’t change from it.[+teal “What would you do in my situation?”]
[+violet “I wouldn’t.. wouldn’t leave me here.. alone..”] If she was trying to make him feel guilty, looking to the ground in defeat and shaking a touch, she was doing a damn good job.
[+teal “I’m not leaving you here alone.. you will be here with Danny. I’m not just casting you away to be alone and without help.”] He raised his left hand to her, taking a hold of her arm and pulling her to him.
[+violet “But I don’t know her, I don’t know this place, I don’t want to be left here without anyone. Please.”] She clung to him tightly and he held her loosely for a moment.
[+teal “Meredith.. I can’t do that.. I can’t risk Augustine and Florence’s lives..”] Tightening his hold on her he ran his hand up and down her back trying to soothe her some, resting her head against his right shoulder and just bearing with the dull throbbing pain.
Thankfully the silence that followed that exchange was short lived as the woman of a dirty appearance returned carrying a large pouch that jingled with its monetary content. Seeing the rather depressed girl and a stern but equally downtrodden man, she looked between them for a moment before hefting the bag onto the counter top with a dull thud.[+dodgerblue “Well, here we go, 200 gold as requested. And if you would sign here.”] Her hand rest atop the bag as another put a piece of parchment with a piece of coal, looking at the two as they both looked her way.[+dodgerblue “Okay, so what good is she to me? Why should I keep her around?”]
Nicolai pulled away a little to look into those large brown eyes and with a soft smile he nodded.[+teal “You are going to get a friendly and warm woman, a beauty up front to take orders and see to the patrons whilst you do you work in the back – no doubt she’ll bring in constant work just for a chance to have an ogle of her.”] He laughed a little as he lifted his hand up and brushed her cheek softly.[+teal “And, if you want it, a damn fine new apprentice.”] He was being perhaps too kind, but Gregory’s good nature had worn at his desire to see the most evil of acts befall this woman. If she could get her head down and work hard, he would feel that some good came from her. After all, no-one had died in their group, though the pulsing of his wound reminded him they were not unscathed.
[+dodgerblue “Why do I want an apprentice? Or more jobs? Happy with the work load I have now thank you very much.”] The violet eyes of Nicolai snapped across to Danny in an instant.
[+teal “Because no doubt Jim trusted you when you had nothing to offer and it is now time to return that favour.”] He felt oddly protective of Meredith despite the circumstances. She had left with them in good faith, and despite the betrayal, he still felt a bond of the journey to get here with her.
A roll of the blacksmiths eyes was enough for the elven man to feel comfortable that she would see to their deal and not renege at the last moment. It made sense to have a pretty face to help about the place and especially with sales. And despite not knowing the woman, he could imagine she would get a kick out of being the boss and master blacksmith this time around.
Looking back to Meredith he sight as he brushed his hand down her cheek and her neck to rest on her shoulder.[+teal “This way you’ll be safe, you’ll have a roof over your head and food in your belly, and you’ll learn a trade too. You’ll do amazing, I know it. Okay?”]
Meredith held her composure very well, trusting in Nicolai’s words and the way he looked at her.[+violet “Okay.. but.. if you can.. would you try to visit sometime, you know, if you come back this way.. please?”] Her request was met with agreement and a smile.[+teal “I promise, even if Augustine, Gregory and Florence stay for their lives in Astoria – I will make a holy pilgrimage to come see you. Though you better be working hard to prove me right for believing in you, got it?”] He grinned and thankfully it broke the uneasy look on her face, a very faint glimmer of a smile on her face. She nodded and he leaned forward, kissing her cheek as his hands slid down to take a hold of hers and squeeze them tightly.[+teal “Good girl.”]
Releasing her he turned to the counter, quickly signing his name with the shaped piece of coal having read the agreement quickly, and putting his pack down he lifted the gold up to place it inside. Pulling the drawstring taut and making sure to tie it as secure as he could, he turned back to the window to look out. He saw the trio stood by their horses – but with an alarm sounding in his head he saw two figures stood rather nearby, including one with a sword strapped to his back.[+teal “I have to go Meredith, seems they drew some unwanted attention.”] He pressed another final but quick kiss to her cheek as he marched around the counter.
[+dodgerblue “Oi, get out, you said this place is mine now so go on, be off.”] She had already snatched up the paper and now held it aloft as if to banish him from sight.[+teal "You still have the lift for goods right? Well I need to use it to get down."] The smaller woman tried to stand firm but the elf loomed over and stared down with a look that would bring dread to most.[+teal "The quicker I am down, the quicker I am gone."] His voice was low and he held back from snapping at her to move to try and be civil.
Seeing the sense in letting him leave quickly she turned and hurried into the back ready to quickly lower the platform as he moved over to it. Not exactly safe by any measure, he wasn't truly concerned with his health and safety at the moment, too preoccupied with getting down to the others. Grasping a thick rope that attached to the wooden crate that lifted ores, fuel and supplies, he braced a foot at the edge and looked back to give her the go ahead to lower him. She was quick on the winch and eager to have him gone but she did not lower him so fast he fell out - that would just be bad for business.
[left [pic http://i64.tinypic.com/2448d2b.png]] Adrian did have a tendency to be too forthcoming and give too much information. In that regard he was more akin to Gregory himself. Seeing that Florence had found his back story rather dull and had lost interest quite early on, he had instead switched to telling Gregory his life's tale and found the man many times over more intrigued and happy to listen. It was a shame really as she looked to have a most amazing past if he could just find the means to part those lips and have her speak with him.
She admonished and jibbed the duo for their little love-in and continued back and forth, though it was likely part of a sarcastic humour he was beginning to find quite key to her personality. With his attention back on her though he saw her hands move to her bow and her eyes looking off behind him. Turning to find his friend approaching he quickly stepped in between them, holding up his free hand to her and stopping her from taking further action and waving the woman over.
Up close she was quite the sight to behold with her lustrous hair that cascaded down her slender cheeks. All the beauty associated with elves seemed to be placed into this dark skinned figure and as she approached, a half smile on her lips and eyes soft and half closed, she greeted the trio before her friend with a respectful half-bow from the hips.[+crimson “Ah, glad you could find me. Let me introduce you all.”] He made the quick introductions of the three Astorian's, still referring to Augustine as Child of Florence, and smiled as he introduced his friend in return.[+crimson “This is my good friend Lizzie.”]
Though she did not openly chastise him she did jokingly roll her eyes at her nickname and looked to the other woman.[+royalblue "Do excuse Adrian if he has bothered you at all, he is often quite keen to meet others who look friendly – it has caused more than it's fair share of issues these last few years.”] She too spoke excellent Astorian, though it did sound quite foreign to her tongue. Her voice was soft and light like a melody and her almost permanent smile left her tone happy and relaxed.[+royalblue "My name is Elizabeth, but do feel free to call me Lizzie if you so wish.”] Having eyed the weapons at the others disposal, she looked across to her tall and pale friend, shaking her head lightly but her smile only grew more.[+royalblue "What have I told you about running toward armed strangers? Come along now, you shouldn't be bothering them.”]
Her request for Adrian to leave them alone and come away was further expressed by a man's hand pressing into his chest and pushing him back a step, Nicolai now stood between the two groups, a scowl on his face as his right hand rest against his sword's grip. His chest puffed up having make his way back as quickly as he could, even jumping the last six or so feet to the ground though that only jolted his arm aggressively.
[+teal “I agree and suggest you listen to your friend.”] His voice almost growled the command for him to back away, a tone he had not used too often in front of the others. Trying to make himself as imposing on the man, not knowing his kind nature but seeing the sword on his back, the elven and human swordsman stood facing one another, violet and red eyes watching one another intently.
The dwarf ate up the younger man’s tale. [+darkmagenta “Always had a soft spot for little vagabond children myself, so I understand that.”] Gregory did not know what he would do if he had run into a whole orphanage worth, two were more than enough to keep his hands tied.
Florence got more of a tale than she bargained for with her question. It was basically a whole life story where a single word would have sufficed. And at that, he never really answered her question. Sixteen plus years in an orphanage meant just as long in one place, but she was not going to push any further for an answer. The woman had learned more than she wanted to know about this man. And Gregory was already making eyes at him like he wanted to stick to him for a while.
[+darkmagenta “What a coincidence, that was exactly the pass we were planning to take.”] Florence rolled her eyes. There was no coincidence, there were only two options and they both happened to be going towards the closer one.
The olive skinned woman took a deep breath. She was being even more cynical than usual, perhaps because of the story that Adrian told. There was a time when she, like Gregory, would have taken a great interest in him because of it. He claimed to be the type of man who would make a stand in the face of injustice. It was a rare breed of person who would do so for a stranger, even in her youth when she had been at the peak of her fieriness, Florence was never so forthcoming. The things she did, she did for her family and for her country. Away from them, she had lost a great deal of that passion.
[+mediumseagreen “Before the two of you skip off to start braiding one another’s hair, Gregory, you should probably think about the situation a little more.”] It was dangerous to trust so easily. And on the off chance they really did turn out to be decent human beings, they would be greatly endangering them by getting them involved. What would Florence say if they were attacked on the roads again? She did not want to have to explain the situation to outsiders. They would be fine all on their own.
With that thought, her eyes caught someone coming their way, a woman with horses in tow. Hand twitching around her weapon, Florence set her sights on the new stranger. However she was quickly interrupted.
[+crimson “Whoa, whoa, it is fine. It is just my friend. Looks as though she has finished up.”] He turned, waving at the golden haired elf as if she had not already spotted him standing there.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Danny snorted in a derisory manner as she looked at Nicolai. His request was made and she stared at him intensely to see if he was joking or not. When it was clear that he wasn't, and his gal-pal still clinging to his arm was now looking at her, she made a quick assumption.[+dodgerblue “A lot of gold huh? What's up, not getting paid enough to be a general?”]
Her snappy comment, whilst humorous, brought no change in Nicolai's solemn but serious expression.[+teal “I'm going north, through the pass, and need to buy a lot of equipment for several people.”]
[+dodgerblue “Oh? Like your little mistress here?”] She was rather good at these quick one liners he had to give her that.[+dodgerblue “No offence hun but I'm not about to bankroll you and your hubby's so you can elope together. Your personal stuff is yours.”] She folded her quite toned arms over her chest as if that would be the end of the conversation.
Nicolai stepped forward after that, cutting off any retort by Meredith as he sought to maintain the intensity of the conversation. It was about keeping the momentum with himself. If she began to shut down to the notion he was owed something, anything, he would come away empty handed.[+teal “First of all, she is not my wife or mistress or concubine. Second, you're going to give me what I'm owed because you know that this business that you took over for free, would not be here if not for me.”] Though his hand had slipped from Meredith's to make his point the young woman had remained attached to his arm, holding it and pulling it taut against her like he would protect her.
Nicolai could keep her from harm only so much with his sword arm all but useless – but Danny was not to know that, so intimidation needed to be utilized.[+teal “He may not mention how he got here but I'm damn sure Jim mentioned that without me, he would not have been in Underhill.”] Again he was not sure if Danny know this, more so he was playing off a hunch and a likelihood that he had been mentioned at all.
Eyeing him with distaste that he would try to use her attachment to her former boss and the man who had left her this thriving business, the woman scratched at her chin leaving a sooty line across her skin.[+dodgerblue “Okay, suppose I believe you and I'm willing to help you out. How much are we talking here?”] He had her at negotiations now. Not exactly the easy stage by any means.
[+teal “I'm taking four north, so I need a hundred a piece – four hundred.”] He stated this like he was speaking rather reservedly, though the blacksmiths eyes lit up in alarm and hands on his arm tensed too.
[+violet “Four people?”] Her voice was confused.
[+dodgerblue “Four hundred?! Hells, I could take a whole village through the pass for less than that!”] She scoffed and slapped her hand on the wooden counter.[+dodgerblue “I'll do you twenty-five a piece, a hundred gold. More than fair.”]
[+teal “I need to kit out four people in winter clothing, sleeping equipment and provisions. Twenty-five would be okay if this were spring, but you know the passes aren't hospitable this time of year.”]
[+dodgerblue “Not my fault or problem.”] She shrugged impassively.
[+teal “It will be when I start taking the profits I'm owed from here. This is partially my business after all.”] He pointed out the crest on the wall again.[+teal “Seventy-five a piece. Three hundred.”]
[+violet “What did you mean four people?”]
[+dodgerblue “Forty and no more.”]
[+teal “Fifty – the girl stays here with you and you take full ownership of this place, in writing.”]
[+violet “Wait – what?”]
[+dodgerblue “Deal!”] She held out a hand and he seized on it. Both parties knew he could have stuck out for more and perhaps gotten it, but it was a good deal. And she was curious how the girl with the doe eyes came into this agreement. Meredith looked curious too.
[left [pic http://i68.tinypic.com/nd9b46.png]] Not at all accustomed to having such friendly people to speak to, Adrian was keen to keep the conversation going. Even if the woman seemed cold to him, she had spoken with him a little, so perhaps he could work on thawing our their relations a little. The dwarf man seemed to be quite happy for a chat and the swordsman was not dense enough not to see he was being used for his presence as Florence looked about them.
It was also nice to see the boy was no longer holding the blade in his hand as if he were going to sweep forward and gut him. He still held the blade close but he looked from his mother to the newcomer with interest and he could see the boy was thoroughly involved with Gregory and Adrian's conversation.
Before he could reply to Gregory, Florence cut in with her own query and he smiled as he looked back to her.[+crimson “Oh, of course. Except, I'm a bit of a nomad.”] That didn't satisfy her worry and he decided it best to clarify.[+crimson “Well you see my first twenty years or so were spent in an orphanage. Never knew my parents, just left with the local church when I was a babe. When I hit sixteen, when most kids left, I decided to stick behind and help out. Least I could do right?”] He looked to Gregory to see him give a deep nod of agreement.
[+crimson “Well I did that for a while but I had always wanted to go travelling and seeing the world, so I bought a sword, bought a pack, and just.. went.”] He laughed a little as the spontaneity of the action still was so strong. Whenever he told the story it always made him smile how he had just done so with little worry.[+crimson “Spare you the details but did a lot of travelling, and I mean a lot. Seen quite a fair bit. But not least a lot of bad in the world.”]
The man was a little troubled at stating he had seen so much, as he had seen so many sights he did not wish to discuss. But the conversation was flowing so well that he wanted to keep the mood light and flowing.[+crimson “Anyway, I started being a bit of a guardsman. Would help people through the pass or protect them from one town to the next. Just felt good to try and spread that sense of peace in the world, fight back the bad, help the weak, pass on the goodwill you know?”] His hand had come up to push back his hair which had blown forward a little and when it came back down he tapped at the front of his shield, to the markings there.
[+crimson “Got this from a temple in Calista. Meant to bring safe passage to the wielder and have to say it did just that – because the next day I met my friend. She was being hassled by a group of guys, horny creeps basically. A few bashes of the ol' shield and hey-ho I made a friend for life. She's been travelling with me the last, god, must be near two years now.”] He was wondering just where she had gotten off to but knew she would be a little while longer. He didn't feel like introducing her without her being here and so he kept it rather simple with her.
[+crimson “We're in town to load up on supplies then we're going to head up north again – heard there was a group of people who got attacked by a couple bandits near Mayfair Pass so we're going to see what's up.”]
Meredith had really thought that Nicolai was taking a shot in the dark with the nickname, or what she supposed was a nickname. He might have descended into horse noises, but that didn’t make any sense whatsoever. In fact she was ashamed to have even had the thought in the first place. Still despite the strange mental direction she had gone in, she was brought to when the sooty woman snapped back in recognition.
The atmosphere got a little lighter, turning almost reminiscent as the two talked about this Jim guy. Nicolai was providing all sorts of proof of his connection. That was probably a good idea. This town was full of liars and crooks and this lady probably dealt with them on a daily basis. She would be able to sniff out a rat. Not that Meredith thought he was lying; just that this was a pretty far-fetched story. Not even she would believe it if a man walked in and started spouting off that her old boss owed him money. The girl was not the smartest thing, but that was very sketchy.
After that the air became a little heavier again, as the elf pulled away from the formalities. He took a more pointed tone as he stated the debt fell to the woman before them since she was reaping the benefits of inheriting this place. What’s more, he wanted money. And in his own words, a lot of it. That made Meredith nervous again. There were few things in this world that made people as aggressive as money did. She hoped he was reading this lady’s temperament correctly. Her brown eyes flickered between them as she waited for a response. The blacksmith was looking him over with hard eyes, as though she was evaluating him. The silence was driving the girl mad.
Brow furrowing at the winking gesture tossed her way, Florence didn’t know what he was up to with that, but she did know that she did not like it. There was no need to act so casual with strangers. Not unless you wanted something from them. She worried what that might be, as she was not so optimistic to think that it might just be the company while he waited.
Augustine was intrigued as weaponry was brought back up. He had always been interested in that sort or thing. But it was news to him which countries produced the finest type of different things. Living in the heart of Wistina, he always thought they made the best of everything, but thinking back there was a focus on blades and anything else that could be crafted of steel. Bows and the rest were pushed by the wayside and this must have been why. Vanity, speak only of the things you excel in and perhaps those around you will not notice your shortcomings.
At the mention of his mother’s bow, the boy’s green eyes slipped away from Adrian who he was previously keeping weary tabs on, and to the weapon in her hand. It was dark in color, the wood must have been treated with something, though he didn’t know what. And there was a shallow design carved into the limbs. Besides being pretty, it must have been sturdy. He did not imagine his mother would carry it otherwise. Though, Augustine wondered if it was as special as the red-eyed man seemed to think it was. He child listened more carefully to his and Gregory’s conversation from that point on.
[+darkmagenta “Florence and I moved down this way some time ago, we thought it might be time for a visit back home though. We are on our way back up north currently.”] He knew Florence would be upset with him releasing any more detail than that. Even with this much she was throwing him dirty looks. To be fair it was her business more than his. [+darkmagenta “A couple of our party members had some business to sort out here first. Like you, we are waiting for them to return.”] He recalled that Adrian was on stand by for the moment as well.
Florence could feel his eyes on her from time to time, but after giving up on glaring Gregory into submission she went back to watching their surroundings. There was not much to see, rocks, crags, and the occasional passerby. But it seemed that the eyes of those who walked by didn’t linger quite so long on them now that their group had grown. She sighed, knowing it was not just the number. Having an able bodied man there raised the risk in their eyes. For the first time in a long time, she began to wish that she had been born a man. Then maybe she would be able to protect her family a little bit better.
Gregory was saying something or other. She waited for him to quiet down before throwing her hat in the ring. [+mediumseagreen “You know where we are from, what about you?”] She didn’t think it quite fair that he had the upper hand there, and because Florence was unable to place his accent through the Astorian he spoke, she was forced to ask.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat As soon as Nicolai had mentioned 'Winny', there was a look of realisation and dawning on the woman's face as she looked across the counter and eyed his with surprised eyes. It was both relieving and embarrassing to reveal the nickname given to him by the previous dwarven owner. Even with the man gone it was still quite the barb in his side and he could see the smile spreading on Danny's face.
[+dodgerblue “No way! You? You're [i the] Winny? By the gods I thought you were just a myth and a story Jim liked to tell.”] She was quite alarmed to find the name paired to a man, an elf no less, and it belonged to a General of a Kingdom? It was hilarious but like a shroud had been lifted from a long darkness.
[+teal “Yes, well I am not. And my name is Nicolai.”] His eyes narrowed a touch but she waved off his distress.
[+dodgerblue “Oh shut up, I know you – or rather about you. So what debt did Jim owe?”] She still smiled but it was more mischievous than mocking. Taking a deep breath Nicolai nodded.
[+teal “Well, perhaps in his stories, Jim mentioned just how he came to own this place?”] She shook her head.
[+dodgerblue “Not entirely. Just that he left Wistina and came here, 'bout it.”]
[+teal “Well the reason he left Wistina is because he had annoyed the King. I won't get into how, but in the end he was to be put in prison for twenty years. I had known Jim for some time, and I was the one to get him his job at the armoury, and frankly it would look awful on me if my recommendation got locked up. So I smuggled that little bastard up here, to Underhill, and helped him to both purchase and set up this blacksmith. I even had, where is it,”] looking around them to one of the support beams at the side of the room, he pointed up at one,[+teal “there, that is my coat of arms carved into that pillar.”] He said gesturing a shield and it's emblem that had been carved right into the stone itself and turning a touch to show the same marking engraved into the hilt of his sword.
[+dodgerblue “Huh.. I had wondered why that was there.”] She was learning a lot about this place now and was a little fascinated.
[+teal “Lovely, mystery solved. Now, the deal I made with Jim is that I helped him set up this place, and in return he not only made me this sword – but he owed me a pretty significant debt. This business is here because of me and he didn't die in a prison because of me. As such he owes me and by extension now you do.”]
He was quite assured of his position to demand this debt still be paid even if the original debt owner had passed on. His story, whilst entirely true, was just a story to this girl. But he felt confident that the background about her former boss' arrival here and the details of his nickname and the coat of arms would further show her he was being honest. She seemed to mull it over and sucked at her gums for a time. Deliberating it over she eventually nodded.
[+dodgerblue “What is it he owes? What do you want?”] Danny was willing to believe him, just depended what he wanted.
[+teal “I need gold. A lot of gold.”]
[left [pic http://i68.tinypic.com/nd9b46.png]]Adrian conceded that she did not want to shake his hand, and that was fine. He smiled and took back his hand to rest at his side as she introduced the group. Despite the look of them – an old man, young boy and rather beaten woman based on the soft bruise and bandaged arm – he found them all to be interesting characters. Whilst he wanted to enquire as to her injuries, that could wait for another time. She was comfortable enough to tell him at least the adults names and that was a good sign for their fledgling friendship.
[+crimson “Well Florence, Gregory, son of Florence,”] he offered a toying wink to the woman,[+crimson “it's awful nice to meet you all. I always knew Astorians were kind folk, just don't tend to see a lot of you out and about in the world.”] It was true that they were quite the rare sight to behold, though if they were as friendly as Gregory and.. lets say strong, as Florence, then they were quite the joy to meet.
Looking to Gregory when he enquired about his knowledge of weaponry, a wry smile turned his lips and like a modest man would he shrugged lightly.[+crimson “I do indeed know my weapons, especially the best of each kind.”] He felt a touch on the spot by his question but the dwarf clearly meant no ill will by asking. Nor did he seem to be digging deeper to uncover a hidden truth about the fair skinned man. He just seemed rather curious and encouraged him to continue.
[+crimson “For example I know Astorian bows are the best to be found because the wood is so supple and flexible but strong. Yours,”] he gestured with a wave of his hand to Florence,[+crimson “is particularly amazing. Either a family relic or must have cost a fortune.”] It was a fair guess, but truly most people could have guessed as much.[+crimson “And then the best swords are from Wistina. The steel is just of such pureness, can't be found elsewhere. Whilst Calista has very beautiful pieces of armour, but they are more made for prestige and appearances. Me, I prefer a good solid piece of Delfin leather.”] He lifted his arm to show the leather bracer tied to his forearms.[+crimson “Hardy things these if you take care of them. Saved my arm a number of times.”] He said with a soft sigh of remembrance to past fights.
It was obvious he was a man of war, or a mercenary by some standard. But that seemed to be too simple for this unique individual. It was not so easy to label him a sell sword and call it a day, there was an extra layer to him being a fighter. But then just what his job was would come up eventually.[+crimson “What brings you so far south may I ask?”] He directed this to Gregory, seeing as Florence was content to keep mostly quiet and the man was affable enough. Though he could not help sneaking a glance across to her now and again.
There were two sets of emerald eyes on the man as she came forward. Augustine was not sure what to make of this stranger. He had to be very brave, very stupid, or very desperate to be crossing his mother in this way. The man had not come up with any demands, so it probably was not the last option, and he did not see anything to be brave about, so surely it was stupidity. But he seemed to win Gregory over in no time flat. The short man was usually a decent judge of character, at least as far as the boy knew, so he was torn on how to act in such a situation. But when Adrian came in closer, his little fingers wrapped all the tighter around the thin hilt of the blade he had been given.
He called for her to use logic with this situation, which would have been fine if he tried to use it from her point of view, but he did not. They were standing outside of a seedy town, an elderly man, a woman and a child. They needed to be wary of everyone who approached, regardless of how friendly, or handsome they were. But unfortunately, his way of looking at things made a bit of sense too. Now that Gregory was basically looking to have a sit down with this guy, she couldn’t just shoot him. The old dwarf would be pissed. And she would rather expose Augustine to as little violence as possible. Adrian on the other hand was now officially in striking distance. If he wanted to have the jump on them, he had lost the chance.
Looking from his offered hand up to his face and back again, she noticed he was looking intently at her face. She remembered how much of a mess she must have looked. Weary, bruised, and bandaged, without Nicolai she definitely looked the worst off amongst the group. The woman refused his hand, afraid of what he might do when he had it, but conceded to give her name. If she didn’t Gregory was bound to do introductions, and away from Wistina she was worried just how he would word it.
[+mediumseagreen “Florence.”] Bringing her hand down, now that it was obvious she was not going to nock the arrow at her fingertip, she gestured toward the bearded man. [+mediumseagreen “This is Gregory, and behind me my son. He is a child and of no consequence to you, so I will spare you his name.”] Since he was confident enough to come at her in her first language, she continued with it.
[+darkmagenta "So are you well versed in all weapon craft, or just have a particular interest in Astoria?"] Gregory stepped forward, completely ignored Florence's alienating language. Unlike her, he saw some use of having the gentleman sit with them. With his figure, he was a better deterrent by far than the rest of them combined. If he continued to be friendly they could use that too their advantage.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Observing the woman before them a little longer, each staring at one another with intrigue, it was Meredith who broke the silence. She pressed in closer to him, her free hand grasping his forearm as the one in his hand squeezed lightly. Her question had no answer really as he was still trying to understand why this human looking woman was stood there and not Jim.
[+teal “This is Jim's Ironsmith right? James 'Jim' Draketon's place?”] He spoke in a generic language that was popular the world over. It was like a business language used by merchants, traders and other economic trades.
The woman before them seemed to understand, grinning as she reached up and grasped the goggles, removed it and a bandanna that they would rest upon when not over her eyes. Her hair was shaved down one side of her head and her eyes were ringed by marks from the eyewear.[+dodgerblue “I speak Wistinian, don't worry.”] His accent was heavy so she had easily deduced this, but her voice was quite sweet and light which had fooled him.[+dodgerblue “Yeah, this is his place. Or was.”]
[+teal “Was? Where is he now?”] He had an inkling but it was best to confirm it.
She slide the hammer onto the worktop as she lifted the cloth and wiped at the back of her neck.[+dodgerblue “Dead. Keeled over at the forge about a year or so back. I'm Danny, I was his apprentice and then his assistant, took over the place once he passed. What can I do for you? Need the sword sharpening?”] A craftswoman by trade she had eyed the beautiful piece at his hip with interest.
Nicolai was left disgruntled by how she was trying to move past the fact Jim was dead.[+teal “Why, if he is dead, did you not change the name?”] He didn't know why that bugged him, it just did.
She shrugged.[+dodgerblue “He built up a good clientèle over the years. Seemed a shame to lose it for the sake of vanity.”] A fair decision and feeling that this was still the best course of action, he approached the woman and leaned at the counter, a spot that was cleaner from past patrons leaning here.
[+teal “Well, Jim and I go back a number of years.”]
[+dodgerblue “Looking for a discount eh? Not gonna work with me. I give good prices for good work.”]
[+teal “No, I don't want a discount. I need Jim's help.”]
[+dodgerblue “But he's dead.”]
[+teal “I understand that but he owed me a rather heavy debt.”] She eyed him cautiously.
[+dodgerblue “You collecting that debt today?”] He saw her insinuation and shook his head.
[+teal “It's not like that. Look, did he not mention me? Nicolai Windsor, General and Commandant of Wistina.”] Meredith had squeezed his hand at that and looking to her he saw the look in her eyes,[+violet [i 'why did you tell her that']] the look she gave him. He ignored her, but she remained close in to him – almost worse than two new lovers.
[+dodgerblue “Windsor.. Windsor.. can't say it rings all to many bells.”] She wiped her hands on her rag and tucked it into her belt.
A little desperate for this not to fail – as he had no other means for them to gain the aid they needed without several weeks of constant hunting – he looked around and then paused. Something clicked in his mind. Looking to Danny he caught her eye.[+teal “Did he ever mention 'Winny'?”]
Despite her protestations that he should move along, accompanied by a look of both nerves, aggression and curiosity, Adrian was not to be deterred and smiled as Gregory broke into laughter. It helped ease some of the tension as his vivid fiery gaze turned from one to the other.[+crimson "Well, I will take your laughter as a good sign.”] He spoke in pretty good Astorian as he looked to the dwarf who had taken a step forward as if to introduce them all and make a formal greeting, but he hesitated and stepped back once the unamused face of Florence turned on him.
This woman was wild and untamed and a whole heap of fun to watch as she curtailed her accomplices, keeping a young boy behind her as the dwarf rolled his eyes theatrically but conceded to her for now.[+crimson “Come on now lets be civil about this. If you were going to attack me you wouldn't have let me get this close and if I were gonna attack you, I'd be doing so right now, right?”] He was appealing to her to think this over in a less emotional and more logical manner. And it was true that if either were going to start a fight, it would have already began. Still that determined look on her face was more adorable than intimidating.
[+crimson “Would I get you to smile if I let you tie my hands up?”] He asked her and smiled, shrugging his shoulders a little.[+crimson “Just joking, nice, safe, harmless jokes. How about names? Can't hurt to share our first names right? Look, I'll start, I'm Adrian.”] His hand that had come to rest atop his shield was extended out to Florence, a single step taken toward her. He was not scared of her but he did not want to provoke her either. And she seemed harmless enough under that scowl.
When it became abundantly apparent that whomever it was that Nicolai was seeking out was not present, Meredith began to worry. That was not to say she was not concerned before then, as walking through Underhill was frightening on its own. But now it seemed all the worse because it might have been all for naught. Not to mention she was praying that the others might have forgotten that they said they would leave her in the next settlement they found. The girl really, really, did not want to stay in this place even a second longer than she had to. She knew she wouldn’t be truly happy no matter where she was dripped off, that it wouldn’t be her home or have her family. But being here made her realize that there was definitely an array options out there, some vastly better than others even if they were not the place she once called home.
Gripping all the tighter at the elf’s hand, she stepped closer to him. It was as though she believed the closer proximity would keep her safer. The woman in front of them very likely was not this Jim fellow, but that did not make her an automatic threat. Meredith was just nervous. She stared up to the silent general, [+violet “What are we going to do?”] For no good reason, her voice was barely above a whisper. What did it matter if the goggled woman heard her?
Things were going well, right up until they weren’t. A man, a large one at that, was the first to test their limits. Florence would have given him the benefit of the doubt, but he was staring right at her. There was no hesitation as her hand moved up towards her quiver. That action alone caused the stranger to come to a full stop. He backpedaled instantly, but only with his words. His feet stayed firmly planted where they were. That she did not care so much for.
Her eyes narrowed as he tried to spark a conversation. Was he dense or was he looking to be shot? She did not trust his friendly front, but she was impressed that he could spot the Astorian craftsmanship from such a distance. Florence’s bow in particular, as it was a less standard example, unique and made specifically for her. Her lips stayed sealed tight, but not Gregory’s. Damn him.
[+darkmagenta “Aye, you have a good eye. “]
Florence’s stony glare snapped to the dwarf. [+mediumseagreen “What do you think you are doing.”] She hissed beneath her breath. [+mediumseagreen “Do not make small talk.”] Not sparing her eyes on short man any longer, she brought them back on the stranger. He was still staring. His crimson irises were striking against his near impossibly pale skin. The longer he was there, the nervous she became at his presence. She broke the silence she had directed at him. [+mediumseagreen “I suggest you move along, so we do not have any problems.”]
Not particularly scared by the woman, especially now Adrian was confident that he would not be attacked straight away; he grew a touch bolder. [+crimson “Not to upset, little lady, but you’re really not all that intimidating. Are you sure you folks are doing okay?”] There was a child with them so he was a bit worried for them. A woman, a dwarf, and a boy were not the greatest deterrents for those who meant harm.
Guard already down from the overall atmosphere this guy gave off, Gregory laughed at his observation and the face Florence made in response. That was probably the first time she had ever heard anything like that.
The tall woman was not sure which she was more troubled by, the brunette’s words or Gregory’s laughter. Quickly turning her glare back on him, she had to fight the urge to kick him. Her want to keep their ragtag group from looking any more disjointed than they already did was the greatest factor in her holding back. But it looked as though her ill will made it through to him all the same, as the old man took a step away from her.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Her warning was well received and his hand brushed along her arm, squeezing lightly before he left the trio behind, taking Meredith with him despite her desire to remain with them. Nicolai knew Florence's threat was one meant to hasten his trip inside for fear that if she found him, he would wish he had become lost inside. It made him chuckle to himself as he led the girl in behind him, falling in with the throng of people heading in from the bright sunlight to the town of Underhill.
It's name truly lived up to the mantle as within a few minutes of entering, the only light to see by was candle and oil lanterns, dangling above them from the ceiling or dotted about many doorways into homes and establishments. Holding Meredith off to one side with him whilst they adjusted to the darkness, Nicolai pulled her closer to speak in her ear given the noise about them.[+teal “You keep close to me. If you lose me then you stand still and I will come back to you – do not wander off or you won't get out of here again.”] The warning was well understood and he took a hold of her hand.
Given she was not exactly dressed for the weather and conditions of travelling – much like Florence – he was particularly keen to have her near to him to stave any wandering hands from grabbing at her or even taking her off for.. well, unspeakable things. Their pace was brisk, stopping at some crossroads as he tried to remember the turnings he needed to take. The streets, pathways or whatever you could call these narrow alleys, were quite packed with the bustling of merchants, travellers, drunkards and thieves. Many languages came from around them and the smell would change from time to time between body odour, spices, something burning or something dead.
Once or twice he would make the decision incorrectly and have to take them back a step or two, try again and find the path once more. The stone was carved in a particular manner and therefore helped immensely in that the walkways between the individually carved rooms and 'buildings' did not change. After almost half an hour, climbing slopes and ascending the mountain up several staircases, they came to the right destination.
Built out on the edge of Underhill, a good fifty or sixty feet up from the ground, Ol' Jim's Ironsmith was well positioned for it's large bellows to suck in clean and cool air from outside and to access a store goods lift that would lift materials such as ore and coal up to feed the fire. The entrance was not as glamorous as he remembered, but then it had been particularly new when he was last there and the glass panes were heavy with soot now. Meredith was still with him and he tugged her hand in his to pull her inside the doorway. She seemed a bit dazed still from the sights and sounds but she was unharmed and shook her head when he asked if anyone had tried to grab at her. A small positive.
Opening the large oak door he led her into a quite bright room on account of a large set of windows that were currently open to their left. The sounds of the world outside were over shone by the dull rhythmic beat of metal upon metal. Directly in front was a wooden counter top, long and quite dirty with a whole myriad of metal tongs, hammers and other assorted blacksmith tools dotted along it. The waiting area before it, in which they stood, had a few crates, likely empty, but otherwise no stock or anything worth more than a couple coppers was left out and on show. Seemed even Ol' Jim couldn't trust the fine folk of Underhill. To the left, along the wall from the windows in the back wall of this area, was a doorway covered by two dirty lengths of cloth to obscure the vision to the back. Walking slowly up to this counter, Nicolai rapped on the wood quite loudly.
The pounding in back stopped almost immediately and he heard the shuffling and scuffing of boots on the ground approaching. Looking at the back of his hand, knuckles dirty so easily, he tutted.[+teal “Jim, would it kill you to clean up now and.. then..”] His voice faltered as he looked up to find not a small and rotund dwarf with bushy eyebrows and a plaited beard – but a human girl with goggles over her eyes, a tan apron across her front, holding a hammer in one hand and a strip of cloth in the over. Where was Jim?
The show of force by the duo outside, guarding the horses and young boy by the mere threat of their bows, was enough to drive off most who eyed them even for more than a few seconds or lingered too near. But of course that was not to deter Adrian who had eyed their quite distinctive weaponry from afar. Watching the pairing for a little time whilst awaiting the return of his friend, he was assured in his view that they were carrying Astorian bows, and in his delight at noting that he made his way across to them.
With shield in hand and sword on his back alongside his pack of belongings, his long trench-coat caught the wind now and then and the sound of the flapping material is what caught Florence's attention to the man approaching them. Seeing fingers tighten about the bow in her hands, he quickly raised his free hand to her.[+crimson “Whoa whoa, sorry, I don't mean any offence!”] His voice was quite deep but it sat rather well with the slightly bulkier physique. Ruby eyes met emerald and he let out a half laugh that showed his relief that no immediate attack came.
[+crimson “I'm sorry to just come up on you like this, I don't mean any harm whatsoever to any of you. I'm waiting for my friend to be done in Underhill and saw those bows. Astorian right?”] There was no reply to him but with this closer look he noticed the subtleties that showed he was right.
Smiling lightly from a small touch of nerves, he lowered his hand and rest it atop the rim of his shield which he brought before himself.[+crimson “I get it, not exactly keen to talk with strangers. Lots of people are like that with me. But wow, I haven't seen an Astorian bow like that in years. It's like a work of art one of those.”] He spoke directly to Florence, watching her as she was closest, though his eyes did flicker down to Gregory to ensure there was no attack from him – after all this was not the safest of places and here he was approaching some strangers about their horses.
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