Staring off at the sky, Florence was still trying to process everything. In the meanwhile, Nicolai was in the background barking orders. It seemed he had finally found his voice again, not to mention his confidence to lead. She was just surprised that he was still around. Over these last few days she had been so certain that his feelings for her, and therefore his loyalty to her, had faded. She was so sure when Gerald called for his aid, a long time friend on behalf of a long passed friend, he would take a stand against her. Especially with such a secret aired. The woman had thought she was the only one that knew, that she would take this to her grave, but that was not the case. And now everyone knew, even Augustine who was the absolutely last person she ever wanted to find out.
All these thoughts were flying by in her head, the scene playing over and over when Nicolai grabbed her. It scared her, but she did not have the energy, nor the strength, to push away. Her eyes sort of glazed over as she accepted it.
[+teal “Look at me.”] She did as she was told.
[+teal “Don’t freak out on me now.”] It was much too late for that. She was freaking out. She knew the Taken wanted her dead, but she had thought it was for something else. Their grudge certainly ran much deeper than she initially thought.
Expecting other demands, calls for answers and the like, what Nicolai asked of her was very easy. She nodded, features sort of clearing as she became more receptive to what was happening after fully absorbing his intentions. [+mediumseagreen “Okay.”]
Not waiting much longer, they mounted their horses again and were off. Each of them kept strictly to the position they had been assigned. Florence was no different. She was out back with the dark haired elf, her bow all but drawn in her hands. They heard few sounds the whole way, and even fewer that could be interpreted as dangerous. But there were a few. The woman didn’t hesitate a second to fire. Usually nothing came of it, but a couple of times she heard the cry of an animal. Some poor creature caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately their carcass wouldn’t even be valued as a meal. Their deaths would be in vain.
It was another hour riding in the dark before they came to a body of water. Even in the dark it was a pretty sort of place. And right next to it, there was a collection of rocks and boulders. They were settled and looked as though they had not moved in a hundred years. Adrian was already tying his horse off behind the edge of the formation. [+crimson “It is like a maze in here, but it will afford us some shelter for the night. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else around here. Not that would help us.”] The kindly man seemed regretful, but after the zigzagging path they had taken here, there was little chance they would be found, especially in the dark of night.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had followed out after Adrian who left only once Florence was clear. Holding his crimson coated sword up in defence, he had almost beckoned an attack from the two who had followed them down from the pass. Thankfully Gregory had stopped to assist him, and once the first man had gone down to the arrow, the second swiftly peeled away for fear of injury himself.
The elf beckoned the dwarf on, urging him to keep ahead of him as he held his sword down and low, his shoulder burning and crying out for relief but the adrenaline in his system was fighting such a desire. Even as they rode another hour at almost a gallop, he held tight to his sword and shouted for them to keep going whenever one would flag or look to stop. Only when the sun had fully settled, leaving them only with the light of the moon and the stars above on a thankfully clear night, did he permit them to pull off from the pathway.
Watching back the way they had come as they all dismounted to regain themselves and their composure, Nicolai allowed his own blood pressure to ease, listening out for the sound of pursuit. Elizabeth moved up to his right hand side, placing a hand to his arm that was streaked in blood. Nodding for him to come down, she let her hand slip down to the sword to take it from him.[+royalblue “I'll clean it off and listen out, you get down before you fall off.”] Her careful instruction, in Astorian for once, were met with a nod and compliance as his hand eased open to let her take the weapon. It was an odd feeling to have the request made, as if someone else was taking charge.
Yet despite this, the moment his feet touched the floor, he marched across to the others. His body would not go on much longer without the added hormones running through him. He had to keep himself focused and in a state of movement.[+teal “Adrian, you know this place more than anyone, think of somewhere we can camp tonight. It's mountainous terrain, perhaps another cave or a thick forest.”] The man seemed in two minds to take the order or to try and comfort Florence. But at this time, not wishing to be the instigator of further talks that may upset her, he would say nothing more and just nod.
Looking to Gregory and Augustine, he nodded to the old man.[+teal “Thank you, but I need to you to be ready. I want you in the middle with Elizabeth. You will protect him at all costs, thats all you have to do – don't worry about using the bow, just hold onto him and ride him out of here if needs be. Okay?”] It was saddening to see the boy leave his mothers side, confused and worried as he was. But feelings had to wait for now. Nicolai seemed to be in his element now, or shaken from his fortnight daze and stupor, and wanted to keep the activeness going.
Turning on the woman of the hour, the one all were having questions of and wanting answers from, he walked up and took a hold of her arm. It was not a strong grip, more one to focus her eyes on him at that moment. Unfortunately, it was the bloody hand, and thus did stain her clothing a little.[+teal “Hey, Florence, look at me.”] He moved his head down, drawing her from looking over at Augustine or Adrian or whatever had her attention. Once he gained those emerald eyes he nodded, speaking in a slow and careful manner.[+teal “Don't freak out on me here, we are still not safe. You're going to ride in the back with me. Get your bow ready and an arrow notched. You are going to shoot anything that moves behind us. Do you understand me?”] Being this close to her, as he had wanted for so long now, there was an urge to take her hand in his or to embrace her quickly. But the sentimental value would be nil and he did not want her hand to be slick with horse blood.
[+teal “Just focus on that for now. Focus on the bow and me. That is all you have to do now.”] He wanted her to be free of any other concerns, such as her son, needing her to be with him to defend from the rear as Adrian would lead them to some relative safety in the dark. His sword was brought back when he returned to his horse, putting it into his scabbard and thanking Elizabeth quickly. She had wanted to offer more salve but he had corralled everyone to continue and gotten them in line with a simple plan. Once they were safe, once they had some kind of safety and solitude, then he would talk to her.
[+purple “I had nothing to do with that operation, they were working under their own violation. And the boy would not die, he go with-“] Nicolai was already slashing at their horses. [+purple “Ahhh!”] Seeing as Gerald was in full armor, it would be taking him a few minutes to pick himself off the ground.
Florence did not hesitate a second. As soon as Elizabeth was off, she was too. She could hear shouting behind them, but she did not take the time to look back. Gregory on the other hand did, and he did so with his bow. Squinting, he discerned which of the figures was Nicolai, colors really helped in this case, as everyone else was garbed in black. And when any of those shadowy shapes came into range, he shot. One of the arrows hit and he saw the rider go down, though he doubted it would be fatal. It was a warning that even if they gave chase, they could not come too close. It was in that limbo distance that they were able to pull away.
Riding long and hard, even after they could not see the enemy any longer, they were all hesitant to stop. But when it seemed the horses were exhausted they had to give them a break, albeit short. For once, Adrian was at a loss for words. This was a lot. When Florence said things could get precarious, this was most certainly not what he was expecting to any capacity. What’s more was that the woman stayed silent. It looked as though she was not going to speak unless someone brought it up. He was not going to be the one to do that. No way, no how.
Just as soon as Augustine was no longer stuck on the horse with his mother, he stomped over to Gregory. He was stuck in a state of disorientation. What did he believe? He was not even sure he wanted to hear what the woman had to say. He wasn’t sure he could believe it. As awful and scary as he had found her, he had never thought her capable of this.
The boy tugged on the old dwarf’s sleeve, not in a state of mind to remember how that got him in trouble the last time. [+coral “Can I ride with you from here on out?”] His voice was quiet.
Gregory nodded in response. He was as taken aback as the others. The man knew just about everything there was to know about Florence, but somehow she had been able to keep this secret all this time. Not that it would have been any better had she admitted it before now. And it was not like he was incredibly mad about it, just surprised. This was not the sort of thing she did, he wondered if there really was a reason for it like she said, or if that was a lie to save her skin.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The fact Nicolai had called on Gerald to speak was because he did not trust the half-orc. This is a figure who had attacked them, and only because Gerald now lived was he allowed to speak to Nicolai. Whilst the elven gentleman had wanted to believe him, and brought his horse around to stand before Gerald, he could not find truth in his words. He had wanted to at least confirm she was royalty, of Astoria if nothing else, but they had misinterpreted him as questioning if her marriage to Germaine was legal. Or perhaps Nicolai was misreading the conversation, his mind was quite racked with questions.
The constant looks to Ulrich for guidance, to direct him what to do and say and if he was permitted to talk. It was not Gerald, or at least the one he had known. Whilst his accusations had brought up questions, ones that needed answers from the woman directly, it did not amount to a murder charge in his mind. If the boy was not Germaine's then spread that news and let Astoria live with the shame that they had cheated another Kingdom. It would not be forgotten. But the boy did not deserve death.
[+teal “So you would allow me to die just because I got in your way Gerald? You would permit me to fall as just some casualty because you want some kind of revenge? Against a boy?”] He heard the approaching horsemen and like a string breaking in him he shook his head lightly.[+teal “You can't do this..”] He mumbled his words and lofted his sword, swinging in a wide arc at the pair. It was not meant for the duo, to cut at them or get an attack in at them – he could not think to attack his long time friend, even if he had joined with this horrible half-orc.
No, instead he had slashed at their horses, dragging the long blade across Gerald's steed before leaving a long gash along the neck of Ulrich's. Each beast backed away quickly, thrashing about as blood poured forth. Kicking in his heels he drove his horse forward in a short bursting charge, the chest of his mare thumping hard into the third man's side. Having not been expecting the attack, let alone the use of his horse as a battering ram, the man had not gripped his reins tightly enough and toppled back as his charge reared wildly.
[+teal “Go!”] He shouted back, Elizabeth taking the lead to sally forth her horse and gallop forward as the first two men jumped free of their dying rides. Nicolai rode forward a few feet to block them from trying to run before them, turning his horse this way and that as he waited for the last one to make it free and turn in hopes of following. He had chosen his side in this battle at least, though it would be undecided in the long run.
Ulrich was not exactly happy to be pushed into silence, but he wanted this to go smoothly, and the easiest way to have that was to have Nicolai join their side. So he looked over to Gerald with dark eyes, urging him to answer.
[+purple “No one is saying she isn’t Queen, Nicolai.”] The elf seemed to be so caught up on that when it was not even a question. He motioned to the orc on the horse. [+purple “I believe Ulrich was using the term…”] Gerald danced around the word that was used. [+purple “He was using it as a means to declare her infidelity to our friend… The fact is she has committed adultery and against the King of Wistina no less. She should not be allowed to run back home with her tail between her legs.”]
There were a lot of questions coming his way and lots of them were not things that he could answer. They should have been directed to Ulrich, as they pertained to his guild, but he tried his best. [+purple “I cannot agree with everything these people do.”] In fact, even now Gerald hated to align himself with them, but it was for the honor of one of his closest friends. [+purple “But it seems, they are also determined to see that she sees justice. You just happened to be in the way of that.”] Ulrich nodded behind him.
[+forestgreen “I could offer more details, if I might have the honor of speaking.”] There were hints of mockery that came through curled lips.
By this time, the couple of riders behind them were closing in. They would be thoroughly trapped soon.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had wanted it from Gerald's mouth, to hear the man he trusted say it would mean a thousand times more than from the half-orc assassin. His sword remained at his side as the talk behind him went on, his hand tightening about the weapon as Ulrich goaded him and knew where to strike the man. The elf wasn't to understand right then that Gerald had told Ulrich how to get Nicolai on their side.
But he was saying all the right words and working at his loyalty to Germaine and his pride that he had been protecting his friends son, the rightful heir, the prince. If he wasn't, if Augustine wasn't Germaine's son then it was all for nothing. He had been protecting just a child and his mother. Whether the doubt showed on his face, eyes blinking a little faster, lips pulled taut, his furrowed brow letting up a little more, Gerald had seen fit to add in.
And then Florence spoke. The way she worded it was like that of a person cornered.[i Save me and we can discuss this later]. It was just like the castle, when he had first taken her and the boy out with Meredith, but this point did not connect in his mind yet. He was trying to process all the voices, all the thoughts.[+teal “Shut up, all of you! No one talk..”] His eyes shut as the familiar migraine of the last few weeks returned. The medicine had been in need of renewing and Elizabeth could sense he was losing the calming side affects of her remedy.
Eventually they reopened and he looked direct at Gerald.[+teal “Forget the boy, forget all that nonsense, I want two answers from you and you alone Gerald – no-one else speaks!”] He did not trust himself to look back at the woman in question. He could not imagine what he would say or do to see the look on her face.[+teal “You are saying she isn't even a Queen, just some woman. What does that mean? She is royalty of Astoria.. isn't she?”]
His voice had calmed down considerably now, using his left hand to guide his horse forward a few steps though the sword shook minutely in his right, the weight getting to him.[+teal “Why do you even want them? If she is just some whore, and he is just a boy, then why do you want them? [i Huh?] Why did you and your friends shoot me with an arrow, hunt me down like a dog, try to kill me.. if they aren't even important?”] He held his composure but it was breaking, fast.
The orc spoke directly to Nicolai on Gerald's behalf. [+forestgreen “He is alive because I knew he would listen to reason, and that you might as well if it came from the mouth of a friend.”]
Ulrich shook his head. [+forestgreen “You seem to have the wrong idea, general. That is not the issue here. Her union and vows to King Germaine were legitimate. It was just that she broke those vows and passed her bastard son off as the rightful heir to the throne.”]
Florence felt eyes on her, both from Gregory and Augustine. She couldn’t bear to look at either of them. [+darkmagenta. “Florence, you didn’t…”] The dwarf’s voice called from behind her, astonished.
[+mediumseagreen “Germaine is his father.”]
There was not a single thing in her tone that would lead him to believe she was lying, but Gregory knew Florence. He knew how well she could lie when she needed to. [+darkmagenta “Is that because he raised him, or because he actually sired him?”] There was an important distinction.
That left the woman silent.
Voice shaking, the blond boy seated in front of her could barely process what was being said. [+coral “Mother?”] He wanted her to refute it again, to say that his father really was his father, but it did not come again.
[+forestgreen “See, she won’t even properly deny it.”] Ulrich chuckled. [+forestgreen “Doesn’t that make your blood boil, Nicolai? That she used you, expecting you to remain faithful to your dear friend’s son, all the while there was no connection there to begin with.”]
Gerald seemed to shift about on his horse. He was not used to this sort of thing in the least. The guard had always been pretty straight laced, but he was still nodding along to what the deplorable man in the middle said. [+purple “I’ve heard what he had to say, and it all makes sense looking back. He is telling the truth.”]
[+mediumseagreen “We need to get out of here. Once we are safe I can explain everything.”] Her eyes went to Nicolai.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The continual treatments were helping the elf the recover, but it was not a lot of progress by the time they came to near the end of the pass. Elizabeth had been more than patient with him and during their moments where he would sit with her, he would be a polite and pleasant man. He did not snap at her or ignore her when she would test the strength of his arm and ask him to move the shoulder so that she could test the muscles with the tips of her fingers against his skin.
Whilst he was able to hold the sword, it was purely as a show and he could not move it with any power or speed. Still, she had stopped him from weakening further or succumbing to his illness entirely, and to have hit a plateau after so long declining that was all she had hoped.
When they came upon the end of the pass, and having kept to the back of the group to shield them from their pursuers, Nicolai had found Elizabeth strayed back to keep a pace with him. As Adrian took a slight lead, though stayed near to Florence, it had been almost a disaster when they came to a halt and the two elven riders were forced to pull hard on their reigns. Horses letting out a loud whinny it took a moment for him to control the beast, having her move back and forth in an uneasy manner.
Looking to see why they had stopped he eyed someone he couldn't quite believe or understand to be looking at. The old palace guard sat on his horse as if nothing was amiss and as if things were no different. And beside that bastard of an orc! In an instant his sword was old, held with the blade down his leg as he did not have the strength to hold it aloft.
Listening to their words, for they spoke before anyone else could, his mouth opened a touch in his confusion, brow furrowed deeply as he turned his horse back, head turning to keep them in sight. Trotting his beast around the front of the others he eyed the orc and his friend, so many conflicting thoughts and emotions in his head to think straight or offer a cohesive answer. And so it seemed Adrian took this as a time to speak up.[+crimson “Augustine isn't who's? What do you mean, who is a Queen?”] Fiery violet eyes turned on him and the sword rose, point directed at him as he confronted him with anger and venom in his voice.
[+teal “For [i fuck sake Adrian], shut up for once! This clearly does not concern you so keep quiet and keep out of this you manipulative twat!”] Oh that felt good to say to the brunette giant and it brought a chuckle from the half-orc. The sound brought the elf's attention back and he turned his horse to direct the blade at the three before him.[+teal “You have many questions to answer Gerald. How are you alive? Why are you with him? What the [i fuck] is going on?”] There were so many things to ask and to demand from what they were saying. His eyes strayed between the two men as his horse stopped before Florence and Augustine's horse, acting as a barrier – for now. It allowed him to focus a little on what had been said.[+teal “What do you mean she isn't a Queen? She married Germaine, I was at their wedding, I was there when she first arrived, I was there for it all! She married him for Astoria. She married him for diplomacy between the nations. You and I were there Gerald, tell him… [i tell him!]”] His voice was approaching becoming hoarse already from having been used so little and now so much. The question was to Ulrich, but his eyes pleaded with Gerald, with this ghost before him, to implore him to answer and share some light on this at least.
After going off together that first night in the cave, Nicolai looked as though he was doing better. For this, Florence was grateful. But after that they continued to disappear together. She was a mite curious what they were so secretive about off on their own. The woman really did not think either of them were the types for quick [I encounters] just out of view of their companions, but her mind went there for some reason. Perhaps it was seeing Elizabeth, who was gorgeous in her own right, that had swayed Nicolai away from continuing his interest in her. It was a confusing feeling, one that Florence did not linger on.
The behavior continued as they made headway through the pass. With weather as fine as it could be in such a place, luck was with them. That too made Florence nervous, but Adrian always seemed to be there to calm her back down. She was not sure if he saw through her and knew that she was worried, or he was just lucky with that sort of thing, but she appreciated him being there all the same.
It was on the final day, and with the end in sight, but some ways off, that things began to go wrong. In the distance behind there, a couple of figured came into view. They were on horseback and in dark attire. Florence tried to hope for the best, but when a whistle echoed through the craggy pass and a hawk’s cry resonated back, her worst fears were confirmed.
Picking up speed, at least as much as they could without being unsafe, the party rushed towards the end. It was not until Florence noticed that their pursuers did not hasten with them, that she thought better of what they were doing. [+mediumseagreen “Wait, I think they are trying to force us to the into something at the clearing. We need to stop.”]
Gregory was the first to beg to differ. [+darkmagenta “Then we should make sure to be prepared for an ambush. We do not need to rush back into danger just because the other option is uncertain.”] It was not so different to something she had once told Nicolai. Florence had nothing to fight his words, so she gritted his teeth and took up her bow.
Coming up on freedom from the domineering cliffs on either side of them, it looked as though Florence had been wrong. Her mind full of nothing but paranoia. But at what seemed like the last possible moment, three men on horses came forth and blocked the narrow exit. Sure, there was room to pass between them, but not enough to do so without endangering one’s self. Two of them were familiar faces.
The half-orc Ulrich took center stage, and on his right someone she had thought dead: Gerald. What in the hell was he doing with these people? Dumbfounded by the revelation, Florence didn’t even raise her bow.
[+forestgreen “Hello, Florence. It is lovely to see you again.”] The dark haired assassin wore a wicked smile. [+forestgreen “If you would be so kind, I would like for you and Augustine to come with us.”]
Before Florence could say anything, Gerald cut in, his plea directed to his elfin friend. [+purple “She’s lied to us, Nicolai! The whole time…”] He looked down at the ground, loath to say what he was about to. [+purple “The boy isn’t Germaine’s.”]
Ulrich quickly grabbed center stage again. [+forestgreen “That’s right, it turns out the Queen was nothing more than a common whore. A woman, I use the term loosely, who would spread her legs for anyone so long as they had something she needed.”] His smile grew. [+forestgreen “There is no reason to defend her. Now, if you will. I would very much like to see her punished for her crimes against Wistina.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The pass itself was rather tame and after all the trepidation that it would bring, it seemed things would be rather simple and easy. It was cold of course. The weather could not be said to be warm or cosy by any means, but they progressed that day without any incident and it was similar to the previous two days – right down to the touches from Adrian that lingered a little more now, their horses closer together, their talks a little more muted given the closeness. Regardless of the two sickeningly sweet love birds, all were progressing well.
Of course that was not the same for Nicolai. The cold was hitting him much harder as he had never travelled through anything like this before, a man who had been in temperate climates his entire life, and given the severity of his infection he was not cutting the most cheerful or happy figure of the group. Even Gregory had taken notice and offered to speak with Adrian so that they might stop early that night and set up a fire for him. But Nicolai shook his head to the man.
[+teal “The quicker we are through.. the better..”] His teeth chattered though he felt clammy at times and was continually having to drink from his canteen to keep his mind lucid as the sickness began to ramp up. The dwarf had talked with Elizabeth the night before and been convinced to stay his tongue and say nothing to the other three. The trio were happy in their little world, sharing stories and laughter amongst themselves. The dwarf was acutely aware of Florence's reactions to Adrian's advances, however harmless he may have seemed at first, and could quite understand the elven man's desire to just have this done with. It was not his place to speak and so he wouldn't.
When they had made camp for the night, utilizing a cave that Adrian and Elizabeth had used many times before, Nicolai had taken himself as deep inside as he could. Finding a little nook in which to curl up in, gathering up his furs that he had brought with him, he turned down any offers of food stating he had perhaps eaten a bad piece of tack and his stomach was in convulsions and not wanting to disturb them that evening. Even Augustine did not seek to go to him, though this was perhaps as he was particularly distracted and oft to talk with his new friend in Adrian than disturb the former general.
Elizabeth however had had enough of this and took some kindling to make a separate fire in Nicolai's small area. Despite his protests she waved him off, striking flint on a piece of steel to start some sparks and soon have the fire going. Even though it had only been going a little time, she could see the sheen to the man's face and pressing a hand to his forehead she muttered under her breath, raising her volume a touch to speak to him in elven lest the others hear.[+royalblue “So now you have a fever because you were so stubborn.”] She wasn't trying to chastise the man but it could not really be helped. Pulling the furs back some she proceeded to strip down his upper half, finding the cover he had used back in the tavern was damp with sweat though the wound itself was not weeping.
[+royalblue “Nicolai, you're going to die if you keep this up.”] She met the violet eyes of the man and there was no argument from him. He shivered a little though whether through illness or cold she did not know. Fetching her pack quickly whilst the others talked amongst themselves, she felt awful for having to sneak around like this, as if his health was something they had to keep to themselves. Kneeling beside him, she fished into her bag.[+royalblue “Why did you not tell me sooner? I have supplies for just this kind of thing you know.”]
Given how often Adrian was in fights and combat protecting others, she had acquired many salves and ointments as well as herbal remedies made with what she could find. Nicolai shook his head lightly.[+teal “Look at them.. they're so happy.. Gregory.. Augustine.. Florence..”]
[+royalblue “And what, you think their happiness overcomes their concern for you? Their wish for you to be healthy is less than your wish for them to be happy?”] She spoke as she took out a box with a green pulp inside like seaweed that had been mashed up.
[+teal “You don't understand.. they suffered a lot.. the boy lost his father only.. only two months ago.. they have been through so much,”] he felt his throat dry up but coughed to clear it,[+teal “your friend makes them happy, keeps them smiling.. I've never seen her smile like that before.. it's so real.. I promised to keep them safe Elizabeth.. but he is the one saving them.”] Mouth feeling tacky he reached for his canteen, the woman snatching it up first as she had grown suspicious of the concoction he made each morning. Opening it she sniffed and an aniseed-like smell was quite clear.
[+royalblue “You've been mixing pain medicine in with this? You're drugged out your mind, that's how you've coped the last few days?”] She was not best pleased but regardless she lifted it to his lips for a short drink to wet his tongue.
[+teal “I am fine Elizabeth-”]
[+royalblue “You are not fine you idiot!”] She was not one for harsh words, or many fort that matter, but she was quite livid with him now.[+royalblue “What if Adrian and I had not been here? You would be in this state with them, without help, and stuck in this bloody pass. And you would have died. Then what? Your promise is broken because you died because you were so damn stubborn.”] She put the water mix to one side as she took up the box again, taking out a healthy pinch of the pulp and pressed it gently into the wound. There was no reaction now, the nerves numbed beyond feeling by now.
[+teal “But you are here.. he is here.. he's doing a better job than me..”] His head lolled back, eyes closing as he panted some.
[+royalblue “Regardless of them, think of yourself then.”] She did not wish to go into the topic of her friend and Florence. It was clear to everyone what was happening and Gregory had confirmed some of what she suspected the night before about Nicolai's looks.[+royalblue “You think of yourself, your own health, your own life. Because that is what I have to do too.”] The confession came as she retrieved another box, this one with a milky white chalk inside. Rubbing it onto her hands she thinned it a little before beginning to cover over the wound and the surrounding area.
[+teal “What do you mean?”] He swallowed hard, though his eyes only opened for a moment before shutting again.
[+royalblue “You don't think this affects me too?”] She sighed as she continued to apply multiple layers of the chalk, using a little water at times when needed.[+royalblue “Suppose Adrian and Florence decide to stick this out after the pass. Where does that leave me? I won't play third wheel to their romance.”] She regretted such terminology though Nicolai knew what she intended.
[+teal “You can go to Astoria.. she would help you..”]
[+royalblue “Yeah, I am sure she would.”] She scoffed openly as she closed up the boxes to put away, washing off her hands before looking for a length of bandage.[+royalblue “I don't claim to know who you are or what you did back in Wistina. But I know for sure that those two sticking together leaves me out of place, without a friend and without a place to go. After two years with that man, in less than a week I've found myself surplus to requirements.”] She pulled him forward, leaning his head to her shoulder as she worked to get the bandage around his torso and his shoulder before laying him back on his furs gently.[+royalblue “So you see, you are not the only one concerned by them.”]
[+teal “He wouldn't do that.. he's too nice, too noble.. he's too much a good man..”] The remedies she had used already made his skin feel much cooler and his shoulder felt lighter – no doubt being placed in the wound had given it the opportunity to work that much faster.
[+royalblue “No, I know Adrian, or rather I thought I did. I don't think this is a decision for him, I think he's already set his path ahead. And I can only apologise to you.”] She brought his furs around, wrapping them about him a little more now that she had tied off the bandage, trying to get him comfortable, offering him another sip of his canteen. He swallowed with a frown.
[+teal “Why apologise.. I'm the one willing to die.. just because he was outdone by another man..”] His chest went into spasm, a cough racking his body as his breathing caught and had struggling to open his airway to take a deep breath. Allowing him time to settle, to regain himself, Elizabeth nodded.
[+royalblue “I should have told him not to disturb your group. To go our separate way sooner. To have kept him in Stonebrook a day longer and let you all go on ahead. Instead I let him have his way, didn't see what was right in front of me and put both of us out.”] She sighed as she wet a length of cloth with her water and placed it to his forehead to cool him. His hand, left hand of course, rose up and placed itself atop hers, grasping her hand as it fell back to his chest too tired to hold his arm aloft.
[+teal “It isn't your fault.. if I was a man.. if I was a man Florence could love.. then we would be fine.. I am the one who is sorry.. for being so stupid..”] A spell of heavy breathing took him again, clearly struggling at times to breathe and requiring a gentle pat of his pectoral to try and ease his lungs from fluctuating.
[+royalblue “Yes, you are rather stupid Nicolai.”] She said quietly in jest as her hand stayed in his and she watched over him in a caring manner.
The medicine would help immensely to ease him from his fever but the wound would need many more applications and careful consideration before it would heal. Yet Nicolai would not be so against having Elizabeth help him, the duo often up on watch together which allowed her to check on how it was healing and to help him along. Though Nicolai returned to a quieter and more subdued manner he remained grateful and open to her questions from then on.
After all that talking, Florence was quite done. And luckily enough, every one else was content with what she said as well, even if they didn’t believe it. Though after her story, something seemed to shift in Adrian. He paid more attention to her and that quickening of her heart soon found its self in conjunction with a loss for words. The dark haired woman was not normally one to stutter, but every once in a while he would look at her and it was like she could not put two words together that made reasonable sense. In such times she stayed quiet. She was not about to make a fool of herself, but she was sure it showed on her face just fine.
Adrian was warm and kind and reminded her of home. There was a comfort about him that she had long since forgotten. And even when he reached out to her, she did not recoil. It might not have been so had he grabbed her, but the gentle touches and pats were welcome enough that she did not shoo or try to dissuade him from the action. Yes, whether she wanted to admit it or not, she was falling fast.
But even with this new gentleman calling for attention, her thoughts still went to Nicolai from time to time. She would glance over to him, but never caught his lilac gaze. There was a pang of guilt in her. She had promised to think of him differently. And for a while, she did. The woman thought more carefully about how they interacted, so that she would not lead him on unintentionally. And she waited for him to show her his affections like he promised he would. Even now she was still waiting, but they did not come. She wondered if he had thought better of his infatuation, and realized that he was mistaken. She hoped if that were the case he would come out and say it. Confirm it for her so that she could stop worrying over him so much, because as he sat in silence she fully believed something to be wrong. It made her nervous.
The closer they came to the mountains, the cooler it got. Icy winds bowing off of the peaks kept northern Tyleth chilly, but it would be nothing compared to the a pass itself. They confirmed that when they made it to the mouth of the trail that ran the width of the Farrastinian mountain range. It practically howled at them as they stared it down.
Florence squeezed Augustine close to her. [+mediumseagreen “This should be the worst part of our trip. If you can endure this, you can make it through anything.”] She smiled down at him as he nodded in understanding. [+mediumseagreen “Tell me if you get too cold. There are extra blankets. We can wrap them around you to help.”] It would be cumbersome, but it was better than ending up with frostbite.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Listening intently to such a wild and fantastical story, Adrian and Augustine were as if on tenterhooks on hearing each additional part. In the mind of the older male, it was perhaps just fables or partial truths to keep her son happy and those big green eyes from looking back up at her in that way children had. But he thoroughly enjoyed hearing it and clapped appreciatively as she finished.
[+crimson “My word, your life is like that of a tale passed down over the generations.”] His smile only grew and his perhaps excessive clapping caught his partners attention, amber eyes looking over to him and he calmed down some. She herself had taken the story as just that, a story, and by no means did she believe this woman had risen from a poor orphan on the street to the point of turning down the crown. It made for a heartening tale, especially to Adrian no doubt given his own background, but the elven woman only smiled as she was prone to do and continued to ride on.
Adrian was in a very upbeat mood and let out a deep sigh of contentedness to have finally gotten out of Florence something. It did not explain why she was now travelling from Wistina home, or where her husband she had wed was now, but as he understood things Nicolai was most certainly not the father and Gregory seemed both too old and not exactly on a romantic more a friendly level with her.[+crimson “Thank you for the story Florence, it was truly an epic for the ages.”] Watching her as he thought over that her husband was indeed not here, there was a little more to his gaze now, a little more.. lust, perhaps?
Any hope to find the real truth or the desire to learn more about her would have to wait for a quieter time, when he could perhaps steal her away from the others just to talk between themselves should such an occasion arise. Though he hoped it would.
Hearing her give such a blatantly false story helped ease Nicolai's worries however. Parts could have been true, as he did not know her childhood, nor anything about her from before she arrived to Wistina. But he could take a fair assumption that it was all just a means of keeping the other two placated and away from the real truth of their travel to Astoria. Though by the sounds of things the larger man was swept up in the grandeur of the tall tale and was too busy stroking both his own and her ego he was in danger of arriving too soon – to use an expression.
This continual trading of stories, talking of their pasts – though not much more from Florence – and the general chattiness of the four, as Elizabeth like Nicolai often kept quiet unless asked directly, went on for another two days before they reached the pass. Now and again, shout they see the animal or hear their sounds, Florence and Gregory would take time to head out and hunt and to an extent were successful, returning with a rabbit each for their hard work and to the praise of all in the group.
Even Nicolai would muster up a small smile and a nod of congratulations, though he often remained on his horse. Most of Nicolai's dialogue had been relegated to one worded answers, humble yet sincere thanks or single lines of conversation about selecting the best route.
He was not the best lead any more as he had exhausted his knowledge of the landscape and so it came upon Adrian to take the mantle, though he lead from beside Florence as usual such was his casual nature. It left the elven man to lag behind the others and keep up the rear of the group, though being there was more painful than ever as he had to watch as the woman he had professed to love for over a decade now lapped up the attention from the tall red-eyed warrior. Listening to them had been awful enough but now he could not look elsewhere, now he was confronted by her laughter, her smiles, the light touches he would place to her arm every so often when their humour had grown much.
Where had the woman who disliked being touched gone? Where was the woman, who only a week or two before had told him to take things slow and see how they progressed? It was hard for the man to not see it now as a means of getting what she had wanted – someone to protect her and her son. Could she have been so devious as to lie to him and offer a small ember of hope to his candle heart that he may find her return his feelings? With each laugh, each touch, each moment those two spent together it only beat down on the soul of the elf.
He held his outer appearance well however. He sat upright in the saddle, continued to drink from his personal canteen and whenever Gregory or the like would look back he would seem to be scouting about them and ensuring they were well protected from behind. For all intent and purpose he gave off the look of a man doing his job and content to do so. But on the third morning, as they prepared to finally enter the pass some time that day, with mountains looming over and the air growing colder, Elizabeth had come across to hand over a roll of fur he had given to her to keep warm in the night. Looking into the violet gaze of the man she saw all too obvious a broken man. The light was dim, his face a touch gaunt, his voice monotone and lacking. From a distance this was a strong and independent elven man who had pride in himself and his work – perhaps too much focus on the latter but still. Yet up close, seeing him in the morning sun and looking at him, she could see it was but a shell now.
She said nothing however. She had been in similar circumstances in her own life and knew that to point this out was to only start an argument or incite fervent denial of her accusations. It was not the best but the only option, to leave him be, and allow him to climb up onto his horse in a manner that favoured his left arm.
He was basically begging her to go on and it was difficult to tell him no, especially since the points he made were valid. Having him stare at her so intently did not help either. She caught his eyes flickering down to Augustine. It was a signal to help out. Only a day had passed and he knew he was her greatest weakness.
Catching Adrian’s drift when he motioned to him with his eyes, Augustine moved to do his part. He looked directly up at his mother with big puppy dog eyes. It was not a tactic he had used on her before, but it was worth a shot, as he very much wanted to know about her as well. [+coral “Mother, I would like to hear about before you married father as well.”]
[+mediumseagreen “I wouldn’t even know where to start.”]
Gregory was actually kind of enjoying having the tables turned on her. [+darkmagenta “Oh come on, Florence. Give them a couple of old war stories and be done with it.”]
The woman let out a long sound of frustration in response [+mediumseagreen “Fine,”] they wanted a story. She would give them a story. [+mediumseagreen “I would say my life really started the day my brother and I were found by Gregory. Starving on the streets, his big stupid heart couldn’t bear to see it and he adopted the two of us despite not knowing the first thing about children.”] Her tone was flippant. It would be difficult to discern if what she was saying was the truth, a pack of lies, or something in between.
[+mediumseagreen “Unable to support himself and children as a bard, he gave up and returned to his circle of huntsmen. As we traveled together they taught me how to use a bow and to some extent a sword. Though Eugene was always better at that than myself. We lived like that for years, but the condition of the world was steadily declining around us. Hard working people, not just the orphans, were starving. It broke Eugene’s heart. Like Gregory, he cares about these things. Me, I just knew that my family was being wronged.”]
Her bright green eyes went from person to person, they all seemed to be listening intently. [+mediumseagreen “Backed by these motivations, we decided to do something about it. We did what we always did, travel. But now we incited rebellion into the hearts of the people as we went. The country was falling to ruin around us because of a thoughtless and selfish king, so it was not hard… When we had the support we needed, there was war."] That part was kept succinct. [+mediumseagreen "I personally took the head of the king in hopes of reforming the government as a whole, but the majority wanted to stick to traditions. They called for a monarch. I was the first choice, but I had no business or want to be Queen, so it fell to my brother. He has the better temperament too, so it worked out.”] That was about it, she thought, aside from the obvious. [+mediumseagreen “I met an influential man from Wistina a few years later. I followed him back to his country and we were wed from his home.”] And that was that.
[+mediumseagreen “So tell me you two.”] She called on Adrian and Augustine. [+mediumseagreen “Do you believe any of it?”] Smiling coyly, she continued. [+mediumseagreen “I very much hope not. As you would be fools to do so… but I do believe I entertained you with my tall tale, so I hope it shall suffice for now.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The stories from Adrian had rattled on for some good time before he felt he was stroking his ego that little bit much and wished to divert the spotlight to his new companions. Even Elizabeth was grateful when he showed humility at last and opened the floor to the others to explain their pasts some and to give details of themselves that he lapped up with great gusto. After all, he loved stories, he loved to hear how people came to be how they were and listening to them all, save Augustine who did not feel like he had much to say – and Adrian did not press him to answer – he was rather intrigued.
Gregory's answer was perhaps not this great tall tale of a wise man who had seen the world and come back with a plethora of mighty adventures. But it was rather sweet that he had turned from hunting to being a bard to earn his living, doing something that he enjoyed if not loved and making it his career. It was wonderful to see such passion in people and he was definitely eager for a personal concert from the skilled musician.
But it was Florence who intrigued him most with her answer of being little more than a housewife. Looking at her with a raised brow he was sceptical at best that she was sharing even the least amount of truth and looking over to her found himself smiling a little incredulously.[+crimson “Come now, I would believe anything you say for I have no reason to doubt you.”] He was being truthful there. She had started as his most aggressive enemy in this group perhaps even equal with Nicolai. But in a day he felt he was within those defensive walls and beginning to learn about her.
The elf in question was surprised to hear her give away such a cryptic clue and his fear that she would divulge their real identities only great further. Looking about them as if still on guard, he made a few glances behind in this pretence. He shouldn't have. Because looking back on the woman in question he could see her staring across at this red-eyed menace and a smile played at her lips as she did. He had the same soft expression and it did not take hysteria from the former general to see there was a fondness on their faces. Whipping back around in his seat he ran his gloves hands up through his hair, perspiring that little more – perhaps it was still a little warm for this clothing but his hair slicked back and he returned to his flask to drink some more.
Perhaps if he had been more inclined to believe he was within a chance of receiving such a reaction from her, he may have dropped back at that point and like a defensive, prideful man, have sought to place himself between them or offer his own stories of his bravery and adventures to match the other mans. He would fight for her attention and her adoration and to receive such a warm and generous look. Yet like a heavy stone in his chest, his heart couldn't bare to do so. It was as if he was telling himself [i why bother?] and his mind was agreeing to his emotions. His stories would not match up, his bravado would come off as pompous, his desperation for her attention would be all that more apparent. So Nicolai did as he had that day; he stayed silent, he stayed alone up front.
Adrian was still smiling across to her and rolled his eyes playfully.[+crimson “You can't just leave me with that teaser can you? Because it is highly unfair.”] A generous chuckle left his lips and catching her eye for even a moment he flushed at how her head had dipped at touch, looking up at him that bit more.[+crimson “I have shared so much, as has Gregory, I would love to hear more about you Florence.”] He looked to meet her eye again.
Flushing at his comment, she was glad he looked away and towards Gregory. Based off his personality alone, Florence was sure she would be teased mercilessly if he caught her blushing at such a small comment. Knowing that, it made things a little harder to clear her head, but she managed by the time Adrian was thrown into tales of his exploits. Though the volume of stories he told did not surprise her, as he was a great talker; she was astounded by how many of them seemed to be true. Or at the very least how many Elizabeth confirmed. She had only traveled with him two years, so she could not vouch for everything, but with how little she corrected him on what she knew, Florence was inclined to believe his other stories were based in truth as well.
Augustine was eating it up. Being a young boy, he could listen to tales of valor and glory all day. It made him even more eager to grow up and become strong himself. When that day came he would be able to return to Wistina and actually do something about that usurper Vincent and the Taken who were helping him. It was frustrating to be so young in the midst of this chaos. And while it was true people were starting to take him seriously, he was still left out of a lot.
Finishing up with his grandiose saga, Adrian thought it was someone else’s turn. Not that he wasn’t having fun, but he would love to learn more about these fine folks. [+crimson, “Well, I think that is enough about me for a while. What about everyone else? What did you all do before setting out on this quest.”] He looked between everyone, even glancing over at Nicolai’s back. The pale gentleman was not opposed to hearing about him either. Perhaps that would offer some insight as to why he was so damn petulant.
Gregory was the one to speak up. [+darkmagenta “When I was younger I was a huntsman.”] Though he spoke as if it was a long time ago, that was what he until he reached his early fifties. [+darkmagenta “I traveled across Astoria with a group a little bigger than this, selling whatever we shot in excess. It was pleasant enough, but I always dreamed of earning a living with stories and songs. So some time ago I made the switch.”] He reached down to pat the instrument that was strapped the side of the horse. [+darkmagenta “Though there are those who tell me I am not very good at it.”] He threw a look over to Florence who shrugged. The old man knew that she meant it, but he took consolation in knowing that deep down she liked his music, even with all his fumbling.
[+crimson “They say it is never too late to chase a dream, if nothing else you are a testament to that.”] Adrian joked, but he did think it was inspirational. [+crimson “I will have to hear you play, so that I can judge for myself if you are so bad as they say.”] His red eyes followed Gregory’s gaze over to Florence. She was shaking her head.
[+mediumseagreen “Do not encourage him.”]
He laughed. [+crimson “I am afraid it is too late for that.”] giving himself a bit of time to calm, Adrian continued. [+crimson “What about you, Florence. You look like a woman with a couple of stories.”]
The man called on her directly, so it would be harder to avoid answering. She did not know if that was intentional, but it seemed Florence would need to scrounge something up. [+mediumseagreen “I do think I should be offended by such a comment. I have been little more than a housewife this past decade.”] She was met with a skeptical look. [+mediumseagreen “It is the truth, but yes my life was rather different before that point… I do not think you would believe me if I told you the half of it though.”]
Normally she would not have even been that open. Florence would have left it at her being a wife and nothing more, but for the last several days she had been preparing herself to open up. Nicolai had asked her to be receptive to him, not to block him out when he tried to get to know her. She was not the type to rattle on about herself with no prompting, so all this time she had been expecting him to ask, but he never did. Instead it was Adrian, and it made her more conscious of him. Perhaps it was the groundwork that the violet-eyed man had laid down to put her in this mindset, but she was beginning to see the good-humored man in favorable light. One that made her heart quicken when he looked at her.
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