[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai bowed his head in acknowledgement of the boy’s compliments to his peoples past. In a world of such racial harmony it was heart-warming to hear the young King would continue that on and did not have distaste for people not like him. Youth were often the ones to renege against authoritative figures such as Florence and Nicolai and one of a different race could spark a hatred for said race.
The rest of their journey that day was quite mellow and the several hours following their break were spent at a constant and steady pace. It was refreshing to see the countryside and the peace of it all helped bring a sense of calm to Nicolai. He seemed more relaxed and at ease as they passed along farmer’s fields and wild lands where anything and everything could grow freely. Now and again nature would cast out some animals from the thick brush though rabbits were quite abundant and ever present the further from the coast you got.
It was this calm background that perhaps led to the Elf not paying full attention. Though he had gotten some sleep and felt more rested, he was still in a state of fatigue where he only glanced about him for signs of people watching or following behind. He did not note the change in the world around them nor the quietness that had followed them the last hour. Letting the girl down to the ground he had remained in his saddle with the view to keeping them moving. It was only another hour or two to their destination for the night and they would be able to reach it before sunset.
Gregory’s vocal concern for Meredith had the general sliding off his horse, groaning as his back clicked from the movement.[+teal “Leave the poor girl alone, she’s likely just enjoying having some feeling back to her legs.”] He commented with a smile to Florence, though the smile dropped in an instant when the arrow had struck not far out from them. They were not near any forests, it was not a stray shot from a hunter.
Immediately he drew on his sword and turned to look about them but it was not like the attacker would be stood in the open waving a flag to be seen. If they had had time to set in and conceal themselves they could be perfectly hidden amongst the foliage around. Still he paced about looking for some sign, a flash of metal or manmade rustle of a bush or tree. As Florence drew her bow from her back he thought to look at the arrow. Though it had indeed come from a high point, it had not come down perfectly straight. The slight angle on the projectile was enough to denote a possible direction and he turned to advance in that path.
Nicolai made it three strides, cutting in front of Florence and Augustine, when an arrow thudded into his right shoulder just below the clavicle. The impact drove the breath from his lungs and the man spun on his leading foot, sword slipping from his hand as fingers convulsed and twitched wildly and he went down. Hitting the ground forced the arrow to bend and cut at his inner flesh more. He drew a breath only to cry out in distress and agony, the barbed head cutting against the bone, eyes tightly shut as his left hand rose up to press close to the wound.
Given where he had been stood and where he had been struck, the arrow’s origin could be traced back. With the elf down it would be left to the dwarf and human to try and find their attacker and deal with them whilst the distinct iron smell of blood began to permeate the air around them.
Admittedly, Augustine had thought that Nicolai would say something more along those lines. Though, he did not find it boring. He’d learned about plenty of old human places and constructs, but the boy knew little about other races accomplishments from the old times when they remained separated. No doubt it would have come in time, his mother had been determined that his schooling be thorough. [+coral “I bet it will be beautiful when we finally do see it.”] Both from the waiting and that Elfin architecture was said to be elegant.
Their short break was over quickly after that. As eager as she was to be out of this place, Florence was glad for Meredith’s frequent cries for breaks. It seemed the girl had a bladder the size of a grain of rice, but she refrained from making comment as the young woman was most definitely not used to this sort of travel. It might have been nerves and Florence did not want to make it worse. After all, Meredith had kept to herself the duration of the trip. She probably wanted to keep it that way, aside from the things she could not avoid. Clinging to Nicolai like a half drown cat was one of them.
It was only a matter of hours before they stopped again, girl rushing off with a bit of a waddle. Smiling, Florence shook her head. If it was that bad she should have said something sooner. She stretched, thin arms reaching for the sky as though she might actually touch it. A yawn accompanied the motion.
Striking up light conversation with her son, she started up a mini language lesson to prepare him for the next day, at least a little bit. Florence was confident it wouldn’t take him long to pick it up, not with all the other tongues he’d been learning. Astorian had a lot in common with the other northern languages.
Their chatter filled up the void of silence. The whole day had been quiet in a weird way. She hadn’t noticed much noise from the wildlife, aside from the occasional call of a hawk in the distance. It should have been enough to put her off, but with everything she had to worry about Florence was not in a normal state of mind. She would soon come to regret that.
[+darkmagenta “That girl sure is taking a while, is she not?”] Gregory was the first to point it out, but it must have been on everyone’s minds.
Stopping her back in forth with Augustine, Florence’s face fell a bit. [+mediumseagreen “Perhaps I should go and make sure she is alright.”] Gods forbid anything actually happened, but the woman was sort of expecting to find Meredith staring down a gardener snake or something stupid such as that. But before she even had the chance to turn in that direction, things took a bad turn.
Whistling, the kind made by a projectile in the air sounded, and Florence tensed. They’d been found. An arrow hit the ground; it came from straight up and didn’t land near anyone. Unfortunately, from such a trajectory it was impossible to tell where the shooter was. But she knew what they were trying to do; this was a warning shot. It was meant to send them into a panic and make them stupid with fear of the unknown.
[+mediumseagreen “Augustine, stay near me.”] Her voice was low and serious, though the child had already grasped the gravity of the situation before she said anything.
Slowly taking up the bow from her back, the fine-featured woman scanned their visible surroundings. There was still no sign of Meredith, her heart went out for the girl, as she doubted she was still alive if their attackers had found her.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai chuckled at Augustine's response, so innocent and neutral so as not to offend those of Wistina and those not. It was towing the line perfectly and whilst Florence may have not found it humorous, the Elven male most certainly did. Nodding along with her words however he interjected before Gregory.[+teal “I will testify, Germaine was not a man who liked to travel outside of Wistina. It is a beautiful land but a hermit would also think his cave the most scenic place in the world.”] His tone showed his playful nature, not taking the late King's name or honour into doubt, simply playing off a flaw that he had.
It was lucky he had gotten his piece in early as once more Gregory and Florence began to bicker over whether they could make stops along their journey or side adventures to see many of the sights about this continent. Looking to the young boy they met eyes and he raised his eyebrows with a puff of his cheeks, garnering a smile of agreement that their constant back and forth was beginning to wane.
[+teal “It is a wonder you two have remained friends for so long, I've never known two people to bicker so much – not even Florence and I.”] He looked across to the dwarf and then to the woman, offering her a playful wink and smile. Whilst happy to make light of their past disagreements he did so with a touch of fondness and nostalgia. Memories to think of, that built their relationship to where it now stood. They looked on one another for a few seconds, just looking at one another. He knew he would never look on an emerald in his life and not see that heart shaped face or coy smile in his mind.
Augustine took his attention back with a tough question and he looked down to the boy with his mothers eyes. Pondering his answer he was given a further distraction by the return of Meredith, apologising to the youth as he turned to the woman. In an action they were beginning to become accustomed to, he reached down and helped her up, feet scrambling for a moment to gain purchase before her arms wrapped around him tightly. Either she was truly terrified of riding on the horse or she was content to grope at his torso whenever she had the chance. His suspicions lay with the former.
Back to Augustine he redirected his horse, clicking and calling out an Elven word that had all three horses begin moving on again.[+teal “I am a little like your father, I have not visited much outside of Wistina. I have not even been through the Farrastine, so that would be a sight to see.”] The large mountain range was something he found beautiful and the few times he had travelled north to spy them in the distance, he could lose himself to watching for hours.
[+teal “The one place in this world I want to visit above all else is the Elven temple in Calista.”] It was quite the obscure answer as outside of his kin it was not exactly something people would want to see. The grounds it sat on were vast but to most it was a relic of the past and of little interest.[+teal “It is said to be millennia old and hold tomes that track the earliest known history of my people. Some even say that if you place your most treasured item at the altar, to show your selflessness, that you will be blessed for a thousand full moons.”] It was superstitious but he still found it quite heart warming to think of how peaceful and hopeful past elves were.
[+teal “To be able to read where my ancestors came from and walk and sit and be where they have been all those years ago.. it is a dream of mine.”] His voice trailed off and a wistful smile fell over his lips as he looked across to the young boy to his side.[+teal “Boring adult stuff huh? Bet you thought I'd say a battlefield or castle.”] He laughed again, turning forward to lead them on through the rest of the day – he had a destination in mind for that nights rest.
Florence was pleased with the update. Even with their detour they would still be out of country before the day’s end. In actuality, they probably wouldn’t be much safer than they currently were. At least not until they were much farther away, but it was one of the first main hurdles of their trek. Her main worry was that the enemy would send someone to cut them off at the passes, especially since crossing over the mountains was not an option for them. But she didn’t worry about it for too long, instead she opted to listen to Nicolai’s tale from his youth. It was mundane, but she hoped it riled Augustine to look forward to the road to come.
Truth be told, the young boy was somewhat excited to see more of the continent and have a bit of an adventure. Though he didn’t want it too be too treacherous. Living to tell about it was high on the checklist for this road trip. [+coral “I am looking forward to seeing new things, but father said that Wistina is the most beautiful place in the whole world, so I am trying not to get my hopes too high.”] He had the sneaking suspicion that he would feel the same as the late king, but there was always a chance he would see something that blew him away.
It was difficult not to laugh at that, but the Florence held it in. She knew she was terribly biased on the subject. [+mediumseagreen “Well, let’s just wait and see. There is a lot to experience out there and I am sure Germaine did not get around to all of it.”] Purposefully not bringing up her own opinion, she thought it best to keep quiet lest they end up in vortex of unproductivity arguing over differences in aesthetics.
[+darkmagenta “Partial to Malidek myself.”] Without prompting Gregory put his two cents in. [+darkmagenta “Perhaps we will be able to see a few sights there on the way up.”]
[+mediumseagreen “I doubt it, it’s more likely we will go west though Mayfair pass, Malidek will be out of the way. It would take too much time.”] His positive outlook that they would have the free time to zigzag across the map was one that eluded her.
[+darkmagenta “Come now, is it not best to keep them off our trail. Moving erratically will keep them guessing.”]
Florence did not look over at the man, but she could hear him smiling. [+mediumseagreen “Let us sit on a tentative no for the time being.”] They needed to keep this trip as short as possible. [+mediumseagreen “Besides, I would very much like to see a bed sometime in the next several months and if we stop every time one of us has the whim, it may take us a decade to reach Astoria.”]
The dwarf continued to smirk. [+darkmagenta “Fine, fine, but we will keep it tentative, so that I might have a chance to appeal later down the line.”] Despite his banter, Gregory’s heart wasn’t set on going, but he also hadn’t entirely given up. There was still a chance they would lean to the East with their travels. In that case they would cut straight through Melidek. There was a bit of hope for him.
Once the Astorians hushed back down, Augustine felt he could continue with the elf. He looked up at the tall man with his bright emerald eyes. [+coral “Is there anyplace you would suggest seeing, Nicolai?”] He was working on the assumption that the general had eventually had the chance to get around. [+coral “Even if I cannot see it on this particular trip.”] The boy was not about to suggest making stops after his mother had already rejected Gregory’s request.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The hours until morning finally broke had been quite uneventful. Leaving them all to sleep he had taken several patrols about their camp to stimulate life into quickly numbing limbs. It served to keep him awake, and was something he would often do in the Capital, travelling through Florence’s carefully crafted gardens and enjoying the peace it brought. Either that or a shot of pure grain alcohol to spark him into life. Sadly he had none to hand and it was a luxury to him now. That only served to dampen his mood momentarily.
When Augustine had awoken and took a seat close by, rubbing his hands before the fire, there had been a tentative acknowledgement of one another but little else. Nicolai did not want to force the boy into conversation, and the flaxen haired youth seemed content to remain tight lipped. Whether it was because of his argument with his mother or the words of supposed wisdom from the dwarf was not apparent. Perhaps he could coax the boy with some discussion on the history of Wistina or some jovial talk about girls, fighting and the like. He knew how difficult it could be being surrounded by adults and not having an avenue to make jokes and relax. It led to a very pent up and confused Elf in one regard.
Nicolai said nothing of waking up Florence or Meredith, leaving everyone to do as they wished and only interjecting when he felt they were beginning to lose the morning. Leaving them to eat he had packed away the blankets, secured the saddles and ensured the beasts were content to continue the journey. It was a means of calming himself. If things progressed as expected then they would be separating that evening and it may have been the last he saw of them. He felt a heavy weight in his chest but saw to his chores and tasks to keep him focused.
Back on the path he guided them around Deremir, understanding and agreeing that two riders arriving at speed during the night was something to avoid. The hunter’s trails they took made for slow progress but at the same time allowed the family unit, Gregory included, to discuss Augustine’s language training. The back and forth between the adults was humorous and no doubt Gregory was bubbling over internally as he was prone to do whenever someone disagreed with him. It was a part of his personality that the Elf had not come to like in their times conversing. He could never find a common ground with a man who was so stubborn.
It was good to hear her changing her ways however and asking her son for his opinion. She had noted her fault and altered her usual course of action and it brought a coy smile to his face as he looked back at Florence, offering a slight bow of his head to her in muted acknowledgement and approval. It seemed he had managed to get through to her a little.
He had them riding for a few more hours than yesterday all to make up for their slow pace to avoid Deremir. Despite Gregory’s complaints and groans as his small figure was jostled about by his horse the others took the extra travelling with not a word of discomfort uttered. It was only when Meredith, arms linked about his waist and resting against his back, had pleaded for rest to go to the toilet that the Elf pulled the group aside of the main path to a farmers hedge and aided her down to the ground.
[+teal “We are making good time.”] Nicolai called out to the others, remaining in saddle as he had just found the optimum seating position.[+teal “I think we should be good to carry through to evening and push you past the border before the sun sets.”] He turned his horse back to the others, walking her forward so that he was positioned at Florence’s side. Looking at Augustine he offered a demure grin, the heart not really behind the façade.[+teal “You know how lucky you are?”] He asked and received a bright if confused look from the youngster.[+teal “You get to travel across Esteroak, pass through the Farrastine, see so many new lands and end it with a journey on a boat. When I was your age I was cleaning out the stables and fighting with the other stable hands for who got to sit in front as General Thalin told us of fighting great beasts and monsters.”] The smile grew at that, the memory quite vivid and cherished. He could only hope the young King would see this as an opportunity to explore. To see him leaving as a tactical retreat than an utter defeat. Nicolai could only hope.
It seemed that Nicolai would remain resistant to her attempts to have him up and about, once again she debated giving up and spending the rest of the night up and awake, but that was not meant to be. He stirred, a hopeful sign until he grabbed ahold of her. Having her arm pulled to the side, she lost balance and slipped closer to him. Not one to be tossed about without giving a fight, Florence did so unsuccessfully. Being low in physical strength and stamina, it did little but slow her descent, one that did not stop until her bosom was pressed gently to his. Just as panic set in behind her eyes, he let her go. The woman was quick to fall back and out of reach.
From the darkness came his thanks; it confused her for a moment. After that she realized he meant for waking him. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, of course.”]
When he was gone, the woman sat for a moment, letting her heart still. She pulled her hair to the side, twisting it about. It was a mundane task that busied her hands for the moment and tamed her locks so that they might not tangle too terribly when she went to lie down. Once she was satisfied, the Astorian woman took up the place that Nicolai had left on the ground. The grass was already flattened own and oddly enough it felt warm, which was comforting in a way. With her fatigue, it took little time for her to fall fast to sleep. Though, she did stir ever so slightly when Nicolai set the blanket out and over them. Not fully coherent, she said nothing, but she made a groggy note to thank him later. A thought she would likely forget by then.
Two or so hours later, the sun crept its way into the sky. Its warming rays soaking the rolling Earth in the golden light of day. That alone was enough to wake Augustine, sitting up; he wiped his eyes of sleep. He was baffled at the almost magical appearance of a blanket, his mother as well, but that had an easier explanation. Not wanting to wake her, the sandy blond carefully rolled his way out from under the covering then made his way back to the fire where Nicolai was sitting. After a quick greeting, he remained silent, still a tad embarrassed over last night’s tantrum.
The others woke in time, and Gregory sent Meredith over to wake Florence as late as they could spare her. He wanted her to get as much rest as possible. The leftovers from the previous night’s stew made a light breakfast for the party before they needed to saddle up again. This would be the last day of their adventure in Wistina and Gregory was glad to be rid of the place.
Before setting out, Florence thought it wise to steer the group clear of the town. No matter how tempting it looked on the glowing horizon. [+mediumseagreen “A couple of men went by on horseback last night, up to the city. It was probably nothing, but we should take a wide berth around and maybe stay off the roads for a bit.”] Surely Nicolai had already gathered all that, but she thought it best to keep the others informed as well. With that, there was a consensus and the five of them were off for the day.
That morning’s travel was nothing out of the ordinary. In many ways the same as the day before, as there was not a great deal of geographical diversity in this country. Light hills and tree coverage with a couple of flatlands thrown here and there summed up Wistina pretty well. Even the smell of the land stayed the same throughout. The wind always carried the light scent of salt from the surrounding ocean. That came with peninsula and island territory, and was one of the few commonalities Wistina shared with Astoria, so Florence really did not mind.
[+darkmagenta “So, what are we going to do about Augustine?”] A very vague question came from Gregory just as the group returned to the road that they had been avoiding for a solid hour. Now that he had everyone’s attention, he continued. [+darkmagenta “Someone, I won’t name names, was rather adamant that he had no need to learn Astorian. But I dare say, the need has risen, so what are we going to do?”]
Grimacing, Florence was kicking herself over that. It had been a good idea at the time, she thought, to shut him off from those parts of his heritage. She did not want to give anyone a reason to think him a traitor or agent of a foreign legion. [+mediumseagreen “We can tutor him along the way… It isn’t as though he will be taking any other classes so we can fully focus on the language.”]
[+darkmagenta “Full immersion would be better.”] He spoke as it that was what he was planning to get at the entire time. [+darkmagenta “Classes and periodic teachings will only take you so far. Tossing him into it is the fastest way to get him fluent.”]
As a mother she thought it cruel to isolate him in such a way. [+mediumseagreen “That is not fair to Augustine.”]
[+darkmagenta “It will be fine, anything truly important can be translated. Besides, he is still young. He will pick it up quickly.”] True to form, Gregory always had a positive spin to put on things.
Florence was about to veto the idea completely, but glancing down at the top of Augustine’s head. She recalled that she was to be loosening off the lawmaking for him. [+mediumseagreen “Augustine, what do you think? You will need to learn either way, but how would you prefer to do so?”]
Shifting in front of her, the young prince was surprised to be pulled into the conversation, let alone have his input called for and valued. It sort of put him on the spot, which had him taking a little longer to think it over, but after a few moments he had an answer. [+coral “I think I would like to try the full immersion, but perhaps my lessons could be the exception.”] He thought it a nice hybrid of the two. The formal lessons would be the chance to learn as he was used to, while the rest of the time would offer him a challenge to keep up with the others.
[+darkmagenta “That’s my boy!”] Gregory beamed, excited that the child would finally be learning the language of his people.
[+mediumseagreen “Very well, we can start tomorrow once we our out of the country.”] She thought it would be fitting.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat At first Nicolai had been unable to rest. Continually finding small noises from animals started him or the crackle of the fire would break particularly loud and he would be left staring up into the night sky with annoyance. The area was cold and the ground hard and he could not fathom how the others could drift to sleep quite so easily. Even Augustine had found sleep not long after when he had looked over to see him resting so peacefully. His eyes had sought out Florence in the glow of the fire, and seeing her sat there looking about them from time to time, guarding them and keeping them safe, is how he had managed to find some peace and drift into slumber.
His dreams were fractured and split between distorted memories of watching Gerald dying, asking why Nicolai had left him alone, to having Germaine standing over him decrying why he was taking such an interest in his wife, why he would betray him after his death and if he was attempting to install himself as husband and father to his family. It had ended with a sword thrust into his stomach and he had woken immediately. Waking in a cold sweat at least twice in the few hours he had managed, the second time he had felt a distinct pain in his gut as if cut deeply.
All he could reasonably think as an excuse was that he was having a reaction to the food of that evening. He had not eaten a full meal in two or three days and therefore his stomach was turning and tightening in response to the abundance of nourishment it had received in one go. It was a poor excuse but it eased a worried elven man's mind and allowed him another hour of complete rest.
Nicolai would have liked nothing more than to remain resting to the world and enjoy the gentle touch on his upper arm. The warmth Florence gave as she tried coaxing him from slumber was welcome and when he had woken, eyes thin slits as he focused on the hovering woman above, he had wondered if this was to turn into another hellish nightmare. She spoke softly, her tone encouraging him to rise and he sat upright lest he roll over and ignore her completely. Having her so near at hand his groggy mind had guided his hand to reach up and take her hand, tugging her over toward him so that she might lay down and sleep beside him, in his arms and warm against his chest, mistaking the tough terrain for a more comfortable bed.
Thankfully given the number of times he had been involved in the changing watches and nights of disturbed sleep when out with the army, he was quick to stop himself, only drawing her in enough that their chests brushed one another before he released her hastily.[+teal “Thank you.”] He responded softly, feeling her hot breath across his face for a moment as his cheeks took on a shade crimson, though hidden by the darkness of night. Luckily the night sky was more dim than the last night to help hide his shame as he shuffled back from her.[+teal “Anything to report?”] She made note of the two riders, though their description was fleeting and she could only attest to their unhindered speed. He nodded in acknowledgement and he pushed himself up from his spot on the floor.
[+teal “Get a good sleep Florence.”] He whispered as he departed the spot, making light footfall back toward the fire and taking a seat nearby, rebuilding the waning flames until it was almost made anew. It would serve them through the cold twilight hours and through to morning. A thought flashed in his mind only an hour or so after waking, moving to the horse they had procured from their attackers the morning before. As expected they had packed for a long journey, given time that the group did not have. Two blankets were rolled up and tied off by the saddle packs, one per attacker. Unfurling them both they were not large or particularly thick, each of different sizes, but they would provide additional comfort and he lay them out over the others. Augustine was close enough to his mother that they could quite easily fit beneath the larger one themselves, whilst Meredith received one simply because Gregory was a dwarf and much hardier to the weather. The elf surmised the dwarf would do the same to Nicolai if the roles had been reversed and so he sat back down close to the fire to serve out the rest of the morning with a soft huff.
Nicolai tried to compromise with her about the technicalities of the night shift, but she wasn’t so sure she would wake him up. She recalled him mentioning that he hadn’t slept well while they were still staying in the castle. Whether or not that was a temporary matter or not, she didn’t know, but it came to mind now. The elf needed the sleep, a whole night’s rest, if he wanted to admit it or not. Though the bit about Gregory manhandling did get a chuckle out of her. She doubted that was what he intended with the comment, but it was funny to her. [+mediumseagreen “Come now, he is not that scary.”] She smiled slyly. [+mediumseagreen “But I understand not wanting him breathing down your throat. I will do my best so that he will keep his hands to himself.”] She looked over to the stocky man who shrugged, but it looked as though he was holding back a comment, likely sarcastic. Good, she did not want him starting things right before everyone laid down.
Still, the man looked nervous. Was it Gregory? Probably, he had been forceful. Needlessly so, at that. As she was thinking about that, he took the knife from his side and passed it over to her. Nodding she took it. [+mediumseagreen “I should really be the one thanking you, both for the talk and the knife.”] She gestured with the blade before setting it to her side. [+mediumseagreen “Sleep well. If I get too tired I will wake you.”] And that was that.
The night was kind. That being that it did not get too cold and the sky stayed clear so that she had something to focus on in the stars. Other than that, there was little to break up the monotony of it all, besides the occasional call and cry of the local wildlife. Well, aside from the one time she heard the clipping of hooves in the distance. Glimpsing over towards the trodden dirt path, she saw dark silhouettes against the dimly lit backdrop that was the scenery. Florence watched as the pair passed by without slowing. It was odd to see travelers at night, but not unheard of. They made their way up to Deremir. Not until they were out of sight, did the woman feel as though she could breath easy again. She made a note to avoid the town in the morning, even if there was little chance that those people were out in search of their party.
It was difficult for her to tell exactly what time it was, but the moon had traveled most the way across the sky. The olive skinned woman couldn’t remember the last time she stayed up this late. She also didn’t remember being quite so tired after an all-nighter. Maybe she was getting old. That or soft, neither was an incredibly exciting prospect. So, when she figured there was only a few hours left till sunrise she stood and went to Nicolai’s side. He had had most the night, more than he’d asked, but she still felt bad waking him. He looked peaceful, even if the ground working as a makeshift bed was not the most comfortable. However, she thought it best that she get a power nap in before their day began. With any luck, a few hours of sleep would not leave her worse off.
Leaning in closer to his pointed ear, Florence whispered. [+mediumseagreen “Nicolai.”] Augustine was nearby and she did not want to wake him as well, so it was a quiet attempt. She placed a hand on his shoulder and slowly ran it back and forth his upper arm. [+mediumseagreen “Nicolai.”] Luckily, his eyes opened before she had to result to shaking. [+mediumseagreen “Your turn,”] her bright green eyes stayed on him, waiting to see if he stayed awake or was the type to pass back out given the first second he wasn’t be stirred. If the latter was the case, she would probably just forego the idea of a nap.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai hadn’t exactly expected a swift answer from her but it seemed she either purposefully delayed long enough or the dwarf had taken her hesitation as a sign for him to interject and his grip about his wrist was most unpleasant. Insinuating that he had been molesting the poor woman or taking advantage of her was something he took as a personal slight. Firstly he was not that kind of man, sometimes flirtatious yes, but a man who knew how to respect ones boundaries. And secondly he was hinting that Florence could not fend for herself. If he had made an inappropriate move she would have struck him where he sat and pushed him into the flames.
But regardless of the ignominious entrance of the smaller man, he snatched back his hand and moved away. Within moments their focus was on one another and he slipped away from the fire to grant them their space and to nurse his ego. He would have liked to know what she had in mind but like a priest reading the signs and finding meaning between the lines, he would take the interruption as a decision to remain. He had a rough plan after all, and his uses became even less so outside of the notoriety he had in Wistina.
Meredith seemed content to stand over with the horses watching quietly. He made some light talk with her, mostly about how they would drop off the trio the next night and come morning they would make their way east for her family’s estate. It perked up her mood considerably and she offered a tentative smile to the Elven man at this knowledge.[+teal “I’m sure your family will be happy to know you are well. Though best not to mention that it was the wanted General who helped you there. Your father is a great man but past allegiances are fragile at the moment; you never know whom you can trust now.”] She had taken his hand in thanks and he returned her smile in earnest.
With her happy and a glance back to see Florence moving over to her son, Nicolai busied himself for a long night by retrieving further wood. With an open fire there was no sense in him hiding up in a tree this time, so he would remain by the flames to keep himself warm and stoke the flames until the night was through. After a few minutes he returned with an assortment of timber, sticks and a log or two that would burn slow but longer.
Florence’s suggestion that she keep watch was met by both men with argument though a single glare had silenced them, and her reasoning that they were devoid of sleep was one neither could argue.[+teal “You may take half the watch, but you will wake me when it is gone midnight so that you can rest. I need you awake to keep Augustine content on the ride and to keep Gregory from manhandling me again.”] He raised a brow at the smaller individual who looked at him with narrowed eyes.
Not content to leave the woman alone and undefended, even with her bow, he took the knife from his belt and turned it over in his hand to hand it across to her handle first. She seemed sceptical but appreciative as she took the blade from him and he paused in front of her. He had wanted to finish their conversation but there would be no chance to do so that night.[+teal “Thank you for our talk, have a good night.”] He kept it short lest the small man step in once more. Moving off he lay down not far from Augustine, offering a smile to the young boy to try and ease him into sleep, tapping his hand on his sword with a subtle wink.
Florence hadn’t been expecting the man to respond in such a way. To be so open with what he wanted and how he was feeling, but by now she should have come to. Much like his touch slithering up her arm. Though warm, it sent a cold shiver through her. Perhaps these really were just aspects of him, things he did with little thought or concern and that meant nothing more. There was some solace there that helped put her mind at ease, but still, it was exactly the sort of thing she had a hard time with.
Yet there was more. He spoke of his fears alongside his desires. A passionate string of words, that drew her into his eyes. She forgot about everything else and let her focus lie there. There was much to consider. The loneliness, the danger, the estrangement from the place he called home, but there were plenty of risks to balance it in staying behind. It did vaguely remind her of her own struggle in leaving home those many years ago. Thinking back, she wondered if it had been worth it. She nodded subtly to a question that had never been asked aloud. For Augustine, it was. For the right person, the gamble could be worth taking. He spoke highly of wanting to remain at her side. Was she enough for him to take that chance? It was a baffling thought. There was only one other person who had done such a thing for her sake before and that was Gregory. He followed her here, albeit a couple of years later. But that was an odd comparison for her. This was most definitely different, in a way that made her stomach twist. Still, she did feel the want to have him remain with them. At the very least it would make travel easier for them to have one more adult. As mature as Augustine was, she wasn’t having him stay up through the night as lookout.
What was more, he called for her to actively sway him in his decision. [+mediumseagreen “If it is as simple as that, I suppose-“] Her voice quit, not because she lost what she going to say or out of nerves but because a somewhat irritated looking dwarf was pressing himself between them.
He grabbed Nicolai's hand not so delicately. [+darkmagenta "Awful handsy there, aren't you elf?"] Returning his appendage to his person, Gregory shot him a look before turning his attention wholly to Florence. [+darkmagenta "Are you okay?"] His eyes went soft on the woman. He knew she would be shaken after what transpired with Augustine.
Florence nodded. [+mediumseagreen "Yes, Nicolai was kind enough to help me level my head.”] There wasn’t a need to go into details, so she didn’t.
He hesitated a moment, letting out a disgruntled sound before speaking. [+darkmagenta “Alright… Augustine is calm now as well.”]
[+mediumseagreen “How did you manage that, what did you talk about?”] She very much wanted to know about their interaction.
Gregory smiled. [+darkmagenta “Man stuff, nothing you need to worry your pretty little head about.”] Her eyes narrowed at his response, which in turn made him laugh. [+darkmagenta “Are you jealous? Well, if you really want to, we can have our own man to man chat later, but for now I think Augustine would like to speak with you before going to bed.”] He motioned to the boy behind them who was looking a great deal more timid than before.
The woman nodded, a tad nervous, but before she could move to stand the dwarf’s palm moved to her head. He ruffled her hair; she was sure he was making a mess of it. Then he pulled her in close and pressed his lips lightly to her forehead. [+darkmagenta “It will be alright… now get to it.”]
While the encouragement was kind, it was unwarranted. She wasn't about to avoid her own child, so Florence swatted at the man, but he backed up quickly in anticipation. She had to settle with chastising him instead. [+mediumseagreen “Knock that off, you old coot.”] There was no real anger in her voice, but she did make a point of leaving swiftly.
Her conversation with the boy was not one that took long, as he was tired, but she felt it was productive. They were both able to offer their apologies. In the future they would have to sit down again, but now was not the time. So once he designated himself a place to sleep, she bid him goodnight. Florence would have liked to stick around to sing him a lullaby, or even paired their farewell with a kiss, but she let him have his space, opting to return to the others. Once there, she announced that she would be staying up tonight as sentinel. Both Gregory and Nicolai had not slept the night prior, so she was not leaving any room for fighting on this one.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The moment was both parts sweet and terrifying in that she could quite easily chastise him for his rather honest viewing of her. He had tried to counter balance it with talking of her positives, the aspects of her he had found quite admirable and in parts desirable. Nicolai was not particularly adept with balancing the two and it showed here. With Lillian, he was quite open and honest and given their somewhat comparable social status it was a relationship, although brief, born of similar standards.
With Florence he was constantly dancing along the scale of appropriateness. Never too complimentary lest she think he was simply sweet talking her and dismiss him as another man who saw her for her beauty or title and little else. And consequently of this, never too critical so that she may see him as a divisive figure who wanted little more than to pull her down and bring out her ire. In a humourous moment, it reminded him of Vincent and Gabriel. Loyal to her face but openly against her actions. It was not a comparison he wanted to make and thus why he was now sat at her side, clutching her hand in his, fingers tracing along her smooth skin and feeling the warmth seep into her.
[+teal “I would.. love, nothing more than that Florence.”] The elf could read where she had been going with her wording and he was in agreement that it was quite the proposition.[+teal “I believe I could quite well live a happy life keeping you in check. Ensuring you see the good in what you do when you may only see the bad. In fact, one could say it would be an honour to be simply at your side.”] He smiled and his hand ran up her cold arm, trying to stimulate some warmth into it but also to ease any of his own jitters that may arise from the topic they were discussing.
He was coy with how he worded himself, but the elf was confident that the woman beside him understood how things stood. Nicolai was free to be subtle with his phrasing and not be too direct so that she might recoil in shock or worse yet horror. But he continued with his gentle stroking and softly spoken words.[+teal “In truth the idea of staying behind, alone, does strike a little fear into me. I may enjoy my solitude but that is with the knowledge that whenever I wish I can find someone to talk with to alleviate that feeling.”] His smile became wishful but he focused his gaze on her hand left in his, observing the delicate nature of her fingers as they slipped between his own.
[+teal “I did not sleep at all last night, in part fearful of what occurred this morning, but in part thinking over my options. A little like Augustine I feel tied to this land, to protect it, to see out the usurpers and their cronies and see right by Wistina. It is the only home I know and all I have ever known. But,”] his violet eyes lifted then, running from her hand over her arm, his hand following suit until it rest just off her shoulder, eyes continuing to her vivid emerald iris',[+teal “a part of me understands that I may have to leave to recuperate, regain my strength and resolve, and come back stronger lest I wither away here.”] His fingers were linked in with hers now, a moments silence as they looked into one anothers eyes, faces half in shadow and half lit by the orange glow of the flames.[+teal “I am of two equal minds though. One foot in each half on staying and going. Perhaps you can help guide me as to which side to choose. Give me a sign, a hint, anything.. to sway my decision”]
A more pessimistic worldview being part of her nature as a person, Florence was often hard pressed to find the silver lining in the clouds. But to have it stated so outright-ly as a deficiency was not new to her. She knew she would do well not to expect the worst out of everything, to let others see that she trusted them and needed them, but like all things deeply ingrained in a person, that was easier said than done. [+mediumseagreen “I do suppose I should apologize for that. It was never my intention to alienate you. There were even times when I was trying to get on, but it seems they did not come through as I intended... I guess that does not make much of a difference now, seeing as it is in the past.”] Plus this was their best attempt at civility yet, so she hoped it could be water under the bridge.
Then he came around the fire. As he closed the distance between them, she had a pretty good idea what he was after. If she couldn’t help being distant, it seemed he couldn’t help but be familiar. It was confirmed when he sat next to her and took her hand. She noted the warmth, perhaps because he was sitting closer to the fire than her until that point. Florence tried not to focus on the contact, not wanting to fixate and flounder like she did last time. Instead she looked into his vibrant eyes as he went on with his words of comfort and assurance. But she did think he might be putting her on too high of a pedestal. Florence had plenty of faults, more than just the ones that were blatantly apparent at the moment.
That was a perspective she hadn’t seen before this moment. Augustine had found his voice. If he could talk back to her, she was sure he could tell anyone off if need be. Her lips curved at the thought. Maybe he was more like her than she originally though. Until now, she hadn’t seen much of herself in her son, other than their eyes, but here it was.
[+mediumseagreen “It is going to be a difficult transitions for me. I may need reminders, someone to reign me in when I begin to fall back to old ways.”] Florence was thinking about this seriously, wanting to properly consider Nicolai’s advice. [+mediumseagreen Since you are so fond of trying to keep me in line, that could be a job for…”] She cut off before saying the final word, remembering that wouldn’t be possible. [+mediumseagreen “No, I suppose it can’t be.”] He would be staying here in Wistina, for a moment she had forgotten that. She would have to let Gregory know, or even Augustine, to keep her accountable. What a pain, but she couldn’t complain since he would have so much to keep him busy here.
Making things slightly awkward with the twinge of disappointment that showed on her features, even if it was only for her, she looked away. Back to the fire it was, but now it was much less natural to do so than it had been earlier with him across the way. Thinking about it further, she should have opted to look over to the others. That might have been less suspicious. But it did prompt her to wonder where Meredith was? It did not take this long to water horses. Little did she know, the girl was taking her sweet time to avoid whatever conversation was going on at the fireside. None of it appealed to her in the slightest.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat [+teal “Oh my, I have moved up to an esteemed cohort now? I must say you should be careful Florence or one might assume you have taken a fancy to me.”] Nicolai offered a teasing wink to her dramatic act, quite smitten by her humour and enjoying the relaxed nature of the woman. Despite their proximity to one another over the past decade it had been quite delightful to sit and converse with her in a relaxed manner, despite the main topic at hand.
As she shifted the discussion over to her family he was captivated and watched her closely. She spoke so animatedly of her father and brother once their flirtatious back and forth had petered out. Seeing her describe the life she had led in a land that was so foreign to anything he knew he began to build a mental image of just what life was like for her. Given it's secluded nature, Astoria was like a magical kingdom jutting out of the sea and brought forth by the God's. It was part of his reasoning behind staying in Wistina. Whilst the trio would be welcomed back with open arms, he knew the country as a whole was mistrusting of strangers even after many years of having her ports opened. It would be longer before they were truly embraced into the greater continent but for now, he would allow them their own company and keep to his own.
Nodding along with her description that Augustine had to be strong to avoid being a device for others use, he glanced back to the young boy, still speaking with Gregory.[+teal “The issue as I see it is he is so mature. You have moulded him to treat his role and title with the seriousness it demands and whilst yes, he is still young, it is a better start than most have.”] His smile settled to a subdued humour, but he would not find reason to stop whilst she was so open like this.
When she spoke she would often shift her gaze from the fire to the elf and back again, likely a touch shy to be this open with a man other than Gregory, other than someone she had her utmost faith in. It felt like an honour to have her be this open to him. The desire to take up her hand or to place an arm about her in reassurance was strong. But whilst that level of trust remained just shy of complete, he would respect her as his one time Queen and afford her the decency to keep his hands to himself, lest he be thought lecherous.
[+teal “I agree, optimism is something that needs to be used in measured amounts. Too much and you fail to see the faults of those around you or do not see the negatives until it is too late. Too little, and you become hardened and cold to the world. A little like how you became when Germaine was ailing.”] It was a measured step to bring up her deceased husband as he had, but he wanted her to see that perhaps there was a line to draw between Augustine and herself.[+teal “You became quite cold to those around you and shut them out. You asked me to swear my oath to you when at any other time I am sure you would know you had my loyalty always and did not need such a display. I don't think ill of you for doing such. It was a troubling time. You had to discover who you could and could not trust in a short amount of time and you used the tools you had learned growing up to do so. But consider that Augustine is acting in the same manner. He lashed out now because of fear, because he has not built that control of emotion like you or I. He is mature and adult like but still a child, and he does not know which to be right now. Does he accept his mothers help or strike out and be his own man?”]
It was a difficult topic to discuss and with a sigh that he may be straying into territory she did not wish for him to delve into, he had to complete his thoughts and tell her as he saw it. If plans progressed as they were intended, the next night would be the last he saw her.
With that thought he moved across to sit beside her, lifting her hand to place her palm in his right hand, his left placed atop to enclose it. He felt a touch of coldness to her skin though perhaps his hands were just particularly warm.[+teal “You are a strong woman Florence. In these few months you have been a noble leader, a bastion of power and an excellent mother who has gone above and beyond what others are capable of. Whilst he may be argumentative now, Augustine will be fine in time. Because he has found his voice. He questions your actions but that is good, for it means he will not be cowed into silence.”]
His hands continued to cup hers, violet eyes looking at the coupling as his voice dropped an octave or two.[+teal “Gregory will no doubt paint the broader picture, but he can only do so much. The boy will always require his mother's wisdom and grace. Only now, instead of telling him what to do, you must learn to suggest and allow him to reach his own conclusions. The hardest thing any man can do is learn to be independent and to act with not just his mind.. but with his heart too..”]
Waving her hand, as though to dismiss the idea that she was so great as Nicolai was making her out to be, the wavy haired woman shook her head. If nothing else he was persistent with his compliments, but she wasn’t about to hold it against him. Not while he was using his charm for the powers of good, that being to make her feel better. Was that selfish of her? She did not dwell on it.
[+mediumseagreen “Rather cheeky of you to assume I would deny anyone the want to see me as beautiful, much less a esteemed cohort such as yourself.”] Bringing a hand up, she rested it delicately on her chest, posing in a way that contrasted the sarcasm of her statement. That is what he got for trying to tease her with a wound that was still rather fresh and tender. But all in all, she meant no ill will with her tone and dramatized confidence.
The happy go lucky atmosphere mellowed and they were left to talk about more pertinent matters. [+mediumseagreen “In a way, yes. But it is more that our father is the same way, an idealist, someone who wants to see the good in people and acts accordingly. Neither of them wants to take the steps they have to in order see the changes they desire. Not until it is too late. But that is what advisors are for, and I made damn sure he had those in spades. I may have only acted as regent for two years, but I fool proofed the palace before stepping down.”] It wasn't that Eugene was by any means incompetent, but she worried for him and his steadfast ideals. [+mediumseagreen “I also know the road ahead of Augustine will be arduous. Even before it took this detour at the death of Germaine… I just want him to be more than a puppet to those around him. A man who is ready to do what is best not just for him, but the people as well.”] It was so easy for those in power to fall pray to demons of greed and cast away those they vowed to protect to gain wealth and prestige amongst their peers. That Augustine might do so, terrified her.
It was strange to talk about Astoria, even just this little bit, with an outsider. That being someone who wasn’t native to the land, and not that she saw Nicolai as totally removed from the matter. Until some eleven years ago, the island had been secluded from the world, boarders blocking both incoming and exiting passage. To this day much of the history and happenings of the country were a mystery to the world and most of the inhabitants would rather keep it that way. They opted to look toward the future instead of dwell in the past.
Florence did not pay much mind to the odd angle that Nicolai was sitting at. In fact it made it easier for her to look between him and the dancing flames. They sputtered as they ate up the small twigs and such that had been tossed in. Excess pitch added a little excitement to their slow flicker. [+Mediumseagreen “You are right though, holding too tightly will only make him push away. And it is not like optimism is always a fault. As long as he knows when to take action, it may very well help him as a leader.”] Augustine would find his own way of doing things, and given how bright he was, it would be brilliant.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai let out a soft chuckle as she admonished him for his compliment. It had turned her lips upward and his desired goal had been a success, seeing her smirk was a joy to behold and given it's rarity these days he was all the happier for seeing it. She brought up an excellent point and his shoulders rose in slight agreement with her.
[+teal “True, a boy would want his mother to be caring, intelligent and loving above all else. And he has that with you in abundance.”] His smirk grew a touch.[+teal “But in honesty the addition of beauty is something I can be very grateful for. Would you deny me, your trustworthy companion, the belief and desire to find you beautiful?”] He had taken her poor choice of words from earlier to twist in a comedic fashion, looking away to the fire with a shake of his head, brushing back dark locks from his gaze in the aftermath of his jovial nature.
The flames had began to wither a touch and he fed more kindling and a log in to stoke the embers back into life, knowing the night would be colder given the lack of a building to sleep in. It provided a welcome distraction from the woman at his side, her dress, though less regal than usual, was still very well fitting and curved about her shapely figure. It was distracting to him at times through their journey and had spurred on his more flirtatious mood that evening.
Perhaps the berries of the night before or the dwarf's stew had contained some aphrodisiac ingredient, but out of the Capital and with the more informal nature with Florence he had been a different man. One free of burden and confined by traditions and formalities. It was a time to just do as he wished and say as he wanted without the fear of being in the chopping block for making a social faux-pas.
She was discussing her brother, Eugene, a man she had mentioned only briefly about Nicolai. Nodding along at her desire for him to have lived in reality than the fantasy of Royalty, he could not help but draw a commonality between her son and her brother.[+teal “Perhaps that is why you treat young Augustine as you do. You wished Eugene had had a more stern parenting, a better guiding hand, and so you press that on your own son as you know what an idealist left to their own devices can become.”] He felt it was a sound understanding of the situation and folded his hands together between his knees, leaning toward the fire but at an angle so that he was closer to her.
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