[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The moment Nicolai had seen it was indeed Adrian and Elizabeth, he had known the eventual outcome. He wouldn't put it past any of the other three to have told them of this plan to join up on the road and simply happen upon one another as a mere coincidence. And indeed after only a little while of the duo riding behind them, the voice of Florence carried up to Nicolai showing she was asking them to join in a formal manner.
It took great strength of will not to turn his horse back and inform the pairing they could take the lead, they would wait here and therefore keep them all apart. It was the safer option; not just for the Wistina quartet but the travelling pair too. These were relative strangers and it was wrong to trust them so much just because the man had purchased them a single meal and chatted with them for half a days ride. And it was dangerous to invite others in on their problems with the Taken, whomever they were as at that moment in time Florence had still yet to fully explain whom they were. Still, if they were hunting him, he knew they were bad, and that was enough.
Keeping his pace at the front, Nicolai remained silent still, continuing to sup from the canteen, making sure to shake it thoroughly before each drink. The group behind had drifted back to their usual chatter, Gregory conversing with Elizabeth a little though it was still Adrian who did the most talking with his booming voice that at times irked the elf more than usual; they were meant to be keeping a low profile right?
On that note, how long would it be before Florence revealed whom they all were? With how trusting and happy she was in the company of the red-eyed male, it was a matter of when not if she gave the information over. How would he react? What would he say? [i When would they kiss?] His eyes shut tightly and he raised a hand to his head as a sharp pain ran up his spine and pulsated in his skull. Where had that thought come from he was certain he did not know, or perhaps was trying to kid himself that he did not [i want] to know. Massaging his temple he let out a deep sigh and tried to focus on his scanning the road ahead.
Adrian laughed aloud with delight at seeing Augustine with his knife at his side, the boy looking utterly delighted to have a weapon and a means of defending himself – his very own blade! Grinning widely the tall man clapped in a humorous manner.[+crimson “Very good young man! It is a fine blade too. Just remember; only draw upon it as a last option and if you mean to do harm. I'm sure you know it is no toy after all.”] His word to the wise was met with a vigorous nod of agreement and his small hand patted the grip lightly.[+crimson “Excellent. Now we have five excellent warrior, able to fight off whatever life can throw at us.”] The slender brow of Elizabeth furrowed.[+royalblue “There are six of us Adrian.”] Looking back at her he shook his head as a half laugh escaped him.[+crimson “Ah, of course,”] turning back forward he cupped a hand to his mouth,[+crimson “apologies Nicolai. Had forgotten you were still here.”] He jokingly called as if the elf was miles away and not ten meters or so.
It brought amusement to Gregory and Augustine smiled too at the simple joke, though he was a touch concerned at how the elf just ignored everything that went on behind him. He still felt guilty for the night before, even though he had apologised immediately. Though he had felt like he would be struck by the elf for what he'd done, seeing an anger in his eyes he'd never seen before, he knew in his heart the man would not hurt him and it had just been a natural reaction to the pain. Still, he was glad for Adrian's assistance and protection and looked over to the man with a beaming smile as if thanking him silently.
[+crimson “I meant to say, you all look rather fetching in your new attire. It's good to see you in something more fitting for travel Florence. Though the dress was beautiful on you, it was not exactly practical.”] Looking over to her he was complimentary of Augustine too in his warmer clothing, not looking to win fervour with the woman though not opposed to doing so. She was strikingly beautiful and his desire to stick with this group stemmed perhaps a touch from wanting to talk with her more. Yet it was Gregory who took his attention away, a last fleeting look and smile to the woman before he grinned to his new dwarven friend who inquired to some of his previous battles and skirmishes fighting back the dredges of society – all of which Elizabeth was called upon for clarification on details and validating the fables as true, or correcting him where she could.
Catching movement form the corner of her eye, Florence turned to see Gregory running toward them. It was alarming on its own, but he had news that there were riders in the distance, which amplified the feeling.
She looked off the way they came and saw dark colors. It immediately reminded her of the group that had attacked them before crossing the boarder. Hand going to her back, the woman mentally prepared for a fight. But before she could bring the bow around. She caught Augustine’s voice. He mentioned that the figure off in the distance looked like Elizabeth. Her green eyes went to the second figure. He was right; her distinct sunshine locks were dazzling in the light of day. The two continued to ride this way.
[+mediumseagreen “Well, they seem to be making good pace.”] There was no telling how long they left after their own group, but the fact that they had caught up was a clear indication of that they were doing well on time. Florence thought it probably had to do with the two of them being more adapted riders. Adrian and Elizabeth didn’t need to slow down so often. Their muscles were probably used to the abuse.
The two made it to them within a few minutes and dismounted as well. Adrian was smiling away. He joked about how long it had been since they had seen each other. It was well received with Augustine, but most of the adults just rolled their eyes.
[+coral “Are you following us?”] There was amusement in the boy’s voice.
[+crimson “Of course not. We just happen to both be headed toward Mayfair pass, it cannot be helped that we should cross paths from time to time.”] Once again, the other adults were rolling their eyes at his antics, though that was not to say a few of them did not also find humor in it like Augustine.
Other than that, there was not a lot of ceremony to the joining of groups and there wasn’t any when they parted again either. It was a quick goodbye and the silence consumed them once again. At least for another hour or so, then it seemed to be that the others had caught up again. Florence thought they would pass, since they had a faster pace set. But it seemed as soon as reach about twenty paces behind them, they slowed to match their speed. The woman had a good idea what they were up to, but she gave them the benefit of the doubt for a little longer. Perhaps they were slowing to give their legs a break like Nicolai had been doing for them… she doubted it.
After a fair few miles, her suspicions were confirmed. They had no plans to pass. Sighing, Florence ran a hand through her dark chestnut hair. [+mediumseagreen “You know, if you are going to be at this the whole way, you might as well just join us.”] Her voice was raised so that she could be heard from some distance away.
The hoof beats behind them quickened until the two merged, growing their group back to six. [+crimson “How could we say no with you insisting like that.”] The man spoke through grinning lips.
Florence brought a hand to her face, cradling it as she shook her head. She sighed again. [+mediumseagreen “Just don’t say that I did not warn you if things get precarious.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai gave each of them a look to make sure they were settled and ready, allowing each a final moment to make any requests before they left. When no such order came, he led them out at a walk to ease their horses into the travel. It would not take them long to get up to a good steady trot that would keep them making steady progress but not wear the horses out especially with extra baggage now. Every hour or so he would slow them to a walk ostensibly to help the riders. A long journey could be havoc on the hips and backside and slowing down would allow feeling to return some.
They did not carry much food on them, as Gregory and Florence were quite adamant they would be able to hunt for their food – and a rabbit a day or a deer now and then would be good for them – but Nicolai had prepared for them to come back empty handed. Biscuits and hard tack would give them energy even if they were bland and not at all an appetising meal. But they would last quite a long time.
Staying several meters ahead of them, his eyes were continually looking around their pathway, making sure they were not to be ambushed or that whomever was operating the hawks had not thought to head up this pass to confront them before they went in. It left him separate from the others and their talks but he did not mind all that much. Sipping continually on his flask, he was rather content to remain out of their hair. Playing the guard was much simpler than playing the friend. He could detach himself emotionally and focus on a purely tactical approach.
After a few hours of good pace he stopped them off at the end of a clearing, giving them good sight behind them as he got them off their saddles to have a little stretch. It was during this time, whilst Nicolai was filling his flask from a brook and placing something inside it, that Gregory – on guard – had stood up and stepped back several steps. Squinting harshly it made Nicolai regret putting the man out on watch. He could not exactly discern what he was seeing but called on the others to tell them someone was coming.
Dashing back up the small slope to them, Nicolai was keen to get his eyes on the problem at hand. He needn't have bothered however as it was Augustine who reacted first and with the eyes of youth he noticed something; bright golden hair.[+darkorange “That looks like Elizabeth, right mother?”] He was speaking more in hypotheticals but he was not yet to know he was absolutely right, as the second and much larger figure of Adrian became more apparent. His hand raised and he waved it back and forth in greeting as they kept a steady pace up to the foursome.
Nodding back to Nicolai to signal she understood, Florence decided to give a final farewell to Elizabeth and Adrian since they were there. The tall man brought up his offer to ride on together one more time, but she politely declined and assured him they would be fine on their own. Augustine’s spirit dampened a bit at her answer, though he did his best to keep a smile on as he said goodbye.
As much as they were all loath to part, the olive skinned woman kept the ordeal short and sweet. They really did need to be getting out of town. So she ushered Gregory and her son back towards their horses just as soon as each of them had a chance to say their part.
Mounting and coming back together with Nicolai, it was officially time to set off. Once a ways off, Augustine turned to wave to the couple they left behind as they faded off into the distance. It was strange losing friends like this, or that he considered them friends at all. They had known each other for all of one day and he was already very partial to the pair. His mother, looking down on him from behind did feel a bit bad, but she still thought this would be for the best. She wrapped her arms around the boy and gave him a light squeeze. The woman hoped that her want to comfort him was properly conveyed.
Finally, the four of them were on their way. They were making progress towards Astoria at last. And for Florence, it was beginning to feel real. So long as they kept on course, and nothing too disastrous came to pass, she would finally be able to see her brother again. Not only that, but he would be able to meet her son. And Augustine would meet his cousins. It was a happy thought that he might finally have some children around his age to play with. Though she was fairly certain he was the oldest. Eugene hadn’t exactly kept in contact with her, but seeing as he was a king, she heard things down the grapevine.
It was quiet. Well, every once in a while Gregory would pipe up about something and strike up a conversation with Augustine or Florence, but it never lasted. Normally that sort of thing did not bother the woman, but right now it felt like something was missing, that there should have been something other than silence to fill the void. It was dreadful, however she could not put her finger on why she felt this way. She considered trying to do something about it herself. To talk to Nicolai, who was just a little ways out front, but she did not. Florence did not want to risk fighting with him again and making things even more awkward. It was quite the predicament and this feeling persisted for hours.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai was unsure if there was an ulterior motive to her words. Never was anything simple between them and never was there not a mind game being played. The manner in which she had swept into the stable and confronted him was with anger and annoyance and yet now she was complimenting his new attire? He found it rather to be quite peculiar and he was unsure how she had expected him to react. And this is what often happened between them. One of them entered the conversation at a heightened and emotional level, the other felt defensive and attacked and retaliated, an argument ensured and they parted.
At one time he had thought she enjoyed the sparing and the back and forth and that their butting of heads was helpful to her getting out her stress and frustration. But over this journey he had found she just seemed to continually berate him for every small issue possible. Even when he actively avoided them to keep the peace, went out early to buy their supplies, set up all three horses and did so without help – she found a means of making it out like he was doing her a disservice.
In truth, he was tired of tiptoeing around and the confrontation with Adrian last night had been quite therapeutic. In a way it was a shame the man was not coming along just to keep her preoccupied, keep her happy in a way he seemingly couldn't. Now he would be back to avoiding her to avoid the argument. Why hadn't he kept his mouth shut at the farm?
Left to go about the remainder of his work he eyed Adrian as he entered to finish getting his horse set up as he liked it. Elizabeth remained like a barrier between them and occasionally would look across to Nicolai as if by gaze alone she could convince him to remain calm and not start anything. But he was done the moment he had sat down in his room the night before. He wished she had been alone and they could have her join them by herself. Pity.
When the others returned he nodded for the them to get their horses, making no comment on the change in clothing or the knives that hung from the belts of mother and child. He knew if he said anything it would be seen in a different light. Perhaps a few days of limited talk and limited interactions may give them a more neutral and level emotional field. Or it would send her off the edge and she would yell and complain at him for that. But time would tell and he quietly made his way out the stable, past the other two, taking his horse out to use a stand outside to help him on his horse.
Leaving the others to make any additional farewells he seated himself up on his horse and grabbed a set of gloves he had procured with his ensemble. It would keep him warm and hide any paleness to his skin to abate any worry from the woman. Content to await the others, he cracked his neck and sat back a little against his supplies to support the small of his back.
[+mediumseagreen “Thank you.”] There was genuine gratitude in her voice as he agreed to keep her more in the loop to his whereabouts. He wore a similar look of defeat as he had the night before. Florence wondered if he was actually reflecting on what happened or if this was just the next stage of his outburst. Only time would tell. But of all the mood swings she had encountered with Nicolai, this one was as tolerable as any of them.
He passed her along some coin and she thanked him again. [+mediumseagreen “I will try to be timely so that we can leave as soon as possible.”] She looked over his outfit, and wondered if it would give any indication of what she would find in this place. If it were, she would not mind. [+mediumseagreen “Hopefully our search is as fruitful as yours. You look nice.”] She offered the compliment with no ulterior motive. Florence really did think it suited him.
With that pleasantry, she also wanted to inquire to how he was feeling. Clearly his shoulder was still bothering him, but every other time she had asked he had avoided her question or reacted badly. So she bit her tongue, thinking this time would be no different. It was discontenting, but she nodded him a farewell and headed back to the inn to get the others. She really did want to get this over with so that they could be on their way.
Just where she left them, Augustine and Gregory were both ready to leave when the tall woman returned. The boy wore a look of worry, but it soon faded when she informed them that she had indeed found Nicolai and now they were off too find something suitable to wear in town. It was a quick trip to the tailor only three buildings down, just as the elf had instructed. The shop was neatly laid out. Most if not all the merchandise was displayed in an organized manner. It made finding what they needed quick and easy.
Stonebrook must have been a common stop on the way to the pass, because despite it being summer there were warm clothes aplenty. Fitting something to Augustine, Florence let Gregory find what he pleased. And once her boy was all set, she set out to dress herself. A dusty magenta tunic with green trim caught her eye. It was a great deal shorter than what she was wearing, but the weave was thicker. Layered with a few other things it would do just fine. Though, it was a little strange to be wearing pants. It had been years since Florence had been put in anything that was not a full-length gown.
Gregory, already dressed for travel, settled for a thick coat. He would use it when they came closer to the pass and the air got chillier, but for now he was content. With all of them decided, Florence paid the man who had been watching them from the counter. It was a fair price, and like Nicolai said there was some coin left over. She knew exactly what she wanted to get; they just needed to head a little farther into the marketplace to get it.
This would be a first for the blond child, as he had never been to a market of any sort. Servant were always sent out to fetch the things they needed in the castle, so everything was exciting to him as they walked passed all sorts of vendors. Most of the merchants wore big smiles, a ploy to look pleasant and ensnare customers. It was a harmless tactic among so many others that were deplorable, so Florence could not fault them with their fake grins. She even stopped at one of the stalls so that she could grab some form of street food they were selling. It would make a quick and easy breakfast for them.
After that, they stopped at a blacksmith’s. All that she was after was a couple of daggers. Nothing fancy, but something to carry on them. The man at the forge was very helpful, though he kept asking if it was for her husband. She went ahead and lied saying that they were. It was easier than explaining the actual situation, though it was grating. Florence pushed to make the transaction quick, but added a few kind words here to procure a better deal. It worked. And they walked out with a blade for each of them. Fastening one to Augustine’s belt, she smiled. [+mediumseagreen “Now you will not have to borrow Nicolai’s, but you had better be careful with it.”] He nodded in response and started their way back to the stables to meet the elfin man who was waiting for them.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai continued about his preparations and getting the horses ready with saddles and reins. Elizabeth continued her own check list of work and not too long after he had seen the tall brunette step into the doorway. With only a few whispered words with his partner, he had soon left however, only casting a glance to Nicolai perhaps in warning for him not to start anything a new.
He had paused during his work to watch the duo, knowing what was being said was about him, but regardless he kept silent and did not move to approach them. They were two strangers to him and he would not look to start conversation with them now that they were on the verge of leaving. It did give him some hope they would be away and gone. Their fleeting appearance had pushed him off kilter and left a bitter taste in his mouth; though perhaps that should be an ever more bitter taste as he was quite grouchy of late even before they had appeared.
Adrian for his part was careful to remain nearby but out of sight of the elven man. He wanted to be near if required for Elizabeth's sake, but he did not wish to start the fight that had been avoided the night before. After having seen Florence and her son off to bed he had thought over the incident and still could not shake the dread of leaving that man in her presence. Upon seeing the woman in question his face had lit up and his posture improved, clearly more than happy to see her once more and with her querying gaze he had directed her in.
Nicolai was at his own horse, a hoof between his knees as he used a hoof pick to clean it out and scrape away debris left inside. Looking up as Florence confronted him, there was a very quick and terse response to be given. Somewhere along the lines of 'when did you become my mother?' or 'you are not Queen any more, I do not answer to you'. But, still feeling as he did the night before and quite sore in the shoulder, as if the pain was penitence for his actions to Augustine, he nodded along to her words in a meek manner.[+teal “Of course, I will do so next time; here.”] Reaching to his waist where his sword still hung, he retrieved a pouch.
Holding it out to her, it was filled with gold coin – or at least twenty pieces – and tied off with a piece of twine.[+teal “You should get Gregory and Augustine and purchase clothing – there is a clothing shop three stops down from the tavern. He has enough coin already to outfit you all so do not pay him any extra, but that is for if you think of and need anything else.”] He kept his talk short and his voice low, watching her a little longer to see if she would say or do anything else.
When no answer came, Florence did indeed let herself in. She was glad that the door was not locked, though it looked as though Nicolai was already up and at it. That or he had been snatched out of his bed with all this things. It was not certain, but the tall woman was inclined to believe it was the former. Though that still bore multiple options. The elfin man was either getting them ready to go, or had turned tail and left without them. Perhaps back to Helga’s? After the catastrophe that was the night before, it could have been. She would not know for sure until they went to the stables. If his horse was gone, she would assume the worse and they would have to continue on with just the three of them. If that were the case she might have to take Adrian up on his offer.
Not wanting to be too hasty with things, the demoted queen returned to the others. She relayed what she had seen of the dark-haired man’s room.
[+darkmagenta “Empty? What do you mean his room was empty.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Just that. Nicolai seems to have already left the inn.”]
[+darkmagenta “Where did he go?”] Gregory was so full of useless questions. But at least he was awake and asking them. So there was that.
[+mediumseagreen “I do not know, he did not exactly leave a note.”] Augustine looked at her, concerned. He was already blaming himself that Nicolai might have abandoned them. [+mediumseagreen “I will go and check the stables to make sure he did not just leave.”]
[+darkmagenta “What do you mean leave?!”] Apparently the thought hadn’t crossed Gregory’s optimistic mind, but Florence was out of the room before he finished the question. If Augustine could put it together, she was certain he could too if he was willing to put even a modicum of thought into it.
In the full light of day, everything looked different. Sure it hadn’t been dark when they rolled into town, but the faded light of dusk did play tricks on the mind. Not to mention the settlement was much more bustling now. Florence hadn’t been expecting it, since the night before was rather tame. But in the end it was not bad enough to stop her from getting where she wanted to go: the stables.
Outside, there was a familiar face, but it was not the one she was looking for. Cocking her head, as if to asked what he was doing Adrian laughed lightly at her. [+crimson “Good morning to you too.”] Letting his chest settle fully after the chuckling, he didn’t delay answering her any longer. [+crimson “I thought scenes might arise unpleasant if I went in.”] He motioned to the entrance as he explained. [+crimson “Did not stop Elizabeth though. He won’t scare her off.”] A smile came with the odd joke, but it was enough to tell Florence what she wanted to know.
Nodding in thanks, the woman pressed on in and sure enough there was Nicolai. He was dressed very much differently than she had last seen him. Though he had also been without a shirt at that time. She did not dwell on it. [+mediumseagreen “So here you are. You could leave a message next time, so that we do not worry so much.”] Looking passed him and to the horse, it was already loaded down with all sorts of gear and supplies. He must have taken the liberty of going into town as well. And here she was doubting his resolve to stay with them. Florence felt bad, just only the tiniest bit.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat By the time she had seen to washing with Augustine and confronted the sozzled dwarf over his antics – though given his race no doubt he would recover all the faster – the sun had been up at least a few hours from the horizon. Upon knocking on the door however she would receive no answer or response, rather utter silence and a continuation of the general morning sounds about her of the tavern waking up.
Had she entered the room of her own accord, and no doubt she would as she oft found herself doing as she wished. Entering there was merely the remains of someone's stay in the room but no man himself. The window had been opened and allowed a cold morning breeze to sweep through the room. Casting light inside showed an unmade bed that had a few leaves littering it from the tree outside, the bronze plate with remnants of cold meats and bread aside burned out candles, and the bowl, empty, with the old dirty bandage left inside. No other remnants of Nicolai were left behind.
The man himself had left just after dawn and was out in the village purchasing supplies and such. Given that Stonebrook sat along the prime route up to the pass, they made a good business out of selling thick furs, clothing, supplies and the like for adventurers such as themselves. It was not going to be the highest quality for the coin that was being spent, but it would be quite sufficient for them and their needs no doubt.
Having purchased most of their collective needs he had taken on the help of a young boy to carry them all to the stable with him. It was a quick affair but the boy was happy for the few coins for little work and had hoped for more but was curtly dismissed not long after the final trip. The man made little to no conversation as he went about his work, only speaking when needed and not looking to make small talk. Even when Elizabeth had come into the stable to set the duo's horses for the day, nothing was said.
The air was rather tense given their altercation the night before, but they went about their works in amicable silence as if they had never met before, each focused on their own tasks and duties. For Nicolai it was rather discomforting at times to lift things with weight that required both his hands, and for Elizabeth it was tempting at times to offer her help or make small talk – but she felt it would be rebuffed quickly or descend into bitter squabbling in no time. She knew the elven man would rather keep the tentative peace than to further any disagreement, and though she enjoyed their talks on the ride here she would respect the peace as it stood.
With most of the supplies he had fetched stowed away where possible, he had taken to an empty stall to change into the clothing he'd purchased. For now it was just more layers. An undershirt, underwear that ran to the knee, better boots and socks and the like. Atop this he wore a tan suede jacket, looking more like a rancher from one of the vast farms in the plains out east, ready to shepherd cattle and the like. But he was warmer, and several thick furs rolled up on his horse would come in use once they reached even colder climates.
When he reached out for Augustine, Florence somewhat expected for him to do the same with her. So she readied herself, offering her hand to him. What she did not expect was the wink, and especially in front of her son. Face flushing, she looked to the side. All of a sudden the grain of the wood there was very interesting. [+mediumseagreen “I will keep your offer in mind, thank you.”] Her tone did not leave much room for hope that she would have a change of heart though.
Seeing the way his mother clammed up, Augustine was a touch confused. But by the time he looked over to Adrian things had returned too normal. He was fully baffled, but she did not seem displeased, so he would leave it be. Everything wrapped up shortly after that. They broke off from one another and the pair began their canter down the hall once more. They did not make it far.
At the sound of the door, Florence’s eyes found their way to its source. And who was to be seen, but Nicolai. Knowing that that Augustine was still sensitive to what happened, a misplaced guilt on his part, she placed her hand on his shoulder. It was a light touch, meant to comfort. And while she had thought that the elf would offer some sort of comment, there was nothing but a goodnight. She nodded in response, but did not return his word.
That was the final interruption on the way to their room, which was nice enough. The layout was plain but served its purpose. She mentally debated whether or not she should go back down stairs and ask for a basin of water so that they could wash up before bed, but with how late it was getting she decided it was a task for the morning. Though she was determined to get the both of them clean before they left.
Directing Augustine to the bed, Florence brought the patchwork quilt up to tuck him in. While he had been hesitant to leave all the fun downstairs, he now settled into his fate gracefully. Though, he did work up some courage to tell her what he thought about their encounter with Adrian. [+coral “Mother,”] He called her as if he attention was not already undividedly on him. [+coral “Adrian is really nice.”] And it wasn’t even because he knew who they were or wanted anything from them. [+coral “Like, really, really nice.”] The groggy words did not directly convey his want to continue as a larger group, but the dark-haired woman knew what he was getting at.
Smiling warmly down at the boy, there was a hint of remorse in her gaze. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, yes he is.”] Leaning down, she kissed his forehead gently, just like she always did. [+mediumseagreen “Now off to sleep, please. You should enjoy the bed while you have it.”]
Florence waited until Augustine was asleep before turning into bed herself. She watched him, humming quietly, as his breathing slowed and face became serene. It was as though he hadn’t a care in the world. She wished that were true, though it did not plague her enough to keep her from sleeping.
Waking to the sound of Augustine stirring in bed, she wondered why it was that children inexplicably woke so early. And full of energy at that. Why would the gods make it so when, more than anyone else, mothers needed to sleep. It was a challenge, and one that she would be forced, rather than wanted, to overcome.
Sitting up sluggishly, Florence did not wish to leave the warmth of the bed. It was not the best quality of mattress, but after so many nights on the ground anything was comfortable and welcoming by contrast. In order to buy herself more time, she sent the blond on an errand to call for the bowl of water they needed. He was not gone long, so it did little to actually help her obtain more rest, but the few minutes of solitude were nice. It had been a while since she had a moment to herself.
Forcing herself to get up once a young woman dropped by with water, Florence made sure she and her son got clean. This would probably be the last stop for some time, so it was important to do it properly while they had the chance. After that, she thought it best to roust the others so that they could eat, do their shopping, and be out of Stonebrook by a decent time.
As expected, Gregory gave her some trouble. He had drunk too much the night before. Stupid old man, she warned him, but he hadn’t listened. [+mediumseagreen “You are too old to be acting this way. Remember your age every once in a while.”] Her complaint was more out of worry than anything else. Gregory was in his late sixties, and while it wasn’t quite the same for a dwarf, if he didn’t start being more cautious he would see an early grave.
Done with that, Florence left Augustine behind to keep an eye on the gray bearded man. She did not want him falling right back to sleep. Her son should be assertive enough to stop that. And while he was practically babysitting, she made her way down to Nicolai's room. She certainly hoped his foul mood had dissipated, though she doubted it would be so. Coming up to the door they had met at the previous night, the woman knocked firmly on the door. She did not want to waste time wondering if she had been heard.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat As ever she was such a gracious and kind woman and her soft refusal of his request was perhaps what he had been expecting as he thought over his question. She was full of optimism, especially when it came to Nicolai, and whilst he could find that both respectable and noble he also saw it as potentially threatening to her own life and that of Augustine. To entrust a boy around a man like that? He had seen it go wrong so many times before.
What made it worse in Adrian’s mind was that Nicolai could easily overpower the trio. Gregory was humble and fair but he was getting on in years now and would not be all that swift to the fight if it happened. Augustine was still a child and one not armed either now the elf had retrieved his knife. Florence would be the main defence and seeing the marking on her cheek he surmised it was not the first time Nicolai had acted out like this. It was good that he had not done something, so there was some control there, yet the bruise only made him more determined to be there to stop it should he try to confront her himself.
This would not be the time for that however and he nodded to her with a slight rueful smile.[+crimson “Well, I will hope you sleep on it and change your mind. But I won’t force the decision.”] Watching her for a moment longer he offered his hand to little Augustine and when taken he shook it firmly.[+crimson “I know you will be good to your mother, but look after yourself. I hope to see you in the future; you’re going to be a giant, I can tell.”] He grinned and released the boys hand, reaching up to take Florence’s free hand when she saw he opened his hand to her.
[+crimson “And you take care of yourself especially. Despite being such a good shot and for such an intimidating woman,”] he recalled that morning and smirked lightly,[+crimson “you still need to keep an eye out. Not a lot of good, strong women out here much anymore. Certainly none quite like you.”] Thankfully Augustine was looking up to his mother and missed the cheeky wink he gave her before wishing them a warm and good sleep. Turning back he headed back down the stairwell to the others to have a few final drinks.
Hearing voices outside and footsteps moving closer to his door, Nicolai was jolted from his little singsong with himself. He was thinking of going for a strong drink, but with the others likely downstairs he dared not show his face. Yet hearing the noise he stood up, moving over and opening his door to find Augustine and Florence moving down the corridor. Confronted with the pair, shirtless but thankfully with the door obscuring his wound, he nodded a shameful greeting to them.
Recalling how he had reacted to Augustine brought shame to him and his cheeks would have coloured if not for the relative darkness he stood in lit by waning candles. Rather than offer a verbal apology however, seeing Florence place protective hands on her son’s shoulders, he could see the damage had been done. Looking up at her he thought he saw hostility in her eyes but in truth he was projecting that on her. If she was defensive and hateful of him then he would be able to justify it to himself later that she was the villain. But he couldn’t say that with any truth or honour.
[+teal “Night.”] That was all he said. And perhaps from their viewpoint it was quite the odd sight. The door opens, a shirtless Nicolai looks at them, says night, and shuts the door over behind him as he turned back into his room. Not exactly a lot of context in that itself, but coupled with the stable, it made some sense. Again it mirrored poorly with Adrian's goodnight but he was not to know.
Back into his room he decided it best to use the last of the light to wrap up his shoulder with the fresh cloth he had requested. He had done what he could on the wound by himself. He would keep an eye out the next day for some herbs to help him with both the pain and the infection. For now, he would just wrap it and call it a night there.
While Florence heard the footfall coming up behind them on the stairs, she chose to ignore it. They were not the only patrons of this inn, so it was to be expected that others would come to the second story. But when her name was called, things changed. She turned about face to see Adrian hot on their tails. [+mediumseagreen “Yes?”] There was no telling what he wanted, but she urged him to continue both with her words and her eyes that were looking over him from a new angle.
Once hearing what he had to say, she shook her head. [+mediumseagreen “There is no need for such gratitude. You helped us just as much as we helped you, if not more. Think nothing of it.”] Her voice was soft; both in consideration of whoever was might already be asleep in the rooms that lined the hall and sincerity.
There was a pause, and she thought that was the end of it, so she went to continue to their room for the night. Looking to the closest doors there were markers on the thick wood frames that labeled them in a peculiar manner. It seemed they were all named after land formations. The woman couldn’t help but wonder if it was a play on the name of Stonebrook somehow. She did not have time to dwell on it, as she was stopped again. This time Adrian made a plea in hopes that this might not be where they parted. He wanted to go at least as far as the pass together. And when he, someone who was keen on speaking their mind, looked down at her boy and hesitated, she had a clear view into what he was thinking.
[+mediumseagreen “You worries, while appreciated, are unnecessary. As terrible as things might appear, it is not so bad as you might be thinking.”] He had been discreet in the presence of Augustine, so she continued to do so for the sake of formality. [+mediumseagreen “Our situation is just stressful. We are all feeling it, and each of us handles it differently.”] After everything, she still found herself defending Nicolai, even if it was not outright.
[+mediumseagreen “Also, it is no secret that we are being tailed.”] He had heard that much earlier. [+mediumseagreen “… But there is a much bigger picture to be had. I cannot in good consciousness involve and endanger the two of you for the sake of safety from bandits. It would be unscrupulous.”] Looking down from his enwrapping red eyes, her own fell to her son and she smiled. [+mediumseagreen “Besides, I have wriggled my way out of worse. This will be nothing.”] It was an optimistic outlook she did not often take.
Not ready to look back up, she placed a hand on her son’s head, ruffling his hair lightly. [+mediumseagreen “Now, I should be getting this one to bed.”]
Augustine’s big green eyes turned up at his mother; he was not at all pleased to be used as an excuse. Especially in this context, he thought it was a wonderful idea that they go together. Though his mother’s point of it being bad to place them in danger did resonate with him. If only they could tell Adrian what was going on so that he could chose for himself. Augustine thought it was just as good a plan as any, but thinking he had caused enough trouble for one day, the boy did not speak up.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The meal progressed well with stories from all about their pasts. From Florence they were rather stunted, kept to areas that would not reveal her identity whilst still allowing her to join in with the conversation. Augustine’s revolved primarily around things he had learned and jumping in on the tales of Adrian to state when he knew about something. The larger man was more than happy to stop mid-story to listen on things he knew, loving the energised spirit in the boy and grateful to see him smiling and talking more than he had before.
Drinks flowed for Adrian and Gregory as the women knew not to go to excess. The food was plentiful and warm and after several hours – as the nastier drunks came in – Florence and Augustine stood to leave. Having collected their key from the tavern owner, left behind by Nicolai, they made it to the top of the stairwell before a heavy boot came from behind them.[+crimson “Florence.”] Adrian caught them up and despite standing a few steps down from them almost retained eye-level with her.
[+crimson “Sorry to stop you, just wanted to say thank you for today, you really helped me and Lizzie out joining us to get here. I sometimes forget it’s just the two of us and it was nice to have someone new to talk with. So thanks.”] He smiled, nodding to Augustine too as the boy looked at him, even offering up his large hand to shake the boys. After a few pleasantries with him and his mother over the day he had found the boy to be quite intelligent and his mother more protective than intimidating. As she turned to leave again he cleared his throat.[+crimson “Actually, I meant to talk about something else with you.”]
Stopping her again, this time a step or two further up the stairs, he thought of his words for a moment before continuing.[+crimson “Look I’ll be a little blunt; I think our groups should stay together. We’re going the same way, heading through the pass, you saw today that our numbers helped in a few situations. What with how dangerous the pass can be it would be best we keep together. And..”] He was hesitant to continue, characteristically unlike him given how he was quite open and forward that day.[+crimson “Well, with Nicolai’s outburst, I just think we should stick together. For everyone’s safety including his.”] With the boy present he did not want to openly call out the elf as a threat or danger, but most if not all of them had seen his hand clench and in truth Adrian was worried. If he were bolder, and again Augustine not there, he may have approached her with the notion of leaving the elf behind. But he stayed his tongue there.
Nicolai had left the tavern floor not long after entering. Securing rooms for their group that night he left instructions on who would be receiving a key, leaving out their temporary guests to find their own accommodation that night. Requesting a small plate of food, strip of cloth and a bowl of water be brought to his room, he waved off the tavern owner’s offer of a girl for the evening. It had made Nicolai chuckle really, finding the situation quite amusing. Here was a former General being propositioned with a woman of the night. Thanking the man for the offer he headed to his room before Gregory stepped inside.
It was lit by a few candles, the light through the window minimal given the time of day and the fact had not been cleaned in years likely. After a few minutes a light knock at his door signalled his delivery request and he allowed in the tavern girl to place down a small plate of bread and slices of meats along with a bowl of water on the table. Back alone, he stripped off his belt and sword before carefully removing the tunic he had worn almost a week now. As soon as the material was gingerly removed he could see the darkened bandage and a pang of regret ran through him. He wanted nothing more than to ignore it as he had done for several days now but it had to be looked at.
The knife was removed from his weapon’s handle and used to carefully sever the bandage in places that would allow him to remove it slowly. His breathing quickened as it was lifted away, the wound quite the sight to see though from his angle it was rather difficult to do so in an easy manner. The sword was not clean enough to use as a mirror and with nothing else in the room, he took the brass plate with his food, dumping the contents onto the table top and turning it over to use the bottom. Despite the bumpy, uneven and orange surface, he was able to see better and his fingers traced about the red angry skin. It was not good. The decolouration was clear and the steady throb of pain from the wound was continuous.
Filling up a cup with some of the water to keep it fresh, he dipped the cleaning cloth that had been brought with the bowl of water and began to slowly press it against the edge of the wound, cleaning away days of dirt and other sickly fluids. Whilst cleaning up about the wound was easy enough he knew he had to clean it directly. Taking a few heavy breaths he pressed the freshly cleaned cloth flush to the wound, pressing rather hard and groaning as he did. The pain was immeasurable and as he relented, opening his eyes which had at some point shut, he saw dark spots dance about his vision and his head feel awfully light.
For the next hour or two he repeated this process, eventually numbing his shoulder’s nerves which could take no more physical shock and became desensitised. Left with a bowl of water tinged pink and grey he sat back in the chair and shut his eyes slowly.
How had it gotten to this? How had his life come to this moment? Sat in a tavern in a foreign country, cleaning an infected wound using a plate as a mirror, alone. The last point was quite obvious and had been true for some years. But still he felt incredulous at the situation. However, wishing he had kept his mouth shut to Florence was the main thought running through his mind. Not over chastising her son or what he had said in the stable but over his feelings. Since that morning, coming back to find Adrian and Elizabeth stood there, he had felt a regret in saying anything. From the word go the man had been a charming and charismatic delight and won over the others no doubt as easily as he had the elven woman. It was quite like the man was his mirror opposite of himself, having all the qualities people liked and wanted in friends.
The way Florence had stated that word, friend, in the stable, played over his mind a few times as he absently took a few pieces of the bread to chew on slowly. It had been said with such emphasis as if stating something quite clear to him. He thought it was her cementing the fact that she was not interested in him in [i that] manner. But it could have had a thousand other meanings too.
With his right arm quite dulled and useless, resting in his lap as he allowed the nerves and muscles to recover some, his left hand trailed across the numbed skin slowly, fingers running across his arm in a manner his mother had done when he was a child and sick with any number of childhood illness. The simple act was good for his mental fragility as it was his physical one, and without much thought he had begun to hum as she had, a light but slow song that had once brought him great relief and respite but now just brought a sparkle to the corner of his dull violet eye.
The surprisingly bitter comment that came from Adrian was not entirely unwarranted, but Florence was still glad he rescinded it. Now was not a good time to begin doubting whether or not she should have asked Nicolai to continue on with them. Hell, going back further, perhaps she shouldn’t have been so keen on ensnaring him in an allegiance either. There was a lot to regret, and she did not want to dwell on it. Not right now when there were so many other things to worry about.
At mention of dinner, she nodded. It looked as though that offer was still on the table. So, they to wandered off toward the tavern, meeting the others there. Adrian continued on with his boisterousness. He knew how to return the mood to a lighter condition. Even Augustine who was in fairly low spirits perked up at his attempts, though the emerald-eyed woman did throw him a look at the mention of feeling her eight year old liquor. She got the feeling he would not really, but she was still glad he backed down with nearly no effort.
For the rest of them though, it was ale. Florence could barely remember the last time she had had a drink. Gregory warned her to take it slow when the barmaid came about with a large pitcher of beer and a plethora of glasses. She shrugged him off, but knew he was correct and would spend most of the night nursing that first glass.
The event, if it could be called that, passed pleasantly. There was plenty of lively conversation and warm food to eat. All the crabbiness from a long days ride and the argument washed away. Even Augustine, who bore a more age appropriate drink in hand, fell prey to the merry atmosphere. They must have spent a couple of hours doing nothing but talk and graze on the spread of food, but it didn’t feel like that at all. If it weren’t for a yawning child, Florence probably would have been content to sit out there for a few more hours. Well, that and the nightlife was starting to make an appearance in the tavern. It would be best to turn in before they got too rowdy.
[+mediumseagreen “Alright, well, that will be enough for the two of us.”] She spoke only for herself and Augustine. Gregory would probably stay down for a while longer, not wanting to give up the company just yet. [+mediumseagreen “We will likely leave early tomorrow, so do not stay up too late.”] There was no telling if he would listen to her advice, but she gave it all the same. After that, she turned to Adrian and Elizabeth, placing a hand on her son’s back to have him do the same. [+mediumseagreen “Thank you both. It has been pleasant. May you have safe travels from this point on.”] She smiled, a little sad to be parting, but thinking it would be for the best. Augustine reflected his mother’s tone, saying his thanks to the pair and they were off to bed.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Adrian nodded as she explained how he was usually like this, quite irritable and prone to anger. She seemed to be hiding something in her vagueness but he would not press it with her as she seemed rather upset already at the elf, he did not want to add to her concerns.
[+crimson “Well, I'm sure you have your reasons for travelling with such a man. I'm sure his uses as a guard outweigh such a personality.”] It was a damning thing to say and immediately he flushed, not wanting to be seen as petty and stooping to the other man's level. Apologising for his choice of words, he started them off walking, Elizabeth having already left ahead of them to head to the tavern where Nicolai had purchased a room and seconded himself away upstairs, gone before Gregory and Augustine had even arrived.
[+crimson “Anyway, how about we just try to forget what he did. No harm, no foul in the end.”] He offered her one of his calming smiles as the duo came upon the entrance and he opened the door for her. Closing it over behind them they met with the other three at a table in the corner, Adrian looking to Augustine almost as soon as he had sat down.[+crimson “Hey, how about we get you a good hot meal?”] He grinned in the hope of cheering the boy up, receiving a light nod in return.
It was clear Augustine was still a little ashamed. Primarily it stemmed from having started it all off, the shouting and arguing between Adrian and Nicolai and the sound of even Elizabeth raised her voice. If he had just kept to himself he was sure things would be okay now and Nicolai would be sitting and eating with them.[+darkorange “Y-yes please. Thank you..”] He replied in his timid voice.
Adrian looked to Florence for a moment and let out a sigh. Rubbing the back of his head, he looked across to the young boy.[+crimson “Augustine, don't worry about it. Nicolai is just tired I bet, that is why he went straight to bed. I bet you've had times where you were irritable before going to bed, right?”] He grinned as if it were a normal thing for all of them, but he did revoke memories of how he had snapped at his mother at the campfire. Nodding softly brought a larger smile off the big man who patted the table top with his hand.[+crimson “Then lets eat until we can't eat any more – have you ever had a beer?”] There was a vigorous shake of the boys head, as he looked to his mother who eyed the fair skinned man with annoyance.[+crimson “Only joking, I assure you.”] He said to her and held his hands up in mock defense.[+crimson “I assume the rest of you are okay with an ale to start with?"] There seemed to be no objections and he grinned.
[+crimson "Wonderful. Let me go get it ordered and we can start this banquet.”] With a little flourish, giving the night more meaning than it perhaps deserved, he stood up and left the table, heading to the bar to make their order.
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