Fall of the Court

/ By Loxi [+Watch]

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Well, she had tried to extend him a hand out of this hole he was digging, but it seemed it was unwanted. Though, she could have guessed that. It did not help that her motives were also coming from a place of spite. He said the rest of his piece with no interruption and then saw fit to leave the stable. Typical, create a mess and then leave the aftermath for someone else to clean up. For a man who did not want others speaking on his behalf, he sure had no problem encumbering those around him with his issues.

[+mediumseagreen “You are a fool to think that more enemies is what we need right now.”] She whispered these words under her breath as he walked by. Florence had wanted to keep quiet, thinking her silence would speak volumes more than anything she could say. But he broke her resolve.

Not long after he was gone, awkwardness clung to the air. At least for Florence. But Adrian, little as it was his responsibility to do so, alleviated it. He broke the silence left in Nicolai’s wake.

[+mediumseagreen “There is no reason for you to apologize. I appreciate what you did, as I would not have been so kind in doing it myself and I think things would have ended even worse than they already have.”] She sighed. Florence was not sure where they should go from here. Physically, as that answer was clear: out of the stable. But figuratively, not so much.

After exerting so much time and effort into trying to mend this strange relationship she had with Nicolai, it looked as though it was still liable to fall apart. The olive-skinned woman did not know if there was a way to mend it. But that didn't mean she needed to let the budding acquaintance with Elizabeth and Adrian go by the wayside. [+mediumseagreen “As he made abundantly clear, I cannot speak for him, but I am sorry that you were treated this way, Adrian.”]

Shaking his head, he mirrored her words saying that she had no need to apologize either. But that was not all. [+crimson “Is he always like that?”] It was a broad inquiry into Nicolai’s character. He looked worried that that anger might have been a problem before, or might be one in the future. The man did not like the idea of it being used against the woman or her child.

[+mediumseagreen “Nicolai has always been… difficult. However, recently he has grown more irritable. But that is not to say there hasn’t been reasonable cause for it in most cases. This time has been the exception, obviously.”] Florence kept vague. Going into details would only waste time. It was already growing late and this was to be the night of their parting.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 67d 19h 59m 7s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Ignoring the child that was quickly ushered away by Florence and then Gregory, Nicolai remained with his focus on Adrian and likewise held the other man's attention too. Even as the two women discussed what had been said, including the insult Nicolai had used, the two men did not back down from one another. Hearing Florence's tone did not alter his mood however. If anything it only solidified his anger.

When she apologised he shook his head slowly, a small smile growing on his lips.[+teal “Don't be fooled Adrian, she does not speak for me – I meant every damn word of it.”] He spoke quieter now as if to emphasise his point. However when the other man made no move or showed any reaction to his taunting tone, he glanced across to Florence. That brought a flinch from the larger man as if he was ready to place himself before her too and Nicolai's left hand came to rest at the pommel of his sword. It was an escalation that brought no physical attack, more like the careful movements on a chessboard before the first piece was taken.

[+teal “Do not assume to speak on my behalf or apologise for anything in my name Florence, because you don't. I am not sorry for the words I use; they are the right ones and quite fitting really.”] He looked back to Adrian, eyes wandering over the large man's frame as if to confirm his words.[+teal “At the end of the day, the higher a man rises, the higher he places his morals and his dignity and his honour – the harder the inevitable fall at the end.”] The silence between them hung a little longer before Nicolai had had his fill of whatever it was he was after from this altercation and pulled away, taking several slow steps backwards and turning to march away.

Passing by Elizabeth he slowed in his step as he met her amber gaze.[+teal [i “I had thought to find some friendship with another elf; but you are only elven in appearance it would seem.”]] He swept by her then, walking out the stable, pack on his back and off to find the inn.

Gregory was walking with Augustine not too far away and his critical eye looked to the elven male.[+darkmagenta “You best watch yourself boy, she won't stand for you acting like that around Augustine. And be kinder to those two.”] His words of warning were laughed off however by the violet eyed man.[+teal “Kinder to them? Come morning they will be gone. How about remembering your supposed allegiance to me old dwarf.”] He left the man to ponder his words as he strode on.

With the man finally gone, and only once he was out of sight, did Adrian let out a deep breath and look to the ground shaking his head lightly. After a moment to just ease the spent nerves he looked to Florence with a look of regret.[+crimson “I am sorry for that. I should have stayed out of it but seeing him shouting at Augustine I couldn't exactly help myself.”] Given his raising with so many younger children he was perhaps overly protective at times.[+crimson “I did not mean to start anything, my apologies.”] Elizabeth stayed where she had been this entire time, silent though also with a look of thought on her face – whether in response to Nicolai's words or the overall scene was unsure.
  WI_ / 67d 19h 18m 24s
The child was shocked. Augustine was not used to being talked to in such a way, and doubly so by Nicolai. He was stuck in place, apologetic and afraid. So much so that he did not hear the man calling out behind him. And before he had gathered his thoughts enough to apologize again, said man was pushing him out of the way. He had thought it was going to be his mother, but this figure was much bigger. Looking back the way he’d come the boy did see Florence and she was beckoning to him. So he went.

In a way, Nicolai was lucky. Lucky that Adrian was first to react instead of Florence. The woman had seen the way his hand trembled. How close he had been to reaching out to strike her son. Had that happened, she would have come unglued. And this was a woman who already had half a mind to march over there and punch him in his ailing shoulder. But the large mercenary made it there first and she was able to keep her focus on Augustine who looked dazed. She gestured for him to come to her and he rushed over obediently.

Kneeling in front of him, she whispered calming words. All the while Nicolai’s tantrum ran in the background. What was wrong with him? Not wanting Augustine to feel he was the cause of this, or hear anymore of the nastiness the elf was spewing, she urged him over to Gregory. He caught the hint and rushed out with the blond child.

Standing back up, posture ramrod straight, Florence was seething. It rolled off her in nearly tangible waves as Nicolai finished his piece. Hard, stony gaze placed directly on him, the woman spoke but not to him. [+mediumseagreen “Elizabeth, care to translate the venom Nicolai is spewing? I would very much like to know the extent of it.”]

The dark skinned elf was hesitant to answer, but complied. [+royalblue “He was just berating me for siding with, in his phrasing, the foundling.”] Elizabeth did little to skirt around his words or doll them up so that he might be seen in a more pleasant light. Her amber eyes were cold as Florence’s.

Expression flashing in a dark way, the human woman was not at all pleased with what she heard. There were so many things she could say, and all of them warranted, but she did not. Instead she turned slightly, facing Adrian who was still nearly in contact with the other man. [+mediumseagreen “On behalf of my [I friend],”] she put a fair deal of malice into the word. [+mediumseagreen “Please accept my apology… He knows not how scathing his words are, nor to all who they apply.”] She flashed a searing look at the thinner man before bowing in his stead.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 67d 21h 32m 7s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Getting the horses put away was good for the animals themselves. Having ridden hard that day and had little rest since the farm, it would help them to have a night with warmth and shelter and some good feed too. Having ducked in to meet the owner and offering a good price for their rest their stay, Nicolai returned to the others with knowledge of an inn that had been recommended – of course the stable owner would make a little coin for the recommendation, but in a small place like this, it was likely a choice of two inns and so he took him on his word.

Nodding for everyone to take what they had with them for the night, Nicolai was busy with removing the last of his food from his horse when something tugged sharply at his sleeve – or rather it felt like a sharp tug as the fabric pulled down against the bandage and therefore the wound. Hissing like man who had stubbed his toe, he turned sharply on the culprit, looking down to find the blonde boy apologising to him, holding his hand to his chest as if to protect it.

[+teal “Dammit Augustine! Watch what the hell you are doing you stupid boy!”] He barked at the youthful figure who looked up at him with those large emerald eyes, seeing the scowl and anger of the elf clear across his face. Nicolai's hand had clenched for a moment but shaking his head he instead placed it close to his shoulder and readjusted his bandage from atop the clothing.

[+crimson “Hey!”] A booming voice shouted from across the stable, close to the other corner where Adrian and Elizabeth had taken their mounts. Looking up to find the pale figure moving across in large strides Nicolai brow furrowed deeply.[+crimson “Don't shout at him like that, he didn't do anything wrong.”] He stopped beside Augustine, a hand to his small shoulder, trying to move him back and insert himself before the elf.

Nicolai looked at the man in sheer disbelief, almost like that of a drunken stupor.[+teal “Who the actual [i fuck] do you think you are?”] His voice carried his confusion though the anger simmered just beneath the surface.[+teal “First off mind your own bloody business you lumbering oaf. You can swing your dick about and strut around in front of them,”] his hand waved over to the other adults,[+teal “but don't even think for a second you can do so in front of me.”] Stepping forward he closed the gap between them, their chests almost touching as he met the bigger mans eyes.

[+teal “I don't care who you are, where you're from, what you did with your life – you're just a pretentious arsehole in need of being put on his backside and taught he isn't as tough and big as he thinks. Want me to be the one who does that to you because I would love nothing more than to-”]

[+royalblue [i “Nicolai!”]]

At the shouting of his name, though in elven it sounded like a curse word, both men's heads turned to the elven woman who stood staring at the duo with a look of fury – it was a sight that seemed foreign on such a beautiful face. Given how tranquil and calm she had been all day, this was a change for Elizabeth.[+royalblue [i “Leave him alone!”]] She stared at him directly now.

[+teal [i “Oh, but of course, that makes sense,”]] he turned back to Adrian as he took his attention once more,[+teal [i “you stand alongside this.. foundling.”]] The fact that word existed in elven was a feat of itself, but Nicolai found it gave both the right amount of insult and on the ear it would not be misconstrued as anything but that even to someone who did not speak his language.
  WI_ / 67d 22h 37m 27s
Florence was unaccustomed to this sort of praise. It felt almost childlike. A flush of red came to her face as he patted her and moved on. Yes, it was very different to be treated this way… but she wasn’t entirely sure she hated it. Perhaps from someone not quite so earnest she would have, but Adrian acted in a way that showed no mockery or jest. He meant what he said. The whole thing was very strange.

The moment passed quickly and they left in a whirlwind like manner. They needed to quit this place as soon as possible since there was no way to tell how far off the enemy was. There was also a change in formation. Initially they had Gregory out back to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity with the strangers, as things were, having a fighter at their backs would be better. It also stopped the inquisitive Adrian from asked what or who they were on the run from as he was more isolated at the tail end of the group.

Aside from the constant nerves, which Augustine only made worse for his mother by near constantly looking up, the trip went without trouble. Florence nodded as the elf in front announced a plan for stabling the horses. This place appeared harmless compared to Underhill, but the woman was sure it had its own list of problems. They just did not plan on staying long enough to find out what they were.

Just as they were finished putting the horses up for the night, Augustine worried if it was for the best to put them away. What if they needed to get out of this town quickly? This would do little more than create an extra step, but it seemed everyone else was happy with the idea. Not wanting to cause a stir, the boy came up about Nicolai's side. In attempt to be discreet, he tugged lightly on the man's sleeve. However, discreet was not what he got when the elf let out a hiss.

[+coral “I am sorry!”] Augustine's hand immediately came back to himself. [+coral “Nicolai, are you alright?"] It was not the question he had come to ask, but his voice held a sincere concern as he looked up at the fine-featured man.

The boy's green gaze was not the only one that fell on the scene. His mother too, lifted an inquisitive brow their way. Florence had been suspicious of Nicolai’s injury since the other day when he played off her inquiry of how he was doing. She was not pleased that he was lying to her. Not to mention if he had in infection like she suspected, the sooner they dealt with it the better. Delaying would only let it get worse and waste more time in the long run. And if it got bad enough, it just might kill him. The shoulder was not exactly a place you could amputate to save the rest of him.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 68d 3m 33s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai stared at the red eyed man with the same sceptical look Florence had. Both of them seemed to share the same thought that this man was mad to think she could strike a small moving target like a hawk. Maybe a rabbit if it stopped to eat, then she was rather accurate as the last attempt with Augustine being taken had proven she could hit a fairly steady target. But this was just preposterous. Yet here was this stranger telling her she could do it.

The elven man was ready to get to their horses and try to make some distance, perhaps find cover somewhere on ahead toward the village – but it seemed such gentle encouragement from a man who did not know her and she was willing to try. What would this man do next; would he walk on water or perhaps he could fly? His dislike only grew as he watched her take the hawk down with accuracy that would put ancient elves to shame. Even Elizabeth seemed to be quite impressed with the shot and beamed a larger smile than usual at Florence.

Clapping his hands as she rushed off to finish the bird, Adrian was just delighted that she had even attempted the shot – hitting the hawk was a bonus. Watching as she returned and threw a metallic band to the elven man, who caught it and cast it aside with a barely a glance, the large man grinned.[+crimson “Well done, I said you could do it.”] He had begun to move over to his horse, but patted her arm as he passed by and climbed onto his steed swiftly.

Nicolai had paused at the side of his horse, looking at the animal and taking a few breaths, knowing that it would be a painful mounting, his fingers all but desensitized. A hand on his left arm drew his eyes to Elizabeth who nodded to him.[+royalblue “I won’t claim to know what that woman means to you, nor why you seem so keen to hide your injury, but I won’t make you suffer needlessly. Come on, let me help.”] Though she had noble intentions, she did not seem to fully grasp just what an egotistical man he was and he shook his head, pushing her back a step.[+teal “I told you, I am fine. Go mount up.”] Dismissing her quickly he did get up on the horse, grunting with the effort as he wrapped the reins about his right hand. Thankfully with the noise from the animals and the others busy making sure they were well seated, his distress went unnoticed and he led them out.

They went a little distance before Nicolai advised for Adrian to keep near to the back. It was perhaps a personal feeling that he wanted the man away from the others, but to have a strong swordsman at their back in case they were tracked, would help more than having him amongst the others. The elven man was at the vanguard once more and led them on at a canter in his eagerness to have them away and to Stonebrook. It was a good two hours of this upped speed before he allowed them to slow, Adrian and Elizabeth pointing out a less travelled path to take to their destination for the evening. There was no argument and the ex-general directed them as they guided him so.

A few hours more and they reached the town with the sun just beginning to find its way over the horizon, still an hour before sundown.[+teal “We’ll stable the horses tonight just on the off chance they turn up here too.”] He commented to Florence, looking about them with an uneasy feeling but also periodically up to the sky wondering if they were still followed.
  WI_ / 68d 12h 2m 9s
Florence flinched at Nicolai’s exclamation. He was correct. There was nothing to hide behind so that they stood a chance in losing the circling birds. She began to wonder how far off their pursuers might be. What kind of time did they have to prepare? Perhaps they could catch them off guard since there was no way for them to know that they had caught on to their tactic. Her thoughts were interrupted by Adrian’s booming voice.

Her initial reaction was skepticism. What did he know about her aim? The target was small, moving, and a great distance away. It was a hard shot for any marksman and she had been away from it for years. But he continued to try and bolster her up and Florence remembered having all the same fears when Augustine was scooped up. She had taken the shot then, with the added pressure that she might hit him. The consequences of missing here paled in comparison. It would be foolish not to try.

Taking up the bow on her back, the woman steadied herself, taking breaths as deep as she could muster. Keen eyes watched the birds above. Her saving grace would be that they were circling continuously in a pattern. Picking a place upon that line, she set it in her sights and took aim. Waiting for the right time, the woman let the hawk pass in front of her gaze a few times before she even thought about loosing her arrow. But when the time came, it was worth the wait. Like the last time with her son, it was not perfect. She merely hit the wing, however that was enough to send the beast hurling toward the ground and frighten its mate away.

The lightweight animal didn’t even make a thud against the ground when it hit. That silence did not last though. The speckled breasted creature flapped about, struggling with all its might to be away from the group of people. But it could only hop so fast. Florence caught up with it easily and put the screeching thing out of its misery. Inspecting it, the woman found a silver band around its leg. The circlet bore an insignia she recognized.

Breaking the thin metal piece from the fowl, she held it up. [+mediumseagreen “I think this is proof enough that we were right.”] Florence tossed it at Nicolai to inspect. She didn’t need the second opinion, but the woman would appreciate the backing. [+mediumseagreen “We need to get moving. There is no telling if they know where we are, but at the very least we know what to look out for now.”] Her eyes went to the sky, scanning the horizon for any sign that the other bird might return and avoiding the looks of confusion from Elizabeth and Adrian.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 68d 13h 58m 1s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Grateful for the chance to stop and rest, Nicolai kept close to his horse for the most part. Carrying a bag of so much gold with two relative strangers nearby was good enough reason for him to keep to himself. Using the horse as a screen he took a moment whilst the others conversed to pull forward his tunic and look in at the bandage. It was definitely damp now and without having to look beneath he knew it was not exactly healing right. But being the stubborn man he was he would fix his clothing and go on without saying another word on the matter. Florence and Gregory were too concerned with discussing Augustine’s name and its origin.

Of course Adrian perked up with a tidbit of information to look like the walking encyclopaedia that he was. Nicolai had not known about that Astorian tradition, though why would he if he had never travelled there? Aside for learning their language for diplomatic means, primarily sending correspondence to their King for trade agreements and the like, he had very little knowledge of their island.

Dismissing their talk once the tall newcomer had spoken, Nicolai busied his hands and mind by working the saddle on his horse and adjusting some of the straps. It did not take long however before Elizabeth spoke and he found his attention drawn back by her comment. Looking up himself he eyed the birds circling above. It was a peculiar sight indeed but animals were just that way sometimes. Dogs would chase their tails; horses would chew the wood of their stalls. He had no concerns about it until Florence called for them to find cover. Turning violet eyes on her he gave a confused expression, not catching on.

Once she added to her request, showing her concern at the birds being above, he gave her an incredulous look. In his mind he could not fathom someone using birds in that manner. They could hunt for animals, but that was more to attack rabbits and other small prey. He had never heard of them being used to track.

But then her request to find cover also made no sense.[+teal “Where? We’re in the middle of god-damn hills. There is no cover out here!”] He raised his arm to indicate that any tree cover was sparse and with hills all around, they would not be making it to anywhere she could reasonably call cover – but that was just what Nicolai knew of the landscape. And not too long after, Adrian popped up with a suggestion.

[+crimson “Shoot them!”] He called over to her as he eyed the hawks above. He had no idea why hawks would track them or what the mirrors talk was about, but if they wanted them gone then that was their best chance. Looking over to her he nodded vigorously, walking over to her.[+crimson “Come on you can make that shot easy. I saw that look when I first approached; you know how to use that thing. I know a fighter when I see one.”] He partitioned his time between the woman and their watchers above, coming back to her with a look of belief in his red eyes.[+crimson “You only need to hit one and that will scare off the other one. Trust me when I say you can do it Florence.”] He would have asked Gregory to try too, but given he could not see the men back in Underhill, this was a safe chance he could not see the birds.
  WI_ / 68d 14h 44m 46s
Making good time they made it up the worst of the hill. The ground would remain sloped for some time after that, but it was closer to rolling hills than cliffs. And for that, they were all thankful, but most of all the horses. They were sure to stop for a longer break than normal so that the animals could rest. There being five of them now, the gathering looked more like a small herd than a collection of mounts. If it weren’t for the fact that they were packed down with gear and bags the illusion would be perfect.

In this downtime, Augustine walked about to return blood flow to his extremities. But it didn’t take long for him to return to Florence. [+coral “Mother,”] his voice was on the quiet side. [+coral “Would it be alright if I told them my name now?”] He was quite fed up with being referred to as ‘son of Florence.’ There was little autonomy in it and half the time he did not realize anyone was speaking to him.

[+mediumseagreen “I suppose so, my love. You may introduce yourself if you wish.”] Clearly he did, because he immediately stepped forward to do so.

Both Adrian and Elizabeth were near enough to hear his question, so out of politeness to the boy they stopped what they were doing and looked over to him. He took their earnest gazes as indication to speak, but it did make him a little nervous. As well as he had done up till then, Augustine was not very used to new faces. In the castle it was the same people day in and day out. When they did have special visitors, they generally were not there to see him. And watching from afar was not the same as interacting with them. He supposed that was also in part why Helga made him so tense.

[+coral “Um…”] He kept eye contact, switching between the pair, despite his poor nerves. [+coral “My name is Augustine.”]

[+crimson “And a fine name it is.”] The big man smiled down at the beanpole of a child. [+crimson “Now, I am no expert, but I hear people in Astoria often name their children after those who have touched their lives. What is the story behind yours?”]

Augustine did not know that. As far as he was aware, he had not been named after anyone or anything. But he had never asked. Looking back to his mother, he hoped that he might have some help.

[+mediumseagreen “That is a story for when you get a little older.”] While she had concluded that there was little chance of these two being dangerous, Florence did not feel like telling personal stories in front of a crowd. Her son’s age actually had little to do with it.

The boy’s emerald eyes widened, [+coral “There is a story? Why did no one tell me?”] It was his name after all. And if this person was so important why was it that he had never heard his mother speak of them? Not expecting much more out of her, he turned to Gregory.

The dwarf shortly caved. [+darkmagenta “Oh come now, Florence. You know Augustus is going to tell him as soon as he lays eyes on the boy.”] She flashed him a look and he knew there would be no swaying her. Gregory sighed. [+darkmagenta “It seems it will have to be a tale for another time, my boy. Besides, it is not [I that] exciting.”] The emphasis led Augustine to believe that it would be at least a little exciting, which made him want to know even more. But he knew better than to press any further. He too sighed.

Above them, this time closer than before, the hawks call rang clear again. Strangely enough, Elizabeth ended up being the first to comment, amber eyes upturned to the sky. [+royalblue “Hawks usually prefer more open hunting grounds. It is odd that one would be prowling around here, especially this time of year when rabbits and mice are plentiful in the fields.”] Her voice held no actual suspicion. It was as though she was simply reaching out to share the knowledge she had with the others.

Absorbing that tidbit, the color drained from Florence’s face and her eyes widened in realization. This was not good. Her eyes snapped to the dark haired elf. [+mediumseagreen “We need to find cover.”] Words rushed, she did not much care what the others heard of it. This was too urgent to wait. [+mediumseagreen “The mirror was to catch the bird’s attention. They are tracking us with hawks.”] She called back to the baffling directions Meredith had been given.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 68d 16h 29m 51s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Elizabeth had looked over to see the others all smiling and laughing amongst one another. Given the wind she could only pick up on parts of their conversation, and what she did hear did not give her any knowledge of what was being discussed. But they were happy and for the elven woman that was good enough.

[+royalblue [i “It's good to see them getting along. It has been some time since he had someone other than me to talk with – and a man like Adrian is happiest when talking.”]] Speaking to Nicolai as she remained riding next to him, she looked from the others to said man and found him looking ahead with an impassive look.[+royalblue [i ”Something the matter?”]] He looked across as if he had only just checked into the conversation she was having with him and shook his head.
[+teal [i “Not particularly no.”]] He was terse but polite.
[+royalblue [i “Which is a long way of saying yes.”]] Her smile accompanied another risen brow – she was very good at teasing him whilst not aggravating him. Knowing she would not let up he sighed.
[+teal [i “I just don't want him to start getting comfortable considering we part tonight.”]]
[+royalblue [i “Well, are you really all that opposed to parting? If we are all going through the pass it is logical to continue as a larger group – especially given the reports of attacks.”]] Violet eyes looked at her with suspicion now.[+royalblue [i ”And what is with that look?”]]
[+teal [i “For a woman who has been travelling with no-one but that man for two years, I find it quite strange that even you now advocate for us to join together.”]]
[+royalblue [i “Truth be told, it is rather nice to have someone to talk to in a softer tongue than Astorian or Malidek.”]] She almost recoiled at the latter language and Nicolai smiled, knowing it was a much harsher more brutal language that even had a different alphabet just to make things that much more difficult.[+royalblue [i ”Besides, they all seem to be getting along famously now, right?”]]

Looking back to the others he had to agree they did look particularly happy. Gregory as ever was a bundle of laughter and jovial happiness. It was hard to upset the man – though Nicolai seemed to have that knack as the man often did not smile because of the elf. Augustine was timid as usual, but seemed attentive and engaged with the others rather than shy and silent. He was talking and joining in and it made Nicolai look to their last member.

Florence was smiling. Not a fake and plastered one that she had perfected, nor the same polite one he had received when talking to her by the campfire nights ago. This was so much more genuine. She was close to beaming and looked so radiant with laughter that lifted her cheekbones and softened her face. In truth Nicolai could not remember the last time she had looked like this and in his mind he wondered if it truly was best to keep Adrian around. If that is what he could do in a few hours, there was little telling what days of interaction could do. He wanted to steer his horse back and over to them, perhaps whisper a warning that these people could not be trusted and they needed to keep to themselves.

But he knew that would just be a spiteful and cruel thing to do to sate his displeasure with the other man and he resolved to leave them happy – it was the sane option at the very least. Yet that familiar pang of jealousy hit him then and he turned away from them, face having dropped to that of a more solemn man. It was his usual look to be fair.[+teal [i “I won't argue if the others want you two to stay. I just want to keep them safe, get them to Astoria.”]] He was not admitting defeat by any means, but having spent so long being passive and reserved, it would take time for him to come out and fight for Florence if he felt she was in danger from another suitor.

Elizabeth was obviously of some level of intelligence and seeing his look and his reaction she could tell there was feeling in his looks at the brunette woman. It was a man who was pining and she could forgive him for being quite cold to them if he felt a threat from Adrian as more than just an attacker as a bandit or thief, but as an aggressor against 'his woman'. She had seen the look before as men often felt threatened by other men. Reaching across she placed a hand to his arm, his subconscious flexing of his hand stopping as her warm fingers ensnared him.

[+royalblue [i “Well thank you for being so understanding, as I know I will feel a lot safer having so many more people protecting me.”]] She was being kind, and he knew that. She looked capable of defending herself. But he nodded his thanks for her own understanding of how he saw things. It felt good not to have someone openly critique him for his thoughts or to scoff at his words.
  WI_ / 68d 18h 59m 43s
Green irises falling back on the man who called her name, Florence had no idea what he was on about. [+mediumseagreen “I say nothing.”] Adrian went on to explain what he meant. What a curious man. Not only did he talk incessantly to whoever would listen, he continued on in his head when it was just himself.

Gregory was on board. It took little more than the mere mention of food to pull him in. He was easy prey to ensnare. Though, looking down to Augustine, he seemed to perk up at the prospect as well. Out of all the party, she felt worst for him. He was not accustomed to this lifestyle at all. And he had had no time to adjust before having it thrust upon him. So there was that urging her towards her answer, but that was not all. [+mediumseagreen “I think that would be a fitting parting for the six of us.”] The meal would act as a concrete moment of parting so that there could be no extra lingering.

The pale man wore a look of delight. [+crimson "Excellent. I look forward to sitting down to a meal with you all."] As happy as he was, he somewhat surprised the woman agreed so readily.

Gregory at the back of the pack, peeped back up. [+darkmagenta "I knew we would get along as soon as I set eyes on you, Adrian. There was just something about you. It reminded me of my son, so I knew you had to be alright."]

Florence had to restrain laughter at the juxtaposition. The thick bearded dwarf was right. She hadn't put it together, but the two of them, at least upon initial acquaintance, were similar. That explained a lot. As even as friendly in nature as Gregory was, accepting a stranger with open arms in such tense times was generally beyond him.

[+crimson "Pray tell, Florence, what is so funny about that? Should I be offended by the comparison? I imagine any child of Gregory's would be just as agreeable as him."]

[+darkmagenta "You would be surprised..."] Sarcasm, as if to barb someone, was laced in his comment.

Clearing her throat, Florence still found it a tad funny, but she had composed herself. [+mediumseagreen "By no means, he is a very good boy. Almost too much so, he would do better to look out for himself more."]

Taking up a look of mock contemplation on his features, Adrian scratched at his stubbled chin. [+crimson "I admit, I am not fond of being likened to a child."]

Shaking her head, Florence realized how she had misspoken. [+mediumseagreen "Well, I suppose he is not a child anymore. It is just that I have not seen him in some ten years."]

[+crimson "Ah, then I suppose that lessens the blow. And if he makes you smile like that,"] he nodded over to the woman whose face had not returned to a scowl since he had been brought up. [+crimson "I am inclined to take it as a compliment... You must care about him a great deal."]

Florence blinked. She was unaware that she was grinning away, though that was not really the case. The actual expression was much subtler. Adrian was just easily able to take notice because it was something other than a scowl, but in the same breath was also able to pin down her feelings. Perhaps he was not so great a fool as she thought. [+mediumseagreen "Like a brother."] This answer provoked snickering from the dwarf behind them; Florence rolled her eyes at him, but said nothing on the matter.

Uphill travel was a little easier on the legs without all the bouncing from the horses. It also caused fewer worries of falling headlong down the incline, so that was nice. As a whole most everyone seemed more merry because of it. Though, that might have only been part of it. Adrian was doing a good job of keeping the ambiance light and happy. For most of them it was a welcome distraction from the doom and gloom. The constant ruckus did make it a touch difficult to listen into their surrounds, but no more than the sound of horseshoes against the stark rock ground. However, certain things still cut through. The howling of wind as it rushed down the rocky Cliffside and the occasional screech of a hawk in the sky being two such sounds.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 68d 22h 26m 4s
Nicolai took Florence’s command as a means of her establishing herself with the newcomers. She was not a woman to be cowed and put back and indeed she demanded respect if not authority. It was always best when she could take the role of leader as she seemed most calm and relaxed when she had control. It was a soft working theory but for now it had proven to be mostly correct, and he only hoped she would back him when it came time to part with Adrian and Elizabeth. Gregory was sure to make another argument for their continued mutual assistance.

Up on his horse with a groan his body felt unpleasantly hot and he felt close to perspiring despite the constant wind near the mountain. Flexing his right hand several times to stave off any twitches of the nerves he brushed at his pants a touch. He was dirty once more having not only moved through Underhill but also the blacksmiths, yet the lines of soot and dirt just gave him a weathered traveller look. Thinking on himself thought brought him to glance at Adrian who had taken to his horse with more ease and some flair.

The man was about his height, but he held more weight on his body that was for sure, yet it looked to be muscular weight not just fat – if only it had been, that would have been easier. He looked like a seasoned fighter given the markings on his few pieces of armour and the worn grip of his sword on his back. Adrian looked like a man eager for a fight and yet his face always seemed chipper or upbeat – Nicolai didn’t like that. What was there to be happy about out here?

And the elven woman – who travels with a woman who looks like that, and you are just friends? Was he celibate? Was he of the queer persuasion? His violet eyes darted back to the man who had just started up a talk with young Augustine. Being in the front made sense as he knew where they were heading, but to have the pairing behind him left him uneasy and he was left isolated from the others. A man of solitude missing conversation, he was just a mess of emotions and feelings lately. Perhaps his wound was affecting him more on a mental level; but the man was too stubborn to consider this. No, it was Adrian, he was making him uneasy.

Unfortunately for Nicolai, having looked back to observe the group, he had caught the attention of the very same man he wanted no dealings with. When his question came there was a look on the elven man’s face that he was not interested in talking. Florence was busy with Gregory and so his eye fell to Elizabeth – but she only offered a humoured smile and her slender brow rose with a look that showed she would not save him from the conversation. Huffing to himself he turned to face the front. No doubt Florence would be disappointed in him to ignore the man, and to be acting so childish once more.

[+teal “No, I am not from Astoria. I am from Wistina.”] He kept his personal background to himself.[+teal “I have lived there my whole life.”] Giving the man only the information he wanted and possibly abating any annoyance from Florence, he was happy to continue on and allow the silence to settle in.
[+crimson “All your life? Well then congratulations on striking out into the great unknown. Nothing better than exploring.”] So. Damn. Chipper.
[+teal “I have travelled within the southern kingdoms as part of my work. I am not some bright eyed youth fresh to the world.”] His retort was quite snappy.
[+crimson “Apologies, I did not mean to insinuate anything. Just love to learn about others and having a chat to pass the time, but I will leave you to it.”] Still with a half-smile on his face he seemed to play off the irritable former-General with ease of someone accustomed to meeting his kind. It was always best to play rather kind and humble than press any matter too far.

He was finding the group rather fun. Augustine was talking to him, even if he did not know the boys name, and Gregory was seemingly ever eager for a talk about any old subject – if fact they did talk for several miles about the instrument strapped to the side of his horse. Discussing their favourite pieces, what melodies worked best with what musical ensemble, how difficult it was to find good strings when one broke; they were like old acquaintances reminiscing over past times.

Nicolai was quiet and standoffish, but it was to be expected given he clearly did not want the pairing to be travelling with them. And yet Florence was the one he found quite fascinating. She held so much back behind a tough exterior and a look that was meant to frighten but he found rather innocent – like a child holding their breath just to be stubborn.[+crimson “What do you say Florence?”] He asked as his conversation with Gregory came to an end.

Drawing her attention, though she did not understand what he was asking, he smiled and bright crimson eyes lit up a touch.[+crimson “Sorry, I have conversations in my head sometimes and forget to say it out loud. Lizzie hates it.”] The elven woman, riding behind Nicolai and ahead of the others, nodded her head in agreement.[+crimson “I was thinking, seeing as you all agreed to join us and bolstered us from just two lone travellers to a more formidable group, we can buy you all a meal as a sign of thanks.”] He could hear a groan of delight from Gregory behind him, the dwarf dreaming of good meal and how it would taste right about now after days on rations.

[+crimson “I see I have one yes. What do you and your son say? I figure if you’re going north you have to change to more warm clothing – could be a nice send off for all your amazing clothing before they get packed away.”] He did not mean Nicolai in this, given the man looked like he had rolled with the farmyard animals, but he did not openly state that.[+crimson “A nice big hot meal, some wine and beer, maybe some light musical refreshment from the talented bard?”] A holler of agreement once more.[+crimson “Come on – I insist!”]

Nicolai felt his cheeks flush with jealousy that he had not thought to proffer the suggestion first – though his meal would be just four strong. And yet he was also embarrassed to be shown up as a more gracious man when he was meant to be showing Florence he was worthy of her attention. Elizabeth must have seen, taking her horse up further to his side.[+royalblue [i “Come now, are you really getting upset at having a warm meal and wine?”]] She asked in her ever teasing voice. Looking at him for a moment with humoured eyes she saw his right hand was flexing repeatedly resting on his thigh. The skin looked lighter than his face – even without the blush – and she narrowed her eyes a touch.

[+teal [i “I am not upset!”]] It was hard to make elven sound harsh but Nicolai had a knack with difficult tasks. His voice did not raise however and he sighed as he turned his gaze from ahead to look at her. The bauble of hair atop her head was held steadfast in place but the golden strands framing her face jumped with each movement of the horse.[+teal [i “Apologies, I am just tired. The last few weeks have been long – and coupled with little if broken sleep, I am a little at my wits end.”]] He had no idea why he was being so open with her about this. Perhaps it was just natural when speaking in his home tongue. He had only really spoken with his mother in this language, so it felt natural to do so with her.

She nodded in understanding, having not been a great sleeper herself.[+royalblue [i “Perhaps you should rest in Stonebrook, regain your strength?”]] She offered helpfully but he shook his head.[+teal [i “We just finished a respite and I insisted I was fine to continue. Plus with having to act as guard each night, I will only fall back to a poor sleeping pattern.”]] There was a nod of agreement from the woman and she smiled a little more.[+royalblue [i “Ah yes, I am the same. The few times we rest it is only more painful to have to go back out again.”]] She let out the lightest of chuckles and Nicolai offered a small smile himself. [+teal [i “Well, it is good to know someone else understands what it is like – these three are a touch spoiled to such hardships if you ask me. But don’t tell them I said it.”]] He winked toyingly at her as if to seal their pact of silence and she laughed a little once more, nodding again. [+royalblue [i “But of course – consider it our elven secret.”]] Their jovial back and forth continued on a little longer as Adrian awaited his answer.
  WI_ / 68d 19h 25s
Like Gregory, the human woman was curious just what had become of the girl who had once played the role of her lady in waiting, but she trusted Nicolai enough not to assume the worse, especially if he planned to tell them what had happened later down the line.

There was no one else amongst them who spoke the flowery elfish language. So it continued to gently bounce between Nicolai and Elizabeth with the rest none the wiser. Still, Florence listened carefully. It was difficult to tell with how soft all the sounds were, but whatever was being said sounded amicable. At the very least the midnight haired man was [i probably] not continuing his hostile affront he had started with. In fact when the pair was through, he seemed more receptive to the temporary union. It seemed everyone was on board, even though they weren’t all entirely happy with it. Florence was still hesitant about the entire thing. She planned to keep a keen eye out for anything she considered suspicious.

After Nicolai finished stating their intentions, Florence spoke up as well. She did so with an almost commanding tone. [+mediumseagreen “Agreed, now let us leave. I do not care for this place.”]

Now that things had been decided and it seemed these newcomers were not as dangerous as Augustine had initially been expecting, the boy stepped out from his mother’s shadow. He approached the dark haired elf to return his blade; he would not need it on the horse with his mother. In fact it would likely be more of a hazard that way that without. [+coral “Thank you, Nicolai.”] The child was appreciative, even if he didn’t need to use it. He watched as the man returned the pommel to the hilt of his sword. The mechanics of it fascinated the child. But before he could ask about it, his mother was calling for his return beside the large stallion.

The tall woman helped to hoist Augustine up onto the horse and then took a seat herself. There was a bit of wiggling about until they were both comfortable. By then everyone else had mounted. With a sidelong glance off into the direction of the possible brigands, Florence confirmed their disinterest in a group of this size, especially with so many of the members clearly armed. It brought a smile to her face as they left. Despite all that had gone terribly, at least they had this.

They must not have gone more than a mile before the silence was broken. [+crimson “So, son of Florence, have you ever been to Astoria before?”]

Not expecting to be the one the crimson-eyed man reached out to, Augustine took a moment to realize that Adrian was talking to him. It didn’t help that his name wasn’t used, but when his mother nudged him from behind, he became more alert. [+coral “Oh, yes… This is my first time leaving Wistina.”] His hands gripped tightly at the horn of the saddle as he spoke; he was concentrating on his Astorian.

[+crimson “Then there will be plenty for you to see the whole way up.”] It would be an exciting prospect for the boy, though he did not look entirely enthralled with it. He must have been dragged along for the ride. [+crimson “And it sounds like you are still working with the language?”] There was an inquisitive tone to the comment. [+crimson “Your mother did not use it with you growing up?”] That seemed kind of odd given the mother hen vibes she had radiating off of her.

He shook his head and Florence stepped into the conversation. Albeit, she kept her part short. [+mediumseagreen “I was not in a position to take such liberties.”] The statement was not entirely true. She knew no one would have questioned her doing so, but the woman hadn’t wanted to give anyone even the smallest reason to doubt her son’s loyalty to his country and people.

Brow furrowing, Adrian was not sure what that meant. Looking from the child back to her, they shared enough features that he was fairly certain the boy was her flesh and blood, so that couldn’t have been it... But nothing else came to mind. At least, nothing else that was any good. Not wanting to step on any toes, he quickly backed away from the subject with a smile. [+crimson “Just as well, he is learning it now.”]

[+coral “Well, I did learn a little before… Gregory used to teach me some words and phrases back home.”] The child tattled on the old man, thinking that with it would be okay given the circumstance.

Eyes narrowing, this was news to Florence. She looked back at the bard who shrugged and looked away, admitting his guilt. This explained why Augustine was picking Astorian up so quickly. Letting out a shallow sigh, she decided to drop it. In the end it was beneficial, so faulting him now would be pointless.

This group was definitely interesting if nothing else. [+crimson “So, Nicolai,”] as he remembered him being called. [+crimson “What about you? Do you also hail from Astoria, or will it be your first trip?”] He called to the front where the lilac-eyed man led the way, hoping that the attitude change he had undergone because of Elizabeth might extend to him as well.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 69d 13h 1m 43s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Like an alpha male animal strutting and flexing his might, Nicolai remained stationary even when the other man backed away a step and tried to profess his innocence of whatever it was the raven haired man was accusing him off. Though he knew there were two of them, this man was the main threat and he felt like he had put the others in jeopardy by leaving them outside.

Gregory, as was his way, jumped to the man's defence and tried to inform Nicolai that despite the appearance of the man before them with his shield and sword, he was not a threat. And perhaps he wasn't. But he had to make sure that it was understood that the friendly nature was not a sign of any weakness. In his mind, they were against the world, and couldn't trust in anyone but their own group of four. It was self-centred and isolating but it was better than another situation similar to that with Meredith where their new found friends turn on them and try to have them killed – especially now he carried so much coin.

Nicolai did not get much of a chance to speak as the deep voiced man made a proposal for them to link their groups together and travel on as one. He would have to have a word with Gregory about keeping his mouth quiet; having a Queen, her son and the General of a country out here on their own and running from tyrants who would pay handsomely for their heads was something that had to be considered at all times. But the dwarf seemed rather happy to inject his opinion once more on the conversation.

Violet eyes looked in the direction indicated though only for a brief time before they returned to what he considered the more immediate threat. Yes, a group of skulking men stood on the main path north was something to watch for, but who knew if the two here worked with that group to lure them out specifically that way? Such possibilities plagued the elf's mind before Florence spoke up.

Looking back at her with a little surprise that she would agree to something like this, he was joined in his amazement by Adrian who smiled to hear her agree his plan had some semblance of credibility to it. Even when she looked the former for his opinion, it was not exactly a free option to say what he thought. With three against one, and Augustine as ever relegated to having no vote in the matter, he looked around and eyes landed on the elven woman who stood quietly with their horses.

Having approached to confront the man he had not truly considered the woman. With a very preliminary look over her he deduced her to be quite beautiful and yet a mystery. Her clothing spoke of the trees and forests, a deep connection to the world and the earth like elves of old. And the markings on her face backed up this more druidic look to her. Yet when her amber eyes met his, he saw a deep wisdom and intelligence there. Her constant smile had perhaps the desired effect of relaxing anyone who came across her and even the pent up Nicolai calmed a touch.

To Gregory, he waved his hand as if to dismiss him.[+teal “She is staying here, I will tell you the details later.”] Looking away from the man back to the golden haired elf, he paused a moment before asking his question, his tongue changing from Astorian to Elven in an instant.

[+teal [i “Does your man here speak elven?”]] He had to know.
[+royalblue [i “He does not. It is not exactly the easiest of languages to learn, left often to our kind alone.”]] She seemed pleased to speak in her native tongue, that easy smile growing a touch.
[+teal [i “Then tell me about him; is he a good man? We have a child here – can he be trusted not to bring ill will to the boy or lead him astray?”]]
[+royalblue [i “He is a very good man who saved my life and those of many others. He has a kind and noble heart – you can trust him to remain respectful, though he can be rather.. forward and headstrong. But aren't all men?”]] It was light joke at his expense given how he had approached them both but he nodded anyway.
[+teal [i “You seem to be sure of yourself.”]] It was not an accusation, more just his observation.
[+royalblue [i “I am very certain in my words. If he was a cruel and vindictive man I would not be travelling with him.”]] The calmness and tranquillity in her voice was steady throughout and he could not find a fault in her answer or how she responded. If she was lying, then he could not find any fear of being found in her voice, nor any lie in her gaze which never left his.

Between Gregory and Florence, and now the testimony of the elven woman, Nicolai was left with little way of disagreeing or trying to swing the argument. It was less a point of arguing his corner, as the others and himself were want to do, but a matter of being cordial and showing solidarity with them so their group had some semblance of unity. Florence had accepted him coming with them but it felt that he would have to be much more open to listening to others than he had been if he was to show her how he was.

[+teal “It would make sound sense for us to remain as a larger group yes – at least until we leave. We are heading for Stonebrook, we will get the rest of our supplies there and stay the night. Once we reach the village we can go our separate ways, the threat of Underhill no longer with us. Agreed?”] He looked to each of them, even to Augustine, wanting them all to understand just what was going to happen. Like Florence he did not want them around for long, but it would really depend on him keeping Gregory away from her ear. If he had his way there would be two new permanent members to their group, as the dwarf had the brunette woman's ear.
  WI_ / 69d 19h 25s
Finally someone who saw fit to speak sense. Florence nodded as she was introduced, but did little more. Gregory on the other hand, leaned into making the acquaintance. [+darkmagenta "Oh no, he's-"] he meant to complete the sentence saying that Adrian was no bother, but something else cut him off. A certain violet-eyed elf burst into the scene.

Not expecting the gentleman to make an appearance, let alone such a swift one, Adrian was a little shocked. He stared at him a moment before taking a step back whilst raising his hands in surrender. [+crimson "No need to be so hasty, I am harmless. I promise."] The golden haired woman behind him sighed. This was exactly the sort of thing she wanted to avoid. The people around here thrived on charged energy like this, and the last thing they needed was to attract more attention to themselves.

[+darkmagenta "Calm down, Nicolai. These people are nothing more than travelers, like ourselves. Everyone is fine..."] Gray eyes fell back to Florence for help on the matter.

[+mediumseagreen “no harm has been done... and I believe they were just leaving.”] She nodded to Elizabeth to try and herd her friend away so that they might avoid making things any worse than they already were.

Despite her efforts, that Adrian either did not notice or chose to ignore, he piped back up. [+crimson “Actually, Gregory here mentioned you all were headed the same way as we are. I thought it might be a nice change of pace if we left together."] He wasn't quite ready to give up on the prospects of conversation with someone other than the woman he was traveling with. Their were only so many stories to tell and in two years, they were just about all dried up... But that was not his only reasoning. [+crimson "...Not just that, but I think it would help in making sure that none of the fine folks of Underhill feel the need to follow us up and out.”] The brunette nodded off toward the distance where there was a small group of rather sheisty looking men. They had been watching the road out of town for about as long as Florence and the others had been sitting there, no doubt waiting for a decent mark to walk by. They were best to be avoided at all costs.

The bearded man squinted off in that direction. For him they were only blurs off in the distance, he couldn’t tell much more than that they were people. Especially not if they looked more the sorts to attack them directly or pilfer through their things in the night. Neither were great options to deal with. [+darkmagenta “I think that would be as good a plan as any.”] He was a firm believer that there was strength in numbers.

Florence did not stay quiet for long, but she did take a moment to think it over. Even as she spoke, she was considering what other options they had and if it would be worth taking the risk of being followed out. Their dwindling group had enough to worry about; they did not need to add actual bandits to the list. Perhaps if it were for a short time, traveling with these people would be okay. That way each group could keep their secrets. Besides it was highly unlikely they would encounter the Taken up this path. [+mediumseagreen “That might be for the best, at least until we make it up over this hill scape.”] Her words were carefully spoken as she looked over for Nicolai to weigh in. They needed a consensus. Florence did not want him stomping off because he did not agree with them.

Before that though, Gregory took notice of something, his eyes scanning the direction that the general had come running from. [+darkmagenta “Wait, where is Meredith?”] There was a hint of alarm in his voice.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 69d 20h 53m 4s
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