[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Whilst he did not expect that exact reaction to his kiss, it was along the lines of what he thought. The heat of her cheeks warmed his hand and her body felt less tense in his other. She was not angry, or at least not enough for it to register on her features or her body to react and push or convulse and reject his touch. At least not initially.
When she did regain her voice he felt a little confused. Had she not done this so as to confirm his decision? Looking at her as she pulled from his hold he did not close back in on her or try to keep his hands against her. This wasn't about asserting a dominance over her so when he came to speak, it was light, apologetic almost,[+royalblue “A habitual liar yes, but that was a twenty year truth.”] Such a long time coming it felt relieving that what he had thought it would feel like, how he had imagined he would react, paled in comparison and he was not entirely sure how to take in that information. Instead he opted to talk. Silence would not help.
[+royalblue “Why are you so.. opposed, to anything with me? If it is a simple matter that I do not fit what you consider attractive, or you just dislike me, tell me. After that kiss, I don't want to play games any more Florence, because I know for sure what I want. I only want you.”] His head dipped a little though he quickly brought it back up, eyes looking on her directly rather than resort to that wounded puppy look.[+royalblue “Do you wish I was lying?”] It was a hard question to ask but one he wanted to know.
He looked almost shell shocked. For a moment Florence felt like she might have gotten through to him, that he was just confused and infatuated and that this was nothing like what he thought it would be. When he did regain his wits, Nicolai even went so far as to say aloud what she had been thinking. That she was cruel. Finally he seemed to understand... or so she thought. He finished up his piece and then pulled her back in.
Perhaps she shouldn't have been so taken aback that he would do this, not when she had started it. But this was definitely different from the kiss she had given him. This was warm and inviting and arguably nice. Enough so that it did not leave room in her head for much of anything else. When he pulled away, she opened her eyes only to see him fastidiously taking in her expression, which unfortunately was not one of protest or disgust. That was when the embarrassment struck, her face reddening quickly as his violet gaze ran along her features. But the real cherry on top was his comment.
[+blue "That is everything I had hoped it would be."]
That sealed her fate. Cheeks heating all the more, the blush that stained them was now a reaction to his feelings and her own as opposed to shame at her rash decision. It did not quite make sense to her. How could he still feel that way? [+mediumseagreen "You are a liar."] That was a lot easier to say that to try and unpack all the other things going through her brain.
Feeling antsy in his arms, for more than one reason, she pushed off against him. Florence wanted to put distance between them and between this strange tangled ball of emotions that was pulling at her stomach.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat There she was, the Florence he had known for twenty years. The woman who always had an answer for everything. She would not admit her guilt or fault and everything could be justified. In a way he was similar, yet at least he had learned over their seven year estrangement that he could be wrong. He had admitted to his issues and problematic manner back in Astoria. Tethered like an animal he could have lied just to have sympathy, but he felt even she would see the truth in his gaze as he had spoken to her.
She began to edge closer as she derided him. With each step she questioned his motives, whether he was just a typical man after sex and following a sexual desire for her but nothing more, and then that once he had gotten that he would have left her be. The kiss was as confusing as it was sudden. Pulled the short distance down to her he was equal parts furious and in wonder. The question of why was answered quickly; her means of him getting over his apparent lust for her, a taste of something he had always wanted and now would see was not what he expected. And for a little time he did just stand there looking at her.
[+royalblue “It is another level of cruelty to do what you just did.”] Although she had pushed at him to create distance once again, he had moved barely half a step backwards. Instead he looked down on her with eyes filled with a deep seated animosity.[+royalblue “You take my feelings for you and use them against me like a weapon, as if we fight a.. deeply personal war.”] His frustrations released in a deep breath and he closed his eyes, the conflicting thoughts in his mind a little too difficult to arrange but in the end he came to a simple path. Opening his eyes a little he spoke,[+royalblue “Whilst I dislike this feeling of being outmatched, outwitted and played a fool, I won't let it, or your words, deter me. Not now.”]
He stepped forward, a hand slipping onto her hip and one up to cup her cheek and hold her closer to him, repeating her action as he moved fast and dipped his head. Whilst her kiss had been quite light and fleeting, his was more complete, warm lips pressed flush together and holding them together for several seconds. It was brought to a close slowly, pulling away slowly, eyes opening as he left a small space between them and looked down on her. His violet eyes ran from her lips to her eyes, back and forth as if trying to take in what he had done and every detail he could see.
[+royalblue “There.. that is everything I had hoped it would be.”]
[+mediumseagreen "You'd be surprised how much you learn sitting in the center of things, but that is fine. Write me off so that you may be the sole authority and have your way with what Augustine and I have been planning for years."] If it went anything like it did before, he would get frustrated soon enough and be done with it. Then she would not have to worry about it anymore.
[+mediumseagreen "Augustine can work to those things without losing the other half of himself! You seem to forget that he is both, and now that he has experienced Astoria there is nothing we can do to change that."] When he was young she did try to shelter him from it so that he might fit in better within Wistina, but they rejected him and now he was going to be a hybrid regardless of what anyone wanted. [+mediumseagreen "But that is not a detriment as you seem to think. He has a chance to meld the cultures, to bring out the best of both places. He will do great things for Wistina, but we have to let him."] Augustine had a critical eye, he had learned what he could from Eugene, but all that time he was not absorbing it indiscriminately like a sponge. He was selecting what he knew would and would not work in his homeland. She was not going to let Nicolai force him to throw that to the side.
She practically laughed as he announced that she was worse than the pig he had eaten that morning. [+mediumseagreen "Yes, that is right. I am sorry I have to take the things you say with a grain of salt. They are all so laced with ulterior motives that it is hard to hear them."] Her mind went back to the wolfish way he'd looked at her back in the dungeon. [+mediumseagreen "So like a man, you see something you want and then you obsess over it until it is yours."] Even long after it should have been clear that it was impossible. Just look at the way they got along. [+mediumseagreen "Then it is off to the next thing... maybe that is where I went wrong. I should have just given in so that you could grow tired of me."] She took a step closer to him, there was a glint of something spiteful in her eyes. [+mediumseagreen "That or be so disappointed that it was not what you really wanted all along."] That was more likely, but it might not be too late to show him that. Closing the little distance left between them, she quickly took hold of his collar and pulled him down to her. She bridged the final gap with her lips, pressing them gently to his. In a way it contrasted everything she had done and said up to that point. But only briefly, this was cruel and she knew it, so she did not keep it up for long.
When she thought her point was fully made, Florence pulled back. Face still close to his she continued in a sardonic way. [+mediumseagreen "There! Was it everything you'd hoped it would be?"] She let go of the furry lining of his coat and pushed him away. [+mediumseagreen "Now get away from me. Astoria is and will always be a part of who I am. If you want nothing to do with it, you want nothing to do with me."]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It was a surprise that she accepted they had to talk, rather than turning and walking away, continuing their chase and letting the mood build to a explosive moment. Yet despite his surprise she was ready to blow, and he stood still as she vented at him, not interrupting as it would have done no favours to this discussion – if you could call it that – if he turned it into a stop-start piece. As with Eugene, it had to be back and forth and only when she made her point on being a naive Queen did he see a moment to speak.
He licked his dry lips and chewed at his cheek for a moment longer until she looked done to begin.[+royalblue “I offer you to hit me because that is what my father taught me. Striking someone is the best way to get out your anger toward them. Whether it's a sparing partner, an enemy, even a loved one – it is the best way to be rid of your anger. Skin can bruise and heal but words can have a lasting effect.”] That part was dealt with quickly and in a matter-of-fact manner that he pushed away. It was just the way life was for Nicolai.
[+royalblue “As for Astoria, I agree, I don't want a thing to do with it, I don't want to talk about it or think about it. That is why I did not go with you there.”] The second and third points had melded into one to him and he would deal with them as a joint issue.[+royalblue “I don't care whether you read the entire library or talked with every servant because it means nothing to experiencing the people themselves and being out in that world with them. You tell me to shut my mouth about Astoria and in turn you should shut yours about Wistina. You never left the castle, never left your pretty gardens that you dolled up to remind you of another land. You pined for Astoria the day you left.”]
His hands had dropped from his chest now, at his sides though they accentuated his words where needed.[+royalblue “If he is to become King of Wistina, he must work to the culture and ideals of its people. Not to the preferences of you and your family. You want to pollute his mind with the ideals and thoughts of Astoria and to that I suggest you take him back there now whilst you are still so close.”] He knew she would not do so. If her son was to go south, and he seemed set on it, then she would accompany him. Whether foolish or not she had no say in the matter. Where Augustine went, surely his mother followed.
[+royalblue “For a woman so opinionated and headstrong, you expect me to believe that you were cowed by Germaine to stay in the confines of the castle? You expect me to believe that the woman who took over Astoria and fought for her independence then gave that all away to play pretty bride to an old man?”] Germaine had been old even to Nicolai, to call him such did not constitute an insult in his eyes.[+royalblue “Don't feel flattered by my words, it is only a most basic observation.”] He laughed a little, staring down at the ground, shaking his head as his hands came to rest on his hips.[+royalblue “Then again why would you be flattered? Get more use complimenting a sow than you.”]
Florence had hoped he would leave well enough alone for at least a little while so she could calm back down, but no, here he was. He had managed to get in front of her and it was ever so tempting just to turn around and go the other direction, but that would only result in him circling her until he got his way.
There he went again, assuming she would always resort to violence. Or maybe he just thought that was the only way to fix things. To be fair, she had threatened to kill him just a moment ago. [+mediumseagreen "Why do you always do that?! I have known you for almost twenty years now and only once have I ever struck you. And that was under some of the most extreme circumstances I have ever known. What is wrong with you to think that that would make me feel any better?"] She already knew he had some strange idea of her in his head, was this just another facet of that?
[+mediumseagreen "You want to know how I feel... I feel like you, a person who knows so little about my family, my country, and me, should keep his mouth shut when it comes to them."] Pausing she tried to take in air again, both an attempt to stay clear of mind and just to remember to breath. [+mediumseagreen "And you said I should keep Astoria out of Wistina, well then you need to do the same with Malidek. This,"] she gestured up and down at him, [+mediumseagreen "Was not who you were when you lived there, so stop acting like this is the single mold to be filled for leadership of your home."] He claimed to be a changed person, and she had seen as much, so to say that this was how he handled people in Wistina all those years ago was a bold faced lie. She just wanted Augustine to be who he wanted to be.
[+mediumseagreen "And stop treating me like I am ignorant!"] That probably pissed her off the most. [+mediumseagreen "Oh, I never got out of the castle, I could not have possible learned anything in those [i ten miserable years] I spent in Wistina. Gods know I would never have picked up a book, or asked any questions about the way things worked in all that time. After all, there was no way that my husband who was twice my age might die and leave me alone with our son. Bless my naive heart. I am just a foreign woman who doesn't know any better."] Gods, she would have loved to have gotten out of the castle, left the grounds and actually gotten to see what the land she lorded over as Queen actually looked like. She would have traded anything for that chance, but no, she was stuck inside playing like a doll in its house.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai was glad to have the others out of the way, Töka included, though she took a bit of convincing and another two ales before she would abide by his wishes and get some slumber. It was always a chore with that woman but she was a very good fighter and dependable to the last. He would rather have her than not. But it was also good that the others had left before Florence had blown up at him, threatening to kill him and mocking his ineptitude that his own men had turned on him back in Wistina.
Although he bit back on his original retort he would not let this lie and moved after her, pushing aside patrons of the tavern and free of the claustrophobic nature that many people brought with it. It took several minutes out of that warm environment for the cool air to have its effect and it took just as long to find Florence, storming her way on a path about town. Making a path to intercept her he called out from in front of her only a few feet away,[+royalblue “Florence this isn't happening, not now.”]
Standing his ground he was quite determined that this talk would happen whether or not she was receptive.[+royalblue “If you want to hit me again then go ahead, but we are getting this all out of the way before we leave tomorrow. I am not having you snap at me repeatedly over this trip and I don't care if it takes all night.”] There would be no way for this all to work if they were squabbling the entire way as they had on the way north. Looking at her he folded his arms over his chest.[+royalblue “Go ahead then, it seemed as though you were biting back on telling me how you truly felt in the tavern. Feel free to say everything you've always wanted to. I'd love to know what Florence Melbourne truly thinks.”]
There it was, the quickest way to get Florence pissed. He had the audacity to speak ill of her brother when that very choice he ridiculed was the only reason he was alive right now. If she had been in Eugene's shoes, she would not have been so kind. But, she bit her tongue. At the very least she would let the others be off to bed before she lost her temper. Though, that was very hard the way the elf went on.
Somehow it seemed that Nicolai knew exactly what she was waiting for, because was the one he ushered the young ones off. She waited for them to be out of sight before she went to say anything. Letting this fester had not helped her mood any either. [+mediumseagreen "If you have a problem with my brother's decision, I will gladly correct it for you here and now if you would like, Nicolai."] It was a solid threat. One that, at least in this moment, she was ready to follow through with.
Finger curling into fists on the table, she knew she needed to put some distance between them or she was going to get even angrier. Having to explain to Augustine why Nicolai wouldn't be traveling with them in the morning was pretty low on her wish list of things to do. So she stood up, taking in as deep a breath as she could.
Try as she might to just walk off and be done with it, she could not. Her self control was lacking. [+mediumseagreen "All this talk of leadership is pretty fucking rich coming from the general who could not keep his men under his command, not on foreign soil, but in the heart of the castle where he should have had the advantage."] Scathing hot, the words came out under her breath. It was so long ago now, but it was relevant.
That helped to get it out of her system a little bit, so that she could actually peel off from the scene. [+mediumseagreen "I am going for a walk."] With that she turned to leave, making her way through the throng of people now more drunk than when they first arrived. Hopefully the cool night air could bring her down enough that she would be able to sleep.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai found Florence's swift denial of what he had said to be quite interesting, especially when she brought her brother into the matter.[+royalblue “Eugene also allowed a rebellion leader who killed countless numbers of his men to walk free with no punishment. I wouldn't say your brother is the best of models to hold up and learn from when it comes to true leadership.”] This was said as he looked down at his food, as if it was not directed at her or was a fleeting and passing comment to be made. When he looked back up at her he shook his head.
[+royalblue “We aren't heading to Astoria. We are going to Wistina, to my homeland where I know my people more than you do. You know Astorian customs, not Wistinian ones. And like Augustine said, they know me, they respect me, I am one of them and I know how to speak to my people. So forgive me,”] his attention moved to her son now,[+royalblue “but what I say is true. If you want to get across to them, you have to speak to them in an informal manner. Otherwise you are just another noble talking down to them.”] As he saw it, he would not be dictated to on how to converse with his own people from a woman who never left the castle and had special gardens built to remind her of her homeland. She had not tried to integrate with her new people, instead locking herself off from them. He would and could not blame her entirely, as Germaine was not one to let her out often. But if he was their link to Wistina, their expert, then he would defend that role.
The food had become quite cold and bland by now and he pushed away the remnants into the middle of the table, done with it.[+royalblue “Look, if you want to discuss this further we can, but perhaps once everyone is in their rooms and asleep. This journey won't be easy on them and we can be bipartisan in agreeing they need their rest.”] He was trying to be a little diplomatic in having the children sent off to bed before she began to rail against him like she did often in Wistina. It depended on what she wanted now.
Well this was perfect. It would appear that Nicolai had befriended a sociopath while he was away. And what's more he seemed to revel in those tendencies. There was a huge difference in being ready to defend yourself and the things that were important to you and this. But as unenthused as she was with the vapid disregard for life these two seemed to have, Florence was even less happy with what came out of Nicolai's mouth after that.
[+mediumseagreen "No, no, no."] She had a very distinct mothering tone in that moment. [+mediumseagreen "Just because you get used to that sort of speech does not mean you have to use it. Look at Eugene, he has never compromised in communication like that and his relationship with the people has never suffered. So long as you remain respectful and do not become pretentious, the average person will not care how you speak. You do as you will and let them do as they do."] Her eyes flashed back over to Nicolai, narrowing. [+mediumseagreen "Do not put the idea that he has to be crude if he wants to succeed in his head"] There was no reason for it. She wanted Augustine to be who he was. Not be goaded into something else because the man he looked up to told him he aught to be.
Trying not to get any more worked up over it, Florence went to focus on her food again. Like the pie, the soup looked less appetizing than it was. But considering she had eaten things that looked much worse, it did not bother her too much. Plus she knew they were bound to be eating a whole lot of preservable foods soon. So she might as well savor something fresh while she could.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat With all the adults in agreement that giving the three youth of the group a chance to fight before Wistina it seemed they were destined for the Terrastina pass. It would be difficult, even with their numbers of willing combatants. He wondered if it was a wise choice, as he would have preferred more time to train the young trio and give assess them for their skills with their chosen weapons. But perhaps a trial by fire would be the greatest assessment. The attackers in the pass would not be as strong as a Wistinian soldier or Taken assassin. Start small and all that.
[+firebrick “You'll like it. The scum in the pass are so easy to kill.”] Töka said with a dismissive attitude before finishing off her cup of ale and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Nicolai chuckled as he took a mouthful of his pie and in a moment her eyes were on him with disdain.[+firebrick “I killed three single handedly! Don't laugh at me!”]
He understood she was trying to talk herself up to the others, and make herself seem like this big and mighty warrior, but he continued to laugh for a little longer.[+royalblue “Single handed is the key phrase.”] He took a sip of his drink quickly.[+royalblue “I recall one guy was missing three fingers on his sword hand. One had a spear in his gut and was more a mercy kill. And the last one seemed as adept with a sword as a vestal virgin would be with a cock.”] Smiling at his analogy it brought a grin to the fierce woman's lips. She disagreed with his statement but it was still funny.
Looking up to the others however Nicolai raised his hand, addressing Augustine mostly.[+royalblue “Sorry, but you'll need to become accustomed to the less formal nature of the common folk. Especially if you want to win them over. You have to talk like them and in their more crude ways of talking.”] That was not to say what he said was not funny though and he felt the elbow of Töka in his side to chide him.
Shrugging, Marko let the sarcastic comment slide. That is what it was going to come down to anyway, he just quickened the process. Plus, he was not one to linger on the small stuff. They needed to know if anyone knew that area. He knew that Florence and Augustine had been looking at maps for months to chart possible routes, and they had all that in their heads. But everyone knew there was only so much a map could tell you. It was better by far to have someone who was experienced with the landscape.
It was a shame to hear that both the passes were becoming troublesome. That was probably why many people were starting to lean toward sea travel. It avoided the problem entirely, but after that first time riding down to Wistina, she promised herself never again. And like Töka said, this would be a vital experience for their younger members. Most of which had never drawn blood. Augustine was now the exception, though she was not sure if that was going to be enough to get him moving in a real battle. Downing an already injured man was nothing like going up against someone in their prime.
[+mediumseagreen "With that being said, in the next few battles to come, I do not want you three freezing up. If taking a life becomes an issue, fall back to focusing on immobilizing the enemy instead. The rest of us can do the last bit."] They would, of course, need to get over any fears or anxieties over finishing the job, but for the time being she wanted to give them an out so that they did not become completely useless on the battle field. If they clammed up, they would gain nothing from the experience. [+mediumseagreen "Just keep in mind, you are going to have to take that final step eventually, so the sooner you learn the better."]
She knew she had been preparing Augustine for that truth, and he nodded along knowingly, but the others, she hadn't a clue where they stood. They gave nods of their own, either because they saw the blond do it or because it just felt like the right thing to do. But either way it showed that, in theory, they understood what was expected of them.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat He had forgotten that before him was assembled two shut-ins and two people who had only ever made one journey through the mountains. It was rather silly to ask them to dictate their path down to Wistina, and was perhaps the reason for Nicolai being here. He may be of use in Wistina itself, but getting them there to begin their plan would be his primary use for the time being. He looked across to Töka and she seemed to nod at him in agreement without saying a word, lifting her bowl of food up and sitting back to keep eating.
[+royalblue “I like how you non-chalantly put the decision on us Marko, very nice touch.”] It was meant in a sarcastic tone to the often mute boy. It was clear no-one but he and Töka knew the Terrastina pass at all, so he had said what everyone thought; what did they think? Taking up his cup again he took a sip.[+royalblue “Mayfair is a lot worse these days, no longer the easier path by far. I would agree Terrastina is better suited for our needs, as it is closer, but the danger is always there. We will encounter bandits that is a guarantee.”] Those who preyed on travellers through the pass would not pass up three children, two women and a man. Easy pickings in their eyes but he felt they could hold their own – if Flora was as good a shot as he thought and Marko did not run away.
[+firebrick “It will break your blood-viriginity, good battle experience, wet your blades and harden you for the future.”] Töka said as she stopped eating momentarily. It was crass, blunt, but honest and true. No sense taking them to a battle in Wistina without them all having some experience of a fight, even one against weak bandits. He nodded in his agreement with her as he looked back across the table.
Not exactly expecting him to wink at her in such crowded company, it caught her off guard. This was not the time for that... though that thought opened up the possibility that another time might be. She practically had to shake that irritating thought from her mind as she rolled her eyes at him and brought her focus to the bowl of soup in front of her. This was going to be a long trip and she did not suppose that she could change Augustine's mind about bringing him along. He really had his heart set on it.
Augustine had missed the quick gesture coming from Nicolai, so he was only mildly horrified at the him blatantly flirting with his mom in front of everyone. He tried to push passed it by answering his question. [+coral "Based off where we are now, the Terrastina pass is closer. Going that way would shave a good bit of time off of this journey, but it is more dangerous."] The mountains in that area were taller. There was always tale of some rockslide taking out a traveler who wasn't watching the signs. Besides that, with it being physically longer they spent more time without an escape. And bandits liked to hide in waiting there. The same could be said about Mayfair, but not to the same extent. [+coral "Honestly, I would like to take the chance, but it depends on everyone else's comfort level."] He was not about to drag a bunch of hesitant followers through that rocky abyss without their consent.
Unexpectedly Marko was next to speak. [+darkblue "It shouldn't be a problem so long as we have someone who knows how to read the pass... Has anyone traveled through it before or know the area?"] He looked to the older members of the group, knowing he and the other two had barely left Astoria, let along traversed Terrastina. Florence was the first to answer with a shake of her head. It was down to the other two.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had began to eat his food. He picked and pulled it apart a little and whilst it was not most appetising on the yes it was suitable on the palate. Looking at Florence though he was quite a lot more shocked that he had been at the food.[+royalblue “My word, she can do it. She can compliment me..”] He commented with a rather wide grin as she mentioned how he was a kind-hearted man. Well, not in so many words. Not really directed towards him. It was all subjective, a bit of a stretch, but he liked the sound of it nonetheless and when he caught her eye he smiled all the more.
Winking at her playfully he continued to eat and drink, agreeing with her overall sentiment. It was true that they would have to play on heartstrings and the memories of the populace than to offer them wealth or power or anything of the like. Yet for now, he was quite focused on just Florence. Playing a more playful and toying character with her would be his best route towards getting to know her and have her perhaps return the gesture and in the end see him as more.[+royalblue “Will we take the eastern or western route through the mountains?”] He left the option open to the table, keen to hear if that was planned out or if it would be a wild dash to the Wistinian border.
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