[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat So Gregory had disliked Germaine? It was news to the Elf but it was perhaps to be expected. It was a reason behind why the small man had such a dislike of the Duke. He saw the two as one and the same just as Nicolai saw Gabriel and Vincent in the same light. There would be no retribution if that was the case, but if they could get along for the sake of a common enemy then it would be workable.
[+teal “I will understand Your Majesty because whilst it does involve my life, I am trapped in this with you. You were his wife but I was his advisor and if anything more expendable.”] A cynical smile tugs on his lips.[+teal ”My life is tied to your fate. Whatever you decide upon I must accept and adapt to - lest I run away and abandon everything. But then, where would I go?”] The question had been rhetorical and contemplative. It was rather troubling to say aloud that he had no-where to go, just as it had been to speak of loneliness with Lillian.
Her direction for him to sit was left in the air for a moment. Had she been ordering him to stay, forcing him to take a seat with her? The tone had softened but unacquainted with her more gentle and relaxed nature it was difficult to read her. Part of their limited time together meant he did not know her nuances. What made her laugh? What made her smile? How could he make her relax and open up more to him? There wasn’t much that came to mind. He simply had to accept her at her word and learn along the way how to talk with her. At this he nodded, stepping across to sit in the chair he was directed to.
Settling himself he listened intently, interested in her choice of words. She liked the company of people [i like him], but not him directly. Perhaps it was not an intended slight at him but he had taken it as such and so he was rather reluctant to begin talking to her. Her point was factual regardless of his inclination to think himself less of a yes-man, but indeed Germaine surrounded himself by agreeable folk.
[+teal “Firstly, I must point out that it was more a fondness born of time and circumstances than genuine infatuation with one another.”] His hands came together, settling in his lap as he sat back in his seat.[+teal “Whilst we were agreeable to one another I am under no great illusion it was only due to my father’s passing at a young age that Germaine gave me a second look. Whether through pity or otherwise he took me in.”] It was already a touchy subject and little had been said.
Drawing a deep and calming breath, Nicolai lifted a foot to rest on his knee, hands now grasping at the calf in an act to stem any nervous twitch that may begin. He could quite imagine she was only asking to gain some background on the Elven male, perhaps she was genuinely curious. It would do him no harm to indulge her.
[+teal “Before you arrived I had known him some thirty years. I was only a few years older than Augustine when my father passed and Germaine had known him since he was that age. You could say it was a rather ghoulish and deadly cycle of who’s who.”] The attempt at humour missed its mark and he only served to make himself a touch dour. But it brought him rather full circle.[+teal “I know you never loved him.”] A bold statement.[+teal “You cared for him and you doted on him when needed as a good wife does, but I knew within that first month it was not a marriage for love but of political outcome. Marriage, to a woman of your esteem, is less about what you want and all about what others get from your coupling. More about outward image than inner love. I cannot really imagine what it feels like but I think it would be a terribly mournful thing, to marry for nothing more than to appease someone else’s aspirations.”] He was perhaps being a little too blunt with her, but she had commended him for this attribute.
[+teal “As such, that is why I can understand your more acceptable nature when it comes to this deal with Vincent. With things as they are it is looking as more of a lamentable if necessary choice. I..”] Nicolai’s voice faded off as he felt too close to his own boundaries of what was appropriate and what was not. He had given her enough of his thoughts, any further and he risked spilling more.
While he said he hadn’t come to chastise her, he wasn’t exactly gentle with his words either. For a while she listened to him in silence. For someone who wasn’t sure what to say, he sure had a whole lot of words to offer. She could not properly get a read on him. Was he trying to irritate her or comfort her? He walked a strange fine line between the two, but the entire time he was candid.
Alienating herself? She had never seen it that way. This was just her personality, though it was probably true in how she had just been with Gregory. The one real friend she had here and she was threatening to be rid of him. Not her most brilliant moment. If that were the case, she would need to focus on getting closer to others. How, she didn’t know. Quite obviously, that was not her forte.
[+mediumseagreen “Gregory forgave me when I married Germaine, I don’t think he will do it again.”] She didn’t believe his threat of leaving to be an idle one either. When it came to grandiose gestures like that he usually meant it.
It was strange to talk about this sort of thing with someone she knew so little about. He had offered to listen though, and this is how people normally made ‘friends’ was it not, through conversation?
[+mediumseagreen “I never thought it would come to the point where I would be considering this as a viable strategy. I barely understand it, so I do not expect anyone else to.”] She let out an airy sound, like the beginnings of sardonic laughter. [+mediumseagreen “I have a hard time seeing how you can calmly say you would understand, just because it may benefit me… This is your life in the balance as well.”] Although, he was less calm than she made him out to be. Nicolai clearly was at odds with the idea. His hatred of the Marquis must have been deeply ingrained.
The Queen found his fondness for their spat odd. Though he was right, it had been a good opportunity to vent. He had pissed her off so much that she was able to throw years worth of frustrations at him. It was cathartic. She hadn’t been able to shout like that in a very long time either. [+mediumseagreen “Your frustrations were not completely unfounded. Having little to no control over your future is one of the most irritating things in the world.”] He wasn’t like her; he didn’t have a direct choice in how things would play out. Well, aside from things such as packing up and leaving before things got any more chaotic. There was always that, though like her, he would have to leave many things behind.
She shook her head, [+mediumseagreen “No, stay.”] Florence tried to sound less demanding and more like it was an option that was open to him, but she wasn’t sure if it came through properly. [+mediumseagreen “Have a seat.”] She motioned to the cushioned chair that was sitting across from the one she would take herself.
[+mediumseagreen “You know, I like people like you. I have always gotten along better with those who are straightforward,”] maybe because she couldn’t always be so herself. [+mediumseagreen “Though now that I see that, I am surprised Germaine was so fond of you.”] He was a man that appreciated honesty when it favored him. Though, that was nearly universal. [+mediumseagreen “How did the two of you come to know one another?”] It was not a story she had ever heard, but she thought it might be a welcome distraction.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The night was spent without much rest, debating over his next move. He was working by himself. Gregory still showed open animosity to him and Florence seemed to be drifting further to the other side. With no Germaine anymore to act as his overarching barrier to most problems, he had grown weak and without allies. Now he had lost those two it was only a matter of time. His time was a burning candle and it was melting swiftly.
Returning to the keep he had pottered about the place, making idle chat with multiple servants and in general just putting his face about. Perhaps if he was seen more then he would be thought of in a kinder light. It was not as if he had anything else left to do, not least until called for by Lillian to be able to follow the lead he was building there.
Moving about the castle he had come across the sight of Gregory leaving a room in a huff. He had been happening to pass by and upon seeing the disgruntled look on the dwarf’s face he was intrigued just what could cause that – aside from himself. He paused before the Elf for just a moment before turning and walking away once more, fists balled at his side. When his curiosity bested him, he walked across to the doorway, seeing Florence inside.
[+darkgreen “Have you come to admonish me as well?”] There had been no formal welcome, no greeting or friendly hello. She was straight to open hostility, her bright green eyes staring at him with fatigue and he was unsure if she was warning him to just leave now. She was troubled, obviously, but was he even remotely close to someone who could help?
[+teal “I did not come to chastise you.”] Nicolai stood in the doorway, contemplating whether there was any chance of having a conversation with her whilst retaining some of his dignity and not being reduced to an idiot. Belatedly he closed the door behind him, stepping across slowly. He was dressed in a plain tunic, his clothing more practical today with no meetings planned.[+teal “That is to say, I could quite easily start up another argument, yes. I have heard the rumours much like everyone else. But given I was foolish and headstrong last time, and given you look close to striking me when I have seen you of late, I see no benefit to doing so but to increase your ire.”] He shrugged his shoulders, strolling by her to stop over by the window for a moment.
Debating his next words was silly. A week of planning would not be enough to carefully tip toe around the delicate subject at hand here or exacerbate it.[+teal “You are working hard. Your last few months of life have been a struggle. More than I perhaps can understand. And yet when you need allies and friends the most it seems you are alienating yourself.”] Turning back he reproached her, a hand rising up to place on her shoulder but he thought better of it and quickly returning it to his side.[+teal “I will not even offer advice in the matter. I cannot give you any piece of information that will magically solve this problem, or else I would have done so the moment I found it out.”] He was rather bad at this.
Still, he tried one final time to help her, look at her with soft violet eyes and a gentle smile.[+teal “I can offer you my ear in listening, I can offer you my hand in battle, I can offer you my heart and my mind in your struggle. I give you all this and more but you are the one who controls both your future and Augustine’s. If you find a pathway that will work, such as this.. marriage,”] he bites back a tirade of foul language for Vincent that bubbles under the surface,[+teal “and it is an option greater than the others – then I will understand. Gregory will understand, everyone will.”] He looked away to the ground, folding his hands behind his back and nodding to himself and a quiet laugh escapes his lips, his usually tense look dropping away to a more jovial one.
[+teal “It is a shame however; I rather liked our argument. It helped me to vent my silly frustrations.”] Perhaps not the best time for a statement like that, but it had been said.[+teal “I will leave you be if you wish.”]
Florence stayed in the small library a while longer. It was a quiet place to think. Every once in a great while she would hear footfall as someone walked by, but there were no other sounds. Eventually, and even though she hadn’t come to her conclusion just yet, she stood and went on her way. The plan was to go check in on Augustine, as she had nothing better to do and it might help her to decide, however as she moved about the castle she noticed something. People were going silent just as soon as she walked into view. Normally the people here were needlessly chatty, so it stood out. They must have been talking about her or something that directly concerned her. She had a sneaking suspicious at what it be.
It wasn’t until the next day that Gregory came to find her. A conversation she’d been dreading.
[+darkmagenta “Warum höre ich immer wieder, dass Sie Vincent zu küssen erwischt wurden und Sie beide formell verlobt sind?“]
[+mediumseagreen “Weiß nicht.“] He stared her down, not believing her for a second.
Florence sighed. She had wanted to push this off for a while longer. She switched back to Wistinian hoping he might be less critical in a second language. [+mediumseagreen “He came and asked me to marry him, this time of his own accord. I have three days from yesterday before I have to give answer… I know nothing about this kissing business though.”] The servants must have been more bored than she imagined in they were making up such nonsense to spread around.
[+darkmagenta “Why did you not refuse him then and there?”] His words were demanding. [+darkmagenta You cannot be considering this?”]
[+mediumseagreen “As soon as they know I am not interested, their side will likely unite on a single front. I am certain they currently have a rift in their faction, that’s why their actions have seemed so erratic.”] There had to be a good portion of them that would rather try to do this without murdering a child, at least right away. [+mediumseagreen “And I have been thinking, if I did give in and wed him, it might afford us more time…”]
Gregory cut her off. [+darkmagenta “Stop! You are not going to do this, not again.”] His dark Dwarven eyes had a fire behind them.
[+mediumseagreen “And why shouldn’t I?”] The question was legitimate. While her mind was not set on anything, she didn’t very well see what he meant in saying she couldn’t take that option if she deemed it best.
[+darkmagenta “Florence, at some point you need to think of yourself. If it has come to you entertaining the idea of marrying someone like the Marquis, then it is time to consider broadening the scope of your outlook. Leaving may be the best option.”]
He was always so quick to run away, to retreat back to Astoria. [+mediumseagreen “I may send Augustine there, to keep him safe, but I cannot go.”] At the rate things were going, the Queen doubted she would ever see her home again.
[+darkmagenta “For once in your life think about what you want,”] he couldn’t stand when she got like this.
[+mediumseagreen “What I want is for my son to have the life he was meant to.”]
Gregory’s eyes narrowed at her. If she was going to be rigorously obstinate, he would as well. [+darkmagenta “I refuse to stay here if you marry that man. Do it and I will return to Astoria on my own.”]
Now that was something she hadn’t been expecting to hear. It tore at her heart; the idea of being nearly alone here was not a pleasant one. Impossible, surely not, but unpleasant all the same, [+mediumseagreen “I never asked you to come here, Gregory.”] The woman withdrew. [+mediumseagreen “You would do much better to be back with Eugene.”]
[+darkmagenta “Fine, then do as you please.”] His voice was hard. Turning, the bard left the room. His feet were loud against the ground as he stormed. By the door he saw Nicolai. How much of their conversation had he heard? Gregory didn’t much care. He was much too frustrated with Florence’s mulishness.
The old man’s stomping faded into the distance, but from it she heard another pair of feet. Was someone else there? Turning, her green eyes fell on Nicolai. Ah yes, the other person who was liable to be concerned by this whole ordeal.
[+mediumseagreen “Have you come to admonish me as well? Let us get it out of the way now, so we can be civil again.”] Her voice was tired, Gregory’s words still weighed heavily on her.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It was an hour or two before the Elf left the home of Viscount Gabriel. It had been a rather progressive visit and a large amount of information had been gathered before things turned toward less conversational pieces. Indeed as he left the home, looking about him to see if anyone watched, his hand brushed at his lips that were stained a touch darker than usual from some transference or another. Straightening himself and clasping the pommel of his sword the door is closed behind him and he sets off back toward the castle.
Reaching the main gatehouse things seemed to be as normal as ever as servants and officials pottered about with nothing truly interesting going on. At times like these it was easy to forget the inner workings that went on behind the scenes. To lose oneself to the serene backdrop of general life where people mean what they say and there isn’t a knife to your back. Sadly, for now at least, Nicolai would not be able to indulge this fantasy.
This was perhaps a way of life preparing him for when his page Timothy sought him out and with a polite greeting and a deft flick of his head insisted the general follow after the young boy. Intrigued to see what was wrong he did so, the duo making light talk as they progressed down a long corridor. They came to a corner where the hallway wrapped around, allowing them a vantage to ensure no-one was nearby, Nicolai’s keen elven eyes look back and forth and at length he nods to the boy.
[+teal “Care to divulge why you have sought me out?”] His tone was conserved but terse, not pleased to be forced into the boys game. He trusted the youth, but it was not his normal practice.
[+coral “You asked me to keep an eye on the Marquis Vincent should he come to the castle and you were not here m’lord.”] Indeed he had. The man was not to be trusted by any means, and to keep an eye on him in the keep would perhaps throw them some new information on any informants he might have.
[+teal “I did, does that mean he was here?”] The boy nodded and with a click of his tongue the Elf showed his displeasure. He was tricky, using the lady-in-waiting for some nefarious part of his plan. Otherwise why was he seeking such a woman out?
[+coral “Yes, a few hours ago now Sir. He was here for only about ten minutes or so Sir, but he met with someone; The Queen.”] He had seemed hesitant to say whom Vincent had met with and when he did, he saw the scowl form on his master’s face.
This did not sit well with the man given his previous mistrust of Florence. He had lain out his concerns and she had seen fit to put him in his place. He had been humbled and humiliated and for a time felt guilt in doubting her. She had told him she was using the scheme to keep Vincent close and therefore under her surveillance. But just how close was she keeping him? She would not talk to him on the matter. He had nothing to run on but his own mind. Yet his doubts crept back in.
[+coral “And that’s not all Sir.”] The boy wanted his report over with quickly, to return to the stables and be at peace amongst the horses, some of his best friends.
[+teal “Then spit it out!”] He hissed back. Timothy hesitated but nodded, averting his eyes.
[+coral “I heard a rumour from one of the servant girls, the ones who work under the Queen and her lady-in-waiting.”] Chewing his lip to stave shouting at the young boy, the Elf only nods.
[+teal “What rumour.”]
[+coral “Well that there was going to be a wedding between the Marquis and Queen. One of the girls even said she saw them kissing.”] He shrugged, as if this part he wasn’t sure of himself.
Whilst the rumour of a wedding hit Nicolai rather hard the second part he could not imagine. Despite her apparent aptitude in the creative arts and her particular skill in acting, she was not good enough to hide a relationship. If the rumour held weight, she was doing so only as a means to protect Augustine. Still it tasted bitter on his tongue and he let out a deep sigh. It was not a time to go rushing to Her Majesty and accuse her of such deeds. He needed information. He needed to flesh out the details on this. Perhaps then he would confront her but it would be in a more formal and less aggressive manner than last.
[+teal “Very well Timothy, go about your duties.”] With a dismissive wave of his hand the boy dips his head and scurries off in a brisk walk with his job done. It left the Elf to stand there in a contemplative manner, wondering just what was happening without his knowledge. Was he being led astray by the Queen so that she could plan without fear he would turn on her? He held a sizable portion of the army close to him. If he was taken, disposed of, tried and killed without a good reason, they would not react well. Perhaps she was keeping him busy so she could plot out her own ascension. He leaned against the wall, sighing as his hands cover his face and he let out a groan of displeasure; he loathed these bloody humans.
[+Blue “Excellent”] The man, who was only a few inches taller than her, smiled. [+blue “Let’s find a place to have a proper talk.”]
It wasn’t enough that he was making a request on her time; he wanted to control everything down to the backdrop. Florence wondered just what he was plotting. [+mediumseagreen “Very well, lead away.”] The woman motioned for him to take the lead, but instead he offered her his arm. Fighting back a look of annoyance, she took up his offer. Only very lightly touching him, not fully allowing her hand to rest on the crook of his thin arm.
He must have noticed her hesitance, that or he was just overly eager to touch her, because his other hand came to rest on top her hers. It forced her palm down the rest of the way as he looked back to grin at her. A look that was seemingly devoid of any intelligence whatsoever.
Like that, the pair continued on. Luckily for her, they did not seem to pass anyone as they went. Having more rumors about her being even remotely attached to this man flying around would be exceedingly detrimental. She was glad for the silence all the way to one of the small annex libraries in the building. It wasn’t as well used as the main collection so they would be left alone. Yet another thing she didn’t much care for.
Even though the room was tiny, the walls were lined top to bottom with shelves, each jam packed with books. The collection stretched across every genre. At the far end of the room there was a window, seemingly squeezed between two of the thick oak bookcases. It looked out over several acres of land. Set aside for sport hunting, it grew somewhat wild with a thin sprinkling of trees off in the distance. Though it had been some time since it’d been used. There was dust accumulating on the sill; she would need to remember to send someone over here to clean.
[+mediumseagreen “Here we are, Marquis, what is it?”] Her tone wasn’t nearly as short as her words, but the woman intentionally used his title to try and put some distance between them.
Nodding at her permission to speak, Vincent started up. [+blue “Thank you for coming along with me, your Majesty.”] He threw her own rank back at her, jovially. Did he think she was playing? Eyes narrowing at him some, as she tried to figure out his game, the man cleared his throat and pressed on.
[+blue “Ma’am, I have been thinking.”] That was dangerous; she bit back the sarcastic comment. [+blue “Thinking about you.”] The expression on his face almost looked genuine, almost. [+blue “You’ve been under a tremendous amount of pressure, and while you have outwardly handled every twist and turn with grace and poise, I know you must be waning. I worry for your health, and to be quite frank, you.”]
She did less to conceal her irritation at his rambling on her face, but if he noticed, the man didn’t show it. [+blue “I spoke with some of the other council members about these concerns. We agreed to bother you only in absolute necessity, as we would be in trouble if your health deteriorated suddenly like his late Majesty the King.”] That explained that.
[+mediumseagreen “That is sweet of you, but I assure you I will be fine. I am not so fragile as all that.”]
[+blue “My apologies, I never meant to insinuate such a notion. You are by no means fragile, are you? Flawless, fearless, beautiful above all else, the kind of woman who deserves nothing but respect and not to be pestered with menial tasks. I just meant to convey my belief that someone like you deserves to be supported properly.”]
The flattery was too much for her. Florence hoped he would get to the point sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, he did.
[+blue “I know this may be imprudent of me, but I would like to be the one to support you. Ever since the council meeting I have thought it through, and I know it is too soon since your husband passed, but I wanted to ask you of my own accord instead of having it decided by others. Would you allow me to take your hand and make you my wife?”]
This man must have been a glutton for punishment, wanting to be rejected twice… At least, that is what she though at first. But after a moment’s more though she deemed it was a sound strategy. And she hated that fact fervently. This would force her to be frank with him, there would be no more dancing around the subject to give him hope and divide the enemy’s attention between multiple plans.
There was a long pause as she thought of what to say. [+mediumseagreen “I would like some time to think over it.”] She could tell Vincent wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Of course he wasn’t, it defeated the purpose entirely. [+mediumseagreen “I do not mean indeterminately, give me three days to think it over.”] That seemed to tempt him from brooding.
[+blue “Very well, three days and we shall meet back here. I await your answer with the highest hopes.”] Taking step closer, Vincent took ahold of her hand, pressing his lips lightly to her knuckles and then excused himself.
Left on her own, Florence was already trying to think of the best way to counter this, but honestly there were only two options. To decline and confirm that she had no interest in ever entertaining he and Gabriel’s ideas, or to accept and try to find a common ground and convince them that Augustine would be better than his father. Neither was ideal, but she would think on it seriously. With that she decided to keep these happenings to herself for now. She already knew how Gregory would respond, and so it would do little to tell him beside have to listen to his lecturing.
What she didn’t know was that Vincent saw the matter as significantly less private. Rumors of a possible engagement were flittering about the castle once again.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat They had proceeded on through the home via a central corridor, small talk on each others well being and the weather of late, taking a seat in a small outer area in the back, seats covered by padded cushions and under a length of fabric to protect them from the sun. The young daughter of Gabriel was rather beautiful and Nicolai was rather taken with her by appearance alone. Her personality, what little he knew, was agreeable as well; caring, compassionate, outwardly generous to charitable causes and noble gestures of goodwill. The only downside was her family. And what a downside that was.
Offering a pliant smile and muttered thanks to the servant girl who brought them something to eat and drink, Lady Derrian – Lillian in less formal circumstances – sat with straight back and hands folded over her lap. The Duke however happily poured them a cup each of the watered down wine. Perfect for a social occasion where water was too dull but it was far too early for stronger beverages. Handing her a cup his finger brushed against her own, soft smile remaining as she looked at him sheepishly.
[+cornflowerblue “So,”] she was unsure how to begin, trying to recall any news to start them on,[+cornflowerblue “I heard you were Llewellyn not too long ago. Building a bridge to help the villagers?”] It was a timid start but he nodded.
[+teal “Yes, sometimes the flooding there can become rather intense. I was grateful to be able to offer my assistance, though it did help to give the men a task to focus the minds given the passing of the King.”] He bowed his head for a moment in respect of the departed Royal.
[+cornflowerblue “But of course. I am sure in their time of sorrow it gave them a welcome distraction. And they can rest assured of the villagers thanks for their hard work.”] She took a sip of her wine as he leaned to the platter and dipped a sliver of bread into the olive oil.
[+teal “If only everyone was thankful for our work.”] He smiled in jest and took a bite of his food, sipping his drink to swill about his mouth.
[+cornflowerblue “Oh? How do you mean my Lord?”] She looked at him clueless; oh for the innocence of youth.
[+teal “It seems our Queen, Viscount and your father himself were quite displeased in my absence from the realm.”] He raised his brow in disappointment, letting out a soft sigh and a gentle shake of his head.
[+cornflowerblue “I am surprised to disdain from the Queen, though I know you and my father do not get along.”] She lowered her gaze a moment, but it returns to him quickly when he chuckles.
[+teal “To say your father and I do not get along is quite the understatement. Outside of public view I am fairly certain he despises me.”] He sipped more of his drink.[+teal “I must admit my surprise, that he does not speak of such before you.”] Nicolai was curious as to that and she obliged him the truth.
[+cornflowerblue “Well he has been rather busy lately. I see him rarely, often only when he comes to change his clothing.”] There is a hint of sadness to her voice; she must have been a true fathers daughter. Nicolai shifts across his seat, taking a hold of her free hand from her lap, fingers enclosing hers as she flushes, bright on pale cheeks.
[+teal “To leave such a lovely woman alone and by herself? It is a crime. I should have words with the man about such an act.”] Though he had meant it in mocking jest she takes him too literally and shakes her head, curling hair falling about her face.
[+cornflowerblue “No! Please! I don't wish to worry father with such silly things.”] Such worry required investigation.
[+teal “I may not be a father myself but surely the well being of daughter takes precedent over whatever affairs he may have. I should think the shining light of his life would be his only priority. What could possibly take him away from such a demure yet stunningly beautiful girl?”] The sly dog.
Nicolai was not one accustomed to social occasions, such as standing before a party and giving a speech or toast. Yet alone, one-on-one like this, he could be as suave and inviting like no other. He had smouldering Elven beauty and with the right tones and choice in personality, not to mention his confidence in such moments, he could find ways to unlock even the most secure of persons.
Florence was a different case of course. Rather cold and shrewd in her ways. She was more dominant and daunting a woman than any one he had met before. He had not even attempted flattery or the like with her. Where was the point? She was focused upon her son for now and even once this was settled she would be too much hassle to try and win over. Though indeed he had thought her beautiful and she was still so, there was no desire to seek intimacy from a woman who held a polite and formal outer appearance, but a wintry and lifeless heart beneath for anyone but Augustine.
Regardless of his momentary thoughts on the Queen, he squeezed the girls hand affectionately, thumb grazing across the back of her fingers slowly and looking on her to continue. He looked every bit the concerned and listening friend, even if he was a stranger.
[+cornflowerblue “He buries himself in his enterprises and work. I hear talk of profits and shipments and payments to persons I've never heard of; Jefferson, Buxwell, Hardy, Bennington.”] His interest sparks and he places his cup back on the platter slowly.[+cornflowerblue “I wish it were like years before, where we would sit and talk into the nights.”] Her eyes shimmer for only a moment but she holds back on any tearful exposition, fanning her face as she laughs a touch.[+cornflowerblue “Apologies my Lord, blubbering away at my own issues. I'm sure this is the last thing you had wanted to listen to.”] She was partially right about the sad back story, a part of her he could have done without hearing as it did play on him a little. Though she had given him plenty of new information on her father.
[+teal “Do not be ridiculous Lady Derrian.”] He shuffles a little closer again, his leg brushing against hers as they sat almost opposite to one another now. His free hand rose and cupped her cheek, caressing lightly as he did her hand.[+teal “I may be a Duke, I may be a General, but at the end of the day I am a living being also. I can understand your hardship. Loneliness is not a foreign word to myself.”] It was a bitter truth to himself to say aloud.[+teal “But allow me to proffer a suggestion; let me be the one to share your burden.”] She looked at him with curious eyes but a gentle smile.[+teal “With no war to plan for I have nothing but time these days. If you ever grow lonely then simply send for me. If your father ignores you more then seek me out in the castle. I am more than happy to have your company.”]
Her other hand rose up to cup his own on her cheek, curling her fingers into his and bring it down to rest in her lap beside the other coupled pair. Smiling a little brighter now, her eyes shining but enlightened and without the sorrow of before, her lips curl and her cheeks are only more rosy in colour than ever.
[+cornflowerblue “Thank you my Lord-”] He turns his head away a moment to cut her off.
[+teal “Please, if we are to be friends, we are to be on an even level. Call me Nicolai.”] A classy touch; bravo.
[+cornflowerblue “Ah, of course, Nicolai. The same platitude I extend to you, though I thank you for your kind, wonderful words. It feels better knowing I have someone to confide within other than Mary.”] She meant her servant, and though the Elf considers investigating the woman further for information, it is best to get it from the source.
[+teal “Thank you Lillian,”] the name did roll rather sweetly off the tongue,[+teal “though before I leave perhaps we can eat and talk of happier matters. I have time spare now and the weather is rather perfect for it would you not agree?”] His violet gaze meets her emerald eyes and she nods enthusiastically.
[+cornflowerblue “Yes, it is rather perfect isn't it.”] She said as she turned her sheepish gaze to the small garden and how it glows in the sun's rays. Nicolai can only watch her with an unassuming smile, mind ticking over on what information may come from such a unique informant.
For Meredith, this whole debacle over who would be next to hold the throne was too much to wrap her head around. Sure, she wanted Queen Florence to keep her position, that way she would still have her position here in the castle, but other than that there was little the young woman cared about. She didn’t really bother to pay attention to anything that she wasn’t specifically asked too. Something told her that the less she knew the better and Meredith was OK with that.
A plan that went unused until Marquis Vincent approached her. And while she wasn’t the cleverest person out there, the girl was still skeptical of all that charm he was throwing her way. He had clearly been making passes at the Queen for the last several weeks, and a person like that didn’t all of a sudden take interest in the daughter of an Earl. That would be the worst rebound of all time. But even as she waited for him to ask about Queen Florence, nothing came. The man just made pleasant chatter as they walked through the hall and then the two went their separate ways when they needed to. An odd encounter to be sure. Left a tad paranoid, Meredith rummaged through her pockets to make sure the letter she’d been put in charge of was still there. Fingertips brushing against the stark paper of the envelope, she sighed in relief. Whatever it was he wanted, it must not have been that. Unable to figure anything beyond that out, she decided to ignore the who encounter. Perhaps he was just being friendly since she could often be found near Florence who he was still trying to court.
Waiting was excruciating, but this was in part a game of patience. It didn’t help that Florence wanted to know every little detail of how things were proceeding as they were learned, a wish that could not conceivably be granted. Not if she wanted to maintain any semblance of secrecy as to what she was up to. Especially with Nicolai out there looking into more unscrupulous matters. Linking herself too closely to him would be disastrous; as much as she disagreed with Gregory on whether or not it was necessary, the pair was together on that point. And so she was left to childishly passing notes as a means to supplement the few meetings they were able to have, even with her shuffling those in attendance. The only one she could meet regularly was the dwarf because it was no different from her previous behavior.
Tired of sitting around doing nothing, the dark haired woman desperately tried to think of productive ways she could spend her time. Little to nothing came to her mind. It was endlessly irritating. She couldn’t stand being this dependent on others. Normally Florence was the type to take matters into her own hands, but from the day she agreed to marry Germaine on, that had been off the table. Though to be fair, before now there were very few occasions that she needed to meddle in. And even the ones where she did secretly pull strings from the shadows were nothing she would consider too extreme. Not like this.
Keeping active, the regal woman walked about as she mulled over what to do. Being cooped up in her chambers only made her feel worse about everything. As she did so she ran into the last person she wanted to see, Vincent. Fighting down the urge to turn around and pretend as though she hadn’t seen him, that ship sailed as soon as he waved at her.
[+Blue “Evening, Your Majesty.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Evening Vincent.”] She mirrored back his greeting, but added nothing more to it. Where had the good old days gone, the ones where if she didn’t first speak to a person, they didn’t speak to her?
He smiled, a pleasant look on his fetching face. Florence wondered if they might have gotten along if he hadn’t been quite so conniving and persistent. There was a chance, but she also didn’t think she would have given him the time of day had be not had those traits.
[+blue “May I have a moment of your time, Ma’am?] Odd, he generally didn’t directly request such things. That meant he must have had something to talk about that required more time than a stroll to the great hall.
Warning bells rang in her head at the thought, but she spoke without hesitation. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, I suppose you may.”] There was no doubt he knew she wasn’t busy, so she couldn’t use that as an excuse. Not to mention having a chat with him might give her some insight into what he was plotting.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had not seen fit to do more than inform Florence of the name he had come up with. Whilst he had begun to draw up his lists of those associated to 'the other side', as he had taken to calling them, he had kept out of the way of Gregory and the Queen. It was not his place to take up more of their time and he was keen to ensure he was at Augustine's side as much as he could be.
The attack had left the point frightened and fearful that someone was out to hurt him. It was something the Elf could not deny outright but he used clever wording to dance about the subject. King's were often targeted and not everyone would come to love him as the new leader. But it meant he was not dissimilar to his General. Without naming the Viscount, Marquis or even Gregory by name, he showed the young boy he was not alone.
Their lessons in the library were lulls in Nicolai's day and he relished the time to relax from the treachery and devious acts he was committing in the aid of Florence. It was a time to reflect over the past and discuss tactics of the battlefield with a boy who seemed to indulge his enthusiasm for soldiery and all things warfare.
Some of the more technical and logistics heavy lessons did not go down well. To be expected from a bright and buzzing child who was awed at battles and the backstories to heroes. But the boy did well to hide his boredom and force himself to focus, knowing a story of a past fight or a tale of battles from before Nicolai's time would be his reward.
When Florence had managed to get a message back to him that Maxwell was unknown to her, it was his springboard to advance his actions. Since the trio's meeting he had been restrained and not wishing to overstep the mark. But she had given him permission to follow the lead and with ruthless intent if need be. The latter part he had assumed; surely she would be happy for a rhetorical snake to be disposed of.
Having built a list of those close to the Marquis and Viscount alike he had left the castle one morning when the sun had finally risen above the outer walls and the fresh sea air had blown across the capital. It was rather refreshing and for once the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky. Fingers cross the day went just as well as the weather. His intended destination was to Gabriel's home. The two noblemen had gone on a hunt, or so they had informed the castle squires. Having been gone a day they would not return until tomorrow and it allowed Nicolai the time needed to pay their homes a visit. With Vincent living alone save for his servant, the Viscount was a prime candidate.
The large house was set back from the main pathway and lined by several trees outside the courtyard wall. Having knocked he was given immediate access by a timid servant girl who had seen the General before and thought it best not to leave a powerful man out on the street as she sought the lady of the house to inform her.
Nicolai was dressed in a pair of black pants with a navy tunic over the top, golden embroidery down it's middle from collar to hem, his sword in a well oiled leather scabbard on his belt. Hair brushed back he and, though he was Elven, his jawline was as smooth as a babies bottom. He was well turned out to coin a phrase.
[+teal “Ah, Lady Derrian. I apologise for the disturbance in your morning.”] He face lit into a bright and wide smile, eyes similarly cheerful, upon seeing the young woman with her servant in tow.
[+cornflowerblue “Duke Windsor, so lovely to see you of course.”] Dressed in a long golden summer dress, her auburn hair had been quickly combed and a band of gold held it back and in place.[+cornflowerblue “I apologise but my father is not here at present, he is on a hunt with the Marquis.”] She played the doting daughter well and the man before her only nodded in understanding. They stopped before him and he took up her small soft hands in his own.
[+teal “I am quite aware of his predisposed nature but, in actuality, I came to meet with yourself.”] Leaning down he pressed his lips to the back of her fingers and that devilish smile came into it's own.
[+cornflowerblue “Oh.. I-I see. And why did you come to meet with me?”] Such a young woman was acutely aware this man was unattached and at present retained a high nobleman's title – as well as being a General – so his response came as little surprise though her cheeks flushed terribly.
[+teal “I had thought we could get to know one another. Perhaps we could sit and talk out of this heat?”] It brought a flutter to her chest and she averted her eyes in giddy fashion.
There was no waiting for her response, holding her hand in his like a gentleman as he began to walk with her back in towards her fathers home. Her servant was quickly dispatched once more to retrieve some bread and fresh olive oil, perhaps a few cuts of meat as well as a decanter of watered wine.
Florence didn’t hear about the incident with the snake till the end of the day. Because it was swiftly handled, Gregory postponed telling her, but when he did she snapped. Within the deepest confines of the keep, she was throwing a tantrum of her own.
[+mediumseagreen “How in the hell did they manage to bring a Astorian sidewinder all the way here!?”] She was shouting with no regards to discretion. There was not a whole lot else she could do. Looking into the catalog of those who had come and gone to Wistina for the last month or so would be too time consuming. There was also next to no chance that whoever purchased the animal would have left behind any evidence of the exchange. It was another lead to nowhere. They seemed to be getting a lot of those as of late.
Resisting the urge to throw things against the wall and make other irreversible mistakes, Florence took to a chair in the center of the room. She was still spewing venomous words. A great while would pass before she calmed enough to have a sensible conversation with Gregory about what was to be done. He leaned towards pulling Nicolai back to be with Augustine full time, but she denied his request. She still firmly believed they needed to have an edge of some sort. Until then she would keep a few extra eyes on her son to be sure no harm came to him.
Over the next few days, however, there was nothing. No attempts, be they subtle or not, on the boy’s life. But that wasn’t all. All of a sudden the advisors and council members began to go silent. They still bayed for her attention from time to time, but it seemed as though almost everything they asked about was called for. Florence found it unsettling. Vincent and Gabriel had pushed so hard these last several weeks and now were they backing off? Perhaps they had changed to a new tactic, but that might not prove any better for her. She was left in utter suspense as to what they were up to. Though, she appreciated the newfound freedom and time to gather her thoughts for once.
In that time, she also heard news that Nicolai actually found something of interest hidden away in the pages and pages of accounts. A name: Maxwell Bennington. She had no recollection of such a person. He was likely fictitious, but for what purpose? That was the next mystery they needed to solve. Did Maxwell truly exist, and if not why had be been fabricated.
Knowing there was very little she could do with eyes on her, and even less she could do stuck within the confines of the castle, Florence decided to shift her own efforts. Taking the mental list of the council members who she knew were waiting to fully pick sides, the Queen paid each of them a visit. Her focus was, in a way, to suck up. To make them feel as though she would listen to them. At the same time she hinted at the importance of loyalty and the like for the stability of a country. Each conversation was tailored to the noble she was dealing with. Even if it didn’t entirely sway their opinion, there was no harm in expanding her sphere of influence. There was even a few she called in Augustine for, just to parade around his innocence and cement the fact that indecision on their part was another nail in his coffin. She reveled in their discomfort.
As much as Florence loved to be able to come and go as she pleased, there was one small downside: Meredith. The young attendant was still fairly fresh to her job. She’d been hired only a few months prior when her last lady-in-waiting retired. Meredith was the daughter of a lesser-known earl who was seeking to gain the royal family’s favor. Not a bad plan, but the girl was high strung. The drive to constantly be doing something so that she could reflect favorably back to her family was noble, but Florence was often so hands on there was little for her to do. Being young and not incredibly intelligent, she would complain to being left behind and not being able to do her job properly, practically begging the older woman to leave something for her to do. It was one more nagging in her ear that she didn’t need, but all in all Florence didn’t hate the girl. She liked her drive, so she tolerated her and tried to think of things for her to do. For now that mainly included passing notes between her and the others.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat There was a moment of indecision where Nicolai had expected to be rounded upon and informed he would have to stand down. He would have to act alone and without the overall protection of the Queen and what she could do to help him.
But when she offered her own explanation of how she saw things proceeding he had half-smiled. It felt good to have her backing and her open agreement that they should at the very least plan for the eventuality of having to fight back than sit and wait. It left him feeling as if he was a part of this plot once more and not the third wheel to their ideas. It gave him purpose once more and he bowed deeply to her once the Dwarf had left.
[+teal “I will do my best Your Majesty.”]
The raven haired Elf was a touch saddened that she had had to leave. Being in her presence did help put him at ease and helped to stem the thoughts of just what could go wrong that plagued him at all other times. But he was resigned to agree that she was needed elsewhere and so took himself away out a separate entrance to Gregory.
Nicolai took his time over the next day or two. Almost consumed by guilt at the near death of the Prince once he was away, he was hard fought off by the Dwarf to go about his planning and scheming, leave the boy to him. It eased his burden but at the same time formed a near constant distraction to his work.
Collecting the tomes and ledgers that showed all nobility spending was a bit of a task when the record keeper had been adamant he not leave the stores with said books. General or not he could not be permitted to walk off with such priceless knowledge of the realm and so had been forced to sit in a cold and musty room in the cellars of the castle, reading by candlelight that had to be constantly relit whenever the flame snuffed out from a soft breeze.
The books held nothing great about Gabriel and Vincent's wealth. It was all standard and to the penny accounted for. Nothing that had been declared was anything of use to him. As expected he was careful about his wealth and though the amount coming in had slowly increased over time it was not so staggering that it drew assumptions. Same too for the property records. It was simple, it was boring, it was non-threatening. Nothing in the masses of scrolls and papers and wax tablets showed any wrong doing.
For a time it crept into his mind that Gregory had simply made a mistake. In his advanced years perhaps he had seen what he wanted and not what was true. They were chasing after golden geese with sticks and no nets – there was little to subvert this narrative and he had lost the desire to continue.
But in a final reading of the list of names to come up time and again, one was far and away repeated several times; Maxwell Bennington. Now Nicolai was not really one to know the ins and outs of the wealthy elite of the realm. He knew most of the upper nobility by name alone, some fewer by their faces. Yet this man's name he could not match to a description nor had he seen it written in anything of Royal standard, or the property holders book nor the listed wealth of those who held most of the land.
By the General's understanding this man was like the remnants of a ghost. All that this man seemed to do was continually take payments from Gabriel and Vincent for 'services rendered'. Small but frequent payments. Usually a sign of servitude or sexual acts but if either man's preferences swung that way it was certainly kept well hidden. It frustrated Nicolai but perhaps he needed to enact the second half of the plan to supplement this.
Not used to others, save the dwarf across the way, taking a teasing tone around her, much less pointing directly towards her, Florence raised a brow at the man. [+mediumseagreen “Perhaps not highly, I just happen to know a traitor’s execution is good for moral.”] Florence couldn’t help but prod back at him. She didn’t want him getting too comfortable, though their third party member wasn’t so thrilled about that.
Obstinate as an ox, Gregory stood firm on his side. He wanted to wait it out and see what else came to them, praying it might be something less risky. And if no such perfect plan of action turned up, they were in a position to defend. They had the general and the head of the guard with them.
As though the Queen was able to read his mind, she spoke up. [+mediumseagreen “There is no time for hesitation. They are backing us into a corner and we cannot defend forever, they’ll only become more audacious with desperation. And even if this does not pan out, it will get the ball rolling on our side.”] The first step was often the hardest, so any movement towards the offensive would alter their mindset for the better.
Even with all the negativity from the bard, it seemed Nicolai was determined to come out on good terms despite it. Gregory took the other man’s hand tentatively, looking him over again searching for any sign of dishonesty. He never found that, but he’d already taken note of a few other things in the frame of their meeting. For now he would trust Florence’s opinion even though he thought they were being hasty.
[+teal “I will do right by you, by Augustine, and by the Queen.”]
To this the older man squeezed his hand tightly. [+darkmagenta “You had better.”] He wasn’t going to see the other two, and maybe even himself, dead because some snot nosed elf brat decided to back out when things got tough.
With that he was done. Before turning to leave, he called out. [+darkmagenta “I will go and keep Augustine company for a while. You two can begin with your shady nonsense.”] He waved his hand as though to bat away his displeasure.
The emerald-eyed woman stood from her seat as well. [+mediumseagreen “Thank you, but please refrain from feeding him so many sweets. You keep pampering him.”] She knew very well that he raided the kitchen and shared his spoils with the boy.
No response came from the man; he just quickened his pace as he walked away. Pretending not to have heard her no doubt. Florence sighed heavily. Both in response to the dwarf’s defiance and knowing that she would have to return to the castle shortly. Eyes returning to the general she didn’t have a whole lot more to say. [+mediumseagreen “I expect to hear from you in the next few days.”] With that and a nod she was off as well. Though to avoid them all exiting the area together, she would fall back and take her time seeing how the garden was fairing. This time she did not plan on sitting so that she could avoid accidentally falling asleep again. When she felt the coast was clear, the woman returned to the real world, full of many more snakes than the park would ever be.
As distracted as Augustine was with mourning and all the extra lessons that were being thrown his way, he still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. It wasn’t just the peculiar incidents either. People who would walk by would look at him with some strange sense of sympathy. And then it seemed like someone was always hanging around him. He really liked to spend time with Nicolai and Gregory, but it was odd that they were seeking him out on their own now. All in the absence of his mother who, until a few weeks ago, refused to be separated from him. All together it left him uneasy. The boy wondered if it showed in his mannerisms, because everyone kept asking how he was feeling.
He had a few theories. The leading of which being that his mother had spent all that time with him because she wanted people to think she was the right choice for regent. Augustine had been there at the gathering and seen how she fought tooth and nail to make sure she was named his advisor. Perhaps that was what she had been after the whole time. Maybe that was the reason she married her father as well? Sighing, he kicked at a rock in the courtyard. The pebble clattered against the hard ground and he followed after it.
There was some shouting in the background, but he paid it little mind. That was until he grew louder. Looking up from the ground, the Prince saw Gregory running at him. Alarmed and confused, he froze in place. What was going on?
[+darkmagenta “Augustine, do not move!”] There was a greater urgency in the bard’s voice than he’d ever heard before. A couple of other’s shuffled behind the man in a panic. Seeing everyone all in a flurry made it very hard for the boy to keep still.
Fast to action, Gregory looked at the others. One of them was a garrison soldier. He grabbed his shoulder, pulling him down to confiscate the man’s bow, along with it an arrow. Knocking it just as quickly, the Dwarf took aim and fired.
It all happened so fast, Augustine barely had time to move from confusion to fear. Gregory was firing at him. He didn’t even know the old man could use a bow. Flinching away from the path of the whizzing arrow the Prince watched as it hit the ground a meter or so to his left. Where it landed, it pinned a colorful snake to the ground by its head. The animal wriggled a moment longer before falling still.
Taking a few steps back, the boy’s bright green eyes flickered between the snake and the old man who killed it. Gregory came over, pulling off his vest to collect the creature without a word. He knew this breed of snake. It was deadly venomous and native to Astoria... Someone had a very hateful sense of irony.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai bowed his head to her command for him to go through with his plan. Had she not given her agreement he would have acted regardless, knowing that to sit and wait for the two before him to come around to his way of thinking would leave them sitting on a precipice and playing catch-up with Gabriel and Vincent for far too long. With the matter dealt with a small rueful smile pulled at his lips.
[+teal “The gallows? You think so highly of me? I had thought you would dispose of me much more discreetly.”] He toys with her and the mood indeed lightens. It was not prudent of him to tease her especially before her loyal lapdog Gregory shifted about like a disruptive child upon his seat. But the flicker of humour in her voice at her suggestion of punishment was rather infectious. More so given the softness in her eyes as she looked at him.
A cough from the Dwarven male drew the others attention and the disgruntled bard flicked his eyes back and forth between the two. He seemed displeased with the entire affair, a father protective over his daughter no less.
[+darkmagenta “So this is our plan? This is how we proceed?”] He may have looked to Florence at first but he directly the question to the General, his tone accusing as if he was presented with a poor outcome and no means to avoid it.
[+teal “It is a good plan, as good as any I would say.”] A roll of his shoulders accompanies his words.
[+darkmagenta “Risking a General's life and a Queen's respect not to mention her authority, on a plan that has a great risk of failing?”] There was no winning with this man. Whether it was because she had placed some additional trust in Nicolai or that he just simply did not like the idea was lost on the Elf at present.
[+teal “You do me a dishonour Gregory. As Her Majesty stated, I will only gather names, occupations, their tentative links to Gabriel. After that she can instruct me further or we may meet again.”] He turned back to Florence herself, hands coming together in the lap of his silken clothes, quite noble out of his armour for once.[+teal “I see no reason to act alone. As you say, to do so would see me dead. And given the attacks on Augustine of late I believe it is vigilant of me to do as told and not step above my duty.”] The Elf was sincere in his tone and against he suppressed his urge to take her hand.
It was not a gesture to win her over or to be disrespectful nor to annoy the little man before them by ignoring etiquette. Given his race and his natural persona, he was just simply a more hands on person. Thus the touches to Augustine's shoulder, the taking of hands when accepting condolences from the villagers on the ride back.
[+darkmagenta “Well I will have it noted my objection to this entire matter. We should be getting back anyway.”] The short man stood up as did Nicolai who made a point of offering his hand out. After a hesitation, and a look to the Queen, he accepted the hand and shook it.
[+teal “I promise you Gregory, I will only do right by you, by Augustine, and by the Queen.”]
Holding the man's gaze for a moment he hoped to cement his position in all this. After all he had no-where else to turn. What could he do? Ignore them? If so then he would be much more swiftly dealt with than they had been trying against the Prince. It was only with their protection he still remained alive – of that he had no doubt.
The elf was blunt and to the point again. Had this always been one of his traits? Florence couldn’t recall as she hadn’t every spoken to him in length, but that was in part her own fault. Before she had a chance to say something Gregory came in, scolding their new ally. She could tell he was being overly critical of Nicolai. She would talk to him about that at a later time.
[+mediumseagreen “No, I don’t expect it to say ‘for drug den,’ but I do suspect there might be inconsistencies or unexplained funds that we can look into.”] Listening further to his concerns, she thought he was right to feel it was a long shot, even she was not fully expecting for this effort to bear fruit. [+mediumseagreen “Just as well, he might have another ledger for his more secret dealings, one that he has passed along to someone else. But we will never know if we do not check.”] They’d be kicking themselves later if it turned out to be as simple as checking his numbers.
[+mediumseagreen “It very well may be a fool’s errand, but that is why I am sending you.”] Rather than anger or malice in her voice, like the last time she’d called him that, this time it leaned toward humor. A smirk curling on her lips, though he wouldn’t see it, as he wasn’t looking at her.
After that it was hard to get a word in edgewise. The men were going back and forth about the possibility of stooping to their level. She wasn’t entirely opposed to it. In fact, it was very much the way her brain worked, but she had been avoiding it due to her current title. That and the fact that Gregory saw such things as dishonorable, not that that had necessarily stopped her before.
She was pondering the idea of saying no and then convening with Nicolai later to tell him to go ahead, when the general suggested acting as a solitary unit. That did away with most of the issues that Gregory had and all of the ones she did. She was silent as she mulled it over a while longer. However, during this time the elf finally looked up at her. Had his sense of shame finally passed? Good, she was tired of him looking pitiful. Now he wore a steeled expression, one that conveyed his determination and conviction that this was the right choice. Florence thought it suited him much better, even if it was still a tad restrained. He must have been holding back saying something more, but that might have been wise considering all the things she’d heard him say before.
Her consideration must have shown on her face, as the dwarf cut in. [+darkmagenta “Florence…”] He spoke her name in a long drawn out manner, as you would with a child who was about to touch something they shouldn’t.
The Queen shot him a scathing look in return. [+mediumseagreen “What? This course of action should not be overlooked.”] She motioned over toward Nicolai with her hand. [+mediumseagreen “This is a perfect chance to open the avenue in case the need arises further down the line.”] More options when the day came that they grew bolder in their attacks on Augustine would be a blessing. Especially when there was so little chance that it could fall back to her.
Turning back towards the man next to her, she continued. [+mediumseagreen “You may look into his associates, family, and general business. Find the best way to make him suffer, but do nothing more. I do not want to show our cards prematurely.”] Gabriel might retaliate by cutting off from dangerous associates or sending loved ones away if he knew what they were up to. [+mediumseagreen “Also, do try your best not to rouse suspicion. It may not come back to us directly, but for the time being I still need your support. Sending you to the gallows would be a waste.”] He’d been instrumental in shielding Augustine. Losing Nicolai would be a heavy blow if he were to be caught. So acting with caution was the only option, though she probably didn’t need to tell him that.
Gregory shifted around uncomfortably on his stool. They were playing with fire and as a man with a long beard that worried him.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The meeting was rather secluded in the maze of gardens attached to the castle. Despite him having needed a guide to find the particular spot amongst the foliage where the Queen had waited for them, Nicolai could understand quite well why the Dwarf took to speaking his native tongue. One could not be careful enough these days. It paid to be overly cautious than to expose oneself to incrimination. And that was their topic of discussion.
Despite his Astorian not being entirely perfect, he followed along quite well between their back and forth. The look the other man gave him left him feeling uneasy. If he could not trust him now then when and how could he build upon it? He had thought better than to speak up however, acutely aware of the others closer relationship. He sat and listened.
Nicolai was rather intrigued by the development that Gregory relayed to them, but he sat momentarily impassive to it all, nodding only to confirm he was listening. When the Queen suggested checking through his backlogs and perhaps doing a financial check on the man, the General shook his head softly and looked over to her for only a fleeting moment. He was still shamed by their encounter weeks before, not fully forgiving himself.
[+teal “I would argue it is.. not pointless but close to it.”] His Astorian was fluent if a touch rusty on his syllables and the correct emphasis on certain letters. When he heard the Dwarven man clear his throat he turned to him.
[+darkmagenta “Look, there’s something you need to learn if we are to work together. Your job is to listen to Florence and you do as ordered-“] A hard worked Elven hand rose to him, palm out to calm his tongue.
[+teal “I did not say I am denying her request Gregory. Quite the contrary, I will do all I can to help and if she truly believes this the best course of action then so be it. But we are her advisers and to stay quiet when we have concerns is detrimental to her. I simply believe it will bring no results.”] The bearded man puffed out his cheeks, feeling it was as close to a rejection as anything else and looked to Florence to show her agreement. However Nicolai spoke up once more before anything else could be said, turning a touch toward her, looking down to his hands to save catching [i that] look from her.
[+teal “What do we expect to find? A note of payment signed [i ‘for the drug den’]? A pouch of the illegal narcotics on his person? He is a blithering fool at oration and cannot hold his own in an argument but do not denounce Viscount Gabriel as a common fool.”] He purses his lips at the last word, but it is a personal slight and he continued.[+teal “He will run everything through another to separate himself from this very notion; nothing will tie him directly to criminal enterprises.”] His head dipped, aware of the Queen looking at him now, though he didn’t wish to leave her without options and ran through several plans he had been formulating for some time now.
[+teal “I will check through the ledgers but perhaps we should instead look to his acquaintances, his extended family, begin to fight back against them with their own tactics.”] Nicolai felt despicable for suggesting the idea they follow such slimy men’s deeds, to copy and apply them against their instigators. He could see the displeasure in Gregory's body language.[+teal “I know it is not something either of you would like to consider but it may be necessary.”]
[+darkmagenta “No, I don’t like that. I don’t want to get involved in their evil underhanded tactics. If we do that then we are not their betters, we wallow in the mud alongside them.”]
[+teal “And neither do I. But sometimes we must fight fire with fire.”] He implored of the smaller man who stroked at his beard – he was quite a deal more animated than usual.
[+darkmagenta “And yet their fires burn hotter than anyone else's. They are more skilled in subterfuge, in dirty deals and the like. Plus, we have more to lose if we are caught. A Queen and her General, scheming against nobility?”] He looked to Florence as he spoke his coherent point and Nicolai nodded along with him.
The bard was a shrewd man with an intellect he would have liked to pick at if they had been in more pleasant times. But here, beside the Queen and the in the lulling scent of lavender, they were two passionate men keen on achieving the same goal if only from different directions.
[+teal “I would work alone then.”] This seemed to garner the other man's interest. It didn't openly involve the Queen.[+teal “Well, given my open hostility at the last council meeting I am not exactly endeared by everyone. I have no public allies and though Gabriel and Vincent have inklings of my allegiance to you both, it cannot be proven to the greater council. If I am caught then the Queen can simply enact the correct punishment and no harm comes to her.”] He turned to her once more, lifting his gaze at last to look in her eyes.[+teal “If anything, your prestige and standing would only rise. You would be seen as a defender of the kingdom from outside and inside influences alike.”]
Nicolai had wanted to take her hand in the moment and show her how truly he felt they needed this, but it would be improper and rather outrageous to think of, and so instead he bit at his cheek to save it for another time.
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