[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The Elf had spent a few days in seclusion. Not to the point he was a hermit, left in his room to shout at anyone who tried to approach him or throwing child like fits of rage when disturbed. Rather he was rarely seen venturing further than the military wing of the castle. Never once did he step foot inside lest he be chastised openly by the Queen again or threatened by a growing number of councillors who now stood against him given his outburst. He weathered their stares and open hostility without the need for the tongues to add to it. Doing this however meant he did not see the Queen. In fact the one time he had seen her was with Vincent in tow, heading across the grounds toward the library where Augustine would be studying. It had left Nicolai seething once more.
In his self-imposed exile, the man was losing to himself. His grasp upon what was truth and fiction became muddled. The very infighting and sabotage he had sought to escape with his expedition had come to rule over every small decision. Though he was often a calm and reasonable individual, someone who showed even the most basic of respect to those he interacted with, these past days he was often terse and strict, barking orders to soldiers and fixing anyone who dared question his authority with a glare of suspicion.
When the young Prince had come to him with an abundance of questions he had wanted nothing more than to shut his door to the boy. He was not his private tutor nor his personal guardian. Nicolai was never rude or hurtful to the child but blunt and to the point. At present he and his mother held power absolute and to upset the child would see him die sooner than was being planned. That and it was not the Prince's fault his father had left him a fractured council behind. It served no purpose to be mean spirited to a boy who would perhaps not see his next birthday, regardless if it was as King or Crown Prince.
Where he had once looked to cement his place in the Kingdom by keeping in the youth's favour and good graces, given the development of the Marquis and Queen's plans, he saw that the boy was as much a pawn in this as him. They were not irreplaceable. Florence was young enough that more children was easily possible and Generals came and went at the whim of the ruler; which by now was looking more and more likely to be that bastard Vincent.
It was for such a reason that he allowed his fellow pawn to watch him as he completed his daily training, up early on the morn and stretching long before the child had even woken. Despite his impending demise he had his routine. It kept his mind somewhat focused although these days he worked alone and the deathly silence left him to stew in his loathing and hatred, the repetition only feeding into his self-loathing and internal cesspool.
With his own training completed the boy was humoured with his consistent inquiry, though it was unlikely he would ever wield a sword outside ceremonial purposes. Both using wooden swords he taught him how to wield the sword correctly, how to block particular attacks and spot for the tell tale signs of how an opponent might swing thus giving an advantage. There was little point to showing him how to attack – he would only ever use these lessons to defend himself and his family.
The repeated running of the attack and parry was meant to drill this into the boys head, the weak swings of Nicolai blocked and any subsequent counters by the boy swept aside. It was easy for the man to direct his power and quickly Augustine was tiring.
[+teal “Your Highness, you cannot give in.”] His instructor said, landing the flat of his wooden blade against the boys side enough for him to groan and step back.
[+coral “Ow, that hurt!”] His hand held his ribs painfully, sword almost dropped to the floor.
[+teal “Do you think your enemy will stop because it hurts? Learn to expect the pain. Now, again.”] Nicolai was perhaps a touch harsh on the child but he had trained a number of young soldiers and it was best not to play into a fatherly role and coddle them.
A flicker of green fabric off at the edge of the courtyard had almost spelled an end to the training, but seeing the Queen raise a hand for him to ignore her presence left them to continue on a few minutes further. A few more attacks and the Prince called a halt to their working as he now saw his mother. They talked very briefly and he was dismissed as quickly.
Nicolai took the practice weapon from the Prince before he hurried off, bowing his head to the Queen as he stepped aside and to a weapons rack to replace them. Her words of endearment were perhaps meant to bring a lightness to the Elf or invoke an agreement. She received neither and he merely looked across impassively at her as the Prince left their purview. Her request for his trust and his alliance tickled him something queer. As if pondering the question he leaves it to hang as he moves across to a marble bowl filled with fresh water, cupping it in his hands and splashing it over his face, similar to how he had at the fountain weeks before. He pushed back his dark hair as he let the excess water run away and down his face to be lost under his clothing.
[+teal “I am to speak freely on the matter, Your Majesty?”] He turned back from the bowl to face her – he could do her that least in respect, even if he felt her presence was on unfavourable terms. She inclined her head for him to go on.[+teal “I recall, some months ago when Germaine first became ill, that I offered my services unto you in your time of need for the sake of Crown Prince Augustine. I offered to do all I could to see things continue smoothly and to help you in running the King's business unmolested. As I recall; you ignored me.”] There was clear displeasure in his voice by the end and his violet gaze met her shimmering eyes, a mix of jade and sky blue. It was no wonder Germaine had taken her for his wife from her eyes alone.
[+teal “Let us speak plainly for I do not like word games. Given your quite public chastisement of my actions and my overall demeanour of late I am left to ponder why you stand here asking for my word to support you. You speak of my loyalty to Germaine and how I you [i 'expect'] that I should simply transfer it to Augustine, all whilst you cavort with the Marquis.”] There was a reaction at his implication that she and Vincent were colluding together, but he didn't give her chance to rebut him or set things right before continuing.
[+teal “I have seen you together with that.. [i cretin],”] he bit back on a far worse barb,[+teal “these past several weeks than I ever saw you attending to you dying husband or your grief stricken son, to the point the boy came to me to seek solace and understanding. I am not his father nor will I become a token-substitute, a nanny or some tool for you and your lover to use in keeping him compliant.”] Nicolai had allowed his tongue to speak from his heart than his mind. Emotion ruled over logic in his complaints as he watched her though he maintained a steely and calm appearance.
[+teal “You ask me to cut out my tongue and never speak of what I have seen. You ask me to just forget and ignore my logical opposition. You ask me to remain loyal to your son and therefore to you. All I ask in return is.. why should I?”]
It was the night after the meeting, secluded in one of the many drawing rooms of the castle, Florence sat with Gregory. Their words were hushed even behind closed a closed door and late in the night.
[+mediumseagreen “Die Situation ist furchtbar. Nur die halbe Seite mit mir… I habe angst um Augustine.”] The woman’s eyes were hard as she spoke in her native tongue. Sitting across from the bearded bard, he was also serious in countenance, unusual for him.
[+darkmagenta “Du solltest Angst vor dir selbst haben. Es ist nicht zu spät. Wir können immer Heimat gehen.”]
Florence’s laughter filled the air. [+mediumseagreen “ Bist du ein Narr? Astoria ist nicht sicherer, nicht in die Berg.”]
[+darkmagenta “Eugene würde dich beide beschültzen…”] He was cut off by the sound of footsteps some way down the hall.
The Queen’s ear also picked up the soft trotting of feet. That would have to be all for now, but at least the two knew where the other stood. Not wishing to be overheard speaking Astorian, she switched back. [+mediumseagreen “Keep vigilant. You know what to do if you notice anything.”] That marked the end of their conversation as she stood and left the room. Closing the door behind her, her eyes fell on Gerald. He posed no threat, so her premature departure was for not. Although, she didn’t picture that conversation going anywhere productive, so that was fine.
[+mediumseagreen “Gerald,”] she nodded her head in acknowledgment. [+mediumseagreen “You are close with Nicolai, are you not?”] A question she already knew the answer to, but expected a reply all the same.
[+blueviolet “Aye, Ma’am.”] A short reply, but all she needed.
Despite both men being close to Germaine, she hadn’t spent much time around either of them, but now there was a need to know more. [+mediumseagreen “Is he usually so… emphatic?”] The woman referred to his loss of temper earlier that day.
Gerald took a moment to respond. He seemed hesitant, but eventually gave her what she wanted. [+blueviolet “No, Ma’am, but I believe it was the sudden and unexpected loss of our dear friend that sparked it. Please do not be too critical of him.”]
The captain of the guard seemed sincere in what he said. But Florence thought he must have been the blindly optimistic sort to think that Germaine’s death was sudden. The man was ill for weeks. There was plenty of time to see it coming. However that was beside the point. As she thought, the general’s outburst was out of the norm for him. The elf must have been desperate. That was perfect.
[+mediumseagreen “I will keep that in mind.”] She smiled, her pleasant mood reflecting in the expression as she returned on her route back to her room to retire for the night.
Now that a plan of action for the political situation had been carved out, Florence relaxed her own watch on Augustine. Letting him regain some sense of normalcy. Some of those she previously considered untrustworthy due to indecision could be considered less of a threat, though that would be more concretely established when her son was officially crowned. The date of the coronation had not been set as of yet. She was left in suspense, knowing that to be the true moment of reprieve for them. If the other side was going to make a move, her bet was that it would before Augustine was crowned king in order to avoid the unnecessary and expensive trouble of planning multiple events. But because both Vincent and Gabriel seemed so confident in their earlier plan, she thought any assassination attempts that were to be made might come later. Just because the pair hadn’t expected the first stage of their plan to fall flat.
Having any sort of time to herself was getting harder and harder now that the castle was on its way to functioning again. Many still mourned, but the time to wallow in that sorrow had passed. That went for Florence as well. She was constantly being called here and there for whatever reason. Even more so than while Germaine was bedridden. She knew for a fact he hadn’t been bothered with most of these questions, but she took it in stride to keep those around her placated. If they were trying to test her she would rise to the challenge and wear them down. This included Vincent, who still found time to loiter around her. Was it his attempt to be charming? She surely hoped not because it was poor at best.
Now that Nicolai had returned, Augustine was spending much of his free time following the elfin man about. The boy did he best not to be a pest, as he didn’t want to an annoyance, but he was often full of questions and concerns. One such question was to whether the general would supplement his sword training. Though he was still stuck with the wooden drill tool, the prince wanted to improve quickly so he could be more like those he admired and protect those around him.
It was one such moment when Florence happened upon the two. In reality she had been trying to find Nicolai; she hadn’t expected her son to be with him. From the looks of it they were working on his form with a sword. A skill that would come in handy with the state of castle affairs being what they were, though she hoped he wouldn’t need it so soon.
Standing by the side, the Queen watched the pair for a while. Augustine hadn’t realized she was there, but she was certain his makeshift teacher had. When it looked as though he might cut the session short to let her speak, she held up a hand, signaling for him to stop. She wanted them to finish. Currently, no one knew where she was, so she had time.
Their back and forth continued from there, a long shot from anything that could truly be considered sparing. Florence watched a while longer, up until Augustine noticed her presence at the edge of the courtyard they were using. The young prince called for them to stop. She wondered if he was embarrassed, a smile came on her face that reached her eyes making them softer than usual.
[+mediumseagreen “Now, now, there no need to stop on my account. You are doing well.”]
The child shook his head. [+coral “No, I think that is enough for today.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Very well, my love. You go get cleaned up, I have come to see your instructor.”] He hurried off to return the weapon he’d been using.
[+mediumseagreen “He is fond of you, just like his father.] A trivial attachment, though this time it benefitted her. She paused waiting for Augustine to be out of sight and earshot. In this time she allowed her eyes to run over the elf’s appearance. He was suited for practice, light armor and mail included. His brow was speckled with sweat. She thought he must have been training himself before helping Augustine, as her son’s lesson alone would not have caused that.
When she was satisfied with the distance between them and her son, she spoke again. [+mediumseagreen “I have been meaning to speak with you since we last met.”] A more difficult task than it seemed due to her schedule. [+mediumseagreen “As you undoubtedly noticed at the summit, there is a rift in the council…”] and from his behavior that day she knew which side he stood on. [+mediumseagreen “I came here today to solidify my belief that you are someone I can bestow my trust upon... So I ask you forthright, can I expect your unwavering loyalty to my son, as you gave it to my late husband?”] Nicolai had previously offered his help and guidance to her when this whole ordeal began, so she was almost certain he would oblige her now. But she wanted to hear it aloud before fully committing to seeing him as credible.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The bridge had been completed to an exceptionally high standard the next day. With nothing but their work to focus on and the number of men involved, they had progressed fast. Yet it was all finished in silence. Their playfulness in the cool water and harmless barbs at one another during construction had withered away and they went about their tasks formally. They were men of Germaine, the best and most trusted that the army had and they were loyal to a fault. It was only natural they would take his death to heart and it pained their Commander to see them in such a way.
They left when Nicolai had said; the morning after next. It was barely dawn, the sun having only just crested the eastern hills and already the line of horsemen trailed out the village leaving long and solemn shadows behind, their flags flying lower on the spears than before in accordance with tradition.
The several days along the return path was the same way it had been on the way out. Nothing happened and nothing of note delayed their steady progress. A quiet parade of soldiers of the realm moving from village to village was expected by those they had passed days before, their heads now doffed in respect and honour – they represented the King's Authority outside the capital.
With a little annoyance they were delayed at each village, the same elder and councils and noblemen he had met before offering him condolences and their prayers. He was forced to stop and take their words with an air of respect and authority – he could no easier shirk his responsibilities with Germaine dead than he could with the man alive. Each occasion came with a pilgrimage to the local church so that they may give blessings with the local Priest and offer up what little they could in offering to the God's. By the sixth night he had so many blessings placed upon him he was untouchable in the eyes of the faithful.
The men with him were gathered for a final meal at which Nicolai paid homage to the men themselves. Several men were called out by name, their acts of valour listed as a sign of their skill and character. Half-way through his speech it became somewhat apparent it was being offered as a goodbye. He told stories of his times with the King and several of those around chimed in with their own say, bringing relief and laughter to heavy hearts.
[+teal “Finally, I wish it to be known to each and every man here; you are what Wistina is about. You are its beating heart and its generous soul. You embody everything this kingdom has stood for and I could not be prouder to stand here before you.”] He raised up his cup of wine – many bottles acquired from the last village at his own expense for such a moment – and the others reciprocated the gesture.[+teal “To King Germaine; may the winds of heaven whisper hourly benedictions in his honour.”] It was not a toast to cheer but much more poignant and thoughtful and they all drank deeply in agreement.
As the Elf saw things he did not expect to remain in his position for long once they entered the Castle and he would be remiss if he did not share his thanks with those around him. Some he had known near two decades, had met their families and shared in both their joy and pain. For a man given his title of Duke, his Generalship, everything handed to him with no expectation, he had taken it and worked hard to make sure he deserved it. Yet here he was, about to have it stripped away with a click of a Marquis' fingers.
The next morning they were instructed to have their armour and weaponry to a parade-ground standard. Horses were brushed clean and Nicolai inspected each man and beast individually. Their appearance would reflect on him naturally, so he was quite brutal towards them for any infractions. The soldiers understood his desire for perfection and there was not one complaint.
Finally happy with their appearance and sufficiently resplendent himself they rode back to Belldale. Crossing the outer gatehouse several hours before midday they were greeted by a gathering of those who lived in the wake of the castle, brought out to line the main boulevard to said structure, keeping the path ahead clear for them. Even with his head facing forward the Elven Duke could read the expressions on those around. A majority were still saddened and watched quietly, others, mostly older women, proffered white lilie’s to any man who wished to take one, or walked alongside and tied them on to the horses saddles. Yet he saw a few spit at the ground before him – clearly not all were happy with him missing the funeral.
It continued to the courtyard where he left them to dismount and they were dismissed to spend the day as they wished – no doubt with family and friends. As for Nicolai he was immediately seized upon by an impatient Timothy who relayed to him all that had gone on. The funeral, the details of whom had been there and hadn't – namely just himself – and the Council meeting that was scheduled at that very moment. It was just his luck. He made for the Grand Hall without delay this time, remaining in his armour as he had no time to change and wash. His rotten luck held as he was intercepted by the Prince and his mother, a smile on the former and a quite obvious formal smile on the latter;
[+coral “Welcome back, Nicolai.”] The boy said as they met not far from the entrance. Quickly the helmet was unstrapped and lifted off to be tucked under his arm.
[+teal “Your Highness Augustine, my thanks and condolences.”] He saluted very formally, a fist to his heart though his chain ripples at the touch.
[+mediumseagreen “Yes, welcome. I was beginning to think you’d been eaten by wolves, so this is a pleasant surprise.”] The displeasure in the Queen's response was noted, but the Elf only bowed his head.
[+teal “Apologies for my delay Your Majesty.”] He said little more to her, averting his gaze as his head rose back up, staring blankly ahead as she took her son by his shoulders and led him into the hall behind.
Once inside he made pleasant talk with those around, discussing the passing of the King and how they would miss him, how he was so honourable and resplendent; the usual guff given of those deceased. It was all political drivel but he made sure to act accordingly. His ire was attracted at the sight of Vincent and Florence engaged in talk whilst the Prince sat somewhat overwhelmed in his fathers seat. It was perhaps a blessing that not too long later the meeting was called to begin. Perhaps on purpose, he had been placed to the Princes left, though he sat three seats down from him. Was it a personal slight at him? He was not sure.
The only one dressed in full armour and with a helmet with it's large plume on the table before him, Nicolai cut an impressive figure even beside the noblemen who wore their finest and most candid clothing. The helmet obscured the view of some and it was quickly taken off by a servant, a cup of watered wine left in it's stead which he gladly took to sipping.
The meeting, from his point of view, was little more than a formality. He was needed for his vote and little more – much like several of those sat around him. If his suspicions were correct then the Queen and Vincent had already colluded for the outcome of the vote itself. She was nominated as regent and the Viscount Gabriel spoke up, a large mouthful of wine taken at that, cup offered back for a waiting servant to step forward and refill from their vessel. On hearing the portly man offer up a reason against her nomination the Elf awaited the inevitable nomination of his master the Marquis. The nomination came but not as Regent to the Prince; in marriage to the Queen.
Clearly Nicolai was not the only one interested to see the Queen's reaction, a hush and faint groaning of chairs as expectant ears leaned forward. She rebuffed him, to an extent, though not in clear terms. By his understanding she was saying no; for now. Perhaps later she would change her mind.
His interest dropped off once more listening to the mundane fears and complaints of those who were fearful if they wore the wrong ring on the wrong hand and other superstitious twaddle. The Queen handled the questioning with ease and each matter thrown at her was batted aside – all simple work and likely staged to show she was calm and collected in her responses. That was when Vincent stood up. Immediately Nicolai's focus shifted from wine to whine, staring daggers at the despicable cretin who only glared back accusingly. He did not speak his name but his accusation was obvious; even more so when the Queen did his bidding.
The violet gaze of the Elf fell upon that of the now standing Queen who chastised him openly before the others. A swift look around found many of the council members nodding and looking back at him. He felt he had been led to an ambush and he seethed under a calm demeanour. She offered a placating reasoning behind his absence but the moment she finished and took her seat, those around left to contemplate her words, he stood up to have his say.
[+teal “Whilst I thank Your Majesty for her,”] he paused,[+teal “interesting defence of my absence, I would be indolent if I did not speak for myself.”] He was trained in oration, social graces and upper-class cultural rites – he knew to offer a palatable word to the head of the meeting though he also glowered over at her for a moment.
[+teal “It is quite safe to say that the loss of King Germaine weighs as heavily upon me as it does you all and whilst I would have given my everything to be there in his final moments, there was no knowing when or even if that moment would come. I am tasked with keeping this kingdom, his kingdom, safe. Of keeping everyone here safe.”] He allowed that part to settle for a few seconds.[+teal “Given the rebellion in the Western Kingdom it is only prudent I head to our border and show our strength, is it not? Deter those who may see us as weakened and feeble and attack?”] He received several agreeing nods before he focused his attention across to Vincent, biting back a particularly ferocious barb.
[+teal “Here I stand, as a Duke and a General of Wistina, and whilst those titles do not protect me from castigation do not think I will sit and accept even the thought of punishment silently. Chastise me all you wish but do not belittle me in such an obnoxious manner with sweetened words. Do not threaten me with expulsion if you dare not threaten every single person around this table with the same. Most important,[i Marquis Caton], do [i [b not]] sully my name in the hopes of improving your own, because I can promise you that it will not turn in your favour.”]
His hand had smacked hard against the table as his voice rose upon the 'not', fixing a murderous glare upon the man who sat staring back at him smugly, a blank face but eyes laughing all the same. He had lost his composure and the grief and fears of the last few weeks had come forth in his outburst.
The fiery Elven male took his seat once more, leaving the floor open to someone else to speak though the meeting frittered away to dull talks that the lesser Lords and nobles around bickered back and forth over. His focus remained on his cup as he sat back into his seat, straight backed and mulling over the anger burning in him. When the vote had come he had thrown his ballot in with the nay's out of simple spite of the Marquis. In his mind however it was pointless. The bastard and the Queen now knew who was against them in their desire to take the throne for themselves; though it was quite obvious Nicolai was against them even before his outburst or the vote.
With that the meeting was brought to a close. There was no point in guessing who made their exit first, his helmet wrenched from the servants hand as his armour clinked and boot echoed into the great chamber the others remained in. Blood pumping and his adrenaline charged he felt as if he was about to ride into a battle, yet there was no mean to take out his anger.
His path was aimless at first but soon he was striding towards the gardens, a particular section untouched by the Queens hand. It was not hidden by any means, but it had been preserved by Germaine himself for a particular reason and the distressed General needed to be there. As he passed by a servant working at pruning a bush, the furious man ordered her to bring a meal to him and something strong to drink, disappearing between two large Wistina oaks to the aforementioned spot.
Seeing as most of those involved foresaw this terrible turn of events, many items on the long list of funeral plans had already been crossed off. Only five days passed before the night of the service. It was to be a funeral pyre, a tradition for the monarchs of Wistina so that their souls might rise to watch over and guide a future ruler. The event was semi-public. Nobles and friends of the family allowed on the hill, close to the fire itself, while the common people would stand at the base, able to witness the passing of the King as well.
To Florence it was an abysmal ritual. In Astoria only those you wished to forget were burned. It was a dishonorable death, but that was little known this far away so she kept it to herself as she watched the flames dance across the intricately stacked wood. The light flashed in her eyes, reflecting there and in her tears. Once again a production to keep up appearances. At this point, the boy beside her was numb. He’d cried for three days straight. There wasn’t much left in him now, he just looked on solemnly. A common expression as she looked over the crowd. Gazing down the hill, she couldn’t see the faces of the people of Wistina, but she saw the sea of candles flickering in the darkness. The atmosphere covered them as well.
When nothing but smoldering embers remained, the ceremony was complete. The crowd dispersed, but Florence remained with Augustine for a few minutes longer. This was the end of Germaine, but it only marked the beginning for the two of them. The woman did not expect the road ahead to be easy traveling. Taking the child’s hand, she led him back to their home.
A tentative date had been set for the council to discuss the future of the nation, a week from the funeral. That was about what Florence had predicted. Until then she kept watch over Augustine, seldom letting him leave her presence. The few times she did, he was left with only those she trusted explicitly.
The constant hovering of his mother struck Augustine with terror down to his core. Perhaps it was some strange form of mourning, but he doubted it. She was more on edge than he’d ever seen her, though it was slight, from time to time the paranoia showed on her ever tranquil face. It felt as though there was nothing he could do though, so for the time being the boy continued with his daily schedule, just with his mother nearby.
The week went by faster than what Florence found ideal. Not because she didn’t know what she was going to do, but because one of her pieces was missing. Where in the hell was Nicolai? He should have returned by this time. Like her and many others, his fate was hanging by a spiders thread now that the King was gone. Germaine had handed out titles to those who won his favor like seed to birds. The safest route in that predicament was to cling to his son, who wouldn’t likely reverse his father’s decrees. Therefore she trusted them to do so, however one of the major contenders had been out gallivanting across the countryside for god knows how long. She wasn’t certain he’d be back in time for the meeting.
It was the day of and the Queen was nitpicking worse than usual. She preened at her son’s garments and compulsively went over what he was to do while they were in the presence of the council.
[+mediumseagreen “There will be no need to speak. I will handle any and all questions that are directed to us. All you need to do is take your place at the head of table, keep perfect posture, and listen.”] As she spoke her fingers ran through his sandy blond hair. [+mediumseagreen “Do you understand?”]
[+coral “Yes, mother.”] There was little to no improvement to the boy’s disposition. She was sure the suffocating atmosphere had done nothing to help that matter.
With that they left on their way to the hall where the convergence would be held. On the way she felt something tug at the skirt of her dress. Looking over she saw Augustine, a smile on his face as he exclaimed almost happily. [+coral “Look, Nicolai has returned.”] He pointed now that he had his mother’s attention.
In normal circumstances she would have reprimanded her son for grabbing at her so, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it when he’d just started to smile again. Not to mention he bore good news. She followed his motioning and saw the General. Finally he had returned.
As the three of them were destined to the same place, their paths met. [+coral “Welcome back, Nicolai.”] There was a touch of relief mixed into the excitement in the Prince’s voice.
Nodding, Florence echoed after her boy. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, welcome.”] Her own voice was more level in tone, even as she continued on with a jab at his tardiness. [+mediumseagreen “I was beginning to think you’d been eaten by wolves, so this is a pleasant surprise.”]
Entering the hall, many members of the council were already present. In total there would be twenty-two in attendances, if everyone made it. Regularly it was the council of twenty and the King, however this time she would take the vote of the King while the prince took his seat with no weight behind it. In most cases the voting was nothing more than a formality, as everyone sided with the monarch to stay in good graces, but here it would be different. Each and every member had their own agenda.
Just as instructed, Augustine took the chair at the head of the table and Florence the one on the right of him. She would have preferred to sit in silence with him, but she was pestered by the early to arrive, Vincent, unfortunately one of them. He monopolized a large chunk of her time before they were called to commence.
Florence wasted no time taking the helm. By starting strong she might be able to shake the opposing forces. [+mediumseagreen “As you all know, it was Germaine’s explicit wish for Augustine to take the throne. In respect for his memory, and in hopes for his blessing from above, continuing down that path is the only option.] Pausing she looked across the faces of the gentlemen, searching for any hint of disagreement. [+mediumseagreen “The only question is to who will take the place as his regent.”] Customarily it was the Dowager Queen, but to nominate herself would only leave them open to skepticism.
[+darkgreen “There’s no question that it should be you, your majesty.”] A middle-aged man, one of those with no claim to fame aside from Germaine, spoke. It was just as she hoped, but before she could agree another voice rang out.
[+firebrick “I beg to differ.”] A gruff voice, and one she recognized, Viscount Gabriel. He was one of the one’s she overheard complaining about her husband only a few weeks ago. [+firebrick “With this sudden tragedy, the people are confused and volatile. There may be further unrest if a foreigner with few ties to our country takes the regency.”]
[+darkgreen “But the same could be said if we choose not to adhere to traditions of the past. Deviating could also lead to discontent.”]
[+firebrick “I never said we needed to stray from tradition. I simply brought it up to suggest creating another tie to our people.”]
Perking a brow, the Queen was curious to know exactly what the old man meant. [+mediumseagreen “What do you mean by that?”]
Gabriel turned to face Florence, his expression pleasant enough, but there was a hateful look in his eyes. [+firebrick “Only that it might put the people’s minds at ease if you were to take another husband, of Wistinian decent of course.”]
[+mediumseagreen “And who, Sir, would you suggest for such a task?”] Straight to the point.
[+Firebrick “The Marquis Vincent Acton.”]
So that was their game. She very nearly laughed at the proposition. While she wasn’t entirely against remarrying in order to keep her position as a guidepost for Augustine, she had no trust for Vincent. There was little doubt in her mind that he would make an attempt at her son’s life, and with no other blood kin to Germaine, the husband of the current Regent Queen would be a shoe in for the newly open title, especially with how well liked he was within the current council.
[+mediumseagreen “I see your point, as it is a fair one… but I think it a useless solution. If the people don’t believe my ties to my own flesh and blood in Prince Augustine are enough to keep me loyal, there is no hope that a marriage will fix the problem. Especially so soon after the loss of our King, Germaine, whom we all still mourn. To speak of such things so early is disrespectful and in poor taste.”] She irrefutably turned down the possible engagement to the repugnant man without directly insulting him. But by waiting to do so only after hearing his name as a candidate, she slighted him in a much more subtle way. As if she might have been willing to wed had it been another, which was indeed the case.
Looking to Vincent, the woman smiled amicably, though she hadn’t realized what she’d done. He in turn felt the need to chime in. [+blue “It is an honor to even be considered, ma’am.”] He spoke as though he was taking the rejection in stride, but a tic in his eyebrow let her know he wasn’t at all pleased with the outcome.
After those main rationales, many more points came and went, though it seemed they kept coming back to her possible union with the Marquis. His team was persistent, if nothing else. Besides that, hopes and worries for the future bounced around. Florence handled each topic with grace, giving flawless answers. The occasional calling from those who wished to place her as regent only helped her cause. But as smoothly as things were going, the meeting was long and overly drawn out. Enough so that the topic eventually changed.
Once again, the Marquis felt the need to interject his opinions in places they weren’t necessarily needed. [+blue “Please forgive my divergence, but I feel there is another matter that calls for our concern today.”] He had the table’s attention. [+blue “It was brought to my attention that not all of the advisors were present at the pyre last week. I hadn’t thought much of it, but some are taking it as a great insult to out late King.”] His shifty eyes locked onto Nicolai. [+blue “Such an offence could very well warrant a removal from the council and possibly position, don’t you think?”]
This was not good. Florence needed to nip this in the bud, now. [+mediumseagreen “Nicolai was the only member not present at the ceremony, so let us speak frankly and to the point… It was an egregious oversight of his to be missing from my late husbands funeral."] Her eyes fell to the man in question, she still wasn’t sure exactly why he felt the need to ride out while Germaine was knocking on death’s door, but she didn’t much care. [+mediumseagreen “But, seeing as he is one of the very few of you who showed any competence and did not pester me with petty concerns these past weeks, I believe his presence to be necessary. There is something to be said that he was out doing his job, even in the wake of tragedy. Deeds I am sure will be remembered fondly, despite his misstep.] She was going a bit far, but Florence was determined to make her point. [+mediumseagreen “I dare say the only reason I would appoint a new general is because I have first promoted Nicolai to a more fitting position.”] With that, she was finished. No one seemed to question her on it further.
Back on track, they bickered a while longer until it was finally time for the vote. Incredibly there was no push back on her becoming her son’s guidepost, but unfortunately there was still a need to vote. A decision on whether or not to marry her off as a display of loyalty. Truly, she thought it was idiotic, but with this vote she would know just whose loyalty leaned toward the Marquis. In the end, the outcome was twelve to nine, nearly split down he middle, that they follow tradition as they are written and leave behind the stipulation.
Things were much worse than she originally imagined.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat They had left that very afternoon. The sun was closing in on the horizon when the King’s Guard had gathered, some fifty men in total. The amalgamation of some of the Kingdom’s finest warriors was magnificent sight to military men like Nicolai and Germaine, one not often seen in such a peaceful Kingdom. In resplendent armour of polished steel and buffed leather with warhorses that tower over the stable hands scurrying around, chomping and stamp impatiently, they were arranged before the castle itself in the courtyard come parade ground outside the inner walls. Multitudes of servants rushed about stacking extra saddles, bags of feed, tents and bedrolls for their excursion and depositing it all into two carts that would accompany the soldiers. They would supplement themselves along the way with food from the villages.
Stood atop the winding incline that led to the castle itself, Nicolai and Gerald looked down on the courtyard and inspected the gathered men, busy with making sure their saddles sat correctly and personal belongings were attached securely. Nicolai was in his polished chain from the training grounds but the leather and clothing beneath was of a higher quality, much more in keeping with the appearance of a man of power. If he was leading them out he had to look the part. Gerald by comparison was in a light tunic with a dyed maroon leather breastplate atop. He was much more casual in his attire and cleared his throat as their long silence lingered a little.
[+purple “I wish I was going out with you.”] Gerald said solemnly.[+purple “I miss the days when Germaine would join us and we would ride from one side of the Kingdom to the others.”] A smile grows in remembrance. Nicolai looked impassive however, brow furrowed to the low hanging sun and a hand shielding his eyes as he scrutinised the preparations.
[+teal “That was more than a decade ago Gerald, before his new wife, before the boy was even conceived.”] He speaks with displeasure, his mood soured from seeing the Queen and Vincent together playing on his mind.
[+purple “A long time yes.”] He replies with a shrug of his shoulders.[+purple “But my longing for those days has not diminished at all.”]
[+teal “Times change Gerald. They are changing currently. To look on the past for too long will see you suffer in the present.”] The quite sullen tone of his voice caught his friend off guard and he looked across bemused.
[+purple “Care to explain?”] The Elven male turned his attention to his side, arms lifted up to fold across his chest and his metal greaves clink against the chain.
[+teal “The King is dead Gerald.”]
[+purple “He still lives, he may yet improve.”]
[+teal “If you believe that then you may well join him in whatever means his wife has designated for his disposal.”]
[+purple “Rather callous don’t you think? Germaine is our friend after all.”]
[+teal “Our friend is dying and he will be dead before the next full moon, start looking to the future and your own preservation.”]
[+purple “What do you mean by that? If he dies, Crown Prince Augustine ascends the throne.”]
[+teal “In an ideal world yes, but in an ideal world Germaine wouldn’t be dying, his son would be older, he would have cemented the boys place as his heir and we would not be here arguing this matter.”]
[+purple “It is you who is the one arguing a pointless matter, Nicolai. Acting as if there is any doubt as to who rules should Germaine pass.”]
[+teal “[i Should he pass?] Am I hearing you correctly?”] He was incredulous but there was no response.[+teal “The man is on a first name basis with death. My word, are you really so dense and narrow minded Gerald?”] He looks at the man with sarcastic curiosity.[+teal “You know who runs the Kingdom with Germaine gone? The Council. And, who runs the Council like his personal gathering? Marquis Vincent. Do you think Vincent and his cronies will allow a foreigners child to sit on the throne?”] His hand reaches out to grasp his friends shoulder but the man swayed away. Ignoring the slight, Nicolai went on.[+teal “Without Germaine a lot of people lose their protection and their legitimacy in this Kingdom. You, I, Augustine, Florence and a dozen more given fancy titles but no power to stop this; we are the ones to suffer after his death.”] He points to signify his point.
[+purple “No. It won’t happen.”] His hands clasp behind his back as he turns away and toward the castle, shaking his head dismissively of the Elf.[+purple “Augustine will take the throne and the Queen will oversee him to adulthood. That is what will happen.”] The stubbornness from the King’s Chief of Guard was shocking to the Elf and his look only hardened as he dropped his hands, one resting against the ceremonial sword on his hip.
[+teal “Do nothing and you are as truly foolish as I say, destined to die with the King. I’ll offer a prayer to Hector that your death is dignified.”] At the God of Death’s name, he spits to the ground, as was custom.
With no response forthcoming from the man he had known for close to three decades, Nicolai turned and left with no further word. He marched down the winding path, under the inner castle gatehouse and through to his men. Clenching a fist above his head he moves it in a circle above his head;[+teal “mount up!”], passed along to those who did not hear. Nicolai did the same, accepting the help of a stable-boy to rise up and throw his leg across his black mare. He took his helmet from his pageboy Timothy, giving him a brief sorrowful look. He could imagine the boy being a casualty in the oncoming struggle. There would be many.
Fixing the golden horse hair plumed helmet in place and tying the clasp under chin, Nicolai took up his reigns and guided his horse across to the exit path. He held the horse back and turned to look across, making sure those behind were ready. His saw that Gerald was already gone from the front of the castle and he believed he saw a figure in the window of the King’s chambers looking down, but it was a fleeting glance at best.
The Elven male chewed at his cheek as the horse trotted back and forth, turning her head this way and that with annoyance until he tugged at the reigns to calm her. He gave a man behind a hand signal and the blare of a cornu sounded into the orange sky. At a slow canter for the sake of the wagons he led the guardsmen out the main gateway, flags bearing the colours and coat of arms for Wistina hoisted up on long spears by several men who followed close behind him. Slowly they filed out, turning west and leaving the castle behind.
They did not ride far that first day before night stopped them. Indeed the silhouette of Belldale was on the horizon as they made their camp. Over three further days they made slow but steady progress from village to village, stopping in to greet their councils or mayors and noblemen. Given the task of peacekeeping by Nicolai the men would often patrol about the village, deal with minor disturbances and drunkards or on general works and the maintenance of their armour and weaponry. On the fifth day away from the capital they reached the village of Llewellyn close to the western border. It would be that nights sleeping spot, alongside the River Elms.
Nicolai was approached by a village elder with a request that they help them reconstruct their bridge, swept away in floods a few months back. Their temporary construction was falling apart and would not stand much longer. As he saw things, it would be good work to exercise the men and he had truly enjoyed his time away from the castle, so he was only too happy to extend their stay by a few more days.
It was not left to the soldiers to work though. As a man more accustomed to being hands on than many of his title, the Elven Duke was happy to help out and felled two trees by himself to add to a growing collection. With several new piles driven into the riverbed they were working at a steady and swift pace. The sounds of axes, saws, hammers, of men laughing, shouting and occasionally whistling or singing permeated the village air. It was a harmonious time that first day.
During the midday break the day after, when the sun was at its zenith and it was simply too hot for strenuous work, Nicolai found himself sat under a large shady oak tree in just his pants with the leggings rolled up to his knee and thick raven hair slicked back from the mornings work in the water. Eating a rather juicy nectarine his keen eye caught the small plume of dust kicked up by a horseman who rode at speed alongside the river. Reaching the village the rider approached a few men sat by the water’s edge, a brief exchange between them before one of the seated men pointed across the river, directly across to the nobleman in question.
He knew the reason for his arrival before the man had dismounted his horse and made his way across the makeshift bridge, continuing to eat though much slower as the man approached him. He remained seated in the shade, the perspiring and tired man saluting him as he stopped a few feet away.
[+teal “Yes?”] He inquired and sucked his thumb and forefinger clean of juices. A satchel at the messenger’s side was brought around to his front, a letter with the wax seal of Germaine taken out and presented. Nicolai remained sat where he was, staring up at the man before him in silence before he pulled his thumb from his mouth and wiped his hand on the grass beside him.[+teal “When?”] His question needed no explanation and the messenger’s head dropped a touch, averting his gaze from staring at the other man.
[+orange “Two days ago, Sir.”] Such a polite and formal response for what was a kingdom wide tragedy. Nicolai watched the man’s solemn expression closely, keeping an eye on him as he cast aside the zesty peel and clicking his cleaned fingers waving the man forward to give him the letter.
[+teal “Are you to deliver messages to anyone else?”] He said whilst accepting the proffered letter.
[+orange “No Sir, another messenger follows behind me to tell the villages of the west and more are heading north and east. I was sent to inform just you.”] He had regained his breath yet he was showing signs of having ridden long and slept little.
[+teal “Okay, have your horse taken to the stable, get something to eat and sleep. You will join us here.”]
[+orange “Sir? I was led to believe you would return at once?”] The Duke was not best pleased to be questioned on his actions but he gave the man an inch of leeway given his tough few days ride.
[+teal “The King is dead. His funeral will happen without us regardless of if we left right now. I will not leave this work half-done and this village to suffer further. We will leave the morning after next. Now go rest.”] He waved the man off and turned his interest away to the letter to read the formal manner to which he was being informed of Germaine’s death.
There was no display of grieving for the King’s passing. The resolute male had been prepared for this loss for many weeks now since the early days of the illness set in. He had no tears to cry or any poignant speech to make before the others. At that night’s meal with the rest of the men, he merely raised his wine in honour and they held a moment’s silence. The meal continued in near silence, the humour and laughter of the prior days now gone. Nicolai was too preoccupied with personal gripes and troubles to try and raise the mood. He was pouring over details that may play into how the councils swayed on its decision. Would they side with Augustine and his mother, or give in to another force they deemed more suitable?
One question troubled him greater in regards to the former choice; what role did he play in the Queen’s future if Augustine was chosen?
/ 1y 168d 12h 29m 41s
As more time passed, things only looked grimmer. There were those waiting for a miraculous cure for the king’s ailment, those who were certain an act of god would be his salvation, and still those who were just waiting in suspense for his inevitable death. Rumors were now spreading beyond the castle walls that their ruler was bedridden without much hope of returning to health, lest a miracle came to be. It led to unrest. Transfers of power always did, though Wistina had been prosperous for a long time and not many citizens could fathom the true hardships that might befall them with a malicious monarch at the helm. They were complacent, but aware that a child could do little to better them on the throne.
While the publics opinion was important to Florence, she knew they could be easily sated by showing them that life would continue as it always had once Germaine passed. So long as they could keep the situation stable for the merchant folk, the hearsay would pass and they would not face imminent danger of rebellion from that front. She was confident she could manage that much, and so she paid little attention to what was happening outside for the time being.
It seemed as though most of the nobility that was interested in visiting the sickly king had done so, because the near constant shuffling in and out of his chambers came to a slow. Soon it was only those who made a home in the castle, or very nearby, and those who had ulterior motives. Unfortunately, the two categories overlapped greatly. There was no telling for sure who fit into one category, the other, or both. She found it frustrating, but coupling this information with the small tips and clues she picked up on throughout her busy days, the woman was compiling a trio of lists. The first of names of people who she could trust be loyal to either her, or her son, the second of those she could not, and the final was a place for the ones who would likely remain neutral and wait for the smoke to clear before picking a side. She almost found that more distasteful than siding against her. It was a coward’s play.
Now that there were fewer visitors, it fell back to Florence to fill the place of company holder for her husband. She still made excuses to excuse herself as often as possible, but more and more of her time was filled with uselessly sitting at the King’s side. As much as she didn’t care for the man, it was still unpleasant to see another human being painfully cling to life with little chance at recovery. What was worse was that he knew it was the end as well. Whatever hope and energy had been there in the beginning had been snuffed. The Queen didn’t think there was much time left, she was not wrong.
The very next day, as she was sitting at his side, the emerald-eyed woman noticed his breathing slow. Just as she was about to call for someone to go and find his attending doctor, Germaine raised a hand to stop her.
[+orangered “Go-“] The man burst into a coughing fit as he tried to speak for the first time that day. It was a long moment before he was able to suppress it. [+orangered “Go fetch Augustine, my dear. I wish to speak with him.”] Germaine’s eyes lacked their normal luster as he stared up at her.
This [I son of a bitch!] After all she’d done to shield their son from this nonsense, he wanted to bring him in for what would surely be the most traumatic part of it. At this rate she was going to murder the old man herself. For a couple of seconds she toyed with the idea, but instead smiled down at the dying man. [+mediumseagreen “Very well, I will go and find him.”] Standing she exited the room promptly, however as soon as she was out the door she slowed and took her time.
This early time of day, she knew exactly where the boy would be, so wandering around aimlessly in search of him was not an option. She would take the most direct path, but at a crawl of a pace. However, even with this tactic she made it much sooner than she would have liked to the study in which Augustine was receiving his math lesson.
Without having to announce herself, the boy’s tutor cut short of what he was saying and turned to his Queen. [+navy “You’re majesty, to what do we owe this honor?”]
She wasted no time getting to the point, though her words were somewhat brisk. [+mediumseagreen “My husband wishes to see our son, we will be relieving him of his classes today.]
Able to pick up the nuance of her words, the man bowed his head, nodding that he understood, but did not speak again.
Florence called for the boy directly and he shot up from his chair at. [+coral “Yes, mother.”] He’d taken notice of her foul mood and made haste to join her at the door, but was surprised when she led with a slow pace as soon as they were out in the hall. Something was wrong and he had a terrible feeling about what it might be.
Once again, she made it to her destination faster than she would have liked. Turning to look at Augustine, there was a glimpse of sympathy in her eyes, but she said nothing more before opening the door. Still lying in bed, dull eyed, the King was revealed. With a hand on his back, Florence urged the Prince towards his father. She let him take the chair that she had previously claimed, opting to stand instead.
Germaine didn’t take long to start up. [+orangered “There you are, my boy.”] He did his best to smile, though it was dampened like the rest of his gestures. [+orangered “It looks like I haven’t much time left,”] a fact that was emphasized with bursts of sputtering. [+orangered “But before I go, I wanted to tell you… to be strong. You are going to be king; that means your word will be law. Do not fall prey to the two-faced snakes of the world. Surround yourself with only those who are trustworthy, as I did.”] He grew quieter, but continued his spiel with a peaceful smile. [+orangered “It falls to you now, Augustine, all of Wistina depends on you. Take care of them… ”]
Seeing red, Florence was absolutely seething. What was this hypocrite saying? This was too much pressure for a little boy. Glaring down at him, she watched his stupid serene face. He was smiling as though he’d said something profound. Balling her fists, her nails dug into her palms. It was hard not to slap the ill-fated man, and chastise him about the effects this would forever have on their child. But making a scene at the side of a dying man’s bed would do her no good. She bit her cheek in order to keep silent. The taste of iron filled her mouth.
It wasn’t long until he seemed to lose consciousness, his chest raising and falling more unsteadily. With it came a sort of snorting sound, his death rattle, like the sound of a pig. It came less and less frequently until it faded from existence, along with Germaine. She looked at the dead man with a look of hatred. This was the opportune time to cry, but she had no tears for him, at least no genuine tears. What flowed from her eyes was nothing more than a façade to keep up appearances. However, her ear caught the sound of the child next to her chocking back sobs. Finally tearing her eyes from the King, the new widow’s gaze fell to Augustine. The despairing expression he wore wretched at her heartstrings. That was something to shed tears for, a broken boy in way over his head. Kneeling down, she pulled him into her arms.
[+mediumseagreen “Shh, Shh,”] she cooed at him, a true sadness mingling with the one she’d manufactured. [+mediumseagreen “He would not want you to be sad, my love.] A lie as Germaine always called for those around him to fawn over him in a ridiculous manner, but he was dead now and she could say whatever suited her and her situation.
His bouts of trembling in her arms were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Florence hated to see Augustine so distraught. The sight was enough to completely push the thought of the king from her mind and she instead cried discreetly for her son.
When word spread, there was somewhat of a procession that came through the quarters. But the Queen excused herself from the hubbub, taking the Prince with her. She retired to her room, changing the two of them into black, a formality of mourning.
If her estimation was correct, she would have a week or two before the council would formally discuss what was to be done. This would be the place for lawful gambits to be made. There was no telling when anyone with less honorable plans might strike. So until that meeting had came and passed, she was determined not to let Augustine out of her sight.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The nobleman left the boy to his thoughts beside the cool fountain, turning away toward the King’s Barracks not far from the gardens. He paused however to look back at the young man who slowly walks off toward the castle. The King’s inevitable death would ravage the poor boy and hurt him immensely. Perhaps he would come out of it stronger and heed Nicolai’s words. Or perhaps he would follow Nicolai’s past and sink into an almost inescapable pulpit. It was saddening to see such a sight but he was not responsible here; it was between the son and parents. He had meddled enough by instructing the boy to behave for his mother and offer her only his support. A momentary pang of guilt that he had interfered was pushed back. His heart was in the right place.
Heading through the doorway it was a short trip down the corridor and through a large set of double doors. Inside were several benches running down the middle, multiple sets of armour on stands lining the wall, in the middle of both of these a row of weapons varying from short swords to halberd and all that was in between. Off to one corner was a doorway, covered over by thick fabric, white runic symbols painted around the frame. The Royal Armoury was quite beautiful to anyone who appreciated the art of war. A small high window let in an almost godly light that struck several pieces of shining breast plate and it brought a smile to Nicolai’s face as his hand brushed across the warm metal.
From one of the benches he picked up a carefully folded set of clothing left for him by his page, Timothy, clutched to his chest whilst moving across to the curtained doorway, tapping with a free hand on the wooden frame. Inside was an older man, wearing rather priestly looking robes in the Wistinian colours, a deep red trimmed by shining gold.
The old man of little hair but a glorious silver beard turned with interest to the noise at his doorway, bushy brow rising upon seeing the Elven male bowing his head, half entering before a wave of the palm invites him further in.
[+green “Duke Windsor, how may I help you?”] He spoke so graceful and softly that Nicolai immediately felt at ease in the man’s presence.
[+teal “Master Nestrom,”] he head dips in respect,[+teal “nothing drastic, just another light wound to tend to. Gerald takes his training very seriously.”] His now free hand gestures to the cut at his cheek as he moves into the room, seating himself in a chair that groans with his weight – though over the years it has become quite accustom to him.
The older man chuckles lightly, nodding as he steps over to a table covered by alchemical ingredients; pipes and flasks of glass, bowls of different coloured powders, vials of liquid of varying viscosity. A familiar blue powder is selected and brought across to the younger man.
[+green “Yes, I have spoken with him only a few minutes prior. You take your training seriously too young Elf.”] His wry smile draws a similar response from Nicolai who only nods a little sheepishly. Being so much older the healer was given a deep amount of respect.
[+teal “I’m quite sure he can weather the hits more than I.”] He retorts softly, given that Gerald was quite a bit larger and more physical dominating than he was, as evidenced by their fight. If it had been a fight to the death it may have been a different affair – Nicolai was rather swift and nimble with his Elven heritage and armed with his Elven glaive he was quite formidable. Thankfully, as things stood, they would never have to know just how the fight would unfold.
The older man offers him a compliant nod of his head in agreement. A man of few but wise words he was quite difficult to draw into a fully-fledged conversation. His worn hand takes a canteen of water and adds a splash to a small mixing bowl. The blue powder is added in slowly, mixed until it becomes a chalky paste and malleable in his fingers like putty. He approaches with dyed fingers to the Elf who offers up his cheek, a damp cloth ran across the cut skin to clear it of dried blood. Satisfied, the paste is smeared over the wound and massages slowly into the lightly tanned skin. It stings for a moment but is cool to the touch and Nicolai is accustomed to its numbing nature.
It was a relatively short visit to see the healer. Not much needed saying. He took Master Nestrom’s assistance in removing his chain and the remainder of his leather armour, careful to keep from removing the healing balm as the heavy linked metal was pulled up and over his head. With a final bow of thanks to the wise man he left to head for an empty room and change his sweat soaked clothing.
As he left the way he had come he was surprised to find Malcolm walking in, heading toward him with an ever growing smug smile on his face. A conniving man who only reached a lofted status due to being a crony of another despised man, Vincent, it was safe to say Nicolai had a mistrust of anything the man did or said.
[+maroon “Ah, Nicolai, how lovely to see you.”] His hands outstretched as if to approach for a more formal embrace, but seeing the Elf’s hand full and unmoving he quickly pulled them back in, clasping at his slight rotund stomach.
[+teal “[i Duke] Nicolai, don’t forget your place boy.”] There was a distaste on the man’s tongue as he near hissed his displeasure.[+teal “What are you doing here Lord Malcolm? I do not see a free luncheon or young woman to force yourself upon.”] The barb was dripping in spite and his head tilted a touch to the side as they met near to the middle of the room. Malcolm was at a significant height disadvantage.
[+maroon “Oh you stab at my heart [i Duke Nicolai].”] He jabbed back.[+maroon “I am here on behalf of the Marquis. He wishes for the medicine man’s word on an ailment he has had of late.”]
[+teal “Is it poison? Or perhaps a wild animal fever?”] He asked as if in genuine interest. Malcolm, wary of the Duke’s reaction and specific questioning, narrowed his eyes and shook his head.
[+maroon “No. It is not. Why do you ask?”]
[+teal “Lay with enough serpents and canines and you’re bound to get bit.”] The Elf shrugged his shoulders with indifference as he stepped forward and the bumbling Lord quickly moved to one side.[+teal “Do tell me when the funeral is – I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”] His final jab came as he stepped through the double doorway, hearty laugh echoing into the halls.
Malcolm was left in frustration, scuffing his boot on the floor as no witty reply came to mind and he was left flush faced and angered at being bested by the Elf. Nicolai had a way with words and took some delight in dancing about the short fat man with prose. With nothing to say back and having missed any chance of calling back, he turned to the doorway of Master Nestrom, fishing at a small piece of parchment of ingredients requested by Vincent.
Nicolai changed in an empty guards room a floor up, at level with the gardens. His more noble clothing was light in colour and weight given the warm weather of late. Cut from quite fine cloth and rather expensive they were still quite plain in design. His boots were given a quick polish and his hair brushed back as was his norm. The dirty clothing was dropped off with a passing servant girl, instructed where to take them and she curtsied as she left.
Walking across the hallway to a deserted dining hall he made his way to the window. The stained glass window was left a touch a jar allowing a cool breeze to blow in with a bouquet of wild smells that brought a memory of travel from his childhood back to him. His mother and father were there. The carriage seat was wonderfully soft and the farms they passed in high Autumn were ripe for harvest. Golden wheat swayed in a soft breeze and the Havvod Mountains loomed in the background, seemingly much larger as a child.
The view of the garden was just as breathless. The Queen years prior had taken careful consideration for specific plant’s to be grown and their colours to match to a theme. The large trees that grew were of this land and he appreciated the touch she had given to it. Before the redesign it had been mostly cold stone or planters with tree saplings constantly replaced as the plant life died so swiftly.
As he took in the sight he saw young Augustine walking along with his mother Florence, looking as beautiful as ever. For a woman pulled this way and that between her ill husband, a rambunctious child, and a Kingdom left to her to run alone, she never looked like it was overcoming her and her appearance was always immaculate to match.
He had attempted, early on at least, to offer his help when requested. To give her his experienced ear and thoughts on any matter she may not be coping with. As yet, he had not been summoned. He had been left to his command of the King’s Army and given no insight into what was going on. It puzzled him a little. Nicolai felt he was being pushed out. Perhaps she was truly taking it all in her stride and she had her own aides and advisors to rely upon. But the fear of losing his friend in the King and thus his role in the kingdom was part of the reason he had sought to form some kind of friendship with the young Prince, to keep himself in the inner circle if possible.
The moment Vincent appeared, calling out for the Queen to join him as he had some unheard topic or issue to discuss, contempt crept in. Perhaps he was her personal advisor on how to run the Kingdom. It would make sense as to why she had ignored his help. A serpents whisper in your ear would guide you down specific paths. Nicolai watched the young Queen leave with the Marquis and that simmering hatred boiled over to where nonsensical thoughts of violence came flowing forward from the deep recesses of his mind. He was suffocating in this treachery. He needed out of the castle. He needed to be free of the confines of this place that played into slick hands so easily.
The Duke set off to seek out Gerald. It was time to call forth the Royal Guard and leave the dirty underhanded moves to those it suited most. A few days of riding would hopefully simmer growing resentment.
/ 1y 171d 15h 32m 21s
The Prince split off from the elf as he went to have his wound tended to. He hoped that the man would be all right. That sort of thing worried him. The boy wasn’t fond of acts of violence, though he was fascinated by the art of swordplay and eager to learn more. As Nicolai had said, that would come with time. However, that wasn’t the only thing the noble had said that Augustine was mulling over.
He’d advised him to be kind and listen to his mother. A strange request as it did not deviate from his regular actions. To be quite honest, his mother frightened him. She was strict and constantly critical. He was convinced she did not much care for anyone, well except for Gregory, an elderly Dwarven bard who worked in the castle as a musician. He was the only person that the Queen insisted be kept on staff. He’d play little tunes on his lute and wander about the palace at his own leisure. The strange little man had far more freedom than anyone else in this place. The prince was jealous; he didn’t have to worry about anything, especially reprisals from his mother. But he couldn’t be too mad, the bard was quite fun to be around. Gregory always had a fun story to tell, and a poorly played song to pluck. Not to mention he would sneak Augustine treats from time to time. Strangely enough, the boy looked up to him almost as a grandfather, since he had none of his own.
Taking Nicolai’s message to heart, the crown Prince decided to find and visit his mother. Unsure where to find her, as her schedule had become sporadic as of late, Augustine asked around until he uncovered her location. She was visiting his father, but he wasn’t allowed in his quarters so he hovered outside for her to come out. After a while, Meredith meandered down the hall.
[+violet “Your highness,”] her head bowed lightly acknowledging his presence. [+violet “What do you need?”] Without the Queen around the lady took a more curt tone than usual with the boy.
Looking up at the chubby young human woman, Augustine missed his mother’s last attendant. Meredith didn’t seem to like children, even though she was barely an adult herself. [+coral “I was looking for my mother."]
The brown-eyed girl nodded, and then entered the room without telling him whether she would send her out or not. He frowned in response. How could she be so rude? Trying to push the discourteous behavior to the side, he stared at the door, half hoping it would be a while longer so he could give up and go do something else. Unfortunately that would not be the case. The thick mahogany door slowly opened shortly after. His mother’s bright green eyes looked down intensely into his own.
[+mediumseagreen “Augustine, I believe I said you were not to bother your father for the time being.”] The woman was surprised when Meredith told her that the prince was waiting outside. Normally he wasn’t persistent once given instruction.
Flinching at her chiding tone, he was quick to respond. [+coral “Yes, mother.”] Debating whether it was better to leave now or risk speaking out of turn. She started to dismiss him, but he piped up before she could finish. [+coral “Actually, I came to see you.”]
Taken aback at being interrupted and then at the boy’s unusual request, Florence was silent. It took but a moment for her to recover. [+mediumseagreen “Have you finished your lessons?”]
[+coral “Yes, mother.”]
Satisfied with his answer, she smiled. [+mediumseagreen “Very well, I will be out in a moment.”] The Queen then turned back into room and closed the door behind her. Walking a few steps into the fanciful decorated bedchamber, she announced her departure, but asked Meredith to stay until someone else came to look after her husband. With that done, she returned to her son.
[+mediumseagreen “Now, what did you have in mind?”] Surely there was something that prompted this behavior. And she rarely saw him take the reigns with anything, so Florence wasn’t about to dampen his spirits now.
Augustine hadn’t thought that far ahead, so he blurted out the first thing that came to mind that he thought she might like. [+coral “I’d like to walk through the gardens… if that is alright.”] His voice trailed off at the end, ever nervous around the serious woman.
She nodded, still pleased as punch that he was making an attempt to come out of his shell. Little did she know, it was one he only wore around her.
Walking together they made it outside and to the courtyard. Off at the far end of the well-maintained cobble plaza there was a grand arch, heavy with blooming buds. The colors were coordinated to match the countries flag, gold and maroon. This was the entrance to the estate’s gardens. They were a spectacle to behold and a place that Florence used to retreat to often when she was pregnant. Though she hadn’t had the time as of late.
The woman tread slowly, noting that her son’s stride was only half of her own. Plus there was plenty to see, if she went too quickly she’d miss something. It was better this way. The Queen looked forward to taking in all in quietly and contently, but it wasn’t to be.
[+coral “Mother, what sort of plants were there in your home country?”] Augustine asked in genuine curiosity. She seldom spoke of Astoria, he knew little of his heritage on her side. It was almost as though he was Wistin through and though.
Taking a moment to think back, it had been nearly ten years since she left her home and she hadn’t returned since. [+mediumseagreen “It’s warmer there, so the plants are a little more tropical. Not so many trees as there are here in Wistina. Although, it has been so long that that may not be the case any longer.”] She was confident much had changed there since she came to this place.
It wasn’t the detail he was hoping to get, but she almost looked happy talking about the place she was from. He’d always found it odd, that with all the languages she forced him to learn, Astorian was not among them. Perhaps she didn’t think it was practical since it was so far away, it being the north most nation on the continent, well just off the the continent really. It was an island nation.While here in Wistina they were the farthest south.
The rest of their stroll went about the same as the beginning. Few words were spoken between them, but it was not as horrid as Augustine had been expecting. In fact his mother was almost friendly for the duration of their time together. The only time he was truly panicked was when they came across Gregory asleep on one of the intricate stone benches among the roses. Augustine expected her to be livid, but instead she merely sighed, shaking her head at the old dwarf before shuffling him along as to not expose him to the man’s baboonery any longer than necessary.
In the end it was Vincent, a Marquis, that pulled her back to her reality. He was the same ebony-eyed man that had latched onto her the other day. Every chance he had, he’d been buzzing around her like a fly. She didn’t trust him, but she would tolerate him for now.
Bidding farewell to her son, the dark haired woman bent down, sweeping his sandy blond bangs to the side and placed a soft kiss on his forehead amongst the hanging wisteria. One of the few signs of affection he ever bestowed on the child. [+mediumseagreen “Thank you for the invitation, my love, but I have to return now.] Standing straight again, she stood tall for a woman, posture perfect as she made her way to the exit of the gardens to see to some mundane task that was calling to her.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat As metals collide their sharp rasps ring out into the open auditorium-like space, each slash and thrust echoing alongside every gasp and yell. Two men separate from one another, taking several paces back and regaining their composure. One is dressed in a thick, heavy set of plate armour, helmet and all. He wields in gauntleted hand a broadsword, a splintered shield on the floor and over to one side. The other man, an Elf given his tapered ears, is much lighter dressed. Padded in leather mostly save for the chain shirt wrought of Dwarven silver to the power and strength of triple steel, it was close-woven of many rings, as supple almost as linen and cold as ice, not to mention rather beautiful. His sword is thinner and partially curved.
Their combat continues with many a precession of thrusts, parries, wild swings and weak slashes. They duck or turn aside the others attacks whilst retorting with their own. The Elf is lighter and thus quicker, darting around his larger and more cumbersome foe and landing several blows that scuff and dent the plate. One double handed punch of his sword punctures the armour and pierces the defences of the larger man who grunts with the impact, a slow trickle of blood running from the hole left behind.
The plate man doesn't seem perturbed by the attack however and launches a flurry of heavy strikes that forces the Elf back, the dirt skittering under foot. Panting hard now the Elf regains a better stance to go forward on. The fight had gone on for ten minutes, the pace barely dropping though the man of plate seemed invigorated from the wound and a few feinted swings ends with a particularly heavy downward strike, blocked well but the sword blow sends reverberations down his arm, Elven hands spasms and his blade falls loose. Seizing on this a plated fist swings forward and strikes into his cheek, spinning him back and down onto one knee, the heavy sword coming down to rest on his shoulder.
[+coral “Stop! Don't kill him!”] A youthful voice cries out, echoing into the relative silence left behind from the end of their fight. From a darkened archway leading to the castle itself comes running a small boy. The plated man immediately takes a large step back removing his sword from the Elf's shoulder and planting it into the ground. As quickly but fluidly as he can, he takes a knee and bows his head. The boy approaches the Elf, placing a hand on his shoulder whilst giving a rather dirty glare to the other fighter. The touch surprises the dazed Elf who looks up, but he too immediately bows his head again;
[+teal “Your Highness Augustine, it is an honour to have your presence. To what do we owe the pleasure?”] He speaks softly, respectfully, a genial smile on his lips, he pants heavily, regulating his breaths quickly.
[+coral “He was going to kill you!”] The boy protests and accusatory eyes return to the other man who remains like a statue. The Elf nods and chuckles at the accusation.
[+teal “Ah, but Your Highness,”] he says raising his head and looking upon the young Crown Prince of the realm,[+teal “it is naught more than practice. That is your fathers Chief Guard Gerald. We are simply keeping ourselves ready and trained to help defend this Kingdom. There is no foul play afoot here I assure you.”] He looks back to the plated man, nodding at him and gesturing with a flick of his wrist to take leave through the opposite archway. He doesn't need further guidance and does so quickly, leaving the Elf and boy be, the former now standing up sluggishly as the latter turns his attention away and moves across to retrieve the Elf's sword, lifting it up carefully with both hands – just about.
The older male walks across and holds out his hand to the child who nods and offers back his own sword. Taking it back he slides it into the scabbard at his hip, satisfied to have it's weight at his side again. Meeting the inquisitive youth's eye he nods for him to follow, leading him toward a fountain garden not far from the small training area. Here is a beautiful marble fountain etched with intricate and detailed designs and a shining bronze statue of several nude women reaching up to a central cup where the water rises up from. The water itself is remarkably clean and fresh and shimmers in the morning sun that bathes the area in warmth and feeds the many flowers decorating the outer edge.
The duo sit down on the edge of this master craftsman’s piece and after a few seconds to settle the Elf unclasps several pieces of leather and cloth armour, putting them to one side to help cool him.
[+coral “Nicolai?”] His curious voice rose once more.
[+teal “Yes young Augustine.”] The now named Elf replies.
[+coral “Why do you fight with real swords?”] As any young boy he is quite curious and Nicolai knows only too well to answer bluntly; he does not like people to skirt his questions.
[+teal “An acute observation my young Prince,”] he shifts his weight to sit better, removing his gloves now,[+teal “we fight this way because it helps us to reach a new level. If we were to use wooden swords our attacks would not replicate a real battle. This way, we become accustomed to the weight of a real weapon, the impact of a true attack on armour, to accustom ourselves to minor injuries and how to react to it.”]
[+coral “Father only lets me play with wooden ones.”] He seems down trodden by this fact, disgruntled infact.
[+teal “But that is because your father is a wise man, Your Highness. The wooden weapons are much larger and heavier than a real sword for a reason. It builds strength, builds muscle, makes you much stronger and therefore able to use a real blade with ease when the time comes.”] He takes a strip of cloth from around his neck that saves the chain from chaffing his skin, dipping it down into the fountain's cool water, squeezing the excess over his head so that it runs down under his clothing before settling the damp cloth around his neck once more.
He was a rather typical Elf in physical appearance. Tall, slim, black haired and with violet eyes, his skin is lightly tanned and save for a cut on his cheek from the strike not long before it is flawless. But aside from his physical side, in his more social nature, he is perhaps less like his kin. He was a nobleman and a good friend of the King having known him for near three decades now. Lifted up by this friendship to become a General in a small but potent army, he was a key link between the humans and the other races of this realm, seen by some as a token appointment but to many as the King's love and trust for all his subjects. This is what allows him to speak so freely with the young Prince.
[+teal “Though a question of my own, perhaps just as adequate; why are you down here spying Your Highness?”]
[+coral “Mother won't let me speak with Father. She says he needs to rest.”] His eyes cast downward and his head dips a touch, small boot kicking at a loose stone.
[+teal “Well, he is an ill man after all. The healers are the best around. I remember them telling me that some illnesses require fresh air and exercise to cast them out. But others, most indeed, like this one, need the body to rebuild itself naturally and through plenty of peaceful rest.”] His hands come together, fingers interlinking as the boy seems to ignore him outright.
[+coral “He's going to die, isn't he Nicolai?”] He looks up with searching eyes and the Elf brushes a hand through his wet, dark hair. It was a difficult question to answer quickly and he tried to find a softer path to take with it.
Given the boys link to his father, he understands the weight upon his heart, and it is hard to find the right words. He cannot tell the boy that he does not know, or that he has no wish to become embroiled with this type of talk. He is close to the family as a whole. And that is what worried him about being bluntly honest – his mother. She was unpredictable of later. Her life was in turmoil as rumours spread. She was tasked with finding whom was loyal and who wasn't, the death almost seemed a formality at this point. She was best avoided and obeyed to the letter, but personal experience forced him to respond.
[+teal “You never had a chance to meet with my own father. He passed away some twenty years ago now, which is rather young for an Elf, but he was a very good man and he did right by me and my mother.”] It is a sullen start but he nods as he joins the boy looking at the ground.[+teal “I was.. beyond angry, when he died. I blamed myself for a very long time. I felt I had let him down. That I had not done enough to help him or that I could have saved him. That he would be disappointed in me for not keeping him alive through my will and strength alone.”] His voice was rather sombre and muted. His eyes lost their smiling aura too as the painful memories returned and his chest tightened.
There is a pause as he reached across to the young boy and placed a hand on his shoulder. If he had not known the family as well as he did, that act alone would have seen him put to the stocks if not lashed a hundred times. He comes to meet the eye of the Prince and nods at him with growing reassurance and control over his own emotions.
[+teal “But with age came wisdom. Not only that, but your father was a good friend to mine and when he passed, though I was lost for a time, I was never left alone, never cast aside. I was well cared for by him. Over time and with his help I came to understand that my father loved me, that he cared for me quite deeply. Your father taught me, that death is inevitable in life. It is the natural order of this world and life continues on and though we should grieve, yes, of course we rightly should, we should not let it consume us.”] His words are not all truthful but the point must be made. He squeezed his shoulder with a touch of affection and that charming smile returned a little.
[+teal “Look, if he does pass, then I want you to remember two things Augustine; I will be here to help guide you and help your mother where I can as your father did for me in my time of need,”] his smile grew a touch at the thought of the Queen admonishing him as she had before, and not once,[+teal “and you are loved deeply by your parents no matter what.”] His hand pats the boys shoulder to reaffirm his words and they exchange a nod of understanding. He couldn't expect to make him laugh and smile in a dark time as this but to at least give him some help in a troubling time may do wonders.
[+coral “I.. I think, I understand a little Nicolai. Thank you.”] He speaks quietly in deep personal thought and the tall man stands up with a grunt as bone and muscle ache, hand brushing at his face in a little pain.
[+teal “Now, I need to go see if Gerald has broken my cheekbone – that man can punch!”] Nicolai hisses as he touched at the swelling.[+teal “But, in the meantime, I want you to be kind to your mother. She needs your strength now. Be polite and listen to what she tells you. Or I'll have you join me next time in the training grounds.”] He winks playfully and gives a formal salute and bow to the Crown Prince. It would pay dividends later to keep on the good side of the future King and showing this level of respect may endear him more to the young boy; if not, it wouldn't hurt to try. Standing upright he collects what little armour he had removed before leaving.
Sides were being drawn as the King ailed toward inevitable death. Everyone had to choose, there would be no straddling of the lines in this. And the moment you made that new, congruent, and committed decision of whom you allied yourself to – your life had changed forever.
/ 1y 174d 15h 54m 57s
Being mid-spring, the weather was fair in Wistina. Although that was the case most year round, the warm ocean surrounding them on nearly all sides kept the temperature temperate. And while the Capital of Belldale was some several miles off the coastline, the sea breeze still rolled through the bustling city. It carried the thick aroma of street food though the southern streets. An enticing smell to coax people to the marketplace.
Just north of it all, in the center of the city, was the castle, home to the royal family. Inside, the atmosphere was completely different. Unbeknownst to the people of the nation, their leader was ill. And his condition was worsening. Cold sweats, horrendous coughing fits, and he complained of a pounding headache. And oh did he complain. There was no rest for anyone, as he demanded constant attention. The queen did her best to keep him company, but the perpetual whining was more than she could bear for any extended period of time. And so she was in and out to see her ailing husband, even though it was becoming more and more evident that these were liable to be his final days. As insufferable as she found the man, she had hoped that he would hold on to life a little longer. He was only in his early fifties for god’s sake. Their son was only eight, if he was to be crowned he would need to be put under the care of an advisor and that never went well. She didn’t trust those men. They had done well by her husband, but there was no saying they would do the same for Augustine. And there was only so much she could do on her own from her position.
After a longer visit than normal, Florence exited the king’s quarters, her lady in waiting and a guard in tow. She sighed before starting off. The trio passed a throng of councilors and nobles that were scrambling to see the king. Just in case. It wasn’t all bad, at the very least they weren’t bothering her. She was fairly tired of visitors at this point. With her husband bed ridden she was left to do the greeting.
Muted thumping reverberated off stonewalls as she walked along the rug that ran the length of the hallway. With any luck she would have a moment to do as she pleased. There was never any way to be sure, so she opted to do what she wanted for now. Someone would call for her if she was needed.
In her fleeting spare time, the dark haired woman decided to visit her child. Augustine was a reserved boy. And while being shy wasn’t the best trait for a future monarch, she was counting her blessings that he wasn’t an outspoken oaf. Although, the boy must have taken a liking to the type, as he was fond of his father. She thought it unfortunate, as the man’s illness was taking a greater toll on Augustine with them being closer.
Over the course of the week the king’s condition steadily deteriorated. Eventually, Florence banned their son from visiting. He was a mess with worry and she was sure he’d be permanently scarred if he happened to be there when his father passed. And it was only a matter of time until he did. The whole castle, staff, court, and visitors, were all on pins and needles waiting for the news. The whispering of rumors could be heard behind most closed doors. No one was quite sure what would come of it, but many feared for the state of the nation.
There was one such conversation taking place behind a door that had been carelessly been left ajar. The queen who had been passing by caught wind of voices she recognized leaking from the unsealed room, a pair of advisors. The woman stopped, just out of sight of the open door to have a listen. Turning toward Meredith, her lady in waiting, she put a hand signaling her to stop where she was and be silent.
[+lightslategray “-we may be in good standing now, but I don’t expect many of our allied nations will have the same respect for us with such a young ruler…”] He was cut off by a gruffer, more mature voice.
[+firebrick “Of course they won’t! We’ve been on thin ice for the last thirty years with King Germaine at the helm. It’ll be the same all over again with his spawn.”]
[+lightslategray “There has to be a way around, I mean, with him so young there is still time to mold him, With a proper advisor to teach him things might not be so bleak.”]
[+firebrick “Hah! You optimistic fool, it’s already in his blood. There’s no work around for that. We have to start over completely!”] Invigorated at the thought, his voice boomed.
Eyes narrowing, Florence had stumbled upon proof of her suspicions. She would need to be even more vigilant now that it was clearly more than paranoia. Standing absolutely still, she scarcely breathed so that she might hear what they said next, but before they went on, someone called loudly behind her.
[+blue “Your Majesty, what brings you here?”] The onyx eyed man spoke out emphatically, more so than necessary. She was quite certain it was to warn the others inside.
Biting the inside of her cheek with a look of annoyance, it was gone by the time she turned face. Florence replaced it with a serene smile. [+mediumseagreen “I am on my way to the entrance hall. They are hanging a tapestry and I wanted to be sure it is done properly.”]
His eyebrows bounced up, a look of surprised flashing across his face. [+blue “What a coincidence. I was just called there myself. Might I be so bold as to supply you company on your walk?”]
[+mediumseagreen “I suppose that would be fine.”] Her tone was gracious, but moderately disinterested. It was clear he was after something with the gesture.
Taking a step forward she looked through the open doorway, locking eyes with the closer of the two men. [+mediumseagreen “Gentlemen.”] The word was accompanied by a nod. Then she continued on her way, now with a man she didn’t quite remember the name of, and who was overtly eager to chat with her. Although, all her responses left something to be desired, as her mind was elsewhere. She needed to formulate a plan. Here very soon this place would not be safe for neither her nor Augustine.
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