Fall of the Court

/ By Loxi [+Watch]

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[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had not considered that the reason she wanted him to live is that she would feel responsible for his death. He wasn’t all too sure just what she meant by it either, as he couldn’t see how any death thus far was her fault. It was all down to Vincent and Gabriel. They had seen to Gerald and Timothy’s demise and Germaine’s had been down to an illness. There was no death he could think of that had been her fault. But it was perhaps not the time to think over that as she mentioned he was a friend.

The small word was so important to him but realising this made it seem all the more petty. Helga’s wise words, that he may be seeing something that was not true and not there, rang all the more true and he stared down at the fruit in his hand, turning it over as if inspecting it for flaws. Perhaps a more intelligent being could make a connection between an apple and Nicolai and each having their imperfections. But his mind was distracted.

[+teal “I truly do wish life were as simple as that. When I was much younger I did envisage travelling and seeing the rest of the world. Indeed not long after you arrived, I had thought to go whilst I still have some youthful spring in my step.”] His hand continued to massage at his leg, lips upturning in a gentle but rueful smile. He was not old by any means but neither was he a young man either.

[+teal “But Germaine convinced me to stay. I thought he was right at the time and I would learn to accept life’s odd ways, to live with how it threw things at you that you could not expect. And only now, with hindsight, do I see I was perhaps foolish to have done so.”] He was quite cryptic with his wording so as not to reveal too much.

[+teal “And to just push aside those years, the life I’ve lived since, to try and start anew and ignore the past and ignore my experiences is the part I worry about most because I don’t believe I can.”] He looked up at her at that. He did not catch her looking at his figure and their eyes met immediately. His own held that of a sheepish and shy young boy talking with a crush. Innocent and naïve despite his years he was a little lost for words but managed to form a new thought and nodded as if to confirm it to himself.[+teal “Did you ever look up at the night sky as a child?”] His question was rather out of the blue and rhetorical. A soft expel of air showed the humour he found in his asking of a strange question.

[+teal “What I mean is; did you ever look up at it in wonder and amazement? I did. A lot. It was like a painting to me. I would look up and see swirling brush strokes of purple and orange and red and green and all the colours between. There were hundreds of small stars twinkling away like torches across a vast black canvas. And in amongst it all were much larger lights, the bigger stars, so big you could trace lines between them and like clouds you found shapes and designs in them and it would bring me an odd sense of clarity.”] The childhood memory brought a softening to his face and he looked away from her as the memories of the long nights, outside and by himself just staring up whilst laying in the grass, replayed over and over in his mind.

[+teal “It helped keep me grounded and gave me a constant. No matter what happened in life, the night sky would stay the same. But at the same time, it didn’t.”] He put the apple down now, having found he was just turning it around in his hands for no reason but to stop him fidgeting.[+teal “The first night out of the castle, back by the stream and the abandoned fisherman’s home, I looked up on the sky and I saw a light grow before me. It had never been more than a small background star and yet in the moment I saw it double, treble in size to join the others. It changed the shapes I saw and I took it as a sign my life was changed forever, that the life I had known was gone – just like the stars and shapes I had known. It would not be the same again.”] Glancing across to her he could feel like she was looking on him to get to the point of this story and he nodded, chastising himself even if she said nothing out of politeness.

[+teal “Well the only other time that has happened is the night you arrived from Astoria, before Germaine introduced me to you the next morning. The sky changed again that night and my life was never the same from there on after.”] His hair had fallen forward as he spoke and he brushed his now free hand up through it to push it back into place. It would not be long before he would have to tether it back.[+teal “I speak in riddles and analogies but in essence I worry about what will happen if I go with you. What will change. What will remain the same. And will the differences be for the good or not?”] Letting out a deep breath as he finished his hand rose up and covered his face, groaning quietly whilst rubbing at weary eyes and trying to expel the frustration that this situation and the conversation was having on him.
  WI_ / 17d 4h 7m 52s
Augustine was not gone long before the woman began thinking she might go and take a nap. As much as she hated to admit it, it might have been the right decision to stay another day. But her stubbornness kept her in that chair on the back porch for a little longer. Florence was sure Gregory would say something if he caught her sleeping midday. I told you so’s were not what she wanted right now.

But as she was weighing her options there was movement at the edge of her vision. Worried that they had been found; she stiffened. But it took little more than actually looking up to see that it was Nicolai. Half naked, but it was still him. Her eyes stayed on him as she waited for him to pass, however he only came closer. The closer he got, the more irritated she felt, heckles never fully dropping. Florence was readying herself for a fight, though that was mildly difficult when she was also worrying what he was doing all dirtied from work when he had a bum arm.

Before she could make a snide comment, Nicolai announced he was not there to argue. Having not expected that, it disarmed the woman. It probably shouldn’t have, as it was as simple a task to lie as it was to speak, but she believed him. Maybe it was his quiet tone, or maybe she just really wanted him to change his mind. Florence was unsure, but she stayed silent as he took a chair.

Watching him, she was a little surprised to discover how well built the man was. Nicolai was thin, so she had made a few assumptions. Those turned out to be wrong. It was a little embarrassing to just be noticing this now, as she had seen him without tunic only the day before. But to be fair the last time she had been distracted with trying to save him from bleeding out. So there was that.

Fully aware that this was not the time to be picking apart the general’s physique, Florence made a conscious effort to keep her eyes up and on his face. Though, he did not look back to her, so it probably did not matter.

He opened with an apology. She nodded, accepting it, though she wasn’t exactly sure this meant he was caving and would be coming with them to Astoria. She was still trying to decipher what he meant by personal feelings too. Was it that he felt honor bound to be here in Wistina, not unlike Augustine? Florence couldn’t be sure, but that was her guess.

[+mediumseagreen “It is not just a sense of gratitude for all you have done. I wholeheartedly want you to live. I do not want to carry any more senseless death on my shoulders.”] Another selfish reason to add to the pile that she had already given. [+mediumseagreen “At this point I do not care who it is for, do it for Augustine, do it for me, do it for yourself. It does not matter, but come with us. Astoria can always use another good man, wherever you want that to be… I would just like to have some friends left by the time I am old.”] This time she didn’t stutter over the word. A first for her, as the woman was not accustomed to calling much of anyone a friend. It just wasn’t a word she frequently used.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 17d 6h 20m 56s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Left alone Nicolai was contemplative of what both women had said to him. It was true that he was being overly negative and if Florence did not know how he felt then how could he expect her to say what he wanted her to? Despite this he did not want to just simply blurt out anything that would make for an incredibly uncomfortable situation. It was a touch too complicated at that moment for him and with a heavy sigh he decided to focus his attention elsewhere.

For the next hour or two he set about working on the stall gates, removing rotten planks and reusing their nails to hammer fresh boards into place. It was not difficult or even straining work, more repetitive than anything and he found it cleared his mind of emotional distress. The bandage began to chafe against his tunic and with the humidity in the building – even once he had opened the doors fully to aerate the room – he was quick to remove the article of clothing.

Finishing off by heading to the barn and pulling over a bale of hay, a smaller one that was easier to hold, he eyed Florence and Augustine out on the back porch for a moment seeing them talking to one another. It brought his attention back to the issue at hand and the thought that he could ignore it until they left was simply not a viable one. Instead he stored the bale off in the stable with the other ones already there and made his way back over toward the house.

Coming around the back of the house it was much cooler here out of the sun, the few trees planted years before offering a good cover too and he hesitated for a moment to take an apple fresh from a branch. Not exactly looking the most respectable, more like a farm hand with the sweat and dirt over his chest and arms, Nicolai approached the porch where Florence sat hesitantly.[+teal “I'm not here to argue, before you think so.”] He started off quietly, standing before her for a moment before nodding to a seat as if requesting permission. She did not seem to openly object.

Seated several feet away he gave a soft sign as the weight on his feet eased and he massaged the backs of his thighs to stop them from cramping up and being rather painful. He didn't let a silence build however.[+teal “I want to apologise Florence. I understand you only want what is best for me, to not have me die pointlessly. I simply let my personal feelings get in the way of seeing that and I am very sorry.”] This was his second apology in as many days to the same family and once more he was averting his gaze, quite ashamed in himself that he did not want to look upon her and see those shining emerald eyes looking at him with displeasure.
  WI_ / 17d 8h 3m 13s
Considering she had what felt like all the time in the world, Florence let herself to unwind at whatever pace it happened. She tried to think about more pleasant things. Things like how she was going to finally see her brother and all the others she had left behind. No one aside from Gregory had come to visit her, and she was never in a position to go back to see them, so it had been a long time coming. But even as exciting as that prospect was, she was stilled plagued with the idea that Nicolai was going to do one of the stupidest things imaginable. It made it very difficult to be excited for anything. As mad as she was at him, she still wanted the man to come with them. Though at this point anything that didn’t directly result in his death would be fine by her.

When the woman felt that she could be amicable to those around her, she left the room. Strangely enough, it felt as though she was being released from time out. Like a child who had misbehaved, but even after all that time to reflect she still felt that it was Nicolai’s fault. Which was in and of itself a childish notion. Her actions and emotions were both her own to control and she knew that.

Instead of dwelling on it, she went to find Augustine. They were supposed to start his language lessons today. She would hold off on the full emersion aspect until they were out of this place, but since she had nothing better to do, getting a jumpstart on the basics sounded like a stellar idea.

Florence found her son sweeping the floors. He was having a slow go of it, as it was not the sort of task he was used to. But despite that, he was taking the time to do it right instead of leaving it done poorly. It made the woman smile. There was hope for the boy; even if he had been raised in the lap of luxury he had a good mindset. She waited for him to be done before letting him know what she wanted. Florence also made sure to let Helga know, so that she didn’t think he had run off to avoid doing any more housework. The tall woman might have felt bad to take a rare helping hand from the aged farmer, but seeing as she still had Meredith and Gregory to order about, her conscious stayed relatively clean.

[+mediumseagreen “Where would you like to study?”] She gave Augustine a choice. This place was big enough that they could go just about anywhere and not bother anyone, so she did not see that harm in it.

The blond did not have to think on it long. [+coral “Could we go outside? It looks very nice out.”]

Florence was not thrilled with the idea. She did not know whether Nicolai was still out there or not. [+mediumseagreen “That should be fine. We can go out back.”] She was not too keen on running into the elf at that moment, so she herded the boy toward the back of the house.

In the light of day, the backside of the house was nice. It looked as thought it was set up for relaxing rather than working. It contrasted the rest of the exterior. This was a farm, so most things on the grounds were meant to earn a living, but this space on the porch had a peaceful aura to it. Like everywhere else, there were chairs set out. Florence wondered if Helga had a fear that there would not be enough places to sit at any given time. It was unlikely, but it seemed nearly an unreasonable number of chairs to have in a single home.

Their lesson started just as soon as they both took a seat. It was strange for the boy to be in a teacher student situation with his mother. Back in the castle he had had teachers and tutors aplenty. There was no need for her do anything but check in. Which was to some extent unnecessary as well. But she seemed to know what to focus on for a beginner in a language. It was the same place she started with all the other languages he had been learning. He wondered if she knew because she had listened in, or if it was because she had once been a student undertaking the task of learning Wistinian. The only thing he would complain about was her Spartan attention to his accent and dictation. It was more important to have the basic idea for now, the pronunciation would come later, especially if he was to be surrounded by nothing but Astorian here in a month or two.

Even though she was not entirely sure what she was doing half the time, spending time with Augustine helped her to unwind. The irritation housed in her chest made way for the pride she had at how bright her child was. By the time she was ready to send him off for a break and to have some time to himself, she was wearing a smile that just wouldn’t quit. [+mediumseagreen “That should be enough for now.”] She did not want to overload the poor boy’s brain. Try to push too much into his skull and it would all fall out the other side by tomorrow. [+mediumseagreen At the very least you have a start for when we switch to Astorian.”]

He nodded in response. It was a lot to process, but he felt he was getting it. Though the real test would be when she and Gregory tried to speak to him no holds barred. It made him nervous, but he knew if it was important someone would translate.

His mother was quick to shoo him off, but he hesitated. [+coral “Um… did you speak with Nicolai earlier?”] He knew she had. His real question was in the undertone of the one he spoke.

Sighing, Florence nodded. [+mediumseagreen “Yes. It seems he has set his mind on staying here.”] It was difficult to stop herself from saying more than that. The woman desperately wanted to make an example out of his foolishness, but it was liable to hurt her son. He’d already lost so much; he didn’t need to know he was about to lose Nicolai as well.

Even without her saying it, Augustine recalled the elf mentioning the capital. [+coral “Does he really plan on going back to Belldale?”]

[+mediumseagreen “I do not know.”] She lied flawlessly. Unlike the Dwarven man, there was never an obvious sign when she was withholding the truth. It didn’t even faze her. [+mediumseagreen “What he does when he is free of us is no concern of ours, Augustine. So please, do not worry over it. Go take a break before Helga puts you back to work.”] Her smile faded into a smirk as his expression turned to one of worry. The boy was quickly off to savor his free time. She would not need to warn him a second time.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 17d 17h 19m 53s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The fact she had come so close to calling him a companion was rather part and parcel of why he was cutting such a frustrated figure. Despite what they had come through he was not her friend. He was nothing more than a useful tool to her to see her son become stronger or to protect him getting to Astoria. To Nicolai, what was to stop him being discarded once she was back home and once she assumed a role where she held the power and he had outlived his usefulness? She wanted him to believe she valued his life and yet she could not stomach calling him more than a companion.

With her final spiteful comment, or at least spiteful in the scorned elf’s mind, he took a few deep breaths in his attempt to calm and ease his frustration. It was in vain though, his left hand balling up and striking against the wooden gate post. He struck hard enough to splinter the wood and scrape the skin from his knuckles though it only brought more anger that he had made it that much worse.

A faint tutting from behind drew lavender eyes back to the entrance to see Helga stood there, shaking her head as her hands rested on her small hips.[+darkgoldenrod “Let me guess, you were an idiot and upset the poor girl.”] She walked across to the bucket he had dropped, taking it up and moving back to the large water barrel. The disgruntled man only looked to his hand, watching a very light trickle of blood run down his index finger.[+teal “I did not upset her.”] He replied quietly.

The diminutive woman sighed and puffed out her cheeks as she scooped water into the wooden bucket.[+darkgoldenrod “Typical man, thinks he’s never in the wrong.”] Turning back she walked across and knelt down in front of him, clicking her fingers for him to present his hand to her.[+darkgoldenrod “Don’t you think if you didn’t upset her she would not be leaving this stable like a thunderstorm?”] His head dipped a touch, looking away from her as he offered the lightly damaged hand to her. She took a hold of it and dipped it gently into the cold water, running her fingers over the small cut to wash it clean.

[+teal “I did not mean to upset her..”] Nicolai altered his statement sheepishly and let out a soft sigh as he closed over his eyes. She was a mother to many young boys before the fire and knew her fair share of dealing with this kind of heart ache and pain. This particular situation was not one she was used to, but the generalness of it all was quite familiar and she looked at his hand rather than see the discomfort on his face.[+darkgoldenrod “Why not go with them? Surely it can’t be a bad choice. From how they see it, it’s much too dangerous for you to remain here.”] She spoke softly, the concern evident.

[+teal “Because inevitably I will reveal to her how I feel.”] His free hand ran up and through wet hair, brushing it back though keeping his head from dipping lower.
[+darkgoldenrod “And that is a bad thing?”] She was keen to dig deeper.
[+teal “Yes. I know she does not feel the same way about me as I do her.”]
[+darkgoldenrod “You know this for a fact?”]
[+teal “It is shown in how she talks with me, how she looks at me, how she interacts with me.”]
[+darkgoldenrod “But.. she hasn’t said it explicitly?”] His head rose on this and he looked across at her.
[+teal “Helga, last night after you brought her food and I tended her wound, she almost seemed to recoil from my touch. She was eager for me to leave, to leave her alone.”] He watched her work away at his fingers cleaning them slowly.
[+darkgoldenrod “Or perhaps she was tired from your trip? Perhaps she is a woman who is not accustomed to touch – specifically a man other than her former husband.”] Both logical points but Nicolai simply scoffed at it.[+darkgoldenrod “Stop looking for the negative all the time Nicolai. Look for the positives in life.”]
[+teal “I prefer not to live such an optimistic life. If I see only negatives then nothing can surprise me.”] He truly was a dour man at that moment, but perhaps if one considered he was contemplating how his life would not see out the end of the month they could partially understand his outlook on things.
[+darkgoldenrod “Then there is not much to be done for you is there?”] She finished and released his hand, letting it fall away to his lap. She could quite imagine how exasperated being in a constant battle with this man would wear on Florence.[+darkgoldenrod “I want you to do something – at the very least do it for me.”] He looked up to her as she rose back to her feet wiping off wet hands on the sides of her pants.[+darkgoldenrod “She leaves tomorrow, or maybe the next day if luck is with us. If nothing else, keep things amicable. You won’t see this woman again so why let her memory of you be that of an angry and pessimistic man? At least let her remember you fondly, as the man, the elf, who helped her and her son. The same man who helped me and my son.”]

Nodding now she had said her piece, she turned away from the man and left the stable in quick fashion, heading back for the house, leaving her words to linger with the man rather than continue a quite fruitless conversation. Hopefully it would give him something to think on and consider and stave off upsetting her others guests – that was something she simply would not accept.
  WI_ / 17d 19h 42m 56s
Florence was having a hard time understanding him. He said he was looking for a reason to go, but when she gave him one, he turned it away. It was frustrating to say the least. And while they seemed to have differing ideas of what a mentor was, if he was as desperate as he made it sound to find a way out, this should have been enough. But for some reason it wasn’t. It did not help that he was very stop-go. He seemed unwilling to complete his thoughts. Once again, she did not know why.

A couple of things went through the woman’s head. The first being that she should try and force his hand by reminding him that he had vowed his life and allegiance to them. If nothing else that level of loyalty should have entailed staying with them. However, she stopped herself before mentioning it. The second was that he seemed to be after something specific. There was something Nicolai wanted to hear, had wanted to hear for the entirety of this stint across Wistina. And she had half a mind to ask him what it was. After all, how was she supposed to know what was going on if he didn’t say anything? Not to mention he had no issue barking his frustrations at her before. But as with her first impulse, she did not. Instead she opted for a third choice. To give up, much like she felt he was doing.

[+mediumseagreen “Fine. Since my desire to see my com-“] She cut herself off, remembering his preference. [+mediumseagreen “my friend, as you would have it, live is unwarranted, I will leave you be.”] Her voice was still quiet, but there was an icy chill to it. Not wanting to be there any longer, Florence turned away from the man to leave. But as she went she stopped at the exit to look back on Nicolai. Her gaze was devoid of any and all warmth. [+mediumseagreen “Never let it be said that I did not try.”] With that she stormed back off to the house. Muttering many a choice word under her breath as she went, all in Astorian.

If she had things her way, Florence would have made it a point for the party to leave then and there. But seeing as everyone was against her, she doubted she would get her way in that regard either. She was losing control of the situation and she hated it.

Knowing she was bound to be a horror terror to anyone who came across her, the woman returned to her room. It would be best to let herself calm some before letting the others know that Nicolai was hell bent on staying, and to a lesser degree destroying himself. Though in her anger, she toyed with the idea of telling Helga what he was up to; surely she would not be afraid to beat some sense into his head. Of course Florence had no plan to actually out all of out of pure spite, but it was a gratifying thought all the same.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 17d 21h 15m 45s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Hearing the softness in her voice was both disconcerting and new to him. She had never been a woman to mince her words or dance about what she truly wanted to say. It was a point of admiration he found in her, that she would tell him bluntly what she wanted to say and he did not have to see through any sugary words or false pretences. It helped him to feel he could speak with her on an equal level and not from a superior to an inferior.

Something he learned through his interactions with Florence and Gregory is that the level of education in Wistina was not exactly high as their way of seeing the world and their general understanding of most things was much greater. He would be cowed at times to simply stop talking so that perhaps they would overlook his ignorance and just leave things alone. The former was gracious enough to do so but the latter dwarf often saw this as a means to berate the elf.

Regardless of that, hearing her approach him he slowed his actions to listen to her, yet in the end he did not truly require to listen as her plea was directed in the wrong manner. When she finished, his hand slid away from the plank of wood but his back remained to her as he spoke.[+teal “The last few days, I’ve wanted nothing more than to have a reason to turn away from Wistina and to follow you all north. But as a play friend to your son; that is not what I was expecting to hear.”] He stood back up from his knelt position, taking the piece of wood with him as he turned to face her.

For a moment his mouth opened as if he wanted to say something specific now that he was faced with her, but he bit down on his tongue and moved across to the other pieces of lumber to find one that might fit better.[+teal “I understand your concern for me Florence. I helped you all escape the Capital. Helped you the last few months try and fight off Vincent and Gabriel – though to no success.”] Pushing aside pieces as he compared them to the original choice he settled on a small and narrower piece, standing once more to move back.

[+teal “You feel the need to show your thanks or your gratuity or whatever the right word is. But don’t. Just get your boy and get to Astoria. That is all you have to do. I didn’t do all this to be thanked or to have someone try and save me once I had done my job. I did it for-“] he caught himself mid-sentence and mid-stride. Looking at her with mouth agape he face visibly dropped and he shook his head as he regained his composure.[+teal “I.. I have my reasons for doing all this. The fact is you are alive, as is Augustine. I did my job.. I did it well.”] Looking away from her as he felt his face flush – whether from the heat or otherwise he did not know – he returned to the wooden gate.
  WI_ / 17d 22h 43m 2s
What choice did he have? She had literally given him another option and he stubbornly refused to add it to his list. A list that was full of half-cocked ideas, the last being the worst of all. [+mediumseagreen “I would rather you not die senselessly.”] Martyrs had their place, but in this case Vincent and the Taken would likely cover up his death so that no one knew the wiser, that or they would pin him with a crime he hadn’t committed. Anything to justify their actions to the people.

It looked as though he was trying to move on, working on the door so he didn’t have to talk to her any more. That did not put her in the prettiest of moods, but Florence tried to keep level headed. Losing her temper wasn’t exactly going to sway him into thinking that he dedicate any more time to being near her.

[+mediumseagreen “Nicolai,”] her voice was uncharacteristically soft as she took a step forward into the building. She didn’t stop until she was some six feet short of the man; she did not want to close the gap entirely. [+mediumseagreen “There is a time for martyrdom, but now is not it. To die for a cause should be a last resort, not the first… or third.”] All other resources should be exhausted before you lay down your life. At least in such a display. Fighting a battle was one thing, but to actively look to die so that you might fill others with the will to move was different.

[+mediumseagreen “You can and should come with us to Astoria… Be a mentor to Augustine. He is going to have to learn a lot in these years to come and he trusts you to teach him what is right. What’s more you would be an reminder of and tangible connection to his home.”] This might not have been the correct approach, as Florence recalled the man saying he didn’t feel he connected well with children, but she thought this is where he would be put to best use. [+mediumseagreen “When I came to Wistina, I was alone. And now Augustine is going to have to face a similar challenge. A strange land filled with strange faces, and no one to turn to who understands his longing for another place. No one that isn’t family.”] She did not imagine he was going to want to confide all those feelings with her or Gregory. Especially with his teenage years just over the horizon. [+mediumseagreen “You would be an invaluable asset to him, all the while being able to take an active roll in planning our return … So please, even for a moment, consider it.”]
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 17d 23h 38m 12s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat With the knowledge they would be staying yet another day Nicolai took up the reins of their horses left tethered near the well. With not too much guidance, a couple words of elven to soothe their fears, he led them to the stable where two older horses stood in their paddocks watching passively. They were of an older age than the three led in by the dark haired man and both observed with indifference the new companions who would share their home for the time being. Fresh hay was put out in some empty stalls though he had only just placed them inside when Florence had entered.

A touch hot in the building his tunic was rather clinging to his already glistening figure. He was not particularly at peak performance, minus the wound, and had only just been getting back to a stable condition when he was injured. Therefore as he stepped away to take water from a barrel with a bucket and pour it into a trough at the front of the stall, he strained a touch from the weight and quickly shifted it to his left arm.

Her opening sentence was quite humorous in his mind and he expelled a breath, holding back on chuckling.[+teal “You can talk, for there is no argument to be had. The decision has been made. But go ahead.”] He let the bucket drop to the ground, cupping his hands to splash his face a few times before the horses could begin drinking. Listening as she started her rather succinct argument he turned to face her, letting the cooling water run down under his clothing and wet hands run up through his hair.

[+teal “I won’t take it as an insult because we both know I have thought through the risks. It was my job for over two decades to see and assess dangers and all possible outcomes and to decide on the best course of action.”] He was an intelligent man true, but he saw where his follies were and so did she. He was not exactly the most charismatic.[+teal “But in all honesty what are my options? I can hide, skulk about the shadows and remain hidden waiting on you and Augustine to return, though when that would be is anyone’s guess.”] It was true that no-one know when or even if the pair would return. If they could not secure the right aid, there would be no way they could.

[+teal “Alternatively I can try to maintain a small resistance with my poor oratory skills that will inevitably fail, get innocent people killed and waste any good faith we may have remaining in the Kingdom.”] Again he could see this deep folly to his personality. He was not so bad individually, but keeping the moral of the masses up would strain him very quickly.[+teal “Or, I go back to the Capital, die a martyr and my death can be held up as the beginning of the resistance to their occupation. It is one thing to accuse you and your son of abandoning the country as Astorians. But a son of Wistina? Their General, killed by those who take over? Even the lowliest of farm folk will find disgust in that.”]

It was a sound plan in his mind but despite that there was still a look of defeat on his face. He knew there was not much else for him to do. Or rather he could not think of anything else to be done. Turning away from her, having said his piece, he moved over to a small stack of planks, lifting one up to take back to a stall and size it up to repair the door and begin his repairs. He could feel there was more the woman had to say but he was not exactly keen to have her continue to berate him. His discussion with Helga had opened up old and deep wounds and to be in the same room as Florence only made it that much more painful.
  WI_ / 18d 2h 50m 4s
Nicolai's response was not the least bit favorable. But he was right that this was not the most appropriate of meal time talk; she could not press it any further for the time being. What's more he left the table after that, so she couldn't even if she wanted to. Florence sighed. She had already said she was fine, so why was everyone pushing for her to get better? It was irritating.

[+coral "Mother, I also think it would be best if you rested a bit more. Just make sure you are okay."]

The woman deflated a bit. [+mediumseagreen "It would appear that I have been surrounded on all sides on that matter."] Her eyes fell down to the food she'd only just begun to eat. [+mediumseagreen "I will consider it, but as I told you I am feeling just fine. Please do not worry your head about it any more, my love."] And that was it for Florence at the moment. She went back to silence, eating the rest of her meal.

Between her and the others they very nearly finished off the absurd quantity of food Helga had put together. If they did stay any longer, she really hoped that the woman would hold back the next time she made anything.

When they were done, Florence called on Augustine to help clear the table as she didn't think her own assistance would be accepted. He worked diligently, listening carefully to Helga's instructions as to where he should put things away. The boy really did not want to receive a scolding for anything, so he was walking on eggshells when it came to her. But it seemed to work out alright, as she thanked him for the help.

In the meantime, the others broke off to continue whatever morning rituals that they had. Florence was already through with all that, so she meandered into the living area. It looked much like it had the night before, the only difference being that the fire was no longer alight. All the shadows cast on the floor came from the eastward facing window that allowed the sun to burst through. The woman took a seat for a moment, but after the conversation at breakfast she was restless. She stood again and paced a bit. Knowing she would not be content to leave things as they were, she headed towards the front door. It had sounded not long after Nicolai left the table, so she was certain he went back outside.

From there she was a touch lost. Her green gaze scanned over the surrounding area, it was a peaceful little scene, but there was no immediate sign of the man. And so she headed off in the direction he had come from earlier when Helga called them in. Turning the corner she saw the stable. That was as good a place as any to start looking. In fact it was the best place to start, as it was exactly where Nicolai was. She caught his well toned form mingling with the horses. He did not look over at her, but she was sure he knew she was there.

[+mediumseagreen "Is now a good time to argue about it?"] Florence did not wait for an answer. Regardless of whatever he came up with, she was going to make now the time. [+mediumseagreen "I am going to be frank."] When was she not? [+mediumseagreen "Based on what I have seen these past few days, I do not believe you are a good fit to stay behind."] She was speaking from a purely tactical position. [+mediumseagreen "I think the risks of you staying on your own greatly outweigh any benefit we might see with you in Wistina."] He was a prominent figure in this fight, and she knew he would be useful later, but he needed to live long enough to see that day. Not to mention it took a certain kind of determination to build a will of resistance in people, Florence just was not sure he had that in him. At least, not without a support system around him. He might rise to the occasion, but she did not want to run that gamble if the wager was his life.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 18d 6h 6m 28s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai knew his decision would illicit such a response from the others. The resistance to his plan was fast and not all that subtle, though Florence did rather well not to reveal whom had attacked them, keeping it quite loose with bandits, and also not revealing just who she and Augustine were. Thankfully Helga was not too in touch with the royal family or the world about her. She was happy in her secluded farm and content to live out her life isolated from the world.

Allowing them all to have their say, taking another spoonful of food and tearing some bread from a piece he had, he looked up and caught the emerald gaze of the woman making the greatest plea for him not to split from their group.[+teal “I am not saying I will leave after this meal, I will remain here a few days before turning south. It will give my wound time to heal though if it doesn't in those days then I doubt it ever will.”] He dipped the bread into the juices of the sauce and like a sponge it began to soak in the flavourings.

[+darkgoldenrod “Are you sure you took care of all the bandits?”] Helga added as she too took the side of concern and worry for the elf. She would be worried sick to know the injured man was travelling alone through lands that she now knew had brigands and highwaymen just ready to pounce.[+darkgoldenrod “If you leave and there are more like the last, don't you think it best to travel in a group and help one another?”] Her concerns were well found and Nicolai nodded his head in agreement at what she said, but at the same time she was missing a larger picture that she would not be privy to.

The border was not far away, less than a two hours ride, and beyond that he had no usefulness – especially given the wound to his shoulder. But if he turned back now, headed to the Capital, he could serve some use to the group still. With Meredith no longer helpful to him any more then he was rather out of ideas.

[+teal “Someone needs to report that there are bandits out here, bring the guards up to scour the area – who better than the General no?”] It was a rather noble thing to offer but of course the group all around them knew it was a rather pointless task – he would never be able to get any men to come with him. They would already have been poisoned against him.[+teal “I see no reason to be arguing this at the breakfast table. How about we focus on getting Florence to rest? Surely that is what matters most.”] Feeling that the conversation had ran it's course he pushed his half-empty bowl forward, taking a slice of the bread with him as he left them be and proceeded back outside making his way toward the barn.
  WI_ / 18d 7h 54m 56s
Florence was slightly caught off guard by the man’s answer. They would be parting sooner than she expected. He had promised to take them to the boarder. And while they were so close it might as well count, she still wasn’t expecting this to be where they last saw one another. She listened intently as he went into more detail about what he planned to do once they were out of his hair. None of which was particularly exciting, but that was the fate of a healing man. Well, until he mentioned returning to the capital. That set off a warning bell in her mind. The woman had no idea if that was truly what he planned to do, but it was a terrible idea all the same.

She had been interrupted the previous night when she went to advise him against staying in Wistina. Her fever was clear, and now more than ever she thought it would be best that he came along with them. And while this was not exactly where she had hoped to have the conversation, she feared if she did not speak up she would be forced to resign herself to silence until they left. [+mediumseagreen “Actually, I do not care for the idea of leaving you behind in your condition either.”]

While she tried to think of how best to word what she wanted to say now that she had brought the attention to herself, Augustine jumped in. [+coral “You should come with us!”] His eyes were bright, looking down the table at the gentle featured man.

The spirited interjection threw Florence off her train of thought. [+mediumseagreen “Uh… well, yes..."] She took a moment to regain footing. [+mediumseagreen "I cannot imagine that those [I bandits] have given up on skulking about the roads either. There is safety in numbers and I cannot in good conscious leave you behind. Not like you are.”] There was more to it, but she could not go into it here in front of Helga and she didn’t want to go into it in front of the others. It was a conversation that started between just the two of them and she intended to finish it that way if at all possible.

Looking to Gregory next to her, he didn’t look as disgruntled as she thought he might. He’d never seemed too fond of the elf. She didn’t know why, as they interacted very little the in all the years the bard had been in Wistina. For now, he probably had the younger man’s usefulness in mind. Having at least one person who was skilled with a sword would make their lives vastly easier if they so happened to be caught in combat again.

Catching her emerald eyes on him, Gregory felt the need to speak up as well. [+darkmagenta “Feel free to take some time to think about it. That will force Florence into taking a break whether she likes it or not.”]

Was that his game? Prolonging this so that she might be stuck doing nothing for a little longer. Florence doubted it, but it was likely that they would have to stay here a while longer to satiate Gregory and Helga if they dragged the general along with them. That worried Florence a great deal. The longer they waited, the farther ahead of them the enemy could get. Her real fear was that they would try and cut them off at the passes through the mountains. There were only two options unless they wanted to go over the top of them, which she did not. Not to mention it was exactly what she would do if she were trying to catch someone fleeing across the continent. Once again, this wasn’t exactly something she could casually bring up over breakfast in a stranger’s home.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 18d 17h 16m 47s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Spending time out with the horses was a rather calming and relaxing task that Nicolai was happy to do for the hour or two between waking and being called for breakfast. With the tools to hand from the stable he could brush them down as they ate and drank and checked on their hooves – though the later task took some time given his injury and quite stubborn beasts. With them all settled and quite happy to eat the last of the straw he hand fed to them, he made sure their ropes were secured and headed inside.

A brief stop to offer a nod of the head in morning greetings to Florence was about all he could manage, knowing his voice would have crackled and shifted in pitch quite horribly like that of a teen in puberty. Thankfully she did not seem too keen to talk either and made her way in ahead of him, taking a seat at the other end of the table to him as he returned to his beside Helga. He was almost silent as they sat waiting for Meredith and Gregory to join them, Augustine showing some impressive manners as he informed their gracious host that they would be down shortly.

They had indeed ate a touch timidly the night before, but given she had whipped it all up on short notice, they had not wanted to seem like greedy guests eating her out of house and home. It was a polite gesture but she was not someone to see guests come away still thin or gaunt. As the leftovers were supplemented, Nicolai remained silent, taking a bowl from her as she filled it with more of the stew come chowder along with a few slices of the bread to fill his stomach.

Their talks amongst one another were interesting, hearing that Florence was feeling much better and that her temperature had come back down. It buoyed the group to know that they did not need to worry excessively for the versatile woman. For a moment it seemed even Meredith would show agreement but she quickly closed her mouth and her half word became a hum of delight at the food. It was over played but a nice save and the elf would have commended her had the conversation not switched to discussing the group leaving. Once more the dwarf and human butted heads, disagreeing with one another until Helga settled the conversation.

Feeling her wise eyes flutter between the elf and the mother, Nicolai looked up at her and shook his head.[+teal “You don't need to worry about me Helga, I won’t be going with them. This is their group now so they can decide when to leave of their own accord.”] His spoon dipped back into his food as he let the words settle with the others, though Helga turned her gaze on him sharply and with a curious brow she inquired further.[+darkgoldenrod “Not going with them eh? And just where are you going? You aren’t exactly in the best of shape either young man.”] It had been a few decades since last he was called that, and in a way it was sweet, though it did make his muscles ache that bit more.

[+teal “I will stay here a few days more. There are several tasks that need to be done. Repairs to the barn door and the house shingles could do with looking over to make sure they are ready for the winter.”] He spoke like a man whose mind had been made up, and in a way it had. The last few days he had made tentative approaches to Florence to try and see if there was a need for him to stay with them. So far she had either delayed answering or in a convenient manner the dwarven chaperone had stepped in to save her. There would be no need for an aging Elf in Astoria as he saw things.[+darkgoldenrod "Then what?"] Clearly that was not enough for the elder woman and he nodded.[+teal “Once that is done and I have healed some,”] he hesitated, looking across at Meredith opposite him for a moment as if she had been the catalyst for his choice, though he returned to his food, pushing it about with the spoon,[+teal “I will return South. I will head back to the Capital.”]
  WI_ / 18d 18h 49m 29s
Augustine had not been gone for long, and in truth neither had Helga, but the old woman emerged from the house all the same. She was calling out that breakfast was ready. Florence had entirely no idea why she felt the need to shout when she was sitting not ten feet away. However the answer came shortly as Nicolai came into view. She’d had no idea that he was up already. It was concerning. He probably needed the rest more than any of them, yet he must have been the first to rise if he beat her out here. Not entirely pleased with this turn of events, she pushed the thought to the side and greeted him pleasantly, though some of her surprise my have bled through. [+mediumseagreen “Good morning.”]

Standing from her seat, the woman followed their hostess inside. Nicolai was not far behind them. Helga led them to the dining area, which was a first for Florence as she had missed the formal dinner the night before. Augustine was already waiting at the table, hands folded politely in his lap. As soon as the trio walked in he piped up.

[+coral "I woke the others, ma'am. They should be down soon."] He didn't often have to call others anything other than their name. So the formality felt strange on his tongue.

Nodding approvingly, Helga thanked the boy. The table was already set, so she took a seat. [+goldenrod "You all ate like field mice last night. I expect you will do better this morning. I do not want to be left with all this food."] She wouldn't be able to eat it all on her own and she did not want it to go to waste.

The leftovers were set out on the table, warm and ready to be served. However, in addition she had brought out another sliced loaf of bread and some cheese. It added a bit of variety, but it would make the task of finishing off the chowder that much more difficult. But there was no room to complain. Both because their host was being incredibly generous and because Florence knew anything other than simple stews and braised meat would soon be a luxury for them. Unless they stopped in foreign towns to trade; but there would be a language barrier if that were the case. At least until they reached the more northern regions. Augustine might know some of the southern dialects, but the woman did not know how far along he was with all his language studies and she wasn’t going to throw him to the wolves by depending on him solely to get by.

It was a few minutes before of the others joined them. They waited patiently for everyone to join before starting the meal. When all were present, Gregory being the last to join, Helga began dishing out the food. As she did so conversation picked up. The old dwarf inquired after how Florence was feeling. The question seemed to catch most people’s attention.

[+mediumseagreen “Much better now that I have had some sleep, and I am sure I will only improve with another meal.”] The bright-eyed woman spoke loudly enough to be heard by everyone at the table even though she was sitting right next to the man who asked the question. [+mediumseagreen “I think we should be able to continue on our way today.”] She was eager to be out of Helga’s hair as soon as possible.

She was met with a look of disapproval. [+darkmagenta “Are you sure you are up for that?”] He cocked a brow at her, skeptically.

[+mediumseagreen “I can sit just as well on a horse as I can a bed.”]

His worries were that sitting wouldn’t be all they were doing. If they were attacked again and she wasn’t all there, they would be in trouble, But he couldn’t say that outright and Florence knew it. [+darkmagenta “I just think it is better to be safe than sorry. And I am sure the lovely Helga would not mind keeping us another day if we offered up the able bodied to help her around the farm for the day.”] He looked to the gray-haired woman for confirmation as she ladled out the last bowl full of food, which just so happened to be going to him.

It did not appear as though she needed to put much thought into it. [+goldenrod “It would put this old woman’s heart at ease to know you were all in top condition before you left.”] Her eyes went from Nicolai to Florence, the pair being her main concern in more than one way. The elf’s words from that morning were still on her mind.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 18d 21h 35m 20s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had stayed up for not much longer than the others, taking time to think over some things that followed him to his bed and left him quite restless. Though he found his room was warm, the bed was soft and the sense of security he felt being inside was greatly appreciated, after only a few hours sleep he found himself back at the kitchen table. Having removed his constricting tunic to place over the back of the chair he took time to massage softly at his wound, thinking that if he could ease the discomfort he would be able to head back to sleep. Of course it was not the wound keeping him awake and by the lone candle of the table he had lit, Helga found him not long before morning broke.

Her critical eyes looked on him the moment she had seen his shadowy figure at the table and she huffed in displeasure. For Nicolai, he had expected her. He knew she would be up early and the sound of her soft footsteps on the boards were quite distinct.[+darkgoldenrod “If you mess that would and it begins to bleed again then I will quite annoyed with you young man.”] Her annoyed voice had his fingers slipping from beneath his bandage and he nodded a touch sheepishly to her in acknowledgement. She brought her boots in from the other room, placing them down and taking a seat so she could put them on.[+darkgoldenrod “Why are you up so early Nicolai?”] She was never one to shy from speaking her mind.

The elven man was quite for a little time, brushing his now free hand up through his hair and sitting back in his seat opposite her.[+teal “I am just a touch troubled, but it is nothing to concern yourself with.”] He hand an inkling that would not be enough for the smaller woman and quite right he was as she leaned forward to the table.[+darkgoldenrod “Tell me what's up. Is it the boy? The woman? The dwarf..?”] Her first options were her more stern choices, the last a shot into the dark, though it did bring a soft smile from the dour man.

[+teal “It is all of them and none of them. It is mostly my own tumultuous mind not being accepting of things out of my control. Of things that have come and passed. Of not being able to change the past.”] Despite his rather cryptic words he could see the passive look on her face that denoted her displeasure with him. She wanted a more thorough answer and allowing the silence to hang for a time, she got her own way.[+teal “Well, you know the boy is not mine. His father was.. somewhat absent from his life, left a lot of the upbringing to his mother. You know how it is; meant well and had a good heart but not the best role model?”] She inclined her head in agreement and for him to continue to which he did.[+teal “Well his father was a dear, dear friend of mine, long before the boy came into the picture. Helped me with employment, with a home, with a life. Gave me more than I deserved, much more and that is a big part of why I feel so guilty.”] His hands rest on the table and he looked on them as if in deep inspection.

[+darkgoldenrod “The woman? The boys mother? I assume she has some part to play in this.”] She was quite perceptive of course, knew far more than Nicolai even had to say but she wanted confirmation of her assumptions anyway.[+teal “Florence. She is from Astoria. Came down over a decade ago to marry and the moment I saw her it was like a sense of acknowledgement washed over me. I knew nothing about her, her history, barely more than her name – I didn't even know what she would look like.”] It was not something he wanted to admit out loud but it had gnawed away at him for some years and with no-one to unload his concerns onto he was feeling more liberated than ever to finally speak about it.

[+teal “The first time I saw her – that was it, I knew it, I was so sure. I felt I was looking at her not with my mind but with my heart and I knew I wanted to be with her. And the elation was perfectly mixed with devastation. Here I was finding the one for me, the one I was so sure I was meant to be with, the only one I ever wanted to be with from then on, on the eve of her marrying my best and most dear friend.”] A soft laugh left his lips at that. It showed his incredulity at the situation, at the only way he felt he could react to such an outcome. To laugh and find the tragic humour in it.[+teal “But I couldn't object to it. Spite their coupling for my own selfish desires? I couldn't do it. So instead I just took my heart out of it, vowed not to allow my jealousy and heartache disrupt them. I shunned them both emotionally from that day until quite recently. I pushed both of them away, afraid of breaking that vow.”] His head dipped a touch but not in sadness or negative emotion, but relief it was finally out there.

[+darkgoldenrod “So you love the woman? Well, pardon me, but if her husband has passed, why must you hold back any longer?”] So blunt as always it was quite reassuring.[+teal “Because when you push someone away for so long, from the day you met them no less, there is no way to reverse all those years of rejection, coldness, arguing and fighting that you had to do to stop them seeing how you truly thought.”] He turned around in his seat, grabbing his tunic, bringing it around to prepare to pull it back on.[+teal “She has her son and she is going back home to Astoria. Can you imagine how desperate it looks to throw myself at her now after all these years? No.. I only have to keep up the charade a little longer.”] He began to pull on his tunic once more, groaning a little as he pulled his right arm through and it settled atop the bandage. Pushing from the table he stretched a little to try and ease the rigidity in his muscles.

[+teal “I will go out and see the horses get some feed and water.”] He paused beside her side, a hand to her shoulder lightly.[+teal “Thank you for listening Helga.”] He muttered, heading out to complete his duties whilst the others began to wake up.
  WI_ / 19d 7h 20m 1s
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