Fall of the Court

/ By Loxi [+Watch]

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[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The look on Meredith’s face was one of utter confusion and a touch of betrayal, though Nicolai couldn’t fathom why she thought either of those emotions. They had told her she would be left at the next town they came upon, and this was it. And if she felt their talk the other night had altered how he felt about what had happened then she clearly thought wrong. He had told her the trust was something that may not be possible to repair – that did not mean he was going to give her another chance to finish the job.

[+teal “I need that money as soon as you can.”] He addressed the soot covered woman.
[+dodgerblue “I kinda wanna know why she’s been left behind. What good is she?”] A fair question.
[+teal “Go get the money or the deal is off. I’ll explain her use once you are done.”] Shooing her off with a wave of his hand he turned away and strolled across to the open window have shaken free of Meredith. Though before he could look out he heard her approaching.
[+violet “Y-you’re just going to leave me here? Abandon me..?”] The tone was like that of a child who had been told they were adopted or unloved by a parent.[+violet “B-but I thought after that night-“]
[+teal “That I would forget you almost had me killed? Almost got Gregory and Florence and Augustine killed? I told you Meredith, I can’t trust you. I don’t blame you for what you did but I can’t just ignore that you did it.”] Seeing her face was rather heart-tugging, even if he had made up his mind and couldn’t change from it.[+teal “What would you do in my situation?”]
[+violet “I wouldn’t.. wouldn’t leave me here.. alone..”] If she was trying to make him feel guilty, looking to the ground in defeat and shaking a touch, she was doing a damn good job.
[+teal “I’m not leaving you here alone.. you will be here with Danny. I’m not just casting you away to be alone and without help.”] He raised his left hand to her, taking a hold of her arm and pulling her to him.
[+violet “But I don’t know her, I don’t know this place, I don’t want to be left here without anyone. Please.”] She clung to him tightly and he held her loosely for a moment.
[+teal “Meredith.. I can’t do that.. I can’t risk Augustine and Florence’s lives..”] Tightening his hold on her he ran his hand up and down her back trying to soothe her some, resting her head against his right shoulder and just bearing with the dull throbbing pain.

Thankfully the silence that followed that exchange was short lived as the woman of a dirty appearance returned carrying a large pouch that jingled with its monetary content. Seeing the rather depressed girl and a stern but equally downtrodden man, she looked between them for a moment before hefting the bag onto the counter top with a dull thud.[+dodgerblue “Well, here we go, 200 gold as requested. And if you would sign here.”] Her hand rest atop the bag as another put a piece of parchment with a piece of coal, looking at the two as they both looked her way.[+dodgerblue “Okay, so what good is she to me? Why should I keep her around?”]

Nicolai pulled away a little to look into those large brown eyes and with a soft smile he nodded.[+teal “You are going to get a friendly and warm woman, a beauty up front to take orders and see to the patrons whilst you do you work in the back – no doubt she’ll bring in constant work just for a chance to have an ogle of her.”] He laughed a little as he lifted his hand up and brushed her cheek softly.[+teal “And, if you want it, a damn fine new apprentice.”] He was being perhaps too kind, but Gregory’s good nature had worn at his desire to see the most evil of acts befall this woman. If she could get her head down and work hard, he would feel that some good came from her. After all, no-one had died in their group, though the pulsing of his wound reminded him they were not unscathed.

[+dodgerblue “Why do I want an apprentice? Or more jobs? Happy with the work load I have now thank you very much.”] The violet eyes of Nicolai snapped across to Danny in an instant.
[+teal “Because no doubt Jim trusted you when you had nothing to offer and it is now time to return that favour.”] He felt oddly protective of Meredith despite the circumstances. She had left with them in good faith, and despite the betrayal, he still felt a bond of the journey to get here with her.

A roll of the blacksmiths eyes was enough for the elven man to feel comfortable that she would see to their deal and not renege at the last moment. It made sense to have a pretty face to help about the place and especially with sales. And despite not knowing the woman, he could imagine she would get a kick out of being the boss and master blacksmith this time around.

Looking back to Meredith he sight as he brushed his hand down her cheek and her neck to rest on her shoulder.[+teal “This way you’ll be safe, you’ll have a roof over your head and food in your belly, and you’ll learn a trade too. You’ll do amazing, I know it. Okay?”]

Meredith held her composure very well, trusting in Nicolai’s words and the way he looked at her.[+violet “Okay.. but.. if you can.. would you try to visit sometime, you know, if you come back this way.. please?”] Her request was met with agreement and a smile.[+teal “I promise, even if Augustine, Gregory and Florence stay for their lives in Astoria – I will make a holy pilgrimage to come see you. Though you better be working hard to prove me right for believing in you, got it?”] He grinned and thankfully it broke the uneasy look on her face, a very faint glimmer of a smile on her face. She nodded and he leaned forward, kissing her cheek as his hands slid down to take a hold of hers and squeeze them tightly.[+teal “Good girl.”]

Releasing her he turned to the counter, quickly signing his name with the shaped piece of coal having read the agreement quickly, and putting his pack down he lifted the gold up to place it inside. Pulling the drawstring taut and making sure to tie it as secure as he could, he turned back to the window to look out. He saw the trio stood by their horses – but with an alarm sounding in his head he saw two figures stood rather nearby, including one with a sword strapped to his back.[+teal “I have to go Meredith, seems they drew some unwanted attention.”] He pressed another final but quick kiss to her cheek as he marched around the counter.

[+dodgerblue “Oi, get out, you said this place is mine now so go on, be off.”] She had already snatched up the paper and now held it aloft as if to banish him from sight.[+teal "You still have the lift for goods right? Well I need to use it to get down."] The smaller woman tried to stand firm but the elf loomed over and stared down with a look that would bring dread to most.[+teal "The quicker I am down, the quicker I am gone."] His voice was low and he held back from snapping at her to move to try and be civil.

Seeing the sense in letting him leave quickly she turned and hurried into the back ready to quickly lower the platform as he moved over to it. Not exactly safe by any measure, he wasn't truly concerned with his health and safety at the moment, too preoccupied with getting down to the others. Grasping a thick rope that attached to the wooden crate that lifted ores, fuel and supplies, he braced a foot at the edge and looked back to give her the go ahead to lower him. She was quick on the winch and eager to have him gone but she did not lower him so fast he fell out - that would just be bad for business.

-+-+-

[left [pic http://i64.tinypic.com/2448d2b.png]] Adrian did have a tendency to be too forthcoming and give too much information. In that regard he was more akin to Gregory himself. Seeing that Florence had found his back story rather dull and had lost interest quite early on, he had instead switched to telling Gregory his life's tale and found the man many times over more intrigued and happy to listen. It was a shame really as she looked to have a most amazing past if he could just find the means to part those lips and have her speak with him.

She admonished and jibbed the duo for their little love-in and continued back and forth, though it was likely part of a sarcastic humour he was beginning to find quite key to her personality. With his attention back on her though he saw her hands move to her bow and her eyes looking off behind him. Turning to find his friend approaching he quickly stepped in between them, holding up his free hand to her and stopping her from taking further action and waving the woman over.

Up close she was quite the sight to behold with her lustrous hair that cascaded down her slender cheeks. All the beauty associated with elves seemed to be placed into this dark skinned figure and as she approached, a half smile on her lips and eyes soft and half closed, she greeted the trio before her friend with a respectful half-bow from the hips.[+crimson “Ah, glad you could find me. Let me introduce you all.”] He made the quick introductions of the three Astorian's, still referring to Augustine as Child of Florence, and smiled as he introduced his friend in return.[+crimson “This is my good friend Lizzie.”]

Though she did not openly chastise him she did jokingly roll her eyes at her nickname and looked to the other woman.[+royalblue "Do excuse Adrian if he has bothered you at all, he is often quite keen to meet others who look friendly – it has caused more than it's fair share of issues these last few years.”] She too spoke excellent Astorian, though it did sound quite foreign to her tongue. Her voice was soft and light like a melody and her almost permanent smile left her tone happy and relaxed.[+royalblue "My name is Elizabeth, but do feel free to call me Lizzie if you so wish.”] Having eyed the weapons at the others disposal, she looked across to her tall and pale friend, shaking her head lightly but her smile only grew more.[+royalblue "What have I told you about running toward armed strangers? Come along now, you shouldn't be bothering them.”]

Her request for Adrian to leave them alone and come away was further expressed by a man's hand pressing into his chest and pushing him back a step, Nicolai now stood between the two groups, a scowl on his face as his right hand rest against his sword's grip. His chest puffed up having make his way back as quickly as he could, even jumping the last six or so feet to the ground though that only jolted his arm aggressively.

[+teal “I agree and suggest you listen to your friend.”] His voice almost growled the command for him to back away, a tone he had not used too often in front of the others. Trying to make himself as imposing on the man, not knowing his kind nature but seeing the sword on his back, the elven and human swordsman stood facing one another, violet and red eyes watching one another intently.
  WI_ / 70d 5h 29m 40s
The dwarf ate up the younger man’s tale. [+darkmagenta “Always had a soft spot for little vagabond children myself, so I understand that.”] Gregory did not know what he would do if he had run into a whole orphanage worth, two were more than enough to keep his hands tied.

Florence got more of a tale than she bargained for with her question. It was basically a whole life story where a single word would have sufficed. And at that, he never really answered her question. Sixteen plus years in an orphanage meant just as long in one place, but she was not going to push any further for an answer. The woman had learned more than she wanted to know about this man. And Gregory was already making eyes at him like he wanted to stick to him for a while.

[+darkmagenta “What a coincidence, that was exactly the pass we were planning to take.”] Florence rolled her eyes. There was no coincidence, there were only two options and they both happened to be going towards the closer one.

The olive skinned woman took a deep breath. She was being even more cynical than usual, perhaps because of the story that Adrian told. There was a time when she, like Gregory, would have taken a great interest in him because of it. He claimed to be the type of man who would make a stand in the face of injustice. It was a rare breed of person who would do so for a stranger, even in her youth when she had been at the peak of her fieriness, Florence was never so forthcoming. The things she did, she did for her family and for her country. Away from them, she had lost a great deal of that passion.

[+mediumseagreen “Before the two of you skip off to start braiding one another’s hair, Gregory, you should probably think about the situation a little more.”] It was dangerous to trust so easily. And on the off chance they really did turn out to be decent human beings, they would be greatly endangering them by getting them involved. What would Florence say if they were attacked on the roads again? She did not want to have to explain the situation to outsiders. They would be fine all on their own.

With that thought, her eyes caught someone coming their way, a woman with horses in tow. Hand twitching around her weapon, Florence set her sights on the new stranger. However she was quickly interrupted.

[+crimson “Whoa, whoa, it is fine. It is just my friend. Looks as though she has finished up.”] He turned, waving at the golden haired elf as if she had not already spotted him standing there.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 70d 2h 50m 20s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Danny snorted in a derisory manner as she looked at Nicolai. His request was made and she stared at him intensely to see if he was joking or not. When it was clear that he wasn't, and his gal-pal still clinging to his arm was now looking at her, she made a quick assumption.[+dodgerblue “A lot of gold huh? What's up, not getting paid enough to be a general?”]

Her snappy comment, whilst humorous, brought no change in Nicolai's solemn but serious expression.[+teal “I'm going north, through the pass, and need to buy a lot of equipment for several people.”]

[+dodgerblue “Oh? Like your little mistress here?”] She was rather good at these quick one liners he had to give her that.[+dodgerblue “No offence hun but I'm not about to bankroll you and your hubby's so you can elope together. Your personal stuff is yours.”] She folded her quite toned arms over her chest as if that would be the end of the conversation.

Nicolai stepped forward after that, cutting off any retort by Meredith as he sought to maintain the intensity of the conversation. It was about keeping the momentum with himself. If she began to shut down to the notion he was owed something, anything, he would come away empty handed.[+teal “First of all, she is not my wife or mistress or concubine. Second, you're going to give me what I'm owed because you know that this business that you took over for free, would not be here if not for me.”] Though his hand had slipped from Meredith's to make his point the young woman had remained attached to his arm, holding it and pulling it taut against her like he would protect her.

Nicolai could keep her from harm only so much with his sword arm all but useless – but Danny was not to know that, so intimidation needed to be utilized.[+teal “He may not mention how he got here but I'm damn sure Jim mentioned that without me, he would not have been in Underhill.”] Again he was not sure if Danny know this, more so he was playing off a hunch and a likelihood that he had been mentioned at all.

Eyeing him with distaste that he would try to use her attachment to her former boss and the man who had left her this thriving business, the woman scratched at her chin leaving a sooty line across her skin.[+dodgerblue “Okay, suppose I believe you and I'm willing to help you out. How much are we talking here?”] He had her at negotiations now. Not exactly the easy stage by any means.

[+teal “I'm taking four north, so I need a hundred a piece – four hundred.”] He stated this like he was speaking rather reservedly, though the blacksmiths eyes lit up in alarm and hands on his arm tensed too.
[+violet “Four people?”] Her voice was confused.
[+dodgerblue “Four hundred?! Hells, I could take a whole village through the pass for less than that!”] She scoffed and slapped her hand on the wooden counter.[+dodgerblue “I'll do you twenty-five a piece, a hundred gold. More than fair.”]
[+teal “I need to kit out four people in winter clothing, sleeping equipment and provisions. Twenty-five would be okay if this were spring, but you know the passes aren't hospitable this time of year.”]
[+dodgerblue “Not my fault or problem.”] She shrugged impassively.
[+teal “It will be when I start taking the profits I'm owed from here. This is partially my business after all.”] He pointed out the crest on the wall again.[+teal “Seventy-five a piece. Three hundred.”]
[+violet “What did you mean four people?”]
[+dodgerblue “Forty and no more.”]
[+teal “Fifty – the girl stays here with you and you take full ownership of this place, in writing.”]
[+violet “Wait – what?”]
[+dodgerblue “Deal!”] She held out a hand and he seized on it. Both parties knew he could have stuck out for more and perhaps gotten it, but it was a good deal. And she was curious how the girl with the doe eyes came into this agreement. Meredith looked curious too.

-+-+-

[left [pic http://i68.tinypic.com/nd9b46.png]] Not at all accustomed to having such friendly people to speak to, Adrian was keen to keep the conversation going. Even if the woman seemed cold to him, she had spoken with him a little, so perhaps he could work on thawing our their relations a little. The dwarf man seemed to be quite happy for a chat and the swordsman was not dense enough not to see he was being used for his presence as Florence looked about them.

It was also nice to see the boy was no longer holding the blade in his hand as if he were going to sweep forward and gut him. He still held the blade close but he looked from his mother to the newcomer with interest and he could see the boy was thoroughly involved with Gregory and Adrian's conversation.

Before he could reply to Gregory, Florence cut in with her own query and he smiled as he looked back to her.[+crimson “Oh, of course. Except, I'm a bit of a nomad.”] That didn't satisfy her worry and he decided it best to clarify.[+crimson “Well you see my first twenty years or so were spent in an orphanage. Never knew my parents, just left with the local church when I was a babe. When I hit sixteen, when most kids left, I decided to stick behind and help out. Least I could do right?”] He looked to Gregory to see him give a deep nod of agreement.

[+crimson “Well I did that for a while but I had always wanted to go travelling and seeing the world, so I bought a sword, bought a pack, and just.. went.”] He laughed a little as the spontaneity of the action still was so strong. Whenever he told the story it always made him smile how he had just done so with little worry.[+crimson “Spare you the details but did a lot of travelling, and I mean a lot. Seen quite a fair bit. But not least a lot of bad in the world.”]

The man was a little troubled at stating he had seen so much, as he had seen so many sights he did not wish to discuss. But the conversation was flowing so well that he wanted to keep the mood light and flowing.[+crimson “Anyway, I started being a bit of a guardsman. Would help people through the pass or protect them from one town to the next. Just felt good to try and spread that sense of peace in the world, fight back the bad, help the weak, pass on the goodwill you know?”] His hand had come up to push back his hair which had blown forward a little and when it came back down he tapped at the front of his shield, to the markings there.

[+crimson “Got this from a temple in Calista. Meant to bring safe passage to the wielder and have to say it did just that – because the next day I met my friend. She was being hassled by a group of guys, horny creeps basically. A few bashes of the ol' shield and hey-ho I made a friend for life. She's been travelling with me the last, god, must be near two years now.”] He was wondering just where she had gotten off to but knew she would be a little while longer. He didn't feel like introducing her without her being here and so he kept it rather simple with her.

[+crimson “We're in town to load up on supplies then we're going to head up north again – heard there was a group of people who got attacked by a couple bandits near Mayfair Pass so we're going to see what's up.”]
  WI_ / 70d 18h 13m 36s
Meredith had really thought that Nicolai was taking a shot in the dark with the nickname, or what she supposed was a nickname. He might have descended into horse noises, but that didn’t make any sense whatsoever. In fact she was ashamed to have even had the thought in the first place. Still despite the strange mental direction she had gone in, she was brought to when the sooty woman snapped back in recognition.

The atmosphere got a little lighter, turning almost reminiscent as the two talked about this Jim guy. Nicolai was providing all sorts of proof of his connection. That was probably a good idea. This town was full of liars and crooks and this lady probably dealt with them on a daily basis. She would be able to sniff out a rat. Not that Meredith thought he was lying; just that this was a pretty far-fetched story. Not even she would believe it if a man walked in and started spouting off that her old boss owed him money. The girl was not the smartest thing, but that was very sketchy.

After that the air became a little heavier again, as the elf pulled away from the formalities. He took a more pointed tone as he stated the debt fell to the woman before them since she was reaping the benefits of inheriting this place. What’s more, he wanted money. And in his own words, a lot of it. That made Meredith nervous again. There were few things in this world that made people as aggressive as money did. She hoped he was reading this lady’s temperament correctly. Her brown eyes flickered between them as she waited for a response. The blacksmith was looking him over with hard eyes, as though she was evaluating him. The silence was driving the girl mad.

---

Brow furrowing at the winking gesture tossed her way, Florence didn’t know what he was up to with that, but she did know that she did not like it. There was no need to act so casual with strangers. Not unless you wanted something from them. She worried what that might be, as she was not so optimistic to think that it might just be the company while he waited.

Augustine was intrigued as weaponry was brought back up. He had always been interested in that sort or thing. But it was news to him which countries produced the finest type of different things. Living in the heart of Wistina, he always thought they made the best of everything, but thinking back there was a focus on blades and anything else that could be crafted of steel. Bows and the rest were pushed by the wayside and this must have been why. Vanity, speak only of the things you excel in and perhaps those around you will not notice your shortcomings.

At the mention of his mother’s bow, the boy’s green eyes slipped away from Adrian who he was previously keeping weary tabs on, and to the weapon in her hand. It was dark in color, the wood must have been treated with something, though he didn’t know what. And there was a shallow design carved into the limbs. Besides being pretty, it must have been sturdy. He did not imagine his mother would carry it otherwise. Though, Augustine wondered if it was as special as the red-eyed man seemed to think it was. He child listened more carefully to his and Gregory’s conversation from that point on.

[+darkmagenta “Florence and I moved down this way some time ago, we thought it might be time for a visit back home though. We are on our way back up north currently.”] He knew Florence would be upset with him releasing any more detail than that. Even with this much she was throwing him dirty looks. To be fair it was her business more than his. [+darkmagenta “A couple of our party members had some business to sort out here first. Like you, we are waiting for them to return.”] He recalled that Adrian was on stand by for the moment as well.

Florence could feel his eyes on her from time to time, but after giving up on glaring Gregory into submission she went back to watching their surroundings. There was not much to see, rocks, crags, and the occasional passerby. But it seemed that the eyes of those who walked by didn’t linger quite so long on them now that their group had grown. She sighed, knowing it was not just the number. Having an able bodied man there raised the risk in their eyes. For the first time in a long time, she began to wish that she had been born a man. Then maybe she would be able to protect her family a little bit better.

Gregory was saying something or other. She waited for him to quiet down before throwing her hat in the ring. [+mediumseagreen “You know where we are from, what about you?”] She didn’t think it quite fair that he had the upper hand there, and because Florence was unable to place his accent through the Astorian he spoke, she was forced to ask.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 70d 19h 7m 24s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat As soon as Nicolai had mentioned 'Winny', there was a look of realisation and dawning on the woman's face as she looked across the counter and eyed his with surprised eyes. It was both relieving and embarrassing to reveal the nickname given to him by the previous dwarven owner. Even with the man gone it was still quite the barb in his side and he could see the smile spreading on Danny's face.

[+dodgerblue “No way! You? You're [i the] Winny? By the gods I thought you were just a myth and a story Jim liked to tell.”] She was quite alarmed to find the name paired to a man, an elf no less, and it belonged to a General of a Kingdom? It was hilarious but like a shroud had been lifted from a long darkness.
[+teal “Yes, well I am not. And my name is Nicolai.”] His eyes narrowed a touch but she waved off his distress.
[+dodgerblue “Oh shut up, I know you – or rather about you. So what debt did Jim owe?”] She still smiled but it was more mischievous than mocking. Taking a deep breath Nicolai nodded.
[+teal “Well, perhaps in his stories, Jim mentioned just how he came to own this place?”] She shook her head.
[+dodgerblue “Not entirely. Just that he left Wistina and came here, 'bout it.”]
[+teal “Well the reason he left Wistina is because he had annoyed the King. I won't get into how, but in the end he was to be put in prison for twenty years. I had known Jim for some time, and I was the one to get him his job at the armoury, and frankly it would look awful on me if my recommendation got locked up. So I smuggled that little bastard up here, to Underhill, and helped him to both purchase and set up this blacksmith. I even had, where is it,”] looking around them to one of the support beams at the side of the room, he pointed up at one,[+teal “there, that is my coat of arms carved into that pillar.”] He said gesturing a shield and it's emblem that had been carved right into the stone itself and turning a touch to show the same marking engraved into the hilt of his sword.
[+dodgerblue “Huh.. I had wondered why that was there.”] She was learning a lot about this place now and was a little fascinated.
[+teal “Lovely, mystery solved. Now, the deal I made with Jim is that I helped him set up this place, and in return he not only made me this sword – but he owed me a pretty significant debt. This business is here because of me and he didn't die in a prison because of me. As such he owes me and by extension now you do.”]

He was quite assured of his position to demand this debt still be paid even if the original debt owner had passed on. His story, whilst entirely true, was just a story to this girl. But he felt confident that the background about her former boss' arrival here and the details of his nickname and the coat of arms would further show her he was being honest. She seemed to mull it over and sucked at her gums for a time. Deliberating it over she eventually nodded.

[+dodgerblue “What is it he owes? What do you want?”] Danny was willing to believe him, just depended what he wanted.

[+teal “I need gold. A lot of gold.”]

-+-+-

[left [pic http://i68.tinypic.com/nd9b46.png]]Adrian conceded that she did not want to shake his hand, and that was fine. He smiled and took back his hand to rest at his side as she introduced the group. Despite the look of them – an old man, young boy and rather beaten woman based on the soft bruise and bandaged arm – he found them all to be interesting characters. Whilst he wanted to enquire as to her injuries, that could wait for another time. She was comfortable enough to tell him at least the adults names and that was a good sign for their fledgling friendship.

[+crimson “Well Florence, Gregory, son of Florence,”] he offered a toying wink to the woman,[+crimson “it's awful nice to meet you all. I always knew Astorians were kind folk, just don't tend to see a lot of you out and about in the world.”] It was true that they were quite the rare sight to behold, though if they were as friendly as Gregory and.. lets say strong, as Florence, then they were quite the joy to meet.

Looking to Gregory when he enquired about his knowledge of weaponry, a wry smile turned his lips and like a modest man would he shrugged lightly.[+crimson “I do indeed know my weapons, especially the best of each kind.”] He felt a touch on the spot by his question but the dwarf clearly meant no ill will by asking. Nor did he seem to be digging deeper to uncover a hidden truth about the fair skinned man. He just seemed rather curious and encouraged him to continue.

[+crimson “For example I know Astorian bows are the best to be found because the wood is so supple and flexible but strong. Yours,”] he gestured with a wave of his hand to Florence,[+crimson “is particularly amazing. Either a family relic or must have cost a fortune.”] It was a fair guess, but truly most people could have guessed as much.[+crimson “And then the best swords are from Wistina. The steel is just of such pureness, can't be found elsewhere. Whilst Calista has very beautiful pieces of armour, but they are more made for prestige and appearances. Me, I prefer a good solid piece of Delfin leather.”] He lifted his arm to show the leather bracer tied to his forearms.[+crimson “Hardy things these if you take care of them. Saved my arm a number of times.”] He said with a soft sigh of remembrance to past fights.

It was obvious he was a man of war, or a mercenary by some standard. But that seemed to be too simple for this unique individual. It was not so easy to label him a sell sword and call it a day, there was an extra layer to him being a fighter. But then just what his job was would come up eventually.[+crimson “What brings you so far south may I ask?”] He directed this to Gregory, seeing as Florence was content to keep mostly quiet and the man was affable enough. Though he could not help sneaking a glance across to her now and again.
  WI_ / 70d 20h 3s
There were two sets of emerald eyes on the man as she came forward. Augustine was not sure what to make of this stranger. He had to be very brave, very stupid, or very desperate to be crossing his mother in this way. The man had not come up with any demands, so it probably was not the last option, and he did not see anything to be brave about, so surely it was stupidity. But he seemed to win Gregory over in no time flat. The short man was usually a decent judge of character, at least as far as the boy knew, so he was torn on how to act in such a situation. But when Adrian came in closer, his little fingers wrapped all the tighter around the thin hilt of the blade he had been given.

He called for her to use logic with this situation, which would have been fine if he tried to use it from her point of view, but he did not. They were standing outside of a seedy town, an elderly man, a woman and a child. They needed to be wary of everyone who approached, regardless of how friendly, or handsome they were. But unfortunately, his way of looking at things made a bit of sense too. Now that Gregory was basically looking to have a sit down with this guy, she couldn’t just shoot him. The old dwarf would be pissed. And she would rather expose Augustine to as little violence as possible. Adrian on the other hand was now officially in striking distance. If he wanted to have the jump on them, he had lost the chance.

Looking from his offered hand up to his face and back again, she noticed he was looking intently at her face. She remembered how much of a mess she must have looked. Weary, bruised, and bandaged, without Nicolai she definitely looked the worst off amongst the group. The woman refused his hand, afraid of what he might do when he had it, but conceded to give her name. If she didn’t Gregory was bound to do introductions, and away from Wistina she was worried just how he would word it.

[+mediumseagreen “Florence.”] Bringing her hand down, now that it was obvious she was not going to nock the arrow at her fingertip, she gestured toward the bearded man. [+mediumseagreen “This is Gregory, and behind me my son. He is a child and of no consequence to you, so I will spare you his name.”] Since he was confident enough to come at her in her first language, she continued with it.

[+darkmagenta "So are you well versed in all weapon craft, or just have a particular interest in Astoria?"] Gregory stepped forward, completely ignored Florence's alienating language. Unlike her, he saw some use of having the gentleman sit with them. With his figure, he was a better deterrent by far than the rest of them combined. If he continued to be friendly they could use that too their advantage.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 70d 23h 53m 43s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Observing the woman before them a little longer, each staring at one another with intrigue, it was Meredith who broke the silence. She pressed in closer to him, her free hand grasping his forearm as the one in his hand squeezed lightly. Her question had no answer really as he was still trying to understand why this human looking woman was stood there and not Jim.

[+teal “This is Jim's Ironsmith right? James 'Jim' Draketon's place?”] He spoke in a generic language that was popular the world over. It was like a business language used by merchants, traders and other economic trades.

The woman before them seemed to understand, grinning as she reached up and grasped the goggles, removed it and a bandanna that they would rest upon when not over her eyes. Her hair was shaved down one side of her head and her eyes were ringed by marks from the eyewear.[+dodgerblue “I speak Wistinian, don't worry.”] His accent was heavy so she had easily deduced this, but her voice was quite sweet and light which had fooled him.[+dodgerblue “Yeah, this is his place. Or was.”]

[+teal “Was? Where is he now?”] He had an inkling but it was best to confirm it.

She slide the hammer onto the worktop as she lifted the cloth and wiped at the back of her neck.[+dodgerblue “Dead. Keeled over at the forge about a year or so back. I'm Danny, I was his apprentice and then his assistant, took over the place once he passed. What can I do for you? Need the sword sharpening?”] A craftswoman by trade she had eyed the beautiful piece at his hip with interest.

Nicolai was left disgruntled by how she was trying to move past the fact Jim was dead.[+teal “Why, if he is dead, did you not change the name?”] He didn't know why that bugged him, it just did.

She shrugged.[+dodgerblue “He built up a good clientèle over the years. Seemed a shame to lose it for the sake of vanity.”] A fair decision and feeling that this was still the best course of action, he approached the woman and leaned at the counter, a spot that was cleaner from past patrons leaning here.

[+teal “Well, Jim and I go back a number of years.”]
[+dodgerblue “Looking for a discount eh? Not gonna work with me. I give good prices for good work.”]
[+teal “No, I don't want a discount. I need Jim's help.”]
[+dodgerblue “But he's dead.”]
[+teal “I understand that but he owed me a rather heavy debt.”] She eyed him cautiously.
[+dodgerblue “You collecting that debt today?”] He saw her insinuation and shook his head.
[+teal “It's not like that. Look, did he not mention me? Nicolai Windsor, General and Commandant of Wistina.”] Meredith had squeezed his hand at that and looking to her he saw the look in her eyes,[+violet [i 'why did you tell her that']] the look she gave him. He ignored her, but she remained close in to him – almost worse than two new lovers.
[+dodgerblue “Windsor.. Windsor.. can't say it rings all to many bells.”] She wiped her hands on her rag and tucked it into her belt.

A little desperate for this not to fail – as he had no other means for them to gain the aid they needed without several weeks of constant hunting – he looked around and then paused. Something clicked in his mind. Looking to Danny he caught her eye.[+teal “Did he ever mention 'Winny'?”]

-+-+-

Despite her protestations that he should move along, accompanied by a look of both nerves, aggression and curiosity, Adrian was not to be deterred and smiled as Gregory broke into laughter. It helped ease some of the tension as his vivid fiery gaze turned from one to the other.[+crimson "Well, I will take your laughter as a good sign.”] He spoke in pretty good Astorian as he looked to the dwarf who had taken a step forward as if to introduce them all and make a formal greeting, but he hesitated and stepped back once the unamused face of Florence turned on him.

This woman was wild and untamed and a whole heap of fun to watch as she curtailed her accomplices, keeping a young boy behind her as the dwarf rolled his eyes theatrically but conceded to her for now.[+crimson “Come on now lets be civil about this. If you were going to attack me you wouldn't have let me get this close and if I were gonna attack you, I'd be doing so right now, right?”] He was appealing to her to think this over in a less emotional and more logical manner. And it was true that if either were going to start a fight, it would have already began. Still that determined look on her face was more adorable than intimidating.

[+crimson “Would I get you to smile if I let you tie my hands up?”] He asked her and smiled, shrugging his shoulders a little.[+crimson “Just joking, nice, safe, harmless jokes. How about names? Can't hurt to share our first names right? Look, I'll start, I'm Adrian.”] His hand that had come to rest atop his shield was extended out to Florence, a single step taken toward her. He was not scared of her but he did not want to provoke her either. And she seemed harmless enough under that scowl.
  WI_ / 70d 23h 24m 43s
When it became abundantly apparent that whomever it was that Nicolai was seeking out was not present, Meredith began to worry. That was not to say she was not concerned before then, as walking through Underhill was frightening on its own. But now it seemed all the worse because it might have been all for naught. Not to mention she was praying that the others might have forgotten that they said they would leave her in the next settlement they found. The girl really, really, did not want to stay in this place even a second longer than she had to. She knew she wouldn’t be truly happy no matter where she was dripped off, that it wouldn’t be her home or have her family. But being here made her realize that there was definitely an array options out there, some vastly better than others even if they were not the place she once called home.

Gripping all the tighter at the elf’s hand, she stepped closer to him. It was as though she believed the closer proximity would keep her safer. The woman in front of them very likely was not this Jim fellow, but that did not make her an automatic threat. Meredith was just nervous. She stared up to the silent general, [+violet “What are we going to do?”] For no good reason, her voice was barely above a whisper. What did it matter if the goggled woman heard her?

---

Things were going well, right up until they weren’t. A man, a large one at that, was the first to test their limits. Florence would have given him the benefit of the doubt, but he was staring right at her. There was no hesitation as her hand moved up towards her quiver. That action alone caused the stranger to come to a full stop. He backpedaled instantly, but only with his words. His feet stayed firmly planted where they were. That she did not care so much for.

Her eyes narrowed as he tried to spark a conversation. Was he dense or was he looking to be shot? She did not trust his friendly front, but she was impressed that he could spot the Astorian craftsmanship from such a distance. Florence’s bow in particular, as it was a less standard example, unique and made specifically for her. Her lips stayed sealed tight, but not Gregory’s. Damn him.

[+darkmagenta “Aye, you have a good eye. “]

Florence’s stony glare snapped to the dwarf. [+mediumseagreen “What do you think you are doing.”] She hissed beneath her breath. [+mediumseagreen “Do not make small talk.”] Not sparing her eyes on short man any longer, she brought them back on the stranger. He was still staring. His crimson irises were striking against his near impossibly pale skin. The longer he was there, the nervous she became at his presence. She broke the silence she had directed at him. [+mediumseagreen “I suggest you move along, so we do not have any problems.”]

Not particularly scared by the woman, especially now Adrian was confident that he would not be attacked straight away; he grew a touch bolder. [+crimson “Not to upset, little lady, but you’re really not all that intimidating. Are you sure you folks are doing okay?”] There was a child with them so he was a bit worried for them. A woman, a dwarf, and a boy were not the greatest deterrents for those who meant harm.

Guard already down from the overall atmosphere this guy gave off, Gregory laughed at his observation and the face Florence made in response. That was probably the first time she had ever heard anything like that.

The tall woman was not sure which she was more troubled by, the brunette’s words or Gregory’s laughter. Quickly turning her glare back on him, she had to fight the urge to kick him. Her want to keep their ragtag group from looking any more disjointed than they already did was the greatest factor in her holding back. But it looked as though her ill will made it through to him all the same, as the old man took a step away from her.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 71d 12h 1m 32s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Her warning was well received and his hand brushed along her arm, squeezing lightly before he left the trio behind, taking Meredith with him despite her desire to remain with them. Nicolai knew Florence's threat was one meant to hasten his trip inside for fear that if she found him, he would wish he had become lost inside. It made him chuckle to himself as he led the girl in behind him, falling in with the throng of people heading in from the bright sunlight to the town of Underhill.

It's name truly lived up to the mantle as within a few minutes of entering, the only light to see by was candle and oil lanterns, dangling above them from the ceiling or dotted about many doorways into homes and establishments. Holding Meredith off to one side with him whilst they adjusted to the darkness, Nicolai pulled her closer to speak in her ear given the noise about them.[+teal “You keep close to me. If you lose me then you stand still and I will come back to you – do not wander off or you won't get out of here again.”] The warning was well understood and he took a hold of her hand.

Given she was not exactly dressed for the weather and conditions of travelling – much like Florence – he was particularly keen to have her near to him to stave any wandering hands from grabbing at her or even taking her off for.. well, unspeakable things. Their pace was brisk, stopping at some crossroads as he tried to remember the turnings he needed to take. The streets, pathways or whatever you could call these narrow alleys, were quite packed with the bustling of merchants, travellers, drunkards and thieves. Many languages came from around them and the smell would change from time to time between body odour, spices, something burning or something dead.

Once or twice he would make the decision incorrectly and have to take them back a step or two, try again and find the path once more. The stone was carved in a particular manner and therefore helped immensely in that the walkways between the individually carved rooms and 'buildings' did not change. After almost half an hour, climbing slopes and ascending the mountain up several staircases, they came to the right destination.

Built out on the edge of Underhill, a good fifty or sixty feet up from the ground, Ol' Jim's Ironsmith was well positioned for it's large bellows to suck in clean and cool air from outside and to access a store goods lift that would lift materials such as ore and coal up to feed the fire. The entrance was not as glamorous as he remembered, but then it had been particularly new when he was last there and the glass panes were heavy with soot now. Meredith was still with him and he tugged her hand in his to pull her inside the doorway. She seemed a bit dazed still from the sights and sounds but she was unharmed and shook her head when he asked if anyone had tried to grab at her. A small positive.

Opening the large oak door he led her into a quite bright room on account of a large set of windows that were currently open to their left. The sounds of the world outside were over shone by the dull rhythmic beat of metal upon metal. Directly in front was a wooden counter top, long and quite dirty with a whole myriad of metal tongs, hammers and other assorted blacksmith tools dotted along it. The waiting area before it, in which they stood, had a few crates, likely empty, but otherwise no stock or anything worth more than a couple coppers was left out and on show. Seemed even Ol' Jim couldn't trust the fine folk of Underhill. To the left, along the wall from the windows in the back wall of this area, was a doorway covered by two dirty lengths of cloth to obscure the vision to the back. Walking slowly up to this counter, Nicolai rapped on the wood quite loudly.

The pounding in back stopped almost immediately and he heard the shuffling and scuffing of boots on the ground approaching. Looking at the back of his hand, knuckles dirty so easily, he tutted.[+teal “Jim, would it kill you to clean up now and.. then..”] His voice faltered as he looked up to find not a small and rotund dwarf with bushy eyebrows and a plaited beard – but a human girl with goggles over her eyes, a tan apron across her front, holding a hammer in one hand and a strip of cloth in the over. Where was Jim?

-+-+-

The show of force by the duo outside, guarding the horses and young boy by the mere threat of their bows, was enough to drive off most who eyed them even for more than a few seconds or lingered too near. But of course that was not to deter Adrian who had eyed their quite distinctive weaponry from afar. Watching the pairing for a little time whilst awaiting the return of his friend, he was assured in his view that they were carrying Astorian bows, and in his delight at noting that he made his way across to them.

With shield in hand and sword on his back alongside his pack of belongings, his long trench-coat caught the wind now and then and the sound of the flapping material is what caught Florence's attention to the man approaching them. Seeing fingers tighten about the bow in her hands, he quickly raised his free hand to her.[+crimson “Whoa whoa, sorry, I don't mean any offence!”] His voice was quite deep but it sat rather well with the slightly bulkier physique. Ruby eyes met emerald and he let out a half laugh that showed his relief that no immediate attack came.

[+crimson “I'm sorry to just come up on you like this, I don't mean any harm whatsoever to any of you. I'm waiting for my friend to be done in Underhill and saw those bows. Astorian right?”] There was no reply to him but with this closer look he noticed the subtleties that showed he was right.

Smiling lightly from a small touch of nerves, he lowered his hand and rest it atop the rim of his shield which he brought before himself.[+crimson “I get it, not exactly keen to talk with strangers. Lots of people are like that with me. But wow, I haven't seen an Astorian bow like that in years. It's like a work of art one of those.”] He spoke directly to Florence, watching her as she was closest, though his eyes did flicker down to Gregory to ensure there was no attack from him – after all this was not the safest of places and here he was approaching some strangers about their horses.
  WI_ / 71d 14h 20m 26s
Florence wanted to object to the idea of only Nicolai and Meredith going in. One was incompetent and the other was down to one arm. They would not exactly able to do anything if someone jumped them. That being said, she could offer no better options for them to default to. Even if she went in as well, or Gregory, their talents laid in bows and would be of little use in the confined space inside.

Gregory, on the other hand, seemed to fine with the idea. [+darkmagenta “That sounds like the best choice for our current situation.”] Though he was a little bitter at Nicolai’s comment. The elf was not was not wrong, so he only grumped about the tiniest bit as the elf went to arm the blond boy.

Complicated feelings filled the mother as she saw her son take hold of the blade. Of course it was better to have him equipped than not, but she also didn’t like the idea of him using it. Daggers were only effective within an arms length. He was going to have to be in rather grave danger before that thing came in handy. She hoped he would not need to use it. But with the position they were taking on the outside, she doubted anyone would move to bother them. Neither she nor Gregory were making an attempt to hide the fact that they were armed.

[+teal “Anything you wish to ask before I go in?”]

Thinking on it for a while, there was not a lot that came to Florence’s mind. [+mediumseagreen “If you take any longer than expected I will be going in after you, so do try to keep to schedule.”] She didn’t go through all that grief of getting him to agree to coming to Astoria just to lose him on the way up, especially this early on.

Since there were no real questions, the pair went on their way. Bright green eyes stayed trained on Nicolai’s back until he was out of sight. Then there was nothing to do but wait. That and glare at anyone who passed and so much as looked remotely interested in them. A stern look was all it took to scare most people off. Even if they were looking for someone to filch goods off of, most pickpockets and the likes were interested in easy targets. Fighting was usually something avoided by thieves. Not to mention, save the horses and a few bags of food, they carried very little of value.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 71d 18h 48m 11s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai felt the rough sleep quite badly, his shoulder feeling all the more stiff. He had taken the last watch after Gregory and woke the others a little later than usual, given they would make it to Underhill that day. With stretches and a brisk walk about the group at the end of his watch he had managed to ease aching joints and come away with just his original injuries. Having lived the rough life as a soldier he was more accustomed to these painful starts.

The travel was slow but he had thought it would be as they nursed their horses down the remainder of the slope to the town. When they came upon it he smiled in half memory of his last visit and how it looked the same save for a few more structures built outside the rocky outcropping. Serving no strategic importance and acting as merely a hub for travellers, not a real economic powerhouse, the town did not have need of walls or fortifications. The myriad of tunnels and pathways once inside served as the biggest deterrent to attackers. It was quite easy to be lost inside.

Gregory brought up a good point, one the elf had considered when he had decided to bring them here. Yet Florence voiced his other concern with the idea of separating them.[+teal “Yes the stable is the last place to take the horses. They would be stripped of their gear and gone within the hour.”] His contact could help them but three horses would be quite out of their level of help.

[+teal “I will go in with Meredith.”] No-one's head snapped to him in judgement quicker than the woman in question.[+violet “Me? Why me? I can't fight or help.”] Nicolai had his hand at his swords pommel, squeezing it to stop from playing with his shoulder as they looked to him.[+teal “Precisely why you are coming in. We need someone to guard the horses and Gregory is the best choice. I won't take Augustine in – some things are not suited for a child's eyes. And if he is staying out here, along with the horses, we need a second defensive mind out here, and Florence is our best archer.”] A look from the dwarf, a raised eyebrow of wonder at his last statement, brought a chuckle from the swordsman.[+teal “Okay, beyond thirty feet, she is our best archer. Fair?”] Given his worse eyesight he had to concede that point.

Remaining at least some distance from the entrance he intended to go down, they all dismounted. Nicolai approached Augustine, taking a knee before him.[+teal “Here, if you're going to protect my horse I want you to be able to.”] His hand had twisted the pommel of his sword and the knife within was pulled free. It was a simple blade but sharp and better than using his fists.[+teal “You remember what I taught you about short blades?”] He nodded as his hand wrapped around the slim handle.[+teal “Quick and fast. A thousand cuts. You remain nimble and on the balls of your feet, not the heel.[i Rein und raus. Wie ein blitz.“]] The Astorian made it sound all the more heroic and warrior like. It was true that the language made even Nicolai feel stronger and more powerful. Not an artisanal language like elven.

Standing up he looked to Gregory and Florence.[+teal “Anything you wish to ask before I go in? I shouldn't imagine I will be longer than an hour or two.”]
  WI_ / 71d 23h 1m 14s
Florence took the first night shift, it being the easiest. The others had banded against her, so there was little to be done. All was clear through her leg of the stint. It switched to Gregory and lastly Nicolai. And as far as she knew nothing out of the ordinary came to pass. Though when she went to bed, the ground was definitely harder. They had waited out to find a place was that not too terrible, but given the rocky tendency of this area, the solidity persisted. There was not a single soul who was not sore the next morning. And they moved sluggishly because of it, leaving a bit later than they would have liked to continue on the way down the slope.

Due to the inset nature of the town, it did not come into view until they were basically right on top of it. From where Florence sat, she could not see many people. But that very well might have been because this was only the edge of town. And if things were shady as she presumed, this place’s dealings and traffic would not take place in the most visible and accessible point in the settlement. Though, despite that first initial thought, this place really was amazing. It must have taken years to into carve into the mountain so. The peak looked as though it could give way at any moment, at least to Florence. She was sure that someone with a better knowledge of architecture would say the exact opposite. And with how old some of the buildings looked, they were bound to be right. But still, she thought it a marvel and allowed herself to take in the sight. Though, she remained cautious of what was happening around her.

The party stopped before fully entering the town. [+darkmagenta "So do you think it would be best to stick together or send a smaller group in to make the contact?"] The streets here looked as though they grew narrow very soon after entry, the horses would be too cumbersome to continue with. [+darkmagenta "There is a stable over there, but I do not like the look of it. It might be best to have some of us stay with the horses instead."] He did not want to lose a horse over some winter clothes.

[+mediumseagreen "I do not like the idea of separating."] Florence could not think of a solid way to split them. Not with Meredith and Augustine here. Had all five of their people been trustworthy adults who could fend for themselves things might have been different, but as it was the woman was hesitant. If worse came to worst she did not want to have any one person bearing the burden of defending their weaker party members, especially with Nicolai still recovering. Overall there was a lot to consider.
  Florence Melbourne / loxi / 72d 6m 17s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had found her comment rather humorous, a little vain but her dry wit was often very subtle and finely balanced to where you almost half believed her. Laughing as he climbed up onto his horse it helped to hide the discomfort from shooting pains that seemed to run along the entirety of his arm. The pain would not subside for the entirety of that days ride, often left to steer the horse with just his left hand as the right sat unused in his lap.

It helped to ease the displeasure in the limb but with them having to traverse a decline of aggregate and rubble, it took each rider careful turns of their steeds here and there to make it down carefully and with no injury. He was rather impressed by the Astorians. Gregory he expected could ride, but with an untested animal he did a good job. And for Florence, despite riding the best tempered of the three animals, he had not expected her to control a horse quite so impeccably. He did not voice his impression however. Now was not a time to let their heads swell with pride; perhaps next time if they killed the attacker before he was struck by an arrow he would applaud them.

Catty thought aside the last hour to sundown was calm and he selected an area with not too much ground fodder for the night. With camp made, their rations for the night eaten and Gregory happily playing his lute to the delight of Florence and Augustine, Nicolai decided it best to leave the trio to their musical endeavour. They were happy, like having a camp out in the capital gardens.

His focus shifted to the relative outsider of the group, an increasingly silent and macabre Meredith who would often find herself away from the others staring at the ground or off into the dark. Despite a very logical part of his mind wanting to keep her in this confinement, as ever with Nicolai, heart won out and he grabbed his pack to move over to her some fifteen feet away from the others, their music continuing behind them.

[+teal “Here, take one of these.”] He commented pulling out a small pouch from the pack. Inside were small dough balls coated in a sticky honey glaze, a delicacy of Wistina.[+teal “I asked her to make them the first night we were there. The longer they soak in the honey the more delicious.”] The glow of the fire gave them enough light to see by and he saw the look of surprise on her face to see him sat there. In timid fashion, one he knew very well, she shook head to decline.[+teal “Come on, you need to eat one before those lot find them.”] The pouch was again offer up to her but she said nothing for a moment, only looked across to him with large doe like eyes.

[+violet “W-why are you talking to me?”] Her voice crackled. It did not look like she was going to cry, but perhaps more from her minimal talking over the last four or five days.[+violet “I almost got you killed.”] She whispered glumly.

[+teal “Yeah, you nearly did.”] He agreed because how could he not? Without Florence and Gregory to help he would have died easily. Taking his waterskin he passed it to her, placing it into her hand.[+teal “Drink it.”] He told her quietly as he looked at the sweets in his hand. She did so after a slight hesitation, clearing her throat.[+teal “But you see, nearly is the key word. I'm not dead. Not exactly perfectly healthy but still.. not dead.”] A wry smile accompanied his comments.

She passed back the waterskin and he took a sip for himself before placing the stopper back in.[+teal “You know a part of me really wants to kill you. Or at the very least injure you.”] He said it so calmly and matter-of-factly that the woman shuddered a touch as if anticipating the hit.[+teal “But I recognise that to be so ludicrous it is almost laughable. Because, and this is most of me here, in the end, what you did, what you tried to do rather, is exactly what I would have done in your situation.”]

Her head snapped to him at that and he slowly looked across to her, eyes meeting for a moment.[+violet “R-really? You would have?”] The incredulity was there in her tone.

Bobbing his head in acknowledgement he let out a sigh.[+teal “Yes. Come to me at your age, in the Castle, newly appointed as Germaine's General and all fresh and new – if you had told me I and my family would be targets of attack if I did not give him or his family or the whole country up, I'd do it in a heartbeat.”]

[+violet “You mean it?”] Oh god, is that what he sounded like to Florence? Questioning her intent and her motivations? It did not sound nice.

His lips pouted as he looked beyond her and nodded slowly.[+teal “Family is family. And I can see why you did what you did for the good of yours. Which is why I'm sorry Meredith.”]

[+violet “You are sorry? For what?”] Her voice was stronger now but they still spoke in hushed tones to one another.

[+teal “If what they said is true, and I believe it is, then you lost your family. You did all this and yet still you lost them – and I can't imagine what that put you through. And I am sorry for your loss, because I know what that is like.”] Catching her eye again he saw the twinkle and shimmer over her iris' and he shook his head.[+teal “Don't you dare, or you'll set me off.”] He said with a small smile.

[+violet “Sorry.”] She said with a half laugh, looking down at the gap between them to stop herself letting out tears. This pause, the silence that built, was where Nicolai shuffled across very slowly, lifting his arm up and placing it about her shoulders. He felt her stiffen for a moment, likely to break free, but just resting his arm there a moment she soon eased and he pulled her in against him to rest her head to his good shoulder.

[+teal “I won't lie, I don't know if a trust can be restored. I mean, that arrow fucking [i hurt]. But I want you to know that I do not blame you. And if you want it, you have my forgiveness.”] He stroked his hand along her upper arm, her body a touch cold though her cheek felt warm even through his tunic. She didn't reply to him but he felt her let out a very deep breath. Not wanting this conversation to linger any more than necessary he lifted up the pouch again.[+teal “Now eat a bloody delicious honey treat will you? I'm not going back to the damn fire if he's playing the lute or it's going to be kindling in short order.”] A huff of a laugh from her and her delicate hand reached in to take one of the sweets, remaining against him as the music continued on.
  WI_ / 72d 12h 15m 16s
She hummed, not exactly sure she believed him. However she chose to take his words at face value. [+mediumseagreen “I understand that.”] Florence understood the feeling. [+mediumseagreen “Hopefully it will not be too difficult a transition for you though. It is by far better to receive feedback from those around you than for them to be cowed into silence at your presence.”] The woman had many memories of similar situations so she was easily able to empathize. Though the one that mainly came to mind was of Nicolai’s change not long ago. He had always argued with her, but now he seemed to be more open than ever in doing so.

Shaking her head, Florence was not worried about herself. [+mediumseagreen “My cut was not deep. I do not think it will be long at all before it is fully healed.”] Whether or not a scar would remain in that place was yet to be seen, but the woman was certain she was passed the point where she needed to worry about infection.

Nicolai bridged the distance between them; he was slow to bring his hand to her face. Seeing the hesitant, almost cautious, nature of his movement, she wondered what he was up to. Florence had forgotten the state of disrepair her face was in. It was tender, even now as he gently brushed at her cheek, but not so much that she pulled away. Despite that, the moment did not last and he pulled back. [+mediumseagreen “It was only a bruise, of course it will fade. You worry over me too much.”] Between him and Gregory she was sure she would never have to look out for herself. [+mediumseagreen “Although, it is almost a shame it won’t stay. I could do with being less pretty. My life would be a great deal simpler, I think.”] There was an underlying tone of humor as she smirked at the man who stepped back, afraid of retaliation. He was a funny one, but she was thankful he respected her request for him to be mindful of her... issue.

They set out for the day not long after that. The other’s following the lithe man’s example and mounting their horses for what was to be a rather unpleasant ride. The terrain took a turn for the rocky that afternoon and try as they might, there was no way to get the animals gracefully down the steady incline they were facing. It was a jerky canter the whole way. Often times they had to slow down to make sure there would be no injury, but they managed to keep the estimated pace. Apparently Nicolai had accounted for their time-consuming descent. But even with that, when they stopped for the night everyone was relieved. More than a shot break was well needed, but there would be no actual rest until they had set up camp, something they were getting particularly good at.

That night around the fire, for the first time on this trek, Gregory actually unsheathed his lute. He plucked a happy little tune, missing the occasional note. This far out of Wistina he was significantly less worried about being heard and discovered. If some came across them it was highly unlikely it would be anyone of consequence. The tune, while not played to perfection did lighten the atmosphere some. Florence mindlessly hummed along as each song came and went.

Augustine took notice of the woman’s quiet soft sounds as he sat next to her. [+coral “Do you know all of Gregory’s songs?”]

[+mediumseagreen “Hm?”] She had not noticed what she was doing. [+mediumseagreen “Ah, I suppose I do. We’ve known each other a very long time and I do not think he has learned anything new the whole time.”] Smiling, she let out an airy sound that would have been a laugh if left unrestrained.

Gregory looked over at the pair, an unamused but not wholly annoyed look on his face. [+darkmagenta “Do you have a problem with that? Keep in mind it might not be so wise to insult your only source of entertainment for the next month or so.”]

[+mediumseagreen “No, I quite like your playing. I am just surprised after all these years it has barely changed.”] Her smile turned into a smirk.

[+darkmagenta “And whose fault do you suppose that is?”]

[+mediumseagreen “I do believe that would be your own.”]

The gray-featured dwarf’s false sternness faded away and was replaced with a smile. [+darkmagenta “I suppose you are right. This bleeding heart of mine will be my undoing. I am too kind by far.”] His voice was overly animated over the sound of his playing that never faltered.

Florence rolled her eyes. He really was too much.
  Florence Melbourne / Loxi / 72d 13h 18m 3s
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Though he had gotten his way, or rather Florence had seen sense in his suggestion and Gregory was out voted, Nicolai did concede to the dwarf in some manner.[+teal “Yes you and Florence can hunt for some food, but this is a country full of hunters. Pelts and game will not bring more than a few silver at best, copper more likely.”] Gregory had turned away, as if already wishing to be done with the conversation.[+teal “I gain nothing by delaying you all getting to Astoria Gregory. I am doing this so we don't come out the other side of the mountains missing someone.”] Despite that the smaller man just seemed to shrug, moving off to talk with Augustine.

Nicolai understood the man's concern but it seemed once more he was not trusted enough to give his opinion. It was as if he was telling them to march south into Delfin to stay for several weeks. How was asking them to sway toward a source of help in a land none of them knew at all intimately perceived as such a negative act? It did not help that this gave him an insight into how Florence must feel dealing with him and turned his frustrations in on himself a little.

When she had come to enquire how he was feeling, he bite harshly on waving her off and shutting her out. It was almost a second nature to close up and find his resolve from within. Instead, he let out a deep breath and offered a minute smile.[+teal “I am fine, just not exactly used to people talking back. You command a unit of men who do anything you say, backtalk is not expected.”] He played off her concerns about his wound with a nod to her own arm.[+teal “The same could be said of yourself, I haven't seen you tend to your arm since we left.”] The turn back of her worry switched the focus from his shoulder.

Still, he doffed his head in a polite fashion that he was accepting of her genuine worry.[+teal “When we reach Underhill we can both stock up on wrappings. Both of us were wounded remember, speaking of which..”] Given she was not surrounded by preening and always attentive servants, her hair was allowed to flow rather freely quite often and as such had cascaded down across her face. His hand rose a little hesitant at first, careful not to surprise her as she had warned him not to do, yet he gently back the dark chestnut curls. The bruise she had sustained from the fight had passed the phase of purples and deep blues and was now a shade of honey yellow showing its dissipation.[+teal “Well that has healed nicely.”] His thumb barely grazed across the chin of her cheek before his hand fell back to his side.[+teal “And here I was worried it may mark such a pretty face.”]

A curved brow rose in humour as he stepped away, quickly out of the way of any retaliatory strike she may have thrown, moving around his horse to mount up. It would be a quite annoying ride to Underhill – its name did not come from the fact it stood in a luscious plain after all. Built into the Southern Peak, a sole rocky outcropping that many took to be the beginning of the Farrastine itself, it was known for its turning an eye to some shady acts in favour of a quick profit. Not entirely lawless it was still much safer to travel in as large a group as possible.
  WI_ / 72d 15h 12m 42s
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