“I am going to pull them from their pedestal and I will watch them burn.”
Wistina, a small but prosperous country located on the southern peninsula of Esteroak. Being one of the few neutrally aligned ports in the area they keep good standing with their neighbors. All in all they seem to be in a golden age. The only real complaints are those of a naïve and frivolous king, but with many well-trusted advisors at his side no one pays him much mind. That is, not until he died. Leaving behind his wife and a young son, there is much debate on what will be done and things are not looking good got the widow and her child.
Being mid-spring, the weather was fair in Wistina. Although that was the case most year round, the warm ocean surrounding them on nearly all sides kept the temperature temperate. And while the Capital of Belldale was some several miles off the coastline, the sea breeze still rolled through the bustling city. It carried the thick aroma of street food though the southern streets. An enticing smell to coax people to the marketplace.
Just north of it all, in the center of the city, was the castle, home to the royal family. Inside, the atmosphere was completely different. Unbeknownst to the people of the nation, their leader was ill. And his condition was worsening. Cold sweats, horrendous coughing fits, and he complained of a pounding headache. And oh did he complain. There was no rest for anyone, as he demanded constant attention. The queen did her best to keep him company, but the perpetual whining was more than she could bear for any extended period of time. And so she was in and out to see her ailing husband, even though it was becoming more and more evident that these were liable to be his final days. As insufferable as she found the man, she had hoped that he would hold on to life a little longer. He was only in his early fifties for god’s sake. Their son was only eight, if he was to be crowned he would need to be put under the care of an advisor and that never went well. She didn’t trust those men. They had done well by her husband, but there was no saying they would do the same for Augustine. And there was only so much she could do on her own from her position.
After a longer visit than normal, Florence exited the king’s quarters, her lady in waiting and a guard in tow. She sighed before starting off. The trio passed a throng of councilors and nobles that were scrambling to see the king. Just in case. It wasn’t all bad, at the very least they weren’t bothering her. She was fairly tired of visitors at this point. With her husband bed ridden she was left to do the greeting.
Muted thumping reverberated off stonewalls as she walked along the rug that ran the length of the hallway. With any luck she would have a moment to do as she pleased. There was never any way to be sure, so she opted to do what she wanted for now. Someone would call for her if she was needed.
In her fleeting spare time, the dark haired woman decided to visit her child. Augustine was a reserved boy. And while being shy wasn’t the best trait for a future monarch, she was counting her blessings that he wasn’t an outspoken oaf. Although, the boy must have taken a liking to the type, as he was fond of his father. She thought it unfortunate, as the man’s illness was taking a greater toll on Augustine with them being closer.
Over the course of the week the king’s condition steadily deteriorated. Eventually, Florence banned their son from visiting. He was a mess with worry and she was sure he’d be permanently scarred if he happened to be there when his father passed. And it was only a matter of time until he did. The whole castle, staff, court, and visitors, were all on pins and needles waiting for the news. The whispering of rumors could be heard behind most closed doors. No one was quite sure what would come of it, but many feared for the state of the nation.
There was one such conversation taking place behind a door that had been carelessly been left ajar. The queen who had been passing by caught wind of voices she recognized leaking from the unsealed room, a pair of advisors. The woman stopped, just out of sight of the open door to have a listen. Turning toward Meredith, her lady in waiting, she put a hand signaling her to stop where she was and be silent.
[+lightslategray “-we may be in good standing now, but I don’t expect many of our allied nations will have the same respect for us with such a young ruler…”] He was cut off by a gruffer, more mature voice.
[+firebrick “Of course they won’t! We’ve been on thin ice for the last thirty years with King Germaine at the helm. It’ll be the same all over again with his spawn.”]
[+lightslategray “There has to be a way around, I mean, with him so young there is still time to mold him, With a proper advisor to teach him things might not be so bleak.”]
[+firebrick “Hah! You optimistic fool, it’s already in his blood. There’s no work around for that. We have to start over completely!”] Invigorated at the thought, his voice boomed.
Eyes narrowing, Florence had stumbled upon proof of her suspicions. She would need to be even more vigilant now that it was clearly more than paranoia. Standing absolutely still, she scarcely breathed so that she might hear what they said next, but before they went on, someone called loudly behind her.
[+blue “Your Majesty, what brings you here?”] The onyx eyed man spoke out emphatically, more so than necessary. She was quite certain it was to warn the others inside.
Biting the inside of her cheek with a look of annoyance, it was gone by the time she turned face. Florence replaced it with a serene smile. [+mediumseagreen “I am on my way to the entrance hall. They are hanging a tapestry and I wanted to be sure it is done properly.”]
His eyebrows bounced up, a look of surprised flashing across his face. [+blue “What a coincidence. I was just called there myself. Might I be so bold as to supply you company on your walk?”]
[+mediumseagreen “I suppose that would be fine.”] Her tone was gracious, but moderately disinterested. It was clear he was after something with the gesture.
Taking a step forward she looked through the open doorway, locking eyes with the closer of the two men. [+mediumseagreen “Gentlemen.”] The word was accompanied by a nod. Then she continued on her way, now with a man she didn’t quite remember the name of, and who was overtly eager to chat with her. Although, all her responses left something to be desired, as her mind was elsewhere. She needed to formulate a plan. Here very soon this place would not be safe for neither her nor Augustine.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat As metals collide their sharp rasps ring out into the open auditorium-like space, each slash and thrust echoing alongside every gasp and yell. Two men separate from one another, taking several paces back and regaining their composure. One is dressed in a thick, heavy set of plate armour, helmet and all. He wields in gauntleted hand a broadsword, a splintered shield on the floor and over to one side. The other man, an Elf given his tapered ears, is much lighter dressed. Padded in leather mostly save for the chain shirt wrought of Dwarven silver to the power and strength of triple steel, it was close-woven of many rings, as supple almost as linen and cold as ice, not to mention rather beautiful. His sword is thinner and partially curved.
Their combat continues with many a precession of thrusts, parries, wild swings and weak slashes. They duck or turn aside the others attacks whilst retorting with their own. The Elf is lighter and thus quicker, darting around his larger and more cumbersome foe and landing several blows that scuff and dent the plate. One double handed punch of his sword punctures the armour and pierces the defences of the larger man who grunts with the impact, a slow trickle of blood running from the hole left behind.
The plate man doesn't seem perturbed by the attack however and launches a flurry of heavy strikes that forces the Elf back, the dirt skittering under foot. Panting hard now the Elf regains a better stance to go forward on. The fight had gone on for ten minutes, the pace barely dropping though the man of plate seemed invigorated from the wound and a few feinted swings ends with a particularly heavy downward strike, blocked well but the sword blow sends reverberations down his arm, Elven hands spasms and his blade falls loose. Seizing on this a plated fist swings forward and strikes into his cheek, spinning him back and down onto one knee, the heavy sword coming down to rest on his shoulder.
[+coral “Stop! Don't kill him!”] A youthful voice cries out, echoing into the relative silence left behind from the end of their fight. From a darkened archway leading to the castle itself comes running a small boy. The plated man immediately takes a large step back removing his sword from the Elf's shoulder and planting it into the ground. As quickly but fluidly as he can, he takes a knee and bows his head. The boy approaches the Elf, placing a hand on his shoulder whilst giving a rather dirty glare to the other fighter. The touch surprises the dazed Elf who looks up, but he too immediately bows his head again; [+teal “Your Highness Augustine, it is an honour to have your presence. To what do we owe the pleasure?”] He speaks softly, respectfully, a genial smile on his lips, he pants heavily, regulating his breaths quickly. [+coral “He was going to kill you!”] The boy protests and accusatory eyes return to the other man who remains like a statue. The Elf nods and chuckles at the accusation. [+teal “Ah, but Your Highness,”] he says raising his head and looking upon the young Crown Prince of the realm,[+teal “it is naught more than practice. That is your fathers Chief Guard Gerald. We are simply keeping ourselves ready and trained to help defend this Kingdom. There is no foul play afoot here I assure you.”] He looks back to the plated man, nodding at him and gesturing with a flick of his wrist to take leave through the opposite archway. He doesn't need further guidance and does so quickly, leaving the Elf and boy be, the former now standing up sluggishly as the latter turns his attention away and moves across to retrieve the Elf's sword, lifting it up carefully with both hands – just about.
The older male walks across and holds out his hand to the child who nods and offers back his own sword. Taking it back he slides it into the scabbard at his hip, satisfied to have it's weight at his side again. Meeting the inquisitive youth's eye he nods for him to follow, leading him toward a fountain garden not far from the small training area. Here is a beautiful marble fountain etched with intricate and detailed designs and a shining bronze statue of several nude women reaching up to a central cup where the water rises up from. The water itself is remarkably clean and fresh and shimmers in the morning sun that bathes the area in warmth and feeds the many flowers decorating the outer edge.
The duo sit down on the edge of this master craftsman’s piece and after a few seconds to settle the Elf unclasps several pieces of leather and cloth armour, putting them to one side to help cool him. [+coral “Nicolai?”] His curious voice rose once more. [+teal “Yes young Augustine.”] The now named Elf replies. [+coral “Why do you fight with real swords?”] As any young boy he is quite curious and Nicolai knows only too well to answer bluntly; he does not like people to skirt his questions. [+teal “An acute observation my young Prince,”] he shifts his weight to sit better, removing his gloves now,[+teal “we fight this way because it helps us to reach a new level. If we were to use wooden swords our attacks would not replicate a real battle. This way, we become accustomed to the weight of a real weapon, the impact of a true attack on armour, to accustom ourselves to minor injuries and how to react to it.”] [+coral “Father only lets me play with wooden ones.”] He seems down trodden by this fact, disgruntled infact. [+teal “But that is because your father is a wise man, Your Highness. The wooden weapons are much larger and heavier than a real sword for a reason. It builds strength, builds muscle, makes you much stronger and therefore able to use a real blade with ease when the time comes.”] He takes a strip of cloth from around his neck that saves the chain from chaffing his skin, dipping it down into the fountain's cool water, squeezing the excess over his head so that it runs down under his clothing before settling the damp cloth around his neck once more.
He was a rather typical Elf in physical appearance. Tall, slim, black haired and with violet eyes, his skin is lightly tanned and save for a cut on his cheek from the strike not long before it is flawless. But aside from his physical side, in his more social nature, he is perhaps less like his kin. He was a nobleman and a good friend of the King having known him for near three decades now. Lifted up by this friendship to become a General in a small but potent army, he was a key link between the humans and the other races of this realm, seen by some as a token appointment but to many as the King's love and trust for all his subjects. This is what allows him to speak so freely with the young Prince.
[+teal “Though a question of my own, perhaps just as adequate; why are you down here spying Your Highness?”] [+coral “Mother won't let me speak with Father. She says he needs to rest.”] His eyes cast downward and his head dips a touch, small boot kicking at a loose stone. [+teal “Well, he is an ill man after all. The healers are the best around. I remember them telling me that some illnesses require fresh air and exercise to cast them out. But others, most indeed, like this one, need the body to rebuild itself naturally and through plenty of peaceful rest.”] His hands come together, fingers interlinking as the boy seems to ignore him outright. [+coral “He's going to die, isn't he Nicolai?”] He looks up with searching eyes and the Elf brushes a hand through his wet, dark hair. It was a difficult question to answer quickly and he tried to find a softer path to take with it.
Given the boys link to his father, he understands the weight upon his heart, and it is hard to find the right words. He cannot tell the boy that he does not know, or that he has no wish to become embroiled with this type of talk. He is close to the family as a whole. And that is what worried him about being bluntly honest – his mother. She was unpredictable of later. Her life was in turmoil as rumours spread. She was tasked with finding whom was loyal and who wasn't, the death almost seemed a formality at this point. She was best avoided and obeyed to the letter, but personal experience forced him to respond.
[+teal “You never had a chance to meet with my own father. He passed away some twenty years ago now, which is rather young for an Elf, but he was a very good man and he did right by me and my mother.”] It is a sullen start but he nods as he joins the boy looking at the ground.[+teal “I was.. beyond angry, when he died. I blamed myself for a very long time. I felt I had let him down. That I had not done enough to help him or that I could have saved him. That he would be disappointed in me for not keeping him alive through my will and strength alone.”] His voice was rather sombre and muted. His eyes lost their smiling aura too as the painful memories returned and his chest tightened.
There is a pause as he reached across to the young boy and placed a hand on his shoulder. If he had not known the family as well as he did, that act alone would have seen him put to the stocks if not lashed a hundred times. He comes to meet the eye of the Prince and nods at him with growing reassurance and control over his own emotions.
[+teal “But with age came wisdom. Not only that, but your father was a good friend to mine and when he passed, though I was lost for a time, I was never left alone, never cast aside. I was well cared for by him. Over time and with his help I came to understand that my father loved me, that he cared for me quite deeply. Your father taught me, that death is inevitable in life. It is the natural order of this world and life continues on and though we should grieve, yes, of course we rightly should, we should not let it consume us.”] His words are not all truthful but the point must be made. He squeezed his shoulder with a touch of affection and that charming smile returned a little.
[+teal “Look, if he does pass, then I want you to remember two things Augustine; I will be here to help guide you and help your mother where I can as your father did for me in my time of need,”] his smile grew a touch at the thought of the Queen admonishing him as she had before, and not once,[+teal “and you are loved deeply by your parents no matter what.”] His hand pats the boys shoulder to reaffirm his words and they exchange a nod of understanding. He couldn't expect to make him laugh and smile in a dark time as this but to at least give him some help in a troubling time may do wonders. [+coral “I.. I think, I understand a little Nicolai. Thank you.”] He speaks quietly in deep personal thought and the tall man stands up with a grunt as bone and muscle ache, hand brushing at his face in a little pain. [+teal “Now, I need to go see if Gerald has broken my cheekbone – that man can punch!”] Nicolai hisses as he touched at the swelling.[+teal “But, in the meantime, I want you to be kind to your mother. She needs your strength now. Be polite and listen to what she tells you. Or I'll have you join me next time in the training grounds.”] He winks playfully and gives a formal salute and bow to the Crown Prince. It would pay dividends later to keep on the good side of the future King and showing this level of respect may endear him more to the young boy; if not, it wouldn't hurt to try. Standing upright he collects what little armour he had removed before leaving.
Sides were being drawn as the King ailed toward inevitable death. Everyone had to choose, there would be no straddling of the lines in this. And the moment you made that new, congruent, and committed decision of whom you allied yourself to – your life had changed forever.
The Prince split off from the elf as he went to have his wound tended to. He hoped that the man would be all right. That sort of thing worried him. The boy wasn’t fond of acts of violence, though he was fascinated by the art of swordplay and eager to learn more. As Nicolai had said, that would come with time. However, that wasn’t the only thing the noble had said that Augustine was mulling over.
He’d advised him to be kind and listen to his mother. A strange request as it did not deviate from his regular actions. To be quite honest, his mother frightened him. She was strict and constantly critical. He was convinced she did not much care for anyone, well except for Gregory, an elderly Dwarven bard who worked in the castle as a musician. He was the only person that the Queen insisted be kept on staff. He’d play little tunes on his lute and wander about the palace at his own leisure. The strange little man had far more freedom than anyone else in this place. The prince was jealous; he didn’t have to worry about anything, especially reprisals from his mother. But he couldn’t be too mad, the bard was quite fun to be around. Gregory always had a fun story to tell, and a poorly played song to pluck. Not to mention he would sneak Augustine treats from time to time. Strangely enough, the boy looked up to him almost as a grandfather, since he had none of his own.
Taking Nicolai’s message to heart, the crown Prince decided to find and visit his mother. Unsure where to find her, as her schedule had become sporadic as of late, Augustine asked around until he uncovered her location. She was visiting his father, but he wasn’t allowed in his quarters so he hovered outside for her to come out. After a while, Meredith meandered down the hall.
[+violet “Your highness,”] her head bowed lightly acknowledging his presence. [+violet “What do you need?”] Without the Queen around the lady took a more curt tone than usual with the boy.
Looking up at the chubby young human woman, Augustine missed his mother’s last attendant. Meredith didn’t seem to like children, even though she was barely an adult herself. [+coral “I was looking for my mother."]
The brown-eyed girl nodded, and then entered the room without telling him whether she would send her out or not. He frowned in response. How could she be so rude? Trying to push the discourteous behavior to the side, he stared at the door, half hoping it would be a while longer so he could give up and go do something else. Unfortunately that would not be the case. The thick mahogany door slowly opened shortly after. His mother’s bright green eyes looked down intensely into his own.
[+mediumseagreen “Augustine, I believe I said you were not to bother your father for the time being.”] The woman was surprised when Meredith told her that the prince was waiting outside. Normally he wasn’t persistent once given instruction.
Flinching at her chiding tone, he was quick to respond. [+coral “Yes, mother.”] Debating whether it was better to leave now or risk speaking out of turn. She started to dismiss him, but he piped up before she could finish. [+coral “Actually, I came to see you.”]
Taken aback at being interrupted and then at the boy’s unusual request, Florence was silent. It took but a moment for her to recover. [+mediumseagreen “Have you finished your lessons?”]
[+coral “Yes, mother.”]
Satisfied with his answer, she smiled. [+mediumseagreen “Very well, I will be out in a moment.”] The Queen then turned back into room and closed the door behind her. Walking a few steps into the fanciful decorated bedchamber, she announced her departure, but asked Meredith to stay until someone else came to look after her husband. With that done, she returned to her son.
[+mediumseagreen “Now, what did you have in mind?”] Surely there was something that prompted this behavior. And she rarely saw him take the reigns with anything, so Florence wasn’t about to dampen his spirits now.
Augustine hadn’t thought that far ahead, so he blurted out the first thing that came to mind that he thought she might like. [+coral “I’d like to walk through the gardens… if that is alright.”] His voice trailed off at the end, ever nervous around the serious woman.
She nodded, still pleased as punch that he was making an attempt to come out of his shell. Little did she know, it was one he only wore around her.
Walking together they made it outside and to the courtyard. Off at the far end of the well-maintained cobble plaza there was a grand arch, heavy with blooming buds. The colors were coordinated to match the countries flag, gold and maroon. This was the entrance to the estate’s gardens. They were a spectacle to behold and a place that Florence used to retreat to often when she was pregnant. Though she hadn’t had the time as of late.
The woman tread slowly, noting that her son’s stride was only half of her own. Plus there was plenty to see, if she went too quickly she’d miss something. It was better this way. The Queen looked forward to taking in all in quietly and contently, but it wasn’t to be.
[+coral “Mother, what sort of plants were there in your home country?”] Augustine asked in genuine curiosity. She seldom spoke of Astoria, he knew little of his heritage on her side. It was almost as though he was Wistin through and though.
Taking a moment to think back, it had been nearly ten years since she left her home and she hadn’t returned since. [+mediumseagreen “It’s warmer there, so the plants are a little more tropical. Not so many trees as there are here in Wistina. Although, it has been so long that that may not be the case any longer.”] She was confident much had changed there since she came to this place.
It wasn’t the detail he was hoping to get, but she almost looked happy talking about the place she was from. He’d always found it odd, that with all the languages she forced him to learn, Astorian was not among them. Perhaps she didn’t think it was practical since it was so far away, it being the north most nation on the continent, well just off the the continent really. It was an island nation.While here in Wistina they were the farthest south.
The rest of their stroll went about the same as the beginning. Few words were spoken between them, but it was not as horrid as Augustine had been expecting. In fact his mother was almost friendly for the duration of their time together. The only time he was truly panicked was when they came across Gregory asleep on one of the intricate stone benches among the roses. Augustine expected her to be livid, but instead she merely sighed, shaking her head at the old dwarf before shuffling him along as to not expose him to the man’s baboonery any longer than necessary.
In the end it was Vincent, a Marquis, that pulled her back to her reality. He was the same ebony-eyed man that had latched onto her the other day. Every chance he had, he’d been buzzing around her like a fly. She didn’t trust him, but she would tolerate him for now.
Bidding farewell to her son, the dark haired woman bent down, sweeping his sandy blond bangs to the side and placed a soft kiss on his forehead amongst the hanging wisteria. One of the few signs of affection he ever bestowed on the child. [+mediumseagreen “Thank you for the invitation, my love, but I have to return now.] Standing straight again, she stood tall for a woman, posture perfect as she made her way to the exit of the gardens to see to some mundane task that was calling to her.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The nobleman left the boy to his thoughts beside the cool fountain, turning away toward the King’s Barracks not far from the gardens. He paused however to look back at the young man who slowly walks off toward the castle. The King’s inevitable death would ravage the poor boy and hurt him immensely. Perhaps he would come out of it stronger and heed Nicolai’s words. Or perhaps he would follow Nicolai’s past and sink into an almost inescapable pulpit. It was saddening to see such a sight but he was not responsible here; it was between the son and parents. He had meddled enough by instructing the boy to behave for his mother and offer her only his support. A momentary pang of guilt that he had interfered was pushed back. His heart was in the right place.
Heading through the doorway it was a short trip down the corridor and through a large set of double doors. Inside were several benches running down the middle, multiple sets of armour on stands lining the wall, in the middle of both of these a row of weapons varying from short swords to halberd and all that was in between. Off to one corner was a doorway, covered over by thick fabric, white runic symbols painted around the frame. The Royal Armoury was quite beautiful to anyone who appreciated the art of war. A small high window let in an almost godly light that struck several pieces of shining breast plate and it brought a smile to Nicolai’s face as his hand brushed across the warm metal.
From one of the benches he picked up a carefully folded set of clothing left for him by his page, Timothy, clutched to his chest whilst moving across to the curtained doorway, tapping with a free hand on the wooden frame. Inside was an older man, wearing rather priestly looking robes in the Wistinian colours, a deep red trimmed by shining gold.
The old man of little hair but a glorious silver beard turned with interest to the noise at his doorway, bushy brow rising upon seeing the Elven male bowing his head, half entering before a wave of the palm invites him further in. [+green “Duke Windsor, how may I help you?”] He spoke so graceful and softly that Nicolai immediately felt at ease in the man’s presence. [+teal “Master Nestrom,”] he head dips in respect,[+teal “nothing drastic, just another light wound to tend to. Gerald takes his training very seriously.”] His now free hand gestures to the cut at his cheek as he moves into the room, seating himself in a chair that groans with his weight – though over the years it has become quite accustom to him.
The older man chuckles lightly, nodding as he steps over to a table covered by alchemical ingredients; pipes and flasks of glass, bowls of different coloured powders, vials of liquid of varying viscosity. A familiar blue powder is selected and brought across to the younger man.
[+green “Yes, I have spoken with him only a few minutes prior. You take your training seriously too young Elf.”] His wry smile draws a similar response from Nicolai who only nods a little sheepishly. Being so much older the healer was given a deep amount of respect. [+teal “I’m quite sure he can weather the hits more than I.”] He retorts softly, given that Gerald was quite a bit larger and more physical dominating than he was, as evidenced by their fight. If it had been a fight to the death it may have been a different affair – Nicolai was rather swift and nimble with his Elven heritage and armed with his Elven glaive he was quite formidable. Thankfully, as things stood, they would never have to know just how the fight would unfold.
The older man offers him a compliant nod of his head in agreement. A man of few but wise words he was quite difficult to draw into a fully-fledged conversation. His worn hand takes a canteen of water and adds a splash to a small mixing bowl. The blue powder is added in slowly, mixed until it becomes a chalky paste and malleable in his fingers like putty. He approaches with dyed fingers to the Elf who offers up his cheek, a damp cloth ran across the cut skin to clear it of dried blood. Satisfied, the paste is smeared over the wound and massages slowly into the lightly tanned skin. It stings for a moment but is cool to the touch and Nicolai is accustomed to its numbing nature.
It was a relatively short visit to see the healer. Not much needed saying. He took Master Nestrom’s assistance in removing his chain and the remainder of his leather armour, careful to keep from removing the healing balm as the heavy linked metal was pulled up and over his head. With a final bow of thanks to the wise man he left to head for an empty room and change his sweat soaked clothing.
As he left the way he had come he was surprised to find Malcolm walking in, heading toward him with an ever growing smug smile on his face. A conniving man who only reached a lofted status due to being a crony of another despised man, Vincent, it was safe to say Nicolai had a mistrust of anything the man did or said. [+maroon “Ah, Nicolai, how lovely to see you.”] His hands outstretched as if to approach for a more formal embrace, but seeing the Elf’s hand full and unmoving he quickly pulled them back in, clasping at his slight rotund stomach. [+teal “[i Duke] Nicolai, don’t forget your place boy.”] There was a distaste on the man’s tongue as he near hissed his displeasure.[+teal “What are you doing here Lord Malcolm? I do not see a free luncheon or young woman to force yourself upon.”] The barb was dripping in spite and his head tilted a touch to the side as they met near to the middle of the room. Malcolm was at a significant height disadvantage. [+maroon “Oh you stab at my heart [i Duke Nicolai].”] He jabbed back.[+maroon “I am here on behalf of the Marquis. He wishes for the medicine man’s word on an ailment he has had of late.”] [+teal “Is it poison? Or perhaps a wild animal fever?”] He asked as if in genuine interest. Malcolm, wary of the Duke’s reaction and specific questioning, narrowed his eyes and shook his head. [+maroon “No. It is not. Why do you ask?”] [+teal “Lay with enough serpents and canines and you’re bound to get bit.”] The Elf shrugged his shoulders with indifference as he stepped forward and the bumbling Lord quickly moved to one side.[+teal “Do tell me when the funeral is – I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”] His final jab came as he stepped through the double doorway, hearty laugh echoing into the halls.
Malcolm was left in frustration, scuffing his boot on the floor as no witty reply came to mind and he was left flush faced and angered at being bested by the Elf. Nicolai had a way with words and took some delight in dancing about the short fat man with prose. With nothing to say back and having missed any chance of calling back, he turned to the doorway of Master Nestrom, fishing at a small piece of parchment of ingredients requested by Vincent.
Nicolai changed in an empty guards room a floor up, at level with the gardens. His more noble clothing was light in colour and weight given the warm weather of late. Cut from quite fine cloth and rather expensive they were still quite plain in design. His boots were given a quick polish and his hair brushed back as was his norm. The dirty clothing was dropped off with a passing servant girl, instructed where to take them and she curtsied as she left.
Walking across the hallway to a deserted dining hall he made his way to the window. The stained glass window was left a touch a jar allowing a cool breeze to blow in with a bouquet of wild smells that brought a memory of travel from his childhood back to him. His mother and father were there. The carriage seat was wonderfully soft and the farms they passed in high Autumn were ripe for harvest. Golden wheat swayed in a soft breeze and the Havvod Mountains loomed in the background, seemingly much larger as a child.
The view of the garden was just as breathless. The Queen years prior had taken careful consideration for specific plant’s to be grown and their colours to match to a theme. The large trees that grew were of this land and he appreciated the touch she had given to it. Before the redesign it had been mostly cold stone or planters with tree saplings constantly replaced as the plant life died so swiftly.
As he took in the sight he saw young Augustine walking along with his mother Florence, looking as beautiful as ever. For a woman pulled this way and that between her ill husband, a rambunctious child, and a Kingdom left to her to run alone, she never looked like it was overcoming her and her appearance was always immaculate to match.
He had attempted, early on at least, to offer his help when requested. To give her his experienced ear and thoughts on any matter she may not be coping with. As yet, he had not been summoned. He had been left to his command of the King’s Army and given no insight into what was going on. It puzzled him a little. Nicolai felt he was being pushed out. Perhaps she was truly taking it all in her stride and she had her own aides and advisors to rely upon. But the fear of losing his friend in the King and thus his role in the kingdom was part of the reason he had sought to form some kind of friendship with the young Prince, to keep himself in the inner circle if possible.
The moment Vincent appeared, calling out for the Queen to join him as he had some unheard topic or issue to discuss, contempt crept in. Perhaps he was her personal advisor on how to run the Kingdom. It would make sense as to why she had ignored his help. A serpents whisper in your ear would guide you down specific paths. Nicolai watched the young Queen leave with the Marquis and that simmering hatred boiled over to where nonsensical thoughts of violence came flowing forward from the deep recesses of his mind. He was suffocating in this treachery. He needed out of the castle. He needed to be free of the confines of this place that played into slick hands so easily.
The Duke set off to seek out Gerald. It was time to call forth the Royal Guard and leave the dirty underhanded moves to those it suited most. A few days of riding would hopefully simmer growing resentment.
As more time passed, things only looked grimmer. There were those waiting for a miraculous cure for the king’s ailment, those who were certain an act of god would be his salvation, and still those who were just waiting in suspense for his inevitable death. Rumors were now spreading beyond the castle walls that their ruler was bedridden without much hope of returning to health, lest a miracle came to be. It led to unrest. Transfers of power always did, though Wistina had been prosperous for a long time and not many citizens could fathom the true hardships that might befall them with a malicious monarch at the helm. They were complacent, but aware that a child could do little to better them on the throne.
While the publics opinion was important to Florence, she knew they could be easily sated by showing them that life would continue as it always had once Germaine passed. So long as they could keep the situation stable for the merchant folk, the hearsay would pass and they would not face imminent danger of rebellion from that front. She was confident she could manage that much, and so she paid little attention to what was happening outside for the time being.
It seemed as though most of the nobility that was interested in visiting the sickly king had done so, because the near constant shuffling in and out of his chambers came to a slow. Soon it was only those who made a home in the castle, or very nearby, and those who had ulterior motives. Unfortunately, the two categories overlapped greatly. There was no telling for sure who fit into one category, the other, or both. She found it frustrating, but coupling this information with the small tips and clues she picked up on throughout her busy days, the woman was compiling a trio of lists. The first of names of people who she could trust be loyal to either her, or her son, the second of those she could not, and the final was a place for the ones who would likely remain neutral and wait for the smoke to clear before picking a side. She almost found that more distasteful than siding against her. It was a coward’s play.
Now that there were fewer visitors, it fell back to Florence to fill the place of company holder for her husband. She still made excuses to excuse herself as often as possible, but more and more of her time was filled with uselessly sitting at the King’s side. As much as she didn’t care for the man, it was still unpleasant to see another human being painfully cling to life with little chance at recovery. What was worse was that he knew it was the end as well. Whatever hope and energy had been there in the beginning had been snuffed. The Queen didn’t think there was much time left, she was not wrong.
The very next day, as she was sitting at his side, the emerald-eyed woman noticed his breathing slow. Just as she was about to call for someone to go and find his attending doctor, Germaine raised a hand to stop her.
[+orangered “Go-“] The man burst into a coughing fit as he tried to speak for the first time that day. It was a long moment before he was able to suppress it. [+orangered “Go fetch Augustine, my dear. I wish to speak with him.”] Germaine’s eyes lacked their normal luster as he stared up at her.
This [I son of a bitch!] After all she’d done to shield their son from this nonsense, he wanted to bring him in for what would surely be the most traumatic part of it. At this rate she was going to murder the old man herself. For a couple of seconds she toyed with the idea, but instead smiled down at the dying man. [+mediumseagreen “Very well, I will go and find him.”] Standing she exited the room promptly, however as soon as she was out the door she slowed and took her time.
This early time of day, she knew exactly where the boy would be, so wandering around aimlessly in search of him was not an option. She would take the most direct path, but at a crawl of a pace. However, even with this tactic she made it much sooner than she would have liked to the study in which Augustine was receiving his math lesson.
Without having to announce herself, the boy’s tutor cut short of what he was saying and turned to his Queen. [+navy “You’re majesty, to what do we owe this honor?”]
She wasted no time getting to the point, though her words were somewhat brisk. [+mediumseagreen “My husband wishes to see our son, we will be relieving him of his classes today.]
Able to pick up the nuance of her words, the man bowed his head, nodding that he understood, but did not speak again.
Florence called for the boy directly and he shot up from his chair at. [+coral “Yes, mother.”] He’d taken notice of her foul mood and made haste to join her at the door, but was surprised when she led with a slow pace as soon as they were out in the hall. Something was wrong and he had a terrible feeling about what it might be.
Once again, she made it to her destination faster than she would have liked. Turning to look at Augustine, there was a glimpse of sympathy in her eyes, but she said nothing more before opening the door. Still lying in bed, dull eyed, the King was revealed. With a hand on his back, Florence urged the Prince towards his father. She let him take the chair that she had previously claimed, opting to stand instead.
Germaine didn’t take long to start up. [+orangered “There you are, my boy.”] He did his best to smile, though it was dampened like the rest of his gestures. [+orangered “It looks like I haven’t much time left,”] a fact that was emphasized with bursts of sputtering. [+orangered “But before I go, I wanted to tell you… to be strong. You are going to be king; that means your word will be law. Do not fall prey to the two-faced snakes of the world. Surround yourself with only those who are trustworthy, as I did.”] He grew quieter, but continued his spiel with a peaceful smile. [+orangered “It falls to you now, Augustine, all of Wistina depends on you. Take care of them… ”]
Seeing red, Florence was absolutely seething. What was this hypocrite saying? This was too much pressure for a little boy. Glaring down at him, she watched his stupid serene face. He was smiling as though he’d said something profound. Balling her fists, her nails dug into her palms. It was hard not to slap the ill-fated man, and chastise him about the effects this would forever have on their child. But making a scene at the side of a dying man’s bed would do her no good. She bit her cheek in order to keep silent. The taste of iron filled her mouth.
It wasn’t long until he seemed to lose consciousness, his chest raising and falling more unsteadily. With it came a sort of snorting sound, his death rattle, like the sound of a pig. It came less and less frequently until it faded from existence, along with Germaine. She looked at the dead man with a look of hatred. This was the opportune time to cry, but she had no tears for him, at least no genuine tears. What flowed from her eyes was nothing more than a façade to keep up appearances. However, her ear caught the sound of the child next to her chocking back sobs. Finally tearing her eyes from the King, the new widow’s gaze fell to Augustine. The despairing expression he wore wretched at her heartstrings. That was something to shed tears for, a broken boy in way over his head. Kneeling down, she pulled him into her arms.
[+mediumseagreen “Shh, Shh,”] she cooed at him, a true sadness mingling with the one she’d manufactured. [+mediumseagreen “He would not want you to be sad, my love.] A lie as Germaine always called for those around him to fawn over him in a ridiculous manner, but he was dead now and she could say whatever suited her and her situation.
His bouts of trembling in her arms were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Florence hated to see Augustine so distraught. The sight was enough to completely push the thought of the king from her mind and she instead cried discreetly for her son.
When word spread, there was somewhat of a procession that came through the quarters. But the Queen excused herself from the hubbub, taking the Prince with her. She retired to her room, changing the two of them into black, a formality of mourning.
If her estimation was correct, she would have a week or two before the council would formally discuss what was to be done. This would be the place for lawful gambits to be made. There was no telling when anyone with less honorable plans might strike. So until that meeting had came and passed, she was determined not to let Augustine out of her sight.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat They had left that very afternoon. The sun was closing in on the horizon when the King’s Guard had gathered, some fifty men in total. The amalgamation of some of the Kingdom’s finest warriors was magnificent sight to military men like Nicolai and Germaine, one not often seen in such a peaceful Kingdom. In resplendent armour of polished steel and buffed leather with warhorses that tower over the stable hands scurrying around, chomping and stamp impatiently, they were arranged before the castle itself in the courtyard come parade ground outside the inner walls. Multitudes of servants rushed about stacking extra saddles, bags of feed, tents and bedrolls for their excursion and depositing it all into two carts that would accompany the soldiers. They would supplement themselves along the way with food from the villages.
Stood atop the winding incline that led to the castle itself, Nicolai and Gerald looked down on the courtyard and inspected the gathered men, busy with making sure their saddles sat correctly and personal belongings were attached securely. Nicolai was in his polished chain from the training grounds but the leather and clothing beneath was of a higher quality, much more in keeping with the appearance of a man of power. If he was leading them out he had to look the part. Gerald by comparison was in a light tunic with a dyed maroon leather breastplate atop. He was much more casual in his attire and cleared his throat as their long silence lingered a little.
[+purple “I wish I was going out with you.”] Gerald said solemnly.[+purple “I miss the days when Germaine would join us and we would ride from one side of the Kingdom to the others.”] A smile grows in remembrance. Nicolai looked impassive however, brow furrowed to the low hanging sun and a hand shielding his eyes as he scrutinised the preparations. [+teal “That was more than a decade ago Gerald, before his new wife, before the boy was even conceived.”] He speaks with displeasure, his mood soured from seeing the Queen and Vincent together playing on his mind. [+purple “A long time yes.”] He replies with a shrug of his shoulders.[+purple “But my longing for those days has not diminished at all.”] [+teal “Times change Gerald. They are changing currently. To look on the past for too long will see you suffer in the present.”] The quite sullen tone of his voice caught his friend off guard and he looked across bemused. [+purple “Care to explain?”] The Elven male turned his attention to his side, arms lifted up to fold across his chest and his metal greaves clink against the chain. [+teal “The King is dead Gerald.”] [+purple “He still lives, he may yet improve.”] [+teal “If you believe that then you may well join him in whatever means his wife has designated for his disposal.”] [+purple “Rather callous don’t you think? Germaine is our friend after all.”] [+teal “Our friend is dying and he will be dead before the next full moon, start looking to the future and your own preservation.”] [+purple “What do you mean by that? If he dies, Crown Prince Augustine ascends the throne.”] [+teal “In an ideal world yes, but in an ideal world Germaine wouldn’t be dying, his son would be older, he would have cemented the boys place as his heir and we would not be here arguing this matter.”] [+purple “It is you who is the one arguing a pointless matter, Nicolai. Acting as if there is any doubt as to who rules should Germaine pass.”] [+teal “[i Should he pass?] Am I hearing you correctly?”] He was incredulous but there was no response.[+teal “The man is on a first name basis with death. My word, are you really so dense and narrow minded Gerald?”] He looks at the man with sarcastic curiosity.[+teal “You know who runs the Kingdom with Germaine gone? The Council. And, who runs the Council like his personal gathering? Marquis Vincent. Do you think Vincent and his cronies will allow a foreigners child to sit on the throne?”] His hand reaches out to grasp his friends shoulder but the man swayed away. Ignoring the slight, Nicolai went on.[+teal “Without Germaine a lot of people lose their protection and their legitimacy in this Kingdom. You, I, Augustine, Florence and a dozen more given fancy titles but no power to stop this; we are the ones to suffer after his death.”] He points to signify his point. [+purple “No. It won’t happen.”] His hands clasp behind his back as he turns away and toward the castle, shaking his head dismissively of the Elf.[+purple “Augustine will take the throne and the Queen will oversee him to adulthood. That is what will happen.”] The stubbornness from the King’s Chief of Guard was shocking to the Elf and his look only hardened as he dropped his hands, one resting against the ceremonial sword on his hip. [+teal “Do nothing and you are as truly foolish as I say, destined to die with the King. I’ll offer a prayer to Hector that your death is dignified.”] At the God of Death’s name, he spits to the ground, as was custom.
With no response forthcoming from the man he had known for close to three decades, Nicolai turned and left with no further word. He marched down the winding path, under the inner castle gatehouse and through to his men. Clenching a fist above his head he moves it in a circle above his head;[+teal “mount up!”], passed along to those who did not hear. Nicolai did the same, accepting the help of a stable-boy to rise up and throw his leg across his black mare. He took his helmet from his pageboy Timothy, giving him a brief sorrowful look. He could imagine the boy being a casualty in the oncoming struggle. There would be many.
Fixing the golden horse hair plumed helmet in place and tying the clasp under chin, Nicolai took up his reigns and guided his horse across to the exit path. He held the horse back and turned to look across, making sure those behind were ready. His saw that Gerald was already gone from the front of the castle and he believed he saw a figure in the window of the King’s chambers looking down, but it was a fleeting glance at best.
The Elven male chewed at his cheek as the horse trotted back and forth, turning her head this way and that with annoyance until he tugged at the reigns to calm her. He gave a man behind a hand signal and the blare of a cornu sounded into the orange sky. At a slow canter for the sake of the wagons he led the guardsmen out the main gateway, flags bearing the colours and coat of arms for Wistina hoisted up on long spears by several men who followed close behind him. Slowly they filed out, turning west and leaving the castle behind.
They did not ride far that first day before night stopped them. Indeed the silhouette of Belldale was on the horizon as they made their camp. Over three further days they made slow but steady progress from village to village, stopping in to greet their councils or mayors and noblemen. Given the task of peacekeeping by Nicolai the men would often patrol about the village, deal with minor disturbances and drunkards or on general works and the maintenance of their armour and weaponry. On the fifth day away from the capital they reached the village of Llewellyn close to the western border. It would be that nights sleeping spot, alongside the River Elms.
Nicolai was approached by a village elder with a request that they help them reconstruct their bridge, swept away in floods a few months back. Their temporary construction was falling apart and would not stand much longer. As he saw things, it would be good work to exercise the men and he had truly enjoyed his time away from the castle, so he was only too happy to extend their stay by a few more days.
It was not left to the soldiers to work though. As a man more accustomed to being hands on than many of his title, the Elven Duke was happy to help out and felled two trees by himself to add to a growing collection. With several new piles driven into the riverbed they were working at a steady and swift pace. The sounds of axes, saws, hammers, of men laughing, shouting and occasionally whistling or singing permeated the village air. It was a harmonious time that first day.
During the midday break the day after, when the sun was at its zenith and it was simply too hot for strenuous work, Nicolai found himself sat under a large shady oak tree in just his pants with the leggings rolled up to his knee and thick raven hair slicked back from the mornings work in the water. Eating a rather juicy nectarine his keen eye caught the small plume of dust kicked up by a horseman who rode at speed alongside the river. Reaching the village the rider approached a few men sat by the water’s edge, a brief exchange between them before one of the seated men pointed across the river, directly across to the nobleman in question.
He knew the reason for his arrival before the man had dismounted his horse and made his way across the makeshift bridge, continuing to eat though much slower as the man approached him. He remained seated in the shade, the perspiring and tired man saluting him as he stopped a few feet away. [+teal “Yes?”] He inquired and sucked his thumb and forefinger clean of juices. A satchel at the messenger’s side was brought around to his front, a letter with the wax seal of Germaine taken out and presented. Nicolai remained sat where he was, staring up at the man before him in silence before he pulled his thumb from his mouth and wiped his hand on the grass beside him.[+teal “When?”] His question needed no explanation and the messenger’s head dropped a touch, averting his gaze from staring at the other man. [+orange “Two days ago, Sir.”] Such a polite and formal response for what was a kingdom wide tragedy. Nicolai watched the man’s solemn expression closely, keeping an eye on him as he cast aside the zesty peel and clicking his cleaned fingers waving the man forward to give him the letter. [+teal “Are you to deliver messages to anyone else?”] He said whilst accepting the proffered letter. [+orange “No Sir, another messenger follows behind me to tell the villages of the west and more are heading north and east. I was sent to inform just you.”] He had regained his breath yet he was showing signs of having ridden long and slept little. [+teal “Okay, have your horse taken to the stable, get something to eat and sleep. You will join us here.”] [+orange “Sir? I was led to believe you would return at once?”] The Duke was not best pleased to be questioned on his actions but he gave the man an inch of leeway given his tough few days ride. [+teal “The King is dead. His funeral will happen without us regardless of if we left right now. I will not leave this work half-done and this village to suffer further. We will leave the morning after next. Now go rest.”] He waved the man off and turned his interest away to the letter to read the formal manner to which he was being informed of Germaine’s death.
There was no display of grieving for the King’s passing. The resolute male had been prepared for this loss for many weeks now since the early days of the illness set in. He had no tears to cry or any poignant speech to make before the others. At that night’s meal with the rest of the men, he merely raised his wine in honour and they held a moment’s silence. The meal continued in near silence, the humour and laughter of the prior days now gone. Nicolai was too preoccupied with personal gripes and troubles to try and raise the mood. He was pouring over details that may play into how the councils swayed on its decision. Would they side with Augustine and his mother, or give in to another force they deemed more suitable?
One question troubled him greater in regards to the former choice; what role did he play in the Queen’s future if Augustine was chosen?
Seeing as most of those involved foresaw this terrible turn of events, many items on the long list of funeral plans had already been crossed off. Only five days passed before the night of the service. It was to be a funeral pyre, a tradition for the monarchs of Wistina so that their souls might rise to watch over and guide a future ruler. The event was semi-public. Nobles and friends of the family allowed on the hill, close to the fire itself, while the common people would stand at the base, able to witness the passing of the King as well.
To Florence it was an abysmal ritual. In Astoria only those you wished to forget were burned. It was a dishonorable death, but that was little known this far away so she kept it to herself as she watched the flames dance across the intricately stacked wood. The light flashed in her eyes, reflecting there and in her tears. Once again a production to keep up appearances. At this point, the boy beside her was numb. He’d cried for three days straight. There wasn’t much left in him now, he just looked on solemnly. A common expression as she looked over the crowd. Gazing down the hill, she couldn’t see the faces of the people of Wistina, but she saw the sea of candles flickering in the darkness. The atmosphere covered them as well.
When nothing but smoldering embers remained, the ceremony was complete. The crowd dispersed, but Florence remained with Augustine for a few minutes longer. This was the end of Germaine, but it only marked the beginning for the two of them. The woman did not expect the road ahead to be easy traveling. Taking the child’s hand, she led him back to their home.
A tentative date had been set for the council to discuss the future of the nation, a week from the funeral. That was about what Florence had predicted. Until then she kept watch over Augustine, seldom letting him leave her presence. The few times she did, he was left with only those she trusted explicitly.
The constant hovering of his mother struck Augustine with terror down to his core. Perhaps it was some strange form of mourning, but he doubted it. She was more on edge than he’d ever seen her, though it was slight, from time to time the paranoia showed on her ever tranquil face. It felt as though there was nothing he could do though, so for the time being the boy continued with his daily schedule, just with his mother nearby.
The week went by faster than what Florence found ideal. Not because she didn’t know what she was going to do, but because one of her pieces was missing. Where in the hell was Nicolai? He should have returned by this time. Like her and many others, his fate was hanging by a spiders thread now that the King was gone. Germaine had handed out titles to those who won his favor like seed to birds. The safest route in that predicament was to cling to his son, who wouldn’t likely reverse his father’s decrees. Therefore she trusted them to do so, however one of the major contenders had been out gallivanting across the countryside for god knows how long. She wasn’t certain he’d be back in time for the meeting.
It was the day of and the Queen was nitpicking worse than usual. She preened at her son’s garments and compulsively went over what he was to do while they were in the presence of the council.
[+mediumseagreen “There will be no need to speak. I will handle any and all questions that are directed to us. All you need to do is take your place at the head of table, keep perfect posture, and listen.”] As she spoke her fingers ran through his sandy blond hair. [+mediumseagreen “Do you understand?”]
[+coral “Yes, mother.”] There was little to no improvement to the boy’s disposition. She was sure the suffocating atmosphere had done nothing to help that matter.
With that they left on their way to the hall where the convergence would be held. On the way she felt something tug at the skirt of her dress. Looking over she saw Augustine, a smile on his face as he exclaimed almost happily. [+coral “Look, Nicolai has returned.”] He pointed now that he had his mother’s attention.
In normal circumstances she would have reprimanded her son for grabbing at her so, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it when he’d just started to smile again. Not to mention he bore good news. She followed his motioning and saw the General. Finally he had returned.
As the three of them were destined to the same place, their paths met. [+coral “Welcome back, Nicolai.”] There was a touch of relief mixed into the excitement in the Prince’s voice.
Nodding, Florence echoed after her boy. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, welcome.”] Her own voice was more level in tone, even as she continued on with a jab at his tardiness. [+mediumseagreen “I was beginning to think you’d been eaten by wolves, so this is a pleasant surprise.”]
Entering the hall, many members of the council were already present. In total there would be twenty-two in attendances, if everyone made it. Regularly it was the council of twenty and the King, however this time she would take the vote of the King while the prince took his seat with no weight behind it. In most cases the voting was nothing more than a formality, as everyone sided with the monarch to stay in good graces, but here it would be different. Each and every member had their own agenda.
Just as instructed, Augustine took the chair at the head of the table and Florence the one on the right of him. She would have preferred to sit in silence with him, but she was pestered by the early to arrive, Vincent, unfortunately one of them. He monopolized a large chunk of her time before they were called to commence.
Florence wasted no time taking the helm. By starting strong she might be able to shake the opposing forces. [+mediumseagreen “As you all know, it was Germaine’s explicit wish for Augustine to take the throne. In respect for his memory, and in hopes for his blessing from above, continuing down that path is the only option.] Pausing she looked across the faces of the gentlemen, searching for any hint of disagreement. [+mediumseagreen “The only question is to who will take the place as his regent.”] Customarily it was the Dowager Queen, but to nominate herself would only leave them open to skepticism.
[+darkgreen “There’s no question that it should be you, your majesty.”] A middle-aged man, one of those with no claim to fame aside from Germaine, spoke. It was just as she hoped, but before she could agree another voice rang out.
[+firebrick “I beg to differ.”] A gruff voice, and one she recognized, Viscount Gabriel. He was one of the one’s she overheard complaining about her husband only a few weeks ago. [+firebrick “With this sudden tragedy, the people are confused and volatile. There may be further unrest if a foreigner with few ties to our country takes the regency.”]
[+darkgreen “But the same could be said if we choose not to adhere to traditions of the past. Deviating could also lead to discontent.”]
[+firebrick “I never said we needed to stray from tradition. I simply brought it up to suggest creating another tie to our people.”]
Perking a brow, the Queen was curious to know exactly what the old man meant. [+mediumseagreen “What do you mean by that?”]
Gabriel turned to face Florence, his expression pleasant enough, but there was a hateful look in his eyes. [+firebrick “Only that it might put the people’s minds at ease if you were to take another husband, of Wistinian decent of course.”]
[+mediumseagreen “And who, Sir, would you suggest for such a task?”] Straight to the point.
[+Firebrick “The Marquis Vincent Acton.”]
So that was their game. She very nearly laughed at the proposition. While she wasn’t entirely against remarrying in order to keep her position as a guidepost for Augustine, she had no trust for Vincent. There was little doubt in her mind that he would make an attempt at her son’s life, and with no other blood kin to Germaine, the husband of the current Regent Queen would be a shoe in for the newly open title, especially with how well liked he was within the current council.
[+mediumseagreen “I see your point, as it is a fair one… but I think it a useless solution. If the people don’t believe my ties to my own flesh and blood in Prince Augustine are enough to keep me loyal, there is no hope that a marriage will fix the problem. Especially so soon after the loss of our King, Germaine, whom we all still mourn. To speak of such things so early is disrespectful and in poor taste.”] She irrefutably turned down the possible engagement to the repugnant man without directly insulting him. But by waiting to do so only after hearing his name as a candidate, she slighted him in a much more subtle way. As if she might have been willing to wed had it been another, which was indeed the case.
Looking to Vincent, the woman smiled amicably, though she hadn’t realized what she’d done. He in turn felt the need to chime in. [+blue “It is an honor to even be considered, ma’am.”] He spoke as though he was taking the rejection in stride, but a tic in his eyebrow let her know he wasn’t at all pleased with the outcome.
After those main rationales, many more points came and went, though it seemed they kept coming back to her possible union with the Marquis. His team was persistent, if nothing else. Besides that, hopes and worries for the future bounced around. Florence handled each topic with grace, giving flawless answers. The occasional calling from those who wished to place her as regent only helped her cause. But as smoothly as things were going, the meeting was long and overly drawn out. Enough so that the topic eventually changed.
Once again, the Marquis felt the need to interject his opinions in places they weren’t necessarily needed. [+blue “Please forgive my divergence, but I feel there is another matter that calls for our concern today.”] He had the table’s attention. [+blue “It was brought to my attention that not all of the advisors were present at the pyre last week. I hadn’t thought much of it, but some are taking it as a great insult to out late King.”] His shifty eyes locked onto Nicolai. [+blue “Such an offence could very well warrant a removal from the council and possibly position, don’t you think?”]
This was not good. Florence needed to nip this in the bud, now. [+mediumseagreen “Nicolai was the only member not present at the ceremony, so let us speak frankly and to the point… It was an egregious oversight of his to be missing from my late husbands funeral."] Her eyes fell to the man in question, she still wasn’t sure exactly why he felt the need to ride out while Germaine was knocking on death’s door, but she didn’t much care. [+mediumseagreen “But, seeing as he is one of the very few of you who showed any competence and did not pester me with petty concerns these past weeks, I believe his presence to be necessary. There is something to be said that he was out doing his job, even in the wake of tragedy. Deeds I am sure will be remembered fondly, despite his misstep.] She was going a bit far, but Florence was determined to make her point. [+mediumseagreen “I dare say the only reason I would appoint a new general is because I have first promoted Nicolai to a more fitting position.”] With that, she was finished. No one seemed to question her on it further.
Back on track, they bickered a while longer until it was finally time for the vote. Incredibly there was no push back on her becoming her son’s guidepost, but unfortunately there was still a need to vote. A decision on whether or not to marry her off as a display of loyalty. Truly, she thought it was idiotic, but with this vote she would know just whose loyalty leaned toward the Marquis. In the end, the outcome was twelve to nine, nearly split down he middle, that they follow tradition as they are written and leave behind the stipulation.
Things were much worse than she originally imagined.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The bridge had been completed to an exceptionally high standard the next day. With nothing but their work to focus on and the number of men involved, they had progressed fast. Yet it was all finished in silence. Their playfulness in the cool water and harmless barbs at one another during construction had withered away and they went about their tasks formally. They were men of Germaine, the best and most trusted that the army had and they were loyal to a fault. It was only natural they would take his death to heart and it pained their Commander to see them in such a way.
They left when Nicolai had said; the morning after next. It was barely dawn, the sun having only just crested the eastern hills and already the line of horsemen trailed out the village leaving long and solemn shadows behind, their flags flying lower on the spears than before in accordance with tradition.
The several days along the return path was the same way it had been on the way out. Nothing happened and nothing of note delayed their steady progress. A quiet parade of soldiers of the realm moving from village to village was expected by those they had passed days before, their heads now doffed in respect and honour – they represented the King's Authority outside the capital.
With a little annoyance they were delayed at each village, the same elder and councils and noblemen he had met before offering him condolences and their prayers. He was forced to stop and take their words with an air of respect and authority – he could no easier shirk his responsibilities with Germaine dead than he could with the man alive. Each occasion came with a pilgrimage to the local church so that they may give blessings with the local Priest and offer up what little they could in offering to the God's. By the sixth night he had so many blessings placed upon him he was untouchable in the eyes of the faithful.
The men with him were gathered for a final meal at which Nicolai paid homage to the men themselves. Several men were called out by name, their acts of valour listed as a sign of their skill and character. Half-way through his speech it became somewhat apparent it was being offered as a goodbye. He told stories of his times with the King and several of those around chimed in with their own say, bringing relief and laughter to heavy hearts. [+teal “Finally, I wish it to be known to each and every man here; you are what Wistina is about. You are its beating heart and its generous soul. You embody everything this kingdom has stood for and I could not be prouder to stand here before you.”] He raised up his cup of wine – many bottles acquired from the last village at his own expense for such a moment – and the others reciprocated the gesture.[+teal “To King Germaine; may the winds of heaven whisper hourly benedictions in his honour.”] It was not a toast to cheer but much more poignant and thoughtful and they all drank deeply in agreement.
As the Elf saw things he did not expect to remain in his position for long once they entered the Castle and he would be remiss if he did not share his thanks with those around him. Some he had known near two decades, had met their families and shared in both their joy and pain. For a man given his title of Duke, his Generalship, everything handed to him with no expectation, he had taken it and worked hard to make sure he deserved it. Yet here he was, about to have it stripped away with a click of a Marquis' fingers.
The next morning they were instructed to have their armour and weaponry to a parade-ground standard. Horses were brushed clean and Nicolai inspected each man and beast individually. Their appearance would reflect on him naturally, so he was quite brutal towards them for any infractions. The soldiers understood his desire for perfection and there was not one complaint.
Finally happy with their appearance and sufficiently resplendent himself they rode back to Belldale. Crossing the outer gatehouse several hours before midday they were greeted by a gathering of those who lived in the wake of the castle, brought out to line the main boulevard to said structure, keeping the path ahead clear for them. Even with his head facing forward the Elven Duke could read the expressions on those around. A majority were still saddened and watched quietly, others, mostly older women, proffered white lilie’s to any man who wished to take one, or walked alongside and tied them on to the horses saddles. Yet he saw a few spit at the ground before him – clearly not all were happy with him missing the funeral.
It continued to the courtyard where he left them to dismount and they were dismissed to spend the day as they wished – no doubt with family and friends. As for Nicolai he was immediately seized upon by an impatient Timothy who relayed to him all that had gone on. The funeral, the details of whom had been there and hadn't – namely just himself – and the Council meeting that was scheduled at that very moment. It was just his luck. He made for the Grand Hall without delay this time, remaining in his armour as he had no time to change and wash. His rotten luck held as he was intercepted by the Prince and his mother, a smile on the former and a quite obvious formal smile on the latter; [+coral “Welcome back, Nicolai.”] The boy said as they met not far from the entrance. Quickly the helmet was unstrapped and lifted off to be tucked under his arm. [+teal “Your Highness Augustine, my thanks and condolences.”] He saluted very formally, a fist to his heart though his chain ripples at the touch. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, welcome. I was beginning to think you’d been eaten by wolves, so this is a pleasant surprise.”] The displeasure in the Queen's response was noted, but the Elf only bowed his head. [+teal “Apologies for my delay Your Majesty.”] He said little more to her, averting his gaze as his head rose back up, staring blankly ahead as she took her son by his shoulders and led him into the hall behind.
Once inside he made pleasant talk with those around, discussing the passing of the King and how they would miss him, how he was so honourable and resplendent; the usual guff given of those deceased. It was all political drivel but he made sure to act accordingly. His ire was attracted at the sight of Vincent and Florence engaged in talk whilst the Prince sat somewhat overwhelmed in his fathers seat. It was perhaps a blessing that not too long later the meeting was called to begin. Perhaps on purpose, he had been placed to the Princes left, though he sat three seats down from him. Was it a personal slight at him? He was not sure.
The only one dressed in full armour and with a helmet with it's large plume on the table before him, Nicolai cut an impressive figure even beside the noblemen who wore their finest and most candid clothing. The helmet obscured the view of some and it was quickly taken off by a servant, a cup of watered wine left in it's stead which he gladly took to sipping.
The meeting, from his point of view, was little more than a formality. He was needed for his vote and little more – much like several of those sat around him. If his suspicions were correct then the Queen and Vincent had already colluded for the outcome of the vote itself. She was nominated as regent and the Viscount Gabriel spoke up, a large mouthful of wine taken at that, cup offered back for a waiting servant to step forward and refill from their vessel. On hearing the portly man offer up a reason against her nomination the Elf awaited the inevitable nomination of his master the Marquis. The nomination came but not as Regent to the Prince; in marriage to the Queen.
Clearly Nicolai was not the only one interested to see the Queen's reaction, a hush and faint groaning of chairs as expectant ears leaned forward. She rebuffed him, to an extent, though not in clear terms. By his understanding she was saying no; for now. Perhaps later she would change her mind.
His interest dropped off once more listening to the mundane fears and complaints of those who were fearful if they wore the wrong ring on the wrong hand and other superstitious twaddle. The Queen handled the questioning with ease and each matter thrown at her was batted aside – all simple work and likely staged to show she was calm and collected in her responses. That was when Vincent stood up. Immediately Nicolai's focus shifted from wine to whine, staring daggers at the despicable cretin who only glared back accusingly. He did not speak his name but his accusation was obvious; even more so when the Queen did his bidding.
The violet gaze of the Elf fell upon that of the now standing Queen who chastised him openly before the others. A swift look around found many of the council members nodding and looking back at him. He felt he had been led to an ambush and he seethed under a calm demeanour. She offered a placating reasoning behind his absence but the moment she finished and took her seat, those around left to contemplate her words, he stood up to have his say. [+teal “Whilst I thank Your Majesty for her,”] he paused,[+teal “interesting defence of my absence, I would be indolent if I did not speak for myself.”] He was trained in oration, social graces and upper-class cultural rites – he knew to offer a palatable word to the head of the meeting though he also glowered over at her for a moment.
[+teal “It is quite safe to say that the loss of King Germaine weighs as heavily upon me as it does you all and whilst I would have given my everything to be there in his final moments, there was no knowing when or even if that moment would come. I am tasked with keeping this kingdom, his kingdom, safe. Of keeping everyone here safe.”] He allowed that part to settle for a few seconds.[+teal “Given the rebellion in the Western Kingdom it is only prudent I head to our border and show our strength, is it not? Deter those who may see us as weakened and feeble and attack?”] He received several agreeing nods before he focused his attention across to Vincent, biting back a particularly ferocious barb.
[+teal “Here I stand, as a Duke and a General of Wistina, and whilst those titles do not protect me from castigation do not think I will sit and accept even the thought of punishment silently. Chastise me all you wish but do not belittle me in such an obnoxious manner with sweetened words. Do not threaten me with expulsion if you dare not threaten every single person around this table with the same. Most important,[i Marquis Caton], do [i [b not]] sully my name in the hopes of improving your own, because I can promise you that it will not turn in your favour.”]
His hand had smacked hard against the table as his voice rose upon the 'not', fixing a murderous glare upon the man who sat staring back at him smugly, a blank face but eyes laughing all the same. He had lost his composure and the grief and fears of the last few weeks had come forth in his outburst.
The fiery Elven male took his seat once more, leaving the floor open to someone else to speak though the meeting frittered away to dull talks that the lesser Lords and nobles around bickered back and forth over. His focus remained on his cup as he sat back into his seat, straight backed and mulling over the anger burning in him. When the vote had come he had thrown his ballot in with the nay's out of simple spite of the Marquis. In his mind however it was pointless. The bastard and the Queen now knew who was against them in their desire to take the throne for themselves; though it was quite obvious Nicolai was against them even before his outburst or the vote.
With that the meeting was brought to a close. There was no point in guessing who made their exit first, his helmet wrenched from the servants hand as his armour clinked and boot echoed into the great chamber the others remained in. Blood pumping and his adrenaline charged he felt as if he was about to ride into a battle, yet there was no mean to take out his anger.
His path was aimless at first but soon he was striding towards the gardens, a particular section untouched by the Queens hand. It was not hidden by any means, but it had been preserved by Germaine himself for a particular reason and the distressed General needed to be there. As he passed by a servant working at pruning a bush, the furious man ordered her to bring a meal to him and something strong to drink, disappearing between two large Wistina oaks to the aforementioned spot.
It was the night after the meeting, secluded in one of the many drawing rooms of the castle, Florence sat with Gregory. Their words were hushed even behind closed a closed door and late in the night.
[+mediumseagreen “Die Situation ist furchtbar. Nur die halbe Seite mit mir… I habe angst um Augustine.”] The woman’s eyes were hard as she spoke in her native tongue. Sitting across from the bearded bard, he was also serious in countenance, unusual for him.
[+darkmagenta “Du solltest Angst vor dir selbst haben. Es ist nicht zu spät. Wir können immer Heimat gehen.”]
Florence’s laughter filled the air. [+mediumseagreen “ Bist du ein Narr? Astoria ist nicht sicherer, nicht in die Berg.”]
[+darkmagenta “Eugene würde dich beide beschültzen…”] He was cut off by the sound of footsteps some way down the hall.
The Queen’s ear also picked up the soft trotting of feet. That would have to be all for now, but at least the two knew where the other stood. Not wishing to be overheard speaking Astorian, she switched back. [+mediumseagreen “Keep vigilant. You know what to do if you notice anything.”] That marked the end of their conversation as she stood and left the room. Closing the door behind her, her eyes fell on Gerald. He posed no threat, so her premature departure was for not. Although, she didn’t picture that conversation going anywhere productive, so that was fine.
[+mediumseagreen “Gerald,”] she nodded her head in acknowledgment. [+mediumseagreen “You are close with Nicolai, are you not?”] A question she already knew the answer to, but expected a reply all the same.
[+blueviolet “Aye, Ma’am.”] A short reply, but all she needed.
Despite both men being close to Germaine, she hadn’t spent much time around either of them, but now there was a need to know more. [+mediumseagreen “Is he usually so… emphatic?”] The woman referred to his loss of temper earlier that day.
Gerald took a moment to respond. He seemed hesitant, but eventually gave her what she wanted. [+blueviolet “No, Ma’am, but I believe it was the sudden and unexpected loss of our dear friend that sparked it. Please do not be too critical of him.”]
The captain of the guard seemed sincere in what he said. But Florence thought he must have been the blindly optimistic sort to think that Germaine’s death was sudden. The man was ill for weeks. There was plenty of time to see it coming. However that was beside the point. As she thought, the general’s outburst was out of the norm for him. The elf must have been desperate. That was perfect.
[+mediumseagreen “I will keep that in mind.”] She smiled, her pleasant mood reflecting in the expression as she returned on her route back to her room to retire for the night.
Now that a plan of action for the political situation had been carved out, Florence relaxed her own watch on Augustine. Letting him regain some sense of normalcy. Some of those she previously considered untrustworthy due to indecision could be considered less of a threat, though that would be more concretely established when her son was officially crowned. The date of the coronation had not been set as of yet. She was left in suspense, knowing that to be the true moment of reprieve for them. If the other side was going to make a move, her bet was that it would before Augustine was crowned king in order to avoid the unnecessary and expensive trouble of planning multiple events. But because both Vincent and Gabriel seemed so confident in their earlier plan, she thought any assassination attempts that were to be made might come later. Just because the pair hadn’t expected the first stage of their plan to fall flat.
Having any sort of time to herself was getting harder and harder now that the castle was on its way to functioning again. Many still mourned, but the time to wallow in that sorrow had passed. That went for Florence as well. She was constantly being called here and there for whatever reason. Even more so than while Germaine was bedridden. She knew for a fact he hadn’t been bothered with most of these questions, but she took it in stride to keep those around her placated. If they were trying to test her she would rise to the challenge and wear them down. This included Vincent, who still found time to loiter around her. Was it his attempt to be charming? She surely hoped not because it was poor at best.
Now that Nicolai had returned, Augustine was spending much of his free time following the elfin man about. The boy did he best not to be a pest, as he didn’t want to an annoyance, but he was often full of questions and concerns. One such question was to whether the general would supplement his sword training. Though he was still stuck with the wooden drill tool, the prince wanted to improve quickly so he could be more like those he admired and protect those around him.
It was one such moment when Florence happened upon the two. In reality she had been trying to find Nicolai; she hadn’t expected her son to be with him. From the looks of it they were working on his form with a sword. A skill that would come in handy with the state of castle affairs being what they were, though she hoped he wouldn’t need it so soon.
Standing by the side, the Queen watched the pair for a while. Augustine hadn’t realized she was there, but she was certain his makeshift teacher had. When it looked as though he might cut the session short to let her speak, she held up a hand, signaling for him to stop. She wanted them to finish. Currently, no one knew where she was, so she had time.
Their back and forth continued from there, a long shot from anything that could truly be considered sparing. Florence watched a while longer, up until Augustine noticed her presence at the edge of the courtyard they were using. The young prince called for them to stop. She wondered if he was embarrassed, a smile came on her face that reached her eyes making them softer than usual.
[+mediumseagreen “Now, now, there no need to stop on my account. You are doing well.”]
The child shook his head. [+coral “No, I think that is enough for today.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Very well, my love. You go get cleaned up, I have come to see your instructor.”] He hurried off to return the weapon he’d been using.
[+mediumseagreen “He is fond of you, just like his father.] A trivial attachment, though this time it benefitted her. She paused waiting for Augustine to be out of sight and earshot. In this time she allowed her eyes to run over the elf’s appearance. He was suited for practice, light armor and mail included. His brow was speckled with sweat. She thought he must have been training himself before helping Augustine, as her son’s lesson alone would not have caused that.
When she was satisfied with the distance between them and her son, she spoke again. [+mediumseagreen “I have been meaning to speak with you since we last met.”] A more difficult task than it seemed due to her schedule. [+mediumseagreen “As you undoubtedly noticed at the summit, there is a rift in the council…”] and from his behavior that day she knew which side he stood on. [+mediumseagreen “I came here today to solidify my belief that you are someone I can bestow my trust upon... So I ask you forthright, can I expect your unwavering loyalty to my son, as you gave it to my late husband?”] Nicolai had previously offered his help and guidance to her when this whole ordeal began, so she was almost certain he would oblige her now. But she wanted to hear it aloud before fully committing to seeing him as credible.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The Elf had spent a few days in seclusion. Not to the point he was a hermit, left in his room to shout at anyone who tried to approach him or throwing child like fits of rage when disturbed. Rather he was rarely seen venturing further than the military wing of the castle. Never once did he step foot inside lest he be chastised openly by the Queen again or threatened by a growing number of councillors who now stood against him given his outburst. He weathered their stares and open hostility without the need for the tongues to add to it. Doing this however meant he did not see the Queen. In fact the one time he had seen her was with Vincent in tow, heading across the grounds toward the library where Augustine would be studying. It had left Nicolai seething once more.
In his self-imposed exile, the man was losing to himself. His grasp upon what was truth and fiction became muddled. The very infighting and sabotage he had sought to escape with his expedition had come to rule over every small decision. Though he was often a calm and reasonable individual, someone who showed even the most basic of respect to those he interacted with, these past days he was often terse and strict, barking orders to soldiers and fixing anyone who dared question his authority with a glare of suspicion.
When the young Prince had come to him with an abundance of questions he had wanted nothing more than to shut his door to the boy. He was not his private tutor nor his personal guardian. Nicolai was never rude or hurtful to the child but blunt and to the point. At present he and his mother held power absolute and to upset the child would see him die sooner than was being planned. That and it was not the Prince's fault his father had left him a fractured council behind. It served no purpose to be mean spirited to a boy who would perhaps not see his next birthday, regardless if it was as King or Crown Prince.
Where he had once looked to cement his place in the Kingdom by keeping in the youth's favour and good graces, given the development of the Marquis and Queen's plans, he saw that the boy was as much a pawn in this as him. They were not irreplaceable. Florence was young enough that more children was easily possible and Generals came and went at the whim of the ruler; which by now was looking more and more likely to be that bastard Vincent.
It was for such a reason that he allowed his fellow pawn to watch him as he completed his daily training, up early on the morn and stretching long before the child had even woken. Despite his impending demise he had his routine. It kept his mind somewhat focused although these days he worked alone and the deathly silence left him to stew in his loathing and hatred, the repetition only feeding into his self-loathing and internal cesspool.
With his own training completed the boy was humoured with his consistent inquiry, though it was unlikely he would ever wield a sword outside ceremonial purposes. Both using wooden swords he taught him how to wield the sword correctly, how to block particular attacks and spot for the tell tale signs of how an opponent might swing thus giving an advantage. There was little point to showing him how to attack – he would only ever use these lessons to defend himself and his family.
The repeated running of the attack and parry was meant to drill this into the boys head, the weak swings of Nicolai blocked and any subsequent counters by the boy swept aside. It was easy for the man to direct his power and quickly Augustine was tiring. [+teal “Your Highness, you cannot give in.”] His instructor said, landing the flat of his wooden blade against the boys side enough for him to groan and step back. [+coral “Ow, that hurt!”] His hand held his ribs painfully, sword almost dropped to the floor. [+teal “Do you think your enemy will stop because it hurts? Learn to expect the pain. Now, again.”] Nicolai was perhaps a touch harsh on the child but he had trained a number of young soldiers and it was best not to play into a fatherly role and coddle them.
A flicker of green fabric off at the edge of the courtyard had almost spelled an end to the training, but seeing the Queen raise a hand for him to ignore her presence left them to continue on a few minutes further. A few more attacks and the Prince called a halt to their working as he now saw his mother. They talked very briefly and he was dismissed as quickly.
Nicolai took the practice weapon from the Prince before he hurried off, bowing his head to the Queen as he stepped aside and to a weapons rack to replace them. Her words of endearment were perhaps meant to bring a lightness to the Elf or invoke an agreement. She received neither and he merely looked across impassively at her as the Prince left their purview. Her request for his trust and his alliance tickled him something queer. As if pondering the question he leaves it to hang as he moves across to a marble bowl filled with fresh water, cupping it in his hands and splashing it over his face, similar to how he had at the fountain weeks before. He pushed back his dark hair as he let the excess water run away and down his face to be lost under his clothing.
[+teal “I am to speak freely on the matter, Your Majesty?”] He turned back from the bowl to face her – he could do her that least in respect, even if he felt her presence was on unfavourable terms. She inclined her head for him to go on.[+teal “I recall, some months ago when Germaine first became ill, that I offered my services unto you in your time of need for the sake of Crown Prince Augustine. I offered to do all I could to see things continue smoothly and to help you in running the King's business unmolested. As I recall; you ignored me.”] There was clear displeasure in his voice by the end and his violet gaze met her shimmering eyes, a mix of jade and sky blue. It was no wonder Germaine had taken her for his wife from her eyes alone.
[+teal “Let us speak plainly for I do not like word games. Given your quite public chastisement of my actions and my overall demeanour of late I am left to ponder why you stand here asking for my word to support you. You speak of my loyalty to Germaine and how I you [i 'expect'] that I should simply transfer it to Augustine, all whilst you cavort with the Marquis.”] There was a reaction at his implication that she and Vincent were colluding together, but he didn't give her chance to rebut him or set things right before continuing.
[+teal “I have seen you together with that.. [i cretin],”] he bit back on a far worse barb,[+teal “these past several weeks than I ever saw you attending to you dying husband or your grief stricken son, to the point the boy came to me to seek solace and understanding. I am not his father nor will I become a token-substitute, a nanny or some tool for you and your lover to use in keeping him compliant.”] Nicolai had allowed his tongue to speak from his heart than his mind. Emotion ruled over logic in his complaints as he watched her though he maintained a steely and calm appearance.
[+teal “You ask me to cut out my tongue and never speak of what I have seen. You ask me to just forget and ignore my logical opposition. You ask me to remain loyal to your son and therefore to you. All I ask in return is.. why should I?”]
It was difficult but the Queen let him finish with what he had to say. It seemed he was blind to the tapestry he was a part of, a single thread that didn’t bother to look properly at the bigger picture. So much so, that he thought she looked favorably on the Marquis. For the most part she did not care, his opinion of her mattered little, but at the mention of neglecting her son, her gaze turned icy.
[+mediumseagreen “I misjudged you; you are far stupider than I could have ever imagined.”] There was a bite to her words, cold and desolate. She debated whether to leave and let him be consumed by his misgivings, or to try and salvage him as a useful tool to make sure her son saw his future as King.
After a long pause, one in which her gaze never grew any fonder of his form, she decided to speak. [+mediumseagreen “If you must have a reason, let it be because you are wrong on every account you have thrust at me.”] There was so much to say, she wasn’t entirely sure where to start. [+mediumseagreen “If I had ignored your offer, I would not be here now. Clearly I was waiting until I needed you, but it seems your want to help was conditional. I had to need you soon enough… What idiocy.”] She was too busy making sure things did not fall to pieces to go begging for help she didn’t need before this point.
[+mediumseagreen “And it seems you were so blinded by my criticism, that you forgot that I praised you in the very next breath, or was my flattery not great enough for you, Duke Nicolai. What would you have preferred? Should I have said it was fine you left while Germaine was one foot in the grave, and that it was perfectly acceptable that you missed his pyre? I will not make a fool of myself to preserve your pride.”] She was getting worked up herself, her accent began to leak through. Taking a moment and a few deep breaths as she pinched the bridge of her nose, she waited for a bit of composure before continuing.
[+mediumseagreen “But by far your greatest misconception must be that I would be in cahoots with someone who so clearly wants the death of my child. What kind of monster do you take me for?”] Florence had entirely no idea how that had come about, especially after she had fought so hard at the meeting to rescind the marriage proposition. And yet Nicolai was delusional enough to think they were lovers. It took most her restraint to walk up and hit him. [+mediumseagreen “Perhaps if you were so desperate for my attention and approval you should have taken a page from Vincent’s book and come before me. Though I cannot guarantee I would have seen you for anything other than a parasite like him.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai openly scoffed when she coldly declared him more idiotic than at first thought. He turned away, a warped smile at his lips as he doesn't quite believe how she can think that of him. However when she speaks again he turns back, arms folding across his chest and the chain rattles softly.
To each of her points he only bit down on replying right away. Despite the animosity and hate being thrown back and forth it was only right he allow her to answer to his accusations as she had listened to them in full. She was articulate and precise in her responses although he could see she spoke like himself, through emotion than logic, at times over stepping into her old tongue – her mother tongue. When she did he followed along given his knowledge of Astorian, but she quickly returned to Wistinian.
Unlike the child, fool and idiot she made him out to be, he listened to her detailed rebuttal to the end. Many would have locked up after a given time, keen to just wait for the other person to be quiet before they replied. Instead he gave it a moment, mostly to allow her calling him a parasite to settle. If she regretted going so far it didn't show in her icy glare or her furrowed brow nor the way she clenched her hands to hold back physical attack.
[+teal “I see. Well, let us return to each and every point in order then shall we.”] He turned to her, stepping forward as he began to speak.[+teal “Point one. I offered you my help because I know you are not trained in the matters of running a Kingdom, not least a foreign realm you were brought into, not born into. I offered you my help to assist and advise you until Germaine's health returned, to share the weight that comes with maintaining the realm. Yet even as his health deteriorated you stubbornly held onto the power in a selfish deed that threw the council into its current mess rather than accept assistance.”]
He stopped two feet from her, his height superior so that he looked down on her a little – though he did not do her dishonour by turning his nose up at her. He would look her in the eye as he spoke.
[+teal “Point two. As I stated in the meeting, I accept criticism where it can be found. What you did was to help the Marquis by providing his accusation with legitimacy when you should have sat and said nothing, allowing me to face my accuser – but then I guess you would not know that as you do not know the protocol of such meetings.”] A mocking smile tugs at his lips.[+teal “Perhaps that was something you could have used help with?”] His voice dripped with sarcasm and rather openly, no longer intimidated to stay quiet and respectful of her crown. That is to say the respect was there but he would not hold back on her if she was to do the same to him.
All is fair in love and war, so they say.
[+teal “As to why I left, let me run some military spiel by you."] He nodded as if he was about to explain something to young Augustine.[+teal "I left to ensure the stability of the border and in doing so saved whatever this Kingdom is to become from losing land to the western lands. Your husband could have died at any given moment I am led to believe – I would not know however, as every attempt to see him was met with refusal. And do not worry about becoming the fool Your Highness, you already are one.”] He took a calming breath at that. To brazenly call her a fool like that was very good grounds for a meeting with the executioners block. Yet with caution thrown to the wind, and the sake of a few weeks of life, he saw no harm in it.
[+teal “And yes, to finish with, point three; dear, dear Vincent.”] She would see the displeasure on his face in saying the mans name and the thought of him coming to mind almost made him shudder.[+teal “Try to see things from another perspective for once, Your Highness. You spend so much of your time, both before and after Germaines death, in the presence of a man you claim to be a parasite. You do so alone."] He eyes open as if in mock surprise at such a fanciful thing.
[+teal "Then, at the council meeting, you agree with his attack on my very name and honour."] He holds up a finger in protest at himself.[+teal "Nay, tell a lie. You openly endorse to the rest of the council that I am at fault and actively name me as the sole culprit. And that was only moments after you conceded to his lackey the Viscount about the marriage proposal. The only thing stopping your nuptials?"] The same finger came to rest upon his smooth chin in thought.[+teal "I recall a reasoning of lack of taste given the recent demise of your husband. But you did little to dissuade the point being raised in the future – perhaps in the spring so you may marry under the blossoms?”] Oh that was a terribly good point and lovely jab. If he had been watching he would have applauded, but he still had to finish.
[+teal “Yes, I will concede, perhaps I should have enforced myself upon you. Perhaps if I had compelled you to accept my help, cornered you and forced your hand to listen to me things would be different. Sadly, in an error of judgement I paid no heed to your character or your very being and instead put too much respect in your title. I never thought you a monster, quite the opposite in-fact. I thought you rather intelligent and compassionate. The latter I cannot see any more but the former? Well, you may retain some intelligence. Because indeed how foolish do I look now?”]
Florence continued to glare up at him as he came closer to her. Listening again to his complaints, shaking her head at some of them. [+mediumseagreen “You know I am not trained in the matters of running a kingdom? Sir, you assume. I was regent when my brother took the throne in Astoria. I know how a country is to be run, and to my so-called confusion in a foreign land, I will have you know I have spent the last ten years studying. But tell me again, how well you know me and my qualifications.”] There was a bitter taste in her mouth as she spat the words. Before Eugene took the throne back in her homeland, Astoria had been cut off from the world. Both borders and trading closed, she’d been a major component in it reopening and coming to life, though that was not common knowledge this far south.
[+mediumseagreen “The tear in the council existed long before I got here, so you cannot pin that to me as though I am the one who caused it. The members were dissatisfied with Germaine and his illogical manner of ruling.”] Things like handing out titles to friends he’d only just met and taking a rather hands off approach to ruling, letting the decisions fall to the council and reaping the glory. [+mediumseagreen “I have to set myself apart from that, show them that I can and will see flaws regardless of who makes them. Vincent’s claim was legitimate, and if I did not acknowledge it I would be a hypocrite… though, you are right to say I spoke too soon. I jumped ahead of myself, I needed to be sure that you were not dispelled from the council then and there.”] The queen admitted her fault, but did not apologize directly. [+mediumseagreen “But I would say you made matters worse after that, losing your temper.”]
The final accusation was the hardest to ward off. Her bright green eyes stayed locked to his violet ones as she tried to think of the best way to explain herself. Finding it odd that she had to at all. But it came to her with time. [+mediumseagreen “I am not in a position to reject him flatly. If I act too hostile towards the Marquis it is likely that his tactic will change to something more aggressive. And seeing as he has half this castle backing him, I cannot say whether or not I have enough power to stop it.”] It was one thing to stop usurper who tried to use the law to his advantage, but a coup d’état was another thing entirely. [+mediumseagreen “Placating him is the best means to the end I wish to see. The longer he thinks there is a chance that I may give in, the longer I have to gather my forces.”] There were nuances to these things; perhaps it was because she was a woman that she saw that.
Well, this conversation went more horrifically than she expected. Unsure that she could change the Duke’s mind, and not wanting to waste her precious time on an impossible task, she sighed forcefully. [+mediumseagreen “This game has two sides, Nicolai, by refusing me you have made your bed in Vincent’s camp. When it comes time to lay in it, I hope you will be satisfied.”] Though there was certain forebodingness to her words, Florence’s tone was more tired than anything else. She was done.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Such a striking and powerful glare from a woman he had known for the last decade to be rather cryptic and enigmatic in her mannerisms was quite interesting to the Elf. Truth be told he had not expected such a strong and sensible response. He had thought Florence would strike him and with a curse of his name storm away. He was living up to her 'fools' title.
When she had spoken, again without his interruption, Nicolai watched her closely. It was a much longer look at her. This time he was quite thoughtful in his response. She had given him so much to think over and consider and yet with her last words she had placed him into a predicament. If it would not only serve to antagonise her he would have smiled at the clever movement the Queen had made to corner him so shrewdly. He had been right however; she was incredibly intelligent. Each point he thought so smugly was infallible and true, she had a response that left it in tatters.
To go from feeling victorious to utter destruction was a feeling quite impossible to describe. Here he had been bested and it was a shock to him not because she was a woman or that he was always the victor, the champion undefeated. It was his vain belief that he was of the upper reaches of intelligent thought and without equal. He could take a physique defeat in his stride but to have his thoughts turned back on him and be made to feel.. well, foolish, it struck a cord in him.
The fatigue in her voice showed at the end, that inkling of a foreign tongue attempting to slip in and the accent a touch rough to match. As he stood there watching her she may have assumed he was simply done arguing and would say no more, but as she twisted her figure to turn away he touched a hand to her arm. It was only brief, to return her gaze to him, and the hand moved away from her. [+teal “I.. I feel a need to apologise, Your Majesty.”] It was a soft beginning but it was a beginning nonetheless.[+teal “I can see nothing but logic in your response and my arguments seem like nothing more now than the wailing of an infant.”] He averted his gaze downward for a moment, face losing the smugness and the anger that had come from their argument. When he looked back up he met her eyes once more, a hand brushing back wet hair quickly.
[+teal “I feel I have not only done you dishonour with my slanderous words and accusations.. but I am just as despicable as the Marquis himself.”] His voice was quieter as the humbled man sought the right words.[+teal “I saw things for how I wanted to to suit my own narrative and did not think nor consider the possibility that things are not as they would appear. Perhaps I have not dealt with Germaines illness and passing correctly but it is no excuse for my behaviour to which you have my deepest apologies.”]
Without her having a moment to accept or deny the apology he stooped down, bending down until he was left kneeling before her, looking up at her now with humility. [+teal “As I swore an oath of fealty to King Germaine, so now I pass along this oath, to his family and kin. I, Nicolai Windsor, do swear to protect and serve you and your son to the best of my ability and without hesitation.”] Again his head dropped in honour of her title, the humbled man with a fist to his chest in salute of her position as well – after all, if she was regent then she also was head of the army and his superior for a second time.
[+teal “Das heißt, wenn du einem alten Narren vergeben kannst..”] Nicolai ended with a hushed phrase. The Astorian, with an excellent accent to match, seemed almost amiss but a further sign of his humility.
At his unexpected touch, she quickly turned on her heel. How dare he try to stop her; what else could he possibly have to say? Her fist was clenched closed and already rearing back to hit him, but the look in his eye stopped her. Nicolai’s animosity had extinguished from his expression. Skeptical at his sudden change, her piercing green gaze narrowed on him. She stayed silent, allowing him to say his piece.
He was conceding, admitting his fault, and it was admirable. Well, it would have been if she weren’t half as mad as she was. Anger still pulled at her stomach, but now was not the time to hold petty grudges. She was in trouble if she didn’t have the general’s aid.
Florence took in a few slow breaths, his display of kneeling and pledge helped greatly in leveling her head. She was not sure what narrative he was hoping to see within this already drama filled scene, but the Queen was glad the elf had unclouded his view. Hearing his voice come through in her native language helped to assuage her further. A smile played at the corner of her lips, though she forced it back down, returning to her resting face.
[+mediumseagreen “Ich glaube, das arrangiert warden.”] That was all she said in Astorian before returning to this country’s tongue. [+mediumseagreen “More than fidelity to me, I hope that you can place all those feelings on Augustine. He is all that matters…”] It was less that she lacked a healthy fear of death and more that it had been overridden by maternal instinct. She couldn’t even begin to imagine she’d react to losing him as well, for her sanity he needed to be safe. [+mediumseagreen “And so I ask that you keep open eyes and ears when it comes to what happens around him. He already spends much of his time in your company. Your presence will seem natural.”] It wouldn’t set off any suspicions. That being said, she didn’t expect him to become Augustine’s personal guard. Nicolai had his own duties to attend to.
[+mediumseagreen “The rest of the council is intentionally keeping me preoccupied, calling on me for every menial task in order limit my freedom. Restrained, there is little I can do, but between you and the others who have aligned with us, I believe I still have a clear picture…”] It was hard to be certain, but with this web in place she should be able to tell when Vincent’s men started to move.
[+mediumseagreen “If and when you notice anything, let me know. Though, I trust you will take action if it is urgent… And in the times I am unavailable, tell Gregory, he is the most secure and direct line to me.”] Most of this was self explanatory, but she did not want to chance it. The enemy could still have an undisclosed plot and she wanted to know anything that might hint at what it was.
Feeling that she had said most, if not all, of what she needed to, Florence leaned down towards the still kneeling man. Close to his finely pointed ear, she whispered in a hushed voice. [+mediumseagreen “Danke schön.”] The quiet thanks was lighter in tone than she normally spoke, almost reverent. Perhaps it was the residual of all the strong emotions she’d just gone through, or maybe the reignited hope in her chest. Either way, she looked at him grateful for his allegiance.
Standing straight once more, the olive skinned woman excused herself. [+mediumseagreen “That is all I came for today. Please, feel free return to your tasks.”] Waving him off, she turned to leave once again, this time uninterrupted. As she walked, she mentally debated whether or not she would run off to the garden to try and have a bit of peace before she was pulled back into the fray. She would.
Only minutes after the woman’s departure, one of the young servant girls came running through the courtyard. Shouting for the Queen and inquiring to those in her sight if anyone had seen her. The Viscount Gabriel was calling for Florence, hoping to have her opinion on something. Exactly what hadn’t been disclosed to the child, but she asked scrambled around trying to find the woman all the same.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Despite his pledge and apology, before his head had dipped and the Astorian had come out, he had seen the embers still burning in her eyes and her fist's remained clenched tightly. He knew he had stepped over many lines she had not seen crossed before. To have what amounted to a commoner, openly disapproving of her actions and calling her a fool, would have been something she would take in stride against him. But when he had questioned her parenting he had seen her death glare and known what it was to cross this woman.
Thankfully she spoke to calm his withered nerves and he closed his eyes over in homage to whatever God had come to save him from her motherly wrath. He did not raise his head to look at her or to meet those shimmering emerald eyes once more – Nicolai had had his fill of being seen as an idiot that day. He wanted nothing more than to leave her until requested to attend to her.
The Elf agreed with her judgement that Gregory be the go between when she was inevitably tasked with other matters as was her routine these days. The Dwarven bard was someone he trusted to keep his tongue from waging to anyone going against the Queen and now his own intentions. And with a good relationship with Augustine he would be key in keeping the boy calm and focused, away from this kind of treachery left to the adults to play out behind his back.
Lost to these thoughts his heart skipped a beat when she whispered close to his ear. His breath caught for a moment and between the manner of her lighter tone and the thick accent that shone through he was like putty in her hands, shoulders losing their rigidity.
As secrets went his infatuation with the Queen was amongst his mostly closely guarded. Over a decade of interactions with her, from simple good mornings to this argument now, he was smitten no matter what. Granted, as this argument had proven, Nicolai did not know her at all on a personal level. She was always shielded from heavier conversation by her husband and then her child. He had been left to merely admire her overwhelming beauty from afar and daydream continually.
As she stood and stepped back he lifted his mauve eyes to watch her wave him off and she turned to leave, heading through an archway as she left for whatever she wished. He stood once she was gone, thinking that perhaps it would be the start of a closer friendship. Left to reel and reflect in her words, it was not long after that a servant girl came running into the courtyard. When he inquired as to why she was running about in such distress she informed Nicolai that Gabriel was seeking her. Jaw set firm he instructed her to show him to the Viscount personally.
Finding the man took only a few minutes of swift walking and he could see from the chubby mans shaking jowls that he was surprised to find the General marching to him. [+teal “Viscount, I apologise for the disruption but the Queen is busy at present. What is the matter?”] He delighted in seeing the man flummoxed. [+maroon “Oh, Duke Nicolai, it is quite fine I will await when she is next free.”] The man turned as to leave but the Elf was not done. [+teal “Come now Gabriel, it must be important to send a servant girl seeking her out.”] [+maroon “Truly, it is not a problem to wait another time.”] [+teal “Perhaps you can disclose to me what it is you wished to ask and I can relay it back to her at a more opportune time. That way you have your answer more quickly.”] There was hesitation from the Viscount as he looked back at the other man, still in his armour from training.[+teal “Speak up now Gabriel, I insist.”] There was no threat in his voice but it showed in his eyes.
The elderly man had been expecting Queen Florence to come walking around the corner, so when it was instead a rather disagreeable looking general, he scowled. Last he’d heard Nicolai had been throwing a tantrum in the barracks, content not to leave his corner of the castle grounds. That had suited the Viscount just fine, so he was disappointed now that the higher-ranking man seemed to be sticking his nose into the Astorian woman’s business.
Try as he might to shake off the elf, it seemed he was not willing to give in. Was this his way of bouncing back after he’d been publicly shamed? Gabriel stared down the man, holding his ground up until the point Nicolai’s eyes flashed something dangerous at him.
[+firebrick “The priest has finished his deliberation with the gods. The most auspicious day for our young Prince’s coronation is set to be three months from tomorrow.”] He smiled, an attempt to appear cordial, but it only displayed his conceit. The minister was in their pocket. Gabriel had personally picked the date of the crowning, intentionally placing it as far off in the future as he could. A move that gave them all the time in the world to wear that conniving Queen down until she broke and yielded to their demands. [+firebrick “It is a shame it’s set so long from now, but we cannot risk angering the gods, not if we want the reign of King Augustine to be long and prosperous.”] He shrugged as though he had no hand in the matter, continuing to smile his smug smile at the tall elf.
After that, the older man was quite through with Nicolai’s presence. [+firebrick “See, not so important at all was it? The matter could have waited for another time.”] He repeated the line again, emphasizing it as if he hadn’t been the one who sent a frantic servant girl out to find her in a hurry.
Gabriel was quick to leave after that. There was no need to subjugate himself to the Duke any longer than absolutely necessary. Though one good thing came from their meeting. He now knew for certain that Florence had managed garnered the intimidating man’s favor, an unfortunate fact, but a good one to be aware of all the same. Pondering that a bit longer, he found himself wishing they were dealing with one of Germaine’s first two wives. Why did the third have to be so damn unruly?
In the hall he passed the dwarf, Gregory, shuffling about as though he’d drank one too many pints of ale, which wasn’t entirely unlikely. The Viscount kept his eyes straight ahead, unwilling to give the drunken rabble any sort of acknowledgment. The bearded man’s presence only motivated his feet to carry him swifter from this wing of the castle.
When news of the coronation date did hit Florence’s ears, she was in ire. She knew they would push it back, but she suspected a month at most. Three was an eternity. Time enough for almost anything to happen. There was no possible way she could keep Vincent believing that she only played coy for the sake of her late husband for that long. Sure, had it been only the Marquis, blinded by his inflated ego, that might have worked, but he had Gabriel working behind him. That man hadn’t trusted her since the day she first stepped in through the gate.
Biting her thumbnail in thought, she wracked her brain for a plan before they moved on to prodding at her more obvious weak spots... It probably wouldn’t be too outlandish to claim that Vincent had attacked her and have him hanged, but that sort of plan had the tendency to backfire. And she didn’t need to make matters worse by exposing herself as a liar.
Lord, she looked forward to the day they had more concrete control and she could begin the process of shuffling the council to actually fit the needs of this country.
That night, she fell to sleep in her chair, trying to find a perfect solution that would never come. Meredith found her the next morning and pitched a fit loud enough for Gregory to hear, and so Florence ended up getting an earful. The same old song and dance about being useless to everyone who needed her if she couldn’t even take care of herself. She knew he meant well, but now wasn’t the time to be worried about a night or two of poor sleep. What she really needed was information. A commodity she would have to wait for.
A fortnight passed before it began. A string of incidents appearing from the outside to be nothing more than bad luck, but they all had one thing in common: Augustine. Nothing had harmed him yet, but he seemed to be mysteriously close to each and every instance. Things like pots falling from windows, horses getting spooked and running rampant, and this last time with an accident in the armory. The rumors spread unnaturally fast. She always heard the details immediately afterward, but not because of her own network. It was the overt whispering of gossip that seemed to come directly to her, as if they were trying to be overheard. Florence saw the occurrences for what they were, a cluster of cautionary signs to steer her to caving.
That very day, she received a missive. Gregory was calling for a meeting; he must have found something. The place was set in the garden and it seemed he was pulling in Nicolai as well. When it came time, Florence was the first to arrive, perhaps a little too early, but if she hadn’t left when she did she would have been pulled into some other nonsense and missed the hour. So now she waited, sitting on a bench deep within the labyrinth of flowers and thorns.
A silent moment to herself, calmed by the scent of lavender, was just enough for the woman to nod off. Her emerald eyes falling shut as she waited for the others there in one of her favorite places.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The news from Gabriel was most unwelcome and it was hard to disguise it showing on his face. Nicolai saw the smug smile and it was clear each could read the other quite well. They parted quickly, leaving the Elven man to wander out after a moment and spot Gregory, a curious look on the Dwarven man's face as he looked from the swiftly retreating Viscount to the Duke in succession. His brow rose in curiosity.
[+darkmagenta “Care to explain that Nicolai?”] There was animosity in his voice and mistrust in his eyes. Whilst the duo got along cordially, the Queen's indecision on Nicolai's allegiance before their talk moments ago still weighed on the smaller man's thoughts. He was cautious in his approach to the General, acutely aware of how fine the line between friend and foe was of late.
For his part, Nicolai could understand the uneasy look and somewhat defensive stance of the bard. For days now he had been a recluse and the epitome of someone who wished to distance himself from the inner workings of this power struggle. Yet here he was at it's furious epicentre and he was already left with a bad taste on his tongue. He offered the small man a pliant nod and let out a deep sigh. [+teal “You can relax a little, we are friends in this matter now.”] [+darkmagenta “Oh? And what 'matter' is it you speak of?”] The tone was stern but intrigued. [+teal “I have spoken to Florence. She has taken my oath of loyalty to her and Augustine. Ich bin nicht dein feind, sondern dein verbündeter.“] The Astorian had it's intended affect, like someone let in a deathly secret the language shared between the three their own private code. [+darkmagenta “I see. And Gabriel?”] [+teal “He is still Vincent's lapdog. He had wanted to speak to Florence on a matter but I decided to take up the mantel to allow her some respite from her duties.”] [+darkmagenta “Kind of you. What did he have to say?”] [+teal “Apparently the Priests have deliberated and decided on a coronation; three months tomorrow.”] He shared in the short man's surprised look and nodded slowly.[+teal “It's far worse than I expected. I knew they would push it back, but this is unprecedented.”] He sighed lightly and closed his eyes.[+teal “If you would, please can you tell Florence? I need to return to the barracks to make some arrangements. She's tasked me with keeping the Prince safe.”] They exchanged a nod of understanding and left to go about their tasks.
For the next two weeks there an ever present General seen moving about the castle. Like a mirror opposite of himself he had gone from shy hermit to taking on additional roles where possible, all whilst spending large portions of each day with young Augustine. He had not sought permission from Florence in the matters of what he could do for the boy but instead taken it on himself to teach him some small details of his impending role as King. Regent though his mother would be, he would have to learn this all eventually.
Therefore atop the daily light training, though not every day including sword play, he supplemented the boys studying with that of the country's history, the more military heavy aspects of which the outcome had shaped the kingdom. He taught him about management of soldiers and resources and the need to keep both loyalty and morale at a peak or face certain downfalls. It was difficult at first but eventually Nicolai found himself looking forward to their lessons. Perhaps that was the moment they had seen fit to strike and the 'accidents' occurred.
Falling pots were a novelty at first, chalked down to foolish servants and the like. The horses being scared and sent running wild from the stables whilst they had been walking nearby, forcing the Elf to sweep up the boy and shield him from being trampled – it was an oddity given the training of the horses, but animals were wild and prone to wild actions. Yet the incident in the armoury, a full suit of his fathers heavy plate armour almost falling atop him when it's stand had fell forward – that was sabotage as sure as day. Unable to pin it on anyone or prove it outright Nicolai was left with nothing more than frayed nerves and a suspicious eye of anything and everything.
As a guard to the boy, albeit one of secrecy between himself, Gregory and Florence, it was down to him to keep the young Prince safe. When he had been called to attend a meeting in the palace gardens by the Dwarf, three guards selected by himself had been left with the young boy in a cautionary manner.
Nicolai had met Gregory along the way, discussing pointless matters as they strolled along the corridors, servants offering them bows of their head and a level of respect to match their rankings in the realm. The items they discussed were mundane and drivel, to keep any listening ear filled with the knowledge that a piece of mutton was sometimes better a few days after cooking if stored in a jar of pickled beets. Riveting conversation.
Making their way down to the gardens it brought a smile to both men's faces to find the Queen already there, asleep in the lavender scents of her carefully preened solitude. There was no argument from the men who would wake her, Nicolai leveraged his injured side – from being struck by a piece of the King's armour in the 'accident' – to force Gregory to concede and be the one to wake her gently.
The Elf had looked upon the slumbering woman's idyllic features and serene look with a little sadness that they had been forced to wake her. She was no doubt exhausted from her duties and despite the best intentions of the General, any work he took from her shoulders only brought more forward for her to deal with. It was never ending. When she had been awoken, Nicolai seating himself beside her on the bench as the Dwarven man took a seat upon a stool dotted nearby, their secret meeting could go ahead.
Gregory’s naturally jolly temperament had been suffering for these past few weeks, so he gladly let himself have a chuckle at the Queen sleeping amongst the flowers. He didn’t particularly want to wake her, not after he’d been telling her to get some rest, but this really wasn’t what he had in mind. He tried to push it off on the Duke, thinking it might be funny, but he refused.
[+darkmagenta “Komm nach, Florence. Wach auf.”] Coming closer, he lightly flicked her forehead.
Eyes fluttering open, Florence caught sight of the smiling dwarf with his braided beard. She smiled back at him warmly, as her hand came up to rub the spot on her head that he’d pinged. [+mediumseagreen “Hör auf damit, Va-“] The tenner of her words was light, almost laughing until she noticed Nicolai and halted altogether. Her face dusted with color, she cleared her throat. [+mediumseagreen “Sorry. I’m awake, we can begin.”]
[+darkmagenta “I told you to get some sleep, now look, you’ve embarrassed yourself.”] Gregory patted her cheek before pulling back just as she swiped at him. To avoid any further attempts he took a seat that was just out of her reach.
Practically hissing at him, she urged the bard to move on. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, yes, now get on with it, old man. I haven’t got all day.”]
Nodding, he obliged her, all the while grinning. He spoke in his native language, just in case someone happened by them. [+darkmagenta “Very well… After scouring around town some, I heard some rumors about the Viscount. They were extensive, so I think there might be some merit behind them.”] He paused, looking between the pair of nobles in front of him. Gregory still wasn’t one hundred percent sure about the general, but he trusted the Queen’s sense of crisis. She had assuredly weighed their chances of victory against the elf’s likelihood of turning on them. [+darkmagenta “Apparently, Gabriel’s servants have been seen frequently down by a well known drug den on the outskirts of town. They come and pick up profits, so speculation would say the Viscount is either running the operation or turning a blind eye to it in order to line his pockets.”]
Florence perked up a bit. What horrifically amazing news. [+mediumseagreen “Have you personally seen his people there?”] She trusted his old eyes more than those of the average passerby.
[+darkmagenta. “Not as of yet, but I plan to keep trying.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Good. I want you to catch one of them with money in hand. If we can solidly link this back to Gabriel, I will be able to expel him from the council immediately.”] They wouldn’t have to wait for the coronation and Vincent would lose one of his most vocal backers. And while Florence couldn’t be sure, she had inkling that Gabriel might be the brain behind it all. [+mediumseagreen “We should also look into his books, I want to know if there is anything written to back our suspicions. And who knows, if we are lucky, this won’t be his only endeavor.”] A wicked smile played on her lips. Finally they had something. They could begin to fight back. [+mediumseagreen “Nicolai, can I trust you with that task?”] Turning slightly on the bench, she faced him with an openly inquisitive look, also hoping for any opinions he had.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The meeting was rather secluded in the maze of gardens attached to the castle. Despite him having needed a guide to find the particular spot amongst the foliage where the Queen had waited for them, Nicolai could understand quite well why the Dwarf took to speaking his native tongue. One could not be careful enough these days. It paid to be overly cautious than to expose oneself to incrimination. And that was their topic of discussion.
Despite his Astorian not being entirely perfect, he followed along quite well between their back and forth. The look the other man gave him left him feeling uneasy. If he could not trust him now then when and how could he build upon it? He had thought better than to speak up however, acutely aware of the others closer relationship. He sat and listened.
Nicolai was rather intrigued by the development that Gregory relayed to them, but he sat momentarily impassive to it all, nodding only to confirm he was listening. When the Queen suggested checking through his backlogs and perhaps doing a financial check on the man, the General shook his head softly and looked over to her for only a fleeting moment. He was still shamed by their encounter weeks before, not fully forgiving himself. [+teal “I would argue it is.. not pointless but close to it.”] His Astorian was fluent if a touch rusty on his syllables and the correct emphasis on certain letters. When he heard the Dwarven man clear his throat he turned to him. [+darkmagenta “Look, there’s something you need to learn if we are to work together. Your job is to listen to Florence and you do as ordered-“] A hard worked Elven hand rose to him, palm out to calm his tongue. [+teal “I did not say I am denying her request Gregory. Quite the contrary, I will do all I can to help and if she truly believes this the best course of action then so be it. But we are her advisers and to stay quiet when we have concerns is detrimental to her. I simply believe it will bring no results.”] The bearded man puffed out his cheeks, feeling it was as close to a rejection as anything else and looked to Florence to show her agreement. However Nicolai spoke up once more before anything else could be said, turning a touch toward her, looking down to his hands to save catching [i that] look from her.
[+teal “What do we expect to find? A note of payment signed [i ‘for the drug den’]? A pouch of the illegal narcotics on his person? He is a blithering fool at oration and cannot hold his own in an argument but do not denounce Viscount Gabriel as a common fool.”] He purses his lips at the last word, but it is a personal slight and he continued.[+teal “He will run everything through another to separate himself from this very notion; nothing will tie him directly to criminal enterprises.”] His head dipped, aware of the Queen looking at him now, though he didn’t wish to leave her without options and ran through several plans he had been formulating for some time now.
[+teal “I will check through the ledgers but perhaps we should instead look to his acquaintances, his extended family, begin to fight back against them with their own tactics.”] Nicolai felt despicable for suggesting the idea they follow such slimy men’s deeds, to copy and apply them against their instigators. He could see the displeasure in Gregory's body language.[+teal “I know it is not something either of you would like to consider but it may be necessary.”] [+darkmagenta “No, I don’t like that. I don’t want to get involved in their evil underhanded tactics. If we do that then we are not their betters, we wallow in the mud alongside them.”] [+teal “And neither do I. But sometimes we must fight fire with fire.”] He implored of the smaller man who stroked at his beard – he was quite a deal more animated than usual. [+darkmagenta “And yet their fires burn hotter than anyone else's. They are more skilled in subterfuge, in dirty deals and the like. Plus, we have more to lose if we are caught. A Queen and her General, scheming against nobility?”] He looked to Florence as he spoke his coherent point and Nicolai nodded along with him.
The bard was a shrewd man with an intellect he would have liked to pick at if they had been in more pleasant times. But here, beside the Queen and the in the lulling scent of lavender, they were two passionate men keen on achieving the same goal if only from different directions.
[+teal “I would work alone then.”] This seemed to garner the other man's interest. It didn't openly involve the Queen.[+teal “Well, given my open hostility at the last council meeting I am not exactly endeared by everyone. I have no public allies and though Gabriel and Vincent have inklings of my allegiance to you both, it cannot be proven to the greater council. If I am caught then the Queen can simply enact the correct punishment and no harm comes to her.”] He turned to her once more, lifting his gaze at last to look in her eyes.[+teal “If anything, your prestige and standing would only rise. You would be seen as a defender of the kingdom from outside and inside influences alike.”]
Nicolai had wanted to take her hand in the moment and show her how truly he felt they needed this, but it would be improper and rather outrageous to think of, and so instead he bit at his cheek to save it for another time.
The elf was blunt and to the point again. Had this always been one of his traits? Florence couldn’t recall as she hadn’t every spoken to him in length, but that was in part her own fault. Before she had a chance to say something Gregory came in, scolding their new ally. She could tell he was being overly critical of Nicolai. She would talk to him about that at a later time.
[+mediumseagreen “No, I don’t expect it to say ‘for drug den,’ but I do suspect there might be inconsistencies or unexplained funds that we can look into.”] Listening further to his concerns, she thought he was right to feel it was a long shot, even she was not fully expecting for this effort to bear fruit. [+mediumseagreen “Just as well, he might have another ledger for his more secret dealings, one that he has passed along to someone else. But we will never know if we do not check.”] They’d be kicking themselves later if it turned out to be as simple as checking his numbers.
[+mediumseagreen “It very well may be a fool’s errand, but that is why I am sending you.”] Rather than anger or malice in her voice, like the last time she’d called him that, this time it leaned toward humor. A smirk curling on her lips, though he wouldn’t see it, as he wasn’t looking at her.
After that it was hard to get a word in edgewise. The men were going back and forth about the possibility of stooping to their level. She wasn’t entirely opposed to it. In fact, it was very much the way her brain worked, but she had been avoiding it due to her current title. That and the fact that Gregory saw such things as dishonorable, not that that had necessarily stopped her before.
She was pondering the idea of saying no and then convening with Nicolai later to tell him to go ahead, when the general suggested acting as a solitary unit. That did away with most of the issues that Gregory had and all of the ones she did. She was silent as she mulled it over a while longer. However, during this time the elf finally looked up at her. Had his sense of shame finally passed? Good, she was tired of him looking pitiful. Now he wore a steeled expression, one that conveyed his determination and conviction that this was the right choice. Florence thought it suited him much better, even if it was still a tad restrained. He must have been holding back saying something more, but that might have been wise considering all the things she’d heard him say before.
Her consideration must have shown on her face, as the dwarf cut in. [+darkmagenta “Florence…”] He spoke her name in a long drawn out manner, as you would with a child who was about to touch something they shouldn’t.
The Queen shot him a scathing look in return. [+mediumseagreen “What? This course of action should not be overlooked.”] She motioned over toward Nicolai with her hand. [+mediumseagreen “This is a perfect chance to open the avenue in case the need arises further down the line.”] More options when the day came that they grew bolder in their attacks on Augustine would be a blessing. Especially when there was so little chance that it could fall back to her.
Turning back towards the man next to her, she continued. [+mediumseagreen “You may look into his associates, family, and general business. Find the best way to make him suffer, but do nothing more. I do not want to show our cards prematurely.”] Gabriel might retaliate by cutting off from dangerous associates or sending loved ones away if he knew what they were up to. [+mediumseagreen “Also, do try your best not to rouse suspicion. It may not come back to us directly, but for the time being I still need your support. Sending you to the gallows would be a waste.”] He’d been instrumental in shielding Augustine. Losing Nicolai would be a heavy blow if he were to be caught. So acting with caution was the only option, though she probably didn’t need to tell him that.
Gregory shifted around uncomfortably on his stool. They were playing with fire and as a man with a long beard that worried him.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai bowed his head to her command for him to go through with his plan. Had she not given her agreement he would have acted regardless, knowing that to sit and wait for the two before him to come around to his way of thinking would leave them sitting on a precipice and playing catch-up with Gabriel and Vincent for far too long. With the matter dealt with a small rueful smile pulled at his lips.
[+teal “The gallows? You think so highly of me? I had thought you would dispose of me much more discreetly.”] He toys with her and the mood indeed lightens. It was not prudent of him to tease her especially before her loyal lapdog Gregory shifted about like a disruptive child upon his seat. But the flicker of humour in her voice at her suggestion of punishment was rather infectious. More so given the softness in her eyes as she looked at him.
A cough from the Dwarven male drew the others attention and the disgruntled bard flicked his eyes back and forth between the two. He seemed displeased with the entire affair, a father protective over his daughter no less. [+darkmagenta “So this is our plan? This is how we proceed?”] He may have looked to Florence at first but he directly the question to the General, his tone accusing as if he was presented with a poor outcome and no means to avoid it. [+teal “It is a good plan, as good as any I would say.”] A roll of his shoulders accompanies his words. [+darkmagenta “Risking a General's life and a Queen's respect not to mention her authority, on a plan that has a great risk of failing?”] There was no winning with this man. Whether it was because she had placed some additional trust in Nicolai or that he just simply did not like the idea was lost on the Elf at present.
[+teal “You do me a dishonour Gregory. As Her Majesty stated, I will only gather names, occupations, their tentative links to Gabriel. After that she can instruct me further or we may meet again.”] He turned back to Florence herself, hands coming together in the lap of his silken clothes, quite noble out of his armour for once.[+teal “I see no reason to act alone. As you say, to do so would see me dead. And given the attacks on Augustine of late I believe it is vigilant of me to do as told and not step above my duty.”] The Elf was sincere in his tone and against he suppressed his urge to take her hand.
It was not a gesture to win her over or to be disrespectful nor to annoy the little man before them by ignoring etiquette. Given his race and his natural persona, he was just simply a more hands on person. Thus the touches to Augustine's shoulder, the taking of hands when accepting condolences from the villagers on the ride back.
[+darkmagenta “Well I will have it noted my objection to this entire matter. We should be getting back anyway.”] The short man stood up as did Nicolai who made a point of offering his hand out. After a hesitation, and a look to the Queen, he accepted the hand and shook it. [+teal “I promise you Gregory, I will only do right by you, by Augustine, and by the Queen.”]
Holding the man's gaze for a moment he hoped to cement his position in all this. After all he had no-where else to turn. What could he do? Ignore them? If so then he would be much more swiftly dealt with than they had been trying against the Prince. It was only with their protection he still remained alive – of that he had no doubt.
Not used to others, save the dwarf across the way, taking a teasing tone around her, much less pointing directly towards her, Florence raised a brow at the man. [+mediumseagreen “Perhaps not highly, I just happen to know a traitor’s execution is good for moral.”] Florence couldn’t help but prod back at him. She didn’t want him getting too comfortable, though their third party member wasn’t so thrilled about that.
Obstinate as an ox, Gregory stood firm on his side. He wanted to wait it out and see what else came to them, praying it might be something less risky. And if no such perfect plan of action turned up, they were in a position to defend. They had the general and the head of the guard with them.
As though the Queen was able to read his mind, she spoke up. [+mediumseagreen “There is no time for hesitation. They are backing us into a corner and we cannot defend forever, they’ll only become more audacious with desperation. And even if this does not pan out, it will get the ball rolling on our side.”] The first step was often the hardest, so any movement towards the offensive would alter their mindset for the better.
Even with all the negativity from the bard, it seemed Nicolai was determined to come out on good terms despite it. Gregory took the other man’s hand tentatively, looking him over again searching for any sign of dishonesty. He never found that, but he’d already taken note of a few other things in the frame of their meeting. For now he would trust Florence’s opinion even though he thought they were being hasty.
[+teal “I will do right by you, by Augustine, and by the Queen.”]
To this the older man squeezed his hand tightly. [+darkmagenta “You had better.”] He wasn’t going to see the other two, and maybe even himself, dead because some snot nosed elf brat decided to back out when things got tough.
With that he was done. Before turning to leave, he called out. [+darkmagenta “I will go and keep Augustine company for a while. You two can begin with your shady nonsense.”] He waved his hand as though to bat away his displeasure.
The emerald-eyed woman stood from her seat as well. [+mediumseagreen “Thank you, but please refrain from feeding him so many sweets. You keep pampering him.”] She knew very well that he raided the kitchen and shared his spoils with the boy.
No response came from the man; he just quickened his pace as he walked away. Pretending not to have heard her no doubt. Florence sighed heavily. Both in response to the dwarf’s defiance and knowing that she would have to return to the castle shortly. Eyes returning to the general she didn’t have a whole lot more to say. [+mediumseagreen “I expect to hear from you in the next few days.”] With that and a nod she was off as well. Though to avoid them all exiting the area together, she would fall back and take her time seeing how the garden was fairing. This time she did not plan on sitting so that she could avoid accidentally falling asleep again. When she felt the coast was clear, the woman returned to the real world, full of many more snakes than the park would ever be.
As distracted as Augustine was with mourning and all the extra lessons that were being thrown his way, he still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. It wasn’t just the peculiar incidents either. People who would walk by would look at him with some strange sense of sympathy. And then it seemed like someone was always hanging around him. He really liked to spend time with Nicolai and Gregory, but it was odd that they were seeking him out on their own now. All in the absence of his mother who, until a few weeks ago, refused to be separated from him. All together it left him uneasy. The boy wondered if it showed in his mannerisms, because everyone kept asking how he was feeling.
He had a few theories. The leading of which being that his mother had spent all that time with him because she wanted people to think she was the right choice for regent. Augustine had been there at the gathering and seen how she fought tooth and nail to make sure she was named his advisor. Perhaps that was what she had been after the whole time. Maybe that was the reason she married her father as well? Sighing, he kicked at a rock in the courtyard. The pebble clattered against the hard ground and he followed after it.
There was some shouting in the background, but he paid it little mind. That was until he grew louder. Looking up from the ground, the Prince saw Gregory running at him. Alarmed and confused, he froze in place. What was going on?
[+darkmagenta “Augustine, do not move!”] There was a greater urgency in the bard’s voice than he’d ever heard before. A couple of other’s shuffled behind the man in a panic. Seeing everyone all in a flurry made it very hard for the boy to keep still.
Fast to action, Gregory looked at the others. One of them was a garrison soldier. He grabbed his shoulder, pulling him down to confiscate the man’s bow, along with it an arrow. Knocking it just as quickly, the Dwarf took aim and fired.
It all happened so fast, Augustine barely had time to move from confusion to fear. Gregory was firing at him. He didn’t even know the old man could use a bow. Flinching away from the path of the whizzing arrow the Prince watched as it hit the ground a meter or so to his left. Where it landed, it pinned a colorful snake to the ground by its head. The animal wriggled a moment longer before falling still.
Taking a few steps back, the boy’s bright green eyes flickered between the snake and the old man who killed it. Gregory came over, pulling off his vest to collect the creature without a word. He knew this breed of snake. It was deadly venomous and native to Astoria... Someone had a very hateful sense of irony.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat There was a moment of indecision where Nicolai had expected to be rounded upon and informed he would have to stand down. He would have to act alone and without the overall protection of the Queen and what she could do to help him.
But when she offered her own explanation of how she saw things proceeding he had half-smiled. It felt good to have her backing and her open agreement that they should at the very least plan for the eventuality of having to fight back than sit and wait. It left him feeling as if he was a part of this plot once more and not the third wheel to their ideas. It gave him purpose once more and he bowed deeply to her once the Dwarf had left.
[+teal “I will do my best Your Majesty.”]
The raven haired Elf was a touch saddened that she had had to leave. Being in her presence did help put him at ease and helped to stem the thoughts of just what could go wrong that plagued him at all other times. But he was resigned to agree that she was needed elsewhere and so took himself away out a separate entrance to Gregory.
Nicolai took his time over the next day or two. Almost consumed by guilt at the near death of the Prince once he was away, he was hard fought off by the Dwarf to go about his planning and scheming, leave the boy to him. It eased his burden but at the same time formed a near constant distraction to his work.
Collecting the tomes and ledgers that showed all nobility spending was a bit of a task when the record keeper had been adamant he not leave the stores with said books. General or not he could not be permitted to walk off with such priceless knowledge of the realm and so had been forced to sit in a cold and musty room in the cellars of the castle, reading by candlelight that had to be constantly relit whenever the flame snuffed out from a soft breeze.
The books held nothing great about Gabriel and Vincent's wealth. It was all standard and to the penny accounted for. Nothing that had been declared was anything of use to him. As expected he was careful about his wealth and though the amount coming in had slowly increased over time it was not so staggering that it drew assumptions. Same too for the property records. It was simple, it was boring, it was non-threatening. Nothing in the masses of scrolls and papers and wax tablets showed any wrong doing.
For a time it crept into his mind that Gregory had simply made a mistake. In his advanced years perhaps he had seen what he wanted and not what was true. They were chasing after golden geese with sticks and no nets – there was little to subvert this narrative and he had lost the desire to continue.
But in a final reading of the list of names to come up time and again, one was far and away repeated several times; Maxwell Bennington. Now Nicolai was not really one to know the ins and outs of the wealthy elite of the realm. He knew most of the upper nobility by name alone, some fewer by their faces. Yet this man's name he could not match to a description nor had he seen it written in anything of Royal standard, or the property holders book nor the listed wealth of those who held most of the land.
By the General's understanding this man was like the remnants of a ghost. All that this man seemed to do was continually take payments from Gabriel and Vincent for 'services rendered'. Small but frequent payments. Usually a sign of servitude or sexual acts but if either man's preferences swung that way it was certainly kept well hidden. It frustrated Nicolai but perhaps he needed to enact the second half of the plan to supplement this.
Florence didn’t hear about the incident with the snake till the end of the day. Because it was swiftly handled, Gregory postponed telling her, but when he did she snapped. Within the deepest confines of the keep, she was throwing a tantrum of her own.
[+mediumseagreen “How in the hell did they manage to bring a Astorian sidewinder all the way here!?”] She was shouting with no regards to discretion. There was not a whole lot else she could do. Looking into the catalog of those who had come and gone to Wistina for the last month or so would be too time consuming. There was also next to no chance that whoever purchased the animal would have left behind any evidence of the exchange. It was another lead to nowhere. They seemed to be getting a lot of those as of late.
Resisting the urge to throw things against the wall and make other irreversible mistakes, Florence took to a chair in the center of the room. She was still spewing venomous words. A great while would pass before she calmed enough to have a sensible conversation with Gregory about what was to be done. He leaned towards pulling Nicolai back to be with Augustine full time, but she denied his request. She still firmly believed they needed to have an edge of some sort. Until then she would keep a few extra eyes on her son to be sure no harm came to him.
Over the next few days, however, there was nothing. No attempts, be they subtle or not, on the boy’s life. But that wasn’t all. All of a sudden the advisors and council members began to go silent. They still bayed for her attention from time to time, but it seemed as though almost everything they asked about was called for. Florence found it unsettling. Vincent and Gabriel had pushed so hard these last several weeks and now were they backing off? Perhaps they had changed to a new tactic, but that might not prove any better for her. She was left in utter suspense as to what they were up to. Though, she appreciated the newfound freedom and time to gather her thoughts for once.
In that time, she also heard news that Nicolai actually found something of interest hidden away in the pages and pages of accounts. A name: Maxwell Bennington. She had no recollection of such a person. He was likely fictitious, but for what purpose? That was the next mystery they needed to solve. Did Maxwell truly exist, and if not why had be been fabricated.
Knowing there was very little she could do with eyes on her, and even less she could do stuck within the confines of the castle, Florence decided to shift her own efforts. Taking the mental list of the council members who she knew were waiting to fully pick sides, the Queen paid each of them a visit. Her focus was, in a way, to suck up. To make them feel as though she would listen to them. At the same time she hinted at the importance of loyalty and the like for the stability of a country. Each conversation was tailored to the noble she was dealing with. Even if it didn’t entirely sway their opinion, there was no harm in expanding her sphere of influence. There was even a few she called in Augustine for, just to parade around his innocence and cement the fact that indecision on their part was another nail in his coffin. She reveled in their discomfort.
As much as Florence loved to be able to come and go as she pleased, there was one small downside: Meredith. The young attendant was still fairly fresh to her job. She’d been hired only a few months prior when her last lady-in-waiting retired. Meredith was the daughter of a lesser-known earl who was seeking to gain the royal family’s favor. Not a bad plan, but the girl was high strung. The drive to constantly be doing something so that she could reflect favorably back to her family was noble, but Florence was often so hands on there was little for her to do. Being young and not incredibly intelligent, she would complain to being left behind and not being able to do her job properly, practically begging the older woman to leave something for her to do. It was one more nagging in her ear that she didn’t need, but all in all Florence didn’t hate the girl. She liked her drive, so she tolerated her and tried to think of things for her to do. For now that mainly included passing notes between her and the others.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai had not seen fit to do more than inform Florence of the name he had come up with. Whilst he had begun to draw up his lists of those associated to 'the other side', as he had taken to calling them, he had kept out of the way of Gregory and the Queen. It was not his place to take up more of their time and he was keen to ensure he was at Augustine's side as much as he could be.
The attack had left the point frightened and fearful that someone was out to hurt him. It was something the Elf could not deny outright but he used clever wording to dance about the subject. King's were often targeted and not everyone would come to love him as the new leader. But it meant he was not dissimilar to his General. Without naming the Viscount, Marquis or even Gregory by name, he showed the young boy he was not alone.
Their lessons in the library were lulls in Nicolai's day and he relished the time to relax from the treachery and devious acts he was committing in the aid of Florence. It was a time to reflect over the past and discuss tactics of the battlefield with a boy who seemed to indulge his enthusiasm for soldiery and all things warfare.
Some of the more technical and logistics heavy lessons did not go down well. To be expected from a bright and buzzing child who was awed at battles and the backstories to heroes. But the boy did well to hide his boredom and force himself to focus, knowing a story of a past fight or a tale of battles from before Nicolai's time would be his reward.
When Florence had managed to get a message back to him that Maxwell was unknown to her, it was his springboard to advance his actions. Since the trio's meeting he had been restrained and not wishing to overstep the mark. But she had given him permission to follow the lead and with ruthless intent if need be. The latter part he had assumed; surely she would be happy for a rhetorical snake to be disposed of.
Having built a list of those close to the Marquis and Viscount alike he had left the castle one morning when the sun had finally risen above the outer walls and the fresh sea air had blown across the capital. It was rather refreshing and for once the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky. Fingers cross the day went just as well as the weather. His intended destination was to Gabriel's home. The two noblemen had gone on a hunt, or so they had informed the castle squires. Having been gone a day they would not return until tomorrow and it allowed Nicolai the time needed to pay their homes a visit. With Vincent living alone save for his servant, the Viscount was a prime candidate.
The large house was set back from the main pathway and lined by several trees outside the courtyard wall. Having knocked he was given immediate access by a timid servant girl who had seen the General before and thought it best not to leave a powerful man out on the street as she sought the lady of the house to inform her.
Nicolai was dressed in a pair of black pants with a navy tunic over the top, golden embroidery down it's middle from collar to hem, his sword in a well oiled leather scabbard on his belt. Hair brushed back he and, though he was Elven, his jawline was as smooth as a babies bottom. He was well turned out to coin a phrase. [+teal “Ah, Lady Derrian. I apologise for the disturbance in your morning.”] He face lit into a bright and wide smile, eyes similarly cheerful, upon seeing the young woman with her servant in tow. [+cornflowerblue “Duke Windsor, so lovely to see you of course.”] Dressed in a long golden summer dress, her auburn hair had been quickly combed and a band of gold held it back and in place.[+cornflowerblue “I apologise but my father is not here at present, he is on a hunt with the Marquis.”] She played the doting daughter well and the man before her only nodded in understanding. They stopped before him and he took up her small soft hands in his own. [+teal “I am quite aware of his predisposed nature but, in actuality, I came to meet with yourself.”] Leaning down he pressed his lips to the back of her fingers and that devilish smile came into it's own. [+cornflowerblue “Oh.. I-I see. And why did you come to meet with me?”] Such a young woman was acutely aware this man was unattached and at present retained a high nobleman's title – as well as being a General – so his response came as little surprise though her cheeks flushed terribly. [+teal “I had thought we could get to know one another. Perhaps we could sit and talk out of this heat?”] It brought a flutter to her chest and she averted her eyes in giddy fashion.
There was no waiting for her response, holding her hand in his like a gentleman as he began to walk with her back in towards her fathers home. Her servant was quickly dispatched once more to retrieve some bread and fresh olive oil, perhaps a few cuts of meat as well as a decanter of watered wine.
For Meredith, this whole debacle over who would be next to hold the throne was too much to wrap her head around. Sure, she wanted Queen Florence to keep her position, that way she would still have her position here in the castle, but other than that there was little the young woman cared about. She didn’t really bother to pay attention to anything that she wasn’t specifically asked too. Something told her that the less she knew the better and Meredith was OK with that.
A plan that went unused until Marquis Vincent approached her. And while she wasn’t the cleverest person out there, the girl was still skeptical of all that charm he was throwing her way. He had clearly been making passes at the Queen for the last several weeks, and a person like that didn’t all of a sudden take interest in the daughter of an Earl. That would be the worst rebound of all time. But even as she waited for him to ask about Queen Florence, nothing came. The man just made pleasant chatter as they walked through the hall and then the two went their separate ways when they needed to. An odd encounter to be sure. Left a tad paranoid, Meredith rummaged through her pockets to make sure the letter she’d been put in charge of was still there. Fingertips brushing against the stark paper of the envelope, she sighed in relief. Whatever it was he wanted, it must not have been that. Unable to figure anything beyond that out, she decided to ignore the who encounter. Perhaps he was just being friendly since she could often be found near Florence who he was still trying to court.
Waiting was excruciating, but this was in part a game of patience. It didn’t help that Florence wanted to know every little detail of how things were proceeding as they were learned, a wish that could not conceivably be granted. Not if she wanted to maintain any semblance of secrecy as to what she was up to. Especially with Nicolai out there looking into more unscrupulous matters. Linking herself too closely to him would be disastrous; as much as she disagreed with Gregory on whether or not it was necessary, the pair was together on that point. And so she was left to childishly passing notes as a means to supplement the few meetings they were able to have, even with her shuffling those in attendance. The only one she could meet regularly was the dwarf because it was no different from her previous behavior.
Tired of sitting around doing nothing, the dark haired woman desperately tried to think of productive ways she could spend her time. Little to nothing came to her mind. It was endlessly irritating. She couldn’t stand being this dependent on others. Normally Florence was the type to take matters into her own hands, but from the day she agreed to marry Germaine on, that had been off the table. Though to be fair, before now there were very few occasions that she needed to meddle in. And even the ones where she did secretly pull strings from the shadows were nothing she would consider too extreme. Not like this.
Keeping active, the regal woman walked about as she mulled over what to do. Being cooped up in her chambers only made her feel worse about everything. As she did so she ran into the last person she wanted to see, Vincent. Fighting down the urge to turn around and pretend as though she hadn’t seen him, that ship sailed as soon as he waved at her.
[+Blue “Evening, Your Majesty.”]
[+mediumseagreen “Evening Vincent.”] She mirrored back his greeting, but added nothing more to it. Where had the good old days gone, the ones where if she didn’t first speak to a person, they didn’t speak to her?
He smiled, a pleasant look on his fetching face. Florence wondered if they might have gotten along if he hadn’t been quite so conniving and persistent. There was a chance, but she also didn’t think she would have given him the time of day had be not had those traits.
[+blue “May I have a moment of your time, Ma’am?] Odd, he generally didn’t directly request such things. That meant he must have had something to talk about that required more time than a stroll to the great hall.
Warning bells rang in her head at the thought, but she spoke without hesitation. [+mediumseagreen “Yes, I suppose you may.”] There was no doubt he knew she wasn’t busy, so she couldn’t use that as an excuse. Not to mention having a chat with him might give her some insight into what he was plotting.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat They had proceeded on through the home via a central corridor, small talk on each others well being and the weather of late, taking a seat in a small outer area in the back, seats covered by padded cushions and under a length of fabric to protect them from the sun. The young daughter of Gabriel was rather beautiful and Nicolai was rather taken with her by appearance alone. Her personality, what little he knew, was agreeable as well; caring, compassionate, outwardly generous to charitable causes and noble gestures of goodwill. The only downside was her family. And what a downside that was.
Offering a pliant smile and muttered thanks to the servant girl who brought them something to eat and drink, Lady Derrian – Lillian in less formal circumstances – sat with straight back and hands folded over her lap. The Duke however happily poured them a cup each of the watered down wine. Perfect for a social occasion where water was too dull but it was far too early for stronger beverages. Handing her a cup his finger brushed against her own, soft smile remaining as she looked at him sheepishly.
[+cornflowerblue “So,”] she was unsure how to begin, trying to recall any news to start them on,[+cornflowerblue “I heard you were Llewellyn not too long ago. Building a bridge to help the villagers?”] It was a timid start but he nodded. [+teal “Yes, sometimes the flooding there can become rather intense. I was grateful to be able to offer my assistance, though it did help to give the men a task to focus the minds given the passing of the King.”] He bowed his head for a moment in respect of the departed Royal. [+cornflowerblue “But of course. I am sure in their time of sorrow it gave them a welcome distraction. And they can rest assured of the villagers thanks for their hard work.”] She took a sip of her wine as he leaned to the platter and dipped a sliver of bread into the olive oil. [+teal “If only everyone was thankful for our work.”] He smiled in jest and took a bite of his food, sipping his drink to swill about his mouth. [+cornflowerblue “Oh? How do you mean my Lord?”] She looked at him clueless; oh for the innocence of youth. [+teal “It seems our Queen, Viscount and your father himself were quite displeased in my absence from the realm.”] He raised his brow in disappointment, letting out a soft sigh and a gentle shake of his head. [+cornflowerblue “I am surprised to disdain from the Queen, though I know you and my father do not get along.”] She lowered her gaze a moment, but it returns to him quickly when he chuckles. [+teal “To say your father and I do not get along is quite the understatement. Outside of public view I am fairly certain he despises me.”] He sipped more of his drink.[+teal “I must admit my surprise, that he does not speak of such before you.”] Nicolai was curious as to that and she obliged him the truth. [+cornflowerblue “Well he has been rather busy lately. I see him rarely, often only when he comes to change his clothing.”] There is a hint of sadness to her voice; she must have been a true fathers daughter. Nicolai shifts across his seat, taking a hold of her free hand from her lap, fingers enclosing hers as she flushes, bright on pale cheeks. [+teal “To leave such a lovely woman alone and by herself? It is a crime. I should have words with the man about such an act.”] Though he had meant it in mocking jest she takes him too literally and shakes her head, curling hair falling about her face. [+cornflowerblue “No! Please! I don't wish to worry father with such silly things.”] Such worry required investigation. [+teal “I may not be a father myself but surely the well being of daughter takes precedent over whatever affairs he may have. I should think the shining light of his life would be his only priority. What could possibly take him away from such a demure yet stunningly beautiful girl?”] The sly dog.
Nicolai was not one accustomed to social occasions, such as standing before a party and giving a speech or toast. Yet alone, one-on-one like this, he could be as suave and inviting like no other. He had smouldering Elven beauty and with the right tones and choice in personality, not to mention his confidence in such moments, he could find ways to unlock even the most secure of persons.
Florence was a different case of course. Rather cold and shrewd in her ways. She was more dominant and daunting a woman than any one he had met before. He had not even attempted flattery or the like with her. Where was the point? She was focused upon her son for now and even once this was settled she would be too much hassle to try and win over. Though indeed he had thought her beautiful and she was still so, there was no desire to seek intimacy from a woman who held a polite and formal outer appearance, but a wintry and lifeless heart beneath for anyone but Augustine.
Regardless of his momentary thoughts on the Queen, he squeezed the girls hand affectionately, thumb grazing across the back of her fingers slowly and looking on her to continue. He looked every bit the concerned and listening friend, even if he was a stranger. [+cornflowerblue “He buries himself in his enterprises and work. I hear talk of profits and shipments and payments to persons I've never heard of; Jefferson, Buxwell, Hardy, Bennington.”] His interest sparks and he places his cup back on the platter slowly.[+cornflowerblue “I wish it were like years before, where we would sit and talk into the nights.”] Her eyes shimmer for only a moment but she holds back on any tearful exposition, fanning her face as she laughs a touch.[+cornflowerblue “Apologies my Lord, blubbering away at my own issues. I'm sure this is the last thing you had wanted to listen to.”] She was partially right about the sad back story, a part of her he could have done without hearing as it did play on him a little. Though she had given him plenty of new information on her father. [+teal “Do not be ridiculous Lady Derrian.”] He shuffles a little closer again, his leg brushing against hers as they sat almost opposite to one another now. His free hand rose and cupped her cheek, caressing lightly as he did her hand.[+teal “I may be a Duke, I may be a General, but at the end of the day I am a living being also. I can understand your hardship. Loneliness is not a foreign word to myself.”] It was a bitter truth to himself to say aloud.[+teal “But allow me to proffer a suggestion; let me be the one to share your burden.”] She looked at him with curious eyes but a gentle smile.[+teal “With no war to plan for I have nothing but time these days. If you ever grow lonely then simply send for me. If your father ignores you more then seek me out in the castle. I am more than happy to have your company.”]
Her other hand rose up to cup his own on her cheek, curling her fingers into his and bring it down to rest in her lap beside the other coupled pair. Smiling a little brighter now, her eyes shining but enlightened and without the sorrow of before, her lips curl and her cheeks are only more rosy in colour than ever. [+cornflowerblue “Thank you my Lord-”] He turns his head away a moment to cut her off. [+teal “Please, if we are to be friends, we are to be on an even level. Call me Nicolai.”] A classy touch; bravo. [+cornflowerblue “Ah, of course, Nicolai. The same platitude I extend to you, though I thank you for your kind, wonderful words. It feels better knowing I have someone to confide within other than Mary.”] She meant her servant, and though the Elf considers investigating the woman further for information, it is best to get it from the source. [+teal “Thank you Lillian,”] the name did roll rather sweetly off the tongue,[+teal “though before I leave perhaps we can eat and talk of happier matters. I have time spare now and the weather is rather perfect for it would you not agree?”] His violet gaze meets her emerald eyes and she nods enthusiastically. [+cornflowerblue “Yes, it is rather perfect isn't it.”] She said as she turned her sheepish gaze to the small garden and how it glows in the sun's rays. Nicolai can only watch her with an unassuming smile, mind ticking over on what information may come from such a unique informant.
[+Blue “Excellent”] The man, who was only a few inches taller than her, smiled. [+blue “Let’s find a place to have a proper talk.”]
It wasn’t enough that he was making a request on her time; he wanted to control everything down to the backdrop. Florence wondered just what he was plotting. [+mediumseagreen “Very well, lead away.”] The woman motioned for him to take the lead, but instead he offered her his arm. Fighting back a look of annoyance, she took up his offer. Only very lightly touching him, not fully allowing her hand to rest on the crook of his thin arm.
He must have noticed her hesitance, that or he was just overly eager to touch her, because his other hand came to rest on top her hers. It forced her palm down the rest of the way as he looked back to grin at her. A look that was seemingly devoid of any intelligence whatsoever.
Like that, the pair continued on. Luckily for her, they did not seem to pass anyone as they went. Having more rumors about her being even remotely attached to this man flying around would be exceedingly detrimental. She was glad for the silence all the way to one of the small annex libraries in the building. It wasn’t as well used as the main collection so they would be left alone. Yet another thing she didn’t much care for.
Even though the room was tiny, the walls were lined top to bottom with shelves, each jam packed with books. The collection stretched across every genre. At the far end of the room there was a window, seemingly squeezed between two of the thick oak bookcases. It looked out over several acres of land. Set aside for sport hunting, it grew somewhat wild with a thin sprinkling of trees off in the distance. Though it had been some time since it’d been used. There was dust accumulating on the sill; she would need to remember to send someone over here to clean.
[+mediumseagreen “Here we are, Marquis, what is it?”] Her tone wasn’t nearly as short as her words, but the woman intentionally used his title to try and put some distance between them.
Nodding at her permission to speak, Vincent started up. [+blue “Thank you for coming along with me, your Majesty.”] He threw her own rank back at her, jovially. Did he think she was playing? Eyes narrowing at him some, as she tried to figure out his game, the man cleared his throat and pressed on.
[+blue “Ma’am, I have been thinking.”] That was dangerous; she bit back the sarcastic comment. [+blue “Thinking about you.”] The expression on his face almost looked genuine, almost. [+blue “You’ve been under a tremendous amount of pressure, and while you have outwardly handled every twist and turn with grace and poise, I know you must be waning. I worry for your health, and to be quite frank, you.”]
She did less to conceal her irritation at his rambling on her face, but if he noticed, the man didn’t show it. [+blue “I spoke with some of the other council members about these concerns. We agreed to bother you only in absolute necessity, as we would be in trouble if your health deteriorated suddenly like his late Majesty the King.”] That explained that.
[+mediumseagreen “That is sweet of you, but I assure you I will be fine. I am not so fragile as all that.”]
[+blue “My apologies, I never meant to insinuate such a notion. You are by no means fragile, are you? Flawless, fearless, beautiful above all else, the kind of woman who deserves nothing but respect and not to be pestered with menial tasks. I just meant to convey my belief that someone like you deserves to be supported properly.”]
The flattery was too much for her. Florence hoped he would get to the point sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, he did.
[+blue “I know this may be imprudent of me, but I would like to be the one to support you. Ever since the council meeting I have thought it through, and I know it is too soon since your husband passed, but I wanted to ask you of my own accord instead of having it decided by others. Would you allow me to take your hand and make you my wife?”]
This man must have been a glutton for punishment, wanting to be rejected twice… At least, that is what she though at first. But after a moment’s more though she deemed it was a sound strategy. And she hated that fact fervently. This would force her to be frank with him, there would be no more dancing around the subject to give him hope and divide the enemy’s attention between multiple plans.
There was a long pause as she thought of what to say. [+mediumseagreen “I would like some time to think over it.”] She could tell Vincent wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Of course he wasn’t, it defeated the purpose entirely. [+mediumseagreen “I do not mean indeterminately, give me three days to think it over.”] That seemed to tempt him from brooding.
[+blue “Very well, three days and we shall meet back here. I await your answer with the highest hopes.”] Taking step closer, Vincent took ahold of her hand, pressing his lips lightly to her knuckles and then excused himself.
Left on her own, Florence was already trying to think of the best way to counter this, but honestly there were only two options. To decline and confirm that she had no interest in ever entertaining he and Gabriel’s ideas, or to accept and try to find a common ground and convince them that Augustine would be better than his father. Neither was ideal, but she would think on it seriously. With that she decided to keep these happenings to herself for now. She already knew how Gregory would respond, and so it would do little to tell him beside have to listen to his lecturing.
What she didn’t know was that Vincent saw the matter as significantly less private. Rumors of a possible engagement were flittering about the castle once again.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat It was an hour or two before the Elf left the home of Viscount Gabriel. It had been a rather progressive visit and a large amount of information had been gathered before things turned toward less conversational pieces. Indeed as he left the home, looking about him to see if anyone watched, his hand brushed at his lips that were stained a touch darker than usual from some transference or another. Straightening himself and clasping the pommel of his sword the door is closed behind him and he sets off back toward the castle.
Reaching the main gatehouse things seemed to be as normal as ever as servants and officials pottered about with nothing truly interesting going on. At times like these it was easy to forget the inner workings that went on behind the scenes. To lose oneself to the serene backdrop of general life where people mean what they say and there isn’t a knife to your back. Sadly, for now at least, Nicolai would not be able to indulge this fantasy.
This was perhaps a way of life preparing him for when his page Timothy sought him out and with a polite greeting and a deft flick of his head insisted the general follow after the young boy. Intrigued to see what was wrong he did so, the duo making light talk as they progressed down a long corridor. They came to a corner where the hallway wrapped around, allowing them a vantage to ensure no-one was nearby, Nicolai’s keen elven eyes look back and forth and at length he nods to the boy.
[+teal “Care to divulge why you have sought me out?”] His tone was conserved but terse, not pleased to be forced into the boys game. He trusted the youth, but it was not his normal practice. [+coral “You asked me to keep an eye on the Marquis Vincent should he come to the castle and you were not here m’lord.”] Indeed he had. The man was not to be trusted by any means, and to keep an eye on him in the keep would perhaps throw them some new information on any informants he might have. [+teal “I did, does that mean he was here?”] The boy nodded and with a click of his tongue the Elf showed his displeasure. He was tricky, using the lady-in-waiting for some nefarious part of his plan. Otherwise why was he seeking such a woman out? [+coral “Yes, a few hours ago now Sir. He was here for only about ten minutes or so Sir, but he met with someone; The Queen.”] He had seemed hesitant to say whom Vincent had met with and when he did, he saw the scowl form on his master’s face.
This did not sit well with the man given his previous mistrust of Florence. He had lain out his concerns and she had seen fit to put him in his place. He had been humbled and humiliated and for a time felt guilt in doubting her. She had told him she was using the scheme to keep Vincent close and therefore under her surveillance. But just how close was she keeping him? She would not talk to him on the matter. He had nothing to run on but his own mind. Yet his doubts crept back in.
[+coral “And that’s not all Sir.”] The boy wanted his report over with quickly, to return to the stables and be at peace amongst the horses, some of his best friends. [+teal “Then spit it out!”] He hissed back. Timothy hesitated but nodded, averting his eyes. [+coral “I heard a rumour from one of the servant girls, the ones who work under the Queen and her lady-in-waiting.”] Chewing his lip to stave shouting at the young boy, the Elf only nods. [+teal “What rumour.”] [+coral “Well that there was going to be a wedding between the Marquis and Queen. One of the girls even said she saw them kissing.”] He shrugged, as if this part he wasn’t sure of himself.
Whilst the rumour of a wedding hit Nicolai rather hard the second part he could not imagine. Despite her apparent aptitude in the creative arts and her particular skill in acting, she was not good enough to hide a relationship. If the rumour held weight, she was doing so only as a means to protect Augustine. Still it tasted bitter on his tongue and he let out a deep sigh. It was not a time to go rushing to Her Majesty and accuse her of such deeds. He needed information. He needed to flesh out the details on this. Perhaps then he would confront her but it would be in a more formal and less aggressive manner than last.
[+teal “Very well Timothy, go about your duties.”] With a dismissive wave of his hand the boy dips his head and scurries off in a brisk walk with his job done. It left the Elf to stand there in a contemplative manner, wondering just what was happening without his knowledge. Was he being led astray by the Queen so that she could plan without fear he would turn on her? He held a sizable portion of the army close to him. If he was taken, disposed of, tried and killed without a good reason, they would not react well. Perhaps she was keeping him busy so she could plot out her own ascension. He leaned against the wall, sighing as his hands cover his face and he let out a groan of displeasure; he loathed these bloody humans.
Florence stayed in the small library a while longer. It was a quiet place to think. Every once in a great while she would hear footfall as someone walked by, but there were no other sounds. Eventually, and even though she hadn’t come to her conclusion just yet, she stood and went on her way. The plan was to go check in on Augustine, as she had nothing better to do and it might help her to decide, however as she moved about the castle she noticed something. People were going silent just as soon as she walked into view. Normally the people here were needlessly chatty, so it stood out. They must have been talking about her or something that directly concerned her. She had a sneaking suspicious at what it be.
It wasn’t until the next day that Gregory came to find her. A conversation she’d been dreading.
[+darkmagenta “Warum höre ich immer wieder, dass Sie Vincent zu küssen erwischt wurden und Sie beide formell verlobt sind?“]
[+mediumseagreen “Weiß nicht.“] He stared her down, not believing her for a second.
Florence sighed. She had wanted to push this off for a while longer. She switched back to Wistinian hoping he might be less critical in a second language. [+mediumseagreen “He came and asked me to marry him, this time of his own accord. I have three days from yesterday before I have to give answer… I know nothing about this kissing business though.”] The servants must have been more bored than she imagined in they were making up such nonsense to spread around.
[+darkmagenta “Why did you not refuse him then and there?”] His words were demanding. [+darkmagenta You cannot be considering this?”]
[+mediumseagreen “As soon as they know I am not interested, their side will likely unite on a single front. I am certain they currently have a rift in their faction, that’s why their actions have seemed so erratic.”] There had to be a good portion of them that would rather try to do this without murdering a child, at least right away. [+mediumseagreen “And I have been thinking, if I did give in and wed him, it might afford us more time…”]
Gregory cut her off. [+darkmagenta “Stop! You are not going to do this, not again.”] His dark Dwarven eyes had a fire behind them.
[+mediumseagreen “And why shouldn’t I?”] The question was legitimate. While her mind was not set on anything, she didn’t very well see what he meant in saying she couldn’t take that option if she deemed it best.
[+darkmagenta “Florence, at some point you need to think of yourself. If it has come to you entertaining the idea of marrying someone like the Marquis, then it is time to consider broadening the scope of your outlook. Leaving may be the best option.”]
He was always so quick to run away, to retreat back to Astoria. [+mediumseagreen “I may send Augustine there, to keep him safe, but I cannot go.”] At the rate things were going, the Queen doubted she would ever see her home again.
[+darkmagenta “For once in your life think about what you want,”] he couldn’t stand when she got like this.
[+mediumseagreen “What I want is for my son to have the life he was meant to.”]
Gregory’s eyes narrowed at her. If she was going to be rigorously obstinate, he would as well. [+darkmagenta “I refuse to stay here if you marry that man. Do it and I will return to Astoria on my own.”]
Now that was something she hadn’t been expecting to hear. It tore at her heart; the idea of being nearly alone here was not a pleasant one. Impossible, surely not, but unpleasant all the same, [+mediumseagreen “I never asked you to come here, Gregory.”] The woman withdrew. [+mediumseagreen “You would do much better to be back with Eugene.”]
[+darkmagenta “Fine, then do as you please.”] His voice was hard. Turning, the bard left the room. His feet were loud against the ground as he stormed. By the door he saw Nicolai. How much of their conversation had he heard? Gregory didn’t much care. He was much too frustrated with Florence’s mulishness.
The old man’s stomping faded into the distance, but from it she heard another pair of feet. Was someone else there? Turning, her green eyes fell on Nicolai. Ah yes, the other person who was liable to be concerned by this whole ordeal.
[+mediumseagreen “Have you come to admonish me as well? Let us get it out of the way now, so we can be civil again.”] Her voice was tired, Gregory’s words still weighed heavily on her.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The night was spent without much rest, debating over his next move. He was working by himself. Gregory still showed open animosity to him and Florence seemed to be drifting further to the other side. With no Germaine anymore to act as his overarching barrier to most problems, he had grown weak and without allies. Now he had lost those two it was only a matter of time. His time was a burning candle and it was melting swiftly.
Returning to the keep he had pottered about the place, making idle chat with multiple servants and in general just putting his face about. Perhaps if he was seen more then he would be thought of in a kinder light. It was not as if he had anything else left to do, not least until called for by Lillian to be able to follow the lead he was building there.
Moving about the castle he had come across the sight of Gregory leaving a room in a huff. He had been happening to pass by and upon seeing the disgruntled look on the dwarf’s face he was intrigued just what could cause that – aside from himself. He paused before the Elf for just a moment before turning and walking away once more, fists balled at his side. When his curiosity bested him, he walked across to the doorway, seeing Florence inside.
[+darkgreen “Have you come to admonish me as well?”] There had been no formal welcome, no greeting or friendly hello. She was straight to open hostility, her bright green eyes staring at him with fatigue and he was unsure if she was warning him to just leave now. She was troubled, obviously, but was he even remotely close to someone who could help?
[+teal “I did not come to chastise you.”] Nicolai stood in the doorway, contemplating whether there was any chance of having a conversation with her whilst retaining some of his dignity and not being reduced to an idiot. Belatedly he closed the door behind him, stepping across slowly. He was dressed in a plain tunic, his clothing more practical today with no meetings planned.[+teal “That is to say, I could quite easily start up another argument, yes. I have heard the rumours much like everyone else. But given I was foolish and headstrong last time, and given you look close to striking me when I have seen you of late, I see no benefit to doing so but to increase your ire.”] He shrugged his shoulders, strolling by her to stop over by the window for a moment.
Debating his next words was silly. A week of planning would not be enough to carefully tip toe around the delicate subject at hand here or exacerbate it.[+teal “You are working hard. Your last few months of life have been a struggle. More than I perhaps can understand. And yet when you need allies and friends the most it seems you are alienating yourself.”] Turning back he reproached her, a hand rising up to place on her shoulder but he thought better of it and quickly returning it to his side.[+teal “I will not even offer advice in the matter. I cannot give you any piece of information that will magically solve this problem, or else I would have done so the moment I found it out.”] He was rather bad at this.
Still, he tried one final time to help her, look at her with soft violet eyes and a gentle smile.[+teal “I can offer you my ear in listening, I can offer you my hand in battle, I can offer you my heart and my mind in your struggle. I give you all this and more but you are the one who controls both your future and Augustine’s. If you find a pathway that will work, such as this.. marriage,”] he bites back a tirade of foul language for Vincent that bubbles under the surface,[+teal “and it is an option greater than the others – then I will understand. Gregory will understand, everyone will.”] He looked away to the ground, folding his hands behind his back and nodding to himself and a quiet laugh escapes his lips, his usually tense look dropping away to a more jovial one.
[+teal “It is a shame however; I rather liked our argument. It helped me to vent my silly frustrations.”] Perhaps not the best time for a statement like that, but it had been said.[+teal “I will leave you be if you wish.”]
While he said he hadn’t come to chastise her, he wasn’t exactly gentle with his words either. For a while she listened to him in silence. For someone who wasn’t sure what to say, he sure had a whole lot of words to offer. She could not properly get a read on him. Was he trying to irritate her or comfort her? He walked a strange fine line between the two, but the entire time he was candid.
Alienating herself? She had never seen it that way. This was just her personality, though it was probably true in how she had just been with Gregory. The one real friend she had here and she was threatening to be rid of him. Not her most brilliant moment. If that were the case, she would need to focus on getting closer to others. How, she didn’t know. Quite obviously, that was not her forte.
[+mediumseagreen “Gregory forgave me when I married Germaine, I don’t think he will do it again.”] She didn’t believe his threat of leaving to be an idle one either. When it came to grandiose gestures like that he usually meant it.
It was strange to talk about this sort of thing with someone she knew so little about. He had offered to listen though, and this is how people normally made ‘friends’ was it not, through conversation?
[+mediumseagreen “I never thought it would come to the point where I would be considering this as a viable strategy. I barely understand it, so I do not expect anyone else to.”] She let out an airy sound, like the beginnings of sardonic laughter. [+mediumseagreen “I have a hard time seeing how you can calmly say you would understand, just because it may benefit me… This is your life in the balance as well.”] Although, he was less calm than she made him out to be. Nicolai clearly was at odds with the idea. His hatred of the Marquis must have been deeply ingrained.
The Queen found his fondness for their spat odd. Though he was right, it had been a good opportunity to vent. He had pissed her off so much that she was able to throw years worth of frustrations at him. It was cathartic. She hadn’t been able to shout like that in a very long time either. [+mediumseagreen “Your frustrations were not completely unfounded. Having little to no control over your future is one of the most irritating things in the world.”] He wasn’t like her; he didn’t have a direct choice in how things would play out. Well, aside from things such as packing up and leaving before things got any more chaotic. There was always that, though like her, he would have to leave many things behind.
She shook her head, [+mediumseagreen “No, stay.”] Florence tried to sound less demanding and more like it was an option that was open to him, but she wasn’t sure if it came through properly. [+mediumseagreen “Have a seat.”] She motioned to the cushioned chair that was sitting across from the one she would take herself.
[+mediumseagreen “You know, I like people like you. I have always gotten along better with those who are straightforward,”] maybe because she couldn’t always be so herself. [+mediumseagreen “Though now that I see that, I am surprised Germaine was so fond of you.”] He was a man that appreciated honesty when it favored him. Though, that was nearly universal. [+mediumseagreen “How did the two of you come to know one another?”] It was not a story she had ever heard, but she thought it might be a welcome distraction.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat So Gregory had disliked Germaine? It was news to the Elf but it was perhaps to be expected. It was a reason behind why the small man had such a dislike of the Duke. He saw the two as one and the same just as Nicolai saw Gabriel and Vincent in the same light. There would be no retribution if that was the case, but if they could get along for the sake of a common enemy then it would be workable.
[+teal “I will understand Your Majesty because whilst it does involve my life, I am trapped in this with you. You were his wife but I was his advisor and if anything more expendable.”] A cynical smile tugs on his lips.[+teal ”My life is tied to your fate. Whatever you decide upon I must accept and adapt to - lest I run away and abandon everything. But then, where would I go?”] The question had been rhetorical and contemplative. It was rather troubling to say aloud that he had no-where to go, just as it had been to speak of loneliness with Lillian.
Her direction for him to sit was left in the air for a moment. Had she been ordering him to stay, forcing him to take a seat with her? The tone had softened but unacquainted with her more gentle and relaxed nature it was difficult to read her. Part of their limited time together meant he did not know her nuances. What made her laugh? What made her smile? How could he make her relax and open up more to him? There wasn’t much that came to mind. He simply had to accept her at her word and learn along the way how to talk with her. At this he nodded, stepping across to sit in the chair he was directed to.
Settling himself he listened intently, interested in her choice of words. She liked the company of people [i like him], but not him directly. Perhaps it was not an intended slight at him but he had taken it as such and so he was rather reluctant to begin talking to her. Her point was factual regardless of his inclination to think himself less of a yes-man, but indeed Germaine surrounded himself by agreeable folk.
[+teal “Firstly, I must point out that it was more a fondness born of time and circumstances than genuine infatuation with one another.”] His hands came together, settling in his lap as he sat back in his seat.[+teal “Whilst we were agreeable to one another I am under no great illusion it was only due to my father’s passing at a young age that Germaine gave me a second look. Whether through pity or otherwise he took me in.”] It was already a touchy subject and little had been said.
Drawing a deep and calming breath, Nicolai lifted a foot to rest on his knee, hands now grasping at the calf in an act to stem any nervous twitch that may begin. He could quite imagine she was only asking to gain some background on the Elven male, perhaps she was genuinely curious. It would do him no harm to indulge her. [+teal “Before you arrived I had known him some thirty years. I was only a few years older than Augustine when my father passed and Germaine had known him since he was that age. You could say it was a rather ghoulish and deadly cycle of who’s who.”] The attempt at humour missed its mark and he only served to make himself a touch dour. But it brought him rather full circle.[+teal “I know you never loved him.”] A bold statement.[+teal “You cared for him and you doted on him when needed as a good wife does, but I knew within that first month it was not a marriage for love but of political outcome. Marriage, to a woman of your esteem, is less about what you want and all about what others get from your coupling. More about outward image than inner love. I cannot really imagine what it feels like but I think it would be a terribly mournful thing, to marry for nothing more than to appease someone else’s aspirations.”] He was perhaps being a little too blunt with her, but she had commended him for this attribute.
[+teal “As such, that is why I can understand your more acceptable nature when it comes to this deal with Vincent. With things as they are it is looking as more of a lamentable if necessary choice. I..”] Nicolai’s voice faded off as he felt too close to his own boundaries of what was appropriate and what was not. He had given her enough of his thoughts, any further and he risked spilling more.
Sitting straight as a board, her ankles were crossed to the side and hands folded neatly in her lap. This was supposed to be a casual conversation, but nothing in her posture reflected that.
It seemed as though the elf might be just as trapped as she was here. And if his claims of having no place to run were true, he might be more so. She let him speak, listening with sincere curiosity. There was a certain level of coincident to it, but she found it eerie how the past liked to replay itself. This time with Augustine in a similar position as Nicolai had been. Likening his circumstance to that of her son’s she held more empathy for the man than she normally might have.
Thinking on the story a little more, perhaps this was in part the reason Germaine had fancied himself the fatherly type. As long as she had known the man he’d wanted a large family. His previous marriages had yielded no offspring, and unfortunately they’d only managed to have a single child. She wasn’t sure if that was hurting or helping her now that he was gone. Would a longer line of succession have deterred Vincent and Gabriel?
From there the subject changed fast enough to give her whiplash. The dark haired woman tensed. A secret of many years laid matter-of-factly out in front of her as though it had been obvious the entire time. Was she so terrible an actress as all that? It never occurred to her that it might just be that he was watching her that carefully.
He was beginning to sound like Gregory with all this lamenting for her, but he seemed more open minded to this way of doing things, something the dwarf lacked. Perhaps he hadn’t been lying before. [+mediumseagreen “You needn’t imagine anything, it is a feeling you know. This was a job, like you were called to be a general; it is the same for me in the position I am in now. Perhaps I might have looked on it differently had I had some lover back home, but there was no such thing for me given my personality.”] The dig at herself wasn’t particularly spiteful. The woman knew what she was like. Love, at least for someone in a romantic sense, was foreign to her. And now that she was getting older it seemed like she had missed her chance, so it really wasn’t at the forefront of her mind for this decision.
Nicolai had been straight with her, so she felt the need to offer the same sentiment back. [+mediumseagreen “But that is not to say that I am completely content with how things are. There are other things that I gave up to be here… Though I had thought it would all be temporary, with Germaine being so much my senior.”] The King had been over twice her age when they were married. She expected him to die before her, but not quite so soon.
Shifting in her seat, Florence’s voice was a thoughtful whisper when she continued. [+mediumseagreen “This time, I my sentence would be much longer. Perhaps even the duration of my life.”] As much as she fought Gregory on returning to Astoria, that was all she really wanted, to go home. Was a little extra time to plan really worth a lifetime of imprisonment?
[+mediumseagreen “Still, I have not made my choice. So, we shouldn’t grieve for me so soon. There is still a chance I might reject him.”] She smiled at the thought. And oh how merciless she would be, after all there would be no point in trying to keep his good graces any longer. [+mediumseagreen “With all the rumors, I should think it would be best to do so publicly, so that the truth cannot be further misconstrued.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Florence gave excellent points – again. The least he would ever say of this woman is that she could hold a conversation very well. The self-flagellation was a nice touch. The best way to disarm a hostile person in a debate is to attack one’s self image and force them to feel even a little pity. She did that particularly well. Indeed he understood her far better than he had thought and he nodded at this.
[+teal “I had thought you gave up many things other than your freedom to be here, I just dare not think of what as I am sure it will pale in comparison to the truth.”] He left it at that, a small capitulation to her considering what he fought her on. He wondered what she would have thought had Germaine been younger, closer to her age. Would love have eventually blossomed and grown over time? Would she have become comfortable with the situation? He left the questions unasked.
She was clearly uncomfortable with the talk as she shifts about and he would have turned the conversation, yet she brings it away from her personally and to the formal situation at hand. The small smile when she mentions rejection is one he associates with lamentation. Perhaps she had given in to the decision already, siding with the marriage than against, and her thoughts were just that – a means of expressing what she would do in an ideal world, but not this one.
[+teal “He would be a very lucky man to marry you of course. I know I would-“] Nicolai bites his tongue from straying down that path any further. His cheeks flush marginally and his eyes turn down to his lap, the rest of his thought dying in a moment as he searches frantically for a means of escape.[+teal “In the end,”] he spoke up again trying not to give her that moment to speak up,[+teal “this is a decision you will make and it will be the right one, I have no doubt it that.”]
His smile returns and he looks up to her, violet eyes meeting hers and he does not shy from her gaze for once. He holds her look for a few seconds.[+teal “I will have a word with Gregory. In anger anyone is liable to make rash decisions, such as arguing with you.”] A light chuckle at his memory of their disagreement.[+teal “A few gentle words from a foolish Elf will see him around to listening to you again and helping us in breaking up their plot before you have to make this decision on the proposal.”]
[+teal “I am sure it would pale in comparison to the truth.”]
To that the woman nodded. [+mediumseagreen “Oh, you have no idea.”] Astoria had only opened its boarders a year or so prior to her leaving. Before then, they had kept to themselves, no unnecessary interactions with other countries. Especially those as far away as Wistina. And even now, years after opening up and forming bonds with the outside world, the happenings that brought the change about were kept from the light.
The Elf across from her was full of all sorts of surprises. His rather forward comment at Vincent’s luck seemed almost twanged with jealousy. She watched as she struggled to find a way to remedy what he had said with little success. And by the way he was avoiding looking her in the eye, it hadn’t a joke that went awry either. Interesting. He was swift to change the topic after that. Still, she let it linger in the back of her brain as it stemmed off into something else entirely. There might be some use for this idea.
[+mediumseagreen “You may very well try. I am sure he would like the idea of finding some ploy to nip this in the bud, but I doubt he will like the means we will have to take to do such a thing.”] Gregory was still reaching for a way out that didn’t involve sullying their hands. She knew he would never find it though, despite his determination. [+mediumseagreen “He is an idealist.”]
Her mind wandered back to his previous words and the idea they brought to mind. It wasn’t entirely serious and that reflected in her tone. [+mediumseagreen “How insulted do you suppose the Marquis would be if I accepted another proposal before the deadline came for his own? And one from someone he greatly despised no less.”] That was almost better than declining him out in the open. Not to mention how refreshing it was to picture the look on his face when he found out. [+mediumseagreen “That would get them off my back, and they might think twice before doing away with Augustine.”]
The whole reason Vincent wanted to marry her was to have a better shot at the title of King once they were rid of her son. If she married another, he would act as another line of defense. Maybe even one that had to fall before Augustine, especially if that person happened to not be well liked by the enemy. The more she thought about it, the more sense it made. This might have been a viable idea, but then again maybe she was just desperate.
Pulled into a deeper state of though, she went silent. Leaning back in her chair, she bit at her thumbnail. This would in no way fix everything, but it could be a start… Then his words lamenting a life in a loveless union came to mind and she doubted he would go along with it. Whatever envy he’d shown was likely due to her appearance and little more. Snapping back to reality, she sat straight once more. [+mediumseagreen “Sorry… I got carried away.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai nodded along to her evaluation of Gregory. The man wanted perfection and the easier route in everything. Life was perhaps kinder to the man that way. Without know his past he could not be certain, but a best guess from the Elven male was that his shorter accomplice was not used to the more gritty ways of royalty. Perhaps Astoria was simply a much more idyllic and lovely place than Wistina.
[+teal “Idealist or not, now is not the time to be worrying about morals unfortunately. It is a time to do what must be done and not quarrel over future regrets. If I cannot convince him of such, I will at least make sure he continues to help us without muddying his own hands.”]
There had been little more to say after that. As before their meeting had run into a dead end and it in avoiding personal questions about one another they had little else to discuss; continue their plans and keep reporting back. His hands slid to his knees in preparation to stand yet that is when she sprung a most unusual conversation on him. His eyes widened in alarm; did she suspect him?
She apologised to him but it was still expected that he would respond to her. To leave her talking to herself would cause a little offence and he was not in the mood for being berated at a later date – by herself or Gregory.
[+teal “Well, it is a sound idea of course, Your Majesty. I should think he would be devastated and infuriated in equal measure.”] She had not outright named him, nor probably considered him as a candidate, but given his guilty conscience he seemed a touch more perturbed by the announcement.[+teal “But you have two days. That would mean finding a suitable candidate and having them propose to you in such a short time. Do you think it possible?”] His cheeks flush a little darker at those words, looking into her bright eyes for a moment longer before he has to look away.
Not a man akin to to anything but playful flirting this talk of marriage and the like left him at a disadvantage. He was on the back foot and a calming hand ran up and through his hair, pushing it back from his face, brow furrowed in deep thought. Clearing his throat a touch he stood up, brushing down his clothing.
[+teal “A person who he greatly despises, someone who would propose to you within two days, who could protect both yourself and Augustine even after the proposal and not be scared by Vincent and his lackeys into backing down. It is a tough set of criteria to meet and I cannot truly think of many who would meet the first check mark let alone the rest.”] He remained standing and wished to compel himself from the room and back to his safety in the barracks. But instead he stepped forward, crouching before her, eyes looking up into her eyes and his hands came forward – though they lay on the chair either side of her rather than touch her. He knew his place after all.
[+teal “You married before for another man's purposes; to give him a child. Do not marry Vincent simply because it is an option. Marry for love, for your own needs, for your own purposes. Promise me that you will not marry again to sate another man's political desires.”] His hands retracted from the chair, lest he brush against her and feel the sting of her hand on his cheek – she looked like she could swing rather hard.[+teal This is your chance to marry whom you so wish. Or no-one at all. No-one is saying you [i must] marry. This is your decision now Your Majesty.”]
Judging off his reaction to his own words just moments ago, Florence should have expected this, but for whatever reason she did not. She wasn’t sure if he was willfully trying to separate himself from the situation, or if he was just that dense, but either way she could take the hint.
Sighing she backed away from the idea. [+mediumseagreen “It is a tall order, not impossible, but I suppose it is too much to hope for.”] It wasn’t as though it was her first choice in solution anyway, but it was still disappointing to have the entire idea shot down so speedily.
From there things got… awkward. Nicolai approached her, his arms trapping her against her chair, but not physically touching her. Her brow furrowed, what in god’s name did he think he was doing? She didn’t have to wait for the answer. It was her turn not to look back into his violet eyes. He didn’t understand anything. [+mediumseagreen “It was always my decision.”] Even without her agreement, he backed down. For that she was relieved, if she made such a promise she was sure she would be stuck a widow the rest of her life.
She’d been lectured at again, but there wasn’t much she could say in response. [+mediumseagreen “… Now you really sound like Gregory.”] Her eyes did not come back up; instead she dismissed him with a wave of her hand. If he stayed much longer she was sure this situation would only become weirder. [+mediumseagreen “If you still wish to speak with him, he has most likely gone to the kitchen. He will pilfer food and then go hole up someplace. You should catch him before he starts completely sulking.”] That was the regular progression for when he was upset about something. He was a fairly simple man.
With that he was gone and she was back to square one. Should she remarry? There were at least two in strong opposition. And true to both their words it wasn’t really what she wanted either. Why did everyone seem to think that mattered so much? Life was complicated and not nearly so picturesque as they seemed to believe.
Just as Florence had said, Gregory was exiting the kitchen. He’d managed to charm his way into getting a small basket of goodies, including an entire apple pie. With any luck he could find Augustine and share with him just to spite his mother. If the boy hadn’t been quite so young he might have thought of telling the Prince what his mother was up to. A few words from him might actually sway her, but it was a foul idea to use him so, so he didn’t dwell on it.
Again he passed Nicolai. Was he being stalked? Generally he didn’t see the general all that often, so twice in such little time stood out as odd. Stopping he looked up at the elfin man who was eyeing him. He had had enough bad news today, but he knew he couldn’t very well ignore the man if he had found something useful. He asked out-front. [+darkmagenta “And what do you want?”] As he spoke, he reached in to the covered woven basket and pulled out one of the smaller pastries. Biting into the crisp delicacy, he really just wanted to go find a place to unwind. There was a good chance he was going to have a long journey ahead of him in a few days time.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat His attempt at guiding her to a decision came to nothing in the end and it seemed his intention passed her by in an instant. She would not meet his gaze, actively avoiding it and in a flick of her dainty wrist he was dismissed, discarded as old news without a goodbye or a thank you for talking with her. For someone who seemed so adamant in having his help she looked positively delighted at pushing him away and ignoring his very first words to not alienate herself from the few still attempting to help her.
Hands sliding away he stands, looking down on her as she turned her head away from his presence. He supressed a sigh of annoyance and nods his head to her, bowing very quickly and leaving with nothing else said to her. If she wanted to indulge in her fantasies that she was the lonely Queen with no-one to turn to then so be it.
Nicolai left the room quietly, closing the door behind him, though the moment he turned away from the door a scowl pulled at his lips and his step increased to a steady march. No servant strayed into his path, quick to dart to one side and lower their head. They were accustomed to a furious noble or two marching about the keep as was their way and they were equally versed in keeping out of their paths lest they take their scorn. He moved through and toward the kitchen and only stopped when Gregory took note of him, eyeing him warily as if he was about to steal his basket of pastries.
[+darkmagenta “And what do you want?”]
The nerve of the smaller man to address him in such a manner only added coals to the flames. Stepping towards the dwarf even as he withdrew a small pastry and began to eat – perhaps it comforted him to do so in his own dour mood.
[+teal “Firstly, I have had quite enough of your bloody games you damn stump of a living being.”] His voice hissed, hands balling to fists.[+teal “I have dealt with your argumentative and asinine comments these past weeks for the sole purpose that I felt I owed anything to you and your cold-hearted Queen. Not to mention your dismissive attitude of anything I suggest or your continued mistrust when I have done nothing but serve this bloody kingdom with every fibre of my body.”] It was clear he was holding himself back from cursing though his skin flushed with his increased blood pressure. And he wasn’t done.
[+teal “Secondly, do not act like you are my god-damn superior. You are nothing but a bard – apparently, as I have not heard you sing a song or play a tune in some time. What you in fact are is insignificant to the running of this Kingdom. You hold no role that anyone cares about aside from playing nanny to a stupid child and to speak a stupid language of a stupid Kingdom because the stupid bloody Queen speaks it!”] He had stopped before the other man by now, leaning down closer as he spoke though maintaining his hissing tone and quiet whispered voice to save anyone else from hearing. It was a delicate matter he was aware enough to know would not go down well if it became hearsay with the servants.
[+teal “And last, I hear you are leaving, running away with your tail between your legs and pastry crumbs littering the ground behind you, to which I have one thing to say-“] he hesitated a moment, face distorting from its rage as a secondary emotion shoved a path through,[+teal “find a way to take me with you.”] The façade cracked and chipped in places and it drew the dwarf in with curiosity. [+darkmagenta “The hell happened in there with you two.”] A spatter of crumbs fell from his mouth, some landed on the floor and others were lost to the hairs on his chin. [+teal “She is just.. so.. so infuriating Gregory.”] [+darkmagenta “You’ll have to be a smidge more descriptive Elf.”] He was still intrigued. [+teal “She talks about marrying Vincent like it is a viable option, like what we have done these past weeks is pointless and we were fools to try and help her.”] [+darkmagenta “She is assessing her options I suppose, though I do whole heartedly agree that if she married that rat of a human being she would be making a grave error.”] He bit into the pastry again, chewing on its flaky shell and enjoying the filling – what it was Nicolai couldn’t tell. [+teal “Oh it gets much better; she all but stated she would consider marriage from someone else just to spite Vincent. Specifically someone the man hates. Just to have someone beat him to the punch!”] [+darkmagenta “Oh,”] he pushed the food to his cheek, [+darkmagenta “like who?”] [+teal “Who does he hate most that she could accept a proposal from that also outranks him?”] The eyes on the smaller man narrow for a moment then grow in realisation as he looks at Nicolai.[+teal “Precisely! But when I told her to marry for love, marry for the right reasons, don’t marry for the sake of spite and tie herself to another man she doesn’t love – she looks at me like I am betraying her to the wolves and pushing the Marquis’ ring onto his finger.”]
He stood upright at that, turning and walking a few steps away. He was grateful to have the opportunity to vent so soon after the fact and yet he was still so full of frustration and rage that he would quite happily attack Vincent should he pass by his vision. Let them hang him – at least it would be done and all this would end. [+darkmagenta “Did you ask her?”] The curious and soft voice of the dwarf was surprising to the Duke. He had not heard it before. [+teal “Did I ask her to marry me and not Vincent?”] A nod of the head from the other man when he looked across to him.[+teal “And seal her to another marriage of convenience for the sake of a man, even if it is her son?”] He covers his face with his hands and they run up and through his hair in unison with a deep sigh.[+teal “I do not want to be a husband to a woman who despises me. I am a tool for her to use against Vincent and Gabriel and once I serve my use I am then discarded or left to sleep in another room living a false public image for the rest of my life.”] He shook his head slowly and chewing his bottom lip he lets out a growl of anger. He paced several steps away, slowing until he stops and half turns to Gregory, violet eyes on the ground as he could not force himself to look up.
[+teal “Regardless of what I have said here, you cannot leave. She needs you now more than ever Gregory.”] And with that he left the man to his basket of goods.
A smile crept onto the Dwarf’s face as the general walked away. That was unexpected, but he could confidently say he had a better opinion of the man now. Turning back the way he came, Gregory set on a different course, back to where he’d last seen Florence. Perhaps now she saw how great of a fool she was being? Though he wouldn’t know for certain until they talked again.
The elderly man entered the drawing room without a word. She was still sitting in the chair. He could tell she was thinking. Taking ahold of the other seat he pulled it up next to her. Pulling out another hand pie he offered it to her without a word.
[+mediumseagreen “I do not want that.”] This wasn’t the time for eating sweets.
He shook the crimped treat, insisting. [+darkmagenta “It’s blueberry.”]
Sighing, it was still early in the season for the fruit, but she took it regardless. The sugar added to the pastry helped to combat the tartness of the berries.
[+darkmagenta “You know, it turns out that elf isn’t so bad. He might actually be competent after all.”]
She waited to finish her bite of still warm pie before answering. [+mediumseagreen “I told you so... I am a better judge of character than you give me credit for.”] Sure, she had not accounted for his stubbornness, but she knew a decent man when she saw one.
[+darkmagenta “I told you so? Are you a child again?”] He chuckled at long past memories. [+darkmagenta “Florence.”] His town was serious, but not grave. [+darkmagenta “Please reconsider... As tempting as it might seem now, it won’t be worth the risk later on. You have the support you need to make the right choice. Between me and that damn elf, we should be able to keep the backlash at bay and find a way to counter. Even if it isn’t the way I originally wanted to do things.”] He placed a stocky hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently.
[+mediumseagreen “I know.. It is just so hard when I’ve bet my son’s life on the gamble I am making.”] She closed her eyes, picturing the boy’s sweet face, hoping that he might be able to keep that innocence a while longer. An unreasonable request, and one she had a very hard time leaving to others.
[+darkmagenta “Tell me about it.”] He looked at her accusatorily.
[+mediumseagreen “Oh, shut up.”] She smiled sincerely and swiftly punched him in the arm.
[+darkmagenta “Oof, be careful, I am old and fragile”] He rubbed his arm playfully.
They fell quiet after that, eating in silence until it was time to part.
Time passed quickly. Florence had made her choice, though she still wasn’t certain it was the correct one. Ce sera sera. She came early to the library and then she waited. Vincent rolled in about the time they last met. It was what she expected. The Marquis seemed rather gleeful. He must have had a confidence a thousand times bigger than any other person the woman had ever met. And she knew quite a few egoists.
[+blue “Your Majesty,”] he bowed, not as low as he should have in her opinion. [+blue “I am on pins and needles, you mustn’t make me wait.”]
[+mediumseagreen “I am sorry, but if you do not mind, it will be a moment longer. I would like to make the announcement in front of an audience.”] Her voice was sweet as the sugar in that pastry she’d eaten the other day.
A clear excitement flashed across his face. [+Blue “Of course, my dear.”] The term of endearment grated on her, but Florence didn’t let it show. She beckoned for him to follow after her. They were on their way to the center balcony that overlooked the main courtyard. She had called for much of the staff and local gentry to gather there. The great hall would have worked as well, but this way everyone would have a perfect view of her.
When he heard that the people were being gathered, Gregory had a very good feeling. Seeking out Nicolai, he greeted the elf with a smile. [+darkmagenta “Have you heard? We’re being called to the yard.”] His voice held a jovial singsong tone. [+darkmagenta “I do believe you are in for a show. Let’s get a better look, shall we?”] It really wasn’t a request. The bard half dragged the younger man through the halls. Waiting for Florence and Vincent to pass, he followed with Nicolai in tow. They stood just behind the open door to the balcony.
At the terrace, Florence looked down at the people who had come. It was nothing like a public announcement, where the common people were let in, but it suited her need. Waving her hand, she had the Marquis stand next to her.
[+mediumseagreen “Welcome.”] Her voice was loud; it commanded attention even from this distance. [+mediumseagreen “There have been whispers about the castle, whispers that point to my engagement to Marquis Vincent Acton… I have gathered you to lay these suspicions to rest.”] Glancing over to the man, she for the first time saw that charming mask falter. He looked as though he desperately wanted to escape. It was exhilarating.
[+mediumseagreen “As he seems to be a glutton for punishment who has heard my response on another occasion, I thought I would make myself clear in a way that can and will not be misconstrued… There is no engagement.”] She bit back a long line of insulting reasons as to why that was the case. This was already rather petty, she needed tarnish her reputation further. [+mediumseagreen “There will never be an engagement between us.”] She left it at that, but Florence reveled in this feeling. It likely wouldn’t last, as this was probably quite the mistake, but damn did it feel good.
[+mediumseagreen “I thank you all for coming, as I know this may feel like a waste of time, but it very much puts my heart at ease to have the truth out in the open.”]
With that she was done, The Queen stayed wave her goodbyes to those below, but Vincent was immediately on his heel. He headed back towards the door, a fiery rage seeping off of him. Gregory, at the door, could only smile. That was what he was waiting for, that disheveled face. The Dwarf waved the man off with his fingers.
When she felt as though she had been there long enough, Florence turned back to the door and spotted the pair of men. She walked towards them with a sense of purpose, the euphoric expression she'd worn had, for the most part, left her face.
[+mediumseagreen “You two,”] she pointed at them. [+mediumseagreen “From now on, I want at least one set of your eyes on Augustine at all times. And so help me if I hear any word of complaint I… will… scream.”] Her hands emphasized her words as she spoke.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat The rest of his day was spent in some form of relaxation or another. At first it was sitting out in the sun in his private garden from before, eyes closed and taking deep breaths to stave off the need to break and smash items in a careless rage. His night was spent in a continually recycled steaming bath. The heat of the water was something that eased his aches and let his body unwind and the tension flow away. Given the rarity of having enough water of sufficient temperature to bathe like this, as opposed to a bucket and a damp cloth for washing, it was something he took full advantage of.
The next few days were mostly spent away from the keep and Nicolai was back in his semi self seclusion. He left Augustine to Gregory to look after; it would give the Dwarf something to do and he had proven he was more than up to the task. And yet the one time he was intercepted by the small man he is immediately hauled off. He could feel his foul mood coming back.
Standing close to where the Queen was making her announcement there was some trepidation as to what decision she had made. For a while he assumed she would only go these lengths if she was accepting his proposal, taking the route that gave immediate safety to Augustine but had the greater danger in the future. Of course he was wrong however. When was this woman ever so predictable? She had made sure over the last two weeks to continually throw him with her somewhat erratic behaviour. This was no different.
Nicolai could quite imagine the Marquis' disgust and rage as he stormed from the room. Though he too revelled in the man's misery like his small accomplice, he was inanimate and stone faced to it all. [+darkmagenta “What's chewing on you? I thought you would be delighted by this.”] The bard asked when he saw the Elf's face. [+teal “In turning him down I now become more of a target to Vincent and Gabriel. If they cannot get to Augustine, they will go after another target to sate their thirst. I believe what she has just done, though the right choice, only slashes what time I have left.”] It was rather morose but he felt it best to be truthful to the other man; it was the lease he deserved.
When the Queen approached them a soft sigh left his lips and he looked to her with a slow nod, understanding her order though speaking before Gregory could. [+teal “I am sure Gregory can take that role on personally. The boy dotes on him and it will be less suspicious to have him constantly around, not to mention he has saved the boys life once already.”] He spoke in a monotone voice, pointing down to the other man with his open palm before it goes back to being clasped behind his back.
The thought of her screaming did make him smile internally. It would be an emotion for one, a bit of character and a bit of life aside from cynical, morose, negative and callous – that was all she had been lately. He had tried to be different aspects to her. At first pliant and open, giving her his guidance and hand to keep things moving along - she had ignored him. Then he was argumentative, in some off chance that it would draw some fire from her and build adrenaline for her struggle against the Viscount and Marquis - she had grown angry at him and not the circumstances. Then servility, bowing down to her and offering his everything for her in her time of need - she had given him menial tasks to keep him away and occupied. And finally, he had been gentle, kind, open and true to her in the hopes it would bring some human emotion out of her - and yet it was to no improvement in her persona or her character. She was just empty.
What else could he do? She was becoming quite insufferable and whilst the older man at his side had come back around to being under her influence and swept aside their disagreement from days before, the General was only pulling further away. He was quite sure that if he delivered Gabriel and Vincent's heads on a platter she would be annoyed he had let a drop of blood land on the floor. There was no doing right with this woman.
[+teal “If there is nothing else I am needed for Your Majesty, I will take my leave.”] Very formal and proper. He wanted to be here no longer than absolutely necessary. He believed he could see she was also eager to have him, the fool, gone from her sight.
Honestly, Florence was taken aback. After all that, the men in front of her didn’t look happy in the least. It seemed as though Nicolai wanted to be rid of them just as soon as he could be, Augustine included. She raised a brow at him. [+mediumseagreen “I do recall that you also saved his life on an occasion or two, but if you are not up to the task then so be it.”] She was aware that he had other irons in the fire, the ones concerning finding where to apply pressure to Gabriel. It wasn’t as though he could drag the Prince along for that.
Then he tried to excuse himself. [+mediumseagreen “Very well…”] She let him leave, but could not fathom why he was in such a mood. He’d given her his opinion and she listened to it. Now he was sulking. Just as soon as he made it out of sight she turned to Gregory. [+mediumseagreen “What in the hell was that about?”]
[+darkmagenta “Apparently he fears he is prone to be targeted in lieu of Augustine now that Vincent has been rejected.]
[+mediumseagreen “Perhaps he should have mentioned that the other day when we talked about all this.”] Rolling her eyes, she thought him flippant. ‘Don’t get married, your not in love,’ he said, and then was irritated when she did as he asked. Not to mention he’d previously been irritated that she had ‘ignored’ him. What was wrong with that elf? She was greatly missing her allies back in Astoria.
[+mediumseagreen “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t…”] She complained under her breath before dismissing Gregory to go start his watch. For the rest of the day she tried to think of some sort of task to set Nicolai up with. She needed a new method of handling him, because obviously when left to his own devices he became insufferable. By the next day she had something.
Florence made her way down to the barracks, the most likely place to find the man. On her way she walked through the armory, looking at the array of sparkling clean equipment. Most of which she was sure had never been used. All the same, it was pleasant to look at. As she took her time, she received many confused looks from the soldiers who passed, most of respectfully bowing to her before moving on. More than one of the gentlemen stopped to ask if she needed anything. She dismissed them saying that she was here to find Nicolai. Yet another conundrum to the men as before this point she hadn’t done anything of the sort before to avoid suspicion. Now she saw little point in trying to hide meeting with her allies. The enemy knew which side she stood firmly on.
One of the soldiers must have sought out the general to pass along the fact that she was there, because he arrived after not too long. The Queen wasn’t done looking about though, so she took her time. [+mediumseagreen “You know, I am not sure I have ever been in here… I was previously not allowed; Germaine thought it too dangerous a place for me.”] It wasn’t as though she was out to touch or play with anything so she saw little sense in it. Though, he did lose his last wife to some sort of accident, and the first to illness, so that might have been the source of his paranoia.
Giving herself a while more, she spoke again when she was through. [+mediumseagreen “I would like you to do something for me.”] She looked directly into his vibrant violet eyes. [+mediumseagreen I am putting together a basket of sorts, I would like you to give it to Miss. Lillian as a gift. Whatever excuse is fine, but make sure it is set somewhere easily visible. I want Gabriel to know we’ve been there.] Florence was already setting up to fill it with things that would link back to herself. The Viscount would get her point. [+mediumseagreen “After that keep tabs on her, if Gabriel tries to move her from the city for any reason, let me know immediately so I can extend her an invitation to the castle as my personal guest.”] Because of her rank they wouldn’t be able to refuse and Florence could keep the young lady here as long as she wanted. It was only a matter of playing up the need for more companionship after the loss of her husband.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai could not recall a time he had saved the young Prince’s life. There had been occasions he had stopped the boy being harmed, but saving his life was stretching the facts to their limit. Yet now was not a time for petty semantics however. Again with permission he took his leave, both Gregory and Florence offered swift bows of his head in some manner of respect before he left them be, turning down a corridor away from the duo and in an opposite directly to Vincent.
It seemed the duo were not to be separated for long however, coming together at the main entrance to the keep and the pairing even walked for a little time, though in complete silence. Leaving under the gatehouse the Marquis was the first to speak, only once he had stopped and the Duke in turn obliged him and turned back. [+blue “I should think you had something to do with today’s proceedings.”] His eyes narrowed to thin slits. [+teal “The decision is the Queen’s and hers alone. I may have offered my opinion on the matter, but it was left solely in her hands.”] It was the truth yet the small smile he wore simply to grate on the other man’s nerves is what stirred his animosity more. [+blue “You know it means nothing. It changes nothing. Things will progress as they were and now efforts will re-double.”] [+teal “Hmm, is that so? What is it that is currently progressing Marquis?”] His feigned ignorance jabbed at the other man, a vein in his temple throbbing. [+blue “Oh how I will revel and delight in what is to happen to you.”] His word choice was careful and his sneer turned to an impish smile. Nicolai stepped closer, head cocking to one side as his brow rose. [+teal “Is that a threat by chance?”] His eyes were calm and he wanted the man to confirm it so. [+blue “Most certainly not, merely a whimsical turn of phrase.”] He stepped down as expected. [+teal “I should think so. I would not like to add physical pain to your emotional trauma of today.”] His elven smile growing he steps backwards, nodding his head in farewell before he turns and departs off into the town proper.
The rest of the day was spent reading through several ledgers he had taken from the record stores, more trivial matters that the record keeper was not too worried about having returned. It was tedious work, especially once the night came and he read by many candles, but it kept his mind busy and the day and night slipped by quickly. He was only just back from that mornings training when one of his Lieutenants had come seeking him out. A touch disgruntled at being disturbed with ‘news’, of which nothing in the place anymore was every worth listening to, he was informed of the Queens presence in the armoury, that she was here to meet with him.
It was a place she had never been to – at least to his recollection. Nor had she shown any interest in anything military in the years she had been here. But people changed. Perhaps not Florence, ever, but most people could change. Humouring his own curiosity he had washed and dressed appropriately to go and greet the unique tourist to his little hideaway. Thankfully she was not disturbing Nestrom – he was rather difficult to calm once his blood pressure was up. He remained silent as he was expected to, letting her speak first and nodding his head.
[+teal “He was not particularly keen on any woman being around the barracks or armoury, not just you. In his mind, it distracted the men and war was no place for a woman.”] Germaine was a traditionalist in most senses. Women had their jobs, men their own, neither should do the others work and the two genders should not mix. Nicolai was not inclined to change such actions as indeed it kept things simple and ticking over without much managerial input. His pointed ears perked up at the mentioning of her having a task for him, though in typical fashion he wondered just how pointless it would be.
Whilst it was pointless to an extent it was rather interesting. What she had in store for Lillian he would perhaps never find out – or find out through whispers and the cryptic wording of Gregory. What the gift would comprise of was not mentioned but she held his interest and he nodded along to her further requests. The woman was all but wrapped about his finger already so he indulged the Queen’s task. In his mind, despite the interest in the role itself, he was disgruntled to have gone from a respectable General to playing currier-boy.
[+teal “I understand and it will be done, Your Highness. I will take the gift across to her later today once it is ready. I am sure she will be delighted by your kind gesture.”] Like a good pliant man he wore a warm smile, though she was shrewd enough to know it was not overly genuine, more as a mask to hide his more uncivilised looks.[+teal “Is there anything else you wish to discuss?”] He was not actively seeking to leave this time, given this was more his domain, but to excuse himself when she knew his lack of tasks was easily derivable from how quickly he had arrived here.
[+mediumseagreen “Thank you.”] She could easily see that he wasn’t all too pleased with the task. Once again he seemed to want to help, but only in certain ways. If he had grander ambitions, he should have opted to play guard dog for the Prince. Despite his back and forth-ing, it didn’t appear as though he was trying to be two-faced, though there was little else she could deduce from his actions.
She thought about leaving right then and there, however she stopped. [+mediumseagreen “Actually, yes.”] Since he had expressed such great fondness for their quarrelling, it was the only way she felt she could properly get through to him. [+mediumseagreen “Why, exactly, are you so determined to be bitter about everything I do and ask of you?”] Staring down his false front of a smile, she did not reflect the emotion, even on a superficial level. [+mediumseagreen “Even now, as you are the one direct line I have to one of Gabriel’s most tender spots, you look as though I’ve done you a disservice. If it is so much of a problem, why did you offer to go off to meet her? As I recall you were so resolute at the time that you asked to work on your own if neither Gregory or I could be affiliated with the task.”] Florence was at her wits end with the elf.
Her voice stayed flat, as she knew this was not a place to yell, but her words had a cutting edge. [+mediumseagreen “I have tried giving you space, relying on you, keeping to myself, having a civil conversation with you, listening to your advice, taking said advice, but none of it seems to satisfy you. I don’t think there is a soul alive who has called themselves my ally and then given me so much grief.”] If he weren’t such a crucial piece to this puzzle, she would have cut him off ages ago. But the fact was that he was useful, a crucial connection to some of the best-trained men in the militia. Every once in a while he came off as competent as well, a glimpse at what she had thought was his true nature. She would go so far to say that she thought they would get along, but it was all so buried beneath this childishness that she could barely stand it; she could barely stand him.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat So this wasn't over it seemed. Where had thought he was being compliant and doing as ordered, he had stumbled over the fox hole and the vixen was out barking at him again. It was an unfair comparison but it sat well on his mind as she rattled what she believed she had done for him.
Nicolai could have easily fended off everything she proclaimed to have done for him, citing several examples to most of them where she had in fact done the opposite. At least in his mind he could. No doubt she would rebuff them as she had their previous argument weeks before. He was careful not to stray into that territory again. And he was truly not in the mood for another mental battle with a woman who thrived in such circumstances. She was better prepared at it than him.
Giving her the chance to finish, and several seconds of silence to follow, his head dropped a touch and he shuffled across to one of the benches that ran down the middle of the room. A deep sigh deflated his chest and he glanced up at her.
[+teal “Quite honestly; I am scared. Perhaps closer to terrified.”] There was no fight in the man, no argument, he wasn't out to test her resolve or her compassion or her temperament. She wanted to know what was wrong with him, so here it was.[+teal “I am not from this world. Any of this, the backhanded tactics, the need for alliances, the secret deals, marriages built on social pressures and everything else. This is your world. It is your life. You have lived and breathed this way of life for so long it is like second nature to you. But not to me.”]
His hands joined together on his lap, staring down at them as his fingers writhe against one another like distressed worms pulled from the ground.[+teal “I cannot sleep, too afraid I will have my throat cut in the night. Or eat if I do not prepare it myself. Every corner, every archway, every room is a possible ambush location. And whom do I have to protect me or listen to my qualms? You have Gregory, Meredith and more. I am left to fend for myself.”] He could see her argument against this coming and he shook his head, raven hair swaying lightly.
[+teal “You are not here for me. You are here for Augustine and him alone. I am a tool in your battle to get him on the throne and nothing more. I do not blame you at all or think ill of you for it. It is not of your cause or fault. In fact if I were in your position I should think I would do the same. But like any tool, once it becomes redundant, it is left aside, discarded. I have to plan for that time where my use to you is no more than symbolic. And it terrifies me.”]
So here was the root of the problem. Unfortunately it was not something she could fix, but it was something she could relate to. Florence heard out his lifeless words. It was like he had given up and resigned to his death. Pitiful, as they had only just begun to fight.
[+mediumseagreen “You are not the only one who is afraid.”] No matter how long a person had spent tussling in a world of regals and snakes, it didn’t stop it from being terrifying. Every time could be the time you slip and get bit. [+mediumseagreen “Every person involved is risking their life. And though I may be surrounded by those who would lay down their lives for me, I take no pleasure in that. When someone dies for you, or your cause, they stay with you. Not always in face or by name, but the weight is there all the same… We are all afraid.”] She had no intention of downplaying his fear, only to let him know he was not alone.
He seemed to think she was perfectly used to everything she did. And there was some truth to it, but not all. However, she could not blame him for not knowing since she seldom shared any of that with anyone. [+mediumseagreen “I am unaccustomed to fighting on this side of the conflict. From my perspective this is a losing battle. So, like you, this is new to me. But we will both have to learn, lest we lose everything.”] An unfortunate fact of life, why did the stakes have to be so high?
There was a fire in her words, the type that stoked men to action in dire straights. [+mediumseagreen “Now stop backing down, be a man and fight for your right to the life you want. No one else is going to do it for you.”] She had no idea where he thought she would throw him once her use for him was up, but she felt her speech entailed that as well. If for some reason she pushed him to the side, and therefore away from what he wanted, there was no reason to take that lying down. Once again he should fight to be back in that place, wherever it was: general, advisor, councilman.
Somewhat needlessly worked up, her heart was pounding and a light tremor was running through her. Florence shook her head to try and be rid of it, to return to her composure. It only took a moment to bottle the passion back up. [+mediumseagreen “Oh, and some advice that was shared with me in my youth: do make sure to get some sleep. Deprivation will make you useless. If they do come for you, it will be no different than had they done it in your sleep.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat She was attempting some form of rallying cry and whilst it was admirable he was not entirely sure it was warranted. At least right now. Her kind words and confession that he was not the only one in fear, though likely she was more in control than himself, resonated deeply with him and he nodded in agreement. His calm but subtly dour look lifted a touch, edges of his mouth turned upward.
[+teal “I never said anything about giving up Your Majesty.”] Nicolai commented as he stood up and brushed down his clothing to keep his hands from constant niggling at one another. Her barb about being a man had her desired effect, the man placing a hand to his swords pommel and puffing his chest like an animal attempting bravado.[+teal “I did not retain my generalship by running from a fight; but sometimes a tactical withdrawal can do wonders for seeing the scope of a battle.”] It was military drivel but it made him feel like he was stronger.
Her comment about him needing to get sleep was taken with a soft nod of his head. He knew very well what a lack of sleep could do to a person and how it indeed left them as weak and feeble as a sleeping being. No doubt even Gabriel could overpower him if he was sufficiently fatigued – though he would take the bastard down with him at the very least, that he was sure of.
Stepping toward her, only a few feet between them at first but now stood before her, he hesitates only a moment before caution is cast aside. His arms slide around her sides, pulling her close to him in a tight embrace he finds her much taller than he expected and a damn sight more petite than her often bulky and frilly clothing made her appear. He did leave her ample space to push him back and break free of course – he wasn't attempting to ensnare her. Instead, if she allowed him and for however long she did, he just wished to hold her small figure to him.
[+teal “You can have me hung, drawn and quartered for this once everything is over, but I am an Elf and I cannot express my immense gratitude to you in any other way.”]
Happy to see an actual change, Florence smirked. [+mediumseagreen “Good, there is nothing more pitiful than those who remain complacent to their own demise.”] She was about to lay on a bit of sarcasm to continue to lighten things back up, but he had ahold of her before she could. The woman froze, arms up awkwardly away from him. This was completely and utterly unexpected. Not knowing what to do, she just stood there.
Nicolai soon explained himself, and while it made sense, the Queen could not pull herself back from her discomfiture. As horrible as she was with connecting with others, her ineptitude hit its peak with physical intimacy. Instead of returning the gesture, she brought her hand up to pat his shoulder blade in a there-there type of way. Like that she waited for him to be finished, but it did not come. Not in the timeframe she had been expecting. So, when the woman could not take it any more she attempted to take a step back and found that he did not hinder her. She didn’t look at him.
[+mediumseagreen “I do not plan to have you executed for something so stupid…”] Now or in the future, but that wasn’t to say she was completely okay with what had just occurred. [+mediumseagreen “But, let us not do that again, at least not without some sort of warning.”] If he couldn’t thrive without material affection, then she wasn’t going to hinder him, though she did wish he would find someone else to fulfill his need.
[+mediumseagreen “Anyway, I will call on you when I have things prepared for you to see Lillian.”] She looked back up to him, nodded her farewell, and then took her leave. It was a few hours later, but she did get a rather large wicker basket filled with things she thought the young daughter of a Viscount might enjoy. Most of the items had no significance, but there were a few things in there that she was rather famous for liking. Blueberry scones being one of them. But none of that really mattered, as long as Gabriel saw it and knew that it was from them, all would be well.
And that must have been the case, because the next time she saw the old crotchety man, he seemed to avoid her gaze. Usually never one to back down, she was certain her point came across fairly clear. You do anything to my child and I know where to find yours. Now she just had to wait and see if he thought she was bluffing. Another week passed and she concluded he was not willing to risk it. She wondered how long it would last. Inevitably someone on their side would push him to action, despite her threat.
And it did come. In the middle of the night, Florence was woke from the dead of sleep. A horrific and dissonant cord played in the distance as the opening to a song she knew all too well. Shooting up in her bed, her green eyes scanned the room. There was nothing, or rather no one. Her mind went to Augustine and she instantly out of bed. Not bothering to change or throw anything over her nightgown she ran down the halls. In the distance she could hear the song fading. Gregory was on the move as well.
There were very few people up and about at this hour, but she did manage to quite literally run into someone as she rounded a corner. The man was tall and bulky and caught her as they came together.
[+goldenrod “You majesty?”] His voice did not seem all that surprised at her being there and he held on to her. [+goldenrod “Whatever is the matter?]
Pushing back, she did not feel the need to answer, but he kept her in place. [+mediumseagreen “Release me, now.”] Her words were coated in a thick layer of venom. When he did not comply, she struggled harder, going so far as to knee him in he groin. Now that had the desired effect. He stepped back, doubling over in pain and Florence continued on her way, more hurried than ever.
Making it to Augustine’s room, there was a guard beside the door. Confused by her presence and her appearance he greeted her but then looked away. [+mediumslateblue “Ma’am, what is wrong?”] She did not respond, just went straight for the door. Flinging it open, in the darkness stood a figure. The outline cut out against the faint light filtering in the window from the moon. The silhouette paused but a moment, before backing to the window. She couldn’t quite make out his minute features, but she could tell the man was part orc.
[+mediumseagreen “Don’t just fucking stand there, grab him!”] The soldier at the door, taken aback at her language, followed in after her and slit off to try and capture the assassin. Unfortunately, his hesitation was enough for the attacker to escape back out the window. He left behind the rope that was tied off to a sturdy piece of furniture. Someone from the inside had clearly set that up.
Florence was at the bedside as fast as she could manage. She struggled to light the candle on the nightstand; beside her she could feel the Prince shifting under his comforter. [+coral “Mother?”] His voice was groggy and befuddled.
Finally, the flame burst to life and she was able to see. She pulled back the cover, inspecting him to make sure nothing had happened. It seemed as though she made it just in time. Heart pounding a million miles an hour; she took a deep breath, steading herself.
[+coral “What is going on?”]
The woman grappled with the answer. [+mediumseagreen “There was an intruder…”] She felt the truth was needed at this point.
Fear flashed on Augustine’s features. He’d known something was off, but this was a lot to process.
His expression broke her heart. She wanted him to be comfortable in his own home. Grabbing up the boy, she pulled him close then brushed his bangs to the side to place a kiss on his forehead. [+mediumseagreen “It is going to be alright, my love. I am going to make sure you are safe.”]
Honestly, he didn’t know what his mother could do to protect him. Sure, she was scary, but he doubted that was enough.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat Nicolai was satisfied with the outcome of their embrace. She was suitable disturbed and disgruntled by it. As expected she had refused to share in an entirely platonic moment. When she had stepped away he had let her without qualm and without holding on – only a smug smile left that he had perhaps bested her intentionally for once. It had been good to vent to her about his worries and know that he wasn’t alone, but if she felt she could call him pitiful or the like, he would toy with her.
She was gone very quickly, perhaps unsettled enough by his physical closeness to her that she had been left a little dazed. It was not a wonder then why Germaine had had such difficulty with her over the years. A woman who detested anyone touching them could not make for a very loving or sweet wife. It was a pity. He had hoped the rumours were untrue and that he would have received a partial reciprocation of his affection. The hope he may sway her toward him and closer to his aforementioned notion, that she marry for love, was not improved by their moment together. Perhaps another time.
He had spent the time waiting to be given the parcel in getting himself ready. Once more he donned an exquisite tunic, well-polished boots and sword. His hair is slicked back and immaculate and a splash of incense that gave the hint of freshly sawn wood. He had heard it was an appetising smell to human women. Truth be told, he found it laughable, but if it would thrill Lillian then he was willing to try it. It indeed worked, to his confusion.
Having carried the rather large gift basket to her father’s home the Elf had toyed with stating it came from him and not Florence. It would win him extra fervour with the woman, but draw on the Queen’s wrath, and that was not worth the slight upturn. Once inside the outer courtyard, her servant sent off with the basket of goods, they had been given some privacy for a short amount of time, enough for his hands to grace her hair and curl at her figure before the heavy boot of her father echoed down the inner hall and they had been forced to separate lest she be scorned by her own father. Nicolai stepped away from her, standing straight backed by the doorway.
When Gabriel turned into the area the duo inhabited it was as if he saw a rat; perhaps he was right. In some way or other the Elven man was a rat to the Viscount’s side. But the older man was not to know what he and his daughter had begun several days prior, instead he looked at the man with subdued mistrust. [+maroon “Duke Nicolai,”] good, he had learnt to use his title correctly, [+maroon “I was not expecting you. May I inquire as to your visit?”] He tried to sound curious though really he was questioning just what this devious man could be up to, moving across to his daughter. [+teal “Hello Viscount it is good to see you. I am here to deliver a package from the Queen for your beautiful daughter Lillian.”] He smiled to the young woman and her cheeks flushed momentarily before her gaze falls to the floor.[+teal “Seems the Queen is eager to ensure all the noble women of this realm are well catered to. If you ask me it must be a womanly thing, the basket was most fragrant and aromatic.”] There is a look of doubt across the jowls of the rotund man before him. [+maroon “I see. Well thank you for delivering it. I would not want to waste any more of your valuable time.”] He was keen for the Elf to be gone, but instead he comes forward and to the side, taking up Lillian’s hand in his and smiling as his fingers curl around her palm. [+teal “It was an honour and a privilege to see you Lillian.”] Leaning down he kisses the back of her fingers lightly but slowly enough to disgruntle her father.[+teal “I hope we can meet again sometime.”] With a playful wink he then takes his leave, satisfied he has again jabbed the other man and placed a thorn deep in his side.
The rest of the week was a rather dull affair. Some meetings on the quality of iron being produced for military use in arrowheads and armour was the highlight of it for him, though he did rather like the statistics and practical showcases. Perhaps he was truly losing his mind these past few months.
Regardless, he had just drifted into an elixir induced slumber when he was roused by a soldier. Informed of the attempt on the Royal Family he was not shy of leaving swiftly, pants pulled on but feet left bare and his sword drawn from its scabbard and carried in hand. Along the way he gathered several additional soldiers, calling for the castle to be put in alert and the reserve called out. When he reached Augustine’s room he was relieved to find both he and his mother okay, sitting by a soft candle light, holding to one another.
Given a brief update from Gregory he quickly threw out several orders; two men were tasked with returning to the Queen’s room to ensure no-one hid there, three more to trace the rope outside and search for any clues as to the assailant, and two sent to bring the man who had grabbed onto Florence down to the cells of the barracks – unless she advised him otherwise then it would become a rather bloody affair in getting information out of that being. With no further threat he had placed his sword onto a dressed nearby, leaning against it as he rubbed at his eyes. A sleeping medication was not meant to be used just before strenuous acts like this.
Moving across to the bed he brushed his dishevelled hair back into a more controlled state and awaited some order or another from the Queen. When she seemed to have been lost to her soft cooing of her son, he cleared his throat quietly. [+teal “Your Majesty, perhaps it would be best if we take Augustine and return to your chambers.”] She had not dressed in her desperation to reach her son, left in just her nightgown. He looked about for some kind of covering, a shawl or something to cover her over.[+teal “I have called out the reserve and sent out patrols to try and find the individual, but for your safety I would advise we move back to your chambers; it is easier to protect you both there.”]
Continue reading this role play by signing up to Roleplay.cloud Roleplay Now ! No email required!