Under Cover of Darkness

potassiumboron

~I'm drinking coffee on a trampoline~
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As Florin rode his steed mainly through the outskirts of the vast kingdom of Dredia, the thought of just continuing to ride well past its boundary often came to mind.

Of just abandoning all of his duties and responsibilities, escaping the often claustrophobic existence he felt pressured to maintain in favour of a lifestyle that was free of such commands, free of the constant necessity to portray a tough exterior that often became exhausting for him. Not all of that toughness was forced but the persistent need to possess it at all times of the day left no room for softer vulnerabilities to break through onto the surface, and it was that lack of freedom, that pure and simple lack of choice in the matter, that exhausted him the most.

Yet, the Prince found his outlet during the rides around his kingdom's periphery once the days drifted into the cold, dark of night. Nights were the most dangerous times of the day; a time when vampires from the very north could venture under the cover of darkness and proceed to rampage through unsuspecting, innocent human territories once more... even if such actions hadn't been seen anywhere since the vampires' last appearance entire decades prior. It was why villagers in Dredia journeyed to the taverns in the evening; why children were in no rush to head home once night fell and took their time despite the threat they were told could occur once darkness fell upon the wintery kingdom.

As dangerous as they were all aware vampires were, nobody had seen one in their lifetime: that was how long ago the last attack had been. What was the point in disrupting their livelihoods and enjoyment of life over a threat that nobody felt even existed anymore?

Florin, admittedly, agreed with such a sentiment, as his nightly rides in the kingdom served to prove. It wasn't a particularly favourable activity, with his father in particular adamant that his son ought to remain indoors when the night fell or at the very least bring along a guard or two in case he rode into trouble, but it was one of the only hobbies he was able to act upon without judgement or that much critique. It didn't detract from the toughness he was expected to epitomise so he was entitled to take those rides in the peace of the late evening without trouble, even if they prompted the sort of thoughts in him that would cruelly plague him for days on end.

Because ultimately, of course he knew he couldn't abandon his role as Prince; he could never just leave Dredia for a simpler existence however favourable such a thought often was. He had a sister who could take up the role of heir to the throne but he didn't want to subject that onto her, even if the alternative was taking the throne for himself and dealing with all the expectations of him intensifying once he did.

As usual whenever he went for the ride on his steed, the thoughts pricked uncomfortably at him and rendered what ought to be a relaxing moment away from the castle stressful and distracting. However, even as he grimaced to himself the more the thoughts settled unwelcomingly into his mind, the sight just ahead of him formed a new distraction for him as he pulled at the reins to cause his horse to obediently come to a stop. Just ahead of him seemed to be three people, two crouched low on the wintery cobbled ground and hovering over a third whose positioning, laid out flat against the floor, initially caused Florin some confusion. That confusion immediately transitioned to concern at the sight of the snow beneath the third man stained red with blood, the Prince climbing down from his steed in response.

"Is everything-- quite alright with your friend; would you care for help? I can alert the appropriate healers--" He began in an effort to extent a little help even if he felt uncomfortable doing so - he rarely interacted with the citizens of Dredia for his own reasons, and this wasn't the best way of venturing into that territory. He took a step closer in an effort to crane his head and glance in on the scene, to ensure that the man on the ground was at least conscious and alert, but it was that movement that caused the other two men to stir, sharp glances shot at the Prince observing them.

Glances that made Florin's eyes widen; his chest tightened and his heart thumped hard in his chest. He didn't need to have seen a vampire in the flesh to know he was face-to-face with one now - or in this case, two. Their inhuman eyes, the pale, smooth complexions, the bloodstained mouths which contained sharpened fangs that were proudly on show... the monstrous appearances caused Florin to stumble back, one hand on his sword at his side and the other held outwards as if that would somehow deter the vampires from approaching.

It didn't. The moment they heard his pulse quickening, the vampires exchanged a single glance, abandoned the dead human they had been feasting from and launched forwards with determined speed. The quickness of the movements and the fear coursing through Florin left him floundering in his panic, tripping backwards onto the snowy ground with his sword falling achingly out of reach. He was a fighter, that was who he had been brought up to be, and yet even he knew he wasn't living up to that title even in the throws of panic and fear. Rather than launch the attack to protect himself and his kingdom, he had fallen to the ground, cowered back against a wall and feebly clenched his eyes tightly shut to await what he thought to be his inevitable death.
 
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Micah grew up and would most likely die in Dredia so to hear the familiar clips of horses along the border of their kingdom’s walls wasn’t strange and was more like background noise as he and the other citizens of the kingdom continued on their days, said days spent trying to get by for another day’s rent and warm drinks to set in their stomach. Those casual trots would often intensify as nighttime fell and with them approaching winter it meant the night would be longer.

That wasn’t good news of course, at least it shouldn’t be. Decades had gone by since the last vampires had attacked and the only tales he and anyone in Dredia who had been born no later than 50 years ago knew about them was through word of mouth or art and with the pride most citizens had for their kingdom it was assumed that those vampires would never show their faces again; that they had somehow frightened them so much that even starvation wouldn’t convince them to show their faces anymore. Most people his age scoffed at the ridiculous curfews and they clearly hadn’t been followed as the street lamps casted just enough light for young children to giggle as they chased one another while playing with the snow. Women and men alike strolled through the cold with their fur coats buttoned tight and their handmade accessories keeping them warm, chatting amongst themselves. It was as if it was a normal night, people getting their energy out before returning to their homes to fight off the cold and get ready for the day.

Micah was no different, of course. He was a hard working young man with a bakery he ran singlehandedly (unless you counted the trade he did with some of the farmers for ingredients) and that was what most of his day was spent dedicated to. He would pop into the little storefront just below his own home after a hearty breakfast and not wait long to start up the oven to roll out everything from basic and artisanal bread to pies(both in sweet and savory varieties). He would sweat his ass off then close shop at the end of the day and much like most others he would head straight to the tavern.

He never really got drunk when he stepped into the chatty tavern but it was the community he enjoyed; it was a place he could sit down, order some hot soup and some alcohol to keep his stomach warm before heading home to start the day over and with that in mind he eagerly slipped into the crowd to enjoy a normal night of chatting and good food, where he intended to simply leave after some handshakes and hugs with the other villagers who saw him as someone who beat the odds.

His routine of filling his belly and going home was interrupted though, unfortunately.

He wasn’t 100% sober but he knew what he was doing when he heard the typical sound of trotting come to a stop not quite far from the tavern, the sound of said lonely horse neighing in protest piquing his curiosity. The baker was just tipsy enough to go against the urge to just walk away and assume it was some guard getting it on with a lovely lady after a ride. He knew he would be called a Peeping Tom if he were to poke his head through the brush to see some folks ‘warming up in the cold’ as his father used to tease but it was a curiosity he couldn’t rid. He was expecting some fools entangled in each other but what he saw was far more gross.

Micah didn’t care that it was the Prince Florin who was now defenseless on his back with his eyes squeezed shut like a coward but in a fight-or-flight scenario, the baker had a tendency to pick the former as he snatched the sword just out of Florin’s reach to take charge. He had no armor, no former training like Florin’s, but he knew how to use a sharp object and the two people who seemed to be literally eating a corpse matched the description of the fabled vampires. The bit of alcohol in his system helped his fight as he wielded a sword that was worth more than his entire life, though he didn’t realize that and for all he knew he was just helping a guy out from a vicious vampire attack. So he stood there, breathing hard after a genuine struggle to fight left him scraped and most likely bruised, with the sound of desperate hissing and groans from the vampires fading. Seeing the two on the ground around his feet only had a smile grow wide on his lips before looking back at Florin and in the moment of adrenaline didn't hesitate to lift the Prince up into a friendly hug.

"Oi, did you see that?! I -... I just killed vampires, that's wild!" He babbled as his hands viciously shook, leading to the sword to be tossed to the side. "I'm just - I did that, huh? This isn't some mirage or anything, right?"
 

potassiumboron

~I'm drinking coffee on a trampoline~
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Florin would inevitably come to deeply resent his cowardice upon reflection - how could he not? His father had instilled in him the deep-rooted fear of vampires that spurred him on to train as hard as he could to defend himself and his kingdom from the threat they possessed should they ever make their unwelcome return... and yet when they did, when hunger desperately drove them back to Dredia in search of sustenance, the Prince was incapable of even attempting an attack.

Granted, the stumble backward he had taken didn't help matters but cowering into the corner and failing to put up any fight whatsoever was ultimately inexcusable for someone who had been raised to prepare for this scenario. The only saving grace in his head was that nobody was around to watch how he died. For all his parents and the kingdom as a whole would know, he had fought bravely with all his might; a fallen soldier who would be remembered for defending his home until his dying breath.

It wasn't the truth but with eyes clenched shut and assuming death was fast approaching, he thought that that was the legacy he would leave behind because who was present to witness the actual reality playing out?

The obliviousness to Micha's presence didn't last long, with Florin's eyes weakly opening once the pain of vampires ripping into his skin didn't materialise. Instead of the monsters hovering viciously over him, they were apparently engaged in a battle with some commoner wielding the Prince's own prized possession, defending Dredia as Florin knew he ought to have done.

He observed with a mixture of horror and disbelief as the vampiric duo were dealt with, their bodies ultimately crashing down onto the ground in defeat. Their dismantlement at the hands of a single human, one who presumably hadn't undergone the sort of ruthless, unrelenting training that Florin had, was nothing short of miraculous in the Prince's mind - but he couldn't even manage to communicate that surprise when he was genuinely stunned into silence. The fear was still reverberating within him which did little to help any words leaving his lips, but with a few quiet breaths -and the shock of being pulled to his feet into a hug which he hardly appreciated-, he finally composed himself enough to speak, doing so as he adjusted the fur over his shoulder in discontent at having it ruffled up so much.

"...I... would have struggled to believe this occurred had I not witnessed it myself, admittedly, but I... thank you for your... actions. I will ensure you are rewarded for such efforts, it's only fair - your service tonight has saved our kingdom; it has saved my life. I see no reason not to reward such dedication," he answered with a faint, curt nod, his eyes glancing elsewhere to avoid the discomfort of interaction.

He didn't have the easy charm of his father nor the respect his mother commanded - he knew he was awkward and that awkwardness leant itself to the cold attitude he tended to present. He didn't really care about that impression usually, but Micah just saved his life - he didn't want to come across cold and cutting, even if he couldn't help it most of the time.

"What is your name? I wish to know the name of the man who saved me, after all. A little recognition is well deserved."
 
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Micah didn't linger in the hug, not when his mind was as scrambled as it was. He didn't even really think vampires existed, hearing the tales from his father and other elders of the kingdom only making him believe they were some myths. He knew just how vigilant the Deschamps family were but he chocked it up to it being a fear tactic to keep the citizens at Bay under what he saw as a militant and overly tight grip on their lives. So, after the tight hug and clearing of his throat, the simple baker moved to kneel down over one of the bodies much like a Child poking at roadkill.

He was far too pumped up to even realize the cuts in his clothes and the bitter wind that blew against the blood that trickled through them and only noticed he was bleeding when he wiped his hand across his face in shock. When he noticed the tan gloves turn a dark brown was when he finally was able to ground himself enough to finally take in his surroundings, with his eye landing on the discarded sword and just now nice it was... Which led to his eyes landing on the very prince of Dredia.

This was the last thing he wanted, in all honesty. He was more than happy to help someone in need no matter what their status was but he certainly didn't want to be faced with the prince himself especially when he wasn't completely sober - as much as he hated the royal family he knew to be respectful and he immediately responded to the realization that the man he just saved was royalty was to respond with nervous laughter. He pushed to hid feet, face growing beetroot from the mixture of its exposure to the cold and his intense embarrassment.

"Oh, ah - your majesty," he greeted with a bow though stopped when he felt a pain in his chest, the adrenaline of the fight beginning to taper. "I... wasn't quite expecting you to be out late, especially not alone. I- um... My name is Micah. You really should head to the castle, it's clear you aren't in the best shape to be alone, " he stated with a slight dig.

He was still shaking though this time he wasn't sure if it was still from the shock or the cold as temperatures began to drop quickly and his torn clothes didn't help much. He buttoned his coat closed tighter and wrapped the fur scarf around both his neck and head, cursing under his breath from the gloves that were most likely permanently stained.

"Micah Bagare but please don't feel the need to go run off to anyone shouting how I saved you from two vampires, I would be happy with some riches and to keep this between us. I appreciate your gratitude though, whether it seems forced or not."
 

potassiumboron

~I'm drinking coffee on a trampoline~
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The slight dig at his expense would have ceased any efforts to reward the other for his bravery but even Florin knew that that would be petulant. He didn't particularly like some commoner storming in and having to come to his rescue in the first place, it was horrendously embarrassing, but he appreciated it nonetheless - he would be dying in a pool of his own blood without the other's help, after all.

And so, he was willing to bite his lip and not childishly rescind the promise of a rich reward and well-deserved recognition. He might dislike some mostly inconsequential Dredian commenting so casually on his physical state and on the forcefulness of his gratitude (however true it was, being called out wasn't something Florin was used to nor appreciative of) but he managed to withhold that annoyance and force a smile instead.

If ever there was a time to hold back on how he felt, then now was it. Micah had saved his life and he was genuinely grateful, however tinged the gratefulness was by a thinly veiled sense of annoyance that he was saved by someone he couldn't help but deem as annoying and pretty pathetic. The adrenaline-fuelled whoops of triumph and stunned disbelief grated on him a great deal, but so did the imperative tone; the recommendations that he had no right to give out.

"...Yes, well, I think I shall see to this as I wish - and I wish to reward you how I see fit. As for my physical condition, I'm quite alright; a little... stunned, but otherwise intact," he continued with a quiet glance back at the bodies, venturing forward a little for a proper look down at the monsters he himself had only heard of. He had seen depictions of them in the famed tapestries from decades prior, but never did he believe that he would see the creatures for himself - let alone witness the full monstrosity they were evidently capable of.

"Utterly vile, aren't they? I... I never thought I would..." He began, albeit briefly as he forced himself to come to a stop, knowing that his voice would just give way to fear if he continued and he didn't need a citizen like Micah to ramble on to peers that not only had he rescued the Prince, but witnessed him stuttering nervously to himself. His reputation was no doubt dashed enough in Micah's eyes as it was; he needed to save face where he could.

"Well-- Micah, is it? I would like your presence at the castle tomorrow morning to receive your reward - and I'm sure my parents will want to thank you themselves for saving our kingdom from these beasts. Be sure to... look presentable. Now, can I... offer you a ride to your home? It's the least I can do - we don't know if any more of these... bloodsuckers lurk in the shadows."
 
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"... A ride would be nice, yeah. I've never properly used a sword before let alone killed two vampires so I think my body is starting to feel a bit weak," admitted the baker after a pause of contemplation. He was hit with exhaustion now once giving himself some time to catch his breath. It was a lot to deal with and the last thing he wanted to do was have to take a ride with Florid but what would take about a half hour when he was feeling good so while he didn't need immediate medical care he still didn't want to risk slipping on ice and add insult to literal injury.

He took in the horse before him, her back donning the elegantly draped crest of Dredia with the decorative tassels and woven gold. The sight of such a pristine creature on the very edge of Dredia where no other royal had been caused a soft Snort to escape bis kips but Micah didn't bring attention to it, instead accepting the ride with a hesitant smile. He wanted to focus on that and not the fact he was essentially being forced to make an appearance at the castle and he didn't really want to find out the consequences that came with refusing the invitation. He decided that it was best to just accept the invitation and the coin and return to his family's bakery.

"I never imagined I would actually witness a vampire in the flesh, to be honest. Just between us two but I had began to assume that they w weren't even real and they were just a bedtime story to tell to naughty children. I... Imagine that means curfews will be enforced now, huh? That's mighty disappointing, I love to stop at the tavern for a drink for the night, I'm sure you can agree...?" Micah began once nestled and steady on the horse. It was small talk if only because sitting silently on a horse after something as traumatic as fighting off a vampire wasn't something Micah could do, not in his stare.

"... As for tomorrow, no need to get into the details of it all, yes? No need to make it any more than it was, right? You explain what happened to your parents, I get rewarded and I can return to my family's bakery and there will be no need to interact ever again. I will be just another faceless Dredian citizen to you and perhaps this will stop you from trailing about on the outskirts of the kingdom alone at night."
 

potassiumboron

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Florin rarely made public appearances if he could help it. There were inevitably times when he couldn't avoid making those appearances to the gathered crowds, knowing that it was ultimately a duty he was expected to fulfil despite his preference to remain indoors and away from the stress and discomfort the attention brought for him. He wouldn't necessarily object against the appearances and interactions if he knew for a fact that people were going to react positively to him - and thus far in his life, especially as he blossomed into his early adulthood and grew into manhood, there hadn't been many positive reactions to cling to.

As strong and as formidable as he was deemed to be (positive attributes expected of any Dredian royal), he lacked the other qualities that his parents seemed to display. He wasn't charming or particularly likeable: he wasn't smooth nor extroverted. In public appearances, he stayed off to the side, hunched over and doing his best to avoid making eye contact with anyone which tended to give off the cold impression that had now stuck to him.

Even if he wanted to work on that reputation and try and ease it a little, it was difficult to alter the reaction he had to the public of Dredia when this interaction with Micah was bitterly reminding him why he hated interacting with the public in the first place. He had a reputation that didn't live up to that of his parents or even his younger sister - but how could he stand any chance of fixing that if he was faced with someone who seemed to talk to him as though he was just some random citizen; who thought it was perfectly appropriate to drop suggestions as if his opinion was wanted or warranted?

All it made Florin want to do was reprimand the younger man sharply and have him shut his disrespectful mouth as quickly as possible... but Micah had seen him cowered over in fear, unable to defend himself. He could spread that gossip should he feel underappreciated and chastised by the Prince, and if there was one thing to damage his already pretty poor impression on people, it was being found out to be more cowardly than he claimed to be.

So he forced a smile on his face once more, pausing to gently reassure his horse and calm down any remnant of nervousness in her before pulling himself expertly onto the saddle and collecting the reins... though a cutting remark was practically inevitable. The fact Micah hadn't been punched was evidence of restraint on Florin's part - but he couldn't hold himself back completely, that was just unfeasible.

"...You might want to sober up before you arrive at the castle, I suggest you get a good night's sleep because it's rather obvious you've been at the tavern-- I hazard a guess you frequent that establishment. So as hard as it may be for you, do try not to consume any alcohol until after you've seen my parents. I doubt they'll want to reward a drunkard-- now if you've finished piping up and thinking it appropriate to address me with such unearned casualness, we should get going. Which direction am I to head in?"
 
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“... I’m not a drunkard, no need to project your insecurities onto me. Even if I were some drunkard and not a normal citizen of Dredia, a drunkard still killed two vampires to save your life whilst you laid in the snow ready to accept your fate,” murmured Micah in protest as he looked at the wall that was intended to protect the citizens... and proved useless, evidently.

Micah priced himself in his professionalism and the honest work he put into his family’s legacy that was the bakery, hoping to have made his parents proud. He had worked his ass off since he was a child while he assumed Florin had been tended to hand and foot, trying his best to play soldier when he was clearly incapable of even wielding a sword properly. Meanwhile he, a ‘drunkard’, picked up the sword and while he was injured pretty badly he was still able to achieve what the prince couldn’t. He grabbed a drink at the end of the night like nearly every other man in Dredia, it wasn’t as if he was slurring his words and stumbling over his feet, so to be seen as the town drunk when any normal citizen would praise him made his grip tighten onto Florin’s waist as he tried to hold on.

“... just south of the tavern, about six houses away. It’s the bakery.” He answered finally after adjusting his jaw, choosing to not swing himself knowing the repercussions could very well lead to him swinging from the gallows. He was admittedly a hint too drunk to keep him from making the light digs but he wasn’t drunk enough not to understand consequences.

“Thank you for the ride, your majesty.The fight may have ended in me being the victor but I’m not a trained soldier, if there’s anything I need to worry about it’s the slashes to my cheek and hip. I don’t have such nice furs as you, I don’t have those resources, but I will certainly do my best. I understand the severity of this meeting, I’m not as much of a drunkard as you think I am,” he added after a pause with pursed lips, cringing when noticing a few eyes watch their ride.
 

potassiumboron

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Even if the slight digs persisted and the tense air indicated that the other was making his own effort not to say (or notably, do) anything more severe, the Prince was at least satisfied that Micah wasn't so dense that he would casually continue to dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole. As disrespectful as they were, Florin could overlook the digs at his expense given the fact this man had just saved his life: he was willing to give him more chances to correct his behaviour than another ordinary citizen would get.

They would be dealing with a bloody nose and being dragged to the dungeons whereas Micah words had been responded to with great restraint, and the man still afforded the privilege of a ride home on the Prince's own prize steed. He might have cuttingly snapped at him to shut off the worst of the digs before they could land, but he was still making a great effort to reward the bravery he had witnessed... even if, on a personal level, he didn't remotely like the baker he felt obligated to reward.

Given the difficulties he had in interacting with him, as evidenced by the tense atmosphere that now lingered between them, it was inevitable (and understandable) that Florin proceeded to ride in silence. His mind was aflame with fear and concerns over the fact he had witnessed the vampires with his own eyes: his interaction with Micah didn't distract that much from the fact his body was still tense and his mind still screaming at him after almost losing his life at the hands of the very monsters he had been trained since birth to be wary of.


If they were back, if they were now daring to enter human civilisations again, Dredia had to be on full alert. If his training was tough before, it would be unbearably intense now.

"If you want my advice, I wouldn't bother trying to conceal those wounds too much. Tend to them, ensure they don't get infected, but don't try to disguise their presence - you'll earn my father and mother's respect if they see the scars from your battle. They might overlook your personality defects and tendency for disrespectfulness if you show up looking a little bruised and scarred," he eventually continued once stopping outside aforementioned bakery, eyeing the property without his expression alluding to his thoughts on it.

"...I'll have a carriage sent to bring you to the castle tomorrow morning, I don't think it would be appropriate for you to simply stroll up to my home by foot. Once again, thank you for your duty tonight; you've done your kingdom proud."
 
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The silence was followed on Micah’s hand with the only sound filling it being the harsh wind and the sound of hooves against the dirt. He was tired now, his aching body finally really hitting him. He was exhausted and knowing he would have to wake up early in an attempt to look a bit more put together than he really was. He wasn't some slob sleeping in the sewers but he wasn't royalty, his current outfit most likely less than the cost of a meal for the royal family so searching through his limited wardrobe for something 'nice' would just be another layer of stress to the morning.

He was beginning to regret helping the prince, but it was too late now.

"Thank you for the ride, it's appreciated," Micah repeated as he carefully climbed off the horse into the street where the warm candlelight of the bakery still illuminated the home, the building larger than most homes on account that he was given the chance for everything to be in one little, neat space. There was something so wonderful about waking up early in the morning in your home, make a cup of tea and start early on baking the day's bread to feed his fellow citizens. It wasn't a castle, the hinges needing help and the locks on the door a little loose, but he was the only person to tend to the grounds for the last half a decade.

He was so proud of the work he had done in fact that he took it in from the outside, the cold not bothering him as he observed what his parents had done their best on creating. Prince Florin would never understand how much love and care had gone into the bakery, made possible by his war hero father. Micah's breath could be seen as he sighed before glancing back up to Florin with a halfhearted smile. He offered a nod before slipping into the bakery, the lights going out as he moved towards the second story of the home.

The night was spent tending to his wounds the best the baker could with what he had and slept poorly from the pain, especially from the wound in his arm, unbeknownst to him that the wound was more than just a scratch by the vampire though he didn't bring attention to it, instead assuming it was just a scrape he had gotten in that went a bit further than he liked. He dressed in his best coat and furs as he wrapped his scarf around his face warmly with the leather gloves rubbing anxiously. This was the last thing he wanted to do but here here was, waiting patiently for a carriage he had only ever seen in passing to arrive at his front door.
 

potassiumboron

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When Florin arrived back at the castle that night, there was little else he wanted to do other than take a hot, steaming bath, accompanied by a pint of beer, and then sink under the heavy quilts that lined his bed; allow himself to drift off into a long, uninterrupted sleep to rest his body after the fear that had earlier racked unwelcomingly through it. Of course, he didn't have the luxury of doing precisely what he wanted and he painfully always knew it would be like that - he had a lifetime of being put into situations and following actions he didn't want to do, after all.

It came with the job, even if that job had been one he was born into and had absolutely no choice in following through.

Instead of doing what he desperately wanted and needed to do, the Prince had gone straight to his parents to inform them of what had occurred during that night's ride. He had inevitably underplayed the reality of the situation, arguing instead that he had fought valiantly but been overpowered by the predictably conniving vampires who had got the upperhand of him - which was why Micah had helpfully joined the fight and saved his life. There was no way he was going to admit how easily he had given up when that went against everything he had been taught for all of his twenty four years, after all.

Predictably, his parents spent the night and early hours of the morning organising for extra visibility of guards along the perimeter of the kingdom and within it; prepared for announcements to be made to the public demanding that they return to their homes when the darkness fell at night despite how that intervened with their lives. They discussed matters with soldiers and guardsmen and women, doing all they could to prepare for another vampiric outbreak that could push their kingdom into chaos all over again - though this time, unlike in the past, they were ready for it. They knew about the vampires' existence; they knew of their aversion to sunlight and how weak they would be without the blood they needed to survive - and with the two dead vampires' bodies for the royal physician to examine, they felt they were in a better position than ever.

Florin had hoped that their dedication to their duties to protect Dredia would make them far too busy to personally thank the man that helped save their son's life; that had solely been responsible for stopping the two vampires from continuing their bloody rampage. As much as he felt obligated to reward Micah, he didn't necessarily want to be reminded that some pathetic peasant had saved his life - and yet, his parents apparently had ever desire to thank Micah personally for his bravery. They rewarded those that defended Dredia with their lives and Micah, in their eyes, fit that bill - why wouldn't they personally seek to thank him for all he had done?

And so, by the morning, Florin was left waiting patiently outside the grand doors to the castle for the carriage's arrival, knowing that when Micah arrived, he would be forced to endure the gratitude his parents bestowed upon the human and grant him whatever rewards they felt his service was deserving of. Frankly, he wanted to be anywhere else doing anything else, but for appearance's sake, he knew he had to ensure all that morning had to throw at him.

Though, if there was a positive to be found in the hell that morning would be for him, he had at least dragged his younger sister into the mix; encouraged his parents that she ought to be present as well. Perhaps it was selfish to drag her into matters when she had no reason to waste her morning putting on the perfect Princess display, but if he had to suffer, it was only fair that she had to do so too - she had pulled the same trick countless times on him, after all.

"He's such a detestable man-- he all but disrespected me to my face, you know? Horrid drunkard who thought it appropriate to tell me what to do-- the fact I have to stand in the same room as him as he gets rewarded for swinging a sword and managing to take out vampires by pure luck is-- it's a mockery, that's what it is," the Prince ranted as he shifted his weight from foot to foot in an attempt to warm himself up, breathing out into the cold, wintery morning air in annoyance, his hands clutching the fur cloak around himself tightly. With only the faintest of smiles he reserved solely for his sister, he offered her a quiet nudge with his elbow in the hope of earning a smile in return.

"I'm sorry for pulling you into this but I all but refuse to endure this by myself, Evangeline. I can't abide our dear parents bestowing that horrid little man with riches when... when he's a detestable character who despises us. I need you present to get me through this-- I owe you, I suppose. Drag me into whatever Father and Mother make you endure next."
 
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"I should not have to do this with you, Florin. You were the one who decided to venture out into the night alone, you ought to be grateful that you are even alive, little brother. This may be some foolish little man who enjoys a nice pint of mead but I would rather praise him a bit and shoo him on his way than have you dead, Florin," replied Evangeline with a roll of her eyes as she tucked her hair newtly under the fur hat. She wasn't any warmer than her brother as she shimmied a bit though here she was, by his side waiting for the man who had saved her brother's life with a small smirk.

"Perhaps he'll sweep me off my feet, my brother's savior. He may be some drunkard in the night but perhaps he’s quite the gentleman, eh?” She continued with a dramatic swoon followed up by a chuckle as the time went by. She appreciated Micah for saving her brother of course but the days were getting colder and it was well known that standing out in the cold any longer than necessary wasn’t safe. It was just for show and tradition, one she noted to try and change if she could. As the time ticked on, her eyes narrowed at her brother. “Do me a favor dear brother and don’t venture out into the unknown without assistance.”

Her silent prayers of hurrying the day up were answered by the distant sound of horses with the sound getting louder as it approached. She couldn’t hide her deep sigh of relief and greeted the familiar coachman with a smile as he approached while he’d eyes shifted from growing glares to sparkling eyes of curiosity at who would would emerge from the carriage.

She wasn’t really expecting Micah as he stepped off the coach in clear fear. This was the first time he even stepped at the steps of the castle in his entire life living within the walls of Dredia and he was content keeping it that way yet he had to be a good person and save the prince. He was sober now and any need to act overly confident and cocky was gone now. He offered a meek smile to the two in response of the two only to receive a thin lipped smile from Evangeline.

“... yes, step this way Micah. I’m honored to meet the man who saved my brother,” the princess greeted firmly as she kept her distance, her hands toasty in her rabbit muff hand warmer, the clean white fur matching her general aura... an aura that gave Micah anxiety.
 

potassiumboron

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The sight of the carriage coming to a stop before the castle doors was more than enough to sour Florin's already poor mood, but seeing Micah step out consolidated it. Florin was hardly renowned in public for his cheeriness (with his sister was a different matter; she got to see him in a way nobody else did) but that was never more obvious than now as his glare darkened and his countenance grew stormier than ever. He had only spent a little time with Micah so he could hardly judge him and form a concrete opinion on him, and when this was the man that selflessly saved his life, perhaps he ought to offer him some leeway--

And yet Florin didn't. He had made up his mind that he immensely disliked Micah and didn't see that opinion altering anytime soon. Even the meek smile that was far more respectful than anything he had said or done the previous night did little to shift that unfavourable opinion, the response from Florin being to grunt unsubtly under his breath and refuse to offer the same polite effort in return.

A smile only cracked slyly on his face when he observed the effect his sister was having on the man. Her presence was mostly for his comfort - he had always clung to her side since they were children, finding that she was the only person he could really enjoy being around and easily the only person who genuinely seemed to see who he was beneath the armour of iciness he dedicated himself to. Yet, he also couldn't deny the ulterior motive in having her present - he hoped she would make Micah feel uncomfortable, threatened even, because he definitely deserved it after the moments of disrespect.

So how could Florin not display a rare moment of enjoyment once seeing that the decision had already paid off?

"I'm glad you made it. I was starting to wonder whether you had backed out of receiving your rich rewards. Now just... come along, my parents are waiting," he interjected with a sharp nod of his own, glancing once to his sister before taking the lead into the castle and its welcome warmth. Only when he entered the building did he take in Micah's appearance fully, head tilting to the side to make little secret of the analysis.

"I appreciate the effort to look presentable. It can't have been easy to find the right sort of outfit worthy of this occasion but you've done your best and I am appreciative of that, Michael-- Michael, isn't it? Or Malcolm? I'm rather useless with names, I'm afraid," he chuckled quietly as he removed the furs from around his shoulder to hand absently to a nearby servant, albeit with a grateful smile and murmur of thanks rather than cold dismissal of their dedicated service. His eyes soon returned to Micah calmly, a calmness that belied the inner hope he had got under his skin - he knew his name, after all. He just wanted to irk him the way he had been irritated last night; there was nothing in giving him a taste of his own medicine, was there?
 
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As lighthearted and welcoming Evangeline could be to her brother, she shared his notoriously icy approach to strangers though not from not out of anger or discomfort rather out of necessity, knowing that slipping up and casting her (and, in turn, her family) as some hooligans who didn’t take their roles seriously would be devastating. Unless her brother died the princess would be nothing more than someone to be married off to but she still held enough importance that slipping up in front of a commoner like Micah could lead to disaster. So, with her dress trailing along behind her, she was the last to step in as to be sure Micah followed the rules and once the doors were closed shut by servants then offered the muffs and furs bar her cloak to another servant waiting in the wings and obediently grabbed it.

“So you were the man who saved my brother, then? You aren’t quite what I was expecting, perhaps someone taller and stronger. It makes me worry about my brother and whether or not he actually needs to train harder. Killing two vampires isn’t an easy task yet you managed to rescue him. You aren’t very fit, Michael,” she continued with a glance to her brother and a subtle wink.

“Micah. My name is Micah. Yes, I... I did rescue Prince Florin, no need for praise. I simply want to receive my reward and return home. I’m a busy man, feeding half the kingdom bread and whatnot,” the baker murmured with a falter in his forced smile. He was only here because he had to be and it was only getting more difficult to stand besides the two royals. The entrance alone to the castle was overwhelming and the idea of experiencing more of it made his stomach churn. This was the last thing he was expecting to do that day less than 24 hours prior.

“Yes, well - lets scurry this along. I had to deal with Waiting patiently in the cold.”
 

potassiumboron

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"I stumbled over a rock - were I on my two feet, there'd have been no need for him to swoop in and rescue me. It was merely unfortunate that I fell; I could have handled myself perfectly well if that hadn't happened," the older sibling muttered stubbornly in response, unable to help himself from consolidating the reputation he had built up over the years.

As much as his personality wasn't necessarily favourable in the eyes of the Dredian citizens who compared him to his parents who took to their roles with charm and an easy suaveness, there was no doubt that he was strong - and when that was the only compliment that the people in his kingdom could find to say about him, he was going to do him damn best to ensure it remained intact.

Hence the sharp glare being sent in Micah's direction, a silent reminder for him to keep what knowledge he possessed (knowledge that would irreparably destroy the Prince's tough reputation) to himself. He hoped Micah was smart enough not to muddy the water and keep what he knew beyond locked lips to avoid the consequences of provoking Florin's anger... but the other hadn't exactly proved himself to be remotely respectful during the small time he had known of his existence.

There was no guarantee he would keep everything to himself when it would be some pretty explosive gossip to spread - but Florin had to bank on him doing what he wanted or he'd be a nervous wreck for the foreseeable future over it.

"...Right, yes. Let's just get this living hell over and done with," he agreed with a faint nod to the guards stood obediently in place protecting the throne room - and the senior royals who waited patiently for their visitor within it. With the nod, the grand doors were slowly opened to reveal the unabashed luxury beyond it. It wasn't the pretentious grandeur that most royal abodes relied upon, with the emphasis in Dredia not always revolving around materialistic desires to drape the castle with their fortune... but this was still a home of the King and Queen and thus still looked as such, luxury finding itself entwined with the ruggedness.

At the sight of his parents, Florin neatly bowed in respect before straightening to his full height to reluctantly take in the look of respect glinting in his mother's eyes, which had latched onto the wounds that Micah had sustained the previous night. Battle scars that any good soldier of Dredia would boast of proudly, and though Micah was just a baker, that didn't exclude him from the admiration shown his direction from a Queen who was notoriously difficult to impress.

"Mother, this is Micah. The man who--"

"Who killed two vampires-- I've heard the tale of your bravery from my son already. I'm certainly impressed that you managed to achieve a feat the strongest of soldiers in the kingdom found himself incapable of," the woman began coolly, ignorant of the dig towards her son that came far too naturally to her than it ought to for a mother. Florin might have inherited his mother's fair hair and shockingly green eyes, even the striking beauty that he also could be said to possess, but that was all he shared with her; she harboured no real maternal instinct for her children and made little secret of the fact they often annoyed her. "We're naturally indebted to you for your courage and such bravery will not go unrewarded. Your King and I have discussed a worthy reward and we would like to offer you a position within the castle; we could do with a brave, courageous citizen like you in our service. In fact, we'd be proud to have you serve us-- my son, specifically. It's clear he might need someone like you serving him; someone dedicated."

"Wait, if I can just interject-- this isn't-- that's not his reward, is it? A servant's position directly to me, in my command? Mother, that's-- ridiculous, that's-- I don't wish for a servant; I'm perfectly willing to maintain some independence; some responsibility for myself." Florin protested immediately, abandoning the professionalism in favour of clear outrage. "I won't accept; I don't accept it, in fact. He has a business and I have no desire to relinquish more of my independence. I refuse to accept this."
 
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“You didn’t seem to have stumbled over a rock when I was with you,” murmured Micah under his breath as he kept his head low, his eyes actively avoiding the king and queen as his cheeks flushed pink. This was overwhelming to say the least, to witness the unsubtle digs towards Florin in addition to the King and Queen in general. This was his punishment, he declared in his mind, for trying to do something nice for once and going against the thoughts and oinions his family had shared towards the royal family. He didn't want to see Prince Florin dead and if he had witnessed the Prince die he would see blood on his hands but he could at least lie and say he hadn't seen anything and not have to interact with the royal family at all ever again.

He grew quiet as the Queen spoke as his heart pounded hard in his chest but hearing the 'award' he was given made it stop as blood rushed to his ears. Working in the castle? He honestly hadn't wanted to step foot into it in general so to be told be told he was to give up his livelihood to work for Prince Florin under the guise of some honor made him nauseous. He couldn't say no, not when he feared execution, but execution almost felt like a better option than to be yanked away from something he had worked so hard towards. He had built the bakery from the ground up alone and prided himself in how successful it had become so hearing he had no choice but to leave it made his pink cheeks grow red.

"I-I , ah, I-" Micah began in response as he tried to form a sentence but grew quiet when the King cleared his throat to interrupt the baker.

"Oh, don't worry now. This is an honor, I'm sure this will be more fulfilling than any role you had in the kingdom before. Our son clearly can't handle himself so if you can help keep him alive then we need you to be here to help him. Please, ease your mind as you will be given the best life a servant can have, no need to worry about shelter or food. You are indispensable, Micha- Micah," praised the King with a crooked smile from his throne as he held his head with his hand. Much like most Dredian men, the King was burly and strong even in his aging state, easily being able to fight off an intruder by his own hands and while vampires weren't humans they certainly weren't much stronger than one when they were stared and weakened. It was why learning his son had nearly been killed by two while Micah, a nobody , seemingly executed two singlehanded? Even with the excuse of stumbling over a rock in the heat of battle made him disappointed in the man.
 

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The disappointment from his parents wasn't subtle; far from it. They hadn't had much time to really communicate that disappointment when their minds were understandably focused on more pressing concerns, like ensuring the kingdom's security were more visible and defences braced for any oncoming attack, but the disappointment towards their son -and the heir to the kingdom itself- was still present. He had ultimately let them down and he knew that failing to fight the vampires alone had resulted in this; his mother's steely glare and father's unsubtle frowns.

It was a sad fact, but Florin was well aware that there was more glory in dying in a fight than surviving without putting up one. He was the Prince; a man that was supposed to epitomise Dredia's philosophies. If the people knew that their Prince had failed to defend himself and had some commoner swoop into the scene to save his life for him, there would undoubtedly be gossip over his ability to one day defend them all.

Which was why it could never come to light that Florin's inability to defend himself had been borne of cowardice and fear, rather than a stumble that rendered him out of action. If his parents were disappointed in him now, learning the full truth would make them disgusted and he couldn't allow that to happen.

So their invitation (or rather, demand) that Micah join the serving staff and work directly under Florin's command wasn't an acceptable one. He despised the idea anyway, but having Micah around, ready to gossip to other servants if the Prince irked him? It was a ticking time-bomb he didn't need to deal with, and yet, despite his horrified protests, his mother's smile had hardened, effectively cutting him off from continuing the conversation a second further.

"Your salary will reflect your bravery, I'm sure you'll have no complaints about it. You deserve our generosity, boy," she smiled, carelessly referring to him without his name because she didn't really care all that much to memorise it. She might be appreciative of Micah's actions but he was still beneath her; why would she have to remember his name when she had no desire to ever talk to him this informally ever again?

"Now, why don't you get him settled in, Florin? I'm sure the boy would appreciate that - it's the least you could do for him."

"...Yes, of course. Right this way, Micah," the Prince nodded with a smile, one he didn't bother to hide the falseness of. With a final glance at his parents, the urge to snap at them thankfully withheld, he made his way back out of the throne room and exhaled a frustrated sigh without subtlety, his fists clenched at his sides despite the desire to thrust them at the wall in his anger.

"For the record, I have no desire to enjoy this; your misfortune would be hilarious if it weren't for the fact I have to endure your presence for-- the foreseeable future. This is a dark day for us both so-- so don't whine about it, I can't stand to hear it, understand?"
 
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Evangeline has remained quiet, knowing full well that her word was not only useless but far from called for when it came to her opinion on the situation and while she was in her brother’s corner always, she knew when nothing she did would matter and this was one of them. She had bowed her head alongside her brother upon first entering the thrown room and had gone silent, her eyes locked on the subtly shaking Micah with narrowed eyes, with them only leaving once hearing the new role Micah had with the family.

This earned a snort from the princess which led to the King casting her a stern glare which in turn left her pursing her lips and a glance away from her father in fear. It wasn’t healthy, their family dynamic, but it was one that would be passed onto each generation in a cycle of distant families under the guise of strength and how emotional bonds ruined that.

She watched as the two men left and trailed behind, finding Micah’s reddened cheeks and misty eyes as funny - well, to see both men in such despair was funny but Micah was just some peasant, so seeing his face seem to change like a chameleon caused her to chuckle. Once in the hallway, she peered our the large window just outside the throne room then back to the two in front of her, her hands on her hips.

“I’m sure you two will get along like a house on fire, really. You both need to accept the situation because you know there isn’t anything you can do about it. As for Micah, our mother has a point; your salary will surely surpass that of the bakery, yeah? You won’t need to wear... that anymore, not to mention you’ll be given the best living quarters a servant could ask. Lovely, right?” She beamed in a feigned sense of cheeriness though it was clear behind her eyes that she wanted nothing more than to be rid of the baker herself. She knew she needed to be hospitable, nothing was stopping Micah from being a snitch, so she offered her own forced smile... though Micah wasn’t trying to play pretend,

“No, no - this is horrid. It isn’t the salary that matters to me, it’s... that bakery is a representation of my parents’ love and it’s going to be brought to shambles. I-I... I built that home back from the dust after they passed and now I’m roll be torn apart from it, all because you couldn’t defend yourself. This isn’t fair, I... but I have no other choice, huh?” He murmured weakly, his eyes closing tightZ
 

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"Do you honestly think your pathetic little business is at all relevant right now? Or even important in the slightest? I'm going through a crisis here, stop whining on about matters that are entirely inconsequential to me," snapped Florin as he shot the commoner a sharp glare. Ordinarily, he wouldn't be quite as callous as he currently was - he might not ever care about someone's business potentially going to ruins when it wasn't of any consequence to him, but he would be wise enough to at least feign some sympathy.

But when he was undergoing what he saw as a crisis that would make his life entirely miserable for the foreseeable future? He couldn't care less about upsetting some stranger, particularly one who was the cause of his current misery.

The prospect of being stuck indoors for most of the day now vampires were known to have ventured back into Dredia was enough to unsettle him (he could hardly go out in the evening for his nightly rides to unwind, after all), but being stuck indoors with Micah waiting on hand to serve him was horrendous. He doubted Micah would take to the role with professionalism when this appeared to be the last thing he wanted, so having to deal with a servant who didn't want the job on top of his already poor attitude?

Florin already felt a migraine brewing at the idea of dealing with him for longer than just a few minutes which he had discovered was his tolerance for Micah.

"Just... Just shut your mouth. And you aren't helping matters either; your perverse enjoyment in my misfortune really is the behaviour of a psychopath, Evangeline," he continued just as sharply as he pinched the bridge of his nose, exhaling slowly through gritted teeth before finally standing straight, his broad shoulders pushed back in an effort to express some calm through his formerly tense, uncomfortable body language.

"...You have no choice, that's correct - so I'd appreciate it if you just... did your job and make this less difficult than it needs to be, Micah. Now just-- follow me; keep up. I ought to show you how to get to my room because-- I suppose you'll need that information."
 
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"I have never once said I couldn't be cruel, brother. How could I not find your shared misery amusing? You like to appear as some stoic warrior but here you are, clearly shaken up. For you, you should be ecstatic to have a personal servant so eager to make sure you're safe," Evangeline began, lightly poking her brother's forehead playfully before turning to Micah. "As for you, you should be happy to be living in such a wonderful place with the protection of a castle. My brother may have a tendency to be incompetent but what you did last night was a complete chance. If it were any other day you would have been killed, baker, so you should be glad you won't be feeder for those vampires."

"I don't - I don't mean to give you back talk, I don't mean that whatsoever. I... appreciate being given the opportunity, Prince Florin and Princess Evangeline, but I help feed the more unfortunate of Dresdia with my bread. I help fill children's bellies and the butcher and I have a working relationship. I've even sent my bread to this very castle upon request. You are a strong family, you understand the importants of honor a-and... my parents, they will be rolling in their graves knowing that I no longer could continue their legacy. Please, I beg of you to give me time to find someone to take over my family's livelihood," he spoke quietly, knowing if he raised his voice that he would begin to sob. His head was hung, a stark difference from Florin's attempt to seem stronger than he was.

"... I suppose that should be the least you should do, brother. The decision isn't mine, ultimately - he is your servant, not mine. That being said, I suggest you shoo along before our mother and father see you dilly-dallying. You're in our parents' favor for now, Micah, but that won't last forever." Evangeline murmured with a glance back to the throneroom.