Re: The Box Trap

There it was again, 'boy', as though the politician had any right to call him anything other than 'your highness or sir' let alone to insinuate he was young enough to earn such a familiarity. Monsieur Monroe was not old enough to be his father, an uncle perhaps but there had to be hardly fifteen years between them and in Nicholas' opinion no such reason for the older man to mock his age.

"Since I have never encountered bourbon before, unsurprisingly I have no idea how it is drunk." He retorted, not sure what the way he drunk alcohol had to do with anything else. Wines were for sipping, hard liquor was for refreshing oneself with a quick drink.

"Must you find fault in everything I do?" Nicholas added as Monsieur Monroe refilled his glass, this time with instructions on how to properly enjoy the drink. "I can not imagine how many issues you will find with my riding posture, my choice of conversation and perhaps even my table manners, over the coming days." He continued with heavy sarcasm, clearly having no desire for Monsieur Monroe to do any of those things. He might well accept the man's cantankerous behaviour in private, but he would not stand for such disrespect before the gentry of Venice.

Despite this, Nicholas did as was suggested, taking a deep breath of the heavily scented alcohol in his glass. It smelled good, and while he couldn't exactly identify the scents as Monsieur Monroe explained them, he could appreciate there was more to the dark amber liquid than perhaps first met the eye. "It smells foreign." He pointed out, not sure what the man expected of him in that respect. "I imagine it smells like America." He added, before taking a careful and considered sip.

word count: 302

Re: The Box Trap

To say that Ashley was amused at the boy would have been an understatement, but seeing the way he was triggered at such a topic made him almost bubble over with pride. He hid a smirk behind the lip of his glass and shot back the amber as though forgetting his own teachings, but he shall not be moved beneath the table by some spoiled brat.

“Mmm well as they say…you can teach a dog new tricks, the purebred are said to be very obedient.”

Must you find fault in everything I do?
I can no imagine how many issues you will find with my riding posture,
My choice in conversations, and perhaps even my table manners over the coming days.

“Oh I will not be paying attention to your riding posture, that would require me to care enough to pay attention. Though…”
He met the young man’s eyes from over the rims of his glasses, “Have you ridden with these men before? They are a horrid lot of riders. Shameful really.”

The page turned of his notes.

I imagine it smells like America.

“And what does that fill your lungs with? Truth? Justice? Rebellion? ….poor?” He dared the Prince to speak the truth.

“Or do they not teach you this in your lectures?”
word count: 216

Re: The Box Trap

Monsieur Monroe had raised the bar, Nicholas had not been so insulted by anyone besides his brothers for some time. He was speechless, and probably luckily so, or else he might have said something he would have regretted later on. They were hardly a quarter of the way into their journey and already he was contemplating how hard it would be to throw Monsieur Monroe out the carriage door, while the vehicle was still moving. How was he to survive another hour and a half, at least, let alone the extended stay in the country? At least once at the Doges' Estate, Nicholas was sure he could easily avoid the acerbic politician.

Nicholas shook his head to himself, in both annoyance and disgust, "You are a rude creature, Monsieur Monroe. " He had a few other choice words he would have liked to have used, however, good manners insisted he did not, if only because there were clear signs he might have use of them later in their conversation.

While he did not respond to the comment of the men's riding, Nicholas noted it and was at least somewhat pleased with the knowledge. Undoubtedly, he would show them off then, with his classical technique drilled into him with twenty years of lessons from riding instructors hired by his grandmother. Impressing the Dodge and his companion was only part of the task at hand though since Nicholas did intend to enjoy some time to himself riding and enjoying the open air - as far away from Monsieur Monroe as possible.

Again the Prince snorted, "Are you seeking a negative comment regarding your precision America?" Nicholas continued, not allowing Monsieur Monroe to reply, knowing the man would likely give him some dull reason for it, something accusatory probably. "If you must know, it reminds me of wide, opens spaces, of the forests in Russian's west." America did seem to be large, spacious and full of many climate zones, just as his home country was.

"I am fond of open spaces." The Prince added, just to make his point clear since Monsieur Monroe had such an interest in taking things in the worst way possible.
word count: 362

Re: The Box Trap

"Oh I've been called that many times I'm afraid," He said in reply to the name that the prince was calling him--pointing out a rather poor flaw in his design, but not one he wasn't aware of. His tongue got the better of him at times, and only got worse as the years went on and Ashley found so little to live for. The scars at his wrist were enough to tell that tale, but when he hadn't died from his own hand he figured that there was something else the Lord had for him.

In many ways this was his way of easing the ache of still being alive, still pushing forward.

"It reminds me of cold mountains, the mists and fog, a purgatory between spring and summer, those last days of autumn. I hear the guns and the taste the powder in the tastes like iron." Like blood.

For a moment he lost his thoughts to the war and to the world he had left behind, and no matter how much time would pass he would still feel guilty for not being on the frontlines. While his friends and countrymen were dying, he was smuggling information and spending his evenings in the company of an English noblewoman and her remarkable mind. They went over charts and stars, codes and the hidden meanings that even traveled in sheets of music that was played for companies and lords.

"I find it hard to enjoy open spaces, it makes me feel....vulnerable." His cheeks were already flush with color from the bourbon and he tipped it back to finish his second glass.

"And there you have it. A weakness of mine. Are we even now?"
word count: 291

Re: The Box Trap

Nicholas was not certain if the other man was nostalgic for his homeland, or haunted by the memories he had made there. Perhaps it was both, it was difficult to tell and it was too personal of a subject to simply remark upon. A shadow fell over Monsieur Monroe's face, that much Nicholas could tell and he remained quiet for a moment, allowing his travel companion to remember whatever it was which plagued him.

"Did you fight in the war for independence?" Nicholas asked, reservedly, an honest and curious question without any of his earlier annoyance or malice. He might not have seen war himself, but he had spoken at length to the Generals of his grandmother's court, there was something familiar in their eyes which Monsieur Monroe now shared. There were some things men were not supposed to see, or remember.

Nicholas offered a very brief smile at Monsieur Monroe's admission of vulnerability in the open, "I believe my grandmother would agree with you." The Empress had faced more than her fair share of assassination attempts. "Though I also believe she would be the first to say one should not allow their fear to rule them." The Prince added, not unkindly, as he was not attempting to dismiss the man's words.
word count: 216

Re: The Box Trap

"I did," he answered simply, as though it were just a matter of fact and certainly not anything he was ashamed of, "I still do."

In many ways he was still as active in the heart of the war as he was during the first battles. His life had been groomed to be part of it no matter where he was in the world or what crown he served.

"I was there upon the first rumors of the revolution. Stationed in New York I acted as the eyes and ears to the first voices raised," Ashley spoke as though he were still as interested in his papers as he was the Prince, but he felt as though he had a small breakthrough.

"Though I also believe she would be the first to say one should not allow their fear to rule them."

At that he smirked and let his lips relax into a small smile as he met his eyes once more.

"Well of course that is easy to say when you have not been shot at in open fields by men hidden in trees." Or coverd in the brush, buried in sand, or..."They dressed as our soldiers to attempt to take us out from the inside." He turned the page once more and took out his ink to make a note.

"Your Grandmother has known her share of battles and many deaths close to her I imagine, for this I am suprised she has let you out of her sight. Tell me...does she know you are here?"
word count: 260

Re: The Box Trap

Nicholas had expected Monsieur Monroe to confirm his suspicion. It made a sort of sense, a man like Monsieur Monroe had a depth to him and while the Prince might not have liked the man, it did not mean he was blind to the certain darkness which lingered about him. A man did not act so rude, especially to foreign royalty, unless he knew something which unbalanced his universal views. In a fashion, Monsieur Monroe was more like Nicholas' own grandmother, an abrupt straight talker with very set views of the world.

It was a difficult topic of conversation - revolution. Even amongst friends, it could cause disagreements and so Nicholas knew to be careful of what he said in response to Monsieur Monroe's reveal. The Imperial Russian Empire would have crushed a rebellion and the instigators hung, he had no doubt. The English had failed and because of that, they now had no claim to the mineral riches of the New World. Revolutionaries were dangerous people, he had always been told as such, they were the type of men who would never be happy and would sacrifice everyone else's happiness in order to prove it.

"And then, why are you here?" Nicholas had to ask, for if Monsieur Monroe still fought that battle, would it not be better managed on the home front and not in the regions of Europe. "I mean no disrespect in what I say, but you claim to still be fighting and yet you are here?" Nicholas made a small gesture to the carriage and themselves, a battleground in America and a carriage travelling to a hunting lodge were not much alike. He did not mean to insinuate Monsieur Monroe had left his mission behind, rather Nicholas found himself curious to know just what made a man like Monsieur Monroe do what he did.

He gave a brief nod in agreement, "Thankfully, I have not endured such things." Nor would he. Gone were the days when Princes of the blood lead armies into battle. Monsieur Monroe was correct regarding Tsarina Catherine, the indomitable woman had survived many assassinations on her life, surviving even the assassination of her husband - Nicholas' grandfather.

"Hrmm." The Prince wordlessly agreed with his guest, looking down at the glass for a moment, watching the dark amber liquid jostle about under the carriage's motion. "If you must know, she sent me." He finally said, looking up, "The guards are courtesy of her." The Captain of the guard had impossible to follow instructions from the Empress, and Nicholas had only succeeded in lessening their watch in very minimal ways. If the Guard Captain had his way, the Prince would never be left alone, ever.

Nicholas leant back and emptied the last of the alcohol from his glass, leaving it to rest on his knee. Monsieur Monroe had shared his story or at least some of it, Nicholas now felt obliged to share his. "I am here as punishment, for disobeying my Grandmother and Father's wishes."

word count: 506

Re: The Box Trap

“Because a war never truly ends.”

It was an answer he gave himself too many times. He sheltered the response on his shoulders like a raven that was ever watching. It was a truth that he stood in as much as a lie and through the darkness it was all that kept his head above the water. There was always another task to do a battle to fight or a fire to start. The spark of a single soul could ignite a nation, but it was those that kept the embers burning that would never let the fire go out.

The minds of men were simple things, and even Ashley could not protest this. They watched as crowns broke and castles crumbled as though it was just an act in a play, and when it was over? Life went back to normal, but for those that sacrificed their station or their title? Where did they end up?

Drifting as though knowing where to go, but unable to find where it was they were lost.

"I mean no disrespect in what I say, but you claim to still be fighting and yet you are here?”

“Not all wars are fought at home. A man can still defend his country on the surface of another. I serve Venice as a hand to the Doge and in return America will have new ships at sea.” Among other things, but those conversations were not to be had. At least not with a Prince who expressed so…openly his distaste for intrigue.

The admission of Nicholas’ punishment made Ashley pour him another drink before filling his glass for the final time (at least this hour). The bourbon had warmed his cheeks and calmed his nerves. His hands no longer shook as badly as they had upon arrival, and he could at least breathe again. Also…he undid his tie, the scandal of it!

“Ahhh, so they send you to Venice to make you suffer? With all the wine and fine art? Hardly seems a fair price to pay for…well whatever it was Princes get in trouble for.” He stretched his legs out before him crossing his ankles and eyeing the Prince a little with…mockery (what else?)

“Did they catch you with the cook? Sleeping through your lectures?” He took note of the guards, the men in green who so perfectly served their purpose and nothing more. A sip this time of his drink he let it rest upon knee, holding it as he may be accused of his reputation--lose. "I am afraid to think what they would have done to you had they learned you were heart of a plot against your family. Would have to go to..." he held in a half breath and gave an exaturated gasp, "Paris?"
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Re: The Box Trap

Maybe he was too sheltered to understand, perhaps one needed to know war as a soldier knew it, to understand the truth of what Monsieur Monroe said. Philosophically, it made sense although he had always thought the signing of a treaty meant the conclusion of hostilities. It was a dark thought, not a comfortable one, something Nicholas felt the Generals back in his grandmother's court would agree with. Why was the world so interested in fighting wars, if they never ended?

"Ah, I see." It was funny to find, the more Monsieur Monroe spoke, the less Nicholas had to say. It was easy to bicker, argue and fight but it was entirely another thing when it came to hearing the other man's story and position in the world. Nicholas had little to contrast it against but judging by Monsieur Monroe's words and tone, he could surmise the war had left a significant scar. Whatever his reason for being in Venice, it was clear the American still believed he was doing his duty.

For a moment, Nicholas felt a little cowed by the admission and wondered just what the man had left behind in America, in order to do his duty in Venice. Had he left a family? Freinds? By contrast, Nicholas was a spoilt child sent away from home for fighting with his family - something which seemed so important to him and yet now, by contrast with Monsieur Monroe's background, it seemed so trivial.

He took the refill of his glass willingly. He had never imagined the carriage ride to become so...Introspective.

Fortunately, Monsieur Monroe seemed to have no desire to keep the mood dark and returned to the more familiar teasing. Nicholas had to laugh, it was all a trifle absurd. The life of the Imperials was absurd to outsiders, no one could disagree. Once upon a time, he had spent a good many evenings with the Crown Prince of Sweden, and between them, they had shared a number of anecdotes on how strange their lives had to seem to those beyond the Courts. Who else but the rich and powerful would send someone to the infamous capital of vice, as punishment?

"I believe I would have been sent to England." He quipped with a small grin, because he was fairly sure, after their recent conversation, that Monsieur Monroe could appreciate a jab at the British.

"I broke off my engagement," Nicholas explained, shrugging slightly. "To Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The dullest woman I have had the displeasure of meeting. Her father, Duke Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was furious and German -" He smirked a little, before continuing, "My father was furious, my grandmother was disappointed though I believe she understood my reasoning. She was forced to take action as I did disobey a direct order." He made a slight gesture with the glass before drinking from it again.

"And now, I am here. Banished from my family, friends, home and my people." Nicholas finished the last of the bourbon. It was a prison of velvet and gold, but a prison nonetheless.
word count: 518

Re: The Box Trap

In this moment…Ashley understood the Prince a little more. He could see where his outlook on it all may have been skewed by his own arrogance now turned pity, but those thoughts were short lived and he admired the boy as he spoke. What a horrid life to be so young and beautiful, fine angels and tailored clothes. Where was his suffering?

"I broke off my engagement,”

So there it was.

“Oh I am familiar with the Princess, I do believe she was just as relieved to be removed from you as you may have been she. Until Lord Vallier was born I was to sure she would be given the chance to marry anyone who was not nearly forty years her senior. And now…Well I suppose she may have to deal with the tolerance of toys that is…” Ashley was showing his hand, “If one of the Romanov heirs do not make for a better arrangement.”

He spoke of the boy as though it was his call to make, and it was now when he missed Clare the most. This was always her side of their battles won, and her part in politics. She was a romantic at heart, despite the way she didn’t want come off as such.

“And now, I am here. Banished from my family, friends, home and my people.”

At this Ashley smirked, he could not help it—he even laughed a little at how ignorant the whole thing sounded, but it was not his place to try and teach the Prince a lesson on being humble. This was all the brat knew wasn’t it? Perhaps they would even be so lucky as to get him to put in a few good words into his Grandmother’s ear by the time this visit was over, but he doubted that.

“Ah…to be punished for not wanting to marry someone who is dull, this I suppose I can not fault you. My wife was by far one of the most intelligent women I have ever had to honor of knowing. She…” He paused a moment to recall her face, realizing now that it was getting harder and harder to do. “Well she was one in a million, and though we may not have loved one another traditionally, we did enjoy each other’s company. And she kept me informed."

And in line.

He could almost hear her now...Ashley you are going to let this Prince think you are a drunk?
word count: 419
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