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The Price of Protection

By Ilovetoread09

Fantasy / Romance

Chapter 1

Clink!


The sound of the sword hitting another made Katherine Beckett's lips curl into a smile. She then took another swift swing at her opponent, who successfully blocked her attack.

"Is that the best you've got, Katherine?" her father teased. His hair was flopped in front of his face, which was dripping with sweat. He began to swipe his sword towards her.

"You know I can do better, Papa," Katherine shot back, blocking his attack. Her feet then moved quickly, dodging a another blow from her father's sword. Her braided, brown hair swayed in the air in the process

James chuckled. "Are you sure? You seemed to be fighting like a, well, girl." A smirk formed on his face as he spoke.

Katherine scowled and glared at him, before maneuvering her sword and swinging it. The sword hit the protective padding that was covering her father's arm.

"A girl huh?" Katherine smirked as her father checked the padding.

"Not bad," he conceded.

Katherine rolled her eyes and then smiled as her mother came out of their cottage.

"Come inside you two, it's getting late," her mother called before disappearing back inside.

"Well, your mother has made a decree, best not to anger her," James joked.

"Yes, Father," Katherine said, smiling. The two walked inside their small cottage and both greeted Johanna.

"Hello you two. Now, hurry up Katie; remove those men's clothes and change back into your dress," Johanna ordered quickly, stoking the fire. "The collector and his man will be here soon."

Katherine sighed. "You know Michael does not mind if I am in men's clothes, Mama." Michael Royce was the tax collector for their king. He and his men came around once a month to collect the villagers' taxes.

Johanna wagged a finger. "That other man does mind, however. It is not a lady's place to be fighting. The only reason I agreed to let your father train you is so that you can protect yourself. You know that if Michael's man spots you like that, he'll report it."

Katherine sighed. "I know Mama." She then walked up the stairs to her small bedroom, which consisted of a small bed, a wooden night table, and a small dresser. All of the furniture had been handcrafted by her father.

The Beckett family lived in the kingdom of Maddox, which was ruled by the Rodgers family. The kingdom was vast, with land stretching for thousands of miles. The Becketts lived in a modest cottage that was located in the village that was right below the castle. The Rodgers family was a good, sturdy family. They had kept the kingdom in tact and at peace for about forty years, and everyone hoped that it would stay that way.

Katherine stripped off the men's shirt and pants that she had worn for training and placed them back in the dresser. After washing her face and combing her hair, she then put on a light blue dress, one of the few she owned. Slipping on her black shoes, Katherine sat on her bed for moment. She shifted a little, since the mattress was itchy due to being stuffed with hay. Her arms and legs ached a little from the exercise with her father, but it was worth it. Katherine was determined to protect herself, if there was ever a need for it. She knew it was unheard of for a woman to fight, but even her father felt it was necessary for a woman to know the basics of sword fighting. James had taught Johanna a little, but only the basics. Katherine knew a lot more, and found that she was very good at handling a sword. Her father often joked that she could be mistaken for a man with her moves.

As Katherine got up from the bed, she heard the stomping of hooves and then a knock at the door. She knew that it was Michael and his man coming to collect. She immediately went downstairs and opened the door, placing a polite smile on her face.

"Hello, Sir Royce," she said, giving him a curtsy. She then gave a polite nod to the man standing behind him.

"Hello, Miss Beckett," Royce chuckled. Royce was a strict, but kind man. He was also fairly handsome. He collected the king's taxes with a firm hand, but he was also known to occasionally give leeway if a family did not have the money at the time of payment. Katherine was surprised by this, especially since the man that followed him did not seem as forgiving. Katherine did not know the man's name, but she had never liked him. It seemed that he did not either.

"Well, you know why I am here," Royce said. "However, taxes have gone up."

"Again?" Johanna murmured, having just approached the doorway.

Royce sighed and nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. I don't make the rules, I just carry them out."

"How much?" Katherine's father asked, having arrived from the back of the house.

"The taxes have gone up twenty shillings." As Royce said this, Katherine could see her father's face take on a pallor expression. She knew that business at the blacksmith where her father worked had been slow. How slow Katherine had not truly known, until she saw the expression on her father's face.

"I'll go get the money," he said, heading into the cottage. The man who was with Royce followed him, in case James decided to play any tricks.

"So, how is your training going?" Royce asked Katherine in a low voice. He knew that she trained with her father. In fact, she had actually dueled with Royce once in secret and defeated him. Royce seemed to admire her for that, and she was pretty sure that he was slightly smitten with her.

"Good. I'm getting quicker on my feet, and seem to be getting stronger." Kate beamed proudly.

Royce nodded. "Excellent. If you were a man, I would suggest you take a position as a soldier in the castle. Unfortunately, you're not."

Katherine sighed. She despised the limits that she was burdened with because she was a woman. She wished that she could be free like a man and fight when she wanted to. She also wanted to wear the same clothes as they did, since they were much more comfortable than the clothing she wore.

"Yes, I know," she replied dryly.

Suddenly, her father came out of the house with the other man right behind him. James handed Royce the pouch full of coins.

"I believe that is enough," James replied, his face calm. As he spoke, Royce emptied the bag of coins and began counting. After he was done, the collector frowned.

"You are ten shillings short," Royce replied simply. There was slight sadness to his tone, and Katherine heart began to beat rapidly. She knew that the money in the pouch was all the money they had. Katherine and her mother had sold vegetables from their garden to help earn money. Unfortunately, there had not been a large profit from them.

The man with Royce began to grab the collar of James' shirt roughly. However, Royce held up his hand, stopping his partner.

"Wait, Thomas," he said and then turned to James. "Do you think you can have the money in two days?"

James looked at the man, frowned, and shook his head.

"No, we have given you all the money we can get at the moment. We have sold all our vegetables. Also, I have worked as much as I can at the blacksmith's, it is just that business has not been good lately."

As her father said this, Katherine could see a sadness form in Royce's eyes. Evading tax payment was not easily forgiven in the kingdom, and the penalty was usually jail. Also, it was usually hard to pay off the debt, since more taxes were piled on top of it.

Royce frowned. "I am sorry, but I am afraid that you will be going to jail."

"But what about Katherine and my wife?"

"They will have the ability to pay off the debt through various ways. I am sure they can find something they are skilled at," Thomas chimed in. As he said this, his eyes roamed Katherine's body with a look of lust. Katherine had to hold back a shudder of disgust.

"When the debt is paid off, you will be released," Royce said. As Thomas began leading James away, Katherine began to think. She knew there had to be a way out the predicament.

"Wait," she called out. All three men turned to look at her, with Thomas wearing a displeased expression. "I would like to talk to Sir Royce, alone."

"How dare you," Thomas snapped. "Do you not know your place, child?"

Royce held up his hand and smiled a little. "Actually, I would like to know what the girl has to say. Please leave us." The other three people looked at each other and shrugged. They went into the cottage, leaving Royce and Katherine alone. As soon as they left, Royce turned to the brunette with a raised eyebrow.

"Well, m'lady?"

Katherine swallowed, took a deep breath, and said,

"I have a proposition for you." 

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