The Price of Protection

Chapter 11

Katherine sighed as she stepped out from behind the screen. The dress had fit her perfectly, and the fabric felt wonderful on her skin. Compared to the scratchy, uncomfortable material she usually wore, the dress felt like silk. However, Katherine knew she could not afford such a fine dress, and reluctantly handed it back to Madeline. As she stepped out, Katherine saw Madeline give the prince the dress. Katherine frowned, and tried to hide her slight envy for the woman who would probably be receiving the dress.

"Are you ready to go, Katherine?" the prince asked, folding the dress over his arm.

"Yes, Your Highness," she responded politely. "Would you like me to escort you back to the inn?"

Richard smiled and nodded. "That would be fine. Goodbye, Madeline." He turned to the shopkeeper.

"Goodbye, Your Highness, Katherine, " Madeline replied, giving them both a curtsy.
"I hope you visit the shop again."

"I'm sure we will," the prince chuckled. Katherine nodded in agreement. "Now we must be off."

The two exited the shop, heading back toward the inn.

"I must say," the prince started. "You seem to have good taste in fashion, for what little I know about woman's clothing."

Katherine chuckled. "I am glad you think so. However, the dress just caught my eye, that's all."

"Well then your vision is very good," the prince teased.

Katherine smiled. "I just hope Princess Meredith likes it," she said, continuing to walk towards the inn. However, her comment had made the prince stop mid-stride. Katherine turned around, raising an eyebrow. "What?"

"Why would I give this dress to Princess Meredith?"

"I thought that was who you bought it for." Katherine's face formed a confused expression. "Unless it is for your mother, but I do not think she is my height."

"No," the prince exclaimed. "Goodness no. The dress isn't for either of them, it's for you, Katherine." He walked towards her as he spoke.

"Me?" Katherine said in a surprised tone. Richard nodded. "Why me?"

"Well, you just seemed to like the dress so much, that I decided to buy it," he explained nervously. "Also, you do look lovely in it."

Katherine frowned and shook her head. "No, I cannot accept the dress."

"Why not?" the prince asked, his lips forming into a slight pout. Katherine would have been amused, except she had to be serious.

"Do you know what would happen if people discovered you bought that dress for me?" Richard shook his head. "They would think I am your mistress or some harlot."

"Katherine-" the prince started.

"Then they would question my skills and think I am only protecting the castle because of some favor I gained with you," Katherine continued, getting herself worked up. "My virtue would be questioned, destroying any potential for marriage. It would also put your reputation into question as well, ruining your chances with Princess Meredith. Also-" she continued, but stopped when Richard gently gripped her hands. A slight buzz seemed to flow between them when he did this.

"Katherine," he said firmly, looking into her eyes. "I do not think a simple dress would cause all that."

Katherine shook her head. "People can be very judgmental. It does not help that I am protecting you almost all the time," she said softly. "I do not wish to sound ungrateful, what you did was very thoughtful, but I cannot accept the dress. Also, Princess Meredith would get more use out of it. I have no balls or parties to dress up for anyway."

The prince frowned, withdrawing his hands. "Fine," he murmured. Katherine sighed, seeing that he was insulted by her rejection.

"I am really sorry," she said softly, looking at him intently.

"No, no I understand." Richard sighed as they continued walking. They were quiet for a few moments, until Katherine spoke saying,

"Although it probably would not matter, since my chances for marriage have decreased anyway." She chuckled humorlessly.

"What makes you say that?"

"What man would want a soldier as his wife?" The brunette knew no man would want a sword wielding woman in their home. She would be expected to be submissive and quit fighting.

"I am sure plenty of men would want to court you, Katherine. You are a lovely, young woman."

Katherine felt her cheeks warm. "You flatter me too much, Your Highness. I am grateful for your kind words, but I know I need to be realistic."

"Who says I am not being realistic?"

Katherine shrugged. "It is just the way the world works, unfortunately."

"Tell me something," Richard started. "I did not believe you to be one to care that much about marriage. Why do you?"

Katherine carefully considered his question. "The reason why I care is because I do wish to have children some day," she said wistfully. "I adore children, and wish to have some of my own. However, having them out of wedlock would cause my family ruin. I know we are only peasants, but it would still affect my parents."

"So, you would only marry for children?" The prince asked, clearly puzzled by her logic.

"I suppose so." Katherine chuckled. "If I fall in love with the man along the way or beforehand, then that would make it all the better."

"So you believe in love?"

"Yes." Katherine nodded. "I was lucky enough to witness it with my parents. They love each other very much, even in the worst times. Most of the marriages in my village were arranged, my parents just happened one of the fortunate couples." Katherine smiled fondly, recalling her parents. "What about you? Do you believe in love?"

Richard nodded. "Yes, I do. My parents were fortunate enough to love each other, and still do very much so."

"I can tell," Katherine stated. "The few moments I spent with them in the throne room were enough. There seemed to be a connection between them, as if they were communicating with each other."

"I know, they are very lucky." The prince sighed. "I wish I could experience that strong of a connection. Although, I doubt that will happen with the way things are being planned for me."

Katherine shrugged. "Who knows? You may come to love Princess Meredith. You have not met her yet, so it could be possible," she said. However, Katherine was puzzled as her chest clenched at the thought. Katherine frowned slightly at her reaction, before expunging the thought from her mind.

"Maybe," the prince tried to sound hopeful, but the emotion did not reach his eyes.

The two walked along the street in companionable silence. Katherine occasionally looked at the man next to her, trying tot figure out why he seemed so keen to know her. She had not wanted to insult him when she rejected the dress, but she knew that both their reputations would be put into jeopardy if she did accept the article of clothing, and so she could not. It did not matter how nice it was or how much she actually wished to wear it. Besides, she knew the dress would be wasted on her. It was not like she had a line of suitors waiting to ask for her hand. Yes, the dress would be put to better use with the princess, who surely had men to impress and appeal to.

When the two arrived at the inn, they were startled by the scene they came upon. People were fleeing the inn, and Katherine noticed that a new band of horses stood outside the small building. Approaching closer, a loud commotion could be heard from inside. Katherine and Richard exchanged worried looks, and slowly crept towards the inn. Looking in the doorway, a group of men could be seen flipping over tables and breaking glasses. Phillip was trying to fend one of the men off and so was Agnes. Katherine gasped slightly as Agnes was pushed to the ground,thankfully catching herself with her hands. Not being able to stand by any longer, Katherine immediately rushed to the red-head's side.

"Go upstairs," Katherine ordered Agnes gently. "You need to keep your child safe." Agnes nodded in understanding, before going upstairs, trying to bypass the men.

After making sure Agnes was safe, Katherine turned around, only to see one of the men coming at her. Using her fists, Katherine beat the man, knocking him into one of the tables, causing him to fall unconscious. As she fought, Katherine could see from her peripheral vision the prince attacking another man near the bar. Katherine smiled, thrilled that the prince was willing to help. Feeling soon etching behind her, Katherine turned and faced another man, who was ready to grab her. Quickly extending her leg, she kicked the man into a nearby booth and then knocked his head into the wall. The man became unconsciousness a moment later. As she fought, Katherine could see her fellow soldiers enter the inn and begin helping out. Soon, all the intruders were unconscious and everything fell silent.

"Well," the prince started. "That certainly made for an exciting evening." All of the soldiers let out a low chuckle, and Katherine shook her head, smiling.

As the men helped clean up downstairs, Katherine headed upstairs to check up on Agnes. The brunette found her in one of the rooms, sitting on the bed.

"Are you okay?" Katherine asked, concerned that Agnes' fall earlier may have affected the child.

Agnes smiled. "I am fine. I think the little one was startled though." She placed a hand on her round stomach and gently rubbed circles on it with her thumb. Katherine sat beside her on the bed, and began to reach her hand out.

"May I?"

"Yes, you may," Agnes said and Katherine gently laid a hand on the woman's stomach. The brunette smiled as she felt the baby kick her hand.

"Amazing," she murmured.

"Isn't it?" Agnes said. "It is an odd sensation, but I find it slightly soothing. Although, he refuses to let me sleep sometimes when he does that."

"He?" Katherine questioned.

"I believe it is a 'he'. It's just a feeling I have." Agnes sighed. "Phillip said he would not mind if the child was a boy or a girl, but I know he prefers a boy. Unfortunately, this boy has not stopped kicking since the incident downstairs."

Katherine pursued her lips and furrowed her eyebrows in thought. "May I try something?"

"Sure." Agnes shrugged.

Katherine gently rubbed her hand over Agnes' stomach while softly humming a tune. As she did this, the brunette felt the child begin to settle. Both women smiled, becoming soothed by Katherine's humming. When Katherine stopped, Agnes let out a contented sigh.

"That feels much better. What was that you were humming?"

Katherine shrugged. "It was only an old lullaby my mother would sing to me when I was little. It helped out me to sleep."

"I should find a lullaby to soothe this one when he is born." Agnes chuckled. The two were interrupted by the clearing of someone's throat. The two women turned to see the prince standing in the doorway.

"Everything is cleaned up downstairs," he said stepping into the room.

Agnes nodded. "Thank you both, for everything. You reduced the damage that would have been done if you had not arrived."

"It was no problem," Katherine assured the woman. "Who were those men anyway?"

Agnes frowned, rubbing her stomach nervously. "Local bandits who come around every once in a while. They attack the local shops looking for money. This is the first time they have targeted us in a while."

The prince frowned, clearly displeased by the news. "I will send my father a letter to increase military protection in the town."

Agnes shook her head. "That is not necessary, Your Highness."

"I insist," the prince stated. "It would only be for protection, I wish to keep the people of my kingdom safe."

"If you are sure," Agnes hummed. "You are very persistent."

The prince chuckled. "I have been told that from time to time."

"I would not be surprised," Katherine muttered, giving the prince a playful grin.

The prince rolled his eyes, but smiled anyway. "It is late, Katherine. I suggest you go to bed since we have to rise early."

Katherine nodded. "Yes, Your Highness." She bowed before addressing Agnes. "Goodnight, Agnes."

"Goodnight. Again, thank you for everything."

"It was no problem, I was glad to do it." The brunette smiled before exiting the room. Before she entered her room, Richard called out to her.

"Katherine," he said softly.

"Yes, Your Highness?"

"I, uh, just wanted to say that I think you would be a good mother some day." His fingers twiddled nervously.

Katherine blinked in surprise. She was unaware that the prince had been listening in on her conversation with Agnes.

"Thank you, Your Highness. I'll see you in the morning." She headed towards her room.

"Goodnight, Katherine." Richard gave her a smile, which lit up his eyes. He stared at her intently. "Sleep well."

Katherine nodded, trying to be affected by his stare. "You too," she responded, before shutting the door. The brunette sighed, trying to shake the image of warm, cerulean eyes from her head as she climbed into bed. However, they stayed in her dreams.

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