The Price of Protection

Chapter 14

Katherine maintained a watchful eye on the door as guests gradually entered the ballroom. Women with dresses tight and round entered the room, waving their fans in their faces while gossiping with one another. Men dressed in fine attire, heading off to the clusters of men that stood around different corners of the ballroom. The ballroom was brightly lit, and music played merrily in the background. There were some decorations, but not many. Servants walked around, serving food and drinks. The king and queen stood by their thrones, greeting everyone who arrived.

Although slightly irritated that she had to wear a dress, Katherine had to admit that it did help, a little. The dress caused her to blend into the crowd, which allowed her to watch people without raising suspicion and being harassed. The ballroom slowly filled with people from various stations, but mostly royals. However, it seemed one royal was missing.

"Where is he?" Katherine asked herself as arrivals were announced. Suddenly, the prince's name was called out and Katherine turned to see him entering the room. Everyone's attention was turned toward him. Richard gave everyone smile and a wave before wandering around the room. Katherine looked at the prince and smiled. He was wearing a white shirt, blue pants, and black boots. The shirt showed off his muscles and his pants showed off his leg muscles. As she stared at him, it took Katherine a moment to realize that he was headed towards her. However, as he drew closer, he was whisked away by Princess Meredith. Katherine saw him frown slightly, before plastering on a smile.

The brunette shook her head. She had actually not seen the prince all day and it seemed that Meredith was going to keep it that way if she could. Although she missed her conversations with the prince, she knew it was probably for the best.

Katherine scanned the area, relieved that everyone seemed to be behaving. Although she was sure that was not going to be the case once the wine was consumed. As she stood guard, she spotted a man walking towards her.

"Hello," he greeted her, bowing and flashing a smile

"Hello," she greeted back, giving a curtsy, but never breaking her gaze from the crowd.

"What is a beautiful creature like you doing alone?" Katherine internally rolled her eyes. "No man has whisked you away?"

"No," she answered simply.

The man chuckled. "Well, that can be remedied." He held out his hand. "Would you like to dance, Milady?' His brown eyes sparkled.

Katherine shook her head. "I cannot leave my post." That and she would not dance with the man anyway.

"Post?" The man chuckled. "What post?"

"This is my post. I am standing guard."

"You jest." The man chuckled and patted her on the shoulder.

Katherine scowled. "I do not jest. Therefore, I must decline your offer…"

"Oh, how rude of me," the man said. "I am Sir David. And you are?"

"Katherine. And as I was going to say, I must respectfully decline your offer."

The man frowned. "Well, I have to admit, this is new. I have never been rejected before."

"Poor you," Katherine muttered. As she spoke, she saw Prince Richard coming towards her. He smiled at her, but seemed disturbed by something. David, seeing the prince too, broke out into a smile.

"Ah, Richard," he said as the prince stopped near them. "It had been too long."

"I agree, David." Richard nodded. "I hope you have not been bothering Katherine here." His smile was tight and his eyes slightly narrowed.

"No, not bothering. Just wondering why a beauty like her is not is being asked to dance by any man here." David smiled and winked at Katherine. Katherine rolled her eyes and Richard sighed.

"Maybe she just does not want to dance," Richard stated and Katherine gave him a small smile. "Did you ever consider that? Or she just does not want to dance with you," he teased.

David scratched his black hair. "Well, I guess it is possible," he grumbled. "Well, I guess I will find another pretty lady. Goodbye Katherine." David winked at her before wandering off into the crowd.

"David can be a little irritating at times," Richard said, turning to face Katherine.

She chuckled. "Yes, he seems to be quite persistent."

"He means no harm, but at least I was here to save you."

A scoff escaped her lips. "Save me? I was doing perfectly fine."

"Perhaps, but he would have kept pestering you if I had not stepped in."

Katherine rolled her eyes. "If I did not know any better, I would say you were envious."

Richard scoffed. "Me? Envy? Why would I be envious of David asking a beautiful woman like you to dance?"

Katherine smiled and blushed. She chuckled. "I am sure you were. You looked as if he had beaten your horse."

"Perhaps," Richard muttered. "It is hard to see another man touch you, especially when I cannot."

Katherine sighed and shook her head. Before she could say anything, the dinner bell rang, signaling the guests to go to the dining room. Katherine followed suit.

The dining was room was abuzz with chatter. The courses were served one at a time, and each one made Katherine drool and her stomach growl. Due to drills and instructions that were done that morning, Katherine had not been able to have breakfast. So, as she stared at the delicious food, Katherine longed to take a bite of each platter. When the meat was served, everyone cheered. Katherine assumed part of it was because they were filled with wine. As she listened to the mindless chatter of the guests, Katherine had to stop herself from licking her lips as she saw each guest putting a forkful of food into their mouths. She then scowled. She needed to focus!

However, when dessert was served, Katherine almost groaned. Among the platters of food was a plate full of honey cakes, her favorite treat since she was a child. The gooey cakes drizzled with honey were a rare treat that she received on occasion and now they were right in front of her. Katherine contemplated on stealing one, but quickly pushed the thought out of her head.

Suddenly, there was commotion coming from one end of the table. A man, who was obviously intoxicated, was shouting at the king.

"You are a selfish bastard," the man hollered. "A poor excuse for a human being." Guards began to descend upon him. When they got close to him, he began to thrash, flailing his arms.

The king rolled his eyes.

"Your people despise you," the man continued, fending off the guards. "And yet you sit here with a smirk on your face with all your riches." Katherine, unable to take anymore, began to calmly walk towards him, reaching under the folds of her dress.

"You are delusional, my friend," the king responded, chuckling. "Everything is fine here."

With that response, the man's face twisted in anger and he started to lunge himself at the king. However, Katherine beat him, throwing herself at him and both of them tumbling to the ground. She pinned his hands together with one of her hands and with the other she pointed a dagger at him.

"Calm down," she hissed at him, keeping the dagger far enough away to not hurt him. He struggled against her and a moment later two guards pulled him up, holding him tightly. Katherine could see how intoxicated the man was by the dazed look in his eyes.

"Take him away," King Edward ordered as the man shouted expletives at him. The man was then dragged away, to what Katherine assumed was the dungeons. The guests were silent for a few moments, before breaking out into a cheer and clapping. Katherine looked at the prince, who had a grin on his face and his blue eyes sparkled. He winked at her, and she smiled in response.

The only things Katherine received from the Ameras were scowls and glares.

Prince Richard sighed as he entered the ballroom again, everyone calming down from the chaos in the dining room. He had been a little surprised at the small intrusion, but intrigued by what they man had been saying. It caused the prince to become concerned and resolved in his goal to visit the village at some point. As he walked through the crowd, Richard heard murmurs about Katherine and how amazing she was. Some were surprised that a woman had been to take the man down. The prince just smiled to himself. Although he was not surprised, he was still very proud of Katherine. Especially since she had protected someone she disliked. Searching the crowd, Richard looked for said female, except he could not find her. Frowning, he searched outside of the various hallways outside of the ballroom, finding no one. Deciding to check outside, he went into the garden and found Katherine sitting on one of the stone benches. She was quiet as she stared at the bubbling fountain in front of her.

"Shilling for your thoughts?" the prince inquired.

Katherine started slightly, before turning around to face him. Richard looked at her and smiled. Her brown hair was in a neat bun, making her face look sharp, in an attractive way. Her dress was the way it had been at the shop and she looked beautiful in it. Her skin glowed against the torch lights and her hazel eyes sparkled.

"I just wanted to be somewhere quiet for a bit," she answered softly.

"I understand." Richard sat down next to her. "You were fantastic tonight."

Katherine shrugged. "I was just doing my duty, Your Highness."

"I still wish to commend you though." He looked at her before cupping her cheek. She leaned into his touch, smiling. Grinning, the prince said, "I know you said no earlier. However, I hope you will answer yes this time." He stood up and held his hand out to her. "Will you do me the honor of dancing with me?"

Katherine looked at him unsure, tentatively reaching out for his hand. She began to withdraw her hand, until he gave her a reassuring smiling and a pleading look. She put her hand in his and he helped her up, putting one hand on her waist.

"Comfortable?' he asked her as they started to move.

"Very," she murmured, gazing at him intently.

They swayed back and forth, and began to twirl around the fountain. They continued to gaze at each other as Richard twirled Katherine around, her dress following her. Richard began to hold her tighter against him, enjoying the feel of her body against his. The buzz he felt between them intensified as he did this and he smiled. She returned the gesture, leaning closer to him. However, when he went to twirl her again, Katherine became dizzy and lost her balance. Becoming concerned, Richard quickly guided her to bench.

"Are you all right?" he asked, rubbing her back.

Katherine nodded. "I'm fine, just feeling a little faint. It will pass."

Richard raised an eyebrow. "Why would you feel faint?"

Katherine looked at her hands. "I have not eaten in a while."

Richard narrowed his eyes. "What is a while?'

"Yesterday morning," she said softly.

"Yesterday morning!" The prince exclaimed incredulously. No wonder Katherine felt faint.

"To be honest, I have not really had a decent meal since the morning of the day we arrived here. It is the same with the other soldiers." Richard looked at her carefully, realizing that this was hard for her to admit. She probably did not want to feel like a burden. The brunette shrugged. "I am able to manage though; I have had to do it before, when my family had little to eat."

Richard gently tilted her face up to look at him and stroked her cheek with his thumb. "That is no excuse. You should be able to have decent meal, Katherine." He made up his mind to speak with the castle's cook later. Suddenly, remembering something, the prince smiled and reached into his pocket, pulling out a folded napkin. He handed it to Katherine, who took it, a confused expression forming on her face. Unfolding it, she revealed a small cake. Her eyes widened before her mouth broke out into a large grin.

"I saw you looking at them earlier," Richard explained. "It looked like you were about to ravish them.' He chuckled. Katherine looked slightly embarrassed, before taking a bite of the cake. She moaned softly and Richard swallowed at the sound. "You really like them," he stated.

"Mama would make one for me on my birthday," she explained as she nibbled the confection. "It was my special treat. I would savor it for days since I would not get one for another year. Unfortunately, my hunger has possessed me at the moment."

Richard chuckled as she finished off the cake, liking her fingers to clean off the crumbs.

"Thank you," she said, giving him a grateful smile, her eyes reflecting the same thing.

"You are very welcome," he replied, winking. They both chuckled and as their laughter died down, the atmosphere changed. The buzz between them intensified and Richard's eyes flickered to her lips. He wanted to know what it felt like to kiss her. Gently cupping her face with one hand, he brought her face closer to his and leaned in. He gently, tentatively brushed his lips against hers. Soon, he feels her mouth follow his movements and move in sync with him. He presses a little harder against her mouth and she responds in kind, wrapping her arms around his neck. His gently holds her waist as he continues kissing her. Soon they break apart, and he smiles at her, leaning his forehead against hers. She smiles at him, her eyes showing joy and something else he cannot place.

"That was amazing," he whispered.

"Yes, it was," she murmured back, cupping one of his cheeks.

However, their moment is broken by the sound of a twig snapping. They both look around, seeing nothing. However, they both feel like they're being watched.

Katherine frowned. "I need to go," she says quickly, beginning to stand up.

"Katherine," Richard started reaching out for her. However her head shaking silenced him.

"I enjoyed it," she said, giving him a reassuring smile. "But it cannot happen again. I like you, I really do, but this is wrong. We would both be in trouble if we were to get caught. There is too much at risk, especially for you."

Richard frowned. "But," he started.

Katherine sighed. "I am sorry." She looked at him intently, reaching her hand out and stroking his cheek with her thumb. The sorrowful look in her eyes told him she really was sorry. She gave him a tentative smile, before picking up her dress and running back to the castle.

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