The Price of Protection

Chapter 16

Katherine quietly snuck into the soldiers' area when she and the prince returned from their journey. They had arrived later than Katherine expected. and almost everyone was heading to bed. Most of the soldiers' shifts were over and were heading to bed, so Katherine tried to be as quiet as possible. When she entered the room she and Javier were staying in, she quietly opened and closed the door, so as not to disturb her possibly sleeping comrade.

"So, where have you been?" Javier asked from behind her. Katherine almost jumped at the voice, not expecting anyone to be up.

"I was in town, with the prince," Katherine explained as she began to prepare herself for bed.

"Why?" Javier prodded, curious.

"He wanted to see what concerns the town's people had, since they were so angry when we first came here."

"I see," Javier hummed. "Did you learn anything?"

Katherine nodded, a frown forming on her face.

"It was awful," she started. "The villagers are treated so poorly and are constantly harassed. They have no money and the soldiers are cruel to them." Katherine suppressed as shudder as she recalled Matthew's story. "They need help."

"Does the prince want to help them?"

"Yes, he does," Katherine answered with a small smile. "But I am unsure if he can do, due to the king. I think Prince Richard wants to help them without having to marry the princess. I do not know how well that would work though." Katherine sighed. The prince was going to put himself in quite a conundrum trying to help the people without having to associate with the Ameras.

Javier shook his head in disdain. "It's times like these that I am thankful that I work for good people and live in a peaceful kingdom." Katherine nodded in agreement. Javier then gave Katherine a teasing look. "So, why you were the one to go with the prince?"

Katherine rolled her eyes. "I caught him trying to climb the wall that borders the castle. I thought he was an intruder." She shook her head and smiled, still slightly amused by Richard's, wait, the prince's antics. "I convinced him that he needs someone to go with him for protection."

Javier chuckled. "Ah, yes. The prince is a very good climber. He would climb tress as a child and try to climb a small portion of the castle walls in order to sneak into the village. I may or may not have taken part in those antics." He winked and Katherine shook her head in amusement.

As she cleaned up some of her things, Katherine realized something was missing. Frowning, the brunette kneeled on the floor and began to look under the beds.

"Did you lose something?" her comrade asked.

"I cannot seem to find my necklace," Katherine responded, her search becoming more frantic. She continued to look on the floor, brushing her hair out of her face. "I left it here when I went to train this morning so I would not lose it. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to find it now."

Javier shrugged. "Maybe you misplaced it. Is it valuable?"

"A little. It has sentimental value," the brunette explained. "My mother gave me the necklace before I left home. It's the last connection I have to my family." Katherine's tone had grown soft and melancholy as she explained her situation to Javier.

"Well, I do not see it anywhere." Javier looked through the small nightstand in between the beds. "Perhaps you should look for it tomorrow when you are more awake and alert."

Katherine nodded. "You are right. I am tired and do not really have the energy to look all over the castle tonight. I will definitely start looking for it tomorrow though."

"Good night then," Javier said as he climbed into bed.

"Good night, Javier." Katherine pulled the thin blanket over herself and blew out the candle on the nightstand. "Sleep well."

"Doubtful," Javier grumbled in the darkness. "I cannot wait to return to my own bed. This one is hurting my back."

Katherine sighed. "My back has been hurting as well." The pain had been small, but it was enough to be an annoyance to her when she walked around. Katherine tried to not take much notice of it though. "Hopefully, we will return home soon."

"Hopefully," Javier mumbled as his sheet rustled, signaling that he had turned his back to her. Katherine sighed, before closing her eyes in an attempt to sleep.

The sound of fists pounding on doors woke Katherine up the next morning. Her eyes sprang open as a fist banged against the door to her and Javier's room.

"Get up and out of the room, it will be searched," the voice on the other side of the door barked. Katherine and Javier both rose out of bed and stood out in the narrow hallway of the quarters. The other soldiers were standing there as well, all wearing nervous expressions.

"What is going on?" Katherine asked one of the other soldiers.

"Our rooms are being searched. Apparently, something of the queen's is missing," he explained quickly as other soldiers began to enter and search each room.

Katherine and Javier exchanged a worried look. It was clear that the servants and soldiers were being accused of stealing. What would happen to the person who was caught?

As two soldiers searched the rooms, Katherine could see the king and queen following right behind them. The king's expression was one of anger while the queen's was one of distress.

When the soldiers reached the duo's room, the prince chose that moment to to enter the area. His half-asleep expression made it clear that he had just woken from his slumber.

"What is all the noise for?" he asked, glancing around. "I was woken up the sounds of yelling and banging."

"Someone has stolen a set the queen's jewelry," the king said, clenching his fists.

"Are you sure she did not misplace them?" the prince asked. Katherine almost cringed at the prince's question.

The queen glared. "A set of jewelry is something that is not exactly easy to misplace."

"Yes, of course. However, I highly doubt my soldiers had anything to do with it."
Richard sighed and Katherine could tell he was frustrated.

However, a moment later, one of the guards called out to the king, who immediately entered, along with the queen. When the queen entered, she gasped.

"Those are mine!" she exclaimed. Katherine peered into the room to see what the queen was looking at and felt her face pale at the sight.

"Whose bed is this?" the king demanded angrily, casting a look between the two soldiers.

Katherine felt her train of thought come to a halt, feeling herself at a loss for words.

"It is mine, Your Majesty, but I," Katherine managed to spit out before the king held up his hand.

"Silence," he hissed, glaring at her. Katherine felt her heart pulsate quickly the king continued to glare at her.

"Sir, I do not believe that Katherine would steal anything," the prince said quickly.

"Pardon me, Your Majesty," said one of the two soldiers who had been searching said. "But this was found near the queen's dresser when you called us in." The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a familiar looking amulet. Katherine swallowed and felt her knees loose feeling as she tried to keep herself upright.

"I'm assuming this is yours?" the king raised an eyebrow at Katherine. The brunette could only nod in response.

"Your Majesty, listen to me," the prince begged. "Katherine is not someone who would steal, she is loyal."

"She may be loyal," the king sneered. "But I believe that she has a debt to pay off, does she not?"

Katherine frowned. How had the king heard about that?

"Well, yes, but," the prince stuttered, but the king held up his hand.

"When a person is in desperate need of money, they will find any way to get it. the evidence all points to Katherine. However," the king took a step toward the female solider. "If she can prove her whereabouts and explain how her amulet got near my wife's dresser, I will move my questioning elsewhere." The king paced back and forth before starting.

"Now," he said. "The set of jewelry here was last seen by the queen right before the ball. She said she kept it in her jewelry box. This means that it could have been stolen some time during or after the party. Now, seeing as Katherine was to patrol the outside grounds yesterday, chance are she did not have time to steal them then." The king looked at Katherine with disdain before continuing. "This means that she had to steal the jewels some time during the party, since the queen and I retired to our chambers once all the guests left. So, Katherine, now comes the truth. Were you, at any point during the ball, alone?"

Katherine nodded. "Once, after the incident in the dining room. I went out into the garden to clear my head." She kept her voice strong and convincing.

"Was there anyone else with you who could support your whereabouts?" the queen questioned with a sneer. In her peripheral vision, Katherine could see the prince begin to open his mouth.

"No," Katherine lied quickly. She saw the prince's eyes widen at her statement, but she did not regret her decision. The fact that she and the prince had been unchaperoned would not bode well.

"I see." The king stroked his beard. "Therefore, I have no choice but to have you thrown in the dungeons. Guards, seize her!"

The two guards descended on Katherine and grabbed both of her arms, holding them behind her back. Katherine kept a calm expression on her face and did not fight them.

"The penalty for theft here is imprisonment along with whipping," the king explained as he picked up the pieces of jewelry. "You will receive one lash for each missing piece, plus five more."

Katherine heard both Javier and the prince swear under their breaths.

"So, let us see" The king began to count the pieces. "Two earrings, one necklace, and two rings. That makes five pieces in total. Therefore, you will receive a total of ten lashings." Katherine could have sworn that the king was trying to hold back a smirk.

"Wait, Your Majesty, she is my soldier," the prince chimed in quickly. "Therefore, I believe that I should decide her punishment." Katherine looked at Prince Richard and saw the desperation on his face.

King Edward scoffed. "You are in my castle, therefore my rules will be carried out." He turned to the guards and addressed them. "Whip her and then throw her into one of cells in the dungeon." The guards nodded and as they began to leave, the king leaned over and whispered something into the guard's ear on Katherine's left. Katherine tensed as she heard 'do whatever you want' come from the king's lips.

As Katherine was taken out of the room, she heard the prince promise that he would fix this as soon as possible. Her fellow soldiers were standing by the door, looks of sadness and surprise worn on theirs face. Unfortunately, no one tried to stop the soldiers from leading her away. Katherine did not blame them though. No one else needed to be thrown in the dungeon.

As she descended the stairs that led to the dungeon, Katherine swallowed and then braced herself for what was to come.

The prince paced back and forth in his chambers as Javier sat in one of chairs. The prince felt like he was going to be sick.

"Ten lashes is insane," the prince muttered. "This is all my fault, Javier."

His long time friend frowned and shook his head. "No it is not."

"No, you do not understand. It is my fault."

Javier gave him a confused look until the prince explained what had happened in the garden.

"She lied for you?" Javier exclaimed. "Amazing."

"I know," Richard sighed. He really did not deserve Katherine's loyalty.

"We both know she was set up. The question now is: What do we do?"

"Simple, we find a way to get her out of the dungeon and leave here as soon as possible. I cannot take this place anymore, and it has only been a few days."

"What about the villagers?" Javier questioned.

Richard sighed. He hated leaving them, but he knew he could do nothing if they remained in the castle. "I will take that up with my father when I return home. For now, let us focus on a way of helping Katherine."

Javier nodded and then Richard spoke again.

"Also, could you do me a favor?"

"Anything, Your Highness," the solider answered.

Richard looked down at his hands. "If you can, could you possibly find a way to get into the dungeon and check on Katherine tonight? I have a feeling that I am the last person she wishes to see."

Javier nodded. "Of course. I wish to see her as well. She is my comrade after all."

"Thank you," Richard sighed. He just hoped Javier's report would not be too awful.

The two then spent the rest of the time trying to figure out ways to help the female soldier who was currently in captivity.

Katherine hissed as her back rubbed against the wet, stone walls of the dungeon. Her hands were chained separate from each other above her head. She pulled at the chains in order to lift herself up, and cringed as she felt the burn of her wounds.

When Katherine had been escorted down into the dungeon, the guards had led her to a room. There, they stripped off her shirt and wrappings, revealing her bare chest. Her hands were then chained above her head. As one of the guards prepared the whip, the other had begun to fondle her breasts and her taunt her. Then, the lashings came.

Katherine's father would occasionally take the strap to her as a child for her behavior, but nothing like what she had just received. The lashings were ten times worse, and they burned her back. Katherine could still feel blood dripping down her back as she rubbed up against the wall.

The guards had taunted her as she was whipped, saying profanities to her, such as calling her a whore in men's clothing. The one guard had continued to fondle her throughout the session, switching from her breasts to lower parts of her body. They would hoping she would break down. However, Katherine never did. She clenched her teeth to prevent screams from escaping each time she felt the whip on her back. When they fondled her, she just remained still and stone-faced.

Once the guards put her in the cell and walked away, however, Katherine could feel herself slowly breaking down. She even felt a few tears escape her eyes. the brunette blinked them back quickly, though. She refused to let them see her weak.

As Katherine was lost in her thoughts, she heard footsteps approaching the cell. She slowly turned her head as much as she could and was surprised to see Javier approaching her cell.

She smiled a little, glad to see a familiar face.

"Katherine," he said, and gripped the bars, kneeling and peering into her cell. "How are you keeping up?"

Katherine shrugged as best as she could, wincing. "I am okay."

Javier frowned and glanced around the cell. When his eyes landed on her back, he expression turned furious.

"You are bleeding," he hissed, seeing the dark red spots stain the cell floor.

"I am aware of that," Katherine shot back.

"Right, sorry," he grumbled. "I am just worried. We all are," he stressed.

Katherine sighed, understanding Javier's meaning.

"How is he?" she asked, frowning.

"Beside himself with guilt. He told me what happened in the garden. He wanted to see you himself, but he did think you would want to see him."

Katherine frowned and shook her head. She knew she should probably be angry at the prince, but she could not find it in herself to be so. Some feeling inside of her was preventing her from being angry.

"I am not angry with him, at all. Please tell him that when you see him, he does not need to feel guilty."

"That is a little hard to do when you are here being beaten and chained to a wall." Javier scowled. "Did they do anything else?" Hope shone in his eyes. However, when Katherine bit her lip, he closed his eyes and swore. "Did they-"

Katherine shook her head. "No, they did not go that far, but what they did was just as horrible."

"We will get you out of here, somehow," her comrade promised. He then stood up and looked around. "I need to go back upstairs."

"Do not miss me too much," Katherine teased despite her pain.

Javier chuckled and then shook his head. "It would be hard not to miss you." Katherine gave him a small smile in return.

As Javier turned to leave and began to walk away, Katherine called out to him. Her comrade turned around to face her.

"Thank you. And tell him that he should not worry too much about me."

"I will do that, but I do not think he will listen."

Javier gave Katherine a sad smile before turning around again and leaving.

Katherine sighed, rested her head against the wall, and closed her eyes to try to sleep.

Unfortunately, sleep never came.

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