The Price of Protection

Chapter 17

Katherine blinked her eyes and rolled her head around, cringing slightly at the stiffness of her neck. She had been drifting in and out of consciousness for the past few hours. With the exception of one or two times she had relieve herself, Katherine had been chained to the wall the whole time she was in the dungeon. The few times she was free, a guard had watched her as Katherine relieved herself in an old bucket. It was a humiliating.

Every hour or so, the guards would switch places and a new guard would watch over the brunette. Some of them taunted her, while others just stood quietly, ignoring her. The moonlight streaming from the small window told Katherine it was nighttime. How late, she was not sure.

Katherine licked her lips, trying to wet them. She mouth was dry and she felt parched, but she did not even dare ask if she could have anything to drink. Her stomach had also started to growl, but that had been a regular occurrence for the past few days.

No one had come to visit since Javier had come earlier that day. If she was honest with herself, Katherine was glad. She did not want any of her fellow soldiers and the prince especially to see her in such a vulnerable state. Katherine then sighed as the prince came in to her mind. He felt guilty when he should not. She had lied to the king and took full responsibility for it. She knew the prince had tried to speak up, but could not since he was in a tough position. Katherine had only done her duty. Katherine began to wonder when or if she would ever be free.

The sound of footsteps approaching her cell redirected Katherine's thoughts. The brunette turned her head to see the king approaching, the torch light allowed her to see the smirk on his face. Katherine kept her head turned towards him, staring him down. The king let out a low chuckle.

"You are a defiant little thing," he said, holding onto the bars of her cell. Katherine said nothing. "That is no way to greet your king."

"You are not my king," Katherine hissed. "My king is much kinder than you. He would have the decency to listen before throwing someone in the dungeons."

King Edward shook his head. "Your king is soft. However, he seems to know many powerful people."

Katherine shrugged her shoulders as much as she could. "He knows how to keep good relations."

"Yes," the king murmured, seeming lost in thought. Katherine interrupted him a few moments later.

"Why?" she asked.

"Why what?"

"Why did you have me thrown in here?"

"You stole from my wife," the king answered smoothly. Katherine rolled her eyes and almost snorted in disbelief.

"We both know that is not true. Why did really throw me in here?"

A bitter chuckle escaped the king's lips. "You are straight to the point, aren't you? Fine I'll tell you. Incentive."

Katherine looked at him, confused. "Incentive?"

"Yes, you know, influence, give someone motivation."

"I know what incentive means," Katherine spat. "I mean what would you use me for?"

"To get Richard to marry my daughter." Katherine gave him a surprised look. "Do not look at me like that. A little spy told me what happened in the garden." Katherine bit her lip. "Yes, I know that Richard seems to fancy you. I figured that if I kept you locked down here and promised Richard that I would release you if he married Meredith, he would do it."

"How did you find out about my situation?"

"Some of your comrades should learn to how to keep secrets." The king smirked.

"Why not just send me away?" Katherine asked, curious.

"I thought about that briefly. I even considered selling you off." Katherine clenched her fists at his statement. "However, the prince would probably try to find you, ruining my plan. So, I decided to keep you here instead, give him a little more reason to say yes to my daughter."

"What will happen if he does?"

"It all depends on my mood really. I might just keep you down here. However, it more likely that you could just…disappear one night." The king chuckled. "We will see how to goes. Until then, I hope you are comfortable. I am sure my guards will make you feel at home."

Katherine rolled her eyes, trying to hide her fear. She could have sworn the guard near her cell chuckled.

"Now, I must leave you. Perhaps I will visit you later." The king turned on his heel and walked away from Katherine's cell.

Once the king left, Katherine tried to adjust her position against the wall and winced. The pain of her wounds was getting worse and Katherine had to bite her lip to keep from crying out. Her wrists were sweaty from the chains and Katherine could feel she was weak due to the lack of food. She hoped that she would at least be fed something, even if it was small amount of food.

The brunette sighed and leaned her head back against the wall. It was going to be a long night.

Richard let out a string of curses as Javier described to the prince what he had seen in the dungeon. The prince had to swallow the lump that formed in his throat when Javier arrived at Katherine's assault.

"This all my fault," he muttered to his friend. Richard put his head in his hands.

"She does no lay blame on you, Your Highness," Javier said quietly.

Richard shook his head. "She is being too kind. Nevertheless, I know what I, or rather we, must do now." Javier raised his eyebrow in question. "We are leaving the castle tonight, once everyone else has gone to bed. We are breaking Katherine out of that dungeon."

"Not that I object, but what about the king?" Javier questioned.

"I will leave him a very thorough letter explaining why we are not here in the morning," Richard hissed, narrowing his eyes. "I no longer give a damn about his opinion or what he wants. I will settle issues with my father when we return home. Right now, we need to focus on freeing Katherine." The prince was already forming plans on how to break the brunette out of her cell in his head.

Javier nodded, a small smile twitching at his lips.

"Tell your fellow soldiers to pack up their belongings and meet me in the training field after supper. Also, make sure they are discreet about it."

"Yes, of course, Your Highness. However, it might be better to meet at the edge of the forest so as not to be seen."

Richard thought about it for a moment and then nodded his head in agreement. "Okay, we will do that instead. Tell the soldiers to meet me at the edge of the forest after supper. Until then, go about your business as usual, and make sure no one is suspicious."

Javier nodded and bowed. As he began to leave the room, a ringing sound emanated through the castle. Richard sighed and rose from his bed.

"That is the dinner bell, so I must go." The prince grimaced.

"Good luck," Javier chuckled, patting the prince on the shoulders.

"I will need it," Richard grumbled as he heading down to the dining room.

Dinner was awkward affair, at least for Richard. When he arrived in the dining room, the food had already been served and the Ameras were eating. He sat down and tried to make polite conversation as much as he could, since the Ameras acted like nothing was wrong. However, anger was boiling inside of the prince as the royals casually talked and made flippant remarks about some the servants.

"It is such a shame when the people you trust the most with your life fail you, especially a servant. Isn't that right, Richard?" the king asked, a smile twitching on his lips.

"I would not know. It has never happened to me or my family." Richard narrowed his eyes.

The king shook his head, but did not say anything. The topic dropped from the conversation for the rest of dinner. Once he was finished, Richard excused himself and went to his chambers. He immediately went to the desk, pulled out a quill and paper, and began to write a lengthy letter to the king. After he was satisfied, the prince folded up the letter and walked out into the hall. He spotted Mathias and approached him.

"Mathias," he addressed the servant.

"Yes, Your Highness?" Mathias inquired.

The prince held out his letter to Mathias. "Would you please see that the king receives this?"

Understanding flashed in the servant's eyes as he accepted the letter. "Have a safe journey, Your Highness."

Richard nodded. "Thank you." As he turned to leave, Mathias called out to him. "Yes?" The prince quirked an eyebrow, waiting for an answer.

"The king and queen will retire to their chambers early tonight," Mathias said in a low tone. "Also, within the next hour or so, the guards who control the bridge will switch."

The prince gave the man a grateful smile. "Thank you, Mathias."

The servant bowed before proceeding down the hallway.

The prince snuck to the outside of the castle and to the edge of the forest that surrounded the grounds. The soldiers were waiting for him, quietly standing around. They bowed to him in greeting and he nodded his head.

"I suppose you all know why you are here," he said in low tone, so no one outside their circle could hear them. "We are leaving tonight, so I hope you have all packed your things. We are also helping Katherine escape." There were a few murmurs amongst the soldiers.

"What do you need us to do, Your Highness?" One of the soldiers asked.

"I need two of you to gather the horses. Do it as quietly as you can. Any volunteers?" Two soldiers stepped forward. "Good. I also need two other to open the bridge when we leave." Another two soldiers step forward. "Finally, I need someone to keep watch as Javier and I go into the dungeon to free Katherine." A final soldier stepped forward. "Good. Once everyone is in bed, which will be shortly, we will begin our escape. Now go and prepare yourselves." The soldiers disbanded, leaving Javier and Richard alone.

"Do you think your plan will work?" Javier asked.

"I hope so," Richard mumbled. "Did you notice any keys when you were in the dungeon?"

Javier nodded. "There were only a few keys, so it should not be too hard to find the right one. I am assuming there is one key for the cells and another for the shackles."

Richard nodded. "We will have to move quickly, and make sure no one alerts to other guards to our presence. Also, Javier?"

"Yes, Your Highness?"

Richard's tone turned cold, with an undertone of anger.

"If we meet the guards that harmed Katherine, they are mine."

Katherine closed her eyes, trying to tune out the guard who was taunting her. He also happened to be the one who assaulted her earlier.

"You are a woman, nothing more," the guard taunted. "And you will be shown that you are a woman and only serve to pleasure and serve a man." A malicious grin formed on his face.

Katherine clenched her hands as she felt her stomach turn.

"You are strong now, but you will be broken soon enough." The guard let out a low chuckle and became silent.

Katherine sighed, moving her arms to lessen the stiffness in them. The rattling of the chains served as a reminder of where she was, not she needed it.

The cell would have been fairly dark, except a torch was lit outside of her cell next to the bars. Katherine was sure a few hours more had passed and that supper was over. She had not been fed anything and the growling in her stomach was growing louder every moment.

Most of the guards had retired for the night, leaving a select few to watch over the prisoners. Katherine was unsure of how many others shared the same predicament as her, but she could hear some light snoring from the cell that was the closest to hers. Katherine could feel herself becoming weary and began to close her eyes, knowing there was nothing else she could really do. As the brunette began to nod off, she heard cautious footsteps near her cell. She glanced up at the guard to see if he had moved. He had not. Looking from out of her peripheral vision, she could make out two shadows that emanated from one of side alcoves. She continued to look until one of the figures carefully stepped out the small space. Her eyes widened when she saw who it was.

The prince smiled and put a finger to his lips. Javier then came out of the alcove. Katherine glanced nervously at the guard, and saw that his head was down. She almost chuckled when she realized that he had dozed off.

She saw Richard and Javier quickly approach the cell, and she could just make out the set of keys in Richard's hand and a sword in the other. Richard immediately unlocked her cell, trying to be as quiet as he could. He approached her and gave her a sad smile. He wore a guilty expression on his face.

"I am so sorry," he whispered, cupping her cheek with his hand. He gently ran a thumb across her cheek.

"It is not your fault," she murmured as he freed her from the chains. She rubbed her raw, perspiring wrists. The chains clanked against the stone wall, waking up the guard.

"Hey," he yelled. "What do you think you are doing?"

Javier acted quickly, pinning the guard to the wall.

"You are one of the guards who assaulted her," Javier hissed. Richard looked at Katherine, who diverted her eyes in shame. While her eyes were still on the ground, Katherine heard a loud thwack. She looked up to see the guard slumping against the wall and Richard's fist in the air. The prince punched the guard again, forcing the man to the ground. Richard then kicked the man several times in the ribs.

"You are disgusting," Richard sneered at the man, continuing to kick him. "You are a disgraceful human being." Katherine could only watch in shock as the prince continued to assault the man. However, when the prince began to raise his sword, preparing to strike, Katherine stopped him.

"Do not do it," she begged him. "You are not better than him if you do."

Richard frowned, the anger in his eyes softening. "But he hurt you," the prince said. "He must pay for what he has done."

Katherine shook her head. "No, you cannot do it." Richard sighed, but put his sword away. He knelt down at her level and gently took her hand.

"Can you walk?" he asked.

"I believe so," she murmured. The prince helped her to her feet, and she cringed as she felt the burn of her wounds on her back. The prince looked at her in concern and she waved a dismissive hand. "I am fine, let us get out of here." The prince nodded in agreement. "But first, may I have your sword?"

The prince gave her a puzzled look, but handed her the sword. The brunette grasped it in her hand and slowly walked over to the guard. She pointed the sword at his chest, the tip barely touching his skin.

"I will not forget what you did to me," she hissed to the barely conscious guard. "Therefore, you will not forget me." Katherine took the sword and slowly let the blade graze a portion of the left side of the man's chest. She knew that he would not bleed out severely, but a scar would be left, reminding him of her. Katherine then turned to Javier and the prince. "Now we can go."

Richard gently wrapped an arm around her waist and placed one of her arms around his shoulders.

"To lessen the burden for you," he explained.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"We must move quickly. The guards I knocked out will not stay unconscious for long. They will probably find a way out the closet," Javier said, ushering Richard and Katherine towards the dungeon exit.

"You two were very quiet," Katherine murmured as they began to walk up the stairs.

"Javier is very stealthy. He has the ability to approach quietly and attack without the victim making a sound." Richard gave his friend an appreciative smile at the comment. The trio walked up the steps and into the hallway that lead to the dungeons. They tried to remain inconspicuous as they walked through the castle and into the main hall. Katherine was not surprised to see no one around, since probably most were in bed. Richard led her to the courtyard, where the other soldiers and their horses were waiting. Katherine searched for Aristotle, who she found tied to Thunder.

"You will ride with me," Richard said to her. Katherine gave him an exasperated look, but he shook his head. "It is just for my own peace of mind." Katherine sighed, but let him help her onto Thunder. She winced as the movement caused her wounds to act up. "You need to see a doctor." The prince eyed her blood-soaked shirt. "When we stop at the next village, we will go. I wish to at least make it out of this village by late tonight," the prince said as he joined her on the horse, positioning himself behind her. "Ready to go and leave this wretched place?"

"Yes." Katherine sighed in relief. She heard the prince chuckle softly. He then gave the signal tot eh troop and they set off.

Katherine leaned herself up against the prince and closed her eyes as the troop crossed the bridge.

The brunette did not bother to steal another glance at the wretched castle, where she hoped to never return.

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