The Price of Protection

Chapter 18

Katherine was woken by being gentle shaken.

"Katherine, wake up," the prince murmured in her ear. "We're stopping. "

"Hmm?" Katherine murmured, slowly opening her eyes. She blinked a few times, trying to adjust her eyes to the darkness. When they finally did, Katherine could make out the outline of a camp ground. She recognized it as one of the sites the troop had stopped at along the way to the castle.

"We're resting," the prince explained. "We are far enough away from the castle that we will not risk getting caught." Katherine nodded in understanding before carefully dismounting Thunder. She turned her head to both sides to relieve the tension in her neck from leaning in an odd position.

After a few moments of deliberating, the troop agreed it was too late to setup camp, especially since they would have to get up in a few hours. Also, they agreed not a light a fire in order to remain inconspicuous.

The members of the troop settled themselves in the middle of the site, wrapping themselves in blankets to keep warm. Katherine lay on her side, careful not to roll on her back. She could feel her shirt sticking to her back, the blood slowly drying. As Katherine began to fall asleep, she heard someone lay down near her.

"Goodnight, Katherine," a familiar voice murmured.

"Goodnight, your Highness. Thank you, for everything." Her tone was sincere and she hoped it portrayed dhow thankful she was for his help.

"I am just glad you are safe and that we are away from that horrible place," he responded softly. "Now rest. We have had a long day and we must get up early."

"Yes, your Highness," she responded in a slightly sarcastic tone. The prince chuckled a little and Katherine closed her eyes and began to doze off into a hopefully dreamless sleep.

She could feel hands grabbing at her, roughly groping her. Katherine opened her eyes to see that she was in the dungeon, dangling from the ceiling. The guard in front of her was grinning viciously as his hands skimmed the sides of her bare skin. The brunette heard the loud crack of the whip and felt the tip of it come in contact with her skin a moment later. She set her teeth, trying with all of her will power not to scream.

"You are a whore," the guard in front of her said, his hands gliding down her thighs.

"Not just any whore, the prince's," the guard with the whip corrected, a malicious chuckle emanating his lips.

Katherine blinked her eyes, holding back tears. She felt another stab to her back by the whip.

"No man should want you. You are not normal and unfit to be a wife." The guard's hands began to move in between her legs. "You are worthless."

Katherine then felt another strike against on her back.

The brunette's eyes flew open and she felt herself hyperventilating. After realizing she was safe and calmed down, Katherine found herself laying on her back.

That must be why I was feeling pain in the nightmare, she thought to herself.

Katherine sat up and looked at her surroundings. The sun was almost up and Katherine could see its light peeking through the trees. As she observed the area, the brunette saw that the soldiers were still asleep. The prince was asleep next to her, soft snores coming from him. Katherine smiled and resisted the urge to run her fingers through his disheveled hair. Shaking her head, Katherine stood up and began to walk further into the campsite, remembering there was river nearby. Katherine did not bathe often, but after the dream she had just had, she desired one.

When she neared the river, she stripped off her clothes, wincing as her shirt stuck to her body due to the dried blood. She dipped her toe in the water and smiled at the lukewarm temperature. Katherine then fully immersed herself in the water and began to scrub.

As she bathed herself, Katherine tried to think of positive things. Her parents, her childhood, some of the time spent at the Rodgers' castle, Prince Richard. AS the prince came to her mind, Katherine smiled. The prince was so kind and gentle, always seeming to try to do the right thing. His touch calmed her and the way he looked at her made her blush a little. She knew it was wrong, especially after what had just happened. However, Katherine found herself having a hard time with keeping her feelings for the prince from growing.

Katherine's musings were interrupted by the sound of footsteps approaching the river. Lowering herself, Katherine made sure the water came up to her neck to hide the rest of her body. A moment later, the prince emerged from the trees.

"There you are, Katherine," the prince said. "I was wondering where you went." Even though his tone sounded casual, Katherine could tell he had been worried.

"I just wished to bathe, Your Highness," Katherine responded.

"I see." A teasing grin formed on his face. "Very improper, Miss Beckett."

Katherine rolled her eyes and playfully splashed some water at him. "Oh hush you. Besides, I don't think anything I do would be considered proper." She rolled her eyes.

"Well, I have never been very fond of being proper." He winked.

"I realize that." Katherine rolled her eyes. "Now, could you please turn around?"

Richard looked at her confused. "Why?"

"I want to change back into my clothes." She raised an eyebrow.

A look of realization appeared on Richard's face. "Oh, yes, of course." He immediately turned around and Katherine slowly lifted herself out of the water. She looked over her body, noticing bruises forming on her chest area and thighs. She frowned, trying to shake the memories out of her head and dressed herself. She would wash her clothes later.

"Are you decent? Or do you need help with something?" His tone was teasing and Katherine could also hear a hint of huskiness.

"Yes, I am decent, your Highness." She rolled her eyes as she finished buttoning her shirt.

Richard turned around and smiled as his eyes roamed her body for moment. Katherine's cheeks warmed, but she did not say anything. Instead, she walked past the prince, but stopped when he did follow her.

"Are you coming, your Highness?" She gave him a teasing smile.

The prince blinked before grinning. "Of course."

After a quick breakfast of some wild berries and fruit that the rest of the troop had found, the caravan set out on the road again. The prince insisted for Katherine to continue to ride with him until she saw a doctor. Katherine did not protest, knowing it would be futile to do so.

The next few days went by smoothly. Since there was no other village near them until Agnes and Phillip's village, the troop stopped at their previous sites of resting that had been at on their way to the Amera castle. Despite her injuries, Katherine tried to help as much as she could. She helped set up the other soldiers' tents and acquired kindle for the fire at night. During those times, Katherine did not miss the fact that either Javier or Prince Richard kept an eye on her. The other soldiers did keep an eye on her as well and even offered to help her, but not as much as Javier and the prince. Javier had even helped her set up her tent. However, Katherine had a feeling that part of it was because she was moving slower than normal due to her body being sore.

One thing Katherine noticed during their journey was Richard setup his tent very close to hers. He seemed to want to watch over her, which Katherine found ironic since it was supposed to be the other way around. He would always wish her good night before retreating into his own tent and he would be the first to greet her in the morning. On the fourth day of their journey, the troop planned to reach the village by night, which they had discussed the night before.

Katherine exited her tent that morning and spotted the prince sitting near the fire.

"Good morning, your Highness," she greeted with a smile. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, very much so." He grinned. "What about you?" he asked. Katherine could have sworn there was concern in his eyes.

"I slept perfectly fine," she lied. In truth, she had another nightmare that kept her tossing and turning and eventually woke her up during the night.

The prince gave her a smile, but it was strained. Did he know?

"I am glad," he said, standing up. "Now, I believe we are leaving soon, so you better gather your things." He gave her a wink before heading back into his own tent to prepare himself. Katherine shook her head, smiled, and began to gather her things.

A while later the troop set out again, eager to arrive in the village. The atmosphere had turned upbeat and vibrant. Katherine could hear the soldiers converse amongst themselves, an occasional chuckle coming from a member of the troop.

"Everyone seems so happy," she commented to the prince. They had been quiet for a good majority of the ride, with the exception of the occasional comment or two

"I am not surprised," the prince murmured. "All of the soldiers like going to this village. Also, I believe we are happy to be so far away from that horrible castle."

Katherine nodded in agreement. "I am certainly elated to be away that place." She said the last word in disgust. She felt one of the prince's hands gently squeeze hers.

"I am very sorry for everything you went through," he murmured to her.

Katherine shook her head. "It is behind us now." The prince let out a snort.

"I know you are lying," he said quietly. "You haven't been sleeping well the past few nights; you have been having nightmares, haven't you?"

Katherine sighed. "Yes."

"What are they about?" The prince's tone was concerned.

"Just the same thing," Katherine murmured. "I'm in the dungeon and the guards are…doing things. It is silly, since they could have done much worse." Katherine sighed. However, she felt the prince's grip on her hand tighten.

"It is not silly,' he almost growled. "What they did to you was horrid and inhumane. You have no reason to feel embarrassed by your nightmares." She heard the prince sigh. "I should have done more to stop them."

Katherine shook her head. "You did what you could; you were in a difficult position. It would not have been good for you to try to defend a servant so vehemently."

"I thought you would have realized by now that you are more than a servant to me." He gently stroked her arm.

Katherine closed her eyes and sucked in a breath. "I know, but I shouldn't be." She heard the prince sigh and he rested his chin against her head. Luckily, they were far enough away from the troop that no one else could see them that well.

"As cliché as it sounds, we cannot control how we feel."

"I already told you how I feel in the garden," she answered quietly.

She could tell Richard was about to respond, but he was interrupted by the cheers of the other soldiers, signaling their arrival at the village. The prince chuckled a little.

"Well, I guess they are relieved," he stated. Katherine smiled, the atmosphere changing. A few moments later they arrived at the inn. As the troop dismounted their horses, Phillip came out of the inn.

"Welcome, your Highness!" he exclaimed grinning and bowing

"Hello, Phillip," the prince responded, smiling.

"Not that I am not glad to see you, but I was expecting you back much later."

"We decided to cut our visit short," the prince responded simply. "Anyway, where is your lovely wife?"

The innkeeper grinned and puffed out his chest with pride. "She is currently attending to the newest member of the family."

"Congratulations!" Katherine chimed in. She was thrilled that the baby was born. Agnes would make a good mother.

"He is very handsome." Phillip was clearly elated at the fact that he had a son. "Would you like to see him?"

"Of course!" They said in unison. The rest of the troop went to put away the horses.

The duo followed Phillip up the stairs and to a door down the hallway. He opened it to reveal Agnes gently rocking the bundle in her arms. She looked up from the blue blanket and smiled.

"Greetings your Highness and Katherine," she said, walking over to them. "Come and meet Nathanial." She held out the infant who was currently gurgling.

"Hello Nathanial," Katherine crooned, gently running the tip of her finger along the infant's cheek. The baby gurgled in what Katherine assumed was happiness. "He is precious and he has your eyes."

Agnes chuckled. "Yes, Phillip loves that. However, he has his father's personality."

"Which is perfectly fine," Phillip retorted playfully.

"May I hold him?" Katherine asked.

"Of course." Agnes handed the baby over to the brunette. Katherine cautiously took the child in her arms and began to rock him.

"You are adorable," Katherine crooned to the baby. "You have great parents and they will take excellent care of you." She gently rubbed the baby's covered stomach with her finger. She turned to look at the prince and saw that he had a look of admiration on his face. However, it was not aimed at the bundle in her arms.

"I bet you will grow to be big and strong,' Richard said, smiling at the baby, gently shaking its hand with his finger. "Your father will see to that." He then made a funny face, which made the baby squeal with laughter. Katherine smiled and felt her heart warm at the sight of the prince interacting with the infant. She handed the infant back into Agnes' waiting arms.

"I actually wish to take care of something," the prince said. "I will be back in a while."

"Would you like me to accompany you?" Katherine asked.

Richard shook his head. "No, I want you to rest." He gently squeezed her hand. "I will see you later." He then exited the room.

"Well, I must return to work, you can stay in the room you did last time," Phillip said. Katherine nodded. "It is good to see you again."

"You as well," Katherine said as Phillip exited the room. He gave her a wave before heading back downstairs. Agnes placed Nathanial in a nearby crib before sitting down on the bed. She patted the spot next to her, indicating for the brunette to sit down.

"How are you?" the red-head asked.

"I am fine," Katherine stated simply.

"You are back much sooner than we expected."

Katherine hesitated. "Certain circumstances made us leave."

Agnes nodded in understanding, not pushing. "It seems that things have changed between you and the prince, have they?"

Katherine sighed. "I am unsure. We kissed and he always tries to find ways to touch me, discreetly of course. However, there is so much risk in having a relationship with him."

"So you do feel something for him!" Agnes exclaimed.

Katherine shook her head. "I wish it was that simple. However, after what has happened it is clearly not." She sighed, wishing it was simple. "Anyway, let us not talk about that. I wish to hear about Nathaniel and how he was born." She gave the red-head a coy grin.

Agnes groaned. "Do not get me started. My son is destined the most stubborn thing in the world."

"Was the birth hard?' Katherine had helped deliver a few infants in her life and knew that some of the births could take more than a day.

Agnes shrugged. "A little, however, I have heard worse. His head is awfully big." Katherine chuckled. "That definitely belongs to Phillip."

"At least he has your eyes and I think he also has your nose," Katherine mused.

Agnes sighed. "Yes, all of the small things, but they're still there."

Suddenly, a soft grunt came from the cradle and Agnes stood up and walked over to the crib.

"Are you hungry little one?" she crooned to the boy, who giggled in response. Katherine smiled at the interaction between mother and son.

She sighed. She wanted to have that herself, a baby to love and care for. She would try the best she could to raise her child or hopefully children. However, with the way things were going for her, she doubted she would get that opportunity. Katherine then shook her head and decided to settle for the moment of bonding in front of her.

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