The Price of Protection

Chapter 2

Katherine watched as the man in front of her became lost in thought. She had just given him her proposal and now was clearly trying to mull it over in his head. A few moments later, the collector locked his gaze with hers.

"Are you certain about this Katherine? Do you understand the risks you are taking with this proposition?" Royce asked carefully.

Katherine nodded. "Yes, I understand."

"You understand that you are risking your life and that you will probably never see your mother and father again."

"Yes, I understand. However, I will do anything to keep my father out of jail." Katherine would make any sacrifice she needed to make sure her family was together.

Royce nodded, and then sighed. "So, let me see if I understand you correctly. In exchange for waving your father's debt, you will serve as soldier in the castle?"

Katherine nodded. "Yes. You even said yourself that you would suggest it."

"If you were a man, Katherine. You know it is not a woman's place to fight."

"Yes, but my skills could match a man's or possibly even better," the brunette argued, almost pleading. "You have seen me fight! Please, Royce. If you cannot do this to help my father, at least do it for me." A desperate look appeared in her eyes.

Royce sighed. "Okay, fine, you win m'lady." Katherine beamed. "However, this matter will put before the King. He will be the final judge."

Katherine nodded. "Yes, I understand. Oh, thank you, Royce!"

The man laughed. "Now, we must set off back to the castle at once. Go and pack your things quickly."

Katherine gave a quick curtsy before heading back into the cottage and running upstairs. She grabbed a large cloth, placing it on her bed. She then began to pack the few items she owned, which were a few dresses, a night-shift, one other pair of shoes, and her training clothes. She hoped that she would obtain some better fighting clothes at the castle. After wrapping up the cloth and securing it with a knot, the brunette head back downstairs. When she approached the floor, she saw her mother being held by her father, a sorrowful look on both their faces. As Katherine's feet landed, the floor creaked, causing her parents to look up.

"Are you really going, my daughter?" Johanna asked sadly.

Katherine sighed. "It is for the best, Mama," she said softly, approaching her mother and then hugging her.

"Are you sure?" James asked.

"Yes, Papa, I am sure. I will try my best to stay safe, I will miss you both," she whispered, giving her father a hug as well.

"Take this then, in order to remember us," Johanna said, taking off the necklace around her neck.

"The necklace father gave you when you two married?" Katherine questioned. "Mama, I could not."

"I insist." Johanna then pressed the necklace into the younger Beckett's palm, squeezing her hand gently.

"Thank you, I will treasure it," Katherine murmured, tracing the blue stone in the middle of the amulet.

Royce cleared his throat. "I apologize, but we must get going."

Katherine nodded, putting the amulet in her pocket. She then said a final goodbye to her parents before getting on Royce's horse, with Thomas behind them.

"You ready, m'lady?" Royce asked, as if giving her a final chance to say no,

"Yes," she replied, her voice strong. She had no intention of backing out of her deal now.

Royce nodded, before yanking the horse's reins. As the horse rode away, Katherine had to stop herself from looking back at the old cottage, afraid to see sorrow on her parents' faces.

A few hours later, they arrived at the castle. It was pitch black, so Katherine was unable to assess the size of the building. After the gate-keeper lowered the drawbridge, the trio entered the courtyard and stepped of their horses.

"Come with me," Royce instructed, as a guard opened the door to the palace.

As Katherine stepped inside the hall, she had to prevent herself for gasping aloud. The grand hall was massive and very ornate. Banners of different colors, trimmed with gold hung on the walls. A large, red carpet threaded in gold ran across the floor. A grand chandelier hung on the ceiling, almost the size of half of the room. Beautiful stained-glass windows lined the walls, filtering in the moonlight.

"Amazing," she muttered, trying to take everything in. If this was what the grand hall looked like, she wondered how beautiful the rest of the castle was.

"The balls are usually held here," Royce explained, leading her to a door.

"I have heard they are magnificent," Katherine said, recalling the gossip that occurred in the local village during balls. Many girls could be heard sighing about wishing to attend the balls. Katherine, however, did not care about the balls. The only thing she knew was that the village profited greatly from the balls, which helped her family acquire money to pay for necessities. She neither felt the need nor wanted to wish about something that would not happen.

"They are indeed. The king and queen make sure nothing is lacking when it comes to celebrations," Royce said, stopping at the door. "Now, this is the throne room. You will need to wait here with Thomas until I am allowed for you to enter."

Katherine nodded as Royce disappeared inside.

"The king will most likely say no," Thomas sneered, his brown eyes glaring at the woman.

Katherine folded her arms across her chest. "What makes you think so?" she challenged.

"You are a woman, that is enough," Thomas scoffed. "No woman has ever served as one of the king's soldiers."

Katherine smirked. "I might just change that. After all, I know I can beat you I a sword fight."

"Do not be so cocky, child," Thomas sniffed. I am sure Sir Royce let you win." He chuckled at the surprised look on the woman's face. "What? You do not think I knew about that? Of course I did, I have my ways."

Katherine opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by the door opening.

"The king and queen wish to see you, Katherine," Royce said, ushering the young woman inside. Katherine cautiously stepped into the throne room, afraid she would make a wrong step. She immediately spotted the king and queen sitting on their respective decorative thrones at the the end of the room. She took a moment to watch the couple. the queen had red hair, and was slender. The king was more built, and had black hair. Royce escorted her to the front of the thrones and she immediately curtsied and bowed her head.

"Is this her, Royce?" the king questioned.

"Yes, your Majesty, this is Katherine Beckett."

"I see," the king hummed. "Stand up child," the king ordered.

Katherine immediately stood up, keeping her head bowed.

"You may look at us," the queen said kindly. Katherine looked up to two pairs of gentle, curious eyes. "How old are you, Katherine?"

"Eighteen, your Majesty," the brunette responded quickly, but respectfully.

"So young, " the king murmured to himself. "Royce here has told us that you wish to be a soldier in order to pay off your father's debts. Is this true?"

"Yes, your Majesty. I am a good fighter, I am told that I could match a man in a fight."

"She actually defeated me once, my king," Royce said in an admirable tone. "She is quite skilled. With a little training, she could go far."

The king nodded before turning back to Katherine. "Are you betrothed, my child?"

Katherine gave the king a confused look. "No, your Majesty. Why do you ask?"

"You are a beautiful girl, Katherine. Surely some man has sought you out?" The king's blue eyes shone with curiosity.

Katherine shook her head. "My family has little to offer as a dowry, your Majesty."

The queen nodded in understanding and patted the king's hand. "It's okay, Dear; I understand." Katherine was confused by the remark, but did not question the queen further. The king simply looked at his wife and smiled.

"So, back to the matter at hand," the king said. "I trust Sir Royce's judgement. However, it is late, and I will think over this matter more tomorrow when I have a clear head. Tomorrow, you will be tested by Roy Montgomery, who is the captain of my soldiers. That will help me make my decision on whether or not to let you join the guard. For now though, my wife and I bid you all good night. You will be staying in one of the guest rooms, Katherine. It was a pleasure to meet you," the king finished.

"The pleasure is mine, your Majesty," Katherine said, giving a curtsy. The queen smiled at her before heading of to their chambers. Katherine then turned back to Royce. "Do you think I will be able to become a soldier?"

Royce considered her question carefully. "His Majesty does not take things lightly. If he says he considering something, he truly means it. Only tomorrow will tell though."

Katherine nodded. "I see. Is it possible that you can show me where I am sleeping?"

Royce nodded and gestured toward a large door. "The guest rooms are this way."

As Katherine followed the man, she hoped that the next day would be the start of her life at the castle.

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