The Price of Protection

Chapter 22

Katherine and Martha returned to the castle just as the sun set. On their way home, Katherine was prepared to give the queen some space to let her mourn a little more. However, the queen didn't want that. Instead, she chatted the whole way home, telling stories about her childhood, and encouraging Katherine to share some of her own. Soon, the two found themselves laughing as they crossed the drawbridge. When they entered the courtyard, Katherine spotted the king standing in the same spot as when they'd left, as if he hadn't moved at all.

"It seems you two are enjoying yourself," the king commented, walking toward them.

"Yes, we had a lovely day," Martha said, dismounting her horse. She met the king halfway and gave him a kiss on the cheek as he hugged her. Katherine observed them silently, smiling at the small display of affection.

"How was the journey?" the king asked, addressing Katherine as the couple broke apart.

"Quiet, Your Majesty," she stated.

"Yes, there were no bandits or wild animals attacking us," the queen teased.

The king rolled his eyes. "You know I cannot help but worry for your safety, my dear."

Martha smiled gently. "I know, but we are fine, no harm came to us. Also, if someone or something did try to hurt us, Katherine would have defeated them." She gave the soldier a confident smile.

"Thank you, Your Highness, you are too kind." Katherine beamed gratefully at her.

"You are too modest, my dear. You should be more confident in your abilities." The queen winked at her.

"With the level of praise my son and now my wife seem to have given you, I am inclined to agree," the king remarked, smiling. "My family is hard to please, and I've heard your skills are highly praised. Captain Montgomery thinks much of you."

Katherine blushed. "Thank you, Your Majesty."

"You're welcome, Katherine." He then turned to his wife. "Now, both of you must be tired. Supper will be ready soon and I'm sure Katherine would like to eat as well. Good night."

Katherine bowed as the couple departed into the castle. She went her own way to the soldier's quarters to clean herself up a little before dinner. However, as she was walking toward the building, a hand came out and grabbed her arm as she passed a little alcove in the castle walls. The person pulled her into the space and she raised her fist to punch them, until she heard a soft chuckle.

"Relax, it's just me," he murmured, grinning at her annoyed state.

She huffed. "You scared me. I thought you were an intruder."

"I could tell," he said as he uncurled her fist, linking his fingers with hers. He sighed. "I missed you." He breathed, gently stroking her cheek with his free hand.

Katherine raised an eyebrow, not about to admit she missed him too. "Missed me being a source of your amusement? I wasn't gone that long." She gave him a teasing look.

Richard pouted. "I also like talking to you," he argued back. "Anyway, are you still planning to come to the library?"

"Oh, I don't know, I am a little tired," she said playfully, letting out a fake yawn. However, seeing his disappointed face, she reassured, "Yes, I still planned on having a session with you. Why?"

"No reason," he said. However, the excitement in his eyes told a different story. "Could you come earlier, before supper?"

She gave him a confused look, but nodded.

"Yes, I will be there."

"Excellent!" he exclaimed, giving her a kiss on the head. "I will see you shortly then."

Katherine laughed at his exuberance. "Yes, you will." She stepped out of the alcove, taking him with her. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, before turning away to head toward her quarters again. As she was walking, one question was on her mind-

what did the prince have up his sleeve?

Prince Richard stoked the fire with the poker nervously. He wanted the evening to be pleasant for Katherine and he was hoping he would succeed. He had told his father in advance that he would not be joining his parents at the dinner table. He then went into the kitchens and had asked Jennifer to make two plates of that evening's meal. She had raised an eyebrow at him, but said nothing, only smiling as she handed him the food he'd asked for, as well as two goblets filled with wine. Afterwards, Richard headed to the library, while carefully balancing the items he was carrying. Everything was setup; he just hoped Katherine enjoyed it.

As Richard added another log to the fire, he heard the sound of footsteps enter the library. Turning around, he saw Katherine staring at him, a confused look on her face.

"What is all of this?" she asked, gesturing toward the plates on the bearskin rug.

"Dinner," he said, getting up from his position. "I thought it would be nice to have a quiet dinner, just the two of us."

She gave him a small smile. "That sounds lovely." She sat down on the rug, carefully picking up the piece of meat from the plate, and examining it.

"It's rabbit," he explained. He had a feeling she had never eaten it before, but he didn't want to make her feel ignorant. He knew that there were still some things she didn't know about, but he didn't push them on her, didn't want to make her feel pressured to learn new things. He never wanted her to feel less than what she was- extraordinary.

"It's quite good," he commented as he watched her take a bite, slowly chewing the food to figure out the taste. After swallowing, she grinned.

"You're right," she said. "It is delicious!"

"I'm glad you're enjoying it," he remarked, sitting down across from her. "Obviously, the other two things are potatoes and peas."

She rolled her eyes. "Obviously."

After he had taken several bites of his own meal, he asked, "So, how was your trip? My mother didn't give you too much trouble, did she?"

Katherine chuckled. "No, she was perfectly fine. Actually, she was very nice, talked pretty much the whole journey."

"That sounds like her." Richard took a sip of his wine. "Has anything changed in the village since you were last there?" he prodded. He wanted to know more about her home life since she rarely talked about it.

She shook her head. "No, everything and everyone was the same." Yet Katherine rolled her eyes at the end of her sentence and this piqued his curiosity.

"Would you like to share?"

She shrugged. "Just silly things. Girls being girls." He gave her a look, making it clear that her answer didn't satisfy him. "The two girls running the dress shop were just being overly inquisitive about my relations with men. The older one told me she was engaged, probably trying to make me jealous."

"Are you?" He raised an eyebrow.

"No." She smirked.

Although her answer didn't surprise him, he still asked, "Why?"

"Because she doesn't love him," she said simply.

"What about you?" he quizzed. "You said you would mainly marry for children."

She bit her lip and Richard's eyes were drawn to the action.

"I may have changed my mind about that,'' she murmured. Richard felt the beat of his heart quicken at her words. Was she implying what he thought she was?

"Where did this come from?"

She shook her head. "The things that have occurred lately have just given me hope." She looked at him intently, eyes surveying him. She then sighed. "It is probably just the fairy tales getting to my head." Richard felt his heart sink at her words.

"Who knows? Maybe you could marry for love." He gentle took her hand, tracing circles on her palm with his thumb. "It is possible, as we both already know. Also, trust me; love can overcome the oddest circumstances." Katherine shot him a confused glance.

"How would you know that?"

"It is better if I do not say anything more, it is not my story to tell," he said, shrugging. Reaching his hand out, he ran his fingers through the ends of her hair. So soft. "You let your hair down."

"I figured it would be nice for once, instead of being in a braid like usual."

"I like it; you look very beautiful this way. Not that I mind the braid, of course," he added quickly.

She laughed. "It is okay, I get tired of the braid too." She finished the last of her potato and rubbed her stomach. "That was delicious!"

"I'm glad you enjoyed it," he remarked. "Now, before we digressed, I believe you were telling me about the journey."

Katherine rolled her eyes. "There isn't much to tell, although," she started. "I did meet my father, your mother insisted on it." She chuckled, but Richard could hear the melancholy tone her voice held.

"How is he?"

"He is fine," she murmured. "He told me Mama misses me, and of course he does too. I miss them too, so much," she whispered, looking down at her hands. Richard frowned, tilting her chin up to look at him, wishing he could take her sadness away.

"Katherine," he hesitated. "Are you are you happy here?"

She gave him a surprised look, before her mouth turned upward. "Yes, I am happy here."


"Yes. I am being honest, I am really happy here. Although, it does not matter, since I am here to work."

Richard shook his head. "Your happiness will always matter to me, never doubt that." He pulled her closer to him and began kissing her forehead, moving to her cheek, and then to her lips.

"Thank you," she murmured breathily. "Your happiness matters to me, too." He felt his heart flutter at her words. As she turned her head, his lips went to her neck, placing gentle kisses upon her skin.

"What's that?" she asked, gesturing toward the desk, breaking the moment.

Richard almost pouted at the question, wanting to continue his kisses, but answered her anyway.

"They're maps," he explained.

"What are they for?" she asked examining them. He stood up and walked behind her, making sure their bodies touched.

"Well, since I have gotten us into a bit of a mess with the whole rejection of marriage thing," he said. "Father has assigned me the task to find where there might be possible mines that have not been touched. It would help bring our kingdom out of debt. Also, he thought it would be helpful to get me used to 'kingly' duties."

"Have you thought of any place?" Katherine inquired, her finger outlining the shape of the areas.

"Not so far," he said, his hand going over an area that had an X marking it. He saw Katherine's expression turn guilty when she saw this.

"You are not exploring that area?"

"No," he stated simply. "It would not be wise."

"I'm sorry," she said. "It is my fault that you're not going there."

Richard scowled. "It is not." He gently stroked her hair. "Besides, knowing King Edward, whatever mines are in Lockwood are probably empty."

Katherine nodded in agreement. "I wish I could help you."

Richard hummed. "Your support is enough, it gives me the confidence I need."

"It is so odd that you are going to be king one day."

Richard pouted, feigning hurt. "What? You do not think I'll make a good king?

Katherine chuckled. "I am sure you will make a fine king. However, it is just odd that I will be addressing you as 'Your Majesty' at some point."

She wouldn't be, not if he had anything to say about it.

"I think Richard will be just fine." He smirked.

"So stubborn," she teased.

"You too," he shot back, grinning.

She glanced at the dying fire and sighed.

"I must go to bed, it is getting late," she murmured. It was clear she was reluctant to leave. "Goodnight, my future king." She winked.

He grabbed her hips, leaned in, and kissed her lips.

"Good night," he replied, letting her go. "Sleep well."

As she walked away, he stared at her, a warm feeling in his chest. He was unable to pull his gaze away from her retreating form, realizing something important. Well, realized wasn't the right word, more that he confirmed something he already knew.

Good night, my love.

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