The Price of Protection

Chapter 25

Katherine sighed in relief as she shook the snow off her boots and entered the warm kitchen. The clothing she wore kept her warm during her patrol, but she still felt a slight chill on her skin.

“Evening, Katherine,” Lanie greeted her.

“Evening,” Kate responded, taking a bowl of soup from Jennifer. “How was your day?”

“Quiet,” the maid said. “I cleaned the parlor and dusted the throne room. There’s not much to do, yet.”

“Yet?” Katherine raised an eyebrow in curiosity.

“In a few weeks, the royal family will have their annual Christmas celebration. It’s quite grand.” Lanie cocked her head in thought. “However, I heard that the party isn’t going to be as large as usual due to the financial issues.”

“It’s true,” Jennifer chimed as she placed a plate in the sink. “I have the menu for that night; it is much smaller than it was last year.”

“At least they’re making an effort,” Katherine murmured. She knew it would look bad if the family indulged in a time of financial trouble. “I guess they’re doing this for both politics and celebration?”

“I’m sure,” Lanie agreed, and Katherine nodded, polishing off her soup. After leaving the kitchen, she went back outside, slowly walking to the soldier’s quarter. She wanted a chance to enjoy the snow. Bending down, she scooped up a pile of white powder and formed it into a ball. She tossed it up in the air multiple times, chuckling as some flakes fell on her face.

A moment later, she heard the crunch of footsteps approach and she turned around, smiling when she saw who it was.

“Good evening, Katherine,” he greeted, beaming at her.

“Good evening, Your Highness,” she responded before bowing. Her eyes darted around, wary of the other soldiers in the yard.

“Would you like to take a walk with me?” he asked.

She smiled. “Of course!”

He led her into the forest, guiding her through the thick trees. The woods were quiet, with the exception of the occasional thud from snow falling off the ferns.

“So, how was your day?” Katherine asked. She hadn’t seen him the whole entire time she was patrolling, which surprised her. He usually tried to see her at some point during her shift.

“Good,” he responded. “Father wanted to go over the location of the mines with me. He wants me to go with the men I send. If we do find untouched mines, I would have to negotiate with the ruling family there, since it is their land.”

“You said you were friends with them. Do you think it will be hard to reach an agreement?” she questioned.

“No, the king there is fairly reasonable. I shouldn’t have a problem with him, or the rest of the family.” He grinned as they stopped at an entrance to a small clearing.

Looking in front of her, all Katherine saw was white. The ground was covered in snow and nothing else. She supposed it was a field that was usually decorated in flowers during the spring and summer. However, that was all gone, but she still found the scene pretty.

“What are we doing here?”

“Well, I believe you promised to build a snowman with me, and this is the perfect place!”

She laughed. “Indeed I did. So, will you show how to make one?”

“Of course,” he said, walking to the middle of the field. “All you must do is roll the snow into a large ball, like so.” Richard proceeded to demonstrate, following his own instructions.

“Seems simple enough,” Katherine said, beginning to make her own mound, and soon, she had a smaller snow sphere. “What do I do with it?”

“Place it on top of mine,” he replied as he patted the snow down on the one he’d created.

She walked over to him, setting the white formation down. Richard bent over, quickly rolling some more snow until he had another ball, and he plopped it down on top of hers, and smiling.

“There, the body is finished!” he exclaimed with a twinkle in his eye.

“Now what?”

“We dress it up.” He chuckled, removing his hat and placing it on top of the snowman. Following suit, Katherine removed her scarf and wrapped it around where the neck would be.

“He needs arms, and a face,” Richard said, walking over to a pile of sticks and taking two. He also grabbed what looked like some rocks. He inserted the sticks into the sides and the rocks on the top ball. “Normally, we would have a carrot for his nose, but I forgot to get one from the kitchen.”

“Maybe next time then,” she replied. “I’m finding this quite fun.”

“Oh, and he needs gloves too!” Richard removed his, placing them on the end of each of the sticks. “There, he is complete.”

“He looks adorable,” Katherine murmured, smiling at the uneven grin on the snowman’s face. She was admiring their creation when she felt something cold and wet hit her right on the cheek. She scowled, wiping the snow off her face.

“Hey!” she exclaimed, grabbing a chunk of powder. “You’re going to get it for that!” She threw the snow at him, hitting him on the cheek.

“This means war!” he shouted before throwing another snowball at her. She glared and returned the gesture, and she laughed at her success as it once again landed on his face.

Soon, there were balls of dust flying across the field. There was giggling as the two battled each other, fighting until they were out of breath and panting. They met up in the middle of the field, and as she got closer to him, Katherine noticed Richard was rubbing his hands together vigorously, trying to create some warmth.

“You shouldn’t have removed your gloves,” she scolded, taking them from the snowman. She put each one on Richard’s hands and rubbed them a little to give him some warmth. “You’ll get sick if you don’t keep yourself covered.”

“You don’t have a scarf on,” he replied, removing the cloth from the creation, wrapping it around her neck. “You’ll fall ill as well.” His hand gently brushed the side of her neck, caressing the skin there. He then placed a gentle kiss on her lips, which she reciprocated.

“Thank you,” she replied, offering a small smile. “However, I never get sick. I think the last time I was ill was when I was a child.”

He shrugged. “You can never be too careful. Come. Let us return to the castle.”

They walked back into the forest in companionable silence, enjoying the snow some more and each other’s company. After a while, Katherine broke the quiet by asking,

“So, I hear there is going to be a Christmas ball in a few weeks?”

“Ah, yes.” Richard chuckled. “Our annual party. It can be quite fun, depending on whom you talk to.” He winked and gave her a boyish smile. “So, what is the gossip in the kitchen about?”

Katherine gave him a sheepish look.

“Well, it seems that the menu is smaller than usual.”

“Anything else?”

She shook her head.

Richard pouted. “How disappointing, I was hoping to hear more.” He smirked. “Regardless, the other only thing I can tell you is that the guest list is much shorter this time.”

“How much shorter?” Katherine asked in a curious tone. The Rodgers knew a lot of people; surely the list was only short by a few dozen people?

“We’re not inviting over one hundred people.” Katherine’s eyes grew wide. “I know, it’s a very large amount to leave out. Father is being careful about who is invited this year due to costs. We want to show the people that we understand that we are going through hard times.”

“But you also want to maintain political connections,” she stated as a matter of fact.

“Exactly.”

“So, who is coming?”

“Mostly close family and friends. Father’s family mainly, and some other family’s from neighboring kingdoms. Except one of course. “

Katherine nodded; she was in agreement with leaving one particular family out.

“I’m sure all the women will be fawning over you,” she teased.

“Perhaps.” He chuckled. “However, there is only one woman I want to be with.” He gazed at her intently and she ducked her head.

At this point, they had reached the soldier’s quarters and Katherine knew they had to be careful.

“Well, I will be working that night, I’m sure. So, unfortunately, you’ll have to make do with who comes.”

Richard gave her a disappointed look. “I suppose you’re right.” He sighed.

She frowned at the expression on his face, but knew it was the only way.

“Good night, Your Highness.” She bowed respectfully. “I will see you tomorrow.”

“Good night, Katherine,” he replied. “I hope you sleep well.” He quickly, but gently brushed the side of her face with his hand. He then turned around and walked in the direction of the castle.

Katherine whipped her head around; she sighed in relief when she realized no one had seen them. However, she felt a clench in her chest a moment later.

She didn’t want to be working the night of the ball. No. She wanted to be with Richard and be in his arms when it was time to dance. She desired to be with him openly, regardless of the judgments they might receive.

As she began to ready herself for bed, two questions lingered in her head.

How long could they keep this charade up? And if they ever admitted their relationship openly, would they be able to survive the backlash that would come from it?


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