The Price of Protection

Chapter 29

A few days went by since the doctor had visited and since then, a gloom had fallen over the residents of the castle. Even though everyone went about their days as normal, there wasn't the usual cheer that went with it. It seemed that Richard's illness had impacted everyone. Katherine had found herself often waiting for him to search for her during the day, but then would remember that he was bedridden. She wanted to go and visit him, but she was afraid she would get caught, since the royal couple checked in on their only son quite frequently. Martha wasn't her concern, just the king. Katherine hated the dilemma.

From what she had heard, the doctor had said Richard had pneumonia. A severe bout of it too. He was most likely to recover, but it would take him a while, as long as he took his medicine and rested. Even when he did recover, it would be a few weeks until he regained his strength. However, the king and queen were supposed to worry about that when the time came. Right now, their son needed rest.

Without Richard as a companion after finishing her shift, Katherine had found something else to do. She made good on the promise to herself that she would follow a certain red head to see where she went every time she disappeared. As far as Katherine knew, Alexandra didn't have any family or friends within the village, so she had no idea where the girl could be going.

However, she had tried to follow Alexandra twice already, but always lost her. The girl seemed to disappear into thin air. Katherine began to wonder if she knew about the secret passages in the castle. She had only just learned about them at the Christmas party in order to have alternative escape routes. Maybe Alexandra was going into one of those? She needed to find out, and soon.

Right now, though, it was too cold for anyone to go out. A soft sprinkling of snow had begun to fall earlier that day and it had continued since. Katherine doubted that anyone would be leaving the castle after dinner. So, after finishing her shift, Katherine roamed the castle, hoping to check in on Richard once everyone else was asleep. She roamed the halls, exploring some of the rooms she had left untouched. Most of them were spare rooms meant for guests.

As night fell, the castle became quieter. The usual hustle and bustle began to slow and eventually ceased. Once Katherine was sure that everyone, including the king and queen, were in bed, she went up to Richard's chambers, a lit candle in her hand. The sight she beheld when she opened the door broke her heart.

His skin was pale and his breathing halted on occasion. As she walked closer to his bedside, she could see he had been sweating, his night shift drenched in it. She had heard that he wasn't completely alert and often didn't know when people were visiting his chambers.

Blinking back tears that were forming in her eyes, she placed the candle next to an already lit one on his nightstand. Luckily, there was a chair set beside the bed, so she sat there, and took his hand in hers.

"I miss you," she murmured, assuming he couldn't hear her. "I miss seeing you during the day and being with you at night. I know it's only been a few days, and it's probably silly that I miss you this much, but I cannot help it." She took his hand to her lips and kissed it. "I hope you get better and soon. I need someone to tease me." She smiled, biting her lip. She looked at him for a moment before going to the armoire. She opened it, pulling out one of his night shifts. Just because he was ill did not mean he should be uncomfortable. Besides, she had seen everything already.

Going back to the bed, she sat him up and after some struggle, managed to get the night shift off of him. Taking a cloth form the night stand, she removed the sweat from his body as much as she could, careful to avoid his more intimate parts. Once she was done, she took the new outfit and pulled it over him. She placed the covers back over him and sighed, trailing her fingers along his cheek. Then, she slipped out the door, making sure no one else was in the hallway before continuing back to the quarters.

The next morning, Katherine was patrolling inside the castle on the east end of the second floor. She hadn't patrolled on the second floor yet, but she welcomed the change. Unfortunately, however, it wasn't the end where Richard's room was located.

As she patrolled, Katherine passed the king as he went into his office. He gave her small nod of acknowledgment as she bowed before shutting the door. Taking quick glimpse as the door shut, she could see that he was the only one inside the room.

Unlike most kings, King Alexander did not have a royal advisor, from what she had been told by the staff. It usually worked out. However, there were some objections to him not getting a second opinion, but not enough to raise any real concerns. Not that it really was any of her business. Even when Richard became king, she would still remain an outsider since she wasn't his wife. Unless…..

Katherine pushed the thought out of her head. He was ill in bed. She shouldn't even be considering the idea at the moment.

As she continued walking, she ran into the queen who came out of one of the rooms. It was another sitting room, from what Katherine could recall.

"Oh, Katherine," Martha exclaimed. "I've been looking for you."

"You have?"

"Yes." The matron took Katherine's hand in hers, beaming. "I wanted to thank you for last night."

"Last night?"

Martha lowered her voice. "Yes, for taking care of Richard. One of the maids said she went in this morning to find someone had changed his night shift. She thought maybe she had forgotten she had done it. However, I know what really happened."

"Does the king," Katherine started, but Martha shook her head and rolled her eyes.

"I can't fathom how that man can run a kingdom and yet have no idea what's going on in his own home. He just shrugged it off and continued eating his breakfast."

Katherine breathed a sigh of relief.

"I must go dear. See you later," Martha said and scurried off before giving Katherine a chance to speak.

The young woman chuckled and rolled her eyes. The queen never stopped moving.

She then strolled around the corner, continuing her shift.

Later that night, Katherine resumed her self-assigned mission of following Alexandra. The girl had headed toward the direction of library and Katherine had an idea of where she went. So, it was no surprise to her when she entered the library, only to find it empty. Recalling what she had been told at Christmas, Katherine went to the bookcase at the end of a row in the farthest part of the library. As she pushed it gently, the bookcase began to turn and moments later, an entrance to a tunnel was revealed. Apparently, the tunnel ended right at the edge of the village, far enough from the castle and any intruder.

She stepped into the tunnel and to her both disappointment and excitement, the torches inside were lit and recently too. She was sure Alexandra was far enough that she wouldn't know if someone was following her. So, the soldier continued on, attempting to walk softly to keep her footsteps quiet.

As she walked, Katherine wrapped around her arms around her frame. It was cold in the tunnel. So much so that she felt her teeth chatter and was tempted to go back to the castle. However, she steeled her resolve and trudged on, hoping to find the teenager soon.

After a while, Katherine started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. She began to run faster and then carefully made her way up the rickety ladder that led to the outside. Sure enough, when she popped her head up through the hole, she recognized the outskirts of the village. Pushing herself up, she felt the cold of the snow on her hands and she shivered. Trying to change her focus, her eyes roamed the surrounding area, looking for Alexandra. She walked further in, hoping she would find the girl soon before they both froze to death.

Finally, she came upon the teenager at the line of trees at the perimeter of the forest. Katherine hid herself behind a nearby rock and watched the red head. She observed the girl lift up a small stone and place something under it. She looked around cautiously, obviously making sure no one was watching her, before throwing her cloak's hood over her head. Then, she retreated back into the hole leading to the passage back to the castle.

As soon as Alexandra was gone, Katherine ran to the spot with the stone, lifted it up and grabbed the object, which was a piece of paper. It appeared to be a letter. Flipping it over, she felt a chill go through her body when she recognized the crest on the seal. Biting her lip, she broke the wax and began to skim through the letter. As she read, Katherine felt fury build up inside her, along with a slight feeling of confusion. Once she finished, she folded up the letter. Her instincts had been correct, Alexandra was up to no good and the king needed to know. However, one thing bothered her.

If Alexandra was working for Lord Bracken, why was she lying to him?

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