The Price of Protection

Chapter 3

The queen hummed to herself as she brushed her long red hair, preparing herself for bed.

"So, what do you think of her?" she asked her husband who was turning down the sheets.

"Who? Katherine?" her husband inquired.

"Yes, of course dear."

Her husband stopped for moment before walking toward the white vanity table where she sat.

"Well, she's respectful, kind, and seems confident in her skills. I cannot really say much else on the matter, my dear Martha. I have only spoken to her for a few moments. I will know more tomorrow when I see her fight Roy," he said as he placed a loving hand on his wife's shoulder.

"Well, I think she is brave and selfless. How many girls would sacrifice their life and offer themselves to fight in order to prevent their father from going to jail? Not that many, I suppose," Martha mused as she set her hairbrush down on the vanity table.

The king chuckled. "I suppose not. She seems to be one of a kind, unique."

"Good thing you are well experienced with unique women then, my dear Alexander," the red-head teased, looking at her husband through the mirror.

"Mmm, yes," he hummed, placing a loving kiss on her head. "You were quite the unique woman when I met you and still are."

Martha chuckled. "Yes, you thought I was dancing for you when we first met."

"I still believe you were. The moves you performed were meant to entice me."

Martha let out a full on laugh that time. "Yes, a traveling gypsy girl trying to entice the prince and get him to fall in love with her. That was definitely my plan."

Both her and Alexander smiled at the memory. Martha had been part of a traveling gypsy troop that visited the village every few months. On one of the trips, Alexander had ventured into the village in secret and watched the troop perform. He claimed that he fell in love with her when he first saw her dance. Alexander began courting her soon after, despite his parents' wishes. Martha had been hesitant at first, since he was the prince and she did have an ounce of royal blood flowing through her veins. However, as she looked into his loving blue eyes now, she did not regret the choice she made, even if the road to their marriage had been laden with numerous hardships.

"I was wondering something," Martha began hesitantly.

"What is it? You know you can speak freely here."

Martha smiled. Their chamber was the one place where she could speak her mind without any repercussions or judgements because she was a woman.

"Why did you ask Katherine if she is betrothed?" Martha raised an eyebrow.

"I just wanted to see if she had any prior commitments before I took her offer into consideration."

"What if she had said yes?"

The king shrugged. "I probably would have turned her away, and assumed her husband would help pay off the debt."

Martha frowned, but nodded. It was unfortunate, but it was the way life worked

"Now enough talk of business tonight, my dear. Let us rest." Alexander took Martha's hand and led her to their bed. She smiled as she rested her head on her pillow, feeling her husband's arms come around her.

She then dozed off into a dreamless sleep.

Katherine woke to a stream of sunlight coming through the windows. After wiping the sleep from her eyes, she looked up from the bed to see a servant opening the red curtains.

"Good morning," she mumbled, still half-asleep.

"Good morning, Miss," the servant responded, facing her. Katherine then looked at the servant closely. The servant was female, with a slighter darker skin tone than Katherine's. She looked only a few years older than Katherine. The servant's black hair was piled into a bun, and her brown eyes shone with curiosity. The black uniform dress she wore made her form look skinny.

Katherine chuckled. "Please, call me Katherine. What's your name?"

"Lanie, Miss, I mean Katherine," the servant said, grinning.

"Nice to meet you, Lanie," Katherine said, beginning to look around the room.

She had been exhausted the night before and had not taken any time to look at the room falling asleep. Now, as she looked around, she was slightly awed. The room was large, probably more than twice the size of her one at home. It had a fireplace with a mantle where various knickknacks were scattered. A portrait of a young woman with red hair hung above the mantle, whom Katherine assumed it was the queen. Two large French doors that also served as windows opened out to the vast lands that belonged to the castle.

Katherine then looked at her bed, which was covered with a red comforter and had gold edging. The pillows were soft and comfortable to rest on, and the mattress was definitely not stuffed with hay. An elegant, wooden four poster board with intricate carvings surrounded the bed. Across the room was a vanity table that had some bottles on it, which Katherine assumed were scented oils.

"Do you need help getting dressed?" Lanie asked.

"What? Oh, goodness no!" Katherine exclaimed, being drawn out of her observations. She laughed a little as a look of relief appeared in the woman's face. "You do not need to do anything for me. I am of equal rank to you."

"Oh, I was not sure. We were told that a guest had arrived last night, but we were not told who," Lanie explained.

Katherine shrugged. "I come from the village just below the castle. I am here to service the king as a soldier in exchange to pay off a debt."

Lanie's eyes widened. "A soldier? How is that possible?"

"I am good with a sword. I am supposed to be tested today by Captain Montgomery," Katherine explained. As she spoke, she began to wonder what her test would be.

Lanie nodded. "He is the best fighter in the kingdom, no one has surpassed him. I wish you luck in trying to defeat him, if you are to fight him, of course."

"Thank you." Katherine smiled. She was glad that Lanie did not try to persuade her to do something more feminine to get money. She knew another woman would have done so.

A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. Lanie rushed to open it, and was greeted by a man with brown hair and green eyes.

"Excuse me," he said, looking at Katherine. "The king and Captain Montgomery wish to see you in the throne room after breakfast."

"I will be there as soon as possible. Thank you," Katherine started.

"Kevin, m'lady, Kevin Ryan," he responded quickly.

"Thank you, Kevin. Please, call me Katherine."

Kevin nodded and smiled. "Okay. Now do not keep the king waiting."

"I will not." Kevin then shut the door, leaving the two women alone. Katherine then rose from the bed and began to dress herself in her training clothes, since she assumed that she was going to be tested in the throne room. "So, how long have you worked here?" she asked Lanie.

"Five years. I came here after my mother passed away."

"My condolences," Katherine murmured.

Lanie shrugged. "I am fine now, knowing that she is in better place."

Kate nodded and finished buttoning her shirt.

"Now, let me take you to the kitchens." The servant guided Katherine out of her room.

As she was led down the hall, Katherine spoke,

"Do you like working here?"

Lanie smiled. "Yes, the king and queen are good people. They treat all the servants well, and never raise a hand to any of us. The prince is kind too, but he is a bit of handful." Lanie chuckled at this, as if remembering something.

"A bit of handful?" Katherine questioned. She had not met the prince yet and she did not know what he looked like.

"He likes to play tricks on the servants sometimes. The tricks aren't cruel, mind you. However, it does cause mutterings from Peter. He is in charge of the house servants," Lanie explained as she led Katherine through a door. "Here we are."

Katherine smiled and sniffed the air. Whatever was being cooked smelled delicious.

"Tricks huh?"

Lanie laughed and nodded. "Yes, do not be surprised if you yourself missing an item or two. The prince does return the things though." Lanie then stopped at a woman with blonde hair. "Good morning, Jennifer."

"Good morning, Lanie. I assume this is the guest." Katherine could tell the woman was assessing her. The woman's eyes gave Katherine a quick scan before smiling at the brunette.

"Yes, I am she. My name is Katherine."

"A pleasure to meet you, Katherine. Now, here you go." Jennifer the handed Katherine a bowl full of porridge. "Eat up, you'll need it, especially since you'll be fighting."

Lanie scowled. "How did you know about that and I did not?"

Jennifer laughed. "Because I stay around the castle and do not sneak off with a certain soldier," she teased.

"Shh," Lanie hissed, looking around nervously.

"Do not worry, Lanie. Your secret is safe with me." Jennifer smiled at her friend gently.

"Are you not supposed to be with the soldier?" Katherine questioned.

"Although nothing is said, it understood that staff members being in relationships with each other is frowned upon," Jennifer explained.

Lanie raised an eyebrow. "However, you have your husband."

"Ah, but we married before we began to work here." Jennifer smirked.

"Your husband is one of the servants?" Katherine asked, confused.

Jennifer nodded. "His name is Kevin."

"Oh, I met him this morning then. He seems kind enough," Katherine observed, finishing the last of her porridge. "I must go, I cannot keep the king waiting."

"We wish you the best," Jennifer called out as Katherine left the kitchen and headed towards the throne room.

When she entered the throne room, she saw the king talking to another man, whom she assumed was Captain Montgomery. The man had skin similar to Lanie's and appeared to be well built. His head had little sprouts of black hair and his chin had a small beard. He wore a navy soldier's uniform that had a few medals on the left side of his chest.

Katherine gave a bow to both men."Sir, Your Majesty," she said, addressing them both.

"Good morning, Katherine," the king said. "This is Captain Montgomery. He will be testing you this morning."

Katherine nodded. "A pleasure to meet you, Captain."

The man smiled, a slight crinkle forming in the process. "The pleasure is mine. The king has told me that you are good with a sword?"

Katherine nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, I am."

"Well, we'll be the judge of that." The Captain then gesturing to a nearby guard who was holding two swords. He handed the captain one and then handed Katherine one, giving her a disapproving look. Katherine just ignored him. "Your test is to fight me. We will see how good you are through that." Katherine nodded in understanding. "Ready?" Katherine nodded while positioning her sword correctly. "Go!"

The fight then began. The captain swung his sword at Katherine, who ducked quickly. She then swung her sword, hitting the captain's padded arm. The captain then swung again, which ended in loud clink as his sword clashed with Katherine's. Katherine then swung again, missing this time. The captain the swung, but missed as Katherine moved swiftly on her feet, dodging the attack. The fight went on like this for a few more minutes. As she was fighting, Katherine could have sworn that Captain Montgomery had smiled, but it disappeared as quickly as she saw it. Finally, as Katherine was about to take another swing, the king called out,

"Stop!" he ordered, raising his hand. "I have seen enough." His face was somber.

Katherine's hopes fell at his words. Would he send her home?

"Captain Montgomery is considered the best soldier in the land," the king started. His expression was still serious. "However, after what I have seen today, that may be change in captain has even been so evenly matched before this." He then smiled at Katherine. "You have excellent skills, even though you are a woman. Yes, you will need training. However, I do believe that you can efficiently protect the castle and the lands surrounding it."

Katherine's heart raced at the king's words, hope swelling within her. "Your Majesty?" she questioned eagerly.

The king then grinned widely. "Katherine Beckett, prepare yourself, for today is your first day as a soldier."

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