The Price of Protection

Chapter 30

Katherine knocked on the king's office door with slight hesitation. She had contemplated on confronting Alexandra first, but had decided against it in case the girl took off before the king could question her. So, Katherine instead went to the king, hoping he would listen to her. Thankfully, it was early enough in the evening that he should still be awake.

The door opened to reveal a confused and surprised looking king.

"Oh Katherine, I was just about to get ready for bed. Do you need something?" He had bags under his eyes, no doubt from lack of sleep due to probably worrying about Richard and the kingdom.

"I discovered something that might be of concern. May I show it to you, Your Majesty?"

King Alexander opened the door and gestured for her to come in. Katherine stepped inside, noting how small the office was compared to the other rooms. The only thing in it was a few chairs, a desk, which was cluttered with paper and quills, and a map of the kingdom which hung on the wall.

"What is it, Katherine?"

"I think it's best if you read this. It would explain it better than I could." She held out her hand, showing him the letter. He frowned, taking it from her. He opened and read it over. As he read on, a horrified expression came upon his face.

"Is this true?" he demanded. He was clearly outraged and it terrified her a bit.

"Unfortunately, it is, Your Majesty." Katherine then quickly recounted her suspicions and how she came to obtain the letter.

The king wiped a hand across his face, as if to erase the sadness showing in his eyes.

"I see," he murmured. He went into the hallway and called a nearby guard. The king murmured something to him before the guard bowed and left. "I have asked the guard to summon my wife and Alexandra to the office. They will be here momentarily. Why don't you have a seat? You must be tired."

Not wanting to be rude, she sat down in one of the velvet covered chairs.

"I can't seem to win these days," he muttered to himself. "With Richard and the financial state of the kingdom, things just seem to be getting worse each day."

Katherine bit her lip. She sympathized with the king and wished she could comfort him.

"If it's any consolation, Your Majesty, the soldiers and servants know you're trying to make things better. Unfortunately, you've hit a few obstacles. However, I'm sure things will improve soon." She made sure her words held conviction. She did really believe it, but she wasn't sure how long it would take for things to get better.

He smiled softly. "Thank you, Katherine." His eyes examined her, but not in a way that made her shrink into the chair. "I can see why my son and wife are fond of you. You're brave, loyal, kind, and aren't afraid of confrontation."

She grinned. "Thank you, Your Majesty. It has been a pleasure working for you and your family." And she hoped to work for them for many years to come.

Their conversation was interrupted by the door opening. The guard ushered the two women inside before shutting the door.

Martha looked confused. Alexandra on the other hand, moved her eyes to the king's hand and she visibly paled.

This was going to be very interesting.

She felt something was wrong the moment the guard had appeared at her door, and she was right. The guard led her and the queen to the king's office, a room that Alexandra had never been in. Now, she stood, fear going up her spine as she saw what was clearly her letter in the king's hand.

"I can explain," she started, but the king held up his hand, silencing her.

"I believe that this letter explains everything," he said. Then, reopening the letter, he began to read it aloud:

My Lord,

It appears that the the prince's illness wasn't as severe as it seemed. He is growing stronger each day and I suspect that he will be up and about in the next few days. I feel that the opportunity to attack has passed and that you should wait for another time. The decision is yours, of course.



Alexandra bit her lip as the king put down the piece of paper.

"It's clear from the seal that this letter was meant for Lord Bracken."

Alexandra didn't respond to him. Instead, she looked at the people around the room. The queen had a sad, almost disappointed expression on her face. One the girl wished she could take away. The queen had become somewhat of a mother to her, and it hurt Alexandra to see her so pained.

Shen then turned to Katherine, who stared at her coldly, judgement in her hazel eyes. She knew the woman was just doing her job, but she wished that Katherine had minded her own business. Earlier, she had a feeling that someone was following her when she hid the letter, but hadn't seen anyone. Obviously she should have looked harder. She briefly contemplated on revealing Katherine's secret, but she knew it would only make her look desperate.

"What I would like to know is, why did you lie in the letter?" The king's expression changed from cold to confused, and Alexandra sighed, looking down at her hands.

"He sent me to spy on you," she murmured. "I was supposed to gain your trust, get you to let me stay here for a while. Meanwhile, I was supposed to find any secret passages and what you planned to do with the kingdom." She looked at the royal couple apologetically. "I admit, when I first arrived here, I didn't think very highly of you. Lord Bracken always talked about how dull-witted you all were and I assumed you would all behave like he did, cruel and unforgiving. However, as time went by, I could tell he was very very wrong." He was completely wrong. The royal family had been nothing but kind to her, treating her as a guest and their equal. She never had that before in her life. Her life had a always been a paradox. She had been tutored by some of the most educated people in the kingdom, but forced to sleep in the servant's quarters. She been called an adopted daughter by some of his friends, but was forced to eat in the kitchen with the servants. Feeling tears form, she blinked them back.

Swallowing, she continued, "I started lying in my letters, as you see there." She gestured toward the parchment on the desk. "I kept giving him excuses, reasons to have me stay longer. Unfortunately, I can tell he is growing impatient." She shook her head. "I know what I did was horrible and I only did it because he threatened that he would throw me out of the manor if I didn't comply." She shuddered, recalling the look of contempt on his face as he threatened to throw her out like he had done with her 'whore' of a mother. "Now, I have no desire to go back there, but I will understand if you wish to cast me out as well."

Once she was finished, she looked around the room again, and bit her lip as she saw that the king seemed sad, but resolved.

The king was quiet, before gesturing for his wife to come to him. She complied and they began murmuring to each other in voices so low that even Katherine was straining to hear them. After a few moments, they nodded to each other and looked at her.

"We won't cast you out," the king remarked. Alexandra sighed in relief. "However, you will stay in your room, with a soldier guarding the door at all times. Dinner will be given to you and we will visit you on occasion. Do you understand?"

Alexandra nodded, bowing her head.

"I'll escort you back to your room," the queen announced. Katherine began to stand, but the queen held up her hand. "It'll be fine, Katherine. I highly doubt she wishes to hurt me." Alexandra gave the woman a brief smile as they walked out of the office. As the door shut, she could hear the king thanking Katherine and dismissing her.

As she and the queen walked down the hall, she turned her head, looking back to see Katherine staring at her, pity in the soldier's eyes. The brunette then shook her head before strolling in the other direction.

The walk to Alexandra's room was silent. It didn't take long, and when they reached the door, both women stood there, an awkward tension in the air.

"I," the queen started. She closed her eyes. "I had begun to think of you as daughter." The girl cringed at the queen's use of past tense. "I thought maybe I had finally regained what I had lost so long ago. Unfortunately, it seems that I did not." She opened the door and Alexandra stepped inside. "Goodnight, Alexandra."

"I really am sorry, your Majesty." Alexandra looked at her, trying to convey the sorrow she felt. "I began to think of you as a mother, my only mother."

She could see the queen's eyes glisten before the woman shut the door, leaving Alexandra by herself.

She then lay down on the bed and cried, mourning the loss of the family she almost had.

The news of Alexandra's actions had, unsurprisingly, spread around the castle in no time. Katherine had received praise for her actions by her fellow comrades and servants, and Captain Montgomery had taken her aside one morning, telling her he thinking of promoting her. A feeling of surprise and thrill shot through her with the announcement.

However, she didn't feel right. She knew she should feel happy. Her suspicions had been correct, and Alexandra was now detained in her room. So, why did she feel guilty? Perhaps it was because every time she saw Martha, the red head's smile was a little strained, her blue eyes not lighting up like they usually did. Katherine had never been around for the interactions between the queen and Alexandra, but it was clear that Martha cared very much for the young girl and that finding out she had been using them must've broken the woman's heart. Katherine hated seeing the queen in pain, especially since she was already dealing with Richard being sick.

Speaking of Richard, Katherine hadn't seen him in a few days. Perhaps she would stop by tonight and see how he was faring. Unfortunately, it probably wasn't it any better than the last time she saw him. The visits from the doctor hadn't eased her fears, since his status hadn't changed at all. All she could do was hope, and pray, that he would get better soon. She shook her head, focusing back on her job.

Since she was patrolling the main floor, she had to walk through the grand hall, the throne room, the dining hall, and check in on two spare rooms as well. As she walked through the main hall, a soldier dashed through the main doors, flew open the door to the throne room, and ran in. She followed, wondering what was going on.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, Your Majesty," the soldier addressed the king, panting between words. "But, I just received word from a villager that they spotted a group of almost a hundred uniformed men approaching the village. The person said that the shields had a crest with a dragon on it."

The king immediately stood up, clenching his fists. "Did anyone confirm this?"

The soldier nodded. "Yes, several other villagers confirmed the sighting."

With that, the king dashed upstairs, and Katherine carefully trailed behind, deciding to stay at the bottom of the steps.

"What did you do?" the king demanded of whoever it was he was talking to. "There is an army outside of the village with your Lord's crest on it!"

"N-nothing," she heard Alexandra stutter. "He must've realized something was wrong when he didn't receive my letter. He probably panicked and decided to attack." The sound of a door slamming shut followed by stopping footsteps rang in Katherine's ears. The king appeared back downstairs as she quickly moved to the side. "Go alert Captain Montgomery of the approaching army," he directed her. "We're going to need all the soldiers we have."

She nodded, sprinting toward the quarters, her pulse racing. She knew they didn't have an army to match the size of Lord Bracken's.

As she threw open the door to the quarters, she could see that the captain had already been alerted to the news. Soldiers were gathered around, beginning to pull weapons out of the storage room. When she looked at Captain Montgomery, his face appeared as if he'd aged sixty years and distress was in his eyes. He looked at her, and she could tell they were thinking the same thing.

What were they going to do?

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