After suiting up in armor a bit too big for her, Katherine joined the rest of the soldiers in the main room, the sound of rattling metal reverberating as she moved. Captain Montgomery was giving out orders, telling most of the men to go to the front of the castle and others into the village to protect the villagers.
"While most of you will be on the front lines, there is still a need for soldiers to escort the royal family out safely. They will be taken out of separate passages."
Katherine pursed her lips. While it would make things harder, she understood the logic behind it. If they were separated, it would make it harder for enemies to harm them all at once.
A few stepped forward, choosing either the king or the queen. Richard was the last one, but no one stepped forward.
"I'll go," Katherine offered quickly. From her periphery, she saw Javier step forward.
"I will go with her," he said.
Montgomery nodded. "You must take him to the outskirts of the village. There is a passageway that begins in the first spare room on the first floor. A soldier will make sure to bring your horses to the opening on the other side. From there, you will ride until you deem it to be safe. Good luck."
With those words, Katherine and Javier grabbed their weapons, a sword for her and bow and arrow for him, and set off to the castle. When they reached the second floor, they immediately entered Richard's chambers. She shook her head at the sight of him. He was still breathing heavily, but his color looked a little better. It gave her some relief, but not much.
"We need to wrap blankets around him. Otherwise, he's going to be even more ill." Her comrade nodded in agreement.
They folded the blankets on the bed, encasing him in them like a cocoon.
"I'll take the head, you take the feet," Javier instructed. Katherine did as she was told and the prince was lifted off the bed. It took them moment to gain their footing since he was big and bit heavy for Katherine. However, once they did, Richard slept soundly between them.
"Thank you for volunteering with me," she said as they carried Richard out of the room.
Javier shrugged. "It is my duty." He grinned. "Besides, it would be hard for you to carry this big lug by yourself." She chuckled. "I know what passage the captain was talking about. It's behind the last bookcase," he said as they carefully walked down the steps.
When they made it to the room, Javier kicked the door open and set the prince down. He walked over to the bookcase and pushed it open. He returned, picking up Richard again.
"This passageway is straightforward, but long. We should emerge from it in a few hours."
Katherine wanted to groan, but she refrained. Whatever kept them safe was fine with her.
So, they entered the passageway, preparing themselves for the long way ahead of them.
"So, that's how I was introduced to Kevin," Javier said, finishing a story he had been telling about the first time he had met Kevin Ryan. Katherine laughed, not surprised at the tale.
To pass the time, the two had been exchanging stories and had taken the occasional break, Richard sleeping through all of it.
Katherine had learned that Javier had lived in the castle all of his life, both of his parents had been servants in the castle and continued to stay there after his parents had died. He had been trained as a young boy to be a soldier and be the prince's confidant. He was close friends with Kevin, even they didn't spend much time together, and planned on proposing to Lanie at some point.
"Do you think she'll say yes?" he asked her, uncertainty in his eyes.
"Well," Katherine started. "From what I've seen, she does love you, but she's also independent, perhaps not even the marrying type. However, I think she will say yes, but I can't guarantee it."
He sighed and nodded. "I'm going to do it anyway," he said in a determined tone. Katherine grinned.
Soon, she felt a draft, causing her to sigh in relief. They were almost there!
She turned her head, trying to see how far they had to go. Luckily, it wasn't far, and there wasn't a hole to climb through, just an opening in the wall.
"It opens out into the forest. Hopefully our horses are there," her comrade remarked. "It's times like these I'm grateful for the warm uniforms. The poor prince here will most likely be freezing. Unfortunately, we can't do much about that."
Katherine pursed her lips, hoping to get him to safety soon and out of the cold.
They stepped out of the passageway, the cold air hitting them like sharp knives. Katherine looked around before spotting their horses in the distance.
"I'll put him on mine," Javier stated as they walked up to the horses. Katherine stopped, cocking her head in confusion.
"Wasn't a soldier supposed to wait here?"
Javier frowned. "I thought so, but maybe he went back to fight?"
"Maybe," she muttered, still not feeling right. As she got on the horse, she hear the clanking of metal, coming from inside the trees. "Oh, there you are!" she exclaimed. However, when she saw the uniform, she realized it wasn't their fellow soldier.
"Halt," Javier exclaimed at the black armored clad man. The man ignored them, charging forward. Katherine immediately brandished her sword, plunging it into the open side of the armor, forcing a cry of pain out of the man. He fell to the ground. Katherine remained alert, hearing multiple sounds of metal coming at them. Soon, she and Javier were fighting off enemies left and right. Javier was able to get them from a distance, while she attacked anyone who had evaded his arrow, the edge of her sword piercing any weak spot she could find. All the while, they circled Richard, who was on the ground, making sure no enemy touched him.
It was good while before the soldiers began to decrease in number. Katherine was surprised they hadn't come all at once. Wouldn't have that made it easier to attack them? Regardless, Katherine was glad the ambush was over.
"Let's get out of here before more of them come, " she announced. Her comrade nodded in agreement. They were about to mount their horses when the the beat of hooves approached them.
"What now?" Javier muttered.
A man on a horse came out of the tree-line. He was wearing black armor, but it was clearly more expensive and layered than the other soldiers'.
"I must admit, I'm impressed," the man under a helmet said. He took off his helmet, revealing a head of brown hair and blue eyes. "I didn't think you could handle that attack, but you did. When I win, perhaps I'll recruit you into my army."
"Lord Bracken I presume?" Katherine questioned, her tone cold.
"You would be correct…Katherine." He smirked as he saw her eyes widen in surprise. "You didn't think I would know who you are? It's not exactly common for a woman to be in an army." He turned to Javier. "And you're Javier, Richard's childhood friend. I've heard a lot about you two from Alexandra's letters. You certainly do live up to my expectations."
He dismounted his horse and walked over to Katherine, towering over her, his eyes roaming her body.
"I wasn't quite sure what would draw the prince to such an unusual woman, but Alexandra seems to have been modest when it comes to your looks." He lifted his hand, stroking her cheek with his armored fingers. She steeled herself, trying not to show the fear she felt.
"Don't you touch her," Javier growled.
"Oh, I wouldn't dream of it, now. However, I do get the spoils of war when I win." He grinned maliciously as she glared at him. "I'm sure King Edward's men would like to play with you a bit more too."
"What are you talking about?" Katherine demanded. Her heartbeat quickened as memories of the dungeon flashed through her mind.
"You see, I don't have that many men in my army. So, I enlisted the help of my dear cousin, Edward, who Prince Richard just happened to snub. He gladly gave me some of his soldiers. I think it worked out quite nicely."
She felt like she was going to throw up and Javier shook his head.
"You won't win," he said. Bracken snickered.
"Won't I? You're clearly out numbered and my men are stronger. They're going through the village with ease. Do not worry, I told them not to kill any of the villagers. I do need a way to collect funding from the kingdom after all. All that's left to do is for me to figure out what to do with you all once I am king. Remain in your positions or demote you?" He leered at Katherine. "I'm sure you would make a fine chambermaid." She could've sworn he licked his lips at the statement, but she couldn't tell.
He was about to speak again, but a soft, but firm voice stopped him.
"I doubt she would answer to your whim. She's better than that."
All three people turned their gaze to the source of the voice.
It was Richard, who was now awake and alert.
His chest felt like it was on fire. Which was likely due to coughing his lungs out every day for god knows how long. While he slept most of the time, Richard could sometimes hear the conversations of the servants in his room. Most of them pitying his condition. He even heard Katherine once too, or so he thought. He had hoped that whenever he became better and more aware of his surroundings, that Katherine would be next to him. What he hadn't planned on was hearing his enemy connotating his lover becoming the bastard's plaything.
"You're awake then, Richard," Bracken sneered. "I'm glad you get a chance to finally see me victorious over you." He let out a low whistle and two soldiers emerged from the trees. "Drop your weapons, otherwise my men will not hesitate to kill His Highness."
Richard saw Katherine and Javier hesitate before reluctantly dropping their weapons. Bracken's men picked up the weapons. Richard struggled to rise to his feet, but his body was too weak, making him feel weighed down.
"His Highness needs help walking," Katherine said. "I'll help him." Bracken eyed her suspiciously, but acquiesced. She went to him, gave him a small smile, and drop and arm over her shoulders, while her arm wrapped around his waist, giving him enough support to stand. Just before he rose, he grabbed something from the ground. Katherine shot him a confused look, but he shook his head. Her eyes shone understanding and her lips discreetly turned upward. He tucked the item into his side. Javier also looked surprised, but smirked a little.
"Okay, my men will follow behind you, to make sure you aren't doing anything strange," Bracken said as he remounted his horse.
The trio followed him for a bit, wary of the two people behind them. Richard kept walking slowly and tried to measure the distance of the guards behind them. After some time, and when he was positive the two had dropped their guard, he gave an almost indiscernible nod to Katherine and Javier. Katherine let go of his arm and he launched the weapon, an arrow, at a visible patch of skin at Bracken's neck. With luck, it hit the target and the man let out a cry of pain.
The two soldiers behind them were caught off guard, so Katherine and Javier took the chance to retrieve their weapons. After some struggle, they were successful, quickly defeating the soldiers.
At this point, Bracken had fallen off his horse and lay on the ground face down in the snow. Richard approached him and the others followed.
"Is he dead?" Katherine asked.
"No, just unconscious. Which was my plan. My father will want to see him, I'm sure," he remarked, lightly kicking the man over with his foot. "Let's put him on Javier's horse. I think it's best if we return to the castle."
Javier lifted the man by his feet, dragging him on the ground until they reached the spot where they had been caught. He threw him on the horse and mounted it.
Katherine helped Richard onto her horse, although he pouted a little when not being able to do it himself. She raised an eyebrow and he just shrugged. She sat on the horse gripping the reigns as he placed his hands on her waist.
"I'm glad you're awake," she murmured.
"Me too. I do feel better." He grinned, before lowering his head and giving her a kiss. He pulled away and let out a low cough. "Okay, maybe not that much better." He wanted to groan. She grimaced, but then gazed at him lovingly. The sound of a throat clearing next to them made them turn their heads.
"As happy as you two might be to just stay here all day, we need to get back."
Both sighed before complying, Katherine gently kicking Aristotle.
Then they were off, ready to see what had become of their comrades.