The journey through the village was depressing, to say the least. Some of the cottages were ruined, and the shops were destroyed, obviously having been ransacked. Also, everywhere she looked, Katherine saw her comrades tending to wounded villagers, as well as the bodies of the fallen laying in the snow. It was a mix of their own and the enemy's troops. As they rode on, she searched for the familiar faces of her parents. She was relieved to find that they weren't part of the wounded.
"Do you want to visit them?" Richard asked, as if reading her mind.
She shook her head. "No, we need to get back to the castle. Besides," she said, tilting her head toward the unconscious lord. "He might wake up." Richard hummed in agreement.
They traveled a bit further, until they were stopped by one of their comrades.
"Your Highness," he said, giving a quick bow. "It's a relief to see you awake. I bring good news. The enemy has surrendered. Shall we take them prisoner?"
"No," she heard him reply firmly. "Tell Captain Montgomery to see if any of them wish to serve us. Also, send other soldiers to find the king and queen and tell them it's safe to return home."
"Yes, your Highness," the man said before scurrying off.
"It looks like most of our side survived," Javier stated as he examined his surroundings.
"We haven't been to the castle, yet," Richard reminded him gravely. Katherine grimaced. She hoped that the castle hadn't been breached. However, she knew the chances of that were slim. They would only know what happened once they were there.
They traveled for a while before reaching the drawbridge. When the trio arrived at the entrance of the castle, they realized it was quiet, but not in an eerie manner. There didn't seem to be any evidence of carnage, but there also weren't any soldiers present. Where were they?
"Your Highness," Captain Montgomery called form a distance, running up to them. "It's good to see you up and about."
"Thank you," he responded. "Was there a breach? I don't see anyone here."
"A small one," the captain replied. "We were able to hold them back and most of the troops were stopped at the village anyway. So the castle is in tact. The troops are recovering in the quarters."
"Excellent work," Richard praised. "We have Lord Bracken, who will be put in a cell until Father arrives. In the meantime, I would like to change into something with more coverage than my night shift and bed sheets."
As he said this, he attempted to dismount, but his struggling told her his body was too weak. So, Katherine quickly jumped off the horse before helping him lower himself to ground, making sure the sheets didn't drag on the dirt.
"I'll take this one to the dungeons," Javier said, dismounting his horse, picking up Bracken and throwing the man across his shoulders. He then headed into the castle, Katherine and Richard following suit. When they reached the great hall, Katherine and Richard headed upstairs to his chambers. Once inside, he stepped away from her grasp, before pulling her against him, chest to chest, placing a gentle kiss on her lips.
"You should rest," she murmured between kisses, relishing in the feel of his lips. It felt so good to be in his arms again.
"I've rested enough for a lifetime," he remarked, his lips on her neck. "I wish to be out of bed and walking."
She smiled, gently pushing him away.
"Then get changed and we can go downstairs."
He nodded and she was about to step outside when it dawned on her that he would probably need help changing.
"Do want some assistance?" she asked. She received a nod and a sheepish look in response. So, off went his nightshift and sheets, replaced by a shirt, trousers and shoes. She ran her hands along his shoulders, smoothing the fabric underneath her fingertips. "There, you're ready."
He beamed, looping his arm through hers as they made their way back to the great hall. As they approached the staircase, Katherine heard the murmurings of people from below.
"It sounds like my parents are back," Richard commented, gingerly walking down the steps. Once they were at the bottom, Katherine spotted the king and queen standing in the middle of hall, embracing each other.
"Mother, Father, I am glad to see you are home," Richard announced. The couple turned, their eyes wide as they took in the sight of their son. Running up to him, they pulled him into a fierce hug.
"I'm so happy to see you awake, my son," Martha cried.
"It's good to have you back," the king commented.
Katherine stood off to the side, observing the reunion between the royal family. It warmed her heart to see the family so joyous after all the turmoil they had been through.
Pulling back from Richard, the king looked at her, giving a nod of appreciation.
"Thank you for looking after him, Katherine," he said, eyes full of gratitude.
She bowed. "It was my pleasure, your Majesty."
He nodded before turning back to Richard.
"So, where is Lord Bracken?" he asked."And Alexandra?"
"Alexandra, I don't know. Bracken's in the dungeon. Javier took care of him," Richard responded.
"Good, I shall tend to him later." The king grinned. "Thankfully, most of his soldiers, as well as some of King Edward's, are willing to work for us in exchange for a pardon."
"What should we do about King Edward?" Richard asked.
The king shook his head. "There's not much we can do really. I will deal with that in time. Right now, my main focus is restoring the village."
"Do you want some of us to go into the village?" Katherine asked. She may be tired, but the well-being of the villagers came first.
"No, you should rest. Both of you." He narrowed his eyes at Richard. "You may be up and about, but I know you're still sick and weak. Once everything calms down in the town, I will send for the doctor."
Katherine covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a giggle as Richard pouted.
"But Father," he whined.
The king held up his hand, laughing. "No buts. You still need to regain your strength and part of it is resting. I have no issue with you wandering around the castle, but it's obvious you need help. Also, there shall be no vigorous activity either." He looked between the two of them.
Confusion filled Katherine for a moment, his meaning lost on her. However, when she glanced at Richard, she saw his shocked expression, his jaw slack and eyes wide. It was then that she realized what was going on. She wanted the floor to open up and swallow her whole.
"Did you really think I didn't know about you two," the king teased. She felt her face flush in embarrassment. "Why else do you think I gave you that lecture about putting your head above your heart, Richard?" Richard groaned and the queen raised an eyebrow.
"But at the Christmas ball, you didn't know who I was," Katherine started.
"I was pretending, dear," the king replied, giving her a kind smile.
"Why didn't you just say something?" Richard grumped. "It would have saved us a hell of a lot of trouble."
"Because it was too much fun seeing you sneak around." He chuckled. "Your behavior is very much like my own when I courted your mother."
"You are cruel," Martha muttered. The king just smirked.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, my dear." He squeezed his wife's hand.
"So, you're okay with this?" Katherine questioned hesitantly.
Giving her an apologetic look, he replied, "I would be lying if I said I was thrilled. Rest assured, it has nothing to do with you Katherine. You're a lovely woman. However, I understand and I know there's nothing I can do to separate you. It would only make Richard and you unhappy." He shrugged his shoulders in defeat. "There is one more thing…"
"Yes, you Majesty?"
"If you wish, I can release you from your service. I believe you have more than paid off your father's debt. However, it's up to you."
She shook her head. "No, that is not necessary. I enjoy being a soldier and would very like to remain one." She loved her job and wouldn't dream of stepping down, especially since it didn't seem that her relationship with Richard was on the line if she declined.
"Okay," he replied. A grateful smile spread across his face and Katherine couldn't help but grin in response.
"Now that that's out of the way," Martha interrupted, clapping her hands together. "i highly suggest you two get some rest. In separate quarters." She narrowed her eyes, causing the faces of the young couple to turn red in embarrassment.
"Of course, your Majesty," Katherine murmured. Richard sighed in disappointment before acquiescing.
"Well, since everyone knows, it means I can do this." Richard strode over to Katherine, placing a chaste kiss on her lips. "I'll see you later, love." He winked.
She bit her lip, her heart fluttering at his endearment.
"See you later." She bowed to the king and queen before beginning to walk toward the door. She looked back for moment, seeing the king lead Richard upstairs. Glancing her way, he smiled, relief in his eyes. She felt the same, as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
Things had worked out after all.