The Price of Protection

Chapter 6

Katherine slowly drew the arrow back from the bow and released it a second later. She let out a huff of frustration as the arrow missed the target, again. It had been her tenth try, and she could not seem to make the target. The arrow would make it a few feet, before falling to the ground, not even hitting the target board.

As the brunette picked another arrow to shoot, she looked at the sky and frowned. It was getting dark and she knew she would have to stop practicing soon. She had been attempting archery for a while, but could not seem to get it, and she did not know what she was doing wrong.

"A sword is much easier," she grumbled to herself as she arranged the arrow on the bowstring.

It had been a week since she had arrived at the castle, and she was doing much better. She seemed to get quicker at dodging moves and hitting back. She was definitely improving with fighting while on a horse. She had managed to hit all of her targets lately while riding Aristotle. The poor horse was so patient with her, even if Kate had to do several attempts to get it right. Also, surprisingly, Javier seemed to be warming up to her, a little. She had fought him a few days before, and had earned both a smile and a nod from him.

"Well eleven times could be the charm," she said, pulling the arrow back and releasing it. Again, it missed. She scowled, about to pick up another arrow, when she heard a familiar voice.

"Do you always talk to yourself?" the prince asked.

"Oh, hello Your Highness." Katherine smiled and bowed. She had not seen the prince since the week before and noticed that he wore slightly more royal looking attire this time. "And no, I don't always talk to myself."

Richard chuckled. "Seems like you talk to yourself every time I meet you."

"Well, you have only met me once. A little quick to judge, I think." The brunette raised an eyebrow.

"Maybe," the prince hummed. Then, he gestured to the bow and arrow she was holding. "Would you like some help?"

"No." Her tone was defiant and then she sighed. "Yes, I seem to be missing the target."

Richard nodded. "I know, I saw you." He smirked.

"You were watching me?" Kate scowled. "That is odd."

The prince shrugged. "Well, would you like some help or not?" Katherine nodded. "Let me see how you hold your bow and arrow." Katherine put herself into the stance that she been in and the prince frowned. "Ah, I see what the problem is." As he said this, he walked toward her and stood right behind her.

"What am I doing wrong?" She asked, staying in the pose.

"Your arm needs to be up more, like this," the prince said, putting his hand on her arm. He then gently guided her arm slightly up, lingering a bit longer than he probably should have. Katherine felt a slight static between them as he directed her.

"What else?" she asked softly.

"Your elbow needs to back more and you need to move over a little." Richard gently pulled her elbow back more and rested his hand on her waist, moving her over. Katherine had to repress the shiver at his touch. "Now try it," he murmured.

Katherine carefully aimed the arrow and shot it, this time hitting the bullseye. They were quiet for moment, with the prince's hand still on her waist and elbow. For some reason, she wanted them to stay there, but knew it was wrong. Needing to break the tension, she turned around to him, almost blushing when she realized how close his face was. Immediately stepping away, she grinned, trying to change the atmosphere.

"I did it!" she exclaimed giddily. "Thank you, Your Highness."

"You're very welcome," Richard said, his hands dropping to his sides. "I am much better at archery than I am at wielding a sword."

"I can see that," Katherine teased. "So, I hear you are leaving next week?"

The prince nodded. "Yes, I must go to the neighboring kingdom of Lockwood."

Kate frowned, furrowing her eyebrows in thought, trying to to remember what she knew about the kingdom. All she knew was that it was ruled by the Amera family, but that was it. Now, Katherine was questioning her ignorance. It would not do to not know anything about surrounding kingdoms if she was to protect the castle. She wanted to ask the prince why he was going, but knew it was not her place to do so.

As if reading her mind, the prince spoke, "You can ask why, if you wish," he permitted, a small smile on his lips.

Katherine chuckled. "Well then, why must you go?"

Richard sighed. "I must visit Princess Meredith. My father hopes that our meeting will lead to an elopement between the princess and me." He ran a hand through his hair as he said this, making it look disheveled. Katherine could not help but think that the prince looked much handsomer that way. She then shook her head, clearing it of the forbidden thoughts.

"It does not sound like you are too pleased about it." Katherine did not want to pry, but the prince did sound unhappy.

"I wish to marry the way my parents did, for love," he said softly, pacing back and forth on the grass. "Unfortunately, the kingdom is in debt and the only way to solve it seems to be if I marry Princess Meredith. I have never met her before, we have only communicated through letters." Richard then stopped pacing and looked at the woman in front of him, staring at her intently. "I should not be burdening you with my problems, you probably have your own."

Katherine shrugged. "Well, at some point, your problems indirectly become my own." The prince looked at her in confusion. Katherine sighed, before providing further explanation. "If you do not marry the princess then the kingdom remains in debt. If the kingdom remains in debt, then the taxes will be raised, which is how I came to be here."

"I guess I never I saw it that way," the prince murmured. "I know you came here to help your family, and you probably miss them." Katherine frowned, but nodded. She once again put her hand over the necklace in her pocket. The prince looked at her hand, but kept silent about it. "However it is nice having you here; you are making things interesting."

"Glad I could be source of amusement for you," she chuckled morbidly.

"It is meant to be a compliment," the prince explained. "You are like a breath of fresh air for some, especially me." The prince winked.

A slight chuckle escaped the brunette's lips as she rolled her eyes. "If you are trying to charm me, it is not working."

A smirk formed on Richard's lips. "Are you sure about that?" The prince walked towards her, until his face was close to hers. He stared at her intently and gave her a charming smile, showing all of his teeth. Katherine felt herself becoming entranced by the man. "How about now?" he murmured, his eyes dancing.

Katherine shook her head before she got into a further daze. "No, still nothing," she teased, smirking. She then began to pick up the arrows on the ground, returning them to their holder. "I must be going, it is getting dark. Also, I thought it was supper time for you?"

Richard shook his head. "Not tonight. Father had some business to attend to, so we had an early dinner. Have you eaten?" Katherine was surprised at the concerned look on the prince's face.

"Yes, I had some bread and cheese after I ended my shift." She had been given the day shift, which started before dawn and ended late in the afternoon.

"Good. I just wanted to make sure you were keeping up your strength."

Katherine nodded and hummed."Mhmm. Well, goodnight Your Highness." She bowed.

"Good night, Katherine." The prince also bowed As Katherine walked away, she could feel the prince's eyes on her. She blushed slightly, before walking at a faster pace back to the quarters.

Later that night, Katherine was sleeping soundly in her bed, when she was woken up by the sound of bells rapidly ringing. Knowing that was the alert signal for an intruder, she immediately got out of bed, quickly changing into her uniform. Grabbing her sword from next to her dresser, Katherine ran out of her room and out of the building. She noticed that a few men were already out there. She ran next to Javier, hoping he would know what was going on.

"The intruders have crossed the drawbridge and are trying to get into the castle," he explained quickly as they ran to the courtyard.

"How many are there?"

"We are unsure. We are estimating about eight to ten men."

Katherine nodded. "How did they get past the drawbridge?"

"Someone must have opened it for them, " Javier muttered.

Katherine frowned, realizing the possibility that there was a traitor within their midst. They arrived at the courtyard, where the fighting had already begun. Luckily, the courtyard was lit with lanterns, so Katherine could see where she was aiming. The minute she entered the courtyard, an intruder ran up to her and began to fight her. Katherine quickly began to fight back, clashing swords with the man. They fought for a few minutes, both seeming to be equally matched. When she had him backed up against a wall, Katherine took her sword and stabbed him with it. When she withdrew her sword from the man's body, she had to stop herself from cringing as she saw blood at the end of her sword. She had never dealt with blood before, but she knew she would have to get used to it. Turning around, Katherine saw another intruder, who was trying to sneak into the castle.

"Stop!" she yelled. However, the man ignored her. She chased after the man, who had entered the castle. The man dashed through the door of the Great Hall that opened to the staircase that led to the royal family's chambers.

Running as she fast as she could, Katherine caught up with the man in the upstairs hallway. She immediately noticed that someone was already fighting him. She realized that someone was the prince! Not saying anything, Katherine immediately began attacking the intruder, who was caught by surprise. They fought vigorously for a few moments, before one of Katherine's movements knocked the man down, and then she put her sword through him. She then looked up, seeing the prince staring at her with wide eyes.

"Incredible," he murmured.

However, Katherine was not pleased. "What are you doing out of your chambers? You know you are supposed to stay there if an alert is sounded!"

Richard pouted. "I just wished to help."

"By having yourself killed? And I doubt that was going to help you." Katherine gestured to the silver candelabra that the prince was holding.

The prince puffed out his chest. "It makes a very good weapon, I think." The prince then turned the man over, whose uniform showed a crest sewn on it. Richard swore under his breath.

"Who is that?" Katherine asked, confused.

"One of Lord Bracken's men. Lord Bracken has been trying to take over the kingdom for years. However, he has not been successful, so far."

"I see. Does this happen often?"

Richard shrugged. "On occasion. However, we have great soldiers that defend us, like you." He winked at her.

Katherine rolled her eyes and then winced when she felt a pain in her right side. She touched it with her hand, and found it to be covered in blood a second later.

"You are hurt!" Richard exclaimed.

"It is only a flesh wound," Katherine said, trying to decrease his concern. However, the pain in her side was starting to increase. The prince must have seen the pain in her eyes because he quickly, but gently grabbed her hand, and led her towards the staircase. "Where are you taking me?"

"Someone in the castle knows medicinal cures for wounds; I am taking you to her."

Katherine sighed, but figured it was better not to argue with him. She then smiled, finding his concern comforting. Katherine then internally scolded herself of the thought, before turning her attention back to the prince.

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