Katherine waited for a moment, but as he didn't continue, she asked: "Do you love her?"
The head of the man bobbed up and down. "She's my childhood friend. I..." one hand wandered to his chest as he grabbed his shirt tightly. "I love her so much."
Sharply, he sucked in a breath. "When I told her how I felt, she treated it as a joke. I got angry and I - I think I offended her."
With each word, Katherine could feel devastation seeping out, affecting her. The man's situation was similar to hers, he also got rejected. However, his counterpart didn't even seem to be interested in him. Treating a heart-felt confession as a joke was a harsh blow to one's pride. Still, the man seemed to be even more in despair about what he did afterwards.
"Did you try to apologize?", Katherine inquired with a soft voice. This topic was tricky. On one hand, she felt like the man had a reason to be angry, on the other he obviously thought that he was in the wrong.
"I can't. Not now. I don't want him to feel sorry for me." The words were said so vehemently that he himself only noticed what he'd revealed afterwards. His whole body stilled.
Though she was surprised, Katherine was careful not to show it. So, the childhood friend was actually a man. No wonder he didn't take the confession seriously. If Hazel suddenly told her that she loved her, she also wouldn't know how to react.
Homos.e.x.u.a.lity wasn't prohibited, neither in Dragsa nor in the Icelands. Still, most people looked down upon gays and marriage wasn't allowed.
"Isn't he your childhood friend? Maybe he is more understanding after he overcomes the surprise." She didn't say that he would accept it for she didn't know the man. But if one was friends for a long time, one would naturally be more lenient to each other.
The man slowly nodded. "Thank you."
His voice had gotten a bit stronger already. It was a gentle tenor, high enough to be nearly androgynous.
"You're welcome" Katherine said lightly. "It must be uncomfortable squatting like this in the cold. Why don't you come back in with me?"
"No, that's a bit... inconvenient", the man rejected. Then he sighed. "Well, I guess you've heard the most embarrassing part already. You can as well see the rest."
He raised his head, and Katherine had to grip the railing to not curse out loud. The man had a finely craved face with an almost feminine prettiness to it that made him look even frailer then his already thin body. However, someone had cruelly destroyed this composition. The complete right side of the man's face was red and swollen from a punch, the lip even had a bleeding crack, caused by some sharp object.
"How could he - ?", she started.
"It's my fault", the man instantly interrupted her. His brown eyes with vibrant green spots darted about in distress. "I shouldn't have kissed him."
In disbelieve, Katherine stared at the man, before she bend down to him suddenly. "Don't move!"
She placed her hand on his injured cheek. Instinctively, the man flinched, before staying still. His eyes were questioning, but it didn't take long for them to widen in wonder.
"How?", he asked, and touched his cheek in wonder. It was smooth and pale again like the rest of his skin. He scrambled to his feet. "Are you - "
Katherine put a finger to her lips and smiled. "Please keep it a secret for me."
"How curious!", the man's face lit up with excitement and he grabbed her hand to shake it. All former sadness was forgotten as if a switch had been turned on, transforming the shy guy into an extrovert. "I'm Felix McGilmore, magic researcher. Can you tell me more about your magic? How exactly did you do this? Is it mending materials or time turn? Can you only use it on - "
Quite abruptly, he broke off as he stared over Katherine's shoulder, an expression of anxiety on his face.
"Oh, please continue. I really want to know what you're thinking, clutching my betrothed's hand like this."
The cold voice that rang out behind her felt like icy hands wandering over her spine. The Earl was angry. He had seen Katherine entering several balconies out of a corner of his eyes. It had concerned him when she didn't come back from this one directly. But when he went over to check, he saw her cupping another man's face through the glass door. And now this dead man was touching her elsewhere.
The cold wrath he felt was so strong it radiated outside like a tidal wave. He couldn't even touch a single finger of hers without fearing for her life, while this man... had to die. Eradicated from the surface of this world, with not a body left to bury. And he was still holding her hand!
Katherine didn't dare to turn around, but she heard his menacing steps. Fastly, she extracted her hand from the shock-frozen fingers of her counterpart. Though Nathaniel's voice had been calm, it made her hair stand on end.
The steps halted right behind her, near enough to let her feel his breath in her neck. A pale white hand reached out besides her. At first, she thought he'd grab the magic researcher by his collar, but the hand remained hanging open in the air.
"Hi. I'm Katherine's betrothed, the Earl of Hymirhall."
She couldn't believe he was just introducing himself in such a situation. The simplicity seemed to shake the researcher out of his shock. Automatically, he reached out for a handshake. "Hi, I'm Felix - "
Just before their bare hands touched, the hand of the researcher trembled and froze in action. "Hy-Hymirhall?! You are?" His pretty eyes threatened to fall out of his skull. Nathaniel smirked. As if bitten by a snake, the researcher jerked his hand back and gazed at it with terror in his eyes.
"Too bad. You noticed too early", the Earl sighed and to everyone who didn't see his smile, gleaming sharp like a dagger, it sounded genuinely sad. "But there is always a next time. Just continue being nice to Katherine and we'll get even closer, alright?"
The researcher turned as pale as a piece of paper. "E-excuse me!"
Pressed against the railing, he slipped aside and then made a run for the door. His panic seemed ridiculously exaggerated for a simple introduction.
Slowly, Nathaniel put his glove back on. The smile was completely gone as if it never existed. He looked gloomy instead.
Katherine stood like a stature. She wasn't sure what had transpired just now. Their conversation made no sense. As nice as his words were, she constantly felt a threatening presence from Nathaniel. It was still there, making the night seem darker like a black curtain blocking the starlight.
"What did you do to chase him away?", she asked, somewhat accusing. The poor man was already crying before Nathaniel frightened him. Though she had no clue what exactly had scared Felix so much.
Nathaniel remained quiet and stared down at her. This tiny person managed to bring him to the border of sanity. He didn't know if he would have pulled back himself if the researcher didn't. Though he didn't know the person, he wanted to kill him with an intensity that was abnormal. Dangerous. Only the man's fast retread, the panic and regret on his face managed to pacify Nathaniel enough to hold him back from hunting the coward down.
No, before ticking out, he should ask for an explanation. But Katherine acted like she didn't know what was wrong even though she touched another man. Was she still searching for someone else to marry? Someone who could help her archive revenge faster. How was a useless coward better than him? Should he go and kill him?
"You better explain this to me", he said darkly.
"You should be the one explaining!" Katherine swirled around and poked his chest with her finger. "Why did you frighten him? He's done nothing wrong!"