"Do you want to marry me?"
He kissed the tips of her fingers one by one. While bending forward, his hair fell in front of his murky brown eyes, hiding the contempt inside. It was too easy to deceive a woman in love.
Princess Rina, the third of the thirty-seven princesses of the Dragsa-kingdom - in the number of princesses, Dragsa and the Icelands were vastly different - broke out in tears of joy. The happiness transformed her unassuming appearance with too big of a mouth and slightly protruding ears into a more pretty picture. It couldn't exactly be called beautiful, but at the very least it had some charm.
"Ethan!" She embraced him tightly, her snotty nose touching his neck. "Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times yes!"
His lips twitched as he patted her back. "I'm so happy. I was a bit nervous you'd reject me."
She blushed and teased him: "Nervous? You? That's too much of a praise!"
"Well, convincing your dad wasn't an easy feat." Especially since the King was suspicious of his real motives. He knew that his daughter was neither a beauty nor overly bright. Of what use could she be to one of the highest-ranked bachelors of the kingdom? In the end, the great monarch lost to his daughter's pleading eyes.
After Ethan put on the betrothal ring on Rina's finger, she exclaimed: "I need to tell my mom about this! She'll be so excited! We'll have a grand wedding with roses and a white pavilion. Please, can you wear a white suit? Can you? You'd be so handsome in one!"
Ethan nodded willingly. The details of the wedding were irrelevant. He could compromise. She wouldn't get another chance to act how she wanted afterwards. She was like an accessory he had to put on for recognition. Who would win the throne, however, would depend on his own capabilities. He wasn't worried about this. Listening to her ramblings, he smiled lightly, his mind already on more important matters.
Suddenly, there was silence and when he looked, Rina blinked up at him with sparking eyes.
"Sorry, I just imagined you in a wedding dress", he lied effortlessly. "What were you saying?"
"You!" She swatted his arm playfully. "I asked you if you want to invite someone else. Whatever, with the whole kingdom present, there should be nobody missing out."
"Actually, there is someone", Ethan disagreed.
"Who?" Rina knew he didn't have many close friends. It always made her proud to have gained his favor. She felt a bit sour to not knowing someone so important to him, but also curious.
In a second, Ethan made a decision. He'd wanted to wait, but it seemed like there was no difference anymore. Here or there, it was both dangerous. A wicked grin spread on his face. "It's time to bring my Kitty back. She'd had enough freedom."
Rina was stunned. This smile was something she never saw on him before, like the sun was gazing through clouds of endless thoughts. Maybe it was even happier than when she said 'yes'! Instantly, she felt jealous.
"What kind of kitty is this?", she mumbled to herself. As a princess, she wasn't used to sharing things, not even with pets.
Ethan, who knew her thoughts, patted her head. "Nothing for you to worry about, my beautiful wife. I let someone else take care of her for a while, but I won't let her forget who her real owner is. Simple as that."
"Oh." The Princess nodded and blushed at the pet name. It didn't sound like the two were close if he gave her away. So, there was nothing to worry about. She could accept a fluffy addition to the family if it didn't steal her husband's affection. Wasn't it a bit like having their first child?
"Alright, don't you want to go planning with your mother?", Ethan reminded her.
"Ah, yes! See you soon!" Eagerly, she hopped out of the room. She didn't look graceful, but more like a mischievous goblin on pixy-hunt.
It didn't matter. Her soon-to-be husband was already turning his back and leaving her abode.
Kitty. He never planned to leave her with the Earl of Hymirhall for life. Even if they married, he would have taken her back sooner or later. Of course, he knew that the Earl had his own secrets, but he didn't expect him to suddenly travel to the capital.
Though Katherine would try to hinder his plans if she were with him, that was only half the reason why Ethan send her away. He didn't have the time too look after her in the eventful last weeks and she was too useful a pawn to lose by accident. He had to keep her out of the organization's sight for now. Which was the same as keeping her away from him in the last few weeks.
Though he knew little about the Earl's aliment, that little was enough to deduce that it wasn't something easy to treat. Katherine would need time for it and while it lasted, would have the best protection possible. Additionally, he believed that the Earl was smart enough to notice her worth. Thus, Katherine had been safe with him until they moved to the capital recently. Actually, Ethan was more concerned about many people knowing her secret than about her getting hurt. In the capital, too many influential people lingered. If the news of her ability spread, it would be next to impossible to take her back. At the same time, she could be targeted by the organization.
About her bodily well-being, Ethan didn't worry too much. Katherine couldn't be hurt easily anyway.
Out of curiosity, he had tested her magic a bit when they were younger. It was fascinating. Katherine's knowledge about her magic was only the tip of her real power. The rest were his precious secrets.
Shortly after Ethan's father got 'mad' Katherine had accidentally drunken a cup of tea that was specially prepared for him. The drugs inside would make anyone agitated, some acting like beasts in human skin. He still remembered how concerned he was back then. If her father, the Duke, found out that she went mad too, he would directly suspect Ethan.
However, nothing happened. She only scolded him for letting it steep for too long. That was the start of his curiosity. The next teacup he gave her had hallucinogens added, then sleeping powder, and finally deadly poison.
Unknowingly, she praised the poisoned tea for being especially tasty.
Afterwards, it became a habit to him to bring a new poison whenever he visited home. Though she couldn't heal them in others, she herself was never affected by any of them. Neither did she get ill. It was like a fortunate blessing laid on her to be always healthy and strong. Her inherent magic even accelerated her wound healing when she deliberately refrained from healing it. This resilience amazed him.
So, in his second year on the magic academy, he brought back a magic poison. Unsure of success, he had the detoxifier prepared beforehand. He thought that this time he would win for sure, making her succ.u.mb to human norms. Magic was different from normal poisons. A magic poison needed magic to resolve. The risk of damaging her permanently was huge, even with a detoxifier.
But he couldn't resist the temptation. It was like an addiction, nurtured over years. He wanted to see with his own eyes if an ability could really get this powerful.
And it was. Differently from normal poison, the magical one triggered her ability stronger. Without knowing why, she glowed like half a sun. The poison couldn't even enter her throat before she spat it out.
"Too bitter!", she complained. "How can you call this tea?!"
He thought he'd be annoyed to have lost, but instead there was a strange pride. That must be how a father felt when his daughter defeated him in chess. Not that he knew the feeling, Katherine always lost to him.
The episode also made him suspect that Katherine might be not only immune to poisons but all outer influences, including magic. It wasn't unusual for magic abilities to act differently on their owners compared to everyone else. Since her ability was reacting too wildly to it, however, he didn't really sound it out.
"Kitty, my Kitty", he mumbled to himself. "Should I send you a surprise?"
There were so many things she didn't know. He wanted to share a bit. Her time of punishment had lasted long enough.