Though spoken softly, the word cut through the scene like a knife. And it invoked a direct reaction.
"Monster!" The woman sprang up from her seat, and fled to the other end of the pavilion. When the part of her long dress that was stuck under the instrument got pulled out, the harp swayed and loudly crashed onto the ground. "Stay away from me!"
A sharp pang of pain let Nathaniel narrow his eyes. "As if I want to be near you. There is only one reason to - "
"GUARDS!", she cried out. "Help me!"
As Nathaniel's face darkened, he rushed to her side. However, she was nimble like a weasel and escaped his grasp. That was until he set a foot on the hem of her dress and pinned it down.
Her green eyes widened, her chest heaving with fear. Just when she wanted to shout again, he pressed his hand against her mouth. The other held her on her waist. Since he couldn't have a normal conversation, he would only fulfill his purpose. "Where is she? Where did you bring her?"
She bent backwards, trying hard to escape his hands, even though they were wrapped in leather. Her fingers scratched over his sleeves, and the eyes rolled like those of a frightened horse.
"Where?", he repeated, and shook her harshly, but she didn't even try to answer. All she did was gasp for air and push against his chest. However, her weak body was helpless in front of him. Was this really the same woman who sent him dead rats and threatening letters? Was she always this weak? He couldn't believe it!
The sound of footsteps foretold the guards arrival. But Nathaniel wouldn't leave until he got what he wanted. He pulled her head back so that she had to look him in the eyes, though disgust for her whole being nearly made him throw up. "Katherine! Tell me where you brought her!"
"I - where - "
"Let go of her Majesty!", the first guard to enter the pavilion bellowed, and pointed his sword at him.
"Stay where you are, or I will kill her", Nathaniel answered in a growl. He pulled her before him and his grip changed so that he could break her neck in less than a second. The Queen trembled. It was ironic how she believed his words more than the guards even though she knew their relationship. Only for her ears, he whispered: "Tell me and you will live."
The guards halted. "You won't leave the palace in one piece if you kill her Majesty! Let go of her now!"
"I doubt that." His voice was cold and detached. There was not an inkling of fear in him. Instead, he felt a recklessness he knew from his younger years when he fought with nothing to lose. Now it was different though: His goal was in his reach, not a far-away dream. But this goal needed Katherine. Without her, his life was as good as worthless. "You can't hold me."
While the guards hesitated how to deal with him, he quietly set an ultimatum. "You've got three seconds, mother. Tell me where she is or what you fear the most will happen. One."
Life returned to the Queen's body as she started struggling again. Her elbow hit his stomach, but he only held her tighter. "Two."
"I don't know, I don't know!" The anxiety turned her pitch higher. Her movements didn't stop. She was acting like the madwoman she was, only at the opposite end of the scale Nathaniel expected. He thought she would overflow with murderous intent. "Don't hurt my children! They did nothing to you! Please don't hurt them!"
As if her words were electricity, Nathaniel shuddered, his face twisting into a grimace. "What the heck do you think I am?"
He felt an intense bout of jealousy for his younger siblings who were so dear to her. Was it really only his magic ability why he was treated so differently? Though they were on opposing sides, he never planned to kill his siblings, just because of the simple fact that they shared the same blood. How did his mother get the horrible idea that he would kill them? The discrepancy in her treatment to her children wasn't logically explainable. Maybe that was what it meant to be mad.
"Fine", he said before she could answer. "Maybe you are telling the truth. But tell me: Who else besides you has reason to kidnap my betrothed out of her chambers? Who has the possibilities to hide her or bring her out of the palace' buildings unseen? I don't know anyone besides you who has reasons to do so."
His calm after he threatened her so harshly obviously confused the Queen, for she stopped struggling. "I - I don't know. But it wasn't me!"
"I remember there are four other people who can come and go as they please in the palace. Aston surely wouldn't take away my betrothed without informing me", he pondered loudly. It wasn't that he suspected someone precisely after she was out of the picture, but he wanted to see what else she knew. And for that, he needed to pressure her. "The King also has no reason to hide her. But Emilian... do you know he tried to stop me when I went here? Isn't that suspicious? He would do everything for you, wouldn't he? Even things you yourself don't know about."
He could feel her gulping. "No, he wouldn't. He has no reason to - "
"And your daughter?", he interrupted her. "Where is she now? She invited my betrothed before. Wouldn't it be easy for her to get Katherine's trust and lead her away?"
"She - they -" Slowly, the anxiety subsided the longer the situation lasted without anything happening. The Queen realized that with Nathaniel's hypothesis - that it was someone of the four royals who kidnaped Katherine - there were only the possibilities of her children and her. But why was he so focused on only them? "There has to be someone else behind it! Anyone could try to bribe the guards! I - I heard your uncle left the palace shortly before morning. Your little girl has to be in his carriage!"
A cold smile curled up Nathaniel's mouth. "My uncle? Well, I guess he really has a reason to hate me. Still, he is one of the most peaceful souls I know. He wouldn't involve an innocent."
"Then it's a servant! It's always the servant, isn't it? They brought her outside for someone else who has a feud with her. My children got nothing to do with it!" She talked rapidly, almost yelling it all in one breath. When he didn't react and didn't scold her, her tone got more vicious. "Or she just ran away herself. She saw your true colors and ran away to save herself!"
Before he could stop himself, he trew her against the wall and clutched her throat with his fingers. All the hate, anger and pain he endured over the years exploded with her last sentence. Her words mirrored the fear he held in his heart, making it unbearable. He gnashed his teeth, the face twisted into that of a demon's. "Don't compare her with the likes of you!"
He heard the screams of the guards behind him, but at this moment he couldn't care less.