"Thank you, Sam." The relieve Nathaniel felt was neither in his tone nor bearing. They were calm and straight like usual, way calmer than in the last few hours. To know where she was and that the location wasn't connected to any evil fraction, already pacified his anger and anxiety tremendously. It irked him that the promise to his father forbid him from personally looking for Katherine outside the city gates though. All in one breath, he uttered a few commands: "Ensure her safety. Investigate how she got there. Is she injured?"
"No, Milord, but in a state of exhaustion and deep sleep."
The possibility that she fled from him and hid by her allies - he knew the Golden Cauldron from Pete's report - gnawed at Nathaniel's heart. Did he overreact? But was she really hit so deeply by his casual words?
He remembered that there were a few things that didn't match up with this theory: for example, she had no purpose to come to the palace before, and the state of exhaustion was strange. However, he couldn't find another reason for leaving him out like this. She could have at least written a notice if she didn't want to talk to him. He just couldn't get the memory of her gaze full of anxiety out of his mind.
With a sigh, he rubbed his temples to lessen the headache caused by worry and lack of sleep. Regardless of the reason, as long as Katherine was in a vulnerable state as just now, there was no question what needed to be done. She could chide him afterwards however much she wanted.
"Bring her back to the palace", Nathaniel demanded. He needed to see her right this instant to make sure she was alright. The anxiety from losing sight of her still lingered. Only by his side could he be sure of her safety. The feeling was irrational but too strong to ignore.
"Yes, Milord. However..." Sam's gaze turned to the entrances of the garden. People were faintly visible, walking in their direction from all sides. They marched in teams, but they didn't wear the usual guard uniform of the palace. Instead they wore the red of the personal enforcers of the king.
Nathaniel sighed. "Let them be mine to worry about."
Despite the slight worry in his eyes, Sam nodded, and soon after vanished without a trace.
"So cool", Aston murmured and rubbed his hands together. "What? I meant my ice. It's the coolest in the world!"
Nathaniel uttered only one word to answer this bad joke: "Idiot."
Another failure. Another tiny adjustment. He was sure he was getting closer to the solution, it was right on his fingertips. He didn't want to make too big steps, afraid that he would overdo it. If he cracked this riddle, he would be honored as the greatest scientists the world had ever seen. He would bring about a new age of magic, an endless age! Mages would equal gods, forming the world with as much as a flick of their hand. No, less than that!
It was his dream since the first time he felt magic prickling in his hands. The dream to change the world. Not for his own benefit, no. He didn't want or need to reign over anything. Reigning was a hassle, since one needed to concern oneself with so much more problems than just one's own. And people. He didn't want to know how many dumb people he needed to endure if he were a king.
Actually, he had everything he wanted now: enough gold for a good life, endurable servants, colleges who he could discuss with if he wanted - which wasn't often, since their mindsets were so stiff and one-sided, even though they were smarter than the populace - and material for his research. He should be satisfied. But he wasn't. He was bored to death. He missed the tiny prickling feeling when first learning magic, the thrill when a new world opened up before his eyes. He wanted to feel it again, feel it forever.
And as he was a generous man, he wanted to help everyone to feel this, too. For magic to spread over the whole world. Every kid should learn it, as a natural instead of a privilege. He wanted to share the joy of wielding magic with every single person. And they weren't far from that aim in his eyes. Only eight or nine months more, maybe. Eight or nine months, that was at most the time a baby took until it was born. After working on the solution for nearly two decades, this was nothing to him.
Just that his subordinates were getting impatient. It really was vexing to deal with impatient workers. Couldn't they shut up and just do what he said? Good science took it's time. And it needed good material.
"Make another batch ready", he said, and adjusted the ring on his thick middle finger. It had left a red-purple imprint on his subordinate's cheek, the picture of a five-pointed star.
The subordinate glared at him with anger and indignation, but didn't dare to retort. He knew why. This person had the ridiculous idea that the experiments would bring about the power to decide about life and death. To not only kill somebody, but also bring them back, capture their soul in their body again. He himself never harbored such thoughts. Maybe it was because he didn't care about the dead, and neither about their souls. If a person died, he personally believed that their soul would just vanish and stop existing. How should one bring back what didn't exist? It was ridiculous.
However, since the other was a worthy pawn, a slightly more useful helper, he didn't speak his thoughts out loud. As long as it made her work hard for his goal, her believes didn't matter. But if she became any more troublesome than she was right now - for example involving outsiders into the experiments again - he had to dispose of her. Luckily, she at least drugged this ominous healer she brought in without permission, so she shouldn't be able to remember anything. Still, it was infuriating. She had acted as if the organization was hers to decide upon. But she had no idea. She was only one of hundreds of subordinates. Slightly better than most, yes. But not the most important or even useful one. By far not.
Time ticked by slowly. If not for the sun shining in through the window, Nathaniel might have thought a few days had passed already. He took another deep breath, the scent of roses and fresh water clearing his mind and reducing the trembling of his fingers.
The black hair built a strong contrast to Katherine's overly pale face and the white bedding. It let her look like a puppet out of snow with next to no color in her cheeks. Even her lips were pale.
Rubbing her slender fingers between his big, gloved hands, he wondered if she felt cold. She sure looked like it. Sadly, he couldn't feel the temperature of her hands.
When they brought her back, he had just finished his discussion with the King, being freed of the chains the enforcers put on him. However, those were only the visible chains. He wasn't allowed to leave the guest house anymore until the punishment for attacking the Queen was decided. Originally, his father wanted to imprison him in a special cell near the throne room, but Nathaniel told him directly that he would break out and kill anyone in his way when he didn't let him stay with his betrothed. Since he knew what caused Nathaniel's crazy behavior in the first place, the King gave in.
Now Nathaniel sat by Katherine's side for hours and waited for her to wake up. At first, Hazel was also there, crying and blaming herself that she didn't go with her Lady and didn't protect her. That was until Nathaniel couldn't stand it anymore and send her out with a low growl. He had to hold back to not scream at her. After all, had he known earlier that Katherine wasn't in her chambers, she might not be in this state now. The only thing that kept him from reprimanding her harshly, was the knowledge that Katherine liked this woman. But if Katherine didn't wake up soon... he wouldn't hold back much longer.