"They are dead! You all killed them! They DIED!"
Nathaniel felt the impulse to rush downstairs when he heard the scream, but as he saw the palace guards only exchange a knowing gaze, he halted.
"What's that about?", he asked coldly. The voice downstairs seemed to be of a young boy, nobody he recognized as a guest in the house. But how could a servant dare to raise his voice?
The guards shot him a disdainful glance, but one answered nonetheless. It was a pain that Pete and every single one of his personnal in the palace had been locked up for the time being. Even the ones sending Katherine back were apprehended. Luckily, Sam was smart enough to not come back in himself when he knew the situation. At least not on legal routes. So he was still free, but gathering information in the palace was nearly impossible.
The guard explained: "The Miltons left two days ago. Today, one of their entourage came back. His name wasn't scratched from the entry-list of the gate yet, so he was let inside. Since then, he runs around telling everyone that the Miltons were killed. Up till now he escaped the guards five times. No idea how, but he's slippery like a fish. There are already bets on how long they will take... since we can't join the fun because of you."
The last sentence was uttered with some resentment. Nathaniel nodded indifferently. Then he didn't care about them anymore and entered Katherine's chambers.
In his mind though, the words had caused a storm. The Milton's death, how expected it might be, started the count-down to the struggle between the two kingdoms. Dragsa and the Icelands. How long would it take for the first to get the notice? How long till their armies gathered? Renat might not be courageous enough to attack alone again, but together with Dragsa? Not impossible. If that happened, the Icelands had only one big ally they could turn to, but even that would cost them dearly.
His brows deeply furrowed, Nathaniel nearly ran into the now closed bedroom door. As if the door just jumped into his way intentionally, he gave it a dark glare. Didn't he leave it open when he left?
"Katherine?" He knocked.
"Wait!", Katherine's urgent voice answered. And after a minute or two: "Ok, you can come in now."
He entered, and saw her standing next to the mirror in a colorful floral dress. In her hair sat a delicate silver comb, while a few tiny, black locks framed her round face. The little make-up accentuated her fresh youthfulness. Expectantly, she smiled up at him.
Nathaniel noticed that he was looking at her for way too long, so he closed the door lightly. At the silent order of her Lady, Hazel had already slipped out behind him, leaving the two of them alone.
"What do you say?", Katherine asked, and made a turn so he could see her dress-up.
Nathaniel couldn't take his eyes off her. She felt it like a warm tingling breeze drifting over her from head to toe. Nonetheless, he didn't say what she wanted him to.
"You shouldn't be up already."
She pouted. "Do I look like I've got such a frail body? I was just asleep for a bit longer, alright?"
Nathaniel furrowed his brows, then he sighed. Maybe he was really overreacting, since it looked like the stress-reaction of overusing magic, which wasn't really harmful to the body. "What did you use so much magic for anyway?"
Katherine stopped in her movement. Suddenly, there was the memory of white walls rushing by her, and a colorful baby. She gasped. "The baby! What happened to it?!"
It was more a question to herself than him. She held her head as the storm of memories hit her. Though it seemed like a strange dream somehow, she didn't forget one second of what happened in the operating room.
The desperate gaze of the woman, the small body in her arms. The strange colorful poison. She wasn't able to help it, couldn't save it. And then there was this... hole forming. She couldn't even start to describe how strange that experience was. So strange, that she would like to categorize it as a dream, though she was somehow sure that it wasn't one.
After waking up, her head was still blurry and she didn't think too much about the previous events. But now, when she was asked, she just wondered about one thing: "Did it... did the baby die?"
Nathaniel frowned and set the gift box aside. It seemed there were more pressing things to discuss right now. "Which baby?"
For a ridiculous second he thought she might have somehow had a baby herself. But that wasn't logical, right?
Only now noticing that Nathaniel most likely knew nothing about the previous night, Katherine started explaining, recounting all her experiences in as much detail as she remembered.
At the end, Nathaniel had a pondering expression. Finally, he sighed and just said: "So you didn't hide from me deliberately."
Katherine nodded strongly. "Of course not! I just needed some time to sort out my feelings, but I didn't plan to stay away so long. Anyway, it's not the most pressing question now. Right?"
"Well, the most pressing ones didn't get an answer. And didn't you tell me to not think about my burdens today?" He smiled slightly as he said that, and it was this confident smile that somehow pacified Katherine. Holding her gaze, he told her bluntly: "This baby that you are worried about, I will let my people search for it. But it is most likely dead."
"I know." Sadness invaded Katherine's voice, but then she blinked and forced a smile. "Now, I wonder what you got me."
She stretched out her hands, prompting Nathaniel to lay the gift box inside. When his hands left the wood, he suddenly felt nervous. Would she like it? Should he have got her something more glittering, like dresses or jewels? He just wanted to make it a useful present. At first, he wanted to gift her a turtle, but Sam dissuaded him. She already had a pet, even if it was short-lived.
Before he could overthink too much, she opened the lid. The insides send out silver sparks as sunlight fell on it. On a red polster, as if slumbering peacefully, laid a silver dagger. It was as long as Katherine's lower arm, it's sheath and the end of the hilt decorated with violet and white gemstones. The hilt was wrapped with light brown leather, and on the crossguard and sheath were tiny letters inlaid.
Katherine lowered her head to read them. "For the wise to carry" stood at the sheath, and at the crossguard, "For the brave to wield". Katherine sucked in a deep breath as her eyes darted up to Nathaniel.
He shrugged uncomfortably. "I thought it was time for you to have your own dagger. You can't always steal from my guards."
At first, there was a smile, then laugher broke out of her, happy like the jingling of a thousand bells. Before Nathaniel could defend himself, she caught him in between her arms. "Thank you! Thank you, you wonderful man!"
Her head was on his chest as she embraced him tightly. He couldn't bear to push her away, so after a moment of hesitation, he laid his arms around her. Feeling laugher shake her slender body, he felt like he was the one getting a present today.