Katherine's birthday was simple and pleasant, with a cake and presents of Lady Brandon, Shirley, Trumpet, and Nelke. There was even a pair of exquisite earrings send by her Highness the Princess personally. Then there was this particular card of which she didn't know if it was a present or a warning sign. One thing was for sure: she didn't gain a summon by the King just by having birthday, even though that was exactly what stood in the inconspicuous card she found between her presents.
Rubbing her temples, Katherine looked over at the Earl who refused to leave her chambers even when the dinner she was invited to by the King was only a short hour away. "Why exactly do you refuse to let me go again?"
Nathaniel's gaze at her was intense, his fingers rapping the dressing table. "It's too dangerous. You shouldn't go without me or at least a guard."
"The King explicitly said to come alone though."
"That is why you shouldn't attend at all."
Katherine rolled her eyes at the straight-forward answer. They had been at that point several times already, but she still thought of it as illogical. "What do you think he will do? If he wanted to kill me, he wouldn't need to invite me. It's the same for everything else. Why would he need to invite an unimportant person like me? The most suspicious thing is you trying to hold me back. It's as if you know something I don't."
When Nathaniel remained expressionless, she narrowed her eyes. Before he could reply with some nonsense again, she added: "So, do you know something I don't?"
"Nothing", Nathaniel said after a pause. "Nothing but the knowledge that you will be alone and helpless in the same room with the most powerful people of the Icelands. The King might not want to kill you, but this is a family dinner. There is more than one person in the room."
"But how do you know they want to kill me? There is no gain in killing me. I'm just a stranger to them, a nobody. Why should they care to kill me?" To Katherine, it was obvious that Nathaniel was being a pessimist again.
"Then why should they care to invite you at all?", Nathaniel turned the question around smoothly. Before she could give contra, he raised a hand. "Look, you told me it was the Princess who brought you to that hospital. She obviously wants you alive since you are useful to her, but not everyone thinks like that. Some might think of your power as very... annoying. So annoying that they want you dead."
"Why exactly is this about my power now?" Katherine couldn't really follow his train of thoughts. Wasn't her power something good, unable to cause harm? She couldn't see why people would think of it as annoying if not because it was so useless compared to other powers.
"How can it not be?" Nathaniel shook his head slightly at her naivety. "You think your ability is useless, just because it can't kill anyone? You are wrong. Anyone can kill, but only you can prevent the most gruesome death. Oftentimes, keeping someone alive is more dangerous than killing someone."
Stumped, Katherine furrowed her brows. How was keeping someone alive more dangerous? And even if that was so, she only saved one person's life in the Icelands. How would one person -
"You know what? Forget it", Nathaniel interrupted her train of thought. He was well aware that their discussion very dangerously scrabbed by the information he didn't want her to know yet. It was also the same information that was threatened to be exposed if she met with the King.
He just wanted one day more before telling her. Why was this so hard? Standing up, Nathaniel continued: "You won't listen to me anyway. Do what you want then, but don't say I didn't warn you. I'll take my leave."
When he strode out of the room, Katherine looked after him and bit her lip indecisively. Was he angry at her just because she didn't do what he wanted or was there more to it? How could he be so worried in one second and indifferent in the next?
"Wait", she finally called. As he halted, she heaved a sigh, and went over to his side. Hesitantly, she placed a hand on the back of his black shirt. She felt his muscles stiffen under her touch, before relaxing again.
"What?" His question sounded indifferent, gaze fixed in front as if she wasn't there. Strangely though, he didn't break the contact. That made her dare to put her arms around him, resting her head against his back. He didn't resist.
"Thank you", she said into the material that was warmed up by his body-heat. "For worrying about me, even though you don't need to."
Hearing her heartfelt words made him feel a bit guilty. After all, he didn't tell her the real reason for his concern. His head hang low. Then he gently unclasped her hands. "Don't you need to prepare? Dining with the King is not an easy matter."
"Yeah. Right." She pulled herself together, a bit embarrassed about her action.
He nodded, and sended her a last glance. "Good luck."
When he walked out this time, there was a determined gaze in his eyes. If Katherine thought he would let her go alone, she didn't know him well. He wouldn't let her live through his crazy family by herself. Besides, wasn't it a family dinner? Surely, the King wanted to invite everyone. He should just help him out with those he couldn't reach.
Of course, Nathaniel himself couldn't simply leave the custody of the guest house. However, there was still a bit of leverage to use against the King.
In a white dress with silver belt to accentuate her slender waist, Katherine stood in front of the folding doors to the throne room alone. Nervously, her thumbs rubbed against her fingers. She never saw the king before, only a stature here and there. He couldn't be as young as he was shown on the silver coins of the kingdom, but how old was he?
In the invite she got, he sounded very distanced, as if this was only a formality. It wasn't unfriendly though. She just couldn't understand why she was invited to a family dinner. Shouldn't this be only for insiders? She didn't feel like an insider. More like a random passer-bye who got lucky. Or maybe it was being unlucky instead.
Now that she got the time, the complete thought had formed that was interrupted before by Nathaniel. The only person whose life she saved in the Icelands was the patient. What did the Earl mean then? Was the patient a dangerous figure? Maybe that was why he never wanted to reveal his name. He could be a rebel, a threat to the kingdom. Damn! What had she gotten herself into this time? Was that why he left the entourage when they entered the city?
'Calm down', she tried to pacify herself. 'You don't know if he is a dangerous person yet. But you know he's Nathaniel's brother. Even if it is only for him, wouldn't you have saved him all the same?'
There was only a small group of people who knew about the patient and her healing him. She only needed to deny everything should it come up. And at the same time, she planned to hear out the Princess about what happened that night. Her antipathy had grown the longer she thought about it. But the baby was first. Should it still be alive, she would find it sooner if she played innocent and followed the Princess' lead. Maybe she could even find out about the other missing people.
Finally, the doors to the throne hall swung open and a loud voice boomed. "Lady Katherine Mary Balder of the Dragsa kingdom."
Taking a deep breath, Katherine stepped inside.