The first thing she saw were the two thrones at the end of the long hall. They towered over the people like hawks watching them. Nobody sat on them, but the presence alone, the dark sparkle of the obsidian icicles like swords standing upright, and the brilliance of the sunny throne contrasting to it, stifled the atmosphere.
The faces of the people waiting for her were just as stifling as the thrones. On both sides of the table sat Prince and Princess. Their slight smiles and nods would be reassuring if it was not for them reacting at exactly the same time with the same motion, mirroring each other so perfectly that it turned creepy.
Beside the Crown Prince, next to the head of the table, sat a woman that could have been the older sister of the Princess. Katherine only knew that she was the Queen because the Princess didn't have a sister. The snake-green eyes of Queen Layla inspected her long nails, completely ignoring Katherine with an arrogance that openly showed her attitude to this meeting. Besides being annoyed, her dress-up was still the most extravagant in the hall.
Last but not least, the head of the table. The man sitting there with his short, silver-blond hair was the most imposing one in the room. His blue eyes seemed to pierce right through Katherine, humorless and cold. With one glance and even without knowing his exact appearance before, Katherine recognized him as the King.
Hastily, Katherine sank into a deep curtsy. Her heart beating erratically, Katherine realized for the first time that she was alone in a room with the most be-hated enemy of her origin country. She heard the sound of the door closing behind her and gave her best to not show the shuddered it invoked.
Her head lowered and in the uncomfortable curtsy-position, she remained standing for longer than she expected. But the redeeming words of the King didn't come.
Instead he said: "Did you hear the news, Lady Balder?"
Confused, Katherine had to stop herself from raising her head. With a careful tone, she inquired. "Excuse me, your Majesty, but I don't know which news you are referring to."
Silence. Her calves started to hurt, and with the pain came the annoyance. Shouldn't he ask her to get up already? Letting her stay like this was so rude! Couldn't they converse after she was seated? Or at least, when she stood straight again?
She heard murmuring voices, but they were too quiet for her to differentiate. Irritated, she frowned, and tried to peek at the people in front. With her calves burning, she found it hard to not speak up. Just when she wanted to do so regardless of the consequences, the voice of the Princess rang out.
"She is just a girl, Father. Don't be so hard on her. Maybe she has nothing to do with it."
From the Princess' voice, Katherine suddenly, realized that her situation might be more serious than she thought. It sounded like a bigger matter. But what did it have to do with her? Or did it really have to do with the patient?
"Anyone can be a spy, even a girl or a small child.", the King replied unmoved. "If she wasn't a spy in the beginning, she will be one as soon as the war starts. It's better to identify them now and separate them from the population. Especially someone like her, who stays in the innermost ring. How can we allow our enemy to stay so close to us? I know you have a soft heart, Helmina, but this is a necessity."
"If I might interrupt, but I am not such a person", Katherine said, and stood up with rage boiling in her. What the hell were the talking about, calling her a spy? Though she didn't understand the underlying situation, she would never spy on or betray anyone. Even though she wasn't in the Palace for long, there was a rule of hospitality. It was a given to her to be nice to the host while she was living on his costs. "I don't know what you are talking about, but I am neither a spy nor - "
"You imprudent brat!", The Queen suddenly interrupted her. She had stopped inspecting her nails and the green eyes now stared at her as if she was sc.u.m, the dirt of this world. Under this obvious disgust, Katherine saw a hatred that chilled her to the bones. She had no idea why, but she felt that the Queen hated her with all her being.
As the Queen slowly laid her fingers around the handle of the wine glass, Katherine had the imagination that it was her throat she wanted to grab. The sharp edge of the Queen's voice vanished with the next sentence. Her tone turned melodious like a bitter-sweet poison dissolving on the tongue. "I can completely understand why you are so impaitent. Your parent must have treated you as their precious gem, always putting you first. You never had a set-back in your life and didn't learn to control yourself. But sadly, they are dead."
She made a dramatic pause, just enough time for Katherine to fold her hands into fists. Then she continued with feigned pity: "As hard as it might be, you are not a duke's daughter anymore. Your little opinion isn't the first to be asked. I am sure this is a shock to you, but we have more important things to discuss then your self-esteem. Of course, deciding your life and death also can't really be called important. And in my opinion, the latter will cause us less trouble."
While the Queen took a sip of her wine, there was silence in the hall. Katherine grinded her teeth. It took only these few sentences for her to hate the Queen just as much as she hated her. How could she not voice her opinion when it was her life that was decided upon?
"Mother", the Princess spoke up after a second. "You can't be for real, right? She has done nothing wrong. Besides, aren't we all here to dine together? I can't eat when you decide someone's death before the meal. It's disturbing."
Katherine saw the King narrow his eyes, right when it knocked on the doors of the throne hall. Startled, Katherine stepped aside, and the doors swung open. A tiny person slipped inside with a fast pace and fell on his knees beside the King's chair. Above his bowed head, he held an envelope. When the King took it, he left just as quiet and silently as he entered.
With furrowed brows, the King opened the envelope. Whatever he read afterwards one couldn't see a reaction on his face. Only once, his eyelid twitched. Then he put the letter away and turned to his daughter as if nothing happened. "I don't remember you having such a weak stomach. There was even this one night when Emilian couldn't take it anymore, but you ate your steak effortlessly. Andrew... or something like that was his name. Do you still keep him?"
Paling, the Princess shook her head. "I learned from my mistake, father."
"Good." The King nodded, but his face remained cold. "Since you learned, I guess I can also do you a favor. Let's decide her fate after dinner."
Katherine took a deep breath to calm down. If it wasn't the royal family, she might have yelled at them several times already. However, their dangerous auras and the knowledge that she had no power to support her, stopped her. She would only make a fool of herself if she didn't play by their rules. War with words, that was what the Queen did. And Katherine knew that she herself wasn't the best at it, so she had to count herself as lucky to be protected by the Princess. But how long would she protect her for? Katherine didn't plan to work together with her for real, and she didn't want to make too make too many debts before that.
"Come here", the Princess called and patted the empty chair next to her. Katherine couldn't decide if her smile was encouraging or triumphant.