With a deep frown that show-casted how the previous conversation irritated her, Katherine sat down next to the Princess. She half awaited to be called out again, maybe thrown out by the King. If so, she was angry enough to leave this kingdom altogether. There was nothing good in staying in a kingdom with such rulers.
When nothing happened, her anger lessened a bit. Maybe they also had their reasons for talking like that. Whatever news the King asked her about, seemed to be a big matter involving her origin country. It wasn't unusual for them to be suspicious. Only the undeserved hate the Queen had for her couldn't be excused easily.
"Lady Balder, we are so happy you could make it for dinner", the Princess started the conversation formally, while it was obvious that the maximum count of happy persons on this table ended with her. "I hope you had a pleasant birthday. I see you liked my gift?"
"Ah, yes." Fl.u.s.tered from her nonchalance, Katherine touched the crystal earrings that broke the light of the candles. "They are really beautiful. I wondered how you managed to capture drew drops and weave them in silver."
"That you must ask the craftsman", the Princess said with a smile, and waited for her glass to be filled by the servants who'd come in unnoticed.
The Queen meanwhile glared at everyone on the table, preferably her husband, until Emilian softly laid a hand on her arm and whispered something to her. After a while, she relaxed a bit and the two started conversing.
Katherine also just started to relax under the Princess' continuous afford, when the King raised his voice. At first, it sounded like he was only pondering by himself if it weren't for his sharp gaze that was directed at Katherine. "I wonder what exactly is your purpose in the Icelands, Lady Balder. Isn't it strange for you to suddenly appear when all is going down the drain? It would be way more reasonable if you were the cause of it, consciously or not. Though it was the Earl who brought you here,"
At this point, Katherine noticed out of the corner of her eye how the Queen flinched and send the King a chilling glance which he ignored, "it doesn't mean that it wasn't within your plans. The problem is: I know of your specialty, but I don't know your ambition."
He paused and looked at her with his hands crossed on the table. The fingers of one hand were moving up and down, tapping the surface as if calculating something. "The easiest would be to kill you. But since a few of my children have taken a fancy to you and your ability is quite unique, I will give you a choice."
Just when the King reached this important point, there was a commotion outside, and the doors sprang open. In strode a blonde young man with a woman on each of his arms.
"Did you forget to send invites, Dad? We nearly missed the party!", Aston complained jokingly. To Katherine's surprise, the King seemed neither bothered nor annoyed at the interruption. Instead, the wrinkles on his forehead smoothed out a bit. Despite the bad timing, he seemed almost happy to see this troublemaker. Katherine felt completely different about that.
With a cheeky grin, Aston ordered the servants: "We need five more place settings. Or how about you set up the whole table? I'm sure I can find some special friends to fill in the gaps - ouch!"
One of the women beside him had hit his shin with the crane in her other hand. With big eyes, Katherine noticed it was old Lady Finley, the prestigious and strange woman who owned the most peculiar house she had ever seen. Only why was she here? And with the womanizer Aston to boot?
"Why do you always abuse me?", Aston whined tragically, but didn't forget to support the old Lady to the nearest chair. From his tone Katherine assumed that the both of them must be quite close but she couldn't figure out how this odd combination came to be.
"Hmpf, you deserve some beatings!", the old woman answered, the stern tone barely hiding her glee, and sat down on the other end of the table. "Your father is too lax with you."
"Dad, say something!" When Aston called for his father, Katherine also looked up the table. While the King had not yet found back to his expressionless exterior, all other three figures seemed to have turned to stone. Katherine saw wariness in the Princess' eyes as she looked at old Lady Finley, while the Queen wore a shocked face. Emilian only looked cold and dull, frozen in disinterest. None of them appeared happy to see the newly-arrived. Now, Katherine had a guess why the King didn't invite Aston. All seriousness of the room was gone as soon as he entered.
"May I sit beside you?"
The quiet but pleasant voice of the second woman Aston brought in, entered Katherine's ear. With the focus on old Lady Finley, she nearly forgot about her. The woman was wearing a rather simple dress in the same color as her hair: the bright yellow of sunflowers. At first glance, Katherine liked her, which, admittedly, surprised her just as much as old Lady Finley's appearance. The woman just had this calm warmth in her demeanor, that made her presence unusually comforting. Not someone she expected Aston to be with, especially since she looked rather prude, even her upper face and eyes were hidden behind a thin veil.
"You're welcome, if I have any right to say so", Katherine answered and reciprocated the smile the pink lips under the veil had formed into.
"Thanks." With an elegant movement Katherine doubted she could have made with a dress, the woman slid on the chair beside her.
When Aston sat down next to the mysterious woman and babbled on about random stuff, movement finally came back into the stone statures. The Queen was the first to react. She swept her chilling gaze to her husband, who seemed to be deep in thought. "Was this planned? You bring outsiders and your bastard on the dining table?"
"Mother", the Prince started in a pacifying voice, but halted when the King lifted a hand.
"No disrespect to my son, Layla. There are no outsiders in this room. I didn't ask anyone else to attend, but now they are sitting on my table. Everyone will be witness to what I'm about to convey."
"Please wait, father", Princess Helmina called out suddenly. "Why do we need five more place settings? Who else will be joining us?"
Just when the question was asked, it knocked on the doors. The King narrowed his eyes at Aston, who lifted his hands. "It's not my special friends, I promise."
Before the King could inquire further, old Lady Finlay raised her voice. Her behavior was casual, not matching the weight of her words. "Don't wait too long outside, come on in!"
Maybe the strangest thing to Katherine was that the guards followed her bidding without second thought, pulling open the folding doors. An authority that should belong to the King was stolen by her jut like that. And nobody seemed to be irritated by it. Just who was this woman, Katherine questioned in her mind.