The veiled woman introduced herself as Samantha Orchid. She was of a lesser noble family that didn't have much influence, so it was more or less an accident that she met the King.
"But let's talk about more relevant things", she said while guiding Katherine through the palace expertly. With her black veil back on, nobody seemed to take note of her. "You weren't comfortable about having your marriage tomorrow. I'm a bit concerned. Do you not like your betrothed or is there something else that troubles you?"
Her bluntness shocked Katherine. Had she been so obvious? Hopefully, at least the King didn't notice. How much of the reason for her struggles did this woman guess? "I was just surprised. Nathaniel and I didn't really speak about marriage yet, and it's... too fast. Too much, too fast, I guess."
"Ahh, if this is all." Relieve washed the tension off Lady Orchid's slim shoulders. "I already suspected you don't want to marry Nathan. Then I would have to overthrow my image of you, especially since you looked so convincing when you said you would stay with him regardless of the future. It would have been a shame if it was all acting."
"Nathan?" Katherine followed up curiously. This woman was only the second person she knew to use this nickname. Besides, it was a good opportunity to avoid further questions on her and Nathaniel's relationship. "Are you two close?"
As Lady Orchid laughed, it sounded like the jingling of silver bells. "If not for his refusal, I would call him my son right now. The first day we met, he stood in front of my door unannounced and threatened me to be good mother to Aston. Can you believe it? A twelve-year-old telling me how to be a good mother! And he came back every now and then to check if I fulfilled my promise. He had the temper of a gruffly old man back then, keen on staying cold towards me. It took forever to get in his good books." She paused, and shook her head. "Despite this, the temper didn't change."
Katherine smiled automatically when the picture of a stern young boy with white hair popped up in her head. He had the fine features of an angel with the bearing of a little devil. How cute! Loudly, she said: "I wish I could have seen this. It sounds like a very strange first meeting."
"It was." Samantha seemed to be reminiscing and fell silent.
However, curiosity burned under Katherine's nails. Since Prince Aston and Nathaniel looked alike, but the latter wasn't royalty, she first assumed they were related over Aston's mother. Now the woman revealed that she met Nathaniel only when he was twelve, so it was unlikely that they were close family. She couldn't think of another reason why Nathaniel would search for and be protective of Aston though. Maybe this woman could lift a few secrets for her.
"Did you ever meet Nathaniel's parents?", Katherine asked. "He doesn't talk much about them."
Even through the veil, Katherine could feel that Lady Orchid's gaze turned strange.
"You don't know?", she asked, and without waiting for an answer, continued as if to herself: "But of course, it makes sense. They all love their secrets too much. Still, since you are going to marry him you should know..."
She again looked at Katherine, but finally shook her head. "No, I can't tell you. This is not my secret, and since Nathan didn't say anything yet, I shouldn't involve myself. Despite this, I strongly recommend you to ask him personally about it as soon as possible. Though it's too late to change anything on the wedding now."
With each sentence, the foreboding feeling in Katherine multiplied. Finally, she stammered: "I thought his parents were dead!"
"Dead?" Lady Orchid shook her head with a sigh. "Even the names of dead people can have impact. Besides, his mother is too venomous to die. But I'm not here to be nasty. Let's focus on our task today, won't we?"
With that, she opened the door to a truly wondrous dressing room, filled to the brim with white cloth, tulle and maids in the beige uniform of servants. In the middle of it all stood Hazel, her black uniform sticking out of all the bright colors. In front of her was a pompous wedding dress, which she inspected critically.
"This one also isn't appropriate, Sally. We need something elegant and classy. Something with charm, but not too open. It has to have the feeling of holiness. Yes, holiness. Like a sage or a goddess gliding down from the heavens!"
Hearing that familiar voice, Katherine felt happy and helpless simultaneously. Her lips curled up into a wry smile. "I see you are still on the goddess-trip. How much longer are you going to ignore my wish in this matter?"
Hazel swirled around, and her green eyes went wide. "Milady! You are here! I - " She obviously wanted to utter an unneeded apology, when something more important crossed her mind: "I didn't know you would marry tomorrow!"
With a sigh, Katherine lifted her hands. "Neither did I."
Nathaniel had to spend only this one day in the custody of the guest house, before the King let the charges fall. The latter was possible because the attention of the public had shifted to the death of the Milton couple instead of the attack on the Queen. The still-furious Queen remained quiet. The possibility of war made everyone be on edge.
Overnight, the public got nervous, and the aristocrats accused each other of murder and treason. Nobody knew who the real killers were, but one thing was impossible to refuse: the wounds and water around the corpse of the couple clearly pointed at the Iceland's aristocrats. It was like a mark deliberately left by an evil mind to cause a war between the two kingdoms.
The people of the Icelands were split into two camps: one in fear, and one youthfully itching to prove themselves, even though they knew that their land was not well-off enough to take the threat lightly.
In the middle of all the commotion, someone suddenly stepped forward to remind the fearful camp of the mage that defeated an whole army by himself, making the Renats retreat before slaying a single Icelander.
"Not even a cow was lost that day! How can we fear the Dragsean, an enemy of olden times, if we have this new power? They will be the ones to hide like rats before the new day to come!"
Screams and paroles like this rang through the Capital, and many demanded to finally show the hero to the public and reward him. As if the King foresaw the timing, it was the day of the medal ceremony. Everyone wondered if the hero they would see in the evening might be the one to turn the tables against Dragsa, if a war happened. They wanted to see who exactly they would put their trust in.
The hero meanwhile didn't like these expectations at all. Though Nathaniel would fight if necessary, he didn't plan to use this power again. That he was already prepared for exactly this demand to come up later the moment he eradicated the Renat's army, didn't make it much easier.
But just as worrying to him as the politics, was the fact that Katherine wasn't by his side. Though everyone told him she was alright and not in any kind of danger, not a single person wanted to tell him where exactly she was.
Even Aston, who he had deemed loyal, grinned knowingly at the question. "She is preparing something, but I can't say what. It's a verdict of the King to not involve you. Just enjoy it later!"
His last comment only made Nathaniel's predictions turn worse. Had the King done something to her? But why was everyone smiling like that? It couldn't be something cruel then. However, something easy also wouldn't need a verdict.