Inside the carriage Kathrine was sewing. She knew it wasn't the ideal task for sitting in a carriage, but reading books while riding made her nauseous and she didn't have anyone to talk with. The only one who could talk in her entourage was riding at the very front and didn't really seem to be a nice character. But what could she expect with her cousin selecting them?
At least he assigned her a maid (a mute one, of course) and let her choose her own clothing. Not that that was worth anything, as clothing wouldn't help her get out of his claws and the maid apparently had a crush on Ethan, so she would be more of a hindrance than anything else. Naturally, that was all within his calculations.
Sighing, she wanted to set another stitch as the carriage rocked and she pricked her finger instead. The sixth time today. It was a wise decision to take the pricey red cloth. Otherwise the blood would've already ruined it.
Three whole weeks of travel and she didn't get the slightest chance to flee. Every moment she was outside the carriage, at least two of the ten guards would be close by and even if she needed to, you know, do what every creature must, the maid would go with her and never too far out of sight. It was frustrating to no end. At times she was fuming inside, but didn't dare show it, out of fear to alert them. But even if she didn't alert them, they were not letting their guard down. Damn. Why did he have to know her so well?
Anyway, there was nearly no time left now, because they would reach their destination tomorrow afternoon. If the dukedom of Sleipnir wasn't next to the boarder, it would have taken much longer.
She should better make herself accustomed to the thought of marring some earl she didn't know in the slightest instead of hoping for a miracle. Thinking about how rapidly this had developed made her head ache and she leaned back, closing her eyes. It still hurt. Everything hurt so much, and she had no one to talk to. Ethan's ears were everywhere.
Maybe at least that would end after her marriage. Than it would be her husband who would poke his nose in every matter of hers. And what a nose it may be? She didn't even get to see a picture, much less the person. It could even be that Ethan was lying, and he was old and fat. On the other hand, why should he care? She couldn't get out of this anyway. She was just a little girl and didn't even have proper magic to help her survive.
Most magic users in all five kingdoms were trained to fight, but her magic wouldn't be of much help. It couldn't attack anyone. Ethan had always compensated that fault. Not anymore.
Downcast she healed the prick in her finger, for whatever reason deciding to move in a way, the maid wouldn't see it. Maybe it was a reflex. She should stop it next time. She wasn't Ethan's pet anymore and had no reason to hide herself.
The carriage was rattling over a rock before coming to a halt. For the last half a day, the maid had tried to beautify her with all means possible, driving Katherine nearly insane. Yes, she was pale, but didn't that match quite well with her ebony hair? Maybe she was a bit thin, but not a skeleton, thank you very much! No, she didn't want to wear this dress, it was too wide to even fit inside the carriage, much less trying to get through the door. Katherine didn't know, how someone could express so much criticism with only their eyes and hands. Still, it was better than thinking of her future husband all the time.
She took a deep breath, looking down on the violet dress, she decided to wear at last. It was a match with her eyes and fine silver embroidery extended over the wide skirt up to her slender waist. She wondered if the earl would like it, before she remembered that it didn't matter. The marriage was most likely set because of her skills, not her appearance. Still, maybe she should try hopping into the mud outside, just to test, if her assumption was right. It was raining cats and dogs the whole day already, as if the sky was mirroring her depression.
No, she shouldn't ruin the dress. It was worth a try to please the earl (so long as he wasn't a big eyesore) and attempt to convince him to backstab her cousin. Or at least to find out what he was scheming. About getting back at her cousin she was realistic. She was just a seventeen-year-old girl, not worth much in their world. She wasn't even the daughter of a duke anymore. Back then, maybe she would have looked down on a mere earl. Never would she have imagined marrying one.
The door of the carriage opened, and she pulled a long dark coat over her dress to shelter it from the rain, before taking the hand of one of her guards to help her step outside. Instantly another guard held a cloth over her head and she didn't even get a proper look at the building, when they had already bought her inside.
Despite the chandelier over her head, the foyer was rather gloomy. Darkness poured through the big windows on both sides of the hall, raindrops drumming against them. Up on the wide staircase in front of her appeared an old man, inspecting her for a second, then smiling and walking towards her. He used the handrail to support his body, but apart from that, he looked quite fit and keen. She just hoped, he was the butler, not her future husband. His gaze didn't seem indecent though.
When he reached her level, the one who could speak from her entourage stepped forward to receive him. He and two of the guards had followed her inside, the rest seemed to be left guarding the carriage. The man was short and plump, but without any of the kind features you would expect from a fat person. "Good evening, Sir.", he greeted.
Seeing that, the old man frowned displeased. He blatantly ignored the other and set his sharp blue eyes on Katherine instead, bowing. "Lady Katherine, his lordship has been awaiting your arrival. If milady would follow me, we were so free as to prepare chambers upstairs, so you could take a rest before meeting the lord for dinner. The travel must have taken a toll on milady's body."
Kathrine was pleased to hear, that there were some people, who hadn't forgotten that she was the one with the highest status here, therefor the one who should represent her entourage. But an even bigger impact had the assurance that the old man wasn't the earl. Being ignored was nothing compared to that idea. Luckily, she was wrong.
Taking two steps forward she grinned triumphantly and replied: "Thank you for your trouble. That would be lovely." Without giving the others a second glance, the butler showed her up the stairs, leaving the plump man behind stammering like an idiot.
Observing her chambers, Katherine was thrilled. They were twice the size of the salon back home, divided in an entrance area, a dressing room, and, of course, a bedroom with a gigantic poster bed. A soft ocean of peach-colored silk.
How could a mere earl afford such exuberance? Was the Iceland this much wealthier than her Dragsa kingdom? She didn't remember it this way Maybe the earl wanted to impress his future wife and compensate for not being in a dukedom anymore. That was the only reason she could think of.
Someone knocked at the door. As Kathrine opened, she found a maid, a bit older than herself and clad in a black dress, the red hair braided into a bun. The maid curtsied. "My name is Hazel, milady. If you allow, I will attend to you."
Hazel was a way better companion than the mute maid, and it wasn't only because she could talk. She was earnestly asking for her opinion and didn't merely see her as a puppet, who needed to make a good first impression on her new owner. She cleaned the dirt splashes from her dress, made her a better fitting hairstyle and even massaged her shoulders, since Katherine felt a bit stiff after the long ride. Still, thinking of the evening, Kathrine couldn't relax. "Have you seen him? The earl, I mean.", she asked hesitantly.
"Yes, milady.", Hazel replied simply, but standing behind her, Katherine couldn't see her face. She motioned her to stop and sit by her side.
"Do you know his name?" It was embarrassing to ask. As the bride, she should at least know that much, right? Yet she didn't, because she was only a bargain chip between the earl and her cousin.
Surprised, Hazel's brows shot upwards. "Milady doesn't?" she stopped, suddenly frowning. "To be honest, we have always referred to him by 'the lord of Hymirhall' Let me think Oh, now I remember! The cook told us about one time, Samuel that's the butler was angry with the lord. He seemed to have called him Nathaniel Julien Ice- something. I don't really remember all of it. However, he seams to have a good connection to the youngest prince, since he visited here once. "
Great. That didn't help much. Yes, she got a name, but if she wanted to associate him with some significant family, she needed the full surname. Almost all noble families in the Icelands had an Ice- attached to their surname. Even the royal family had it. The only interesting news was the connection to the youngest prince. A shame she didn't ask her cousin for more information about her husband. On the other hand, she didn't want to be in his presence any longer. It was disgusting.
"What is he like?" She wanted to know a bit more about him before meeting him in person. Since she had decided to try seducing him into spilling her cousin's secrets, knowing what he liked and disliked was a critical factor.
"Pardon me, milady, I don't really know the lord well. I just saw him once" Hazel tailed off and bit her lips, like she was afraid, she would be scolded. Katherine wondered what may have happened for Hazel to be this wary of her.
"It's okay. Just tell me what you think.", she soothed her and held her hand. This seemed to jolt her out of her thoughts and she swiftly pulled her hand back. Maybe mistreated by someone, Katherine thought, and her image of the earl sank. He couldn't even protect his own servants. Or worse, maybe he was the cause.
"I- I- I'm sorry, milady. The earl he" slowly, she got a hold of herself and took a deep breath to begin anew. "The earl seems to be cold and detached, speaks seldom and had no visitors for the past two weeks. Aside from the butler, the other servants are afraid of him and try to not see him regularly." Hazels voice got softer with the word, until there was but a whisper left. "I heard one of them had called him a demon. She was fired the very next day and they kicked her out, though there was a snowstorm and she begged to let her stay. But" she paused "maybe that is just hearsay."
Katherine put a hand on her chest. Cold, detached and demonic? How the hell should she gain the courage to seduce such a person? Would he even let her speak before eating her whole? " What about his looks? How old is he?" Hopefully, at least these two were fine, or else she should really think about running again. Far, far away.
The hesitation of the maid made her think, this was most likely the best choice. "The lord is twenty-four. His looks are a bit special. Not bad, I suppose, but it's hard to describe. Like blood on a snow-white field, or something like that. It matches his aura quite well. I didn't get a look at much though, because I was too scared after meeting his eyes and ran away."
She sighed, then glanced up at Katherine again. "But milady, you don't have to be afraid. I'm sure, the lord will be nice to you, since you are his future bride. Besides, I never heard of him doing anything improper or hurting someone who didn't deserve it."
This girl, Katherine thought, is hopelessly bad at consoling people. First recounting horror stories and then telling her, everything was good, because she would marry the monster instead of being his prey? Who. would want. that?!
Also, didn't kicking a girl out in a snowstorm count as being unnecessarily cruel? She didn't deserve dying just for insulting him, right? All in all, Katherine would be better off fleeing. But, what to do then? Now that she seriously thought about that, she was troubled, because she didn't really have any place to flee to.
Yes, she could run, hide and maybe start a new live as a normal citizen, fade away like she never existed in the first place. However, always hiding from the government wasn't a life worth living. It wasn't what she really longed for. She wanted to have control of her own fate, and, after that, she wanted Ethan to pay for his sins. To have revenge, even if that was no more than a sky-high dream for now.
Her own kingdom didn't see through Ethan's plot. It was pointless to try convincing them, since Ethan had a way higher social status. If he thought, she could endanger him, she would have died long ago. At most she was a fly, disturbing him for a second before being swept away.
To get what she wanted, she needed to do one thing first: endure. Endure everything that was coming her way and gather her strength until one day, the fly was a dragon, ready to burn them all to cinders.
So, her future husband was a demon? Let him be a demon then. It didn't matter even if he were the demon king! She just needed him to give all he had for the queen by his side Even if she wasn't sure yet, how to get to that point.
Nibbling on her fingers, she was very clear about her inexperience in flirting and things like that. She didn't even have her first kiss up till now. The contact to male specimen had always been strictly regulated by her parents. Still, it couldn't be that hard, right? First, she just needed him to do what he intended anyway: marry her, so he couldn't chase her away. The seduction-part would follow afterwards.
Thinking about that, she remembered the hint her cousin gave her. The earl needed her. 'He won't ever let you run away.' That sounded like the earl had something urgent only she could help him with. Most likely something that had to do with her ability. Could she threaten him with that?
At last she decided that she knew too little. Therefore, her self-imposed mission for the dinner was to observe him thoroughly, and, if possible, find weaknesses she could exploit for herself. Of course, she couldn't risk her life or marriage over it, she still needed to be careful. It knocked at the door for the second time today.
The butler stood outside. "Milady, dinner is ready."