At the entrance to the dining hall the butler halted. He knocked two times, before pushing the seemingly heavy oak door open. "Milord, Lady Katherine Mary Balder has arrived."
With that he stepped to the side, holding the door open for her.
Waking inside, Katherine felt the temperature drop suddenly. Her eyes searched for the cause, a swelling fear in her stomach. Although the storm was ceasing outside, the clouds still lingered and created a gloomy atmosphere. Her side of the long dining table was well-lit by candles, but the other end was shrouded in darkness. A shudder went through her body as she met a pair of blood-red eyes, looming in the darkest black. They were the eyes of the god of slaughter himself: cold, murderous, detached and overflowing with a calculating evil intend. His presence filled the room up to the ceiling, freezing the air. It was hard to even breathe.
Aside from his eyes and a bight glimmer of hair his lineaments were cast into shadows, as if the light itself feared to touch him. They were wrong, it shot through her head. He isn't a demon. He is the god of murder himself. And he is eyeing me as if trying to figure out how to eat me best.
Against all her instincts, she held his gaze, shuddering while fighting the fear inside of her. She couldn't back down this fast if she wanted him to acknowledge her. The first hurdle to revenge and she was already wavering. This couldn't be happening. She wouldn't allow it!
Her hands balled into fists, as the seconds ticked by. Cold sweat gathered at her back, but she was holding his gaze.
Three, four, five seconds. The pressure increased with time. Why doesn't he speak? Just one second longer Just one! But with each anxious heartbeat, the air seemed to get thicker and thicker. As if drowning, her head felt dizzy. She didn't want to give in, but she couldn't hold out much longer. She didn't even realize that she was holding her breath. Six seconds, seven, eight It was impossible!
At the very last moment, the eyes of the earl slowly wandered off her face and to the chair by her side. Breathing hastily, Katherine tried to compose herself, but it was to no avail. Her knees wobbled, and her mental strength was totally exhausted.
Damned weakling! Useless! She was cursing herself. How should she accomplish anything with that attitude? But as his imposing aura was crushing down on her again, she gave in, and followed his unspoken order to sit.
How could a mere earl have this kind of presence? It was the presence of an emperor, suffocating his subjects. She was whining inside. How could she get someone like this to serve her? This was a man, who wouldn't serve anyone. Aloof and frightening, he would most likely kill himself before submitting. What should she do? What could she do? He was her only choice!
The first plate was served. Neither of them had spoken a word. He didn't eat a thing, but at first, she was too hungry to follow suit. The meals were never good while traveling. After taking a few bites though she registered that he was staring at her. His bloody eyes watched her every move coldly, inspecting her. The color of blood the memory of her of her parents' execution raised its ugly head. She had never seen so much blood in her life. And she didn't want to ever again. That was sufficient to upset her stomach. She couldn't eat anymore.
He is just an earl, she reminded herself angrily and pushed the memory to the back of her head. She took a sip of water. I shouldn't be this tense. Yet it confused her, why her chamber was this big and sumptuous designed. Her hypothesis, that he'd prepared it this way only for her, was refuted by his personality alone. What was it then for?
With the few hints she had, she was sure: there was more to this earl than met the eye. She hadn't forgotten that he seemed to have a good connection to the youngest prince. Her cousin, this earl and the youngest prince. Was there a conspiracy in progress?
Idiot, that's not the question, she reminded herself. Of course there was a conspiracy! It surely had to do with princess Bellatrix' death. But who was the head of all this?
Although her cousin was quite smart, it wasn't likely that he planned to murder the princess out of his own motives. He wouldn't get much out of this. But for a prince of the enemy nation this was another story, entirely. What was her husband-to-be's part in this? Somehow, she didn't belief that he was only the connecting bond between the two. It didn't fit her impression of him. He couldn't be just some tiny earl.
The second plate was served, a juicy steak with beans. The aroma was tickling her nose nicely, yet she was paying it no heed. She decided to stand her man. Woman. Whatever. She had to fulfill her mission and find out more about everything. First of all, about him. Additionally, she had a challenge for herself, to improve that bad attitude. Every time they were locking gazes, she had to hold out at least one second longer than the time before.
She looked up, and her mouth got dry instantly. Damn. This was going to be intense. "May I ask, what are your lordsh.i.p.s plans for our marriage?" Prepared for a stare-contest, she was confused when the lord simply blinked, and looked away. She followed his gaze and saw the butler, who had been standing nearby throughout the meal. Now he walked over to the earl and bowed down. Seconds later the butler nodded and straightened.
"Pardon milady, but milord isn't sure yet, if milady can fulfill his requirements. The duke of Sleipnir mentioned about milady's magic being unique in all kingdoms. Unfortunately, his Grace didn't give any explicit statement about the nature of milady's magic. Would milady care to explain?"
That was unexpected. He wasn't even sure, if he wanted to marry her? That bastard of a Cousin had let it sound like a settled agreement. Now that she was here, what would happen to her if the earl rejected her? And since it was her cousin as well, who claimed the earl would never let her slip though his hands, she couldn't count on that. Maybe that a***** just wanted to get her out of his country so the few connections she had were cut and he could let her rot to death somewhere. Damn, she wanted to kill someone! Well, one explicit someone.
Besides, why did the lord use his butler to reply? Was he condemning her already? This guy wasn't only arrogant, he was ill-mannered, too! She should consider to expand her hit-list. Of course, all her plans were for naught if the earl didn't marry her. Squeezing her lips, she really wished she had some awesome killing-magic or some other show-off. "My ability is healing. I can mend bones, heal wounds and sorts."
"His lordship would like you to prove that claim." The answer came instantly, as if they had expected that. But didn't they say, they didn't know her ability? Maybe the earl was a collector of curiosities and didn't care what talent it was, as long as it was strange. Or, more likely, his comment before was used to minimize her self-confidence. Katherines' expression darkened. Is that how they want to play?
Fury soared in her as they brought a black rabbit inside, covered in blood. They couldn't have been this fast if they didn't prepare it beforehand. Poor little rabbit. Humans were such vile creatures!
Lying on a silver plate as if about to be eaten, the rabbit trembled profusely.
Katherine balled her fists and spat: "I'll safe it only if it is mine afterwards!" Otherwise it would be a waste. The little one was better off dead than in the hands of such a vicious master.
The lord nodded silently. The hint of a smile touched his lips, as Katherine directed her gaze back to the rabbit. She settled her hands at the soft black fur, not scared by the blood. In this aspect she wasn't like the daughters of rich families, who fainted at the sight. She had seen too much of it already, even without counting the death of her family.
The rabbit was sliced open at its stomach and half of his organs were sliced through, too. No normal treatment could have saved it, but it wouldn't be magic if it could only do normal things.
Katherine closed her eyes and concentrated at the warm feeling inside of her. Raised it. It felt like sunlight was flowing through her veins and she knew that she was glimmering a bit. At times, when she was emotional, the magic would spill by itself, but normally she needed to wake it.
Opening her eyes, she watched her hands glint with a soft white light and directed it at the rabbit. Slowly, the bleeding stopped. The organs began mending themselves. After half a teacup of time, the trembling stopped, too, and the rabbit raised its head curiously. Seeing her hands touching it, it wiggled, first weakly, then vehemently, until it was seated. It didn't run away. Instead, it peacefully licking her hands. The wound on its stomach was closed and only blood remained.
"So?", she said icily, her fury enabling her to meet his gaze without fear.
His lips twitched, but whatever it was, he got it under control. Then, for the first time, she heard him speak. His voice was deep and hoarse. "Marvelous." Just one word. Somehow it made her feel like a mouse in front of a cat.
She frowned, displeased. "Can I leave now? I need to wash my hands and lost my appetite anyway."
He nodded slowly, ignoring her attitude. She was already standing, when he added: "After you answered my questions."
If looks could kill, he would be dead. Not willing to sit down again, Katherine picked up the rabbit, wrapping it in a napkin to not sully her dress, before pulling it in her embrace. "Speak than."
"What about illnesses? Poisons?"
She shook her head. "Can't heal them. I can just cure whatever damage they have done to the body." Usually this was sufficient. She believed there wasn't many illnesses which couldn't be overcome with her help.
Poison was another matter. One case of food-poisoning was all there was to her experience with it. Of course, if she'd known about her uncle sooner, she would have tried to heal him. But prior she had thought that he was insane and after a visit to an asylum she knew that she couldn't treat mental illnesses. Now, that she thought about it, her cousin had brought her there only days prior to the outbreak of her uncles' illness. Murderous bastard.
"Are there any aftereffects?", he interrupted her dark thoughts.
"None that I know of." On the other hand, nearly all her patients didn't know about her healing them, because her cousin had knocked them out beforehand. How than should they complain about anything regarding this? Her cousin and the children in the forest at least didn't complain.
"Good you can go now." The last part piqued her anger again, which had already been subsiding while answering this row of questions. He was shooing her away like a servant after being satisfied.
Shooting him a cold glare which didn't affect him, naturally she swaggered out of the dining hall.