After a few minutes of thinking, Sam returned to the infirmary and closed the door tightly. Maybe, he thought, the earl just didn't want Katherine to know he was awake. It was a matching reaction for him.
He walked to the bed. "Milord? Lady Katherine is already gone."
Looking at the man laying on top of the white sheets, there was not even the twitch of a brow. Just slow, steady breathing. Sam sighed. A shame. He had waited for so long for this to happen and now he couldn't even see the reward for his afford. And because of this, maybe this reward would turn into a catastrophe instead.
Slowly, Sam took out the envelope. He had to know how bad it was. The bold golden letters on the front read: To the Earl of Hymirhall. Although the person knew Nathaniel's name very well, he obviously preferred a more distanced address.
The earl is asleep, Sam reminded himself, as he opened the envelope. Though he knew Nathaniel would approve of his actions, he felt a bit guilty to read his personal mail. Especially a mail the earl had waited for half of his live to get.
The letter was made up of only a few sentences, sounding cold and angry at the same time.
"Earl of Hymirhall,
Though the Renat army was defeated, your actions disturbed the aristocratic families. For the first We need to grant you a medal, but for the second punishment awaits you in the capital. Until We declare otherwise, the ban is lifted. If you fail to arrive within three weeks time, you will be declared a rebel and be hunted down. Don't let your errors repeat themselves.
William Timothy Roland Icefall, king of the Icelands..."
There were several other title, but Sam stopped reading after the first and most imposing one. The letter matched his expectations. The only thing he didn't predict was that the king had written it himself and didn't let an underling take over the work. The autograph was written in the same big but elegant handwriting as the rest of the letter and even the address on the envelope. Was it a sign that he still cared to some extent? Sam didn't know what to think about this. He knew the earl wasn't fond of the king, but with their connection, how could he ever be completely unaffected? He wished the earl could read it himself right now. However...
He looked down on the patient, noticed the unnatural paleness on his cheeks, and pulled the blanket up to his neck. "What a shame... The first words for years and you don't have the freedom to read it. Wake up fast. Time is running short. He wants you back in the capital. Wasn't that what you hoped for all along?"
There was no answer. Sam sighed. If the earl didn't wake up by tomorrow, he would have to start the journey to the capital unconscious. Three weeks may seem long, but in fact it was just a bit longer then the time needed if they traveled by carriage. Of course, doves were much faster, and the king had a perfect information network, which made his letter reach here in the highest speed possible. But the earl's state didn't allow any fast travel. And they would have to take Katherine with them to boot. If not, the earl wouldn't wake up for sure.
Ignoring the kings order was no option. That was not only because of the threat the king issued, but before all because the earl had waited for too long for the ban to be lifted. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he had paid greatly for it.
"You have to wake up!", Sam told Nathaniel. If not tomorrow, then while they were on their way to the capital. Because if they reached there and the earl was still asleep, it would cost them all their heads. "I should have never agreed to your goddamn plan..."
While saying that, Sam forgot that the earl never really asked for his consent. He had been the one to make the decision, and whatever Sam said would only have made a small difference in this matter.
In the king's palace in the middle of the capital city, where the last snow still melted on the roofs, there was a big flower garden that never withered all year long. Rows and rows of dark red roses, white and yellow lilies, and blue hydrangeas enclosed a small golden pavilion in their middle like a seashell hiding it's pearl.
Though the size of the pavilion would have made any other building inconspicuous, this one could never be ignored. Whenever the sun fell through the clouds, the rays would be reflected by the golden rooftop and the pavilion would shine brightly like a second sun. Every onlooker would be nearly blinded by the brightness until they had tears in their eyes. It was like the heavenly mirage, like a pavilion for gods and immortals fallen onto the earth.
Inside this fantastical pavilion, her golden dress whispering over the ground like the wind itself, stood quietly like a stature a heavenly beauty. Long black hair fell down her slender back like a cascade, while her head was slightly tilted downwards. In her delicate hands, adorned by glittering diamond rings, she held a small blue flower. Or rather several flowers growing out of a little twig like dozens of blue bells. She held them to her nose, her eyes closed under long, fluttering lashes, and took a whiff of their scent.
Her slim brows knitted together slightly, while the red lips parted to let out a breath in form of a question. "Why?"
Only she herself knew what she meant with that. Her eyes remained shut, but if one looked closely, the little wrinkles to their sides gave a hint to her real age. This beauty wasn't a young girl anymore, but a middle-aged woman, that treated her skin and hair with unimaginable costly products and baths every day to look like spring itself. However old she might get, she would always try to conserve her youthful appearance to match the flowers around her.
Suddenly, there was movement on a path that lead to the pavilion, and a girl wearing the beige and silver uniform of the servants could be seen running over. Although her figure was good, her cheeks, youthful and rosy, were disfigured by a fiery red scar that went all the way from the corner of her lip to her temple.
When she reached the pavilion, she threw herself on the ground, panting heavily. Her deeply bowed head and shuddering body spoke of the great fear in her heart. "Your highness!"
Very slowly, the woman in the pavilion lifted her lids and revealed bright green eyes that could have been beautiful if not for the cold and viciousness hiding in them. It was like a snake slowly raising it's scaly head, prepared to bite anyone that disturbed it. "Didn't I tell you to never raise your voice in my presence?"
The girl shuddered, and bowed her head even deeper until her forehead touched the ground. The agitation had made her speak louder than she had learned to. "I am sorry, your highness. Please forgive me for my indecency."
Seeing the fear of the servant, the woman smiled and lowered the hand with the lobelia in it. This was so much better than the boring flowers. Even after years, she still couldn't figure out what made her sister care so much for all kind of plants. She herself only liked the poison one could brew out of them. "Tell me why you are so agitated and I will decide what punishment you deserve."
The servants lips trembled. Getting the punishment afterwards... it would be way worse then. Telling her master the news she just heard was already bad enough. Now she questioned herself if she should have fled instead of going back here to convey the news. However, she knew that she couldn't! Her parents needed her support, they needed the money she sent them. And it wouldn't be as bad as killing her, right? After all, she was just a servant. "You- your highness... he's coming back."