When the door closed, the prince stared at Sam angrily. "What is the meaning of this?"
The old man sighed. "I'm sorry for the interruption. Lady Katherine is - "
"Like hell I care! Tell me what the heck happened to Nathan!" Impatience strained the prince's voice and was written clearly on his face.
Embarrassed by his mistake, Sam coughed lightly. "Your highness, you know his powers... and I'm sure you heard about the army at Hymirhall, as well as that black pillar."
The prince's eyes went wide, the anger overwhelmed by sudden excitement. "You meant to say that was really him? He beat the whole army by himself? That is... wow! How? And... wait, even if he was the cause of that, it doesn't explain why he's not awake right now! How can he sleep through all that happened outside? I never even saw him sleep before, but I'm sure he's like those viligant heroes that wake up at the slightest sound!"
Sam's lips twitched. Did the Earl never tell this person about the backlash of his ability? Or just the more positive sides, if one could call them that? Hiding that it threatened his life really matched his personality though. "He overexerted himself."
The Prince's brows furrowed. "When I overuse my magic, I only get a bit sleepy. How is it possible that there are still aftereffects for him? The thing with the army was nearly two weeks ago..."
The question put Sam into a difficult spot. If the Earl didn't tell the Prince, Sam didn't want to override this decision. At the same time, he knew that the reason for hiding it wasn't that the other was unworthy of trust, but the Earl didn't want to make him worried. If the Earl continued to be unconsciousness, it might be better to spill the beans now.
Before Sam could decide on his action, a raspy voice suddenly sounded out next to him. "Aston, I'm just a bit sleepy. No need to overreact."
Sam nearly got a heart attack. Not daring to believe that what he heard was real, he slowly turned to the patient. He only got a glance at the opened eyes of the latter, before his vision started to blur. "Milord... you woke up..."
Seeing Sam's emotional response, the Earl's brows furrowed. He didn't know what had happened until now, but from the conversation before and Sam's face he concluded that he'd slept for quite a while. Once while he was asleep he'd heard a female voice talking to him, maybe calling out. But when he finally woke up, there were only these two talking. Not quite as pleasing. Though his mind still felt slow, he was sure the Prince didn't know yet about his former condition. So, there was no reason to worry him now, after it was already settled.
Looking at his butler sternly, the Earl reminded him: "I only slept for a few hours, what's that fuss about?"
Instantly knowing what his lordship wanted to do, Sam forced his emotions down. "Ah, yes. I'm sorry, Milord. It's just upsetting how much Milord is still affected by this event."
Nathaniel's lips curled up, inwardly praising the keen senses of his butler. With deliberately slow movements, because he didn't quite know how bad the condition of his body was, Nathaniel sat up. He was pleased to find that although he felt very weak, he could still support himself. "It was a close call."
Thinking that Nathaniel was not in as bad a condition as he'd imagined, the Prince's eyes lit up. With his worry lessened, he squeezed himself on the bench next to Nathaniel. Like a child begging for the story about a great hero, he urged: "Now, tell me, tell me - what exactly happened back then? How did you do it? What's up with you sleeping just now? You alone against a whole army - that's crazy!"
The Earl's face was unreadable. "I'll tell you how if you get me something good to eat first. You're picky, I know you always got that chef with you where ever you go."
The Prince was obviously reluctant. "Even if it's a cold meal, it takes at the very least ten minutes to do it... I can't wait that long! I wanna know it now... Please, Nathan, please! I'll get you something to eat after that..."
Shamelessly, he put his hands together in a begging position and made puppy eyes. In front of Nathaniel, he acted nothing like a dignified Prince, but reverted to a little kid. His youthful appearance even supported this impression. Obviously, he had forgotten that Sam was even there, for since Nathaniel woke up, he didn't spare him a glance.
"You're spoiled rotten.", was Nathaniel's dry answer. Though his opposite was a Prince, he made no attempt to flatter the latter. He didn't even hold back his criticism.
Everyone who saw this, would be stunned silly. They would expect the Prince to get angry next, but instead he sighed so deep it was akin to crying. The Prince, known to his people for his playful, yet proud nature as much as for his bad habit of drinking, easily gave in to some nobody of an earl. "Alright, alright. I'll get you some."
He trotted out of the carriage and closed the door. Nathaniel leaned back against the bench in an exhausted manner. Showing a front of being in good health even for as short as this was difficult in his condition. Still, his eyes were as sharp as before. "Now, tell me, Sam. What did I miss?"
Sam furrowed his brows at the nonchalant attitude of the Earl. Was this brat not affected at all by nearly dying? He was already talking about business after just waking up. And even thinking up such an excuse to get the Prince out of the carriage.
Knowing he only had ten minutes to fill the Earl in on the details, Sam pushed his worries to the back of his head. "In short, we've sent the commander back to the Renat kingdom, which stopped the invasion. Until now, there were two attempts to kill you, and a spy amidst your soldiers was exposed. Lady Katherine showed her excellent skill, without which, I'm afraid, Milord would be dead already. I highly suggest to somehow bind her closer to you. She is essential for your health.
Additionally, the events show her loyalty as well as her willingness to support you. She was exceptionally passionate about saving your life, though, viewed rationally, she didn't even know it was you, Milord."
"Stop", Nathaniel interrupted Sam's rambling. "That's not the most important point right now." After taking a breath, he couldn't stop himself from adding. "Tell me all about Lady Katherine's actions later in detail. However, first... did it work?"
Sam's gaze grew abnormally serious, his old blue eyes regaining a piercing power they might have had in his younger years. Slowly he took the envelope with the letter of the King out of his jacket and offered it to the Earl. In case the Earl woke up unexpectedly, he'd taken it with him wherever he went. "This is what you wanted. I suppose, I should congratulate you. However, I'd preferred it if you didn't have to throw your life away to get it."
The Earl flipped the envelope in his hand, but he didn't directly open it as Sam had expected. Instead, he rested both his hands and the envelope in his lap. His gaze was calm. After scrutinizing his butler once, he asked: "You think it wasn't worth it?"
There was no accusation in his tone, only a slight non-personal curiosity. It felt like the answer didn't really matter to him, was a form of formality. Maybe in his head he already knew the answer.
Showing the same professional face, Sam folded his hands behind his back. "I had quite some time to rethink your decision, Milord. Maybe it was not the best option. As much as I wish for you to reach your goals, we should have take a different approach. If you lost your life, the letter wouldn't mean anything anymore."
Nathaniel nodded in acknowledgement. "It's right that there were several other ways to defeat the army. However, I don't think they could have earned me this letter. You know yourself that every attempt before failed. Without risking my life, I don't think that would have changed. Rest assured though, I don't plan to repeat something like this."
The carriage turned quiet. Outside they could hear the guards speaking faintly. Sam lowered his gaze to the envelope. In contrast to the Earl's calm behavior, his knuckles were white from clutching the paper tightly, as if he was afraid to loose it. The golden lines looked distorted. "Not even if they ask for it? For you to eradicate another army?"
The Earl's eyes, still a dark blue under the influence of Sam's magic, turned even darker until they were nearly black. The rest of his features remained as expressionless as before, but the carriage seemed to somehow turn colder. "I don't owe them anything."
Sam heaved a silent sigh of relieve.