A few hours had passed since Sam promised to look for Katherine. Gradually, Katherine grew impatient. What took him so long to discuss with the prince? Had he forgotten about her? At least there was no indication that the prince did something to the patient or else there would be a turmoil. Furthermore, to save the patient, she would be the first to be called upon.
She remembered the cold hand she'd held in hers. He'd seemed so fleeable. Was he alright? At least as alright as he could be with only half of his body-weight left...
Her restlessness drove her to wander outside again. The number of people there had more than doubled with the prince's guards added to their entourage. Some rested a few meters up the road, some warily guarded the camp. She discovered that the prince had his own batch of servants with him, they wore a different uniform and didn't look as muscular as the guards. In fact, two of them were beautiful young girls, Katherine noticed scornfully. Well, nothing better to expect from a prince.
"Just to make sure", she validated with Pete, "This prince is the one who visited the earl before, right? The youngest one - prince Aston Icefall?"
"Yes", Pete nodded. "He's just turned sixteen a few months ago. I heard it was planned as a big event, but he somehow ended up missing it."
Always up for some gossip, Jack grinned knowingly. "I heard he was found in his villa later, completely drunk with a couple of - " Stopping himself in time, he coughed. He had nearly forgotten that his daughter was listening. "A couple of nice girls. Really nice, well-behaved nobles."
Pete's raised brow was like a silent mocking. Katherine's disgust by the prince's actions was already showing on her face. Playing with girls like this was sickening. But under the premise of them being noble woman, they'd most likely thrown themselves at him.
"I'd have liked to see their parents faces though.", Jack added. "Waiting at the party for the prince only to hear that their daughters ... hehe, forget what I said." Sheepishly, he stroked his beard. In front of his daughter, he seemed to only say the wrong things.
Katherine, who somewhat understood what Jack had wanted to convey, suddenly had the urge to lock Hazel up in the carriage. Luckily, this girl didn't seem to mind being in there. After loosing control of her emotions a while ago, she'd fallen asleep on the bank. It was really a relieve that Hazel wasn't awake when this lecherous prince saved her.
Remembering the glance the prince had eyed Hazel with, Katherine got cautious. "If you can, please keep the prince away from Hazel. I will do my best to make her stay inside."
Both of her guards faces grew serious. Though they didn't have much of an impression of Hazel as she always acted like a shy mouse in front of them - which they thought of as quite annoying - they didn't really dislike the girl. Now Katherine's words implied that the prince might have some kind of interest in this shy mouse. If this was true, it could only mean trouble.
Even if the prince didn't straight out take her, she could feel obliged to serve him because of his high rank. After willingly risking her life for her lady, Pete and Jack weren't sure if she would just sell herself out if the prince tried to pressure Katherine. Or, if he wasn't willing to stoop so low, it would be quite simple for this experienced man to wrap Hazel around his little finger. Then, when his curiosity was stilled, he would let her fall and shatter like a glass of dreams.
Countless possibilities emerged in Pete's head, but in none of them Hazel had a good ending. The only choice was to let the white mouse stay as far away from the lion as they could manage without awaking the lions wrath. Hopefully, he would just forget about her. A seriously pursuing prince was nothing they could handle.
Pete nodded gravely. "We will try our best."
"Whoa!", prince Aston exclaimed with glittering eyes after hearing the earl barely recount the 'battle' with some curt, factual words. "That's so epic! I feel like I can see you there, all alone on the fields! You're clad in silvery armor, the darkness like deadly knights by your side! The enemies must have shivered in fear the instant they saw you and then your black horse reared up when your rode into your enemies rows and - "
"Did you even hear what I said?", Nathaniel asked expressionlessly.
"Yes, yes! 'Course I did!" The prince nodded like a hen pecking corn. "You swept them away like a black whirlwind, leaving only death and destruction in your wake! One against a thousand, no, no, tens of thousands, maybe a million..."
Feeling somewhat helplessness, Nathaniel decided to ignore the prince and just eat the soup the cook had prepared. Until he'd started eating, he didn't know how hungry he really was. He had to hold back to not wolf down the food at once. But even if he was alone, he wouldn't have allowed himself to act so undignified. All the more as his body, that had been on a water-diet for some time, wouldn't be able to handle this much food at once.
After just a few more spoonful, he forced himself to set the bowl aside, and interrupted the very creative imagination of a battle that never happened in reality. "I hope your mother is doing good?"
In the middle of the spectacular decapitation of a soldier by a horsewhip, the prince suddenly stopped. "Oh, I'm sure she's doing well. Better than yourself at least, since she didn't need to fight an army at her doorstep. But this crazy dragon is still searching everywhere for her, so, you know, I don't really know where she is."
"Don't worry", Nathaniel advised. "That dragon will soon enough shift her focus."
The prince laughed helplessly. "Well, I'm afraid that's right. It's not much better for me though. Sadly, you can't use the same tactic as against the army. Or more like you won't. Right?"
"I'm not a tyrant. Don't want to be one at least."
"And that's good", the prince agreed lightly. "We've got more than enough of them, so let's not drop to their level, alright? Oh, can I take this wine? It looks delicious!"
"Sure" The earl passed the glass to him that had come with the soup. He didn't plan to drink it anyway, since it would only slow down his recovery.
Grinning like a kid with a candy, the prince took a sip. The movement seemed very natural on him. Then he appraised like a professional: "Hmm, never say something against a good red wine. Especially if it's out of Falumor. They're still the best."
The earl shook his head lightly. "You can stop playing in front of me."
With a chuckle, the prince took another sip. "After a few years it slowly grew onto me, you know? Would you be mad if I became a real alcoholic when I can finally put that facade down, hmm?"
"Do you want to try?", Nathaniel responded lightly. There was no shift in his expression, but after meeting his gaze for a second, the prince turned away and laughed awkwardly.
"I know, I know, it's just a joke..." He reluctantly looked at the wine glass, but dared not drink anymore. Suddenly, he looked up again. "I just remembered something. There was a lady in your entourage. Since when are you traveling with female companions?"
His eyes fixated on the bowl, but resisting the urge to eat again, the earl asked casually: "Would you believe me if I told you we met on the road?"
"If it's you, I'd believe you", Aston answered without a hint of hesitation. A perfect picture of blind trust. "Actually, it makes much more sense than anything else."
Nathaniel's lips twitched. For a moment he deliberated if he should just leave it at that. However, after lying already previously to stop the prince's worry, he felt that he now deserved the truth. It was not that important anyway. "We didn't meet on the road though. I brought her all the way with me, actually. She is my... " Suddenly, he furrowed his brows.