"Did she infect herself?", the earl asked the butler. They were inside of his study, rows and rows of bookshelves stood to both sides of an imposing dark-brown table. The earl was seated behind it, the back facing a big window. According to the suns position it was shortly after Katherine had treated the patient.
"Luckily, no.", Sam responded, pensive. "I'm afraid you underestimated her capability, milord."
"As I underestimated her impulsiveness. She's too easily offended, although this head of hers is working quite well otherwise.", the earl sighed. "Was I still as childish as her with seventeen, Sam?"
"No. But, if I may say so, milord, that is incomparable."
"Oh?" The earl lifted an eyebrow. "How so?"
Seemingly feeling uncomfortable, the butler pressed his lips together but decided to speak in the end. He was phrasing his words carefully. "Different from milord, she never knew hate or sorrow while growing up. She met them only recently. Pure trust in the good of people is the sole reason for her being betrayed this badly. This trait of hers is the biggest reason both for and against me disagreeing with your marriage."
Leaning forward, the earl fixated the butler with his red eyes. "Why both?"
"Against your marriage because your ... family could and would destroy her." He paused.
"And for?", the earl pressed on, his eyes flickering with dark shades. "Don't beat around the bush. You don't usually do that. If you start now, I really might get mad."
The butler sighed. "I thought some trust would do you good. But it isn't my place to judge that."
The earls' eyes got even darker, l.u.s.terless. Nonetheless, he didn't reprimand his butler. Instead there was and inkling of vulnerability hidden in his mocking words. "Whose else? My parents? Friends? Hardly. Everyone only hopes for "
He quietened down. Shook his head. "Anyway, you don't need to mind your words in front of me. You are the only one I absolutely won't hurt. For as much as I can promise that. I thought, you knew."
Overwhelmed by the earls' sincerity, Sams brows knitted. Then he scoffed: "Stop being dramatic, boy. Of course I know!"
The earl inspected him for a second longer and only said: "I really hope, you do."
Out of respect for the butlers earlier statement, the earl didn't pursue the topic further. "Do you think, she noticed something?"
"No. She thinks it was milords' friend. Maybe she wants to exploit this, but that can be handled easily. It's just questionable if we can keep this facade. Won't she get suspicious if the poison gets back after she healed it?"
Shrugging, the earl said: "Just stop her from healing it completely then. But tell her to find a way to improve her magics range. She can't always be lucky."
"Of course. I'm troubled by this as well.", the butler prompted. "What about her request?"
"Delay it for a few days. I don't need her help any time soon and if she notices that this 'friend' isn't as important as she thought he is, it will probably lower her expectations. This would be ideal."
Sam nodded, but didn't look happy, which the earl registered. "Understood."
Thinking his instructions over again, the earl noticed the problem. This temperamental girl would most likely rebel if she was caged for too long. "Tell the guards to follow her if she wants to explore the mansion, but not to let her in the dungeon or outside."
That made Sam smile slightly. "Good, good. Pardon me then."
He left the study, but the earl sat quietly for a while. With a pensive look, he lifted his hand and felt for his chest. Through a thin layer of white fabric, he could feel his heart beat steadily and remembered the touch of a much smaller hand on his bare skin. He wondered if it was normal for the warmth to linger. How astonishing.
The first thing Katherine did back inside her room was cuddling Foseti. The black rabbit was already fed and hopped around in her chamber happily. As Katherine stepped inside, it lifted its little head in curiosity. She swooped it into her arms. "Hello, little one. Have you slept well?"
With its red tongue it licked her hand, caring for nothing in the world but the people dear to it. After all the scheming, it felt so good to have someone who loved her unconditionally. Sitting down on her bed, Katherine patted its head. "You know, I would love to have you stay with me like this forever. However, rabbits are no indoor-pets and I don't want to keep you in a cage. Not even a golden one." Experiencing it herself had let her realize this.
The adorable big black eyes were looking up at her silently as if they were asking her, what she would do about it. "No, I won't give you back to this sh**ty earl, don't worry."
As a well-educated young woman, she would only use cussed when being alone. "I don't know what to do for now. I can't get outside myself, you know? And I don't want to trust anyone else with your safety."
She buried her face in the warm, black fur. "Can you stay with me till I can set you free myself? Please." Silence spread in the room, engulfed them in a soft and peaceful way. Was it dumb to ask for an answer from a rabbit? Maybe. Katherine didn't care. At least animals won't ever betray you. They mostly won't help you either, granted, but sometimes it was enough to just feel their warmth.
Fosetis rough and wet tongue tickled her cheek. Katherine giggled softly and soon after she fell asleep.
"The pink or the blue one? Come on, tell me." Standing in front of a mirror, a great beauty tried a variety of masks on. She wore a long, sleeveless white dress, which hugged her figure quite intimately, but the bright smile on her face resembled an innocent town girl instead of a great seductress.
"You look great with both, Aunty.", a boy answered causally, while browsing through a big book laid on his lap.
The beauty pouted. "But I can't wear both. I need to choose. What do you say, sweetie?", she asked a little girl.
The girl was standing in front of the dressing table. As the woman called her, her frame shook and something fell back on the table. Without looking back, she shouted: "Blue! Blue of course, mommy. I don't like pink."
The beauty chuckled. "Of course my baby girl won't like pink! Too ordinary for you, right? But what are you doing over there?"
Like a deer caught in the spotlight, the girl stiffened. "Nothing, mommy! Really nothing."
"Oh, really~?", the beauty asked with sparkling eyes and inched closer to her daughter. "Why don't you turn around and tell me the truth?"
Knowing that there is no escape, the girl swallowed her saliva and slowly, very slowly turned around. When she was fully turned, she lifted her face.
A brilliant laugh exploded out of the beauties' mouth. "Oh, sweetie! How - how did you end up like this?!"
While the girls' eyebrows and cheeks were colored in a gaudy red, her black 'lipstick' covered her face up to her snub nose. Seeing her mother laugh at her, she angrily frowned and stamped her foot. "That isn't funny!"
Trying hard to stop her laughter, the beauty affirmed: "I know, I know, sorry, sweetie! Let me help you clean it up!"
With a snort the daughter showed her annoyance for such lack of sympathy and turned away. "No! Ethan will help me! Right, E?"
The boy closed the book on his knees. "Of course."
Swaggering out of the room, the little girl didn't notice the slight disappointment that crossed the beauties face.
"Milady." It knocked on the door. Katherine yawned and looked at the window. When did the sun rise so high? It must be noon already. Without her noticing it, Foseti had freed itself from her hug and was shewing on some grain placed in a bowl in a corner of the room now. It knocked again.
Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, Katherine stood up slowly. She had the feeling that she dreamed about something sad, as there was still some melancholy left, but she couldn't remember what it was. Shaking her head, she forgot about it. In the last few weeks it was normal for her to wake up sad or even crying.
The healing-magic had taken a toll on her body, but it was way better after the nap. She opened the door for Hazel, who she had recognized by her voice, and was pleasantly surprised by the scent of food in the air.
"Thank you." The maid placed the tray on the little table next to the door and Katherine sat on one of the two matching chairs. In a big bowl was leek soup, in two smaller ones salad and rice pudding. "That's too much for me. Why don't take a seat and eat with me, Hazel?"
"That wouldn't be appropriate.", Hazel objected uneasily.
"Won't tell anyone.", Katherine smiled and patted the other chair. "Come on." There was much more to know about the earl, his mansion, and the servants. She was curios if anybody knew about this so-called 'friend' of the earl.
Hazel sat down but let her hands rest in her lap, indicating that she still didn't want to eat. Katherine let it slide. "Tell me more about you. Like, who are your friends in the mansion, what do you like to do, and is there anyone special to you."
The last question made Hazel blush until her cheeks were as red as her hair. "N-no, there is no one, milady."
Taking a spoonful of her soup, Katherine had her fun teasing the older one. Somewhat like a sister, she thought. "Oh, come on. Everybody has someone. Maybe he is just good-looking or is nice to you. Or maybe he has a thing for you and you what's wrong?"
Hazel had clenched her dress in between her hands, the gaze lowered. "I... don't want to talk about it, milady. Please."