With this question the king seemed to finally find his footing again, and turned stern. "Your punishment. You are not to take one step out of the palace for the time being. All your necessities will be moved here. You are not to make contact with your mother, as well as participate in events were she is present. The medal ceremony is an exception. Finally, for as long as you are in the palace, you will wear a vessel. You know how it works."
A ridiculing smile lingered around the corners of Nathaniel's mouth. As expected, he still only sees the monster. "Didn't we already try this? In contact with my magic, vessels work for a few seconds at most. And they only restrain it to skin-contact. Surely you don't want something this unstable in your vicinity."
"Indeed.", the king agreed. "That is why I asked for a special vessels to be made. It should be able to curb your full power for half an hour, which is more than enough time to kill you. It also has a warning mechanism to inform me as soon as you try to release your magic to the outside. Unfortunately, the problem with skin-contact is still the same. We don't have an idea yet how to form a vessel that can differentiate between its wearer and the things he's in direct contact to."
With every sentence, Nathaniel's eyes darkened more. The magic would still be in his body, would still deal him harm and he still couldn't touch anyone. The only thing that was restrained was the part of his abilities he had more or less control over, the one to release the darkness into his surroundings without bodily contact. He would lose his means to defend himself. It was obvious how little the king trusted him. If I would go over to him right now, Nathaniel thought bitterly, would he run away or cower in fear?
Finally, Nathaniel opened his mouth: "So you found a way to restrain me without me getting anything good out of it. Fabulous. However, what if I don't agree with your punishment?"
The older man's brows furrowed. Like a few last strands of his hair, his brows were still bright blonde. "I am the king. I need to protect my people."
"And I am a monster. After making this vessel you finally decided that it is better to have this monster controlled by your side than to continue letting it run wild? What a surprising insight." There was a sharp tone to Nathaniel's mocking, slicing the air like invisible knives. His eyes were filled with loathing that was only short a spark to explode into burning hatred. "Fighting for the Icelands for years, I thought I could one day change your view. Unfortunately, you're still stuck on your antiques. If you wanted to kill me, you should have just done it directly instead of sending me into death-trap regions time and again. Now that I've grown out of your control, you finally think of chaining me down. Tell me, great king, why do you think this monster should accept any of your conditions?"
The king's hands had balled into fists due to Nathaniel's onslaught. Now he stood up, and leaned over the table. "Be careful with your words. I never wanted to chain you but control this thing inside you! Why shouldn't I use it to fight my enemies? But now it might be too dangerous to do even that. And yes, if it is a threat to my own people, I would rather kill you with it than let it run wild! Still, I am not your mother, who can't differentiate between you and your magic!"
An angry and sad laugh left Nathaniel's mouth. "No, you are the father that uses this magic to slay his enemies, while knowing perfectly well it will kill his own son! Preferring research to control it over such to destroy it, even cutting me out of the family line so nobody connects me with him, the great king! Really, how could I overlook this difference!"
In his anger, the king hit the table with his fists, and roared: "Nathaniel! Don't you know how much I've done for you? You should be glad I didn't kill you already with that danger inside you!"
With a low chuckle, Nathaniel shook his head. Then he held up his hands. "Actually, forget it. I'm not here to argue about that again."
For a second, the king pierced him with his angry stare, then he sat back down "Does that mean you accept my conditions?" He didn't dare to call it a punishment again, since it needed the earl's approval to even be executed.
"I want to modify a few."
Instinctively, the king wanted to disapprove, but realized that he couldn't. He had to accept all the adjustments. His face darkened. He hated the feeling of being suppressed by someone else. "Name it."
"First, though I may live here, I'm allowed to go anywhere as long as it is within the city. Second, you will make up a reason to stop the cold war with Dragsa for now as it is only wasting our resources."
Nathaniel paused shortly as if he expected the king to disagree, however, the only thing the king said pointed at the first condition: "Only a few hours a day. You will need to take some of my guards with you the entire time. Don't think you can take the vessel off just because you're out of my sight."
Obviously, Nathaniel thought this wasn't worth an answer. "Third, invite the whole upper class to the medal ceremony, but make sure they don't suspect me to be anything else but a simple earl that has the fortune to be supported by a powerful mage. They will think I'm invited to the palace for the same reason. And finally forth... " For a second, Nathaniel pondered about how he should do it. However, there was only one way to bring her in without being busted instantly. This girl could never act like a maid. Still, he needed her by his side for emergencies. Troublesome. "Fourth, give my betrothed the chambers next to mine."
As soon as Sam and Nathaniel left the palace, two palace guards still following them in a respectable distance, the earl muttered under his breath: "The situation is worse than I thought. It seems this person is neglecting some signs subconsciously. Sam, I need you to reactivate your contacts in the city. Investigate the cases of disappearance. Contact Aston, if necessary."
"Understood.", the butler replied.
"Also, if anyone asks, lady Katherine is my betrothed."
Shock painted Sam's features, quickly followed by confusion. Regardless, his steps paused only for a moment, as he had enough experience to keep in mind that the guards behind were watching them. Though he always hoped for the two of them to find each other, he never really thought it was possible for the earl to give in. Now this development was too sudden, making him suspect a different motive. Instead of the obvious 'what?' and 'how?' the question he formed in the end was: "Since when?"
It wasn't a question aimed at the truth of the matter but at the lie they were fabricating. With their tactic understanding, the earl hadn't expected anything less. "Since the start. I will talk to her. It should be in line with her interests, though I never wanted to get her involved."
Sam nodded sagely. Under the cold facade of the earl, he could feel a lot of worry and frustration. This decision must have been hard on him, he thought. The whole day wasn't easy.
Glancing at the setting sun, Nathaniel exhaled slowly. "We should better help her move in before curfew."