Behind the archway, a long table came in sight, decked out with a white lace cloth and elegant cutlery and crockery. Everything had beautiful golden patterns, seemingly made by the same artist. Small blue flowers in the middle of the table rounded off the scenery that was submerged in the warm light of the fireplace. Some fading sun rays still fell through the high, light-blue windows.
Two figures already sat at the end of the table, conversing with each other lively. Surprisingly, one of them was prince Aston. The woman beside him seemed to be a few years older, her black hair cascading down her back like an elegant waterfall. On her head sat a filigree silver tiara.
He's flirting again, Katherine assessed with contempt. The woman sat to Aston's right while he occupied the head of the table. Though Katherine would rather not be involved with him, the earl lead her straight to his left side. They were friends after all. She could only shake her head inwardly about why the earl befriended him of all people.
"Your highness.", Nathaniel said and bowed lightly. Katherine curtsied.
Surprised by their arrival, Aston hastily scrambled to his feet and returned the bow. "Nathaniel. Lady Balder. I hope your accommodation is to your satis - "
SNAP. The woman beside him closed her pink fan intentionally loudly. Till now, she didn't bother to stand up. Arrogantly, she raised a brow at the prince. Katherine was impressed by her attitude. Though she didn't like the prince, she wouldn't dare to treat him so disrespectful.
The prince flinched at the noise, then he focused his attention on the lady, who intensely stared at him until he finally got the hint. "Oh, right. You haven't been introduced to them yet."
Half turned to the woman, he spread out his arm. "Helmina, these are the earl of Hymirhall as well as his betrothed, lady Katherine Balder. Milord, milady, my sister the princess." He spoke in short, brisk sentences as if he wanted to get over with it as fast as possible.
The princess nodded loftily while Nathaniel bowed and Katherine curtsied again. The gaze in Nathaniel's eyes was complicated as they addressed her with one voice: "Your highness."
Inwardly, Katherine was surprised, as the two looked nothing like brother and sister. One was the embodiment of the typical Icelander with blue eyes, blonde hair and a tall build, while the other looked more like an exotic beauty, her skin lightly tanned and eyes tilted.
Obviously thinking some earl wasn't worth any of her attention, the princess suddenly ignored them after knowing their standing. Her cold grey eyes stared the prince down. "Back to our former topic. How could you do that with a lowly servant on a social gathering? Get yourself a wife already if you like chasing skirts so much! I wouldn't even mind if you put on a skirt yourself if that helps you refrain from doing such things in public! Gosh, do you even realize what an embarrassment you are for the royal family?"
Katherine's face burned and she would love to cover her ears. This woman didn't seem to even notice what she was talking about herself in public. Or maybe she was doing it intentionally to let everyone feel awkward. Anyway, it worked.
The prince ducked his head and scratched his neck sheepishly. "I didn't expect someone to come in suddenly, I thought I locked the door..."
Exhaling slowly, the princess searched for words to explain his mistake. "Aston... You know exactly that Zilla likes you. Making out with someone else on her birthday, it ruins my reputation. Even you should understand that."
Aston's eyes widened. Innocent surprise showed on his face, so vivid, that Katherine nearly believed him. "She likes me? Why didn't you tell me? Me and her could have had a really good time! How regretful..."
Shaking her head in disbelieve, the princess stood up, prepared to leave. "Enough. I can't believe you really are my brother. Disgraceful."
When turning to the door, her gaze landed on Katherine and suddenly, her whole face lit up. With a bright smile she waved at her. "Lady Katherine, it was a pleasure to meet you. Please be my guest tomorrow at teatime."
Caught unexpected, Katherine instinctively nodded her head. Before she could overthink her answer, the princess already rushed out the door, a triumphant smile still present on her lips. Invisible question marks appeared above Katherine's head. What was that? The princess first ignored her and now asked her out for tea suddenly? Since when did she become this important? Though it was a good development for her revenge plan, she felt like she'd missed something.
"Katherine", a deep voice rang out next to her and made her jump lightly. When did the earl's face get so near? She could even feel his warm breath on her ear. It made her skin tingle and her cheeks flush. When she pulled back a bit, his intense gaze greeted her. "Please sit."
Only now did she realize that he pulled out a chair for her. With unstable knees, she sat down, very aware of Nathaniel's warm body behind her. His breath hit her neck as he pushed the chair nearer to the table. Only when he took the seat next to her did her heart slowly find it's normal pace again.
She didn't know when, but three people had entered the dining room. Now that she remembered, they already stood next to the door when the princess rushed out, like they didn't want to interrupt these royal's talk. Knowing the conversation topic, Katherine thought they'd done everything right. She certainly wouldn't want to hear about this prince's escapades, too.
Of the residents, the old couple greeted Aston with a deep bow and curtsy. "My wife and I are honored to dine with your highness."
The prince smiled lightly. "So am I, lord Milton. Please take a seat. Lady Brandon, don't stand on formality, too. Come here, my right side feels so empty. Let's relax and enjoy this meal together."
He pointed out the seat to his right to the third resident of the house, a lone lady in her twenties. Katherine saw how the lady's eyes flashed a disgruntled look, but she took the seat in the end. It wasn't easy to reject a prince.
In contrast to the older couple, who only stole slightly curious glances at them while obviously thinking it would scratch on their dignity to actively converse with them, lady Brandon greeted Katherine and Nathaniel with a nod and a smile. Katherine smiled back. This lady with her inconspicuous dark green dress and simple bearing was quite to her liking.
When she noticed Nathaniel by her side starting a conversation with the prince, Katherine decided she could very well start building up her own connections today. "Good evening, lady Brandon."
"Good evening, lady Balder. I heard you are new to the capital. How do you like it here?", lady Brandon replied, making Katherine feel very lucky. This person seemed to easily catch on her intention and was willing to cooperate.
"What I saw was quite lovely, but regretfully, I didn't get to see much of the capital yet..."
While Katherine and lady Brandon slowly got to know each other, the servants dished up the first course.