On Nathaniel's side, the prince led the talk. "She suddenly showed up on my doorstep and kept nagging me. I didn't know she'd tag along all the way. Didn't give me any opportunity to warn you.", he explained apologetically and took a bite of the food. "Hmm, it's better than I thought. Though it can't reach the level of my own chef."
Nathaniel remained silent, obviously lost in thought. Meeting the princess - no, his sister - had caught him unprepared. Though he had read quite a bit of information about her, she was still a baby when they last met. He didn't even recognize her at first glance. Thinking about it, she had the same long black hair and great complexion as that woman...
"However, it's not that bad, right? She didn't pay you any attention, so I don't think she recognized you. Even though your complexion is special, she might have forgotten about that. Anyway, there are still one or two more people living with similar characteristics. No one as cool as you, of course.", Aston deliberated while stuffing himself with food as fast as possible without losing his hard-trained manners.
Anyone else would find it difficult to swallow this much at once, but he still managed to look elegant somehow. In between, he even found the time to take a few sips of wine. "Just why was she so upset about me? She doesn't even like this Zina or whatever..."
"No, she recognized me.", Nathaniel said so quietly that it didn't interrupt Aston's ramble. Like he did with her, the princess updated her information on him from time to time. It might be an underlying wariness sitting deep in her since childhood. She would never miss out on him if he were to appear before her. That was exactly why he was wary of her reaction. She should've been irritated, maybe even shocked. But her appearance in the outer palace buildings was strange to begin with.
Normally, princess Helmina didn't care about Aston's actions. Their relationship was anything but close. So, the reason she came around couldn't be to nag him about his womanizing trait, since it was actually for the better of her if Aston had a bad reputation. It would only contrast to hers and the crown princes.
Viewed from this angle, her visit might very well indicate that she already knew Nathaniel was here. That explained her lack of surprise. She already knew who he was and wanted to look for weaknesses. However, instead of talking to him or observing him... his gaze wandered to Katherine, and his brows furrowed. He wished she would have rejected the invitation.
Chatting happily, Katherine didn't notice the worried eyes of her betrothed. Soon, Nathaniel turned back to the prince and changed the topic. "Please arrange a meeting with Lord Orvet. I suppose you know him?"
For a second, the prince was distracted as he had still talked on and on when Nathaniel didn't even listen to him anymore. Then, he nodded. "Sure, sure. I remember him quite well. He once served a living flambed bird to me, swearing it was a phoenix. He must have some unlucky fate with fried meat because a few weeks later he fell into hot oil himself. I'm certain he isn't fully healed yet... but it isn't serve enough to refuse a visit."
Unexpectedly breaking into the conversation, lord Milton stuck out his chest proudly. "He reaped what he sowed then. Really must have a bad taste if he pulled the heraldic animal of the glorious Dragsa kingdom down for a scam. My Dragsa kingdom isn't something to laugh about."
As if on command, the whole table fell silent. You could've heard a needle drop. Even Katherine ceased talking when she remotely overheard the name of her home country and curiously glanced at the balding man in his overly formal suit. To speak so proudly about being from the Dragsa kingdom in the Icelands... was he dumb?
However, obviously nobody cared enough to remind him, because after a pronounced pause, they started eating again and Aston switched to a new topic he could babble on about. Only Katherine was curious enough to follow up. "If I may ask, lord Milton, what is your connection to the Dragsa kingdom?"
Lady Milton, who looked like she just waited for such an opportunity, finally opened her pigeon mouth. Her pointed nose raised up into the air, she declared: "We are proud to call ourselves nobles of the Dragsa kingdom. My husband is the marquess of Ydalir, a very important position. Of course, someone from the Icelands wouldn't know such basic things. Though I personally think the Icelands are a lost case, the king begged us to come here and bring light into these uncivilized lands. He is such a generous man, worrying even about barbarians."
Katherine's mouth nearly fell open at this lady's level of ignorance and intolerance. However, lord Milton frighteningly nodded along. What the... these people represented the Dragsa kingdom? She felt a mayor headache coming. No wonder the two countries were always in a clinch if this was the level of their diplomates. Although nobody reacted unduly, she had felt the whole room grow colder after lady Milton's statement. The servants even distanced themselves from the pair inconspicuously.
Before Katherine could tell them a piece of her mind, a hand lightly tapped hers, making her pause instinctively. Looking up, she met the earl's calm eyes. In them hid a mild warning. He was telling her to not get involved. When he saw that she understood, he turned to the delusional couple. "Luckily, my betrothed prefers these uncivilized lands. Dragsa's sense of loyalty disappointed her quite a bit."
Katherine took in a breath at the remembrance that cut into her like a knife. However, it was the burning knife cutting off rotten flesh. Right. Dragsa let her down. It wasn't only Ethan that betrayed her, but all the upper echelons of the kingdom, for they didn't dig deep enough to discover his deceit. Even if there were still good people in the kingdom, it didn't change the fact that she was betrayed. With her enemies ruling the country, why would she still feel the need to help them? She even thought about involving it in a conflict herself not this long ago. Dragsa, the country that betrayed her, couldn't be her home anymore.
Realizing this, her hand unconsciously grasped Nathaniel's like an anchor. Where then was her home if not in Dragsa? Where did she belong now? Into the Icelands? The deeply rooted antipathy against this enemy of her former country made her instinctively resist this thought. She was like a ship out in the ocean, drifting around aimlessly without a port in sight.
Would the enemy of her enemy really be such a bad choice? Contrary to the Milton's words, the Icelanders where not much different from the people of Dragsa if one excluded the outer appearance. Their manners, legal system and even language was very similar, though they spoke a different dialect in the capital. Now that she knew it, she noticed a hint of it in Nathaniel's voice sometimes, though he didn't have a real dialect. Still, she didn't feel at home here. Not in this boastful building with prince and princess visiting and pure white beddings in her room. Not with the people carefully keeping each other on arms-length. Was there any place to call home after she left Sleipnir?
When her grip around Nathaniel's hand tightened, only one came to her mind. She really missed the mansion.