A commotion in front of her chambers shook Katherine out of her sleep. It was dark night outside, so she unwillingly turned to the other side and hoped that whoever it was would go away. She just had a dream of her early childhood when her mother took her for a trip, and she wanted to soak in this wonderful memory a bit more.
It was the first time she had been away from home, a spontaneous adventure. They had left the castle of Sleipnir secretly at night. She might have been four or five as her magic hadn't awakened yet. Furrowing her brows, Katherine tried to remember every detail to edge it deeply into her mind.
"Your father is no fun", her gypsy mother told the little Katherine while saddling the horse. "So, we have to force him to play for his own good, you understand? We'll play hide-and-seek. You have to remember to hide well. We can't make it too easy for him."
They traveled day and night, Katherine sleeping between her mother's arms in the saddle. Maybe that was where her affinity for horses came from. Now that she thought about it, it was a bit much to ride day and night for a game, but it was just how her mother was. If she did something, she would do it with her heart and soul.
Though Katherine got to see many beautiful sceneries, they didn't meet many people. Her mother knew which plants to eat in the wild, so she stayed away from towns. Nonetheless, it took her father less than a week to find them.
Suddenly, the door to her bedroom opened. Katherine looked up to find Hazel peeking inside. She seemed nervous. "Milady, the earl is here. He wants to see you."
Katherine's heart skipped a beat. Nathaniel came to visit in the middle of the night? What was his purpose? Fl.u.s.tered, she sat up. "Nathaniel is here? Why - ah!"
Her cheeks turned red like ripe apples as the blanket fell away and she noticed she only had her red nightgown on. "Oh no! He-help me get dressed first!"
However, a hand in a black glove appeared beside Hazel's head and rudely pushed the door open. "We don't have time for that."
Nathaniel was still dressed like yesterday, in black shirt and trousers. It was slightly wrinkled now, untypical for him. In his other arm he held something wrapped up in a blanket.
With a shriek, Katherine pulled her own blanket back up, securing it over her chest. "G-get out! Get out now!"
Unaffected, Nathaniel lightly pushed Hazel aside and strolled into the room like he owned the place.
"Can't you hear me? I told you to leave!", Katherine repeated in a commanding tone that was the complete opposite of her slowly retreating body. She wasn't retreating to the side or back, but deeper into the white material around her. Every part of skin that looked out of the blanket was red from embarrassment, shimmering in the light of the candle in Hazel's hand.
"I dare you say that again after you see this!", Nathaniel answered just as harshly. He was obviously in a foul mood, but the hands putting down the package in his arms on the bed were gentle. He brushed away the upper part of the blanket, revealing what was inside. "Look!"
Unwillingly, Katherine's eyes followed the command, her mouth already opened for another yell. It vanished in her throat. Her eyes went wide. Then, with an impressively fast speed, she threw the blanket aside and crawled over to the package lying on her bed.
"Oh no!", she m.o.a.ned in sorrow, her hands trembling as she reached out to pull the reddened last part of the material away.
Beneath it laid a rabbit, his black fur sticky with blood. Around its neck was a thin silver chain with a glass heart and it was breathing laborously, too exhausted to even make a noise.
"Froseti!" It was the second time the poor rabbit was presented to her like this. Though she hadn't known him back then, she still abhorred the sight. She had gulped down the anger because it was kind of necessary to test her magic. Hurting a rabbit was still better than hurting a human in most people's eyes. Now however, she couldn't find a reason why someone would hurt this little guy. Whoever did that had to be a devil at heart.
"He is still alive. Hurry.", Nathaniel urged her.
She didn't even notice he was giving her commands again. Without hesitation, she laid her hands on the black fur, blood wetting her skin. All her thoughts were focused on saving this little life in front of her. Magic flickered and soon covered her hands in light.
While Katherine was focused, Nathaniel relaxed. He knew how important this rabbit was to her. She would do everything she could to save it. Since she saved even him, such a small animal shouldn't be a problem.
Long ago he also had an animal that was dear to him. Though rabbits were much less useful than horses. He would never hang his heart on an animal just because it was cute. Cute pets mostly had short lives, like rabbits. Wasn't it better to have one with a long life so one wouldn't have to mourn again and again? Not that his horse got much older than a rabbit. War takes the best of us. Whatever, it was her choice in the end.
Nathaniel sat down on the bed and looked at the beauty beside him. She was so focused that she didn't even notice that he was only a few centimeters away from her. As the seconds ticked by, his eyes wandered to her bare shoulders. Despite the cold, her nightgown was held by only two straps, exposing her creamy skin. Due to her bending down, the raven black hair parted on her neck.
Nathaniel inhaled deeply. The scent of roses filled his lungs. It was the last evidence that she was the kind soul that covered him with the blanket yesterday, not the intruder. So in essence, two people had come to his chambers last night, one to his bedroom, the other to the study. He really needed his own guard back.
Despite thinking so rationally, his body leaned to the side little by little, savoring in her scent and presence. There had been a note on his bed, just far enough from the blood to not be tainted. The ink was golden, but it could've as well been written in blood.
"The woman is next."
Of course, he knew that killing a human was not as easy as killing a rabbit, especially if she was well-protected. Nonetheless the thought had chilled his blood and, at the same time, made him angry.
He knew from the beginning that she didn't want him back, but she really was getting bold, threatening him like this. Was she eventually losing her fear? He might have ignored her nonsense for a long time but that was as long as it only involved him. Sinners deserved punishment. Sending him dead rats for Christmas was already testing the border though.
Now, it was a different story. She had pulled Katherine into her game and might be a threat for the whole city if she really was involved in the disappearances. Innocent lives.
Dear mother, Nathaniel thought and gritted his teeth, you better prepare yourself well!