Before the swords could hit his back, Nathaniel ducked away, and in the same motion turned, slashing for the opponent's knee joints. At some point in time, two daggers had appeared, one in each of his hands. They looked like sharp claws of a beast when one of them burrowed itself deeply in the back of the left guard's knee, in the slit between the armor plates. With a screeching noise that melted with the guard's scream, the other dagger hit metal and deflected.
The momentum of their attack made the right guard take another two steps forward, while the left one fell, but managed to land on one hand, propping himself up. Before he could get to his feet again, a ruthless kick in his backside destroyed his afford and he crashed face-first onto the floor. Only his helmet stopped him from being knocked out by the stone tiles.
Knowing that he'd need some time to get up with armor on, Nathaniel turned to the remaining guard, just in time to see a heavy strike flying towards his waist. Deflecting would be nearly impossible with only daggers and his weakened body, but the range was too wide to avoid it.
With a self-contemptuous snarl, the Earl nimbly stepped forward, swirling on one foot into the attacker's arms. It would've looked like a dancing move if not for the blade that stabbed in between the helmet and shoulder plate shortly after. Blood gushed out and the guard gurgled. But he showed a surprising amount of willpower as he let go of his sword and caged Nathaniel with his arms instead, wanting to give his partner a chance to land an attack within his dying seconds.
"That's why I hate this move", Nathaniel muttered under his breath. Not every opponent was smart enough to use it against him though, and the comrade of this one was not yet prepared to attack again. Harshly, Nathaniel pulled the dagger out of the wound. As the pain was distracting the man, the Earl slipped out of his grip only to feel something sharp grazing his upper arm. Since the guards were way more dangerous, he'd disregarded the female servant. She'd used the short time he was restrained to make an attack with her own small knife. She was obviously untrained in fighting, but her face showed a twisted hatred and determination that made up for it.
"You are the cause of my suffering!", she hissed. "Die! Die! Die!"
With each of her screams she slashed wildly for him. Going into the defense, Nathaniel slowly retreated, giving her confidence, before he caught her knife in between his crossed daggers and twisted it out of her hand. She panicked for a second, enough time for him to pick up the sword of the dying guard that was lying next to his feet, switching weapons.
Straightening his back, he was just in time to parry the blow of the guard with the injured knee. As the swords clanged against each other, a shrill voice suddenly screamed: "Stop! What the heck are you doing?!"
The guard halted, and out of chivalry, Nathaniel did, too. The voice was familiar to both, though Nathaniel was less impacted by it. There was only one person in the palace he respected enough to heed commands of.
"Stop fighting! Right now!", the Princess repeated. She stood in the hallway, her lavish peach-blossom-colored dress filling half of the big space. Though she was a rather small and delicate person, her aura marked her as someone who couldn't be trifled with. And she was used to having her wishes fulfilled the instant she voiced them.
Such as this time. When the guard saw the Princess, he backed off and lowered his sword. If not for his unwillingness to let the danger next to him out of his eyes, he would have bowed, but even like this his tone was humble. "Your Highness."
Different from the reasonable reaction of the guard, an ugly flash of indignation crossed the servant's eyes, before she lowered herself to the floor. She knelt before the Princess' feet and wailed: "Your Highness! I seek you to give us justice! That person suddenly attacked us when we crossed the hall!"
"Insolent!", the Princess assessed with a disgusted hiss. "Is that how you treat our guests? If he planned to kill you, you would already be dead. You are only alive because he doesn't want to offend the King!"
While saying so, her gaze went to Nathaniel and a fluctuation that was more wariness than fear was shortly felt in her aura. It couldn't be helped. The black shirt sprinkled with blood, the Earl now matched Katherine's first impression of him perfectly: that of a god of slaughter. With the murderous aura surrounding him, he looked even more devilishly handsome than normally, but completely emotionless.
His face was cold, as if the Princess' words got nothing to do with him. It was true though. If Nathaniel had used his magic, there would be nothing left to bury of the attackers. Good for them that this dangerous beast was caged by a bracelet for now. Besides, Nathaniel thought it would've been a waste of his recently regained health to use it in an ambush that was bound to fail on his physical capabilities alone.
"Princess Helmina.", the Earl greeted as he noticed her gaze, but there was neither a bow nor a nod, not even a polite smile lifting the corners of his mouth and softening the iciness. Instead he looked her in the eye like they were of the same standing. The fight earlier had shed off his usual elegant mannerism, leaving only the calculating war-machine behind.
The Princess didn't blink. After a while, her eyes wandered back to the servant to her feet as if she'd seen and heard nothing. "The both of you will retrieve punishment in court. Be glad if you can leave with your head intact after that."
With a snap of her fingers, a small group of guards invaded the room and brought servant, guard, and corpse away. The Princess, however, didn't leave. Over ten steps away from Nathaniel, she gazed at him with a neutral expression. After a minute of silence, she said: "Did you know this building belongs to my mother? Not far from here is the flower garden she loves so dearly. At this time of day, she should be watering the hydrangeas. She won't receive guests then. I wonder why you are here then?"
'Since when does she love the flower garden?', Nathaniel wondered, the confusion slowly breaking through his icyness. The woman he remembered never saw a point in nurturing things without use. Flowers certainly counted as such. Maybe the flowers were all disguised poison herbs. That would greatly down-grate the garden compared to the one he roamed as a kid.
He still remembered the big apple tree in the middle of the colorful fields, the flavor of the sun-kissed fruits in autumn. The flower garden framed by these colonnades had always been the most bountiful in the whole kingdom. It was also the place where he first learned that each flower had a different meaning, a different connotation of like and dislike, and the many things in between.
Before he was old enough to feel irritated by the color, he had bound a bouquet of pink tulips, big enough to hide his body when he held it over his head. His aunt had laughed brightly at the present before taking him up on her arm.
Pulling his thoughts away from the summer that was associated with sadness and guilt today, the Earl lightly shook his head. "You would need to ask the servant about that. She told me to follow her to the king but ended up in here before attacking me."