'Isn't it pointing in the Queen's direction too openly if I am killed when she is nearby?', Nathaniel deliberated. Maybe she was too crazy to care already, or too sure of her position. Someone who regularly send dead animals as presents couldn't be calculated by normal means. Maybe it was just another warning. Anyway, she had greatly underestimated him if she thought two guards and an untrained servant were enough to kill him. How unexpected of her. What a 'monster' would he be if three people could subdue him? Somehow, he found this contrast quite funny.
The Princess meanwhile nodded at Nathaniel's explanation. She hesitated shortly before saying: "Anyway, you shouldn't stay here. Mother can still come by at any moment. Follow me."
Because he was curious where she would lead him, curious about her in general, Nathaniel followed his sister out of the building and over the green field. It was sunny, but a bit cool outside.
When he noticed his right arm getting colder than the other, Nathaniel finally remembered that he was hit by the knife of the servant. The shirt was cut in this place and a wound about four centimeters long and one deep was revealed beneath it. Now that he saw it, he also felt the sharp sting, but since he was used to worse, his expression didn't change.
Though it should be treated in due time, the wound wasn't life-threatening. Ignoring the cold, Nathaniel slipped out of his dinner jacket and hung it over his shoulder with the bloodied side down, hiding the wound below it. The daggers had long since vanished in his sleeves again. It wasn't necessary to inform every passerby of what happened a minute ago.
With no bushes or buildings to hide spies in the vicinity, Nathaniel inquired: "I know that you know who I am. Why though would you act like you don't, even when nobody can hear us?"
"I don't know what you are talking about.", the Princess responded without turning around. "I only know that you are a guest of the palace, someone my father cherishes."
Nathaniel's eyes drilled into her small back as if he could get the truth out of it. His words, however, didn't linger on the topic. "How is Emilian doing? I didn't hear from him since your and his sixth birthday."
Suddenly, the Princess stopped. Her delicate hands curled into fists, she stared hard at the path before her: "Would you please stop talking as if you are connected to us? You aren't part of our family. You are nothing to us. Please refrain from using my brother's name as if you are close friends."
In an instant, Nathaniel's eyes turned dark like the bottom of a well. Silence descended. Then he said as quietly and peacefully as a breeze in a glacier: "Pardon me. I won't repeat this mistake. If your Highness would excuse me, I feel a little exhausted."
Without waiting for an answer, he overtook her and left. Staring at his straight back in an elegant black shirt, the Princess' anger slowly vanished. She sighed and rubbed her forehead. "That wasn't how it was supposed to be. Why did he have to mention this damn birthday? Acting as if it was a good memory... Milo will be angry with me again."
When she continued down the path, there was a troubled look on her face. Her twin Emilian, called Milo only by her, was the closest person to her heart, the one she wanted to offend the least. The moment they heard Nathaniel was coming to the capital, Emilian had taken her to the side. She remembered his advice word by word.
"We don't need to offend him. I know you are too curious to stay away, but keep a low profile at least. You can stay distanced if you don't want to be friendly. Just don't make him hate you." His grey eyes looked earnestly into hers as he cupped her face in hands. They were rough from sword training.
He had seen that she wasn't convinced, so he put on a sterner tone. "I can understand that you despise him, sister, I really do. But it will only give away our trail if we ruffle the monster's fur. He is good at following leads, so we can't give him any. If it is necessary, let me deal with him instead."
Finally, she had agreed. Though she was confident that the monster couldn't be as frightening as her anxious mother always told her, she liked how Emilian cared about her. Albeit strong herself, Helmina still loved the feeling of being protected behind his board shoulders and steadfast body. All she wished for was to stay like this forever.
Alone in the study, Nathaniel took off his shirt to inspect the wound. The bleeding had nearly stopped, but it needed to be rinsed and bandaged. Since he couldn't let anyone else come in contact with his skin, everything to do it himself stood on the desk. Though it would be a hassle to bandage his own arm, using Katherine's powers on it was even more of a waste. This was just a simple scratch, not his ever-annoying poison problem. At times like this, he wished Sam would come back from his mission sooner. The idea to get a substitute for the time of the mission didn't even cross his mind. As long as he lived, the status of butler would only belong to one person.
Dunking a cloth in a basin of fresh water, he began cleaning his wound, when suddenly he heard a creaking noise. He spun around.
At the door stood Katherine, her mouth opened as if she'd wanted to say something, before she was turned to stone. A stone that was slowly blushing from the ears downwards. Her eyes spellbound by the amount of delicious skin, she was lost for words. Then she turned so hastily that the tray crashed against the door frame. "S-sorry! Ah!"
By sheer luck, she managed to catch the falling tray. Only the fork fell down. Picking it up gave her the much-needed time to calm her raging heart. Damn, the Earl was hot!
Seeing his n.a.k.e.d chest so unexpectedly was completely different from the formal visit of a patient in sickbed. The patient's chest had also been attractive, but at the same time pitifully pale. Now she felt for the first time the full brunt of seductiveness a male's body could exclude. Knowing this was Nathaniel, the man she hugged and shamelessly leaned on, even intensified the dizzying effect. She couldn't believe nobody else had tried to snatch such a hot specimen away!
A very manly grin had spread on the Nathaniel's face as he put the cloth down. "Playing shy after staring at my body for a whole minute, hm?"
"I'm not playing shy!", Katherine instantly shot back. About staring, she couldn't deny.
"Oh, I see." Nathaniel nodded understandingly. "So red is your usual color. I didn't know I'm engaged to a tomato."
"I'm not a - " Suddenly, she turned her head, eyes wide like a goldfishes. "Wait. Did you just tell a joke?"
Nathaniel raised his brows, the face serious. However, the constant twitching of a corner of his mouth betrayed his real feelings. "Did I?"
"You did! You absolutely did!" Disbelieve and excitement combined in her voice, exploding into joyful laughter. "I can't believe it! You really joked with me!"
If not for the tray in her hands, she would've hugged this adorably sly fox in front of her. She now noticed that all the times she told herself that he wasn't doing it intentionally, he was too stiff and cold for joking, were just her imagination overwriting the truth. This mischievous devil had indeed been joking with her!
Though she wanted to be angry because he must've laughed at her behind her back, she was just too amazed that someone of the caliber of the Earl felt relaxed enough to play with her. Maybe this was what it meant to be lucky.