194 The End of the Line

Bones slid over a piece of paper. Slowly, mendaciously. The golden fountain pen glittering in the sun left a row of words in a sharp and unforgiving handwriting. The handwriting of one who was once a prince excelling in swordsmanship, his head held high, and arms slung around young women on both sides. Today, he was but a skeleton. Yet even as a skeleton, he had a purpose to fulfil.

Under his labor, the letter turned longer and longer, boasting about foreign beauties and swordfights that never occurred. He made it clear that the Icelands would soon be under the control of Falumor. Then he signed under the text and sealed it with his personal seal ring.

As he had completed his work, he used a secret passage to return to the dungeon and his eternal slumber. All this while, he didn't spend a glance at the pair sitting on a sofa in the same room, sipping their morning tea silently.

"It still feels kind of off", the woman said thoughtfully, "If not for Mom telling me about his preferences, I would not have dared to write a letter so vulgar to the Emperor of Falumor of all people. Hopefully, nobody will notice the difference. We need a bit more time, thanks to these hard-headed fools of aristocrats."

The significantly paler male copy beside her nodded his head in assent. In a rather monotonous voice, he muttered: "They're not easily convinced. I expected the assembly of an army to be a bit smoother, but they still doubt father's death."

"It's not your fault. This incompetent guy was told to hit the heart, not the lungs", Helmina consoled him, and tousled his hair to free it of snowflakes. "Anyway, him and the hostages were dealt with accordingly. A shame we couldn't get a hold of the rest of his family though. But Vie said it'll be alright. The arrangements for your coronation are already in place. Soon, it will all be over, and you can really come back to me."

The already dead Emilian stared blankly into space, as if he didn't know what to think of this. Or maybe, contrary to Helmina's hope, in him was nothing left that could hold a thought at all.

.

Gently, Nathaniel cleaned Katherine's hands with a wet handkerchief. While treating the wounded, she couldn't help getting blood on them, and was staring at it ever since. Staring and trembling.

Inside, Nathaniel cursed himself. He didn't know where this sudden aversion was coming from but he felt that her state was his fault. He should just have the soldiers treat themselves when Katherine was distracted by her friends. Yet, that would go against his promise before and make Katherine upset all the same. There was no good solution to this dilemma.

In the end, Nathaniel found nothing to say, and just embraced her instead. When Katherine's head touched the fur of his coat, she suddenly came to, and started struggling. However, a few seconds later, she succumbed to exhaustion and snuggled closer.

"Guess I'm much frailer then I'd like to", she murmured. And, after a bout of silence, "Shouldn't we go a bit further away? There might be search parties when they find the battlefield later."

Nathaniel nodded silently and gestured for everyone to return to their horses.

"Umm, Nathaniel? The numbers don't match", Katherine reminded him. "I don't know about Cordcow, but Lady Brandon and Hazel could take my horse if... well, if I could ride with you."

She was glad about the darkness, as she hoped it would hide the glee in her eyes while she blinked up at him. "It would be irresponsible to let a woman ride with a man she doesn't know."

"Alright." Nathaniel wouldn't have needed the explanation to agree with her. After the episode from before, he preferred for Katherine to stay close to him until she had calmed down completely.

Mounting his horse, he watched Katherine arrange for the others until everyone was up on their four-hooved friends. Then he reached down and pulled her up before him. The scent of roses in full bloom slowly invaded the stench of battle that lingered on his clothes. But instead of relaxing him, like he expected, it made him kind of itchy. The residing adrenaline and her round bottom pressing against him only amplified it.

"What is - ?", Katherine began to say as she wiggled in front of him, and then turned back to stare at him wide-eyed.

Grimacing, he shook his head, and called for departure. Not for the first time, he wished that hard-ons were easier to conceal. He knew that this would get him in real trouble as soon as they were alone. The mischievous glitter in Katherine's eyes was enough proof for it. What he didn't expect, though, was that it would already be difficult on the ride.

"Katherine", he whispered through gritted teeth after a while. "Stop it. We can't have you glow like a sun out here."

"I'm not really doing anything. Suppress your magic, and it won't provoke mine", she returned, half annoyed, half exhilarated. With the up and down of the trot, it was a given that they would rub against each other more often than not. They were already at the back of the group, since Nathaniel couldn't concentrate on riding with the feeling distracting him constantly.

With a sigh, he halted his horse behind a tree, and turned her head towards him. Before she could utter a word of question, his lips descended on hers with ravenous hunger. Her confusion ended in a moan, her fingers digging in his clothes. For a few seconds, there were only wet sounds and ragged breaths to be heard. The horse stamped its hoof uncomfortably once in a while.

Finally, Nathaniel pulled back and licked his lips with glinting deep red eyes. Seeing Katherine lean against him weakly, her skin rosy and panting for breath, a sexy smirk curled up his mouth. "That will have to suffice for now. Hold on tightly, dear, we're going to overtake everyone."

Smart as he was, he chose the gallop this time, and reached a suitable place for camp before everyone else. All this while, Katherine's happy laugher rang like bells in his ears despite the strong wind, making him feel giddy and tempted all the same.

When they set up their tent, Nathaniel suggested to place it a bit offside camp, supposedly because it was quieter. Katherine blushed but didn't object. It would take some weeks until they'd had a real bed again. Excitement sped up her pulse all the way through dinner.

It surprised nobody that the two lovebirds excused themselves soon afterwards. Jack only wiped away an invisible tear and whispered: "My little girl is growing up too fast."

Everyone who heard him looked at him mockingly, but said nothing. The last days had everyone accept the little Princess as one of their own, someone they had to protect. That she took part in their running punishment surely played a role as well. Every one of these strong soldiers felt a bit strange that they now had to leave her unprotected to a beast that obviously wanted to pounce on her very badly. They'd noticed the tension in their commander the whole evening, a tension that could only lead in one direction. And since the commander's wife had returned the hot glances landing on her, the soldiers dared not interrupt, even though it felt like sending a rabbit down to the wolf's lair.

Meanwhile, Lady Brandon looked on from the sidelines and laughed about all these awkward men. Seriously, it was quite funny seeing them all worked up in worry when it was so obvious to her that the beast in question was crazy for his wife.

However, there was one person who was unexpectedly courageous in this situation where everyone else stepped back. When Nathaniel and Katherine reached their tent hand in hand, they saw her waiting before it with crossed arms.

"Your Holiness - ", Hazel began, but Katherine interrupted her instantly.

"Hazel, you should retire early today as well. Being taken hostage must have been a horrible experience. Just relax now. You're safe here. We're all safe. So, don't worry and go to sleep."

Hazel's shoulders sank down, her gaze hesitantly wandering to Nathaniel. Yet, she jerked in panic and immediately looked away when she met his red eyes. Biting her lips, Hazel whispered: "Milady, are you sure about this?"

Comfortingly, Katherine's hand landed on her shoulder. "Absolutely sure. Now, go to bed. We can talk tomorrow."

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