The next morning, Alexander looked out of his window in time to see Catharine riding into the palace courtyard on a black mustang stallion. She raised a hand in greeting to two soldiers who she had evidently met the day before; she wore brown cotton trousers, and a black top, which exposed most of her shoulders, with brown leather boots that reached up to just below her knee. She rode with the expertise of someone who had been riding for several years, and Alexander went down to meet her. She dismounted just as Alexander left the building and looking up at him, she gave him an odd look for a moment, and then, as though remembering her place, she gave him a quick curtsy. Her horse nudged her, and she put a hand in a placating manner on his muzzle. “So this is Alex,” Alexander mused, and Catharine replied, “yes, sire. This is Alexis.” Her horse snorted, shifting his nose up at Alexander, and Catharine smiled briefly. Anna appeared at the top of the steps leading down into the courtyard, and said, “Catharine” loudly and gladly as she came down the steps. Catharine bobbed a curtsy as she said, “Lady Anna”, as Anna approached. “Is this your horse?” Anna asked, as she reached out slowly to stroke his neck. “Yes. This is my horse, Alexis,” Catharine agreed. Anna stroked his muzzle and said, “he’s gorgeous, isn’t he Alexander?” Alexander nodded, and Catharine, smiling broadly, looked down at her feet.
“There should be a spare stall somewhere in the stables,” he said, and Catharine, giving him another odd look, nodded once, and curtsying quickly, she turned and ran to the stables, Alexis trotting after her. Unsaddling him, she put the saddle and his reins in the tack room, and taking a small pouch from his saddlebags, she froze as a woman screamed. Running from the stables, she looked to the top of the stairs leading down to the courtyard; Katie was there, pointing to the gates, where a horse was trotting through, a man clearly unconscious on his back. Catharine ran forwards at the same time as Alexander, and together, they lowered the man to the ground. Catharine, setting the pouch down beside her knee, flipped it open to reveal various bandages, bottles and a small knife. “You came prepared for this?” Alexander asked, and Catharine replied, “Makeshift first aid kit. Always comes useful for unexpected things like this.” Alexander half smirked, as Katie and Anna helped each other to calm the skittish horse. Catharine, as she bound the man’s leg, where a wound oozed blood, noticed a small insignia on his shirt, and commented, “He’s from Doleatraya - a lord, by the look of it.” Alexander frowned, and Catharine pointed out the insignia. The man groaned briefly, and Catharine noticed there was a deep cut in his side. “This’s beyond me – he needs a proper physician,” she said, laying a hand on the man’s side beneath the wound, and then looking up at Alexander.
He nodded, and turning to Thomas, he said, “you heard her – get Adrian, now. Tell him it’s urgent.” Thomas nodded, and turning he walked quickly; Catharine and Alexander both said loudly, “RUN!” and Thomas obliged. He returned a few minutes later with an older man, and several other men bearing a stretcher. Catharine looked up from where she was applying pressure to the wound; she smiled at the elder man and said, “Adrian! Long time no see, my old friend”, as the elder man approached. Adrian, the palace physician, replied, “and I could tell you the same thing, you young rogue. I see you’ve kept the first aid kit I gave you when you left.” Alexander looked from Adrian to Catharine and said, “You know Adrian, Catharine?” Catharine, taking some more bandages from Adrian, replied, “Yes, sire – he taught me everything I know about healing – I helped him out around Adraela for two years, back when I was much younger and less mature.” Adrian added, “And I still haven’t found a student with her enthusiasm for learning since I taught Catharine. Nor one who learned quite so quickly.” The man suddenly opened his eyes, and began speaking frantically in Doleas, the language of the large, open wastelands and plains of Doleatraya. Catharine looked up at Adrian, who said, “I need him to calm down.” Catharine nodded, and looking down at the man, she said, “hedr elathaeu Catharine, edras, tes merta deñan, ers mendl schis wers”. The man fell calm, and Alexander said, “I never knew you spoke doleas, Catharine.” Adrian, leaning down to help pull the man onto the stretcher, replied, “She speaks every language she can learn. You name it - doleas, erdreas, even Serckreas.”
As they lifted the stretcher, the man lying on it passing to unconsciousness, Catharine said, “Adrian, please, you’re making it all sound overexaggerated. And trust me; I’ve told you before, overexaggeration doesn’t suit you, even at the best of times.” They laughed, and Alexander, who walked with them, said, “There’s a guest room opposite mine – we can put him in there.” Catharine nodded, and they took the man to the room Alexander had mentioned. Adrian tended to him, and once he was sure that the man was stable, Adrian left the room. Catharine and Alexander, who had been waiting outside, stepped towards him, and Adrian said, “He’s stable, but only just. I need someone to watch over him; I can’t watch him all the time, I have other patients who need me.” Catharine replied, “Well... I could watch him, if Thomas and Katie did the jobs I’m supposed to have done today.” Alexander looked at Adrian, who agreed, “In Catharine’s hands, I’m sure he’ll be as safe as if he was under my care.” Alexander, looking at Catharine, said, “You come and find me the moment he wakes up, Catharine. You do understand that, don’t you?” Catharine nodded, and replying, “I understand perfectly, sire”, she curtsied quickly, and the door shut behind her. Sitting next to the man, Catharine quickly noticed several scratches and cuts on his arm.
Standing up, she went over to a table by the window, and taking up a bowl of warm water, a piece of cloth and some bandages, she cleaned and bandaged his arm. That afternoon, Catharine was still sitting with him, and she was just about to change the bandage on his arm when he woke with a start. Looking at her, he sighed and asked, “Hedrs hertrl wasyuen”. Catharine replied, “Hedr elathaeu Catharine, edras.” The man looked at her calculatingly for a moment, and then, in an accented voice, he said in her own language, “you are very fluent, for a woman who knows a language which is not her own.” Catharine smiled, and replied, “thank you, sir.” Standing, she added, “Excuse me for a few moments,” and bobbing a quick curtsy, she left the room, and ran to find Alexander. She found him in the hall with his father, and running up to them, she curtsied quickly and waited as they finished their conversation. “Yes, Catharine, what is it?” Alexander asked, looking around at her. “You wanted me to come and find you when the lord woke up. He’s just woken up,” Catharine said, showing no sign of having just run from the guest room. Alexander nodded, and excusing himself from his father’s presence, he ran with Catharine back up to the guest room. Entering the guest room in front of Catharine, who shut the door behind them and stood beside the door, Alexander asked, “how are you feeling, my friend?” The injured man replied, “I’m feeling much better. Thank you for taking care of me.”
Alexander replied, “Don’t thank me. Thank Catharine – she was quick enough to help until the physician arrived.” Catharine bobbed a quick curtsy, and the injured man nodded at her. Looking at Alexander, he said, “I am Lord Edrelaos, from Doleatraya, and a good friend of your father’s. I have information he needs urgently.” Alexander said, “of course”; turning to Catharine he said, “Fetch my father, please, Cathy.” Catharine nodded, and curtsying quickly, she left the room and ran to the Great Hall. Edrelaos said, “She is a very pretty young woman, for her age.” Catharine, upon reaching Edward, curtsied quickly, and when he looked at her, she said, “Your majesty, the injured man in the courtyard has woken up. He says he’s Lord Edrelaos and that he’s got information you need.” Edward stared at her for a moment, and then said, “are you absolutely sure he said Edrelaos, Catharine?” Catharine replied, “His exact words were ‘I am Lord Edrelaos from Doleatraya, and a good friend of your father’s. I have information he needs urgently’, sire. Those were his words to Alexander.” Edward nodded, and they both hurried up to the guest room. Edrelaos looked round as the door opened, and got onto his elbows as Edward entered. “Edrelaos, my old friend – you’re still getting yourself involved with scrapes, I see,” Edward said, stepping forwards to the end of the bed. Edrelaos replied, “You’re still getting yourself involved with women, I see.”
Edward replied, “I’ve settled down now, Edrelaos, as you’ve no doubt guessed.” Edrelaos nodded, and Edward said, “how are you feeling, Edrelaos? Do you need anything?” Edrelaos’s voice was no more than a rasp now as he replied, “water... please, Edward. I rode a long distance until I got here.” Edward nodded, and motioned to Catharine; she had moved the moment Edrelaos had mentioned water, and she was soon sitting by the bed balancing Edrelaos's head as he drank. He eventually leaned his head back to indicate he had had enough to drink, and Catharine returned the goblet to the tray it had been standing on, and returned to her position beside the door. Alexander said, “You can go and do your job now, Catharine.” Catharine, curtsying quickly, replied, “Your highness”, and left the room. She hurried down to the kitchens, where, as she had done the day before, she worked with Thomas to make several large batches of cupcakes. Matthias, trying one in a quick tasting session, pronounced it was “better than the batches you made yesterday, Cathy. How on earth do you do it?” Catharine replied with a grin, “with a secret recipe, Matthias.” Matthias pleaded with her, but had no success, resulting in laughter from those present. Lord Edrelaos made it to lunch in the Great Hall, to Catharine’s bemusement. “It seems...” she said, as she looked out from the side door, “... that our new Doleas friend is one with an ability to be on his feet just hours after being pulled to a courtyard floor and stitched up.”
Katie, standing behind her, replied, “Oh, don’t say things like that, Cathy! Adrian doesn’t normally have to stitch people up, does he?” Catharine, looking back at Katie replied, “I once watched him slice and dice a person to get rid of a stomach tumour.” Katie stared at Catharine, and then she said, “That is actually disgusting. And you didn’t throw up or anything?” Catharine replied, “Nope, not one bit. Got a bit uneasy when I had to hold the tumour, but apart from that, I was OK.” Thomas, coming up to them, heard this and asked, “what’s all this about a tumour?” Catharine replied, “never mind that, we’ve gotta get going with the ale jugs again on the high table. Thomas, you put down the refills with Katie. I’ll sort out the empty jugs.” Thomas and Katie nodded, and the three of them stepped out into the Great Hall, Thomas and Katie carrying two jugs each. Catharine, leading the other two, bobbed a swift curtsy to King Edward, Alexander and Lord Edrelaos, and quickly took four jugs, hooking the handles on her hands. The three of them quickly disappeared through the side door, and the moment Catharine had set down the jugs to be refilled, Matthias called, “Cathy, you need to take out two more trays of your cupcakes for the soldiers. Several have already threatened to start their infernal chanting unless they’re taken out.” Catharine nodded, and taking up a tray on one hand, she balanced another on her hip, and pushed the door open with her free hip.
Several soldiers whooped when they saw the cupcakes, and Catharine smirked as she passed the high table. Setting the tray on her hip on the table closest to the left side of the high table, she said, “There you go, boys. Enjoy them, alright,” and moving further down the table, she did the same again. The table on the right of the high table moaned, and several soldiers shouted, “what about us, Cathy?” Catharine waved a hand at them and replied, “I can only carry two trays at a time, boys. I’m coming back though, don’t worry. Just behave until I get back, alright.” She stepped through the side door, and taking up two more trays of cupcakes, she slid through the side door once more, to several loud cheers. She grinned broadly as she passed in front of the high table. Lord Edrelaos said, “She’s very popular, is she not, Edward?” Edward replied, “Indeed she is. Have you tried one of the cupcakes, Edrelaos? They really are amazing – Cathy’s own recipe, I believe.” As Catharine returned to the side door, Edward leaned forwards and said, “Catharine”; she turned and bobbing a quick curtsy she replied, “Your majesty”. Edward asked, “Are the cupcakes made through your own recipe, or are they from a recipe you learned?” Catharine replied, “My own recipe, your majesty.” Edward, nodding slowly, smiled at Catharine and said, “thank you, Catharine.” Catharine smiled, and bobbing another curtsy, she turned back to the table she had just come from as one of the soldiers called, “mind fetching some more ale, Cathy?”
Catharine walked calmly back over and taking the two jugs he handed to her, she went back and sliding through the side door, she returned with two more jugs of ale. After putting these on the right table, she disappeared through the door once more. Edrelaos watched her the entire time, his expression one of deep thought. Thomas, having noticed this, said to Catharine as she came through the door, “Cathy, you know that Edrelaos fella’s been watching you the whole time?” Catharine replied, “Well, he did call me pretty when he woke up. And besides, sometimes, men don’t go after women because of their personalities or because of love. Sometimes it’s just because of their beauty.” Thomas commented, “You seem to have had a lot of experience with men, Cathy.” Cathy replied, “This guy proposed to me once. His only reason was that I was the beautiful woman he was looking for to give him some standing in court.” Thomas replied, “Well, that’s one thing I will definitely NOT use as a chat up line.” Catharine chuckled quietly, and lunch ended. That afternoon, Catharine spent about two hours in the courtyard with Katie, sweeping the courtyard. There were several soldiers, including one who happened to be Katie’s cousin, called Tobias. Soon, when Katie and Catharine stood by the courtyard steps, chatting during a break, Tobias went over to Catharine as a soldier with a lute began playing a well known countryside song, and said, “Would you mind a brief dance, Cathy?”
Catharine and Katie looked at each other, and laughed briefly. Tobias, to his credit, did not even slightly flush, and Catharine, looking at him oddly, replied, “OK, Tobias. But just the one, OK – Katie, c’n you hold my brush for me?” Katie took the brush from Catharine, and taking Tobias’s hand, Catharine grinned as several soldiers whooped and wolf whistled. Alexander, in his room, looked down on the scene, and smirked. Stepping back, Alexander turned to look at his father and said, “I’m not saying it’s not a bad idea, father, but I’m saying that Edrelaos is choosing the wrong person to accompany him in this attempt to get more information from the Doleas Court.” Edward replied, “You never know, Alexander, she may be more resilient than you think. And besides, it’s a good idea to include a woman – they probably won’t suspect Catharine of carrying information back to us. Just... put it to her, and see what she decides.” Alexander nodded once, and Edward said, “Just... make sure you ask her in front of me and Edrelaos. I don’t want to find out third hand, Alexander.” Alexander replied, “I’ll meet you down in the Great Hall, with Catharine.” With that, father and son stepped out of the room and turned in different directions. Alexander went down to the courtyard; once he was at the top of the steps, he called, “Catharine? My father wishes to see you in the Great Hall. I’ll see you there.” Catharine, who had turned to look up at Alexander as he spoke, looked at Katie, and when he’d gone, the pair of them spoke briefly, wondering why.
Then Catharine left for the Great Hall. When she reached the Great Hall, the large doors were shut behind her by two soldiers, and Catharine stepped forwards slowly. Edward, Edrelaos and Alexander either stood or sat at the other end, and when she reached them, Catharine curtsied quickly and after an awkward pause, she said, “you... you wanted to see me, your majesty?” Edward replied, “Yes. When Edrelaos arrived this morning, he did not ride into the palace courtyard by accident. He arrived to tell me that an old enemy of mine, King Desnekos of Doleatraya, is planning on waging a war against me. Edrelaos has offered to return to get more information, but his plan involves you, to a certain extent.” Catharine’s eyes flicked from Edward to Edrelaos, and then her gaze went to the floor. “If anything were to go wrong, Catharine, I’m sure Edrelaos would do what he could to make sure you arrived back here safely”, Edward said. Catharine was silent a moment longer, and then looking up at the King, she replied, “I will go, sire. It’s the least I could –” Alexander demanded, “you’d risk your life to go into a foreign land and gather information with a man you barely know?” Catharine replied, “I’d risk my life for my country, your highness, which is exactly what I’ve agreed to do.”
Alexander said, “But this is not going into a different country to learn cookery, Catharine.” Catharine replied, “I won’t be learning their recipes, sire. I’ll gain what information I can, and then I’ll return.” Edrelaos added, “And Alexander, I mean it when I pledge my word to keep Catharine as safe as I can. She’ll most likely be locked in the palace dungeons, but she’ll have a small satchel that I will supply her with to keep the information I gather safe.” Alexander paused for a moment, and then looking at Catharine, he said, “and you are absolutely sure you will do this, Catharine?” Catharine replied fearlessly, “Should I live or die, your highness, then I will do this... for my country, and for nothing or no-one else.” Edward said, “thank you, Catharine. There will be a ball held in two weeks. It would be both my honour as well as Alexander’s if you could join us... as a guest.” Catharine’s eyes flicked this time from Edward to Alexander, and then curtsying, she replied quietly, “the honour would be all mine, your majesty... I will join you for the ball.” Edward nodded, smiling, and said, “you are dismissed, Catharine. Return to your chores – and I believe some time this afternoon my daughter will wish to see you.” Catharine curtsied once more, and left the Great Hall. “She is a very brave young woman,” Edrelaos commented. Alexander replied, “That’s part of what worries me about this whole thing”, and he left the Great Hall after Catharine. Catharine returned to the courtyard to find Katie had left. Tobias told Catharine that Katie had gone to the kitchens, and Catharine went there to find Katie and Thomas in the middle of a heated discussion with Matthias.
Catharine and Katie were soon working on fresh cupcakes for the soldiers, and together, they went out to the courtyard, just as the soldiers entered the courtyard from outside the palace. Several soldiers, including Tobias, shouted out Catharine’s name; Catharine simply smiled, and sitting on the end of the banisters leading from the palace doors to the courtyard, she balanced a tray on her lap and handed out a cupcake to each soldier. As Thomas and Catharine had the day before, Katie and Catharine had forgotten the ale, so Katie returned to the kitchens to get several jugs of the liquor, but returned with Matthias and Thomas carrying a large cask between them. They set it down next to the banister on which Catharine sat, and Katie began serving out the ale. Before long, most of the soldiers began a chant which went, “sing, Cathy, please! Sing, Cathy, please!” Cathy instantly began declining, but the response was so furious, an enormous cry of “SING, CATHY, PLEASE”, it brought Alexander to his window. Catharine, looking up at Alexander, having caught his movement out of the corner of her eye, looked down at her hands again, blushing slightly, and Alexander smiled. Catharine looked back at the soldiers and said, “but I don’t have melodies for my other songs, boys, how’m I gonna sing them otherwise?” Tobias replied, “You did fine with that song yesterday, Cathy”.
There were loud shouts of assent, and Catharine eventually gave in. She was silent as several soldiers shouted, “please” continuously, until Katie shouted, “she won’t sing while you’re all shouting at her. Just shut up and let her sing, boys, why don’tcha?” The soldiers all instantly fell silent, and Catharine nodded her thanks to Katie, who smiled quickly. Catharine looked down at her hands and feet as she thought quickly, and then looking up over the heads of the soldiers, she sang, hesitantly:
“There are fields of gold,
Many I am told,
That lies in the land of old.
It is what I long to find,
And spend the rest of my time
Among those golden fields”
The man, who had played the lute when Tobias had asked Catharine to dance, began playing the melody Catharine had sung, and she smiled briefly before continuing to sing:
“And maybe a man I will find,
With whom I may spend my life,
In the land of old
Happiness I long to find
And spend the rest of my time,
Among those golden fields”
There was enormous applause when she finished singing, and Catharine blushed furiously. Edrelaos’s voice said from behind her, “amazing singing, Catharine.” Catharine gasped in surprise and turned, slipping off the banister and landing lightly on her feet on the bottom step. Edrelaos stood a few steps above her, and Catharine stared at him. Suddenly remembering her manners, she looked down, and bobbed a curtsy. Turning away, she helped Katie hand out the remaining cupcakes, and as she turned suddenly in response to a soldier calling her name, Catharine found that Alexander was standing behind her. She was holding a cupcake out slightly, and after a moment’s hesitation, she extended her arm fully. As Alexander took the cupcake from her, their hands brushed gently. Catharine’s eyes flicked briefly to their hands, as their hands paused briefly, and then she walked past him, pulling her hand from his. Alexander transferred the cupcake to his other hand, and the hand that had landed on Catharine’s hand fell to his side. Catharine was just heading to the side door that led into the kitchen, when she looked up and gasped in surprise when she found that Edrelaos was standing in front of her. She smiled a nervous smile and handing him the last cupcake that sat on her tray, she walked past him.
The side door shut behind her, and she said exasperatedly, “what is it with Alexander and Edrelaos today?” Katie asked, “Why, what’s the matter? Alexander hasn’t spooked you already, has he?” Catharine replied, “No. Men don’t really spook me, whether they’re paupers, or princes. It’s just the way they’re acting.” Katie pressed the matter, and once Catharine had explained, Katie replied, “Ah, well. The one thing you should know about Alexander is he’s notorious on priding himself to be something of a womanizer. Edrelaos, though...” As they were both washing up dishes for supper that night, Catharine slid a plate under the water, and looking at Katie with raised eyebrows, she said, “Well, Edrelaos was easy to read. He’s a definite womanizer for sure and I think he’s as good as picked his next target.” Katie winced and said, “Ouch”; lifting a set of dry plates, she moved them to another surface and said, “Let me know how that one turns out.” Catharine replied, “And thanks for the warning about Alexander. I’da learned the hard way, otherwise.” Katie smiled and said, “No problem.” Thomas ran into the kitchen, panting breathlessly, and seeing Catharine, he ran weaving his way through the crowded kitchen towards her and panted, “Lady... Lady Anna...” Catharine said, “Lady Anna wants to see me?” and Thomas nodded, leaning on his knees and panting. “How... how’d you... know?” he panted, and Catharine replied evasively, “lucky guess on my part. Take over for me?” Thomas nodded, and Catharine headed up to Lady Anna’s room, bobbing curtsies to both Edward and then later Edrelaos as she made her way through the corridors.