𝔖𝔦𝔠𝔨𝔢𝔫𝔢𝔡 𝔱𝔬 𝔱𝔥𝔢 ℭ𝔬𝔯𝔢 (2)

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"You sought for me?" She sauntered close like a predator on a hungry prowl. Her hungry glare landed on one target; an aged man with deep indented deep lines and a stern demeanor, who reciprocated her gaze of dead endearment.

"What was the mess earlier I heard about Sir Reynolds?" Lord Sutherton scowled.

"What? About the fat man quitting?" She feigned innocence, picking at her nails.

"What did you do?" His glare was severe.

"Your wife can tell you, can't she?" She glanced at her frowning mother.

"Watch how you speak in my presence." He strictly scowled.

With a pursing of her lips, she folded her arms over her chest. "My apologies, Lord Sutherton. Was my speech so truly offensive? I was merely suggesting that Lady Sutherton was present, thus she might be able to provide firsthand details."

Scowling, he continued speaking. "We were not expecting you back for another few months," he coldly said. "As you are aware, the Independence celebration will be held at the capital, and we will be away until such. Do you understand what that means?"

She sucked in her breath, keeping her gaze distant. "I do, Lord Sutherton. Must I also assume there was no invite for me? Again?"

"Yes," Lady Sutherton cut in with a low sly voice. "Perhaps, if you hadn't angered the First Prince Kaelixson-Nier, then you might've been able to come and properly socialize that you are of a marriable age. Maybe we would have had more options available for you, then."

"Yes, what pity, mother," she cynically said, glaring at her mother.

"The point is, Erina," Lord Sutherton said. "You would do well to be sensible while we are away. Do you understand that? There is only so much I will allow of your foolery."

"Of course." Her smile was taught. "Anything else you require of me?"

"I don't want to hear about any disarray when I am at the Tricitadel, and that's final. Clear?"

"Yes." She nodded. "Thank you for the warm welcome home, Lord Sutherton." She resisted a scoff. "Your kind words move me."

Her derision only allotted a deeper glare from her father.

"May I be dismissed, if that's all?" Her head hung low.

"We are not finished."

"When are we ever, Lord Sutherton?" she sardonically replied.

"E-Erina." Lady Sutherton quickly interrupted their harsh glares. "Easy with your tone, please."

She cut her eyes towards her mother. "My apologies, Lady Sutherton. I forgot you were here."

Lady Sutherton cast her eyes aside, cleared her throat, and reached for her glass on her husband's side.

"Well?" Erin narrowed her eyes. "Since we aren't done yet, and I'm already consuming so much of your precious time, I might as well continue to overindulge myself. May I ask, have you heard anything else from Sabina?"

There was a prevailing intensity in the air at the mention of the name.

Lady Sutherton gulped, speaking cautiously. "Erina, dear, why are you to bring this up? We've talked about this already when you first came home."

"What have we even talked about? Last I recall you told me to act normal and promised all was well. Am I not allowed to question what exactly is 'well'?"

"What? Whatever do you mean?" Lady Sutherton said, shocked.

"Pretend not with me. Was I not shipped off to a detention center in the middle of nowhere because this is a 'sensitive' incident?"

"D-Detention Center?" She choked the second the words fell from Erin's lips. "Please don't make it a habit to go around calling Madame Marigold's Academy For---."

"---The troubled?"

"No, that's not correct, Erina." She swallowed. "If anyone asks you about it, the proper name is Marigold's Board and Academy for The Refined."

"Surely, mother."

"At least promise to make the effort to say it properly." Lady Sutherton took another gulp of her drink. "We don't need any more rumors circulating around you. It's not a good look."

"Right, I'm sorry. We don't need to lower my marriage value---any further than it already is."

"Erina!" Her eyes went wide. "Don't make light of that."

"I'm not, I'm being economical, mother. Anyway---." She shifted her eyes away from her mother's sour stare. "Has Sabina written back to you yet?"

"You read her letter. She is fine, and she is being taken care of," Lord Sutherton said.

"Right, then explain why she hasn't contacted us for some time?"

"Erina." Her mother spoke up. "Don't be like this. Sabina is being taken care of. She said so herself. There's nothing more to say about this except try to be understanding about this matter."

"Is that what the first Prince said? Did he tell you that everything was fine, and Sabina was fine and that there was nothing to worry about?"

"Erin." Her mother stared.

"You know, I've been very understanding about this, for quite some time now." She sharpened her eyes. "But Sabina did come to us that night if she did not need help. That little flimsy letter said nothing except that something is wrong! What if the 'Glorious First Prince Kaelixson-Nier' made her write it? After all, he's the one who has been at the root of this problem from beginning to end---!"

"Enough!" Lord Sutherton snapped, not letting her dare get out one more syllable. "This matter has already been decided." He shot up his hand as a sign for her to cease, and almost immediately her lips bolted shut any resolve of hers fizzling out.

"Do you understand?" He stabbed her with a glare so deeply infused with disapproval, that she could feel it even as she looked away.

Erin steadied herself and gripped the top of the nearest seat, trying to earn strength. Standing there across from them, her legs suddenly felt wobbly. She couldn't find the words as she glanced at them rooted in their seat, the table between them creating a natural barrier that felt like a mountain to climb.

In mechanic automatic motions, she weakly gripped the top of Ezra's chair that she stood next to.

"I...." She struggled for words, a tingling feeling stinging her glaring eyes. "Fine. I understand, Lord Sutherton."

With one glance at them, the sight of their ironclad grimaces and empty stares weakened her.

"I understand," she said again.

Worn out, she pressed her eyes together, pinched the core of her nose, and tried to pinch away the burning feeling in her glassy eyes. With an uneven inhale, she sucked the thick air and swiped another glance at the brick wall across from her. There was a heavy frown plastered on her face as her eyes traveled around despondently.

That was when, suddenly, very suddenly, she noticed something. An 'object' in the foreground. A tall figure of quiet, composed, and unfazed. A creature, seated in the exact seat she was gripping the rim of. She furrowed her brows, as stared at the young man patiently sitting without a word in the seat that she had just decided she needed for her shaking legs.

So, her response that followed was only natural.

"Move." She didn't bat an eye as she commanded Ezra to leave his seat. "I need to sit."

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