Chapter 25: Marching Orders

Only a foolish commander attacks from a single direction. — Wastin dea Hamin

The carriage came to a halt in front of Manor Rose. She could see the familiar colored walls through the ripples of the curtain over the nearest window. The sight of it brought a welling of fear and sadness inside her. She missed calling the manor her home. If it wasn’t for the summons, it would have felt like coming home after a long vacation.

It only took Tabithas a moment to get off and open the door. “Bedame Lily dea Kasin?”

Lily struggled to look at older woman. “Thank you, Tabithas.”

Tabithas smiled and gave a brief nod. She gestured to the front door with her free hand. “Gaston will know where your mother is.”

At the top of the steps, Gaston stood in his black suit despite the midday sun. He wore a top hat with the Kasin symbol on the side. A matching sigil marked his lapels and his cuff links. He tugged on one of them before coming down to meet her. “Welcome again to Manor Rose, Kudme dea Kasin.”

Lily took his offered hand and continued up the stairs.

“Tadame Sarlin can be found in the Golden Rose room,” he said. “Do you wish an escort?”

She hesitated, one hand reaching for the door. Gaston had never offered to escort her around the house before. It didn’t make sense, she had lived there since it was rebuilt. Her hand lowered. No, it wasn’t her home anymore. It had been a month since she moved it. She felt her composure crumbling. “N-No,” she gasped. “I know the way.”

“Very well, Kudame.”

The way he said “kudame” felt malicious. She gritted her teeth and headed inside.

It had been a month since she had last visited her old home. Very little had changed other than a few pictures her mother had always rotated in the front entry. Lily could tell that the Ralain family had just visited or was visiting judging from the number of scenes with the two families.

The Golden Rose was one of her smaller rooms. Her mother used it for close friends because it had larger chairs and a well-stocked selection of fruit and ice wines.

With being called a “kudame” still stinging, Lily walked down the hallways of portraits. Her stomach twisted with discomfort and she felt disconnected, as if something terrible was about to happen. She had to keep her hands clasped in front of her to avoid rubbing her eyes.

At the door, she knocked thrice.

“Get in here.” Her mother sounded curt, which meant she was furious.

A tingle of fear raced along Lily’s nerves, scraping against her senses. She took a deep breath and opened the door, pushing it gingerly open and looking inside. When she saw her mother walking toward her, she opened it fully.

Sarlin stopped in front of Lily. Her face was twisted in a frown.

“Mother, I—”

Sarlin stopped in front of Lily and slapped her.

Lily’s words froze in her throat. As the sting of the impact spread across her face, she stared at her mother unable to come up with a response.

Her mother, on the other hand, had a second response. The second slap hit the same spot, sending bursts of sharp pain and white spots across Lily’s vision. “You ungrateful girl!”

“I—” Lily pressed her hand against her cheek, tears burning in her eyes.

“Quiet! I spent thousands of jems on your little business. I pulled strings to get you mentored by a good woman, a great woman, just because you showed some minor talent with cloth and sewing!”

Lily staggered back, cringing as the tears began to fall again.

“I did all this despite you being spoiled meat, a hunk of bone and gristle that not even the dogs of society would gnaw. I did this. I did it and how did you repay me? By breaking your promise with Djulian’s beautiful daughter!”

“I haven’t broken—”

“Silence!” Sarlin lifted her hand to slap Lily again.

Lily backed out of the room, her hand still on her cheek.

Sarlin followed after her. “Don’t you dare run away, girl!”

Tears running down her face, Lily struggled not to turn and flee. She kept her palm pressed against her cheek as she glanced to her sides.

On both sides, there were large portraits of the house matrons looking at her with their stern looks on their faces. It was the usual expression that she had grown accustomed to seeing for her entire life, not one smiled in portraits. However, at that moment, it looked like they were looking down at her with disapproving glares.

She turned back to her mother.

Sarlin stopped for a moment.

Lily opened her mouth but, when her mother raised her hand further, she closed it with a snap.

“Djulian is a good friend of mine, do you understand? She has remained with me as a proper lady of this society. One who knows her place and has flourished in it.”

When there was a pause, Lily realized she was expected to give an answer. “I’m working on it now. It isn’t due until next week and I’ve—”

Sarlin’s face darkened. “You will work on nothing else besides her dress until it is done.”

“I can’t do that. I have other client—”

“No other dress! No other party, nothing else! I owe the writ to your store and I will tear it up!”

Lily flinched with every screamed-out sentence. She lifted her foot to step back but didn’t. Slowly, she put it down and tensed.

Sarlin’s hand rose up again. She shook for a moment, then stepped back. “You may have been my daughter, but don’t hesitate for a moment to think I won’t cancel the loans you made for your business.”

It felt like her mother had punched her in the stomach.

Sarlin glared at her. “I swear to you, if you don’t have her dress done by the end of the week, I will do it. Daughter or not, you are a kudame and already a stain on my reputation. I have no other daughter to lift myself, so I must carry the burden you have heaped on me. I will not let you drag my reputation down any further.”

She turned away from Lily and stormed back into the waiting room. One hand snapped out and she slammed the door behind her.

Lily winched at the sound.

There was a thump as Sarlin sat down heavily in her chair.

Then silence.

With tears in her eyes, Lily turned and headed out of the house.