"Criminal? I don't see a criminal. Just a girl that sneaks out at night.", Nathaniel responded in a displeased tone. "And it is still the same girl that told me it wouldn't run away."
"I wasn't running away!", Katherine retorted instantly, forgetting about the criminal to save her freedom. "I was just..." At first she searched for an excuse, but realized that none seemed plausible enough to deceive the earl. So she reluctantly told the truth. Or half of it. "I... I like thrillers very much. So I was just curious what a real dungeon would look like."
Nathaniel's face was like a mask, cold and unreadable. She couldn't tell if he believed her or not. "Is that so... ask the dungeon master for a tour next time. I'm sure she will be very happy to show you, right, Christine?"
He looked over at the slim, wax-faced person, who nodded with a creepy grin. Katherine was flabbergasted. The combination of his words and actions was just too unbelievable. This... this creepy person wasn't a prisoner, but the dungeon master? Well that would still make sense. But how the hell was this... this thing... a WOMAN?! "Is... is this really...?"
She couldn't even voice it out loud. The dungeon master looked nothing like a woman. She was flat-chested, tall and skinny enough to look like a skeleton in the wrong light. Her nose seemed to have been broken once or twice and the eyes were sunken in, leaving their color to imagination. And that damn creepy grin, caused by the width of her mouth compared to her tiny head, was like lips were drawn on a skull. Adding to that were the mans clothes and short black hair, contrasting to her overly white skin.
The earl's eyes twinkled. He had expected that reaction, and without remorse dropped the next bomb. "Let me introduce to you: Christine Bale, only daughter of the undertaker Bale, since a few years responsible for everyone I don't like in this mansion."
He waited a few seconds to let the information sink in. Katherine's eyes bulged out, and her mouth fell open. Then slowly she took a few steps back, her gaze on the dungeon master and Nathaniel alternately.
A devilish smile out of schadenfreude spread on Nathaniel's face as he continued: "Though what I admire the most about her is not her background, but her torture skills. Better than every man I've met. Now, do you still want to visit the dungeon?"
Without hesitation, Katherine shook her head and took another step back. "I don't want to... it's okay... I will just... go back to bed!"
Carefully, she walked backwards, and was just about to turn and run, when a hand grabbed her elbow. It was the earl, a suspicious glow in his eyes. "Let me accompany you, so you won't be scared and run away from home like a coward."
Instantly, anger ignited in her. How dare he think that! Even if she really wanted to, he was not allowed to think it! "I won't run! I'm not a coward!"
"Well, then think of me as a gentleman who can't leave a woman alone in the dark of night.", he said with a raised brow. It was obvious that he didn't believe her.
"Do what you want. You do it anyway, right?" She struggled out of his grip to climb the stairs. Although she felt uncomfortable with the Bale-woman behind her, she forbid herself to look back. She wanted to show them that she wasn't scared of anyone, even though it wasn't true.
Nathaniel followed her a second later, a bit amused. Actually, he'd missed her temper in the days they were apart. Her proud and decisive actions never missed to light up his day, though most of the time they would make him mad, too. When he saw her again tonight, he was surprised when she nearly jumped at him. Luckily, he still reacted fast enough and held her away.
Of course he didn't believe the nonsense about how thrillers were the reason for her to run though the night alone. She might be fiery, but she wasn't dumb enough to anger him over something like that. He didn't know if it was running away or some other reason though, as she had no bag to store at least a minimum of survival tools. Either way, he was going to bring her back himself to make sure she wouldn't slip away again. One thing never changed since the beginning: he couldn't let her leave.
They walked side by side silently. They didn't even look at each other, just like two strangers coincidentally on the same path. Katherine was still annoyed that he didn't have the tiniest bit of trust in her and he, who had been trying very hard to keep away from her in the last days, didn't want to let his afford go down the drain.
Though she didn't look, Katherine was very consciousness of his presence and it annoyed her to the core. The closeness reminded her of the moment they shared in the cave, and his rejection when he left the carriage repeated in her mind again and again. It was like rubbing salt in her still bleeding wounds. When they were just a corner away from her chamber, she stopped abruptly and turned to him. "That should be far enough, right?"
Nathaniel narrowed his eyes. "Why? You got something to hide?" He knew there wasn't anything, but her tone annoyed him. There should be at least a minimum of respect for him, right?
She gritted her teeth. "Me? Something to hide? What does that matter to you?! I'm just that annoying burden you need to entertain until your brother is healthy again! Besides, don't you keep enough secrets yourself? When did you plan to tell me about the Renat kingdom?"
Suddenly, his gaze turned sharp enough to drill holes into her body. "You know?"
"Of course I know!", she exclaimed angrily, even though it wasn't true. "How long did you plan to hide it from me? Till they run over my dead body?!"
"That will never happen." The air around the earl was cold again, his words icy. Somehow, it calmed her down a bit as if his ice soothed her fiery temper. Or maybe it was because he sounded so sure. As if it was an unquestionable statement.
But she wasn't prepared to give in just how. "How do you know? Do you know what they have up their sleeve? If you are so sure, why did you evacuate?"
It was all just guesses on her side, depending on what she had heard, but it seemed to suffice to get him to speak.
"The towns people are another matter. I can't protect all of them when the army arrives. But as the troops won't even reach the mansion, hurting you is out of the question.", he explained slowly.
So the trap was one the earl build for the Renat-kingdom most likely, Katherine deliberated and the relieve let the rest of her anger disappear. "Looks like you are prepared. I'll trust you for now. Either way, if I die, your brother will die too, right?"
Slowly, the earl nodded his head. "Most likely. You should look after him again tomorrow."
Was it in case something went wrong and she really died? She asked herself. So that his brother would at least have a few more weeks? The thought made her mood sink into a dark pit again.
Of course, to continue to get the earl's protection she couldn't heal his brother just yet. Maybe after the attack, when she was still safe and sound. "Okay. Until then, good night."
She waved at him and left for her chamber, unwilling to spend more time with a person that only saw her as a mean to safe someone, not as herself and certainly not... as a woman.