Chapter 4 - Elena Townsend
As soon as he had gone, Elena flopped onto the ground. She could not stand anymore; all her energy had drained out of her like an ebbing tide.
Her younger sisters, Rowena and Marina, had been hiding while holding their breath, but now they snuggled into Elena’s trembling arms. She hugged her sisters like she was their mother and calmed her quivering breath. She had to endure this. She had to until her father found her a husband who could confront Logan.
Elena gritted her teeth as she suddenly began to cry. She didn’t want to cry and tremble in fear because of a man like him. The pride of the Townsend household did not allow such uselessness. Elena was a Townsend, and she could not besmirch her dignity by breaking down in fear because of Count Logan.
Two years later, Elena walked through thick fog, carefully observing the ground. Mushrooms were in season, secreted in the dark and damp shade beneath the trees. Elena had left the castle early in the morning with a plan to dig up some mushrooms for medicine. As she passed through a dead silent village and approached the forest’s borders, she could see that the land was becoming increasingly devastated, a product of Logan’s continued raids. Elena let out a quiet sigh as she took in the horrid sight of burned wood and soil.
Count Townsend had relentlessly asked the king to stop Logan’s increasingly unbearable assaults. It had all been fruitless, but Count Townsend had no choice but to complain to the king; he couldn’t solve the problem himself.
After all of his complaining, the king’s answer had just been, “I don’t have time to take care of the petty disputes in your land on top over everything else vying for my attention, so settle this issue on your own.”
If Count Townsend could have done that, the whole situation would have been long resolved. However, his forces were noticeably outnumbered, and Logan’s provocations were only getting stronger. If Logan continued, Townsend’s land was eventually going to turn to ash.
Townsend still had not found a son-in-law due to Logan’s interference, despite Elena now being 19. Count Logan had even married a viscount’s daughter already, but his greed for Elena hadn’t abated, and that greed was hindering her prospects.
“The main purpose of this trip is for your marriage. I hope you stay well-behaved, and that nothing unpleasant will happen while I’m gone,” Count Townsend had earnestly said to Elena before heading for the capital. He no longer wished for the king’s intervention, for Elena’s marriage had become a more urgent issue now that she was 19.
By “nothing unpleasant,” her father meant she shouldn’t dirty her family’s name. Elena’s father was someone who believed that women should value their purity more than life. It was the last remaining pride for the daughter of a nobleman, as the only thing she had to give was her family’s name.
A bitter smile hung on Elena’s lips. Her father was a stubborn man, but he was going to return again this time without any results.
Women usually needed a dowry to be married off, and Count Townsend was practically a pauper. Added to that, he wanted someone of high rank. With nothing but the Townsend name to offer, was it even possible for him to find the wealthy, powerful man he wanted as a son-in-law?
Elena let out another deep sigh. The sight of the devastated forest assailed her. This conflict was not unique to the Townsend family. Others faced the same throughout the country. Territorial disputes between lords had been going on for seven years now.
“Father should have accepted Logan’s proposal,” Elena unknowingly said aloud. If he had accepted the proposal, this land would not have burned disastrously. Wouldn’t it have been right to choose Count Logan even if it meant she would lose her freedom and he would ruin her life…?
Logan was an extremely violent man who preferred fists over talking. If Elena’s father had ordered her to take Logan as a husband, she would have had no choice but to obey. Her life would have become miserable, but she could have at least preserved this land.
She had voiced such things to her father, only to be harshly scolded. Townsend had been greatly offended that she would mention an already rejected proposal and had kicked her out of his study, telling her to simply pay attention to her role as the lady of the household instead.
“What on earth am I supposed to do…” Elena muttered to herself. She felt stuck, but it was now too late to accept his proposal. Monogamy was the norm in their society, and Logan had married a viscount’s daughter earlier that year. Elena felt a bitter taste in her mouth and swallowed. She didn’t know what to do.
Elena shook her head and took a deep breath. The thick moisture that stained the air made its way into her lungs. She would often wander in the woods and villages, avoiding her father. The count limited Elena’s actions to the safe castle, but she could not stay confined. The people’s lives had already been ruined from the long conflict, and she believed it was her duty to take care of them.
However, Count Townsend thought the opposite. Like other traditional nobles, he treated his subjects as if they were his property, and relentlessly beat them and lowered them into serfdom if they failed to pay taxes. Elena attempted to dissuade him every time, but despite the fact that Elena was the lady of the house after her mother’s passing, her father refused to allow her to interfere. This wasn’t just true for the Townsend family. Other aristocratic daughters also didn’t dare confront their fathers’ absolute power, instead obeying them unconditionally.
“How stifling,” she murmured.
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Lantern Against the Wind
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