Chapter 9 - Help Me
“She went again. Father constantly told her not to go, but she did. I guess nobody can stop Elena,” Marina said, “I don’t know why she’s doing that at a dangerous time like this. What is she even going to do with the poor? She’s being weird, given that she knows what Father thinks of them.”
“Elena can’t imagine not going when someone asks her for help since there’s no one else to help them. I just hope nothing happens today—and Marina, we are responsible for the poor people of this county. Watch your mouth,” Rowena, her dress trailing behind her, walked past Marina and began to go downstairs, “It’s lunchtime, so I’m going to go help with the cooking. Come with me, Marina.”
“I don’t want to. I don’t understand why we have to do chores like that when we are the daughters of a count. I really don’t want to touch flour,” Marina complained.
“Don’t ever say that in front of Elena. In this situation, it doesn’t matter if we’re the daughters of a count. Don’t whine and rely on something as superficial as social status. Stop complaining and just follow me,” Rowena scolded Marina’s immature behavior with a soft but serious voice. She then led the way downstairs and into the kitchen.
The scorching heat from the fire pit was suffocating, but Rowena smiled softly without showing any signs of feeling uncomfortable, rolling up her sleeves and beginning to help the short-handed staff.
Marina entered the kitchen soon after, grumbling as she took out some flour from the corner of the kitchen. She sulked, her lips so pouty they looked more like a bird’s beak, but she still began to knead the dough, closing her mouth tightly and glancing at Rowena who was busy cooking the stew. At times, delicate Rowena was more difficult to deal with than strong, leader-like Elena.
“If I keep this up, I might end up learning swordsmanship. My shoulders are no joke from kneading dough every day. It’s probably a different story for Rowena, who only ever stirs a ladle,” Marina said as if to herself, loudly enough for her sister to hear.
However, Rowena’s only response was to furrow her eyebrows. She hadn’t heard Marina’s thoughtless words because she was struggling to get rid of an ominous feeling that was pervading her heart.
This wasn’t the first time Elena had left the castle, and it was normal for Logan’s attacks to continue for days. However, nothing had happened for more than 10 days, which gave Rowena a peculiar feeling. It made her heart pound uncontrollably and cold sweat trickle down her back. Her chest felt tight and her mouth burned.
Rowena deliberately moved closer to the fire pit and stirred the boiling stew with a large ladle. Gripping it tightly, she desperately hoped for Elena’s safe return. The urge to cry was trying to overtake her, but she steadfastly comforted herself.
* * *
Elena carefully cut the newborn baby’s umbilical cord before presenting the precious bundle to its sweaty mother, who was lying down with a bright smile.
“Good job, Jemma,” Elena told the new mother, “You did well. She’s a pretty girl.”
“Thank you so much for helping me like this, Lady Elena. I don’t know how I can express my gratitude. Thank you so much.”
Elena held Jemma’s thick hands which, though Jemma was younger than Elena, were rough and rugged due to the hardships she had been through. Elena shook her head and spoke with a bright expression, “What are you talking about? I just did what I had to do. Now get some rest.” Elena gently swept back Jemma’s hair with a smile.
Jemma’s eyes closed due to fatigue, as she relaxed in Elena’s comforting presence and tried to feed her squirming baby as much as she could.
Elena moved quickly to organize the midwifery tools around her. Outside the house, it was strangely quiet. Nothing had happened for the past few days, but the town was tense since they constantly had their guard up. The silence and stillness gave an eerie feeling. Elena moved faster and faster from the sense of foreboding. She didn’t feel good about this.
Elena carefully opened the old door to throw out the basin’s water. It was the last thing she had to do. She looked around as she took a step forward, and, as if it had been waiting from someone to come out, she felt a burning pain race across her cheek.
Shock froze her in place as she heard the crackling of flames, and heat began to radiate all around her. It was a flaming arrow, and it wasn’t the only one. Elena’s surprised eyes took in a hail of them shooting all over the village.
“Oh, no. No, it can’t be.” As soon as her frozen body began to thaw, Elena poured the water from the basin onto a burning wall.
“Fire! There’s a fire!” she shouted, rushing to the village well.
People began to rush out of their homes in response to her yells. The flaming arrows quickly burned the roofs made of crisply dried straw, the flames growing stronger. Elena frantically pulled the bucket up from the well, scooped up some water, and ran. However, a bottleneck formed as people picked up random things around them and collided with each other at the well.
“You have to wait for your turn to get water. You can’t just go at it like that,” Elena told them, but no one could hear her. Acrid smoke quickly covered the sky as people began crying out in agonized voices all around. In the midst of the crisis, Elena could hear the earthshaking sound of approaching cavalry. With the bucket of water still in her hands, she instinctively tried to get out of the way but fell. She quickly tried to get up, but then she heard a voice she never wanted to hear in a situation like this.
“Who is this? Were you waiting for me?”
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Lantern Against the Wind
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