Chapter 3 - I’m Scared, Too
Elena became frustrated when she couldn’t think of a solution to her problems, but she still couldn’t stop thinking about her father and Logan, ‘What on earth am I supposed to do? How long is this conflict going to last? Is it only going to stop after Logan seizes this land, or will it be when he snatches me away? Why isn’t Father lowering his standards about his son-in-law? More than that, who would want to inherit such an insignificant plot of land from a man who has become enemies with Count Logan…?’
The family name was the only thing her father had, but Elena wasn’t even sure of this anymore, since there was no way of protecting it. She continued to walk, lost in thought. Her sighs deepened with each thought.
Then she heard something. Elena froze, looking around, but fog covered her vision. She heard the sound again, a sob. She crouched, unsheathing a dagger hidden in her sleeve as she strained her ears to listen.
The sobs continued and Elena relaxed. It sounded like someone was crying out in sorrow. The sad cries seemed to reflect her own emotions, and she found herself unable to pass by. Instead she moved into the forest to find the source of the sound. It wasn’t long before she found a woman drenched in water, shivering and crying.
“What are you doing here? Did you get hurt?” Elena asked.
The sobbing woman’s head jerked up as she looked around fearfully, surprised by Elena’s voice. When she laid eyes on Elena, her eyes went wide with fright.
Seeing the woman was about to scream, Elena quickly jumped in front of her to cover her mouth. This forest marked the border to Logan’s territory. Although there was only a slim chance that someone might find them, Elena did not want the woman’s screams to reveal her.
The woman looked Elena up and down, taking in her appearance. The first thing she noticed was Elena’s outfit: elegant, even if it wasn’t particularly expensive. The hand that covered her mouth gave off a faint perfumed scent as well, letting the woman know Elena was the daughter of a nobleman.
Elena also quickly examined the woman. Expensive clothes covered her tiny, trembling body, and sparkling accessories decorated her braided hair held in an updo. However, her damp brown hair and timid gestures made her seem pitiful. She looked young, too.
“Are you going to stay quiet?” Elena asked quietly. The woman still had her eyes wide open but nodded vigorously as if she had calmed somewhat. Elena double-checked her surroundings, then removed her hands from the woman’s mouth. “Are you alone? Why are you in the Townsend territory?”
The woman’s eyes shook, as if startled by the question. Then she turned her teary face away. Bruises marked her cheeks and ears, turning the skin black and blue.
Surprised, Elena sheathed her dagger and moved closer to the woman. “Were you attacked by wanderers? Are you badly hurt? Oh, my goodness.” Elena raised her hand and gently stroked the woman’s hair to calm her.
After some time, the woman slowly looked up at Elena. Terror was obvious in her amber eyes, and it pulled at Elena’s heartstrings.
“I’m Elena, the first daughter of Count Townsend. Don’t be scared. I won’t hurt you,” she said with a soft smile. Then she took out a handkerchief and wiped away the tears of the woman trembling like a fawn. Taking a closer look at her bruises, Elena realized someone had definitely hit her.
Gradually, the woman calmed down thanks to Elena’s ministrations. As her trembling subsided, she slowly approached Elena and sat closer to feel her warmth. It was a long time later when she opened her mouth and said, “I’m Lenoa, Count Logan’s wife.”
When she realized the woman was Logan’s wife, Elena stiffened without her realizing it. Her hand froze and she stopped wiping Lenoa’s tears. She had already known that Logan was married, but she never imagined she would meet his wife in a place like this. Did that mean Logan was also here? With effort, Elena loosened her stiff body so she could observe her surroundings.
“Why are you here? You should know that the Townsend family and Logan are on bad terms, don’t you?” Elena asked.
“I don’t know where I am. Because… I just ran away without much of a plan. I was so scared that I ran away as quickly as I could while he was asleep. I want to go,” Lenoa rambled, trembling. She looked up at Elena with huge, pitiful doe eyes.
At her words, Elena knew at once who had caused her bruises: Logan. Pity and compassion automatically welled up inside Elena, but she closed her mouth tightly and began to comfort Lenoa again.
Lenoa continued to tremble, bursting into tears as she said, “Logan doesn’t treat me like a human being. I want to go back. I want to go back home,”
Elena patted Lenoa’s head even as her heart pounded uncontrollably. Logan was near… What was she supposed to do in a situation like this? Elena waited for Lenoa to stop crying, conflicted. Goosebumps rose on her skin as she realized that, if she’d married Logan, she could have been the one who was running away and crying.
Elena could tell at a glance that Lenoa was a timid person. For such a woman to try to run away made it clear how she was being treated by Logan. Sympathy for the woman made her heart ache to its core. She couldn’t leave her alone; Lenoa had no way to defend herself from Logan. At the same time, Elena was so afraid her heart was beating unsteadily.
Despite her fear, she knew that Lenoa was not going to be safe if she was left here like this. She would be caught before she even got out of this forest, and she would suffer through dreadful things beyond imagination. Logan thought that a wife belonged to her husband, and he would require absolute obedience.
“If Logan finds me, he’ll kill me,” Lenoa mumbled to herself as if to affirm Elena’s thoughts, the last of her tears gradually subsiding.
Elena saw her vacant expression, then whispered, “Yes. He will kill you, and that won’t be enough for him.”
Lenoa glared at Elena resentfully. Elena pretended not to notice, getting up and beginning to look around the damp, shaded forest. She walked, scanning the trees surrounding her. Lenoa remained quiet and followed her, seemingly shocked by Elena’s prompt reply that she would die.
After a while, Lenoa asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m looking for a way to save you,” Elena replied.
“I’ll go to my father—”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Elena interrupted her, “You’ll get caught before you get out of this forest, and you might die.”
At that moment, they heard the distant voices of Logan’s soldiers. Lenoa began to shudder, hurriedly clinging to Elena.
“W-what do I do?” she asked, tears flooding down her face again. It seemed that she was only now realizing the tremendous consequences of her impulsive actions. She was so clingy that it was hindering Elena’s increasingly urgent movements. Lenoa was tearful and frightened. Elena would rather take her to Townsend territory, but that was unfortunately impossible. Still, it was clear that Logan would do something terrible to Lenoa if she was caught here like this.
“Can you hide me?” Lenoa asked, and she might as well have requested Elena to jump off a cliff with her.
Instead, Elena dragged the clinging woman deeper into the forest, saying, “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. Come with me. Come on, hurry.”
Elena rushed forward, constantly scanning her surroundings for something. She was sure it was here somewhere. Elena grew up walking through the forest like it was her home, but the urgency of the situation prevented her from seeing things clearly. She tried to think how far away Logan was, but Lenoa was still hanging onto her and kept getting in the way.
Elena kept looking around, asking Lenoa a question to distract her, “How did you end up here in the first place?”
“We were out here hunting foxes. I said I didn’t want to, but I was dragged out anyway.”
“Fox hunting? I see.” Elena nodded as she recalled Logan’s frequent hunting sessions that violated the territory boundaries.
“Is there really no way to hide me?” Lenoa asked, desperately.
“I’m sorry, Lenoa,” Elena said, earnestly apologetic, but when the woman started to cry again, Elena’s voice became stern without meaning to, “Shh! Lenoa, you mustn’t cry or try to run away, no matter what happens in the future.”
Her extremely firm voice made Lenoa cover her mouth with her hands and swallow her tears, and Elena continued, “You are a countess. You must not show your weakness to the soldiers. That will surely be the end for you. I understand that you want to run away, but this is not the right time. If you try, either Logan or the wanderers will kill you. Do you understand what kind of situation you are in right now?”
“Yes…” Lenoa answered in a tearful voice as she continued to follow Elena. The warmth from Elena’s hand cleared Lenoa’s mind and made her move, her stiff body loosening at last. It was the first time someone had held her hand so warmly like this.
Elena finally found what she had been looking for: mushrooms. She hurriedly picked the precious fungi that had sprouted in the trees, saying to Lenoa, “Tell them that you’re here alone to dig these up to use as a remedy for fevers. These mushrooms are a great treatment for them. You have to show Logan that you can do something in order to prevent him from walking all over you.”
Lenoa followed Elena around the tree and hastily picked the mushrooms. When she had first run away, she had thought it would be better to die than to continue living her horrible life, but that was no longer true. As the voices searching for her got closer and closer, the instinct to survive overwhelmed her.
Elena began to speak, “You are a countess. Don’t forget what I told you. You must never give up. The moment you give up will be the end of everything. You want to live, don’t you? Don’t you?”
“Yes,” Lenoa replied, “I want to live.”
“Then don’t give up. A different day will surely come, so you must protect yourself until then.”
“But… I can’t. I’m not a strong person,” Lenoa said, distraught.
Elena pulled Lenoa’s skirt up slightly to make a makeshift basket out of the fabric. Then she placed the mushrooms she had picked in it, telling Lenoa, “Don’t say that. No one is born strong. Life makes you strong. I’m not a strong person, either. I’m scared, too.”