Chapter 28 - The Morning of The Duchess
Eli had never allowed anyone to enter his dwelling. He had the senses of a ghost, easily sniffing out anyone’s presence nearby and always sleeping with one eye open. It was second nature to him since it had been key to surviving the war. No one dared to touch his favorite longsword.
Nevertheless, Edna mocked his habit and walked about his room freely without waking him up, even handling the sword that he cherished as much as his life. Damn it! He let out a curse word despite himself. He had a strong inclination to find out who she was even if by force.
Eli brushed his hair aside roughly and kicked the blanket away. With his thirst quenched with cold water, Eli listened again to the sound from outside.
The sound was not loud enough for others to pick up with the bedroom door closed. It was a sound that only Eli, who had very keen senses, could detect. But despite hearing that faint sound, he could not distinguish Edna’s movement at all. If this were a battlefield and not his own castle, with Edna as an enemy, Eli’s life would have already been over. He was lost in thought about the absurdity of it all and whether his senses had been dulled over the past month. After a while, Eli caught the fragrant scent of bread permeating through the door.
Eli washed his face mechanically, wiped it with a cotton cloth, and got dressed. When he opened the door with his long sword securely on his waist, he could discern the source of the loud noises at a glance.
* * *
Edna got up at dawn break and had Rowell guide her through the warehouse to inspect the supplies. The structure of the castle was already engraved in her head since she spent a short summer in it, but she didn’t bother to reveal it. There was a huge pile of supplies in the warehouse as she expected.
Upon sending Rowell down to the village asking him to bring back a barrow, a few powerful strong young men and women to work in the castle, and summon Abbot Noel, Edna began diligently sorting out the supplies in the warehouse.
Rowell returned from the village with a barrow and several young men and women in tow. Behind him came Abbot Noel riding a donkey-drawn barrow.
When the duchess said she would open the warehouse, they entered the castle with doubtful steps. They had not forgotten that Eli had left the land unattended for the past two years. In his absence, the land was plundered and the crops and supplies they struggled with disappeared like a bubble. No matter how scary the lord was, his land was no more than a place anyone could invade while he was away. They eventually had to submit to the truth that Eli would do nothing for this land or them.
Many people had already turned their backs on the land. The ones left now were living like corpses because they would have to wander around as vagrants even if they departed. Then, suddenly, a stir was created. Eli appeared in town with his new wife the day before, and today she sent for people saying that she was going to open the warehouse. But they couldn’t help but be wary of everything.
When they entered the castle, they huddled in the hall and stood looking at each other. Then Edna appeared in front of the villagers who had been standing there for a while. She was back from checking the current state of supplies throughout the warehouse, and as she looked at the terrified expressions on their faces with pity, she said softly, “I was trying to deliver it through the monastery, but I thought it would be better to show the will of the lord directly, so I asked for you all to come. The lord opened the warehouse. Although it is very late, I hope you would take into consideration that he has been very busy with the war.”
Someone asked back cautiously, “Madam, do you really mean that you’re going to give us something to eat?”
Edna gave them a more comfortable smile and gestured for them to follow her. “Of course. Isn’t it one of the great responsibilities of the lord? Those who came to work, please follow Rowell to the kitchen. We need to make a lot of bread. Shouldn’t everyone eat and cheer up in order to work?”
They couldn’t believe what Edna said, but they were busy trying to figure out who would move first. Right then, Abbot Noel, stepped up on behalf of the hesitating individuals who were eying the castle hesitantly and voiced obstinately, “Say that we avoid starvation right now, what do you plan on doing in the future? Are you going to turn all these people into serfs?”
Edna realized that he was a very thoughtful man, unlike when he provoked Eli with sarcastic and absurd remarks yesterday. She wondered if maybe he made such an absurd and brazen demand to protect the villagers from the hands of a ruthless lord. Edna smiled and replied in a soft voice.