3. The Good Witch of the Lake
Roze reminisces of the day she first meet him.
—it happened shortly after her grandmother died;
Roze, who at the time is still a budding witch, fails at concocting potion—something that wasn’t an unusual occurrence, either.
That day, for the first time in her life, she has to go replenishes the ingredients by herself. Alone, in the big city.
The Capital is right next to the forest Roze inhabits. For all she knows, the forest might have been part of the Capital all along.
The city is brimming with smiles, liveliness, and noise—everything the woods don’t have.
The highway, paved with stones of many shapes, is surprisingly easy to tread on.
Houses made of bricks are lined up together in neat order. There are tents in front of them. In one of the tents, sacks full of grains and baskets filled with colorful vegetables can be seen. In another tent, in which rabbit and fox pelts hang, the owner is seen conversing with the customer while puffing smoke from his pipe.
As usual, everyone is full of life. Yet, however, this time, she can’t afford to enjoy the spectacle.
Her heart trembles with anxiety more than joy.
Not just the loss of her grandmother, she also has to endure a workload that’s originally meant for two people. She is completely exhausted—both mentally and physically.
Since she’s new, the clients are skeptical towards her. In addition, she has to deal with chores she’s unaccustomed with.
Until now, I’ve always come with my grandmother. As she was also a Master Witch, she always guided me…
She’s more confident when in the forest because she knows the place better than anyone else.
The townscape of red bricks looks anything but familiar to her.
The capital is a buzz, but in the end, everyone is occupied with their own business.
Moreover, the way everyone wears colorful and fashionable outfits makes her even more self-conscious. When she was with her grandmother, she wasn’t as bothered—but now, she’s ashamed for wearing her mother’s hand-me-down frock. Again, she’s feeling miserable. Her footsteps become heavier.
Too shy to inquire, she looks for the store her grandmother usually frequented by herself. By chance, a conversation comes into her ears—
“—did you hear?! The Witch of the Lake is dead!”
Roze freezes and instantly turns towards the voice.
It appears to come from a snack shop. The smell of something good wafts from inside—she can’t see what it is, though.
A red-faced customer sits at an outdoor a table where some other customers—holding big mugs—are talking in a loud voices, as if shouting.
“What—!? For real—!? I’ve been hearing about that old ma’am since I was a kid—!!”
“She’s 200 years old, after all!! And here I thought that she would live for another hundred years…”
They’re horribly mistaken. No one can live that long.
Surely you must be talking about my great grandmother, and not my grandmother.
Roze is about to step in and attempt to correct their mistake, but in the next second, she halts—
“—well, either way, isn’t this a joyful news?”
She can’t believe what she has just heard. It’s too unbelievable.
Her heart begins to ache.
“Having a witch in the neighborhood blemishes this entire city’s reputation!”
“Exactly! I always warn my children against venturing in to the woods. Who knows what could’ve happened to them if they did…”
“Now, we can relax! We have nothing to worry about anymore!”
Everyone chats happily. Everyone smiles.
She feels her head spin.
Her vision begins to turn black, and at that point, she wonders how she’s still able to stand.
For them to hate her kin this much, to the point they find joy in the death of one…
To realize such a thing for the first time, Roze realizes how sheltered she has been.
Was grandma aware of such malice?
Just thinking about it scares her.
If grandmother knew about it since the start—then, she’s been hiding it from me.
All this time, grandmother …had been enduring it all alone…
All this time, her grandmother had been protecting her, in more ways than one—be it when Roze became too bashful and hide behind her hem or from this grim reality…
“I pity every single one of you who finds immense joy in someone else’s death.”
As she stands there, frozen, a sharp voice reaches her ears. Immediately, a single tear falls down—followed by another and another…
The voice comes from the man who is sitting at the table right beside those loud customers. The man’s face is ruthless, and also downright intimidating, leaving no room for anyone to doubt his seriousness.
“S-shopkeeper—! The bill, please—!” “Y-yeah, me too—!!”
With the men shouting left and right, the shop owner is about to fall down in confusion.
However, one of them carelessly approaches him. It’s the one who said her grandmother’s death was a good thing.
“Hey, for your information, the one who died is a w-i-t-c-h y’know?”
“So what? Witches are people too, aren’t they?”
Seemingly threatening at first, the customer now has an embarrassed expression, as if that’s the first time he has thought of such possibility.
“Has the witch done anything bad to you?”
“Rather, who’s the bad one here? Is it her—or a certain someone who’s grateful because of another’s death? She’s known for being a good witch. The least someone like you could do, is pray for her.”
The man leaves his chair, still directing his piercing stare at the customer. As he stands, his cloak flutters behind him.
The man passes Roze who’s still standing outside the store.
In that instance, she catches the man’s eyes—a deep blue, like the shadow of winter.
She’s fumbling, trying to say thank you—or anything, to the man.
But the man thinks nothing of her, who dresses just like the other townsfolk, and keeps walking straight ahead.
Now that she thinks about it, that habit was introduced by her grandmother, too. Wearing a black robe in the city would make it blatantly obvious she’s a witch.
Only a black handkerchief can be seen on her person. She wraps it around her head, as a sign of mourning. To the other passerby, she looks nothing out of the usual.
The man continues to walk, and when Roze turns toward the store once again, two men are shouting;
“Hey, please wait for me, Azm-dono!!”
They stand up and it’s revealed that they are all wearing the same crimson cloaks—
—that customer’s expression instantly turns in to fear.
“Th-they are knights!!”
“P-please forgive us!! We don’t mean to anger all of you!”
“’Azm’—! Isn’t that the alias of the reigning Lord Hazlan—!?”
There’s an uproar in the shop, now—not that Roze pays it any attention.
She continues to stare at Harij’s back. The cloak he’s wearing reveals the color crimson underneath.
“Harij Azm…” As she mutters his name, her heart tightens.
That day, Roze fell in love—
—a one-sided love.
**T/N: Awww, cliché, but I like this kind of development better than “I saw the most gorgeous man in my entire life, feel a deep connection to him, and want to spend eternity with him–and I think he feels the same” kind of love-at-first-sight. *Ahem This is just sweet… Oh yeah, from now on it’s in present tense.