8. The Witch and the Poisonous Apple (2)
Harij puts the vial of poison on the workbench. Then, he takes off his gloves and stores them inside his pocket. After that, he reaches out to Roze, who is crouching on the floor.
Seeing his hand, Roze stiffens.
How long has it been …since someone last reached out to me like this?
Although she’s sure it happened when her grandma was still alive, she can’t remember much since that was a long time ago.
Roze quietly takes hold of Harij’s hand, expecting him to admonish her sternly—yet, on the contrary, Harij’s seizes Roze’s shoulder and escorts her to a chair. His gentleness makes her feels like a princess.
In front of Roze, who’s unsure of what’s happening—Harij kneels.
The man she has harbored a crush on for seven long years—Harij Azm—is kneeling before her.
Roze feels dizzier.
“I apologize for making Ms. Witch reveal a secret she has been protecting with her life. I promise to keep the secret hidden deep within my heart. As a knight, I swear to never breathe a single word of it—this is my oath to you. I hope you believe in me.”
Towards that, Roze only manages a single, foolish nod. She grips her robe tightly.
“H-how do you know it’s a poison?”
“Truthfully, I don’t know what sort of drug that is. However, your eyes—like a cornered criminal caught red-handed—betrayed your intent. I’ve learned this from experience. All in all, I’m glad I made it in time.” Harij sighs—his relief is great.
Again, it dawns upon Roze—Harij sees witches as equals—as people.
As her gaze stays plastered on him, Harij stands with a wry smile. He goes outside only to return with a basket the next moment.
“If I didn’t make it, I’d have had no choice but to finish this all myself.”
The basket is full of bread. The bread seems fluffy, too…
“You mentioned the other day that you lacked food to eat. You are—…a young lady. You need to eat more meat. Especially because you deal with medicine. People need you and, uh, danger is more common than you think. If you got sick, you won’t survive with such a thin body.”
No way… just for that, he actually came see me at noon?
Unbelievable. Roze stares back and forth between Harij and the basket of bread.
“…I can’t thank you enough.”
Her heart pounds—it’s painful.
This feeling, how do I express it?
—Roze doesn’t know.
Her heart feels like it has grown twice in size, making it hard to breath, the only thing she wants to do is cry, and cry…
—Then… doesn’t that mean, even for a fleeting moment, he thought about me?
Even though Roze isn’t around, Harij saw bread in the city and thought he’d buy it for her.
This is what people call ‘Joy’—isn’t it?
Only now does she understand what it means.
She’s so glad the person she likes did something out of his concern for her.
Will I stay in his memories?
I’m fine even if he remembers me as this strange witch who only eats lettuce—that means, the next time he sees a lettuce, he’ll be reminded of me. Even if just once.
Yes—even if only once, Roze doesn’t want anything anymore.
When Roze receives the bread, she discovers that it’s still warm.
She had eaten bread once, when her grandmother was still alive, during her visit to the city. However, she never had something this soft…
In contrast to Roze, who’s about to burst in tears, Harij only raises his eyebrows a little.
—wait a minute…
“You, you are going to eat here, too?”
“Huh? Yeah, that’s right.” Harij stops at Roze’s inquiry. He’s about to take a piece of bread from the basket, too.
Oh, no. That means she has to clean this table, which is cluttered with mess…
…a left-over lettuce, I don’t even remember since when it has been here…
However, seeing her messy table, Roze is actually relieved. Here is some semblance of her normal life. She’s at least familiar with this.
“…The guest is a nobleman, after all.”
“I can hear you, you know.”
After she’s finished tidying the table, Harij spreads the tablecloth he brought.
…This Knight sure is well-prepared.
Maybe he assumed her tablecloth is buried amongst all the clutters… —frustrating to say, but he’s right.
A red-checkered tablecloth is spread over the wooden table—it’s simple, but also nice. The sun light coming through the small window falls upon the table. To Roze, this sight excludes warmness.
“Do you have a bread knife—“
“I only have kitchen knives, sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry.”
Roze is thankful for his generous choice of words. She picks her most beautiful kitchen knife from the work bench.
“Oh, right, I bought some butter, too.”
“The spoons are for pharmaceutical use…”
She brings a small cutting board and a wooden spoon, before sitting on a chair.
In front of her, Harij—the man she has been crushing for seven years—also sits.
Roze tries blinking, thinking that somehow she is hallucinating—one, two, three—yet there he is. She isn’t daydreaming.
Seven years ago, she didn’t even dare to wish for today.
“This is an unusual kind of butter, isn’t it…”
“Indeed, there’s a mixture of apple in it—‘Apple Butter’, or so it was called. I heard it tastes exceptionally delicious when spread on bread.”
“I see… this makes me happy, I love apples…!”
The small jar containing the white butter is clearer than the jars Roze usually uses in potion-making—and to Roze, it appears even more so, as if simmering.
While Roze stares at the jam, Harij cuts a slice of bread, and applies the butter using the wooden spoon.
Bits of apple can be seen on the glaze of butter—unknowingly, Roze swallows her saliva.
“Here you go.”
“Thank you very much.”
She holds the bread with both hand—it’s even softer than I thought…
All this time, she has only ever eaten hard bread—the kind that usually goes with soup. This bread’s softness almost makes it slip from her grasp.
The apple butter sparkles, and its sweet scent of apple tickles her nose. She takes a bite and swallows.
Roze opens her eyes in surprise.
She takes another bite, and again, it disappears just as quick.
Even the second bite shocks her.
It’s too delicious.
Her mouth is filled with the soft, fluffiness of the bread.
It’s not only soft, but also chewy…
That strange sensation, it’s the first time Roze has tasted it.
The apple butter is more delicious than she expects. The mashed apple, along with the milky butter, create both sensations of richness and deliciousness—it’s truly a dangerous combination.
Harij’s watches Roze happily scarfing her food down with complex emotion. Looking back, it was truly an exhausting day for him.
—the Azm Family is one of the nobles which have been supporting the Marjan Nation since generation after generation. His family has even been recorded in books as one of the most influential aristocrats in the country.
Harij, born as the third son, was knighted at the age of twenty.
His main priority as a knight is to protect Princess Billaura.
Billaura is still young, but she has all the traits of a wonderful princess—an amiable personality, a charitable heart, and unending generosity.
Both Harij and the Second Prince are Billaura’s childhood friends. Harij himself, whom had known the Princess since quite a young age, treasures her like a little sister.
Billaura also depends on him as if they shared blood, but never acts spoiled.
—Until that day.
“I ask this of you, Harij. It’s my once in a lifetime wish.
I want you to think of this not as a princess’ order, but as a little sister’s request to her brother.”
Billaura had requested Harij with eyes gleaming of determination, that, of a princess’. Yet, her voice was pleading, like a broken-hearted girl.
“Please, I want you to get me a love potion.”
That kind of potion only distorts a person’s mind and manipulates future actions—both against the drinker’s will. Harij hates the idea of the Princess consuming such a thing.
However, he also can’t reject such a heartfelt wish from Billaura—who’s until now, has never shown selfishness in the slightest.
If the princess were to personally visit the witch, bad rumors would spread.
Hence, Harij slipped past the public eye, and visited the witch.
The witch’s dwelling is hidden deep in the forest, its location unknown. When he arrived, at last, what greeted him was the miserable sight of the witch’s hut. It was in such a great shamble, Harij thought a strong wind would instantly blow everything away.
Inside, the room wasn’t only dark, but also contained mountains of trashes—he thought he would drown.
The witch always wore a big, shady robe, and sent Harij away with a haughty tone. Not to mention, her tasks were questionable.
As time passed, his suspicion of the witch didn’t disappear. They only increased. For Harij, who lived his life in fairness, the witch’s entity was shrouded in darkness.
The sight of the witch resurfacing from the lake greatly surprised him.
He thought it was a fairy living in the lake. The sight was too surreal.
She was bathed in sunlight. Her white skin was as beautiful as snow—such that it would make those noble ladies who wore white powder in the court envious.
Try as he might, Harij couldn’t tear his gaze off from Roze, whose pale crimson hair lighted up, as if sparkling.
He thought the witch was an old woman. Turned out, it was a young woman. He never expected that.
Even more than that—a lady this young, living alone? He found such a thing hard to believe.
By the time Harij put two and two together and realized it wasn’t a fairy but the Witch—she noticed his presence.
Her dark green eyes, which usually stayed hidden beneath the shadow of her hood, widened. Harij found them pleasing to his eyes.
He truly regretted that he didn’t pry his eyes away at that moment. He was too stunned at the sight, and the cost for it—the usually very composed Witch was extremely threatened, to the point she almost took her own life.
Nevertheless, thanks to that, Harij learned a lot.
That the Witch’s age is strangely young.
That Witches are unable to lie, no matter the circumstance.
All those haughty, merciless tasks from her weren’t to get rid of him, but truly necessary for the potion.
He though all this time that she was ripping him off—turns out she can’t even afford a single cloth just to cover the expenses of materials.
That the Witch sometimes doesn’t know what to do; that the Witch has a bashful side to her…
—and that she likes Apple Butter very much…
“…Does Ms. Witch live alone?”
When he bought the freshly baked bread from the city, it was actually because he was scared the Witch would die from starvation before finishing the potion…
She isn’t on the brink of death, of course. But when Harij sees the apple-colored plump cheeks of the Witch, stuffed with bread—he’s glad of the decision he made, nonetheless. It was the right call.
Her present, cheerful appearance frees Harij of his worries. However, he remembers her depressed, small figure curling into a ball, and fear grips him. She might die if he left her.
He’s relieved she likes the breads he bought in a rush.
The Witch, who’s currently licking the Apple Butter from her fingers, stares at Harij.
“Eh? Yes, I live alone.”
“Isn’t that too risky?”
A young woman living alone… it’s too dangerous, no matter how much he thinks about it. At least those who sneak into the shady hut would be thrown off if they saw the owner is an old woman. But it’s another story when the witch who lives here is pretty…
The Witch blinks.
“Why do you ask me that?”
Harij cleverly keeps his silent. He doesn’t want to assume her age just yet.
“Uhm… you see, when someone arrives at the shore, I’ll know immediately. This place is well-hidden, and not many comes to visit. I don’t have many customers, either. If someone is suspicious-looking, I’ll hide under the floor right away.”
From the way she said it, it seems that the Witch has experienced it several times. Imagining the Witch waiting, while shivering, beneath the floor boards—Harij feels terribly concerned.
“All this time, you’ve been living like that?”
“Yes—all this time.” The Witch answers, without pause.
As if it’s only natural. As if it’s only natural to live alone like that, and protect oneself like that—
—Harij feels very disconcerted towards that, but can’t find any words to say.
That’s just not right.
A young lady deserves to be protected, no matter what. He’s accustomed to girls being taken care by their parents—or guardians, at the very least. They’ll receive formal education, and later, be married.
‘Women should be protected.’—Harij has been brought up to believe so.
Yet, even if he thought so, does he have a say? What right does he have, as someone who isn’t responsible nor involved in her life?
The only thing he can do—
Harij glazes the second bread with Apple Butter, and again, offers it to the Witch.
This time, he applies more jam than the first one.