17. The Princess Enchants the Witch
By the end of the day, the sky is encased by thick clouds.
These days, dark gray skies are the norm.
As autumn takes its leave, the vivid lushness goes along with it—leaving strong trees to wither away. The winter’s fragrant mixes with the morning haze. The coldness of the air that pierces her skin foretells the winter’s arrival.
At this time of the year, candles are high in demand—hence, she needs to make more. She also has to be sure to stock up on firewood.
…Now, where did I put the winter quilt?
The rice husks and wheat straws on the field are ready to be harvested. She is planning to exchange them with crops in the capital later. However, this year, the villagers have experienced crop failure, thus, some problems might occur.
When she exhales, her breath turns white.
During winter, Roze is busier than usual. Her whole day consists of running around; both inside and outside of her dwelling. Sometimes she goes to the basement, and sometimes to the attic—which makes her end up with dust and cobwebs stuck on her hair.
In the middle of that, however—Chirin—the bell resounds, informing of visitor.
She wonders if Harij is coming again.
Although she can’t comprehend why, Harij ordered yet another Love Potion. Thus, he ends up busying himself with collecting the materials once again.
Roze, feeling like she’s in the middle of a drama, has recently adapted herself. Despite none of it making any senses, she embraces his visits half with joy and half with fear.
It feels like she’s playing a card game with a knife to her throat—ready to stab her at any moment.
At the sound of the bell, Roze turns around while still holding luggage.
The only customers that’d come to visit her is either Tien or Harij. Both of them are able to enter on their own, thus, Roze pays no mind to it and resumes her task.
By the time she’s able to take a breather, the area is already dim.
The sun shines through the thick clouds, dying the mountain’s edges of golden. There were clouds with the colors of carrot and eggplant. Some even appear to flow like silk. All of them are reflected on the lake, making it shine with vivid colors.
Roze truly loves that moment—she feels like she’s living in a rainbow.
As she gazes at the sky, a cold wind blows.
The sun sets faster. As Roze hurriedly puts the shawl around her neck, she recalls the existence of a guest that visited her during the daytime.
Speaking of which, no one called Roze during that time.
Could it be a beast? But even if it’s a beast, it’s hard to imagine them coming to such a place during this busy period of winter.
She glances at the rearranged table set—as expected, it’s empty. The man that usually would sit and drink tea elegantly isn’t there.
When she observes the forest to confirm whether or not it’s a beast, she spots a lump of cloth balling up on the pier.
Grumpily, Roze rows the small boat with her exhausted body, crossing the scarlet lake.
Arriving in the forest, she pulls her hood deeply.
She carries the lantern along with her, and beckons to the mass of clothing.
“…could you be a customer?”
The ‘bundle of cloth’ she called out wriggles in a terrifying manner.
Roze begins to doubt her own decision to question it.
A while has passed since the bell rung. There’s no pick-up service, but, occasionally, there are customers who keep waiting. It seems that this customer is one of them. The customer is waiting while crouching.
The witch’s secret potions are expensive, therefore, her customers usually belong to the upper class.
Usually, they would send a servant, but some of them would also visit her hut by themselves…
…and the latter kind are generally the most troublesome.
“…Ugh, here you are, finally…”
To either chastised or plain yelled at, Roze anticipates with a serious face.
However, what peeks through the gap between the clothes is a pupil with a youthful but intelligent shine.
The customer rises without a sound, revealing that the person’s eyes match Roze’s height. The customer with a red cloak then reveals his face—
“Are you the Witch? I’m not a customer, however, I do hope that you would welcome me inside.”
—so it turns out, that it’s a she.
The purity of her beauty is like of a crystal. Her airs are akin to the winter while her fluent wordings spell her elegance. There’s nothing suspicious about her, either.
Regardless, her face is pale and her lips have turned purple. There is a high chance it’s because she has been in the freezing forest for far too long. It’s very cold near the lake, even Roze— the forest’s inhabitant—has to take preventative measures.
Feeling guilty, Roze leads the girl to her dwelling.
“I’m sorry for the mess…”
Not even once has she cleaned that messy room.
Yet, somehow, it manages to become even messier. Probably because of the preparations she has been doing. All in all, she has no words to explain it…
She remembers that during weaving, after the last of her patience had been used up, she thrashed around, kicking the weaved straws into the corner—“This isn’t the time to be doing this!!!”—causing a countless number of straws to scatter about.
Sure enough, the moment the girl sees it, she is so stunned she freezes at the front door.
However, determination soon paves its way to the girl’s heart. Like a brave warrior threading on a fierce battlefield, her gaze fills with resolution.
Even indoor, the girl keeps wearing her shoes.
From the bottom of her heart, Roze is truly sympathizing with the girl now—I’m sorry for making you look at this…
“I want you to refer to me as Lau.” She looks a little tense, however, she doesn’t appear to despise the Witch.
“Okay, Lau. You can address me as ‘Witch’. With or without honorific, all is up to you.”
Roze’s gaze wanders around the room, searching for a space where Lau can sit.
There’s the usual table and chair, of course. However, Roze’s luggage is currently piled on top of them. Furthermore, it will probably collapse if touched carelessly. Right, she should refrain from suggesting that spot…
Then, Roze remembers about the quilt, which is about to be her bed during the winter.
She spreads it on the floor, causing some dust to flutter. There’s no other choice. Besides, this is the Witch’s dwelling, such is only to be expected.
“You’ll freeze if you stay outside, please come in.”
Still confused, Lau gulps, before nodding with a prepared face.
While she steps inside, Roze can faintly hear her whispering—“O God, help us all…”—
—which is ironic, because God doesn’t watch over the witches.
Lau sits on Roze’s special winter bed.
The bed’s quilt is intricately woven with various colors that match the fallen leaves of the forest.
“…this isn’t so bad.”
“I’m glad you like it.” The quilt was given to Roze a few years ago by a customer who appreciated her services.
Nobles who loved Roze’s potions sometimes included such gifts as an extra payment.
However, Roze is quite indifferent towards the value of goods. If she can use it, she will use it; if she can’t, she’ll put it in the storeroom or sell it to Tien.
While Roze places some firewood in the fireplace, Lau tries to calm her nerves by stroking the quilt cover. Eventually, she opens her mouth.
“For me to come unannounced like this, you must be quite surprised.”
“Not really. All customers always come to this store like that.”
She pours the water inside the kettle she was just boiling on the fireplace into a bucket. The warmness of the water is just perfect. She takes a small bottle from the cupboard and adds ‘Potion to be Sprinkled around the Neck before a Date’ to the water. The potion has a fragrant and soothing aroma.
Roze gently slides the steamy bucket under Lau’s feet.
“Excuse my rudeness.”
“No problem.” Lau nods.
Roze expects her action to cause another torrent of dust to hit them. Fortunately, no such thing happens.
Roze gently reaches for Lau’s leg. She then gently removes Lau’s beautiful boots—which are caked with mud and grass.
It seems that the footwear put more emphasizes in being aesthetically pleasing than protecting Lau from the coldness of the winter forest.
Lau’s nails are beautifully trimmed, as Roze expected. However, as of the current moment, her toes are more ashen than the fireplace’s ash. Some part are even bluish.
Usually, Roze would be indifferent to such a thing. However, with things now happening right under her nose, she can’t bear letting such a young girl endure such pain alone. That, plus the added guilt from leaving the girl outside for so long.
“…It must’ve been very cold.”
Lau’s pale leg is scrubbed by Roze while it’s immersed within the warm water. Once her other leg is inserted, the water cools down immediately.
She adds more hot water into the bucket.
Gradually, blushes come back to Lau’s cheeks as her feet warm up.
***T/N: Bro… all of you were probably hoping for romance development between Harij and Roze, Harij’s character development so he realizes his own feeling, Roze’s character development so she becomes more optimistic–
—me, I JUST DAMN HOPE SHE LEARNS TO CLEAN.
GEEZ, AS SOMEONE WHO’S HIGHLY ALLERGIC TO DUST, I FEEL THIS CHAPTER RATHER TOO MUCH.
Roze, you said God didn’t oversee your place, here I am praying JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL with your godforsaken place–it’s basically just coughing-sneezing-fit-lungsfailure waiting to happen.