26. The Long Night and the Witch (2)
—Katsun… katsun… katsun…
The sound of footsteps…
A slow gait, as if enjoying the fact that he has cornered his prey, prey who has lost her refuge since long ago, who can only tremble.
Roze is panting—her shallow breathes fill the small cellar. Beneath the floor, the cool air tickle her white skin. Then, a musty smell creeps into her nose, instantly wrecking her train of thought.
The footsteps stop… right above her head.
A coarse sound can be heard—he’s searching for her. He starts rummaging around before finally starting to smash things. All those noises wreak havoc with Roze’s heart.
Reflexively, her body jumps. With all her might, she covers her mouth—which was about to utter a loud cry.
Roze can’t escape from the cellar or her own fear. Desperately holding her sobs make her sick to her stomach.
The especially loud noise almost causes a scream to leak out. Fortunately, only her breath escapes her. The noise probably came from her toolbox.
Before she realizes it, the hands covering her mouth are already clawing at her cheeks. Roze is at her limit.
…He still hasn’t discovered the hidden door, right?
…Or, could it be, he’s messing around with me? Was everything up to now intended to lure me out?
Fear consumes her—her shivering won’t stop. Her teeth are clattering—too noisy for her liking.
Stop. He mustn’t discover my location. I mustn’t make any sounds!
Nevertheless, no matter how hard she tries to still her heartbeat, the trembling won’t stop.
—then, a single ray of light touches Roze’s eyes. It comes from above—
—from a lantern, which shines through the gap between the floorboard and the trapdoor.
The rug was thrown aside.
She can no longer breathe. Even a mere touch of air makes her faint and dizzy.
The cellar’s lid opens—
—the light of the lantern is too brilliant, she wants to close her eyes. Yet, her body refuses to budge.
Tears spill from her eyes.
…How did you get here?
Incomprehensible words leak from her lips.
“Are you okay?”
A gentle voice full of concern is directed to Roze.
The lid is completely removed, and the lantern is set aside.
Air violently returns to her lungs at once, causing her breathing to become painful. All in all, it’s too much for her body to handle. Rapid breathing seizes Roze; it’s painful—her shoulders go up and down, as if in a spasm.
I’m scared, I’m truly scared, I’m really, really terrified—
“I’m sorry for being late.”
She reflectively clings to the extended hand. For some reason, his hand is cold and wet.
Harij immediately pulls her out, and before long, she finds herself trapped in his embrace.
He repeatedly strokes her back—calming Roze’s labored breathing.
Roze feels something soak her clothes—water. She gradually feels colder. The water permeates to her skin, and along with that, Harij’s warmth.
“Are you hurt?”
Harij’s arm, which is touching Roze, seems to be trembling slightly.
Roze, who has finally calmed down, exerts her utmost effort to say no.
In the next moment, it’s as if power completely leaves Harij’s body—he exhales tremendously.
“…what a relief.”
After saying so, Harij tightly embraces Roze once again.
He pats her on the back—this time, it feels like he’s trying to reassure himself. Roze tries to release herself, however, her remaining fear doesn’t let her—in the end, she remains in his embrace. Her hand, still gripped by fear, clings to the fabric of his clothes.
His large palm envelops Roze’s shivering hand. Only after he strokes it a few times does the trembling finally stop.
“…I’, m sorry, for the inconvenience—“
“You don’t have to apologize.” After laughing in reassurance, Harij stands up. Then, he swings his leg and kicks something—
—said something rolls down to the floor.
“This fell over after just a single kick.”
Seeing Harij’s casual countenance, Roze wants to retort.
The something he was referring to is a person.
A man with the same silver hair and height as Harij. He’s the thief the guards had mistaken Harij for.
The man has fainted, with the white of his eyes showing.
So… the loud noise Roze had heard in the cellar was the sound of Harij defeating the thief?
Also, for some reason, there’s a hoe beside the unconscious man… shouldn’t that be in the field?
Roze finally notices that the man is also tied up. Harij used her corset to do the job. He squeezed it so tightly around the man, Roze is sure there’s no space even for even an ant to crawl through.
“I want to stay with you—however, I must first incarcerate this man. I’ll send Safina to you. Until then, don’t open the door for anyone.”
“B-but, I didn’t open the door for him… He broke in—” Roze chimes in—she knows she’s incapable of such idiocy.
Instead of getting angry as usual, Harij laughs, sounding relieved.
“I see. I’m sorry.”
The light from the lantern gently illuminates Harij’s cheeks. His gentle smile causes her breath to stop.
“Then, keep warm.”
“Yes, by the way, Mr. Customer, why are you drenched in wat—…”
The truth arise in Roze’s mind before she can finish her sentence.
“You… no, it can’t be. You swam through the lake? In this dead of winter?”
The winter lake at night is freezing cold.
The harsh, biting, coldness can freeze bone to its marrow. Many beasts that had accidentally fallen into the lake lost their lives.
“Even though it was pitch black, I heard the sounds of glass breaking. The boat was suspiciously hidden—anyone would conclude that something is going on.”
Then, he must be feeling so cold right now. Roze hurriedly pushes Harij towards the bed. She also spreads the screen to block the view.
“You might die, you know—!! Please, take off your clothes—!!”
“Remove your clothes—!!”
Roze’s tone leaves no room for negotiation. After a moment, the sound of disrobing can be heard from the other side of the screen.
As soon as that have been taken care of, Roze immediately throws a summer futon to him. Due to the rush, Roze might have stepped on the thief a few times…
“Wrap yourself in the futon. Also, spread the wet clothes over the screen.”
Thankfully, she has some spare firewood. She hurriedly adds some to the fireplace. The flame crackles, quickly warming the room.
“…You sure are in the way.” Roze kicks the thief aside and pulls the screen. She wants to expand the space on the bedside so Harij can get warm. By the way, now Harij isn’t only being warmed by the futon, but also the fireplace.
“But Roze, the criminal is still here…”
“It’s okay, I’ll give him a sleeping pill. When he wakes up later, he’ll also be paralyzed.”
She takes out some potions from the cupboard and feeds them to the unconscious thief in accordance to her previous explanation. He’s no longer a threat now. The thief lies unmoving on the floor—and he better stay that way.
Roze rummages her wardrobe. She’s looking for clothes that can be worn by Harij—however, she finds none. Thus, she squeezes his soaked clothes. All the while, she also worries about the summer futon absorbing too much water and becoming unable to warm Harij anymore.
If she can somehow create a gap so warm air from the fireplace can enter, the clothes would likely dry faster…
The fireplace rapidly warms the room. At the very least, it succeeded on drying Roze’s slightly damp cloak—
“—that’s right! Cloak! Where’s your usual cloak!?”
“I took it off in the forest.”
“I’ll fetch it! Stay here and keep yourself warm!”
Roze rushes out of the house. Only then does she realize there’s currently no boat in the pier. But, she soon finds it—the lone boat is floating aimlessly.
Roze thanks her luck—for the boat isn’t too far out of reach. She pulls the boat using the oar, which was lying around near there.
She goes to the forest and soon finds his sword, armor, and cloak—not his usual wanderers cloak, but the cloak of the knight Roze has been yearning for.
Seeing that cloak almost causes her to break down completely.
Her trembling fingers clutch the fabric tightly.
For some reason, when she holds it against her chest, she feels a great sense of relief.
If she doesn’t hurry back, her strong façade will come crashing down for sure. She returns while holding the cloak with care. Harij is standing at the door, dressed.
“Your clothes… have those been dried properly?”
“Yes, they’re dry enough. I’ll be going now.”
…he might be worried about leaving the thief in Roze’s house. When Harij receives his cloak from Roze, the corners of his mouth rise.
“Thank you for the help.”
—even though I’m the one who’s been helped until now.
Her tears threaten to fall.
—why would Harij goes out of his way to swim across the lake in this freezing winter?
However, won’t she sound ungrateful by asking that? In the end, it’s because of Harij’s incomprehensible action that Roze survived through the whole ordeal.
“…why are you here?”
Roze rephrases her question.
Harij should still be away from the capital—after all, he was on a mission to guard Princess Bilaura to the border. There’s no reason for him to be there at such a late hour, in full-set armor, even.
“…were you tailing the thief?”
While shaking his head, Harij straps his sword on to his waist. His expression is as if he has swallowed something bitter.
Did I say something wrong…?
“Like you, back then, at some point, I questioned what I was doing…”
“If your light was on, I was planning to stop by a little. I was wondering if you’re doing fine, or if you’re healthy…”
Roze is stunned—
—those kind of things… he can just go back to his mansion and hear it from Safina, right?
“That… only for that?”
When he sees the gaping Roze, Harij’s face distorts, seemingly in bad mood.
“It’s fine. I’m glad I decided to come. Now, I’ll be taking my leave.”
Harij takes the thief away. For some unknown reasons, he seems to be sulking.
When he turns around, his face is sullen.
Roze bows deeply.
“Thank you for saving me. All my heartfelt gratitude goes to you.”
Harij receives Roze’s gratitude in silence before disappearing into the darkness of night.
*Roze: *trembling in extreme fear, almost leaking out a scream, hyperventilating
*me: Calm down, Roze! Everything will be fine! You’ll make it!
*Also Roze: “TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES, HARIJ!!!!!!!!!!!
*me: CaLm dOwN R0oOozE!!!!!!!!”
HARIJ AFTER YOUR LONG DEPARTURE A FANSERVICE IS A GIVEN RIGHT? AREN’T WE GETTING ANY? COME ON, SOUVENIRE.
shit, accidentally turned off the comment section.