Later that night, an old woman groaned softly as she narrowly opened her eyes.
As she looked around to check where she was, she blinked. It wasn’t just the firm bed she lay on that felt familiar, but the ceiling she looked up at as well. Then, she felt the warmth and heard the crackle of a nearby fireplace.
She realized straight away that she was in her own room.
The last thing that old woman remembered, she should have been out in the town. She was with one of the older boys in the house to buy food, since the lord would be coming around that night.
It was on the way back that it happened. After finishing their shopping, she had felt a sudden bout of nausea and couldn’t move.
That boy had tried to make the old woman as comfortable as possible in a back alley as he ran to get help, him calling out to people passing by was the last thing she remembered.
She had no idea what happened after that.
How on earth did she get back here?
As her eyes moved around the room, she could see the figures of those familiar children illuminated by the flickering lights of the fire… As well as a young lady she had never seen before. They were all looking at the old woman with worry.
But, as soon as they realized that she had woken up, they all looked relieved.
The room where everyone had been anxiously holding their breath suddenly erupted into noise.
“I told you that everything would be fine! You really did not trust me at all, did you!?”
“But that’s because you didn’t even know which medicine to use and then you made her a weird drink! Also, you made me carry her the most!”
“You should be thanking me for even helping at all! When you were just crying all by yourself, how were you ever going to bring her back!?”
“I wasn’t crying!!”
In that old and tiny room, Camilla and the young boy were arguing back and forth again.
But, even though the room was so small, it was crammed full of children who were watching over the old woman as she woke up. There must have been at least ten of them. Out of relief for the old woman, some of them were crying happily. But, the shouting match between those two was overpowering those sounds completely.
“In the first place, why would I simply be carrying the right medicines on hand!? We hardly had the time to go and buy more medicine either!?”
The boy opened his eyes wide in shock. He hadn’t noticed until now.
“You know, you seem like a bad guy, but you’re surprisingly smart…”
“Are you trying to make a fool out of me!?”
Camilla’s shoulders stiffened unintentionally. When she was about to continue fighting with the boy, she suddenly heard a hoarse voice beside her that interjected.
“Excuse me… Who are you…? Did you bring me here?”
As the old woman raised herself up in her bed, she stared at Camilla and the young boy with confusion. She still seemed weak, her face was pale.
“Ah, granny, this person didn’t help at all!”
Before Camilla could answer, the boy leaned forward onto the bed and said that.
“Although she said she’d help out, she made me do all the carrying! She didn’t even know where to go either and she’s got a really awful mouth!”
The boy’s words weren’t exactly untrue. The old woman may have been frail and thin, but it was still impossible for Camilla to carry her on her back. Through a mixture of supporting her by the shoulders between them, and sometimes having the boy carrying her on his back, they had somehow made it back.
She didn’t know the way, either. The old woman’s house was located on the eave of the forest, far away from the main streets of the town, a place where the manastone powered lamps didn’t reach. She had to rely on the boy’s guidance, with only the moon for light. The boy had gotten annoyed at Camilla and called her useless, whilst Camilla had yelled back at him in turn. Just like that, bickering the whole way, they had managed to make it back to that old house despite everything.
“It was like I had to do everything myself!”
After she listened to the boy’s story, the old woman looked up at Camilla. Then, lowered her head, bowing as low as she could in the bed.
“I’m sorry. We must have caused you a lot of trouble. I was saved by your generosity.”
“Do not mention it. I really did not do much.”
As Camilla said that, the boy suddenly yelled “See!” as if that proved his point. But, as he raised his voice, it suddenly turned into a yelp of “GEH!”.
The old woman smacked the boy upside the head. Her strike wasn’t painful, weak as she was, but it had the effect of silencing the boy.
“Is that any way to talk about the person that saved me?”
“‘Actually’ nothing. Without her, I wouldn’t have gotten back safely. Don’t you have something you ought to say?”
The boy pouted something fierce. Although he seemed awfully unsatisfied with it, he still meekly obeyed the old woman. Turning to Camilla, he lowered his head.
“……Thank you very much.”
“My, aren’t you obedient? Fufu~.”
Camilla said that with a smile. Then, she reached out a hand to touch the head of that young boy in front of her, petting his dirty blond hair.
“You really were telling the truth. Because you called out so earnestly, you saved your grandmother, you truly did well.”
“…Don’t treat me like a kid! Stop acting so important!”
“Well, I really was… Until a short while ago.”
A count’s daughter. A future wife to a duke. A much better position than some commoner living on the outskirts of town. At least, that’s how Camilla had thought of herself.
But, not anymore. Right now, Camilla is nothing more than a pitiful girl with nowhere to call home. Her marriage with Alois who shows no intention of losing weight seems like a distant thing, in other words, she can hardly call herself ‘the duke’s wife’. To the boy who yelled “Don’t lie!”, Camilla smiled with self-derision.
“If you’re so important, then why are you just wandering around all by yourself!?”
“Why not? There are plenty of reasons.”
“That sounds like the kind of thing someone who ran away from home would say. Hey, you, do you actually have no place to go?”
The boy looked straight through Camilla as if he knew it. At that sudden unexpected perception, she averted her gaze.
“If you don’t have anywhere to go, you can- GEH!”
The boy was about to keep going, but he yelped again. Smacked for the second time.
“Don’t say something rude. You should know a noble when you see one.”
The boy looked towards the old woman with begrudging eyes. Camilla, meanwhile, was just happy to escape the interrogation.
Not knowing what Camilla was thinking, the old woman called out to her.
“Are you staying somewhere in town? I’m sure there are people worried about you. I’d like to help you get back to town straight away, but I can’t move and the children are too young…”
“Do not worry about it…”
There aren’t any people like that for her in the first place.
Not the maids and certainly not Alois. Her parents and former followers back in the capital surely had no idea what Camilla’s current state was, nor would they care.
As she bit her quivering lip, one of the children tugged lightly on Camilla’s dress with an open mouth.
As she looked, Camilla saw a young girl of about five or six years old looking back at her. The girl blinked a couple of times, her big doe eyes looking up like a baby animal.
As if on cue, the girl’s stomach rumbled softly. But, before Camilla could answer, another hand tugged at her dress.
“I gotta go…”
“Wait, wait just a moment!”
“UWAAAAAAAAH, big brother kicked me!”
The children’s voices suddenly burst forth as if a dam had collapsed. Whether it was simply the release of tension when they saw that the old woman was okay, or if they had reached the limits of their patience, Camilla had no idea as she was tugged this way and that by their little hands.
– S-Should I deal with the restroom problem first? Ah, but, those two are fighting… Ahh, jeez! Let go of me!
She couldn’t think straight because of all the crying voices in the room.
The old woman tries to tell them to calm down from the bed, but it does little to the cacophony of those ten children. As the boy who had helped carry the old woman back yelled at them all to shut up, it only increased the level of noise.
She couldn’t keep track of what was going on as she was pulled left and right.
And, as if misfortune sought company, there was suddenly a loud knock on that old house’s door.
After a few raps on the door, whoever was knocking must have realized that there was no one coming to open it.
“Excuse me, I’m coming in.”
A familiar voice sounded out as that person entered through the door without an invitation.
Straight away, the whole house shook at the jolt of those footsteps… As if there were an earthquake.
Fee Fi Fo Fum.