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Chapter 10: The Place I Want to Leave (6)

Hena was the only one among us who came from a commoner background.

My father, despite his unassuming nature, was undeniably a nobleman, holding the title of a count.

Although he owned no lands, his nickname ‘The Sword of Eilencia’ was more esteemed than the calling cards of many nobles.

Naturally, as his son, I too was of noble birth.

Not to mention, the direct lineage of Eilencia, Terion, and Sirien, was beyond reproach.

None of us ever looked down on Hena because of her social status.

I had inherited my father’s easy-going nature and had always gotten along well with the servants, and with memories from my time as a modern-day person, I felt no regret about her commoner origins.

Surprisingly, the siblings felt the same, likely due to their exceedingly high social status.

From their perspective, there wasn’t much difference between the average noble and a commoner.

Thus, they could afford to be either extremely arrogant or exceedingly magnanimous, and fortunately, they chose the latter.

However, the barrier of social status was an insurmountable wall.

In private, we could interact more casually, but under the scrutiny of others, strict adherence to the social hierarchy was a must.

This included the time after our cabin life ended.

To maintain her position as a maid in the future, Hena had to fulfill her duties even now.

Therefore, Hena was invariably the busiest among us.

Initially, her role was to serve Terion, but it had evolved into tending to all our needs.

Sirien, being a twelve-year-old lady, required a lot of attention, and Hena had her work cut out for her.

‘Terion and Sirien are playing chess, and Hena is nowhere to be seen.’

It seemed Hena was diligently working somewhere, but she was not in the cabin.

Like anyone else, I occasionally slept in late.

It seemed fatigue had accumulated without my notice. 

This was the first time I had overslept here, and there was nobody to wake me.

Because of this, I woke up much later than usual.

The late start didn’t change the day’s tasks.

Waking up late meant I just had to start my tasks later.

After some basic physical training, I practiced with my sword.

By the time I finished, the sun was already setting, several hours later than usual.

So, all of this was a coincidence.

‘What the? The shoulder of this garment is torn!’

It was purely coincidental that I overslept today, causing a delay in my daily tasks, and out of all the clothes I could have chosen, I ended up wearing one that was in poor condition.

It was also by sheer coincidence that I found myself entering the basement storage, a place I usually had no reason to visit.

After all, Hena was the one who picked out our clothes every morning.

There was no need for me or the siblings to venture down there.

‘When I helped with moving the luggage, did we store the clothes here? It seems likely.’

Though we casually referred to the basement of the cabin as a storage area, it wasn’t just one large space.

In fact, the basement was divided into more rooms than the first or second floor.

There were as many as six rooms, each too small for anything but storage purposes.

And, as luck would have it, I ended up in one of those six rooms.

“Uh, ah. Young master. Ah.”

As soon as I entered the room, an excited voice reached my ears.

It was a familiar voice.

The delicate moans of a pubescent girl. The slightly desperate, heavy breathing tickled my ears. 

Even though there was no contact, it felt as if I could feel the heat of her breath.

In Hena’s hand was a piece of clothing, one that I recognized.

It was the same garment Terion had been wearing earlier.

He must have changed by now, so the garment would still carry his sweat and scent.

Hena held it to her mouth, while her other hand was directed downwards.

The suggestive sound of water stopped momentarily.

In the brief moment I hesitated, Hena noticed me.

Our eyes met, and an awkward tension filled the air.

“Uh, huh...?”

I had no choice but to close the door and leave.

* * *

After some time, Hena came looking for me.

Her face was flushed with embarrassment.

I knew this moment was inevitable.

“Um, Razen. I have something I want to talk about. Do you have a moment?”

“Sure. Shall we go outside?”

“Yes. I’d like to take a walk.”

The possibility of the siblings overhearing was something we’d rather avoid. We quickly dressed and stepped out.

The topic of our conversation was, of course, predetermined.

I wasn’t petty enough to dredge up Hena’s embarrassing moment, nor was she so peculiar as to provoke her own shame.

Yet, there was a matter that needed addressing, given she had been secretly calling out to Terion in the basement.

I decided to approach the subject with as much tact as possible.

“Hena, you probably already know what I’m getting at. Do I really need to state the obvious?”

“No, there’s no need. I’m well aware already.”

“Then isn’t that settled? I’m known for keeping things to myself, not for spreading words around.”

“I trust you, Razen. You’re good at keeping secrets. But, could you listen to me for a moment?”

“Of course, take your time.”

Hena harbored feelings for Terion. No, it might already be something deeper, perhaps love.

However, it was a love that could never be. Even if by some miracle it could happen, it shouldn’t. It was like a forbidden fruit.

Hena, more than any of us, understood why forbidden things were so named.

“Just as Razen trusts me, I haven’t forgotten my place. If I had, I wouldn’t be here. I’m very much aware of my station.”

A position like the head housekeeper or butler of a duke’s household wasn’t something just anyone could ascend to. If the grand duke was nobility among nobility, the head of his servants was the pinnacle among them.

Such individuals wouldn’t let personal feelings interfere with the selection of the duke’s blood relatives. Hena had the credentials to be here.

And part of those credentials surely included ‘never forgetting one’s station, no matter how well the siblings treat you.’

“His lordship is a kind person, truly. He’s shown compassion even to someone of low birth like me. Of course, being who he is, he’ll end up with someone far better than someone like me.”

Nobility doesn’t marry just anyone.

A son of the empire’s grand duke could even consider a marriage alliance with royalty from another country.

At the very least domestically, a match with a lady from a duke family would be expected.

So, the higher one’s status, the more marriage became a distant dream, its significance too great.

If Terion were to marry foreign royalty, it would signify a diplomatic alliance.

Naturally, this would involve the emperor himself.

Disregarding such a marriage would not end well.

Imagine promising to marry a princess from another country, only to elope with a commoner?

It would be a grave insult, suggesting the princess was less worthy than a commoner.

The Emperor would surely repay such a diplomatic slight with a punishment worse than death.

“Therefore, I would never confess my feelings to his lordship, not even in a million years. I couldn’t bear to see him suffer because of me. It’s a wish more important to me than my own life.”

It seemed Hena had long since resigned herself to this reality.

Her face was determined, though it briefly softened as if the mere thought brought her some happiness.

“Even if, by some chance, his lordship were to harbor feelings for me, the result would be the same. Despite the tears and regret I’d surely face every day, I would never reciprocate his feelings. I would have to refuse.”

A shadow of sadness passed through Hena’s eyes.

“All I want is for his lordship to be happy. Should he find someone wonderful one day, I would sincerely celebrate his joy.”

It felt like an old emotion, a sorrow refined and whittled down over a long time, quietly stirring.

I could do nothing but offer silence, unable to soothe such a deep-seated grief.

Our steps crunched softly in the snow.

With each step, the snow beneath our feet quietly perished.

Hena, like the snow, silently killed off her feelings.

“If I were to harbor one selfish wish, it would be for the day his lordship has a child. I’d want to personally attend to that child, confident I could care for them better than anyone else in this world.”

Hena paused for a moment.

When she resumed, she was smiling, a smile forged through harsh trials.

“So, if such a day comes, I’d be grateful if you could subtly suggest to his lordship that I would be the best person to look after the children. I promise to do my utmost not to let you down.”

“I suspect he would ask you without my saying. From what I’ve seen, the only reason he manages to look remotely human is all thanks to you. He knows it too, doesn’t he?”

“Ahaha, Razen, you have no idea how sweet those words sound to me. But since we’re on the subject, let me make this clear: don’t speak ill of his lordship in front of me, okay? It would make me angry.”

“Ah... Yeah. Sorry.”

Hena laughed lightly.

“That’s where my heart lies. Knowing where the boundaries are, it’s okay to hold affection, right? Love doesn’t have to culminate in a relationship to be beautiful. I’ll cherish my feelings, and someday, the pain I’ll have to bear as well.”

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