Chapter Three
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As now is customary, this chapter has been beta'd for you by Magikarp Karp.

Today's warnings: blood. Just. A lot of blood. And arrow wounds.

***

More typical Otome Isekai Heroine: I dunno... Let's just let things happen to me.

Adetta: *grabs Elijah and Fenrir* YA FOLLOW ME WE'RE GONNA GET IN TROUBLE AND IT'S GONNA BE FUN.

[Regalis: in search of Peace and Quiet!]

•chapter three•

Girl goes on a picnic. Girl wanders into a forest. Girl saves a life.

•••

The two weeks between their excursion into the town and Adetta’s planned birthday picnic pass in a flurry of caring for Fenrir, answering best wishes and opening gifts from lesser noble houses—which was pretty much everyone else—desperately trying to butter up to Bellvilles, suffering through the last storms of the season and just generally getting ready.

There were even some shy inquiries about possibility of marriage contract. Crawforde and Penelope both would look at her questioningly, after which she’s proceed to gleefully burn each and every one of them over a candle after a prolonged eye contact, instead of bothering to answer verbally.

Just to make sure everyone understood her properly, yes?

She would be the perfect, elegant, graceful lady capable of outwitting everyone and their dog in this political game as it was expected of her, but if she absolutely had to marry, she’d rather have this choice be left exclusively to her.

Not like it wasn’t up to her—she might’ve been her father’s daughter, but she was also her mother’s mini-me, and her mother did absolutely whatever she pleased. The only opinions that mattered were those of her family’s anyway, and not all the other nobles. Also, her parents were convinced that she wouldn’t hesitate to stab a man right on the altar, if she were to be forced to marry. They weren’t wrong, and as amusing for them wouldn’t that be, killing off noble sons left and right wouldn’t be good for the Archduchy in the long term.

Or she’d just publicly flip them off and proceed to ruin them.

(Just because she wasn’t being a psychopathic egomaniac didn’t mean she rid herself of her mean streak; that thing was too useful in showing people what happened if they pressed too much.)

Adetta was eight. Mary was twenty-seven.

She really wasn’t looking for anybody’s acknowledgment, and was already fully formed as a person with individual wants and aspirations who knew how to deal with her emotions and make decisions based on pragmatic view of what’s best for her. And she wasn’t one to let others step all over her either—no; that was a shtick that Mary grew out of come her twenty-second birthday.

If they tried to make her do something she absolutely wasn’t going to do- The worst that could happen, she’d just leave. She’d do perfectly fine as a commoner using Mary’s social skills, maybe open a restaurant or a café with the funds she would liberate her house of beforehand. Or a bakery.

Food sold, after all. Especially quality food for reasonable price.

And she would get some free workforce, because Elijah, Rosaria and Fenrir would absolutely follow.

But those were not her concerns at all, because her parents, unlike most nobles, weren’t fucking morons. Actually, they were really smart, as in not only book smarts, but also the practical comprehension of life. The nobles, those who sent letters at least, were not.

Who normal tries to use eighth birthday of a child as an excuse to try to further their agenda?

The nobles, that’s who.

Other than that, the two weeks preceding the picnic were busy, but a good kind of busy. Elijah was clingier than before, jealous of Fenrir, whom Adetta gave a lot of attention—the boy was malnourished, physically and mentally exhausted, scared and, as was beginning to be a pattern with otherwise scarred children—only really trusted her. But they managed to get him on a road to recovery relatively quickly with Penelope’s nature-based healing magic. Physically at least.

Adetta was the only one he actually listened to, as well. If she didn’t tell him to sit down on his ass and rest to recover faster, he would chase down the housekeep and demand they teach him to work.

It was cute he was eager to help and earn his keep in the mansion, but could he please just rest for another week or two so that she could feed him some more calcium and not fret his bird-bones would break each time he tried lifting something heavy?

Also, he was six. There was no need for him to take all the housekeep duties seriously yet. Or at all.

(But try telling Fenrir that.)

Her birthday comes and goes, in howling wind and thunderstorms that startle Elijah straight into her lap. There’s a velvet cake that was made by the cooks, who were little more than glorified hands Adetta used. She had to walk them through every step, and they made it, although she had to do some patisserie math gymnastics in order to work around lack of red dye and baking soda, and the oldschool equipment in general.

(The answer was beet juice and dried hibiscus leaves. Also, these were times when usage of Baker’s Ammonia was widespread. It wasn’t a half-bad substitute for the baking soda.)

Nobody even asked why Adetta knew how to make this cake. She wasn’t sure whether she felt flattered by their acceptance of everything her, or offended that they just got used to her weird.

Nobody ever asked why she was like this, an adult in a body of a child. Why did she know things others didn’t, or things she wasn’t supposed to. Why she hardly behaved like a young child, and more like everyone’s disgruntled elder sister. How could she just sit down and do the work she was assigned to without complaining, how she was able to spot and point out mistakes her father made in paperwork.

Maybe they just thought it was her normal, since she always behaved like that. Maybe they knew something (her mother did, absolutely, or Adetta would eat her shoes), maybe they didn’t care as long as she was happy and healthy.

It made her tantrums, when she finally deigned to act her age, so much more powerful.

No, really, it sent people into actual panic.

(Was Adetta a bad person to say it amused her, seeing the housekeep and her parents both freaking out over her screaming at someone over something?

It only happened twice, though, if she remembered right. She was more of a ‘cold, stewing fury and scathing remarks that make people cry’ type of person, and even that was rare, since she avoided getting angry as much as she could.)

♦►☼◄♦

When they were all done cutting and eating the cake, and the housekeep started cleaning, Penelope pulled Adetta to the side and have her thin, long box with a wink.

Inside was a rather plain-looking dagger, with a handle wrapped in black leather and straight, sturdy blade made of folded Damascus steel—rare and expensive in this day and age in Sheothia, and, probably, the best metal this world currently had. It was big for an eight-year-old child, more a shortsword than a dagger with unadorned guard.

There was something truly elegant in its monochrome simplicity and raw functionality.

“I knew you’d like it,” Penelope smiles. “As much as it annoys me, we do have rogue blood in our veins. I quite like a good dagger myself.”

“Rogue blood?”

“Your grandfather is still around and kicking, he might pay you a visit sometime before the Winter Ball.”

“But the Winter Ball is still over a year away, mother. It’s a debut for nine-year-olds, I’m eight.”

“My father is an unpredictable man, remember that.”

“Okay, fine, I won’t ask, I know you won’t answer anyway.”

“Smart girl.”

“Can I get a sword?”

“Ask your father. But why?”

“No particular reason, I just think I’d like collecting blades. You know, a hobby outside books. It helps that it’s a hobby I can stab people with.”

Penelope laughs and pats Adetta’s head.

♦►☼◄♦

The weather was perfect. None of the scorching summer heat, but the air wasn’t quite full of the autumn chill yet. The trees, with their branches gently swaying on the last gusts of the warm wind, were growing progressively more and more into the kaleidoscope of red.

The place they picked as a picnic spot was on the very edge of their territory, and it has actually taken them half a day in the carriage to get there. It was some ways away from a small town where they would spend the night before returning, where the neighboring Marques was also suspiciously present in that time, as if just to meet the Bellvilles. It was a picturesque scenery all around, all hills and forests and lakes, and no signs of human influence in sight, except for dilapidated stone ruins on a hill they were going towards.

Well, ruins. Stone foundation and a bit of a wall, nearly completely swallowed by greenery. The thing was more than forty years old, destroyed in the last war that ended before her father was even born.

(Don’t think about war. Don’t think about plague. Don’t think about elven prince dying in the woods sometime around your birthday, perhaps even right now, or tomorrow, or yesterday. Don’t. Today is your day, not a day to keep fretting. You can’t do anything about it anyway.

Today might be the last day she spends with her family, idly lazing around and being happy.)

It’s the spot her parents knew of—the place where her father proposed no less. It was nice, that they were sharing this spot with their children now.

They put out the blankets and baskets of food and sat down, enjoying the weather. Even the servants were around, on their own blankets with their own food—the maids that Adetta disliked (mutually) were long since… Relocated. The ones that worked in the manor now were, understandably, miffed by their young lady’s mannerisms, but remained friendly, or at the very least professional.

“Adetta, open your mouth,” Elijah says, a piece of roasted meat on his fork. She rolls her eyes at him, but obliges anyway.

“Thanks,” she says, “but I can eat the rest myself.”

“Awww.”

“Do I really look like a toddler to you? You can feed Rosaria if you want.”

They both look to where Rosaria is currently terrorizing maids with custard pudding, seeing her smear the thing all over everywhere and not at all wondering why did Penelope push her youngest onto others for today.

Toddlers.

Other than that, they have fun, and for once, Adetta lets herself act her age, running around with Elijah and Fenrir, and some younger maids, playing tag and hide-and-seek, ruthlessly abusing her wind powers for speed boost. Barely, but she manages to outrun even Fenrir and his Beastfolk physique that makes him naturally stronger and faster than humans.

Beastfolk in the army, or as mercenaries, are quite frightening, with their inhuman battle prowess and keen senses that allow them so sense most danger well ahead of time. Even elves know not to piss off Drokya, the mountain kingdom where most Beastfolk live. However, unlike humans, they respect them. Humans, if they find anything non-human that’s not nobility, will ridicule and curse that person, treating them like trash.

Humans, what a wonderful race.

(Adetta sometimes wishes they’d all die. The world would certainly be better for it, and there are other races just as capable of keeping elves’ egomania in check as them.)

Fantasy Racism was a can of worms Adetta didn’t like opening, but sometimes one had to. As much as her father employed a no-tolerance policy against racism, some bad apples persisted, such as the Mayor’s son, and situations like that of Fenrir’s were much more common all over the country than Adetta would have liked. Most nobles were stuck-up assholes with a prideful streak a mile wide. She really hated those elitist, supremacist, often sexist swines.

Some were already raising their voices as to why Adetta wasn’t engaged yet, because how can a woman do anything without a man?

(She was going to show them. By the gods, she was going to fucking show them. They were only screaming because they didn’t know who’d be the next Archduke yet, to start licking his boots young.

Adetta. The next Archduke was Adetta, and only her.

Call it a new-year resolution, even if the year wouldn’t change for some months yet. A birthday resolution?)

♦►☼◄♦

When the noon passed but it wasn’t quite evening, Adetta declared that she’s going into the forest, picked up a basked, threw in one of the white sheets, few bottles of water and a stray sandwich, and started resolutely marching towards the woods. Penelope didn’t even move, just smiled, and Crawforde sighed, messing his hair before throwing a ‘just be careful!’ after her. Elijah took one look at them and threw himself after her, and so did Fenrir.

“Adetta-“

“Milady-“

“No,” she stops them. “It’s my birthday picnic, and I’m bored, and I want to go to the forest to look for some herbs and fungi I can later use. You can come with, but don’t try to stop me.”

“Herbs?” Fenrir asks, ears perking up.

“Yes,” she says and looks at the sky. “So we’re going north, and back we’ll be going south. Okay. Let’s go.”

♦►☼◄♦

“What’s this?”

“Chamomile. It’s good for tea.”

“And this?”

“Oregano. It’s tasty in salads, and makes good spice.”

“And this one?”

“Belladonna.”

“Elijah, hand’s off the plant. It’s poisonous, don’t touch it. You too, Fenrir.”

“No, I’m fine, it smells bad.”

“Good.”

“Belladonna is poisonous?”

“Yes, Eli. It’s also called Deadly Nightshade, and for a good reason.”

“Oh. I thought- Like, women used it for tonics?”

“Yeah, no, that shit toxic as seven hells. Those tonics cause blindness.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. And if you ate even few berries, you’d die.”

“Really?!”

“Didn’t I just say that? Even an adult would die after eating, like, five.”

“Five. As in, singular five berries?”

“Yes. As I said, don’t touch it. Now, there’s a rosemary patch down there, help me pick it.”

“This is all very interesting.”

“I can give you some of the herbal books after you’ve learned to read, Fenrir.”

“I’d love that!”

“Now, was it just me, or did I smell spearmint around?”

“Finish picking your rosemary first!”

♦►☼◄♦

They run around the forest for good two hours, and the sun is finally starting to head towards the west, so it’s time to head back. The boys are properly amazed with her knowledge of herbs, and she’s glad that her devouring herbal journals for past two weeks paid off. She has a basket full of herbs she’s going to dry and use, and she’s quite happy with how the day went today. They head south, so the setting sun is somewhere on their right as they treat through the thicket in companionable silence, listening to birds and trying not to trip on the branches.

They’re definitely beyond the Bellville territory now, but it’ll take them maybe twenty minutes their pace to get back to the picnic site.

Fenrir suddenly stops, grabbing both Elijah and Adetta by the hand. He looks around, then sniffs, and suddenly his ears flatten right to his skull, and he lets out a low whimper, half-hiding behind them.

“Fenrir?” Adetta asks, turning to him. “Fenrir, what’s wrong?”

“It’s the bad smell.”

“What bad smell?”

“The sticky red that flows out of people when they got cut. A lot of it.”

Blood, then. It could be an animal. It could be something else. Adetta, of course, makes a decision contrary to common sense and very much aligned with curiosity.

“Can you lead us there?”

“Adetta, are you crazy?” Elijah hisses, grabbing her by the arm. “What if it’s a prey of something big? What if something dangerous is there? Anything could be in these forests, wolves, bears, monsters!”

“I can’t hear anything around, though,” Fenrir says. “Nothing, you know- Just birds and wind.”

“Yet,” Elijah says, narrowing his eyes.

“We’re going to check,” Adetta tells them as if it’s already decided. For her, it is. “Fenrir, listen for animals.”

“Of course!”

“Adetta! Why are you always like this, it might be dangerous!”

“You’re free to go back, Eli, just keep heading south,” she tells him, moving forward despite his grip. He sighs, defeated—it’s not like he can stop her, anyway, might as well go try to do damage control—and follows. It doesn’t take them even a minute for Adetta’s and Elijah’s human noses to pick up the heavy, thick, metallic odor of blood, cutting through the fresh-green-wet scent of the forest, cutting through the summer air like a lightning through a night sky. Elijah trembles behind them, not supportive of the idea at all, Fenrir wildly uncomfortable, but both unwilling to leave her alone while she satiates her curiosity.

Then they stumble upon him—a man, tall, probably, Adetta didn’t know with how he was lying propped against a tree, not quite in a puddle of his own blood, but it was steadily forming, painting the grass red. He was not conscious at all, with skin that probably used to be caramel-colored once, maybe, but was ashen with blood loss, and his pale blonde hair sticky with red.

His shirt was of peculiar cut, but Adetta didn’t quite care—two arrows were sticking from his chest, one from his shoulder and another from his abdomen, and the blood seeping from the wounds already dyed the front of his shirt red, despite it originally being deep green. His chest moved, but Adetta had to strain to actually see it rise.

“Is he dead?” Elijah asks, frightened but morbidly curious while Fenrir cowered behind, torn between running away and running towards the man. Adetta was about to answer, but the man coughed rather violently, startling a whine from her brother, a yelp from Fenrir and a wince from her. He was alive, alright, and right now he was even looking at them, three confused kids in the middle of the forest that stumbled upon a half-corpse.

He had the most startling, beautiful violet eyes Adetta has ever seen—they shone like two amethysts, glimpses of life fading from them ever so slowly. And fear. The man was afraid. He was dying, he knew it, and he was scared of it.

“He’s not dead,” she says resolutely, steeling herself. “But he will be if we won’t do something about it.”

“What can we even do?!” Elijah asks, startled, but Adetta doesn’t turn away from the man. He closes his eyes again, too tired to retain consciousness.

“We try to stop the bleeding first, and one of us runs to get mother, and maybe father,” she says resolutely. “Fenrir, can you run back to them and tell them what we found?”

“But, milady-“

“You’ll be able to get out the fastest with your nose, and get them back here, too. Please, Fenrir. Elijah and I will try to stop the bleeding, just go. Be quick. Remember, south, sun at the right hand. Go!”

“I- Yes, milady. I will- I will be right back.”

And with that, he’s off. Elijah turns to her, as she approaches the man.

“What now?”

“We try to stop the bleeding,” she says, as she sets down the picnic basket filled with herbs and remaining food. She pulls out two remaining water bottles and gives them to Elijah. “I will snap the arrows so that just the arrowheads are left, and try to immobilize them so that they don’t move in the wounds. You focus on treating his abdomen with magic, see what you can do if anything.”

Elijah gulps, and nods shakily. Healing papercuts and bruises is one thing—attempting to stop an internal bleeding in a place so vital and complicated as the abdomen? Gods-

Adetta puts a hand on his shoulder.

“We need to keep him alive until Mother gets here. I believe in you.”

He nods, determined.

They move him, as delicately as they can with their tiny bodies, to lay flatly on the red-soaked ground. Once he’s safely on level ground, Adetta uses small, concentrated gusts of wind to snap the wooden shafts of both arrows to manageable length but still long enough to freely grab a hold of, and tears the white sheet they had in the basket to more manageable, but still rather big pieces.

“Here, put this on the wound, don’t press too much on the arrow, just around it, and it gets too soaked, put a new one on top, don’t peel off the old one, okay?”

“Okay, okay- Okay,” Elijah breathes, uncorks the water bottle, focuses, and prays for a miracle.

♦►☼◄♦

By the time Penelope arrives, effortlessly gliding through the thicket next to the breathless Crawforde and a wheezing Fenrir, Elijah’s hands are sticky with blood, but the blood flow has lessened, and Adetta has managed to find some yarrow, grind it between her finders, and apply to the man’s shoulder wound to attempt the same. It worked. Kind of.

“Yarrow?” Penelope asks, leaning over the children and the man, completely unruffled as if she didn’t keep up with Fenrir and Crawforde at all, but instead took a light stroll through the woods.

“It stops the bleeding, but his blood-“ Adetta starts, removing her palm, dirty with thinned, red blood. “It’s too thin, it doesn’t clot properly. I think it’s poisoned.”

“Oh, it’s definitely poisoned,” she says, after tasting the blood. Because it’s a thing she does, apparently, and it explains a lot in everyone’s treatment of Adetta’s oddities. “Move, children.”

They do, and she kneels down by the man, in the bloodied grass, completely uncaring of the blood pooled under. His breathing is even shallower than before now, but Elijah’s efforts were not in vain, and the abdominal wound doesn’t bleed nearly as much as it used to.

Penelope puts her hands on him, one on each wound, closes her eyes, and concentrates.

As a nature-wielding, classified healer, she doesn’t quite need foci, like Elijah with water. The more raw nature surrounds her, the more powerful magic she can channel, and right now, they’re in the middle of a forest. The magic forces the arrows straight out of the wounds, as the flesh closes behind in a rather gruesome way. It only leaves thin, pale scars behind, and the man’s face visibly relaxes.

“I did what I could,” Penelope says, having barely broken a sweat and Adetta is once more reminded that her mother is the one in the household not to be trifled with. “His wounds are still very delicate, and he still has rather severe anaemia. Crawforde, love, carry him back, we need to warm him up rather quickly.”

“I foresee a lot of liver and spinach in the near future,” Adetta says, and Penelope hums in agreement.

“And other things, but he has to survive the night and return home first.”

“And you want me to carry him,” Crawforde asks, looking unhapilly at all the blood.

“Yes,” says Adetta at the exact same moment as Penelope. They look at each other and smile, both with bloodied hands and fronts of their skirts, and Crawforde sighs, but obediently picks the man up bridal-style, as if he weighted nothing and wasn’t at all taller than Adetta’s father, or a mass of lean muscle. The blonde’s head rolled against Crawforde’s shoulder, finally resting in the crook of the man’s neck, as his whole body remained limp with blood loss and lack of awareness.

“Hey,” Crawforde says conversationally, carrying the man through the woods. “Did you notice that he’s an elf?”

Adetta stops for a moment, blinks, and then shakes her head and resumes walking.

No, that’s not possible.

8