Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Rubica looked up at the man who was trying to protect her from the falling bombs without caring about his own safety.
“Please… don’t say anything more.”
She couldn’t feel her body already. She knew the end was near, but she wasn’t sad about her death. Although her life had been dramatic, it had been normal.
“There’s no hope for me.”
She tried to use what was left of her strength to at least put on a pale smile. If anyone had seen her, they would have felt pain in their heart. Her smile was that sad.
She just tried to memorize Arman’s white hair and kind wrinkled eyes using her fading sight.
“I want to tell you something.”
Arman shook his head, knowing it would be her last words. He didn’t want to hear her last words. He wanted her to believe that she could survive. He couldn’t imagine living without her.
“Ar… man,” Rubica said.
She was already seventy years old and she had been enduring well. She had suffered so much, working at a small abbey in a land razed by the war.
Still, she felt she had led a quite decent life. She had found happiness in healing the wounded and helping the people suffering from the war like herself.
Before the war, she had had no place to go to. Ironically, it gave her a place to stay. However, she still had one regret remaining in her heart. It was that she hadn’t told Arman that she loved him.
He had shown up about a decade ago at Hue’s Abbey where Rubica was staying at. He was another victim of the war. He was blind. However, Rubica had never seen anyone as capable as him. He knew many languages, enough to communicate with everyone at the abbey where people from many countries lived mixed together and knew much more.
Oh, if Rubica hadn’t had his help, she wouldn’t have been able to save and heal so many people.
Moreover, he was so kind to Rubica. When she overworked even a little, he cooked food to help her recover sooner, and he always volunteered to do the hard work. Rubica fell in love with him. However, she couldn’t bring herself to say that out loud.
She was an old woman, withering more and more every day. Her confessing love would have been something to laugh at. She was ashamed of the spring that came to her at an old age. So, she couldn’t tell that to Arman.
Now, she was regretting it when the time to face death had come. Human beings are so foolish, regardless of age. She raised her weak hand to touch Arman’s cheek.
His skin was just as wrinkled as her own. Although he was quite handsome, he was old just like herself.
Why had she fallen for him?
Nevertheless, she enjoyed looking at him more than looking at young and good-looking men. The thought made her smile.
Why had she hesitated? Why had she given up, thinking others would think it was wrong? She had experienced more than enough that life never waited.
They spoke at the same moment. Rubica’s old heart started beating fast. She wanted to tell him the last remaining feeling to him.
But maybe, it was too late. Her fussy sight turned black, and she couldn’t hear the sound of the bombs anymore.
She could only hear a faint buzzing. She wanted to say her last words, but she could no longer move her lips.
‘I am just like him now.’
That’s what she thought when she couldn’t see anymore. Then, she didn’t feel as bad for not being able to see. However, not being able to say to Arman what she had to say for the first and last time made her sad.
And that sadness became a small drop of dew in her eyes.
Soon, she felt something cold on her breast. Then, she felt the sound of warm breathing on her ear, as if someone was whispering to her.
‘Is Arman talking to me?’
Sadly, she couldn’t hear the sound. However, she didn’t want Arman to know that. She wanted her last seconds to look beautiful and happy for Arman, even though she was an old woman.
Even though he couldn’t see…
Rubica felt Arman stroking her face with his hand. When his fingers reached her lips, she smiled as if she had heard everything Arman had said.
Did he notice her smile?
His hand stopped. Then it trembled as if he was holding back the tears. He moved his hand to take her hand tightly and started to pat her shoulder.
You shouldn’t give up yet. You should live. It was as if he was whispering through that gesture. However, despite his efforts, Rubica’s consciousness just went further and further away. Arman’s hand patting her shoulder, his scent, and his breath. They all got smaller and smaller. Eventually, she couldn’t feel anything.
Rubica’s life had been unfortunate and dramatic, but also long enough, happy, and meaningful. Her life was about to come to an end, leaving just the regret of not telling her beloved that she loved him.
Rubica suddenly woke up in front of a mirror. Her eyes were full of tears.
She checked her reflection and shock appeared on her face.
‘… no wrinkles? No streaks of white hair, it’s just all brown.’
Is this really my face? She touched her face and looked down at her milky-white hands. She still couldn’t get used to it as too much time had passed, but what she was seeing in the mirror was her younger self.
‘What is going on?’
Before she could look around to figure out what was happening, someone knocked on the door and opened it.
The maid was familiar to Rubica. However, she couldn’t recall her name immediately as it had been fifty years since she lived with her.
“You must prepare for the morning!”
“What?” Rubica asked confusedly.
The maid didn’t wait for Rubica. She seized her thin wrist with her own rough and powerful hand and ran down the stairs. Rubica, who had just been in the attic on the second floor, arrived at the dressing room on the first floor in no time.
“Rubica! You’re way too late.”
A little lady sitting in front of a dressing table stomped her feet in anger. She wasn’t acting like a noblewoman at all. Then, the maid handed a comb to Rubica as if it was only natural.
“Angela.” Rubica’s voice shook, but this time, she said the name right away.
How could she ever forget the girl?
Rubica’s mother had died in the year she turned 16. Ever since then, she had been under the protection of her uncle and his wife who had paid her family’s debt. However, that protection was more like exploitation. Angela was Rubica’s uncle’s daughter, her cousin. She didn’t like Rubica calling her by name.
She pouted and turned around while saying, “Comb!”
She spoke as if she was talking to her maid. Rubica’s tears disappeared in no time. Instead, she frowned hard to Angela in the mirror.
‘You shouldn’t speak like that!’
Their gazes met, and Angela looked away instead of yelling again. Rubica sighed. It was so strange. Had she had a bad dream? She hid her complicated feelings and combed Angela’s flowing red hair.
Her red hair always had a pretty glow. It felt quite soft to Rubica’s fingers, she had probably been raised with good food. Rubica had missed that soft texture. She barely stopped something hot coming up her throat and asked, “Which style do you want?”
“Same as yesterday. I liked it. It was pretty.”
Same as yesterday?
Rubica blinked her deep reddish-brown eyes. Then she tried to remember the yesterday Angela meant. However, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t recall the style Angela had worn yesterday.
When she thought of the word yesterday, the memory that came to her mind was…
“Rubica, Amanun will strike nearby tomorrow.”
Rubica has just returned after taking care of the patients. Arman gave her warm water and biscuits. She then drank the water and sat down next to her to look at the fishing net he was making. They had planned to go fishing to the lake with the children the next day after finishing the net.
“Would they even strike this abbey, anyway?”
Arman’s hands stopped, and Rubica widened her eyes in surprise. Even during the violent war, no country nor any monster had invaded Hue’s Abbey.
That was why so many refugees had come there, following Hue god’s teaching of ‘Love your foe as if he were your neighbor’. Rubica and Arman had been one of those as well. Arman hesitated for a long time, wondering if he should tell Rubica what he knew, but he eventually started speaking.
“Dragon Iber, that used to sleep, has woken up.”
“Rubica, I’ve prepared a hideout under the zelkova. If anything happens…”
“Arman.” Rubica took his shaking hand. She thought it was good that he couldn’t see her eyes shaking in fear just like his hand, “If anything happens, save the children first.”
“We’ve lived long enough.”
She wasn’t wrong.
She had lived for seventy years. The children were much younger, so they were more likely to find happiness at the end of this pain. They had to survive.