I Refuse To Say Goodbye - Chapter 1
The question of how to get through today was one that Raina had been repeating every day for the past ten years. Once, she was a noblewoman, but now Raina had nothing. Nine orphans and a crumbling house that she was given by the Imperial State Orphanage was all she had.
And now, she’s lost even that. Perhaps she might lose her life, too.
“I sincerely hope that you will punish this lowly woman! Never again should such a lowly woman so recklessly challenge the authority of the nobility.”
The nobleman said loudly to the emperor. Raina was silent. There were many things she wanted to say, but she swallowed them all.
‘If I die, the children may have to go to another orphanage. Then that’s fine. Even if I’m sentenced to death, if I can find a place for the children to stay, that’s all I need…’
However, the emperor’s voice was surprisingly familiar and he shivered a little as he said, “Please raise your head.”
Raina wondered why. She sensed something familiar, but that didn’t mean she could act recklessly.
“I can’t have an audience with the emperor in a lowly body…”
Everyone there was astonished.
The emperor used the word ‘please’, that iron-blooded emperor, an undefeated emperor who united the continent to an orphanage worker. Raina slowly raised her head. Then she looked at the face she missed.
His hand lifted her from her knees. He hugged her, forcefully but not painfully, so that she wouldn’t choke and run away.
Nuzzling his face into her hair, he, the Emperor, the child she once raised, repeated over and over again.
“I’ve missed you, my Raina.”
Ten years ago.
Raina followed her parents, the viscount and his wife, with a look of discontent on her face. The Viscountess turned around, laughed, and shook Raina’s hand.
“Oh, what’s wrong, Raina? “
Raina was as unhappy as ever, but she did not shake off her mother’s hand.
“I don’t like it here.”
“Raina,” her father, the Viscount, called to her in a nagging voice.
“It’s cold, smelly and cramped. I want to go home.”
“Are you cold?”
Before she could answer, her father took off his coat and put it around her shoulders. Raina, who was only thirteen, the coat was so long that it dragged on the floor. The viscountess untied the scarf and wrapped it around Raina’s neck.
“The smell will get better with some cleaning. I can’t help it if it’s too small. Can Raina please bear with me for a little while?”
“…… Isn’t father cold?”
“I’m fine like this.”
Her father was so cold that his face turned white. Raina felt sorry for complaining, but she couldn’t stop the heartache, so she bowed her head.
“I don’t like it here,” and the words that came out of her mouth were the same as before. It was the narrow corridor of the building that Raina said she hated. There was no carpet, no chairs, and the walls were blotchy.
“Raina, this is an orphanage.”
“It’s a place where many children live. You shouldn’t say anything bad about the house in front of them.”
“Why is that?”
“No one likes to be told bad things about their home.”
What home? This shabby one? Raina didn’t like it at all. The wind was leaking through the walls of the wooden building, and when she looked down the hallway, the doors to the small rooms were so tightly packed together that she found it hard to breathe. How could a person live in this small place? Raina couldn’t understand it.
“Come on, let’s go. Raina. There’s something you need to do today.”
“What is it?”
“You’re in charge of handing out the cookies I baked to the children in this house. Can you do it, Raina?”
Raina didn’t want to talk to the children who lived in this house. But as her parents stared at her, Raina could not help but nod. The children in the orphanage were dirty, as Raina expected. They were all wrapped in tattered clothes and their eyes twinkled like gutter mice when they saw the cookies. They quickly grabbed the cookies and popped them into their mouths as if they were afraid someone would take them away.
‘It’s just one cookie,’ Raina fumed inwardly as she watched the children shovel the whole cookie into their mouths, without a care in the world.
When the cookie basket was empty and the kids were staring at her, biting their fingers, Raina lifted the basket to show them that there was none. Some kids went away, but some of them seemed to want to eat the cookie crumbs from the basket.
When she handed them the basket, they quickly jumped on it and ran their fingers through the basket, which made Raina gasp.
After handing out the cookies, she looked around and saw that her parents were sitting in chairs in the cafeteria facing the Director, talking about something with a serious expression on their faces. …
‘I want to go home as soon as possible.’ Raina stood annoyed, kicking the floor with her worn-out shoes. However, she caught sight of a kid in the corner of the cafeteria. The kid caught her eye right away because he still had a cookie in his hand.
“What are you doing? Aren’t you going to eat it?”
Raina approached the kid and asked bluntly. The kid gasped and bowed his head in surprise as the noblewoman spoke to him suddenly. Unlike Raina’s white knitted wool scarf, the kid had a rag-like scarf.
“I asked if you are going to eat the cookie?”
“Then why aren’t you eating it?”
The kid looked up at Raina carefully, then he walked through the back door of the cafeteria.
“Hey! You have to answer me.”
Raina followed the kid out, dragging the hem of her coat behind her. The kid’s feet weren’t that fast, so it wasn’t hard for her to keep up with him. When Raina arrived along with the kid, there were many other kids that lined the alleyway.
The kid opened the door, entered and stood in front of the child lying on the bed. Then he cringed, as if frightened of Raina, who had followed in. When Raina folded her arms without saying a word, the kid carefully halved the cookie and placed it on the pillow of the child lying on the bed. The child lay on the bed was still sleeping soundly.
“Why didn’t you ask for two cookies?”
“I bet the old kids would have taken them away from me if I had,”
the kid bowed his head and murmured with no confidence as if he was being questioned for his sins.
“Then you should have eaten it all by yourself. Don’t you like cookies?”
“I like them. I like them best in the world.”
“Because he likes cookies best, too.”
An indescribable feeling rose in her. One of her own cookies was so important, a treat that these children could not easily enjoy, and he was going to share it with others? Why? At that moment, the hesitant kid split his half of the cookie in half again and handed it to Raina. Raina panicked.
“You want me to eat it?”
“Yes, it’s yours.”
“You haven’t had any….”
“I have a lot of this when I go home! So…! So…!”
Raina tried to tell him that he should eat more, not less, of his share. But the kid’s expression clouded over.
“That’s right. I’m sorry. It’s dirty….”
Raina hesitated and then ran out of the room. There were plenty of cookies back home. She kept thinking about the boy. He only had half of a cookie, and he wanted to share it with her? What good would it be for him?
On the carriage ride back to her home, Raina’s face was pale with concerns.
“Raina, what’s wrong?”
Her mother gently called her. Raina looked at her mother with a troubled face.
“What’s the matter? You seem to be in some kind of trouble.”
“It’s okay, you can tell me.”
Raina told her mother about the kid and the cookie. Her mother smiled and patted her on the head.
“So that’s what’s bothering you, huh, my Raina.”
“I don’t think I should have said that.”
“That’s true. But Raina didn’t say that out of spite, did she?”
Her mother soothed her.
“We both know that Raina is really kind. You just didn’t explain it well enough to that kid. Isn’t that right?”
“But if you go back there with your mom and dad and talk to him properly, he’ll listen. And if he gives you the cookies again, you can eat them.”
“Do I have to eat it? Shouldn’t I let him eat more?”
Her parents turned to each other and smiled.
“Our Raina is very kind. But for the kid, he would rather share the cookies than eat them all by himself. It probably makes him feel good doing that.”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s okay. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you all you need to know.”
Raina nodded slowly at last.
However, Raina did not visit the orphanage with her parents after that. The following spring, a severe epidemic spread throughout the kingdom. Raina was only superficially aware of the fact, because as soon as her parents heard about the epidemic, they put her in solitary confinement.
“I want to see my parents.”
When Raina said this to the servant who brought her food and water to wash three times a day, she looked very annoyed.
“You can’t do this now, young lady, because the sickness is still going on, and a little girl like you can get infected very easily.”
“When will it go away then?”
“Well… you will have to wait a little longer.”
“Where are my mother and father?”
The servant paused for a moment and laughed.
“Of course, they are at the mansion. They are doing their best to prevent the epidemic from spreading any further at the mansion.”
There was something dubious about it, but the servant left the room without giving Raina room to ask more. The boring days went on, with no one to see all day. Having read all the books the servant brought, Raina could only walk around, writhing in boredom and worry.
‘Let’s write a letter.’
One day, as she was lying down on her bed as usual, the idea came to her. Raina had never written a letter to her parents because she was always with them.
‘Why don’t I write them a letter and show them how much my writing skills have improved and make them happy.’
Raina immediately began to write the letter. She started writing in the daylight and by the time she finished and beautifully signed, the sky was dark. Raina realized that she had skipped lunch, and that the servant had not come to give her lunch or dinner.
“Why didn’t she come?”
Feeling sluggish, Raina got out of her chair and turned the handle on the door. The door did not open, of course. She had looked around many times since she had been locked in, so she knew it well.
“Um, I’m hungry.”
Raina knocked on the door. Eventually, the knocking turned into a series of banging.
“Can you hear me? I’m hungry! Bring me some food!”
But there was no reply. Raina, trapped and hungry, tears began to stream down her face.
“Open the door! I want to see my mother and father! Please open this! Please open the door quickly!”
The door would not open even if she beat it to death with the strength of a child. Without giving up, Raina gathered all her strength and about to kick it once again, the door swung open and she fell forward. It was the servant who always brought her meals, caught her body. Raina was happy and angry at the same time. She quickly pushed the servant’s arms away.
“What are you just now getting here? I….”
“Oh, Young Lady. Please calm down and listen.”
The servant’s eyes glowed red and glistening as if she had been crying. An ominous feeling of foreboding ran down Raina’s spine.
“The master and Lady…. are dead.”