So afraid that the man was still following her, it was not until the sun had disappeared down the mountain’s ridges that Agnes slowly rose from her seat.
She walked towards the house where her family was, clenching her teeth together as she laboriously walked on her injured legs.
Without letting her guard down, she tried to minimize the sounds she made as much as possible.
Fortunately, the house was peaceful.
Her husband was in deep sleep, and her mother-in-law was sitting in a chair next to the window with a blank face.
As soon as she confirmed the safety of her family, Agnes was relieved.
She sank to the floor.
Tears flowed down constantly from Agnes’s pretty face.
She was in shock because of what happened so suddenly, but in the end, she returned empty-handed again today. The guilt that weighed down on her heart seemed to weigh down heavily on her entire body.
With her head on her knees, she cried for a long time, and her mother-in-law slowly drew close to her.
Even if she was blind, she could walk around the house with relative ease.
Feeling an approaching presence, Agnes slowly raised her head.
She called her mother-in-law simply as ‘Mom’.
When her mother-in-law’s sanity was still intact, she always smiled kindly at Agnes.
Born in a brothel without knowing who exactly her parents were, Agnes was destined to be taken as a slave as soon as she turned sixteen—as soon as her body took the form of a woman’s frame.
It was her mother-in-law who prevented that tragic fate.
For a reasonable price, she struck an agreement with the pimp and brought the girl home.
Her husband, who was an ordinary peasant at that time, was also willing to welcome Agnes.
The three of them became a family, and as soon as Agnes came of age, she married her current husband.
They were the only family she ever had.
The most precious people in the world who she kept wanting to be with, even at the cost of death.
This was what her mother-in-law asked as she reached for Agnes.
Then, she smoothed Agnes’s soft cheeks with both hands.
The wrinkled hands of the old woman and the taut skin of the woman without a single wrinkle were in stark contrast.
“There’s none… I’m sorry, Mom.”
As soon as she heard Agnes’s answer, her mother-in-law’s pupils trembled finely.
Her eyes were full of sores from infection, and even her eyelids had a hideous shape, as if they had melted away from burns.
Soon, she began to go on a wild tantrum, as if she had been possessed by a frenzy.
“Y-Y-You! Food? FOOD!”
“Mom, calm down… Aack!”
Her mother-in-law’s hands, which were caressing Agnes’s face, grabbed her abundant hair at once.
The grip of the frenzied old woman was beyond imagination.
Agnes screamed, feeling a pain so excruciating that it’s as if her scalp was being torn off.
But just as her screams grew louder and louder, so did her mother-in-law’s actions become harsher and harsher.
Eventually, she started verbally abusing her daughter-in-law, who she didn’t even recognize anymore.
“Y-Y-You’re just killing me! Why can’t you just get out of my house?! You’re the wicked witch who ate my good daughter-in-law! You think I don’t know?!”
“What do you mean, witch, Mom? I’m your daughter-in-law! Please don’t do this!”
“Shut up! You’re trying to eat my son this time, you evil girl! Get out of my house right now, you demon!”
At last, with her hair still tightly clasped by the old woman’s grip, her head was crushed inexorably to the floor.
And as her back hit the moldy ground as well, it’s as if her ribs would shatter at any given moment.
Agnes closed her eyes tightly. She couldn’t breathe.
Already injured badly, she had no strength left to resist.
“Mom, Mom… Spare, spare me, please…”
She merely begged helplessly.
Agnes was powerless, and she acted in a way that suggested it hadn’t just been once or twice that she experienced this before.
It’s not her mother-in-law’s fault that she went mad.
So, it’s only natural that she must endure this.
She should never resent or hate her only family.
All Agnes wanted was for this nightmare to go by quickly.
That night, Agnes’s mournful sobbing resounded for a long time throughout the quiet house.
* * *
These days, Agnes rarely ever slept soundly.
Her sunken eyes and cracked lips were indicative of her poor health.
Besides the terrible malnutrition, the biggest cause began with anxiety and ended with anxiety.
This gravely unsettling emotion had nestled itself deep in her heart the moment that horseman had seen her hair.
She was constantly plagued with the thought that the soldiers might come and drag her away any time. It’s what made her so sleepless.
If she were to be honest, she wasn’t afraid of being dragged away.
However, she was desperate about wanting to stay by her family’s side. She mustn’t leave them alone.
This was because they had both become half-invalids, and without her to take care of them, they would not even be able to act or maintain their roles as proper human beings.
Unfortunately, however, Agnes’s fears soon proved real.
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