This was a joke.
A really poor joke, given how things have been going, but a joke nonetheless. I never intended for things to end up this way when I gave the “female lead” some advice to try and prevent her from being miserable for a good four years of her life. How was I to know that she’d make the rash decision to not only elope with her childhood friend, the man who’d soon be revealed to be the long lost prince, and that things would end up with me getting married to the Grand Duke in her place?
Gods, I never should have tried to be nice.
“Just follow your heart.” I had told her one day over some tea, pondering if it was alright for me to interfere so much with the original story. “Why go along with your parents' whims and be miserable, when there’s someone you actually want to be with who makes you happy? Besides, getting married doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be happy- especially when you don’t even know the guy.”
I was no more than an extra; no, I was less than an extra.
Eleanora von Ryker didn’t exist even in the background in the novel. She’s someone who was so unimportant she wasn’t even given a role, a name, or a purpose. She was just a faceless there in a crowd of thousands. I'm not even sure how I ended up taking her place.
I remembered having an asthma attack, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up in an old rickety bed. I felt cold, then feverish. My entire body felt as though it were on fire, weaker than ever and nearly drained of all energy. It was a struggle just to open my eyes. But then a voice called out to me, gentle and kind, and as the person spoke strength began to flow through me.
“It’s time to wake up, little wren…" It had said. "You can't sleep forever. There is work to be done.”
Looking back on it, it had been a little eerie.
Still, I listened to the voice and opened my eyes, and found myself staring blankly at a dusty ceiling. Looking around, I saw the rest of the room was the same- neglected and covered in dust, bits of mold even clinging to the furniture. Despite having regained some energy, I still felt a bit dizzy, and upon sitting up I saw bandages were wrapped around my hands and arms- which were abnormally thin. “Wh-What the…?”
Why am I wounded? Am... I wearing a nightgown? Where is this?
What's going on?
Sliding off the bed, my legs nearly gave out on me. I had to force my body to move, and stumbled over to a nearby vanity, a sinking feeling settling in the pit of my stomach. Yet, to my relief, when I saw my reflection… it was me.
Yet there was something off about it.
It was clearly my face staring right back at me; it had my pale skin and round brown eyes and even darker brown hair, but I looked a couple years younger and a little emaciated- and my hair, which I normally kept incredibly short, fell down to my waist. It was as if my asthma attack had knocked me into a coma, and I got hurt in the process of passing out somehow. Yet if several years had passed- which they should have, given the length my hair is now- I shouldn't look younger. I should look older.
"Th-That’s… not…" Ow.
I winced and brought a hand up to my throat.
"Ah, ahhh, ahhh... ahem. A-Ahem! Ahh! Aha, there we go."
This is so weird. Maybe I'm dreaming.
Well, dream or not, this long hair is going to start driving me crazy sooner or later.
I spent the next ten minutes searching every single drawer that was in the room for a pair of scissors, and though the pair I found wasn’t necessarily the sharpest, I decided to use it anyway and wobbled back over to the vanity, taking a seat on the dilapidated stool. Seriously, what kind of nightmare am I having? The room and furniture looked like it all might have once been fanciful and beautiful, something befitting someone of wealth, but it looks like its been abandoned and left to rot for years. Even the nightgown I was wearing was filthy, and that's not mention how gross my hair was in its current state.
Slicing off the thick strands slowly but surely, I couldn't help but cringe, feeling how greasy and matted it all was.
Is this because I was reading Manhwa before bed again? That's the only thing I can think of that might have caused this sort of weird dream. Maybe I shouldn’t read so many before going to sleep. Perhaps even the asthma attack I had was just part of this dream's elaborate setup; it wouldn't be the first time I had such a detailed nightmare.
"Gods, these scissors suck..." I made a face at the rusted piece of metal, before grimacing at the feel of my hair again. "I need a serious shower."
In the middle of working on my bangs, the the door practically slammed open, and I jumped- whipping my head around to see who it was. “H-Hi! Hello! Uh… what’s going on?”
The woman, who was clearly a maid going by her outfit, stared, a bowl in her hands. She looked at the bed I had woken up on, turned her gaze to the locks of hair on the floor, and then looked back up at me. Her face twisted in a scowl. “Great. You’re awake. And you’re already making a mess we’re gonna have to clean up. What is wrong with you?”
Huh? Uh, okay… rude. “Who are you?”
“...What?” That startled her. Suddenly, she began laughing. “Oh, don’t tell me! After making yourself sick to get attention, you’re now pretending to have lost your mind? Aren’t you cute.”
I watched in confusion as she began to make her way over to me, not understanding what she was talking about, when she lifted the bowl up and smacked it down onto the vanity desk. Inside of it was muddy water.
“Here, wash yourself with this.”
Excuse me? When I said I needed a shower, I meant with clean water.
“A Baron’s daughter should at least be presentable.” The maid sneered. “You can dress yourself, can’t you? Go visit the Baron yourself and let him know you’re awake. I have better things to do.”
She stormed off then, snickering to herself.
I just shook my head and turned back to cutting my hair, ignoring the bowl of muddy water.
Once I was done, I set the scissors down and brought my hands up to feel my face, a bit disturbed by how uncanny all of this was and just how thin I had become. My cheeks were practically sunken. Either this was a nightmare led by reading too many rags-to-riches Manhwa or I had been actually spirited away somewhere. Oh, or maybe my previous life was the true dream and I had finally awoken from a years-long coma. Whatever the case, I clearly wasn't going to be having a good time living in this hellhole.
A Baron’s daughter…
That would explain the long hair and the nightgown, but if I’m supposed to be a Baron’s daughter than why the hell is everything such a mess? Why did the maid treat me so rudely? She said… I “made myself sick”? And that I was “pretending” to have lost my mind? Did that somehow involve the bandages I'm wrapped up in, or is she trying to gaslight me by framing me for her crimes? Because clearly I was being mistreated by the people who worked here- and maybe even the Baron himself.
If this old nobility, then... am I an illegitimate child? Does he have another child, one whom was birthed by his wife- assuming he has one, and favors them more? Or is he just an asshole because I'm daughter and not a son?
"Why am I even thinking about this?" I sighed, hanging my head. "It's just a dream."
I should be waking up soon enough.