Riftan's POV - Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 1
Riftan’s POV – Chapter 1
Translator – LF
The heavy rain that raged all night ceased at dawn. Riftan washed his face with the rainwater from the trough and blinked his stiff eyes. Last night was a nightmare as the hut creaked and groaned all-night-long against the violent wind that blew like a flying blade.
He looked up at the bright sky that had no trace of last night’s savage storm and wiped the water dripping from his face with his ragged sleeves.
Even though his stepfather has been repairing their house since spring, the hut is ramshackle; when the rainy season comes, turbulence is inevitable. They may need to repair it with their hands again before the rest of the season comes.
Riftan’s eyebrows furrowed as he thought of how much money he must earn to buy as much wood needed to fix it. At that moment, a disconcerting voice screamed from behind him.
“There’s tons of work to do, what are you standing around there for?!”
He gazed at the forge as the sound of hammers against steel rang loudly. Through the wide-open door, he saw a swarthy red face. If the man was only a short distance away, he would’ve run to punch Riftan in the head. He hurriedly lifted the sack lying next to him.
“…I was just about to go.”
Riftan carried the sack on his shoulders that weigh about as heavy as him and strode forward. The blacksmith shot him a hateful glance and went into the forge ahead of him. He followed him quietly, gazing at the huge fortress that towered over the lush forest.
It has been several months since he started as an apprentice in Croiso Castle’s smithy, but his mind was never where he wanted it to be. Rather than being in the smithy, he was better off removing dung from the horse stables like he used to. Although he was constantly busy working in the stables, the amount of work he had to do in the smithy was beyond imaginable.
Every dawn, he had to dig for piles of firewood, burn charcoal in a kiln, and hammer iron ore red until his shoulders feel like splitting. After that, he must tend constantly to the fire in the furnace, so that the flames would soar.
During the first few weeks, he suffered from blisters that grew on his palms and burns in several parts of his body that sometimes he had thought of beating his stepfather who forced him to be in such awful place. However, after seeing the man’s blunt face, the resentment that swelled up to his neck disappeared like his feelings were all a lie.
As Riftan recalled the image of his stepfather who filled his stomach with nothing but thin, cold stew, he slammed the sack roughly. The words of his stepfather the day he dragged him to this place rang in his ears.
“A peasant farmer like me lives in destitute all his life until the day he dies. At least a blacksmith lives a better life.”
His stepfather who uttered those words dug up a dirt in their hut’s backyard and pulled out a black, rotten leather pouch. Inside it was the dowry he received when he married Riftan’s biological mother.
Fourteen Dirhams. His stepfather offered six of them to the swine-like blacksmith and pleaded with a bow to mentor Riftan. Remembering how ridiculous it was, Riftan spat out profanity from his mouth.
If I had that amount of money, I would have used it to build a new house…Why would he care for a stranger’s bastard who didn’t share a single drop of blood with him.
“Hey! Greenhorn! Bring more charcoal!”
Riftan woke up from his thoughts at the sound of the loud shout. He ran with a barrow filled with crushed charcoal and poured it to the furnace, then pushed the bellows as hard as he could, making a golden flame soar to the ceiling. From then on, he didn’t have time to be lost in thought.
He must obey the instructions of over thirty men yelling, “Do this, do that,” and ran never-ending errands around the large forge, carrying all sorts of load.
Only six of the blacksmiths were veterans, the rest were junior apprentices who came to learn like him yet all of them treated him like a servant.
Riftan noticed how he was the one pushed to do all sorts of chores, yet he couldn’t protest. The blacksmith who took him in neglected him while the others were displeased at the fact that he is a biracial boy. Thus, he couldn’t learn how to properly make a horseshoe.
Riftan clenched his teeth. He couldn’t quit despite being heartbroken that his father paid silver coins to let him learn, yet he is being treated like a slave. He swallowed his grievous resentment down his stomach and hammered until his shoulders were sore.
When it was time for him to go home, he didn’t have an ounce of energy left to vomit any swear word. In the stream, he rubbed his face and hands that had become charcoal black and washed his mottled clothes. Then, he roughly wore his dripping clothes again and turned towards the direction of his house. Suddenly, he found something sparkling in the rippling water.
He bent over and picked it up. A white pebble the size of his thumb shone against the light. Riftan, who was fiddling with the peculiar, white, smooth stone, placed it inside his clothes and strode forward. Regardless of exhaustion, his vitality instantly sprung from somewhere.
He walked through the dense forest and headed towards the castle’s courtyard. It was long until a magnificent structure emerged against the trees.
His eyes searched whilst picking up firewood from the storage next to him. After a while, he was able to spot a little girl squatting and picking up something in the corner of the outbuilding’s garden. Seeing her made the building lump in his heart melt.
Riftan walked slowly, pretending to pick up another piece of firewood. Aside from him, there were several other servants who came to get firewood and he blended in, so she didn’t seem to think anything strange about him approaching.
However, the black hound that followed the little girl around, showed vigilance and its ears immediately perked up. Rfitan, who was careful not to approach closer than necessary, carefully laid down the pebble he had found in front of the girl.
He then moved away quickly as if he had another business to do. A moment later, he looked over his shoulder, seeing her pick up the pebble he laid and tuck it inside her colorful pouch.
Riftan stepped towards the city’s gates, swallowing a laughter that seemed to erupt from his chest. He couldn’t shake the thoughts of how he acted like an idiot. Why in the world did that felt good? Riftan, fleeting away from the castle in a lighter pace laughed bitterly instead.
He couldn’t understand himself. Every day I go around the castle just to see that girl before I go home…Am I crazy?
She wasn’t even a child he could play with. She is the daughter of the duke, and a peasant like him was not allowed to speak to her unless he is spoken to.
If someone notices what he’s doing, he will surely be ridiculed as impudent. Suddenly, begrudging feelings steamed out and he kicked the ground with force.
Anyway, she must have not even noticed his existence. She must not know that he’s occasionally throwing strange colored feathers or pebbles in the garden. While she’s in bed, does she wonder how unusual it is to find such things in a garden? …You wouldn’t even know what sort of crown she made with those, or if she even made use of what you gave, what gives you the audacity to be curious about it?
Seeing the dilapidated hut at the bottom of the hill, Riftan snapped back to reality. She wasn’t a girl who lived in a neighbor’s house. She is the daughter of the duke who ruled this huge manor, and he is the lowest of his subjects.
It wasn’t long after he worked in the castle’s stables that he took notice of her. As he carried a loaded barrow towards the barn, he saw her sitting in the backyard of the outbuilding.
He immediately noticed the oldest little girl of Duke Croix and briskly tried to shrug it off, but his legs didn’t move for some reason.
The doll-like little girl hugged the black hound tightly with her stubby arms and buried her face against its velvety fur. Seeing how she clings to a dog bigger than him, his body stiffened, and his heart felt sore for unknown reasons.
He noticed that she wanted to be embraced by someone and her loneliness felt as vivid as his. He used to seek aid for his solitude that way too, burying his face against the nape of a foal.
Why does a girl with hundreds of servants seek comfort from a hound? Is she as lonely as I am? Having such thoughts run in his mind, he felt an urge to comfort her presumptuously.
It was thoughts that a passing dog would laugh at. Who will comfort who? He is a servant who removed horse dirt from stables, and she is the daughter of a duke.
Perhaps, she lived a life so luxurious that is beyond what he could imagine. A banquet hall decorated with marbles, golden chandeliers, soft fabrics, and sumptuous food that he will never be able to touch in his lifetime…
She sleeps in a soft, cloud-like bed made of feathers and she can eat and drink as much as she wants. She will never experience the pain of working until the skin of her palms peel till the day the dies.
He shook off the strange feelings he had towards her and congratulated himself for successfully convincing himself to walk away. However, after that day, he couldn’t help but chase her with his eyes every time he passed by the outbuilding.
Seeing her shoulders drooping or the back of her shaggy head made him feel sick, her smile made him feel better. He also became worried if she was sick somewhere whenever she’s not around. Unexpectedly, she has become someone who provided him healing at the end of the day.
Last night, as Riftan bagged charcoal from the kiln into a sack, he mocked himself. Although he knew that on one hand, he was just creating a comfort zone to escape from the harsh reality.
He’s just protecting himself at will, and the girl might not even be lonely at all. Her sad figure must be all but a delusion he’s having, and she will have nothing but fun and joyful days ahead of her. Thinking that bringing her shabby gifts daily brings her joy is all but for vain.
She can get as many jewels as she wants if she wished for it. In just a few years, when she grows up a little more, she will forget the fact that she used to collect pebbles and all these kinds of nonsense.