Riftan's POV - Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 2
Chapter 2 – Riftan’s POV
Translator – LF
He tightly tied the sack filled with black charcoal and tried erasing the red-haired girl who kept flickering in his head. Thinking of her is only an illusion that’s made for him to feel like he wasn’t alone.
Riftan pulled out firewood from the storage and stacked his sack in a barrow. He then grabbed the handles and pushed his load forward. He did the same routine over and over without stopping that he was able to transport all the charcoal before the sun reached the middle of the sky. With his raggedy sleeves, he wiped his sweat and pumped water from the well to quench his thirst.
The only fortunate thing about his damned life was that he was stronger than his peers. He couldn’t get the nutrition his body needed so his limbs and legs were thin, but he was tall and big enough to meet the height of boys two or three years older than him.
From eight years of age, he never suffered from any major illness despite being subjected to rigorous labor. There were times he would hope he’s sick when faced with a mountain of work but seeing people dying from unknown causes made that thought disappear.
If he gets sick, it’s all over. He couldn’t afford to go to a healer, let alone a priest, nor couldn’t expect someone to nurse him back to health because taking a day off work also means starving on that day.
Most poverty-stricken people just leave the sick unattended until they die, even their family. There’s no other way or choice for them anyway.
Merchants, craftsmen, and architects were better off, but tenant farmers such as they are, had to pay enormous amounts of rent every season.
It was common for peasants to renounce their freedom and become enslaved serfs because they couldn’t afford to pay taxes. Despite being able to pay taxes, putting food in the stomach is another difficult burden.
The taxes and rent implemented by the Duke of Croiso was particularly expensive. It wasn’t only once or twice did he see his stepfather haggling with the tax collector.
Whenever his father opened his mouth, it would be complaining about the expensive rent and moving to a land with lower taxes and rent. However, Riftan was well aware that there was no way that they’ll be able to leave the Croiso Manor.
Outside the walls were forests and lands infested by horrible monsters and it would require at least thirty silver coins to hire escort mercenaries to bring them to safety.
Even if he worked and farmed his whole life, he would never be able to save that amount of money. The only way to escape was to risk his own life, but Riftan knew that his stepfather doesn’t have the guts to do so.
Riftan stretched his waist and massaged his throbbing shoulders. Despite all the profanity that his stepfather spat out complaining about the hefty rents and taxes, he went out at dawn everyday carrying a plow to the fields. There was no other choice for him. He’ll wake up and do the same work over and over until he’s old and ill, until his body can no longer work.
It was not difficult to picture his stepfather lying on the bed, waiting helplessly for the day that he dies. And soon, it will be him. Like most peasants, his life will end that way too.
Riftan’s mouth twisted bitterly as he washed his soiled hands with the water from his canteen. But he was born strong, he will be able to withstand the hardships for at least thirty more years.
If he’s fortunate, he might even be a blacksmith like his stepfather intends for him to be. However, at this rate, it was a shot to the moon for him to become a master at the craft.
There was a distinct hierarchy in the smithy. The blacksmiths of highest rank are the ones who make armors and weapons, the ones in the middle rank make the cauldrons, pots, doorknobs, and candlesticks; the rest had to hammer horseshoes all day long.
He was very aware that his best chance is only up to becoming a middle-ranked blacksmith. Despite being skillful with handling tools, he could never even have the chance to hammer a metal of high-quality.
The tension and competition between the apprentices are very fierce and the senior blacksmiths have already handpicked their successors, and so far, he has failed. Perhaps, he will be working errands in the smithy for the rest of his life.
“Still, it’s better than being a peasant farmer…”
Riftan washed his face with cold water to reinvigorate his mind, rocking his head back and forth, thinking of ways to escape his damned poverty-stricken life. However, there simply is no good future that can be drawn for him.
To add to his list of misfortunes, he’s an illegitimate mixed-race child, born out of the blood of strangers. Even if his family were able to gather capital and start a business, it would easily be eradicated, having a Catholic-dominant manor that controls the trade. Besides, who would want to buy from him.
He rubbed his neck, which had become sticky from sweat, and went into the smithy. The blacksmiths were already gathered, ready to start the day and setting fire to the furnaces. One of them looked at him with billowing eyes.
“What in the world are you standing around for?!”
The man pointed to the huge bellows made of dragon’s wings and ordered him to operate it. Riftan sighed and began to pull the thing up and push it down repeatedly. Soon, the spacious, cluttered smithy was steaming with muggy heat.
Riftan thought that it was a wonder how his lungs didn’t give up yet. The reverberating sound of the hammers hitting iron here and there could make him deaf. He smiled bitterly.
What do you need to worry for?
It would have been better if that happened, then he wouldn’t have to hear his neighbors gossiping about his illegitimacy and race when he passes by.
Riftan’s jaw was rigid, and his teeth were tightly clenched as he moved his arms up and down with all his strength. After fanning the furnace for a long period of time, a glowing red-hot stream of iron flowed out, it was then placed in a mold to harden and then on top of an anvil, to be pounded with a hammer to flatten its shape.
When the wrought iron has been made, the blacksmith takes it to be polished further and made into things such as horseshoes, spurs, and axes. This process was repeated throughout the day.
“Hey! We’re out of lime! Didn’t I tell you to get enough?!”
Riftan was in the middle of working on the bellows when someone pulled his ear from behind. Riftan lifted his head, swallowing back a groan. The bearded man squeezed his face hard with one hand and turned his head to one side of the forge.
“We only have half a bag left! Bring more, and hurry!”
Riftan shook off the man’s hand and looked at him fiercely. The blacksmith’s face immediately turned red from anger.
“What’s with those eyes? Are you trying to rebel now?”
As if the man was showing off his solid biceps, the product of hammering all day, he shook his clunky fist and flapped his arm. Riftan had been hit the other day, beaten to the temple which caused him to vomit all day long. He took a step back.
“Are you not going to bring it?”
Riftan strode outside before the man could hit him on the back of his head. However, while dragging the barrow to the warehouse, Riftan’s boiling anger didn’t subside. There are twenty-four apprentices, why is it that when something runs out, he’s always the one at fault?
He groaned and spat on the ground, then dragged the rattling barrow to a shorter path. Walking through the thick forest, he heard a dog barking from somewhere. He paused on his tracks and looked around but could not see a dog in sight. He frowned, left the barrow, and headed to the direction of the sound.
As he jumped over the lush bushes and passed three or four beautiful trees, he saw a black hound barking aggressively at something, its posture in full guard.
If his eyes weren’t fooling him, that hound is the loyal watchdog of the Duke’s eldest daughter.
What the hell are you doing in this place? Where’s your master?
Riftan’s eyebrows were creased, then suddenly his eyes widened at what he saw.
The dog was barking at a massive lizard-like creature that was about 1 kvet long, its tongue was slithering.
Riftan instinctively lowered his body against the ground and observed the creature’s appearance. It was the first time that he saw such a thing in his life. Its whole body was wrapped in thorny scales and its large, menacing mouth had two long, needle-like protruding fangs.
Are there other monsters hiding?
As Riftan’s thoughts were running, the dog ran towards the lizard. Then, the lizard struck the hound with its long tail and bit the hound’s neck.
As he was staring stiff and blankly at the scene, something popped out of the bushes. Riftan’s breath hitched. The young girl of the Croiso family grabbed a long branch and began to smash the lizard’s body.
Riftan, who has never seen such a baffling scene, swears to the heavens that it didn’t sink in him. He was so perplexed that his body didn’t move and stiffened further.
The lizard swung its head, threw the hound, and ran straight to the girl. Upon seeing what’s about to come, Riftan picked up a stone under him and ran like lightning to her side.
As he struck the pointed stone to the neck of the monster, its body, thicker than Riftan’s forearm, convulsed violently. It spewed out an ear-splitting scream, threating with its venom.
He escaped behind the creature and threw stones as hard as he could. A big stone then struck the creatures’s throat, making the monster struggle and wriggle vigorously with its long tail.
Riftan hurriedly picked up fallen branches and stabbed them into the creature’s stomach. After a while, the monster’s body turned limp. He kicked it and took a ragged breath.
His heart drummed loudly against his chest, like a horseshoe being hammered, and cold sweat ran down his back like a waterfall. If he could, he wanted to lay the girl face down against his lap and hit her buttocks as punishment.
Riftan glared at the girl ferociously. But, as she saw her sitting down weakly on the ground, all his anger washed away and was replaced by fear.
He hurriedly sat down in front of her, inspecting her whole body. Blood was oozing out of her forearm. She was bitten by that godless creature. Without sparing a thought, Riftan loosened his belt and tied it tightly around the upper part of the wound.
Then, the little girl leaned her head back as if to sleep and burst into tears. He squeezed her arm from top to bottom, her arm was less than a handful against his palms. The girl cried and pounded on his limbs.
“I have to get the venom out. Stay still!”
After all this is done, his throat might be cut for contempt, but for now, there’s no one to witness. He screamed at her to be quiet, placed his mouth on the wound, sucked out the venom-infected blood and spat it on the ground.
After doing the process several times, he embraced her little doll-like body and carried her eagerly towards the castle. She burst into tears as her eyes drooped.
He looked over his shoulder, freaking out. The dog was lifeless and wasn’t moving. Riftan bit his lips and moved again, but the stubborn girl pulled on his hair.
“My…Puppy too…You have t-to take my puppy too.”
“I’ll bring him to you later.”
He urged his legs to move faster as he made a promise he couldn’t keep. The girl wrapped her small, slender arms around his neck and snorted.
His heart felt like tumbling down. He hugged her small back tightly and ran out of the woods without any hesitation. He couldn’t keep count of how many times he almost tripped over tree roots in his hurry. He anxiously rubbed his palms against her body that turned colder and harder in each passing moment. After running for a long time, the estate finally came into sight and he shouted so loud he felt like his throat would rip.
“H-Help! The young lady was bitten by a monster!”
A passing maid, who was carrying a basket of laundry, turned her head and screamed. She tossed the basket and ran to her quickly.
The servants who heard the commotion ran, asking what’s going on. He screamed over and over again, until he ran out of breath.
“It was a monster that looked like a lizard! The creature bit her forearm. She needs to be treated quickly!”
“Take her right now!”
A plump maid snatched the little girl from his hold and ran towards the castle. He hesitated, looking at her with hazy eyes. The girl, limp in the hands of the maid, soon disappeared into the grandeur building. Unconsciously trying to chase after them, a soldier stopped Riftan by his shoulders.
“Where do you think you’re going?!”
“Please, if it’s okay, let me see even for a moment.”