Riftan's POV - Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 20
Translator – LF
Proofreader – Nymeria
At the boisterous declaration of the wizard, Riftan slammed his glass roughly against the table. However, Ruth was so unfazed and delighted that he was even carelessly handing out glasses of ales to the people around the bar.
Riftan stared with narrowed eyes at him, then sighed standing up. As he tried to go up to his room, a drunken man placed a hand on his shoulder out of nowhere and burst into laughter.
“You duel so skillfully! Right now, Balbon is going crazy. The whole city is buzzing over the possibility that a commoner will be the winner after several decades. How does it feel like to be so famous?”
Riftan just frowned at the man and tried to coldly pry his arm away. At that moment, an aggressive voice resounded from the tavern’s corner.
“What a bunch of idiots! A mongrel with a pagan blood will be taking our treasure from us, what’s so good about that?!”
Suddenly, the room became still and quiet, like someone had poured iced water all over everyone’s heads. Riftan’s head turned to the voice’s direction. Three men dressed like guards sat around a small table, drinking. One of them was red-drunken and pointed at him.
“The prize for the competition is the sword of one of the twelve knights of Darian! How can I stay still when a heroic treasure of the western continent falls into the hands of someone who worships some kind of a desert god or a pagan?”
“What did you just say?!” Ruth leapt to his feet, huffing in anger.
“Sir Calypse is not a pagan! I’ve been following him around for over a year and I have never seen him do anything against the doctrine! What are your reasons for saying that?”
“Why would I need proof? It’s already written all over that guy’s face!” The man gestured a hand towards Riftan and snorted loudly. “How does someone who did something evil, such as hunting and selling monster parts, dare stand in front of the Pope?”
“Hey, do you have a problem with people who do that for a living?”
The mercenaries, who had been drinking on one side of the tavern, roared and revealed their gritted teeth. The guard, who was trying to make a point with his arguments, shrugged his shoulders and raised his head again to speak.
“Did I say anything wrong?”
“What a fucking lowlife bastard, are you trying to piss us off?”
A ragged groggy mercenary slammed down his glass of ale and wheezed. As the atmosphere grew more aggressive, the other guards sitting by elbowed their comrade as if to discourage him.
Only then did the man who caused the commotion looked around like he had suddenly come to his senses. Riftan, who was silently watching the scene unravel, opened his lips to speak.
“You seem uncomfortable with me winning the competition, so I’ll give you a chance to keep me from winning. If you are able to inflict even a small wound on my body, I will withdraw from tomorrow’s matches. Are you up for the challenge?”
The man shrugged his shoulders visibly and glanced at the sword strapped to his waist. But he kept his mouth shut. Riftan observed him as he wondered if he had the courage to confront him head-on after the publicly announced insults.
Riftan scoffed at the coward man, then turned to climb up the stairs. Ruth hesitated and tried to chase after him, but he shook him off with a bitter gaze: he would only feel more insulted if the wizard tried to comfort him. It was embarrassing enough for him that he had reacted angrily because of the bullshit that spilled out of the guard’s mouth.
He slammed the door behind him and took off his armor, throwing it to the corner. The blue rays of the moonlight poured into his room through the open window. Riftan gazed at the full moon and then collapsed on the bed.
Suddenly, he felt an uncomfortable tightening and unease in his chest: maybe that was what the girl thought of him too. He had more than enough experience of insults and mockery, but he couldn’t stand it just at the thought of her thinking the same. Riftan rubbed his aching chest and closed his eyes to escape from the unpleasant mood.
The next day, the stadium was filled with more people than the day before. In the waiting room there were only four men left to compete, including him and six other men who attended to the competing knights.
Riftan ignored their scrutinizing glances and sat alone in the corner of the waiting room, sharpening his sword. After a while, a soldier came to call his name. He wore his helmet over his head and strutted to the aisle leading to the arena. His opponent was a man with a great physique, like that of the mercenary named Geiron. Riftan inspected him with narrowed eyes.
The man was a young knight with curly orange hair, a reddish skin that came from people of the southern region, a thick frame like northern men descendants, and a pair of calm looking eyes that did not much to his vicious physique. The knight gazed down at Riftan and smiled brightly.
“Brother, you’re very skilled, aren’t you? I was itching to meet you since the first day.”
Riftan arched an eyebrow at the frivolous tone that did not fit the image of a knight. The man tapped his sword against his own back and continued to speak.
“I’m telling you, I’m just as aggressive as you are. It’s been a long time since I’ve met a suitable match and I want to enjoy it, so stay alert. Don’t let your guard down, I don’t want this to end so lamely.”
“… For someone who talks a lot about my skills, you don’t seem such a decent opponent.”
“I dislike people who unnecessarily weigh people down as you do.”
The man responded, not willing to lose the argument. As they exchanged taunting words, a loud trumpet suddenly sounded to announce their entrance. Riftan strode into the middle of the arena and stood a good distance away from the knight. His opponent’s spirits quickly changed, like he wasn’t a chatterbox as he showed just a moment before. Riftan was on his toes and kept his stance focused.
Soon, the flag that signified the start of their duel rose high, thunderous cheering echoed from the crowd. The knight certainly did not make a fool out of himself as he swung his long sword at a tremendous speed. Riftan blocked his blow with his sword, a heavy impact resonating in his bones and he felt a pressure against his shoulder. It was as if he had been hit spot on by a flying bullet.
“Amazing. You were able to block my front attack…”
The man said between gritted teeth as he pushed his sword further and he sounded genuine with his words of admiration. Riftan was equally surprised as he attempted to push the knight back, but the man wouldn’t budge. It was the first time since he turned fifteen that he met someone who was nearly as strong as him. He clenched his teeth and forcefully grounded his feet, strengthening his stance.
The knight also gritted his teeth in retaliation. They each knew well that even a tiny mistake or letting their guard down for a moment would mean the end of the match. Moments had passed as they pushed each other with their swords in different angles. Suddenly, the man tensed like a taut bow and changed his stance. He moved at a speed that Riftan would have never predicted coming from a man of his physique.
He narrowly blocked the sword that swung below out of nowhere. However, the man immediately swung his sword again, not leaving a second pass in between. His stance changed so quickly that it was difficult to gain the chance to properly place an attack. Their blades banged against each other, producing sparks and thundering sounds of iron hitting against one another rang in their eardrums.
It’s dangerous for this to keep on going.
The sound that came off his blade was alarming. If his opponent’s head-on attacks continued, his sword would not be able to bear it any longer. Riftan blocked the intimidating sword that flew towards him with a raging force and looked around sharply for any gaps. The knight’s sword was longer and thicker than his. There was no other way to defeat him but to take pertinent risks.
Riftan adjusted his stance, letting his attacks fly at a frightening speed to his opponent’s side. The knight also changed his posture, shifting the weight of his body and swung his sword over his head. Riftan drew his sword from the bottom to block the incoming attack. His blade that gleamed blue narrowly bounced off his opponent’s sword that was twice as thick.
He didn’t miss the moment when the knight’s arm slightly flew up, revealing a gap. He pushed through and went for his head, his opponent hurriedly retrieving the grip of his tremendous sword. However, he was a second too late to defend Riftan’s blow.
His bastard sword flanked the opponent’s helmet. The man barely managed to block his attack. Although he failed to fatally injure the burly man, he succeeded in disrupting his stance. Riftan didn’t hesitate and struck his hands with the hilt of his sword to disarm him and thrusted his blade under the gap of his helmet.
A heavy silence fell in the stadium. The man stared at the blade pointing at his throat and declared with a sigh.
A roaring cheer erupted from the audience. Riftan slowly took steps back and pulled his sword away. The man grumbled while taking off his crushed helmet.
“Damn it, my head is pounding more than when I drank four bottles of ale. Hey, if I was a second late from blocking your attack, my skull would’ve been shattered. Were you planning to kill me?”
Riftan scoffed and sheathed his sword. “Weren’t you planning the same? If I had been hit by one of your attacks, I would’ve lost a limb.”
He responded bitterly, pointing his chin towards his opponent’s tremendous claymore. The man only shrugged his shoulders.
“It would be a shame if I let you finish the match in less than five minutes. I have to at least properly scratch your reputation of being a one-strike killer.”
Although the knight was defeated by a mere mercenary, it didn’t appear like he was deeply humiliated. He did show signs of regret, but he didn’t express any anger. His opponent turned towards the direction of the waiting room and spoke coolly.
“Don’t you dare lose just because you already beat me.”
Riftan gazed at the knight’s inscriptions on his armor, intrigued by his eccentric attitude. There was a symbol of a dragon wrapped with wings engraved on it. He didn’t recognize which knighthood he belonged to. For a moment, his eyes squinted and stepped into the waiting room, wondering why that man was so unusual.
Compared to his first match, the final one ended more easily. Riftan was the grand champion of the competition and climbed onto the podium where the Pope was seated. An elegant old man with a long beard seated at the top center, on his left and right were royals and high nobles of the seven kingdoms.
Riftan immediately found the Duke of Croix among them. He only saw him once from afar, but he clearly remembered the unique dreary atmosphere that he emitted. The man wasn’t of great physique. Rather, he was slim but elegant and dressed in incredibly luxurious clothing. His dark reddish-brown hair had faded to a gray color from when he once saw him years back, but his grim, solemn face that gave a ruthless aura didn’t change one bit.
Riftan carefully looked at him, then moved his eyes to look to his left and right. There was no sign of the young girl anywhere. There were a few women dressed in fancy dresses sitting near him, but they were all too old to be the girl he knew.
…She probably didn’t come.
The girl could still have been too young to attend such an event. Riftan drew his head away, trying to hide his disappointment.
“Get on your knees and show your respects!”
As he stood six steps away from the nobles, a paladin commanded him in an exclaiming voce. Riftan slowly knelt on one knee and lowered his head.
Note – Nymeria: I really enjoyed this chapter, I’m so happy the author decided to tell Riftan’s story too! It makes me enjoy OAK even more to know all this stuff <3