Riftan's POV - Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 22
Chapter 22 – Riftan’s POV
Translator – LF
Proofreader – Nymeria
Riftan paused, glaring fiercely at the man. Evan Triden had a despicably serious expression written on his face. Does he think I am an idiot?
Only a sparse number of knights could own castles and lands. Even nobles were often pushed out of their own estates because of inheritance conflicts, there was no chance for a pagan-blooded immigrant like him to become a lord. Riftan snorted sarcastically and slung his bag over his shoulders.
“You people go and freeze to death trying to build honor yourselves. In any matter regarding that, I’m not interested.”
“Then what exactly made you join the sword competition?”
The man frowned at him like he didn’t comprehend Riftan’s contradicting words and actions and he felt his cheeks burn. He couldn’t admit blatantly that he went through all that trouble just to see the girl of his childhood memories. He stared at the man meaningfully, stating with his eyes that it was none of his business and turned to leave. Then, the scarlet-haired knight, who was quietly listening to their conversation, blocked his way.
“If you let your pride hinder you from the chance of rising in status, you’re a complete imbecile.”
“…If you don’t move, I’ll slit you.”
“I have no idea why in the world you are so firmly stubborn. Aren’t you aware that there aren’t many knighthoods who treat mercenaries like us without demeaning them? And even if those knighthoods take you in, they will only make you do the dirty work and throw you away like trash after they’ve used you.”
“Aren’t you guys exactly those kinds?”
As he commented with cynical sarcasm, the knight opened his mouth as if to yell something in frustration, but instead he clicked his tongue.
“There’s no point in convincing you with words. Come join and see for yourself. You don’t have any place to go anyway, right? Brother, you screamed saying being a mercenary makes a better living, but that was back when you were in a mercenary group. There’s no idiot who would entrust a wandering swordsman like you with a big sum of money.” The knight spat out only the facts and the truth. “Unless you join another mercenary group, you won’t be able to make proper money. Given that, it would be better for you to join a knighthood. I guarantee you, once you join us, you’ll grow to like it.”
“Why should I listen to a man who attacked me out of nowhere?”
Riftan retaliated coldly. The knight laughed, not even showing a sign of shame.
“Let’s put that in the past. I just wanted to see your true skills. The way the duels were conducted back in the competition don’t seem to be of your taste, brother.”
“I don’t have a taste for ambush attacks either.”
“I’ll watch my actions next time.”
There’s no next time. Riftan felt his nerves pounding on the sides of his head and turned away from them. However, as the foggy gray streets came to his view, he began to wonder to himself what in the world he was trying to avoid. The leader of the knights opened his mouth, casting him a contemplative and calm gaze, as if he could read Riftan’s hesitation.
“Probably our approach is too sudden.” He took a step back. “How about we go about this with another option? Try spending three months first as part of the Remdragon Knights. If it isn’t to your liking, you can leave anytime you wish. In any case, if you join the knighthood, you need to undergo an apprenticeship, we’ll take you in as a temporary member.”
“…what kind of orders will you give me in those three months?”
“Oh, heavens. He’s the world’s most stubborn and cynical man!”
The slender knight lost his patience and exclaimed in frustration. The commander raised his hand as if to restrain him and continued to speak.
“You will not be receiving any orders until you become a pledged knight. Instead, if you accept this offer, I will take you under my wings to learn basic tactics and master horsemanship. Most apprentice knights go through the same process to be pledged as knights.”
“Of course, it will be up to you if you’d wish to complete the three months. If you happen not to like the knighthood, you can quit anytime and leave, or stay if you want to become a full-pledged knight. You have nothing to lose.”
“…what makes you want me to join so badly?”
“Let’s just say that your extraordinary skills are extremely coveted.” The man stroked his well-groomed dark beard, a carefree smile displayed on his lips. “Another reason perhaps is that our king is very fond of you. You are a rare jewel. With proper training, there’s no doubt that you can become a great knight. It also seems that the king has decided that it’s best to take you in before another country can snatch you from him.”
Riftan stared intently into the man’s hazel eyes, trying to search for ulterior motives. However, the man did not display anything, rather, it was vague like fog and unreadable.
Riftan tightened his lips. He couldn’t figure out what was making him so cowardly and nervous. As the man said, the offer would benefit him. He was intending to leave Balbon anyway and if he happened not to like the Remdragon knights, he had the choice to leave right away.
“…Fine. I’ll accept your offer.”
A satisfied smile spread across the man’s face. “You thought well.”
Just then the fog and mist gradually faded, the rays of the sun peeking through the clouds. The man turned towards the direction of the great temple and talked.
“Then, I will introduce you to the other members of the knighthood. Let’s head to the inn where we are residing.”
Riftan watched the man’s back and followed him solely. Then, the wizard, who was watching from a distance, followed him. Only then did the knights turn to question Ruth.
”Do you guys know each other?”
“Yes, I am Sir Calypse’s wizard.”
Ruth raised his head and answered stiffly. Riftan glared at Ruth like he had said something that made no sense. Since when did this leech become my wizard?
Uneasiness washed the wizard’s young face as he relentlessly tried to shake the men off. Riftan clenched his teeth. He detested how he made him feel uncomfortable.
Damn it… Riftan ruffled his hair back roughly. Sure. At least this guy is reliable, despite bothering me spreading rumors and irritating chatters, he thought to himself as he hesitated, and then finally spat out his words bluntly.
“Yeah, he’s my wizard.”
“Delightful. I was looking for a wizard anyway. I’ll be considerate and take him in too.”
After the man announced with a joyful voice, the wizard began to speak vainly about his skills. Riftan stomped forward, annoyed at Ruth’s voice tattling about how excellent of a wizard he was. Riftan prayed fervently for a good omen as the clouds cleared and the golden sun faintly shone light to every direction.
Time passed like a raging stream. Riftan was leading his cavalry through the canyons when he heard a sharp howl of a falcon, making him halt. The bird was Agalde, the royal messenger who favored him politely. It flew down the valley gracefully, looking for a support to land on.
Riftan raised his armor-cladded arm. Agalde landed on his arm and clawed at his gauntlet. He calmed the creature down with his deft touch and loosened the pouch tied to its ankles. He took out a small piece of parchment and his eyes read the written lines. Uslin Rikaido approached him, asking him impatiently.
“How’s the situation?”
Riftan crumpled the parchment with one hand and replied casually. “All the remnants of the northeastern front were wiped out. We are now ordered to return to Whedon.”
As soon as he finished speaking, around a hundred and forty knights cried loud cheers. Riftan had a faint smile playing around his mouth. It had been half a year since they patrolled the borders eliminating Dristan’s raiders, everyone was eager for the order to finally return to their homeland. Riftan exclaimed in a loud voice.
“Head east! Hurry, join the commander.” Agalde soared vigorously back into the sky, as if it understood his words.
He steered his horse into the biting wind, following suit. As they finally departed from the long canyon, two hundred men of cavalry welcomed their sights, riding over the vast wilderness. Riftan sighed in relief as he spotted the blue flag fluttering in the wind.
“Fortunately, it looks like there weren’t many casualties.”
“If you can be defeated by a bunch of mere bandits, you don’t deserve to be part of the Remdragon Knights.”
Uslin, who stirred his horse next to him, uttered in a proud voice. Riftan had a distant look on his face. It had been four years since he joined the order of the Remdragon Knights and since then the order grew at a frightening pace, reaching a count of more than 400 men. They gained fame being the guardians of the eastern front, drawing the attention of nobles. The second son of Count Rikaido, one of the most prestigious families in Whedon, even volunteered to enlist to the order.
“When we return, we’ll get a few months of rest. Are you planning on staying in Anatol again?”
Uslin Rikaido eyed him sideways and asked. Riftan replied vaguely in a mutter.
“How about staying in the capital this time? His Majesty intends to give Sir Calypse the title of a Baron. In order for him to grant that, the backlash of the central jury must be reduced…”
“Are you telling me to tremble before the nobles and obey like a lamb?” Riftan released a scornful laugh. “I apologize, but I have no intentions of doing things out of my taste just to get a title. To me, it’s enough to be ordained as a knight and own a piece of land.”
“Your land is nothing more than a formal grant to Sir Calypse so he could take the post of vice commander. A proper title and a better territory…”
“You’re a bother.”
Uslin pressed his mouth shut with a disappointed expression on his face. Riftan pretended not to notice and steered his horse towards the commander.
“Were you hurt anywhere?”
“How dare you ask me such an insulting question?”
Evan Triden, who commanded the knights, grunted and took the helmet off his head. The falcon who was flying aimlessly in the sky, landed gracefully on his shoulder. The commander threw a piece of meat at Agalde and smiled in a relaxed manner.
“I’m not at that age to be treated like this by you.”
“The symptoms from your last injury still haven’t completely gone away.”
“Well, this much is nothing to me. Sooner or later, I’ll show you that I’m strong and I still have power in me.”
The commander replied firmly, like he was sure of that, and Riftan’s tense shoulders relaxed.
“Are we now heading to Drchium?”
“No, we’re heading to Croix Castle. The duke has invited us to a month-long victory banquet.”
Riftan stiffened. He often stepped into the Duke’s territory as he was involved frequently in its dispute with Dristan, but he always desperately avoided going to the castle. He spoke with a blatant unease in his expression.
“I’ve left my fief empty for a long time. If the dispute is over, I’d like to be given permission to return to my land.”
“Who said the dispute is over? There are still compensations to be settled for damages inflicted and negotiations to be made between Dristan and the Duke. His Majesty’s orders are to return only after we’ve supervised over the negotiations. In any case, we need to stay for a month or so.” Triden smiled bitterly as he saw Riftan’s unease. “I am well aware that you are not comfortable with the Duke. But you are a knight pledged to His Majesty, the King. If the Duke acts in an insulting manner, I swear to make a formal complaint, so join me just this once.”
Riftan didn’t avoid Croix Castle because of the Duke’s abhorrence. It was a rather different reason that flamed his avoidance, but he couldn’t bring himself to explain, so just sighed.
“As you wish, commander.”
Triden smiled and patted him on the shoulders. They rode their horses straight to the wilderness, towards the Duke’s territory. While they rode endlessly, Riftan felt a lump form in his chest. The strange feeling grew more pronounced as the gates of the territory grew closer.
He gazed up its grayish white walls, clutching the reins of his horse tightly. Not long after becoming a knight, he visited the place by himself, but as soon as the castle gates loomed over him, a strange feeling of foreboding fear rose to his chest. He turned around in vain and ran away.
He still wasn’t aware why and what exactly it was that frightened him. Could it be the chance of seeing his stepfather living a miserable life? Or was he afraid that the only memory that made him carry on living would shatter before his eyes like a mirage? He didn’t know.
Riftan sneered at himself. He was no longer an innocent, immature boy who clinged onto his memories. It had been so long since he stopped consoling his loneliness by having thoughts of her, and he no longer had the desire to see her. Sometimes, he did feel a strange longing when he saw a field of flowers, but that was all. He was now well aware that his cherished memories were nothing but a mere illusion of his.
It’s for the best…
Memories tend to be glorified. Maybe that was the time to wake up from his illusions. Riftan’s eyes wandered around the castle manor, steering his horse adeptly through the wide brick road. The farmers who were plowing the fields immediately bowed their heads. He watched them carefully, when the commander turned to speak to him.
“I know that you have an aversion towards nobles, but please be as careful as possible with your manners. As you know, the Duke of Croix is the leader of the eastern nobles. Nothing good will come out of him becoming your enemy.”
“There’s no use in worrying. That man treats me lower than a human being.” Riftan replied in a dry tone. “I can’t be his enemy when he doesn’t even consider me an equal human as him.”
The leader turned his head forward, a bitter expression written on his face. They crossed the gentle hills at once and arrived at the front of the Crox Castle’s gates. The guards opened the gates immediately, as if they were expecting their visit.
Note – FL: AAAAAH EXCITED FOR HIM TO SEE MAXIIIIII >////<