Riftan's POV - Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 36
Chapter 36 – Riftan’s POV
Translator – LF
Proofreader – Nymeria
The harshest winter ever had arrived as Riftan persisted in rebuilding Anatol like a man possessed by an evil demon. However, no matter how much the castle was repaired and how many walls he erected, he couldn’t build his crumbled self-esteem back.
Riftan stood at the top of the frontal castle walls, his jaw clenched as he gazed over the frozen earth. Whenever he closes his eyes, Duke Croix’s scornful eyes flashed in his memories and whenever his head touched the pillow, the girl’s frightened face appeared before him. He rubbed his face roughly, feeling terribly regretful for tolerating such insults thrown at him.
Now he really had to escape from his fleeting fantasies. He wasn’t even allowed to kneel before her. His useless thoughts had to be put to an end now. Riftan repeated that to himself over and over again. Maximillian Croix was no longer a comfort to his loneliness, whenever he thought of her now, he felt a bitter pain.
If you were born like a waste for the ground, you have to live your life looking only at the ground. Looking up will make you nothing but wretched.
His stepfather’s words sank deep into his bones. Her presence made him nothing but more miserable. He would live the rest of his life in a painful void as long as he couldn’t elude his longing for her. Solely because of a woman he couldn’t have by his side, he had to suffer from excruciating loneliness until the day he died.
Really, it must stop now.
He didn’t want to make a fool out of himself any longer, vowing never to set a foot in Croix ever again. He would cease going in and out of the Duke’s estate just to chase her with his eyes and catch a glimpse of the woman who looked at him like he was some insect.
Riftan descended from the castle walls and stepped towards his desolate castle, praying that bearing the humiliation he received from the Duke could etch an anger deep enough in his heart to erase her presence from his mind….
Several months passed and as the peak temperatures of winter subsided and rumors began spreading that the dragon in the Lexos Mountains was waking up. As expedition teams were slaughtered in the foggy forests, each kingdom started earnestly establishing troops for the dragon subjugation.
As thousands of soldiers camped near the Lexos Mountain, King Ruben’s predictions came to be and a great commotion ensued. The people became terrified, packing up their belongings and migrating north. An endless procession of commoners marched over the frozen grounds, making landlords face a struggle on cracking down serfs who fled.
Out of everyone, it was the Duke of Croix who caught the sniff of the fire most. Riftan’s forehead creased as he read the reports brought by informants. When the dispatch order was issued to the Duke of Croix, he gathered his vassals, convening for countermeasures. He wondered how the cunning man would wriggle his way out of this predicament.
Riftan’s lips lifted cynically as he threw the parchment into the furnace. The flames in it soared, lighting up the barracks in an instant. He shredded some firewood and piled it on the fire, making sure that the parchment would burn to ashes, and walked out of the tent to gaze at the sky where the breaking dawn had begun to light up. A bluish shadow hovered over the foggy forests.
The lords of the western lands of Whedon were not exempted from the dispatch order. Rather, they were tasked to guard the monsters from crossing the borders. Hundreds of thousands of monsters lurked in the Lexos Mountains and soon, they would attempt to migrate to avoid the most powerful monster. It became the lords’ duty to prevent them from invading the lands of Whedon.
“Sir Calypse, a messenger has arrived from Croix Castle.”
As he was inspecting the temporarily built barriers, a soldier rushed up to him, shouting. Riftan arched an eyebrow.
“For what reason does a messenger from Croix Castle look for me?”
“I haven’t heard the details. The messenger insists on delivering his message directly to you…”
Riftan’s eyes narrowed and he spoke in a cold voice. “Tell him to wait. I have yet to finish patrolling.”
The soldier appeared perplexed at his response, but Riftan merely ignored him and went towards the watchtower. The sun was rising slowly over the dark mountain peaks.
Not far from now, tens of thousands of soldiers would begin marching in there, putting all their lives on the line. There was no telling how many would be able to come back alive. He gazed at the twelve mountain peaks that towered on the skies, taking a sip from his flask to moisten his lips. Hundreds of soldiers had already lost their lives trying to enter through the dragon’s barriers. He couldn’t imagine how much more dead bodies would pile on top of that in the future.
“Sir Calypse, the messenger is repeatedly demanding to see you immediately.”
When the sun reached the middle of the sky, the soldier went up to him again, urging, and Riftan frowned. He was actually considering ignoring it, but he wanted to avoid causing any unnecessary issue in the midst of that kind of situation, so he just let out a sigh.
“I’m going now.”
The soldier led him straight to the messenger who was in the barracks. The messenger of the Duke Croix, greeted him with a furious expression, having waited for nearly half of the day.
“I have been traveling endlessly for three nights and three days to meet you.” He listened as the man stroked his bushy beard, not even giving him a proper greeting. “The Duke wouldn’t be pleased if he knew that I was kept waiting like this.”
Riftan glared at him frighteningly. “I was commanded by the King to defend the borders, keeping evil creatures from invading this land. Are you saying that the Duke’s message is more important than the King’s command?”
The man’s mouth parted as if he was going to try and refute his words, but soon closed it again. After a moment of silence, he spoke in a softer tone.
“There are thousands of soldiers camping here. Even with the Lord’s short absence, the defenses will not immediately be broken down.”
“I have only prioritized the task I had to do.” Riftan’s face expressed annoyance. “Instead of wasting time on complaining, tell me what it is you need. What brings you here?”
“…you must have heard that His Majesty has entrusted the command of the dragon subjugation to the Duke.” The messenger said in a subdued tone, as if suppressing his displeasure. “For that reason, I was sent to deliver a proposal to Sir Calypse.”
Riftan asked in a growling tone, deciding to refuse anything he had to propose at once. He narrowed his eyes, it was truly dumbfounding. After spewing such insults to his face, he never thought that he would hear a proposal from him.
“What in the world is he proposing?”
The messenger, who held his tongue for a long moment, opened his mouth barely, seemingly fed up with Riftan’s hostile attitude.
“His excellency… is proposing to give you his eldest daughter, Maximillian Croix, as a bride if your lordship will take over the command of the dragon subjugation.”
Riftan’s mouth opened blankly. He didn’t fully comprehend what the messenger was saying. The messenger continued to speak calmly before him, half pent up.
“This is a vital mission that will determine the fate of the western region. He intends to assign this task to the most experienced and capable warrior among others.”
“…are you talking about me?”
“His excellency has high regards for your abilities.”
Riftan’s lips lifted to a smirk. It made him wonder how thick of a face the Duke had that he was offering him such a discrete proposal to him, it felt more like an insult. The right thing to do was leave the barracks right that instant.
However, as if his legs were trapped, he remained motionless. Riftan rubbed his hand over his forehead roughly. The arrogant voice of the messenger pierced through his head that had hardened like cement.
“Isn’t it a great honor to have the Duke’s eldest daughter as your bride? It’s a proposal that has never been offered before.”
“Then… should I be grateful and say thank you?”
Riftan retorted between his gritted teeth. His anger only grew at the Duke’s arrogance, who tried to take advantage of him and tried to appear generous. How ridiculous did the Duke see him that he had the guts to offer that to him? His eyes felt like they would turn red in shame. What shamed him the most was that his feelings wavered like it was out of his control.
He clenched his fists tightly. He would never be able to forgive himself for the dilemma that he was having. The proposal was not even worth considering. It wasn’t only about risking his life alone, the fate of the Remdragon Knights and Anatol would also hang by a thread.
Would he force the knights to follow his command just to satisfy his greed? Riftan clenched his teeth so hard that it felt like his jaw was going to break any moment.
Moreover, Maximillian Croix despised him. She would desire a better groom, a better man who wasn’t an illegitimate, half-blood child from a peasant background. Riftan spat out his words, it was as if blood would also come out with it.
Spitting those words out felt harder than anything he had gone through in his whole life. Riftan’s eyes were stuck to the ground silently, it was as if a huge hole was punched through his chest. As he lifted his gaze slowly, he saw the messenger’s face harden in anger. The man spoke threateningly.
“Are you refusing the opportunity to build a deep connection with the Duke’s household?”
“I have a land and people whom I hold the responsibility for.” Riftan spat out callously. “Tell this to the Duke. ‘Keep your honor to yourself’.”
The man stared at him coldly then slowly got up from his seat. “I shall deliver your message to him. However, you will regret the words you said today.” The messenger started to move towards the exit and clicked his tongue like he pitied him. “The Duke achieves anything he puts his mind on. It would have been better for you to have accepted his offer obediently.”
Riftan opened the exit to let him step out of the barracks. The man ducked his head and walked out. As the sound of the messenger’s footsteps grew farther away, he felt like he was falling into a distant place.
Riftan bit his lips ’till it bled, suppressing the urge to go after him immediately.
That went well. Really, well done. Riftan thought to himself.
“I have always known that he’s a shameless human being, but this is beyond my imagination.”
Hebaron, who heard of what had happened during the day, shook his head like what happened was so absurd. The Duke’s proposal quickly spread amongst the knights through the mouths of the soldiers who guarded the barracks. All the knights spat out words about the duke’s arrogance.
“Even King Ruben would have not expected that man to be that cunning.”
Note – Nymeria: Interesting! How will it happen then? I officially open the bet, leave your guess in the comments!