Riftan's POV - Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 38
Chapter 38 – Riftan’s POV
Translator – LF
Proofreader – Nymeria
Upon hearing about the situation, all the knights were eager to come and accompany him. After firmly restraining the knights who were all furiously riled up, he left for Croix with Uslin, Elliot, Ruth, and three other squires.
Anger and anxiety raged within him as he rode fast on his horse over the frozen lands. Riftan spurred and rode relentlessly until all the horses were exhausted and reached a creek for them to take a rest.
“Speaking of which… How did the Duke of Croix find the stepfather of Sir Calypse?”
Elliot asked in a careful tone as he lowered the saddle from the back of his horse. Riftan took out his flask of water and moistened his lips, then answered in a heavily somber tone.
“He must have investigated my past.”
The Duke of Croix had a wide source of informants, that stretched not only in the eastern regions but also in the west. If he dug up information from people who dealt with peasant families, he would find out about his past without any difficulty. Moreover, it was widely known that he was once a member of the Black Horn Mercenaries and there was a good chance that he started his probing from them.
It’s not challenging to find the family of a mixed-raced child who had once ran away from the Duke’s territory. Riftan gritted his teeth at the Duke’s vicious schemes and regretted his complacency.
“Don’t you think someone who was simply after the gold coins framed him?”
“If that’s the case, there should be no reason for him to bring that noisy little boy into our barracks and leave him there.”
Uslin rebutted bluntly as he sat on one side and filled his stomach with jerky. Elliot quietly bit his mouth shut. They filled their stomachs in heavy silence and then began to travel again on horseback. They went on for five days until they reached the Duke’s estate, barely having enough rest for their horses.
Riftan went over to his stepfather’s house first. As he entered the dilapidated door, broken pieces of claypots, housewares, an overturned brazier, and a black blanket tangled on the floor in a corner caught his eyes one after the other. Riftan looked around the cold shack and gave orders to the knights accompanying him.
“Go down the village and find out where the other people who lived here went. My stepfather’s wife must be carrying a little girl with her.”
Riftan watched as the squires ran towards the village and then led the rest of his men up the hill. The gatekeepers of Croix Castle opened the gates as if they were expecting his arrival. He walked through the gates and looked around sharply. There were knights donned in metal armor guarding the walls, and even more guards were standing on the sides of the wide road leading towards the great hall. It was clearly meant to be a threat.
“What matter brings the lord here?”
The butler came forward to greet them when they reached the front of the main castle. Riftan dismounted from his horse and spat out his words coldly.
“I want to meet with the Duke.”
“It will be difficult to do that if you come here without informing us beforehand.”
At the butler’s blunt reply, Uslin became furious and strode forward. Riftan held out his arm to restrain him and repeated his request.
“Tell the Duke that I’m requesting his audience.”
The butler straightened his posture and looked at them arrogantly then slowly turned away. “Wait here for a moment.”
Then, he slipped into the hall, leaving them to stand idly at the entrance. Uslin’s face became violently distorted by the blatant disrespect displayed towards them.
“This is not the way to treat the King’s vassals!”
The knight who was standing guard by the entrance, snorted in response to his protest. “You came here without advice, what kind of hospitality are you expecting to receive? Is Croix Castle some inn where you can just come and go as you please?”
“We are the King’s…!”
Uslin clenched his jaw at Riftan’s cold order. He was also furious beyond imagination, but there would be nothing good coming out of being aggressive when he was in a situation where he might have to negotiate with the Duke for the life of his stepfather. Riftan waited patiently for the butler to come back.
Croix allowed an audience only after he left them waiting by the entrance for half of the day.
“Come this way please.” The butler led them to the reception room without even giving a formal apology for having kept them waiting. Riftan tried his best not to let his impatience show on the surface.
“The rest must wait here.”
The butler stood in front of the room and ushered Riftan towards the reception. He gave the knights a light glance and then followed the butler into the room. The Duke wore elegant silk and sat in the middle of the luxurious room that was lit brightly with candles. Armed knights stood straight like statues on both sides of the room and three servants holding a wine and tray of food waited by one side of the walls.
Riftan walked past them and stepped towards the front of the waxed mahogany table. At that moment, the Duke of Croix slowly raised his head from the parchment he was reading.
“Right…” The Duke trailed his pale blue eyes scornfully at his dust and sweat-stained face then continued to speak. “For what reason does the commander of the Remdragon Knights come to my castle?”
Riftan clenched his teeth at the man’s pretentious innocence. “The reason I’m here for, does the Duke really have no good idea of it?”
“I’m not an oracle. How will I know the reason why you came to my castle?”
The Duke replied bitterly and held out his empty glass to the servants. A young servant immediately ran to pour wine into his glass. Riftan glared at him and spat his words out harshly through gritted teeth.
“I heard that the Duke has mistaken a peasant farmer for a thief and imprisoned him.”
The Duke moistened his lips with wine and raised one of his thick eyebrows. Riftan continued to speak in the calmest manner he could manage.
“I was the one who gave the gold coins found in his house. Please release him immediately.”
The Duke continued to feign his innocence. “More than a hundred people are held in my prison. I have no idea which one it is that you are pertaining to, but they were all trialed justly before they were held. I don’t know which prisoner it is that you’re telling me to release.”
“He is a peasant farmer named Novan.” Riftan took a moment to draw in a short breath, gathering his self-control. “Please hold another trial. I will testify for that person. Serving a verdict of hanging without sufficient evidence nor testimony…”
“The commander of Remdragon Knights truly has lots of time in his hands.” The Duke cut his words and lifted his thin lips sarcastically. “I mean, all that effort for a mere peasant farmer.”
Riftan swallowed the profanities reaching his throat. The duke continued to speak as he twirled his wine leisurely like a cat playing with a cornered mouse.
“I apologize, but I have no intentions of doing that. I’m not a person who spends his time dilly dallying like you do. Once a verdict is served, I don’t entertain thoughts of overturning it. If I were to do that, I would do nothing but sit in front of the jury all day. No one will respect my judgement then. Why should I bear such a risk?”
“Then his excellency intends to sacrifice the life of an innocent person for his own convenience?”
“It is me who decides who’s innocent and who’s not! My subjects must abide with my judgement as their lord. His Majesty cannot even interfere with that exclusive power I have as the lord of this territory! What right do you have to interfere?”
“That person…!” Riftan raised his voice but suddenly paused on his words. Words that he has never uttered before flowed out of his mouth awkwardly. “That person… is my father. If there will be no intentions on holding another trial, then I will pay for that person’s bail. If it will be deemed necessary, I will also pay for the compensation. Please release my father.”
“Oh my, that’s unfortunate.” The duke replied casually, not showing a hint of shock. “That’s really unfortunate. However, every prisoner must have a fair treatment. Your so-called father shouldn’t have any exceptions. Anyone who steals must be hanged.”
Riftan could no longer contain his rage and slammed his fist on the table, leaving a dent on the waxed mahogany wood. The guards drew their swords out at his threatening act, but Riftan snarled violently at the Duke, not even sparing them a glance.
“What do you want from me?”
The smile on the duke’s face disappeared. He leaned his shoulders back against the velvet-lined chair and asked in a cold manner.
“Do you really have no idea?”
“So… if I don’t go to the dragon subjugation in your place, you will kill my stepfather?”
“That doesn’t sound right.” The duke glared at him furiously. “You have rejected my generous proposal, insulting me and my family. And now, you barge into my castle and arrogantly demand for me to free my prisoner! To what extent do I have to put up with your audacity?”
“Stop spewing b*llsh*t! You imprisoned my innocent stepfather to threaten me!”
The knights pointed their blades to his throat as if they were no longer able to tolerate the situation. Riftan glared at the Duke as his eyes burned with rage, ignoring the harsh blade pointing directly at his artery. The duke of Croix’s face also contorted in anger. However, his expression soon returned to being sour, thinking that it was useless to pour his wrath over a rat who was already trapped in a jar.
“Whatever you say won’t matter. Your peasant father will be hanged tomorrow.”
Riftan slammed his fist against the table again. Despite his brutal manner, the Duke of Croix did not bat a single eyelid. He didn’t seem to think that there’s a possibility for someone to dare harm him, and spoke in a languid manner.
“If you don’t want that to happen, give me an offer that could change my mind.”
“If I… go to the expedition in your place, will you release my stepfather?”
“If you do that…” Croix took a moment to take a sip of wine before continuing his words. “There’s nothing that I can’t do to pardon a prisoner. For a son-in-law, that can at least be done, right?
Riftan shut his eyes tightly. In the corner of his heart, the small voice of the devil whispered and urged him to accept it, ‘there’s no other way out’. Riftan felt disgusted with himself and clenched his fists so tight that blood flowed out of his palms. First, he thought that it would be wise to buy some time.
“I can’t declare any decision in this instance. I have already been ordered by His Majesty to camp by the borders. I must at least consult with His Majesty before…”
“Do what you please.” The Duke replied in a stern voice. “However, the execution will proceed as scheduled. I have no reason to wait for you.”
Riftan glared at him murderously but he received that indifferently.
“Make your decision right here and right now. There won’t be another chance. Tomorrow, your peasant father will be hanged in the gallows, then I will offer the honor of marrying my daughter to another lord. It doesn’t have to be you who does it.”
Riftan’s shoulders trembled. Anger, humiliation, and all sorts of complicated emotions that couldn’t be put into words raged inside him. The figure of his stepfather sobbing in the dark and the terrified face of Maximillian Croix flashed in his mind one after the other. He continued to tremble like a beast that was caught in a trap.
The Duke narrowed his eyes at him skeptically. “You mean, you’re accepting my proposal?”
Riftan felt like brutally mutilating someone for the first time in his life.
“That’s right.” He gazed down scornfully at the Duke as he uttered every syllable with strained strength. “I will take the risk and leave in your place. Are you satisfied now?”
“You have thought well. We will soon become in-laws, so I will particularly ignore your insolent attitude.”
Then, the Duke gave orders to the butler who was standing by the door. “Take the guest to his room. He must be tired, that’s all for today, get some rest.”
“Please release the person from prison first.”
“I will pardon him after the wedding ceremony. There will be no other compromise to that.” The duke declared firmly.
Riftan glared at him and turned around, muttering profanities under his breath.
Note – LF: Breathe in and out. Then take up a weapon, we’re gonna murder the duke. >:(
Nymeria: THE A U D A C I T Y UGHH I really understand why the knights hated Maxi so so much