Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 186
Translator – LF
Proofreader – Nymeria
Garrow and Yulysion, who were occupied with the half-dragon’s corpses, urgently rushed to her side. A knight who was retrieving a chain bola from the drooping legs of the monster, audibly clicked his tongue.
“Have you lost your minds? There are monsters gaping at us from above and you two, who were supposed to escort the lady, have your attention elsewhere…”
“I’m sorry. It’s the first time we’ve seen a half dragon up close…”
Yulysion apologized through sheepish eyes, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment. Max gave them a smile to indicate that it was fine: she was surrounded by so many knights, what could happen?
The knight gave her a grim look, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. “We never know when and where danger will occur. Even a moment of carelessness can lead to death.”
Max nodded stiffly. The two apprentices’ faces also grew grim.
“From now on, our eyes will never leave the Lady.”
Satisfied with the answer, the knight turned and withdrew another from the corpse. Max watched as the other knights wiped the blood from their weapons after retrieving all the mana stones from the hearts of the corpses. After they finished all the work, the knights washed the blood splattered on their armor with the water on the valley, then mounted their horses immediately. They departed at once, not sparing a time to even catch their breaths.
As they left the valley, Max heard the loud flapping of wings behind her. She turned around and winced as she saw the herd of harpies gathered around the corpses of the half-dragons, ready to devour their flesh. The pale faces of the women eating raw meat were stained with dark red blood, the sight was chilling, it was like a scene out of nightmares.
“There may be more half-dragons hiding nearby. Be on high alert!”
She turned her attention to the front when Riftan’s low baritone roared in warning. They continued on the uneven rocky terrain for a long time, moving along the stream running through the valley, while constantly being vigilant of their surroundings. Max’s back was drenched in cold sweat at the terrible anticipation of not knowing when and where a monster could suddenly spring from somewhere. By the time they finally stopped for a break to feed the horses, she was completely drained from the tension she felt.
“M’lady, have some salt and water. You might run out of energy if you don’t stay hydrated enough.”
Garrow handed her a leather canteen and a small cloth packet, while she sat slumping on a rock. Max took a pinch of the bitter salt from the packet and sprinkled it in her mouth, then chased it down with water. Yulysion looked at her figure with eyes full of pity.
“Please hold out a little longer. Once we pass through this valley, you will be able to rest more properly.”
Max barely managed to smile. She tried to say that she was fine, but even talking was a laborious task at that moment. They rode for another half of the day. Contrary to what she feared, there were no more half-dragons nor harpies that appeared as they escaped from the valley. Only when they reached the flat plains they stopped to set up camp for the night. Max staggered as she climbed down from her saddle and went to get some firewood to help this time. When the knights saw her, they hurriedly ran to dissuade her.
“M’lady, please keep as much energy as you can. That will be more helpful for us.”
She hesitated, then lowered the dry branches at their request. They were right, it would be better for her to recover as soon as possible, so that she would not weigh them down in the following days. She sat by the stream to wash her sweaty face and neck while the knights began to prepare their meal. She dipped her burning hands into the cold water to cool them down. Then, she drenched a towel in water and began wiping her back and armpits.
Truth to be told, she was dying to take a bath in the water and change into clean clothes, but she definitely couldn’t take her clothes off in a place packed with knights. Max settled for airing by fluttering her sticky clothes, trying to dry out as much sweat as possible. As she took off her boots and washed her feet in the water, wishing at least to change into her clean pair of socks, Riftan’s stoic voice spoke from above.
“The tent is ready. Come inside and rest.”
Max picked up her boots and got up. She stopped and looked between her boots and wet feet with a worried expression. She really didn’t want to put her wet feet in her dirty but dry boots. Crouching down, Max tried to clear some of the water, but suddenly, her entire body was hoisted into the air. Max screamed.
“Not Sir Calypse?”
Riftan muttered sarcastically under his breath as he held her in his arms and strode. Max sealed her lips tightly, while he urged her right into the tent.
“I’ll bring you a meal as soon as it’s ready, so take a breather.”
Max was about to retort, but decided to prevent herself from asking him ‘where in the world does a commander serve his wizard?’
When Riftan stepped out of the tent, she pulled out a clean set of underwear and tunic from her luggage and changed into them. She desperately wanted to change her pants as well, but she didn’t have the energy to wash and dry her clothes. Also, she had no intention of asking the knights to do her laundry. She picked up her pants, sniffed it, frowned and wore her sweaty pants again.
For the first time in her life, she realized how privileged she was to have a tidy change of clothes and clean water for bathing whenever she wanted it. She couldn’t have been more upset of her sweat-drenched pants that smelled like horses.
It can’t be helped during an expedition…
She closed her eyes and laid down on the blankets. Maybe because the situation was more livable the day before, the uneven ground felt more profound. Max tossed and turned around, trying to find the most comfortable spot.
“Are you uncomfortable?”
Riftan poked his head in the tent just as she was writhing. Max shook her head hurriedly. Although he still thought of her as a prestigious noble woman who was pampered growing up, she didn’t want him to think that she was being demanding.
“It’s j-just… my back was itching. Is that… dinner?”
“It’s soup, boiled with jerky and bread.”
He crawled inside and set the tray on the floor. His tall and sturdy figure instantly made the tent feel stuffy. Max took the bowl of soup and watched out of the corner of her eye as Riftan stretched one of his legs and took off his armor piece by piece. He arched an eyebrow, as if telling her to eat her food.
“The food is pretty humble, but there’s no helping it while we travel. Even if it’s not to your liking, at least try eating it.”
“…I have n-no complaints about the food.”
Max responded with annoyance and ate in silence. The bread was stale, and the soup tasted bland, but it was as if she was having a feast as all she had consumed since dawn was an apple and a few pieces of jerky. Max ate her portion of food in a flash. She was so hungry that she felt like she might even eat the wooden tray.
“You must have been really hungry.”
Riftan’s eyes sank as he watched her. Max blushed, wondering if she ate too hungrily.
“This kind of demanding schedule will continue until we get to the port. Can you really handle it?”
Max nodded stubbornly as Riftan continued to stare at her softly, eating his share of food. As soon as they finished eating, they laid down next to each other in the tent. Even though she felt like she could pass out from exhaustion, she strangely could not fall asleep. Max sighed and rolled over to find a comfortable position. When she accidentally brushed against his leg, Riftan, who was using his arm as a pillow retracted his entire body as if he had just been burned by fire.
Max immediately froze at the unexpected response. Was there ever a time that he had hated a touch from her? Every time they lay down together, he would always hold her in his arms, and snuggle her to sleep. But now, he was trying to get as far away from her as possible as he pretended to sleep. It was as if he could not stand to be even touched by her. Max suddenly felt terrified. Maybe Riftan wasn’t just mad at her, perhaps he was completely disappointed in her.
Max looked at him anxiously and hovered her hand over his arm. Riftan’s body visibly stiffened. He inhaled sharply, and in the blink of an eye jumped up and grabbed his scabbard.
“I’ll be outside, so go ahead and sleep.”
Then, he left her without sparing a moment for her to hold him back. Max blinked her eyes in bewilderment and pulled the covers over her head. In the distance, she could hear the mournful cries of beasts and the soft trickle of flowing water.
Riftan maintained this treatment towards her throughout the expedition. During the day, he would lead the knights, mostly in silence, and when night came, he would bring her food and set up her bed, but that was all. After that night, he never entered the tent again.
When she asked Hebaron where he slept, she found out that he was sleeping in a blanket right outside her tent or stayed up all night. Her anger skyrocketed when she heard this. No matter how angry he was at her, how could he not worry about his own health like an idiot? Max immediately confronted Riftan about it, but he only responded with agitation.
“Trust me. Sleeping outside helps me rest better.”
What else could she say when he was so firm about it? Max thought that it was rather fortunate that the expedition was so horribly difficult. If she wasn’t completely drained of energy, enough to immediately pass out, then she would have been brooding all day because of Riftan’s cold attitude towards her.
“Starting now, we will be crossing that mountain. The road will be difficult, so you will have to follow carefully.”
Gabel warned her as they passed through the dense forest. Max nodded and wiped the beads of sweat from her forehead. That day was particularly hot and humid, there was not even a gust of wind.
Max looked up at the blazing sun peeking through the foliage and stroked Rem, who seemed to be as exhausted as she was. She had a leisurely regret of not having brought the hat and veil that the pair of seamstresses recommended her to bring. It worried her that she would grow more freckles on her face.
“There is a small town just past here. If we are lucky, we will be able to sleep in a place with a bed tonight. So please lift your spirits up a little more.”
Yulysion encouraged her. The thought of washing her body in cool, clean water, scrubbing her hair with soap, and sleeping in a clean bed invigorated her. They had travelled tirelessly for so long that even the horses started showing signs of exhaustion and visibly slowed down. Eventually, they had to dismount from their saddles and continue on foot.
Max gasped as they climbed the steep mountain that was lined with tree roots. The sunlight that seeped through the dense leaves stung her eyes. She gazed at the steep mountain path hazily. Her chest ached as if it had been stabbed with every breath she took and the soles of her feet felt like they were set on fire.
She longed to propose resting for a while, but she desperately suppressed it down her throat. The endless infernal march continued for what seemed like an eternity, when it miraculously stopped. However, she could not breathe a sigh of relief at the loud roar that rang out from the front.
“Put up a barrier, now!”
It was Riftan’s voice, Max looked around as all the knights drew their swords in a state of half-confusion.
Before she could process what was happening, the ground began to rumble violently, and the black-colored creatures began to rain down from over their heads. Max screamed as she took a step back. A hideous-looking dwarf creature with dark green skin and a blunt, aquiline nose sprinted towards her carrying an ax.
Note – LF: I have a feeling Riftan is feeling horny that’s why he didn’t want to be around Maxi. Just like the chapters when he avoided her as he brought her to Anatol lol
Nymeria: That’s definitely the case, LF. At this point I’d expect Maxi to understand him a bit more, but I guess her innocence is still intact lol Also Riftan being as petty as her with that “Not Sir Calypse?” made my day lmaoo