Under the Oak Tree

Chapter 23 Unexpected Warmth (1)
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Chapter 23 – Unexpected Warmth (1)

“Come on, let’s go out.”

Finally, Riftan, who made her wear leather shoes on her feet, said. She nodded with a blush. They went out of the room came upon a wooden staircase. Taking Riftan’s hand into her own, they went down. The armor-clad knights sat in their seats inside the cluttered tavern, where tables and chairs were closely packed.

“Leader, I thought we were still staying. So we are leaving now?”

One of them grumbled with his arms folded over his chest. But Riftan only took hold of her hand and went outside, completely ignoring them. Then a knight standing by the door chased after him and complained.

“Leader, are you going to continue doing that? It’s not like we’re used to it, but don’t just take it for granted.”

“Quiet! I told you not to say anything.”

Max looked up at the knight that had been talking with a puzzled look. The young man with large build and curly hair shot her with disapproving eyes in return. She hid herself behind the Riftan, daunted by the piercing gaze that was not mixed with any goodwill. The blond man standing behind the knight snorted loudly.

“It’s not funny. Only because she’s the daughter of the Duke of Croix.”

“I told you to shut your mouth.”

Riftan growled vehemently. The men clammed up at his ferocious spirit at once. He turned around again and pushed her into the carriage.

“Don’t mind what they say.”

Riftan, who was then on the wagon, said, and closed the door roughly.

“They don’t look to kindly to your father. But you’re madam Calypse, not Croix anymore. You are my wife. I’ll warn them not to be rude again.”

She couldn’t find a word to answer, only gazing at the back of her hand on her lap. ‘Only because she’s the daughter of the Duke of Croix,’ the words reminded her of how this relationship with him took place.

“Are you offended by my men?”

Seeing her sit quietly, he asked in a nervous tone. She looked up in surprise. Has anyone ever cared about her feelings at all? She smiled unconsciously as she looked at his troubled face. What a strange man, she thought.

“... you know what?”

“Yes, w-what?”

“You smiled at me... this is the first time.”

Riftan, who was staring down at her face with an indecipherable expression, slowly reached out and stroked her cheek. Max was caught up in his intense gaze and stopped breathing. The man, whose lips were half open, as if to say something, soon pulled his hand away. Then, he yelled at the men outside, as if nothing had ever occurred a moment ago.

“What are you waiting for? Who was the one who begged us to get going!”

She heard murmurs from outside and soon the carriage rolled. She glanced at his face in an awkward silence. Riftan had his head against the carriage window, closing his eyes as if he was tired. Feeling a little relaxed now, she also leaned her head against the wall.

The carriage shook and tossed, feeling like the rhythm of a cradle. Perhaps, with the tension of several days finally reaching its peak, she gradually fell asleep.

***

Leaving the village where they stayed on the first day, they traveled through the vast greenery all day long. Running a carriage on a poorly managed dirt road only made them reach a small village near the forest when it was completely dark. After traveling in a cramped space for the first time, Max was beyond exhausted. Riftan, who had gone outside first to identify himself, returned to the carriage to pick up his sleeping bag and lamp from the luggage compartment.

“We’re staying here today. It’s chilly, so hold on to your clothes tight.”

She followed his words, pressing the hood lower over her head. Carefully holding the strap of her coat, she stepped down from the carriage and they strode to where the knights gathered, Riftan’s arm wrapped loosely around her shoulder. One of the knights, who had a long talk with the guard, looked back at him and asked him with an embarrassed look.

“Leader, what are your orders? They don’t have any rooms to accommodate us...”

Riftan picked up the lamp and looked around quickly. Four or five dark cottages were lined up beside the winding dirt road, with their lights out. The knight quickly added an explanation.

“There are five cabins and they are full of serfs who came down for the harvest season. There’s an empty grain warehouse. We can borrow that for a day...”

The knight glanced at Max’s face towards the end of his speech. Riftan’s forehead creased and he looked back to the guard.

“Is there a place where my wife can stay separately?”

“It’s just a shabby cabin built to house the serfs during the harvest season. If you tell me, I can have them leave for you right now... but I’ll tell you now, it won’t be a seemly place for a lady.”

“But it’s better than the warehouse. If you could just clear a cabin for her, I’d like to give you a generous–”

“I’m, I’m fine, It’s all right.”

Max caught hold of his arm in a fit of fear. Not only was it burdensome for the serfs, who had suffered from hard labor all day, to be driven out because of her, but also didn’t want to spend the night alone in these spooky, unfamiliar places. Looking around with frightened eyes, Max grabbed Riftan’s sleeve.

“I, I don’t want to be alone...”

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