Under the Oak Tree

Chapter 378 - 139
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378 Chapter 139

"God Almighty, can't we just enjoy this meal in peace?" Hebaron exclaimed.

Maxi was apparently not the only one feeling uncomfortable.

The burly knight huffed. "We've just won a battle. Why clash words when we can enjoy the feast before us?"

"You don't seem to comprehend the gravity of the situation," Kuahel spat. "I am not here to break bread with you."

"Then why have you graced us with your presence?" Richard Breston sneered, swirling a large goblet in one hand.

Ignoring him, Kuahel said calmly, "I am sure you have been informed that the remaining monster forces in the Pamela Plateau are trying to destroy the barriers set up around the Lexos Mountains. Two of the five shrines built four years ago to block mana from flowing to the dragon have already fallen to the enemy. Even if the coalition army succeeds in reclaiming the castles, divine magic tainted by the monsters will fail to work properly. To purify it, we require a holy relic."

"A holy relic?" Riftan repeated, narrowing his eyes.

Kuahel nodded. "The Chalice of Purification. It can purify tainted magic and create holy water."

Suddenly interested, Breston stopped his taunting and sat upright. "Are you saying this tiny estate holds such a relic?"

"That's right. I am here to take the Chalice to the Lexos-"

"The holy relic was formally entrusted to us," came a sharp voice. Maxi turned to see a tall woman striding regally into the hall, her long black surcoat flowing behind her. It was the Lady of Darund. She shot Richard Breston a look of distaste before addressing Kuahel.

"The pope has entrusted the Chalice's care to Darund for the next ten years," the lady said, her tone admonishing. "It is not something you can take as you please." f(r)eewebn(o)vel.com

"Darund is currently in ruins, and the chapel meant to display the relic is gone as well. What would be the point of keeping the Chalice here?"

Lady Darund's face darkened at Kuahel's cool response. She turned to the elderly cleric and chamberlain standing behind her. When she saw that she would get no help from them, she loftily raised her chin once again.

"That may be so, but a promise is a promise. We have made a substantial donation to the church to acquire the Chalice, and it is now vital to our restoration efforts. As long as the holy relic is here, many will come to Darund to seek divine blessing."

"And how will you stop us if we choose to take it?" Leaning comfortably into his chair, Breston gave the noblewoman an unsettling smile. "You've hardly any soldiers. We could do whatever we liked, and you couldn't lift a finger."

"Shut your mouth."

Startled by the interruption, Maxi whipped her head up to see Riftan. She was not the only one taken aback; Lady Darund and the servants laying out the food seemed more surprised by his response than Breston's gross threat.

Riftan glowered at Breston, imbuing each word with authority. "We are knights, not plunderers. I will not condone pillaging."

He then shot Kuahel a warning look. "That applies to you as well, Leon. Nothing will be taken from this castle without Lady Darund's permission. I will not allow it."

"The fate of the Seven Kingdoms is at stake. Are you going to risk thousands of lives for one small estate?" Kuahel retorted icily before shifting his cutting gaze to Lady Darund. "This land will be in great peril if we fail to stop the dragon from returning. Rebuilding Darund will not be a possibility then. Is that your wish, Lady Darund?"

"But our right to the relic is our only remaining asset! If we lose it, Darund has no hope-"

"The Chalice will be returned to you as soon as this war is over. And in exchange, the church will help fund Darund's restoration."

Lady Darund's face visibly lit up. It struck Maxi then why Lady Darund had caused such a scene in front of everyone. This assurance had been her aim all along.

"Then, I have no reason to object to your request," she said softly.

Her mild response seemed to lighten the air within the hall, but the hostility between Riftan and Breston remained. Maxi anxiously glanced back and forth between their tense faces before looking at Kuahel. The Temple Knight calmly rose from the table as though his business was concluded.

"Very well. We will depart as soon as you turn over the relic," he said, then strode off toward the entrance.

Riftan, who had been glaring menacingly at Breston, spoke in a low voice.

"Leon."

Kuahel halted and looked over his shoulder. Riftan studied the man's face before slowly opening his mouth. "Darund is nowhere near the Lexos Mountains. The monsters have no reason to attack this place. Were they after the relic?"

Kuahel offered no response, but his silence was answer enough. Riftan's voice dropped even further as he said, "You must know what that means. The church has a mole. I suggest you deal with it as soon as possible."

Kuahel's eyes glinted dangerously in the dark. When the Temple Knight whirled around and walked out of the hall, Maxi finally released the breath she had been holding.

Her head felt muddled. Was Riftan implying that a cleric was passing information to the monsters?

She quickly shook her head. No human, no matter how corrupt, would be willing to side with the monsters. After all, there was nothing to be gained from such a betrayal. What reason would anyone have to aid the monster army that was ruthlessly slaughtering humans and corrupting their souls?

Or could it mean a monster disguised as a human had managed to infiltrate the church?

A voice rumbled beside her, breaking her from her thoughts.

"Your spoon stopped moving a while ago."

When Maxi looked up, she found Riftan gazing down at her, concern in his eyes. Though she had no appetite, she forced herself to eat. Once she managed to empty half her plate, she excused herself and rose from the table. A maidservant met her outside the hall and led her to a tidy room.

Removing her coat, Maxi scrubbed herself with hot water and wearily slid into bed. Despite wanting to stay up for Riftan, her heavy eyelids refused to stay open. She fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.

She slept until a chill woke her. Her eyes fluttering open, she saw the dying embers in the fireplace and sluggishly sat up. It was still dark outside.

Getting out of bed, she tossed a piece of wood into the fireplace and stoked the embers with a poker. Soon, a blaze illuminated the room once more. After looking about the empty chamber, Maxi put on her coat and stepped out. The corridor was cloaked in darkness.

Thanks to the moonlight filtering through the windows, she managed to make her way outside without tripping.

Breathing the crisp early morning air, she padded down the corridor. Beacons on the wall lit the way, and she soon made it to the courtyard, where she cut across and out of the inner castle.

Soon, the chapel came into view. She went inside to check on the wounded. Fortunately, none of the patients were unconscious or suffering from fever. Breathing a small sigh of relief, she left the chapel and headed for the Remdragon Knight banner.

Riftan had most likely chosen to rest in the barracks after deliberating the army's itinerary with his men until late into the night.

Her assumption proved true when she found him among the tents, sitting in front of a campfire beneath a small canopy. She suppressed a sigh and slowly approached him.

"Riftan... were you able to get some sleep?"

"Yes, I slept enough," he replied tersely. "What are you doing outside at this hour?"

"I came out to check on the wounded men," Maxi said, crouching by the fire.

Right then, a cold breeze blew past, and she hunched her shoulders. Riftan regarded her with a frown before opening his coat.

"Come here."

Maxi happily nestled herself between his legs. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he pulled her close so that she was leaning against him and tightened his coat around them. Maxi felt like a chick tucked under a hen's feathers.

She poked her head out to watch the crackling fire and snow flurries. Even the memory of yesterday's arduous battle and the trepidation over the grueling journey awaiting them in the morning was not enough to dampen the joy she felt at that moment.

When she snuggled closer, Riftan rested his head on her shoulder and blew warmly over her icy neck.

"Are you cold?"

Maxi shook her head. His breath felt as if it tickled her bones.

Thoroughly content, she let out a languid sigh. The wind blew snow into the canopy, and even the iciness as it brushed past her face felt good.

"Do you remember when we watched the first snowfall together in Anatol?"

"By the lake?" he whispered, grazing his nose on her shoulder.

The action reminded Maxi of a large hound asking for attention. A soft laugh escaped her lips. When she tilted her head to look at him, she saw a subtle smile tugging at his lips.

"I remember," he said. "We had gone for a ride."

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