(WEB NOVEL): Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 183
Translator – LF
Proofreader – Nymeria
The maid waiting by the door took the bag from her hand, volunteering to carry it. Max sat on the saddle strapped to Rem after the train of servants escorted her outside with a tearful farewell. All the knights were lined up in the training grounds, ready to depart. It didn’t seem like it only took two days of preparation as they appeared well-prepared for the expedition.
“Have all your necessities been packed?”
As she approached the ranks of the knights, Gabel, who was inspecting the battle lines, spoke to her. Max nodded. He examined the size of the bag she had tied to Rem’s chair, then gestured for something behind her.
“Hey, Lady Calypse is here.”
At his urge, two boys emerged from the squires standing behind the ranks. Max’s eyes widened when she saw Yulysion and Garrow running towards her, dragging a giant stallion.
“We were told that the Lady was coming too. We volunteered to be your escorts throughout the journey.” Yulysion explained after running in a fuss.
“But… Yulysion and Garrow are still apprentices. Is it a-alright for them to participate in this expedition?”
“Squires are originally selected from their apprenticeships ahead of their knighting ceremony. Don’t worry, we’ve gained a lot of experience over the past months.”
Garrow proudly pumped his chest confidently and Yulysion nodded vigorously at his side. “I will never put milady’s life at risk, just like the last time. We’ll keep you safe no matter what happens, you have nothing to worry about!”
Max smiled at the two boys who had grown even more dignified during the times they were apart. “T-thank you. I’ll put my faith in you.”
“Rovar and Livakion are the best among the squires. Please have the two of them by your side wherever you go. Also, you must never leave the ranks at will. If there is any problem, please inform me or another knight.”
Gabel instructed her with a solemn face and Max nodded firmly. “I’ll keep that in mind. By the way… where is Ri-Riftan?”
“The Commander is over there.”
Max looked at where Gabel was pointing and saw Rodrigo, two older knights with gray hair, and her husband. They were discussing it with their other younger knights.
“The commander is delegating the supervisory of the castle. The maintenance of the great hall will be the responsibility of Rodrigo, while Sir Obaron and Sir Sebrick will oversee the training and military facilities.”
Riftan handed a ring of keys to Rodrigo and the older knights, then walked towards the front of the line. Max intently followed him with her eyes as he sat on top of Talon. Riftan’s gaze suddenly flew to her. Max tensed, fearing that he would suddenly change his mind and order her to leave this expedition, but Riftan simply led Talon towards the gates without saying a word.
As his loud commanding voice resounded, the guards stationed on top of the walls blew powerfully into their horns, signalling for the knights to maintain their line and march across the castle moat in an organized manner. Max grasped the reins and drove Rem along the line. As Calyspe Castle drew further and further away from her, a sense of fear and strange excitement swelled within her. She wondered about what awaited them in the near future. Garrow, who was riding his horse beside her, seemed to have noticed her anxiety and opened his mouth, speaking calmly.
“There is nothing to worry about. We spent the entire spring scouring the mountains around Anatol wiping off monsters, there won’t be any drawing of arms in the upcoming time.”
Max felt her cheeks heat up with embarrassment seeing how a much younger boy acted more assertive than her. Not only Garrow, but all the other young knights all around his age wore the same calm expression.
As they crossed the town square of Anatol on their horses, people flocked to the side of the road and watched them march into battle in amazement. Max felt like an innocent puppy lost in a pack of wolves.
“Ma’am, please move to the center of the ranks once we pass through the gates.”
Gabel yelled over his shoulders and Max obediently followed his instructions. She directed Rem to the center of the line as soon as they were out of the guarded territories. Riftan glanced at her from the front of the lines, then began to drive his horse at a faster speed. The knights followed his lead, speeding straight through the valleys.
Max drove Rem whilst trying her best to match their pace, careful not to be run over by the other horses. Riding through the uneven dirt road was more difficult than she imagined. If she hadn’t practiced in her spare time, she wouldn’t have been able to keep up.
As she wondered how many hours more they had to ride like that while out of breath and sweating, Yulysion beamed at her encouragingly.
“We will be crossing through two mountains today. Once we leave Anatol, the road will be easier to travel, so please hang in there.”
Max nodded, wondering how the young man could ride at this speed and not bite his tongue in the process. Her thighs were already numb and her hips were tingling, but she couldn’t mutter a word of complaint after insisting so stubbornly that she had to go with them. Max struggled as she rode to keep up with the knights.
Fortunately, as the road got steeper, they were forced to decrease the speed of movement. She managed to regain her composure and inspected her surroundings. Lush green trees flanked them on either side of the narrow path of the mountain valleys. Sharp, jagged rocks carved out by nature tilted at the foot of the mountain, and she could hear the faint rush of water from a nearby stream. Since they had been traveling for a while, they finally decided to take a break there.
Max had a hard time dismounting from her horse as her legs jittered, then led Rem toward the water. The knights ate bread and dried beef while the horses drank water thirstily, like they would be emptying the stream. She also drank water from her canteen, moistening her dried lips, and ate a piece of dried meat that was as tough as a piece of wood. They rested for about twenty minutes before climbing back on top of their horses, immediately going back to the road.
In less than half a day, Max was completely defeated. Her saddle-mounted butt was like it was on fire. And her lungs felt like they were being stabbed with a blade. Her braided hair kept loosening up and stuck to her face, which also annoyed her. Compared to her, the knights around her looked more comfortable despite their heavy iron armors.
Max clenched her thighs against the saddle to correct her collapsing posture. The infernal march only ended when they reached the end of the narrow and remote path, finding a somewhat gentle place to set camp.
“We will camp here today.” As Riftan’s voice resounded heavily, Garrow climbed off his horse and muttered quietly.
“Even after a full day’s travel, we’re still in Anatol territory…”
Max was so relieved that she could finally rest from traveling on horseback that she didn’t mind spending a night in the mountains. She almost rolled off the saddle as she dismounted. If it weren’t for Yulysion who was quick to assist her, she would have found her face against the damp ground.
“You must be tired. Please sit here and rest. I’ll pitch the tent up right away.” Yulysion grabbed her by the shoulders and gently held her to sit on a flat rock. She barely managed to mutter a thank you at her level of exhaustion.
The two boys quickly removed the saddles off their horses and unpacked, without showing any signs of exhaustion. The other knights were also busy making a pit for bonfires, lighting them, and providing food and water to the horses. Max knew she had to help but she really couldn’t lift a hand at the moment. She pressed her reddened palms against the cold rock’s surface, cooling them from the strain of gripping the reins too long.
“I’ve set up a bed. Milady, it’s pretty shabby, but you may come in and rest…”
“I’ll take care of her.” Max shuddered at the low voice that interrupted. She looked up to see Riftan looking at her, still with the same expressionless face. “Go and tend to your horses.”
At his command, Garrow and Yulysion immediately ran towards the steeds.
She was worried that he would scold her for being in such a disorderly state and unable to contribute, but Riftan merely helped her up and guided her towards the tent pitched under a tree without any reprimand.
“I’ll bring you a meal when it’s ready, so lie down in the meantime.”
“I’m f-fine. I too should help…”
Max immediately pressed her lips shut when Riftan shot her a terrifying look. He lowered the tent’s awning and walked away. Truthfully, she had no energy to even lift a finger, so she just slid helplessly on top of the thick blankets, worrying about what awaited her the following day. She knew her butt and thighs would be bruised black and blue in the morning, so she wondered how she was going to survive throughout the expedition. She quickly shook her head and dismissed those defeatist thoughts.
No. Just one more day and then we’ll be out of the Anatol mountains.
According to the map, there would be plenty of flat plains on their way to Livadon once they get past Anatol. Also, her body will slowly adjust to riding, especially when the trails would become less cumbersome. She shouldn’t give up so easily. While trying to motivate herself, Riftan returned to the tent.
“It would be better for you to get a massage before having a meal. Take off your pants.”
He bent over to enter the tent and sat on a corner, pulling a small bottle of oil from a bag. Max looked at him, not certain of what she had just heard.
“Just now… what did you say…?”
“Take off your boots and pants. You won’t be able to ride a horse again tomorrow unless this medicine is applied.”
Riftan answered nonchalantly and took off his gauntlet, gaiters, and vambraces like they were cumbersome, setting them down on the corner. In the meanwhile, Max continued to stare at him blankly. He frowned when he saw her idle and placed his hands on her boots to remove it. She protested and crouched to the farthest corner of the tent in panic.
“I… I’m f-fine! There’s no need!”
“You look like you’re about to pass out any second, what do you mean you’re fine?”
Riftan approached and caught Max, who was trying with all her might to escape, placing her back in place. Her throbbing muscled screamed as he grasped her thigh. When she could no longer hold it back and whimpered in pain, Riftan frowned and began undoing her boot laces which were very tight around her calves, making Max’s face dyed bright red.
“I-I got this. I’ll… I’ll do it myself! G-give me the oil, I can do it… g-go outside for a moment.”
“You don’t even have the strength to lift a finger.”
“That’s n-not true. I c-can d-do it myself so…”
“At least listen to your husband, even if it sounds ridiculous.”
She stopped protesting, realizing that his patience was reaching its edge again. Riftan took off her boots and threw them off to a corner, then placed his hands on the strings of her trousers. Max glanced at the entrance of the tent and felt like crying.
“W-what if someone walks in…”
“I told them not to come near the tent so don’t worry.”
He exhaled bluntly and mercilessly pulled off her sweaty pants. The cool air that touched her bare skin made her face flush red as a beet.