(WEB NOVEL): Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 188
Translator – LF
Proofreader – Nymeria
However, no matter how long she waited, her surroundings remained still and dead silent. Max looked around constantly and nervously bit her lips. Rem was also growing anxious as he whined nervously and staggered backwards.
“Just how far did we come…?”
She looked through the dark mountains, hoping for the knights to come her way soon, when she heard leaves rustling over her shoulders. Max turned around at the sound. She could see something quickly hiding through the bushes and goosebumps rose all over her body. She clasped the reins, having cold sweats, and spurred her horse at once. Then, the monster hiding while watching in the bushes came out swift like an arrow. It was a goblin.
Max drove her horse as fast as it could, escaping the goblin who was chasing them with a club. Rem deftly navigated through the long, rugged protruding roots of the trees that were thick as human legs. Fortunately, the goblin who was chasing after them tripped over a tree root and rolled down the mountain, but she kept glancing over her shoulders a dozen times to check if there was anything else chasing her, as she continued to push forward.
It seemed that monsters hid behind trees and rocks, waiting for the opportunity to kill and devour them. They ran for a long time, at a speed as if they were being chased by something, when Rem sank to sit among the trees in exhaustion.
She gasped for breath and looked around before descending from the saddle with a stagger. Her heart raced like it was about to burst and her nerves were so tight it felt like they were about to break.
What do I do now…?
Max wiped the sweat from dripping on her eyelids, still looking around through the mountain thickets with her sunken eyes. The direction where they went only made everything become more and more confusing.
She was on the verge of tears as she bit her lips. What if the knights never found her? Will she have to spend the night awake all alone on a mountain full of monsters? The memory of the harpies feasting on the corpses of the half-dragons resurfaced and Max shuddered. She was overwhelmed with fear and buried her face in her knees and coughed up a sob. The blood in her whole body seemed to freeze at the thought of dying as such.
Now Max understood why Riftan was so vehemently against her leaving the castle. The world was far more terrifying and harsher than she had ever imagined.
This is not the time for this…
She struggled as she tried to calm her heightened emotions. Sitting down and crying wouldn’t make anything better. She wiped away her tears with her fists and carefully examined the area around her once more. She could see a steep mountain slope to her right, while there was a gentle uphill lined with trees next to the steep rock walls.
The plan was to move northwest of the mountain. However, due to the road blockage they turned northeast with the intention of crossing the mountain. If she started heading in that direction too, maybe she would be able to encounter the knights again…
No. I have to move even if I don’t get to encounter them.
Max looked up at the graying sky through the lush leaves, then stood up from her seat and took Rem’s reins. If the knights failed to find her, she would have to spend the night by herself on this mountain. Even if she was on her own, she had to climb the mountain.
There was a village beyond the mountain, there she would be able to regroup with everyone once she reached that place.
Even if her sense of direction was not strong, if she could reach the top of the slope, she could get a panoramic view of the base of the mountain and easily determine where the village was located. Once she made up her mind on what to do, she became more composed.
Max looked up at the sun, vaguely setting a direction to follow, then began to urge Rem to climb the mountain once again. She was amazed at her endurance. The soles of her feet no longer screamed in pain and although the muscles in her legs were as stiff as wood and trembled, she pushed forward relentlessly. There was no knowing when another goblin would come after her again. She nervously looked behind her for several times, but wanting to conserve her energy, she focused on the path in front of her.
She led Ream and walked through the thickly populated forest for a long time before the trees finally parted, revealing a gentle hill in front of her. Max looked around, confused, wondering if she had reached the top yet. Thick beautiful trees lined the gently curving meadow like a fence, and the sharp peaks of distant mountains rose to its left and right. It looked like she had reached the mountain ridge.
Looking up at the sky to determine her location, Max sat down for a while and allowed Rem to graze on the grass. She wanted to remove the saddle and allow Rem to rest properly, but she could barely lift a finger at the moment. Sitting with her legs stretched out, Max took a deep breath and finally got up to take the load off hanging from the saddle, hoping to lighten Rem’s burden for a little.
Rem shook his head from side to side and neighed loudly, then continued to enjoy grazing in the tall grass. Max sat down next to the horse and took out the leftover potatoes and jerky from her bag. She was too tired to be hungry, but she needed to eat something for her energy to recover a little, so she pushed the food into her tight stomach, then pulled out some dried herbs and roots for her to chew.
After resting for about fifteen minutes, she felt some of her energy replenished. She gathered her remaining strength and continued to lead Rem, marching through the mountain. Every step she took, her back ached and her thighs screamed as if they were stabbed with knives, but if she could withstand her aching muscles, then she could get off the mountain before the sun set.
I need to head northwest of this mountain valley…
Max continued to look up at the pale cloudy sky over and over again to check her direction, when a faint sound of flowing water caught her ears. She turned to follow the sound’s direction. After walking for a while, a small waterfall that was hidden among the trees appeared.
Max ran down the plunging rocks, ignoring the pain in her legs at the thought of washing her scorching face with cold water. She also intended to have her horse drink a lot of cold water. She led Rem to a flat spot and crouched down on a rock, washing her face with loud splashes, not caring about getting her hair and clothes wet. Rem also dipped his face in the valley water and drank in a haste. The sensation of clear water coming into contact with her eyelids, which were feeling hot like charcoal, had never felt so refreshing.
She drowned in ecstasy, as she splashed water onto her sweaty nape. She wanted to jump into the water and soak her whole body.
This is not the time to take a leisurely bath…
Max had to desperately overcome the tempting urge and forced herself to walk away. Feeling regretful, she tried to appease Rem, who rebelled against her when she tried to lead the horse away. Suddenly, a white horse with half its body submerged in water caught her eye as it stared at her.
She wondered how a horse came to be in a mountain such as that. Max hesitated and looked around to see if there was someone else nearby, but it was silent. She wondered if it was a wild horse. When she turned to look at the horse again, it was at a short distance, somewhat near her nose.
Max’s shoulders flinched in surprise and the wild horse snorted and nudged her lightly in a friendly manner, seemingly meaning no harm. She raised her hand, hesitated, then stroked its bluish silver mane. The wild horse whinnied as if her touch delighted him. Max smiled at the charming reaction and reached out with both hands to caress the wild horse.
The horse was beautiful, as if it came straight out of fantasy. Its white fur was as soft and glossy as velvet and its long legs were in perfect symmetry. While she admired its indescribably elegant figure in admiration, something strange suddenly caught the corner of her eye.
She blinked in confusion, bewildered. A swaying long tail wrapped in scales was in between the hips of the submerged horse.
“Get out of there now!”
A thunderous scream came from behind her. Max lifted her head, but before she could turn to see who it was, she felt a force pulling her back. She lost her balance and flailed wildly. The wild horse bit her cloak and dragged her viciously into the water.
She did her best to pry herself off but the force pulling her was so strong that she couldn’t help but sink into the water. She was in a shock as she struggled desperately, floundering her limbs but no matter how much she moved her legs, her feet could not reach the bottom.
Dear God… it is this deep?
She shook her head vigorously in terror when she felt a strong arm attempting to lift her body back to the surface and Max instinctively clung to the arm. As her cloak tore, she was able to escape from the force that was pulling her down.
As soon as she was out of the water, she gasped wildly and frantically clung to her savior. The resounding angry neigh of the wild horse was heard from behind her, then suddenly the surroundings turned dead silent.
She turned to look over her shoulders. The valley was serenely quiet as if it had all been a lie. There were no wild horses to be seen around. Unable to understand what had just happened, she looked around frantically in confusion, then she heard a harsh curse just above her head.
“What the hell were you thinking!?”
Max raised her head tiredly and met Riftan’s fierce eyes, engulfed in fury. He pulled her out of the water, grabbed her by the shoulders tightly, and shook her back and forth.
“Touching a monster like that! Are you out of your mind?! That was a kelpie! Do you have any idea what almost happened?!”
“I-I didn’t know. I thought it was ju-just a wild horse…”
The words barely managed to fall out of her lips. He continued to look at her with piercing eyes, then hugged her so tight it almost suffocated her. Max’s entire body felt like it was crushed under the weight of his hard armor, but the pain was numbed by extreme relief. She muttered his name, then wrapped her arms around his neck and broke into tears. Riftan trembled and stroked her face and neck incessantly, checking for any injuries.
“Are you alright? Are you hurt somewhere?”
Riftan scoured her figure from head to toe. Max couldn’t bring herself to believe that he was in front of her right now and grabbed the hem of his robe as he wiped the tears in her eyes. Riftan pulled her into another crushing embrace and shook her.
“I told you to never leave the ranks. I warned you so many times! Damn it, do you know, do you know, how horrified I was? Do you have any idea how I felt when Gabel told me you were gone?!”
“I’m s-sorry. Re-Rem freaked out…”
Max tried to explain how she lost her way and wandered alone through the mountains, but Riftan didn’t seem to be listening. He held her in his arms for a long time and only released her when the raindrops began to drizzle over her head, then Riftan helped her up and spoke in a strained voice.
“Can you walk?”
Max nodded. To be honest, she was ready to pass out from exhaustion at that very moment, but if it was Riftan who was asking, she would walk all night if she had to. He led them out of the valley, holding Rem’s reins in one hand and her hand in the other. Max struggled to keep up with him, as her boots got wet and muddier.
Note – Nymeria: So so so so so proud of Maxi!!! And oh God that kelpie got me in the first half, not gonna lie