Under the Oak Tree-Chapter 266 -
266 Chapter The Remdragon Knights surged toward the village center like a tidal wave, their spears and axes sending the undead flying in their wake. Now surrounded by both knightly orders, the monster horde began jostling each other in confusion before tumbling in a heap. The knights rode their horses over them, mercilessly crushing the charred ghouls beneath clomping hooves.
Maxi shuddered as she watched the scene from afar. The undead flailed their mangled bodies before finally crumbling into dust. Before long, she received news that both Anette and Armin’s pairs had succeeded in destroying the remaining runes.
Having lost their regenerative powers, the ghouls disintegrated as the knights struck them. The loss of mana seemed to have made them noticeably more sluggish as well. In what seemed to be the blink of an eye, the battle was over.
“It should be safe enough to rejoin the others now,” Miriam muttered while chewing on a piece of mana-replenishing mandrago root.
Still in a daze, Maxi nodded. Her mind still felt muddled, but she could not determine what it was that had her so flabbergasted. Was this emotional panic due to her brush with death? Or because of the unexpected reunion with Riftan?
She anxiously bit her lip. The most pressing thing on her mind was going to see him at once, but at the same time, the uncertainty of how he would react made her want to hide. Stuck in indecision, she was clutching her reins when a few Remdragon Knights rode over to her.
“Lady Calypse. It has been too long,” greeted one of the knights.
He tilted open his visor, and Maxi’s eyes widened in surprise as she recognized him.
Elliot Charon grimly scoured her for any injuries before asking, “Are you hurt anywhere, my lady?”
She suspected her aching bottom and back from being unsaddled earlier meant she was bruised. The pain was not unbearable, so she shook her head. Elliot breathed a sigh of relief and steered his horse around once more.
“The battle is over. Please allow us to escort you back.”
After watching his back for a moment, Maxi calmed Rem’s snorting by caressing her neck, then slowly walked the mare out from behind the stone wall. The knights formed a shield around her as they rode through the ravaged village to where the Remdragon Knights were gathered.
Maxi nervously wet her lips. Her heart pounded painfully against her ribs the closer they got, and her stomach twisted in anxiety. Gripping her reins as if they were a lifeline, she desperately searched for Riftan among the knights, to no avail.
She felt her anxiety swell even more. Why had he not sought her out as soon as the battle was over? Had he not longed to see her? She pushed the thought away by calling up the memory of the letters he kept by his bedside with great care. He would not have rushed to get here if he wanted nothing to do with her.
They were almost at the hill when she heard someone bellow, “My lady!”
The group of knights turned their heads to her in unison. Though she knew most of their faces, there were a few unfamiliar ones. Reining in her horse, she gave them an awkward smile when a giant knight strode out from the group.
Instantly recognizing him, Maxi cheerfully cried out, “Sir Hebaron!”
The knight pulled off his helmet and beamed at her. With his carrot-colored hair a tangled mess and an unkempt, bushy beard taking over his face, he looked like someone who lived in the wilderness.
“Long time no see, my lady. It’s funny how we tend to run into each other in the most unexpected places.”
With that pointed barb, Hebaron returned his attention to Ulyseon, who was trotting behind her. He aggressively tousled the young knight’s hair with his large, armored hand.
“A job well done, you little scamp. We wouldn’t have found you so easily had you not sent word through the informant.”
Maxi’s eyes widened as the pieces clicked into place. It was not Anatol Ulyseon had sent word to, but the Remdragon Knights campaigning in Livadon.
The young knight had been strangely silent for some time until Hebaron’s rough jest. Irritably shoving the knight’s hand away, he yelled, “Stop treating me like a child!”
“Blimey, when did you get so short-tempered? Have you finally reached your rebellious phase?”
“Think of how the others will see me if you keep treating me thus, Sir Hebaron!”
“Bahaha! Our boy’s all grown up now, I see. Worried about keeping face and everything!”
As his superior doubled over in laughter, Ulyseon’s face crumpled into fury.
“I’ll be sure to beat you in the next ranking match, so laugh all you want. You will not be doing so for long.”
“Oh, I’m shaking in my boots. How am I to live with such dread? Why are so many people vying for my position?”
Though Ulyseon appeared genuinely vexed, watching their bickering helped ease some of Maxi’s tension. A few of the other knights she knew also approached her. Relaxing her shoulders, she tried to put on a more natural smile.
“It has… been a while.”
She was exchanging greetings with them when a powerfully built knight removed his helmet and said brusquely, “Are you unharmed, my lady?”
The knight seemed vaguely familiar. As Maxi vacantly regarded his face, he sheepishly scratched the back of his head. 𝑓𝒓e𝑒w𝑒𝒃𝑛𝒐𝘃ℯ𝙡. c𝚘m
“Do you not recognize me, my lady? I am Garrow Livakion.”
An astonished gasp escaped her as she ran her eyes over his angular face and robust, well-proportioned body.
“Y-You’ve grown… into a fine young man, Garrow. I was surprised when I saw Ulyseon… but I could not even recognize you at all.”
“Three years is a long time,” Garrow replied, looking embarrassed.
Maxi’s heart stung, and her chest tightened. The squires’ growth was a painful reminder of how long she had been away from Anatol. She wondered if Riftan had changed as much as they had. Anxiety bubbling inside her, she glanced around the knights once more.
Hebaron finally realized who it was she was searching for. He grumbled loudly, “Hells, where did that madman run off to after making us ride for days without rest?”
“The commander is currently talking with the commander of the Temple Knights,” Garrow said, pointing to the church.
Maxi instantly tensed. What could he possibly have to discuss with Kuahel Leon? Just as she was about to ask, Miriam, who had been looking incredibly bored by all the proceedings, shouted impatiently from her saddle.
“How long do you intend to stay here? Should we not be reporting back to Master Calto?”
Some of the knights scowled at her rude tone, but Maxi raised her hand before they could say anything. She turned to follow Miriam to the church. At the top of the hill, mages were healing the wounded horses. Anette was already there, and she waved when she spotted them.
“Are you both all right? Any injuries?”
“We are unharmed. How… about you?”
“In one piece, as you can see.”
Contrary to her blithe reassurance, Anette was covered in ashes as though she had only just managed to escape the horde of ghouls. It suddenly occurred to Maxi that her appearance must not be any different. She rubbed her cheek, and her hand came away covered in soot. When she reached up, she found her braid unraveled and hopelessly tangled. Her clothes, too, were unkempt from sleeping outdoors for the past few days.
Maxi furtively tugged her hood over her head. She would have to meet her husband after nearly three years apart looking like a vagrant. It was unthinkable. What was even more upsetting was how he had appeared in a beam of dazzling light.
“By the way, your husband is quite the formidable figure,” Anette remarked out of the blue, pointing her thumb toward the church. “The commander of the Temple Knights is intimidating, but I’d say your husband is much more terrifying. They’re currently talking in there. Both are hailed as reincarnations of Rosem Wigrew, yet they don’t seem to get along, do they? The air between them was so cold that even those who gathered to watch ended up sneaking away, completely unsettled. I just hope neither of them freezes the other.”
Anette chuckled as she pointed to the mages standing outside the church. Maxi’s face fell. Her back prickled with cold sweat when she recalled how Ursuline had argued with Calto to have her removed from the expeditionary party.
Leaving Rem with Anette, Maxi hastily darted into the church. Riftan was deep in talks with Kuahel Leon, but he turned his head toward her as she entered.
She froze at the door. A dizziness came over her, and her breathing became labored. In a daze, she stared at his sculpted face silhouetted against the light. He was ten times more intimidating than the Riftan she remembered. Having lost weight, his features had a sharpness to them, making his masculine aura staggeringly more potent. He looked more mature with his thick, blue-black hair swept slightly back.
Maxi’s throat felt parched, and she swallowed dryly. When he ran his dark eyes down to her feet, her whole body seemed to turn numb. How she had longed to see him. He had not been exaggerating when he said a day felt like a year, and a year an eternity.
She bit her lip to calm her surging emotions. He appeared to be filled with a similar, intense emotion. A palpable tension had his whole body in a vice-grip. Either he would bellow in rage or pull her into his arms for a passionate kiss.
Riftan did neither. The fiery intensity in his eyes vanished, and his gaze grew cold as if the heat she had seen had never existed. His voice was indifferent as he addressed Kuahel Leon once more.
“I take it, then, you agree to go to the Viscounty of Sevron?”
Kuahel glanced at Maxi and Riftan in turn, then slowly nodded. “Very well. Let us follow your suggestion this time.”
With their conversation over, Riftan picked up the cape he had taken off and brushed past her as he left the church. Stunned, Maxi hurried after him. She could not believe he had completely ignored her.
Riftan turned his head to look at her as he took Talon’s halter from a squire. Maxi felt her heart shrivel. Though she had expected the possibility of him being distant, seeing him regard her with such an icy gaze turned her tongue to stone.
His eyes narrowing, he said in a deep voice, “What is it?”
Was this his way of telling her she must now have a reason to talk to him?
Panicking now, Maxi managed to blurt out, “H-Have you been well? I have—”
In a heartbeat, Riftan’s indifferent mask twisted into a fierce scowl. She hastily closed her mouth.
“You wish to know… if I’ve been well?” he hissed in a voice like grating steel.
Maxi felt the blood drain from her body.