Under the Oak Tree-Chapter 268 -

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268 Chapter The knights soon fell into an orderly march. Flicking Rem’s reins, Maxi followed the procession. She caught glimpses of Riftan up ahead, appearing and disappearing among his men. It only made her antsier.

How could he not look back even once? Surely he was aware of where she was. Had he not yearned to see her as much as she had?

She was wallowing in despair when a lively voice called to her.

“Max! Max!”

She looked up to see Sidina giving her a small wave. Slowly, she trotted up to the girl with a puzzled expression.

“Max, where’s the deserter?” Sidina asked in a low voice when Maxi was near. “Isn’t he supposed to be with the Remdragon Knights?”

Maxi heaved a sigh. Sidina was not the only person waiting on her answer. Their fellow mage, Kiel, and a few senior mages were also looking at her with intense curiosity. They seemed more interested in Ruth Serbel than the Remdragon Knights.

Complicated emotions swirled within Maxi as she said halfheartedly, “He… probably stayed behind at Sevron Castle. I-I heard the Remdragon Knights set out immediately when they received our request. Since it required them to ride through the night, I’m sure they thought an easily-tired mage would only slow them down.”

She was about to turn to look in Riftan’s direction again when Sidina made a strange nasally sound and walked her horse closer.

“You’re going to burn him.”


“You haven’t taken your eyes off your husband once. There’ll be a hole in the back of his head soon.”

Sidina scrunched her lips, pretending to whistle. Maxi’s face flushed. Had she been that obvious? She could feel her ears burning. Still, was it not natural to be restless when she had not even had a proper conversation with her husband after three years apart?

Sidina giggled at Maxi’s sullen expression and attempt to avoid eye contact. “It’s not that I don’t understand you. Who wouldn’t feel the same with a husband like that? I must say, Sir Riftan is far more dashing than I expected. Not to mention his physique…”

Sidina outlined a broad chest with both hands, a sly smile spreading across her face.

“I am positively green with envy. Built such as he is, I’m sure whatever’s between his legs is not slight either.”

“S-Sidina!” Maxi shrieked. “A maiden shouldn’t speak of such things!”

The Temple Knights flanking the mages turned to look at her, their faces impassive. Flinching, Maxi pulled her robe up to cover her face. It seemed both Anette and Sidina were bent on mortifying her today.

She furtively gritted her teeth. Though she knew Sidina sometimes held book readings for stories of a more risqué nature in her room with the other female novices, she never imagined the girl would be so brazen as to speak indecently in the presence of clergymen.

Lowering her voice, Maxi said in as stern a tone as she could muster, “Please… keep your mouth shut, and do hold onto your reins properly.”

“I meant it as a compliment. Why are you angry?” Sidina quipped, pouting.

When Maxi gave her a warning look, Sidina shrugged and picked up the reins. Her silence did not last long.

“By the way,” said Sidina, her curiosity getting the better of her, “does Sir Riftan happen to have any brothers?”

Maxi’s mouth remained resolutely closed as she pretended not to hear. Anette, who was riding near them, chose that moment to chime in.

“But what about the commander of the Temple Knights? Were you not raving about his good looks just the other day?”

“What use are fine looks? It’s no different from a feast in a painting.”

Maxi nervously studied the faces of the Temple Knights. Whether they did not hear or were merely pretending not to, the knights kept their eyes fixed ahead and rode on with blank expressions. Oblivious to her discomfort, Anette howled with laughter.

“What about Max’s personal guard, then? That one’s comely too.”

“Hmm, he’s a bit…”

Sidina glanced to where Ulyseon was riding with the Remdragon Knights.

“I was charmed at first,” she said, shaking her head, “until I saw how silly he acted in front of Max. A shame, really. If only he’d kept his mouth shut.”

“Then, what about the golden-haired knight we met in Anatol? He was pleasing to the eye, was he not?”

“He was indeed, but I imagine he’s the sort that would constantly be in your ear.”

Maxi walked Rem forward to escape their appraisal of the various men they had met. Ulyseon, who was riding in the last row of knights, turned to look at her with an innocent smile.

“Are you not tired, my lady? You have not had a proper rest since yesterday.”

“I-I’m fine. I’m sure the knights are more tired from fighting all night.”

“We are accustomed to it.”

She would have to improve her stamina if she wished to become a mage for the Remdragon Knights, she silently told herself. Determination alone seemed insufficient to overcome the fatigue that was weighing her down.

Maxi rubbed her increasingly heavy eyelids. Her exhaustion was understandable. After a full day’s ride to reach the border, they had come upon the devastated village. Tending to the dead had taken up much of the night, and when they finished setting up camp to rest, chaos had ensued. On top of that, her brush with death at the hands of an ogre and Riftan’s cold shoulder meant she was emotionally and physically drained.

Elliot rode down the formation to the mages. Noticing Maxi’s haggard face, he asked with concern, “Are you all right, my lady?”

Even as she nodded in response, she struggled to keep her eyes open.

Elliot watched her for a moment before saying tentatively, “May I suggest you ride double with me, my lady? You could get some rest by leaning on—”

“No, allow me, my lady!” Ulyseon cut in. “It is my duty as your personal guard!”

The young knight looked afraid of being supplanted from his post. Maxi bit her lip. She was sorely tempted to accept the offer, but she knew she was not the only tired mage. Though she was by no means a star contributor to the expedition, she did not wish to be seen as inferior or lagging behind either. With that thought in mind, Maxi stubbornly shook her head.

“Th-that would only tire your horses more quickly. And… we would also need someone to lead Rem. I can ride by myself, so please don’t worry about me.”

“My steed can handle it, my lady. It once carried three men with no—”

“We’ll rest here a while.”

A deep voice interrupted Elliot’s argument. Up ahead, Riftan had turned his horse around to the knights.

“Charon! Take some of your men with you and scout the area.”

“Yes, sir!”

Elliot and a few of the knights promptly rode away. Maxi only just managed to slide off her horse with Ulyseon’s help. Her buttocks and thighs ached as though bruised from the long ride, and her back and waist felt as if they would snap.

Lowering herself onto a tree stump, she assessed the conditions of the mages. They were all slumped on boulders or the ground. Even Anette and Sidina, who had kept up a lively chatter throughout the ride, looked drained as they silently quenched their thirst with ale.

All Maxi wanted was to lay her head down and sleep, even for just a moment. However, Rem was also on the ground with exhaustion, and she knew the mare would need tending to. She plodded over to her horse. Using the dregs of her energy, she unsaddled Rem, then plopped herself down by the mare’s back. Rem kept brushing her moist nose against her cheek as she sat, but Maxi was too tired to push her away.

Soon, she began to doze. She did not know how long she slept when she was startled awake by something landing on her lap. Jerking her head up, she met Riftan’s black eyes.

“You should eat. You won’t last until supper if you don’t have a bite while you can.”


After looking up at him in bewilderment, Maxi slowly bobbed her head. On her lap was a fist-sized ball wrapped in dried leaves.

When all she did was stare blankly at it, Riftan said impatiently, “What are you waiting for?”

“Oh… uh…”

Why bring her food after being so cold to her? Maxi was flummoxed. She looked up at him again to gauge his intention, but his aloof face silhouetted against the light revealed nothing. After muddling in indecision for a moment, Maxi carefully picked up the ball and unwrapped the leaves, revealing the smoked meat beneath.

“Do you have anything to drink?” Riftan asked brusquely.

“I-I have… some wine with me.”

Finally realizing he was trying to be thoughtful, Maxi hastily pulled out her flask from her saddlebag. She glanced up, intending to ask him to join her, but he was already gone. She gave a dejected sigh. Had she ruined her chance to speak to him when he had made the effort to approach her first?

At least it doesn’t seem like he’s completely lost interest.

Reassuring herself with this thought, she stared down at the chunk of meat before taking out a loaf to have with it. She then took a short nap by the campfire, and by the time she woke up, she felt slightly reinvigorated. Mustering her strength, Maxi saddled Rem once more and nimbly got on the saddle.

Soon, the expeditionary party set off through the dense forest. The scarlet sky gradually turned purple as dusk descended. With their path growing dim, the knights began to light torches one after the other.

It was completely dark by the time they reached the viscounty. When the knights approached the pitch-black ramparts made of vertical logs, the sentries called down from the watchtower.


“Identify yourselves!”

“The Remdragon Knights. We have returned with the Temple Knights and mages of the Mage Tower.”

A moment later, the gatekeeper opened the peephole next to the entrance. He opened the door after checking their armor.

Maxi glanced around as she followed the knights through the gate. Torches flickered down the road, and armed sentries stood guard along the walls. It appeared the viscounty was on high alert for a possible attack.

Just then, a brawny man in armor stepped out of a two-story stone building that appeared to be the guardhouse.

“You’re back.”