Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 271
“I-is he… sick or hurt somewhere….”
“Not at all, m’lady! There’s no way that Sir Calypse will get injured. The Commander is in good health. His incredible health is unbelievable, and powerful! Take a look at this port alone. Sir Calypse has made Anatol the best commercial city in Whedon. So much has happened while the lady was away. Soon, Anatol will become a county. His majesty the king has promised to grant Sir Calypse a new title as a count soon as he returns from the expedition. The lady will soon be a countess!”
As Yulysion went on, he became more and more excited and poured out surprising news passionately. Max, who was looking at him with a perplexed expression, asked him in a trembling voice.
“Riftan… left for an expedition? He’s not h-here right now?”
A disappointed expression reflected on Yulysion’s face. He confessed in a slow tone as he rubbed his nape with his hand that was clad in leather gloves.
“Sir Calypse went last month on an expedition to Livadon by the King’s order. There was a conflict last year in the northwestern region of Whedon and Livadon have sent reinforcements as support. This time, monsters began sprawling in the eastern part of Livadon. His majesty the King wanted to repay last year’s favor by sending Whedon’s most powerful knight. Perhaps, he wanted to brag to the world that Whedon’s royal family has a knight branded as the incarnation of Uigru.”
“And so… in exchange for his loyalty, Riftan will be granted the title of count.” Max muttered with a bewildered expression on her face. The disappointment that Max felt was indescribable, she was expecting that she would soon meet Riftan. “Then… When will Riftan return?”
“The subjugation is not expansive so it will not take long. The last time a report was sent, it stated that they shall be back before spring.”
Max bit her lips. They would only be staying for a week at most. When the Holy Knights would arrive, the dispatch team would be heading straight to Pamela Plateau. The thought of not seeing Riftan before a long journey seemed to darken the light in her eyes.
“Please don’t be too disappointed. I will send a telegram to Sir Calypse as soon as we arrive at the castle. If he is informed that the lady is back, he will immediately wipe out all the monsters and rush to get back here.”
Yulysion tried to comfort her, but it didn’t help make her feel any better. Not only did she doubt that Riftan would really do as such, but it will take at least a month to get there from Livadon, no matter what rush it took. Even if Riftan hurried back as soon as he got the information, Max would have already left for Pamela Plateau by the time that he arrived.
Max somberly shook her head. “I’m not… returning for good. Supposedly, I have to train for a year more, but… in exchange for joining the dispatch team, I was given a special magic ceremony to receive my attribute. I will have to leave for Pamela Plateau with the other wizards in the next few days.”
This time around, Yulysion was the one who felt shocked. He stood there with his mouth agape and stared at her with a puzzled expression. As Yulysion was about to speak again, his men stopped in front of the restaurant with four carriages. Their conversation was eventually cut from there. Max got into the carriage with the wizards who just came out of the restaurant. It seemed as if Yulysion wanted to talk more, but he climbed up on his horse as his men came by handing his horse’s bridle.
“We shall continue our conversation at the castle.”
Yulysion leaned his head into the window, sighed, and rode his horse to the front and took lead. Then, Sidina, who was sitting close to Max, began prodding her as if she had been very eager to know the truth.
“Max, are you really Lady Calypse? How could you pretend to be so innocent all this time?”
“The World Tower’s principle… is to keep status and family a secret.”
“Friends sometimes exchange secrets! I thought we were friends…”
“I’m s-sorry. It wasn’t easy to bring up the truth.”
Sidina let out a breathless sigh as Max looked around and apologized embarrassingly.
“Well, it’s not that I don’t understand. The Remdragon Knights are indeed famous but in Anatol, there is ‘that person’… If it was revealed that Max is Lord Calypse’s wife, you would have suffered a lot.”
“Come to think of it, we might be able to meet the ‘traitor’ soon. How do you think Calto will react?”
Annette, who was sitting opposite of her, asked with eyes full of interest. Meeting Ruth Serbel seemed to be more exciting to her than the warrior who defeated the dragon.
Max smiled bitterly. “Right now… I am not sure if he is in Calypse Castle. He probably went along on the expedition.”
Max then felt disappointment again. However, as Sidina bombarded her with questions about the Remdragon Knights, she was able to be distracted for a while from the disappointment of not meeting Riftan. After she tried shaking off that ill-feeling, she began to exaggerate her husband’s skills to her friends. After some time of talking endlessly, the wagon finally reached the gates of Anatol. Their conversations ended and they all looked out of the window. As the wagon passed through the city gates, Max was in awe and at loss for words. It seemed more like she was away for 30 years and not 3 years.
Although the port’s progress was indeed amazing, Anatol was very much prospering. The hills where sheeps used to graze were now filled with stone houses at least three stories high, and buildings that she had never seen before towered all over the place. Max watched wagons and carts hold mountains of goods, giving her the idea of just how much Anatol’s market had grown. The residents in the city must have also tremendously increased.
“It’s unbelievable how the market is so busy even amidst winter… Anatol is an incredibly wealthy city.”
Sidina bursted in admiration as she watched the crowded streets. Max felt a complex mix of pride and anxiety. It indeed delighted her that Anatol had become so prosperous, but at the same time, it felt like a strange place as so much had changed. It felt like the world had been turned upside down while she was secluded on a small island. She feared that Riftan’s heart changed along with Anatol.
Max struggled to find any familiar scenery throughout the square leading to Calypse Castle, but it was in vain.
“What is Calypse Castle like?”
“Soon… we’ll see for ourselves.”
Max spoke cautiously, fearing that she would be faced with a completely different castle than what she had remembered. Their carriage eventually crossed the castle moat over the hill. Fortunately, Calypse Castle did not seem to have changed much. There were two new wooden buildings and a watchtower that she had never seen before, but the rough walls, spacious training grounds, and the knights riding on horseback were not much different from what she recalled. However, as Max got off the carriage, she soon noticed that the inside of the castle was full of strangers. Several visitors in decent clothing were busily going up and down the stairs and most of the knights who took their helmets off to rest also looked unfamiliar. She then approached Yulysion, who had come down from his horse, and asked.
“I haven’t seen much of these people before.”
Yulysion spoke proudly as he looked at the wide grounds. “Sir Calypse built an allegiance with the lords of the southern continent and their sons came here to be apprentices. Most of them intends to succeed their fathers one day, but about half of them are hoping to become official Remdragon Knights.”
Max estimated the count of the unfamiliar faces: there were around thirty of them. What would it imply for several nobles to entrust their successors to Riftan? So many thoughts came to her mind, so much that it felt like her head was heating up.
“The other ones went out to fulfill their assigned duties. The lady shall be able to meet them as soon as they arrive. For now, let us head to the main castle.” Yulysion glanced at her then turned his head to the other wizards. “Everyone must be exhausted from the long voyage. We shall prepare your rooms immediately so you can rest.”
“I would like to speak with the head priest of Anatol.” Calto spoke in an indifferent tone as he looked around the castle grounds.
“The priest is staying in the main castle. I shall let him know of your arrival.”
They quickly made their way towards the castle. The winter sun shone ablaze, but the wind that was blowing was freezing and the flower beds in the garden had been frosted. Max embraced the shivering cat tightly under her cloak and crossed the garden she had landscaped herself, then headed towards the great hall. As they entered the wide-open doors, a familiar scenery unfolded. She looked around the great hall with a strange feeling. Sunlight poured down from hundreds of glass windows, which dazzled the entire hall, and the corridor leading to the kitchen smelled of roasted meat and freshly-baked bread.
Apparently, most of the people in the castle seemed to have gathered at the dining hall to prepare meals, with the exception of a few soldiers and young servants carrying firewood. Yulysion gave instructions to the soldiers guarding the hall in a solemn tone.
“Lady Calypse has returned! Call out the servants.”
The soldiers who were chatting on one side of the hall looked at them with a surprised expression and immediately rushed to the kitchens. After a while, around 5 to 6 servants came in a hurry. Max smiled brightly as she found a familiar face.
“Rodrigo! How have you been?”
“M’lady! You have returned.”
The butler greeted her with a young smile over his wrinkly face. Max also smiled brightly at Rudis who was right behind him.
“Rudis, have you been well?”
“I am doing well, I am delighted that the lady appears to be healthy too.”
The maid gave her a sweet smile and gently held her hand. Their warm hospitality seemed to have eased the tension. After greeting the rest of the maids, Max introduced Calto Serbel and the other wizards who were standing stiffly.
“These are… guests from the World Tower. Please provide them with our best rooms. Everyone is exhausted from the voyage.”
“I’ll do as you have ordered.”
“It would be nice to have some food.” Annete, who was sniffing her nose towards the kitchen, spat out. “If only I could eat several thick bacon and great-tasting ale, I’ll be more than satisfied.”
Calto Serbel shot her a stern look, warning her to behave gracefully, but Annette ignored him and gave Rodrigo an expectant gaze. Rodrigo then bent his back to bow and politely spoke.
“Please warm yourself up in your room and I shall have a meal prepared for you soon.”
The servants soon gathered their luggage and began climbing up the stairs. Yulysion wanted to talk more with Max, but one of his men called him and he was forced to leave the castle once again. As he left reluctantly, Max went up the stairs with the eighteen wizards. Rudis guided her to her room naturally. She thought that it was inappropriate for her to stay in a better room compared to the team’s leader, Calto, as she came here as a member of a dispatch team and not the lord’s wife, but Calto didn’t seem to mind.
As the servants led the guests into their rooms, Max hesitantly entered her own room. Then, a familiar sight filled her vision. She then looked carefully into the cold room filled with a gloomy darkness. Nothing had changed in the room since she had left.
“Shall I bring you a bath and a change of clothes?”
Rudis asked, pulling the curtains off the window and skillfully lighting a fire in the fireplace. Max took the cat out from under her cloak and set him down on the floor. Roy, who had been shivering from the cold, immediately rushed to curl up in front of the fireplace. Rudis was surprised to see him.
“Oh my goodness, I have always wondered where this little one has gone off too… how did he go after the lady?”
“It seems that he was in my luggage when I left.” Max looked down with pity at the cat who had suffered from a tough time. “Could you bring Roy… something to eat? He couldn’t eat anything while he was on the ship.”
“I shall bring him milk when I bring the water for your bath. Please wait for a moment.”
As Rudis headed out, Max took off her thick coat, laid it on the back of the chair, and slowly walked towards the bed. The sheets were clean, but they were cold. They smelled faintly of fiber, which meant they had not been used for a long time. Max touched the colorfully embroidered quilt and glanced at the empty armor and weapon racks. She tried to find traces of him, but she couldn’t find even a single strand of his hair.
As Max stood in the middle of the room, she felt like an intruder hiding in someone else’s house. She barely was able to return to the home of her dreams, but she couldn’t feel as comfortable as she did before. She turned around slowly with a gloomy expression. Then, a large wooden box on the shelf next to the bed caught her eyes and Max wondered if it was Riftan’s. She curiously picked up the box and opened its lid. Inside the well-crafted box were several faded parchments. They were probably contracts or important documents that he had kept.
As Max disappointedly closed the lid back, she paused at the familiar seal that was on the corner of the parchment. Max pulled out the parchment and turned it over: it revealed a familiar handwriting. She blinked blankly and looked down at the letter she had sent to Riftan two months ago. Her throat tightened with hope and pain. Why would he keep her letters on the bedside? Perhaps they were left there for no reason. Maybe Rudis or some other maid did this and not Riftan. Max felt hopeful, but she was also afraid to be discouraged, so she tried not to put much meaning into it. However, her hand trembled as she pulled out the bunch of parchment. She took a deep breath and read through the letterheads. It seemed like all her letters from the first year she left, and the succeeding year were all kept—there were more than thirty pages.
She swept her eyes over the sentences she had written, she held back on the words she wanted to express, and they all appeared surprisingly clerical and dry. She felt at loss and out of words as she looked down at the letters that told him she was doing well. Max’s eyes slowly blurred. How did Riftan feel while reading these letters of hers? She couldn’t read all of it as her heart felt like it was going numb. She was about to place it all back inside the box, but she noticed another sheet of yellow-colored parchment at the bottom of the blackened box. The letter didn’t appear like it was one of the telegrams she sent as it did not have the World Tower’s seal stamped on it.
Max hesitated for a moment then picked it up. At first, she couldn’t figure out what it was. Later, she then realized that it was the letter she had written back in the Levan Monastery. It was the letter she had asked the leader of the Holy Knights, Quahel Leon, to deliver. She looked down at the letter which she had written such a long time ago that she could not even remember what she wrote. She hurriedly pressed her eyes against the sleeves of her robe as she felt her eyes watering.
Her heart broke at the thought of Riftan who had kept this letter for so long. At the same time, a deep sense of relief flooded her, knowing that he also missed her. Max held the worn-out letter against her heart.