Chapter 103 – Belongingness (2)
Ruth pulled the reins and walked leisurely to a quiet place. As soon as they got out of the market, they rode straight to Calypse Castle. She was also able to climb the winding hill way with her deft skill.
“Who’s going to take part in this round?”
By the time they reached the barrier, Ruth looked back at Hebaron and asked, Hebaron stroked his chin with his hands as if he were pondering.
“I think Gabel and I are going. And I’m thinking of taking some in-training-knights. It’s about time they got hands-on experience.”
“The castle will be less noisy.”
By Ruth’s contented words, Hebaron grinned.
“I’ll have to ask the leader to bring the wizard out, too.”
“Sir Calypse won’t take me away. When something happens, he’ll be more relieved that I am in the castle.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Hebaron sighed reluctantly admitting.
“All right. Enjoy your peace while we’re gone. I’ll clean up the mountain in a blink of an eye and come back and make some noise near your tower.”
Hebaron sped up his horse and drove them through the gate at once. Ruth just shrugged carelessly.
Max felt a little envious of their squabbling. There was a deep understanding and bond between Hebaron and Ruth. They weren’t the only ones. When Riftan were with the knights, they looked more natural than ever. Even the moment they argued and quarreled, they still looked happy. In the eyes of Maximillian, who had always been alone, the firm bond that existed between them seemed as fascinating as ever.
“Now I have to go back and take a nap. I’ve been living like a bat for the last few days because of those blasted magic tools.”
Ruth suddenly passed through the gate and looked back at her. “Madam has done a great job, too. If you didn’t help me, it would have taken me three more days.”
“If I’m he-helpful.. It’s my p-pleasure.”
“We will provide you with that pleasure again in the near future.”
Ruth grinned shamelessly. She tried to frown but ended up laughing. She wished she could be accepted as a member of them little by little in this way. A sense of belonging. She was wondering what that would feel like.
The next morning, Riftan got out of bed even before the sun rose. Max woke up half-asleep along with Riftan, rubbing her bleary eyes open with the back of her hand. At her sleepy spectacle, Riftan rubbed his lips on her cheek with a smile.
“You sleep a little more. You don’t have to get up at this time because of me.”
“I s-slept e-enough.”
“I thought I kept you up until quite late….” Riftan stretched his last word and gently stroked her chest. Max blushed and quickly pulled up the sheet. Riftan chuckled and swept away her disheveled hair.
“Don’t go hard on yourself. Just go to sleep.”
“I w-will get u-up.”
Max stepped out of bed, holding the sheets in her hands, and narrowly missed the arm that stretched towards her to put her back. Riftan shrugged as if nothing had happened and began to prepare for his appearance.
She threw the chopped firewood into the fireplace, watching him wash his face and shave along the basin. After a few grazing sessions, the flames flared up and the room became brighter.
Max damped a towel after warming herself, wiping her face and body, and taking out new underwear and shoes from the closet. Since Riftan didn’t like to be served by servants, she has recently become accustomed to grooming herself. Max sat in front of the mirror to comb her hair after wearing long thigh-high socks and a thick woolen dress over a vest.
“Give me the comb, I’ll do it for you.”
Riftan, dressed in a navy blue tunic and winter leather pants, approached her back. Max shook her head.
“It’s o-okay. I w-will do it.”
“Give it to me. I won’t be able to touch it for the next few days, I should have enjoyed it enough.”
What’s fun about touching my vine-like hair? She couldn’t quite understand it, but Max obediently handed over the comb. Riftan grabbed a comb as small as a clam with a stiffened hand and began to brush her hair down. Max’s cheeks blushed at his careful gestures that seemed to be worried he might hurt even a hair. Riftan carefully untangled her messy hair and skillfully braided it into four parts.
“Isn’t my skill good enough now?”
He praised himself, looking down at her closely braided hair. Max kissed him on the chin impulsively. Then Riftan’s body stiffened. He often kisses her, but why did he react like this when she approaches first? Max said in a calm manner, hiding her shyness.
“It’s a g-gratitude k-kiss.”
“I mean you…” Riftan breathed a long sigh. “I don’t want to go out anyway. Don’t make it too hard.”
“I don’t m-mean to make it h-hard….”
As she gave a bewildered look at the look that seemed genuinely dejected, Riftan pulled her arm and hugged her. For a moment, when he crouched in astonishment, Max carefully wrapped her arms around his waist. Riftan groaned and rubbed his forehead roughly over her shoulder.
“Will you keep acting so cute?”
“…I didn’t do a-anything.”
“Darn, I’m afraid we’re running out of time to do one more and wash again….”
Riftan looked at the bed with a desperate look.