When a strange silence came, she was overcome with astonishment of what she said, and let go of his tunic instantly. The fever went up to the scruff of her neck. Is he surprised with her brazen words? After all, he was entirely mute. She couldn’t look straight up at Riftan’s face, fearing his expression now and only grabbed the hem of her skirt. The people around them, awkwardly glancing at each other, continued their conversation calmly.
“We’ll leave you to it and take a rest first. I’m starving.”
“I also want to let the horse rest first. Hey, where can we find water here?”
“There’s a stream next to the mill. This way, please.”
As the men were busily dispersed, Riftan, who was standing silently, pulled her hand.
“We’ll go, too.”
She shifted her gait in a flurry to chase the leading Riftan strolling with his long legs. The ground was uneven, and she nearly tripped several times, but Riftan helped her up by steadying her with his strong arm. Walking along the narrow ditch for some time, a large wooden building appeared in the dim darkness.
The men who entered the room first hung lamps everywhere to brighten the dark interior. Max walked inside along the Riftan and looked around. It didn’t seem at all strange if evil spirits came out immediately. Everywhere the light came into contact, a spider’s web flashed like a hazy ghost’s hair, and the white, dusty floor beneath them squeaked with every step.
She shifted her steps carefully to see if there were rats or bugs crawling on the floor. The men settled down with casual faces, laid their sleeping bags and threw off their cumbersome defenses one by one. Riftan also spread a thick layer of straw on a corner and spread a sleeping bag over it.
Although Max felt as if she was about to faint, she couldn’t just lie down in place full of fleas. It was quite a large space, but when numerous people were brought in, it suddenly felt cramped.
“It’ll be an uncomfortable sleeping experience for a while. Just hang in there until we get to Anatol.”
He took off his breastplate and gloves, pushing it to the side as he released the tension on his neck with a pop. She sat with her knees in her arms and nodded quietly. But Max had never stayed in the same room with such many men, so she could hardly relax. The knights, however, seemed to care less about her existence, and were busy preparing meals with the brazier.
“Leader! We don’t have enough left to feed the horses. What are your orders?”
One of the knights who followed the guard shouted, shoving his head into the warehouse. Riftan loosened his leather belt and responded casually.
“Ask the guard if we can buy grain.”
“We negotiated it. But all the food in the storage is the property of the Duke of Croix, so they can’t handle it as they please.”
She shivered unconsciously at the sudden mention of her father’s name. Riftan brushed his head roughly and clicked his tongue.
“He’s just asking for a higher price.”
“What shall I do?”
“Give him as much as he wants.”
“I don’t think you have to go that far, perhaps we can scare—”
The knight, who gave a casual remark, stopped in his words as soon as he caught sight of Max.
“Well, there’s nothing to do with the Duke so far. All right. I’ll negotiate for you, so don’t scold me about the light pocket later.”
Then he went out of the warehouse again. Max felt the enmity of the knights against her father was stronger than she had expected and shrank. She surmised it was because of their hard feelings that they pretended not to notice her existence.
Would it have been different if she looked as attractive as Rosetta?
She reminisced of her stepsister, who received all kinds of gifts and letters her admirers who regularly visited the castle that she wasn’t able to see Riftan, who had been rummaging through the fire for a long time, return with a large bowl. She looked up into the bowl, which had been cooked in bonfire. It was filled with baked potatoes.
“It’s hot, so eat carefully.”
Even though he said so, he picked up a steaming one with his calloused hands and took it in one big bite. Max took out a potato after him. She carefully grabbed the charcoal-like hot food with her sleeve, and peeled off the tanned skin, revealing the tender flesh inside.
After she had puffed out the steam from the potatoes, and carefully taken off the peel, hunger, which she had not recognized, suddenly surged in. She gulped down the baked potatoes, not caring if the roof of her mouth burned. The potatoes that were slightly under-cooked could not have been more delicious. She quickly ate it all up from her hands.
Then Riftan, who had been watching from beside her, pulled out another potato that had been peeled in advance. She panicked and waved her hands in embarrassment.
“Ri, Riftan, take it. It’s, It’s fine…”
“Don’t mince your words, take it.”
He threw it towards her without any second hesitation and took another potato out of the bowl. Then he peeled and bit it with his mouth wide open. She looked down at her potato, which had been peeled clean, blew away the steam that rose and ate it.
When her stomach was somewhat full, she was overcome with drowsiness. She put her head on her sleeping bag, forgetting it might have lice on it. The red light flowed from the brazier, which was placed in the center of the warehouse, and shone softly all over the place. Even the knights, who had finished with their meal, were prepared for slumber on their respective sleeping bags.
She said she would, but… she still felt embarrassed to sleep among strangers, so she pulled the blanket to the end of her chin. Then Riftan, who was sitting at her bedside grooming his sword, lay beside her and hugged her tightly with one arm. Max shoved his arm away quickly.
“Ri, Riftan… the-there’s people here…”
“Nobody cares, so stay calm. It’s cold.”
T/N: Double chapter update for our dear readers <3