Chapter 26 – Decadent Nights
Riftan’s face visibly loosened. “All right then. I’m an extra load if I sit inside, so I’ll be riding my horse from now on. Call me if you feel uncomfortable.” Riftan then closed the carriage door before him.
After some time, of which Max tried to seat herself comfortably, the familiar jolt of the carriage signaled the wheels were moving against the dirt road.
Max glanced at every passing scenery at the window, finding the expansive wheat field drift away from her vision to be replaced by a view of dense, menacing trees. The sunlight crept through the leaves, bathing the place in gold, akin to the soft threads of a woven veil.
Meanwhile, the knights majestically sat on their horses, surrounding the carriage in the middle.
Max squinted hard, expecting another monster to make a sudden appearance from the woods. Contrary to her concerns, the journey this time was smooth and quiet. It was soon her constant apprehension of making sure she wouldn’t stumble inside the rocking carriage that drained her physical strength. It didn’t help when the road still didn’t get better after some time.
Minutes passed by slowly, and it was unknown how much time had elapsed when finally, the carriage that had been moving for a long time stopped. Riftan appeared before her, opening the door and uttering the words she wanted to hear badly.
“We’ll take a break here.”
Max skipped out of the carriage all too eagerly. In no time, her sudden actions made blood rush to her leg that had gone stiff from sitting. As an unpleasant tingling sensation settled on her legs, she swallowed a groan and bent over to rub some friction on her legs.
Riftan then took off his thick overcoat and placed it over a rock, sitting her on it as if it were a cushion. Without waiting for Max’s reaction, of which he knew would be of refusal, he knelt on one knee and began to massage her cramped muscles.
With an embarrassed face, Max hurriedly looked around. Some of the knights who were giving their horses water to drink stood away, their sights on anything but them… but Max could see the unmistakable astonishment on their faces.
Max pushed Riftan’s shoulders away, her cheeks turning scarlet red. “Ri-riftan, oh, g-goodness! You don’t have to. I-I’m all right…”
“Is it a habit?” he asked out of the blue.
Riftan wrapped her calf around the hem of his shirt, rubbing it lightly against the cloth. With a low voice, he mumbled, “It’s all right… Don’t be afraid to talk.”
Max couldn’t figure out by what habit Riftan meant: her stuttering or the times she always insisted on doing things on her own in fear of being a nuisance. Whatever of the two, warmth blossomed inside her chest.
Unable to find the proper words, her sights trailed down at his strong hands carefully pressing her legs. All the while, she busied herself studying the tendons that ran along the length of his buff arm, yet the question of “Why are you being so nice to me?” couldn’t escape her mind.
Something tickled in her stomach, an uncomfortable sensation as if she was wearing clothing with the wrong fitting.
“Oh, now. I’m truly… f-fine.”
Max tried to force her leg out from his hold, Riftan barely moved before she rose from her seat in visible fluster. Her hands pretended to straighten her skirt for no reason.
“…I’ll bring you something to eat, so rest for now.”
The man rose silently from his seat, only returning later bringing bread and dried meat. Max soaked the dry, sturdy bread in water and ate it curiously. After finishing her meal, she carefully glanced towards Riftan, sneaking a wary look towards the bushes behind him some distance away.
The monotonous journey commenced, and Max found herself listlessly counting the passing trees in the rocking carriage from boredom. It came to the point the foliage became thicker that less light could pass. Then when it was too dark to proceed any further, the knights halted and scoured for a place to rest.
Only when they had sufficiently checked the surroundings free from stray animals and wild beasts did Max leave the carriage.
Grabbing a lamp with her hands, she approached the busy Riftan pitching up a small tent near her carriage. Meanwhile, all the other knights laid their beddings on the other side, forming a circle around the bonfire.
“The forest gets submerged in a fog at dawn. So If you don’t want to freeze, you’ll have to put up with this poor roof.”
Upon noticing her presence, Riftan, who was fastening the fabric tightly at the ground, looked back and explained to Max.
Max bent down, examining the insides of the waist-high triangular tent and found that it could fit only one person. She unconsciously said towards Riftan,
“Two–aren’t you, uh, isn’t it too narrow for two people to sleep…?”
Max, with a tilt of her head, casually posed the ‘harmless’ question. The man’s hand, who had been dutifully hammering a stake on the other side of the ground, suddenly stopped. There was a hint of embarrassment on his face as he looked back at her. A faint blush in his cheeks.
“…I’m going to sleep here alone. You are going to rest in the carriage.”
Max’s face suddenly warmed, and in no time, she was as red as a beet. How awkward her thoughts have strayed—even going as far as to think they would lay down on the same bed together.
Max added in a hurry, stumbling on her own words, “O-oh! I, I… sleeping with me, oh no… alone—ah, that’s what I thought you were doing it for…”
“…Look at me. I’ve barely put up with it yesterday.” With a deep sigh, Riftan bowed his head with a troubled face. Then he muttered a curse, and grabbed her hand, dragging her somewhere deeper into the dark forest. Max staggered after him.
Even with just a little distance from camp, the dark that enveloped them was still frightening. The whistle of the passing wind rustled the leaves overhead and the cries of the birds filled the air around them. It all came as a chilling melody in her ears and Max clasped her hands over them in fear, as a futile effort to block out the sounds.
After walking some time, the man then pushed her body behind a large, wooden post, crashing his lips down on hers in haste and pent-up passion.
Max gasped at the unexpected act. Taking advantage of it, Riftan sucked her soft tongue into his mouth, tasting it with an intense longing. As she tried to shake her head away from the strange sensation, he held her face closer and kissed her deeper.
Riftan’s soft hair tickled Max’s forehead, and his large, calloused palms gently swept around her cheeks towards the back of her neck. He twisted her head lower, giving him better access to her mouth as he devoured her. His tongue swept all over the flesh of her mouth—her tongue, her cheeks, the roof of her mouth.
As sticky saliva trickled down their lips, dampening their jaws, Riftan licked it down and mumbled, “I had to suffer this all night.”
He grabbed her hand and placed it on a sacred place on his body. Max immediately felt his bulging manhood under her palms and shuddered. She tried to pry her hands off in a hurry as if scalded, but the arm holding her wouldn’t budge with her meager strength displayed.
“Do you know how difficult it is to lie down and sleep in this state?”