Chapter 32 – Her New Home (2)
As they approached Anatol, Max realized it was much bigger than she had imagined or had initially thought. She was surprised at the size and that a village on the outskirts could be so vibrant. There were huts, shops, and inns densely packed along the roads and plazas, and there were pubs next to the streams across the village.
While the knights ran to the pub straight away, beautifully dressed prostitutes leaned out of the windows and blew kisses at them. Some pulled up the hems of their dresses, revealing their bare legs. Max couldn’t believe her eyes, and her mouth hung wide open.
“We’ll hurry up a bit,” Riftan whispered in her ear, as he watched the people gathering closer and closer. She nodded her head, and he took it as a sign to go faster, quickly crossing the square. As they climbed a gentle slope along the hill, a wide moat and a large wall appeared.
The guards who heard of their lord’s arrival quickly dropped the drawbridge. She opened her eyes wide at the breathtaking sight she saw in the distance. After they crossed the bridge, the first thing she saw was a large yard, a training ground, and a building that looked like a guard post.
It was more of a military fortress than a castle.
Riftan entered the second gate, passing through the long lines of guards on their left and right who assembled to meet their lord. Through the steep driveway, she saw the desolate gardens, the massive stone buildings, and the ominous stone that towered all around them.
What was Anatol truly like? What were its true colours?
In front of the grand stairway, there were about fifty people lined up.
“Welcome back!” they all announced in unison.
Riftan responded with a curt nod to his solemnly bowing servants and jumped off his horse. He helped Max get down gently and handed the horse to the old man who came forward.
“Let us rest, we’ve been through a lot,” Riftan said.
“Of course, lord. And the other knights…?” the old man inquired.
“There is a festival in town. They’re staying at the pub tonight. Though, if anyone comes back, please give them a clean room.”
“As soon as I heard that you were coming, I cleaned up both the training center and the rooms. But Lord, she is… ?”
As the old man’s eyes turned toward her, Max subconsciously straightened her shoulders. Riftan’s steely voice chilled her.
“She’s my wife. I brought her home.”
“… It is a pleasure to meet you, madam. My name is Kunel Osban. I am the stableman for this castle. I’m in charge of all the lord’s horses. ”
“I-it is my pleasure to be a-acquainted with you, sir. I’m Maximilian… Ca-Calypse.” Max muttered in a quiet voice, timidly avoiding the eyes of the servants.
Riftan grabbed her hand, and they climbed the stairway without looking back. The castle looked even more dreary upfront. Usually, the staircases leading up to the great hall would be ornately decorated. But there was not a single decoration to be found. The estate’s garden was bare, with one lifeless tree bearing neither fruit nor leaves. The inside of the castle was similar to the outside and equally desolate.
Max followed Riftan into the monotonous hall and shivered. The air inside the castle was chilly that there was little difference from the outside wind. The floor was littered with non-marble slabs, some broken and others chipped. An old chandelier on the ceiling emitted a faint glow, of which seemed to die out immediately. There wasn’t even a carpet on the central staircase leading from the main entrance to the great hall.
“What happened here?”
Riftan walked back to the center of the hall and looked around. The servants who followed behind him in a line turned pale-faced.
“Did I not send a messenger bearing instructions to decorate my castle before my return?”
“I did as you commanded me, lord. I placed a new carpet in the parlor and brought in a lot of new furniture, oils, and expensive candles—”
“That’s not what I asked for; I wanted it to look more luxurious!”
Riftan’s voice raised an octave. He shook his head in frustration and continued.
“D*mn it! I sent more than enough gold coins. Tell me then, did you spend all of that money decorating the castle?”
The older adult expressed his embarrassment.
“Well, we couldn’t spend that much money on our own. Not without asking our lord’s permission…”
“In the message, I told you to leave it up to the butler’s discretion! What in the hell is this?!”
The fiery Riftan pushed passed the servants into the dark, chilly castle interior. His servants shuffled about nervously looking at one another. It was without a doubt that everyone would think that Calypse castle was neglected. The stair railings had rungs missing, and the windows were covered with a yellowish, faded film instead of clear glass.
“D*mn it..” Riftan cursed. “This castle fell apart with its master gone.”
“Lord, I did my best to decorate the castle as commanded. We changed the beds and renovated the old furniture so you could rest when you returned…”
“That’s your excuse now?”
“Ri-Riftan! I-I w-want to rest here…”
Max couldn’t stand this tense atmosphere, so she pulled at Riftan’s sleeve. The moment Riftan looked down at her worried face, he dragged her close and hugged her tight with both arms. Max was so surprised; her knees almost gave out.