Riftan then hoisted Max from the ground, making her exclaim in surprise.
“Stay still. I know you are exhausted.”
“P-put me down! I can walk!”
Riftan stubbornly carried her up the stairs, pretending not to hear a word of what she said. Upon reaching the top, a large hall covered with reddish-brown carpets greeted them. The path leads to a large oak door. Riftan walked across the hall and suddenly stopped in front of the wooden doors. He gently put her down, steadying her with one hand, and pushed the massive entrance open with the other.
“I hope this room is more to your taste…” he quietly said.
Max looked around the room curiously, walking over the spacious bed in the center. It was a neat and cozy square. In the middle of the room was a wooden column holding up the ceiling, ancient-looking glyphs inscribed on it. Large, arched windows framed one side of the room, and on the opposite side, a fireplace burned brightly with a warm fire.
Running her hands along the veil hanging off the side of the bed, she discovered that the luxurious bed frame was made of cherrywood. Thick layers of wool blankets were carefully piled on top. The servants must have paid particular attention to this room.
“You think it’s shabby, don’t you?” Riftan asked with a worried look on his face. Max looked at him, bewildered and self-conscious.
He grabbed her hand and groaned, “Curse it! And the servants tried so hard…”
“What? Oh, no! W-what a beautiful room. This ca-astle is wonderful…and the bed is beautifully prepared.”
“You don’t have to lie to me. Did you forget that I recently visited the Croix caste? Compared to your father’s fortress, this is more like a fucking barn.”
Max felt horror. “No! That’s not true…”
Max tried to find the right words to appease him, but Riftan’s facial expression remained twisted. Perhaps he thought she was only speaking empty words to satisfy him in this situation. She blamed herself again; not once could she say the right thing. When she hesitated, unable to find the proper words, Riftan shook his head and looked equally embarrassed.
“Well… it’s the madam’s job to adorn this place, anyway. When the lord is away, it becomes the job of the lady of the house to manage the castle.”
“Curse it! What I want to say is… what if we design this place your way? I have enough gold, so you can buy whatever you like. You can even demand craftsmen for ornaments of your fancy. If you want to buy expensive textiles and silver, that’s fine too. I will pay for all the expenses… for the things you want.”
Max was surprised by his bold suggestion. She was ignorant of what to expect and what she should do as his wife.
Riftan continued to speak in a slightly excited tone. “Women like to beautify things, right? You can hire seamstresses and craftsmen to aid you that it won’t be too much of a chore.”
Max saw the enthusiasm on his face and felt cold sweat run down her back. Her grandmother had tried to teach her what a noblewoman should do and how she should manage her husband’s domain, but Max hadn’t paid attention because she never thought she would have the chance to use the advice. Theoretically, books told her what needs to be done, but there was never a moment to put it into practice… until now.
Max wasn’t entirely confident that she would be able to do it.
“You don’t want to?”
When Max didn’t answer him, Riftan squinted his eyes. She shook her head, nervously. Not only did she fear to utter the words she loathed decorating… but even worse was that he would discover she was ill-informed on such matters, and how she was not suited for a lady’s job.
Max realized she didn’t want to say anything that would make Riftan think less of her.
After several days of traveling together, Max had noticed that Riftan Calypse had no idea of how she was treated in Croix Castle. He firmly believed that Maximilian was a highly educated lady who was used to luxury and pampering. He would do his best to treat her in the manner to which she was accustomed.
With such misunderstanding, Max became increasingly anxious. She suddenly grasped that he had likely taken this belief from her father. The Duke of Croix had hidden her away in the depths of the castle so that no one would know his daughter had a stutter. Doing so, he wanted people to believe it was an act to protect his sick child. And in time, she became known as a sickly noblewoman whom the Duke pampered.
From his actions, it was perchance that Riftan believed in that rumor.
Max didn’t understand why the illusion hadn’t been broken when he could now see with his own eyes that she was not well educated and was a rather insignificant woman… but she wanted to continue living in the illusion as long as possible. She knew she would be upset the moment he discovers the truth.
It would be too unfair, shameful, and even brutal, to suffer for three years on the battlefield, only to find out that the woman you had just married was a fake and not at all what or whom you had imagined.
His attitude towards himself would surely change.