Chapter 39 – The Inexperienced Knight (1)
The force of the grab was enough to whip Max around. She was surprised to see Riftan staring at her with a puzzled expression, immediately sensing his gloomy mood. But she was sure he was supervising the boys in an exercise only a few minutes ago…
“I would have interrupted the training session to introduce you to my apprentices if you had only come up to me, why are you leaving without greeting me?”
Max’s eyes widened in surprise. “I d-didn’t want to b-bother you…”
“… You never bother me.”
He looked back at the lads, with his hand still holding her wrist. The apprentices were all panting, sweaty and with carmine faces, having just done rigorous sprints up and down the field with their wooden swords.
“Two more repetitions and then you may rest! You can all take an hour off and resume training after,” Riftan shouted over the boys, already on the verge of kissing the ground. “I’ll rest at the Annex.”
Then he took her hand in his and started walking with her towards castle Calypse. Max turned to Rodrigo with a flustered look, as if to apologize for abandoning him. Rodrigo, however, seemed to have no intention of following the couple. He just stood still, clasping his hands together and bowing his head in deference. Riftan marched up the walkway without even sparing him a glance.
“How about a meal?” he asked out of the blue.
“Oh, I’ve a-already eaten… I w-went to the dining hall earlier. The butler was sh-showing me around the castle, and we were on our way to the annex when we r-ran into you,” she stuttered, avoiding his gaze.
It was not the time and place, but her thoughts betrayed her—concocting the nerve-wracking caresses of the intimate bath they shared some time ago…
“I-I’m s-sorry for bothering you yesterday,” she blurted out. For reasons why she was internally admonishing herself, she was quite unsure.
“Bothering me?” The man slowed down and looked down at her again with a befuddled look.
“F-for f-falling asleep… we couldn’t have a meal together.”
“…You were exhausted from the long journey. There’s no need to apologize.”
Riftan responded curtly, starting his clipped steps again down the pathway. Panic flooded inside her chest as she hurried after him. Although he said everything was fine, she knew there was some agitation inside.
“B-but weren’t you t-tired as well… Since you d-did most of the w-work…”
“I wasn’t the least weary,” Riftan said elusively, faintly wanting to dismiss the matter. “It’s because you’re unceasingly so full of life.”
Riftan then sighed to himself, now comprehending the naivety of the women beside him—she simply hadn’t understood how aroused he had been after the bath. Of course, he didn’t want her to fall asleep. He had tried to keep her from sleep’s grip, but she must have been truly drained from the travel.
“Nothing. You said you were looking around the castle? I’ll be your guide this time.”
The thoughts wondering if she had offended him trailed after her as she obediently followed him…
Riftan climbed across the garden wall and onto the rampart. He then leaned over and pulled her up onto the walls with him as if she was no heavier than a child. From their vantage point, they could see the expanse of rugged hills, steep cliffs, dark green vegetation dotted on the opposite slope and the looming walls that stretched to encase them.
“Every day thirty to thirty-five soldiers patrol the castle and survey the surroundings to check for sightings of monsters. If they see one, they sound the trumpet to alert other knights. When they hear the signal, the knights begin their preparations to subdue the monsters.”
Listening to his explanation, she looked at the stronghold built on the high ground above the valley and observed its simple structure.
A solid, high wall stood on all four sides. The dormitory and training facilities for the knights were next to the main gate, and a residence for the servants of the castle and annex were behind the second gate. Behind the building stood a reedy, tall tower that stretched to the skies like a spike.
When she looked at it curiously, Riftan explained.
“Ruth resides in that tower. It’s closer to the mountains, therefore a convenient place for casting magic in case of an emergency.”
A scowl laced his features, he then turned to her and said, worry evident in his tone, “Don’t get close to it for any reason. In order to protect his research, Ruth installed outlandish magic circles all over the place, causing the occasional trouble.”
“H-he’s a magician?”
She looked up at him again, bursting at the seams with childlike interest. When she was about to ask more questions, Riftan ended the conversation as quickly as he had started it.
He walked along the patrol road towards the rear of the castle. Max followed beside him, sometimes casting furtive glances (she hoped) at the tower, hoping to see some kind of magic trick appear.
“You can see the stables over there, that’s the barn, and that building is the food warehouse. The warehouse should always contain more than what is sufficient in case of any long and drawn out battles.”
Riftan, who continued speaking monotonously, suddenly looked at her.
“Are you bored? I’m not very good at this. I don’t know how to treat a woman…” he suddenly disclosed.
“I’m n-not b-bored…” her laugh came a bit too high-pitched for her ears.
She was quite aware how he was far from a ‘cultured’ man. She surmised he was one without passion for reading, and who frequently lacked engagement in refined conversations with noblewomen.
Yet, it was also difficult to believe his inexperience with women—unless he had suddenly turned into a man overnight.
Is he insinuating then that in his twenty-eight years as a fine-looking man with a reputation for valor and strength enough to swoon the kingdom’s beauties… he had never been tempted by a woman?