Chapter 41 – Welcome Feast (1)
Shortly, another maid arrived to say, “The lord is on his way, madam.”
As she looked out the window, a familiar voice came from the other side of the room. She turned her head, half expecting to see Riftan, but it was Rodrigo who walked inside the room, dressed in his formal attire.
“All the knights have already arrived. Please follow me, madam, the lord is waiting.”
Max descended the stairs alongside Rodrigo. Upon reaching the entrance to the dining hall, the din inside was immediately apparent. She stood still at the door, some hesitancy in place as she stole a peek, she hoped was furtive, inside. Under the twinkling lights, some fifty men sat along the tables stretching towards the ends of the room. Heartily eating, loud talking, and drinking with clamor.
A warm ambiance was prevalent as a golden fire burned brightly in the fireplace, the legs of the table groaning with the weight of the scrumptious feast. Steaming meat dishes, glasses full of red wine, bowls of potatoes, varieties of fruits and bread, all placed evenly across the table.
Max felt ostensibly like an outcast, a peeking tom where she shouldn’t be. Only men and the maids serving them were littered inside the hall. Was it genuinely adequate for her to barge into the room meant for the knights?
“Lady? Do you not want to go inside?”
With Rodrigo’s inquiry, Max gathered whatever courage she had and stepped into the room, the sounds of her footfall announcing her presence. The once noisy interior quieted as the dozen pair of eyes were instantly fixed on her. She found their scrutinizing gazes disquieting.
She was even more uncertain where to place herself in the throng of strangers.
“Maxi, come here.”
Riftan gestured to her, a gesture she found warming, like a lighthouse guiding her. Max straightened her posture, emboldened inside her as she swiftly crossed the room to seat herself next to him. As soon as her bum hit the chair, the maids were quick to serve her some wine and bread.
“Everyone, I would like to introduce my wife, Maximillian Calypse.”
She glances at the knights’ faces before her nervousness probably disclosed by her face at the moment. They didn’t look hostile, nor was there joy in their faces—it seemed disinterest was the only prevalent welcome to Riftan’s declaration.
Thinking her introduction was over, Riftan unexpectedly addressed the assembled group in a somber voice.
“I hope that you will treat her well and with respect.”
As if a spell had been broken, they all raised their glasses towards Max, clapping and cheering loudly. She tried to mumble her thanks to everyone, but her tiny voice was quickly drowned in the sea of baritones. With the pleasantries over, the knights soon returned to their meals and conversations about women and the battlefield.
Max looked down at the food on her own silver platter that had been precariously piled high with different meats and potatoes of sizes—the sight making her lose her appetite quick. She surmised she wouldn’t be able to finish more than a fraction of the heaping meal.
Riftan poured some wine into her glass.
“Why are you just looking at your plate? Aren’t you going to take a bite? Or is there something wrong?”
“Oh, no… I’m sure it’s d-delicious.”
“So dig in, then.” He urged her, stabbing a chicken’s leg with his fork and placing it on her already full plate.
And then Riftan turned his attention back to his own platter. He tore off a large chunk of meat and ate it in one big mouthful, at the same time grabbing another piece of chicken with his other hand. He drank his wine like water, looking pointedly at Max as if teaching her how to eat her food properly.
She timidly cut the steamed meat pie with some sweet sauce poured over it using a knife and popped a small piece into her mouth. With her picky palate, Max tried to balance the oily meat with some pickled vegetables, also finding the beef well seasoned but tough to chew.
Still, the food here was far superior to that served at castle Croix—it was merely inimitable in quality.
“Try this too. It’s delicious.” Riftan, who had been silently watching Max eat, wanted her to try some of his favorite dishes.
She hesitantly took a bite of the unknown meat glazed in a reddish sauce, finding it too fishy for her taste. But seeing Riftan’s gaze trailed on her, she tried to finish it. But the man wasn’t finished pampering her yet, as he took beans and potatoes after another her, taking the maid’s responsibility to serve her.
“Now, try this too.”
“I c-can’t eat thi-this much…”
“But you haven’t even eaten anything yet?” He raised a brow and nudged the food on her platter with his fork, “Try more of this too.”
Why on earth was he trying to plump her like a chicken? Max looked like she was on the verge of tears, Riftan’s only bemused. She couldn’t help but feel nauseous just thinking about eating more greasy meat.
“A sparrow would eat more than you.”
“Th-that’s not true. I-I ate a l-lot…”
Riftan roared with laughter. And Max felt how naïve her statement was upon seeing the bones piled on his plate. Compared to her husband, she really hadn’t eaten anything. It was so that her appetite was inferior to all others in the hall.
“Th-then how much food is e-enough?” she asked him.
Riftan chewed and looked down at her. He replied loudly, swallowing the food in his mouth. “Aren’t you supposed to eat a whole chicken?”
“F-for a woman, I d-don’t think so…”
“The women I knew ate that much.”
The dismissed the past as insubstantial, yet the words still marred her for some reason. Who did this particular description belong to? Does he have a predilection for women with hearty appetites?
Her sight unconsciously lowered down to her slim body. Men are always in need of healthy wives to produce able-bodied heirs. Max closed her eyes tightly and tried to force a little more food into her mouth.
“You should try eating a bit more. You already look so weak.”
She nodded, her attention shifted to the home-baked bread instead of the meat. In the end, she was unable to resign herself. On her side, Riftan was now talking to an old knight and drinking a large goblet of wine with him. She took a sip of the red liquid filling her cup, admiring the coalescence of sweetness and sourness as she watched their interaction.