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«Under the Oak Tree (Web Novel) - Chapter 412

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Chapter 412

This chapter is updated by Novels.pl

Maxi regarded the princess with a startled expression. Surely Riftan was not warning the commander of the Temple Knights himself to stay away from his wife, was he? She anxiously eyed the military barracks at the end of the square.

“I think Riftan has formed some sort of alliance with the church,” Princess Agnes said cautiously.

“A-An alliance?”

“I’m sure you know he convinced Balto’s southern nobles to support the armistice. And he sent his men to persuade the Southern Confederacy to side with the church.”

Agnes picked up a torch from a container by the entrance of the guest house. Lighting it with magic, she began descending the dark staircase. “I’m certain the pope personally asked Riftan for assistance. Had his Holiness tried to accomplish this with his Temple Knights, the opposition would have surely gotten in the way. So, he had Riftan act instead.”

Maxi frowned at the princess’s face under the firelight. Her words seemed to imply that Wedon’s royal family had been unaware of what Riftan had been doing until the arrival of reinforcements from Southern Balto.

She could not help but worry about how King Reuben would receive the news. After all, the king had often given the impression that he doubted Riftan’s loyalty.

Whether she was aware of Maxi’s anxious gaze or not, Agnes continued cheerily, “Now, Riftan is more or less the face of the armistice’s supporters. Since he has managed to persuade both Dristan and Balto’s Southern Confederacy to the cause, he has solidified the pope’s trust and become an object of interest to many in power.”

A wry expression rose on the princess’s face. “Dristan’s princess, in particular, is not shy about showing her interest.”

Maxi felt herself tense. Princess Agnes was somewhat oblivious when it came to social conventions between men and women, so the fact that even she was appalled by Lienna Moor Thorben’s behavior meant that Dristan’s princess had been far from subtle in her romantic overtures.

“T-To think that she has the mind…to direct her attention to such things at a time like this.” Maxi replied frostily. “She truly astounds me.”

“She is certainly far from ordinary,” Agnes concurred. “Princess Lienna is known for her astute mind. She has Southern Dristan in the palm of her hand by taking in powerful nobles as lovers. If rumors are to be believed, she even takes advantage of her bad reputation to approach and extract information from prominent figures around the world. Though I’m certain Riftan is not one to fall for such wiles, I still think you should warn him to be on guard.”

Maxi studied Agnes’s face, wondering why the princess was talking about this. Something told her that this was the true reason she had sought Maxi out.

Perhaps Agnes was concerned that Dristan might try to win Riftan over to their Kingdom. Maxi wondered if she thought Riftan would naturally distance himself from Dristan’s royal family if his wife opposed Dristan’s princess.

Although she was offended by Agnes’s subtle attempt to manipulate her, Maxi maintained a calm front. “Thank you for your advice, I shall be sure to warn him.”

At Maxi’s reply, the princess resumed walking, seemingly satisfied. They trudged through the pouring snow toward a stone building on one side of the square. When they stepped through the entrance illuminated by firelight, Maxi saw soldiers sleeping on rush mats, surrounded by braziers. Agnes led the way past them and up the stairs.

Stopping in front of a door on one side of the corridor, Agnes said as she opened it, “I was told this building was originally a guild house. The second-floor rooms were decent enough, so I had them cleaned and readied. You can use this one while we are here.”

“Thank you for your consideration.”

The princess shrugged to say it was nothing, then walked away toward the door at the end of the corridor. Maxi guessed that Wedon’s nobles were staying in this building.

She glanced at the other closed doors before stepping inside the warmly lit bedchamber. Since she had been sharing sleeping quarters in military barracks or dingy guest houses for weeks, having a private room felt like a luxury.

Maxi approached the warm glow of the fireplace and removed her filthy, bloodstained robe. She then washed her face, hands, and hair in the prepared basin of water. Once clean, she changed into a relatively fresh tunic from her small pack and laid on the straw mattress.

It had been a long time since she last slept on a bed. Though the cover smelled faintly of ash and dust, it was not unbearable. Lying on her side, she watched the dancing flames until sleep took over.

When she awoke the next day, she found a strong, muscular arm wrapped around her. After pushing down the forearm pressed uncomfortably on her stomach, Maxi wriggled around to watch her husband sleeping peacefully. The dying fire cast a faint shadow across his tired face.

After silently gazing at him, she gingerly brushed away the hair strands pricking his eyelid. Months of grueling conditions had made the sharp contours of his face more prominent. Just thinking about his situation tore at her heart. After fighting in several bloody wars, he now had to embark on yet another perilous journey. When would this man be allowed to live in peace?

With a heavy sigh, Maxi sat up. She was about to leave the bed to add wood to the fire when Riftan suddenly pulled her back.

“Let’s stay in bed a little longer,” he murmured drowsily, pulling her into his arms.

He slipped a hand inside her tunic to gently stroke her warm breast. The act felt more like an indulgence than anything carnal.

Maxi blushed as she glanced at the pale sunlight streaming in through the window. Though she was greatly tempted to stay in bed with him like this, she had patients to tend to.

She pushed his hand away and mumbled apologetically, “You should get more sleep. I need to-“

“I’ve been through hell the past few months, but they’re still making me climb that damn mountain,” Riftan said with his eyes still closed. “I think I’ve earned a day of lazing around in bed with my wife.”

After staring at his face in stunned silence, Maxi asked in a choked voice, “It has been decided, then?”

She knew it was a stupid question. A campaign to the Lexos Mountains was inevitable. Though she had been prepared for it, the prospect of embarking on another long journey to fight yet another arduous battle filled her with despair.

As if in the same mind, Riftan said in a heavy voice, “Yes. Word has been sent, so additional men and supplies should get here in a few days.”

He buried his cheek in her cloud-like hair, puffy from having not been dried properly before she slept, and added, “Let’s stay like this until then.”

After a moment of hesitation, Maxi obligingly nestled herself in his embrace. Though all her tasks for the day kept rising in her mind, she did not want to leave her husband to tend to people she barely knew. Especially not when he had shown her his vulnerable side.

Winding her arm around his taut waist, she rubbed her cheek against his broad chest. “Very well. Let’s stay like this…until we have to leave.”

The supplies arrived a week later. An endless queue of baggage wagons laden with provisions rolled into the city, and the soldiers hummed as they tirelessly ferried ham, crates of stale bread, sacks of beans and oats, and barrels of alcohol. The plentiful sight - a rare occurrence of late - seemed to help the men forget their worries, if only temporarily.

After watching the soldiers work and eyeing the full storage shed, Maxi made her way to the city gate. The empty grounds, likely a training spot for the sentries, were packed with wagons and horses, as were the roadsides.

As Ruth had predicted, the church had agreed to pay for most of the campaign expenses. However, having heard rumors that it was not doing well financially, Maxi had not been expecting such abundant supplies.

She stared at the mounds of firewood and hay in bewilderment before making her way along the confined path to reach the gate, where the stream of wagons was still passing through.

Recognizing her, one of the soldiers cried out, “Greetings, Lady Calypse!”

His face seemed familiar. Maxi surmised that he must be among the soldiers she had treated.

She bobbed her head in greeting before climbing the wooden staircase next to the wall to get a better view of the procession. The top offered a clear view of the columns of soldiers and wagons moving across the field. Maxi watched the scene in numb silence when she heard a familiar voice from below.

“Maxi!”

Looking down, she saw two small boys with round faces and fleece-like hair sitting on the roof of one of the wagons in line for entry. She recognized them instantly!

“Alec! Dean!” she exclaimed.

The two Umri boys waved their small hands excitedly. Maxi raced down the stairs just as they entered the city.

“W-What are you two doing here?” she had breathlessly, rushing over.

“The Tower sent us!” one of the twins cried out as he hopped down from the wagon.

Maxi moved aside to make way for the others in line and glanced from one twin to another.

“I-Is it just the two of you?” she asked, feeling both pleased and surprised to see them.

“Of course not. Plenty of us came.”

One of the twins - Alec, Maxi guessed - pointed a plump thumb outside the gate. “Annette should be somewhere back there with Sidina.”

Maxi looked past the gate and through the gap between the lines of wagons. True enough, there were familiar faces among those queuing to enter the city: Anette, bundled in a thick coat, the ever-bright Sidina, a weary-looking Calto, and the other mages of Urd.

“I-Is everyone here…to join the Dragon Campaign?”

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