Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 206
Max was completely at a loss seeing the sheer determination in the girl’s eyes. Idcilla, who was four years younger than her, was a hundred times braver than her. Feeling uncomfortable under her gaze, Max looked away.
“I-Idcilla there is no reason for you to…leave and go all the way there.”
“Why not?” Idcilla snapped back sharply. “Because I am a noble and a woman? It wasn’t my choice to be any of those two.”
“If something happens to you I-idcilla… your fa-family will be devastated.”
“That applies to everyone. People who go to war all leave their families behind. Everyone bears the same sacrifice.”
Max could only keep her mouth shut. It suddenly occurred to her that not everyone would bear the same suffering. If Riftan fell, she would mourn for him with all her heart. But that wouldn’t be the case for her, neither the Duke of Croix nor Rosetta would blink at her cold corpse.
All of a sudden, Max felt her throat tighten. Riftan’s voice saying that she was his only family echoed in her ears.
Right now, the only person who treats me as family is fighting in a dangerous place, what in the world am I doing here? What is the point of living for a hundred years if I wouldn’t be seeing him again?
While Max was lost in her depressive thoughts, Idcilla began to speak about her purpose.
“Last year, my brother suffered from a serious injury on his right arm during a joust. Although he was healed with divine magic, the aftermath of it didn’t go away and his hand would occasionally limp. When the order to join the expedition came, the whole family fought to keep him from leaving. Even so, he chose to heed his honor as a knight. So why can’t I be like my brother too?”
There was anger in Idcilla’s tone, and Max did her best to appease her agitation.
“I-Idcilla, there’s n-no need to make a reckless decision… because of the indignation you feel for your b-brother.”
“I’m not doing this because I have ill-feelings towards Elba. No matter what the Lady says, my decision won’t falter.” The girl said as she stubbornly raised her chin. “I didn’t disclose this to the lady because I was undecided on leaving. The support unit is leaving in five days. Before leaving, I intend to learn at least one useful healing spell. I know that the remaining time is short, but I want to take with me what I can learn. Will you help me?”
Max’s lips remained closed. It felt like there was a typhoon currently raging through her thoughts. Everything was screaming at her to inform the priests and Alyssa immediately about Idcilla’s rash plan, but her heart was telling her something completely different.
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. After stuttering for a few moments, she finally blurted out her answer. “I-I… I’ll go with you too.”
Even she was shocked by her own statement. Didn’t Riftan plead for her to stay here and wait? Max could practically see Riftan’s enraged face in front of her right now. Reaching into her pocket, Max touched the shekel nervously. Idcilla gave her an unsure smile.
“I think that Lady Calypse is more impulsive than I am. There is no need for you to be pressured to come.”
“Maybe… I am i-irrational. However…”
Max didn’t know how to justify her reasoning and Idcilla also kept her mouth shut. Idcilla appeared conflicted on the matter of whether it is alright for her to pull someone else into a dangerous expedition. After a moment’s hesitation, Idcilla spoke again.
“For me, there are only two options; go home or join the support unit. The priests are planning to send home most of the ladies who are staying in the monastery. Soon, I will be called to go home immediately. When that happens, it will be even more difficult to receive news about the Allied forces. I won’t be able to bear that. However, the Lady can remain in the monastery, so she does not have to take the same risk as I will.”
“T-That’s not true… I also…” Max bit her lip.
The pain in her heart now piled up to the point that it was becoming unbearable. She truly regretted being left behind and not putting more effort into persuading Riftan to take her with him. There was nothing more painful in this world than being away from him.
Max has an extraordinary talent for torturing herself, she would imagine the worst possible scenario and dark, bleak future. It would have been better to enter the battlefield than to be tormented for months with nightmares.
Max opened her mouth again, her tone scratchy like she had thorns stuck in her throat.
“I also… I want to g-go. I have to go.”
“Are you sure?”
Max nodded slowly and she saw relief wash over Idcilla’s eyes. The girl looked around again to make sure they were alone and told Max in detail, her plans to sneak into the support unit.
“Then milady, please prepare your belongings in advance. I have a friend amongst the priestesses, I will seek for her help. I’m planning to disguise myself as a priestess. Since the priestesses’ robes cover the entire body including the face, it will be a perfect way to hide identity and join the support unit.”
“H-how about me… what should I do?”
“I’ll get you one of the priestess’ robes too.”
“W-what if they discover our disguise… wouldn’t that be a huge p-problem?”
“It will be fine. Many of the sisters who were assigned to the support unit have not been officially appointed as priestesses yet. If we are caught, we could claim that we were thinking of becoming priestesses but had a change of heart.”
Max looked at Idcilla skeptically, not sure if anyone would absurdly believe a simple excuse but she had no other choice.
“But, are you really sure that you want to come with me?”
Max nodded and licked her lips. The day Riftan found out about this, there would be a fiery hell to pay. However, even if Riftan woud scold her endlessly for it, she had to do it for she was going crazy yearning for him.
“Alright. Then… later when the service is over, come to the patio. We have a lot to prepare.”
The two left the orchard and went to the chapel for the morning prayers as if nothing had transpired. After the service ended, the noble ladies gathered among themselves to discuss their future with grim faces. With her expectations crushed by the new turn of events, Alyssa returned to the bedroom, saying that she wanted to be alone.
This left Max and Idcilla a lot of privacy to plan their infiltration of the support unit. Max packed a generous supply of herbs and some manastones, a sewing kit, casts, and other relief supplies in her leather bag that she had brought from Anatol. She also took some of the linens from the monastery.
When they weren’t busy preparing to leave, she taught Idcilla medicinal herbs and what to watch out for if they encounter monsters. Idcilla had no practical experience, but coming from a family of knights, her knowledge in monsters was on the same level as knights.
“There are two ways to kill a troll. First is to cut off their heads.” Idcilla explained while drawing a diagram on the ground with a thin twig.
“Trolls are said to have rapid regeneration, any damage will heal in the blink of an eye. The books even go as far as to say that a severed limb could simply be reattached. The only part that cannot regenerate is its head. Second, they’re vulnerable to fire. If burned, their wounds can’t heal immediately, that’s why fire mages are extremely effective against trolls.”
The description of the monster only stoked her fear, and Max swallowed the lump in her throat. When she thought about going to a place infested with terrifying monsters that are resistant to attacks made her shudder. However, these were the kinds of monsters that her husband was currently battling against. As the days passed, Max became more and more determined to leave with Idcilla.
Time flew by so quickly that the day they would finally leave with the support unit was already the next day. Max waited until late at night before secretly sneaking out of her room. Idcilla was waiting for her in a corner of the garden, and she sighed in relief when she saw Max.
“I was worried that you suddenly changed your mind and wouldn’t come.”
“I’m here n-now, that’s nonsense” Max answered and looked around to make sure no one was following her.
“Idcilla… tell me honestly if you’re having s-second thoughts. It’s not too l-late if you say it now.”
“Nothing will change my mind. My only regret is not thinking about this sooner.”
She breathed out through her nose and walked toward the priestess’s quarters. Max tiptoed behind her as carefully as possible. In the dead of night, only the cries of the insects and the soft sound of the wind can be heard. They left the dark garden and entered a small, quiet building. As Idcilla walked through the gloomy hallway, she went over to a door in the corner and knocked. The door was immediately opened and there was a slight whisper.
Max quickly entered behind Idcilla. In the compact bedroom lit by dim candles stood a stiff-faced, dark-skinned woman in her late twenties. She looked between Idcilla and Max, who had her bag strapped behind her back, and frowned, as if she couldn’t believe this was actually happening.
“You’re really sure about this?”
“Yes, as I have told you many times.”
“… I was hoping you’d change your mind now at the last moment.”
Max’s eyes widened in surprise, she thought the priestess would be cooperative as Idcilla had claimed. The priestess stared at Idcilla’s defiant expression with a conflicted look. Finally, she resigned with a sigh, then went to retrieve two priestess robes from her clothing trunk and handed them over.
“It seems like no one is stopping the miss. Please, don’t let me get punished for this.”
“Don’t worry. Even if we are tortured, we will never confess that it was Selena who helped us.”
Idcilla reassured with absolute confidence and went behind the partition to change into her robe. Max just snuggled up on the spot as she looked uneasily at the priestess.
Reluctantly, the priestess introduced herself. “My name is Selena Keyman. I was Lady Calyma’s playmate when we were children. Since childhood, I have been a poor soul forced to be an unwitting accomplice of the headstrong miss.”
“I can hear you”. Idcilla yelled from behind the screen, but Selena was unfazed.
“Such as that.” Selena sighed heavily and looked at Max up and down.
“It’s not too late to go back to your room now. You don’t have to get caught up in her mischief.”
Max frowned at her disrespectful attitude. “I-I am Maximillian Calypse. Nice to meet you.”
She tried to be as polite as possible but blunt at the same time. “And for your suggestion… although I am grateful, I will have to refuse.” She added.
The priestess rubbed her aching head as if she had just been burdened by all the troubles in the world. Max waited silently for Idcilla to finish changing before going behind the screen to switch her clothes. The moment her silk dress fell to the ground, there was no turning back. Max pulled the long drab robe over her head and dropped it over her ankles, then she pulled the hood over her head.
“The robe’s fit is a bit big. Although it’s not that noticeable...” Idcilla muttered as she adjusted the fit. Max smoothened the creases on the robe. She wanted to check and see herself in front of a mirror but since it was a priestess’ room, there were no dressers or mirrors around.
“Don’t worry, most of the priestesses haven’t even seen each other’s faces. Only those who entered vocation at the same time have seen each other. As long as you keep your mouth shut, you won’t be caught.” Selena explained as she tied the laces around Max’s waist. “Also, no one would ever suspect that two noblewomen are entering a war zone disguised as priestesses.”
Her tone was laced with sarcasm at the ridiculous plan, but Idcilla simply ignored it. “Thanks you. Hearing those words makes me feel more at ease. “
The two of them stayed in Selena’s room to rest until dawn. As soon as the sun began to pour light into the window, all the priestesses came out of their rooms one by one. Selena peered through the cracks in her door, and as soon as the hallway was mostly cleared, she slipped outside.
Max and Idcilla followed Selena to the temple courtyard. At the base of the stairs, dozens of wagons filled with luggage and supplies filled the large space. At the front, knights wearing Livadon’s royal crest lined up.
Max rubbed her sweaty palms on her robe and joined the line of priestesses entering the covered horse-drawn carts. As Selena had said, they had gone unnoticed as the soldiers were scrambling and didn’t even find something suspicious about their fake identifications, letting them on the carriages without a word.
As soon as she got into the carriage with dozen other priestesses, Max crawled to the far corner and hugged her bag tightly. Selena and Idcilla sat across from her. After everyone boarded, a loud signal sounded in all directions, indicating that they were ready to depart. Soon, the wagon she was in shook and slid into a slow roll.
Max’s heart was in danger of jumping out of her chest. We’re really leaving. For real.
Max carefully lifted her head and glanced at Idcilla, but it was difficult to read what the younger girl’s expression over the robe that her face up to the bridge of her nose. However, Max could see that her knuckles that were sitting on top of her knees where white with tension.
Note – LF: Time to reference this, “I’m not gonna do it girl, I was just thinking about it.” … ”I did it.”
Nymeria: Here we fricking gooooo