Under the Oak Tree - Chapter 207
Max wanted to comfort Idcilla and tell her that everything would be fine, but she was afraid to open her mouth and attract unwanted attention.
All the women were covered by their robes that she couldn’t see their faces clearly but most of them were young women. And they too tense as hardened stones—whenever the carriage rocked when rolling over a rough surface, they would rattle along like pebbles in a sack.
Max leaned against the wall of the carriage and looked out the window. Dozens of supplies-filled wagons lined up to exit the large city gate in an organized file.
“How long does it take to reach Servyn Castle?”
Idcilla suddenly opened her mouth. Even though her voice was a soft sound, it sounded loud against the silence that everyone’s eyes flew to her.
Max was afraid that someone had already recognized them, but Selena responded calmly.
“Around a week to 10 days.”
“I didn’t think it would be that far when I looked at it in the map….”
“With a handful of troops and supplies to carry by wagon, it takes a lot more time.”
After their exchange, silence immediately filled the carriage again. Just the sound of the horse hooves, rattling wheels, and the occasional rustle of the soldiers’ armors filled the air.
The glow of dawn seeped into the tense atmosphere. The unit passed through the gates of the capital and at some point nearby, stopped at an open field.
“Why are we stopping? We just left.”
Idcilla muttered nervously. Max noticed that she’s worrying about them being found out in their disguise.
“The knights of Archduke Aren will be accompanying us.” Selena quickly explained to her in a whisper to assuage her concerns.
“I heard that the Archduke will be in command of this procession. As we have an excessive amount of food with us, additional guards are needed to ensure safety.”
At Selena’s explanation, the faces of Idcilla and all the other priestesses sighed in relief. Only Max cowered. If what Selena said is true, then she would have to avoid the Archduke’s eyes until they reached Servyn Castle in 7 to 10 days.
Max bit her lip. She wanted to take countermeasures and let Selena and Idcilla know about it, but she didn’t dare speak, fearing that she might be discovered by one of the priestesses. She was afraid someone might recognize her by her very distinctive stutter.
Max became very wary and didn’t speak a single word. When noon came, the soldiers and knights stopped in a large weed field to eat. The priestesses immediately began distributing food to the men. Since Max and Idcilla are hiding their noble identities, they also joined the assigned task.
They distributed bread, cheese, and wine to the men, then distributed food to the priests. After they finished, the priestess gathered near the riverbank and they ate their own food.
Max sat with Idcilla and chewed on the stale loaf of barley that scraped the roof of her mouth.
Walking around under the intense sunlight had beads of sweat forming around her nose and the heat that she felt under the robes was similar to being inside a sauna. But no matter how red her face was from the trapped heat; she didn’t dare remove her hood to allow the breeze to come in.
She concentrated on her food and vigilantly watched her surroundings. The Archduke’s knights were at the front and rear of the massive procession. She would be able to avoid being seen by them if she’s careful.
“We are moving too slow.”
Idcilla complained after returning from washing her face and hands in the river.
“If the temple discovers our absence too soon, they will soon catch up with us at the speed at which we are traveling.”
“Y-You said that… you took care of everything before leaving.”
Max, who was constantly on guard, asked in a low voice. Although no one could hear since they were sitting some distance away, she was still worried about the worst.
“I did. But there is always the possibility that something will go wrong.”
“What the hell did you do?” Selena asked with a clenched jaw, but Idcilla just shrugged.
“I paid some people to pretend to be us. As soon as dawn came this morning, they will join the other ladies and act like they are going home in hired carriages.”
Selena laughed, stunned at the ridiculous plan. “There is no way that the central temple would fall for such a lame plan. They would surely have figured it all out by now.”
“That would be true if the war wasn’t this large-scale. But right now, they can’t afford on paying much attention. If two women similar our build wear veils and show their identification will easily get into the carriage. I also paid the coachman.”
Selena sighed in exasperation. “Won’t Lady Alyssa know?”
“She is completely in her own world right now. She might find it strange that I went home without talking to her, but as long as the priests tell her that I have gone home…she will be convinced.” Then Idcilla added bitterly. “I just pray that she doesn’t come to her senses too soon… or else she would become suspicious of my behavior and contact my family…”
Selena’s eyebrows furrowed at Idcilla’s fractured plan, then turned to Max.
“What about the lady?”
“I… left a l-letter… saying that Idcilla has invited me… to stay with her. And speaking of which…”
The person whom she addressed the letter to deliver is with them right now. She sighed for a moment then finally confessed.
“T-the person…who was supposed to watch over me…is Archduke A-Aren. He is close to my husband… and my husband left me in his care before he went to war…”
At the new revelation, a moment of suspense silence passed through them. Selena clutched her head abruptly in frustration and moaned loudly as Idcilla stroked her chin thoughtfully.
“Don’t worry. Nobody pays attention to the priestesses. We’re in the rear and they’re in the front, so as long as you don’t get too close to him when distributing food, you should be fine.”
Idcilla comforted her with her usual optimism.
“Y-you think so?”
Idcilla nodded enthusiastically.
“It’s actually better. If His Grace received the letter, it will only complicate things as he might verify if you are indeed staying with me in my home. The priests wouldn’t go through that detail.”
Her words sounded plausible, and Max felt regained a little of her composure, finishing up her share of bread. When lunch was over, the expedition continued without delay.
Max got into the narrow carriage where there wasn’t even room to stretch her legs until sunset. Max’s entire body was stiff and cramping, and cold sweat was dripping on her cheeks, but it couldn’t be helped. She rested her throbbing hips on a thick blanket for a while.
She was absolutely exhausted but there wasn’t enough time to rest as they had to help setting up the camp. While the knights and soldiers tended to the horses and surveyed the area, the women were tasked with preparing the fires and dinner.
Max followed in the footsteps of the priestesses and gathered dry branches and straw for the fire. Idcilla helped bring water to fill the cauldron and collected stones to build a makeshift stove.
That was not all. They had to prepare the ingredients, cook it, and then distribute it. Only afterward did they sit near the fire to enjoy the hearty soup and roast potatoes.
Sleeping on the blanket covered ground was uncomfortable, but Max isn’t in the position to complain. She closed her eyes and tried to fall asleep under the clear, starry sky.
The next morning, she woke up with five mosquito bites on her fingers and calves. There were also ants crawling on the skirt of her robe and her back was covered in dirt. The rest she acquired didn’t really amount to sleep, it was more like just closing her eyes.
After washing her face, she got back into the carriage. The day played in the same monotonous routine. They left at dawn, stopped at noon for lunch, and moved immediately afterward.
Just as Idcilla said, the Archduke did not even look in her direction. Max saw him scouting the surrounding area with his knights in search of monsters, but none of them took a glance at the priestesses in drab garb. Nobody cared about them at all.
Thanks to this, Max was able to relax and adapt to the demands of the expedition. Surprisingly, Idcilla was the one struggling to adapt.
She didn’t cry or complain, but every night, she tossed and turned, and the narrowness was difficult for her, who had long arms and legs.
“The journey might be longer than I thought.”
Selena commented with an anxious expression as she looked at Idcilla’s pale and tired face.
“I overheard the knights say they are taking the longer route to Servyn for safety. Will you be okay?”
Idcilla responded without missing a beat.
“I can adapt like everyone else.”
The girl’s pride was so fierce that any act of compassion and concern for her was intolerable. However, when Max prepared herbal tea to help her sleep, Idcilla did not refuse. Judging by Idcilla’s complexion the next morning, she appeared to have been able to sleep soundly.
They rode in the wagon that rocked violently. Whenever the car rattled and rocked, all the women bounced off their seats. And when the car turned around, they were all thrown to the side of the vehicle like rolling pebbles. There wasn’t an inch of skin that wasn’t covered in bruises from the rough ride.
When they finally neared their destination, Max realized that the journey had been surprisingly and suspiciously peaceful. As if jinxed, the sound of a sharp flute echoed through the procession, and all the carriages immediately began to shake violently as if an earthquake had broken out. Screams from everywhere pierced her ears.
Max held onto the windowsill to keep her from falling to the floor of the carriage and looked out the window. The soldiers all hurried to their horses and drew their swords in unison. Soon, Max saw why. Giant dark green monsters rushed towards them, causing a dust storm with their footsteps.
The horde of monsters stirred the men and chased after them like raging bulls. The sudden halt of the carriage caused them to scramble inside, and Max fell to the floor, trembling. The thunderous roars of the trolls hit her ears like a whip.
“Everyone! Get your things and get out now!”
The soldier screamed at them as he swung the door open. The women were huddled, sobbing in fear as he forced them to get out.
“We can’t put a barrier on every carriage. If we all get together in one place, we can build a magic shield for everyone. Hurry!”
They grabbed their bags and jumped out of the car at the man’s behest. The soldiers led the priestesses to the center of the procession.
Max was barely able to keep up as she struggled to find her balance in the chaos. However, the moment the trolls appeared, her legs froze in fear. If it weren’t for Selena’s quick reflexes, she would have collapsed on the ground.
Max allowed herself to be herded like sheep as they squeezed through the crowd of people. Once all the defenseless were gathered in one place, the high ranking priests immediately threw a barrier around them with divine magic.
Max clung to Idcilla and looked around her, eyes unfocused on the chaos unfolding before them. The dark green monsters cladded in iron armor swung their massive maces and the bodies of the soldiers flew in the air like mere scarecrows.
Max screamed at the blood splattering everywhere. The sizes of the trolls are twice to thrice larger than the men.
The knights raced forward with incredible speed to slice through the bodies of the trolls, but the monsters didn’t even flinch. When Max saw the wound close in seconds, her eyes darkened with inexplicable fear.
What she read in the books was completely different in real life. How on this earth have humans fought such monstrous beings possessing such formidable strength?
With a blow of the iron hammer, the giant smashed a handful of the war horses. Max barely suppressed the urge to vomit and squeezed her eyes shut. Even Idcilla clung on Max as if she was on the verge of death,
At that moment, Archduke Aren’s roaring voice pierced their ears.
“Reinforcements have arrived! Everyone, come to your senses!”
Note – LF: Dang, sh*t’s about to go down hardddd