Under the Oak Tree-Chapter 430 - 191

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The army descended the hill, their approach heralded by loud horn blasts echoing from beyond the palisade encircling the city. It was the sentries announcing the coalition's arrival.

Before long, the gates opened to welcome the army, revealing a rustic expanse of farmland. Maxi took in the landscape as she followed the knights on horseback. The once-ravaged urban areas now boasted sturdy wooden homes, and fields, previously littered with corpses, were being diligently plowed by dozens of peasants. Evidently, many of the city's residents had returned.

As they moved beyond the outskirts, a small market and stone citadel came into view. Riftan stopped the army at the castle gate, where the mistress of Darund and her maidservants emerged to greet them.

"We welcome you to Darund," she announced.

Maxi peered through the ranks to study the noblewoman. The Lady of Darund looked impeccably elegant in a magnificent red and green gown. A velvet crown adorned her head.

A wide smile graced her angular face as she extended her arms in welcome. "You must be weary from your journey. You are free to rest here as long as you wish."

"We came only to return the holy relic. We will not linger," Riftan replied curtly, signaling with a glance to the Temple Knights behind the Wedonian forces. They brought forward a carriage bearing the chalice to the gate.

Maxi watched intently as a large chest was removed from the compartment. Darund's parish cleric checked its contents, then nodded to the soldiers at the gate. They promptly took the chest and disappeared into the castle.

The mistress of Darund watched this silent exchange, then addressed the commander of the Temple Knights. "You have kept your word, and for that, I am grateful."

The knight said nothing in response. Maxi's gaze shifted from his impassive face beneath his hood to the sentries on the castle wall and the inner courtyard. Though the citadel was modest in size and its defenses robust, with doubled guards, it still lacked the formidable security of a larger city.

She questioned the wisdom of leaving such an important relic in a small estate, especially with the dragonians still at large. What if the monsters were to target the city again? Her face clouded with concern as she observed the knights steadily entering the castle.

As she walked through the gate, Maxi cast a discreet glance back. The Temple Knights were heading toward the chapel while the soldiers from Wedon, Livadon, and Balto had started to establish camp outside the castle walls.

Maxi was about to lead Rem to the courtyard stable when a large hand clasped her arm.

"Let the servants tend to your horse," Riftan said. freewebn(o)vel

Having appeared out of nowhere, Riftan took Rem's bridle from her and passed it to a stablehand. He then gently guided Maxi toward the great hall with an arm around her shoulders. A lavish feast was being arranged within the spacious, brightly lit room.

"We have prepared a banquet in your honor," the Lady of Darund said, leading Riftan to the seat of honor. "The feast will be ready shortly, so please take your places."

With that, she excused herself to oversee the kitchen preparations. Maxi, scanning the candlelit table, felt a knot of anxiety in her stomach. Memories of the last tension-filled dinner in this hall resurfaced. Though she very much wanted to skip the banquet to rest, it would be rude to decline their host's hospitality. Reluctantly, Maxi took her seat next to Riftan.

They were soon joined by Princess Agnes, Sejuleu Aren, Richard Breston, Kuhael Leon, and high-ranking knights from various kingdoms. Thankfully, there were no fraught arguments this time. After enjoying the banquet, each attendee retired to their respective quarters.

Following a peaceful night, the coalition set out again. Maxi alternated between riding in the carriage and galloping across meadows on her horse. The rugged hills of Osiriya's southeastern region made travel by carriage difficult at times. On those days, Maxi showcased her impressive riding skills as she maneuvered across grassy fields bathed in golden light.

After several days of relentless travel, they arrived at Gillian Canal. Maxi's heart began to race, and she wondered if it was the satisfaction of completing their mission or trepidation about what lay ahead. Drawing a deep breath, she inhaled the warm air, heavy with the scent of grass, flowers, and river water. She urged Rem forward with a flick of the reins.

About an hour into traveling alongside the silvery, shimmering waterway, they finally spotted the large city ahead. The soldiers quickly reformed their ranks and sounded the kopel to alert Balbourne's sentries.

The iron-framed city gate was pulled wide open, and deafening cheers erupted from within.

"Rosem Wigrew d'Calypse! Rosem Wigrew d'Calypse!"

Maxi's eyes flitted over the masses lining the street, taking it all in. Even at a glance, it was clear that thousands had gathered.

As the knights began their march, women scattered petals in their path, and lively music spilled from the open doors of inns and taverns. Maxi's heart swelled with pride as she followed the procession.

People continued to gather as the army progressed along the neatly paved road. While Maxi was absorbing the exuberant scene, a girl squeezed through the knights to hand her a large bouquet.

"May God bless the Scarlet Lady!" the girl exclaimed, scurrying alongside Maxi's horse.

Taken aback, Maxi stared at the girl's freckled face for a moment before accepting the bouquet, her cheeks flushing deeply. The girl's face radiated joy at the gesture.

Only then did Maxi realize that some were gazing at her with curiosity. Her red hair and Remdragon-blue cloak must have brought to mind the embarrassing song about her. She hastily pulled her hood over her head, but it was too late. People had already recognized her and were chanting her moniker as she passed. ๐˜ง๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘’๐˜ธ๐‘’๐’ท๐“ƒ๐‘œ๐“‹๐‘’๐“.๐’ธ๐‘œ๐˜ฎ

Thoroughly mortified, Maxi lowered her head. Even now, she was still not used to being the center of such attention.

Sidina, noticing her discomfort, chuckled. "Why so embarrassed? Had it not been for your efforts, this war could've ended quite differently, you know. Be proud of your achievements."

"It was not my efforts alone, and I do not think...my contributions are any greater than the rest." Maxi muttered.

She thought about the critical moments of their campaign: Vesmore's salvation by Calto's timely barrier, the golems brought to life with the help of the mages, and the soldiers courageously defending the wall. And above all, the men who risked their lives to slay the dragon. If anyone deserved the most praise, it was them. It mortified Maxi that she was getting undeserved acclaim because of an embellished song popularized by a single bard.

"Heavens, you are truly bullheaded," Sidina said with an exasperated click of her tongue.

Ignoring the comment, Maxi slipped through the knights, hoping to hide among them. To her relief, the crowd's attention shifted to the Temple Knights, now making their entrance into the city. Cheers of "Rosem Wigrew d'Leon" rang out, followed by equally enthusiastic acclaim for the Bolose Royal Knights and the Knights of Phil Aaron.

Young women daringly approached them, offering flowers or handkerchiefs embroidered with their names. As Maxi watched this whirlwind of excitement, trumpet blasts signaled a welcome from the front. The procession had at last arrived at the Grand Basilica of Osiriya.

Riftan swiftly cut across the church grounds, halting his horse at the main chapel's entrance. High Priest Lugias soon came out to greet them with the clerics.

"Welcome. We have eagerly awaited your safe return," the high priest greeted.

"And we have successfully completed the mission entrusted to us by the Council of the Seven Kingdoms," Riftan responded, walking over.

The old cleric looked at Riftan with a pleased expression, then surveyed the multitude of knights assembled before him. "Every effort has been made to ensure your stay here is comfortable," he announced in a stately voice. "The clerics will guide you to your quarters."

Soon, the clerics began to escort the knights from each kingdom to their designated accommodations. The mages were led to the academy dormitory, the same as their previous visit, while the knights proceeded to the old Roem Palace.

Maxi, walking along with her mare, noticed Riftan still standing with the night priest. She paused, watching as he disappeared into the chapel after what seemed like a serious exchange. Richard Breston, Kuahel Leon, and Sejuleu Aren soon followed them up the chapel steps. It seemed the commanding officers had been summoned for a meeting.

Unease rose on Maxi's face. She knew the monarchs would require a detailed report, and no doubt her golem rune would be mentioned. It could potentially place Riftan in a difficult position.

She was anxiously gnawing her lip when Ruth's voice cut through her anxious thoughts. "Are you not going in, my lady?"

When Maxi turned her head, Ruth gave a deep sigh in apparent understanding. "Surely you don't believe the monarchs would persecute the supreme commander returning with a victory. you really must stop your needless worrying and retire to your quarters."

"D-Do you think everything will be all right?" Maxi asked.

"I am certain. Even if the Orthodox Church denounced your golem rune, you have Sir Riftan, Sir Sejuleu, and Princess Agnes to speak for you. And if that's not reassurance enough, the pope and the Mage Towers are aligned with you for now. The pope might personally disapprove of the rune, but he's obliged to protect you."

Maxi furrowed her brow, slightly more apprehensive at the thought that the pope might secretly disapprove of her work. However, she also realized that worrying about it would achieve nothing. Holding back a sigh, Maxi made her way to the Roem Palace.

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