371 Chapter 132
Maxi shot daggers at Ursuline.
“Are you quite done?”
“Not quite,” the knight replied dryly, bending to offer her his hand.
Maxi accepted his assistance with a surly expression.
Helping her up, Ursuline added sternly, “How many times have I told you not to look away from your enemy? Surely at least a hundred. You must keep your eyes on your opponent’s shoulders and head, ready to fall back at any time. Your reckless charges cause you to lose your stance at the first countermove. At the very least, try not to trip on your own-”
“You have made your point, Sir Ursuline,” Maxi said irritably, rubbing her aching buttocks.
Ursuline, however, seemed determined to continue his carping. Arching an eyebrow, his voice took on a domineering edge. “That is what you told me earlier before repeating the same mistake. If you had truly understood my instructions, you would not have tripped again.”
“U-Understanding something and putting it into action are two different things!”
“Most would classify that as not understanding!”
Picking up her practice sword from the snow, Maxi glowered at the knight in exasperation. While she could not deny her dreadful reflexes, Ursuline’s incessant reminders were beginning to grate on her nerves.
Aiming her wooden sword at his infuriatingly emotionless face, she said sharply, “I-I merely lost my balance. I will not… do that again.”
The knight opened his mouth as if to say something, then stopped, shaking his head. He raised his practice sword to begin the spar.
Maxi carefully gauged their distance, searching for an opening. In her mind, thrashing the knight seemed easy enough, but her body refused to cooperate. Her strikes were weak, and she faltered whenever she attacked. She also always ended up on her rear when she tried to back away from an incoming swing.
Moments later, Maxi found herself sprawled on the ground again like a snow-covered scarecrow.
Ursuline looked down at her grimly. “I shall be honest, my lady. You have absolutely no talent when it comes to swordsmanship.”
“I-I am aware of that!” Maxi shouted.
The knight maintained a serious expression as if to emphasize that he was giving an objective assessment. “In fact, you struggle with any basic movement of the limbs. Simply put, you are not cut out for physical activity. Instead of wasting your time on such a hopeless endeavor, perhaps it would be better for you to learn offensive spells from the sorcerer!”
“Y-You are giving up on me already?”
Though she was thoroughly exhausted by Ursuline Ricaydo’s tenacity, his resignation sparked anxiety within her. She shot to her feet and positioned her practice sword as if to prove herself.
“I know I’m a terrible student, but… I will improve with time, I assure you. You taught me how to use a dagger, and I used that training to kill a goblin in the Pamela Plateau.”
“You need not lie, my lady. I shall continue to teach you as long as you wish to learn.”
“I-It is not a lie! I truly did slay a goblin like this!” Maxi exclaimed, plunging an imaginary dagger into thin air.
Ursuline eyed her dubiously, then shook his head. “Must have been an oaf of a monster,” he muttered to himself.
The knight promptly sealed his lips at her murderous glare.
Deeply upset, Maxi hissed through clenched teeth, “Y-You needn’t force yourself to teach me! I would rather… learn from Riftan anyway.”
“The commander won’t have time until the preparations for the campaign are over,” Ursuline replied with a hint of uneasiness. “Things seem to be getting more serious than we anticipated. He is actively working to prevent the Northern Alliance from gaining control of the coalition army.”
Maxi’s face darkened at the unexpected news. “Does that mean… Richard Breston might become the supreme commander this time?”
“In the worst possible case, yes,” the knight admitted, his gaze fixed on the main chapel where the Council of the Seven Kingdoms convened. “Since the church cannot deny responsibility for the current situation, the Northern Alliance is using it as a pretext to strip the Temple Knights of their leadership and install Richard Breston as the commander of the coalition army. If they succeed… it will spell danger for the armies of any kingdom in favor of the armistice. He will likely attempt to wipe out a significant number of their forces. The commander has been trying to prevent that from happening.”
“What… does he intend to do?”
“What else?” Ursuline replied, shrugging. “He will have to claim the position for himself. King Reuben has already named him commander of the Wedonian army. With the backing of the crown, it won’t be too difficult for him to best Breston.”
Worry crossed Maxi’s face as she recalled the blatant mockery the northerners had directed toward her husband for his humble background. Though Riftan was undeniably the greatest knight in the realm, Maxi did not doubt that the conservative nobles of the north would malign him for his low birth. What was more, Riftan had yet to receive an official noble title.
Even Maxi knew it was unprecedented for a mere vassal knight to assume command of an army comprising tens of thousands. Would Wedon’s royal backing be enough to secure Riftan the rank of supreme commander of the coalition army?
Sensing that Maxi was spiraling into worry, Ursuline interjected, “I suggest you focus on yourself for the moment, my lady. If Sir Riftan succeeds in taking command of the army today, the Remdragon Knights will be at the front. While it’s unlikely that you’ll ever face the enemy directly…”
The knight trailed off as if unsure. He regarded her uneasily for a moment before continuing gravely, “It would certainly help for you to know a technique or two.”
Though his resolute demeanor irked her, Maxi compliantly readied her wooden sword. They continued their basic swordsmanship training for about two more hours. Despite the physical strength and stamina she had acquired from months of campaigning, she struggled to keep up with the grueling drills. Her skill remained at the level of a child wildly swinging a wooden stick.
Exhausted and disheartened, Maxi trudged out of the training grounds. She had not expected to become a skilled swordsman overnight, but neither had she expected it to go so disastrously. 7 Rubbing her sore buttocks and aching wrists, she made her way across the vast grounds. All around, soldiers ferried luggage, weaving around the rows of baggage wagons that filled the space from the main chapel to the entrance of the basilica. She hurried through the commotion, resolving to ask Ruth to cast restorative magic on her.
Just as she neared the lodging occupied by the Remdragon Knights, she spotted Riftan returning with some of his men. She joyfully ran toward him.
A faint smile flickered across his impassive face when he saw her, and Maxi felt her fatigue instantly melt away.
Apparently returning from the Council, he was dressed in the ceremonial uniform of the Remdragon Knights. Despite lacking any silk or feather adornment favored by other nobles, he exuded a dignified air in a simple blue surcoat and pauldron bearing his knightly insignia.
Maxi gazed at him proudly before standing on her toes to plant a feather-light kiss on his smooth chin.
“H-How did the Council go? I hope they didn’t have too many harsh words.””
“Maxi… I’m hardly a child who fears being ostracized,” Riftan replied with an incredulous snort.
Though he genuinely appeared to think her concern ludicrous, the warmth in his black eyes suggested that he enjoyed the attention. After lightly pecking her cheek, he removed his gauntlet to caress her icy-cold neck.
“I see you’ve been training.”
“Yes, I’ve been practicing,” Maxi replied like a child seeking praise.
A peculiar expression, neither smile nor frown, briefly flashed across Riftan’s face. Tilting his head to prompt his grinning subordinates to leave, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and strode into the lodging. They made their way across the crowded dining hall and ascended the stairs.
“I apologize for being unable to train you myself,” he said. “I can’t seem to find the time.”
“I-It’s fine! I know you’re busy,” Maxi hastily reassured him.
While she felt a twinge of disappointment, she was also relieved that he would be spared the sight of her pathetic flailing.
Forcing a laugh, she added, “Sir Ursuline has been an excellent mentor… so you don’t have to worry about my training. More importantly… how did the Council go today? I heard you’re competing with Richard Breston for the title of supreme commander.”
Entering their private room, Riftan responded flatly as he lit the fireplace, “The King of Livadon has chosen to endorse me, so I think the odds are in my favor. Your first dance partner proved to be helpful.”
Maxi rolled her eyes at his snide remark. He evidently intended to hold that against her for a while.
Suppressing a sigh, she replied with deliberate nonchalance, “How kind of him. It seems we are both indebted to Sir Sejuleu.”
Riftan glared at her, then snorted. He straightened himself. “I’d rather not discuss that bastard,” he said, clearly displeased. “Here, see if you can carry this.”
He unbuckled the sword at his belt and extended it to her.
“I-Is it mine?” she asked, her eyes glinting with anticipation.
“It is. This should be much lighter than the last.”
As she grasped the hilt with both hands, Riftan removed the scabbard, revealing a slender, gleaming blade. Maxi could only stare at it in awe. The blade’s edge was so sharp she feared that merely looking at it would pierce her eyes.
“Is it not heavy?”
Maxi shook her head. “I-It is astonishingly light.”
“Now, give it a try.”