“Have you decided yet?”
Estella looked up from her notebook. Aldros loomed over her, one bushy eyebrow arched. She raised her own eyebrow and said, “About what?”
“About who will be your Squire.”
“Oh. That.” She dropped her gaze to the image she was drawing for the last thirty minutes: herself, wearing the blood-red cape of the Knight General, Astra raised in victory. She sighed, and returned to tracing the outline of a horse. “Not yet. I want to wait until the first assessment exam.”
With a sigh, Aldros lowered his bulk into the chair opposite her. He planted a meaty palm on the desk. “Why wait? We’ve lots of talented Wielders this year.”
“Who did you choose?” she asked, still focused on her drawing. The horse’s head was almost done.
“That kid last month during the Selection Day.”
“The one with the Wind-forged bow?”
Aldros nodded. “A bit of a coward, but he’s got guts.”
Estella snorted. “Guts isn’t enough to be a Squire. You know that.”
“Says the one who charged at the Headmaster in her pajamas,” he said with a chuckle, his deep voice rumbling in his broad chest.
She shot him an annoyed look. “I didn’t know it was him. Besides, he wasn’t supposed to be in the cafeteria in the dead of the night.”
“He’s the Headmaster, Ella. He had the right to be in there. You were the one who was not supposed to be wandering around at that time.”
“I got hungry,” she muttered. It had been her first year, so she slept in the dorms. But the communal pantry was understocked; she had to take the risk by going to the campus cafeteria.
Aldros shook his head and pressed on. “Ella, you’ll need a Squire soon. It’s been a month. The most talented ones have already been picked. If you wait any longer, you’ll be left with few options.”
She slid the pen in its holder and closed her notebook with a loud snap, then she stood up, tucking it under an armpit. She fixed Aldros with a cold gaze, which he received without batting an eye.
“I’m always left with few options.”
She strolled along the corridor aimlessly. As a senior, her schedule had a lot of free slots, and there was nothing else she could do until the next lesson, at least two hours from now.
Estella tuned out the conversations that filled the corridor. It was almost lunch break, so there were a lot of students heading to the cafeteria. She pushed past the throng of blue and red uniforms, with the occasional black. She had already eaten her lunch, and she was not really in the mood to eat with her fellow seniors. Especially if they were going to pester her about choosing a Squire like Aldros did.
As she passed the central garden, Estella stopped. Several students had decided to eat in the open under the shade of the well-tended maple trees or across the cool grass. Most were in groups, though there were quite a few pairs in their picnic blankets.
And there was one under the boughs of the western tree, sitting alone on its roots.
She frowned, and changed direction, heading for the lonely figure. A few whispered comments directed at her flitted through the air, but she ignored them and continued.
Until at last, she stood over the enrollee who had received the highest grade during the Selection Duels—enough to be placed in the second year without going through the first.
“Nox Stigan,” Estella said, looking down on him. He had a wooden lunchbox next to him, and he had been busy munching on a slice of roast beef when she had approached, though his attention never left his food.
But when she finally addressed him using his name, he looked up at her with a frown.
“What is it, Dame Estella?” Nox asked in a polite tone.
There was a brief silence. A dozen questions ran through Estella’s mind, but only one escaped her lips.
“Why are you eating alone?”
It was an honest question, so she was surprised when Nox’s eyebrows nearly disappeared in his hairline.
“Is there a problem with that?” His polite tone remained.
She blinked, then blinked again. “Well, it wouldn’t be good if you’re alone. School is for socializing and making friends.”
He met her gaze at that. Again, those two dark pits stared at her, mesmerizing, drawing her in into their depths. Then he cast his gaze back to his food and said, “You’re free to join me, then, if you wish. But this roast beef is only enough for myself.”
The invitation caught her off-guard. Most freshmen, especially those she had defeated in the Selection Duels, would be too afraid of her to even approach her.
Nox was the first one in a long time to be completely at ease in her presence.
She still had an hour and a half left before her class on Advanced Magic. She had enough time to spare, maybe enough to even finish her drawing.
With a shrug, she sat down at a respectful distance, her legs outstretched. She had not brought a blanket, and neither did Nox, so she had to find the right position where the grass wouldn’t tickle the last few inches of her exposed thighs.
It was a good thing that the school uniform’s stockings were long. Otherwise, she couldn’t sit in the grass without feeling itchy all over her legs.
As she finally settled into a comfortable position, Estella opened her notebook. For the next ten minutes, the scratching of her pen on the paper and Nox’s fork scraping on his lunchbox were the only sounds in their immediate area.
When she was done, Estella gave her drawing a critical look, pleased with the results. Now she was riding a white stallion, her cape billowing in the wind, Astra held high in victory. A Knight General in full.
Her brows creased after a minute, and she closed her notebook. Being a Knight General meant being a Knight first. She was already a Knight, and a Second Class at that, but only in name. She wouldn’t be fully inducted into the order unless she graduated from the Academy. To do that, she must acquire the necessary grades.
The majority of which would come from her training a Squire.
There was a rustle. Nox stood up, his lunch finished.
“That was fast,” Estella said. His food was barely eaten when she had approached.
As he slid his lunchbox inside his leather bag, Nox said, “I didn’t know that eating food should take that long.”
“It shouldn’t. But neither should you be hurrying. Eating should be enjoyed, especially if you’re with someone.”
“But I’m not with someone. You just sat near me and drew. That’s not the same thing, isn’t it?”
Estella opened her mouth, but no response came from her. She closed it, feeling like she was fool. “What’s your next lesson?” she asked before she could stop herself.
“Why?” Nox said. “You’re going to see if I’m fit to be your Squire?”
She smiled. How perceptive of him. In truth, that was not too far from what she had in mind after their duel last month. Still, his powers were so opposite hers that she had been reluctant to choose him.
“Maybe,” she answered, standing up as well and brushing off stalks of grass from her black skirt. Standing at less than six feet apart, he was taller than her, but not by much. Perhaps a couple of inches at best.
With a grunt, he slung his bag over his right shoulder and started to walk away. A few paces ahead, he said, “Intermediate Combat, by the western training ground.”
Estella’s smile turned into a smirk.
Hope you guys enjoyed the second chapter!