“Where do I put these?” Nox asked.
Estella looked up from the request of approval she was reading and saw that, yes, Nox had another stack of documents in his hand. She sighed then went back to the document while saying, “Just set them there on the table. I’ll take a look at those once I’m finished with this one.”
“You’re getting a lot of paperworks recently,” her squire noted, moving across the lounge.
With a grunt, Estella said, “The School Festival is only two weeks away. A lot of people are submitting permits to open their booths. And unfortunately, it’s my job as the Student Council President to review all of them.”
She shook her head. Most of the booths were merely food stalls, and she never really took the time to read them. Still, there were incidents where the request said one thing but set up an entirely different booth on the day of the festival, and she had to sort those out.
“Can’t Sir Aldros help you?”
“He’s already supervising the decorations. Besides, he really hates this kind of work.”
Silence. Estella signed the request and moved on to the next one, then paused as the silence dragged on. She looked up again and noted Nox’s odd expression. “What?”
He answered slowly, “I never thought he’s that kind of guy.”
She chuckled. “Doesn’t match how he looks?”
“Somewhat.” His face shifting into his usual stoic expression, he gestured at the stack of papers near Estella. “Any of those from the booth that sells the honey custard pie?”
She perked up at that and snatched one of the requests she had already signed, waving at it with a grin. “Of course! They are one of the first ones who always submit their request for approval.” She placed it back on top of the completed pile, arranging it neatly. “I actually wanted to give them a permanent approval. It’s one less paper to review.” With a shrug, she returned to reading the latest request. “But the school doesn’t allow it.”
“The pies are that good?” Nox’s voice was tinged with amusement.
“The best! It reminded of my mother’s pies.”
“Your mother… Queen Ulricia?”
Estella paused at that, her pen hovering. Then she continued to sign the document. After placing it on top of the stack to her right, she looked at Nox, smiling faintly. “Queen Ulricia is my stepmother, Nox. My real mother was a general, remember?”
Of course, many always thought that her mother was the Queen. Her father had made sure that it was the official story. And they didn’t have to lie much; the Queen had been a general as well, after all.
Nox’s eyebrows furrowed. “But…” His eyes widened slightly in realization. “General Alina? She’s your mother?”
For the first time since they’d known each other, Estella saw him with a look of incredulity. Cute. She resisted the urge to giggle as she nodded. “Yes. She met my father twenty-two years ago, during the Catira Conflict. Mother was just a captain back then, and she had been escorting him when they were ambushed.”
She remembered the story as vividly as the first time her mother had told her about it. How the guards were slain except for Estella’s parents, and how the two slew the ambushers before making their journey back home. Her father had been injured during the fight, but her mother took care of him even as they encountered deadly monsters and raiding parties from enemy forces.
“And that’s how they fell in love?” Nox asked. It was nice to see him getting curious about her life for a change.
Estella shook her head. “Not at first. Father had already married Queen Ulricia by then, and even though Faven royalty possessed the privilege to have consorts, Father was too loyal to a fault. Mother did fall in love with him during their return, though. And she always told me how Father was annoying throughout their ordeal.”
“I can imagine,” Nox said in a dry tone.
“Are you implying something, my dear Squire?” Estella narrowed her eyes, smiling. She wasn’t really angry at Nox, but she found it difficult to resist the urge to tease him.
“No, Master.” Nox’s lips twitched. “So what happened after that?”
Estella shrugged, returning to her paperwork once more. “I was born. Queen Ulricia, thankfully, was a friend of my mother, so she didn’t react that much to the affair.” She snorted. “If anything, I think she was glad for that.
“State secret.” Estella gave him a lazy wink. “Believe me, you wouldn’t want to know.” She couldn’t tell him that Queen Ulricia was infertile, and that Estella’s older sister and Faven’s crown princess also came from General Alina.
“I see,” was all Nox said. And yet, Estella could tell that he wanted to know more. Perhaps some other time when both of them were no longer busy.
The lunch bell rang. “Want to go have lunch with me?” Nox asked.
Estella’s eyes sparkled. It was the first time Nox had asked her out for lunch. Always she took the initiative while Nox simply went along. And now that he offered first, she just wanted to accept, even if it meant leaving a pile of her work behind.
But she couldn’t do that. “As much as I want to, I can’t.” She sighed. “I still have to finish this.”
She didn’t meet his gaze after that, focusing on reading and signing the requests. The sooner she could get this over with, the faster she could spend time with Nox.
For a couple of minutes, the only sound was the scratching of her pen and the rustle of paper. Then Nox cleared his throat, and Estella looked up with a start. She frowned. “I thought you left already?”
“I was about to,” he said, eyeing the documents with a thoughtful expression.
Estella raised an eyebrow. When Nox didn’t move from where he stood, she pressed on, “Nox, is there something you want to say?”
He looked hesitant, shifting on his feet. How adorable! Then he finally met her eyes. “Do you, ah, want me to help you?”
“With signing these?” Estella giggled. It was an honest offer, but she doubted if Nox had the skill to copy someone’s penmanship. “You do realize that it still needs my signature, right?”
“I could still help you review it,” he said, hope tinging his voice.
Estella fell silent, regarding him curiously. Nox usually didn’t offer help when it came to these things, and she didn’t think he was someone who found paperworks tolerable.
But that expression, that desire to help, how could Estella refuse that?
“Why?” she asked anyway. Perhaps it was the wrong thing to say, but she wanted to know, even though the answer was plain for her to see.
Nox looked awkward as he replied, “Well, I just thought you’d like some help. After helping me get through the exam.”
Her heart skipped at that, and Estella hummed while resisting the heat rising to her cheeks. “I’m your master, Nox,” she said gently. “It’s my duty to help you.”
“I know. It’s just…” He paused. “You chose me as your Squire despite my weaknesses.”
“Because I saw your potential.” It was the truth; with the right training, Nox could become one of the most powerful Wielders the Academy had ever produced. And Estella didn’t need the Resonance to know that.
“Potential,” Nox repeated the word with a faint smile. “Do I really have that?”
“Do you doubt my judgement?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Then don’t worry yourself about it.” She paused, wondering if there was something she could add. In the end, being honest was the way to calm someone’s doubts. “I chose you because I believe in you,” she said, holding his gaze firmly with her own. “And I want you to believe in yourself too, Nox.”
For a moment, they said nothing. And then Nox bowed as he spoke, and his smile widened slightly, filled with gratitude and respect.
“Of course, Master.”
As always, thank you for your support!