The banners waved in the wind, a rainbow of colors that filled her eyes. To her left, a trio of minstrels played a lively tune using their lutes while a small crowd clapped and waved. Ahead, a group of students lined up in a stall, shooting at a target with a small bow.
Estella eyed it with interest. Archery was never her forte, but neither was she bad at it; Knights were expected to know how to use all manner of weapons. And being a princess, she had been taught at an earlier age.
The prizes were a variety of stuffed animals and magical creatures: horses, lions, phoenixes, and dragons. She had a few like them back in the castle, and she had brought her favorite stuffed horse, modeled after her own, when she had enrolled in the Academy.
Still, it was early for her to join the fun and festivities. The School Festival was rather chaotic during the morning hours, and she was here to check if there were any problems.
So far, everything had been in order. There were no issues with the stall arrangements, no scuffle between stall owners, and the visitors looked really happy.
She passed by a couple of first-years, chatting excitedly over the prizes they had won from a nearby stall. Their fingers were intertwined, and the girl leaned on the boy’s shoulder with a contented expression.
Estella averted her eyes. Where was Nox anyway? He told her that he would just buy the honey custard pie he promised her, but that was fifteen minutes ago.
She continued on her way, her gaze darting around. The eastern school grounds was a maze of stalls and booths today, so finding him wouldn’t be easy. But the shop selling her favorite snack wasn’t far. In fact, she could almost smell the sweet scent wafting in the air.
Estella turned a corner. There he was! Nox stood in front of the stall, taking the bag that the shop owner gave to him. Behind Estella’s squire, at least a dozen people waited.
No wonder he took so long. Her smile returned, and she beckoned to him when their eyes met. She tried not to drool at the sight of the bag containing the honey custard pies.
“Sorry I took so long,” Nox said after reaching her. “The line was packed.”
“It always is.” She strode away, and he followed her.
“You’re done with the inspection?” Nox was inspecting the inside of the bag, the paper’s rustling a melody to Estella’s ears. And the smell! She almost wanted to eat the piping hot crust as they walked, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to control herself once she started.
They had to find a secluded place. Fast.
“Yes,” Estella answered, even though she had not checked the northern sector yet.
Her pace increased. That could wait. Besides, there were others patrolling the grounds. She wouldn’t be missed. For now, she needed to satisfy her cravings.
They found a relatively quiet spot near the entrance to the grounds. A row of benches sat around a fountain, and they took their seats on one of them. Nox handed her the bag, and she eagerly opened it.
The aroma struck her face in full. Estella inhaled deeply, savoring the scent. This was the last year she could taste her favorite pie, so she wanted to enjoy it as much as she could.
She took out one wrapped in a thin sheet of white paper, pulling the covering apart as if she was unwrapping a gift until she beheld the golden crust. The first bite nearly sent her to heaven, and she moaned in delight. She took another bite, then a third, not caring if the filling dribbled from the corners of her mouth.
Halfway through the first pie, she froze and glanced to her left. Nox stared at her with a blank expression.
“Oh, don’t mind me, Master.” Amusement danced in his eyes.
She had forgotten about him!
“Does it really taste good?” he asked softly, smiling.
“Yes!” Estella answered, a lot louder than she intended. “You want to try it? Try it!” She grabbed another pie from inside and thrust it toward Nox.
In hindsight, her actions were probably not befitting of a princess, or a knight for that matter. Estella felt the heat rising on her cheeks. Her squire probably thought she was weird, but she didn’t really care.
Though maybe the dribbling filling was too much? She wiped it away with a napkin while Nox took the pie from her hand, his mouth twitching.
He bit into it, slow and gentle. He chewed for a moment, a frown on his face. A few seconds later, his eyes lit up. Just a little, but the realization was evident.
“It tastes good,” he said simply before taking another bite.
Estella smirked. “I told you.” She finished her first pie afterwards, then went for her second. “Why did you only bought four, though?”
Nox gave her an odd look. “You’re telling me you can eat more than four?”
She shoved him lightly at that. “Are you saying I’m a glutton?” She huffed, and he chuckled. “I’ll save the rest for tonight, silly!”
“Sorry.” The sparkle in his eyes told Estella otherwise, but she let it passed. Nox rarely smiled like that. And she wanted to see that smile often. He was always serious, always stoic and brooding ever since they had met.
She wanted him to be happy.
You should smile often, she thought as she took a bite of her second pie.
Nox stiffened, glancing at her with a startled expression. “What do you mean, Master?”
Estella blinked at him. She didn’t say that out loud, did she? “Hmm?” She feigned ignorance.
“About me smiling often,” Nox said slowly.
A chill crept along Estella’s spine. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Did you see my lips move?”
Nox hesitated, confusion twisting in his face. He shook his head, his eyes filled with questions. “I… No, I didn’t. But I know what I heard, Master. You just said that I should smile more often.”
The pie almost fell from Estella’s hands. Was Nox a telepath? No, that wasn’t right. No Wielders had ever been a telepath. Unless—
“Ah, there you are.”
Estella flinched at that voice. She turned, as did Nox. Striding toward them was Karsos, an annoying smile plastered on his face. Behind him trailed his usual lackeys—big buffoons with muscles for brains.
“I’ve been looking for you,” Karsos said, stopping in front of her and Nox while his goons fanned out in a loose semicircle.
She resisted the urge to summon Astra. “Why are you looking for me, Karsos?” she asked in a flat voice. Beside her, Nox simply continued eating.
The blond shrugged his lean shoulders. “It’s the School Festival. I’m taking you on a date.”
Her eyebrows shot to her hairline. He didn’t even asked her! “I told you I’m not interested.”
Karsos snickered. “So? You don’t have to be interested in me for me to take you on a date.” He motioned with a hand. “Get up. We’re going. And, ugh! Can you even eat that garbage?”
What an imbecile! Estella opened her mouth to retort, but a sudden dropped in the temperature stole the words from her mouth.
“You do realize that disrespecting a Favenian princess will make you lose your tongue, right?”
Nox’s voice was calm and firm, but Estella saw the rage in his eyes—eyes that seemed darker as the abyss, more than usual.
Karsos didn’t even look at him as he sneered and shot back, “And you do realize that talking to the son of a governor in that manner will make you lose your life, commoner?”
Estella shot to her feet with a snarl, flames licking her hands. “You will not threaten my Squire, Karsos.”
“Or what, Princess?” The governor’s son grinned. “You’ll have my head? My friends? Our families? By the Goddess, that’s an abuse of power.”
A growl escaped Estella’s throat. She wanted to tear him from limb to limb and wipe off that damn smirk on his face. But Karsos was right; she could never do that. She was a princess, and she had her honor as a Knight to uphold.
But his insolence. She could never forgive that, either. Her right hand twitched. It would be easy to defeat Karsos in a duel. So easy. And then she could humiliate him in front of the whole Academy until he left in shame. Until he left her and Nox alone.
Estella opened her mouth to speak, but Nox’s words froze her.
“Why don’t we settle this during the Intra-School Competition?”
Thank you for reading!