A routine had been established.
In the morning just before breakfast, Estella would train Nox in swordsmanship, drilling into him every technique and form she knew. This was one of the most crucial points in their training, and she had to be strict and patient in each of their lessons. Thankfully, Nox was a diligent student, and he listened to every word she said.
In the afternoon, they would practice magic. It was Nox’s weakest point, but the more they trained, the more Estella realized that he also had trouble performing some of the spells that he ought to know.
“That was the second time, Nox,” Estella said during one of their sessions. She had instructed him to create an ice spear three feet long, but he only managed a foot in his first attempt. On the second try, only an inch was added.
Nox was apologetic, which was an emotion he rarely showed. “Sorry, Master. I’m not good with offensive spells.”
“That’s not an excuse. Even if you aren’t, shaping ice into a spear should be easy for the mana capacity you possess.”
He looked like he was going to say something in response, but he closed his mouth and simply nodded. The two resumed their training.
During Estella’s free time, she continued to research more about Shadow magic. And despite her efforts, information was still scarce, most of them vague. So far, the only things she had learned were its conflicting origins, and that only a select few of Shadow Wielders had managed to control their powers without unleashing tragedy to their surroundings.
In the evenings, she would tutor Nox on the other subjects. His favorite ones were History and Politics. Estella hated those two with a passion; she couldn’t remember the many times she had fallen asleep during classes when those two subjects were being taught.
When Nox asked her about it, she snorted and said, “The past bores me. And running my kingdom is not my goal.”
Weekends were the days she looked forward to. There were no classes, so she could spend her time training Nox. Sparring with him was interesting; there was that faint flow of magic between them as always, and they could see each other’s move, at least to a certain degree. Nox still couldn’t defeat her, of course, but he was improving fast.
It happened during their third week. She was going for his neck, and she knew he could sense it. And as Astra cut through the air, Nox ducked, just as she had planned.
She reversed her grip on her Animarta, aiming for Nox’s spine. Then his fingers grazed her wrist, and there was a blast of cold air. When Estella looked down in surprise, both of her arms were encased in a pillar of ice.
“Impressive,” she said. She tugged, but the pillar held firm. “How did you manage to form it so fast?” She had not even heard him speak.
Standing in front of her, Nox tapped the pillar’s base. “Spell trap. I placed it there five minutes ago.”
“And you lured me into it,” Estella mused.
“Does this mean I finally won against you?” There was a hint of mischief in Nox’s eyes, sending shivers along Estella’s spine.
She smiled. “Unfortunately, my Squire, you forgot one of the most basic rules of combat.”
“And what would that be, Master?”
Steam rose from the ice pillar. “Never stop until your opponent can no longer move,” she answered just as her hands were engulfed by flames.
In the end, Nox still lost after Estella broke past his hastily erected defenses, pressing Astra into his neck. They soon took a break at the school garden, where they ate under the same tree as the first time.
Unlike before, Nox was more open in conversation. Estella asked him questions about their training, and the boy answered each one with short phrases. He was still reserved as ever, but there was a subtle shift in his demeanor towards her, and it was enough for Estella to press on.
“Have you ever missed your home?” she asked, eyes fixed on the azure sky after finishing her meal. How long had she been since she visited Starveil Castle? More than two years now, perhaps. Ever since she was enrolled in the Favenian Academy of War and Magic, she had never went home, even during summer vacation.
She missed everyone; her parents, Luciana, her stallion Balron. But she couldn’t return—didn’t want to return—until she had graduated. Her life was here, for now, especially after making Nox her squire.
Nox was silent, and she looked at him to see his brooding expression. “Yes,” he said softly. “I miss home. My family, my friends. I miss guard duty, even though it was often boring.”
Estella chuckled. “I know. I was stuck guarding the school grounds for an entire day once, during my first year in here. I fell asleep at the floor within an hour.”
“That must be… hard.”
She shot him a look of surprise, eyebrows raised. Was that a joke? But Nox was not smiling. Or was he? His lips twitched once. He had never made such a joke before, even if he always teased her.
It had to be her imagination. And yet, it sent her heart fluttering. Nox never smiled at all, and she wanted to see that smile.
“Yes, Master?” He was not looking at her, keeping his gaze on the students passing along the nearby terrace.
Estella hesitated, then said, “What do you want as a gift when you passed the Assessment Exam?”
A moment passed. Slowly, he turned to look at her. “I don’t need a gift, Master. If anything, I should be the one giving you a gift if I passed the exam.”
His expression was so serious yet gentle and soft that Estella found it hard to believe that the boy sitting in front of her was her squire. And her heart pounded at that, forcing her to avert her gaze.
“Well, if you insist.” She smiled at him, and looked down at the lunch he had brought: steak and kidney pie. Not her favorite, but it gave her an idea.
“You know, I’ve always loved that honey custard pie students always sell during the school festival.”
Silence. Nox blinked, tilting his head. “That’s it?”
He looked so comical that Estella burst out laughing. “What?” he demanded, frowning in apparent confusion.
She shook her head. If she had not learned how to control her emotions, Estella would still be laughing until a teacher came to stop her. She shook her head again. “Sorry! It’s just, did you really expect something else?”
“Yes. I mean…” He hesitated, suddenly unsure.
“Tell me,” Estella said softly.
“Well, you can get what you want, right? I would have thought that you’d want something more special than a pie.” Nox looked embarrassed to say it, though his stoic expression remained.
Her squire was thoughtful, Estella realized with a start. How endearing. “Nox, a gift will always be special no matter what it is, as long as you make the person happy,” she said gently, repeating what her mother had once told her.
Nox seemed to understand that. He nodded. Placing his right hand atop his heart, he spoke in a firm tone.
“Very well, Master. As your Squire, I will do everything in my power to pass the Assessment Exam and buy you a honey custard pie.”
Thank you for reading chapter 7! Any reviews or comments will be highly appreciated!