Spring was nearly over, and while the prospect of vacation was any student’s dream, summer was the least of Estella’s favorite seasons.
It meant taking a two-week break, and that meant no progress in her studies. Of course, the amount of homework the teachers would leave them was enough to last the whole two weeks. But Estella could do it for only a few days, and the rest would be her free time.
There was also the problem of where she would go, though that was never really a problem for her; she could stay at the school if she liked, just like some of the students who didn’t want to go home.
Incidentally, Nox was one of those.
It made her curious. Didn’t he say he missed his home? But when she asked him about it, he simply told her that there was not much to do at his home town anyway, and he would rather spend studying in the library and preparing for the Assessment Exam.
A part of her wished that he had said that he wanted to spend more time with her as well, but it was just wishful thinking on her part.
So the days passed. Training and studying were all that was in her mind; she didn’t even have the time to research more about her squire’s ability. Still, summer vacation would be the best way for her to do that while preparing Nox for the exam.
The first week came, and by the time Estella was finished with her homework, there were still nine days left before classes resumed. She woke up the next day, exhausted from an all-nighter, but eager for the rest of her vacation.
After breakfast in an almost empty cafeteria, Estella went to search for Nox. Her footsteps echoed in the silent hallways, but there was no sign of her squire. It was already past nine, so he was probably resting in his room or studying in the library.
As she reached the school’s central garden, she spotted him.
Face masked in sheer concentration, Erebos in grasped tightly in both hands, Nox swung at an imaginary foe, cleaving its head in two. He whirled around and slashed to his left, then ducked to avoid an illusionary blow and stabbed at his enemy. Pulling his Animarta, he pivoted to the right, Erebos cutting through the air in a horizontal arc that would behead groups of enemy.
Estella leaned on a pillar, watching him practice, a smile dancing on her lips. Even though he should be taking a break, Nox decided to train even without her. And that part of him was what she liked. That determination, that resolve to be better and improve.
In some ways, they were alike. It was probably what drawn her to him, aside from their Resonance. And she couldn’t have asked for a better Squire.
Soon his training came to a close. After performing a complex series of patterns, Nox ended it with a mighty swing, Erebos pointed to his right. He held that pose for a moment, his chest heaving.
Estella clapped her hands, and he straightened immediately, looking at her in surprise.
“Master.” He bowed, dismissing Erebos.
She smiled at him. “Impressive as always, Nox. How long have you been practicing?”
“Since after breakfast. You were still asleep, so I thought to do it alone.” He shrugged.
Estella hummed. Midday was still a few hours away, but her squire had just finished his morning training. She couldn’t ask him to spar with her, and neither did she feel like studying; not after all that history homework she had completed last night.
An idea occurred to her. “What’s your plan for today?” she asked Nox. Now that she thought about it, she didn’t really know much about him despite being his master. She planned to remedy that during their summer vacation.
“Studying, I guess,” he answered, taking a sip from a canteen. “Why?”
“You can do that later.” She gestured at the tree where they had first spent time together. “Lunch with me?”
He hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “If that’s what you wish, Mas—“
“Ella,” Estella interrupted him. His gaze locked with hers, his expression unreadable, and she pressed on. “We’re on summer break. You don’t have to call me Master. For now, at least.”
“Are you sure? I’m just—“
“It’s what my friends call me,” she said, her heart starting to pound. She treated him not just as a squire but a friend as well, but did he see her the same way?
Ever since they became Master and Squire, Nox had treated her with the appropriate amount of formality and respect her status required. He never disrespected her, never disgraced her in any way. He followed her instructions, each of her whims, and he did it without complaints.
But… he had always remained distant. He never bothered with casual conversations, and he didn’t try to get close, no matter how much opportunity she gave him. There was no bond between them except mentor and student.
She wanted more than that.
There was pain in his eyes. Pain, and fear. Hesitation flashed across his face. Why? Why was he drawing away? Why did he always hesitate? She wanted to know. She had to know.
Then, Nox finally nodded. And for the first time, even if was so faint it was almost absent, he smiled. “As you wish, Ella.”
Her heart skipped at that.
Estella returned to her room afterwards, finding the excuse to do a little study. In truth, it was hard for her to keep her composure after Nox said her name. Her heart was still pounding when she entered and sank on the couch, and her throat was as dry as a parchment.
What was happening to her? What should she wear? Was her school uniform enough? They were still at the school, so they had to abide by the rules, but it was summer vacation. Breaking a rule or two wouldn’t get them expelled, right?
No, wait. What was happening to her? Why did her chest feel like exploding?
She swallowed, her hands shaking. It wasn’t a date, not really. They were just going to have lunch. Besides, Nox didn’t seem to be interested in romance. She had seen it when several girls tried to ask him to eat together, only to be rejected with a curt, “No.”
Yes, romance was the least of Nox’s worries. She doubted if it was even part of his wish list, if he had one.
Did he have one? Maybe she should ask him about it later… No, that wasn’t right. Why did she need to pry into his personal life? They may be master and squire, but there should still be a boundary. She couldn’t just ask him something like that.
“What’s wrong with me?” Estella muttered. She shook her head, then went to her walk-in wardrobe, browsing through the clothes she had kept for such occasions.
It wasn’t a date, true, but it wouldn’t hurt to dress up nicely for her Squire.
He was already waiting for her three hours later.
It had been quite frustrating choosing which one to wear. But in the end, Estella realized that Nox may still wear his school uniform, so she decided to simply go with it as well and changed into a new one. A bit disappointing, but it was better than embarrassing herself in front of her squire.
She stepped into the school garden. Nox sat by the roots of that same tree they had spent lunch together weeks ago, reading a book. To Estella’s surprise, a blanket was already spread out before him, with a basket full of bread and roasts from the cafeteria laid on it.
She looked down at her own lunch box. It was meant for only two people, and with different food than what Nox had brought. And it seemed pitiful compared to the smell wafting from the basket.
At least they got more variety to eat. She approached him steadily, her boots making little noise on the soft grass. No other students were in sight; most were staying in the dorms, either to rest or review for the Assessment Exam, or sightseeing at the city of Dorrin.
Finally, Estella loomed over Nox, just like she did before. “Good book?” she asked, sitting down on the blanket and setting her lunch box next to the basket.
Closing it shut, Nox placed it next to him and nodded. “Azrael’s Shadow by Hogar Tern,” he said, reaching for a plate.
Estella raised an eyebrow at that, though she wasn’t surprised. It made sense that Nox would want to learn more about the origins of his magic. “Hogar Tern,” she hummed, placing a slab of roast beef in her plate along with a slice of bread. “He’s a fiction writer, though. Not really a historian.”
“Sometimes, Master, fiction tells us a great more deal about the past than actual history books.”
“Because history books can be rewritten?”
He looked at her, his gaze unwavering. “I thought you don’t like history?”
She snorted. “Yes. But I’m not naive, Nox. My father’s… Ah, the Royal Library has several first editions of certain subjects dating back hundreds of years ago. And they are often vastly different than the ones published today.”
Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t visited the Royal Library in ages. Perhaps, once she graduated, she would drop by and see if she could get a copy or two of its ancient tomes about magic. It had all the subjects and topics, some not seen in school libraries or the national library.
Maybe she could find the answers she was searching for there. And maybe she could take Nox with her too. He seemed to love reading.
“You like reading?” she asked, taking a bite out of the lamb roast. She often noticed Nox carrying a book, most often a novel, and reading it during his free time.
“Ever since I was a child,” he said. “Books told me a lot of the outside world more than the people in my village, even merchants.”
She frowned slightly. “You must have a really secluded village. Where is it?”
He wasn’t looking when he answered, “Why are you asking? Do you want to visit after I graduated?”
There was a hint of mischief in his tone, and a challenge. Estella never backed down from a challenge. She smirked. “Why, my Squire, are you inviting me?”
“It’s far north,” he said, voice all serious now. “Near the base of the Azaris Mountains. Too cold for you.”
Estella blinked. That was too abrupt of an answer and a change in his tone. But her smirked only grew wider. “Well, I’m sure the villagers have ways to keep warm during the colder days.”
In fact, she was feeling warm right now, and she knew it wasn’t just the summer heat.
Silence fell on them like a blanket. Nox’s expression was inscrutable, subdued, and he pointedly avoided her gaze. Was she too forward? Perhaps that kiss from before still lingered on his mind.
“Sorry,” she said, meaning it.
His gaze locked with hers immediately, surprise and confusion coloring his expression. “What for?”
“For that kiss.”
Confusion morphed into understanding. “Ah, that. It’s… nothing. You just caught me by surprise.”
And scared you, she thought with some amusement. Her smirk returned. “So if that’s nothing, does that mean we can do it again?”
Shit. What was she saying now? Nox was giving her an odd look, though she thought she discerned a hint of curiosity in his eyes. “Are you ever going to stop teasing me?”
“That depends.” She grinned. “What, you really haven’t been kissed before?”
“You assumed that?” he shot back, and his cheeks were just slightly tinted red.
“Yes. From your reaction.” She paused. “You don’t have a girlfriend?”
“If I had one, I definitely wouldn’t have let you chose me as a Squire.”
Estella’s eyebrows shot upward. Loyalty. He was a knight, through and through. “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” Nox may be antisocial, but that was part of his charm. A lot of girls would have wanted to know the Nox lurking behind those dark eyes and serious facade.
He turned away, and continued to eat. “That’s not on my mind at this point.”
“Oh? But even if that’s the case, surely, someone has to be waiting for you back in your village?” Estella refused to believe that he didn’t have a childhood friend, or even an acquaintance pining after him. Not unless he was as dense as a brick, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
“There’s none.” Was that grief in his eyes? “Besides,” he added softly, “I don’t think I’m ready for that.”
“You’re seventeen,” Estella said. “It’s part of growing up, Nox.” She sighed. Was he really so averted to social interaction that he didn’t even had a lover? What kind of village did he lived in anyway? “Don’t tell me you didn’t have a crush either?”
He shook his head, and Estella nearly groaned. “That’s absurd. Even I had a couple of boyfriends and crushes before I got here.”
Nox grunted. “What a surprise. And here I thought you burn anyone to cinders who so much as look at you.”
“I burn them in a different way,” Estella said. It was not exactly the truth, but she wanted to see how Nox would react.
As expected, he glanced at her warily. “I will presume that’s a joke.”
“Maybe.” She grinned again. She only had had two lovers, and her relationship with them had ended amiably. There was just… no attraction, even if the sex was amazing, and she cut everything off rather than give them false hopes.
Nox grunted again, but didn’t comment further.
For the rest of their lunch, Estella refrained from teasing Nox—she knew her boundaries, and she didn’t want to make him uncomfortable—and their conversation went to other casual topics.
Her squire was still reserved, but he didn’t shy away when she asked him about his life in his village. His mother was a seamstress, and his father was part of the militia. He loved hunting, though he stopped when he became a guard.
Whenever Estella probed about his powers, however, Nox was evasive and only replied with the barest information. She didn’t press him, respecting his privacy, but her curiosity only grew. Someday, they had to talk about it to improve their Resonance.
For now, Estella was content with just spending time with her squire.
The day wore on, and soon it was afternoon. They had long finished their meal, but they stayed underneath the tree, gazing at the azure sky. It had been quite a long time since Estella could enjoy her break like this, and with someone else at that.
Finally, Nox rose to his feet, grabbing the now empty basket. Estella looked up at him. “Leaving already?” She still wanted him to stay for a bit longer.
He shrugged. “I still need to review.”
“How studious of you.” Estella chuckled. She sighed and got to her feet, bundling the picnic blanket in a neat roll before handing it to Nox. “Tomorrow, then?”
“What about tomorrow?“ he tilted his head slightly, perplexed.
Seriously? “I was hoping we could have lunch again,” Estella said. “And training,” she added. They should never forget about training, after all, even if it was their summer break.
Nox nodded, his confusion vanishing. “Yes. Of course.”
She beamed. “Well then, see you later at dinner, my Squire.”
“Yes. See you later… Ella.”
Estella turned away, striding toward the corridor leading to the library, her smile never leaving her.
This one took so long because I couldn’t get the right scenes. Thankfully, I finally managed it. Hope you enjoy the eight chapter!