Author’s note: sorry for the delayed chapter! Got back from walking the whole day in Tokyo yesterday and was too tired to post anything. I also didn’t realize how long this chapter is (well, for me lol).
“The Princess Alenaire and her Knight, Luce Elistar, have arrived.” The herald at the top of the stairs saw them, and announced their entrance with a voice that echoed throughout the hall.
The audience cheered as they saw the two glide effortlessly down the stairs, as the knight himself advanced one step down in order to support Alenaire’s hand on his. They both shone with an aureate brilliance that was spellbinding.
The King and Queen were pleased by the audience’s expressions of rapt admiration of the two, and they all knew that they were not just a knight and his princess, but also the best of friends. The King stood up from his throne when Alenaire and Luce reached the landing, and the babble of talk in the ballroom died upon their entry.
King Altair spoke jovially, “Everyone, before we officially start the banquet, as I know most of you have been staring at that juicy pheasant in the corner,” the audience chuckled, not even denying the accusation, “We shall now officially knight our beloved princess’ Knight, Luce Elistar, the only son of our Great General Cassius.”
General Cassius and his wife, who were a part of the audience, were smiling hugely in anticipation while the crowd applauded.
“Now, I shall give the knighting honors to my daughter, the Princess Alenaire. Alenaire, please,” the King gestured for her to walk to the center of the dais, and she complied.
As she had already been instructed on how the ceremony was initiated, and had practiced in her room several times over, her movements became fluid and refined. She tapped his shoulder with the blunt edge of a sword as he kneeled in front of her, his head bowed low.
“Will you swear your loyalty to me?” She said, gripping the hilt of the sword with poise.
“I will forever be loyal to you,” he replied after speaking the knight’s general oath.
As the ceremony ended with the high priests and priestesses showering them with blessings, the banquet at once begun with a loud cheer.
The King and Queen descended from their thrones to mingle with their people. The crown prince Alaric and Prince Alasdair also joined in on the festivities, and they were currently surrounded by beauteous women, some from the aristocratic line and some women who were adventurers in the city.
Although prince Alaric was already married to the Princess of Breamid, it still did not stop the women from surrounding him while his wife was not around. Prince Alasdair was also a fine catch, and because the King had not yet picked his fiancée, the women were clamoring for his attention, as they wholeheartedly wanted to be chosen as his Princess.
“Altair, do you still remember me?” A man in his fifties nodded to the King Altair, his white beard contrasting to his head of dark hair. His eyes crinkled when he smiled, yet he maintained a staid appearance which prompted people to reply with all seriousness. Of course, the King Altair who was naturally a jolly man, was an exception to this.
Altair turned around, wondering who would dare call him by his first name. When he saw who it was, a big smile immediately stretched his face.
“Xanthas!” Altair extended his hand, and the man named Xanthas shook it with verve.
“I’m glad you still remember me,” Xanthas said a bit wryly.
“How could I forget the man who saved my life?” Altair beamed. He asked his steward to search for his wife and bring her to where he was. As soon as Altair saw her, she took her elbow and guided her in front of Xanthas. “My dear, remember what I had said before? About the man who saved me from an arrow back when I was as old as Alaric? This is the man! He is the King of our allied kingdom, the Kingdom of Rhiannon.”
King Xanthas bowed and kissed Queen Aiyana’s outstretched hand.
“Charmed to meet you,” Queen Aiyana said, smiling gently at him. “Thank you for saving my husband’s life.”
“It is the right thing to do,” Xanthas said.
While Queen Aiyana was busy talking to her ladies in waiting and looking amusedly at the young boys who surrounded her daughter, the King Altair and King Xanthas were discussing about the fate of the allied kingdoms.
The Kingdoms of Alastriona, Rhiannon, Breamid and Oturus were in an alliance, sticking together and helping each other during times of international crisis. Since the kingdoms of the northern continent wanted to invade the central continent, they had to prepare for contingencies.
“Has there been any engagement offers for your daughter?” Xanthas asked. “To strengthen our ties, I would like to offer my son to be your daughter’s future partner. That is, if you don’t have anyone else in mind.”
King Altair thought of the Raven-haired boy who was his daughter’s knight. He knew they both loved each other in that way (one would be blind not to see it), yet a marriage between a royal and a knight could never be. It was completely unheard of. In this age of wartime, to strengthen bonds between countries, Royal marriages had to take place. It was a royal’s duty, and one they have known from the start.
“That is not a bad idea,” the Altair said. “I have actually thought of the other kingdoms of the western continent, but they do not need an alliance through marriage. It was either Oturus or Rhiannon for my daughter, but now that you have offered your son, I cannot decline…” The King wanted to decline, as he was very fond of his daughter. However, there were many circumstances which led to political marriages being a necessity, and he could not avoid it. But he could extend his daughter’s presence in the castle, at least. He coughed, looking pained. “I cannot bear to part with my daughter right now.”
Xanthas nodded. “I understand that she is still thirteen. Once she is sixteen, will you accept it and send her to my kingdom? I would introduce my son to you right now, but he seemed to have run off somewhere at the vestibule.”
Altair looked into the distance, at his daughter who was happily dancing with her Knight, Luce. He felt his heart break as he knew how much hurt she would receive if he delivered the news of her engagement. He thought it was better to put off telling her right now. He wanted to let her live happily for three more years without worrying about her engagement to another man. Altair thought this was the best. He would face her ire then, but it was to be expected.
“Although I am still reluctant, I have offered nothing to you when you saved my life.” Altair was still distressed. There were so many factors that urged him to come to an agreement with Xanthas, yet he still felt a gnawing guilt in his heart. He had not felt this way when he had chosen Alaric’s wife for him, as Alenaire was different. Alenaire was his only daughter, and if he could, he would rather not let her marry. He wanted her to remain in the castle with him forever.
“Is that a yes?” Xanthas inquired.
King Altair’s heart clenched.
“Will the princess give me the honor of this dance?” One boy bowed as he opened his palm up to the princess.
Because Alenaire was getting a severe headache from these boys who talked over themselves in order to get her attention, she wanted to get away as soon as possible. She placed her hand upon Luce’s arm, and said in saccharine tones, “Unfortunately, my first and succeeding dances have already been reserved by my knight.”
Luce had already changed out of his armor, and was wearing a black suit. As his attire and hair were both black, his emerald eyes seemed to be even more striking, and many of the women around the ballroom could not take their eyes off of him, despite knowing that he had eyes only for the princess.
“That’s unfair, princess!” One of the boys shouted in indignation. “You didn’t even dance with anyone of us, and it’s your party!”
“Life is unfair,” Alenaire replied sweetly as Luce brought her to the middle of the dance floor.
“You shouldn’t act like that towards them, princess. Who knows, one of them could be your husband in the future,” Luce said calmly, but the tremble to his lips betrayed his emotions.
Alenaire gripped his shoulder tighter, and his muscles hardened from her touch. She looked away from the quiet intensity in his emerald green eyes. “I…I don’t want to think about it.”
“Neither do I.” His reply was succinct, yet it also held a thousand words that he could not convey.
Luce and Alenaire continued to dance one song after the other without rest, as they talked and laughed all the while, not minding if they were to be judged by others. They simply did not want anyone to interfere with their time, as it was theirs alone, in that single space where they only saw each other.
As a slow song started to be played by the orchestra, both Alenaire and Luce slowed down to the beat. Alenaire was thankful the song was slow enough to warrant a rest, as she was already gasping for breath with her forehead shimmering in sweat.
“You lack stamina, princess,” Luce observed as he saw Alenaire’s chest rise and fall with her breath.
“Where do you think you’re looking at, you pervert?” Alenaire demanded, her ears turning red.
“Why? Is there anything to see?” Luce said with a little tilt to the corner of his lips.
Alenaire stomped on his leather clad foot with undisguised anger.
“Ouch!” Luce hopped with one foot as he still held Alenaire’s hand with his right, and her waist with the other. “I thought etiquette lessons from Miss Palma turned you into a lady.”
“I am a lady!” Alenaire replied as she puffed out her cheeks.
“Where?” Luce looked back at her flat chest, and he was awarded with another stomp on his previously afflicted foot.
“Ouch! Were you perhaps a man in your past life?” Luce inquired as he winced from the throbbing pain.
“I’m kidding!” Luce chuckled when he saw Alenaire’s hard glare. “I apologize for my foul mouth. How about we go to the garden and I’ll show you a trick I just recently made?” He squeezed her hand gently, his dimples appearing below twinkling eyes.
Alenaire’s eyes brightened at once. “Apology accepted.”
Once the dance ended, Luce escorted her to the garden.
“I’ll be back to get us some refreshments, princess. Shall I get you warmed goats milk?” Luce asked with half of his face illuminated by the moonlight.
“You know me too well,” Alenaire replied with a smile.
“How could I not?” Luce replied as he raised his shoulders in a shrug.
As soon as Luce was out of sight, she picked up the skirts of her dress, and begun twirling in the light of the moon. For some reason, she loved the moon. Its silvery glow felt somewhat nostalgic, as if it beckoned her from a different world.
While she twirled and twirled without sensing the time, a shy voice broke her momentum.
“Ah…ah…Hello…” The voice stuttered, and Alenaire turned around to meet the owner.
The owner was a boy a bit older than she, and as he swung his arm for a bow, the suit he wore seemed ill-fitted for his thin frame, as the sleeves flapped as he moved. He adjusted his glasses up his nose with an awkward smile.
“G-Good evening milady, I chanced upon your figure in the garden and I-I was hoping if you could show me directions.” The boy scratched his head in worry. “I-I seem to have lost my father while I was trying to catch a cat…”
Alenaire laughed, knowing that the cat was most probably Bastian. “Well, where do you want to go?”
“T-The ballroom…” The boy adjusted his glasses with an index finger.
“It’s right behind me,” Alenaire said in a singsong voice as she twirled again, loving how her skirts rippled around her. She had gotten used to the constraining corset, and had secretly loved the way Luce’s big hand had encased her small waist during the dance.
“T-Thank you…” The boy bowed mechanically as the color red suffused his cheeks. “Um…um…may I perchance know your name, milady?”
“Princess, you mean,” Luce cut in icily, as it seemed as if he had just magically appeared in the boy’s eyes. Luce had in fact, already arrived a few seconds ago, but the boy was too enthralled by the princess to notice.
“P-Princess?!” The boy took a step back, his mouth agape. He quivered in embarrassment. “I–I…”
“Thank you, Luce,” Alenaire said as Luce handed her a cup of steaming goat’s milk. They both sat on the ornately carved ivory bench, looking as if there wasn’t anyone else around them.
“L-Luce?! The Princess’ Knight?!” The boy exclaimed, his hands trembling. From what, they didn’t know.
“Ah, goat’s milk is Heavenly,” Alenaire said as she smelled the steam rising from her porcelain cup.
“I think orange juice is better,” Luce said as he gulped down the whole contents of his glass in one go. “Aaah, how refreshing!”
“I cannot believe I’m standing in front of The Princess and Sir Luce! Ah, it’s certainly Sir Luce now!” The boy was giddy with excitement as he flailed his arms around.
“Meow!” Bastian suddenly popped his head from behind a flowering bush, and he stared at the boy in annoyance. It seemed Bastian’s sleep had been interrupted by this boy’s ceaseless chatter.
“It’s the cat!” The boy said as he hurried to catch it, but Bastian was too agile, and he quickly leapt on the ivory bench to wedge himself between Alenaire and Luce, looking almost as if he intentionally wanted to separate the two.
“His name is Bastian,” Alenaire finally said after a drawn out silence, her eyes peeking out from behind her cup. “What is yours?”
“A-Apologies!” The boy bowed hurriedly. “My name is Zephyr! I am pleased to meet your acquaintance!”
“We are pleased as well.” Alenaire superimposed her lie with a charming smile. “The ballroom is that way.” She inclined her head in its direction.
This was a very blatant but gentle form of, “Get out already.” Alenaire felt the boy’s presence was quite bothersome, and she wanted to have a quiet evening with Luce and Luce alone (Bastian notwithstanding).
The boy named Zephyr did not take the hint.
“Sir Luce! I have heard that you are an elemental knight!” Zephyr’s stutters seemed to disappear during his excited state. “I have tried my hardest to concentrate and perhaps become a Mage as well, but I think it really depends on one’s aptitude, doesn’t it? Even if I can feel the mana flowing through me, I still don’t know how to utilize it! I do want to become a knight as well!”
Luce nodded his head absently towards him as he trailed his fingers along Bastian’s soft white fur. There was actually something familiar about this cat, but he just couldn’t put a finger on it. Somehow, for some inexplicable reason, he just liked making fun of this cat.
“And princess! You have the gift of healing! That’s incredible! I’ve heard you don’t even let the high priestesses help you with that.” Zephyr eyes sparkled as he looked at both of his idols with a passion. His tone became more childish like his speech.
Luce felt a vein throb on his face. “Mister Zephyr, as what the princess has said, the ballroom is that way.” Luce couldn’t keep the exasperation from creeping into his voice as he jerked his thumb towards the place where the merriment was held.
“Yes! I have to tell father of my chance meeting right away!” The eager Zephyr ran away comically, his thin figure looking like it would be swept away by even the gentlest breeze.