A nice shower and then one note left behind and the two of us are quick into the streets. At the early morning hours we walk, we are nearly alone in the besides a few merchants and vendors preparing for the day’s coming business. Since we don’t particularly have a set destination in mind, she and I tour about at ease.
“There are a few restaurants opened, but I don’t think any of them are particularly up to our tastes for the morning.” I speak idly.
“Being knights really contributed to our tastes, didn’t it? I don’t really feel like going inside to eat. What about you, Khiron?”
“After all is said and done, you and I are usually more particular to the food cart types. When we would be patrolling town, we’d mostly been served by them. Plenty are really welcoming to freelancers. Maybe we just became so accustomed after a while, especially in the morning.”
“You’re probably right. We should keep an eye out for a cart salesman then.”
As we turn a corner, one such stand shows itself to us. A small fire is kindled to the side and something is cooking upon it. The banner overhead promises baked sweet potatoes. In unison we both lay eyes on the stand and then exchanges a glance and a nod towards each other. We pick up the pace and meet the kindly, elderly owner.
“Oh my. A youthful couple awake at such an hour? It must be a busy day in the makes for knights such as yourselves.” The old man greets us as we approach.
“Couple?” Juna wonders aloud.
“Hello, sir. Are you ready for some customers?”
“You’re just in time. I’ve had these going and getting ready since early. They should be done by now.”
“It’s been so long since I’d last had a sweet potato! It reminds me so much of the carnival!” Juna’s excitement can be felt clearly.
“Speaking of the summer carnival: that should be coming up soon, shouldn’t it?”
“Right you are! I’ve just come to town for such an occasion. It’ll be about a little over a week out from today.” The old man thinks aloud.
“I’d been so busy with all of my work lately that I’d completely forgotten about the carnival. Even though we’d both agreed we’d be celebrating the tournament victory even more when it arrived.”
“With all of the studying I’ve been doing, I’d managed to forget as well. It looks like both of us got so caught up in everything after all.”
“A tournament you say there, lad? Are you speaking of the Celestia Hero’s Tournament?”
“That would be the one, sir.”
“Were you two wagering on someone?”
“Nothing like that. Khiron here entered the tournament himself. He was the victor.” Juna doesn’t dream to withhold as she smiles brightly.
“You’re the Celestial Knight?” The old man is in awe.
“I happen to be… I’m not exactly used to it yet.”
“Oh say. It seems I’ve been a fool and overlooked that armband of yours! If that’s the case, then please take a sweet potato for you and your lovely lady knight. No charge. Just a humble thank you from a working citizen.”
“O-Oh, sir. Thank you… I’m...”
I can barely even respond, yet before I can get my mind in order, he already has a set of two wrapped up and ready for us. Juna takes them without a second thought.
“Thank you so much, sir!” She says exuberantly. “This will be good luck for my test today!”
“And you have yourself a test for knighthood, do you? Give it your best then! And for you, Mr. Celestial Knight, I salute you to your services for this kingdom.”
With a wave and a parting, we’re back on our way.
✩ ✩ ✩
Though piping hot to begin with – having figured that out the hard way myself – we begin to enjoy our breakfast as we’re seated by a fountain. We listen to the song of the gushing waters at our backs while we watch over the promenade. A time ago it was our usual place as most anyone. Looking for people to assist, priding ourselves on keeping the peace. Little by little the place livens up as citizens, sellers and knights begin to pick up in volume.
“You know, we still have that goal to make this year at the carnival.” I chat after I take another bite, edging my potato to the halfway point.
“To work on the security committee? Of course when I’d remembered the carnival, that came straight to mind. I was just waiting for you to talk about it first.”
“Sure thing. You totally didn’t forget.” I prod at Juna and she sends me back her tongue peeking out of her mouth.
“While we’re here in town, we should apply. That is, if there’s still a chance to. If not, then maybe next year would be the year.”
“We’ve been saying that since we were kids. Once we were too small, then we weren’t certified knights. Now we don’t have any excuses but we’d still failed up until now. But it was a lot of fun slacking off those days.” She recounts aloud while gazing up to the sky.
“Every year when we’d get time off from the academy, we would both run around the carnival without a care in the world. We’d try some of those rigged games, we’d eat a horde of useless food and sweet potatoes and we would watch the knights wandering about.”
“All the time we would both just talk about what we would do when we were knights. While you would talk about all the magic you’d learn, I would go on and on talking about how I’d protect every single person in the carnival. When I look back on it, it must have been a bit embarrassing to be around a 15 year old who constantly says he’ll save the world.” I feel a small hint of embarrassment myself as I think it over.
“You were so cute. It wasn’t anything embarrassing. After all, you weren’t lying or blowing your own head up. You’re going to be saving the kingdom now.” She smiles to me. “And when we’re serving as security at the carnival, you can finally make good on your word you’ve spoken all these years!”
“I suppose you’re onto something. But we still need to make sure we don’t end up missing out again this year.” I watch a couple walking by while I ponder to myself. “How about this: while you’re busy with your testing, I’ll get it arranged myself. So leave it to me.”
“I have no reason to argue, so you have a deal, hero.” She laughs delightedly. “This year will finally be the year we fulfill that dream of ours.”
“And today will be the day that you finally come closer to fulfilling your own lifelong dream. I’m looking forward to the good news.”
“R-Right.” She shrinks into herself ever so slightly.
“Still nervous, I see.”
“I am. It’s nerve-wracking thinking about it. I can’t imagine how you’d felt during the entire tournament. And unlike your dream, I can have a few chances at obtaining mine. You really are a strong person.”
“I was pretty nervous the entire time, but especially at the beginning. Thanks to your help, I’d managed to focus up and get the anchor off of my spine. You have no reason to worry. From all we’d read about mage knight qualifications throughout the years, you’re far beyond what standards they’ve set.”
“I know you’re right, but it’s still so hard to calm down.” She shifts about with her nerves pulling at her legs.
When she’s able to settle herself, she shifts her gaze to me.
“Khiron… Do you mind helping me calm down?”
“Of course I’d be fine with that.”
She sits paused with a flushed face. Though she’d held her eyes to mine so confidently, they fall down to the stone streets below after a beat. Juna has always been a well composed and confident woman, as is in the makes for a fine knight, but this was something different. When your dreams are so close at hand, it’s a hard to keep from shaking with anticipation and trepidation. But of course it’s no surprise or anomaly to me. She’s Juna and I know just how she is in the depths of her heart.
I pull her into my arms. Though she’d likely expected it, I still earn a small yelp from her as I hold her close. No doubt she’s more high strung than almost any time I’ve ever known her. I feel her warmth bleed through my clothes and combat the small coolness that had collected upon them from the morning chill. She breathes a sigh as she relaxes herself in my arms. To help ease her nerves even further, I run my hand through her hair.
“It’ll be just fine. You’re going to do great and you’ll be even closer to being an Elite Mage Knight soon enough. Just like she was.”
In the brief moment we share together, a recent memory rears itself before me.
Nerves high, my hand grasping hard onto the hilt of my sword while I’d sat in the tournament’s waiting area. I’d had my eyes closed as I took in the dulled sounds of the audience’s calls and cheers through the walls of the coliseum. The tension ruling my body made me feel like I was a stone sculpture left where it didn’t belong. Even worse: the scar sung in a screeching pain. Yet with my calm exterior and reserved expression, few could likely tell much of what was going on inside of me. They’d probably thought I was simply meditating.
Yet before I could become too entangled within myself, I heard a voice call to me. I’d snapped away from my own tension to meet with Juna whom had taken permission to visit.
“You must be worried.” She’d said to me as she’d seated herself at my side. “Don’t worry. You’re going to be the hero. You’ve always been the hero. This is just your victory lap to claim what’s rightfully yours.”
So she suddenly reeled me into her embrace. Though we’d gotten a few laughs and scoffs from the fellow knights that were waiting for their own time to battle, none of it mattered. The one thing that mattered was that Juna was there with me.
“You’ve always been a mage knight, Juna.” I speak to her as I continue running my hand through her hair. “This is just having the kingdom recognize what you’ve always been. We’ll get you out there and you’ll show everyone who you are.”
“…Khiron.” She sighs.
“Look, mom! Those two knights are hugging!” A passing child points to us unabashed.
“Knights are people too, dear. Let them be and let’s continue.” Replies his mother.
I feel my face suddenly taking victory over the morning chill and my chest where Juna’s own visage is planted begins to heat up too. We both break apart our embrace and take a keen interest in the promenade around us. How ironic that it’s a kid that gets our nerves and not a host of knights.
“…Thank you, Khiron.” Juna speaks with a wavering voice.