Chapter 43:

Maid and Maiden

Lovely kNight

“There’s no way! She couldn’t!” I hear Marcia’s voice exclaiming excitedly while I walk to the lounge room.

“Oh, she’s going to and it’s going to be awesome!”

All the maidens besides Juna and Neptanie have gathered. They’re entranced with the antics of the maid before them. Balancing herself on one leg, she has two plates spinning on sticks. The first is on her head and the second is on the tip of her left pointer finger. Her refined balance is such a spectacle that I’m quickly caught up like the others.

Leaning forward and kicking her leg out, she maintains her balance while she takes the third plate and stick. With a finessed toss, she brings it to a spin and catches atop the stick. Then making it stand tall on the edge of her finger, she raises it slowly. Every maiden present cheers and applauds her.

She wears a carefree smile and hums to herself, making it all seem to be little more than child’s play. When the plates slow, coming closer to their eventual still, she tosses each into the air. The sticks land into one hand and the plates are collected in a neat stack together in the other. Her grand display ends with a dignified bow to her audience. Another round of applause lights up the room. The risk of breaking her concentration having passed, I enter the lounge.

“Oh! Darling, darling! Did you see my special talent?” Jupa lights up with immeasurable excitement.

Her eyes glitter so brightly I could swear that all of her infectious energy has birthed stars into them.

“I’d happened to have seen the end of it. That’s an impressive amount of balance you have.”

“It was a part of my training as a maid to practice balance. It started off easily with a cup of water but eventually grew to pottery. Though thanks to all of my training I’m light on my feet like a cat. But I’d have to contribute some talents to my lucky stars.”

“Lucky stars? Hard to imagine luck having anything to do with that.” Marcia once more jumps into conversation.

For all intents and purposes I’d wager that she and the others have quickly grown fond of their new friend. Even if she’s… a touch eccentric. Though I suppose that’s par for the course anyways.

“I need to try that myself sometime. With enough training I could probably hold my own in competition!” Mercy pitches in with a newfound excitement.

“Who the heck would hold a contest for spinning plates on sticks?”

“Just make sure you don’t use any of the glass plates, dear. I’d rather keep the nice dishes intact.” Plutia entertains Mercy’s curiosity.

“So, darling. Is there anything I can do for you? I’d heard that you have a meeting with Ms. Urania coming soon. Would you enjoy some warm tea before you go on your way?”

“You’re really going to keep calling him darling?” Celine asks with apprehension and concern.

“Of course I am! He’s my darling, after all! I’ll serve darling every day until the day we die!”

“Oy, that fiance thing again, huh?” Marcia groans.

“So romantic!” And then Venna coos, out in the stars. “To be together from now and into eternity!”

The sense of defeat is apparent on her sister’s face.

“I’d have to be honest that it’s a bit… odd. I’m not used to anyone calling me darling and it’s something I’m not entirely comfortable with at the moment.”

“Oh? If it’s not to your liking then I can call you by another name. Y’know… until you’re ready to be called darling!”

She steps closer to me and stares with a palpable anticipation. It feels like my very soul itself is being mined and drilled.

“Maybe I can call you honey? Would that be more to your desires?”

As if darling wasn’t wild enough. The maidens present are once more bewildered at her boldness of spirit. Celine looks like she’s about to burst to flaming smoke and ashes while Venna plummets deeper into her own little world. Mercy, on the other hand, snickers with a cheeky smile adhered to her.

“H-Honey is a little more embarrassing. Just… Just Khiron is fine. Everyone else calls me that, so-”

“But that’s no way to treat the man who’d saved my life and the one who will be my master-” Her expression glows with intrigue as she catches onto her own words. “Master Khiron! It’s simply perfect! Befitting for the honored Celestial Knight and my beloved! I’m so grateful to be of service, Master Khiron!”

“M-M-Master…?” My mind stutters and snaps, casting my voice down to a whisper. “That’s even more embarrassing than the others before…”

“Now about that cup of tea, master. I’ll quickly prepare something for you while there’s still time left! I’ll return these plates to their rightful place while I’m at it. Two birds with one stone, as they say! I’ll be back soon, master!”

She skips on her way with the most giddy step. The glittering glee on her lips lights up brighter as she sends me a look of adoration while passing by.

“M-Master… I’m just a knight… I’ve never…”

“That’s what gets you?” Marcia speaks with a mocking tone. “Here she is committing you to marriage and you’re getting all hung up on names of all things?”

“W-Well names and titles are i-important to a knight. It’s something of a… habit and learned mentality. Maybe you don’t know just what m-master implies.”

“It’s true. To a knight respect and honor are of the upmost importance. To call a knight by such a title has many nuances and implications most may not even consider.” Plutia aids me with her explanation. “Our cute and humble Celestial Knight is just having a little bit of difficulty really accepting that someone would look up to him as a master. A common freelancer knight isn’t exactly used to having personal maids as well.”

“Hey, looks like his time has finally come! I hope she makes good soup.” Mercy comments.

“I mean, you really do like soup.” She’s given reply from Marcia. “You’d eaten through that entire can by yourself.”

“It all went directly to these muscles! I need plenty of intake to make sure that I’m always on the up and up and getting tougher day by day!”

“I can respect that.”

“I really hate to kill the atmosphere, but I have to ask.” Celine takes point while a serious tone is found in her voice. “How is Juna? It… was only just yesterday that everything that had happened, happened.”

Though the spirit had been lively thanks to Jupa’s entertainment, that atmosphere quickly morphs into a silent, pensive one. Everybody waits on my word with a worried anticipation. Even Mercy’s ever smiling face falls a little more plain.

“…She’s doing the best that she can. Even if she would refuse to show it she’s in incredible pain. I’d made a promise that I’m going to give it my all that I’ll find a way to fix everything. I’ll bite down until I draw blood. If there’s any way all of you could help her… in my absence, I beg you to take care of her.”

All the weight collecting on my heart forces me to fall forward into a deep bow. A gesture to show the very surface to the depths of my pleas. My willingness to put my own neck down before the axe for Juna’s sake. I ask of them with everything I have offered up.

“That goes without saying.” Plutia speaks up. “It has always been clear just how much Juna means to you so it’s no surprise that you would bow with such surrender for her sake. Even if it means completely lowering yourself as a knight. Of course I’ll help to care for her. She’s a fellow maiden and a friend. I know everyone here feels the same way I do.”

“She means the world to Khiron so she’ll mean the world to me too!” Venna speaks with a passion yet that passion still comes off as soft as a plains rabbit. “I want to dress her up like a doll someday and it would be no fun if she wasn’t having fun too!”

“She’s tolerated you for all these years somehow. Suppose that I should show her some respect.” The look on Marcia’s face is jesting. “Duh. What did you think I’d say; ‘no’? I’d look after her even if you’d told me not to.”

“A friend of a friend is my friend. And my friend is my friend and friends are friendly. I’m tough and getting tougher so she can rely on this girl.” Mercy points to herself with a wink of an eye.

“We’d already talked enough last night. I don’t need to repeat myself.” Coolly speaking, Celine tries to play off her care but it’s obvious to anyone no matter. “I hope you can get this entire situation with Jupa fixed before anything stranger comes of it. It’d be… a surprise if your best friend… I guess you yourself would call her, found out that you were engaged so suddenly.”

The support I feel is overwhelming and encircles me in the form of a group of smiling faces filled with confidence and trust. The energy sent my way is enough to give me even more drive to do. My already iron clad will to protect Juna is forged stronger.

“Everyone, thank you. I couldn’t ask for better friends.”

“Friends that kiss each other. What a new frontier.” A joker as ever, that Mercy.

✩ ✩ ✩

When Jupa had returned with a cup of tea, I’d allowed myself a little more time to relax with the maidens before shoving off for the day that would likely wind up being busy. Yesterday, before calamity had cast its shadow on the doorstep to Juna’s life, I’d received word that Urania had appointed a meeting with me today in an hour’s time. So I prepare to leave.

“It’s a shame that you have to be out so soon, master.” Jupa speaks to me.

“While you’re out and about we’ll make sure nothing burns down.” Mercy says coolly.

“I haven’t gotten to my first chance to spend time my own personal time with you as of yet. We’ll have to fix that soon enough.” The new maid is bashful with a rosy hue clinging to her. “Will you honor me with a promise that that day will come soon?”

“I’m sure that we’ll be able to have that time together soon enough. I’ll do my best to make it so. I’d like to learn more about you and to speak privately with you about… matters.”

“Oh! How exciting! I so eagerly await that time!”

“Geez, she’s even more energetic than Mercy.” Another groan creeps its way out of an exasperated Marcia.

“Take care of yourself, handsome. Tell my friend that I send her my regards.” Plutia bids me farewell.

“But before you go, master, I’d prepared something for you quickly. I hadn’t had much time this morning, so I hope you’ll forgive it’s but a morsel. If you’d like to have something greater to eat, perhaps you can come by and I’ll prepare something for you.”

Jupa hands me a small tin covered in a cloth with a neat knot tied to cinch it shut. Even if she’s an experienced maid, she’s cutely nervous beyond her energetic self.

“You’d prepared something like this for me? Well… I’m really grateful. If I were able to I would take you up on your offer, but I’m not sure how busy today will end up being.”

“I understand. Whenever you’d desire a meal you can just say the word and I’ll prepare my best for you.” She sweeps the hair from the front of her face while rocking her heels. “A-And before you go… I should give you a lucky charm to keep you safe on your travels.”

“A lucky charm? Like a shrine talisman or-”

She forsakes patience to wait a second longer. Raising up on her tip toes, her lips find my cheek and she pecks me quickly. I can barely even register her face with all the surprise welling up from my mind. The other maidens join me in being wide eyed.

“Take care, master. I’ll be awaiting your return.”