The day settles itself to a close. Magnificent light like the fires of a forge proceed the sun’s departure. Restful skies of night are left behind in its wake. Though so peaceful and alluring it may be to rest, I can only allow myself that privilege once I’ve fulfilled my final task for the day.
In the dining room is a maid. Hard at work with a cloth in hand, she sweeps it across every surface. Smiling, bouncing on her heels, humming to herself delightedly. Though the manor had never once been anywhere near a sty, somehow with her work for today alone – work I hadn’t even known she’d taken upon herself – it’s even more gorgeous than it had been before. Everything is brought to a polish and the dark wood of the furnishings is made to glisten and enrich the atmosphere with its antique luster. Caressed with the touch of dusk, the already marvelous surroundings are made almost otherworldly in their splendor.
When Jupa comes to realize that I stand and watch over her, her smile stretches even wider on her face. She places her dusting cloth down and skips into a short jog towards me. So near, she’s positively dazzling with all of her welcoming warmth suited for a fine maid.
“Master Khiron! At last you’ve returned! I’ve been waiting to meet you all day!”
“It’s good to see you as well. I’d been meaning to visit with you but an incidence ended up taking more of my time today. My apologies for having kept you waiting for so long.”
On reflex I bow to her to display my sincerity, yet she delicately touches my shoulders.
“Please don’t bow, master. You have no need to apologize. I know you’re a busy man and there’s much you have to tend to. Especially with your current affairs. So long as you’re safe, I’m content.”
She gives me a light push to stand me up tall. Seeing her, how humble and demure she is, my heart begins to rush.
“You really are… serious about this entire maid arrangement.” I speak with a hiccuping laugh in vain attempts to hide how flustered I am.
“It’s been a long day. Would you enjoy a meal to settle yourself in for the night?”
“I’d had an evening meal earlier with my friend and after everything that had happened today, I’m not in the mood for anything too heavy. I’ll have to decline for now. Maybe tomorrow if you’d be willing.”
“I’m glad that you’re at least undesiring to turn down a meal on a regular day.” She giggles lightly.
“W-Well, I think it’d be hard for anyone to say no to such an offering unless they were already well fed.”
“Maybe it’s true what they say after all: the way to a man’s heart.”
Her giggling rings out like a cheerful bell and each chime catches my body hotter with embarrassment.
“I… I’d searched for you since I have something I’ve been hoping to discuss. If you’re willing, would you speak with me?”
“Something is on your mind, master? Of course I’d be more than willing to listen.”
✩ ✩ ✩
The great outdoors are breathtaking while they’re given the flame of the sun to dance with glittering golds. Together at the very same place I’d spoken with Celine the night prior, Jupa sits by my side upon a bench seat. Given our coming conversation, I’d taken her aside so to decrease chances to attract any eavesdroppers with hot ears for our conversation. Yet as we both take in the grand scenery before us I find it truly remarkable how the time of day can so vastly change the tone of one’s surroundings. But as the minutes drag on I shift gears and take a step forward.
“About our personal situation…” I soon stop short while uncertain as to where I should take the next step. “You’d called me your fiance first thing this morning when we’d been formally introduced.”
“Yes! I’m so grateful to call myself the fiance of someone so charming and wonderful! I was just blue that you’d had to tend to that meeting before I could welcome you back home myself.”
She speeds ahead with a glow rivaling the sun’s shining. It takes a strength of will to stand strong on my resolve given the sheer cheer bursting from her.
“It was an urgent matter. I apologize for-”
“There’s no need to apologize.” She gently steps into my words and says to me with a cant of her head. “Master is so very gentle. But maybe he has a habit of apologizing a little too much?”
“Pardon m-…” I catch myself. “I’ve been told something similar in times before. But I can’t help it. When I feel that I’ve caused an issue I want to make things right.”
“You haven’t caused any issues at all. With your heart and everything I’ve heard about you… H-How we’d met… I don’t believe you’d ever do anything that isn’t from the goodness of your heart. And besides…” She begins to play with a lock of her hair while watching the expansive heavens. “I’d heard a little bit about what happened. Your best friend is in trouble and you’re trying to make it right. I would never be disappointed when you’re doing your best to rescue someone else just like you’d rescued me.”
“You’ve heard everything?”
“Not everything. Just enough to understand what the matter is. Even if your friend’s situation wasn’t the case, I’m your servant and bride to be so I wouldn’t ever desire to get in your way with others.”
“R-Right… Bride to be. We’d gotten a little bit off topic, but about that…” I see her giddy eyes reflecting my own and heave a sigh. “I’m… grateful for your enthusiasm, I really am. It’s a first for me and it’s been a shocking new experience, but I’m really not ready to call myself anyone’s fiance.”
I pause to give her a chance to speak her thoughts, but she pensively watches me instead. Listening carefully, still glowing with glee. When enough time waiting has passed, she nods her head towards me, pleading for me to continue.
“It’s only really been a day since I’d first met you out in the city. All things considered, I don’t know much of anything about you. Beyond whatever you’ve been able to glean in this time, I’m no better off than being a complete stranger to yourself as well. I don’t believe it would be fair for you if I’d been so bold as to claim myself to be your fiance when you’d might not actually enjoy who I am after learning more about me.”
On reflex as I begin to grow anxious of the possibility of her heart changing, I grab at my shirt. The feeling of the scar’s stinging voice echoes through my fingers in an aching drone. All the hurtful, sepulchral thoughts which give their stench like fetid carrion push to the forefront of my mind. I wonder to myself just how quickly Jupa would leave me in disgust if she’d only seen the darkness staining me with her own eyes. How she would look down to me rather than up to me as she does now.
The summer winds carrying the scent and feeling of dusk’s warmth reaches the smile that yet brightens her lips. She continues to play with her hair while a deeper rose hue tickles her cheek.
“…It’d be even more difficult to imagine such a thing now.”
“So this is the heart of the Celestial Knight.” She twists to face me and only gifts me her greatest tenderness. “…I won’t stop thinking of you as my fiance. I can understand if you were uncertain and it’s okay if it’s just me that embraces this warm dream. If you want to learn more about me… if you want me to learn even more about you, I’d be more than happy to. I’d planned doing that from the start.”
“But with my being your fiance… If I were to be, wouldn’t that just be like being forced to be with me? If you had happened to…”
“I want to be by your side and I know that I will feel just the same day after day. You’re so gallant to say that I owe you nothing for your rescue, but it wasn’t my choice that I’d given you what I have. You’d already taken your reward the moment you’d held me so close.”
“I don’t recall anything like that. I didn’t accept that platinum. I’d wanted you to have that for yourself. Unless you’d left it in my room while cleaning…”
“It’s right here.”
She reaches into her pocket and brings out the coin for me to see. Its surface reflects the sunset marvelously as an assured treasure.
“I still would rather you have it. I couldn’t accept it either. Not even now.”
“You’re so reserved and humble. You still don’t understand. Maybe because you’re too uncertain and doubting yourself.”
“I’m really not following. What is it that I’m missing?”
With the sun burning above her head and into the clouds, bringing them to glitter like a royal crown of polished gold embedded with red gems, she’s bold to capture my eyes and hold them in her own. Lifting the coin into her hands and placing them to her heart, she’s shy and yet confident. My heart begins pounding as I can feel the very essence of her spirit speaking to me. Without a single word more, I understand exactly what it is she means to teach me.
“…I had no choice when you’d taken my heart all for yourself. I couldn’t take it back even if I’d tried… I want you to keep it and take care of it.”
Another breath of the wind rushes by as the earth itself is awed in hearing her fantastic confession. My voice is locked and the key is pitched into the grass glittering with sweeping waves as an ocean of the sun’s brilliance. I can only stare into her eyes and attempt to come to terms with that which has struck me harder than any blade ever could.
“…I promise that I’ll keep all of this to myself. Every bit of it. I’ll hold onto it tightly and never let it go. From now on I won’t call you my fiance before others, but in my heart you are and will continue to be until the day we’re wed.”
So she shines brightly with her crown of sunlight perched atop her blossom pink hair. The smile on her face is so elegant I can hardly believe that such a woman wishes to pledge themselves to care and look after me.
“I look forward to serving you, master.”